Chapter 1: The Curse of the Golden Mist
It begins with golden mist. Golden mist and a yearning, a longing, tugging him silently but insistently forward.
The boy drifts, one foot in front of another, eagerness vibrating in his chest. With each step the mist swirls up, beautiful glittering nebulas that catch the boy’s eye. Until, that is, something else catches it—a figure, far in the distance, standing straight and tall.
The boy walks faster, disturbing the mist more and more as the eagerness grows inside him. He’s excited, so excited, to finally reach the figure. His silent footfalls guide him straight and true, and he soaks in every detail as it becomes clear. Wide shoulders, long legs, simple black clothes. It’s… a man, the boy finds. He’s still, so still that he doesn’t even disturb the mist with his breath. His hair is dark and his face is pale, skin whiter than any the boy has ever seen.
He continues to walk, waiting to see the man’s face come into focus. Only… it doesn’t. The mist parts and the boy tilts his head to the side. The man’s pale face, it’s a blur. Indistinct, even as the boy comes closer and closer. The boy raises his own brown hand, reaching up to touch, his heart beating faster and faster and faster.
Five inches away. Three inches. Two. One, and…
The boy stops there, his hand trembling. Something is wrong. He stares, eyes wide wide wide as he watches the blurred face before him. As his eyes scour it, a series of fine lines, seams, begin to creep from the center of the blur. Like cracking ice the seams spread, splitting the distorted face into seven equal segments. Slow, twitching between the beats of the boy’s fluttering heart, the segments begin to separate, yawning open like a flower. But this is no flower—as the segments part, so achingly slow, the boy sees the true nature of the thing standing before him. It is mottled pink-and-purple gums, a coiling pink tongue, the deep crevice of a black, black throat, all surrounded by rows and rows of vicious, gleaming white teeth. Seven rows of seven teeth on each of the seven segmented jaws, to be exact.
The boy does not care to count them. He cares not for the exact anatomical nature of the monster that looms before his outstretched hand. He begins to draw back, his breath lancing through his lungs as the fear builds inside him, but before he can turn, before he can run, the monster lets out a roar.
It is unlike anything the boy has ever felt. It is no ordinary animal sound—it is, instead, a sub-audible thrum that courses through every single one of the boy’s cell’s, freezing his blood solid as it goes. The monster roars and roars and its mouth just keeps opening, wider and wider, teeth gnashing, and the hand the boy was holding out to touch is now the only thing shielding his face from the flecks of spittle flying from the monster’s tongue, and the sound, that awful awful sound just keeps pouring from the monster’s throat, getting louder and louder and louder until the boy thinks his eardrums are going to burst—
And just like that, the nightmare ends. The mist and the monster both disappear.
The boy, alone in his bed, wakes up screaming.
It was only a dream, Magnus. It was only a dream.
Magnus Bane, now over four centuries old, slowly swallows down the dread, the terror, that is clawing up his throat. He’s safe—he’s in his own bed in his own loft behind his very own safety wards.
He’s had these dreams, these… night terrors, since he was barely five years old. He still remembers the first one, vividly, the one that woke him screaming in his bed in Batavia, Dutch East Indies. His mother came to comfort him in the middle of the night that night, singing soothing songs to him. It was the last time she comforted him before his warlock mark came in and she hung herself in the barn.
Magnus startles, still jumpy. That’s his doorbell, who could—oh. Oh, no. Is that really the time?
Tumbling out of bed, Magnus snaps himself clean of the dream-sweat clinging to him and into a decently coordinated if spur-of-the-moment outfit, sweeping toward the door. Usually he likes to do his make-up by hand, but he’s slept in and he’s an hour late to his lunch date with his friends. Catarina and Ragnor are used to his shenanigans, but making them wait another half-hour while he complains about his eyeliner doesn’t seem kind. He snaps again, inspecting his work in the mirror with a sigh. Not perfect, but it’ll do.
“Magnus!” Ragnor calls from the downstairs landing.
“Coming, coming—” Magnus says, distractedly hitting the button to let them up. He’s forgetting something, what is he forgetting. Sunglasses? A belt? His wallet?
…He doesn’t use a wallet. He groans, squishing his own cheeks as Catarina pops her glamoured head in. Damn dream, always unsettling him.
“Something wrong?” Catarina asks, her face melting into a kind, if slightly worried, smile. Ragnor is stoic as ever as he enters the loft behind her, dark eyes taking Magnus in head to toe.
“No,” Magnus says, pouting and looking around himself in a daze.
Ragnor and Catarina exchange knowing looks. “Ah,” Catarina says. “The dream.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Magnus says back. “Where are we going, the Thai place? I’d really prefer to go to the Thai place than the Indonesian place—”
Ragnor puffs out a sigh but doesn’t interrupt. Magnus’s friends let him talk, about everything and nothing, as he walks past them out the loft and onto the streets of Brooklyn.
They get to the restaurant just after two. It’s an atmospheric place, full of both mundanes and downworlders, and Magnus finds himself distracted by the people almost immediately, losing himself in his thoughts. The conversation takes a few turns before he zones back in, and by the time he does his companions are talking about soulmates, as they tend to do.
“They are not,” Ragnor is arguing, lips pressed together in a thin line. He’s looking discretely across the restaurant at a pair of young lovers who are, frankly, making a scene of themselves.
“Oh, but they’re so sweet together,” Catarina rebuts, her eyes sparkling. She’s mostly doing this to rile up their green friend—she and Ragnor are platonic soulmates, having seen each other in their souldreams when they were young. Magnus sometimes feels like he’s third-wheeling them, except for the fact that it’s very much fun to team up against Ragnor. Just not when Raphael is around, because Raphael can and will rip them all to pieces with approximately two well-placed looks.
“I’m not having this conversation,” Ragnor says, as Catarina shakes with laughter.
“Fine, fine. I’ll let you off the hook,” she says. Then she turns to Magnus. “So, have you had any souldreams yet?”
Ah. This again. Magnus rolls his eyes, rocking back in his chair and picking a hair off his silk shirt. “It’s a bit late to be having souldreams for the first time. If it hasn’t happened yet it likely never will.”
Her face softens, again giving him that kind, worried smile. “You never know. You’re immortal—perhaps you haven’t reached the end of the beginning of your life yet.”
Magnus continues to pick at his shirt. He doesn’t want to talk about this. Even less than he wants to talk about—
“Perhaps your nightmares have something to do with your soulmate.”
“Ragnor!” Catarina hisses, kicking him under the table.
Magnus lets out a tight laugh, hoping that no one can see the tension in his jaw. It’s nothing that hasn’t come up before, he just… he really would rather not talk about it. Not today. Not with the memory of that terror still seeping from his bones.
Thankfully, the universe seems to understand his desire to avoid the topic and takes pity on him, and his phone begins to buzz in his pocket. He holds a finger up to the other warlocks, flicking it out.
“Who dares call upon the High Warlock of Brooklyn?” he demands of the unknown number.
“Magnus, thank god, you’ve got to come we need your help—”
“Maia?” Magnus asks, deflating a little. “Whoa, whoa, slow down. What’s going on?”
She tries, taking a deep, shaky breath. “A warlock. She came to the Hunter’s Moon and rented one of the rooms in the back for a few days. This morning we started to smell sulfur. The door is sealed and Gabriel is here but he’s not going to be able to hold it for much longer and—”
Magnus stands, slinging his jacket over his shoulder. “I’ll be right there. Call the Clave and—”
“No, no no no, it’s not that bad we just—”
“Maia. We are bound by the laws of the accords to summon the Nephilim for any suspected demonic activity—”
“—Magnus, Magnus please—”
“I will be there, I will—”
“Call the Clave, Maia,” Magnus says, brooking no argument. He gives Catarina and Ragnor’s stricken looks a grim smile before opening a glamoured portal right there in the restaurant. So much for the universe being on his side today. “Call the Clave and then evacuate everyone who can be evacuated. You don’t want to be there when they arrive.”
And then, in a whirl of blue sparks, he steps through the portal.
He enters into chaos.
The scene at the Hunter’s Moon is worse than Magnus had previously hoped. It’s not just sulfur—it’s clear demonic light and incredible bursts of dark magic, streaming like smoke through the cracks around the door. The warlock very clearly tried—and botched—a demonic summoning, and if the sound of screaming coming from within is anything to go by they aren’t going to last long.
Gabriel, standing at the doorway with a grim expression on his face, looks over as Magnus strides over. “I hope you know what you’re doing letting those beasts come in here.”
Magnus restrains himself from rolling his eyes. “We’re bound by the accords to—”
“I know what the accords say. But if those things eat one of my pack members it’s on your head, Bane.”
“If you insist, darling,” Magnus says, and whips the door open.
The scene inside is gruesome. Four warlocks total, all young—two are already dead, one is in the demon’s claws, and one is cowering, crying, in the corner by the door. Magnus sweeps in, his magic humming through his fingers. “Unhand her!” he booms, projecting his voice over the screams.
The demon laughs. “Or what?” it asks, voice like mud splattering over stone. It pulls one claw delicately back, dragging along a string of entrails. The screams rise louder.
Fury rises in Magnus’s gut. He’s not the bravest man on this earth, and he knows he needs to be out of here before the Nephilim arrive, but he can’t stand demons and their callous joy for torture. Call it an after-effect of meeting Asmodeus, his demonic sperm donor, but he can’t leave these warlocks to die.
“You,” he throws over his shoulder, voice carefully even, half turning to the warlock in the corner. The warlock whimpers. “Get out of here. Run while you still can.”
“I can’t,” the warlock cries. “My—my ankle, it’s broken—”
“Gabriel,” Magnus says, cutting him off. “Grab him and get out, the both of you.”
“I ain’t goin’ in there,” Gabriel bites. He’s still in the doorway, standing very clear of the binding circle on the floor. He’ll fight if the demon gets beyond it, Magnus knows that much, but as long as the demon is trapped he won’t risk his life. Not for a few warlocks, in any case.
Damn wolf. Magnus curses under his breath, watching as the demon continues to play with its food. That warlock isn’t going to survive for much longer. Warlocks are hardy, being half-demonic and all, but a full demon is, well, a full demon. Magnus grits his teeth, raises his hands before him, and—
Thunder cracks overhead, making his eyes go wide. He didn’t do that. He can’t do that. No warlock can. There’s only two things in this universe that cause disturbances to the weather itself, and unless they have much bigger problems—like a prince of hell, for instance—on their hands, then the fury of the Clave has arrived.
“Oh, this’ll be good,” the demon hisses, the dripping muck of its face breaking into a liquid grin.
“We need to leave, now!” Gabriel shouts.
“I’m not going without that warlock!” Magnus shouts back. He raises his hands again, fully intending to blast the demon back to Edom, but before he can the thunder cracks again. The entire building shakes with the concussive boom, knocking them all sideways. Gabriel, leader of the New York wolf pack and staunch if wary fighter, whimpers, turns tail, and runs. The warlock in the corner cries. The demon howls with laughter. Magnus grits his teeth, dread crawling up the back of his throat. The nightmare and now this, god, this is turning into a very bad day.
“Come here, little angels!” the demon crows, tossing the warlock aside. Magnus jumps forward, dragging the limp body back, projecting a magical shield as he goes to protect the pair of them. The demon, however, is fully enraptured by the two figures that are sauntering in.
They’re beautiful. Magnus already knew they would be—he’s met up with enough of them throughout his centuries. But looks can be deceiving, especially as the two young Nephilim—one blond with golden eyes, and one black-haired with blue—walk leisurely into the room, their pale skin laced with stark, black marks.
“About time you showed up,” the demon says, hunching forward like a brackish wave of silty water curling over itself.
“We weren’t sure it would be worth it,” the blond says dismissively, waving a hand. “Still not, really.”
“No more talking. Get this over with, Jace,” his companion says, sounding significantly less amused.
“You don’t know how to have fun,” Jace pouts. Still, he obeys, sizing the demon up as it huffs and puffs and grows larger and larger and larger in the confines of the circle. The glowing paint on the floor is flickering, signifying that the binding circle is getting close to its full capacity. It isn’t going to last much longer. And the moment it goes, the moment the demon is free—
The cowering warlock whimpers, and Magnus clutches the wounded one closer, strengthening his shield until his magic starts to strain. “Close your eyes,” he whispers frantically, pushing the cowering warlock further back into the sparse safety of the corner. “And cover your ears. Whatever you do, whatever happens, don’t listen.”
He doesn’t look back to check and make sure the kid is following his orders—his eyes are locked on the Nephilim as Jace glances back toward him, amused. He knows they’re too close. Much, much too close, but there’s no time now to find cover, not now. Not with the Nephilim standing, one smiling and one frowning, both still so unearthly beautiful, watching as they wait to strike like snakes in the grass. The demon shrieks, its claws digging into the floor in anticipation. Thunder rolls across the skies above the ceiling. The circle flickers harder, faster. Magnus shrinks back as far as he can go, and he grits his teeth and strains his magic to keep up his shield, and the cowering warlock shakes and shivers, and just when Magnus thinks he can’t possibly take any more the tension in the room snaps and—
—the circle breaks—
—the demon strikes—
—and the Nephilim—
—fully in sync, movements swift and graceful and so, so deadly—
—dart forward and become, like the angels of the old testament, the literal wrath of God.
Magnus can’t tear his eyes away. He’s behind them as they advance on the demon, faster than the blink of an eye, their backs exploding outward in wings made of thick, ropey tentacles, mottled white and black and a deep, bruisey purple. They surge forward toward the demon, the two Nephilim’s movements perfectly synchronous—one, the black-haired one, taking hold of the demons limbs while the other seizes its body.
The demon roars, but even as it does the air begins to sing with the song of Angels—it vibrates through the spaces between every molecule of air, every molecule of liquid and solid and plasma, through the electrons and neutrons and protons, the quarks and leptons and gluons. It is sub-atomic, a frequency that Magnus has seen tear downworlders apart, flesh from blood from bone, rising and rising and rising until Magnus can’t help but scream—eyes wide and locked on the monstrosities before him—body shuddering—blood frozen—heart squeezing in his chest—and it’s just like his nightmare, just like the creature that comes from the golden mist—only it’s real, real, real—and he’s going to be dead, dead, dead—
And then, just like that, it’s over. The thunder subsides. The winged ropes and strings of flesh retract into the Nephilim’s backs, into their angelic bodies, their beauty masking the terror beneath. Magnus frantically looks into the broken circle on the floor—there is nothing left of the demon, not even a single drop of ichor. It’s all disappeared into the maws of the monsters before him.
The room is silent for a long moment, the only sound the buzz of Magnus’s shield and the wheezing breath of the wounded warlock in front of him. Then there’s a retch, and Magnus hears vomit splatter the floor behind him.
Jace looks back, his angelic face back in place and not a hair out of line, slapping his companion on the back. “Be not afraid,” he intones, lips quirking up.
The young warlock is still trembling long after the Nephilim have left and Magnus has healed his wounded friend. The two warlocks are currently chained, one in the bed and one to the dresser, to await their trial and sentencing by the downworld council.
Magnus sits beside them, trying to ignore the shake in his own hands. “Still feeling sick?” he asks. His voice, to his annoyance, is a little hoarse from screaming.
The cowering warlock, whose name is Shokah, shrugs uneasily, clearly not too eager to open his mouth. His face is ashen, clammy. This was his first encounter with a full-fledged Nephilim feeding, and he was much closer to the action than any downworlder would ever want to be. The Nephilim, also known as the monstrophagi, or monster eaters, are unsettling to say the least.
Magnus sighs. Then he claps Shokah on the shoulder, hauls himself to his feet, and straightens his shirt before nodding to Gabriel, the only wolf still hanging around, and heading for the door. He needs some fresh air before he portals back home to drink himself into a stupor.
Only something stops him just outside the door. Something tall and dark-haired, with a pale angelic face and dark runes and—
Magnus very nearly turns and walks right back into the Hunter’s Moon. The wolves have the right idea, it’s time to bail. He does not want to deal with this. Nope, not the Nephilim, not today—
“Wait,” the Nephilim says, holding up a hand. Magnus can’t help it—it’s instinct when he flinches back, hands up and magic crackling as if that’ll save him from the maw of a monstrophagus.
When he opens his eyes again, squinting over, the Nephilim is looking contrite but guarded. This close his eyes are like cold shards of blue ice, and Magnus is ninety percent sure the guy is trying to give him frostbite with how intense his gaze is.
“…Yes?” Magnus asks, after a long moment of strained silence. “Can I help you?”
The Nephilim stares for a moment longer before averting his gaze. He has a phone in his hands, Magnus realizes, and he’s twirling it around in what might have been a nervous twitch in a less powerful being.
The Nephilim don’t get nervous, though. The Nephilim are the very top of the food chain—they are self-assured assholes that cannot be killed by any mortal means. Magnus shakes his head. “If you have something to say then say it, Nephilim,” he bites. He’s taking his life in his hands speaking to a Nephilim this way, but he’s tired and, frankly, feeling a little cranky, so forgive him.
The Nephilim shrugs. Then he reaches into his pocket and holds out his hand. In it is a piece of paper.
“Just in case you need help with another demon,” he says.
Magnus snaps up the paper, taking care that their skin doesn't touch, before he can double guess himself. He glances at it quickly, absorbing nothing, before asking, “Is that all you needed?”
The Nephilim looks vaguely stunned, but nods his head in the affirmative. Magnus raises a hand in a short and awkward wave and then, his every molecule singing for him to put distance between himself and the monster, he sets off down the street.
It isn’t until he’s nearly home that the scrawled handwriting on the paper in his sweaty hand comes together in his mind.
It’s a number. A phone number.
Magnus pauses in his doorway, frowning. The Nephilim… gave him a… phone… number? Why? Does he want Magnus to call him? What the fuck for?
Screw that, Magnus decides, snapping his fingers. The number disappears, hiding itself deep in his closet. He knows better than to outright reject a gift from a Nephilim, but if he buries it deep enough he’ll never have to acknowledge it again.
It’s time for that drink now. It’s been a very bad day indeed.
Chapter 2: The Seam Splitter
Alec is definitely overthinking things.
“Are you excited?”
Alec shifts, not looking at his sister. Normally the two of them would be training with Jace right now, practicing their forms or studying runes with Max in the cradle being watched over by Hodge, but Alec has been given the morning off to reserve energy and no one could force Isabelle to focus without him. The two of them are sitting together on the kitchen floor, the Institute silent around them, a sense of anticipation shivering in the air.
Today is a big day. Today is the day that Alec receives his first runes.
“Tell me you’re excited!” Izzy says, poking Alec in the side and making him squirm. He grunts, lowering the juice box he’s sucking on before she can knock it out of his hands. She’s more excited about this than he is. It’s not that he’s not excited—his first rune ceremony means he can start training with runes, which means he’ll soon be allowed out on missions and he won’t have to eat the nasty ichor supplements to keep healthy. But the first rune ceremony is done by a Silent Brother, and while Izzy was too little to remember the last time one came Alec remembers it vividly. The face of a Silent Brother… with the seams of their seven jaws sewn shut with black thread… he shudders. They’re unsettling, to say the least.
Izzy hums to herself for a moment, rocking back and forth, ignorant to the nerves that Alec has been fighting back all morning. “How much have you eaten today?” she asks.
“I had some steaks earlier,” Alec says. Then he frowns, suspicious. “Why, are you offering to make something?”
“Yeah! I found a recipe for blood pancakes the other day and I—”
“It’s time,” Hodge says, sticking his head through the kitchen doorway, interrupting her. He’s got baby Max on his hip, Jace peering around his side.
The siblings both look over, Isabelle waving to the three of them.
Hodge waves back to her, his eyes on Alec. “Brother Enoch is here. No time to dawdle, let’s go.”
Alec nods, standing up. He’s still nervous about the ceremony, but he’s also thankful for being let off the hook with Izzy’s cooking. Izzy’s forays into the kitchen tend to be, well… disastrous. Luckily she’s only eight—she has plenty of time to learn how to cook a proper meal.
Izzy and Jace hang around as they make their way to the ceremony room, Izzy holding Hodge’s free hand and asking questions as they go. He’s telling her about how the Silent Brothers communicate solely using the song of the angels—“Like whale song!” she says eagerly—when they reach the door where their parents are waiting.
The Lightwood parents’ faces are stiff, tight, as they shoo Izzy, Jace, and Hodge away. Alec straightens as best he can as he stands before them. He’s ten years old, about to become a full-fledged Nephilim—the last thing he wants to do is disappoint his parents.
“Be strong for us,” his father says, staring down, his eyes unreadable. “Be brave. Don’t cry. You’re a Lightwood—remember that.”
Alec nods, and his parents stand aside. He doesn’t look back as he enters the candle-lit room.
The door snaps closed behind him like the jaws of a trap.
“Not for anything you’ve made.”
Izzy, now sixteen, plops down beside Alec and rolls her eyes so expressively that he’s not sure how they don’t fall out of her head. “I was offering you some ichor, you asshole. Jeez-us you’re grumpy.”
Alec rolls his eyes back. “I’m sitting alone in my room reading and you just waltzed in to disturb me. Pray tell, what else am I supposed to be?”
“I don’t know, excited? You just found your soulmate, bro! Live a little!”
Regret has a bitter, bitter taste. Alec sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. He shouldn’t have told Izzy about that. He should have just… kept it to himself. She hasn’t had any soulmate dreams yet—she’s only slept a handful of times, even fewer than he has, and she just… she doesn’t get it.
“Look,” he starts, folding his book over his finger to mark his place. He uses his other hand to pick at the ragged edge of the old sweater he’s wearing. “It’s not a big deal. He took the number, yeah, but the look on his face… he’s not going to call.”
Izzy waves a hand, waving the words away. “He hasn’t had a chance to get to know you yet, of course he’ll call! What kind of soulmate wouldn’t at least call?”
Alec squints. “You don’t believe in soulmates.”
“I don’t believe that they’re the end all be all,” she corrects. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try. If it works out it’s a beautiful union of souls! If it doesn’t, then no big deal, right?”
Right. Sure. Except for the fact that Alec is getting his soulbond rejected before he and his mate have had even a full conversation.
As if reading his mind, Izzy flops down onto his knees, bringing her stiletto boots up onto the bed with her ankles crossed. “He hasn’t rejected you yet. God, you’re so pessimistic.”
“Realistic,” Alec corrects.
“Whatever you want to call it. Fact is that your bond is still there so unless you bonded with a mortal you have the next eternity to get to know each other. Unless…” she pauses, looking sharply up at him. “Don’t tell me you bonded with a mundane.”
Alec snorts. “No.”
She relaxes, raising a dagger to clean her spotless nails. “Then you can stop freaking out, already.”
“I’m not freaking out,” Alec hisses, and then, to prove it, places his book on her face to start reading again.
Or, at least, he pretends to. His thoughts are on anything but the proper subjugation of Purgatic. He thinks, instead, about his parents. His parents and their insistence that he carry on the Lightwood bloodline, and also the fact that there have only been a handful of successful Nephilim/non-Nephilim soulmateships in the vast, vast history of the Clave. The likelihood that he and Magnus Bane, of all people, will be one of them is incredibly unlikely. Aside from the fact that souldreams always show a Nephilim’s true face, which is instinctively familiar to other Nephilim but terrifying to an outsider… and aside from the fact that Magnus clearly wants nothing to do with him… aside from those two things, the Clave generally looks down on outsider/Nephilim pairings. To a degree that even if you have a valid soulbond the Clave will often pressure you to ignore it and pair with another Nephilim. Which, seeing as Maryse and Robert Lightwood agree with the Clave on everything there is to agree on, is not about to make this whole ‘oh yeah my soulmate is a downworlder and a man to boot’ thing any easier.
For a pair of functionally immortal and nearly invincible monsters, Alec’s parents sure have a lot of hangups about a lot of things.
He sighs, forgetting for a moment that his nosy little sister is still in his lap. He knows he terrified Magnus. Anyone could see that. He always knew his own soulmate wasn’t another Nephilim—otherwise he would have seen their true face in his own sparse dreams. He tried to get around it, to find his soulmate first before they saw his true face, but when it finally happened there wasn’t any way around it. They’d had a job to do, an important job, and—
The clang of the doorbell startles him from his thoughts. Izzy jumps up, knocking his book to the floor. “You can overthink this later,” she laughs as they make their way together to the front door, Jace jogging over from the training room to join them.
Alec makes a face at that. He wasn’t overthinking, he was thinking the exact proper amount. He pouts as she pats his arm soothingly.
It does not soothe him in the slightest.
“So… let me get this straight,” Alec sighs an hour later, his face in his hands. The pair in front of him—a cold, unimpressed-looking boy and a bright, if somewhat pale-looking, red-headed girl—stare back at him, waiting as he tries to fit their story into his understanding of the world. He takes a deep breath. “You two—Jonathan and Clarissa Fairchild—children of Clave traitor Valentine Morgenstern and wanted criminal Jocelyn Fairchild—are here, in the Clave-sanctioned New York Institute, having declared yourselves knowledgeable of not just the whereabouts of Jocelyn Fairchild but also of Lucian Graymark, Valentine’s presumed-deceased parabatai… and you want us to feed you?”
“Yes,” Clary says simply, once it’s become clear that Alec is finished for the time being.
Alec sighs. It’s beginning to look like soulmates aren’t his only problems right now. Not that this is supposed to be his problem—Hodge is technically the head of the Institute when his parents are away. It just so happens that Hodge is feeling moody today and asked him to take care of everything for a while.
And Alec thought this week was going to be a good week. Ha.
“Look,” he says. “We can give you the names of a few places to buy your own ichor supplements, but we can’t take you out on hunts with us.”
“Wait… why not?” Jace asks.
Alec sighs. His parabatai hasn’t been paying an iota of attention to most of the conversation, instead choosing to make eyes at the red-head. He’s been doing it since the moment she walked in, a little smirk on his face. He’s winked at her at least twice from behind Alec’s back. Yes, Alec knows. Yes, Alec is annoyed.
“Because,” he says, to answer Jace’s question. “They’re not runed. They’re not trained, they’re not an official part of the Clave, and we do, in fact, have laws about that.”
The boy, the older of the two interlopers, scoffs under his breath.
“Something you’d like to say?” Alec asks.
The red-head puts her hand on her brother’s knee, like she’s holding a dog back from attacking. “Come on,” she says, a wheedling tone to her voice. “It’s not like we’re criminals. We just want to feed.”
“Yeah, Alec, what harm can it do?” Izzy asks, setting her chin on the top of Alec’s head.
Alec pushes her off. Clearly he’s the only one seeing sense right now. “No,” he says.
“Aw, live a little, Alec,” Jace says.
Alec, eldest of four, has had a lot of practice with defiant younger siblings. He’s not an endless fount of patience, however, especially not considering the sour taste that his meeting with Magnus has left in his mouth. If it weren’t for that he knows he’d be a little more on top of this whole situation, but right now there’s nothing he can do about his temper rising. One more stupid remark and he’s going to snap.
The boy, Jonathan, provides. “Mom was right. The Clave is made of sheep and cowards.”
“There’s literally nothing I can do about this!” Alec shouts, throwing his hands into the air and pushing back into his chair. “You can’t just feed on demons without being marked!”
“Then mark us!” Clary spits.
Alec’s eyes harden. “You don’t know what you’re asking for,” he says.
He can feel Izzy and Jace sharing a look behind his back, but he’s not about to back down on this. He’s so intent on the faces of the boy and girl in front of him that he doesn’t realize Hodge has joined them, standing silent in the doorway, until the older man speaks.
“Alec, stand down.”
Alec breathes hard through his nose, leaning back slightly. He doesn’t take his eyes from Jonathan and Clary.
Hodge limps inside, sighing a bone-weary sigh. “Yes, there are laws about marking ceremonies, estranged Nephilim, and hunting without marks. Alec is correct there. But there are also many, many extenuating circumstances here.”
“Extenuating circumstances?” Clary repeats, sounding hopeful if confused.
“Yes,” Hodge says, claiming a chair. “Let me speak to the Clave, Alec. I’ll get back to you with their answer.”
“Thank you,” Clary breathes. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me,” Hodge says, his gray eyes flashing. “Alec is right about the fact that you don’t understand what you’re asking for, as well.”
Clary’s eyes go wide, and she glances back at Alec. “What… what do you mean?” she asks.
Alec stares resolutely back at her. If the Clave agrees to rune them… if the Clave agrees, then they’re not going to enjoy it one bit.
After Hodge takes his leave to contact the Clave and Jace and Izzy go off with the Fairchild siblings to give them a tour of the Institute, Alec debates what to do with himself. He should, he knows, accompany his siblings just so that they don’t show the Fairchilds anything they shouldn’t. The Fairchilds are technically allowed on the Institute’s grounds pending the Clave’s decision, but they could still be on the wrong side of the Law, however, and there are many Institute rooms that are off limits for now.
So Alec knows he should be supervising. He knows. It’s just… talking about runing and first rune ceremonies has brought up a lot of memories. Memories that he can’t shake.
It’s a bit of a production, a first rune ceremony. They can only be conducted by the Silent Brothers because of the high chance of something going very, very wrong. It begins with the drawing of the rune—the mshemyd, or destroyer rune. It’s a mark in the form of a seven-pointed spirograph, a second symbol meaning infinity carved into its center. It goes on the throat, which in itself isn’t pleasant—marks burn, especially the first mark, and the throat is a sensitive area. But it must be done that way—there is no other way to do it. It’s the only way to open the channels of energy that allow for the Unmasking.
Alec was ten when Brother Enoch traced the mshemyd onto his throat. It burned, and the stinging pain made him want to cry. But he remained staunch, gritting his teeth, until it was over. That was only the first part of the ceremony. The second part came just after that, and that part, well…
He’d been told that the second part was a rite of passage, a beautiful part of the life-cycle of a Nephilim. What they didn’t tell him, what his parents didn’t bother to warn him about, was the fact that it was going to hurt more than anything he could imagine.
He’d been kneeling in a spirograph drawn in holy oil on the floor, and to this day he remembers the scent of it, thick and sickly sweet. He’d already been sweaty because of the pain of the rune, but as he knelt, his body began to… change. Things shifted, his skin becoming slick as it prepared itself for the transformation. His heart beat faster and faster in his chest, his breathing speeding up to carry oxygen to his bloodstream. His eyes dilated, his mouth watered… and then, as he clenched his small fists in the thighs of his jeans, he began to feel a searing pain in the bones of his face.
He cried out, and moved to clutch his face, but Brother Enoch, silent and uncaring, held his wrists down. The pain grew, and grew and grew, and just as he thought he wouldn’t be able to withstand it he began to hear cracks like breaking glass coming from inside his own head.
The bones went first, sutures coming apart. Then the muscle, tearing slowly from the center of his face out to the edge of the seams between each of his seven jaws. Then the skin overtop, stretching until it split. He was caught between his first face and the next, halfway through Unmasking, and he couldn’t breathe… couldn’t scream… couldn’t see or cry or move. He was trapped inside himself as his jaws slowly, so painfully slowly, unfurled.
It lasted hours, that first transformation. So long that he thought he would die at least a thousand times over. So long that he wished he would die. He wanted to cry and to pass out and to scream but no comfort, no relief, would come. It was agony.
And then… then it was over. He knelt, his breath heavy through his newly opened maw, the raged edges of his jaws stinging, and he knew it was done.
You did well, Brother Enoch said, raising the stele a second time, this time to sear an iratze on the back of his neck. It would heal the edges of his jaws, allowing him to close his seams without the flesh scabbing over and healing back together.
Alec tried to nod. He was shaking, trembling so hard that he wasn’t sure how Brother Enoch managed the iratze. He felt sick, faint, like he was barely holding onto his consciousness. But he’d done it, he’d upheld the glory of the Lightwood name.
The Clave says yes. To runing the Fairchilds, that is.
While Jace grins and gives Clary a high five despite her brother’s sour look, Alec finds himself rolling his eyes. Of course the Clave said yes, and of course Alec is now in charge of babysitting not only his own siblings but these two newbies as well.
The ceremony is set one week away. In the meantime, Alec is to do whatever it takes to get Clary and Jonathan to Magnus Bane. Because of course Jocelyn Fairchild found someone to alter her children’s memories and hide the Sight from them, and of course it’s Magnus Bane who did it.
Why can’t Alec’s life ever be simple? Easy?
Oh, right. Because the universe hates him.
…This is how Alec finds himself heading to a party four days before the ceremony, his black leather jacket pulled tight around his chest and a sour expression on his face. He sticks to the back of the group, paying special attention to Jonathan to make sure the guy doesn’t do anything stupid like offend their host. They also have a mundane with them, for god knows what reason. If Alec had any say in it they’d have left him in the van, but of course Alec has no say.
Magnus answers the door after Izzy rings the buzzer twice. One look at the group of them and he very nearly slams it shut again. He’s only stopped by Jace, who puts a hand up on the door.
“We have an invitation,” Jace says, smiling.
Magnus eyes them all, his gaze sweeping over Alec in the back. He doesn’t pay any special attention to Alec, which Alec is fine with. The last thing Alec wants is to come under fire for pushing himself on an unresponsive soulmate. He’s literally just here to make sure no one does anything stupid. Otherwise he wouldn’t have come.
“…Fine,” Magnus relents. “But keep your indoor faces on. And that,” he says, plucking Jace’s stele from his hand, “Can stay in your pants, darling.”
Alec snorts. Then he follows the others inside.
The party is… well, a party. There’s flashing lights and alcohol and fairy drinks. Halfway through the mundane drinks a potion that turns him into a rat. Jace pisses off some vampires, the rat gets stolen, they find out that Clary and her brother have to study the Gray Book to regain their memories, and by the time Izzy is flirting with the seelie knight by the bar Alec is juuust about ready to peel his own face off.
This is before Jace and Clary disappear, and way before the demon shows up.
It’s a pretty powerful one, one that can take human form at will. Alec smells it the moment it arrives, his senses on high alert from trying to find just where the fuck his parabatai and the unruned girl got off to. Magnus, he sees from across the room, has also perked up, sharp eyes staring at the door to his loft. He must have felt his wards trip, Alec thinks.
Then, all at once, the party stops. The lights go black, the music cuts out, and the gyrating crowd grinds to a halt. Magnus takes a step forward, hands raised, blue light crackling at his fingertips.
Before he can unleash his magic, the door explodes inward and Alec is darting forward, his instincts kicking in. Protect to destroy, destroy to protect, thus the Angel Raziel spoke—he unfurls his true face, his wings, his angelic voice, and—
Two bites, and the deed is done.
He comes back to himself, ichor dripping from his teeth, and makes a valiant attempt to fold his jaws back inward. Once he’s presentable he turns back around…
…to a scene of chaos. People are screaming, retching, fainting, shouting at him—some are pulling weapons, even. And Magnus… Alec can’t bring himself to look at first. Not until Magnus speaks.
“I think it’s time for you to leave,” Magnus says, and Alec can’t help but look up at the icy tone of his soulmate’s voice.
He’s shaking. Magnus is. It’s hard to tell, in the dim light, but Alec’s eyes are sharp in the dark and he’s looking closely.
He’s scared him. He’s scared his soulmate. Not once, now, but twice.
…Good job, Alec. Can’t do anything right, can he?
“I’m sorry,” he says, because he is and he doesn’t know what else to say. Then he sweeps Izzy and Jonathan up and heads out the door.
Fun fact: mshmyd is 'destroyer' in Hebrew! I altered it a tad just because.
Not sure when the next chapter will be out. Have patience with me :"D In the meantime you can write a comment and I will 100% respond!
Chapter 3: Jack's Muse
Magnus learns some things and has a bit of a freak-out.
Magnus snaps, pushing his magic out to the very tips of his fingers, where he holds it, oh so carefully, as he raises them to eye level.
“This is delicate work,” he intones to the man standing stonily beside him. Both pairs of eyes are on the magic haloing his fingers. He lowers his voice, continuing, “Do not disrupt me if you fear the wrath of God.”
The man’s vivid green eyes cut over from Magnus’s fingers to his face, and Magnus’s eyes cut back. Sparks flow from Magnus’s fingertips, dizzying blue sparks, as he silently dares the man to open his mouth, dares him to interrupt this ritual one. More. Time.
For a moment all is silent. It seems as the man does not, in fact, dare. Magnus nods, slowly starting to lower his glowing fingers to the macabre red stain—
Only to be jolted from his concentration once more as his companion snorts.
“Woolsey, for god’s sake,” Magnus sighs. “You’re going to make me ruin another perfectly good vest.”
“It’s already ruined,” Woolsey drawls, dragging a single slow claw down Magnus’s front over the—ahem, very large—wine stain that Magnus is attempting to magic away.
Woolsey is drunk. Very drunk. Though not, perhaps, as drunk as Magnus himself.
Magnus pushes the werewolf away by the face, ignoring the snickers pouring from him in favor of focusing once again on his magic. He just wants to magic out the wine without also magicking out the lovely pale green dye that he spent ages perfecting. Is that too much to ask?
In his current state, the answer to that appears to be yes.
Magnus sighs, staring forlornly down at the jarring red stain. It’s the summer of 1857, a big year for the shadow world. This is the year that Woolsey’s brother, Ralf, has declared that he will finally sign a treaty with the Nephilim. Tonight was the presentation of the fifth draft of the treaty, which, just like the last four, was rejected by all in attendance immediately if not sooner. Another day, another rejection… but alas, it’s not a total bust. It is, after all, a fantastic excuse to drink. Magnus will take all the excuses to drink that he can get. Besides, it’s all politics. Politics with the Nephilim, of all things.
He shudders. God, does he not want to think of the Nephilim right now. He’s been having those dreams again, putting him on edge, and the only thing worse than seeing a monster in his nightmares is seeing a Nephilim in real life.
He’s shaken out of his dark musings as Woolsey gives him a hearty slap on the back. “Cheer up!” he says, holding out the bottle enticingly.
Magnus can’t refuse. He snatches it up, raises it to his lips, and—
Ah. Empty. Fluffy bastard.
Woolsey is doubling over with laughter, having stumbled gracelessly into Magnus’s side, when they both straighten up, the smiles dropping from their faces.
“You heard that?” Magnus checks. The alcohol swims in his veins as he strains his ears.
“I did,” Woolsey responds. He’s got his claws out, sniffing at the air. “Came from dead ahead.”
Magnus cinches his coat tight around him as a sudden breeze catches them. Woolsey smells it first, his face wrinkling. Magnus is just about to ask him what it is when he catches a whiff—sulfur.
The two downworlders share a look before they leap into action, feet pounding the cobblestones.
It takes what feels like forever. Magnus is a little unsteady, sticking close to the tails of Woolsey’s coat to make sure he’s going in a decently straight line. He’s nearly zoned out, his heart thumping in his chest, when Woolsey skids to a halt, throwing out an arm to catch Magnus.
It was a woman who screamed, they find. A group of mundanes have stumbled on the scene, blocking the carnage from view, but Magnus can smell it clearly now. Blood, offal, urine… all tied neatly together with that sharp sting of sulfur.
“Shit,” Woolsey curses. A step closer, and… Magnus agrees, shit. The body, it’s not just any body—it’s a warlock, split open from neck to groin, innards splayed across the walkway. Her eyes are wide and staring, three rows of gills just barely visible under the remnants of her corset.
A demon attack. There is no doubt about it. Mere blocks from the bar where Magnus and Woolsey came stumbling out, drunk, arm in arm.
Magnus licks the sweat off his upper lip, staring down at her as Woolsey herds the mundanes away. The last time this happened… the last time this happened, it wasn’t a coincidence.
“You look like you’ve gone and swallowed a fish,” Woolsey says, coming back. He’s playing at casual, but his face is even paler than normal, his blond hair stark against his forehead.
Magnus hums. “…We need Ragnor,” he says. “This is his jurisdiction. He’ll need to contact the Clave.”
“Right,” Woolsey says. He’s glancing around, on high alert for the demon that did this, lest it come back to finish its meal.
Magnus shakes his head, pushing him away. “I can protect myself,” he says, though there’s no need if what he suspects is true. He pushes again, getting more insistent. “Ragnor,” he says a second time, when Woolsey still hesitates.
“Right,” Woolsey mutters again. With one last look back he tips his hat forward and begins to run back toward the bar and past it to the meetinghouse the downworld council was arguing in.
Magnus breathes out. Then he leans carefully over the body, hoping against hope that he won’t find what he’s looking for.
No such luck. The bottle is plain as day, nestled in what remains of the woman’s intestines. Small and black and covered in demonic runes—Magnus sighs, snapping his fingers to clean the gore from it. He no longer feels remotely drunk—all the fun of the night has worn off.
He slips the bottle into his pocket just as Woolsey returns, Ragnor at his heels. He doesn’t need to open it. He already knows what he’ll find inside—the only correspondence that his father cares to send. Fire messages are for weaker creatures—the old man prefers to send his messages in style. Well, message. It always, always says the same thing.
Avoiding Ragnor’s pointed look, Magnus summons himself another bottle of wine.
It’s going to be a long few weeks.
Ah, memories. Raising his martini to his lips, Magnus takes a long sip, gaze distant.
1857 was a bad year. There were only six deaths total, less than had been sent in the past—a rather short sort of demonic telegram, considering the demon in question. Five more bodies after the first, and that was the end of it. Magnus knew even then, however, that the demonic deaths, the bottles, the messages would come around again. In ten years, or fifty, or a hundred, he’d be back in the same place, with the same blood on his hands. Because what was a hundred years to a Prince of Hell?
Asmodeus had the rest of eternity to convince Magnus to play on his team.
Magnus sighs. He doesn’t have to look at the clock to know it’s well past three AM and he’s not about to get back to sleep. This isn’t the first night he’s been woken up at an ungodly hour by the nightmare with the golden mist, and it isn’t the first time he’s found himself wondering just what a bizarre coincidence it was that a demon showed up to his loft mere days after he called the Clave to handle a demonic summoning in the Hunter’s Moon.
…He should strengthen his wards while he’s awake. Be, you know, productive in this trying time. Or whatever.
He’s standing up, martini in hand, to drag his sorry ass over to the door when the buzzer goes off.
Magnus groans. There’s only one bastard who could possibly be awake at this time of the night. Barring an emergency, in any case. Though he’s fairly certain that no one else presses on his buzzer in quite that clipped, expectant manner.
Still. Magnus is nothing if not an entertainer. He hits the intercom button to boom out, “WHO DARES DISTURB—”
He doesn’t even get out the whole sentence before Raphael is buzzing back, his voice icy. “You know damn well who it is, Bane.”
Fine. “You sure know how to ruin a warlock’s presentation,” Magnus says, but he opens the door all the same, inviting the vampire up into the loft.
Raphael comes, wrinkling his nose. His suit is impeccable as always, the cross hanging at his throat recently polished. “I saw your lights,” he says by way of greeting, sneering slightly at Magnus’s decor, mostly the bright pink loveseat in front of the television.
Magnus rolls his eyes. They’ve never seen eye to eye on interior decoration—the Du Mort has, frankly, the worst interior design that Magnus has ever seen, though of course Raphael doesn’t see it like that.
“Can I offer you a refreshment?” he asks, instead of rehashing tired old arguments.
If Raphael feels the sarcasm in Magnus’s voice he doesn’t mention it, instead choosing to perch on the least flamboyant chair, leaning back with his arms folded across his still chest. “I’m fine, thank you,” he says coolly. Perhaps he did feel the sarcasm after all. “You, on the other hand…”
Magnus feels himself deflate. Raphael may be young for an immortal, a mere eighty compared to Magnus’s four hundred, but he’s become a fast friend of Magnus’s in the past few decades. Magnus may not want to talk about what’s on his mind, but perhaps some commiseration would do him good.
So he commiserates. And when Raphael starts rolling his eyes, he commiserates a little more. And then, after Raphael comments that dawn is on its way and he’ll have to take his leave, Magnus pulls out his tablet and calls up Tessa to commiserate even more than that.
He’s just finished complaining about his dreams and is onto the part about how he’s had two Nephilim encounters in the last week, Tessa nodding along with understanding in her face, when Will pops up behind her in the frame.
“Nephilim, huh?” he says, plopping himself down at Tessa’s side.
“Yes! And they brought along the Fairchild siblings, who, need I remind you, are also Nephilim. I’m surrounded.”
Will grins. “You didn’t seem to mind so much when it was Jem and I.”
Magnus huffs. “What was I supposed to do? Leave you two alone to your own devices? You especially were hopeless. Half the time I was in London that year you were getting yourself in trouble eating Mortmain’s infernal automatons like a dog eating chicken bones.”
Will waves him away, a relaxed gesture sweeping it all under the bridge. Tessa, however, has focused her eyes on Magnus very intently indeed.
“What?” Magnus asks, feeling more exposed than he’d like to admit.
“You’ve never seen a Nephilim’s true face,” she says in response, as if she’s just pieced together a challenging jigsaw puzzle.
Not what Magnus was expecting. “I’ve seen plenty up close—” he begins dismissively.
Tessa interrupts. “But not face to face. Not with their jaws open.”
“And why does that matter? I don’t want to see a Nephilim with their jaws open.”
“Magnus. Because I think your soulmate might be a Nephilim.”
Magnus stares. Then laughs. Then, as he realizes she’s completely serious, he pretends to get another call and slams the end button as forcefully as he can.
He doesn’t talk to Tessa for a week after that. He doesn’t answer her calls, doesn’t respond to her texts—heck, he summons up a mundane fire extinguisher and extinguishes the fire message she sends in a mountain of white foam.
He’s just doing what any downworlder would do if a friend suggested that their soulmate was a monster, he reasons, the third night in a row that he finds himself woken up by the nightmare with the golden mist. He wants nothing to do with the Nephilim—no downworlder really does. Getting more involved than you need to with the Nephilim is a death sentence. He allied up with the London Institute in 1878, when they needed him to fight Mortmain, and he’s never, ever doing it again.
…He stares into his martini glass. He’s starting to get sick of martinis.
That doesn’t stop him from downing the last of this one in one massive gulp.
One week and one day after her… suggestion… Magnus is finally tired enough that he answers his tablet, mostly just to stop its infernal vibrating. At least, that’s what he tells himself. Up until the moment that he opens his weary mouth and the weary words, “Why do you think it’s a Nephilim,” come wandering wearily out.
Tessa, again with Will beside her, breathes out in surprise, clearly not expecting him to answer. “Because souldreams of the Nephilim show you their true faces,” she blurts, as if to get it all out before he decides to hang up again.
Oh. Huh. He’d always kind of assumed that they would show their human faces. Their true faces are called their hidden faces, their second faces, after all. Why wouldn’t fate show the most beautiful part of them?
He taps his fingers against his knee, letting blue sparks shoot from his fingertips, a nervous habit. “You… you really think it’s a Nephilim?” he asks, at long last.
Tessa nods slowly. “When I first started getting souldreams,” she says, “I thought they were nightmares, too. Pleasant nightmares, because they were always so sweet to me, but what is a nightmare if not a dream of a monster?”
Fuck. Fuck. Magnus grinds his hands against his eyes, letting the tablet float before him. He doesn’t want to believe this. Doesn’t want to imagine that… that thing from the golden mist somehow being his fated. It can’t be. It simply can’t be.
“Magnus. Look at me,” Will says.
Magnus looks. Will is staring straight back at him, face serious but with that William Herondale gleam in his eye. Magnus realizes in an instant what he’s about to do.
“No. Please, no—” he says, throwing his hand over his eyes.
Will huffs. “I’m just going to show you my jaws, man, chill.”
“I will literally pay you to keep your mouth shut. Or, better yet, I will end this call and never speak to you again.”
“Nope. The price for my silence is much too high, even for you.”
“Please, Magnus?” comes Tessa’s voice. “Just for a moment?”
“It’s too late—I’m doing it,” Will says, and then there’s a wet squelch on the other end of the line.
And then… silence. No song of the angels, no more goading, no pleading or demanding or wheedling. They’re waiting, patiently, for Magnus to make up his mind.
Magnus feels his heart pumping double-time in his chest. He should de-summon the tablet—tuck it somewhere deep under the mass of clothes in his closet and forget it exists. He should end the call, drink another martini or six, and pretend tonight never happened. And yet…
If there is one Nephilim he trusts, it would be Will. Will, who asked him once upon a time to help him lift a curse. Will, the first Nephilim to ever thank Magnus for his help. Will, the only Nephilim he’s ever kissed, to spite Camille or not.
And Magnus… he can admit that without the song of the angels, he can feel a smidge of… curiosity… about a Nephilim’s true face. As long as Will stays silent, as long as he doesn’t begin to sing…
Magnus breathes out, steeling his nerves. Then he slowly squints one eye open.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Peachy,” Magnus wheezes. It’s been half an hour since Tessa gently folded Will’s jaws back into place, closing the seams of his face back together. They were right, it wasn’t so bad after all—except for the part where everything clicked into place and he realized, without a shadow of a doubt, that his soulmate was a Nephilim, one of the monstrophagi.
“Look, I know it’s a lot to process—” Tessa begins.
Magnus is already waving her off. His tired mind is whirring at a thousand miles per second, he’s already far past that part. He’s now up to the part where he’s been having these souldreams about the Nephilim—his Nephilim—almost daily for over a week now.
He groans, standing up to start pacing again. The light of dawn is beginning to seep in around his blackout curtains—the day is about to begin. He needs to figure this out, and pronto.
Because he’s not stupid, at least not now that he’s pulled his head out of his ass. When souldream frequency ramps up seemingly out of nowhere it usually means you came into close contact with your soulmate recently and didn’t put the pieces together. Either that or you’re about to come into contact with them. In either case, Magnus has a huge decision to make—to approach his soulmate and acknowledge the bond, or to, god forbid, reject it.
If he acknowledges it, he becomes linked with a literal monster. Will and Will’s parabatai, Jem, aside, he’s never felt any fondness for the Nephilim. But to reject a bond with a Nephilim… he shudders. He’s heard the stories of downworlders doing that. Most of them didn’t survive the aftermath.
And it’s not just this. It’s also the demon at the party, and his demonic father, and the fact that no matter how he stretches it that encounter could not have been a coincidence. Asmodeus is planning something. And if Asmodeus is planning something, and if Magnus gets a Nephilim caught in the crossfire and causes his Nephilim soulmate to die, then the Clave will come down on him like the blade of a guillotine.
Damn souldreams. Damn Nephilim. Damn Prince of Hell…
“Damnit!” he says. He’s making a mess of his hair but he can’t seem to stop tugging at it.
“Breathe,” Tessa reminds him, and he sucks in a huge lungful of air. “Talk to us.”
But Magnus can’t. All he can do is spiral further and further, the guts and the gore of his father’s last string of messages—the ones that became the inspiration for the copycat, Jack the Ripper—imprinted on his mind.
He’s the High Warlock now. He cannot, in good conscience, allow downworlders or mundanes to die because he couldn’t stand up to his father. His father’s threats, or shows of power, or enticement, or whatever the kills are—the messages—they’re his fault.
He can’t focus on his soulmate now. He’ll have to just… put off his soulmeeting as long as he can. But then again, can he even function with the nightmares coming almost constantly? How is he going to survive this? What does he do, what does he do—?
Magnus jumps, looking up. Tessa is staring at him through the tablet screen, her gray eyes thunderous even in the low resolution. Will, still at her side, is looking on with obvious worry.
“Magnus,” she says again, after Magnus has opened and closed his mouth several times and found nothing to say. “Whatever is going on in your head, I promise you it’s not that bad. Do you think I’d have married Will if having a Nephilim as a soulmate was the end of the world?”
“Well, no, but—”
“And Jem. How could Jem be bad? There are good Nephilim, Magnus, and I’m sure your soulmate is one of them.”
“That’s not—there are other considerations—”
“I’m not finished,” she says sharply. Magnus closes his mouth. “Soulbonds aren’t frivolous things—they were made to lead us to the people who we were meant to be with. The people who complete us.”
She’s silent for a long moment. Then she says, her voice soft, “Magnus… do you trust me?”
Magnus runs his hands through his hair one last time before blowing out a breath. He does trusts her. Of course he does. She’s been married to a Nephilim for a hundred and thirty years, after all. If anyone knows these things it’s her.
“Good,” she breathes. “Because I think that whatever it is that’s going on, you’re going to need all the strength and support you can get. Stop fighting your soulbond, okay? Accept that your soulmate may just be who you happen to need right now.”
Magnus nods, a jerky motion. “Thanks. I… I will,” he rasps. God, he’s tired.
“Any time,” Tessa says, Will nodding along beside her. Then, with a promise that Magnus will call again if he needs to talk more, they end the call.
Magnus sinks onto the loveseat, magicking up a double-strength martini. He stares into it for a long moment before setting it down on the table, standing up once more. Three times he walks around the loft, strengthening his wards—it’s the fourth time this week alone that he’s done it, and they’re about as strong as they’re going to get.
He thinks about the demon. He thinks about the Nephilim. He thinks about downworld. He runs his hands through his hair one last time, and…
Yeah. Okay. He’s made his decision. And, decision now made, he needs to call Raphael.
So you may have noticed.... that I added a chapter count. This is a tentative count and is subject to change. It also means the end project, assuming I keep to 3.5k words per chapter, will end up somewhere around 100k words.
Also Magnus’s freakout may seem a little OOC but the Nephilim really are a scary bunch in this AU. Fallen angels like his father, too, are like ten times scarier than they are in canon. He’s losing his shit for a good reason.
Let me know what you think!
Chapter 4: Sutures
A few firsts, a few thirds.
When the day of the Fairchilds’ first rune ceremony comes, Clary asks Jace to stay in the ceremonial room with her. She’s afraid of the Silent Brothers, she says. They’re just so… creepy.
This isn’t an uncommon opinion. Even Jace, Nephilim golden boy, doesn’t like the Silent Brothers. But Jace can’t stay, Brother Enoch says so. He can’t be trusted to do as he’s told, the Silent Brother says, mouth unmoving. Too defiant, makes his own rules. He’s not allowed inside during such a sensitive ritual.
Before his parabatai can argue, Alec offers his presence in his stead. The Silent Brothers acquiesce, and, ignoring Clary’s rather alarmed look, Alec opens the door and steps inside.
The room is just as Alec remembers it, down to the rough stone floor that bruised his knees and the scent of the ceremonial holy oil spread across the floor. His first whiff of it nearly makes him turn right around and leave, his stomachs cramping, but he forces himself to take a deep breath and keep walking. He was there for Jace and Izzy when they were Unmasked, and he’ll be there for Max and, yes, even Clary. Jonathan, too, if it comes to that.
Clary follows in his footsteps, looking sideways at him through her wild red hair. “Why did you agree to come?” she whispers. The Silent Brothers, three of them, wait motionless for her to step into the spirograph on the floor.
Alec doesn’t answer, instead shaking his head and gesturing her forward. He does, in fact, have a smidge of self-restraint. It’s callous, but he figures that they already hate each other, so there will be no love lost if something goes wrong. She doesn’t need to hear that right now, though.
She also doesn’t need him asking why she’s being runed before her brother. She seemed kind of upset about it when she first arrived this morning, her eyes cloudy as she moodily stabbed at a steak. He figures he doesn’t want to know what kind of family drama they’re having, anyway.
The Silent Brothers are still as statues, but Alec can feel the slight hum on the air as they speak to Clary. She flinches, then sets her shoulders, looking up at Brother Enoch, who is in the center position.
Alec grits his teeth, going to stand to one side. He’ll be needed later, but for now he’s ornamental. Unfortunately, the silence in the room gives him plenty of space to think about why exactly there are three Silent Brothers here instead of one.
He knows all about the history and the variants on the first rune ceremony—after his own ceremony he sat down in the library with Hodge and read everything he could get his hands on about the topic so that he’d be ready when it was his siblings’ turns. No sibling of his was going to go into this blind like he did, no sir.
He’d explained it to Clary earlier while she ate. There is an optimal window for Unmasking: too young, and the seams won’t be ready to split and the child could bleed out. Too old, and the sutures in the skull wouldn’t come undone. She and her brother are a little on the old side, so there is a chance things will go wrong that way. The closest metaphor he could come up with was an animal being eggbound—contraction after contraction ripping through the body as it pushed and pushed and pushed, nothing moving, until it was too exhausted to continue.
The Silent Brothers are here to force the sutures to split with fracture runes if that should happen. Hopefully it won’t, because a normal Unmasking is bad enough, but, well… it’s a possibility.
Kneel, says Brother Enoch, and Clary kneels, her loose pants flopping about her ankles. She raises her eyes to the Brothers, her knuckles white. “I’m ready,” she says.
Brother Enoch glides forward, raising a twisted ceremonial stele in one pale hand. He begins, as always, with the top swirl of the mshemyd. Down… and then back up… the stele travels in loops to create each of the seven points, one for every day of the creation of the universe and one more for the day God took rest.
The scent of burning flesh mingles with the smell of the oil as the final loop is complete. Alec watches, waiting. Tendons are standing out on the back of Clary’s hands by the time Brother Enoch begins on the helix symbolizing infinity, but she hasn’t cried out.
Come forward, Alexander Lightwood, Brother Enoch intones, just before the final stroke. Alec does, kneeling by Clary’s side. He takes her hands—her eyes flit over to him, surprised.
“This is going to hurt,” he says, keeping his voice level, eyes locked on her. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
“Yes,” she says. Brother Enoch raises the stele once more and, his movement as silent as the grave, completes the final stroke.
God, Alec needs a shower.
He shifts uncomfortably, trying not to be too obvious about it. His own flop sweat would be bad enough, but he’s also got ceremonial oil on his knees and someone else’s sweat on his arms from where Clary had clutched his elbows hard enough to leave little red fingernail crescents. His neck is splattered with sticky, drying blood. There’s mucus on his chest.
Clarissa Fairchild has proven herself worthy of her runes. A few days of rest and she will be fit to go out and feed on low-level demons.
“What about her memories? Do I need to worry about her Sight going on the fritz?” Alec asks.
Brother Enoch’s covered eyes all but stare at Alec. Alec is taller than most of the Silent Brothers, but their sightless glares still make him want to shrink where he’s standing.
Her memories and instincts have nearly fully returned. There is no reason to be concerned.
“Right,” Alec says, feeling chastised despite the dull monotone of the Silent Brother’s ‘voice’. He glances over at Jonathan, who is waiting outside the ceremony room for the other Brothers to finish setting up the second ceremony. “Did you want me to stay—?”
“I’ll pass,” Jonathan says, his eyes flashing. He pushes off the wall and stalks into the ceremony room like he’s going to bend it and its occupants to his will.
Alec shakes his head. To each their own, he guesses.
He’s just getting out of the shower when there’s a rap on his door. He pulls on some sweats, running a towel through his hair, before opening it.
It’s Hodge. “Is the Fairchild girl resting?” he asks first.
Alec nods. “Her Unmasking was a little long but it went well. Jace is keeping her company now.”
“Good, good.” Hodge sighs. Then he runs a hand over his face, adjusting his glasses with a sigh. “I’ve just received a message from the downworld council—they’ve requested a meeting with a Clave representative.”
“When?” Alec asks, tossing his towel aside. If it’s any time before dusk then the vampire representative cannot leave the Du Mort, meaning that the Clave representative will have to go to him, meaning that Hodge can’t do it, meaning that it will be Alec’s job. Not that he’s against going out on Clave business, it’s just that he’d planned to get in some training today.
It’s not in the stars, apparently. “As soon as possible,” Hodge says. “It’s apparently an urgent matter. Will you be ready soon?”
Alec nods. Hodge nods back. Then Hodge waves a hand, retreating in the general direction of the greenhouse.
A few minutes later, Alec strides from his room, glamour rune activated. Izzy is out god knows where and Jace is still with Clary, so he’s on his own today. He doesn’t mind—much—as it gives him some time on his own, a precious commodity with younger siblings. He jumps the turnstile at the subway station and boards a train to the Du Mort, pulling out a book as he goes.
He gets there mid-afternoon, the sun shining down on him. The front of the once-abandoned hotel is deserted—not uncommon for a vampire haunt in the middle of the day—but Alec gets the sense that even if it were the middle of the night no one would be around. Perks of being Nephilim.
He knocks on the once-grand front doors. A moment later a seelie appears, wearing a distinctly pinched look on his face.
“Took you long enough,” he says, leading Alec inside.
Alec shrugs. Fae—impossible to impress. They’re one of the only races that can stand their own against a Nephilim due to their own twisted angelic magic, but if you thought that would make the Nephilim and the Fae friendly then think again. This one, Meliorn, the seelie queen’s knight and representative of the seelie court, is about as friendly a Fae as Alec has ever seen.
The other members of the downworld council are already waiting when Alec and Meliorn arrive. Gabriel, leader of the local wolf pack is standing beside Raphael, head of the New York vampire clan. Meliorn takes his place at their side. The only one missing is the High Warlock of Brooklyn, Magnus Bane. In his place is a blue-skinned warlock. Catarina Loss, if Alec is remembering correctly.
Alec keeps his eyes on Raphael, the one who initiated the call to the Institute.
“You’re awfully young for an immortal,” Raphael says first. “I usually deal with your parents. Or the cursed one. What is his name?”
“My parents are taking care of business in Idris,” Alec says, voice level. He’s pretty sure Raphael knows Hodge’s name—is this a test of some sort? “Hodge, as you’re well aware, cannot leave the Institute. If you’d rather not have me as your representative, by all means send me away. I can’t promise that the Clave will send another in my place, however.”
Raphael waves a hand, his eyes dark and piercing in his ashen face. His brown skin is pale in the darkness. “You’ll do. We have something to ask of you.”
Alec waits for him to continue.
He does, after a moment. “It has come to our attention that one of the nine Princes of Hell has laid claim to one of his warlock children. He is demanding that said warlock enter into Edom and rule by his side. For every week that he doesn’t get as he’s demanded, he will send six demons into our realm to wreak havoc.”
“And what are you asking of the Clave?” Alec asks. He knows the answer, but he needs to hear it in order to send a missive to Idris to declare the nature of a mission in response.
“We are asking for the Nephilim to assist us with keeping the demons at bay until such a time as the Prince of Hell can be killed, in both his physical and ethereal form.”
Alec nods slowly. Killing a Prince of Hell… not impossible, but it will come at a cost. Manpower and lives, at the very least. Getting the Clave to agree to assist with demons entering the mortal realm is one thing, but convincing the Consul to summon and attack a Prince of Hell or, god forbid, send Nephilim into Edom to do it there is quite another.
“Who is the warlock?” Alec asks, after a long silence. “The Clave will require their official statement and blood proof that they are indeed the child of a Prince of Hell.”
Raphael stares unblinkingly at him. “Magnus Bane,” he says.
When Alec was really little, before Izzy was born, he used to sit in the corner of the Institute’s meeting room while Hodge and his parents worked, scribbling on pieces of paper. He liked to listen to the statements of all the downworlders who came to the Institute with all their downworld problems. Like serfs crawling to the feet of the king, his father would say disdainfully. Alec wasn’t sure what that meant, but he’d nod along, pretending to take his little notes.
As he grew, he learned what the words the adults said actually meant. Claims and reparations, wrongful deaths, politics politics politics. He learned that only a very small percent of downworlders were brave enough to enter the Institute even when instructed to do so by the Clave—most preferred to go into hiding or exile than to stand before a panel of Nephilim. Alec had never seen his parents eat anyone, but the way the downworlders shook and sweat made it seem as if they expected it to happen at any moment.
Alec isn’t sure what he’s more nervous of now. Magnus choosing to come to the Institute, seeing him, and rejecting their bond, or Magnus choosing to go into exile to avoid seeing him at all.
At the appointed meeting time, Alec steels himself and waits in the meeting room. He and Hodge are the official Clave representatives, but since his last two meet-ups with Magnus have been, frankly, disastrous, Alec has taken some precautions in the form of inviting his siblings to sit in on the meeting. Izzy agreed with no qualms, going alone to wait by the door for the warlock, but the moment he grabbed Jace Jace grabbed Clary who then grabbed the (rat) mundane, all of them filing in behind Alec as Alec rolls his eyes.
The room is tense as they wait. At least, it is for Alec, who is sweating under his jacket. Jace is looking on with distaste as the mundane rattles off about some sort of mundane video game. Clary laughs along. Hodge is quiet, contemplative, a book that he’s not reading set in his lap.
Then the summoning bell rings.
He’s here. He’s really here. Alec sits up straighter, his heart beating faster in his chest. God, let this time go well. Let the meeting go smoothly. Just, please.
The door opens a few minutes later, Izzy striding in looking bored. Magnus—he’s standing tall and straight, his face somber but determined as he follows on her heels. He looks put together, not a hair or a fleck of glitter out of place. It’s only the slight shake of his hands that gives away just how scared he is.
“Good, you’re here,” Hodge says, setting his book aside.
Magnus nods. He then places himself in the center of the circle drawn on the floor.
Getting his statement is a straightforward process. Hodge asks questions and Alec records the answers. Until Magnus mentions the fact that he decided to work alongside the Nephilim because his soulmate is Nephilim, that is.
“Who is your Nephilim soulmate?” Hodge asks.
Magnus licks his lips, his eyes flitting around to each of them in turn. “I don’t know,” he admits.
It’s a blow. Alec winces, trying valiantly to keep his face from exposing just how much that hurts to hear. He thought… well, he thought that his soulmate would recognize him even through the terror of seeing his true face.
Maybe he’s lying, a slimy little voice in his head says, but Alec shakes himself until it peters out. The circle Magnus is standing in was made to compel downworlders to tell the truth, placed there when the Institute was built by the city’s first High Warlock. It’s a spell similar to the spell that compels Nephilim to speak the truth when in contact with the soul sword, only not nearly as strong.
Magnus could lie if he really wanted to. He’s certainly powerful enough, especially as the child of a Prince of Hell. But something is telling Alec that he’s not. He really… really doesn’t know that Alec is the one.
And Alec, eldest child of four, next in line as Head of the New York Shadowhunter Institute, full-fledged Nephilim… doesn’t know what to do. He can’t come forward, not now—he’s not ready to share the reality of his male downworlder soulmate with the Clave just yet. But what else is there to do? Show off his true face in the hopes that Magnus will suddenly recognize him? That would be cruel beyond belief. A real dick move. He’d never forgive himself for scaring Magnus once more.
So what is the answer here? Wait until they’re alone and spill the beans? Who knows how long that will take. Besides, what if Magnus does reject the bond?
Alec clenches his crossed arms tighter over his chest. He couldn’t—he wouldn’t be able to bear that, not now. Not only would he be shoved into a world of pain, he would also be forced to come out to the Clave and inform them of the rejected bond. The Clave could very well decide to enact justice on his behalf and sentence Magnus to death. Alec may not be in love with Magnus, but he knows deep in his heart that that cannot happen. Politics aside, it would tear him apart to know he caused such a death.
He only has one real option here. He must keep his distance and hope that at some point, perhaps far, far in the future, he’ll be free to pursue his soulbond.
Easier said than done. The first wave of demons comes from Edom two days later, and hard as Alec tries, there just aren’t enough Nephilim in New York to justify skipping out on feeding.
“Clary, with me,” he says. “Jace, Izzy—”
“On it!” Izzy says. Jace looks like he’s about to argue about their team-up arrangements but Izzy grabs him by the elbow and splits off, racing down the side street after the four demons—jikininki, if Alec has his Japanese demons straight—that decided a ride on the subway was a fun way to keep the Nephilim on their toes. Alec takes Clary by the arm and keeps heading straight, after the two that are heading for central park.
“Where did they get to?” Clary pants, as they close in on the park.
“Use your nose,” Alec snaps. He then bites down on his tongue. He’s not used to working with untrained, freshly-runed Nephilim. He went over the basics before they were called out, but Clary is still painfully new to all of this. It’s driving him nuts.
Clary glares at him, then raises her nose, sniffing at the air. A moment later she shoots off to the left. Alec turns after her, quickly catching up due to his long legs. Tension is building, ozone seeping through the air—the previously cloudless night is starting to get overrun by thick cumulus clouds, distant thunder slowly closing in as they close in on their prey. Prey that should be just… around… the corner.
There. Alec sprints forward, overtaking Clary in order to tackle the closer of the two demons, which is running straight at a mundane. He transforms in the air, his wings spreading wide, and he slams the demon to the ground with his momentum. A moment later he hears the sound of Clary transforming as well, and after he disposes of the first demon he turns to find her wrestling with the second, her wings wrapped around it as they roll around, ripping up dirt and plants. She grunts, goes to bite it, hesitates, and grunts again, struggling to hold it. It bucks in a frenzy, nearly tearing free of her.
“JUST EAT IT!” Alec yells, the song of the angels rippling through his chest, his jaws still wide open. If the demon gets free he wants to make sure he can eat it before it gets away. He knows this is Clary’s first live feeding, but would it kill her to get it over with?! There are lives on the line!
God, this is exactly why he didn’t want her out in the field yet.
Thankfully she doesn’t need to be told twice. She strikes all at once, her jaws closing over the demon’s thick neck, and then she jerks back, tearing it apart. It’s not the most graceful feeding he’s ever seen, but she’s quick, snapping up all of its body before it can disappear back to Edom. When she finishes she lays there for a long moment, jaws open and staring up at the sky, covered in ichor and dirt.
“That. Was. Awesome,” she says.
Alec rolls his eyes. “Glad you think so,” he mutters. He checks the sky—the clouds are still swirling, meaning his siblings are still fighting. Thunder rolls off to the side, indicating where they are. They could need help—four demons isn’t a lot for a pair of Nephilim, but you never know.
“Come on,” Alec says, closing his jaws. He holds an impatient hand out to Clary, hauling her to her feet before turning around to start back toward the spot where they split off from his siblings.
Only to run straight into Magnus, who has his blue, sparking shield up once more, hiding behind it. He must have been nearby when the demons popped up. Makes sense—the demons are a message for him, after all.
He flinches as Alec steps toward him.
Alec backs away, hands up. “Jikininki,” he says eloquently, gesturing vaguely at Clary and the place where the demons were.
Magnus nods. He does not lower his shield.
“Right,” Alec says. He turns to grab Clary, shoving her in the opposite direction. It isn’t until they’re well on their way to the subway that he lets himself think about what just happened.
He just had his third chance meeting with Magnus Bane. His third chance meeting with his soulmate. And, for the third time in a row, he gave his soulmate the fright of his life.
Chapter 5: Apex Predator
Alec meets the chairman.
Chapter's out early today, lads! Cheers!
Asmodeus, Prince and ruler of Hell, is many things. Self-centered, callous, dismissive… he’s a pain in the ass, generally speaking. But most of all, he’s intelligent—and it’s his intelligence that makes him so, so deadly.
Magnus knows this. He knows. And yet, he’s still caught off guard by his father’s cruel games.
See, the thing is that Asmodeus declared, in no uncertain terms, that he would send six demons a week until Magnus agreed to come to Edom. What he didn’t mention was that wasn’t all he planned to send. He’s reached the end of his patience with Magnus, it seems—he’s begun pushing his limits, stretching his influence from Edom, his demonic magic seeping into the mortal realm in the form of storms and demonic hotspots and, yes, even dreams.
As if Magnus wasn’t dealing with enough already.
But enough about the nightmares about touching the Nephilim from his dreams only to have him crumble to dust in his hands, or the bones in his own face cracking spontaneously open, or crying endless streams of blood in the mirror. No one wants to hear about that. Magnus doesn’t want to talk about it. What he wants is to drink a goddamn cranberry vodka, in his home, in peace. Or, barring that, stand at a safe distance and watch as the Nephilim shove each other around, in the hopes of figuring out which one, if any, is his soulmate.
He sighs, squinting. This would be so much easier if he could recognize their damn flower mouths. But nooo.
He’s learned, in the past week, why the human face of the Nephilim in his dreams is blurred. It has to do with the longevity of the Nephilim. That, and their beauty. See, according to Will and Tessa, Nephilim are born from the flowing river of Raziel’s angelic blood that pours from the mortal cup. The first Nephilim, Jonathan Shadowhunter, drank from this river and was gifted two faces—one of angelic beauty, and one of angelic terror. The beauty of his human-shaped face was said to be eternal—as long as he lived, he would always be looked upon as something divine, his face slowly changing with the flow of time to always be the absolute epitome of divine grace.
This, of course, raises a bit of an issue when it comes to soulmates and souldreams. If a face is mutable, ever-changing, how can it be an accurate representation of a person? Thus, instead of showing Magnus a face that would change and evolve, fate chose to show him the Nephilim’s true face, a face which will always stay the same, no matter how long it takes him to find his soulmate.
Which makes it a nightmare—pun certainly intended—for a downworlder such as him to find their Nephilim soulmate, and is the exact reason that Magnus is scrutinizing the inhabitants of the New York Institute so closely as they rough-house.
…He’s really not liking his prospects, ugh. Clarissa Fairchild is out because of her obnoxiously red hair, thank goodness. Jace, as well, he assumes—that blond is nothing like the dark-haired figure in his souldreams. It could be Jonathan, he supposes, though he knows for a fact that the black is dye. Or it could be either of the other two. The dark-haired siblings whose names he hasn’t caught yet. Or perhaps their younger brother, in a few years? Good god, the possibilities are endless.
“Guys,” the taller of the two dark-haired siblings in question barks. “Really? Are you seriously doing that right here, right now?”
“Yes,” Raphael says, his lips pressed into a line. “I would appreciate it if we could get on with our discussion.”
“You’re just cranky that it’s noon and you’re not allowed to sleep,” Jace says, letting go of Clary rather reluctantly.
Raphael raises a lip, but doesn’t retort. If it were anyone else, anything else, he’d have bitten their head off by now. It’s best to be cautious with the Nephilim, however, and young as he is even he understands that.
The black-haired boy, as a Nephilim himself, doesn’t have any such hang-ups. “Jace, do us all a favor and shut up,” he says, rolling his eyes. “We’re supposed to be coming up with a plan to protect Magnus and the other mundanes and downworlders that may be caught in the crossfire between us and Asmodeus.”
Magnus makes a face. He hates that he has to be ‘protected’. Especially by the Nephilim. But it is what it is—he can’t exactly retract his statement to the Clave.
At least tall dark and handsome here is keeping the rest of them in line. Magnus almost—almost—appreciates his no-nonsense personality. When his direct eye contact isn’t making Magnus feel like it’s time to crawl out of his skin and hide, that is.
“Look,” he’s saying now. “The demons seem to spawn at or around Magnus’s current location. Maybe we should capitalize on that.”
“…Capitalize how?” Meliorn asks, sounding bored.
The Nephilim shrugs. “Perhaps Magnus should have a bodyguard. One Nephilim that can call the others.”
Gabriel, by far the twitchiest of the group, turns to Magnus immediately. “I vote yes,” he says, clearly trying to get this meeting over with as quickly as possible.
“Uh, how about no? Absolutely not,” Magnus counters.
“Why not?” Jace asks, a smirk to his face. “You’re not afraid of us, are you?”
Magnus grits his teeth, his nails cutting into his palms. “I have sensitive work to do, work that would be disrupted by the presence of—”
“Heaven’s terrors?” Jace asks, wriggling his eyebrows.
“Nephilim energy,” Magnus bites out.
“Oh, come off it,” the dark-haired Nephilim girl replies. Magnus should really try to learn their names. He just… doesn’t want to. “We can control ourselves. It isn’t as if we’re singing the song of the angels right now, is it?”
Magnus looks at Raphael, eyes pleading. Raphael, the bastard, just shrugs at him.
If even Raphael thinks this is a good idea…
“Fine,” Magnus huffs. “I will… think about it. Who do I contact if I change my mind?”
“Alec, probably,” Jace says. “I mean, I’d obviously be the better bodyguard, but seeing as you don’t seem to like me very much, well…”
Magnus resists the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. “And Alec is…?”
The dark-haired boy raises a hand, his icy, unreadable eyes boring into Magnus.
“Ah,” Magnus says. “Yes, that is… acceptable.”
“As amusing as this all is,” Meliorn says suddenly, “I have other duties to attend to in the court. Can we wrap this up?”
“Yes, of course,” Alec says. His eyes linger on Magnus for a moment longer before he breaks his gaze away, his arms folding across his chest, to continue the conversation.
It takes Magnus a little over three hours to give in and go digging for the slip of paper that the Nephilim—Alec—handed him all those weeks ago. He’s tried to think of a way out of it, but alas, he can’t argue that having a Nephilim nearby at all times will significantly help with the demon situation.
He sighs, looking down at the innocuous phone number. Simple printed letters, written in plain black ink… it’s so like the Nephilim himself, as stoic and serious as he is.
Maybe this will be good. Maybe this Nephilim will be able to lead him to his soulmate. Or… or perhaps this Nephilim is his soulmate? Hm. Magnus isn’t sure he’s prepared for that possibility—he was hoping to have a little more time to get himself together, really. But alas, fate is as fate does and he’ll just have to figure it out as he goes.
He texts the Nephilim mid-afternoon. By five o’clock sharp, his buzzer goes off with the Nephilim’s arrival.
He frowns as he buzzes the Nephilim up. The Nephilim has a duffel bag slung over his shoulder—surely it’s not full of weird esoteric angel weapons, so what is it full of?
The Nephilim blinks when he asks. “Clothes?” he says, uncertainty creeping into his voice. “I was under the impression that this would be an indefinite post.”
“Yes, but… all the time?” Magnus asks, his voice precariously close to a whine.
A shrug. “I’m your bodyguard. I’m here to guard you. Unless you’re somehow immune to demons at night, I’ll be here all the time.”
…Well, shit. Magnus nods robotically, his brain winding up into a panicked whir. He was not prepared to have a Nephilim in the loft all night long. What if the Nephilim finds him wandering around in the middle of the night because he can’t sleep? What if he wakes himself screaming and the Nephilim hears? And he certainly can’t have his usual midnight martini—getting drunk with a Nephilim in the house is absolutely out of the question. As is his secondary coping method, inviting friends over. He is NOT putting his friends into the path of a Nephilim. Not like this.
Oh no, and the parties… Magnus groans. There’ll be no parties while this whole Asmodeus thing is going on.
“…Is there a problem?” asks a cool voice. Magnus twitches, realizing too late that he’s snapping his fingers in agitation, blue sparks shooting from the tips. He stops immediately, shoving his hands into the pockets of his purple velvet pants.
“No, no problem,” he says. “I’ll just… show you the guest room, in that case.”
The Nephilim follows him silently, his feet making so little sound on the hardwood floors that Magnus is constantly checking that he’s still there. He’s so invested in watching over his shoulder that he nearly trips over Chairman Meow padding out of the hall closet.
Oh, no. The cat. He forgot about the cat. The Nephilim is going to eat his cat.
Magnus is thrumming with energy, the sparks nearly flying from his fingers, as Chairman Meow struts right past and bonks his head against the Nephilim’s ankle without a care in the world. There isn’t much Magnus can do to hurt an eldritch monstrosity, but for his cat he’s sure willing to give it a try.
Only he… doesn’t need to? The Nephilim—he really should start calling him by his name if they’re going to be living together—leans over and reaches out one steady hand for the chairman to sniff. Chairman Meow bonks his head against that instead, and… is the Nephilim—Alec—smiling?
…Wonders never cease.
For a moment that’s all that happens. Alec strokes the chairman’s head, and the chairman basks in the attention, and then, upon some mutual agreement that Magnus isn’t privy to, they both turn away at the same time, Chairman Meow padding over to Magnus as Alec straightens up.
Well then. Magnus scoops the chairman up, whispering, “You are a stupid, stupid little cat,” as he does. Chairman meows happily, but Magnus is trying to make a point here, damnit. “That thing could have killed you nine times over! That’s once for each life!” he hisses.
“I can hear you, you know,” Alec says.
Magnus squeaks, gesturing hurriedly at the guest room. “Here we are!”
The rest of the day is spent in awkward silence, the three of them sitting in close, uncomfortable proximity. Magnus pretends to watch reruns of Say Yes to the Dress as Alec sits in silence. Chairman, the traitor, goes to Alec almost immediately, choosing to settle on his lap. Magnus isn’t seeing things—there is a small smile on Alec’s face. He drops it as soon as he notices Magnus looking.
He shifts, once, crossing his legs. Magnus nearly jumps out of his skin.
It’s… a little ridiculous, all things told. So what if the guy was literally created in the image of the most terrifying divine creatures ever concocted? So what if his face opens up like a damn flower? This is Magnus’s home! He should not be scared in his own loft!
He’s so incensed that he decides to hell with it, and begins covertly text-ranting at Ragnor. Then, when Ragnor proves to be no help—Seems you live a fascinating life, is all he says—Magnus begins texting Catarina. And then Tessa. And then, as a final resort, Raphael.
Assholes, the lot of them. Not a word of sympathy to be heard.
Whatever. It’s nearly time to go to bed, anyway. Magnus gets up in a huff, realizing too late that he never had dinner. Whatever, whatever, he’s not about to do it now. “Goodnight,” he says stiffly. Then he heads off into his room, clicks the lock, wards the door, and shoves a wardrobe in front of it for good measure.
It doesn’t help. Sleep just won’t come. He’s vividly aware of the monster sitting—sleeping? Do the Nephilim sleep?—just down the short, short hall. He’s hyperaware of every sound in the loft, startling out of a light doze at every light creak. It isn’t until dawn that sleep finally catches him, and then it’s nightmares, nightmares, and more nightmares. His usual programming. At least he doesn’t scream. That’s a bonus.
He drags himself from bed when his late alarm rings at two PM. A snap of his fingers and he has his favorite robe slung over his shoulders and his slippers on his feet—he yawns his way down the hall, rubbing his eyes.
Alec is already in the living room when he arrives, looking as if he never moved. He’s sitting on the pink loveseat texting, of all things.
What a mundane thing for a monster to do. Magnus stares.
“You going to stand there forever?”
Whoops. Magnus jumps, an apology shooting to his lips as he flees to the kitchen. He lets out a dramatic groan, pressing his face into the fridge. God, he’s got to get a hold of himself.
“He’s just a monster,” he says aloud. “Just one measly little monster. You can handle this. Take a chill pill and—”
“I can still hear you,” Alec calls from the other room.
…Great going, Magnus. He drags his hands down his face and turns to make coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
Thankfully, they find a groove soon enough. It consists of Alec keeping to himself, hanging out in the guest room with the door cracked, while Magnus works. Magnus can’t for the life of him figure out what Alec does all day—he’s so damn quiet??—but he doesn’t care so long as no one disturbs his potion-making-slash-netflix-binging time. He’s got a lot of back-orders from downworld folk that he needs to fill. Being the High Warlock is all fun and games until he has to actually do his job. He sighs, sending out another potion with a snap of his fingers.
Occasionally, the two of them go out together to Magnus’s in-person jobs. He warns everyone beforehand that he has a Nephilim with him, which means that he’s getting sudden cancellations left and right, but Alec has behaved on all the ones he’s gone to so far so it’s fine. Mostly. They’re falling into step, and while it might not be exactly pleasant, it’s… okay.
Even this week’s demon attack is kind of okay. Alec was right about Magnus being ground zero—the demons pop up just down the street while they’re out buying potion supplies, and Alec is on them in the blink of an eye. Magnus is still shaking from the angel song by the time he’s done, which is anything but nice, but the bodyguard plan worked. No one got harmed.
And so, the two of them fall into a routine. Magnus works, Alec guards, Chairman bonks, and everything is fine. The downworld council and the Nephilim meet up every few days to discuss Asmodeus, and though they never get very far before devolving into arguments, even that is okay because Magnus is… dare he say it… getting used to the Nephilim? Or, at the very least, a little less flinchy.
Until the third week of their arrangement, that is. The third week is when things go very, very wrong.
Magnus doesn’t even sense the demon. He’s just walking along one day and suddenly he’s being shoved out of the line of fire. He ducks and rolls and comes up with his hands crackling with magic, and when he does he realizes that there is a splatter of gold on the sidewalk in front of him. A splatter of gold, and Alec… monstrous Alec, protector and destroyer and everything in between… is caught between the demon’s vicious, grinding teeth.
Time slows down. Magnus feels the hum of the angel’s song building in his chest, knows that it’s not as bad as it looks and that despite having a bite out of him Alec is more than capable of handling himself, but Magnus wasn’t made to stand back and cower when others are hurt.
He raises his arms as thunder booms overhead, counting out the seconds between the flashes of lightning arcing from the clouds. Alec’s jaws are snapping at the demon, not quite at the right angle to latch onto it. Magnus grits his teeth, focusing on the magic inside him, pushing it up—and up—and up. Then, in the space between one lightning strike and the next, he lets his power go all at once.
The blast of pure magic knocks the demon off-kilter, loosening its jaws enough for Alec to rip himself free. In milliseconds the Nephilim has turned on the demon, all seven jaws open wide, the divine roar reverberating through the city street as the downworld market ducks for cover. There’s a rending sound of tissue being torn from tissue, and then… it’s over.
Alec stands, the victor, fleshy roped wings spread wide and jaws dripping ichor, in the very center of the empty street. He is regal, he is divinity—he is the destroyer, the protector, the progeny of the Angel Raziel. Be not afraid, indeed.
And then he stumbles. And his hand comes to his side. And there is golden blood seeping through his fingers. And the hum of the song of the angels is still ringing through the air.
He’s hurt. He’s hurt, and it’s all Magnus’s fault.
Magnus’s throat closes up, his eyes going wide and his heart pounding in his chest. He swallows, hard, making a small noise in the back of his throat. The Nephilim’s head whips over, his open, dripping jaws focusing on Magnus’s face.
Magnus holds up his hands, slowly, his fingers trembling in his peripheral vision. He’s scared, terrified down to his very bones, the sound of the angel’s song vibrating through him. But that face… Alec’s true face has never turned on him, not once. It’s protected him again and again, tearing apart the demons that come for Magnus one by one by one.
He should not be afraid. He should not feel terror. He has made a truce with this monster, after all. And this… the golden blood slowly dripping to the street, gleaming in the dim light… that’s on Magnus’s head.
With this in mind, repeating it over and over like a mantra, Magnus takes a deep breath… and takes a step forward.
The response is immediate. The song of angels grows louder, Alec growling like some sort of eldritch canine. He’s hunched over the wound now, fumbling in his pocket for his stele. His wings are spread behind him, flared out. In anything other than a perfect apex predator it would look almost defensive. On Alec it is a promise. A promise that he can and will rip Magnus to pieces.
And yet Magnus does not back away. He sucks in another shaking breath and inches his other foot forward. His hands are still raised, still placating, still trembling. He’s skating by on the very edge of his courage—a particularly sharp growl and he flinches, tears slowly streaking down his face.
Still, he does not stop. He cracks open his mouth and, though it’s like shouting into the wind to speak into the song of angels, manages to croak out, “Please. Please, I just want to help.”
The Nephilim does not move. He does not come forward, but neither does he back away—he allows Magnus to step forward, and forward again, until he’s mere feet away. Two feet… one foot… six inches… three… two… one, and…
Magnus sets his shaking hand on top of Alec’s own, pushing down the stele he has raised. Slowly, like he’s a dentist reaching into a lion’s open mouth to pull a diseased tooth, Magnus lights up his fingers, blue sparks dancing, and reaches for Alec’s hurt side. He is mere inches away from his very worst nightmare as he begins to knit the flesh back together.
And Alec… Alec relaxes. The growling does not stop, but it does ease back a little, becoming something like a low, sub-audible huff. His flared jaws twitch, flex, and slowly begin to close. Magnus focuses on the wound, taking care to go as slowly and thoroughly as possible, stitching together each ragged gash with careful strings of magic.
“There we go…” he says, as Alec’s wings slowly fall flat against his back. They shuffle wetly, the thick ropes of flesh beginning to retract into his shoulder blades. Somewhere between one moment and the next, the song of the angels fades completely. Magnus glances up just in time to see the seven points of Alec’s second jaws come together, the seams of his face shuttering closed all at once.
“You… healed me,” Alec says, as if he’s having trouble understanding. His blue eyes are wide, staring down at Magnus.
Magnus licks his lips, stepping back. “I did,” he says.
…For a long moment the two of them stand, staring at each other. Then Alec turns away, beginning to walk back down the street.
“Thank you,” he says over his shoulder.
And that’s… that.
Chapter 6: Judge, Jury, and Executioner
Alec and Magnus make a truce.
SOMEONE DREW ME ART CHECK THIS OUT:
I'm also working on an illustration for you guys! Not sure when it'll be done, but it's coming! In the meantime have this (comparatively soft) chapter.
“State your name.”
Alec lifts his chin. “Alexander Gideon Lightwood,” he says, voice steady, standing straight and tall despite the sweat desperately trying to make him drop the sword gripped in his hands. Not that he could if he wanted to—it’s adhered to him, and will not be removed until his testimony is complete.
The Inquisitor nods, her eyes sharp. “Good. Let’s begin.”
Swallowing hard, Alec waits for the first question to come. It feels like it’s taking forever. How long until this is over? An hour? A year? An eternity?
He bites the inside of his cheek as there’s a cough behind him. He doesn’t turn. Doesn’t dare look at anyone but the Inquisitor, despite the many, many eyes that are boring into him.
Imogen Herondale shuffles the papers in front of her with one hand, the other holding the mortal sword steady. “…On the day of March third,” she begins, finally. “You were given a mission detail by the head of the New York Institute. What was this mission detail?”
Alec can hardly take a breath before the compulsion to speak is on him. The sword’s magic is stronger than anything he’s ever felt—he was told it would make him speak the truth, but he didn’t expect its effect to be so immediate, or so absolute.
He doesn’t fight it. He has no reason to. The words flow from him. “The mission was to investigate a territorial disagreement between the children of the night and the children of the moon. The downworld council needed a Clave representative to provide a tie-breaker vote. Me and my parabatai, Jace Lightwood, were sent to provide such a vote.”
A murmur courses through the throng behind Alec, and he feels the sweat building on his back, under the bandages. He’s not stupid—the downworlders requested that he be interrogated under the influence of the mortal sword because they thought he wouldn’t do it. They thought he’d be too young and scared to submit himself to the ordeal and the charges would be dropped with a slap on the wrist.
He is young. He is scared. But he is not backing down, and he knows they aren’t happy about it. He grits his teeth as he hears the werewolves grumbling among themselves. The vampires, on the other hand, are eerily silent.
He hates having his back to them.
“Quiet in the room!” Jia Penhallow, their Consul and the judge of the trial, calls. The murmurs peter out once again. She gestures for the Inquisitor to continue.
“So you took the mission,” the Inquisitor says. “How did it begin?”
Again, the compulsion rises, forcing the words out almost before Alec is ready for them. “Jace and I got our mission brief from Hodge Starkweather and set out to the meeting place. When we left the Institute—”
Jace. Alec cuts his eyes to the side, searching for his blond parabatai in the crowd. He catches golden eyes, a face more serious than he’s ever seen it, for a split second.
His voice cuts out, and he sucks in a breath, struggling against himself, before the words tumble out in a rush. “—When we left the Institute Jace split off from me and I continued to the meeting on my own.”
He hadn’t wanted to. It was one of their first official, unsupervised missions—he wanted to do it right. But Jace had been distracted by being out and about in the mundane world during the day—he’d wanted to stick his nose into all the mundane establishments. “You can handle giving one vote, big bro,” he’d said, rolling his eyes with all of his thirteen-year-old confidence. Like he was invincible. Like Alec was.
Time proves everyone wrong.
Alec is breathing heavily, his instinct to protect his younger sibling having come up against the magic of the sword with a gut-wrenching jolt. He swallows again, raising his head to look at the Inquisitor.
She doesn’t even glance at him. “What happened next?” she asks, voice curt.
“I was alone. I walked toward the meeting place. When I arrived, I realized that there was something wrong.” He takes a deep breath, hands shaking on the sword.
“What was wrong?” Imogen Herondale asks, giving him no reprieve.
“I didn’t know at first. A werewolf met me at the door, offering to walk me inside. We entered the building and were greeted by two more wolves.”
“Identify these… wolves.”
Alec ignores the glares tightening like screws into the back of his neck. The growing scent of fear is heavy in the room, leaking from the downworlders. They know they’re in deep now—this is where things get real for them.
“Gordon Hart-Chard,” Alec says. “Alteshia Montaneo. Henrietta May.”
The scratch of a pen noting down the names rings through the room like the clank of shackles snapping closed.
“Continue,” the Inquisitor says.
Alec does. “The werewolves led me down a long hallway and to a runed door being guarded by two vampires.”
“Identify the vampires.”
“Tessaria Napash and Tia Lowell.”
“I entered the room. It was empty, but I could smell… something. I wasn’t sure what it was. I turned around to ask what was going on and found myself face to face with a ravener demon. I transformed as it leapt at me and—”
He chokes, the words getting jumbled up in his throat. He wants to spit them out all at once, to get them over with, but they slice into the delicate flesh as they come up his throat, getting caught like thorns.
“Continue,” the Inquisitor says again.
Alec heaves, curling over the blade of the sword. He hears Jace somewhere off to the side, demanding that they take a break, that they ease off of him, but he—he can’t. He has to do this, he has to—but god, does it hurt, hurt, hurt—
“Continue,” the Inquisitor says, and he knows this is the final time she’ll say it.
He sucks in a breath around the pain in his throat, tipping his head back to stare defiantly up at her from under his sweat-soaked bangs. “I transformed,” he says, his voice hoarse but clear in the deafening silence of the room, “and as I tried to get the right angle to bite, I felt claws grab the base of my wings. There was pain. A—a lot of pain. Pain like Unmasking pain.”
The murmuring starts up again, the Nephilim in attendance shifting in their seats, eyes gleaming.
“What happened next, Mr. Lightwood?” the Inquisitor asks.
Alec bares his teeth. His knees are trembling. “I blacked out.”
“You went feral,” the Inquisitor corrects. “What do you remember next?”
“I woke up with a hand hanging from my jaws. The demon was gone, and there was a—a body on the floor in front of me, torn apart. The pain was still there, at the base of my right wing—I reached up and my hand seared as if burned.”
The Inquisitor snaps her fingers, and a warlock separates from the seated crowd. He’s wearing a pair of crisp white gloves, and in his hand is a curved dagger.
“Do you recognize this?” Imogen Herondale asks.
Alec nods, tongue flitting out to his lips.
“Where did you first see this?”
“On a table in the infirmary after I was taken back to the Institute. It was covered in my blood.”
“Do you know what it is?”
“An enchanted blade dipped in the blood of a Greater Demon,” Alec spits, his lip curling. “A vile weapon.”
For the first time a hint of emotion comes into the Inquisitor’s face, the corner of her lips twitching into a smirk. “Can you confirm that this was the blade that caused the pain you felt in that room?”
“Yes,” Alec says.
“And can you confirm that it was wielded by one of the wolves in that room?”
“And finally… can you confirm that had it not been for the werewolves and vampires previously named you would not have suffered such grievous wounds?”
The smile spreads across the Inquisitor’s face like blood seeping from a wound. “Thank you. That is all, Alexander Lightwood.”
Alec lets go of the sword, swiping his sweaty hands on his pants and watching as she turns to the raised seats behind her.
“To the presiding judge, Consul Penhallow, I present my proof that these four downworld individuals deserve the most severe of punishments the Clave can inflict—death by seven-hundred-and-seventy-seven cuts,” the Inquisitor says.
“And who do you declare the executioner?” Jia asks, almost sounding bored.
“…Alexander Gideon Lightwood.”
…What the hell just happened.
No seriously, what the hell just happened.
Alec doesn’t know. His mind is a perfect blank. Void of all thought, all comprehension. All he knows is that he’s reeling as they go back to Magnus’s loft, the events of the past few weeks tumbling around and around in his head as he tries to make sense of them.
Magnus watching the unplugged, magically powered TV.
Magnus scolding his cat for asking Alec for pets.
Magnus’s beautiful golden-green slit-pupiled eyes cutting over to him suspiciously.
Magnus going to bed, and the sound of the wardrobe being moved in front of the door, shutting Alec decisively out.
Magnus whimpering in the dead of the night.
Magnus and Alec falling into routines, coexisting, Alec watching from the corners of his eyes as Magnus went about his everyday life. Magnus cooking, Magnus humming, Magnus cursing out his potions, Magnus’s glitter make-up all over the bathroom, Magnus Magnus Magnus—
Magnus standing in the middle of the street, his hands shaking as he held them up.
Magnus slowly stepping forward despite the song of the angels.
Magnus, with tear tracks streaking down his cheeks, his face so, so pale and his eyes so wide, reaching out to touch a hand to Alec’s side…
Alec almost wants to laugh thinking about it. Laugh or maybe cry, he’s not sure at this point.
He was convinced, at first, when Magnus began to advance, that the warlock was after the golden blood bleeding out of his side. That he would take advantage of Alec, take advantage of the fact that he was hurt. He didn’t want to think that, didn’t want to think that his soulmate would do such a thing, but—
—“Now, while it’s distracted by the demon!”—
—the fact is that he’d only been living and working with Magnus for three weeks. Weeks that had felt like decades, true, but still only three weeks. Just twenty-one days. Five hundred hours. How long is that to an immortal? That’s the blink of an eye. And Magnus could very well have decided, in that split second, to forcefully take Alec’s golden blood from him.
But he didn’t. He’d healed Alec. He’d thrown away the vast fortunes that even a drop of that blood could have gotten him, and he’d healed Alec. He’d saved him.
…Alec can’t remember the last time someone who wasn’t his parabatai or his sister cared to do that, and even then not since he was fifteen. He’s usually the one saving their impulsive asses, not the other way around. He saves his siblings, he saves downworlders, he saves mundanes, but no one… no one saves him. He takes care of himself.
Having the favor returned is baffling, to say the least.
He’s still thinking about it when they return to Magnus’s loft. Magnus immediately snaps his fingers, potions ingredients floating up around him. “Sit,” he says, pointing to the couch, eyes on his work.
Alec sits, and watches as Magnus works, adding this and stirring that until he’s holding a small vial of dusty green gunk.
“Here,” he says, floating it over. “Drink this.”
Alec slowly takes the vial, sniffing at it. “What is it?” he asks.
“A tonic to replenish the blood you’ve lost,” Magnus says. He’s not looking at Alec, instead standing in the doorway between the hall and the living room with his arms crossed over his chest.
“I could just use an iratze,” Alec says, amused.
Magnus’s arms tighten, almost as if he’s hugging himself. “You were hurt protecting me today,” he says, something unreadable in his voice. Guilt? Anger? Alec isn’t sure. “Just… drink.”
Alec looks away from Magnus’s nice shirt, the spattering of little flecks of his own golden blood lining the sleeves, and raises the tonic to his lips.
It has a rather minty taste. Pleasant.
“Thank you,” Magnus says, some of the tension slipping from him. Then he just… stands in the doorway, avoiding Alec’s gaze.
“…Is there something else?” Alec asks.
Magnus opens his mouth again, closes it, opens it once more, closes it, and then abruptly shakes his head. “I’m going to bed,” he says, whatever was on the tip of his tongue disappearing just like that. He waves a hand distantly, as if to wave away whatever it was he wanted to say. Then he scoops up Chairman Meow and heads off down the hall.
Alec blinks after him, his thoughts swirling. He just… he doesn’t understand. Is this what a soulbond is supposed to be like? Are all soulmates like this? So unpredictable, so… confusing?
Alec doesn’t know that, either. All he knows is that he’s spent nearly twenty-four hours a day with Magnus for three weeks straight, in a flamboyantly decorated loft that is starting to become more familiar than his own spartan room at the Institute, and he feels more lost than he ever has before.
The whimpers come at four AM, starting low and growing louder in the dark of the night.
Alec, sitting in the guest bedroom with the small bedside light on and a book about the history of crossbows in his lap, bites his lip and closes his eyes. Right on time, he thinks bitterly.
It happens every night, the one and only thing he hates about living with Magnus. He’s not sure what causes the nightmares, just that Magnus can’t seem to escape them. It broke Alec’s heart the first time he heard Magnus crying out, after he realized that it wasn’t an attack of some sort. Alec is an older brother—big brother instincts don’t turn off. It hurts, knowing that Magnus, his soulmate, is in pain. It hurts more to know that the dreams that terrorize him might just be about Alec himself. Alec wants desperately to go in, to comfort him, to remind him that whatever he’s dreaming about isn’t real, isn’t reality—but he remembers the sound of the wardrobe sliding in front of the door, Magnus neither expecting nor accepting comfort. Alec could get in pretty easily if he were to try, but he’s not going to betray Magnus’s trust like that. So he sits, alone on the other side of the door, and he listens in the hopes that tonight the nightmares will peter off and leave Magnus in peace.
He’s forcing his way through a section in his book about non-lethal crossbow rounds when his phone vibrates on the table beside him. He picks it up—G.L., the caller ID reads. A smile spreads across his face, and he picks up the call on the second ring.
“Hey, kid,” says the soft, deep voice on the other end of the line.
Alec grins. “Hey, Uncle G. Haven’t heard from you in a while. London keeping you busy?”
Gideon laughs, a smooth, rumbling sound that reminds Alec of family reunions in Idris. His parents used to schedule them while they had work in Alicante, so that Alec, Izzy, Jace, and Max could see their extended family. It wasn’t all fun and games—the adults had some sort of falling out when Alec was a baby and they were just beginning to talk to each other again when Alec turned seven—but it was nice getting to meet and visit with his grandpa Gabriel and Gabriel’s brother, Gideon, as well as everyone else.
It’s Gideon who’s called now, Alec’s favorite uncle and the one he inherited his middle name from. He’s always gone out of his way to keep in contact with Alec and his siblings, which Alec really appreciates. Most of the older generations are too busy for the younglings—something about the passage of time being different when an immortal reaches their second or third natural lifespan. Gideon, however, isn’t like that. He doesn’t make excuses. He makes time.
“London isn’t keeping me busy,” he’s saying now. “Your Uncle Will is. He and your grandfather Gabriel are having another of their tiffs. You know how it is.”
“Yeah. They seem to enjoy them, though.”
Gideon laughs again. “That they do. Now tell me how you and your siblings are doing.”
Alec does, talking a little about his current mission, bodyguard duty for the High Warlock of Brooklyn. About how Max is nearly ready for his first rune ceremony. The story of Izzy’s latest fiascos in the kitchen. Jace’s infatuation with the Fairchild girl.
There he pauses, half an ear still tuned to the sounds coming from Magnus’s room down the hall, unsure if he should go on.
“…Something’s on your mind,” Gideon says, ever patient.
“Uh, yeah. A lot of things are,” Alec admits. He dithers a moment, trying to think of something safe to mention. What he comes up with is, “What was it like when you first met Sophie?”
Gideon hums. “You mean because she was my soulmate and a mundane?”
Ah. “I mean—not like that, necessarily—”
“No, no. It’s important to talk about. You kids must be getting souldreams by now. What exactly is it you want to know?”
Alec takes a deep breath. “I just… was she… scared of you? When you first met?”
“My Sophie is the most courageous person I know,” Gideon says, his even voice going softer as he speaks. “But yes, she was scared. Not because of my second face, though. She was never scared of my second face—it was the beautiful, human one that unsettled her. And she was afraid of being bound to someone—bound and being unable to have the freedom to do as she so desperately desired, to ascend.”
Alec hums, curling up around his book. He knows the story of Gideon and Sophie well—he used to hang onto Will’s sleeves as Will animatedly told all the stories about the old days, about how Alec’s grandfather, Benedict, turned himself into a giant worm, and how they found Church the cat in the Black Sister’s lair, and how Tessa and Brother Zachariah became betrothed back when Brother Zachariah was a normal Nephilim named Jem. He used to feel like he was there in London in 1878 when Will talked.
Gideon and Sophie, though. A pair of soulmates that surpassed impossible odds to come together. A mundane, even one with the Sight, almost never has a happy ending with a Nephilim. Too many of those stories end with the Nephilim being deruned, cast out from the shadow world, and going feral from demon hunger. But not them. Sophie ascended and had a successful first rune ceremony and Unmasking at the age of twenty-two, and she and Gideon were married that same year, and they’ve lived happily together in London ever since. They overcame every hurdle thrown at them. They became one of the greatest love stories that Alec knows.
As he sits and listens to Gideon talk, as the whines and whimpers of his soulmate sound from a place out of reach, as the night wears on and on and on… Alec begins to think that someday he can have a happy ending, too.
The morning comes, and Alec meets Izzy at the door around ten, dressed in bare feet and jeans. Magnus is still in bed—the nightmares stopped around seven, and he’s been softly snoring since. Izzy greets Alec with a bagel and another book, swinging her high ponytail around as she spins on her heels.
“I have places to be, people to see!” she sings, when Alec asks what the rush is.
He rolls his eyes. Sisters.
Inside, he eats his bagel in silence, petting Chairman Meow behind the ears as he does. He likes the chairman—he misses Church, but any cat is a good cat. After feeding the little tabby some wet food from the fridge, he then sets about doing some stretches and bodyweight exercises. He closes the door of the guest bedroom and opens his second jaws, spreading his wings wide to keep them loose and limber.
Around one PM, he hears a groan from Magnus’s direction. He heads for the kitchen, setting the coffee maker going. Then he pokes his head into the fridge, looking for some eggs or something to make Magnus breakfast.
He’s just setting the plate on the table when Magnus shuffles in, wrapped in a flamboyant purple robe.
He stops in the doorway, blinking. “What is this?” he asks.
“Food,” Alec says simply, gesturing him down into a chair.
“You… cooked for me?” Magnus asks.
Alec nods. He stands back, ready to retreat into the guest bedroom. “It was the least I could do, after what you did for me.”
Magnus gapes for a moment, processing. Then he says, “…I’ve hardly done anything. I’ve been a pretty bad host, actually. God, I haven’t even asked you if you have any special dietary requirements. Do you have any special dietary requirements? Do you… do you even eat? Like, I know you eat demons, but do you need real food, too? Is that insensitive to ask? No, no—don’t answer that. That was definitely insensitive to ask—”
Alec laughs aloud as Magnus rambles on, running his hands down his face and scattering the remains of last night’s glitter as he goes. “I do eat,” he says, interrupting when it appears that Magnus isn’t going to stop. “I have human organs as well as angelic ones, so my diet is a balance of demon flesh and human food. Mostly meat, because we digest that easier than plant matter, but anything is fine.”
Magnus peers out through his fingers. “I haven’t seen you eat anything in three weeks, are you… have you been eating properly? Since you got here?”
“I eat in the mornings while you’re still sleeping. My siblings have been bringing me food.” Alec sets a fork out, to encourage Magnus to start on his own food.
Magnus does not. He instead lets out another groan. “I have failed you as a host. Why haven’t you complained about my atrocious manners?”
Alec laughs again. “I’ve seen worse.”
“That doesn’t make me feel better. Look, let me—let me take you out tonight. My treat.”
“Like a… date?” Alec asks, trying to squash his hopes before they can get away from him.
“No, no—as a peace offering. A truce,” Magnus says, raising a hand and waving it in the air.
Alec feels a smile pricking at his lips. He folds his hands into his pockets, leaning back against the fridge. “You want to make a truce with a monster?” he asks.
Magnus, to his credit, doesn’t back down. “I want to make a truce with you,” he says. “So what do you say?”
A truce… that may not be a date, but it’s a start. Definitely a start.
Chapter 7: A Monster's Maw
Magnus gets an anatomy lesson, and Alec is a nerd.
Sticky skin, slick with sweat.
Gasping breaths, harsh in and out.
Cries, high and pained, like nothing Magnus has ever heard.
Shivering, shaking, quaking—muscles flexing and unflexing almost convulsively.
“Try again,” Magnus urges. “Just one more try, Will, you can do it.”
“I can’t,” the Nephilim moans, shuddering against the infirmary bed. He’d long ago pushed away the sheets and the pillow, leaving his chest bare as he clutches at his stomach with both arms. His sweat-soaked flannel drawers are the only thing keeping him decent.
“I can’t,” Will says, his voice pitching.
“Will,” Magnus says, sharper now. “There is only so much I can do for you until the Silent Brothers arrive. I’m not a surgeon—I can’t cut them out of you. You need to try again.”
“I need to do no such thing,” Will gasps, his dark blue eyes flashing. His voice drips with a vitriol born of pain as he grits out, “As a matter of fact, if you’re not going to help then I demand that you leave me to my misery. Both of you.”
“I refuse to leave and even you cannot make me,” Jem says, voice low but steady. “Magnus says try again, so try again.”
Jem silences him with a finger. Then he leans in, closer and closer until his forehead is resting against Will’s, his eyes closed. He allows Will to clutch at his hands.
“William,” he says, his voice barely audible. Magnus hastily busies himself with his potions, pretending not to listen. “I know it’s hard. So hard. It might even seem like the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but I know you. You are steadfast and stubborn, William Herondale. This will not be the end of you. So take a deep breath, find your courage, and try again.”
Will breaks into a sob, hiccuping harshly. “You’re a bastard,” he says, but he allows Jem to slide a hand between his sweat-slicked arm and his heaving chest, levering him up into a sitting position.
“Here,” Magnus says, resting the basin between Will’s knees. Will trembles, hanging over it.
“On three,” Jem says. “One, two—”
Magnus closes his eyes on three. He hears the sick squelch of Will opening his second face, and the song of the angels buzzes low on the air as Will reaches a hand back into his throat, forcing himself to retch and retch and retch.
…Still, the parts of the metal automaton stuck fast inside of him do not come up.
The first thing Magnus does when they’re seated at the mundane restaurant, both of them glamoured to look like normal mundanes, is order a glass of wine to help with his shaking hands.
Alec, thankfully, doesn’t comment. He’s busy perusing the steak section of the menu, his black leather jacket slung on the back of his chair and his head tilted to one side. He’s wearing a pale blue button down shirt and neatly-fitted black jeans—a welcome difference from the black gear he tends to wear when they go out on jobs. He looks presentable. He looks… nice.
It’s a trap, Magnus’s traitor-brain whispers. You know that the Nephilim’s beauty exists to lure in prey. They are an apex predator—do not forget.
Magnus swallows, flinching as the waiter sets the wine down on the table. Alec raises an eyebrow at that, but Magnus is too busy feeling his way down the table for his wineglass to respond.
“Can I take your orders?” the waiter asks.
“Steak,” Magnus blurts immediately, cutting Alec off. He nearly bites his tongue off as Alec looks over, gesturing for him to continue. “I mean… he’s having steak, and I’ll have what he’s having.”
Nailed it. If by ‘nailed it’ he means nailed a dunce sign to his own forehead, anyway. Good god. He should have picked a less elegant restaurant. He’d have a hard time embarrassing himself like this in the McDonald’s drive-through.
Alec takes it in stride. “I’ll have the sirloin, medium rare. Is… are you sure that’s what you want, as well?”
Magnus nods, trying to play off his misery as nonchalance. People, Catarina and Raphael especially, often ask him why he drinks so enthusiastically—this, right here? This is the exact reason why. God, he wishes he was smashed right now. It was one thing to face the song of the angels to heal the monster that saved his life. But to take said monster out to dinner? To subject them both to this disaster of an evening? He really—really—shouldn’t have bothered. Like yes, it had seemed like the least he could do at the time, but good god did he not think this through.
“Is something wrong?”
Aaand said monster has noticed, great going Magnus.
Magnus sucks in a deep breath, waving a hand through the air as he searches for something to say. “Just—just—wondering how one chews a steak with seven jaws?”
God, of all the things that could have come tumbling out of his mouth. He winces back, waiting for said jaws to come out and take a bite out of him to demonstrate.
They don’t. Instead, Alec is… laughing.
Magnus has never seen such carefree mirth on Alec’s face before. It’s… nice.
Stay fast, don ’t let him fool you.
…God, where is that thing’s off switch?
“Is that what the people in downworld say about us?” Alec asks after a moment, blue eyes crinkling slightly. “That we only eat with our true faces?”
“Well… no. They say a lot worse than that, generally,” Magnus admits.
Alec shakes his head, still smiling. “We can eat with our human mouths. We want the food to go to the right stomach, after all.”
“I’ll spare you the anatomy lesson. I’m not sure you want to hear about this at dinner, anyway,” Alec says.
“No, no,” Magnus says, leaning forward, eager to get Alec talking. “By all means, tell me about your stomachs. I had no idea that your anatomy was so… complex.”
Alec quirks an eyebrow. “The fact that we have two faces didn’t give it away?”
Magnus flounders for a moment. To be completely honest, he never thought about it like that. He’s never seen a Nephilim eat—never particularly wanted to, really. Besides, aside from Will and Jem he’s never made it a habit to have deep conversations with the Nephilim. His knowledge of the monstrophagi comes from sparse first-hand experiences with the Clave, experiences that have left a few, uh, rather large gaps. He’s not sure he should admit exactly how many of those gaps have been filled by vast, vast amounts of unflattering downworld gossip.
“I… can see that I may have been operating on a misconception or two,” he says finally. “But we have all evening—do enlighten me.”
Alec shakes his head, but he begins to speak all the same. About the Nephilim’s upper and lower esophaguses, one of which passes from the human mouth to the primary human stomach, which operates similar to a regular human’s stomach. This stomach then passes once-processed food down to a secondary mammalian stomach, which takes care of all the bits that the primary stomach can’t handle—dense fibers and bones and the like. It’s here that almost everything a Nephilim eats with their human mouth is broken down and transfered elsewhere in the body, leaving behind only metals and other heavy elements to travel down the intestines.
The other esophagus passes from the true mouth to a stomach jokingly called a flask, or spirit holder. It’s a black organ with an inch-thick lining meant to handle the rapid decay of dead demon flesh into its base energy. Once the decay is complete, the energy is metabolized and siphoned off to the various pressure points in the Nephilim’s body, where it does whatever it is that it does to keep a Nephilim healthy. Anything that goes into the flask that the Nephilim’s body can’t handle—be it something not meant to be in the flask or just too much demon energy—will be sweat out through their pores.
…It’s a rather efficient system, Magnus has to admit.
“Yeah, I can’t complain,” Alec says. “Though I’ve heard some pretty nasty stories about Nephilim eating things they shouldn’t. Automatons and such. It happened a lot more back in the eighteen-hundreds.”
“Mortmain and his infernal devices, yes,” Magnus agrees with a shudder.
Alec tilts his head, a bite of steak pausing halfway to his mouth. “…You were alive then. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be insensitive.”
Magnus shakes his head. “You’re not insensitive. Tell me more about the diet of a monstrophagus.”
Alec hums. Where previously his eyes were bright and expressive, his body language open as he spoke, he now closes off like there are shutters inside his mind that have been suddenly slammed shut. “I… the Clave doesn’t really approve of us speaking in specifics. I’ve probably said too much already,” he says. There’s a note of frustration in his voice, as if he’d like nothing more than to spout off a hundred more anatomical facts.
Magnus waves him off, though he’s sorry to see the disappearance of the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Alec that had been so excited to just talk about anatomy. “Keep your secrets, in that case,” he says. Then, offering the bottle, “Wine?”
“Are you asking me if I can get drunk?” Alec asks, raising a brow.
Magnus laughs. “Darling, I’m asking if you want wine.”
“I’m technically underage, you know,” Alec says, but he’s reaching for the glass Magnus has poured as Magnus slides it over. He takes a sip, considering it.
“You like it?” Magnus asks.
“…It tastes exactly the same as the crap my mother keeps in the cellar,” Alec admits, the smile creeping back into his features, softening them again.
“Crap?” Magnus demands, trying to decide if he’s offended or not. The vintage Alec just casually called ‘crap’ says yes—the twinkle returning to Alec’s eye says no.
Caught in between, Magnus can’t help it when a laugh startles its way out of his chest.
The argument about wine lasts them a good half hour, after which Magnus almost can’t remember why he was ever nervous in the first place. Talking with Alec is… easy. Alec makes it easy. He’s quick, and he’s witty in a dry, understated sort of way, and no matter what Magnus dredges up to catch him off-guard he always has a response ready.
They get desert, matching slices of a rich, creamy chocolate cake, after debating back and forth the various pros and cons of all the different options. Magnus pays—he knows the kind of salaries that the Clave gives its workers, thank you very much—and then they walk home side by side, Magnus subtly searching for another topic that will get Alec going with that look, that carefree, excited look that makes him come alive. Magnus will never admit it out loud, but he kind of loved seeing Alec, literal monster and the most terrifying creature he’s ever met in his life—barring, perhaps, his own father—getting excited about anatomy.
He finds, after a bit of prodding, that Alec is a veritable goldmine of information. He knows an incredible number of facts about mythology, about weapons, about Clave history and politics and, oddly enough, motorcycles. He knows less about downworlders, though still enough to keep Magnus on his toes. Mundane culture, though…
“You’re a walking google database when it comes to Clave law and all its loopholes, but you don’t know what The Matrix is?” Magnus asks.
“What’s a google?” Alec asks.
Magnus throws up his hands. “Oh my god! I know people who were born in the middle ages who know what google is! This is a travesty! You are a travesty!”
Alec laughs. “My sister thinks so, too.”
“Hmph. Your sister, at least, sounds like she knows what’s up.”
And Alec… whoo. Alec lights up. Magnus thought he was excited before, but it is NOTHING compared to his face when he talks about his siblings. The pride, the eagerness, the good-natured way he rolls his eyes when he explains that his sister cannot cook to save her life… god. Magnus is riding on a second-hand wave of love all the way to the loft. He holds onto it all the way through them saying their goodnights, through promising to stock up the kitchen with some food Alec likes so he doesn’t have to make his siblings come all the way over to feed him, through promising that they’ll watch Buffy while Magnus works on his potions tomorrow and brushing his teeth and snapping the make-up off his face.
It isn’t until Magnus is collapsing face-first into bed that he realizes he didn’t even think about flipping the lock on his door. He smiles, and snaps his fingers to turn off the light.
Bzzzzzt! Bzzzzzt! Bzzzzzt! Bzzzzzt —
“Good god, what do you want?” Magnus groans, fumbling for his tablet.
Will laughs, entirely too awake for—uh—what time is it?
Eleven. That’s… not that early, actually. Still, it’s the principle of the thing.
“Just wanted to check and see how your love life is going,” Will says, ignoring him. “Last time we talked you were having some kind of crisis.”
“Right,” Magnus sighs. He drags his hand down his face. “Well. I reached out to the New York Institute and long story short I may or may not have just taken my Clave-appointed bodyguard out to dinner.”
“Did you get a first-date kiss at the end of the night? Was it as good as kissing me?” Will asks, grinning much too wide.
“Kissing you was a mistake,” Magnus says. “Besides, it wasn’t a date. It was a dinner of cooperation. We have reached mutual appreciation for each other’s actions.”
“You can’t be serious. Cooperation? Mutual appreciation? Who are you, Ragnor?”
“Well, what else would it be?”
“He could be your soulmate! You should be excited about this! Why don’t you sound excited?”
“Because he hasn’t mentioned it yet!” Magnus snaps. “He’s never made any indication whatsoever that I’m his soulmate! What if I’m reading into things? What if I’m wrong?!”
Will is quiet for a second. “Magnus… what if you’re not?”
Magnus groans, throwing his arm over his eyes.
“I’m serious. You clearly like this guy. Enough to buy him dinner, even. What if he’s just trying to give you space to figure yourself out? What if he’s waiting for you to make the first move?”
Magnus bites his lip. It’s… not an outlandish idea. Alec, he’s finding, is a conscientious person. He takes care of people—his siblings, the inhabitants of the Institute, and, now, Magnus. Heck, he cooked Magnus breakfast yesterday with absolutely no prompting. He wouldn’t push, not if he thought it would make Magnus uncomfortable.
So maybe… god, maybe he is Magnus’s soulmate. Maybe this is fate telling them they’ll work together. Magnus hasn’t been having as many souldreams since Alec arrived, either—it all adds up.
Alec is his soulmate. He must be.
“You’re right,” Magnus says slowly, lowering his arm. He stares out at the sunlight shining outside the window, feeling the warmth growing inside of him. “You are absolutely, wonderfully right, my dear William.”
“Of course I am. Thank you for appreciating my genius.”
“Yes, yes, your genius is very much appreciated, now if you’ll excuse me I very much need to go—”
“Good. Sweep your man off his feet,” Will says, grinning. “Get the hot, Nephilim action that you deser—”
Magnus shuts off the tablet, cutting him off mid-sentence. He shakes his head, sitting all the way up in bed. It’s morning, he’s up earlier than he usually ever is, and he’s feeling—dare he say it—happy. He’s going to ask out his soulmate today.
First things first, he needs to be presentable. With a flourish, he jumps from his bed, wrapping his robe around his shoulders. What should he go for, a dark and mysterious look or a vibrant, lively one? Maybe a mix of the two? Dark pants and a bright shirt, maybe?
He floats some options over, looking at them critically before shaking his head. Too bright, wrong color, unflattering cut… god, why does he even own that one? With a snap of his fingers he incinerates it, watching it go up in flames with a sense of satisfaction.
Less satisfactory is the state of his wardrobe. He’s trying to woo a man, not scare him off. The outfit needs to match the occasion. It needs to be perfect.
He flips through the rest of his closet, critically examining each article of clothing before abandoning them on the bed. Eventually he narrows things down to three pairs of dark pants and two button-up shirts. He’s just deciding between the brocaded turquoise short-sleeve and a high-collared cream three-quarter sleeve when a ping on his wards makes his head snap up.
There’s someone here. Someone who isn’t Alec.
Lowering the clothes to his vanity, Magnus snaps his fingers to clean up the rest of the mess. His wards are calm, a gentle warning that they’re about to have company instead of a blaring alarm saying that they’re under attack. Magnus hears Alec get the door, and realizes it must be one of his siblings.
He’s about to go back to dealing with clothing when he hears Alec return to his room, and then the distinct sound of a zipper.
He exits his bedroom on high alert, peeking first into the living room. He was right, it’s Alec’s sister, Isabelle, with Clary Fairchild standing next to her as they peruse some of Magnus’s bookshelves. Without saying hello, Magnus turns to stick his head into the guest bedroom.
He finds Alec with his duffel bag on the bed, packing away his things with a sour expression on his face.
Oh. Oh, no. A thousand thoughts run through Magnus’s mind in the space of half a second. That Alec has gotten bored of Magnus, that their dinner actually went awful and Alec never wants to see Magnus again, that the Clave has ordered Alec to sever the soulbond, that there isn’t a soulbond, that Alec is being sent to the Institute in Tasmania, that the Clave has decided to let Asmodeus have his way with Magnus, that—
Calm down, Magnus tells himself, giving himself a good shake. Alec would have woken him if it were serious. Right? Right? All Magnus has to do is play it cool.
…Play it cool, Magnus.
Apparently, Magnus’s brain interprets that command as ‘drape yourself across the door frame and fail to act casual’. “You’re leaving,” he says. “Was it something I said?”
Alec looks up, the sour look clearing a little. His eyes flick up and down Magnus’s front and Magnus realizes that his chest is bare under his robe. “No. God, no. Apparently my sister thinks I’m working too much and I need a break. She’s going to take over as your bodyguard for a while.”
“Isabelle is?” Magnus asks, his shoulders relaxing. That’s… not ideal, but Magnus can work with that.
“Yeah. Don’t worry, you two will get along fine. She’s into fashion and parties and mundane movies, so you’ll have plenty to talk about.” He frowns. “Actually, that might be why she’s making us switch. She probably wants to bother you about make-up or something.”
Magnus licks his lips. He really, really wants to ask Alec out. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like the right time. He’s not ready, doesn’t have a nice outfit on or his make-up or anything, and Alec is… leaving.
Why, universe. Why must you be like this.
“I’m sorry,” Alec says, as he shoves clothes and books into his duffel bag. “We’ll watch your vampire show another time, if you still want to.”
Magnus waves him away. “Later, later. In the meantime, convince your brother to show you some mundane movies.”
“I will,” Alec promises. He zippers up the duffel and slings it over his shoulder, turning to Magnus for a moment with his bright, intense blue eyes. For a split instant Magnus thinks he wants to say something, but then the moment passes and he’s walking from the room and down the hall to his sister.
“Get out already,” Izzy says when he lingers at the doorway.
Alec rolls his eyes. “I’ll text you?” he says to Magnus over his shoulder as Izzy starts to push him out the door, Clary following on his heels.
“Yeah,” Magnus says. “Yeah, please.”
He barely gets the words out before Izzy is slamming the door shut between them.
She then turns on Magnus, a grin spreading wide across her face. “Finally! It’s time to get this party started,” she says.
Magnus swallows. What has he gotten himself into?
I've been meaning to say that you can find me at the-ghost-of-william-herondale.tumblr.com if you want to talk!
Chapter 8: Under the Surface
Alec has an ordinary day.
It's after midnight so technically it's tomorrow and it's time to hecking post :D
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It’s a cold winter’s night, and the chill seeps into Alec’s spine like needles despite the fire raging in the fireplace. The weather outside is vicious, hail lashing against the windows in the dark of night as if it wants to tear the Institute stone from stone, as if it’s mere seconds away from doing just that. One particularly strong wind, one unusually large hailstone and the whole fortress will come down like a house of cards.
Alec shivers, wrapping his arms around his knees. He’s sitting between Jace and Izzy, across the way from Hodge, who is staring down at them with a stern frown on his face. The firelight casts odd, angular shapes across his cheeks, orange light and purple shadow swallowing each other up. His eyes gleam.
“One story,” he says to the three of them, holding up a finger to punctuate. “Just one. It’s late and your parents will have my head if I tell you stories all night instead of working on runes.”
“Sirens!” Izzy says immediately, banging her fist on the floor.
Hodge sighs. “Wouldn’t you like something less macabre and a little more—”
“Nope! Si-rens… si-rens… si-rens…”
Jace grins, chiming in on the chant as Izzy raises her voice. Hodge casts a look at Alec as if daring him to start up, too.
Alec just shrugs. Hodge isn’t going to get any help from him. He’s cool with sirens. He’s eight, after all—he doesn’t scare easy anymore.
Hodge sighs, rubbing his eyes. “Fine,” he says, cutting them off. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Izzy squeals in excitement, clutching Alec’s arm and nuzzling up against his shoulder, her eyes wide as she waits for the story to start.
It does, after a moment of Hodge staring into the fire. “Everyone knows that the first shadowhunter was Jonathan, who summoned the angel Raziel to ask for the power to destroy demons. He was the first of his kind, the first human to drink of the Mortal Cup as it flowed with the blood of angels and men. But while Jonathan may have been the first shadowhunter… he was not the first Nephilim.”
Izzy leans in, hanging onto every word and dragging Alec with her. “Who was the first Nephilim?” she breathes, unable to help herself.
Hodge does not smile. Instead, he draws toward him a book from the shelf, opening it up to an anatomical chart.
It’s not one that Alec has seen before. In fact, it looks… very different from the charts he’s seen of his own internal organs. For one, she has no runes. Her skin is dark, bare. And her second mouth, which should only open down to the mastoid process—a part of the skull that he’s recently learned from pouring over one of the big medical texts—instead extends down her throat and torso, long rows of teeth running down each enormous jaw. Her mouth opens to the bottom of her rib cage, a beautiful, deadly trap.
“This,” Hodge says, “is a drawing of Lashia, the very first Nephilim. She was born when an angel lay with man the way a woman lays with man, and she was not the only one. God, horrified and disgusted, cast the angels who dared corrupt his creations in such a way out of heaven and into Edom, where they became the Nine Princes of Hell. Then he raised his hand to destroy Lashia, calling her an abomination.”
Izzy gasps sharply, shaking Alec. “No!” she says.
“He didn’t kill her, don’t worry,” Hodge responds quickly. Alec pats Izzy’s shoulder soothingly. “She pleaded with Him, saying that she’d done no wrong except to exist. She asked that He spare her and her brethren. God, whose great wrath is only comparable to his great compassion, agreed, on one condition: that they walk into the ocean and never, ever come back out.”
Hodge flips the page, and Alec leans forward with his siblings to see in the light of the fireplace. The picture is dark, the shadow of a reaching figure sinking into the depths of the water. Alec can’t help the shiver that runs up his back.
“The water was cold and unforgiving,” Hodge whispers, “and the pressure immense. The Nephilim had to come up for air, but their bodies and bones were so dense that it was a struggle to rise to the surface time after time. Some drowned. Some froze. Some starved. But Lashia… she was tenacious. She fought, and she fought, and after years of fighting against the pull of the ocean depths she was rewarded as her lungs began to slowly hold air for longer and longer, and her body became fat to protect against the cold, and her eyes adjusted to the deep black of the ocean floor.”
Another page, another picture. This one was of God, shining a light down to illuminate Lashia—large, and otherworldly, her jaws wide as she snapped up a terrified dolphin.
“She survived,” Hodge says, his voice low. “And she found others who also survived. And together, they began to thrive. Or they would have… if not for one thing.”
“Demons,” Izzy whispers, her eyes huge in her face. Jace snickers, but even as he does he’s eagerly turning the page before Hodge can do it.
“Demons,” Hodge agrees, a sharp smile curling up the corner of his mouth as Izzy gasps at the picture of a great aquatic demon. “To survive, a Nephilim must eat demons. Without them, we lose the very fabric of our minds. In the deep, deep depths of the ocean, Lashia and the Nephilim had very few sources of demon meat, until…”
Another page, another picture, and Alec huddles closer to his siblings to see. His eyes trace the contours of Lashia’s body, assessing the supposedly alluring curve of her back, the tilt of her head. She’s resting with her chest up on an outcropping of rock near the sea shore, her long legs hidden under the water as she sings under the moonlight. A figure with skin as red as blood leans drunkenly toward her.
“Thus, the first Nephilim became the first Siren, singing the song of the angels to lure demons and those born of demons down into the inky depths.”
“Wow…” Izzy says. She runs a finger down Lashia’s long, dripping hair. “Do you think she’s still out there somewhere?”
Hodge shakes his head. He stares at the picture, his eyes distant, before snapping the book closed all at once. “With shadowhunters taking care of most of the demons on land, the numbers of sirens have dwindled to almost nothing. It’s very unlikely that she’s still alive.”
“What if she is, tho?” Izzy demands. “What if—”
But Hodge won’t hear it. “It’s time to get back to rune studies, little ones.”
“Awwwwww,” Jace and Izzy whine in unison.
Alec, however… Alec stays silent as he pulls out his books. He chews the end of his pencil, lost in thought. He knows Nephilim don’t die of natural causes. They don’t stop growing, either, not really. He’s seen Nephilim who stand nine, ten, eleven feet tall. If Lashia, the first of all Nephilim, were still alive… with a lifespan of tens of thousands of years behind her… his teeth sink into his pencil.
In his mind’s eye, he imagines a shadow in the ocean in the shape of a woman, her laughing mouth opening wide to swallow a ship in one, smooth bite.
“You seem grumpier than normal. What’s up with you?”
Alec grunts, not looking at Clary. He doesn’t want to admit exactly how much he was looking forward to spending the day with Magnus instead of reading in the guest room. It makes him feel like he has a hollow in his chest, not knowing when he’ll see Magnus again.
“Okay. I’ll just talk to myself, then.”
Alec sighs, rubbing his forehead. Jace has been ‘encouraging’ him to get along better with Clary—Alec is of the opinion that you can’t force friendship, but Jace is his brother, his parabatai—he’d do anything for him.
Yes, even deal with the most annoying person on the planet.
“What did you want to talk about?” he asks.
Clary kicks a rock, her hands in her pockets. “Are you babysitting me today?” she asks.
“I guess so,” he says. “Are you going to ask me a bunch of annoying questions?”
She holds her hands up. “I was actually hoping to harangue Magnus about some of my memories that I don’t get, but Izzy wants some alone time with him, so.”
Alec grunts again, pulling out his phone and navigating to his text convo with Izzy. You’d better not slack off, he warns, pulling his duffel bag up higher on his shoulder as he taps at the screen.
Izzy’s response is immediate. Chill, bro, Magnus isn’t going to die on my watch. Jeez, you spend a month with the guy and suddenly you’re his keeper? What is with you?
Alec doesn’t deign to respond. Sisters—so nosy. Instead he focuses back on Clary, who is talking about her mundane friend. Alec responds in not-quite-words, all the way until they walk through the front doors of the Institute. There he shores up his resolve, sends a quick text to Magnus before he can talk himself out of it, and stops her rambling, holding up a hand.
“If I’m stuck with you, then we’re working on forms,” he says, walking toward the training room.
She rolls her eyes, but follows along anyway. “Don’t know why you’re so obsessed with them, but okay.”
“Do you want to keep getting bowled over by demons when you’re out hunting? Or do you want to learn how to plant your feet and stand your ground?”
“…Stand my ground,” she says, sounding like a petulant child.
“Exactly. Know how you do that?” He doesn’t wait for her answer. “Forms.”
They reach the training room, and Clary hops up onto a beam to watch while Alec talks his way through the basic forms. Why she always prefers to watch first before she tries something he doesn’t know, but it’s not working today. She’s clearly got her mind somewhere else.
Alec sighs. “You want to get down here and maybe try them for yourself or—?”
“You know, I’ve been meaning to ask you something,” she says suddenly, interrupting.
Alec feels his annoyance rise. “What is it?” he asks, managing to keep his voice even.
“Uh… actually, let me show you,” she says, hopping down from the beam. She exits the room, walking down the hall toward the far stairs. “Here. This one. What is this supposed to be?”
Alec blinks. It’s a mural, one of the ones depicting the Clave’s history that are scattered about the Institute. It shows a Nephilim with their second face open, kneeling before a beautiful woman with webbed fingers who is reaching out of an expanse of blue water.
“Hasn’t Hodge told you the story about the sirens yet?” Alec asks.
Clary’s eyes widen. “Oh. I thought—I kind of figured it was, like, a fairy tale?”
“Why would you think that?”
She shrugs. “I can never tell when Hodge is being serious. He told me the other day that some of the fruits from Idris that he has in the greenhouse glow at night.”
“They do,” Alec says, deadpan.
“Are you for real?” she demands.
Alec nods, checking his phone. No response from Magnus yet. “Any other burning questions?” he asks.
Before she can answer, Hodge appears, making his way down the hall. “There you are,” he says. “Mission for you. You two can go together.”
“Where’s Jace?” Alec asks. It’s not that he doesn’t want to go on a mission alone with Clary, but that’s exactly what he doesn’t want.
“I sent him to meet with Gabriel about some ‘concerns’,” Hodge says, rolling his eyes. He’s not particularly fond of the current leader of the New York wolf pack—no one really is. “Now come along, I’ll brief you while you gear up.”
Alec sighs, pulling out his phone once more. His innocuous, how is it with Izzy? remains unanswered.
That’s fine. It gives Alec some time to tend to the rest of his life. Take a mission from Hodge, get some more focused training in… Yeah. This is fine.
The mission briefing is simple. There have been reports of amphibious demons on the banks of the Hudson, and they’re going to go get them. Alive. Always a production, but Alicante is looking for demons to feed the massive numbers of Nephilim who live in the glass city, and they have to provide.
“Take this,” Alec says, handing Clary a length of binding rope. “Remember—you’re not supposed to eat them. Only bite if you can’t contain.”
“Got it,” she says, shoving the rope through a belt loop. She then hums, watching as he traces a second agility rune on his stomach. “Can Jace feel it when you do that?”
“Faintly,” Alec says, focused. He finishes the rune, pulling his gear jacket into place and pulling out his phone instead. Still no messages. “There are some things that feel like they’re distant, kind of like a dream. Other things feel as if they’re happening to your own body. When the bond is heightened, during a fight for example, you can feel your parabatai’s body as if it’s your own.”
Unexpectedly, Clary flushes bright red.
“What?” Alec asks.
“Uh! Just a, you know, hypothetical question?”
Alec gestures for her to continue.
“Say, hypothetically, that one of you was—uh—getting intimate. What would—what would happen?”
Now it’s Alec’s turn to blush. He scrubs at his face hastily, turning away at the same time she does, both of them resolutely not looking at the other. “It’s… I would probably feel if he was… content? But the bond won’t tell me… anything… specific.”
“Oh. Right. That’s…”
She trails off, and Alec happily lets her. He would actually literally rather be fighting a demon right now. God. It’s time to go.
…His ears are still bright red as he leads her out to the street to catch a cab to the Hudson, a large fishing net thrown over his shoulder.
The fight is… wet. They catch the demons on land, at first, which is lucky, but one misstep and the whole group of them skitters back into the water like frightened crabs.
“Cut them off downstream!” Alec yells, his binding rope at the ready. Clary obliges, racing off down the other bank. She dives in, the song of the angels humming in the air, coming up to head them off.
Alec dives in on the other side, tackling the group of them and adding his own song to the mix. He’s just gotten hold of the first demon when Clary gives an undignified yelp and goes under.
“Fuck,” Alec curses. He struggles with the demon, waiting to see if she’ll come back up, but—she doesn’t. “Fuck!” he yells, letting go to go fish her out.
He finds her locked in battle with one of the demons, bitting haphazardly at it under the water. He helps, biting off one of its flailing limbs. She finishes it off, comes to the surface, and…
The rest of the nest is gone, too fast for the two of them to swim after. They’re heading out to sea—one by one they hop the net that Alec and Clary strung out further downstream, as if they haven’t a care in the world.
God. Damnit. They’re going to have to inform the ocean-folk. And they were just talking about the sirens, too—what a coincidence.
“We’re going to talk to them?” Clary asks, mouth agape, as Alec leads them down to the end of one of the docks in the bay.
“It’s their territory. How else are we going to inform them?” Alec asks back. Then he unclips a whistle from the ring on his belt, raising it his lips and blowing.
It takes a moment before anything happens. First a few bubbles, then a dark shape far below, and then, all at once, the siren comes into view, a great hulking one the size of a pickup truck. It breaks the surface of the water with hardly a ripple despite its mass, huge brown eyes staring at Alec for a moment before its mouth breaks into a sharp-toothed grin.
“Alexander Lightwood,” it says, voice sibilant.
Alec blinks. “…Oh. Cleo. You’ve… grown.”
The siren laughs like they’re old friends. In truth, Alec has only seen them once—he was sixteen and they were the size of a basketball, clinging to their mother’s spiny back.
Boy, do sirens grow fast. Grow fast, reproduce fast, die fast—that’s the siren life-cycle.
Alec shakes his head. He’s not here to chat. “The Clave has intel for you. Six amphibious demons escaped from the Hudson and into the harbor—they’re in your territory, so they’re your responsibility.”
Cleo rolls their eyes. “Yes, yes. And if we fail to dispose of them and they come back onto land, you’ll sentence one of us to seven-seven-seven cuts. Or is it fourteen-fourteen-fourteen? How many of you little things does it take to eat one of us?”
Alec cracks a smile. “I don’t plan to find out. Take care, Cleo. And say hello to your mother for me.”
The siren grins once more. Then, with a great splash that nearly knocks Clary off the dock, they dive back under the water.
When they get back to the Institute, dripping brackish water on the elevator floor, the first thing Alec does is check his phone. There might be something from Izzy, or Jace, or—
But there’s nothing. He clicks his teeth together.
“You’ve been doing that all day,” says Clary’s voice, much too close.
Alec doesn’t look over, instead tossing his phone onto the table so he can start peeling off his soaked shirt. Clary squeaks and hurriedly turns away.
And then, as casually as she might order pizza over the phone, she says, “Is it your soulmate?”
“What?” Alec says, not sure if he heard that right.
“Your soulmate. You’re texting him, right?”
Soulmate. Texting. Him.
Alec whirls on her, his wet pants nearly making him slip on the hard floor. “Who have you been talking to?” he demands. “Who told you that? Izzy? I swear to god, if Izzy said something—”
“No! She didn’t! I just—I kind of guessed—”
She. Guessed. Alec drags his hands down his face. She’s been hanging around for a little under a month and a half and she guessed. Took one damn look at him and just—read him like a book.
God, the indignity.
“Look, I’m sorry if you didn’t want me to find out, but—”
“It’s fine,” Alec huffs. He feels suddenly exposed, like he needs to put his back to a wall. Anxiety churns in his gut. It’s not a good feeling.
Clary is still staring at him, her eyes too bright, too observant. “…I won’t tell anyone,” she says carefully. “If you don’t want me to.”
“Yeah?” Alec barks, too sharp. He tears off his pants, not caring if she’s looking away or not. He needs to get out of here. He needs to—god, he needs to just—he needs to get out of here.
He pulls on another set of gear, dry, and stalks out of the room before Clary can say another word.
The training room. He takes the stairs three at a time, his mind whirling. It’s not just that Clary knows, though that was certainly a hit—it’s also the fact that Jace and Izzy are both out on missions without him, and that they didn’t manage to capture a single demon today, and that Magnus hasn’t texted back, and every other stupid thing that’s gone wrong in the past however long.
Alec barks a laugh. Why is he so worked up about Magnus? Of course he hasn’t texted back. Why would Alec think he would? Why would they keep seeing each other if they didn’t have to? Why would they go out to dinner, or watch dumb mundane shows, or share breakfast if there was no reason to? Magnus has Izzy now, and Izzy—she’s so much better company than moody, stoic Alec. Alec, the uptight one. Alec, the awkward one. Alec, the quiet one.
Alec, the stupid, stupid one.
The training room is just how they left it. Alec considers the punching bags along the wall, grinding his teeth. Then he breathes slowly out. He wants to train his woes into the ground, yes, but punching a damn sandbag is not going to make him feel better. His bow, on the other hand…
Alec walks over to the trunk pushed against the back wall, swinging it open. His bow is just where he left it, beautiful and strong like only something made by the Iron Sisters can be. Nephilim don’t need weapons, not these days—in ages past, when there were more demons than the Nephilim could eat, they used to have glowing blades that carried the essence of the angels they were named for. But with the immortal Nephilim population growing, and the numbers of demons dwindling, the need for such weapons has all but disappeared.
The bow and arrow, though… Alec has always been good with a bow and arrow, and something about the strength of drawing back seventy pounds of weight, looking down an arrow at a target, and letting the arrow fly straight and true calms him in a way that nothing else does.
Even so, it takes him a long, long while to find peace tonight.
*crams as many monsters into TMI as I can*
Chapter 9: Ashes to Ashes
CHECK OUT CHAPTER ONE FOR AN ILLUSTRATION!!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The heat is the first thing Magnus comes aware of as consciousness crawls back up his spine. The heat, and a bell-like ringing in his ears.
He sucks in a breath, chokes on it, and spends some time coughing it back out. When he’s done he sucks in another, slower and more carefully this time, and when it seems like his lungs won’t rebel again he slowly slits his eyes open.
Blacks and grays lit by flickering orange light greet him. Ash sifts down through charcoal dark tree limbs. The heat is thick and unavoidable, rolling past in great waves as it goes on its way, buoyed up by lurid swaths of black smoke.
Magnus blinks, shifting. The ringing in his ears grows louder as he attempts to move. He’s lying on his front with his cheek pressed into the ground—not the most comfortable he’s ever been.
…There’s a nagging voice in his head telling him that there’s something he needs to do. It’s time to get up, Magnus, it tells him.
He sighs, closing his eyes against the stinging smoke for a second. Then he levers himself up on his elbows, fighting to get vertical.
God, his head. He moans a moan that he can’t hear, swaying as the world tilts on its axis. Not the worst hangover he’s ever had, he has to admit, though something is telling him that obscene amounts of alcohol aren’t behind this particular mess.
Speaking of mess… he blinks, looking down at his chest. A perfectly good waistcoat, ruined. He really liked this one, too.
He’s picking at the torn fabric, his lip curling in distaste, when suddenly it slams into him all at once—the child. He and Ragnor were with a child.
He scrambles up, feeling far too light-headed for his liking. Ragnor, High Warlock of London, had been contacted to deal with an out of control warlock on the outskirts of Moorfield. Ragnor, not one for direct head-to-head confrontations, had enlisted Magnus’s help—“as a favor for your abominable conduct in Peru,” he’d said, and how could Magnus possibly say no to that?
By the time they’d arrived, the warlock in question had fled the scene, leaving a trail of destruction out between the wharfs and down the bank of the river. They’d gotten out to the edge of the wilderness before Magnus managed to pin them down. He’d leapt up, attempting to come down like the very fury of hell itself—only to stumble, his attack going wide. He hadn’t expected the warlock in question to be so… small.
Still, small or not, warlocks who are out of control are dangerous things. His hesitance, his inability to come up with and implement a containment plan on the spot, had resulted in the scared warlock child unleashing what could only be called an explosion—vivid magical power going from inside to outside with all the force of a lit powder keg. Fast forward a hot second and here Magnus is, his ears ringing and his head spinning, searching, possibly in vain, for the child who has caused all this grief.
Thankfully, his ears seem to be acclimating once again. He can hear the distant roar of what he assumes are flames, and his own blood rushing in his head, and… coughing?
“Bloody zounderkite,” Ragnor says, blinking his way through the smoke.
“You can’t say that—you’re talking about a child,” Magnus says back, aghast.
“I meant you,” Ragnor grumbles. He ignores Magnus’s protests that such name calling is completely and entirely unfair, his dark eyes flitting around and his green head turning this way and that. “Where did he get off to?”
“I haven’t the slightest,” Magnus says, still somewhat peeved. Honestly, the nerve to call Magnus Bane, most successful and undoubtedly most fashionable warlock of this century, an idiot of all things is—
Magnus wheezes out a breath, Ragnor’s arm catching him across the chest. A moment later, Magnus feels it, too—a rumble deep in the ground below them, a quaking of the very earth itself.
Magnus huffs. The kid is powerful, he’ll give him that. Magnus would know: he’s caused his fair share—more than his fair share, according to some—of earthquakes. He knows what it’s like to lose control, to have the power that resides inside of you come boiling up and out. What it feels like to be so angry or so hurt or so scared that it feels like there’s no other way to bleed it out. What it feels like to lose sight of yourself under a wave of too much.
…He hates that he knows what that feels like.
But now isn’t time to delve into his own issues—it’s the child he’s here for, and the child he will help. He’s a magnanimous person, after all—others always come first, contrary to what Ragnor might say. Besides, what happened in Peru was a one-or-possibly-two-time thing. Three, if you count the Moquegua incident. Couldn’t be four. Certainly wasn’t five.
…Magnus really hopes it wasn’t six.
He’s just thinking that he maybe should make some sort of attempt to get less regularly drunk when he hears a low whimper coming from a dark crevice between two trees just up ahead. He takes a step forward, hands raised at the ready to deflect any more magical blasts that might be headed his way, Ragnor keeping close at his back. He steps, steps, steps… and then leans slowly down to peer through the burnt branches.
He comes face to face with a pair of terrified green eyes.
“…Please don’t hurt me,” says the boy, curled up like a little fetus amid the ash and soot, a long lizard tail wrapped around his folded legs.
“…I’m not going to hurt you,” Magnus breathes, and holds out his hand.
Magnus feels the heat before he sees the green flames beginning to lick up the blackout curtains in his living room.
“Aw, shit,” he says eloquently, his magic flying to his fingertips. Moving on instinct, he creates a magical bubble around the fire, sucking all the air out and smothering it before it can do too much damage.
It is, apparently, the wrong thing to do.
Magnus winces as the toddler in Izzy’s arms stares at him for one long moment, eyes growing wetter and wetter like a portent of doom. “It’s okay, don’t cry! Look, here’s your teddy—” he says quickly, holding up said teddy. He’s hoping to stave off the tears before they can start—if he can just distract it from it’s tantrum then everything will be fi—
“No teddy!” the toddler screams, effectively bursting his eardrums with two well-placed words. So much for that approach.
Magnus groans in tune to the growing shrieks emanating from the toddler’s small but mighty lungs. This really, really wasn’t what he had planned when he got up this morning. Sweeping his soulmate off his feet to have an official date and getting his, ahem, ass kicked by a tantruming toddler are, in fact, two very different things. He’d never admit it out loud, especially not to Alec’s sister, but going out on a date with an eldritch monstrosity and literal night terror would be much preferable to doing what he’s currently doing. Heck, having a house party where he gets totally and completely smashed out of his mind and wakes up to a two-day hangover—his second option for the day—would have been preferable to getting his ass kicked by a tantruming toddler.
Alas, this is what is in the cards for him today. Getting his ass kicked by a tantruming toddler is totally and completely unavoidable. With a sigh he sets down the rejected teddy and instead casts helplessly about for anything he can use to distract a three-year-old from her newly-found magical powers. Two hours, they’ve had her, and already it’s been a long, long day.
“Come on, sweetie, you need to eat,” Izzy coaxes.
“Just a little bit of your carrots?”
“Don’t push her,” Magnus says wearily. He’s just spent an hour fire-proofing the entire loft and he doesn’t want to test out his valiant work. He mourns for his curtains.
Izzy pouts. She’s looking the worse for wear, her long hair up in a messy bun and the straps of her blue tank top slipping down her shoulders. She has an angry red mark on her chin from where she was head butted in the face. Magnus is sure he looks no better.
The toddler, meanwhile, is looking like some sort of horror movie antagonist—a haunted doll, maybe. Impossibly cute, her angelic face hiding the terrors contained within. The only way this could be worse is if she was a Nephilim, with literal terror contained within. Alas, she’s only a warlock—a spoiled brat of a warlock whose mother gave her everything she wanted until her warlock mark appeared, but a warlock nonetheless.
Magnus winces as she slaps her fork onto her plate, splattering rice and white sauce across the table, muttering under her breath. He mourns for the tablecloth.
“What was that, dear? I couldn’t quite hear you,” he says after counting to ten in his head, trepidation creeping into his voice.
“…I have to go potty,” she says louder.
Oh. Oh, no. Magnus exchanges a panicked look with Izzy. “Do you… do you need help in the potty?” he asks.
“Duh,” she says. “Are you stupid?”
“Wha—where on earth did you learn that kind of language?” Magnus demands, affronted. “You’re three, who the fudge is using that word around you?”
The toddler, April, launches her fork across the table, apparently finished with both the meal and the conversation. “I have to go potty!” she yells. Her eyes flash, literally, and before Magnus can push Izzy and her into the bathroom her plate rises into the air and smashes on the floor.
Seems like dinner is over. Magnus snaps his fingers, lifting the little monster from her seat before she can grab anything else.
…He mourns for the plate.
Do not show fear, Magnus. For the love of god, do not show fear.
The loft is silent. It’s a tentative silence, the first silence that has come upon them since the sudden and violent descent of the child into their lives, but silence all the same. They have reached an impasse. Not equilibrium, per se, but cease-fire.
Magnus stares at April from across the room. “…Are you going to be a good girl and go to bed, now?” he asks carefully.
The toddler smiles sweetly, bobbing her head. Her hair—charming curls that Izzy had cooed over before the day’s havoc was unleashed on them—bounces around her chin. She is the picture of harmlessness. The picture of innocence.
…Magnus does not trust her or that smile for a single goddamn instant.
Still, she must be feeling at least a little tired by now. Right? God, he hopes so. He edges forward, holding out a hand for her to take so he can lead her to the bed in the guest room.
And then, from the corner of his eye, he sees Izzy go rigid. “Magnus, behind you—” she starts.
Without looking, Magnus flicks a finger and catches the glass vial of crushed abalone that has just jumped ship from his potions shelf. He’s getting rather good at this, if he does say so himself.
The toddler pouts, clearly disappointed that her plans to rain destruction down on them all were foiled so easily. Then she yawns wide, sharp sharks teeth—her warlock mark—on clear display.
“Bedtime,” Magnus says, a little more forcefully. Perhaps if he shows dominance in his own home she will… break. Like a horse. Or something. God, he’s tired, and it isn’t even his bedtime yet.
Continuing to pout, April stomps a foot. Still, she takes the hand he continues to hold out to her, allowing him to lead her into the guest room.
…Where they promptly run into Chairman Meow, who has been hiding away from the chaos all day.
Before Magnus can grab either the cat or the toddler, the toddler lets out a delighted screech that sounds vaguely like “KITTY!” and launches herself at the cat, and just like that the chaos begins all over again.
“…You have to have something for me,” Magnus says wearily into Izzy’s phone, fiddling with the scorched remains of his own.
“For the last time, I’m not a nanny, I’m a nurse,” Catarina says. “Health care and childcare are two separate things, Magnus.”
Magnus peers into the hallway toward the guest room. Their little guest is asleep… for now. “Health care is closer to childcare than what I do for a living. You know that.”
He can practically hear Catarina rolling her eyes. “You’re the High Warlock of Brooklyn. This is what you do for a living.”
“Tending to spoiled brats is decidedly not what I do for a living—”
“But taking care of the warlock community, no matter how young, definitely is.” She sighs. “Look, I will ask around again, but don’t get your hopes up. You’ll have to reach out to Yamka on your own.”
“No. Suck it up and get over yourself.”
Magnus groans. God, he would give anything to taking a nap right now. Unfortunately, he has other things to do. Things like figuring out what to do short-term with the toddler. And also what to do long-term with the toddler. And also possibly medium-term, as well, if it comes to that.
“This shit sucks,” he says.
Magnus whirls around, hand planted on his chest. April stands before him, staring up with huge, scheming eyes. “Darling! Do Magnus a favor and forget you heard that—”
Too late. “SHIT!” she says gleefully.
“Oh, god, please no—”
“SHIT SHIT SHIT—”
Magnus scrubs a hand through his long-mussed hair as the sounds of hysterical laughter rise up on the other end of the line.
Twenty-four hours. It has officially been twenty-four hours with the kid. One whole, entire day, and still no end in sight. This whole situation is like crossing an ocean in a rowboat—for every stroke of the oar that propels them forward, there is another wave to push them back toward the shore. It’s frustrating, it’s untenable, and Magnus has had enough.
“Are you… are you crying?” Izzy hisses, her eyes wild as she stares on in horror.
Magnus tips his head back, pinching the corners of his eyes. “No,” he said, voice unsteady. “Yes. Look, I haven’t slept in at least a century, take some damn pity on me.”
“Bad word! Swear jar! Come on, April, say it with me—swear jar swear jar swear jar—”
“…Gosh dang it,” Magnus says as April takes up the chant alongside Izzy. They are agents of chaos, the both of them. He is trapped in a rowboat trying to cross the ocean with two insane people.
When… pray tell… is the wailing ever meant to end?
Magnus clutches the toddler close, willing her to tire herself out. Her little fists beat against his chest, each strike like a small hammer, rattling his ribs.
“I want mommy!” she says for what must be the dozenth time, big, wet eyes glaring up at Magnus as if he’s intentionally holding her hostage.
“Mommy isn’t here,” Magnus says wearily.
Magnus clenches his jaw. ‘Because your mother saw your warlock mark and rejected you’, he does not say. ‘Because the person meant to love you above all others cannot stand the sight of you.’ ‘Because sometimes this world rejects people like us just for our differences.’ ‘Because life is cruel, cruel, cruel.’
“I know you want your mother,” he says instead. “But she isn’t coming back.”
“But I want mommy,” the toddler says, as if this changes anything.
“I want mommy!”
Magnus takes her little fist, holding it fast. There are tears in her eyes, spilling down her blotchy cheeks, and he feels his heart break a little more as a high, wounded noise comes from deep inside her. He tightens his grip on her, folding her against his chest. She cries and cries until she cries herself to sleep.
“You should probably be sleeping, too,” Izzy’s voice says near Magnus’s ear. “I can take her.”
“She’ll wake if I move her,” Magnus says, a deep sigh rising in his chest. It’s been two days and he… he misses Alec’s presence in his loft. Alec was right—Izzy is fun, and the kid is keeping him on his toes, but it’s not nearly the same. He hadn’t realized how accustomed to Alec he’d gotten until he was gone.
I should fix my phone, he thinks. Alec has surely—hopefully—texted him by now. The idea of moving right now feels akin to peeling off his skin, however. He can’t quite make himself do it.
“I’m taking her,” Izzy says, sliding her hand under April’s chest before Magnus can protest. “Go take a nap. And then we’ll visit that warlock lady you were telling me about.”
Magnus nods. “An hour,” he says, his eyes already closing where he’s sitting. Izzy shakes her head, walking the toddler down the hall.
Magnus thinks about Alec’s shy smile as he slips into sleep.
Okay. Magnus can do this. He’s charming, a charmer, he charms people—and if anyone is a snake that needs to be charmed, it’s definitely Yamka.
…Okay, maybe that’s not the best way to go about this. Magnus blows out a breath, nervously adjusting his shirt.
“Could you hurry up, maybe?” Izzy asks behind him as April tries to squirm out of her grip.
“I’m working on it,” Magnus says. Then he rings the bell.
It takes ten excruciating minutes for Yamka to answer. “Oh. It’s you,” she says when she finally does. Her eyes are dark, glaring up at him. He can literally see her debating whether or not to close the door in his face, so he puts on his best smile and plants a hand on the glass.
“I need a favor,” he says, leaning aside so that Isabelle and April are in view.
For a long moment there’s silence as Yamka studies the three of them, a rather vindictive smile growing on her lips as she takes in Magnus’s rumpled state and April’s clear displeasure. Magnus resists the urge to glare.
“Oh, very well,” she drawls, finally. “I’ll take the child. But not yet—I do have a life, you know. Things will have to be rearranged first.” She squints her eyes. “…You owe me big time for this one, Magnus.”
And then she does close the door in Magnus’s face.
There’s a figure waiting at the bottom of the stairs when they return to the loft. Magnus’s heart leaps when he realizes who it is—and then sinks as he sees the expression on his face.
It’s Alec. He looks upset. His face clears when he spots them, going blank as if he’s packed away all his pain so no one will see it, but Magnus saw it clear enough.
Magnus stops in front of him. “Is everything okay?” he asks.
Alec shifts, looking at his sister. “I… is that a child?”
Izzy stares at him with dead, dead yes. “Yes,” she says.
“Right. Well… Can we talk? Just the two of us? I’ve been thinking and I need to tell you something.”
God, Magnus would kill for a martini right now. “Okay?” he says instead. He waits as Izzy gives them a funny look, skirting around the two of them to take April back upstairs. “What… what is it?”
Alec shifts, his arms crossing over his chest as if he’s hugging himself. “We’re… soulmates.”
“Oh. Right. Yes, I—I'd figured that out. I wanted to talk to you about it, actually—”
“There’s no need. I know what you want.”
He doesn’t sound happy about it. “You… do?” Magnus asks, his guard going up. “If you don’t want the same, then just tell me. I can handle it.”
“Magnus. I’m not going to force you to stay bonded with me when you clearly don’t want to.”
Force? Clearly don’t want? “What are you talking about? Alec—”
Alec holds up a hand, a small, sad smile on his face. “I knew from the first time I saw you that we were bound. I should have said something then, and I’m sorry. I’ve been hanging onto this hope that if I just buy enough time we could figure out how to make it work, but that’s a selfish hope and I should have just… given you the choice to reject the bond when we first met.”
Magnus’s mouth is going dry. This is decidedly not the way he imagined this was going to go. “Wait, Alec—”
“No, it’s okay. I know how to appeal to the Clave to legally sever the bond. You won’t be hurt or, god forbid, killed. And then you won’t have to suffer through an eternity bonded to a Nephilim, a monster. You’ll be free to live your life and—”
Magnus cuts him off with a startled laugh. “Alexander, do you want me to sever the bond?”
“It isn’t about what I want—”
Oh, for god’s sake. Magnus laughs again, pacing away and then pacing back. He is too tired for this… this… self-sacrificial bullshit. Two days—two fucking days he’s been dealing with his own personal hell, the only thing keeping him going the knowledge that he could come out the other side, have a seventeen hour nap, and then take this fucking shadowhunter out on a goddamn date, and this is what the universe responds with?
Not today, universe.
Magnus stops Alec’s next words, whatever they are, by pressing a finger to his lips and cutting him off abruptly. “No,” he says, putting as much force behind the single word as he can.
“No?” Alec asks, muffled.
“No. I don’t know where you got the idea that I didn’t want the bond—”
Alec flounders, pulling Magnus’s hand away. “I—you—you went quiet on me so—”
“—and I thought—”
“For god’s sake—”
Magnus groans, loudly and expressively. Then he leans forward and plants his forehead against Alec’s chest, too tired to continue arguing. “The last thing I want,” he says into Alec’s sweater, hoping that this is the only time he will have to say this, “is to sever the bond.”
“…Oh,” Alec says. Then: “Oooh. So you… would you like to go on a date with me?”
Magnus nods against him, slowly deflating. A moment later, two strong arms come up and wrap around his back, pulling him flush against the Nephilim. Magnus all but melts into the feeling of being held, the stress of the last few days seeping from his bones.
“Okay,” Alec says, and that’s that.
don't like this chapter YEET
Chapter 10: The Summoning Bell
Dinner number two! Of course, things can't just go easy...
Maryse Lightwood does not cry. She is a shadowhunter, a Nephilim, a monstrophagus—she was forged in blood and black ink, in sweat and ichor. She doesn’t cry…
…but on the day her second son is born, she sure does scream.
In the library just down the hall, Alec winces. Church, who had previously been putting up with being petted, startles and, with a rather disgruntled look, bats at his hand and walks just out of arms reach before plopping down again.
“Brother Enoch will be here soon,” Hodge observes from his desk, as Alec folds his arms on the table and begins tapping his fingers.
“I still don’t know why we can’t come,” Izzy says, pouting over her rune studies. Jace is sitting to the side, biting his lip as he stares at the wall, unsettled by the noises coming through.
“You’re too young,” Hodge says, just the same as he’s said it the last six times.
“Then how come Alec gets to go?! He’s only one year, eight months, and four days older than me, it’s not fair—”
Hodge lets out a sigh, turning a page in the book he’s ostensibly reading. He doesn’t say anything else, even as Izzy rants. Not until Church’s head perks up and the cat begins trotting toward the door. A moment later the summoning bell rings.
“That’ll be Brother Enoch,” he says, cutting her off. “Alec, come along.”
Alec climbs to his feet, ignoring Izzy’s acidic glare. He’s nervous, mostly for his mother—he’s read a lot about childbirth and a lot can go wrong trying to bring new life into the world. How sometimes things tear and women bleed out, or sometimes the baby becomes distressed and forces open its second mouth in a panic. It’s a scary thought.
But that’s what the Silent Brother is here for, Alec reminds himself. There was a Silent Brother there when he was born, and Izzy, too. There wasn’t one for Jace—the circumstances around Jace’s birth were fairly peculiar, to say the least—but it’s the way things are generally done. The Silent Brothers save lives and protect knowledge—that’s how things are.
Just as a Silent Brother never really needs to ring the bell.
Just as their runed faces draw gasps and shrieks from unprepared throats.
Just as Alec, a year shy of his first rune ceremony, is now old enough to bear witness to the holiest of events in the life of a Nephilim—the giving of life.
He swallows hard as the Silent Brother—face drawn into the shadows of his hood, for now—beckons him into the room where his mother lays.
She screams, and screams, and screams.
By mutual agreement, Alec and Magnus decide to keep things between them on the down-low. The Clave can’t know yet, not until their soulbond is stronger—they can’t take the risk of anyone figuring it out and breaking the news to the Clave before they’re ready.
Still, despite the subterfuge, and despite the fact that they have a child with them so technically their second dinner isn’t a date, either, Alec is more excited about going out than he has been in… ever, probably. He’s practically giddy as he kicks Izzy out of the loft—she was a middle child, and is therefore all but useless when it comes to taking care of kids, it’s honestly a miracle the child didn’t break her—and he can tell Magnus is excited, too. He must be, if the amount of glitter he’s got on is any indication.
It’s a far cry from where they were a month and a half ago, when Magnus looked constantly hyper-alert whenever Alec was in the same room as him let alone in close proximity. Instead Magnus is all smiles, planting his hands on his hips. “You look dashing tonight,” he says, sweeping a practiced eye up and down Alec’s outfit. It’s a simple one—Alec doesn’t really do fancy, but he can do business casual, which works well enough. He takes a moment to take in Magnus’s outfit in turn—he’s wearing maroon corduroy capris, ankle-high black boots with inch-thick heels, and a puffy white shirt open at his throat and cinched in at the waist by a thick red belt. Jewelry jangles at his wrists and throat and gleams on his fingers.
Alec smiles, opening his mouth to respond. “Up!” April says instead, forcing her way between them and reaching up toward Alec.
Alec, trying to smother a grin, reaches down to heft the girl into his arms. “Ready whenever you are,” he says, balancing her on one arm and reaching out his other to Magnus, who links their elbows together. Magnus then, with a sweep of his arm, opens a portal and guides them all through.
They chose a kid-friendly restaurant for the night, one with paper tablecloths and copious amounts of crayons to color on them with. While Alec and Magnus do talk, a little bit about Clary’s progress and a little bit about life at the Institute and other such easy topics, their communication for the night mostly consists of facial journeys over April’s head as she bosses them around and tells them what to draw and to draw it better when they do. Alec and April are in the middle of an argument about whether Alec’s drawing looks more like a horse or a lizard when Alec catches Magnus staring at them, meal all but forgotten in front of him.
“What?” Alec asks.
“How did you do that?!” Magnus demands.
Alec frowns, letting April tug at his sleeve for a moment. “Do what?”
Oh my god. “Children do that, Magnus,” Alec says, a smile creeping onto his face.
“…This one doesn’t. You must teach me your secrets,” Magnus insists.
“It’s not a secret,” Alec says, laughing aloud. “Have you never talked to a kid?”
Magnus pouts, opening his mouth. Just then, however, Alec’s phone goes off—the two-toned emergency ring that no one uses unless there’s an actual emergency.
He answers immediately, flipping the phone open. “What is it?”
It’s Jace, and the sounds of weapons clanking in the background. “Just got a distress signal from the Silent City. We don’t know what’s going on or what to expect—mom and dad are still in Alicante and Hodge can’t leave. I need you.”
Alec bites his lip. “And Magnus?”
“Heck. …Yeah, you know what? Bring him, too. The more the merrier, right?”
“Sure,” Alec says, already standing. Magnus takes one look at his face and snaps his fingers, delivering a wad of bills to the table. “We’ll be there as soon as we drop April off somewhere safe.”
True to their word, they leave April with Magnus’s friend Ragnor and, after acquiring gear and weapons from the Institute, portal over to the entrance to the Silent City. Jace, Izzy, Clary, and even Jonathan are there already, tense looks on their faces. The consensus is immediate—they’ll stick together until they know what they’re dealing with. If anyone needs to split off, they do so with a buddy.
“It has to be a demon, right?” Clary says as they make their way slowly down the normally-lit steps into an abyss-like blackness. Alec, taking up the rear, clicks his tongue, raising his witchlight. “A demon who broke in?” she insists.
“Darling, you don’t just ‘break into’ the Silent City,” Magnus says. He’s on high alert, his head tilted and his hands up, preparing to draw his magic up and out.
“Yeah, I’ve literally never heard of such a thing as a distress signal coming from this place,” Izzy says. “The Silent Brothers who protect the Silent City aren’t just good at what they do—they are the literal best. Nothing gets in here.”
“Except us, I guess,” Jonathan says, tossing his white-blond hair callously. Clary goes silent, biting her lip. No one else speaks as they continue to descend. Down they go, deep, deep underground until the air is cool and the darkness absolute around them. They don’t encounter another living soul—no Silent Brothers appear from the gloom to frown upon them for their trespassing. If it wasn’t obvious that something was wrong before, it certainly is now.
The group is just edging past the council chamber when Clary gasps, clutching at Jace.
“Oh, god…” Jace says. Alec cautiously brings the witchlight forward, illuminating first parchment-pale robes and then curled, clenched fingers and then a taut, twisted neck and then, finally—
Oh, god is right. His face has been split open, the stitches holding together his second mouth torn wide. All seven of the Silent Brother’s jaws are yawning open, hyperflexed, teeth flared. He is very, very dead.
And, Alec realizes, he’s not the only one.
“Are you guys seeing what I’m seeing?” Alec asks hoarsely.
Jace nods, his face serious. Izzy, kneeling beside one of the dead Brothers, raises her head with a look of horror on her face. “Feral. Every last one of them went feral,” she croaks.
“…Feral?” Clary asks, her voice a high squeak in the gloom.
Alec presses his lips together. Magnus is also looking at him, not quite understanding—the two of them, and Jonathan as well, don’t know the significance of those words.
Alec breathes out, scanning the room for what feels like the hundredth time. There’s still no trace of what did this to the Silent Brothers no matter how hard he looks, no sign of the danger. Just the ever-present miasma of fear, wrongness, silence, death.
“Ferality,” Alec says slowly, “is a Nephilim defense mechanism. A very rare one. It only occurs under very specific circumstances.”
“Yeah, in normal Nephilim,” Izzy says. “Silent Brothers don’t go feral.”
“Apparently they do,” Jace says.
Izzy huffs. “You know what I mean. This isn’t normal.”
“Yes, thank you captain obvious—”
“Wait, hold up,” Clary says. She’s looking at Alec, one hand in the air to stop the sibling bickering. “What circumstances can cause ferality?”
Alec licks his lips. “It can happen three ways. One—hunger. A hungry monstrophagus is an out-of-control monstrophagus. But the Silent Brothers don’t have to eat—their bodies are frozen, trapped in stasis.”
“Guess that one’s out,” Magnus says.
Alec nods. “Two—pain. If a monstrophagus is subject to levels of pain they cannot handle, they will lose themselves. The only time I’ve ever gone feral, it was because of pain. But again, Silent Brothers don’t really feel pain. They don’t feel physical sensations or emotions the way we do. They are distanced from the physical plane in a way that we aren’t.”
“Besides, there’s no sign of bodily harm,” Izzy says, kneeling beside another. “Aside from what they’ve done to themselves, anyway.”
“So the third way to become feral…?” Clary says, her face twisted as if she doesn’t want the answer.
Alec gives it anyway. “Fear. Which, again, Silent Brothers don’t really feel fear the way we do. So for one, let alone dozens, to be scared badly enough to go feral… to rip their true faces open…”
He lets the words hang on the air.
The search of the Silent City turns up very little in the way of evidence or clues. It turns up a lot, on the other hand, in the way of bodies. By the time they make it back aboveground, Alec is no longer hungry despite cutting dinner short. He feels, actually, vaguely sick.
It’s made all the worse when they come through the doorway at the top of the stairs and a familiar voice says, “Alexander Gideon Lightwood.”
Alec straightens, his eyes locking on his mother, who is striding across the graveyard to him. She stops just before their group, the few inches she has on Alec making her feel like she’s towering over him, her sharp eyes taking them in one by one.
“If you kids sent out a distress signal from the Silent City as a joke—” Maryse hisses, her eyes flitting momentarily behind her. She’s not the only one at the entrance to the Silent City—there are dozens of adult Nephilim, Clave members all of them, from simple scribes to the sharp silhouette of the Inquisitor herself. They all stand silent, watching.
Alec shakes his head, looking his mother in the eye. “We heard the distress call and responded, same as you. The Silent Brothers… they’re dead.”
“Wha—dead?” Maryse gasps. “What do you mean, they’re dead? Explain yourself.”
“It’s exactly what it sounds like,” Izzy pipes up, coming around to Alec’s side. “Every Silent Brother in there is dead. We couldn’t find anyone alive. The whole place is…”
Izzy bites her lip, glancing over her shoulder. Maryse, however, has found a new face to focus on.
“What is the warlock doing here?” she asks, as if this is a pertinent question.
“I’m on bodyguard duty,” Alec replies steadily. “It made the most sense to bring him along.”
“Regardless of your duty to the downworlders,” the Inquisitor says suddenly, speaking up for the first time, “you should not have brought a warlock into the Silent City.”
Alec opens his mouth to argue, only to feel a hand brush his fingers, drawing him back.
“I was involved in the creation of some of the warding on the Silent City,” Magnus says. His face is pale but his voice betrays nothing—not anxiety about what they just witnessed belowground, or fear of suddenly being surrounded by Nephilim. Alec bites the inside of his cheek, having a silent stare-down with his mother as Magnus directs his statements to the Inquisitor. “I checked on our way back up—someone, several someones, forced their way through the wards tonight. There aren’t many things that can do that—there are a thousand years worth of warding on the Silent City.”
The Inquisitor’s glare is icy. “Is this your professional opinion, then?”
Magnus swallows and nods.
“Very well. Someone escort the warlock to the New York Institute to await his… bodyguard. Alexander Lightwood—a word, please.”
Alec watches helplessly as one of the lower Clave assistants is sent off with Magnus, the two of them looking uneasily over their shoulders as they portal away. Then he turns his eyes to Imogen Herondale, stepping forward.
She cuts straight to the point. “You have a job to protect the warlock, Lightwood. That is all. You owe the downworlders nothing at the end of the day but your due diligence. Do something like this again and I will make certain that you are never again in the running for the next Institute head. Are we clear?”
“Very,” Alec says.
The Inquisitor looks at him for a moment longer. Then she waves him away in order to take the crowd of Clave members down into the Silent City, leaving Maryse behind to watch over Alec, his siblings, and the Fairchilds.
Alec waits, his arms crossed over his chest. His mother is clearly peeved, but she’ll have to deal with it. At least until this is dealt with.
Two hours later, the Clave examination has turned up nothing more than Alec and his group did on their first pass, except for the fact that the soul sword is missing from its place in the council chamber. The Inquisitor looks constipated as she interrogates them each individually about what they saw when they first went in, but there isn’t much else they can tell her. Jace mouths off a little, and her lip curls—their relationship is still a bit rocky due to the circumstances of his birth, but at least she no longer seems to think he’s some secret sleeper agent for Valentine.
The five of them are allowed to return to the Institute not long after that. Jace and Clary instantly disappear, probably to go talk or flirt or something equally gross. The rest of them head toward the command center, where they find the Clave assistant standing in the doorway, watching as Magnus paces back and forth like a caged animal. Alec steps through the doorway and Magnus’s head snaps up, taking him in from head to toe.
“Are you alright?” Alec asks.
Magnus shakes himself, looking around at the lot of them. “I should be asking you that,” he says. His eyes linger a little long on Jonathan, and Alec sees his mouth twitch into a frown before he schools it into an easy smile and says, “But of course, darling, I’m perfectly fine. Now who is helping with babysitting tonight? I must confess that you seem to have a knack for it, but if you’re needed here…”
“They want me to stay and help with the cleanup,” Alec says apologetically. Then he lowers his voice and leans closer, on the pretense of asking Magnus’s opinion of something on his phone screen. “Tell me what’s wrong,” he says, brooking no argument.
“The Fairchild boy,” Magnus responds, voice also low, careful. Alec casts a half a glance at Jonathan, who is artfully posed by the doorway, leaning against it. “It might have been a trick of the witchlight, but down in the Silent City… he was smiling.”
Alec nods, pulling back. “I’ll keep an eye out for that fabric for you,” he says at a normal volume. “And I’ll catch you soon. Jace, Izzy and I are going to start a weekly rotation of bodyguard duty once all of this is over.”
“I see,” Magnus says. He still looks spooked—from the number of Nephilim he’s been subjected to tonight or the destruction in the Silent City Alec still doesn’t know. Alec brushes his hand against Magnus’s elbow, hoping that Magnus catches what he’s not saying—be safe and I care for you and I’m sorry for tonight.
They share one last look, and then Magnus is strutting off to Izzy, trying to carry himself as if he’s unbothered but still clearly very ready to be out of there.
Alec watches him all the way down the front steps and through the portal. He then turns over what Magnus told him until his parents come striding into the Institute lobby, Max in tow, three much taller figures bringing up the rear.
“Max!” Alec says, opening his arms for his little brother. His father shakes his head, already heading for the command center. Maryse purses her lips, but follows along. Which just leaves the three figures coming in behind them—Alec straightens as the first one booms out an “Alec!” as he ducks his blond head to fit under the doorframe. “Let go of Maxie and come say hello to your favorite grandfather!”
“Grandpa Gabe!” Alec says. Then, “Uncle Gideon, Grandma Cecily—what are you all doing here?”
Cecily waves a gloved hand. She looks as beautiful as ever, dressed in her normal waistcoat and pants with her dark hair buzzed short at the sides. “The Clave needs answers, and we’ve been tasked to find them,” she says. Then she breaks into a smile, tousling Alec’s hair.
Gabriel rolls his eyes. “Unfortunate timing, really—I am this damn close to beating your Uncle Will at his nasty little games—”
“Enough,” Gideon says, cutting his brother off. “We have a lot of things to go over tonight before cleanup can begin, and I don’t want to keep the cleanup task force waiting. Alec—go fetch Hodge and we’ll get this started.”
“Am I sitting in?” Alec asks, surprised.
Gideon looks at him, his deep green eyes unwavering. “It’s about time you do, if you ask me. You have good insights and I want to hear them.”
“Yes, sir,” Alec says, smothering a smile. He leans in quickly to hug Cecily—she’s not quite as tall as the two brothers, but she has a good seven inches on Alec—before he pushes Max toward the kitchen and jogs off to find Hodge.
He passes Jonathan and Clary on his way up the hall, who are on their way out. He can’t help the clench of his teeth as he watches Jonathan’s cold eyes sweep the hallway before he strides out the door.
The talks are long, and the night is nearly morning by the time they’ve gone over everything they can go over. Without hard evidence against Jonathan, nor the soul sword to find the truth, the suspicious behavior is acknowledged and promptly filed away. Alec knows this is how things work, but he’s still slightly disappointed that there’s nothing else to do.
At least until Gideon stretches and says, in his slow, deep voice, “I’ve been sitting still too long. Do you folks still do patrols around here?”
“Yes, sir,” Alec says. “I can take you along the central park route, if you’d like.”
Gideon looks at him. “I’ll have you remember that I was stationed in this very Institute in the seventies. I can take you along the central park route, kid.”
“Sure, old man,” Alec says, and ducks out of the way as Gideon reaches his long arm over to muss his hair.
God, he’s missed Gideon. Talking on the phone is one thing, but having his Uncle beside him, with all his stoic patience, is something that Alec will always cherish.
They run into a solitary shax demon in an alleyway just off the park, and Alec stands back to watch Gideon do his work. When Gideon is finished, however, Alec can’t help but ask, “Do you miss hunting?”
Gideon hums, straightening his vest. “I’m not nearly as sheltered as some of your other relatives in Alicante, but it was still an adjustment to make. Importing demons to eat isn’t nearly the same as going out into the world to save lives.”
Alec nods along. He doesn’t understand the nostalgia, not yet—but he does know that most of his family doesn’t feel quite the same way as Gideon or even Gabriel does about working in Alicante. Most of the older generations of their family—the real old ones, the ones that came before Gabriel and Gideon and their father, Benedict—died on the front lines, either in Valentine’s Uprising or fighting Mortmain. The rest of them—the ones on the Lightwood family tree between Gabriel and Alec’s parents—have mostly found their places in government and politics rather than patrols and demon elimination. A cushy life, Will calls it—the life that Alec’s father, Robert, is aiming for. He wants to be Inquisitor.
Alec… he’s not sure what he wants. Not sure what his future will look like. He wants to be Head of the New York Institute—always has. But that’s at least a few centuries off, and after that, well…
He hums, walking beside Gideon in comfortable silence. Things are… not different, now that he and Magnus have reached an understanding about the nature of their relationship and their bond, but… it has certainly sped up the complications that Alec always knew were coming. The hiding, the secrets, the waiting for the Clave to come to their senses about same-sex relationships and downworlders and soulbonds… it’s a lot to think about. He hasn’t had much time to think about it with the chaos of the past few days, but it’s been there, waiting, all the same.
Gideon slows, and Alec looks over to find him staring up at the clouds rolling above them. They’re beautiful—all lit up by the light of the city, one horizon lightening toward the clear white of day. Alec stands beside him, arms crossed over his chest as he stares up and up and up.
“You’ll figure it out,” Gideon says, his voice a soft rumble in the edges of night, as if closing a conversation that they weren’t having.
Alec sways back on his heels, not taking his eyes off of the skies. “Figure what out?” he asks.
“Whatever it is that’s on your mind,” Gideon responds simply.
Alec bites his lip. He’s tempted to scoff, to say that there’s nothing on his mind. But Gideon has been there for him in ways that even his parents have not, and he just… he wants to have this. This support, this assurance. “Yeah,” he says instead. “…Yeah. I’ll figure it out.”
He just hopes he does it before he loses a chance to have something great.
*steals some plot from city of ashes just because*
Sorry about the delay! I'm thinking about trying to stick to a more conservative update schedule--say, once or twice a week. Or maybe I'll just post whenever I get a chapter done. If you have any input about what you want let me know!
Chapter 11: The Viper's Strike
Magnus has a day.
Magnus thought he was in love with Camille Belcourt in the year 1878. He thought a lot of things that year, but truly, thinking Camille was the one was undoubtedly the worst.
Still, he couldn’t help it. He would watch her hips sway, see her thin waist and her arms folded under her large bust, and he’d imagine that she was the most beautiful thing walking this earth. Her unbreathing chest and the inhuman sleekness of her skin made her seem like a statue, delicately carved by a hand that knew how to make any heart long undeniably for something beyond its reach, something untouchable. It was like seeing sunlight for the first time in ten years when he reached out and brushed his fingers against her chilled hand, when he held her and warmed her with his own body heat. The subtle press of her fangs to his neck when they made love, the sharpness in her eyes even as she tilted her head back and laughed… Magnus was enraptured.
And then, like the viper she was, she turned on him and struck. And even with her venom coursing through his veins, he thought maybe she was still the one. She’d said it so often herself—they were two sides of the same coin, two immortals with eternity stretching before them.
If it weren’t for Will… hurt Will, broken by a curse he thought would bring death to everyone who loved him… Will, who’d found true love in Tessa Gray and Jem Carstairs, and who had shown Magnus what it was to truly be alive…
Magnus looks on at Camille, standing on the other side of the couch where Will is spread out in sleep, as she smiles her deadly smile, so assured of the fact that Magnus would rather grovel at her feet than watch her cast him aside like she has so many lovers before. “Do what you like,” he says, rising to his feet. He can’t explain what he says next except that it must be madness, but the words come out all the same: “I have Will now.”
The smile slips, her mouth opening. “You can’t be serious. A monstrophagus?”
“He may eat monsters, Camille, but he understands what it is to love. Something you certainly do not.” Then, having delivered this insane speech with great dignity, Magnus steps across the room to kneel by Will, shaking his shoulder. “Will. William. Wake up.”
Will’s hazy blue eyes open, taking in Camille, who is leaning over him. He blinks. “What the…”
“The lady of the house,” Magnus says, hauling Will to his feet, “has returned.”
“I see that,” Will says faintly. His collar is soaked in sweat and his face flushed. His pupils are incredibly large, nearly swallowing up the blue of his eyes—he’s been through a lot tonight, trying to capture the demon who cursed him. He’s under a very strong painkilling spell. Poor kid.
He puts up very little fuss as Magnus begins to lead him from Camille’s house. Just enough to ask where his coat is, to which Magnus responds, “Disposed of. It was covered in blood, my love. Don’t worry about it.”
“I—pardon?” Will says.
“Demon hunting, dear. Will’s been hunting demons all night. So brave,” Magnus says, mostly for Camille’s benefit. He then draws Will to him and presses a kiss to his lips.
Will flails, a motion that Magnus can only hope will be interpreted as passion. He tastes of salt and demonic poison and bitter tonics, but it is still worlds better than the cold, tasteless lips of the vampire Magnus is leaving behind.
Magnus guides him out moments later, his head held high in the wake of Camille’s stunned expression. There is a grim sense of satisfaction thrumming through his chest.
It’s almost enough to distract from the hollow feeling nestled just below his heart.
The nightmares come what seems like moments after Magnus goes to bed, just like he’s come to expect. He’s put a silencing spell on his room—better safe than sorry, though Alec never said a word—but there’s nothing to help the thick muck of adrenaline and sleep paralysis that sticks fast to him when he wakes, gasping, in the middle of the night.
This one is about watching his own hands rip Alec apart, unable to do anything to stop himself. Reaching his hands into Alec’s wide open maw, tearing each of his jaws off like petals from a flower… a real nasty piece of work. It leaves Magnus sweat-soaked and heaving, shivers running up his back as he leans over the edge of the bed, expecting to lose his dinner at any moment.
As soon as his stomach is back under control, Magnus lays on his back for a while and feels the ache of exhaustion in his bones. Then he snaps his phone into his fingers, needing to reach out but expecting no answer.
Where would you like to go for our special evening? Ethiopian? Italian? Ethiopian-Italian fusion?
He sets down the phone again, staring at his ceiling. It’s not the first text he’s sent to Alec, but it is the most forward—in a world where all they send to each other are status updates and I’m fine, how are you’s and the Clave has requested a meeting with the downworld council’s it’s hard to break the ice.
It’s because he’s Nephilim, his brain whispers in the darkness. Magnus sighs. He knows. He wouldn’t have any of the hangups he has if his soulmate were a downworlder or even a mundane. He’d hoped, in the way that an immortal always hopes, that his soulmate would be long-lived if not immortal theirself. But an immortal monstrosity?
Then again, that’s if he can even call Alec a monstrosity. Sure, he’s got the jaws and the appetite of a monster, but he’s been nothing but sweet in all the time Magnus has known him. It’s Magnus who keeps dreaming about ripping him apart and enjoying it.
He’s not expecting an answer, but he gets one anyway, a few moments later. You’re up early it says. Can’t sleep?
Magnus frowns. He knows the Nephilim keep all kinds of odd hours, but honestly. It’s five in the morning.
He bites his lip, debating how to respond to that. He can’t do the honest route—Alec is the type of person who would want to make it better, and there’s nothing he can do. He’d only upset himself trying to fix something that can’t be fixed. But Magnus can’t exactly lie—he’s not supposed to be awake right now and Alec knows it.
He’s bites his lip, debating with himself, but before he can decide on a course of action another text is coming through.
You don ’t have to talk about it. I can just keep you company for a bit.
…Who could resist that?
Izzy is two hours away from being relieved of bodyguard duty when she turns to Magnus with a gleam in her eye.
“I want to go shopping,” she says.
To his credit, Magnus doesn’t even blink at the fact that a Nephilim is hitting him up for a shopping spree. He’s been expecting something like this ever since they finally handed April off to Yamka. What he doesn’t expect is for Izzy to casually, while she’s standing at the mirror just outside the fitting room of a PacSun wearing a knee-length summer dress, say, “If you hurt my brother I will gladly eat you alive.”
Magnus fumbles with the hangers he’s holding. Good god, and he was just getting used to not flinching whenever a Nephilim moved in his peripheral vision. “Uh—” he says, eloquent.
“Wait, that came out wrong,” she says, her brows furrowing. “I meant… it’s obvious that you’re his soulmate, and if he trusts you then I trust you. But there’s still a part of me that can never trust you because he’s my brother, you know? He’s protected me my whole life, and I want him to be happy. So if you ever hurt him…”
She trails off, her eyes boring into Magnus’s in the mirror.
Which, yes, makes sense. Still, this is a firm reminder that all Nephilim are actually fucking insane and their whole judicial system is built around the fact that they literally consume the people who wrong them. This is the exact reason that Magnus denied the fact that his soulmate was a Nephilim for so long.
Magnus licks his lips. A million questions are swirling around in his head—what does she plan to do with the fact that she knows? How far does her threat extend? Will she come after him if they have a mutual break up? Good god, how deep in the danger zone is he?!
“How did you figure it out?” he asks instead, equally casual.
Izzy shrugs. “I know my brother. You should see his face every time he looks at you. Especially when he thinks no one is watching. It’s all kinds of disgustingly soft.”
Despite himself, Magnus feels his face flush. He lets out an amused laugh and turns away, in an attempt to cover for himself, but Nephilim eyes are sharp. There’s no way she didn’t see the fact that he reciprocates in kind. “Well,” he says. “If it helps any, I don’t plan to break your dear brother’s heart.”
“Good,” Izzy growls, the barest trace of the song of the angels humming in her chest. The mundanes in the shop around them all look up, suddenly uneasy even though they can’t hear it clearly. Magnus swallows. Then he watches as Izzy sweeps back into the fitting room, her ponytail swinging, and feels the tension go out of him like his strings have been cut.
Nephilim. Strange creatures, very strange. Also scary. Magnus is very glad that he’s not on their bad side.
…Yet. Not on their bad side yet.
All in all, Magnus would say that the shopping trip goes well. Not great—shovel talks never are—but okay.
The trip home, on the other hand, goes, frankly, terrible. It begins when his phone rings with an unknown number.
He answers it on the third ring. “Who dares call upon the High Warlock of Broo—”
“Oh, my. You know what it does to me when you use that voice.”
God. Damnit. “Where did you get this number?” Magnus barks. Izzy looks over, frowning. Who is it, she mouths. Magnus waves her off.
“I have friends,” Camille laughs on the other end of the line, her voice like the chime of bells. “They’ve been telling me… interesting things.”
Magnus knows where this is going, but he can’t help himself when his tired tongue asks, “And what is it that you’ve heard?”
“That you have another monstrophagus that has you wrapped around his finger,” she says, her voice lowering into a soft purr. “And this one, the rumors go, is your soulmate. Fitting.”
Magnus pinches the bridge of his nose. God, he wishes he didn’t care what Camille thought anymore. They have so much history, though, so much mud and brine from her acrid exploits mucking up the basement of his metaphorical house, that it’s impossible to brush her off. The most he can hope is to turn the conversation around and gain the upper hand. Or hang up on her, maybe. That’s a thought.
Before he does that, however, he has to know. “And what, pray tell, does that mean?” he asks through gritted teeth.
“Nothing, sweetie. I just worry, is all. You’re too soft for your own good, always were. I just hope he doesn’t take you down with him when he inevitably falls from heaven.” She laughs again. “If you’d just stuck with me, you wouldn’t have to worry about such things. We’re both already in hell, why not stay here together?”
“Because you’re a vile bitch,” Magnus hisses, but he knows he’s already lost when she’s still laughing like he’s the most amusing thing in the world at the end of the sentence when he hangs up on her. He feels the doubts worming their way in, eating through his barriers, and though he tries valiantly not to let her words get to him there’s nothing for him to do about it.
Even hanging up in her cold, beautiful face gives him no satisfaction.
Magnus almost doesn’t look at his phone when it rings just as they’re going up the stairs to his loft. He’s in a foul mood—he’s had enough of today, damnit. Besides, all the options are dismal. There’s no one he wants to talk to right now. Well, no one except maybe one person.
…Magnus checks the caller ID. Tall dark and handsome, it says. Well then. Maybe something will go right today after all.
“Magnus—hey,” Alec says when Magnus picks up. He sounds distracted, even more so than Magnus himself. Magnus finds his heart softening despite himself.
“Everything okay?” Magnus asks.
“Yeah, just… I won’t be able to switch out with Izzy just yet. They want me at the Clave assembly to meet with the surviving Silent Brothers. I’d take you along if I could, but…”
“Clave business,” Magnus says, waving a dismissive hand that Alec can’t see. “I understand. It’s fine—I’ve got things to do, as well.”
“That’s good. Keep yourself busy. But don’t forget to get some sleep tonight, okay? Ah, I gotta go. Jace is on his way. Talk to you soon?”
Magnus hums an agreement, trying not to let it show that his mood is taking a turn into a slightly different flavor of unhappy. He doesn’t mention that the things on his to-do list mostly include drinking, and moping, and drinking while moping. Instead he clears his throat and wishes Alec a good day, hoping that Alec doesn’t call him out on how odd his voice sounds.
It’s close. There’s a pause just before Alec says goodbye, as if he’s contemplating saying something else. But he doesn’t, and Magnus breathes out as the line goes dead.
…So much for that first real date.
It’s better this way, that annoying little voice says, and Magnus grunts. There’s a bitter taste in his mouth that he can’t shake, even when he snaps a martini into his hand and sips determinedly at it. It’s one part his lingering anxiety about getting close to a Nephilim, one part terror at having the might of the Clave towering over him, and one part fear that… well… what if he’s too much for Alec? Sweet Alec, nerdy Alec, protective Alec… Magnus isn’t like that. He lives hard and fast, always has. He has personality in spades, as many people have said.
He should get out. Reject the bond after all. Alec and his place in the Clave aren’t good for him, and him and his everything aren’t good for Alec. The little voice in his head thinks so, Camille thinks so, the martini starting to swim through his veins thinks so… god.
He can’t take another heartbreak.
“Are you looking for something?”
Magnus blinks hazily at the book floating beside him, ignoring Izzy’s question. It’s an encyclopedia of flowers with magical properties, and he’s been staring at a picture of a trientalis europaea for the last seven minutes.
It’s a pretty flower. Creamy white, with seven overlapping petals. He keeps coming back to it, tracing the silhouette of it with his eyes. It reminds him of Alec. Reminds him of everything that can go wrong.
“Uh… Magnus?” Izzy says.
Magnus wrenches his eyes away, snapping the book closed. He’s standing in the middle of his living room, robe drawn over his shoulders, martini in hand—making a rather dramatic show of himself if he does say so himself. He sighs. “Don’t ever fall in love,” he says. Then he sweeps away to hole himself up in his room.
It’s just after he hears the changing of the guard, Jace sprawling out on his love seat and flipping on the television as he makes himself at home, that Magnus decides he can’t be here anymore. He can’t think properly with all these Nephilim everywhere. He feels trapped by circumstance. Like fate is toying with him. Like he’s playing his father’s game. Like he’s losing on both counts.
…It’s not a good feeling.
So he gives the Nephilim the slip. He’ll regret it later, he’s sure, but for now he just needs to get out. He places a decoy spell in his bedroom that will hopefully keep the blond one from figuring out what he’s done—he’ll only be gone an hour or two, tops—and then portals from his closet straight into the Du Mort, startling a group of vampires into hissing at him.
Raphael, to his credit, doesn’t even blink. He just sips at the (literally) bloody mary in his hand and raises an eyebrow.
“Had enough of babysitting?” he asks.
Magnus frowns. “We sent April off yesterday.”
“I meant you getting babysat by the Nephilim.”
“Oh, hardy har.” With a deep sigh, Magnus sits down beside his friend. He’s a little tipsy because of the martinis, but he conjures up another just the same, staring down into its depths. “You know as well as I do that the protection of the Clave was the best way to go.”
Raphael shrugs. “I don’t not agree with you. Still, doesn’t explain why you’re here without your bodyguard.”
Magnus runs a hand down his face. “It’s been a long day,” he mumbles.
“And I’m usually your first choice to have a nice chat with when that happens,” Raphael says, the sarcasm dripping from his lips.
“Maybe I’m here because I like your company, you grump.”
Raphael rolls his eyes. “You shouldn’t.”
“Maybe not, and you certainly don’t make it easy for me, but I do anyway. Your blunt honesty and biting sarcasm are a welcome change of pace, to be quite honest.”
“Wow,” Raphael says. “You really are off your game today. Do I want to know what happened?”
Magnus scrubs a hand down his face. “A shovel talk with a Nephilim happened. And then Camille happened. And then my date got canceled. All on top of another of those damn dreams. I’m falling apart, Raph.”
“That you are,” Raphael says, sipping again at his bloody mary. He doesn’t seem inclined to say anything else on the matter, instead giving Magnus space to approach it all at his own speed.
Magnus does after a moment, beginning to crack open his inner conflicts like he’s cracking open a coconut while Raphael listens rapt the entire time. This is what he likes most about Raphael—he doesn’t ever push like everyone else does. He provides a steady presence and some cutting sarcasm, keeping his concern well-hidden in a way that even Ragnor, the grump of their friend group, does not. He keeps his distance, but allows Magnus to cross the gulf between them when he needs to.
And then, when Magnus is done, he raises his lip in a sneer and says, “Your life is a telenovella,” which, for all intents and purposes, essentially means ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this bullshit.’
Magnus nods along. “It is, it really is.” He then sighs, feeling better for having talked it out, ready to portal himself away again. He goes to stand…
…Only to freeze as Raphael suddenly grabs him by the arm, nose in the air. The vampires lounging around them have all flashed to their feet, surrounding Raphael, all facing the far side of the room.
“What is it?” Magnus asks, on high alert.
Raphael is about to answer when Magnus smells it too—sulfur and the miasma of demonic magic, growing thick on the air.
“Aw, hell,” Magnus says. “You guys have the worst timing. This is the cherry on top of a very bad day, you know.”
“Good,” hisses a sibilant voice from the darkness across from them. “Your father will be pleased when I drag you into Edom.”
“Go ahead and try,” Magnus says, and raises both hands, bringing his magic sparking to his fingertips.
It feels good to let loose. Potion-making and minor spells are fine, but they tend to require a lot of control, a lot of small, fiddly magic. Attacking demons, on the other hand… well. Suffice to say that Magnus never holds back when it comes to demons.
This one is no different, and it’s a matter of minutes before Magnus has it contained in binding circlets, ready for the Clave to come and fetch. There’s only one problem with the whole fight, really—the fact that it’s a demon, singular.
“Where are the other five?” Magnus demands, leaning over the demon.
The demon grins, two mouths of sharp fangs on display. “Other five what?” he asks innocently.
“I’m not playing this game!” Magnus snarls. “As I’ve already said, it’s been a very bad day and—”
He’s interrupted by thunder rolling overhead.
“…Midtown,” Raphael says after a moment with his head cocked. “Times Square, most likely.”
“Shit!” Magnus swears, phone already open. He sends a message to the Clave’s direct line to come and pick up the captured demon before sweeping an arm and opening a new portal. He needs to get to midtown, ASAP. He should have known that Asmodeus would try something like this. He promised six demons a week—he didn’t say when or where. And now there are an unknown number of demons—and Nephilim hunting said demons—out in the most densely pedestrian populated area in Manhattan.
If no one gets hurt it’ll be a miracle.
This update brought to you by the 'I'm a literal goblin, take the trash I've typed for you' gang.
Chapter 12: The Fifth Demon
Times Square and beyond.
A special thanks to highladyofgothamcity for making me think about Nephilim dentistry!
It’s a well-known fact in the shadow world that the strike of a monstrophagus is one of the fastest ways to die. If said monstrophagus wants your death to be quick, that is.
In midair Alec twists his torso, muscle flexing in a wave as he gracefully avoids the spines that shoot from the chest of the demon before him. Down he goes, landing back on his feet and letting himself roll into a crouch, his jaws wide and quivering. Through his secondary eyes he takes everything in—twenty-one separate shots, one from each eye, come together to form a single panoramic picture.
It’s not pretty. The world around him is chaos, made of a hundred different faces flashing past. Shrieking, running mundanes and snarling, laughing demons and his family, singing and singing and singing. And yet, despite the vast numbers of people all around him, no matter how hard he searches he cannot find the one face he’s looking for.
“Incoming!” Gabriel yells, and Alec dives to the side, avoiding a lashing claw. There were five demons—should have been easy enough to eat between six Nephilim. The problem is that the fight and the chaos has attracted all kinds of unsavory demonic opportunists, the kind that pop out of the woodwork when they sense a stronger demon out there to protect them. They’re swarming, some flying and some burrowing through the concrete, in an attempt to capitalize on the chaos being wreaked in Times Square.
The demon with the spines pauses its attack to cackle loudly as Alec lands, stumbling slightly. Alec takes advantage. Bracing his feet, he launches himself directly at the demon’s chest.
Time slows down, his instincts taking over. It’s as if he’s is viewing everything through the lens of a slow motion camera as his feet leave the earth, his wings sluicing forward to wrap around the demon’s legs—
—as the demon curses and readies another onslaught, the spines swelling under the skin of its chest—
—and inch by inch Alec watches his wings lunge, their long ensnaring threads cutting through the air—
—and the spines grow larger and larger, peeking out through the demon’s flesh, ballooning outward—
—and one winged thread latches onto the demon’s knee—
—and the demon opens its mouth in a slow motion shriek—
—and then another thread, and another—
—the spines rising and rising and rising—
—and Alec knows that if they reach their full growth they will embed themselves directly in his face—
—but still Alec’s jaws flex, wide open, as he dives for the center of the demon’s mass—
—the song of the angels reverberating through his chest as he flies straight—
—and just as the spines begin to release he strikes, ripping the demon’s chest wide open and swallowing down flesh and black ichor, consuming the demon in three decisive bites.
After all the demons have been taken care of, there’s still no sign of Magnus. Alec has looked all over, but aside from his family—Izzy and Jace working on cleaning up spilled ichor before it can eat through too much of the concrete, Gideon and Cecily spread out talking down some of the more hysterical mundanes, Gabriel tending to a scratch on his side—the square is deserted.
“He gave me the slip,” Jace says when Alec asks, an answer which is not helping with Alec’s anxiety. There were five demons at the beginning of the attack—where was the sixth? Busy dragging Magnus into Edom? Where is Magnus?
Not here, amid the lingering smell of sulfur and ichor. That’s all Alec knows for certain. He bites his lip.
He’s just raising his phone to his ear to call for the third time when Gabriel gives him a solid slap on the back. “That who you’re looking for?” Gabriel asks, raising an eyebrow and jerking his head to the side.
Alec turns to see a portal shimmering into existence in the center of the square. Magnus, he thinks, relief coursing through him in a dizzying flood. Magnus isn’t in Edom at all, he’s right here, dressed in tight teal pants and a playful yellow-and-orange-striped shirt, right in front of Alec. Alec doesn’t realize how tense he’s been until he’s relaxing, his eyes meeting his wayward soulmate’s from across the square.
His wayward, unpredictable soulmate, who decided to disappear from right under the nose of a Nephilim there for his protection for god only knows what reason.
Alec feels his face falling into a frown. Just why did Magnus disappear from the loft today? Does he not realize how serious the situation is? Did he not think through the consequences? What if all six demons had converged on him at once while he was unprotected? What if he’d been hurt?
It’s as he has his eyes locked on Magnus, readying himself to walk calmly over and ask just what the hell Magnus was thinking when he gave Jace the slip, that Alec hears a sudden shout, the crunch of splintering concrete, and a demonic howl.
They missed one, he realizes, in the split second it takes for the demon to lunge at Magnus. They were so overwhelmed with all the minor demons popping up that they didn’t realize when one of the original five hid away, biding its time. Their distraction is the perfect opportunity for the demon to attack.
Even as he leaps across the square, wings outstretched, Alec knows he won’t make it in time.
…It’s over in an instant. Standing smack in the middle of the square, his wings flared out around him, Alec blinks.
Magnus blinks back. Then, straightening up, he grins into the space between them and winks. “You move fast, angel,” he says, snapping his fingers. Blue sparks waterfall to the ground.
Alec huffs, his wings slowly receding and his jaws closing. “So do you,” he says, impressed. He retracts his earlier question—to ask what would have happened if six demons caught up with Magnus unprotected is a moot point, because Magnus wouldn’t be unprotected. Magnus can clearly hold his own. If the speed at which he lassoed that demon and threw it into Alec’s waiting jaws is any indication, anyway. Alec shakes his head.
And then winces at the movement.
“You okay there?” Magnus asks, frowning at the face Alec is making.
Alec winces again. “I have a loose tooth. Don’t look at me for a sec.”
Magnus nods, turning away as Alec ducks his head to the side and spreads open his second mouth. With practiced fingers he reaches up and takes hold of one of the teeth in an upper jaw that was jarred loose by that last demon. He knows from experience how much loose teeth start to hurt if he doesn’t pull them right away—the tooth under them starts to push the loose one out, which isn’t the most pleasant of feelings.
It takes just a few seconds to pull the tooth free, but by the time he closes his mouth again he finds that Magnus is staring straight at him, looking startled. “Sorry,” Alec says automatically, wincing once again. “I did say not to look.”
But Magnus shakes his head, taking a step closer. “Will it grow back?” he asks, his eyes wide.
Alec nearly laughs with relief. God, he thought he’d freaked out his soulmate once again, but it turns out Magnus is… curious. He remembers on their first dinner out, Magnus looking at him with keen eyes and asking about his stomachs—he’s got the same look on his face now. It’s a little strange to think that Magnus is curious about Nephilim biology, but heck, curiosity is much better than the alternative.
“Yeah, it’ll grow back,” Alec says to answer the question. “Probably by tonight. They come in fast.”
And thus starts a barrage of questions, from ‘does it hurt to lose a tooth’ to ‘exactly how many teeth do you have’ to ‘they’re serrated?!’ Alec answers what he can, bemused. When Magnus asks to see the tooth he pulled, he cleans it off and hands it over, letting Magnus turn it around with what Alec thinks might be a look of awe on his face.
“You can keep it, if you’d like,” Alec says, watching him. “I know they’re good for certain potions.”
Before Magnus can reply, they’re interrupted by Gideon, who calls an “Everyone okay over there?” He and Cecily seem to have finished with the mundanes, and Cecily is herding the last of them off.
Alec gives an affirmative, turning toward his uncle. The elder Nephilim reaches Gabriel before he sees who exactly has arrived and breaks into a wide smile.
“Magnus Bane! Long time no see,” he says.
“If it isn’t Benedict’s boys. You two are a long way from home,” Magnus says back, planting a hand on one cocked hip. The other, the one holding the tooth, slips it smoothly into his shirt pocket.
Alec looks up to Magnus’s face just in time to get another wink, there and then gone.
They finish cleanup just before eleven, at which point the elders reopen Times Square to the mundanes, who will have to deal with the structural damage wrought by the demon attack. What the mundanes think happened tonight is anyone’s guess—perhaps they saw a bunch of wild dogs getting into a rumble amid all the tourists.
Whatever it was, it’s no longer Alec’s concern. His concern is debriefing with the elders and then, apparently, getting dragged off to Taki’s by his siblings and a bemused Magnus after they convince the elders to give them the night off. They meet up with Clary and her mundane friend as they head over, and Alec hangs back, letting them walk ahead of him in a group.
He has to hide a smile when he finds Magnus falling into step at his side. This isn’t the date he’d hoped for, but it’s still nice to get to spend some time with the warlock. Especially after how stiff Magnus sounded on the phone when Alec had called to cancel—which, now that Alec thinks about it, might have something to do with why Magnus left the loft on his own earlier?
Alec bites his lip, half-turning toward Magnus. “Hey,” he says, brushing his knuckles against Magnus’s elbow. Magnus turns to him, his gold-green eyes shining bright under the neon of the city lights. “I just want you to know that even if I’m too busy to hang out you can still text and I’ll respond when I can.”
Magnus looks over, raising an eyebrow. “I’m not saying no, but what’s brought this on, exactly?”
Alec shrugs, turning to face forward again, lips pursed slightly. “Just… when you disappeared on Jace earlier. It was just after we’d talked, wasn’t it? After I said I couldn’t go out…?”
“Ah. Well… yes.” Magnus lets out a slightly helpless laugh. “Is this where you tell me you’re not angry, you’re just disappointed in my behavior?”
“No, of course not,” Alec says in what he hopes is a reassuring tone of voice. “I just… we didn’t know where the sixth demon was and you’d disappeared without a trace and… yeah.” Alec scratches the back of his neck. “I was worried about you.”
Magnus’s smile doesn’t waver, but it does get a little softer. “You don’t have to worry. I can take care of myself if I need to.”
“Yeah, I get that now. After seeing you in motion out there… not many downworlders can put up that kind of a fight against a higher level demon.”
“I’m not your average downworlder,” Magnus says, and this time the wink is just the right kind of ridiculous to startle a laugh from Alec’s chest. He glances up ahead to see if anyone heard that, but thankfully no one is looking back at him. He breathes out, smiling despite himself.
“I’m glad,” he says, and then they’re at the diner.
It takes some maneuvering, but soon enough the six of them have crammed themselves into a corner booth, menus out as they all talk over each other. Magnus is on one end and Simon on the other, Alec across from Clary and Jace with Izzy next to him. For the first time in what seems like forever, Jace doesn’t flirt with the waitress, who leaves the table with their orders looking slightly put out. Jace, instead, has a rather odd look on his face—like he’s trying very hard not to blurt something out.
Alec raises an eyebrow at his parabatai. In response, Jace just looks at Clary, who looks back at him and nods ever so slightly.
“So… we have an announcement to make,” Jace says, cutting off Simon mid-video game reference.
Alec leans back in the booth, crossing his arms over his chest. He’s got an inkling of where this is going, and though he’s been preparing for this moment ever since Jace and Clary met he has to admit that he doesn’t feel quite ready for it.
Clary, on the other hand, takes a deep breath, her resolve hardening. “As you guys know, more of my memories are coming back,” she says. “It’s been a bumpy ride, and it’s taken more time than I hoped it would, but… I’ve finally started to remember my souldreams and—”
“It’s me,” Jace blurts, talking over her. “I’m the soulmate. It’s me.”
The table goes silent. Simon’s mouth drops open, his eyes going huge behind his glasses. Alec grits his teeth, hunching in on himself a little bit as if to deflect the weight of the news. Magnus is staring, Izzy has both her hands clapped over her mouth, Jace and Clary are both making awkward ‘okay someone say something now’ faces…
Izzy is the first to move. Lowering her hands to reveal a massive grin, she raises her glass of sparkling fae cider and lets out a “Heck yeah!” loud enough for the whole diner to hear. Then she leans into Jace’s side and starts mussing his hair, laughing with delight. “You two losers are going to be so cute together!”
“Glad you think so,” Jace grumbles, but he’s failing to hide the absolutely huge grin that’s working its way across his face. Simon, on Clary’s other side, looks like he’s swallowed a lemon, and Alec…
He sighs. It was only a matter of time, really. And it isn’t as if he’s not happy for them, it’s just…
No. He’s not thinking about this now. His parabatai deserves some congratulations, and then Alec is going to sit here and not ruin everything with whatever emotions are pushing up at the back of his throat. He’s going to listen as Clary tells them about how she wasn’t scared to see a monster in her souldreams, even if she could never remember them when she woke up again. As she tells them about how she tried her hardest to remember her souldreams for the longest time and it wasn’t until she saw Jace fight that they started to become clear. As she laughs about how awkward it was for Jace to recognize her but not the other way around. And as she does Alec will be the picture of support.
It will be fine.
He manages to keep it together all the way through their late night dinner, though he’s sure he’s not participating as much as he really should be. Magnus isn’t, either, he’s noticed—he admits to Alec halfway through that he’s sobering up a bit now from some earlier martinis, which is only a little concerning.
Dinner comes to a close just after midnight, after which Alec says goodbye to Jace and Magnus, who portal off to Magnus’s loft. Izzy is off to meet some seelie that Alec doesn’t know, which leaves Alec with Clary and Simon, who he’s been told to walk home.
It’s a little awkward, Alec will be the first to admit. Simon hasn’t quite recovered from the shock of hearing that Clary and Jace are soulbound, it seems, so he’s overcompensating by talking nonstop and not allowing any words in edgewise. Alec, feeling sluggish, weighed down by the thoughts lurking at the back of his mind, is quieter than he should be, letting Simon’s stories flow over him. No one calls him out on it, though—not until they drop Simon off at his house and start the final stretch to the Fairchild residence.
This is where Clary strikes with a well-placed: “You were kinda subdued at Taki’s. Is everything okay with you and Magnus?”
Alec bites the inside of his cheek, struggling to keep his face in check. “What? Why would something be wrong with me and Magnus?” he asks, gruffer than he means.
Clary doesn’t look away, her bright eyes watching him closely. “I don’t know. You just seemed kind of… upset. And I… I know you don’t like me assuming things, but it’s clear that you have some sort of feelings for him, so I… you know what? I should shut my mouth—”
Alec lets out a sigh, and then, against his better judgement, he holds up a hand to stop her apologies. “It’s… it’s not me and Magnus that I’m upset about,” he says.
Clary’s face falls. “So is it… is it me and Jace—?”
God, Alec is mucking this up. He runs both hands down his face, turning away to look at the starless sky above them. “It isn’t—I’m not upset that you’re soulmates with my parabatai. He deserves something—someone—good in his life.”
“So… why are you upset?” Clary asks carefully.
Alec winces, tasting something bitter at the back of his throat. They’ve reached the front of the building that the Fairchilds live in and have stopped there, facing each other. He crosses his arms over his chest, not quite looking her in the face because he… he honestly doesn’t know. He wants to be happy for them, he really, truly does.
So why can’t he?
Clary is silent for a long moment before she leans back against the side of the building, crossing her arms as well. “You know… I get the feeling that you don’t really… talk about things.”
“I talk to my siblings all the time,” Alec says, not understanding.
“No, I meant more like… okay, I’m sorry for bringing this up again, but… your soulmate. Whoever he is. Do you… do you talk about him with your siblings or do you just keep it all inside and never let it out?”
Oh. That’s what she means.
Alec feels himself go even tenser than he was, and he knows Clary can see it but he can’t… he feels like she’s backing him into a corner every time she talks to him. She’s observant, she sees things she shouldn’t see, and she’s not afraid to go after answers that she’s not really welcome to have. If Hodge is to be believed, she gets those traits directly from her father. Though where her father was concerned, the answers were only a means to an end—with Clary it’s almost like she actually… cares.
Alec bites his lip, still resolutely refusing to look at her. He’s trying to find some kind of answer that will make her back off without hurting her feelings when he feels a hand on his arm, making him tense even further.
“Alec,” she says. “I know we don’t get along that well, but please… you can talk to me if you need to, okay?”
“Sure,” he says, and pushes himself away from the wall, pushing himself out of her grasp with the same motion. He means to walk away back to the Institute—he’s walked her home safe, his job here is done—but something… something stops him.
He pauses ten feet from the light at the front of the building. “I… my soulmate…”
…The words, whatever they are, just won’t come. He clenches his jaw, raking a hand through his hair. “This is stupid,” he mutters, mostly to himself.
“Talking about stuff isn’t stupid,” Clary says, and when he turns back to her he finds that Clarissa Fairchild fire burning in her eyes. She sits down on the stoop and pats the space next to her, saying, “Tell me about your soulmate.”
Alec stares at her for a long moment. Then he hesitantly sits beside her. He opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again. It’s like pulling teeth when he says, slowly, haltingly, “I really… I really like them? God, that sounds dumb, but I… I really, really hope they like me back the same way someday.”
Clary smiles, bright and determined. “Alec Lightwood… you are the most contrary person I think I’ve ever met.”
“I’m serious. You are prickly and detail-oriented and when you don’t like something GOD are you vocal about it. But you’re also stubborn, and protective, and I think… yeah. I think you have a real shot at winning him over.”
They spend about an hour after that just talking. Clary tells Alec her mother’s story, about how Jocelyn started to doubt her husband, Valentine, but couldn’t run because of her infant son. How she hung back on the day of the uprising, kidnapped her own son, and went on the run. How she heard the news about Valentine’s death and knew that if she ever came to the Clave again she’d be eaten alive, just like he was. How she protected Jonathan and Clary, and raised them in secret. How Luke, formerly Lucian Graymark, sought her out and found her after years of searching. How they took care of the kids together, in hiding, eating ichor supplements they bought from underground downworld markets.
In return, Alec tells Clary about his soulmate. How his soulmate was scared of him the first several times they met, how they’ve slowly been finding mutual ground to stand on. How they’re from two different worlds, how difficult it’s going to be… but also how much he wants it.
He wants it so much. So goddamn much.
He gets home late that night, exhausted but pleased, and gets right to helping the elders with their investigations. They’re stalling out on any leads involved with the Silent City—they brought Jonathan in for a second questioning but he’s still locked up tight. If he knows anything, he’s not talking.
As such, at the end of the week the Clave decides that efforts are better spent making sure that there are no more threats to the remaining Silent Brothers and returning the New York Institute back to its usual programming. Which means that as Jace’s shift on bodyguard duty comes to an end, Alec is free to trade off with him, finally returning to Magnus after what feels like an eon spent away.
First, he sees off the elders at the door of the Institute.
“We’ll be back if there are any further developments in the investigation,” Gideon says, pulling Alec in for a hug. “In the meantime, make sure you keep an eye on that wayward warlock.”
“Yes, sir,” Alec says, grinning. It’s nice to know that Magnus and the elders get along so well. It makes him feel less terrified of Magnus meeting his family as his soulmate. But that’s a future worry for a future time—right now he needs to get his stuff together to go relieve Jace.
He gives his grandma and grandpa a hug each, then he’s waving them all out the door. He puts together his duffel back with a spring in his step—he gets to see Magnus! And this time they are having their date, whether the universe wants them to or not, damnit.
When he gets to Magnus’s loft, he’s barely rung the buzzer when the door opens for him. He takes the stairs three at a time, sending Jace home without fanfare when he arrives. Then it’s him, and Magnus, and the shy smile that grows on his lips as Magnus gives him a look up and down.
“Darling… let me dress you up,” Magnus says, snapping his fingers, a gleam in his eye. Alec only grins wider.
He’s never been more excited for dinner in his life.
Chapter 13: Cry Wolf
First date time!!
Edit: I have such a bad habit of posting without adding the notes I mean to add. Anyway! I think I said at one point that their first date wouldn’t be like their canon one… well I changed my mind. Also KieranIcarus made monstrophagus art!!! Check this out!!!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Mortuos cujus tempora transierunt da ei unum ultimum—”
At the sound of the words, threads of black magic begin to swirl up, coalescing in thick, ectoplasmic globs all around the room. The mirror sitting in the spell circle before Magnus is condensating with the stuff, beads of it growing thick like moss on the reflective surface. Wet veins of it seep across the walls, and, as if in response, a low howl shivers through the air.
The warlock doesn’t acknowledge any of it it. He just focuses on the chant cutting across his tongue.
“—depraehendo hoc obiectum i largiri cum animo tuo—”
The five black candles flicker, the magical residue creeping up their wicks. Growing closer now, another howl comes, this one tinged with anguish. It wraps around Magnus’s throat, attempting to choke him, but he stays strong, forcing the words to keep coming.
“—Novit iter tuum et auxilio Dei ad hoc volo ut fiat mihi—”
A single drop of the thick, black liquid slowly drips from the ceiling and slips down the back of Magnus’s neck, tickling the hairs there into standing straight up. He grits his teeth before he chants another line, fighting the forces, the voices, that demand that he stop.
“—Tui gratia lovis gratia sit cure—”
He cannot stop.
“—Tactus adfectus, actus maledictum—”
He will not stop. He will—
“—fascinare tuum anima—”
…Until he reaches the end.
Breathing heavily, hands still raised and rings glinting in the candlelight, Magnus carefully watches the sheet covering the body that rests in the second spell circle just across from him. He has one ear tuned to any sounds of stirring while the other listens, petrified, for any sign of thunder.
He’s so close. If the Clave finds him… if the Nephilim learn what he’s done…
Magnus shivers where he kneels. He’s done all he can to hide his activities from the Clave. All the illegal activities, at least. If it isn’t enough to protect him, then so be it. He’ll just have to live with it. Or die with it, as the case may be. He’ll die screaming, taking the matter of the rash of dead warlocks into his own hands because the Clave and their newly formed Accords have brushed the downworld off one too many times. At least he’ll know that he tried to make a difference.
He’s distracted from thoughts of his death by a twitch of the sheet, the body underneath spasming. He leans forward, determination coursing through his veins. The spell is temporary—it will only last a few minutes. He needs to get as much information as he can in the time they have, preferably before the Clave is alerted to the heavy presence of black magic, seeping through the air and leaving its residue on every surface in the room.
Another twitch, another spasm. Then the shape of a hand begins to move under the sheet, rasping against the floor. Up it slides, the elbow folding, until it rests just beside where the warlock girl’s head lies. The fingers curl, fumbling sluggishly, until they grip the sheet. Then, inch by inch, the fabric slips away, revealing the nose and mouth of a goat. Her warlock mark, on clear display.
She lays there for a moment longer. Then, all at once, she sits all the way up, the sheet falling away from her shredded chest, the gashes revealing gleaming white bone and torn pink muscle.
“…Hello, darling,” Magnus breathes, as her eyes fix on him. “You won’t be here long, and I need you to answer some questions for me.”
She stares across the space at him, irises bright in the flickering candlelight. He imagines that his own eyes must look similar, glimmering in the dimness. After a long moment her head tips into a nod.
“Good. Good. Now please answer me as best you can—who is the man that killed you and where can I find him?”
Dressing Alec up is something of a dream come true. Alec could have been a model in another life—a life without the runes and the Clave and the terrifying second face, perhaps. And in that life, perhaps Magnus could have been a fashion designer, put on the earth solely to dress up the adonis before him. No nightmares, no demonic sire, no memories of the stench of magic suffocating him… he sighs a little. Then he snaps his fingers, conjuring up a charcoal gray denim shirt with gold studs on the shoulders and bursts of blue, thorny flowers on the breast. For pants he decides on more denim—tan, artfully torn. Some black boots and a belt complete the look, harmonizing beautifully with Alec’s inky hair. Magnus stands back as Alec shifts a little, picking at the loose threads of the pants. The blue on the shirt goes so well with his eyes that Magnus nearly swoons.
Their actual date, on the other hand… it goes not so well.
The trouble starts before they even reach the restaurant. Alec isn’t the most comfortable out in the mundane world without his glamour, so the subway is a little awkward. And then a little more than awkward, when a man decides to try and pick Magnus’s pocket on their way down the platform.
Magnus could have handled it on his own—or, well, his biting wallet could have. But the instant the guy lays a finger on Magnus, Alec’s instincts kick in and the mundane gets seven rows of snarling teeth and the song of the angels right to the face.
Needless to say, Magnus thinks the dude wetting himself is completely justified.
Alec lets go immediately, closing his mouth. “I… wow, I am so sorry—” he says, wincing. He straightens the man’s jacket, as if that will help.
The pickpocket cowers. “Oh god, are you in the mafia? Please, sir, I want to live, oh god oh god—”
Alec glances around at the crowd they’re attracting, wincing. “I’m not in the mafia,” he says, trying to comfort the man. The man refuses to be comforted, trembling so hard that his knees are knocking together.
“Well,” Magnus says, stepping between the two of them. “Let this be a lesson to you about robbing a man on his first date.” He reaches out to pluck his wallet from the pickpocket’s hand before said wallet decides to bite. A wallet bite would be a bit moot after the scare Alec has given the poor guy.
The pickpocket swallows, nodding very seriously, his red hair flopping. “Right—right—don’t steal from gay mafia thugs or their dates, got it, totally understood—”
Not what Magnus meant, but you know what? He’ll take it. It’s time to get going before someone calls the cops on Alec.
…Alec, who looks like he wants to throw himself into the path of an oncoming train. “I’m so sorry,” he says again, though whether it’s to the pickpocket or to Magnus, Magnus isn’t sure.
“…I will admit that you protecting me is kind of hot. In a terrifying, ‘there’s something wrong with my priorities’ kind of way,” Magnus says, taking him by the arm. Then, patting the would-be mugger on the shoulder as they pass, he walks them off the platform and toward the restaurant.
Their reception there is no better. It’s the Ethiopian-Italian fusion place, a shabby downworld haunt that Magnus chose because he figured Alec didn’t want to be seen by any Nephilim. What he didn’t figure is the reaction that the downworlders would have to Alec’s sudden appearance in the doorway.
They are greeted first by a shriek, one that comes from a selkie near the door. Luigi, the owner, goes frighteningly pale, his eyes about the size of saucers. Conversation drops dead away as people twist and turn to see, and then there are several loud crashes as people dive toward the back door in a mass exodus. The remaining patrons stay glued to their seats, apparently too petrified to move.
Alec winces backwards, hunching down as if to make himself smaller and less threatening. Magnus has never felt quite this level of regret before, which is quite a feat. He clears his throat. “Well, that’s, ah… one way to clear a building.”
“Magnus!” Luigi hisses from across the room. “What have I done to warrant this kind of treatment? I thought we were friends!”
“There is no treatment! We’re here for dinner!” Magnus says hurriedly. Then he glances around at the mess of overturned plates and tablecloths pulled half-off the tables. “…Everyone’s dinner, in fact. I can pay for this.”
Luigi shakes himself, tentatively creeping forward. “Only for you, Magnus. But if he eats anyone…”
Alec raises his hands, making Luigi flinch. “Sorry, I—sorry. I’m only here for food. Just… normal human food. People are not on the table. At all. Ever.”
Luigi nods slowly, still looking unconvinced, then guides them over to seat them in the remotest corner of the restaurant.
“This might have been a mistake,” Magnus says as he takes his seat. “We could go somewhere else.”
“No, this is… fine,” Alec says. Magnus can’t quite sort out the expression on his face so he leaves it alone, waving uncertainly at one of the remaining waiters, a werewolf who is staring wide-eyed at the two of them around the edge of the door to the kitchen.
The waiter approaches like a frightened deer, edging the menus onto the table from Magnus’s side. “H-how may I h-help you tonight?” he asks.
“What are the specials?” Alec asks. He seems almost more wary than the waiter, though there’s a glint of steel in his eyes, as if his resolve is hardening. It’s the kind of look he gets in battle.
Good god, this is an unmitigated disaster.
“The sp-sp-specials?” The waiter stands there for a long moment, face blank with terror. “I… I can’t remember. Oh, god, please don’t eat me. I had an uncle who was eaten by the Nephilim.”
“I’ve never eaten anyone’s uncle,” Alec says.
The waiter blanches in anger. “How would you know? Do you ask about people’s nephews before you eat them?” he asks, snappish. Then he slaps both hands over his mouth, eyes wide.
“I eat demons,” Alec says. “Demons don’t have nephews.”
“Uh, how about I just order for us both and we can share?” Magnus asks, cutting across the waiter’s reply before the conversation can get any further out of hand. He picks a few things he thinks Alec might like, hurrying the waiter away before they have a second pants-wetting incident.
The food comes soon enough, and Magnus relaxes infinitesimally when Alec looks at the spread, impressed. He seems to know that he’s supposed to eat with his fingers without being told, as well. He is a New Yorker, Magnus supposes. Though a very odd one, at that.
After a few minutes of awkward silence Magnus opens his mouth to ask, “So, anything new and interesting happen lately?”
Alec clears his throat. “I, uh… I was talking to Clary. I didn’t tell her your name but I think she’s guessed that you’re my soulmate.”
Magnus can only roll his eyes at that. “You sister has already sussed us out as well.”
“Oh. She did?”
“Over a week ago, actually.”
Magnus hums. “I didn’t give it away,” he says. “And I’m sure she’ll keep it secret. She just wants what’s best for you and—are you all right?”
Alec frowns, his head tilted to the side. He’s just taken a bite of the penne, considering it. “Uh… you probably don’t want any of that.”
Magnus frowns as well, trying a tiny taste of the penne. It burns like fire. Alec is clearly unaffected, but it’s the thought that counts, and someone clearly thought that a heaping helping of arabiata would get to Alec.
It’s that damn waiter, trying to enact revenge, Magnus just knows it. He snaps his fingers impatiently, sparks waterfalling, but the waiter in question seems to have fled the premises—Luigi informs them somberly that the werewolf saw Alec’s reaction, went “Aw, man, it didn’t work?” and then quit on the spot.
Magnus is stewing, lamenting for the sanctity of their first real date, when the door opens behind them and Richard, of all people, walks in, surrounded by a group of gorgeous fairies.
Magnus slinks down in his seat, hoping against hope that he won’t be noticed. “Heads up, the guy who just walked in is an ex,” he says. “Well. Barely an ex. It was very casual. We parted amicably.”
At that moment, Richard catches sight of him. His entire body spasms, his face contorting. He takes in Alec next, the expression only getting worse, before deciding to yell across the entire restaurant a very pointed, “Never date a warlock! You’d be better off eating him than dating him!”
“Excuse me?” Magnus yelps, sitting up straight again. What a dramatic and entirely unnecessary thing to say! “What on earth did I ever do to you—?!”
“You enchanted the years from my life and the love from my heart!” Richard hisses loudly, still standing square across the room. The remaining patrons are whipping their heads back and forth as if watching a tennis match.
“Years!” Magnus splutters. “It was barely twenty minutes—”
“Time means different things to those who are of faerie,” Richard says, turning up his nose. “You wasted the best twenty minutes of my life!”
“Oh, for god’s sake—” Magnus huffs, as Richard turns on a heal and strides out, his fairy entourage following along. At least Magnus didn’t get a glass of wine to the face. Alec’s presence prevented that.
Speaking of Alec, he’s got a very odd look on his face, his lips pressed tightly together.
Magnus sighs. This isn’t working. “I’m sorry. I’ll just—pick up the check and—”
And then, to his surprise, Alec breaks into a wide smile, giggles starting to pour from his chest. “Oh my god,” he says, “Sorry, but I couldn’t—couldn’t hold it in anymore. Is that what amicable breakups are like?”
Magnus flounders. “I—well, I may have been mistaken about the amicable part—”
Alec laughs louder, pressing a hand to his mouth as if to stifle it. Magnus stares, the tension slowly seeping from his limbs at the sight of Alec losing himself to the amusement he’s found in the least amusing situation that Magnus could possibly have imagined for a first date. His mirth is catching, and soon enough Magnus finds himself chuckling along. Tonight has been a flop, but heck, it is absolutely hilarious from an objective point of view.
They finish their dinner between spontaneous bouts of giggles, and leave a hefty tip for Luigi at the end of the meal. Then they return to the loft, Magnus intertwining his fingers with Alec’s on the way. He’s still feeling light and giddy when they get home, all the way up until he checks his phone, which has been on silent for the duration of their night out.
He has a text from Raphael. Dead warlock child, it reads, along with an address.
“Ah,” he says, gesturing at Alec. “I was hoping that there wouldn’t be any dead bodies on date night but it seems our luck has run out.”
“…I’ll change my shirt,” Alec says, turning somber in an instant.
Alec calls up his parabatai to meet them at the address Raphael sent, and the two of them arrive just as Jace and Izzy appear on the scene. A scene that isn’t pretty, but is pretty tame, as far as bodies go. It’s clean, no blood—not around the body or inside it. The poor child, barely more than twelve, has been drained dry.
Magnus, who had been expecting a demon kill, frowns down at her. Asmodeus has been pretty quiet lately—his six weekly demons have been punctual and easy to defeat since the fiasco in Times Square, nothing particularly special. This looks more like the work of vampires than anything else.
“It’s not one of the coven,” Raphael insists, his arms folded across his chest as he stares down at the body.
“Then we’re looking for rogues,” Alec says. He leans closer, examining the wounds on the girl’s neck. “Has anyone scented the scene?”
Gabriel, head of the New York wolf pack, snarls. “This is your domain!” he hisses, pointing stubbornly at Alec from the other side of the alley. “You and that damn Clave! It’s your job, so do something!”
“Hey, buddy, all he did was ask a question,” Jace says, deceptively calm.
“I’m tired of being at the Nephilim’s beck and call whenever the Clave demands it! Oh, scent this, attack that—are we not people to you? Lift a finger and do it yourself!”
Alec rises to his full height, turning to Gabriel with more restraint than Magnus might have expected. “I know the Clave hasn’t always been reasonable, but the Accords do say that if the Clave asks for help in an investigation the downworld is required to—”
“Oh, so it’s illegal for me to refuse to be used. That sure sounds just,” Gabriel sneers.
Alec takes a deep breath, obviously preparing to come back with a succinct rebuttal. He doesn’t get very far, however, before Jace has Gabriel pinned to the wall, his jaws yawning wide and the song of the angels thrumming in the air.
Magnus’s gut lurches, fear sinking into his bones. “Don’t—” he starts, but Alec beats him to it, hauling Jace away.
Gabriel wobbles, his knees nearly giving way, before he spits a stuttering, “I’m out. Find a new pack leader, you freaks,” and turns tail, slinking away.
Alec sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Really, Jace?”
“Hey, not my fault. Can’t stand the heat then get out of the kitchen.”
Magnus rolls his eyes. Unfortunately for them, Gabriel has left them down one pack leader and up one dead warlock.
They finish examining the body and the crime scene, after which the warlock girl is sent to the Institute for an autopsy to figure out a more complete picture of her death. Then comes the arguing—about what to do with the scant evidence they have, and if a vampire is really to blame, and who to talk to about taking up the chair of the pack leader.
“…What about Luke?” Maia asks finally, after they’ve convened at the Hunter’s Moon. “I’ve been working with him at his bookshop for a while now—he’s pretty level-headed, and he gets the Clave better than most of the wolves.”
Alec blinks. “Lucian Graymark? He’s a known fugitive.”
Clary, who turned up partway through the evening, laughs. “Luke is harmless,” she says. “He defected from the Circle long before Valentine’s death—we can make a case for him and the Clave will pardon him.”
“Is he fit to lead?” Alec asks, eyes sharp on her.
“What do you mean, fit?” Maia asks.
Alec shrugs. “The werewolf transformation essentially de-runes Nephilim. Without the mshemyd he can no longer feed properly, and ichor supplements can only go so far. If going feral is a concern then I don’t feel right asking him to take up a stressful leadership position.”
“Uh… I’m not sure about that. I can ask what he thinks?” Clary says, the statement turning into a question. Alec nods.
They talk for a while longer, discussing politics and investigations, before Magnus starts to yawn. Catching his eye, Alec stands abruptly. “The autopsy should be done sometime tomorrow,” he says, addressing the table. “Until then everyone should get some rest. We’ll reconvene once we have more to go off of.”
Everyone nods, taking the last sips of their drinks before heading out. Magnus waits until he and Alec have portalled back to the loft before he falls face-first onto the couch, exhausted.
Only to startle upright again when Alec screams.
“What is it, what’s wrong?” Magnus demands, standing at attention.
Alec stands, frozen, on top of the coffee table, his wings half unfurled, pointing like fingers at a spot on the floor. He’s staring down, his eyes huge, looking about ready to take flight.
Magnus stares back, on high alert. What did Alec pick up that his wards didn’t? What is going on?
And then the spot on the floor moves, skittering across the floorboards, and Alec yelps, stumbling backward.
It’s… a spider. A pretty big one, but nothing to worry about. Magnus knows his spiders, and this one is harmless.
“Is it… the spider?” Magnus asks, uncertain.
“I hate. Spiders,” Alec hisses, still backing up. He hits the shelves on the far side of the room with a rattle, startling himself. His wings are curled around him, protective.
Magnus stares for a moment longer, then, before he can help himself, he finds a laugh crawling up his throat. “You’re—you’re scared of spiders? A Nephilim, a monstrophagus, one of the most frightening beings to ever walk this earth, is scared of spiders?”
“It isn’t funny—” Alec says, then flinches back as the spider moves again.
Magnus, still giggling, takes pity on him. With a shower of blue sparks he levitates the spider off the floor, and then, with a quick snap, banishes it outside.
Alec doesn’t relax, looking uneasily around as if there are more of them, just hiding in wait. “Are there more?” he asks accusingly, as if Magnus stocked his loft with spiders this morning just to spite him.
Magnus snaps his fingers. “None—all spiders have been relocated outside the wards.” He then walks over to Alec, gently prying his wings down, still grinning away. “You’re safe, I promise.”
Alec huffs. “I’m so glad that you find this so funny.”
“It’s just ironic,” Magnus says. “The scariest of monsters being frightened by a mere little spider.”
And then, quite without thinking, he presses an apologetic kiss to Alec’s cheek.
Alec goes rigid, huge eyes turning on Magnus as Magnus frantically computes what just happened.
Alec was scared of a spider.
Alec got pissed.
Magnus kissed Alec.
Magnus kissed Alec.
“I have to—I’m needed in bed! In my bedroom! To sleep!” Magnus says, reeling.
Alec’s expression is still a mask of shock, his mouth slack as Magnus backs up. “I… wait—” he starts, but Magnus is already gone, slipping through his bedroom door and closing it between them with a click.
That was. A kiss. Not on the lips, but still, that was—that was a real kiss. Actual lip to skin contact. Magnus runs his hand down his face, staring blankly across the room. He just kissed his soulmate.
You just had your first date with him, of course you kissed him, says an annoyed little voice in his head. Which, yes, makes sense. It’s just—this is his soulmate. On the one hand, a single cheek kiss is nothing to freak out about, but on the other hand… this could be the most important relationship in his long, long life. This could be the first kiss of many, the last first kiss he ever has.
…and all Magnus can think is how he wants to do it again. Maybe on the lips, this time. He giggles a little to himself.
…God help him.
Chapter 14: Mud and Murk
A simple chapter, filled with flowers, laughter, and cheese and crackers.
EDIT: OH SHIT WE HIT 50K WORDS LADS!!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Step step swipe step parry step parry step step step—
Alec avoids a slash at his chest, dancing back out of the way on nimble feet. Not nimble enough, he finds, as Jace swings at his ankles, forcing him to back up a stumbling step, then another, until his back is up against the training room wall. He raises his sword to shield his face as Jace aims for a finishing blow, grunting with exertion.
They’re locked with their swords crossed, neither making any progress with the other, when the door swings open and Izzy prances in, looking very pleased with herself. Alec glances over at her—which is a mistake, as in the split second he’s distracted he’s suddenly disarmed, Jace twisting his sword from his hand in a deft maneuver and pressing his own weapon to Alec’s throat.
The blond pulls back a moment later, face splitting into a grin. “I win,” he crows, singsong.
“Oh, is that what you think?” Alec asks. Jace nods, cocky. Alec keeps his face straight as he quickly examines his options. Jace might be the better swordsman, but he’s definitely not the better strategist, and Alec is hitting a growth spurt right now—he’s got four inches on his little brother.
This is gonna be fun.
Before Jace can say anything else, Alec braces himself against the wall and kicks him in the chest. Jace lets out an ‘oof’, the force of it knocking him off his feet. The swords both go flying and hit the floor with a clatter.
Alec finally lets out the grin that’s been threatening to split his face open, watching as Jace’s eyes light up. “You’re on, bro,” Jace says, scrambling onto his feet and into a fighting stance, beckoning Alec forward.
Alec goes, but before he gets far he spies the mischievous look on Izzy’s face as she watches and comes to a halt.
“Something I can do for you?” he asks, as Jace whines at him to come on already.
Izzy shrugs, pretending to clean her spotless nails. “Just wanted to tell you that I left a little surprise for you in your room,” she says, and then swings around toward the door with a very exaggerated wink.
“What did you do?” Alec demands. She says nothing, wriggling her fingers in a little wave over her shoulder. “Izzy. What did you do. Izzy. Izzy, I swear to God—”
“Ignore her,” Jace says impatiently. “It’s me you need to worry about.”
“Oh, do I?” Alec asks, turning back to his brother. It’s just in time to get the air knocked out of him as Jace tackles him to the floor.
The two of them are rolling around, Alec in a headlock, when the door opens once more. It does so with a bang, startling the pair of them. Alec taps out when he sees his father in the doorway, an angry expression on his face and a—is that a magazine in his hand?
“I didn’t know you were going to be home today—” Alec starts, only to be cut off as the magazine is thrown unceremoniously in his sweaty face.
“You didn’t know I’d be home today, otherwise you would have hidden this instead of leaving it out in the open, hm?” Robert spits. He’s not just angry—he’s enraged, furious.
Feeling completely blindsided, Alec turns his eyes downward, toward the magazine. It’s fallen open on the floor, displaying two photographs of very scantily clad men posing like pin-ups.
Alec feels the blood drain from his face as he puts the pieces together. Izzy’s ‘surprise’ and Robert’s fury and now Jace is looking, too, and oh, no.
He takes a step backward as the seams in his father’s face begin to split.
It takes the Clave nearly a week of internal debate, but by the time Alec’s last day of bodyguard duty this round arrives, Lucian Graymark has been officially pardoned. Alec is pretty sure it’s at least a little vindictive on the Clave’s part—as pack leader (if he gets the position), Luke will be subject to any and all red tape they can possibly think up to make his life difficult, as informal payback for the years he spent hiding from the Clave. They’re going to make him dance like a monkey.
Still, it’s progress. Clary was right—Luke is pretty much harmless, especially considering the scrutiny he’ll be under. He disengaged from the Circle before the Uprising, and has kept his nose clean ever since, a tick in his favor. Now he just has to get the position.
Which… goes much smoother than Alec is expecting, to be completely honest. Alec isn’t as up to date on werewolf politics as he probably should be—as such, he’s pretty surprised when Luke walks into the Jade Wolf, asks for the pack’s majority vote… and gets it, no contest.
“Wow. It was really that simple?” Alec asks, impressed, in the Hunter’s Moon later that night.
Luke, a fair-mannered guy with a deceptively youthful face and simple rectangular glasses, smiles. “More or less. Jealous?” he asks.
“A little, honestly. Everything has to be such a production in the Clave—if there isn’t someone opposing a leader they’re not fit to lead.”
Luke nods, running scarred, unMarked hands through his hair. “That’s definitely something I don’t miss. Though I could honestly do with less territory disputes. I’ve had the post for three hours and I’ve overseen six of them already.”
Alec snorts. “Fair,” he says. Then he gestures Luke forward so that the werewolf can call the downworld council to attention, sitting back to hear a fresh take on the current political climate as well as the Asmodeus situation.
The good news: they get much farther than they usually do before they dissolve into petty arguments. The bad news: there is still no definitive decision about what to do about Asmodeus. Luke mostly listens as everyone else talks, and promises to think it over, but other than that he doesn’t have much to offer at the end of his first night.
Which is fine. They’ll survive. The dead warlock girl is a mystery, but it’s probably a rogue vampire—nothing to get too worked up over. Eventually they’ll be caught and that’ll be that.
Still… Alec hovers for a moment in the loft’s livingroom, his duffel bag slung over his shoulder. “I feel like we could be doing more,” he says, when Magnus makes a questioning noise.
Magnus waves a hand dismissively, as if he wasn’t up late into the night most of the week studying the details of the autopsy report. “You’re still young—someday you’ll learn to appreciate the moments of calm in the stormy sea of life.”
“Is that what you’re doing? ‘Appreciating’?” Alec asks, gesturing to the mixed drink in Magnus’s hand.
Magnus holds it aloft with a grin and a glittery wink. “Indeed I am! I could make you one for the road, if you’d like—”
Alec raises a lip in distaste, causing Magnus to shake his head despairingly. “I’m good.”
Magnus eyes him. “I’ll find what you like to drink yet, my dear, and when I do—”
Laughing at the threatening gesture Magnus makes, Alec turns for the door before Magnus can catch the stupid smile on his face. “Sure, whatever you say. I’ll text you, yeah?”
“You’d better!” Magnus sing-songs. Alec shakes his head, closing the door behind him. He then plants himself on the stairs, waiting for Izzy to show. They have some things to talk about.
It takes a few minutes, but she soon appears at the lower door, accompanied by Meliorn, of all people. Meliorn, carrying her suitcase, rolls his eyes and pushes past Alec with hardly a word.
Alec raises an eyebrow, turning to Izzy.
“Oh, shut up. He’s cute and he likes doting on me,” Izzy says.
Sure. Whatever. Not what they need to talk about. Alec pushes his sister’s dating life from his mind—she’s more than capable of beating up any man who does her wrong—before planting his feet in front of her, crossing his arms, and clearing his throat.
“I know you know about me and Magnus,” he says, cutting to the chase.
Izzy stares at him for a long moment before her lips slowly curl into a smile. “Wow. I was expecting you to be in denial for at least another month.”
Alec frowns. “Why would I be in denial?”
“Remind me again how long it took for you to admit you were gay?”
“I—shut up! There were extenuating circumstances—”
“Suuure there were.”
Alec grunts, scrubbing his hand through his hair. Just… sisters, ugh. “Whatever. Just—you can’t tell anyone,” he says seriously.
She blinks. “What, you don’t want me to sing the fact that my brother found his soulmate from the rooftops?”
“Could you be serious for a minute, please?”
An eye roll. “Chill. I’m not going to tell. You can trust me, okay?”
Alec bites his lip, staring down at her for a long moment. “…Okay,” he breathes finally, letting out the tension in his chest. “That’s… yeah. Okay.”
Izzy eyes him. “You don’t have to be so uptight about all of this, you know that, right? Like… if you guys want to have date night while I’m on duty I’ll just find something else to do. It’s not hard.”
“You would… you’d do that for us? Cover for us?” Alec asks hesitantly. “Because we’re not just hiding this from family and friends—we’re keeping this from the Clave, and hiding things from the Clave is a serious offense. This could hurt you in all kinds of ways that you haven’t even considered yet. What if you want to be Consul one day and they ask if you’ve ever broken Clave law and—”
“Bro. Broski. My babelicious big brother—do not worry about it.”
Izzy stops him, smiling softly. “I know you think it’s your job to worry, but come on. Me? Consul? Don’t think so.”
“You’re missing the point—”
“Alec, the only point here is that I want you to be happy. If hiding is what you need right now to get there, then I’ll help you hide. It’s as simple as that.”
Alec bites his lip, staring down at his sister and the steel glinting in her eyes. Then he pulls her into a hug, a little tighter than he normally would, pressing his cheek to her hair for a long moment before hefting up his duffel bag on his shoulder and heading down the stairs.
“Maybe consider telling Jace, though!” she calls after him. She’s grinning when he glances over his shoulder. He rolls his eyes as she laughs. “Seriously, he’s going to be insufferable when he realizes we’ve all been keeping secrets from him.”
“Goodbye, Izzy,” Alec says, and closes the door before she can yell anything else at him.
The institute is the same as it ever is when he arrives. He swings past the ops center on his way to his room, to make sure he’s on the patrol schedule—Jace, sitting at one of the consoles, rolls his eyes.
“I put you on the roster,” he says.
“Just checking for myself,” Alec says back. He adjusts a few things before turning to head out again.
“Hey, wait, before you go—” Jace says, leaning out the door after him. “Me and Clary are going out with Simon to watch one of Simon’s friends make a fool of himself onstage. Want to come with?”
“Before you say no, consider the fact that I’ve barely seen you for two weeks.”
Alec scrubs a hand down his face. “I… yeah, okay, fine. What time?”
“…Now?” Jace says, flashing some dimples in a winning smile.
“Fine. Just let me change,” Alec sighs. Jace gives him a thumbs up, and Alec shakes his head, heading for his room. Once there he unzips his duffel bag, intending to dump it out on his bed now and sort it out later, but before he gets to the dumping part he spies a little magical bulb nestled amid his sweaters.
He reaches a hesitant hand in, pulling the bulb free. It’s the size of his hand and feels almost like glass, though warm to the touch. It glimmers like an opaque soap bubble as he turns it around. On its side are inscribed two words, Latin if he’s not mistaken: mihi apertum.
Magnus. It has to be. Smiling to himself, Alec reads the words aloud, watching as the bulb pops like a bubble and reveals a flower that unfurls in his hand. It’s creamy white, with seven even petals, just the right size to fit in his palm. He holds it up, amused at the touches of glitter on the tips of the stamen that glimmer as he twirls it around.
It’s the first gift Alec has ever been given by someone who isn’t family. The first flower, the first soulgift, the first reminder that someone is thinking of him and wants him to know that he’s on their mind even when he’s away. He holds it carefully, giddiness soaring in his chest.
…And then whirls around, hiding it behind his back, as Jace barges in to tell him to quit procrastinating and change already. “I’m coming, I’m coming,” he promises, ushering Jace out the door. He takes one more long look at the flower before tucking it away behind the stacks of folded sweaters in the bottom of his wardrobe.
Being out and about with Jace and Clary is… still not the greatest feeling. Even with Simon there to temper their gooey love-eyes, it’s hard to be around them. Alec almost wishes he could drink just to get his mind off how jealous he is of them.
It isn’t their fault, he reminds himself every time he begins to sink into the funk. Because it’s not. It isn’t their fault they can be open about their relationship, that they’re free to love who they love. And it isn’t as if he has no one to talk to—Clary and Izzy both made sure of that. It was good to talk some of it out. Still, he can’t force Clary or Izzy or Jace to carry the weight of all of his emotions for him. He has to figure some of this out on his own.
…Just like he had to figure things out on his own when he was seventeen and his father thought he was looking at male pin-ups.
“…Why did Izzy give this to you?” Jace had asked, after saving Alec’s ass by convincing Robert that it was a prank. Robert had just left, satisfied that his son was not debasing the family name, but his threats still hung on the air.
Alec brushed it off, shrugging, refusing to reveal how hard his heart was pounding in his chest, how sick to his stomach he felt. “She thinks I’m gay because I’ve never had a girlfriend.”
“Do you want one? I can hook you up—”
Shoving the feelings down was like swallowing glass, but Alec did it. “I just want to focus on my training right now,” he managed to get out. “I have eternity to find my soulmate.”
It got Jace off his back. Jace, who rolled his eyes and called Alec a romantic. The same Jace who is sitting in front of him now, side by side with Clary, whooping at the unhealthy-sounding rhyme that Simon’s friend is reciting onstage. Alec can feel himself staring at the hands Clary and his parabatai have clasped on the table, the murk growing in his gut. He forces himself to look away before it becomes too obvious. The last thing he wants is to hurt his siblings with his own muddled emotions.
Alec’s phone buzzes. Hope you liked my little surprise, says a text from Magnus.
Alec forces down the smile that threatens to overcome him at the thought of the flower. In a world where he can’t be himself, Magnus helps. God, does Magnus help. Magnus doesn’t even know he’s doing it but he makes the weight of all of this easier to shoulder with every little thing he does. The way he takes everything in stride, the way he seeks out and surrounds them both with bright and colorful things… his spontaneity, his humor, his laugh… god. He makes Alec feel like he could walk on water.
If Alec could do even one little thing to make Magnus feel even a quarter as good as he does he wouldn’t even think, he’d do it in a heartbeat.
The idea comes to Alec slowly over the course of the next day.
He’s never been a romantic kind of person—in all honesty he’s repressed as much of his romantic side as he possibly could, on the grounds that he would never be able to act on it. Magnus, though… Magnus makes him want to do candlelit dinners and bottles of champagne and valentines chocolates. Magnus and his glitter, Magnus and his flowers, Magnus Magnus Magnus.
The idea… it’s not a candlelit dinner but it’ll do. Alec hopes, at least. It will, at the very minimum, give Magnus a break from his duties as High Warlock, from the murdered warlock girl that Alec knows is still weighing heavily on his mind.
“Hi,” he says, when Magnus opens the door for him. It’s mid-afternoon on a Wednesday, and Alec has it on Izzy’s authority that Magnus has a few hours between clients.
“Here to kidnap me?” Magnus asks, taking in the backpack slung over Alec’s shoulder.
Alec grins. “Is it a crime that I want to steal my soulmate away for a bit?”
“Touche, my dear. Izzy darling! I’m going out! Don’t wait up! And don’t host any parties while I’m away, you know how I hate missing parties.”
“No promises,” Izzy calls from the other room.
Magnus harrumphes. “Teenagers. Can’t trust the lot of them.”
“I’m a teenager,” Alec reminds him.
“…Perhaps I will make an exception.”
“Thanks. Anyway, I was wondering—can you portal to specific coordinates?”
“Yes?” Magnus says, drawing out the vowel. “Do I get to know where we’re going or—?”
Alec shakes his head, pulling out his phone to give Magnus the coordinates. He worries for a second that Magnus will hesitate, that his declaration of trusting Alec was just a joke and he’s not actually comfortable with Alec taking them out to an undisclosed location. But Magnus doesn’t hesitate in the slightest, and Alec’s heart soars as Magnus opens a glowing portal without a second thought.
It’s raining when they arrive at the trail marker. Magnus curses, shielding his make-up, but Alec is already pulling out an umbrella that he’d stowed away in his bag just in case.
“Come on,” he says, holding the umbrella above Magnus’s head and gesturing which direction to walk. It’s only a little ways, stepping carefully through the mud, and then they’re cresting a hill and coming into view of a beautiful little cliff face with a beautiful little waterfall. Alec guides them around the rock’s side until he finds a suitable overhang, clicking the umbrella closed. He then sets about setting up the picnic he stowed away in his bag, blanket and all.
“We’re not far from the city, are we?” Magnus asks as he watches, enamored.
“No, not too far. I wanted to keep us close to home.”
“How do you know about this place?”
Alec shrugs. “Hodge told me about it. He used to go hiking out here a lot before he got cursed.”
“It’s beautiful. I’ll have to give Ragnor a heads up,” Magnus murmurs. Then he folds himself down onto the blanket, snapping his shoes off to get comfortable. Alec holds out a cracker with cheese for him and he opens his mouth expectantly, batting his lashes until Alec laughs and feeds him by hand.
It’s nice. The sound of the rain falling and the waterfall in the distance is soothing, and without waiters to scare or snooty exes to yell across the restaurant it goes much smoother than their first date. Even when Alec laughs too hard at one of Magnus’s jokes and nearly inhales a cracker, it’s nice. Slow, maybe, with talking instead of kissing, but they could use something slow and steady in the wake of the hurtling, unstoppable train wreck that tends to be the rest of their lives.
And then Magnus’s tablet goes off.
“How, pray tell, do you have service out here?” Alec demands.
“I have service everywhere, darling,” Magnus says.
Alec groans. “…All that effort I put into making sure we could go out to a secluded spot to get away from the rest of the world for a little while, and here you are, with your magical tablet, ruining everything—”
Magnus, laughing, plants a hand over Alec’s mouth. “Hush! Only a few very special friends video call me on the tablet, I’ll just answer and tell them to leave us alone—”
“You’d better,” Alec says, muffled.
Magnus rolls his eyes, flicking the app open. “Hello, dearest friend who is calling me at the worst possible time. I’m a tad busy at the moment, would you mind if I called you back later?”
“Out on a date, huh?” says a mischievous voice. A mischievous voice that Alec recognizes instantly.
“Uncle Will?” he says, before he can help himself. He then winces, planting his hand over his mouth.
For a long moment there’s silence. Then—
“Him? He’s the one? My little baby nephew Alec is your soulmate? And you neglected to mention this?!”
Magnus flails, the tablet floating in front of him. “What—no, of course not! He’s on bodyguard duty, I swear to it—”
“Don’t lie to me, Magnus Bane. You told me just yesterday that it was Izzy’s turn. You’re out on a date with my sweet baby nephew and you know it!”
“We were keeping it on the down low, William, so shut your mouth before the whole world hears!” Magnus hisses.
“I absolutely will not! Now show me his unharmed face before I cross the pond just to eat you alive.”
“How dare you threaten to eat me!” Magnus says. He puts on a very good affronted act, but his lips are twitching as he gestures for Alec to join him.
Alec, torn between laughter and mortification, leans into frame. “Hi, Uncle Will,” he says. “This is… not how I was hoping you’d find out.”
Will snorts. “Just tell me he’s not taking advantage of you. That’s all I want to know.”
“He’s not, I swear.”
“Good. It’s not that I don’t trust him—”
“Could have fooled me,” Magnus mutters.
“—but family has to stick up for family, right, kid?”
“Yes, sir,” Alec says, rolling his eyes. “Now if you’ll excuse us…”
“Behave,” Will says, forking two fingers at them. “The both of you. I don’t want to be hearing about no babies nine months down the line—”
“—And that’s enough of that!” Magnus says quickly, snapping his fingers. The tablet disappears with a pop.
For a moment the two of them sit, side by side, avoiding each other’s gazes. Then Magnus giggles, and Alec giggles, and just like that they’re laughing, together, falling against each other as the sound of the rain echoes all around them.
Alec goes home that night with a spring in his step. He and Magnus might be in hiding, but each time the secret gets out and someone doesn’t freak out on them his hope for a good future, a future where he can be who he wants to be and love who he wants to love, gets a little bit brighter.
I know nothing about Meliorn except that he’s a seelie knight, rip.
Chapter 15: Lullaby for the Damned
Sorry for the delay, Lizards!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“…I can’t believe you’ve gotten me drunk.”
Magnus snickers, elbowing his dear friend—who, need he remind everyone, clearly needed to let loose a little—in the ribs. “I can’t believe you’ve never had rum before,” he says in response, wriggling his eyebrows. Said bottle of rum is scandalously close to empty, and only half thanks to Magnus.
Ragnor, who is flushed a dark forest green, huffs haughtily. “It’s not hard when you’re civilized.”
Magnus rolls his eyes. Oh, the insults! Will they never cease?! “Insinuating that I, Magnus Bane, most handsome creature this side of the turn of the century, am not civilized—?”
A glare. “Anything but. You’re a rake.”
Magnus splutters. “A ra—how dare you! Take that back, you—you—cabbage!”
Ragnor does not. Which is really rather rude of him, considering all he’s done all night is insult Magnus nonstop. And after Magnus has so magnanimously offered to pay for their rum, too! Rum might be cheap in the Caribbean in—in—what year is it, again? 1762, maybe?
Magnus frowns, distracted. It can’t be later than ‘68, can it? He tries to count on his fingers but quickly finds that he doesn’t have enough of them. He’s just about to glamour up some more when he realizes they’re no longer in the city proper. They are, in fact, nearly at the rock quarry at the edge of the city—a deep crevice that splits the earth, spreading out through the jungle for several kilometers. It’s a place that the locals warn vehemently against.
“’The rocks sing at night,’” Magnus quotes as he takes in the sight, remembering the words of the inn-keeper who warned them away just before they left for their night of debauchery. “’Dreadful, dreadful lullabies.’”
Ragnor huffs again. He’s not one to denounce superstitious folk, as he was raised among them, but he generally likes to find out whether said superstitions are true or not for himself.
Magnus, knowing this, grins a little to himself. “Well. If the rocks are to sing to us we should give them a proper audience, no?” He then begins to slip and slide down the loose sand at the edge of the quarry.
“…Wait,” Ragnor says, grabbing hold of him before he gets far. “Something is moving down there.”
Damn, the cabbage isn’t nearly as drunk as Magnus thought he was. “Then we shall go and greet it!” Magnus says, and raises his voice to sing, “We’re coming, dear quarry spirits! Don’t start the party without us!”
The last thing he expects is a response. This is, of course, the first thing he gets.
It starts as a low hum, wafting across the air. Magnus freezes where he stands, his eyes going very, very wide. Even half a bottle of rum down he knows that sound. “…Yes, alright, mayhaps it’s time to, ah, head out—” he says, dropping the bottle and grabbing for Ragnor’s hand.
He’s just gotten a foot up on the edge of the quarry when another thread of the song of the angels joins the first, the both of them weaving through and around each other. And then there’s another, and another, and before he knows it the hum has become a thrum that feels like it’ll lift him off his very feet.
It doesn’t hurt. He realizes this first. They’re far enough away that the song of the angels is like a distant droning beat. He can feel it in his chest, but it’s not enough to really shake him, to feel like his bones are rattling apart.
It’s horrifying. It’s disturbing. It’s… mesmerizing. As more and more threads join in, and the voices of the Nephilim rise like a heavenly choir, Magnus finds himself pausing instead of climbing. He’s relaxing, his arms going limp at his sides. Even as Ragnor pulls at him, yanking him forward by his justacorps, he finds himself humming along, nonsense notes flitting from his tongue as his eyes slip closed.
“I want to… go down there,” he says to Ragnor. “I want to… go and… be cleansed.”
“Not on my bloody watch,” Ragnor spits, terror and ferocity warring in his face as he fights, fights, fights the mesmer of the angels singing in the quarry. “We are getting the hell out of here!”
Magnus hums, head lolling. “’S it… siren song?” he asks, conversationally. “I’ve always been told to run from siren song but it’s… it’s very pleasant.”
“Yes, yes, intoxicating even,” Ragnor huffs. He’s got his hands under Magnus’s arms at this point, all but dragging him out of and away from the quarry. “I suppose it would be too much to ask you to put a sound block on yourself until we’re out of harms way.”
Magnus pouts. “But I like it.”
“You won’t like it when it tears you apart,” Ragnor says darkly.
“Oh, fine. Just because you’re being so grouchy,” Magnus says, and snaps his fingers.
The shock of the song of the angels falling away is like being doused with ice water. He gasps, spasming in Ragnor’s grip, as the terror and dread FLOOD back in. He can still feel the vibrations of the song of the angels, but instead of a pleasant thrum it is crawling under his skin, and he knows, in the way that people know they are too close to the edge of a cliff, that he is much too close to the Nephilim below.
He seizes Ragnor’s arms, looking up into his dear friend’s terrified face. Ragnor’s lips move and Magnus waves a hand, adjusting the spell so he can hear Ragnor’s voice but nothing else, the words cutting in suddenly.
“—need to get out of here,” Ragnor says, and this time Magnus just nods, standing up on knees as weak as melted wax. He stumbles away from the quarry, arm in arm with Ragnor, and tries not to think about the chorus of heavenly voices…
…and the beautiful, holy demise they promised.
The second murder comes on Friday, this time a werewolf. Again a child, again discovered in an alleyway, and again drained completely of blood. There isn’t so much as a drop left behind.
It’s troubling, to say the least. Magnus paces up and down the alleyway, trying to get any magical read on the situation. If there are any traces of magic to be found, any at all—
But there’s nothing. The concrete is naught but a cold, silent sentinel, giving nothing away. Magnus leaves the scene, Izzy at his side, with a niggling sense that something just isn’t right about all of this.
It’s just the nightmares, he tells himself, as he sits in bed at 4 AM a few days later. He wrenches his fingers through his hair, staring into the distance. He hasn’t been settled in his skin since this whole thing with Asmodeus and the demons began, of course something doesn’t feel right. The kills plus the demons plus the nightmares… not to mention the whole event at the Silent City… it’s all weighing on is mind, but that doesn’t mean it’s all connected. People don’t like to admit it, but when something shakes the Clave—something like an unknown entity breaking in and killing Silent Brothers—the downworld gets antsy. So that plus the kills plus Asmodeus and his plans equals unease.
Easy. Simple. It doesn’t have to be some huge conspiracy—the kills are just a rogue vampire that Raphael doesn’t have a handle on. That has to be it. There are no dots to connect, no strings to tie from one event to another, no conclusions to jump to. It’s a simple case, open and close.
Except… what if it’s not?
With a groan, Magnus rolls from his bed and snaps a grimoire into his hands. He sets to pacing up and down his room, lighting the bead-covered lamps that decorate his tables as he goes. He knows he should try to get back to sleep, but the images waiting for him—all his closest friends, laid out on the ground, torn apart with their lifeless eyes leering at him—are getting rather old and he doesn’t feel like giving Asmodeus the satisfaction of watching him squirm tonight. Instead he sets to work, searching for anything that might make all the random jigsaw pieces he has fit together. He just… this will make sense. He’ll figure this out.
And if, in the meantime, the only thing keeping him going is the memory of his date with Alec? The thought that they’ll have another one soon? Well, no one has to know.
“…You’re looking pretty rough, bro. Demons getting to you?”
Magnus rolls his eyes, snapping all three of the books floating around him shut. Jace, currently on bodyguard duty, is standing in the doorway to the study—how long he’s been there Magnus isn’t exactly sure, but he’s got a smirk on his face that makes Magnus think it’s been a while.
Demons… ugh. Magnus wishes the demons were the problem. “They’re not getting to me, no, but if they do you’ll be the first to know,” he says, just this side of acerbic.
Jace raises his hands in surrender. “Okay, no need to bite my head off.”
With a hefty sigh, Magnus tilts his head back, closing his eyes. “I’m fine, Trace.”
“That’s what I said.”
Jace’s face twists in a wry smile. “…Right. Well, fine or not, there’s a warlock here saying that you missed your two o’clock appointment.”
Aw, nuts. Magnus strides—not rushes, thank you very much—to the door, only to turn around at the last moment to take a look in the mirror on the desk. He spends a few moments fiddling with his hair, snapping locks into place, and then strides from the room to go deal with the warlock waiting in his living room.
…The warlock who is quick to rail on him for his ‘uncouth and unprofessional behavior’. Ugh.
“Yes, Astex, I know. I was caught up in—”
“It’s all those Nephilim you’ve been keeping company with,” Astex says, eyeing Jace, who is leaning in the doorway, with clear distaste. “You were never like this before you got… involved with them.”
Magnus’s eye twitches. He hardly has patience on the best of days, but right now? It’s running woefully thin. “Is that so?” he asks, his voice carefully even.
Astex has never been a very self-aware sort of person. As such, Magnus is unsurprised that he nods enthusiastically, eager to continue. “The Nephilim are bad news, Magnus, believe you me—”
“I see,” Magnus says. “And you’re willing to criticize your High Warlock on his conduct and his alliances… right to his face? Hm. You are a very brave man, Astex.”
All at once Astex’s tongue comes to a screeching halt, as if he’s just now realized what he’s done. “I—it wasn’t in bad faith, I assure you—”
“Oh, no, I understand completely,” Magnus says, cutting him off. “You can’t please everyone, as they say. Tell me, what would you have me do?”
Astex gapes, his mouth opening and closing. “I—the Nephilim—”
“Oh, yes. Get rid of the Nephilim. I presume your position on the matter is that they are vile creatures who should never be trusted?”
Astex nods, a jerky motion.
Magnus blinks, his eyes flaring with magic. It sings within him, pouring outward in a pyroclastic display fueled by his frustration and his ire and his irritation absolute. He leans in close to Astex, letting the magic spark just high enough to sting, as he says, “Then you are a bigger fool than I had previously imagined.”
“Wha—but the Nephilim—”
“I protect the warlocks, Astex. If that means choosing to side with the lesser of two evils, then I will.” His magic flares higher, his slitted eyes sparkling with vibrant blue as he stares down at the warlock before him. “Because unless you’ve forgotten, there was a very good reason I was chosen for this position. If the Nephilim really are as bloodthirsty as you say they are, and I really am as weak and powerless as you think I am, then you have some very big problems on your hands, hm?”
For a long moment no one moves. Bare inches from Magnus’s sparking display Astex cringes, eyes huge in his face, looking thoroughly unsettled.
For a moment Magnus is sure that he’s gone too far. The last thing he wants is to come across as an unhinged asshole who will threaten his people into line, but here he is, showing off his powers like an unhinged asshole who will threaten his people into line. God, what is wrong with him?
He’s about to apologize when Jace snorts, and the spell is broken. “You’re right, Magnus—I shouldn’t doubt you,” Astex says all in a rush, eyes wide in awe. “If you think the Nephilim are necessary then I say we accept it and move on!”
Magnus blinks, easing his magic down and leaning back again. He considers this for a moment before brushing some imaginary dirt from Astex’s shoulder. “Good. That’s… good. Glad that we talked that out. Now, how about we go take a look at those wards?”
“Quite a light show you put on back there,” Jace comments, an hour later.
Magnus hums. They’re just outside of Astex’s townhouse on the outskirts of the city, walking side by side down the street. They can’t portal within the confines of the wards, which unfortunately means they have ample time for Jace to say, “I’m serious. You’d have an impressive threat display if you were a Nephilim.”
Is that supposed to be a compliment? Magnus thinks it is, ugh. “Yes. Well,” he says, opening a portal with a snap of his fingers. It’s time to get back to work, portaling around the city and tending to the ever-growing list of people asking for new wards and/or adjustments on old ones. Thanks to that whole debacle they’re late for their next appointment, which will inevitably make them late for the one after that, and so on and so forth. Today really is not Magnus’s day. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.
Except it isn’t. It’s appointment after appointment, portal then ward then portal then ward, nonstop, all on top of another night spent tossing and turning instead of sleeping. And then comes the next day, the same again, and then the next day, the same again, the only disruption to the schedule the demons and their tired attempt to nab Magnus and pop back into Edom.
It’s exhausting. Magnus feels like he hasn’t been able to properly recharge in days, now—maybe weeks. A month, or even two. The sleepless nights, they’re stacking on top of each other, sucking the life from him. The days are blurring together, his magic is streaming from his bones like a leaky faucet, his mind is swirling from all the grimoires and history books he’s read in the last however long—it’s all taking its toll.
Which, he reflects, leaning against the railing on his balcony in the loft early one morning, is exactly what Asmodeus wants.
He sighs. Then he lifts his head, staring in confusion as Alec steps through the door and onto the balcony behind him.
“Hi,” Alec says, a soft smile on his lips. Then, “You don’t look very happy to see me, should I come back later?”
“I’m not unhappy, I’m just… why are you here?”
Alec blinks. “I just switched out with Jace. It’s my week.”
Oh. Magnus leans back on his elbows, letting his eyes fall closed. So it is, so it is. Funny how time gets away from him like that. And by funny he means annoying. Just like all of this is annoying. All of this—this—intrigue, and bloodshed, and the goddamn nightmares—
“…Are you all right?”
Magnus’s lips quirk into a smile at the concern in Alec’s voice. “I’m fine, Alexander. Just feeling a little…” He waves a hand about in the air, as if to imply some sort of something, a word to encompass it all that he can’t be bothered to find. The curse of living in interesting times, perhaps. He hopes Alec understands.
He does, if the way he gently takes Magnus’s hand in his own and begins to massage his palm is any indication. The Nephilim’s hands are calloused and strong, and he’s sure of his movements, as if he’s done this exact thing a hundred times before. Maybe he has—for his mother, or his sister, or someone else he cares about. And now he’s extended that care to Magnus, in what feels like the first reprieve Magnus has had in days, weeks, months of the same old same old exhausting mess of his life.
Magnus lets out a breath, allowing his head to fall against Alec’s shoulder as Alec slowly works his way up Magnus’s arm, massaging all the tension away.
“Come on,” Alec says, after he’s gone across Magnus’s shoulders and down the other arm, leaving Magnus feeling like jello. “Let’s go watch something.”
…How can a man say no to that?
It’s a nice morning, while it lasts. Magnus dozes lightly through a few episodes of Buffy, never quite entering proper REM sleep, and when he wakes again he feels marginally less inclined to snap at the next random stranger who breathes too loud. Hopefully it’ll last till the end of the day, he muses, neatening himself up a bit with a snap of his fingers. His magic feels sluggish, like it’s reluctant to come at his command.
Unfortunate. He’ll just… get through today and then he can run a long bath and eat some take-out and maybe recharge a tiny bit before doing it all again tomorrow. Sounds like a plan, right, universe?
…God, he’s talking to the ineffable cosmos themselves as if they can hear him and respond. He really needs some actual goddamn sleep.
The good news is that the planned part of the day goes according to plan. The bad news is that five ward placements and six portals later, Magnus is just dropping a magical bath bomb into his bubble bath when a fire message zings past his head.
“Oh, come on! I thought we had an understanding!” he says aloud.
The fire message does not do him the pleasure of disappearing.
Groaning, Magnus scoops it up. It takes everything in him not to rip the paper up into little tiny pieces, but he manages, and then he’s sweeping from the bathroom and swapping his bathrobe for the clothes he just changed out of, collecting Alec and heading off.
They arrive at the Du Mort minutes later, coming out of the portal at a sprint. Raphael meets them, gesturing Magnus in to one of the furnished living quarters. A vampire girl with the face of a twelve-year-old stares up at Magnus as he approaches. She’s still, calm, despite the gaping wound at her throat.
“Can you speak?” Magnus asks as Alec goes to talk to Raphael about the attacker. The vampire girl shakes her head.
Not good. Vampires are fast healers, but something like this is going to take a bit of magical intervention if they want it to heal correctly.
Magnus leans forward, his hands in clear view. “This is going to be uncomfortable for us both,” he says.
Then, sweat breaking on his forehead, he forces his magic to his fingertips and begins to stitch her vocal cords back together.
The whole procedure takes about an hour, and by the end of it Magnus is barely standing. Alec is done talking with Raphael, which is good, because Magnus isn’t going to be staying upright for much longer. He’s drained nearly every reserve he has, and he has just enough juice to portal them home before his body decides to hell with it and forces up the Chinese food he ate earlier.
“Whoa, whoa—are you okay?” Alec says. His voice is swimming in Magnus’s ears.
Magnus hums. He’s not sure, actually. It’s been a long time since he overdrafted his magic like this. Was it 1878, last this happened? Before that, even? Couldn’t have been that time in the 1720’s. Magnus could have sworn it’s happened at least once since.
Oh. He’s falling. And… now he’s floating? No… not floating. It’s just Alec, carrying him as easily as he carries his duffel bag.
Magnus closes his eyes, and when he opens them again he’s lying in his bed. He shuffles—his feet are bare and there’s a blanket drawn up to his chest. Nice. The lights are low and he hums again. He feels like he’s been stretched out like taffy, which is unpleasant, but his bed was literally made for him. It’s time to sleep.
Well, first it’s time to turn over, because who the hell sleeps on their back? He groans, hauling himself over, his head rolling on the pillow until—oh dear Jesus.
Well. That’s one way to give a guy a heart attack.
Magnus blinks, watching the segments of Alec’s face slowly undulate, not quite opening but not quite closed, either. He’s lying on top of the covers, propped up on an elbow as a soft, sub-audible drone pours from his throat. It’s softer and sweeter than any angel song Magnus has ever heard, though he can still feel it rattling in his teeth when he focuses.
Magnus contemplates this. Usually when Alec sings, it means there’s a threat. He never opens his second mouth unless he’s getting ready to eat something. Ergo, there must be some threat, something waiting just behind Magnus that Alec is preparing to pounce on.
Magnus twists around, the world swimming around him, confusion building when he finds nothing there. Is Alec going to eat… Magnus? But Magnus isn’t a demon. But he’s part demon, so maybe that counts…?
No. This isn’t a threat display. Magnus has seen those. Jace does it all the time. This is something… different. It doesn’t hurt, and it’s not scary. It’s… nice.
…The only logical conclusion that Magnus can think up in this state is that Alec can purr as well as roar.
Huh. That’s… that’s interesting. Magnus turns back around, staring at the semi-open seams cutting across Alec’s beautiful human face. There are some fascinating implications to this realization, but before he can think about them he finds his cheek back on his pillow and his eyelids drooping. He’s boneless, more relaxed than he’s ever been in his life, and between one breath and the next he’s out.
He doesn’t wake for thirteen hours, and in all that time not a single nightmare comes to play.
Not sure if this chapter is good or not but yeet!
On another note, I started watching Shadowhunters and man... what the heck is going on?? I'm up to episode four and I'm flummoxed.
Also, re: critiques--I do take critiques into consideration, but I have a vision for the fic and I'm probably not going to change it entirely for one commenter. Also, please keep in mind that there's a difference between a critique and a criticism. I will respond to both because I do my level best to reply to all comments, but I'd rather have an open dialogue than an accusation. If you aren't satisfied with what I'm doing, you're under no obligation to continue reading. Thank you.
Chapter 16: To the Death
Some things become clear.
The noise of the crowd is enormous. Like a cloud of smoke the cacophony of an angelic chorus rises, drifting upward from the frothing mass of gnashing teeth and drooling tongues—its vibration on the air rattles bones and pumps blood through veins, injecting excitement into the bodies of every person in attendance. Every single person… except one.
Alec huddles in his seat, his little shoulders hunched inward. When they first sat down he’d been eager, excited, soaking up the time alone with his daddy as his daddy told him all about the Angelustadio, the sister amphitheater to the Colosseum that was built in Alicante in the year 1393. Alec isn’t very good with numbers yet—he can only count to twenty—but he liked hearing about the thousands and thousands of people who could be seated in the Angelustadio.
He does not like the fighting. The rumble of the crowd as the two figures in the arena below circle each other. The fact that his father pushed him back into his own seat when he tried to hold onto his arm, eyes wide, scared. He didn’t like that at all. But he’s a big boy now, and daddy doesn’t hold him anymore, and—
A sudden roar vibrates across the amphitheater, and Alec startles from his thoughts. He stares up at the screens above them, dwarfed by the massive projections of the fighters below.
Hodge has told him about duels before. About the laws of Nephilim combat. On a brain level, Alec recognizes what they’re doing as a threat display. Wings and jaws flared open as wide as they’ll go, the fighters roaring back and forth, the song of the angels volleying across the arena… it’s a measure of strength and vitality, and whoever shows more gets to make the first move. It’s an ancient and beautiful tradition, according to Hodge. Alec knows this, and yet…
He glances over at his daddy. His daddy, who has his second mouth open, the eyes that rim his jaws locked on the enormous screen projected before them. He is entirely focused on the fight, the match, the aemulatio between the two fighters. Alec knows that this is a big event, that this only happens once every hundred years, but a hundred is a big number and he just… he doesn’t really understand.
Not as the larger of the two figures, a massive eleven feet and seven inches tall, lunges forward on some unspoken cue and manages to sink its teeth into the shoulder of the smaller figure.
Not as the sound of tearing flesh rings across the stadium.
Not as the second figure screams…
…and Alec’s daddy whoops…
…and Alec curls tighter…
…his blue eyes wide…
…as the Nephilim Elder tears her inferior apart piece by piece by piece.
It’s been a long day. A tedious day. The kind of day that seems to drag on for a stretch of forever, the fingernails of eternity dragging down the chalkboard of the universe and turning the earth on its axis with unbearable slowness. And of course, it all had to wrap up with an emergency healing.
It isn’t exactly a surprise when Magnus, face wan and hands shaking, gets through the portal and steps into the loft just in time to heave up dinner.
Alec sees it coming from a mile away. He knows that Magnus hasn’t been sleeping well for a while now—it was bound to catch up to him sooner or later. Still, unaccustomed to magical depletion as he is, it takes Alec a moment to catch up to what’s going on and what, exactly, he should do.
The solution, according to his brain, is to stare for a long moment, saying ‘whoa’ repeatedly and asking if Magnus is okay. News flash, brain—Magnus is very much not okay.
Thankfully, his instincts kick into gear a moment later when Magnus starts to sway on his feet, and Alec catches his swooning soulmate before he can hit the ground. “The 1720’s suck,” Magnus slurs, going boneless as Alec hefts him up, one arm under his knees and one under his shoulders. The warlock, for all that he gives off the impression that he’s light and dainty, more of a flamboyant gesture than a man, is actually quite solid. He slow blinks as Alec carries him into the master bedroom, waving one hand airily. He then mumbles something else about the 1720’s, looking very serious about whatever nonsense he’s on about.
Alec nods seriously. “Do you think you could keep down some water?” he asks, setting Magnus down against the headboard so he can pull down the sheets for him. Magnus kicks weakly at the sheets, eyes closed and head lolling, and Alec takes the opportunity to grab his ankle, prying off one shoe then the other so that Magnus can scoot down into a prone position.
“Water?” he says again, once Magnus is bed-ready.
Magnus shakes his head, flopping it back and forth on the pillow with a groan.
“Okay,” Alec whispers, pulling the sheets up around Magnus’s chest. “Sleep well. I’ll check on you in a little bit.”
Magnus hums. He mumbles something else, too slurred for Alec to understand, clearly halfway to dreamland already. Alec watches him for a moment, a small smile playing on his face, before he realizes what he’s doing and hurries off to clean up the mess in the living room.
It’s after he’s done with that, all signs of vomit cleaned right up, that he hears Magnus calling his name.
He moves on instinct, sticking his head around the door frame, worried that Magnus is feeling sick again. What he finds instead is Magnus propped up on an elbow, one eye just barely squinted open, a pout on his lips.
“What is it?” Alec asks. It comes out unbearably soft, and his heart all but melts in his chest when Magnus just flails an arm out to pat the bed beside him. That’s an invitation if Alec has ever seen one—Magnus, despite how off he’s feeling right now (or maybe because of it, though Alec doesn’t want to get his hopes up), wants his company. Alec can give him that. Gladly.
He slips his own shoes off and climbs onto the bed, crawling carefully over Magnus to reach the other side. He doesn’t realize, at first, that he’s begun to purr even before he’s settled down. It comes as a surprise—he purrs for his siblings when they’re having bad days, and sometimes for his mother when she’s feeling especially tired, but it’s usually a conscious decision. Here, with Magnus, it’s more of a gut-level impulse.
His purr stutters for just a moment as he considers that. The song of the angels is, on a base level, a cleansing sound—it is meant to purge demonic energy from any and all matter that it touches using a mixture of several different resonate frequencies. In large doses, as in roars, it literally tears apart demons. In small doses, however, a Nephilim’s purr promotes health and healing. Because of this, Nephilim will often get the urge to purr when someone they love is hurt.
Magnus isn’t hurt, but he is weak and exhausted, obviously not feeling so hot, and Alec… he just wants to make him feel better.
It’s like a blanket settles over Alec. It feels warm, and comforting, and right to purr. Like he’s taking care of his soulmate, just as he’s supposed to do, meant to do, fated to do. He leans into the feeling, letting the song of the angels flow through him as he settles beside Magnus. Magnus blinks his eyes open once more, startling a little and taking in Alec all at once, before the weight of the song pushes him down into a deep sleep.
Alec means to get up and leave once Magnus is down, once the purr has had a chance to set him on a path of healing. Then he thinks about Magnus’s nightmares, Magnus crying out in the dark of the night, tossing and turning all alone in his warded room and… he can’t. Alec can’t just leave him to the nightmares. So he stays, and he purrs, and he thinks about the fact that this is the first night they’ve spent together, in the same room, the same bed. Alec watches over Magnus as he sleeps, protecting him from the nightmares, and he thinks about the fact that if given half a chance, he would never spend another night anywhere else.
He’s still there, curled up on top of the sheets, when Magnus blinks awake. It’s been a good while—just over thirteen hours. Magnus doesn’t look nearly as pale as he did the night before, but Alec can tell that he’s still hurting by how slow he moves as he sits up, rubbing his eyes.
Eyes that then turn to Alec in confusion.
“You’re in my bed,” Magnus says.
Ah. “Yeah, I was wondering if you were going to remember that,” Alec says, pushing himself up in turn. He never changed out of his gear and it’s pinching in all kinds of places.
“Remember inviting you to bed? Yes, seems like something I should recall,” Magnus says, and there’s humor in his voice but also something uncertain, a question just under the surface of it.
Alec breathes out, stretching a little. “You messed yourself up pretty bad. I was, um. Worried.”
“…I see. Well! I’m feeling a lot better—I slept very well, actually, so…”
He trails off, frowning. He’s working to piece it all together, Alec surmises. What exactly he’s expecting to find Alec isn’t sure, but while he does Alec slips off the bed and heads into the kitchen to start some breakfast for the two of them.
Magnus follows a moment later, walking as if in a daze. Alec immediately guides him into a chair, sitting him down. “Don’t strain yourself,” he warns.
“Alexander, I feel fine,” Magnus says, and he’s got a shrewd look in his eye now. “In fact, I haven’t slept that well in a while now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure your presence alone does wonders for beauty sleep, but…”
Alec bites his lip, turning away and waiting. “But what?” he asks.
Magnus pauses. Then he laughs a little, and Alec sees him shake his head in his peripheral vision. “I thought I saw you purring,” he says, almost to himself.
There it is. Alec flushes, fiddling with the burner. “I was,” he admits, when he’s sure that his voice will come out normal instead of a high squeak.
“You were?” Magnus demands.
Alec huffs. “Look, I don’t think that’s important right now.”
“What could possibly be more important than the fact that you purr?”
“Magnus. How about the fact that you pushed yourself past your limits and now you’re paying the price for it?”
Magnus waves a hand as if to wave the thought away. “What should I have done, not healed the girl? Don’t be ridiculous.”
Alec hums. “It’s not the girl I’m upset about.”
“Then what are you…?”
“I’m your soulmate. Our souls are bound. You can ask me for strength at any time, but you don’t. You haven’t. And maybe it’s because I haven’t offered, and I’m glad that you respect my boundaries, but… you don’t have to do this alone, okay?”
“Alexander…” Magnus stands, and Alec hunches slightly, pulling his arms in toward his chest. He doesn’t mean to, doesn’t mean to act like he’s afraid, but that’s how it must come across because Magnus halts a step away, with one hand raised. “Alexander, look at me.”
Alec does, raising his eyes from the pan of eggs. To his relief, Magnus takes the last step, crossing the last of the space between them. With telegraphed movements Magnus raises his hands and gently cups Alec’s jaw.
“You don’t need to take my burdens from me,” he says, and there’s so much raw emotion in his voice that Alec closes his eyes, swallowing against a lump in his throat. “I see what you do—you carry the weight of the world itself because you think that no one else should carry it. You don’t have to do that for me. I’m fine, love—I will survive this. I have before.”
Alec breathes in deeply, swallowing again. Then he flicks off the burner. He turns to face Magnus head on, placing his hands over top of Magnus’s and holding him there as he says, “I don’t want you to just survive. You’ve been ‘surviving’ for months and you’re hurting. If I can do something small for you, if I can share some of my strength, then let me do it.”
For a moment they are at an impasse, both staring at the other, sure that they won’t be the first to crack. Then, between one moment and the next, they’re both laughing, and Magnus is letting Alec fold him to his chest, holding him close. When Alec pulls back he presses a kiss to Magnus’s forehead, and even though it leaves them both blushing he doesn’t pull back until Magnus’s stomach growls.
They can’t escape work forever. Alec is resolute about staying in for a day so that Magnus can regain his strength, but nothing is going to stop Magnus’s mind from turning, not even more Buffy.
It’s with this in mind that Alec tells Magnus everything he knows about last night’s attack and, more importantly, everything they’ve learned about the attacker.
“He was wearing a cloak with a hood pulled over his face. Raphael said he smelled human, though he wasn’t close enough to tell if he had angel blood or not. He said he moved fast enough to be Nephilim, though. If he is Nephilim then he’s either young or stunted, because he was about the size of an average mundane man.”
Magnus hums, tapping his fingers on his plate. “How sure are you that it’s a ‘he’?”
Alec shrugs. “Raphael said he was, and I’ve learned to trust vampires’ senses.”
Magnus nods. Then he frowns, the tapping growing a little quicker.
“…What is it?” Alec asks.
Magnus’s eyes flash. “I knew that vampire. Not well, but she’s been around a long time. Longer than I have, in fact. Vampires have been forbidden from turning children since before the accords, and most of the child vampires we know are from the middle ages. That makes them very rare, which makes me think that it was a very intentional choice to target a child. The only thing rarer than a vampire child might be a fae child, and that only because the Seelie don’t leave their own realm until they’re old enough to take care of themselves.”
Alec nods, following along with his logic. “Three attacks is a pattern—our man is targeting kids. Downworld kids.”
“But why…” Magnus says.
“Unclear,” Alec sighs. “What do you want to do in the meantime?”
“…We’ll send out some fire messages informing everyone of the situation, and warn the downworld to keep their children close. I can… hm. I can talk to Yamka about sheltering warlock children,” Magnus says, his mind clearly somewhere else. There’s obviously something about this that is bothering him, and Alec can see him itching to get back out there to suss it out.
Alec leaves him to it, practicing his forms in the guest bedroom. When he returns to the living room to see how Magnus is doing, he finds him dozing in front of the TV, curled up small on the couch, a small frown-line between his brows as if he’s still working it over in his sleep.
He hasn’t figured it out by the time night comes around, and though he slept a good deal of the day away Magnus is ready to be out again by ten. Alec hovers for a long moment in the door before Magnus realizes he’s doing it, and then the tension is going out of Alec’s shoulders as he climbs into bed with Magnus, keeping carefully to his side.
…He purrs again that night, on and off when Magnus’s breathing starts to hitch, keeping the nightmares at bay.
The next day dawns bright and relentless, and Magnus is up with the sun. He gives Alec an odd look when he rolls over, but whatever is on his mind is soon enough eclipsed by their plans for the day: namely spreading the word and gathering warlock children and their caretakers into a safe zone so they can help protect them until the threat has passed.
The downworld is, frankly speaking, in a panic. Rumors of the attacker are running abound, some of the nastier ones detailing him as a massive Nephilim who has been swallowing children whole. Alec’s valiant attempts to help corral families are getting them nowhere. Dealing with downworlders is nothing like dealing with Nephilim. The Nephilim are soldiers, even the children—they’re trained to deal with things like this. This, right here? This is a civilian issue, and it is chaos.
Alec winces as a warlock woman accidentally comes face to face with him and lets out a scream. He can feel Magnus rolling his eyes behind him. It isn’t much longer before Magnus pulls him aside, away from the crowds.
“What am I doing wrong?” Alec asks.
He’s not sure what answer he expects—maybe he’s being too brusque, or he needs to focus more on their questions rather than just trying to round them up and guide them through the portal.
What Magnus says instead is, “Dear, you’re… well, you’re intimidating. You need to take that intimidation and eeeh take it back a notch. Or seven.”
Alec frowns, thinking hard about how to be less intimidating. He doesn’t really think of himself as an intimidating person, but—why is Magnus shaking his head.
“What?” Alec asks.
“Sweetheart, darling, light of my life… your thinking face is scaring people. How about you try smiling a bit instead?”
“Uh. Sure?” Alec says, and tries on a smile. There’s less screaming, so that’s a point in his favor, but the downworlders are now giving him a three-foot berth, shooting unnerved glances at him from the corners of their eyes. Alec is… unsure if this is an improvement.
Judging by the fact that Magnus is in the corner face-palming, it is not.
Whatever. Alec sighs. “I’ll just… go guard the back entrance,” he says, ducking his head and hunching up a little to take up less space on his way out.
He’s been at his new post for just under thirty minutes, watching Magnus herding people out of the corner of his eye, when he sees a fire message arrive in a shower of sparks. He’s on his way over in an instant, a sinking feeling in his gut.
Magnus looks up, catching his eye. He shakes his head, shoulders sagging.
“Damnit,” Alec mutters. That means there was another attack, a successful one this time. “Who?” he asks, crossing the room in a few quick strides.
Magnus sighs. “A vampire child. A different one. Just outside the city limits, from one of the bordering clans. They didn’t get the message to go into hiding in time.”
It’s a blow, a major one. Alec is just about to voice an apology when Magnus’s face suddenly goes slack, his eyes wide and distant.
“Magnus,” Alec says, already pivoting in search of a threat, placing his body in front of his soulmate’s. “Magnus, what—”
“I know what they’re doing,” Magnus breathes. Alec glances back, finding an ancient tome in Magnus’s hands. Magnus snaps his fingers, letting the book fall open to a specific page. “Or at least, I think I do. Just—give me a moment and I can—here.”
Alec hums, waiting patiently for Magnus to show him what he’s found. When he does he finds himself faced with a page of burning text—Purgatic—and a picture of Maellartach, the soul sword.
“The Ritual of Infernal Conversion,” Magnus says. “That’s what our killer is trying to do.”
Alec feels his stomach drop out. “…Please tell me you’re not saying what I think you’re saying.”
“You know about it?” Magnus asks, surprised.
Alec nods. “The Clave contemplated an infernal conversion when our population was at it’s height just before Mortmain’s war. They were trying to find ways to feed the growing Nephilim population. They threw out the idea because they worried the power would corrupt us.”
Magnus shakes his head, his eyes dark and flashing dangerously. “A sword whose demonic power is equal to the angelic power it once possessed… it is certainly not something you want just lying around.”
Alec runs a finger down the page. It’s true, the soul sword was an incredible source of power even with a seraphic alliance. He once faced the soul sword, and the result was five dead downworlders. They were on trial for attacking a Nephilim, and their chances of getting off were slim, but ‘slim’ became ‘none’ as soon as the soul sword came out. To imagine that same power but demonic…
“We can’t let this conversion come to pass,” Magnus says, his voice solemn.
Alec nods. The two of them look at each other, and Alec can see his own thoughts mirrored exactly in Magnus’s eyes—that there’s just one kill left before their killer has enough blood to satisfy the ritual.
All that stands between them and a demonic conversion is one Seelie child.
Sorry about the wait! Hope you like!
Chapter 17: The Knife's Edge
The Clave comes up with a plan to deal with their killer.
Magnus winces, coughing into his fist. He glances up, hoping against hope that no one heard that. Of course, by the looks of it, everyone has. It’s evident in the curl of the lip of the Nephilim servant standing by the door, and in the glare Ragnor is giving him from across the table. He doesn’t dare turn to the Clave official seated beside him, but he assumes that they would have a similar look about them.
Which, honestly. It isn’t as if Magnus can control this. For once in his long life Magnus isn’t to blame—it’s the fork in his hand that has decided to go rogue and make such an unholy sound in the oppressive silence.
And an oppressive silence it is. If not for the scrape of his knife and fork across his plate, Magnus would think they were at an execution. He isn’t entirely convinced as it is—he wouldn’t put it past the Clave officials to turn and sink their teeth into the downworlders seated beside them instead of the steaks, served bloody and as of yet utterly untouched, on their plates.
Squeezing his fear down into a small marble in his chest, Magnus doubles down on the work of cutting his own steak. As long as he doesn’t look at the Nephilim around him, silently watching, he can keep up the farce that this is simply a dinner among friends, and thus keep the shake of his hands in check. He owes Ragnor for Peru, damnit. He will suffer through this so-called diplomatic dinner and it will be fine.
Even if he flinches every time one of the Nephilim moves too fast in his peripheral vision. Even if he has to double check that there are no spells or toxins in the food because their ‘hosts’ aren’t eating. Even if the scraping of his fork is only growing louder in the vacuum of the silence surrounding them. And especially if no one speaks up when one Clave member, a man by the name of Starkweather, not-so-quietly calls a servant forward and says, just loud enough for the whole room to hear, that they will be needing new dishware tonight after their ‘guests’ have dispersed.
Magnus swallows his ire with a shaky sip of wine, nestling it down deep, deep in his chest. It can keep company with the fear that he’s shoved down there.
The tines of his fork scrape and scrape and scrape.
Magnus breathes out in the cool spring air, following Alec’s leather-clad back up the steps of the Institute and into the old church building. He’s reasonably sure with this new revelation about the soul sword that there’s no immediate threat to the warlock community, but still, he feels better knowing that the most vulnerable of his people are safely hidden away. Nephilim or not, there’s no saying what untold carnage may befall the downworld if the conversion is completed.
“Here, this way,” Alec says, once they’ve crossed the threshold. Instead of steering Magnus through the Ops center and to one of the waiting rooms where downworld envoys are usually seated like Magnus expects, however, he then leads them down a different hallway toward the back of the building, into what Magnus assumes is the residential wing. Alec stops in front of a door, opening it. “This is my room. It’s not much, but it’ll be more comfortable waiting in here than Ops.”
Magnus pauses in the doorway, his eyes wide as he peers inside. He’s never been invited into Alec’s room before, let alone been left there for his own comfort. It’s… well, to be honest it barely looks lived in. It isn’t particularly homey. Still…
“Are you—are you sure—?” he asks, tilting his head at Alec.
Alec, who has been tense ever since the fire message, softens incrementally. “My space is your space. Unless you’d like to set a precedent and become the first downworlder to sit in on an official Clave briefing…?”
Magnus nearly laughs, before catching Alec’s eye. Oh, he thinks with a jolt. He’s being serious. “Well,” he says, hedging. “That’s certainly something to consider. Perhaps next time I’ll join you, when I’m a little more prepared. The last thing we want to do is offend anyone in the Clave.”
Alec’s eyes are serious as he looks Magnus over. “If that’s what you think is best,” he says delicately, in a voice that implies that in his personal opinion Magnus is missing out on a perfectly good opportunity.
Magnus blinks. “What, you think springing a warlock on the Inquisitor is a good idea?” he asks, spreading his arms wide as if to say ‘look at me’.
“I just think the Clave could get used to interacting with the downworld more,” Alec says in return, leaning back on his heels and giving Magnus an appraising look.
Magnus huffs. He flicks his fingertips, feeling them spark with nervous energy. “They won’t appreciate that,” he says. “But fine. What are the rules about it?”
Alec grins, an expression that reminds Magnus of a shark scenting prey. “It’s written that anyone with relevant information about any ongoing Clave investigation is allowed an audience with the Clave to inform the Clave of said information. There is an unspoken agreement that this only extends to Nephilim, but there’s nothing in the actual lawbooks to say that downworlders can’t use this rule.”
Magnus hums, the cogs in his head beginning to turn now. Assuming all goes well in their relationship, he will eventually have to stand before the Clave and declare their soulbond. If he wants to be taken seriously when that day comes—and he really, really does—it would probably be prudent to have already introduced himself as someone worthy of respect. Admittedly, barging into a Clave meeting might not be the best way to begin gaining said respect, but if he can get the Clave to listen to him after he barges in that will be a major step toward their ultimate goal. At the very least it will allow him to test the waters a bit, to see and understand better what they’re dealing with, what prejudices might still be at play.
Besides, he thinks, the corner of his lips beginning to turn up to match Alec’s. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
Two minutes later finds the two of them standing before the Clave’s chamber, waiting their turn to enter and brief the Clave. Magnus snaps nervously, fixing his hair for the sixth time. He wants to appear put together and unafraid, competent and respectable, trustworthy yet—and this is an important yet—utterly untouchable. It’s a tall order, especially considering that ‘glamorous’ is also a requirement, but he’ll make do.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asks, one final time. “Sure you want to rock the boat?”
“Yes. It’ll be a leap forward for downworlder rights, and for downworld involvement in matters that directly effect the downworld. Besides, if the Clave knows and respects you in an official capacity, more than just as the High Warlock of Brooklyn, they’ll be more likely to accept you as my soulmate,” Alec says, mirroring Magnus’s earlier thoughts.
It’s exactly what Magnus expects him to say, and so he fixes his hair for the seventh time, sets his shoulders, and faces the door that will grant them entrance into the chamber. Alec isn’t quite as jittery as he is, but Magnus can still feel a nervous tension to his shoulders, traveling down to his fisted hands. Magnus flicks his left hand out, his magic reaching to curl around Alec’s fingers, a little reassurance that they’re in this together.
He has just enough time to see the fist relax, and a smile twitch at the corner of Alec’s mouth, before, all at once, the door is opening.
“The Clave calls in Alexander Lightwood and all relevant witnesses for briefing,” the Clave assistant says, her eyes flitting to Magnus.
“Thank you, dear,” Magnus says, and takes the first step in.
To say that the Inquisitor is furious is… probably an understatement. Magnus recognizes this the instant her eyes land on him. He stops short just through the door, allowing Alec to overtake him, watching her cautiously.
“Lightwood,” she barks, blazing eyes still on Magnus. “What is the meaning of this?”
Alec clenches his jaw, stepping up to speak to the Clave members arranged in a U at the far end of the room. “In accordance with our laws, I have come to inform the Clave of the latest developments in the case involving the soul sword, Maellartach. With me is Magnus Bane, High Warlock of Brooklyn—”
“Yes,” the Inquisitor spits. “I can see that. Why is he here when I recall a very specific conversation we had about the proprietary nature of Clave business?”
Alec stands straight, falling into a parade rest with his hands behind his back. “With all due respect, Inquisitor, you might want to review the book of law regarding Clave audiences and case-relevant information.”
A twitter goes up through the ranks of old Clave officials, starting at either end and flitting up until it collides just behind the Inquisitor. The Consul, seated back and center, leans forward to nudge Inquisitor Herondale aside before the apoplectic woman can explode.
“We know the letter of the law, Alexander Lightwood,” Jia Penhallow says. She considers him for a long moment. “…We all know in what faith that law was made. The book you are referencing is one of our oldest, written before the Accords and with only Nephilim in mind. Do you willfully wish to challenge this?”
“I do,” Alec says, his voice ringing true. “Magnus Bane has relevant information to this case, and it is his wish and mine that he present it himself.”
“Then let him step forward,” Consul Penhallow says, beckoning Magnus up to the center of the room. Alec steps aside with a small nod, and Magnus, despite the fact that the hair on the back of his neck is beginning to stand up, his hackles raised in fear, takes his place. He clears his throat, and…
“I have come to inform the Clave that I believe the perpetrator who stole the soul sword intends to perform a demonic conversion.”
A second twitter rises, more forceful than the first. It takes a long moment for the Inquisitor to gain silence once more. “Tell us everything you know, warlock. From the beginning,” she demands, once she has.
Magnus swallows, sets his feet, and begins.
Despite the cross-examination he endured before the Clave was happy with his information, Magnus is still kicked out of the chamber for their official deliberation. He’s somewhat surprised that Alec is allowed to stay—until a few moments later, when Alec is also led out, his face twisted in annoyance.
“They’re not happy with me,” he says, in response to Magnus’s questioning hum, leaning on the wall beside Magnus with his arms crossed over his chest. “They gave me the abridged lecture. Undoubtedly the full one will come later.”
“But is it… we didn’t screw anything up too badly, did we?” Magnus asks, tentative.
“What? No, of course not. It might put my installment as Institute Head back a century or two but I think, all things considered, that went rather well.”
Magnus blinks. Then blinks again. He feels like he’s lost the thread, somehow—like he’s trying to process something fundamentally off.
Alec, noticing his frank disbelief, leans down a little closer. “You… you weren’t actually expecting something to go seriously wrong, were you?”
“I…” Magnus pauses, thinking back. “I wasn’t. Not consciously, at least. It’s just… that was…”
“I know it’s frustrating, to deal with them,” Alec says carefully, but Magnus is already shaking his head.
“…Not frustrating. That was… easy.”
Alec hums, realization clicking into place. “…You think it was too easy. That they’re going to turn it around on us somehow.”
Magnus nods. It’s the only thing he can think, after four centuries of dealing with the Clave. The only thing that seems clear, the only thing that makes sense. The Clave allowed them this small victory… but at what cost?
What have they brought down upon themselves?
He’s not sure. It’ll have to wait, however, as a moment later the Clave assistant is back, beckoning Alec inside. Magnus goes to follow, but she stops him.
“Not this time,” she says.
Magnus swallows, stepping back.
The wait is torturous, though it can’t be more than three minutes. At long last, however, Alec has returned, stepping back into the hall.
“And the verdict is…?” Magnus asks, leaning against the wall and looking Alec up and down. Alec’s default tends to be ‘serious’ but right now he’s looking downright dour.
“They have a plan,” he says.
Alec sighs. “And the downworld council isn’t going to like it.”
“Alright,” Magnus says, standing before the entrance to the Du Mort with Alec at his side, the portal between them and the Institute closing behind them. It’s strikingly similar to how they stood before the Clave’s chambers, only this time Magnus is messing with Alec’s hair instead of his own.
Alec allows it, his blue eyes staring into Magnus’s face and his brows furrowed. It’s an expression that Magnus once would have mistaken for hostility, but he now knows it for what it is—uncertainty.
Magnus stares unflinchingly back. He can see why Alec would be uncertain—for as long as he’s lived, for all twenty years of his life, Alec has taken all his cues from the Clave. He knows that the Clave and the council don’t get along, and that the tension between the Nephilim and the downworld is notoriously difficult to dispel. What he’s learning now is that most of this tension is caused by the Clave—the very governing body he has been trained to obey. The fact that he saw this and realized that something needs to change… it’s a step forward. But that step has brought him stumbling into uncharted territory, and he’s no longer in charge. He doesn’t know how to handle downworld politics now that he’s paying attention to them.
Thankfully, he’s got Magnus to guide him through.
Magnus tuts and Alec slouches a little further, allowing Magnus better access to his hair as he waits for Magnus to consolidate their modus operandi. A moment later Magnus does, saying, “We are in agreement. We both know this plan of the Clave’s is solid. It’s workable. The only problem is that if it’s put on the table by a Clave envoy, with the backing of the Clave, the council will never go for it. At least, not in the next thousand years, with at least nine-hundred of it consumed by pointless bickering.”
“So how do we get around that?” Alec asks, his face very serious.
Magnus smiles, patting his soulmate gently on the cheek. “Easy, darling. You just keep quiet and follow my lead.” They are very far away from the Clave—this is Magnus’s jurisdiction, his place among his people. The Clave has put them in a very difficult position, but he can still salvage this.
Alec nods, and with that Magnus spins on a heel to push the doors open. He’s halfway there when he feels Alec’s fingers, slipping lightly around his own. Alec gives his hand a quick squeeze, pulling back before anyone sees.
Magnus has to hide his smile as he steps inside the hotel, Alec following silently at his heel. This is going to go just fine.
With a dismissive flick of his hand, Meliorn leans back in his chair, as if closing the book on them.
“Why not?” Magnus asks, mirroring Meliorn’s posture.
“Using a Fae child as bait? The Queen will never allow it,” Meliorn says. “Better to keep our children in the Fae realm for the next thousand years. The Nephilim have short memories—they’ll forget this little plan of theirs soon enough.”
Magnus feels Alec go tense beside him, but he brushes his knuckles against Alec’s knee and the Nephilim relaxes again. “But if the Queen were to say yes…” he prompts.
“Or so you think. You cannot lie, Meliorn, but you also cannot see the future. So if we were to get the Queen’s permission…”
Meliorn sighs. “Then yes. Your brilliant plan to bait the killer would have the go ahead.”
“Great! Perfect! How soon can you go back and pitch it to her?”
“I will go now,” the Seelie says with a sigh, standing from the table. He pauses there for a long moment, staring at Alec with one brow cocked. “…I never thought I’d see a day when the Clave would defer to the downworld council on such an important issue. Did they not have a plan of their own?”
Alec breathes in, glancing surreptitiously at Magnus. “The Clave wants the killer brought to justice, same as anyone,” he says. “They are willing to back any plan that they find reasonable.” Not mentioning the fact that this is the only plan they found reasonable, since it was their own.
“And this is the one you’ve chosen. Hm.” Meliorn’s eyes are bright, and Magnus is reasonably sure that he’s figured out the farce, just as he assumed the Seelie would. They’re smart, the lot of them, but the fact is that they enjoy a good game more than just about anyone. Magnus is banking on this, more than anything, to get the Queen to play her part in their plan.
Which means that now… they wait.
Alec is quiet when they get back to the loft, soft and contemplative as he stands to the side and watches Magnus coo at Chairman Meow, who is eager for his dinner.
“Something on your mind?” Magnus asks, still talking in a baby voice as he sets down the canned food.
Alec starts. “No. Well, sort of. I was just wondering if the Chairman has ever reacted to your eyes.”
…Not what Magnus was expecting. Magnus blinks, said eyes flicking sharply up to Alec, who looks immediately mortified.
“Sorry,” he says, backtracking immediately. “I shouldn’t have said that. I know it’s bad form to mention a warlock’s mark—”
“In most circumstances, it is,” Magnus says carefully. Then he stands up, looking very intentionally into Alec’s eyes, his own wide and unflinching. Alec, watching, lets out a breath of air as Magnus draws nearer. Magnus balances himself, his own breathing even, pausing a hair’s breadth from Alec.
A hair’s breadth from his Fated.
He’s forgotten, in the whirlwind of finding out a monstrophagus is his soulmate and everything else that has been going on, that he himself isn’t exactly what you’d call ‘normal’. Alec… he’s used to monstrophagi. He’s used to unfolding faces and seven jaws and everything else that comes packaged together with those who eat demons. To Alec, Magnus is the one who is off. Magnus is the strange one, the unsettling one, the one with the animal eyes.
He wonders, for a moment, if Alec is going to flinch away. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“I saw your eyes in my souldreams,” Alec says instead. His hand is rising, fingertips brushing Magnus’s cheek. “I… I don’t know what my souldreams mean. They say that every souldream is different. The one thing I do know… the one thing I’m sure of… is that I fell in love with your eyes before I ever met you.”
Magnus swallows. He has never heard someone say such a thing about his eyes before. He wants, more than anything, for that to be true.
He can’t help the fact that he doesn’t believe it.
“These eyes… they are the mark of a demon. They drove my mother to suicide,” he says, blinking once and going to pull back.
He’s stopped by Alec’s hand, sliding down to the back of his neck, holding him in place.
Goosebumps rise where Alec’s fingers press, blooming down Magnus’s spine. Air shivers past his lips in a gasp—or maybe it’s Alec who has gasped, his mouth falling open. He hasn’t broken eye contact, his blue eyes so wide, so intense, that Magnus feels like he’s drowning in them. Magnus wants to pull back, to throw up a glamour between the two of them—to brace himself against the sincerity in Alec’s gaze. Alec is so direct as to be blunt—so completely honest that Magnus, who has come to associate honesty with pain, wants to wince away from it. But Alec doesn’t tell him he’s too much—Alec doesn’t say that he’s not enough. Alec slowly leans in, and his lips press against Magnus’s lips, and in that motion Magnus hears the truth to be that he is just the right amount.
For the first time in centuries, in his entire life, Magnus is exactly right.
Alec’s lips are giving, just slightly chapped. They slide easily against the gloss Magnus is wearing, slow and gentle and treating Magnus as if he’s precious. For half a second, Magnus knows what it feels like to be really, truly wanted. Not for his magic, not for his looks, but for what, who, he truly is.
It’s heady. It’s magical. It causes a tingle to rocket up his spine, crashing into the place where Alec is holding on. He gasps when Alec pulls back, slowly opening his eyes when he realizes they had slipped closed. “I…” he says, utterly speechless.
“Your eyes are beautiful,” Alec says, and the hand on the back of Magnus’s neck loosens, fingers drawing a line of fire up Magnus’s skin as they rise to his cheek. “That’s what I was thinking. They’re unique, they’re different, but they’re so, so beau—”
Magnus cuts him off, surging forward to lock their lips once more. Nothing on this earth, nothing known or unknown, nothing in this realm or the next, is going to stop him from kissing his soulmate, from driving him back into the kitchen cabinets and sliding his hands into Alec’s black locks and absolutely losing himself in the intoxicating feeling of being wanted, fully and entirely, for exactly who he is—
—except, maybe, the fire message that zings past, startling them apart.
Magnus snatches it, his heart pounding, blood rushing in his ears. “I swear to god,” he says, voice low and guttural.
Alec gently pries his fingers loose, a sigh on his lips but his duty face on. “It’s from Meliorn,” he says. “You should open it.”
Magnus does, his slitted eyes devouring the words. A groan leaves his mouth—the mouth, he thinks with a flutter low in his gut, that was just on Alec’s.
“…Well?” Alec asks.
Magnus shakes himself free, snapping his fingers to banish the message. “The Seelie Queen has made it known that she will only accept our plan if we meet with her ourselves.”
“In the Fae realm?” Alec demands, his eyes going wide.
Magnus nods, grim. “…Please, please tell me you have something decent to wear.”
This chapter is like 90% politics, my bad.
Chapter 18: Prick Your Finger, Sew It Shut
Tricks and tricksters.
I’m just leaning into overconfident Izzy now, apologies. She’s a fairly sheltered sixteen-year-old immortal and I don't think that's out of character for this story. I have other plans for her arc, but this is what it is for now.
It’s late at night when they arrive in London, footsteps rolling out of the darkness and the fog to echo off the old stone buildings. There are no people about—no mundanes, no downworlders, no other shadowhunters—but still Alec keeps close to Izzy, watching her back. Jace, on their father’s other side, whistles softly into the fog, letting the notes drift back toward them as he flips a knife between his knuckles in the sparse light of streetlamps casting their low illumination on the condensation all around them.
Alec glances at his father. Robert nods, his shoulders a tense line as he guides them forward. They’re close now.
The building looms out of the fog not two minutes later, emerging from it the same way a whale might breach the surface of the ocean. It’s a shadow and a shape, growing larger as it comes, and then, all at once, an entire massive creature bursts forth in a froth of ocean spray. The London Institute jumps as if alive from the gloom engulfing them.
Alec shivers, eyes on the wrought iron fence and the stone steps leading up. The four of them step up to the door, Jace leading the way until Robert steps pointedly in front of him. He places a hand on Jace’s fidgeting fingers, stilling them, before he reaches forward and pulls the cord of the summoning bell.
It takes a few minutes before the door creaks open, revealing a mundane woman with wild, frizzy hair. “He’s expecting you in the laboratory,” she says in a heavy Irish accent, leading them all inside with nary another word.
Alec glances sidelong at his father, who, despite his relatively youthful face, has his jaw set, stress lines tensing around his eyes. The tension is even more pronounced now than it was out in the fog, and Alec tenses in turn, swallowing back trepidation as they’re led down a long corridor on the first floor, their footsteps echoing back shorter and sharper now in the confined space.
It isn’t long before they come to a pair of heavy double doors, banded with iron. They look heavy, and creak as they open, but the mundane woman pays no mind to their apparent weight as she swings them wide.
The room inside is cavernous, dark and somewhat dank, and filled with the sound of clanking, creaking metal. The only source of light aside from the lamp-light streaming in through doorway they stand in is a massive volley of sparks cascading off a table at the far end of the room, illuminating a hunched figure.
It’s… a man. Or so Alec assumes. He’s tall and bent, seated in a wheelchair, his face obscured by a massive iron-welding mask. He looks up past the cascade, two eyeholes lined with glass reflecting the sparks in the darkness like some haunted creature with moonlight pooling in its rabid eyes.
Robert freezes, his teeth audibly grinding. Alec swallows, his hands tightening into fists. Jace tilts his head, as if sizing up the figure as Izzy at his side, elbows him in the ribs.
Then the mundane reaches past, flipping a light-switch beside the door.
“Didn’t notice the sun went down, did you,” she scolds, as the last sparks fall to the floor and fizzle out. The room is expansive, filled to the brim with strange metal contraptions, wires and whatnot all spread out on polished wooden tables. Jace whistles lowly.
The man sets down a welding torch, pushing the mask up and off his head and replacing it with a pair of spectacles. His hair is fiery red, styled in a vaguely Victorian sweep, as if he hasn’t changed it in a hundred years at least. “You know me too well, dear,” he says. Then he breaks into a wide smile at the sight of them all. “Come in, come in! Tell the others that the kids are here, would you, Bridget dear?”
Robert stiffens, ready to dispute this, but the mundane is already bowing out with a, “Yes, sir.” As the sound of her footsteps head down the hall Robert wilts, his mouth pursed.
The man on the far side of the room doesn’t seem to notice the tension. If he does, it doesn’t effect his genial smile. Alec glances between the two of them. He’s only fourteen, and his siblings younger still, but even Izzy and Jace are aware that there are ‘politics’ between the older generations. Their father and the elder Lightwoods… they don’t generally get along.
“Do forgive me for the mess,” the man says, as if the fact that their family didn’t speak for seven years after Alec’s birth is nothing to sneeze about. With a touch of his fingers, his wheelchair turns, wheeling forward with a mechanical hum.
It clicks all at once who he is. “You’re Henry Branwell! From the history books!” Alec says before he can help himself.
“Ah. Henry Fairchild now, eh, Lottie?” the elder Nephilim says, casting a sweet look at the entrance behind them. Alec turns to see his wife, Charlotte, the smallest adult Nephilim he’s ever seen. She’s barely five foot two.
She smiles back. “It’s nice to see you all made it,” she says, striding up to Henry’s side to wrap an arm around his shoulders and press a kiss to his cheek. Jace fake-gags, spinning away to see the rest of the Nephilim at the door. Alec follows a moment later, letting Izzy and Jace get their hugs in first before getting a few of his own. It’s Gideon, Will, and Tessa tonight—Gabriel and Cecily were caught up in some Clave business, Tessa says fondly.
Will rolls his eyes. “Prick,” he says, referring to Gabriel. He seems to be in a generally good mood, however, as he gives Izzy a happy birthday. Then he straightens, a hint of steel in his eyes as he says, “Don’t keep us all in suspense, Robert.”
Robert swallows, eyes turning down and away from Will’s look. “Come, Isabelle,” he says, leading Izzy over to Henry as the rest of them fall back, giving them space. Tonight is the night Izzy gets her first weapon—this is an important moment, hence why they’re here in person.
Not that that’s going to stop Jace from leaning into Will’s side and demanding a funny story as they wait for Izzy to come back and show them the shapeshifting electrum whip that they all know Robert commissioned from Henry. Will launches into a story about some Fae named Six-Fingered Nigel, leaning down to lock Jace in a headlock as Alec watches on.
“So did he have twelve fingers?” Jace asks, wheezing a bit in Will’s hold as he struggles against Will’s abominably long arms.
“The name is Six-Fingered Nigel, Jace, obviously he had six fingers,” Will says.
“No I know, but like… per hand or in total? Also what the hell were you doing messing around with a Fae, anyway?”
“Language,” Tessa says gently. And then, “I’m still not convinced that your Six-Fingered friend is real, Will.”
Will gasps, dropping Jace and planting a hand to his chest, but Tessa is already moving past this to say, “I remember the first Fae I ever encountered. I was out with Jesse, did I ever tell you this, Will?”
Will hums. “No, but you didn’t have to. The murder of that fairy was pretty big news in the downworld. I can’t believe Jesse just traipsed in and murdered a man in cold blood. She was always whining about dresses and things, I never would have known she had it in her.”
Tessa sighs, a faraway look in her eyes. “I always felt bad for him. We had trespassed on Fae territory and he was threatening to kill us both, but—”
Robert’s voice cuts across the room suddenly, drawing silence from them all. “Don’t feel bad for a creature like that,” he says, Izzy peering around his chest curiously, the golden loops of the whip in her hands. “They’re conniving tricksters. They’ll tear you to shreds and steal your blood without an ounce of regret.”
The silence grows, tension growing in the chasm between them. “Well,” Tessa says softly, after a long, strained moment. “It’s true that you don’t mess with the Fair Folk.”
Izzy: Meliorn told me that you ’re meeting with the Seelie Queen.
Alec groans, very much regretting his decision to look at his phone. He regrets it almost as much as allowing Magnus access to his duffel bag, the contents of which Magnus has dumped on the bed and is now rifling through with manic fervor. He holds up a shirt, makes a face, and tosses it behind him.
Izzy: Hey. Don ’t ignore me.
Ignoring her, Alec reaches a hand forward into the mess on the bed. “What about—” He holds up a button-up, questioning.
“Are you mad?” Magnus asks in response, making a face. “This is the Seelie Queen we’re talking about.”
Alec huffs. “She’s not going to like us no matter what we wear. What does it matter?”
“Presentation always matters!” Magnus says, and then mutters something about one-upping a woman who desperately deserves a one-upping, low and haughty and in such a way that makes Alec want to laugh. He doesn’t, but that’s only because his phone chooses that moment to begin ringing.
Izzy. Damnit. He must have ignored her too long. He sighs, raising the phone to his ear. “Yeah?” he says, eyeing Magnus as Magnus’s brow twitches.
“I said, Meliorn told me that you’re meeting with the Seelie Queen.”
“Yes? And?” Alec asks.
Izzy huffs, but he’s distracted from her annoyance as Magnus says, “Do you not own any pajamas? What on earth do you sleep in, your jeans?!”
“Is that Magnus?” Izzy asks, at the same time as Alec frowns and says, “First off, I don’t really sleep. Second off, what’s wrong with sweats?”
Magnus turns a squint on Alec, his face scrunching up in an unfairly cute way. “Of all the bizarre things…” he starts, before he visibly shakes himself. “We’ll deal with that later,” he says, and points a finger at Alec’s chest for a moment before returning to his task.
“What do you mean ‘deal with it’?” Alec asks, unsure if he should be offended. Izzy huffs again, right in his ear, but he gets no reply from Magnus, who appears to be ignoring him in favor of planting a hand on his cocked hip and flipping through a fashion magazine that has appeared from some mystery dimension and is now hanging, suspended, in the air before him.
“…You done, bro?” Izzy asks.
“You know, I’m not sure. Anyway. What did you want?”
“Just making sure you remember to come by the Institute.”
Alec’s eyebrow rises. “And why do I need to do that?” he asks.
“Uh, to pick me up? Duh.”
Alec pauses a moment, thrown. “What?” he says, holding a hand against his other ear as if blocking out the sounds of Magnus manically snapping his fingers to summon clothing from god knows where will help him understand his little sister better.
“As the only person you personally know who has visited the Faerie Realm, you don’t exactly expect me to stay behind, do you? Honestly, Alec, keep up.”
Alec shakes his head, stepping away from Magnus and the mess on the bed to go stand in the hall, ignoring the call of “Ask her if you have anything presentable to wear there!” that follows him out. He can’t focus on either of them like this—neither of them are making an ounce of sense, and his head is starting to spin. “Meliorn is going to guide us, we don’t need—”
“Have you been to the Faerie Realm?”
“Then how do you know what you need?”
Alec growls in frustration, the song of the angels bubbling up before he tamps it down again. He can’t refute that. She’s won, and she knows it. It’s in the way she hums and goes, “There, that wasn’t so hard now was it?”
He hangs up on her in the middle of a smug laugh and only feels a little bad.
In the end, Magnus settles on sleek black dress pants, a blue and gold striped dress shirt, and a black vest with matching shoes that came from… well, somewhere, that’s for sure. Alec feels exposed as all hell as he steps through the portal to the Institute—he’d much rather be in Gear than dressed up to the nines, but even he can concede that negotiations will go better if they don’t go stomping in like a patrol team.
He begins to rethink things when it’s not just Izzy waiting at the door but an entire entourage of people, Izzy and Jace and Clary and even Clary’s mundane friend, Simon.
“Snazzy,” Jace says, as Alec crosses his arms over his chest.
“I can and will send you back home,” Alec responds, sour. At least he has his bow. “What the hell do you all think you’re doing?”
He gets no answer, just Izzy flipping her hair and setting off, the others trailing behind her. Alec throws up his hands.
They walk briskly in the light of the setting sun toward the park with the little pond not too far away. That’s where they’ll meet Meliorn, who will take them through the Gateway and into Faerie. On the way, Alec waits for Clary to speak up, sure she’ll have about a million questions, some of which he can maybe answer. The Seelie Court is a strange place—they consider shadowhunters to be baby immortals because there are entire generations of Fae who were around to witness the rise of the shadowhunters. The Queen herself has been reigning since before shadowhunters were a thing—thousand-year-old Nephilim are barely old enough for the respect of the older Fae. The four of them—not including Magnus—are a bit of a joke, honestly. Alec doesn’t want to think about what the Seelie Queen will think of Simon.
But Clary doesn’t ask anything. She’s quiet, off. Alec settles into step with Jace instead, raising his eyebrow pointedly.
Jace shrugs. “Home issues,” he says.
Hm. Alec doesn’t generally care much about Clary or, god forbid, Jonathan, but he does care about his parabatai and the health of his soulbond. It’s with this in mind that he gestures for Jace to continue.
The tale comes with another shrug. Apparently Clary hasn’t seen much of her brother recently. Not that that’s strange for her brother, but her mom is worried, and when her mom is worried she tends to baby Clary, an annoying habit.
Alec hums along, glancing back at Clary and then past her, to the mundane, as he does. Magnus and Izzy are chatting animatedly, but Simon, normally obnoxious in his rambling and mundane references, is silent, sticking near the back of the group with his hands in his pockets and his head down. He looks… pale.
Alec turns back to Jace, who rolls his eyes. “Don’t ask, I don’t know,” he says. Then he reconsiders. “He’s been pissy ever since we announced our soulbond, though, so I wouldn’t put much thought into it.”
Yeah, that tracks. Alec resists the urge to roll his eyes, too. The whole thing is a shit-show—not that his situation with Magnus is much better, but at least they don’t have any shunned mundanes moping in the background.
He doesn’t have much longer to think about it, as they arrive at the park, and the pond, moments later. Meliorn is there, looking up at the moon, which has risen while they walked. He eyes everyone, a twitch in his eye.
“We vouch for them,” Alec says, before he can say anything.
With a curt nod, Meliorn beckons them forward, taking a step into the pond.
Izzy goes second, jumping in without fear, and Alec follows, stepping into the icy water and suppressing a shudder. He can feel the cold all the way up in the seams of his face, needling into his second jaws. He swallows down the feeling, pushing deeper and deeper into the water. The reflection of the moon, which should have been ever distant, seems to be growing larger as they close in on it, a portal into another world. Alec blinks and Meliorn has disappeared. Izzy follows close behind, her coat drifting behind her. She turns around at the last second, grinning as she falls gracefully backwards into the moon’s reflection with hardly a ripple.
Alec swallows, before he steps up to the edge. He glances back toward the others, making sure they’re all following along, before he takes a deep breath and falls.
He comes out the other side and lands on his feet in a damp tunnel, naturally formed from dirt and tree roots by what he assumes was a long-dried flow of water. He moves out of the way as the others come through, most of them stumbling as he drips uncomfortably. Simon, the last through, hits the ground hard. Jace snorts.
“Lovely,” Magnus says, and magics them all dry with a sweep of his hand. He gestures for Meliorn to lead the way.
He does, guiding them down the tunnel and into a massive cavern. Enormous twirling trees made of dark wood and black leaves shoot toward the mist curling around the stalactites hanging from the ceiling, all covered in lightly glowing fungus in an array of pale, pastel colors.
There is music, Alec realizes, after a moment. Like the song of the angels, it reverberates through the air—but unlike the call of the Nephilim, there is something about it that sets Alec’s hair on edge even as he feels himself relaxing. This, he supposes, is what his own call sounds like to others—unsettling but still somehow pleasant, pleasing, like a nursery rhyme that speaks of death. In the mist ahead they see a ring of Fae, hands locked and dancing. Their long hair drags on the ground after their bare feet, like the strokes of a paintbrush. Their faces are sweet, but their eyes are pure black—like the depths of the ocean, with only the mist and the needle-sharp teeth of the Fae across from them reflecting back.
Clary stumbles, her face slack as she watches, one hand reaching. Jace intercepts, grabbing it. Izzy is taking care of Simon, her hands planted over his ears as the song gets louder, louder—until they’ve passed right on by and it begins to fade again, drifting back into the mist.
Alec mourns its loss, even as a divot in the earth appears in the mist and he straightens up, aware that they’re approaching the Queen herself. He goes over the plan again in his head—he’ll introduce them, present the Clave’s proposal, figure out what the Queen wants, and find a way to make it happen so that they get her approval for the plan without sacrificing too much on their end of the deal. He can do that. He was raised for this—well, not this specifically, but for diplomacy and dealing with downworlders. He can do this.
…Though the way the Queen laughs when she catches sight of Magnus does not instill any particular confidence that this will go well.
“Magnus Bane!” she says. Her voice is low and melodic, a perfect match to the dark-red hair that flows down her back in light curls. She’s wearing a white dress that looks like layered cobwebs, and toying with a golden goblet.
A figure appears at Alec’s side with a tray of similar goblets, full to the brim with a deep purple juice, as he squints between the tight smile Magnus has on and the Seelie Queen herself. “Hello again, my dear. You look splendid,” Magnus says right back, taking a goblet when he’s offered. He sits down when the Queen directs him to, setting the drink down without touching it to his lips.
Alec follows suit, watching closely to make sure no one drinks. Magnus made quite a show of wanting to be presentable for the Queen, but Alec had assumed that was out of a reluctant deference to her power and title. Now, as he watches, he wonders if it has more to do with some sort of… history between them.
Well, whatever it is, he can’t let it get in the way of his mission. “Good evening, my lady. I’m Alec Lightwood—I see that you’re already acquainted with the High Warlock of Brooklyn. Allow me to introduce the rest of my entourage.”
She nods, a beatific smile on her face and something… sharp… in her eyes.
He takes a deep breath, going down the line and introducing everyone. No one garners any particular response until he reaches Simon, who gets another light laugh. “A mundane… oh, how precious,” the Queen says, sipping from her goblet.
“We know how much you enjoy the youth,” Magnus says, and Alec nearly chokes on his own spit.
Thankfully the Queen doesn’t look angry—she looks, if anything, like she’s watching an amusing little bug crawling over her shoe. “Glass houses,” she sing-songs, and Magnus’s smile tightens.
This needs to move along. Alec coughs and launches into the plan to use a Seelie child as bait to capture whoever is committing the murders. “The Seelie are hardy, strong—and we will be a portal away the entire time. They will be in no real danger,” he finishes.
“So you say,” the Queen says, brushing his reassurances away as if he never even spoke. “This wouldn’t be the first time that you Nephilim tried to use us for your own gain.”
Acutely aware that the Queen cannot lie, Alec grits his teeth. “What would it take to get your cooperation?” he asks.
She sips at her drink once more, the gaze of her large, beautiful eyes crawling up his cheek. Magnus shifts almost imperceptibly beside him. Clary, one finger in her mouth, frowns as she watches.
“I will allow this,” the Queen says, finally, after a long and pregnant pause, “for a trade.”
“Name your price,” Alec says.
“A signature. Sign a contract stating in the name of the Angel that you will allow no harm to come to the child of Faerie, actively or passively.”
That’s it? There must be some catch. Alec tilts his head, trying to come at this from every possible angle. What could she possibly get from this?
“…And if we do somehow allow harm?” he asks. “What is the consequence?”
The Queen smiles. “A year of servitude, for every drop of Faerie blood spilled.”
Hm. That sounds more like it—the Fae child will then find some way to spill blood, and the person who signs will be forced to serve time. But that problem should be easily solved—Magnus can put a protection spell on the child that will protect them from harm, including harm to themselves.
Alec considers the Queen for a long moment. If this is it, if this is her entire plan, then she’s not as tricky as Alec was always led to believe. Especially seeing as time for a Nephilim is variable—they tend to be the youngest immortals because there are plenty who die in battle. But they are, still, immortal—they have the time to spare. It would be a sacrifice, to give up years of life on the surface, with family, but it’s doable, and Alec does not plan to allow harm to come to the child in any way, shape, or form.
He nods grimly. “Assuming there are no other catches, we will gladly accept your offer.”
The Queen smiles. “Only two. It must be signed by one with angelic blood… and it must be signed with said blood.”
Ah. There it is. Alec stiffens, fury coursing through his veins. A lot can be done with Nephilim blood—bad things, terrible things. Alec shakes his head, standing abruptly. “I’m sorry, we can’t do that. If there’s no other way, then I suppose we’ll be on our way out.”
The Queen’s smile does not waiver as Alec ushers everyone to their feet. He begins to walk briskly away, herding them back toward the surface, and is nearly at the entrance to the tree-root tunnel when the Queen’s voice drifts after him, saying, “Oh, but wait. One of you may not leave.”
Chapter 19: Shadow of the Grave
Magnus contemplates vampires.
It is 1954 when Magnus opens his private eye business. He gets his first patron in the first hour upon opening—a woman, who implores him to find her missing son, to save him.
This is a deed easier said than done. Los vampiros… the vampires under Camille are an omen unto themselves, the Harlem Clan a decrepit monument to the hubris of the children of the night who care not that they are viewed as monsters. Still, Magnus feels as if he was asked to look out for this boy for a reason—like the woman, the mother, who came to him knew somehow that he was one of the only people on this earth who could help her son now.
So Magnus sets off, aware that even with the gold cross from his mother the chances of the kid still being alive are dwindling by the hour. He goes through the downworld, chasing shadows and hitting up informants, contemplating all the while his relationship with vampires as a people. The last vampire he had the misfortune to know personally had ripped his heart from his chest and stomped all over it—as such, he’s not having any particularly charitable emotions toward the bloodsuckers at this particular moment in time. Especially considering the nature of the situation he’s investigating. Innocent kids, hunted and missing, do not endear the children of the night to the rest of the downworld.
…Which means that all in all, he’s not feeling very fond of vampires when he stumbles on one just before dawn.
He’s coming up the street just shy of the Hotel Dumont, the home of the local vampire clan. He glances over at the sky—the sun is nearly out. The vampire must be on his way home.
Except he’s just standing there, something… off… about him. Not off as in ‘coming down off the high of killing a child’, just… off. He’s not heading toward the hotel—he’s in the street, facing out toward the lightening sky as if indifferent to the fact that it heralds the rising sun.
Wary, Magnus comes closer, staying on the other side of the street. As he does he catches part of the vampire’s profile—he’s young, his skin a muted brown despite the pallor of undeath, and his eyes are distant.
His chin, neck, and the front of his shirt are all splattered in blood.
A baby vampire, then. Freshly turned, newly risen. He probably killed some poor mundane and is now contemplating mortality and the ethics of eating people for a living. He’s not the first, and will hardly be the last.
And yet… Magnus slows, as the vampire makes no indication that he’s noticed a warlock approaching. He’s looking for a sign, the sign, that this is the boy he’s looking for, hoping against hope that he won’t find it. But there, right there, is a chain hung around his neck. The shape of a golden cross glints in the dim light of street lamps, searing into the vampire’s skin. As Magnus gets closer he begins to smell it—burning flesh and grave dirt and blood, blood, blood.
He knows this boy. He knows this cross. He knows, holy symbol that it is, that it is hurting the vampire. It is like fire against his undead skin—a sign that he is Other, that he is Lost, that he is, for all eternity, barred from the light of the sun itself.
Magnus knows, without a doubt, that there is no saving this boy now.
Still, he can do something. He can get him off the street before the light of the sun burns him to a crisp. “Raphael?” he says, breaking the silence, and the vampire smiles, a dark, humorless smile.
“My mother must have sent you,” he says.
Magnus nods. “She did. We’ll talk about that in a moment. First let me take you to your sire,” he says, a darkness drifting underneath the levity in his voice—it is a promise that he can, and will, deal with said sire if needed.
But the vampire doesn’t move. “You can’t,” he says.
“And why is that?” Magnus asks.
The response is delivered with no heat, freezing cold in the dark of the shadow of night. “He’s dead. They’re all dead. And I am dead, too.”
Simple, and yet those few words hold a world of meaning. For a newborn vampire to resist the call of blood and kill his sire—it’s not unheard of, but it’s few and far between who can actually manage it. Though by the looks of it, the kid found a snack between then and now.
Magnus hums. “Well. Good for you, I suppose. I hear that your sire was an asshole.” Not that that will make this vampire feel better, he supposes. He breathes out, taking a different approach. “Your mother would like to see you.”
The vampire’s lip curls. “Would she?” he asks.
Magnus considers. The sun is rising, the sky lightening ever more to the East of the city. He’s not too fond of vampires, but considering the state of the downworld and the fact that he, himself, has done monstrous acts… well. He’s not going to hold it against the kid. His mother, on the other hand…
“…She wants you to come home,” he settles on.
“I cannot go home. Not like this.”
Magnus hums, edging closer. “Well, in any case, you must be aware that you can’t stay here. Being burned to death by sunlight is rather unpleasant, or so I’ve heard.”
“Is that so?” the vampire asks, uninterested eyes turning toward the sun like a sunflower seeking the light.
It is then and there that Magnus makes the decision—he is going to help this vampire. He cannot save him, no one can save him now, but Magnus won’t watch him burn to ash in the morning sunlight, not today.
He makes the decision not a moment too soon. It is just as the first rays of sunlight come over the horizon and hit the tops of the buildings. The vampire cast his eyes to the buildings, to the light—and in that moment Magnus sees how he uncoils, as swift as a snake, and springs.
He’s fast, preternatural speed like a fork of lightning, but Magnus is ready. He is already in motion, snapping his magic to his fingertips to contain the vampire. He has the barest bones of a plan, all of them revolving around getting this kid inside to a place with no windows before he can imperil himself to the flaying light of the sun. Magnus grunts as the magic takes hold, and the vampire crashes to the ground, rolling and snapping, all bloody fangs and wide, wild eyes, filled with a sucking grief that pulls like the gravity of a black hole. The cross pendant at his neck swings, settling against the delicate cords of his neck and burning, smoke curling off of him as he screams with the voice of someone who cannot do anything else, and Magnus knows what he would be saying if only he could speak, can hear the words he does not say—
Magnus hears without hearing that he should leave him to burn.
Alec pivots, a frown gracing his angelic face. “You may only keep us here if we partake of Faerie drink or food. I did not—and neither did any of my comrades.”
The Queen, equally beautiful in her own sharp way, only smiles, her lovely eyes turning to Clary.
Magnus turns, as well, feeling as though he’s been doused in ice-water once more. “What did you do?” Alec demands, beside him. He’s rigid where he stands.
Clary, looking stricken, shakes her head. “I didn’t do anything—I swear I didn’t!”
“Oh, but you did!” the Queen sings, voice like feathers fluttering in the breeze. “The juice of the land of Faerie is even now entering into your blood—did you not notice it passing your lips?” She hums in fake concern, sickly sweet.
“My lady, you must be mistaken,” Jace says, speaking up for the first time since their arrival—but Clary gasps, cutting him off, her eyes huge in her frighteningly pale face.
“The pixie,” she says. She turns to Jace and then to Alec, looking vaguely sick. “I was crushing a flower in my hand when a pixie bit my finger. It was bleeding so I put it in my mouth—that must be what she means.”
Jace laughs, his voice tight as he looks up again. “There. You see, it was a mistake! She leaves with us—”
But Meliorn is shaking his head, and the Queen is laughing once more, and Magnus knows with a dread in his heart that she is going to get what she wants, after all.
So much for one-upping a woman who deserves to be one-upped. Damn.
For a moment all is silent, the smile of the Seelie Queen only growing as the gravity of the situation settles around them. Then Jace shakes his head, breaking free when Alec goes to grab his arm.
“Your contract,” Jace says, his golden eyes ablaze. “I’ll sign it if you let Clary go.”
“Jace, no—” Alec says immediately, following his parabatai. “We’ll find another way, don’t—”
But the queen is appraising them, her fair face smooth and uninterested. “I offered and you refused,” she says.
Jace bristled. “Then offer again,” he says back, a note of steel in his voice. “Offer again, and we’ll come to an arrangement.”
The Queen hums. “…Ten years,” she says. “Per drop of blood spilt.”
“Two,” Izzy says, stepping between them, before Jace can sign his life away all at once. Alec makes a strangled noise.
The Queen pretends to consider. “Seven,” she says.
“Two and a half.”
“Three. No more.”
“Oh, very well,” the Queen says, though everyone knows she’s won as she waves a hand in the air, producing a piece of silvery parchment and a single white feather, cut into a quill sharp as a blade. Jace snatches it, jabbing the point into the palm of one hand. A bead of blood wells up, and he tips the quill to the side to catch it. He scrawls his name on the line at the bottom, blood red and gleaming.
…The journey back out from the Faerie lands is quiet, silence like slivers of glass embedded in the space between them all.
“You’re mad,” Jace says, once they’re back on the surface once more. Time flows differently in the land of the Fae—it’s only a few minutes later in the overworld when they come out than it was when they went in. The mundane has taken off, and Clary went chasing off after him, leaving Alec glaring at Jace. Jace, who seems honestly baffled.
“Why are you mad?” he asks.
Alec snorts. “If you don’t know then I have nothing to say to you,” he says.
Jace frowns, then turns to watch Clary as she jogs back to them, shaking her head. “I lost him,” she says, and then, frowning as well, goes, “Alec, are you okay?”
Alec lets out a shuttered laugh. “Yes! I’m fine! It’s Jace who has signed his life off to the Seelie Queen.”
Jace huffs. “That’s what you’re upset about? We’ll keep the child safe, you know we will. Why does it matter?”
“It matters that no one ever listens to me! Why don’t you ever listen to me?” Alec bursts out. Magnus goes to put a hand on his arm, but he sidesteps out of reach, fury etched into the planes of his face. “I tell you not to go gallivanting off, and you go. I tell you to train, and you don’t. I make it clear that you’re not needed in the mission, and yet there you are, pushing me aside and ingesting Faerie food and compromising everything we’re working toward!”
“Hey! It’s not like I did it on purpose!” Clary says, her face scrunching up in anger. “That pixie—”
“You shouldn’t have been there in the first place!” Alec yells, towering over her, and Clary flinches, stepping back. Jace moves forward, as if on instinct, stepping in front of his soulmate, seams beginning to split as he faces down his brother, his parabatai.
For a moment all is still except for Alec’s chest, heaving, and the quiver of Jace’s face. Then Alec pulls back. “Don’t go calling me to bail you out of the next scrape you get yourself into,” he says, and turns away.
It’s the night before Izzy is supposed to report for her turn on bodyguard duty, and she would normally go home with Magnus on a night like this just to hang out with the two of them until Alec gets sent home. Tonight, however, she wisely leaves Alec be, giving Magnus a half-hearted wave before she purses her lips and muttering something about how Meliorn is sooo broken up with.
Magnus sets off at a leisurely pace, following in Alec’s wake. He’s sure he’ll catch up eventually, and he’s right—Alec’s harsh pace slows, and then slows again, and by the time he’s out by the river he’s come to a halt, staring out at the water as it drifts by.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Magnus asks softly, coming up to Alec’s side.
Alec lets out a breath, tugging at the cuffs of his sleeves. “I’m just…” he starts, and stops again. Biting his lip, he pulls back and comes at it from a different angle. “It’s one thing to be patronized by the Clave and the older Nephilim. They’re all older than me by decades if not centuries—they have the authority and the experience, and I understand why they look down on me. But my siblings… Clary…”
He stares out, pulling and pulling and pulling at his cuffs. He’s uncomfortable—Magnus knew he was, from the first moment that he’d put on the clothes that Magnus had thrust his way, but they’d both viewed it as a necessity. Or at least, Magnus had—now he’s not so sure what crossed Alec’s mind as he shouldered the burden of silk and color and embroidery.
Alec would do anything for his siblings, that much is clear. He’d do nearly anything for a good number of others, as well. But would they do the same for him? When it really mattered, would they suck it up and get the dirty work done? Would they put their wants and desires aside to do what was right, what was best, for Alec?
He doesn’t know. He hasn’t spent the the time he needs to think about it, to scour the depths of his conscience for the truths he needs to answer that. And he thinks, just this once, that he can say the same for Jace, and Clary, and even Isabelle.
Magnus hums, raising a hand to press it to Alec’s back. He doesn’t speak, just stands there offering his support. For as long as Alec needs it, for as long as Alec wants it, he’ll offer it. Even after they go home and Magnus summons up some nice black pajamas in an apology for the day, he will offer this support.
They have until the end of time.
Magnus groans, coming awake even as Alec sighs and picks up the phone, murmuring a low, “what is it, Iz?” They still need to talk about the fact that Alec doesn’t sleep when he’s in bed with Magnus, but that’s a conversation that will apparently have to wait, as Alec is now sliding out of said bed with a grim expression on his face as his sister speaks on the other end of the line. He immediately goes for the clothes that are folded neatly on a chair by the window, and Magnus groans again.
It takes him a moment, but eventually Magnus manages to pry himself from the bed, as well. Now that he’s sleeping better, he’s loathe to be up and about in the middle of the night. This had better be good, or he’s lighting some fires in some very unfortunate places.
He gets the story from Alec a moment later. It’s the mundane—apparently he ran off to the Hotel Dumort after their trip to the Seelie Realm and got himself killed. Not only that, but he apparently had vampire blood in his system when he died, meaning that he’s on his way to either eternal damnation or a stake through the heart.
Alec’s words from before ring in Magnus’s ears. Don’t go calling me to bail you out of the next scrape you get yourself into, he’d said, but here he is once again, putting everything else aside in order to help. Magnus shakes his head. This is ridiculous. And the timing, ugh! It was bad enough that they had to see the Seelie Queen today, but now this?
He’s aware that he’s just cranky because he’s up late, but still, you’d think they’d have the decency not to get themselves killed in the middle of the night.
It’s dark when they make it outside, and chilly. It’s as if the night knows the horrors it heralds, the pain waiting on the other side of a burial. Magnus shivers in his shoes before snapping up a quick warming spell. They have a mission—to get enough fresh blood to satisfy a newborn vampire, while the others find a Jewish cemetery in which to bury him.
Magnus snaps up a portal. Obtaining blood isn’t too hard—he knows a guy in the shadow market who owes him a favor for a spell he did for the man’s wife’s great-aunt. Just get in, wake him up, and—
—get the door slammed in their faces. Ah. Why does that keep happening?
Magnus sighs, knocking again. “Den, it’s literally just me and my bodyguard. Would you answer the door?”
“Not until the monster-eater is gone,” Den says through the door.
Alec scrunches up his face at the name, but backs off when Magnus gestures him away, falling back into the shadows and scuffing his foot on the ground like the most annoyed raccoon ever.
“Alright, Den. I’ve sent off my bodyguard, just for you,” Magnus says. He glares as the door creaks open, a boar snout poking out and sniffing for a moment. Alec must be downwind because Den then opens the door the rest of the way, shifty eyes glancing around.
“The monster-eaters can’t be trusted. They will turn on their own just as they have turned on us. They know no loyalty—you are playing right into their trap.”
Oh, good old paranoid Den. Magnus shakes his head. “Don’t ever change,” he says, giving the man a good smack on the back. Then he begins the negotiations.
They’re last to the cemetery, Alec walking beside Magnus with the cooler of blood on his arm. Raphael, who apparently brought Simon to the Institute after the vampires at the Dumort had their way with him, is just finishing digging the grave, preternatural speed on display. He isn’t winded as he tosses aside the last shovelful of dirt away, his face as indifferent as ever.
“Hand him here,” he says.
Jace and Isabelle oblige, picking up the limp form that is wrapped in a pale blanket, luminous under the moonlight, and lowering him down into the shallow grave. Clary, quiet, stays at his side the entire time, her face streaked with tears. She looks to be on the very edge of hysteria, as if she’s just barely holding herself together—understandable, considering the circumstances. Magnus touches her shoulder lightly, nodding to her before turning to the grave.
Raphael hums, tamping down the earth. “He’s buried,” he says.
“Now what?” Jace asks, as if he’s looking forward to the answer with a morbid curiosity.
Raphael shrugs. “Now we wait."
And wait, graveside, they do, a vigil in the darkness. The grim tension is only broken by a few sharp words, tossed like stones across the rent in the earth. Raphael stands, unmoving, at the foot of the grave, his eyes sharp, listening closely.
…All things considered, it doesn’t take long.
It begins with a shifting, like tectonic plates far below, slow but inevitable. Magnus braces himself almost instinctively, hands automatically rising, ready to snap his magic to his fingertips. He watches as Raphael sharpens even more. There is a pause, the night stilling once more, and Clary makes a pained noise in the back of her throat. She knows that she cannot help—she cannot dig him free, he must do it himself. She just has to wait, breath bated, until he either claws his way free into the light of the moon… or he remains still, trapped, in the confines of his grave for the rest of eternity.
The silence drags on for several excruciating seconds. Magnus can feel Alec beside him, shifting nervously. All is still… and then, all at once, the earth begins to churn and from its depths a hand emerges, streaked with dirt, clawing for the moon.
Clary gasps, and Jace seizes her by the arm, holding her back. Raphael is staring with dark, unfathomable eyes as the formerly mundane boy scrabbles for the surface, breaking free only moments later, sitting up in his grave. He is sans glasses, stained with grave dirt, wildly gulping air. His eyes open, flashing in the darkness, and it’s just then that Clary manages to pull free from Jace, stumbling forward toward the freshly emerged vampire—
—whose blood-thirsty snarl rings across the cemetery, inhuman and crazed. With speed borne of the grace of those undead, he lunges for Clary with the clear intent of ripping her throat out. He is mere inches away when a sound suddenly flares higher than his snarl, the song of the angels ringing through the air.
Simon jitters back, stunned but not for long—but then Raphael is there, grabbing Simon by the shirt collar and throwing him to the ground, away from the Nephilim. Simon rises to his feet, a high keen pouring from his mouth, but Raphael is already there, shoving packets of blood into the baby vampire’s hands.
Simon wails, tearing them open with his teeth and gulping at the contents. One packet, two, more—he gulps them all down with the helpless hunger of the newly turned, blood splattering down his chin and front, heedless of the mess. All the while Raphael is there, speaking in a low, encouraging voice, taking care of him just as Magnus once took care of Raphael.
Clary turns from the sight, and she runs.
I'm using a mashup of events from the book and the show and stuff of my own creation, btw. Just so everyone is on the same page, haha.
Chapter 20: Pins and Needles
“—going to———if you don’t———need to———listening, Alexander?”
Alec straightens, blinking heavily. His head is spinning, the last of the adrenaline in his system spiraling as if down a drain inside of him, leaving him with nothing to grasp at to keep himself standing.
“…Go over it again, Alexander,” his mother says. Her back is ramrod straight, her ponytail severe.
Alec nods. It takes him a moment to find his voice, but soon enough he does, going over the events of the mission—his very first mission in the field—all over again. From the beginning, the briefing, where he’d sat with silent, nervous jitters working their way through his bones—all the way to the end, when he and his team came back to the institute, sated and buzzing from the high of chasing and catching and devouring.
It’s been hours since then. Since his parents pulled him aside for a private debrief. Hours since they informed him that his performance was acceptable, but that he could do so much better. Jace wouldn’t have done it this way, they had said. A better tactic would have been to do that. Out in the field his team had said he’d done good for a first mission, but now he’s not sure—he made so many little mistakes that he didn’t catch at first that he wants to scream, and still his parents are finding more, more and more and more, tearing the entire mission apart like flesh from bone.
“Again,” his mother says, and Alec wants to cry, he’s so tired. His head is spinning ever harder, and he wants to sleep so badly that it’s like a splinter in his chest, but still he takes a deep breath and finds his voice once again and goes through the entire mission from top to bottom, stacking all his mistakes on top of each other and drilling what he should have done instead until it’s ringing in his head.
And his head spins.
And the should have’s ring.
And the sour taste of failure creeps up the back of his throat.
And Alec shudders, from the crown of his head all the way down to his toes, knowing that he’s not free to go until he has it perfect, perfect, perfect, knowing that he will never measure up, knowing that he will always come up short, knowing that his parents expect so much more than he can give and he has to, he HAS to give it, and if he can’t—and he knows he can’t—then he has to give everything he has in a desperate bid to keep up.
His parents look down on him in disappointment, and Alec ignores his spinning head and straightens his back and tries not to break.
Alec heads home the next day, after passing Izzy at the door to the loft. He doesn’t want to go to the Institute, not after what happened last night, but he was raised to face things head-on. He’s not going to back down from this.
…That doesn’t mean he has to be happy about it, though.
He gets to the door of the Institute some time after the morning patrols have finished their sweep, coming into the OPS center to find Jace stabbing at one of the monitors like it’s done him a personal disservice.
“Where’s Clary?” Alec asks, frowning. If she’s out there getting in trouble again, he swears to God—
But no. Jace tells him that she’s in her designated room, sleeping off the emotional night. Then he sighs, running a hand through his blond curls.
Alec raises an eyebrow.
“I caught Izzy talking to dad,” Jace says at the look. “He heard what happened and he was, uh… pretty upset about it. I’d expect a call from mom and dad if I were you.”
“…Of course,” Alec sighs, because of course the news has gotten back to their parents and the rest of the Clave in Alicante. “Anything else I should know about?”
Jace puckers up his face. “Nah, just that. And look, about the mundane…”
Oh, this should be good. Alec crosses his arms, looking down at his parabatai as he bites his lip and sucks up his pride. He looks pained—serves him right, honestly.
“Look, just… I didn’t plan on Simon becoming a rat at that party and ingesting vamp blood, but that’s what happened and looking back, it was, uh… pretty dumb.”
It takes a moment for Alec to place what Jace is talking about. The party… ah. The party where Alec scared the shit out of Magnus. Right. It seems like so long ago, honestly, he’d forgotten that had even happened. But of course that was where the mundane got vampire blood in his system, and of course there were consequences, because when are there ever not?
Alec sighs. “Yeah. It was pretty dumb,” he agrees, feeling exhausted down to his bones.
Jace winces at his tone. “I… just… you were right. We don’t listen to you enough. We don’t follow the rules, and I’m sorry that you have to deal with the repercussions,” he says.
Alec nods slowly, wondering vaguely how much energy Jace had to put into pushing down his pride to get that out.
…No, that’s unkind. Jace has a good heart. He knows when he’s gone about things the wrong way, knows that he doesn’t always think before he acts, and he does try to be better. Alec loves that about his brother—he loves that despite Jace’s cavalier attitude he cares deeply about protecting people, and feels bad when he doesn’t. He might have a hard time admitting it, but he is a good shadowhunter—a good person.
Alec can’t fault him for making a few bad decisions. Heaven knows that he’s made some mistakes, himself.
“Thanks,” he says softly, and he knows Jace can feel his forgiveness through the parabatai bond, same as he can feel Jace’s relief. They clasp hands, pulling each other into a hug…
…only to break apart a moment later when Alec’s phone begins to ring.
“That’ll be mom and dad,” Jace says, and Alec sighs. Even though they’ve made up, it’s too late to undo what they’ve done—too late to avoid the consequences.
He straightens his back, and faces them head-on.
It goes about as well as can be expected. The Clave has had enough of the New York Institute in general and the Lightwood family in particular, and they’ve decided to send a representative to investigate the inner workings of the New York jurisdiction.
“Your father and I would be coming home to oversee the Institute during this time, but we’re tied up in business here,” Maryse says, and Alec can tell from her tone that she is not pleased. “You must do everything the Clave representative asks, to the letter. None of the nonsense that has been going on there in recent times. Am I understood?”
“Yes, Mother,” Alec says. He hears his father muttering in the background and tenses slightly, but Maryse cuts across him, now urging Alec to go over the most recent missions, sanctioned and unsanctioned, that the Nephilim in their jurisdiction have been on.
He’s just talking about the most recent group of demons that Asmodeus sent when his father’s barks a laugh, sharp over speakerphone. “That damn warlock… he’s been a thorn in our side for longer than you’ve been alive.”
“What do you mean?” Alec asks, warily.
He can imagine his father, stern and taciturn, frowning. “Just know that he’s never been fond of Nephilim. He’s probably in league with his father—I wouldn’t put it past him to concoct a ploy like this to split up the shadowhunters, weaken their numbers.”
Alec bristles, his blood running cold with anger. That’s his soulmate his father is talking about. Even if the man doesn’t know it, doesn’t have any idea how much Magnus means to him, to be so needlessly callous… it’s infuriating.
“Either way,” Maryse says, “you’ve been paying an awful lot of attention to problems in the downworld. How much of that energy could have been focused on finding the soul sword? Maybe think on that before the Clave representative arrives.”
Alec manages to fight the emotions back down, swallowing them as his mother, ever the tactician, goes on about how to balance Nephilim business with downworld politics, but he knows he’s not going to forget the disgust his father’s voice held for Magnus, the casually dismissive tone his mother had, any time soon.
They finish up the call soon after that. Robert has to leave to tend to some business or other, meaning that Maryse and Alec are alone on the line for the last few moments.
She sighs, a bit of her brisk professionalism slipping just slightly. “You know we do this because we want you to succeed,” she says, “don’t you?”
Alec swallows. “I know,” he says. And he does—his parents have always wanted success for him. To become head of the institute, to claim a Clave position, to work his way up to Consul eventually… he’s grown up with that ambition embedded in his very being. Who would he be without it, without the strength they carved into him?
His mom sounds tired as she sighs again. “Keep your chin up,” she says. “You’re a Lightwood—it’s time to make us proud.”
“Understood,” he says, and tries to hold onto her confidence as the line goes dead.
A few minutes later, Alec strides down the hall, tablet in hand as he writes up a warning to send to Hodge. He’s not sure if his parents were technically allowed to give him warning that the Clave representative was coming, but the least he can do is pass along the message to the actual head of the Institute. After that he’ll go tell Jace and Clary, so that they can start planning how to deal with everything that’s going on right now without drawing any more of the Clave’s ire. At least, not for a good long while.
He’s heading through the OPS center, lost in thought about Asmodeus and his demons—and Magnus’s dreams, and the murderer, and the soul sword—when the front doors open and Valentine freaking Morgenstern, recognizable from the photos that Alec knows from his criminal file if not from the circle rune on his neck, walks right through.
Time comes to a stop. Alec doesn’t think—he just reacts, the only one in the room to do so, summoning his bow to his hand. It doesn’t matter that this man should be dead, doesn’t matter that there were no proximity alarms, doesn’t matter that he wasn’t planning to head into battle. He has an arrow notched and fired in seconds.
…And yet even that seems to be too slow, as Valentine catches it in midair.
And then… then he flickers.
Alec pauses. “Who are you?” he demands.
The shadowhunter who is not Valentine tilts their head. They drop the arrow to the floor and instead reach for a stele, drawing the tip over a rune on their arm—a glamour rune. The glamour drops to reveal a young, blond, unamused-looking shadowhunter. She tuts, striding forward.
“A whole room of shadowhunters and only one reacted,” she says, raising a tablet and tapping swiftly at it. A moment later she raises her head, quirking an eyebrow. “Well? Have you put it together yet?”
“The Clave sent you,” Alec says, and is rewarded by a nod and the slightest hint of a smile. He rocks back on his feet, lowering his bow as the young woman then turns to one of the OPS monitors.
“My name is Lydia Branwell, and I will be examining the inner workings of this Institute,” she says, brisk. “I will need full access to your database.”
Alec shifts. He doesn’t want to outright refuse—his parents said to follow the orders of the Clave representative to the letter, after all—but he has a feeling that just granting her access is not what she wants. He swallows, debating, before going with his gut.
“Just give me confirmation from the Clave that you are actually who you say you are and I will get you set right up,” he says.
Another hint of a smile. “Good job, Alec Lightwood—that’s two tests you’ve passed.” She then strides over to him, pulling out a sealed envelope from the pocket of her coat. She hands it over, then turns on her heel to look around the room at the rest of the gathered shadowhunters. “Where is Hodge Starkweather?” she asks.
Alec hums, opening the envelope. It’s a missive straight from Inquisitor Herondale, just as he expected. “I just messaged him. He should be on his way down,” he says.
She nods. “Very good. At this rate we’ll get to the bottom of this Institute’s various problems in no time at all.”
True to her word, Lydia works fast and precise, breaking down the operation of the OPS center in no time at all. In minutes she’s dissected the patrol schedule, the current mission log, and the list of training lessons that Hodge had written up before Alec was born and that the entire Institute had been following for years, comparing and contrasting them all with the current gold standard, Alicante’s Shadowhunter Academy. Her assessment is quick and precise, and finds the Institute lacking, because of course it does.
“I’ve sent along a list of updated practices for you to incorporate in your training sessions,” she says, eyes on her tablet. Hodge, at Alec’s side, seems to be barely containing a heavy sigh. His frown only deepens as Lydia then turns to him, an eyebrow raised, and says, “I’ll now be interviewing you and your entire force, from the top down. I expect your full cooperation.”
“Yes, of course,” Hodge says, and gestures her toward his office.
Alec sighs, taking a few moments to text Magnus. Hodge is technically the head of the Institute, yes, but he’s barely done more than provide guidance to Alec for years now. The man is ornamental by his own design—he can’t leave the Institute due to the curse on him, and because of this he’s pushed more and more of the active duties onto Alec as Alec has grown up. Alec has no idea what Lydia will make of that—especially if she’s as much of Inquisitor Herondale’s lackey as she appears to be.
Magnus texts him back in seconds. Should I be worried? he asks.
Alec considers for a moment before he responds, no, I’ve got this under control.
And he does. Mostly. Until she gets to the bit about Simon, anyway.
It begins with a simple question. “Are you aware that subjugates must sign a writ of transmutation, knowingly and without influence of encanto, before they can legally pursue the transformation?”
Alec straightens his back. “I’m aware,” he says.
“Then can you tell me how Simon Lewis, a mundane who should not have known about the shadow world at all, came to become a vampire without said documentation?”
Damnit. Alec knew this would come to bite him in the ass. Just not so soon. He thought he’d have enough time to come up with a suitable cover story—one that preferably didn’t implicate his sister, his parabatai, or his parabatai’s soulmate.
“Do you not know how Simon Lewis came to be a vampire?” Lydia asks as he opens and closes his mouth, voice growing more pointed.
“I know,” Alec says, and tries not to sweat in his seat. “There was no writ of transmutation because it was not an intentional transformation. Everything about it was accidental.”
“So Raphael Santiago ‘accidentally’ brought a fledgling vampire to the Institute’s doors?”
“That isn’t what I said,” Alec says. He tries to school his voice. “I said the transformation was unintentional. The mundane in question—Simon—ingested vampire blood accidentally. If he hadn’t died, the blood would have worked its way out of his system naturally.”
Lydia hums. “This still leaves two questions unanswered, Mr. Lightwood. How did Simon Lewis come to die when, all things considered, he should have been under the protection of the Institute if not fully ignorant of the shadow world—and what transpired to allow a mundane to ingest vampire blood in the first place?”
Alec swallows. He has a feeling he’s not getting out of this one.
By the time the interrogation is done, Alec has taken the blame for the entire incident and has been thoroughly put in his place. Allowing a mundane to view the shadow world is a misdemeanor at best—it’s a lot of paperwork to commission and utilize a memory spell—but when that viewing results in said mundane’s undead transformation, well… things get dicey.
Alec has a feeling that his official installment as head of the Institute just got put back another hundred years.
He finally gets a break from dealing with the Clave representative not long after that, and it’s with an annoyed twitch to his eye that he goes to the kitchens for some food—
—only to run into Clary, looking like the exact epitome of the grime that accumulates at the bottom of a dumpster. Her hair is unbrushed, tangled around her face, which is red and blotchy from crying. She is, in short, a mess.
And then, to make matters worse, she comes to sit beside Alec.
“This is my fault,” she says, before Alec has even gotten a single bite of his meat into his mouth. He sighs, setting his fork down.
“What is your fault,” he says, glaring across the room.
“Simon. Simon is my fault.” She turns her red eyes on Alec, her lip quivering a little. “I chose this for him, I chose—he was a vegetarian, did you know that? And now he’s going to have to drink blood for the rest of eternity.”
Alec huffs. “And you eat demons, so what.”
For a long moment Clary stares at him, her mouth hanging open. Alec is convinced that he’s said the exact wrong thing when she barks out a laugh, sharp and pointed. “I forget how emotionless you are,” she says.
“Emotions get you killed in the field,” Alec says, and Clary snorts, an unattractive noise.
“I don’t know why I thought you’d make me feel better,” she mutters, and turns away again. “You don’t understand things like this. Do you even care about anyone?”
Her words are like a drill bit, driving into the nerve that Lydia spent all morning exposing. Instead of exploding on her, however, he takes a deep breath, his short fingernails digging into his palms for a long moment before he relaxes them again.
“Look,” he says. “I’m not good with words. You’re looking for someone who can tell you that you didn’t ruin everything, that it’s all going to be okay in the end—but I can’t do that. I’m not that kind of person.”
“Yeah, clearly,” she says.
He sucks in a breath, turning to face her head on. “You fucked up,” he says, bluntly. “But so did Jace. And so did Izzy, and so did I. What happened should never have happened.”
He thinks back, drags up all the memories that Lydia had pointedly rifled through, exposing all his mistakes, all his faults, as she went. If he had done his job like he was supposed to—if he’d kept a better eye on his companions rather than watching Magnus from across the room… maybe Simon wouldn’t have had to dig himself from his own grave.
Or maybe it was always meant to happen this way. Maybe they couldn’t have stopped it, not with all the preventative measures in all the world.
Or maybe it doesn’t matter what could have been, what should have been, what might have, would have, been. Not in this reality.
“We should have done better, but we didn’t,” Alec says. Then he claps a hand on Clary’s shoulder, as comfortingly as he can, as she starts to cry, because this is apparently what his life has come to.
It takes some time for Lydia to work her way through the ranks and begin approving missions once again. Nearly a week, in fact—and when she does grant permission for the Fae Child mission to move forward, she insists on accompanying them. After, of course, letting it be known how little she approves of Jace signing a Fae contract in his own blood. He can’t unsign it after the fact, but he can get chewed out about it, which she gladly does.
All in all, things are not going well at the Institute. They only get worse when the mission goes, predictably, absolutely horrendously wrong.
Alec cuts down a Forsaken and turns just in time to watch in horror as the barrier goes up and the Fae child walks, in a trance, straight through it. Jace, the closest to the girl, tries to grab her—only to hit the barrier and be flung backwards, away from the hooded figure waiting on the other side.
“Magnus—” Alec says, as the Fae girl walks, step after airy step, straight up to the murderer.
Magnus grunts. “Working on it!” he shouts, sparks flying from his fingers. They build into a frenzy, striking the magical barrier with a sound like a lightning strike—
—but they’re already too late as the hooded figure raises a dagger in a black-gloved hand and slits the girl’s throat in one smooth motion. Her blank eyes go wide as blood bubbles up and over the rent flesh, drawn out by an incantation that gathers it all, red and viscous, in a jar that the hooded figure holds out. She is dead before she hits the ground, entirely drained.
Magnus cries out, and with an explosive boom the barrier falls—but the figure is already gone, having stepped backwards into a golden portal, his precious cargo stowed away in the depths of his black robes.
Alec lets out a mouthful of curses, taking out the last of the Forsaken with a ferocity that leaves him trembling. He barely hears Lydia calling him back to debrief, his blood thundering in his ears as he tries to make sense of the fact that they failed. Once again, they just—fucking—failed.
The girl is dead.
Jace will be taken away.
The soul sword will be converted.
And there isn’t a damn thing they can do.