Alec is sprawled on his bed, legs splayed carelessly, running his fingers over old-fashioned, elegant script inked onto soft paper when he hears the commotion occurring downstairs.
It's been more than a week since it appeared on his desk, with Magnus Bane's words on it, thanking him, teasing him, telling him to be proud, and in writing, at that. He doesn't know what to make of it now any more than he had at the time.
And the name, at the bottom. Magnus. He's only ever called the warlock that once, on the whim of a man whose blood had been saturated with adrenaline, and he's never dared think of him as such.
Magnus. Magnus. Magnus.
It's as though he believes thinking the name over enough times in his head, staring at it for enough minutes, murmuring it under his breath enough, will make it seem less...
What, exactly? Informal? Friendly? Intimate?
And the rune. What in Raziel's name does Bane's - Magnus'? - cryptic comment about the rune mean? Is it a tracking rune? Some kind of demonic rune? What exactly will it do?
But with the amount of noise seeping up from below increasing by the second, Alec knows that now is not time he's being granted to ponder the mystery. Not that any amount of pondering over the last twelve days has helped: merely frustrated him more.
He slips the note away, stashing it in his wardrobe between two folded sweaters that he knows nobody is ever going to touch. Except perhaps Isabelle, if she decides she needs to dress him, but...well. If anyone at the Institute has to find that note, Isabelle would be his preferred choice.
Downstairs, there seems to be a mixed feeling of elation and disapproval, and it takes mere moments for Alec to realise why. Jace, Maryse, and the other Shadowhunters she took to Alicante with her (leaving Alec to run the Institute in her absence) have returned, and, with them, Clary Fray.
Despite her vertical challenges, it's not particularly difficult to spot her, with hair that red and a presence that obnoxiously large. That, and the fact that Alec's parabatai is glowing, with that revolting, soft look on his face that he only gets around his girlfriend, whom Alec is fairly sure he hasn't seen for several months, until now.
Truly. It's revolting. Alec is sincerely relieved that his fifteen year old self, who found himself a little bit in love with his parabatai, never had to witness this. He'd have had a mental breakdown.
Isabelle is hugging Clary tightly, and Clary gasping, telling her that she can't breathe. Alec smiles to himself at the scene. While he'd been apathetic towards Clary at best, upon her arrival (and, really, he never quite reached that—it had been a steady feeling of mutual dislike) he's grown to care for her, he supposes, in the way one might grow to care for a relative's annoying, troublesome, but unswervingly loyal and frustratingly loveable dog.
(And, Alec is quite sure, Clary would have his head if she heard him comparing her to a dog, even in the privacy of his own mind. Or, rather, she'd try. If she could reach.)
Jace spots him across the room, and the dopey, lovesick smile that he only ever gives to Clary transforms into a lopsided grin, which he reserves for his parabatai.
"Hey," Alec says, accepting his hug with warm arms. Twelve days has felt like a long time to spend without the other half of his soul, and, by the way Jace holds onto the hug a little bit longer than usual, and melts into Alec a little more than he would normally, Alec has an inkling that Jace felt the discomfort of their separation just as keenly.
"I missed kicking your ass," Alec tells him, when they pull back.
"Ditto." Jace smirks at him. "Still got those bruises?"
Alec rolls his eyes. "Shut up."
When they turn around, they find Clary squinting at them with one eye, arms folded across her chest. She raises an eyebrow when Alec makes a What? expression at her.
"And you wonder why I thought you two were an item," she says. "Your bromance is overwhelming."
"Those were words, yes," Jace says. "I'm not sure I understood them. Would you like a dictionary, so you can pick out some more?"
"I'm not sure bromance is a word," Alec says.
Jace shrugs, and nods his agreement. Clary shakes her head in clear despair, and mutters something under her breath about Shadowhunters having no culture.
"Yes, hello, Alec, how are you?"
Alec quirks an eyebrow. "Not dead?"
She snorts. "Cheery. At least you people understand the meaning of sarcasm. I don't think the dictionaries in Idris contain the word sarcasm. Honestly, they're all so damn boring. It's been torture."
"It's been torture because your tutors are boring?" Jace pouts at her, and Alec reigns in the urge to smack him for being so ridiculous. Clary looks similarly inclined. "I think I should be offended."
She turns to look at Izzy and Alec; Isabelle grins, and Alec decides that there's no reason not to smack his parabatai when his girlfriend looks like she wants to, too, so he brings his hand across the back of Jace's head, lightly.
"Hey!" Jace turns his pathetic expression on Alec. "What was that for?"
"Being stupid," Alec tells him. "Max is more mature than you are."
"I think I'm going back to Idris."
"That can be arranged," says the cool voice of Maryse behind them.
Alec turns, tensing himself for a fight, but what he sees makes him blink. She looks tired - exhausted - eyes bloodshot and dark circles under her eyes clear despite a full face of make-up. Her shoulders are pulled in a little, and she looks...sad.
"Clarissa, you're aware of your return to Idris in three months for your final exams?" she asks.
"Yes." Clary glances over at Jace. "And I'm to train here until then, right? And go on a couple of patrols?"
"At Alec's discretion, and with the suitable accomplices, yes."
Alec frowns at that. "At my discretion? Does that mean you're going back to Idris?"
"I am." Maryse closes her eyes for a moment, and there's something broken in her expression when she meets his eyes again. "With Max, and your father. So you will be in charge of the Institute again. I trust there were no problems in our absence?"
"No, although no leads on Warlock Bane, either." It's true, but Alec wouldn't have told her if there had been. He's trying to divert the attention of the New York Shadowhunters onto more important matters.
"Good." She inhales deeply, and lifts her head a little, blinking rapidly. "Well, then, if that's all, I have some things to go through, and I will be departing for Idris tomorrow morning."
Alec watches the defensive lines of her body, and says, "Just you? Nobody is coming with you?"
"No. This time it's unnecessary. I'll be in my office if you need anything."
She sweeps out, chin up, back ramrod straight, heels clicking obnoxiously just as always. But it's...it seems so unnatural. Something about her whole demeanour seems distinctly off, and Alec can't begin to imagine why.
"Did something happen?" he asks Jace. "In Idris?"
Jace shrugs. "I don't know. The Council wasn't being very helpful, for a while. They spent a long time spitting about gross neglect of duties, but she shut that up eventually. She's probably tired."
Alec hums under his breath. "Doesn't she seem a little bit off to you?"
"Yeah," Jace admits. "But I don't know, man. I didn't hear about anything. Max said she's been fighting with Dad."
"Oh. Do you know what about?"
"No idea." Jace bumps his shoulder, lightly. "C'mon, Alec, you worry about things too much. If something's really wrong, we'll find out about it. Relax a bit."
And Jace turns back to his girlfriend, slinging an arm around her shoulders and pressing a kiss to her cheek, while Alec stares after his mother, and ponders what in the world could have occurred to make such a fearless, brusque, stone-hearted woman look so broken.
If there's one Downworlder in the world that Alec has always respected, it's Maia Roberts.
The leader of the New York wolf pack, whoever he is, keeps himself to himself, and, for reasons the New York wolves refuse to disclose to the Institute, hasn't been to negotiations in all the time he's been their alpha.
Instead, every time, he sends Maia Roberts to speak for him.
Which, Alec supposes, is how she and Clary became such bizarrely close friends. It's unusual, such open friendship between a Shadowhunter and a Downworlder, but Clary is hardly a normal Shadowhunter, having been raised in the mundane world, and Maia...
Well. Alec doesn't really know what made Maia give Valentine's daughter a chance. But something did, or they wouldn't be standing in the Institute hallway, laughing about something.
(He suspects it might have been Isabelle. Isabelle and Maia had been some sort of thing, for a while, when Clary had first arrived at the Institute.)
Maia's eyes flicker up when she sees Alec in the doorway, hesitating to walk in and interrupt the two young women. The grin on her face slips a little, becomes a little less friendly, and she jerks her head at Alec in a nod.
"Lightwood," she says, and Clary looks over her shoulder.
"Roberts," he says. "Clary, my mother wants to talk to you. She wants to run you over patrols before we let you out on one."
Clary rolls her eyes. "Because I haven't been briefed on how patrols work by my tutors for months. You people, honestly."
Alec shrugs. "If you got someone killed because you didn't know how we do things on missions, we'd be accused of gross misconduct."
Clary mutters something under her breath, and Maia snickers as Clary shoots Alec a sweet smile, and walks out, boots clopping noisily on the stone floors.
There's a long moment of silence, during which Alec shifts awkwardly, and Maia stares him down, chin tipped up. She's never been afraid of Shadowhunters, Alec knows. But she doesn't like them, or trust them.
Much like Magnus Bane.
"Clary invited me in," Maia says eventually, eyes flashing with defiance. "In case you were thinking of kicking me out. I'm not invading your over-primped church."
Alec chokes. "Over-primped..." He shakes his head, trying to fight down a snort of laughter. "I wasn't going to. I wouldn't dare kick out Clary's friend."
Maia's lips quirk. "You people need someone like Clary. She's good. I didn't always think so, when I first turned and realised my pack leader put some scrappy mundane before his own people, but I was wrong."
Alec opens his mouth to respond, and then stops, abruptly. Her pack leader put Clary before his pack? How on earth did Clary even know the leader of the New York wolves? Unless...
"Hold on." Alec lifts a hand. "Are you telling me that your pack leader is Clary's step father?"
Maia freezes, fear dancing in her eyes, and Alec knows he's right.
"Oh, god," she whispers, and closes her eyes. "I'm so stupid."
"Shut up," she snarls at him, and when she blinks, her eyes turn a luminescent green. Alec lifts his hands, palms forward, but it does little to placate her. "I haven't said a word to anyone for five years, and two minutes having a conversation with you—"
Alec barely hears her, mind whirring and thoughts flashing faster than he can keep up with as he tries to understand what this revelation means. Why would Clary have said that her step-father was a mundane when he's an alpha? To hide him from the Clave? But why would an alpha want to hide from the Clave?
"Maia," he says, slowly, as he remembers Magnus Bane mentioning Lucian in the context of the Downworld, once. "Do you mean to tell me that your alpha is Lucian Greymark?"
Maia closes her eyes, and she doesn't have to nod to confirm Alec's suspicion.
By the Angel, just how many wanted people are sheltering in New York? How can the New York Conclave have missed not only Warlock Bane, but also Lucian Greymark, both living right under their noses?
"He won't help you," Maia tells him, quietly. "You can knock down his door and threaten him all you like, but he won't help you. Valentine Morgenstern tried to kill him. Luke isn't trying to hide our pack from the Clave, he's hiding us from Valentine. He's not joining your war, and neither is our pack. So shove it, Shadowhunter, and forget all of this."
Alec's eyebrows shoot up. "If I tell the Clave, I'm fairly sure they'll know exactly how to make Lucian join us."
"It's Luke," Maia snaps, anger in every tense line of her body. "And good luck to them."
"Clary," Alec says, and shrugs. "They'll use Clary."
"You asshole," Maia breaths. "You fucking– You people are inhumane. You'd threaten Clary just to get to Luke? What the hell do you think he's going to give you, anyway?"
"Contrary to popular belief, I like Clary." He shakes his head. "I won't tell the Clave yet, Maia. They wanted Valentine's parabatai. But if Lucian- Luke," he corrects himself, "is a werewolf, he's not going to be the kind of ally they expected. Just let me talk to him."
Maia barks out a harsh laugh of disbelief. "So you can threaten Clary and force him into joining an institution he despises? In your dreams, Shadowhunter."
It's dark by the time Magnus finishes with a Seelie client who'd wanted his expertise to assist in the downfall of her sister's ex-boyfriend, who, she told him, had raped her sister and left her to die. It had all been exceptionally dramatic—but Magnus would never complain about finding a suitable punishment for such revolting people. He suspects the man in question this time will rather miss having functioning genitals. The Downworld council had all deemed it a suitable punishment.
He's not in a particularly good mood, after the whole ordeal. So when he steps through a portal to see the lanky form of a man curled up on his doorstep, he sighs, tension inching into his shoulders. He'd really rather hoped that he could finish work for they day, and spend a lazy evening curled up with the Chairman eating pizza.
He flicks his fingers to close the portal behind him, and squares his shoulders, tipping his chin up as he approaches his apartment block. As he does, the man comes into view, and Magnus realises, with a start, that it's a Shadowhunter—it's Alexander Lightwood.
"Well," Magnus says, a teasing smirk tilting one corner of his mouth up even as, internally, he wonders at what on earth can have brought the Nephilim to his doorstep yet again. "This is unexpected."
The Shadowhunter looks up. His eyes widen when he sees Magnus, and he scrambles up so fast he stumbles slightly, and has to catch himself against the wall. For one of the Nephilim, Magnus thinks, it's very uncoordinated. Is Alexander tired, or injured, or just so embarrassed he can't function properly?
And, rather than the vague disinterest he might once have found himself questioning that with, he realises that he actually cares about the answer.
"Sorry," Alexander says, and Magnus exercises heroic self-control to ensure he doesn't roll his eyes. "I- I didn't know who else to ask."
Magnus raises his eyebrows. "About what, exactly?"
"Maia, she said– I didn't mean to make her say it, I wasn't trying to lull her into a false sense of security or whatever, I just– And she said– I just want to talk to him, I don't–"
Magnus lifts a finger and hovers it in front of Alec's lips, cutting him off abruptly. Alec nearly goes cross-eyed as he stares at Magnus' fingertip, and Magnus has to quell the soft laughter bubbling inside him.
"Take a deep breath, little angel," he says, and, much to his amusement, Alexander does, in a most unsubtle fashion. "I think you'd better come in and tell me what's going on. How long have you been sitting out here?"
"An hour or two," Alec says, stepping aside so that Magnus can open the door.
"Well, no wonder you're shivering," Magnus replies, and shakes his head. "You Nephilim. Honestly."
Alec follows the warlock up the stairs, and hesitates on the threshold to Magnus' loft; Magnus encourages his wards to nudge Alec inside so he can close the door. Although he'd normally be opposed to manhandling people without their permission, it's only a minute movement, and it's really far too cold outside to allow any more night air in. Alec doesn't look too perturbed.
"Sit," Magnus says, pointing sharply to the living room as he starts discarding layers on his journey towards the kitchen. "And talk. And if you say anything stupid, I'm not letting Chairman Meow out to fawn all over you."
Alec shoots Magnus a nasty look, and Magnus grins at him. He's far too easy to tease.
"Do you know Maia Roberts?" Alec asks him, rubbing at the back of his neck, while Magnus drapes his jacket over the back of a chair in the kitchen and waves his fingers to summon two coffees from Starbucks.
"I do." Magnus dumps sugar into the latte, and leaves the black americano untouched. "Don't mess with her if you want to keep your bodily parts attached."
Alec lets out a tired little laugh. "Yeah. I know. She's our liaison with the New York wolf pack."
Magnus hums to let Alec know that he's listening. As the Shadowhunter continues speaking, explaining his conversation with Maia that morning, Magnus nods. He can already see where this is going. He passes Alec his coffee, and Alec pauses long enough to let out a surprised thanks, before Magnus gestures for him to go on.
"I just—" He makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat. "The Clave won't want anything to do with Luci– with Luke, if he's become a werewolf since he was Valentine's parabatai. But- But he must still know something, right? He still knew Valentine, and loved him. He must know something that can help us. And even if he doesn't, having an proper line of communication with the most powerful werewolf in the city is going to be useful. I want to talk to him. Not- not threaten him, or drag him to the Clave, I just want to talk."
Magnus appraises him over the rim of his cardboard cup where he's standing by his drinks cabinet, and raises an eyebrow. "You want to talk to Luke?"
"It's the logical thing to do," Alec says, and Magnus has to restrain himself from smacking his head against the wall.
"And you've decided that going against the Clave is going to be a bi-weekly thing for you, now, have you?"
Irritation flashes in Alec's eyes. "No, but this involves Clary, and if it involves Clary it's going to involve my parabatai. There's no telling what reaction the Clave will have if we locate Luke only to tell them he's no longer a Shadowhunter. And Clary knows him, but she told the Clave while under the soul sword that she had no idea who Lucian Greymark was, and I don't understand how she can possibly have done that. So I don't want—"
"Alright, alright." Magnus holds up a hand, because, admirable as Alec's loyalty to those he loves is, he doesn't particular want to hear another spiel about protecting his family. "And you came to me because I'm the only Downworlder you know, and you'd like me to be your mediator? Is that it?"
Alec grinds his teeth together, and he looks like he wants to snap something, but he merely says, "Yes." Magnus finds the whole thing rather endearing, and he despises himself for thinking it.
"Why not ask Clary?"
And Alec blinks, a slow, bewildered little blink, and he stares at Magnus for a good thirty seconds, during which Magnus can't help but wonder whether he's finally said something to break the Shadowhunter. Although why such a perfectly ordinary question is the one that's finally got him, he can't fathom.
"I...didn't think of that."
Magnus rolls his eyes. "Of course you didn't. You Shadowhunters live to make my life more difficult than it needs to be. But very well." He flicks his fingers, blue sparks trailing from the tips, and a portal whirls into existence in front of his fireplace. "I never work after midnight, darling, so you've got an hour."
Alec stands up, and turns to look at Magnus with a frown on his face as he approaches the portal. "Midnight? Really?"
"No." Magnus grins. "My work hours are entirely spontaneous. But midnight is your limit tonight. So hurry your pretty little ass up, Alexander."
A flush spreads up Alec's cheeks. He averts his gaze, and redirects his attention to the swirling portal Magnus is holding open.
"Come on," Magnus says, and grips his arm, just above his elbow, to take him through the portal to Luke Garroway.