“Raphael.” Magnus breathed out softly, relief washing over him at the sight of the vampire he’d been tirelessly looking for since Alec told him the Brooklyn clan had a new leader. He walked further into the gloomy soup kitchen which his bleeding heart of a son had chosen as penance for his self-perceived wrongs. At least he wasn’t wearing the silver rosary he’d taken to wearing a few decades ago. Once upon a time, Guadalupe Santiago had given it to her son to keep him safe and it had become Raphael’s most prized possession. Over the years, Raphael took to wearing it despite the pain it caused him, as a way to feel closer to his old life and remember his long-gone family.
Raphael didn’t seem surprised by the visit. He continued to bus the dishes leftover by the homeless people who’d dined there not long before Magnus arrived, the last one of which scurried away into the night without finishing dinner. Magnus felt bad for interrupting the man’s meal. He watched him pull his flimsy coat tighter around himself through the window and wished, not for the first or last time, that he still possessed magic to help people. As he currently was, Magnus hadn’t even been able to portal himself to this forsaken city. Catarina had defied Lorenzo’s gag order in order to help him, and awaited his call to re-open the portal that would take him back to New York. He hadn’t quite sunken low enough to use mundane transportation.
“So you found me,” Raphael said, taking a seat and gesturing for Magnus to do the same across from him. The plastic chair creaked under Magnus’ weight and he hoped with all his heart that it wouldn’t give out from underneath him. A fleeting smile curled the corner of Raphael’s mouth. It was gone in an instant.
“I did, but you didn’t make it easy,” Magnus replied, folding his hands on top of the table and crossing his legs, trying to project an image of dignity he didn’t think he had anymore. If Raphael noticed he was a Mundane now, he thankfully didn’t comment on it yet. “Detroit, really? You couldn’t choose a sunnier destination? This is positively depressing.”
One of Raphael’s dark eyebrows went up. “This isn’t a vacation, Papa.”
Magnus sighed and leaned forward, ready to debate until they were both blue in the face, if that’s what it took to get Raphael out of his funk. “Okay, let’s cut to the chase.” The sooner he convinced his son to come back with him, the better. A lot was going on in New York, now was not the time for Raphael to go on one of his soul searching missions. “Did something happen with Isabelle Lightwood? Are you two using again?” It was the logical explanation for his sudden decision to leave in the middle of a damn conflict. Alec had said Izzy was on the mend and going to NA meetings to deal with her issues, but Magnus knew the terrible effects Yin Fen had on people, especially after watching what it had done to his friend Jem all those years ago. After losing his sister, Raphael was overdue for a relapse in judgment.
It wouldn’t surprise him to find out Raphael had a falling out with young Izzy yet again, though he hoped they were both moving on from their tumultuous relationship. Izzy had seemed better at Rosa’s funeral a couple of weeks ago. If so, Magnus needed to do some damage control before Alec found out whatever had gone down between them and put an arrow in his son’s heart. Sigh. The lovely Lightwoods were very protective of each other.
“If only it were that easy.”
Magnus frowned, rethinking his approach to this conversation now that Raphael didn’t launch into one of his tirades about seeking forgiveness for his sins. This quiet torment he was going through went beyond grieving for his sister. “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s going on.” He reached out to hold Raphael’s cold hand in between both of his own and was grateful his son allowed it. Looking lost, Raphael squeezed back and began his tale.
“I did something very bad, Papa,” he admitted without looking up.
Suddenly, Magnus was catapulted seventy years into the past, holding the hand of a lost young man who didn’t know what had happened to him or what to do now that he couldn’t go back to his own family. Magnus had helped Raphael find his way back to himself once, and was ready to do it for a second time if he needed more guidance again. He had a bad feeling about this one, though. But he was ready to wash away all the blood and pain. Always.
“Tell me everything, Raphael, and don’t leave anything out.”
With a growing sense of dread, Alec walked through a portal in Alicante and stepped out into the LA Institute to see his father. This morning, he’d carefully dressed with Magnus’ help, hoping he could take a page out of his boyfriend’s book and use the suit as a sort of armor to hide how inadequate he felt; but he didn’t think he was fooling anyone. Certainly not himself. With this meeting, he would be talking to Robert Lightwood for the first time as a representative of the New York Institute, not as his son. Alec had a request – no, a demand – and wouldn’t be taking no for an answer. Robert had done enough damage to their family, the least he could do was agree to one last simple term of his divorce and spare them yet another scandal with the Clave.
“Alec!” Robert’s cheerful greeting caught Alec off guard at first until he remembered his father didn’t know what business he wanted to discuss. The fire message he had sent requesting to see him had been as vague as possible.
“Dad.” Alec cordially accepted an awkward hug, pulling away as quickly as possible. “Can we speak privately in your office, please?”
Robert stared at him for a moment, as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to be alone with his own son; like Alec was the one who’d done something wrong. It didn’t sit well with Alec, giving him the last push he needed to consolidate his decision. Yes, he was doing the right thing here. Thankfully, his father didn’t force himself to make small talk as they walked through the Institute to his office. After a few brief hellos to some people, he recognized they finally made it to their destination, and Alec was glad. Two minutes here, right back under his father’s presence, and Alec was ready to crawl out of his own skin. He shuddered at the thought. Six months ago he hadn’t had the courage to face who he really was; now he was going to start making demands from his father. What had the world come to?
Thankfully, Robert didn’t make his way towards his desk. Instead, they settled next to each other on separate wing chairs facing a bay window with a view of the sprawling sea. Nothing looked like Robert’s style. In fact, Alec noticed a few pieces of decor that seemed just a little out of place with the dark mahogany colors dominating the room. So, Robert planned to continue his affair with Annamarie Highsmith now that he was divorced. Well, Alec guessed it was no longer an affair, then. With his mother being de-runed and out of the picture, they were free to have a proper relationship. Although it didn't seem fair to Alec that Maryse was exiled while Robert got to command an Institute and keep his mistress.
“So, what brings you here, Son?” Robert asked.
Oh, now Alec was ‘Son’? He had to remind himself to stay focused on the mission. They couldn’t start an argument. “I’m here to take Max with me so he can continue his studies at the New York Institute with his family.” Was it cruel of him that he immensely enjoyed shattering his father’s mask of composure?
“I’m sorry, you what?” Robert’s tone was incredulous.
Robert was really making it hard for Alec not to disrespectfully talk back at that moot question.
“Max needs to be with family now,” Alec said, taking the liberty to lean back in his seat. This chair was comfortable; he’d give Annamarie that much credit. Now that he felt more in control of the situation, he could take a moment to relax. “So I’m telling you to quietly relinquish your parental rights so I can become his guardian, or I will formally petition the Clave and they will side with me when I remind them just who once betrayed them. And your wife.”
Robert shook his head. “You can’t do that, Alec. You’re not married. Your…lifestyle leaves much to be desired.”
“My lifestyle?” Alec ground out, forgetting all about having a peaceful conversation at the mention of his sexuality, and turned on his seat to face his father. He could have let it go if Robert had said something about his age or lack of experience, even though he’d basically raised Max—Izzy before that when he was younger—but he couldn’t stand here and listen to a sermon about his ‘lifestyle.’ Alec was tired of the bigotry and single-minded determination to disparage Magnus’ presence in his life like it was just a fling. Like he did something wrong. “What, like your lifestyle sets a good example? You cheated on Mom with another woman! Tell me, what’s that going to teach Max? Hey, little brother, it’s okay to go back on your sacred vows when it suits you. Dad did it. ”
Robert scoffed and got up to pour himself a drink, forcing Alec to follow him across the room if he wanted to continue to have a conversation face to face.
“I don’t think you have a leg to stand on, either,” Robert shot back, gulping down the bourbon in one go and pouring himself another.
Alec crossed his arms over his chest. “Magnus isn’t an affair!” he argued, wishing he didn’t have to keep repeating himself. “I didn’t do anything wrong. You did.”
“Are you forgetting what you did to Lydia at the altar?” Robert asked. “You humiliated her in front of Clave officials. Do you really think your actions didn’t have any consequences for her? Get off that high horse of yours, Alec.”
Lydia was attacked by the demon after the failed wedding and was taken back to Idris to recuperate so Alec didn’t get a chance to apologize. Afterward, it seemed in bad taste to bring up what almost happened. Did he ever apologize? Alec couldn’t remember. Lydia hadn’t seemed affected. Their short engagement and almost-wedding was only for convenience’s sake. Alec didn’t love her and Lydia didn’t love him. He now realized how selfish he’d been, though. Lydia was in pain and he took advantage of that. What’s worse, his father was right to some extent.
“You’re right,” Alec said. Admitting he made a mistake seemed to surprise his father. “I wasn’t fair to Lydia. But you know what? At least she and I won’t spend the next twenty-something years in an unhappy marriage. I have Magnus and now Lydia has the opportunity to one day meet someone she actually loves.” But Lydia still needed an apology. Alec made a mental note to send her an email asking her to see him in person so they could have that long-overdue talk. And also find out if what his father said about consequences was true. “I won’t be a coward like you.”
Alec had never given much thought to how close he’d come to making the same mistake his father did. For different reasons, of course. He could have easily been that man who cheated on his wife because he was unhappy in his marriage. Or maybe he wouldn’t cheat. Instead, he’d live the rest of his life full of regret and wondering what could have happened if he’d been brave enough to fight for what he wanted. Neither one of those scenarios was appealing at all. In both cases, Alec lost Magnus. That would have been the biggest tragedy.
Would Lydia eventually have come to resent him for condemning her to a lifetime of unhappiness? Alec realized how close he’d come to destroying multiple people’s lives with one bad decision and was glad he’d had the sense of mind to steer himself in the other direction right on time.
Alec wanted to say that he saw it coming, but as wrapped up as he was in his own self-pity, he didn’t see it as a possibility until the back of Robert’s hand collided with his face. The shock of the unexpected blow snapped Alec’s head to one side, leaving his left ear ringing for a few seconds while his cheek throbbed painfully where a ring had no doubt left a mark. His first instinct was to lash out, return the blow that Robert deserved for what he put Maryse through. For belittling his relationship with Magnus and pretending that destroying his own marriage was on par with Alec’s almost-wedding. Alec shouldn’t have taken that engagement as far as the altar, but his parents shared that blame for asking him to enter into an arranged marriage for the sake of restoring the Lightwood name when their actions tarnished it in the first place.
A long pause followed. Ice clinked at the bottom of his father’s glass as he drank the rest of the bourbon. Alec tentatively felt around his cheek for the sharp pain that would indicate anything more serious than a bruise but found nothing. Thankfully, an Iratze could heal the bruise without the need of a visit to the infirmary to put anything back in place. More importantly, Max wouldn’t see this. Alec was relieved he could spare his little brother from the ugly truth for a while longer.
Robert ran a hand down his face as if in exasperation. “Alec, I’m sorry. I shouldn't have done that.” The apology somehow rang hollow to Alec’s ears. His tone had changed, gone softer; almost like he was talking down at him. Unfortunately, it was a pattern Alec was beginning to recognize. His father often delivered apologies after a surge of anger, which Alec remembered happening several times when he was a kid and he missed a training session or was caught red-handed enabling one of his sibling’s crazy ideas. Like the time Izzy snuck out of the Institute when she was fourteen to party with Downworlders and went AWOL for two days straight.
He carefully considered his next words before replying, “I’m sorry too.” Sorry for allowing his parents to have a say in his life for this long. Sorry for what he almost did to Lydia and Magnus. He wanted to believe Robert’s words were genuine, that there was still a chance their father-son relationship could be salvaged and rebuilt in time. If there was something Alec learned from Magnus, it was the importance of forgiveness to move forward, though he wasn’t sure he could forget. But this? Alec wasn’t so sure he could forgive and forget so easily. He was sorry for that most of all.
From his thigh holster, he took his stele to activate a healing rune, welcoming the slight burn as a distraction from his inner turmoil. “Dad, don’t make this harder than it already is. I’m taking Max with me today and that’s final.”
“He’s my son, Alec.” The thinly-veiled vulnerability in his father’s voice planted a seed of doubt in Alec’s mind. Was he doing the right thing? Robert was right, Max was his son too.
After finding out about the affair, Alec asked his mother how long she thought it had been going on. After a tear-filled sigh, she’d confessed that her marriage would have been over long ago if Max hadn’t been born. Max was almost thirteen now. For almost half of Alec’s life, his family had been a lie. At this point, Alec wasn’t sure he could forgive his father for being a coward and prolonging his mom’s misery. Alec put a stop to his previous doubts, then, when he remembered Robert was playing the very same game against Maryse by keeping Max away from his mother.
“I know,” Alec replied reluctantly. “But he’s my brother and I won’t let you indoctrinate him to blindly obey the Clave like you tried to do with Izzy and me. He has a right to have a relationship with Mom too.” Alec stood up, more than ready to leave before their discussion turned physical again. “You wanted a new start, well, you got it. Max needs Mom.”
“The Clave won’t allow it,” Robert tried to reason one more time. “She’s been excommunicated. Think of the example you’re setting for your brother,” But Alec wasn’t going to fold under his father’s hard stare anymore. A year ago, maybe. Not now.
And here they were again with how this was all somehow Alec’s fault. “Stop trying to blame all of this on me. You chose to have an affair. You and Mom chose to join the Circle.” As much as it pained Alec to admit, Maryse did share some of the blame for whatever went down in their lives. But he wasn’t going to go there now. “Somehow, you’re the only one who came out of this unscathed. Because I’m sure you have your mistress somewhere around here, waiting until the right moment to make it official between the two of you. Mom lost everything.” She didn’t deserve that.
Between Robert and Maryse, Alec liked to think his mother had come a long way from the woman who orchestrated the Uprising. She tried to do everything right, dedicated her life to right her wrongs, then she got excommunicated, and her ex-husband was given an Institute to run? No, something else must have happened. Right now, it wasn’t the time to investigate, but Alec planned to find out how the Clave came to rule in Robert’s favor. “I know it’s against the rules to keep in touch. But she’s Max’s mother, too. Not that woman you had an affair with. My decision is final.”
There was a loud knock and then the door swung open without whoever was on the other side of it receiving permission to enter. Max happily bounced in with a huge grin and threw his arms around Alec, nearly toppling both of them over. “Alec, what are you doing here?”
Alec was genuinely happy to see his little brother, but he was still angry at his father. By the Angel, he was so tired. He just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible and get back to Magnus. With all the talk of family and divorce, Alec wanted nothing more than a kiss from his boyfriend. Alec also wanted to tell Magnus how much he loved him, promise to never betray him the way Robert had betrayed Maryse, and to express his gratitude to Magnus for standing by Alec when he needed him the most. “Hey, buddy. I’m here to pick you up, so why don’t you go pack up your things and meet me by the portal when you’re done, hm?”
Max may have been young, but he wasn’t stupid. He glanced back and forth between Alec and Robert with suspicion, sensing the tension in the room. “Why? I swear I didn’t set anything on fire this time, so why am I in trouble?”
Alec knew he should stop finding that funny but when Max said things like that, he couldn’t suppress his own smile. “You’re not in trouble. Jace, Izzy, and I miss you, and we want you to spend some time with us.”
Max still seemed dubious.“What about my training?”
Right. Max had a one-track mind lately, and that was getting ahead on his training. Alec couldn’t blame him, he had been the same at that age, but something about the overzealous drive behind his little brother’s eagerness didn’t sit well with him. One more thing to file away for later.
“You can continue your training with us. Jace is a pretty good teacher.” He had managed to whip Clary into shape in a couple of months. Sort of. As young as he was, Max could still probably beat Clary easily. Or could have if Clary… Wait, no. Now was not the time to think about that. “So, c’mon, Max. Go get your things so we can go.”
Max turned to their father for permission. For a beat or two, Alec thought Robert wouldn’t let them go. The calculating look Robert gave him, well, it didn’t inspire much confidence. Finally, he nodded. “Go, Max. Listen to your brother while you visit New York. And don’t set anything on fire.” He added, almost as an afterthought and in an attempt to lighten the tension in the room.
Visit , right. Alec didn’t miss that slip of the tongue. It was a warning for him; Robert wasn’t giving up Max so easily. Well, neither would Alec. He needed to find more evidence against his father to strengthen his case with the Clave when Robert contested Alec’s claim for guardianship.
Simon didn’t look so good.
Only Maia had seen Simon after Lilith had been banished back to Edom, and she was worried enough to ask for help. Maia told Magnus that Simon blamed himself for Clary’s death and was afraid of even going out in case the mark decided to hurt anyone else he loved. Seeing the state of distress Simon was currently in, Magnus could see why Maia, the prickly werewolf girl with the stronger-than-you-and-I’ll-show-you attitude, had reached out for help. Biscuit’s loss hit everyone very hard. Magnus himself wished he could take a moment to mourn her, but he had to save Raphael first. Part of that plan involved one Simon Lewis. Maia asking him directly for help had been a godsend, despite the severity of the situation.
“In the flesh,” Magnus replied, carefully pushing past the vampire to get into the apartment. The last thing he wanted was to activate the Mark of Cain while he was still technically a Mundane and end up with broken bones for his troubles.
So, for everyone’s sake, Magnus kept a safe distance, which did not go unnoticed by Simon. He stared back at Magnus with his jaw clenched and puppy dog eyes on full display like he did all those months ago when he came to the loft, asking for help locating Camille. How was Magnus supposed to stay focused on the task at hand when every instinct told him to console the pup?
“I wish I could say I’m here for a social call, but I’m not.” He opened a folder with the document Catarina had magically drafted and slid it across the kitchen counter toward Simon, for him to inspect. “I need you to sign this.”
Simon picked up the document, only reading the first line before dropping it on the counter like a hot potato. “No. I’m not signing this.”
Magnus could deal with Simon’s annoyance far better than tears, but he had been afraid of this. “You either sign it or you and Raphael end up in the Gard on charges against a Mundane,” he stated, hoping to make Simon see reason without using threats. No, Magnus didn’t want to stoop so low, but he needed those signatures before Izzy cracked and told Alexander what she’d done. Raphael’s clock was ticking and until Magnus stopped it, his life was still in danger. And so was Magnus’ relationship with Alexander until he got all his ducks in a row. “You were at an illegal bleeder den when you met Heidi. She died with your blood in her system, that makes you her sire and responsible for her and her actions.”
Simon stared at the paper in front of him for a long time. When he looked up, his eyes were watery. Not the tears again. Magnus hated himself for what he was doing, but it had to be done.
“I didn’t mean for any of this to happen,” he whispered, running his hand down his face in exasperation. “It was a mistake. Heidi hurt so many people because of me, and I’m sorry. But she’s with the Praetor Lupus getting help now. What’s this for?”
Well, that was news to Magnus. Great news in fact. He had contacts with the Praetor Lupus and could request a brief audience with Heidi to get her on his side. The tricky part would be ‘convincing’ her if it came down to that with so many people present. But he could get past that with no problem if he absolutely had to. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission and all that.
“When Izzy let Raphael go for what he did to Heidi, she broke the law too.” Magnus grabbed Simon’s hand and pricked his finger with the pen to draw blood before he could protest, placing the pen back on the document. He gestured for him to sign again. “This document will absolve you and Raphael from any wrongdoing as soon as we also get Heidi’s signature.”
“Like Camille.” Simon murmured.
A shudder ran down Magnus’ spine at the mention of that infernal woman. “Yes, like Camille.”
Unlike Camille, Magnus didn’t want to bend the law for his personal gain. It was for Raphael and Simon’s life, and Isabelle’s neck, after she screwed up. Not that any investigation done by Shadowhunters would be fair, either, if Raphael hadn’t left. The Clave, for all they claimed to be fair and divine, were a bunch of crooked and merciless children with sharp weapons and hot heads. At best, Raphael would get imprisoned for who knows how many decades and have his assets seized for ‘restitution,’ leaving him out on the streets if he ever made it out of the City of Bones. Huge if .
Once a Downworlder made it into those cells, they never came out the same. Raphael didn’t deserve that terrible fate. Iris Rouse was a shining example of what could happen to an immortal after being imprisoned. She was never an upstanding citizen but she absolutely lost her marbles after her short stint in prison.
“Why do you care?” Simon asked in an accusatory tone that Magnus didn’t like in the least.
“Raphael is my son,” Magnus said. “He made a mistake because I wasn’t there for him.” No, Magnus had been too busy helping Shadowhunters and passing judgment on Raphael’s moment of weakness with Izzy to hold his son’s hand when he lost his sister. Years ago, when Raphael had first gone missing, Magnus had promised Mrs. Santiago he would find her son and bring him back safely to her. That obviously hadn’t happened. It had been too late for Raphael, he’d already been turned. Going back to his family, even after he gained control of his urges, had been out of the question then.
While Magnus hadn’t been able to keep his promise to Guadalupe Santiago, and instead had delivered the bad news that her son had died, he had made another promise. This time, it was to Raphael. He had promised the young boy three things: to show him the ropes around the Downworld, to keep him safe, and that he would always have a home with him. These promises he’d vowed to keep.
“Raphael kidnapped and tortured a girl because he wanted to be a Daylighter.”
Magnus winced. “I know, but – .”
“If I sign this, it’s like saying that what he did was okay!” Simon growled, his vampire teeth sliding down in his anger. “Like what Camille did to me was okay.”
Oh. Oh, fuck. Of course, Simon would go there. Magnus wanted to hit something. Or throw up. Simon was right, but Magnus still couldn’t let Raphael be thrown into the City of Bones like a common criminal. “Do you know why he wanted to become a Daylighter so bad?”
Something in Simon’s expression softened. “Rosa was his last living relative, right?” he asked, sitting down on one of the bar stools near him.
For the first time since entering the apartment, Magnus allowed himself to relax. Last time he had been in the presence of an angry vampire he still had his powers. Now he was as useless as a Mundane and would only make everything worse if he got himself attacked. Coming here was a gamble that Magnus hoped to God, if there was one, would pay off.
“Yes. Rosa was only twelve when his family moved to New York from Mexico because their father had been killed and they would have been next.” Raphael was going to kill him for talking about this. Magnus could only hope he’d be forgiven when he didn’t end up on trial. “Instead of a new beginning, Raphael went missing soon after they moved to New York. Back then, I was moonlighting as a PI and his mother hired me to find her seventeen-year-old boy, but I was too late. The vampire that was terrorizing his neighborhood bled him for days, and then turned him. When Raphael woke up, thirsty and out of control, his sire made him feed on his friends that had also been kidnapped.”
“Camille did that to Raphael?” Simon asked quietly.
That name again; Magnus wanted to puke.
“No.” If that had been the case, Magnus would have sent her to the Clave long ago. No, Camille never did anything so untoward anywhere near Magnus; she knew better. Back then, even he feared the Clave enough to not want a target painted on his back. “Someone else did. But I took Raphael in.” Magnus took out his wallet from his back pocket, which he didn’t carry before when he’d been able to summon anything and everything with magic, and slid it across toward Simon. It was made of leather, now soft with age and coming apart in some places, but Magnus couldn’t part with it, or fix it for that matter. He didn’t think it would feel the same.
Inside, Magnus displayed pictures of the most important people in his life, the people he loved. One was of Alec and him during one of their impromptu trips, another one was of Ragnor with Cat, and Raphael was in the last one with one arm around Magnus. “I raised Raphael like he was my son. So if you wanna blame someone for what he did, blame me. I wasn’t there for him when Rosa started to get worse. I should have been, but I wasn’t, and he was desperate, okay? He wanted to be in Rosa’s life for her last days. She passed away recently.”
“I met Rosa.” Simon said, closing the wallet. He seemed thoughtful and sad, like he was actually considering Magnus’ words. “She was sweet. When did she die?”
“A couple of weeks ago, when everyone was busy looking for the Owl.” Magnus said.
They were quiet for what felt like ages. Magnus started to fidget with the rings on his left hand, impatiently tapping away. The wait was hell, but what could he do? This brilliant plan hinged on the decision of a baby vampire who couldn’t care less whether Raphael lived or died and Magnus could only wait and see. One wrong move or word and Simon would tell him to leave him be, and Magnus would have to listen as he was powerless to force him otherwise. Over four hundred years old and Magnus depended on a bunch of children. Asmodeus would laugh his ass off in Edom if he could see his son stumbling around the subway.
“Fine,” Simon eventually stated, still looking down at Magnus’ precious pictures. “I’ll do it.”
“I sense a ‘but’ somewhere,” Magnus said, weary of what Simon might ask in exchange for his cooperation. Simon didn’t look like the type who would take advantage, though he would eventually realize that he had Magnus by the figurative balls and could ask for anything he wanted. Well, beggars can’t be choosers. Ultimately, Magnus could only hope for Simon’s request to be reasonable.
Simon looked up with an oddly serene expression that otherwise seemed out of place considering his usual sunny disposition. “I want your help getting rid of this.” He pointed at his unblemished forehead.
Magnus was confused at first, then it clicked and he sighed. Why couldn’t Simon just ask for money like a normal person? Or a pony. As much as Simon’s faith flattered him, there was a teensy problem with that request. “I don’t have magic anymore.” Magnus hated to admit it aloud, but he couldn’t make a promise he wouldn’t be able to keep.
“But you have to know something!” Simon’s tone changed into something feral and desperate, his words turning into a deep growl. It was laced with the despair Magnus could so clearly see etched into his face. “I can’t keep this. I can’t. Clary is… She’s dead because of me.”
Magnus, you bleeding heart.
Somewhere, Ragnor was also laughing at Magnus for what he was about to do.
“Fine,” Magnus reluctantly agreed, feeling every bit as old as he was. “I’ll help.”
“Hey, need a partner?”
Andrew grabbed the edge of his shirt and used it to wipe the sweat off his face as he turned around. Herondale had casually walked into the training room and was grabbing a pair of Bo staffs, offering one to Andrew.
“Uh, sure.” The staff was suddenly flying in his direction and Andrew hurried up to catch it. Okay. That was a little weird.
Since Andrew had transferred to the Institute, Herondale had barely said two sentences to him: ‘excuse me’ when they accidentally bumped into each other in the hallway and ‘can you pull up this security footage for me?’ He had also outright ignored him once when Andrew tried to be friendly. Although Herondale had been possessed by a demon at the time and no one had known, so maybe he deserved a pass.
Maybe this was his way of apologizing for that.
Without any word that they were starting, Herondale delivered three fast consecutive blows that could have easily given him a concussion or a broken bone if Andrew hadn’t reacted so fast to block them. The strength behind each blow was aimed to incapacitate and injure, not just push him back. His eyes were glazed over, like he was acting on instinct. Or like he wanted to purposely hurt someone. What should have been a simple training exercise had turned into an actual fight where Andrew felt like he was in danger. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could hold out, his body was already exhausted from pulling an all-nighter and a long run to warm up before a quick training session, and Herondale wasn’t pulling his punches.
Already, Andrew’s right knee was shaking a little every time he countered a hit. “Herondale, wait! I yield.” But Herondale didn’t stop. He didn’t even seem to hear him. Andrew put himself on the offense by pushing Herondale back with as much strength as he could muster without a rune, and was able to put some space between them. Briefly. Herondale wasn’t fazed. He attacked lower and when Andrew jumped to avoid getting his legs kicked out from under him, Herondale spun around and kicked him right on the solar plexus, punching all the air right out of him. The tip of the staff clipped him hard on the side, which was painful enough when Andrew was still gasping for air as he retreated.
Andrew realized too late the moment he made a mistake. In a stupid attempt at disarming Herondale when he went right, Andrew fell for the trap the other man had set for him and wasn’t fast enough to move out of the way when his right leg was kicked out from under him. The sharp pain traveling all the way up to his lower back made him cry out but Andrew couldn’t afford a break when Herondale didn’t seem like he wanted to stop anytime soon. Brought to one knee, Andrew just managed to block the next direct hit coming down for his face. The odd angle at which his knee bent shot a new wave of pain through him. With Herondale so close, Andrew took hold of the staff and headbutted him, which barely fazed his opponent. In one quick motion, Herondale wrenched the staff from his grip and was about to bring it down when someone blessedly interrupted them.
“Jace!” An angry voice rang out through the hall, freezing Herondale in place. Andrew had never been more relieved to see Isabelle Lightwood stride into a room in her four-inch heels as he was then.
As if waking from a dream, Herondale blinked owlishly down at him for all of two seconds before he seemed to realize what he was doing. The rules in the training room were that the exercise was over as soon as someone said the magic words. Failure to stop could result in grounds for a reprimand from superiors. In this case, Andrew was Jace’s superior, which would have resulted in a harsher punishment, but that’s the last place Andrew wanted to land on. Slowly, Herondale lowered his arm and Andrew exhaled in relief but didn’t let his guard down. Something was clearly wrong with Herondale. He needed help. Badly.
Now that he wasn’t distracted, Andrew noticed Herondale’s disheveled appearance. He was still wearing his holster and carried a few other weapons on him as if he’d just gotten back from a night patrol, which was quite likely given the early hour, and he hadn’t even taken off the protective vest. He very clearly hadn’t slept a wink in who knew how many hours and looked wired, like he was itching for a fight. Andrew should have seen it and asked him to sit down to talk instead of engaging him in combat. As he inched back from under Herondale, Andrew noticed he’d been about to reach for a knife by his thigh. Great. Andrew had almost been stabbed for real and he hadn’t even noticed until now.
Isabelle did notice. With horror, her eyes traveled from Herondale’s hand, about to unsheathe his weapon, to her brother’s eyes. “By the Angel, Jace, what were you thinking?” The ‘what if I hadn’t stopped you’ hung heavy in the air between all of them.
Herondale sat back on his haunches, defeated and staring at his own hands, lost somewhere in his own thoughts. “Izzy, I – I…”
Well, Andrew didn’t want to stick around right now, nor did he want to bear witness to the siblings’ upcoming discussion. It was between them and none of his business. Andrew didn’t have his stele with him, he’d left it on the bench by the punching bag on the far end of the room to avoid breaking it. In the end, it turned out to be a bad idea because he wasn’t going anywhere without a healing rune. Not with a possibly sprained knee and bruised ribs that ached every time he breathed in. He’d had worse over the years and had still managed to crawl back to safety, but wanted to avoid that humiliating part in front of people if he could.
“Underhill, are you alright?” Lightwood asked as she reached for her own stele. “Is it just your knee?” she asked. Without waiting for an answer, she drew an Iratze on him.
The ache in his knee slowly dissipated.
“Thank you, ma’am.” Andrew breathed out, stretching his knee out to test flexibility. When he realized he had the same mobility as before, Andrew flexed it and stood up. He waved off the second Iratze that Isabelle wanted to apply when she noticed him holding his ribs. “That’s quite alright, I’ll finish fixing myself up.” Before walking away, Andrew paused to assess Herondale. His gaze was fixed on the weapons rack to his left. Andrew followed his line of sight but didn’t understand what had him focused over there. “Are you okay?”
Herondale nodded absentmindedly.
“I’m sorry for what happened,” he said. “I gotta go.” And just like that, he was storming off without saying anything to Isabelle.
Isabelle stared after her brother with worry in her eyes. “Please don’t tell Alec,” she said, turning back to Andrew pleadingly. “I’ll talk to Jace myself first. He’s going through a rough patch, but he’ll be okay. I swear he will.”
That sounded a hell of a lot like she was trying to convince herself more than him, and Herondale’s problem was more than a rough patch. It was a tragedy. Andrew had seen Alec come back half-dead the night they went after the Owl on their own. The medics at the infirmary fixed him up, but one look at the guilt written all over Herondale’s expression and Andrew had easily guessed how he got that stab wound and broken wrist. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. Clary Fairchild was killed by Lilith and without a body, the funeral didn’t seem to give Herondale any closure. He was spiraling.
By the Angel, Andrew ached everywhere and he could feel an intense headache coming. A shower and some sleep sounded amazing but he didn’t think Isabelle was about to let him go so easily. She followed him to the other side of the room and waited for him to use a couple of healing runes.
“Ma’am, I shouldn’t keep something like this from your brother.” When shit hit the fan, which it undoubtedly would if Herondale didn’t get any help, Andrew didn’t want to be responsible for someone else getting hurt out on the field. Or worse. This type of recklessness could get someone killed out there. Andrew had seen many shadowhunters experience a tragic loss and try to brush it off instead of dealing with it first, which only made everything worse. And while Andrew couldn’t claim to be an expert in mental health, he was allowed to bench someone who needed time to process their issues. From then on, it would be up to Alec to decide how to proceed.
Isabelle regarded him with pleading eyes. “I’ll deal with Jace, Underhill,” she promised vehemently. “And if anything else happens, I’ll take responsibility for it.”
How could Andrew make her understand that it was nothing personal? Both of their necks were on the line if Alec found out they kept a secret of this magnitude from him. Isabelle was a Lightwood and probably wouldn’t face the full brunt of Alec’s anger, which would leave Andrew open for reprimand and repercussions. All of that aside, Andrew honestly believed Herondale needed to get some help.
“It’s not only about who takes responsibility in the end,” Andrew began slowly. “It’s about the consequences for those around your brother. He needs help. I know he lost someone, but that doesn’t justify his behavior. If he’s not fit for duty, he shouldn’t be out there putting his teammates in danger.” He needed to go over mission reports that included Herondale and make sure no excessive force was being used during missions or arrests. It wouldn’t be the first time a Shadowhunter decided to play fast and loose, venting out their frustrations on Downworlders for kicks and giggles knowing no one would bat an eye. It was disgusting what they could get away with sometimes with the proper excuses. Herondale didn’t seem like the type, but Andrew didn’t know him well enough to take his sister’s word that he’d behave.
A crack appeared in Isabelle’s resolve. Andrew was relieved. “I will delay filing my concerns for now.”
Isabelle seemed relieved. “Thank you,” she said. “I appreciate it.”
“But only until tomorrow so you can talk to Alec,” Andrew added. For now, he really needed some rest. “And you make sure he doesn’t go on any more missions. If anything else happens, it’s on you and me, you understand?”
Isabelle nodded solemnly. “I know. I’ll speak to my brothers.” She walked away after giving a weird squeeze to his elbow that was maybe a gesture to thank him but Andrew felt it was somewhat odd. He wasn’t used to that type of thing. It was nice, he guessed. As the clink of her impossibly tall high heels echoed after her, he also wondered how she was able to walk on those awful torture devices; but he kept those comments to himself. The answer was unnecessary. He knew she could still kick his ass one way or another.
The next morning was pancake day, if those hockey pucks could be called pancakes.
Andrew took one look at what the institute tried to pass off as edible food and made a beeline towards the less questionable eggs, adding some fruit to his plate along the way in the hopes that those would be somewhat agreeable with his stomach. His first week at the Institute, Andrew got food poisoning and spent two horrible days wishing for a merciful death next to the toilet because no one warned him about the toxic pudding.
Before he could reach the table where his friend Daniel sat, Lindsey intercepted him. Andrew hadn’t had a cup of coffee yet; it was cold when he poured it and no longer steaming as it sat on his tray. He wasn’t sure he could maintain a proper conversation with someone who apparently chugged energy drinks for breakfast. What sort of human being kept her own batteries charged at a hundred and ten percent all the time?
“Underhill, good morning!” Lindsey’s beaming smile was blinding but not contagious. Andrew was several inches taller than her and with how close she stood, he felt the need to take a step back to regain some form of personal space. “Good morning, Bridgestock,” he said politely.
Andrew had to admit Lindsey’s chirp demeanor was slightly off-putting. He wondered what was going on with her and if he’d missed something at any point since walking into the cafeteria. Was he being pranked? Glancing around, Andrew didn’t notice anyone else paying attention to them except Daniel. His friend looked equally puzzled with the sudden hold-up.
“May I help you with something?” Maybe she had a question about the recent change in security measures he was rolling out in the upcoming week. He’d expected some pushback from some people after the memo he sent the night before, but not so early in the morning before he got the chance to drink some caffeine.
“Yes!” she said. “I was wondering if I could ask you for a teensy favor?”
Part of him was still wary of his own colleagues when they approached him out of nowhere. Lindsey’s ambush felt no different than the way other Shadowhunters looked at him with suspicion when they found out he was still single at his age with no girlfriend or kids. Andrew had always been stationed in big cities and thought that, if he was careful, he could have some semblance of a private life separate from his duty.
Well, he’d been wrong. Somehow, another Shadowhunter spotted him at a bar while he was out on a date with another man, and rumors spread like wildfire. Said rumors were not easy to put out once they started.
At first, Andrew thought everything would go away if he ignored it. He’d been deluding himself, of course. Soon after, Santiago Montenegro, Head of the Mexico City Institute, called Andrew into his office for a chat. That ‘friendly chat’ hadn’t been a suggestion, after all. Throughout the entire conversation, Andrew felt like he was one wrong move away from being crucified. He’d been caught, and that was on him for letting his guard down, but he had enough sense to deny everything, even during the grueling interrogation Montenegro put him through.
In the end, the burden of proof fell on Hayes to prove that what he’d seen was Andrew coming onto another man and not just two buddies hanging out. Without concrete proof, they had to let the matter drop. But the damage to his reputation had been done. The looks and whispers didn’t go away, and neither did the name-calling or hazing. They only got worse. If that wasn’t bad enough, Andrew couldn’t do his job anymore when nobody wanted him on their team during missions.
Andrew must have zoned out during his trip down memory lane. He blinked and Lindsey was staring up at him expectantly. “Uh, sure? I mean, if I can.” As long as it wasn’t an outrageous request, Andrew didn’t see why he couldn’t help someone out. Plus, Lindsey seemed nice enough and Andrew had promised himself to be more open and friendly. New beginnings and all that.
“Great!” The thousand-watt smile was back. “So I have a thing, a personal thing, right? And I was wondering if we could swap shifts next Friday night.”
All of this for a shift change? Andrew felt himself relaxing. Clearly, everyone had figured out he had no personal life whatsoever and thought he’d be free whenever they found themselves in a pinch. Since Andrew was in charge of coordinating security shifts and patrol rounds, he knew Lindsey hadn’t had a free night in a while so he took pity on her. Just this once. After all, he hadn’t been out on patrol for a while. Fresh air would be nice. And killing a few demons could be therapeutic.
“Right, no problem,” Andrew said, shifting from one foot to another.
“Thank you so much! I’ll buy the drinks next time, alright?” Lindsey beamed, lightly punching him on the arm before turning on her heel and happily bouncing away.
Momentarily stunned, Andrew stood there for a few seconds before moving along towards his usual table. He wasn’t entirely sure of what just happened, but nobody was giving him funny looks or whispering behind his back, so he counted that as a win.
“Aren’t you, you know?” Daniel made a vague gesture with his free hand, then proceeded to continue shoveling food into his mouth like a starving man as soon as Andrew sat down.
The insinuation of Andrew’s sexuality still made his stomach clench with fear and some memories of that night in Mexico came rushing back, but he had been working on keeping those pesky thoughts at bay and refused to let them overwhelm him in public. Under the table, Andrew dug his fingers into the meaty part of his thigh. The pain kept him grounded. He hoped it wouldn’t fail him now.
Since transferring to New York, Andrew was allowing himself the opportunity to have friends instead of just colleagues, and part of being friends with his fellow Shadowhunters was being honest about who he was, like the fact that he was gay. Surprisingly, coming out wasn’t as earth-shattering as he thought it’d be. All it took was an off-hand comment to a couple of people and the word was out. For the next couple of days after he mentioned a past boyfriend to Daniel, Andrew braced himself for the backlash but nothing happened. A few odd looks were nothing compared to the malicious slurs he’d expected at the very least, which is why he was bold enough to thank Alec Lightwood at the first chance he got. It was a little awkward and maybe Andrew shouldn’t have caught him off guard like he did, but Alec simply had no idea what he’d done for other people like them, and part of him was a little jealous of the man’s bravery. That’s probably why he was in charge of the Institute at such a young age—he was brave and unafraid, given whom he was dating.
“You can say it, Dan, it’s not Voldemort.” Andrew replied, spearing a piece of fruit with his fork and carefully chewing in a more civilized manner than the way his friend continued to attack his eggs and sausage. A terrible joke formed in his head but he decided it’d be better if he kept it to himself; their friendship wasn’t quite there yet. Dan probably wouldn’t find it so funny. Or he might. Andrew wasn’t quite sure how to get to the same level of easy camaraderie Dan seemed to share with pretty much everyone else.
And judging by the blank look on Dan’s face, he had no idea who Voldemort was. Great. Andrew forgot not everyone was curious about mundane literature so the joke went completely over Dan’s head.
“Who is that, your boyfriend?” Dan asked.
Andrew nearly spat out his orange juice. “By the Angel, no! Forget about it. What were you trying to say?”
Dan shrugged. “Well, you do realize you just agreed to a date with Lindsey, right?”
“What? No, I didn’t.” Dating women was not a mistake he would ever repeat. Not in a million years. From an objective perspective, he could admit women were beautiful, and even sort of see the appeal, but that was it.
Dan chuckled. “You so did, dude.”
“I switched shifts with her, that’s all,” Andrew said in his defense.
“Oh, but you also agreed to drinks with her,” Dan added, gesturing around with his fork.
“She offered to pay me back for the favor!” Right? Andrew glanced around the mess hall looking for Lindsey and found her two tables over talking with Isabelle Lightwood. Lindsey chose that exact moment to look up and caught him staring. She smiled and gave him a thumbs up with both hands then ducked her head and resumed her conversation. Dammit. He looked away, embarrassed beyond belief for being so stupid.
“Told you!” Dan, the smug bastard had the gall to rub it in. Suddenly, Andrew wanted to take that stupid fork and stab him with it.