Keeping secrets was never easy. Alec should know – he was keeping quite a few. Sometimes it was hard to remember who knew what secrets. The chance of slipping up, the damage that could cause, was unthinkable. There were too many things about himself that he couldn’t let just anyone know. Too many things that marked him as wrong or different, even if he didn’t understand why sometimes.
His family were the only ones to know his biggest secret, one that could get him killed if he wasn’t careful. Bad enough that his parents had once been a part of the Circle and extremely close to Valentine himself. If any Shadowhunters – or, Angel forbid, the Clave – ever found out that Maryse had allowed Valentine to inject her with something, mixing what she’d been told was more Angel blood with her unborn child, the ramifications could be catastrophic for their family. More so if they ever found out it wasn’t Angel blood that he’d injected the fetus with.
It was dragon blood.
There’d been no hiding the truth of it once Alec was born. Not from the family, at least. When Alexander was born with a hint of scales on his face and the tiniest of claws on his fingers, they knew that it wasn’t the blood of Angels that ran through his veins. But it took a visit from a warlock they trusted to keep quiet to let them know that it wasn’t warlock blood either. That, somehow, Valentine must’ve gained pure dragon blood, impossible though it may seem. Dragons had been gone for hundreds of years.
What it meant for Alec as he grew was that there were even more studies on top of those to make him a proper Shadowhunter. He was kept glamoured by a warlock spell attached to a charmed bracelet until he was old enough to control his shifts and learn how to become dragon or human instead of existing as both. After that, the lessons grew, and Alec learned how to live as a Shadowhunter and how to live as a dragon. How to control the innate magic that all dragons had. How to shift to his true size, or to make his dragon-size small, no larger than a housecat. He learned how to be who he was, how different he was from human, and how to play by the human rules that his parents laid down for him.
And all the while, Alec learned what his parents considered to be the most important message of all – don’t tell. Never tell. To do so could mean death, not just for himself but for his family. For Isabelle, Max, even Jace, once he came along.
Isabelle knew the truth of what Alec was. There was no hope in hiding it from her. She loved him for it anyways and had no qualms about hanging out with him no matter what form he was in. “You’re gorgeous either way, hermano,” she told him, enjoying how it made him blush.
She was the one who hung around with Alec when he practiced his magic alone in his room at night. She was the one who took over the duty Alec had been trying to do alone, since neither parent wanted to acknowledge Alec’s other half, and she helped to wash his scales in those hard-to-reach places when he shifted – something they’d learned he had to do at least once a month.
She was also the one to convince Alec that he needed to tell Jace. That they could, in fact, still become parabatai, no matter what their parents had to say. “Once you announce the decision to everyone, there’s no way they’ll be able to stop you. They won’t have any reason to.”
Runes worked on him. When Alec was a Shadowhunter, it was almost like his dragon half was locked away, curled up inside of him where it waited for him to set it free. In those moments he was a Shadowhunter in every way that mattered. He practiced, he trained, he hunted, he had runes, and while he might not be the best, Jace Wayland had chosen him to be his parabatai. More than anything, Alec wanted to say yes. But he had to be honest first.
Isabelle helped Alec plan the whole thing. This wasn’t a conversation to have just anywhere. Especially because Alec knew he was likely going to have to prove his words to Jace for them to be believed.
They told Jace that they were sneaking out that night, that they had something they wanted to show him, and of course, Jace went along with it. “What self-respecting young teenager wouldn’t?” Isabelle said, grinning broadly at Alec as she did. They both knew that if he didn’t have something that required him to sneak out periodically, he was just the type of person to stay in.
Jace just laughed and came right along with them.
The place they took him to was an old church that had long ago been glamoured for Alec. Between the warlock wards and the angelic runes – plus Alec’s own wards, as he learned how to make them – it was almost as well hidden as the Institute, and only a select few knew about it. Not even Maryse or Robert knew. They’d paid to help set it up once it became apparent that Alec had to have somewhere to shift, that he couldn’t just ignore this half of himself or somehow cut it out. But beyond that, they’d never cared enough to know anything about it.
Isabelle had been the first person Alec took with him. Now, with Isabelle at his side holding steady to his hand, they took Jace.
Nerves were eating at his stomach, twisting round and round in there until Alec was sure he was going to hurl. He could hear Jace’s footsteps just a foot or so behind him. “Woah. All that glamour for, what? Some weird church?”
“Not quite,” Isabelle said. She drew Alec to the center of the church and stopped them. The pews had long since been moved out of the way. It left them standing in a large, open space, with nothing around them. Just the two of them facing Jace, who was looking a little worried now.
“What’s going on, guys?”
That was his cue. They’d brought Jace here. Now it was time for Alec to speak up and actually tell him. So why did it feel like his throat was trying to close off?
Isabelle gave Alec’s hand a firm, supportive squeeze. “You got this, big brother,” she murmured to him.
He clutched those words close to his heart and hoped that she wasn’t proved wrong. If Jace reacted badly, this whole thing could cause a lot of serious trouble. Alec had to take a leap of faith and hope that Jace was exactly the guy he thought he was.
With a deep breath, Alec squared his shoulders and met Jace stare for stare. “You asked me to be your parabatai,” he began, trying to choose his words with a care he didn’t usually show. “The fact that you asked me over anyone else… it’s an honor, Jace. One I’d love to say yes to.”
A slow grin stretched its way across Jace’s face. It lit up his eyes and warmed them in that way that only family ever got to see. “That’s great, Alec.” All at once, the rest of Alec’s words seemed to click in. Or, at least, part of them. “You’d love to. So… what’s stopping you?”
“There’re some important things you need to know about me, first. Things that I need you to know before you tie yourself to me in any way.”
“There’s nothing you can tell me that’s going to change my mind about you,” Jace said, and oh, Angel, there was such conviction in his voice. He believed what he was saying with everything he had. Hopefully, he’d keep feeling that way here in a minute.
Another deep breath. You can do this. Alec opened his mouth, intending on finding some delicate way to say this, something that wouldn’t make him sound crazy. What happened instead was that he blurted out the words “I’m a dragon.”
The hand in Alec’s twitched, and he heard Isabelle groaning lowly. “Raziel, Alec!”
Jace looked stunned. Like someone had just slapped him. He opened his mouth, and Alec knew his first instinct was to deny this, to try and pass it off as some sort of joke, only he knew Alec. Probably as well as Isabelle did, if not better in some ways. He knew that jokes like this weren’t Alec’s style. Isabelle, maybe. She might’ve done something like this just to see his reaction and have a little fun. But Alec? Alec, who was standing ramrod straight, braced for a blow it was clear he was sure was coming?
“Holy shit,” Jace breathed out. “I really wanna say you’re screwing with me, but you’re not, are you?”
Alec didn’t trust his voice. He pressed his lips together and gave a sharp shake of his head.
Bless Isabelle; she didn’t make Jace ask the questions they could see written on his face, she just stepped in to answer, taking over for the both of them for a minute. “Mom and Dad don’t exactly have the best past. They told Alec that someone gave Mom something while she was pregnant, and that’s why he is the way he is. We didn’t find out until a couple of years ago that it was Valentine. They thought he was injecting Mom with angel blood, but apparently, it was dragon blood.”
“By the Angel. So you’re… you’re half dragon?”
Shaking his head again, Alec took a second to clear his throat, to try and find his voice. He didn’t realize that he was gripping tightly to Isabelle’s hand the whole time; she never even flinched. “Mom and Dad got a warlock to help glamour me until I could do it myself and learn how to shift. He told me that it doesn’t… it doesn’t work quite like that. I mean, I’m a Shadowhunter still. The runes still work fine on me. He even said the parabatai rune should work just fine. But I’m not, not really half-and-half. He said all dragons could shift to human if they wanted. That they were like both things, dragon and human, all in one body. I’m just… dragon and Shadowhunter.”
The fact that Jace hadn’t run away or pulled a seraph blade yet was a good sign. Alec held his breath as he watched his brother process everything Alec had just said.
When Jace finally reacted, it was nothing like Alec had expected, which, really, he should’ve known better.
A bright light lit up Jace’s eyes, and he was giving that crooked grin, the one that gave Alec thoughts he knew he shouldn’t have. He was practically vibrating with excitement. “You can shift? Like, turn into an actual dragon? Can I see? Is that why we’re here?”
“Deep breath, Jace,” Isabelle interrupted him, grinning right back at him. She gave Alec’s hand a quick squeeze and then forced him to let go, giving her room to not only step back but take hold of Jace’s arm and draw him back with her. The smile on her face was bright. “I think that’s your cue, Alec.”
Alec took one last look at Jace’s face, just to make sure. All he saw there was excitement. Would he still feel that way once Alec changed? Would he still be willing to be friends, brothers, parabatai?
There was only one way to find out.
It wasn’t easy to shift with an audience. The only people that Alec had ever willingly shifted in front of were his teacher and his sister. He didn’t even willingly do it in front of either of his parents. Not since he was a baby. Once he’d learned control, the only time they’d seen him like this was if they walked in on his lessons, or him in his room. Now, as Alec reached inside of him to the place where his inner dragon slept, he tried not to be nervous about adding Jace to the list.
The pull of magic all around his skin was a sensation Alec was never going to be able to describe to anyone. There were no words for how it felt to wake that sleeping dragon inside of himself and let it come to the forefront, not pushing away who he was, but melding it. When Alec was human, he felt the dragon parts inside, but he’d learned to shove those down and only allow himself to be the Shadowhunter. As a dragon? He was all parts of himself. Dragon, Shadowhunter, brother, friend, son, Alec. He was just Alec, and it was amazing and freeing in ways that sometimes terrified him.
His senses opened up, vision, smell, hearing, touch, all of it changing, bringing in new amounts of sensory input that he didn’t have as human. The world became brighter. Less dull. Eyes that glowed in swirls of dark purple and blue looked around the room, taking in everything with his clearer sight, before settling down on the two humans standing at the far side of the room. They were so much smaller it threw Alec for a second. It always took him a moment to get used to being this shape, this size.
Just like his human side, his dragon was just a teenager, which meant he was still growing. At the moment he was about the size of a small house while sitting, with his wings held loosely at his back.
A breath of magic lit the candles and torches that were placed throughout the church. It lit it up so that Jace could actually see Alec in all his glory. The soft gasp Alec heard made it clear when he did, too.
Alec knew he cut an imposing figure. According to what he’d learned, he was already large for his age, which he was sort of used to. His scales were as black as his hair and his runes, though at just the right angle, in just the right light, they could show hints of the same purples and blues that made up his eyes. His body wasn’t stocky as Alec had seen in some of the books with dragon illustrations. No, he tended towards the longer and leaner side of things, though that didn’t make him any less deadly or intimidating. The claws at the end of each foot were sharp and dangerous, as were the two pairs of horns that grew backward on either side of his head, and the two claws that curved at the hand joint of his wings.
As he watched, he saw the same awe as always on his sister’s face, the absolute love that helped give him the courage to even be here today. Then he looked at Jace and found the very same awe written in his eyes. “Holy shit.”
Amusement lit up Alec’s face. He drew his long tail in, curling it around himself completely, and he shuffled his wings until they settled better against his back.
It looked like Jace was about to step forward, only Isabelle’s hand on his arm stopped him.
“You need to be careful,” he could hear Isabelle saying lowly. “He’s still Alec, he’s just… more. Despite their human half, dragons aren’t actually human. He’s not going to be exactly what you expect him to be. Most of the time he can control it in human form, but dragons have different beliefs, different instincts, and they come out stronger when he’s his true self.”
She wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t just Alec’s body that changed. In a way, it was everything about him. He was less afraid like this. Bolder. Blunter – something that Isabelle teased him he very much did not need. He was also more in tune with his instincts. Emotions were sharper like this, less able to be ignored, and as much as Alec hated it when he was human, as a dragon, his temper was a bit closer to the surface. Pissing him off or offending him was easier to do, with far more dangerous consequences.
Still, this was his sister and his brother. Clan, a voice inside of Alec whispered. That meant they were safer than most.
Slowly, carefully, he lowered himself down until he was lying on his stomach, front legs crossing over one another. It allowed him to curve his long neck enough that he could bring his head to Jace’s level.
Alec in his human form normally would’ve been silent at this point. He would’ve let Jace process while waiting and worrying the whole time. Like this? Like this, he tilted his head, curiously studying Jace’s face. “Now you know,” Alec said. He had to fight not to grin when Jace jumped at hearing him speak. Like this, his voice was deeper and carried a growl at the edges of it. “You know the Lightwood’s shameful secret. Their son, the freak. Still think you want to tie yourself to something like this?”
A million different emotions crossed Jace’s face. Alec could smell the shift in his emotions. Jace smelled like the ocean for the most part. The wet sand, the breeze off the water, the saltwater. There was an edge to it now that made Alec think of incoming storms.
Then, to his complete shock, Jace stepped away from Isabelle and reached up to cup Alec’s face without any signs of fear on his body or in his scent. Holding there, he met Alec’s eyes and spoke in a firm, steady voice. “Without hesitation.”
Alec let out a rumble that was far closer to a purr than he liked to admit. He didn’t say anything else, just leaned his head in a little more, tipping it down until he and Jace could press together, forehead to forehead.
In the silence of that moment, Alec made his own promise, one that ran just as deep as any bond the angels would forge between them. He promised to protect this member of his clan with everything he had inside of him, just as he would protect Isabelle. So long as he was around, he’d keep them safe, no matter what it took.