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Families of Choice

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It felt like there was a steel band wrapped around Alec’s lungs. He stood in the center of his room – a room that had been his for as long as he’d been here – and fought to try and breathe past the fear and panic that were gripping his insides and slowly strangling him. It was that very same panic that was fueling him now, pushing him to go, to move, to get out.

His mother’s words were still ringing in his ears. Even as Alec shoved another shirt into his bag, hands shaking so badly he almost didn’t manage it, he could hear the echoes of his mother’s voice saying the kinds of things that he’d never wanted to hear from her. Things he’d always been afraid he would.

It was her last words that stuck with him the most, though. “Get out,” she’d told him, standing over her terrified and bleeding child with a look on her face that he’d only ever seen there when she spoke of the Downworlders she so hated. “I’m going to put your brother to bed. By the time I get back, I want you gone. I find you here and I’ll turn you in to the Gard myself!”

With those last words, she’d left him there, far more broken than he’d been when he’d first crawled his way to her.

It took a few more iratzes for him to get up off the floor. After that, panic carried him to his room to do the one thing he’d always feared he’d have to do.

For as long as he could remember, the New York Institute had been Alec’s life. His dream. He’d grown up here, trained here, dreamed of one day taking over for his father and running the place. Every plan that Alec had, every dream that he allowed himself, all centered around being in this place. So to leave… the idea had crossed his mind once or twice, but it’d always been pushed away. Until now.

Once, leaving would’ve been the impossible thing. The idea that might occasionally get entertained in the dark of the night when the mind wishes for things it can’t ever have.

Now? Now, it was staying that would never be possible. Not anymore. Not after today.

Alec knew he only had a short window of time in which he was going to be able to go. His mother had made it quite clear what would happen if he were still here when she came back. The seventeen-year-old had absolutely no plans on letting that happen.

Just thinking about it sent a shiver down his spine.

With quick, efficient moves, he ignored the pain and grabbed what clothes were left and shoved them down into his bag. It wasn’t like he had much. Some shirts, some pants, some gear – he wasn’t leaving his gear behind, no matter what it might make her think of him. Just as he wasn’t leaving his stele. This might not be his home anymore, but he’d be damned if he stopped being a Shadowhunter.

Adrenaline kept him moving even when his body was ready to give in. Alec gathered his things quickly, and he was just slinging the strap of his bag up over his shoulder when the door to his room burst open. In an instant he was dropping down into a defensive crouch, seraph blade already up in his hand. He practically dropped it when he saw who was there.

Jace and Isabelle were standing just inside his doorway. Both of them were frozen, staring at him and his blade with wide eyes. While they were all trained to be on alert, they’d never had to be like that here. In their rooms was a place they’d always been safe and able to let go of instincts like that for just a little while.

Embarrassment colored Alec’s cheeks. He straightened up and lowered the blade, flipping it so that he could sheathe it in the thigh holster once more.

“Woah,” Isabelle breathed out.

That seemed to break the standstill that had fallen over them. In the next instant, Jace was across the room, stele already out. Feeling the burn of it as Jace traced over the iratze on his side – plus the subsequent relief as a few more aches faded away – had Alec shuddering. That only seemed to make Jace worry even more. “Alec, what the hell happened? You feel like you got your ass kicked by a horde of demons.”

The realization of what Jace had felt – what he was no doubt checking for now in his rather invasive search – had Alec paling. He jerked back with a little more force than was probably necessary, startling Jace enough that he at least stopped trying to feel Alec up. “I’m fine,” the older teen said. The fact that his voice didn’t waver at all was a bit impressive. He couldn’t stop the hoarseness, though, or the way it made his siblings look at him even more sharply than before. Ignoring it, Alec tried to straighten up. Stand tall and unmoving under their stares. Somehow Alec managed to find a shred of his usual control, though it was fading fast underneath the pulse of go, go, got to go, got to run, get out of here, go now! “I’m fine, guys.”

They didn’t call him on it like he could see Jace wanted to do. Instead, Isabelle beat him, calling out “Where are you going?”

Alec wasn’t ready for this. He hadn’t prepared himself for this. The plan had been to get his stuff together and get out of here as quickly as possible. Before Maryse came back – before his siblings came back. Alec didn’t want them to see him like this. He didn’t want them to know. And now… now it was too late, and they were here, and he had no idea what to say to them… they were going to find out… they were going to know…

He didn’t even realize that he’d started panicking until Jace was grabbing hold of him again. With one palm pressed against Alec’s chest, Jace used his other hand to grab hold of one of Alec’s wrists. “Hey, hey, c’mon Alec. Careful breaths. Quit trying to suck it in – you know that’s not gonna help.”

Alec’s hand was drawn up so that he mirrored Jace’s pose. With his hand over Jace’s heart, and the steady feel of their bond between them, Alec forced his breaths to slow. They’d done this enough times for it to be almost second nature. The instant Alec’s hand was on Jace’s chest, it was like his body recognized what was happening and immediately started to relax.

When Jace leaned in, pressing them together forehead-to-forehead, it made Alec’s heart give an extra hard thump. He viciously shoved any of those feelings down as hard as he could.

“Talk to me, brother,” Jace murmured. Here, in the privacy of Alec’s room, the asshole that Jace could normally be was gone. There was no one but his siblings to see him. Here, Jace let out the softer side that Alec had slowly, painstakingly drawn out of him.

Alec tried to shake his head, only for Jace to reach up with his free hand and clasp the back of Alec’s neck, holding him in place. “Alec.”

He didn’t want to say anything. Alec’s plan had been to get out of here before running into either of them. Maybe there would’ve been time to leave a note, or maybe he would’ve just gone, he didn’t know. Everything had been happening so fast. But here, faced with them, with Jace dropping the cockiness that had been growing lately, Alec found himself blurting out “She kicked me out.”

What?” Isabelle blurted out.

Alec closed his eyes and pressed his forehead harder against Jace’s. “I… I’ve got until she gets back to be gone. I can’t – I have to go.”

Any other people, and any other situation, Alec knew there would’ve been a thousand questions. He could feel Jace’s need to start demanding answers. But at the same time, he felt the strong swell of protectiveness that Jace always had when it came to Alec, the one that had made him fall for the younger boy just a little more each time he felt it. “Give me five minutes,” Jace said, giving Alec’s neck one last squeeze before he drew back.

There was no time for Alec to ask him what the hell he meant. Jace was out the door in the next second and Alec was left staring after him, wondering what was going on.

Isabelle smiled sadly at him. “Did you really think we’d let you go alone?”

Alec’s mouth actually dropped open. “Izzy…” She couldn’t mean what he thought she did. “No, you can’t…”

She cut him off by darting forward and flinging her arms around him, stealing a tight hug. What else could he do but hug her back? Pressed in close, Isabelle buried her face against his neck and asked, whisper soft, “Is this because…?”

She didn’t finish the question. She didn’t have to, though. Alec’s arms twitched against her, and his breath felt like it was punched out of him. That was enough of an answer.

When Isabelle drew back, she looked even sadder than before. She didn’t say anything else about that, though. Just a quick “Five minutes,” and then she was gone, too, and Alec was left to stare around his empty room in shock.

It wasn’t until he heard footsteps outside of his room that he snapped out of it and began to move. There was no telling when Maryse would be back, and Alec wanted to be far from this room, this place, when that happened.

He slipped out of the Institute with the ease of someone who’d done it many times before. Usually, it’d been to go chase after his siblings and stop them from doing something else stupid. This time, it was the last time he was going to walk through here, the last time he’d slip his way out. Alec tried not to think about how much that hurt.

When he got outside, he half expected to find his siblings already waiting for him.

What he hadn’t expected was to see his father.

Robert Lightwood was waiting in the shadows just outside of the perimeter cameras. No one would be able to see him there. But as soon as Alec caught sight of him, his body tensed, and his insides felt like they froze over. The panic that Alec had been battling came back full-force and almost took him out at the knees. Half of Alec wanted to go still as if maybe, if he didn’t move, his father wouldn’t see him. The other half wanted to turn and run as far in the opposite direction as he could.

Then Robert caught sight of him, and Alec hated himself for the way he trembled when his father moved toward him. Hated just how weak it made him feel.

He was pathetically grateful when he felt the presence of his parabatai come rushing up behind him, a click of heels making it clear Isabelle was right behind him.

“Stay the hell away from him!” Jace went directly to Alec’s side and then moved, stepping in front of him so that he was between Alec and Robert, every inch of his body ready to defend. It was a familiar pose. One that he’d done plenty of times when practicing, or when he felt that people were being assholes. It was just never one that Jace had ever felt the need to use against their own parents before.

Isabelle stopped beside Alec, leaning in and slipping her arm around his waist. Whether it was to support him, or to try and hold him there, he wasn’t quite sure. Alec’s body was a tense, trembling statue.

If Jace’s fierceness shocked Robert, he didn’t show it. He simply held his hands up in a gesture of peace that made Alec twitch back a little. “I’m not here to stop you.” His eyes drifted over Jace’s shoulder, right to Alec, and there was something soft there that was almost harder to see than the anger Alec had expected. “Alec…I’m so sorry. This wasn’t ever what I wanted for you.”

“You could’ve stopped it,” Jace snapped at him. Normally he wasn’t this bold, not with Robert or Maryse. He loved and respected them too much, and he still felt like he owed them for taking him in. But becoming parabatai with Alec had helped to give Jace… not courage, he had plenty of that on his own, but stability. Someone that he knew was his, and he was theirs, and there was no one who would be able to get in the middle of that. It gave Jace someone he loved and who loved him. Knowing that he was loved, and that the person who loved him wasn’t going to leave if Jace ‘messed up’, gave Jace a solid foundation to stand on. One that he’d then worked to build himself up on.

Robert couldn’t meet the strength in his adoptive son’s eyes. Seeing it, he looked down as if ashamed. “I know. But…” he took a deep breath and looked up at Alec again. “It’s too late now. There’s no going back.”

The words hit Alec hard. For the finality of them, and the truth behind them. Robert wasn’t wrong. Even if Maryse hadn’t reacted so badly, after what had happened beforehand… there was never any going back for Alec. The only thing that had protected him before was the Lightwood name. Maryse had made it clear that wasn’t going to be a shield for him any longer.

“Here,” Robert said suddenly, thrusting an envelope out towards them. “I can’t stop this, but I won’t see my children living on the streets.” When none of them reached for the envelope, he shook it at them, and his expression turned pleading. “There’s money in there, and the contact information for someone who’ll be able to set you up with the necessary mundane paperwork to blend in, and a place to stay. Just… just take it.”

There was nothing that Alec wanted to take from this man. Or from anyone else here. But… Isabelle was pressed against him, and Jace was in front of him, and there was no way they were going to go back inside. And Alec had no idea what he was going to do with himself, let alone his teenaged siblings, but taking care of them had always been a priority for him. For that, he could do anything. Even accept blood money from a father who should’ve offered so much more.

A nudge to Jace’s back had Jace reaching out to snatch the envelope.

“I’m sorry,” Robert whispered.

The words probably should’ve meant something. Another day, maybe someday far into the future, they might. But that night as Alec slowly made his way away from the only home he’d ever known, siblings at his side and his body aching, the words felt as empty and hollow as he did.

What came next was sort of hazy for Alec. He wasn’t quite sure when the world began to fade around him, only that it suddenly felt like being dunked down in multiple jars of dark paint that were being stirred and swirled all around him into this hazy mess of color and darkness and cold. The only things that felt real were the arms of his siblings holding him up as they encouraged him to keep moving, keep putting one foot in front of the other, that’s it, you’re doing great, Alec, just keep going, we’re almost there.

Then suddenly there was a new voice, and new hands on him, hands he didn’t recognize. Alec’s hazy mind flashed back to the memories of earlier, of the hands that had grabbed him, that had hurt, and his body began to try and fight back, feeble though its attempts may be.

Someone shouted out “Hold him down!” and Alec’s panic grew. He wasn’t going to let them pin him down again. He wasn’t!

But though the hands that grabbed him were strong, they were also gentle and almost as familiar to him as his own. And then there was a weight against his forehead that had Alec going still. He couldn’t hear much beyond the pounding of his heart, but he heard a low voice that somehow seemed to steadily weave its way in, breaking through the panic and wrapping itself around him, anchoring him in the present. In reality.

Slowly, Alec’s body still as he focused more and more on those words, as they became that much clearer until, finally, he heard them not just with his heart but with his ears, too. “…whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried. The Angel do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.”

Alec held tight to those words as blue washed over him and gently drew him down into the calm darkness of sleep.

Breath shuddered out of Jace as he felt his brother go limp underneath him. Even when he knew Alec was unconscious, when he knew that his words weren’t being heard anymore, his touch not being felt, there was no way Jace could bring himself to move away. The young teenager stayed where he was, forehead to forehead, holding the face of the most important person in his world and whispering the words of their vow over and over again.

It was a reminder to Jace. A reminder of just how much Jace had failed his parabatai tonight, and a promise to not ever do so again.

Jace knew he wasn’t going to forget tonight. No matter what else happened to them in their lives, or where they went from here, Jace would never forget what it felt like to be out dancing with Isabelle, enjoying the feel of the bodies pressing in around him, the music pumping through him, and then to suddenly get the strongest wave of fear. Jace hadn’t known what the hell was going on. It’d taken him a moment too long to realize that the feelings were coming from Alec. Jace had felt him afraid before, but only a little, and certainly nothing like this. This hadn’t been just fear. It’d been terror.

The pain that came with it had spurred Jace out of his stupor and sent him moving. He’d had just enough presence of mind to grab Isabelle. Then they were out of the club, stumbling into an alley.

Looking back, Jace hated himself for the weakness he’d shown then. Hated how he’d had to pause there, how he’d clutched at the wall and thrown up, wasting precious time. Moments where he could’ve already been moving, could’ve gotten back to his partner. Staring down at Alec now, seeing the bags under his eyes, the paleness that no wash of magic could chase away, Jace couldn’t help but wonder if they might’ve been able to save him from whatever happened if he’d just manned up and moved faster. If he hadn’t wasted their time being surprised or sick.

“You can’t blame yourself,” Isabelle murmured. She was pressed right against Jace’s side, holding on to him tightly.

Jace didn’t bother moving away from Alec. “Yes, I can.”

The only thing that was keeping the guilt from eating him alive was the knowledge that Alec was getting the help he needed. When they’d arrived at the address Robert had given them, Jace had been stunned to see the slender black woman who opened the door, or the flare of magic in her eyes when she’d taken in the half-conscious Shadowhunter being held up by his younger siblings. “Help us,” Isabelle had begged her. She’d thrust out at least half their money with her free hand and unashamedly begged. “Please, help us, I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”

Now they were here inside the woman’s house – “Catarina Loss. I’m a nurse, and a warlock, and I’m not going to turn away even a Shadowhunter. Now get him in here,” – and she was still running her healing magic over Alec. Whatever was wrong with him, it must’ve been internal, because most of the marks on the outside had already faded away.

He hadn’t looked that bad when Jace and Isabelle had found him in his room! Sure, he’d felt bad, but he hadn’t looked bad, and Jace had figured that Alec had used an iratze to heal himself. Apparently it’d only healed so much.

“What the hell did you people do to him?” Catarina demanded. She drew her hands back, the light under her palms fading away. The light in her eyes, however, only flashed brighter when she looked up at Jace and Isabelle. “What happened to him?”

It went against everything Jace had in him to say “I don’t know.” The fact that he didn’t know what his brother had gone through, what had caused this, was painful. “I… I felt him. He was hurt…” Terrified. “…but I don’t know what caused it. We aren’t… we don’t go on missions without each other. He wasn’t out hunting. He was just supposed to be at home training.”

“If this was training, it’s no wonder your people die young.”

Catarina’s sharp words had Isabelle flinching. That was enough to finally break Jace from his hold on Alec. He drew back so that he could better pull his sister to his side, and he fixed Catarina with a glare. To his surprise, she actually looked contrite. Like she hadn’t quite meant to speak like that.

“Why don’t you two rest here with him?” she suggested in a much gentler voice. “I’m sure he’ll do better waking up with familiar faces around. For now, I’ve got him as comfortable as I can make him, and I’ve healed what I can. His body mostly needs rest.”

From her place against Jace, Isabelle looked up, that core of strength in her that Jace was sometimes envious of now helping her to lift her chin and sound steady, even when she felt anything but. “Thank you.”

“Yes, well, I’m not going to see a swarm of Shadowhunters at my door for this, am I?”

Jace shook his head. “No. No one but our dad knows we left, and he’s the one that sent us to you.”

“I got his fire message,” Catarina said. She looked down at Alec again, and her face softened, something there that Jace didn’t quite understand. Then she shook her head and that look was gone. “You three get some sleep.”

With that, she left them alone, shutting the door to the bedroom behind her. It allowed Jace to finally bring his focus fully back to his brother. He and Isabelle leaned against one another and looked down into Alec’s sleeping face. Even knocked out the way he was, there was still stress in the lines of Alec’s face. Pain that showed in the tightness around his lips. Not even like this could Alec seem to get any real rest.

Isabelle let out a shaky breath and pressed herself closer to Jace. “What happened to him?”

“I don’t know.” The words hurt to say. Jace held her tighter and tried to fight back the feeling of sick that was crawling up his throat. “I don’t know.”

Chapter Text

Alec woke slowly, and to a surprising lack of pain. His body felt heavy, like it could use hours more of sleep. He’d slept dreamlessly, a rarity for him, and it was oh-so-tempting to just roll himself to the side and go back to sleep. Unfortunately, he couldn’t. Not when his still asleep brain was already telling him there was so much that needed to be done. There was a sense of urgency from the instant that Alec started to wake, that took his sleep-fogged brain a few minutes to place.

Morning was not really Alec’s time of day. He was used to being up most of the night, sleeping through the morning, and then being up in early afternoon. The whole cycle of his day was different than that of a mundane. Demons were up at night, which meant Shadowhunters were, too. It was how they were raised. Alec had been taught when to be up, how to function on little hours of sleep, and how to start going from the instant his eyes opened.

That didn’t mean that he liked it. If it were up to Alec, he’d happily lay around in bed, especially when his siblings crawled in for what Isabelle called a cuddle pile, which it was clear they’d done last night. But, despite feeling Isabelle’s body pressed against his one side, and Jace’s warm presence close enough that Alec was betting he was spooned up behind Isabelle, today was not the day for lazy morning cuddles.

Despite the early hour, his brain was already kicking into gear. There was no moment of disorientation for him. No brief second where Alec forgot what had happened to him last night. It was all there waiting for him the instant he woke up, hitting him and stealing away his breath. Alec remembered what happened to him. He remembered the night, his mother, his siblings, his father, and he remembered heading somewhere that was supposed to get them help. The pain of it washed over Alec, almost stealing the breath right out of his lungs. All of a sudden, the feel of his sister’s hand on his chest stopped being comforting and started feeling smothering. Memories of the hands on his body, the way he’d been pinned down, the pain

Alec was moving before he could think about it. With quick, practiced moves that came naturally, even when in a panic, he rolled his body away from her touch and right off the side of the bed, feet landing easily on the floor. One of his hands braced on the bed while his body crouched there, torn between needing to curl up and run away. Wide, hazel eyes snapped open to look around and take in his bearings, log all his exits.

A quick sweep of the room showed that it was a simple bedroom. Probably a guestroom. In Catarina Loss’ house. Alec remembered that part; he remembered coming to this strange woman for help, hearing her name and her sharp orders to get Alec to a bed. It was just the things beyond that that he didn’t remember.

It wasn’t the room that held his interest, though. It was the pretty woman standing in the doorway. As Alec grew more alert, he realized it was probably her presence that had awoken him originally. The sound of the door opening, maybe? But if that were the case, it meant she’d been there to see him as he woke, to see as he freaked out and rolled out of bed in a panic. She’d watched it all, and Alec flushed under that realization.

To her credit, she didn’t say a word on it. She just met his gaze and nodded her head out towards the hallway. “I’ve got tea on, if you’re thirsty.”

That said, she turned and walked away, leaving the door open in invitation. What other choice did Alec have than to follow after her?

He made sure to close the bedroom door so that his siblings wouldn’t be disturbed. Then, on silent feet he made his way down the hall of this strange house, what was clearly this woman’s home if the pictures on the wall were anything to go by. The hall opened up to a living room on his left, and a dining room and kitchen towards the right. It was in there that Catarina waited for him, seated at a table with a pot of tea and a few mugs in front of her.

The idea of going to sit at a table and drink tea with a warlock was one that Alec never would’ve entertained before. His parents didn’t exactly have the nicest things to say about Downworlders. Certainly, Maryse would be furious at the idea of her son sharing tea with one. Yet… it was because of Maryse that he was here.

Alec pushed down any of his doubts or protests and resolutely strode forward, taking the seat across from her. He tried to ignore how she watched him when he sat down.

Though Alec didn’t reach out for the tea, he did settle himself into the chair, hands folded down into his lap to try and keep her from seeing how he held them together tightly. Holding on to himself, Alec met her gaze without flinching. “Thank you for helping me.”

One corner of Catarina’s mouth quirked up. It was almost a smile, without quite making it all the way there. “I wasn’t going to let you die, even if you are a Shadowhunter.”

Alec bit his tongue against the words that welled up in response. He had no right to be sharp with her. Not after what she’d just done for him and his siblings. Pushing down those words, he reached for better ones. “I don’t have much right now, but I’ll pay you for this. You have my word on that.”

“I don’t need your money, kid. I’m a nurse. It’s my job to help people. Besides,” Her expression softened just a little, sympathy leaking through, though thankfully no pity. “Your siblings didn’t tell me what happened, but judging by what I helped heal, I can get a pretty good picture. I also found a few things on your chest and back…”

A shudder shook through Alec’s body. He knew what she’d found without her saying it. He remembered it clearly, the humiliation of those marks burned into his skin, carved there. The knowledge that he might very well die there, and his family would see him looking like that. “Did… did they see?” Alec asked, voice a low croak.

He couldn’t bring himself to look at her directly, but he saw as Catarina shook her head quickly. “No. I healed those quickly before they could.”

That had Alec closing his eyes on a sigh of gratitude. Isabelle and Jace already knew enough. They didn’t need to know that, too.

He was drawn out of his thoughts when Catarina cleared her throat. Opening his eyes, Alec found that she’d sat forward, arms folded on the table so that she could lean on them. There was a folder on the table that hadn’t been there before. Putting her hand on it briefly, she pushed it towards him. “I took the liberty of preparing a few things while you were sleeping,” she said, tapping one finger against the folder and then drawing her arm back in. “Your father sent a fire message ahead of you, warning me. I didn’t get much, but what I got said that you guys have nowhere to go, and not a lot of money to start with. One of the most important things you’re going to need if you want to hide are mundane papers. Birth certificates, IDs, school transcripts, the whole nine yards. Luckily, I know someone who was fully capable of providing those for us, and in such a limited time, too.”

Alec blinked a few times in surprise. He reached out, flipping open the folder so that he could look at what was inside. Sure enough, he found three papers that were all labeled as birth certificates, plus three normal looking IDs, and a bunch of… school paperwork?

“We’ve had to create new identities for warlocks quite a few times,” Catarina went on to say. “Making up a whole new identity is hard, but I know people who are good at what they do. Your information will hold up under scrutiny.”

This was all really happening. Alec looked down at the papers, at the IDs that somehow had their pictures on them – how the hell? They’d never posed for anything! Hell, he’d been unconscious most of the time so far! – and he felt his stomach twist a little. With one finger he reached out and stroked lightly over the name on the papers. “Espinosa?”

“Well we can’t exactly put Lightwood or Wayland, can we?”

True. They were supposed to be hiding. That meant they were going to have to take on fake names like this. Whole new identities. They were, for all intents and purposes, going to have to live as mundanes. The thought made Alec feel a little sick. What did he know about living as a mundane? What did he know about a life outside of being a Shadowhunter? It was all he’d ever been. All he’d ever wanted to be.

Either oblivious to his panicking thoughts, or kindly ignoring them, Catarina continued speaking.

“Your sister said you’d want to keep your first names if possible, though they were willing to compromise a little. Hence why your parabatai is listed as John instead of Jace.”

That made sense. Few knew his name was actually Johnathan.

Tilting her head, Catarina studied Alec’s face a minute. “Your sister said you wouldn’t want to leave New York.”

Though that wasn’t really a question, Alec nodded anyway. “This is our home.”

“It’s riskier. There’s a better chance of them finding you.” Still, even as she pointed it out, she sounded resigned. Like she’d already had this conversation and knew how it was going to end. When Alec said nothing, Catarina sighed, but she kept going. “By playing on your heritage, and Isabelle’s assurance that you both speak fluent Spanish, we chose an ethnically appropriate last name in the hopes that anyone you encounter here who might know about Shadowhunters will think that you’re on the run from a foreign Institute. Since I’m assuming you won’t go glamoured everywhere and keep your runes hidden…” she paused only long enough for Alec to shake his head no. “…this was the best protection we could think of. But, you have to realize that staying here in the city exponentially increases your chances of being found.”

“No one’s going to be looking for me,” Alec said, voice flat. They might happily try and take his siblings back, though by Clave law they were both almost old enough to make that decision on their own – Isabelle and Jace just shy of seventeen, weren’t quite legal yet, but at almost eighteen, Alec was. If they stayed hidden for a few months, both his siblings would be seventeen, and they’d be able to legally take custody of themselves. The Clave wouldn’t like them leaving, and they might take it as a dereliction of duty if they – or Maryse – wanted to push it. But honestly, quite a few Shadowhunters ran for a while when they hit seventeen. A year of exploring other Institutes, getting to know the world. It was almost like a rite of passage for them.

Alec had never done that, of course. He’d had too many duties and expectations to just run like that. Guess this is my chance now.

Again, that sympathy was back in Catarina’s eyes. She didn’t let it color her voice, though. It stayed just as brisk and straightforward as before. “Well, you have all your paperwork, and I can show you how to go set up a bank account tomorrow to get yourself established. I know you’re almost eighteen anyway, but we went ahead and made you eighteen on your ID so there shouldn’t be any question about your capability of being guardian to your younger siblings. Mundanes aren’t considered adults until they’re eighteen. It’ll also make it easier if you want to do things like enroll them in school, which I recommend if you’re going to be out in public. You don’t want people questioning why they’re not there.”

School. Raziel, he hadn’t even thought of that! Isabelle and Jace were on break from the Academy right now. On the run with him, they weren’t going to go back. There was no way he’d be able to force them. They’d fight him way too hard on it.

Alec’s head was spinning with all this new information, and it just kept coming.

Reaching out, Catarina tapped a finger on the folder again, and then hooked her finger under some papers to lift them up until Alec reached out and flipped them for her. At the back was a picture of a… real estate listing?

“I have a few connections, and one of them has a place they’re willing to sell for pretty low monthly payments. Of course, that means you’ll have to go and get a job, but some of the money you brought with you can cover first month’s rent and utilities, and with having two younger siblings in your care you can always choose to try for welfare to help out, though that’ll put you on the government’s radar, which might not be the best plan.”

“Shit,” Alec breathed out.

A small smile ghosted over Catarina’s lips. “It’s a lot to take in, I know. If you’re sure about doing this, it’s not going to be easy, Alec.”

No, it wouldn’t. He was beginning to see just how hard it was truly going to be. For one brief, tiny moment, Alec wanted to tell Catarina that he couldn’t do it. He wanted to take his own papers and get up, walk out the door, and leave his siblings here. If he asked, he was pretty sure Catarina would portal them back to the Institute whether they liked it or not. They were just kids. Teenagers. Sending them back would be easier on them. Safer. And Alec would go into hiding on his own. Never able to see them again. Never able to be there for them, or watch them smile, watch them laugh, watch them love.

He’d be sending them back to a home where they might not ever be safe. Where he wouldn’t be there anymore to take the punishments that came from their actions.

Alec drew in a deep breath. Unconsciously, he lifted his chin the slightest bit, and he squared his shoulders, bracing up under a weight he’d been taught to bear a long time ago. When he looked at Catarina again, it wasn’t the gaze of a scared child, but the gaze of someone who’d been taught to be a leader. Who’d been put through the wringer and come out the other side stronger. None of his inner fears showed through, and his voice was steady. “Tell me what I need to do.”

What he needed to do for now boiled down to signing the paperwork for the house. A sales contract, Catarina said. It dictated how much the house was worth, what their monthly payments would be, and any fees he’d have to pay if he were late, plus the yearly property tax. It was all so new for Alec, and so damn confusing, but he paid attention as Catarina talked him through all of it.

From there, figuring out work was the next step. Again, Catarina already seemed to have a few things in mind for that. She mentioned a grocery store not far from the new home ran by an elderly couple that would be happy to have someone come in and take care of moving their freight for them, as well as a Chinese restaurant that needed a part-time dishwasher four days a week for the afternoon shift.

For every problem that cropped up, it seemed like Catarina had an answer for him, and Alec was mystified by it. He knew he shouldn’t question his luck. He should just be grateful for everything she gave. Yet it didn’t stop him from worrying. Eventually, as they were closing off the last of the paperwork, Alec couldn’t hold himself back anymore. “Why are you doing this?” he asked. “This is… it’s above and beyond anything I expected. Why are you helping us so much?”

Catarina froze for just a split second. Then, in moves that were almost too controlled, she gathered up the papers he’d just finished with. “Trust me, Alec. I have a very good reason to hate your family. But once, your Father helped save the life of someone I care about greatly. I owed him a favor. This was him cashing in. Now, we’re even.”

That was all she said on the subject, and her tone made it clear that Alec needed to let it go.

Ten minutes after the paperwork was done, Isabelle and Jace finally woke up. Alec heard the sound of Jace swearing, and then Isabelle came tearing down the hall, her eyes wild. The instant she caught sight of Alec, a soft gasp tore past her lips, and Alec had just enough time to push up from the table before he was hit by his sister. She slammed into him, and Alec curled his arm around her.

Off to the side, Catarina watched as Jace came out next, looking nothing like the calm and cocky teenager she’d talked to last night. He looked just as panicked as Isabelle did, and hit Alec with almost as much force as she had. The two were pulled in close against Alec’s chest and cradled there like they were the most precious thing in his universe. As he pressed a kiss against first one head, and then the other, love written all over his face, Catarina realized that they were. To Alec, they were more precious than anything.

“I’m okay,” Alec murmured to them. “I’m fine, guys. I didn’t mean to scare you, I was just out here getting things squared away with Catarina.”

“I woke up and you were gone,” Isabelle said softly, achingly. Her voice held a slight waver to it that Alec hadn’t heard in a long time.

He was abruptly reminded that she was only sixteen. So very young. Her and Jace both. Closing his eyes, Alec squeezed them tighter. “I’m sorry. I was just talking with Cat and getting a few important things taken care of.” For a moment he just held them there and let them all soak up the comfort of one another. Then he drew back and made himself smile. “You guys wanna go see our new house?”

That was enough to have them both shooting back from him. “House?” Jace repeated, eyebrows flying up, at the same time that Isabelle grinned widely. “We get a house?”

Alec’s smile grew a little into that fond one that he only ever gave family. “I thought you guys might be interested in that. I just got done signing the paperwork. You guys ready to go check it out?”

The resounding cheer he was met with made that answer pretty clear.

At first glance, the house wasn’t… great.

“It’s a dump,” Jace said bluntly.

Isabelle reached out to smack her hand against his chest. “It has character!”

Character. That was one way of putting it. Alec drew in a deep breath and looked up at the two-story home in front of him. The pictures had made it look a little better than it was – the paint was chipping, the front porch looked like the railing needed a repair or two – but all in all it was about what he’d expected. A not-so-great house surrounded by a bunch of other not-so-great houses. There was a very small front yard, and to their right was a path between house and fence just wide enough a car could fit, taking them to the much larger backyard. The house was narrow, a compact design that went more up and back than out.

It wasn’t much. But this was going to be their home and they were going to have to make the best of it. Drawing himself up again, Alec gestured his siblings forward. “C’mon, let’s check out the inside.”

Alec led them up the six steps to the top of the porch. With the key Catarina had given him, he unlocked both door and deadbolt, and let them inside.

The first space they came to was a small sectioned off room that was clearly meant for shoes and coats. There were hooks to hang stuff up on, and a shelf where someone could sit and store their shoes underneath. It was all closed off, save for a door to the right that Isabelle opened, taking them into the living room.

Alec stood at the front window that looked out towards the street, and he looked inward, taking the whole of the downstairs in. They had basic furniture that came with the house, thank the angel. A couch, two recliners, all centered around a fireplace on the right side of the living room that would come in handy in cold months. Facing in, Alec could see ahead to the kitchen/dining room, which shared a room, and the back door that would lead to the stairs and down to the yard.

On his left, right after the entryway door, was the staircase that would lead them upstairs to the bedrooms. It went left, and then hooked right and went up the rest of the way. A closet was visible under the stairs, followed by another one directly after it that, when Alec peeked in, showed something that was labeled water heater.

“Raziel,” Jace breathed out, making his way across the living room and towards the kitchen. His siblings followed on his heels. “This is…”

Isabelle cut him off, glaring. “A work in progress.”

That was a good description. Alec followed into the kitchen, moving from carpeted floor to tiled. There was no door, though it looked like there might’ve once been folding doors of some kind. Once he stepped through, the room opened up. To the right was a small, u-shaped kitchen, the fridge right beside the door, the sink and dishwasher on the curve of the U, and the stove and an attached bar on the other leg. On the other side of that was a wooden table with six chairs around it, surrounded by windows.

On the left side of the room was a washer and dryer, the entry to another staircase, and then a small half-bathroom.

The windows lit the kitchen up, and the lighter paint helped make it feel brighter, especially compared to the dark blue carpet and darker furniture of the living room. The spaces were two distinct spaces despite being open to one another.

Above the washer and dryer was a hole in the ceiling. One that Alec looked up at curiously.

He hadn’t realized that Catarina had followed so closely until her voice spoke up right by his shoulder. “That’s the laundry chute. There’s a little door upstairs where you can dump your laundry and it drops it here alongside the washer.”

“That’s convenient,” Alec said.

They moved towards the kitchen staircase with Isabelle leading the way this time, Jace hot on her heels, and Catarina and Alec following at a slower pace.

The top of the staircase was at the end of the hall, right by two doorways. The one straight ahead was the upstairs bathroom, and the place’s only bath/shower, which was going to be interesting. To the right was one of the bedrooms, with a view of the backyard, such as it was. Jace was already in there, turning around the space and looking it over. The whole thing was empty, yet whatever Jace saw in it must’ve been pleasing because he declared “This one’s mine!”

“I want this one!” Isabelle shouted from the other end of the hall.

Alec passed by two other rooms, both on the left side of the hallway, before he found Isabelle in the room at the far end by the other staircase. Her room was divided in two almost, the ceiling jutting down and making two spaces in one. Isabelle stood between the two and looked around, a smile on her face. “I can use the smaller space like a closet, and the rest for my bed and such.” She looked so happy when she spun around, as if this were some castle instead of the run-down mess it was. “This is gonna be so great, Alec!”

He easily caught her hug, smiling just a little against her hair as she gave him a squeeze before yanking away again.

It didn’t really matter to Alec which room was his. There were two rooms left, side by side, and they were both the same. The wall that connected them was a closet on either side, which would make for nice soundproofing, and there was space for a bed, maybe a desk. One was a bit larger, the other would probably hold just a bed, and Alec picked that mostly because he didn’t really need anything else. His clothes would go in the closet, and he’d only be up here to sleep. He didn’t need anything fancy.

Alec tossed down his bag in the smaller room, making a mental note to try and look into what it might cost to get them some sort of bed. Then he made his way back downstairs where Catarina had drifted toward again.

He found her standing in the living room, leaning against the back of the couch. She held a cell phone in her hand, which she tossed at him the instant he came into sight. “It’s a prepaid phone, so you’ll have to buy minutes for it at the store once you get money. I put my number in there, for emergencies.”

“Thank you.” The words were automatic, yet Alec repeated them again with more emotion. “Thank you, Catarina, for everything. For all of this.”

She waved his thanks off. “I’ll give you guys a night to settle in. If you’re up for it, I’ll stop by tomorrow and take you to the bank, get you set up, and then we can go see about those job openings.”

“I’ll pay you back for this.” How, he didn’t know. But he would. This went above and beyond a favor repaid. This was so much more.

“You wanna pay me back?” she asked, one eyebrow going up. “Prove to me you’re not like the rest of your kind. Open your eyes and actually look around you. Think for yourself once. Who knows, you might just find out that Downworlders are people, too.”

Once Catarina left them with the promise to return the next day, Alec gave the downstairs a more in-depth check. He was surprised to find that there was some food in the fridge and cupboards. Not a lot, but some. He wasn’t quite sure who it came from, but it was all still good, unopened and unexpired. Just another thing for him to add to the tally of what he owed Catarina.

They’d have to find a way to get more food and be careful with this so that it didn’t run out. Alec knew how to cook some things, but he was going to have to get a cookbook or something to figure out more. Isabelle was a disaster in the kitchen, and Jace wasn’t too bad – his father had taught him, apparently, and left the job to Jace when they lived in the middle of nowhere – but most of what he knew was about cooking on a hunt. He made a damn good chili, and an amazing stew, and he could barbeque just about anything out there. Beyond that? He’d never really learned and hadn’t needed to once he was with them.

Alec made his way to the couch in the living room and was pleased to find that it wasn’t dirty or dusty. Obviously, Catarina had sent someone in here to clean the place up as best as possible for them. That was good, because aside from the living room furniture and the kitchen stuff, there wasn’t really anything else in this place. They were going to have to get the rest themselves. That meant that, for the foreseeable future, the couch and two chairs were going to double as beds for the three of them. At least until Alec could figure out how one went about buying mattresses.

There were so many things he had to figure out. Alec blew out a breath and buried his face in his hands, his elbows resting on his knees. For just that moment, with no one to see, he let himself slump down. Let the weight of everything show.

What the hell was he doing? Why was he allowing his siblings to get dragged down into this with him? Alec had no idea how to live this life. He had no idea how to be a mundane. Grocery shopping, furniture shopping, a job, bills, utilities – he’d never had to deal with those. Things at the Institute were run on angelic power and were protected by magic.

They weren’t going to have anything like that here. They were going to have to take care of everything themselves.

All the training Alec had gotten to become Head of the Institute wasn’t enough to prepare him for suddenly becoming an adult and taking care of his siblings in a mundane world. Alec pressed his palms in hard against his eyes. He didn’t know if he could do this.

The sound of footsteps running on the stairs had him jerking his head up. He looked up in time to see Jace rounding the corner and clearing the last few steps, Isabelle chasing after him and laughing. They both had bright smiles on their faces, and Jace laughed as he braced on the back of the couch and leapt over it, practically falling on Alec as he did. Isabelle followed after him, though she purposely tumbled right into Alec, dropping herself against him the way she had thousands of times before.

Somehow, Alec ended up with a sibling on either side of him. Jace put his back into the corner of the couch, one foot drawn up to rest on the cushion while the other leg rested overtop one of Alec’s. The touch was very like Jace – close, without getting too close, not infringing on either of their personal space too much yet making sure the other knew they were there. Isabelle didn’t have any such reservations. She lifted Alec’s arm and tucked herself up underneath it, cuddling into his side.

Warmth was radiating from the parabatai bond. A silent strength and support that Alec drew on, using it to steady himself so that, when he smiled, none of his worries from moments ago were able to show through.

“I like this place,” Isabelle said, resting her cheek against Alec’s shoulder so that she could grin up at him.

Jace made a low humming sound. “It’s not too bad.”

“We can make it work,” Isabelle said, smacking at Jace’s leg. “Don’t be a brat.”

You’re the brat,” Jace shot back. He stuck his tongue out at her, and she flipped him off.

The sight of them playing so easily had a bit more of Alec’s tension draining away. They were right. This place, it wasn’t too bad, and they could make it work. It wouldn’t be easy. Raziel, it was going to take some serious effort. But with his sister beside him, and his parabatai strong at his side, Alec held on to the belief for the moment that they’d be able to make it work. Together.

Chapter Text

Their first few days in their new house went by faster than Alec had expected. Catarina came by the next day, just like she’d promised, and Alec left his siblings exploring the neighborhood while he went out in some of Jace’s clothes – because Isabelle insisted he needed to look nice, and none of his own stuff worked – and went to the ‘interviews’ that Catarina took him to.

In the end, they were less interviews and more introductions. Catarina introduced Alec to the elderly couple, the Johnstons, who ran the grocery store and needed someone young and strong to do freight Monday and Friday mornings, and then she took him to the Chinese restaurant where he was introduced to Ms. Liu, who needed a dishwasher for Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays in the afternoon.

At both places, Catarina did the introductions, and Alec walked away with a job. They weren’t much, and he was going to be getting paid ‘under the table’ as Catarina put it, but it was money. Money that they desperately needed.

It wasn’t until they were back at the house again that Catarina brought up something Alec could tell had been bugging her all morning. He wasn’t all that surprised to see her square her shoulders, or to hear what it was she finally said as the two of them stood by the front steps. “Are you sure this is what you want to do, Alec? Really, really sure? Once you start work and really commit to this, it’s not going to be easy. You’re going to have to take care of both your siblings, send them to school, feed them, clothe them, be their parent instead of their brother. On top of that, you’ll have to take care of all the mundane things you’ve never had to do before. You’ve got a month before your rent and utilities will come do, but that’s not very long to build up some cash. This… it’s a lot. You need to be absolutely sure this is what you want to do.”

“There’s no other option,” Alec said plainly. The words weren’t meant to be self-pitying; to Alec, they were true. There really was no other option here. Besides which, he’d already been doing more of those things than Catarina seemed to realize. Alec had been his siblings’ primary caretaker for a long time. Taking care of them was all he knew he was good at.

“There are,” Catarina insisted. “I have a friend who would be able to get you out of town. Out of the country, even. “When she saw Alec already shaking his head, she sighed heavily. “At the very least, we can get him out here to improve the wards we put on this place. Maybe see if he has some ideas about how to better hide you all. Magnus was always better at that kind of magic.”

The sound of that name had Alec snapping his head up. He knew that name. Everyone at the Institute knew it. “Magnus? Magnus Bane?” At her nod, Alec quickly shook his head no. “Absolutely not.”

Catarina visibly bristled. “And why not?”

Shit. This was her friend, someone that she cared about, and Alec’s vehemence probably didn’t come off as too kind. He hurried to try and explain himself before she had the chance to get too angry. “It’s nothing against him, Catarina. But out of everyone in the Downworld, he’s the one most closely connected to the Institute, and I can’t…” Alec’s voice tried to crack, and he had to stop himself and swallow just to force that feeling down. When he spoke again, his voice was softer yet no less steady. “I can’t risk it.” I can’t risk them.

They both heard the unspoken sentence behind those words. Catarina sighed, and it was clear she didn’t like it, but she was going to respect it. Respect him. “Fine. But you have to know, he’ll find out about your presence eventually. He’s on a vacation right now with one of our old friends, but he still checks in, and he will be back eventually. He’s the High Warlock; he won’t stay gone. Once he’s back in town, how long do you think it’ll take for word to reach that a Shadowhunter has taken up residence in the Downworld?”

“I’ll handle that when the time comes,” Alec said. He couldn’t look that far ahead; not with the amount of things already on his plate. For now, he needed to get his family taken care of. He’d worry about the High Warlock when he actually became a problem.

Later, as Alec made lunch for his siblings and listened to them talk about what they’d found around the neighborhood, Alec found himself hoping that the High Warlock stayed away on his vacation for a long, long time. Alec didn’t want to risk anything screwing this up. Especially not when Jace and Isabelle were beaming so brightly at him, caught up in the excitement of all this, in the newness of it.

That would wear off eventually, he knew. But for now, he wanted to keep that light in their eyes for as long as possible.

Getting used to having a mundane job wasn’t as hard as Alec had worried it might be. The dishwashing job was simple. Monotonous, really. Alec had been stuck with KP duty before at the Institute, and those who were sent there as punishment weren’t allowed the privilege of the dishwasher to use. So, stacks upon stacks of dishes was nothing new for him, and he fell into it easily. He was fast and efficient, and Mrs. Liu seemed pleased with his work. The elderly Chinese woman had beamed at him after his second day, kissed his cheek, and then sent him home with a takeout order that had been abandoned, insisting that it not go to waste.

Mr. and Mrs. Johnston were equally kind and seemed more than happy to have Alec in their store. He was there at seven when freight arrived, with Mr. Johnston sleepily coming downstairs – the elderly couple lived above the store – to let Alec in so that he could unload everything into the back room. During his first week, that was all Alec did, just unload and get it inside. But on his second week, he went a little further, breaking things down and separating them.

It didn’t take long until he was bringing the freight in, unloading it, and then putting the extras in back while taking parts out to restock the shelves for them.

No, it wasn’t the jobs that was hard to adjust to. Alec loved those. They got him out of the house, gave him something to do beside the nightly patrols that he and his siblings had been sneaking out for, and it brought home cash they desperately needed.

What was hard to adjust to was going from learning how to run a place, to actually being the one in charge. Things like food, money, bills – Robert had been teaching Alec how to do those things, but they hadn’t been Alec’s sole responsibility. Robert had been the one to make those final decisions. He’d gone over what Alec had done and corrected his errors. Now, there was no one to correct his errors. No one to make sure he got it right. All of this was on Alec’s shoulders.

Money was the first big concern. Alec got about a hundred a week from the Johnstons, and about sixty a week from Mrs. Liu. That wasn’t much – Alec was quickly realizing just how much more he was going to need as they started to run low on groceries, and they got closer and closer to their first rent payment.

He spent quite a bit of time at night, laying there in the living room while Jace and Isabelle slept, trying to figure out how he was going to get extra money. If money stayed consistent, his monthly income would be a little over six hundred a month. Thanks to Catarina’s friend being so decent, their rent was five seventy-five a month, which even Alec knew enough to know was insanely low. Especially for a house and not an apartment. A glance at newspaper listings for rentals only proved that. But it also only left him with around sixty dollars to cover utilities and food, plus buy them any new supplies they might need. Like beds.

It was all terrifying, and nothing like Alec had thought it would be. The only good thing that seemed to come from those worries was that Alec’s brain was too filled with worrying about how to pay bills and keep the power on to think about the reasons that he’d had to leave home. The only time those thoughts crept in were late at night when he finally managed to get some sleep. Nightmares plagued him then, taunting him with the memories he knew he was never going to forget.

But during the day, Alec pushed all those thoughts aside, focusing instead on trying to keep his family afloat.

The answer to his problems came in a rather surprising form just three weeks after they’d moved in.

Alec hadn’t been expecting anyone to even be at home when he left the grocery store that morning. Jace and Isabelle were once again heading out to explore the area, something which they seemed to love to do, and Alec had figured he’d get done at work and be able to head home to a quiet house for a little while. He had a newspaper in hand, plus this week’s pay, and a bag of produce that the store had been about to throw away. All in all, a good haul for the day.

He was surprised when he turned down his street and saw Catarina standing at his front porch. Even more so when he saw the skinny young woman at her side. Even before he got close, Alec could tell this girl was young. Probably close to Isabelle’s age. She had darker skin, and dark curly hair that stuck out in a cloud around her head. Her posture was curled in, defensive, and her eyes were hooded. She’s not happy to be here.

When Alec got close, Catarina pushed off the porch railing and smiled at him. “I was wondering why no one answered the door.”

“I didn’t realize you were coming by, or I would’ve made sure someone was here.” The words weren’t apologetic; just a statement of fact. Alec knew Isabelle would’ve smacked him for being ‘rude’, but Catarina just grinned at him.

“I wasn’t exactly planning on stopping by.”

Alec shrugged one shoulder, moving through the gate and up the porch steps. “You’re here now. You want to come in, have some coffee?”

“That’d be great.”

He shifted the weight of the bag so that he could get down into his coat pocket and pull out his keys. It took a little bit of effort, but he got the door unlocked and opened. When he headed in, he could hear both Catarina and the girl following in behind him, one of them shutting the door. His movements were quick and easy as he got a pot of coffee brewing. Once it was on, he went back to his grocery bag, though he took a moment to gesture to the seats at the bar. “Come in, have a seat. It should take just a minute for the coffee to brew.”

“Thank you, Alec,” Catarina said, smiling at him as she nudged the teenager down into one of the seats, and then took one herself.

“It’s Al, actually.” Pulling out the bag of apples, Alec set it down on the counter. “It seems to be what everyone’s taken to calling me.”

“Less noticeable than Alec, I suppose, though I don’t really think it suits you.”

Alec shrugged his shoulder. “It’s a name. Which, speaking of…” He pulled the now empty bag off the counter and folded it, setting it aside before he straightened back up and looked right at the young girl. “I don’t believe I got yours. I’m Alec Espinosa, but you can call me Al if you’d like.” He stuck his hand out towards her, as he’d been taught to do, and watched as she gave him a look of confusion, amusement, and maybe a bit of scorn. It was a look that Jace was pretty good at. Disdainful teenager, Hodge had called it once.

The girl didn’t reach to shake his hand. She deliberately kept her hands down in her lap. But she did lift her chin, angling it almost like daring someone to take a punch. “Maia.”

“Maia is a new friend of mine,” Catarina said, cutting in between them. She drew Alec’s focus back on her, and then, in the blunt manner he’d grown accustomed to from her even in their short interactions, she asked: “You still wanna pay me back, Shadowhunter?”

The fact that she called him Shadowhunter in front of this girl was rather telling. Alec logged that little fact away even as he focused on her question. It was a dangerous question to answer, especially without explanation, yet there was no answer Alec could give other than: “Yes.”

“Maia needs a place to stay for a few weeks.” Catarina hesitated for just a second, and Alec braced himself. His suspicions about this girl were only proven when Catarina said: “She’s a werewolf.” It was the only thing that made sense. Either that or a young warlock. Either one came with risks, though, and Alec couldn’t help but think of those as he looked over at Maia. Before he could even think to say anything, Catarina hurried on. “She’s new, but not so new that she’s going to wolf out at the slightest emotional shift. Yet, she doesn’t feel comfortable living around mundanes yet, and she’s not eager to be a teenaged girl living with a pack of mostly adult men. I thought this might be the best place for her.”

Alec’s eyebrows drew down, and he gave Maia a skeptical look. “You want a recently turned werewolf to stay with us?”

The disbelief in his tone clearly set the girl’s hackles up. Maia tensed even more, arms crossing over her chest and a heavy glare settling on her face. “Oh, yay. Good to see people are just as racist about this as they are about everything else.” Sneering, she looked him over from head to toe, eyes running across his runes deliberately before settling on his face. “Trust me, buddy, after what I’ve heard I’m not all that thrilled about staying with Shadowhunters, either.”

“So it’s all right for you to judge us for being Shadowhunters, but we can’t judge you for being a werewolf?” Alec found himself shooting back.

He watched as Maia opened her mouth, clearly ready to snap at him again, only for her to cut herself off. Unexpectedly, some of the temper faded from her eyes. Though she still looked tense, it wasn’t as bad as before. “Point for you, big man,” she conceded. Her arms uncrossed, just a little, and she tilted her head to look at him in a curious way. “How about this? I’ll keep an open mind, if you do the same thing. But don’t think I won’t call you on any of that racist shit if I hear it.”

She stuck a hand out towards him, and Alec watched her for a split second, trying to read her face. There was a lifetime of training battling away inside of him that was insisting he kick her back out. Catarina just said that she needed a place to stay. There were plenty of other places, Alec was sure. It didn’t have to be here. Alec’s training demanded that he say no to letting a werewolf come and live with him. Downworlders weren’t to be trusted. Especially not one so young and new, who probably didn’t have the best of control yet. They were animals.

Yet there was a bigger part of Alec, a piece that had been growing and getting louder ever since that last night at the Institute. That part couldn’t help but point out all the Downworlder help that they’d gotten since they left, despite the fact that Shadowhunters had never treated warlocks kindly. Catarina had healed Alec without needing to be asked. She’d helped him get set up in the mundane world with paperwork, a home, even finding work. She’d done so much for them that was completely at odds with everything Maryse had ever said about warlocks.

If Maryse was wrong about that, what else was she wrong about?

Not to mention – Alec owed Catarina. He owed her so much. If this was how she wanted that debt repaid, what right did he have to say no?

Though it’d felt longer, only seconds went by as Alec’s thoughts raced through his mind. They twisted and turned before finally settling on the only answer that made sense. Slowly, Alec lifted his hand, and he clasped it around Maia’s much smaller one. “Deal.”

When Alec looked up, Catarina was beaming proudly at him. “I’ve already talked with her pack leader. He knows I help people out now and again, so when Maia expressed a desire to stay somewhere else, he came to me. He’s willing to let her stay here so long as she still goes to school, comes to any pack meetings, and she’s safe.”

“Alpha or not, he doesn’t get to choose where I live,” Maia snapped, her glare back and directed at Catarina now.

The older woman chuckled like she found Maia’s attitude amusing. “I think you two will be able to help each other out a lot. Maia can help you figure out the school system so you can get your siblings enrolled, and she’s got a job at a coffee shop after school, meaning she can contribute to bills.”

“Any little bit helps,” Alec said, directing his words towards Maia. Though pride demanded he keep quiet, common sense won out. “We don’t have a lot. The furniture you saw in the living room is pretty much all we have. Until I save up enough money, we don’t have beds.”

Maia shrugged one shoulder. “I have my own stuff out in Cat’s car.”

Somehow, Alec doubted there was a mattress hiding out in the car. Stil, he nodded his head. “Why don’t you go ahead and go bring it in? Your bedroom is at the top of the living room staircase, second door on the right. It’s not much, but you won’t have to share.”

While Maia went to get her stuff, Alec served up coffee for both him and Catarina. Watching her add in copious amounts of sugar to her brew, and just a touch of milk, had him feeling less self-conscious about doing the same.

“I really appreciate you doing this, Alec,” Catarina said.

“We owe you.” To Alec, that said everything. He was the type to pay his debts.

Some of the harder edges on Catarina’s face softened just a little. Despite her initial misgivings, and Alec’s own worries, he found that he liked her, and he was pretty sure she was a little fonder of him than she had been. That was only proved when she lifted her cup and glared at him over the top of it. “Why didn’t you say anything about the beds? I knew Sergio left some furniture here. I just assumed he left some upstairs, too.”

Leaning back against the far counter, Alec cradled his mug between his hands. “You’ve done more than enough for us already.”

“Oh, fuck that. This whole thing doesn’t have to be tit-for-tat, Alec. Did you ever think that maybe I’m helping just because I want to? Not because I want something out of it?”

Her scolding words had Alec flushing just a little. To hide it, he ducked his head down and brought his cup up, taking a sip from the warm brew.

Catarina chuckled. “Sometimes you act so much like an adult, I forget you’re not. Then you go and do something adorable and it sort of ruins that whole badass image you’ve got going there, Espinosa.”

“Shut up,” Alec grumbled at her.

The kitchen filled with the sounds of Catarina’s husky laughter.

Catarina stayed just long enough to finish off her cup of coffee. Once it was done, she passed it back to Alec, went upstairs to speak with Maia for a bit, and then let herself out. That left Alec and Maia alone together for the first time.

When Maia came back downstairs, Alec was still in the kitchen, working on cleaning up the mess his siblings had left behind from breakfast. Much as he hated washing dishes, it was an easy process, and one that let his brain drift while he worked. He was trying to readjust his thinking to having a new person in the house. There was so much that came with it. Wondering and worrying about his siblings, about whether or not they’d like Maia, if they’d be okay with having her here, if everyone would get along. What if they fought?

That wasn’t even touching on the expense aspect of all this. Alec had been stressing trying to figure out how to take care of things with just the three of them. Now there was another person to take care of. Another mouth to feed.

He heard the sound of Maia’s shoes on the staircase, and he turned his head just enough that he could watch as she came into the kitchen. He didn’t say anything, and at first, neither did she. She just came up to the bar and sat down, watching him almost curiously. Alec waited her out. He was used to his siblings doing the same thing. Usually it meant that they wanted to say something. Isabelle would do it all the time. She’d come in and sit down near him, maybe file her nails or sharpen a blade, and if he just waited long enough, she’d eventually say what was on her mind.

The trick seemed to work for Maia, too. Alec only had to wait about five minutes before she finally spoke up.

“So, I work a couple hours after school every day, and a seven-hour shift on Saturdays,” Maia said suddenly. “With all that, I get about three hundred every two weeks, maybe a little less sometimes. More in the summer when I can work longer days, or during spring break and such. I’ll give you half of that. That gives you, like, three hundred a month from me for rent.”

Oh, it was tempting. So very tempting. The extra three hundred would cover utilities, which would go up now that they had a fourth body in the house, and it’d help get more food, plus allow them to stock away a little so that they might finally be able to start buying some stuff around the house. Beds, lamps, a dresser or two.

But Maia was young – way too young, in his opinion, to be holding down such a full-time job. And Alec couldn’t take away her hard-earned money. “You don’t need to do that.”

Maia huffed, lifting one eyebrow as she did. Whatever she saw on his face had her shaking her head. “Dude, I’m not your kid sister, or whoever it is you’re used to looking out for. Before I got turned, I was living with my aunt who gave a fuck-all about me or the bills. I’m used to making sure shit gets done. That means that I know how this whole things works – probably better than you. Trust me when I say you’re gonna need that cash. Unless you got some fancy, high-paying job that Cat failed to mention.”

“I have work,” Alec said.

She held her hands up, palms towards him in a gesture of peace. “I’m not saying you don’t. I’m just saying, don’t be stupid and turn down the offer for help. You’re gonna need it.” Lowering her hands, she folded her arms on the bar top and leaned forward on them. One corner of her mouth quirked up just the slightest bit. “Consider that your first lesson in mundane living. Never turn down good cash. Also, when you can get something for free, do it. Which is why we’re gonna go out tomorrow and I’m gonna show you the nearby food bank, and the local welfare office.”

“No welfare,” Alec said immediately. He and Catarina had talked about that already, and they’d both agreed that it was a bad idea. The last thing that Alec needed was to get on the government’s radar.

The way Maia looked at him made it clear she wanted to question that. But, she let it go. “That’s cool. The food bank is still a smart plan, though. They give you a whole box of free food once a month.”

That would definitely help. Between that, plus the bits he kept bringing home from work, he’d probably be able to cut down their food budget some, which would help with everything else. Alec shot her a quick look as he finished washing the last mug. “Thanks.”

“No problem. Thanks for letting me stay.”

Quiet fell over the kitchen. It probably would’ve quickly grown uncomfortable if it weren’t for the sudden sound of the front door flinging open, followed by the sounds of Jace and Isabelle doing one of their all-time favorite things – arguing. “I don’t care!” Jace was saying loudly. “I’m telling you, that guy… woah.”

Alec turned around in enough time to see Jace freeze in the entryway to the kitchen. His eyes almost immediately found Maia. The slow, flirtatious grin that curved his lips was enough to have Alec wanting to cover his face and sigh. Of course Jace’s first reaction was to hit on Maia. Of course. Because why not make things awkward right from the get-go?

“Well hello there,” Jace said. His eyes moved to Alec, and then back to Maia. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. We didn’t realize Alec had company.”

“Company?” That came from Isabelle, who popped out from around Jace’s shoulder, shoving him out of the way so she could get into the kitchen. Her eyes went right to Maia, too, but she beamed when she saw her, and immediately bounded forward, one hand already out. “Oh, hi! I’m Isabelle, and that moron over there is my brother, Jace. I hope we’re not interrupting anything.”

Maia seemed a little stunned by Isabelle’s bubbly personality, which was fair, people often were. But she took Isabelle’s hand and shook it anyway. “Maia.”

“Maia’s going to be staying with us for a little while,” Alec said, drawing their eyes over to him. He dried his hands off on the towel and hung it back on the hook, and then turned to better face them all. “She’s a pretty new werewolf, so let’s try to not push her buttons.” That part he directed at Jace. If there was anyone in the house who was going to try and do something to get Maia’s emotions up and mess with her control, it’d be Jace.

Jace shot Alec a stunned look. “What?”

At the same time, Isabelle was practically squealing. “Oh, Angel, that’s fantastic! I’m so excited to have another girl in the house. You’ve got no idea what it’s like living surrounded by all this testosterone…” Isabelle used her hold on Maia’s hand to tug her forward, wrapping an arm around her when she got close and using that hold to lead her forward, steering her towards the staircase. The quick look she shot Alec’s way, how her eyes flicked towards Jace and back again, made it clear she’d read Jace’s reaction just like he had and was giving them time alone to talk.

Alec waited until the two girls were upstairs. Then he turned his focus to his parabatai. Jace wasted no time in speaking up. “You invited someone to stay with us?”

“Catarina stopped by and asked if we could put Maia up for a while. She needed a place to stay,” Alec explained calmly.

“So you just decided to let her stay here without even asking us?”

“I didn’t think you’d mind, really,” Alec said.

Not mind?” Jace threw his hands up and let out this half scoff, half snorting sound. “Seriously, Alec? This is our home too.”

“I never said it wasn’t. Btu what did you want me to do, Jace? You guys weren’t here, and I got home to find Cat and Maia on the porch waiting for me. The girl needed a place to stay that wasn’t in a packhouse with a bunch of adult men. This seemed like the smarter and safer option.” Alec pushed off the counter to take a step towards Jace. He watched him, furrowing his brows down as he tried to read both Jace’s face and their bond. “What’s your real problem with this, Jace?”

Jace didn’t look at him. He crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the back door, deliberately avoiding Alec’s gaze. “We don’t know this girl. How do we know we can trust her?”

Years of knowing Jace, of taking the time to get to know him, to see beyond all the masks he put up, let Alec hear the real question that sat underneath that. How do I know I can trust her with you? Closing his eyes, Alec felt the ache of that rock through him. It wasn’t hard for him to follow Jace’s train of thoughts. He’d trusted the people at the Institute, trusted them around Alec, and then he’d come home to find…

“It’s not like that, Jace,” Alec said softly. He forced down his pain, all the fear that still ate at his insides, and he reached a hand out to rest it on Jace’s arm. “She’s not them.”

“How do we know that?”

“Jace. She’s a sixteen-year-old teenager. One who hasn’t been trained in our life. Yeah, she’s a werewolf, and that gives her an edge. But do you really think she stands a chance against even one of us, let alone three of us?”

Jace scoffed at him. “You wouldn’t hurt her even if she did attack you. You’d let her kick your ass.”

“I might not want to hurt her, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try and stop her.”

The kitchen fell silent. It was easy for Alec to feel that Jace was processing their words. The other boy didn’t like this, that was clear, but he trusted Alec, and he was kind-hearted all on his own. Alec knew there was no way Jace would turn Maia away.

Eventually, Jace let out a soft sigh, and he shifted his weight so that he was pressing his side against Alec’s, leaning in to him. Alec moved his hand from Jace’s arm so that his arm was around the other man’s shoulders. Then he used that hold to tug him in for the hug he knew Jace needed. “It’s gonna be all right,” Alec murmured against his hair, trying so hard to ignore the feelings in his chest at holding Jace this close. They were feelings he hadn’t let himself think about ever since the attack, and he wasn’t going to let him think about them now. Right now was for family and comfort, not for that.

Another sigh, and then Jace let his weight slump against Alec. “You’re annoying when you’re right.”

Alec let a grin stretch over his face. “Must be hard to deal with if I’m annoying that often, then.”

He was rewarded with a laugh and a mock punch from Jace. Seeing Jace’s eyes light up again, seeing his smile, made it worth it. So long as he had Jace and Isabelle by his side, they’d be able to make it through just about everything. Alec let the warmth of Jace’s teasing wash over him, reminding him of that fact.

A shout from upstairs drew Alec and Jace’s attention. The two didn’t even have to share a look; they took off at the same time, racing up the staircase and towards Isabelle’s room.

What they found wasn’t what they were expecting.

There, in the middle of Isabelle’s bedroom, was a bed. And not just a mattress on the floor, but a full-fledged bed. Isabelle and Maia were beside it, the two of them staring down at it. When the boys ran in, Isabelle looked up at Alec with wide, awed eyes. “We were just standing here and this blue sparkle showed up, and then there was a bed!”


Alec felt his tension drain away as he realized what this had to be. The only explanation that made sense. “Jace, go check your room.”

Jace went to his, and Maia went to hers, while Alec turned and made his way to his own door. He wasn’t as surprised to find that he had a bed, too. A queen sized, just like he’d had at the Institute. A single sheet of paper sat in the center of his bed. Alec knew who it was from even before he picked the note up.

Alec –

Consider this a gift from doctor to patient. The last thing your back needs is you compacting down onto that couch or chair to sleep.

- Cat

PS: I don’t want to hear a thing about paying me back. After all, it’s not like I paid for them

Alec stared down at the note for a moment, reading it over a few times just to make sure he understood. Then he shook his head. Catarina Loss was nothing at all like what he’d thought about her, and so much more than he’d expected. The amount of things she’d done for them so far just kept adding up, one on top of the other, building up a debt Alec had no idea how to pay back. It didn’t matter that she seemed insistent he not bother. Alec knew he owed her a massive debt. One day, he’d figure out how to pay her back for it. Somehow.

For now, he’d settle for doing what she asked, accepting Maia into their home and taking care of her the same way that he took care of his siblings.

Judging by the sound of voices and laughter echoing through the hall, it wasn’t going to be that hard to adjust to. He already took care of two teenagers. What was one more?

Having Maia move in with them proved to be one of the best decisions that Alec had made since he’d left the institute. Isabelle adored her and was thrilled to have another female in the house. She took the news that Maia was staying with them with no problem whatsoever. Jace, on the other hand, took a bit to warm up to her even after his and Alec’s conversation. Those two got into more arguments in the first two days than Alec had ever seen Jace argue with anyone. They argued about everything. Food, cooking, school, household chores. Maia was quite firm in her insistence that Jace do things like take out the trash or pick up after himself – things that Alec had been nagging at him to do for their whole life.

But the two also argued about bigger things. They argued about rhetoric that Shadowhunters had grown up hearing. Maia wasn’t afraid to point out all the things that were wrong with what they’d been told. She had no issue with saying when she thought something was stupid, or racist, or ignorant, and Jace would argue his point back just as hotly.

In all honesty, Alec learned quite a bit from listening to them. He might not always get involved – sometimes he couldn’t help it, words tumbling past his lips before he thought about it – but he always listened. That was just Alec’s thing. He watched and listened and drew in all the facts so that he could take them and turn them around in his head later on until he could make them all fit together.

Alec learned about Downworlders by listening to their arguments. He learned about the racism and speciesism that they had to put up with. As Maia put it, “I’m a black woman who also happens to be a werewolf. Trust me, I’ve got the whole trifecta of shit for people to hate on me for.”

He also learned about something called homophobia.

The subject came up just a month after she’d moved in with them. The group were sitting around the living room drinking a few of the beers that Jace had come to enjoy. How he kept buying them, Alec wasn’t quite sure, not was he willing to ask about it. Alec wasn’t fond of drinking them, but they were there, and he wasn’t in the mood to listen to Jace and Maia debate some of the Clave’s prejudices while sober. Though, he kept a careful eye on his brother. They might be safe inside their home, but though Alec was lax with it, Jace wasn’t near legal drinking age yet and Alec wasn’t about to let him build up a bad habit this young.

“Do you guys have Shadowhunters-of-color?” Maia asked. She was curled up in a chair, one leg over the arm and the other drawn up onto the seat with her.

Isabelle gave a low hum from where she was smushed with Jace on the couch. “Yeah. We have Institutes all over the world, which means we’ve got all different types of people.” She rolled her head just enough against the back of the couch to be able to smirk over at where Alec sat in his own chair. “Not that you’d believe it, looking at Alec, but our family is actually Hispanic.”

Her words had Maia laughing. “Pasty little white boy over here?” She used her bottle to point at Alec, who lazily flipped her off, a gesture he usually only showed with Jace or Isabelle. He didn’t see how his siblings startled at seeing that kind of reaction from him, or how they smiled about it.

“It’s true,” Jace chimed in. “We were all taught to speak Spanish, and Alec can make some pretty damn good traditional food.”

Maryse had been the one to teach them. She’d wanted to pass some of their heritage along. Those memories were some of the few good ones that Alec carried of her. Back when she’d been nicer. Kind. When she’d still loved her children instead of just being disappointed in them all the time.

Maia missed whatever was going on with Alec, though he knew by the worried looks that his siblings had caught on to the mask he’d pulled up. But then all of it flew out the window at Maia’s next question. “Okay, so at least you guys aren’t behind the times on that. What about being gay? Religion always seems to hate on that the most.”

The whole world went still. Alec froze with the bottle halfway to his mouth, trying to go blank yet fully aware that his siblings were staring at him. It was enough of a reaction that Maia picked up on it. She slowly lowered her own bottle, clearly guessing that she’d hit a sensitive topic here. With the way that Jace and Isabelle had looked to Alec, it wasn’t like it was hard for Maia to make the leap and figure out the one secret that Alec had fought for so long to keep.

She opened her mouth to speak, only Alec beat her to it. “Shadowhunters aren’t allowed to be gay.” The words left a cold, bitter taste in his mouth.

For a second, Maia hesitated, clearly debating if she should leave it alone or not. Yet she’d already proved she was too much like Jace – too willing to say the hard things that no one else would. It surprised him less than it should have when Maia asked: “Is that why you left?”

Alec closed his eyes, debating for a second just not saying a word, though he knew that his silence was answer enough already. And then a soft voice whispered in his head Why the hell not? That voice sounded startingly like Isabelle. Slowly, carefully, Alec drew in a breath, and he opened his eyes, avoiding both his siblings and Maia. He didn’t look away from the wall as he once again lifted the bottle to his lips. “They made it clear what would happen if I chose to stay.”

“I’m sorry, Alec.”

He tried to shrug it off like it was no big deal. Though they all knew it was a lie, she let it slide. Instead of saying anything about it, she scoffed and took a swig from her own bottle. “People are assholes. They’ve always gotta find something to hate about people. Even mundanes. If you’re not a rich white boy, fucking forget it. Oh, and let’s not forget pretty. If you’re all those things and still not pretty, well, that’s even worse.”

Angel, that sounded so much like home in so many different ways.

Alec wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol, or the company, but he found himself snorting and sinking a little lower in his seat. “Sounds familiar. Only instead of pretty little rich boys, we have deadly Shadowhunters with a strong family name. It doesn’t matter that your so-called ‘strong family name’ has ties to the Circle in the past. It just matters how strong a connection you’ve got to the angel. And how well you are at killing things.”

“And how straight you are,” Maia chimed in.

“And how straight you are,” Alec echoed.

When Maia held her bottle out, it took a second for Alec to realize what he wanted. When he did, a soft smile touched his lips. Then he tipped his bottle her way so that they could clink together. “To existing outside the norm,” Maia said, smirking at him.

Alec drew his bottle back and found that his own smile was growing. “I’ll drink to that.”

“Amen!” Jace chimed in, reminding the two once more that there were two others in the room.

When Alec looked up, he found Isabelle watching him with a look of such open pride, he flushed.

That moment seemed to be the final icebreaker between them all. Though Catarina had said that Maia only needed a place to live for a short while, they all knew after a few weeks that she wasn’t going to go anywhere. This was her home now, and they’d taken her in, just as Isabelle and Alec had once accepted Jace in. While Shadowhunters lived for the family name, Alec and Isabelle had always believed just a little differently than the rest. To them, bloodlines didn’t matter so much as heart. Jace wasn’t related to them by blood, but he was family. From the moment he came to them, he was theirs.

Now Maia was theirs, too.

Chapter Text

Meeting Maia and having her in their lives expanded their little family by one. Though Alec hadn’t intended on letting anyone else get close to him – the fear in his gut that never quite went away warned him against it – she’d somehow managed to get close enough that Alec couldn’t really picture their life without her in it anymore. Somewhere in the span of her first few months with them, she went from an annoying nuisance Alec put up with for Catarina’s sake, to a vital part of their family.

After she’d been with them for a little over a month, making it their second month in their house, she came to Alec with a surprising offer.

They’d discovered this last month just how high their monthly bills were going to be. Between food, rent, electricity, and water, what Alec and Maia made just barely covered things. Add in the expenses of picking up supplies to prepare for sending Jace and Isabelle to school – not only school supplies, but proper clothes that weren’t made for Shadowhunters – there was no way their income was going to cut it.

To that end, Maia had put in a word with a packmate of hers who was apparently looking for some extra help at his bar. Not only that, but the guy was willing to allow Alec to work despite him being both a Shadowhunter and legally underage. It was a werewolf bar, and it had some protections on it that kept mundane authorities from ever looking too closely at them. Which meant they weren’t going to end up in trouble for Alec being there.

The thought of going to work in a bar that was owned and frequented by werewolves was enough to set Alec on edge. He was trying to fly under the radar. But, need for money won out, and Maia assured him he’d be fine.

Alec found it almost as hard to say no to her as it was to say it to Isabelle.

The idea of meeting new people was almost as scary as the idea of them being Downworlders. Alec had Isabelle and Jace, and he had Maia now, and even Catarina as a sometimes-friend. He didn’t need any more people in his life.

The universe apparently took that as a challenge.

The next people they met were a warlock duo that didn’t so much become a part of their lives as they sort of shoved their way in and made themselves at home without any intention of ever leaving.

They’d been living in their new house for almost three months by that point, and it finally felt like they were actually settling in. Things weren’t easy, but they’d gotten easier. Alec felt less like he was drowning in everything that they had to do, and more like he was finally starting to tread water. Even the nightmares had lessened. Their house felt more like a home with each passing day. Between Isabelle and Maia, and a lot of scrounging at yard sales and thrift stores, they had some bedding for their beds, and had even gotten Isabelle a dresser that the girls had repaired together.

It was the first evening of Alec’s new job, and he and his siblings – Maia was out with a friend – had just finished cleaning up from dinner when a knock sounded at the door.

Alec tossed the towel at Isabelle. “Finish getting the dishes in the sink,” he told her. “I’ll go see who it is.”

“Who the hell is knocking at our door?” Jace asked, pausing in his washing. “No one ever comes here.”

Rolling his eyes, Alec made his way towards the front door. “That’s what I’m gonna find out. Now, keep cleaning up.” Better to keep them out of the way just in case this was trouble of some sort. Jace was right – no one ever came to their door. Alec assumed it had something to do with the wards Catarina said were on the place. They were pretty much left alone. So, who on earth was here?

When Alec finally opened the door, he found two people standing there, a man and a woman, both of whom were ridiculously beautiful, and who were both holding bottles of what looked to be alcohol of some kind.

The man was tall, and rail thin, though it leant a look of elegance to him that was only enhanced by the slacks, shirt, and vest he wore. His hair was dark and a bit curly, with just enough combed forward to dangle over one warm amber eye, though the back looked like it might be kept short. He stood tall, shoulders back and arm held out to the woman beside him, who had her hand slipped into the curve of his elbow.

The woman was shorter than him – quite a bit shorter, actually. It looked like she’d be able to fit under her companion’s chin with a little bit of room to spare. She was dressed in fitted black pants and what looked like a bejeweled corset that lifted her chest up high and showed off what even Alec recognized was impressive cleavage. Long brown hair was twisted up into a fancy braided style that looked almost like a crown. It framed her face, bringing attention to the jeweled eyepatch she wore over her right eye. The left, an earthy brown, watched Alec sharply, a look made even more dangerous by the full smirk she wore.

“We’re your welcoming committee,” the woman said, her voice low and just a hint husky, with a strange edge of threat to it. She held up the bottles in her free hand and gave them a shake. “We also come bearing drinks. So, welcome and all that shit. Cause any problems and we’ll be the ones to come kick your ass.” A little sparkle of magic danced around the hand holding the bottles. Warlocks.

The man let out a low laugh, not seeming at all bothered by her threat. His voice was amused as he scolded her. “Bambi, be nice to the baby Shadowhunter.” Then he was looking up at Alec, looking him over from head to toe, and his own smirk grew like he was surprised by what he saw, or… pleased. “I’m Eliot, and this is Margo. We have a house just down at the end of the street, and like Margo said, we keep an eye on things around here.”

Manners had Alec responding without even thinking about it, though he stammered his way through it. “I’m ah, Alec. Espinosa. Alec Espinosa.”

There was the sound of movement behind him, Alec’s only warning, and then Isabelle popped up under his arm, her grin wide and bright. “And I’m his sister, Isabelle. Why don’t you guys come in? We’d love to get to know our new neighbors!”

Margo opened her mouth, but Eliot beat her to it. “That sounds lovely.”

Despite the way the idea of letting two strangers into his house had Alec’s stomach clenching, he found himself stepping back and allowing them in. Isabelle took them towards the kitchen, while Jace stayed behind in the living room, giving Alec a silent look. Are you okay with this?

Alec shrugged one shoulder. It wasn’t like he really had much choice. Isabelle had already invited them in. All he could do now was make the best of it.

Jace grinned back at him. Unlike Alec, he and Isabelle were definitely social creatures, and having new people to talk to would make them happy. Even if it was a couple warlocks who were undoubtedly far, far older than the two teenagers even if they only looked like they were in their twenties.

By the time Alec made his way through the living room and into the kitchen the group had already started setting themselves up at the kitchen table. Eliot had what looked to be a bottle of wine, and he was looking around for glasses while Margo set her own bottles down. Isabelle was perched on the table, legs swinging and her grin bright as she chattered away at Margo about her outfit, who in turn was beaming at the compliments.

Alec rolled his eyes and turned into the kitchen to grab a few glasses. When he turned back around, he was surprised to find that Eliot had moved during that time and was standing right there next to him, close enough for their arms to brush. Eliot beamed and reached out to snag the glasses from Alec’s hand. “Oh, glasses, perfect. I was just about to summon some from home!”

The combination of being trapped in the kitchen by a stranger, one that he knew was stronger than him thanks to magic, and the brush of fingers against his when he wasn’t expecting the touch – all of it seemed to trigger that internal warning system that felt like it was set on high alert ever since that night. Alec’s whole body tensed up in response; he couldn’t help it. Anyone that he didn’t know that got close to him was enough to have his body tensing in preparation for an attack. Even having his siblings creep up on him was enough to set Alec off. He hated it – he hated it so much. This, though? This was too much all at once. There was no way Alec wasn’t going to react.

The way he flinched didn’t go unnoticed. His siblings were looking at him with worry, frozen in what they were doing, and Margo was sneering at him as if Alec had just confirmed every bad thing she’d clearly already been thinking about him. But Eliot… Eliot looked at him curiously, and then slid back a single step. Just that small bit of distance helped some of the tension drain from Alec’s shoulders. With as closely as they were watching him the others noticed that, too, and it seemed to make Margo’s sneer even worse. She opened her mouth, ready to snap, but Eliot beat her to it. “Is it that I’m a warlock, or that I’m a man, or just a person in general?”

The question brought all the tension back into Alec’s body. He wasn’t surprised when Jace responded to it by pushing away from the table and making his way over to stand between them. “It’s none of your business,” he snapped, putting his back to Alec and glaring at the others. “Izzy invited you in for drinks or whatever, not to make our brother a sideshow for you.”

“Calm your tits, Cujo,” Margo snapped at him. She looked Alec over again and let her upper lip curl. “We’re not after attacking your boyfriend.”

It was the last word that did it. Alec jolted, hard, and took a full step backward without consciously choosing to do so. They know echoed through Alec’s brain a terrifying loop that had his heart pounding and his breath catching in his chest. Alec let his eyes dart around Jace, trying to figure out the easiest way to get out of this small space he was trapped in and away from everyone before the panic attack he could feel starting built into something bigger.

He didn’t really register what Jace was saying, or Isabelle’s attempt at a soothing yet firm voice, or whatever it was that Margo said back to them. But, in his sweep of the room he caught Eliot’s gaze once more, and there was something in there that had Alec going still and staring back at him. Something old, and hurt, and full of understanding.

Eliot didn’t take his eyes off of Alec when he interrupted the growing argument. “Margo, dear, sheathe your claws. No need to let your inner bitch out so early in the day.”

“This was a bad idea,” Margo said, turning her glare to her friend – partner? “I told you this was a bad idea. Nothing good ever comes out of making friends with Shadowhunters!”

To her clear surprise, Eliot laughed and shook his head. He winked at Alec like they were sharing some secret joke here, and then he turned to press a kiss against his partner’s cheek. “Oh, Bambi. I’ll explain to you later just how wrong you are right now. For now, leave tall, dark, and gorgeous alone and come help me make drinks.”

The way that Margo glared at him made it clear she’d rather do anything else but that. Still, she turned her back on Alec, huffing only a little, and focused back on the alcohol and glasses that Eliot had brought over.

They were all so focused on their drinks, leaving a wide opening for Alec to escape if he wanted to. And oh, it was tempting. To walk out of the room, out of the house, and just go. But Alec hadn’t ever been the type to take the easy way out.  Under Isabelle and Jace’s concerned looks, he drew a deep, steadying breath, and he focused on the steadfast emotions that were in his parabatai bond. Alec was a pro at using those to help steady his own feelings. He let Jace’s support wash over him, and he used that new calm to keep himself steady as he finally focused on the drinks that Eliot was making.

Whatever the drinks were, they were green, and Eliot looked proud of himself as he held one out to Jace and Isabelle each. Beside him, Margo cocked her head, looking back and forth between the younger two siblings. “Are they even old enough to drink?”

Jace flashed her a grin. He wasn’t the least bit bothered by her mocking tone. “Like that’s ever stopped me.”

“It stops you now,” Alec interjected. He reached out, snagging the glass away before Jace could get it, and taking it for himself. He gave his brother a firm glare, one that even Jace knew better than to argue with. Seeing him slump, but give in, Alec nodded. Good. The beers they had at night were one thing; hard alcohol was something else entirely. He sent another glare Isabelle’s way, but she held up her hands, showing she’d already declined the drink.

“You don’t exactly look legal yourself, either,” Margo pointed out.

Alec shrugged, his body shifting to stand at parade rest at Jace’s side. “I’m nineteen.” The lie slid easily from his lips. Granted, he was actually eighteen now, but the fake ID had him a year older, and Alec wasn’t going to chance anything. Alec would live the lie, commit himself to it wholeheartedly.

The two warlocks exchanged a look. When Margo turned back, her expression was just a touch patronizing, like she was speaking to some particularly slow child. “Sweetheart, the legal drinking age for mundanes is twenty-one.”

Alec’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. Huh. That… that was actually something he hadn’t known. Then again, it wasn’t like he’d ever really been in normal bars. Sometimes he’d had to go to clubs to pick his siblings up when they did something stupid, but they were usually Downworlder bars which tended to serve them younger, used to catering to the occasional Shadowhunter or a warlock or vampire who looked younger than they were. Otherwise, they were at clubs, and Isabelle had explained to him once that most clubs stamped you as you went in with a color that let the bartender know if you were legal or not.

“I take it it’s not like that for Shadowhunters?” Eliot asked curiously. His hands were moving at the same time, fingers wiggling over one of the bottles. Blue light surrounded it and Alec watched as it changed from vodka to soda water. A bottle of cranberry juice appeared next to it.

It was Isabelle who answered him. “We start having a glass of wine or whatever at dinner when we’re sixteen, but in Alicante, the bars let you in at eighteen.”

Eliot hummed, easily mixing together two drinks with absolutely no alcohol in them. “Probably because most Shadowhunters tend to die young. Might as well let them have their fun while they can.”

Margo shot him a chiding look. “Well aren’t you a ray of sunshine.” Then she was looking back at Alec, one eyebrow arching up. “Wait, so if you’re not letting him drink…are you telling me blondie here is younger than sixteen?”

“I’m sixteen!” Jace exclaimed loudly.

Alec rolled his eyes. He relaxed, leaning his hip just enough to prop it up by the sink, and he relaxed even more when Jace took his new drink from Eliot and came to lean against the counter by him. He stayed close enough to be a comfort while also making sure there was space for Alec to go if he had to. It made Alec want to smile. There was no one out there like Jace. No matter how they fought sometimes, there was no one that knew Alec better, or who cared about him more.

“It’s not like we didn’t drink when we were young and foolish,” Eliot said, winking at them.

That seemed to steer the conversation to drunken shenanigans. Margo and Eliot were clearly trying to outdo one another in embarrassing stories, which quickly turned into telling stories on the other. Isabelle and Jace chimed in with their own embarrassing stories, and a few of the drunken escapades that Alec already knew about. He was generally the one to clean up after them.

While they talked, Alec stayed where he was, sipping at the drink in his hand and listening to them talk, a small smile ghosting over his lips. This was the most animated he could remember seeing Jace and Isabelle lately. If Maia weren’t out with friends, he imagined it’d be even more lively. She’d probably fit in well with these two.

At one point, Eliot slipped away from the others, moving down the line of the bar till he was closer to Alec’s end of it. It let them be close without putting Eliot fully in Alec’s space. They had the bar to separate them. That made it easier for Alec to turn and look at him when Eliot folded his arms on the bar and leaned on them, smiling over at him. “Not a big drinker?” he asked, tipping his head towards Alec’s mostly full drink.

Alec looked down at it, then back up at Eliot. He tried not to squirm a little under the man’s amused look. “No, it’s uh, it’s fine.”

“Too bitter? Too sweet?”

The question didn’t sound like a trick one. Eliot didn’t look bothered by Alec’s lack of enjoyment in what he’d made, just curious about why he wasn’t fond of it. “Um… I, ah, I’m more used to wine, that’s all. That’s what my family always served.” It was another thing Maryse had taught him. It was part of the whole sophistication package she felt he needed to learn.

“Hmm. Okay, so a wine drinker. All right, in other drinks or foods, are you a fan of sour or do you like things sweeter?”

“Either?” Alec hadn’t really had either flavor in drinks before – at least not alcoholic ones. Isabelle liked to tease him for his secret love for extremely sweet coffee. He could drink it black if he had to, but he loved the sweeter, flavored versions of the drink she sometimes insisted they grab before or after patrols.

Eliot reached a hand out palm up. “May I?” he asked, eyes going to Alec’s drink and then back to his face.

When Alec handed his glass over, it didn’t escape his notice how careful Eliot was to make sure that their fingers didn’t touch. Seeing that left Alec feeling slightly ashamed.

Eliot pulled a few bottles over towards them, contemplating a few for a second and making a humming noise at others. In the end, he added something green to Alec’s drink, plus a pinch of something that looked kind of like sugar. A quick stir with a little green stick and then he was presenting it to Alec with a grin and a flourish of his hand. “There! Try that.”

To Alec’s surprise, the drink was much sweeter, with just a hint of sour to it, and the burn of the alcohol was a whole lot less. Alec took a sip, and then an actual, proper swallow. “That’s delicious.”

His honest compliment had Eliot beaming. “Drinks are my specialty. I’ve had a few hundred years to perfect them. I’ve worked in a bar or two in my time, but I’ve also owned one. Something tells me you would’ve liked it. We perfected the best mulled wine there…”

And just like that, Alec found himself drawn into the conversation instead of watching from the sidelines. As he sipped from his drink and listened to Eliot describe a bar in a time gone by, he found himself relaxing just a little and actually enjoying the conversation. In fact, he got so wrapped up, he almost failed to notice the passage of time. It wasn’t until Alec turned to grab a towel for a small spill that his eyes landed on the clock. “Oh, dammit.”

“What?” Jace asked, turning with him and following Alec’s eyeline until he saw the clock. “Oh. Damn.”

“Problems?” Margo asked curiously. With a few drinks in her, and a lot of stories, she seemed to have relaxed quite a bit. She was perched on the table now right alongside Isabelle and – though they thought Alec couldn’t see – he’d noticed her slipping her glass to Isabelle a time or two and letting her have a sip.

Alec lifted his glass and drained what was left like a shot. Then he set it in the sink. “Yeah. I need to head to work, and these two need to head to bed sometime soon. We’ve gotta go by the school in the morning.” Already, Alec’s mind was shifting gears, moving from the moment of relaxation back to the real world. He switched over from Alec to the part of him that had been trained to lead. The part that shut everything else off and got things done.

A wave of the hand from Eliot and all the bottles were gone from the counter. Their glasses ended up in the sink. “I hope we didn’t keep you too late,” he said apologetically. “Do you need a portal?”

The offer was kind, and Alec responded to it with a brief, soft smile. “No. If I leave now, I should be able to get down to the bus stop in time.” He was already putting actions to words and moving to gather up his coat, wallet, and keys. Eliot and Margo followed, for which Alec was grateful. They seemed to understand that they weren’t going to be sticking around once he was gone. Alec hated the idea of leaving his siblings home alone, especially with strangers knowing about it, but they were both old enough to handle themselves, and, well, they needed the money.

Stuffing his keys down into his coat, Alec turned around and gave his siblings a serious look. “Remember, Maia won’t be home tonight, she’s staying over with a friend. So, you guys need to lock up before bed. And make sure the rest of the dinner dishes are done. I’m not coming in and scraping off day old food because you couldn’t be bothered to rinse your own plates.” He saw Jace open his mouth and hurried to cut him off at the pass. “No, Jace, that is not what the dishwasher is for. It doesn’t wash that shit off, and if you break it by clogging it with food again, I’m making you fix it.”

“We’ve got it,” Isabelle said, laughing. She hurried forward and swatted Alec’s hands away so that she could adjust his jacket for him. “Go! The house isn’t going to burn down if you’re gone for a night.”

Alec gave her a dry look that only made her laugh again. Then he found himself practically shoved out with Eliot and Margo. The door was shut behind them, followed by a loud click that was the lock engaging. Alec knew Isabelle had likely done that for his benefit. Smiling a little, he shook his head. Then he looked up at the two still standing there with him. “I’m sorry to boot you guys out so quickly. But thank you for stopping by. It was… nice.”

He was surprised when Margo actually smiled at him. “You’re not as much of a dick as I thought you were.” Somehow, from her, that seemed like a hell of a compliment.

Eliot held his arm out to Margo, letting her slide her hand in to curl over his elbow, and he tipped a wink at Alec. “We’ll be seeing you around, Espinosa.”

The two took off, moving down the yard and off into the opposite direction that Alec needed to go. He watched them for a moment, and then gave a shake of his head. Strange warlocks could be figured out later. Right now, he had a job to get to, and he really didn’t want to be late on his first night. As it was, he’d been lucky to get this job at all, and he knew it was only because of Maia putting a word in with her pack that he’d even been considered for it.

With quick steps, Alec hurried away from the house, heading towards his first night at the Hunter’s Moon.

Chapter Text

Alec’s first night at the Hunter’s Moon did not go well. The place was a werewolf bar, which meant that it was almost entirely populated by Downworlders, and there were very few of them that were happy to see a Shadowhunter in their bar.

For the moment Alec was only out on the floor half the time. His job was to buss tables, gather empties, wash them, and replace them at the bar for the bartender – an Unseelie by the name of Sorcha. She was a nice woman; one who didn’t live up to the reputation of most Unseelies. She’d greeted him with a grin and a brash, husky laugh that seemed out of place on a woman so small. Alec probably could’ve closed his hands around her waist, and her head didn’t even reach his shoulder. Yet, objectively, he could see she was a beautiful woman. Petit, pretty, with lots of curves, dark skin that seemed to lean more towards a dark blue than a dark brown, and her black hair kept short in a feathery pixie cut. Alec imagined she got hit on quite a lot during her shift. Yet, she also seemed perfectly capable of handling it.

“Don’t worry about a thing,” she told him once she was through showing him around. Blue eyes twinkled merrily up at him as she reached out to pat his arm. “You managed to look at me and let me close without flinching. If you can do that, you’ll survive the others here.”

Alec’s eyebrows shot up with surprise. “Why wouldn’t I look at you?”

Sorcha paused, tilting her head a little to the side. The edges of her smile softened into something that was just the slightest bit warmer than before. “Oh, you’re a sweetheart, aren’t you? There aren’t many Shadowhunters who’d let me get this close to them, let alone touch them. Not without pulling one of their fancy-ass blades on me. You’re tense, but something tells me that’s not really about me personally.”

Those last, knowing words had Alec wanting to shuffle his feet and look away. Somehow, he kept to his training and stood still, hands linked behind his back. “You haven’t done anything threatening. I’ve got no reason to do anything to you.”

Sorcha’s smile only brightened. “You and me are gonna get along just fine, I can tell. Anyone gives you any trouble tonight, you just let me handle them.” With one last pat to her arm, she went back to the bar, and Alec was left to man the dishwasher.

That started off one of the longest nights he’d had since they’d first left home. It seemed that, even for a weeknight, the Hunter’s Moon was a pretty popular bar. Alec spent quite a while washing up the dirty glasses that were already back there. When he brought the first round out, it didn’t take long for people to notice him, or for the first voice to shout out at him. Alec had just reached the bar with his tray when someone shouted out “Are you shitting me? What the hell’s a Shadowhunter doing in here?”

Alec didn’t have a chance to speak. Sorcha beat him to it, calling out: “I know it might be strange to you, Billy, but there’s this weird thing adults do called work. I’m sure you’ll figure it out someday.”

Her mocking words had half the bar laughing. Alec ducked his head, trying not to blush under the intense stares, and he hurriedly tried to put the glasses under the bar for her. She put her hand on his back when he got close, a silent support, and didn’t jerk away when he flinched. She just left her palm there while Alec refilled the glasses, and someone else shouted out at them. “This is our bar. Since when do Shadowhunters work here?”

“Since he needed a job, and Jeb hired him,” Sorcha shot back. She filled a beer and slid it to one of the women sitting nearby. “Any of you yahoos got a problem with that, go take it up with Jeb. But I find out you’re harassing him, you’ll be taking it up with me. An trust me – you don’t wanna do that.”

Alec straightened up in just enough time to catch the threatening look that Sorcha gave the entirety of the bar. In that moment, he could see why there were stories about the Unseelie and their tempers. Despite her small size, she looked more than capable of causing trouble in that moment, and like she’d be happy to do it. It was enough to give Alec a chill, and to silence any other complaints.

That didn’t mean that no one gave him any trouble, of course. There were plenty of snide looks and whispered remarks when Alec went around to gather up empties and clean up tables. More than one person made a point to spill their drink before they left. Alec grit his teeth and resolutely ignored it. No matter that a part of him was demanding he step up and make sure they knew they couldn’t treat him like that.

You do that, you lose this job, Alec reminded himself over and over. He stood at the dishwasher in the back and loaded up the next set of tumblers to run through. You can’t afford to lose this. The jobs Cat got you barely cover bills as is. Cat said things get more expensive in the winter and we’re almost there. You NEED this job. Over and over Alec gave himself that same speech. It was the only thing that kept him going through the long hours of his shift. If he wanted to be able to take care of his siblings, he needed this work.

Jace and Isabelle were his responsibility. They were younger than him, and they’d only left home because of him. Alec couldn’t let them down. He had to take care of them. If that meant sucking it up when yet another werewolf spilled beer on a table, or ‘accidentally’ on him, or when someone else tried to trip him, well, he’d do it. Alec would take the ridicule that he was slowly starting to learn Shadowhunters might actually deserve – a thought he once wouldn’t have dared to have. He’d take the hard ball of panic that hadn’t left him all night long; a fear that came from being around so many people he knew hated him, and the memories of what had happened the last time.

By the time his shift ended, Alec was a few steps away from a full-blown panic attack, his feet hurt, and he was more than ready for bed.

Still, he hung around an extra few minutes while Sorcha shut off the lights and started to lock up. “You did good tonight, kid,” she praised him. At Alec’s skeptical look, she let out another husky laugh and ushered him towards the front door. “You did. Don’t let those assholes get to you. They’re not used to seeing a decent Shadowhunter.”

It was on the tip of Alec’s tongue to defend his people. By sheer will, he held it back. The words didn’t taste as true as they once had. There was the edge of something sour to them. Something wrong.

Sorcha smiled again, as if sensing Alec’s thoughts, and she patted his shoulder. “Go home, honey. Get some sleep. I’ll see you back here tonight.”

“Goodnight, Sorcha.” Pausing, Alec hesitated a second before adding a quick “Thanks.” Then he was darting off into the dark, completely missing the smile she sent after him.

The walk home gave Alec time to stretch himself out and let his mind work past the knots he’d tied himself up in all night long. Out here, alone in the dark, he could let go of the tension, push away the stares and whispered comments. Honestly, the subject matter might be different, but Alec was more than used to being stared at and whispered out. The Lightwood family, while slowly gaining back respect, hadn’t always been treated the best. Alec was used to being held up to a higher standard than others, just as he was used to failing at it. The whispers here weren’t any worse than the ones he’d heard at home.

That place isn’t home anymore, Alec thought, feeling a pang around his heart. The Institute – a place he’d been raised to believe he would one day run – had stopped being home the instant he’d been cornered that night. With the first blow, the first kick, the first spew of venomous words, the Institute had stopped being a place he loved and became one of the places he now feared the most.

As much as a part of Alec would always want to go back there, to find that sense of home again, he knew he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. Even if he were welcomed back with open arms tomorrow, it would never be home for him again.

However, home was slowly becoming a ramshackle two-story house in a not-so-great part of town. Home was Isabelle, and Jace, and now Maia. Maybe it wouldn’t be the same. But it could still be good, right?

Caught up in his thoughts, Alec almost missed the sounds of danger nearby. It wasn’t until the scent of blood and sulfur broke through his nose that he suddenly went on alert. Even as he cursed himself for not having his bow and arrows on him, Alec was already moving, following that scent and the feel of evil that filled the air every time demons walked the earth, the wrongness of them like oil against the angelic part of Alec.

Thank the Angel he’d at least stored a seraph blade in his jacket. It was too ingrained in Alec to go out without a weapon at all. He pulled it out just as he hit the alley that it all seemed to be centered around. There was a kid there, no more than five or six, with a Shax demon looming over them. Alec didn’t even have to think. In a flash, the blade was in his hand and he was shouting, drawing the demon’s attention his way.

Alec jumped and dove around the Shax when it lunged for him, taking up place between the kid and the demon, and he twisted his blade until it was settled comfortably in his palm. Unlike Jace, who was known for way too many one-liners while fighting, Alec didn’t bother saying anything. He waited for his opening and lunged, his full focus on taking out the demon and keeping the child safe.

It took longer than it should have, and Alec ended up with a cut on his arm that he really hoped didn’t have any venom in it. But the Shax was finally dead, and Alec was free to turn to the child that was still curled, terrified, against the wall.

The way the kid flinched when Alec got close had him freezing in place. All it took was the kid’s eyes darting to his arms, to his seraph blade, for Alec to understand. Once he did, he thought he might be sick. This child looked just as scared of him as he had of the demon. Not because Alec was some strange guy with a sword – because he was a Shadowhunter. That realization was almost too much.

Alec had to fight to swallow back the bile in his throat. Slowly, making sure the kid saw every move he made, he put the seraph blade away. “Hey, it’s okay.” Alec tried for that low, comforting voice he took after his siblings woke from a nightmare. One that he’d perfected in his years as a big brother. “You’re all right, kiddo. I’m not gonna hurt you. I just want to help, that’s all. Can you tell me if you’re hurt?”

The kid drew back even more, and his eyes flashed, shifting into a murky yellow. The air around him seemed to crackle.


This was a warlock child. One who was terrified, and alone, and had clearly been taught not to trust a Shadowhunter.

Alec had to swallow down another wave of bile.  With great effort, he kept his tone low and steady so as not to add to the kid’s fear. “Okay, that’s okay. You don’t have to talk to me. But I can’t just leave you here. So, why don’t I call a friend of mine – you might know her. She’s a warlock, like you. Her name is Catarina. Is that okay?”

Still no answer.

He likely wasn’t going to get one, either. Alec made sure to keep his hands where the kid could see them while he drew his phone out of his pocket. A second later he was hitting the only contact that was in there, the one Catarina had put in herself when she’d given him the phone. While it was late, Alec hoped that she was either awake or pulling a night shift at the hospital.

Thankfully, it only took a few rings for Catarina to answer. “What’s wrong?”

Her voice was sharp, though Alec thought there might be a hint of worry underneath. No doubt Catarina knew that Alec wouldn’t call her unless it was an emergency. She’d helped them so much, but that didn’t exactly make them friends. The two were still rather wary of one another in some ways. Right now, though, that didn’t matter. “Hey, Cat. I’ve got a friend here that I think might be able to use your help.”

I’m not here to help out every rogue Shadowhunter in the city,” Catarina said dryly, sounding a bit more relaxed than before, though more irritated. “Besides, you do realize it’s the early morning? You’re lucky I was even awake to answer the phone.

Alec watched the kid, who had stopped trembling but was still staring at him as if waiting for Alec to snap and do something to him. The sight was heartbreaking. Being so closely watched, Alec chose his words carefully. “They’re not one of mine. I’m actually pretty sure they might be one of yours.”

Dammit.” There was a pause, her voice coming through muffled for a second as she clearly spoke to someone else. When she came back, she demanded “Where are you?” It only took a second for Alec to figure out where he was, and then to give her the address. As soon as he did, she told him: “I’m at work right now, I can’t get away, so I’m sending Eliot. He said you two met last night. Just stay where you are, he’ll be there as quick as he can. I’m assuming they’re… they’re a child, right? No adult would stay with you to call me like this.


Okay.” Again, a pause, though this time there was no other voice she was speaking to. Just a long moment of quiet before a soft: “Thank you, Al.”

The fact that she felt the need to thank him, and that she sounded so stunned as she did it, only made the sick feeling in Alec’s stomach grow. “You’re welcome.”

When he hung up the phone, he tried to smile at the kid once more. “Don’t worry, kiddo. She’s sending someone over now to come help. You’re going to be fine.”

“Help’s already here.”

The sound of Eliot’s voice had Alec looking up. The man strolled down the alley towards them, and Alec found that he had to fight a smile at the way that Eliot wrinkled his nose or how he sidestepped to avoid a particularly nasty spot of ichor. He was clearly disgusted by the place, and not afraid to show it. “Oh, Catarina owes me for this,” he mumbled.

Alec rose as Eliot got close. He took a deliberate step back to make room for the man to get between them. It seemed to help the kid relax; especially when he looked Eliot over and saw no sign of runes.

The action didn’t go unnoticed by Eliot. He stopped and held his arms up, letting the kid get a better look. “Don’t worry. No runes here. I’m not a Shadowhunter, thank the Lord, though I’ll give you this one over here isn’t really all that bad.” Dropping his arms, Eliot moved to crouch down in front of the child. He must’ve done something that Alec couldn’t see because the child gasped, and then moved right up to him, practically plastering himself against Eliot.

To Alec’s amusement, Eliot seemed completely discomfited by the gesture. He awkwardly patted the kid’s back with one hand while looking up at the sky as if he’d find answers up there for something.

Alec smothered down the surprising urge to grin. “Do you have somewhere to take them?”

A low, whispered conversation happened between the two, and then Eliot was nodding his head. “Right.” In total contrast to his awkwardness only moments ago, he slipped an arm under the child and scooped them up. Then he turned to face Alec. His eyes ran over Alec in a quick check, narrowing when they landed on his arm. Alec tried to turn back, already prepared to brush it aside, when Eliot let out a low huff. “Great, two kids to babysit. All right, broody, get over here with us. We’re going to drop this one off with a friend of mine, and then I’m going to take a look at your arm before you manage to do something else stupid and, I don’t know, lose the arm entirely.”

“I’m not going to lose my arm,” Alec protested immediately. “It’s just a cut.”

“One that’s probably infected with a million different things in this disgusting alley. Now, chop-chop!”

“Are you always this bossy?”

The snark was out before he could stop it. Alec wasn’t really known for having the best filter on his mouth. Fortunately, Eliot seemed like he was more delighted than offended by Alec’s words. “Oh yes, absolutely.”

Somehow Alec found himself getting dragged out of the alley, Eliot holding tightly to his hand, and then through a portal. It didn’t strike Alec until later that he didn’t flinch at the touch, or at traveling through a strange portal. He just let Eliot tug him out of the alley…

…and into a strange looking lobby. It looked almost like the entrance to an old, family style home or hotel. Alec didn’t get much chance to look around. Their arrival alerted people almost instantly, and two women came rushing out. One of them caught sight of Alec and had her hands up, magic swirling around them, before he could blink.

Luckily, Eliot reacted faster, letting go of Alec’s hand and stepping in front of him. “Now, now, don’t go breaking my toys before I’ve had a chance to play with them. This one is mine. He helped rescue this little runaway.” At that, Eliot set the kid down, and Alec was surprised at how the kid immediately ran towards the nearest woman. They embraced in a way that suggested they knew one another. Eliot’s next words only confirmed that. “I suggest you talk to the tyke about not portaling out for a bit of fun in the city. Next time he might not be lucky enough to have someone nearby who can kill demons.”

That was all Eliot said before he turned and grabbed Alec once more. Another portal was created, this time taking Alec from the strange lobby…

…right into Alec’s living room.

The sight of his own home around him had Alec startling. Then his eyes narrowed, and he twisted to glare at the man who was currently letting go of his wrist and closing the portal. “You can portal into my house?”

“Uh, warlock?” Eliot pointed at himself, eyebrows going up in a clear look of Are you stupid?

“Catarina said our place was warded!” Alec hissed.

Realization hit Eliot’s face. Then he waved his hand as if dismissing it. “Oh, that. Yeah, I helped make those. I’m better at wards than she is. They’re kind of like, my specialty. One of them, at least. The point is, I helped make them, it’s not like it’s hard for me to get through. Now, do you wanna stand here and debate warding until your siblings wake up, or can we go take care of that cut on your arm and whatever else you’re hiding?”

He pushed at Alec’s arm, ushering him forward toward the kitchen, and what the hell else was Alec supposed to do except go along with him? He let himself get pushed into the kitchen, and then down onto a bar stool when Eliot pulled it out. It wasn’t until Eliot began stripping off his jacket that Alec found his voice again. “I can do it!”

There was a hint of a high note to Alec’s words that he hated. A crack in his control he hadn’t wanted to break through. But… after a night like tonight, with all those people at the bar, and then being alone here with someone he barely knew, plus the remnants of his barely averted panic attack earlier in the evening, Alec’s anxiety was higher than he liked. It was taking a lot of effort to tamp it down even just this much.

If Eliot caught on, he was kind enough not to comment on it. He just lifted his hands and took a step back. “Be my guest.”

Alec carefully slid his jacket off, though he kept it in his lap, needing the comfort of having his seraph blade close. He looked down at his arm now that it was free and happened to catch sight of something he hadn’t noticed before. His arm wasn’t the only thing bleeding. Oh. Surprised, Alec lifted his arm out of the way and took in the cut on the stomach of his shirt, his worry momentarily pushed aside. Huh. I missed that one.

“Just your arm, huh?” Eliot asked dryly.

“I didn’t actually notice the other one.”

“Of course you didn’t.” Snorting, Eliot shook his head. At some point while Alec had been taking his jacket off the other man had grabbed a cloth. Now, he wet it down at the sink and brought it over. When he squatted beside Alec, he looked up, the rag hesitating near Alec’s ribs. The fact that he waited for permission made it a lot easier for Alec to nod his head. Flashing a smile, Eliot brought the cloth the rest of the way forward. “You know, sometimes when I get in a pity party about what a shitty family I had, I look at you Shadowhunters and I realize it could’ve been worse.” He sighed as he wiped away a bit more blood before he pressed against the cut, firm yet still gentle. “At least mine didn’t twist me up so much I stuck around for the beatings they liked to give out. I ran as fast as I could, as quick as I could.”

Alec kept perfectly still as Eliot cleaned up his side enough to be able to see the wound. Part of him wanted to protest the first half of what Eliot said, but the other part of him felt more compelled to give a soft “I’m sorry.”

Eliot shrugged like it was no big deal. “It was a long time ago,” he said, drawing the cloth away to look at Alec’s ribs. When he pressed it back again, he kept his head down, his eyes focused on the work he was doing. “So… look, I know we barely know each other, and great big emotional chats aren’t really my thing. I tend to fuck ‘em up somehow. But I guess what I’m saying is just… your family wouldn’t be the first to try and beat the gay out of their kid.”

Instantly, Alec’s head snapped up, and his panic rocketed through him again. “I’m not…!”

“Hey.” Eliot didn’t rise, but his free hand came up, curving over the side of Alec’s neck, and the touch jolted Alec at the same time that it left him frozen, unable to move. When Alec lowered his wide eyes, he found Eliot giving him a look so soft and sad it made Alec’s eyes burn. “I’m the last person to judge you, all right? I get the fucked-up home you grew up in, and I’m not saying that all that’s just gonna let you go now that you’re out of there. God knows I still have my own issues. All I’m saying is… you’re not alone, and that I understand more than most might.” He gave Alec’s neck a squeeze and then abruptly drew back, a smile lighting up his features as he pushed upright. “Okay, now that the maudlin stuff is out of the way, let’s see about finishing this up before you start throwing up. These shoes cost me more than your rent and I’m not after magicking them clean. That never seems to get all the odor out.”

Just like that, the heavy weight of their conversation fell off Alec’s shoulders. He knew he’d think about the words Eliot had said later on when he was alone in bed. For now, he let the man’s voice wash over him as Eliot healed him and told him a story about him, Margo, some fae wine, a whole wardrobe that had to be replaced, and three werewolves they’d had a load of fun with. It was a blatant subject shift from their last one, and one that Alec latched on to gratefully.

In the end, Alec actually found himself shaking his head the same way he would anytime Jace felt the need to talk about his conquests. It was surprisingly easy to smile at Eliot, and to risk teasing him a little. “If even half of that is true, I’m surprised you’re actually still alive.”

“Alec!” Gasping, Eliot threw a free hand over his heart and affected a look of mock-offense. “Are you doubting me?”

“Something tells me you and Jace are going to get along far too well for my peace of mind.”

The way Eliot wrinkled his nose made him look so much younger. Though he already looked like he was in his twenties, not that much older. “Ew, no. Don’t get me wrong, he’s pretty and all, but I’m not all that fond of being with someone that’s more high maintenance than me.” That had Alec chuckling, which only made Eliot wink at him. The next second he was drawing his hands back and clapping. “There! Good as new!”

A quick look showed that he was right. The cuts were both gone, as was the bruising, and Alec could feel the difference it made. He didn’t feel as sore or tired anymore. Looking up, he smiled gratefully. “Thank you.”

Now that he could move without hurting himself, Alec stood up, putting the stool back in place and tossing his jacket over into the ‘to fix’ pile. His shirt joined it quickly enough. Alec grabbed a clean one from the dryer, making a mental note to come fold those later. One he had it on, he turned back around and found that Eliot was leaning against the counter, a glass of something in one hand and a cigarette lit in the other. Alec didn’t even get a chance to lecture him on the cigarette. He hadn’t even opened his mouth yet when Eliot asked: “What were you even doing out that late alone? Don’t your kind patrol in pairs?”

Alec rolled his eyes, another thing that he generally only did with his siblings. He didn’t even notice as he did it now. “Yes, my kind usually patrol in pairs. But I wasn’t patrolling. I was walking home from work. I told you guys that was where I was going.”

“Huh. True. I guess I just didn’t expect to find you walking home at three in the morning.”

That had Alec’s gaze snapping up to the clock. When he saw that it was, in fact, a quarter after three, he had to try not to groan. Today was the day they were finally supposed to go to the school and finish getting Isabelle and Jace registered. Alec was going to have to meet with the principal, make sure everything was lined up. If it was, his siblings would start their first day.

Alec brought a hand up and rubbed it over his face. If they wanted to get there by seven-thirty, it meant they had to be fed and out of the house by six forty-five and no later. Alec’s day would need to start at six just to make sure he was up, showered, and that his were up and ready and had some breakfast before leaving.

There was one brief moment as he pinched his nose that Alec found himself wanting to laugh. He knew if he did, the sound would come more than a little hysterical. I didn’t sign up for this, he thought, and then instantly hated himself for it. His siblings had left their home because of him. The least he could do was try and give them as normal a life as possible.

When Alec opened his eyes again, he found Eliot watching him curiously. “That looks like one hell of a mental journey you just went on.”

“Just planning my day,” Alec said, a hint of a sigh touching his words.

“Your day should involve sleep. Ideally, until at least noon.”

I wish. This was going to take a stamina rune just to keep himself going. And here I thought a mundane life might actually end up less stressful, or boring. By the Angel, he’d had no idea what he was talking about back then. This new life was proving to have all new stresses, and sometimes Alec wondered how the hell he was going to deal with it all.

One problem at a time. You focus on what you can do and work your way through it one problem at a time. That was advice Robert had given Alec plenty of times while training him to one day take over.

Once more Alec was drawn out of his thoughts by Eliot. The man had stepped forward, disappearing his drink and the remainder of his cigarette – plus, amazingly enough, the leftover smoke in the air – with a lazy wave of his hand. “Well, it looks like my work here is done, and you should get to bed like all the other good little boys and girls. But! Drinks this weekend – my treat?”

It was tempting to say no. Despite how nice Eliot had been, and the fun they’d all had earlier, these were still two strangers. Two warlocks. People that Alec had been taught to distrust his whole life.

So why did he find himself smiling and stammering out a “Ah, yeah. That’d be nice.”

He was rewarded with a bright smile. “Marvelous! You go get your beauty sleep then, and I’ll see you this weekend, handsome.” With a last wave of his hand and a wink, Eliot let himself out of the house, leaving Alec standing in his kitchen shaking his head and wondering what in the hell his life had become.

Chapter Text

Mundane schools didn’t really look anything like the Academy. Jace followed after Alec as they crossed the parking lot and made their way towards the front doors of the mundane high school. Isabelle was beside him, and he could see Maia waiting for them just up ahead. She was going to show them inside and get them started, after which Alec would take over and act like the guardian they all knew he really was.

Something was off with Alec. Something that Jace didn’t quite have the words for. He’d felt it when he woke up this morning; there was something in their bond that spoke of Alec having had a rough night last night. But there was something else as well. Some things that Jace didn’t quite have words for. Whatever it was, it left Alec looking more contemplative than anything else. Like he had some sort of new puzzle that he was trying to work out. Jace knew better than to ask him about it. Alec would talk when he was ready and not a moment before.

Besides, this morning they were all a little too caught up in the whole school thing. Jace had to admit, as little as he liked school, the idea of getting out of the house each day and being around people was definitely an appealing one. Plus, Isabelle was more than a little excited, and there was no way Jace was going to let her go into some strange environment without him there to watch her back. If Alec wasn’t going to be there to watch over them, Jace would just have to do it.

That was how he found himself dressed down into casual mundane clothes – though he’d kept his leather jacket – and following them into this strange sprawling building that was their high school. It was a big brick and stone thing that looked like it was at least five floors high, and a whole lot wider. It was set up on a busy street corner, but there was a space tucked back behind the building where there were tennis courts, Maia told them, though no football field. They had to travel to play. There was, however, a huge gym she’d said, which Jace was looking forward to.

“Right on time!” Maia greeted them once they reached her. She beamed up at Alec, who softened his normal glare into something that most people might not recognize as the soft look it was. He’d taken to Maia and treated her almost the same way he treated Isabelle. Luckily, Maia was smart enough to recognize the gift for what it was, and she darted in to give Alec a quick hug before grabbing his arm and tugging him forward. “Come on, office is this way! You got all the paperwork with you?”

Alec shot her a look that Jace only caught a glimpse of, which had him snickering. “Yes, Maia.”

“Hey, I’m just checking. Can’t be too prepared!”

Jace and Isabelle shared an amused look as those two started to bicker. Then they went back to looking around them. The inside of this place wasn’t as fancy as the Academy – no great, giant doors, no towering windows, no feel of old and power that seemed to just pour off the stones. But it did hold that same sort of air that any place of learning held. In here, Jace could see the promise of hours of boredom ahead of him. The things I do for family. It was a far cry from the boy he’d been when he first moved in with them.

They finally reached the office, where a woman behind the desk smiled brightly the instant Alec was in front of her. The way she looked him over was clear, and Isabelle snorted a little and quickly ducked her head. Jace just grinned. He could tell the girl she was wasting her time, but it was more fun to watch her flirt a little and to watch Alec be completely and utterly oblivious to the whole thing.

“If you’ll come right this way, our Principal will see you now,” the woman finally said, sighing as Alec thanked her and followed after her.

Maia didn’t come with them beyond this point. With a grin and a wave, she left the trio to head into the Principal’s office, which Jace had a feeling was someone who was like the Headmaster at the Academy, or kind of like the Institute Head. This was the person they were going to be answering to at this place.

Their Principal wasn’t what he expected.

The guy was about Isabelle’s height, with almost no hair and a round belly that said this guy probably hadn’t seen much exercise in his life, but his suit was pretty decent, and he had a smile that was actually kind of nice, something Jace hadn’t ever seen from any leader. Not even Alec smiled when he was in leader mode. The people in charge were always serious. That’s how you knew they were in charge. What the hell kind of place did these mundanes run?

“Hello there! You must be Mr. Espinosa!” the guy said cheerfully, rising from his desk and walking around toward Alec with his hand already held out. Jace watched Alec fight back his discomfort at touching anyone and reach out to shake the guy’s hand. In contrast to the Principal’s bright smile and soft look, Alec was the perfect soldier. He stood tall, one hand behind his back and the other delivering a firm handshake. It didn’t seem to bother the guy at all. He was still grinning at him. “I’m Jeff Robertson, the Principal here. We’ve spoke on the phone a few times. It’s nice to be able to put a face to the name.”

Alec nodded his head, and then dropped his hand, already moving to stand in his usual at attention pose. “Yes, thank you for all your help. These are my siblings I told you about – John and Isabelle.”

They’d spoken on the phone? Jace hadn’t realized that. He’d just thought that Maia had brought the paperwork home for Alec, and that was that. Huh. Sneaking a look at his parabatai, Jace wondered how many other things Alec was slipping past him.

He didn’t get long to think about it. Jeff was already turning to shake their hands, too, and beam at them. “Welcome, welcome! Please, sit. Let’s take a look at what you’ve brought with you, hm? I know in our last phone call you seemed to have everything together. If we’re lucky, we can get this done and signed off on. I’ve already got schedules prepared.”

“When will they be able to start?” Alec asked, nudging his siblings towards the two chairs in front of the guy’s desk. He handed over the folder to Jeff, who sat down behind his desk and began to flip through it.

Jeff, eyes on the paper, waved a hand their way. “If everything’s in order, and it looks like it all is, we’ll be able to start you guys today. I’ve got a few students I can call who’ll be more than willing to show you two around and help you get settled.”

They’d get to start today? Isabelle looked ready to explode at the idea, her face already lit up with a smile. Jace rolled his eyes at her, and then smirked when she tried to kick him and missed.

Their little byplay didn’t go unnoticed by anyone. Jeff looked up, amused, and Alec sighed heavily like he always did, acting like he was just so put upon by them even though Jace could feel how amused the little shit was. Alec just didn’t usually let people see it. He’d gotten better lately, but he still hid his humor as if it was a crime to let it show. The reminder of how Alec had gotten like that was enough to dampen Jace’s brief humor.

“Well!” Jeff closed the folder, and then he was grinning up at them again. “Like I said, it all looks great, Mr. Espinosa. With as on-the-ball as you’ve been with everything else, and the preliminary paperwork you sent in through Ms. Roberts, I took the liberty of signing everyone up for classes as well as preparing lunch cards.” From his desk drawer, he pulled out a few sheets of paper and two plastic credit cards. One card each was handed to Isabelle and Jace. “These are your lunch cards. We’ve got a kiosk at the end of the lunch line where you’ll swipe your card and it takes the money for the meal. It’ll be your responsibility to make sure that there’s money on there to cover whatever breakfast or lunch you get, or you’re more than welcome to bring a lunch from home.”

Isabelle took hers first, looking it over and then sliding it into her wallet in her bag. Jace did the same.

Next, they were handed the papers. “And here are your schedules. Because the year just started, you shouldn’t be too far behind, and your transcripts show you were both doing well in your classes. But if you need any help or you feel like the class is further ahead than you’re ready for, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for assistance. We’ve got advisors who can help you out.”

The schedules themselves weren’t that bad. Nor were they that difficult looking. Jace had definitely taken harder classes at the Academy. There, they’d alternated days in a strange rotation. Here, Maia had explained to them that they had eight periods a day – one was lunch, and one something she called a homeroom which sounded just like a study hall with some extra help – and the rest were taken up with classes, though they rotated through A and B days.

Jace looked at the typical classes he’d expected to see, and the things that Maia had told him to expect. English, Social Studies, US History, Biology, Algebra, things like that. But there was also a block for PE, which had Jace grinning, and an auto shop class. Sweet!

Isabelle looked like she was pretty happy with her schedule. “Let me see what you’ve got!” she demanded, already snatching his schedule out of his hands. “Oh, look! We’ve got gym together, US history, and lunch… oh, I have photography when you have theater. We’ll be in the same space, though, and it’s right after lunch so we can walk over there together!”

“We tried not to stick you two in everything together, though your grades do mostly match up,” Jeff said.

Jace snorted and took his schedule back. The whole point of him coming here was to be around Isabelle. He hadn’t realized that they wouldn’t be together all that often.

Apparently, neither had Alec. “You mean they don’t have the same schedules?”

The sharpness behind his words had Jeff looking up in surprise. Clearly the man hadn’t expected Alec to sound like that. It was his leader voice, the one that could get even seasoned Shadowhunters to stand up straight and listen sometimes. Jeff sort of snapped to attention when he heard it, eyes going wide for a second and then narrowing down in a look of clear confusion. “No? Generally, we try to avoid putting siblings together that way. Oftentimes, we find it causes problems to have them together constantly, and they rarely like it.”

“We’re not your typical kids,” Jace said, flashing the guy a grin. He cut off at the light cuff that Alec gave him, grimacing when he looked up and found his brother flashing him a warning look. Oh, yeah, right. They were supposed to not be drawing attention to themselves.

They’d even gone so far as to have Isabelle and Jace glamour their runes, though Alec still had his out on display. He’d refused to hide them even once since they’d left. He’d admitted to Jace one night while the two were unable to sleep that he didn’t want to hide them. He didn’t want to do anything to hide the last tie he felt like he had to who he was. “I won’t let them take that away from me, too” he’d said.

Alec didn’t look happy by their separation, but he didn’t say anything about it until after the Principal had left to go get their student escorts. Without anyone to see them, Alec let his glower drop and looked between the two of them with a concern that very few people knew Alec was capable of. The big brother – the parent – that they got to see him as was leaking through. “Are you guys going to be okay with this?”

“We’ll be fine,” Isabelle said instantly. She pushed up, catching Alec’s arm with her hand and giving it a squeeze. “This is just high school, Alec. It’s not a mission or a battle or anything like that. It’s just a mundane high school. I’m sure Jace and I can manage it.”

Jace rose as well, flashing his parabatai a grin. “She’s right. I mean, how hard can it be?”

“I’m not worried about how hard it is,” Alec said, looking back and forth between them. “You guys are the smartest people I know. I’m more worried about the trouble you’ll get into.”

With a scoff, Jace covered his heart with his hand. “What? Us?”

He almost lost it at the glare Alec sent his way. It was his clear don’t be stupid look. “Just remember, it’s like you guys pointed out – this is a mundane school. These people aren’t like us. You can’t just go around starting fights or doing things to make yourselves stand out. The last thing we need is to draw attention to us. They’re already a little leery of the fact that I’m your guardian. I don’t want anything that has them looking at us twice.”

Any humor melted off of Jace and Isabelle. They knew Alec’s concerns weren’t unfounded, and they both knew just how much they were bothering him. Alec took his responsibility to care for them seriously. “We’ll be good,” Jace promised him.

It wouldn’t be enough to take away Alec’s worry, he knew, but hopefully he’d see quickly that they’d be fine without him hovering over them.

Alec took a bit of convincing to finally leave them. If Jace hadn’t practically shoved him towards the door, his brother would’ve stood there wringing his hands and trying not to look worried for who-knew how long. The last thing Jace wanted was for Alec to do that. Besides, as Jace saw the people that the Principal had brought to show them around, well, the last thing he wanted was to have that giant cloud of scowling worry standing at his back, scaring away the cute redhead who was smiling at him.

The girl was standing there with a scrawny little nerd in glasses at her side. She was small, yet there was a fire in her eyes, and her grin practically lit up the whole office.

“Hi,” she greeted them when he and Isabelle got close. “I’m Clary, and this is my best friend Simon. We’re here to show you guys around the school and get you to your classes for the first few days.”

The guy, Simon, smiled a little nervously at Jace – smart move there – but he practically had heart eyes when he looked at Isabelle, who returned his look with a flirtatious grin that had Simon flushing. “Ah, um, yeah. Hi. We’re like you’re welcoming committee. So, uh, welcome?”

Clary rolled her eyes, yet there was a fond look on her face kind of like what Isabelle got sometimes when she looked at her brothers, and it only made her that much prettier. Jace couldn’t help but return it with a smile of his own. “Trust us – we’re suddenly very happy to be here.”

Oh yeah, high school was going to be fun.

Chapter Text

Getting his siblings enrolled in high school was a surprisingly nerve-wracking experience. The only thing that made it better was just how excited they were when they got home that night. They were full of stories about their classes, and, of course, about the people. Alec wasn’t the least bit surprised that most of Jace’s stories seemed to involve a girl.

“You’re such a guy,” Isabelle told him that night at dinner, rolling her eyes as she used a bit of bread to sop up the juice from the chili. They hadn’t had enough to make the cornbread Alec wanted, but he’d gotten a free loaf of bread that had to go from work today since it was past its date, and they easily went through almost the entire loaf between the four of them that night. “Did you pay attention to anything other than Clary?”

Jace grinned wolfishly and wiggled his eyebrows, earning a few groans, plus a low chuckle from Alec. Some things would never change.

Alec took comfort in the fact that his siblings seemed to have enjoyed their first day. The classes weren’t too hard, at least so they said, and the school year had just started so they really weren’t all that far behind. According to Maia, no one seemed to notice anything strange about them, either, which was a huge bonus. Listening to them tell their stories took away some of the worry that had been in Alec’s gut all day.

Still, he wasn’t all that surprised when he went to bed that night and found Jace lounging in his bed. The bedroom had always been the one place that any of them had been able to let go and feel comfortable. In the Institute there was always the risk of someone coming across them somewhere else. Of being seen or overheard. A little closeness was expected between siblings and parabatai, which meant that they got away with some things, but anything beyond a casual talk or touch was always saved for moments like this.

Fresh from his shower, Alec rubbed his towel over his hair, glad that he’d taken his sweats and t-shirt to the bathroom with him to change into. Being naked in front of people hadn’t ever been that much of an issue before, though doing it in front of Jace had grown a little difficult the past year. But ever since, well, everything that had led to them leaving, Alec had found himself a whole lot more private about his body. Especially after a shower.

“Where’s Izzy?” he asked, tossing his towel over into the laundry basket.

Jace, who was stretched out fully on the bed, hands folded behind his head and ankles crossed, grinned. “She went to go chat with Maia. They were giggling about something when I went past.”

Hearing that brought a soft smile to Alec’s lips. Having Maia in their home had done great things for Isabelle. It’d given her another woman to talk to – and not just any woman, but one who was as tough and strong as she was, and who was also completely unashamed of being a woman. So many female Shadowhunters seemed to think that being a Shadowhunter meant being strong, and tough, and that it meant that they couldn’t also be pretty or have fun. At least, that was what Isabelle said. Meanwhile, Isabelle had never let any of their stereotypes define her. She was smart, and pretty, and tough, and not a one of those things stopped her from being the other. She took great pride in dressing how she wanted, and in being able to still kick the ass of whomever she chose.

While Maia’s style wasn’t quite like Isabelle’s, she clearly had one of her own, and she was getting more and more confident in it as she settled into her new life. Maia didn’t try to hide that she was pretty, or smart, or strong, though the way she held her chin up sometimes showed that she’d gotten some serious shit for it in the past. Maybe mundanes were just as bad at trying to put people in a box as Shadowhunters were.

Alec shook himself out of those thoughts when he finally dropped down into bed. His light was off, though they were still lit up well enough with the light of nearby street lamps outside. With the blinds up, it gave the room a low glow that made it easy for Alec to see his parabatai’s face. Because of that, he was able to see as Jace pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He took one out and then tossed the rest of the pack up onto the windowsill next to the little glass ashtray that Alec kept there for him.

Smoking was a bad habit that Jace liked to indulge in now and again. He’d done it a bit more since they’d left the Institute. It’d used to be just something that happened after a really bad day, or when he felt like rebelling a little up on the roof of the Institute, or after a night of drinking and dancing with Isabelle and whoever else Jace picked up.

While Alec didn’t approve of it, it was one of those things he knew better than to fight with him on. Doing that would only push Jace to either hide it from him or ramp it up and do it in his face every chance he got. For the most part, he didn’t really do it too often anyway. Being in good shape – being the best Shadowhunter he could be – had always held Jace back. Alec wondered sometimes if that was why Jace did it more now that they were here. If he felt like maybe he was less of a Shadowhunter now.

He kept those thoughts to himself as he watched Jace light the cigarette and take his first few drags. The window was cracked open, letting out the smoke, though Alec knew the scent would linger.

Drawing one hand behind his head, Alec adjusted his pillow and then left his hand there, the rest of his body comfortably sprawled out alongside Jace’s. “It sounds like you had a pretty good day at school today.”

“It wasn’t too bad.” Jace shrugged one shoulder. It was an attempt at his usual cocky, slightly blasé attitude. That never lasted long in here. Not when they were alone in the dark like this. Sure enough, just seconds after he did it, Jace seemed to melt a little and a hint of a real smile took over his lips. “The classes are pretty easy. Some of the history stuff we learned about too. They just focus on the mundane wars and things like that, and there’s a whole lot less angels and demons.”

“Most of them don’t even believe those kinds of things exist,” Alec pointed out.

Even in the dark he could see Jace’s eye roll. “Yeah, yeah.” He took another drag and blew the smoke out the window. Then he laughed. “You should’ve seen ‘em in their PE class. Raziel, they’re just sad. They barely do any actual running or anything like that, they don’t spar, and they spend most of their time doing things like playing basketball or some weird game called dodgeball.”


Jace shrugged one shoulder. “It’s something with these big rubber balls where you try and hit the guys on the other side. I don’t know. Sounds like fun, though. And they do have a pretty kick-ass weight room.”

That would make Jace happy. He’d hated having to run, which was naturally why Alec made him do it when he got in trouble, but he’d always loved sparring and he’d loved spending time lifting weights and getting his body into shape. “Good,” Alec said. “That’ll give you something to do.”

“Yeah.” Another pull from the cigarette. Alec studied Jace’s face as he blew the smoke at the window. There was something there, something that was bothering him. He’d known that from the instant Jace had lit his cigarette. Like always, Alec was good at waiting, just laying silent beside Jace. It didn’t take long for Jace to finally start talking. The boy that no one else got to see crept out from behind the masks Jace put on for the rest of the world. “The school thing isn’t that bad. The classes are just as boring as other school shit, but the people there aren’t too bad.”


Sighing, Jace flicked his ash into the ashtray. “I don’t know. It’s like… it’s like starting all over again. An I fit in here even less than I did last time.”

It took a second for Jace’s words to click in Alec’s head. For him to take them and make sense out of them. When he did, he had to fight not to wince. Guilt crept up and curled through his stomach. How had he not thought of this? This wasn’t the first time Jace had been forced to remake his life. The last time had been when he’d come to stay with the Lightwoods. He’d had to leave behind the life he’d known, a life so different than theirs, and try to fit in with people he didn’t know in a place so much more structured than what he was used to, and yet in some ways softer than what he knew.

Now Jace was having to do that all over again. They’d left behind the new life he’d built with them and he was being forced to rebuild once more. To fit himself into another world that probably felt strange and soft compared to what he’d known.

Alec shoved his guilt down and tried not to let it color his voice or show in his body. Jace didn’t need to deal with Alec’s guilt. Right now, he needed his parabatai’s support, and that was what Alec was going to give him. Still, “I’m sorry,” was the first thing that came out of his mouth. When Jace turned toward him with surprise, clearly ready to protest, Alec held up his free hand. “No, Jace. I am. I’m sorry I didn’t even stop to think about that when I dragged you into all this.”

“You didn’t drag us,” Jace insisted firmly. “We threw ourselves at you and came with you. This isn’t on you, Alec.”

That was debatable. Alec shook it off, though. “Either way, I’m sorry for not thinking about how it’d bother you.”

“It’s not bothering me. It’s just… gonna take some adjustment.”

“You’re not doing it alone this time, though.” Alec shifted enough that he could bump his knee against Jace’s. He let his leg linger when Jace pressed into the touch. Rolling his head a little more to the side to better be able to see him, Alec smiled. “Last time you came to us by yourself, and it took you a while to get comfortable around us. But this time you’re not the only one starting over. Izzy and I are right there with you. No matter what else happens, that’s not gonna change.”

Jace turned away to hide the emotion Alec had seen leap into his eyes, using the pretext of stubbing out his cigarette to give himself a moment to gain his composure.

When he turned back, Alec smiled at him, and he held open his free arm. It was a gesture he’d made a lot when they were younger. At first only with Isabelle – and later Max. And then, after Jace had been in his room one night when Isabelle woke up from a nightmare and came to them, and Alec had held out an arm to her, he’d started to do it with Jace too. He’d seen the surprise on Jace’s face when Isabelle climbed into bed and right up against Alec. He’d also seen the longing. The next time that Jace had come seeking company on a bad night, Alec had offered him the same gesture, and Jace had hesitated for a few minutes, clearly torn, before he’d hesitantly climbed in.

There was no more hesitance anymore on Jace’s part. He dropped back down onto the bed and easily rolled himself up against Alec’s side. They didn’t do this often anymore now that they were older, but it was still one of the go-to sources of comfort that Alec offered his siblings. He curled his arm around Jace and drew him in so that Jace ended up with his head on Alec’s shoulder. There, with Alec holding on and metaphorically standing guard, Jace relaxed.

They didn’t say anything else. Not beyond a soft “Thanks” from Jace as he snuggled in. Alec just smiled to himself and closed his own eyes, letting the comfort of his brother help send him down toward sleep.

The addition of school helped the group slide into a routine that was surprisingly easy over the next few days. Alec had no problem building their times into his schedule. He got up with them, made sure they were both up and fed and that they had everything they needed before they headed out for the day. Then he was free to do whatever was needed done around the house before he went to one of his various jobs, where he’d do his work and try not to worry about having his siblings out of sight.

He tried to console himself a bit by reminding himself that school would be good for the both of them. Shadowhunters weren’t built to do absolutely nothing. Lately, not even the early evening or early morning patrols they managed to get in were enough to chase away that feeling of needing to do more. Hopefully this would help.

They probably would’ve patrolled more if it weren’t for Alec’s night job. Though, if things didn’t start improving soon, Alec knew the night job wouldn’t last much longer. The customers didn’t seem to be relaxing around him. If anything, they’d gotten more and more tense with each passing day, and a bit bolder in their glares and petty tricks.

Alec supposed he should’ve realized that it was going to come to a head at some point. If he’d been thinking clearly about it, he might’ve been prepared for it.

About a week after he started there, Alec was once more walking to work, hands stuffed down into the pockets of his coat. November was slowly giving way to December, and that meant cold weather. He was going to have to find a way to get some better winter clothes here soon. Hats, gloves, thicker coats, those kinds of things. Maybe if they went and hit up the thrift store they’d be able to find something. He might not be able to buy it all at once, but he could start picking it up in stages.

He thought briefly of asking Eliot or Margo if they knew any good shops, and then had to let out a soft laugh. Any shops those two knew about would undoubtedly be far out of Alec’s price range. Not to mention he got the feeling they’d be more likely to just show up with the stuff he was looking for instead of helping him find cheap versions.

Alec smiled a little to himself as he thought of their two new friends and about the drinks they’d all had on Sunday. The two warlocks had come over bearing booze like the last time, as well as a bunch of things to make virgin drinks for Jace, Isabelle, and Maia. For his part, Alec had made a giant pot of spaghetti, one of the easiest and cheapest things to make, plus garlic bread with the Italian loaf that Isabelle had managed to snag them.

The night had been one of food, drinks, and laughter. If either of the two guests had ulterior motives for being around them, they were good at hiding it. Nothing they did seemed out of place to Alec. He found himself relaxing with them much like when he’d first met Maia. There was just something in him, something that must’ve decided these two were good. What, Alec had no idea, and it made him nervous when he let himself think about it late at night. Just how close he was getting to all these strangers – to Downworlders, though he felt guilty for thinking that – was so out of character for him, he almost wanted to run away.

Somehow, he didn’t. Whatever it was that was drawing them all together, Alec had enjoyed their company, and he’d happily agreed to doing it again next Sunday. Though Eliot had insisted that he’d be the one to bring by the food that time.

Alec got caught up thinking about it that night as he was walking to work, a dangerous habit he should’ve known better than to indulge in. Because of that he almost missed the people coming up on him. It was the sound of a low growl that alerted him first. Just as Alec spun, a large body shot out of the shadows and slammed right into him, sending Alec flying. He and the wolf slammed into a wall and tumbled, rolling across the parking lot he’d been walking through. Alec tried to recover, to roll as he’d been taught, but the wolf was too fast, and it had him pinned the instant they landed.

More growls sounded around him, but Alec was stunned when those growls changed, and it was humans that came out, not wolves. Even the wolf over him shifted back to human form. The guy was huge, and he used his size to his advantage, pinning Alec’s wrists with his knees.

“What the hell?” Alec demanded in the hardest voice he could manage. He tried to ignore the sick feeling of panic growing in his stomach. Thoughts were pushing forward, reminding him of the last time he’d been jumped, the last time someone had pinned him to the ground…

He had to give these guys credit. They didn’t waste any time with words or stupid speeches. What came next was a flurry of blows that Alec stood no chance of being able to get up from. Not when he was already on the ground. Even when the guy got off him, there was no chance for Alec to do much. He fought – by the Angel, he fought! – but he stood no chance against what he was estimating were six grown men. The first broken rib had Alec gasping, and he lashed out, the clear sound of something snapping when his foot connected telling him that he’d managed to break a bone.

That only set them off even more. Someone grabbed his ankles, and Alec fought harder, hoping that someone would hear. That someone might come.

Memories of the past and the present merged together, and though Alec bucked against their hold, in the end all he could do was try and protect his vital organs as the beating went on and on.

Only when he was bleeding and trembling, his chest heaving painfully as he tried to suck in breaths, did it finally stop.

“Consider this a warning,” someone said, sharp and dangerous, before they spat on the ground by his head. “Go back to where you belong, Shadowhunter.”

And with no more than that, they were gone.

Alec had no idea how long he lay there for. His body was throbbing, and his mind was spinning. All the things he’d tried not to think about for months now were roaring up, bleeding and blending with tonight until Alec couldn’t tell one from the other. He wanted to curl up and hide – he wanted to get the hell out of here. Go home and lock himself in his room; hide in the back corner of the closet the way he’d done when he was a kid and needed to be somewhere no one would come looking for him. In there, he’d be free to break down, to let out the tears that he otherwise wasn’t allowed to shed.

Was there something about him that just, made people want to do this? Did he just seem that weak?

A broken sound slid past Alec’s lips. One that was somewhere between a whine and a wheeze. Instantly, he pressed his lips together, forcing any other sounds to stay inside.

It didn’t matter. None of it mattered. If this was how Downworlders felt they had to deal with him, fine. If Alec had to become a punching bag for every grievance the Downworld had for Shadowhunters, fine. But like hell if it was going to stop him from doing his job or from taking care of his family. He’d finish out his night at work, and then if they fired him, he’d go find another job somewhere else. Somewhere mundane. Nothing and no one was going to keep Alec from doing the most important job of all – taking care of his family. If getting beat on meant that his siblings still had food, well, it was worth it.

Slowly, carefully, Alec began the laborious process of trying to sit himself up so that maybe he would be able to get to the stele in his pocket. He was close enough to the wall that he could use it to prop himself up against. There he paused, intending to get his breath back, when suddenly a new voice broke in and had Alec going tense all over again, preparing himself for trouble.

“Well, well, well. Looks like someone tried messing with the wrong pack.”

Whoever it was, they didn’t sound too close. Nor did they sound as furious as the others had. Maybe they just wanted to mock the broken looking Shadowhunter. If that were all, he could easily ignore that. He’d ignored worse.

Hand pressing hard on the wall, Alec slowly straightened himself up, trying to get his body to move. Though it hurt – oh, fuck, did it hurt! – Alec managed to finally get himself up off the ground and onto his feet. Each move was a new experience in pain. The wolves hadn’t wanted to kill him, that much was clear. They’d wanted to give him a message. Go back to where you belong, Shadowhunter.

The urge to laugh was almost too much. I don’t belong anywhere, he wanted to tell them. Trust me, the Shadowhunters don’t want me either.

When Alec looked up, his eyes went to the man standing nearby. For some reason, the first thing he noticed was that this guy was dressed in a suit. He was just standing here at night, in a suit, staring at Alec with an arched eyebrow like Alec was the strange one here.

Bending his head, Alec spit out the blood in his mouth, not caring how it looked. “What do you want?”

The man – vampire, Alec corrected, tensing when he saw the fangs tease through – smirked at him. “Just wanted to see if the gossips were true. A Shadowhunter, living amongst Downworlders. Will wonders never cease.”

Okay, fuck him, Alec wasn’t going to just keep standing here. He spit again, wincing at the tug against his tooth.

“It looks like your friends weren’t exactly pleased about that,” the guy pointed out.

Alec brought a hand up and used the back of it to wipe some blood away from his bottom lip. “I know.”

“Why don’t you run back home?” the vampire asked, sounding almost bored with the whole conversation. “Whatever mission you’re on, whatever reason you left home, I’m sure Mommy and Daddy will be happy to see you.”

Just the thought of going back home was enough to make Alec flinch. He drew in a breath to steady himself, and then he pushed away from the wall, forcing his body straight. His hand barely shook when he grabbed his stele and pulled it out. A quick swipe over the iratze and he felt almost instant relief from the worst of the aches.

He was surprised when the vampire gave him a once over. “You should get home, get cleaned up, before someone else smells all that blood and decides they want a snack.”

Alec shook his head, breathing through the ache as the healing kept working. “I’ve got a shift that starts in,” he quickly glanced down at his watch and swore lowly. “Shit. Ten minutes.”

“You’re going to work?”

“Food doesn’t buy itself,” Alec pointed out. Without another word for the vampire in front of him, Alec activated his speed, agility, and stamina runes, and he was taking off in the darkness, moving with the speed and grace of the angels.

It got him to work on time. However, none of it was enough to hide him as he tried to make his way inside without getting spotted. Even with his jacket to cover most of the dirt and mess on the rest of him, it was still pretty clear with just one look that something had happened. Though the blood didn’t show on his dark clothes, the dirt did.

Two steps in and Alec watched Sorcha look up, instinctively tagging whoever came through the door. When her eyes landed on him, Alec saw them go wide, saw her mouth drop open, and the glass in her hand dropped down to the counter. In an instant she was moving to the end of the bar, ready to lift the partition and come storming out, and Alec knew he had to put her off. He was grateful the bar at least already had people in it even if the idea of it terrified him. It meant he was free to slip around a few of them and hurry towards the back. The whole way Alec tried to ignore the knowing glances he could feel. The way their eyes ran over him, taking in his dirty clothes.

He should’ve known running into the back wouldn’t stop Sorcha. She burst through the kitchen doors with a snarl on her lips and dark storm clouds brewing in her eyes. “Tell me you got into a quick demon fight on your way to work tonight.”

Alec didn’t say a word, and Sorcha snarled again. He heard her heels clacking sharp against the ground as she marched forward. There was an aura of something around her; a feeling of danger. “You tell me who did this.”

Very deliberately, Alec gathered up a stack of cups from the tub and moved them over to the sink. “There are a lot of dishes here, Sorcha. I need to get to work.”

“You need to get checked out and go home!”

Now that his stack was in the sink, and the dishwasher was free, Alec gathered up the tray of clean glasses and hefted it, ignoring the twinge where his ribs were still healing. “I need to get this in the dryer so you can have them back. It looks like you’re pretty full out there.” That last part was a subtle dig; a reminder that she had customers to be getting back to.

He wasn’t that surprised when she waved that off. “I’ve got Liam keeping an eye on the bar. He’ll take a drink, mix up a couple, and we’ll be fine. But you...”

“I’m fine, Sorcha.”

“Al.” She sighed, and the aura of threat around her slowly faded. “Whoever did this… you don’t have to protect them. Whatever they threatened you with, whatever they said, you don’t have to put up with this.”

“Are you firing me?” Alec asked bluntly.

Sorcha’s eyebrows shot up, and her mouth dropped open in surprise. “What? No!”

“Then I really need to get to work.”

He tried to walk away, but Sorcha caught his arm. The hard flinch he gave didn’t go unnoticed. Though her touch gentled, she didn’t let go of him. She just held on and looked up at him with big, serious eyes. “Al, this is serious, you know that, right? Whoever did this, they broke the Accords.”

Just barely did Alec manage to hold in a scoff. He kept it under control, though that control made his voice flatter than before. Less forgiving. “That would imply the Clave would care about what happened to me. It would also imply that I’d be reporting people, which I’m not. Besides, I never said that a Downworlder did this.”

“You’re telling me a group of mundanes did this to you?” Sorcha asked with blatant disbelief.

“I’m telling you to leave it alone,” Alec said, voice low in the tone he always used with Jace and Isabelle that let them know that he was done, and the subject was closed. Then, very carefully, he pulled his arm away from her. It was hard to turn his back on her, on anyone right then, but he made himself do it. He turned away and went back towards his job.

After almost a full minute, he heard her sigh, and then he heard the sound of the doors opening and closing.

Alec closed his eyes and paused for a moment with his hands braced on the edge of the sink. He tried to ignore the slight tremble in them. You can do this. You can get through your shift. It’s not the first time someone’s kicked your ass, and it won’t be the last. Get used to it. Alec forcefully pushed his panic back down again, and then drew his hands up from the sink. He had a job to do, and a family to provide for. The panic could come back later, in his dreams, just like it always did. For now, he needed to do his job.

For most of the night Sorcha left him alone. She came back once, just ten minutes after she’d first left, and dropped off a change of clothes for him without saying a word. Alec didn’t say anything either. He just gratefully took them and went into the bathroom, switching out his dirty and torn clothes for the clean pair of black jeans and the dark blue ‘Hunter’s Moon’ t-shirt. Another iratze over a few of the more bruised areas and Alec was ready to get back to work.

Being back in the kitchen was the easy part. Back there he could hide, and work, and pretend like nothing was bothering him. But when he had to go collect empties, get glasses, or make deliveries to the bar… the only thing that got Alec through it was the training his mother had put him through. He’d learned a long time ago to be able to move without letting any of what he felt show through. Alec lifted his chin and squared his shoulders, ignoring any of the looks, or whispers, or sneers that came his way.

When his shift was finally done, Alec didn’t bother sticking around this time, nor did he give Sorcha a chance to say anything to him. He just bailed out as soon as he told her he was done, hurrying out the front door and toward home.

Alec was on high alert as he walked. He knew what was likely coming, just as he knew that avoiding it wouldn’t work. It was why he didn’t just activate a few runes and race on home. He walked deliberately down the same route he always took, every inch of him waiting.

They didn’t take long. Nor did they take him by surprise this time. Just a few blocks away from the bar, Alec heard them. He was prepared when they all stepped out from around a building just in front of him. On the inside, Alec quivered. On the outside, he took a breath and lifted his chin, adopting his most bored and arrogant expression. The one that Jace liked to joke around and say made even him want to punch Alec.

“Boy, you must have a listening problem,” their ringleader said. He stood in front of his buddies, hands stuffed into the pockets of his jeans, and a flannel pulled tight over his muscles. He was smirking at Alec in a cold way that sent little fingers of dread running up Alec’s spine. “Didn’t you learn your lesson?”

“Look, I don’t want to cause trouble,” Alec said. He held his hands out peacefully on either side of him. “I’m not looking to create any issues with you or your pack. All I want is to do my job.”

The guy scoffed, and his buddies behind him laughed. “And what job is that, huh? Spying on the Downworlders in their own bar?”

“Wow, you’re a paranoid bunch, aren’t you?”

That question had Alec’s head snapping to the side. It hadn’t come from one of the wolves.

Of all the people he expected to see, he honestly hadn’t expected Eliot to be strolling towards him, calm as you please. The man was clearly dressed to party, his normal clothes just a little fancier looking than usual, and his hair artfully tousled in a way that made it look like he’d just climbed out of bed, but also… weirdly good?

Eliot cut across the street towards them, moving with a grace that didn’t fit the rundown part of town they were in. His coat was held by two fingers and was slung over his shoulder, and his free hand held a lit cigarette. He looked far too posh for this neighborhood.

Smirking, Eliot came up to Alec’s side, close but not touching him, and he proceeded to blatantly ignore the group that was now glaring at him. All Eliot’s focus was on Alec. “There you are! We’ve really got to stop meeting like this, Alec. I’ve been looking all over for you! You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had.”

“What are you doing here?” Alec asked. It wasn’t the only question that came to mind, but it was the first.

Eliot chuckled at him. “I told you, looking for you.” With a bright grin, Eliot looked over at the werewolves that were still standing nearby. “And for all of you, too, of course. Your Alpha is looking for you, and I have to say, he’s not very pleased with you right now.” Eliot made a low tsk sound and shook his head, though the smirk never faded. “Breaking the Accords, attacking a Shadowhunter? Oh, he’s quite angry with all of you. I left Margo with him. Either she’ll help him blow off some steam, or, well… Bambi’s quite creative, and she’s started to reluctantly grow a little bit fond of our Shadowhunter here. I suggest you hurry on home before she gets the chance to give your Alpha too many ideas.”

The werewolves were all gaping a little, and Alec knew that he probably was, too.

Eliot seemed to enjoy it. He dropped his cigarette and slid his hand into the curve of Alec’s elbow. Then he gave him a tug. “Come along, dear. It’s far too late and I’m far too pretty for this part of town.”

The wolves might’ve thought about coming forward – there were definitely a few furious growls – but Eliot waved a hand and conjured a portal, and none of them were dumb enough to try and follow the two through it.

Alec really wasn’t that surprised to find that, once again, Eliot had portaled them to Alec’s living room. Instead of freaking out like he had the last time, this time Alec sighed heavily, letting some of the weight drop off his shoulders. He was home, he was safe.

The portal closed behind them. Eliot, who still had hold of Alec’s arm, tugged him forward and then forced him down onto the couch. “Here, sit. Drink.” The last part was accompanied by a glass being shoved into Alec’s hands. There was a brief moment where Alec just stared at the dark liquid in the glass. Then he lifted it and drained half of it in one go. Once, he wouldn’t have dared accept a drink like that from a Downworlder, let alone just drink it down. A lot of things had changed. And some are apparently still the same. I’m still the freak, the different one. People still hate me.

Alec ignored those thoughts and instead made a sort of pleased humming sound as the warmth and flavor of his drink hit his tongue. When he looked up, Eliot was sitting down on the couch with him, a tumbler of some amber liquid in his hand. Eliot smiled at the noise that Alec had made. “I thought you might enjoy that. It’s mulled wine. I’ll show you how to make it over the winter. It’s a wonderful warm pick-me-up.”

It was really good. Alec took another drink, a sip this time, and let the warmth of it spread through him.

For a few minutes the two of them just sat there. Eliot didn’t press, and Alec didn’t speak. They just sipped on their drinks and slowly, bit by bit, Alec relaxed down into the couch. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed before he finally found his voice. “How did you know?”

“A little vampire birdy came and told us we might want to check on our pet,” Eliot answered easily. “It didn’t take long after that. Margo and Sorcha are friends, and Sorcha was concerned. I talked to her while Bambi went to talk to the local pack. They shouldn’t give you any more trouble.”

“You guys didn’t have to do that.”

Eliot shrugged. “I know. I’d joke about paying us back in food or sexual favors, but I feel you’d be the type to take that seriously, and if I had the pleasure of sucking your cock, I’d like for you to at least want to be there.”

The bastard had timed his words perfectly so that Alec was drinking right when he was being the crudest. It resulted in Alec choking on a gasp of mulled wine, swallowing down a whole lump of it to prevent himself from spraying it out of his mouth. The whole thing had Eliot laughing in delight.

After a few coughs to finally clear his throat, Alec glared over at the other man, though his cheeks were flaming. He hoped Eliot just attributed it to him choking. “You’re an asshole.”

“So are you,” Eliot shot back.

It wasn’t the first time Alec had been told that. Jace and Isabelle both said he was a sarcastic asshole most of the time. Alec just saw it as speaking plainly. Why bother beating around the bush when you could just say something outright?

A few more drinks helped to ease the burn from Alec’s coughing fit. When he finally spoke again, his voice sounded almost back to normal, though it was low with emotions that Alec didn’t want to think about. Tilting his head so that he could look at Eliot without actually looking at him, he carefully asked: “This thing tonight, can we… can we not tell my siblings about this?”

Eliot tilted his head, curiously looking Alec’s way. “Keeping secrets?” He didn’t sound approving, but he didn’t sound too judgmental, either.

“They don’t need to worry about this,” Alec said flatly. It was the last thing his siblings needed to hear. They worried about him too much as it was. Alec wasn’t going to give them any reason to worry any further.

Quiet fell over the living room for a long while. Alec stared down into his glass as he slowly drained the wine. It wasn’t until Alec leaned forward to set the glass on the coffee table that Eliot finally spoke again.

“Fine. On one condition.”

Alec tried to ignore the tightening of his muscles and made himself look up at the other man. “What?”

“Something like this happens again, you tell me.” He held up a hand when Alec opened his mouth to speak. “Ah. That’s non-negotiable. I’ll keep your dirty little secret so long as you swear to tell me when things like this happen. I’m not foolish enough to believe they’ll stop, and I doubt you are either. I’ll feel better knowing you don’t have to handle it alone.”

“Why do you care so much? I’m a Shadowhunter, and you barely even know me. We’ve hung out twice.”

“First of all, it was three times. Second of all, I bond fast. Time is relative when you’re as old as I am, and I’ve been around for quite a while. I mostly got past my emotionally constipated too-cool-for-friends attitude years ago. I, grew up.” The way he shuddered as he said that part teased a small smile out of Alec. Eliot saw it and his own lips twitched. He wiped it away quickly enough for a frown that even Alec could tell was fake. “Though, I have to say, I’ve had to play the adult far too much in our relationship so far. You seem to bring out the grownup in me.” Eliot cast him a sideways look that was completely and utterly disgusted. “I’m not sure I like that.”

There was a time when Alec might’ve taken offense to that. A few months ago, he definitely would have. Now? Now, he found his lips curving up even more. How on earth did Eliot seem to do that? In every conversation they’d had so far, he seemed to just have a way of teasing smiles out of Alec, getting him to relax in ways that Alec never did with anyone but family. Case in point, Alec found himself teasing the other man, something that he definitely wouldn’t do with just anyone. “You poor thing.”

Eliot didn’t act like Alec teasing him was any big deal. He just nodded agreeably. “I know. You owe me, Espinosa.”

“Is that so?”

“Naturally. I require payment in alcohol or cuddles. Naked, preferably, in either situation, but I’m willing to work with what I can get.” A playful grin was turned Alec’s way. “And since I already have the drink…” Eliot lifted his arms and held them open, giving a coy tilt of his head.

There was no way Alec could stop the light flush from building in his cheeks. Or the twisting in his gut that felt a little like nausea and fear. They chased away the smile he’d been wearing, and the good feeling that he was slowly starting to associate with his new friend.

It must’ve been visible. The edges of Eliot’s smile softened just the slightest bit and his eyes went sad in a way that made him look suddenly older. He kept his arms open and spoke in a voice that was a bit lower than before, without the teasing edge. “I’m not propositioning you this time, Alec. I just think we could both use a hug after this evening, that’s all.”

He shouldn’t. He really shouldn’t. There was a tiny part of Alec, the one that hadn’t been allowed out when he lived at the Institute, that knew that it’d be very easy to fall into something with Eliot that he hadn’t ever allowed himself to have before. Whether that be a friendship just as deep as the ones he had with his siblings, or the potential for something more, Alec didn’t know. Nor was he entirely sure he wanted to find out – especially if it was the second one. He wasn’t ready for those kinds of feelings. Just thinking about them scared the hell out of him. Yet, at the same time, he wanted more than anything to just… to have someone to lean on, the way others always leaned on him.

Alec found himself tilting forward just the slightest bit, his body trying to give him what his mind was trying to deny.

That little hint was all he needed to give, though. Eliot’s free hand found Alec’s shoulder, lightly touching there and then sliding up, over his shoulder and to the back of his neck. Despite his churning thoughts, Alec let that hand draw him in until he found himself being held against Eliot’s chest. Alec’s whole body was tense; he didn’t get this close to people. Ever. Yet Eliot was holding him, arms around him without being confining, and Alec could feel himself starting to tremble.

“Shh,” Eliot murmured. “It’s all right. You’re all right, kitten.” He drew Alec in closer, their bodies shifting as Eliot tugged them both into the corner of the couch. Somehow, they managed to fit their long limbs together. Alec was pressed in against the back of the couch, half beside Eliot and half on him, and Eliot used his body to curl protectively around Alec. One hand stayed at the back of Alec’s head while the other, minus the glass it’d been holding before, was stroking gently up and down his back.

It felt wonderful and terrifying. Too much and yet not enough. Alec wanted to curl in closer – he wanted to run and hide. “I don’t… I’m not…”

Eliot hushed him again while he pulled Alec’s head in close enough to his chest that Eliot was able to press his chin against Alec’s hair. “I know, Alec. I know. You’re nowhere near ready for something like that, and there’s no telling when you will be. Which is fine. There are no strings on this. For all the flirting, I really am willing to just be your friend. A really good friend that is, might I say, quite excellent at cuddling, and more than willing to do it any time of the day or night. Without any pressure for things you don’t want.”

The soft-spoken words sounded too good to be true. Alec wanted – oh, how he wanted. A friendship with this level of comfort, where being weak like this wasn’t seen as a problem but as a simple part of things, where he didn’t have to always be the one who held everyone up… it was everything Alec needed and had never dared ask for. Not even with his parabatai had he dared ask for this. With everyone else in his life Alec was the one who was strong, the one who held on while letting his partner be weak. Yet here Eliot was, offering it to Alec like it was the most natural thing in the world. Like it was okay. Like it didn’t matter that they’d barely known one another two weeks yet. Like Alec was… worthy.

Alec was broken. He knew he was. He was broken in so many different places, parts of him in pieces like shattered glass he was afraid would never be able to be made whole again. If Alec wasn’t careful, if he didn’t hold on to his iron control, those broken pieces were capable of cutting not just himself, but those around him. It was why Alec never let anyone get close. Sometimes, it was why he hated letting his siblings close. Doing so only made their cuts that much deeper – that much worse.

And yet Eliot was here with him gathering up the broken pieces of Alec as if he didn’t have a care for how it cut him. Not that he didn’t notice, just that he didn’t care.

Alec closed his eyes, a shaky breath breaking free, and pressed his forehead against the chest in front of him. “Friends?” he whispered. It was all he could offer, and he hoped Eliot knew that. That he could read that in just the single word.

When he heard the soft smile in Eliot’s voice, the ease with which he said “Friends,” he had a feeling the other man understood just fine.

Chapter Text

The sound of whispered voices and the feeling of someone staring at him was what woke Alec. He didn’t move right away – he was far too comfortable for that. Whatever he was lying on was both comfortable and warm and he was loathe to give up that sensation. Lately there weren’t enough blankets to keep him truly warm at night. This was nice. Alec wanted to burrow in and drift back down to sleep once more.

That is, right up until the moment that the warmth moved. It shifted around him, under him, in a way that had Alec’s eyes snapping open. At the same time, a low, sleep-heavy voice said: “If you don’t all go away and quit gawking at us, I’m turning you all into small, fuzzy creatures that I will let Margo skin and make clothes out of.”

“Oooh, touchy.” That was Jace, smug and oh-so-clearly amused.

Alec’s memories came back to him and almost had him cringing. He remembered last night – the attack, his night at work, the almost second attack, and Eliot bringing him back here. He remembered the embrace that Eliot had pulled him into. How he’d shifted it from a hug to a full-bodied cuddle on the couch. The last thing Alec remembered was breathing in the scent of cologne, alcohol, and cigarettes, and then he must have drifted off to sleep. Which led to now, with his siblings gleefully watching them. Raziel, he was never going to live this down!

“Aww, aren’t they adorable?” Maia practically cooed.

Heat filled Alec’s cheeks. He seemed to abruptly gain use of his limbs again, and he wasted no time in scrambling back from Eliot, who made whining sounds and tried to grab at him. Alec tried to ignore that, just as he tried to ignore the way his cheeks were no doubt right red. “Shouldn’t you guys be getting ready for school?” he asked the trio, doing his best to not look at them as he rose to his feet. A glance at the clock made it clear that it was close, but they still had time for breakfast if they hadn’t eaten already. “Come on, I’ll make breakfast.”

“We were just planning on having cereal,” Maia said. She followed after Alec first, brushing their shoulders together and giving him a quiet smile that let him know that she, at least, was going to back off a bit. Alec was beyond grateful to her.

His siblings weren’t anywhere near as nice. “I’m sure El would like you to make him something, Alec,” Jace called out, smirking and sniggering as he and Isabelle bumped into one another while they headed to the table.

Alec didn’t get a chance to stammer out an answer. Eliot beat him to it. “I never turn down breakfast,” he said, coming in behind everyone. “Though I’d imagined having it at a more reasonable hour.” He moved much slower, shuffling a little, and he’d swapped out his clothes for sweatpants and a robe at some point. It made him look sleep-tousled and young. Skirting around the others, he took the chair at the inside corner of the table, dropping down into it with a heavy thud. Half-open eyes met Alec’s across the room. “Next time we’re doing this in a bed where no annoying children can mess things up.”

The urge to strangle the other man was pretty strong. Alec had to settle for glaring at him, which didn’t seem to deter Eliot in the slightest if the air-kiss he sent Alec was anything to go by.

“Next time, huh?” Isabelle said, wiggling her eyebrows. She sat down as well, reaching for the cereal and pouring herself a bowl.

“Calm yourself, kiddo. Your brother’s virtue is safe with me,” Eliot said, rolling his eyes. “People can cuddle without needing to fuck.” He slumped down in his chair and materialized a cigarette from somewhere. At the glare from Alec, he sighed, reaching over and pushing up the nearby window, and then he scooted his chair back just enough that he was at the window as he lit his cigarette. Which, okay, wasn’t what Alec wanted, but it was better than nothing.

“You don’t think Margo’s gonna be jealous you were gone cuddling someone all night long?” Jace asked teasingly.

Eliot snorted, which almost made him choke on a breath of smoke. The look he shot Jace was incredulous. “Jealous she wasn’t there, maybe. We rarely find someone worthy of cuddling with us.”

“Are you two in an open relationship?” Maia asked curiously.

“Bambi and I are more… a queerplatonic relationship.” At Jace and Isabelle’s confused looks, Eliot elaborated. “It’s about emotions, not sex. It’s loving someone more than friendship, but not feeling the need to have sex with them. Bambi lacks the appropriate parts for me.”

“Is this really the time to be talking about this?” Alec interjected. He knew his blush gave him away, especially when Eliot grinned at him and the others laughed, but he pushed past it, his hands moving through what had become familiar motions. Three lunches were quickly made and put into paper bags. “You guys need to finish eating or you won’t be done in time to catch the bus.”

“Yes, Dad,” three voices chorused.

Alec rolled his eyes, folding the last of the lunch bags shut. “You’re all assholes,” he told them in a flat voice, including Eliot in that with a glare that only made the other man laugh. Still, when Alec went to the pot to make his cup of coffee, he made a second one as well. He caught Eliot’s eye and held up the milk and sugar, and Eliot shook his head. He smiled gratefully when Alec brought it over and passed the cup to him. Settling down into a chair of his own, Alec cradled his mug close and let the liquid warm him up, still trying to kick-start his brain a bit from his abrupt wakeup while he listened to the sound of multiple voices talking all at the same time about the day.

Before Alec got more than two drinks into his cup, the three teenagers in front of him were already finishing off their cereal and jumping up in what had become a normal morning mad-dash for the bus. “Don’t have too much fun, hermano!” Isabelle called out to him, winking and laughing when he scowled at her. Jace laughed loudly as he raced out the door, and Maia rolled her eyes while she followed after the two.

The sudden loss of noise had Alec sighing a little. He settled down into his seat, taking another big drink of his coffee, and deliberately avoided looking at the mess everyone left behind. He was going to have to take care of that he shortly. Pigs, all of them, he thought fondly.

Only, in avoiding looking at the table, he ended up looking over at Eliot instead. Looking at him had an almost instant blush heating Alec’s cheeks. He couldn’t believe he’d curled up against him like that last night! Or that he’d cuddled him all night on the couch! It was mortifying. Almost as much as the knowledge that Eliot had come to rescue him last night, or that he’d seen Alec break down afterward.

“I can practically smell your braincells burning,” Eliot said, interrupting Alec’s spiraling thoughts. When Alec blinked his eyes clear, he found Eliot smoking again and smirking at him. There was a softer edge to it, though, than the one he usually wore. “Quit over thinking things. Despite your siblings teasing, we didn’t actually do anything last night worth being teased over.”

When Alec blushed all the deeper, Eliot laughed.

He reached out with the hand that wasn’t holding a cigarette and lightly patted Alec’s cheek. “I wasn’t lying before. I like you, Alec,” Eliot said, a smile curving his lips. Then he winked. “And yes, you’re incredibly attractive. But in my life, I’ve learned it’s easy to find someone to fuck. It’s a lot harder to find a good friend. I can hit up any club to find the former. Hell, I can find a ton of people there to fuck. But, to hang out, have some drinks, tell some stories with, curl up and sleep with? Actually sleep? A person like that is hard to find.” Shifting in his seat, Eliot turned a little more, looking oddly open and yet still hidden, still wearing his masks. “An when you do, you don’t do anything to screw it up. So, this is me making sure I don’t screw it up.”

“You barely know anything about me,” Alec said.

Eliot’s lips curved up into a grin that was somehow both kind and just a bit arrogant. “I told you last night, I bond fast. Plus, I like to think I’m a good judge of character. Besides… getting to know someone is half the fun.”

Surprisingly, as he sat there looking at the other man, a part of Alec realized that it did sound like fun. In its own weird way, really, it sounded amazing. Exactly what Alec wanted, and what he thought he might need. But knowing that and accepting it were two totally different things. This… it’d never been an option for Alec before, and he didn’t know how to handle knowing that it was one now. He didn’t know what to do.

Alec tightened his hold on his mug, eyes darting down. “I don’t… I’m not… being like that isn’t, isn’t normal for me.”

“What? Cuddling? Or letting yourself be vulnerable?”

“Being weak,” Alec whispered.

He heard the rustle of movement as Eliot sat forward. For a brief second, the smell of smoke got stronger, though not the actual smoke. Eliot must’ve put his cigarette into the ashtray he’d conjured by the window. The scent clung to him, though, as he leaned in and put his hand on Alec’s arm. When he spoke, his voice had deepened, carrying an edge of command to it that made it hard not to listen to it. “You are not weak, Alec. I’ve been blessed in my life to have friends around who taught me that leaning on someone sometimes doesn’t make me weak. There are only a handful of people on this planet I’d let see me like that, but I do have people. I don’t know how I’d live without them.” The hand on Alec’s arm slid up, across his shoulder and to the back of his neck where it curled, steady and firm. “There’s no shame in needing to lean on someone.”

There were no words that Alec could find. He had to settle for giving a short, sharp nod.

The hand on his neck squeezed, then gave a little shake. “Good. Now, if we’re done with the morning angst, I believe someone mentioned something about breakfast.”

Something in the teasing in Eliot’s voice gave Alec the strength to look up, and to honestly smile at him. “You could just wiggle your fingers and conjure up a breakfast.”

“Alec!” Eliot affected a look of fake shock. He sat back in his seat, one hand over his heart while his other picked up his still smoldering cigarette from the ashtray. “Someone somewhere has to cook those breakfasts! Are you trying to suggest I steal from someone?”

“Like you have a problem… wait a second. The stuff you conjure is stolen?”

The sound of Eliot’s laughter echoed around the kitchen.

Alec did end up getting up to make them some breakfast. He wasn’t particularly hungry, but Eliot was, and it was easier to cook for him than to sit there and put up with his pouting. As a compromise, Eliot summoned some food from his own house for supplies. Of course, the vanishing of supplies seemed to have summoned Margo as well.

She came walking in the back door while Alec was in the midst of making breakfast. The fact that she didn’t bother to knock, just strolled right in, had Alec rolling his eyes. He didn’t bother protesting, though. Nor did he stop cooking. He just added a bit more to his mix. “Good morning, Margo.”

“It’s getting there,” she said, one corner of her mouth quirking. It struck Alec that her makeup was light, like she’d barely applied any, and though her jeans and blouse were clearly designer, they were the most relaxed clothes he’d seen her in so far.

The woman made a beeline for her friend. Instead of taking a chair beside him, she plopped right down into his lap, and Eliot adjusted to it automatically. His arm went around her waist to support her while her head came down to rest against his shoulder. “I see how it is over here,” she said, smacking at Eliot’s chest and then snuggling in closer. “I let you out for one night and you’re over here making time with our Shadowhunter. He’s even making you breakfast.”

“What can I say?” Eliot grinned, blowing smoke out his nose. “I’m loveable.”

“You’re ridiculous. Gimme some of that coffee, you slut. I’ve barely had a cup.”

“This is my first!” Still, Eliot handed it over to her, letting her take a bracing drink.

Alec rolled his eyes at the two of them. He’d just slid his mixture into the pan to cook, which freed up his hands long enough for him to grab another mug from the cupboard and fill it with coffee. He set that mug, plus the container of milk and the small canister of sugar on the bar, catching Eliot’s eye as he did and nodding towards them. Eliot smiled back at him while waving a hand, wrapping the items up in blue magic so that he could draw them towards him. “Thank you, Alec.”

Margo turned to look, making a happy sound when she saw the mug floating her way. Milk and sugar were already being added, so that by the time it reached her, her cup was ready for her. She traded out Eliot’s mug for the new one and took a large, bracing drink. “Oooh, now that hits the spot. Thanks, Espinosa.” She turned to flash a smile at him, but then her eyes drifted down towards the stove, which was mostly blocked from view at the angle she sat at. “What’re you making?”

“A Spanish omelet,” Alec answered. “And yes, there’s plenty enough if you’d like some.”

Margo’s grin grew even wider. “I knew I liked you for a reason.”

That had Eliot snorting. “Funny, I seem to remember something a bit different.”

As the two devolved into their playful bickering, Alec let the noise of them wash over him. It helped to keep the noise inside his own head at bay a little. The last thing Alec wanted was to be left alone with his thoughts. If he was, he knew his brain would go back to last night, back to that empty parking lot and the feel of those hands and feet. Back to a hard tile floor and the echo of water on walls intermixing with the taunts and jeers and threats.

A shiver ran down Alec’s spine. His hands trembled, almost causing him to drop the omelet he was currently trying to flip.

If either of his companions noticed his sudden slip, they didn’t comment on it, thank the angel.

Eventually, Alec finished the food, and he quickly plated it, taking it over towards the table along with two extra plates and forks. By that point, Margo had moved to her own chair, and Eliot was finally finished chain-smoking the morning away, it seemed. They sat forward as soon as Alec set the food down in front of them. The way they were practically salivating drew a small, honest smile out of him. “Help yourselves to as much as you want. Whatever’s left, everyone can have as a snack after school.”

Eliot looked up, a small furrow appearing between his brows as he took in the two plates that were being set out. “You’re not eating?”

“I’m not hungry,” Alec said. And it was true. He doubted he could put something in his stomach right now. Not without risking throwing it all back up later. “You guys go ahead and eat. I’m gonna go upstairs and grab a quick shower. Just leave the dishes when you’re done – I’ll get to them when I get back.”

He didn’t give either of them time to protest. With quick, practiced movements, Alec retreated before he could be pushed, hurrying up the stairs and away from his friends.

The fact that he left them alone down there said quite a lot about how far he’d come in trusting them, even over such a short time. That trust didn’t extend to his shower, though. Alec locked the door behind him the instant he was in the bathroom. Not even his siblings were allowed in while Alec was in the shower. No matter what, he couldn’t seem to let it happen. Just the idea of it was enough to have his whole body clenching up in fear.

It was only once he was in the shower, door shut and locked and water beating down on him, that Alec let go of the iron control he’d wrapped himself up in. He braced his hands against the wall. Then he ducked his head down until the water was washing over him, hiding the tears he couldn’t keep inside.

Alec only allowed himself a few minutes to crack. Just a few minutes to hide under the water spray and let go of the iron control he’d worked so hard to hold on to for what felt like months – years. Then, with the kind of skill that had taken him years to master, he drew his walls slowly back around himself, one by one, and walled away the pain that he didn’t want to feel. The things that he didn’t want to think about. Last night’s events were added in with the night that Alec had been forced to leave his home, and every other traumatic memory he’d pushed away and refused to think about.

His hands only shook a little when he reached for the shampoo bottle.

Fifteen minutes later Alec was making his way back downstairs to the kitchen. He stopped when he was almost at the bottom of the stairs to stare at the room in front of him. “What the hell?”

There wasn’t a single dish left out on the table, counter, or in the sink. The table, counters, and even the floor looked like they’d been scrubbed clean. More than that, Alec was pretty sure the wallpaper was a little brighter than it had been before, which, okay, he had to repeat – What the hell? Even the pile of laundry was gone. The basket was empty and there were two large stacks of folded clothes on top of the dryer.

Alec slowly came down the last step, eyes scanning around him. When he heard low laughter coming from the living room, he turned to look that way, feet already carrying him over there.

He found his new friends hanging out in the living room. Margo was sitting in one corner of the couch, her bare feet up on the coffee table, with Eliot laying down with his head in her lap. She had one hand in his hair and her other one was resting on the back of the couch, holding a cigarette. The living room around them looked like it’d been cleaned up, too. The carpet appeared vacuumed, the coffee table was clear, even the garbage can was empty.

There was so much Alec wanted to say. Questions that he wanted to ask. Yet when he opened his mouth, he found himself blurting out “Am I ever going to be able to get you two to stop smoking in here?”

“Probably not,” Margo said cheerfully. She took a drag from her cigarette as if to emphasize that point. Blowing the smoke up, she winked at him.

From her lap, Eliot laughed. He stretched his limbs out and then let his body slump down more into the couch. “Does it help if I tell you that we learned a spell a long, long time ago that sort of neutralizes the whole cigarette smoke issue?”

“A… what?”

“We spell all our packs. You think we want our clothes or our house to smell like an ashtray? I mean, a bit of smoke scent is fine, but stale cigarettes smell disgusting. Besides, we’ve hung out with enough mortals, we’re not looking to give them lung cancer.”

Eliot’s explanation had Alec blinking a few times, trying to get his brain to process what he’d just heard. He’d never stopped to think about spellwork that might be capable of doing something like that. He let himself think on it only for a moment before shaking his head. “Did you guys clean up?” he asked instead, focusing back on what was important.

In response, Eliot lifted a hand and wiggled his fingers, letting magic twist around each finger. That was answer enough. Then he let go of the magic and instead used that hand to gesture Alec closer. “Come sit with us a bit. We’re going to be deliciously lazy and drink coffee and gossip until we feel like being human beings again.”

“As thrilling as that sounds, I do have other things to do today aside from the chores you did for me.” Alec’s words were amused, but sarcastic enough that it made his friends smile. Shaking his head, Alec leaned against the doorway between the kitchen and living room, arms crossing over his chest. “I should get down to the grocery store to get some more food and a newspaper so I can try and find a new job to replace the one I’m about to lose. Then I’ve got work this afternoon.”

The two on the couch went abruptly tense at Alec’s words. “What do you mean, you’re losing your job?” Margo demanded. Eliot pushed himself up from Margo’s lap, eyes serious and locked on Alec now.

Alec’s eyebrows shot up. Were they serious? Though he knew his look probably came off as a bit condescending, he couldn’t quite help himself. Maybe these two hadn’t thought about the implications of last night – Alec had. “Do you really think Jeb’s going to let me stay on after all this? I’m an underage Shadowhunter that he went out on a limb to hire. After this mess? He’d be stupid to keep me on.”

“He’d be even stupider to let you go!” Margo shot back fiercely. “If he can’t handle a few mutts with their dicks in a knot, he never should’ve opened up a werewolf bar.” Her cigarette, mostly forgotten, was casually dropped down into the ashtray that appeared on the coffee table. She scowled at him while sitting forward, looking ready to hop up and start fighting in an instant, though Alec couldn’t be sure if she was going to fight him, or go and fight Jeb, or any of the other werewolves involved in this.

As sweet as her protectiveness was, it wasn’t practical. Alec knew that. It was thinking with her emotions, not with her brain. “I’m just a dishwasher, Margo. I’m not anything vital or necessary. They got along fine before me, and they’ll get along fine after me. The only reason he even hired me to begin with is because he’s got a soft spot for Maia, and she asked him to.”

That didn’t seem to make her any happier. If anything, she got more pissed off, pushing herself to stand up as if that would somehow help her get her point across. “You’re worth ten of any of those dickheads, you hear me? Even if you are a Shadowhunter.”

When Alec darted a look over at her, he found her lips quirking just the slightest bit. Almost reluctantly, he found his own lips twitching in return. “Thanks. You’re not too bad yourself – for a warlock.”

The tension was slowly draining out of the room. They were letting this go, for now at least. Alec had a feeling they’d be bringing it back up later. But, for the moment, Eliot had relaxed a little again, and Margo dropped herself back onto the couch, chuckling at him as she did. “Oooh, the kitty has claws.”

Okay, Alec couldn’t just ignore that anymore. He scowled at the two of them as he demanded: “What’s with this whole cat thing?”

“Not cat.” A smirk curved Eliot’s lips. Even in the short time that Alec had known the man, he knew that meant nothing good was about to be said. “Kitten. You’re like a cat, cold and standoffish, but secretly down for cuddles and pets so long as you get to set the terms.”

“Only, you’re too adorable to be a normal cat,” Margo said.

Eliot nodded his agreement. “Exactly. Hence, kitten.”

For a long moment Alec just stared at them in disbelief. Then he shook his head. These two were ridiculous and nothing he said or did was going to change that. “Remind me again why I let you two into my house?”

The two of them grinned in a way that was startlingly similar and somehow both warm and terrifying all at the same time.

Neither of them left Alec alone for the rest of the morning. They stuck around and kept him company, dragging him down onto the couch with them to watch movies on the TV they conjured up for him – “It’s one of our spares, I swear!” Eliot insisted, laughing at Alec who was busy scowling over the idea of them stealing someone’s TV. “We practically have one in every room. I think we can spare one over here for a while.”

Alec had to admit, it felt good to just curl up together and watch a few movies. With Margo and Alec on either side of the couch, and Eliot sprawled between them, Alec felt surrounded by friends without feeling smothered by them. They watched movies, talked, laughed, and shared stories. It was the most relaxing morning Alec had had in quite a long time. He didn’t even mind giving up going to run errands. By the time he went to the restaurant for his afternoon job, he was a bit more relaxed than he had been.

That relaxation didn’t stick around for long. Once Alec wasn’t completely distracted, his brain easily fell back to thinking of last night and what had happened. Or, what might happen tonight.

Alec was dead set convinced that Jeb was going to fire him. It was the only logical thing to do. Having Alec around was causing a lot of problems for the business owner. Why keep around someone like that when all that needed to be done to solve it was to fire a person whose job really wasn’t that important to begin with?

And even if he did let Alec stay…

What was going to happen? Threats from Eliot and Margo wouldn’t hold these guys back forever. Their Alpha might be able to keep them under control, but that was only if Eliot was right and Margo had gotten the alpha to agree to force his pack back. There was no telling how long that protection would last, either, or what it might cover. If a few wolves came after Alec, if they backed one another up later and claimed they felt threatened, would their Alpha give one lick about the broken – or worse, dead – Shadowhunter they left behind?

Alec had to think of what was best for his family. First and foremost, before anything else, they were what was important. Right now this job was the best way to guarantee that he took care of them. Working for the Hunter’s Moon brought in his largest and steadiest paycheck. It was the reason they had food on the table and were able to pay their bills. With it, he didn’t need near as much of Maia’s paychecks, though she kept insisting that he take it. Alec had taken to squirreling away part of what she gave him in an envelope under his mattress. That way the money would be there if she ever needed it.

The point was, Alec needed this job, and if Jeb didn’t fire him then there was no way in hell Alec was going to quit. He’d take the risk, be extra cautious to and from work for a while and hope for the best. He had his stealth rune, plus a few other ones, that would make it easy for him to get there without many people noticing him. By the time the wolves smelt his angel blood, he’d already be inside, and Alec had no doubt that Sorcha wouldn’t let anything happen inside the bar.

That was his plan for the future. For tonight? Alec didn’t bother with any of that when he left the house for work that night. He didn’t want to creep up on anyone. He wanted to see them, and for them to see him. It was the only way he’d be able to feel out the atmosphere and gauge just how safe he might actually be in the future.

When Alec opened the front door to the Hunter’s Moon, a few heads turned his way, and there were the usual scowls when some of them saw him. But… that was it. No one said or did anything. In fact, Alec was pretty sure they were doing their best to avoid looking at him altogether. That was more than Alec had expected. Then again, it might’ve had something to do with Sorcha, who cast a quick glare around the bar before she turned bright eyes towards him. “Evening, handsome. Good walk tonight?”

Alec lifted one eyebrow at her. Hands stuffed into his pockets, and spine straight, he made himself stand as tall and proud as he’d been taught. “Good enough.”  That was all he said as he made his way over to grab up a tub and snag a few empties before he headed to the kitchen.

And that was that.

Though part of Alec kept waiting for the shoe to drop, for something to happen, his shift went smoother than ever before. There were still grumbles, still glares, and Alec caught a growl or two when he cleaned up a table, but no one tried to spill anything on him, and no one outright attacked him.

He was just starting to get complacent, to finally relax, when the doors to the kitchen opened and someone who definitely wasn’t Sorcha came into the room.

Immediately, Alec tensed. Instinct and training had him bracing his body in preparation for whatever might come his way. The glass he held was shifted so that he could get a better grip on the handle, allowing it to be used as a weapon if need be. As he started to casually lower the sprayer – don’t go too fast, don’t give anything away, let them think they’ve surprised you – a deep baritone sounded behind him that had Alec simultaneously relaxing and then tensing all over again for an entirely different reason. “Don’t get yourself all worked up, boy. I’m not here to jump you.”

Slowly, feeling the knot in his stomach grow, Alec turned around to look at the mountain of a man that was standing just a few feet behind him. Jeb Larsen was a giant of a man with a strong presence to help back up that size. By Alec’s best guess, the guy had to be a little over seven feet tall, and he was broad to go along with it. Sorcha jokingly liked to call him their Viking. He was broad shouldered, with arms that were probably bigger around than Sorcha was. His brownish-blond hair was shaved, all except for a long strip on top of his head. That bit was kept in a braid that hung down to the small of his back. His beard, which hung down to his chest, was left loose except for three points that were held with metal beads. One just below his bottom lip, and one on either side of his mouth.

Green eyes watched Alec with a sharp intensity that had made Alec feel intimidated the first time they’d met. They hadn’t lost that intensity since then.

Alec nervously lowered the cup he held and tried to make the tension bleed out of his body. “Mr. Larsen.” Almost instinctively, he drew himself up, shoulders back and hands – now that they were free – coming together behind his back. He stood at attention without even realizing that he was doing it.

“I told you the last time, none of that Mr. Larsen business,” Jeb said. He looked Alec over like he wasn’t quite sure what to make of him, or his pose. Then he sighed and gestured for Alec to keep on working. “Don’t let me keep you. Looks like you got plenty to get loaded up in there.”

“Yes, sir.”

Alec turned back to his work, yet he didn’t stop paying attention to Jeb. He felt like every sense was on high alert. He was acutely aware of the man moving to lean against the wall. Of how he never once looked away from Alec as he crossed his arms over his broad chest and waited. What he was waiting for, Alec had no idea, and the quiet was making his stomach twist.

After a long pause, Jeb finally spoke. He didn’t beat around the bush, either, but dove right in.

“I agreed to hire you cause I figured you’d never last.” Jeb’s words were blunt, yet he didn’t flinch from saying them. He just kept looking steadily at Alec. “I thought you’d deal with some crap and then run outta here with your tail between your legs. But you haven’t. No matter what’s been happening you’ve been here every day without fail. Even when the boys out there did their best to chase you outta here.”

“I do my job.” It was just that simple.

Jeb nodded his agreement, surprising Alec. Though he surprised him even more with his next words. “That you do, boy. An I’m not gonna take it from ya, so you can unknot your shorts.”

That was enough to have Alec freezing. He carefully set the cup he held down into the tray and turned around to face his boss. Though he knew he shouldn’t question it, he couldn’t quite keep himself from asking: “You’re… not firing me?”

One corner of Jeb’s mouth quirked up. “The day I kowtow to a bunch of unruly pups who can’t see past their own dicks is the day I retire and move to a cabin in the woods.” Snorting, Jeb shook his head. “They should know better now, but if they don’t and they start giving you trouble, you let me know. I’m not gonna let them chase away one of the hardest workers we’ve had around here. You keep up like this an in a few months we’ll get you trained behind the bar. That’s where the real money is. Something tells me you need that.”

Shock arrowed through Alec, followed by a wave of relief so strong it almost took him out at the knees. “Thank you, sir.”

Jeb shrugged one shoulder carelessly. “I’ve done my time raising pups, an gran-pups even. Did it alone, too, after Lettie passed, God rest her soul. I remember what it’s like doin’ it on my own.” He pushed off the wall and straightened back up. Then he took a step forward and reached out one hand, clasping Alec’s shoulder in a touch almost strong enough to buckle Alec’s already weak knees. Jeb smiled down at him, and the harder lines to his face softened, giving him an almost approachable look. He was startlingly gentle when he gave Alec’s shoulder a squeeze. “You’re doing good, pup.”

The hand gave Alec one last pat, and then Jeb turned and walked away, leaving Alec standing there staring after him with a stunned look on his face.

Chapter Text

The next few days weren’t easy – Alec felt like he was twitching every time one of the werewolves even looked at him wrong – but they didn’t get any worse, either. Word must’ve spread about what happened between Alec and the werewolves. There were definitely more wolves in the bar for the next while, which put Alec on edge and had him retreating to the back more often than he’d like. But he didn’t let it chase him away. No matter how many showed up, or how many glares he got, Alec was there each and every night, and he did his job.

Going home to his family made it easier. Being able to look at them each morning when he got up to make their breakfast, seeing them talk happily together over the dinner table about whatever new big thing was going on at school, watching as Isabelle and Jace slowly blossomed into teenagers instead of just warriors, those moments made any of the crap Alec dealt with worth it.

Even if it hadn’t been, even if Alec had wanted to give in and run away sometimes, their very first Christmas in their home was the kind of memory that Alec knew would carry him through plenty of hard days.

To be honest, he hadn’t really given Christmas all that much thought at first. Not until he saw the decorations that were being hung up at the Hunter’s Moon. That was what reminded Alec that this time of year was about more than just the biting wind, the cold that seemed to seep through the cracks of their house, and the threat of snow that hung over them all.

He stared at the tinsel in his hand and couldn’t believe that he’d forgotten.

Christmas wasn’t huge with Shadowhunters, but it was celebrated. Their family had always been so formal about it, too. A proper family dinner with amazing food, usually cooked by Maryse and, as he got older, Alec as well. But the real celebrations had been between Isabelle and Alec and Max, and later on, Jace, too.

Thinking of Max made Alec’s heart ache just as it always did. He pushed that hurt down, and let determination fill him instead. He might not be able to be there for Max like he normally was, but that didn’t mean that he couldn’t give Jace and Isabelle a Christmas. He was just going to have to get more creative about it.

“That’s quite a look you got there,” Sorcha said, interrupting his thoughts. “What’s got you straining so hard?”

“Nothing,” he replied absently. The response was so automatic, so ingrained in him, he didn’t even have to be paying attention to give it.

Of course, it didn’t always work on people. Especially ones like Sorcha who Alec sometimes suspected of having some sort of emotion magic. It was an alleged Unseelie power that no one had ever been able to confirm. But Sorcha often seemed to be able to read Alec really well, even when he had his masks up. Now was no different. Her eyes traveled down to the tinsel he was still holding, and he watched them widen with realization. A second later her expression turned a bit devilish. “Ahh. Naughty little Nephilim. Forget we got the holidays coming up, did we?”

Alec couldn’t quite keep from ducking his head down, or the defensive words that spilled past his lips. “I’ve been a little busy.” A lot had been going on lately! Was it any wonder he’d forgotten about the holidays?

Laughing, Sorcha held her hands up in a defensive pose, and her eyes seemed to twinkle with mirth. “Hey, I wasn’t judging! You’ve definitely been busy, Al. But lucky for you, there’s still plenty of time left.”

Sure there was. Alec thought about it all night through work, and he thought about it as he made his nightly run home. Christmas, they might not have seemed to care about it, but they’d had their traditions. Just because they weren’t living at home didn’t mean that they couldn’t indulge in some of those, and maybe make a few new ones, right?

The next day, a plan firmly in mind, Alec hit up the thrift stores while everyone was gone at school or work or doing their own thing. There, he sifted through everything with a skill that his time here had taught him. It only took three different stores for Alec to find all the things he needed. Last, but definitely not least, he managed to find a little place that was selling actual Christmas trees. The price made him wince, but he paid for it. It’d be worth it to see the looks on his siblings’ faces when they came home and saw the tree there.

It took a strength rune, an agility rune, and a careful glamour to get everything home and to do it all without being seen by anyone.

The whole thing was worth it when Isabelle, Jace, and Maia came home from school that day. Alec was prepared for them with mugs of hot chocolate and a few apples left from their last Food Bank run. Setting the tray on the coffee table, he watched with a small smile as they came in the door. Isabelle was first, and she caught sight of the tree in the corner almost instantly. The way her whole face lit up, how her eyes widened, and her mouth actually dropped open before all of it melted away to one of the brightest smiles that Alec had ever seen, that right there made it all worth it. As did the stunned joy he felt in his parabatai bond, and the way that Jace’s eyes were shining with the kind of emotion he would’ve hidden from them a few years ago.

“A tree!” Isabelle exclaimed, dropping her bag down to thud on the ground and then darting forward. “Oh, Alec, you got us a tree!”

Alec lowered himself to sit in his favorite chair, his own mug of coffee cradled between his hands. “Well we can’t exactly do Christmas without a tree, can we?” With one foot, he nudged the bags he’d brought home that were on the ground by the coffee table. “Got some other things, too.”

Isabelle and Jace made a mad dash for the bags. While they fought over them, laughing and shoving at one another to try and get in close and see what was inside, Alec met Maia’s gaze overtop of them. The way Maia looked was a bit sad, yet so very amused, and she grinned when she caught Alec’s eye. He smiled back at her.

What came next was the kind of night that Alec knew he’d hold in his memories for a long, long time. Someone put some Christmas music on the stereo, and the bags of decorations ended up completely dumped out on the couch. There were lights and tinsel, ornaments and figurines. Alec got to laugh and watch as Isabelle and Jace argued over how much tinsel should go on the tree and how much should be used for things like the staircase railings, or the mantel over the fireplace.

They had the tree half done when Alec slipped into the kitchen to start dinner. He’d made meatloaf earlier, and it wouldn’t take long to reheat it.

He’d just gotten it back in the oven when there was a knock on the front door. Maia shouted a loud “I got it!” over the music. Moments later, Alec didn’t have to wonder who it was. He heard Margo’s voice clear as day calling out: “All right, bitches, the party can officially start!” There was laughter in response, and the music got louder, a jaunty tune that had Alec humming under his breath while he closed the oven door and set the timer.

When he stepped back into the living room, he took a moment to just lean against the doorframe between the two rooms. There, Alec could look out at his family and smile.

There were two tubs on the couch that were overflowing with what appeared to be even more lights and tinsel. It looked like Eliot and Margo hadn’t shown up empty-handed. Though a small part of Alec felt a pang that he couldn’t really provide his siblings with all the things they’d need for the holiday, that they had to rely on friends for that, the bigger part of him was just grateful to their friends for helping out.

Isabelle had already dragged out some lights, and she and Maia were using them to decorate around the room, stringing them up with tiny nails around the edges of the ceiling. Jace, who must’ve won the earlier argument, was adding another strip of tinsel to the tree with Margo helping him, no doubt teasing him as she went if Jace’s grin was anything to go by.

Eliot was – unsurprisingly – at the little cabinet bar that had magically appeared recently. It was set up by the stairs, in that little spot where the stairs went from straight and turned right, making a little nook in the space below. The bar was kept pretty well stocked; Alec wondered if Eliot put some sort of spell on there, or if he just called up his own bottles whenever he opened it. Either way, it always had something in there, and now was no different.

Watching all of them had Alec’s smile growing. Any worries he’d had about not being able to do Christmas right, that his siblings might not like this and might wish for home, were banished. This? This was family. This was what Christmas was supposed to be.

Eliot finished making his drinks and looked up, his own smile lighting up his face when he saw Alec. With a drink in each hand, he made his way over, passing Alec the cocktail glass full of something red and sparkling when he reached him. “Don’t you just look quite smug over here.”

“My family’s happy,” Alec said, by way of answer. To him, it said it all.


A low chuckle shook Alec’s chest. He shot a sideways look at Eliot, letting his amusement show. “Did you forget who you’re talking to? You’re not any better, Waugh.”

Eliot gave a haughty sniff and lifted his glass to his lips once more. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Are you going to stand on the sidelines and creepily watch everyone all night long, or do you plan on actually joining the festivities?”

Alec allowed him the subject change. For all the moments they’d had together, as Isabelle would describe them, he knew that Eliot could get just as uncomfortable when it came to emotions as Alec could sometimes. He just had a lifetime of experience to help him actually let them out when it mattered. “I was making dinner,” he explained. “Besides, it looks like everyone has things pretty well in hand.”

“Nonsense.” Abruptly, Eliot was grabbing hold of Alec’s arm and dragging him forward into the lights and music and chaos of the living room, right to the center of their explosion of holiday cheer. “Bambi! Someone needs help spreading the Christmas joy further into the kitchen!”

The way that Margo’s eyes lit up told Alec he was in for an interesting time. Somehow, he couldn’t quite bring himself to mind.

Bringing home decorations seemed to be like some sort of permission for the household to suddenly throw themselves into the holidays. Within two days, Isabelle had brought home matching Christmas pajamas for them all and then insisted that they wear them while they spent an evening watching Christmas movies together. There was almost always some form of Christmas music playing in their house, either upstairs or downstairs, and tiny little gifts had started to appear under the tree.

Alec was thankful they’d always had a rule about gift amounts. They’d only ever insisted on one gift apiece, though they’d put a limit of three gifts per person because Isabelle could go a little overboard if she weren’t reigned in. She’d buy tons of gifts for each person.

Payday thankfully came close enough to the holiday that Alec was actually going to have a bit of money to be able to get some things for his siblings, as well as make sure that they had the money to go out and buy things, too. It took picking up an extra shift or two at the restaurant and bar both, plus most of the little Christmas bonus from the grocery store, but Alec managed to cover their bills and still make sure there was enough left over for them all.

He knew what he wanted to get everyone. It was going to take some squeezing, some careful planning, and not much free time, but he could do it. Come Christmas morning, it’d be more than worth it to see their faces when they opened their gifts.

So far, Alec had extended the invitation to Eliot and Margo to join them on Christmas day, Jeb, and he was contemplating offering the same to Catarina. But before he did that, there was one person he really wanted to invite, and he made sure to catch her at work after everyone had gone and they were closing the place up.

Alec was bringing out fresh, dry glasses and restocking under the bar for her while Sorcha was wiping down the top when he finally broached the subject. “Do you have any holiday plans?”

“Just me and a bottle of wine,” Sorcha said, grinning.

“Would you like to join us for dinner at my place?”

The question clearly threw Sorcha off. She paused mid-wipe and looked down at him, her eyes briefly widening in surprise. He thought he saw something there, something like delight, and then she was quickly turning back toward the bar, this time deliberately making sure her back was to him. She waved one hand airily back at him. “Oh, I couldn’t. That’s family time.”

“Family and friends,” Alec corrected. He slid the last few glasses in and then straightened up. The tray was set on the clean part of the bar, allowing him to free up his hands. He leaned against the bar, arms over his chest, and watched her. “Eliot and Margo are coming, and I’m extending the invitation to Catarina as well. I asked Jeb, but he’s got plans with the granpups, so he can’t make it in the morning, but he’ll be there for dinner. We’d really like it if you came, if you don’t have other plans.”

There was a brief moment of hesitation. Then Sorcha looked up, giving him a soft smile much gentler than her usual ones. “Not many warlocks are all that fond of Unseelie, hon. We’re not exactly the most popular species. Eliot and I are friends, but Eliot can make friends with anyone. Catarina and I don’t know each other.”

“So?” Alec raised one eyebrow, his look making it clear just how little he cared about that. “If there’s one thing all of you have taught me, it’s not to care about what a person is, and to care about who they are. Everyone’s preached that to me to try and help me get past my biases as a Shadowhunter. They can follow their own words. You’ve… You’ve been kind, and I’d like to think we’re friends?” That was supposed to come out as a statement, yet it ended in a clear question. One that Sorcha didn’t hesitate to answer.

She reached out quickly and curled her small hand over Alec’s wrist. “Of course we’re friends, Al.”

He swallowed down the lump in his throat. “Then I’d like it if you’d come. If anyone else has a problem with it, they can leave.”

The smile that lit up her face was the brightest he’d ever seen. “I’ll be there with bells on.”

Alec knew it probably was a bit petty, but there was a part of him that wanted to deliberately make this Christmas completely unlike any Christmas they’d ever had. Whereas the Lightwood family had regimented, fashionable, political holiday gatherings and celebrations, Christmas at the Espinosa house was going to be anything but that.

By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, their home had looked like someone had taken everything that made up Christmas and just… exploded it. There was red and green everywhere, tons of tinsel and lights, a row of stockings that Isabelle had actually made for them out of some material she’d found at the thrift store, and the warm smell of their Christmas tree alongside the almost constant mulled wine scent that permeated the place. They looked like a slightly tackier version of those Christmas scenes in the mundane movies Isabelle was insisting they watch.

Alec had to admit, it was cheesy, and something he’d always sort of thought of as a mundane thing, and yet it felt amazing to curl up with his friends and family in the living room and watch silly Christmas movies while wrapped up in one of the Christmas quilts that had magically appeared one day and that no one was taking credit for.

That was what they were doing for their Christmas Eve. The Hunter’s Moon was closed for the night and the next day, which meant that Alec didn’t have to go into work. All three of his siblings – and it didn’t escape his notice how Maia had made that shift from friend to sibling just as easily as Jace once had – were here with Alec, spread out through the living room sipping on the mulled wine he was allowing them in honor of the holiday.

Maia and Isabelle were piled together in a tangle of limbs in the recliner, Jace was stretched out on the floor near them with his feet kicking absently at theirs, and his head resting against Alec’s leg. Alec was in one corner of the couch, Margo in the other, and Eliot was laying over and between them. His head was in Margo’s lap, one leg was curled up and resting against the back of the couch, and his other leg was stretched out to cover Alec’s lap.

Tim Allen’s “The Santa Clause” was playing on the TV, though Alec wasn’t sure how much any of them were really paying attention anymore. He knew he wasn’t. Legs stretched out, slouched down in his seat, Alec was content to rest the hand that held his glass on Eliot’s shin, and his other hand had dropped down to toy with his parabatai’s hair.

What he was feeling must’ve been clear to Jace. There was a smirk on Jace’s face when he tipped it back to look up at Alec. “Sap.”

Alec lightly tapped the back of his head. “Shut up.”

“You two are so weird,” Maia said, rolling her eyes as she smirked in their direction. “Sometimes it’s like you guys speak this language that no one else knows. I feel like I’m missing half the conversation.”

Isabelle didn’t even look away from the movie as she patted Maia’s arm. “They’re parabatai.”

“You say that like it means something. I’ve been meaning to ask what that is.”

That was enough to have everyone turning to look at Maia. Alec’s eyebrows had shot up towards his hairline. He was surprised by her words, though he quickly realized he shouldn’t be. When would Maia have heard about parabatai? She wasn’t a Shadowhunter. She hadn’t even known the Shadow world existed until she was turned. There was no way for her to know what they were.

It was Jace who fielded her question. “We’re bonded.” He said the words simply, without an ounce of shame, and with enough pride, Alec could hear it as well as feel it. “We went through a bonding ritual where we were marked with runes, and we took an oath in front of everyone.”

“Their rune allows them to draw on one another’s strength in battle,” Isabelle added. “They share parts of each other’s souls.”

A low hum came from Margo. She rolled her head, looking the two boys over. “I was always curious about the bond. How much do you two actually feel from one another? Sometimes it doesn’t seem like much, but sometimes you two seem like you get every fleeting emotion from the other.”

Alec and Jace both were shaking their heads at her before she’d even finished. “It’s not like that,” Jace said, which had Alec nodding in agreement, adding his own “He’s right. We don’t… it’s not just a straight sensation of emotions. It’s just… a general sensation of him. A feeling of his emotions and welfare.”

“It’d be pointless if it was strong enough for us to get everything. We’d be disabled the instant the other one got hurt,” Jace said. He snuck a look up at Alec, old shadows dancing briefly in his eyes. “I can tell you when he’s hurt, but I can’t tell specifics. Not unless it’s really, really bad.”

“Or, apparently, when he’s feeling sappy,” Eliot said teasingly. He nudged at Alec with his foot, which just earned him a quick swipe of fingers over the arch of his foot, making him laugh and try to jerk back, faux scowling as he went. Alec returned his look with an arched eyebrow and a smirk.

That seemed to be that, and the group settled back into their movies until, one by one, the others started to drift.

Alec had to be the one to shake himself awake and start getting everyone towards bed. He nudged Eliot’s foot off of him and then gave Jace a small shake. When his brother looked up, Alec gestured behind himself towards the stairs. “Go on and head up to bed. You’re practically asleep down there.”

“Mmm.” Jace lifted a free hand to rub over his face. He let Alec up first, and then slowly pushed up after him. When he saw Alec reaching for Maia, who was more on top of Isabelle than beside her – and definitely asleep – he shuffled over toward them and scooped up Isabelle once Alec had Maia. The two men moved carefully, carrying the girls upstairs and depositing them in their rooms. Alec set Maia down carefully and then tucked her in, smoothing the blanket over her shoulder and arm. Then he crept out of her room, turning off the light and shutting the door behind him.

He found that Jace had taken Isabelle to his room. No real surprise there. Nor was it a surprise to find that Jace was already mostly asleep in bed with her.

A fond smile ghosted over Alec’s lips. He stood there for a moment and looked down at the two of them, the two most important people in his life. Isabelle was already rolling towards Jace and curling up against his side, not even waking up to do it. For his part, Jace was flopped on his back, one arm above his head and the other loosely laid over his stomach. The only concession he’d given before lying down seemed to be having taken his shirt off, that was it.

It struck Alec then, enough to jolt him, that he was staring down at a shirtless Jace lying there, and he felt nothing but the same fond amusement he felt when he looked at Isabelle. There was no warm flush of embarrassed desire. None of the things that he’d deliberately avoided thinking about for so long. He looked at Jace and he just… saw Jace.

The warm feeling that gave him stayed with Alec as he tucked his siblings in and even as he made his way downstairs.

To his surprise, the living room was empty when he got there. Not a sign of Eliot or Margo in sight. Alec even double checked the downstairs bathroom before finally giving a shake of his head. He’d find out what was going on with them tomorrow.

One last loop through the downstairs had all the locks in place and the lights off. Then Alec was going back upstairs and heading toward his own bedroom.

He opened up his bedroom door and then froze two steps in. Well, I found my missing friends.

There, lying in Alec’s bed like they slept there every night, were Eliot and Margo. Eliot was over by the wall and the window, with Margo on the opposite edge, and clear open space between them. The two had clearly dressed down for bed from what Alec could see – was that his shirt Margo was wearing?? – but at least they were dressed? Alec tried to console himself with that.

“You planning on staring all night, or you actually gonna get in here?” Margo asked. She didn’t lift her head from the pillow, but she did pat the space in between her and Eliot.

Eliot, who also kept his eyes closed, smiled faintly. “C’mon, big boy. Get that gorgeous ass of yours in here.”

“You’re really not helping me feel relaxed about this,” Alec found himself saying, voice dry. Yet for some reason, he was stepping into the room and shutting the door. He hesitated only briefly, and then he was kicking off his shoes and – after another brief hesitation – pulling off his shirt, leaving him in the lounge pants he’d been in all night long.

Eliot’s smile grew wider. He kept his eyes closed, though, as if to make it very clear he wasn’t going to move. “Just because I’m not blind doesn’t mean I’m going to jump you. I like to think I have some control over myself.”

“I doubt it’s all of you he’s worried about, just your dick,” Margo chimed in.

At Alec’s affronted “Margo!” the two laughed at him.

This time, Eliot patted the bed between them. “Your virtue is safe with us, sweetheart. Just get in here. We’re in the mood for cuddles, and Margo’s jealous she never got to cuddle with you.”

“I wasn’t jealous! You just wouldn’t stop bragging about how great a cuddler he is!”

Somehow, their playful bickering did the trick in relaxing Alec, helping him find a smile and to actually move forward.

It was oh-so-strange to climb into the middle of his bed with two people already in it. People that weren’t Jace or Isabelle. Even then, Alec was more used to them climbing into bed with him when he was already asleep. However, these two were just as touchy as his siblings, if not more so. Alec barely had himself between them before Eliot was latching on, wrapping an arm around Alec’s waist and using that hold to yank him close and forcibly spoon them. That left Margo free to push right up against Alec’s chest and bury her face there.

His arms went around her almost instinctively. Years of practice at fitting three people into a bed that was barely meant for two meant that Alec had plenty of practice. With Eliot spooning him from behind, and Margo at his front, the trio made themselves comfortable in his too-small bed.

Alec laid there awake far longer than he would’ve if he’d been alone. Having these two with him was… he didn’t have the words to describe it. Part of his brain kept trying to overthink it; it was telling him that they were going to expect things out of him because of this. It was the same part that said that friends didn’t do things like this. At least, not that he’d ever heard. Under it all he heard a whisper of his mother’s voice hissing at him that he was too grown up for cuddling. He needed to grow up and start acting like a Shadowhunter if he ever wanted anyone to respect him. Shadowhunters didn’t cuddle or coddle each other. They weren’t this weak.

The press of Margo’s eyepatch against his chest drew Alec out of his thoughts. He looked down, glimpsing the plain black patch that must be her sleeping patch, which was a thought that made him want to smile a little. Then she was rubbing her face in, nose and patch pressing against his skin, and Alec thought to himself that there should be some sexual edge to that, yet there wasn’t. He didn’t know if it was because she was a girl, or because she was just Margo, and Alec had found himself liking the abrasive woman the more he was around her.

At the same time, Eliot rubbed a soothing circle over Alec’s stomach, and his touch wasn’t sexual either. It just… was. “Go to sleep,” Eliot murmured into Alec’s hair.

Smiling, Alec pushed away his worries, closed his eyes, and let himself sleep.


Chapter Text

Morning time came far earlier than Alec wanted. Yet he had to admit, he wasn’t the least bit surprised with how it arrived.

There was a low grunt and a “What the fuck?” from Margo that snapped Alec out of sleep just a split second before he felt a very familiar body flop down on top of him without a single care in the world for the fact that she was no longer a child. Alec, who had ended up flat on his back with a friend cuddling on either side of him, opened his eyes to find Isabelle straddling his stomach and grinning down at him. She barely waited for his eyes to open before she flung her hands up in the air and cried “Merry Christmas!”

“Your lucky my magic recognizes you, or you would’ve been blasted outta here. It’s not even seven,” Margo grumbled, curling herself upward a little more so that she was actually curling around Alec’s shoulder, her face hiding against his hair. It moved her safely away from Isabelle’s knee.

From the doorway came a laugh from Alec’s parabatai. “For Iz, that just means Christmas started seven hours ago, and we’re already behind.”

A whine came from Eliot when Alec drew his arms away from him. Alec knew better than to think any amount of whining was going to get his sister out of here. Especially not with that grin on her face. There was really only one reaction here that Alec could do. Hiding his grin, he caught hold of his sister’s hips and then moved before she could even think about stopping him. He lifted her up at the same time that he sat up. Isabelle let out a short shriek as Alec tipped her and then kept rising, catching her stomach on his shoulder. They ended up with Alec standing on the bed and Isabelle slung over his shoulder. Amidst her laughter, she smacked at his back, demanding “Put me down, you ogre!”

“Nope!” Alec grinned over at Jace, who was laughing in the doorway. Maia had even come and peeked around him, and she was laughing too.

With one arm to anchor her in place, Alec carefully turned, making sure not to hit the two still lying in his bed. He stepped over Margo, who immediately rolled into his spot to cuddle up against Eliot. It left Alec with room to go down on one knee – still holding Isabelle – and reach out with his free hand to draw the blanket back up over them. He surprised both himself and everyone watching when he gently brushed back a bit of Margo’s hair, and when he gave Eliot’s cheek a stroke. “You guys go ahead and stay here, sleep a little longer. I can call you when breakfast is ready.”

He kept a laughing Isabelle on his shoulder while he made his way out of his room, shutting the door behind him. He didn’t put her down again until they were downstairs.

“Stay out of the living room,” Alec said, stopping his siblings before they could get more than two steps. “You guys know the drill. Why don’t you get started on the atole while I get the buñuelos going?”

The kitchen wasn’t exactly large but it didn’t stop them from working easily around one another. Alec moved himself out of the way as best he could while Jace and Isabelle walked Maia through the process of making atole. They got it in the saucepan and then moved around to the other side of the bar, out of the kitchen, where they could lean over and stir it without getting in Alec’s way. It left him free to continue making their actual breakfast.

“Is this like, some traditional Spanish breakfast or something?” Maia asked, looking down at the atole as she stirred.

Alec shrugged one shoulder. “Not really? I don’t know what a traditional Spanish breakfast looks like.  But when I was stuck at the Mexico Institute one year for Christmas, one of the people there taught me how to make it. It might not be a traditional breakfast, but it was a tradition for him and his family.”

“When he got back home, we did our own late Christmas celebration, and he made us some of the food he’d had while he was down there,” Isabelle said, smiling.

Alec had been sent to the Institute as a punishment – supposedly, he was to learn from a Shadowhunter there about how to better lead and control his temper after he’d knocked out three kids who’d thought they could pick on Jace. At the time, Jace hadn’t even been with them a year yet, and he’d still been shy and broken inside despite his cocky exterior. Whereas Jace lifted his head and kept on marching, getting cockier in response, Alec hadn’t tolerated it. No one messed with his siblings.

The punishment had sucked, being away from his family at Christmas, but it’d been worth it. When Alec came back home, the bond between him and Jace seemed to just snap right into place, and they’d become inseparable.

Alec remembered learning how to make buñuelos for the first time while he was at that Institute. The man he’d been staying with and studying under, Miguel, had been a single man, a widower, but he’d upheld some of his old family traditions. Christmas morning, he’d made buñuelos and a drink called atole. Alec had fallen in love with both, and he’d made them for his siblings once he got back home. Ever since then it’d become a tradition of sorts. Just as much as the turrón that they made, and the marzipan. Jace always jokingly said Christmas wasn’t Christmas without those things.

No one asked Maia if she had any family traditions. She hadn’t talked about her family all that much so far, and they were all smart enough to take the very clear hint.

By the time breakfast was done and on the table – and the turkey Eliot had gotten them was in the oven – Margo had come to join them, with Eliot just minutes behind her. They seemed to be drawn in by their noses. Jace watched them come into the room and laughed at the way they were sniffing. “You guys are too easy,” he teased them.

Alec arched an eyebrow at him. “And you think you’re any better?”

The wide, unrepentant grin he got in response had him laughing. He sat down in what had become his chair – and wasn’t it strange to notice that Eliot and Margo seemed to have their spots as well? No one fought over who sat where. Jace sat to Alec’s left, with Izzy next to him, and Maia at the far end of the table. It left Eliot on Alec’s right, and Margo between Eliot and Maia. As soon as he was seated, Alec gestured towards the food on the table. “Dig in.”

No one wasted any time. Most of breakfast was silent except for the occasional moan.

By the time they were done, Isabelle was about ready to vibrate off her seat, and even Jace looked a little more excited. Alec watched them for a moment, deliberately making them wait, watching them suffer while they waited for him to finish the last of his atole. The rule was that no one got to go near presents until everyone was done eating.

Finally, he grinned and downed the last of his cup. Isabelle gave a cheer and practically leapt up from her seat in her mad dash to get to the living room. Her good mood was rubbing off on everyone around her. Jace and Maia weren’t too far behind, looking more eager than they had before.

Alec rose to his feet and gestured for his friends to join him. “Come on, we might as well get in there before they start without us.”

It wasn’t an idle warning. Isabelle already had most of the presents sorted into piles by the time that Alec reached the couch. When he sat down in the corner, curling his legs up with him, she was shoving one of the piles his way. Another pile was pushed at Maia, and at Jace, and then – to their clear surprise – Margo and Eliot each had a pile handed to them once they’d joined Alec on the couch.

Jace dove into his pile the instant it was handed to him. He was already exclaiming over the new knife Isabelle had gotten for him by the time Alec began unwrapping the first out of his own pile. The next few minutes were a flurry of flying paper and excited cries as everyone unwrapped their various gifts. It was no surprise that most of the gifts Jace gave were weapons of some sort. Margo seemed surprised and pleased with her knife, though, especially when she looked at the handle and asked “Did you carve this?”

Looking up, Jace gave a small shrug, trying to act like it was no big deal. “My dad taught me how to fix up broken blades. Sometimes that means making a new handle.”

A wide, bright grin lit Margo’s face. She gave a few testing slashes in the air before putting it back in its sheath and attaching it to her hip. Seeing her obvious joy in it had Jace flushing just a bit and ducking his head down to hide it.

Gifts from Isabelle ranged from tiny little trinkets to either a piece of clothing or a blanket. Alec got a particularly comfortable hoodie that he pulled on and buried himself inside of happily. He could only imagine how many thrift stores she’d had to cruise to find one close to his size. It wasn’t easy. He gave her a wide smile through the chaos that said all the thanks she needed to hear.

From Maia, there were books, which Alec was more than happy to get. He loved reading.

Eliot and Margo had brought their own gifts as well, and Alec was grateful that they had the sense to not go overboard and spend a ton of money on them. That would’ve just made this all uncomfortable. Instead, they’d toned it down, at least for them. For Jace they got him a rather old looking knife and a sharpening stone to go with it. The thing looked like it needed some repairs, but Alec could see how sharp it was, and he saw a few other things that suggested it was older than any non-warlock in the room by quite a few years.

For Isabelle, they got her some clothes, and a gift certificate to some spa place for a girls’ day with Margo. Maia got one as well, which had the girl beaming.

Their gift for Alec stunned him when he opened it. In the long box he found his bow and quiver. Not a new one, but his. Only, Alec didn’t have to ask why they were gifting him something that was already his. One look at the bow and he knew what they’d done. Reaching a hand out, Alec traced a finger over the runes there, and a few of the new symbols. There were more, he found, on the arrows as well, plus… something on the side of the quiver.

“They’re mostly protection spells,” Margo said, drawing his attention to her. “Things to make sure nothing breaks, that they won’t, like, catch fire or some shit like that.”

“Plus, we added a retrieval spell to your quiver and arrows.” Eliot leaned in and pointed to the symbol on the front of the strap for his quiver, right where it’d sit at the front of his shoulder. “It took a bit of practice, but we tied this to you. You activate this, and your arrows will return to you once they’ve hit their target. I know that’s not always practical – sometimes you want your arrow to stick around. But you can leave the spell off and then just activate it when the fight’s over and it’ll summon all your arrows back, or you can activate it mid-battle just long enough to get them back and then deactivate it, whatever works for you.”

Alec knew he was gaping, yet he couldn’t quite help himself. “I… guys. Thank you.”

They both beamed at him. “You’re welcome,” Eliot said.

Thankfully, they let him alone after that, allowing him to marvel over his presents without being disturbed. He only managed to put them away when it became clear that everyone was done opening all their fits. Or, well, almost all of them.

Alec had given his siblings their gifts right along with everything else, but he hadn’t put out everything. Oh, he’d put out the little ones which carried new hats and mittens for them all, plus some bit of jewelry he found for Isabelle, a book for Maia, and a travel mug for Jace with some symbol from that weird monster-hunting show he liked so much. But he’d kept his big gift, the one that wasn’t practical, in a bag under the couch. Partially because he wanted them to open everything first before getting lost in these as he knew they would, and partially because he was, as Jace would put it, an asshole.

Alec had to fight to hide his smile as he watched Jace and Isabelle try to discreetly look around once their presents were open. They knew Alec always shopped the same way. He always got them a practical thing or two, and then one indulgent something. They’d gotten their practical gifts. Now they were looking around for the other one.

“You guys lose something already?” he asked as casually as he could. It was broken, of course, by the smirk on his lips. In an instant his siblings were facing him, their expressions clearly pleading. Alec couldn’t help but laugh at them. Still chuckling, he bent down and hooked his finger into the bag under the couch. When he drew it out, both Jace and Isabelle lit up. Alec rolled his eyes. “You guys are ridiculous.”

Three boxes were drawn out from the bag. All in identical sizes. Alec tossed one each to Jace, Isabelle, and a surprised looking Maia. Then he sat back, letting Eliot tuck him underneath one arm as he went. There, he watched as his siblings all opened up their packages.

The response he got was exactly what he’d expected. Jace’s “Holy shit!” was echoed by a loud squeal from Isabelle. In the next second Isabelle had launched herself up at Alec to hug him with one arm, her brand new cell phone clutched to her chest with her other hand. “Oh Alec, thank you, thank you, thank you!” She drew back and pressed a loud, smacking kiss onto his cheek, to which Alec rolled his eyes again and grinned.

“Alec.” Maia’s voice was stunned, and just a bit unsure. She was holding the phone in her hand and looking over at him with way too much knowledge in her eyes. Unlike the other two, Maia knew about things like bills, and she knew what kind of bill cell phones could rack up. “You didn’t have to do this. I’ve got one of those pay-as-you-go ones. It works fine.”

Alec gave Isabelle a final squeeze and then let her shift away to play with her new toy. He smiled over at Maia. “It’s fine, Maia. I looked around, did my research, and found a pretty reasonable family plan. We might have to be careful with the minutes, but there’s unlimited texting, which I figured was more important. So, try to avoid calling if you can, and take it easy on the internet data.” Alec had a feeling this wasn’t the last time he’d be giving out that warning.

He wasn’t expecting it when all three of his siblings came at him. Eliot dodged out of the way in just enough time for Alec to get smothered under Jace, Isabelle, and Maia, all of them hugging him and thanking him, with Alec helpless to do anything but laugh underneath them.

It wasn’t long after that when Alec lost his siblings for a while. He’d sort of known to expect it. They cleaned up their mess – once he insisted – and then put on a movie only to end up playing on their new phones. Alec rolled his eyes at them and left them all to it so he could start putting dinner together. It was already almost eleven. The turkey was cooking nicely, thankfully enough. Eliot had bought one big enough it almost didn’t fit in their stove.

“We’re feeding lots of people with big appetites!” he’d insisted when he brought it over. Then he’d grinned. “Mine especially. Hence why I bought the bird.”

To his surprise, Jeb was insistent on bringing a ham, which meant that they’d have plenty of meats at the table. Sorcha was bringing by a few desserts. That left Alec with the rest of the typical foods. Stuffing, potatoes, some side dishes, plus all the tapas to set out on the buffet. Though Alec wasn’t holding on to a lot of his family’s traditions, he couldn’t quite let go of that one. Maryse had always set out a buffet of tapas for people to snack on while they waited for dinner. It was like an appetizer before the meal, only less formal.

Their Christmas food box had given them a lot of the ingredients for this. Plus, Alec wasn’t stupid, he knew Eliot and Margo had added some things to his fridge and cupboard. Alec wanted to protest. He did. Only when he’d tried to even begin, Margo had fixed him with a glare and firmly told him “Do it and I’m stealing your voice. You don’t need to talk to cook.”

Alec hummed a little to himself as he took stock of what was in front of him. Mentally, he ran through everything there was, how long each item would take, and how he needed to time it all to make it work. He had until two to make sure everything was done. That was just four hours. On top of that, he needed to make sure they had time to clear out the living room and bring in the folding tables that Maia and Jace had borrowed from a community center or something like that. It was the only way all of them were going to be able to fit together to eat.

The first things that had to be made were all the tapas. That way they’d be able to be out on a buffet for people to munch on and keep from getting too hungry while they waited for the rest of it to cook. With that in mind, Alec gathered what he’d need for the croquettes, champiñones al ajillo, Patatas Bravas, and then the typical trays of breads, meats, cheeses, and olives.

He had his hands full of potatoes and cheese, rolling them into balls, when Eliot and Margo came into the kitchen. Alec had known they’d come in eventually. He already had a bottle of wine open to breathe on the counter just for them.

Margo made a beeline for it, an approving sound falling from her lips. “Oh yeah, that’s just what this morning needs.”

“You think every moment calls for a drink,” Alec teased her.

“Uh, no shit?” She used the bottle to point at him while giving him a stern look. “No one needs your judgment here, Espinosa.”

Alec fought back a smile and ducked his head down. When he looked up again, both his friends were seated at the bar, and Margo had already poured three glasses. One of them was set off to the side, close to Alec, while they each took one of the others.

He gave them a moment to settle in with their drinks, and a moment or him to gather up a little bit of courage, before he spoke. Still, as he did, he kept his eyes on the food he was rolling together and the oil boiling on the stove. “So, I got you guys something, too,” Alec blurted out. He flushed a little, but resolutely kept going. “It’s not like… anything big, and it’s probably stupid. I mean, you guys both know that money isn’t, well, it isn’t the easiest to come by for me around here. But you guys…you’re important to me, and you, uh, you’ve both changed my life a lot these past months. I don’t really know where I’d be without you. So, um… Merry Christmas.”

With his hands being messy, he had to use his elbow to gesture towards the two wrapped gifts, but they got what he meant.

“You didn’t have to get us anything,” Eliot told him, a fondness in his voice that Alec knew would be on his face if he were brave enough to look up.

There was the sound of Margo smacking her hand against some part of Eliot. “Hush! Presents are always accepted.”

The next thirty seconds were far more nerve wracking than Alec had expected them to be while he waited for them to get and unwrap their gifts. Like he’d said, they weren’t anything big. Just little things that he’d picked up and then had Sorcha help him with. He didn’t know why he was so stressed about it. It was just… he was used to shopping for Isabelle or Jace. He wasn’t used to getting things for friends.

When the paper rustling stopped, and yet nothing was being said, Alec snuck a look up at them. He found Eliot staring down into his box, his expression blank, while Margo was holding hers in her hand. Hers was just a simple little charm bracelet. They weren’t the dangling charms, but the kind that were more like decorated beads. Sorcha had helped Alec to figure it all out once he’d given her an idea of what he wanted. Alec had gone with her to a small shop, and he’d picked out the stones – black Obsidian, Sorcha said, which would boost protection – after which Sorcha had helped shape them into beads, and Alec had painstakingly carved into each one.

Margo looked down at the bracelet, tracing over the beads. “Oh, you asshole.”

Her response startled him. Freezing, Alec peeked up through a screen of too-long hair. “You don’t like it?”

“I fucking love it, and you’re a dick for making me cry,” she snapped at him, glaring through an eye that was definitely a little wet.

“I agree,” Eliot chimed in.

Using the leftover stones from Margo’s gift, Sorcha carved more beads, only longer and thin this time instead of rounded. Then, once Alec had carved the runes into them, he’d used a dark brown leather to weave in and out of the ends until they were all pressed side-to-side in a wide cuff-style bracelet.

Alec cleared his throat and ducked his head back down to try and hide the look of pleasure on his face. “I know you guys might not be comfortable with angel runes, and I can’t imagine other people will like it, but I just… wanted to give you some of the protection you guys give to us, I guess. Sorcha said that the obsidian in there was strong and it’d be good for protection and grounding, and I just…”

His rambling was cut off by a firm “Alec” from Margo. When he snuck another look up at her, she already had the bracelet on her wrist, and she was both smiling and glaring at him in a way he’d never seen anyone else manage. “It’s amazing, and you’re giving me feelings, so can we maybe move on? Cause I can’t distract you with a blowjob or something like that…”

“I could,” Eliot interjected. He, too, was wearing his bracelet. Alec saw it when he looked over his way. He was also cradling a wine glass between his hands and was beaming at Alec.

Margo snorted and stole the wine bottle from in front of him. “Keep it in your pants, bitch. Or, well, his.”

And just like that, the two got their topic change, though it was at the expense of Alec’s embarrassment. Still, he had to admit it was entertaining to keep cooking and listen to them debate back and forth about their who was capable of keeping it in their pants longer, and contests they’d had in the past to do just that – which seemed to weigh more heavily in Eliot’s favor, to which Margo was shameless about. She just shrugged and said “I like sex. So what?”

Alec held his hands up in a gesture of peace. He knew better than to ever even think of protesting something like that. Nor did he see a reason to. He’d grown up with Isabelle in his life – a proud, confident woman who let no one tell her what to do with her body. He wouldn’t dare tell her what she could or couldn’t do. “You do what makes you happy, Margo.”

“Or who,” Eliot said, grinning. He held his glass out to Margo and she grinned back as she clinked hers against his.

Jeb and Sorcha arrived together, which was no big surprise. Looking at the two side-by-side when they came in the house – let in by Jace – made Alec grin just the same as he always wanted to. With Jeb’s giant Viking look standing next to Sorcha’s rather tiny size, they were like two polar opposites, and they got along famously.

Alec honestly hadn’t been sure about how well everyone was going to get along. Sorcha’s nerves had made Alec just a bit nervous, as did the idea of having the house fill up. What happened was far better than any of his imagenings.

Margo and Sorcha got on like a house on fire – which, as Eliot jokingly pointed out, was “Far too distinct a possibility with them. Best we not piss those two off, hm?”

Meanwhile, Jeb proved just how much of a grandfather he was in the gruff yet kind way he treated Alec’s siblings. Maia already knew him and was comfortable with him, and Jace and Isabelle quickly got comfortable as well. In no time flat they were talking and laughing together.

“Thanks for the invite, kid,” Jeb said, clapping a massive hand on Alec’s shoulder and grinning at him. It softened his look considerably.

Alec could only smile back at him. “Thanks for coming.”

They were saved from having to load down the table by Eliot and Margo showing off a little and levitating all the dishes from the kitchen to the tables that Jace, Jeb, and Isabelle set up. Eliot made all the rolls dance from their bag, through the air, and down into a wicker basket that he’d conjured up from somewhere. It made Isabelle laugh, big and bright in a way that Alec couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen it.

When they all sat down, they didn’t bother with a group prayer or anything formal like that. “Sweet merciful Angel, Alec, this looks amazing,” Jace said, proceeding to reach out and grab the first dish in front of him – a macaroni salad.

One corner of Alec’s mouth quirked up even as he flushed a little. “Dig in, guys.”

They didn’t waste any time. Alec waited for his turn, taking advantage of the moment to watch his friends and family. This here was nothing at all like Christmas at home. That had been a quiet, stilted thing, far too formal for any sort of fun to happen. This? This was exactly the opposite. Their little house was full of the sounds of Christmas music, easy voices and even easier laughter. Dishes were being passed from hand to hand – some were floating around with magic – and the Downworlders at the table outnumbered the Shadowhunters 5-to-3. Yet there was no tension. No fear or anger or quiet disappointment like Alec was used to.

Alec caught Jace’s eye beside him, and his parabatai grinned, their joy radiating back and forth between them on their bond. This year might’ve had its bad moments, but it’d also had its great ones, and in that moment – Alec wouldn’t have traded a single bad one if it meant losing any of this.

Chapter Text

As the siblings truly began to fall into their life, time seemed to fly by. There were still some days where Alec woke up and was so sure he was going to find himself in his bedroom at the Institute, all of this just some strange dream he’d be surprisingly loathe to find gone. Other times, it felt like they’d always been here, in this house. It felt like home. Alec both loved and hated it all. He felt alive, and happier than he could remember being, and yet so very lonely all at the same time. It was a mix of emotions he had no idea how to deal with.

Meeting Eliot and Margo had helped quite a lot with Alec’s feelings of loneliness. It struck him sometimes, when it was late at night and he was lying in his bed staring up at the ceiling – either by himself or with his friends there on the random nights they popped in – just how strange and yet amazing his life had become. How not all that long ago he wouldn’t have dared be friends with any of these people. A werewolf and few warlocks, even an Unseelie girl? The old Alec never would’ve done it. And yet…

It was Catarina who’d started it. She’d started changing Alec’s worldviews from the instant that they met, when she’d taken one look at him and seemed to completely ignore his runes in favor of the bruises and blood still on him. The way she’d talked to him, how gentle she’d been, how she hadn’t touched any part of him without his permission, had softened him towards her quite a bit. From then, she’d only added to it by helping them out with only minimal threats.

After her, it’d been Maia, thrown into their lives by circumstance. She’d been the next, challenging everything they’d ever learned, everything the Clave had taught them about Downworlders. Despite being so new to being a werewolf, Maia was a quick advocate for their rights. Most likely because she’d already faced a life of prejudice thanks to the color of her skin, or her gender, or sometimes both. She wasn’t going to tolerate it for this, too.

Catarina and Maia had started Alec on a path towards understanding and acceptance. Eliot and Margo had just been the final kick Alec needed to really get there.

They made it so easy. Both seemed to understand that he had prejudices, ones that he was quickly becoming embarrassed and ashamed of, and Margo would challenge him just as easily as Maia would, while Eliot would come find Alec away from others and offer him a drink and some friendly advice that was usually interspaced between teasing and flirting. Or, sometimes he was just an ear to listen. It was easy to talk things out with Eliot. He was good at listening, good at distraction, and he knew when a topic was getting pushed too far for Alec’s peace of mind and how to diffuse the tension.

Margo was the perfect kick in the ass Alec needed sometimes when his thoughts spiraled. She didn’t handle him with kid gloves, not even when he was panicking. She was solid and steady, and where Eliot offered hugs or touches as comfort, Margo offered her fierce, protective fire, ready to burn down anything that thought to get close enough to cause harm.

The fact that Eliot and Margo chose to come and spend time around Alec – that it was him they came to see more often than not – never failed to stun him. Alec was used to not being noticed when his siblings were around. He’d been so sure that it would work the same way with these two once they started to get to know everyone. That they’d realize that Jace and Isabelle were just, better, and they’d pair off that way. Likely with Isabelle. She was more the type to fit in with them than Jace was.

And yet, they repeatedly came to the house for Alec. They’d come visit when the others were at school or grab Alec and steal him away for a while for lunch, or brunch, or to try and convince him to join them for drinks. They’d come by the house, usually together but sometimes separate on rare occasions, and they’d curl up on the couch with him, forcing the others to take the chairs or the floor. They’d slept in his bed. Seeing them around – and in some way touching Alec – became so commonplace that his siblings didn’t even blink an eye over it anymore.

Alec remembered how they’d all reacted the first time Eliot had sat in the corner of the couch and dragged Alec in against him. The young Shadowhunter had frozen, his whole body going stiff, conscious of the eyes that moved their way. Even after the cuddling they’d done at the start of their friendship, and that still sometimes happened when they were alone, the touches had still been new enough then to throw Alec off at that time. He wasn’t used to the ease with which Eliot did it. People didn’t touch him. Not beyond a quick hug, or a clap on the shoulder, or while training. But, cuddling? That only happened now if one of the siblings had a particularly bad nightmare.

But Eliot had pulled Alec in like it was nothing, petting at his chest and shushing him when he went stiff. They ended up with Eliot in the corner, long legs stretched out, and his arm lifted up so that Alec was tucked underneath it. Alec’s back was against Eliot’s side and chest, his own legs stretched along the length of the couch. With the arm around Alec, Eliot traced light patterns up and down Alec’s arm. His other hand held one of his ever-present drinks.

Just when Alec started to relax, that had been when Margo had come in and just… dropped herself right in his lap, wiggling around until she finally gave a happy sigh and laid down, using him like a mattress.

None of Alec’s stammering and blushing seemed to phase them. Margo told him to shut up and quit interrupting the movie, and Eliot brought his hand up to cup Alec’s head and draw him close enough to kiss the top of his head before telling him: “Quiet, kitten. Daddy’s watching a movie.”

While Alec was gaping, his cheeks a bright red, Isabelle didn’t even bother to look away from the movie when she called out “Sorry, El, but we’ve already got a house Daddy.”

“Daddy Alec,” Jace said agreeably.

Eliot didn’t miss a beat. He kissed Alec’s head again and slumped a little lower in his seat to get more comfortable. “That’s fine. I’m pretty versatile with my kinks.”

They were insane, ridiculous, and had quickly become some of the best friends that Alec had ever known, aside from his parabatai and sister.

Alec had lost his old family, but he’d found himself a new one. Broken, cobbled together, and his. And to them, he gave his everything, throwing his all into protecting his newfound family the way he’d once protected his old one.

They made it through the winter together. Alec looked back on it once it was all said and done and wondered to himself how on earth they’d managed it, but they did. They got through the entirety of winter without missing a rent payment, or getting their heat shut off, or going without food. If sometimes Alec ate a little less than the others and activated the nourishment rune when no one was around to see, well, that was his own business. His family made it through safe, happy, and healthy, and that was what mattered to him.

Things were going well for them. Winter vacation was over, New Years had come and gone – the fact that Alec couldn’t remember much of New Years beyond waking up with a splitting headache and Eliot and Margo squished into bed with him, thankfully clothed, was something he chose not to think about – and winter snows were finally starting to give way to spring rain.

With his siblings back in school, Alec’s time around the house was freed up, though he’d started to work slightly longer hours at the Hunter’s Moon. Sorcha took a little time each afternoon when the bar was empty to work on training him. Jeb wanted Alec taught how to bartend, and Sorcha was excited. Alec, not so much. Bartending wasn’t anywhere near as easy as it looked. There was more than just pouring drinks. Alec had to memorize how to make the drinks to begin with, and then manage to mix them up correctly.

For the most part, he was good. There were few things he had to be shown more than once to remember them. It was a trait Hodge had praised him for more than once while growing up. One of the few bits of praise Alec had ever received. But, though the wolves seemed to have resigned themselves to Alec’s presence in their bar, and no one had attacked him again, they still weren’t happy about having him there. If possible, they’d wait for Sorcha to serve them instead, though she wasn’t above ignoring them just so they’d be forced to deal with Alec.

There’d been a few moments, though, where it seemed like a few of them might be thawing a little towards him. Not much, but some. Though Alec still couldn’t quite understand why.

The first moment came in late February, right as the last of the snows had hit and everyone was in the bar trying to keep warm. It’d been six months since Alec and his family had moved into the Downworld, and not quite a month since Alec had officially become a bartender. Both Alec and Sorcha were working thanks to the crowd size, and Alec’s relative newness to bartending, which meant that each one had either side of the bar. There were a few wolves at Alec’s end mostly thanks to there being little space. It left them with little option but to have him serve them.

Having that many buddies around seemed to give them a bit more courage, too. Enough that one of them actually decided to speak with Alec aside from just a drink order.

Of course, the subject the guy chose wasn’t exactly the friendliest of topics.

It was the wolf, Bernard, who dared to speak to him. He leaned forward while Alec was making his drink and grinned at him before bluntly saying: “So, word’s spreading around about you and that warlock. Eliot.”

“Oh yeah?” It wasn’t the best response, but Alec’s throat had gone a bit dry, and he wasn’t quite sure what else to say.

Bernard grinned, a quick dirty twist of his lips, and he wiggled his eyebrows. “Didn’t know a Shadowhunter would lower himself enough to bend over for a warlock.”

There was a familiar twist of fear in Alec’s gut. That burning sensation of bile that tried to climb its way up the back of his throat. His hands trembled for just one second before he got himself under control. You’re safe here, he reminded himself. No one’s going to jump you in here. Sorcha wouldn’t let them. It was kind of sad that he had to rely on her presence just to feel safe; on the presence of anyone, really. But it helped.

What helped even more was the whisper of an old conversation with Eliot that floated through the back of his mind. ”I’m not going to tell you that you’re safe out here to just be who you want. Are you safer than you were in there? Maybe. But are you perfectly safe? No. Someone’s always going to give you shit for being gay. No one’s going to approve of every bit of you. But, here’s the kicker – why does it matter? Who gives a fuck what they think? Your family loves you. Margo and I love you.”

“My parents…” Alec said slowly.

Eliot scoffed. “Fuck them. They’re not here, are they? We are. And we’re always going to have your back. You want to stay in the closet? Go right ahead, Xander. Set up camp and make it the best damn closet around. But if you want to come out, know we’ve all got your back. Every single one of us.”

Those words had stunned Alec, and they’d silenced him that day. Since then, they’d sat in the back of his mind, percolating there, seeping through the rest of his thoughts. Until now.

Alec looked at the wolf across from him, the way the guy was smirking so smugly like he was sure he’d won, and all at once Alec found that he’d had enough. He was so tired of letting people win. He was tired of hiding, and being afraid, and letting people he didn’t even know decide who he got to be. As Jace would put it – fuck them. Alec straightened up and drew strength from the warmth of his parabatai bond. He channeled just a little of his brother – Jace’s cocky smirk – and he arched an eyebrow at the werewolf in front of him while he set his drink down firmly in front of him. “Jealous?”

There was a short beat where fear twisted Alec’s insides even tighter while he waited for some kind of response.

Then, the moment was broken by laughter, the guys on either side of Bernard catcalling and shoving at their friend, laughing at him. Bernard had a disgusted look on his face, but… it wasn’t the hurtful kind. Not the kind that promised fists and pain and rage. “Hell no!” the guy cried out, leaning back in his seat. “Sorry, bucko, but even if I got past the stench of nephilim, you still aint got the right parts for me.”

A wave of relief washed over Alec. The force of it almost made him dizzy. Because of that, he blurted out his next words without even thinking, though if he’d been in his normal frame of mind he wouldn’t have dared. “Don’t worry, you’re not my type. Contrary to popular belief, every gay guy out there isn’t automatically into you.”

“Thank fuck for that,” Bernard shot back. Then he leaned back in, and there was no better word for it – he leered. “Now, your sister on the other hand, or that sweet little thing she runs around with…”

This time Alec’s reaction was automatic, and very much intentional. In the blink of an eye he had a hand on the back of Bernard’s neck and was slamming his face down into the bar. When one of Bernard’s hands shot up, Alec caught it around his wrist and lifted it at the same time he twisted, stopping just shy of breaking bones or popping joints.

Most of the bar had gone silent, all of them watching as Alec bent down towards Bernard’s face. “I suggest you think very, very carefully before you finish that sentence,” Alec warned him in a low, threatening voice. “My sisters are sixteen and seventeen years old. You lay one finger on them, and I’ll happily separate your hands from your body. Are we clear on that, pup?”

He didn’t let up until Bernard gave a clear “Yes!” Only then did Alec release him.

Calmly, Alec went back to cleaning glasses behind the bar, his expression once more in control. He ignored Bernard’s glares, or the curious looks from people around them.

Sorcha had no such compunctions. She laughed as she sidled up to Alec, sliding a drink to the guy next to Bernard, tipping a wink at Bernard as she did. “You’d think you’d learn your lesson on pissing off protective older brothers.”

If Alec had to pick a moment, he’d have to say that that was when some of the wolves started to relax around him. What it was about that moment, he had no idea. Maybe it was his fierce protection of his sister, or maybe, as Isabelle suggested later, it was that Alec had claimed Maia – a wolf – as his sister was well. Whatever it was, he just knew that their behavior slowly started to change after that.

What really made it clear to Alec, what truly showed how the tides were turning, was when a few werewolves sat at his end of the bar one night just a few weeks later and very clearly discussed their problem where Alec could hear them – a problem Shadowhunters should’ve already been helping with. One that Alec was ashamed to realize he hadn’t even noticed was happening.

“It aint like the Shadowhunters are gonna care, or help,” said one of the three men, a guy by the name of Phil. He cast a quick look down Alec’s way, then turned back to his buddies. “Missing wolves? No one’s gonna give a damn about that. Hell, they’d probably be happy if somethin’ killed us off!”

Once, Alec knew he probably wouldn’t have cared, either. He would’ve been just as bad as the rest of the Shadowhunters. As much as he liked to think he would’ve been different, he knew it wasn’t true. Something that seemed to be stalking werewolves? So long as it wasn’t going after mundanes or Shadowhunters, the Institute likely wouldn’t go after it.

Realizing that made Alec feel slightly sick.

He couldn’t have stopped himself from moving down to their end of the bar even if he’d wanted to – which he didn’t. “How many wolves have gone missing?”

The way they didn’t even flinch at his arrival, or try to get him to butt out, told Alec that they’d wanted him to hear them just like he’d suspected. The oldest of the trio, a guy Alec was pretty sure was called Rich, was the one to answer him. “Six, so far, in the last eight months. Not just from this pack, but a couple’a visitors, too.” His face twisted, and his eyes darkened, some of his fury seeping through. “They been gettin’ younger an younger each time. Last one was only twenty-two.”

Shit. Alec moved on autopilot, taking the empty glass in front of him and refilling it with the same beer he remembered putting in earlier. His mind was racing as he did. “No one has any idea what’s doing it?”

“None,” Rich said, jerking one shoulder in a rough shrug. “They’re just vanishin’. Aint like there’s crime scenes we can sniff around.”

For something to be just vanishing wolves without a trace – that meant magic of some sort. Alec couldn’t think of any reason that a warlock might want to take wolves. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to put the word out to Catarina, maybe, see what she might be able to find out. Maybe there was some rogue warlock in town who was up to something. But, it could just as easily be demons who were doing this. Though demons were more known for going after multiple targets. Not something controlled like this. Unless… Alec’s eyes snapped back to Rich. “Do we know if any other races are coming up with missing members?”

One of the other guys scoffed. “Who knows? It’s not like all Downworlders are on speaking terms with each other.”

“Well that’s stupid.” The words were out before Alec could stop them. When the three glared at him, he shuffled in place but didn’t back down. “It is. How are you guys supposed to share any kind of information if you’re too busy fighting with one another to do it? Keeping you separated and isolated like this only makes it easier for someone to come after all of you. This right here could be an attack against werewolves, or it could be an attack against the Downworld in general, only you guys won’t be prepared for it because you’re too busy hating one another to share information.”

Setting down the freshly filled beer, Alec wiped at the counter below him, eyebrows furrowed as he tried to think of what to do next.

“I’ll put out some feelers,” he finally said, looking back up once more. “I’ve got a few friends in different places, and they have friends, too. In the meantime, my siblings and I will step up patrols. Sorcha!”

His call had Sorcha turning from the drink she was making to look down his way. “What’s up?”

“I’m going to take a quick break in the back room. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

When she just waved him off, Alec snagged his cell phone from under the bar and set off for the back room, not noticing the way the others watched him. His attention was caught up in what was happening and what he needed to do. First things first, he called Catarina. When she didn’t answer, he left her a voicemail giving her a quick rundown of what was going on, and extending an invitation to breakfast in the morning to talk about it.

Next, he called home.

It was Jace who answered, and Alec cut right to the point. “Someone’s been attacking Downworlders.”

“Hold on, let me put you on speakerphone,” Jace said. There was the sound of movement, and then the noise changed. “All right, Iz an Maia are here, too. What do you mean, someone’s been attacking Downworlders?”

“In the past eight months, six werewolves have done missing, each one getting progressively younger. From what I’m getting, there’s no sign of them left behind. They’re just suddenly gone, and no one can find them.”

Is there any chances they just left?” Maia asked.

The thought had crossed Alec’s mind. But it didn’t make sense. “That many, in that short of a time frame?”

Alec’s right,” Isabelle said. “If it were just two or three, sure, I can see them maybe just choosing to go. But that many? Most packs lose one or two members every few years, not six in eight months. What’re you thinking here, big brother?”

Leaning against the wall, Alec ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back from his face and making yet another absent note to get it trimmed. “I’m not sure yet,” he finally said. “I called Cat, and I thought I’d talk with El and Margo, too. See if any of them have heard anything about other Downworlders going missing. Downworlders don’t seem to have any sort of group Council like the Clave suggested. They’re not organized that way. They mingle places like here, or clubs, it seems like, but that’s about as friendly as it gets.”

Jace was the one to catch where Alec’s thoughts were going with that. He followed along with his parabatai, easily picking up what he was laying down. “So if other Downworlders have gone missing, the wolves wouldn’t know. Every group could have missing members and they’d all think they were individually being targeted, while in reality this thing is going after everyone.

You really think that’s what happening?” Maia asked him, sounding skeptical. “Doesn’t that seem a little far-fetched? Maybe this is just someone or something that’s got a hate-on for wolves.

Alec couldn’t explain why he didn’t agree with her. He just… he had a feeling, deep down in his gut. Something that told him this wasn’t that simple. Feelings didn’t count as evidence, though, and Alec couldn’t do anything until he had more information. Until then… “I’m not taking any chances. Until we know what’s going on, I don’t want anyone going out alone after dark. You go somewhere, you take at least one other person with you. Also, unless we’re on a group patrol, I want everyone home by eleven. I’ll talk to Eliot about double-checking the wards on the house.”

And see if he’ll portal you home after work at night so you’re not out alone either,” Isabelle chimed in.

There was no way Alec could argue that after just giving them the rule not to go out alone. If this was what it took to keep them from fighting him on it, it was the least he could do. “All right. You guys be safe, okay? We can talk about this more in the morning.” Thank Raziel tomorrow was Sunday. No school to worry about. They’d be able to have a proper meeting about this over breakfast.

Once Alec got the reassurance that his family was going to be safe at home, he hung up with them and rang up Eliot next.

He wasn’t surprised to hear loud music and screaming in the background when Eliot answered his phone. What was more surprising was that the man had been able to hear his phone at all through all that noise. “Xander! My favorite little Shadowhunter. What can I do for you this beautiful night?

“Judging by how high you sound right now, I’m betting nothing,” Alec said dryly. He pushed back his hair again and then rubbed at his forehead. “Forget it. Do you think you and Margo could swing by for breakfast tomorrow? Say, nine? I’ve got some things I want to talk to you about.”

You sure?” Eliot sounded just a little more sober then, though not by much. “Are you okay?”

There was a scuffling sound before Alec could answer, and then Margo’s voice was on the line, very clearly sober and just as clearly pissed off. “Are you hurt?” she demanded almost instantly. “Do we need to come kick some ass? If someone’s hurt you, Alec, I’ll come fuck a bitch up, don’t think I won’t.

Okay, so not as sober as he’d thought. Margo always swore a whole lot more – and was more ready to throw-down at the drop of a hat – when she was drunk. Not that she wasn’t usually ready to fight. She was protective of those she cared about. Alec smiled faintly at the protectiveness in her tone. “No, no one’s hurt me, Margo. I’m fine. There are just some things going on that I found out about tonight, but they can wait a night to talk about them. If you guys just want to come from breakfast at nine, I promise, I’ll tell you all about it.”

And you’re sure you’re safe until then?

Alec’s smile grew. “I’m safe.”

Good. We’ll see you then.” Without waiting, she hung up, and Alec was left looking down at his phone with amusement.

He’d gotten the wheels in motion, now it was just time to wait and see what they brought in. As Alec went back out to work, he started to try and build plans on what he might need to do next.

When he got home that night, it was no real surprise to find that his siblings seemed to have puppy piled in Jace’s bed. Alec poked his head in at them after he’d shut and locked everything downstairs. Smiling fondly, he snagged the blanket from the foot of the bed and carefully drew it up over the three of them. With a soft touch, he brushed a bit of Isabelle’s hair back from her face.

Jace woke up briefly, his arms instinctively tightening around both girls while a bleary eye blinked up from a sheet of hair.

Smiling, Alec reached out to brush back his hair, too. “Go back to sleep, Jace. Everything’s fine.”

Those simple words seemed to soothe Jace back down to sleep. For a moment Alec just stood there and looked down at these three, and he felt a warmth and love unlike he’d ever felt for anyone else. The only kid missing from the picture was Max. With him, they might finally be complete.

Even if they didn’t have him, at least they had each other. Isabelle, his sweet and sassy sister, and one of his biggest defenders. Bright, brilliant, and beautiful. Maia, a contradiction of soft feelings and sharp edges, ready to fight and love with equal ferocity. And Jace, the one who’d been taught to love was a weakness, and who somehow managed to love more fiercely than anyone else, this amazing man that Alec was happy to call brother.

Alec’s smile stayed on his lips even after he left the bedroom and quietly shut the door behind him.

When he reached his own room, the smile Alec wore just grew bigger. His own bed wasn’t empty; there were two bodies waiting for him in there once again. It didn’t happen often, but it had happened a few times since Christmas, and almost always like this. Alec would get here after locking up the house, or after checking on his siblings, and find one or both of his friends mostly asleep in his bed.

Eliot was against the far wall, stripped down to black slacks that had to be uncomfortable with the way the belt was digging into him, and one single sock. Margo lay on the other side, putting herself clearly between her partner and the door, a fierce wall of protection that would take out anyone stupid enough to dare mess with them.

Once, Alec would’ve been flustered to find this. Now, after just a few short months of having these two in his life, he was surprised to find just how normal it seemed. He quietly emptied his pockets onto the nightstand near the head of the bed. Keys, wallet, and cellphone were set out on top. Then he kicked off his own shoes, traded his jeans for a pair of sweats, and his shirt was debated before being tossed down on the ground. Then he made his way over to the bed and carefully set a knee down in the empty space between the two warlocks.

Eliot didn’t stir at all as Alec peeled off his sock for him, and then reached up to unhook his belt. However, Margo did. Like Jace had, she stirred enough to open one eye and look his way. When she saw him unhooking Eliot’s pants, she let out a snort, and an immediate blush stained Alec’s cheeks. “It can’t be comfortable wearing that,” he tried to defend himself.

A lazy, smug smile stretched over Margo’s lips. She closed her eyes as she snuggled back down into the blankets. “He’ll be so pissed he wasn’t awake when you stripped him.”

The blush in Alec’s cheeks deepened. “Why do you two have to turn everything dirty?”

Margo chuckled but didn’t say anything else. Not until after Alec had gotten Eliot’s pants off him and on the floor – somehow without waking him, he must’ve been really drunk when he got here – and had climbed into the space between then. Margo drew the blankets back enough for Alec to get under them, and then pulled them back over so that the three were once more covered. Then, much to Alec’s surprise, she pushed and tugged at him until he was forced to curl up against Eliot, with her against his back. Her small body pressed against Alec’s back as if acting like the barrier Alec had thought of her as before. Putting herself between them and the world.

One of her arms came over Alec’s side, her hand resting lightly over his stomach, while she pressed her nose into the space between his shoulder blades. It should’ve felt confining. Yet somehow, Alec found himself relaxing into it. Especially when she nuzzled his back while petting his stomach. The gestures were almost absent, like a silent check to make sure that he truly was okay and there with her.

He didn’t know what he’d done to deserve friends like these two. Sometimes he worried that he’d mess things up, having never really had friends before. Especially friends that weren’t Shadowhunters. Alec had no idea what the right or wrong thing was to do with them. He didn’t know if the way they touched like this was just normal for warlocks, or for mundanes, or what. But he’d also decided he wasn’t going to question it. This was apparently normal for them, and he trusted them enough to know that they’d tell him if he wasn’t doing something right.

Besides which, in the quiet places inside that Alec didn’t let anyone see, he could admit to himself that he liked this. After a lifetime of only ever getting these kinds of touches from his siblings, and usually only when they crept into his room in the dark of night after a bad dream, having two people so willing to touch him, and who didn’t seem to equate every single touch with sex – it was amazing.

With Margo a protective presence at his back, and the warmth of Eliot’s body in front of him, cuddling into him almost instinctively even in his mostly unconscious state, Alec closed his eyes and smiled.

Morning found Alec up before everyone. It was no real surprise; he was usually up before most of the house, even if he was the last one to bed. Someone had to be down there to make breakfast for everyone.

That’s just what he was doing when Maia came stumbling in, Jace on her heels. The sight of them had Alec smiling a little. Maia was a surprisingly early riser, and Alec knew people were often surprised by how early Jace liked to rise. He just gave off the air of someone who would sleep the day away if allowed. But it was Isabelle, really, who could sleep till noon if they let her.

Alec had already started preparing cups as soon as he heard their footsteps. When Maia and Jace finally cleared the stairs, he had their coffee on the table waiting for them.

Jace practically fell onto his cup. “Raziel bless you.”

“You’re a God among men, Espinosa,” Maia praised.

Rolling his eyes, Alec turned his focus back to the blueberry pancakes he was making. He’d found the ingredients sitting in the fridge when he’d looked this morning. Though he rolled his eyes over it often, and had told them to stop, Margo and Eliot liked to magic food into his fridge when they were going to eat there. They did it under the guise of “If we’re gonna eat your food, we might as well contribute,” but Alec wasn’t stupid, and he’d noticed they always added in a little extra that wasn’t for the meal. Like they hoped to just slip it past him. He let them get away with it most of the time.

Today, the ingredients had been some milk, butter, and blueberries, and Alec had known what they’d wanted. Both Eliot and Margo seemed to love his pancakes. Preferably homemade. Why, Alec didn’t know, but his siblings loved them too, so Alec had no problem making them for everyone.

He had a bunch keeping warm in the oven, and a new batch ready to go off the griddle, by the time the other two had finished their first cups of coffee and were finally starting to wake up. “Jace, why don’t you go get Izzy? Breakfast should be on the table in five.”

Even as Alec said that, he heard a knock on the back door. “I got it,” Maia said, rising to her feet. While she answered the door, Jace bounded up the stairs to go wake up his sister.

Alec had been pretty sure he knew who was going to be at the door. Because of that, he wasn’t surprised when Maia opened it to reveal Catarina. However, he was more than surprised to see Catarina come in with someone behind her.

For one brief moment, Alec froze with a pancake held aloft on his spatula, his eyes running over the newcomer in an appraisal that would embarrass him later. One look at the man was enough to dry up any of the words in Alec’s throat. He was unfairly gorgeous. Most of his dark hair was shaved, except on the top, and that bit was spiked up and streaked with a blue that matched the silky shirt he wore, which was only held together by a couple buttons, revealing a whole lot of gorgeous, tanned skin. Necklaces hung down in that open gap of his shirt, matching the silver of the rings on his long, elegant fingers, which were tipped in a blue just a few shades darker than his shirt. Tight pants showed off long legs.

Then the guy lifted his gaze, instantly catching Alec’s, and he grinned and then winked with the most gorgeous cat eyes that Alec had ever seen, and Alec abruptly knew who it was in front of him. This was the recently absent High Warlock of Brooklyn. Magnus Bane. In Alec’s home.


Chapter Text

Though Magnus often enjoyed his visits with Ragnor, he had to admit that he wasn’t sad to end this one. They’d wrapped up their demon problem the day before, and they’d spent the night getting spectacularly drunk, but Magnus had woken up that morning with a familiar itch under his skin. One that said he’d secluded himself for long enough with this friend. It was time to go back home – back to the city, to people, to parties and noise and chaos.

Four hundred plus years of life had taught Magnus quite a bit about himself. He needed time now and again to step away and hide out with friends who were like family. Especially after some of the things that had happened in the last century.

If only he’d been coming home for better reasons.

Catarina had sent a fire message earlier in the night to let Magnus know that Downworlders were going missing. There was no way Magnus could ignore that. Within the hour he was making his way back into his Brooklyn loft.

It felt good to be walking in there. Magnus hadn’t realized just how much he’d missed things until he was back inside his loft. Between his own personal troubles, plus the demon Ragnor had needed some help with, Magnus had been gone for almost a year. It was the longest he’d left Brooklyn since he’d become High Warlock. For Warlocks, it really wasn’t that long of an amount of time. Being so long-lived meant that they viewed time a little differently than most. Still… he’d have to throw a party at Pandemonium to announce his return.

For now, there were far more important things to focus on. Namely the woman who was sitting in his living room waiting for him.

Magnus had a smile on his lips as he strolled toward one of his oldest and dearest friends. “Catarina! So good to see you!”

She didn’t bother getting up, just held up one arm to accept the hug he gave her. When they drew apart, her smile was thin and too full of worry. “Thanks for coming back, Magnus. I’m sorry to pull you away.”

“Nonsense. This is my territory, and if Downworlders are going missing, I want to know about it.” Magnus snapped his fingers to conjure them both a drink. With anyone else he would’ve put on more of a show, set himself up in a chair and posed even as he listened. He had a reputation to uphold, after all, and an image he’d worked hard to perfect. But with Catarina that wasn’t necessary. They’d seen one another through their ups and downs. With her, he was free to curl up on the couch with her, one cushion between them, and to meet her gaze as he bluntly asked “What’s going on?”

Catarina was just as blunt. It was her trademark, in a way. For all that she could be gentle and kind with her patients, she didn’t like to waste time, nor did she suffer fools. “Three warlocks have gone missing in the past few months. At least, three that I know about so far. There’s no telling if there’s more. We’re far too private a bunch to make tracking anyone down easy.” Sighing, she took a quick drink off the scotch that Magnus had conjured for her. “No one seemed to notice. I don’t think they would’ve, either, until I started asking questions.”

“It’s too easy to assume someone just retreated for a while.”

“Exactly. There were a few who thought their friends had just gone off again, maybe meeting up with someone else or getting caught up in some kind of research or spell. But after a few locator spells, and a lot of checking around… I’m still waiting to hear back from some, but something tells me it’s not going to be just three.”

Low curses spilled through Magnus’ mind. On the outside, he went still, all except for the finger he tapped against the edge of his glass.

“It’s not just warlocks, either,” Catarina went on, interrupting his thoughts and bringing his focus back to her. “A friend of mine called me, asking me to take a look around. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have even known to start looking. But, he also told me that there are some werewolves missing, too. Six, in the last eight months.”

What on earth was going on here? “That’s no coincidence.” A few missing warlocks, maybe. But missing wolves, too? That was nine total missing so far, all right here in Magnus’ territory. Done while he’d been gone, too, from the sounds of it. Was that intentional? Had they waited for Magnus to leave to do this? Or was it just coincidental?

“Since when are you close enough with any wolves to get that kind of information?” Magnus asked suddenly. He tilted his head towards her, a teasing light in his eyes. “Catarina, are you making friends?”

He’d said that in the hopes of getting a smile out of her. Or maybe one of those disgusted looks she liked to pull when she thought he was being more ridiculous than normal. Instead, he was completely surprised to see her look suddenly shifty. Her eyes dropped down and away. Then she took a bigger drink from her glass, practically emptying it, before she seemed to gather her courage enough to lift her head and meet his gaze. “So, you’ve missed a few things while you were gone. We’ve got some new people here in the Downworld.” She lifted her chin as if steeling herself, and then she dropped the very last bomb he’d been expecting. “They’re Shadowhunters. Runaways. And before you ask, yes, I’m absolutely sure that they’re legitimately runaways.”

Magnus felt his mouth drop open. Shadowhunters, hiding out here in the Downworld? “Shadowhunters? Hiding here? Why on earth are you only just now telling me about this?”

Catarina leaned forward, setting her glass almost absently on the coffee table. There was a pained look in her eyes that softened some of his shock. Tough though she may look, there were a few things that pulled out the softer side of Catarina that was usually hidden away. “They’re just kids, Magnus.” She softened a little more, shaking her head. “The oldest is barely even legal in the mundane world.”

Kids. Shadowhunter kids. What had happened around here while he was gone?? “How many of them are there?”

“Three. They’re staying in Sullivan’s house, doing a sort of rent-to-own thing. Them, and a werewolf teen by the name of Maia.”

The surprises just kept coming. Three Shadowhunters – all underage – and they were living with a teenaged werewolf? It was like some sort of Shadow world soap opera! “You moved a wolf in with them?”

“They’re not bad, Magnus,” Catarina said. “I’ve had Eliot and Margo keeping an eye on them, and you know how little Margo likes Shadowhunters. But even she’s practically in love with the oldest one. Hell, half the Downworld seems to be falling under his spell. Maia treats him like a big brother, Eliot and Margo are protective enough they practically took on the whole New York pack for him, and Jeb actually gave him a job at the Hunter’s Moon and has been training him to be a bartender. The pack might not like seeing him in there, but they’re starting to accept him. Enough that they’re bringing their problems to him.”

That was – Magnus had no idea what to make of that. He sat back, knowing that he was gaping just slightly and not quite able to stop it. The idea that a Shadowhunter was making himself that comfortable in the Downworld – it was unheard of. Shadowhunters didn’t give enough of a damn about them. Not like this. He’d known one or two that he might’ve called friend in the past. Some that he’d been close to. But, to come and live amongst them? To put up with what this one no doubt had to put up with by working at a werewolf bar? It made no sense. “I leave town for a few months and this is what happens?”

“More like a year,” Catarina chided him.

“I’ll admit, you have me curious now. I can’t wait to meet him.” It’d be interesting to see who exactly it was that was living here. Magnus tried to think of what families were currently at the local Institute. That was, if they were even from here. It’d make more sense if they were from elsewhere and came to hide here, far away from whatever they were running from. Which was another question entirely – and one he might need to find out the answer to. Just in case trouble came hunting them here.

A grimace crossed Catarina’s features that set Magnus on edge. She cast him an apologetic look. “That might not go over all that well. He was very clear about not wanting to meet you.”

“Why?” Even as he asked, the answer came to Magnus. He was the only warlock really connected to the local institute. If this family were really on the run, the last thing they’d want is to expose themselves to someone who could put them at risk. Sighing, he reached up to rub over the bridge of his nose. “Wonderful. If it were any other situation, I’d let it be, at least for now. But this is too serious to ignore. And we both know I can’t go to the local Alpha and try to get information out of him. He barely tolerates me as it is.”

Sighing, Catarina rubbed at her face. “I’ll talk to Al.”


“Alexander Espinosa.”

Raising one brow, Magnus watched his friend closely. “There are no Espinosas at the New York Institute.” Again, these kids could be from somewhere else, but something about the way that Catarina was looking at him told Magnus that that might not be the case. She wouldn’t have given him their last name so easily unless it was fake.

That theory was only proved by the faintly mischievous quirk to her lips. “Aren’t there?”

For now, that was a puzzle that Magnus was willing to let go, though he would be more than happy to return to it once he had enough free time.

Catarina seemed to be thinking along the same lines. She sighed, and then rubbed at her face again. “He’s not going to like it much, but… he invited me to breakfast at nine to come and talk about whatever I find out. I’m assuming he’ll have Eliot and Margo there, and they’ll likely have had time to do their own search. We should be able to pool information and see what we’ve got. That’ll give us the night to try and contact anyone else and try and get a more accurate number.”

“Breakfast with Shadowhunters.” Magnus rolled his eyes and pushed himself up off the couch. “What is the world coming to?”

It was a solid plan. They’d have a night to contact everyone local that they knew and make sure that they were all safe and accounted for. Not only that, but it’d give Magnus time to make a few inquiries of his own about some other things, too. He’d have to touch base with Raphael, see if maybe there were some missing vampires, too. If warlocks and wolves were going missing, there was no telling if anyone else was.

Magnus’ curiosity about the Shadowhunters could wait until breakfast. For now, he had important work to do and only so much time to do it. He needed to send out some fire messages, and then maybe a trip down to Pandemonium to see what kind of information could be found there.

Magnus had been to Sullivan’s house once or twice when Catarina had put a family in there for temporary housing. Though apparently it wasn’t Sullivan’s house anymore. From what Catarina said, he was selling it to the Shadowhunter for one hell of a steal.

It was just another in the multitude of ways that Magnus was coming to realize this Shadowhunter and his family were integrating themselves around here. Last night at Pandemonium he’d heard quite a lot about this Espinosa. And yet, at the same time, surprisingly little. Wolves, vampires, warlocks, even a few Seelie, they’d all known about him, and yet beyond a few grumbles at having a Shadowhunter in their midst, they hadn’t had near as many bad things to say as Magnus had expected.

Things just got more and more intriguing with each moment.

In an effort to make a good impression against someone that might not be the enemy Magnus had expected, he’d dressed carefully. Tight black jeans, a loose red shirt with only half the buttons undone – instead of only doing up one button the way he usually liked – and a little less jewelry than normal. He still had on his rings, plus a few necklaces, but he toned them down just a bit. A bit of makeup, some dark red streaks in his hair, and Magnus was all set to make an impression. An entertaining one, if the eye roll Catarina had given him was anything to go by.

They portaled into the backyard to make sure they’d be out of sight of anyone else. Plus, inside the wards. Though when they stepped out, Catarina gave a low hum as she looked at what appeared to be a secondary set of wards that hugged the house itself. “Hm. Looks like Eliot’s put up some extra protection.”

Those wards definitely had Eliot’s touch to them. Between him and Margo, he was the one better suited to the fine, delicate work of things like wards. He was also trickier. Margo was a type to meet your attack head on. She could be sneaky – merciless Lilith could she be sneaky! But she was better at the kind of games that came face to face, and often ended in something violent and bloody for the idiot who dared cross her or her loved ones. Eliot was more… cold. Calculating. He had no problems putting on a mask to hide what was underneath. That showed in the way he layered his wards, and the deadly surprises that could be hiding inside.

The combination of those two types was what made the duo such a deadly pair. Very few crossed them and walked away unscathed. If this Alexander Espinosa had truly gotten their loyalty, he had just become one of the most protected people in the Shadow world.

Luckily for them, the wards didn’t seem to protest their entrance. All it took was a press from Catarina – a sort of silent ‘it’s me’ to let the ones inside know it was her – and then the wards parted enough to let them not only step up onto the back porch, but to knock on the door, too.

It only took a second for the door to open. The person on the other side was young, definitely a teenager, with dark eyes and a mess of equally dark curls around her head. “Hey Catarina!” Then her eyes drifted past Catarina, locking onto Magnus for the first time, and he saw them go slightly wide before narrowing. Not exactly the most auspicious of starts.

The girl stepped back just enough for Catarina to come in, Magnus on her heels. As soon as they did Magnus found his eye caught by the absolutely gorgeous vision standing in the small kitchen. The Shadowhunter – and he was clearly a Shadowhunter, his tank top making it clear by showing off plenty of runes on pale, pale skin that Magnus found himself wanting to trace with his tongue. Shaggy black hair slipped down towards gorgeous hazel eyes, and the boy’s lips were parted ever so slightly.

Magnus wasn’t the only one looking. He noticed how those eyes ran over him from bottom to top, finally settling on his face. It was too easy – with his cat eyes on display, Magnus grinned and winked.

He watched as shock flashed over the Shadowhunter’s face and erased the hint of arousal that had been there. Then it was followed up quickly by something else, something Magnus was far more familiar with seeing on the face of a Shadowhunter.


In a short, dangerous voice, the Shadowhunter stared right at Magnus and Catarina as he said: “Maia, go upstairs. Make sure everyone stays there until I call you.”  The words were short and clipped, yet they held a tone that made it absolutely clear this was an order, and one that he expected to be obeyed. Magnus wasn’t surprised to see the girl nod at him and then dart up the stairs.

Catarina, in true fashion, squared her shoulders and walked the rest of the way in, curving around the table to go up to the bar that separated kitchen from dining room. She had to know that she was in trouble. Yet, she walked in, tossing her purse down on the bar. “I’m sorry I’m running a little late,” she said as she slid down onto one of the stools. “After I got your call, I spent most of the night looking around and making calls. I don’t know how it is you manage to stumble on these sorts of things, Alec, but this is one hell of a mess we’ve got on our hands.”

It took everything Magnus had not to wince. He took a second, carefully shutting the door behind him before he made his way over to join Catarina. It wasn’t hard to see that this Alec was not happy about having Magnus here. There was enough anger in his eyes to make that clear.

Still, Magnus had had worse meetings. He could do his best to salvage this one.

Laying a hand on Catarina’s shoulder, he put on his best smile. “Pardon her – she tends to get caught up in her work and forgets things like manners. I don’t believe we’ve been formally introduced. I’m Magnus.”

There was a second where Alec looked at him again, and a hint of warmth flashed in that gaze. But then it was gone, shoved down underneath a cold mask, and Alec’s eyes darted sharply toward Catarina. “What the hell is he doing here?”

“I called him,” Catarina said. “This… it’s big, Alec. Bigger than you realize. Magnus is the High Warlock of Brooklyn, and the only real High Warlock in these boroughs. We need him here.”

“Needing him to help and bringing him into my home are two entirely different things. You could’ve called a meeting at a neutral place, or even sent me a message to ask if it was okay for you to bring him. Instead, despite me specifically telling you that I didn’t want to see him, you took it upon yourself to decide to bring him into my home.”

“I’m not here to cause any trouble,” Magnus interjected. His smile had dimmed a bit, and he couldn’t help how his tone cooled. This seemed like a bit much, even for someone who was trying to hide. There was a part of Magnus that wanted to respond instinctively; to sneer at what came off as Shadowhunter prejudice at having a warlock in their home. The rest of him was too practical for that. If Alec had a problem with warlocks, he wouldn’t let Catarina in here so easily, nor would he be as close as rumors suggested he was with Eliot and Margo. Still, despite knowing that, Magnus found his voice cooling just a little.  “I’m not here for you. I’m here for the Downworlders. According to Cat, you’re the one with the most information right now. So why don’t we all put aside our prejudices long enough to get this case solved, hm?”

Any response Alec might’ve given was cut off by the sound of someone coming down the staircase. All three of them turned to look in just enough time to see Eliot come stumbling down.

Eliot had clearly just dragged himself up out of bed. Judging by the fact that the hoodie he was wearing looked more suited to Alec than him, it wasn’t his bed that he’d climbed out of. Magnus ignored the slight pang he felt at that. So maybe those rumors are true.

Though Eliot’s eyes ran over both Catarina and Magnus, he paid them little outward notice, choosing instead to make a beeline straight for Alec. The way he plastered himself right up against Alec’s side – and how Alec actually lifted an arm to make it easier for him to do so – had Magnus’ eyebrows shooting up. Alec drew Eliot in with one hand, letting the warlock hide his face by Alec’s neck, and with his other hand reached out to start preparing a cup of coffee.

There was the sound of more footsteps, and then a snort. “You guys are so domestically adorable it makes me want to vomit.”

Those words prefaced Margo’s entrance to the room. She hadn’t bothered dressing either, though Magnus had no doubt it was deliberate on her part. She was in what was clearly one of Alec’s t-shirts, the Hunter’s Moon logo emblazoned on it, and as far as he could tell she hadn’t even bothered to pull shorts on underneath it. Her hair was loose, a tousled mess that still somehow managed to look good, and she had on an eyepatch that was decorated with a flower done up in blue and green jewels.

With a smirk on her lips, and an extra sway in her walk, Margo walked toward them. Unlike her partner – who was now pressed firmly against Alec and cuddling into his chest – she made her observation of Catarina and Magnus clear. “Cat. Mags. What a surprise to see you two here.”

There was a definite bite in that tone. Magnus schooled his expression to try and not let any more of his surprise show. This wasn’t going anything like he’d thought it would. “So I’ve realized,” he settled on saying. Letting his eyes run over her, and then Eliot and Alec, he gave her a small smile. “The feeling is entirely mutual, my dear.”

Beside him, Catarina had turned herself, and she looked just a bit interested as well as she watched Margo move to join the two men in the kitchen. “You know, I hadn’t really given the rumors any credence, but you guys certainly paint an interesting picture.”

Husky laughter bubbled up from Margo. She nudged at the boys, pushing them back a little, and then inserted herself between Alec and the stove – or, more accurately, between Alec and Catarina. It was clearly a protective move.

She leaned back against Alec’s chest, seemingly uncaring about the way that Alec’s cheeks were heating up with a blush that Magnus found far too endearing.

A second later, Alec blurted out: “We’re not dating.” His blush deepened, and his eyes darted briefly to Magnus and then back over to Catarina. Interesting.

“Not that it’s anyone’s business if we are,” Margo said, crossing her arms over her chest. She fixed them all with a glare that made it clear how she felt about their opinions. “What we’re doing is our own business. See, we were actually invited here.”

When they’d talked about coming here Catarina had said that she’d handle Alec. It was clear from the instant they’d walked in that she hadn’t done any of that handling in advance. Magnus made a mental note to scold her for it later. What on earth had possessed her to think that just showing up with him in a place that he clearly wasn’t wanted was a good idea? The least she could’ve done was call ahead, text even, and warn them.

Much as Magnus wanted to force the issue and stay, they had a much more important reason behind this, and he wasn’t going to let that get lost in the pissing match between them. That was the only thing that prompted him to say: “Perhaps it’d be best if I left. You can come by my place afterward and let me know what you find out, Cat.”

He was surprised when Alec shook his head. “You’ve already seen my home; you know where I live. There’s no taking that back.” One more big, deep breath, and Alec drew himself up with the air of not just a Shadowhunter, but a leader. Someone who’d been trained to command. It showed in every inch of him as he nudged Margo away to give him room to move. “Margo, will you gather the others? The rest of you, have a seat before these pancakes get cold. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”

It took almost no time at all for everyone to gather. The trio that came downstairs to join them were clearly eager to know what happened, and just as clearly suspicious of everything. The blond-haired one scowled at Magnus before going over to Alec and situating himself close – or, as close as he could with Eliot and Margo taking up post on either side of Alec.

The young girl that Magnus hadn’t met yet, whose looks clearly marked her as Alec’s sister, actually smiled at him. Though that didn’t detract from the calculating look in her eyes.

They all ended up sitting around the breakfast table. Magnus at one end, and Alec at the other. To Magnus’ left was Catarina, the blond-haired one that was introduced as Jace, and then Eliot. To his right was the girl, Isabelle, Maia, and then Margo. Platters of pancakes were set in the middle of the table, while plates and silverware were making their way around. To see them so easily passed back and forth between everyone was just a bit stunning. Magnus had been around Shadowhunters who’d thrown away a plate simply because it’d been touched by a Downworlder. Yet these three were sitting here acting like it was no big deal.

Magnus’ hesitation when he took the plates from Isabelle must’ve been clear. Jace glared at Magnus. “What, you too fancy to eat with us, warlock?”

Progressive though these Shadowhunters may be, they weren’t perfect, and the use of his species like it were some sort of insult was enough to remind Magnus of that. He couldn’t quite keep the sneer off his lips when he snapped back. “Maybe I’m just not used to Shadowhunters lowering themselves to eat with me.”

“All right,” Margo cut in before anyone could say anything else. A good thing, too, judging by the fire on Jace’s face. “Why don’t we all stow our shit and actually deal with the real fucking problem here. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can all go on our way.”

“Margo’s right,” Catarina said, though she didn’t look happy about it. She looked down the table and met Alec’s eyes with a straightforwardness that would’ve been admirable at any other time. “I understand that you’re mad at me, and you can be as mad as you want later – right now, we’ve got something much bigger and much more important to deal with…”

She was cut off by a sharp, “Don’t” from Maia. When everyone turned to look at her, the teenager was glaring at Catarina with a fierce look on her face. So far Maia had been mostly quiet since she’d come down, but this seemed to be the limit for her, and she scowled openly. It was an almost impressive glare. “Don’t do that.”

Magnus caught sight of a soft wince on Alec’s face. He turned towards her, pushing back his shoulders like he was trying to brace himself for whatever came next. “Maia…”

Before Alec could get out more than her name, the girl cut him off as well, shaking her head. “No, Al. She doesn’t get to do that.” Her sharp eyes never once left Catarina. “You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to come into our house, ignore his wishes, and tell him to get over his feelings so you can focus on your ultimate goal. What he feels is valid and you’ve got no right to tell him otherwise.”

Margo grinned, sharp and bright, and held out her fist for a pound. “You tell her, sister.”

“Guys.” Once more, Alec tried to gather his little family, bring them back under some semblance of control. He looked more than a little uncomfortable; unsure, even. Like he didn’t quite know how to deal with this kind of defense. There was something that Magnus thought might be embarrassment, judging by the faint blush that touched his cheeks. Yet he managed to make his voice mostly steady, though he couldn’t seem to meet anyone’s eyes. “It’s fine. She’s right. Right now, we’ve got more important things to worry about than this. It’s not a big deal.”

Though Alec wasn’t wrong, Magnus was surprised to find himself feeling a slight pang at hearing the Shadowhunter dismiss himself so easily. Especially with his family already ready to defend him. What made it worse was the look on Alec’s face that showed he really believed this. He believed that his own feelings were so much less important.

Magnus was stunned to find himself wanting to speak up. Luckily, he didn’t have to. Alec’s family had that well in hand. Jace was already scowling, and Isabelle gave a fierce “Like hell!” as she turned to add her own glare to the mix.

However, it was Eliot who leaned in, one hand coming up to curve over the back of Alec’s neck in a gesture that screamed comfort and intimacy more than any of their looks or touches so far. Something in that hold seemed to give Alec strength, and served to silence the others. No one said a word when Eliot scooted his chair close enough that he could lean in against Alec’s side, or as he turned back to look at Magnus and Catarina, keeping his hand in place.

Despite the intimate touch, the rest of Eliot had a posture that would’ve been better suited to a throne than a wooden kitchen chair. Tall, haughty, and regal. He lifted his chin and looked down at both Catarina and Magnus in a display that, usually, Magnus wouldn’t have been able to resist tweaking. Now he kept silent as Eliot spoke. “If it weren’t for the fact that wasting time might cost lives, I’d tell you two to get the hell out, and we’d go find the answers ourselves. We’re pretty resourceful like that.”

Margo’s lip curled up, and she leaned into Alec’s other side, making her allegiance even clearer. “As it stands, you two have got ten minutes to give us whatever information you’ve got, and then you can get the fuck out until Alec is ready for you to come back.” Her eyes cut over to Catarina, and they sparked with her displeasure in a blatant display of magic and threat from a warlock. “Both of you. Now, eat some fucking pancakes and tell us what you know.”

This whole thing had blown up into something that was so much worse than Magnus had expected. He’d dealt with a lot of groups in his time, a lot of volatile emotions, and it wasn’t hard to see the powder keg that he was in right now. One wrong move, one wrong word, and this thing would blow up in his face.


Chapter Text

What followed was the single most awkward breakfast Alec could remember having. The subject matter wasn’t the problem – they’d talked about worse things while eating. But getting this volatile group of people to actually talk about their problem wasn’t easy. At most, what they ended up with was an exchange of information, and the confirmation Alec needed that this was more than just some missing wolves.

Seven warlocks were missing, and five vampires. Sorcha had text back to let Alec know that at least three Unseelie had gone missing, too – two Brownies and a Drow. “That brings our total count of missing up to twenty-one, and that’s just what we know of,” Alec summed up. Hearing it put in such blunt terms was enough to silence the table. Everyone froze for a moment, staring down at their food without eating it. Twenty-one missing Downworlders. Sighing through his nose, Alec pressed his lips together for a moment. How had the Institute missed this?

“That’s so many,” Isabelle breathed out. Her eyes were wide when she looked up at Alec, unconsciously echoing his thoughts. “How could anyone miss this?”

Margo shot her a look that was full of pity. “Honey, very few people out there care about Downworlders. We’ve all learned to be somewhat isolated, and to stay to ourselves. It’s safest that way.”

“Except that it’s not,” Alec interjected. “Look at what we have here. Seven warlocks missing, five vampires, six wolves, three Unseelie. And no one connected the dots because there’s no system set up for communication. I get groups wanting to stay apart, and I understand the safety reasons behind it, but there should be something in place for moments like this.”

Magnus huffed, lifting his mug to his mouth. “That’s easier said than done, handsome. We’ve got a lot of reason to distrust outsiders.”

That wasn’t a debate Alec wanted to get into right now. He knew they could go on and on with it and still likely end up nowhere. What was important right now was dealing with all these missing people, and he said as much.

“What can we do about it, though?” Maia asked, looking over to Alec for direction. “It sounds like everyone’s just vanishing. How do we try and find people like that?”

Alec turned toward Magnus once more. Despite having his reservations about him being here, it didn’t mean that Alec didn’t recognize an asset when he saw one. “I assume you’ve done tracking spells?”

The look Magnus gave him was just a little bit offended. “Of course.”

Alec nodded. He sat back again, letting his mind run through all of this. “We’ll have to up our patrols, see what we can find. I’ll keep an ear to the ground at the bar and see if anyone else comes up with anything, too.” He looked up, moving his gaze over Magnus to Catarina. Despite his efforts to maintain a professional air, his tone was still cooler than normal when he spoke to them. “Will you let us know if you find anything?”

“Yes,” Catarina answered immediately.

A low hum from Eliot brought attention to him. When they all looked at him, he was smiling brightly at them. “You can just contact Margo or I directly and let us know what you find, Catarina. We’ll make sure Alec is updated.” Translation – stay the hell away from Alec.

Alec actually sighed at that, and he rolled his eyes openly. “El, knock it off.”

“Not on your life, kitten,” Eliot shot back, still smiling. He punctuated his words by leaning in and giving Alec a quick kiss on the cheek that had the Shadowhunter blushing wildly.

Trying to ignore his own blush, Alec settled for rolling his eyes and shaking his head. Then he used his elbow to nudge Eliot away from him. “We appreciate whatever you guys are able to give us,” Alec said, rising to his feet. “And we appreciate you coming by today and answering questions. If there’s anything you need from us, please let us know, and we’ll do what we can.” The words were formal and just as much of a dismissal as his body language. It wasn’t lost on either of their guests. Magnus and Catarina both rose as well, though Catarina looked just a bit pained.

Alec gestured to his siblings and the mess on the table. “Why don’t you guys get this cleaned up while I walk our guests out.”

The two followed him out toward his front door easily. When they got there, Alec opened the door for them and waited for the two to go out. He should’ve known better. He should’ve remembered just how straightforward Catarina usually was. She stopped right at his side, and she straightened up to her full height and lifted her chin, looking right at Alec. “Alec, I’m sorry.”

He had to bite his tongue to keep his sarcasm behind his teeth. It made his tone clipped when he spoke. “I’m sure you are.”

“I did what I thought was best.”

“You did,” Alec agreed. “You put the needs of your people first, and I respect that, Catarina. I understand.”

“But?” They both knew there was more to it than that. Alec’s tone, not to mention the closed-off way he stood, made that clear.

Smiling sadly, Alec shrugged one shoulder. “But nothing. The fault was mine for seeing more between us than there was. I’d never ask you to choose me over your own people, but I thought we were at least friends enough for you to show me some respect or courtesy. Enough for at least a text to warn me, or to ask. But, at least now I know where I stand.” In a deliberate move, he widened the opening of the door, holding it out of the way for them. “One of us will be in touch as soon as we’ve figured something out.”

There was a pained look in Catarina’s eyes when their gazes met again. In there, Alec saw her honest regret, and he knew that he was probably overreacting to this. Months ago, he wouldn’t have reacted this way. The leader in him would’ve understood. He would’ve pushed his own feelings down and focused on the greater good. But… time with Maia, and Eliot, and Margo, with the support of his siblings, was slowly teaching Alec that he didn’t have to do that. He was allowed to be upset or hurt by something. He was allowed to feel.

Eventually, Catarina gave a sharp nod, and she turned to walk out the door, not looking back.

Alec expected Magnus to follow after her. So far, he’d seemed a whole lot more subdued than Alec had expected him to be based on the rumors and stories that circulated about this guy. But Magnus had been pretty quiet.

He stopped in front of Alec the same that Catarina had. When he did, he looked up at him, tilting his head just the slightest bit. Those cat eyes were still out, though they felt like less of a dare now. “You’re not quite what I was expecting,” Magnus said. His tone didn’t make it clear whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. Then he was abruptly smiling, and Alec’s voice just vanished on him. No one should be that attractive. It’s not fair. “I know it probably doesn’t mean much, seeing as how you don’t really know me, but I wanted to let you know your secret’s safe with me. No one, not even Maryse, is going to hear about you or this place.”

Magnus dropped that bomb like it was no big deal – how the hell did he know who Alec really was?? – and then casually walked away, flashing Alec one more smile when he reached the stairs. “Thanks for breakfast, Shadowhunter. I’ll see you around.”

His causal words froze Alec in place. He stood there staring after them as Magnus opened a portal right at the end of the walkway and he and Catarina vanished through it. Even after the portal closed, Alec still stood there. Somehow he managed to get his hands to move enough to close the door. But beyond that, he couldn’t seem to do much more than press his palms flat against the door and try to breathe.

Catarina had brought Magnus Bane here. Here. To Alec’s home. She’d brought him here and let him see where Alec lived, where his family lived, and Alec’s biggest fear had just proved true – Magnus had recognized him. Okay, yeah, he’d confirmed it while giving a promise not to tell their mother where they were, but he still knew. And what guarantee did they have that Magnus was even going to follow that promise?

Alec knew he was working himself into a panic. He just couldn’t seem to stop it. Leaning forward until his forehead pressed against the door, he fought to try and keep his breathing under control.

The soft sound of footsteps had him jerking his head up and struggling to find control. Then Eliot came around the corner, moving directly into the little entryway space where Alec was still hiding. He didn’t crowd in right away. Didn’t even try to reach out for Alec yet. He just stopped a foot away and leaned against the wall in a way that made sure the doorway to the rest of the house was still open – leaving Alec his exits.

“Your parabatai told me you were freaking out over here,” Eliot said, watching him. He had his arms crossed over his chest, and it was clear he was trying to look calm and controlled, only his eyes gave him away. The worry there was easy for Alec to see. “He figured I’d have a better chance of getting you to talk than he would, though I wouldn’t be surprised if both your siblings corner you later. They’re worried about you.” I’m worried about you. Those last words weren’t spoken, yet they were clearly heard.

Alec opened his mouth to tell Eliot he was fine. It was Alec’s instinctive response to just about any situation. What came out instead was: “He knows who I am.”

A little furrow dug between Eliot’s eyes briefly. Then realization struck. In that instant, Alec knew that Eliot knew who he was, too. Having him know didn’t bring about the same fear as having Magnus know who he was, though. Eliot must’ve sensed or seen that on Alec. In the next second, everything about him softened. “He won’t tell,” Eliot said gently. “I know you don’t know him or have any reason to trust him, but Bambi and I have known him off and on for years. He’s not typically a fan of Nephilim, and he’s definitely not going to seek some out to talk to them. If you were a threat to the Downworld or anything like some of those pompous assholes that patrol around here, then yeah, he’d turn you in. He’s a hardass when it comes to protecting his people. But, sweetheart, you’re not any of those things. Magnus has no reason to turn you in.”

“I can’t go back, El,” Alec whispered. The words felt shameful to say, yet they came out anyway. Hands clenching at his sides, he let out a shaky breath that was almost more of a wheeze than he was comfortable with. “I, I can’t. I want to be a Shadowhunter more than anything, but if I, if I go back there… they’ll kill me.”

The truth of that hit him like a blow. If he went back, death was the only thing that waited for him. Whether it be from another beating, or from being deruned and dumped somewhere, or being sent to a far-away Institute with a high mortality rate and getting put on suicide missions until he took care of the problem for them. That was if his mother would even let it get that far. The way she’d looked at him that night… how she’d talked to him…

Alec didn’t even notice when his wheezing started to grow stronger. Not until Eliot was right in front of him, saying his name in a voice that was low and aching. Only when Alec looked up at him did Eliot finally lift a hand. He let Alec see it the whole time, bringing it up to cup his cheek first and then slide it back, around, moving it to between Alec’s shoulder blades. Just a tiny bit of pressure was all Alec needed to let himself be drawn down into an embrace he wouldn’t have let himself take months ago. Now, it felt like safety to him. Like what he hoped his siblings found when he held them.

“No one’s gonna kill you.” Eliot’s words were low and fierce against the side of Alec’s head. He tightened his arms briefly around Alec as if to make sure that Alec was there and protected. “Anyone tries, and you better believe Margo and I are gonna kick their asses. You are not alone, sweetheart.”

It took another ten minutes before Alec finally made his way back in to the others. Margo gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and a pat to his chest before telling him: “We’re gonna go ask around, see what we can see. We’ll get back to you before dinner, kiddo,” and then she and Eliot were gone, leaving Alec with just his siblings.

Siblings who were watching him with far too much worry. Alec tried to smother down his feelings in the hopes of keeping it all off his face. They had no need to know just how terrified Alec was right now.

He should’ve known better than to try. Though Jace and Maia were watching him worriedly, Isabelle had no such issue. She closed the distance between them and went right up to Alec to give him a tight hug. He wrapped his arms back around her instinctively and then tightened his hold as he sighed into her embrace. Isabelle had her arms around his waist and her face buried in against his chest. Holding on to her, feeling her against him, helped ease some of Alec’s fears. No matter what else happened, his family was still here. They were safe right now. The rest, he could try his best to plan for it and hope he could keep them safe.

When they broke apart, Isabelle smiled up at him, so steady and sure.

Alec cupped her cheek for a minute, then brushed back a bit of hair before letting her go.

He wasn’t surprised that his siblings all followed him into the kitchen. Nor was he surprised to see they hadn’t cleaned up like he’d asked them to. Alec began the habitual motions of filling up the sink with water and preparing to rinse off the dishes so they could go in the dishwasher. As he did, Maia cleared the table and passed things up to Jace, and Isabelle hopped up to sit on the counter between Alec and the dishwasher so she’d be able to take the dishes from him and put them in the dishwasher.

“So,” she said, settling in with her legs crossed in front of her, smirking when Alec rolled his eyes at her. “That was the High Warlock, huh?”

“He seems like an ass,” Jace said, setting a stack of plates next to the sink.

Isabelle’s eye-roll was easy to hear in her voice. “You just think that cause he didn’t take your shit.” Her voice changed, going just a bit sly, and Alec just knew she was smirking at the side of his head. “I thought he was cute. Wouldn’t you agree, hermano?”

There was no way Alec was going to be able to keep himself from blushing. Still, he ducked his head a bit and turned to fully face the sink in an effort to hide it, his back to most of them. He should’ve known Isabelle would’ve caught on to Alec’s attraction. Raziel, if she realized it, did he? That thought only made Alec blush even more.

“Oh, gross,” Jace groaned loudly. “You’re kidding, right? Alec’s got better taste than that.”

Both Isabelle and Maia snorted. Loudly. “Have you seen Eliot?” Maia asked.

Alec’s head shot up at that. Seriously? He spun just enough to glare at his siblings. “Eliot and I are just friends! How many times do I have to tell you guys that?”

“Chill, Al,” Maia said, waving a hand his way without even seeming bothered by his glare, something not many people could claim. She passed the mugs from the table over to Jace, who brought them to the sink. “I’m not saying you guys are doing anything. You can find someone hot without wanting to bang ‘em. I’m just pointing out you’ve got a bit of a type.”

Isabelle nodded her agreement. “Smart, sexy, pretty-boys who have enough power to probably kill us without really blinking over it.”

“And who are secretly giant marshmallows,” Maia added, because she was one of the few that could probably get away with poking at Eliot’s soft side without getting shut down – hard. He liked her, as he bluntly told the others. She was his ‘favorite’ out of Alec’s siblings. Alec often wondered if that was true or if Eliot just liked riling Jace up.

Alec felt his blush growing darker. “You guys are ridiculous, and I’m not discussing this.” That said, he turned back to the sink, resolutely focusing on his dishes and doing his best to ignore the laughter and teasing that continued on behind him. As he did, he steadfastly denied to himself that anything they were saying was true. And even if it were, it didn’t matter. People like Magnus Bane didn’t look twice at people like Alec. And that was fine. He was fine. He had his family, his friends, and that was all he needed.

Maybe if he told himself that enough times, it might end up being true.

Word seemed to have spread quickly through the Downworld about the High Warlock being back, and the questions that he was asking. Alec barely got behind the bar for his shift that night before he was being bombarded by a rush of wolves all eager to ask what was going on. Alec had known to suspect it, at least a bit. He’d known they’d want answers, and he’d had time to try and think of how to respond to it.

Despite what Jace had suggested – keeping it quiet, just for now – Alec knew that wasn’t the right way to go. The people deserved to know what was going on. They deserved to know that they were in danger.

A look around the bar showed that it was more than just the group in front of him that was paying attention. Even Sorcha was watching him. Alec took a deep breath and then drew on the leadership persona he’d learned at his mother’s knee. It allowed his voice to lift and carry through the bar without him having to shout, and it gave him a solid edge that he knew made his words more believable. “Okay, listen up, everyone. I know you’ve all got questions, and I’m going to do my best to answer them, but right now I need you to understand that we don’t have a whole lot of information to go on.”

No one said a word. Even the vampires over at the pool table stopped playing and were watching him.

“I had a meeting this morning with the High Warlock of Brooklyn to talk to him about some information that came to me last night.” That was putting a nice spin on it, but none of them needed to know that Alec had been ambushed in his own home and then had a meeting over pancakes. “Best as we can tell, twenty-one Downworlders have gone missing in the past ten months.”

That brought up an almost instant outcry. Voices were clamoring to shout over top of one another, and Alec had to wait it out for a moment before raising his voice to draw their attention once more. He waited until they quieted down before continuing.

“Those missing come from every group of Downworlders. It’s not just one of you being targeted – it’s all of you. As of right now, there’s no evidence to suggest what it is that’s taking people. What we do know is that it seems to come for people when they’re alone, and whether by plan or coincidence, they seem to be taking people that won’t stir up any real notice for them to go missing. Now, so far, we don’t have any leads. But my siblings and I are stepping up our patrols, we have some friends looking into things, and the High Warlock is doing his best to try and see what he can find. If any of you see or hear anything, or know someone who does, you can bring the information to me or the High Warlock, and we’ll do our best to try and find out who’s doing this and stop them.”

“You expect us to believe you really wanna help us?” someone called out from the back of the bar.

Alec arched one eyebrow and coolly looked that direction. “I’m here, aren’t I?” he asked flatly. “Not only that, but I’m willingly working with a warlock who has a reputation for protecting the Downworld at pretty much any cost, and being notoriously distrustful of Shadowhunters. Would I put myself at risk like that if I wasn’t trying to help?” He didn’t give them time to say anything to that. Squaring his shoulders, he let his gaze run over the bar. “I can’t force you guys to listen to me. I’m not your leader. But until we catch whoever’s behind this, it’d be smart to keep your loved ones close. Employ common sense. Don’t go anywhere alone if you don’t have to. Use a buddy system. So far, all the missing people seem to have been alone when they were taken. Use that against them and make sure that you and those you love don’t go anywhere alone. Just… be smart, and be safe, until we can figure this out. Thank you.”

That wasn’t the end of the questions, of course. Alec felt like he spent the whole night answering questions and offering reassurances to people. It stunned him just a little, how many people actually came up to him seeking some kind of reassurance. People who, up until tonight, he would’ve said would be happy to see him gone. Who’d rather spit on him than talk to him. Yet they came up, in pairs or in groups, and all of them seemed to be seeking the same thing. Reassurance. Someone to hear them and validate their fears.

By the time Alec’s shift ended, he’d talked to more people than he had since he’d first come to the Downworld almost seven months ago.

Eliot had shown up right before the end of Alec’s shift. He sat at the bar, beaming at Alec and Sorcha, and ordered the most complicated cocktail possible. He also proceeded to mock Alec’s attempts at making it. “Oh, you sweet little child, Daddy’s got so much to teach you,” he teased, shaking his head.

The use of the term ‘Daddy’ didn’t make Alec even blink. He was far too used to Eliot referring to himself that way. Even Margo occasionally told them not to argue with “Mama” when she was in a mood. But Alec could hear a few snorts of laughter from the two vampires drinking just a little way down the bar. He shot them a glare that shut them up quick enough.

He poured the last of the cocktail into the glass and slid it toward Eliot. “Next time make it yourself if you don’t like the way I do it.”

“And miss an opportunity to watch you work?” Eliot clicked his tongue and shook his head.

Alec couldn’t quite help the fond smile that ghosted over his lips. “You’re an idiot.”

“Ahh, but I’m your idiot.”

With a laugh, Alec went back to work, even as Sorcha gave a loud “Last call, losers! Let’s wrap it up!”

It only took fifteen minutes after that before Sorcha was locking the door behind the last of the bar patrons. She gave a heavy sigh as she turned back around and pulled her apron off. “Thank fuck that’s over with.”

“Long night?” Eliot asked sympathetically.

Sorcha snorted, tossing her apron on the bar before moving to start gathering up empty glasses. “That’s one way of putting it. I think half the Downworld came through here tonight. Word spread quickly about what’s going on. Everyone wanted to talk to our own personal Shadowhunter.” She cast an amused look Alec’s way, laughing when it got her a scowl. She moved past him and patted his chest as she went. “Face it, honey. You’re ours, now.”

“Most of them don’t even like me,” Alec pointed out.

“They’re warming up to you!”

“She’s not wrong,” Eliot said, adding in his own two cents. He grinned when Alec turned his glare his way. “Whether they’ve realized it or not, most of them are getting used to having you guys around. The fact that you took it seriously when they brought you a problem only helped with that. They might not all like you, but you’re a part of us now, gorgeous.”

Sorcha turned and flashed him a grin. “Welcome to the Downworld.”

Leaning on the bar, Eliot folded his arms and rested his weight on them. The smile he wore promised all sorts of trouble. Alec only had to take one look to know that whatever was on his mind wasn’t going to be good. Yet, he couldn’t help himself. He knew Eliot was going to say something embarrassing, and yet he still ended up caving underneath that grin and demanding “What?”

The attempt at an innocent face that Eliot pulled was just sad. He couldn’t even hold his grin in entirely. It kept creeping out at the edges and making the corners of his eyes crinkle. “Oh, nothing. I was just wondering if maybe Magnus had stopped by, too. You know… to give you an update.”

Alec paused in the middle of the section of the bar he was wiping down. His brows furrowed down. “Why would he do that? It’s barely been a day. I highly doubt he’s found anything yet.” Then he rolled his eyes and went back to scrubbing. “Besides, you and Margo made it pretty clear he’s supposed to bring his information to you guys, not me.”

“What?” Sorcha asked, laughing.

Eliot’s grin turned decidedly smug. “Mm, yes, we did. We look after those we love. But, I’ve known Magnus for quite a long time, and he’s never been one for following the rules. Especially when it concerns someone that he looks at the way he was looking at you this morning.”

What?” Alec fumbled the rag, slipping in the water and almost sending himself toppling down onto the bar. He just barely managed to catch himself while still trying to look up at Eliot. “What are you… what are you talking about?” Magnus hadn’t looked at him in any special way! Not like… not like that. Not the way Eliot was blatantly implying with his stupid grin and that little eyebrow wiggle. If anything, Magnus had looked alternately confused and maybe even annoyed by Alec, though he’d gotten a bit contemplative halfway through. But that was it!

Delighted laughter bubbled up from Sorcha. She moved up to lean against the bar near Eliot, one arm propping her up so that she could tip her head enough to look up at him and grin. “Oh, I’ve got to hear more about this.”

There was never a time that Eliot was going to pass up on good gossip. He leaned in towards her with a conspiratorial grin that promised so much trouble for Alec’s future. Trouble that he wasn’t really going to be able to avoid, so he didn’t bother trying. He just went back to his nightly cleaning while Eliot put his chin his palm and beamed at Sorcha. “It was the cutest thing, Sor. I could’ve taken a picture. Here we are, sitting around the table eating pancakes…”

“You guys ate pancakes with Magnus Bane?”

Eliot nodded agreeably. “Oh, absolutely. We weren’t expecting him to show up, but there he was, and we were about to have breakfast. Have you had Alec’s pancakes? You don’t pass those up even for Armageddon. I will sit in the middle of the fucking end of the world and tell it all it can wait a damn minute just to eat those pancakes.” He paused to let her laugh, using the moment to tip a wink Alec’s way that just had the Shadowhunter shaking his head again, and then he was back to Sorcha. “Anyway, we were sitting there eating breakfast, and Margo and I were playing it all up and clearly marking our territory, and still Mags is down there practically making heart-eyes at our Alec. Not like I can blame him – he looked almost as delicious as the pancakes.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Alec interjected. He knew he was blushing, yet he also knew he wouldn’t be able to stop it, and there was no real point in trying. It would only make Eliot work harder to get him to do it. “He wasn’t making heart-eyes at me. If anything, he was looking at me like I was some sort of, I don’t know, interesting bug that was doing something new and strange.”

“Kitten, if that’s how you look at bugs, we might need to be having an entirely different discussion,” Eliot said, shaking his head.

Alec fought back the urge to fling his hands up in the air in frustration. Still, it didn’t stop him from twisting his wrist and sending the rag he was holding flying over at Eliot. The loud squawk he got as the rag hit Eliot’s shoulder made him grin. As Alec retreated to the back room with a tray of dirty cups, he could hear Eliot calling out after him. “We’re not done talking about this, Espinosa!”

He wasn’t lying. Alec was grateful that Eliot at least waited until they were home from the bar and curled up in the bedroom to talk about things. The fact that Eliot portaled him straight into his bedroom, or that Margo was already waiting there with drinks for all of them, just made Alec shake his head. He kicked off his shoes and then let himself get dragged down into his bed.

Some of the day’s tension began to fade out of him as soon as they got settled. Both Eliot and Margo had propped themselves up against the wall with pillows, the open window between them. Alec was dragged down to lay with his head in Eliot’s lap, and he had to curl his legs up so that Margo’s lower half could stretch sideways under his knees without the weight of his legs squishing her. Eliot smoked with one hand while his other casually played with Alec’s hair.

It didn’t escape Alec’s notice that no smoke or ash reached him where he was laying. He smiled a little and let himself melt down into the touches that had started to become as familiar as Jace or Isabelle’s.

They’d been laying there for almost half a cigarette when Eliot finally broke. “Soooooo….”

“No,” Alec cut in. He didn’t even bother opening his eyes.

There was the sound of movement and a soft huff of amusement. “Did I miss something?” Margo asked.

At the same time that Alec said “No” again, Eliot quite happily said “Yes! Xander and I were discussing Magnus at work today. More specifically, the way Mags was watching him.”

“You mean the serious case of eye-fucking they had going on?” Margo asked, her voice way too cheerful for Alec’s peace of mind.

Groaning, Alec rolled his face just enough to press it in against Eliot’s shirt. “Do we have to do this?” he asked quietly, his voice a bit muffled against the material. “I’ve already had to listen to my siblings on this. I really don’t need it from you guys, too.”

Something in Alec’s tone must’ve given away just how uncomfortable he really was. For all their teasing, both Eliot and Margo were pretty good at reading him and seeing when they were starting to push too far and then stopping. They didn’t push him beyond what they felt he could take, and they’d yet to be wrong about that. They always stopped before he really reached the limit of too much. Though they didn’t let it stop them from pursuing the topic in a much gentler manner.

Margo’s hand settled on Alec’s ankle. It was small yet strong weight there; one that somehow conveyed comfort and protection all in a tiny little squeeze.

At the same time, Eliot pushed his fingers through Alec’s hair enough that he could use his nails to scratch at Alec’s scalp. “There’s nothing wrong with being attracted to someone, sweetheart.”

“I know that.” Or, at least, he was trying to remember that most of the time.

Eliot hummed lowly. He didn’t push, though. He and Margo just continued to smoke while Alec let his mind drift over everything except for the topic they’d brought up. He tried to think about everything they knew on these disappearances, and what he could do to try and help stop them. They’d given out their warnings to everyone. They’d done their best to make the public aware. Until they found some sort of sign or clue, what more could they do?

He wished he had an answer to that. To anything. Because as it stood right now, something was attacking the Downworld and there was nothing he could seem to do about it to make it all right.

Chapter Text

MONDAY MORNING – a week later

The next week was far more exhausting than any Alec could remember for quite a while. He and his siblings were patrolling every chance they could. On top of that, Alec still had work to do, Jace and Isabelle still had school, and Isabelle had been hinting at wanting to join some school sport program. Something about a field and a track. Alec wasn’t sure yet – they hadn’t had the chance to really talk about it too much – but he knew the deadline was coming up in a few short days.

Things were busy and hectic just about everywhere. Patrols, at home, work – everyone was worrying about these disappearances. Now that they all knew about them, the Downworld was being extra safe, and they were following the advice Alec had given them. During his patrols he saw Downworlders going everywhere in pairs. They weren’t letting themselves be caught alone. More than that, Alec heard at the bar that the local Alpha, the High Warlock, and the second-in-command of the vampire coven were all implementing a check-in to make sure that no one went mysteriously missing without someone being aware of it.

The Seelies didn’t seem to be that worried. Not that that was surprising. They likely knew far more about what was actually going on than anyone else did. Or, at least their Queen likely did. As for any of the Unseelie that were around, the few that Alec talked to at the bar seemed to be taking it upon themselves to check in with each other, and they usually let him know once they’d all heard from one another.

All in all, things were chaotic, and yet at the same time they were also… anticlimactic. Because nothing seemed to be happening. No strangers around town, no disappearances, no one getting attacked by anything other than standard demons. Alec, Jace, and Isabelle caught a few demons trying to attack a few werewolf pups, but they got there in time and kept the kids safe. That was honestly the most ‘exciting’ thing that happened all week long.

It left Alec nervous and slightly edgy. By the time Monday rolled around again, he felt like he’d been going nonstop for the past week without anything to really show for it.

He dragged himself out of bed with far more reluctance than normal. What he needed was coffee. Tons and tons of coffee. Scrubbing a had over his face, Alec set out from his bedroom. He made a quick pit stop in the bathroom before he started his usual school morning routine, banging on each door as he went past and calling out “Time to get up. C’mon guys, let’s move. Breakfast will be on the table in ten. You either come and eat or go hungry.”

By the time those ten minutes were up, Alec had a cup of coffee in hand and a pot of oatmeal sitting in the center of the table. It wasn’t the fanciest of breakfasts, but it’d do the trick. They really, really needed to do some shopping soon. Food was getting a little scarce.

Jace was the first one down the stairs, with Isabelle just moments behind him. Both looked freshly showered and dressed despite only having had ten minutes. It wouldn’t have been the first time they did a quick wash-rinse-switch with the shower. All of them were capable of getting clean quickly and then darting out so that the next in line could step in. They’d always been fast in the shower back at the Institute. Living here, where they did things like conserve time or hot water, had only helped them perfect those skills.

“Alec, I need you to sign this for me,” Isabelle said. She dropped her backpack on the ground near her chair and held a piece of paper out Alec’s way, wiggling it as she waited for him to take it.

He shot her a cautious look while reaching out for it. “And what’s this?”

“The sports packet for track and field. I’ve got to get it in today. I need a physical, too, to show I’m in good health.” She dropped herself down into a chair and immediately began serving herself some oatmeal. Jace was already digging in to his own bowl beside her.

Alec ran his eyes over the packet. It seemed pretty easy to fill out. He nabbed a pen from the cup on the bar and started to fill in the information that Isabelle hadn’t already done. “A physical?” he asked, eyes on the paper.

It wasn’t Isabelle who answered that, but Maia. “It’s a mundane thing,” she said, coming down the stairs and towards the table. “You go to a doctor and they look you over, make sure you’ve got a clean bill of health, no illness or injuries or stuff like that. That way they know you won’t get hurt playing the sport.”

That shouldn’t be too hard to do. As uncomfortable as things were between them at the moment, he could always ask Catarina. Or he could see if Eliot or Margo knew anyone who might be willing to do this physical for them. Someone that wouldn’t notice Isabelle’s nephilim physiology, or who already knew and didn’t care.

The physical wasn’t going to be too difficult. No, what promised to be difficult was the information that Alec came to at the end of the packet. It took a lot of effort not to wince when he saw the numbers there. Participation fee. Equipment fee. Transportation fee. All in all he was looking at around three hundred and fifty dollars just for Isabelle to be a part of this. Maybe that was reasonable for other families. For Alec, it was almost enough for him to tell Isabelle no. Almost.

He looked up at her and watched as she poked and laughed at Maia, who was grinning back at her. There was a lightness to Isabelle’s face; a warmth in her smile that Alec had thought gone with their childhood. She looked so at ease here. Hair pulled up into a ponytail, makeup perfect, outfit just toeing the lines of propriety. She was everything she’d been at the Institute, only here, it wasn’t the hard armor that it had been. She didn’t do it all to distance herself from others. She was just… her.

Alec had always taken care of Isabelle. From the very first moment their mother had laid her in his arms, she’d been his, wholly and completely. Alec had done everything he could to be the best big brother possible. Sometimes that meant being an ass. Pushing her and telling her no. But in moments like this one, it also meant doing whatever it took to make sure that smile stayed on her face.

Quietly, while they were busy talking, Alec finished filling out the paperwork, adding his signature to the end. Then he discreetly took some of the money he’d hidden away – a sort of squirrel fund he was thinking of starting, to ‘squirrel away money’ for the winter, as Maia phrased it – and added it to the envelope attached to the packet. It was a lot of money to be handing over, and it took almost all of his savings, but when he handed her the packet on her way out and Isabelle beamed at him, even kissing his cheek, it was damn well worth it.

The kitchen emptied almost as quickly as it’d filled. Alec took a moment to run a hand over his face and try to wipe away some of the sleep from his eyes. Then he turned and took in the messy kitchen table. “Assholes.”

Twenty minutes and another cup of coffee later, the kitchen was set to rights, the dishes were done, and Alec was sitting in a chair by the washer with a bucket of water in front of him, ready to mix it with the special chemical Isabelle had come up with to help get ichor out of their clothes. Alec was just about to pour it in when his backdoor snapped open and Margo came storming in, Eliot on her heels.

“I need my booze and my bitches right now, and I don’t give a shit if you’ve got time for it or not, Espinosa,” Margo snapped. She went straight to the bar counter and slammed down the bottles she was carrying with her. How on earth she did it without breaking them was a mystery.

Alec’s eyebrows lifted up in clear surprise. “Good morning to you, too, Margo. I’m surprised to see you two awake. It’s not even ten a.m. yet.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me,” Eliot groused. He flopped down into the chair at the end of the table. Then he wiggled his fingers and conjured up a mug of what smelled like coffee, but Alec knew was likely at least half alcohol. He cast a look Alec’s way and wrinkled his nose at what he saw. As Margo huffed and glared, Eliot wiggled his fingers again, vanishing the ichor off the laundry and grinning at Alec’s clearly grateful look. Getting ichor out was a pain in the ass.

Alec didn’t get a chance to do much more than shoot Eliot a grateful look. A second later Margo was ferociously demanding attention again by loudly declaring: “Men are idiots.” She conjured up glasses and began to mix their favorite morning drink – mimosas. “Why are some men idiots? Most of the gay guys I’ve met have been pretty fucking awesome.” She lifted her glass towards them in a cheers gesture that Eliot returned, and that made Alec blush. Then she was downing her glass in one drink before spinning to make another. “Is it something about pussy? Like, straight guys get too much, and it turns them into giant assholes?”

Despite the blush that Alec could feel burning away in his face, he managed to clear his throat and mostly not stutter when he spoke. “I, ah, I take it you didn’t have the best of nights.”

I did,” Eliot said, beaming.

Margo shot him a glare. “Yes, yes, we’re all quite happy you got your dick sucked. Meanwhile I had a guy who thought missionary was exciting and who couldn’t find his way to a clit with a flashing neon sign to direct him there! I swear, I’m gonna get to Rome and jump Josh the instant I get there.”

Grinning, Eliot lifted his mug in cheers. “Ride that stallion into the sunset, Bambi.”

Despite how much his cheeks were burning, blushing around these two was common enough that Alec mostly ignored it. He focused on gathering up the ichor-free clothing and getting them all into the washer. “You’re going to Rome?” he found himself asking. It was the easiest part of all that to focus on.

Margo made a low humming noise that still held a hint of a growl to the edges of it. “Yeah. I’ve got some important shit I need to take care of. I should only be a few days, though.”

“She’s abandoning me,” Eliot whined as dramatically as he could – which, to be honest, was quite a lot. Still, there was a hint of something under it that had Alec wondering if maybe it wasn’t all as dramatic as he was playing it off.

He almost asked why Eliot wasn’t going with her, only to stop himself at the last second. Whatever the reason, if Eliot was really unhappy about it the last thing he’d need Alec to do would be to bring it up and remind him of it. He didn’t want to upset either one of them or start some sort of fight. So, he settled for getting the clothes in the wash and then coming to join them, accepting the mimosa that Margo handed him. “Sounds like it might be a good time. Just be safe while you’re gone.”

“Excuse me?” Margo arched the eyebrow over her eyepatch. It gave her a more threatening look than if she did the other one, she’d told him once, and he had to admit she wasn’t wrong. “Don’t you stand there acting like I can’t handle myself. I’m not the one in this triad who gets into shit.”

Leaning forward in his chair, Eliot caught her hand and drew it in to press a kiss against it. “No, you’re usually the one there to bail us out. Or kick the ass of whoever is trying to cause trouble.”

“Damn straight. So that means I get to be the one to remind you two to be safe while I’m gone, and to keep outta trouble. If I’ve gotta race back here just because one of you two was dumb enough to get caught up in some shit, I’ll kick both your asses. Don’t think I won’t.”

The underlying affection in those words had Alec smiling. Months ago, he wouldn’t have caught that. He also wouldn’t have dared to lean in and press a kiss against Margo’s forehead in a gesture that he usually only used with Isabelle. “We’ll be safe, so long as you do the same. And if you need us, don’t hesitate to call for us.”

Margo gave him a look that was half affection and half exasperation. Then she rolled her eye and leaned in against him. “Quit trying to rub your feelings off on me, Espinosa. It’s disgusting. Now, shut up and drink with me.”

Alec was laughing even as Margo glared.

When Alec thought about Margo being gone, he hadn’t really put much into it beyond thinking about how he hoped she was safe while she was gone. While they still hadn’t had any new disappearances, that didn’t mean whoever did this was gone. Though it did seem to be common thought that maybe the upped patrols and safety measures had scared them off.

As was usual, most of the bar was talking about it that night. Nil, a Drow who’d taken to coming in because he enjoyed “having a drink that’s actually decent, something which few mundanes can manage,” was leaning against the edge of the bar nursing his cocktail and speculating. “Whoever this was, they relied on us not noticing anything,” he pointed out to both Alec and the vampire – Etienne – sitting there with them. “Now not only does the whole of the Downworld know, we’ve taken measures to keep ourselves safe, we’ve become more alert, and we have three of our own Shadowhunters keeping an eye on things for us.”

“You think they’ve moved on?” Etienne asked.

Nil shrugged one shoulder elegantly. Like most Drow, he was tall and slender, with pitch black skin, white hair, and pointed ears. He dressed in the typical light leathers, though he’d forgone the cape that some of the Drows and other Unseelie seemed so fond of. It looked like his vest had a hood attached, though, which would help shelter his hair and hide him if he so wished. “I think those that lurk in the shadows like that cannot stand to have their work brought into the light. While I wouldn’t count them as gone, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of disappearances beginning in other areas for a while.”

That was definitely something Alec had already thought about. “We should see about reaching out to Downworlders in other cities and warning them,” he said. “If we did scare whoever this is away, I think Nil’s right. They’ll probably go to another city and start there. This… it didn’t feel personal to the New York Downworld. It felt clinical.” Like it wasn’t so much these specific people or area, but just Downworlders in general.

Etienne and Nil were both nodding. “I’ll speak with Raphael,” Etienne said, reaching out to pick up the glass of O-neg that Alec had served him. “He might want to come and talk to you about it, but I don’t think he’ll have a problem reaching out.”

Nodding, Alec served a drink to the wolf near Nil, and then brought his focus back to them. No one else needed a drink at the moment. “He knows where to find me if he needs to talk to me.”

While Raphael Santiago wasn’t the leader of the New York vampire coven, he was the second-in-command, and as such, Alec had dealt with him a few times when he’d needed someone to come pick up a vampire drunk off plasma. The first time Sorcha had been the one to call, and Alec had been stunned to see that the vampire who showed up was the same one who’d found him that night after the werewolf beating.

They never spoke of it, thankfully, but they had talked a few times when Raphael came to pick someone up, and even once when he came by to talk about the disappearances. They weren’t friends, by any stretch of the word, but they weren’t enemies, either.

The buzzing of Alec’s phone in his pocket drew his attention away from his customers. With a quick glance to make sure no one needed anything, he pulled the phone out. The only people that knew the number to call it knew better than to call while he was working. Alec only spared a second to see that it was Eliot’s name on the screen before he answered with a sharp “What’s wrong?”

The answer he got was nothing at all like he’d expected. There was a blast of something in the background of the phone that sounded like… was that music? Then Eliot’s voice was on the line, and his words did nothing to settle the burst of fear that was still in Alec’s gut. “Xander, I think my face is melting. I didn’t know faces could melt.

Oh, Raziel. Alec leaned back from the bar, not really caring too much about the way Etienne and Nil were both watching him. “El, where are you?”

Pandemonium. The people here are so nice. One of the fae gave me a purple drink. Or was it pink? Maybe both?”

Relief flooded through Alec’s whole body. It was strong enough he almost slumped with it. Thank Raziel. Thank Raziel. Eliot wasn’t hurt, or concussed, or in any serious trouble. No. Clearly, Eliot had been drinking, but just as clearly that hadn’t been the only thing he’d done. That wasn’t just the sound of drunk-Eliot. That was the sound of an Eliot who was under the influence of a whole lot more. Which, honestly, normally wouldn’t worry Alec too much, except that he remembered that Margo wasn’t there with him. She was out of town, which meant that Eliot was out there, under the influence of something, and alone.

Trying not to groan, Alec pinched the bridge of his nose. “That sounds great. What else have you taken, El?”

Something blue, something orange, a little lilac…” Eliot trailed off, the music getting louder, and then abruptly he shouted “Oh, I love this song! Gotta go, gorgeous!” and then all sound cut off as his friend hung up on him.

The urge to swear hit Alec as he stared at his phone.

On the one hand, Eliot was a fully-grown adult warlock who was capable of taking care of himself. On the other hand, he was under the influence of quite a few things, and was at a club. While Alec knew it wasn’t the first time it’d happened, that didn’t mean that he had to stand by and watch it happen.

Resolve had him straightening up and hitting one of the contacts on his phone. A second later, he was holding the phone up to his ear, giving a brief second of mourning for the loss of tips and hours tonight. He didn’t let it show as he said: “Sorcha? It’s Al. I need a favor…”

It took almost fifteen minutes for Sorcha to get to the bar, and then for Alec to get from the bar to Pandemonium. He was grateful that she’d come so quickly. When he’d tried to thank her, she’d just waved him off and sent him out the door. “Go get your boy home safe,” was all she’d said.

That was exactly what Alec intended on doing. The idea of just leaving Eliot there when he was so clearly drunk and high and whatever-else wasn’t one that Alec could even begin to entertain. That wasn’t the type of person he was. He’d go to Pandemonium, hope that Eliot was still there – if not, he had enough of his things to track him down – and then he’d bring him home.

There was a line outside of Pandemonium that Alec knew better than to try and bypass. There was a bouncer by the door, too, though it didn’t really look like he was doing all that much except watching everyone pass him by. It wasn’t until Alec got up close and those eyes flashed a brief orange as they ran over him that he realized why the guy didn’t look to be doing much. He was a warlock, which meant that the doors were likely warded somehow, allowing him to check people without actually checking them. It was honestly kind of ingenious.

Not that Alec got much time to appreciate it. He hadn’t activated his glamours because he hadn’t trusted that Eliot would recognize him if he looked like anything but himself, but he was cursing that now as the bouncer held out a hand and stood, making his way over so that they met in the doorway. Honestly, with his runes showing like this Alec wasn’t surprised that the bouncer stopped him, or by the look that the guy gave that made it clear Alec wasn’t getting anywhere near the inside of this place even without having said a word.

He was, however, pleasantly surprised when a voice spoke up, and Alec found Raphael of all people standing nearby. “Let him in, Ignacio.”

The bouncer – Ignacio – turned to give Raphael a skeptical look. “Are you serious?”

Raphael met him stare for stare. “Let him in,” he repeated. “You can tell Magnus I take full responsibility for this Shadowhunter.”

Hearing Magnus’ name caught Alec’s attention, albeit briefly. Then he was caught up by the way Ignacio looked at Raphael that made it clear just how stupid he thought the vampire was. Still, he let Alec in, and that was all that counted in Alec’s books right then. With a brief “Thank you” to Ignacio, Alec darted inside, long legs already eating up the distance. He felt it as Raphael fell in step beside him, but he didn’t give it much thought except to offer him a “Thanks” as well.

Raphael narrowed his eyes and glared up at Alec. “Don’t make me regret it. Besides, I assumed you’re here on some hunt for your siblings. This seems like a place they’d go.”

That was true. Alec knew that the both of them had been here before. He’d never had to come fetch them from this particular place before, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d gone out and gotten Jace or Isabelle from somewhere. Though, they’d gotten better since starting school, surprisingly enough. They were less wild. More likely to go hang out with a few friends. Of course, that could also have something to do with the girl that Jace was crushing on.

“I’m not here for them tonight,” Alec finally said. The two had moved through the front hall and out into the open space of the club. It took everything Alec had not to wince at the wave of sound and lights that slammed into him. This wasn’t his scene on a good night. After getting that call from Eliot, and with the panic still in his gut, the place seemed even worse. How was he supposed to find Eliot in this mess?

“Who are you looking for?”

Surprisingly, Raphael hadn’t left Alec’s side, and when Alec looked over at him, he was pretty sure the vampire was hiding worry in his dark eyes.

Alec ignored it for now and turned his gaze back out to scan the crowd once more. “Eliot.”

There was something akin to realization that was lighting up Raphael’s eyes. Like suddenly Alec’s presence made a whole lot more sense. His words only backed that up. “So, you’re the new babysitter. I wondered who she got to watch him while she was gone. Should have figured it would be you.” He paused, giving Alec a once over, and then shook his head. The way he was looking up at Alec with a tiny little smirk wasn’t all that reassuring. “Good luck. Without Margo around, I don’t think even Magnus is capable of getting him to stop without knocking him out. But maybe being his newest boy will give you more luck. Come on, I’ll take you to him.”

Raphael’s words only served to make Alec’s worry grow. He took off after the vampire, following directly behind him so as to let the other man break their way through the crowd. Still, it was hard not to push forward, to try and push past him and get to Eliot that much quicker.

When they finally found him – passing into a VIP section that Alec barely took any notice of – it only made Alec wish that he had hurried.

Eliot was plastered all over the side of a rather large, rather handsy looking guy who seemed to be more than happy to support the other’s slender build and was clearly trying to tug him off the dance floor. One look at Eliot’s face was all that was needed to see that Alec’s friend was way too far gone to be making a choice about going home with anyone.

Alec didn’t even stop to think. He darted out from around Raphael, taking no notice of anyone, not even the guy he almost knocked over who was rising and trying to head towards them as well. Alec moved quickly past them all and right up towards his friend. “Eliot!”

The sound of his name had Eliot’s head snapping up. When he caught sight of Alec his whole face just lit up. Wide, hazy eyes, pupils so blown there was almost no color left, and an ear-to-ear grin. “Alley cat!”

Eliot.” Alec moved around the last person that was between him and his friend, and he reached out for Eliot the instant he got close to him. Thankfully, Eliot started to reach back immediately, actually making grabby hands in the air like a child begging to be picked up. As soon as Alec was in reaching distance, Eliot was latching on, arms curling around his neck and long body pressing up against Alec’s, still swaying slightly to the music.

“You came!” Eliot said happily. His hands came up to slide through Alec’s hair and hold his head in place long enough for him to plant a loud, smacking kiss right on Alec’s lips, completely ignoring the blush it caused. “Come dance with me! I was having such a good time.”

Alec slipped his arm around Eliot’s waist to anchor him close as he felt the other start to sway in a way that definitely wasn’t dancing. “Yeah, I can see that. But you know me, these places really aren’t my thing, and you’re way too… something. Drunk. High. Why don’t you and I go ahead and go home?”

“Oooh, home. Daddy likey.” The words were accompanied by an eyebrow wiggle. One that was almost immediately followed by Eliot’s whole expression falling, and then shifting into a pout. “No. Bambi’s not there, it won’t be any fun. I want to have fun, Alec!”

Ah. That made a whole lot more sense. Really, Alec should’ve seen this coming just off past experiences with how Eliot was on a normal day, even with Margo around. Without her there with him… Everything about Alec softened a little as he pulled Eliot in even closer. Bringing his free hand up, he brushed back the curls from Eliot’s sweaty face, and then he cupped the side of his neck a little awkwardly, conscious of the eyes that were undoubtedly on them. “I didn’t mean your home, El, I meant mine.” He offered Eliot a crooked smile. “Do you really think I’d let you go home alone while Margo’s gone? You’ll be staying at my madhouse until she gets back. Especially with all these disappearances. I’m not risking anything happening to you.”

Those must’ve been the magic words. Eliot practically melted against Alec until Alec was the only thing keeping him upright. He didn’t say anything, just nodded as he pressed his face in against Alec’s neck.

That was all the confirmation Alec needed. He gathered Eliot closer, contemplating if he’d be able to get him outside like this or if he’d need to just pick him up and carry him, when the guy from before suddenly stepped into their path, blocking them off. And he didn’t exactly look happy. “Dude, what do you think you’re doing?”

“Taking him home,” Alec said flatly. “Now, move.”

“Like hell! I’m not letting some Shadowhunter come in here and take someone away!”

Alec lifted his eyebrows and shifted Eliot’s weight a bit, making it easier to hold him with one arm, allowing his other arm the ability to be free if needed. “As opposed to – what? Letting him go home with a stranger for something he won’t even remember tomorrow?”

“Like it’s any different than any other night for him,” the guy said, sneering. “It’s what he does. Just cause you’re too much of a stuck-up prude like the rest of the nephilim…”

A different voice interrupted them just as Alec felt his rage building. “Now, now, let’s all take a deep breath here and calm down.” The voice came from a person to their left. Alec didn’t turn – not willing to let the other guy out of his line of sight – but he recognized that voice, even if he’d only really heard it once before. Seconds later, Magnus Bane was stepping up to stand between the two, yet off to the side. He was grinning when he tossed a wink Alec’s way. The sight of it very much did not make Alec’s cheeks warm.

That grin was still in place when Magnus turned toward the other guy, though he gave a low ‘tsk’ as he shook his head. “I know you know my rules better than this, Timmy. I warned you earlier not to waste your time on El.”

“Oh, cause it’s so much better to let some Shadowhunter take him outta here?” Timmy demanded.

Casually shrugging, Magnus gestured towards Alec and Eliot with one hand. “I don’t know, he seems pretty happy to me.”

As if to back that up, Eliot leaned in more, nuzzling against Alec’s neck. It was a gesture that was like some strange mix of sleepy and sexual. Though the slight scrape of teeth that Alec felt turned it distinctively sexual rather fast. It distracted Alec enough that he ended up missing whatever it was that Magnus did to send the other guy away.

When Alec looked up again, the guy was gone and Magnus was fully facing them now, hands on his hips and an amused expression on his face. “If I didn’t know for a fact just how comfortable Eliot is with you, I’d be hesitant on letting him leave with you, too.”

“I won’t leave without him,” Alec said flatly. No matter how little he wanted to see this warlock, or how pretty he found him, Alec wasn’t going to cower. Especially not when Eliot’s safety was in question.

Amusement tugged up one corner of Magnus’ mouth. “I could make you.”

“You could try.” The fierce words slipped out before Alec could stop them. At the same time, he tightened his hold on Eliot in preparation to defend. He saw the surprise flash over Magnus’ face, and then change into something sharper, a bit contemplative. It struck Alec that he probably shouldn’t piss this guy off. Not only could he make Alec’s life hell if he wanted, rumor was he was pretty damn powerful, and there wasn’t really anything Alec could do to stop him. Not without causing more of an incident than needed.

Drawing in a steadying breath, Alec forced his voice calm, and he tried to fall back on his diplomatic training. “I’m sorry, that was rude,” he apologized, which just had Magnus’ eyebrows shooting up again. “But this conversation is pointless and we both know it. Like you said, you know how comfortable Eliot is with me, and you know he stays at my house frequently. All I’m going to do is take him home and tuck him into bed.”

Of course, that was when Eliot started to pay attention again. Naturally. Because why not embarrass Alec as much as possible? Giving a low “Mmm,” Eliot rolled his body sensually, and his teeth latched on to the side of Alec’s neck. “Always sleep better where you are, kitten.”

Mortification had Alec’s cheeks a brighter red than before. He dropped his hands down, gripping Eliot’s waist and stilling his hips. He didn’t scold him for his gesture, though. Not after the talks he’d had with Margo about moments like this. Moments where Eliot was far too high to think straight. Despite what he liked people to believe, Margo had warned Alec once that Eliot’s insecurities got a lot louder when he was like this, harder for him to ignore. Rejection could have a horrible effect on him. It could send him spiraling into a drop that would be hell for him to ride out.

Alec tried to keep that in mind. So, instead of making a sarcastic remark, or grumbling at Eliot to knock it off, he settled for holding Eliot’s hips tight to keep him from moving them again, and he tilted his face so that he could look down at where Eliot was still trying to hide. “Stay awake for me, El. I need to convince your friend here I’m not some Circle member who’s going to drag you away to murder you before he lets us leave.”

Eliot’s response to that was to snort. Loudly. And then to bite Alec’s neck again, laughing when it made Alec flinch. “You taste like cherries, and indigo. Why do you taste like indigo?” Abruptly, Eliot drew back and then startled Alec by shoving his wrist right up against Alec’s face. “What do I taste like? I’m betting coquelicot. The color, not the flower. Oooh, kind of like your face right now. You blush so pretty. My pretty little kitten.”

Okay, enough was enough. Alec closed his eyes and drew in a breath for strength. When he opened them again and looked back to Magnus, he found the warlock was watching him with open amusement right on his face. “I’m taking him home now,” Alec said flatly.

Magnus’ grin grew. “You know, he’s not wrong. Your face is a lovely shade of coquelicot right about now. It’s a good look for you, Shadowhunter.” He laughed when Alec’s blush deepened. “Oh, he got lucky when he found you, didn’t he? I’m slightly jealous.” Grinning, Magnus winked at Alec. “Call me next time, pretty boy. I’ll portal you right in here to get him.” With no more than that, Magnus was wiggling his fingers in a sort-of-wave and disappearing back to his couch with all his onlookers.

That left Alec free to finally start the long and laborious process of dragging Eliot out of the club and toward home. “I’m really glad you probably won’t remember this tomorrow,” Alec grumbled at him, keeping his hold on Eliot’s waist as the other stumbled on air and started laughing at himself. Rolling his eyes, Alec tightened his grip. “You’re ridiculous. I took time off work to come and pick you up, I hope you know.”

Eliot’s response to that was in a language that Alec didn’t understand. It did, however, make Eliot laugh again. Then he was twisting himself inward, pressing chest to chest with Alec, and trying to spin them off into a dance that mostly ended with the two of them tripping over their feet.

“By the angel,” Alec groaned out. “All right, that’s enough. I’m sorry about this, El.”

Reaching down into his jacket, Alec grabbed his stele and started activating a few different runes. Once he did he slipped it back into his pocket and then gathered Eliot up in his arms. Amidst a lot of squeals and laughing and swearing, he settled Eliot into his arms and then took off, racing toward home, the two of them blocked from the sight of any mundane they passed.

It got them home quickly. Alec hadn’t realized just how early it still was until he got in and found Isabelle sitting at the kitchen table doing her homework.

She looked up in surprise when he came in. But as soon as she saw who he was carrying, she was hurrying toward them. “What happened? Is he okay?”

“He’s fine,” Alec rushed to reassure her. “He’s just…”

Eliot cut him off by flopping his head sideways and beaming at Isabelle. “Isabelle!” He tried to reach out for her, his hand flopping a bit until she caught it gently between her own. It only made his grin grow. “You know, it’s unfair just how attractive your entire family is. Can’t a one of you have one ugly thing about you?”

There was a smile growing on Isabelle’s face. She clearly realized what was going on.

Rolling his eyes, Alec ignored Eliot’s rambling, or how he turned back to Alec’s chest and started humming. “I’m going to go upstairs and tuck him into bed.” He glanced up at the clock and then furrowed his brow. “What’re you still doing up?”

“Jace and I were studying. We’ve got a huge test in History tomorrow.”

“Where’s Jace?”

She chuckled and gestured toward the stairs. “He went upstairs an hour ago.”

It took a bit of careful moving for Alec to twist himself so that he and Eliot fit through the door without knocking any part of the lanky man he carried. The kitchen staircase was a bit wider than the other and Alec knew he’d have better luck carrying Eliot up this one. “He has the right idea. You know you won’t do any better on your test if you’re exhausted tomorrow. You’ll do better if you’re running off a full night’s sleep.”

“I’ll go to bed, I promise,” Isabelle said. She leaned in to press a kiss against his cheek, and then one against Eliot’s, who hummed happily and snuggled closer to Alec. It made Isabelle’s smile turn fond. “I’ll lock up down here. You get him into bed. I don’t think he’s going to be letting go anytime soon.”

That was probably true. Still, Alec spared one last moment to lean over and press a kiss to his sister’s hair. “Te amo, Izzy-bell.”

“Love you too, hermano.”

Chapter Text

Alec wasn’t the least bit surprised to find that Eliot slept until almost noon the next day. Nor that the man looked miserable when he dragged himself downstairs. He had on a pair of sunglasses that made his hangover clear. Only a few times had Alec seen Eliot or Margo indulge in enough substances to give themselves a hangover that they couldn’t somehow magic away. At the very least, they usually drank a potion to help themselves feel more human.

When Eliot came stumbling down into the kitchen, it was clear he hadn’t taken a potion, and that he was feeling miserable. Alec looked up from the dishes he was washing and grimaced in sympathy. “You look like hell.”

“You’re such a darling,” Eliot said dryly. He groaned as he dropped down at the bar. “Honestly, though, I feel like it.”

Alec grinned at him without shame. He wasn't going to cater to Eliot too much. Not when his misery was his own fault. “Maybe you should've been a little more careful last night.” Still, though he wasn't trying to say that he approved of the choices Eliot had made, it didn't mean he had to punish him, either. Alec reached for the hand towel and dried his hands off enough that he could quickly prep a cup of coffee and pass it over to his friend.

The look Eliot shot him when he did was full of gratitude, even with his sunglasses on. “You're a true angel, Alec.”

“And you're a suck-up,” Alec shot back. He was smiling when he went back to his dishes, though. “You know, I'm honestly surprised you're actually up out of bed. I expected you to stay down for a while longer.”

“My body wasn't quite as willing to let me sleep it all off. I found myself in your bathroom purging every bit of whatever it was I ingested last night. Rather violently, I might add.”

Tilting his head, Alec shot a look toward Eliot that didn't do anything to hide the worry he was feeling. “I've never seen you that out of it before. Especially not when by yourself.”

Eliot shrugged lazily like it was no big deal. “It happens once in a while.”

“It shouldn’t happen when you don't have anyone else there with you to help keep an eye on you.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Alec saw as Eliot straightened up. “Keep an eye on me?” There were layers of offense to those words. With anyone else, it would’ve been a clear warning to back off. But Alec had never been afraid to push, especially when it came to the care of those he loved.

Alec was well used to people who couldn’t seem to take care of themselves, and who fought allowing him to help. He knew better than to just bow down under Eliot's tone. The man could be as offended as he wanted just so long as it meant he took better care of himself next time.

With that in mind, Alec grabbed the hand towel once more and turned himself fully to face his friend. “When I got there last night, you were barely able to stand, let alone make coherent sentences, and you were about to leave the bar with some stranger who had no issue with the fact that you were about to be the most unresponsive partner he'd probably ever had. That's not, it's not safe, El. If you're gonna go out like that and get that high or drunk, you should have someone with you to make sure you make it home okay. Especially with all the trouble we're having around here.”

“I can handle myself!” Eliot said indignantly.

Alec held his hands up in a gesture of peace. “I'm not saying you can't – when you're in a normal frame of mind. But you weren't last night. When you get like that, you should call one of us to come with you, or just come over here.”

The scowl that darkened Eliot’s features made Alec’s stomach twist a little. He hated fighting with those he loved. “I don’t need a babysitter,” Eliot snapped in a voice full of venom.

“That’s not what I said. I’m just saying, you can come stay here if you want when Margo’s out of town. So you don’t have to be alone.”

The scowl Eliot wore only went darker. He clearly wasn’t happy with Alec’s words, no matter how kindly they were meant. “I’ve taken care of myself since before you were born, Espinosa, and I’ll be doing it long after you’re gone!”

“Is that what you call last night?” Even as he said the words, Alec knew they were the wrong thing to say.

Eliot’s lip curled up. Deliberately, he set his mug down on the bar and rose from his stool. “I’m not one of your little charity cases. I don’t need you to come in and take over my life. And before you start casting aspirations at the way I live, perhaps you should take a look at yourself first.” With those last, clipped words, he spun and marched straight out the back door, the sound of it shutting just as sharp as his words, leaving Alec staring after him with a lost look on his face.

How the hell had that gone so wrong? Alec closed his eyes and took a deep breath. All he wanted was to take care of the people he cared about. Why did it always have to be so hard? Why did he always have to say the wrong thing?

Another deep breath and Alec squared his shoulder, turning his focus back to the dishes. While he might not have handled that the best, he did know Eliot, and he knew that going after him right now would do nothing but cause more trouble. He’d rarely ever seen Eliot angry or upset like that. Never at him. But he knew his friend had a hard time with these bigger emotions.

The best thing to do right now was to let Eliot have his space. If it were Alec, that was what he would want.

He could grant him that for now. Later, he’d talk to him again and hope that maybe this time he could find the right words to make Eliot understand that he just wanted him safe.

For the rest of the day, Alec tried his best to avoid thinking about their argument. He waffled back and forth between berating himself for being so pushy, especially when Eliot was clearly still barely awake, and worrying about whether the man had made it home or somewhere else safe after he’d stormed out. It didn’t leave Alec in the best of moods.

He was on his way to work that night when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out quickly, hoping that it might be Eliot, only to actually stop on the sidewalk in surprise as he saw the name on the screen.

Magnus the Magnificent.

“What the hell?” Since when did Alec have Magnus’ phone number? Not that Alec would’ve saved it under a name like that. He thumbed open the message, not quite sure what to make of it as he saw the words How’s El feeling today? printed on the screen.

After only a brief hesitation, Alec typed a reply. Fine. How did you get my number?

Magnus’ response was multiple sparkle emojis that Alec supposed were meant to convey magic.

Someone bumping into him reminded Alec that he was out on a crowded street right now. Glamoured. He really needed to get moving again before someone else bumped into him even harder and then got confused when they saw nothing there to cause it.

By the time he got to work, he had three more messages from Magnus.

Magnus the Magnificent: I’m glad you were there to get him

Magnus the Magnificent: At least I know who to call next time

Magnus the Magnificent: Do you go around rescuing all warlocks, or is it just the lucky ones?

This time Alec didn’t even think about it before he typed a response. I’ve rarely met a warlock in need of rescue.

Magnus’ reply came in within just seconds. As if he’d been holding his phone waiting for Alec to say something. The thought sent a small thrill through Alec that he tried very hard not to think about. Especially considering how hard he’d been panicking at having Magnus in his house recently. He shouldn’t be getting so excited over the idea that Magnus was texting him.

Everyone needs rescuing sometimes. Even warlocks, Magnus sent. Just seconds after that came in another message. I’d never turn down a good rescue. That was followed up by a winking emoji that had Alec shaking his head.

Something tells me you’re the last person to need rescuing, Alec text back. Then he pocketed his phone and made his way into the bar.

The Hunter’s Moon wasn’t that packed yet, it was still early enough in the evening to be more of a dinner crowd. Alec was thankful that they didn’t serve anything too serious in the food department. The kitchen itself was only open until eight when their cook went home. After that, it was simple bar snacks like pretzels and such, and plenty of drinks.

Sorcha was working the bar when Alec came in. She grinned at him as he got close. “Bout time you got here. I’m more than ready to get off my feet.”

“It doesn’t look too bad in here.” Lifting the partition, Alec slid behind the bar and then shut it behind him before grabbing his apron off the hook. He tied it around his waist, taking a moment to stick the notepad and pen down in the front pocket.

Snorting, Sorcha finished pouring a beer and passed it to the wolf in front of her. That cleared out the last of the patrons waiting for a drink, which meant she was free to turn her attention fully to Alec. “Don’t let the crowd fool you. We just finished off the dinner rush, so they’re mostly quiet. Though I’d keep an eye on the pool tables. If those two groups don’t start a fight by the end of the night, I’d be fucking surprised.” She cast a glare over at the pool tables where two different groups were playing. Judging by the way they were glaring at one another now and again, it wasn’t hard to see what she meant. The one group weren’t bothering to hide their fangs, marking them as vampires, which made it likely that the other group was wolves. Those two were always fighting.

After a few minutes more to allow Alec to get his apron on and get into the swing of things, Sorcha finally took her own apron off, pocketing her tips as she did. She gave Alec’s arm a quick squeeze, beaming one last bright smile at him. “Call me if you need me – but please, try not to need me. I’ve got a date with an absolutely sinful bottle of bubble bath tonight.”

“Far be it from me to interrupt a good time,” Alec said, smiling.

She blew him a kiss and laughed as she left.

With Sorcha gone, the night settled into an easy routine. Alec served drinks, occasionally listened to some stories, and kept a careful eye on the vampires and wolves back by the pool tables. The crowd was thin enough to keep from there being too much trouble, though there were just enough people that Alec was able to keep from getting too bored. He also had the occasional freedom to go out and wipe down the tables or booths after people left.

He’d been there for almost an hour when the door opened again, and the last guest he’d expected came walking in.


He made his way easily through the crowd. Those who didn’t part for him, he just stepped smoothly around, making himself a path straight to the bar.

Alec noticed him right away. In preparation, he grabbed a glass and began to mix one of the cocktails he knew he could make right, and that he knew Eliot enjoyed. It was mostly done by the time his friend finally reached him. When Eliot sat down, Alec added the last few ingredients and then set the glass in front of him. “Here, you look like you need this.”

“Thank you.” There was a carefully crafted mask over Eliot’s features. Only the slight tightness to his smile gave away that he wasn’t as calm as he was trying to project. Seeing it took some of Alec’s anger away. He didn’t like fighting with those he cared about. He’d been a bit angry about it, but mostly he’d been worried, and he knew it showed on his face. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem to irritate Eliot. Instead, it had him squaring his shoulders and drawing in a deep breath. Then he surprised Alec completely by saying: “So, I don’t do apologies well.”

“No one’s asking you for one,” Alec pointed out.

Inexplicably, that seemed to ease some of the tension from Eliot’s body. Even his expression softened, as did his voice. “No, you’re not, are you? Which is all the more reason to give you one. You accept mistreatment far too well, and I promised myself I’d never take advantage of that the way your siblings do.” He didn’t give Alec a chance to voice any protests at that. With the air of someone trying to get the whole situation over with, Eliot hurried through his next words, making them a bit more clipped than they usually would’ve been. “I was entirely out of line this morning. I’m not used to people as open and caring as you, and I lashed out. For that, you have my apologies.”

There was no way that Alec couldn’t soften a little at that. “Eliot, it’s okay.”

“No, it’s not, though it’s kind of you to say so,” Eliot said, giving him a crooked smile. “My only excuse was that I was hungover, and I’m never at my best then. What you offered was… kind.”

“The offer still stands.” Alec caught sight of Eliot’s surprise, and he smiled. Someone down at the end of the bar signaled to Alec, so he took one quick second to lay his hand on Eliot’s arm and catch his gaze one last time. “You’ve become one of my best friends, and as much a part of the family as any other member. You’re not a charity case. None of you are. What you are is family, and family takes care of one another. That means our door is always open, no matter what. Even if you’ve been an ass. It also means we’ll come to clubs and scoop you up when you’re too out of your mind to function or offer you a bed so you don’t have to sleep alone.” With a last smile, he patted Eliot’s wrist and moved away to take more orders, leaving a stunned yet smiling Eliot behind.

It only took a few minutes to get drinks handed out and free up his hands once more. Alec fully intended on going back down by Eliot and talk a little more, make sure they really were okay with one another, only to get stopped by furious swearing from the back of the bar. Even as Alec turned, he knew what he’d find.

One of the wolves was glaring over at the vampires, practically vibrating with the need to shift. It was Tydus, surprisingly. He wasn’t typically a hothead. “You son of a bitch!”

Ulric, however, was a hot head. The vampire smirked, fangs showing clearly, and his look was openly patronizing. “Down, boy. Good doggie.”

Alec was already moving as Tydus leapt.

Only a few blows were exchanged by the time Alec reached them. He shoved himself past the crowd, grabbing hold of Tydus by his arm and yanking him back, away from the vampire. In response, a pool cue was swung at Alec’s head, and he had to duck quickly to avoid getting hit.

The old, familiar fear was in Alec’s gut, but he pushed it down as best as he could, choosing instead to grip to the confidence that his friends had helped to give him. Holding on to that gave Alec the strength to duck away from the pool cue again, this time catching hold of it with his hand and moving quickly to disarm Tydus in a move that clearly left the wolf stunned. As soon as Alec had the pool cue, he spun, smacking Tydus alongside the head with one end, and then using the momentum to spin it and jab the other end directly into Ulric’s throat. It wasn’t enough to really hurt him, they both knew, but it was a clear threat from a Shadowhunter. One that they were smart enough to recognize.

“That’s enough!” Alec snapped, his body braced. Most of the bar had gone quiet around them. There was only the soft sound of the TV playing in the background. Alec cast a glare over at Tydus and the wolves that were helping him up and then turned back to glare at Ulric. “You guys have been spoiling for a fight all night long, and I’m done with it. You’re out of here, the both of you.” He saw Ulric starting to protest, heard a growl from the wolves, and Alec glared harder while pressing the pool cue in closer. “I’m not arguing it. Now, you two can either leave here peacefully, and come back when you’ve remembered the rules here, or I can call up Jeb and let him kick you and your friends out of here. If you’re lucky, he might not ban you.”

That was enough to silence them. Everyone knew that Jeb understood the occasional fight, but he didn’t tolerate the petty stuff, and he definitely didn’t tolerate any kind of prejudice. He’d made that clear after all the harassment Alec had received. The Hunter’s Moon had started to become more than just a werewolf bar. It was quickly becoming a Downworlder bar. One that was safe for all types of Downworlders.

When Alec pulled back, neither group stuck around. He’d barely stepped away before they were gathering themselves up and making their way towards the doors, their friends moving with them. Alec wasn’t sure about what might happen once they were all outside, but he couldn’t control that. All he could control was the here and now.

He turned tossed the pool cue to a nearby Slaugh, who winked at him with three of their six eyes and then turned around to head back to the bar.

Halfway there, Alec caught sight of someone sitting next to Eliot, and he almost stumbled.

Magnus was sitting casually at Eliot’s side, the two of them talking lightly and smiling together, and sweet Raziel, how on earth was it that either of these men gave Alec the time of day? Between Eliot’s perfectly tailored slacks, shirt, and vest combo, and Magnus’ skintight leather pants, the sheer shirt, and the well-tailored vintage jacket, they were a gorgeous pair. Far, far out of Alec’s league.

Yet they both looked up and smiled at him when he was finally back behind the bar and free to make his way to them.

“Alec!” Eliot beamed brightly up at Alec in a way that made the young Shadowhunter immediately suspicious. “Look who decided to join us tonight!”

The full force of those gorgeous eyes turned Alec’s way, and he had to fight not to blush. It must not have worked too well because Magnus’ lips were curving up, making him look far too pleased with himself. “Good evening, Alexander.”

“Magnus – hi. I, ah, I didn’t see you come in.” Mentally, Alec cursed himself for sounding like such an idiot, especially with Eliot there watching him. He was never going to hear the end of this at home!

Magnus didn’t seem to mind, at least. His smile didn’t even falter, though it did grow a little. “I can imagine. You were a tad bit busy. Not to worry, though, I had Eliot to keep me company while we watched the show.” A twinkle of humor and something else was in Magnus’ eyes. “That was quite impressive, the way you handled them.”

As Alec blushed, a bit too flustered to come up with a response right away, Eliot stepped in easily. “He’s got quite the reputation. This place has become a sort of sanctuary for anyone looking to have a drink and a good time without getting harassed. Between Alec, Sorcha, and Jeb, they’ve all made it pretty clear everyone’s welcome here. No matter who you are.”

“That’s the way it should be,” Alec said firmly.

“In an ideal world, yes. But far too few agree with that kind of mindset,” Magnus said.

Though it wasn’t said, the flick of Magnus’ eyes down to the rune on Alec’s neck made clear enough just who he was thinking of when he said that. It wasn’t even something Alec could deny. He knew how Shadowhunters behaved. Once, he’d been the same way too. Living in the Downworld had helped him see their actions in a different light. Hearing the stories in here about some who came across Shadowhunters on patrol, about the prejudice that still happened, only served to make Alec’s heart ache.

The somber mood those words had brought was broken when Eliot cleared his throat. “Well, as charming as this has been, I’m more than ready to call it a night. I hear soft sheets calling my name.”

That was probably a good idea. Despite how much better Eliot looked, there was still a hint of exhaustion to his face that Alec didn’t like to see. However, thinking about him going home alone only brought back some of Alec’s earlier worry. “Eliot,” Alec began, only to cut himself off. Just because Eliot wasn’t annoyed with him anymore for the way he’d acted this morning didn’t mean that the warlock was going to take it well if Alec tried to look out for him again. Especially in front of someone else. Someone that he was friends with.

Only, Eliot seemed to understand, and his whole expression softened. “Don’t worry, I’ll go in the back room and make a portal straight home.” With both hands, he reached out and caught hold of Alec’s face. Then, in full view of everyone in the bar, he dragged Alec in and gave him a quick, loud kiss that had Alec blushing and quite a few of the bar patrons hooting at them. “Let me know if you need a portal home, kitten.”

With a grin and a wink, Eliot turned to make his way toward the back room. He grinned and waved at a few people, happily taking in the teasing and catcalls that were sent his way.

For his part, Alec ducked his head and tried to hide his blush under the pretense of wiping down the bar.

It didn’t seem to work that well. When he snuck a look up, Magnus was leaning forward on his arms, chuckling at him. He caught Alec’s eye and grinned. “Eliot always has known how to make an exit.”

“I think he’s physically incapable of not making a scene,” Alec said dryly.

Magnus laughed, low and warm, and his eyes were sparkling with amusement once more. It was a good look on him. “That he is. He’s always loved the attention.”

“It amuses him to feed the rumors, too.”

“Ah, yes. Your rather torrid love affair with one of the Downworld’s most notorious party boys.” A wide grin lit up Magnus’ face. It made him look warmer and so much more approachable. “There are so many rumors about the two of you, and no one quite seems to know what’s the truth. Some seem to view you two as a modern day Romeo and Juliet, while others express surprise at a Shadowhunter being willing to be part of a polyamorous open relationship.” The amusement in his eyes deepened a little, his smile bringing little crinkles to the corners of his eyes. “I’ve even heard a few who feel you could do better than such an unfaithful partner.”

The blush that hit Alec’s cheeks was dark and deep. He was absurdly grateful to be saved from Magnus’ stare by Gretel coming up to the bar. “Al! Can I get a beer and an Aviation?” she called over to him. The drink order was rather telling, as was her look when Alec turned toward her. She had her white hair pulled up into an intricate twist, and her clothes looked a little fancier than normal.

His own embarrassment was forgotten under a wince. “That bad?”

Though Gretel liked to come in here for fun, she often came in here with her dates. The sharp-tongued werewolf didn’t trust many people; her pack, mostly. But his relationship with Maia seemed to have gained him a small in with her, at least enough for her to talk to him and not look down on him when she first ran into him. Now she was more than willing to chat with him at the bar, sometimes get his opinion on her dates, and she’d even come by the house a time or two to stay with Maia for the night.

Alec had learned how to gauge how her dates went by the type of drink she ordered. The fact that she was the one up here ordering, not her date, and that she was ordering an Aviation – it wasn’t a good sign.

Nor was the scowl that twisted Gretel’s lips. “Why do I keep doing this to myself? Why do I let people set me up on blind dates? He’s complained about everything so far. The movie, where we ate, this bar.”

“Need any help?” Alec asked. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d helped chase someone out of the bar.

Gretel’s scowl lessened, though it still wasn’t what most would call a smile. “Nah. Looks like you’ve got your own company to keep.” She cast a quick look toward Magus, who was still sitting there, patiently waiting for Alec’s return.

Magnus caught her look and smiled easily at her. He didn’t even bother pretending that he hadn’t heard them. “Nonsense. I’m more than willing to spare my companion for a few moments for something like this. Though I wouldn’t say no to being bribed with one of those cocktails you’re making, Alexander. It looks delicious.”

“Al makes some of the best cocktails,” Gretel said. She shot a smirk Alec’s wait. “He’s come a long way from the ones he made when he first started.”

Alec glared at her as he set her drinks down in front of her. “I was still new – cut me some slack. I’ve gotten better. Between Jeb, Sorcha, and Eliot, I’ve had good teachers.”

“Yeah, well, you stay here and show off your cocktail making skills while I go back to the date from hell and see how quickly I can get him to leave.”

“Call me if you need help,” Alec said seriously, all signs of joking gone.

The smile Gretel shot his way let him know his words were heard and appreciated.

When Alec turned back to the bar, he found Magnus watching him in a soft yet curious way. His smile had gentled a little. Whatever it was he was thinking, he didn’t say it. Instead, he leaned forward a little and folded his arms down onto the bar. “So – what’s this I’m hearing about cocktail skills?”

Three hours later, Alec was feeling much more relaxed with the man across the bar from him. Magnus had surprisingly stayed through the night, talking with Alec every chance he got. Even when the bar would get busy, he didn’t leave his seat, just waited patiently for Alec to come back to him. They talked about… well, about everything. Alec was surprised to find how easy it was to lose himself in conversation. They talked about books, movies – which had Magnus insisting that Eliot and Margo weren’t treating him right by not making sure his movie education was complete – and just about anything else that came to mind.

At one point, they talked about the recent disappearances. Or, more accurately, the current lack thereof. “It’s like they’ve just… vanished,” Alec said, passing off a round of beers to a waiting customer. He turned back to grab a few bottles and start mixing the next drink, his movements much more confident than they’d once been. “I don’t know. Maybe they found out that we all know, or they saw our security measures, and they’ve backed off.”

“That might be the best we can hope for,” Magnus said.

He didn’t look happy about it, and honestly, neither was Alec. He scowled down at the batch of margaritas he was making for a nearby table. “It doesn’t seem like enough.”

“No, it doesn’t. But so long as people our people are safe, that’s all that matters.”

One word in that stuck out more than the others. “Our?” Alec repeated before he could stop himself. He snuck a look up at Magnus, only to find that the warlock was chuckling at him again. Flushing, Alec poured the margarita mixture into the pitcher and handed it off to the customer, taking the money in exchange. He only absently heard the call for another drink order.

Magnus seemed amused by his embarrassment. “You’ve built yourself quite the following around here, Alexander. I’ve been threatened more than a few times on your behalf.”

The idea of that stunned Alec. He froze midway through his new drink, a cosmopolitan for the Seelie at the end, and just stared at Magnus. “What?” He had to have heard that wrong. He had to have. Who on earth out there would threaten Magnus over him?

Almost as soon as Alec asked himself that, he knew his answer. Of course. Alec went back to mixing the drink while he narrowed his eyes on Magnus a little. “It was Eliot, wasn’t it? Or Margo.” Those two were the most likely culprits. The next best bet would be Jace, but there was no reason for Magnus to have come in contact with Jace at all.

Magnus’ smile grew, and Raziel, it was a good thing Alec could duck down to give Nyva her drink so that he could hide just how flustered he got from a simple smile. Though Nyva’s grin as she caught sight of it wasn’t exactly helping.

“Of course they threatened me,” Magnus said easily as Alec came back to him. “As did both Sorcha and Jeb. I was also threatened by quite a few of the wolves that frequent here, three different Seelies, and a handful of Unseelie, which is quite impressive. There aren’t many that they allow themselves to get close to or to trust. The Drow, in particular, seem quite fond of you, not to mention the Slaugh, which, again, is an impressive feat, my dear.” Picking up his drink, Magnus smirked over the top of it, clearly enjoying seeing Alec’s embarrassment. “Even Raphael warned me to be careful with you, and I’ll have you know that that’s quite a big deal. I practically raised that boy. Yet he warned me not to cause trouble for you or your siblings. So yes – our people, our city, darling.” He paused and winked at Alec. “I like the sound of that, personally.”

Hearing the number of people that had felt the need to threaten Magnus on his behalf had Alec going still and staring at him in shock. That many people had threatened Magnus? For Alec? It didn’t make sense! He wasn’t… he wasn’t anything special. Hell, there were plenty of people in the bar right at that moment that Alec was sure would happily see him sent back to the Institute, or anywhere far away from here.

The teasing in Magnus’ eyes softened into a look that Alec wasn’t sure how to describe other than fond. “You truly don’t realize just how much of an impact you’ve had on those around here, do you?”

“I’m not—I don’t, I mean I’m just…”

Alec cut off in surprise when Magnus leaned over the bar enough to hold a finger over his lips, just shy of touching them. When Alec went silent, Magnus drew his hand back, and he smiled. “There’s no point in arguing, my dear. Just accept that people think better of you than you realized. Not that I can blame them. The fact that you’re talking to me now despite our rather… rocky start… is a testament to the type of person that you are.”

A day ago, Alec would’ve taken those words and maybe ignored them, or pointed out what he considered very valid reasons as to why he’d felt that way. Now? Now, he found himself flushing just a little. “I… might have overreacted.”

There was a softness on Magnus’ face. One that only made Alec want to duck his head down and hide. He resisted the urge just to be able to watch the way that Magnus was smiling at him. “You were looking out for your family.”

“I was rude.” It was so hard to think of the reasons he’d been afraid. Especially now that he’d talked with Magnus for an entire night. The person he’d started to get to know here was nothing like what he’d expected. None of Magnus was anything like Alec had expected. He held on to that knowledge and straightened himself up, shoulders going back in that same pose he always took when he was preparing to face something head-on. Magnus deserved that respect after the way Alec had treated him. He looked right at the other man as he told him: “I’m sorry. I was… I was scared, and I let myself treat you poorly because of it. You didn’t do anything to deserve it, Magnus. It’s just, I mean I…”

“You know my connections, and you know that if there were any warlock in the city who could put you and your family at risk, it’d be me,” Magnus filled in for him, not even flinching at his own words. “On top of that, Catarina sort of sprung me on you when you were at your home and off guard. I understand. Thank you for apologizing, though.”

Some place in Alec felt like it unclenched at the benediction in those words. He found himself smiling and getting a smile in return.

Maybe they hadn’t started off on the best foot with one another. But despite what Magnus called their ‘rocky start’ there was something about this man across from Alec that made him think that maybe, just maybe, there was a potential for something a whole lot better than Alec had been expecting.

Chapter Text

Breakfast the next morning was a livelier affair than Alec had been expecting. His siblings were digging into the waffles that Alec was making, and Eliot was curled up in his customary corner by the window chain-smoking and drinking coffee, watching as the trio talked animatedly about school. Or, more accurately, as they teased Jace about a girl at school.

Alec hadn’t been paying too much attention to things until he heard the word date. That was enough to have him looking up at his brother. “You have a date?”

There was a faint hint of a blush to Jace’s cheeks, though he was grinning at the same time. Their bond felt warmer than normal; a reflection of what Jace was feeling. “Yeah. I asked Clary out, and she said yes. We’re gonna get some coffee after school today.”

“You’re gonna take her for coffee?” Maia drawled out, raising an eyebrow and smirking at him. “How do you plan on affording that, Romeo?”

Alec spoke up before anyone else could. “I’ve got some extra money if you need, Jace. Tips were really good last night.” That was mostly true. He’d gotten a few good tips. Not much, really, and he’d already had a few plans for them. But seeing the way Jace lit up at his offer made it worth it. He knew how much Jace already liked this girl. More than just the friendship they’d built so far. He really, really liked her, judging by the way their bond lit up any time they talked about her.

“You know,” Eliot said suddenly, bringing the attention over to him. He flicked some of his ash into the ashtray on the windowsill while he gave the younger teenagers an arch look. “Summer’s coming up here in a couple months. It might be a good idea to start looking into summer jobs.” He raised one eyebrow and turned his gaze clearly to Jace. “Then you won’t have to ask big brother for money to take your girl on a date.”

Jace made a point of drawing up his wrist and looking down at it. It would’ve been more effective if he was actually wearing a watch. “Oh, would you look at the time? We should run if we wanna make the bus.”

Five minutes later, after a mad scramble of backpacks, money exchanging hands, and reminders about the evening, the house was empty except for Alec and Eliot. Alec took a look at the mess on the table, and then down to his own plate of waffles that he hadn’t touched yet. Much as he wanted to sit down and start eating if he left the plates as they were, the syrup would harden on there and it’d take him forever to get them clean.

He’d forgotten about his companion, though. Or, his companion’s skills.

A wave of the hand and a sparkle of magic sent all the dishes, clean, into a stack on the counter. The only thing left on the now clean table aside from Alec’s plate was a jar of jam and the plate of butter. When Alec looked over at Eliot to chide him, he found his friend smiling at him, warm and easy. It made it hard to do anything but smile back at him.

After the chaos of moments before, the next little bit was quiet. For as much of a partier as Eliot was, and a chatterbox in the right circumstances, they often had moments of quiet like this. They didn’t have to speak to be happy in one another’s presence. Finding that this hadn’t changed, even after their fight, eased some of the remaining tension inside of Alec.

By silent agreement, they went out to the living room when breakfast was done. Alec didn’t have any work until the evening, and Eliot seemed content to spend his time with Alec. Almost as if he were making up for not taking him up on his offer of company before.

Alec laughed when Eliot nudged him down onto the couch, pushing him to lay down, and then stretched out on top of him like a cat. His whole body arched and stretched before settling easily down on top of him. Their long legs tangled together – and was it Alec’s imagination, or was the couch longer? – and his head came to rest in the curve of Alec’s neck. It was a far cry from the first time they’d laid here together. Alec didn’t feel any of the tension he’d felt back then. He felt nothing but warm and content as he wrapped one arm around Eliot to keep him in place, his other arm going behind his head to act as a pillow. It also allowed him to toy idly with Eliot’s hair, something which had the older man practically purring.

They didn’t turn the TV on. The two just lay there, relaxing with one another in a way that had become a quiet comfort for both of them. Something that they’d both begun to count on having one another around for. After fighting with one another yesterday, they needed a moment like this to just relax together again.

Eliot was the one to finally break the silence. He didn’t move to do it. Just stayed where he was, his voice was a low murmur pressed against Alec’s shirt. “How’d things go with Magnus last night?”

Something about the little bubble of peace they’d made around themselves made it easier for Alec to answer. “Fine. He’s not… quite what I was expecting.”

“He’s nice. And hot. And really fucking good in bed.” Alec felt Eliot’s lips curve up into what he knew was a smirk. “That’s saying something, too, coming from me.”

A light blush heated Alec’s cheeks. Whether it was from the topic itself, or the idea of Eliot and Magnus in bed together…

Eliot chuckled, nuzzling in a little closer. “You should ask him out.”

Just the idea of Alec actually asking someone out, let alone someone like Magnus, was enough to have him snorting. “Yeah, right,” Alec blurted out before he could stop himself.

He was surprised when Eliot moved. He didn’t go far, though, just shifted until he could fold his arms on Alec’s chest and rest his chin there, allowing him to look up at Alec’s face. His expression was surprisingly serious. “Why not? You’re clearly attracted to him, and trust me, he was making his own attraction just as clear.”

Thinking about that was enough to have Alec blushing. He wasn’t blind; he’d noticed Magnus flirting. After spending so long hanging out with Eliot, it wasn’t hard to recognize flirting anymore. Even if Alec still had a hard time believing that it was ever being directed at him. But noticing it and talking about it – or worse, acting on it, or even believing it was honest – was more than Alec knew how to handle. “That’s not… I mean, I uh, I’m not…” Flustered, Alec huffed out a breath, looking up toward the ceiling to avoid Eliot’s knowing eyes. “I don’t know if I’m ready for that.”

He felt more than heard Eliot hum lowly. For a moment, quiet wrapped back around them, but Alec wasn’t dumb enough to think Eliot was going to let the subject drop. He was just taking his time to choose his words. Eventually, he seemed to find them. “You’re never going to be ready if you don’t push yourself to try. You… have this tendency to get caught up in your head, kitten. To overthink things.”

“It’s not… just that,” Alec said slowly. He knew he could overthink. It was a trait his siblings weren’t shy about pointing out to him. “My life is just, it’s busy right now, El. I’ve got a lot going on. There’s no time for dating.”

Eliot smiled at him; that soft one that only came out in private. “That sounds like an excuse to me.” Then he leaned up, pressing a quick kiss to Alec’s nose before ducking back down to his original position, face against Alec’s neck. He nuzzled in and gave Alec’s body a squeeze. “You can’t spend your whole life taking care of everyone else. You’ve gotta take care of you too, Xander. You need more in your life than just taking care of your siblings.”

While logically, Alec knew that Eliot was right, he’d long since resigned himself to not getting things for himself. Long before they’d ever left the Institute. Moving out like this had only cemented that. Alec’s life wasn’t about just him. It was about him and his siblings. They’d left their home because of him. What kind of brother would he be if he gave up on taking care of them to selfishly go after something that probably wouldn’t even work out in the end?

Besides, it wasn’t like Alec’s life was all that bad. He smiled a little as he turned his face inward and pressed his face against Eliot’s curls. “I’ve got you and Margo. What more could I need?”

“Dick. Lots and lots of dick.”

The bluntness of Eliot’s words startled a laugh out of Alec. He shook his head and just tugged Eliot in closer. He didn’t say anything else, and neither did Eliot, content just to let the conversation rest. At least for now. Alec knew it would come back up later. But for the moment, he was more than happy to lay here with the person who’d become one of his closest friends and just… relax.

That morning of rest was exactly what Alec needed. It was also his last moment of peace for the rest of the week.

With as busy as he was, the days of the week sort of started to blend together. The only shining lights were breakfasts with his family, and the random visits from Magnus at work each night. The man kept poking his head in, even for just “a quick drink” and they’d talk the entire time he was there. Alec got the chance to realize that he really had been wrong in his first assessment of Magnus. The man was easy to talk to, and he was funny, and Alec didn’t care what Eliot was saying, he wasn’t flirting seriously. The man talked to everyone like that.

By the time he reached the end of the week, Alec was more than ready for the weekend. Margo was back, which meant that Eliot had gone back home, something that Alec was trying not to pout over. He’d slept great with someone he trusted in bed with him, and it was strange to go back to being alone in his bed again. Or on the couch. Though, honestly, he hadn’t meant to fall asleep on the couch. He’d just been really tired when he’d sat down to look through the mail that night, and their couch was really comfortable, and the next thing he knew his cell phone alarm was going off for him to get up and make breakfast.

At least Alec managed to get up before anyone found him there. They would’ve teased him like crazy for falling asleep on the couch like that.

Sleeping habits aside, the weekend was Alec’s time to catch up a bit on some sleep, take care of things around the house, and reconnect a little with his siblings.  Or, it would’ve been if they all didn’t have plans of their own. Jace was going out with Clary again while Isabelle and Maia had plans to go over to Gretel’s and spend the day ‘watching movies and vegging.’

It meant that Alec didn’t really see either one of them until they went out on patrol that night. For the first time in a while, all three of them were going out at the same time, and Alec was stupidly thrilled with it.

Patrols in their section of town – clearly Downworlder territory – had slowly tapered off lately. It made Alec feel sick to realize that Shadowhunters were avoiding patrolling in Downworlder-heavy areas. In response, they’d upped their own patrols to try and make sure the area was as safe as possible. If the Institute wasn’t going to protect Downworlders, then the Espinosa family would.

At the same time, they were out to not only take a look around for demons but to see if they spotted anything else suspicious. The recent string of attacks still hadn’t started back up again, something which Alec was grateful for, yet suspicious of. It felt… wrong. But nothing more happened on patrol than a few demons that they were able to take down without too much trouble and no need for healing beyond an iratze.

Alec was pumped by the time they wrapped up and went home. They were all pretty wired, which resulted in them grabbing drinks and settling down on the back porch to let Jace indulge in a cigarette.

They took a bottle of wine from Eliot’s little bar and brought it out with them. Alec ended up on the top step, Isabelle curled under his arm with her back to his side, legs stretched out sideways, while Jace laid precariously on the railing like it was some sort of slanted bed. He had his feet crossed at the ankle and a cigarette dangling from his lips.

“Is it just me, or is it weird that there haven’t been any new disappearances?” Isabelle asked, sipping off of her wine as she slumped further back against Alec. He had to tuck her hair down, pinning it a bit with his arm to keep it from blowing up in his face. She ignored the familiar gesture and just took another drink. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled no one else has gone missing. But, why did it all just stop?”

Jace laid his head back against the wood and blew a stream of smoke up towards the stars. “Probably heard we were after ‘em and went running.”

The cocky words got twin snorts from Isabelle and Alec. Jace wasn’t bothered by it; he just tipped his head toward them and grinned.

Rolling his eyes, Alec shifted himself to rest a bit more comfortably against the rail at his side. He tipped his head to better be able to look over at his parabatai. “I doubt the Espinosa name struck fear into their hearts,” he said dryly, getting a snicker from Isabelle. Then Alec continued on in a more serious voice. “I don’t think you’re that far off, though. Magnus and I have talked about it a few times. It’s likely whoever this was worked well before because no one noticed them. Now that we’re all aware and taking precautions, they’ve likely moved on.”

The Downworld was taking precautions, too. Nightly check-ins were still a thing for the wolves, Alec knew. Magnus said that warlocks were a bit less tightly knit than that. They were a more nomadic bunch, so there was an every-other-day check-in with the High Warlock

Isabelle turned her head just enough to flash Alec a mischievous look. “Oh, Magnus and you talked about it, hm?”

“You guys been talking, have you?” Jace chimed in. He had on a shit-eating-grin just as bit as Isabelle’s, the little brat.

There was a tiny part of Alec that still wanted to jump a little at someone even hinting about anything between him and another boy. It was a feeling Alec had grown used to; one he wasn’t quite sure would go away all that easily. Yet, he was pleased to find that it was easy to smother down. Easy to ignore. Here, with his siblings, Alec might’ve felt a twinge of unease, but more than anything else he felt love and comfort. Peace. He didn’t have to hide this part of himself away. Not anymore.

Instead, he was free to stay relaxed and to roll his eyes at both of them. Lifting his glass, Alec took a sip of his wine to wash away the last of his nerves. Then he let his tone go as dry as he could make it. “He’s been stopping by the bar at night to check in with the rest of us. Most of the different groups have been using the bar as a sort of central meeting point because of this.”

“I’m sure he’s there just to talk about work,” Jace said, wiggling his eyebrows, making Isabelle laugh.

“Quit projecting your love life on me. I’m not the one sitting around the house mooning over someone.”

That was all it took to neatly switch the topic over to Clary. Thankfully, it was pretty easy to get Jace to talk about her, which saved Alec from having to listen to an interrogation about Magnus and his visits. He already got enough of that from Eliot and Margo.

Still, he was kind of surprised when Jace flushed a little, deliberately looking back up at the sky. The next drag of his cigarette was a clear attempt at trying to be casual. One that he failed miserably at. “You know, I was thinking… we’ve been on a few dates now, and Clary, she keeps talking about how she’s never met you. Just Isabelle and Maia.” Jace paused, drawing in another drag and blowing it back out. He continued to look upward. Alec might’ve believed the act if he couldn’t feel the tension in their bond.

“So you… what? Want me to come with you on your next date?” That sounded awkward as hell. Not just playing third-wheel, but the whole act of going out to some mundane place, playing mundane for a little while… But if it was what Jace wanted, well, Alec had done worse for his brother. He could put up with a night out.

Only, Jace was shaking his head, and that tension in their bond grew a little more. “I was thinking more like… maybe she could come here? For dinner?”

That was – okay, that was nothing at all like what Alec had been expecting. His knee-jerk reaction was a vehement NO. Just barely did he hold it back.

Isabelle jerked out of Alec’s hold as she shot up, her whole body almost vibrating with clear excitement. “Oh, that would be amazing! We could invite her and Simon and make a whole big family meal out of it! I bet we could get Margo to help us set things up, and Eliot might make that punch he made last week!”

Though it wasn’t for the first time, hearing Isabelle’s excited words had Alec reeling a little with the realization of just how much the meaning of the word family had changed for all of them. Not just him. To all three of them. Family didn’t mean just Alec, Jace, and Isabelle anymore. It meant so much more. It meant Maia, and Eliot, and Margo. No family dinner could happen without them. The idea didn’t even occur to any of them, as Isabelle showed by including them in her plans. Despite the situation, that was, well, it was a good feeling.

However, thinking of them all having dinner together, and throwing two mundanes into the mix, had Alec wincing.

His reaction wasn’t missed. Jace had sat up as well, looking just as excited as Isabelle, though a few nerves still showed through around the edges. It didn’t dim his smile, though. “It’ll be fine,” he reassured Alec, reading him just as well as he always had. “We can behave for that long.”

Alec felt his eyebrows climbing up to his hairline. “Are you sure about that?”

“It’ll be fine,” Jace insisted, waving a hand through the air. Then he looked at Alec, and a bit of that hard exterior cracked, showing some of the softer boy inside. The one that had started to come out a little more lately. Alec wasn’t sure if it was due to their time away from the Institute, or maybe from Clary. He had a feeling it was the latter, and that alone was enough to make Alec determined to like her. “I ah, I really want her to meet you.”

And just like that, Alec knew he was screwed. How the hell was he supposed to say no to that? Sighing heavily, he slumped against the railing once more, taking a heavy drink from his wine glass as he did.

His siblings knew him well enough to recognize Alec giving in. In a flash, they were talking quickly and animatedly, the two of them planning out what they might eat and what they could do to the downstairs to make it look nice. Alec just sat there sipping away at his wine and wondering what the hell he was getting himself into.

The small, soft smile he wore as he watched them didn’t vanish for the rest of the night.

Considering how eager Jace and Isabelle both were, Alec should’ve known they wouldn’t waste time. The next morning the two were bouncing around after breakfast, hurrying to try and get ready for the movie they were going to go see – the two of them, and Simon and Clary. Maia wasn’t going. She was still mostly asleep in her room, choosing to relax and sleep in on the last day of the weekend.

Alec rolled his eyes at the way Jace and Isabelle were racing around. It was like they’d never gone out before. Or they hadn’t had all morning to get themselves ready. He could’ve teased them about it. Or tried to get them to calm down. Instead, he continued to drink his coffee at the kitchen table while he sorted through a stack of bills, ignoring them as best he could.

For the most part, he managed it. At least right up until it was time for them to go. Isabelle darted over to press a kiss against Alec’s hair, giving him a quick “I love you, hermano. We’ll be back!” before she was racing away, Jace on her heels.

Alec looked up as the two hurried away. “Be safe!”

Boring!” Isabelle shouted back to him, making Alec grin and shake his head.

There was the sound of doors opening, and Isabelle’s heels clicking on the floor as she hurried away, and Alec thought for sure that Jace was right on her heels. Only a low “Hey” caught Alec’s attention, drawing his gaze back up from the bills and to the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. Jace was leaning against it, poking his head in toward Alec. “I almost forgot. I text Clary last night, and she said her an Simon can definitely join us for dinner tonight. Thanks again, Alec!”

Alec was left gaping as his parabatai darted away.

The front door shut just seconds later, signaling that they were gone. Alec continued to stare toward the doorway for a moment. Then he closed his eyes and let out a low, heavy breath. “I’m going to kill him.”

“What’d he do now?” a sleep-heavy voice asked.

When Alec opened his eyes, he found Maia coming down the stairs, looking more than ready to crawl right back into bed. She was in shorts, a tank top, and a silk robe that matched the silk sleep-wrap around her head. The tired teen made a beeline for the coffee pot.

Rubbing a hand over his face, Alec smothered down the urge to sigh. “Nothing,” he finally said, hoping his tone was at least somewhat normal. “Just Jace being Jace, that’s all.”

“Now that could mean a wide array of things.”

Alec dropped his hand down and shot Maia a chiding look. “He’s not that bad.”

That got him a snort. “Yeah, sure.” Maia lifted her mug once it was prepared and brought it over toward the table with her. She folded herself down into the chair at the opposite end, making it easy for them to look at one another, and keeping her away from the work he had spread out in front of him. She drew one leg up so that it was curled under her, and the other leg was up, heel on the chair edge. Though it had to be almost scalding, she still rested her coffee mug on her knee, both hands wrapped around it. Dark, sleepy eyes met his across the table. “So, really, what happened? Anything I can help with?”

It was instinct to just say no. Maia had already said she wanted to spend today resting. The last thing she needed was to worry about any of his issues. But, if Alec actually wanted to be ready for tonight, that meant he needed to do quite a few things, and he couldn’t deny it’d be good to have some help. Plus, this was her home, too, and she was going to find out one way or another about their dinner plans tonight. “Would you mind maybe picking up some things around here today? We’re apparently having company for dinner tonight.”

Even half-asleep, it didn’t take Maia’s sharp mind long to figure things out. When she did, her eyebrows shot up. “He invited Clary over?”

“I told him he could,” Alec defended immediately.

“An how much notice did he give you?” she asked. When Alec didn’t answer, just looked back down at the stack of bills in front of him, Maia let out a heavy sigh. Alec braced himself for her to snap; so he was surprised when she spoke in an almost gentle tone. “Al, I know you love your siblings. I do too. But, seriously, you can’t keep letting them treat you like this. It’s not okay.”

“It’s just dinner.”

Maia shook her head. “No, it’s not,” she said, sounding almost sad. “You let them take advantage of you, Al, and I hate seeing it. They don’t think about their actions, and what it does to you. If they did, Jace wouldn’t have invited Clary over and thrown it on you the morning of. He would’ve understood that shit costs money, and maybe that’s something we don’t have enough of right now.”

“We’re doing fine.” Alec pointedly didn’t look down at the bills in front of him as he said that.

“Does he know that?”

Her question had Alec wanting to shift around in his seat. This was touching closely on the very same types of conversations he’d had with Eliot and Margo. Only, Margo had far less tact about it. She was more open in her annoyance that Jace and Isabelle’s continued lack of jobs. Or in a desire to go out and find one for the summer.

Looking down, Alec studied the bills in front of him, the little notebook where he’d been jotting everything down so that he could organize it all and try and figure out what needed to be paid first and what could wait. They were doing so much better off than they had been before, but there’d been extra expenses lately, and as much as it chafed to admit it, Jace and Isabelle were responsible for a few of those.

This was Alec’s job, though. His siblings were his responsibility. His duty. As the oldest, Alec was supposed to look out for them. Even more so after they followed him to live out here away from everything they’d been raised to know. Everything they once belonged in.

Reminding himself of that had Alec’s spine straightening. His movements were precise and clipped as he quickly gathered all the bills into a pile, closed his notebook, and then gathered them to his chest. “I’m going to go put these upstairs and then head out to get us some groceries. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d appreciate whatever housework you feel up to doing. If you don’t, I’ll get it when I get home.”

The sympathetic way that Maia watched him made it clear she knew exactly what he was doing, yet she was going to let him get away with it. “No problem, Al.”

Before she had a chance to say anything more, Alec hurried up the stairs towards his room.

Going grocery shopping was a chore that Alec wouldn’t mind so much if he wasn’t so busy counting every single penny that went into his cart. Jace laughed the one time he went with Alec as he watched his big brother gather what was on his list – and only what was on his list – and dutifully record and add up the cost of things as he went. But it was the best way that Alec had found to make sure they didn’t go over budget in groceries.

Their system generally worked for them. They’d get their food box once a month, look over what was inside, and then Alec would sit and make a list of dinners for the next two weeks. From there, he could break down those dinners into ingredients, subtract the ingredients they already had thanks to leftovers or the food box or whatever, and build his list from the rest. Then he’d add on littler things, stuff for breakfasts (lunches were usually leftovers) and the random non-food items they need.

Maybe it was as anal as Jace liked to accuse him of being. Or as ridiculous as Isabelle joked it was, though she often kissed him and praised him for it after her teasing. Either way, it was what Alec had found worked, and it saved them money.

Making a list for this trip had been easier. Alec went through what recipes he knew and which ones could be easily stretched to add two more people.

They had a whole bag of potatoes at home that were at the ‘need to use or throw away’ stage. Hence why they’d been in their food box. Making mashed potatoes would be easy enough. Plus, there’d be plenty for everyone, even with massive appetites, and probably some left over to make potato balls for another dinner or potato pancakes for breakfast. If Alec was lucky enough to find some decently priced ground beef, he could make a hamburger gravy to go over it all. Maybe some green beans or asparagus to go with it. Biscuits, definitely.

List in hand, Alec went to the store not too far away. They usually had the best prices on decent meats. Though he usually tried to avoid coming here. If it weren’t for the fact that he was really trying to keep this cheap, he would’ve gone just about anywhere else. Anything to avoid having to deal with the woman who was almost always checking here. She was a bit older than him, maybe in her late twenties at most, and hadn’t taken Alec’s flustered “No” when she’d boldly asked him out. Ever since then she’d made it her mission to flirt with him heavier and heavier each time he came in. For the most part, Alec had just started to avoid coming here.

He ducked his head when he went inside and saw she was there. Great. Just great. That was the last thing Alec wanted to deal with. It only had him cursing his parabatai all the more.

Alec snagged a car, set his notebook in the kid seat, and set off down the aisles.

He’d barely made it through the meat – they were having a damn good meat sale at the moment, not just on ground beef but on pork loin as well – when his cell phone rang. Bent over to read the prices in front of him, Alec absently pulled his phone out to answer it. “Espinosa.”

Hello, Alexander.

Alec jerked up at the sound of Magnus’ voice. He moved so quickly, he almost dropped the pork loin he was holding, having to fight quickly to catch it up and keep it from hitting the ground. “Magnus!” Straightening up, Alec set the pork loin down in the car and then ran his free hand through his hair, pushing it back from his face. “Oh, ah, hello. Hey.”

He heard Magnus let out a low chuckle. “Hello, darling. I hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time.

“No, no. Just, um, just picking up some groceries. My brother invited his girlfriend over for dinner tonight and sort of sprung it on me last minute, so I’m picking up some things to make a nice dinner… which you, you probably don’t care about.” Alec felt his cheeks warm under a blush. Quit rambling, you idiot! You talk to him fine all the time at the bar! You can manage talking on the phone!

Nonsense, Alexander,” Magnus said easily. “I don’t mind listening to you.

Alec’s blush only grew deeper. He hoped that no one around him saw it. Ducking his head down to try and hide it just a bit, he moved away from the meats and over toward where he knew the discount bin was at. “Was there something you needed?” Realizing how rude that sounded, Alec hurried to add “Not that I’m complaining. I just, um, well you just, you don’t exactly call. You text. Or stop by.”

Very true. However, there’s nothing pressing going on. I was simply settling in to wait for my potion to finish, and I thought that I’d like to hear your voice. Perhaps see if you’d like to join me for a drink while I wait. But as it sounds like you’re rather busy, I’ll settle for a little conversation.” Magnus said the last part teasingly. The low sound of his voice had a tiny little flutter building in Alec’s stomach. The same way it always happened when the man said anything in that warm, flirtatious tone. “So, you’re meeting the new girlfriend tonight? That sounds impressive. Is she aware…?

“No,” Alec said, grimacing.

Ah. A mundane.

“Yeah. Not exactly who I would’ve chosen for him, but she makes him happier than he’s been in a long time, so I’m grateful for her.”

He could hear the smile in Magnus’ voice when the other man said: “You’re very sweet, Alexander.

It only had Alec ducking his head again. “You said you were making a potion – anything interesting?”

The distraction technique worked. Though Alec had a feeling it only had because Magnus allowed it. Still, he listened to the warlock talk about the potion he was making, one for a client who suffered from a chronic illness that wasn’t curable but was definitely bearable with Magnus’ potions. Hearing him talk about it so passionately had Alec smiling. It was clear Magnus was proud of his work, and that he cared about those he was helping.

By the time Alec made his way toward the register, he was in a much better mood than he had been, smiling openly.

That is, right up until he caught sight of the only available checker. Somehow the other checker had mysteriously disappeared in Alec’s time shopping. That meant he was going to have to go through Trinity’s line.

Alec must’ve made some noise without even realizing it because Magnus stopped in mid-story. “Alexander, are you alright?

“Fine,” Alec answered immediately. When Magnus gave a soft huff – Alec swore he could practically see the disbelieving look Magnus was no doubt wearing right then – Alec sighed. “I’ve got to check out, and all the checkers but one have left.”

Ahh. I take it you and this checker don’t get along?”

A grimace briefly tightened Alec’s features. That’s one way of putting it. He took a deep breath, giving one more scan around him in the hopes that maybe someone else would come back from a break or something like that. Unfortunately, he wasn’t that lucky. “You could say that,” Alec murmured, eyes running over to where Trinity waited at her check stand, almost beaming at him across the store. Alec hoped she couldn’t see how uncomfortable he was from this distance.

Alexander?” Magnus' voice had sharpened, dropping the humor to become much more alert sounding.

Alec shook his head despite knowing Magnus couldn’t see him. “No, it’s fine. I’m fine. She’s just, ah, a little aggressive in her interest. It’s no big deal.”

It is a big deal if it makes you so uncomfortable you don’t want to go through her line.

There wasn’t time for Alec to really say anything on that. He was too close to her at that point to say anything without being overheard. Instead, he had to settle for putting things up on the belt and trying to ignore Trinity’s bright smile or the way her eyes lit up in a predatory sort of way. “Hey there, Al! It’s been a while since we’ve seen you around here.”

Not long enough, Alec thought to himself. He avoided her eyes and just gave a low “Hey” in return.

Magnus made a low sound (was he cooing at him??) that had Alec wanting to shiver a little. “Oh, darling, I swear I can hear the awkward shuffling you’re no doubt doing right now. How it is that you are so confident in most situations and so endearingly uncomfortable in others, is just a mystery. You know, if I didn’t think it would embarrass you too much, I’d have had you switch this to a video call before you got there. I’m sure I could’ve made it clear that you were taken.

“Somehow I doubt that,” Alec said, darting a look up at Trinity. She was ringing his stuff up, clearly unhappy that his focus was on the phone and not on her.

When she caught his eye, she beamed at him. “Did you find everything okay?”

“I did, thanks.” In contrast to her voice, Alec’s was sharp, a bit clipped, and a clear dismissal to anyone paying attention. With all the things finally up on the belt, Alec moved down to the register, sliding his phone between shoulder and ear so he could reach for his wallet. In the hopes of avoiding any further conversation with Trinity, he tried to keep his focus on the phone. “I’m in a public place, it wouldn’t exactly be practical to do video calls right now anyway. I don’t see any reason why the rest of the store needs to see or hear my conversation with anyone. Shouldn’t those kinds of calls be saved for when you’re at home?”

He got another laugh out of Magnus, something which was quickly becoming one of his favorite things to do. “The point would be for her to see and hear me. How else would I convince her you have a gorgeous, loving boyfriend at home?

“You’re just as bad as Eliot. He threatened to put his initials on my neck one night at work in hickies.”

This time Magnus’ laugh was louder, much more open and delighted. It was a nice contrast to the scandalized look that Trinity was wearing. Alec tried not to blush while she read him out his total and he counted out the bills. Still, he couldn’t get out of there quick enough afterward. “Raziel, that was embarrassing,” he grumbled once he was outside.

Alexander.” The mirth was gone from Magnus’ voice. He sounded serious in a way that Alec couldn’t remember hearing from him except when they were discussing all the missing Downworlders. It was enough to have Alec going still, his cart just outside the parking lot cart caddy. “All joking aside, if you’ve made your discomfort clear, this woman should respect that, and if she’s not, maybe you should report her.

Alec scoffed at him. He moved his cart into the caddy and then started to gather up his grocery bags on his arm. “What would be the point? I’m a tall, muscular male who apparently, as Isabelle puts it, constantly looks like he’s ready to kill someone. Saying or doing anything is only going to get me in trouble, and that’s the last thing I need. For the most part, I just avoid coming here altogether. It’s easier.”

Why don’t you take Eliot or Margo with you? If she doesn’t believe you’re taken, maybe showing her would work.”

Alec laughed out loud at that idea. Bags on his arms, he adjusted to still be able to hold the phone and then set out toward home. “I want her to leave me alone, not end up maimed or dead.”

I’d be more than willing to go with you the next time you want to shop there.

The thought of bringing Magnus with him to shop at the store was far more appealing than it probably should’ve been. Not just for the idea of getting Trinity to back off. Even just wandering the aisles with Magnus, listening to him no doubt debate the quality of the groceries, the places where he’s tried some that are ‘so much better than this commercial stuff, Alexander’ all while he poked and teased and flirted like he seemed to do every time they talked… it sounded nice.

Alec pushed those thoughts away by sheer will. Grateful that Magnus couldn’t see his face to give himself away, Alec tried for a casual tone. One that he had a feeling didn’t work as well as he wanted it to. “Somehow I get the feeling that wouldn’t really go any better.”

What can I say? I don’t like it when people won’t take no for an answer, no matter their gender.” Abruptly, the seriousness seemed to fall away, almost as if Magnus could sense how done with the conversation Alec was. His tone turned teasing instead, and definitely flirty. “It’s just as well. While pissing people off does sound like fun, I’d much rather our first date be somewhere other than a grocery store. A restaurant, perhaps, say…Wednesday?

That stopped Alec right in the middle of the sidewalk. Had Magnus… had he just…? On the heels of Alec's recent conversation with Eliot about dating, the automatic denial sprang to his lips, the same thing that he'd tried to tell Eliot. I'm not ready. But, when Alec opened his mouth, nothing came out.

There was a clench of fear low down in Alec’s gut. One he wasn’t sure would ever go away. It was there any time he even thought about men like that. Yet… it was smaller than before. Easier to ignore. And there was an even stronger sensation of warmth that was rapidly chasing it away. That warmth gave Alec the strength to smile. To, for once in his life, reach out for what he wanted no matter what anyone else thought about it. “That, uh, that sounds nice.”

Wonderful! How about I pick you up around seven?” Magnus asked, sounding happy. No, not happy. Thrilled.

Oh, Raziel, I’m really doing this. Alec bit at his lip for a moment, though it couldn’t stop his grin. He was lucky he had Wednesday off this week. “Sure.”

I look forward to seeing you then, Alexander.

Alec couldn’t stop smiling the whole way home.


Chapter Text

There were more than just a few times that Alec cursed his parabatai that afternoon while he got the house ready for company. Between cleaning and preparing dinner, Alec was kept pretty busy, though Maia had thankfully done some cleaning before she’d gone to work. It helped when Margo and Eliot showed up. Eliot happily set himself up making some kind of punch drink to go with everything, but Margo threw herself into getting the place ready with all the skills she’d learned over her centuries playing hostess.

Under her command, her magic got the house into shape, cleaning all the little places that Alec hadn’t had a chance to get to while simultaneously making sure their kitchen/dining room looked nicer than normal. The table runner and the nice dishes she summoned somehow managed to both look nice and yet still fit in with them and their home. They weren’t too fancy, but they were nice. Simple. Dark brown on the outside of the bowls, mugs, and the outer layer of the plates, and a swirled blue-green on the inside, with little patterns in that blue-green on the outside edge of the bowls and mugs.

“There,” she declared once she had them out. “I could’ve done more with a little more notice, but we’ve all got to work with what we’ve got.”

Alec rolled his eyes while he drew the pork loin out of the oven. He’d gone ahead and made that instead of the hamburger gravy in the hopes that there’d be more for everyone to eat. The mashed potatoes were already done, and they’d made more than he’d expected. Half was put away for potato pancakes in the morning, and the other half had been mixed up with some garlic, herbs, and a few other things. Thanks to Margo, there was also a dish of glazed carrots that Alec was able to pull out of the oven as well, and a steaming basket of rolls on the counter.

Once he set the pork loin down on the hot pads on the counter, Alec took a second to look over at the table, and then to flash a smile at Margo. “You did great, Margo. Thank you.”

She carelessly waved off his thanks. “Those dishes have been sitting in storage for way too long. I’d rather someone use the fuckers.”

“Such a generous soul you are, Bambi,” Eliot chimed in.

Just as Margo was making a rude gesture Eliot’s way, mouth open to no doubt rant about his kind words, they all heard the front door open. Then Isabelle was calling out, “Alec, we’re home!”

Alec took a second to close his eyes and draw in a deep breath. He could do this. He’d met countless new people at the bar. This wasn’t any different than that, really. There, he served strangers drinks and talked to them if they wanted, though mostly he listened. He could do the same thing here. Just serve them food and drinks, listen as they talked – simple. Only, it wasn’t that simple, and Alec knew it. Because these people weren’t just strangers. Clary was Jace’s girlfriend, and Simon was, well, Alec wasn’t entirely sure what Isabelle felt for him, he just knew she felt something.

All of that ran through Alec’s mind in the space of one, deep breath. Then he was opening his eyes and straightening up. Tossing his towel over his shoulder, he turned and moved out of the kitchen and into the living room right as everyone finished coming in.

Isabelle was at the front of the group, with a short, average looking guy in glasses beside her. He had on a shirt with something that Alec thought might be from Star Wars? He wasn’t entirely sure. It looked like something Margo had made him watch once. But the kid looked awkward, uncomfortable, and yet surprisingly happy. There was a bright smile lighting up his face when he looked at Alec. “Hey, you must be Alec! I’m Simon!”

When the guy stuck a hand out toward him, there wasn’t much Alec could do except reach out and shake it.

Then Jace stepped forward. His movement drew Alec’s attention to him. Or, more accurately, to the girl at his side.

She was small; tiny, really. A little slip of a girl with bright red (orange) hair, a wide smile, and eyes that smiled just as brightly. Clary was practically beaming at Alec as Jace turned her toward him. For Jace, there was clear warmth in his voice when he made the introductions. “Clary, this is my brother, Alec. Alec, this is Clary.”

“It’s so great to meet you!” Clary said, and she looked like she meant it, too. Just like Simon, she held a hand out Alec’s way and, after a second’s pause, Alec reached out to shake it. “Jace talks about you all the time, I almost feel like I already know you.”

Alec drew his hand back, not quite sure what to say to that. “Thanks?” He didn’t know how to deal with people outside of a work environment. Give him another Shadowhunter or one of the Downworlders at the bar, and he was fine. This? This was definitely outside his comfort zone.

Luckily, he was surrounded by people who not only understood that, but respected it, and who were more than willing to step up for him.

One easy move brought Eliot forward. He playfully nudged Alec as he moved past him, which made it easier for him to step between them without it looking suspicious. “Quit hogging the company, darling,” Eliot said, flashing a wink and a grin at Alec. Then he held out his hand toward Clary, waiting for her to take it before he bent over it and pressed a kiss against her knuckles. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet someone who is more than willing to put up with that arrogant little shit over there. You must have quite the fortitude.”

The way Clary was looking at him seemed a cross between offended and amused. Like she wasn’t quite sure which reaction was best here.

Jace had no such issue. He rolled his eyes in fond annoyance. “Bite me, El.”

“That sounds absolutely disgusting, and more like a job for the treasure you were so lucky to find, though I don’t know why you’d punish her so,” Eliot fired back easily. Still holding Clary’s hand, he used it to draw her in close, tucking her hand into the curve of his arm. “Come on. Alec’s made some a lovely dinner, and he rightfully left me in charge of drinks. I’ve made a delicious punch.” Tilting his head, he winked down at her. “We won’t mention what’s inside. It can just be our little secret.”

If he was actually trying to make it a secret, he was doing a terrible job of it. Alec rolled his eyes and turned to shoot the other man a look. “El.”

Eliot just quickly took Clary in toward the kitchen, leaving Alec shaking his head while the others smirked. Margo laced her arm through Alec’s. With her free hand, she reached up to pat at his chest. “Don’t worry, we’re not planning on getting the girl drunk. Relaxed, maybe, but not drunk. Meeting the parents is a nerve-wracking thing. Or at least I hear it is.”

“No one is meeting anyone’s parents,” Alec pointed out.

Laughing, Margo pulled him in close at the same time that she shot him a look of fond exasperation. “Why are the cute ones always so clueless?”

Getting food to the table was a bit of chaos that was at least somewhat familiar to Alec. Enough to settle his nerves a little. The only difference was the addition of their two guests, and the lack of magic used. Eliot liked to use this magic to gather up the nearby dishes and float them over to the table more often than not. Sometimes Margo just snapped them over from one spot to the next. Especially if someone was taking too long serving themselves up something that she wanted. She’d been known to snap it away from them and over to her just so she could get more.

It seemed like Jace must’ve been thinking the same thing because he was grinning broadly at Margo when he sat down. He wasted no time in snatching up the basket of rolls before she could get to it, earning him a scowl that promised retribution later on.

They’d just settled in – Alec at the head, with Eliot and Margo in their usual places beside him, and the other four spread out – when the back door opened and Maia came darting inside. “Sorry I’m late! Traffic was hell. I swear every asshole under the sun decided they needed to be out tonight.” In a flurry of movements, Maia had her bag on the stairs, her coat tossed into the living room, and she was making her way toward her seat at the table, sparing a quick “Hey guys” to Clary and Simon. “Al, all of this looks amazing.”

“She’s right,” Clary agreed. She smiled politely at Alec. “This all looks wonderful. Thank you so much for allowing us to join you. It’s been forever since I’ve had something like this. My mom and I are more likely to call in takeout than try and make something homemade.”

“Which is why she spends so much time eating at my house,” Simon chimed in teasingly. She shot him a mock glare, to which Simon just grinned.

Their teasing seemed to lighten the atmosphere just a little bit. Eliot’s smile was easy when he leaned forward to smirk down at them. “So, I get the feeling you two have known one another for a while.”

That was all it took to spark conversation. As the food was passed around, so were the stories. Alec was absurdly grateful for Eliot and Margo. The two of them kept the conversation on easy topics, or teasing ones, while simultaneously managing to help steer away from subjects that couldn’t be discussed in front of the mundanes. Alec was free to pick at his food and mostly just listen to everyone talk. He learned that Clary lived with her mom, who was dating a cop named Luke, and that Clary was just as feisty as he’d heard so far. He also learned that Simon could talk if you weren’t careful, but that he was nice, and also clearly in love with Clary. Though that didn’t stop him from being a bit awed by Isabelle, or lusting after her.

At one point about halfway through the meal, Simon turned the questioning on Alec a little, asking the one thing that Alec probably should’ve thought about. He’d prepared himself for them to ask about their parents, or to mention something about their home. What he hadn’t expected was for Simon to get a strange look on his face when Alec scooped up the onions from his carrots and slide them over to Eliot’s plate, and then to gesture back and forth between Alec and Eliot with his fork and ask “Are you guys, like…?” He cut off when Alec scowled at him, only to then quickly hurry and add on “Not that there’s anything wrong with it! I just, I thought at first that you two were together,” there he gestured to Eliot and Margo. “But then you guys did the whole food thing…”

Eliot, the asshole, laughed. “You’re too young for me to answer that question, little mortal.”

“I’m not that much younger than you guys!”

This time most of the table laughed, though Alec highly doubted Clary was laughing for the same reason everyone else was. The rest of them all knew just how wrong Simon’s statement really was.

“We are what we are, and we’re happy with it. That’s all that matters,” Margo answered, her tone of voice making it clear that she was closing that subject. It was a gesture Alec appreciated. They weren’t here to answer questions about their relationship to two teenagers. Not that Alec thought there was anything to hide. He was just well aware that he didn’t exactly have the most normal look on friendships or relationships or anything like that. Hearing stories from people at the bar had clued Alec in to just how unique what they all had here was. It wasn’t the norm for people, even if it was for them.

“Besides, we’re here to hear about you guys,” Eliot said. He was mostly done with his food – no real surprise. But that meant he was free to scoot back a bit toward the window like he usually did after a meal.

Alec saw the exact instant that Eliot started to summon his cigarettes and ashtray to himself, and when he realized that he couldn’t. There was no way Alec could keep himself from grinning over at him. “Problems, El?”

The scolding finger that Eliot held up his way only made Alec’s grin grow. “Shut up, you.” With a beleaguered sigh, Eliot pushed himself up from his seat and moved around Alec’s chair to be able to reach the bar. There, he leaned half over it and stretched his arm to the corner cupboard near the sink, twisting a little to be able to reach. He made a triumphant sound as he pulled back both an ashtray and a pack of cigarettes. Both of which Alec was betting he’d magicked up out of view of everyone.

“We have guests,” Alec pointed out before Eliot could come back and take his seat. Using his fork, he gestured toward the back door.

Isabelle smothered a snicker at the horrified look on Eliot’s face. She had to bury her face in her cup when Eliot loudly exclaimed, “It’s cold out there!”

Jace didn’t have any such reservations. Or tact. He leaned back in his chair, one arm coming up to rest on the back of Clary’s chair while also allowing him to turn a little toward Eliot so the other man could clearly see his shit-eating-grin. “Better grab a jacket, buddy.”

As Eliot looked from face to face and found no help, he huffed out a breath and made sure to be as dramatic as possible as he moved out from between the table and bar, deliberately bumping Jace’s chair as he did. He grabbed a sweater that was definitely Alec’s and pulled it on, still grumbling, before he practically flounced outside. Alec had never met anyone before Eliot who actually flounced.

The door snapping shut broke the quiet that had fallen. Margo snorted – loudly. “Well, now that that’s over.”

“For now,” Alec drawled out.

A slow smile was tugging at the corners of Clary’s mouth. She was clearly trying not to smile. “Is he always that…”

“Over the top?” Isabelle filled in. She, Alec, Jace, Maia, and Margo all gave a clear “Yes” at the same time.

They’d all forgotten about the fact that the window was open. Eliot’s voice echoed in loud and clear to them. “You’re all terrible people!” he declared loudly. Then, “See if I cuddle you bitches tonight.”

There was a brief moment of silence that fell over them all. Then, as they all glanced at one another, each and every one of them started laughing. Even Clary and Simon were laughing, though Simon ducked his head a little as he did, cheeks just a bit red.

“Who exactly would that punish?” Margo asked, not even bothering to turn around. She was smirking, and she winked at Simon when she caught his eye. “Just means more cuddles for me. I won’t have to worry about you hogging him.”

His silence made it clear he hadn’t thought that far ahead in his threats.

Grinning even wider, Margo happily went back to eating her food while Alec just rolled his eyes. He was trying not to blush, though, at the curious looks that Clary was sending his way.

She must’ve decided to let that go. Instead, she focused on something else, seemingly unable to help her curiosity. It reminded Alec that he wasn’t the only person here meeting someone new tonight or wanting to make a good impression. Clary had on a smile that was more than just polite, and she looked honestly curious as she used her fork to gesture toward Alec. “Those are a lot of tattoos. Their design kind of… reminds me of something. Do they have any sort of meaning?”

Alec shrugged one shoulder and lifted his glass to take a drink. “I wouldn’t wear them if they didn’t.”

He had to quickly lower his drink back down or risk spilling it when Margo smacked at his arm. She glared at him, a look that was somehow more terrifying with just her one eye to do it with. “Don’t be an ass,” she scolded him

It took effort not to roll his eyes. Especially when Isabelle snorted and chimed in “That’s kind of his default setting.”

“At least with most new people,” Maia added in. She offered Clary a toothy grin that seemed to set the girl a little bit at ease. “Ignore them, they just like to bicker.”

Jace was taking advantage of Clary’s distraction to shoot a look Alec’s way that was somehow both scolding and pleading at the same time. It was a silent plea from his brother to be nice. Seeing it, Alec sighed softly and then gave Jace a small nod. He quickly tried to dig through his memories of what Jace had said about the girl to find something he might be able to ask her. In the end, there was only one thing he could think of, and he hoped it’d be enough. “So Clary.” His voice drew their attention, bringing all eyes down to him. Clary looked surprised, and maybe just a bit worried. Alec tried his best to soften his own expression from the ‘resting bitchface’ that Isabelle said he usually had. “Jace told us you’re a pretty good artist.”

The way that Clary’s face lit up told Alec he’d picked the right topic. Everything about the girl brightened as she launched into stories about her artwork, and how talented her an artist her mother was, and how she hoped to take her own talents and make a career out of them.

The grateful smile that Jace shot him and the warmth in their parabatai bond told Alec just how much his brother appreciated his efforts.

The conversation seemed to flow easily after that. Even easier when Eliot came back inside and joined in the art talk. He and Clary went back and forth about some of their favorite artists for quite a while; they were still going when everyone had finished eating. It made it a little bit easier for Alec to get them all up from the table and nudge them toward the living room. He caught Margo’s eye while the others were getting up. “I’m gonna get these in the dishwasher, and then I’ll bring in dessert.”

Bless her, she just nodded at him and then stepped forward, taking control of the group with a clap of her hand and a call of “All right, you fuckers. Let’s get everyone out of the way and in the living room. Mama wants to sit down and take off her shoes.”

For about the millionth time since he’d met them, Alec found himself grateful for Margo and Eliot, both of whom easily swept everyone up and got them toward the living room. It took only a moment after that before music was turned on. Alec smiled a little to himself. He was going to have to find a way to thank them later for doing this for him. These kinds of parties weren’t usually their thing. Their type of party was typically a lot louder and had more people, plus more alcohol. Yet they’d seemed happy to be here, at least.

“So, uh, that went well.”

Jace’s voice interrupted Alec’s thoughts. He looked up in surprise from where he was gathering plates to see that his parabatai was doing the same at the other end, stacking plates and cups up. Apparently he hadn’t gone with the others; he was still here, helping to clean. To those that didn’t know him, they wouldn’t have been able to see the nerves that were clear to Alec. A tightness around Jace’s eyes, a faint twitch to his fingers. He kept sneaking looks up at Alec’s face, too.

Seeing just how nervous Jace was reminded Alec as to why he’d agreed to this to begin with. He offered his brother a half-smile while straightening up with his stack of dishes. “Yeah.”

Together, the two carried all the dishes over to the sink, and Alec went about filling half the sink with hot, soapy water for them to soak in. He stayed there, sliding dishes into the water, as Jace came up beside him and set down his own stack. For a moment, the two of them just worked in silence next to one another. They got the sink filled and the dishes all in to soak. It wasn’t until Alec started to actually rinse them out and pass them over to Jace to put them in the dishwasher, that Jace finally spoke up again.

“You don’t like her.”

It was said like a statement, yet Alec heard the question in it. He sighed. “I don’t not like her.” That was splitting hairs, and they both knew it. It also wasn’t what Jace needed to hear. Alec caught sight of the slight slump to his parabatai’s shoulders, and he tried not to sigh. Really, Alec didn’t have a problem with the girl per se. She’d been perfectly delightful the entire evening. Polite, friendly, respectful, and clearly enamored with Jace. What more could Alec ask for in a partner for one of his siblings? The fact that she was mundane was something Jace was going to have to address one day, yes, but for now, he was happy with her, and that meant that Alec was happy for him. He made sure to say just that, too, as he turned to hand Jace a plate. “She makes you happy, Jace. I don’t have to be your parabatai to see that. So long as she keeps doing that, I’ll be happy for you.”

The answering smile that lit up Jace’s face made it all worth it. There wasn’t much Alec wouldn’t do to make his siblings happy like that. If it meant accepting this sassy, sharp, bright little mundane, that was an easy price to pay.

In all the excitement of the evening – meeting Clary and Simon, the dinner party, the cleanup afterward – Alec hadn’t had a chance to think about his own excitement. Not until he was lying in bed with Margo and Eliot that night. They’d pushed most of their pillows, plus a few extra that Margo had conjured up for them, into the top corner of the bed. There, Margo was reclining against them like it was a throne. Eliot was up under her left arm, closest to the window so that he could smoke, with his head pillowed on her shoulder. But she’d tugged Alec in until his head was in her lap and the rest of his body was stretched out over his bed, though it left his feet hanging off the edge.

Laying like this with Margo was always amazing. It never failed – anyone’s head ended up in her lap and she’d eventually start playing with their hair. This time was no exception. She carded her fingers through Alec’s hair, giving little tugs every now and again, and occasionally scratching at his scalp.

It was cozy, and comfortable. Maybe that was why Alec found himself blurting out “I have a date on Wednesday.”

Margo’s hand went still. Though Alec kept his eyes closed, he knew the two of them were now looking down at him. “Excuse me?” Eliot said, and oh, there was a smile easy to hear in his voice. “Did I hear you right? Did I hear him right, Bambi? Has our precious little bean got a date?”

“I do believe he does. Though I wonder who it could be!”

Even though his eyes were closed, Alec couldn’t help rolling them, though it earned him a light tug on his hair. “You guys know exactly who it is,” he said dryly. Then, before they could ask, he quickly summed up his earlier conversation with Magnus. By the time he was done, both of his friends had gone quiet.

They stayed quiet for a few minutes. Long enough that Alec opened his eyes so that he could look up at them. He found them both watching him little smiles on their faces. Eliot reached a hand over and brushed a bit of hair off Alec’s temple. “This is what you want, kitten? The last time we talked about this, you were still pretty big into the whole no dating thing.”

“I do,” Alec said, and he meant it, too. He really did. Maybe the idea of dating scared him a little. Or, well, okay, a lot. But… “He’s just… he’s nice, and he makes me feel nice. And a little scared, yeah, but in a weird way.” Alec cut himself off, frustrated by his inability to put what he was thinking into words.

It seemed like they understood him, though, which he was more than grateful for. Both their smiles grew, and Margo slid her hand from his hair to briefly cup his face. “That’s all that matters, Alec. The rest of the shit’ll get figured out as you go. For now, just let yourself feel good.”

“And let us help you with that,” Eliot chimed in. He reached to put out his cigarette in the ashtray, smirking at Alec the entire time. “I see a shopping trip in our future.”

By the angel. Alec tried not to groan out loud, though the way they laughed at him suggested that his face gave him away. Shopping wasn’t something Alec liked to do really. Nor did he have the money for the type of shopping that they were likely going to try and get him to do. But he also knew better than to argue it. He could get Eliot out of spending money on him most of the time. But Margo? When Margo was on a mission there was no way to stop her spending her money. She’d just buy things whether Alec liked it or not.

But, if he was going to get stuck going, he wanted one other person involved. “Can Izzy come?” As much as he knew Isabelle was going to tease him about his date, she’d been one of the first people to ever know that Alec was gay, and one of his biggest supporters. She’d also been the person he’d planned on telling about this date first. When he’d gotten off the phone with Magnus, he’d had to fight back the urge to call Isabelle right then and there and tell her. She might’ve been his baby sister, but she was also his biggest confidant. Or, she had been.

Margo nodded her head the instant Alec asked. “Oh hell yeah. Trust us, kitten. We’ll make sure you’re all prettied up.”

That was vaguely terrifying. Yet, at the same time, kind of… nice. Alec may not have been a fan of shopping, or of even dressing up. But, the idea of taking a little bit of time to get himself looking nice for a date, to putting in effort and going out to shop for it, it wasn’t something he’d had before. He hadn’t realized how good it would feel.

This was really going to happen. He was going to go shopping, get a new date outfit, and knowing his family he was going to have an evening of everyone helping him to get ready. It’d no doubt be loud, and crazy, and chaotic. Not to mention embarrassing.

Alec couldn’t wait

Chapter Text

The closer it got to his actual date with Magnus, the more nervous that Alec became. It didn’t help that his siblings were having a heyday with it. They seemed thrilled at the idea that Alec was going out with someone. Unfortunately, they were also acting like it meant Christmas had come early, and not a single opportunity had gone by that they hadn’t taken the time to tease him for it. It was like they were making up for all the years where this hadn’t been a possibility.

For the most part, Alec ignored it. He could roll his eyes and maybe snap something back at them if they started to push a little too much. But privately? Deep down inside in the places he didn’t let anyone see? There was a part of Alec that was kind of pleased by the attention. That part of him reveled a little in the knowledge that, for once, good things were happening to him. Someone wanted him – wanted Alec – and he was finally in a place with himself where he felt able to accept that. To enjoy it.

This was the first night in a very, very long time that Alec was going to actually reach out and take something for himself. He found he liked the idea.

It really helped that Eliot and Margo were even more supportive than his siblings, with far less teasing. Oh, they poked at him a little, and they laughed when Alec blushed at the teasing from the others, but they were good at not pushing him too far. They were also good at steering the conversation when it started to get too much. Eliot could smoothly distract them with something else, while Margo once bluntly told Jace, “All right, asshole, enough is enough. Fuck off before you fuck things up for them. You do that, and I’m gonna have to kick your ass, got it?”

Those two helped to keep Alec sane as his date got closer and closer. They also – with Isabelle’s help – took over deciding Alec’s outfit for him so that he could “Look your best, Alec! You want to impress him, right?”

They planned it out down to the very last detail. Even his underwear. A fact which had Alec gaping at them a little when his date finally rolled around and it was time to get dressed. Isabelle had thrust the bags at him, telling him to put on everything, underwear included, and then she’d shoved Alec into his room and yanked the door shut behind him. “Just put it all on!” she shouted through the door.

Alec shook his head in exasperated fondness. He lived with a bunch of lunatics. Why on earth did it matter what his underwear looked like? It wasn’t like he was planning on letting Magnus see them!

Just the thought of that was enough to make him flush.

Grateful no one could see him, Alec hurriedly turned himself away from thoughts like those and focused instead on getting himself ready.

To be honest, the outfit that they’d brought him wasn’t half bad, and it was definitely more to his tastes than he’d expected it to be. Dark blue jeans, a pair of black boots that were a lot nicer looking than any of the ones Alec actually owned, and a short-sleeved dark green button-up shirt that, okay, was a bit tighter than Alec’s usual style, but once he had it on he took a minute to look at himself in the mirror. It wasn’t bad.

Objectively, Alec knew he had an all right body. He’d never been shy about it. As a Shadowhunter, he’d trained his body since childhood. More often than not it’d been like another weapon. A tool. One he took pride in maintaining. But he never really thought about it in the sense of someone being attracted to him. Especially not when he knew his siblings were much better looking. So worrying about the clothes he put over it hadn’t ever been his priority.

This, though…Alec smoothed his hands over the front of his shirt. This looked nice.

There was a rap of knuckles against Alec’s door. It was his only warning before the door opened and Eliot stuck his head in. At the sight of Alec standing in front of the mirror, he grinned and opened the door the rest of the way, striding right in with Margo on his heels. “I was right – that shirt does amazing things for you.”

“You need to tuck it in, though,” Margo said, wiggling her fingers at him while she shut the door.

Alec didn’t even bother to argue against their presence. Honestly, he was surprised they hadn’t been in here from the start. He just dutifully started to tuck in his shirt while Eliot dug through what was left in the bag on the bed.

“Accessories are just as important as the outfit itself,” Eliot told him. He turned around, belt in hand, and started to thread it through Alec’s belt loops.

“I don’t usually do that kind of stuff. They just, get in the way,” Alec said.

Margo hummed at him and took hold of his left hand. She drew it up to slip a brown watch over his wrist. “That makes perfect sense when you’re working. But this isn’t work – it’s a date. And if you want your outfit to knock him on his ass, that means accessories.”

Between the two of them, they got Alec dressed to their satisfaction. They were kind enough not to give him any accessories aside from the watch and belt, though Alec was surprised when Margo waved her hand and summoned a brown leather jacket that, when she shoved it at Alec, was butter soft. He stroked his fingers against it for a minute just for the sake of touching it.

“There, that’s perfect,” Margo said, stepping back to admire him once he had it on.

Eliot pulled his hands away from Alec’s hair. “You’ll knock his socks off, kitten.”

The guy that Alec saw in the mirror was such a sharp contrast to the one that was usually there. He looked, older. More comfortable in his own skin. For the longest time, Alec had felt like he’d hid from his own reflection. What had there been to like about the man in the mirror? Now, as Margo curled her hands over his bicep and leaned against one arm, and Eliot leaned in to hook his chin over Alec’s other shoulder, the Shadowhunter smiled. “Thanks, guys.”

“It was our pleasure,” Eliot murmured, smiling.

Margo flashed him a grin. “You know I love shopping. Izzy and I had fun picking that out. Just wait until you see what outfits we got you for your other dates.”

Pointedly ignoring the ‘other dates’ part of that, Alec tugged on the front of his jacket, settling it a bit more comfortably. Then he stepped away from the two, grabbing socks and shoes before sitting down on the edge of the bed. “I’m surprised Izzy isn’t in here with you guys.” He’d thought for sure she’d be just as bad if not worse than them. He’d expected her to push her way in, reaching out to fix things, teasing him the entire time.

What he hadn’t expected was for Margo to say: “We asked them to give you a minute.” At her words, Alec looked up at her in surprise. The look on his face had her snorting. “Calm down, Alec. There’s just something we wanted to talk to you about before you go downstairs.” Margo perched herself on his low dresser, legs crossed and hands braced on the edge, leaning forward far enough it was a wonder she didn’t come tumbling out of her low-cut top.

Not that Alec noticed much beyond an initial look and a quiet snort at the fact that even here, in private, Margo couldn’t quite help posing. “That doesn’t sound as reassuring as you think it does, Margo.”

“Calm down. We just figured you wouldn’t want them around for this topic.”

What topic?”

“It’s a concept known as consent.”

Surprise had Alec’s head shooting up. He knew his eyes were wide, and his eyebrows had shot up toward his hairline. “What? Margo. I know what consent is!” Alec said, scowling at her despite his blush. Then he ducked his head down and let his gaze drop back toward his shoes. “Besides, we’re not… I’m not…”

He heard as she shuffled around in her spot. “I know you’re not. And while I trust Magnus to respect that, it doesn’t mean I’m letting you out of here without making damn sure you understand just how consent works, and I’m sure about your ability to give it. Because let’s be real, you’ve got this tendency to swallow down your own wants and needs when it comes to people you care about and I don’t want to find out later that you let him fuck you just because you thought you had to say yes to keep him coming around. That shit isn’t okay, and it’d hurt the both of you.”

Once more, Alec snapped his head up toward her. “I don’t…!”

“Alec.” Eliot put his hand on Alec’s shoulder, silencing him as effectively as if he’d put a hand over his mouth. He slid down to sit beside Alec on the bed. The look on his face was somewhere between affectionate and sad. “Kitten, I hate to break it to you, but you do.”

Margo pushed off the dresser and moved to stand in front of Alec, hands on her hips. She cut a rather intimidating figure, honestly. Especially with her expression as serious as it was right at that moment, which was only heightened by the simplistic design on her mostly black eyepatch. “Look me in the eye and tell me that if El and I tried to push you into sex, making it seem like it was just a normal thing people like us did, or like it was expected, you wouldn’t be afraid of turning us down for fear of us bailing. You tell me that, and I’ll stop this whole convo right here and now.”

He wanted to argue with her. Really, he did. Alec even opened his mouth to protest. But, a squeeze on his shoulder from Eliot had him slowing down and actually thinking of his response, and what he found had him looking away once more. “You guys wouldn’t do that to me.”

“No, we wouldn’t,” Eliot agreed readily. In contrast to Margo’s sharp tone, his was gentler, the soft touch to her sharper edges in situations like these. “But if we were those kinds of people, we could. You’d let us. You might tell yourself that you wanted it. You might even really enjoy it. After all, we’re both rather good at what we do. But, kitten, doing something to keep people around, that’s not consent. You should never do anything with someone unless you really want it.”

“Enthusiastic consent. It’s the motto El and I live by,” Margo said.

The hand on Alec’s shoulder gave another squeeze. Then Eliot shifted it, bringing it up to curl under Alec’s chin and tilt his head so that he had no choice but to look at his friend. The soft smile Eliot gave him had a lump building in Alec’s throat. “We’re not trying to scare you. Magnus is a good guy. He won’t hurt you, and he’s never been the type to pressure anyone into something they don’t want. But we don’t want you misconstruing something and hurting the both of you just because you think it’s the only way to keep him coming back. You are more than enough, even without sex. Don’t let anyone talk you into it until you’re ready. No matter what. And if you’re never ready? That’s okay, too. Plenty of people have happy relationships without sex.”

What kind of words could Alec say to that? There was a lump in his throat that was blocking off his voice. All Alec could do was nod.

It got him a soft smile and a brief, even softer kiss. One that was echoed a second later by Margo. She took Alec’s face in her hands and turned him toward her. There wasn’t anything sexual in the kiss that she pressed against his lips. It was short, sweet, and full of love, but not a hint of desire on either of their parts. When they broke apart, she held his gaze. “You’ve got the right to say no, you hear me? I don’t care what shit you two are doing. I don’t care if it’s for another drink, or going back to his place, or a kiss, or fucking. If you don’t want it, you say no. And if anyone still doesn’t respect it? You kick their ass, and then you call me to come kick their ass again, you hear me?”

This time Alec actually managed to not only smile but give a husky “Yes, ma’am.”

Margo patted his cheek with her left hand before letting go. “Good boy.”

Any further conversation was cut off by the sound of a knock down on the front door. It took Alec a second to realize what that knock meant. When he did, his eyes went wide. The only person that would be knocking right now was Magnus. He was here. He was here, and Isabelle, Jace, and Maia were all downstairs, ready to ambush him, while Alec was still up here with Margo and Eliot. “Oh, shit.”

He heard Margo laughing behind him as he shot off the bed and out of his bedroom.

By the time Alec reached the stairs, he could hear the low sound of Magnus’ voice, the deeper sound of Jace’s, and then Isabelle and Maia’s laughter.

Alec’s first look at Magnus was enough to almost steal his breath away.

He’d known Magnus was good looking. It was pretty hard not to notice. His outfits were always different – never the same thing twice – and he had a way of making just about anything look good. But tonight? Tonight, he looked stunning. Dark red heeled boots, tight black pants, a long-sleeved flowy red shirt almost the same shade as his boots, and a black waistcoat over it that was embellished in swirling gold patterns. There was a glint of rings on his fingers as his hand danced through the air with whatever he was saying that was making the girls laugh.

When he tilted his head, Alec got a clear view of Magnus’ makeup. The usual dark lines were around his eyes, though tonight they were dusted with more of the red and gold, and some glitter was added in. Even his hair matched, with little gold streaks in it.

Magnus turned a little, and his eyes slanted toward Alec, making it clear that he knew the other man had been there. His smile said he’d enjoyed the attention. Then, much to Alec’s pleasure, he got to see Magnus actually do a double-take and turn toward him, completely ignoring the others even though Jace was still talking. His eyes widened, running over Alec from head to toe and back again. When they locked gazes again, Magnus’ smile was so big it crinkled the corners of his eyes and brought out the ghost of what Alec thought might be dimples. “Alexander.”

Don’t just stand there staring! Alec jolted a little, fumbling just the slightest bit. Luckily, he caught himself on the railing, so he didn’t go tumbling down and make a total fool of himself, but the muffled laughter from his siblings made it clear they’d see that misstep. Magnus, thankfully, didn’t say anything, though his smile grew impossibly bigger.

Alec made it down the stairs without any further mishap, thankfully. He shot a brief glare over at his siblings and then turned a smile toward Magnus. “I’m sorry I wasn’t down here when you knocked. I didn’t mean to subject you to my siblings right from the get-go.”

“Nonsense,” Magnus said easily. “They were perfectly lovely. And you are well worth any wait.”

Color flooded Alec’s cheeks. At the same time, multiple ‘awwwwwws’ echoed through the living room. And nope. No way. Alec was not doing this here. He’d already given Isabelle, Jace, and Maia enough ammunition to last for weeks. No way in hell was Alec going to stand here and give them even more. With that in mind, Alec cleared the last bit of distance between him and Magnus, and he startled the other man by catching hold of his wrist and dragging him over toward the door. “Right, okay, we’re leaving. You three should definitely be off doing homework or something before dinner time. I don’t want to see you scrambling to get it done come morning – and I better not get another call from the school that you’re not doing yours, Jace!”

Laughter bubbled up from Magnus. He didn’t fight Alec’s pull, though. Just let himself get tugged toward the front door.

“You two be safe now!” Jace called after them, laughing as he did.

Alec shot him a glare over his shoulder. Isabelle and Maia were on either side of Jace, the trio grinning widely and watching them go. Lifting a finger, Alec pointed back at them. “Homework. Dinner’s in the oven, and I want the kitchen cleaned up afterward without begging El or Margo to do it. Then in bed at a reasonable time, all of you!”

His pushing Magnus out the door turned into Magnus twisting his hand enough to lace their fingers together and then tugging Alec forward, pulling him now to cut off Alec’s warning speech.

The instant they were out on the porch, the front door snapped shut though no one else had been near it. Alec was betting on Margo.

Of course, now that they were outside and away from the others, Alec abruptly realized that he’d just essentially grabbed Magnus and yanked him out of the house. Not only that, but he was still holding his hand. Not that Magnus seemed in a hurry to let Alec go. He was still holding on as he led Alec across the short front yard toward a… a rather beautiful looking car done up in a dark red that was a lot like…

Turning his head, Alec looked Magnus over, taking in his outfit once again. “Magnus, did you… match your car to your outfit?”

Magnus’ smile was bright and unrepentant. “Who says I didn’t match my outfit to the car?”

“Isn’t the result the same?”

“True.” Magnus gave Alec’s hand a squeeze and then winked at him. “But one would be far more expensive than the other.” That said, he finally let go of Alec, only to reach out and open up the passenger’s door for him. He held it open like a gentleman, one hand extended Alec’s way as if to help him down inside.

After only a brief hesitation, Alec allowed it. He placed his hand back in Magnus’ and slipped himself down into the surprisingly roomy car. Magnus waited until he was fully in before letting go and shutting the door.

Alec had just settled in and buckled himself when Magnus got into the driver’s seat. The way he sat, the ease with which he snapped on his buckle and turned the car on, had Alec watching him curiously. If this date had happened back when they first met, he wasn’t sure he would’ve been brave enough to speak up. But the two of them had shared plenty of conversations across the bar by this point. Alec was pleasantly surprised to find that the warm, comfortable feeling he felt there still existed here. It made it easier for him to relax into his seat and speak his mind. “You know, I didn’t really picture you to be the driving type.”

“I’m not, typically. But every now and again there’s something to be said for enjoying the journey, not just the destination.”

The soft way Magnus said that, combined with the warm look he shot Alec’s way, had the Shadowhunter ducking his head. A pleased smile touched his lips, though. He didn’t know what to do with Magnus’ compliments. He wasn’t going to lie and say he didn’t enjoy them, though, at least a little. No one had ever flirted with him the way that Magnus did. Not just the over-the-top bit, but the sincerity that Alec swore he could feel sometimes. The only one who came close was Eliot, and that was different.

“Where are you taking me?” Alec asked when he got himself back under control.

“I promised you dinner, right?”


Magnus flashed another smile at Alec. “Then dinner you shall have. I know a wonderful place up in Manhattan that does the best fusion food I’ve had on this side of the country. There’s a little bit of everything there for all appetites. I realized I don’t know much about your food preferences, so I thought it best to play it safe.”

A little furrow appeared between Alec’s brows. “What’s fusion food?”

“Oh, Alexander, you’re in for a treat! You see…”

As Magnus launched into a long-winded speech about fusion food, its origins, and the many different places he’d tried it, Alec let himself once more get lost underneath the warm sway of the other man’s voice. It didn’t matter what Magnus was saying, Alec could watch and listen to him for hours without ever getting tired. It didn’t really matter where they were going or what they were doing. Right now, Alec was out with someone who liked him and who he was just starting to admit that he liked back. Enough to agree to this, at least.

Nothing mattered beyond all that.

When Magnus reached down with one hand, lightly clasping Alec’s with his, the Shadowhunter smiled and let his own fingers curl in to hold on.

Magnus wasn’t wrong; the food was absolutely delicious. Alec made a mental note of the place for future reference. Though, despite Magnus not allowing Alec to see the prices, the young Shadowhunter was still pretty positive that this place was way outside his price range. Not something that one worried about on a date, though. Eliot had informed him of that. He’d been firm in the belief that Magnus would want to pay since he’d asked Alec out, yet Margo had slipped Alec a credit card with a wink and a warning of “Just in case.”

As good as the food was, it was no match for the company. Talking with Magnus was always a joy; Alec had enjoyed their texts, phone calls, and little visits at the bar. But being out in a restaurant with him? Having Magnus’ undivided attention, and being able to return it without someone else trying to take Alec’s time – it was a heady experience. One that Alec thought he’d easily be able to get used to.

They talked through almost the entire meal. Oh, how they talked. Not just about the mundane things that they usually spoke of. No, for the first time they had permission to delve just a little deeper. To poke and prod at the bits of one another that they typically kept hidden from the world. Both of them had their secrets; there were some things neither one was willing to share. But that still left plenty of things for them to talk about together.

“I like seeing you like this,” Magnus said at one point, halfway through their entrees. When he saw Alec’s evident confusion, he used his fork to gesture at, well, all of Alec. “This. You look relaxed, darling, something which I don’t believe I’ve fully seen on you before. It’s a good look for you.”

Oh. A bit of color touched Alec’s cheeks. Yet he didn’t duck his head down, nor look away. He didn’t have any reason to be embarrassed. “You’re easy to relax around. I trust you.”

Because he was still looking, he was rewarded with the sight of Magnus looking flustered. There was a small dusting of color high in his cheeks as well as a gentling around his eyes that had Alec wanting to lean over the distance and offer him a soft kiss. He couldn’t help but wonder what it’d be like. Until Eliot and Margo, Alec hadn’t ever been kissed before. Something told him kissing Magnus would be different than the simple kisses he shared with the other two.

“No one warned me what a charmer you are, Mr. Espinosa,” Magnus said teasingly. He’d lifted his glass and was giving Alec a look over the top of it, eyes heavy and warm.

Alec had to resist the urge to snort. Him? Charming? “I can honestly say that’s not something I’ve been accused of before.” Pausing, he shrugged a little, the embarrassment he hadn’t felt before coming roaring to the forefront now. As little as he wanted to say this part, he thought he probably should. Honesty was always the best way to go. There were enough things already that he had to keep from Magnus. But this? This he could be honest about. “I ah, I don’t…I haven’t really done…this.”

Magnus grinned at him, arching one eyebrow. “Go out to eat?”

This time Alec did snort. “Well, no, that either.” Though the idea of taking everyone out to eat held a definite appeal, Alec could only imagine what poor restaurant would want to put up with them. Just thinking about it made him grin. “I get the feeling my brood would get kicked out of any restaurant we’d try to go to. Quiet doesn’t really define any of them.”

“Except you,” Magnus pointed out. But he was smiling as he said it, and Alec got the feeling that it wasn’t a bad thing, at least not in his eyes. Which was… nice. Weird, but nice.

Smiling just a little, Alec nodded. “Except me.”

They’d gone a bit off-topic there. Alec had been trying to explain that dates, things like this, they weren’t something he knew how to do. He tried to think about how to get that back on topic; to say something that might get his point across without making him sound like too much of a loser. Only, he didn’t get the chance. Before he could find the words, he was broken from his thoughts by Magnus reaching across the table and laying his hand over Alec’s.

Once, just that simple contact would’ve sent Alec into a panic. Not that old-Alec would’ve even been out on a date like this at all. But a touch like that? In public? He would’ve panicked hard. But he’d come a long way since then. He’d grown. Now – though it made him just a little uncomfortable to do – Alec had enough courage to shift his hand just enough that their fingers laced together, comfortably resting there on the tabletop.

Magnus smiled at the gesture. It was something soft and warm, without any edge of teasing to it. “It’s okay, Alexander.”

Something in the way he said that let Alec know that he meant it. That somehow Magnus understood what Alec was trying to say, and he was okay with that.

Then a little something at the edge of Magnus’ smile seemed to twitch. His hand tensed just a bit, then drew back some, like he was preparing to pull away. Brown eyes darkened as they flashed briefly way from Alec. “I suppose, in the effort of full disclosure, I should make sure that you understand that I, well, we could safely say I have the opposite issue. I’ve been alive for centuries. This is something I’ve done quite a bit of in its own way, and yet in others, not at all.”

Alec tightened his hand over Magnus’. He waited until Magnus looked up, until he could catch his eye, and then made sure his voice was steady and firm. “I don’t care about that. I just care about you. I can’t say it’s not… it’s not intimidating. But your past isn’t who you are.” That was something that he’d learned from Eliot and Margo both. Hearing about their pasts in the little kernels they shared, and talking tiny bits of his own past, Alec had come to learn the lesson that no one was their past. Those moments had helped to shape a person, but they didn’t define them.

There was a brief flicker in Magnus’ eyes. A flash of something, gold? Then he closed them, drawing in a deep breath as he did. When he opened them once more, they were heavier, crinkled at the corners with the smile he was wearing. “I care about you, too, not your past, Alexander. You’ve unlocked something in me. I’ve closed myself off from feeling anything for centuries, but you, you make me want to feel things. To be alive.”

The two shared one more look that was broken only by the return of their waiter to refill their cups.

By the time he left, the mood had broken a little, but the atmosphere it left behind was so much more relaxed. Alec enjoyed the rest of his meal immensely. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had such a good time with someone or enjoyed having so much attention on him. Magnus wasn’t the least bit shy about staring at him.

When dinner was done, Magnus continued to surprise him. “Would you like to take a walk with me? There’s a lovely park not that far away, and they have an ice cream cart with weird flavors that I love to frequent. I found it just last year, and I’ve been determined to try all their flavors since then. They keep adding new ones.”

“That sounds nice.”

Which was how Alec found himself holding hands once more with Magnus while they strolled casually through a jogging trail in some random park. It was stupidly perfect. The sun was set, both of them were pleasantly full, and there weren’t that many people out on the dimly lit paths they walked. The Shadowhunter in Alec was having a hard time accepting that he didn’t have any weapons on him – Margo had been insistent that he not bring any with him – but he tried to console himself with the fact that he did have a warlock with him, and that was probably better. If trouble happened he bet he could ask Magnus to summon a weapon for him.

As they walked, they talked. Or, Magnus talked. He seemed to have a multitude of questions that he wanted to ask. Which kind of amazed Alec. They’d talked plenty before this. How was it that Magnus still had so many questions for him?

“I find you interesting,” Magnus said when Alec asked him just that. He leaned in, bumping their shoulders together, and flashed Alec a grin.

“I’m not that interesting.”

“I beg to differ.”

Alec shrugged one shoulder. He knew he wasn’t interesting. Not like his siblings, or Eliot, or Margo, or Magnus himself. He was just… Alec. “I’m really not,” he said easily. “I work, I patrol, and I take care of my family. That’s about the extent of my life.”

His words didn’t do anything to dissuade the smile that Magnus wore. If anything, it grew a little. “Alexander, even if that were all there was to you – and I don’t believe that for a minute – you would still be interesting enough for me. You have been from the moment we met.” He punctuated his words by drawing their joined hands up and twisting them just enough that he could press a kiss against Alec’s knuckles.

Alec didn’t know what possessed him at that moment. It felt like he was someone else – like he was the furthest thing from the scared little boy he knew still sat inside of him. For once that little boy’s voice was quiet. The voices of his mother, of those men in the shower, they were muted underneath the sounds of cars and crickets around him, and the warmth of Magnus’ lips against his skin. Feeling braver, Alec used their joined hands to nudge underneath Magnus’ chin until he was looking up at Alec. Then he bent down just as easily as breathing and pressed their lips together.

It was exactly like he’d always heard Isabelle describe it. Like fireworks went off inside of him. The rest of the world fell away until Magnus was the only thing Alec could see or feel. Somehow the two ended up tangled together. One of Magnus’ hands was curving over the side and back of Alec’s neck, and the other was on his hip, holding him close, while Alec’s hands were on Magnus’ biceps. His lips were soft and smooth, with a hint of flavor that Alec wouldn’t place as chapstick until later.

Magnus was leaning into him, their bodies pressed right up against one another, and it was dizzying and steadying all at the same time. Alec felt like he was falling, and yet like Magnus was the only thing that was holding him up.

When they broke apart, it felt like seconds, minutes, decades later. Both of them were breathing heavier. Magnus’ eyes were closed, though he slowly blinked them open to look up at Alec. One corner of his mouth was already curving up into a smirk that left Alec feeling like he was a part of the joke, not being laughed at. “You continue to surprise me, Alexander.”

“In good ways, I hope.”

There was a husky note to Alec’s voice that had Magnus visibly shivering. But he just leaned up and brushed another gentle kiss over Alec’s lips. “In all the very best ways, darling.”

When Magnus drew back, he didn’t go far. He claimed Alec’s hand once more and pulled them close to each other, reaching out with his other hand across his body to curl over Alec’s inner elbow like he just needed to be touching as much as possible.

Alec couldn’t stop smiling. He let Magnus lead him toward the ‘amazing ice cream cart’ and thought to himself that he was kind of glad he’d waited so long. This had to be the best first date anyone had ever had.

Chapter Text

Alec managed to avoid the interrogation when he got home that night from his date. He and Magnus had wandered the park for hours just talking as they first ate their ice cream, and then later drank the hot cocoa that Magnus had summoned up from somewhere. It’d been amazing and perfect, and when Alec got home it had felt like he was kind of floating. He hadn’t known that this whole dating thing could feel like this.

To his benefit, his late arrival meant that the others were in bed. Even Eliot and Margo were mostly unconscious when he got into bed with them. Though that didn’t stop Eliot from murmuring to him and rolling closer, or Margo from making a pleased hum as she pressed closer to Eliot so that she could reach over him to Alec. “Have a good time?” she murmured.

“The best. You can quiz me all about it in the morning.”

That was all it’d taken for her to go back to sleep. It left Alec free to cuddle in close and smile to himself as he replayed that first kiss – though not their last, Magnus seemed to love kissing – until he drifted off to sleep.

When Alec woke up in the morning, it was to the sound of faint buzzing coming from the nightstand in front of him. It was both instinct and habit to reach out for it even while half awake. Very few people had his number. Of the ones that did, only the ones that should already be here in the house with him would call for casual reasons first thing in the morning. Anyone else, it was either going to be a call to work or an emergency of some sort.

A few quick swipes to unlock the phone and open the message showed that it was none of those options. Alec smothered a sleepy smile against his pillow when he saw it was a text from Magnus the Magnificent.

Even knowing I had to get up early for clients this morning, it was worth every minute we stayed out last night. I had a wonderful time.

The smile Alec wore grew. It was just some stupid little text message bright and early in the morning – it was barely even six! Yet Magnus had gotten up early to go do something with a client, and he’d thought of Alec. Taken the time to message him a silly little compliment on their date last night. He’d let Alec know that he was thinking of him. No one else had ever done that before. No one had wanted to. Alec hadn’t ever been the type of person someone sent flirty messages to until he’d met Eliot and Margo. Even then, Eliot’s flirty messages were different than this.

As if thinking about him had summoned the man, the weight against Alec’s back that he’d barely noticed now shifted enough to snuggle in closer. He could feel Eliot press his face into his back, nose nuzzling his spine. The arm around Alec’s waist tightened. “It is far too early for you to be oozing happiness like this. Go back to sleep, kitten.”

“Sorry.” Reaching down, Alec patted at the hand on his stomach. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

That earned him a low hum against his spine. It was followed a second later by a sleepy kiss. “Magnus?” Eliot murmured.

Unbeknownst to him, Alec’s smile came back tenfold. It was easily heard in his voice. “Yeah.”

“Ew. You two are disgusting.” Eliot shuddered theatrically, and he thumped at Alec’s stomach in a lazy sort of way. “You are so ridiculously far gone on him, aren’t you?”

Ignoring the teasing portion of that, Alec almost started to say that it was too soon to say anything about how far gone he was on Magnus. Only, was it? He and Magnus had made a sort of friendship recently. Phone calls, texts, visits in the bar. If they wanted, they could almost count some of those as dates, too. Last night had just been their first official date. Thinking of all that, Alec looked at his phone one last time, enjoying the little burst of warmth it gave him, and he found the bravery enough to be honest. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.”

Eliot let out a heavy sigh this time. It was playful, almost, except for the way his grip tightened briefly. Like he thought Alec was going to pull away from him. “I guessed as much, considering the moony look you get any time he’s around. Well, we can’t say we didn’t see this coming. I guess Bambi and I are just going to have to get used to sleeping alone again.”

That threw Alec. Wait a second – what? “Why?” he blurted out.

He felt Eliot draw back a little, and he knew the man well enough to know the raised-eyebrow look that he’d be getting right now. “Not many people enjoy it when their partner sleeps with someone else. Even platonically.”

“Then they’re not the kind of partner I’d want,” Alec said. The arm around him went slightly slack, and Alec took advantage of it to roll over so that they were facing one another. Once he settled in, he could see the surprise on Eliot’s face that he hadn’t bothered to hide. Seeing it, Alec shook his head at him. “Eliot. I know I’m not always the best with words, but you have to realize, you and Margo…you’re important to me. Having someone else in my life isn’t going to change that. I mean, we might not sleep in the same bed as often, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop completely.”

The stunned look on Eliot’s face was something Alec would enjoy at a later date. At the moment, he was too busy fighting the urge to shuffle back or duck his head. The words weren’t easy to say, but they were true, and that was more important. He wasn’t going to lie to himself or to those around him. Not about important stuff like this. He’d done that for long enough, and it hadn’t gotten him anywhere good. Alec was done lying.

“Look, I’m sure there are a ton of fancy words to describe whatever it is that we have here,” Alec said. He curled his fingers around Eliot’s and held on just a little tighter. Maybe that would make this whole thing easier or at least less awkward. Having Eliot clutch back at him helped. It helped Alec keep going. “What I know is that I love the both of you. You’re family to me, just… in a different way than Izzy or Jace or Maia. And I want you guys in my life as long as you want to be here. I don’t want to change what we have. If Magnus or anyone else can’t accept that, they don’t deserve a place in my life.”

Eliot’s eyes were wide as he stared at Alec, seemingly unable to speak.

However, they’d both forgotten for a moment about the other person in their bed, and she had no problem finding her words.

Margo rolled herself over enough to plaster up against Eliot’s back. “Fuck society’s need to pigeonhole us. We’re poly-platonic-bitches who can have a serious monogamous relationship with someone else and still love each other without it being fucking weird. You wanna date Magnus? You date the fuck outta him. Doesn’t mean El and I are gonna go anywhere. Now, can we all shut the fuck up and go back to sleep?”

Her blunt words took any awkwardness and popped it like a bubble. With that gone, Eliot and Alec were both grinning at one another.

“Sorry, Margo,” Alec said, patting at her arm. Despite the way she reached for him, her and Eliot both, Alec drew himself away from their hands. “As much as I’d love to stay, I’ve got to get up and start getting breakfast together.”

She grumbled at him in a way that made it clear she wasn’t happy with his plans. However, she drew her hand back and curled up comfortably against Eliot, who easily accepted her embrace. “Fine, but it better be something good. And full of carbs. I want some fucking carbs right now.”

It wasn’t until Alec was downstairs – coffee on and oatmeal cooking in front of him – that he finally had a moment to text Magnus back. He thought about what to put. Typed and retyped it quite a few times. In the end, he settled in for sending back a simple I had a great time too that he knew didn’t quite convey what he wanted, but it was better than some of the other things he wanted to send.

His conversation with Margo and Eliot kept playing over and over in Alec’s mind. It made it hard to focus on making breakfast, or on saying much to Magnus, even. He felt like he couldn’t quite give Magnus an honest response on things until he figured out, well, the whole mess with the relationships in his life.

What Eliot had said… wasn’t wrong. Alec imagined how he would feel if he found out down the road that Magnus had been sleeping with other people the entire time they’d been dating. There’d be jealousy, even if just a bit. The idea of Magnus in bed with others had Alec’s stomach clenching up on him. But if Magnus explained it, if he said that they were platonic? That he had with these people something similar to what Alec had with Eliot and Margo, or what Eliot and Margo had with one another? Well, it might take a bit, but Alec was sure he could come to terms with it.

Hopefully, Magnus felt the same. Because Alec hadn’t been lying to his friends. He wasn’t going to give up what they had. Especially not for someone he barely even knew, at least in comparison to how he knew Eliot and Margo. They’d come in when Alec’s life was at its lowest, and they’d helped to save him. They’d taught him how to be okay with himself and who he was. They’d taught him that it was safe to love someone outside of his family.

And love them he did. Not in the same way he loved his siblings, and not in the way he could see himself growing to feel for Magnus – terrifying as that thought was – but love nonetheless. There was no way Alec was going to throw them and that love out of his life. Was what he felt for them somehow supposed to be less just because it was different?

Alec was brought out of his thoughts by the arrival of his siblings. They hit the stairs running, and Alec could hear the laughter, the way they were thudding against one another. It had him grinning up at them when they finally burst into the room. Though that grin froze, then darkened, when Alec watched Maia and Jace move out of the way, rushing toward him, and revealing…Clary Fray. Clary was here, in his house, without his permission.

“So, how was it?” Isabelle demanded, pushing Jace out of her way so she could rush right up to him and drop down in the chair at his side. Maia, who was shaking her head, just grinned and took her own seat.

Alec didn’t even look over at Isabelle as he gave an absent “Fine.” His gaze was sharp and fixed right on Jace and Clary. To his credit, Jace looked a bit sheepish, but he’d squared his shoulders in that way that said he was preparing to defend himself. He better have a damn good explanation, too. “What is she doing here?” he demanded sharply.

There was only a brief grimace on Jace’s face. Then it was wiped away under a bright grin that had worked to charm plenty of people in the past. “We were doing our homework, and she ended up crashing afterward. Don’t worry, Alec, we behaved.”

“We didn’t have sex,” Clary blurted out. She blushed as she said it, but she met Alec’s gaze, too. He felt a small spurt of respect for her at that. Not many people could pull that off. Fewer still while Alec was glaring at them.

His respect didn’t lessen his glare, though. “I don’t care if you’re having sex. That’s not the problem here, and Jace knows it.”

“Eliot and Margo approved her being here,” Jace said.

Maia snorted, visibly rolling her eyes at him. “No, Margo said she wasn’t going to take the blame for your girlfriend being here, and Eliot said it was your funeral.”

That sounded like them. However, being reminded that they’d been here and that they’d known what was going on helped to ease some of Alec’s worries. Though not all of his anger. He sat back in his chair, arms crossing over his chest, and he continued to glare at his reckless parabatai. The man he was supposed to be partners with. Battle-brothers. Someone he could trust to watch his back, while he watched Jace’s back in turn. Yet more and more often lately, it felt like it was Alec watching everything, while Jace just barreled forward and did whatever he wanted.

That might’ve worked for them once. Alec hadn’t known how to fix that. But it was a behavior he was growing tired of now. Not just with Jace, but with Isabelle, too.

“What if I’d decided to come straight here after my date?” Alec asked, not even flinching over the use of the word date. He had a much more important point to make here. He needed them to understand what they’d risked. Just because they’d left in Magnus’ car didn’t mean there hadn’t been the possibility of Magnus portaling them back.

Isabelle leaned past Alec to grab for the oatmeal and serve herself. “Eliot and Margo were here,” she reminded him.

“And if they’ve made an exception for him? They could’ve been asleep and never even known.”

It was hard to say what needed to be said with Clary watching them so intently. But Alec was pretty sure he was getting his point across. At least to Isabelle. She grimaced and ducked her head a little as if that thought hadn’t occurred to her.

Jace, however, openly rolled his eyes at him. “Quit worrying so much, Alec. It all ended up fine.”

“Just because everything’s okay in the end doesn’t make the way you got there automatically okay!” Alec snapped. He’d been trying to teach that lesson to Jace for what felt like forever.

To his frustration, Jace rolled his eyes again, and then he took Clary’s hand. “C’mon, Clary, I’m not that hungry anymore.”

Alec couldn’t believe it. He sat back in his chair and watched as Jace drug Clary out of there. As he just, walked away instead of dealing with the situation. When the door closed behind them with a sharp, definitive snap, Alec blinked a few times in surprise.

“Well,” Isabelle said slowly. “Someone’s got their head up their ass.”

“And that’s new how?” Maia asked.

Isabelle flashed her a grin. That grin faded when she turned back toward Alec, though. With one hand she reached out for him. Her fingers curled over his wrist. When she gave a soft squeeze, it had him looking down at her. For a moment Alec was reminded of just how much his baby sister was growing up. There was a seriousness in her eyes right then that Alec hadn’t seen there before. “I’m sorry we didn’t think about things, Alec. You’re right. She should’ve been sent some. At the least, we should’ve checked with you and made sure it was okay she was here.”

“Thank you.”

All at once the seriousness wiped away from Isabelle’s face, and her light touch turned into a curled grip around his wrist, squeezing and shaking it. She was practically beaming at him. “Now, tell me about your date! I want to hear everything!”

He almost said no. Almost reminded Isabelle that she had to get to school soon, and really should finish her breakfast.

What happened instead was a slow, warm smile curving over his lips. It felt so good to be able to look at Isabelle and answer her honestly. To actually have something to share for once. “It was amazing…”

Everyone in the house was full of advice for Alec on how to handle things now that they’d had their first date. Some of the advice he ignored – Jace tried to insist he had to wait a few days before calling or trying to see Magnus again, and that just seemed stupid – while others he made sure to listen to. He followed Isabelle’s advice and didn’t avoid Magnus at all. Nor did he let himself change their interactions too much. Not that that was hard. Being around Magnus, talking to him, even texting him, it was easy.

They texted off and on throughout the day, and even during the night, though responding to texts while at the bar wasn’t easy. At the moment Alec was on long shifts at the bar. He came in at about five-thirty to switch out with Sorcha, who was only there for a few hours to open and then had a ‘family thing’ she was taking care of, and then Alec was left alone with the new dishwasher – a werewolf by the name of Peter – a cook that only stayed until seven-thirty, and one barback to help him through the night.

Alec was pretty pleased with the new barback. As things around the bar got busier, Jeb had hired one at Sorcha’s suggestion, and he’d gone with the vampire that Alec and Sorcha had recommended. The vampire was young by their standards, which Alec discovered meant under five hundred, and enjoyed working in ‘pubs’. He was bright, young, with a thick Welsh accent, and a bright grin that could turn dangerous at the drop of a hat.

Rhys was short, at least by most men’s standards. He barely hit five-foot-five. But he had a muscled build that was well displayed in his tight jeans and shirts, even with the trenchcoat he wore over it all. Rhys liked to laugh, bright blue eyes gleaming, and he’d proudly told Alec, “Every vampire should own a trench. It’s part of our heritage!”

He was a good worker, cheerful, and vampire speed came in handy in the middle of a bar crisis. Alec liked having him there. He didn’t even tease the few times he caught Alec texting Magnus back. Just winked at him, laughed, and moved on.

Because of work at the bar, plus his siblings reaching their last month of school, mean that Alec’s time was more than a little busy. So when Magnus texted him about an impromptu lunch on an afternoon Alec was mostly free, he practically leapt at the chance.

It’d been almost two weeks since their last date – their first date. Though they’d seen one another since then, it didn’t quite feel the same when talking across the bar. There wasn’t that same level of intimacy as there was when Alec sat down at the table of his favorite coffee shop and could smile across it at Magnus, who was beaming his own grin while he drank his tea.

“I’m glad you were able to find the time to come out with me again,” Magnus said. He looked like he meant it, too. Like it really was a treat for Alec to be sitting across from him.

Though color warmed Alec’s cheeks, his smile only grew. “I’m glad you were able to make it, too.” He’d discovered recently just how busy a High Warlock’s schedule actually was. Especially one who still saw clients, though Magnus admitted he’d been toning down on taking new clients. Apparently, it was frowned upon for the High Warlock to have a bunch of clients and do mundane work like that. Something which made Alec shake his head, though he didn’t argue it. He knew what high standards leaders were held to.

Talk flowed so easily between them. Alec drank his coffee, ate a sandwich, and laughed more than he’d laughed in a long time. Magnus was great at entertaining him with stories.

They were most of the way through their food when a text on his phone drew Alec’s attention. He pulled it out to check, rolling his eyes when he saw the pictures waiting for him. A quick reply and he was free to put his phone away again.

When he looked back up, he found Magnus watching him curiously. “Nothing important, I hope?”

“Just Eliot.” Alec rolled his eyes again, yet he was smiling, too, not quite able to help himself. He loved his friends. Even if they were idiots sometimes. “They all mock my lack of fashion sense, but it never fails; one of them has a question about their outfit and I’m the one that gets the text to pick which one looks better.”

Magnus arched an eyebrow at him. Then he deliberately ran his gaze down the dark jeans and the Hunter’s Moon shirt that Alec was wearing. When he looked up again, there was a smirk around his lips.

This time Alec couldn’t quite stop his blush. There was blatant appreciation in that look, even if there was some teasing that went along with it. “Yeah, I know. I’m not exactly the most fashionable. But, they like my opinions? At least, when it concerns anyone’s clothes but mine.”

“That is unfairly adorable, Mr. Espinosa,” Magnus teased him.

That only made Alec roll his eyes again.

However, thinking of Eliot while sitting here with Magnus reminded Alec of something. Something that he’d wanted to discuss with Magnus since their first date, only he hadn’t quite known how. Now seemed like as good a time as any to bring it up. Though he still wasn’t sure he’d found the words to say what he wanted to say here.

“About Eliot…” Alec paused, unsure about how to go on. He tightened his hands around his mug and took a deep, steadying breath. This needed to be said. Before they went any further, Alec had to say this, and they had to come to some kind of understanding. One that he might not have realized initially was necessary. But he’d been figuring more things out since that talk with Eliot the morning after his date. Alec knew what he wanted. Now he just needed to say it out loud. “The other morning, Eliot and I were talking, and I realized I probably need to…to say something things. About them. Us. Me and them.”

There was a wary light in Magnus’ eyes when Alec looked up. Yet his smile was still in place. He seemed cautious, though still willing to listen. “Yes?”

You can do this, Alec. You can do this. Magnus deserves to know, and Eliot and Margo deserve someone in their life who isn’t a coward. With those words, Alec forced himself to continue. “I wasn’t lying to you when I said we weren’t dating. Eliot, Margo, and I, we’re not a couple. Not really. And we don’t… we don’t have sex. But…” Another deep breath and Alec’s words came faster, almost tripping over themselves in his hurry to get them out. “Margo calls us poly-platonic-bitches. We share a bed together sometimes. A lot of the time. And I love them. I really, really do. But that doesn’t make whatever this is, what you and I… it’s not less…”

Alec’s words were quickly devolving, his nerves making it harder and harder to talk. He was saved from turning into a complete bumbling mess by Magnus. The warlock leaned forward, one finger coming up to brush lightly over Alec’s lips. The worried, wary look in his eyes was gone. It’d been replaced with something a whole lot warmer.

“Hush,” Magnus said. He smiled, a hint of dimples showing in his cheeks, and Alec practically melted. The finger slid off Alec’s lips so that Magnus could cup his cheek. “I get it, darling. I’ve been alive long enough to respect the fact that not all relationships are simple black and white. You don’t need to explain any further what the three of you have. I know them, and I’d like to think I’ve gotten to know you well enough, Alexander. I trust you.”

Even with the warmth that gave him, Alec felt like he had to make sure that Magnus really knew what he was getting into. What Alec meant. At the same time, he kind of didn’t want to. It startled him to admit that. He didn’t want to say anything because he didn’t want Magnus to make a big deal out of it. He didn’t want Magnus saying that it wasn’t okay for Alec to sleep in bed with someone else while dating him. Alec didn’t want to have to choose. And that… that was unfair to all of them. Especially after his talk with Margo and Eliot.

The hand on Alec’s cheek moved to better cradle his face. The swipe of a thumb over his cheekbone drew Alec back toward the present moment. He blinked his eyes a few times and found Magnus watching him with a soft, fond look on his face. “It’s okay,” he said, his voice pitched low just for the two of them to hear. His thumb gave another soothing stroke. “I’m not going to get mad. There are all types of love out there, darling. I won’t begrudge you yours.”

“Even if it means having someone else in my bed?” Alec asked, his own voice just as soft.

Magnus’ smile grew. “Even then. You’ve all made it clear what you share is something nonsexual. What you have might include flirting, because I’ve never seen Eliot manage to go without flirting with someone as attractive as you, but as far as I can gather, sleeping is the only thing you three do in your bed, correct?”

The heat that flooded Alec’s cheeks was probably strong enough for Magnus to feel. Yet Alec didn’t look away. Couldn’t bring himself to. This felt too important. “Sometimes we talk. But that’s it. I mean, they both kiss me sometimes, you’ve seen that, but we don’t go beyond that…” He trailed off a little helplessly.

“Exactly. And you aren’t hiding it, any of you. You’re being completely upfront with me about it right from the start instead of acting like it’s a dirty secret.”

“Of course!”

Leaning in, Magnus pressed a soft, sweet kiss against Alec’s lips. Just a light brush that somehow managed to convey the same warmth that was written all over his face when he pulled back. “Then we’re fine. I don’t mind. We’ll have to sit down at some point and talk about things, about what everyone’s comfortable with, but I don’t foresee any problems with that.” Abruptly, his smile turned just a bit wicked, and his eyes had a mischievous look in them that Alec had no real time to brace for. “Although, I’m not saying I’d be adverse if you ever wished to change things up a bit, just so long as all parties are clear on it first.”

It took a second for Alec to understand what he was saying there. When it finally clicked, Alec blushed worse than he had so far. “Magnus!”

Delighted laughter rang through the coffee shop. Magnus patted Alec’s cheek before letting go. “We’ll talk about that later, then,” he said, winking.

And that was that. Alec marveled at it as their lunch went back to the easy atmosphere it’d had before. Magnus didn’t care. He really didn’t care. The idea of that was stunning.

A warm smile lit Alec’s face. Impulsively, he reached out, catching Magnus’ hand on the tabletop, and he grinned at him. It lit Alec up inside to see Magnus actually stumble a little at that, his words trailing off for just a second as if Alec’s smile had short-circuited his brain. Then he gave his head a shake, winked at Alec once more, and launched right back into his story.

He kept his hand in Alec’s, though.

By the time the two finally finished up with their lunch, there was just barely enough time for Alec to get home, make dinner for his family, check in with everyone, and then head out to work. He was saved a little bit of time by Magnus portaling him right into his own backyard. That definitely made things easier.

It looked like Magnus was going to keep the portal open, likely to get himself home, and that feeling inside of Alec said that he didn’t want to let him go. Didn’t want their good time to end. Chewing on his lip for a moment in thought, Alec made a split-second decision. “Would you like to come in? I’ve got to make sure the monsters are fed before I go to work. You’re, uh, you’re more than welcome to join us.”

The way that Magnus lit up made the moment of awkwardness worth it. “I’d love that.”

They were both smiling as they made their way up the walk hand-in-hand. Alec’s smile stayed in place as he unlocked the backdoor and let them both inside. It only started to wipe away as he was faced with a mostly dark house. The only light seemed to be the light coming in from the windows. Furrowing his brow, he took a few more steps inside. There wasn’t even the buzz of their ever-present air conditioner that Margo had forcibly installed once summer started.

Hearing the silence had Alec going still, which had Magnus tensing beside him. “Jace? Iz? Maia?”

“In here!” Maia called back.

Alec cast a curious look at Magnus, who shrugged, and then he rolled his eyes which only made Magnus grin at him. Together, the two headed into the living room and toward the living room. “Is there a reason we’re all hanging out in the dark?” Alec asked.

He found his siblings all gathered together in the living room. Maia was leaning against the wall between the stairs and the front entry with her arms crossed over her chest and a sharp glare on her face that was directed firmly at Jace. It was matched by a glare from Isabelle, who was sitting in her favorite recliner. For his part, Jace was sunk low in his seat on the couch, looking for all the world like a scolded child.

“Why don’t you ask him?” Maia snapped, her glare only getting sharper.

Alec stopped in the entryway between the rooms. He felt Magnus come to a stop right next to him. Brow furrowed, Alec looked from Maia to Isabelle and then down to Jace. “Jace?”

A sheepish look crossed Jace’s features. He brought one hand up and rubbed at the back of his neck. When he looked up, he had that awkward smile he always got when he was getting ready to try and talk his way out of some bullshit. Or try and convince someone not to be too mad at him. That, combined with the weird tension in their bond that usually meant nerves, had Alec on edge. It only got worse when Jace finally opened his mouth. “I, uh, I might have accidentally forgotten to go pay the power bill?”

Oh, fuck. Alec closed his eyes and let out a heavy groan. “Jace!”

“I’m sorry!” Jace said immediately. “It wasn’t on purpose! I just, I was talking with Clary and there’s this cool film festival thing that’s coming up, and she was really excited to go, so I just, I borrowed a little bit of the money…”

“Our bill money!” Isabelle interjected sharply.

Jace shot her a sharp look that clearly meant shut up. Then turned pleading eyes back to Alec. “I meant to pay it back, I really did, but I just… forgot?”

“You stole the money we need for the electric bill and then just forgot all about it,” Maia said. “How exactly were you planning on paying it back anyway? Seeing as how you’ve got no fucking job. If you did, you wouldn’t have to resort to stealing your brother’s hard-earned money to begin with!” Her tone was sharper than Alec had ever heard it before. Not that he could blame her. He was starting to feel pretty pissed himself.

All Alec had to do was lift one hand up in the air to silence the three in front of him. His eyes were on Jace, and he watched as his brother wilted under that look. “Where’s the rest of the money?”

“Here.” Jace pulled an envelope from his jacket and held it out Alec’s way.

In two strides, Alec was close enough to grab the envelope. He opened it up and gave a quick count. When he saw that at least a third of it was missing, he wanted to groan. Loudly. There was no way he was going to be able to get the money together tonight. Not without some amazing tips. And even if he did, a glance up to the clock showed that the power company wasn’t even going to be open. Maybe if he had Magnus portal him down there, yeah. But even portaling down to talk to them wouldn’t get him anything. Alec had been late more than once on his payments. He’d already been plenty late on this one because of a few random expenses for their ‘homecoming dance’ that he hadn’t planned on. They weren’t going to accept a partial payment. Not with having already shut the power off.

“All right. We’re gonna need to find a way to preserve as much of our food as possible. Go downstairs and dig up the big ice chest down there, then see about going to get some bags of ice from somewhere…”

Alec’s planning was cut off when Magnus snapped his fingers. It was followed by a handwave toward the fridge that drew everyone’s attention. When Alec arched an eyebrow, Magnus smiled softly at him. “Just a preservation spell. It’ll hold on the fridge for a few days, maybe a week. If you get power back before then, it’ll cancel the spell out and you’ll be fine.”

Thank the angel for that. Alec offered him a grateful look, though he had to fight back embarrassment at the fact that Magnus was here to witness this. “Thanks.”

The easy understanding in Magnus’ eyes meant more than any words he could’ve said. As did the hand that he slipped into Alec’s.

With Magnus holding his hand, keeping him grounded, it was easier for Alec to turn and look at his siblings again. To take in the contrite yet still somehow petulant look that Jace wore, the fury on Maia’s face, and the annoyance on Isabelle’s. It was on the tip of Alec’s tongue to try and smooth things over. To tell them that it was okay. That he’d figure this out somehow. It was his job to take care of them, after all. He was the adult here.

Only, when Alec opened his mouth… he couldn’t. He couldn’t bring himself to excuse it again. If it’d been something little, sure. But this? This was their power. This was losing their electricity, which meant losing hot running water and air conditioning right at the start of summer. Without Magnus, it could’ve meant losing their food, too, which would’ve been an expense that Alec couldn’t afford.

He’d been letting them all get away with things for so long. Maybe the others were right. Eliot, Margo, and Maia had all told him that he needed to force his siblings to grow up. Looking at them now, Alec had to finally admit that they were right.

“If we’re lucky, I’ll make enough in tips tonight to be able to cover what’s left of this, and I can get over to the power company tomorrow to get the power back on,” Alec said lowly. It’d mean little sleep for him, and probably a stamina rune or two to get him through the day, but he could do it. “That means money’s going to be tight for a while, though. Which means no more allowance for whatever it is you want. No more quick money to go out with your girlfriend…” he shot Jace a sharp look, making him wince, and then Alec turned that look toward Isabelle. “Or to pick up whatever outfit or little thing you absolutely need.”

Isabelle was wincing now, too. She’d been mad at Jace for this, sure, but Alec wasn’t sure if that had only been because it directly impacted her. While she wasn’t as bad as Jace at asking for money, she wasn’t afraid to do it when she wanted something, and he had such a hard time saying no to her.

Alec straightened himself up a little and drew strength from Magnus’ steady hold. He hated doing this in front of him, airing out his dirty laundry, but it needed to be done and he was tired of holding back.

“I’ve made things easy for you guys for a while now because I felt bad. I know you wouldn’t be out here if it wasn’t for me.”

“Alec,” Isabelle tried to interject. She and Jace had both sat up, their eyes wide as they looked at him.

He held up a hand to silence them. He wasn’t done yet. “I’ve made a lot of allowances for you guys, but I can’t keep doing it. I make more money now at the bar, but even still, with everything you guys keep taking we’re still managing to barely make it by. So, I’m done. The money I already gave you for homecoming is yours, but after that, I’m done. As soon as summer hits, you’re on your own for money for anything that isn’t essential. I’ll keep buying the food and the household things, shampoo, stuff like that, but if you want money for anything else I suggest you go out and get a job just like the rest of us. I know Maia pointed out plenty of places willing to hire a teenager with no experience.”

Without giving them time to say anything, and hating the looks of shock on their faces, Alec turned around, tugging Magnus with him.

“You guys are on your own for dinner,” he called back. “I’m going to get ready for work.”

That said, Alec left them all staring after him, not even really paying attention to the fact that he was dragging Magnus with him as he made his way upstairs to his bedroom.

Alec didn’t stop until he was in the room with the door shut behind him. The instant the door clicked shut, he found himself getting tugged into a tight hug. Warm arms around his waist drew him in. Alec responded by twining his own arms around Magnus’ shoulders and burying his face in against his hair. He held on, letting the other man hold him up for just a moment.

“I’m sorry you got stuck in the middle of that,” Alec murmured without moving.

Magnus huffed. The puff of breath blew against Alec’s neck, sending chills down his spine. “I’m exactly where I want to be.”

“We’ve been on two dates, Magnus. You shouldn’t have to put up with all that.”

There was another soft puff of breath, Magnus chuckling, and then a kiss pressed against the deflect rune on Alec’s neck. He felt as Magnus shifted so that his ear was on Alec’s shoulder, snuggling him in while leaving room for him to talk still. “If you think about it, we’ve gone on far more than two dates. We were friends first, even. Maybe we might seem fast to others, but who cares what they think?” He kissed Alec’s neck once more. “I like you. Weird family drama and all.”

“You’ll get plenty of that here.”

“So long as I have you as well, I’ll consider it all worth it.”

What else could Alec say to that? He did the only logical thing he could think of and reached a hand in to cup Magnus’ chin, drawing him up into a kiss that said all the words Alec couldn’t think of. He kissed him and put everything he was feeling into it, hoping it was enough, hoping it wouldn’t be too much.  Magnus had become someone important to him in such a short time. It was terrifying just how important he was. So Alec did the only thing he could do.

He poured all of those feelings into the kiss while praying at the same time that Raziel wouldn’t take this away from him.