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Fall Without Wings

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"Let me get this straight," Catarina says from the other end of the phone line. She sounds utterly incredulous. Getting her to that state is some feat, after so many decades of friendship. "You're whinging to me because you saved some prejudiced Shadowhunter's life, he then saved Raphael's life, which you think means he's becoming less prejudiced, and— What? You gave him your phone number and had a moment?"

Magnus groans from where he's lounging in bed on his silk sheets, naked save for a semi-sheer silk robe that he acquired on a trip to India that he barely remembers in the mid twentieth century, due to how drunk he'd been for its entirety. The Chairman is curled up on his pillow, asleep, and Magnus wishes he could be so deep in slumber on a Sunday morning. He's clearly been spending too much time with the Nephilim. Their ridiculous sleeping habits must have rubbed off on him. It's revolting.

"We didn't have a moment, Catarina, he's a Shadowhunter. And he's probably straight. Two things I don't do particularly well with. I really wish people would stop assuming I fancy him. It's an entirely irrational conclusion, and it's not true."

"Is he handsome?"

"Well, yes," Magnus admits, because he has eyes. Of course Alexander is handsome. He's very handsome. But, again: he's a Shadowhunter, and a probably-straight one at that. Although he supposes he shouldn't assume. "But that's beside the point—"

"Is it?" Catarina sounds unconvinced, which Magnus thinks is most unfair. "Then why are you calling me, exactly?"

"Because he's so— I don't know, Catarina. See, this is why I'm calling you. I don't know what to think about him. He is changing. And I don't know whether that's because I saved his life, or because of what he did in rescuing the Downworlders, or because for some reason he's suddenly being exposed to Downworlders in different ways, but—"

"Magnus, I heard you the first twenty times you had this rant," Catarina says firmly. It's her nurse-voice, and it never bodes well when she starts sounding like that. "I don't need to hear it again. I don't see what you want me to tell you. It sounds to me like you've already made your mind up."

"I have?" Magnus perks up, and props himself up on an elbow. "Do tell."

He can practically see Catarina rolling her eyes at him.

"From where I'm standing, you seem to like him, and trust him. To some degree, at least. What else is there to say? You've liked Shadowhunters before. Will Herondale. Jem Carstairs. Will was the biggest asshole on the planet, or so you keep telling us."

"In a different way," Magnus says, although she's right. "He didn't buy into the Clave's shit like Alexander does. Or did. See, I don't even know what he thinks. I don't think he knows what he thinks anymore. It was all much easier to understand when he called me a demon and thought he should kill me. But he doesn't do that anymore, he just keeps apologising and saying thank you. When exactly did Shadowhunters learn to mind their Ps and Qs, Catarina?"

"Then help him," Catarina says, voice gentling a little. She wisely chooses to ignore Magnus' ramblings, and focus on the bigger issues. "There's no reason not to. If you like his sister, and you like him, why not? Just be careful. I don't want our next phone call to be you drinking in an attempt to drown your misery. Or crying."

Magnus scoffs. "That's highly unlikely, darling. Unless Raphael decides to drop down dead. Or you. But I wouldn't phone you if you're dead. Obviously."

"Or you get your heart broken. I know what you're like. You throw everything in far too quickly without a thought for the consequences."

"For the last time, Cat, I don't like Alexander. Not like that."

"If you say so." She sound mischievous, and horribly, horribly like Ragnor when he used to tease Magnus about his romantic proclivities. "Look after yourself, Magnus."

They say their goodbyes, hang up, and Magnus tosses his phone down with a huff. Why are all his friends so utterly determined to think he fancies the eldest Lightwood sibling?

***

The first time Luke came to the Institute, Alec knew, was never going to be an elegant, seamless affair.

He didn't expect it to be quite as catastrophic as it turned out to be, however.

It had started out okay. He'd greeted Luke at the door with Clary, and led him and another wolf - Alaric - through to the meeting room, where Jace and Isabelle were already waiting for him. Then he'd disappeared to the Ops Centre to find his mother, and let her know that their guest had arrived.

Which, he thinks, is probably where it all went wrong.

Maryse walks into the meeting room with her chin tipped up defiantly, heels clacking on the stone floor. She's returned to the Institute after a week in Idris just to attend this meeting, and it's only the second time Alec has seen her since her trip. Her eyes are bloodshot, he notes, and she looks exhausted, but she holds herself with the same strength and pride as always.

She greets Luke coldly, and by the Angel, Alec is fully aware that his mother has some particularly strong opinions about Downworlders, but even for her, the icy greeting seems a little excessive. She ignores Alaric entirely. Alec glances over and Jace and Isabelle, who are sitting on the opposite side of the table, and they exchange puzzled looks at Maryse's behaviour.

Luke, to his credit, remains entirely professional as he lays out his terms and expectations upfront. Some points, he tells them, are non-negotiable. Others, he's willing to be flexible about.

Maryse forces out her own conditions, many of which have been mandated by the Clave, through gritted teeth, shoulders tensed and loathing clearly boiling beneath her skin. Alec wonders whether she and Luke have some kind of history, from when Luke was still a Shadowhunter. He sees no other explanation for her behaviour; he certainly can't fault Luke's behaviour today.

An hour into the negotiations, during which time Alec, Jace and Isabelle have interjected several times to prevent their mother's self-control slipping through her grasp, there's a knock at the door. It's cracked open the moment Alec asks whoever's outside to come in.

Clary pokes her head around. She glances at Luke, and offers him a smile; Luke's expression softens a little when he sees her. But her gaze slides across to Jace, who's lounging on one of the hard wooden chairs, fiddling with his stele.

"Jace," she says, "Raj and I have just located a hoard of six or seven Ravener demons hiding down by the docks. We were wondering if you could come with."

Jace is out of his seat the moment Clary asks him to come, and Alec has to press his lips together to stifle his laughter. Of course Jace would jump at any opportunity to get out of a boring, legal meeting.

Maryse, however, shoots out an arm to stop Jace in his tracks, and she rises from her own seat at the head of the table. "I believe, Clarissa, that you could be asking Alec about this. Jace will give you whatever you want because he's your boyfriend, so he's hardly an unbiased source."

Clary blinks, clearly taken aback, and Alec stares at his mother. Where on earth did that come from? Maryse has never really been Clary's greatest fan, but the more accustomed Clary becomes to their world, the higher she seems to go up in Maryse's estimation.

Alec can sympathise.

"I—" Clary looks to Alec, a little helplessly. "I didn't—"

"Mom, it's fine," Alec says. "I told her she could do any routine, in-out mission as long as she's got two people with her."

"I can run this by Alec if you need me to," Clary pipes up from the doorway. "I just asked Jace to come because I know you need Alec in here for the negotiations."

She's trying to be helpful, trying to diffuse the situation, like always. Once upon a time, Alec had found it immensely irritating, mostly due to the fact that points of conflict tended to rise as a consequence of her actions, and partly due to her insufferable holier-than-thou attitude. Alec thinks she's grown up and kicked the attitude. Isabelle says she never had it, and that he's the one who's changed.

Magnus would probably tell him it's a bit of both.

"Really, it's fine," Alec assures Clary. "Six Ravener demons and two and a half Shadowhunters–" She rolls her eyes, and he grins at her "–aren't going to be a problem."

"Valentine's daughter can't always get her way," Maryse mutters, under her breath.

Alec is fairly sure that Clary doesn't hear her, but Jace does, and, although he's at the other end of the table, so does Luke. Both men tense all over, jaws tightening. Jace shakes his head at Maryse sharply, and Luke curls a hand into a fist.

"If you want this alliance to be successful, Maryse, be careful," Luke says. He sounds calm, steady, but there's an underlying steel to his voice; Alec is certain Luke is no pushover, and he's not going to allow anybody to insult Clary for her unfortunate parent. Particularly not one who didn't have so much as a hand in raising her.

"You're lucky I don't deem Clarissa's concealment of your location from the Clave important enough to bring up," Maryse snaps, eyes blazing as she turns on the alpha.

"She didn't know I was important," Luke says. "Neither Jocelyn nor myself told her. Not until later, when she heard about some Lucian Greymark in relation to her mother and asked me. Alec knows this."

"I explained," Alec says, with a nod in Luke's direction. "We discussed it."

Maryse leans over the table, towards Luke. "The only reason," she says, quietly, furiously, "that I am not reporting to the Clave about Valentine's daughter concealing the location of an ex-Circle member is that Valentine is gaining ground in the Downworld, and his experiments are becoming more and more successful."

For a moment, surprise shoots through Alec, and he sits back in his chair slightly. Luke used to be a part of the Circle? But then, he supposes, as Valentine's parabatai, it doesn't seem particularly extraordinary, if a little strange, for such a level-headed man to be part of something so destructive and irrational.

Luke doesn't look at all threatened. Instead, he raises his eyebrows, and says, "If once being part of the Circle in one's youth were an unforgivable crime, Maryse, you and your husband would not be running one of the most influential Institutes in North America."

The colour drains from Maryse's face. Pale, lips pressed into a severe line, she straightens. Her eyes are panicked, wild, darting around the room but resolutely avoiding the gazes of her children. Without a word, she turns on her heel, forces herself past Clary, and storms out, slamming the meeting room door behind her.

It takes Alec several seconds for Luke's words to sink in, as he stares after his mother with wide eyes, alarmed by her reaction. If once being part of the Circle in one's youth were an unforgivable crime, Maryse, you and your husband would not be running one of the most influential Institutes in North America.

Does Luke mean...?

"Well, that was a success." Jace's voice breaks the sudden silence that descended following Maryse's abrupt departure, and he shakes his head, shooting Clary a tense little smile. "Can we go stab some demons now?"

"Okay. Um." Clary glances back to Luke, still looking a little bewildered. "Taki's, tonight?"

Luke inclines his head. "Of course."

The pair disappear, the door swinging shut more softly this time, and Alec turns in his chair to face Luke, mind whirring with questions and heart racing.

"Luke," he says, "what you said, just then. Do you mean that my parents were part of the Circle?"

Luke raises his eyebrows, and glances between Alec and Isabelle, who are both watching him urgently. "You didn't know? Yeah, your parents were part of the inner Circle. Some of Valentine's finest recruits. When the Clave tried the remaining members of the Circle, your parents got a much lighter sentence than most. Partly because they're Lightwoods, and partly because of you."

"Sentence?" Isabelle asks, while Alec says in astonishment, "Me?"

"Yes. To both. Your parents were kicked out of Idris and told they had to run this Institute for the rest of their lives, as long as they were fit to do so. They're not allowed to return to their lives in Idris. Technically. I doubt the Clave will care too much what they do after twenty years, now you're old enough to run the Institute. And you, Alec, being so young at the time, meant that the Clave considered it immoral to do to your parents what they did to some of the others. Imprisonment in the City of Bones, or curses that kept people locked inside the walls of some location. One woman had her runes stripped."

"What about you? How did you escape the Clave? And Jocelyn?" Isabelle asks, while Alec tries to let the information settle in his mind. His parents were part of the Circle. They bought into Valentine's ludicrous beliefs and methods. They were part of an institution that seeks to destroy everything Shadowhunters are supposed to protect.

Alec has spent his life trying to do right, by the Clave and by his parents. The rules, the Law, the expectations his parents have of him, have always been at the front of his mind. He's a good Shadowhunter. He does his job. He does as he's told, and he doesn't question, because he's got no reason to.

Except now, maybe he has.

Luke is talking, telling Isabelle about he and Jocelyn escaping when they realised how corrupt Valentine and the Circle were and fleeing to the mundane world. But Alec can't focus on his words. He feels like his world is spinning, tilting, tipping on its axis as everything he used to believe, everything that's grounded him, the very foundations he's built his life upon - the fact that he can trust his parents - is uprooted, and shattered.

Maybe the events of the last couple of months have been pushing him ever-closer to this edge, anyway. Everything he's seen, everything he's been exposed to - Magnus, and Raphael Santiago, and the way Isabelle had gripped Meliorn's hand like a lifeline, and Luke, and Jace in that bar - has made its mark. But this feels like the last straw.

He's been teetering on the edge of the cliff for so many weeks, he realises. The knowledge of what his parents did in their youth, when he was young, has only served to push him over the edge.

Where he's falling to, he doesn't have a clue. It's an abyss, a bottomless chasm that fades into darkness before he can see where he's going to land. He wonders, fleetingly, what's going to meet him when he hits the ground. Or, indeed, if he'll ever hit the ground.

He thinks it's probably going to hurt.

He feels like he's been suddenly submerged in water, the world around him moving in slow motion, distorted and blurry as he blinks at the forms of his sister and Luke. Their voices are muffled, words slurring together and syllables incoherent.

"Alec?"

Fingers snap in front of Alec's face, nails painted with clear gloss and neatly rounded, and he blinks. Isabelle is peering at him, brow furrowed, and, behind her, he sees Luke standing, looking at his phone with a grin tugging at one corner of his lips at whatever he's reading.

"Maia wants to know whether she has permission to give some Shadowhunters a taste of their own medicine," Luke says, shaking his head fondly. "I think that means I need to get back before my pack breaks down your door and demands to know what you've done with me."

Alec replies with something fairly banal, and rises to show Luke out—and to ensure the alpha doesn't run into his mother. Enough damage has been done for one day.

***

[Unknown Number, 18:32]

Hi, this is Alec Lightwood. I know you must be busy, and don't feel obliged, but I was wondering if I could ask you something?

For several seconds after magicking open his front door and first reading the text, Magnus stares at his screen in amused bewilderment. It's such a shy message, and Alexander might be reserved, and easily embarrassed, and sometimes very self-conscious, but he's not really shy. Well, he is, but not like that, in a nervous, hesitant, ready-to-backtrack kind of way. He's a leader, and he acts like one.

Although, for a Shadowhunter, the acknowledgement that Magnus might well have other things to be doing than fixing scraped knees of Shadowhunters is rather delightful. Perhaps he has managed to impart some small sense of perspective onto this particular Shadowhunter. Or, perhaps, that's Isabelle's influence.

It's nearly ten o'clock, now, and Magnus had still got the sticky remnants of a healing potion all over his hands and blood stains up one arm from his emergency appointment with a vampire earlier in the evening. So, rather than respond immediately, Magnus sets his phone down and heads into the bathroom, discarding clothes as he goes.

When he comes out of the shower, feeling considerably more refreshed, he ties the sash on his robe, spares a moment to towel-dry his hair, and flicks his fingers to summon himself a coffee. As he sits down, phone in hand, the Chairman jumps up onto his thigh with a meow. He looks at Magnus' coffee with clear disdain, before nudging against Magnus' hand in a demand for attention.

"I know, I know," Magnus says, rubbing between his cat's ears. "Caffeine at bedtime is bad for my sleep. But I'm about to have a conversation with a Shadowhunter, Chairman, I need it."

He saves Alec's number in his phone before he calls him.

"Yeah?"

Honestly, does he not check who's calling him before he answers the phone?

"Hello, Alexander," Magnus says.

"Um, hi." Alec's voices comes through the speaker hesitantly, and Magnus can hear the jostling of clothes and the clank of metal bashing against metal from the other end. "Hang on, I just– Jace, for fuck's sake– No!"

A smile steals across Magnus' face, eyebrows lifting. It sounds like Alec has just come back from a mission. A nighttime patrol, probably.

"Sorry," Alec says, and Magnus hears the hubbub of background noise diminish gradually as, presumably, Alec moves location. "We just came back from patrol. Jace was being an ass."

"So I gathered," Magnus says, and takes a sip of his coffee. Holding his phone in one hand and his coffee in the other means that he's had to neglect his petting of the Chairman, who chooses that particular moment to jump off his lap and dart out of the room in a huff. Honestly. He's worse than a teenager.

"Look, I– Are you busy?"

"No, little angel, that's why I'm calling you. I'm afraid you're not top of my priority list."

Although you're climbing the ladder, he thinks, trying not to consider just how concerning that is. Concerning for what it means. Concerning for what it means Magnus feels.

"Right." Alec lets out a little laugh. It's slightly self-deprecating, but mostly just sheepish. "This is a bit- This might sound weird, but- Well. I have a question about my parents."

Magnus blinks down at his coffee. "Your parents?" he repeats, blankly, because that's the last thing he expected. He expected this to be Alec asking for a favour. He expected to have to remind this Shadowhunter that despite their unlikely alliance, he is not a pet warlock to be called upon willy-nilly.

"Yeah. It's just something Luke said earlier today. He and my mother met. It didn't go very well. It's not- He didn't do anything wrong, but what he said has...freaked me out a little bit. And I didn't know who else to ask."

"Mm." Magnus takes another sip of coffee, and ponders Alexander's words. "You know, darling, I'm fairly sure that's the second time you've said that to me in the last ten days. You said the same thing when you wanted to speak with Luke."

"I–" That makes Alec pause, for several seconds. There's silence on the other end of the line. "I did."

He doesn't say anything else. Magnus can't help but wonder what he's thinking; he also can't fathom what on earth Luke could have said to throw Alexander into what's clearly something of an existential crisis. And concerning Alec's parents? Some anecdote of horror from their youth? But Luke's not a cruel man—he wouldn't tell those sorts of tales in front of the Lightwoods' children.

"Your parents are not my favourite topic of conversation," Magnus tells him, eventually. "But, if you wish, I have no appointments after half past eight tomorrow night. I'm sure I can slot you in."

"Come to your apartment?" Alec asks, the surprise in his voice clear. "Oh. That's– Oh."

Magnus rolls his eyes. "Problem, Shadowhunter?"

"No! I just– Thank you. You don't have to go out of your way, or whatever."

"Or whatever," Magnus repeats, lips twitching. "You were more eloquent when you hated me, darling."

"It's easier to hate mindlessly than actually put thought into the person behind the title," Alec replies, and it's such an immediate response that slips from between his lips so easily that Magnus pauses, feels his ever-restless mind still and settle in on the idea for a moment.

"Yes," Magnus agrees, softly. "It is. I'm glad you realise that. Now, unless there's anything else I can do for you at this time—"

"No. That was all. Thank you."

"Tomorrow, half past eight." Magnus considers telling Alec to bring wine - jokingly, of course - but he thinks the Shadowhunter might take it a little too seriously. So he merely says, "Don't be late."

"Yeah. Okay." Alec clears his throat. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight, little angel."

And Magnus hangs up, wondering what it is, exactly, that enables Alexander to touch parts of Magnus that have been buried for so long he almost forgot they existed.