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             Alec’s pulse beat quickly in his throat as he lay in the bed.  The sheets were wrapped around his bed partner, the blankets curling on themselves and pooling on the floor wherever they wanted. The space between Alec and the boy next to him was cool, and Alec couldn’t believe what he was about to do.

            Carefully, Alec extracted himself from the mussed bed. His breath was shallow with apprehension as he made his way to his backpack on the floor, but his footfalls still sounded too loud to his own ears. Surely, Jonathan would hear him, and then…

            And then, what? He asked himself. It Jonathan couldn’t do anything to him, not when Alec sustained him like he did. Alec wasn’t sure exactly what would happen if he were caught, though he knew it wouldn’t be good. His siblings would be in danger, and Jonathan’s father would be unforgiving.

            Alec shuddered, his though of Valentine.

            Finally, Alec crouched to reach his bag. He opened it slowly, cursing the heavy zipper every inch of the way, the muffled ripping noise doing his discretion no favors. Once it was open, Alec closed his eyes and tried to fight off the nerves buzzing inside him. He was convinced that this was the right thing to do, that there was no other way. That this would keep his siblings safe. He was sure it was true.

            He rummaged through his bag before he found his switchblade and pulled it out. He took a moment to collect himself—a deep breath, like Jonathan himself had taught Alec, and stood up. The only lighting in the room was from the moon—Jonathan never closed the curtains to his dorm room—and it glinted off the six-inch blade as Alec slid it open.

            Silently, Alec crept back to the bed. It dipped under him as he crawled back into it, the dip revealing more of Jonathan’s back to him. He took a moment to stare at the smooth skin of the pale expanse of his boyfriend’s freckled back, to remember how Jonathan used to be. How kind he was before his mind had started to collapse under his second chance at life. Alec didn’t dare close his eyes, not even to fight the tears that tumbled down his cheeks.

            Taking a ragged breath, Alec lifted his arm and jerked it down towards the sleeping body next to him. But instead of colliding with flesh—instead of squirting the blood Alec was familiar seeing Jonathan painted in, the knife connected with the bed, ripping through the school-issued linens and imbedding into the box spring.

            Almost before he could comprehend what had happened, Alec felt a familiar hand on his throat and saw a manic glint in his boyfriend’s cool eyes.

            Jonathan was standing above him, a snarl on his face. With a growl, Jonathan threw him by the neck against the far wall. Alec’s head banged into the chest of drawers, and he felt his vision go black for a second. It felt like the world as he knew it was ending, the panic and adrenaline rushing through him like a comet meant to wipe out life. When he looked up again, Jonathan was standing over him, his face a picture of rage.

            How dare you, his every feature seemed to spit. Alec had never seen him so livid.

            Jonathan raised his right hand and slowly made a claw with his fingers. As Jonathan’s fingers turned to form the claw, Alec felt all of the oxygen leave the air around him. The fight was over for Alec. He thrashed, trying to breathe, clawing into the wallpaper behind him. He couldn’t regain his breath as his vision starting blurring black, as his heart’s violent pace started to slow.

            Jonathan didn’t say anything as Alec’s blood was deprived of new O2. He just watched, his eyes fiery. It was always funny to Alec how he burned so bright, but with a wave of his hand, could take away the only element that allowed fire to flourish. Jonathan had a knack for manipulating the fire in his personality, of being charming then suddenly snapping into anger, and Alec didn’t know if that was because he’d been dead or if he’d always been like that.

            As Alec lost consciousness, he wondered if Jonathan would burn him up. It seemed likely.

0000

            When Alec came to, crumpled on the floor of Jonathan’s dorm room, he was alone. The room felt stilted and cold, as if it had been vacated hours ago. The sun shone through the curtain-less window, creating an orange haze that made the air look thick and potent, creating an illusion of warmth where there was none.

            As Alec remembered the events of the previous night, a wave of terror washed through him. He’d been caught. Oh, he was in so much trouble. Jonathan couldn’t kill him, Alec already knew, but… Isabelle. Max. He’d put their lives in danger.

            Adrenaline spurted into Alec’s veins. Throwing on the uniform pants he’d left on the floor the night before, and his white shirt, Alec flew out of Jonathan’s room and into the adjoined hallway.

            Alec’s feet pounded against the carpet as he ran to the room he shared with his siblings. He’d done longer runs in gym class with Hodge trying to build up everyone’s endurance, but the run down the hall still felt more difficult than the ten-mile marathons Hodge was fond of. He felt like he was going to choke with every breath, and images of his siblings kept flashing in front of his eyes. He’d seen enough violence with Valentine’s violent attacks against anti-mutant groups. He didn’t want to see any more, especially not against what little family he had left.

            Alec catapulted down the empty staircase. Classes must have been in session, because it was empty, and he moved down it faster than he would have been if he’d fallen. He launched himself down the corridor, not stopping until he reached the third door on the right that read “Lightwood, A I M” on the placard.

            Throwing open the door, Alec stopped in his tracks. For a moment, he couldn’t breathe. Again, it had everything to do with Jonathan.

            Before him lay a scene almost exactly as he’d feared.

            Isabelle was face down on the floor, a dried pool of blood leaking from her head. Next to her was a blood-soaked book on mutant history, and his eyes soaked in the scene with an acute sense of horror. He’d done this. His eyes migrated from Isabelle’s crushed face to his brother.

            In the bottom of the bunk bed he shared with Alec, Maxwell Lightwood lay in a blanket of his own blood. His eyes were half-open, like he’d been waking up when he’d been killed. The switchblade Alec had tried to kill Jonathan with was sticking out of his nine-year-old chest. It stood as a sign not to cross Jonathan again; that his deranged (ex) boyfriend was capable of anything.

            Alec felt like his world was exploding. His family was torn to pieces in front of him, and they were all he’d wanted to preserve. He fell to his knees, knocked down by the shock of it all. These were his siblings, and they were dead.

            Tears started to form in his eyes, but he did not cry. Instead, he crawled over to Isabelle.  He reached for her, but as soon as his fingers touched her dark hair, her image blinked out of existence like a bad dream. In the chair by her desk, a slightly less injured and much more alive version of Isabelle sat. Her eyes were unfocused, her head lolling back. Even with a concussion, she could pull off elaborate visual illusions. They had undoubtedly kept her from being massacred like Max had been.

            “Alec,” she said. “I’m glad you got here. I couldn’t hold it much longer…”

            Alec rushed to his sister. “Isabelle. I am so, so sorry. I never meant for this to happen.” He was sobbing. “I never meant for any of this to happen.”

            Her hand slowly lifted to his cheek. “I know. You had to try and stop him. You were in the best position to…”

            “I’m so sorry you got hurt in all this,” Alec said, wiping his eyes. He turned his attention to his brother “Max…”

            “It’s too late for him, Alec.” Isabelle said, her eyes shining with tears. “There’s nothing you can do.”

            Alec shuddered, but knew instinctively that she was right. His baby brother was dead, and he was not coming back to life. But his sister was still alive, and he had to make sure it stayed that way. Even if it meant leaving the job undone, or leaving the few friends he had.

            “We’ve got to go.” Isabelle said, her eyes focusing as she climbed out of her chair.

            Alec nodded. Their eyes locked, and Alec knew that they were done with Morning Star Academy for Exceptional Affinities. The only way they would ever return would be in chains.

0000

            Alec puts his hand between his head and the window, trying to nullify the shaking of the bus as it races down the highway. It doesn’t work as well as he had hoped, so with a sigh, he flops back against the blue-grey seat of the Greyhound.

            Next to him, Isabelle is reading through a fashion magazine. Her brow is furrowed, as if to say exactly how she feels about some of the trends they’re promoting. Together, they look like normal teenagers camped out on the Greyhound going to visit a relative in upstate New York.

            Of course, they’re not.

            They hadn’t bought tickets to the Greyhound bus: Isabelle had used her mutation to get them on. Having the more practical ability, Isabelle can create illusions and manipulate the feelings people have. Tricking the clerk into thinking they’d handed over $40 a person was a simple thing, especially with the training they’d had, especially with Valentine’s leadership at Morning Star Academy.

            The Greyhound buses don’t do cheek swabs to check for unregistered mutants, and that’s one of the reasons they chose to ride with this company. It’s almost like an underground railroad for mutants trying to hitch a ride to Canada, run in broad daylight. The lack of cameras on the buses helps.

            “I don’t know what this magazine is thinking,” Isabelle says, breaking Alec from his thoughts. “Nicki obviously wore it better.”

            Alec shrugs, looking at the page. “They both look nice, if not a little…bare.”

            Isabelle rolls her eyes. “Honestly, Alec. Just because you wouldn’t wear doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be worn.”

            Alec makes a noncommittal noise. “It’s just… weird, to see how things have changed since we entered the Academy.” The word he’s looking for might be sad, not weird.

            Their terrified parents had driven Alec and Isabelle to Morning Star academy five years ago with their toddler brother in tow. Alec had only been thirteen when the world outside of Morning Star ceased to exist in any meaningful way. But Isabelle’s ability had manifested violently in the cafeteria at school, and Alec’s own power had awoken from trying to protect her. Morning Star Academy was the only place his parents knew of where he’d be safe. His mother had kissed his forehead and told him to take care of his siblings, while his father had given each of them a rough hug and told them to never come home. One never knew when the police were watching. They’d hardly seen a magazine of recent movie since, tucked away at the Academy. He feels like he’s been left behind, and a new way of life had sprung from the dirt in his absence.

            “A lot of things change, all the time. You’ve gotta roll with it or you’ll never move on.” She isn’t talking about the magazine anymore, and the air around them thickens. It’s always heavy when they think about Max. Thick with things they’ll never say, that they hardly dare to think. The “I should have…”s, and the “I forgive you”s that will never pass their lips.

            The ensuing silence lasts a long time. Alec starts picking at his sweater, a worn one with plenty of holes that they stole from Good Will. Parts of it are thicker than others, and the holes in the elbows are so large that they threaten to open and cut off the attachment to the sleeves. But Alec likes this sweater, flaws and all.

            When he and Isabelle (and Max) went to Morning Star Academy for Exceptional Affinities, they had a uniform. Blue slacks and a crisp white shirt, a grey cardigan and a tie were a part of the everyday ordeal. Everything had to be precise and perfectly presentable.

            But here, in this smelly bus and in a stolen sweater, Alec doesn’t need to be perfect. He doesn’t have to look like an average boy at some Private School. He can fall apart, just a little. He can come undone, just like the sweater that’s barely holding itself together. And like the sweater, he can keep it together just well enough to be useful. He can stay strong until the pain of having killed his little brother lessens, though he doesn’t imagine it’ll ever go away.

            Alec is jerked out of his thoughts as the bus driver slams on the breaks. His chest collides with his seatbelt, burning linear bruises into his torso. He snaps his arm out in front of Isabelle, attempting to stop her from catapulting to the front of the bus. She keeps herself from slamming into the seat in front of her, despite refusing the seatbelt, by grabbing his arm with one hand and gripping the armrest between them with the other.

            The bus skids to a stop, and the stench of panic fills the air. Most of the people, like Alec, were wearing their seatbelts, but he can hear wails of pain and smell the stench of blood. The bus jerks forward as a car collides with the back bumper. From the jolt of the impact and the crunching noise, Alec can tell the driver from the car behind them is dead.

            Looking out the window for the cause of the driver’s erratic behavior, all Alec can see is a wall of red flames.

            “Makes sense they’d send Jace after us,” Isabelle murmurs unhappily, her fingers twitching as she starts pulling together illusions to hide them.

            “Maybe it’s not Jace,” Alec suggests, though he knows better. “Maybe there’s a forest fire or something.”

            “In the middle of the road?” Isabelle snaps, and Alec has to concede her point. Morning Star Academy has probably sent Jace as part of a crew to take them back to the school.

            There are grumbles around them from other passengers righting themselves after the crash. Someone screams as they notice the fire, and the passengers start to run to the front of the bus in an effort to escape. They slip in with the other passengers, escaping through the front to keep up appearances. Isabelle has them glamoured, but it does no good once they’re in the open.

            The moment they step off the bus, they’re lifted into the air by invisible hands. Their bodies are propelled through the wall of fire, which makes room for them, and deposited in a heap on the other side.

            Isabelle is the first to pick herself up from the cold asphalt, disentangling from Alec, who quickly follows her to an upright position. Hardly two yards in front of them stand three mutants, all dressed in the dark mask Valentine assigns all of his operatives, better known as Ambassadors of the Alliance.

            Alec’s heart beats quickly in his throat.  They’re outnumbered, and Alec recognizes all of the people behind their uniforms. In front of him are his best friend, Jace, a girl in his control class, Helen, and the school’s weapon’s trainer, Hodge.  All formidable in their own right, the chances of escape aren’t as big as Alec could have hoped for.

            The wall of fire wraps around the group, a heated inferno meant to keep them trapped. It scorches the pavement, leaving black marks and no doubts about the intensity of the flame. Alec can see the grass on the side of the highway start aflame.

            Alec has known Jace for two years, and he’s one of Alec’s best friends. They’d been grouped to train together because of their similarly powerful (not to mention volatile) abilities, and Alec has so many memories of them laughing together as brothers. Of running away from one of the teachers at the school as they’re chased for one of the pranks Jace loves to pull. He’s not at all surprised that Jace would be a part of the group assigned to bring him back to Morning Star,

 

            “Alec!” Jace calls out, his arms raised to fuel the wall of red fire circling them. “You, Max and Iz need to get back to the Academy. Valentine’s pissed.”

            Alec stares, caught off guard by the mention of Max. Jace doesn’t know that Jonathan killed him, but from the way Hodge’s eyes shift, that information has been purposefully withheld from the students.

            Next to him, Isabelle’s fingers begin to weave invisible threads. He knows the illusion she’s about to project is going to be grand and filled with detail from the furrow of her brow and the fix of her frown.

            Jace recognizes the look on her face as well. He lunges forward, screaming her name, just as the world bursts into a thousand different radiant colors.

            Suddenly the smell of Jace’s fire is gone. Instead of feeling hard pavement beneath his feet, Alec can feel the worn rug of the dorm room he shared with Isabelle. The curtains are drawn on the window, but there’s no light peeking out from under them. An anxious feeling is forced through Alec’s body as his mind is yanked into Isabelle’s control.

            A sense of dread washes over Alec as he looks at the scene, but it feels far away, like his feelings always do when Isabelle’s forcing something else on him. He feels as if something is a hair’s width away from being filled with disaster.

            In the illusion, Isabelle is sitting on her side of the room, creating detailed flowers as practice for her Control and Harnessing class. Roses flicker in and out of existence, the folds perfectly curved. The millions of petals in a chrysanthemum flower spread out from the stem, real enough to convince even Alec’s trained. On the other side of their room, Max is asleep on his bed with his back to the door.

            The door bursts open, and Alec suddenly knows exactly what this scene is.

            Jonathan charges into the room, murder written across his every feature. He startles Isabelle, who reads his expression grabs the nearest textbook in defense and turns to him. Then, before they can find out what happens next, the image shatters.

            The wall of fire around them is gone, but they are just as constrained. Hodge, who has a gift for manipulating plant life, has used his ability to influence vines to wind around the siblings. A pouch of seeds that always sit in his belt should have been Alec’s first plan of attack, where all of Hodge’s weapons are stored, but he was too distracted by Isabelle’s illusion. Hodge had always been good at seeing through them.

            Hodge has a vine wrapped around Isabelle’s throat. Her face has gone purple, and her arms are thrashing against the wildlife. She isn’t strong enough to break out, and when her protests stop and her body goes limp the plant around her neck relaxes. Hodge doesn’t want her dead, just contained, and he’s gotten his wish.

            The wall of flame reappears around them as Jace recognizes their current situation, though Helen still seems a little stuck in the illusion. Alec tugs at his own restraints, only to find them thick and unyielding.

            Isabelle is unconscious, and Alec will be next.  They will take them to Valentine, or worse, to Jonathan, and Isabelle will likely die. Alec will be locked up, unable to stop the monsters from hurting anyone.

            Reaching into himself, Alec feels for the contents of the dirt beneath him. There is enough of what he needs, and more than enough power running through his veins. With a deep breath, Alec focuses his attention on the ground beneath him and pulls.

            The ground beneath them shakes. The tremble reaches past the wall of flames, and Alec can hear screams from some of the bus passengers through the wall of fire. He and Isabelle stay upright, held by Hodge’s vines, but their pursuers hit the ground.

            “You wouldn’t,” Hodge spits. He taught Alec how to do this; he knows just how dangerous it can be. The vines around Alec tighten, and one begins to grow around his neck.

            “You’ll find,” Alec says, his voice calm, “That there isn’t much I wouldn’t do to keep my sister safe.” He has to be quick; the vine is quickly becoming strong enough to choke him.

            “Stop!” Calls an unfamiliar voice. Then, to Alec’s left, a diamond shaped like a man pushes through the wall of fire. Alec is surprised enough that the shaking stops, and even Hodge’s plants cease to grow. Jace’s brow is probably slick with the sweat of concentration under his mask.

            The man’s body is a reflecting surface of red as the light of the fire bounces off the flat surfaces of his body, making him radiant but difficult to see.

             The diamond-man scans the scene: two teenagers held aloft by vines leading from a masked man’s feet, another masked man’s hands lifted to control the fire, and a masked woman hunched in a defensive pose, ready to unleash an ability unknown to this man.

             The diamond man barrels toward Jace after a split second of indecision. His rocky fist connects with Jace’s gut, and the wall of fire disappears as Jace lets out a huff of air at the collision. Jace crumples to the ground, and before Helen can even raise her hands to attack, a wolf bounds from behind Alec to tackle her.

            Alec tugs at his restraints, wanting to get himself and Isabelle away from the fight. They vines are still too strong.

             A hand touches his shoulder, and the vines wither. Alec pulls himself free, sparing a moment to glance at his blue-masked savior before launching himself towards his sister. He knows she’s still alive, but with all the recent injuries she’s sustained, he needs to know that she’s going to continue being alive. He needs to be there, just in case.

            Alec pulls at her vines, desperate to get her out. Around him, a fight rages, Hodge caught up with the man with the midnight mask, Helen pushing the viscous wolf away with her telekinesis, and Jace’s fire failing to have any affect against the diamond-made man.

            Alec tears away the vine around Isabelle’s neck first. The vines are strong and healthy, as they always are when Hodge wants to contain someone. Alec’s nails have bent back and started to bleed by the time he gets Isabelle out of the cage Hodge had constructed.

            With his sister crumpled in his arms, Alec remembers why he hates her ability. Rare as it is, if the opponent knows what she can do, their best bet is to immediately knock her down. It makes her a target, and she’s nearly died because of her ability before. It has again put her at risk.

            Her pulse is faint but there, and with her in his arms, Alec knows there’s not going to be any lasting damage. She has just a few rings of bruises around her neck that’ll heal sooner rather than later. Alec sighs in relief, knowing she’s going to live. He’s not going to lose the rest of the family, at least not to the Alliance.

            Shielding Isabelle’s body with his the best he can, Alec lifts his head to take in the sight around him.

            Helen, covered with scratches that cut through her clothing and soot on her face, is dragging an unconscious Jace towards an automobile. Hodge is in the front seat, gesturing for them to hurry. The diamond man, wolf, and masked man are standing in a protective semicircle in front of Alec. The stance of the strangers says ‘you’d better run’, and Alec thinks he would if he were outmatched so badly.

            They’re silent until Hodge takes off and the car is out of sight. Then, the masked man pulls a cell phone out of his pocket. There’s a tense silence as they wait for the call to go through, and they don’t seem to notice as Alec starts to edge away towards the forest and away from the strange mutants and the crowd from the Greyhound bus.

            “Hey, Jocelyn. I found some of the Alliance’s people trying to attack some kids.” A pause. “No, I don’t know. I’ll see.” Another pause. “Yes, it’s safe. I’ll text you when can send Jumper to pick us up. Tell Raphael that he was right. Two mutants in desperate need of an intervention.”

            The three turn to Alec, a beat out of unison as the masked man puts away his phone.

            “Who are you?” Alec asks, his arms tightening around his sister.

            “I’m called Neutralizer. This is AQ,” he motions to the wolf, “and this is Sparkles,” the diamond man grins. “Neither of them can talk while their abilities are manifesting, but we’re here to help.”

            “Why should I believe you?” Alec asks, his eyes raking the group form any signs of dishonesty. Their stances are open, though, if a little guarded, but Alec can attribute that to the crowd behind him.

            “We’re members of a group focused on protecting mutant rights called The Defenders” The masked man explains. “Groups like the one you just encountered are extremists focused on reigning terror against anti-mutant groups. They seemed to be targeting you two in particular, and we can protect you if you want. We’d have to go somewhere more safe, and private.” He nods toward the gaping crowd from the greyhound crash.

            Alec looks at the scene behind him. There are about two-dozen people staring at him from across blackened pavement, sirens blaring in the distance, and two strange mutants (and a wolf) who claim to want to help. Isabelle is in his arms like a precious sack of potatoes, and staying here won’t help them. Everyone knows that mutants who climb into the backs of police cars for public disturbances never climb back out. He could probably fight the cops off, but he’d be too exhausted to escape with Isabelle afterward.

            So, it’s probable death by the hand of the police, or possible death at the hands of three strange mutants. It isn’t that hard of a choice.

            “We’ll go with you,” Alec says grimly.

            The masked man nods, and taps a few buttons on his cell phone. They stand in silence for a moment.

            “So, what’s your name?” The man asks.

            “Izzy sometimes calls me ‘mom’, but otherwise I’m just Alec.”

            Neutralizer laughs, and Sparkles (which is, actually, kind of a fitting name for the glistening man) smirks. “Don’t worry, if we decide to become better acquainted, you’ll learn our actual names. It’s nice to meet you, Alec. Is this your—“

            Neutralizer is interrupted by a pint-sized masked girl who pops into existence next to him. Literally out of thin air. One minute, nothing. The next, a petite figure is standing next to him, a bushel of red hair springing from her head, holding out her hands. Alec’s been around mutants long enough to recognize that she’s a teleporter.

            “Hey there,” she says. Her voice is smooth and filled with a smile, a slight New York accent to it. “I heard you guys needed a lift?”

            “You know it,” Neutralizer says affectionately. He grabs her outstretched hand, and then reaches out for Alec’s. Alec fights not to flinch from Neutralizer’s grip as Sparkles and AQ latch onto her other side. “Straight to your mom’s office, if you wouldn’t mind.”

            “Sure thing,” She says, a grin stretched across her lips. She takes a deep breath, and Alec feels a pulse through Neutralizer’s hand before they’ve been transported to an office about the size of two buses smashed together. Teleportation has always left him feeling strange, shook up from blinking in and out of existence. It’s always unnerving because it disconnects him from his ability in a way that nothing else really does.

            The walls are a light green and covered with bookshelves. In front of a dark-wood desk are a few mismatched chairs, a coffee table and a small couch. Sitting behind the desk is a woman with sharp features and deep red hair pulled back into a bun, though some grey strands escape. She’s the first person he’s seen not wearing a mask, and something about her face nags at his memory, like a worm eating through an apple.

            “Welcome,” says the woman behind the desk, a small smile on her face.  Her eyes harden when she sees Isabelle unconscious. “AQ, do you think you could go get Catarina?  You can go back to studying when you’re done. You can take her, Jumper.”

            The petite girl, Jumper, sighs at the dismissal, grabs onto the back of AQ’s neck, and then disappears into thin air. It seems like they’re utilizing the skill the best they can here. Taking it for granted the way so many mutants do. It’s half the reason the mundane people are so afraid of them.

            “My name’s Jocelyn,” the woman says from behind the wood desk. “Take a seat.”

            Alec rests Isabelle against the side of the couch, and then sits next to her, so she’s boxed into a corner between him and the couch. It’s the most protection he can afford her.

            Sparkles, the diamond man, flops down in a chair next to him. As he falls, his body ripples like lake water in the middle of a storm, tan skin overtaking the clear-cut of the diamond surface. Left behind is a man with cat eyes and gorgeously smooth brown ochre skin, tight clothes, and a killer grin. He winks at Alec, who blushes red. “I’m Magnus.” His voice is almost honey.

            Next to Magnus, Neutralizer pulls off his hood and mask. Underneath the blue fabric he looks about the same age as Jocelyn, with white hairs in his dark beard. He reintroduces himself as Luke.

            Alec, somewhat used to transitions like these from his time at Morning Star, repeats his name to Jocelyn.

            “Nice to meet you, Alec,” Jocelyn smiles. “You and the young lady with you were attacked by members of a terrorist group commonly known as The Alliance. The Alliance usually goes after politicians or mutants trapped in holding cells. They’re not known to be very kind, especially to humans who get in their way.”

            “No,” Alec agrees. “They’re not.”

            “You know of them?” Jocelyn asks.

            “I…” Alec trails off. He thinks about the missions he’s completed as part of the brotherhood, of the camaraderie he’d built with Jace and some of the others. He remembers them having fun, helping people. He remembers how they were untainted, on top of the world. That was before Jonathan came back, before Valentine was seduced by dangerous ideas of “true” liberation.

            Alec swallows. “I know a lot about them.”

            Jocelyn nods. “They must have been after you for a reason. They don’t usually go after mutants, unless you think they’re planning to recruit you?”

            Alec starts. “How do you know we’re mutants?” He can’t recall using his ability in front of any of them, and for all they know the earlier earthquakes could have been Helen.

            Jocelyn’s eyebrows bend down into a position that Alec actually finds rather patronizing. “Sorry. We have a student here who can see bits of the future. He said we’d help out two mutants today whose futures would be intertwined with ours.”

            “This is a school?” Alec asks, his other question answered to his satisfaction. He wonders if the set up is similar to Valentine’s.

            “Yes,” Jocelyn says. “We teach mutant children and young adults to control their gifts, and also provide a safe-haven. If a student wants to, they can train to go on missions with The Defenders and try to make a difference with mutant reform.”

            “There are other ways to make change than to start a cult,” Alec mutters.

            Jocelyn smiles. “Of course. It’s just one option, and a rather popular one. It sounds like you’re interested?”

            “Maybe,” Alec says. A safe haven sounds nice. Morning Star Academy was nice, until Alec’s true ability manifested and Valentine wanted nothing more than to play with it. But he and Isabelle would be able to hide here. They’d be safe here, if Alec could keep a lid on his ability.

            “If you want a place among us, you’re welcome to it.” Jocelyn offers.

            Alec’s eyes are pulled to the mutants net to him for confirmation of the offer. Luke is trying to look encouraging, while Magnus is messing around with a phone. Figures.

            “At what cost?” Alec asks. Valentine required a large sum of money for his services and the free use of any student’s ability.

            Jocelyn’s eyes soften. “For free. Though I wish you’d tell me more about The Alliance. I’m afraid we don’t know much more than the public.”

            “Will you hurt them if I do?” Alec asks, thinking of Jace. “Most of them are innocent kids.”

            “A lot of people have died at the hands of The Alliance,” Jocelyn says, her tone soft. “But we never aim to hurt others in our missions.”

            Alec bites his lip, and then surrenders a rather large piece of information. “The Alliance is maintained and operated by Valentine Morgenstern.”

            There is a sharp intake of breath from the entire room. Jocelyn’s eyes are wide, and Luke’s stood up from his chair. Magnus has even looked up from his phone to stare at Alec.

            “Isn’t that your e-husband?” Magnus asks, and for a moment Alec is horrified because he thinks Magnus is asking him and Valentine’s at least thirty years older than him.

            Alec glances at Jocelyn, to confirm that Magnus is talking to him, when the red hair and Jocelyn’s heart shaped face snap into place in his memories. He knows where he’s seen her before, from family portraits of her, Jonathan and Valentine on his old headmaster’s desk. Alec has seen a picture of her and her family a thousand times, pressed desperately into his teenage palms. A please escaping Valentine’s lips, a moment of vulnerability, and then a thousand excruciating attempts. A thousand trials and a thousand errors before they figured it out and Alec’s life truly began to spiral out of control.

            “You’re—You’re Jocelyn Morgenstern.” Alec says, realization sweeping through every cell in his body.

            “Jocelyn Graymark, actually,” she says, her lips pursed. “I remarried.” Alec notices the matching rings on her and Luke’s fingers as he stands behind her, a hand on the back of her chair. Alec would probably remarry if he were married to Valentine, too.

Alec is about to open his mouth when there’s a knock on the door to his left. It opens to reveal a slim young woman with white hair and entirely blue skin. She steps into the room, as if looking for survivors after a bomb blast, before her eyes land on Isabelle. She wordlessly approaches, and when she gets close enough to touch Isabelle, Alec stands up and blocks her way to his sister.

            “Hey!” Alec snarls, crouched protectively in front of Isabelle.

            “Relax,” the woman says. “I’m a healer. She’s recovering from oxygen deprivation. I can help with that.”

            Alec hesitates for a moment before moving aside to let the woman past him. She stoops to put her hand on Isabelle’s cheek, and they both start to glow a faint blue. The bruises on Isabelle’s neck start healing, first turning black and blue, and then lightening to green and beige, like a sped-up version of normal healing.

            The healer pulls her hand away from Isabelle. “She’s going to have to sleep the rest of it off, but she should be fine.” She sticks her hand out to Alec. “I’m Catarina. Raphael told me you were coming today, Alec, and that your future would be intertwined with the walls of this school.”

            Alec shakes her hand, and his bleeding and broken fingernails glow a faint blue before they heal. Alec is grateful for this woman healing him and his sister. Catarina plops down on the couch next to him, and Alec doesn’t mind, though he can feel every eye in the room on him.

            “So, Alec,” Jocelyn continues, though she seems much more at ease. “How did you come by this information?”

            Alec pauses. He’s not sure how much he wants to tell them. “I went to his school with my sister,” and brother, he thinks, “for five years. He taught us to harness our abilities, then about three years ago, things got… weird.” He chooses to leave out the large part where he was a direct contributor to the weirdness. “He started having us do more dangerous things. We went from just breaking people out of prisons to killing the guards. I didn’t want to be there anymore, and Isabelle was about to start going on those kinds of missions, so we… left. I think they’re coming after us because they want us back.”

            It’s Catarina who responds from her seat next to Alec, though Jocelyn is starting to say something else. “You two must have some impressive abilities if he wants you back bad enough to make such a public scene.”

            Alec shrugs. “Isabelle’s too powerful to take out in private. The closer you get to her, the stronger her ability works. They had to try and kidnap us in public. The only reason they were able to knock her unconscious was because of the charged nature of the illusion she produced and the distance between us. Otherwise, they would have been trapped, at her leisure, for as long as she wanted.”

            “She can create illusions?” Jocelyn asks. “That’s a very impressive ability.”

            Alec nods. He’s very proud of his sister.

            After a moment of silence, where Alec realizes a beat too late that he was probably supposed to elaborate, Jocelyn clears her throat. “And you?”

            Alec weighs carefully what he’s about to say. His ability has gotten him in far too much trouble, and has caused more death than he’d care to admit. “Well… I can make the ground break apart.” It’s not even a lie, though the root of his power doesn’t lie in the earth. “It’s really not that impressive.”

            “Hm,” Jocelyn says, her eyes calculating. “A friend of my daughter has a similar ability. Maybe you’ll find training with him useful.” She says then turns to Magnus “Magnus, would you show Alec to a spare room? Alec, I’m going to have Catarina bring Isabelle to the Infirmary. Magnus can take you there once he’s done giving you the tour, if you want. We’ll fill out all the required paperwork when she wakes up, if you decide to stay.”

            Magnus leaps from his chair with a grace Alec thought only belonged in books. He smirks at Alec and motions for Alec to follow him out the door.

            Alec follows, not sure what this new life is going to throw at him. He’s certain it’ll be interesting. After all, it’s the start of something new.

Chapter Text

            It was the fifth day of August, and like on every fifth day of the month, Morning Star Academy for Exceptional Affinities was in the thick of a heated game of Capture the Flag. It was a training exercise particularly indulgent to the students—one Alec was not particularly fond of, but Isabelle loved. He found it somewhat dangerous, but the art of misleading someone, of tricking her classmates, gave Isabelle unending joy.

            The siblings were crouched at the top of a small expanse of rock. From their position, they could see the brick walls of the school tucked into pine forest. The field they usually practiced their abilities in was plainly visible, skirmishes breaking out across it as the two teams collided. It was always amazing to see any assortment of his classmates fighting each other, as they only really did during Capture the Flag. Otherwise, the regimented sectioning of abilities by danger allowed for little cross over. Alec thought it fun to occasionally see B-rank mutants like him knock A or even S-rank mutants (like Isabelle) on their butts.

            “This is so boring,” Isabelle complained. She was only thirteen, and it showed in her patience.

            “The game has hardly started,” Alec said with a shrug. “Aren’t you happy, knowing everyone on the other team is looking for you?”

            She perked at his words. She did like being the center of attention, and she had little problem getting it, especially during games like Capture the Flag. Starting the month after her twelfth birthday, when a student becomes eligible for the game, she had held a starring role in the strategy of whichever team she was assigned. Team leaders got to pick which mutant they wanted, like in a gym dodge ball game, and her name was always one of the firsts called.

            With an ability that let her trick the opponent into not seeing the flag, it was no wonder she was sought after. She could make it look like the flag was anywhere she wanted, but the moment they wrapped their hand around the base of the flag all they’d be clutching was thin air. It was quite the skill, and had earned her much appreciation around Morning Star campus.

            It was why they were sitting on a pile of rocks, overlooking the fray. The other team had Molly Walker, who could track anyone she wanted, so in a twist, this month Isabelle was nowhere near the flag. When the other team came for the flag, they’d be coming for Isabelle, assuming she’d hidden it with her ability. But she and Alec were truly just alone in the forest, the flag off with their team leader.

            Alec was with her to cast off suspicion of their plan, because when she did have the flag, she was flanked by other students that were supposed to protects her. Alec was there mostly because their team leader didn’t know what else to do with him. He was kind of useless, because all he could do was make the earth tremble. It could knock someone over, sure, but it wasn’t actually very effective for games like these. It would hopefully keep anyone from scaling the rocks and reaching them, though, if they were shaking too badly for anyone to find a foothold.

            A half of a mile to Alec’s left, a tree caught fire. It went out soon after, but Alec smiled, knowing exactly where his best friend, Jace, was. Jace’s abilities had recently developed in a fiery sort of way, and his mother Céline, the school healer, had been ecstatic that he could stay at the Academy. Valentine didn’t make it a habit to hold onto children whose abilities didn’t manifest by the time they were old enough for Capture the Flag.

            “Do you think Mark likes me?” Isabelle asked, and Alec’s attention snapped back to the present.

            “You’re thirteen!” Alec said, his voice rising. She really was too young to be looking into that kind of thing.

            Isabelle shrugged. “He stutters around me, and sometimes his face gets all red. I was just wondering.”

            Alec sighed. “I’m sure he does. But you’re both too young to do anything about it.”

            “Hey,” Isabelle complained. “You’re not that much older than me. I’m not Max.

            “Yet, you don’t see me asking about my love life.” Alec said in his best no-nonsense voice.

            “That’s because you’re a loser. Jace said so.”

            Alec flushed in indignation, standing from his perch on the rock. “He did not!”

            “You bet he did!” Isabelle giggled.

            “Did not!” Alec protested, still red. He took a step towards Isabelle, who met his gaze and took a step back. The rock face was behind her, though, so eventually he managed to get her backed against it, giggling and smiling because she’d managed to provoke her older brother.

            Alec, having no remorse, went straight for the ticklish spots just below her ribs. Isabelle shrieked between laughs, helpless to his ticklish touch. There were tears in her eyes, and her smile threatened to split her face when she finally called truce.

            “You win, you win,” she gasped, gesturing for him to back up. He obliged, a smile tugging at his own lips. They gathered their breath in silence.

            “Weakening me, during our very important mission?” Isabelle admonished. She used her fingers to push down on her reddened cheeks as she sat down on the edge of on of the rocks. “Jeez, it’s going to hurt to smile for the rest of the day.”

            “You deserved it,” Alec grinned, ruffling her hair from his seat next to her.

            “No one ever deserves to be tickled,” Isabelle said, attempting to frown, but her lips still pulled up in residual happiness.

            “There they are!” A pre-pubescent voice yelled excitedly.

            Alec’s head swerved to where the voice had come from. To his left, a group of three is charging the rock, among them Molly. There doesn’t appear to be even a hint of doubt that the flag is in the vicinity, hidden by Isabelle’s ability. If they were trying to distract her with the charge, they wouldn’t have been successful. When Isabelle’s distracted enough, her illusions fall away, but the team was not particularly distracting. Nor was it powerful, with Molly, James (who could turn invisible), and Helen.

            Alec’s shoulders tensed as he prepared his ability. Though generally rather useless, he could hold them off and delay the attack. Alec reached inside of himself, pulling on chunks of something beneath the earth, and as Molly and James began to climb, he let the ground begin to shake.

            They did not fall off the rock as they climbed, but it was a close call. Molly and James were holding on for dear life, and Helen was still on the ground, trying to keep them from falling with her telekinetic abilities. Her arms were raised, and Alec could see a sweat breaking out across her brow, but he was impressed by her control. She was a year younger than him and already so much stronger.

 

            Alec continued to make the ground tremble, but James and Molly both fought to climb the shaking rock face. With Helen’s help, they made their way up much more quickly than either Alec or Isabelle expected. They both made to protect the strips of fabric peeking out of their pockets. If they lost them, they would have to leave the game.

            Alec stood up and moved to stand in front of his sister, who made an affronted noise and switched their positions. She didn’t seem to understand that the greatest priority wasn’t for her to fight James, but to protect their non-existent flag. She lost a lot of games because of her need to fight. Alec stopped the rumbling of the earth as Molly and James made it to their perch on the rock.

            James, who was no older than twelve, grinned at Isabelle and disappeared between one blink and the next. Isabelle took a step back, as if that would protect her, and made a swatting motion with her hand, as if fishing for James. Her attention was so focused on James that she forgets about Molly, and Alec intercepted the older girl as she charged Isabelle, throwing her back against the rock face.

            As Molly attempted to stand, Alec pulled at the ground, which began to violently shake at his command. She fell to her knees, attempted to stabilize herself, but without Helen’s help she couldn’t keep her balance. Even Alec had trouble.

            Alec’s concentration on the shaking earth was cut off when he heard a familiar scream. He turned around just in time to see Isabelle, wide eyed, falling backward off the side of the rock. James, fully visible, was reaching out to stop her, but his hand clasped empty air. There was an audible snap and a loud thud, and then all Alec could hear was Helen screaming. He didn’t know how, but he immediately knew that Isabelle was dead.

            Alec sprinted to the rock’s ledge and catapulted off the side. He landed next to Isabelle, her neck bent at an unnatural angle. He heard Molly yell that she was going for help, but it was secondary to his sister.

            Alec pulled Isabelle’s head into his lap. He didn’t need to check her pulse; he knew with visceral clarity that she was dead. Nothing else mattered. In that moment, he felt something within him change. The ground rumbled, but the sound was more potent than it had ever been before. Crack! Came the earth around him.

            He didn’t care. Isabelle was dead.

            Tears filled his eyes as her vacant ones stared up at him. He could feel the warmth leaving her body.

            Once, Isabelle had described her ability as a craft, like weaving or embroidery. She said that there were thousands of strings around them, thousands of possibilities waiting to be realized. She said all she had to do was reach out, to gather which ones she needed, and she could put them together for someone else’s eyes. She could manipulate everything with those strings.

            Alec had never been sure what she’d been talking about, because he’d never experienced it himself.  He’d always just tugged on something inside himself, and the earth had rumbled as he wanted it to.

            He wasn’t sure if it was grief clouding his mind, but suddenly he could see a frayed thread slipping away from the crown of Isabelle’s head. When he looked up, it disappeared into a sea of thousands of other idle threads in the sky, most looking grey like Isabelle’s, but all of the ones that led down to the earth shone in vibrant colors. All but Isabelle’s.

            Alec wasn’t completely sure what he did. His fingers reached out to catch the thread leaving Isabelle, and he pulled. A spurt of color, a bright red, flowed into the thread from his hand, and he tugged down on it. When he pulled it close enough to Isabelle, it stuck to her head like two magnets coming together for the first time. Alec felt the reverberation of the snap through his entire body.

            Isabelle opened her eyes and gasped.

            “Alec?” She asked. “Alec, what happened? Why are you crying?”

            “You’re okay,” Alec gasped, tears of relief leaking from his eyes. He clutched his sister to his chest.

            Behind him, Valentine and Céline rushed onto the scene.

            “She-She wasn’t breathing!” Said a hysteric Helen. “I don’t know what Alec did, but she wasn’t breathing before!”

            Céline rushed to Isabelle, her eyes searching for wounds, and Alec let his sister go. Valentine watched the scene with a calculated intensity, the sort one reserves for putting together plans, but Alec didn’t turn around to see it. He’d learn soon enough.

0000

            Alec flops down in his seat next to Aline. Her head is buried in her arms, her ink-black hair spilling over her shoulders.

            “Mondays,” she complains, lifting her head to rest her chin on her forearms.

            Alec chuckles. “It’s not like you were up all night partying.”

            Aline frowns, scrunching her delicate features. “No, but I was up all night tutoring your sister. Did you know she’s hopeless at math? We spent three hours on power rules and hardly got anywhere.”

            Alec shrugs. He isn’t much better at the subject; as soon as differentials had been introduced, he’d said a firm ‘thanks but no thanks’ and that had been that. He’s not going to tell Aline that, who has made it her personal mission to get Isabelle on track in mathematics.

            In the last couple of weeks, Aline had been the anchor tying Alec to the Fray School of Excellence. She had guided him around his first day, and they’d been close since. She was shy, and it had taken her nearly the whole day to talk frankly with Alec, but her sense of humor clicked with Alec. She’d been friendly with a lot of other students, but not actually friends, so the relationship was mutually beneficial. She also got along with Isabelle, which was essential.

            Aline had told Alec a lot about the school. She had explained how the classes worked—control, with Luke, Mutant History with Magnus, and their regular high school curriculum. It was a careful balance, but everyone learned what they needed to in class Monday through Thursday. They had another day of work to complete Friday through Sunday, but they could do it on their own, so it didn’t interrupt the prayer trips scheduled for various days over the weekend. Alec had never been on one, but he’d seen one of the teachers rounding up students for the bus ride last week.

            She’d also told him about the Defenders. There’s an after-class club for students who ant to take on extra training with their abilities. When they graduate, they can join the Defenders, who attempt to use their abilities to help mutants in trouble. Coming to Alec’s defense wasn’t the first of their plights to help out mutant kids; a month before they had helped him, they’d broken a nine year old out of a county jail where she was being held because her abilities had manifested violently.

            The Defenders reminded Alec of the Alliance, before Jonathan had been transplanted back into Valentine’s life. Before his mind had started to fall apart, they had been exactly what the Defenders were. Now, the Alliance was a known terrorist group that occasionally assassinated politicians who were trying to diminish mutant rights. The Alliance had a death count that was unforgettable, especially to Alec. He regretted helping twist the Alliance into something awful, and was considering attempting to join the Defenders to make things right. He just wasn’t sure, but Isabelle wanted to join. He’d follow her through Hell to keep her safe if he had to.

            “Today’s lecture is on what to do if the police stop you because of your ability,” Mr. Fell, a gangly man with green skin and bleach-white, calls unenthusiastically from the front of the classroom.

            Alec, who’s already gone through similar lessons at Morning Star, slumps back in his chair. As useful as he thinks Race Relations is, his teacher is grouchy enough to turn him off from listening to a lecture he’s heard about five times already. The main idea of this lecture is usually to run away if you can.

            Aline leans over to him. She whispers, “Don’t worry, Magnus is teaching next period. It’ll give you something to look at.”

            She winks at him and he flushes. It’s true that in his short couple of weeks here, he’s grown rather attached to the Diamond-man Magnus Bane. But it’s not like he wants to do anything illicit with him… Alec doesn’t know who he thinks he’s kidding, because it’s certainly not himself or Aline. He’s definitely interested in Magnus, with his quick wit and charming grin, but he doesn’t know if he should pursue it.

            Alec hasn’t exactly had the best run of relationships. He tried to kill his first boyfriend, who returned the favor by actually killing Alec’s brother. Alec tries not to stiffen as his thoughts tumble over Max, but it’s hard. It’s hard to keep his breathing normal. He knows it’s not logical to equate every boyfriend he’ll ever have to Jonathan, who was deranged and violent by the end of it, but he’s not sure he can help it. He’s running out of family, and he doesn’t know what he’ll do if Isabelle dies. Especially if it’s because of him. He has a feeling he won’t last long without her.

            An agonizing hour later, Mr. Fell lets them go. He and Aline don’t part ways for their second hour class, making their way through the groups of students peppered along the halls. They’re not talking, but it’s not awkward or weird. Alec appreciates this about Aline a lot.

            Isabelle runs up to them, her face slightly flushed. It isn’t that surprising, considering her first hour is gym, which is an entire building away. She must have run. “Hey.”

            “What’s up?” Aline asks, an eyebrow raised.

            Isabelle shrugs, feigning cool. (Alec has to fight not to scoff at her façade. Her fingers are tapping, itching to weave together illusions. It’s a sure sign she’s a bit nervous). “Not much. Say… later, Simon and Clary are going to hang out with me in the woods. You two are welcome to come.”

            Alec bites back his decline as Isabelle’s eyes turn to him, wide with an unspoken ‘please’. It’s not a secret that Simon dating his sister, and Alec would not like to be around them together. Isabelle’s never been shy about public displays of affection, and he’s walked in on her in the middle of… stuff, far too many times. But if it means so much to her, he’ll go. He sighs. “Sure.”

            “Hmm,” Aline says. “I can always do my Calc homework in the morning.”

            “Just rub it in that you’re in Calc, why don’t you,” Isabelle grumbles. The she perks up. “So I’ll see you two later?”

            “Yeah,” Alec concedes. “Now get to class, you’re going to be late.”

            Isabelle’s grinning as she waltzes away.

            “You’re too sweet on her,” Aline chides.

            Alec shrugs. He wishes he’d been sweeter on her and Max before he’d put them in a deadly situation. Before he’d gotten Max murdered. He’d failed to take care of them, and he refuses to do it again. “If she’s happy.”

            Aline rolls her eyes as they climb the stairs to get to their classroom. “I’m glad I don’t have any siblings to boss me around.”

            “It’s alright,” Alec says quietly, his thoughts on the past.

            “Whatever,” Aline says, and leads the way into Mr. Bane, ‘Call Me Magnus’s room.

            The man himself is at the front of the classroom, wiping chalk off the board. Magnus is wearing a tight button up shirt and deep blue pants, his hair pulled up into spikes. He looks up from the board, and when his eyes meet Alec’s, his face splits into a grin. He’d made some passes at Alec when he’d showed him the school, which Alec had treated with hesitant reciprocation. The ball is effectively in Alec’s field. If he wants Magnus Bane, he’s going to have to go after him himself.

            Aline bumps into him with her hip, her lips pulled up into an amused smile. She wiggles her eyebrows at him. Alec’s cheeks are stained red when he sits down. Alec blushing is a rather common occurrence in mutant history class, even if all they’re talking about is the failed Metahuman Registration Act. It’s Aline and Magnus conspiring against him, he’s sure.

            Alec pulls out his notebook and makes a face at Aline. He’s put quite an effort into this class, despite a strong urge to fall asleep in all of his previous History courses. Maybe Magnus makes the subject more interesting than Alec’s other teachers. Maybe he’s just hot.

            Class passes in a blur after that. The most exciting thing is Power and Control class, where they’ve started to experiment with their abilities. The class is mixed by skill level and control, not age, and Alec shares it with Aline, who managed to nearly deafen the class with her ability to scream at any frequency. His ears still hurt a little at the end of the school day.

            Before Alec knows it, the school day is over. He finishes up the final touches on an essay for English before begrudgingly heading out into the woods next to the school with Aline and Isabelle.

            The Fray School is located in upstate New York, surrounded by thick forest and close enough to the mountains to catch a glimpse of the peaks before the clouds settle. It’s colder than it was at Morning Star, the chill seeping in through the holes in Alec’s sweaters, though otherwise it’s much the same. The cluster of rocks looks different, but it’s still where the students cluster after class. It’s not as closely tied to the memory of Isabelle’s death.

            The meet Simon and Clary at the rock. They call it Face Rock, for the jutting piece that looks like a nose and the crevices that could be gouged out eyes. The foliage spilling from the top and the moss creeping up the rock face could be hair, if one is particularly imaginative. Alec’s not particularly imaginative, so he doesn’t think it’s actually that clever.

            Clary, who Alec discovered to be the teleporter who brought him to the school, is already on top of the rock cluster; sketchpad out and watching them approach with a critical eye. Simon is at the bottom of the rock formation, walking towards them with a smile on his lips and eyes only for Isabelle.

            Alec sighs, then grunts as Aline elbows him in the ribs. This is probably going to be a long social visit.

            “Alec, Aline,” Simon says, once he’s reached Isabelle and kissed her cheek. Alec silently notices his hand on her arm, the gentleness of his fingers. They had better stay gentle, or Alec will break every single one of them (granted Isabelle doesn’t).

            “Simon,” Alec says, lips tight. “I’ve heard all about you from Izzy.”

            Alec ignores the scathing look Isabelle gives him and Simon smiles, shuffling his weight from foot to foot. “Yeah, um. Same.”

            Aline sighs and mumbles something about male posturing under her breath. “Clary,” she calls. “I don’t want to climb. Give me a lift up there?”

            “Only if you model for me,” Clary bargains.

            “Sure thing, carrot.” Aline calls.

            Clary pops out of existence on the rock and appears next to Aline in the grass, making an enraged sound. “Don’t call me that.”

            Aline extends her hand, and Clary takes it, and suddenly they’re back on the rock, leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. Alec watches Simon guide Isabelle to the rock, leading her up the side of the face worn with footfall. He watches her climb to the top and find a place to sit.

            “What’re you doing, slowpoke?” Aline calls, her head peaking over the edge of the rock to look at him.

            Alec sticks his tongue out at her, and then climbs up the rock. He doesn’t miss the soft edge in Isabelle’s eyes as he sits between her and Clary. She understands why he waited at the bottom for them all to make it safely to the top. The top of the head is just big enough for the five of them to comfortably sit, and Alec discovers the rock is easy to climb, so his worrying was for nothing. He likes it that way.

            They’re all silent for a minute, Clary sketching a very serious looking Aline and Isabelle relaxing into Simon. Alec doesn’t quite know what to make of the moment that is stilted only for him, and he tries not to feel lonely. He tries to forget Jonathan’s hand on his shoulder, his chest against Alec’s back or his warm arms in the dead of winter. He remembers feeling like he was on top of the world, and then he remembers feeling the universe collapse on him. Maybe he’s alright without Jonathan.

            Alec crosses his arms, conserving heat in the brisk air. It’s not cold enough to complain, but enough to start numbing his nose. He’s thankful the breeze is minimal, or he’d be shaking.

            “So, Alec,” Simon says conversationally, an arm around Isabelle. “I’ve heard you can shake the earth.”

            “And?” Alec asks, his voice harsher than perhaps it should be. He can only shake the earth if there are enough bones buried in it, not that Simon knows that. He’d concurred with Isabelle: his ability is to remain a secret unless there’s an emergency.

            Simon grins. “Me too. I mean, we share the same ability to do a little recreational terraforming.”

            Alec blinks. “To do what?”

            Simon shakes his head. “Never mind. I was just wondering who had the stronger ability.”

            “What are you suggesting?” Alec asks. He has no idea where Simon’s going with this. He certainly doesn’t care if Simon is more savvy with his ability, especially since their abilities are completely different.

            Simon seems to falter for a second, and he meets Isabelle’s eyes with a determined frown. Isabelle, for her part, seems to be more amused than anything. Alec doesn’t really know what’s going on.

            “I was just wondering if you wanted to have a competition.” Simon recommends, a lazy grin on his face.

            “No,” Alec says. He has no desire to prove anything to this Simon character, though it occurs to Alec that Simon might have something to prove to Isabelle. People tend to do strange things when caught in romantic entanglements, a fact Alec can testify to first hand. But he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself, and challenging Simon would do that.

            “Come on, Alec,” Aline says, turning to face him. She ignores Clary’s stern look. “It’ll be fun. Besides, you never really use it in control class. I want to see it.”

            “It’s not every day I come across someone with such a similar ability.” Simon says.

            Alec wants to argue that they’re not similar, that he would give a lot to have an ability like Simon’s. But he’s dug his own grave and he’s going to have to lay in it. If it’ll keep the attention off of him and confirm his ruse of an ability, he’ll do it.

            “What do you want to do?” Alec concedes.

            Simon thinks about it for a moment, his eyes scanning the surroundings. Alec can tell the moment he gets an idea because his head jerks back a bit and a grin splits across his face. “We could see which of us could knock down a tree the fastest.”

            “A tree?” Clary asks. “Isn’t it a bit rude to knock down my mom’s trees?”

            “Oh, come on,” Simon says, voice filled with fake exasperation. “You know she loves me.”

            “And you’re lucky that she does,” Clary says, giving up the argument.

            “It would be a competition in strength and focus,” Simon explains. He finishes in Spanish. “If that’s alright with you.”

            “Sí,” Alec responds. It’s been a long time since anyone but Isabelle spoke to him in Spanish, but she must have shared their heritage with Simon. He stands up, then quickly scales down the rock face. “I’m assuming you don’t want to do this from somewhere so delicate?”

            “I’m with Alec on this one,” Aline says and follows him down to the ground. Clary gives out a surprised ‘hey!’ at losing her model, then grabs Isabelle’s ankle and teleports them all to the ground.

            “Doesn’t teleporting that much wear you out?” Alec asks her.

            Clary shifts her sketchbook under her arm. “It’s like a muscle. The more I do it, the easier it is. So if I do it a lot under normal circumstances, I’ll be able to do it in more important ones. Like transporting the Defenders hundreds of miles.”

            “Clary’s awesome,” Simon grins. “Now let’s get this show on the road. I’ll take this tree,” he points to a pine tree to his left, “and you take that one,” he gestures to a similar tree on his right. “That way we know we aren’t influencing each other’s trees.”

            Alec decides not to point out the flaws in his logic. “Fine by me.” Truth be told, he’s never been very precise when he’s made the ground shake. It all depends on where the bones are buried, which limits his sphere of influence. If there are no bones, he can’t shake a damn thing. Woods are always filled with animal bones, though, so he probably has little to worry about in that area.

            “Clary’ll referee?”” Simon suggests.

            “She’s hardly partial,” Aline argues. “Have Isabelle do it.”

            “She’s Alec’s brother!” Simon protests.

            Aline rolls her eyes at him. “And Clary is practically yours, with how long you two have been here. Besides, Isabelle’s parital to both.”

            “Probably more to Alec. Why don’t you referee, Aline?” Clary suggests.

            Aline sighs, but there’s a smile to it. “Only because the rest of you are useless.”

            “Ready when you are, then, ref.” Simon says. He’s turned his back to the group, and his legs are spread in some sort of defensive posture. He looks really weird, like one of those knock-off heroes from movies Alec liked when he was a kid. From before being a mutant meant being hunted and used in sick experiments or killed.

            Alec turns to face his tree. He glances towards Aline, and when their eyes meet, he nods. She starts counting down to begin the task.

            “Three, two… one!” Aline cries.

            Alec feels the rumble of the earth beneath his feet before he’s even reached out to touch the bones buried in the dirt. He glances over at Simon, whose tree has begun to shake violently.

            Alec turns back to his own tree. He closes his eyes for a second, to center himself, and then finds that extra limb of power his mutation grants him and he pulls. There are so many bones in this forest he can hardly distinguish between them. It’s as if they’re on a bedrock of death and Alec’s the only one with access. Alec stops pulling, fully aware of how much damage he could do, if he was properly motivated.

            He hears the creaking and cracking of Simon’s tree stumbling to the ground. The earth trembles a final time as the tree crashes into it, leaving the group unsteady for a moment.

            “Simon wins!” Aline announces.

            Simon whoops, jumping into the air with a big grin. Alec just shrugs, and Isabelle is smiling at the both of them.

            “Well, Simon has been here longer.” Clary explains, giving her friend a high-five. “He was the first student after Magnus, Ragnor and Cat decided to stay as teachers.”

            “How did you even know about the place?” Aline asks. “I mean, I can’t imagine it was well-known.”

             They make their way back to the face rock, avoiding the trunk of the fallen tree. It might make a nice bench, once the stickiness of its bark fades.

            Alec dangles his legs off the edge of face rock, his back turned to the group as he listens to the conversation. Clary is drawing Aline again, and Simon and Isabelle are tucked into each other, playing with the other’s hands.

            “Oh, that’s on me,” Clary says, a grin in her voice as she looks up from her sketchbook. “We used to live in the same apartment complex in Brooklyn. After my abilities manifested, when mom found Magnus, Cat and Ragnor, she opened up her family’s estate and turned it into little a school. It grew from there, and here we are now.”

            “She took Simon with her?” Isabelle asks.

            “No, he called me and asked for help.” Clary says. Her voice fades near the end, lost in the curves of Aline’s face.

            “What happened?” Isabelle asks. Alec wishes she wouldn’t. Nearly every mutant child has a similar story, most of them similar to theirs, and while living at Morning Star they’d heard a lot of tales. They can be painful, and Simon might not want to share with near strangers.

            Simon shrugs. “I got sick. Strep. We went to the doctor, and when they did the swab, they checked to see if I was a mutant. This was when the test was still new, and not completely reliable, so we didn’t believe it when it came back positive. My mother and sister were both negative, and there was a twenty-five percent chance of a misread.”

            Simon is silent for a moment, the air thick with nostalgia for a time long since past. Then, he lets out a little laugh. “They wrote down my positive in my record, and for a while it didn’t matter. I probably wasn’t a mutant.” Simon’s voice darkens. “But then there were what seemed like earthquakes. I didn’t know they were connected to me, at first. But then Edge was released, with 99% accuracy, and my mom took me to go get the test. She was so afraid, and horrified when the test came back positive.”

            Alec has heard about Edge, about what the test could prove. It could tell if someone had a mutated gene, and Simon was not the first person Alec had met who had been swabbed. It used to be, probably when Simon had been tested, just a tool to see if someone was a mutant. If they were, their names were put on a registry. Now, though, if a kid tests positive they’re branded by a little triangle on the side of their neck. Alec has seen far too many triangles of burned into the flesh of mutant children.

            “My mom took religion pretty seriously. She thought my mutation was pretty messed up. She didn’t like it like she had liked watching Spiderman with me when I was younger. She wanted to kick me out of the house, but my sister wouldn’t let her. She said there was nothing wrong with me, that I’d be fine. When a bounty was put up for mutant kids, though, I knew I wouldn’t be around long if she could help it. So I called Clary.” Alec realizes that Simon’s probably glossing over the horrible parts of the story. Everyone does, the first time.

            “And we saved him,” Clary grins. “He got to see Catarina’s awful first attempt at teaching first aid.”

            Simon shudders. “Don’t remind me. I’ll never be able to look at mock duck the same way. Your mom can manipulate memories. You’d think she’d let me forget that.”

            Clary just shrugs.

            “I don’t even want to know,” Isabelle mutters.

            “Probably not,” Clary agrees. “It’s almost time for dinner, though, so we’d better get going.”

            The sky was getting dark. The fall had set in, and the light of day was leaving quicker than it had in the summer. Checking his watch, Alec realized it was close to 5:30.

            Clary tucked her sketchbook under her arm and teleported to the bottom of the rock.

            “Leaving me up here all by myself, Fray?” Aline calls after her, scaling down the rock. Simon heads after her, but Isabelle lingers, waiting for Alec.

            The siblings slowly make their way down the rock face. Their friends are already walking ahead, and they keep their pace slow. Alec knows Isabelle wants to talk, and they don’t want to be overheard.

            There’s silence for a couple of seconds.

            “It’s nice here,” Isabelle says quietly. They haven’t really talked about it yet. “We don’t have to use our powers if we don’t want to, and I don’t feel like we’re in danger for once.”

            “And there’s Simon,” Alec teases lightly.

            Isabelle chuckles. “And there’s Simon. He’s nice, you know? He knows a lot about pop culture, and with the way Valentine forbid it, it’s nice to hear someone so enthusiastic about stuff like that. Stuff that doesn’t really matter.”

            Alec doesn’t quite get it, though. He doesn’t care if he doesn’t get all of the pop culture jokes. He feels like Isabelle’s transitioned to being here well, and Simon and his pop culture references seem to be helping. There are times when they both fall out of step in this place, when their minds get caught on repeat with thoughts of their brother, but it’s been a couple of weeks and it’s becoming, somehow, bearable. They can make it work.

            They hadn’t told anyone about Max. No one had asked if they had another sibling, but when Isabelle had woken up when they first arrived, it had silently been decided. They wouldn’t talk about him. Guilt weighed heavily on Alec, but he tried not to let it pull him down. He had to be reliable, so he couldn’t let it consume him.

            “Aline’s nice,” Isabelle comments. “She’s really helpful at math.”

            “You’re just using her for her brain,” Alec smirks.

            Isabelle smiles, but it slides off her face after a couple of seconds. They’re silent as they walk back to the school. They can see the tall glass doors leading to the cafeteria, and the students milling about inside. The energy is so high, and it feels so innocent. It’s much different from Morning Star.

            Isabelle stops walking, and Alec waits. “You know, Alec, if you like someone… that’s alright. You’re allowed to like people. You can pursue them.”

            Alec’s lips purse together. “The last time I was interested in someone, they ended up being a murderous psychopath.”

            “Jonathan was…” Isabelle sighs. “Jonathan wasn’t supposed to be alive. Like, more than me. It… kind of made sense that eventually he’d start losing it. Or maybe he didn’t lose it. Maybe he was rotten from the beginning and he just hid it well.”

            “I’m glad you have such faith in my ability to choose a boyfriend,” Alec says sarcastically.

            Isabelle shrugs, then grins. “I’m sure you’ll have better luck this time. Mr. Bane? Now there’s a cute one. And he’s on team good, so there’s less of a chance murder will be involved.”

            Alec blushes deep red. “Does everyone know about him?”

            “Only those of us with our eyes out for you, dear brother,” She laughs, then walks inside the building for dinner, leaving Alec alone.

            He thinks about Magnus for a moment, of pursuing the man, then walks in after her. He can’t remain stuck in the past. He knows what he’s going to do.

0000

            Alec has his first control conference with Jocelyn on Tuesday. They work on refining his ability in a classroom setting, and while she asks him questions about the way his ability works, he’s on edge. She has been nothing but nice to him, and he’s been lying. He knows it’s best if she doesn’t know, but sometimes it’s hard to break the rules. It’s hard to be dishonorable, unreliable.

            He’s a little shaken up when he goes to meet Magnus for an appointment he set up earlier in the day. He feels weird, but strangely bold. It’s odd, and it likely comes from the weird headspace he put himself in while dealing with the principal.

            Alec stands outside of Magnus’s classroom and takes a deep breath. He opens the door to find Magnus behind his desk, a stack of papers and a red pen in his hand. Alec clears his throat.

            Magnus looks up from his desk. His brilliant eyes sparkle. “Alexander,” he says, his voice deep.

            “Hey,” Alec says, closing the door behind him. “How’s it going?”

            “Better, now that your gorgeous face is in the picture,” Magnus winks.

            Alec blushes and decides against making a comment about how this isn’t how a teacher should behave towards a student. They’re both adults, after all, and only a couple of years apart. He’s done his research.

            In an unusually bold move, Alec drops his bag and sits on a corner of Magnus’s desk. They’re only inches apart, and this close Alec can see the details of Magnus’s face. He can see the soft curves of his lips, the jut of cheekbone. He can see the flecks of gold in Magnus’s green, cat-slit eyes as they roam down Alec’s body before returning to his face.

            “What topic are we delving into today, then?” Magnus asks.

            “What?” Alec says, his eyebrows furrowed. He’s not sure what Magnus is talking about.

            An amused look crosses Magnus’s face. “You came here to study?”

            “Oh!” Alec says, flushing. Then, he admits, “I didn’t really come here to study.”

            “No?” Magnus asks innocently. Alec knows Magnus is toying with him “Then what did you come here for?”

            “I wanted to ask you on a date,” Alec blurts, almost before Magnus is finished talking.

            “Hmmm,” Magnus hums. “And why would you do that?”

            Alec wrings his hands. “You’ve been nice to me, and you seem interested. You’re also very attractive, and funny, so I thought…”

            “Whoa, not looking for a confession,” Magnus says, palms raised. His red pen is still clutched in one hand. He pats Alec’s leg. “Sure. I know a place.”

            Alec smiles. “Should I let you get back to those papers, or…?”

            Magnus shakes his head. “They’ll get done. I’ve got some board games if you want to try your luck?”

            Alec grins. He doubts there’s a better way to get to know someone.

Chapter Text

            Alec and Magnus have their first date on a Friday. They’ve spent the week together, playing board games or watching reality television. There’s schoolwork to be done, of course, and friends to see, but when they’re both not busy, they hang out.

            It’s fun to get to know someone romantically. Alec was with Jonathan for years, and he’s having a good time learning about Magnus. Learning about what Magnuslikes, like Project Runway or the spot just below his ear that never fails to make him hard. Magnus adores his cat, Chairman Meow, who Alec loves but is completely 100% allergic to. Being allergic to cats is the tragedy of the century, according to Magnus. Alec kind of agrees.

            Magnus gets back from the Mosque with a car full of kids around five. They’ve made plans to go to a bed and breakfast about a half-hour away, and Alec is looking forward to it.

            They meet at Magnus’s room around six, which Magnus had promised was enough time to get himself properly ready. Alec has figured out through the week, that Magnus tends to put a lot of time into his appearance, and that he’d probably need the full hour. He decides against arriving early.

            When Alec shows up at Magnus’s door, he’s not disappointed. Magnus’s eyes are caked in a purple eye shadow that’s blended as well as Isabelle’s eyes before a date, and liner rings his lids. His eyebrows definitely have that ‘just done’ look to them, and his tight pants cling to all the right parts of his anatomy. He’s wearing a leather jacket, and Alec can feel his cheeks heat up. His boyfriend is hot.

            Alec feels a little underdressed in his thrift-shop button-up shirt, which is at least two sizes two big and has a hole in the elbow. It’s the best he could do, considering all he has for clothing is the Fray School’s uniform (which he did not want to wear on a date), and the clothes he and Isabelle stole from goodwill while on the run from Morning Star Academy. Magnus looks excellent, and Alec looks okay, and Alec’s pretty sure that’s how it’s going to be from here on out.

            It’s not like he minds having a gorgeous boyfriend.

            “Hey,” Alec says. “You ready to go?”

            “Sure thing,” Magnus winks. “Though I would prefer some foreplay.”

            Alec flushes. “That’s—That’s not what I meant.”

            Magnus laughs and kisses Alec on the cheek, pulling his bedroom door shut behind him. “I know, sweetheart, it’s just fun to watch you get worked up. Though I must say, you didn’t sound nearly so innocent last night.”

            Alec smacks his arm as they walk down the long dorm hallway, but it just makes Magnus laugh harder. He huffs, and they continue walking.

            “So, are we taking one of the school cars there?” Alec asks. “It’s not like we can ask Clary.”

            “You’ll see,” Magnus smirks.

            Alec rolls his eyes at Magnus’s antics. His teacher has turned out to be fairly dramatic, and though it reminds him a bit of his sister, he’s not complaining. Someone’s got to do the talking and the risk-taking in a relationship, and it’s not going to be Alec. Not after Jonathan.

            They finally make their way to the garage, and Alec gasps when he sees what Magnus is leading him to.

            “Is that a Ducati?” he asks. “A Monster?”

            “I take it someone is into motorcycles,” Magnus grins. “And you’re spot on. Got her two summers ago and has been a dream ever since. I’ve got some extra riding gear, just give me a moment to find it.”

            Magnus leaves Alec alone for a minute to ogle his motorcycle. It’s a beautiful bike, sleek and well kept. Alec can definitely appreciate that about his boyfriend. When Magnus comes back, he’s got two helmets and another jacket in his hands.

            The ride to the bed and breakfast is amazing. Being pressed against Magnus’s back is just a bonus. The feel of the engine under him, the roar as they race along the highway, is exhilarating. Alec remembers the collection of motorcycle magazines he used to keep under his bed, remembers longing to own one.

            Alec’s almost sad when they make it to their destination. There’s an ache in his back from being on the bike, but he’s still a bit in awe of the machine. He’s dreamed about having one, and if he marries Magnus it could be his by extension. He’ll just have to marry Magnus (which doesn’t really seem like it’d too bad, but that’s how Jonathan was in the beginning, too).

            “Careful, or I’m going to start thinking you like my bike more than me,” Magnus says, once he’s pulled off his helmet. His hair is a little ruffled, but in the setting sun it still looks great.

            “Maybe I do,” Alec says, but his smile is genuine.

            The parking lot they’ve driven into is small and unpaved. It takes Magnus a minute to find a rock big enough to rest his kickstand on. Alec uses the time to observe their location. The restaurant itself is in a tiny hotel with wood paneling. The hotel can’t have space for more than ten rooms with the restaurant attached, but it’s cute. Stuff like this doesn’t pop up in big cities, and all Alec can remember about going out with his parents as a child was tight spaces crammed between office buildings and shops.

            Magnus grabs his hand and pulls him inside the restaurant. A bell dings above their heads, alerting the people inside the restaurant of their presence. A waitress looks up from the book she’s reading at the five-stooled bar and smiles at them, while two old men in the corner remain engrossed in their game of chess.

            The waitress calls for them to sit wherever they want, so Magnus tugs Alec into a booth. It’s as obscure as it can be in the space, which isn’t much. They can still see the old men, but the bar is a mystery.

            Seconds after they sit down across from each other, their server appears, a bright smile on her face. She sets down thin menus in front of them and launches into the beer menu. She pats down her apron while she talks, pulling out a notepad.

            Magnus laughs. “I’m driving and he’s underage, so I think we’ll stick to a diet coke and…”

            “Lemonade,” Alec supplies. The server nods and walks away, after quickly scribbling down their order.

            “Didn’t peg you for a lemonade type of guy,” Magnus says.

            “Well, some of us like to sleep,” Alec rolls his eyes.

            Magnus laughs, and Alec watches him, smiling. He catches Magnus’s foot under the table, and they stay like that. The rest of the date goes smoothly, and Alec can tell Magus is having just as much fun as he is.

            When they pull back into the school garage, Alec is a little sad it’s over. Not just because of the gorgeous bike, but because it’s been so long since he’s been out. Since he’s had fun going out. Sneaking out of his dorm to make out with Jonathan wasn’t the same.

            A figure appears in the hallway as he’s pulling Magnus back to Magnus’s room, and it startles Alec into jumping. He relaxes when he sees it’s just a very short man, who he recognizes as the cook after a couple moments of awkward staring.

            “Raphael?” Magnus questions.

            “Alexander,” the cook, Raphael, says, and Alec notices his eyes are glossed over. “You are going to be stolen. Be careful.”

            Alec feels a cold settle in his chest. He thinks he knows what Raphael is talking about: it’s got to be Jonathan and Valentine, who want him back. When they find him, he’s not sure what’s going to happen.

            “They’re coming?” Alec whispers, but Raphael just turns around and continues wandering down the hallway.

            Magnus shrugs, not looking at all troubled. “He does that sometimes. His clairvoyance probably doesn’t mean what you think it means. It never does.”

            “Okay,” Alec says, but he’s still on edge.

            Magnus grips his arm and pulls him in for a kiss. Alec feels the muscles in his shoulders relax.  He takes a deep breath as Magus pulls away, his eyes closed. Magnus takes Alec’s hand in his.

“Come on,” Magnus says. “I’ve got something to show you in my room.”

            “Yeah?” Alec asks.

            Magnus guides them back to his room, his hand burning hot in Alec’s. “Yeah,” he says, his voice deep.

            When they make it back to Magnus’s room, all bets are off. Magnus pushes Alec against his door, his leg sliding between Alec’s thighs as he crushes their bodies together.

            “Magnus,” Alec moans as Magnus’s tongue sucks at his pulse point, his hips pushing down on Magnus’s thigh.

            “Eager, aren’t we?” Magnus teases, his voice low. Alec takes the opportunity to bend to meet Magnus’s mouth, and he isn’t disappointed.

            Their lips meet in a rush of heat. Alec licks at Magnus’s tongue, the roof of his mouth, his hands in Magnus’s gelled hair, pulling him closer. Magnus groans and pushes his lower body closer to Alec’s, who puts his hands on Magnus’s shoulders and lifts up his legs to wrap around Magnus’s waist.

            Magnus pushes him further against the door, as if trying to eliminate every bit of space between them. Alec’s legs squeeze around Magnus’s waist. Magnus’s hands find their way to Alec’s butt, holding him up as he carries him to bed.

            Magnus rudely drops Alec on the bed. Alec lets out a yelp, glaring at him.

            Magnus just chuckles and pulls off his shirt. “I, for one, do not want to do this while fully clothed,” he says as he bends over to pull off his pants.

            Alec watches Magnus get undressed. His dark skin glinting in the limited light, the way his abdominal muscles stretch as he leans over… Alec can’t help but crawl over to his boyfriend, pulling him down onto the bed. He climbs on top of Magnus, kissing his neck, down to his nipple, which he makes sure is perked and alert by massaging it with his tongue. He can feel his pants getting tighter as Magnus mewls and moans underneath him.

            Magnus pulls off Alec’s shirt, but Alec quickly resumes kissing his way down Magnus’s chest. He pulls at Magnus’s boxers, sliding them all the way off. He presses a kiss to the inside of Magnus’s thigh, and he smiles when he feels Magnus twitch beneath him. If his penis is any indication, Magnus is not unaroused.

            Alec moves up, kissing the spot where a bellybutton would be if he weren’t a mutant, and Magnus groans. “Come on, Alec.”

            Alec feels a rush of affection as Magnus verifies his want for him. He takes the base of Magnus’s penis in his hand, and hears Magnus hiss in relief. He looks up into Magnus’s lust-clouded eyes, his pupils the size of the moon, and wants nothing more than to go down on him.

            “You’re, um. I need a condom first,” Alec says, suddenly embarrassed about getting Magnus worked up and then not being able to immediately relieve him. He knows, though, that safe sex is more important than his comfort in asking.

            Magnus groans, his head collapsing onto the comforter. “Bedside table. I have flavored and regular.”

            “Thanks,” Alec says, and reaches to the bedside table. He feels a dildo and a tube of what is likely lube and before he fishes out a condom. The first one he grabs is flavored, so he grabs another. He has plans.

            Once Alec has the condom and checked its expiration date, he resumes his position between Magnus’s legs. He slowly opens the condom package, careful not to rip it. He pinches the tip between his fingers before using his other hand to roll it down Magnus’s shaft. Magnus’s hips twitch as Alec’s hand grips his dick.

            Alec looks up and meets Magnus’s eyes. He clenches his left hand into a fist and takes a deep breath before taking Magnus’s entire length in his mouth. Magnus’s hips twitch up, and Alec pushes them down with his hands as Magnus hisses “holy shit.” Their eye contact is broken as Magnus squeezes his eyes shut.

            Alec isn’t particularly fond of the taste of latex, or the smell, but the way Magnus is reacting makes it worth it. He slides his head off of Magnus’s dick, the disconnect leaving a trail of saliva. Magnus’s hands wind into his hair, beckoning him back down.

            Alec obliges, this time not taking in Magnus’s entire penis, but fitting the shaft in his palms. He rubs his hands up Magnus’s shaft while he hollows his cheeks and sucks at the head of Magnus’s cock. Magnus’s moans confirm that he isn’t just good at giving head to Jonathan, it’s a universal thing.

            Magnus’s breath hitches. “Alec, I’m gonna come,” he pants.

            Alec pulls away from Magnus. “No you’re not,” he says.

            “You’re such a tease,” Magnus says, his forehead covered in a sheen of sweat.

            “Sorry,” Alec shrugs, but he’s blushing. “I do want you to come in me, just not in my mouth.”

            Magnus startles, his hips twitching. “You—What?”

            Alec bites his lip. “Isabelle told me I should wait until after the first date to ask.”

            “You asked your sister for sex advice?” Magnus asks, surprise written in his expression. “I really didn’t peg you for that kind of guy.”

            “I—well—no, she more talked at me while I asked her to stop. Repeatedly.” Alec says, running a hand through his hair. “If you don’t want to, we don’t have to, and I know we haven’t really talked about it, but I’d just like it if—“

            Alec is cut off as Magnus surges to capture his lips. Magnus pulls him down on top of him, kissing Alec breathless, and then flips their positions. “I’d love to,” Magnus whispers. His hand reached to undo the fastenings of Alec’s jeans. He pushes down Alec’s pants and briefs, and Alec kicks them the rest of the way off.

            Magnus goes to his drawer and pulls out a tube of lube as Alec pulls himself further up the bed. Magnus slips between his legs, pushing them open. His hand is warm against his thigh, but his finger, coated with lube and probing at his entrance, is cold enough to send goose bumps across his flesh.

            “So,” Magnus says, slowly pushing in his pointer finger. “Come here often?”

            Alec sighs, resigning himself to his boyfriend’s mid-sex pick up lines. “Not so much as of late, but I’m hoping to change that.”

            Alec’s hips twitch and he gasps in pleasure as Magnus’s finger crooks, pushing at his prostate. He fights not to squirm as Magnus brushes against the spot again.

            “You sure found it fast,” Alec comments. “It took my last boyfriend forever to find it the first time.”

            Magnus hums. “Maybe I’ve had more practice.”

            Alec tries to ignore the icy surge of jealousy from his gut, instead focusing on Magnus’s digits scissoring inside him. He supposes he was the one who brought up exes first, though, so he doesn’t really have two legs to stand on. He ignores the snide comment burning in his throat.

            Magnus’s fingers work Alec open slowly but easily. It’s not the first time for either of them, and they understand the importance of waiting until Alec’s adjusted. They don’t want to tear up Alec’s insides.

            “You ready?” Magnus asks, after he’s stuffed three long fingers into Alec’s opening.

            “Yeah,” Alec says. Magnus’s fingers feel great, but it’ll be even better to know Magnus is getting off too.

            Magnus leans over Alec, their chests pressed together, and kisses him. The kiss is tender, as if asking for permission again, and Alec grants it. He shifts his hips as Magnus pulls a pillow under them and begins to line himself up.

            Alec shudders as Magnus pushes the crown of his penis into him. Magnus’s mouth on his neck keeps him from jerking away from the cold of the lube, though it’s still a bit of a fight. As Magnus bottoms out in him, Alec’s torso twitches, and he can’t help but squirm around Magnus’s dick.

            “Good?” Magnus asks, his pupils blown as his eyes meet Alec’s.

            Alec nods, gasping as Magnus shifts. He forgot how much he liked this, how much he enjoyed having something inside him. Someone.

            Magnus rocks his hips in a circle, grinding down in Alec. He gently brushes that spot, the one that makes Alec see stars, keeping Alec at the edge of pleasure. The tease.

            “Come on,”Alec groans, jerking against Magnus’s hips.

            “Mhmm,” Magnus hums. He pulls back a couple of inches, and Alec feels each millimeter leave him. He thrusts back in, just an inch, and Alec wants to scream. He wants it fast, hard, and now. Magnus pulls that inch out again, and he’s just shy of brushing Alec’s prostate.

            Magnus pushes back in all the way and holds himself there. Alec’s leg twitches, and his hips buck. It doesn’t seem like Magnus is paying any attention to what Alec wants because he kisses Alec slowly. The kiss is filled with a slow heat, and it’s no doubt meant to drive him insane. It’s working.

            When Magnus pulls back from the kiss, his lips red and swollen, Alec meets his gaze. “Please,” Alec whimpers, though he knows that no matter what Magnus does, he won’t last long.

            Magnus must see the desperation in his eyes, the concentrated want. Alec feels like his need is dripping out of his pores, and Magnus is driving him insane.

            Then, after what seems like forever, Magnus pulls out to the crown, and slams back in. He pounds in and out, his cock rubbing against Alec in a way that makes him arch his back and pleasure tingle through his extremities. Magnus’s hips snap like a machine, and the open-mouthed look of pleasure on his face, the furrow of his brow, is enough to start Alec’s orgasm.

            Alec tightens and bucks against Magnus as his orgasm hits, a wave of pleasure radiating from his groin through the rest of his body. White crushes his brain for a moment as Magnus keeps going, pounding into him. Alec can tell he’s close.

            Alec’s still coming down from his orgasm when Magnus hits his, his hips jerking and then sinking into Alec as he lets loose. Alec watches his face open with pleasure, pleased with himself. He did this.

            Magnus pulls out of him thirty seconds later, the feeling awkward and gross now that they’re not in the throes of pleasure, and collapses next to him on the bed.

            “Holy shit,” Magnus finally says. “I was not expecting that.”

            Alec’s about to respond when a high-pitched, powerful scream tears through the night. He immediately recognizes it as his sister’s roommate’s and friend’s: it’s Aline.

OOOO

            Alec took a deep breath before knocking on the door in front of him. His chest had been filled with a slow burning panic since the capture the flag game, and it was coming to a head as he waited outside of Valentine’s door. Valentine, the headmaster who had instructed everyone at the scene not to say anything about Isabelle’s second life with his iron tongue. Alec had been waiting for punishment ever since, and his stomach had twisted in a knot when Jace had leaned over in math class to say Valentine wanted to see him.

            He knew what he did was wrong. He had broken the rules. The dead were supposed to stay dead, and they shouldn’t walk among the living. He didn’t feel bad about saving Isabelle from the clutches of death, though. He couldn’t handle this school, the violent world around them, without her.

            Alec’s breath caught in his throat as the dark wood door was pulled open, revealing Valentine’s large office. It was at least twice as big as the room he shared with his brother and sister, and infinitely as daunting. The thick carpets and dark stained wood that decorated the office served to cushion noise and create an eerie atmosphere with the glow of the fire casting long shadows around the room.

            The headmaster himself stood next to the door, his white blond hair shorn short. His normally crisp suit jacket was rumpled, the button up shirt underneath it untucked from his pants. His usual crested tie was missing, and there was a tumbler of brown liquid in his hand. Alec could smell the alcohol from the other side of the door.

            “Sir?” Alec asked, uncertain. He’d never seen Valentine looking so disheveled.

            “Alexander,” Valentine said pleasantly. “Come in.”

            Valentine led him into the room, but his hesitation only grew. A bottle of brandy sat on top of a pile of scrapbooks that littered a coffee table, which looked like it had been pushed from the center of the room. Two chairs were instead facing each other where Alec imagined the coffee table usually was. Alec looked at Valentine, who motioned for him to sit down in the smaller of the chairs. He did.

            “I’m curious, Alexander,” Valentine said, sitting the larger chair. Their knees couldn’t have been more than two feet apart. “Tell me how your ability works.”

            Alec had been around Izzy enough to know when he was being manipulated by an ability. Valentine’s ability was much more subtle than Alec’s sister’s, a gentle sort of commanding, and despite Alec’s knowledge of its influence it still worked. He ended up telling Valentine about the strings and how some of them were connected to people. He told Valentine that he suspected the gray ones were the threads of the dead, told him how he caught Isabelle’s before it could get away. He told Valentine everything he knew, which wasn’t that much.

            Valentine was silent, his eyes filled with calculations, as Alec talked. When Alec finished, he took a sip from his glass.

            “Do you think you could find a specific thread?” Valentine asked. “A certain person?”

            Alec shrugged. He could find the threads of the living if they were close enough, as he’d discovered when experimenting with his new ability. He didn’t want to tell Valentine he’d been using his ability despite being told not to, though. It seemed like he wasn’t in trouble for raising Isabelle from the dead, and he didn’t want to push his luck.

            Valentine hummed, his voice soft. He got up from his chair and grabbed a wooden photo frame from his desk. He handed Alec the frame, his sharp features twisted in what Alec could only identify as nostalgia.

 

            Alec looked down at the photograph. It was of three people—a Valentine younger by at least ten years, his blond hair lacking the gray, a smiling red headed woman, and a teenage boy that had his mother’s green eyes and his father’s platinum hair. It was a picture of a happy family that Alec had never known existed.

            “I want you to find him,” Valentine said. “Jonathan Morgenstern. My son. He’s been dead for fifteen years, I just…” He trailed off.

            Alec knew what family could mean to someone. “I can try.”

            Just like that, meetings with Valentine became routine.

            Valentine installed a bench on his balcony because it was easier for Alec to see dead threads when he was looking at the sky. Alec spent hours with his neck craned to stare at millions of spools of thread while Valentine worked in his office. His fingers weaved through countless names, and he felt hundreds of different personalities dully leak from each piece of dead thread. He found so many people, almost all of whom he’d never met.

            Alec cried when his fingers twisted around a piece of string and he realized it was his father. When he got back to his room that night, he didn’t say a word to his siblings.

            After nearly a month of searching, Alec found it. He nearly let it go, caught in the melody of searching, but he grabbed onto it at the last moment. Once he had it secure between his fingers, he ran back into Valentine’s office from the balcony, his scarf trailing behind him.

            “I found it!” He cried, showing Valentine his closed fist. He retracted it when he realized Valentine couldn’t see the light gray thread pooling lazily around his hand.

            “What are you waiting for?” Valentine demanded. “Bring him back.”

            The demand was laced with Valentine’s ability to persuade, but Alec couldn’t complete the command. He faltered, suddenly unsure.

            “I…” Alec said. “Sir, there’s no body. There’s nothing to connect the thread to.”

            Alec had never seen such potent anger in anyone’s eyes. “Then what’s the point of you?” Valentine yelled.

            Alec was shaking. “I’m sorry,” he said, vision going blurry from tears. He’d tried so hard to be helpful. To be good at something, like Izzy. He couldn’t even use his gift correctly.

            Valentine shook his head. “Get out.”

            Alec did.

           Even though Valentine had screamed for him to go, Alec held onto Jonathan’s thread. He tied it around his little finger and watched it flow around his hand, following his every movement and gesture. When he tentatively knocked on Valentine’s door a few nights later, answering a summons, he was glad he hadn’t lost it.

            Inside the room was Valentine and Clark, a strong-arm girl who was part of the Alliance, a covert group based out of the academy that helped mutants in need. She had a shovel and a vow to keep her mouth shut, enforced by Valentine’s gift. Alec doubted she even knew Valentine was manipulating her.

            That night they went grave digging.

            It was the end of September, so the wind ripped through their jackets, but the ground hadn’t yet frozen. They went to the Morgenstern plot and waited as Clark dug into the hardening earth. Alec held Jonathan’s thread while they waited, his hands connecting with a personality of deeply rooted ambition, and a passion that felt like it could burn worlds. Even muted in death, Alec could tell Jonathan had had an immensely strong personality.

            It was over an hour later when Clark stopped digging. Valentine didn’t even hesitate to hand her a crowbar, and a moment later, a rotten stench permeated the air. Alec wrinkled his nose in disgust as the coffin cracked open. Clark climbed out of the hole as Valentine helped lower Alec in. Alec heard his headmaster dismiss Clark, and soon the only living threads in the cemetery were his and Valentine’s.

            Alec stood over the body of his headmaster’s son and tried not to throw up. The corpse’s tongue was puffed out, and the airtight container had preserved his remains well enough that there was still bloated meat on his bones. The smell alone was enough to make anyone want to lose their dinner. He didn’t want to put a soul back in this body. He wouldn’t wish a body like this one on anyone.

            “What are you waiting for?” Valentine called. “Bring him back!”

            Alec pulled the string winding around his fist closer to the body. The thread didn’t react, though. It wasn’t pulled to the body magnetically like Isabelle’s thread had been. Shards of ice pierced his abdomen. He knew, with sudden clarity, why this couldn’t work. Jonathan’s body was too far decomposed for his ability to fix, at least not yet. He wasn’t powerful enough.

            “I—I can’t,” Alec said, pulling away from the corpse. He looked up at Valentine, with his sunken eyes and sharp frown.

            “What do you mean you can’t?” Valentine asked, his voice soft yet as powerful as thunder.

            “It’s—he’s not fresh enough. I won’t be able to heal his body when he comes back, and he’ll just die again if I’m not constantly holding him here.” Alec said. He was terrified—he’d seen how much Valentine wanted this, and he was letting the man down.

            Valentine was silent for several seconds, and Alec briefly wondered if he was going to be buried in Jonathan’s grave. But Valentine wouldn’t kill him. Not only would it be suspicious if Alec was to disappear, but Valentine had better character than that. Alec hoped he wasn’t a murderer, at least.

            Instead of violently disposing him, Valentine held out a hand to Alec. He helped Alec out of the grave, and they quietly walked back to the car, where Clark was waiting. As they drove back, Valentine’s eyes were hard. Though the ride was silent, they could all hear Valentine’s thoughts whizzing through his skull.

            “Hold on to my boy for a little while, okay?” He requested when they returned to Morning Star, and Alec did what he was told. He had no qualms with tying Jonathan’s soul around his wrist and carrying him from class to class. It wasn’t like anyone else could see the thread, and though it could be a little distracting to have a second personality attached to him, Alec could handle it.

            Valentine didn’t call him back to his office for weeks. Alec spent that time toying with the string, seeing if he could pick out personality traits. It was difficult, but he learned that Jonathan was sweet when he wasn’t arrogant. It was odd, and Alec knew if he looked deeper, he could pick apart memories. He didn’t want to invade Jonathan’s privacy like that, so he didn’t try.

            It was storming the night Valentine called him back. The raging winds pelted snow against the windows, making the students grateful for industrial sized cans of hot chocolate. He’d been sitting around a fire with his siblings and Jace when Céline had come to tell him that Valentine wanted to see him.

            He walked to Valentine’s office alone, the entire time wondering how he could apologize for giving the man false hope.  It was cruel of him to say he could bring Jonathan back, though he’d never actually said that at all, and not be able to do it. Valentine would only bend the rules so much, and now that Alec had hurt him, maybe he’d be kicked out. Worse, his siblings might.

            When Alec knocked on the door, Valentine called for him to come in. His voice sounded strict, so Alec straightened his back and opened the door. He stared at the scene in behind the door for a moment, his mouth open and eyes wide.

            Valentine sat, leaned against his desk, staring easily at a terrified boy in the small chair Alec had once occupied. The boy’s dark eyes were wide, and snot ran down his large nose, over a gag and down his chin. Once he saw Alec, he made a pleading noise, but Alec stood shocked at the door.

            “Come in, you idiot,” Valentine hissed. “We don’t want the entire hall to see him.”

            Alec closed the door behind him. “I… What are you doing?”

            Valentine shrugged. He picked up a glass of red wine from his desk and held in carefully between two fingers. “You said you needed a fresher body.”

            Before his mind could even fully process the request, a sharp blaze propelled instructions from his stomach up his spine and to the base of his skull. He knew precisely how to do what Valentine wanted. But he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t murder this stranger and replace him with Jonathan.

            “What—What are you suggesting?” Alec said, his voice higher than it usually was.

            “Do you need me to kill him first, or…?” Valentine asked. He stood up and turned around, replacing his wine with a dagger.

            “I mean, doesn’t he have a family? Won’t someone notice if he suddenly changes? If he becomes Jonathan?” Alec asked, trying to appeal to Valentine. He didn’t want to do this, especially since it looked like unnecessary murder was the night’s special.

            Valentine shrugged as the boy in the chair squeaked. “Sebastian Verlac. He’s nobody. Just another potential student that got lost on the way here and never made it. I found him wandering the woods, looking for the school. None of the faculty or students have ever seen him before. He’s perfect.”

            Alec looked at Sebastian, who didn’t look like a nobody. He looked like a scared kid, about Alec’s age, who’d done nothing wrong. Sebastian could have been him, or his sister, if Valentine hadn’t decided to make them students instead of experiments. But if Alec didn’t do as Valentine said, Max could be a Sebastian. Isabelle could.

            Alec gulped. “I don’t…”

            It only took Valentine a few steps to cross the room and stand in front of Alec. There was far too little space between them, and Alec fought not to shut his eyes. This was a nightmare, but he couldn’t wake up. He could kill this kid and live at Morning Star, or he could potentially sentence himself and his siblings to life on the streets, and if Alec was honest, imprisonment or death.

            Valentine’s hand yanked his chin up. Alec’s eyes met dark pools that reflected no warmth, no mercy. Alec was reminded with sudden clarity that it didn’t matter what he wanted. Valentine could make Alec do his bidding whether Alec wanted to or not. He was a voiceless instrument for his headmaster.

“You will do this for me,” Valentine said, his voice soft. “I don’t want to force you, Alexander. Just know that your siblings will be safer if bring him back willingly.”

Alec froze. He needed for his siblings to be safe, and now that Valentine had confirmed that they wouldn’t be… Their safety wasn’t negotiable. He glanced around Valentine at Sebastian blubbering, tied up in the chair. There was no ways to stall, no ways he could think of to delay the inevitable without harming his siblings.

            Sebastian would have to die.

            Alec’s eyes blurred as he stepped closer to Sebastian. The teenager tried to wiggle back in the chair, to escape, but Valentine told him to sit still and he obeyed. Everyone always obeyed Valentine, and Alec was no different. He didn’t even have to use his mind control.

            Alec’s vision flickered until he could make out the dead gray thread tied around his wrist, the deep green sprouting from the base of Valentine’s skull, the subdued orange coming from Sebastian. The gray thread quivered as he held it in one fist, as if anticipating its acquisition.

            Alec stood over Sebastian, who whimpered below him, but didn’t move. His eyes were wide and terrified, streaming tears. He looked pitiful, and Alec knew the longer he stared at him, the weaker his resolve would be. He had to do it immediately.

            Silently, Alec reached out with his empty hand and snatched Sebastian’s thread. The orange thread spasmed around his hand, as if giving up a fight, but Alec pulled until his arm ached. It finally disconnected from the base of his skull, sending a wave of energy through the room. Alec saw Valentine lose his balance, but Alec’s feet were stuck to the floor by the sheer weight of the displaced thread.

            As the air around them settled, Alec thrust the gray thread toward Sebastian’s head. Unlike Isabelle’s, Jonathan’s thread didn’t pull toward the body. Alec stood in surprise for a couple of moments, because he’d killed this kid for nothing, before he released Sebastian’s dying thread from his grip. He yanked on Jonathan’s thread until he had enough of it in his hands, and straddled the Sebastian’s body. He wound the gray thread around the body’s neck, once, twice, until he had run out of slack. Then, he took the end of the thread and pressed it to the back of the body’s neck.

            At first, nothing changed. Then Alec shifted his hand, and something clicked. The thread burst to life, vibrant purples and pinks, and the body underneath him gasped in a breath of life. Alec slumped forward in exhaustion and relief. He’d done it.

            “Son?” Valentine called cautiously.

            The body under Alec was trembling. “Dad?”

OOOO

            Alec spent three days in the school’s medical ward, sleeping off exhaustion and gross power overuse. When he was, recovered, Céline sent him back to his room (though not before telling him Jace had been pestering her about him). Alec was glad to see his siblings again, even if it only filled him with guilt. He’d killed somebody, but he was could still enjoy the company of friendly faces. Sebastian couldn’t do that anymore.

            Sebastian’s body, changed to Jonathan, was welcomed as Valentine’s son, come back from living with his mother. He was a powerful mutant, like his father, so nobody pressed that he didn’t really look like Valentine, or that they’d never heard of him before. No one really questioned Valentine, they couldn’t afford to, and it seemed the resurrection was a secret that wasn’t to be shared. Alec sure didn’t want to talk about it.

            When Alec woke up for the third time in as many nights with nightmares, he crept out of the room he shared with his siblings. He pulled on his winter jacket and tucked his pajama bottoms into his boots and walked out of the dorm, intent on getting some fresh air.

            The outside that greeted him was cool and unforgiving, a true December night. His pants were too thin for this, and he had to shove his face into his jacket to keep his nose from falling off. He walked to one of the staircases by the back terrace of the school and sat down, the concrete a freezing bite through flannel pajamas. It didn’t really bother him, he needed the distraction.

            He needed not to see Sebastian’s terrified face every time he closed his eyes. He needed to forget the way the thread connecting Sebastian’s personality and body dimmed and fizzed to gray before it was devoured overhead by the spools of dead lives in the sky. Maybe he just needed to forget that, while there was no literal blood on his hands, he was a murderer. He’d taken a life as much as he’d replaced one.

            He needed to stop thinking about the way his siblings would react if they knew. The disgust they’d show him. He decided there that they could never know.

            “What’s a pretty thing like you doing out at this hour?” Came a voice.

            Alec flinched violently, nearly falling down the stairs in his haste to turn around. What he saw hardly helped calm his nerves.

            Jonathan sat down next to Alec, a cigarette between his chapped lips. He glanced at Alec, a playful sort of look on his face as he exhaled smoke into the night air. Frost curled around them, so Jonathan could see each pant he had caused Alec to take by scaring him.

            “Smoking will kill you, you know.” Alec said after a minute had passed. He usually wasn’t one to fill silence, but Jonathan set him on edge. He was supposed to be dead, and every time Alec’s vision changed so he could see the threads, the tight noose he’d constructed still pulled Jonathan towards the sky. It reminded Alec of what he’d done.

            Jonathan chuckled. “Don’t I know it. This body came with the habit, though, and I’m still trying to break it. I’ve been cutting back.”

            There’s silence, a couple of beats where they both think about the absurdity of that statement. Of their situation. Jonathan is alive in Sebastian’s body and Sebastian is dead and they’re two of three people who know what happened. That Sebastian was ever even at Morning Star, or that he was dead for fifteen years.

            “I…” Jonathan sighed, and put out his cigarette by rubbing the burning end on the concrete next to him. “I want to know why you did it. I want to know if my dad made you. He says he didn’t, but…”

            Alec was quiet. He didn’t look at Jonathan “I did it because I knew he’d keep my siblings safe if he did. He didn’t make me.”

            Jonathan shifted closer to Alec and sighed. “That’s just another kind of manipulation, isn’t it?”

            Alec shrugged, shoving his hands further into his pockets. He didn’t shift away from Jonathan, though he could feel the other boy’s warmth on his thigh. “Ultimately, I could have not done it. But I didn’t know how to do that without getting myself or my siblings hurt.”

            They were silent again, just experiencing each other’s presence.

            “I can’t believe I’m living in someone else’s body.” Jonathan chuckled. It sounded more sad, more desperate, than anything. “I’d been dead for fifteen years, Alexander.”

            “It’s a changing world,” Alec said slowly. “And if we’re going to be friends, you’re going to have to call me Alec.”

            “It sure is,” Jonathan said slowly. Wistfully.

            Alec was overcome with pity for the teen. He’d done this to him, and he wouldn’t be fixing it any time soon. “You know it’s not your fault you’re alive and Sebastian’s not, right?”

            Jonathan’s lips were pressed tightly together. “It’s hard not to feel like it’s my fault when I’m walking around in his body.”

            “It’s not his anymore,” Alec said, though he was sure it wouldn’t really assuage Jonathan’s guilt. “It was Valentine who was hell-bent on this. Who couldn’t let go of you.”

            “And now someone is dead because of it,” Jonathan said glumly.

            Alec pulled his hand out of the warmth of his pocket and pressed it over Jonathan’s. “It’s really not your fault.”

            Jonathan’s gaze lifted, and their eyes met. Alec felt nearly every nerve in his body light on fire from attraction, and surely blush surged to his cheeks. Jonathan looked like he wanted, more than anything, for Alec to be right.

            “I hope not,” he said, and turned his hand over, so he could tangle his frozen fingers with Alec’s.

Chapter Text

            As soon as Alec hears Aline’s scream, he jumps out of Magnus’s bed. He shoves his pants on, not even bothering with his underwear, and pulls a shirt. It’s probably Magnus’s—in fact, he knows it is, by the way it clings tightly to his chest. It doesn’t matter. He’s out the door and running down the hallway in less than fifteen seconds flat. Training at Morning Star pays off for something, at least.

            Magnus’s room is on the second floor of the main wing, so Alec has to rush downstairs to get to the east wing. He runs down the hallway, where some students are standing in their doorways, their heads cocked. His runs seems to span a small eternity and take no time at all before he makes it to room 17E. The door is open, and Alec’s struck with a sense of déjà vu that spins terror into his heart.

            He burst into the room and counts his lucky stars that the scene he finds isn’t at all what he feared.

            Aline is sitting on her bed, her comforter wrapped around her shoulders. She’s rubbing her throat, still tender from the sonic scream. Mr. Fell is trying to talk to her, to find out what happened, but her eyes are glued to the corner over the teacher’s shoulder.

            Alec follows Aline’s gaze, desperate to make sure his sister is safe. He turns to see Isabelle, her eyes blazing. She doesn’t seem to be injured, and Alec lets out a breath of terror. Her hands are outstretched, like they always are when she’s manipulating someone into a complex illusion. On the floor, immobilized by what is likely a strong hallucination, is an intruder in recognizable dark garb. Familiar blond hair spills from behind her black mask, and Alec easily recognizes her. He’d be hard pressed to mistake the elf-pointed ears. Helen.

            “What’s going on?” Luke asks, barging into the room. He’s got Magnus in tow.

            “An Alliance member,” Alec says. He gestures to past Isabelle to Helen. “Probably sent here to capture me or Isabelle.”

            “I can see how Isabelle would be a valuable asset to have,” Luke clears his throat. “That’s enough, Isabelle. I can neutralize her from here.”

            Isabelle steps back, but her eyes are still on Helen. Alec takes a step forward and catches his sister’s hand, squeezing it. He lets her go after a moment where they confirm each other’s safety. They turn on every light in the room, making sure the Alliance teleporter, who travels by shadows, can’t get back to claim Helen. Alec doubts that the Defenders would squander a chance to interrogate an Alliance member, and even if they do, Alec has some questions of his own.

            In the corner, Luke is trying to talk to Helen. She’s backed into the corner, her eyes hidden by her mask but her mouth screwed into a frown. Her knees are pulled up to her chest, and Alec might feel a little bad if she hadn’t intended to take Isabelle away. Maybe there would be some guilt if she wasn’t here to take him back to Jonathan.

            Jocelyn sweeps into the room soon after. She has a sheer robe that flows behind her, and her orange hair is loose around her shoulders. “What’s happened?”

            “It seems we had an unwelcome guest,” Mr. Fell says. He’s standing next to Aline’s bed, who is looking fairly calm. Isabelle is sitting next to her, patting her knee. Aline’s hand is still gripping her throat, but she looks stronger than she did minutes ago.

            “Helen,” Isabelle supplies. “She used to go to school with us. A member of The Alliance.”

            “What is The Alliance doing here?” Jocelyn demands, turning to Helen. Her eyes are alight with expectation.

            “I was just supposed to grab Alec and go.” Helen explains. “Isabelle, if I could. Maybe Max. We couldn’t find Alec, so Isabelle was the next best thing.”

            “Alec?” Jocelyn asks, surprised. “What do you need him for?”

            Alec tries to fight the sting of being dismissed. It still hurts, to be regarded as less than Isabelle, less than most mutants. Alec knows full well that among mutants, skill is equivalent to worth. Even here. But it was his own choice not to tell Jocelyn, which might be blown if Helen keeps talking. She doesn’t, though.

            “Why Alec?” Helen asks. She looks a little confused. Like maybe she doesn’t entirely know why she wanted to get Alec back. She looks a little like Valentine has been messing with her brain. “Because his boyfriend misses him.”

Helen  photo Helen 2 Satellite.jpeg

            All of the eyes in the room, barring Isabelle, turn to stare at Alec. Magnus looks hurt, and Aline looks angry, perhaps on Magnus’s behalf.

            “Your boyfriend?” Magnus asks. His voice is a bit higher than it usually is.

            “Well, he’s not my boyfriend anymore,” Alec says. “Isabelle, back me up on this.”

            “You never really broke up with him,” Isabelle shrugs. “But he should have gotten the message.”

            “So you’ve come to take Alec back to his… boyfriend?” Jocelyn asks.

            “Yeah,” Helen’s face darkens. “What Jonathan wants, he gets.”

            Alec feels goose bumps raise on his arms. He walks over to Helen, pushing past a partially dressed Magnus and Luke. Magnus is still looking at him with an uncertain expression, which he wants to fix. But there are more pressing matters right now, like what they’re going to do with Helen. He bends slightly and offers her his hand. Her eyes, wide with fear of the unknown, remind Alec too much of himself. They remind him just how terrifying Jonathan can be when he wants to, and how Helen was a friend at Morning Star.

            Helen hesitates, and then reaches out to take Alec’s hand. She pulls herself to her feet, and then pulls off her mask. Her petite frame stands much smaller than Alec’s, who towers over her. She seems to make herself smaller, hugging her arms tight to her chest and hunching her shoulders. She glances behind Alec to Isabelle and seems to wilt.

            “What now?” Helen asks.

            They’re silent for a few moments. Jocelyn speaks first.

            “I’d like to ask you some questions, if you wouldn’t mind.”

            Helen shrugs. “It’s not like I can leave.”

            Jocelyn frowns, but doesn’t oppose her interjection. “Follow me.”

            Jocelyn leads them out of Isabelle and Aline’s room. Aline stays behind with Mr. Fell, who’s still trying, somewhat awkwardly, to comfort her. He nudges a box of Kleenex in her direction, and then pats her on the head. Alec doesn’t really know what he’s aiming for.

            Everyone else follows Jocelyn and Helen. They don’t set a quick pace, Luke and Magnus telling the students with open doors to go back to bed. They tell the students that everything is fine, and that the disturbance has been contained.

            “Nice shirt,” Isabelle says.

            Alec looks down at his shirt, which he picked up from Magnus’s floor. He’s mortified to find it reads: If I wanted to ‘dress to impress’ I’d get naked.

            “It’s—Iz—It’s not—“ Alec starts, blush running up to his cheeks.

            Isabelle wiggles her eyebrows. “Spend the night with Mr. Bane?”

            “I—“ Alec stammers. “Maybe.”

            Isabelle laughs. “I’m glad. It’s good that you’re moving on.”

            Alec sighs. Talking with his sister about his love life—his sex life—has never been something he’s been comfortable doing. Isabelle respects his boundaries when they can’t be used to tease him, though, and he’ll take that over nothing.

            Alec glances at Magnus, walking ahead with Luke. He wonders what his boyfriend is thinking, especially given what Helen had said. Alec doesn’t know how that Jonathan can still possibly consider them boyfriends, anyway. Alec will eventually get to explain to Magnus, and that crease in his shoulders will soften.

            Eventually, they reach Jocelyn’s office. Luke moves a chair in front of Jocelyn’s desk, and they pile onto the surrounding couches and chairs. Alec finds himself between Isabelle and Magnus, a situation that he’s comfortable with. Magnus is tenser than he’d like. Jocelyn and Luke sit in separate chairs, both facing Helen.

            “So, I suppose you want me to tell you all of the Alliance secrets,” Helen hedges, laughing nervously.

            “I want to know what you can tell us about the Alliance and it’s mission,” Jocelyn says, leaning back in her chair. “And I want Alec and Isabelle to corroborate your story.”

            Helen nods. It’s clear she isn’t too attached to the Alliance. “I’m usually just on retrieval missions. I help grab kids from the system, or gather resources for training. I’ve never even hurt anyone on a mission.”

            Jocelyn leans forward. “The Alliance has a history of violent crimes.”

            “Yeah,” Helen acknowledges. “A recent one. Most of that is Jonathan’s fault.”

            “You’ve mentioned Jonathan before, in connection to Alec,” Luke cocks his head. “Who is he?”

            Helen’s eyebrows furrow, and she glances at Alec. He shrinks back in his seat, and Isabelle grasps his hand. Magnus side-eyes him, but he keeps his gaze on Helen.

            “Alec didn’t tell you?” Helen asks. “Jonathan’s the one that convinced Valentine to start murdering people. He wanted to start killing senators and other government officials that passed anti-mutant registration, and Valentine let him.”

            Alec’s back tenses. Isabelle rubs circles in his palm, and Magnus turns to look at him. Alec just laughs awkwardly, not sure how else to fill the space. Yeah, he dated that guy.

            “He misses you, you know,” Helen says. Her eyes are wide with fear. “He’s gotten more reckless since you left. His temper goes when you’re not there to calm him down. He threw Drusilla across the gymnasium last week. He’s livid that you left.”

            “Let him be mad,” Isabelle spits. “Maybe he’ll give himself high blood pressure and have a heart attack.”

            “You said that Jonathan was feeding the violence of The Alliance?” Jocelyn prods.

            Helen nods. “He’s eager to take on assassinations. It’s easy for him to do, with his ability and all.” She pauses. “I think he gets off on it.”

            Alec knows for a fact that Jonathan gets off on it. He remembers the curl of Jonathan’s lips after his first kill, the way he pinned Alec against his bedroom wall later that night after their visit to the infirmary. It’s things like this that reaffirm Alec’s knowledge that he created a monster.

            “What do you mean, it’s easy for him to do?” Luke asks.

            Helen shudders. “He can control oxygen. He’s tried it all on us once or twice, when he’s mad. He can make it so the air around you has no O2, or expand it in your bloodstream. Ordinary people, mundanes, they can’t trace that. Now that the Lightwoods are gone, he’s one of the most powerful mutants in the Alliance, and he has absolutely no checks.”

            “That sounds like a horrible way to die,” Jocelyn admits. “And even worse if he can’t be controlled.

            “It is,” Alec says. Jonathan’s knocked him out enough for him to know. He’s seen enough people die, their faces contorted in pain as their veins explode. Jonathan always liked it when he watched.

            The silence lasts a beat too long, so Helen tries to change the topic.

            “Alec,” Helen says. “Where’s Max? Nico couldn’t sense him anywhere in the building.”

            Alec tenses again, and Isabelle’s hand clenches around his. Nico, the Morning Star teleporter, can sense where people are when he’s close enough. It only makes sense that he couldn’t find Max. They didn’t take Max with them.

            “Who’s Max?” Luke asks.

            Helen looks between them all, confused. “Lightwood-mini? You know, skinny kid with huge glasses? His nose always buried in some book?”

 

            “Helen,” Alec says, because he knows Isabelle can’t. “Max is dead. Jonathan killed him.”

            Helen’s mouth drops open. Alec can see surprise overtake her every feature. “Just what happened the night you left?”

            “A brother?” Alec hears Magnus whisper next to him.

            “I—It wasn’t good,” Alec says. He takes a deep breath to stave off his own panic. He doesn’t like thinking about that night. He doesn’t like the image of Max covered in blood, Alec’s knife sticking out of his chest. He closes his eyes to the image.

            When Alec opens his eyes, everyone is looking at him. Isabelle is frozen, her eyes on her lap, and Alec knows she’s reliving it. He squeezes her hand, and some blood rushes back to her face. He supposes Magnus is going to get his explanation.

            “I was going to kill him. Jonathan. I had a knife in my bag, and I was so close…” Alec shakes his head. “I just wanted it to stop. He’d killed so many people, and I could see what it was doing to him. How it was distorting his personality.” He leaves out how it was his fault to begin with.

            “You tried to kill someone?” Jocelyn asks, her frown troubled.

            Alec meets her gaze. “He shouldn’t have been alive in the first place.”

            “What is that supposed to mean?” Jocelyn asks.

            “It doesn’t matter,” Alec says. “I failed. Jonathan woke up and I wasn’t able to do it.”

            “And that’s when Jonathan tried to bash my brains in and stabbed our baby brother through the heart,” Isabelle says, her voice filled with venom. “So don’t you dare defend him.”

            “I can’t believe he’d…” Helen trails off.

            “You don’t?” Isabelle asks. “You knew what he was like. Hell, the only reason you’re giving us information is because you want to get away from him.”

            Helen is silent for a beat, almost as an admission of guilt. “He was so nice, back when he first came to the school. He helped me learn how to control my ability without using my hands.”

“That’s the problem with unnatural things,” Alec chuckles. “They don’t last.”

            Helen’s eyes spark with understanding. Alec expects her to give up his ability then, but she just nods. He was almost ready to get it all out there, too. This would be an appropriate time to let it slip that he can bring back the dead, with some consequences.

            Then he remembers what Valentine did with his ability and is glad she’s keeping it a secret. He refuses to bring back another long-dead person. There’s a problem with the way they’re wired. With the way Alec has wired them. Maybe if he’d known more before bringing Jonathan back, but it’s too late. He refuses to try again.

            Jocelyn clears her throat. “It sounds like I need to meet with Valentine about all of this.”

            “Are you sure you want to?” Luke asks. Jocelyn nods, her face made of stone.

            “We have enough history that he might be willing to talk.” Jocelyn turns to Helen. “Would you like me to enroll you in our school, or would you like for me to ask that he take you back?”

            Helen hesitates. “Will I have to hurt anyone?”

            Jocelyn shakes her head. “That’s not what this school is about. It’s a safe place for mutants.”

            “Morning Star was supposed to be a safe place, too,” Helen comments. She sighs. “Sure, what the hell. It’s not like there’s anything really keeping me there.”

            “Language,” Luke chastises. “We’ll get you set up as a student, then. Tomorrow you might want to apologize to Aline for scaring her, though.”

            “Is she the girl that screamed?” Helen asks, rubbing her ears. “I think I might be a little afraid of her.”

            Isabelle gives her a small smile. “Her bark is bigger than her bite. Literally.”

            Magnus stands up and yawns. “Well, I’ll leave you guys to it.”

            Magnus leaves the room, and Alec and Isabelle follow. They don’t need to be there for Helen’s registration. She’ll be fine. Alec trusts Luke and Jocelyn with that much, at least.

            Magnus and Alec walk Isabelle to her room. The lights are on, but Mr. Fell is gone. In his place, a bag of cough drops rests on the nightstand. Aline’s asleep, her head covered by blankets, when they peek in.

            “Are you going to be okay?” Alec asks Isabelle. They’re standing just outside of her room.

            “I can handle myself just fine,” Isabelle says, but her eyes are tired.

            “I know,” Alec says. “I just wanted to make sure.”

            She smiles at him, and then pulls his into a hug. They stay like that for a few seconds, before Alec pulls back to kiss her forehead. “Goodnight.”

            Alec walks back over to Magnus, who’s standing a few doors down in an attempt to give them some privacy. Magnus gives him a long look, and they walk back to his room in silence. They walk in the room, and Magnus collapses on his couch. Alec sits next to him, though he’s still unsure of the silence between them.

            “I’m sorry about your brother,” Magnus says. “I didn’t know.”

            “It’s alright,” Alec sighs. “Izzy and I don’t really talk about it. She blames herself, and I… I can’t make it so she thinks otherwise.”

            “It’s not her fault, though. How could it be?” Magnus says, defending Isabelle.

            Alec shrugs. “Survivor’s guilt, I guess. Jonathan tried to kill her but couldn’t, and she had to watch as he murdered Max. Her illusion wasn’t strong enough to cover them both because he hit her head, which is largely where she draws her power from.”

            “That’s awful,” Magnus says. Alec glances over at him, reclined on the couch. He’s wearing Alec’s shirt, with the holes in it, and his hair is disheveled. He looks exhausted.

            “Yeah,” Alec says. He leans back, resting against Magnus. His head fits in the crook of Magnus’s shoulder, and he closes his eyes. “It was.”

            “I’m sorry that happened to you,” Magnus whispers, kissing Alec’s temple.

            “’S my fault,” Alec says. “I should have killed him.”

            Magnus pauses. “I think attempted murder is something we should talk about.”

            “I don’t really want to talk about it,” Alec says. “He was killing people and refused to stop. So I tried to get rid of him and almost lost everything. That’s all there is.”

            Magnus hums. “But he, Jonathan, was your boyfriend?”

            “Yeah,” Alec says slowly. He opens his eyes to the white pop corned ceiling.

            “Should I be worried?” Magnus asks.

            “Not unless you want to use my abilities to kill hundreds of people,” Alec says.

            Magnus chuckles. “I wasn’t planning on it.”

            “What a relief.”

            They’re silent for a moment. “How would you, though? Kill that many people? Were you going to set off the volcanic chain on the West Coast, or...? No offence, but Jocelyn said that your earthshaking abilities weren’t that powerful. I just don’t know how you could do that much damage.”

            Alec purses his lips. This is it. He could tell Magnus, and get it all off his chest. But then he’d have to tell Magnus that he’d murdered an innocent kid, he’d have to explain exactly what went wrong with Jonathan. How he screwed up. No promises about not doing it again will undo the damage he’s caused, both to the Alliance and Jonathan’s personality.

            “I…” Alec frowns. “Something like that. Valentine could control you, but Jonathan had a way of pushing people to get what he wanted.”

            Magnus stills. “He never hurt you, did he?”

            “No,” Alec says. “Sometimes I could see that he wanted to, toward the end, but he never did. Not until I tried first.”

            Magnus lets out a breath of relief. “His ability sounds terrifying.”

            “It is,” Alec says. “Now, I want to go to bed.”

            “Sure thing, princess.” Magnus smiles.

            “Don’t call me that,” Alec grumbles as they make their way to bed.

OOOO

            Two days later, Alec and Isabelle meet in the vast expanse of woods surrounding the school. It’s become a semi-regular thing, to keep the true extent of their abilities a secret, but it’s almost too cold to be outside for training. The grass, frosted white, crunches underfoot.

            “What do you feel?” Isabelle asks. Her arms are raised, and her fingers are twitching. She stares at Alec in concentration, but her eyes are slightly off focus. It’s as if she’s seeing more than just Alec. Alec wonders if this is how he looks when his vision switches so he can see the threads.

            “Warm,” Alec supplies. He’s thankful that she needs to practice sensory illusions, if only for the comfort it provides him.

            A cold gust of wind slices over his skin as she drops the illusion. “Hey, not cool,” he whines.

            Isabelle rolls her eyes. “Shut up. You’re making me wish I could feel my own illusions.”

            Alec grins at her. “Jealous?”

            “Fuck off,” she says. She raises her hands again, bundled in two layers of gloves. “How about now?”

            “Mhm,” Alec hums. “Absolutely nothing.”

            Isabelle swears. “I still can’t get the emotional ones to work.”

            “Maybe they’re not a part of your ability,” Alec suggests.

            “Or you’re already happy,” Isabelle grumbles. She drops to the ground, next to where Alec’s sitting. She spreads out her limbs like a larger than life starfish. “The ground is so cold,” she complains.

            “That’s what happens in winter,” Alec informs her, in the way that only a big brother can.

            Isabelle sighs. She’s quiet for a minute, but Alec’s focus isn’t primarily on her. He feels his abilities, like a blob spreading from his stomach up his spine. They lather goo around his insides, spreading death through his every cell, as if it’s energy. He focuses on the blob, on rounding it into a sphere. He tries to make it as big as he possibly can. When he can’t push it out any larger, he lets go. It gets stronger the more he practices, bigger. If he work with it often enough, the strings tying people to the earth don’t bleed into his normal vision. He doesn’t want to see them when he doesn’t have to, so he keeps practicing with Isabelle. Keeps pushing.

            “I like it here,” Isabelle says. “I think we can trust them.”

            “I thought we could trust Morning Star,” Alec says. “We both did.”

            “But everything was fine before you brought Jonathan back,” Isabelle protests. “We could tell Magnus about your abilities. Or Aline. She’d understand.”

            Alec shakes his head. “No.”

            “Come on, Alec. Even if they ask you to bring someone back, you can say no.” Isabelle says.

            “I could have said no to Valentine, too,” Alec says. “But it would have been at yours and Max’s expense.”

            Isabelle pauses. “Really? You never talk about it.”

            Alec pulls his knees to his chest. “I did a lot of things for Valentine that I’m not exactly proud of.”

            “You brought back his son,” Isabelle argues. “Even if he turned out to be a crazy fuck.”

            “You don’t need to swear so much,” Alec says.

            “And you don’t need to dodge the question,” Isabelle replies. Alec clamps his mouth shut, a frown sewn onto his features. He shakes his head.

            “Come on, Alec. What could you have done that would surprise me?” Isabelle laughs.

            Alec is quiet for a moment. He wonders is Isabelle is ready to know. She’s older now than he was when he did it. Maybe now that Jonathan is coming after them, not that she’s almost died because of Alec, she deserves to know.

            “I killed a kid,” Alec says, his voice soft. “Iz, Valentine asked me to kill someone to bring back Jonathan and I did it.”

            “You what?” Isabelle jerks up. Her eyes are wide, staring into Alec’s. “Tell me Valentine made you.”

            Alec looks away. “He threatened you and Max, but… No. He didn’t make me.”

            Isabelle gives Alec a look that makes him wonder is he’s dead to her. “I—I need to think about this.”

            Alec’s insides seem to magnify in weight as she gets to her feet and leaves him in the field. She all but runs away from him. His own sister can’t understand his actions. How would Magnus take the news? Jocelyn? Would he even be allowed to stay at the Fray School if word were to get out?

            He feels sick.

            Alec’s trembling as he gets to his feet. He watches Isabelle walk away, and he wonders if she’ll ever forgive him. With each step away from him, he’s less and less sure. He might be on his own now. It’s just him and his stupid, powerful, and dangerous ability.

OOOO

            Alec finds Aline and Helen in the common room back at the school. Isabelle’s nowhere to be seen, and Magnus has left with Luke and Jocelyn to meet with Valentine. They’re the only friends he has right now, even if there’s an undercurrent running under his skin telling him he’s going to screw this up, too.

            The girls are on one of the couches near the fireplace, under a plaid blanket. After Helen had apologized to Aline, there’d been thirty seconds of awkward silence before they’d become fast friends. Aline seemed to relate more to Helen than she had even to Alec, though Alec thinks their relationships are a bit different. Alec’s just happy they’ve become friends, despite everything.

            “Why do you look like someone killed your puppy?” Aline asks as Alec flops down onto the couch next to her.

            “Isabelle and I had a fight,” Alec answers.

            “Aw, that sucks.” Helen says. She gestures to a game board on a nearby table. “Scrabble tournament until you feel better?”

            Alec doesn’t think his problems can be solved with a couple rounds of scrabble, but he nods his head. If Isabelle doesn’t want him around, the least he can do is distract himself until she’s ready to see him. “Why not?”

            Aline grins. “That’s the spirit.”

            It turns out that Helen can easily kick all of their butts at scrabble. Though a niggling anxiety eats at Alec through the games, it’s fun to play with Aline and Helen. They’re loud, and a bit abrasive, but they’re happy. They’re a burning sun, but Alec doesn’t have to try and not get incinerated. They don’t leave space for him to wallow. They play round after round, the words dissolving into names and products, until Alec’s laughing along with them.

            At the end of what has to be their eighth game, Aline gets up to get herself a hot chocolate. Alec and Helen sit around the board. Alec plays with the tiles, knocking one down. He’s a lot more comfortable with Helen after hanging out with her and Aline, but there’s still something unsaid between them.

            “Why didn’t you tell them about my ability?” Alec finally asks.

            “I didn’t know you were keeping a secret,” Helen shrugs. “But, do you remember when Isabelle fell off that rock face and you brought her back?”

Alec nods. As if he could ever forget.

            “Well, after that, Valentine came to me and told me I could never tell anyone. So I didn’t. He talked to Molly and James, too.” Helen says. “Look, if you didn’t want them to know, then I’m glad I didn’t say anything.”

            “Oh,” Alec frowns. “I’m sorry. I know it isn’t easy, having to make decisions around his commands.”

            Helen laughs. “They’re intrusive as shit, his demands. Especially when they’re meant to last for a long time.”

            Alec nods. “I’m sorry about that.”

            Helen shakes her head. “Don’t be. Now, you’ve got a sister who’s pissed at you?”

            “How do you know I’m not mad at her?” Alec asks.

            Helen rolls her eyes. “Please. You came in here like someone died. There was no way you were angry. I’ve seen you angry, Alec, and it involves a far tenser jaw.”

            The simile strikes a little too close to home.

            “You should go talk to her, before Jocelyn gets back. You know whatever Valentine has to say isn’t going to be nice. Especially if it involves Jonathan.” Helen suggests.

            Alec hesitates, and then nods. He gets up slowly, his back cracking as he pulls himself up to his full height. “Thank you, Helen.”

            “No problem,” She grins.

            Alec leaves Helen to walk to his sister’s room. His dread grows with every step he takes—what if Isabelle can’t forgive him? He’s brought two people back to life from the dead, Jonathan and Isabelle, but they don’t cancel out the life he took. The memories he displaced. He can’t always forgive himself, especially with what Jonathan’s become.

            Alec knocks on the door to the room Isabelle shares with Aline. He opens the door a second later to find Isabelle lying down on her bed, Simon propped up beside her. Simons looks like he’s explaining something, arms out in sweeping gestures. Thankfully, they’re both fully clothed and Simon’s on top of the comforter. Alec, no matter how apologetic, is not ready for an eyeful of that.

            “Do you want me to leave you?” Simon asks when Alec interrupts them.

            Isabelle pulls herself into a sitting position on her bed. She kisses his cheek. “Yes please,” she says.

            “Thank you, Simon,” she calls as he lets himself out of the room. He smiles, and then shuts the door behind him.

            Alec stands by the door for a minute, and they stare each other. Isabelle’s side of the room, unlike Aline’s, is cluttered with her schoolbooks and the few clothes she has are littered across the space. The laundry basket is suspiciously empty for how much stuff is laying around. The seconds tick on, Isabelle’s eyes scrutinizing, before they soften, though not by much.

            “Come here,” Isabelle says, patting the bed next to her.

            Alec crosses the room cautiously, avoiding the graveyard of school supplies and clothes as he goes. The twin bed dips as he sits on its edge. He looks at his hands, fisted in his lap.

            “I’m sorry,” Alec says.

            “For telling me, or for doing it?”

            “For doing it, mostly. I didn’t want you to know, because I didn’t want you to look at me like you did in the field,” Alec pauses. “I suppose it’s better that you know.”

            Isabelle purses her lips. “Simon thinks I should hear you out.”

            “You told Simon?” Alec says, alarmed.

            “No. I told him you did something bad and I didn’t know if I could forgive you for it.” Isabelle says. “He said I should hear you out before I made any decisions.”

            “Thank you,” Alec says.

            Isabelle grunts. “So what exactly happened?”

            Alec sighs. “You have to understand that Valentine threatened to kick us out if I didn’t do it. Max was far too young, and you were just thirteen. He said if I didn’t do it myself, he’d use his ability to make me. Then I still would have killed someone and we’d be out of a home.”

            Isabelle hums. “It doesn’t sound like much of a choice.”

            Alec shakes his head. “It wasn’t.”

            “So, the body Jonathan has now, it’s not his?” Isabelle asks cautiously.

            “No,” Alec confirms. “It belonged to a mutant boy named Sebastian, who had run to Morning Star to find a safe place.”

            “And you regret it?” Isabelle asks.

            Alec’s silent for a couple of seconds. “I do regret it, I think,” he finally says. “I used to get nightmares about it. That’s how Jonathan and I started hanging out, because he got them too. For a while, I didn’t regret it. Before Jonathan changed, when we started going out, I could just forget about it. I’d never known Sebastian, and what could I have done differently? But I think about it now, and I’m disgusted. Valentine and I could have easily gone to an emergency room, and I could have healed the body of some car crash victim or another and used that instead.

            “We would have gotten the same results,” Alec sighs. “We didn’t though. I didn’t know then, but now I get why. Valentine wanted to make sure his son was gifted. He didn’t want a mundane child.”

            “Is… Does the ability Jonathan have belong to him, or to Sebastian?” Isabelle asks.

            “It’s Sebastian’s. Abilities don’t seem to travel that way. Jonathan said he used to be able to convince animals to do his bidding,” Alec explains. “He was like his dad, before.”

            “That’s really different,” Isabelle says.

            “Yeah, it is.”

            Silence stretches through the room, surrounding them. They’re both trapped in their own thoughts, and Alec forgets for a moment that Isabelle’s mad at him. His mind is on Jonathan and how he screwed him up. If Alec hadn’t brought him back from the dead, he wouldn’t be on the path he is now. If he hadn’t let him kill those people…

            “I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about this,” Isabelle admits.

            “A little disgusted,” Alec says. “But I’m hoping you’ll forgive me anyway.”

            Isabelle nods. “I’m not disgusted… just, shocked. I had no idea. I don’t like it when you keep me in the dark. I want to know what’s going on with you.”

            Alec turns to look at Isabelle for the first time since he started talking. “I’ll try not to do it again. It’s just… I’m terrified of what I can do. I don’t want you to be too.”

            “Hey, it’s okay.” Isabelle gives him a small smile. “I trust you. Now get out of here, I’m going to sleep.”

            “It’s like 4 o’clock,” Alec gives her an incredulous look.

            Isabelle rolls her eyes and shoos him away. “It’s never too early to take a nap.”

            “Okay, okay!” Alec says, getting to his feet. “But don’t come crying to me when you can’t sleep tonight.”

            Isabelle flips him off, and Alec laughs as he leaves. When he closes the door, he deflates into a sigh.

            Isabelle hasn’t forgiven him, per say, but she’s not disgusted with him. She probably understands, especially after losing Max, how important family can be. What needs to be done to protect those they care about. He knows that she regrets not being able to do more for him, but it’s not her fault. Maybe she’ll eventually resent him for not getting them out of there right after he saw just what Valentine was capable of, but that’ll have to be another battle.

            Alec walks back to his room, thinking he might follow Isabelle’s example and get some shut-eye. He has homework for Mr. Fell that needs doing, though, so maybe he’ll slave over that for an hour. Tomorrow is Monday.

            Alec bumps into Magnus just outside his door.

            “Hey, I didn’t know you guys were back already,” Alec says. He walks up to Magnus and gives him a quick kiss.

            “Hey,” Magnus smiles. “I was just coming to get you. Jocelyn wanted to talk to you about Jonathan.”

            Alec’s insides freeze. Does Magnus know about his ability? Does Jocelyn? “Wh-What about him?”

            Magnus shrugs. “I think she just wants to hear about him. Apparently Valentine got some necromancer to bring him back from the dead, which is really fucked up. He was her kid.”

            “Oh.” Alec says. Valentine didn’t tell them he was the necromancer. But the way Magnus is talking about raising the dead and necromancy… another pit forms in Alec’s stomach. Today is apparently going to continue to be an emotional rollercoaster.

            Magnus drops him off in front of Jocelyn’s office, with an invitation back to his room after the meeting.

            “You’re not going to stay?” Alec asks.

            Magnus shrugs. “Jocelyn will tell me what I need to know. She just wants to know more about her son, and if it’s really him. I don’t really need to hear about your ex, do I?”

            Alec shakes his head. “No, I suppose not.” He leaves out the part where he wouldn’t mind some company.

            When Alec enters the room, Jocelyn is behind her desk. Her head is bent of a stack of papers that she seems to be going through them carefully. He clears his throat to catch her attention.

            “Alec,” she says, looking up. “It’s good to see you.”

            “Thanks,” Alec says, sitting in a chair opposite her. He’s vaguely reminded of some of his visits to Valentine’s office, but the fear is a different kind. Now he knows what’s gone, and he’s not uplifted by wonder at his own abilities.

            “Helen said you dated Jonathan Morgenstern,” Jocelyn says. “Did you know he was my son?”

            “I,” Alec starts. He contemplates lying. “Yes, I did.”

            “And you didn’t say anything?” She asks, anger coloring her voice.

            Alec pauses. “With all respect to you, I wasn’t sure you’d believe me. I didn’t want to make things worse for myself.”

            “Ah,” She says, her voice venomous. “Right. You tried to kill my son after a necromancer brought him back.”

            “It wasn’t my first choice,” Alec defends. “But he had been killing people. And he had plans to kill more.”

            Jocelyn seems to deflate a little. “I haven’t heard the best things about him since he supposedly came back from the dead. I’m not even sure it’s him. He used to be such a nice boy.”

            “He was, at first,” Alec says. “Then things got bad. Being brought back from the dead can do that to someone.”

            “You knew he was brought back from the dead?” Jocelyn asks.

             Alec nods, then coughs. “Yeah. It was something I knew about from the beginning.”

             “But it’s not common knowledge,” Jocelyn says, then sighs. “Will you tell me about him?”

            Alec can tell her about Jonathan, and make her understand why he tried to kill her first born. He might be kicked out of her school if he doesn’t defend himself. So he tells her, leaving out the bits about him being the necromancer that brought Jonathan back in the first place.

            “We dated for two and a half years,” Alec says. “He changed a lot during that time. It all started on a mission to retrieve this mutant kid from a private holding cell.”

OOOO

            Alec held his breath as the guard passed. He glanced at Jonathan, shoved next to him around the corner of one of the prison cells. There was hardly an inch of space between them, but Alec didn’t mind. The lighting was dim, but Alec could still see Jonathan’s grin. Jonathan loved the thrill of these missions.

            As the footsteps faded down the corridor, Alec peeked around the corner. The long hallway was lined with cells, most of them empty. The guard turning to check on another block was armed, a M4 carbine strapped around his vested shoulders. When the guard had disappeared around a corner, Alec signaled to Jonathan.

            They crept from their temporary hiding place, their steps silent on the paved floor. They passed blue bars, each cell containing a ragged bed and a toilet. Not so much as a mirror decorated the place, but that was expected.

The place didn’t technically exist. It was a holding of the Seelie technology company, where they tortured mutants. Alec wasn’t exactly sure what the end goal was, but he’d seen enough mutilated bodies in this place to know that the mutants were better off on the outside. Better off if they got them out. It was enough to keep Valentine sending in teams, especially if he heard there were children.

            They had heard word of a girl trapped in the cells. She was supposed to be able to create magma, a rather useful skill for the Alliance. Almost all of the kids they rescued had useful skills, ones that Valentine lacked at the Academy. Alec sometimes wondered if it was on purpose, but he never pressed. He couldn’t afford to make any sort of stand against the headmaster.

            They were about halfway down the hall when they came across another living soul. Alec could see her life thread, grey specks clouding it, but it was stronger than those of some of the people they’d come for. She was a fighter, Alec knew. She was strong.

            Alec dropped to his knees and pulled out his lock picking set. Every Alliance member could pick a lock, and Alec happened to be better at it than Jonathan, who stood watch. He felt for the individual pins, and then used the torison wrench to open the door. It opened with minimal noise, causing Alec to let out a breath of relief. The guard wouldn’t be after them.

            Inside the room, a young girl sat at the edge of her bed, her green eyes wide. She couldn’t have been more than fifteen, yet her hands were shackled together and a collar that repelled mutant activity was wrapped around her neck. Her dark brown hair swathed around the collar, hiding her face as she cowered.

            “Hey,” Alec said softly. “We’re here to get you out. What’s your name?”

            The girl paused. “Who are you?”

            “I’m Alec. I go to school with a bunch of other mutants,” Alec said, reaching his hand out to her.

            The girl hesitated, and then nodded. She grabbed Alec’s hand, awkward with her bound wrists, and let him pull her to her feet. “I’m Drusilla.”

            Alec gave her a small smile. “We’ve got to hurry if we want to get out of here unnoticed.”

            Alec glanced at Jonathan, who nodded. Jonathan led the group, Drusilla between them, as they journeyed through the underground of the secret compound. The walls held a menacing echo, enough to keep them all on their toes. Occasionally they could hear a scream reverberating through the halls, but they kept moving. They were almost out, just a doorway between them and freedom, when it happened.

            The only warning Alec got was Jonathan’s muttered curse before the crack of gunfire roared through the hallway. Alec dove, covering Drusilla’s body with his own. Wetness sprayed over the back of his neck, and when he looked up, he realized what it was.

            Alec’s vision switched from its normal lens to the world of the dead. He could see Jonathan’s life threat, tangled around his neck like a noose, the orange of Sebastian tangled up near the room’s ceiling. Alec’s vision pinpointed the bullet wound through Jonathan’s chest, and another as the guard shot him. Jonathan swayed, but he did not fall.

            Instead, Jonathan lifted his hand toward the man. The man’s eyes bulged, his face a picture of agony, and then blood burst from his eyes. The guard’s body spasmed before falling to the ground with a thud, leaving Jonathan bleeding in the wreckage. He should be near death, Alec knew, but the thread Alec had attached to his body didn’t budge.

            Alec’s eyes, open to the death around him, watched as the dark purple thread of the guard fused to Jonathan’s green thread. It spun around it, like red wrapping around the white of a candy cane. Jonathan didn’t seem to notice, turning around to face Alec, his eyes wide.

Jonathan

            “That was…” he said, and Alec couldn’t tell if it was awe or horror in his eyes. Maybe Alec didn’t want to know. Something was wrong.

            “How are you still…” Alec trailed off, a jerk of information snapping into place at the base of his skull. Jonathan was still alive because of him.

            Jonathan shook his head. “We have to go.”

            Alec nodded, and looked down at Drusilla. “Are you alright to move?”

            Drusilla looked shaken, but she nodded. They resumed pace, and were soon at the helicopter waiting outside that the Alliance often used. They climbed in, Drusilla staring wide-eyed at Jonathan the whole time.

            Alec didn’t blame her. He was a little bewildered himself at the unforeseen consequence of his ability.

            When they got back to Morning Star, Alec handed off Drusilla to a welcome group and carted Jonathan off to medical.

            “I’m fine,” Jonathan protested. “I mean, it hurts, but I’m fine. We could go back to my room and do something a little less PG-13…”

            “You were just shot three times in the chest. I’m not having sex with you while there are still bullets inside you.” Alec said, leading Jonathan to Céline.

            “I always knew you were the jealous type,” Jonathan joked.

            “Besides,” Alec said quietly. “You just killed someone. Your first someone.”

            “I…” The glow in Jonathan’s eyes didn’t dim. “I guess you’d know all about that.”

            Alec frowned. “Come on. I’m getting you to medical.”

OOOO

            A few months later, they were back in the same position. They were locked together, this time hidden in a supply closet as the guard came around. Alec could hear the footsteps just outside the door, and Jonathan’s breath was hot against his face. Jonathan didn’t have to be as close as he was, but Alec didn’t mind. He liked being able to press his hand against Jonathan’s chest to check for a heartbeat.

            Alec counted the seconds away in his head. They’d done this so many times, they knew exactly how long it would take for the guard to be gone. Alec was, frankly, surprised they hadn’t fired the guard for a new one. Jonathan had killed a different one last time, and there was no mistaking the slight limp of the regular guard.

            Jonathan pulled at the handle of the door twenty seven seconds early. Alec shot him a look, but he just grinned and stepped into the hallway. Alec’s heart seized up. What did Jonathan think he was doing? Seconds later, Alec heard a thud reverberate down the chamber. There was a clacking as something metallic, probably the guard’s firearm, hit the ground.

            Alec leaned into the hallway to see what Jonathan had done. He saw a body crumpled onto the ground. He was washed with horror as he realized that Jonathan seemed largely unaffected, staring at Alec and gesturing for him to hurry up. There was another thread winding around his own, undoubtedly from the guard with the limp.

 

            “We don’t have all day,” Jonathan hissed.

            Alec gingerly stepped out into the hall. He walked down the hall, his eyes on the dead guard. There was blood flowing from his eyes, ears and nose. His skin was turning purple.

            “You didn’t have to kill him,” Alec whispered, his voice a rasp.

            “We were wasting time,” Jonathan replied.

            Alec dropped to his knees, pulling out his lock pick kit. He tried to hide the shaking of his hands. “It’s time we’ve wasted before. Besides, now they might finally upgrade their security.”

            Jonathan shrugged. “Things change.”

            “Your bloodlust increases, you mean,” Alec snapped. He couldn’t believe that Jonathan had just killed a man, for the sport of it. The poor guard had never even stood a chance.

            They were silent for a moment as Alec worked on the lock. Then, Jonathan spoke. “Do you want me to do it? You sure are taking your sweet time.”

            Alec didn’t respond as the lock clicked. He opened the door as he stood up, not once turning to face Jonathan. He focused his attention on the teenager in the cell.

            “We’re here to get you out,” Alec said. “I’m Alec. You’re safe now.”

            Something had changed, and Alec was sure it wasn’t himself.

OOOO

            Alec was surprised to find Drusilla outside his door. It was just after dinner, and most of the students were hanging out in the common rooms. Alec was just there to grab a change of clothes so he could spend the night with Jonathan. She had her hand out, ready to knock, when Alec called out to her.

            “Drusilla! What are you doing here?” Alec asked, jogging over to the door. As far as Alec knew, Drusilla didn’t know Max at all, and had something of a rivalry with Isabelle, so she likely wasn’t there for either of them.

            When Drusilla turned her head, Alec was surprised to find her freckled face puffy and tracked with tear marks. She let her hand drop, and Alec was left staring at her.

            “Are you… okay?” Alec asked.

            “I…” her voice trembled. “Can I come in? Or can we go somewhere private?”

            “Yeah,” Alec nodded. He pulled the door to the bedroom he shared with his siblings open. He quickly crossed the room to his dresser, where he pulled out a sock to put on the doorknob. Isabelle had recently taught Max about the sock’s meaning, so they wouldn’t be disturbed.

            “So, uh, sit,” Alec said. He pulled the chair from Isabelle’s desk, swathed in stray clothing garments, closer to his own desk chair. He had the top bunk, above Max, otherwise he’d offer her a seat on his bed.

            Drusilla sat, though she looked uncomfortable. “Maybe I shouldn’t be here.”

            Alec silently agreed with her. He was the last stop as far as comforting words went. The only person who ever came to him with problems was Jonathan, and that had been happening less and less. “You obviously came for a reason.”

            “Yeah…” She trailed off. “Just. What do you know about the missions Jonathan runs?”

            Alec leaned back in his chair. “The ones I’m not supposed to know about?”

            Drusilla nodded.

            Alec thought about the question. He’d known for some time that Jonathan was picking powerful mutants and taking them out for some purpose. Usually he took the same couple of kids. He knew that Valentine had something to do with it, and that Jonathan didn’t tell him because he thought Alec would disapprove. Alec also knew that after every single one of those missions, Jonathan’s life thread would come back with at least one more attached. It had gotten so muddled now that Alec could hardly see the light green it had been when he’d first brought him back to life. Alec had been ignoring it for over a year, trying desperately to pretend he didn’t know what it meant.

            “I know that Jonathan’s killing people, and lots of them,” Alec said cautiously.

            Drusilla nodded again, her eyes wet.

            “I had hoped I was wrong,” Alec said. He put his head in his hands. “He’s really...?”

            “Yeah,” Drusilla let out a shaky breath. “Last week, he recruited me. Said he wanted me on his team. Said it was me or Jace, and you know how I get about competitions.”

            “Competitive?” Alec offered, looking up, though he was in no mood to be light of heart.

            “Too much. Jonathan knew, and he made me swear that I’d do anything for the mission we were going on,” Drusilla explained.

            “Valentine didn’t make you keep it a secret?” Alec asked.

            Drusilla shrugged. “He said to keep it a secret from anyone who didn’t already know about the missions. You knew, so I can tell you.”

            “That’s smart,” Alec says.

            Drusilla gives him a small smile, and then shakes her head. “I… Alec, I didn’t know what we were doing. I didn’t know that he was going to lead an execution.”

            Alec’s blood ran cold. “He what?”

            Drusilla’s shoulders shook. “I didn’t know,” she hiccupped. “He said I just needed to get him into the place. It was like the one where you two found me, I thought the job was like that.” She shook her head a couple of times. Tears dripped from her eyelids. “But he didn’t care about the kids. There was a boy, couldn’t have been more than ten, strapped to a gurney. We left him there while Jonathan rounded up all of the scientists and guards and burst the oxygen from their veins. As they suffocated. Jonathan didn’t even help the kid, he just… killed him.”

            It wasn’t uncommon for Alec to be speechless, and he was then. He couldn’t believe how far Jonathan had gone. He couldn’t believe what a monster he’d created. He couldn’t believe that he’d ignored it for so long.

            Alec looked at Drusilla. She was crying in front of him, and he was useless. He’d gotten her into this mess. He’d been the one to bring her to Morning Star. He patted her knee.

            “I’m going to talk to Valentine about this,” Alec said. “You, uh. Take your time. Remove the sock when you leave.”

            Drusilla nodded, wiping away her tears. Alec felt kind of bad leaving her, but she hadn’t come to him for comfort. She’d come to him so he would do something to stop Jonathan, and surely he could convince Valentine to help him. If he could tell Valentine about the strings, about the wreckage it was causing… maybe he’d be convinced to stop.

            Alec was about to knock on Valentine’s door when he stopped. Inside the room, he had heard his name. He pressed his ear to the door.

            “Alec could do it,” Jonathan was saying. “If we could get him in the middle of them, he could cut the strings on all of their lifelines.”

            Valentine scoffed. “Alec has shown us no such ability.”

            “No,” Jonathan argued. “He killed Sebastian and replaced him with me. Do you really think he couldn’t have left this body vacant? Alec’s been withdrawn lately. He could be hiding any number of things.”

            “So you propose we use him to massacre Congress? That would only cause more fear.” Valentine said.

            “They’d hardly know what it them. It’s not like Alec’s ability can be traced. And we’d only slaughter those in support of anti-mutant legislation.”

            “Alec would never go for it,” Valentine argued.

            “You could make him,” Jonathan said. “You’ve been making it so he hasn’t questioned the missions I go on, smoothing things over, for a year. This isn’t any different.”

            Alec closed his eyes, taking in this information. He’d been manipulated for so long, without even knowing it. He thought of barging in, of telling them he’d never do it. That was what Isabelle would do. But Alec wasn’t Isabelle, so he left.

            When he returned to his room, Drusilla was gone. Max was reading a comic book on his bed, but Alec paid him little attention. Instead, he pulled open his sock drawer. He pulled out his knife, the one he’d had since before they’d come to Morning Star, and shoved it in his bag.

            It was time for one last rendez-vous with Jonathan.

Chapter Text

            Alec sits back in his chair, his mind still stuck on Jonathan and how he’d started to change after he killed that guard. He’d been sweet and caring, though arrogant and often rude. Alec had loved him, his first love, and had been unable to notice Jonathan crumbling around him until it was too late. He felt immense guilt over how blind he’d been—compulsed by Valentine or not. He’d let his kingdom fall to dust around him, built on a bedrock of insanity.

            Alec’s head swivels up as something shatters, instantly alert.

            Jocelyn stands behind her desk, a pained look on her face. Alec looks around for the source of the noise and sees coffee splattered across the wall to his left. Shards of her mug litter the floor like landmines. Looking at Jocelyn’s posture, Alec wonders if conversing with her will be as treacherous as the carpet now is on bare feet.

            Jocelyn paces to the window and grips the ledge. Alec can see her knuckles lose their color and turn a stark white. She takes a deep breath, and when she turns back to Alec, her face is a cold sort of steel. It’s void of the tears Alec expected from his, albeit censored, story. He knows they’re certainly pricking at his own eyes. He can only imagine what it’s like to hear a story like that about one’s own child. One’s own creation. Maybe he can relate better than he’d thought.

            “I can’t believe he would do that to our son,” Jocelyn says, speaking of Valentine. Alec remembers that she must have been with Valentine for some time—long enough to raise Jonathan, at least. Alec can hardly imagine anyone being with Valentine, who Alec has come to know to be full of hard edges and slimy morals. He wonders if Valentine was always like that or if it came after Jocelyn left him.

            Jocelyn stalks back to her desk and sits down. Her violent energy has turned to disgust and calculation. “Where did he even find a necromancer? I’ve never heard of one actually existing. Healers, yes, but not…” something so horribly corrupt, her tone seems to whisper to him. “The Jonathan I met didn’t look a thing like my son. He acted a bit differently, but he was older, so that could be the cause. He had all the memories of the child I’d loved, even ones Valentine couldn’t have taught him. Bringing Jonathan back, distorting his memory with this filth, is unforgivable.”

            Alec says nothing, though his heart twists. It’s true—what he’d done had been unforgivable. There are lines, ones that burn into your conscious, which should not be crossed. Alec had thrown himself over that line for some attention from the headmaster and to keep his siblings comfortable (and alive, a voice defends in the back of his mind).

            “So what do we do?” Alec asks, his heart heavy. This is all his fault.

            Jocelyn hesitates for only a half of a beat. “We kill him. Jonathan’s ghost.”

OOOO

            Somehow, a week later, Alec finds himself in the Fray School’s private jet. Technically, it belongs to the Defenders, but the two groups have started to blur in his head. He has more important things to worry about than the differences, like the grainy images on the video feeds that pour onto the jet’s computers.

            He’s sitting on one of the less comfortable benches, his hand twined with Magnus’s. Ragnor Fell, his teacher, sits closer to the front of the jet, giving them an illusion of privacy as they watch the scene.

            The images that come through are of some gala dinner put on by Senator Pangborn. It’s for some charity or political gain, Alec’s sure, but he’s not sure exactly what. It doesn’t matter. It has people present with their wallets and the tabloid reporters that tail them.

            Emil Pangborn, with his greying hair and rail thin posture, is a power player pushing for mutant registration. They have it on Helen’s word that Jonathan is planning to assassinate in the near future She had told them Jonathan would make it public, and as much of a spectacle as possible, to instill maximum terror. They had already staked out a couple of events, but so far he’s been but a ghost. Tonight would be a wonderful night for a public execution. Alec’s sure it’ll damage the mutants cause more than support it, but he doesn’t make the rules to Jonathan’s mind.

            Alec leans towards Magnus as his eyes scan the screens. There are many different possible entry points, despite the plethora of security. With so many bodies and so many different cameras, it’s difficult for him to do his job. Being the only legal adult that knows what Jonathan looks like, besides Jocelyn, who rarely if ever goes on missions like these, makes Alec one of the more valuable players at the gala.

            Though Jocelyn had asked Alec to stay in the jet during the actual fighting, because he’s not a trained Defender, there’s no way that’s actually going to happen. Neither Ragnor nor Magnus have abilities that can actually make him stay in the jet while they go off, and Alec wanted to exploit that. He had a few theories about Jonathan’s mortality that he had a feeling would turn out to be more than a hunch.

His thoughts of Jonathan terrify him, so he sharpens his focus on the video feeds they’d pirated from the security office. Everyone at the gathering is well dressed—most of the men in tailored suits, and many of the women flaunting figure-cutting dresses. Booze and fancy snacks poured from the hands of waiters to keep spirits high and checkbooks loose. If not for the average age, which had to be about forty-five, it was the kind of party Isabelle might want to attend.

            Alec’s eyes trip over the features of the partygoers’ exposed faces, looking for a sign of similarity. He catches it after several minutes of renewed searching, just out of the corner of his eyes. Dark hair and a familiar face sneak into his vision, and he jerks a little. He swerves his head so he can better see the boy he once loved and the murderer of his baby brother.

            Magnus, who noticed his jerk, looks over at him. “See something?”

            Alec nods. He stands up, disentangling his hand from Magnus’s. Walking closer to the screen, Alec points so that both Magnus and Ragnor can see. The image beneath his fingers is grainy, and it’s hard to make out the pixels of his face. “That’s him. That’s Jonathan.”

            “You’re sure?” Ragnor asks.

            “Yes,” Alec says, a bit irately. He had hoped he wouldn’t find Jonathan in the middle of an assassination attempt, but he didn’t know why. Jonathan had already crossed all of the lines Alec had drawn. “I’m sure. I don’t know where the teleporter is, but he’s probably lurking somewhere in the shadows.”

            Ragnor sighs. “I was sort of hoping we wouldn’t have to do this.”

            “Yeah,” Magnus agrees. He pulls his tie tight against his neck, checks to make sure the wings of his collar sit flat, and then stands up. “But we’ve got to protect Pangborn, scum that he is, and stop Jonathan form killing anyone else.”

            “Be careful,” Alec says as Magnus leans over to give him a quick peck on the cheek.

            “Always.” Magnus smiles cheekily, in a way that makes Alec both question his sincerity and trust him entirely. It’s an odd feeling. A new feeling, but if not for the pit of worry in his stomach, he would like it.

            They leave Alec with the hum of the monitors and the faces of a hundred unseeing guests. He curls on the bench and pulls his legs to his chest the best he can, and sighs. The seconds tick on, unnoticed, as he stares at Jonathan’s slightly pixelated face. The world speeds by around him as he’s suspended by his own past. By his own creation. His hand-made monster.

            It’s been weeks since he last saw Jonathan. He hasn’t changed much—but there are so many new details. The curve of his lips is sharp and predatory, a slow growth that Alec had always been too close to notice. More of his summer freckles have left his face, leaving his pink-white face largely unblemished. Eyes are drawn to him as he weaves around the room, making an effort to not be too obviously looking for the Senator. Jonathan has always been decent at keeping up his smoke and his mirrors, and the sure smiles he throws around only aid his ruse.

            Near the entrance, Alec can see Ragnor and Magnus enter the building. Ragnor has a glamour, a small machine meant to conceal mutant markings, strapped to his wrist, which hides his green pallor and horns. They’re excellently dressed, both in pressed jackets with colorful pocket squares. The clothes look much nicer than they are, thanks to some home-hemming, because they’re likely going to be destroyed by the end of the night. Stopping an assassination attempt can be very messy, or so Alec’s heard.

            Magnus and Ragnor make their way to where Alec had spotted Jonathan, only to find the space filled with unknown people. Alec doesn’t have to look long to find where Jonathan has moved to. He can hear screams from inside the building as a circle of scared guests pulls away from two figures. One of them is Jonathan, with a dark mask pulled over his face. The other is a convulsing Emil Pangborn.

            Alec watches as the masked teleporter step out of the darkness cast by Jonathan’s shadow, creating further confusion in the dispersing crowd. He sees Magnus push through, his body turned into glistening rock. The outline of a mask sticks to his face. Ragnor is close behind, his holographic projection still carefully in place to protect his identity.

            As Magnus and Ragnor crash closer, so does the security team. They aim their weapons at Jonathan, who lifts a hand. A few of the guards fire before they crumple to the ground with Pangborn, but their assault has no effect. Jonathan jerks back, but doesn’t falter as he’s hit by the bullets. Jonathan’s grown stronger since the last time Alec saw him, but it’s as he predicted. Mangus and Ragnor won’t be able to kill him.

            A familiar unease in his stomach lets him know that he’ll have to be the one to do this. Alec grabs a mask and tears out of the jet. He’s not dressed like a partygoer, but Jonathan took care of most of the security, and no one has time to worry about the teen walking the wrong way through the panicked crowd. No one has any time to give him strange looks. As soon as he’s in the building, he runs over hard wood floors, his heart pounding.

            He needs to find them before there’s serious trouble.

            He makes it to the main dome in time to see Ragnor facing off with the teleporter, small explosions falling from his teacher’s hands. Then he sees Jonathan manipulate the density of the air around Magnus’s body, and he sees Magnus trying to struggle. A feeling comes over him, the nausea and panic that he felt when Isabelle fell off the cliff. He felt and echo of that same sensation when he found Max’s body. A moment later, an echoing crack splinters through his hearing, and Magnus’s body splits and shatters into pieces.

            Magnus, or what’s left of him, crashes to the ground, Jonathan standing over him.

            “Diamond is the hardest substance known to man,” Jonathan says. “But if you apply pressure in the right places… it shatters.”

             Magnus’s body distorts from wrecked diamond to flesh, blood running up his front and cuts decorating his skin. His gaze is on Jonathan for a second before blood tumbles from his lips and his body convulses. Jonathan boils Magnus’s bloods for only a second longer before Alec can see Magnus’s thread turning grey and snapping away from his body.

              All at once, there’s no space to think. No space to breathe. There’s only one acceptable action to take. He knows that this isn’t at all how Max died, but that’s suddenly all he can think of. Magnus and Max, both taken from him by Jonathan.

             Alec launches himself at Jonathan. He lands a fist on Jonathan’s jaw, Jonathan’s head snapping back. He defends himself against Alec’s next strike, quickly snapping his arm out to land a blow to the ribs that throws off Alec’s balance.

            Alec backs up as Jonathan’s hit throws him, trying to regain his footing. His boots have poor grip on the hardwood floor, but he’s only away from Jonathan for a couple of seconds before he dives back in to the fight. He starts low and goes for an uppercut, which Jonathan dodges, then jumps over Alec’s leg as he attempts to trip him.

            Whatever’s fuelling Alec, the rage and sweeping sadness, it isn’t enough. He brought Jonathan back to life, which has had the unintended effect of improving his agility and strength. Even Isabelle came back stronger than she had been, both with her ability and physically. Jonathan lands a blow to his sternum that sends him reeling. He steps backward, disorientated and out of breath. Jonathan pushes him back until he’d trapped against the wall.

            Alec attempts a punch, his teeth bared, but Jonathan catches his wrists. Jonathan twists until Alec’s chest is pressed against the wall, his hands in Jonathan’s grip. Jonathan is pressed up against his back, and he can feel Jonathan’s breath on his neck. Alec’s always been taller, which isn’t much of a consolation as he’s pinned against the wall.

            “Alec, what are you doing?” Jonathan asks. His voice sounds genuinely confused, as if they don’t have an ocean of bad blood between them.

            “I’m trying to stop you,” Alec says, gritting his teeth.

            “Stop me from what? I already did what I came to do,” Jonathan says. Alec can hear the grin in his voice.

            Alec knows what that means. He can feel every death around them like a singing in his bones. If he wanted to, he could watch their traces of life leave for good. Emil Pangborn is dead, and Jonathan has become a vigilante. A misguided one at that, wrapped in a blanket of the emotions of the people he’s murdered.

            “I think you just wanted to see me,” Jonathan says teasingly.

            Alec swings his head back. He feels it connect with something, and then he hears a snap. He turns as Jonathan’s grip lessens, his arm swinging his fist towards Jonathan’s solar plexus.

            Jonathan leaps back, avoiding the fist. Blood runs over his lips from his twisted nose, and under his mask his eyes are alight. He pounces on Alec, his fingers refinding their grip around Alec’s wrists and slamming them back into the wall.

            “Why can’t you see that this is what’s right?” Jonathan asks. “If we get rid of the mutant resistants, then we can be free. We won’t have to hide, or live in fear of people knowing who we are. What we are.”

            “We shouldn’t have to murder people for it,” Alec spits.

            Jonathan laughs. It paints a vision, his teeth glinting red under the fluorescent lighting as he cackles. “I’m not the one who set their minds so firmly against mutants. Besides, it’s not like you’ve never killed before.”

            Alec grits his teeth. “That was different.”

            Jonathan shrugs. “I don’t think it was. You understand what it’s like to kill someone, and that sometimes it’s necessary.”

            An explosion sounds in the background, proof of Ragnor and the teleporter’s continued fight.

            “We’re not that much alike,” Alec says. “And maybe it’s my fault you think this bloodshed is deserved. But you need to stop killing everyone who disagrees with you.”

            “I’ll stop when I get the results I want,” Jonathan says. “There’s always a place for you at Morning Star. There’s always a place for you with me. You could help me create a safe place for all mutants.”

            Jonathan kisses him. It is a demand, bloody and inconsiderate. He forces his tongue into Alec’s mouth, and Alec feels wrong. He doesn’t want this. It’s almost as if Jonathan’s forgotten that he killed Max, as if he thinks that could amount to nothing in Alec’s mind. Alec’s can feel anger and raw energy pump through him.

            Alec bites Jonathan’s tongue and more of Jonathan’s blood pours into Alec’s mouth. He head butts Jonathan, the sting ripping through both of their brains. The force is enough to shove Jonathan off of him. He pushes away from the wall, his eyes hard.

            “Never do that again,” Alec says with absolutely no room for argument. He reaches out a hand, not quite sure what he’s doing, but a rumbling under his ribs tells him he’s right. He pulls his fingers together and his eyes shift to see the strings that connect people to their bodies.

            Jonathan’s string is clouded by the strings surrounding it. His lifeline no longer looks like it belongs to one person, it’s so distorted. Connecting Jonathan to the sky is what looks like a haphazard ball of yarn, different colors melding together in one giant mess. He can only make out one distinct threat, a dark orange floating away from the rest. It’s not Jonathan’s.

            Alec lifts his arm toward the discombobulated strings and squeezes his hand closed. Jonathan stops in his tracks, his eyes wide. He looks around, his face a picture of panic. He can hardly move while Alec holds him there.

            “What’re you…” Jonathan says. “Nico! We need to leave, now!”

            Jonathan can’t move, but the teleporter can. He appears from Jonathan’s shadow and places a hand on his shoulder, easily escaping form his stalemate with Ragnor. A moment later, they disappear. Alec’s grip on Jonathan’s string is ripped away as it disappears into the shadows.

            Alec stares transfixed on the spot where they disappeared. New knowledge feeds his brain with certainty. He can bring people back, but he can also kill them.

            He also hears a voice in his ear.

            “Alec?” It’s Ragnor. Alec turns his head to face him. “I’m… I’m going to grab Magnus’s body. Can you keep the route clear as we head to the jet? There are probably a lot of people outside.”

            Alec shakes his head. His vision tunnels to Magnus. “No,” he says. “Let me.”

            He hears Ragnor say something in the background, but it doesn’t matter. Magnus’s thread, a glistening yellow, is pulling away from his body. He doesn’t remember walking over, but he reaches out for Magnus’s thread. His hands grip it, and he’s overwhelmed by the terror Magnus felt when he died. When his diamond skin cracked. When his castle became unfortified.

            Alec pulls Magnus’s thread towards his body, and it connects with a bang that only he can hear. It reminds him of bringing Isabelle back, and nothing of Jonathan. It isn’t forced. It won’t ever be a noose around his neck.

            Magnus gasps, his golden green eyes springing open. He looks around in confusion, his gaze catching on Alec’s face. His wounds have healed, sewn up by Alec’s ability.

            Alec smiles down at Magnus. Something builds under his ribs, something other than relief. Knowledge clicks up his spine and into his brain, and Alec suddenly knows that he shouldn’t do this again. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone. His relief fades. Then, he passes out.

OOOO

            Alec wakes up to two people who should be dead at his bedside. Isabelle and Magnus are deep in conversation, not at all looking at him. They’re in the Fray School’s infirmary, as Alec remembers it from when they brought Isabelle when they first arrived.

            The walls of the room are an off-white, the ceiling popcorned. There are instructional posters all about, either asking him about his pain levels or explaining common food allergies and the importance of exercise. The bed is somewhat lumpy but does its job, and the white sheets are soft. Alec knows he’s here because of his power overuse, first paralyzing Jonathan and then bringing Magnus back, but he’s not sure what anyone else knows.

            “What happened?” Alec asks, jerking Magnus and Isabelle out of their conversation.

            “You’re awake!” Isabelle says, her face lighting up. She swats down his attempts to sit up and presses her hand to his forehead. “You passed out after you brought Magnus back. You need to be careful with yourself.”

            “Iz, I’m fine. I just used my ability more than I should have.” Alec says.

            “About that,” Magnus starts.

            “Catarina!” Isabelle calls, waving at the healer. “And you, stop that,” she chastises Magnus. “No one’s interrogating my brother until he’s cleared as healthy.”

            Catarina, the blue woman who healed Isabelle when they first got to the Fray School, walks over from behind a metal desk. She makes sure his eyes are responsive, and all his limbs, and that he knows the date. She asks him what happened before he passed out.

            Alec shrugs. “I overused my ability. It’s happened before.”

            Catarina nods. “That’s what everything points to. You’ve been out for two days, in which most of your wounds healed completely, which is a little odd. You’re marked in our system as an earthshaker, not a healer.”

            “I’ve never stayed hurt very long,” Alec concedes, though he feels very concerned that they’ve got a system that includes marking down his abilities. “But they never heal immediately.”

            “You might want to talk to Mrs. Graymark about reclassifying your ability. She wanted to see you when you woke up, so I’ll go tell her you have,” Catarina says with a small smile. Alec can her the muffled thud of her shoes as he watches her leave, eager to look at something other than Magnus.

            “Do you have any clothes for me?” Alec asks his sister. He’s in white pinstriped pajamas that feel gross, like they’ve been worn for way too long. That’s probably not far from how the clothing situation has panned out.

            “No,” Isabelle says. “because you’re not going anywhere until Catarina clears you.”

            “She just did, Isabelle,” Alec says irately.

            Isabelle sits back in her chair, a grin on her face. “I didn’t want to give you any false hope if she didn’t. I remember when Jace broke you out of the hospital early when you got shot and you pulled out all of your stitches.”

            “That was Jace’s fault,” Alec mumbles. His gaze drifts to Magnus, who is staring at him in an uncomfortable way. An unpleasantness settles in him. “I’m sorry,” he blurts.

            “For lying about your ability?” Magnus asks, his voice hard. There’s a frown on his face unlike anything Alec’s ever seen him wear.

            “No,” Alec says. “I’m sorry I brought you back to life without asking permission. It was invasive, and… I don’t know. I didn’t want you to die, but you were already gone. I didn’t know what else to do.”

            “You didn’t ask me either,” Isabelle snorts.

            Magnus’s gaze shifts to Isabelle. “You were…?”

            Isabelle shrugs. “When I was twelve, I got thrown off a cliff. Landed on my neck.”

            “It’s not like I knew I could do it then,” Alec mutters unhappily. “It was an accident.”

            “You lied to me, Alec,” Magnus says. “I know we haven’t been dating long enough for me to be justifiably hurt, but… why didn’t you tell anyone?”

            “You had no business knowing,” Alec argues. “It was for my safety. Do you think my ability was used to revive flowers at Morning Star? It was used for grave digging and murder.”

            Magnus looks a little taken aback. He responds, a beat too late. “You didn’t think we might be different?”

            “How would I know?” Alec asks, and moves so he’s leaning against the uncomfortably metal barred headboard. He wants to justify himself to Magnus, but this conversation is exhausting him. “I wind up at the school of the wife of the madman who misled and controlled me for years, who runs an extremely similar program for mutants, and you think I’m going to give you information that could turn me into a weapon or get me expelled? Right.”

            “I just…” Magnus trails off, and then shakes his head. “You should have said something.”

            “Alec did what he did for a reason,” Isabelle says. “And maybe that makes you angry. But his safety is worth more than your comfort.”

            “You could have given us a lot more information about Jonathan going in, though. Maybe this situation never would have happened.” Magnus sighs, running a hand over his face as he leans back in his chair. “What even happened when you brought me back?”

            “I passed out,” Alec says, though he still does feel guilty for keeping for putting Magnus and Ragnor in unnecessary danger. “It happens from time to time when I use it. I can also black out from not using it, which is fun for the whole family.”

            Magnus opens his mouth, as if to argue, but he’s cut off as the infirmary door opens. It’s Jocelyn and Luke, their faces grim. There are no windows in the infirmary, but it must be nighttime, because they’re both wrapped in nightgowns. Jocelyn’s hair is a tangle, and they both look exhausted. Alec wonders what conclusions they’ve drawn.

            “Alec,” Jocelyn says, sitting on the bed next to his. “I don’t think you’ve been completely honest with us.”
            Luke sits next to Jocelyn, but closer to Alec, and he gets the message. They don’t trust him, so they’re putting the ability blocker between him and the headmaster. He tries not to be hurt, because he has lied to them. He knew they wouldn’t be so forgiving with an ability like his. No one ever is.

            “Simon and Clary have both seen you move the ground,” Luke says. His voice is smooth and calm, and it makes Alec feel a little less defensive. Alec wonders if he was ever a cop. “But your ability seemed to manifest differently two nights ago when, according to Ragnor Fell, you brought Magnus back to life from the dead.”

            “I didn’t lie,” Alec says defensively, biting his lip. “I can move the ground. But only if there are bones in it.”

            Jocelyn exhales, her eyes closed and her face pinched. “You brought Jonathan back to life.”

            Alec hesitates, and then nods. “I did.”

            “So that story you told me…”

            “I may have left out a few details,” Alec admits slowly. “He didn’t start to lose his mind until he started to kill other people. Their more prominent traits, especially the ones invoked before death, started to change his personality. They were usually killed in violent situations, so it’s no surprise that he’s so eager to pull the trigger now.”

            Jocelyn’s eyes are on him, sharply watching him speak. It’s almost as if she doesn’t believe him, but he can tell she does, it’s more as if… she can’t believe he’d let that happen to her son. She holds him accountable.

            Luke clears his throat. “Will that happen to Magnus?”

            “Or me?” Isabelle asks, her eyebrows drawn together in concern. “Why didn’t you tell me about this sooner?”

            “You?” Luke says, but not a moment later his eyes light up with understanding.

            Alec shrugs. “I’ve only ever brought back Magnus and Isabelle, besides Jonathan, and it’s different. With Jonathan, I had to search for his… soul, if you will. It was far gone. Isabelle and Magnus’s consciences were still alive when I brought them back, I just had to put them back into their bodies. I don’t know exactly what the effects are, but I don’t think they’re exactly the same.”

            It’s a small lie. He knows now he shouldn’t have brought them back. They’ll probably grow to resent him for it.

            “My son doesn’t look like my son,” Jocelyn interjects. “Why is that?”

            Alec’s back stiffens. “That’s…”

            “Look,” Isabelle says, motioning with her hands. “If someone you look up to, who holds the life of your siblings in your hands, wants you to do something, you’re going to do it. End of story.”

            “That’s not an answer,” Jocelyn says, her lips pursed. She fidgets with her ring finger. “I would like one.”

            “We tried grave digging,” Alec says. “It was… I’d hoped… But the body was too old. I couldn’t connect anything to it. So… there was a potential student. Valentine said jump and I jumped.”

            “You were compulsed?” Magnus clarifies.

            “He didn’t need to. He said I could do it of my free will and my siblings would be safe or I could do it under his control and they wouldn’t be.” Alec says. “I’m not sure if I could be charged with murder in the eyes of the court or not.”

            There are a few beats of silence. Magnus leans back in his chair, his hand covering his mouth. His eyebrows are furrowed, and Alec doesn’t take that to be a good sign. He hopes he doesn’t lose his relationship with Magnus, or with the Fray School.

            “So, you’re a murderer,” Jocelyn says. “I want you out of my school.”

            “I… I understand,” Alec says. “Will you still allow Isabelle to stay?”

            “Like Hell I’m letting you leave without me,” Isabelle says, jerking from her chair. “You can’t just kick my brother out because he was pressured into doing something he never really had a choice about in the first place!”

            “It doesn’t change the fact that he killed someone,” Jocelyn says, her jaw set. “I don’t want killers running around my school.”

            “Says the woman who ordered an assassination on her own son,” Isabelle mutters, crossing her arms and slumping back in her seat.

            Alec hangs his head. This is why he didn’t tell them. Isabelle will defend him, but she’s the only one. She’s always been the only one, no matter how much of a pain she can be at times.

            “Wait,” Magnus says. “The guards shot Jonathan, and he didn’t die. Hardly flinched. What’s that all about?”

            “Hah,” Alec chuckles, but it’s more a sound of desperation. “That was an accident. I bound his life to that body. The only way for it to let go, for him to die, is if I break the connection. He can only be killed by people with an unusual bond with death.”

            “Are you saying that you’re the only one who can kill him?” Luke asks.

            “I’m saying I’m the only one who might succeed,” Alec corrects.

            “I still don’t want you here,” Jocelyn says. “You’re an adult, and not my responsibility.”

            “Then I could go to Morning Star,” Alec says. He wonders if there’s a shot at redemption. “And finish what I started.”

Chapter Text

            They pick him up at a bus stop on the I-84. Dark masks and stances set to fight. Alec recognizes Jace and the teleporter, alone but ready to steal him away. He swings his bag over his shoulder and lifts his hands toward the sky.

            “It took you long enough,” he says, and his smile is all teeth.

            He spent long enough running away that it’s time to pivot and face the consequences head on. He’s played by enough rulebooks to know exactly where this will lead him.

OOOO

            “You want to re-enroll?” Valentine asks, his cold eyes focused. A manila folder sits under his hand as he leaned over his desk. “I thought you were happily living with my ex wife.”

            “It turns out she doesn’t like necromancers,” Alec says. “I was kicked out after bringing someone back. I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

            Valentine cocks his head. “And you’re not lying to me?”

            Alec feels a distinct desire to tell Valentine nothing but the truth come over him. Valentine’s ability sometimes has a syrupy quality, but he isn’t trying to be subtle. The brute force he’s using to get Alec to comply with his wishes is as compelling as one of Isabelle’s illusions, if not more so.

            Alec shakes his head. “No.”

            Valentine leans forward in his chair, his expression curious. “And where’s Isabelle? The two of you are impossible to separate.”’

            Alec hesitates. Valentine’s manipulation is strong, a pulse in his bones. He takes a breath. “I told her about Sebastian.”

            “Sebastian?” Valentine asks, like he doesn’t know. It occurs to Alec that maybe he doesn’t. Maybe Valentine forgot the name of the boy they murdered to bring Jonathan back to life. Maybe murder isn’t as significant to Valentine as it is to Alec. Alec hadn’t considered that Valentine could see such a life-changing event as trivial. He should have.

            “The guy I put Jonathan’s conscience into,” Alec explains.

            “Ah,” Valentine nods. “That. Isabelle has no reason to be upset, especially not with the end result.” Alec wonders if Valentine knows how many things are wrong with that disposition. “Speaking of my son, I heard you tried to kill him only a few days ago.”

            Alec sighs. “I tried to stop him. I know he thinks killing a bunch of people will help our cause, but I think it will only decrease sympathy for our cause. Not only is it illegal, but people will think we’re monsters if we act like it. I don’t think violence is the answer.”

            “You’ve always been funny that way,” Valentine observes. “And you tried to kill him before you left for Jocelyn in the first place.”

            Alec rolls his eyes, but it’s all for show. He’s got his best Jace-face on. “You say that like trying to kill him is any different than knocking him out to me. Killing someone isn’t that important when you can just bring him back.”

“Very well,” Valentine says. He sits back in his chair and claps his hands together. “I will accept you back into the school. However, there will be some conditions.”

            “I want to make one of my own first,” Alec says quickly. “I know you…cremate, those who die here, so there are no police. Like when Sylvia got stabbed on a mission and died in the infirmary.”

            “Oh, of course,” Valentine says. “We can get Maxwell cremated. It won’t be a problem.”

            Alec nods, his heart heavy. “Then name your terms.”

            “Very well,” Valentine says. “But I need continued proof of your loyalty to the Alliance. I want you on missions, and I want you to help get information out of people. I know you can suspend death if you try, and I intend to use that skill.”

OOOO

            Alec leans against the wall outside Valentine’s office. His heart is beating fast, but he’s trying to hide the evidence of it with a stony face. It doesn’t really matter how well he’s doing, because the carpeted hallway is empty.

Closing his eyes, Alec takes a deep breath. He can’t believe he’s doing this. Just a week ago, he’d been wrapped up in Magnus’s arms at the Fray School. He could see Isabelle whenever he wanted, and he knew Jonathan couldn’t touch him. Now, he’s back at Morning Star, which is a graveyard of his own making, filled with memories and terrors.

            He’ll have to go with on missions that might end in murder. He’ll have to hold onto someone’s conscience while their body dies, never letting go. He’ll have to glue someone to the world while their body begs to leave. He doesn’t think he’s ready, but he won’t have a choice. He knows how this goes.

            He’d been kicked out of the Fray academy with a bag of his things and an envelope of Luke’s fingernails in his pocket. They’ve proved useful in limiting Valentine’s influence, but they wont last forever. He’s got to get situated and keep away from Valentine’s influence as much as possible. No one can suspect a thing.

            “What are you doing here?”

            Alec jerks and opens his eyes. In front of him is his greatest mistake, looking at him with surprise. If Alec looks close, he can see the cold edge of calculation in Jonathan’s eyes. Jonathan doesn’t trust him to have pure motives.

            “I got kicked out,” Alec says. “Because of you.”

            Jonathan shrugs. “You belong here.”

            Alec bristles. “I would have liked to stay friends with my sister.”

            Jonathan pauses. “I wasn’t under the impression that Isabelle could stay mad at you for long.”

            “Apparently murder will change a girl’s mind,” Alec says bitterly. “And after Max… I think she blames me.”

            “And who do you blame?” Jonathan asks, his dark eyes intense.

            “I started it all,” Alec says. He feels his stomach turn. “I think she might have been right.”

            “You certainly could have done things differently,” Jonathan’s eyes soften, and he reaches up to cup Alec’s cheek in his hand. “But it’s not all your fault. I’ve been thinking since I last saw you. I wanted to apologize. I was rash.”

            Alec leans into Jonathan’s touch. He remembers that Jonathan doesn’t know about Magnus and him. In his head, he chants, it’s all a part of the plan, it’s all a part of the plan. “I just need some time to figure it all out.”

            Jonathan nods. “I understand. Let me know if I can do anything. I know you’ve got Jace, but it you ever need someone…”

            Alec nods and lets Jonathan’s hand fall from his cheek. “Thank you.”

            “Do you want me to walk you to your room?” Jonathan asks. His eyes are bright, a part of him Alec had forgotten. Alec’s reminded of all the things he fell in love with about Jonathan. Even in their fight at the Gala, it was Alec who was trying to do the hurting. Jonathan had been out of his mind, but he hadn’t really hurt Alec except for some bruising when trying to restrain him. It’s strangely awful, to be someone’s exception.

            Alec shakes his head and reminds himself that a sliver of good can’t blot out all the murders and lying that Jonathan is guilty of. Alec saw Jonathan kill a dozen people because they got in his way at the Gala, and he’d been there with deadly intentions to begin with. Not to mention the gaping hole in Alec’s family unit.

            “No, that’s all right,” Alec says. “I want to be alone for a little bit.”

            Jonathan gives him a sweet smile. The hard backbone of his gaze is gone, but their relationship is changed and they both know it. Alec isn’t sure if Jonathan knows that Alec might try to kill him at any time, but the greater distance between them and the desire to get back into Alec’s good books suggests it. It’s too bad he needs Valentine and Jonathan to be overthrown at the same time, or Alec would just kill Jonathan in the hallway. Get it over with.

            “You know where I’ll be,” Jonathan says.

            Alec smiles, and tries not to let it show how sad that fact makes him. “I always do.”

OOOO

            Valentine had told him where his room was, but it wasn’t necessary. Alec had been visiting Jace’s room since they were children, filling out homework sheets on the spare bed while Jace complained about something trivial. Usually a girl, which Alec could only relate to minimally. He’d been romantically involved Jonathan and never the string of partners that Jace seemed to prefer.

            When he gets to the room, late in the afternoon it isn’t empty. Jace sits at his desk, his back to the door as he lounges with one of his Victorian novels. The room is as impeccably made as it always is, not a pencil out of place. The room’s atmosphere might be unwelcoming if Alec hadn’t grown up in the hurricane of cleanliness and order.

            “What, no ‘honey, I’m home’?” Jace says as Alec sets his bag on his bed.

            “Honey, I’m home,” Alec says quietly. He knows Jace is probably mad at him. He had abandoned him, after all, at the school and on the highway as he ran away.

            Jace continues reading, though from the stiffness of his back Alec can tell he’d largely lost interest in the book. Alec silently unpacks his few belongings in the meantime, waiting. Jace can’t resist his own voice, nor his own righteousness.

            Sure enough, three minutes with no page turns pass and Jace puts down his book. He doesn’t turn around, but Alec knows his attention is on him. The temperature in the room climbs, a reaction to the pyrokinetic’s intensifying emotions.

            “Where were you?” Jace asks, a shake in his voice. “You and Izzy and Max just disappear one day—do you have any idea how dangerous the outside world is for people like us?”

            “Jace, I—“ Alec starts to explain, but Jace cuts him off.

            “Jonathan wouldn’t even say anything, but I know he knew something. I though something terrible had happened. You—we were solid. And then you were gone. I tried to bring you back but you wouldn’t.”

            You left me, rings somewhere in Alec’s head.

            “You’re a fucking asshole, you know?” Jace says. “Everyone always thought you were the nice one but you seem to excel at disappointing the people around you.”

            Alec tries to ignore the lance in his chest from Jace’s words. They are only confirmations of what he already knows. He’d done a terrible job at nearly everything. He’d made a bloodthirsty zombie and fell in love with him, accidentally encouraged a bloodthirsty pro-mutant campaign, left all of his friends to stew in the horribly violent beliefs of said zombie and his megalomaniac father. It’s a mess.

            “I’m sorry I hurt you,” Alec says. “It wasn’t my intention.”

            “But you’re not sorry for doing it.” Jace states, as though it’s a fact.

            Alec’s quiet for a few seconds. He’d known Jace since they were kids. He can trust him, at least a little bit. “I don’t think I am. I was confused, and maybe it was crap of me, but it was the best thing at the time. I just took Iz and left.”

            “And you didn’t think I’d want to come?” Jace asks. “You didn’t think I’d help you? I’m your best friend.”

            “I don’t know what I thought, Jace,” Alec sighs. He lays back on his new bed. “You have your mother and I was scared. I knew I needed to get out.”

            “What happened?” Jace asks, finally turning to look at Alec. His blond hair falls in his eyes, which are all anger flecked with uncertainty.

            “We’ve been killing people,” Alec explains. “Jon… Jonathan was leading other kids on hunts to kill guards, to take out politicians. I just—“

            “We’re what?” Jace exclaims, his anger replaced with horror.

            “You’ll probably be assigned on a mission like that soon. Maybe not, because Céline is your mom, but… I got the news, and everything fell into place. Valentine had been manipulating me into not asking any questions, but I knew what I had to do.”

            Jace is silent. Alec closes his eyes and rests his arm over them. “I tried to kill him. I failed. He killed Max.”

            “I haven’t had to cremate anyone,” Jace protests weakly. He doesn’t really believe Alec is lying, though. Alec’s good at keeping secrets but not good at lying.

            “You’re going to have to,” Alec says quietly. “Valentine promised me his ashes.”

            “How is Valentine even letting you tell me all this?” Jace asked.

            “I found a loophole,” Alec shrugs. He doesn’t trust Jace enough to tell him about the fingernail clippings and their neutralizing effects. If word gets out, it’s very likely he’d get to experience death first hand.

            “That sucks,” Jace says. “Do you… Do you think my mom knows?”

            “I don’t know, Jace. I’m sorry.”

            “You don’t have to apologize for things that aren’t your fault. That’s stupid.”

            “It’s called empathy,” Alec says. “Besides, I have a lot of missing apologies to make up for.

            “Oh, you’ll make up for them in sparring practice tomorrow.”

            Jace holds him to that.

OOOO

            In the following week, Alec learns a few things.

            The first thing that Alec learns is that in his absence, rude rumors have spread. They often paint Jonathan as a heartbroken hero, searching for a scathing and undeserving Alec. The rumors don’t ceased with Alec’s returns to the Academy, much to his chagrin. They seem only to grow, even as Alec and Jonathan spend more time around each other, they kept each other at arm’s length. Alec can’t help it, Jonathan can read the tense in his jaw. He won’t push, especially since Alec bit him at the Gala.

            Alec has no idea how he’s going to get Valentine and Jonathan alone together in the same room long enough to be neutralized, especially when half the school seems to think that Alec and Jonathan are in the middle of a tiff. It’s becoming a problem for Alec, who wants to get this over with, that Jonathan is reluctant to be alone with him and Valentine is easily ignoring Alec’s presence for the time being.

            The second thing that Alec learns is just how caught up in Valentine’s web the entire school is. He was once one of them, but it’s still frightening to see. Céline had a different reason for Alec’s absence than Hodge, both with holes in their memories that Alec could find with ease. Céline’s eyes had gone blank for a moment when he asked after Max, and Alec didn’t doubt that she’d been tasked with moving the body and cleaning up the blood. No one seems to be looking for discrepancies, or seems to know anything about Max, not even Drusilla.

            The last thing Alec learns is something he already knew—that Jace can hold onto a grudge like a lifeline. Sure, they’re officially more or less ‘made up’, but more often than not Jace’s words have been venomous. His punches as they spar are meant to bruise. Jace feels bad about Max, and that distorts his hurt, but he still blames Alec for leaving him. Jace had always thought of himself as a part of Alec’s family, but in his panic, Alec had packed up Isabelle and left. They’d left someone behind, and Alec hadn’t even given it a second thought.

            Alec and Jace have been friends for six years, so it made sense that Jace is pissed at him. And he is, though his anger seems to deflate at the end of Alec’ first week at the school.

            Alec gets back to the room later than usual. He’d been messaging with Aline, whose vocal ability included a very specific projection on her end and a cell phone on Alec’s. Half a conversation was far less incriminating than a full one, and the volunteer-run mission he’s operating needs as much help staying discreet as he can get. Alec’s never been a beacon of subtlety.

            When he gets back to his shared room, Jace is face down on his bed. His body is limp, though not asleep, on top of the covers. On Alec’s bedside table sits a silver urn.

            “It was him,” Jace says as Alec’s fingers touch the lid. “I didn’t really believe you. I didn’t want to. But…” he turns over on his bed. “He was so small, Alec. And that knife… It was the one I gave you. They had it in a plastic bag next to his body.”

            “It’s not your fault,” Alec says, because Jace needs to hear it. Isabelle will never say it to Alec, because he doesn’t deserve it, but Jace does. “Jonathan took the blade off of me.”

            Jace doesn’t have to speak for Alec to know his brain is churning with rebuttals. It’s written all over his posture and his personality. Jace will be Jace, hero complex and all.

            “You know,” Alec says cautiously. “You could help me do something about it.”

OOOO

            A week after recruiting Jace, Alec gets his opportunity. He’s being sent on a mission with Jonathan and some others, and Alec knows Jonathan will be in his room preparing. He stops by his room and grabs a pocket knife (vaguely reminiscent of his last attempt) and tosses Jace his phone.

            “You know what to do,” Alec says. Jace nods, looking a little caught off guard. “Valentine’s in his office alone.”

            “Now?”

            “Better now than when there’s blood all over my hands,” Alec says and leaves the room. He jogs towards Jonathan’s room, passing other students on his way. They whisper about him as he passes but no one seems to question where he’s going. They already know, though for different reasons than they assume.

            Alec straightens his shoulder outside of Jonathan’s door. He takes a deep breath and knocks. A couple of seconds later, the door opens to an irate Jonathan. His expression softens when he sees Alec.

            “What’s up?”

            “Hey,” Alec says, strategically looking down the hall. “I just wanted to talk. Before our mission. I don’t want to leave anything unsaid if something happens.”

            “Come in,” Jonathan says hesitantly, and Alec steps into the room. A barrage of memories assault him—the good ones tainted by the one of Jonathan trying to drain the air from his lungs. Alec wonders if Jonathan’s reliving those memories, too.

            “What we’re doing today—“ Alec starts.

            “It won’t be that dangerous,” Jonathan says. “And you know as well as I do that I won’t die easy. So what’s this about?”

            There’s an undeniable shrewdness in his tone. He’s trying to give Alec space while being fairly guarded. It makes sense. Alec did try and kill him only a few weeks ago.

            “You’ll die if I do,” Alec says, though he wasn’t sure of the fact until he said it. “I don’t know why Valentine lets me on these missions.”

            “We lose less people when you’re there. You can stabilize the dying,” Jonathan shrugs. They’re less than a foot apart. “Besides, I’m pretty sure you’re as hard to kill as I am.”

            Alec frowns. While he tucks away this information—Jonathan thinks he can’t be killed—Jonathan takes a step closer. They’re only inches apart, close enough that Alec can feel Jonathan’s breath on his face.

            “That isn’t what you really came here for, is it?” Jonathan asks. He puts his palm on Alec’s face.

            Alec leans into Jonathan’s palm. It’s smaller than Magnus’s, and his hands are a lot warmer. It feels a little like coming home. Coming home after your house sprang teeth and started eating the neighbors.

            “I missed you,” Alec says truthfully. Jonathan has been a part of his life for a long time. They were together for a long time. They sort of still are, and will be until one of them is dead. Until death do us part in an entirely different way.

            “And I you,” Jonathan says. He leans forward and brushes his lips against Alec’s. Alec lets him, kissing back. This is their goodbye. The end of the line.

            Alec opens his mouth to Jonathan’s tongue. They kiss like that, slowly, for a long moment. Then Alec’s tongue flicks the tender roof of Jonathan’s mouth, and the kiss becomes something fierce. In the haze of the intense kissing, Jonathan doesn’t notice Alec’s switchblade until it’s buried in his ribs.

            Jonathan shoves Alec away, wet red covering the both of them. His face looks bitter and hurt, but not surprised. He doesn’t look like he’s in pain. Alec grips his knife, his fingers slippery with blood.

            “I thought Dad forbade you from attacking me,” Jonathan says, lunging at Alec.

            Alec steps to out of Jonathan’s way and slices down with his knife. He manages to knick Jonathan’s arm, but Jonathan doesn’t slow down. He uses the wall to change is trajectory, pushing off of it and charging directly at Alec.

            Alec drops low, then uses Jonathan’s momentum to flip him onto the floor. Jonathan is a fraction slower when injured so gravely, but he still scrambles up quickly and lunges for Alec.

            The bedframe creaks as Alec’s body smashes into it, the air temporarily leaving his lungs. There’s blood in his mouth from his teeth biting through his lip. Jonathan is on top of him, pinning him in a sitting position against the bed, and Alec doesn’t have his knife anymore.

            Jonathan leans over Alec, the knife in his hand. He looks heartbroken, not angry, and Alec has to fight to keep his resolve from failing. Even monsters have skin and feelings and faces. Alec himself has justified the murder he committed on Sebastian, and still thinks of himself as a relatively functioning person. Jonathan is much the same, but not at all.

            It’s the scale that makes it not the same. It’s the lack of remorse, it’s Jonathan not exactly understanding why Alec’s mad. Cause and effect, Jonathan gets, but not the moral turmoil of having killed someone. Not the impact that losing a brother can really have on someone. He apologized to Alec for crossing a line, not for killing Max. Alec has to end this.

            “Why are you doing this to me?” Jonathan asks softly. The knife is pressed against Alec’s neck, a cool reprieve from the warm body pressed against him and the warm blood all over his hands. “I love you.”

            There are tears in Alec’s eyes, but he’s not sure Jonathan deserves them. “I love you too.”

            “What went wrong?” Jonathan asks, and his eyes are filled with hurt hurt hurt.

            “You killed my brother,” Alec says simply.

            “Before that.”

            There’s a before and after Max that Alec uses as a dividing line in his mind, more so than the before and after he became a murderer. Alec sometimes feels like he can’t draw any conclusions about who he was when Max was alive. He doesn’t remember how his train of thought functioned, exactly, before Max was ripped away.

            “I destroyed you.”

            “Why?” Alec thinks there might be tears in Jonathan’s eyes, but it’s hard to tell. “Why do you think I’m so broken? There’s nothing wrong with me.”

            The blade presses into Alec’s throat enough to draw blood. Alec can feel it spilling down his neck, mixing in with Jonathan’s. Alec briefly wonders if he’s going to get out of this alive, if he can do this… He steels his resolve. He must do this.

            This isn’t about him. This is about Jonathan’s bloodlust, not about the man Alec had loved. It’s about righting wrongs, and it’s about Alec being to only person who stands a chance at killing this deranged man. It isn’t about Alec or his feelings. It’s about the bodies piling up.

            “You’re dead, Jonathan,” Alec says. The glint in his eyes must give him away, the shift in his vision, because suddenly it’s very hard to breathe. “That’s what’s wrong.”

            Alec feels his core of power grip at Jonathan’s bundle of threads. The bundle is both draining and energizing—filling him with power while overloading his brain with information. It’s hard for him to breath, Jonathan attempting to suck the air out of his lungs, but they’re at something of a standstill. Alec can’t move with the blade at his neck and Jonathan can’t move with Alec’s ability cutting his body off from his source of willpower.

            They stay in that position, locked in a standstill. Alec’s vision is blurred, and he’s constantly a moment from fainting of oxygen deprivation, but Jonathan’s power is as paralyzed as his body. Jonathan can’t finish it because Alec’s leeching at the life energy of Jonathan’s threads. Alec can’t take control of Jonathan’s threads because he can hardly focus on Jonathan’s face. He doesn’t really want to focus on Jonathan’s face.

            The lock they have on each other breaks suddenly as they both flinch. A scream pierces the air—and it’s not just a scream, but an assault on their ears. Sharp and piercing, agony grips Alec’s mind as the sound suddenly pops and fills only one ear. He can’t focus on anything else.

            The wailing stops and Jonathan’s arm flies out. His fist clenches, and Alec watches as Aline’s body turns purple with blood before falling to the floor. The thud she makes as she hits the ground spurs Alec’s vision to focus on the threads, hers a vibrant green quickly turning grey.

            Alec lunges for the threads stuck around Jonathan like a noose. There is no more room for error. Too many people have been lost to this creature he created.

            Alec can feel his world blurring, the blood vessels in his left eye popping, as he latches onto Jonathan’s strings. His fingers find the worn thread of Jonathan, buried beneath countless others, and he begins to unwind the knot. It’s a slow process, but Alec doesn’t know how to just cut off the threads. He doesn’t know what it’ll mean if he breaks them.

            It’s almost done when Magnus’s voice breaks his concentration. Their gazes quickly meet, and Alec nods minutely at Aline. Magnus starts pulling her body out of the room, and Alec’s focus returns to Jonathan just a second too late.

            Being stabbed through the ribs isn’t particularly appealing. Alec’s breaths turns to wheezes and he has to fight to see anything but blurry shapes. I’m going to die doing this, Alec thinks. But I will do it.

            Alec shucks the last of the threads off of Jonathan’s. Jonathan, still on top of him, is breathing just as heavily as Alec. It’s just Jonathan and Alec. For the first time in what seems like forever, it’s just them. There isn’t the weight of strangers’ minds and wills bearing down on Jonathan.

            Jonathan’s eyes shut. His voice is hoarse when he speaks, and his face is almost serene. “I’m ready.”

            When Alec pulls on the final thread, his entire body feels like it’s made of ice. His core is a wasteland of tundra and death.

            The thread pulls tighter around Jonathan’s neck, and it should be choking him. It paralyzes him instead, and through his haze, Alec sees forgiveness in Jonathan’s eyes. Jonathan’s trying to make it easier for him, which isn’t what Alec expected. He’s thankful.

            With a final tug, the thread snaps around Jonathan’s neck. It disintegrates, a worn and grey slate of personality and memory fading out of existence. The body, first Sebastian’s and then Jonathan’s, collapses onto Alec. The knife digs deeper into his ribs, and Alec feels it’s digging into something important.

            Alec sees a face fraught with fear in front of his own. Magnus is speaking, but the sound is distorted. Only one of Alec’s ears is functioning, and Alec remembers that Aline is dead.

            Alec tries to reach out his hand, tries to help, but before he can so much as twitch a finger, his entire world turns black. He’s gone.

OOOO

            Magnus leans over the grave dirt, laying a flower in the soil. He can’t think of any particular words to say, but there is an ache in his chest that speaks volumes. He let this happen, chasing after Valentine when he should have helped take out Jonathan, the bigger threat. Valentine hadn’t killed anyone when they’d come for him.

            Isabelle’s eyes meet his across the throng of gathered students. Her dark coat clings to her frame as she tucks her self closer to Simon. She gives Magnus a sad smile, which Magnus returns. Today is a day of mourning for them, for the whole school. They lost a student, a child, and a friend. Helen lost a lover.

            Magnus wades through the dispersing crowd. It’s not difficult to spot who he’s looking for, all six feet and three inches of him.

            Alexander stands at the gates of the cemetery, his jacket buttoned tight and blowing with the breeze. His hair is a mess of dark curls, and he leans heavily on his grey crutch. He’s wrapped in bandages, but that’s alright. It’s a miracle that he’s alive at all.

            Despite being stabbed in the chest and asphyxiated by Jonathan, Alec is still standing. Aline’s desperate attempt to stop Jonathan from killing Alec left him without the use of his left ear, and it’s the only damage that will be permanent. Catarina had given Alec a bright prognosis despite the terrible injuries, and he’s healing fast. It’s almost alarming.

            Hey, Magnus signs, and Alec grins at him as he walks towards the cemetery’s exit. Alec lifts his hand to his forehead and pushes it outward in return. They don’t know much more in sign language, but they’re learning. Alec’s going to need it, especially if something happens to his other ear.

            “You should have said something at the ceremony,” Magnus says, standing on Alec’s good side and facing the gravesites. “You were a good friend to her.”

            “Aline deserved better,” Alec says quietly. There’s an intense look in his eyes, one that Magnus doesn’t want to argue with.

            “Unless you can bring her back, a nice funeral is the best she’s going to get,” Magnus says, and it’s a bit of a dig. He’s still upset with Alec for the lying, and he knows they’ll get through it, but until then he has a license to be bitter.

            “You know I can’t,” Alec says, shrinking a little. It’s funny how someone so large can sometimes seem to take up so little space.

            Magnus sighs. “Another Jonathan and all that.”

            Alec’s silent for a moment. “I’m sorry, Magnus.”

            With another sigh, Magnus grabs Alec’s hand. “I know, sweetheart. It’s… well, it’s not alright, but it’s… a thing that happens. People die. Aline volunteered to go on that mission to eliminate Valentine and Jonathan. It’s not your fault, and I don’t blame you. For lying to me, either, now that I know why.”

            “It was never about you,” Alec says. “I was surprised to like you so much.”

            “It’s good to know I’m not just a rebound,” Magnus half-jokes.

            Alec turns to look Magnus square in the eyes. He lifts his hand, cringing as it pulls at his ribs, to Magnus’s face. “You’re not a rebound,” Alec says, and his voice is clearer and more sure than Magnus has ever heard it. “In fact, I think I might be falling a little in love with you.”

            “Only a little?” Magnus grins, stepping closer to his boyfriend. “I have it on good authority that I’m extremely lovable.”

            “The mirror doesn’t count,” Alec chuckles, then grips his ribs and groans in pain. “Not a good idea.”

            “I promise I’ll be gentle,” Magnus say. Alec looks at him through his eyelashes, and Magnus can’t take it anymore. He tucks his hand behind Alec’s neck and pulls his boyfriend into a kiss. It’s soft and reassuring and their lips are both pulled into small smiles.

            It’s a horrible day, after a series of events that’ll reverberate through Alec’s and the mutant population’s world, but they can do this. They can learn how to stand with the loss pressing down on them. Magnus can reassure Alec that it’s not his fault until he believes it, and Alec can make sure he’s honest with Magnus. They’ve got a past to bury with their friends and a fortress to build with each other.

            “Geez, get a room you two.”

            Alec pulls back from the kiss first, and there’s a blush across his face. Magnus is sorry to let him go, but alas, siblings. The ruiners of everything.

            “Simon and I are going back to the school,” Isabelle says, and sure enough, she’s tugging Simon along. The boy smiles at them rather awkwardly. “I was wondering if you’d like to come with. Clary’ll be joining us once Jocelyn lets her go.”

            Alec smiles and glances at Magnus. He nudges his head in Isabelle’s direction, and Magnus grins.

            “You looking to get beat at Monopoly?” Magnus says, and they head out of the cemetery.

            “Please,” Isabelle says. “I’ve never lost a game.”

            They do their best to not look back.

 

            The End.

Chapter Text

Character Portraits:

Alec

Alec photo Alec Satellite.jpeg

Helen

Helen 2 photo Helen Satellite.jpeg

Isabelle

Isabelle photo Isabelle.jpeg

Jonathan (as seen in ch. 4)

Jonathan photo Jonathan Satellite.jpeg

Jonathan when he and Alec first "met":

Jonathan 2 photo Jonathan 2 Satallite.jpg

Helen letting everyone at Fray know Alec (allegedly) has a boyfriend:

Helen  photo Helen 2 Satellite.jpeg

Alec, Aline and Helen playing Scrabble:

Scrabble photo Scrabble Satellite.jpeg

and (my painting program changed terms so i didn't get to finish)

Scrabble Digital Start photo Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 12.04.58 PM.png

Aline in Chapter 6:

Aline photo Aline Satellite.jpeg

And I hope you all had as good of a time as I did!