According to the reports the building should be swarming with demons, but all Andrew could see were empty hallways and boarded-up windows. Dust motes danced in the narrow shafts of murky twilight, and he guessed that he and the other Shadowhunters had been crawling around in this abandoned warehouse for more than two hours now without even a single contact.
The shafts of light were slowly blending into the darkness of the hallways as dusk fell, and Andrew cursed his luck. He and Lorenzo had planned dinner tonight, but instead they had gotten a report of demon activities. And what with a large contingent of Shadowhunters already being assigned to the first location, he was on the team checking out the second infestation.
Only, there wasn’t a trace of any demons.
Andrew didn’t doubt that Luke’s reports were correct; there had been several bodies of mundanes who had been reported missing a while ago. But whatever demon activity he had observed seemed to have ceased.
A sudden shriek and the scrabbling of claws proved him very suddenly wrong. He ran, following the sounds, but the demon vanished out of earshot again before he had even made visual contact.
“Damnit.” He fell against the wall and exhaled forcefully in a huff. He texted Isabelle but she hadn’t had any visual either, so he slipped the phone back into his pocket and pushed himself off the wall again. He only had this one hallway left to cover before he had to report back to the meeting point at the main entrance, so he better get it over with.
Andrew rounded another corner and stopped dead in his tracks. He could smell blood, and the fact that he wasn’t a werewolf or vampire could only mean that there was a lot of it. Blade extended before him he advanced cautiously, and spotted an open door leading into a small room. The stench of blood emanated from there.
A heavy silence greeted him in that small, dark, windowless room, accentuated by a soft, tiny drip, drip, drip coming from the back of the room. He produced his witchlight with the other hand, after a quick glance out of the door, and looked around. The room seemed a makeshift medical bay, with an IV stand, a table with surgical tools, and several shelves stacked with medical supplies. And in the centre of the room...
His heart sank, and he shook his head. On a stretcher, tied down with heavy leather straps, was a woman, doubtlessly mundane, and doubtlessly dead. Her throat had been cut, and it was her blood that Andrew had smelled and that was still dripping, even if the soft pattering of drops became slower and slower.
The demon he had heard must have done this, with Andrew right around the corner.
He stepped closer, witchlight extended, and had to swallow. The woman wasn’t only a dead mundane, she had also been heavily pregnant. To judge by the size of her belly there couldn’t have been much more time left than a couple of weeks, three, at the most.
“By the Angel,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry...”
He almost jumped when the belly moved, just a twitch, a small kick maybe from the inhabitant who quite obviously wasn’t dead yet.
“Oh god, no...” Andrew muttered.
Because what on earth was he to do now? He wasn’t a surgeon; he couldn’t just perform an emergency C-section in this derelict, demon-infested warehouse, and without any medical knowledge.
He stuck his head out of the room and yelled at the top of his lungs for help. No reply.
“Isabelle?” He dug his hands into his hair. “ANYONE?”
No reply, no footsteps, no anything.
He turned around again and his heart began to beat faster as he looked at the belly, because he knew he needed to do something. The baby was still alive, but wouldn’t be much longer if he didn’t get it out somehow right now. He looked at the face of the mother, her mouth open in shock, eyes wide and staring lifelessly at the ceiling.
She was gone. She didn’t feel pain anymore.
But Andrew still wasn’t sure what to do. He didn’t know the next thing about C-sections, the only times he had opened bodies were when he had been out hunting with his father as a boy. He couldn’t well cut her open like a deer that needed gutting?
The belly twitched again, and Andrew put his witchlight down on the table next to the surgical instruments. The mother might be dead, but Andrew was sure she wouldn’t have cared what happened to her, or her dead body, of only her baby could be saved.
So he took a scalpel, closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and sent a quick prayer to the Angel to help him.
Another deep, deep breath with his eyes closed, and he made a small incision above her pubic bone. His hands were shaking so hard he had to take another breath to somehow steady himself. He needed to focus, stop thinking, and just do what he had done dozens of times as a boy and teenager. So he slipped the index and middle finger of his left hand into the incision, although he couldn’t suppress a shudder of revulsion. Then he inserted the scalpel again, and lifting the abdominal wall with those two fingers, he carefully sliced through muscle and skin up towards the breastbone, the fingers guiding the cut and making sure he didn’t injure the internal organs.
“How do doctors do this,” he muttered, barely suppressing the urge to heave. But the large bulge of the uterus twitched again, and Andrew couldn’t waste any more time with sensibilities like that. He made a very careful incision again in a spot where he was sure no parts of the baby were, and cautiously did the same again. Then he cut into the amniotic sack, the fluid still warm around his fingers, and something nudged his hand. It felt like a foot, and he almost lost his grip on the scalpel. He shuddered violently, but forced himself to continue.
“That has to be enough...”
But she wasn’t breathing.
“Oh god, no...” He shook his head and looked around, helplessly, and yelled again into the direction of the door.
Nothing. He was still on his own.
His thoughts were racing a mile a minute, and he was wracking his brain, digging for every piece of information he might have stored somewhere about childbirth and first aid on infants.
Right, the umbilical cord had to be cut. But it had to be clamped, somehow. Tied off. But there wasn’t anything in sight he could use.
“Damnit all to hell!”
He put the baby down on the dead body of her mother, tore down the zipper of his leather jacket, and after throwing that to the ground he tore off his sweater and T-shirt as well. He grabbed the scalpel, sliced a strip of fabric form the shirt, and used that to tie off the cord. He pulled the knot as tight as he could, and cut the cord with another shudder.
Every Shadowhunter had basic first aid knowledge and knew how to perform CPR, but how on earth did you perform CPR on a newborn infant?
“Carefully, that’s how,” he muttered, and for a moment he had to suppress a hysterical little giggle. He never talked to himself, and now he was doing it constantly. Maybe hearing a voice, even if it was his own, gave him some weak feeling of reassurance.
He put the baby on the table and settled three fingers on the tiny chest. No, rescue breathing would be more important now. He almost heaved again; while the baby didn’t smell of blood it had a strange earthy smell that was sweetish and salty at the same time, and it was absolutely revolting. But he didn’t have a choice.
But thank the Angel, praise the High Heavens for good measure, after two breaths the baby suddenly twitched and coughed, and then started whining. The second whine was louder than the first, and then she was crying, deep gulps of air interspersed with tiny, high-pitched wails.
“Here,” Andrew hastily picked her up from the cold steel surface. “It’s okay. Shh, it’s okay. You’re safe.”
As soon as she came into contact with the bare skin of his chest she calmed down a little, and Andrew closed his eyes as he cupped the tiny head with his hand.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t save your mom,” he said softly. “But I did save you, and I’m sure she’d be happy about it.”
He then managed to manoeuvre the baby into one arm and produced his phone, then he took a picture of the dead woman’s face and sent it to Luke for possible identification. He needed to get that baby to her family, and everything would be fine, or as fine as it would get with her mother dead. After slipping the phone back into his pocket he looked down at the baby and froze.
She was looking at him out of big, solemn eyes that seemed strangely intense. They also were a bright, iridescent turquoise, with a roughly star-shaped pupil.
“You’re a warlock baby...”
So much for reuniting her with her family.
She blinked, and her eyes reflected the dim light of the witchlight like mother-of-pearl. Andrew had rarely seen anything so beautiful in his life, and here he had thought Lorenzo’s warlock mark couldn’t possibly be rivalled. He felt a smile tug at his lips.
“Look at you,” he said, mesmerized by those beautiful turquoise eyes.
He was torn out of his reverie by the unmistakable hiss of a Shax demon, and he had no choice but to hastily deposit the baby onto the steel table again to be able to dive for his blade. It was lying too close to the demon, and after disposing of it Andrew stared at his arm and the deep red gashes the demon’s claws had left. Gritting his teeth he activated his iratze while getting onto his feet, and hastily slipped the stele back into his pocket to pick up the baby again. She stopped crying instantly, and Andrew closed his eyes.
“Now there are demons,” he muttered. “Couldn’t show up before I found you. Now I gotta get you out of here somehow, but I can’t fight carrying you around. Can’t even run.”
The baby emitted a few hums against his skin, and he felt a small hand open and close, the tiny fingers scraping softly against his chest hair. Somehow, against all odds, he had saved the baby, but now he had to get her out of here.
He looked down at the baby again and took a deep breath. “I will protect you,” he said firmly. “I’ll get you out of here, I promise.”
Taking a few more moments to think of the best course of action, Andrew looked around, the baby pressed flush against his chest, his hand still cupping her head. First, he needed to keep her warm somehow, and that meant he would have to carry her as closely to his body as he could. But Andrew Underhill was nothing if not resourceful.
He wrapped the baby into the remains of his T-shirt, and grabbed and opened several packages of bandages. It was a horribly tedious process, but somehow he managed to wrap enough of the bandages around himself and the baby that he could more or less securely tie her to his chest. He picked up his sweater and sliced into the neckline to deepen it, then slipped it on again, making sure the baby’s face had enough space so she could breathe freely. Then he put his jacket back on, and because she was so tiny he could almost close that too.
This was as good as it could get. He wouldn’t be able to fight like this but he could run, and that would have to be enough. It had to.
Then he looked at the dead woman. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save you,” he said softly. “But I saved her, and I promise... I swear I will see her to a good and loving home.”
Before leaving the room he turned around one last time and inclined his head. “Ave atque vale,” he said in a low voice, and closed the door behind him after stepping back into the hallway.
The baby whimpered, and Andrew closed one arm around the little bundle tied to his body.
“Shh, it’s okay. I’ll keep you safe. I’ll get you out of here. Don’t be scared.”
He made it halfway down the hallway before he heard the scrabbling of claws again, and he exhaled forcefully through gritted teeth. He walked faster, looking back over his shoulder ever so often, and then almost collided with the Shax demon that lunged at him from a window recess.
“Fuck!” He dodged in sheer reflex and a forceful kick send the beast flying, but without stabbing it with a Seraph blade he wouldn’t get rid of it. So he clamped both arms around the bundle and ran.
After a few steps he dared to let one arm go to reach for his stele, but before he could activate any of his runes the demon was on him again. He spun around and with sheer, bloody luck – or maybe the blessing of the Angel – he stabbed the bastard right between the eyes. It screamed, and crumbled to ashes.
“That was close.” He shook his head, breathing heavily. “Bloody hell.”
But what he heard next made his blood run cold. Several Shax demons, and something that was definitely larger. He barely managed to activate the speed rune before the creature rounded the corner, and Andrew felt something ice-cold run down his spine. He had never seen a creature like that before. It easily stood seven feet, had two legs and four arms, long, bony limbs that ended in sharp, blood-tipped claws. Several Shax demons were swarming around the monster, hissing and flashing their mandibles as they saw him.
Andrew dropped the stele, clamped both arms around the baby again, and ran.
He didn’t look back, keeping his eyes firmly on the ground before him, because one misstep, one stumble, and both he and the baby were toast. He ran, the air beginning to burn in his lungs, but he kept running, the demon on his heels that was gaining on him with huge steps and heavy footfalls that made the ground vibrate.
And then he heard voices, someone was shouting, and he could hear footsteps. He could already see the main gates, and he forced himself to keep running, another burst of speed, the shouts of alarm ringing dimly in his ears over the hammering of his heart.
He swore he could feel the demon’s breath at the back of his head, and then he felt the searing pain of claws cutting into his back. He stumbled, barely able to suppress a scream of pain, but then someone rushed past him and he could see the blue shimmer of a Seraph blade. He staggered a few steps more before he lost his balance, but since he didn’t have a free hand to catch himself the only thing he could do to protect the baby was letting himself fall onto his side. His head hit the tarmac with a painful thud that made him see stars, and he rolled onto his back with a groan.
He could feel someone kneel down beside him.
He managed to open his eyes, still too winded to speak. Isabelle looked him over, eyes wide and worried.
“What on earth happened? Where’s your blade? And your stele?”
“Dropped it,” Andrew managed to gasp. “Too busy running.”
“Why?” Isabelle grabbed his arm “What happened? You’re one of our best fighters! That thing was huge but it wasn’t a challenge!”
Andrew let his head drop back, but gingerly. His back was hurting like crazy and he could already feel a lump form on the back of his head. He lifted one arm and spent a moment looking at his hand, how much it was shaking, and that it was still coated in dried blood.
“Underhill, what happened to you?” Isabelle asked again, her eyes on the blood-crusted hand.
“Not mine,” he rasped.
“Then whose blood is that?” Isabelle took his chin, gently, and forced him to look at her.
“Found a dead mundane woman.”
Then he reached for the zipper of his jacket and pulled it down. The baby chose that moment to whimper again, and Isabelle’s eyes widened almost comically. She pulled a fold of the sweater aside to reveal the baby’s face, and stared at it for a good long moment.
“By the Angel,” she whispered. “How...”
Andrew would have told her about his impromptu Caesarean and everything that followed, but his head was swimming, his blood was throbbing in his ears and eyeballs, his back was on fire, and he could feel the acid burn of demon venom seep into his bones.
“Underhill!” He could feel Isabelle grab his arm in search for his iratze. “Underhill, stay with me!”
He tried. But the pull of unconsciousness was stronger.
The familiar glow of his iratze brought Andrew’s mind back to the surface, but he couldn’t open his eyes. His whole body was on fire, his head was spinning, and he wanted to heave but was too weak to move. He could hear voices, but they were muffled and low and he couldn’t make out any words.
The effect of the iratze began to kick in and his mind cleared up a little, but not much. He still couldn’t move, and he was still in excruciating pain, but completely paralysed.
“The iratze isn’t cutting it anymore. There’s too much demon venom in his system.”
“I know. We need to call a warlock.” That was Isabelle’s voice.
“Well good luck with keeping your head attached to your body, having to make that call to Rey.”
“Rey is a professional.” Isabelle’s voice sharpened. “Also, he knows a Shadowhunter’s job is dangerous.”
“Yeah, but Underhill is also his boy toy and-”
“If I hear the word boy toy again, you’re on ichor duty for the rest of the month,” Isabelle cut in harshly. “Stay with him.”
Andrew couldn’t make out whose voice it was, and he didn’t really care. A heavy weight was settling onto his chest, and breathing became increasingly difficult and more painful with every breath.
“You gotta hang on. If you check out, Rey’s not going to give a shit about the accords anymore. We’re all going to be toast.”
“His phone is switched off.” Isabelle’s voice again. “I’m sending a fire message.”
“What about Loss?”
“She’s at work. Doesn’t answer either.”
“Rey is gonna be so pissed.”
“Underhill.” Isabelle’s voice was closer. Something touched his right hand that suddenly felt as if it was clamped in a vice. “Hang in there.”
He felt the glow of the iratze again, but it didn’t make a difference anymore. Breathing was arduous and painful, and it felt as if his brain and insides were slowly liquefying. Every heartbeat had his whole body thrumming with pain. It was so hard to breathe.
Somewhere, a baby cried.
It was the last thing he heard.
-glowing demon eyes-
“...demon venom. He lost...”
-blood dripping slowly like molasses-
-hands coated in blood-
“...won’t make it...”
-fire in his veins-
-he could not breathe-
...I don’t want to die...
...don’t wanna die...
“Don’t leave me!”
...don’t wanna die... please...
The beeping was really, really annoying, but there was no escaping it. He just wanted to go back to sleep. Sleeping didn’t hurt. Sleeping didn’t make him dizzy or want to vomit.
“He’s waking up.”
“Thank the Angel.”
His eyelids were too heavy and fell shut the moment he tried to force them open. But then he felt a warm glow simmer down his back, like a breeze on a hot summer day. This time his eyes stayed open, but his vision was so blurry he only saw shades of blue and white. Something was pressing against his cheek. Fabric. A pillow?
He blinked a few times to clear his eyes, and finally realised he was in the infirmary. In the Institute.
“Andrew.” It was Lorenzo’s voice, but it was uncharacteristically husky. “Andrew, can you hear me?”
Andrew was unable to move, hardly able to string two thoughts together.
“Could the venom have done permanent damage?” Isabelle’s voice was leaden with worry.
“I hope not,” Lorenzo replied hesitantly.
“I have never seen anyone live through a demon poisoning like that.” Isabelle’s voice was heavy. “The venom level in his blood was ridiculous.”
“I know,” Lorenzo snapped. “It was me who purged it.”
Isabelle didn’t reply.
“Andrew, look at me. Can you look at me?”
Andrew tried to get his eyes to focus, but it was exhausting. By now his mind was awake enough to process that he was lying on his stomach in an infirmary bed, and that the beeping was the sound of the machine monitoring his vitals.
At least breathing wasn’t painful anymore, so he relished that for a moment before he tried to open his eyes again. This time he managed to focus, and the dark, indistinct shape turned into a person. He looked up, and a face swam into view. He needed another moment to re-focus, but eventually he recognised it, despite the blurriness. Lorenzo.
There was the golden shimmer again, that warm, soft breeze, and breathing became a little easier, his vision a little clearer. Healing magic. Lorenzo’s magic.
It didn’t do shit about the nausea, though. He tried to turn his head away because the last thing he wanted right now was to barf on Lorenzo’s Versace suit, but he couldn’t move. He heaved once before he couldn’t stop the bile rising in his throat anymore, but that warning was enough for Lorenzo to jump out of the chair.
“Shit!” Lorenzo took a hasty step back. “For god’s sake!”
“...sorry...” Oh Angel, it hurt. The cramps had set his back on fire again, but the thought of having puked on Lorenzo’s clothes was far worse, somehow.
“Andrew...” A heavy sigh, and he felt fingers thread into his hair. “I didn’t want the first words from you after escaping almost certain death to be an apology. There’s no need for that.”
He certainly felt like it. He couldn’t remember having been this miserable before, ever, and in so much pain. The stench of vomit vanished with another soft flicker of golden mist, small blessings to be thankful for.
“That demon got you good,” Isabelle said. “How are you feeling?”
Andrew needed to clear his throat a few times before his voice obeyed him, to a certain extent at least. What he wanted to say was ‘Like a Shax demon ate me and shat me out again’. What he managed was, “...rotten...”
“You had a lot of demon venom into your system,” Isabelle went on. “You were already foaming green at the mouth when Lorenzo showed up. We almost lost you.”
“Shit,” Andrew whispered.
Lorenzo’s face came back into view as he leaned closer to Andrew. He had the red-eyed, pale-faced complexion of someone who has pulled at least one all-nighter.
“You were at death’s door when I arrived, with one foot over the threshold.” Lorenzo shook his head. “Don’t scare me like that.”
Andrew managed to focus on Lorenzo’s face, and on his eyes which were filled with deep concern. He tried to smile, but his facial muscles didn’t really obey him. Then something else suddenly clicked into place. He was on the Institute. In a bed. On his stomach.
He tried to sit up, but the searing pain in his back made him collapse again with a groan.
“Underhill! Don’t move!”
“Stay still,” Lorenzo said. “The wound on your back was so poisoned it’s going to take at least another day to heal up properly.”
“The baby,” Andrew rasped. “What about-”
“The baby is fine,” Isabelle said firmly and calmly. “You saved her. It’s okay. She’s fine.”
“Where is she?” Talking was increasingly difficult. His throat was so dry it hurt to swallow, his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth.
“The nurses are taking care of her,” Isabelle replied. “You can stop worrying.”
“I heard her cry,” Andrew whispered, his eyes falling shut.
“She didn’t like it when we peeled her off your chest.” There was a trace of a smile in Isabelle’s voice. “She seemed quite comfy there.”
“Can I see her?”
“Later.” Lorenzo took a deep breath. “The baby is in good hands, and you need to rest.”
Andrew felt Lorenzo’s fingers in his hair again, and closed his eyes with a sigh. A gentle flow of warm magic ran down his spine, and his eyelids slid shut as the pain in his back began to fade.
It was impossible not to.
When Andrew surfaced the next time, he was alone. But the very first thing he realised was that he no longer felt as if he was constantly on the verge of puking. His back still hurt, albeit not nearly as much, but he was awfully thirsty, his mouth so dry he could hardly swallow.
This time, when he tried to move his head, the room didn’t swim, and his muscles actually obeyed him. He tried to move, very cautiously at first, but eventually was able to turn onto his side. And then he realised he wasn’t alone after all. Lorenzo was sitting in a chair next to Andrew’s bed, his head nodding forward. He was clearly asleep, although how anyone could actually sleep in that position was a mystery to him. Lorenzo must have pushed himself beyond the point of total exhaustion to end up like that.
The thought that Lorenzo had refused to leave his bedside made Andrew’s stomach flutter a little. He could well imagine the look he must have given everyone who might have suggested he go home to catch up on a little sleep. Lorenzo was anything if not protective.
Andrew cautiously leaned a little back, just to see if he could maybe lie on his back for a while because he hated to lie on his stomach like that. And while it worked, the actual process of turning around hurt a little more than he had anticipated. He couldn’t suppress a groan, even if the pain abated as soon as he was lying on his back again.
That little sound had been enough to tear Lorenzo out of his doubtlessly shallow sleep, and he was at his bed in an instant.
“Andrew?” He took one of Andrew’s hands. “I’m positive you shouldn’t be moving so much.”
“It worked, didn’t it?” Despite his lips being so dry the skin cracked when he talked, Andrew managed a smile. “I just couldn’t stand to lie on my stomach any longer.”
Lorenzo heaved a heavy sigh, but there was a trace of a smile around his lips. “It’s not as if I can’t sympathise, but...” Then he shook his head. “How is the pain?”
“Hardly there anymore,” Andrew replied, and when Lorenzo cocked one eyebrow, he added, “And I’m not saying that to make you stop worrying. It really doesn’t hurt much, not when I don’t try to move.”
“Well then.” Lorenzo adjusted the pillow under Andrew’s head a little. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
Andrew licked his flaky lips and cleared his throat. “Is there water? I’m parched.”
“Sure.” Lorenzo snapped his fingers and a glass appeared in his hand. “Can you sit up?”
With Lorenzo’s arm around his shoulders he could, but his hands were too weak to properly grasp the glass, so Lorenzo had to help with that. After gulping down two glasses of cool water Andrew felt a lot better already, and he closed his eyes after cautiously lying down again.
“You really scared me there,” Lorenzo said softly after sitting down. He had pulled the chair up to the bed and took one of Andrew’s hands between both of his. “I needed almost all of my magic to keep you alive.”
Trying to smile, Andrew opened his eyes again. “But I am alive.”
“And I thank every higher power that it is the case.” Lorenzo’s thumbs caressed the back of Andrew’s hand. “And I can’t even tell you off, because your injury had nothing to do with being careless or reckless. You did what you had to, to save a helpless warlock baby. If anything, that makes you a hero.”
“Oh come on,” Andrew muttered.
“I am positive it makes you her hero, at the very least. She didn’t take it well when we removed her from your body, but given your injury we didn’t have much of a choice.”
“And where is she now?”
“As far as I know, she is still in the Institute,” Lorenzo replied. “I have called in Catarina to check on her, and we can confirm that she is physically fine, and that there seems to be nothing wrong mentally, and nothing is wrong with her budding magic either.”
“Thank the Angel,” Andrew muttered. “I just...” Shaking his head, he closed his eyes again. “I wasn’t sure at first I could save her at all.”
“You did,” Lorenzo said, more than a hint of pride in his voice.
“And that’s all that matters.” Andrew opened his eyes with a sigh.
“Well,” Lorenzo replied hesitantly. “Not that it’s an easy decision to make, even hypothetically, but I would rather not have to choose between a child of my own people and... and you.”
“Good thing you don’t have to, then,” Andrew said, and mirrored the soft smile on Lorenzo’s face.
The clicking of heels on the floor announced the presence of the Head of the Institute, and prevented them from delving any deeper into unpleasant musings.
“Good morning,” Isabelle said and pulled up another chair to sit down on the other side of Andrew’s bed. “I assume you’re better, given that you’re not flat on your stomach anymore.”
“A lot better,” Andrew confirmed. “I was able to turn around on my own. So... how long do I have to stay here?”
“It’s not my decision to make, “Isabelle said slowly, “but I guess tomorrow, maybe? As soon as you can move enough to take care of yourself again.” Then she cast a look at Lorenzo and smiled. “Or... I don’t know... maybe you could be portalled somewhere where someone can take care of you until you’re up to speed.”
“That is certainly the preferred option,” Lorenzo said firmly. “But it’s your choice, of course.”
“Since your bed is infinitely more comfortable than this infirmary bed I’d be stupid to say no to that,” Andrew said with a smile. “Also, your coffee is better than the Institute’s.”
“Settled then.” Lorenzo nodded. “Now we just have to wait for the medics here to give their all-clear.”
Andrew nodded again and then looked back and forth between the two. “About the baby...” He began hesitantly. “Is she still here?”
“She is,” Isabelle said calmly. “We figured we can’t just send her somewhere without you checking on her again.”
Andrew frowned, and then tried to sit up again. Lorenzo pressed against his shoulders to prevent him, but Andrew pushed his hands away and sat up anyway, even if he had to grimace in pain for a moment.
“You can’t send her anywhere,” he said. “Not just like that!”
“Andrew...” Lorenzo sighed. “We’re not going to send her just anywhere, we-”
“Yes, I know,” Andrew cut in, a nervous edge to his voice. “But I... I promised, Lorenzo. I promised her, and I promised her mother, that I’d find a good home for her, and sending her to the Clave’s orphanage where she’ll be stored until someday, someone might find her... no. No, I can’t let that happen.”
“Andrew,” Lorenzo said again.
“No. No... you don’t understand.” Andrew shook his head. “It was... it was practically her death bed. I... I was so close, Lorenzo. So, so close, and I still couldn’t save her. A demon tore out her throat and I was practically around the corner... I was so close, if I had just been there a minute sooner I could have saved her.”
“It’s not your fault,” Isabelle said as firmly as she could.
“I don’t...” Andrew shook his head again. “I should have been there sooner. I just wasted time with leaning against a wall thinking about how... useless all that was, with the demons gone! If I had just done my job and scouted the hallways she’d still be alive!”
Isabelle’s voice was even firmer now. “You don’t know that.”
“I heard her scream.” Andrew swallowed hard. The memory was still like a knife in his heart. “I heard her scream, and if I had just been...” He huffed out a frustrated, angry breath. “She wasn’t even done bleeding to death,” he said, his voice low and trembling. “I mean she was dead, but her blood was still dripping... just... droplets, but it... I’m pretty sure her heart had just stopped beating.”
“You can’t blame yourself for that,” Isabelle said. “You had no way of knowing that would happen. Tragedies happen, we all know that.”
“No.” Andrew shook his head. “I could have saved her, if I had just been a little faster scouting that blasted hallway.”
“You need to stop thinking like that,” Isabelle said. “I know how it feels, you know? That thought of ‘I could have saved him if only I had been a little faster’. But you can’t let yourself think that way.”
Their eyes met, and even though Andrew knew she was right, he couldn’t shake that awful feeling of guilt. If only he hadn’t leaned against the corridor wall to waste time sending Isabelle a message, the woman would still be alive.
“They would probably have killed her anyway, after she gave birth to that warlock baby,” Lorenzo offered hesitantly.
“Not helping,” Andrew snapped. “Not helping at all, Lorenzo. Because you can’t know that. Apart from that... she hadn’t even given birth yet.”
Both Lorenzo and Isabelle blinked in confusion.
“Yeah...” Andrew’s head dropped forward a little. “She hadn’t given birth. I almost crapped myself when I saw that her belly was still moving. And I... I didn’t even know what to do!” He looked up again. “I don’t know anything about surgery! The only thing I know is how you open a deer to gut it! I basically had to butcher her like an animal carcass to get the baby out!”
After exchanging a long look with Lorenzo, Isabelle cleared her throat. “And you think it would have mattered to her? You saved her baby. It was all she would have wanted.”
“I know.” Andrew shook his head and swallowed hard. “It still was... it was gruesome, in a way.”
“So she wasn’t newborn at all?” Lorenzo asked now, having needed a little longer to get over his bafflement. “You performed an emergency Caesarean to save her life?”
“I wouldn’t call it a Caesarean,” Andrew muttered darkly.
“But it saved her life,” Isabelle said. “And I understand you feel horrible about her mother’s death. But nothing you say or do can change that now. You can only accept it and move on. And believe me, I know how hard that can be. But it’s the only thing.”
Andrew sighed so hard his back stung. “I know. But...” Then he looked up again. “I made a promise. I promised that woman on her deathbed that I would see her daughter to a good home. And I know I... I couldn’t save her. But Isabelle, by the Angel, I swear, I will not break that promise. I will not let her rot in an orphanage somewhere.”
“And what will you do?” Isabelle asked gently. “You can’t possibly raise her in the Institute.”
“I know. No permanent Downworld residents. But it would be only temporary.”
All three of them were silent for a while. But then Andrew lifted his head and looked imploringly at Isabelle.
“Please, can I see her?”
Isabelle took a deep breath, but then she nodded and got up.
“Andrew,” Lorenzo said gently. “I understand how-”
“I don’t think you do,” Andrew interrupted him, but not roughly. “I don’t think you understand how I’m feeling about this.”
“Do you really think that in all my life, I have never experienced the feeling of not being able to save someone? Of feeling inadequate, of feeling a failure, because I should have saved a life and wasn’t able to?”
Andrew swallowed hard and shook his head before looking at his hands again. “Sorry.”
“No need to apologize.” Lorenzo took one of Andrew’s hands again. “You’re still weak, and this whole situation puts an enormous pressure on you, I can see that. But I have to admit that I can’t really give my blessings to the idea of you taking care of the baby until she finds a family. That makes it only worse.”
“It’s just for a while,” Andrew replied. “I know I can’t keep her. I’m a Shadowhunter, I can’t raise a warlock baby in the Institute. I just don’t want her to live in an orphanage. Please... you have to understand that.”
“I do understand that,” Lorenzo replied soothingly. “It’s a difficult situation no matter how you look at it.”
Andrew snapped to attention that very moment because he could hear a baby whine, and the sound was coming closer. She wasn’t outright crying, but it was very obvious she wasn’t happy.
“She’s a little bit irritable, that one.” The nurse who was holding her smiled, but shook her head. “It’s really hard to get her to sleep, and she’s a fussy eater. But considering her mother can’t have had an easy pregnancy, maybe that’s normal?” She looked at Lorenzo. “Not that I know a lot about warlock babies.”
“I don’t think I know a lot more,” Lorenzo replied. “I think Catarina Loss would be the better person to ask.”
“Well, anyway.” The nurse stepped to the bed and held the whining, complaining baby out to Andrew. “Here she is. Physically she’s fine, she just... doesn’t feel comfortable no matter what we do.”
Andrew could only shrug, but held out his arms anyway. The nurse deposited the baby into his arms, and the smile on his face softened and warmed so much it made her smile as well.
“Hello there,” Andrew muttered and cradled her in his left arm, upright against his shoulder, so her face rested against the left side of his neck. He closed his right arm around her, his hand cupping her little head. “It’s okay,” he said softly. “Everything is going to be okay.”
The baby stopped complaining the moment Andrew’s hand was cradling her head, and with a few small, urgent sounds, she nuzzled her face into the crook of his neck. Then she sighed, stopped squirming, and fell silent.
“See?” Andrew said softly. “Nothing to be scared of. It’s all going to be okay, sweetie.”
But the baby had already fallen asleep, and Andrew remained unaware of the three pairs of eyes staring at him.
In hindsight, maybe the moment that she had fallen asleep in his arms should have been the first warning sign. Or maybe the fact that not too long after, when the nurse had handed him a bottle, she had fed without a fuss and with a lot of determination, while being completely relaxed.
At that moment however Andrew had only had eyes for the baby. Had given the spit-up milk no thought, and when his own injury had caught up with him, he had fallen asleep curled around the little thing sleeping in the crook of his arm, snug at his side, nestled under the blanket.
As soon as Andrew had left the infirmary he had hit the old furniture storage in the basement to equip himself for the time the baby would stay with him. Not that he was giving in to any illusion that this was in any way permanent, but she couldn’t well sleep in a cardboard box, could she?
No one had had any babies in the Institute in a while so the children’s and baby furniture was a little dusty, and the mattresses smelled stale. But when Andrew requested a little assistance for a shopping trip, Lorenzo was less than happy.
“You did what you could for her, Andrew.” The frown was small, but it was there. “No one could have demanded any more of you, and no one should demand any more of you.”
“No one is demanding anything,” Andrew replied, already mildly frustrated. “I just don’t want her to sleep on a mattress that smells like a Second World War storage facility.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just let her stay in the infirmary and let the nurses care for her?” Lorenzo asked. “I’ve already started making inquiries and sent messages to several other high warlocks. It’s only a matter of days.”
Andrew took a deep breath. “My point exactly. It’s only a few days. Until then, she should be as comfortable as possible.”
“She does nothing but sleep when she’s not eating,” Lorenzo replied, the exasperation clear in his voice and facial expression. “And you...” He took a deep breath.
“I?” Andrew prodded, crossing his arms.
“You are already far too attached to her as it is,” Lorenzo replied cautiously. “Spending any more time with her will only make it harder for both of you.”
Andrew gritted his teeth as well. After a moment, he huffed out a heavy sigh. “You think I don’t know that? But I made a promise. A promise, Lorenzo. I promised she’d be taken care of. Not just... deposited somewhere.”
“A baby that age will always be deposited somewhere,” Lorenzo replied, a lot sharper than necessary, Andrew felt. “And she doesn’t do-”
“Anything but sleep, yes, you said so,” Andrew cut in. “But why shouldn’t she feel safe when she does so?”
“What are you going to do?” Lorenzo lifted both hands. “Put a crib next to your desk? Wheel it into the Ops centre when you got monitor duty? You are a Shadowhunter, Andrew, and your job is dangerous!”
“Oh my god, thanks for reminding me!” Andrew took a step back, trying to bite down the seething anger. “I was about to ask Isabelle for some time off, I am not an idiot!”
“Taking time off to watch her sleep? What about your duties that are so important to you?”
“I have a duty to her as well,” Andrew snapped back and crossed his arms. “And I know that you don’t like my duties getting in the way of our time together, but do you expect me to abandon her somewhere where nobody gives a shit about her?”
“I do not expect anything of you than to finally see sense!” Lorenzo shook his head. “The nurses do care about her, a lot, if you look at them coo over her. And while my main concern isn’t the time we can spend together, it’s-”
“So you are thinking about her stealing out time,” Andrew interrupted him.
“Andrew...” Lorenzo took a deep breath.
“You said it’s not your main concern, whatever that means, so it is on your mind.”
The two stared at each other, and as much as Andrew hated this situation, he couldn’t see why his point was so hard to understand. Why Lorenzo couldn’t get his head around this all, him having to take care of the baby girl. He knew it was only for a few days.
“Yes, that’s what I said,” Lorenzo replied very slowly. “My main concern is you, however, and the emotional fallout when she is gone, because you are getting too attached to her.”
“So you’re worried she’ll take too much of my attention?” The moment the words left his mouth Andrew realised he didn’t know if he really meant them or not, but the doubt alone was bad enough. He hadn’t been able to imagine that his first argument with Lorenzo would be over a baby, but the feeling that Lorenzo was unable to understand was painful.
“It’s you I am worried about!” Lorenzo replied, his voice full of frustration and anger. “Stop putting words into my mouth!”
In the heavy silence that followed the two stared at each other again. Andrew was shaking his head, over and over again. Somehow, he had expected at least Lorenzo to have his back, and that he, too, was trying to talk him out of the thing he knew he had to do cut him deep.
“I should go,” Lorenzo said after a long, uncomfortable moment. “Before we both say any more things we will regret.”
“You should,” Andrew replied tonelessly.
He watched him go with a cold, heavy heart. Closing his eyes he heaved a very heavy, painful sigh, and sat down on his bed. But before he could fall any deeper into this awful hole of gloom and pain he heard steps in the hallway, the unmistakable sound of heels.
“Underhill?” A soft knock on his door.
Isabelle opened the door and looked around. “Is Lorenzo already gone?”
The sharp, curt reply made her lift her eyebrows, but she didn’t comment. Instead, she cleared her throat.
“I guess it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Clave isn’t happy about this situation. After all, you know the rules about Downworlders in the Institute as well as I do. But I was able to pull a few strings.”
Her faint smile gave Andrew hope.
“I mean, my brother is the Inquisitor, and he is married to the High Warlock of Alicante,” Isabelle continued smugly. “So I got a lot more than I dared to hope, even if it still isn’t much. You have three weeks, then she can’t be in the Institute anymore. But I guess Lorenzo is on it.”
“He is,” Andrew replied, trying not to think of his departure.
“Okay.” She hesitated, but then obviously decided not to ask. “It’s probably no surprise that they are not willing to give you paternity leave during those weeks, but I am the Head of the Institute, and when I say that we have to make absolutely sure that this... terrible demon poisoning didn’t leave any damage, and that you can’t be out in the field during that time, what can they do?”
Andrew felt a smile of relief tug at his lips. At least someone was on his side in this, and even if Isabelle wasn’t happy about the situation either she seemed to understand, and was willing to help him.
Since Lorenzo was quite obviously unavailable, Andrew decided to ask his boss’ significant other for assistance. To Andrew’s utter relief, Simon was more than happy to help, and Andrew was infinitely grateful that Simon had a van because the amount of equipment you need for a baby baffled him. The Clave didn’t feel the need to be accommodating, and buying all that stuff was also far out of his budget, especially since it was only for a couple of weeks. Thankfully the sales assistant was very understanding and helpful.
“Yes, you need a good mattress, but babies that age don’t need any toys or books or play pens. A bathtub might be a good idea, but again, as long as she’s newborn you can wash her in a clean bathroom sink.”
Andrew nodded, still slightly overwhelmed, while he stared at his shopping cart that presently contained a mattress, a pile of baby clothes, and two large packs of diapers and wet wipes.
“And of course, her dads need sufficient bottle feeding equipment,” the sales assistant went on, smiling brightly at the two. “Most people tend to underestimate what they need and don’t buy enough teats and bottles.”
“Dads?” Simon tore his hands out of his pockets. “No dad, no way. I’m just the driver.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” She didn’t stop smiling, however. “But here we are.”
So Andrew added bottles, teats, cleaning equipment, a steriliser, and infant formula to the growing pile in the cart. And because he simply couldn’t resist, a small, cute plush elephant.
Simon was kind enough to help him carry the mountain of stuff into his room, and a few hours later, Andrew was all set. Diapering equipment set up in the bathroom, the crib next to his bed, and bottle feeding equipment stored in the kitchen.
The problem was that even with the cosy little crib, the baby was of the opinion that a pair of arms was much more comfortable to sleep in than a bed.
“We gotta make this work somehow,” Andrew said to the baby in his arms. “I can’t carry you around all the time because I need to sleep too. But I’m not going anywhere, you know? I’m right here.”
Of course, the baby was too small to understand any of that explanation. She just didn’t want to lie there all alone, and Andrew could sympathise. If only there was a way to convince her that he was there, and wouldn’t be going away.
Pondering that thought, Andrew grabbed his boxers and the T-shirt from under his blanket to get ready for bed. Deciding that after three nights the shirt needed a wash he grabbed a new one, but then he stopped and looked at the complaining baby. He lifted her out of the crib, and deposited her on his bed, to check if there was something wrong with the sheet, a fold maybe, or a washing label that was in the way.
She immediately calmed down and sighed.
“And why is my bed better than yours?” he asked and ran the fingers of one hand through his hair. “I mean, you got a new mattress, and new sheets, and basically new everything, and I’ve been...”
Andrew broke off, stared at the crib, his own bed, and then at the used sleeping clothes. Then he picked up the T-shirt he’d been wearing the last three nights, and folded the used shirt in half before spreading it out on the mattress.
I wonder if that counts as cheating, he thought as he picked the baby up again.
The baby started complaining again when he put her into the crib, but after some shuffling around she sighed and calmed down.
“Right, the bed is okay when it smells a bit of Andrew, hmm?” He shook his head with a half-fond, half-embarrassed smile. “Someone likes my deodorant, it seems.”
Lorenzo’s words arose in his mind again, unbidden and unwelcome. That he was making it harder not only for him, but for her as well. If she was only willing to sleep when she felt him close, then she would probably need a bit of time to adjust, and it wouldn’t be pleasant for everyone involved. But on the other hand, babies that small forget so fast it wouldn’t take long.
Andrew didn’t want to think about how much that hurt.
But maybe he would be allowed to visit her every now and then. Might become an honorary uncle or something. Then he looked at the sleeping baby and shook his head with a sigh. He could only take one day at a time now, and not waste energy worrying about something he had no way to predict.
It took Andrew a while to fall asleep, with everything that had been going on, and his stupid brain decided to replay his argument with Lorenzo on loop for ages. He was pretty sure the argument hadn’t been necessary at all, but he couldn’t see the point where it had gone sideways, the point where he might have stopped things going so bad Lorenzo had left without looking back.
The thought that he might not be able to fix this kept him awake for at least an hour more.
Andrew felt as if he had just fallen asleep when he was awoken by the noises of a complaining baby, and he tried to get his mushy, sleep-addled brain to work, wondering what was wrong now. Then he realised she had to be hungry, and dragged himself out of the bed.
Bottle feeding hadn’t been much of a challenge, so far.
Preparing a bottle in the middle of the night having just woken up from deep sleep was an entirely different matter altogether.
He hadn’t thought of reading the instructions on the formula, and having to do that now, half-awake and under time pressure, was a challenge. Getting the temperature right was the next one, and by the time he was back in his room the baby was no longer crying, she was screaming.
Sitting there with his back against the wall, the baby in his arms, Andrew stared straight ahead and yawned so hard his jaw cracked. There had to be a better way to do this. There had to be an easier way than running up one set of stairs into the tea kitchen, prepare a bottle, hold that under the tap with cold water to adjust the temperature, and run down here again.
After burping her and changing out of the soiled T-Shirt, he added burp rags to the list of items he had forgotten to buy. But after depositing the baby back into the crib, he fell over onto his own mattress and was out like a light before he could even think about putting on a new shirt.
The morning started with a complete change of bed sheets and baby clothes due to a diaper malfunction, and after the next hysteric screaming when Andrew took too long to prepare a bottle, he began to doubt his capabilities to properly care for an infant. He was doing his best, he really was, but somehow, it wasn’t enough.
“It’s a learning curve,” Isabelle said to him after he had emptied his heart to her when she came to check on him later that morning. “And you really had to hit the ground running. I can give you a crash course in Baby 101, if you want. I do have a little brother after all.”
“I shall be forever grateful,” Andrew replied, meaning every word from the bottom of his heart.
Isabelle chuckled, and proceeded to walk him through diaper changes, tips on how to make dressing easier, and how to give the tiny thing a bath. She really was small enough that he could clean her in the sink, and he knew that by the time she would grow out of it, she wouldn’t be here anymore.
The rest of the day passed in a strange haze, because Andrew was used to being busy; as head of security there was always something that needed his attention, and he was out in the field on a regular basis as well. Sitting inside the Institute with nothing more to do than trying to rest his back – which admittedly was still a little tender – and waiting for the baby to need a bottle or a diaper change made him itch inside his skin.
He didn’t hear anything from Lorenzo either, and began to contemplate asking him if they could talk, or if he should wait for minds to cool down a little more. But maybe Lorenzo was just busy; he had been through days of an insanely tight schedule before. Maybe Andrew calling him would only stress him out more, so he decided against it.
Instead, he tried to focus on finding a solution to the bottle feeding problem. When things in a process weren’t running smoothly and human failure could be eliminated as source, it was the infrastructure that needed adjusting. The infrastructure in this case being the need for sterile water in the right temperature.
So the next time the baby fell asleep, Andrew settled down in the tea kitchen to ponder the problem. Simon found him there an hour later, and watched him pour water from different bottles into cups.
“Hey, Simon.” He frowned in concentration at the cup in front of him.
“Am I... interrupting something?”
“No.” Andrew looked up with a smile. “Just... trying to figure things out.”
Simon sat down, clutching a paper cup from some coffee shop or another. Andrew suppressed the sudden cravings for the mocha from Lorenzo’s old and perfectly calibrated Neapolitan coffee maker and smiled.
Andrew nodded. “I need to... I don’t know. It just takes too long to prepare a bottle.” Then he looked up with a crooked smile. “Especially at three in the morning.”
“I feel you.” Simon took a sip of coffee, staring straight ahead at old memories. “Years ago my mum would babysit for a cousin of hers and man... it was a nightmare.” Then he swallowed and flashed a nervous grin at Andrew. “Not so say she’s a nightmare!” He cleared his throat. “Just the waking up at three is!”
Shaking his head with a soft snort, Andrew grabbed the wrong cup and took a sip of lukewarm water instead of his coffee. He pulled a face, utterly confused, but then he snorted again, this time accompanied by Simon.
“So,” Simon began after a sip of his coffee. “It’s probably a bit early to ask how you’re adjusting as a new temporary dad.”
“Well,” Andrew replied and huffed out a long, hard breath. “I’m still trying to find my feet. And... it’s weird. Even though I’m dead tired I feel... a little trapped. Physically speaking.”
“I guess so,” Andrew replied and tried to smile.
“Tell me about it.” Simon shook his head with a sigh. “I didn’t know what cabin fever was until I became a vampire.” Then he put his cup down and pointed at Andrew. “But what I learned is that you gotta adjust to the circumstances. So, all you need is a stroller, or a baby carrier, and poof, no more cabin fever.”
“Baby carrier?” Andrew leaned forward.
“Yeah you know,” Simon said and held out his hands in front of his chest. “One of those things that look like a backpack with holes. You put the baby in and carry it around. Baby snug, hands free. Never heard of those?”
Andrew could only shake his head.
“Well, perks of having grown up mundane, I guess.” Simon smiled brightly at him, and saluted him with his paper cup.
Andrew stared at him for a moment, and felt a small and ridiculous grin spread on his face. “Simon, you’re a genius.”
“That’s not something I hear very often, but you’re welcome,” Simon replied with a grin. “Should we hit the road again?”
Andrew was more than happy to say yes to that, and Isabelle sure didn’t mind watching the baby for a while until they were back.
That night, both Andrew and the baby got a lot more sleep due to Andrew’s new and optimised bottle preparing process, and while he got a lot of confused looks when he showed up in the Ops centre the next morning with the baby in an old-fashioned but colourful sling tied to his chest, no one could deny it was a handy solution.
“I told you we’ll make this work,” Andrew said to the baby that night.
She was lying in the bed next to him, had just finished her bottle, and looked at him, her beautiful eyes on Andrew’s face. And then her lips twitched into a small, angelic little smile, and Andrew had to swallow.
He needed to speak to Lorenzo. He needed to find a home for the baby before it would tear his heart out to give her away.
And thinking back to her falling asleep in his arms in the infirmary, and all those small moments that followed, Andrew tried to unsuccessfully suppress the thought that it was already too late.
To illustrate how a man looks with a tiny baby in a colourful sling, my husband kindly gave me permission to use
a picture of him with our then two week old son.
Encouraged by how pleasant and handy the sling turned out to be, Andrew dared to take a walk in the mild spring weather the next day. He didn’t bother to glamour himself because he knew from experience that mundanes paid Shadowhunter runes little to no attention, believing them to be normal tattoos. Having a baby in a colourful sling tied to his chest, however, brought him an amount of attention he wasn’t used to. People cooed and smiled, and Andrew had to discover that men with babies seemed to be very effective chick magnets.
Maybe he shouldn’t have let Simon talk him into buying the colourful one and gone for the off-white one instead. Maybe that would have drawn less attention. Yet it felt too nice to be out of the Institute again, especially since he wasn’t on patrol, so he was able to ignore the stares and enjoy a moment of peaceful sunshine. He kept an eye on the time however so he would make it back home before the next feeding.
He had timed himself almost perfectly, as she began to show the first signs by the time he was peeling her out of the rainbow-coloured fabric, but he really had to hit the bathroom before feeding her.
Andrew wouldn’t have expected Lorenzo in his room when he returned, so he stopped in the hallway when he heard him talk. It took him a moment to realise just who he was talking to, and he carefully snuck a little closer and peeked around the doorframe.
Lorenzo had picked the complaining baby out of the crib and was holding her with complete ease, and no sign of the awkward helplessness of people who had never handled a baby before.
Who would have thought it.
“Look at you,” Lorenzo said to the baby who looked up at him with that strange, intense stare of hers. “I can fully understand why Andrew was so enamoured with you right from the start.”
At first Andrew wasn’t sure he imagined it, but when Lorenzo froze with a sharp intake of breath, Andrew looked a little closer. Tiny pinpricks of light danced around the baby’s face and hands, far too small to be called sparks, and they were drifting slowly like dust motes in sunlight.
“Oh no,” Lorenzo whispered, and shook his head. “No...”
Shit... “Is something wrong with her?”
Lorenzo almost jumped out of his skin. “No,” he said hastily. “Nothing is wrong with her. I was...” Then he cleared his throat, clearly unwilling to explain. “I wanted to talk to you and she was complaining, so I thought I’d... it might calm her down. I knew you would come back any moment.”
“It’s okay,” Andrew said, somewhat hesitantly. He really wasn’t sure where they stood right now. “I’ll just make her a bottle. Do you mind...?”
“Not at all,” Lorenzo said, adjusting her in his arms, but he didn’t look at her again.
Wondering what the hell it had been he had just witnessed Andrew crossed the room and headed for the desk, where he had his newly figured-out infrastructure in place.
“What is all that?” Lorenzo asked as he stepped to his side, eying the two thermoses, the bottles, and the formula. “I thought you need to make the bottles fresh?”
“Oh, that’s exactly what I’m doing,” Andrew replied, a little smugly. “See, making the bottle with hot water and then having to cool it under running water just took too long so I did some experimenting, because we both can do without her being hungry so long and both of us not sleeping enough because of it.”
He took the thermos and grabbed one of the bottles that contained a measured amount of formula powder. “Boiling hot water in one thermos, and the other one has boiled water that has cooled down. The bottles have the exact amount of powder, and I figured out the ratio of hot and cold water to get the exact temperature we need.”
“Aren’t you a clever one,” Lorenzo said, admiration clear in his voice.
“Thanks.” Andrew proceeded to give the bottle a solid shaking before he held out one arm.
Lorenzo deposited the baby in his arms and stepped back while Andrew sat down on the bed to feed her. For a moment, the only sound in the room was the baby’s industrious feeding noises.
“Andrew,” Lorenzo began hesitantly, and Andrew looked up at him. Lorenzo looked exceedingly uncomfortable. “Look,” he said then. “I know how it sounded, what I said to you. But I swear it wasn’t what I meant. I am not jealous of a baby. I was just worried, and I still am, to be honest, that you might be biting off more than you can chew.”
Andrew took a few deep breaths. “It felt that way, in the beginning.” He took another deep breath. “And... it’s okay. You were right, you know. There’s no use in denying it. It’s going to be bloody hard for me. But I couldn’t do anything else.”
“I realise that,” Lorenzo said slowly and sat down next to him. “And... I know that sounds a little trite, but this is difficult for me too, in a different way. I know you’re going to hurt, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.”
After a moment, Andrew looked up at him, and finally dared to meet his eyes. There was nothing but compassion there, and at that moment Andrew wanted nothing more than to burrow into Lorenzo’s embrace.
And maybe Lorenzo sensed this, or maybe he could just read his body language too well, but he draped an arm around Andrew’s shoulders and drew him closer. Andrew let his head drop against his shoulder with a sigh, and looked down at the baby again who just now pushed the teat out of her mouth with the tip of her tongue.
“Lorenzo,” Andrew said, very hesitantly. “I... you have to tell me if I shouldn’t ask that but I’m... I guess I’m just too curious.” He pressed his lips together for a moment. “I... what I saw, earlier, when I came in...”
“Oh.” Lorenzo tensed, and Andrew cursed himself and his curiosity.
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I shouldn’t have...”
“No, it’s...” Lorenzo cleared his throat. “I just don’t... I mean, it is not a taboo, and it is not exactly forbidden to talk about it to non-warlocks, but I’m... I’m just not comfortable talking about it.”
“Oh.” Andrew swallowed. “Okay... I’m... I shouldn’t have brought it up. I mean, I saw how you reacted when you realised I’d seen it.”
Lorenzo relaxed again and took a deep breath. “I just... I have to think about it.”
“Don’t worry. You don’t have to tell me at all.”
Lorenzo slowly removed his arm again and turned around a little to face him. Andrew looked up hesitantly, but there was a small smile on Lorenzo’s face, but it vanished as he started speaking again.
“I actually came here to tell you that I found a warlock who wants to adopt her,” he said after a small pause. “She lives in Los Angeles, but I made sure that you can visit the girl occasionally.”
“Los Angeles?” Andrew didn’t pretend he could smile at the news that having to say goodbye was imminent.
“Please.” Lorenzo’s smiled warmed and he rested a hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “It could be Shanghai or Canberra, and it wouldn’t make a difference. It is just a portal away.”
Andrew couldn’t help but smile, and reached for the burp rag that he draped over his shoulder.
“And don’t worry, I made a full background check on her,” Lorenzo went on. “I had several warlocks contact me, and I talked at length with every single one of them to make sure she gets the best home possible.”
“Thank you,” Andrew said and looked up at him. “Thank you.”
Lorenzo shook his head and smiled at him. “It is the least I can do for you, Andrew. Whatever it takes to make this less hard for you.”
Andrew didn’t know what to reply, so he just kept rubbing the babies back until she had rid herself of the excess air. Then he got up, took her to the bathroom for a new diaper, and first after he had put her down to sleep he looked at Lorenzo again.
Their eyes met, and Lorenzo took a step forward, and moments later they had their arms around each other.
“I’m sorry,” Andrew muttered into Lorenzo’s shoulder. “I’m-”
“It’s okay,” Lorenzo said softly. “I should have chosen my words more carefully too.”
Andrew buried his face into Lorenzo’s shoulder with a sigh. The thought of having to say goodbye to the baby within a day or two hurt, but at least he hadn’t lost this: a shoulder to lean on, a pair of arms to hold him, and someone to offer comfort where he could.
“I never... I never thought I’d see the day,” Andrew muttered into Lorenzo’s shoulder.
“The way you talked to the baby.”
“Oh.” A soft chuckle. “Well, she is nothing but adorable.”
“Never thought I’d hear you say that either,” Andrew replied and lifted his head.
“Contrary to popular belief, I do have a heart, you know,” Lorenzo said, a small, wry smile on his lips.
“Oh well... Good thing I’m not popular then,” Andrew said, his smile the tiniest bit mischievous.
Lorenzo huffed out a soft chuckle before he leaned in for a soft, affectionate kiss. They rested their foreheads against each other after the kiss, and remained like that for a moment, eyes closed and breaths grazing each other’s cheeks.
“Is there anything I can do for you right now?” Lorenzo asked after he leaned back again.
“I don’t...” Then Andrew looked up at him, a half-embarrassed, lopsided smile on his face. “I could really do with one of your Neapolitan mochas right now.”
Lorenzo blinked, then he chuckled and stepped back. He snapped his fingers and opened a portal, and inclined his head with a smile. “Coming right up.”
The fact that the baby was so small and didn’t need any entertainment made it easy for Andrew to feel useful again after he had adjusted to having to take care of a baby. He had her lying on a blanket on the carpet of his office, or in the sling when he was on monitor duty in the Ops centre, and it was incredibly relieving and satisfying to be able to fulfil his duties to her and to his position.
But within a few days his life would go back to normal, or what had been normal until almost two weeks ago, and he had no idea how he would be able to cope. He had fallen in love with this baby, a thing he had never expected could ever happen in his life. There was no use in denying it; he had caught himself more than once kissing the top of her little head when he was carrying her around in the sling. He knew he was going to be miserable for a good long while, but he had been able to fulfil his promise, had taken care of her, and he wouldn’t have done otherwise if given the choice again.
Isabelle approached him that morning as he was going through some paperwork in his office, to ask him about the loss of a surveillance drone. Andrew checked the files and could confirm that it had stopped sending last night, and because the baby was asleep, it was bright daylight, and he needed to buy diapers anyway, he agreed to go out and check on the location, which was close to the Institute as well. Isabelle was all smiles and shiny eyes as she promised to take care of the baby; she had obviously taken a shine to her as well. And knowing she was in good hands, Andrew left the Institute on business for the first time in almost three weeks.
There wasn’t a trace of the drone anywhere around the point where they had lost contact. Andrew searched the perimeter in wider and wider circles, and still found nothing. The most logical explanation was that the glamour had failed and someone had brought it down for shits and giggles, but if that had happened there was nothing to be done about it. The drones were programmed to self-destruct all internal components when approached with anything but a stele, so there was nothing to worry about but getting a replacement out.
Whistling under his breath he returned to the Institute with a pack of diapers under his arm, but he stopped dead in his tracks when he reached the Ops-centre where Isabelle and Lorenzo were engaged in a very heated argument.
“I told you it’s not my fault!” Isabelle dropped her crossed arms again and threw up her hands. “It was the consul! What was I supposed to do?”
“Contact me!” Lorenzo threw his hands up as well. “This is High Warlock business!”
“I did contact you!” Isabelle rolled her eyes. “As soon as they showed up! And I also told them to wait for you, but they wouldn’t have it! And Penhallow actually threatened me with consequences if I tried to stop them, reminding me in no uncertain terms that I’ve been on the wrong side of Clave regulations before!” She huffed. “I did call you immediately. It just happened too fast.”
“What happened too fast,” Andrew decided to cut in, and both of them flinched and stared at him for a moment with almost identical expressions of discomfort.
“What,” Andrew asked again, looking back and forth between them.
Isabelle crossed her arms and nervously licked her lips. Lorenzo swallowed hard and took a deep breath.
And Andrew felt something cold crawl down his spine.
“Andrew...” Lorenzo began hesitantly. “A consul of the Clave showed up here with the warlock in tow who wants to adopt the baby. And apparently they...” He looked at Isabelle.
“She was not happy about the warlock in the Institute, baby or no, and here I thought we had settled that two weeks ago!” She shook her head with an angry sigh. “She gave orders to immediately remove the baby from the premises, and I told her to wait because I knew Lorenzo wanted to be present for the transfer, and they hadn’t even announced their arrival.”
Lorenzo and Isabelle exchanged another look, and Andrew felt his throat go dry. They had taken her away, and he hadn’t even gotten a chance to say goodbye.
“I went to my office to call my brother,” Isabelle went on. “Penhallow tailed me and picked the baby up without even asking, and while I was trying to get in touch with Alec, she just left. And when I was up here again after finally getting hold of him, she was gone, and the warlock was gone too. And...”
“And all her things are gone as well,” Lorenzo finished in a heavy voice.
“All her things?” Andrew looked back and forth between them.
“Everything. Even the bed.”
“But that is the Institute’s property! It’s...” Andrew gestured helplessly into the air, the pack of diapers still clamped under his left arm, “...it’s from the Institute’s storage!”
“I know.” Isabelle shook her head. “Alec said he’d...”
A portal snapped open behind them, and Alec stepped into the Ops centre, followed by Magnus and Consul Penhallow.
“Can I get an explanation,” Lorenzo said sharply. “This is-”
“Not what you think it is,” Penhallow cut in. “I haven’t set foot in this Institute in months.”
“Wait.” The ground was shifting under Andrew’s feet. “What...?”
“I wasn’t here, Underhill,” Penhallow said again, a little calmer this time. “I had nothing to do with this... transfer. Why would I? Why would a consul need to be here for the transfer? That’s warlock business. You could have knocked me out with a feather when Inquisitor Lightwood-Bane came into my office with that question.”
Isabelle crossed her arms tightly and looked down, and Alec stepped to her side to rest his hands on her shoulders.
“But if that wasn’t you...” Alec looked at Penhallow, then Lorenzo, Underhill, and his sister.
“Someone glamoured as the Consul,” Magnus finished the thought for him.
In the heavy silence that followed, Andrew didn’t even know anymore what to think. She was gone. But she wasn’t where she was supposed to be. Someone had taken her who had no right to take her... and wherever she was now, it couldn’t be a good place.
“I need to see the surveillance footage,” Lorenzo said after a moment. “I don’t think the warlock in question was the woman I spoke to.”
It wasn’t, and no one was surprised by it.
“It must have been the people who were trying to breed warlocks,” Alec said after they had looked at the footage. “In the warehouse where Underhill found the baby.”
“That is the only solution that makes sense,” Lorenzo replied. “But that doesn’t get us anywhere either.”
“And they really took everything?” Magnus asked Lorenzo. “Nothing left that we can use to track her?”
Andrew was still trying to wrap this brain around what had happened. It couldn’t be. Someone had abducted her, a helpless warlock baby – someone who had rather killed her mother before she was born rather than let her be rescued by Shadowhunters – and what they might be doing with her didn’t bear thinking about. His heart was racing, his stomach was churning, and he felt cold sweat prickling on his skin. How could the Angels let something like this happen to a helpless, innocent baby?
A search of Andrew’s quarter proved that yes, they had been very thorough; there wasn’t a single item left that pointed back to her. Clothes, diapers, bottles, the whole bed, the sling, everything was gone. They even had taken the towel Andrew had used as a changing mat.
Andrew hardly registered the low and urgent discussion between the two High Warlocks as he fell onto his bed, the pack of diapers sliding out of his hand and landing on the carpet. Terror was seeping into the very marrow of his bones.
This couldn’t be happening.
Angel, please... no...
“Andrew.” The mattress dipped as Lorenzo sat down next to him. “Andrew,” he said again, his voice gentle. “We will find her. Magnus and I, we are going to contact every high warlock, and if I have to activate everyone who ever owed me a favour, I will do it.”
Andrew couldn’t even move his head to look at him, but he let Lorenzo take his hand.
“We will find her,” Lorenzo said again. “I promise.”
“Don’t make promised you don’t know you can keep,” Andrew whispered tonelessly.
“We will get her back,” Lorenzo said again, calmly but firmly. “Because anything else is not an option.”
Andrew couldn’t think of a reply, the shock still too deep in his bones and nerves. And he wondered how he would ever be able to sleep again.
For Andrew, the rest of the day passed in a numb haze, as if he was standing outside his own body watching himself trying not to lose his mind.
Penhallow, Alec, and Magnus had portalled back to Alicante, and after he had assured Lorenzo he would be okay – for a given value of – the latter had left as well to start his own investigations. Andrew remained behind, feeling helpless and powerless, and he couldn’t remember having ever been so terrified.
And he felt completely useless at this point. The warlocks would leave no stone unturned, Lorenzo had assured him; the warlock community didn’t take well to someone messing with their own, especially children, especially like that. Andrew knew he should draw comfort from that fact, at least try to, but in his helpless frustration he could have bashed his head in against the nearest wall.
In a last bout of frantic despair he began to look through all of his things again, because maybe there was something he had overlooked so far, but no matter what he did and where he looked there was nothing. He ended up in a frenzy, all but tearing his room apart in the dying hope of finding something, anything, to track her; he pulled out every drawer and dug through the contents after having dumped everything onto the floor, he emptied his wardrobe, tore off the bed sheets, and only stopped short of peeling off the wallpaper. But he didn’t find even a single hair.
Isabelle found him there later that afternoon, sitting in an almost cathartic state on the floor in the middle of the utter mess he had created, and with gentle yet very firm prodding, had managed to tear him out of it and made him clean up the chaos in his room.
She hadn’t said anything else however, hadn’t tried to offer empty words of comfort, and Andrew was grateful for it. Because there was no comfort, and those hollow phrases of ‘it’s going to be okay’ or the likes would have only made it worse.
Knowing that trying to sleep would be a lost cause he relieved the Shadowhunter on monitor duty for the nightshift and, after activating his stamina rune, pulled up the footage of the area around the warehouse on one screen while keeping an eye on the regular screen to his left. But even spending the whole night staring at what little footage there was from the weeks before the Shadowhunters had cleared the warehouse didn’t produce any results. No one had left or entered the building in all that time, unsurprisingly. They were warlocks and had doubtlessly portalled in an out, safe from prying eyes.
That didn’t stop Andrew from watching it all over again, because maybe he had missed something. Maybe there was something, anything, somewhere in the footage. After all, they had known where to look for her and...
Andrew dropped the stele he had been fiddling with, and stared at the screen in front of him, his face white and frozen.
Lorenzo found him like that somewhat later, carrying Andrew’s favourite mug that was emanating the fragrant steam of Neapolitan mocha.
“Well, it has been a while since I portalled across several continents in the span of twenty-four hours, and it’s just as unpleasant as I remem... Andrew?” And when Andrew didn’t react, he cautiously stepped closer. “Andrew, what’s wrong? Did you find something?”
Finally, Andrew managed to unfreeze. “No. And yes,” he said in a dead voice. “I only realised that it’s my fault she’s gone.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lorenzo said sharply. “How on earth could this have been your fault?”
“Because I led them straight to her!” Andrew looked up at him. “I was walking around outside with her, not exactly inconspicuously, and all they had to do was follow me!”
“Nonsense.” Lorenzo took one of his hands. “They knew already where to look for her. They have been biding their time, making plans, waiting for the opportune moment, but you taking a walk with her had nothing to do with it. They knew all along where she is. All they had to do was remain hidden and glamoured in the darkness between the warehouses and keep an eye on the Shadowhunters invading their building.”
Andrew swallowed hard as he looked up at him. He wanted to believe that – Angel, how much he wanted to believe it, to relieve this horrible weight of guilt. He had made a promise, to her and her mother, and just when he had thought he had fulfilled that promise the worst possible thing had happened.
“Andrew, it wasn’t your fault, and you need to stop beating yourself up over this.” Lorenzo increased the pressure of his fingers around Andrew’s hand.
“But they waited until I was out to make their move,” he replied miserably.
“Yes, because they knew, or suspected, you wouldn’t have let them get away with that. But you cannot blame yourself for leaving the building to buy necessities.”
Andrew stared at the screen again, but apart from darkness and the forms of various Shadowhunters entering and leaving the building, there was nothing. For the tenth time, he watched himself run out of the building, arms slung around the bulge in front of his chest, and watched himself collapse. He watched Lorenzo portal in, watched him pour a ridiculous amount of magic into his body, and eventually, watched as he was portalled away, followed by the other Shadowhunters, and Isabelle who was carrying the baby.
“They already knew where she was,” Lorenzo said again. “And they had been planning this for a while now.”
Andrew could only shrug.
With a sigh, Lorenzo pushed the mocha closer, and took Andrew’s hand to close it around the cup. “When was the last time you ate something?”
“I don’t know,” Andrew replied and pushed the mug away. “I don’t care.”
“But I do. So you are going to leave this chair now and come with me.”
“Or else?” Andrew asked without any strength. “Are you going to force-feed me?”
“I’d rather not,” Lorenzo replied. “But you physically damaging yourself over this is not going to help anyone, least of all her.”
Deciding that resistance was too much effort Andrew got up and followed Lorenzo to his room, where he fell down onto the bed and buried his face in his hands.
“Andrew.” Lorenzo sat down next to him, and Andrew dropped his hands again. Lorenzo was holding a plate containing some sort of pastry.
“One of the Danish pastries from the small bakery in Copenhagen, remember? You ate three and bought another one for the way home.”
“Oh.” Andrew took the plate, but felt less than enthusiastic.
“You are not getting out of this.” Lorenzo crossed his arms. “Because I am going to watch you eat that.”
“Mother hen,” Andrew muttered under his breath, but he didn’t know if he was annoyed or touched by Lorenzo’s behaviour.
After Andrew had forced the pastry down Lorenzo made the plate vanish and got up.
“And now, you are going to rest.”
“Are you kidding me?” Andrew got onto his feet, shaking his head. “As if I could sleep!”
“You look half dead,” Lorenzo replied. “And I repeat myself: You harming yourself-”
“Yes.” Andrew snapped. “I know.”
“Andrew,” Lorenzo said, his voice low and gentle. He stepped to his side and closed both arms around him, and kept them firmly in place even as Andrew tried to struggle away.
After a second however Andrew felt his resistance crumble and he fell against Lorenzo’s shoulder with a choked-out gasp, and everything he had been trying to keep under control just burst out of him. He wasn’t even exactly aware of what he was saying, the words forcing themselves out between ugly, helpless sobs, but it was an endless litany of self-loathing and self-accusations that Lorenzo gently but firmly disputed, until Andrew was so wrung out he couldn’t even cry anymore.
Eventually Lorenzo more or less manhandled him to bed, but even as Andrew tried to protest, insisting that he wouldn’t be able to sleep, Lorenzo pressed a gentle finger against his lips.
“I can help you with that,” he said gently.
“You can magic me to sleep?” Andrew asked, his voice thick and rough.
“If you allow me.” He threaded his fingers into Andrew’s hair and brushed it back.
Andrew knew that he would never be able to fall asleep, pass out maybe after reaching breaking point, and the oblivion of sleep had never been so welcome. So he nodded, and Lorenzo brushed his hand down his face and through his hair again, and this time it was softly glowing with magic.
He dimly registered, at the edge of his waning consciousness, how Lorenzo dropped a kiss onto his temple, but by the time he summoned a portal to see himself out, Andrew was already gone.
“Sleep well,” Lorenzo whispered before stepping through the portal, even though he knew Andrew couldn’t hear him anymore.
Once the portal had closed behind him, Lorenzo stood there for a moment, his eyes closed. He took a few deep breaths through his nose, clenched and unclenched his fists, and then opened his eyes again while slowly shaking his head.
He had meant every word he had said to Andrew, but the hard, unpleasant reality was that they had no clue where to even start looking. All the warlocks he had asked were on it, to the best of their abilities, but with no hint whatsoever they might simply never find her.
It led to Lorenzo making a decision. After exhaling a harsh, forceful breath he ascended the stairway, taking two stairs with one step. He hurried down the corridor to his private study, and once there, closed the door behind him despite being alone in the house.
After another moment’s hesitation he opened the bottom door of the ancient escritoire. The old box he took out from there was massive ebony, delicately engraved and inlaid with mother-of-pearl, the gold fixtures gleaming dull in the muted light coming through the cream-coloured curtains. It was covered in a fine layer of dust, having sat there undisturbed for decades.
Lorenzo carefully put the box, which was probably worth almost half as much as his manor, onto the table and opened the lid, and took out a pair of velvet gloves that he slipped on before he lifted the velvet sheet covering the contents.
Crystal balls have their reputation, and it’s mostly not a good one. They are associated with cheap witchcraft, with charlatans on travelling fairs. And while every warlock is perfectly capable of operating a crystal ball, due to their reputation and their very limited efficiency for scrying they were hardly used.
Another problem was that real, purified crystal balls that actually produced useful images were worth several fortunes. Obviously, despite never using it, Lorenzo Rey had one of those, simply because an item like that was a status symbol he couldn’t pass up on. But he couldn’t remember the last time he had actually looked at it.
Now he carefully placed the crystal ball onto the table before him, then he took off the gloves, took a few very slow, very deep breaths, and summoned his magic. With his hands hovering above the surface of the perfect, flawless crystal sphere he leaned a little forward and focussed with all his strength of will.
The reason that Images in crystal balls have a very limited use is that they only show the object of focus, and hardly anything of the surroundings. You could find someone, but not actually find them. In addition to that there was always the risk of discovery, because anyone even slightly attuned to magic, and a lot of people completely without any magic whatsoever, could easily feel watched and become distrustful.
Lorenzo was keenly aware of the risk of alerting the warlocks to being pursued, but he was simply out of options. And while he might be able to make sure she was still alive there was nothing else he could do, but then, maybe knowing she was alive would already offer a little bit of comfort. On the other hand, he had no idea what he would do if he could not find her, or worse, discover that they were too late.
The white fog that had formed in the crystal ball when Lorenzo’s magic had touched it began to clear, and after a moment the blurry shadows condensed into an image.
It was an abysmal sight. Yes, she was still alive, but she was lying in what seemed to be a cardboard box wearing nothing but her diaper, and she was crying, her little arms waving helplessly about. The whole imagery was somehow made worse by the fact that Lorenzo could hear nothing but the wind in the bushes behind his house and his own, shallow breathing.
Lorenzo shook his head, gritting his teeth, and poured more magic into the crystal ball. He was able to see a bit of the surroundings now, but nothing more than a table covered in small items he couldn’t identify, and a bookshelf. And then someone else stepped into view and picked her out of the box. The person put a hand on her chest, and she started screaming.
“No...” He whispered. “God, no... what are they doing you?”
Of course he didn’t get an answer. He only had the image of the crying baby girl, and parts of the body of a grown man doing something to her that made her cry. He had to do something.
He had to do something.
One of his hands remained above the crystal ball, and the other summoned a portal into existence. Yet it only shimmered, hardly there, because it didn’t have an exit yet. What he was about to do was the most dangerous things he had ever attempted, and for a moment, he wasn’t even sure if he had the courage to actually go through with it. There was a really high chance of him not making it out, and get stuck in limbo forever.
He looked back into the crystal ball, and now he could see that whatever that hand was doing to her, it was glowing with magic. Shaking his head Lorenzo stared into the ball, focussed on the background, the space next to the shelf, and snapped his fingers.
He didn’t waste a second when he saw a flash of yellow light in the crystal ball, and jumped into the portal.
Having made the decision and going through with it had happened in the span of a few heartbeats, and there had been no time for planning or tactics. Lorenzo could use the element of surprise, and do nothing else but lay everything afterwards in the hands of benevolent higher powers. He couldn’t even waste time on the feeling of immense gratitude at having survived the transit.
The burst of magic from his left hand almost toppled the man who was holding her over, and Lorenzo managed to catch her with a flick of his other hand. He could do nothing for now but deposit her back into the box, and knowing things might get ugly he tore off his jacket and dropped it on top of her before casting a messy, hasty shield over the box. Her screams were muffled, but at least the lightweight bourette silk fabric would not choke her, even if it would doubtlessly not be pleasant.
Focussed on seeing her safe, or as safe as possible, Lorenzo didn’t manage to duck the retaliating blast of magic completely, and he stumbled under the impact, his hips painfully colliding with the table. But despite the pain, he was now able to focus fully on his adversary and hit him with a blast of raw power hard enough to throw him onto his back.
Sadly, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is, and nothing is ever that easy. Of course there was a second warlock around, and just as Lorenzo took him on, the first warlock was getting onto his feet again. Lorenzo could dodge a blast of magic coming from one side, but not the kick aimed at the small of his back from the other. He staggered and landed painfully on one knee, but managed to shoot out another burst of magic over his shoulder. To judge by the sound he had hit his mark, but so did the fist connecting with his face. The resulting crunch and bright explosion of pain made him yelp, and he almost lost his balance completely, but with sheer force of will he managed to straighten up again with a hoarse growl. Ignoring the taste of blood and the pain he summoned all his strength into a double blast of magic, one at each opponent.
He had only a second to wonder why the man in front of him didn’t move to stop him before he felt something small and hard press against the back of his head, accompanied by the unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked.
Lorenzo froze and closed his eyes, the glow of magic in his hands dying and dissipating. To end like this, with a broken nose and a bullet in his head, after having survived a portal transit like that, was not how he had imagined his end. Anger wrestled with fear in his mind, his heart hammering in his chest, his breathing fast and shallow.
“Don’t shoot him,” the first warlock Lorenzo had attacked now said. “Not yet, at least.”
“Are you nuts?” The second one asked, rubbing his arm where Lorenzo’s magic missile had hit him. “Don’t you know who that is?”
“I don’t give a shit who he is,” the one pointing the gun at Lorenzo’s head said. “We need to get rid of him and relocate!”
“Xander is right, Orwell,” the second one said. “We’ve been compromised. We need to get out of here.”
“Yeah, we do,” the one called Orwell replied. “But we take him with us. We got the magic suppressing shackles. Just imagine how much we can milk out of him!”
“Maybe,” the second warlock said slowly, and then looked at Lorenzo. “How did you find us?”
Lorenzo cleared his throat. “With a crystal ball.”
Xander scoffed. “And you portalled here how... casting a portal looking through the crystal ball vision?”
“Yes,” Lorenzo replied, and Xander kicked him in the back so hard he doubled over.
“Tell us!” he snarled, and pressed the muzzle of the gun against the back of Lorenzo’s head again.
“I did tell you!” Lorenzo hissed, gritting his teeth. “I used a crystal ball!”
“Knock it off, Xander,” the second warlock said. “That’s the High Warlock of Brooklyn; we stole the baby from right under his nose. Seems he really wanted that thing back.”
“High Warlock of... Lorenzo fucking Rey?” Orwell huffed out an incredulous laugh. “No fucking way, man! I knew he’s in love with his ego but that he’d think he could pull this one off?”
“So, Horace,” the one with the gun said slowly, tapping the back of Lorenzo’s head with the gun. “Milk him or kill him?”
“Both,” Horace replied after exchanging a look with Orwell. “But we gotta hurry before anyone else shows up.”
Lorenzo closed his eyes, and felt his skin begin to tingle. He recognised the sensation, fought it down, but then he realised that this was about the only thing that might save him now. So he remained how he was, curled up around his arms, and summoned his magic, collecting it, condensing it, until his skin was glowing, almost burning form the inside.
It had happened once before, triggered by his fear after being cornered by the Spanish Inquisition as a child. Back then he hadn’t done it consciously and it had almost killed him. Now he opened every channel, summoned the last fibre of his magic under his skin, until he felt ready to combust.
“What is he doing,” Orwell asked, catching sight of Lorenzo’s gritted teeth and tight face.
“Don’t know,” Horace replied. “Hey, stop that, whatever it is.”
Lorenzo curled his hands into fists, his skin pulsing with every scrap of power he possessed.
“I said, knock it off!!”
The gun was being cocked again, and Lorenzo let go. He shot upright with a loud, hoarse growl, his magic blasting out of him in a violent discharge of bright, almost blinding golden light that levelled the whole room. Bookshelves fell and the books went flying, torn apart in the force, tables toppled over, and the three men surrounding him were hit by the blast and flung around like rag dolls.
In the silence that followed, the crying of the baby was the only thing keeping Lorenzo from collapsing, his only anchor the thought that he needed to get her to safety. Then he looked around while trying to catch his breath. The man behind him, the one with the gun, was lying flat on his back, most of his face and half of his chest obliterated. He would never threaten anyone ever again. The other two were lying at opposite sides of the room, both either dead or unconscious. Lorenzo now picked up the gun, a small revolver, and shoved it into his pocket as he struggled to get onto his feet.
He needed to grab the edge of the upturned table to support himself, and once he was standing, he had to fight a spell of dizziness. He took a few deep, long breaths to steady himself and looked around again. He could still taste blood, and as he wiped the back of his hand across his upper lip it came away coated in blood. His whole face was throbbing in dull pain, and his nose was blocked and swollen. Definitely broken then. He unceremoniously wiped the hand off on his trouser leg as he scanned the room.
One of the three warlocks was dead, the others might still be alive and a threat. But he remembered that they had mentioned magic shackles, and he took a few unsteady steps towards the heap of items that had fallen off the table.
Digging the shackles out of the mess was a tremendous effort, as was dragging the limp forms of the two warlocks close enough to each other so he could shackle their wrists together, because he only had one pair of the magic-suppressing manacles. One was wearing a belt that he used to tie his other arm to his torso, incapacitating him further. Then Lorenzo pulled off his own belt to do the same with the other, and when that was done he sat back on his heels for a moment to catch his breath. He couldn’t go under, not now. He swallowed hard and fought another fainting spell.
And behind him, the baby was still crying, a pitiful, thin sound of utter despair. It enabled Lorenzo to summon strength he had no idea he still possessed, and he staggered over to the box on unsteady legs, thanking every higher power he could think of that he had thought of casting a shield over her. What might have happened to her otherwise during the blast didn’t bear thinking about.
“Here now,” he said, his voice still rough. He picked up his jacket and carefully wrapped the baby into it, the best he could do for now. “It’s okay, it’s only me.”
The baby stopped crying when she heard his voice and looked at him out of wide, shining eyes. It was only then that Lorenzo realised his glamour was gone and that he would look like a stranger to her. Lorenzo managed a small smile. “It’s really me. Don’t worry, I get you out of here.” Then he looked across the room. “Somehow.”
Because when Lorenzo lifted his hand to summon a portal, nothing happened. No glow of magic appeared in his hand, not even the slightest shimmer of light. He tried to put his glamour back up, but that wasn’t working either.
“Damn,” he muttered. “God damnit.” He forced his breathing to slow down again. Okay, so he was out of magic. He needed a plan B.
Or a plan at all. Coming here like that had been nothing short of a panic reaction to seeing her mistreated by strangers with magic. He looked at the baby again, and then hastily dug a hand into the folds of the jacket. He managed to pull out his phone, and he probably would have fist-pumped and yelled something triumphant if he had had the energy to do so. The shield had not only protected the baby, but had also saved his phone from being fried. The baby cradled in one arm, he let himself fall against the nearest wall and brought the phone to his ear.
“Lorenzo!” Magnus’ voice had never, ever in his life been so welcome. “What is it?”
“I need help,” Lorenzo rasped.
“I need help,” Lorenzo said again. “I... I found her. But I used up all my magic, I can’t portal home again. I need you... I need you to get me out of here.”
“Okay,” Magnus said and took a deep breath. “Okay. Where are you?”
“That is the catch,” Lorenzo replied hesitantly. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” Magnus’ voice was rising. “How can you not know where you portalled? Wait, did you portal there?”
“I... I did,” Lorenzo gave back, even slower. “But I... I scried her out in a crystal ball and I-”
Lorenzo winced and closed his eyes.
“You... don’t tell me you used the image in a crystal ball... as focus for a portal?!”
“I didn’t know what else to do!”
“God, Lorenzo, I...” Magnus huffed out a frustrated growl. “I swear I am going to beat you senseless with your own legs!”
“Yes, whatever you feel is necessary...” Lorenzo adjusted the baby in his arm. “Can we postpone the berating until after you got me out of here?”
A deep breath, before Magnus spoke again. “Yes. Yes, okay. So, you have no clue where you are.”
“None,” Lorenzo replied, and cautiously opened the door to peek down the corridor outside. He was at a real disadvantage here; he had a baby in one hand and the phone in the other, and a gun in his pocket that he couldn’t reach. He could only hope that dropping the phone before taking the gun wouldn’t cost too much time should he run into trouble. “It seems to be an old manor, however.”
“Find a window,” Magnus said. “Any landscape?”
“Forest,” Lorenzo said after pulling back a piece of threadbare curtain. “Firs. As far as the eye can see, green firs.”
“That doesn’t help,” Magnus muttered. “How am I going to save your ass if I don’t know where you are?”
“You will have to track me, I guess,” Lorenzo replied.
“Well, I guess I will have to do that.”
Lorenzo heard the unmistakable sound of a portal, a moment of static, and then Magnus’ voice again.
“Okay, I portalled to your manor. Give me an item strong enough to track you. Or... You do know I’ll probably have to hop across several continents to get a signal?”
“I know.” Lorenzo swallowed and sat down on the stairs leading down. “Upstairs, in the master bedroom. There’s a chest of drawers next to the right side of the bed.”
“Give me a moment,” Magnus replied. “Master bedroom, got you.” Another pause. “The teak one?”
“That one. In the top drawer is a black box without label.”
“Black box,” Magnus said. “A tie pin?”
“That’s... interesting.” Magnus huffed out a soft chuckle. “I wouldn’t have expected you to wear anything less than a ruby and this is-”
“A garnet, I know,” Lorenzo cut in. “It was... a gift.”
A pause. “Oh.” And Magnus voice was holding a smile now. “I see.” Then he cleared his throat. “So I’m getting nothing whatsoever, which means you’re not in North America. It’s going to take me a while.”
“I know.” Lorenzo got up again, adjusting the complaining baby. “But...” He looked around. “Bring a few Shadowhunters,” he said then. “I incapacitated three, but I don’t know if there are any more, and god knows what else they might have hidden away in this place.”
“I’ll give Alec a call. For now, I need to... Just have another look around. Really no clue?”
“I am looking,” Lorenzo replied, carefully descending the creaky old stairs. “It is an old manor, but everything is dusty and mouldy. No one has lived here in decades.”
“That doesn’t really help,” Magnus replied.
Having reached the bottom of the stairs, Lorenzo opened the first door and found himself in a kitchen. “I found the kitchen,” he said. “But no one has been in here either for decades, it seems.”
“Any products left there?”
“Products?” Lorenzo looked around with a frown.
“Food. Non-perishables. Flour. Salt. Preserves. Anything with a label that could give us a hint.”
There wasn’t a fridge, and all the shelves were empty. And no matter how many cupboards he opened, all he found was dust and cobwebs. He straightened up with a frustrated sigh and looked around again.
“A calendar,” he muttered and hurried across the room. The dizziness had abated by now, but he still felt a little weak in the knees. “There’s a calendar here and it’s...” He took it off the nail. “It’s from 1917.”
“Any pictures?” Magnus asked. “Anything?”
“Pyramids,” Lorenzo said and lifted the picture, faded and hardly recognisable any more. “The next one is the Acropolis, and...” This picture was in a far better state, as was the inscription. “Cyrillic,” he said breathlessly. “The captions on this calendar are in Cyrillic.”
“Russia then,” Magnus said with audible relief in his voice. “Sit tight, Lorenzo, I’m coming to get you. I just need a moment, I need to contact Alec to get a few Shadowhunters together.”
“Please hurry,” Lorenzo said and looked at the baby. “She’s cold, and hungry, and I can’t do a thing for her right now.”
“I’ll be as fast as I can,” Magnus promised, and hung up.
Lorenzo closed his eyes and swallowed, then he sat carefully down on one of the old chairs at the small kitchen table. It creaked under his weight, but held. He took the gun out of his pocket and put it onto the table in front of him, and then adjusted the baby again in the hopes of making it a little less uncomfortable for her.
He tried to summon his magic again, but as he had feared, nothing answered him. Not a trace, not even a tingle somewhere. Lorenzo closed his eyes and swallowed down a rising surge of panic. He had been at the point of complete magical exhaustion before, and knew what that felt like. This was unlike anything he had ever felt before. Could a warlock actually burn out his own magic permanently?
The very thought made him nauseous, and he took a few deep shaky breaths.
The baby chose that moment to cry again, and Lorenzo pulled away a fold of fabric that was hanging down into her face. “Here now,” he said in a low voice. “It’s okay. I know you’re hungry, and probably still cold too, but you will be okay. You’ll be home with Andrew in no time.”
And then what?
With Andrew, the one person that meant safety to her, only to be taken away again to yet someone else. He looked down at her face again, and she stared up at him, her wide, turquoise eyes on him as if begging him to make it better.
And then they appeared again, the tiny, translucent white sparks.
“No,” Lorenzo breathed, closing his eyes. “No, I’m sorry, little one.” He adjusted her in his arms and held her close to his chest and shoulder, and ignored her desperate whimpers for a moment. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I can’t.”
He rocked her back and forth, but she didn’t stop crying anymore.
And then he could hear voices outside. Several voices. Lorenzo picked up the gun, and prayed desperately that this was the rescue party and not more of the warlocks. The main door opened and Lorenzo got up, shielding the baby with his body as best as he could, the gun clutched in trembling fingers.
Lorenzo dropped the gun with a groan of relief. “Magnus!”
“Lorenzo?” The kitchen door opened. “You mad, stupid idiot!” Magnus hurried towards him, eyes wild. “If you weren’t holding a baby I’d slap you!”
At this point Lorenzo felt the strain of the last hour in every fibre of his being, and now, with safety within his grasp, he suddenly felt as if he was about to pass out again. He had been running on sheer willpower, and it was beginning to fail him.
“Just get me out of here, will you?” he muttered, and it was all he could do to keep a grip on the baby when he almost lost his balance and Magnus had to catch him.
Lorenzo couldn’t make out what it was Magnus was muttering under his breath, but he felt the cool breath of foreign magic crawl across his skin. Magnus had cast a glamour over his scales.
“Thank you,” Lorenzo said huskily. “Thank you, I...”
“Don’t worry about that. Alexander!”
Alec stuck his head into the kitchen.
“Don’t go anywhere,” Magnus said. “Stay here, stay together, and don’t touch anything until I’m back. I need to get Lorenzo home, and I’ll portal back in as soon as I drop him off.”
“Got you.” Alec eyes Lorenzo, leaning heavily onto Magnus’ shoulder. “Need a hand?”
“We’re good. It won’t be long.”
Magnus opened the portal and as he stepped out again, Lorenzo could have laughed at the fact that he had never been so happy to see the inside of an Institute.
Andrew was at his side within seconds, eyes impossibly wide. “Isabelle said Magnus would be portalling you in...” He touched the side of Lorenzo’s face, his own face losing a little colour. “By the Angel, what have they done to you?”
“Nothing a little rest can’t cure,” Lorenzo replied and held out the squirming, complaining bundle to him. “You need to take care of her for now. She’s cold, and filthy, and doubtlessly hungry as well. I just need to sit down somewhere.”
Andrew froze, and when he caught sight of the baby, his eyes widened even more. “Oh Angel,” he whispered and picked the bundle out of Lorenzo’s arm. “Hey...” His voice lowered into a soft, shaky whisper. “Hey, sweetie... it’s okay.” He pressed her against his shoulder, his cheek resting on the top of her head. “It’s okay sweetie, I’m here. It’s going to be okay.”
The baby was still complaining but not nearly as much, and Andrew was pinching his eyes shut, moisture glistening between his lashes.
“Well, I’m off then,” Magnus said and opened another portal, then thrust out a finger at Lorenzo. “But don’t think I’m done with you yet!”
“Be my guest,” Lorenzo said with a tired smile. But as Magnus turned around, he spoke again. “And Magnus?”
“Hmm?” Magnus turned around.
“Thank you,” Lorenzo said, and inclined his head.
Magnus’ face softened. “You’re welcome, Lorenzo. I’ll send Catarina your way.”
The medics took over now; Magnus had called Isabelle and informed her about the events, and she had told the medics to stand by and wait for their arrival. Andrew gave the baby up very reluctantly, but the infirmary was the only place that had what she needed right now, as Andrew had neither diapers, formula, or clothes anymore. Another medic closed her hand around Lorenzo’s arm to steer him towards the infirmary, and once he had fallen down onto an empty bed with a groan, Andrew sat down next to him.
“What happened?” Andrew asked, gently taking Lorenzo’s chin in one hand. “I really hope the other guy looks worse.”
“Three,” Lorenzo said, closing his eyes. “I walked out of there, and they didn’t.”
“You just paid for it,” Andrew said and tilted his head. “They really did a number on you. And your nose.”
“I paid with far more than a broken nose,” Lorenzo replied and opened his eyes again. He had felt panic at the thought before, and it sat in his bones now, a deep, cold feeling of terror. “I spent my magic. It’s... I can’t feel it anymore. It’s gone.”
“I’m not an expert of course, but...” Andrew tilted his head to the other side. “I don’t think magic can actually vanish.”
“I don’t know,” Lorenzo replied and closed his eyes again, swallowing hard. “But I can’t feel it anymore.”
Andrew took a deep breath, and let go of Lorenzo’s face to drape an arm around him. “It’s going to be okay,” he said softly.
But Lorenzo could only feel the horrible, dry emptiness under his skin, and found nothing to reply.
Like a nervous cat, Andrew paced back and forth between the incubator where they had placed the dehydrated, hypothermic baby girl to care for her, and the bed Lorenzo was sitting on. Lorenzo couldn’t pay him much attention even though he felt bad about it, but the absence of his magic was taking up almost all of his mental capacity. He wouldn’t be able to bear the sight of a baby with IV tubes going into her body anyway, even if it would only be for a day.
He was more than a little relieved when Catarina showed up; he had been given painkillers but they could only do so much against a broken nose and a bruised kidney.
“Three warlocks, one of them with a gun?” Catarina asked as she activated her magic, after Lorenzo had explained to her what happened. “You got off lightly with only a broken nose, Lorenzo.”
“Hang on,” Andrew said, hurrying over. “A gun?” He stared at Lorenzo. “You didn’t say anything about a gun!”
“Yes, one of them had a revolver,” Lorenzo said and winced as Catarina’s magic gently straightened his nose. “Which is why I had to do what I did.”
“And you did what?” Catarina asked, his chin in her hand, tilting his head this way and that to check the angle of the nose.
“I…” Lorenzo cleared his throat. “I produced an unchecked magical discharge.”
Catarina leaned back and gave him a very long, pointed look.
Lorenzo shrugged and avoided her eyes.
“I did wonder what happened to your magic,” Catarina said then and rubbed her palms together to summon her magic again. “I can’t feel it anymore, so you really blew them into orbit, hmm?”
Andrew stepped closer, nervously licking his lips. “Can’t feel it… is it that bad?”
Catarina’s magic ran down Lorenzo’s back in gentle rivulets. “I don’t know,” she said without looking up. “I’ve never encountered something like this. Usually when a warlock turns into a nuke they don’t survive it.”
“Oh,” Andrew said and sat down next to Lorenzo, taking one of his hands.
“It happened once before,” Lorenzo said, his eyes closed. “When I was a child, caught by the Spanish Inquisition. This time I did it on purpose, however, and it seems…”
“Seems like you burned yourself out,” Catarina finished for him.
“But it will come back, right?” Andrew asked, biting his lips. “Right?”
“I don’t know,” Catarina said, shaking her head with a shrug. “I’m not the one you should ask. Magnus knows far more about the loss and restoration of magic than I do.” She looked at Lorenzo who was staring at his feet, shoulders hunched. “With good reason,” she added after a small, pregnant pause.
Lorenzo still didn’t look at her. Andrew looked back and forth between her and Lorenzo, a confused frown on his face, but Catarina just sighed and shook her head.
“You have to ask Magnus,” she said again. “For now I recommend food and rest. I guess you need a portal home?”
“The alternative would be a cab, and I am not sure I’m in the mood for that,” Lorenzo replied and got up, He was still avoiding Catarina’s eyes, however.
“There you go,” Catarina replied after opening a portal, and looked at Andrew.
“I need to talk to my boss,” Andrew replied, and looked at Lorenzo. “Give me a moment.”
He vanished, and Catarina closed the portal again before looking at Lorenzo, who was still busily avoiding her eyes. She didn’t say anything however, and when Andrew came jogging around the corner, she just opened the portal again.
“Thank you,” Lorenzo muttered and stepped through the portal without looking up.
Andrew rubbed his hand across the back of his neck, but Catarina shrugged and nodded towards the portal.
Once in Lorenzo’s manor, Andrew immediately steered Lorenzo upstairs towards the bathroom.
“So, Catarina said food, right?” Andrew opened the door and pulled the shower curtain aside. “What are you in the mood for?”
“I don’t actually feel hungry.”
“See if I care. Even if I can’t summon you a Danish pastry, I am going to make you eat something.”
Lorenzo finally looked up, and one corner of his mouth twitched. Andrew shook his head, rested one hand on Lorenzo’s cheek and leaned forward to peck a kiss onto his lips.
“I know I’m not a chef,” he said with a soft smile, “but I know how a stove works, and I can read recipes. So you have that shower now, because you stink of blood, and then I’ll feed you.”
“I know,” Lorenzo said and looked down on himself. There were several large bloodstains on the front of his shirt, and smears from his fingers on his trouser leg.
“Need help with that?” Andrew asked as Lorenzo began to unbutton his shirt.
“I think I can manage,” Lorenzo replied with a weak attempt at a smile.
Andrew nodded and left him to it, but as soon as he had closed the bathroom door Lorenzo’s hands sank down again, and he gripped the edge of the sink while staring at himself in the mirror. There were still traces of blood in his hair and beard, the shirt was a lost cause, and smears of blood coated his skin where it had soaked through the fabric. It wasn’t how he looked what was bothering him, however. It was the fact that under normal circumstances, he’d have put his appearance right long since, with a snap of his fingers.
He tried again, but his hands stayed empty, the answering hum of energy remaining stubbornly absent. With a grunt he tore his eyes away from his mirror image and got out of the blood-stained clothes as fast as he could, stepping into a shower as hot as he could bear it.
If Andrew noticed the reddish splotches on his skin as they ate, he didn’t comment on it.
Lorenzo was clutching a cup of mocha long gone cold, sitting on a sofa in the downstairs lounge and staring into empty air. Unable to move, and unable to find rest.
It was close to midnight now, and Lorenzo knew he should be tired after a whole night of conversing with warlocks all over the world, followed by a day that had almost gotten him killed and that had obliterated his magic. But here he was, unable to even stop thinking for a second, his mind acting like a fly on a windowpane.
He wondered if he had the energy to get up when he heard the dull thud of the door knocker, but then Andrew called from the kitchen that he’d get the door. Moments later, someone entered the lounge with energetic steps while Andrew headed back into the kitchen to finish cleaning up, a tea towel thrown over one shoulder.
“Magnus.” He didn’t look up.
“I’ve spoken to Catarina,” Magnus said slowly and sat down next to him.
Lorenzo stared straight ahead, his lips a tight line.
“Are you waiting for a ‘Serves you right’, Lorenzo?”
“Wouldn’t blame you for it,” he muttered in reply.
Magnus just hummed.
“Don’t tell me the thought didn’t cross your mind.”
“It did, because I can be really petty sometimes,” Magnus replied without hesitation. “But in all honesty, there are things I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, and this is one of them. And I really don’t see you as an enemy anymore.”
Lorenzo took a deep breath and finally, he forced himself to look at Magnus. “Magnus, I…” he began, his voice close to breaking. “I…”
“No,” Magnus said, shaking his head. “No, we’re not going there again, Lorenzo. We’ve been over this, several times, and put it behind us. We don’t have to dig it all up again just because this,” he waved his hand about a little, “…happened.”
After a few shaky breaths, Lorenzo dropped his head. “Magnus, I… if I had known back then what I know now…” He swallowed hard. “I’d never have… I…”
“I know,” Magnus said, his voice low and gentle. “Of course you would have helped. But you didn’t know, and we really weren’t on best terms after all that had happened. I do not want to go back there.”
Lorenzo shook his head, clutching his cup, and after a long, silent moment, he looked up at Magnus again.
“How did you survive this?” he whispered. “How did you not go mad? I’ve been like this less than a day and I’m ready to bash my head in.”
“Who says I didn’t?” Magnus gave back, equally softly. “I was driving myself and everyone around me crazy with not giving myself a second of rest, not a second to think about what was going on, and what was wrong. And when I finally couldn’t do that anymore…” He bit his lower lip.
“You ended up crawling to your arch-nemesis, rather ending up homeless and humiliated than being like this any longer,” Lorenzo finished for him in a brittle voice.
“Well.” Magnus took a deep breath. “Yes. But as I said, we’ve been over this. It’s in the past, and you’re not that man anymore, Lorenzo. Now I am here to help you.”
Lorenzo huffed out a soundless, mirthless chuckle. “Without asking for anything in return, because you’re a better man than I was back then.”
“You know, I really like the view from the master bedroom,” Magnus said brightly.
Lorenzo slowly raised one eyebrow.
“That joke was a little tasteless, wasn’t it?”
“I can’t begrudge you the urge to make it,” Lorenzo replied drily.
“Be that as it may.” Magnus snapped his fingers and summoned his magic. “Since I did my homework I know that while your magic is gone right now, it is not gone-gone. A transfusion will re-build it, but you need to let it simmer for a day or two, and not use it. I would advise against that anyway though, because we know from experience that our magic isn’t compatible.”
Lorenzo simply nodded and turned a little to face him, after setting down the mug on the coffee table.
Lorenzo nodded again. Magnus returned the nod, and poured a stream of blue energy into Lorenzo’s body.
“There we go,” he said when he cut his magic off and Lorenzo sagged back into the sofa again. “It’s not much, but then, we don’t need much for this. Take it easy now, rest, and don’t try to use it.”
Staring at his hands, and the faint blue light that coated them now Lorenzo nodded, and then slowly shook his head.
“Leave it,” Magnus muttered. “Don’t look at it. You’ll only make it worse. It’ll vanish in time, and you’ll have your own colour back.”
“Thank you,” Lorenzo whispered tonelessly.
“It’s okay,” Magnus replied gently. “That’s what friends are for.”
“Friends?” Lorenzo tilted his head, a humourless smile on his face. “You would have helped me even if nothing had changed between us.”
“That’s true,” Magnus said after pursing his lips for a moment. “But I would have made you grovel a bit, if you were still the man you had been back then. Since you’re not, I’m just happy I could make it better.” He rested one hand on Lorenzo’s shoulder with a warm smile.
Taking a deep breath, Lorenzo could finally meet his eyes, and after a moment, they simultaneously leaned forward and embraced.
“Thank you,” Lorenzo muttered. “Thank you.”
“It's over. And you'll be fine,” Magnus replied.
After another moment they let go and leaned back. Lorenzo tried to smile, with a lot less success than Magnus.
“Magnus?” Andrew knocked softly against the wood of the doorframe. “Are you staying for a coffee?”
“Nah, thank you.” Magnus said and got up. “I need to get back to Alicante, to check on the two surviving warlocks.”
Lorenzo got up as well now, and Magnus turned to face him. “There weren’t any more warlocks there, but a few more warlock children, and...” He shook his head with a grim look. “They were in an absolutely pitiful state. They’ve really been breeding warlock children to use as batteries for their spells... absolutely despicable.”
“So that’s what they meant when they talked about keeping me alive to milk me,” Lorenzo said after a moment, through gritted teeth. “Adding me to the battery pool.”
“Obviously,” Magnus replied. “And while I still kind of want to beat you with your own legs for pulling that stunt with the crystal ball I’m not going to do it, because knowing now what you prevented from happening to that baby girl... And I have yet to find out why our little angel was so special that they had to pull their stunt with glamouring as a consul to get her back.” He could only shake his head again. “Probably because they used the same demon and wanted magic that is easy to manage.”
“You would have done the same, Magnus.”
“Maybe?” Magnus shrugged. “I would have started with casting a beacon first, though.” He poked Lorenzo in the shoulder.
“Admittedly, I didn’t think of that,” Lorenzo replied and shrugged as well. “But I’m pretty sure that would have given me away far sooner, and who’s to say they wouldn’t have had the time to dispel that beacon before I could get out of the portal? Then what?”
“You do have a point,” Magnus said thoughtfully. “A very unpleasant, yet very valid point.” Then he clapped his hands. “Well, whatever, all’s well that ends well. You take care of yourself and you,” he turned around and pointed at Andrew, “spoil your warlock because he needs a little TLC.”
“Yes, sir,” Andrew replied with a small smirk and left the doorframe to saunter towards Lorenzo’s side. “I already made him dinner and cleaned up afterwards, does that count?”
“It definitely does,” Magnus replied with a satisfied nod. “Add in a backrub, and don’t provide me with a list of other items that might be on the list of options, as I am sure you have that under control.” He snapped his fingers and opened a portal. “Good evening, gentlemen.”
Lorenzo and Andrew watched the portal snap shut behind him, and now Andrew turned around and rested both hands on Lorenzo’s shoulders to pull him close.
“So, a backrub, then,” he said with a smile. “And... well, you may be too tired for anything else, but that doesn’t have to stop me from trying, now, does it?”
“I don’t know,” Lorenzo muttered into his shoulder. “I’ve had quite the day and I spent last night portalling across the world like a madman instead of sleeping so... just take me to bed, will you? I don’t think I can do anything but sleep right now.”
“It’s okay,” Andrew whispered into his hair reached into his back pocket to produce his stele. He activated his strength rune before slipping it back, and picked up Lorenzo in one swift move.
“This is degrading,” Lorenzo replied, without any real protest in his voice, as Andrew arranged him in his arms to carry him bridal style up the stairs. “That wasn’t what I meant when I asked you to take me to bed.”
“It’s okay,” Andrew said again. “I got you.”
Lorenzo opened his mouth to reply but after a moment, he closed it again and let his head drop against Andrew’s shoulder.
“Funny how we both ended up in the infirmary after saving her life,” Andrew said after carefully depositing Lorenzo on the bed.
“I guess that makes us both her heroes now, doesn’t it?” Lorenzo asked with a wry little smile.
“I guess it does,” Andrew replied and sat down as well. He took one of Lorenzo’s hands. “And I’m glad your magic is going to be okay again. It... it is going to be okay again, right?”
“According to Magnus, it will, within a day or two.” Lorenzo pulled his hair elastic out and combed his fingers through his hair. “I’m just not allowed to use any magic during that time.”
“Then I’ll just have to take a cab to the Institute tomorrow,” Andrew said and got up again to head for the en-suite from where he returned with Lorenzo’s hairbrush. He sat down on the bed again, but this time behind Lorenzo, and moved a little closer to comb Lorenzo’s hair back with his fingers before he started to brush it out with gentle strokes. “And I think I’ll survive that.”
Lorenzo leaned into the gentle touches with almost a purr. His Andrew didn’t do things by halves, but then, Lorenzo didn’t see any reason anyway to interfere with his mission of spoiling his warlock. So he let himself be pampered and tucked in, but his exhaustion caught up with him before Andrew could get ready for bed himself.
I don't know if there is any canonical lore about the warlock magic of children, and I claim artistic license.
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did!
After seeing Andrew off that morning Lorenzo tried to occupy himself, but he found it increasingly difficult to do anything without magic. Of course he was so used to conveniently use magic for all those small tasks he didn’t even think about – like pulling books out of a shelf, conjuring up some coffee, opening a window – that he had caught himself just in time several times already. It was nerve-grating. By noon he was so exhausted and so done that he went to his apothecary, mixed himself a sleeping tonic of the non-magical kind, and knocked himself out.
As expected, he was rather cotton wool-brained when he woke up in the late afternoon to the persistent ringing of his phone. He would have thrown the thing against the wall, but it was the ringtone he had set for Andrew, so eventually he managed to roll over in the bed and grab the phone from the nightstand.
“Yes,” he slurred.
“Lorenzo, are you okay?” Andrew’s voice rose a little bit. “Shit, I woke you up, didn’t I?”
“Yes, but who expects someone to be asleep at,” he squinted at his phone, “half past five in the afternoon,” he continued after lifting the phone back to his ear.
“Sorry... shit, I...” Andrew took a deep breath. “I just wanted to let you know that I’d like to stay at the Institute tonight if you can manage. Annie is out of the infirmary and Simon was so kind as to get me some new equipment, and I-”
“Annie?” Lorenzo laboriously sat up, his back against the headboard.
“Oh.” A long pause. “I... I... um...”
“Gave her a name?” Lorenzo asked, a small smile on his lips. “It was about time.”
“I... do you think so?” Andrew took a deep breath. “Because I thought... you know... I can’t be her dad, but she’s... I thought I could at least give her a name?”
“I had planned on asking you exactly that,” Lorenzo replied, his brain clearing up somewhat. “So, Annie?”
“It’s short for... Oh shit, I gotta go. That sounded like an emergency.”
“Emergency?” Lorenzo leaned forward.
“Yes...” Andrew huffed out an exasperated chuckle. “That wasn’t a fart. I talk to you later!”
Lorenzo stared at his phone, slightly bemused, but then he chuckled and shook his head.
Technically, the baby girl... Annie?... couldn’t wish for a better dad, but as a warlock child, she needed a warlock as her guardian. It was a shame and a half.
He dragged himself out of the bed and downstairs to find something to eat, but in the end he ate a bowl of Andrew’s horrendously sweet breakfast cereals because he didn’t have the energy for anything else. He immediately headed to bed again, and with the help of the tonic managed to escape any more worried musings about his magic, or the absence thereof.
But when Lorenzo woke up the next morning he felt actually rested, and unexpectedly energised. He swung his legs out of bed and sat up, and after a deep, deep breath, lifted his hands and summoned his magic.
It was humming softly under his skin again, where it belonged, and the light that rose from his fingers was a pale gold, warm and familiar. Lorenzo dropped his hands again with a sob of relief, and spend some more time just looking at the golden light flowing gently over his skin. After a moment he snapped his fingers to summon a mug from the kitchen, and snapped them again to conjure up a coffee in that mug. Then he conjured up a bowl of strawberries, just because he could. He could feel he wasn't completely recharged yet, but that was only a matter of one good night's sleep more.
After a long and satisfying shower he got dressed, but decided against telling Andrew the good news over the phone. After a last glance in the mirror he nodded at his smiling reflection, and opened a portal to the Institute.
“Good morning, Lorenzo!” Izzy greeted him with a bright smile. “You look like yourself again.”
“Thank you, and a good morning to you, as well. I feel like myself again, too. Is Andrew around?”
“In his office,” Isabelle replied.
Lorenzo inclined his head and made his way across the Ops centre. He felt like humming under his breath but had a reputation to uphold, so he reined in his facial expression that would otherwise undoubtedly end up an absolutely ridiculous grin.
Andrew’s office was empty however, or rather, Andrew wasn’t there. The baby girl was lying on a blanket next to his desk, sounding rather dissatisfied with current affairs, whatever those might be for her.
“Hello, little one,” Lorenzo said and headed over to pick the fussing baby up. “I hear you go by the name of Annie now.”
She looked at him and blew a few spit bubbles with a blurry little hum.
“I assume you are getting hungry and Andrew is on his way to make you a bottle.” He adjusted her in his arms and sat down on the sofa, then he crossed his legs, leaned back, and arranged her in his lap. “He’ll be here soon.”
The baby stopped complaining, and looked at him with slightly parted lips. She emitted another tiny sound, and one of her hands twitched.
And a few white, translucent sparks rose from her hand and eyes.
Lorenzo looked down at her and swallowed.
Lorenzo cleared his throat in a forceful huff. “Good morning,” he said, but he was unable to tear his eyes away from the baby. “I can announce with relief and great pleasure that I portalled in just now.”
“Lorenzo!” Andrew hurried over and fell down into the sofa next to him. “That is awesome!”
“It is,” Lorenzo replied, a smile playing around the corners of his mouth.
“Lorenzo?” Andrew asked, softly this time, because he had noticed the faint little sparks now.
After a moment, Lorenzo exhaled softly and swallowed, then he moistened his lips with a flick of his tongue before he spoke, without looking up at Andrew.
“A warlock child’s magic is... it is colourless.” His voice was low and soft. “It takes a few years before it matures into something unique to the particular person they are. And of course it is very vulnerable, and easy to influence... or damage.”
“Is that what those warlocks were trying to do to her? Twisting her magic?”
“In a way,” Lorenzo replied. “They would have had an easy time to bend it to their will and use her... you heard the allegory about using those poor warlock children as batteries. The infant’s magic is... the infant is unable to control it, like it is unable to control most of everything else. It acts on instincts, and only later begins to develop cognitive abilities to make decisions. That applies also to magic.”
The tiny sparks had increased in number, and were lazily and slowly drifting about in the space between her and Lorenzo’s torso.
“You see,” Lorenzo said after a small pause, “a warlock child can figure out magic on its own, but it is a slow and sometimes very laborious process, and can even be dangerous when the child itself isn’t old enough to assess the risks of any given action or situation. That is why it is so important that a child has a bond with a warlock as a guardian, to guide that magic, and keep the child safe from overusing it, or from endangering itself with it. And that is also the reason why warlock children have such a high mortality rate. The sooner they find a guardian, the sooner they will be safe.
“I am pretty certain Madzie, for example, had such a bond with Iris Rouse. And while you can say many things about her, she did love the girl. That is also the reason why such a bond between her and Catarina wasn’t necessary, because Madzie was at that point mostly able to control her magic on her own.”
“I understand,” Andrew said, his voice equally low. “I knew from the very beginning I’d never be able to properly care for a warlock baby.”
“Which is a shame, as you are doing a very good job otherwise,” Lorenzo said with a small smile.
“But I’m not what she truly needs,” Andrew said in a slightly resigned voice.
“No, sadly not.” Lorenzo shifted the baby in his arms, just a little, so her head was resting closer to his knee to keep her a little more upright than before. “And while she doesn’t know that, her deeper instincts do. And that’s why she is doing this.”
“Yes. On a deep, subconscious level, her magic is reacting to mine, and is reaching out to me.”
A heavy silence hung in the air for a moment.
“Hang on,” Andrew said slowly. “Reaching out?”
“Yes,” Lorenzo replied. He still had not looked away from the baby, and her beautiful eyes. “She feels my magic, and reacts to it. This is... this behaviour is... supposed to initiate a very complicated bonding process that allows the adult warlock to control and guide the infant’s magic. She can’t help it, it’s instinctual.”
“And she did that before.” Andrew leaned a little forward, but could only see Lorenzo’s face in profile.
“Yes. But the thing is...” Lorenzo took a deep breath. “The process is irreversible. And just like the bonding between mother and child after birth, this is... strong. The strongest possible bond between two warlocks. It is stronger than blood. Stronger than love. And... thus, to me, a really...” He hesitated for a long moment. “An almost terrifying prospect,” he finally finished. “But here she is... looking at me like that... reaching out for... for the third time now, and I...”
“It’s okay,” Andrew said and leaned closer, to look over Lorenzo’s shoulder at the girl. “She’ll be fine, I’m sure she’ll be fine, right? With the lady from Los Angeles, I mean. She wants her, right? She’ll take good care of her.”
“Doubtlessly,” Lorenzo replied, his voice hardly audible.
“Lorenzo, do you need a moment alone with her?” Andrew asked softly. “I can-”
“No,” Lorenzo replied in a whisper.
“It’s just... You look as if you’re having a really intimate moment here.”
“It’s fine,” Lorenzo replied. A soft smile had appeared on his lips, his eyes on the baby warm and shining with a trace of moisture. “It’s okay.”
Andrew looked at the slowly drifting, translucent sparks between the two, and back and forth between Lorenzo’s face, and the baby.
“She’s asking you to be her dad, isn’t she,” Andrew whispered after a moment.
But Lorenzo didn't reply. He took her tiny hand in his and her fingers closed around his thumb, and Lorenzo gently caressed the back of her hand with his forefinger.
A spark vanished.
And then another one.
“Lorenzo,” Andrew breathed out. He hardly dared to take another breath.
More of the sparks vanished; one by one they winked out of existence, until none of them were left. The baby’s beautiful turquoise eyes with those otherworldly star-shaped pupils were resting unmovingly on Lorenzo’s face, and Lorenzo held that gaze, his finger still caressing the back of her hand.
And the faint, transparent glow that had been surrounding her hands, a glow that had hardly been more than a shimmering of air, had turned into a faint, pale golden glow.
“Lorenzo?” Andrew asked in a trembling whisper.
“I...” Still not taking his eyes off her, Lorenzo swallowed. “I could not turn away from her a third time. I simply couldn’t.”
“So...” A small, incredulous and yet very hesitant smile crept onto Andrew’s face. “So you are her dad now?”
“Yes,” Lorenzo said on a heavy sigh, and finally looked up at him. “I guess that means I’m her dad now.”
“And...” Andrew bit his lips, took a few deep and almost shaky breaths, and then slowly draped an arm around Lorenzo’s shoulders. “What happens now?”
“Now?” Lorenzo shook his head with a wry little smile. “Now I will have to call Theresa and inform her of the turn of events. And then, I guess, I will have to empty one of the rooms upstairs and turn it into a nursery.”
“But you’re a High Warlock,” Andrew replied, without any judgement in his voice. “You’re a busy man. It’s going to be difficult.”
“I know,” Lorenzo replied and sighed again. “I will have to find a reliable babysitter, someone who can take her during a lot of daytime hours. A Downworlder with a job that leaves enough time for such a thing, or maybe it would be easier to hire someone full time. Either way, it’s not going to be easy.”
“Or maybe someone who isn’t a Downworlder but knows of the Shadowworld, and is self-employed with a slow, peaceful business? Someone honourable and reliable, and who has experience with children?”
Lorenzo raised both eyebrows.
“Because I have an idea who to ask,” Andrew went on with a smile and a twitch of his eyebrows.
“You. Created. A. Monster.” Isabelle crossed her arms and looked at Andrew and Lorenzo with raised eyebrows, and back to her mother, who had the baby in her arms and was cooing at her in frequencies that made dogs whine.
“What?” Andrew exchanged a look with Lorenzo. “Why?”
“Because of that.” Isabelle jerked her chin into Maryse’s direction. “Babies. She’s that age, you know?”
“I’m afraid I don’t,” Andrew replied.
“Granny lust,” Isabelle said pointedly. “You awoke the granny lust. She will never stop nagging all four of us now, demanding grandchildren of her own.”
“Oh.” Lorenzo cleared his throat. “That was certainly not our intention.”
“Of course I can! I’d love to help you take care of that little angel!” Maryse said, oblivious to the conversation that had taken place a few steps away. “Look at her! So adorable!” She tickled the baby’s cheek, and she sneezed. “Look at you! Aren’t you a sweetheart! Who’s a pretty sweetheart?”
“I’m beginning to see what you mean,” Andrew said slowly and shot Isabelle an apologetic look.
“We will get along splendidly,” Maryse said with a beaming smile. “Won’t we, sweetie?”
The girl looked at her and hiccupped, and proceeded to spit a mouthful of milk onto Maryse’s sleeve.
“Oopsie,” Maryse said. “But that doesn’t matter now, does it, sweetie?” Her grin was borderline idiotic, and adorable at the same time. “Because I have a washing machine,” she went on and booped the baby’s nose. “Yes I do!”
Andrew cleared his throat and straightened up, crossing his hands behind his back, and Lorenzo rested the back of one hand in the palm of the other. Then he faced Maryse, who was still grinning at the baby.
“I appreciate the help, Mrs-”
“Please, just Maryse,” Maryse said hastily. “Maryse will do.”
“Of course. I am grateful for your generous offer, Maryse. This makes things a lot easier until I find someone to hire as a full time nanny.”
“Oh, it doubtlessly does. You’re such a busy man, and her other dad too, with such an important position in the Institute.” She smiled brightly at both of them. “I can pick her up anytime you need me to. I see no problem whatsoever in closing the shop for a moment to come and get her. Anytime, really. Whenever you need it.”
“Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.” Lorenzo took a deep breath that heaved his shoulders.
“So what are your immediate plans?” Maryse asked him.
“I guess the next step is some redecorating,” Lorenzo replied. “I need to adjust my living situation accordingly.”
“Need a hand with that?” Andrew said to Lorenzo, and held out his arms to Maryse, who only reluctantly relinquished the baby.
“Aren’t you technically supposed to be working?” Lorenzo asked him, cocking one eyebrow.
“Off you go,” Isabelle said, in a mix of slight amusement and mild despair. “And take her with you before my mother’s ovaries explode.”
“I beg your pardon?” Maryse looked at her daughter in mock-offence. “I have all the children I ever needed.”
Lorenzo opened a portal and exchanged a small smile with Andrew before the two stepped into it, leaving the two women who were suddenly having a moment and embraced.
Both Lorenzo and Andrew stood there in silence for a moment after arriving at the manor, and then looked at each other.
“This is going to change everything,” Lorenzo said, almost hesitantly. “Even though neither of us can just give up his job like that.”
“I know,” Andrew said, but with a warm smile. “And I... I have to say I never thought you’d... that you would choose to take a step like this.”
“To be perfectly honest, neither did I,” Lorenzo said and shrugged. “But sometimes you are presented with a choice that... isn’t one. It might seem like you have a choice but in the end there is only that one thing you can do.” He smiled at Andrew. “Sometimes... there is no choice.”
“I know what you mean,” Andrew replied softly and looked at the face of the baby girl in his arms. “But we’ll figure this out.” He stepped closer, and looked back at Lorenzo. “Together. All three of us. Me, you, and Annie.”
Lorenzo dropped his head and chuckled softly under his breath before looking at Andrew again. “Annie. I like that name.”
“Actually...” Andrew looked at her face, and back at Lorenzo. “I... it’s not actually Annie. It’s just short for... um...” He flashed a small, embarrassed smile. “Andromeda?”
“Andromeda?” Lorenzo tilted his head with a frown.
“Yes, because...” Andrew sucked at his lower lip with a helpless little shrug. “She has those beautiful eyes, and with those star-shaped pupils and everything I felt... I felt she needed some sort of... celestial name?”
Lorenzo looked at him for a moment, lips parted and blinking furiously, before he suddenly huffed out a breath that turned into a soft laugh.
“Hmm?” Andrew tilted his head. “What?”
“You do realise that Andromeda is a bit of an alliteration to your own name, right? Andrew and Andromeda?”
Andrew froze and blinked a few times. “I... no... no, I didn’t... I... I just thought it sounded nice and I...”
“Andrew.” Lorenzo stepped closer and rested his hands on Andrew’s shoulders. “It’s fine. I like the name. And I...” He stepped closer, looked at the baby, and back at Andrew’s face, and one of his hands wandered up to rest on Andrew’s cheek. “I like yours. Andrew and Andromeda. The two most precious people in the world to me.”
Andrew inhaled softly, captured in Lorenzo’s gaze, and by the achingly tender smile.
“The most precious souls I ever had in my life, and that I will ever have,” Lorenzo went on, caressing Andrew’s cheek with his thumbs. “And that will never change.”
Andrew tilted his head with a small, slightly lopsided smile. “Is that a proposal?” he asked, a hint of mischief in his eyes.
Lorenzo exhaled an amused little huff of breath, but kept looking into Andrew’s eyes. “If you want it to be one, then it is.”
Andrew’s face fell apart, and he stared at Lorenzo with parted lips.
“After all,” Lorenzo went on, moving a little closer, “wouldn’t it be better for her to have two dads instead of one?”
One corner of Andrew’s mouth twitched a little, and again, as if he wanted to smile but didn’t quite dare. But then he licked his lips, and swallowed, and blinked a few times with a soft chuckle. “Yeah, sure,” he whispered then. “She should definitely have two dads.”
Lorenzo sighed and shook his head with a fond, tender smile, and leaned forward to close the distance between their lips.
And between them, Annie emitted a sleepy little sigh before she closed her eyes, in the comfort of feeling safe and loved.