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Fall Without Wings

Chapter Text

"You're late," Maryse barks as the staccato click of Isabelle's heels announces her presence to those gathered in the Institute's meeting room. There's silence, save for the rhythmic tapping of shoes on the floor, Maryse's eyes fixed coldly on her daughter.

Isabelle ignores her, flipping her hair back over one shoulder, and struts further into the room. The slapping sound of a thick folder of paper hitting the worn wood of the meeting table breaks the quiet. It slides across the table, coming to a halt in front of Alec.

Alec looks up at his sister from where he's bent over the table, examining the strategy map they were drawing out, but she has her chin tipped up, eyes flashing as she holds Maryse's gaze.

He ducks his head, deciding that it would be more beneficial to everyone in the room if he pretends to be oblivious to their non-verbal sparring, and flips open the folder. His eyebrows shoot up.

"You got all this in two days?" Alec asks her, glancing up.

"I was told we needed intel. There's your intel."

"It's great." Jace peers over Alec - or, rather, around Alec, because Alec is too tall to be peered over - eyes skimming across the page. "This is exactly what we needed."

"You're welcome." Isabelle still hasn't looked away from Maryse. "Contrary to popular belief, I don't sit around painting my nails all day."

Alec snaps his head up at that, frowning. Nobody could think Isabelle lazes around. Her methods might be more than a little unorthodox, but it couldn't be argued that she doesn't get things done. She does. Superbly. It is, however, usually best not to ask where, or how, she's garnered her information.

"I take it this means you've changed your mind about this mission, Isabelle?" Maryse stands tall, broad-shouldered, hair scraped back from her face, expression impassive. The perfect commander. The Clave's most loyal leader, with no time for frivolity or compassion. The severity written into the tired lines of her face is even more obvious in the evening light, all shadows cast by cheap fluorescent light that catches on the weary faces of the Shadowhunters gathered.

Isabelle's nostrils flare. "No."

Behind him, Alec feels Jace tense at the same time he does. He glances back at his parabatai, and sees his own worry reflected back in his brother's eyes. This isn't going to be good.

Everybody gathered in the room knows that Isabelle loathes the Clave's attitude towards Downworlders: inferior beings to be protected only because they have use. Dangerous, savage, bloodthirsty, and a threat to peace.

Alec's interactions with Downworlders have been limited. In-out missions, interrogations, putting down those who cause trouble—he does his duty. He is a soldier, and he does what his commander demands of him.

Isabelle, on the other had, has defiance burning bright within her, an unending source of fuel keeping it alight; she's set fire to rooms full of people. And faced the consequences.

"This mission is a joke," Isabelle snaps. "You don't want to help any of those Downworlders. You want to make sure they don't side with Valentine, because if the Circle gains the support of more Downworlders, this will be a war we can't win." Her eyes flash. "You couldn't care less about whether they live or die. And some of them will die, if we do this."

Maryse remains stoic. "The Circle is dangerous, Isabelle. Sometimes sacrifices are necessary to win a war. The Downworlders are foolish to be siding with Valentine. They shouldn't be meeting with him at all."

"Even if they are - which most of them aren't - who can blame them? What do they have to lose? We use them, and then we slaughter them in their thousands."

"Because Downworlders are animals, Isabelle." Maryse inhales, and then lets it out again in a long-suffering sigh. "They don't want the kinds of things we do. They have to be controlled for a reason."

"Besides which, Valentine doesn't want them alive," Alec says, straightening, interrupting before this can turn nasty. Isabelle turns her furious eyes on him. "He wants to take their powers for himself, and then he wants to eradicate them. We have laws, Izzy, and we abide by them. That's more than can be said for Valentine and the Circle."

"Enough." Maryse brings her hands down flat on the table, making the whole room flinch. Including Alec and Isabelle. "You will intercept this meeting, you will kill every Circle member in there, and you will take any sympathisers. Your priorities are the Shadowhunter children being held in there. If the Downworlders attempt to distract you from your mission, you kill them too."

Her eyes find Alec's, eyebrows raised slightly, as though daring him to disagree, as Isabelle had.

But Alec never disagrees. He obeys.

"Understood," he tells her, and flips the file shut, Isabelle's intel and Jace's strategy map safe inside.

***

Alec motions half of his team forwards, curling his fingers and motioning round the side of the building. Jace nods his understanding.

At his back, Isabelle stands stock still, fuming, while Jace scouts the area around them for traps or unexpected defences. It's a simple mission. Get in, kill the Circle members, get the children, and go. The Downworlders are irrelevant. Focusing on which Downworlders to take will only district his team from the task at hand, so Alec instructed his team not to engage the Downworlders unless absolutely necessary.

Valentine might be completely insane, hell-bent on destroying the Clave, purifying the Nephilim bloodline and purging the Downworld, but he isn't wrong about everything. The Downworlders are powerful. Dangerous. They aren't to be trifled with. Especially not in the numbers they're expecting when they walk into the abandoned warehouse Valentine has, according to Isabelle's information, chosen for this meeting.

"Something's wrong," Jace murmurs, when he comes back round from scouting the perimeters of the building. "They're not inside."

"And no sign of the children," Raj says.

Alec glances back at Isabelle, and licks his lower lip. She's right, then. Valentine knows. They know they're coming. They're prepared. Prepared for Alec's team to try to butcher them where they sit, without mercy. And if they're prepared—

"We don't kill them," Alec says, quietly. "Not unless we need to. Is that understood?"

Jace frowns. "Alec—"

"They know," Alec states. "And if they know, they'll have moved the children. This is our only lead. They've been missing for weeks, and this is the only lead we've come up with. We need them alive if we want to find those children. Do not kill anyone, Downworlder or Circle member, unless you have to. Do I make myself clear?"

Isabelle is the first to nod. "Perfectly, big brother." She cranes her neck to look up at the top of the building, wings shimmering into appearance and spreading wide behind her. "They're on the roof. It's glamoured, but they're on the roof."

"According to your sources," Raj points out. Alec can hear the scepticism in his voice. He can't entirely blame him. There have been incidents in which Isabelle has been wrong. "Or they could be waiting inside to jump out and slit our throats. The meeting might not be here at all. They just made us think it's here by feeding us fake intel."

"You're the one who just looked inside," Isabelle snaps at him. "Did you see anyone?"

"No." Raj shakes his head. "I trust you, Isabelle, but—"

"That's enough, Raj." Jace has gone still all over, his voice quiet in the cold nighttime. The bustling life of mundane New York seems far away, though they're a mere block from a main road.

Jace and Alec exchange a long look, and then look back at Isabelle. The three of them understand each other perfectly. Alec made the right call. They agree with him. And he and Isabelle agree with Jace: they've stalled long enough. It's time to fly.

***

There's a scream the moment they rise high enough into the air to be seen from where they're flying close to the building for cover. The hairs on the back of Alec's neck rise at the sharp, piercing sound. That's not a Circle member. That's a someone being tortured by the Circle.

Alec's heard it enough times to be familiar with the sound of Raziel's runes being burned into a Downworlder's flesh.

"Still ignoring the Downworlders, brother?" Isabelle asks. She doesn't look at him, but he can hear the suppressed rage in her voice. Alec understands. But he has to do as he's been told. "Still killing them if they're a liability?"

He glances across at her. "No. We're not killing anyone."

Raj nods. "If we kill the Downworlders, they're just more likely to side with Valentine."

Nothing crosses his face, as inscrutable as always, but Alec appreciates it. Jace and Isabelle siding with him when he overrules Maryse's instruction is one thing. They're notorious for being reckless, for disobeying, for spiting their mother. Raj is different. Raj's loyalties are unquestionable. His support solidifies Alec's certainty that, this time, Maryse's priorities are wrong.

He's not disobeying her. He's still going to finish this mission. It's quick, straightforward, in, out. But his team are doing this their way.

***

The moment Alec hovers in the air, wings beating steadily to hold him still, draws back the string of his bow, and lets his first arrow fly, he feels something in his stomach settle. The world narrows. The past and the future become irrelevant. All that matters is hitting his targets, spot on, every time.

The first arrow embeds itself in the shoulder of the Shadowhunter holding a stele, drawing on the forearm of a Downworlder. The Shadowhunter cries out, dropping the stele with a clatter on the rain-damp roof, and the other members of the Circle turn to see Alec and his team hovering above them.

There's a moment of silence. And then a gurgling, choking sound, followed by a thud as the Downworlder being marked - a warlock, Alec presumes, from the stumpy brown horns that brand it as demonic - slumps sideways, dead.

And then the fight breaks out.

Seraph blades light up the night, Circle members spreading their wings and leaping into the air, shouts and screams and the shattering clash of blades the soundtrack to battle.

There's chaos below, as the Circle attempts to control the Downworlders. Alec keeps his spot in the air, firing off arrow after arrow at the Circle, aiming for hands, shoulders, thighs, wingtips if they're above the roof—anything to incapacitate, but not enough to kill. If there's nobody left to interrogate, they won't find these children.

The Downworlders keep casting fearful glances up at the blazing fight above them. There are no werewolves there, Alec notes. Fey, warlocks, vampires, but no werewolves. They're ducking, defending themselves against stray knives and arrows and vicious Circle members who are still fruitlessly attempting to keep them where they are, but they don't seem inclined to help in the fight.

Maryse won't be happy about that. Neither will the Clave. Alec supposes he should be capturing the Downworlders, because they're technically breaking the Accords, in not offering assistance to the Clave's soldiers.

But he doesn't. He hates being involved in anything related to the Downworlders. He'd rather ignore them. Eternally.

Jace appears at his side, suddenly, covered in blood. Alec doesn't break his gaze from his targets. He knows Jace is uninjured, through their parabatai bond.

"We're outnumbered," Jace says, breathlessly.

Alec lets another arrow fly, this time towards a woman who doesn't look much older than them, trying to escape down the stairs.

"I know," he replies.

"But we can't kill them." He feels Jace turn, so they're back-to-back, wingtips brushing every other beat, protecting each other as they always have. All that's missing is Isabelle at their side. "Because then we're back to square one."

And then Isabelle is there, hovering a little higher, snapping her whip through the air to wrap around a man's neck. He falls to the roof with a crunch, and rolls over, coughing blood.

"If we kill them, it takes us more weeks to locate those children, and they could be dead by then," Isabelle says, calmly, as though she hasn't just ripped out a man's vocal chords and splattered them across the rooftop. "Alec's right. We have to be smart about this."

There's someone coming towards Jace, at an angle, from the side. Alec's eyes widen as he takes in the bow with just a single arrow knocked against the string, the deadly gleam in the man's eyes, and the murderous rage etched onto his face.

Alec pushes Jace back through the sky with a grunt of effort. On pure reflex, he spins so his chest is against Jace's back, and his wings curl protectively around his brother, shielding him from the attack instinctively, as they've protected each other since they were ten years old.

The familiar whistle of an arrow let loose cuts through the air

There's a scream from his sister, a desperate shout from Raj across the sky, and he knows it's over. White-hot pain flashes through him as the arrow embeds itself in his wing, and he cries out. His grip on Jace slackens; he falls apart from his parabatai, but Jace is safe, even if his mouth goes slack in horror as he stares at Alec.

One wing beats furiously in an attempt to hold him in the air, where they're all suspended, fifty stories up, still locked in battle, but he's falling. Fast. Too fast. He knows he won't survive the fall. Above him, Jace dives down after him, wings tight to his sides, one arm reaching out, but Alec knows. He's much heavier than Jace. His wings are longer than Jace's, and he's taller. If Jace catches him, they'll both tumble to the ground and die.

Besides, he's falling too fast. Jace won't even get close to him.

"Stop!" Alec shouts. "You can't!"

Jace shakes his head, just as Alec sees the streets of New York fall into clarity below him. Jace strains his arm forwards, and then, to Alec's relief, pulls back with a scream of frustration that tears at Alec's heart. Jace's wings spread wide just at the last moment, and Alec hits the concrete with a crack.

For a moment, he's paralysed, unable to move, in more pain that he could possibly have imagined. He feels like every bone in his body is shattered. And his wings... His wings have crumpled underneath him, feathers sticky with blood. His vision is blurry, black spots swimming in front of him, ears ringing. He can't hear the traffic whizzing by next to him, or the loud hubbub of people going about their daily lives that is always present in New York.

He doesn't even know if his glamour rune is still in tact, or whether it's been slashed through. He doesn't want his death to be a mess that the other Shadowhunters will have to clear up. He's failed already. Failed in his mission to stop those Circle members, and find the children.

The instructions from the Clave had been to kill them. Alec told his team to capture them, and only kill them if absolutely necessary. And now he's dead. Or, at least, he will be, in moments.

He failed.

A shadow falls over him. Alec manages to turn his head just slightly in an attempt to see where he is, and who the shadow belongs to. It can't be Jace or Isabelle. They'd never have left the rest of the team unguarded when they know Alec will be dead. They wouldn't be that stupid. They wouldn't do something so futile.

Someone bends over him, crouching but not quite kneeling. His vision is still swimming, and he can't focus on whoever is beside him. But he can feel them. He can feel their presence, radiating calm, and power. So much power. Dark power. Not the angelic power the Nephilim run on.

If Alec isn't already dying, he'll be dead in the next minute.

There's movement, and a swirl of blue light, and everything goes dark.

Chapter Text

Alec wakes.

Everything hurts. It hurts so much. His back, his head, his right shoulder, and his wings... Alec doubts he'll ever be able to fly again.

How is he alive? He should be dead. From the fall. From landing near someone with that kind of dark power. From the poison in the arrow that pierced his wing.

But he's not.

He tries to open his eyes, but finds them too heavy. He inhales, and immediately winces. Ribs. His ribs ache. As though they've been broken, but are...healing? How can he be healing? Did his team manage to fight off the Circle members? Did they finish the mission, and come back for him? Was he still alive? Did they get him away from whoever he'd landed near, and perform some miracle to save him? By calling the Silent Brothers to heal him, maybe?

With a great effort, he manages to wrench his eyes open. He blinks rapidly, eyes moving around. He's lying in a bed, in a darkened room. The curtains are closed, the door shut. The mattress beneath him is soft, cradling his injured body, and the crisp sheets pulled up to his waist are warm, tucked around him with care.

He glances down at himself. His ribs are mottled with fading bruises, his shoulder wrapped in gauze, scratches all across his torso—but they, like the bruises, are fading.

He turns his head sideway, carefully, and lets out a moan of pain. His wings are spread out on either side of him, the bed clearly designed deliberately to be able to accommodate wings. So he must be somewhere in Nephilim care. Or with the Silent Brothers, perhaps. Where else would have a bed like this?

It's a miracle he's alive. He should be dead, he knows. He has to thank whoever saved him. But he's in too much pain to move, and everything feels sluggish. Probably because of the poison in the arrow. Even if it's been worked out of his bloodstream, it will take time for his body to recover from its paralysing effects.

The door opens. Alec tenses, and his body throbs.

A man steps through, and Alec curls his fingers into his palms, terror pulsing through him. Because the man isn't a man. He's a warlock. A demon. The same person he felt crouching over him when he fell.

Why is he here? What has the warlock done to him?

"Well well, little angel. You're awake."

His voice is smooth, even, but with an edge to it, as though there's a storm raging behind locked doors. It's the bitter-sweet clash of dark chocolate, the deceptive danger of rip tides beneath a beautiful, waveless ocean surface. It's soft and comforting and beautiful like a candle, but flammable, burning high and bright and explosive when it meets gasoline.

The warlock scans over him with a critical eye. "Hm. Those bruises should have faded by now."

He steps closer, twirling a hand to turn on a light. As soon as Alec can see him clearly, he feels even more frightened. The warlock looks dangerous. Dark hair is styled high, a deep maroon shirt buttoned to his throat with necklaces down to his navel, extensive numbers of rings on his fingers, and black eye make-up lines gold-green cat eyes.

He radiates power. Everything about him whispers - whispers, because he looks too formidable to need to shout - that he could destroy the entire city with a mere flick of his hand, all without having one hair moved out of place.

The warlock lifts a hand, blue swirls of magic drifting from his fingertips, and hovers his hand over Alec's torso. Alec flinches back, eyes going wide, wings curling protectively towards himself. Pain flashes through them as he lifts them off the bed, and he grits his teeth.

Lowering his hand, the warlock frowns. "I might be powerful, but I can't heal you from that kind of fall and such potent poison and have you ready to fly back out into the sky in a matter of hours. You need to relax. You'll hurt yourself."

He lifts his hand again, and then brings the other up to join it. Alec is breathing heavily, eyes wide, fixed on the warlock's glowing hands. He doesn't understand. Is the warlock trying to lull him into a false sense of security? Relax him before he kills him? What's he doing?

"No," he manages to get out through gritted teeth, pushing himself away from the warlock. He cries out in pain, every part of his body protesting.

The warlock's frown deepens. He doesn't drop his hands, but the magic disappears.

"I'm not going to hurt you, little angel. I'm trying to heal you. But you need to lie still, or you'll hurt yourself more."

Alec's chest rises and falls quickly, sweat beading across his skin. "Don't touch me."

The warlock looks almost...upset? Why on earth does he look upset? He's trying to kill Alec—and lying about it. Does he think Alec is stupid? He's a warlock. A demon. And Alec is one of the Nephilim. Warlocks loathe the Nephilim. Warlocks are evil. Demonic. Insane. Power-hungry beings conceived with Hell's fires, nothing in them but lust and chaos and destruction.

"You will die, Nephilim," the warlock says, shaking his head a little.

At least he's being honest, now.

"If you don't let me heal you, you will die. You fell from the clouds onto my doorstep, and your body is mortal. The arrow in your wing was poisoned, and the poison is still in your bloodstream. That's why you're not healing as you should be."

Alec stares at him. The warlock wants to heal him? But why? Why does he care? What's he going to do once he's healed and healthy? Kill him then? Play with him, like a cat would a mouse? Throw him back to his people with a threat? Force a favour from him? Force him to become a spy?

"My body is not mortal," he says finally, as indignantly as he can manage in his current predicament. "I'm a Nephilim. I have the blood of angels."

The warlock looks at him steadily. "And mundanes. You're human. You may be stronger than the average mundane, but you are not infallible. And you will die if you don't let me help you."

"You're a warlock. Why should I trust you?"

The warlock's eyes flash. "There was a time," he says, voice sharp like razor blades, "when the Angel's Children worked with my people, not against them. Building the Accords. Building alliances. We offered you our magic, and you offered us your angelic strength and protection when we could not finish a job on our own."

"I would never let a warlock take my strength," Alec chokes out.

He shakes his head, expression softening in...pity? Alec doesn't want this warlock's pity. He wants to get out. He wants to escape. He wants to be somewhere he's safe. Because Angel knows he's not safe here.

"I would never let you die when you crashed onto my doorstep. Even if you do hate me." He smiles wryly. "Does that give me the moral high ground? I rather thought that was what the Nephilim liked to be on."

Alec's vision swims before he can respond, and he moans, head falling back onto soft pillows that cradle his aching skull. His eyes slip closed as pain flits through him, sharp and hot and absolutely everywhere. In his shoulders, down his spine, shooting down the backs of his legs, all along his wings, in his head, behind his eyes...

"It's alright, little angel," the warlock murmurs. Alec hears a snap, sees blue flashing behind his eyelids, and feels heat on his torso. "Relax. It's alright. I won't hurt you. You're going to be okay."

Alec slits his eyes, looking up at the warlock as best he can. The warlock's brow is furrowed in clear concentration, hands moving up and down the length of Alec's body, magic bleeding from his hands towards Alec.

The warlock flicks his fingers, and a swirl of blue drifts along both of Alec's wings, gliding along his feathers to the tips. Alec gasps, and jolts on the bed at the momentary pain, which is followed by a strange tingling sensation.

"Easy," the warlock says, voice soothing, like he's quieting a frightened, violate animal. "Easy. It's alright. I'm not going to cut off your wings and do heinous things with them. But they're going to fall off if I don't heal them, because you haven't got enough blood flow going to them, and you won't ever be able to fly if I don't mend the bones now, because they'll reset in the wrong position. Okay? I will not hurt you."

"I don't understand," Alec whispers, pressing himself back into the mattress, heart thudding in fear. "Why are you doing this? Why are you helping me?"

The warlock smiles. And...he doesn't look like a demon, when he smiles. He'd almost look like an ordinary person, but for the cat eyes. He almost looks...beautiful.

Alec snaps out of it. He's a demon. He's not beautiful. On any other day, Alec would have shot an arrow through his heart by now.

"Because you crashed onto my doorstep," the warlock says, "broken and mangled and bleeding and helpless. Because you were trying to stop those who wish to destroy the world and recreate it into a mass place of misery and destruction. Because despite who they were, you were merciful. Because–" His smile gets smaller, and softer, and suddenly, Alec is less afraid. "–I would like to see more of the Nephilim behave as you did. Thinking with your heads, not your blades. And perhaps, you will realise that there is a difference between a Downworlder and a demon. Perhaps you'll one day extend the courtesy of mercy to those Downworlders you let die, tonight."

Alec swallows. He doesn't know what to say. He doesn't know what to think. He doesn't even know this warlock's name. But the warlock saw the fight in the sky. Or he found out what happened. He knows what Alec did. And he...appreciates it?

"Who are you?" Alec asks, struggling to keep him in focus.

"I'm Magnus Bane, Nephilim." His fingers glow blue again, and Alec feels himself growing more sluggish. The warlock - Magnus - is putting him to sleep, Alec realises. Because it's going to hurt when he's healed? Because Magnus needs him to be still and silent when he works?

Magnus Bane.

Alec knows who Magnus Bane is. Of course he does. Magnus is notorious. Notorious for being the son of Asmodeus—a Prince of Hell. Magnus is hundreds of years old - some say thousands - a criminal, wanted for unspeakable crimes against the Clave. He's broken a thousand laws, slaughtered ten times as many innocents, destroyed towns and villages.

And he's in New York, right under the Clave's noses. It's impossible. Utterly, madly impossible.

Yet, he's here, in front of Alec.

Alec should be stabbing a seraph blade through his heart.

"But you're..." Alec battles against the blackness closing in on him like a scene cut in one of those old mundane movies Jace has a bizarre interest in. "You're a demon. You're the son of Asmodeus. You're not supposed to- to help."

"I am not everything your people tell you I am," Magnus says.

"What are you going to do to me?"

"Heal you." Magnus' hands are shrouded in blue. He lowers one, and places his palm atop Alec's hair. "Close your eyes, little angel. Let me help you."

Alec obeys, and closes his eyes, unable to fight against the dark any longer. He feels warm, suddenly, the hand disappearing from his hair. There's light beyond his eyelids, and that strange tingling sensation is beginning to reach other parts of his body.

"Let go," Magnus whispers. "Sleep. When you wake, you'll be okay. You're safe, little angel."

And Alec lets go.

***

When Alec wakes again, the room is bright, sunlight streaming through the edges of the curtains. Alec blinks rapidly against the sudden light, and lets out a groan when he tries to sit up. His entire body feels like it's bruised. And his wings... By the Angel, his wings feel like he's been flying for days, nonstop.

And yet...he should be dead.

He should have died from the fall. From the poison. From the warlock—Magnus Bane. But instead, Magnus healed him.

For what? What does Bane want? Is he going to threaten Alec? Force him into spying on the Clave? Demand some kind of horrific payment? Had he performed some kind of ritual on Alec, when Alec had consented to Bane healing him? Had he...signed over his soul? Was he to be the warlock's plaything?

Alec doesn't understand. But he knows he needs to get out of here. He needs to go back to the Institute. He needs to find out what happened to his team. Is his sister okay? His parabatai? Raj? Did they manage to capture Circle members?

Part of him - a small part of him - wants to stay right where he is, forever. The bed is incredibly comfortable. It's wide enough to accommodate his wings fully - a luxury he doesn't have at the Institute, where the beds don't even accommodate his tall stature, resulting in his feet hanging off the bed of the beds - and everything is so soft, and so warm. It's never warm in the Institute. Even in the height of summer, the stone walls seem to keep the place perpetually freezing.

But he can't stay. Not least because he's in a warlock's...lair? (It doesn't seem like a lair. It seems like a home. Do warlocks have homes? He's never really thought about it.) And Magnus Bane's lair, at that.

No. He has to go home. And he has to tell his parents - his commanders - that he's seen Magnus Bane. That Bane is here, in New York. And perhaps, finally, after hunting him for decades, centuries, the Clave will be able to bring Bane to justice.

Alec takes a deep breath, and then tries to sit up a second time. He grinds his teeth together as aching pain punches against every bone in his body, and his wings drag painfully against the bed.

He manages to haul himself into a sitting position, chest rising and falling rapidly. After checking that he's not going to destroy anything in the room and make any undue noise that would bring attention to himself and alert Bane to the fact that he's awake, he tries to flex his back muscles to move his wings. He winces in discomfort, but he can move them. He might not be able to fly far, but he seems to be okay.

Magnus Bane really has healed him. Saved his life. It doesn't make any sense.

Alec looks around for his stele so he can glamour himself, but it doesn't seem to be in the room. When he goes back to the Institute, he's going to have to be careful he's not seen. He's heard the hood stories of Nephilim being caught unaware by alarmed mundanes.

He's shirtless, he realises. And, when he pushes back the sheets, he notices that he's only wearing boxers. His own boxers - so the warlock hasn't violated his modesty, at least, although he supposes that modesty is secondary in life-threatening situations - but nothing else. And he can't see his clothes anywhere in the room.

Shit. He can't go back to the Institute in his boxers.

Carefully, he curls his wings in towards himself. He can't risk them disappearing while they're still healing, because Angel knows what kind of damage that will do to them, but he has to avoid knocking everything within four metres of himself over.

Satisfied that he has everything under control, Alec pushes back the sheets, and swings himself around, slowly, so his feet are on the floor. His eyebrows shoot up when his toes are engulfed by the soft, fluffy carpet. Is this...real? Warlock Bane with luxurious carpets?

Alec's not sure why he's surprised, really. Bane is known for being extravagant, and for enjoying all the pleasures of life. Alec supposes that could extend to things like carpets. Even if it does seem...strange.

He braces a hand on one of the posts at the end of the bed, and hauls himself to a standing position; every muscle in his body protests, joints aching, sharp pain shooting along his spine and down the backs of his legs. He ignores it. He's a soldier. He's used to pain. It's not like he hasn't been injured and fallen out of the sky before.

Possibly not from fifty stories up, admittedly. But still.

Still holding onto the bed frame for support, Alec looks around the room. It seems bare. A guest room, presumably. Do warlocks have guests? Other Downworlders, Alec supposes, might stay in the High Warlock's house. But Bane is hardly an ordinary Downworlder. He's unforgiving. Vicious. Cruel.

Which makes this whole saving-Alec's-life thing incredibly suspicious.

Other than the large, Nephilim-sized bed, a nightstand, and a stack of mundane fiction books in one corner, the room is empty. There's a door, closed, probably tall enough to Alec to walk through without banging his head or slouching (which is more than can be said for many of the Institute's doors) which Alec presumes leads through to the rest of Magnus Bane's lair.

To Alec's left, there's another door. It's slightly ajar, and, from what Alec can see, the walls inside are tiled. A bathroom, presumably.

Gingerly, Alec lets go of the bed, and steps towards the bathroom. His body protests at the movement, but he ignores his discomfort. He has to get out of here. He has to go back to the Institute. And...he can't do that in this state of undress.

He pushes open the bathroom door, letting out a relieved breath when it doesn't creak, and steps inside. A night vision rune is still burning on the inside of his forearm, so he doesn't need to turn on the light or open the blind to see around.

And it looks...ordinary. Completely ordinary. Significantly nicer than the Institute's bathrooms, admittedly, but Bane doesn't seem to be brewing anything heinous in here.

And there's a bathrobe hanging on the back of the door. It's plain white, and long enough to cover Alec, despite his height. Without further thought, Alec takes the robe off the hook, and slides it up his arms, hoping this is a random garment, and not a piece of clothing worn by Warlock Bane.

Before Alec can consider the next move in his escape plan, now he's at least covered, he hears movement outside the bedroom door. He freezes, heart pounding. Bane is going to catch him. He's going to find Alec, and he's going to realise what Alec is trying to do, and he's going to be furious. Alec's never going to get back to the Institute. Never going to be able to inform the Clave that their most wanted is here, living in luxury right under their noses.

The door handle squeaks a little as it's turned. Alec stares, eyes wide and pulse tripping, feeling like everything is happening in slow motion as it rotates, further, and then all the way down. The door slides open, smoothly.

Magnus Bane is revealed, in profile, as he peers round the door - literally, sticks his head in first - before he steps in, a frown on his face as he, presumably, realises that Alec isn't in the bed.

For a moment, Alec considers slamming the bathroom door, dashing to the window, and hopping out, hoping that his wings are healed enough to land him safely so he can get out. But he knows Bane is too powerful. The moment he realises, he'd be able to snatch Alec back in an instant. Or slit his throat with a flick of a single finger.

It's a momentary hesitation, as he considers. A split second. But that's all the time it takes for Bane to turn his head, and lock eyes with Alec, stood in the doorway of the bathroom.

The warlock blinks. Alec's heart thuds harder.

The warlock blinks a second time; Alec's nails dig into his palm nervously.

A third blink, cat eyes flashing, and then...

His mouth quirks up at one corner. He raises a single eyebrow, looking Alec up and down, and leans against the doorframe, arms folded over his chest. And Alec remembers that moment, when Bane had been healing him, when he'd smiled, and Alec thought he looked almost beautiful.

His head is clear, now. He's focused again. Sharp. He knows that Downworlders are often beautiful, precisely so they can take advantage of their victims; make people trust them. Flirt with them, beguile them, even sleep with them, to achieve their goals. Beauty is merely another weapon in a Downworlder's arsenal.

Especially a Downworlder like Magnus Bane. He's notorious for his many lovers, his affairs, his seductions. He's managed to win over many with his charms. That's precisely why Alec has been trained against such things. He's trained to ignore aesthetic beauty and deadly promises. He's not going to be fooled by Bane's tricks and coquetry.

"What are you doing in there?" Warlock Bane asks, his entire demeanour one of amusement, relaxed and easy. But, like before, like when he'd been healing Alec, the sheer power bubbling beneath the surface is obvious.

Alec panics, searching desperately for an excuse. "I- I was- Clothes, I didn't—"

"Ah, yes." Bane smiles lazily, and flicks ring-laden fingers. "Your clothes were ruined, I'm afraid. I'm sure we can find you something. I have a rather large collection of clothes, and instant access to any shop in the world." His smile turns feral, and Alec takes a half step back, instincts flaring up, warning him of danger, telling him to run, fly, get out, get out, get out—

"Sit," Bane says, pointing to the bed, interrupting Alec's abrupt fright. "You fell two hundred metres onto concrete. You shouldn't be wandering around until you've been checked."

Alec doesn't move, frozen, staring at the warlock. He grips onto the side of the door, Bane's words drawing his attention back to how much he aches, all over, but he can't move. He's paralysed. From fear, or uncertainty, or literal magic Bane is using to fuck with his head, Alec doesn't know. But he can't move.

Bane raises his eyebrows. "Did you break?"

"What are you going to do?" Alec croaks out.

"We've had this conversation. I'm going to heal you, and that's it. Now sit down."

"You're wanted."

"Yes, I am aware of that, darling." He grins. "The Clave is far too corrupt and poorly managed to catch me. Besides, if they tried to get in here, they'd be fried. I ward myself against the Nephilim."

Alec's stomach drops. "Then how...? How am I here?"

"Because I'm allowing you to be. So don't say anything moronic that will make me want to fry you, too. I'm sure you're conditioned to hate and murder just like the rest of them, so sit your pretty little ass down, and don't speak unless you're going to say something that won't make me detest you."

Alec swallows. Bane hasn't raised his voice. He still sounds playful, in fact. And yet, Alec doesn't think he's ever been more terrified of someone. Not even his mother. He understands why Bane is so feared, and, within the Downworld, so revened. He commands attention, and his very presence demands respect, irrespective of Alec's Nephilim blood.

And, unwillingly, Alec finds himself bowing (metaphorically, of course) to Magnus Bane.

Chapter Text

After a pointed look from the warlock, Alec makes his way back towards the bed, and lowers himself onto it, perched on the edge of the mattress. Bane hums, and moves in behind him, hands glowing blue like they did earlier, when he'd healed Alec. How long has it been? A few hours? A day? Several days?

Alec doesn't dare ask.

"You are allowed to speak," Bane says. "I'll only feed you to my hell hounds if you say something idiotic. Which I'm sure you won't, because you Nephilim tend to value your lives."

Alec twists his head, flinching away, and stares at the warlock. "Hell hounds?"

Bane's lips twitch. "I wasn't serious, little angel. I have a pet, but he's a cat, not a beast straight from hell. Well. When he's not shredding my clothes."

Irritation flits through Alec. "Stop calling me that."

"What, little angel? I thought it was rather appropriate." Bane laughs, and looks at the length of Alec's body. "In an ironic sort of way, perhaps."

Alec clenches his jaw, grinding his teeth together as he turns back so Bane can continue examine him from behind. He can't punch this warlock. And he doesn't dare say anything he wants to. It's incredibly frustrating.

"Come now." Bane sounds teasing. Alec hates it. "Is it really so bad?"

Apparently, Alec's silence speaks for itself.

Bane says, with a sigh, "Oh, alright. Why don't you tell me your name, then, Nephilim?"

It's not a question. Alec knows it's not. It's not even a request. It's an order.

"Lightwood," Alec says, wincing when Bane presses against his shoulder blade with his thumb.

"Just Lightwood? Dear me, do the Nephilim not even bother naming their soldiers anymore? You're all reared to be exact replicas of each other, so I supposed it's no surprise."

What the hell is that supposed to mean?

"My first name is Alexander," Alec says, awkwardly.

"Alexander." Alec can hear the caress in the way Bane says his name. "Interesting."

"Nobody calls me that," he blurts out, before he can help himself. "Everyone calls me Alec."

"I am not everyone, Alexander," Bane says. "I'm sure we established that before. Try to keep up. I know problem solving isn't exactly one of the Nephilim's strong points, but I'm sure you can make an effort."

"Are you this rude to everyone?" Alec bites out, a growl of indignation in his voice, before he can stop himself.

Shit.

Behind him, Bane stills, hands pausing in whatever they were doing. Alec wonders whether he's about to be fed to Bane's demon cat, or whatever terrible end he's got planned for Alec.

But the warlock just laughs, unfreezing, and continues his magic. "I don't get the chance to be rude to the Nephilim very often, darling," he says. "Forgive me for taking what I can get. I have to avoid you lot in person, you see. You have a nasty habit of trying to capture me and kill me. It rather takes the fun out of verbal sparring."

Alec doesn't reply to that. He's not sure what he can say. And he's too worried about involuntarily causing his own death by saying the wrong thing.

"Well." Bane stands up. "Thanks to my spectacular skills, you'll be fine. Flying not recommended. Feel free to use my bathroom to clean yourself up. I'd have cleaned the blood off your wings before, but I've heard it's a somewhat...intimate ritual."

Alec's face burns at that. Bane chuckles.

"Don't be embarrassed, little angel. Would you like some coffee?"

Alec gapes at him. "Co- Coffee?"

"Yes." Bane looks at Alec strangely. "You must know what coffee is."

"Of course I know what coffee is," Alec says. "But you- Why are you offering me coffee?"

"Well, it's ten o'clock in the morning, so I presumed you'd probably prefer coffee to whiskey."

Alec opens his mouth to say something in reply, but his mind is blank, so he stutters out a meaningless stream of vaguely insulted babble, before he's silenced - magically or not, he has no idea - by Bane lifting a purple-tipped finger and hovering it in front of his lips.

"Are you finished?" Bane asks, raising an eyebrow at him. "Go and clean up before you ruin my loft."

"Can't I just go back to the Institute?" Alec asks, a little desperate, but no longer caring quite so much. If Bane doesn't let him go, there's no point anyway.

Bane chuckles: it's a dark, low, wicked sort of sound, and it sends a shiver down Alec's spine, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling. His stomach twists in fear as Bane shakes his head, looking down at Alec from where's he's standing over the bed.

"Oh no. I don't think so. I'm not suicidal, Nephilim. I'm hardly going to let you run back to the Institute to tell them where I am and how to find me. At least, not yet."

Alec swallows, desperate to ask, to clarify, to understand, but he doesn't quite dare. Until Bane's lips turn up a little, the ice in his demonic eyes thawing the way frost begins to melt at the first rays of morning sunshine in the dead of winter, and Alec feels a touch less terrified.

"I don't understand," Alec says, at last. "You said you have wards. Why would it matter?"

Something in the warlock's eyes flickers, hot but not passionate, annoyed but not angry. Alec understands even less, as Bane averts his eyes, glancing at the floor, before he looks back up at Alec.

"Even my magic is not infinite, Nephilim," he says, voice cold, firm, but not biting. "Especially not after I've spent hours healing a Shadowhunter whom I should have left to die."

Alec stares at him. Not because Bane has given him a valuable piece of information - the sorts of limits his magic has - but because that means Bane risked himself, exhausted himself, to heal a Shadowhunter.

"So why didn't you? Why did you save me?"

Bane huffs out a bitter little laugh, and shakes his head. "Because I always think you're going to be different. Every time, I see something, and it makes me think that there might be one Shadowhunter in the world who isn't infected with prejudice and lies. I'm disappointed every time. You're all the same, you Nephilim. I pity you."

"Infected?" Alec lets out a disbelieving laugh. "What, are you trying to convince me that you're a good Downworlder? That you haven't slaughtered innocents and destroyed villages? That you don't lie and deceive and—"

"No." The warlock interrupts him smoothly, voice level, eyes glinting like the sharp blades of knives in sunlight. "No, Shadowhunter. I'm trying to show you that I am a person. Not all that unlike you. I saved your life. I didn't have to, but I did. I pulled you back from the brink of death. You, who are part of an institution that has made my very existence a misery. But it doesn't matter to you, does it? It doesn't matter to any of you. You don't want to understand. You don't want to consider that everything you know is not everything that is."

Alec is breathing just as heavily as Bane by the time he's finished. He stares...and stares...and stares. He's insane. Magnus Bane is insane. Downworlders are part demon. Bane is the son of Asmodeus. He is literally the devil's offspring. How can he possibly be a person?

The warlock shakes his head, and turns away from Alec. "The Clave is poisoned, Alexander. One day, perhaps I'll help a Shadowhunter who'll be able to see that."

***

Alec is dressed in plain jeans and a sweater that probably costs more than his entire wardrobe put together when he slips hesitantly out of the bedroom and into the main room. Only the price tags still attached to the clothing assured Alec that he wasn't wearing Bane's clothes—that would have been a traumatising affair, for more reasons than he cares to admit.

Bane's apartment is...shockingly normal. Brighter than an average apartment, large enough to presumably cost a fortune, with all sorts of trinkets and books and things Alec doesn't even have names for that look older than his grandparents, but other than that, it's...normal. Homely. Alec wouldn't describe it as a lair. It's just an apartment. Lavish, with plush sofas and an enormous TV to his left, and a modern, sprawling kitchen to his right. There are even a few pot plants scattered around, and photographs set along the mantlepiece over an ornate fireplace. 

He can smell coffee, too. It's pleasant. Surprisingly pleasant.

He's not quite sure what he's supposed to do. He can see Bane in the kitchen, drumming long, painted fingernails against the countertop as the coffee machine whirs, but he's not sure he's even supposed to have come out of the bedroom, let alone wander around.

Bane doesn't leave him to wonder for long. He turns, eyes fixing on Alec immediately; Alec thinks Bane probably has some sort of magical tracker that means he can tell everything that's going on in his lair.

Lair? Home? Apartment?

Apartment, Alec decides. That's more neutral. He's struggling to wrap his head around what's in front of him. He expected heinous experiments laid out and dark rooms and spiders webs. He didn't expect this at all.

"Hello, little angel," Bane says, a smirk playing on the corners of his lips as he looks Alec up and down. Alec feels uncomfortable at the pointed attention. "You look refreshed. Coffee?"

"Okay."

Bane raises an eyebrow. "Okay?"

Alec nods his head hurriedly. "Yes, yes, coffee would be nice."

Bane turns back to the counter, and Alec catches sight of a grin, before it disappears, and Bane holds out a full, steaming mug of coffee. He doesn't move towards Alec; he holds the mug steady, waiting for Alec to come to him.

Swallowing, Alec steps forward. One step. Another. Another. Two more. And then he's in front of Bane, who's watching him as though he's a frightened animal. Alec's lips part in trepidation as he reaches out to take the mug; he's careful not to touch the warlock's hand as he takes it.

Abruptly, Bane grabs his forearm with his other hand, holding Alec still, leaning into his space, eyes searing into Alec's.

"I have your stele," Bane whispers, venom laced into every syllable, "and your bow. I've repaired both. They're by the door. If you try to kill me, I assure you, I will hang your head on my front door as a knocker. Do I make myself clear?"

Alec swallows around the terror in his throat. "Perfectly."

"Excellent." Bane smiles disarmingly, and lets Alec go, twisting round to make his own coffee.

Alec backs up, and lets out a breath. Fuck. He's going to die of a heart attack before he gets out of here. Magnus Bane has got to be the most intimidating person he's ever met in his life. And that's saying something, with Maryse as his mother.

"You are allowed to drink that, darling," Bane says, snapping Alec from his thoughts. "I haven't poisoned it. I don't want you dead. Not yet, anyway."

Alec chokes, eyes widening. Bane laughs.

"Relax. Honestly, you Nephilim. So serious." He faces Alec, amusement and teasing on his face, and makes a tutting sound. He wiggles his forefinger side to side, and takes three predatory strides towards Alec. Alec's cheeks heat up and his heart thuds at the look in Bane's eyes. "Learn how to loosen up a little," he murmurs, mouth by Alec's ear, hot breath rushing over his skin, voice husky.

A shiver runs down Alec's spine. And he's...not quite sure why.

He's also not entirely sure whether it's a good or a bad shiver. It's strange. It's like nothing he's ever felt before.

Magic, then, most likely. More of Bane's mind games.

Bane is gone, disappearing into the living room behind him, before Alec can fully comprehend what's going on. He fights to loosen his throat muscles so he can breathe again, and closes his eyes for a moment in an attempt to calm his racing pulse.

He can understand why people fear Warlock Bane.

Pushing away his thoughts, he takes a heavy swig of coffee, the bitter liquid scalding down his throat. He glances down at his cup, surprised when he doesn't find it to be unpleasantly milky. Huh. It's black. Which is what he likes, but...most people don't. Or they have sugar in it. Not just...black. How did Bane know?

A sudden thought strikes Alec. He spins on his heel, and, then somewhat hesitantly, says, "Uh, Warlock Bane?"

Bane is flicking through a magazine, one leg tossed over his other thigh. He looks up when Alec speaks, and arches an eyebrow. "Yes, Alexander?"

"What do you know about the meeting that was going on, between Valentine and the Downworlders?"

For a moment, Bane is still, all over, mouth tight, eyes fixed on Alec but looking somewhere far away. Alec presses his thumb into the palm of his opposite hand nervously as he waits, hoping Bane isn't about to kill him.

"I know that Valentine lied to my people," Bane says, at last, refocusing on Alec. "I know that they died. I know that his minions tortured them." His eyes turn cold. "I know that you did little to help them."

Alec's jaw tightens. "I let them be. I could have killed them for being seen with the Circle. I could have captured them for breaking the Accords—"

Bane barks out a harsh laugh. "Breaking the Accords?" He snaps his magazine shut, drops it on the table, and unfolds himself from the sofa, standing up in one smooth, lithe, terrifying movement. His cat eyes blaze as he takes a menacing step closer to Alec. "Not offering you their help, because they were fleeing for their lives and thought it more than likely they'd be arrested for their efforts if they chose to help you?"

Alec swallows, palms turning clammy, but he doesn't back down. "I wouldn't do that."

"No?" Bane's lip curls. "You think I'm a demon."

Alec bites back the words he wants to throw out. Yes. Because you are. You're a Downworlder. And I should be killing you on sight.

"Why did you save me if you hate me so much?" Alec asks instead.

Bane waves a hand and stalks past him towards the kitchen. Alec turns, following him with his eyes.

"It was a lapse in judgement, I'll admit."

But his voice sounds softer. Less angry. And that's when Alec wonders.

"Did you- Did you know someone? Who died last night?"

Bane stiffens. He's facing the counter, body half shielding a bottle of something that looks like vodka. One hand is wrapped around the neck of the bottle, so tight his knuckles have turned pale.

"I knew them all," he says. "I'm not the High Warlock of Brooklyn for nothing, little angel. It is my job to know the New York Downworld. Lucian was right about that meeting, and I was a fool to ignore his warning."

"Lucian?" Alec asks, heart beating fast, before he can stop himself. "Do you mean Lucian Graymark?"

Lucian Graymark is another wanted man. A Shadowhunter, who, according to all their sources, had once been Valentine Morgenstern's parabatai. He'd been part of the Circle, along with Valentine's wife, Jocelyn. Nobody knows what happened to Lucian. There are rumours that he took shelter in the mundane world, but he's never been found.

The Clave is desperate to find Lucian. Desperate for any information he might have on how to stop Valentine. This war has been going on for too long. Alec's entire lifetime. And they're running out of ways to slow Valentine down. He's building power. Summoning demons, utilising their power, amassing Nephilim supporters, and now he's trying to win over the Downworlders.

Alec might not like Downworlders much, at all, but - like the rest of his people, some of whom believe all Downworlders deserve to burn to ashes slowly in hell - he knows that if Valentine wins their favour, the war is lost.

"It doesn't matter." Bane's voice snaps himself out of his thoughts. He sounds tired. Straightening, he unscrews the lid on the bottle and wraps his lips around the rim, tipping his head back to take a large swig. Alec winces slightly. Isn't it too early to be drinking?

"On the contrary—"

"Yes." Bane slams the bottle down, but doesn't turn round. "Yes, I knew someone who died. Elias. He was young. Foolhardy. He thought he had nothing to lose by going to that meeting. We're hunted by Nephilim of all kinds." He shrugs. "We're tortured by Nephilim of all kinds, often for no reason, and killed in cold blood. But the Circle didn't even attempt to give an excuse. I watched Elias fall from the top of that building after I felt him die. Twenty minutes later you fell. I couldn't save him, but I could save you."

"I'm sorry."

And Alec realises he almost means it. He is sorry that someone innocent died. He can't quite find it in himself to feel real, bone-deep sympathy for Bane's loss, however. Not when he knows about all the equally innocent lives that have been taken by Bane's magic.

Bane looks at him, a wry smile on his face. "I'm sure." Exhaling, he says, "The werewolves were right to stay away from that meeting. I'm afraid I don't know much that would be of any use to you. Valentine is promising us that in his new world, we'll be safer, better off. Left in peace, I believe were his exact words to me. Left to our own devices. Ignored. Allowed to live without constantly looking over our shoulders."

"You've seen Valentine? Recently? And he let you leave alive?"

"Oh, yes." Bane flicks his fingers lazily. "Child's play, little angel. I'm centuries old. Valentine is like a dust mite. Admittedly, his bizarre demonic powers are a little problematic, but nothing I couldn't handle. I imagine he was very bruised for a few days. Poor wall. Probably the filthiest thing that's touched it."

Alec chokes. "Did you throw Valentine Morgenstern into a wall?"

Bane shrugs. "Perhaps. I told him it was rather ironic that he was promising me such riches, when he preaches to the Nephilim that he will cleanse the Downworld stain from the world. He didn't like that very much. So hyper-masculine, all that growling and snarling and sweat. Eugh. It's boring."

Alec can't help himself. His mouth opens to let out a spluttering laugh at the warlock's words, taking even himself by surprise.

Bane, however, looks more surprised. He watches Alec as he laughs, something strange passing over his face. Alec notices his staring; his smile drops, and he clears his throat awkwardly.

"I'm sorry," Alec says, though he isn't quite sure what he's apologising for.

"Don't be. I didn't realise the Nephilim were capable of laughing."

"There's not much to laugh about. Valentine is trying to destroy the world."

"Oh, Alexander." Bane shakes his head. "You'd make a terrible immortal. There are always things to frown about. Which is why you have to find the things that make you laugh, and hold onto them."

Alec is quiet for a moment, brow furrowed. "Are you giving me life advice?"

"Now, that would be telling."

***

It's afternoon by the time Bane tells Alec he's free to go. Alec has spent most of the day looking around Bane's enormous collection of books, under the warlock's suspicious gaze. Bane is curled up like a cat in an armchair, pretending not to pay any attention to Alec but reaching out with his magic to pull books away from Alec's grasp if he deems them inappropriate for a Shadowhunter to read, without looking up from whatever horribly complex text he's translating. Alec can't help but find it somewhat amusing.

"Thank you," Alec says, pausing by the front door. Bane is standing a little way away with his arms folded across his chest, fingers drumming against his bicep, and he raises an eyebrow at Alec's words. "For helping me, I mean. You- I wouldn't have been surprised you if you hadn't."

"Well, no." Bane purses his lips. "You think Downworlders are heartless monsters with no moral conscience."

"You think Shadowhunters are inbred soldiers with no independent thought."

"Touché," Bane murmurs, unmoving, but his lips are curling up just slightly at one corner. "I like the moral high ground, little angel. Especially when it's over one of the Nephilim."

Alec hesitates. He can see his bow and quiver out of the corner of his eye, along with his stele and his boots, which seem to be in tact enough to wear again, and he's itching to snatch them up, but he doesn't want Bane to think he's about to attempt an assassination.

"I'm contractually obliged to tell my mother about this," he tells Bane. "About you. And when they find out, they're going to find you. And they're going to kill you."

"Let them." Bane shakes his head, bitter amusement in his eyes. "I think you might be my greatest disappointment for at least three decades, Alexander. You're not quite as brainless as most of your people, I'll give you that. But you still can't see past my parentage. It's sad. I hope you know that. I pity you."

"I don't want your pity."

"Go." Bane jerks his chin towards the door. "Get out, before I change my mind and put your wings on my walls and your head in place of my door knocker. Go and tell all the little Nephilim that Magnus Bane is cowering in Brooklyn. Gather an army to hunt me. See if I care."

Alec's heart is pounding at the dangerous glint in Bane's eyes, and he feels his fingers trembling. He curls his hand into a fist, and rests it against his belt. "They won't stop."

"They never have stopped, Alexander." Bane looks bored, looking at some spot on the ceiling past Alec's head. "I've been running from the Nephilim for my entire life. I assure you, you won't catch me."

Alec's throat bobs. Bane doesn't look at him, even as Alec stares, trying to come up with something he can say to that. It's not like there isn't good reason for the Clave hunting Magnus Bane. He's dangerous. He's slaughtered hundreds and thousands of innocent people—mundanes and Nephilim alike.

And yet, he saved Alec's life. And Alec can't forget the way Bane had spoken to him, as he healed him. Assuring him he wouldn't hurt him. Murmuring that it would be okay, that he would be alright. Telling him that he wouldn't let him die.

It still doesn't make sense. It doesn't fit the picture of Bane that Alec has built up, over his years training. Alec should be dead.

So Alec says, "I'm sorry," and then bends to pick up his bow, slings his quiver over his shoulder, and tucks his stele into his pocket. He glances over his shoulder, and finds that Bane still isn't looking at him.

He turns. Just as he turns the door handle, Bane's voice reaches him.

"Wait."

Alec does.

"The children. The Shadowhunter children you're looking for. They weren't there, in the building. Valentine moved them."

"I know." Alec frowns at Bane, fingers tightening reflexively on his bow. "Do you know something?"

"Valentine has a meeting point. It's where he's been taking Downworlders and mundanes for experiments—"

"Experiments?" Alec drops his hand from the door and moves towards Bane. "Valentine has been experimenting? I thought his experiments were all on demons."

Bane raises his eyes heavenward. "Your ignorance to anything outside the realm of the Nephilim is genuinely astonishing. Yes, little angel, he's been experimenting. That's why Downworlders and mundanes keep going missing."

Alec bites his lip before he says something Bane will be even more exasperated by. He hadn't realised mundanes were going missing. They'd noticed the Downworlders disappearing, of course, but the Clave thought it most likely that they were going to join Valentine's ranks.

Crap. He has to tell his mother about this.

"If Valentine realised you were coming and moved the children, that might be where he took them. It's protected by the demons he's controlling. Heavily. But if you fancy a suicide mission..." Bane shrugs delicately, fingertips tracing along the chain of one of the many necklaces hanging around his neck. "There's an abandoned cinema near the docks. It reeks of dark, demonic magic."

A lead. Bane is giving him a lead. They won't have to start back at square one. This, along with any of the Circle that Isabelle, Jace and Raj managed to capture—

"Thank you," Alec breathes. "Thank you."

Bane looks distinctly unimpressed. "Get out. And don't fall out of the sky onto my doorstep again."

Chapter Text

Alec slashes a glamour rune into his arm the moment he steps outside onto the streets of Brooklyn. He doesn't want any mundanes to catch sight of his wings, which he doesn't dare conceal with rune magic just yet in case they're still healing, and he's not in the mood for people staring at his runes—mundanes seem to have an illogical fascination with them. Especially when they're on Jace and Izzy.

Jace.

Alec realises, abruptly, that he doesn't really know what happened to his siblings. He's been hoping. Pushing the thoughts to the back of his mind while he was with Bane. But he doesn't know. He doesn't know whether they're alive or dead or dying. He doesn't know whether they escaped, or whether others in the team died, or whether the Circle eventually slaughtered them all.

But surely... If they'd all fallen, surely Bane would have noticed? And surely he'd have told Alec?

Or perhaps he'd have more fun keeping the knowledge from him. Not telling Alec that his team are all dead. His sister. Raj. Maybe that's Bane's version of revenge. He knows Jace is okay—he can feel it. Can feel the bond still in tact. But what about Izzy? Raj?

No. He refuses to believe that they're dead. They can't be.

But...nevertheless, he wants to get back to the Institute and check. Quickly.

***

The moment Alec pushes open the heavy front door to the Institute, the muscles in his back twinging in protest when he slashes a rune into his wrist to make his wings disappear, the sounds of shouting meet his ears. He pauses as relief floods through him, hot and dizzying, at the sound of his sister's impassioned voice.

"Isabelle!" he hears Maryse snap, a hint of desperation in her voice. "I can't. I can't condone that kind of mission. I'm sorry. But if what you and Jace reported is true—"

"It shouldn't matter!" Isabelle hollers, the sounds of her boots clopping noisily on the stone floors getting louder as Alec listens for longer. "Family is more important than anything. That's what you're always telling me. So what's more important that my brother?"

Alec's heart aches. Of course. He should have expected to come home to find Isabelle battling with their mother about this. About searching for him. He can't have been with Bane for more than a day, surely? But still, Isabelle saw him fall - his whole team saw him fall - so they must—

"We have to protect our family," Maryse is saying, "but not like this. Not by endangering those of us still—"

"Don't you dare," Isabelle hisses.

"Isabelle—"

Isabelle rounds the corner, just as Alec pushes the door shut behind him with a clang. Isabelle's eyes snap to his, and she freezes in place, one hand outstretched towards where her gloves and whip are slung across a chair, the other loose at her side. Her lips part; she stares at him.

"Alec," she whispers.

He feels tears sting at his eyes at the disbelieving note in her voice, but he swallows, and offers her a smile. "Hey, Iz."

Without warning, she unfreezes, grabs her gloves, and flings both of them at his chest, one after the other. The metal studs hit him, and he winces, gaping at her as they drop to the floor, smacking against the cold stone.

"What the hell?"

"I hate you! I thought you were— We all thought you were—"

A sob hitches in her throat, choking off her words, and Alec's heart breaks. He reaches his arms towards her just as she collapses into him, hugging him tightly, trembling—most likely with anger, he thinks.

A thought hits him, and he pulls back. "What do you mean, you all thought I was dead? I'm not dead. Jace must have been able to tell you that."

Izzy smacks him, and then hugs him tighter. "He could. But he could also feel that there was something wrong. We all assumed you were out there dying somewhere. And Mom wouldn't let us look for you."

After pressing a kiss to the side of his sister's head, he glances up, and sees his mother standing where Isabelle had been moments before, expression impassive. Isabelle must sense a change in his body tension, because she lifts her head from his chest and looks over her shoulder.

"I'm glad you're back," is all Maryse says, before she turns on her heel, and walks out.

Alec looks down at Izzy, who has her lips pursed.

"Come on," she says, taking his hand. "Let's find Jace."

***

They find Jace in the training room, pounding the living shit out of a punching bag. The door scrapes along the floor as Izzy pushes it open, and Jace swears, landing a harder punch on the bag before he sways back onto his heels.

"Izzy, please, I— By the Angel."

Alec cracks a smile at that. Jace swears, flamboyantly, and strides forward, yanking Alec into a forceful, bone-crushing hug.

"Jace," Alec gasps, in protest, when Jace's knuckles press into a painful spot by his currently concealed wings.

"I'm sorry." Jace pulls back, hand going to Alec's neck and resting there as he speaks. "Are you okay?"

Alec nods, mind flashing back to the warlock, and the sensation of Bane bending over him when he'd fallen onto the sidewalk. All the power, all the demonic rage, all the terrible history... Magnus Bane is the most wanted Downworlder on the Clave's list, and he's in New York.

Alec has to tell the Clave.

More importantly, though, Alec has to tell Maryse about Bane's tip-off about the children.

"I'm fine," Alec assures him, gripping Jace's shoulder. "I promise."

"We saw you fall," Isabelle says, sounding worried. "You were so still, but then by the time the battle was over, you'd disappeared. I don't understand how you're alive."

Alec shrugs. He'll tell them later. He can't tell them now. He's got more important things to think about. "I got lucky, I guess."

Isabelle's eyes narrow, but she doesn't press. Not yet, at least. He knows she'll interrogate him later.

"What about the rest of the team?" he asks, looking from Jace to his sister. "Was anyone else hurt?"

"Not badly." Jace drops his hand from Alec's neck to grasp his shoulder instead, as though he needs the tangible evidence that his parabatai is alive. Alec can sympathise: he's needed it many times, when Jace went on suicide missions that ended with near-fatal accidents. "The Circle, though... Most of them escaped. We didn't capture any. Valentine appeared, and he had some kind of demon with him. Not one I recognised. I think it must have been some kind of Greater Demon, but not one any of us knew."

"How did you get out?"

"I don't know. He just...took his men and left. Didn't even put up a fight."

"But he must have known why we were there, surely?" Alec asks.

"Oh, he knew." Isabelle looks grip, and Alec sees her fingers trace along the length of her whip, which is wound around her wrist in its usual sleek bracelet. "He just didn't care. He knows we've got nothing. We can't find those kids with nothing."

"Actually," Alec says, "we might have something."

***

The Institute listens with rapt attention as Alec speaks. He tells them about Valentine's meeting point - the abandoned cinema by the docks, which, according to Warlock Bane, is saturated with dark magic - and then about the mundanes going missing. The experiments, Bane had said.

"How do you know that?" Jace asks, when Alec is finished. "How on earth did you find all that out?"

Alec looks over at Maryse, who's watching him closely, suspicion written across her face, and then at Isabelle, whose eyes are curious, but in no way judgemental. He can't lie. He can't pretend he just found all this out by accident.

Just like he can't pretend he managed to haul himself back from the brink of death with no help.

"A warlock found me," he says. "When I fell. He healed me. Warlock B—"

"A warlock?" Maryse straightens from where she'd been leaning with her palms braced in the table. "You accepted help from a warlock?"

Isabelle rolls her eyes, jaw tightening almost imperceptibly. Beside her, Jace ducks his head to murmur something in her ear; Isabelle crosses her arms, but doesn't say anything.

"I didn't have a lot of choice, at the time," Alec says, as patiently as he can, because he's fairly sure there are more important matters at hand. "I was dying."

Jace and Isabelle both wince.

"The warlock could have done anything to you, Alec," Maryse hisses. "He could have been a spy. He could have—"

"He could have been trying to help," Isabelle said, cooly. "For no reason except, maybe, he's better than us. Downworlders are not all spiteful, power-hungry beings intent on wrecking havoc on this world. That's Valentine."

"Your attitude towards Downworlders is troubling, Isabelle." Maryse has turned away from Alec, everybody else watching as the scene unfolds, much like it always does when Maryse - or anyone else - starts off about Downworlders.

"My attitude is troubling?" Isabelle huffs out an astounded laugh. "You're stereotyping an entire race because of one part of their heritage. If anyone's attitude is troubling, it's yours. It's the Clave's. You might all buy into their bullshit, but I'm not quite that incapable of thinking for myself."

I'm sure you're conditioned to hate and murder just like the rest of them, Bane had said. And now his sister is saying practically the same thing.

Alec can understand Maryse's worries about Isabelle's views, but not for the same reasons. Alec can't help but fear that Isabelle will trust the Downworlders too much, and end up hurt. Maryse, he knows, is more concerned about their familial reputation in the Clave's eyes.

And...well. Isabelle has a point, this time. He still doesn't understand why Bane saved his life - he probably never will - but the fact remains that he did. He did save Alec's life. And he hadn't done anything heinous to him, or demanded anything at all in return. No payment, no favours, no riches. He hadn't even made Alec promise not to tell the Clave that their most wanted Downworlder is living within New York, right under their noses.

"Downworlders are dangerous, Isabelle. I'm concerned that you don't seem to understand that."

"I'm concerned that you don't seem to understand how utterly ridiculous you sound."

Maryse's face morphs into a glare, shoulders shifting back, drawing herself up to her full height. "You think you understand the Downworld through your dalliances with the fey. You don't. I hope one day you'll learn."

Isabelle matches Maryse's cold aura of power and dominance with one of fire. "Dalliances?" She barks out a harsh laugh. "You know nothing about it, Mother. Nothing at all."

Raj clears his throat before either of them can say another word. "Alec," he says, "do you have any idea what kind of defences Valentine is likely to have stationed nearby?"

Alec is incredibly grateful for the interruption, and he shoots him a tight smile across the table. Raj inclines his head.

"No specifics," Alec says, "but it sounded like it was Valentine's powerhouse."

"So we should be prepared for the worst," Jace states. "Demons, the Circle, Downworlders who've allied with him... But we have got to get those kids."

"And find out what kind of experiments Valentine is foolish enough to think he can get away with," Isabelle says, flinging an accusatory glare at Maryse.

I think you might be my greatest disappointment for at least three decades, Alexander.

And yet, Bane still told him about Valentine's hideout. He didn't need to. It's not like the Clave would ever sanction a mission to save Downworlders that risked Nephilim lives. They were going there for the Shadowhunter children, and the children only.

But Bane told him anyway.

So Alec keeps quiet as Jace starts laying out the basics for a strategy plan, dragging over a sheet of paper to scribble out one of his ridiculous strategy maps. He feels Isabelle looking at him, intermittently, as Jace talks, and people around the table interject with suggestions and questions and protests.

By the time Jace has finalised his strategy, and Maryse is bending over the paper, discussing who should go on the mission, Alec's bored out of his mind, and he finds his thoughts drifting back to Bane. To the gentle tone his voice held when he healed Alec.

"Alec!"

He blinks, and finds that every head in the room is turned towards him. His mother has her arms folded across her chest, lips pressed into a severe line. Crap. He hasn't been paying attention.

"Do we need to request the Silent Brothers come in to check that the warlock hasn't done something to you?" she snaps.

Isabelle rolls her eyes, and flings Jace's strategy map back onto the table with a flourish, and far more force than necessary.

"No," Alec says. "I'm sorry. I'm fine."

"Clearly, you're not. Are you incapable of focusing for the duration of a meeting?"

"No, I—"

"I think you should sit this mission out," Maryse says, turning to sweep the paperwork off the table and into a neat pile. "You clearly haven't recovered from your ordeal. Isabelle and Jace will be perfectly capable of handling this."

Alec gapes at her. "Mom, I'm fine," he insists. "I'm tired, but if I get a few hours of sleep—"

"I'll call the Silent Brothers to check you," Maryse says. "Just in case."

Alec grinds his teeth together. "There is nothing wrong with me."

Maryse levels him with a cool look, but, after a moment, the corners of her lips twitch up into a sympathetic little smile. "I'd rather not risk the lives of twenty-some Nephilim children, Alec."

With that, she turns and sweeps from the room, barking at Raj to organise a patrol for the night. Raj shoots Alec a smile, significantly less irritating than Maryse's was, and squeezes Alec's forearm as he passes him to follow her out of the room.

Jace and Isabelle both linger, as the rest of the Shadowhunters file out, giving him concerned looks. He ignores them.

"Alec—"

Alec cuts his parabatai off. "Don't start, Jace. It doesn't matter. Just get those children back. And don't mess it up."

Jace cracks a smile. "Would I ever?"

There's a pause. Then:

"A warlock helped you, huh?" Isabelle's got a smile on her face. "Who?"

Alec shrugs. "No idea. He didn't stick around."

People are always telling Alec he's a bad liar. And he is, when he's caught off-guard. But when he's got time to think about it, to practise, he's a fantastic liar. And he knew that question would come.

Besides, it's not like he hasn't got enough practise lying to people about things. He's managed to keep one particular secret for his entire life.

"He didn't do anything, did he?" Jace asks. "He didn't ask you for anything?"

Isabelle throws her hands up. "Oh, for—"

"No. No, he didn't. He just healed me. I don't think he liked Shadowhunters very much, but..." Alec shrugs again, trying not to look at Isabelle, because he knows she's going to look horrifically smug. "He healed me anyway."

Isabelle gives him a one-armed hug. "We'll make an advocate of you yet."

Jace snorts behind them as Isabelle begins to pull Alec away from the table.

"Somehow, I doubt that, Iz."

Alec wonders what his siblings - his rebellious, reckless parabatai and his forward-thinking, modern sister - would think if they knew that the warlock who saved his life was Magnus Bane.

***

Late that night, there's a sharp knock on his bedroom door, and the sound of someone hissing his name. Alec blinks blearily, and glances at his phone. Fuck. It's three o'clock in the morning. There must be some kind of emergency, if someone's waking him up at this time despite Maryse's explicit instructions not to let him do anything until he's been examined by the Silent Brothers in the morning.

Alec stumbles out of bed, knocking his wingtip awkwardly against the wall, and rubs at his face with his knuckles, trying to look less like a grumpy twenty-two-year-old man and more like the leader he's supposed to be. It's a little difficult: has he mentioned that it's three in the fucking morning?

He yanked his bedroom door open, stifling a yawn, and blinks rapidly when he sees Raj standing there, dressed up in full gear, weapons strapped to him. Even more bizarrely, there's a little smile on his face.

"Raj?" Alec frowns. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." His smile widens a little. "The Silent Brothers aren't due until mid-morning tomorrow, and Jace and Izzy and the others are due to head out in a couple of hours. I thought you might want to be on the early morning patrol. In case they need a hand."

Alec stares at Raj for a moment. Raj is asking him to go out on patrol with him at a time that means he'll be out in the field when his siblings are going into Valentine's lair.

"You're supposed to be law-abiding before anything. You're supposed to be worse than me. What happened to you?"

Raj shrugs, and averts his eyes. "Maryse didn't technically say you couldn't go on patrol. She just told you to sit this mission out."

"I think that's splitting hairs," Alec says, while wondering at Raj's somewhat odd reaction. "But alright. Thank you. Give me ten minutes."

***

Half an hour later, Alec and Raj are striding along the Manhattan streets, searching - and listening - for signs of demonic activity. When Alec had first started going on patrols, back when he'd barely been more than a kid, Shadowhunters patrolled around Pandemonium, keeping an eye on demons preying on mundanes, and Downworlders doing illegal things. But then the Clave started cracking down on the Downworlders' every misdemeanour, and they'd decided to avoid Pandemonium for fear of the Downworlders starting a fight with them.

The Nephilim might generally loathe the Downworlders, but the Downworlders don't have much love for them, either.

Except, it seems, some of them have some sense of morality. Which is, truly, a somewhat new concept for Alec. But it seems difficult to ignore the evidence when it's right in front of him. Bane hadn't deceived him, hadn't hurt him, hadn't done anything more or less than what he'd told him he would.

It's more than a little bizarre.

"Alec?"

Alec glances across at Raj. "Pardon?"

Raj lets out a little laugh, and shakes his head. "Don't worry about it. It doesn't matter."

"I'm sorry. I was just thinking."

"So I gathered." Raj smiles wryly, and it occurs to Alec that he rarely spends time alone with Raj. Raj is a key part of his team - a fantastic strategist, a more than decent fighter, and his judgement is never clouded - but they're not exactly...friends, in the way Isabelle would use the word.

They're quiet for a moment, neither of them particularly great conversationalists, but it's not uncomfortable. Raj glances at him several times as they walk, and Alec tries not to feel irritated. It would be wonderful if people stopped looking at him like he's about to break. Alec turns to catch Raj's eye the sixth time it happens, and Raj looks away quickly, an odd look on his face. Alec feels slightly guilty for his thoughts. Raj likely has no ill intent.

When the turn away from the narrow streets into a wider area, Alec relishes in the opportunity to slash through the rune magicians his runes into nothing, and spread his wings just a little. They're always cramped in the Institute, his bedroom narrower wall-to-wall than his wingspan and the rest of the Institute so full of fragile items and carefully-ordered papers than the Shadowhunters daren't stretch out, for fear of knocking something. They usually keep their wings runed into non-existence in the Institute, anyway.

Raj is looking at him again. Unlike Alec, he lets his wings spread out wide. They're glamoured from mundane eyes, so it's perfectly safe. Alec just...doesn't like stretching out his wings like that unless it's for a purpose. Although, they do ache from where Warlock Bane healed them.

Raziel, if Bane hadn't healed him, he'd never have been able to fly again. The second time, when he'd woken up in Bane's apartment, he'd felt that he would live. He'd felt alive. But he would have lived as a cripple, a ruined Shadowhunter, a useless deadweight, if it weren't for Bane being generous enough to heal him a second time, and determined enough to get him back to full health.

"Are you okay?" Raj asks, eventually. "You seem quiet."

Alec snorts. "Isabelle and Jace say I'm always quiet. Too serious, too intent on following orders, not good at letting go..."

Raj shrugs. "In their opinion. Not in the Clave's."

Alec forces himself not to burst out laughing at that. Oh, if only the Clave knew. Knew about all his secrets. The secret he's going to be taking to his grave, the secret he's ashamed of, and, now, his secret about Bane. Oh, the Clave would adore hearing about it. They'd have him stripped of his marks on the spot.

For a moment, Alec considers telling Raj about Bane. But he sees the way Raj carries himself - entirely loyal to the Clave, with nothing else in his life to balance him (because, though Alec does what's asked of him, he'd put his family before the Clave in a heartbeat) - and decides not to.

***

By the time Raj and Alec return back to the Institute, it's nearly three hours since Jace and Izzy were due to set out with their team, and Alec can't help but wonder why Raj stayed back to go on a morning patrol with him rather than going with them. He doesn't ask.

Maryse is standing in the archway with her hands on her hips, hair scraped back into a bun even more severe than usual, expression furious. And people wonder, Alec thinks, where his sister gets that impassioned attitude from.

"And where, exactly," she demands, "have you been, Alexander?"

Alec in straps his quiver, slinging it onto his forearm as he shrugs out of his jacket, which is covered in ichor after they came across a small group of demons trying to lure a drunk mundane woman down an alleyway near Central Park.

"On patrol," Alec replies. "Demonic activity was low. Which means Valentine is probably tightening his grip on—"

Maryse cuts him off. "I don't care. I gave you explicit instructions not to go anywhere until you'd been checked by the Silent Brothers. That warlock could have done anything to you."

"If he'd wanted to do anything that terrible, I'd be back without my wings, Mother."

Maryse and Raj both flinch at that. They all know that one of the prime methods used by Downworlders in the past to torture and maim the Nephilim in revenge for persecuting them was to hack off their wings and keep them as trophies, leaving hundreds of Shadowhunters unfit for duty.

"The Silent Brothers are waiting for you," she says, after several seconds of silence. "They're in the infirmary."

Alec nods, and picked up his things. He doubts they'll find anything. But it can't hurt to check.

Chapter Text

Alec hears his siblings' return before he sees anything. There's a shout, and a cry from a woman, and Alec can hear sobbing all the way from the Infirmary. He shoots upright, almost smacking Brother Zachariah in the face where he's bent over Alec.

"I'm sorry," he says. The Silent Brothers have always unnerved him, and getting on their bad side has never seemed like a good idea.

It's alright, Zachariah assures him, lowering gentle hands back down to continue his inspection.

Brother Zachariah is the most unusual of all the Silent Brothers, and by far and away Alec's favourite. He's had regular dealings with the Brothers during his life, mostly due to Jace's teenage tendency to get himself near-fatally wounded on a monthly basis, and also whenever they capture someone worth interrogating regarding Valentine and the Circle.

Unlike most of the Brothers, Zachariah doesn't have his mouth seen shut, and he still looks distinctly human, dark hair and dark eyes and smooth skin essentially unchanged from what Alec presumes he used to look like before he became a Brother.

And he's always exceptionally patient with Jace. Which is a miracle from anyone, let alone a Silent Brother who's probably saved the stupid blonde's life a hundred times. Zachariah had been the one to inform them, years ago, that their assumptions about Jace's parentage were incorrect—that he was a Herondale, not a Wayland. They still have no idea how Zachariah knew.

Your sister and your parabatai were successful, it would seem, Zachariah says, as the ruckus outside the Infirmary builds, the sounds of children screaming and parents crying meeting their ears.

"I hope so." He bites his lip, desperate to get the hell out of this stupid bed and go out to see what's going on. He hates being out of the loop about politics and missions even more than he hates being the distraction during missions.

You may go. Magnus Bane has not harmed you.

Alec's head whips towards Brother Zachariah, and he gapes at him, horrified. Did Brother Zachariah just say Magnus Bane? He knows? Knows that Bane healed him?

"Did you– You– How did you–"

Magnus Bane is a prideful man. He tends to sign his work.

"Sign his—" Alec shakes his head, incredulous. "Isn't that a little ostentatious?"

Brother Zachariah's face gets as close to a smile as is possible for a Silent Brother. Perhaps. I'll confess I used to think so. But I will not tell the Clave, Alexander Lightwood.

Had Zachariah known Bane, before he became a Silent Brother?

"But— Don't you have to?"

Alec thinks that Zachariah would probably be raising his eyebrows, if he were still human.

Don't you?

Alec doesn't have a response to that; he just stares at the Brother.

Some duties go beyond that of our duty towards the Clave, Alexander Lightwood. Some loyalties are stronger. I would not condemn you, nor Magnus Bane, to the Clave's mercies. Now go, and see your parabatai.

"Thank you," Alec says, because he's not sure what else he can say to something like that. It seems he's having his eyes opened to more than just Downworlders, this week. He hadn't realised that the Silent Brothers still experienced emotions like that. Or, perhaps, they merely retained the intellectual ability to understand and infer emotions they'd had before they became Brothers, and act accordingly. He's known Brother Zachariah since he first met him when he was twelve, and yet, he's never really afforded much thought to anything beyond the obvious. "I– Thank you."

Zachariah inclines his head, and then Alec is up out of the bed, and dashing out of the infirmary towards where he can hear a ruckus building.

There's an enormous number of people gathered, is the first thing Alec notices. Jace's golden head is obvious, standing above most people in the room, and he spots Isabelle soon after. They're surrounded by anxious-looking children.

Alec stops in the doorway, eyes scanning through the room, and he counts. One, two, three—

Twenty-two. There are twenty-two children in that room. And twenty-two children had gone missing. Jace and Isabelle didn't just save some, they saved all of them.

Bane's tip-off had been right. He hadn't lied to them. Magnus Bane had made this rescue possible.

Jace meets Alec's eyes across the room, and Alec feels his face break out into a smile. He makes his way through the crowd, towards his parabatai and his sister, trying his best not to step on any children. They're all so tiny. It reminds him, painfully, of his little brother, Max, currently still in Idris with his father.

"You did it," Alec states.

Jace shrugs one shoulder. "Valentine must have been out. It got a bit bloody, and the Infirmary's going to be busy for a few days, but nobody died."

Alec rolls his eyes, and then notices a still-bleeding cut going down Jace's neck, just missing his jugular, down across his shoulder, where it disappears under his collar. "You're hurt."

"It's fine."

Ignoring that, Alec pulls his stele out, peels back Jace's jacket, and burns three iratzes into Jace's skin around the wound. By the time he's finished the third, they're already starting to take effect: the wound has stopped bleeding, beginning to turn an ugly, raw pink colour.

"We're parabatai for a reason," Alec states, to Jace's slight frown. "And I couldn't go on the mission with you, so..."

Jace rolls his eyes. "Please. Your intel made this possible. Shut up."

"It wasn't really my intel."

"Nobody's stupid enough to think a warlock would just give you that information for no reason. You must have asked. Whatever you did, it was smart, Alec. Take a compliment for once, and stop talking. Help Izzy find the parents of all these kids."

"Alright." Alec lets his gaze linger on Jace for a moment, then says, "Jace?"

Jace turns back to him and raises one eyebrow. "Yeah?"

"Thank you."

"I'm gonna knock you on your ass later, Lightwood," is all Jace says in reply, as one kid nearly takes another out with their wing while running towards her father, the little girl too young to bear runes, and so unable to conceal her wings yet.

Alec grins. "You wish."

***

It takes several hours for the New York Institute to locate the parents of all twenty-two children. It takes even longer for the mission debrief from Jace and Isabelle, laying out all they managed to work out about Valentine's lair—in short, not all that much. Evidence of magic, of Downworlders, demons, and several locked rooms that the team hadn't dared venture into in case it jeopardised their mission. It had been almost deserted, as though Valentine had been targeting all his efforts elsewhere for the day.

Which, of course, has everyone on edge.

Alec feels battered from his sparring session with Jace, muscles burning pleasantly, knuckles aching from landing a satisfying hit to Jace's shoulder. Maryse had stood in the doorway for several minutes, watching while they sparred, eyes narrowed as she watched them. When Alec had knocked Jace to the ground, both of them sweaty and breathing heavily, and then extended a hand to help him back up, she'd pursed her lips and left, without saying a word.

Alec doesn't understand what's going on with his mother. She's been colder than ever, recently. Quicker to snap at Isabelle for her forward attitudes, sharper in her criticisms, more lethal with her words. Something is going on. He's just not sure what. Not sure whether it's Valentine, and the stress that comes with dealing with the Circle, or whether it's something else.

And he misses Max. He hasn't seen his little brother for weeks and weeks, with both Max and their father away in Idris while Robert negotiates with the Clave regarding the Institute. It happens, sometimes. The Clave disagrees with a decision, or questions a ruling, and so calls for weeks of meetings.

A knock on his bedroom door snaps him from his thoughts, and he sits up from where he was laying back on his bed, reading. "Come in."

The door opens, and Isabelle appears in the doorway. She's smiling, stele slid through her hair to hold it up in a bun, dress tight and heels so high Alec doesn't understand how she can walk in them.

"Is everything okay?" Alec asks, when she comes fully into the room, shuts the door behind her, and draws a silencing rune on the wall.

"You tell me." She flops down on the end of his bed, crosses her ankles, and quirks her eyebrows, leaning back on her hands. "You're the one who nearly died a couple of days ago."

"I'm fine." Alec folds the corner of a page over, then shuts his book and tosses it to one side so that it lands cover-down, away from Isabelle's prying eyes. She'd never shut up if she were to find out that he's reading mundane fiction. "Mom made sure of that. I didn't think Brother Zachariah would ever finish examining me. And I went on patrol, and then kicked Jace's ass in the training room. So I'm good."

Isabelle smiles. "I know, hermano. I don't understand how, but..." She shrugs.

"Did you want something?" he asks pointedly, poking her in the side with his toes.

Isabelle slaps his sock-clad foot away, wrinkling her nose. "Ew. Have you showered since you were sparring?"

Alec grins at her. "Maybe. Maybe not."

"You're revolting."

"Of course I've showered. Now, are you going to barge in any longer, or do you have something you actually wanted to ask me?"

Isabelle's mock-disgusted expression falls away, and she looks suddenly serious. "I just want to make sure you know that I'm not stupid. I know that something happened that you're not telling us about."

Alec swallows, and lets out a breath. "Nothing happened, Izzy."

She places a hand delicately over his. When he looks up to meet her gaze, there's nothing but compassion in her eyes. The same expression of heartbreaking sympathy she wore when she told him that she knew who he was, knew what he had been trying so hard to hide.

"You were as good as dead, big brother," she says softly. "We saw you fall. Everyone in the sky saw you fall. Jace could feel your parabatai bond splintering when you hit the ground. And you got vital - and correct - information from whoever helped you. Something happened."

Alec presses his lips together. "What do you want me to tell you? A warlock helped me. That's it."

Isabelle shakes her head. "I don't want you to tell me anything. I just want you to know that you can. If you need to."

Alec smiles at her, and shifts so he can wrap an arm around her shoulders. She smiles back at him, resting her head on his shoulder. They sit still for a moment, before Isabelle pulls back, and jumps up lightly from the bed.

"Well, that was all. You can go back to being boring and read now." She smirks at him.

Alec rolls his eyes. "Leave me alone."

"Fine," she chirrups, "I'm leaving. IfMom asks for me, I'm not available."

Alec frowns at her. "Why?"

Isabelle flips her hair over her shoulder, gestures down at her tight dress and heels, and quirks an eyebrow. "Why do you think?"

"I don't think I want to know," Alec tells her, firmly. "If I don't know, I can't be blamed."

He's lying. He knows where she's going. More or less. He can work it out. And if Isabelle were to come under any undue scrutiny from the Clave - not that she's breaking any laws, that Alec is aware of - Alec would do anything in his power to protect her.

"I'll see you later, Alec," she says, before waltzing out of the room, shutting the door behind her with a resolute click.

***

Alec isn't really in the business of socialising with Downworlders.

Socialising, in general, isn't his area. He can play the diplomat - he has to - but parties, large groups of people, and reaching out to new acquaintances is usually Jace and Izzy's area.

So he's not quite sure what's possessed him, as he sets his pen down, scans over the thick paper, and folds it in half, and in half again. He picks up his jacket and slides it on, the leather cool through the thin cotton of his t-shirt, and drops the folded paper into his inside pocket.

It's second-nature for him to pick up two seraph blades as he leaves his bedroom, strapping them onto his body in strategic positions, and then slash another glamour rune against his arm to make sure his wings are hidden from mundanes, even if he ends up in a fight with demons or a rogue Downworlder, and has to un-rune them back into existence.

The Institute is quiet as he slips out of his bedroom, his feet silent against the stone floor. There are people milling around in the control room, he notices, as he passes by on his way out, most of them staring at screens, mouthpieces on, probably in contact with any Shadowhunters who are out on patrol tonight.

Jace would have a field day if he saw Alec creeping out of the Institute, trying not to be noticed. He'd probably assume Alec were going to meet some girl.

Alec's mouth curls into a wry smile at the thought.

Nobody pays him any attention as he strides past the Shadowhunters milling about in the Institute, through the long cold corridors, and out through the front door, bow and quiver slung over his shoulder, glamoured into invisibility.

Outside, it's nearly dark, and prime time for demons to be lurking in alleyways and behind dumpsters, Eidolon demons positioning themselves as mundanes, all waiting for the right moment to wreck havoc.

Alec wonders, once again, what he's doing, out alone, not even to patrol, or to follow up on a mission. He doesn't do things like this. But it just feels...right. It feels necessary. It feels unfinished, and Alec needs to acknowledge it.

The ground is saturated with rainwater, mist still hanging in the air around him as he walks through the busy streets of New York at night, forever grateful, as always, that he's invisible to mundane eyes with his glamours. He hates being seen. He much prefers fading away into the shadows.

It takes him a while. The subway ride is short, but the walk at the other end is longer, until, eventually, he turns onto the street he remembers all too well. The street he'd crashed on. The street he should have died on.

He inhales deeply as he stops outside Magnus Bane's front door. It looks like such an ordinary apartment block. Larger than most, perhaps, but it makes no illusions to the grandeur and luxury lying inside Bane's loft.

Alec glances over at the wall, and sees that Bane has written his name - just his surname - in elegant, looping handwriting, next to a buzzer. It's exactly the sort of handwriting Alec would expect Bane to have.

He doesn't press the buzzer. Instead, he unzips his jacket, reaches a hand into his pocket, and withdraws the note he'd painstakingly written out in his own scrawling script back in his bedroom at the Institute. For a moment, he stares at it. He didn't sign it, but he's sure Bane will work out that it can hardly be anybody else.

The Clave, though? Even if the Clave found it, they'd have no idea.

Before he can drop the note in the letterbox by Bane's name, the door swings open, and Alec stills, expecting to see a mundane about to crash into him.

Except—

"Nephilim." Bane looks utterly unfazed, a smirk playing at his lips. His eyes are glamoured, Alec notices, brown instead of those yellow-green cat eyes, and his shirt buttons all the way up, not leaving half his chest on display. "I thought my wards felt odd. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Alec feels his entire body go stiff, tense, and he glances over his shoulder before he replies. "Nothing. I just– I wanted–"

"Oh?" Bane arches an eyebrow, both the gesture and the tone of his voice flippant, but genuine surprise flashes across his face. "You're not here with an army sent by the Clave to bring me down?"

"N-no?"

"Is that a question, darling? Or an answer?"

Alec flushes, and he glares at Bane. "An answer."

Bane lets out a soft little laugh. "I'm sorry. Nephilim are too much fun to tease. But what happened to being contractually obliged to tell the Clave that I'm lurking in Brooklyn, waiting for the right moment to burn the world to ashes and torture puppies?"

Alec opens his mouth, and then closes it again. He is obliged to tell the Clave that Bane is here. But he didn't. And he's not really sure why. Because Bane saved his life, maybe. Because it didn't feel right. Because, though he doesn't trust this warlock in the slightest, and clearly Bane has little faith in any Shadowhunter, Bane gave him a lead that saved twenty-two innocent children.

Bane is watching him, an odd expression in his eyes. "So, why have you deigned to honour me with your presence, tonight? Shouldn't you be out enacting your heavenly justice?"

It's a dig. Alec knows it is. Bane is trying to rile him up, trying to make him react, trying to make him lose his temper. Alec won't let him. He won't. Besides, he knows there's some truth to Bane's jibe—sometimes the Clave does go too far. Sometimes the lines blur. But he won't be tricked into feeling guilty for it. He's a soldier, and he does as he's told.

Until now, at least.

"I wanted to give you this," Alec manages to get out, voice neutral and devoid of emotion, holding out his note.

Once again, surprise crosses Bane's face. This time, it's replaced by apprehension, suspicion, as he takes the paper and unfolds it, gingerly bending back the creases Alec made. His eyes scan across it, and one corner of his mouth turns up.

"That's a very sweet attempt at civility, little angel," Bane says, and there's a smile that accompanies his words. It's small, on his mouth, but Alec can hear it in his voice, and it's visible in his eyes. "But it's also rather dull."

Alec narrows his eyes. "It's all true."

"'On behalf of all involved, the Clave extends its gratitude for your assistance'," Bane reads. He looks up at Alec with one eyebrow quirked. "Does it? I'm fairly sure the Clave would like to make a tapestry demonstrating my miserable demise, paint the Accords Hall with my blood, and hang my head on the Inquisitor's door as a souvenir. I'm not sure gratitude is part of their plan."

"Oh, for—" Alec snatches the letter back, and bawls it into a fist, embarrassment and anger rushing through him in equal portions. He'd known this would be a terrible idea. "I'll leave. I'm sorry to have disturbed you."

"You misunderstand me, Nephilim." Bane's voice is gentler, and it makes Alec turn back to face him from where he's halfway down the few steps leading up to the door. "Your gratitude is appreciated, even if I don't believe that the Clave has any."

Alec moves back up a step. "They were all alive," he says, "and they're safe, and reunited with their families. All of the children. They were where you said they'd be."

Bane inclines his head. "You're welcome."

"Valentine wasn't there." Alec bites down on his lower lips as he pauses. "It was near deserted, apparently. Which means Valentine must have been doing something else."

"Recruiting, I would suspect. If he was doing anything with dark magic again, I would have felt it," Bane says, with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Apparently? Were you not there?"

Alec tries not to feel indignant about that, again. He'd done enough of that while Brother Zachariah stood over him, searching for any untoward magic. "No. My mother insisted I be checked by the Silent Brothers, because I told her I'd been healed by a warlock."

Bane laughs, cold and humourless. "Of course. Tell me, little angel. Why are your people not barricading my door and charging in with blazing weapons?"

"They don't know," Alec says. "I didn't tell them you're here."

Bane is still, quiet for several seconds. Then: "At all?"

"No."

"You're a mystery, Alexander," Bane says. "But, if that's all, I'm afraid I have things to do and places to be."

It's not going how Alec wanted this to go. He's not quite sure what he expected from this interaction; he just knew he had to say something to Bane. After everything, after the warlock had saved his life - for nothing - and then enabled them to save another twenty-two Nephilim lives, equally freely, he had to say something. It couldn't just be left unrecognised.

But Bane doesn't seem overly interested in Alec's thanks. And Alec seems to be succeeding only in offending him every other sentence.

"I'm sorry," Alec says, stepping back down. He glances down at the floor before he meets Bane's gaze again. There's something lingering in the glamoured brown, but Alec doesn't understand what.

Eyebrows raised, Bane says, "I'm not sure apologies are necessary. I daresay my clients will survive being delayed by ten minutes. They won't deny me the privilege of experiencing a Shadowhunter come to my door, specifically to deliver thanks."

Alec stares at him, lips slightly parted, struggling to keep up. "I– I don't– You–"

One corner of Bane's lips tips up again, in that little smirk, and Alec realises he's being teased. He flushes, for about the hundredth time, and swallows around his nervous stuttering to offer Bane a sheepish smile.

"Go on, little angel," Bane says, flicking his fingers. "Go back to the Institute. Neither of us have the luxury of staying here socialising all night."

"No," Alec agrees, "we don't." But he doesn't go. Not yet. "I'm not going to tell them. I want you to know that. You didn't ask for anything, when you saved me, and when you told me about Valentine, and so– I'm not going to say anything."

Bane rolls his eyes. "My payment is that I will not be driven from my home by prejudiced Nephilim who have deluded themselves into thinking they can find me if I don't want to be found? That's generous of you."

"No." Alec sighs, and scrubs at his face. "By the Angel, I'm not good at this. I didn't mean that. I meant you– You don't deserve that. I know who you are, I know what you've done–" Bane snorts indelicately at that, but Alec ignores it "–and I know you're a warlock, but...you enabled us to save twenty-two kids. That's...that's a good thing. It's– Maybe not everything is– is—"

"Maybe not everything is quite so simple, so clear-cut right and wrong, so obvious black and white, as the Clave would have you believe," Bane interjects, smiling a little. He inclines his head. "I agree. So I suppose, little angel, thank you. And goodbye, now. You give me some hope that peace is possible. Perhaps I'll revisit the Shadowhunters, in three or four generations."

His smile turns sardonic, then drops, and he sweeps past Alec and down the steps, tweaking his blazer so it sits better on his shoulders. Alec swallows.

Bane doesn't turn back to look at him, as he says, "Don't linger on my doorstep all night, darling."

With that, he waves his hand, a portal appearing in the middle of the sidewalk, and he steps through. For a moment, Alec is captured by his rings glimmering under the street lamps, and then the portal closes, and Bane disappears; the crumpled letter Alec still has clutched in his hand disappears with him.

Chapter Text

Alec Lightwood is twenty-two years old.

He feels like he's spent his entire life battling the Circle - fellow Nephilim - first, and demons second.

The first time he was ever sent on a mission - a proper, Clave-sanctioned mission, not just a regular patrol - was at what many consider the peak of the Circle's power, seven years ago.

He'd been sent, along with the rest of a team, led by his father, to ambush a group of Downworlders who were suspected to be due to meet with Valentine, in order to offer him their blood for a sacrilegious ritual that would lead to the beginning of the end of everything planet earth held dear.

Or something like that.

In the end, six Shadowhunters had trailed behind an unlikely vampire-werewolf duo for three hours, following them halfway around New York City. They tracked the men in and out of a mundane restaurant and then a Downworld café, before the pair had sat down on a bench in Central Park, laughing together and pointedly ignoring the fey dancing around the bushes, and then started kissing softly.

(Even now, Alec can hear his father's choking noises of disgust when he'd realised that the two men were a couple. It still makes his heart clench and his stomach twist. But he has far more important things to think about.)

That had been the first time Alec had realised just how paranoid the Clave could be, about anything concerning Valentine and Downworlders in the same general vicinity.

And, now that the Circle seems to be rising back up again, harnessing the power of demons and Downworlders and mundanes, and Raziel knows what Valentine is doing, it doesn't surprise Alec when his mother orders him to gather a team and follow a female warlock to a suspected Downworld meeting with at least two members of the Circle.

He didn't expect to find anything of much note. It's rare that they do, on these sorts of missions. The Downworlders aren't stupid—they know Valentine despises them just as much, if not more, than the Clave does. It's usually the young and the volatile who are fooled by his ploys. The older Downworlders are usually quite aware that he wishes to wipe the Downworld stain from the earth.

(The Clave likes utilising the skills and the strengths of the Downworlders far too much to do that, Alec knows. Raziel, they'd have to make their own wards and potions if they killed all the warlocks, and Angel knows what they'd have to complain about in meetings if there weren't any Downworlders. The Shadow world would collapse.)

And yet, Alec is standing beside his parabatai, staring wide-eyed across at his sister, watching four of the most influential Downworlders in New York sit demurely while they listen to two Shadowhunters branded with the Circle rune, at least another twenty Downworlders, including children, spread out around them.

And Magnus Bane is in there.

Bane told him he'd thrown Valentine into a wall. Bane also told him that he hadn't bought into Valentine's empty promises to leave the Downworlders to live in peace, in his new world. Bane had set aside his prejudices against the Nephilim to help Alec, because, clearly, he felt even less goodwill towards Valentine.

And yet, Alec can see him a mere few metres away, watching the Circle preaching their crap at him.

It's so...impulsive.

He'd almost let himself forget, that that's what Downworlders are. Impulsive. Fickle. Capricious.

And Magnus Bane—he's not sure why he ever began to entertain the idea of harbouring even a modicum of trust for the High Warlock of Brooklyn.

There are twenty-six Downworlders in there, Alec counts, along with the two Circle members. Nine of the Downworlders are children. But four are powerful, and influential, and one in particular could probably destroy all of New York City with a flick of his ring-laden fingers.

Bane is the most powerful being in that room. They have orders to stop this meeting, and to capture the Downworlders who are plotting with the enemy. Bane has to go.

The two fey knights, too, are going to be their main targets, along with the tall dark-haired vampire, whom Jace is watching with narrowed eyes as the vampire rolls his eyes at something said by Valentine's men. He's the leader of the New York vampires. Raphael Santiago. And if he's here, along with two important fey knights and the High Warlock of Brooklyn, meeting with the Circle, all associating themselves with Valentine in what appears to be a peaceful setting, then—

Then the Clave is losing its grip on the Downworld, and the Accords are falling apart.

And if Valentine wins over the Downworlders, it's all over.

***

The crack of Isabelle's whip as it flashes out from where they position themselves just out of sight is all it takes for all hell to break lose.

Valentine's men whirl round to face them, but they don't seem surprised to see Clave-sympathising Nephilim interrupting their mission; on the contrary, they seem relatively relaxed.

If Alec's orders hadn't been specifically to capture the Downworlders, he'd have been far more preoccupied with making sure they didn't walk out of the room with their hands still attached to their bodies.

He holds the gaze of one of Valentine's men in between releasing one arrow and reaching for another, for just a moment; the man smirks at him, before both of them break into a run, out the door and into the night.

Raziel, he wants to leave the goddamn Downworlders to it and run after the root cause of the problem, here. But he can't. He has orders.

He winces when he hears the howl of a child as a throwing knife from Raj draws blood from the arm of a female warlock. The warlock bars her teeth at Raj, green flames leaping out from her palms, while the child behind her quivers.

"Don't touch the children!" he hollers, a reminder, because they've already discussed this, and they've agreed, but he doesn't want there to be any room for interpretation. They will not sink to Valentine's level.

Shadowhunters are around him, seraph blades blazing, in various states of flight: Jace is hovering low to the ground, throwing knives at his belt and sword in hand, Izzy beside him on her feet, whip snarling as it snaps around the wrists of Raphael Santiago, yanking him backwards with a jerk.

Izzy's face is grim as she hauls the vampire in. She's barely said a word about this mission, and Alec wonders, abruptly, whether it's because she knows someone here.

"Raphael!"

The cry, filled with fear, snaps Alec out of his daze. He turns sharply, wings unfurling so he can rise up above the raging chaos and destruction below him to see. Among the sparking of magic and the blurry speed of the vampires and the golden flash of seraph blades, stands Magnus Bane, hands curled into fists, eyes glinting like daggers as he stares at Izzy.

But he looks wild, eyes wide and hair tousled, standing stock-still and trembling like a caged animal. Because he is, Alec realises. Not an animal - whatever Bane is, destroyer of worlds or otherwise, he's not an animal - but he's trapped. Someone has clicked bracelets around his wrists, etched with binding runes designed specifically to prevent warlocks from using their magic.

Bane looks murderous.

And, magic or not, the strength in every tightly coiled muscle of his body is obvious, and he's advancing on Isabelle, who's distracted by a Shadowhunter behind her wrestling Santiago into handcuffs. There are two warlocks throwing magic at her—magic designed to kill.

There's no way he's letting Bane get anywhere near his sister.

Alec cocks an arrow along his bowstring, and aims. On his next inhale, he relaxes his fingers, and shifts slightly with his target. As he exhales, he lets the arrow fly, and it sinks into the leg of the warlock closest to her. Izzy is more than capable of twisting to avoid another scorching red flame, before she tosses the warlock behind her with a snag of her whip for someone else to handcuff.

His knees bend slightly to absorb the impact as he lands in front of Bane, between the warlock and his sister, wings flaring out wide to prevent Bane attempting to dart around him. He takes a menacing step forward.

"No," he says. "You're not touching her."

Bane's eyes flash, cat eyes narrowing. "You bastard. You didn't mean a word you said to me. You're just the same as the rest of the Clave. Stab first, ask questions later." Bane shakes his head in disgust. "Did you bother to question why we were here? Did you investigate the purpose of this meeting, before you stormed in and starting killing us?"

Alec feels a rush of anger, and, with adrenaline coursing through him and Bane's magic muted, he dares to talk back.

"We're not killing anyone," he spits. "And we have our orders. My job is to obey, not to question."

"Of course it is." Bane shakes his head, smiling bitterly. "There are children here, you soulless monster."

Alec bristles. "We're not touching the children. They can leave."

"While you take their parents, their guardians, and torture them in the Silent City?"

"You've got ten seconds, warlock," Alec snaps, because, loathe as it is to admit it, perhaps Bane has a point. "Ten seconds to persuade me why I shouldn't throw you all to the Clave. Every adult in here, but you, especially."

Bane blinks. Once. Twice. His expression goes blank, losing some of its anger in the presence of sheer surprise. Alec clenches his jaw, because goddamnit, he has his back to his sister and his parabatai, and he's supposed to be protecting them.

"Because," Bane says, "contrary to what your beloved elders would have you believe, I, along with everyone else in this room, despise Valentine infinitesimally more than I despise you. And whatever assumptions you've made, whatever prejudices you've drawn on to justify slaughter and the trauma you're causing to these children, we are not here to side with Valentine."

"But you're not siding with us, either."

"We don't side with the Nephilim. We learnt our lesson when the Clave began to hide behind loopholes in the Accords and abandoned us, instead sending out soldiers on missions like this. We're not interested in your war. We're not interested in which Shadowhunters win. We're interested in not dying, and not being turned into twisted weapons for the Circle's sadistic use before being slaughtered. If that means acting against Valentine—so be it. But it doesn't mean we are fighting for your cause. We're fighting for ours."

Alec holds Bane's gaze for several long seconds. Then:

"You saved my life."

Bane rolls his eyes. "Are you going to bring this up every time I'm forced to endure your oh-so-angelic presence?"

"You hate my people. You just said so. But you saved my life, for no reason except you wanted to."

"A mistake I may live to regret, as you're about to hand me over to my mortal enemy to be brutally murdered."

"I am your mortal enemy," Alec says, impatiently. "I'm a Shadowhunter."

"You're a soldier." Bane's lips turn up in what's almost a smile, and for a split second, Alec forgets that they're negotiating Bane's life during the middle of a battle, and that his people are capturing Bane's to be interrogated by the Clave. "The Clave itself and a soldier of the Clave are very different."

Alec reaches a hand out towards the bracelets around Bane's wrists, his other hand going to his belt. The warlock's eyes go wide, and fear flashes across his face when Alec grabs his hand.

"Get off," Bane hisses, yanking his hands back as though Alec's touch burned him. "I will not become the slave of an institution that has been hunting me for my entire life for nothing more than the circumstance of my birth."

"No." Alec holds up his stele. "No, I— Please, give me your hand."

Breathing heavily, Bane watches him, warily, eyes flicking around his face as though searching for some clue as to whether or not he can really trust Alec, trust a Shadowhunter, just this once.

"Please," Alec says again, and holds his hand out, palm-up, letting his bow drop gently to the floor in an attempt to make Bane believe him.

Bane follows the path his bow takes, but his eyes go straight to the knives and daggers and stars in Alec's belt. He swallows visibly. But then, slowly, he raises a hand, fingers still curled into his palm, and offers it to Alec.

Alec steadies Bane's wrist lightly, holding his forearm between his thumb and fingers, and lowers his stele to the bracelet. The rune fizzes as he sketches it on, and the bracelet clicks open.

Immediately upon having one taken off, blue sparks at Bane's fingers, and the other disappears. Alec flinches back as the flames flicker over his own extended hands, but, to his surprise, it doesn't hurt. It's warm, but not blistering, and licks across his skin harmlessly. He doesn't think he's ever felt warlock magic like that before. He expected it to burn like acid, but it's warm, gentle, like a careless, fleeting touch. It's...it's nice.

"What are you doing?" Bane whispers, glancing over Alec's shoulder at the other Shadowhunters.

"Letting you go. Because the Clave wants to interrogate the people in this meeting, not kill them. Except you're Magnus Bane, so you'll be dead the moment you get inside the Institute. And I swore I wouldn't tell the Clave that you're in New York." He pauses, then says, "And I'm not sure you deserve what they'd do to you."

There's a scream behind them, and Bane grinds his teeth together. Blue swirls at his fingertips again, but he doesn't make to attack.

"I'm warning you," he says, "so listen to me carefully, Shadowhunter. You can do whatever you want to me, but if you hurt them, I will bring hell down on the head of every Nephilim in New York. You letting me go will not excuse blatantly breaking the Accords."

Alec sees Raj turn towards them out of the corner of his eye. Before Bane has time to blink, he has a knife pressed to the warlock's throat; Bane's expression morphs into one of utter fury, hands rising, magic crackling.

"I'm not going to slit your throat," Alec hisses, "but this has to look like an escape, not me letting you go. And they're going to recognise you. So stop lecturing me and get out. Before they kill you."

"Don't you dare think that this forgives capturing and interrogating and whatever other heinous things you plan on doing to my people," Bane snarls, softly. "Because it doesn't."

And then Alec is being thrown backwards by a wave of magic so strong he's seeing black spots in his vision before he's even crashed to the ground. His entire body tenses in preparation for excruciating pain, but, a mere moment before he hits the floor, he slows, and despite the clamour he can hear around him when he lands, it doesn't hurt. Not much. He'll be bruised, but an iratze will fix it in moments. And his wings, still tender from where they were healed, nearly two weeks ago, now, feel like they hit a floor made of cotton wool.

"Alec!"

His parabatai is beside him in a moment, a hand on his shoulder as he drops to his knees. "Raziel, are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Alec says, hauling himself into a sitting position. He glances towards the door, but Bane has disappeared.

Good.

"We've got them," Jace says, and Alec looks over his parabatai's shoulder to see an enormous group of Downworlders all together, surrounded by Shadowhunters. Warlocks have all been stripped temporarily of their magic, vampires' wrists tied in thin braids of silver, faces already beginning to look gaunt, and the two fey knights are in handcuffs.

Isabelle's eyes flicker between the wall and the fey male at the back, repeatedly, as though she can't bare to look. He's staring at the floor, expression blank. Her fingers are rubbing circles together, whip coiled around her wrist; Alec's heart aches at the sight.

"The children?" Alec asks, looking to the group of children - mostly warlocks, but one or two fey - who are assembled, Raj standing in front of them.

"Protocol tells us to call the High Warlock," Jace says, with a wry grin that Alec forces himself to return, "but as ours hasn't been seen for decades, we alerted some Catarina Loss. She'll arrive in a few minutes, and Raj is staying with them in the meantime."

Alec exhales. "Good. Let's go back to the Institute, then."

Isabelle catches his eye as he walks past the Downworlders, Jace striding slightly ahead of him. She shakes her head at him, and, for perhaps the first time in his life, Alec thinks he might understand what she means.

He squeezes her hand on the way past, Magnus Bane's fear-filled eyes flashing in his mind.

***

The debrief takes longer than it should.

After they've handed the Downworlders over to Shadowhunters in the Institute tasked with imprisoning, questioning, and monitoring them, Alec attempts to tell Maryse the facts, leaving Bane well out of it. Isabelle, however, seems intent on making sure that Maryse is aware of how little evidence there was that the Downworlders had been doing anything that violated the Accords.

"They're siding with Valentine, Isabelle," Maryse snaps, with a roll of her eyes. "Really, I think it's quite straight-forward."

Isabelle folds her arms. "I'd agree with you," she says, "except I haven't been shown any solid proof that they were siding with Valentine."

Jace doesn't actively voice his agreement, but his makes a noncommittal humming noise that Alec, for all his years of knowing Jace, recognises to be a noise of acquiescence.

Maryse shakes her head as though she can't vocalise her irritation at her daughter's irrational behaviour, and refocuses on Alec.

"What about—"

"She's right," Alec blurts out.

Maryse stares at him. "About what?"

"About the lack of evidence."

Maryse exhales through her nose in clear frustration. "Alec, they were assembled in front of two of Valentine's men, freely. They weren't prisoners."

Alec chews on the inside of his cheek, and says, "Actually, one of the warlocks had his magic muted. With bracelets covered in runes. The same kind we use."

"Do you have the bracelets?"

Alec lowers a hand to his belt, and draws out the bracelet he'd unlocked from Bane's wrist, before the warlock had magicked the second off and out of existence.

Maryse waves a hand when she sees it. "Not good enough. The Clave will hardly consider that hard evidence, now will they? You could have taken it from the training room. There's no way of confirming it was ever on a warlock, let alone that it was put on by the Circle."

"Why would I lie?" Alec demands.

Maryse smiles, just a little, but it's lukewarm at best, almost entirely devoid of humour. "It's not about you. It's about facts. And you're presenting me with nothing solid. The warlock probably put them on himself for this precise reason. Now, if you're done wasting my time, can we finish this so I can go and inspect our prisoners?"

***

The rhythmic sound of flesh slapping against the tough leather of an old, ruined punching bag fills Alec's ears. He's out of breath, muscles aching, knuckles burning despite the gauze he's taped around them, and yet still, still, he can't put this morning's mission out of his mind.

He can't help wondering about all the things Bane had said. About him. About the Clave. About the children who've had their guardians and teachers and adult friends taken, so are left to the mercies of others who may not be so generous.

Not that he knows much about the childhood of Downworlders. Especially not fey children.

"Why did you do it?"

Isabelle's voice cuts through the silence so abruptly that Alec stumbles on his next step forwards, causing his punch to merely graze across the edge of the punching bag. His body surges too far forward, off-balance, but he rights himself quickly. He spins around to face her, dragging throbbing fingers through sweat-slicked hair.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he tells her, moving across to where he'd set a bottle of water on the table.

"Oh?" She arches an eyebrow at him. "Really? The warlock?"

He feigns ignorance, giving her an impatient and nonplussed look. "What warlock?"

"The warlock you pretended to fight with before he threw you off and disappeared. Don't think I didn't notice that you're completely fine, after flying twenty feet through the air." She taps the top of her heeled boot against the smooth stone floor, arms folded across her chest, clearly waiting for an explanation.

Alec shrugs. "I used an iratze."

"Alec, by the Angel, enough." She huffs at him. "That was who saved you, wasn't it?"

Alec's eyes flicker up to meet hers. Isabelle is watching him with compassion, her expression gentler than he expects; he feels himself deflate under her gaze. With a sigh, he feels his shoulders slump, and he nods.

"It was," he says, "and I let him go because he didn't deserve it."

"What?" Isabelle's voice is suddenly sharp. "Didn't deserve being captured? Interrogated? Tortured? None of them deserve it. You've met one Downworlder who saved your life out of the kindness of his heart—why is it so hard to believe that there aren't plenty more who are just the same?"

"No, Izzy, it's—" He bites his lip. It's Magnus Bane. They'd strip him of his magic completely, indefinitely, and torture him before they cut him into little pieces. "It's different."

Isabelle's nostrils flare. "I swear to god, Alec—"

"I don't mean that." He shakes his head. God, he doesn't. He doesn't understand Downworlders, and he certainly doesn't like them, but he doesn't think they deserve to be brutally punished for actions there's no evidence of them ever carrying out. "I mean— It's not— It's him."

Her expression changes, features contorting in clear bewilderment, before it smooths out into an appearance of forced neutrality. "What about him?"

"I can't, Izzy, I—" He shakes his head, and exhales in frustration. "Forget it. We never had this conversation. There was no warlock."

Isabelle purses her lips, then opens her mouth to say something.

Cutting her off hastily, because he can't tell her that the warlock is Magnus Bane, he says, "You know that Seelie, don't you?"

At that, Isabelle's jaw slackens, and her eyes drop to the floor. "Yeah," she murmurs, and fiddles with a braided fabric bracelet tied around her wrist. Alec doesn't think he's ever really paid much attention to it before, but it strikes him now that it's an unusual accessory for Isabelle.

"I'm sorry." Alec reaches out and tucks Isabelle's hair behind her ear, affection and sympathy warm in his eyes. "Really. I'm sorry."

She offers him a small smile, and grips his hand in hers. "It's not your fault. You were just doing what they told us to. Besides, I was part of that mission, too. We're all responsible for not standing up and doing the right thing. And you made sure nobody touched the children. I'm proud of you for that."

We're not touching the children.

While you take their parents, their guardians, and torture them in the Silent City?

But what was I supposed to do, Warlock Bane? What's anybody supposed to do against the Clave?

"It doesn't matter what we think," Alec says, dropping his hand and stepping away from his sister. "We're soldiers. We follow the rules. We do as we're told. That's all."

Isabelle sighs. "You said it yourself, big brother. There's no evidence that they were doing anything wrong."

Alec doesn't tell her that the thought only really occurred to him when Bane put it in his head. He can feel the disappointment and the devastation rolling off her as it is. He doesn't want to add to it.

When he falls asleep that night, aching and exhausted, his dreams are of flashing cat eyes, and sparking red magic wrapping around his sister and pulling tight, and the screams of his parabatai as the Clave strips him of his marks for heinous crimes.

He wakes up drenched in sweat, Bane's words swirling around in his head yet again. It takes him several minutes to settle down enough to close his eyes, and when he does, when sleep finally pulls him deep under, it's to the thought of that soft, tickling magic dancing across his skin.

Chapter Text

Nearly forty-eight hours after they captured the Downworlders from their meeting with Valentine's men, as far as Alec is aware, they have yet to gain any useful information. Partly, he suspects, because there isn't any useful information to be found. And partly, because none of the Downworlders will talk.

Alec detests interrogations. Especially when he has to sit and watch, stoic and unfeeling, while beings that look human, even if they're part demon, are put through mental and physical strain that borders on torture.

His mother is trying to tweeze information from Raphael Santiago, who's currently sitting in a chair, hands bound with silver, nothing on his face but a tiny little smirk. He's silent. He's enjoying the reactions his silence evokes in Maryse.

And Alec can tell that he won't speak. He despises the Nephilim—that much is obvious. And he knows they can't technically torture him for information without breaking the Accords. Not unless they find some hard evidence.

"I'll ask you one more time, vampire," Maryse spits, leaning over Santiago, her expression carved from granite. "The purpose of your meeting. Of your allying with Valentine. What you said to the Circle. What they said to you. Tell me. Now."

Santiago rolls his eyes - for about the millionth time - and looks incredibly bored, gaze fixing somewhere behind Maryse.

Maryse lets out a hiss of anger, and, before Alec can react to prevent it, her hand cracks across Raphael's face. His head jerks back, and he lets loose a quiet snarl of pain as the silver of her wedding ring leaves a dark brand on his cheek.

"Mom," Alec says, alarmed.

Maryse flares her nostrils, eyes fixed with Raphael's as they stare each other down. Santiago is unblinking. She grinds her teeth together, the muscles in her jaw flexing, before she straightens, spins tight on her heel, and marches out of the room, head held high.

Raphael's fingers press against his own cheek, and he makes a strangled noise. Alec glances down at him, and at the mark his mother's ring left on him.

If you hurt them, I will bring hell down on the head of every Nephilim in New York.

Santiago looks up at him, and jerks his chin. "What's your plan now, Shadowhunter?" he asks, voice rasping. His face is cadaverous, the effects of prolonged contact with silver clearly beginning to affect him. The other vampires, back where all the Downworlders are being held, are in similar states.

"We won't tell you anything," Raphael says, to his silence. "You're wasting your time."

"I wasn't aware that there was anything much to tell," Alec says, carefully.

Raphael pauses, and looks up, directly towards the CCTV camera Alec knows is mounted on the ceiling behind him. "Perceptive Shadowhunters. Shadowhunters who don't just follow blindly. This is a new concept."

Alec averts his gaze.

"Dios, I give you too much credit." Santiago shakes his head. "You're all of you incapable of saying no. Soldiers obeying your masters until the end."

Alec keeps staring at the wall, silent.

Santiago hums. "I saw what you did. During the fight. And I saw what he did."

Alec's eyes dart back to Raphael, wide, and he feels cold fear flash through him. "Shut up."

"Relax, Shadowhunter. Dios. I am aware of your little...tumble."

He...he knows? Raphael knows about Bane saving his life?

"How?" Alec manages to get out.

Raphael sighs, and folds his arms. "Because your saviour likes to spend his free time irritating me."

Oh. They're friends. Magnus Bane and Raphael Santiago...are friends. Somehow, Alec finds it difficult to see. They seem...different. Besides the little fact that Bane is in hiding, practically, and Raphael is leading the New York vampire clan.

The door bangs open again, interrupting whatever meagre conversation he and Santiago had been partaking in. The entering Shadowhunter glances at Raphael's cheek, at the mark on it, but doesn't comment; instead, she hauls him up and pushes him sharply out of the door.

Raphael turns to look over his shoulder at he leaves. His eyes lock with Alec's, and he jerks his chin up.

Alec realises a moment too late what it means. A thank you. It's gratitude that's in Raphael's eyes. A thank you for letting Bane go.

It's a thank you Alec is fairly sure he's undeserving of. But by the time he's worked out what the vampire's gesture meant, Raphael has turned around to face forwards, and is rounding the corner back towards where the other Downworlders are.

***

Alec spends the majority of the afternoon and evening on patrol.

Maryse sends them out to follow up several reports of unusual demonic activity in the Manhattan area. Whoever sent the reports was right—the demons are behaving in an unusual manner. As though they have a goal beyond mindless, spontaneous destruction. And they'd run into a group of forsaken.

Valentine. It has to be.

"You're bleeding," Raj says when they return and begin shucking off the weapons, with a slight note of alarm in his voice that makes Alec turn, eyebrows raised.

Alec presses his palm to where he can feel a stinging sensation across the back of his shoulder, and frowns when his skin comes away stained red. "Crap. I didn't realise."

"Take your shirt off. I'll draw an iratze." Raj's voice is firm, booking no room for arguments.

Alec pulls his t-shirt off enough for Raj to get at the gash, which is probably oozing in an unpleasant manner, and passes him a stele.

At the burning sensation of the stele pressing against his skin, Alec let's his eyes close, exhaustion washing over him, suddenly. He thinks about Raphael Santiago, and about the look on his face when he'd nodded at Alec.

He's never really thought about that. About Downworlders - impulsive, reckless Downworlders, warlocks conceived in the scorching fires of hell, vampires and werewolves transformed in traumatising violence, the fey born from a devastating contradiction - being anything more than...Downworlders. A pain in his ass.

He's never thought of them as...well, human. Or, rather, capable of human emotion. Bane and Santiago are friends. He can't imagine what they talk about, or do together, but nevertheless, they are. They care about each other—like he cares about his siblings, and about people at the Institute. Like he cares about his—

The door to the training room opens loudly, smacking against the wall, and Alec winces when Raj flinches, the stele burning a jagged, irregular line into the side of his shoulder. Jace stalks in, dropping weapons as he goes.

"Sorry," Raj mutters, and clears his throat. "Jace. Can you do Alec an iratze?"

Jace's casual "sure" is swift, effortless, and he takes the stele from Raj and burns two healing runes into Alec's skin with efficient care. Pain disperses out, easing and lulling, with every swish of the stele, but Alec is looking at Raj, a frown creasing his eyebrows. Yes, Jace is his parabatai, and runes from him are more powerful than runes from other Shadowhunters, but the wound wasn't serious enough to warrant Raj passing off to Jace, when he'd already started.

"Is he okay?" Alec asks Jace, quietly, when Raj leaves the training room with some line about going to the Ops Centre.

Jace shrugs behind him, and drops the stele into Alec's lap. "As far as I know. Why?"

"No reason, I suppose." Alec rolls his shoulder. "Thanks."

***

"Alec!"

A small force barrels into Alec as he steps out of the training room, knuckles still wrapped from where he'd been pounding into a punching bag in an attempt to release some tension. He stumbles a little, and glances down in surprise, because there's only one person who would say his name like that, and hug his legs.

"Max?" Alec peers down at his little brother, a smile stretching across his face before he can make to control it. He slips himself out of Max's hold, and crouches down to hug him properly. "Hey, buddy."

Max is grinning, and he throws his arms around Alec's neck with a boyish laugh that makes Alec's heart ache with the knowledge that reality is going to punch his brother's innocence right through in a few short years. If not sooner.

"I thought you weren't coming home until next week," Alec says, pulling back to look at him. "Is Dad home?"

"Yeah. He's talking to Mom."

"Boring, adult stuff?" Alec asks, raising one eyebrow.

"Obviously." Max rolls his eyes, and, if Jace were here, Alec is sure he'd comment on how much Alec does that. "It's all they ever talk about."

"What did you get up to in Idris, then?" Alec asks, standing up out of his crouch and gesturing with his head so they walk down the corridor towards where he knows Izzy was attempting to cook something. It had sounded mildly terrifying.

"Nothing." Max huffs. "It was so boring."

Alec smiles as he listens to Max talk, and shoulders open the door to the kitchen, nodding along and humming where appropriate, giving Max his undivided attention, because he doesn't see enough of his little brother. And with this life, in these times, anything could happen. He could die tomorrow.

"Izzy!" Max shouts, when they walk into the kitchen. "We're back!"

Isabelle grins. "Hello, hermano."

She pauses in the stirring of some ominously large pot that smells suspiciously like aubergine but looks more like tomato soup, and reaches down to pull Max into a hug. Max laughs when she tickles him, and shakes himself out of her hold.

"Have you seen Jace yet?" she asks, perching on the tabletop.

Max shakes his head. "I thought he'd be in the training room."

Alec rolls his eyes, lips twitching. "I see how it is. You wanted to find Jace, but instead you found me, so you had to go find Izzy because I'm just too boring."

"No!" Max says, but his eyes are full of mischief, and Raziel, Alec can already tell that he's going to be a force to rival Jace when he's older: he's only ten years old now, and no ten year old should have that teasing look that promises all sorts of terrifying humour perfected.

Isabelle is snickering, and she opens her mouth to reply, when the lights flicker.

Immediately, the smiles drop from their faces, and they all glance up. The lights flicker again, this time blinking out for a full second before the room is illuminated once more. A shiver runs down Alec's spine; his fingers wrap around the only weapon he's got on him - a short throwing knife with a wickedly sharp blade - and he feels the muscles in his back shifting and tensing, wings ready to burst into being the moment he wills it. A rune might be required to hide them, but with enough adrenaline, they tend to come into being without needing to slash through any angelic marks.

There's a faint humming noise as the Institute is once again plunged into darkness. There are shouts from outside, the light of seraph blades flaring up, only to be extinguished a mere moment later. The sight makes the hairs on the back of Alec's neck stand on end.

Behind him, Max and Izzy are silent. Izzy, like him, is on high alert, every cell in her body tensed and ready to defend herself and their little brother the moment she needs too. He can feel Max's fear rolling off him in waves, and he reaches out a hand towards where Max had been standing last. His fingers make contact with his brother's hair, and he ruffles it gently in reassurance.

"What the fuck is this?" someone outside shouts, into the darkness that nothing seems to be able to penetrate. "Who did we pay to make our wards?"

"Quiet!" Maryse's unmistakable voice hisses, cutting through the air. "Enough. Nobody move."

"Alec," Max whispers from beside him, and steps closer, so their sides brush.

"It's alright," Alec tells him, praying that he hasn't just lied.

Max shuffles, rummaging in his pocket, and his witchlight flares up, brilliant white light flooding the kitchen and the hallway beyond. Isabelle's lips are pursed, and terror is written across Max's face, and Alec is holding the knife so tightly his knuckles are white, and—

And then the witchlight goes out.

Alec stares, spots of colour dancing in his vision for a moment, before, once again, all he can see is darkness, unending, stretching out in all directions. He wonders, momentarily, whether this is what it's like to be blind.

There's a shrill, piercing sound that slices through the heavy blanket of tense silence. Alec's lips part in a soundless scream, and he bites back the urge to bend over and smother his ears against such an awful noise.

Then it's gone, abruptly, and everything flares red. Max's witchlight, and the seraph blades held aloft by Shadowhunters all across the Institute, and pieces of adamas that are built into other weapons, and tiny pieces set in jewellery, and even in the hilt of a few steles.

It's impossible. Adamas doesn't glow red, it glows white. White, when held by a Shadowhunter—or an angel. It can't be extinguished, and it certainly doesn't just change colour.

"Nephilim."

The voice reverberates around the Institute, gravelling and deep and chilling, making Alec's blood run cold and his bones rattle and he swallows, because by the Angel, he knows that voice. He knows it far better than he should. And it's honestly the most terrifying thing he's ever heard.

"You are holding my people," Magnus Bane booms, each syllable echoing and changing direction just enough to make every Shadowhunter assembled shrink in on themselves in fear. Everyone knows who that voice belongs to. "You are torturing my people, for crimes they have not committed. You have imprisoned the head of the New York vampires, you have stolen Seelie Knights, you are killing my people by repressing their magic, and you refuse to accept that there is nothing to be found.

"We are not your enemies. The Accords were signed to signify peace and trust between our peoples. And yet, you have the audacity imprison us for crimes you have not even a modicum of evidence of us committing.

"I give you forty-eight hours, Nephilim. Forty-eight hours to release my people, to return them home, or hell's fires will rain down on you all. I am not your High Warlock for nought. I am not wanted by the Clave for child's play. You do not fear me unprompted. This is your only warning. I will not ask you again."

And then, abruptly, the all adamas flares white, and the lights flicker back on.

***

The moment they're bathed in daylight once more, there's mayhem. Shadowhunters are shouting incoherently, hollering across the hallways at each other, spoiling for a fight but with nothing they can attack. Maryse is barking orders around the Ops Centre, and Robert stands to one side, keys to where the Downworlders are being held gripped tightly in his hand.

"Alec." Max tugs on his sweater, and Alec looks down at him. "What was that?"

Alec glances up at Izzy, and they exchange a look filled with regret.

"That was Magnus Bane," Alec says, because Max is fully aware of who that is. Every Shadowhunter child who can speak in fluent sentences knows who Magnus Bane is.

Max rolls his eyes. "Yes, I know. But why did my witchlight turn red? And how did the lights go out? I thought the Institute was warded against Downworlders."

"It is." Alec swallows, and his eyes flicker upwards. He'd known Bane was powerful, but...that powerful? Powerful enough to cut straight through the Institute's wards? Powerful enough to manipulate angelic weaponry and magic? "I don't know how, Max. I don't know why."

"That was pretty badass," Isabelle observes, voice far too light considering the Institute has just been attacked and infiltrated by the most wanted Downworlder on the planet.

Her voice breaks the tension in the room, and Alec turns to look at her, feeling some of the tightness begin to bleed out of his muscles, just a little. He arches an eyebrow at her. "Really?"

She shrugs. "Really."

Alec rests a protective hand on Max's shoulder, and pushes his brother forward a little. "Come on."

Beside him, as they step out of the relative quiet of the kitchen, up the short flight of stairs, and into the Ops Centre, Isabelle seems to deflate. She exhales heavily, eyelashes dipping as she gazes around at the panicked, indignant Shadowhunters, furious at being threatened, spitting about Downworld scum, blaming their prisoners for this—although that's an oxymoron, if Alec's ever heard one.

"Where the hell is Jace?" Alec wonders, aloud, because his parabatai rune is aching strangely, and he can't seem Jace in the midst of the action—which is, of course, where he prefers to be. He spares a glance down at his cloth-covered torso as he rubs a hand against his rune, a crease forming between his brows. It's not a painful ache, per se, but it's a little uncomfortable, and Alec's never felt anything like it before.

"We will not release those prisoners," a Shadowhunter woman spits at a young man - a boy, although not in the mundane sense of the word - no older than seventeen. He's from Idris, staying at the Institute to train overseas for a year. "We will not bend to the wishes of some halfbreed demonic spawn."

Warlock Bane's words echo in Alec's mind, and he feels his heart sinking. Because he knows - he knows - that his parents have to be at least partially right. The Clave. Every Shadowhunter he's ever learned from. Downworlders are slaves to their impulses. They're reckless, they struggle to abide by the laws of the land, they're volatile.

But that doesn't mean they should be exempt from the protections supposedly afforded to them by the Accords. The Law is the Law, after all, for all—it is not merely a prerogative of the Nephilim.

"We will call upon an emergency meeting with the Inquisitor," Maryse says, to the woman and the young man, lips pressed tightly together. "Idris will want to hear about this. Warlock Bane has not been heard from for decades. This is a crucial development."

"I don't know about that," murmurs a voice in Alec's ear, making him jump. "What do they think they're going to do if Magnus Bane is pissed? Out-piss him? I don't think even the Clave could out-piss Bane."

Alec smacks Jace's shoulder, and rolls his eyes. "You're insufferable."

"Ow!" Jace pouts at him. "That's mean. Just because I'm right."

"You're being ridiculous," Alec tells him mildly, for Max's sake avoiding any harsher terminology for exactly how tiresome Jace can be. "If we don't let the Downworlders go, we're all dead."

Jace shrugs, and folds his arms, standing with one shoulder brushing Alec's and the other Izzy's. "There's one Warlock Bane, but I'm pretty sure there are a lot more of us. Even if he is a high warlock."

"Jace, he's destroyed villages in fits of rage. He's slaughtered thousands of people in cold blood for the hell of it. Imagine what someone like that can do when he's that kind of calm, deadly furious?"

Izzy lets out a sharp laugh beside him. "Somehow, brother mine, I have a feeling those stories aren't quite as simple as the Clave would have us know."

"Does it matter?" Alec snaps, because really, they haven't got time for this. Time is trickling away, slipping through their fingertips like sand in an hourglass; there's no way the Clave is going to give the order to release the Downworlders, regardless of their innocence, and Alec has every faith that Bane will carry out his every threat to the letter.

"It always matters," Izzy fires back. "Meliorn—"

She bites down on her lip, hard, and sucks in her cheeks. Guilt floods through Alec, because he'd forgotten that Isabelle knows some of these Downworlders—one, two, many, he doesn't know. But she knows someone. Several someones, maybe. And she cares for them.

Whoever they are, Alec sincerely hopes they're worth her worry. Because, frankly, he can't think of a single Downworlder he's ever met who'd be worth his sister's worry.

(Although, admittedly, he can't think of a Shadowhunter, outside their family, who'd be worth his sister's worry. Raj, perhaps. But Raj practically counts as family.)

Alec glances across at his parabatai, at his sister, both looking straight ahead, surveying the Shadowhunters panicking and shouting below, with no structure or sense. He looks to the other side, to Max, who's so young, and has so much to live for, and he wonders. He wonders whether Isabelle is right.

Because it does matter. The stories paint Bane as a murderer, unafraid to kill for no reason, and always willing to kill for causes he deems just.

And if the stories are true, and if the Clave refuses Bane's terms, Max's future might be extinguished in a mere moment. A single shower of cracking blue sparks, and Alec might watch the life drain from his little brother's body.

No. He can't let that happen. He can't let anybody hurt his family.

"Look after Max," Alec tells Jace.

"I'm not a kid," Max huffs, earning himself an eye roll from Alec, and a teasing hair ruffle from Jace.

"Where are you going?" Jace demands, taking a half step forward. "Alec—"

"Nowhere. I'm going for a run. I just...I have to clear my head." He shoots his parabatai what he hopes is a suitably pleading, desperate look. "I can't...I need a moment, Jace. I need to think."

Jace frowns, searching his eyes, and then nods reluctantly, once. "Alright."

Alec avoids Isabelle's gaze as he turns, because he's certain that she'll see through him in a moment. She always does.

***

The warning tingle of Bane's wards is tangible the moment Alec steps within two metres of the warlock's apartment block. It's not uncomfortable—not yet, at least. It's freezing, and Alec's leather jacket is doing little to combat the frigid night air, and the magic pushing against him feels just slightly warm.

Alec knows, of course, that the moment he gets too close, he'll be fried alive. And his remains will probably be fed to some horrific demon. Or used in a potion that requires Nephilim body parts, or partially-Angelic blood, or something heinous.

He huffs out a tiny little breath, which is almost a laugh, at his ridiculous train of thought. There's no doubt that he would become a barbecued Shadowhunter if he were to attempt to invade Bane's loft, of course, but the rest? No. He has a feeling Bane would go for a more classy option.

Alec pushes the thoughts away, and, after a moment's hesitation, he presses the buzzer beside Bane's name, written in such an old-fashioned, lovely script, and swallows the fear that spikes in his chest. He's doing this for Max. For Jace and Izzy, for his family, for the people who love him, but mostly for Max. Because Max is too young. He's too young to bear runes, let alone to fight off arguably the most powerful Downworlder in the continent, and the most wanted being in the Clave's directory.

The wards push at him, magic making him shift uncomfortably. It's like a cat sniffing at him, trying to decide whether or not he's trustworthy. The wards have probably sensed his angelic blood, or the magic of his runes, or something that identifies him as a Shadowhunter. He wonders how the Clave hasn't picked up on such obviously powerful magic. But then, he thinks, Bane has probably found a way to hide it from them.

Or, perhaps, he's merely decided that hiding in plain sight is the best cover of all.

"I'm busy," says a cool, entirely disinterested voice, floating through the speaker. "Who are you, and what do you want? Please do make it quick."

Sending up a quick prayer to the Angel Raziel to not get fried into a Shadowhunter kebab, Alec clears his throat and says, "Warlock Bane, I—"

"Oh, good god, it's you." Bane sighs audibly, and very dramatically. "If you're here about my infiltration of your beloved Institute, save your breath, and go home. Nothing you can say is of any interest to me. I don't care. You're holding my people, you're torturing them, and you're breaking the Accords. I warned you, Shadowhunter. I wasn't talking out of my ass."

Alec barely holds back his huff of frustration. "We're not breaking the Accords. They're suspected to be in league with Valentine, and—"

"Have you found any such evidence of that?" Bane snaps. "Any evidence at all? Good god, you're deluding yourself if you truly believe anything you've just said."

Alec makes an irritated noise in the back of his throat, and grips at the hilt of the seraph blade in his belt tightly. He wants to smack Magnus Bane. He's just making this so difficult. This is exactly why Alec hates working with Downworlders. They're so illogical. So emotional. So...so irksome.

"Will you just—"

"No, I most certainly will not," Bane tells him, no hint of leeway in his voice. His tone is glacial, and it makes the hairs on the back of Alec's neck stand on end. "I've had enough. Go home, Lightwood, before I make a human torch out of you for my cat's entertainment."

No. No, no, this can't be happening. Panic floods through every inch of Alec's body, and he feels his heart punch so hard against his ribs it hurts. Bane can't be making him leave before Alec has said his piece. He can't have fucked this up so much that the warlock won't even listen to him.

And, despite what he just thought about Downworlders being emotional, he lets the sheer desperation he feels bleed into his voice.

"Please," he begs Bane. "Please, I—" He leans his forehead against the cold wall beside the speaker, and curls a hand into a fist. "My little brother, he's— He's in the Institute. He's too young to wear runes. He'll die, if you attack the Institute."

He can imagine Bane rolling his eyes. "Well, isn't that tragic. I've given the Institute my ultimatum. There is a way out. Release those prisoners."

"You know we can't. The Clave will never allow it. And you haven't given us enough time to negotiate with the Inquisitor, or the Council, or— My little brother is going to die. He hasn't done anything. He's not even old enough to fight. Your argument isn't with him. Please, just— I made my team spare those Downworlder children. Spare my little brother."

There's a pause. It's long, and tight, and Alec's breaths are shaky and irregular, lungs burning with icy cold fear. He doesn't care that he's tossing away every shred of his dignity, standing here begging a Downworlder - and Magnus Bane, at that - for mercy. He'd get down on his knees, if it would help.

A soft exhale comes through the speaker, followed by the click of the front door unlocking. "Come up here, little angel."

"Thank you," Alec breathes. "Thank you."

"I'm making you no promises. But I will listen to whatever it is you have to say to me. So I suggest you think very carefully about what that is, and come up with an offer that won't make me toss you into Edom."

"I– Yes, I– I won't– I'm—"

"Stop stuttering and move, Nephilim. You're shivering."

Alec feels his cheeks flush, because he's leaning against the wall in such a vulnerable position, and he hadn't realised that Bane had been able to see him all this time. Bane has seen the desperation in his voice, and in every inch of his body.

Swallowing, Alec turns, and pushes open the front door. He climbs the rickety stairs to Bane's apartment, which seem even more precarious going up than going down, and he wonders, momentarily, how Bane got him up here that day, when the warlock saved his life. With magic? Even with Alec's shattered, ruined wings?

The door slides open with a crackle of blue sparks when Alec approaches. He hears a hissing in his ears, an angry whisper, and then he feels the pressure and tingle of Bane's wards ease, allowing him to pass through.

There's a crack as the door slams shut behind him, a mere hairs breadth from cracking into his shoulder. He flinches, and looks around the loft, which is dimly lit, searching for Bane's silhouette.

"So." The voice startles Alec, and his eyes dart around in an attempt to find the face to match the voice. "What is it you have to say to me, little angel?"

"I—" Alec clears his throat. "You know as well as I do that the Clave is never going to let us release the Downworlders, and—"

"You've said this already."

"Right. Um." Alec shifts nervously. "Can you maybe...come out?"

There's a deep, throaty chuckle, and Alec shudders. "I did that about three hundred years ago, darling."

But, nevertheless, Bane steps out, into plain view. Alec isn't exactly sure where he came from, but he supposes that adds to the mysterious intrigue of Bane's aura, or whatever it is, exactly, that he's aiming for.

Bane hums lightly, eyes scanning Alec up and down, analysing him. Alec flushes at the pointed, clinical attention, detached and filled with barely-restrained anger. It's clear in the glittering of Bane's cat eyes, in the rhythmic way he flicks his ring-laden fingers, in the drama of his make-up and the tightness of his jaw.

He takes three steps towards Alec, making his necklaces jangle slightly. Alec glances down, and realises just how low-cut Bane's glimmering black shirt is. The v of the neckline goes halfway down his stomach, to just below his navel, and Alec feels his cheeks burn red when he catches himself staring.

Bane is beautiful—there's really nothing to be gained by denying it. Alec's noticed before. But he's a Downworlder. His beauty is a lethal weapon, and Alec can't allow himself to be lured in, to be distracted, by such superficial attributes.

"Well?" Bane prompts, and taps his fingers against the cabinet of drinks set up at the side of the room.

"I—"

Angel, he really didn't think this far ahead.

"Do you have a plan, Alexander?" Bane asks, eyes flashing. Alec jerks at the use of his name, surprised that Bane has deigned to remember it. "Or are you wasting my time?"

"No, no, I just—"

Abruptly, the walls of the loft flare blue, and there's a sharp cry from outside. Alec's blood freezes in his veins, because he recognises that cry. He would recognise it anywhere, in any form, but it doesn't make any sense, it—

"Or–" Bane's eyes have turned to ice, and he takes another step towards Alec, this one full of menace as sparks jump to his fingertips, swirling dangerously "–are you the distraction?"

"The– What?"

"You've brought your people to my doorstep, tonight," Bane purrs, circling him with daggers flashing in his slitted pupils. "You swore to me that you would remain silent. Clearly I should have learnt, by now, that the Nephilim are not to be trusted."

Magic shoots from Bane's hands, and Alec gasps as he's slammed against a wall, head cracking against it. He blinks, eyes focused on the advancing warlock who's got murder in his eyes.

"You don't have an offer, do you?" Bane asks. "You don't have anything for me, except perhaps my death."

"No!" Alec hisses as the magic tightens against him, pressing against his chest. "No, I– I haven't– I swear!"

"What I don't understand," Bane murmurs, "is how my wards didn't detect whoever is with you, earlier. But no matter, I suppose. You're a fool, Alexander Lightwood, if you think two Nephilim are enough to kill me."

"I'm not—" Alec struggles against Bane's magic, and reaches desperately for the seraph blade in his belt.

The wards shudder, a rumbling sound reverberating around the loft, like something being thrown at a force field. It makes Bane pause, just for a moment, just enough for his magic to loosen.

Alec moves. His hand flies to his belt, and a throwing knife is leaving his hand and flying past Bane's head before his mind can catch up with whatever's going on. Bane whirls round to face him. His teeth grind together as Alec reaches for another knife, and flames leap from his hands. Blue races towards him, and Alec has to dart sideways to avoid being scalded.

"I saved your life," Bane snaps at him. "Have you forgotten that?"

"I'm not trying to kill you!"

"Really?" Bane laughs, and tosses another wash of magic at him, hitting Alec in the stomach hard enough to wind him. "You just threw a knife at my head."

Alec coughs, choking and wheezing, and tries to speak. "It wasn't– It—"

The door slams open, hard enough to leave an indent on the plaster. A whip cracks, simultaneously knocking the knife out of Alec's hand and surprising Bane enough for the blue to drop. Warlock and Shadowhunter both turn to gape at the intruder.

"Was this necessary?" Isabelle asks, whip falling to her side, one hand on her hip as she surveys the room. "Honestly. Men."

Chapter Text

Isabelle's entrance shocks Bane for a mere moment. The moment she takes a step, he's snapped his fingers, and a tall wall of fire separates Alec and Izzy from the rest of the loft.

Isabelle appears unfazed. She holds up her hands, the woven bracelet on her wrist falling forwards. Alec sees Bane's eyes linger on it, and the warlock's brow furrows.

"Nobody is here to attack you," Isabelle says, and lets her whip fall from her hand. "I swear on the Angel."

Bane's eyebrows shoot up, but he drops the magic. "And yet," he says, "I've just been subjected to knives thrown at me."

Alec rolls his eyes. "If I'd wanted to hit you, you'd have a knife in your head. I wasn't trying to kill you, I was trying to make you listen to me."

"Well, that's a fantastic way to get somebody to listen, Shadowhunter," Bane snaps. "Throwing knives at them. God, why on earth haven't we all thought of that before? What a perfect solution. And you–" He turns blazing eyes filled with suspicion on Isabelle "–how exactly did you get so close without my wards flaring up?"

Isabelle shrugs. "You tell me. But, if I had to make an educated guess, I would presume that it's because your wards are at least somewhat created with blood magic, and, as I'm this idiot's sister, and he's clearly exempt from your wards for the moment, it took them a while to realise I'm not him. We do have practically the same blood, after all. After that, I was halfway through anyway. It just took a bit of...perseverance. And chemistry. And possibly the fact that you dropped your wards to throw my brother out. I just leapt in first."

Bane's lips part, and he looks between them, surprise flashing through his eyes. "You're Alexander's sister?"

"Isabelle," Izzy says, smiling. "Pleasure. I followed him, because he's terrible at lying, and he was clearly up to something. I didn't quite expect it to be high treason, though."

Her smile extends into a grin, and the corners of Bane's mouth turn up, just a little.

"I apologise, then, Isabelle," he says. He glances across at Alec. "I'm not apologising to you, though. You were being entirely moronic."

Alec splutters. "What? I was being—? I didn't—"

Bane's lips twitch, and Alec realises that he's being teased. He presses his own lips together firmly, and forces himself to shut up.

"You're Isabelle Lightwood," Bane says, turning his attention back to Isabelle. "I've heard about you."

Isabelle grins, and raises an eyebrow. "Good things, I hope?"

"Terrible things." Bane chuckles. "The Seelie Queen despises you. It's nice to know I'm not the only one she can't stand."

"Really?" Isabelle smirks. "I thought she hated everyone."

"Not entirely." Bane waves a hand. "Although I can't imagine she'd be too fond of any Shadowhunter, let alone one trying to beguile her loyal knights."

Isabelle rubs at the bracelet, and says, with a little less humour, "One particular knight."

"So I heard." Bane's smile drops, and he gestures to the sofa. "Have a seat. You–" He points at Alec "–You can stay right there, where I can see you. And don't try anything."

Alec wants desperately to protest his innocence in this whole affair, but he supposes he doesn't really have a leg to stand on. He folds his arms over his chest and slouches against the wall while Bane moves over to the drinks cabinet and pours himself a whiskey, before offering Isabelle a drink.

"He means well," Isabelle says to Bane, glancing back at Alec. "He's not very good at communication, but I promise, he wasn't trying to be an asshole. Well." She huffs out a little laugh, and a smirk tips up one corner of her mouth. "Probably."

With a hum, Bane folds himself into a chair with more elegance than anybody human has a right to have. Although he's not human, so perhaps that's why he's able to move in such an ethereal way. It's mesmerising, and, once again, Alec is very aware of all the things he's been warned about—Downworlders use such enchanting hallmarks to entice their victims, before they go in for the kill. He can't afford to lose focus.

"So." Bane flicks his fingers, and magics a shot of - port, maybe? - into Alec's hands. Alec jumps out of his skin, Nephilim reflexes saving the glass from shattering onto Bane's hardwood floors. The warlock doesn't so much as glance his way. "Do either of you have anything to say to me, or shall I send you home with another threat to your wonderful mother?"

Isabelle's eyebrows shoot up. "Do you know our mother?"

"Oh, yes." There's a dark, faraway look in Bane's eyes, and he runs one ring-laden finger around the rim of his glass. "Yes, I know Maryse Lightwood. Unfortunately."

Isabelle leans forward a little, uncrossing her legs. "Really? You—"

"Ahem." Alec clears his throat and shoots her a pointed glare. She huffs, and sticks her tongue out at him. "Warlock Bane–" Bane rolls his eyes, but doesn't comment "–you want your people freed."

"Clearly."

Alec purses his lips, because by the Angel, he's going to regret this. This decision is going to come back to haunt him years from now. It's going to eat at him, and he can just tell that it's going to end up being a spectacular disaster.

But Max's life is on the line. So he doesn't really have much choice.

"So," he says, eyes drilling into the back of Bane's head, "let's free them."

The warlock's head whips round, cat eyes wide and lips parted as he gapes at Alec like he's some scandalous enigma. "Excuse me?" Bane manages to get out, after several shocked seconds.

Alec shrugs, and takes a swig of his drink. Hm. It's a little bit sweet. It's...actually not that bad. That's the second time Bane has correctly anticipated what he likes. First his black coffee, then his alcohol—and Alec really isn't much of a drinker, at all.

"You heard me."

"I don't think I can have heard you correctly," Bane retorts. "Did you hit your head? Are you having a relapse from your catastrophic crash? Do you need me to check your ridiculous little brain for demonic influence?"

"There's no need to be rude," Alec mutters, looking down into his drink.

"You're telling me that you're willing to go against the Clave, against your superiors, for me. For a Downworlder."

Alec snorts. He can't help himself. He meets Bane's gaze, adrenaline chasing away his anxiety, and says, "No. Of course not. I'm willing to go against the Clave for my family. For my little brother. And because, this time, I'm not sure this is right. There's just..." Alec makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat. "It's so obvious that your people are completely ignorant. They don't know anything. It's a waste of time and resources. We could be doing much more productive things."

Bane raises one pierced eyebrow. Alec could have sworn it wasn't pierced any time they've met before. "Now who's being rude?"

But, yet again, he's got that tiny, almost imperceptible smile on his lips, eyes a little softer, some of the ice melting a little.

Isabelle is watching the exchange with amusement dancing in her eyes as she leans back against Bane's expensive leather sofa, sipping delicately from her glass. One leg folds over the other, heels drawing Alec's gaze when he turns his gaze on her for want of somewhere other than Bane to look. How on earth can she walk in those contraptions? Even for Isabelle, they look deadly.

"Well," she says, with a slow smile. "Now that's settled, perhaps we should decide on a plan for how we're going to do this."

Bane opens his mouth to respond, waving his fingers in that fluid way of his to articulate his carefully selected words, but Alec's attention is hauled away, over the warlock's shoulder. There's movement in Bane's kitchen, where it's dark, lights off. Alec wonders whether the wards on the building protect against all of Valentine's plentiful and revolting experiments, because whatever that thing is...

Bane is speaking, and Isabelle is nodding, and he's fairly sure he's supposed to be contributing something of value to this discussion, but every muscle in his body is tensed, fingers half-curled in readiness to grab a knife and throw it.

The creature, whatever it is, moves suddenly. Alec can see its shadow shifting, and then it darts forward, heading straight for—

"Bane, there's—!"

Oh.

The creature - the devil, the demon-spawn, the hell-originating thing Alec was sure he'd been monitoring - leaps up onto the back of the sofa, walks across Bane's shoulder, and then jumps down into his lap, nudging pointedly at his chest. Bane's lips quirk, and he obliges, stroking a hand across the cat's head.

Cat? Kitten, surely? It's fucking tiny.

"There's a cat?" Bane asks, looking up at Alec, eyes wide with mocking horror. "Oh, goodness, draw your seraph blade, reveal your wings, light up all those tasteless runes."

Isabelle snorts. Alec flushes.

"I didn't– I thought–"

"What? That my wards had failed unprompted for the first time in centuries, and a tiny, fluffy demon had come in to murder us?" Bane rolls his eyes and looks back down at the cat that's now purring under his hand. His lips turn up, but his expression hardens again when he looks back at Alec. "You Nephilim are so trigger-happy."

Alec glares at the warlock, cheeks red, and begins to bark out a rambling mess of a retort (he's really not sure where he's going with it, but for Raziel's sake, does Bane have to take the piss out of him at every opportunity?) when the cat jumps out of Bane's lap. Instead, it pads over towards Alec, sniffs at his filthy boots, and lets out a plaintive meow, gazing up at him with wide eyes. It melts his heart, because fuck, if it isn't the most adorable thing he's ever seen.

Thoughts scattered, he crouches down slowly, and reaches a hand out to pet the cat's head. It meows, pushing into his hand and meowing again as he scratches gently behind its ears.

"Oh, no, Chairman, please don't go making friends with nasty Shadowhunters, it's really not a good life choice," Bane says, and by the Angel, he actually sits up a little straighter on the sofa, as though he's concerned for his cat's welfare. "They'll shoot you because they think you're a demon and feel no remorse."

"Excuse you," Alec murmurs. A smile stretches across his face when the cat blinks up at him, entirely ignorant to the words of his owner, and paws at Alec's shoe. "Does he have a name? Just Chairman?"

"Chairman Meow." Bane has his lips pursed. "I swear to Lilith, Shadowhunter, if you stab my cat—"

"Why the hell would I stab your cat?" Alec demands, pausing in his petting to shoot Bane a scowl. Chairman Meow - it's such a stupid name, for such a tiny little cat - purrs a low noise of protest, and bats Alec's hand with his paw.

"Alright, Alec," Isabelle says, snickering. "Leave the cat alone. You're getting distracted."

"Yes." Bane glares pointedly. "Give me my cat back. He's mine."

Alec rolls his eyes again, then scoops up the cat, which makes a plaintive noise at the abrupt change in position but curls into Alec's arms nonetheless, and deposits it in Bane's lap before the warlock can say another word. Bane stares up at him in surprise.

Alec sits down beside Isabelle, ignoring her smirk. "Shall we get on with actually formulating this plan, then?"

***

They spend hours in deep discussion. Alec is entirely convinced that Bane is only tolerating his presence because he gains immense enjoyment and satisfaction from ripping Alec's dignity to shreds every other sentence.

It's incredibly irritating. But beyond the relentless teasing, he has to admit that Bane is smart. He knows what he's talking about. And he knows the way Shadowhunters - and the Clave, in particular - think.

Although it's a somewhat unnerving realisation, Alec supposes that nobody ever became a high warlock utilising ignorance and stupidity. Magnus Bane certainly didn't.

(Fear and intimidation and sheer demonic power, maybe. But that's another matter, and one that he isn't particularly keen to ponder, because, the devil's offspring or not, Alec has seen first-hand that Bane's magic can do good things, not just terrible things.)

"You can come again, my dear," Bane says to Isabelle as he walks her to the door, acting as though Alec isn't in the room. "I see why Meliorn likes you."

Isabelle smiles. It stretches right across her face, and she flutters her eyelashes at Bane. She's flirting - she and Bane have been flirting all night - but it's a playful, light, friendly kind of flirting, with no real intention behind any of it, rather than something sexual—or even romantic. Alec can tell that Isabelle isn't interested in the warlock. He's uncomfortably aware of the way she acts when she's set her sights on someone.

"You'll have to tell me what brand of make-up you buy, sometime," she says in reply, gesturing to Bane's face. "It looks fantastic."

Bane has been returning her smile for the last five minutes, but it softens into something gentler now, something amused, something with a hint of fondness.

Alec will never understand how Isabelle can walk into a room, say hello, and make everybody like her, instantly. She's that kind of person. Her personality is infectious: she's like a beacon, eyes turning to her wherever she goes, for the daring way she looks or the confident way she holds herself or the music of laughter bubbling up her throat.

And, clearly, she's worked her magic on the High Warlock of Brooklyn. Bane, who's a mass murderer, who's slaughtered thousands, who bows to nobody, is watching a nineteen year old Shadowhunter with such an easy, unguarded expression of warmth.

Only Isabelle.

"I've had a few centuries to practise," Bane says, with a dismissive flourish that's charged with a lot less snark and ostentatiousness than any that have been directed at Alec. "But thank you. I try my best to be the epitome of good fashion."

Isabelle lets out a laugh. "After centuries, I'd expect you to have had it down to a fine art at least a hundred years ago."

"This perfection–" Bane points at himself "–was cultivated before YouTube tutorials were available to teach me how to do winged eyeliner, my dear Isabelle."

"Tragic." Isabelle's lips twitch, but then her face falls into something more serious. "Good luck, Magnus."

Just how has Isabelle secured rights to being on a first-name-basis with Bane? How does she do things like this? And all non-verbally?

Chairman Meow, who's been pacing on the sofa for the last two minutes, has clearly had enough of Alec ignoring him; he leaps up, claws catching on Alec's sweater and digging painfully into his shoulder. Alec hisses, and pulls the Chairman off, ending up with the cat cradled in his arms, purring. He swears the damn thing looks smug.

Raziel.

"And to you," Bane says. "Finding a Shadowhunter like yourself is shockingly rare. I'm keeping you in my social contacts." He tips his head to one side a little. "May I be presumptuous, and assume you are not averse to Downworld parties?"

Isabelle's entire face lights up, and she grins. "I love them."

"Consider yourself invited. So long as you two hold up your end of this deal."

"Barring any disasters," Isabelle tells him, with the utmost sincerity, "you can count on it. I swear on the Angel."

Bane's kohl-rimmed eyes study her for a moment, lashes dipping down as he blinks so they nearly brush his cheekbones. "Thank you."

Then he claps his hands together, and the intense, decisive aura that sprung up between them disappears. "Excellent. Now off you go, Isabelle, and I'll send your brother along shortly. Don't bother waiting anywhere nearby."

Isabelle's eyebrows shoot up in surprise, and her eyes dart over Bane's shoulder to where Alec is standing, Bane's cat licking and nudging at the back of his hand, pining for some more stroking.

"Is there any particular reason you require my brother?" Isabelle asks, and there's an edge to her voice, suddenly, dark eyes narrowed just a touch as she pushes her shoulders back, draws herself up taller, and scrutinises Bane unblinkingly.

"Yes," Bane says, and Alec stares at him. "Now off you pop, darling, or I will make you, no matter how much I like you. This is my home, after all."

Raising her hands, palms forward in surrender, Isabelle inclines her head. "Of course. Thank you for listening to us tonight. And for not decapitating my brother. He can't help running his mouth."

"I'm aware," Bane says dryly. "If I despised him half as much as I despise the majority of your kind, he'd be kindling for my fireplace by now, so don't worry about all the heinous things I might do to him."

Isabelle grins. "I trust you. Goodnight, Magnus. I'll see you in a bit, Alec, and don't think for one second you're escaping this conversation."

Alec gaped at her. "What? What conversation? What are you—"

"This conversation," she says, gesturing at Bane, and then at him. He blinks. "What, you just weren't going to tell anyone that the Clave's most wanted criminal is living a life of luxury in New York with his cat, hermano?"

Alec's heart skips a beat. "Izzy—"

Isabelle's face breaks into a smile, eyes twinkling. "I'm proud of you, big brother."

And, with that, she gives Bane one last smile, and then sweeps out of the loft, clicking the door gently shut behind her, leaving Alec standing cuddling a warlock's cat in the middle of his living room, with Magnus Bane staring at him, fingers restless.

***

For a moment, they both stand still, staring at each other. Alec wants to look away, wants to avert his eyes from the warlock, because that look is so intense, even though he's glamoured his eyes to a human brown with a normal iris—but he can't. He can't look away.

Bane's fingers are still shifting restlessly, feeling over the metal of his rings and then running them round his fingers, in one direction and then the other. It's like... It's like some kind of nervous tic.

Which is a bizarre thought. Because the High Warlock of Brooklyn shouldn't have nervous tics. Because he's the High Warlock of Brooklyn. He's above that. He's Magnus Bane. He's far too powerful to get nervous.

Chairman Meow makes a purring noise of indignant protest, snapping the both of them out of their staring. Alec glances down at the cat, and strokes between its ears in an effort to appease him.

"I can't believe you've seduced my cat," Bane mutters, shaking his head. "A Nephilim, Chairman, really? You traitor."

Alec raises his eyebrows, but doesn't comment. Instead, he says, "Are you keeping me here, again?"

"No." Bane shakes his head and snaps his fingers, sending their used glasses to the kitchen with a glimmer of blue magic. "No, I just wanted to thank you."

Alec blinks at him while the cat in his arms nuzzles into his neck and paws at his chest. "Thank me?"

"Mm." Bane gives him a lazy smile, but it's betrayed but the intense look in his glamoured eyes, and Alec feels his confusion grow. "Whatever your motives, you're doing something no Nephilim I've ever known would dare to do."

"My brother—"

"I know," Bane says, gently. "I know this is about your brother, and about keeping your family safe. But you could have done that by leading a team here to make an attempt on my life."

Alec has to hold himself back from scoffing at that, because good god, he'd have to be stupid to attempt to kill Bane in his own home. Stupid, or exceptionally arrogant to the point of naïveté. An assassination attempt on Bane would be a suicide mission.

"I think," Bane says, carefully, head cocked slightly to one side, "I may have misjudged you, little angel."

They stare at each other again, Alec in astonishment, Bane with narrowed eyes, calculating Alec's every breath. Alec swallows, running his fingers through Chairman's fur in an attempt to hide the fact that they're trembling.

He's not sure why. But his palms are sweaty, and his heart is pounding, and he feels like he might collapse in a moment if he doesn't find some way to break eye contact with this warlock: he feels like Bane is gazing past every barrier he's ever thrown up, right into his very soul.

Which is ridiculous. Because no magic can do such a thing—at least, not without the recipient being very aware of such an invasion.

Heaving in a deep breath, Alec says, "Warlock Bane—"

It breaks the trance. Instantly. Bane rolls his eyes with so much drama it makes Alec pause, words dying on the tip of his tongue, because he's not sure what he's done. All he's done is address the warlock—why does that warrant such disdain?

"Magnus," Bane corrects him, finality in his voice, jaw set. He's probably four inches shorter than Alec, not counting his swept up hair - although at this distance of a few metres, it doesn't really notice - but with the way Bane is staring Alec down, the Shadowhunter feels about three feet tall.

It takes Alec a moment to clock what Bane means, and when he does, he feels heat rush to his cheeks, and he stutters out a meaningless jumble of syllables in protest.

Bane rolls his eyes again. "Very well, Nephilim Lightwood."

Alec pulls a face. "That sounds ridiculous."

"Precisely."

Bane folds his arms and tips his chin up, rings casting glittering shapes of light again the wall. Alec makes the mistake of glancing down, and feels his eyes drift to Bane's exposed chest without his permission. His cheeks get hotter, and he chokes down his embarrassment.

"Species titles are rather unpleasant. Especially when that title has been used to oppress my people for centuries," Bane continues, either not noticing or uncaring of Alec's momentary distraction. "So if I hear Warlock Bane out of your mouth once more, I'm going to call you Nephilim Lightwood for the duration of our acquaintance."

"What am I supposed to call you, then?" Alec demands, unconsciously shifting Chairman Meow in his grip and holding the cat closer to his chest. He spares a moment to be mildly surprised that Bane hasn't snatched the animal away from him yet, but the thought dissipates as soon as it appears, because he's more concerned with the conversation at hand. "I can't call you—"

"And why, exactly, is that?" Bane asks, voice turning to ice, glamour flickering so his cat eyes flash at Alec, the pupils narrowed to slits, before they're replaced with brown once again. It makes fear spike in Alec's gut.

"Because you're the High Warlock of Brooklyn," Alec says, voice steady despite his thudding heart.

"Yes, and?" Bane raises an eyebrow. "I'm a warlock, so you can't respect my wishes about something so intrinsically simple, is that it?"

"No, you're- You're the High Warlock. You- You're—"

"What?"

"You're my superior!"

Alec hurls the words out, louder and harsher than he intended, and he clamps his mouth shut too late to catch himself, pressing his lips together. Bane stills, gaping at him.

"Excuse me?" Bane asks, eventually.

"I can't address—"

"No." Bane holds up a hand. "No, you just called me your superior."

"I didn't mean superior in the sense of going round giving me orders," Alec says, hotly, because he's mortified, and his knee-jerk response to being embarrassed is to be outwardly defensive. "I didn't mean you're- you're- But you're centuries old. You could snap your fingers and devastate the city without blinking an eye. You're more powerful than I am. I can't go around calling you Magnus like- like—"

"Like what? Like I asked you to?"

Bane takes a step towards him, arms still folded over his chest, drawing attention to his open shirt front, but Alec forces himself not to glance down. Bane exudes confidence and power, with the way he's got his chin held high and his shoulders pushed back, spine straight. The way he carries himself is enough, in and of itself, to convince Alec that this being has the capability of burning down a city with ease.

It sends a shiver down Alec's spine. But it's not entirely one of terror, or of discomfort. It is a little bit like that, because Raziel, Bane is, hands-down, the most powerful person Alec has ever shared space with. But it's also...something else. Something Alec can't pin down. Something that makes his throat dry.

"If you stopped calling me Warlock Bane," Bane says, voice quiet, but laced with a sharp edge of danger, "perhaps you'd stop thinking of me as warlock, and start thinking of me as something more human, and less demonic. Because I assure you, Alexander, I do not walk around thinking of you as angelic."

Alec sees the flaw in Bane's argument immediately, and he knows, he knows it's different, but he can't help himself. "But you insist on calling me—"

"Yes, little angel, I do. It's called satire, darling."

Alec bites down on his lower lip so hard it hurts, but he can't stop his lips quirking up, because something about the way Bane said it, something about the glint of mischief in his eyes, makes Alec want to laugh for days.

Bane lets himself smile. It's one of those small, calculated things, but it's better. It's better than the harsh way he's been watching Alec for the last several minutes.

"I am going to want my cat back, at some point," Bane says, tracking Chairman's cuddling movements with his eyes. "You can't kidnap him."

Almost absently - almost, because Alec is fairly certain that everything Bane does has intention behind it - Bane reaches a hand out and runs his fingers over the cat's fur, rubbing gently. And Alec finds himself watching Bane, watching the way his head bends forwards, and his lips part just a little, and his eyelashes dip and lower to hide the softening of his eyes.

"You're a very confusing man, Alexander," Bane murmurs, without looking up at him. "I don't quite know what to think."

Alec shrugs. "I'm really not anything special."

"Maybe. Maybe not."

This time, Bane lifts his eyes, and blinks up at him. All that dark eye make-up, all those harsh edges of black liner and stormy clouds of dark shadows—it all looks softer up closer. Alec can see the minute imperfections of his eyeliner, the deliberate little smudges under his lower lashes, the flecks of glitter than have landed further afield than presumably intended.

"I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt," Bane tells him, and his dark eyes are serious, but they're not threatening. "You and your sister. I'm choosing to trust you, with this. But that doesn't mean I trust you unequivocally, and it doesn't mean that this is some kind of alliance."

"I understand," Alec says, because he does.

"I think you should go, now." Bane's voice is low in the nighttime quiet of his loft, and still, still, Alec can't help but find him entrancing. It's becoming increasingly difficult to remember that this is exactly how Downworlders like Bane reel in their victims.

This is a mission. Alright, it's not a Clave-sanctioned mission - in fact, it's exactly the opposite - but it's still a mission. He's got a job to do. He's freeing Downworlders who are being held merely so the Conclave can claim to be doing something of worth, so that the Clave has a leg to stand on, and he's freeing them because if he doesn't, the most dangerous warlock in the United States is going to slaughter his family.

He has to remember that. He has to remember that he's only doing this, only breaking every rule ever laid down, because Bane has threatened the Institute. Threatened his siblings, his friends, his parabatai.

Although, some small, niggling voice in the back of his mind reminds him that Bane could well have friends being held in the Institute. Angel, he knows he does—he's friends with Raphael Santiago.

Santiago, whom his mother slapped across the face, burnt with the silver of her ring, while already draining him of life by trapping him in shackles of silver metal.

Maybe Bane is right. Maybe the Clave is taking this too far. Maybe they are bending the rules laid out by the Accords to breaking point. Maybe that's a larger part of the reason why Alec is here than he'd like to admit. It's certainly at least half the reason Isabelle is doing this.

"I'm sorry," Alec blurts out, and feels his eyes widen, because he hadn't meant to say that.

Bane's brow lifts. "You're shockingly polite, for a Shadowhunter. That must be at least the third time you've apologised to me, and sincerely, at that. What have you done to feel so much guilt you have to lower yourself to apologise to a warlock?"

Ignoring the jibe, Alec says, "Just...in general. I'm sorry."

Bane's expression gentles, and his fingers curl loosely along the top of his cat's head. "You're a soldier, little angel. You're not solely to blame for the decisions of your leaders. But forgive me if I don't let you use that as an excuse."

"I don't blame you," Alec says. "I just— I just don't understand. All the stories they tell, all the incidents that are in your file—"

"Been reading up on me, Shadowhunter?" Bane asks, the corner of his mouth quirking.

"Maybe," Alec says, stubbornly refusing to let himself be distracted by the embarrassment that claws at him. He did read on up Bane—but only to look at all the devastating catastrophes he's caused over the centuries, so Alec could persuade himself that whatever kindness he sometimes thinks he sees in Bane doesn't forgive all he's done. "But you don't seem like the same person. I don't see how you can have done all those terrible things, and yet also be...this. You saved my life for nothing, and you're willing to take a risk and work with two Shadowhunters, and—"

"You're thinking in black and white again, darling." There's so much patience in Bane's eyes, so much wisdom, that Alec remembers, abruptly, that the man in front of him is centuries old, whatever he looks like. "Nothing in the world is that simple. Certainly not people."

"I know that. But it's just—"

"It's just easier to see Downworlders as other, and not put too much thought into it?"

"Yeah."

And, however shameful that admission is, at least it's true. Because it is. It's so much easier to think of Downworlders as a minor annoyance - as impulsive, and irritating, and potentially dangerous, things that need close monitoring but not too much interference - than as beings just as complex as Shadowhunters and mundanes.

"Alexander," Bane says, and something in his voice, something that borders on compassion, makes Alec look back up at him from where he'd dropped his gaze down to Chairman Meow to avoid looking Bane in the eye. "Considering what most of your people are like, I don't think you're a bad person. God knows I, of all people, should know the dangers of condemning an entire group of people as evil personified. Even if my experience with the Nephilim suggests that that's not so far from the truth, I won't mindlessly despise every individual without an ounce of consideration."

Alec shifts uncomfortably, and all that stops him averting his eyes is the intensity behind Bane's words, the sincerity in his expression.

"Little angel, what matters more than anything else is what's here." Bane points to where Alec's heart sits behind his ribcage, thudding lightly. "And that you act on that, not on what other people try to tell you is the best thing to do."

Alec huffs out a tiny little laugh. "Now you're definitely giving me life lessons."

Bane smiles. "It would be nice to impart some of my wisdom onto one of the Nephilim. Perhaps it will spread a little." The warlock drops his gaze to his cat, and reaches out to take him back. "I think I'd like my cat back, now. And a ten hour sleep to replenish my sanity after dealing with you Nephilim for so many hours."

It's a dismissal, Alec knows it is, but he doesn't mind. He nods in acquiescence, and passes Chairman Meow back to his owner.

"Say goodbye, Chairman," Bane says, as he walks Alec to the door. He's cuddling the cat, and fuck if it isn't a little bit adorable, the way he's talking to his cat like it's a child.

And—

Where the hell did that come from?

"Say goodbye to the nice Shadowhunter who managed not to stab you," Bane is cooing. "There's an oxymoron, if ever there was one."

Alec rubs his lips together. "Goodnight, Bane."

Bane sighs. "At least you've dropped the Warlock. Baby steps, I suppose."

"I can't," Alec says, almost pleadingly, because it goes against everything, every moral code ever ingrained into him, to refer to a Downworlder by their first name, to refer to a High Warlock by their first name, to refer to someone more powerful, someone therefore of a higher status than him, by their first name.

"It's okay, Alexander," Bane says, with a little chuckle, running his painted fingernails absently through the Chairman's fur. "I've been called much worse things than my name. I was antagonising you a little bit. But if you fancy dropping all this ridiculous formality, I won't curse you for it."

Alec looks at him steadily, trying not to let himself be pulled in by Bane's teasing again. He's not going to react. He's not.

"Goodnight," Alec says again, firmly.

This time, Bane sighs, but his lips are still twitching, trying not to tug up into a smile. "Goodnight, little angel. And please, don't disappoint me."

"I'll try my best," Alec tells him.

"If you try your best, darling, by definition you won't disappoint me."

Bane doesn't wait for a reply, to that. He opens the door with a flourish, gestures Alec out, and clicks it shut behind him the moment he's over the threshold.

Alec exhales, tension simultaneously bleeding out of his body, and crawling back in. One kind of stress leaves, to be replaced by that of a different cause and origin.

Part of him would really much rather go back in there and play around with Bane's stupid cat for an eternity.

Chapter Text

Alec is walking back towards the Institute from the subway station with his hands shoved deep in the pockets of his gear, head bowed. It's freezing, and he really wishes he'd thought to put on a sweater beneath his jacket, because a worn cotton t-shirt isn't doing much to combat the cold.

Something lands with a light thud on the pavement next to him. He wouldn't have heard it, if his hearing rune weren't active. He turns his head, unsurprised to see Isabelle straightening up from a crouch, wrapping her whip back around her wrist.

"How on earth," she says, "did my law-abiding, boring-ass big brother manage to keep the fact that Magnus Bane saved his life, and is lounging around in New York right under the Clave's nose, a secret for so many weeks?"

"Three weeks," Alec corrects her, with a slight roll of his eyes.

"Magnus was the warlock you let go, when we trashed that meeting between those Downworlders and the Circle. That's why you told me he was different." Isabelle smirks at him.

"What do you want me to say, Izzy?" Alec asks, as they continue walking. "That I'm allying myself with the most dangerous Downworlder in the Clave's directory, and I don't know whether I'm making the biggest mistake of my life?"

"Oh, come on, Alec." Isabelle rolls her eyes, and elbows him in the ribs. "Stop being such a drama queen. What did he want to say to you, just now?"

Alec opens his mouth to tell her, and then pauses. Because...what had been the point of that conversation, exactly? "I don't really know," he admits. "We just...talked. And argued a bit, which seems to happen every time we talk."

"Every time?" Isabelle asks, eyebrows shooting up, a grin curling at her lips. "How many times have you seen him, exactly?"

"A few. Are we done with this interrogation, now?"

"For now." She hooks her arm through his. "I'm impressed. Look at you, making friends with Downworlders."

He scoffs, stepping around a puddle glittering on the sidewalk. "I wouldn't say we're exactly friends."

"No? He's fond of you, and you've gone to him for help when you were desperate, and you seem to quite like him."

Alec turns to stare at her incredulously. Bane is not fond of him. Not even slightly. If Bane harboured any ounce of care, they wouldn't end up at each other's throats during every interaction. They certainly wouldn't have ended up throwing knives and balls of deadly magic at each other.

"You're deluding yourself," he says, shaking his head. "Bane hates me. He's definitely not fond of me. That's...ridiculous."

"Whatever you think." Isabelle lets out a little laugh. "God, you're so oblivious."

"Iz, in case you didn't notice, you walked in on us fighting, and he spent the entire night trying his best to verbally tear me to shreds."

"Maybe you've got some difficulties expressing your newfound friendship," Isabelle acknowledges. "But considering how the Clave has treated Magnus, it's pretty astonishing that he spares you a second glance. He agreed to call off his whole attack on the Institute for you."

They reach the Institute steps, and Alec looks heavenward at his sister's words as he pauses outside the front door. "Yeah, but only because we're going to do the dirty work for him."

"Come on, Alec, if you thought the Downworlders weren't innocent you would never agree to do this. You're just in denial, because you can't—"

"Alright, alright, enough." He shakes his head at her. "You shouldn't have followed me like that, you know." He's not angry - he can't find it in himself to be angry, when he's so worried - but Isabelle sneaking up on Bane's wards like that had been dangerous.

Isabelle rolls her eyes. "I'm sorry," she says, and it sounds mostly sincere. "You wouldn't have told me where you were going if you knew I was there, though. I was worried. And curious."

"I know. Just...don't sneak up on the High Warlock of Brooklyn."

"How was I supposed to know?" She gives him an incredulous look. "I didn't think you'd be popping out to chat with a high warlock!"

He gives her a dirty look, and she sticks her tongue out at him as they mutually move to head inside.

Alec pushes the heavy oak door shut behind them, and shoots Izzy an urgent look. "Nobody can overhear us, or we'll have our runes stripped."

"You're so paranoid. Fine. I'll see you in a bit."

Alec reaches out and grabs Isabelle's wrist gently as she turns to leave. She quirks an eyebrow at him; he feels his expression soften, and pulls her into him gently, wrapping his arms around her. He can feel her smile against his chest, her hair soft against his jaw, and he rests his cheek against the top of her head.

"Thank you," he tells her, quietly.

"You're welcome, hermano." She tightens her hold on him a little. "Give yourself a little more credit, sometimes."

They pull back, and Isabelle shoots him the kind of smile that makes him believe, in his heart, that maybe what he's doing is exactly the right thing.

Even if his head is having trouble seeing it that way.

***

"You're back late."

The voice of his parabatai makes Alec jump out of his skin. He whirls round, hand resting on the handle of his bedroom door, and sees Jace leaning against the doorframe of his own room, arms crossed over his chest, dressed only in a pair of low-hanging sweatpants with his stele sticking out the top of the waistband. His body is decorated with swirling black runes, just like every other Shadowhunter in the building, marks scorched into pale skin layered over muscle like silk over steel.

"I told you, I needed to clear my head."

Jace raises his eyebrows. "For...four and a half hours?"

"Isabelle came out to find me. We got preoccupied. Ran into a few demons."

Alec feels guilt, deep inside him, gnawing at his gut. He feels terrible for lying to Jace, but he can't involve anybody else he loves in this direct move of betrayal against the Clave. It's bad enough that Isabelle has involved herself. If they get caught, he can't have Jace at fault, too.

It was supposed to be him. Just him. He was supposed to be the only one taking a risk, by doing this, by disobeying direct orders. He was supposed to be the only one who could be prosecuted, could have his runes stripped, could be cast out of the Shadow World entirely and tossed onto the streets to live as a mundane, if someone catches him.

But Isabelle's at risk, too. And he can't - he can't - get Jace into this mess, too. He can't.

Jace doesn't blink. "Really."

"Yeah." Alec clears his throat. "Why are you still up? Is everything okay?"

"No, not really."

Jace shrugs nonchalantly, and concern shoots through Alec's chest, because Raziel, he's been so preoccupied, by Bane and the Downworlders and Max and Valentine, and now by Izzy's involvement in his mess, has he been neglecting his parabatai? Has he missed something?

He feels himself scanning Jace up and down, looking for evidence of something physical that's wrong. He looks fine. He doesn't look like he's injured, and the way he's lounging against the doorframe means he's surely not in pain, but still, he could be pretending. Or it could be something non-physical that he's missed. Something—

"I'm worried about you," Jace says, and the admission knocks the breath out of Alec.

He gapes at Jace. "You— What?"

"I'm worried about you. You've been acting weird for weeks. Since you– Since you fell."

Alec wonders whether Jace had been about to say "since you nearly died".

"Weird how?" Alec asks, and forces out a laugh of confusion. "I'm fine."

"You keep sneaking off. Don't think I haven't noticed. And you're being secretive. You're never secretive. You've never got anything to be secretive about."

Alec nearly bursts out laughing at that, because good god, he's been keeping the same secret close to his chest since he was thirteen years old. When necessity dictates that he must, he's fantastic at keeping secrets.

"I'm not being secretive."

"So then what is it?" Jace asks. "What's bothering you so much?"

"The same things that are bothering everyone else. Valentine. The Downworlders. This- this threat from Magnus Bane."

"Alec." Jace's voice drops, losing its harsh edge, and he unfolds him arms. He crosses the hallway to stand before Alec, and looks up at him with worry written in his eyes. "Whatever it is, you can tell me. We're parabatai."

Alec closes his eyes. "Jace—"

Abruptly, Jace swings open Alec's bedroom door, pushes Alec inside, and shuts it behind them, etching a locking rune and a silencing rune into the wood. He shoves his stele back into his waistband, and tips his chin up.

"Nobody's going to hear you except me. So tell me."

Irritation wells in Alec, even though he knows Jace is just trying to help, and he rolls his eyes, digging the nails of one hand into his palm. "For the last time, Jace, it's nothing," he snaps.

Hurt flashes in Jace's eyes, but he covers it quickly with an impenetrable expression of neutrality. Alec hates it when Jace does that, he loathes that expression with every inch of his being, because it's the one Jace uses to push people away when they try to help him if he's hurting. It had been the bane of Alec's teenage years.

Alec tries to gentle his voice a little through his frustration. "I'm fine. I'm—"

"Have you been seeing someone?" Jace asks, abruptly, and folds his arms across his chest. "Is that it?"

Alec wrinkles his nose. "What? No, of course not. In case you haven't noticed, we're in the middle of a war, I haven't exactly got time to go gallivanting off on dates."

"Everyone else has," Jace says, with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. "Dates, or sex, or whatever floats your boat."

Alec parts his lips a little and screws his eyes halfway shut in mildly revolted astonishment. "No."

"Look, Alec, whoever this guy is, if he's a mundane or something, it doesn't matter. You don't have to be ashamed of—"

Alec feels every cell in his body freeze at Jace's words, and he stares at his parabatai, unmoving, heart pounding hard against his ribs in double-time. He rubs the pads of his fingers together, biting down on the inside of his cheek at he feels all colour drain from his face. Panic consumes him whole, constricting around his lungs like an iron band until he can barely breathe.

"What?" Jace asks, exasperation in his voice. "What is it?"

Alec's throat feels tight, but he manages to choke out, "You— What did you just say?"

"Mundane isn't a dirty word, Alec," Jace says with a smirk.

"No, you—" Alec sucks in a deep, shaky breath, because his chest feels painfully tight, and breathing is quickly becoming a thing of the past. "You said—"

Raziel, he can't even make himself say it.

But Jace seems to understand, because his expression softens. "Guy?" he suggests, and Alec jerks his head in what he hopes Jace interprets as a nod. "Alec, we're parabatai. I'm your brother. I'm closer than that. I know you're gay."

The word - that horrible, horrible word - strikes right at Alec's heart, and he feels like Jace has just stolen all the oxygen in the room. He swallows, throat raw and tight, and closes his eyes, as though not seeing Jace will somehow block out the reality laid out in front of him.

Jace knows. His oblivious, ridiculous parabatai, who is even more blind than Alec is, knows. He's tried so, so hard, to hide it, to make sure nobody else finds out, but—

"You know," Alec breathes out, after several seconds of painful tense silence.

"Of course I know." A hand rests on his arm, and it's probably meant to be soothing, but it just burns, and god, Alec can't fucking breathe. "It doesn't matter. It's the last thing that matters. Especially to me. Come on, man, look at me."

Alec does, pulling his eyes open slowly, fear pulsing in his veins. "I—"

"Alec." Jace's other hand comes up, fingertips digging into his biceps, the pressure grounding Alec just enough to keep him in the present. "It's fine. It's who you are. I really don't care who you want to fuck."

Alec glares at him, and Jace chuckles.

"Alright, alright. Kiss. Date. Marry. Whatever. You know what I mean. It doesn't matter. It's not the most important thing about you. Not even close. It's just a part of who you are, like anything else. Like the fact that you're a stubborn asshole, and emotionally stunted, and a bit of a dickhead most of the time, and—"

Alec shoves him, a small, strangled laugh bubbling up out of his throat despite himself. Jace grins at him, wicked and teasing and full of the weighty emotion born from years of being the other half of Alec's soul.

"Fuck off," Alec tells him, and Jace smirks.

"I'm serious. You are a bit of a dickhead, but I don't care about that, and I don't care about the fact that you're gay. I've known for years. Ever since you told me that chick from Idris ‘shouldn't be distracting me’ when we were seventeen." Jace snorts. "By the Angel, Alec, every guy in the Institute between the age of fourteen and forty was gaping at her. Except you."

Alec rolls his eyes, but there's a smile tugging at his lips that he can't quite fend off. The constricting band of panic that was tightening around his chest, squeezing his lungs and crushing his ribs, is loosening with every word falling from Jace's mouth, and the awful, terrified churning in his stomach is settling.

"You really don't care?" Alec asks, ducking his chin a little to look Jace in the eye. "It really doesn't bother you? At all? It's not weird?"

"Why would it be weird?" Jace shrugs, and slogs him lightly in the arm. "No, Alec, I really don't care. So, who've you been seeing?"

Alec opens his mouth to deny that he's been seeing anyone - because he hasn't - but then he decides that he may as well tease Jace a bit.

"Magnus Bane," he says, completely deadpan.

Jace stares at him. "Pardon?"

"Magnus Bane."

"As in...? Holy fucking shit, Alec, are you serious?"

Alec bursts out laughing at the look of incredulity on Jace's face, and he doubles over, cheeks aching. He can't remember the last time he laughed like that, and it's over something so silly, but he can hear Jace laughing too, so he supposes it doesn't matter why they're laughing.

"Of course not. But," Alec says, biting down on his lip. "If you really want to know—"

"I do."

When Alec is finished telling Jace everything, from Bane saving his life when he fell to the discussion he and Izzy had with him earlier, Jace sits down on the edge of Alec's bed, heavily, and stares into space for a moment.

"Are you serious?" Jace asks eventually, raising his eyes to Alec. "You're completely going against the Clave, you're going to do some kind of jailbreak, and your ally is Magnus Bane? The Clave's most wanted criminal? Whom you've been protecting for weeks?"

"He saved my life," Alec says. "For free. He didn't ask for anything in return. Not handing him over to the Clave was the least I could do in return."

Jace lets out a low whistle, and shakes his head. "I'm impressed. I'm also pissed you didn't tell me, because this sounds like fun."

Alec groans. He lets himself flop onto the foot of the bed beside Jace, and says, "Really, Jace?"

"Why not? You can't tell me you're planning this and then expect me to not want to help. Max is my brother, too, in case you haven't noticed. This is my family as well as yours. I have everything to lose if Magnus Bane attacks us, just like you and Izzy do. I have you to lose, just like you were worried about losing me."

The rune on Alec's torso, the rune Jace burned into his skin when they were teenagers, aches at the earnest intensity in Jace's voice. He and Jace don't do this very often. They don't have heart-to-hearts in which they express their innermost feelings. So hearing it, hearing that Jace loves him, and cares about him, just like he does Jace, makes his heart tighten and his stomach twist with fondness.

"I know." Alec exhales, and looks down at where their legs are a mere inch or so apart on the bed. "I know. It's just... What if I'm not doing the right thing, Jace?"

"You've got good instincts. And I agree with you. I don't think the Downworlders we're torturing know anything, I think what we're doing is pointless, and I think Bane is right to be pissed."

"We're not torturing anyone," Alec mutters, but it sounds weak, even to his own ears. The snort Jace lets out tells him that his parabatai doesn't believe it, either.

"I trust you," Jace tells him, after several seconds of quiet. "I trust your gut. I trust that you're doing the right thing. And if this goes wrong, I'm going to stand with you, no matter what."

Alec looks across at him, and finds that Jace's eyes are already on his face. They exchange a smile, small, careful, measured, and then Jace has an arm around Alec's shoulders, and Alec twists to hug him back. They're chest-to-chest, arms tight around each other's backs, breathing slowly, heartbeats and breaths in synch; Alec lets his eyes slip shut.

They don't move for a long moment, twisted to face each other where they're sat on the end of Alec's bed. And Raziel, Alec appreciates it, because keeping secrets from Jace is horrible; having everything off his chest has him feeling overwhelmingly light, and impossibly exhausted. It feels like he's shedding some of the weight, sharing it with Jace, and Jace is shouldering it easily, moving to hold him up for a moment while he collapses.

Because that's what they do. That's why they're parabatai.

"It's gonna be okay," Jace tells him, quietly. "Whatever it is that's worrying you so much - this thing with Bane, or something else - it's gonna be okay."

Alec huffs out a laugh, but it's bitter - so, so bitter - and he feels his chin digging into Jace's shoulder as he lets himself tense all over. "You know that the something else is not going to be okay."

Jace pulls back, keeping his hands on Alec's shoulders, and smiles at him, gently. It's the kind of smile that only a privileged few, those people Jace loves, ever get to see: Alec, and Izzy, and Max, and, once in a blue moon, their parents.

"It's no wonder we became parabatai, Alec, you're a bigger pessimist than I am."

Alec cracks a smile, because it's probably true.

"If it's really not okay," Jace says, "then I'm here. And Izzy's here. And we're not going anywhere. We're your family, and we love you a hell of a lot more than we care for the damn Clave. They pull any shit on you, I'm shoving the mortal sword up their asses, consequences be damned."

Alec chokes on a the laugh that erupts from him, the malicious glint in Jace's eyes more than a little terrifying.

"Please don't," he begs him. "I'm pretty sure that would make things worse, not better."

"Oh, alright." Jace's grin returns. "But seriously for once, I love you, Alec. You're my parabatai. You know that, right?"

"Yeah, Jace." Alec lets himself smile, and he squeezes Jace's forearm. "I love you too."

It's been such a long time since he and Jace last stayed up together for hours, talking out of their asses, words that don't make sense strewn together and meaningless sentences tumbling from their lips, sending them off into snorts of laughter every time they say something stupid.

Outside, it's quiet, and it's dark, the moonlight and the stars casting light into Alec's bedroom in hollow patterns. It's long, long past midnight, well into the early hours of the morning, and he's leaning against the creaky old headboard of his hard-ass bed with his brother, errant thoughts tossed into the space between them, and by the Angel, it feels so nice.

Jace falls asleep before Alec does. He's practically halfway through a sentence, yawning every other word, eyes drooping, and Alec can't tell what he's saying, can barely understand him, and then he's asleep, head mushed against a pillow, legs sprawled out over Alec's sheets.

And Alec...

Well, when Alec wakes again in the morning, he's on his side, facing Jace, in an awkward position that's left him with a crick in his neck. But he can't help but smile a little. He's still fully clothed, save for his boots and his jacket, and he wonders how Jace just knew, so intuitively, without being asked, how much he'd needed a night of companionship, without the weight of expectations hanging heavy from his shoulders.

***

Across the city, Magnus Bane is sprawled on his bed, away from human companions, with his sleeping cat curled up in his lap instead. Photo albums are strewn on the crimson sheets around him, and copies of old paintings, and little trinkets of people whose faces he can no longer quite picture in his mind.

There's a bottle of whiskey sitting on his nightstand, a crystal glass in his hand, and a broken eyeliner pencil still in two pieces where he threw it across the room with a scream of frustration that had cracked the mirror on his chaotic dressing table.

He opened the whiskey before he took out the box full off all the things he doesn't want to forget. Because Ragnor always told him that his dependency on alcohol is a terrible way to deal with the world when it kicks him a touch too hard, and he remembers all the arguments they had about it every time he unscrews a bottle and chugs back four units without bothering to pour it into something first.

Especially now. Especially when he's been doing it more and more regularly, recently, and it's been getting less and less effective.

So, tonight, he's limited himself. And he's pulled out all of this crap, all of these well-worn photos and knickknacks that would look like tosh to most people, but bullet-point half of his life.

He wants to call Ragnor. He wants to pick up the phone and hear Ragnor's voice, grumpy and offended at being woken up - or interrupted, depending on where exactly in the world he'd decided to lock himself away this time - but full of sage advice and a thick layer of immense care and love hidden beneath all the irritatingly-British sarcasm and the impenetrable, deadpan rudeness.

But he can't.

He can't, and it kills him, and it's so, deeply unfair that the stupid, stupid Nephilim that crashed into a broken heap on his doorstep was Alexander Lightwood. It's awful, it's horrible, that he's spent the night with those two Lightwood siblings. It's some cruel cosmic joke, and he's had enough.

He's fucking had enough.

He hasn't been able to get Ragnor's face out of his mind all day, all week, ever since that fucking Lightwood flew into his life, and it's killing him.

He wonders, momentarily, what Ragnor would say, if he were to see how terribly Magnus is failing. Failing to keep himself together, failing to keep the New York Downworld together—because people - especially the younger ones - are splitting off, willing to take their chances with Valentine instead of the Clave, and they're dying.

They're going to keep dying.

And god, Raphael

If Raphael is hurt, Magnus is never going to forgive himself. Because it'll be on him. It's his fault. Raphael had to go to that meeting, he had to, or the New York clan would have revolted, and Magnus had gone with him to protect him, to help him—

Instead, he'd let himself get into a verbal battle with a Shadowhunter, because he hadn't been paying attention, because he hadn't been quick enough.

Fucking hell, he's the High Warlock of Brooklyn. He's good at his job. He's amazing at his job. And he's been amazing at his job for decades. He came into a city divided and torn, and he made it better.

He's just...so unsettled. He can't ground himself properly, because what he used as an anchor is gone, and Raphael and Catarina are trying, they're trying, and he's trying to do the same for them, but...

But Raphael isn't here anymore, either. He's in some hellhole in the Institute, and Magnus has put his trust in two young, foolhardy Shadowhunters - fucking Lightwoods - to get him out of there, alive and well.

Magnus doesn't know what the hell he was thinking. Something in him can't quite say no to Alexander Lightwood, when he pleads and begs and sounds so horribly earnest with his heart on his sleeve in a way the Nephilim never do, and he can't help but wonder whether the Shadowhunter realises. He wonders whether he's being manipulated.

But it's too late for that, now. And besides, he'd meant what he said. If Isabelle - who's beautiful, and charismatic, and reminds Magnus almost fondly of Anna Lightwood, all those years ago - and Alexander, who's not quite like anybody Magnus has ever met, decide it's in their best interests to drop this alliance and betray whatever minuscule shred of trust they've built between them, then...

Well. Then Magnus is going to rain hell down on the Shadowhunters of the New York Institute.

Chapter Text

How Jace manages to pull so many women on such a regular basis has never really been of much interest to Alec. Relationships, love, sex—it's all secondary to him anyway, because, as Isabelle and Jace regularly say, he's married to his job. It's background noise. Jace's flirtations and late-night excursions are something he's aware of, but not something he spends more than a moment's thought on. (Except when it makes Jace late to meetings and missions. Then he gets pissed.)

But, while he pretends to be simultaneously writing up reports on the day's missions and monitoring the surveillance systems in the Ops Centre, he's got one eye on Jace. One eye tracking his parabatai's movements while he flirts with the woman - Amanda - who's standing guard outside the entrance down to the Institute's cells.

It's something in his body language, in the little shifts of his eyes, one moment feigning interest in whatever she's saying, the next flickering around the Institute to keep up the air of mystery around him.

(Or something. That's what Izzy says. Alec thinks it makes him look like he's bored, which can't be particularly attractive, but apparently women have different criteria for their boyfriends than he'd expect.)

Jace makes her laugh, and, each time he does, Alec sees the tension always present in a Shadowhunter's posture begin to melt away, dispersing into the air until she's relaxed. Her eyes are fixed on Jace's face, and she's standing on one hip. Jace reaches out to gesture to her hair, and his fingers accidentally brush against the strands, and she lets out a sudden yawn.

"You should get some sleep," Jace tells her, a smile in his voice and his eyebrows cocked in apparent concern. "You were out on patrol early this morning."

"Maryse asked me to stay," she says. "She wants someone watching the entrance. Raziel knows why. What does she think is going to happen?"

Alec snorts to himself, too quietly for Jace and Amanda to hear, even if they have their hearing runes activated. If only she knew.

"Alec'll watch it." Jace raises his voice. "Alec, man, watch the door for a bit, will you? I'll come back and keep you company."

Alec's deadpan, unamused expression doesn't change as he looks up, and he nods once. "Of course."

Jace winks at Amanda, and offers her his arm, jesting and humour written across his face as he leads her up the short set of stairs, out of the Ops Centre and up to wherever her bedroom is.

"Well."

Isabelle pops up behind him, pulling long pins out of her hair to let all her dark waves tumble down over her shoulders. Alec is so used to his sister appearing out of nowhere, with no warning, that he doesn't jump.

"That was a terribly boring show," she says, and drops a thick wad of papers in a dark blue file down on the table. It's in pristine condition, although it's been down in the lab with her for the last four hours while she was doing some autopsy on a mundane they'd found dead by very supernatural causes in Central Park this morning. "It would have been much more exciting if Jace had tried that on someone else."

Alec quirks an eyebrow at her, a wry smile twisting at his mouth. "Oh?"

"Mm." With her white lab coat still buttoned up, Isabelle flops down in the chair beside him. "You know, someone like Aline. It would never have worked. Much more entertaining."

"I'm fairly sure the whole point of this was that it needed to work," Alec points out. "And Aline? Why Aline?"

Aline is their cousin, and Alec's fairly sure they haven't seen her for at least two years. The Penhallows live in Idris, where Jia Penhallow must remain for her position as Consul, so he really can't imagine why Isabelle picked Aline, of all people, to use in her example.

Isabelle smirks, and kicks her terrifyingly high heels up on the table. Alec knows first hand what kind of damage those contraptions can do. She'd kicked one of Valentine's men in the face and sent her stiletto heel through his eye socket and out the other side, once, and proceeded to complain about the gunk on her shoes for the next three hours.

"Because, brother mine, Aline is beautifully, wonderfully gay. It would have been hilarious. She'd have handed Jace's ass to him."

"It would have been a disaster," Alec says shortly, and picks up the file Izzy flung down. "Anything interesting?"

"Death by demon," she tells him, and he frowns. "It wasn't a normal demon, though. See the scarring there, and those grey splotches on the side of his liver?" She gestures at the pictures; Alec finds the scarring around the victim's neck quickly, but he has no idea which one is the liver.

"This one?" he asks, pointing to a photo of something gross.

"No, this one." She huffs. "Honestly, Alec, do you know anything about basic anatomy?"

Alec rolls his eyes. "Unlike Jace, my knowledge of human anatomy is fairly limited."

"Oh my god." Isabelle chokes on a laugh, and flips her hair over her shoulder to look at him properly. "What the hell happened to my brother? Don't answer that. I'm not in the mood for your salty sarcasm. Anyway, those markings are completely unlike anything I've ever seen from a normal demon, or even a greater demon, so I'm guessing—"

"Valentine is experimenting again? On demons, this time?"

"Yes." Isabelle's inclines her head. "Off the record, I think it could be a Downworlder, too, but I've got no way of knowing, so I'm not giving the Clave another reason to hate the Downworlders. A few deflectors who have every right to despise the Clave and want something different shouldn't lead to the slaughter of thousands of—"

"Hey." Alec shuts the file, and puts his hand over hers, because she's getting worked up, fiery rage burning fierce in her eyes, and while he admires her passion (even if he sometimes questions its placement) this certainly isn't the time to be ruled by emotion. "Iz. You don't have to explain it to me. You do whatever you think you should. I trust you. And besides, that's exactly why we're doing this tonight, right? Because it's not just, and they deserve better than a prison."

"It's torture," Isabelle says, jaw tight. "And if she weren't my mother, I swear by the Angel, I'd—"

Footsteps echo on the stairs, and both of them whip their heads round, relaxing tangibly when Jace is revealed in profile, a cocky swagger to his steps. Alec rolls his eyes at the smugness rolling off his parabatai.

"Success," Jace says. "Jace Herondale: master of seduction, winner of women, flirtation guru—"

"Raging misogynist?" Isabelle suggests, with a wry smile that suggests she doesn't actually think that—although Jace's teenage objectification of women had been something of a sore spot between them that hadn't cleared up until Jace hit eighteen, and stopped being quite such an ass all the time—courtesy of a certain red-head.

"Nah." Jace smiles. "I know you're a hell of a lot smarter than me, and you can kick my ass in training."

"You say such sweet things," Isabelle tells him, with a smirk. She swings her legs off the table and stands up in one enviably fluid movement (Alec knows he's uncoordinated and lacks any sort of grace with his lanky limbs, unless he's in the middle of battle) and faces Jace and Alec with her hands on her hips. "Shall we stop stalling and get on with this, then?"

Jace and Alec exchange a glance, and Alec feels a pulse of anticipation through his parabatai bond. Jace jerks his head in a nod, and Alec returns it.

"Yeah," Jace says, stepping towards Isabelle and brushing his shoulder deliberately against Alec's as he walks past him.

"Let's go," Alec says, inclining his head, and moves to join his siblings, fingers playing across the strap of his glamoured quiver.

He's terrified - of course he is, because they're breaking a thousand Clave rules - but, by Raziel, he wants to do this. For once in his life, he's going to do what his thinks is right and damn the consequences.

It seems rather odd, really, that Magnus Bane is the catalyst for his change of heart.

***

Isabelle spent most of the previous morning etching runes into the stone walls of the corridor, hiding in plain sight, and working out how to disable some of the Institute's alarms, so they could creep down into the jail cells without alerting the rest of the Shadowhunters.

And, as they swipe steles across Isabelle's runes to activate them, progressing slowly, witchlights held prone at head height, Alec's phenomenally grateful that they've got such an intelligent sister. He knows full well that he'd never have managed to do this on his own. Even if he's only just realising it.

"This'd better work," Jace mutters, their boots silent on the cold, unyielding steps as they descended. "I don't really fancy getting my runes stripped. The mundane world looks torturously dull."

"Take up boxing," Isabelle suggests. "Punching the brains out of people - literally - sounds like a you thing."

"Excuse you," Jace says, outrage in his voice. "I am suave and cool. Your implications are insulting."

"Not at all. I'm sure Mohammed Ali was a great guy."

"Shh." Alec motions at them to shut up, and nods towards the next curve of the stairwell, beyond which they're expecting several guards. Several guards whom they certainly do not want to know about their midnight misdemeanours.

They exchange a look, and Alec pulls out the chain Bane had given them upon their departure the previous night. It's silver, catching the light of their witchlights and glimmering a little, with a small pendent hanging on the end. Dark silver embedded with some kind of stone, Bane had told them, but that wasn't important. What Bane had enchanted it to was the crucial element to the jewellery.

It swings in the air, held between Alec's fingers, as they pause, eyes on the Shadowhunters standing guard below them. There are six of them, three men and three women, and one of the men is standing in front of a scarred, bleeding Raphael Santiago. He's clearly antagonising the vampire: Santiago is snarling at him, lurching as far forwards as he can against the restrictions of his chains. The shackles are burning into his wrists, the sizzling sound of silver melting flesh audible even where Alec is standing.

He doesn't flinch, but Isabelle does, righteous fury burning bright and scorching in her deep brown eyes.

Jace catches Alec's eye, and they nod at each other.

Alec lifts the necklace, letting it catch the light, and Jace draws his stele over the tiny little runes etched into its side. They're not from the Gray Book, whatever they are—they must be demonic, not angelic, but Bane is apparently powerful enough, intelligent enough, to fool their steles into activating something that's at least partly demonic.

Alec doesn't understand. He knows he could never hope to understand such a concept. But he's a soldier, and this is Bane's part of their plan, and he's going to trust Bane, because he's the expert. He's the leader where magic comes into play. He commands, and Alec obeys.

It's not what Alec expected.

He expected a bomb. Some kind of violent, magical bomb, making the ground shudder and the walls shake and their ears ring. He expected devastation, and chaos, and rumbling destruction.

But, of course, he should have known better.

He throws the necklace out towards the guards down below them, hard and fast, the moment Jace is done. It hangs in the air, suspended like it's floating in water. Every pair of eyes in the room turn to stare at it, entranced.

And then it explodes.

But it doesn't explode in the tumultuous way Alec expects.

It lights up, blinding and hot and bright white, making Alec fling his hands up in front of his face to protect his eyes from the glare. There's silence, for several seconds, while light, pure, singular sunlight, pours from the pendent, shooting out to every corner of the cells.

It doesn't burn Raphael, when it lands on him. And it doesn't scorch Isabelle's skin, when it cuts across her face.

But the guards...

They drop, boneless, like someone has switched off their muscle power so they can't hold enough tension in their bodies to stand. There's a soft moan from some of them as they fall, eyes drooping shut, and then they're splayed across the floor, still, limbs in disarray and weapons clattering around them.

Then the light disappears, as suddenly as it appeared, and the pendent falls to the floor with a tinkling crash.

For a long moment, there's silence. Alec stares at the fallen bodies - they're all still breathing, but they're asleep, or unconscious, or in some strange, magically-induced state of unawareness - and at the deceptively innocuous-looking necklace, and then at the Downworlders.

And the Downworlders are all staring at him. Him, and Jace, and Isabelle, some with parted lips, others with wide eyes and slack jaws, all like they can't believe what they're seeing.

Jace, of course, is the first to speak. "Alec, keys."

Alec spurs into action, fumbling for the keys he'd hooked in his belt before they'd headed down. The door down to the cells is runed shut at the top, and Bane's magic was so wonderfully silent, so Alec thinks they've probably got some time before anybody gets suspicious, but he doesn't want this to take longer than it needs to.

He tosses one set of keys to Jace, and the ones to the doors that lead outside to Izzy, and heads off to unlock the other cells himself.

The Downworlders in the first cell he unlocks are still gaping at him when he pulls out his stele to unlock their shackles and the magic repressors on the warlocks' wrists.

"Maybe I didn't give you enough credit, Nephilim," Raphael says, when Alec reaches him. Alec doesn't look up, embarrassment gripping him with strong fingers, but Raphael doesn't seem to be deterred. "You're unusual, for a Shadowhunter."

"Come on," Alec says, gesturing the Downworlders out. He meets Santiago's gaze, but otherwise doesn't acknowledge his statements. "We need to go."

"Where are we going, exactly?" asks a young warlock girl. At least, she looks young, but older than a child - fourteen or fifteen, maybe - but Alec supposes she could have stopped ageing centuries ago. "And who the hell are you?"

"It doesn't matter who we are," Jace says, from over where he's still letting out the last few Seelies. Not werewolves, once again, Alec notices. Whoever the leader of the New York pack is, he's keeping them on the down-low, away from Valentine and away from the Clave. "We're taking you home."

"We do not require Nephilim assistance," a vampire bites out, barring his teeth at Jace with a hiss. "You imprison us, torture us, and you expect us to trust you?"

"No," Isabelle says, voice calm, transparent in its honesty, but firm. "Of course not. We're letting you out, against orders, because what our superiors were doing to you was wrong. And, if you'll let us, we'd like to accompany you home for back-up, to make sure we finish our job. Not because we think your incapable of protecting yourselves, but because you've been tortured for days, weeks, and deprived of basic necessities."

Something about Isabelle's speech - her words, or her tone of voice, or her body language - seems to strike a chord with the Downworlders. They exchange glances, sceptical and thoughtful and resigned, and then they seem to acquiesce.

As Jace undoes the shackles of a Seelie knight with long dark hair streaked with silvery blue in one side, Isabelle surges forward and throws her arms around him. Alec raises his eyebrows at their exchange, but he's not surprised when she kisses the Seelie before letting him go. He's suspected as much for months.

The Seelie murmurs something to her, and drags soft brown fingertips down her cheek. Whatever he says, it makes Isabelle smile, and she leans up to press her lips to his cheek before she withdraws.

"I'm going back to the entrance to the Seelie Court," Isabelle says, wiping at the corner of one eye but standing tall, resolute, chin tipped up. One hand is curled around the handle of her whip, and the other is threaded through the Seelie's. "Jace is heading back to the Hotel Dumort, and Alec—"

"Magnus Bane's," Raphael says, where he's leaning heavily against the wall. "You're coming back to Magnus Bane's."

Alec blinks at him, but he doesn't protest. He doesn't dare. He'd been planning on going with the three warlocks, all women, and taking them back to wherever it is they want to go - Taki's café, or the Hunter's Moon bar, or home, or somewhere else safe - but he isn't going to pick a fight with Santiago "Alright. I can do that."

He glances over at Jace, who's frowning at him, and shrugs.

Isabelle, too, is looking at him, but her face is neutral when she says, "Let's go."

Alec waits for the others to follow her, filing out in front of him, and then he stoops to pick up Bane's necklace before he too leaves, and clicks the door shut behind him.

***

Outside, it's cold.

The moon is high, half-full but shining bright in the cloudless sky. There's a quick wind that penetrates Alec's clothes and makes most of the Downworlders shiver, but he forces himself not to pay too much heed to his body's mild protests.

The warlocks portal away with a brief thanks, mostly directed at Jace and Isabelle, magic lighting up the street despite the exhaustion they must feel, before it blinks out of existence again.

It's a mere few minutes, a question from a vampire to Santiago about why he's not coming home with them, and sharp order from Isabelle's Seelie (Meliorn, Alec thinks his name is, from the few times he's met the Seelie Queen's court, but he wouldn't swear on it) to his fellows to get moving, and then Alec is alone in the street with Raphael, who looks, frankly, like he's about to collapse.

"Are you alright?" Alec asks, brow furrowing when Raphael staggers as they walk down a damp, street-lit pavement, hand reaching out to catch himself on the side of a shop front.

"Your mother doesn't like me very much," Santiago says, an edge to his voice that suggests he'd have been snapping at Alec if he could. It's defensive, and Alec supposes it must be fairly wounding to his pride, to be in this state.

Alec chews on the inside of his cheek for a moment, watching the vampire struggle. Then he throws caution to the wind. He stands by Raphael's side and hooks the vampire's arm around his shoulders, ducking slightly to grab his waist, and hauls him upright, forcing himself to ignore the gasp of pain Raphael lets loose.

"Come on," Alec says, practically dragging Santiago with him. "I don't like mundanes, but we're getting a cab, because you can't walk all the way to Brooklyn, and if I take you on the subway the mundanes will try to have us arrested."

And you'd probably punch me in the face if I flew and carried you, Alec thinks, but he doesn't voice the option aloud.

"If Magnus weren't so melodramatic, he could have just given you his phone number so we could avoid all this crap," Raphael hisses, fingers digging into Alec's shoulder when they round the corner onto the busy main road.

"Tell him that," Alec says, rearranging his grip on the vampire so he can slash through his glamour rune and hail a cab.

It takes a mere few minutes, but a mundane pulls up, squinting suspiciously at Raphael. Alec is grateful that it's dark, so he can tell the man he's drunk and not get questions about the cuts oozing blood on Raphael's face.

"Shut up," Alec mumbles when Raphael tries to complain about something, and pushes him into the back of the car. "Why didn't you ask one of those warlocks for help?"

"In case you didn't notice, estúpido, they were drained and needed to go home," Santiago says, as heatedly as he can. "Dios, you Nephilim."

Alec rolls his eyes, and he's more grateful than he can express when they eventually arrive two streets from Bane's apartment block. Santiago groans and complains when Alec hauls him out of the car and pays the driver, and he's keeping up a steady stream of Spanish curses by the time they reach Bane's front door.

Bane's voice reaches him immediately upon him buzzing. "What?" he demands, and, clearly, Raphael isn't the only one who's run out of patience tonight.

"It's me," Alec says, and realises how stupid that is when Raphael snorts. "I mean, it's Alec. I mean—"

"Come up."

Bane is leaning in the doorway when Alec turns the corner to make up the last flight of rickety old stairs. He lets out a gasp when he sees Santiago, bloodied and supported by Alec, eyes going wide as his posture switches to ramrod straight and tense all over.

"Raphael!"

He rushes down, moving faster than Alec's eyes can follow, and he loops Santiago's other arm around his neck, helping Alec haul him up the stairs. Alec can feel the tension bleed out of Raphael; he realises that it's because he knows he's safe, now, with Bane.

It's such an alien thought, so out of the realm of Alec's imagination. That anybody can feel so acutely secure immediately upon being in Bane's home, in his care. He wonders, fleetingly, what kind of history the two men have. They seem close. They seem to know each other well, and they certainly seem to care about each other. Bane had been furious when Raphael had been captured, that day, and he's clearly deeply concerned by his injuries, now, and the way Raphael is clinging to him...

It's odd. It seems almost like the relationship between father and son, and yet not quite. Alec can't imagine Bane ever being a father-figure to anyone.

"Sit down here," Bane says, leading Raphael over to a plush sofa. He snaps his fingers to cover it with a sheet before they set Santiago down. Raphael groans, and curses again, eyes fluttering shut; Bane brushes hair back from the vampire's forehead, and purses his lips. "Don't move, mi hijito. I'll be back. Alexander, come with me. Now."

Bane's voice is freezing when his address switches to Alec, and Alec swallows the fear ignited in him at such a tone. The warlock sounds furious, coiled tight and ready to spring, itching to unleash the anger clearly boiling in him at the state of his friend.

His cat eyes are flashing, and magic is sparking at his fingertips, but somehow, it's the most non-demonic Bane has ever seemed. His care for Raphael, his fury at his injuries... It's so familiar. So ordinary. So human.

Bane leads Alec to his kitchen, out of Santiago's line of sight, and he whirls round to face him.

"You've got ten seconds to tell me what the hell is going on, Shadowhunter, or I'm summoning a hellhound and feeding you to it," Bane spits, voice like fire, shooting at Alec like hot coals.

"I don't know," Alec tells him, honestly, taking half a step back and raising his hands, palms forward in surrender. "I don't know who did this, and I don't know why. The last time I saw him, he was no worse than any of the others, and my mother had been interrogating him. I don't know what happened."

Bane exhales sharply through his nose, and closes his eyes for a moment. When they blink open, a few seconds later, he's controlled the inferno raging inside him, and he looks steadier. "Did it work? The necklace, and the plan?"

"Yes. Yes, it worked. They're free. All of them. Jace and Izzy are accompanying most of the others back, just to make sure. The warlock women portalled out."

"I despise the Nephilim," Bane murmurs, glancing out towards where Raphael is, worry clear in his eyes. He rubs his fingertips together, twists his rings around and around, and Alec finds himself with the most inexplicable urge to reach out and cover Bane's hand, just to stop the nervous fidgeting. "Have I mentioned that?"

"Once or twice," Alec says, but it's gentle, the kind of voice he uses on Isabelle when she's in emotional distress. He fishes Bane's necklace out of his pocket, and offers it to him. "Here."

"Keep it." Bane doesn't spare him, or the necklace, a glance, instead rubbing absently at his goatee. "I don't want the reminder. There's a jar in the top shelf labelled in a language you won't be able to read, right hand side, with a rose-pink tonic in it. Get it out for me, and pour some into a glass. Don't sniff it, or you'll pass out. Then put the kettle on and make some tea. Understood?"

While he pockets the necklace again, deciding to put it somewhere safe in case Bane ever wants it back, Alec blinks at him. "Tea?"

"Yes, Alexander, tea. Three cups. Get to it."

***

"I told you to stay still," Magnus says to Raphael, softly, when he walks out of the kitchen and back into the living room. He wants to reprimand the vampire for moving into a different position, but he knows Raphael doesn't like being coddled.

Raphael snorts. "And I told you not to make deals with Shadowhunters."

"Those Shadowhunters might well have just saved your life," Magnus tells him, pointedly, and clicks his fingers to summon his magic to the tips of his fingers, swirling around his hands as he lowers himself to a crouch beside Raphael. "And I haven't had to kill anyone to make sure you all got out of there safe. It was a win-win deal, Raphael."

Raphael closes his eyes and hisses in pain when Magnus' magic floats out to caress the cuts on his face and knit the mangled flesh back together. It makes Magnus' heart clench, and the rage bubbling inside him threatens to spill over. Whoever the hell did this, he wants to kill them. He wants to tear them apart. He wants to make them scream the way Raphael must have done. He wants to strip them of pride the way they have Raphael—a man who places such importance upon his dignity.

"I'm sorry, cariño," Magnus murmurs, as Raphael flinches away from the magic that has to cause him more pain to make it better. "I'm sorry. Ragnor would have my head if he saw you."

And that - that makes Raphael look even more pained than he does by the agony stemming from his physical injuries.

"Don't," Raphael says, harshly, biting out the word. "Dios, Magnus, don't."

"Raphael—"

"Don't."

Magnus shakes his head in silent reprimand, but they've had this conversation before, more than once, and he knows that having it again won't change anything. Raphael has to come round in his own time, as Catarina keeps telling him.

When Magnus' magic tickles gently up the next long gash on his face, Raphael lets out a strangled sound of pain and protest. It breaks Magnus' heart in two. He takes a deep, calming breath before he shifts his fingers across to the other cheek.

"One more," Magnus soothes him, and Raphael screws his eyes shut, fingernails digging into Magnus' expensive upholstery. Not that he could care less about his furniture, when it's up against Raphael's wellbeing. "Just one more, Raphael."

When Raphael swallows a noise of agony that shows clearly on his face despite his best efforts, Magnus curses every Nephilim in existence.

Except, perhaps, the ones who helped him save his people. Those ones...he's reserving judgement on.

Particularly the unfortunately pretty one in his kitchen.

 

Chapter Text

When Alec walks into the living room with three mugs of tea and one mug of some suspicious substance that appears to be moving on its own, Santiago's face is healed, and he and Bane are talking quietly. There's a small smile on the warlock's face, soft and caring as he looks up at Raphael from where he's crouched on the floor by his feet, elbows braced on his knees. He's nodding, and his eyebrows quirk at something the vampire says, lips parting a little. Another sentence, and an eye roll from Raphael, and he's laughing.

Alec clears his throat, because it's clearly a private moment between two people who are very close, and he doesn't want to intrude.

Bane turns to look at him, over his shoulder, and the smile on his face doesn't quite drop away. It changes, shifts to something a little more measured, more circumspect, but it doesn't evaporate away like Alec expects it to.

"I, um." Alec swallows, suddenly hot around the collar at the way Bane is just watching him, cat eyes unblinking and oddly gentle, from his crouched position.

It's...it's almost vulnerable. Not that Bane seems vulnerable, at all, but the position isn't...it doesn't exude danger and dominance. Not like his every movement does when he's standing tall. It's relaxed. It's easy. Alec hadn't realised how much tension Bane carries with him, until now, when he's witnessing him shed some of it.

Alec takes a deep breath, and forces himself to get his words out like a normal fucking human being. He doesn't stutter at the Institute, when he's leading his team and reporting back in meetings and doing his damn job. Why is he stuttering now? "I brought tea. And...this."

"Thank you, Alexander," Bane says, and extends a hand towards the pink solution. He makes Raphael drink some of it. The vampire grimaces, and Bane chuckles, patting his newly healed cheek with a patronising hum that makes Raphael scowl and Bane grin, before he stretches up out of his crouch to straighten up. His necklaces jangle as he moves, and Alec can't stop his eyes flickering down as they all catch the light.

"Sugar?" Bane asks, raising an eyebrow at Alec when he reaches for one cup of tea.

"I brought sugar." Alec nods to where he'd put the pot down on Bane's coffee table. "I wasn't sure— I wasn't sure what you wanted."

"Thank you," Bane says, again. He takes two mugs, stirs sugar into one, and hands the other to Raphael, who's watching the two of them with a distinctly unimpressed look on his face.

There's a moment of silence, during which Raphael and Bane drink their tea, and Alec stands awkwardly, desperate to just get the hell out of there and go home. He wants to go to bed. He wants to curl up and never have to face the consequences of what he's done tonight.

He's disobeyed the Clave, gone against everything he's ever been taught, put his trust in Downworlders, allowed his siblings to throw themselves right in harm's way, and he's done it all while forcing himself not to think about what's going to happen if he's found out. Raziel, he wants to go home and drown himself in the shower and curl up in bed, where he doesn't have to put on a front—where he can let himself fall apart.

But he can't just walk out.

"Drink, Alexander," Bane says, suddenly, breaking the quiet and snapping Alec from his thoughts. "You're shaking."

Is he? He hadn't really noticed. But when he looks down at his hands, he realises that Bane is right: his fingers are trembling, just slightly, and he can feel the twitching in his back muscles that always occurs when he's in high emotion, anticipating his fight-or-flight response and ready to let his wings burst free.

"Come, darling, sit down. Let's find the Chairman."

Bane waves a hand casually in Alec's direction, and a soft leather armchair with a fuzzy red throw rug tossed across the back shoots forward, and bumps the back of his legs. Alec sits down robotically, gripping his mug so tightly he's surprised it doesn't crack.

"Oh, gods above and demons below," Raphael mutters, watching Bane disappear down a little corridor, calling softly for his cat. "He's pathetic."

Alec doesn't dare ask what Raphael is referring to, exactly, but he has a niggling suspicion that it's not Bane's obvious adoration for his tiny little cat.

"Here," Bane announces a moment later, returning with Chairman Meow curled in his arms like a baby, purring happily. "Do you remember Alexander, Chairman? Do you remember the nice Nephilim who managed not to shoot you? Yes?"

The Chairman meows, and Alec's heart melts. Raziel, if his mother got a look inside his head whenever he saw Chairman Meow, she'd disown him and sack him on the spot.

Without warning, Bane deposits the cat in Alec's lap. Chairman makes a little noise of protest, claws digging into Alec's thighs. He circles round, padding over Alec's lap for a moment, and then he drops down and settles, resting his head on his paws and staring up at Alec with wide eyes.

Fuck.

"Fluffy animals are supposed to be good for anxiety," Bane says, watching as Alec goes to pet the cat gently with one hand, cradling his tea in the other. His heart-rate slows, just a little.

"It increases mine," Raphael mumbles.

"Raphael!" Bane turns on his heel, hands going to his hips, and he glares at the vampire in mock-outrage. Or maybe it's genuine. Alec can't quite tell. "How dare you? The Chairman is not an it. He is adorable, and does not deserve your insolence."

Alec tunes out the bickering, and instead focuses on the bundle of fluff curled in his lap. He's supposed to be a leader, strong and confident and married to the Law, and yet here he is, disobeying Clave orders, protecting a criminal, petting a fucking cat with shaking fingers.

He knows he needs to get home, soon. He needs to leave before anybody realises the Downworlders are gone, and notices that he, too, is gone, because then they'll put two and two together. He'll have his runes stripped if he's ever caught for this.

But he doesn't want to go back to the Institute. There's something about Bane's loft that's beginning to feel almost...comforting. Familiar.

And it's such an absurd thought that it makes Alec freeze, stiffening all over, his every muscle tensing. It's a dangerous thought. A dangerous feeling. He shouldn't feel this safe in a Downworlder's home, with a cat, the Clave's most wanted and a vampire clan leader for company.

Yet, he does.

"I have to go," Alec says, curling one hand into a fist on his knee, the other still on the Chairman's head, fingers just pressing between his ears. "I can't— I have to go."

Bane frowns at him. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." He's not. Raziel, he's not. "I just have to go back before they realise I'm gone."

The little furrow Bane gets between his brows suggests to Alec that he's not convinced, but he doesn't say anything. He appraises Alec over the rim of his mug, and takes a sip of tea in contemplative silence.

"I'll show you out, then," Bane says, and his voice is decidedly and pointedly neutral. Alec isn't sure what to make of that.

Bane stands up, unfolding himself gracefully from where he'd been sitting on the sofa beside Raphael, and he turns on his heel to walk towards the front door without a word.

Alec feels a little guilty for disturbing Chairman Meow, who seems to be asleep on his lap, but needs must, he supposes. The cat lets out a disgruntled, confused growl when Alec picks him up and places him down on the floor.

"Sorry, cat," Alec murmurs, nudging him gently out of his path with his toes.

He's about to head out of the living room and into the hallway, when a voice cuts through the air.

"Lightwood."

He pauses, and turns to look at Raphael. "Yeah?"

Santiago watches him for a moment, his expression as inscrutable as always. "Thank you. For Nephilim, what you and your siblings did tonight was extraordinary. For beings with souls..." He shrugs. "You're making me think some of you might have one."

Alec cracks a smile. "You're welcome."

"You can consider this an alliance, Shadowhunter." Raphael tips his chin up. "If you, or your siblings, wish to negotiate with the Night Children, ask for me. But don't mistake this for trust. And I do not extend the same courtesy to your parents." He spits the words, lip curling, and Alec realises that Raphael is old enough to have some kind of history with his parents that he hasn't been privy to, because he wasn't born—past wrongs, disagreements, slights against each other.

But he doesn't ask. "Yes. Thank you."

Raphael inclines his head. "A favour for a favour."

When Alec reaches the front door a moment later, Bane has his arms folded, jaw set, but his posture softens a little when Alec spills out of the living room and into the hallway.

"Goodbye, then," Alec says, when Bane remains silent. He scratches awkwardly at the back of his neck.

"Goodbye," Bane echoes. "And thank you, little angel. For what you did tonight." He smiles, and it makes something in Alec's stomach clench. "Maybe you're not my greatest disappointment of the last three decades, after all."

For a moment, Alec's holds the warlock's gaze, staring into his glamoured eyes while trying not to fall so far down into their depths that he can't claw his way back out. He can't afford to get lost in a Downworlder. He knows better.

But then, he thought he knew better than to go against the Clave and release all the Institute's prisoners.

Bane shifts, just a tiny, imperceptible amount, and it's enough to make his necklaces catch the light. A thought flits through Alec's mind; he reaches into his pocket, pulling out the necklace.

"Are you sure you don't want this back?" he asks, extending his hand, palm up, necklace cradled in his hand.

Bane shakes his head, his smile getting smaller, but gentler. His eyes go soft, and the harsh line of his jaw relaxes, and Alec's stomach twists almost painfully again.

"No, darling," Bane says, and he reaches out to close Alec's fingers around the necklace. "I meant what I said. I don't want it."

Bane's fingers rest on his, lingering, and Alec can't help the way the touch makes him shiver in an entirely unfamiliar way. It's not uncomfortable. It's just...alien. The warlock's touch is warm, his skin impossibly smooth, and the cooler metal of his rings, some rough and some like silk, is noticeable in comparison. There's a tiny little chip in the deep red nail polish of his index finger, and a slightly larger one on his middle finger, as though he's been working with his hands today. It's such a little imperfection, but it's the fact that there are any physical imperfections within Magnus Bane that keeps astounding Alec. He's so put-together. He holds himself like he's a god—like he knows he's a god, walking among the clouds.

And yet, Alec thinks he might be the most grounded man he's ever met.

Everything about him is an oxymoron. Strength and defiance blazes in his eyes, and clashes with the vulnerability and fear he holds for those he loves. He's demonic, deadly, a murderer, but he's beautiful, and he's gentle, and he can be kind.

Alec doesn't understand. He doesn't understand at all. But he can't help wanting to work it out.

"Are you sure you're alright, little angel?" Bane asks, eyebrows furrowed in a concern that Alec is sure no Downworlder should have for a Shadowhunter, no matter how superficial. He still doesn't retract his hand from where it's resting against Alec's.

"I'm fine," he says, immediately, unthinkingly, because he is. He's always fine. He has to be fine. He's an older brother, and a leader, and not being okay makes him a liability to his team and to his family.

Bane's grip on his fingers softens a little, but he doesn't move away entirely. Instead, he shifts so he's holding the side of Alec's hand, where it's still curled into a loose fist around the necklace.

"You know," Bane says, "if there's a problem, and you return home to find that someone suspects you, I can always slip them a memory spell. Or a tonic. I can get creative."

Alec lets out a little laugh, and Bane smiles at him.

"Thank you," Alec says. "For trusting us with this. And for calling off your attack. I'm grateful."

Bane shrugs. "There was no need for bloodshed when you were presenting me with a sensible alternative. It was hardly a difficult decision, when my magic was central to your plan."

"Thank you for that, too."

"Alexander." Bane squeezes his hand, and he looks...amused, Alec thinks, with the low light of the hallway dancing in his eyes. "Stop thanking me, and go home."

Alec closes his eyes, and lets out a little sigh. Bane's fingers slip from his hand as he exhales, and the air rushing to his skin feels cold; it seems to seep into him, deep into his heart, the energy and willpower chased out of him by the sudden loss of warmth.

"I don't really want to go home," Alec admits, because it's true. It's not that he wants to stay here, particularly, with arguably the most dangerous person in the continental US, it's just that he doesn't want to go back to the Institute.

He feels like Magnus Bane has managed to uproot his entire world, casting all the certainties he's lived by for twenty-two years into doubt, and he's not sure he can go back to blindly disrespecting and disregarding every Downworlder in the world after all he's been exposed to. After Raphael, after Bane, after seeing Izzy and Meliorn...

Maybe Izzy has been right all along.

"Well, darling, as we were trying to kill each other twenty-four hours ago, I would hasten to suggest that while I quite like you, considering you're a Shadowhunter, I'd rather get lunch and play twenty questions before I lend you a guest bedroom."

Bane is teasing him. Alec knows he is. And god, he appreciates it, because the light-hearted humour makes his heart lift a little, and he can breathe a touch easier.

"I wasn't trying to kill you. But I am sorry about that," Alec says, with a rueful smile.

"A misunderstanding," Bane replies, with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I forgive you, even if I pretended not to. You're too much fun to mess with."

Alec flushes a little, but he's not insulted like he might have been, had Bane said that to him a month ago, when they'd first met. "It's not the first time my siblings have dragged me into trouble."

"No. Somehow, I can believe that." Bane's eyes are gentle when he ducks his head to better catch Alec's gaze, because even though Alec is a little taller, he has such an awful habit of slouching and hanging his head. Maryse was always telling him off for tilting his head down when he was young, looking up at people from under his eyelashes instead of staring straight ahead like a soldier should. "I think it's time for you to go now, little angel."

"Yeah. I, um—" Alec clears his throat. "Yeah."

Bane's eyes flicker for a moment, from brown to golden-green with slit pupils and then back again, and Alec is fairly sure the drop in the glamour is intentional. He's just not sure why.

"Goodnight, Alexander," Bane says, and there's something odd in his eyes, something Alec can't quite place, but it almost looks regretful.

He's not going to see Bane again, he realises, abruptly, as he stands there like an idiot. There are no more excuses. No more reasons for him to come knocking on his door, begging for help and making himself look like a fool in the process. Valentine has branded his mark on the world, and if Bane has any sense, he'll be taking the warlocks of New York and hiding them safely within his wards, somewhere far away from the Circle's clutches.

Alec isn't sure what to make of the acute feeling of discomfort that tightens in his gut and twists, at that realisation. He just knows it's strange, and foreign, and nerve-inducing, much like most things he experiences where Bane is concerned.

His mind and body reconnect, slowly, as he draws himself out of his head. He realises that he's staring, holding Bane's gaze in silence for longer than is strictly appropriate. But Bane isn't looking away, either.

And because Alec does something impulsive once in a while, whatever Jace and Izzy think, and because if this is the last time he'll ever see the warlock then he's got nothing to lose, Alec swallows, and says, "Goodnight, Magnus."

He doesn't wait for Bane to say anything else; he barely gives himself time to catch the fleeting expression of surprise that crosses the warlock's face, lips parting and eyes widening infinitesimally. He merely forces down the knot of anxiety in his throat, clicks open Bane's front door, and dashes down the steps before anything can make him stay a moment longer.

***

"You're disgusting," is the first thing Raphael says, when Magnus walks back into the living room.

Magnus scowls at him. He'd spent at least two minutes longer than he should have (which is no time at all) staring after Alexander when he practically fled from Magnus' apartment, out into the cold dark night. He'd watched him tumble down the stairs, followed him with his eyes as he'd yanked open the foyer door and jogged into the street, and he'd gazed at the closing door, even when Alec was well out of sight.

It was just so unexpected. So dramatic. And Alec...

Well. Okay. Maybe Alec is a little bit dramatic, even if he'd never admit it, nor does he seem it at first glance. He isn't dramatic like Magnus is, but he certainty never does things by half.

"Says the teenager," Magnus retorts. "Hair gel and Calvin Klein aftershave, Raphael? Really?"

"Sephora and designer suits, Magnus, really?" Raphael leans his head back against the back of the sofa, eyes closed, a smirk on his lips. "And a Shadowhunter? Good god, the apocalypse really has arrived."

"Shut it," Magnus says, pointing a finger at him. The nail was perfectly painted this morning, and this particular manicure has been exceptionally long-lasting, so he's sad to see that it's chipped after several hours of making an incredibly complex potion that gave him immense trouble and left a lingering stench of overripe avocado in his bathroom.

"You hate Shadowhunters, not that I blame you," Raphael continues, clearly having no intention of respecting his elders and doing as Magnus damn well tells him to. As per usual. "Are you going soft?"

"No, this one just saved my best friend's life, so do excuse me if I hate him a little less than I despise most of them."

"Cat would be offended if she heard you say that. I'm going to tell her what you said."

"Oh, for—" Magnus throws his hands up, and rolls his eyes at Raphael. Dramatically. Very dramatically, in a way Alexander the-secret-drama-queen Lightwood could never hope to pull off.

(Although, he does seem to have a penchant for rolling his eyes. Magnus has noticed.)

"What?" Raphael cranes his neck to look round at him, and Magnus purses his lips when he puts his vile teenage vampire feet up on his beautiful coffee table. Honestly. Have he and Ragnor really failed to reach this boy any manners? "Come on, Magnus, you saved this boy's life, and now you're giving him tea and letting him play with your cat because he's having an existential crisis? And you expect me to ignore this? Dios, you're stupid sometimes."

"And you're walking a thin line, cariño. You've already insulted my cat today, don't insult my new favourite Shadowhunters." He pauses. "Hm. Maybe you're right. I don't think I've ever had favourite Shadowhunters before. Maybe Will and Jem, but Will was such an ass. Hm. Henry. I liked Henry. And Anna. Do you remember Anna?"

Raphael raises one eyebrow, looking distinctly unimpressed. "Shadowhunters? Plural? Who's the other one? Not the blonde one. Tell me you don't fancy the blonde one."

Magnus frowns. "I don't fancy Alexander, Raphael, don't be ridiculous. And who's the blonde one? Do you mean Alexander's other brother, whatever his name is? No. I was referring to Alexander's sister. Isabelle. You know. Meliorn's girl. Not a favourite of the Seelie Queen. Wears great heels and likes my make-up."

"Not that you're narcissistic, at all."

"No, Santiago, just proud of my overwhelming beauty." He grins. "More tonic?"

"No. If you feed me that again, I'm going to put it in the washing machine next time you wash your whites, and see what it does to them."

Magnus gasps. "You wouldn't dare!"

"I would. And you're far too cheery." Raphael squints one suspicious eye at him. "You shouldn't be this cheery."

"Why not? I don't have to deal with any more Shadowhunters, the Shadowhunters I did have to deal with have freed my people, and you're okay. Why wouldn't I be cheery?"

Raphael's squinting gets more pronounced. "Because you had to deal with Shadowhunters for god knows how many hours?"

Magnus shrugs. "They weren't too bad."

"Dios, you're turning into a sentimental old man. Ragnor was right. He always said—"

Raphael cuts himself off abruptly. The teasing, scathing humour than had been written across his face disappears, to be replaced with a horrible, confused pain that tears at Magnus' heart. He wants to wrap his arms around Raphael and make all that hurt go away, if that would make it better. He understands - god, he does - but he doesn't know how to help. Raphael has always been a strange boy, and a stranger man, and he doesn't grieve like Magnus has seen other people grieve. He's so private, and keeps his emotions clutched so closely to his chest that Magnus fears one day they'll overflow and spill to the floor so catastrophically and entirely that no amount of grappling will be enough to pick them all back up.

Magnus takes a step forward, hand extended, and says softly, "Raphael—"

Raphael flinches the moment Magnus' hand gets anywhere near him, and Magnus' heart breaks, aching and painful and bleeding in the cage of his ribs.

"No," he says, practically spitting the word. "Don't."

Exhaling, Magnus sits down beside the young vampire—who, he supposes, really isn't very young anymore, but is still young in Magnus' mind, at not even a century old. He watches him for a moment, lost and hopeless because he's got no idea how to comfort someone like Raphael, even having known him, having loved him like something between a son and a nephew and a younger brother, for decades.

"He would want to be remembered," Magnus says, as gently as he can, because talking about it like this, with such raw emotion between them, hurts him, too. But, like a father, or an uncle, or an older brother, Magnus knows his job at this moment is to shoulder the burden.

He wonders, momentarily, whether this is the kind of thing Alexander does with his siblings. Take all the weight, and then take some more. There's so much resting on Alec's shoulders without anything like this added that it's painful to look at, sometimes.

"I don't want to remember him," Raphael says, staring resolutely ahead.

"That's not true," Magnus says, because he knows it's not. "You loved him, Raphael, and he loved you. He'd want you to remember that. He'd want you to remember him as something warm and light when the world gets dark, because in the end, we're all made of memories, and memories are all we've got."

Raphael closes his eyes, and exhales heavily, as though it might dispel some of the hurt from his body. It doesn't, Magnus knows. He's tried. So many times, when people he's loved have left him.

After a long moment of tense silence, charged with the weight of grief hanging around both of them like a noose, Raphael shifts closer, and rests his head on Magnus' shoulder. Magnus knows him well enough, by now, to know that Raphael doesn't want to burrow into a hug and cry. He needs a lighter touch, and a more subtle brand of physical comfort. It's something Magnus has never been very good at, because he's precisely the opposite. Ragnor had been better at it. But he's learnt, over the decades, partly from watching how Ragnor dealt with Raphael's darkest moments. He's still learning, and he wishes Ragnor were here to help.

"I miss him," Raphael murmurs, and Magnus lifts an arm to wrap around his shoulders, fingers resting lightly in one side of his hair.

"I know," Magnus says, because he does. "I miss him too."

"I can't even remember the last thing I said to him."

"Neither can I," Magnus admits, but it doesn't hurt as much as it would have done had all this occurred two centuries ago. "But it's okay. I don't really remember the first thing I said to him, either. But I remember lots of things I said to him in between, and those were the important bits. Those were what defined our relationship. Beginnings and endings aren't always as important as people make them out to be."

"He shouldn't have got himself involved in Shadowhunter affairs," Raphael mutters, and Magnus smiles a little, sadly, wryly, because he recognises the stages of Raphael's grief, and recognises them as all those his younger self had once suffered through, while Ragnor held him and told him all the things he's now telling Raphael.

"You could never tell Ragnor to do anything," Magnus says. "He had an iron will. He did what he thought was right."

"But if he hadn't—"

"Raphael." Magnus shakes his head. "The only person you can blame for Ragnor's death is the person who drove that blade through him. You understand me? Looking for other people to condemn will make you miserable."

"I wanted to kill her," Raphael murmurs, and he turns his face a little against Magnus' shoulder so his voice is partly muffled when he speaks again. "When I saw her, I wanted to kill her."

"I'm glad you didn't, because if you had, you'd be dead too, and I'm not sure Catarina would be able to hold me together if you both left me so close together. Nor would I be of much use to her."

Raphael's lips quirk, and he tilts his face to look up at Magnus. "Selfish, as always."

Magnus lets out a little huff of a laugh. "Of course. You wouldn't have me any other way."

"Humph." Raphael makes a grumbling sort of noise that Ragnor used to refer to as his teenage moodiness (to which Raphael usually snapped some line about old man grumpiness, so beginning an argument that would last a good half an hour).

He smiles, and presses a kiss to the top of Raphael's head, before letting him go, gently—he can tell that Raphael is ready for the physical affection to end, now. He has a fairly low tolerance for touch, although he goes through moments of craving contact intensely. Ragnor, of course, had always been much better at sensing his moods than Magnus, which was always unendingly frustrating.

"Stay there," Magnus tells him. "Find something on Netflix. I haven't got any appointments until lunchtime, so let's binge-watch something crappy and get take-out."

Raphael rolls his eyes. "Fine. Just not Game of Thrones."

Magnus counts it as a victory, and he squeezes Raphael's shoulder as he passes him to get to his phone and order them something from Taki's.

"Hey, Raphael?"

Raphael glances up at him, and quirks an eyebrow.

Magnus smirks. "How's Simon?"

He gets a pillow thrown in his face for that.

 

Chapter Text

The Clave is in uproar the following morning.

Alec stands between Jace and Izzy, and they watch, pretending to list with rapt attention, as his mother shouts and snaps at anybody who will listen, demanding that they find who's responsible for this. Find them, strip them of their marks, toss them into the mundane world.

"It's fairly obvious, isn't it?" Raj asks, arms folded across his chest, and Alec feels his heart thud once, in fear. Raj and Izzy have never really got along very well, and he knows that plenty of people already suspect Isabelle, with all her connections in the Downworld. He can see it in the faces of his fellows as they shoot her glances filled with accusation.

When Raj's eyes flicker, however, they don't rest on Isabelle; they rest on Alec.

"Clearly, it was Magnus Bane," Raj says, and he says the words to Alec, eyes landing back on Maryse only as he reaches his final syllable; Alec feels his eyes widen and his lips part in shock. "Warlocks created the warding on this Institute. Warlocks who could have been loyal to Warlock Bane. In fact, I'm fairly sure that the Clave files state that Bane put warding on the Institute when he was appointed High Warlock in the 50s. And we all saw what he did yesterday. He infiltrated us and turned our adamas red. That's some crazy shit. He's powerful. If he weren't, we wouldn't be so desperate to kill him."

Not the Clave wouldn't be so desperate to kill him. Not with Raj. We. One and the same, because Raj has nobody beyond the Clave to be loyal to. His parents are dead. He has no siblings. No wife, or girlfriend. Hell, he hasn't really let himself get close to anybody at the Institute.

It's why Alec would never include Raj on the sort of treacherous mission they'd carried out last night.

Maryse narrows her eyes at Raj. "The warlock threatened to kill us, Raj. Not just free his people."

Raj shrugs. "Clearly, he changed his mind. He's not going to pick a fight with a whole Institute on his own unless he has to. He's evaded us this long; he's clearly not stupid, and he must have a vast number of strong Downworld connections to have escaped our sight. Especially if he's in New York now."

"The guards," Maryse snaps. "Eight guards, not one saw him. They say they watched the Downworlders the entire night, and that they didn't realise they were gone until morning. Suddenly, between one blink and the next."

Alec finds a new bout of respect for Bane well up inside him. He knew how the spell would work, of course, but it's proven to be so seamlessly effective. It's clever, and it's neat, and it hasn't left any holes. The guards are unaware that they're missing hours of memories. Alec watched Maryse question them.

Interestingly, Amanda, upon questioning, seemed to remember nothing, either, claiming she'd spent the whole night monitoring outside the door in the Ops Centre, before finding herself abruptly in her bedroom. Alec wonders whether her strange amnesia is down to Bane's magic, or some kind of twisted loyalty to Jace.

Not that she remembers Jace's flirting, either, that much was obvious from the bizarre look she'd given Jace when he winked at her this morning.

It seems, Alec has realised, as he's assisted his mother in questioning every person in the Institute who could possibly have been involved, that Bane's magic has reached every crevice of every mind.

Of course, they haven't questioned Isabelle or Jace, yet. He, himself, hasn't been questioned, either—because nobody would ever, in their wildest dreams, presume him to be in any way involved. But his sister and his parabatai will be next on the list to be interrogated, if no conclusions are drawn in this meeting.

And they haven't had their memories altered.

"He's a warlock," Raj says, snapping Alec from his slightly hysterical musings, an edge to his voice that tells Alec he considers the conclusion he's about to draw entirely obvious. "It's more likely that a warlock can manipulate their memories than a Shadowhunter, don't you think? And one like Warlock Bane? He's got the motive. He'd do it just to spite the Clave. And he's certainly got the means."

Maryse stares at him for a long, hard moment, and the rest of the Institute is silent as they watch Raj stare right back, tipping his chin up.

"I agree," Maryse says, at last, and the room exhales collectively as the tension shatters. "But if anybody sees or remembers anything suspicious, you report to me or to Alec. Immediately."

It's ironic, really, that she's asking people to report to the very traitor the Clave wishes to hang.

After nearly an hour of more discussion, Maryse orders several Shadowhunters, including Jace, to accompany her to notify the Clave and discuss the next steps to take by taking an impromptu trip to Idris. Jace pulls a face, and Alec claps his parabatai's shoulder with a grin.

"Fuck off," Jace mutters.

"Hey, you might be able to see Clary. Don't complain too much."

"On official business? In my dreams."

Clary Fray had catapulted into their lives three years ago, appearing on their doorstep soaked through and bleeding, having been attacked by a demon, claiming to be the daughter of Jocelyn Fairchild—wife to Valentine Morgenstern.

She'd passed out before anybody had been able to question her further, and Jace had carried her to the Institute. He'd barely left her side for the next three months, while she underwent interrogations and tests and a trial by the soul sword, where she confessed that she'd been raised a mundane, and that her mother had told her the truth on her eighteenth birthday.

Alec can still remember the look of devastating heartbreak on Clary's face when she'd told a hundred stone-cold Shadowhunters how her mother had died, attacked by a demon and slaughtered brutally in her own home, mere weeks after Clary had discovered the truth of her life. Which was when Clary had run to the Institute. She'd never met her father, she said. And she knew what he'd done, and what he was. But she wanted nothing to do with him.

The Clave, of course, was taking no chances. They'd ruled that they'd accept her into the Shadow world, but that she'd undergo four years of training in Idris, under the instruction of the Clave's best tutors. She'd agreed—on the condition that she would be allowed to continue to see her mundane best friend and step-father.

(Not that the mundane boy with stupid glasses and terrible t-shirts who could never stop talking had been much of an issue for long. Clary had apparently neglected to tell him that she'd run to the Institute, nor had she told him anything her mother had told her, and he'd chased her across the city only to get himself attacked by a nest of vampires, led by Camille Belcourt—ex-head of the New York vampire clan, and current rogue, exiled from her clan for heinous crimes to mundanes. The rest was history. Simon Lewis is possibly the lamest vampire known to mankind, and Alec feels incredibly grateful that he's only met him four or five times.)

Alec says his goodbyes to Jace, attention captured by Raj striding across the Ops Centre to the training room. He gives it a mere moment of thought, and then follows him, jogging to catch up.

"Hey, Raj!"

Raj turns, and when he sees Alec, his expression darkens. "What?"

Alec frowns at him. "Nothing, I just—"

"You just wanted to know why I saved your stupid ass?" Raj snaps, and Alec gapes at him.

"What? What are you talking about?"

"Everyone else here might be stupid, but I'm not. I know what you did. You and Izzy. And Jace too, I expect."

"Keep your voice down," Alec hisses, and pushes Raj none too gently into the training room, pushing the heavy door shut behind them. He slashes a silencing rune onto the door, and whirls round to face the other Shadowhunter.

Raj yanks himself away from Alec's grasp as though the touch of his hand burns. His nostrils are flaring, and he looks like he's about to punch Alec in the face.

"I don't know what the hell has got into you, Alec," Raj says, voice cold, "but that is the only time I'm covering for you."

"We didn't need your help," Alec snaps, curling his fingers into his palms. "We had it under control."

"Did you?" Raj laughs humourlessly, and rolls his eyes. "Ten minutes of investigation would have found that neither you nor Isabelle nor Jace were in the Institute last night, and that Jace managed to persuade Amanda to come off guard duty last night."

It's not strictly true, because Bane's spell means that nobody in the Institute is aware of having seen them last night after they all claimed to go to bed, but Alec's eyes widen and his heart rate picks up anyway, because Raj knows. He's worked it out. "How— How did you—"

"Because I'm not stupid, Alec, by the Angel. Problem solving is what I'm good at. And I know you." Raj grinds his teeth together, jaw clenching, and says, "I just want to know why the fucking hell you thought letting a bunch of Downworlders go was a good idea."

"They were innocent," Alec tells him, narrowing his eyes. From the way Raj jerks his head back and stares at him in disbelief, Alec knows it's not the answer he expected. "And if you're so good at problem solving, you should know that."

"Jesus Christ, they were in a meeting with Valentine's men." Raj's eyes flash. "What the hell is wrong with you? Have you been drugged?"

Alec scoffs. "Very funny, Raj. You know what's wrong? That you're so infatuated with the Clave's pretty lies that you're incapable of even admitting the truth in your own damn head."

"Oh, says you. Mr I-Have-Orders. You always play by the rules. You're always yelling at Jace for breaking laws. Don't be so hypocritical."

"Maybe I've just had someone change my mind about this! Maybe I've just realised that not everything the Clave claims to be true actually is! Maybe I've decided that I can't stand here and watch innocent people be tortured while their children have no parents!"

"Since when have you ever given a flying fuck about the welfare of Downworlders?" Raj narrows his eyes and shakes his head sharply, arms folded across his chest. "You're apathetic, at best. You avoid dealing with them. You do as you're goddamn told and you don't ask questions, because you're a good Shadowhunter, and that's what good Shadowhunters do. How did you do it, anyway?"

"Bane—"

Raj's eyes go wide, and his hands fall to his sides in shock. "Bane?" he spits. "As in, High Warlock Bane? You're helping Magnus Bane?"

Alec glares at him. "So? Those Downworlders were innocent. We had no evidence that they'd done anything, and what we were doing broke the Accords. Don't talk to me about rules when the Shadowhunters in this Institute choose to ignore some of our most important ones on a daily basis."

Raj laughs again, wildly, and gestures broadly with his hands. "Says who? Bane? A warlock notorious for lying and murdering? Why the hell would you believe him?"

Alec grits his teeth, and feels indignation, hot and fierce, rush through him at the accusation. Because even though those very same words have run through his mind near every time he's met the warlock, they sound so horribly wrong coming from Raj's mouth.

The man Alec has met—he hasn't lied. Not once. He's been nothing but ludicrously generous to a Shadowhunter to whom he doesn't owe the time of day. He saved Alec's life, when he could have left him to die.

And the way he'd been last night, with Raphael, the way he'd touched his fingers to Alec's, given him a job to do instead of demanding he get out when Raphael was hurt, given him tea and let him play with his cat when he'd been on the verge of a panic attack... He'd been kind.

"He's not like that," Alec says, quietly, looking down at the floor between them, and he thinks it might be almost true. Just because what Alec has seen of Bane - of Magnus - has been such a generous portrayal doesn't mean that what Raj said isn't true. He has murdered people. He has slaughtered innocents, burnt down villages and devastated families. But—

Maybe not everything is quite so simple, so clear-cut right and wrong, so obvious black and white, as the Clave would have you believe.

Maybe Magnus Bane isn't such a simple person to understand as everyone thinks. Maybe there's more to him than that. Maybe he can be one person's murderer and another's saviour. Maybe he can be terrifyingly powerful and impossibly kind.

Raj is staring at Alec, astonishment written across his face. When he speaks, his voice is saturated with disbelief that seems to overpower his fury. "What is wrong with you? Do I need to remind you how many thousands of people have died because of him? Why the fuck are you defending him? Are you sleeping with him?"

Alec chokes, and feels his cheeks turn scarlet at the accusation. His heart beats so hard against he ribs he thinks they might break. Shit. Fuck. Raj can't know. No way. Not Raj too. He's tried so, so hard to keep this a secret, how the hell do so many people seem to know?

"What the hell, Raj? Why would you—"

Raj rolls his eyes. "I know you're gay, Alec, by the Angel, I'm not that oblivious."

"Oblivious?" Alec manages to force out, between the numb tendrils of horror spreading through him. "I'm not– I've never– When have I ever—"

"You haven't," Raj says, sharply. "You don't have to. I guess it takes one to know one."

Alec blinks at him. "Pardon?"

The anger, the indignation, seems to bleed out of Raj, dissipating into the atmosphere, and he sighs, shoulders slumping a little. "I'm not gay," Raj tells him, eyes dropping to the floor, thoughts clearly somewhere a long way away. "But when I was fifteen, I kissed a boy. A mundane boy. I kept going to see him, kept meeting up with him, kept tempting fate." He smiles wryly. "My mother caught us once. You can imagine what happened. Two weeks later, I found out he'd been mysteriously killed in a tragic car accident."

Alec lips part in sheer horror. Oh my god. "Are you saying—?"

"The Clave killed my boyfriend," Raj says, and inclines his head. "Yes."

"Then why the hell are you standing there defending them to me?"

Alec wants to shake him. He wants to make Raj see that this is exactly why he would put his family, his siblings and his parabatai, before the Clave's laws in a heartbeat. Because the Clave won't protect them. Not if they have the slightest reason not to. And nothing in the world is more important the the people you love.

"Because they were right, Alec." Raj shakes his head, and looks at him almost sadly. "They weren't right to kill him, but they were right that love like that makes us weak."

"Love like that? Love between two people of the same gender?"

"No. Raziel, you must know I don't think that. Love between people who aren't like us. Love between different species. Shadowhunters and mundanes. Shadowhunters and Downworlders." Raj touches his forearm lightly. "I thought you understood that, Alec. I thought you were different to your sister, and your parabatai."

"This situation isn't about love, by the Angel." Alec snatches his arm back, and hurt flashes through Raj's eyes. "This is about the law. This is about justice. This is about the Accords, and the fact that we were breaking them, and—"

Raj shakes his head, smiling a little. "It's always about love, with you. Don't you get that? Can't you see that? You love people too much. I know why you did it, I think. You did it because that warlock threatened your family, and you could never let anything hurt them, damn the consequences to hell. And that makes you do stupid, reckless things that I know you wouldn't do otherwise."

Alec stares at him in utter disbelief, and huffs out an incredulous laugh. "If everything I did was about love, I'd be fighting so my sister can be open about who she's dating, and so my brother can spend time with his inferior friends without being looked down upon. By the Angel, it was part of it, but I wouldn't have done that if I truly thought interrogating and torturing those Downworlders was going to help us defeat Valentine."

"You know why I can't look at you, sometimes?" Raj asks, completely ignoring what Alec said. "Because you look almost exactly like he did. His name was Cameron. You two could be brothers. I've never looked at another man like I did him. I don't know whether that's because I'm more attracted to women than men, or whether it was something unique to him, or whether I was so scarred by that experience that I can't look at men like that anymore. But sometimes I look at you, and you look so much like him that I think I feel some remnant of it again, and all I can think of is the time when love made me so weak it killed an innocent boy."

"No."

Isabelle's voice cuts through the air, sharp and cold, and Alec and Raj both whirl round to face her. Raj looks terrified, unadulterated fear flashing through his eyes, probably at being caught talking about his feelings for a boy by another Shadowhunter. He doesn't relax when he sees that it's only Isabelle, who, Alec is absolutely certain, has made out with at least two girls. He heard about one in excruciating detail; the other, he'd had the misfortune to witness, briefly.

(Isabelle is frustratingly willing to play the part of seducer in their missions. Occasionally, she gets a little too into it for Alec's taste, although she never fails to extract the necessary information.)

"You didn't kill Cameron, Raj. The Clave did. And you—" Isabelle looks at Alec. "Don't you dare buy into this. It took us long enough to hug to love is to destroy out of Jace. Don't force me to do it to you. Love didn't make you weak last night, Alec. If it was just love for Max and Jace and I that made you do that, then love made you goddamn strong."

Raj looks down, and shakes his head. "You're wrong," he says. "I know it's hard to see that, when you're friends with Downworlders, Isabelle, but—"

"They arrested my boyfriend." Isabelle flips her hair over her shoulder, and her eyes flash with defiance. "And my boyfriend is now my ex-boyfriend, because even if he forgives me, even if he loves me, and even if I helped break him out, he can't get caught up with Shadowhunters, because our relationship put him in danger. From the Clave, and from his own people because of what they know the Clave can do. Just like the Clave put Cameron in danger."

"You've got it the wrong way round, Isabelle. We put them in danger, because we loved them, and love—"

"Raj." Isabelle's expression softens a little. "I'm grateful, for what you did. And I'm sorry about Cameron, and I'm sorry that nobody knew. But love gives you the strength to take chances and make leaps. Just because that can be hard, and have consequences, and make you go against the norm, doesn't mean it makes you weak. Especially when our norm is so revolting."

Raj exhales. "I'm sorry," he tells them. "I'll see you on patrol, tonight."

With that, Raj swings himself out of the training room, leaving Alec feeling like his world has just been rocked by one of the steadiest people he knows.

***

"You know," Magnus says, conversationally, that evening, legs throw over one end of the couch with his head on a pillow, laptop propped on his thighs and a book in one hand while he translates it for a client, "you never did tell me about Simon."

Raphael gives Magnus a Look. A deadpan, impatient, dios, really, Magnus? sort of look. He doesn't deign Magnus with a response, and instead turns back to his phone, texting furiously with someone. Lily, probably. His second-in-command is nearly as salty and prickly as he is. Magnus is sure they bond by gossiping about how terrible people are, and spend lazy middays mocking passers-by. Or something. Raphael and Ragnor always used to sit there making snide comments about Magnus' hair. He hadn't taken it to heart.

"Come on." Magnus swings a leg out and kicks Raphael where he sits in an armchair. "Tell me."

"You're annoying."

"Well, yes." Magnus grins. "Has it taken you eighty years to work that out?"

"Sixty," Raphael replies, automatically. "I'm eighty years old, I haven't known you since I was an infant. Thankfully. Otherwise I might have turned out like you." He wrinkles his nose in disgust, managing to look suitably revolted without sparing Magnus a glance.

Magnus' grin widens. "Ah, come on, be honest. Your admirable taste in suits hasn't exactly come from Ragnor. I've influenced you."

"It's still sixty years, not eighty."

"Technically, if we're going to be that picky, I'm pretty sure it's sixty-two—"

"Oh my god." Raphael looks up from his phone, finally, and glares at Magnus with the full heat of a vampire who was turned as a teenager. Or, perhaps, just a Santiago—they all had the same death-inducing, soul-destroying glare, Magnus seems to remember. "Shut up, Magnus."

"Tell me about Simon."

"Dios, not this again."

"What, I'm not allowed to take an interest in my best friend's love life? Lewis seems like a sweet kid."

"You met Simon once, for five minutes, two years ago, doing that terrible deal with Elliot. And he was only at the Dumort because he'd run out of blood, just like newborns always manage to do on an irritatingly regular basis."

Magnus raises him eyebrows. "Romantic. And ancient history. Anything a little more recent, Santiago?"

Raphael raises his eyes heavenward, as though looking to the deities for help maintaining his sanity in the face of Magnus' unrelenting probing. "No."

"Come on."

"Magnus." Raphael closes his eyes. "I don't like Simon. In fact, I'd quite like Simon to die."

Magnus purses his lips. "Raphael, you don't kill people just because you have a crush on them and don't know how to deal with it."

"Shut up."

"Ahh, so you do like him." Magnus smirks. "Gotcha."

Raphael tosses a cushion in Magnus' face. "Fuck off."

"Raphael is in loooveee," he sings, raising his arms half-heartedly to ward off Raphael's pillow cannons that keep flying his way. "I ship it."

"I've got some dumb crush on the world's worst vampire, you fancy a goddamn Lightwood who's almost certainly straight."

Magnus fixes him with a blank stare. "I assure you, I am not crushing on any Lightwoods. I do believe we had this conversation yesterday."

Raphael rolls his eyes. "You're stupid."

"Why, thank you. That might be the nicest thing you've ever said to me, my sweet blood-sucking friend."

Raphael lets out a breath. "I never see Simon," he tells Magnus. "I barely know him. He's just so infuriatingly adorable sometimes. Occasionally."

Magnus smiles, gently, and reaches over to pat Raphael's arm. "There. See, that wasn't so hard. You can gush to me all about his nerdy cuteness, I won't judge you."

"Dios, you are insufferable."

Magnus winks at him. "You love me anyway."

Raphael mutters something under his breath. Magnus is fairly sure he's being sworn at, so he grins, and sits back to finish his work.

***

Magnus has always dreamt vividly.

Sometimes, his dreams are so full of reality that when he wakes, it takes him minutes to separate his dream world from the real once. Several times, he's spurred himself into action as a consequence of his dream, only to realise that the events he'd witnessed in his mind weren't real.

Sometimes, he dreams of Camille Belcourt, the beautiful vampire with a vicious tongue who'd taken his heart in her crimson-tipped hands and crushed it between them. She'd trampled over him, looked at the raw love he presented to her on a silver platter and laughed in his face. She'd sauntered away from him with another lover on a leash, leaving the tattered remains of a heart broken one too many times to stitch itself back together anymore.

Sometimes, he dreams of his father, of the burning world that is his father's realm, of the screams and cries of innocents that Asmodeus had evoked over millennia of cruel torture. He dreams of the promise his father, the repulsive being who raped his mother and brought him into this world, made to him once, a very long time ago: that one day, he will join him in Edom.

And sometimes, more recently - recently, at least, in the eyes of an immortal - he dreams of Ragnor Fell.

But this time isn't like the rest. This time, he's not standing over Ragnor's lifeless body. He's not there with his best friend, like everything is as it was, only to wake and remember that Ragnor is dead.

This time, he's standing over a different lifeless body, one hand on the edge of the front door to the lobby of his loft, magic still tingling with the sensation of Elias' death mere moments before. This body is covered in dark runes, wings extended out across the concrete, broken and mangled and ruined.

Ragnor stands on the other side of the fallen man, arms folded and head tilted slightly to one side as he observes him with clinical curiosity. "He's much more attractive when he hasn't broken half the bones in his body. One hundred and one bones, to be exact."

Magnus feels nothing, as he blinks down at the Shadowhunter sprawled across the sidewalk, eyelids fluttering. But something grips at him, and makes him crouch down and wrap him in swaths of healing magic. The Nephilim passes out ith a soft little moan, eyes rolling back in his head, as Magnus slides an arm under his knees and another across his shoulders, mindful of his ruined wings, to lift him and carry him inside, leaving blood trailing in their wake.

Then he's inside, one knee braced on the edge of the mattress as he lifts his hands, determination set into every line of his body as he fights to save the life of a man who probably despises his mere existence. Sweat beads on his forehead and slides down the back of his neck, knuckles aching and muscles protesting against the effort of controlling his magic down to a molecular level to produce the effects he needs to. The arrow embedded in the Shadowhunter's wing was poisoned, and he feels like every problem he fixes only creates three more.

"I don't really understand this part," Ragnor says, from across the room, where he's leaning against the bathroom door. He's peering down at a book, and has a truly awful sweater on, but his words are clearly not regarding the text he's scrutinising. "What are you trying to prove, here, by saving his life?"

Then, abruptly, Magnus has changed clothes, and he's pacing, a glass of whiskey in hand, music playing quietly in the background in a failing attempt to distract himself.

"I can't believe you're worried about a Shadowhunter," Ragnor says, shaking his head as he appraises Magnus' movements from where he's sitting in an armchair, flicking through a magazine lazily. "The wonders never cease."

"I'm worried about Raphael being tortured," Magnus snaps at him, the first time his dream self has spoken. "I don't care about the Shadowhunters."

"Forgive me if I don't quite believe that," Ragnor says with a smile, before the world dissolves only to reinvent itself in the style of Magnus' hallway, and Magnus is standing in front of Alexander, eyebrows drawn together in concern.

Alexander looks mere moments from flying into a panic attack, although he calms somewhat at something Magnus says. A necklace glitters in his palm, and Magnus shakes his head, reaching out to cover the Shadowhunter's fingers. They're rough and calloused, a little bit cold and trembling just slightly, and it tugs on something deep in Magnus' chest that hasn't been touched in a long, long time.

"And there it is," Ragnor says, softly.

Ragnor's watching them, this time. His expression is open, confused and soft and wary as he watches Magnus and Alec, and his lips are drawn.

"You do care about him." Ragnor shakes his head. "Maybe not much, not yet, but you do. And with you, the most minute bit of care is enough to send you tumbling down headfirst into more care than you know what to do with."

"I don't." Magnus finds himself beside Ragnor, watching himself and the Shadowhunter, watching the way Alexander doesn't flinch away from his touch, doesn't try to pull away when Magnus' hand lingers for a little longer than it needs to. "I'm never going to see him again, Ragnor, why would I care about him? He thinks I'm a demon."

"Maybe," Ragnor agrees. "He finds you confusing. Much as we all do, I suppose. You've been kind to him. He has to reconcile that with what he's been told of you."

"I don't care about him," Magnus says again. "My feelings are entirely apathetic."

"Okay." Ragnor smiles at him, and cups the back of his neck as he turns to face him. "Be careful, my friend. This was merely the latest in an eternal line of atrocities the Clave will attempt to commit against our people. They'll come for you, next. Actively, not passively as they have for the last decades. Don't trust too well."

"I don't trust Alexander," Magnus says, but even as the words come and spill into the air between them, he realises that they're not true. He does. He does trust him, after the Shadowhunter rescued so many Downworlders, and brought Raphael home to him, and lowered himself to an alliance with a warlock, mostly in good humour.

And, from Ragnor's face as he glances over his shoulder to where Magnus is watching Alexander leave, he doesn't believe the statement either. "My dear friend, I think we both know that's a lie. But do you want to know the terrifying part?" Ragnor smiles. "I think he might just trust you, too."

***

Magnus wakes in a cold sweat. He bolts upright, gasping, the cold air nipping at his bare skin as cool silk sheets pool around his hips. Dragging a hand through his sweat-slicked hair, he glances over at the nightstand, where a digital clock proudly proclaims it to be the dead hours of the night.

Fuck. What the hell had that been about? What kind of crazy shit is his sleep-deprived mind going to come up with next? He hasn't had a dream like that for a while, and it's left him feeling oddly shaken, for what it was. It wasn't exactly the most terrifying dream he's ever had, and yet somehow, it's made his heart pound and his throat go dry.

He lays back down, slowly, and settles himself against the soft pillows with a long, deep exhale in an attempt to calm his racing heart.

He wishes, not for the first time in his many, many centuries, for someone beside him in his enormous, incredibly comfortable bed. The distance from one side to the other seems far too great when he wakes from a nightmare, feeling raw, exposed, vulnerable, small. He wants to roll over and feel a warm body beside him. He wants to be able to ground himself against something. Because god, nighttime can be a scary, horrible place, left to the mercy of his own thoughts and demons without the light of day to chase them away.

Inexplicably, his thoughts rest on Alexander, on the Shadowhunter who began the same as all the others, and then, abruptly, returned his dying, tortured friend back to him, in return for what? A promise to avert an attack that Magnus might not even have won? Since when do the Nephilim ever consider that they might lose a battle against the spawn of a demon?

And, more importantly, since when do they lower themselves to making deals with warlocks they consider inherently lesser? They'd rather fight and die.

The Ragnor in his dream was right, Magnus realises, just as the Ragnor of life almost always was. He trusts Alexander. Not completely, not with everything, certainly not with anything of enormous consequence, but he's starting to. He's starting to think that maybe, maybe, Alexander Lightwood has loyalties that are stronger than what he feels towards the Clave. And, more than that, having seen Isabelle, he's daring to consider that something in the young Shadowhunter's mind might just give, eventually, with enough pushing; there might be floodgates that Magnus can heave open to change his mind about Downworlders.

Someone, or something, has certainly opened those doors in Isabelle Lightwood's head. Magnus wonders whether it was dating Meliorn, or whether having those doors opened enabled her to ignore her long-conditioned prejudices and have a relationship with a Downworlder.

Magnus doesn't realise he's moving until he's sat up, bedside lamp glowing dimly and a fountain pen in hand, the nib hovering over a piece of paper.

He writes slowly as he considers his words, in careful, looping script that he'd developed over many decades as a young warlock to make himself look more professional, and then he folds the paper in half, twice, nails raking along the creases. He flicks his fingers, and the paper goes up in flames, burning away on Magnus' nightstand and making shadows dance across his bedroom until it crumples, and disappears.

Across the city, Alec lets his gear drop to the floor as he shrugs out of it, exhausted after a long night patrol. He pads over to his desk as he spots a fire message burning into existence.

Still covered in filth and grime, he peels back the folds carefully, and blinks when he recognises the handwriting as the very same curves and loops that form four letters outside an apartment block in Brooklyn.

Bane.

He eases himself onto the floor, muscles aching and desperate for a shower, and reads.

Little Angel,

Thank you. I'm not sure I said that to you. Perhaps I did. But thank you, for returning my friend to me, and for returning parents to their children. Also, thank you for once again not stabbing my cat – I think you might have gained his affections, which even as his loving and adoring human companion I'll confess is no mean feat, however small and adorable he may look.

If, in some hopefully-distant future, you need to find me, there's a rune on the back. A very dear friend of mine once showed it to me. It is, I believe, unsanctioned by the Clave, but you'll forgive me for assuming that that's no reason to consider it unsafe, or ineffectual.

But please, try not to crash doing any more wing gymnastics. Healing you was not an experience I wish to repeat, even if I find myself unexpectedly grateful that I did.

Remember what you did, Alexander, and be proud of it.

Magnus

Chapter Text

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.)

"Alec!"

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."

"Maia—"

"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.

Chapter Text


When Alec's feet find solid ground on the other side of the portal, he takes a moment to look around himself. They appear to have landed in a bar—probably one that Isabelle and Jace know, although he doubts they're aware that Luke resides here (or, at least, if they do, he doubts they know who he really is).

It's dim, with fluorescent lights hanging at intervals along the ceiling, each one above a red-leather-padded booth, most of which are full with all variety of Downworlders. There's a bar at the other end, where Maia Roberts stands drying beer glasses with a shockingly yellow tea-towel, exchanging quips with a blonde-haired customer. And—

Oh. Of course.

Alec takes half a step back, bashing into Magnus as he does so. The warlock lets out a huff of surprise, still gripping his arm, and pushes him gently away, out of his personal space. He lets go of Alec's arm as he does so, portal closing behind them, and Alec notices the absence of the touch more than he noticed its presence.

"Sorry," Alec says, without thought as he stares at his parabatai, sitting at a bar beside a hunky young werewolf with dark curly hair, laughing while they chat to Maia. "I just– I think I should go."

"And why on earth is that?" Bane - Magnus, he reminds himself, because he'd signed his stupid letter Magnus so that's what Alec's damn well going to call him - asks. "We only just got here. And I thought you wanted to talk to Luke."

"I do," Alec says. "But that's– My parabatai is—"

Magnus follows his gaze, and he appears to notice Jace, who stands out like a sore thumb with all his dark swirling runes. Not that anybody seems to care very much.

"That's your parabatai?" Magnus asks, and lets out a chuckle. "Oh, Alexander Lightwood, it's really no wonder you're such a rebel, between your parabatai and your sister."

Alec doesn't get a chance to make a retort, because Magnus is telling him to keep his head down if he doesn't want to be noticed, and drags him around the edges of the room and out into the back. He pushes open a swinging door that nearly smacks Alec in the face, and Alec finds himself faced with a tall, buff, dark-skinned man with a gun strapped to his back and Clary Fray. Both of them are wearing identical expressions of mixed surprise and disapproval, eyebrows raised and lips pressed together.

"Magnus," the man says, eyeing Alec with a less than friendly expression. "I presume there's a reason you've brought a Shadowhunter here?"

"Luke," Clary says, reproachfully. "That's Alec. Chill."

Luke narrows his eyes. "Jace's parabatai?"

Beside him, Alec sees Magnus' jaw slacken in clear surprise and his eyebrows shoot up as he turns to Alec. "Your parabatai is Clary's boyfriend?"

Alec manages to tear his eyes away from Luke's, who's got his arms folded and is glowering at him, and turns to look at Magnus. "Yes?"

Clary rolls her eyes from where she's sitting on a countertop covered in boxes of beer and vodka, and swings her legs. "Long time no see, Magnus. How are you doing after three years?"

Magnus' eyes crinkle at the corners. "My apologies, biscuit. I'm wonderful. How was Idris?"

"Don't get her started," Luke says, with a wry shake of his head. "Appalling, apparently."

Alec gapes at the three of them as they bicker back and forth, and he wonders how many links the Institute apparently has to Luke. How many people know? If Clary knows who Luke is, Jace must know, and Isabelle does too, most likely. Why the hell did he bother coming here?

And since when does Clary know Magnus Bane? He remembers sitting with Isabelle once, when Clary had first come to the Institute and they'd been trying to equip her with as much knowledge as possible, and giving Clary a run-down on the most influential Downworlders in America. She hadn't reacted to Magnus' name.

"How–" Alec clears his throat, and the three turn to look at him. "How do you two know each other?"

"Magnus was my mom's friend," Clary says. "I went to him first, before I went to the Institute. He told me I needed to go to you. He also told me what I needed to be careful of."

"Prejudice," Magnus says, "Seelies, anything the Clave says, indoctrination, kitten-killing Shadowhunters."

Alec rolls his eyes at that, because he knows it's a jibe, and Clary giggles.

"I'm not hosting the entire Institute in here," Luke tells her, sharply. "Don't get any ideas. I don't mind Isabelle, and I abide by your boyfriend. I'm not having the entire family in here. This is not a B&B."

Alec isn't quite sure how to respond. "I'm not here to—"

"That's my fault, Luke," Magnus interrupts, smoothly, and Alec blinks in grateful surprise when he realises that Magnus is saving him from embarrassing himself in front of Luke.

Luke is frowning by the time Magnus finishes explaining the situation, with some jokes at Alec's expense that make Alec want to wind back time and stab himself in the leg so he could never get to Brooklyn to ask Magnus to take him here.

"You want us to join your war," Luke surmises, and he doesn't sound at all uncertain. Nor does he appear even slightly surprised. Clary's eyes flicker between Luke and Alec nervously: she's stopped swinging her legs, and is leaning forward a little in anticipation.

"Your support would be invaluable," Alec says. "And you must have knowledge of Valentine that we don't."

Luke shakes his head. "Getting involved with Valentine would be detrimental to my pack. As would getting involved with the Clave. I've been keeping my pack out of this war."

"Even though Clary is part of our world?" Alec asks, and he knows he's walking a fine line. "Even though you could protect her from inside the Institute if you ally your pack with us?"

Magnus tenses beside him, and his glamour drops with a shimmer. "Be careful, Shadowhunter," he says, voice wavering between cool and outright icy. "That sounds suspiciously like a threat."

"No, no." Alec shakes his head urgently. Magnus' expression relaxes a little, and softens. "That's not– No. I wouldn't threaten Clary. My parabatai loves her heart and soul. I would never wish harm on her."

"Clary's in Idris for nine months of the year," Luke says, with a sharp jerk of his head. "She's not at risk from an attack by Valentine inside the city's walls."

"Only for another two weeks," Alec says. "Once she's passed her exams in a few months, she can go wherever she pleases. And as soon as she's outside the protection Idris grants, Valentine will want to lure her in just like he tried to lure in Jace."

By the way Clary freezes, and guilt steals across her face, he knows, somehow, that he's said the wrong thing. He doesn't know why, but he's sure that he has.

Luke raises his eyebrows, and turns to look at Clary. "Oh?"

"I was going to tell you," she says, and shakes her head. "I just didn't– I didn't know how to."

"I think we need a moment," Luke tells Alec and Magnus. "Excuse us. Lightwood—" Luke pauses, and waits until Alec holds his gaze before he continues. "Magnus has my number. You can tell your mother than the New York pack is willing to form an alliance with the New York Conclave."

"Thank you." Alec inclines his head. "Thank you."

***

The moment they step out of the back room, Alec finds himself abandoned in the middle of a crowded bar filled with Downworlders. He glances around himself, but Magnus is nowhere to be seen. So, inhaling deeply, he picks his way carefully through the swaths of people towards the bar, where he can see Jace.

When he rests a hand lightly on his parabatai's shoulder, Jace does a double take, chokes on his beer, and nearly falls off his bar stool. Maia folds her arms, a smirk on her face as she watches on.

"Jesus Christ, Alec," Jace says, hauling Alec up onto a stool beside him before a Seelie woman can bash into him. "What the hell are you doing here? Did Maryse send you out to stalk me and tell me not to hang out at Downworld bars?"

"No." Alec shakes his head. "She tried that when you were sixteen, remember? Then she gave up, because you're a stubborn asshole."

Jace scoffs, and knocks his elbow against Alec's arm. "Says you. So why on earth are you here?"

With a glance over at Maia, who rolls her eyes and looks distinctly unimpressed, Alec tells Jace about his realisation about Lucian Greymark, and about asking Magnus for help, and about their consequent conversation with Luke.

Jace shakes his head. "You really over-complicate things sometimes, you know that?"

"Oh?" He quirks an eyebrow. "What, because I asked Bane for help and not Clary? I've already had that pointed out to me, I don't need it from you, too."

"That," Jace acknowledges, "but also, hello, if you've got suspicions about Downworlders, why the hell didn't you ask Izzy? Or me?"

For a moment, Alec just stares at Jace blankly, and then—

"Did you know?" he demands, turning on his bar stool to face Jace properly, hands braced on the sticky surface of the bar. "Are you telling me you knew that Luke was Lucian?"

"Alec, man, I hate to break this to you, but when you're dating someone, you tend to share your deepest darkest secrets. Clary told me about a year ago."

Alec closes his eyes. "I despise you."

"Nah." Jace is grinning when Alec looks at him, deadpan, and it's utterly infuriating. "You love me."

Ignoring Jace's self-assured statement, Alec says, "Do you know how she kept it from the Clave, when they asked her about Luke on trial?"

"She didn't know he'd changed his name." Jace shrugs. "Could have been anyone, for all she knew. She worked it out, though, and asked him."

"Raziel." Alec exhales, slowly. "Can I finish your beer?"

Jace frowns. "You hate beer."

"Thanks."

Alec chugs down the last quarter of Jace's pint with a wince, and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He isn't a fan of beer, Jace is right, but he's heard good things about alcohol providing temporary relief from stress. And by the angel, does he need it.

"Why'd you go to Magnus Bane, anyway?" Jace asks, brow furrowed and nose wrinkled, in confusion rather than disdain. "You hate having to socialise with Downworlders."

Alec lets out a long breath, and twists the empty glass around in his hands. "I don't know. I guess I just– I don't know."

Jace's eyebrows shoot up. "Have you found a Downworlder you actually like? Oh, man." He lets out a chuckle. "You never do anything by half, do you? Had to be the High Warlock of Brooklyn."

"I don't like him, Jace, I barely know him." Alec rolls his eyes, but, unbidden, the thinks of all the times he's been utterly bewitched, unable to tear his eyes away from the warlock's. He wonders whether that's just because Magnus is so powerful that even with all his training, Alec can't resist the enchanting attributes Downworlders use to lure people - their victims - in, or whether it's something else.

"Dude, if you're gonna start making friends with Downworlders, don't let me stop you." Jace grins. "Izzy'll be proud of you."

"It's not like that," Alec tells him, wearily. He slumps forward a little, elbows resting on the bar, and he feels his shoulders hunch in. "It's... We're not friends. I don't see how we ever could be. We know nothing about each other, really, and we don't ask, and we don't go and...do whatever the hell you and Izzy do with your friends. We only meet in emergencies, or for work."

"Highly illegal work that could have resulted in your death or the stripping of your marks," Jace says teasingly, but his voice is softer, and he's angled himself forwards, too, leaning in so he can give Alec his full attention while he listens. The angle of their bodies shield each other from the rest of the bar.

Alec shakes his head a little, as though to clear water from his ears. He's never been good with words, but articulating his thoughts and feelings about the High Warlock of Brooklyn is damn near impossible. They're unique, and so utterly out of the realm of his experience that he can't begin to put them into words.

"I just—" He huffs in frustration. "It's like— I don't know him, and I'm not his friend - that just seems weird, because he's some crazy, powerful warlock - but I—"

"You trust him," Jace says, gently, and—

Huh. Yeah. Alec realises that might be it. He does. He trusts Magnus Bane. He wouldn't trust him with the life of his family, maybe, or with huge, impactful decisions, but... He does. He does trust him. And the realisation doesn't bother him anywhere near as much as he thought it would.

"Where is he, anyway?" Jace asks, changing the topic as he's clearly aware that one epiphany is enough for Alec for one night. "If you came here with him, where is he? And how come I've never seen him here before?"

"That's a stupid question, Shadowhunter," Maia says abruptly, appearing out of nowhere to snag Alec's empty glass and bug Jace for cash. She taps he fingers against the bar while Jace counts out exact change from his wallet, clearly just to irritate her. "If Magnus doesn't want someone to remember seeing him, then they damn well won't. We–" (By we, Alec is fairly certain, she means the Downworlders) "–certainly won't go round dropping his whereabouts to Shadowhunters."

"You mean, I've seen Bane here before?" Jace asks in surprise, handing over the money without a sarcastic comment. "And I just don't remember?"

Maia makes a careless, nonchalant shrugging motion with her shoulders that tells Alec that she very much does not give a crap about what the High Warlock of Brooklyn may or may not have done to Jace's memory or general perception of those around him, and says, "Probably. He likes to use some spell he invented that he calls a perception filter." She rolls her eyes. "As though we don't know he stole that name from Doctor Who. But he's not going to live life shut up in his loft, is he? How do you think he's evaded the Clave for decades?"

She has a point. Jace considers Maia's words for a moment, head tilted to one side, and then he seems to accept her conclusion without too much concern for himself, and orders another beer. Part of Alec wants to laugh (and there's a new thought, because really, this is just another reason to have Magnus arrested), and the other half wants to groan, slam his head into the table, and drag his parabatai back home before he has to witness him doing something wholly embarrassing. He doesn't want a repeat of the New Year's Day antlers streaking escapade.

"Cosmopolitan, please, my dear," says a smooth voice from behind them.

Maia smiles as Magnus takes a seat beside Alec, and says, "Coming up."

Jace gapes, first at Maia - because, Alec would presume, Maia never smiles like that, so genuinely and without any sarcasm, except occasionally with Clary - and then at Magnus. Magnus and Jace have never met, Alec realises.

(Well. Not that Jace knew about.)

"You– Did you just– She– Oh my god." Jace is gaping at Magnus like some kind of oxygen-deprived fish, and Alec cringes with embarrassment on his parabatai's behalf. Jace doesn't get particularly embarrassed at the best of times, though; with alcohol added into his brain's bizarre composition, it's not a word in his vocabulary.

"Eloquent, your parabatai," Magnus observes, giving Jace a clinical, detached glance up and down. "Hm. And blonde. Raphael warned me about you."

"Raphael Santiago?" Jace rolls his eyes. "He doesn't like me because I take the piss out of Simon all the time."

Magnus smiles, one corner of his lips turning up, and it's that terrifying, deadly smile that Alec has become strangely familiar with. And it doesn't made his heart thud so hard against his ribs he feels like they might break, anymore, either.

"Oh, I assure you, Raphael spends an enormous amount of time mocking the fledgling."

"Yeah," Jace says, sardonically, "I'm sure. He doesn't look like the type who knows what to do with a crush."

Magnus doesn't blink, but his cat eyes flash, and he doesn't put his glamour back up while he stares Jace down. The smile is still firmly in place, but without an ounce of humour in it. "Watch your tongue, Shadowhunter."

Jace looks a little intimidated—not that Alec blames him. It's with less cynicism that he says, "You can tell Santiago that Simon bleats on about him just as much as I'm sure he groans about Simon."

"Oh?" Magnus quirks an eyebrow. "Do I need to set this pair of idiots up?"

"Yes." Jace and Alec speak in unison, because Raziel, Jace is right: Alec can't have met Simon more than five times, because the Institute isn't in the business of inviting vampires over for tea, nor in dealing in vampire politics with newborns as their liaisons, but he's heard him gushing to Clary about Santiago on at least three occasions.

Magnus' other eyebrow lifts to join the first, and he makes an interested humming noise. He thanks Maia warmly when she brings his cocktail and Jace's beer, and slides her a bill that would cover the cost of his drink three times over.

"Compensation," Magnus says, shaking his head when she tries to give him change. "For me dragging another Shadowhunter to your bar tonight."

Maia laughs. "That one doesn't talk very much. I mind less. If you could get rid of the other one for me..."

Magnus winks at her. "Say the word, Maia, and it's done."

Jace gapes, and Maia pats his hand mock-consolingly as she passes, before making a show of washing her hands afterwards. Alec chokes on a laugh at that. Maia flashes Jace a grin and a wink.

"You laugh," Magnus says, quietly, turning his drink in his hands, "and god knows I understand why you young people all do, but when our people were signing the very first Accords, the Nephilim smashed and threw out every plate a Downworlder touched, because they considered it to be dirty."

Alec turns to look at him, and finds the warlock gazing down into the crimson surface of his drink, eyes a little glazed over, mind clearly somewhere far, far away. His rings catch the light as his fingers twist, and Alec wonders where he got them all. He wonders whether centuries of history is contained just in the jewellery on Magnus' fingers

"That's ridiculous," Alec says, when it becomes apparent that Magnus isn't going to say anything else. "How can anybody expect to reach an agreement if they're behaving like that? That's just...illogical."

Magnus smiles, wryly. "It is, yes. But then, mundanes used to do very similar things to me because I'm not white." He wiggles the fingers of one hand pointedly. "The difference is, Alexander, that the mundanes are learning not to behave like savages much more quickly than the Nephilim. They're far from perfect, I'll admit. They're better in some areas of the world than others, as are you. But your people..." He shakes his head. "Sometimes, I wonder what people like your mother would do if I tried to eat off their plates, now."

"Stab you, probably," Alec says, trying for something a little more light-hearted, because he's not sure what else to say.

And it must be the right thing, he decides, because Magnus cracks a smile, and some of the tension bleeds out of his shoulders. "Probably," he agrees. "People like your sister, and your parabatai, and Clary, and the Downworlders they care for—they make me hope that perhaps, one day, your people and mine won't despise each other."

Magnus looks up, suddenly, cat eyes flickering to Alec's and catching there, locking him in so he can't look away. "And so do you, you know."

"Me?" He can't help his surprise. "But I– I'm not like them."

"No, you're not. Isabelle and Jace are clearly people who are rather fond of words. I can sympathise entirely." He smiles a little. "And words are very important. Speaking out is important. Telling people you think they're wrong is important. But there is also, I believe, that quaint little mundane expression about words."

Alec's brow furrows. "What expression?"

"Actions," Magnus says, gently, with one of those soft little smiles curling on his lips, "speak louder than words. Specifically, little angel, your actions."

He feels the creases on his forehead deepen, and he stares at Magnus in utter bewilderment. "My...? What?"

"A few weeks ago, you called me a demon," Magnus says. "You thought I was going to kill you or torture you when I told you I was going to heal you. Two weeks ago, you saved my best friend, and you brought him home to me."

"I didn't do any of that on my own," Alec says, pulling a face. "And besides, you know why I—"

"You know that making an alliance with me was not your only option to try to save your brother." Magnus shakes his head. "And you don't have to do things on your own for them to matter, Alexander."

Alec huffs out a tiny little laugh, focusing on the simpler bit of Magnus' words in lieu of dissecting what, exactly, the rest of it means. "Life advice."

Magnus' lips quirk up. "Yes, alright, I'm giving you life advice. I think you need to let that go, now."

"I don't see why. You never let anything go."

"Oh?" Magnus looks amused. "Like what?"

"I don't know. Stuff." He waves his hand, and blames his newfound confidence on the alcohol. Even if he knows, logically, that he didn't have nearly enough to cause any effect on his body. "I helped Raphael. I threw a knife at your head. My relationship with your cat."

Magnus bites down on his lower lip, a grin on his face, and Alec realises that it's because he's trying not to laugh. "You seduced my cat," he corrects him. "I don't care whether or not you like him, I care that you're beguiling him away from me."

"I could never have a cat with such a ridiculous name," Alec says, rolling his eyes. "Chairman Meow? Really?"

Magnus gasps. "Shadowhunter, that is sacrilege."

"He's tiny!"

"He's perfect!"

"I hate to break up your bickering, but I need to kick you out and wipe down the bar."

Maia's voice makes Alec start, and he jumps. Beside him, Magnus lets out a soft little laugh; he glares at the warlock, but Magnus doesn't react.

"Move it, Shadowhunters," Maia orders, sharply, waving her dishcloth at Jace - who's in the process of chatting up some Seelie - and Alec. "And Magnus, your order from India is out back, if you want to get it."

"I'll come by tomorrow morning," Magnus says, and drops her a wink as he stands with fluid, feline grace. "Thank you for holding it for me."

"Anything for our best tipper," Maia replies, with a smile. She lowers her voice to a mock-whisper. "Please, please make the Shadowhunters leave."

"On it, darling," he says, and snaps his fingers to tug Jace back an inch, lightly, as one might give someone a tug on the arm.

Jace shoots him a scowl over his shoulder, and Alec snickers.

Over Jace's shoulder, Clary appears from out back, a smile on her face as she turns to say something to Luke, who laughs, fondness clear in his eyes. The sight makes a part of Alec that he usually keeps buried ache. A part of him longs for his parents to look and him and his siblings like Luke is looking at Clary.

Clary practically skips over to Jace, and stifles a laugh when she takes in his proximity to the very beautiful Seelie lady he's been flirting with.

"Jace," Clary says, eyes shining even though her voice is reproachful. "I'm fairly sure the point of being in an exclusive relationship is that you stop flirting with everything with a pulse."

Jace, to his credit, looks slightly sheepish; Clary slides her way under his arm, and he pulls her into his side to press a kiss to her forehead. It's sweet, Alec thinks, the way they clearly love each other so much. The frightened, abused ten-year-old boy that had been dumped on their doorstep by a mass murderer too infuriated by the kind heart of his son to keep him any longer wouldn't have been able to love anybody like Jace now loves Clary.

And it's testament to how much Jace has grown as a person since he became part of the Lightwood family, that he resisted all the many attempts Valentine made to persuade Jace to join him, when Jace had turned eighteen and Clary had appeared in their lives.

"Izzy's gonna be so mad that she didn't see you here," Jace says to Alec with a grin, arm still around Clary's shoulders. She's dwarfed under him, but Alec is fairly sure she could knock Jace on his ass, if she tried hard enough.

Alec rolls his eyes. "I take it she knew about Luke, too?"

Clary gives him a bashful look. "I told Iz before I told Jace."

"Of course you did." Alec shakes his head.

"Alec, chill," Jace says. "You're gonna go grey by the time you're thirty."

"People used to tell me that, too," Magnus says, reappearing out of nowhere. Alec hadn't noticed him leave, but he certainly notices his return. "Eight hundred centuries in, and still not a grey hair in sight."

Clary rolls her eyes. "You're such a liar. Oh, I watched the Roman Empire fall. I screwed Casanova. Michelangelo would be so impressed by your artwork. Did I tell you I was best friends with Cleopatra?"

"I didn't screw Casanova," is all Magnus says, wrinkling his nose. "Not my type. We did share a room in Paris once, but—"

"You know what?" Clary holds up a hand, looking mildly nauseous. "I don't think any of us need to know. Let's go." She looks up Jace, who's staring at her in clear astonishment. "What?"

"You didn't tell me you're friends with the High Warlock of Brooklyn."

Clary and Magnus exchange a glance of mild despair. Clary pats Jace consolingly on the ass, and then drags him out. At the bar, Maia lets out an exaggerated, audible sigh of relief.

"You like him more than you admit," Magnus tells her, throwing the words over his shoulder as he turns sharply on his heel to head out. "He's growing on you!"

"Like a disease, maybe," Maia mutters, and Alec can sympathise. "Now get out of here, Magnus! And take the Shadowhunters!"

Magnus salutes, and Alec follows him out, leaving Maia, Luke, and the other staff to close up.

***

Outside, it's freezing, and Magnus shivers slightly as the icy night air hits them. It's a strange, imperfect movement, from Magnus Bane, but Alec isn't as surprised as he might have been, weeks ago. It's easier and easier to remember than for all his bravado and extensive magical power, he's not impervious to the human difficulties that affect everyone.

Jace and Clary are walking up the street towards the subway station ahead of them, talking and giggling in the darkness, arms wound around each other. A small smile crosses Alec's face, but it's tinged with sadness. Because he knows, with absolute, devastating certainty, that he's never going to be able to have that. He's never going to be able to feel for someone the way they feel for each other. He accepted that a long time ago. He buried that part of himself, deep, deep down, and instead married himself to his job.

And maybe it's the nighttime, or maybe it's the bizarre evening he's had, or maybe it's just something about all the events of the last few weeks, but he can't help the wistful feeling that wells up inside him.

A hand rests lightly on his arm, yanking him sharply from his thoughts. His head jerks to one side, stance becoming instantly defensive, and he sees Magnus, watching him with yellow-green eyes.

"Are you alright?" he asks, gently, brow furrowed in what Alec thinks might just be concern.

"Yeah."

The defensiveness doesn't leave him, every muscle in his body clenched and tense at being caught while thinking about—that. It must put Magnus off, because he withdraws his hand, but his frown doesn't ease, even as Alec stares resolutely ahead, forcing himself not to look at Magnus. Because if he does, he's scared he won't be able to look away. And nobody can know. It's bad enough that so many people seem to have been able to work it out already, like he's got the words branded across his forehead like some distasteful, ostentatious tattoo. He can't have Magnus knowing, too.

"Are you sure?"

"I'm fine," Alec snaps, and then closes his eyes. Fuck. He inhales deeply in an attempt to calm himself before he opens his mouth again. "Sorry."

"It's clearly a sensitive topic, whatever it is. I understand that. But it's not my fault, Shadowhunter."

"No, I know. I'm sorry. Really."

He chances a glance at Magnus, who's giving him a reproachful look, eyebrows slightly raised. He's got a piercing in his eyebrow, make-up dark and smoky, and with all that and his goatee shadowing the lower half of his face, he looks particularly dangerous, tonight.

"I'm sure I can find it in myself to forgive you just this once." He smiles tightly. "You got what you wanted, tonight, so—" Magnus waves his hand, fingers swishing elegantly in the air, and a scrap of paper appears in a shower of soft blue sparks. "Luke Garroway's phone number, as requested."

Alec takes the paper from where it's hovering in the air, and looks back up when he sees two numbers written down. "Who's is the other one?"

"The bottom one is mine," Magnus says, and he sounds teasing, but there's a flash of something in his eyes that's almost...uncertain. "So you don't need to sit outside my apartment in the cold for two hours, next time you have an 'emergency'."

"Oh." His eyes fall back down to the carefully formed numbers. It's Magnus' elegant handwriting, written in glittery silver pen. Something warm settles in Alec's chest. "Thank you. I'll- I'll try not to. Have an emergency, that is. I mean—"

"Shh." Magnus is smiling, softly, when he lifts a finger to Alec's lips, like he did before, and hovers it in front of his mouth. He's close enough for Alec to feel the heat of his skin, but not touching, and it makes the warmth settled in Alec's chest squirm. It's not an entirely unpleasant sensation, for all its unfamiliarity. "Go home, little angel."

"Right." Magnus lowers his hand, and Alec swallows. "Um. Yeah. Okay."

"Goodnight, Alexander," Magnus says, with a little laugh.

"Goodnight, Magnus."

Magnus' smile widens infinitesimally. "That's really much nicer, you know."

It takes Alec a moment to realise what Magnus means. His name. His first name. It's only the second time Alec has ever called him that, to his face. But by the time his brain has caught up, Magnus has turned, and is making wide sweeping motions with his arms, every movement impossibly fluid. A portal appears in the air, soft blue and shimmering, and Magnus steps through without looking back.

Chapter Text

"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. 

Chapter Text

Alec approaches Magnus Bane's apartment building at exactly half past eight the following evening. The press of the wards around him, hissing and defensive and warm, has become familiar, as has the way they ease back, slowly, gentling and softening when Magnus lets him through. Part of him is fascinated as to how, exactly, they work—is it a conscious decision on Magnus' part, to let people in and out? Does he have to perform a spell, each time? Or do they start to recognise and trust people, like conscious entities in their own right?

The man himself is stood in the kitchen eating cheap Chinese take-out with a pair chopsticks when Alec walks through the half-open front door. The monotony, the mundaneness of such an action makes Alec stop in his tracks.

Well. It's partly that. It's partly the fact that Magnus is dressed in horribly fitting black jeans and an equally tight blue shirt, which clings to him like a second skin and exposes a tantalising amount of very muscled chest—enough to tease, but not enough to tell.

Alec pushes away those thoughts hastily, and decides, very firmly, that he won't examine them. Now, or ever. They belong in that locked-away corner of his mind that he never, ever touches. And in this context, about this man, this warlock, they're especially...unsafe. Imprudent.

Magnus smiles at him when he walks in. It looks reflexive, but it doesn't look forced. It's as though... What, exactly? As though the High Warlock of Brooklyn genuinely gives a crap about a Shadowhunter coming to visit?

Alec's fooling himself. He's seeing things that really, really aren't there. And he won't consider why. He's just being stupid. He's unbalanced. His frame of mind is wrong, his thoughts are all scattered, and he doesn't know where to turn to after this realisation about his parents.

That's all it is.

When Alec doesn't return Magnus' smile, or say a word, Magnus' expression drops, and he raises his eyebrows. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah." Alec clears his throat. "Yes. Sorry."

"Hm." Magnus surveys him, brow slightly furrowed and lips pursed. "Take a seat, and tell me what's bothering you so much that I'm the one you're coming to for life lessons."

Alec's lips quirk up at that. He does as Magnus says, and sits himself on one of the plush sofas; Magnus flops down at the other end, and kicks his socked feet up onto the low-lying coffee table. He's left his now-empty take-out box in the kitchen, but hasn't bothered to throw it away yet.

"So?" He quirks an eyebrow. "You had a question?"

"Did you know my parents were in the Circle?"

Magnus blinks, twice. "I did. Why?"

"Did everyone know except us?" Alec asks, exhaling heavily.

"Darling, I'm rather a lot older than you are. I was alive when your parents were part of the Circle," Magnus says, not unkindly.

"So was I, apparently."

"Well, yes, I suppose you were, but I was old enough to remember it." Magnus shakes his head. "Is that was this is about? Your parents being part of the Circle? Is that what Luke told you?"

"He insinuated," Alec says, squirming a little in place as he looks down at his hands, which are folded tightly together in his lap, the fingers of one hand digging arrhythmically into the palm of the other, in and out, press and pull, scratch and rub. "I don't think he realised we didn't know."

"Luke wouldn't have said anything if he thought you didn't know," Magnus says. "He's not a cruel man. I must say, I'm rather impressed they kept it from you all so well. But yes, your parents were some of Valentine's most trusted confidants, and they escaped the fates some of the others suffered. Though perhaps they shouldn't have."

His eyes go suddenly dark, and his jaw clenches, and Alec is reminded of exactly how much power lies underneath such calmness. Magnus is like the sea, powerful and unending and impossible to fathom or understand. His surface is gentle, although prone to storms of anger and indignation, but the smooth, even waves hide rip tides beneath that could devastate a city, given the right catalyst.

"I just- I don't understand," Alec says, frustrated. He turns to look up at Magnus, who's watching him steadily, with the patience of a being who's cultivated more wisdom than anyone mortal can comprehend. "All my life, they've stressed how paramount it is that we follow the law to the letter, and do the Clave's bidding. But they opposed it. They fought against it, fought to change it. I don't understand. Why?"

"I don't know," Magnus says. "People do things when they're young. Many later come to regret their actions. Sometimes people do things because the think it's the right thing to do, and later realise they were horribly, horribly wrong."

"They were my age," Alec says. "Older than me, even. They must have been, what, Isabelle's age, when they joined? So older than me by the time the Clave hunted down the Circle the first time. Being young doesn't make you stupid. Isabelle wouldn't be pulled into something that barbaric."

Magnus shakes his head. "Valentine was a very persuasive young man. And some of what he said wasn't wrong. The Clave is corrupt. You Shadowhunters have lost sight of the mission you were given, more worried by your own politics and status than protecting the mundane world and defending wronged Downworlders and keeping peace in our world. The Clave is more like Valentine than they realise. Valentine's solution to those issues just happens to be genocide."

"Why are you defending them?" Alec can't help his bewilderment. Or his revulsion. Nothing can excuse joining Valentine, and fighting for his cause.

A bitter chuckle bubbles up Magnus' throat. "Oh, Alexander, I assure you, I make absolutely no excuses for your parents. But it's too easy to judge a book by its cover, to judge a person by their past, without asking why. And even the most atrocious people and the most horrific actions must be understood, if a repeat is to be prevented. And sometimes, people improve, and realise their wrongs, and try to atone for their crimes. Even if you can't forgive their pasts, sometimes you have to learn to respect their present, if they put in enough effort. Although," he adds, and his eyes burn with a deep-seated anger for just a moment, like a scattering of magnesium igniting in the nighttime. "I'm not convinced your parents belong to that category of earning respect."

Alec holds his gaze, staring into slitted cat-eyes, and says, "What are you talking about?"

"You've read my file. You've bought into the Clave's tales of my youth. I'm quite sure you know all about the destruction I've caused." Magnus' eyes flash, as he stares at Alec unblinkingly. There's a challenge there, but Alec's not sure what he's being asked to do.

"I– Yes," Alec says, cautiously. Unconsciously, he finds himself running over where on his body he's got his weapons hidden. He catches himself before he gets too far: Magnus isn't going to start attacking him for verbal missteps. He's not in danger here.

And—

Huh. He's not sure when he realised that, that he's safe in the High Warlock of Brooklyn's apartment—the home of the Clave's most wanted criminal. But his gut tells him that he is. And what was it Jace said?

You've got good instincts. I trust you. I trust your gut.

"Tell me, then," Magnus says, waving a bejewelled hand, rings glinting in the low evening light. "What does my file tell you about my murderous past?"

"Indonesia," Alec says, and clears his throat. Magnus inclines his head, but doesn't break away from Alec's gaze. "Centuries ago, there was a storm. A tornado, or a hurricane, or a lightning storm, or something. Villagers blamed it on a demon, or punishment from the gods. Your file says you caused it. Destroyed the entire village. Killed thousands of people."

Magnus doesn't react. He doesn't even flinch. He merely raises his eyebrows, and says, "What else?"

"You burnt people alive, in the late eighteenth century. Mundanes. You destroyed an entire building in a fit of rage in Victorian London. You slaughtered a group of Shadowhunters twenty years ago. You've always dealt in dark, illegal magic. You're—" Alec pauses for a moment, chest rising and falling heavily. "My father always used to add Lothario onto your list of faults."

Magnus shrugs diplomatically. "I've had periods of sleeping around, I'm not going to pretend otherwise. It was all entirely consensual, so I don't see what business it is of anyone else's."

Alec nearly chokes at such a response. He splutters. "I- I didn't mean- You don't- I don't care, I just—"

"I know." Magnus tilts his head slightly to one side. His eyes are unglamoured, pupils slitted, and Alec feels like those eyes can read his every thought. "You're not entirely wrong. In fact, most of that is true."

Alec's lips part a little, and the world seems abruptly very quiet. And he realises that some strange, unconsidered part of his mind had wanted Magnus to deny it. He'd wanted things to be simpler. He didn't want to have to understand this Magnus, the Magnus he's come to know, but always in the context of the warlock he's been told stories of.

"But it's not that simple," Magnus says.

"How?" Alec bites out, harshly. "Either you murdered people or you didn't."

"I killed people," Magnus agrees. "It depends somewhat on your definition of murder."

"What does that mean?"

Magnus snaps his fingers, twisting his wrist elegantly as he does so, and a wine glass appears in his hand. Another appears on the smooth mahogany coffee table set in front of the sofa, clearly in offering to Alec, but he doesn't reach for it yet.

"I was born in Indonesia," Magnus says. He pulls his legs up onto the sofa, one knee bent up, the other sprawled sideways, and he stares out into space as he speaks. "My parents– Well. That story isn't really relevant. They made me an orphan when they realised what I was. I was alone, and scared, and I didn't know what I was. I didn't know what magic was. I didn't know how to control it."

Taking a sip of his wine, Magnus settles himself back against the sofa, and tips his head back so he's looking up at the ceiling. "After I first lost control of my magic, which was the first time I ever realised I had it in me, it was like I couldn't stop it. It leaked out of me at very inopportune moments." He smiles wryly, but there's no humour to it whatsoever, and the expression tugs at something deep in Alec's chest. "Obviously, that caught the attention of the Shadowhunters."

Alec sucks in a sharp breath. He knows what Shadowhunters do to young warlocks who are out of control now—take them to the nearest High Warlock, keep them away from the outside world, and monitor them until they're proven to no longer be a danger.

At best.

But before the Accords? Adult warlocks were punished, or killed, or locked away for all eternity. He can't imagine what they might have done to children.

"They ambushed me through the village, and they tried to corner me. I don't know what they wanted to do. I lashed out, of course, with my magic, because I was a terrified child who had no idea what the hell was going on and there were five men with magic glowing swords trying to capture me. So yes. I did cause that tornado. I did cause the storm. And half the population of my village died in it. I expect a lot more died from starvation because I ruined their harvest."

And Alec feels his entire world shift.

Again.

Because Magnus Bane - the Magnus Bane, the notorious, murderous High Warlock of Brooklyn, the Clave's most wanted criminal - didn't murder all those people at all. By the Angel, he was a child. He must have been frightened. Terrified. Of his magic, of being orphaned, of those Shadowhunters. Is it really any wonder such a tragedy occurred?

Why the hell had nobody tried to help him, Alec wonders? Why try to capture an already scared child? Warlock or not, ambushing any child is never going to yield pleasing results. Besides, Shadowhunters are supposed to protect mundanes from the Shadow World, not force warlocks into corners and have them unintentionally display their magic to thousands of mundanes.

Rage, hot and indignant, burns in Alec's gut at the tale. He can't imagine how Magnus must have felt. Creating storms, watching people get caught in them, watching people die—and unable to control any of it.

"How–" Alec clears his throat when his voice breaks. "How did you get out? How did you...stop?"

Magnus has his eyes closed, head still resting back against the top of the sofa. Around the stem of his wine glass, his knuckles are white. He's entirely unmoving, a frozen tableau, a beautiful statue carved from bronze.

"I had help," Magnus says, voice softer where it had been harsh, quiet where he'd grown louder. "Not from the Shadowhunters, of course. They died." He smiles wryly. "I try to be regretful, but with hindsight, I'm not. At the time, I was horrified."

He doesn't say anything for a moment, and Alec wonders if that's all he's going to get. Not that he blames Magnus for not spilling the truth of all his darkest moments in the slightest. But he can't deny his curiosity.

"Do you know the name Ragnor Fell?" Magnus asks, breaking the silence but not opening his eyes.

Alec shakes his head, before realising that Magnus can't see him. "No."

"Hm. Ragnor Fell was a my best friend. And my oldest friend. He was a warlock. He was in the country at the time, somewhere nearby. He saw the storm, and recognised it for what it was, so he came to help. He talked me through it, and managed to calm me down enough to help me control it. If it weren't for him, I might have killed myself in that storm, too. Although perhaps you Nephilim would consider that a better outcome."

"No." Alec's horrified, and he says the word with more vehemence than he intended. It makes Magnus crack his eyes open and glance at him. "You were a child and you were frightened. That storm wasn't your fault."

Magnus' expression softens, and he lifts his head to look at Alec properly. "I know, darling. It took me a while, but I know. I've had a good few centuries to forgive myself for that day. But do you see what I mean? I despise your parents, Alexander, as I despise many of your kind for what they've done to my people, but you can't oversimplify things. You mustn't make judgements until you have the all facts, so far as is possible. Especially not regarding people, and why they do things."

"Yeah." Alec glances down at his lap, and then lifts his eyes back up to Magnus'. "I– Can I ask about—?"

"The other things?" Magnus hums. "Briefly, I suppose. I didn't burn any mundanes alive, I wiped their memories. They were a cult, and they were trying to summon a Greater Demon. The building was mine, there were no people inside, and my girlfriend had just admitted to cheating on me. Forgive me if I was a little upset. Yes, I've dealt in dark, illegal magic. It pays well. Nobody is ever in any danger except me. I'm very careful, and I assure you, I know a lot more about magic than the Nephilim who wrote those laws. The Shadowhunters—" He shakes his head wryly. "I slaughtered four. They deserved it. I don't think you want to hear that story, little angel."

Magnus stands abruptly, necklaces jangling as he does, and drains the rest of his wine. He tips his head back, exposing the long chords running down his neck, and his throat bobs as he swallows. It's horribly enticing, and Alec looks away, a flush covering his cheeks.

"What happened to him?" Alec asks, before he can stop himself. "Your friend?"

Over by the drinks cabinet, halfway through pours himself some kind of cocktail, Magnus pauses. "What?"

"Ragnor Fell. You said was."

"He died," Magnus says, a note of finality to his voice. "He was killed, by the Circle. I watched him bleed out while I poured as much magic as I could into trying to save him."

Magnus is facing away from Alec, his body angled so his face is protected from Alec's gaze, its silhouette shrouded in shadows. But regardless, Alec can see how tense he is, the way every muscle beneath that horribly tight shirt has contracted, shoulders stiff as he carries the weight of emotions Alec knows he can't begin to understand. To lose someone like that after centuries of friendship...

Unbidden, Jace flashes in his mind, and Izzy, and a shiver runs down his spine. The mere thought is horrible, nightmare-inducing, and makes his stomach squirm and his chest hurt. He can't imagine experiencing it.

Before he can consider what he's doing, he rises, slowly, and moves towards where Magnus is standing. The warlock must sense him moving, because the moment Alec approaches, he spurs back into action, twisting the cap off a bottle of vodka. His fingers shake a little. It's the first time Alec has ever seen Magnus so...vulnerable. He's seen him in states of high emotion, like with Raphael, but even then, Alec had had absolutely no doubt that Magnus could bare the weight of the world and shatter it whole.

The same man stands before him now, with just the same, devastating power. But this is another layer down. This is another facet to all the multitude of parts that make up Magnus Bane's whole. And it's a more intimate one.

This isn't the High Warlock of Brooklyn. This is Magnus Bane.

An unpleasant clinking noise resounds through the air when Magnus knocks the neck of the bottle against his glass, hard. It snaps Alec from his thoughts in time for him to lurch forward and catch the bottle cap that tumbles to the floor.

Alec doesn't say a word. He places the cap back on the cabinet, and wonders whether he should leave. He shouldn't be a witness to this. He's done nothing to deserve being shown this part of Magnus.

"Shit," Magnus mutters, and Alec realises that he's trying to screw the cap back on the bottle—only it won't quite go on straight, because his fingers are trembling.

Guilt washes through Alec. He shouldn't have asked. He should have left the topic damn well alone. Magnus hadn't invited him to ask such an invasive, personal question.

"Here," Alec says, rather than let Magnus struggle, and reaches for the bottle.

Magnus lets out a little laugh. It's not weak, but it's...embarrassed, almost? Sheepish? "Thank you."

"I'm sorry," Alec tells him. "I didn't mean—"

"Don't worry about it." Magnus waves a hand, and the movement seems steadier, whatever moment of crippling emotion he'd had clearly passing. "I can tell you the story, if you're sure you want to hear it. Your parents feature."

Alec freezes as he retracts his hand from the bottle, having successfully replaced the cap, and stares at Magnus. "My parents?"

Magnus inclines his head, and takes a long swig of his drink. "Well. Your mother, mostly."

"I—" God, does he want to hear this? It could be...awful. But then, he's never going to be able to look at his parents, trust his parents, in the same way again, now he knows who they are, and what they did. He's sick of lies. He'd rather know. "Yeah. Okay. If you want to."

"Ragnor tended to keep to himself," Magnus says, a fond little smile appearing on his lips. "He taught at the Shadowhunter Academy, for a while. Lived in Idris. He was in New York visiting myself and Raphael when he was attacked by Circle members, walking back to my apartment from the Hotel Dumort. He called me, because there were twenty-three of them, and he'd spent all day working, so he was exhausted."

Magnus shakes his head, a wry, humourless tilt to one corner of his lips.

"A few of them had managed to corner him in some tiny little derelict building at the end of an alleyway, and the others had left them to it. I opened the door in time to see your mother slit his throat with her seraph blade."

Alec's own throat closes up, and his chest tightens in shock. His mother had killed a Downworlder in cold blood? Hunted him down and murder him for no reason whatsoever? Blatantly breaking the Accords? The Law that she preaches to him now so regularly?

He feels sick.

"I was...so angry." Magnus inhales, deeply, and lets his eyelids flutter shut for a moment. "I can't express it. Imagine the rage that would overpower every logical thought in your head if you watched someone execute your sister for her mere existence."

Alec flinches, and a cold feeling of dread washes over him, until he's drowning in it. He shudders, and his heart aches with sympathy for Magnus.

"Exactly. So yes. Four of the five Shadowhunters in that room died. They moved forward to attack me, so I attacked them first." He shrugs. "It was very vindictive. Not that it made me feel any better. Your mother hid herself from my magic, and had the nerve to tell me she was cleansing the Academy of improper tutors while I held Ragnor in my arms and tried - futilely - to save him."

"That's ridiculous," Alec blurts out, unable to stop himself. "That's disgusting. You don't murder someone just because you want someone else to get their job."

"Valentine and the Circle disagree. And when I demanded to know why on earth she considered it in any way acceptable or fruitful to slaughter an innocent man, she told me she was building a better world for her son."

Alec's lips part when he realises what that means—what his mother had used him to defend. "Oh my god." He shakes his head a little, horrified. "What did you say?"

Magnus lets out a short laugh that doesn't sound as light-hearted as Alec thinks it was probably intended to, and waves a hand dismissively in a clear attempt to lighten the mood a little. "Oh, some line about my utter lack of care for her doubtless repellant brat."

Alec starts to nod, and then stops, and gapes. He lets out a mock-offended huff, a tiny little smile stretching across his face despite himself. "Doubtless repellant brat?"

When Magnus laughs this time, it sounds genuine, and he twists to put his cocktail glass down. "My opinions of Maryse's son may have changed somewhat in recent months." He meets Alec's gaze, yellow-green eyes surprisingly gentle. "It seemed like a horrible cosmic joke, when you told me your name. I'd saved the life of a Lightwood. The son of Ragnor's murderer. But you're not your mother."

"No," Alec agrees, quietly. "I'm not. I don't- I don't want to be like that."

"You're not," Magnus assures him, and covers the hand Alec has resting atop the drinks cabinet with his own. "I've never seen any indication of you preparing to go out and murder anyone."

Magnus' hand is warm against his, maroon-painted fingernails glistening in the light. Alec slides his thumb out from beneath Magnus' fingers, and lifts it to touch the side of Magnus' thumb knuckle. Not holding his hand, but acknowledging the contact. Accepting it. Because it- It's nice. It feels nice. It's warm, and gentle, and a little bit comforting, in a grounding sort of way.

"Except demons."

A smile curls up one half of Magnus' mouth, and his eyes shine. "I think I can forgive that one, darling."

"I—" Alec glances down at their hands, and then back up to Magnus, who's watching him patiently, as he always does, while Alec struggles to find the words to express his thoughts in a coherent manner. "Since you saved my life, I– I've seen things I didn't...accept, before. Things I didn't understand. Or try to understand. I just– Yesterday, on the phone, when you said– I just want you to know that I don't think that anymore. I don't think you're a demon, or- or predisposed to be evil, or totally lacking in self control."

Magnus' thumb brushes gently over the skin of Alec's hand, soothingly. "I know you don't, Alexander. But thank you for saying so."

"I- I don't- You're–" Alec shakes his head in frustration. He doesn't even know what he's trying to say. He wants Magnus to know how much meeting him, getting to know some small part of him, seeing him with Raphael and Luke and hearing all these stories tonight, has changed the way he looks at the world. It's removed some of the filters. It's made everything so much clearer—more complicated, but clearer.

"I know," Magnus says, and, abruptly, entirely without warning, Alec feels himself being tugged gently into a hug.

Magnus' arms slide around him, warm and solid and safe, and he feels his entire body sag just a little, tension sliding out of him as his own arms shift to return the gesture. And it's weird, if he thinks about it, to be hugging the High Warlock of Brooklyn. But it feels right. Letting his guard down so entirely, letting himself lean into Magnus, chins over shoulders and chests together—it feels right.

They stay like that for a long moment, and Alec lets his eyes close, contentment washing over him. It's light. Easy. Magnus' chest is rising and falling against his, the lines of his necklaces pressing gently into his skin, a few strands of hair just brushing against him, and it's so unimaginably nice.

He could stay here, he thinks, errantly. He could stay right here, for a long, long time. He'd never have to think about anything too deeply again. He could let go, he could make his stupid brain shut up, and just feel.

That's another thing. It's silent. His brain has stopped, quiet, still, every cell in his body focused in on the feeling of Magnus around him, against him, holding him close with no indication of wanting to let him go. Not that Alec minds in the slightest.

Magnus exhales softly, and his breath disturbs the hair at the nape of Alec's neck, making goosebumps rise across his skin. Alec shivers a little, involuntarily, and Magnus' exhales again, in more of a huff this time, and Alec realises it's a laugh.

"Cold, darling?" Magnus whispers teasingly, and he pulls back a little so he can look Alec in the eye.

Heat rushes up his neck, and his cheeks turn a deep, dark crimson that makes Magnus chuckle. It's not an unkind sound, gentle and soft despite the playful edge, and it makes Alec's suddenly racing heart calm, just a little.

Magnus' hands slide down his arms, dropping off at his elbows, and Alec does feel cold at the sudden absence of Magnus' touch. He swallows, uncertain, because he doesn't even understand what he did to warrant such unsolicited affection, let alone now he's supposed to respond to it, or what it means.

"Are you alright?" Magnus asks, one eyebrow raising a little. "Oh, dear, have I broken you?"

"No." Alec smiles a little, weakly. "Sorry. I'm good."

"Good." Magnus returns his smile, and it's so bright it almost hurts to look at.

"I, um. I should probably– I should probably go home."

Magnus inclines his head. "Probably."

He walks Alec to the door, much like he did that night when Alec brought Raphael to him, and, much like that night, he pauses, leaning against the door jam before he closes it behind Alec.

"Feel free to call me. Or text. If you need anything, or if you just want to anyway." There's a glint in his eyes, and Alec has to grin a little, feeling reckless and free and warm, deep inside.

"Yeah. Okay. Goodnight, Magnus. Thank you. For..." He searches for the right word, and settles with, "For everything."

Magnus leans forward into his space, close enough to feel the heat of his body, and his lips brush Alec's cheek so softly Alec barely feels it.

"Sweet dreams, Alexander," Magnus murmurs, warm breath washing over his skin, before he rocks back on his heels, smiles, and shuts the door. Alec stares, frozen to the spot and utterly stunned, the imprint of Magnus' fleeting kiss burning hot on his cheek.

Chapter Text

[Alec Lightwood, 9:12]

Hey

[Mags, 9:35]

Have you just woken up like a normal person, or have you been awake since 6?

[Alec Lightwood, 9:35]

5:30. Morning patrol. You?

[Mags, 9:36]

I always knew the Nephilim were uncivilised. This is just proof. I just got up. I have decorum.

[Alec Lightwood, 9:36]

Don't you have clients?

[Mags, 9:37]

Yes. They just don't start until half ten. I take appointments until eight, I work until midnight. Usually. I'm fairly flexible.

[Mags, 9:37]

Also, the Chairman is not cuddling with me, and I think he's sulking because you didn't play with him the other night. As though that's MY fault.

Alec grins at his phone. He takes another bite of his apple, fingers poised over the screen to tap out a reply, when there's a knock on his bedroom door. He glances up, and raises his eyebrows.

"Yeah?"

Isabelle pushes open the door, and frowns when she sees him. "Why are you smiling?"

"Nothing."

"Bullshit." She glances down at his phone, and her face softens, before she plasters an expression of mock revulsion across it, wrinkling her nose. "Mags? Really? You two are giving each other pet names now?"

Alec rolls his eyes at her. "No. I'm not gonna call him that to his face, obviously. But I can't exactly have his full name in my contacts, can I? I'd have my runes stripped."

Isabelle hasn't bothered to rune her wings away, and they're currently curled into her to prevent her knocking against everything in Alec's tiny bedroom. She flicks one wingtip absently against the photograph of the three of them and Max that sits on Alec's bedside table.

"So your immediate choice of code name was Mags?" She arches an eyebrow at him, clearly a little doubtful. Alec's not sure what she's implying, and he really doesn't like it. "Not, like, John Ravenwood, or something random?"

Alec sighs, the long-suffering sigh of an older brother. "What do you want, Isabelle?"

"The Clave envoy just arrived. I thought you should know. No word from Mom or Dad."

That makes him pause, and focus in on her. Magnus has just sent him a photograph of the Chairman curled up on the sofa, an undoubtedly haughty expression on his face as he stares at the camera, but Isabelle's words suck any amusement he might have got out of the image right out.

"The Clave envoy? What Clave envoy?"

"The Clave envoy ordered after Mom told all of Idris about the Downworlders escaping. Didn't anyone tell you? Mom sent us a fire message a week ago."

Already spurring into action, Alec shakes his head and tucks his phone away in his back pocket. "No, but it doesn't matter. We're good. We know what we're doing. Is he here to look at Clary, too?"

"She, Alec." Isabelle shakes her head, a little smile on her face. "You're so stereotypical, sometimes, honestly. I don't think so. Jace is chatting her up now. Clary's in the training room. Had an argument with Simon, apparently."

"Let's go and meet her, then," Alec says.

***

The Clave envoy, it turns out, doesn't look much older than Alec. He spots her the moment he enters the Ops Centre, standing behind Raj and Jace as she watches them navigate through a map and talk her through their routine patrol routes, and their daily strategies. She raises her eyebrows and nods. She looks impressed. Alec feels pride flutter through him, and he shoots Raj a smile when he glances up.

Raj meets his gaze, but he doesn't return the look. They haven't really spoken since their argument the morning after they broke out the Downworlders. Alec isn't sure how to mend the broken fences between them, but he wants to.

Maybe I should ask Magnus. Magnus is good with people.

But then, he thinks, he's probably brought enough Shadowhunter angst onto Magnus' doorstep. He might not appreciate any more.

The Clave envoy lifts her eyes, and smiles tightly when she sees Alec and Isabelle entering. She straightens up, and walks over. She's dressed in a suit, neat and perfectly pressed, with long blond hair braided and falling down her back; it's an incredibly professional look, and it's so typical of an Idris native. It gives a fantastic first impression, but it's totally impractical for field work.

"Alexander?" she guesses as she approaches, and Alec nearly winces at his full name. "Lydia Branwell."

"Alec," he corrects her, firmly, and grips her proffered hand. "And this is my sister, Isabelle."

Lydia glances over at Isabelle, and smiles a tight-lipped smile that doesn't reach her eyes as she scans her up and down. She doesn't offer to shake Isabelle's hand, and instead says, "It's lovely to meet you."

Isabelle's eyes flash; Alec knows why. Isabelle and Lydia couldn't really contrast more, one dressed in beige and looking like the perfect Idris Shadowhunter leader, the other dressed in tight black leather pants, a red top that covers the essentials and not much else, and heels that go on for days—and are covered in studs and spikes.

(Alec admires his sister's sense of fashion. He's constantly surprised by the apparent practicality of some of her shoes—high heels are fantastic for spilling demon intestines onto the floor. And, irrespective of anything else, she likes it, and she's confident in herself, so who's he to judge?)

Lydia, apparently, isn't quite so in favour. She purses her lips, giving Isabelle another sweep up and down with her eyes.

"Likewise," Isabelle says, coldly. A smile tips up her lips, but her eyes are like ice.

Alec clears his throat, and the two women break away from their staring match. Lydia looks a touch embarrassed; Isabelle looks, if anything, even more furious.

"Lydia, shall we head to the office so I can point you to everything and show you around?"

"Yes." Lydia smiles up at him. The expression is warmer than anything she graced Isabelle with, but it's all professional, with no feeling behind it whatsoever. Alec wonders whether there's anything locked behind the frigid, steely outer case. "That would be lovely."

***

The metal of training room door handle cracks against the stone wall when Isabelle flings it open with all the force she can muster. Clary spins around, alarmed, and stares at Isabelle as she slams the door behind her again, and stalks over to the weapons rack.

"Are you okay?" Clary asks, hesitantly, one hand wrapped around a staff, the other hand resting on a punching bag.

"Fuck her," Isabelle snarls, searching for wraps to put around her knuckles. She needs to punch something. Hard. For hours. "Fucking Idris and their fucking archaic views. They can all go fuck themselves."

"Oh my god, Izzy," Clary says, eyes wide. "Calm down."

Izzy glares at her over her shoulder. "Don't tell me to calm down, Fray."

"Alright, alright, I'm sorry."

When Isabelle whirls round to face her, she's got both hands up, palms forwards, concern written across her face. It makes Isabelle soften a little, racing, frantic heart calming slightly, and she shakes her head.

"Sorry," she tells her. "I shouldn't have sworn like that. Or I should have done it in Spanish."

Clary laughs. "I don't mind. What happened? Something with the Clave envoy? Lydia, or whatever her name is?"

"Don't." Isabelle raises a finger. "We don't say her name. Okay? Henceforth, I refuse to call her Lydia. She's the dinosaur from Idris."

Clary quirks an eyebrow at her. "Okay."

"The look she gave me, Clary, Raziel. She looked at me like I was a prostitute offering my services to her while still covered in my last customer's semen."

"Ew." Clary wrinkles her nose. "Do you have to be that...graphic?"

"Side effect of being Jace's sister," Isabelle says, with a shrug and a grin. "I hate people like that."

Clary walks towards her, and squeezes Isabelle's hand gently. "Iz, if she's that bad, we can hate her together. Nobody slut shames Isabelle Lightwood."

Isabelle smiles at her, and squeezes back. "Thank you."

***

"I'm impressed," Lydia says, standing at the door with a clipboard in hand and a pen shoved in the front pocket of her blazer when Alec and his team return from their evening patrol, a week into Lydia's stay in New York. "I was tracking your progress, and Raj had the cameras on you. That was good work, and an efficient run when Raj called in about the demons causing trouble at the mundane bar."

Alec pushes the front door shut behind them, and catches sight of Isabelle rolling her eyes in response to Lydia's comments. Clary snickers, and whispers something to her. Whatever it is, it makes Isabelle grin.

Lydia's eyes flicker to the two women, and something flashes across her face, so fast Alec can't pin it down. But it's not a comfortable emotion; Alec wonders whether Isabelle realises that Lydia's not stupid, and is probably fully aware of what her and Clary's exchange was about.

Not that he has no sympathy for Isabelle. Lydia's earlier greeting upon meeting Isabelle had irked Alec no end, but Isabelle's not a child. She knows it's not an appropriate time to make snide commentary when Lydia's present.

"Thank you," Alec says instead, because it doesn't seem like Isabelle or Clary are going to respond, and Jace is preoccupied with drawing an iratze to close the gash on his arm. "If there's anything else, we can debrief in twenty. Let's unload and shower, first."

Lydia agrees, and turns on her heel to return to the Ops Centre. Isabelle shakes her head; Alec catches her eye, and raises his eyebrows at her.

"Come on," Isabelle says, waving a hand when Lydia is out of sight. "She's annoying as fuck, and she's one of those moronic Idris crazy people stuck in the eighteen hundreds."

"She's a Clave envoy, you're being particularly unfair, and I don't care if you don't like her, stop acting like a child," Alec says. "She's not stupid, and that was mean. And you—" He turns to Clary. "I know you're trying to be a good friend, but Clave envoys are important and we're being inspected, so behave."

"You know why I hate her," Isabelle says. "You saw how she looked at me."

"I didn't like it either, Iz. But that was a lot better than how Mom looks at you, and you don't seem to care much when people on the street give you looks, so there's clearly something else bothering you." His expression softens, and he reaches out to touch Isabelle's shoulder. "If this is about Meliorn—"

"It's not," Isabelle says, a little too quickly. "I don't care. I'm fine."

She extracts herself gently from Alec's grip, shoots him a reassuring smile, and disappears off to the training room to get rid of her weapons. Alec watches her go, and then looks over at Jace and Clary.

"Think she's lying?" he asks them.

Their reply is instantaneous: "Yes."

***

[Alec Lightwood, 21:46]

What's a normal reaction to your boyfriend breaking up with you because your relationship put him in danger?

Alec doesn't expect a reply, as he kicks back on his bed after an hour long debrief with Lydia, which had been excruciatingly dull. But, halfway through attempting to finish a chapter of his book, his phone buzzes.

[Mags, 22:01]

Asking for a friend?

[Alec Lightwood, 22:02]

Um, sort of? Why?

[Mags, 22:02]

It was a joke, Shadowhunter. It depends. Break-ups aren't nice. Nobody's going to come out of one happy and rational.

Alec considers that for a moment. It makes sense, he suppose, that Isabelle might be more prone to upset and insult than usual, after being broken up with. She's usually the one who does the dumping. In fact, Alec doesn't remember anyone ever breaking up with her, before now.

[Mags, 22:03]

I've got a job to go to, Alexander, but if you need relationship advice, ask me later ;)

Alec huffs out a laugh at that, and types out a "sure" in response, before he tosses his phone to one side. Instead, he picks up his book with a yawn, and attempts to focus on the words.

***

The buzzing of his phone wakes Alec immediately. He jerks back into consciousness, and gropes on his nightstand for his phone. He must have fallen asleep reading, he realises, because his book is still on his chest, open to where he last remembers reading; he folds the corner with one hand while he locates his phone and switches the screen on.

[Mags, 00:17]

Can you do me a favour?

Alec frowns. A favour? What sort of favour could Magnus Bane possibly need from a Shadowhunter?

[Alec Lightwood, 00:18]

What sort of favour?

[Mags, 00:18]

Transport. I need someone to collect something from a roof.

Alec blinks in bewilderment. What sort of things to warlocks get up to for their clients, exactly? Why would any job require rooftop pickups? And can't Magnus portal there himself?

When he asks, Magnus' reply is almost immediate.

[Mags, 00:19]

The number of times I've saved your ass, Shadowhunter, just get over here and do it, it's nothing illegal.

There's an address typed out below, and Alec realises that Magnus has a point. He owes the warlock his life, probably several times over, and another lump of favours besides; he can fly up to a roof and pick something up for him, even if the request seems a little bizarre.

After replying to say that he'll be there, Alec picks up his bow and quiver from the corner of his room, sticks his stele, phone and witchlight into his pocket, and slips out into the darkened hallway. It's quiet, although he can hear the low hum of distant voices downstairs.

He lifts a hand to rap on Jace's bedroom door, lightly.

"Jace," he hisses, after a moment. "Open up."

Jace pulls the door open groggily, rubbing at his eyes. He's wearing a pair of boxers and nothing else, except the brown leather bracelet with that Clary gave him last year. Alec doesn't think Jace has taken it off since he first put it on. It's a very sweet gift, really. Rather than a traditional clasp, it's held together with a metal infinity sign, and Clary clearly put thought into the three charms slid on. A small bird, representative of the herons always inscribed on the Herondale family ring, flames for the Lightwood family, and a tiny, circular charm with clashing swords etched on.

Even Alec, who tends to avoid sentiment and sickly sweet feelings, can appreciate the thought behind the gift.

"What?" Jace mumbles, staring at Alec with bleary eyes.

"I'm going here." He shoves his phone at Jace, indicating the address Magnus gave him. "If I'm not back in three hours, come find me. Or I'll text you."

Jace furrows his eyebrows, and stares up at Alec. "Mags? Are you going to see a prostitute?" His eyes light up abruptly. "Or have you discovered Grindr?"

He huffs in exasperation. "Of course I'm not— What the hell is Grindr?"

"I'll tell you some other time that's not the middle of the night. But then who the fuck is— Oh." Jace snickers. "Pet names, that's adorable. What does he call you, Allie-Cat?"

"You're a fucking git," Alec tells him, pulling his phone back. "Why the hell are we parabatai?"

"Aw, c'mon." Jace grins. "You love me."

"When you're not being an ass."

"I'm always an ass."

"Draw whatever conclusions from that you wish."

"I'm telling Clary that you're being mean to me."

"Do I look like I care? What's she gonna do, strangle my kneecaps?"

"Fuck off, you human giant."

"With absolute pleasure."

Jace shuts his bedroom door with a bang. But not before he summons enough emotional maturity to stick his tongue out at Alec with an incredible amount of gusto and a grin that he can't quite fight down.

***

When Alec reaches the address Magnus sent him, it's cold, wind blowing softly but insistently, and he's grateful for his jacket. The moon sits high, half full and shining bright above the clouds, dwarfing the glittering stars around it.

He activates his glamour rune, and then wipes across the rune that keeps his wings hidden. They shimmer into existence, heavy and thick with feathers. He tips his head back, inhaling the cold night air as he surveys the building in front of him. It's high - more the twenty stories, Alec would guess - and directly vertical, with a flat roof that he can just make out in the darkness of the night with the aid of a night vision rune burning on his forearm.

He bends his knees, inhaling again, deeply, and then, on his next exhale, he springs up, hard, wings shooting out to the sides and beating once to propel him upwards. They stretch, easing out to their full extent, and he climbs steadily, wings beating on either side of him as he leaves the ground behind him.

The wind picks up speed as his altitude increases, ruffling through his feathers. He'd never have been able to feel this again, if it weren't for Magnus, he thinks. He'd never have been able to fly again. He'd never have been able to let go of everything pressing down on him and let the wind carry him high above the world.

As he comes up to level with the roof, he begins to look around, searching for whatever it is that Magnus wants him to collect. Magnus' text said he'll know it when he sees it; he's not quite so sure, but he supposes he can always call, if—

"Hello, darling," Magnus says, with a smile that crinkles the corners of his eyes, as Alec rises up. "No need to ask if you've had any side effects since you fell, I see."

Alec lands with a gentle thud on the debris-covered roof, stray leaves crunching under his boots as he flexes his knees to absorb the impact. He pulls his wings into his sides the moment his feet meet the ground.

"Hi," he says, a little embarrassed. "What– I mean– I don't understand."

Magnus is sitting on the edge of a raised skylight, and he's dressed in a fitted three piece suit that draws Alec's eyes to all sorts of inappropriate places. A moment's lack of focus has Alec's eyes flickering to his arms, and his chest - where the lack of necklaces is immediately noticeable - and the way his dark pants are stretched over his thighs when he's seated, and—

"Well." Magnus spreads his hands out wide. He's wearing rings, still, but fewer than normal, and his nails are painted a dark bluish-purple to match his suit. "I did tell you you'd know what needs collecting when you saw it."

Alec stares at him, and squints one eye slightly. There's something a little...off, about the way Magnus is talking. His voice sounds different. Uneven. His syllables are just slightly slurred, and there's a heaviness to his intonation that isn't normally present.

"You want me to...collect you?" Alec asks, slowly, furrowing his eyebrows. "Can't you just portal? Or, I don't know, go through the building? Why are you up here, anyway?"

"Demons, Alexander," Magnus says, with a dismissive wave of his hand that's not quite as fluid as usual. "Valentine. It was all very tiresome."

"Are you alright?" Alec asks, more than a little perplexed by the whole situation. And, he's surprised to find, the thought of Valentine doing something to harm Magnus is... Well. Unpleasant. Once upon a time, he wouldn't have batted an eyelash at seeing Magnus brutally murdered. He'd have watched his blood wash across the ground and seep into cracks in the pavement have felt absolutely nothing.

Now, the thought makes his chest tighten just a little.

"Did Valentine do something to you?"

"Psh." Magnus snorts, inelegantly, and Alec's eyebrows shoot up, because there's no way Magnus would usually make a noise like that without some careful consideration about who he's around, and what sort of impression he wishes to make. Nothing Magnus does is unconsidered. The only time Alec has ever seen him let his walls down was when he'd walked in on Magnus and Raphael talking. "Let him try."

"I thought you just said he did."

"Mm." Magnus gazes up at him from where he's sitting, and he sighs, heavily. "Did you know Valentine wanted you Nephilim to intercept that meeting, Alexander? He wanted you to capture the Downworlders. He wanted the Clave to torture them. He wanted to turn more Downworlders against the Clave by showing them what the Clave does to us. Did you know that? That's what he spat at me tonight. That's what you helped stop."

"Of course that's what he wanted," Alec says, distractedly, because it is obvious, and he's certain Magnus knew that without having to be told, and he's more preoccupied by the utterly bizarre way Magnus is acting. "Magnus, you're delirious, what the hell is going on?"

"I'm not delirious," Magnus tells him.

"Alright, let's go then." Alec is watching Magnus in utter puzzlement, confused and more than a little concerned at the warlock's strange behaviour. "Come on, we can go through the building, I've got my stele. Just put up a glamour."

Alec jerks his head and takes several steps towards where he can see a staircase several metres behind Magnus, and a door that clearly leads down into the building. He hopes there's some residual heat left inside, because, jacket or not, the wind is fierce seventy metres up, and New York is hardly the warmest city in the world.

Magnus rises from where he's sitting on the skylight. Alec falters in his steps to watch him. Every movement Magnus makes is so fluid, so effortlessly graceful, it's hard not to watch him, no matter how much Alec tries to resist.

But this time, when Magnus straightens, he sways a little in place, and when he moves to follow Alec, he stumbles. It's such a direct contradiction of everything Alec has ever seen from Magnus that his eyes widen and his lips part.

He's by Magnus in a moment, a single beat of his wings enough to propel him forwards faster than he could move on foot, and he reaches out a hand to steady the warlock. Magnus blinks down at where Alec is gripping his arm, and then transfers his gaze up to Alec's face.

Softening his hold, but not letting go entirely, Alec says somewhat urgently, "Magnus, tell me. What happened? What's going on?"

"I'm—" Magnus blinks again, slower this time, as though he's struggling to fix his gaze on one thing. "I just need to go home."

"I know," Alec says, gentling his voice. "I just—"

A thought hits him, abrupt and sudden, cutting off his train of thought and his words simultaneously, as he wonders.

Even my magic is not infinite, Nephilim.

Magnus had admitted to him, the first time they'd met, that even his magic has limits. And, from their sporadic text conversations today, Alec has inferred that Magnus has been working for most of the day. Has Magnus run out his magic? Like Jace occasionally collapses after he's run a mission entirely on adrenaline, and, as soon as it fades from his system, is too exhausted too stay conscious?

"Hey." Alec tightens his hold on Magnus' arm to get his attention. "Magnus. How much magic have you used to day? How many jobs have you taken?"

"Seven," Magnus tells him, a frown etching itself onto his face. "And then I killed a few of the Circle. Why do you think I called you? I'm burnt out."

And now, now, it makes sense. Well, it doesn't, not really, because there are probably more than a thousand people in Magnus' contacts, and there's no logical reason for Alec to be his first choice of transportation down off a roof when he can't use enough magic to get through the building the mundane way, or to portal home.

But at least Alec can assure himself that Magnus hasn't been a victim of one of Valentine's heinous Downworlder experiments, now. He's used too much magic - not that Alec really knows what that means, aside from the obvious - and he needs to go home and sleep, or rest, or...something.

Maybe he should call Raphael, or Luke. He's really got no idea what he's supposed to do.

Although, come to think of it, he's not entirely sure when he began to care. Why should it matter to him if Magnus dies tomorrow? It'd make his life a hell of a lot easier, as the New York Institute is currently supposed to be hunting Magnus for releasing their Downworld prisoners.

But he does. There's no point in denying it, in the privacy of his own head. After everything, he does care about Magnus, at least to some degree. He cares about Magnus, and he cares about his stupid cat, and—

Does Magnus know? Is that why Magnus asked Alec for help? Since when does Magnus trust Alec to do anything more than make a cup of tea without becoming a catalyst for the apocalypse?

Magnus is blinking up at him, kohl-rimmed eyes devoid of all the smoky eye-shadow he seems to be partial to. He's still wearing make-up, but it's softer, natural colours that match his bronze skin rather than bold shades that match his heart, and, for once, he's clean-shaven. Alec wonders where he's been.

"Alexander."

Alec realises he's been staring, and he clears his throat, averting his eyes quickly. Not that it helps. Magnus had been staring right back—he's been caught red-handed, gazing at the warlock for far longer than is appropriate.

"I need to go home."

"Yeah. Okay." Alec swallows, and takes a half step back, extending his arm to accommodate the distance between them but not letting go of Magnus yet. "Don't move for a sec, okay? I'm gonna check if there's CCTV."

Magnus arches an eyebrow. "Yes, sir."

Alec rolls his eyes, and catches sight of Magnus' smile as he turns to check the roof. A quick glance through a larger skylight on the north side of the building shows an incredibly complex mundane CCTV system set inside. There's a camera near where he flew up on the street, he knows, but round the back—

Alec calls Magnus over to the back ledge of the building, and turns to follow Magnus' progress across the roof with his eyes. He's not unsteady on his feet, this time, but his movements lack the seamless grace Alec has come to know. There's no sway to him, no intention behind every shift of every muscle.

"I can't fly you all the way if you're not glamoured," Alec says, glancing over his shoulder, "because the mundanes will have a field day if they see. But I can fly you down to the street, and walk back with you, if you- if you'd like me to."

There's something oddly soft in Magnus' eyes as he looks at Alec, head tilted slightly to one side, stars glittering in his slitted pupils and making his irises shine like they're embedded with diamonds. A smile is curling at one corner of his lips, so small it's barely perceptible save for the way his cheeks lift and his eyes crinkle, just slightly.

Alec's lips part, and he feels his cheeks turn crimson with heat as he realises that his gaze has fixated on Magnus' mouth—on the bow of his upper lip, the smooth fullness of his lower, both shimmering enticingly with lip gloss.

He forces his eyes back up, and sucks in a deep, sharp breath in an attempt to control himself. Magnus' little smile hasn't slipped, and, rather than reply, he lifts a hand towards Alec's face. His fingers brush Alec's forehead, just above the scar that cuts through his eyebrow. Alec feels the touch like a spark of electricity shooting over his skin.

"You'll have to tell me how you got that, one day," Magnus murmurs.

"Jace," Alec says, and his voice cracks. "Training accident. It wasn't his fault."

"Mm."

Magnus drops his hand and his gaze simultaneously, and Alec watches him as he sweeps his eyes across Alec's wings. He's still got them pulled into his back, and Magnus' scrutiny makes him draw them in tighter. For some unfathomable reason, the action makes Magnus chuckle, quietly, a fond little sound that Alec really doesn't understand.

"Home," Magnus whispers, brushing a hand against the front of Alec's jacket. "Please."

Alec swallows, and nods, extending his hand for Magnus to take as he steps up onto the ledge at the edge of the rooftop. Magnus' fingers curl around his. They're a little cold, but the contact sends sparks of warmth through Alec's veins, and his heart jumps when Magnus steps up beside him, palm pressed flush to his.

"I don't–" Alec bites his lip as he peers up at Magnus from beneath his lashes. "How do you want to...?"

Magnus touches the sole of his shoe to the top of Alec's combat boot. "How about like this?"

"That– Yeah, okay."

Magnus steadies himself with a hand on Alec's shoulder, and Alec glances down at the drop to the ground. It's not too far. Eighty, ninety metres, maybe. It's certainly not the greatest distance Alec has transported another person - mundanes, injured Shadowhunters, the occasional young werewolf - down. But it's the first time the person has been someone like Magnus.

It's the first time he's seen Magnus so vulnerable, he thinks. So prone to attack. He's quite sure Magnus is not incapable of defending himself without magic, if necessary, but nevertheless, it's strange, seeing such a powerful, dangerous man at the mercy of someone else, just this once.

Hesitantly, Alec slips a hand around to Magnus' back, because if there's a sudden gust of wind that throws them momentarily off balance, the last thing he wants to do is drop him. Magnus glances up at him; their height difference, those mere three or four inches that are barely perceptible, most of the time, seem so much vaster up close like this.

Magnus inhales, and Alec feels his ribs lifting and his lungs expanding beneath his hand, expensive suit shifting against Alec's chest to accommodate the breath. He wonders what it would be like to be able to feel Magnus' heartbeat against him.

But that's certainly not an area Alec is willing to stray into, ever, so he snaps himself out of any thoughts about his proximity to Magnus. Instead, he lets his wings flex once behind him, and he leans down until his feet tip off the edge, and they both fall.

For a mere second, they free fall, dropping off the rooftop like stones, and Alec thinks about the last time he fell off a roof. That one had been higher, and his fall had nearly crippled and killed him.

Magnus' eyes are wide as they near the ground, the wind ruffling his perfectly styled hair as they whip through the air like bullets from a gun. His grip on Alec's shoulder and hand is tight, fingers digging in, but Alec doesn't let go.

His wings stretch out behind him, slowing their fall instantly. After another second, he beats his wings, once, then twice, then a third time, hovering them just above the ground before he touches down, and Magnus steps back without preamble, away from him.

Alec relinquishes his hold on the warlock, and their hands drop. They've landed behind the mundane building, well away from the busy street out front and out of sight of any CCTV cameras.

"Thank you," Magnus says, and he sounds tired, weary, as though the world has worn him just a little too thin, today.

"You're welcome," Alec replies, and then pauses. "Do you want me to come? Back to your apartment, I mean. I don't mean— Just to—"

"Well, the Chairman has been pining," Magnus says, and there's something in his voice that Alec can't quite pin down. "If you wish, darling."

Alec nods, and lifts his stele to reactivate his rune to conceal his wings, when a cold hand grasps his wrist lightly. He glances up, stele hovering.

"Don't feel obliged," is all Magnus says.

***

Magnus is exhausted by the time they reach his loft, weariness long since having seeped into every cell in his body. He hauls himself up the stairs, Alexander behind him, wings still out and in the process of slashing through his glamour rune.

The sight of Alexander on these stairs, wings tucked neatly behind his back as though he's afraid to let himself stretch out, makes Magnus' mind flicker back to the day the Shadowhunter crashed into a broken, mangled mess of shattered bones and ruined, bruised flesh, bleeding all over the sidewalk. Carrying the dead weight of Alec up these stairs hadn't been difficult due to his weight, or even the extra weight of his wings, but due to the sheer size of them. Manoeuvring him without causing further damage had taken some minutes.

Chairman Meow darts out from under the sofa the moment Magnus opens the front door, summoning just enough energy to let blue sparks sputter out of his fingers to draw back the lock. The cat meows, curling around Magnus' ankles in a plea for attention.

Magnus bends at the waist to stroke the Chairman's head, and then moves further inside. He drops his jacket and waistcoat, eases off his shoes, and lifts his hands to tug off his tie, letting it fall on the floor behind him as he heads into his bedroom.

"Magnus—?"

Alexander's voice, hesitant and soft, makes him pause. He turns to see Alec loitering in the doorway, fingers running absently over Chairman Meow's fur where he's leapt up onto a side table.

"Shall I– Shall I go, now? Are you going to be okay?"

Something situated deep in Magnus' chest, buried beneath layers of fortified walls and iron-clad barricades, aches to the point of physical pain at the question, and he has to curl his fingers into his palm.

"I am several centuries old, Alexander," Magnus tells him, and he's going for firm, but it comes out gently. He's finding it ever-harder to remember not to let himself do anything foolish when Alexander is in the room, looking at him like that, so earnestly, as though he genuinely gives a shit about whether or not Magnus is going to collapse and lie unconscious on the floor for hours.

(Which he might. It's happened before, when he's run his magic dry. His day has been filled with disaster after disaster, and expending his last reserves on fighting off six Circle members, headed by Valentine himself, has not helped matters. Valentine, clearly, has caught wind of the fact that the New York Institute is out for Magnus' blood, because it's the second time he's tried to recruit him in a week. Valentine is clearly more comfortable with force than diplomacy—his first attempt had ended with Morgenstern finding himself drenched in river water. This time he'd just run off.)

"I know. I could- I could call Raphael. I never asked, is he okay? After—"

"Fine," Magnus says, tiredly, and rubs at his temples. He's got a headache. He's had a headache for the past three hours, like a thousand tiny pickaxes slowly chipping into his skull, and he really, really wants it to go away. "He's fine. You don't need to call anyone."

"That's– Good. That's good."

Alexander shifts, from one foot to the other, and it's clear that Magnus is making him uncertain. Part of Magnus wants to reach out, at least verbally, and tell him that he doesn't need to be, that Magnus wouldn't have told him he could come back if he hadn't wanted him to, but he's too tired. They hadn't spoken a word on their walk back, and Magnus is just so tired. He just wants to go to sleep. He wants to collapse into bed, and he wants his head to stop hurting, and he wants the world to stop spinning in such an alarming fashion, and he especially wants to stop feeling so utterly confused about Alexander, and—

"Magnus, you're— Woah." Hands grip at his shoulders, and he opens his eyes - when had he closed them? - to see Alec in front of him, brow furrowed and lips pressed together. "Where's your bedroom?"

Magnus' gut instinct is to come up with an innuendo, a flirty joke, but he can't quite grasp at one. Instead, he pulls himself out of Alec's grasp, grabs his hand, and stumbles down the corridor info his bedroom.

Alec blinks when he's dragged in, and stops in the doorway, Magnus' hand dropping away from his, discomfort and hesitance clear on his face and in his hunched shoulders.

"You can show yourself out," Magnus tells him, as he sinks down onto his bed, relief overpowering him. "I'll just sleep for the next twelve hours."

"Okay." Alec shifts, and licks his lips. He's still frowning. Magnus wants to tell him that he needs to worry less, but it seems to be in Alec's nature to worry about people. Well. People he cares about.

Does that mean he does care about Magnus?

No. No. Magnus isn't going to ponder that now. He's too tired, and it's too complicated, and he's hardly in the right state of mind to make an impartial hypothesis.

Between one blink and the next, Alexander has disappeared. He hasn't shut the door. Magnus huffs a little at that, but he can't quite find the energy to care. His remaining clothes get slung across the floor until he's left in his briefs and nothing more, and, after a moment of struggling, he manages to pull the crimson-red sheets out from beneath him.

He slides into bed, a moan of contentment slipping from between his lips as his mattress sinks to accommodate his weight and his pillow cradles his painful head. The sheets rest lightly around him, slung across his torso at an angle that's sure to leave him cold in a few hours, but right now, he doesn't care. He just wants to sleep.

The soft thud of boots on his flooring meets his ears, and he cracks one eye open. Is Alexander still here?

Light from the hallway spills into the room as the door is opened fully, and Alexander comes into view. His wings are pulled tight into his back, folded in a manner than has to be uncomfortable. Magnus watches through slitted eyes as he steps in, and moves to close the curtains, clearly making an effort to be as soundless as possible. He thinks Magnus is asleep, probably.

He approaches the bed slowly, and Magnus closes one eye, heart thudding against his ribcage in nervous anticipation. Alec bends, setting a glass of water down on Magnus' nightstand, and then pauses, gazing down at him.

Fingertips brush against his skin as Alexander reaches for the sheets, making goosebumps erupt across his flesh. Magnus tries not to shiver when Alec lifts them up to settle oh so gently around his shoulders.

"Goodnight," Alec whispers, softly, and Magnus has to fight every instinct in his body to remain still when Alec tilts his head down to brush a soft, fleeting kiss to Magnus' hairline. It's so light Magnus can hardly feel the touch, but it sets every nerve ending in his body alight.

With that, Alec straightens and withdraws, padding out of the bedroom as quietly as he entered. This time, when he leaves, he pulls the door shut, and the soft click of the latch resounds around the room, drowned out only by the rush of blood in Magnus' ears and the erratic pounding of his heart against his chest.

Chapter Text

Four centuries in, Magnus has never managed to train himself into being a morning person. It's too bright, and too early - even if he wakes up late - and his brain takes at least half an hour after rousing from slumber to begin functioning at even half capacity.

He especially doesn't like mornings in which he wakes up and feels like he's died and been warmed back up just enough to be brought back from the dead—but not enough to cure whatever fatal illness caused his death in the first place.

Which is rather how he feels when he's woken by the sound of scratching at his bedroom door. He groans, running a hand over his face, and presses himself deeper into the pillows, drawing the sheets up past his chin. No. No. Fuck no. He really, really doesn't want to return to reality this morning. He feels awful. His head hurts. He feels like he might throw up. Every muscle in his body aches.

More scratching, accompanied this time by pitiful meowing, makes Magnus groan again, louder, with more frustration. It's too early, and he feels too crap, but it's probably actually late - at least, judging by the amount of light cutting into his bedroom through the sides of his blackout blinds - and clearly, Chairman Meow wants feeding.

He very, very much wants to cry. He despises running himself out of magic that severely, because it always causes this—and it takes him a good twenty-four hours to recuperate properly.

(Really, he knows he should be grateful for that. It takes most warlocks days, or weeks. Some can't survive it at all. But it's very easy to take things for granted, and very difficult to be grateful for blessings that come in such agonisingly painful packages.)

At least he's home. He tries to think back to the night before, to the last client - a mundane woman working in that building with the Sight who'd needed help - and to afterwards turning multiple Circle members to ash that the wind blew away. And then—

Oh, yes. Alexander. He'd texted Alexander. And the Shadowhunter had come, surpassing all of Magnus' expectations. Not only had he come, but he'd walked Magnus home, which was, Magnus thinks, really very sweet, but probably very unnecessary.

Although, Alexander is an older brother, and clearly a caring person besides, and Magnus' appearance last night had probably been very alarming in comparison to his usual, energetic self.

The Chairman scratches at his door again, meowing louder this time, and Magnus cracks one eye open. The sound is utterly pitiful, at it's tugging at his heartstrings, but he's finding it near-impossible to summon the energy to move yet.

"Shhhh," a voice says, and Magnus hears quiet footsteps outside his bedroom door. "You've been fed, stop complaining. Leave Magnus alone."

Magnus freezes. Is that—? He turns his head in his pillow, and lifts himself up onto his elbows to stare at his closed bedroom door, eyes wide. The pounding inside his skull and the churning nausea in his stomach seems to fade into the background as his lips part, and he listens closely. There's no more scratching. He can hear murmurs, though, interspersed with soft, quiet little meows that don't hurt to listen to.

How the hell is Alexander still in his apartment? And why? Shouldn't he be back at the Institute, or out on patrol, or enacting the Clave's heavenly justice? Not that he's complaining, necessarily. He'd rather have an adorable cat-sitter than a rigid man with eyes only for that farce of a Law. He just doesn't understand.

Besides which, he's really not at his most attractive, and he's not quite sure Alexander has earned the right to see this, yet. Although, he supposes, he did fly him down from a roof yesterday, in the middle of the night. And walk him home. And get him into bed without letting him fall flat on his face.

And—

Did Alexander really kiss his forehead, or is that something dreamt up by Magnus' befuddled brain?

It takes him a further ten minutes to haul himself out of bed and stagger into the bathroom. And, yes, one glance in the mirror informs him that he does indeed look like a complete mess. He hadn't had very much make-up on, yesterday, but he's still got eyeliner and mascara smeared everywhere, and foundation and powder streaked across himself in ugly smears. He's a complete disaster.

After successfully cleaning off all his ruined make-up, he flicks the shower on, and drowns himself in water just shy of scalding in an attempt to soothe his muscles and get his mind off of Alec for five minutes. He doesn't quite manage either task, but it helps both just a little bit.

He drapes his long silk robe around himself when he's finished in the bathroom, and pads out of his room barefoot, bare-faced, with his hair towel-dried and unbrushed and sticking in all directions.

If Alec is too perturbed, Magnus is quite sure he can be directed to the front door without too much difficulty. And a phone number is very easy to delete.

The moment he steps out, a whirl of brown, white and black fur streaks towards him like a whippet and pounces on his toes, meowing like Magnus has been gone for years, not a day.

"You're so pathetic," Magnus says, bending to pick the cat up, even as he smiles dopily and kisses the Chairman's head. Twice. "Honestly, you embarrass yourself."

Chairman Meow blinks and head-buts him, knocking his head against Magnus' nose. Magnus laughs, and cradles him in his arms as he ventures further out towards the kitchen.

The smell of coffee hits him like a freight train, and oh, by Lilith, it's delicious. Magnus hasn't eaten since yesterday morning, too busy working to stop for lunch or dinner, and the thought of a hot cup of coffee to settle himself is horribly appealing.

Equally appealing, in an ever-growing number of terrifying ways, is the Shadowhunter standing in his kitchen, one hand resting on the countertop next to two take-out cups, the other tapping at his cell phone. A frown is etched into his face.

Someone really, really needs to tell Alexander not to frown so much. Magnus thinks he's probably going to end up giving himself an aneurism, with how much he worries. He wants to tell Alec that not everything in the world is his responsibility.

The Chairman makes an unhappy noise from his place in Magnus' arms; it makes Alec start. He glances up, half-turning, and does a double-take when he sees Magnus standing there, fingers ticking soothingly against Chairman Meow's side. Magnus does not miss the quick up-and-down Alec does of him, nor the way his cheeks tint just a little pink when he meets Magnus' eyes.

"H-Hi." Alec clears his throat. "I, um. Coffee. And French toast. If you want it."

Magnus can't help himself. He gapes at Alec, utterly astounded, fingers stilling in the Chairman's fur. Alec went out and bought him coffee? And French toast? He made the French toast, Magnus realises, when he sees a frying pan drying by the sink.

For once, Magnus finds himself at a loss. He opens his mouth to speak, but no words leap to the tip of his tongue, and he just...stares. He blames it on his current state. It's nothing to do with Alexander's terrifying ability to blow his expectations right out of the water. Nothing at all.

"What?" is the first word out of Magnus' mouth. "You– You didn't leave? Why on earth didn't you leave?"

Alec shifts, looking incredibly uncertain and a little uncomfortable, and Magnus realises that his words probably sounded like some kind of complaint, or accusation. Did he sound angry? He hadn't meant to sound angry. He's not angry. At all. Just...possibly more surprised than he's ever been in four centuries of (mostly) living.

"I did," Alec says, and it only increases Magnus' confusion. "I went home last night. I have to have left to get this, right?" He points to the coffee in cardboard take-out cups from Starbucks (and isn't Starbucks beyond the average Nephilim pay grade?) and Magnus thinks that that probably should have been obvious to him. "I went home, and then I went on morning patrol, and then I came back via Starbucks, because I—" He pauses, and then shrugs a little. "I wanted to make sure you were okay. You really didn't seem well last night."

But—

"How? How did you get back in?"

Alec furrows his eyebrows in confusion. "I didn't have a key, so I didn't lock the door. I couldn't. So I just came back in. I know that's not good practise, but I thought you'd probably have some kind of anti-thief magic deterrent, so I—"

"No, no, through the wards. My wards don't let people in, irrespective of the front door."

Alec's frown deepens. Magnus wants him to smile. It might make them both feel better. "I don't know. Were your wards up, when your magic was so...low?"

"They don't feed off my energy. They're just there," Magnus tells him. "There's no way they could have just let you through. Unless—"

Alec raises his eyebrows. "Unless?"

"Well." Magnus shifts Chairman Meow in his arms, fur tickling his chin. "Certain people are exempt. Myself, for example. Raphael. My friend Catarina. If I wasn't paying attention when I let you in last night, then I suppose..."

He trails off. Alec looks at him blankly, as though none of Magnus' words made any real impact on his brain. Magnus is too tired to explain how wards work to a Shadowhunter. He'll just have to check them all later, and make sure he didn't do anything stupid last night.

In lieu of commenting further, Magnus sets Chairman Meow down, and reaches out for the coffee that appears to be untouched. He takes a long, deep swig, letting the hot liquid scald down his throat, and the caffeine settles in to work its magic on his brain.

Alec shifts from foot to foot, fiddling with his own probably empty coffee cup, and glances around. He's clearly trying not to look at Magnus; he doesn't have the energy to consider what, exactly, is bothering Alec so much this morning.

Is it morning? Or afternoon?

"French toast?" Magnus asks, just to break the suffocatingly awkward silence that's sprung up between them. "I didn't realise male Nephilim knew how to boil a kettle, let alone cook."

Alec lets out a little laugh at that. It's nice, Magnus thinks, that he knows he's being teased, and that he's laughing about it. He wouldn't have been at all amused two months ago, when they first met. And Lilith, yes, even just a hint of a smile from Alec is making him feel exponentially better.

"Most of us don't," Alec admits, and passes the plate to Magnus in offering. "Hungry?"

"Starving," Magnus says, and Alec grins. It's a touch lopsided, errant and carefree and unreserved and so in contrast to the stoic, law-abiding Shadowhunter Magnus first met.

Magnus takes a bite, and makes a noise of appreciation in the back of his throat. He looks up at Alec in surprise, and says, "This is delicious."

Alec shrugs, looking at the toast rather than at Magnus. "My culinary skills are fairly limited."

"If most Shadowhunter men don't cook, why do you?" Magnus asks. He pads across the kitchen to the island in the middle, bare feet slapping lightly on the floor, and slides himself onto a stool, gesturing for Alec to join him.

Alec settles himself on a stool at the opposite side of the island, and leans his arms gingerly on the marble top, as though he thinks a demon might leap out of it and claw his face off. Magnus has to scoff down another mouthful of food to quell his smile.

"After I got to the age of about twelve, my parents didn't really worry too much about feeding us. We could do it ourselves. And most of the time, that was just take-out." Alec is tracing random patterns across the countertop with his index finger, eyes a little glazed over, clearly far away in his mind. "None of us knew how to cook, but we got sick of take-out eventually. So Isabelle decided she needed to learn."

"And you're a good big brother, so you decided to oversee?"

Alec smiles ruefully. "Not exactly. She was terrible at cooking. She still is. I don't know how she manages to make food so deadly. But after she gave us all food poisoning for the third time, Jace and I decided that we needed to learn, just for the sake of not dying from salmonella-infested food. So we learnt some basics." He glances up, meeting Magnus' unglamoured eyes without flinching even slightly. "French toast is actually Max's favourite."

Magnus arches an eyebrow, because Alec is only ever so animated when he talks about his family, and he wants to encourage it. "Your little brother, right?"

"Yeah." A fond smile crosses his face. "He's in Idris with my parents a lot, so we don't see him that much anymore. Jace used to go and visit a lot, because he always wanted the excuse to see Clary. So did Izzy, a bit."

"You're just the unsocial butterfly?"

Magnus had meant it as a joke, but Alec shrugs, and nods diplomatically. "Pretty much."

There's a moment of silence. Alec stares steadfastly down at his hands, rubbing his thumb against the side of his opposite hand far harder than Magnus thinks is probably healthy. There are cuts and bruises on his knuckles, ugly and purplish and clearly not healed with an iratze. Magnus finishes his toast, trying not to be bothered by Alec's behaviour. Why should he care what he's doing?

But...that's got to hurt. All of it. How the hell did he get such battered hands, anyway? He's sure they hadn't been like that last night. He'd have noticed.

He watches Alec for a minute longer, pressing against and digging into his hand. It's not hard enough to leave any real damage, but it's enough to make a rose-red mark against porcelain-pale skin.

"Hey." Magnus reaches over and touches his fingers to the back of Alec's. The Shadowhunter glances up at him, fingers stilling. "Are you alright, little angel?"

"Do you have to call me that?" Alec asks in reply, a faint shadow of a smile tilting at his mouth.

It doesn't escape Magnus' notice that he avoided the question entirely, but he supposes he has to choose his battles with Alexander. He's stopped that infernal scrubbing at his hand, at least. He's doing that sweet little movement instead, lifting his thumb to brush the tip against Magnus'. It's not enough to class as holding hands, but it's enough for Magnus to feel sure that Alec doesn't mind being touched.

And it's warm. It's so warm, in the best possible way. It's the kind of warm that seeps into chilly bones on frozen nights in front of crackling fires, hands wrapped around mugs of steaming hot chocolate and sweater-clad torsos pressed together.

"Do you want me to drop the irony?" Magnus asks, wondering if Alec will remember.

Alec frowns a little, momentarily, before his expression clears, and his eyes soften. "I don't really care."

"Hm." Magnus shifts the tip of a finger, dragging it across Alec's hand, before stilling again. "Do you have to be going back to the Institute?"

"Soon." Alec licks his lips - another nervous tick Magnus has noticed - and clears his throat. "Are you, um. How- How are you?"

"Fabulous, darling," Magnus says, with a smile, before he lets it deflate a bit so that Alec knows he's being serious. "I'll be fine. I slept well. Until my cat got a little bit too needy."

Alec scratches at the back of his neck with his free hand in clear embarrassment. "I tried to stop him. Sorry. I was cooking."

"Oh, no, it's quite alright." He waves away Alec's apology with a flourish, bare fingers scattering blue sparks through the air just for the hell of it. Alexander's eyes follow the movement.

"Are you sure?" Alec asks, and it takes Magnus a moment to realise that Alec is asking if he's sure he'll be alright, not if he's sure he didn't mind being woken up by Chairman Meow.

He gazes at Alec across the island and squeezes his hand gently. "Perfectly. I have an automated system that sends off cancellation emails to my day's clients if I'm down, so I'll do all of nothing today. I think I'll survive. I've survived much worse without one of the Nephilim worrying over my shoulder."

He smiles, because he's teasing, yes, but he appreciates Alec's kindness. Alexander glances down at the countertop, embarrassment burning pink across his cheekbones; Magnus thinks he might want to brush his fingers over that blush. He also thinks he's a little more fond of it than he cares to admit. A little more fond of Alexander than he cares to admit.

"I'm sorry," Alec says, and Magnus wants to tell him that he shouldn't be apologising for being compassionate. But then, he supposes that compassion is hardly a rewarded trait among the Nephilim. "Maybe it's because I've got younger siblings. I can't help it. I worry. And last night, you were..." He trails off, and shakes his head.

"I know," Magnus tells him, softly. Alec doesn't lift his eyes from the countertop, but Magnus watches him anyway. "Everyone always panics when I'm anything but my usual fabulous self. I'm not really allowed to freak out, or crack."

Alec's eyes snap up at that, and he shakes his head with a vehemence that stops Magnus' thoughts instantly. "No, that's not what I meant. I just meant that you seemed really...I don't know, sick. And I don't want to leave and then have Raphael snapping at my ass because you're passed out or dead or—"

"Firstly," Magnus says, a little amused but nonetheless touched, "Raphael would sooner tell me it's my own stupid fault than blame you. And secondly, sick and exhausted are different. I've slept. I'm fine."

Alec smiles, small and bashful, but he doesn't say anything else, instead dropping his eyes back down to the marble surface of the island. Magnus can't help but wonder why he cares so much about whether Magnus is about to pass out, or die. He certainly didn't seem to care very much a few weeks ago.

"I think I should go," Alec murmurs, and he doesn't look at Magnus as he speaks.

He withdraws his hand quickly, sliding it out from underneath Magnus' without preamble, and takes several steps away, as though Magnus' presence is stealing all the oxygen in the room and he needs to put distance between them to breathe.

When he passes out of the kitchen without so much as glancing over his shoulder, Magnus rises, and follows him out into the hallway.

"Alexander—"

But Alec is already tugging open the front door. He steps over the threshold in silence, and Magnus stares after him in slack-jawed astonishment as he jogs down the steps and throws open the door to the apartment block with so much force it startles the mundane lady walking up.

What in Lilith's name was that all about?

***

After they return from morning patrol, and Alec disappears with a muttered explanation to Jace that most definitely includes Magnus, Isabelle spends an hour in the training room, hitting a punching bag as hard as she possibly can.

She pounds her fists into it over and over and over again, until her knuckles are split and bleeding, and every muscle in her body aches, and all she can hear is the rush of blood in her ears, and the way Alec had said Magnus' name when he told her about the events stemming from Magnus' call last night. He'd been hyped up on adrenaline, frozen through and shivering and worried about the High Warlock of Brooklyn like he worries about her and Jace and Max.

She wonders, as the dull thwack of bruised and battered flesh hitting unforgiving leather fills the air, whether her brother realises. Whether he realises what's going on in his own head, in his own heart, or whether he's too deep in conditioned prejudice to understand his own emotions.

It's better, thinking about Alec, worrying about Alec, than worrying about her own mind. It's better fearing for what she knows Alec will have to do at some point soon—kill Magnus Bane. Or, at least, be a part of the team that does. Give the order.

And he will, she thinks, landing a harder punch that makes her grit her teeth and grunt. Because he's such a perfect Clave soldier, and whatever beautifully insane things he's been doing recently, he's not going to rebel that much. As soon as Maryse returns from Idris indefinitely, she's going to want to see the New York Institute actively tracking Magnus. She's going to want him dead. She's going to demand his slaughter in recompense for their own actions in freeing the Downworlders—the Downworlders they were coward enough to capture in the first place.

So it's her fault too, she supposes, bitterness filling her. Her fault that her brother is going to have to, at the very least, watch, while the man who's changed his life is hunted and tortured and executed.

They're supposed to be searching for him now. She wonders why Lydia hasn't brought it up. None of them have mentioned it - not even Raj - but she must know. She just...hasn't even alluded to the topic.

Which, Isabelle supposes, is a small blessing. But, at some point, unless Alec is willing to risk everything - and Raziel knows if he is, she and Jace will stand with him - the Shadowhunters of the New York Institute are going to murder Magnus Bane in cold blood.

And it's their own fault. Hers, and Alec's, and Jace's. They made the plan. They reached out to make such an alliance. They were too coward to say a word afterwards. They practically signed Magnus' death warrant.

Did Magnus realise, when he formulated such a plan, and made that alliance with her and Alec? Did he think about who the blame would inevitably land upon? Did he think about the consequences?

Or did he just see Alec begging him for mercy?

A sob hitches in Isabelle's throat. One fist meets the punching bad so hard she swallows a scream, and the next misses entirely, tears stinging in her eyes until she's blinded. She falls forward, gripping the top of the bag with both bleeding, throbbing hands, and lets her forehead rest against the leather, hot tears of fury and rage and hopeless indignation sliding down her cheeks. She cries for her broken, irreparable relationship with Meliorn, and she cries for her own naïveté, and she cries for her brother, because meeting Magnus Bane has been the best thing that's ever happened to him, and now it's going to scar him and ruin him forever.

And he doesn't even realise.

There's a creak, and the sound of heels clicking on stone, and Isabelle stiffens as the training room door slides open. There's only one other person currently in the Institute who wears heels and would walk into the training room at this time—Lydia.

Fuck, Isabelle isn't in the mood. Lydia is exactly why she came in here in the first place. Because no matter how much she wants to hate her, she can't. She despises her, and she despises the way Lydia looks down on her, and she despises how fucking perfect she is in all the ways Isabelle could never be, but for the love of God, she can't hate her. Everything in her heart wants to like Lydia.

And her head doesn't understand why.

Lydia makes her nervous, and self-conscious, because she can tell that Lydia judges everything about her—and Isabelle doesn't want her to. Isabelle cares about what some archaic bitch from Idris thinks, and fuck, Isabelle doesn't give a shit about what anybody thinks, unless they're someone she loves.

"We've got another body in," Lydia says, from the doorway, the sound of heels on the floor increasing in volume as she approaches.

Isabelle is facing away from the door, head still resting against the punching bag, and she's not going to turn around and look at her. She can't. She can't let someone like Lydia see her with her walls down, defences stripped away, all of her so entirely vulnerable.

Three people in the world are allowed to see her like this.

Well. Two. One of them had that status revoked when he broke up with her.

Fuck, she misses Meliorn more than she cares to admit. More than she expected to.

"Mundane with the Sight, we think. Preliminary observation suggests more of Valentine's experiments, but we need a full examination and a conclusive result, and— By the Angel, Isabelle." Lydia sounds horrified. It's the most emotion she's ever heard in the woman's voice, and it's almost enough to make Isabelle look up.

Almost, but not quite.

"I'll be fifteen minutes," Isabelle says, into the punching bag, arms shielding her face from view where she's got her fingers up on the chains above her head that snake up to the ceiling to attach the bag to the rafters. "Let me shower and change and prep. Ditch the body in the lab."

"Isabelle—" Lydia sounds like she's barely heard her. Her voice is hushed, but perfectly clear, and Isabelle can see her standing to one side, a mere metre or two away. It's too close. Isabelle wants her to fuck off.

"What?" Isabelle demands. "If you're looking for Alec, he's out discussing an old case with a warlock."

"Your hands," Lydia says, voice heavy with emphasis and laced with what Isabelle thinks might be revulsion. "Are you alright? Raziel, did you do this now? Tell me this is from this morning."

"I did this now, training," Isabelle snaps. "My wellbeing is none of your business. Leave me the hell alone."

She looks up, finally, when Lydia doesn't speak. Lydia is staring at her, leaning a little away from her, clearly taken aback. She blinks, and shakes her head a little, clearly stunned into silence. Isabelle sneers at her.

"Why do you hate me so much?" Lydia asks, searching her face with infuriating earnestness. Isabelle slightly wants to slap her. She doesn't very often want to inflict bodily harm on other women - she's usually more into girl love, platonically and otherwise - but Lydia...

"Oh, please." Isabelle sorts, and lifts a hand to wipe at her tear-streaked face. "Have a fucking guess. You think I'm scum. You're so up yourself, such a perfect Idris woman, you can't abide anyone like me. I'm not going to like you for marching into my home and acting like I'm so disgusting you can't even bring yourself to shake my hand the first time you meet me."

Lydia's lips part, eyes wide, and she gapes at Isabelle in clear astonishment. "I what?" she asks, incredulity increasing the pitch of her voice. "I don't think you're scum. What in the world– Why would I think that? And what the hell did I do to give you that impression?"

"You look at me like that all the time," Isabelle says, rolling her eyes. "I'm not stupid, don't lie."

"Isabelle. Raziel. I don't think that. I really don't. I don't think I'm better than you. If anything, I think exactly the opposite. You're ridiculously intelligent, you're an incredible fighter, and I admire you for being so unashamedly yourself in everything you do. In the way you present yourself, in your passion for what you believe, in the way you love your brothers." She shakes her head, eyes boring into Isabelle's. "I'm not some old, backwards moron from Idris still living in denial about everything. I don't care what - or who - your social life comprises of, and I don't care what you do when you're not working, as long as it's legal, and I certainly don't care what you wear."

Isabelle snorts, and thinks about her escapade with Jace and Alec, freeing dozens of Downworld prisoners. "Some of what I do isn't legal."

"Then don't tell me about it and I won't be obliged to report you," Lydia says simply, reaching into the inside pocket of her jacket. She draws out a stele, and extends her other hand towards Isabelle, indicating her ruined hands. "May I?"

After a moment's hesitation, Isabelle inclines her head, and allows Lydia to draw a healing rune on the outside of both wrists. She hisses, knuckles stinging as the mangled flesh begins to knit back together and the bruises begin to heal over.

"You Lightwoods are terrible," Lydia says, with a shake of her head. "You're all predisposed to do this when you're upset."

"Mostly Alec," Isabelle admits, but she shrugs, and nods a little. "But yes. We're not exactly encouraged to talk about our feelings."

"Nobody is," Lydia says, and smiles a little. "Now, lab?"

"Shower first."

Lydia nods at her, just once, before she turns on her heel and strides out.

And Isabelle... Well. Maybe she can justify her inability to hate Lydia now. But a half-assed explanation certainly doesn't mean she likes her, or trusts her. She's still a Clave envoy, and she's still, inevitably, going to be key in ruining everything bright that's suddenly blooming in Alec's life.

Chapter Text

Alec doesn't speak to Magnus for thirteen days after their impromptu breakfast.

He gets two texts from the warlock, during that time: one thanking him for breakfast, and one asking him if he's alright. And, frankly, neither are things the High Warlock of Brooklyn should be texting the Acting Head of the New York Institute.

He can't bring himself to reply. Not after that night, and the resulting morning. He doesn't know what kind of crazy magic pheromones Magnus Bane likes to release to fuck with people, but he's had enough. He's had enough of having his mind scrambled. He's had enough of being fucked with. He's had enough of feeling like his entire world is spinning and tilting and tipping to realign itself towards Magnus every time they're in the same room, breathing the same air.

He can't bear it. He can't bear the way the warlock makes his heart pound and his chest tighten and his palms sweat, and he despises how comfortable he's become in the home of such a lethal man, and he's furious with himself for how often he lets his guard down around Magnus.

He trusts him. And he likes him. And by the Angel, he can't help wanting to be around him. He can't help feeling warm whenever their hands touch, and then cold when Magnus pulls back.

But Jesus Christ, what had possessed him, that night? Walking him home had been one thing that crossed far too many lines, but going inside? Allowing himself to be led to his bedroom? Drawing his sheets up, kissing his forehead?

It's magic. It's got to be some kind of magic. And Alec is fucking pissed.

With Maryse due home in a matter of days, he can't afford to be distracted by such things. He's supposed to be hunting Magnus– hunting Bane, not cozying up to his cat and cooking him breakfast.

Bane has to die. He has to locate him, formulate a plan, and complete his mission, irrespective of anything else. It's his job. They're his orders. If he disobeys, he puts his entire family at risk.

He's done fucking around. He's done making nice with a warlock. He's done having stupid text conversations. He has a job to do, and he can't afford to put anything before it. Certainly not some trivial friendship - if it can even be called that - with Warlock Bane.

He's surprised, honestly, that Lydia has yet to bring the subject of their supposed hunt for Warlock Bane up. She's been so thorough in everything else, he can't help but wonder why she's so far let the clear absence of any form of search slip.

It all makes sense, when they come back from morning patrol and she asks him to follow her into what used to be his mother's office. He raises his eyebrows, but, later, he thinks that maybe he knew exactly what was coming, somewhere deep in the darkest recesses of his mind.

"Take a seat," Lydia says, as she slides elegantly into her own chair and flips her braids back over her shoulder. She's pretty, Alec thinks, as he watches her. Beautiful, even. Smart, strategic, strong, determined.

Everything about her is the kind of thing someone like him is supposed to fall in love with.

But nothing gives. There's nothing in his heart that tugs, nothing in his chest that aches, no tripping pulse or rushing, roaring blood or adrenaline surging through him.

Nothing.

Nothing like with—

No. No. It's magic, it's not real. It's some stupid, fucked-up Magic.

"I'm fine," he tells her. "I don't mean to rush you, but I've got reports to file, so if we could..." He trails off, and makes a vague gesture with his hand to indicate that she should just say whatever it is she pulled him in here for.

"Yes." She folds her hands in front of her, and leans forward, looking up at him over the desk. "You know why I'm really here, Alec. Not because anything about the way you run things is ineffective. Certainly not because you are an ineffective leader."

He doesn't miss the emphasis, and he wonders whether she's implying things about his parents. Once, he might have bristled at the suggestion. Now, with Bane's stories ringing in his ears, haunting his mind, he can't find it in himself to give a shit.

"The Downworld escape," Alec says, nodding once. "I know."

"The New York Institute filed a very long report on the incident, with the conclusion that the most likely culprit was the High Warlock of Brooklyn, Magnus Bane. With, potentially, an inside accomplice, but as that's yet to be confirmed, I have instructions to focus on the larger issue. The issue of Warlock Bane, which is, of course, an issue that goes beyond this small, isolated incident."

Alec nods again to show that he's listening, while his heart hammers so hard against his ribs he's surprised Lydia can't hear. It's painful. His chest is tightening, and his stomach is churning, anxiety making his every nerve ending turn over and twist painfully.

"The Institute is supposed to be actively searching for Warlock Bane," Lydia says, "but, understandably, I've found very little evidence, save for a few automated systems on your computers that have found nothing."

Alec blinks at her. "Understandably?"

"Well, yes. I imagine it's a very daunting task, to be landed with the responsibility of hunting down a man who's evaded the Clave for decades." She unfolds and refolds her hands, locking her fingers together differently, and her gaze doesn't waver as she stares up at him. "Which is why I've made a decision about how to make this a more effective mission."

Alec tries to swallow, but finds he can't. He clears his throat, and curls his fingers into his palms in an attempt to stop them shaking. "O-Oh?"

"I believe that the sole responsibility to carry out this mission should lie with you, Alec," she says, and Alec feels the world crash and fall away around him, like someone just let off a grenade under his feet that destroyed everything in the vicinity but left him untouched.

He can't breathe.

"W-Why?" he asks, and digs his nails into his already-sore hands. They break the skin of his palms, and he feels the viscous sensation of blood seeping onto his fingertips. "Why not Jace? He's a better Shadowhunter than I am. A better fighter. He's an incredible tactician, he's—"

"I think you put yourself down far too much," Lydia tells him, with a small smile on her face. "Jace is the best fighter we've seen for generations, yes. But you have better control. You think with your head, not with your heart. Your sense of duty, your sense of loyalty and dedication to your family and to the Clave and our work, is unparalleled. Trust me, I've thought long and hard about this. I understand that what I'm asking of you is a lot. But I trust you. I trust that you'll do this."

He can't speak. He opens his mouth, words in his mind, but none of them can crawl up his throat into his mouth. His chest is rising and falling quickly, heavily, and he can't stay in this office a moment longer.

"Alright," he says, trying not to gasp, because it's the fastest way he knows to get himself the fuck out of here. "Alright. I'll do it."

Lydia smiles, and Alec thinks he's going to throw up all over the delicately embroidered rug on the floor—a rug looted from a Downworlder in the 1920s, his parents have told him proudly, far too many times. Maybe there would be some sense of dramatic irony in vomiting all over it.

"Excellent," she says, while Alec tries not to scream.

***

The moment he gets out of Lydia's office, he heads to the training room. He needs to punch something. He needs to get everything out of his system. He needs to shut off his mind for an hour, allow himself to focus in on what's important—his family, and his duty.

Because whatever he feels about this, however it feels to think about killing Bane, he has to. He doesn't have a choice. If he doesn't, it'll be a lot more than his reputation that's damaged. It could destroy everything.

He loses himself to the rhythmic smack of fists against leather, to the dull thwack of arrows hitting the dead centre of targets, to the metallic clank as he smashes a sword against a wooden dummy over and over and over again, until it splits in two and the top half rolls across the floor.

"Wow," says a voice from the doorway. "Not even I've managed to do that. Well. Only that one time when Clary and I had our first fight. But I think you did it with more gusto."

Alec scowls at the dummy, and throws the battered sword to the floor. It clatters painfully loudly as it hits the stone, but he ignores it in favour for reaching out for his bow and quiver. He pays even less attention to his parabatai, leaning against the closed door with his arms folded across his chest where his hoodie is half zipped up with nothing beneath it, hair still damp from the shower. Alec doesn't know when he got there, and he doesn't care.

He doesn't care.

He doesn't fucking care anymore.

"Do you know your hands are bleeding?" Jace asks, with the air of someone enquiring as to whether or not Alec is aware that he's got a fluffy piece of debris in his hair.

"Fuck off, Jace."

"Not until you tell me what's bothering you."

Alec closes his eyes for a moment as he lifts his bow in an attempt to calm the rage coiling in his gut, threatening to spill through his veins like magma rushing up inside a volcano before it explodes, hot lava and rock and ash raining down, devastating the area around it.

"I'm fine."

"Bullshit," Jace says, but it's mild. Jace has got so much milder, since meeting Clary. No longer so highly strung, so ready to rip into everyone and anything, so ready to launch himself into danger without a moment's thought.

It's fucking infuriating. Alec wants Jace to rage at him. He wants Jace to shout, scream, fight with him, punch him, throw him on the floor and make him kick back. He wants pain and blood and adrenaline to overpower every other feeling in existence, until he's made of anger and violence and cold, detached fury. He's want Jace to push him there.

But he won't.

"Alec, we're parabatai, I know you're not okay. You don't have to hide in the training room making yourself bleed because you're so upset. You can talk about it."

Alec chooses to ignore him, instead taking his first shot. He exhales as he releases the arrow, satisfaction stretching his lips into a thin, bitter smile full of harsh angles and unforgiving lines.

"You're rubbing off on Izzy, you know," Jace continues. "Lydia said she was in here punching that damn bag until her knuckles split. Hadn't even wrapped her hands."

Izzy had been upset? Why? Why hadn't she told him?

"By the Angel, Alec."

And, suddenly, Jace is in front of him, right as he's about to let an arrow fly, and it's only the quick-thinking rune on his forearm that stops him shooting his parabatai in the heart. Alec's eyes go wide, and he freezes, chest heaving as he stares at Jace.

"I was about to shoot you."

"Back at you," Jace says, with a roll of his eyes, looking entirely unbothered. His expression shifts to one of concern as he takes a step closer. "Alec, come on, I'm not really one for deep emotional talks, but you're hurting. And it's hurting me watching you tear yourself apart."

Lowering his bow, Alec lets his gaze drop to the floor, and shakes his head. Weights drag his shoulders in until he's hunched over, half the size he was before; then they pull him down further, until his bow drops to the floor and his knees fold and he sinks to the stone tiles of the training room floor. His fingers clasp at the back of his head, tugging and pulling at his hair insistently.

It's only when he hears Jace's sharp intake of breath, and feels warm arms wrap around him, that he realises what a mess he must look. Bleeding knuckles and bruised hands don't exactly give him the appearance of a stable leader.

"Tell me what happened," Jace murmurs, against the side of his head, and Raziel, Alec can't count the number of times they've been in this precise position, reversed, with Jace breaking down and falling apart while Alec attempts to hold him together.

"I can't, Jace," he whispers, letting himself fall against his parabatai, pressing into his side, head on Jace's shoulder. "I can't."

"Can't what?"

He shakes his head desperately, horrified to feel tears stinging at his eyes; he grips onto his parabatai, because he doesn't know what else to do. He doesn't know who to turn to. He doesn't know what to say, or where to beg for help.

Because Alec doesn't need help. Other people need his help. His siblings, his parabatai, his parents—they lean on him. And, of course, he leans on Izzy and Jace, sometimes, on missions, or if he ever gets hurt, or if he's particularly exhausted and had an awful day.

But not like this. Not for something this big. This is potentially catastrophic. Something with no simple answer. Something with no answer at all, other than the one he already knows.

Magnus Bane has to die, and he has to be the one to do it.

"Alec, hey, hey." Jace's arms tighten around him for a moment, before he's pulling back, holding Alec by his shoulders so he can search his face with devastating seriousness. "Can't what?"

"I can't kill him, Jace," Alec says, chest heaving, eyes wide and wild, thoughts erratic and disjointed, his mind unable to focus on one thing at once. "I can't. But I have to, and I—"

"Who?" Jace stares at him, eyes flickering between both of his. "Who? Alec, what are you talking about?"

"Magnus," Alec whispers, and closes his eyes as nausea rockets through him. "Jace, I can't."

"Did Lydia tell you you have to do this?" Jace asks, and there's a steel to his voice beneath the gentleness and the care and the love. "That fucking—"

"She's just doing her job," Alec says, tiredly, because Raziel knows this isn't Lydia's fault. After all, the Clave itself and a soldier of the Clave are very different.

But then again, it begins to sound meaningless, the more times Alec hears it, out of his parents' mouths, out of his own, out of every Shadowhunter he's ever met defending actions they know are diabolical.

I must do my duty. I'm following orders. I'm just doing my job.

Izzy's right. It's not good enough. But fuck, it's hard to know what else to do when the risk is so great. What difference can one measly Shadowhunter make against an entire Institution built on prejudice and blatant racism?

"Alec, listen to me." Jace tightens his grip on Alec's shoulders, the increased pressure grounding him. "You do not have to kill Magnus. The Clave has no right to turn you into a murderer."

"They think he's a murderer," Alec says, letting his eyes close. He's so tired. So fucking tired. He wants all this to stop. He's had enough. It was so much simpler before all this, but he can't go back to that ignorant mindset, oblivious to everything around him, unwilling to see beyond the poorly constructed façade.

When Alec opens his eyes again, Jace has raised his eyebrows. "They think he's a murderer?"

"He's not," Alec tells him. "Not any more than you or I."

Jace shrugs diplomatically, but he doesn't ask for Alec to expand. "I suppose it wouldn't be the first time the Clave's exaggerated stories about Downworlders to make them look like criminals."

"What do I do?" Alec whispers, imploring Jace with his eyes.

"You suck up whatever it was that made you go from worrying yourself sick about him to running away from him the other week, and you go and talk to him," Jace says, as though it's the simplest thing in the world. "You knock on his door, you tell him you're sorry for whatever happened— No, fuck that, you tell him the truth."

"I don't even know what the truth is," Alec admits.

Jace sighs, and pulls Alec back into a hug. "Oh, you poor repressed soul."

Alec smacks half-heartedly at Jace's shoulder, even as he's relaxing into his parabatai's embrace, their hearts beating not in synch, but in perfect alternation, one then the other, thud-thud, thud-thud, answering each other, two halves of the same soul.

"It seems pretty obvious from where I'm sitting," Jace says, softly. "But I think this is something you should stumble across yourself. Just don't let the Clave rule your heart, Alec. Okay?"

Alec nods against Jace's shoulder, although he's not quite sure what he's agreeing to. His heart? When did this become about his heart? This is about the fact that he can't murder an innocent man in cold blood.

Isn't it?

"Okay," Alec says, and closes his eyes again, just for a moment letting Jace carry all the responsibility that he can simply never shed.

***

Lydia's tapping at her laptop when her office door flies open, so hard it cracks into the wall and leaves a mark. She blinks, looking up, and she's horribly unsurprised to see Isabelle in the doorway, eyes frantic.

She's just not sure why.

"You can't do this," Isabelle says, and she's pleading, eyes wide, staring at Lydia with a devastating desperation that makes her chest ache. "You can't. Please, please don't do this."

"Do what?" Lydia asks, rising out of her seat to shut the door. She has a feeling that whatever this is, that's upsetting Isabelle so much, it's not something to be overheard by the entire Institute.

Isabelle's wearing her lab coat, hair pulled up and held in place by her stele, strands escaping at the front and framing her face. It's probably an inappropriate time for Lydia to consider that Isabelle is beautiful, in every sense of the word, but she does anyway.

"This," Isabelle says. "To Alec. What you're doing to my brother, you can't—"

Tears well in Isabelle's eyes. She blinks furiously, and Lydia turns away: she certainly doesn't feel like she's earned the right to be privy to Isabelle's innermost emotions like this. Instead, she pulls over a chair, indicates that Isabelle should take a seat, and then leans against her desk to listen.

"You can't ask this of Alec," Isabelle says, in a more measured, controlled voice. "It's not fair."

"Someone has to do it," Lydia replies, with a frown. Why is it such a problem that she's chosen Alec? Why has that upset Isabelle so much? Alec's the perfect candidate. He's loyal, he's dutiful, he's determined, and he's skilled.

"Not him. It doesn't have to be him. Lydia—" Isabelle leans forward and reaches out to grasp at her wrist. "Please. You don't- You don't understand."

"No, you're right," Lydia agrees, focusing on Isabelle's face rather than the sensation of smooth fingers on the vulnerable skin of her wrist. "I don't."

"Ask anyone. Anyone in the world. By the Angel, ask me, ask Jace, ask Raj, just don't ask Alec."

Lydia stares at her, utterly confused, and shakes her head. "It's too late for that. I've sent the message to the Clave. It's confirmed."

"The Clave?" Isabelle looks horrified, and a deep, dark feeling of dread settles in the pit of Lydia's stomach as she considers that she might have done something very, very wrong. She just doesn't have the slightest clue why. "No, no, you can't– You have to do something, this can't—"

There's a light knock at the door, and it clicks open, slowly, light from the corridor trickling into the dimly lit office. Jace's silhouette is outlined by yellow fluorescent lighting; he pauses, eyes dropping down to where Isabelle has her hand wrapped around Lydia's wrist, and Lydia realises that she's curled her fingers towards Isabelle's—towards, but not touching.

"Excuse me for eavesdropping," Jace says, stepping further into the room and pushing the door gently shut behind him, "but I think, Lydia, you might have more luck if we take this away from my parabatai and to an entirely different angle."

Isabelle gapes at Jace, and then fury, fiery and passionate, flashes through her eyes. She snatches her hand back from Lydia's wrist and stands, toe to toe with her brother.

"Jace, what the fuck—"

"Why," Jace says, holding a hand up to Izzy, "exactly, is the Clave under the impression that Magnus Bane needs killing at all?"

Lydia blinks. Has everyone in this Institute lost their mind? No wonder she's been sent in. Alec seems to be the only one among them who's remained rational.

"He's a mass murdering warlock who practises dark magic, endangers the lives of millions, and broke the Law by breaking out Conclave prisoners. Why on earth wouldn't he need killing?"

Jace's lips tip up at one corner, a faint smile on his face. "I trust you," he says. "I don't know why, because Angel knows you've done fuck all to gain our trust, but I do. I want you to swear to me, on the Angel, that what I'm about to say doesn't go outside of this room. For our sake. For Alec's, for mine, for Izzy's." He tilts his head to one side, considering. "For yours, because frankly, if you report this to the Clave and endanger my brother, there's a man in a Brooklyn loft who is going to be pissed. And I'm not sure even the Clave could out-piss him."

Involuntarily, her eyes flicker across to Isabelle, who's listening to her brother with her lips parted, astonishment and apprehension written into every line of her face. Lydia doesn't want her to be apprehensive. She certainly doesn't want any information leaked to the Clave that would harm her, or Alec, or Jace. She's been here for three weeks, but, nevertheless, she's fond of the Lightwoods. She cares about them. She hasn't let herself care about anybody for years.

But—

"Jace, you know I can't," she says, imploring him to understand. "I'm a Clave representative. I'm duty-bound—"

"To report innocent people to a corrupt central power that needs a huge overhaul and a kick up the ass?" Isabelle snaps. "No. You're not. You're a Clave representative, sure, but before that, you're a Shadowhunter. Your job is to protect mundanes, kill demons, and keep peace in the Shadow World by making sure our every decision is just. And before that? You're a living, breathing, conscious person, just like every other mundane, Downworlder and Shadowhunter in the world. There are morals and codes and duties at go beyond the Clave's twisted priorities."

She doesn't know what it is about Isabelle, about the way she talks with such unadulterated conviction, but it unsettles Lydia. The words strike right into her heart, and she's not entirely sure why. There's nothing personal about this. She's never been an unconventional Shadowhunter woman. Rather the opposite.

And yet, a mere few sentences from Isabelle has her with those words on the tip of her tongue. I swear. I swear on the Angel. I swear on the Angel, I won't say a word to the Clave.

"Trust me," Isabelle says, and Lydia's wants, so badly, to tell her that she does. "You want to know this. You'll want to do something about this. Because at the moment, you, the Clave, are making a terrible mistake."

For a long, hard moment, they stare at each other, Isabelle's gaze entirely steady as Lydia searches her eyes for some hidden clue as to what on earth the siblings are on about.

"Alright," she says at last. "I swear on the Angel's name, I will not allow this information to leave these walls. It remains between the three of us."

Jace and Isabelle both let out identical, audible sighs of relief. Lydia wants to smile in amusement, but she's too worried about what the hell she's getting herself into.

"You might want to sit down," Jace suggests, but she shakes her head, and folds her arms over her chest. Jace shrugs. "Well, I suppose we should start with the fact that Magnus Bane is not a mass murderer. And he's living in New York. Has been for decades. And Alec's with him right now."

***

Across the city, Clary Fray drags her best friend through the rain-splattered streets, with only the ghostly moonlight and the hiss of rain as it slashes against them, the wind biting through their jackets and cold seeping into their skin.

Well. Cold seeps into her skin. Simon doesn't feel the cold anymore.

It's one of the many things he's had to get used to, over the last three years. Not feeling the cold, but feeling cold to other people. Not needing to breathe, but feeling decidedly inhuman when he doesn't. Wanting to drink the mochas from the cute little café by his old high school, but needing blood.

Blood.

Just thinking the word makes his fangs extend, digging into his lower lip painfully. It's so stupid. He should know better than to do this by now, but god, it's hard. The last three years have been hard, and he's not really sure how to make it easier on himself.

He'd spent the first two months after he'd transformed hanging around with Luke, because heck if he'd known where else he was supposed to go. Home hadn't really been an option, and there was no way he'd lower himself to chilling out at the Hotel Dumort—not after Raphael Santiago had laid some whacked-up encanto shit over his mother, to make her think that he'd gone to university in London, or something.

Luke's pack seem to have got used to his presence, mostly because Maia had eventually given him her seal of approval. He gets kicked out fairly often, when they're discussing private, wolf-y things. Simon doesn't really care. He just wishes there was somewhere he fitted in. Because he's welcome with the wolves—but not by all of them. And he can't go home. And he's certainly not welcome at the Institute. Alright, Isabelle's nice enough, in a deadly sort of way, and Jace is cool, when he's not being an asshole, but everyone else? They hate him.

The look Alec Lightwood gives him every time they meet is enough to make Simon want to run for the hills. He's a Downworlder. They don't want him there.

Suffering so much time so far away from Clary has been just as hard. But it's no excuse for this. It's no excuse for behaving like a newborn again, and completely failing to watch his blood intake, until he'd been out with Clary and had had to restrain himself from digging into some poor dude that passed them.

He shudders a little at the memory of how desperate he'd been. He'd forced himself not to feed, but god, it had been hard.

The Hotel Dumort looms into view, and Clary glances over at him. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, Clary I'm great," he says, and lets out a weak laugh. "I'm trying not to eat you, but I'm great."

She rolls her eyes, a smile tugging at her lips. "You're such an idiot. Raphael is going to kill you."

"I really, really don't want to speak to Raphael. You remember when we were seven and I made you explain to my mom why I'd sprayed ketchup everywhere? You explain to Raphael why you've dragged his least favourite person in the world to his doorstep."

"I'm pretty sure Jace is his least favourite person in the world," Clary says. "And no. You're an adult."

Clary raises a hand to knock on the vampires' front door, and Simon raises his eyebrows.

"Since when do you knock? Don't you normally, you know, charge in, guns blazing, stab first ask questions later?"

"Not since I've learnt about the Accords," Clary says, glancing over her shoulder. "Can you hear that? Is that a shax demon?"

"No, it's a cat. And it's tiny. Don't you think I would have heard the demon before you? Do you even have a hearing rune on?"

Clary looks back at him, nostrils flaring a little in irritation. "Simon, shut up."

"Jace would kill you. Going out without being runed up? Tut tut."

"Jace is stupidly over-protective, considering how often he throws himself in harm's way."

"You know, Isabelle told me he used to be worse."

"Yeah." A little smile flits across Clary's face. "Yeah, she told me the same thing."

Isabelle had actually gone off on a half-drunken rant at him when they'd bumped into each other in the Hunter's Moon one night. She'd been waiting for Maia to finish her shift (and Simon still isn't sure if the girls had actually been together, or whether the make-out he and Alec had both been unfortunate enough to witness was a one-time thing) and had told him how grateful she was that they'd met Clary, and how good she'd been for Jace. It had all been very sweet, even if it had made him burn with jealousy at the time.

It doesn't anymore.

The door to the Dumort is wrenched open, and the perpetually pissed off eyes of Raphael Santiago appear. His expression darkens when he sees who his visitors are, and his face seems to transform from mildly irritated to utterly, existentially done.

"What have we done to earn the pleasure of your company tonight, Shadowhunter?" Raphael asks, ignoring Simon in favour of directing his scathing tone at Clary, instead.

"I'm moral support," Clary says. "It's Simon."

Raphael closes his eyes for a moment, before he opens them to stare Simon down instead. "Well?"

"I— Blood," Simon says, eloquently. He groans at himself internally. "I need blood."

"When was the last time you had any?"

Simon shrugs. "A week? Five days? A while."

Raphael rolls his eyes. "Dios, you people. Come in."

Simon passes Raphael, stepping over the threshold awkwardly, and turns to make a comment to Clary, only to see Raphael barring the doorway.

"Not you, Shadowhunter. You can wait elsewhere. Goodnight."

"Wait!" Simon grabs Raphael's arm; Raphael physically flinches away. "No, Clary can come in, it's okay, she—"

"Do you live here?" Raphael demands. "No. You're not a dog, you can function without Clarissa."

Simon doesn't get a chance to defend himself; the door slams, and Raphael disappears almost simultaneously, leaving Simon stand alone, praying that none of the other vampires are going to turn up. They're not his favourite people. Nor is he theirs.

"You're such an idiot," Raphael says harshly, reappearing a mere moment later with two plastic packets of blood in his hand.

He throws them both to Simon without further comment; Simon can't rip them open fast enough. He can't even find it in himself to feel ashamed when he tips the first one down his throat, smearing blood across his face and dripping it onto his t-shirt. The second one goes nearly as quickly, and he can feel the blood revitalising him with every passing second.

Raphael has his arms folded over his chest as he watches, and he shakes his head. "Stupid vampire," he says, as Simon gasps in lungfuls of unnecessary air once he's finished. "You're not a fledgling anymore. You should know better than to starve yourself."

"It wasn't deliberate," Simon says, voice coming out strangely due to his fangs still being drawn. "It just happened."

"Well it can't just happen," Raphael says, sharply. "You'll end up dead. You'll starve, or you'll attack a mundane and the Shadowhunters will execute you. Clary won't be able to protect you. And neither will I."

Simon lifts his eyes to look at Raphael. The other vampire doesn't flinch at Simon's bloodied state, eyes instead drilling back into him. Simon thinks he might see concern flash across Raphael's face, for just a moment, but he dismisses it: Raphael is never concerned about anything. Least of all him. Raphael hates him.

"Thanks, but I don't need protecting," Simon tells him, and wipes his mouth with the back of his sleeve. "I've been doing just fine on my own for the last three years. It's not like you actually care about my general wellbeing."

He's knows that's not quite true, but he can't bring himself to admit that he might well be dead by now, if it weren't for Raphael. Apparently, Raphael notices the irony: his nostrils flare, eyes narrowing as he pins Simon with an icy gaze.

"I always offer you help when you ask. And you chose not to come to the Dumort. I offered. Several times."

Simon scoffs. "Yeah, because I really want to hang around with the guy who manipulated my mom's mind."

Raphael presses his lips together. "You know why I did that."

"Yeah, and you know what? You know why I don't like it. So screw you, Santiago. I'm done. I'm going. Thanks for the blood. I'll pay you back in never seeing you again."

"Simon—"

A hand wraps around his arm, and Simon pauses, turning to look over his shoulder. Raphael doesn't let go when he speaks.

"I'm sorry," he says, and it sounds like it's physically painful to say the word.

"Okay." Simon pulls his arm gently out of Raphael's grip. "You're sorry. So? I'm still not living here. You don't want me here, anyway. You hate me."

"I don't—" Raphael shakes his head, and smiles a little, tightly. There's no humour in the expression; Simon thinks it might almost be a smile of regret. "I don't hate you, Simon."

"Oh, sure," Simon says, and he can't stop the sarcasm bleeding into his voice. "Look, we're done here. Goodbye."

Raphael doesn't say a word as Simon moves towards the door. He doesn't move, for several long seconds, until Simon's hand is on the door handle.

"Wait. You're covered in blood."

Simon grits his teeth. "It's dark. I don't care. If the police come to arrest me, I can run faster than them."

"Just..." Raphael appears at his side, and extends his arm, jacket held in his hand in offering. "Take it."

For a moment, Simon wants to bite out a retort. He's not sure why he's so angry with Raphael tonight - because god knows this isn't always how he feels when he has to interact with the leader of the New York vampire clan.

But Raphael is watching him with an unusual level of earnestness in his expression, so Simon swallows down his ricocheting emotions and reaches out to take the proffered jacket. It's cold to the touch - of course it is - but it's soft, and probably costs more than Simon's entire wardrobe.

"I'm gonna look stupid walking down the street in jeans and a suit jacket," Simon mumbles, as he slips it on over his hoodie.

Raphael's lips quirk up just a touch. "You do look ridiculous."

Simon has to bite down on the inside of his lip to hold back a grin. "Yeah, well. What can I say? It's my default."

"Goodnight, Simon."

"Yeah. Goodnight, Raphael."

Chapter Text

It's typical, Alec thinks, as he crosses his arms tightly over his chest, that it's raining, again, while he flies through the night skies, across the Brooklyn Bridge, high above all the mundanes racing across in their cars. Down below, the world is alight with life, the city that never sleeps transitioning into the nighttime. Lights flicker on, reflected through the puddles formed on the sidewalks and at the edges of the roads, illuminating the bustling mundane world that seems at once so alien and so familiar to him.

He's shivering when he gets to Magnus' apartment, landing lightly on the pavement and marking his wings away before he slashes through his glamour rune. It's hardly the first time he's arrived unannounced and frozen through, but he can't imagine anyone will appreciate sodden wings dripping water into the apartment block.

He knows that Magnus might open the door, take one look at him, and order him to get the hell out. God, he might not even get that far. The wards might ping him back, refuse to let him close enough to get to the front door.

He'd probably deserve it, after the way he'd left, and his radio silence since.

Of course, when he does get to the front door and press the buzzer by Magnus' name, that's not what happens at all. He should have learnt by now, he thinks, to expect the unexpected where the High Warlock of Brooklyn is concerned.

"Alexander?" Magnus asks, a note of incredulity in his voice even over the intercom.

"I'm sorry," are the first words out of Alec's mouth, as he leans into the porch to get out of the rain. "I'm sorry, please, I– I have to talk to you. You need to- You need to know something."

"Come up."

Alec dashes up the stairs, only to find Magnus' apartment door shut when he reaches the top. Before he can lift a hand to knock, it's pulled open, and Magnus is revealed on the other side of the threshold, dressed in a loose silk shirt in soft swirls of burgundy and gold and equally-loose velvety pants, hair styled to hang down lightly over his forehead. He looks...softer, than Alec is used to. More casual. Edges blurrier.

It's nice. It's different. Alec thinks he likes it. But, more than that, the mere sight of Magnus in front of him eases the tight band around his lungs, and he finds himself suddenly able to breathe—albeit raggedly.

"I'm so sorry," Alec blurts out, before Magnus can say a word. "I'm sorry for leaving like that, and I'm sorry for ignoring you, and I'm sorry for– everything. I had to see you. The Clave, they–" He's breathing too quickly, inhaling too much oxygen but his lungs are burning, screaming that it's not enough, not enough and he doesn't know how to stop, how to calm down, but he can't, he has to get this out, Magnus has to know

"The Clave want you dead. They- They're hunting you, they want us to hunt you, but we weren't, we couldn't, Jace and Izzy and I, but then— There's a Clave envoy, at the Institute, and she asked me– She said that I– That I have to do it, that it's clearly not working as a collaborative effort, that it should be me. I'm Acting Head of the Institute, I'm– I don't know, but they want me to kill you, Magnus, and I can't, I can't do it. I won't."

He stares at Magnus, breathing too heavily, anguish filling him as the warlock blinks those golden cat eyes, slitted pupils taking him in, clearly a little perplexed by Alec's rambling, incoherent mess of an explanation for his turning up on Magnus' doorstep entirely without warning.

But then, abruptly, his entire face softens, and he reaches out to cup Alec's cheek in one hand. Alec feels a sob building somewhere deep within him, but he doesn't let it out. He can't. He forces it down, even as his eyes flutter closed and he leans his face into Magnus' palm.

"Oh, angel," Magnus whispers, thumb brushing Alec's cheekbone lightly.

They're close enough for Alec to feel Magnus' body heat rolling towards him, thawing his frigid body at the same time as the warmth of his apartment just beyond. He can feel Magnus' breath washing lightly over his jaw, and he's sure that if he opened his eyes, he'd be close enough to count every fleck of glitter on his face.

"It's alright," Magnus says softly, voice barely disturbing the air, thumb still brushing back and forth. And Raziel, it feels so nice. Nice enough, comforting enough, to calm his frantic heart and his erratic breaths. "It's not your fault, darling."

"But it is," Alec says, opening his eyes to look at Magnus. He swallows, flushing a little in shame, and at their proximity, and at the nerve endings that alight under each gentle swipe of Magnus' thumb. Magnus is shaking his head, but Alec has to get it out. "Izzy and I, and Jace, we– It is our fault. We let you take the blame for the escape. And I got them into the idea in the first place. I got all of you into it. This is exactly my fault, Magnus."

"No, it's not." He drops his hand from Alec's face, slowly, and instead backs away. Fear spikes through Alec for a moment - fear that Magnus is about to tell him to leave - but Magnus merely opens the door wider, and says, "Come in, Alexander. Sit down, let's find you something to drink."

"Maybe vodka," Alec says, with a weak, shaky laugh.

Magnus smiles at him, one of those full, genuine smiles that's just a little bit crooked and a little bit careless, and the anxiety gripping at him eases a touch more.

A mere few minutes later, they're both curled on either end of Magnus' sofa, Alec with his knees pulled up to his chest, jacket folded beside him, Magnus with his legs up on the sofa, bent and curled to one side of him, both cradling steaming cups of tea.

"I don't know what to do," Alec tells him, staring down at the curling, curdling steam rising up off his tea. "I can't– I have to- to—" He can't make himself say it, but Magnus nods his understanding. "But I can't."

"I didn't realise I'd made such an impression," Magnus says, a soft smile on his face.

It's a clear attempt to lighten the mood, and it works a bit. Alec lets out a huff of a laugh, and says, "You have."

And then, abruptly, he realises how true that is. Magnus has made an impression on him. He's made an impression on his whole life. He's entirely changed the way Alec views the world, and the Downworld, and the Clave, and his own place in all of that.

"What do I do?" Alec asks, turning his eyes on Magnus in sheer desperation. "What do I do, Magnus? I can't do nothing, I have to make sure I'm protecting my family, but this is—"

Deplorable. Revolting. Utterly inhumane.

"I don't know," Magnus says, and shakes his head. "I really don't know. But you must have some time to figure it out. I've eluded the Clave for decades, and I'm operating an exceptionally profitable business while partaking in an active social life, all right under your noses. You can't be expected to find me in a matter of days."

"No," Alec agrees, "but I have to start. How have you evaded them, by the way?"

Magnus smiles. "Magic, and the right contacts. And I'm generally either liked or feared in the Downworld. Or sometimes a healthy dose of both. If I ask people to cover for me, they do. Not that they have to, very often. Your people tend to stay out of our inferior business transactions unless you're there to stab someone. And besides, Shadowhunters don't often come to Downworlder meeting spots, especially after I managed to make you kick yourselves out of Pandemonium patrols."

Alec laughs. "Why am I not surprised that you had something to do with that? Do you own it, too?"

He's joking, but Magnus raises his eyebrows, and nods. Alec gapes at him, probably looking like some form of strange, oxygen-deprived fish. "You- You- What?"

Whatever idiotic creature Alec looks like, it's worth it for the laugh that spills out of Magnus. Bright and carefree and joyous, as he throws his head back and laughs, chest vibrating and shoulders shaking, a smile that could fuel the world stretched across his face, eyes sparkling with mirth.

Alec can't find it in himself to be ashamed of his staring. Right now, he doesn't give a shit about the Taj Mahal or Stone Henge or the fucking Great Pyramid of Giza, because the only wonder of the world he ever needs to see is Magnus Bane laughing like that.

And fuck, there it is again. These thoughts, all the time, bombarding his brain, seeping into his consciousness, voices whispering in his ear that Magnus is beautiful, voices in the other ear insisting that he's more than that, but—

Where the hell is this coming from? He's never let himself think anything like this about anyone. He's pushed away thoughts about things like beauty so much that it's become unnatural for him to consider them.

He doesn't understand what the hell is going on in his head. He doesn't understand the swooping, curling, glowing feeling in his stomach at the realisation that he's made Magnus laugh like that. He doesn't understand why he keeps crawling back to this loft, to this man, when he really has no reason to.

Magnus eventually calms down, and he takes a sip of his tea, but the smile doesn't slip off his face. It's gentler, less amused, more thoughtful, but it's still there. And it's...nice.

"Alexander," Magnus says, and rests a hand gently on his forearm, "I will understand - although I will also condemn - you accepting this mission, properly. But if you do, I promise you, you won't find me. You can look, you can employ all the forces you can think of, but you will not find me if I don't want to be found. I'm not going to let myself fall to your people. Ever. No matter who's wielding the blade."

Alec shakes his head vehemently. "I'm not going to. You don't understand. It's wrong. They're wrong. They're all wrong. You're innocent, you don't deserve to die."

Magnus shrugs diplomatically, withdrawing his hand to wrap it around his mug. Alec clutches his own tighter, and lifts it to his lips. Scalding liquid slides down his throat, bordering on painful against his tongue, grounding and comforting all at once.

"I'm not entirely innocent," Magnus says. "I have killed people. I do practise dark magic. I summon demons. I make illicit potions and perform illegal spells. I've mass distributed potions unsanctioned by the Clave to mundanes."

Alec's brow furrows, interest piqued at the anecdote. "Why? When?"

"The influenza outbreak," Magnus tells him. "1918. I was in Indonesia, at the time, and I found the mundanes in utter chaos. I couldn't do nothing." He exhales, and offers Alec a wry little smile. "I could get away with it there, where long-distance communications were fairly limited and none of the Shadowhunters knew me by face. I couldn't elsewhere in the world. I certainly couldn't in America, although there wasn't a price on my head at the time."

"But that's a good thing to do. How can that be cause for a death sentence?"

"It wasn't Clave-sanctioned, and I mass distributed to mundanes. It was very illegal."

"You don't get executed for healing people," Alec says shortly. "That's ridiculous."

"So is expecting you to be able to kill me on your own after the entire Clave has failed for the last twenty years. Honestly." Magnus huffs. "A twenty-two year old Nephilim on his own. Please. Do they think I'm getting lazy in my old age?"

"I won't take offence to that," Alec says, feeling some of the tension drain out of him as they sit joking lightly back and forth. "How old are you?"

"Four hundred and a bit," Magnus says, waving a hand. He catches Alec's doubtful look, and says, "Really."

"Clary says you lie about your age a lot."

"That's true," Magnus admits. "It comes in handy. But I'm not lying to you."

"Neither am I," Alec says, more quietly, more seriously than he'd intended to, because he has to make sure that Magnus understands. He has to understand that it's not just that Alec won't kill Magnus, it's that he can't.

"I don't think you're lying, angel," Magnus says, eyebrows drawn together just a little as he watches Alec with wide, worried cat eyes. Alec wonders, absently, why Magnus has changed the pet name. He'd been fairly determined to call him that infernal little angel, no matter how much Alec had loathed it when they'd first met.

"It's just— Even if I wanted to, I couldn't kill you."

"You could kill me right now," Magnus says, sipping his tea unconcernedly. Or, at least, unconcerned for his wellbeing; he looks bizarrely concerned for Alec's.

Why the hell does the High Warlock of Brooklyn give a crap about him? And when did Magnus start to care? When did Alec start to care this much? So much that he's rendered incapable of doing his job?

Does the fact that their care appears to be mutual mean something?

"Well." Magnus lets out a little laugh, and corrects himself. "You could try."

"I couldn't," Alec tells him, and Magnus blinks, smile dropping away to be replaced by slack-jawed surprise that makes his lips part and the tension flee from his face. It leaves Magnus looking soft, disarmed, despite the smoky golden-red eyeshadow and the goatee and the piercing eyes lined with sweeping black liner. "I really couldn't."

Magnus seems to recover himself. "Well, then, the solution seems to be not to try."

"I—" Alec scrubs at his eyes with one hand, knuckles digging into the fragile skin around one eye and then the other. He wants to scratch his fucking brain out. It won't shut up, instead playing the same arguments over and over again in his head like a broken record that's superglued into a player.

It's infuriating. It's horrible. He wants to stop thinking about the fact that he's supposed to kill Magnus, and that for some inconceivable reason he just can't, can't even try, can't even entertain the idea of trying in any seriousness, and that if he doesn't kill Magnus, if he disobeys the Clave, then everything will go to shit.

"Alexander—" Fingertips brush his wrist lightly, clearly wanting Alec to stop rubbing at his face quite so viciously.

Alec draws his hands away and blinks at Magnus. Everything looks a little bit fuzzy, a little bit hazy, for a few seconds, while his eyes readjust and focus; when they do, it's to a look of heart-shattering sadness on Magnus' face.

"Oh, darling, come here," Magnus says, and their mugs disappear in a flurry of blue sparks, reappearing on placemats on the coffee table. Magnus extends a hand towards Alec, sliding it up his arm from his elbow when Alec shifts forward. The slow run of his hand, smooth skin and the bumps of rings traversing up his bare skin, makes Alec shiver.

Magnus' other hand moves to mirror the first when Alec doesn't protest, or stiffen, or move away, and then they slide up higher, past his shoulders and around, pulling Alec into his chest, broad and warm and vital.

This hug isn't quite like the first. Alec doesn't fall into it after a moment of hesitation—he jumps in, lets himself lean into Magnus' arms and press his face against the soft, silky material that covers the warlock's shoulder. His eyes slip shut, and the world outside of them, like this, disappears. Magnus' hand cards up and down his back gently, fingers brushing over the knobs and dips of his spine, and he rests the side of his head against Alec's.

It's- It's-

Well. It's intimate. And Alec suddenly feels like he can breathe, like a normal, functioning person. The iron band around his chest loosens, the fuzziness clouding his brain disperses, and breaths come in easily through his nose.

"I want to cut my brain out," Alec mumbles into Magnus' shoulder, even as he realises that his brain is quieting, slowly, gradually, with every moment longer he lets Magnus' embrace tease the tension out of him and throw it into the air to diffuse through the room until it's nothing.

"Oh, no," Magnus says, firmly. "That brain is staying right where it is. I don't want your pretty little head ruined. And I wouldn't want all my hard work wasted."

Alec huffs out a little laugh. "Your hard work?"

"Why, yes. Mine, Luke's, Maia's, I suppose Raphael might get a little bit of credit, loathe as I am to admit it..."

Magnus trails off, and Alec smiles. Raziel, he never wants to move. He feels safe like this. His ever-noisy brain is finally shutting the fuck up, as though it's being muffled, locked away behind a soundproofed door. He doesn't have to protect someone like Magnus. Not in the way he has to protect his siblings. It's not like he thinks Magnus would never need help (although he can't think of a specific example in his current predicament) or comfort or reassurance from people he loves, but...

Well. Magnus is the High Warlock of Brooklyn. He's more than capable of taking care of himself. In more ways than the obvious. Alec doesn't have to pretend. He doesn't have to pretend that everything's okay. He doesn't feel obligated, because he's not the big brother here. He's just Alec.

He's not sure he's ever felt like this. He's not sure anyone has ever made him feel like this. And he doesn't know what it means.

"There," Magnus says softly, tugging him from his thoughts. He pulls back just a little, palms warm on his back, and peers down at Alec. He smells like sandalwood and coconut and something else, something a little musky that Alec wants to breathe in forever. "Better?"

Alec flushes, and pulls back all the way until he's sitting properly, not propped up on Magnus. "Yeah."

Magnus lets him withdraw without comment. Then he grasps the sides of Alec's face, gently, and leans in to press his lips to Alec's forehead. For just a moment, fleeting and frozen, they linger, warm and smooth and comforting against Alec's skin, before they're gone, and Magnus is letting go, and—

Holy shit, Alec's heart needs to calm the fuck down.

But such a simultaneously soft and bright smile from Magnus directed right at him isn't helping matters.

"Do you feel okay, now?" Magnus asks, arching one eyebrow elegantly.

"Yeah, I'm okay."

"That doesn't have to be your automatic response every time, angel," Magnus says, and his lips are curling a little, teasingly; Alec gets the impression that he's trying to make light of a serious point to put Alec at ease.

But Alec can't go there. He doesn't know how to. He doesn't know what he's supposed to say to that, or how Magnus just knows that he often says he's fine when he's not, or why Magnus is bringing it up in the first place.

Instead, he wrinkles his nose a little, and says, "Angel? Really?"

Magnus laughs. "Damaging your fragile masculinity, Shadowhunter?"

Alec pulls a face. "No, I just... Really?"

"Well, you're the one who told me to drop the irony. I can go back to taking on the entirely inappropriate adjective if you so wish."

Magnus raises his eyebrows expectantly, and Alec clears his throat, squirming in place slightly. "It's- Uhm, it's...fine. I don't really... I don't mind. Whatever."

Magnus looks away from Alec's gaze, eyes bright and lips twitching as though he's trying not to smile. Alec wishes he wouldn't stop himself. Magnus is beautiful when he smiles - well, he's beautiful all the time - and even if it's some kind of hallmark designed to lure in his victims, Alec doesn't care.

It's seems stupid even in the privacy of his own head. It makes Magnus sound like a siren, or something similarly ludicrous. Besides which, if Magnus were going to use such things to his advantage against Alec, he'd have done so by now, surely?

And it's not like beautiful mundanes and Shadowhunters don't do it—flutter their eyelashes and pout and sway their hips to entice people in. It's what Izzy does, when she's flirting with someone for a mission to extract information. Why is it somehow deemed a trick, a trap, a criminal affliction when a Downworlder does it?

"Drink your tea," Magnus says, pushing himself up from the sofa gracefully, unfolding like a cat, long limbs stretching out. He rolls his shoulders, and Alec can't help following the movement with his eyes. "Unless you plan on going home, I'll be two minutes, and then we can do something mindless."

"I—"

Alec's about to say that he really, really doesn't want to go home, (ever, except for the fact that Jace and Isabelle and Max - sometimes - reside there) but then he remembers that he's a guest in Magnus' house. Magnus probably has work to do. He's a busy man. He probably doesn't want Alec lingering in his home unnecessarily, to sit and whinge about his latest dilemma.

Raziel, isn't Magnus getting sick of this? Of Alec turning up with a new problem every week?

Come to that, why isn't Alec sick of it yet?

Magnus inclines his head, waiting patiently for Alec to continue. He's always patient. He doesn't take any shit, but he has more patience than Alec would know what to do with. At least when it comes to people who aren't being singularly horrible to him.

"Do you want me to go?" Alec asks, and he's sitting up, half-rising from the sofa in preparation to leave. "You must have things to do, I—"

"Not unless you want to, or need to." Magnus waves a hand dismissively. "It's late, darling, I assure you, I can spare you a little time. Although excuse me if my phone rings. I'm waiting for an update on a delivery of—" He shakes his head, cutting himself off. "Never mind. Two minutes."

He turns before Alec can ask him to stop. Because something deep in him wants to hear the rest. He wants to hear what Magnus is waiting for, and why, and who it's for—a client, or his own personal use, or just something for his entertainment. He wants to know what Magnus does with his life: his job, things he does outside his job, the people he knows and loves, the people he despises.

Alec wants to know.

He doesn't have a fucking clue why, but he does. And it's not just idle curiosity—he's desperate to know.

"Here," Magnus says, strolling back in, loose shirt fluttering as he moves. He's carrying a slender plastic box in one hand, and it rattles dully when he shakes it. "You know the mundane response to problems you can't answer yet?"

Alec stares at him as he snaps his fingers, causing the enormous flatscreen situated midway up the wall to jump into life. A flick, and a disk swirls out of the case he's holding, and slides into a tray that opens and closes under a spray of blue sparks.

"No?" Magnus grins, tossing the box behind him with no regard for where it lands. "Movies and comfort food."

Alec regards the TV dubiously. Something has started playing on the screen, but the volume is turned down so far he can't really hear anything, and it doesn't appear to be the movie itself. "Movies? Like, a mundane movie?"

"Is there any other kind?" Magnus asks, raising his eyebrows. He flops down on the other end of the sofa, retaking his seat, and kicks his feet up in the coffee table. Another wave of his hand, and a bowl of popcorn appears between them. "Popcorn is a staple part of movie watching."

"I wouldn't know," Alec admits, but he follows Magnus' cue and reaches for a handful of popcorn. It's sweet, buttery, melting on his tongue and sliding down his throat. It's not the kind Izzy makes in the microwave at the Institute that always gets horribly stuck in his teeth.

Magnus' gaze lands on him, eyes wide and mouth open. "Alexander! Do you mean you've never watched a mundane movie? Ever?"

"Of course I have," Alec says, rolling his eyes. "Just...not many."

"Less than ten?"

Alec nearly snorts. Less than ten? He remembers watching something about an animated Native American mundane woman meeting a white coloniser with Izzy when she was young, and he's fairly sure he sat through a rather long spiel about lions and circles of life or something that absolutely did not bring tears to his eyes with Max, but other than that...

"Less than ten."

"I'm assuming you haven't watched Star Wars?"

Alec frowns. Isn't that one of the many things Simon is always going on about?

"I don't think so."

Magnus' lips turn up. "Well then, darling, I think you're in for something of a treat."

He grabs another few kernels of popcorn, hits play on a remote that seems to materialise into his hand from nowhere, and then the lights dim, the screen casting a flickering luminescence across the room.

It's takes everything in Alec to focus on the images playing across the TV, and not look over at Magnus, and the silvery glow cast across the elegant planes of his face by the TV screen.

 

Chapter Text

When the credits roll around, signalling the end of the first Stars Wars film (the real first, not the first in Anakin's angsty sob story) Magnus clicks mute on the remote, and glances over at Alexander to ask for his opinion.

His lips part, but the words die on his tongue when he takes in the sight that meets his eyes. Alexander is curled up in the corner of the sofa, head pillowed on the padded arm, knees drawn up, fast asleep.

A smile tinged with melancholy makes its way across Magnus' face. Alec looks so young, asleep on Magnus' sofa, soft vulnerability on his face, the tension that's always held in every cell of his body having evaporated away.

Quietly, Magnus turns off the TV with a wave of his hand, and unfolds himself to climb off the couch and pad into the kitchen. He fills a glass with water, summons a blanket from the cupboard, and then heads back into the living room.

Once he's set the glass down on the coffee table, he opens the blanket - canary yellow and unimaginably soft - and drapes it gently over the sleeping man on his sofa. Alec doesn't stir as he tugs it down to cover his feet.

Magnus feels something buried deep in his chest ache as he gazes down at Alexander. Something hidden beyond walls that tower like skyscrapers, erected from stone and reinforced with steel and tipped with the poisoned spikes of a broken heart.

He thinks about Alec disappearing on him, abruptly, a fortnight ago, and how utterly confused Magnus had been until he realised that clearly, feeling any modicum of care for a warlock - a Downworlder - someone Alec has been raised to consider a monster, was too much for Alec to handle.

It hadn't surprised him, when he realised. But it had– Well. It had hurt. Far more than he'd ever have expected it to. Because Alexander knows, Alec's seen, that what the Clave preaches isn't only a blatant lie, but also hugely hypocritical.

Yet, somehow, it was still too much. Giving a damn about Magnus' wellbeing had been too much. Being friends with Magnus had been too much.

But now, tonight, after everything, Magnus can't help but wonder whether it was something else. Whether there'd been something else that had driven Alec to flee from his loft that morning, after making him breakfast.

(Magnus still hasn't quite worked out how, or why, Alec got through his wards. Although Catarina had offered a horribly perfect explanation that Magnus refuses to pay too much thought to, because it's not going to lead anywhere happy.)

Why would a man who couldn't stand being in any way close to a Downworlder, who couldn't make himself reconcile his present situation with his past beliefs, turn up on Magnus' doorstep soaked through and shivering, appearing on the verge of a panic attack, and declare that he can't kill him? That he can't do what he's been ordered to, by the Clave, even though there's no other way forward?

He can't, not because he's physically incapable, but because he won't. He refuses to kill Magnus. Because—what? Because he cares? Cares too much?

That long-buried corner of Magnus' heart hurts again at the thought, tightening and twisting in his chest until he has to close his eyes and breathe in deeply, slowly, to stop it being so painful.

"What are you doing to me?" Magnus whispers when he opens his eyes again, and looks down at Alec, asleep and ignorant to the turmoil he's thrown Magnus' mind into. "What am I doing?"

It's ironic, really, Magnus thinks, that the Clave has asked Alexander to kill him. In many ways, of course, but especially because out of every Shadowhunter on Earth, Alexander probably has a better chance than any of them of killing him, because Magnus trusts him. He trusts Alec enough to let his guard down around him in the way he does around a mere handful of people.

He's not sure when, or how, Alec earned that. Somewhere between saving Raphael and allying with Luke and cooking him breakfast, he thinks.

Then he realises that's a lie. He might not be able to pin down when, exactly, he began to trust Alec so implicitly, but he knows exactly why.

Because whatever Alec might once have thought, and whatever lingering doubts there might be in his mind, he's so open to change. Lilith, he's stubborn, and he's infuriating, and he needs evidence for bloody everything, but once he's got it, he doesn't refute what he's seeing. He hasn't tried to explain away the good things he's seen from the Downworld. He's adapted. He's evolved.

And Magnus understands how hard that must be, to change his opinion so entirely after growing up indoctrinated by such a corrupt and poisoned institution, with Robert and Maryse Lightwood as his parents.

But he has. Alec's been kind in return. He's become respectful. He's become open-minded enough to shirk his duties for the sake of a warlock he's know for a mere three months. He feels safe enough to come to Magnus' loft, to practically fall apart, to find refuge in a hug, a cup of tea, and a movie, and to fall asleep on Magnus' sofa.

Alec shifts slightly, a frown overcoming his face, tension seeping into his shoulders. Magnus wonders what he's dreaming about, and wonders why it's making him look so miserable, as though the weight of the world is once again resting on his shoulders.

Magnus reaches a hand out, and runs his fingers through Alec's hair, lightly so he doesn't disturb him. "It's alright," he murmurs, in a possibly-futile attempt to soothe away that look. "You're okay, Alexander. You're safe here."

And he is. Magnus hopes Alec knows that he's safe in Magnus' loft, inside his wards, in his home. He hopes Alec can feel it.

It takes a moment, but, gradually, the tense expression slips from Alec's face, and his lips part just a little, a sigh leaving him as he exhales.

Magnus withdraws his hand, and stoops to press his lips to Alexander's hair, before he straightens. He spares the Shadowhunter who's wormed his way into Magnus' heart one last sweeping look, and then waves his hand to dim the lights right down, disappearing into his bedroom to sleep.

***

Magnus Bane is on his knees.

He's staring up at Alec, cat eyes wide, yellow irises furious and flashing with anger that could burn down a continent and drown an entire city, but pupils filled with shock, betrayal, uncomprehending astonishment.

Blood is dripping down his chin from his lip and his temple, trailing rivers of vermillion along bronze skin. Bruises are forming across one side of his eye, streaks of mascara painting his cheeks, the colours of ruin and fragile humanity painted across his face like brush strokes on a canvas.

"Alexander," he whispers, blood staining his lips like wine. "Alexander, please."

Alec swallows, and realises that he's holding a seraph blade in one hand. Strange, he thinks, that he's not using his bow. He can't even see it. He glances down at his fist, tight around the hilt of the glowing weapon, and sees red trickling down the blade from his own knuckles.

He's done this, he realises, with a sick, sinking feeling clawing at the insides of his stomach, bile rising up his throat. Magnus' blood is on his hands. This is his fault. It's all his fault. Magnus is on his knees before him, begging, and it's Alec's doing.

He stares down at his own hands, bruised and battered and bleeding as though he's been raining down punches on something that fights back. His wings are stretched out behind him, and when he looks across to his left, he sees that the feathers are saturated with thick scarlet blood.

"Alexander," Magnus says again, from where he's on the floor, clothes torn and ruined.

When Alec's eyes drift back to his, he sees behind Magnus, and he sees the bodies strewn across the floor. Downworlder bodies. He can see Meliorn, neck twisted like someone had tried to rip the head off a rag doll and given up halfway through, and Raphael to his left, sheet white, eyes blank as they stare up at the ceiling, his blood pooled on the stone beneath him from a slash across his stomach.

Dozens. Dozens of Downworlder bodies, drained and lifeless.

Where are they? It looks like the Institute. But it's not. It's a Church, double oak doors bolted shut beyond rows and rows of pews, across which lie slaughtered Downworlders making a frozen, eternal tableau of heedless, ruthless destruction.

He's standing on the alter, Alec realises, a glimmering golden cross situated directly behind him atop the decorated table. Candles stand proudly either side, lit, but burnt down to the bitter end, dying and flickering ominously. They cast shadows across the scene in front of him, Magnus' eyes and jewellery catching the light, drawing Alec's gaze back to him.

Always, back to Magnus.

Magnus is on the hard stone steps of the alter, gazing up at him pleadingly like he's praying, like Magnus is without hope and Alec holds his salvation in his hands, like Magnus is a mere mortal and Alec is his divine redemption.

It's wrong. It's so, so wrong.

Magnus shouldn't look like that. If either of them is a deity, it's not Alec—it's the beautiful man on his knees at Alec's feet.

He wants to tell Magnus to get up, to spit in his face, to fight back and wrap him in magic and squeeze until he chokes, because Raziel, he deserves it. He deserves the wrath of this prince of Hell, demonic and divine, for such an act of sacrilege.

But when he tries to open his mouth, the words elude him. Instead what comes out is a laugh, high-pitched and hysterical and bordering on manic, sadistic mirth curling at his lips as he stares Magnus down.

Alec is screaming internally, but it's like he can't control himself.

"Do you really think," Alec breathes, "that I would make myself choose you, over my people, my duty, my family?"

"You can have both," Magnus says, and his voice is steady despite the tremor in his ring-laden hands. "You don't have to choose. You just have to fight."

"You don't get it." Alec takes a step down, closer to where Magnus is kneeling on the second step of seven. "I can't fight. There's nothing to fight. You're a warlock. A demon. And this is your execution." He grins wickedly. "This, Magnus Bane, is your retribution."

Magnus' eyes turn glossy, unshed tears glistening in the flickering candlelight, and Alec's heart shatters when they roll down his cheeks, making shining paths of unblemished bronze skin through the swaths of blood and filth.

"Angel," he whispers, and it takes Alec several uneven heartbeats to realise that he's not using the Nephilim expression: he's addressing Alec. "What have they done to you?"

"Nothing," Alec sneers. "I opened my own eyes to reality, Magnus. The truth is ugly. The truth is that you have to die. Because if you don't, everything and everyone else I love is going to crash and burn to the ground."

"Not if you fight," Magnus says, tears still running steadily down his cheeks and dripping off his chin. "Not if you fight, Alexander."

"I am fighting," Alec tells him, more quietly. "I'm just not fighting what you want me to fight. I'm not fighting the Clave. I'm fighting myself."

Magnus closes his eyes, then. He closes his eyes, and folds his hands together, and tips his head back, exposing his neck for the executioner's blade to slice through his throat and severe his spinal cord.

Then Magnus begins murmuring.

"Bapa kami yang ada di surga
Dimuliakanlah nama-Mu
Datanglah Kerajaan-Mu
Jadilah kehendak-Mu
Di atas bumi seperti di dalam Surga
Berilah kami rejeki pada hari ini
Dan ampunilah kesalahan kami,
Seperti kamipun mengampuni yang bersalah kepada kami
Dan janganlah masukkan kami ke dalam percobaan
Tetapi bebaskan la kami dari yang jahat
Karena Engkaulah yang empunya Kerajaan dan kuasa dan kemuliaan sampai selama-lamanya."

He pauses, and his eyes flutter open to stare up at Alec, and he whispers, "I forgive you, angel."

And Alec's seraph blade, held prone in the air over their heads, bright like an angel's halo, comes down in an arc, and Magnus falls, blood spraying across the alter like someone sending a goblet of wine flying.

There's silence, save for the steady drip-drip-drip of viscous crimson trickling from Alec's seraph blade to the ground and his own ragged, uneven breaths as he stares at Magnus' body, lifeless and severed and utterly, horribly still. He's surrounded on all sides by dead bodies, by people he's murdered; he feels nothing. He feels cold, numb, empty, like a conker husk with no glossy brown seed inside, lying split and frozen on the ground.

He killed Magnus Bane.

He murdered Magnus.

He slaughtered him, in cold blood.

A clatter resounds through the church as the seraph blade slips from his sticky fingers, and he drops to his knees with a thud, bone cracking painfully against the stone steps.

Magnus is dead.

Oh, Angel, what has he done?

What has he done?

What has he done...?

***

Alec wakes in a cold sweat, gasping for breath and still half in the clutches of his dream. He bolts upright, breaths coming too-quickly-not-enough in ragged inhales that overflow his body with too much oxygen even as he feels like he's drowning and suffocating. He's drenched in sweat, shivering and freezing and he feels disgusting, feels like he wants to scratch his own skin off and tear his hair out.

"Fuck," he gasps, choking on the word as his lungs scramble for more air than they need and his brain turns into a restless cacophony of thoughts that won't quiet, won't still, won't settle for even a moment so he can calm the fuck down, and—

"Mmrow."

A small, agile figure jumps up on the coffee table. It blinks up at him with yellow-green irises that remind him too much of Magnus. And—

Oh.

He's still at Magnus' loft. He hasn't gone home. He must have fallen asleep on Magnus' sofa, and Magnus must have left him to sleep rather than wake him up. He wonders momentarily what time it is, and then he decides he doesn't care.

Chairman Meow springs onto the sofa, beside Alec, and when he reaches out to pet the cat in an attempt to calm himself, something constricts his movement. A blanket. A blanket that most certainly hadn't been wrapped around him while they watched Star Wars. He blinks down at it.

The Chairman meows again, the sound undoubtedly unhappy, and Alec scratches between his ears. His pulse slows with every more-contented purr the Chairman makes, until he's breathing steadily, in and out.

Chairman Meow soon settles, curling up into a corner of the sofa to sleep, but Alec feels like he's being watched over. It's strangely, pathetically comforting.

He can't find it in himself to care.

He just wants to see Magnus. He wants to see him, and assure himself that he's here, breathing, with his head still firmly attached to his shoulders and his heart still rocketing blood around his body.

There's no point in denying it, Alec thinks. He feels things about Magnus that he hasn't let himself feel for anyone. He feels things he's locked away and forced back behind steel doors ever since his fifteen-year-old self forced away his crush on Jace. And no amount of attempting to convince himself that it's Magnus' magic, no amount of blaming it on spells and warlock pheromones and demonic hallmarks, no amount of denial and refuting the evidence, is going to change the fact that all of it, every last bit, is Alec.

The air of the loft is freezing, biting at his skin when Alec pushes back the soft blanket and stands, sock-clad toes curling in protest against the cold. He shudders, goosebumps rising across his skin, and sees a glass of water sitting on the coffee table. He drinks, water cleansing some of the dry roughness of his throat, induced by his nightmare.

He wonders how he could ever have thought Magnus Bane a demon.

The loft is still lit, albeit very dimly, so it only takes him a few moments to cross towards where he remembers Magnus' bedroom to be. Slowly, carefully, he clicks open the door, ensuring he's quiet enough not to wake Magnus.

Magnus' room is pitch-black, but faint light spills in from the rest of the loft, and it takes Alec's eyes only a few seconds to adjust to the darkness. When he sees the Magnus-sized lump under the sheets, sprawled across the bed haphazardly, chest rising and falling with even breaths, a smile curves at Alec's mouth, and something churning and uneasy in his stomach, something aching and anxious and painful in his heart, settles.

Magnus shifts a little in bed, the movement minute, but enough to rustle the sheets; Alec is gripped with the horrible, awful realisation that he shouldn't be here. He's got no right to be in Magnus' room, even on the threshold, and he's certainly got no right to be glancing in while he sleeps, for Raziel's sake, and he has to leave, he has to get out before Magnus sees and brands him a creep, and—

Magnus turns over from where he had his face half pressed into his pillow, and yellow-green eyes open dazedly. The warlock lifts a hand to his face, the other shifting to prop himself up on one elbow, and he blinks at the doorway several times until his brain seems to wake up enough to register what his eyes are seeing.

"Alexander?" he says, and his voice is raspy, thick and heavy with sleep, and Alec swallows. Fear and shame clutch at him, caging him in and freezing him in place with icy claws.

"I'm sorry." It comes out quietly, and he wants to look down, wants to look away and just get the fuck out, but he can't. It's so hard to look away from that gaze.

"What are you doing?" Magnus asks, lifting himself higher on his elbow to peer up at Alec, still rubbing gently at one eye with his hand. "Is everything okay?"

Alec feels something deep and devastating inside him threaten to crack at Magnus' words, and he has to haul in a deep, shaky breath to hold it back. He can't. He can't let anything break. He can't afford to have even the merest fault line give way now.

"I'm sorry," Alec says again, and his voice wobbles dangerously, throat tightening as Magnus' eyebrows furrow in concern, becoming more alert by the second. "I'm so sorry, I shouldn't be– I'll just– I–"

He doesn't know what he's trying to say, and by the growing confusion on Magnus' face, it seems his mumbled mess of words aren't helping Magnus' comprehension of the situation, either.

Magnus waves a hand, and the lamp by the side of his bed turns on, illuminating the room with a soft glow that paints Magnus' skin with glittering gold and turns his eyes to liquid. He's not wearing any make-up, and whatever hairstyle he might have had earlier has been brushed out, or washed out, and he's—

He's beautiful.

Magnus sits up fully, sheets pooling around his waist. He's in the most indecent tank-top Alec has ever laid eyes on, exposing far too much muscle and skin to deal with even if he were in a healthy state of mind, and the shifting of the sheets exposes a pair of silky blue boxer shorts. Alec feels like he can't breathe again.

"Alexander, hey, come here," Magnus says, extending a hand towards him. "You look like you're about to throw up, darling. What's going on?"

Alec wavers in the doorway, hesitating. Because everything in him, every cell in his body, every instinct he has, is telling him to move forwards, to grab Magnus' hand, to tell him exactly what's going on. All of it. Every single bloody thing that's haunting him.

But his brain - his stupid, fucking brain - won't shut up. Won't stop antagonising him, warning him, telling him it's a bad idea, that he shouldn't, he mustn't, he can't, because his duty, his family, the Clave, the Clave, the goddamn fucking Clave.

Magnus doesn't drop his hand in the face of Alec's hesitation. Of course he doesn't. He just sits there, arm extended, fingers soft and bare without the glittering rings, waiting patiently for Alec to choose. For Alec to decide: does he want to accept Magnus' proffered comfort, or does he want to back out into the living room, go home, and pretend none of this happened?

But he tried that last time. He tried running away last time, and not speaking to Magnus for a fortnight, and all it lead to was denial that hurt more than it helped, and forcing emotional distance between them in his mind that tore at him, and a build up of so much desperation that he's reduced himself to this.

So he steps forwards.

The moment his palm slides across Magnus', and the warmth of the warlock's fingers enfold his, a sob hitches in his throat, and he chokes on it, tears stinging at his eyes and throat closing up so much he can't do more than croak out, "Magnus."

And, immediately, he's being pulled down onto soft red sheets and enveloped in strong arms, head tucked into Magnus' neck like it's his last refuge on Earth. He shudders, trembling and shaking, and Magnus runs a hand up and down his back, the other pressed against the back of his head, fingers tangled in his hair.

"Shh, darling," Magnus murmurs. "It's okay. It's okay. You're going to be okay."

"It's not," Alec chokes. "I'm not."

"You are," Magnus says, and Alec realises that he's being rocked just slightly, side to side, the movement almost imperceptible, but soothing and steady and grounding.

They're silent after that. Magnus keeps holding him, keeps up the slow, tiny rocking motion, while Alec feels hot tears leaking out of his tightly closed eyes. He curses himself, internally, because he can't even remember the last time he cried, let alone in front of someone. But a small part of him finds it so relieving to let go, just for a moment.

"Do you want to tell me what's going on?" Magnus asks, gently, after several long moments.

Alec swallows, and pulls back from Magnus unceremoniously, scrubbing a hand quickly over his face in an attempt to hide the tears still clinging to his cheeks and eyelashes. As though Magnus hasn't noticed that he's crying. Besides, he's got a horrible habit of turning a horrible blotchy red when he cries, so he's fairly sure it would be obvious anyway.

"I'm sorry," Alec says, and shakes his head a little. He looks down at the silky red sheets they're sitting on in lieu of looking at Magnus. "I shouldn't have– I didn't mean to– to load myself on you, and—"

"I'm going to stop you right there," Magnus says, and touches Alec's hand with his fingertips. He doesn't make any further move to touch; a terrifyingly large part of Alec wants him to. "You don't have to apologise to me for crying, Alexander. I know the Nephilim probably consider allowing yourself to have emotions and be emotionally vulnerable some horrible sign of weakness, but they're not."

"Emotions distract us," Alec says, and then laughs bitterly. "Which is true, they do. But Isabelle always says that bottling them up doesn't make them go away, and doesn't mean they distract you less."

Magnus inclines his head. "Exactly. If anything, bottling your emotions up will make them a greater distraction. They fester, and develop into ugly, nasty things, even if they started out as something pure. Take it from someone who's tried the hard way. So far as is possible, it's best to lay things out in the open."

And...Alec considers it.

For the first time in his life, he considers telling someone. Not having someone guess, or just know, but actually telling someone. Because when Magnus talks about bottling things up, and pushing them down where they can warp into something horrible, he can't help where his mind goes. Being fourteen and feeling so horribly isolated, and being fifteen and forcing his eyes away from his parabatai, and being sixteen and seventeen and feeling sick, and twisted, and revolting, and being eighteen and deciding that he can't ever think about it, or have it realised. Being eighteen, and realising that he can never, ever have the sort of thing Jace and Clary have. Being eighteen, and realising that Shadowhunters consider it unnatural, and repulsive, and that it's a secret he has to take to his grave.

He can't help himself. Magnus is watching him with such an open expression, brows slightly furrowed in concern, eyes warm, fingers just brushing his. He feels safe. He feels warm. And– Well, he's never really given it much thought, but Magnus is like him. Magnus is... Well, not the same, exactly, because he's read the Institute's file on him about his multitude of relationships with all sorts of people of all sorts of genders of all sorts of species, but he's... He'd get it. He'd understand.

"Magnus, I—" He swallows, choking on the words that he's never said aloud, even in the privacy of his own room. He can't say it. He can't force it out. His throat's closed up, scratchy and tight, and he can't do this, why the hell did he think he should start this? After that dream? That fucking nightmare? He's just going to have a panic attack, and—

"Hey." Thumbs runs over his cheeks, one side and the other, wiping away stray wetness from his crying spree. "It's okay, just take a breath."

Alec does.

"Magnus," he says again, and clears his throat before his second attempt. "I–" Magnus lifts his eyebrows just slightly in invitation when he hesitates, expression inviting, the curiosity in his eyes overshadowed by warmth. "I'm gay."

And Magnus—

Magnus smiles. It stretches across his face - small on his lips but reaching up his cheeks to his eyes - one of those careless smiles that's just slightly lopsided and so bright it lights up the room. If Alec couldn't breathe before, he certainly can't now.

Magnus makes an encouraging little nodding motion and reaches out to squeeze Alec's hand before relinquishing his hold. Reflexively, however, Alec's fingers close around Magnus', keeping their hands together.

Magnus glances down at their hands, and his smile turns small, soft, delicate. He curls their fingers together, interlinked like they're holding hands across a table, and says, "Was that the first time you've ever said that?"

"Yeah." Alec can feel blood rising up his neck to stain his cheeks scarlet, and he smiles sheepishly. "Yeah, it was."

"I'm proud of you," Magnus tells him, and Alec's heart makes an odd, aching lurch. It's not entirely unpleasant. "Really. I know how hard that is. Especially the first time."

"Yeah." He lets out a little laugh, somewhat self-deprecating due to his own ineloquence. "I, um, thank you. For not...being weird."

"Darling, I've been flamboyantly tossing my freewheeling bisexuality in people's faces for the last three centuries. I assure you, other people's sexuality doesn't bother me in the slightest."

Alec laughs again, and this time it's brighter. Magnus is smiling beautifully, bordering on a laugh, and god, Alec wants to—

No.

Just because he's said it doesn't make his general situation even slightly different. He can't. Ever. Acting on it would practically be suicide.

Magnus' smiles falters, and his face in Alec's dream flashes in his mind. Ruined, crying, desperate, but strong, head held high, forgiveness in him even then, and oh, god, Alec had killed him. Severed his head from his body with his seraph blade. He'd killed Magnus is his dream, just like he has to in real life.

"Do you want to tell me about that dream?" Magnus asks.

Alec frowns, because he hasn't told Magnus why he actually acted like a creep and wandered into his bedroom in the middle of the night. So how does he know?

"How— How did you know I had a dream?"

"Alexander, I'm four centuries old. I've known and loved many people, and I've seen my own face in the mirror. I know the look of a man who's been shaken by what he's seen in his nightmares. You don't have to tell me, but you can, if you'd like to."

"I—" Alec swallows. "I dreamt that I killed you. You, and Raphael, and so many other Downworlders. By the Angel, there were so many bodies. And what I said to you, what I did to you, Magnus—" He breaks off, shuddering, and runs his hands over his face. His fingers are shaking. "And that's what I've got to do. That's what they want me to do. I can't."

"I know," Magnus says. Fingers slide under Alec's chin, tilting his head up until he's looking at Magnus, into eyes that seem to see past every barrier Alec has ever erected in himself. "I know. But whatever you dreamt, it wasn't real. I'm fine. I'm right here."

"I cut your head off," Alec whispers, unable to look away from Magnus' eyes, unglamoured and saturated with more concern and sympathy than Alec has ever received in his life. Alec's receiving comfort, when they're discussing Magnus' death. It doesn't seem fair. "I taunted you, and I called you a demon, and I cut your head off, and I stood staring at a pool of your blood."

Magnus doesn't flinch. He drags his thumb lightly along Alec's jawline. "No, you didn't. You dreamt that you did, but you didn't. Look at me, I'm fine. Raphael is fine. You haven't hurt anyone."

"I don't ever want to hurt you."

The moment the whispered confession leaves his lips, he feels how true it is, deep inside him. He doesn't want to hurt Magnus. Never. He doesn't want anyone to hurt Magnus. He doesn't want to see Magnus hurt, ever, period.

"Oh, Alexander," Magnus murmurs, leaning forward to rest his forehead against Alec's. His eyes flutter closed just before their skin makes contact, and Alec feels his own eyes slip shut as everything goes blurry at Magnus' proximity. "It's okay. You don't have to hurt me."

"I'm sorry."

"No." Magnus tilts his head up to press a kiss to Alec's forehead, right where his brow furrows and creases whenever he frowns. It makes Alec's chest ache. "Don't. Don't apologise, just fight. Say no."

"Don't you get it?" Alec asks, a little desperately, because Magnus can't think it's because he doesn't want to. He does. He wants to say fuck the Clave, but— "I can't. If I say no, it's not just me who's going to suffer. It's everyone around me. My family. My parabatai. Even if they're not ruined along with me, we'd lose the Institute. We'd lose everything."

"I understand," Magnus says, and, not unkindly, but firmly, continues, "but sometime, you're going to have to make a choice. This isn't arresting some Downworlders. This isn't a mistake that you can fix, if you regret it. You can't be apathetic anymore, angel."

He says it all so plainly, so matter-of-factly, as though it's not his life that they're discussing. As though they're not talking about whether or not Alec should murder him for crimes he hasn't even committed.

Alec opens his mouth to reply, to demand to know - to beg to know - what on earth he can do that won't either make him a murderer or ruin his family, but Magnus gets there first.

"Change starts with people saying no." Magnus' gaze doesn't waver. "Change starts by people standing together and all saying no. Because the Clave can't just silence ten, twenty, fifty people. There aren't enough of you. You'll be heard. There are more Shadowhunters in the world than just you and your siblings who oppose what the Clave is doing. You just have to find them."

Alec nearly chokes. "You want me to start a revolution?"

Magnus smiles. "That's a little dramatic, but yes, why not? Call it a revolution. Inspire change in someone, Alexander. Make the Clave listen to you."

"How?"

It seems so impossible. Isabelle has been hollering about the atrocities the Clave commits for years, and it's like she's been like screaming into an abyss. Nobody hears. Alec never really believed that she was right; he does now.

"Be patient," Magnus tells him. "Find people who agree with you. Find people who'll help you. Identify an event, a trial, a person, you can use to make the Clave look incompetent. Prove them wrong."

Alec searches Magnus' face, searching for something to suggest that he's not entirely serious—but he is.

"Do you really think I could do that?" he asks.

Magnus' expression softens, and he squeezes Alec's hand. "If you put your mind to it, Alexander Lightwood, I think you could do anything you want."

 

Chapter Text


"So you do like him."

Magnus pauses in adding ingredients to his potion—it's incredibly complex, and going to take several days and a lot of patience to complete, but he's negotiating a number with an obscene number of zeros on the end into his bank account, so he's not complaining too much. The mundane woman is shockingly pleasant.

He frowns at his phone, which is sitting innocuously on the very end of the workbench, well out of the way, on speaker phone so he can talk to Catarina without sacrificing any hands.

"I don't think I said that," he says. "I just said—"

"Magnus." Catarina sounds like she's running out of patience. "You just gave me a long, pathetic speech about how devastating he was last night, and you lamented about how much you loathe the Clave for making him do this, and for making him feel so guilty about being gay, and you had an intimate heart-to-heart in the middle of the night, in your bed. You called him for help when you were completely burnt out and vulnerable, so you clearly trust him, and you have fucking inside jokes." She makes a frustrated noise in the back of her throat. "Are you hearing yourself?"

"Okay," Magnus admits. "There is, perhaps, some degree of truth to the idea that I am somewhat fond of him, but—"

"Jesus Christ, Magnus. You let a Shadowhunter interrupt your beauty sleep to have a whine about how hard his life is."

"Hey." Magnus shoots the phone an affronted look, while the potion bubbles and begins a slow, ugly transition from mustard yellow to a dull pink. "Alexander doesn't whine. And besides, he insisted on going home afterwards, even though it was the middle of the night. Something about intruding. He's just so..."

Magnus realises he's smiling fondly as he speaks. Alexander hadn't even let him get up to walk him to the door, insisting that he'd been to Magnus' apartment enough times to know where it was. Magnus had heard him stop to pet the Chairman on the way out, and then the front door had clicked open and closed, and the apartment had been silent. Unpleasantly so.

"You are revolting," Catarina says, flatly. "And you're here calling me on my day off to rant about your relationship woes. I thinks we both know what that means."

Oh, he does.

Which was exactly why he'd decided to call Catarina in the first place. He'd spent the night dreaming of Alexander tumbling out of the sky, crashing down into a broken, mortal heap, but this time, Magnus hadn't been able to save him. He'd been too late, every time.

He'd woken in a cold sweat, heart pounding, and he'd had to roll over and grab his phone, because he had to text Alec, he had to make sure that his dream had just been a dream, and that it hadn't been a premonition—Asmodeus liked to send him horrible things, sometimes.

But there'd been something sitting in his messages already.

I'm sorry for falling apart last night. Thank you, for everything.

And then, even more surprising, below that, a text from Isabelle Lightwood, thanking him for helping her brother, and promising that they'd find a way to fix 'this mess we've put you in'. He'd stolen Isabelle's number off Clary weeks ago, because he really had liked her, the time they'd met in Magnus' loft, but their communications have been fairly sporadic.

Catarina's right. He knows. He knows exactly what's going on. He knows what this is, what it all means, but it feels so different. It's not like every other time. And he thinks he's probably been in denial about what he feels for Alexander for a long time.

"This conversation isn't going to the way it was supposed to," Magnus admits, swirling his fingers to cast a spell over the potion. It curdles, hisses, and then settles again, wisps of grey-pink smoke floating off. It smells a little bit like peaches. "You were supposed to convince me that I'm not falling in love with a Shadowhunter, not tell me that I am."

"Magnus." Catarina's voice gentles. "I know you haven't opened your heart to anyone for a long, long time, but—"

"I haven't opened my heart this time," Magnus says, exhaling. "He's unlocked it. It's a little unsettling. And I'm not sure he has a clue. He can barely admit to himself that he's gay, let alone admit anything else."

"Don't work yourself up too much," Catarina says, not unkindly. "Whatever happens, happens. And however much I joke about not wanting to hear you crying over another pretty boy that's got under your skin, if you need me, you know where I am."

"You're too good to me," Magnus tells her, smiling over at the phone even though Catarina can't see him. "You're far too good to me."

"No, sweetheart, I'm your friend," she says, and he hears the unmistakable sound of a box of frozen pizza being opened. "You've just got low expectations of your support network because of The Bitch."

Magnus rolls his eyes, even as an amused smile twitches at his lips. "I'll talk to you later, Cat."

Catarina snickers. "Bye, Magnus."

***

Lydia despises working through the intricacies of the Clave's often-outdated laws. They've been written and edited and entirely overthrown on a whim so many times, it's often impossible to draw lines between them.

Trying to get Alec out of killing Warlock Bane, even just temporarily, is just as impossible as she expected it to be. By law, what Bane has been accused of, over centuries, is worthy of a death sentence. But if what Jace and Isabelle say is true, she can't condemn one innocent being to death, and make a man a murderer.

The only thing she's managed to latch onto is the report about what occurred in Bahasa Indonesia, sometime in the seventeenth century. According to Jace, it's the first domino, the first time Bane's name has been besmirched by lies. But filing a warrant to gain access to that kind of document takes time, and the Clave will want to know why she's asking to see it.

Just as she's about to flip a page of the thick stack of papers she's got laid out in front of her, her office door rips open, and Isabelle Lightwood stalks in.

Lydia is hit with a distinct sense of déjà vu, because it was just last night that Isabelle flew in in much the same dramatic manner, but it disappears abruptly when she sees the expression on Isabelle's face.

Isabelle's eyes are blazing, fury igniting fires deep in her pupils, and she's fixing Lydia with the kind of glare that could bring a city to its knees. Her lips are curled slightly at one side, and she's got one hand clenched into a fist. She's clearly about to go on morning patrol, because she's dressed head to toe in leather gear, metal studs set in her fingerless gloves and all along her heels, and her whip is, as ever, curled around her wrist.

"How dare you?" Isabelle spits out, her every syllable laced with venom and thinly veiled loathing that makes Lydia's heart hurt. She doesn't want Isabelle to hate her - quite the opposite, in fact - but it seems that at every turn, she only succeeds in widening the enormous chasm of distance between them.

Lydia sets down her papers, and rises from her desk. She braces her hands against the edge, and looks Isabelle in the eye. "Isabelle, I haven't left this room since Jace and yourself gave me your information yesterday. So whatever it is—"

Isabelle laughs, an ugly, bitter sound that sounds so, so wrong bubbling up from her throat. Even when she's angry, Isabelle is elegant. Dangerous and deadly, yes, but like the thorns on a rose. This is like demon venom, thick and black and vile.

"Oh, no, I'm sure you've been planning this for a while," she snarls, eyes flashing like the blade of a dagger. "You come in, you charm my brother, you convince my parents that they're going to lose the Institute because of their failures, and you offer up the perfect solution to gain you everything you've ever wanted in life. You're a snake, Lydia Branwell, and I swear, I will burn this place to the ground before I let you ruin my brother's life anymore than you already are."

Lydia feels her lips parting and her eyes widening in utter astonishment as Isabelle hurls accusations in her face. The words scald, painful and blistering, and she feels like the gradual tensing of Isabelle's jaw is in synch with the invisible hand tightening around her chest.

"Isabelle," she says, and she tries her best not to sound pleading, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Of course you don't." Isabelle's mouth tightens, eyes flashing. "I'm talking about whatever the hell you said to my parents to make them think that this is their only solution. My father hasn't been home from Idris for months, and this is the first thing he has to discuss with my mother?"

Lydia opens her mouth to say something, because she can't even begin to fathom what Isabelle is referring to, but Isabelle beats her to it.

"I am talking about your delusion that you can gain control of this Institute by marrying my brother."

For a moment, Lydia just stares at her, expression blank, because where on earth has this rumour come from? She's so bewildered that a little laugh of incredulity escapes her before she can stop it; Isabelle looks like she's about to murder her.

"Isabelle, I assure you, that's not what's going on."

"Really? Then why have I just heard my parents discussing your impeding marriage to Alec?" She cuts Lydia off when she tries to speak, to counter the claim. "You come in here like you own the place, and now you think you can marry my brother? Fuck you, Branwell."

"Isabelle." Lydia shakes her head, and she feels her expression soften, because it's clear that beneath the irrational, destructive rage, this baseless attack is motivated out of love and concern for Alec's happiness. And that's one of the reasons Lydia likes Isabelle so much. Isabelle, and Jace, and Alec, because they've all got it. Even Clary, frankly. "I don't want to marry Alec. I like him and I respect him as a Shadowhunter and as a leader and as a man, but I don't want to marry him. And if he proposes to me–" She nearly shudders at the thought "–I'm going to say no. I don't want to take this Institute. I like my job. This Institute belongs to your parents, and to your family, and to Alec, in the future. Not to me. Whatever you think of me, I would never enter into a loveless marriage for the sake of politics. Not unless something important was at stake. If your parents were really about to lose the Institute, things would be a little different. But they're not. Alec practically runs this place, regardless, and he's a more than competent leader."

Isabelle's nostrils flare, eyes burning as she stares Lydia down. "Fuck you," she says again, and then turns on her heel, hair flipping over her shoulder, and struts out, slamming the office door behind her.

Lydia's breath leaves her in a messy, fractured exhale, and she collapses back into her chair. The weight of her hair all pinned up for the twenty-four hours she's been awake is beginning to make her head hurt, throbbing with an oncoming headache, but it's nothing compared to the pain of seeing Isabelle look at her with such unbridled hatred.

***

Alec is distracted during morning patrol.

Primarily, he's distracted by thoughts of Magnus, of last night, of his confession and the urges he's barely clamping down on. Because it's one thing to admit that Magnus is aesthetically gorgeous, but it's quite another to admit—

He manages to stop himself before he admits anything further at all.

When they get into a fight with four Eidolon demons, he's distracted by Clary, because she's inexperienced, and he's distracted by Isabelle, because she's fighting with her heart and not her head, clearly fuelled by anger, and he's distracted by Jace as he tries to work out why this, Magnus, is so different from those flickering feelings his fifteen year old self had.

So by the time they return to the Institute and take off their gear, and Isabelle snaps something at Clary and storms off, it's really no surprise that he jumps out of his skin when someone calls out his name.

Raj is standing behind him, lips pressed together. Alec hardly notices Clary walking off, clearly upset at Isabelle's harsh slew of words to just leave me alone, I'm fine, and Jace dashing after her, still loaded with weapons.

Because Raj has barely spoken a word to him for weeks, since they argued after Alec had let the Downworlders go and Raj had protected them. Raj has made excuses to go on different patrols, and given any necessary communications to Alec via messages, and refused to meet his gaze whenever they pass each other.

"Lydia wants to see you," Raj says, sharply, and the cold look in his eyes tells Alec that he very much has not forgiven Alec for anything.

Alec wants to be angry. He wants to shake Raj, because for fuck's sake, Raj told him that the Clave murdered his mundane boyfriend, when the very purpose of Shadowhunters is to protect the mundane world. What greater proof can he need that the Clave is corrupt, and not to be trusted blindly?

But Magnus' voice rings in his ears, firm and clear and soothing, reminding him that the world is complicated, that people are complicated, and that splitting things into black and white is impossible.

So Alec takes a deep breath, because Raj is already turning, not waiting for an answer, and he says, "Raj, wait."

Raj pauses, stiffening. He doesn't turn back to face Alec, but he stops dead. "What?"

"I—" Alec drops his jacket on the table, and walks over to Raj, facing him. "Are we going to be like this forever?"

Raj glares at him. "I don't know, Lightwood, are you going to cozy up with a mass murderer forever?"

Alec nearly snaps at him for that, but he stops himself, physically biting down on his tongue to prevent words that he knows he'll regret pouring out.

"No," he says, "because he's not a mass murderer."

Raj rolls his eyes. "Look, I respect you as a leader, but you're delusional, and I don't have time for this. I've got work to do."

"You told me problem solving is what you're good at," Alec says, latching onto the first thing he thinks of that will stop Raj walking away. "I've got a problem for you."

It makes Raj stop, tight jaw slackening a little, eyes sparking with interest rather that irritation. "What kind of problem?"

"I want you to help Lydia prove that he's innocent of the crimes the Clave accuses him of."

Raj gapes at him. "Are you completely out of your mind?"

"Go and see Lydia," Alec says. "Later. Tell her I sent you. Tell her what I said."

And, before Raj has any time to respond, and before Alec can worry about whether he's misplacing his trust, he pats Raj's shoulder and walks past him, towards Lydia's office, leaving the other Shadowhunter standing stock-still, clearly astounded.

***

When Alec knocks, Lydia's "come in" sounds tired, at best. She smiles at little when he enters, but she doesn't move to stand from her seat behind her desk.

"Jace told me," Alec says, before she can speak, "about last night. About what they told you, and about what you're doing. I–" He shakes his head. "Thank you."

Lydia shrugs. "My job as a Clave envoy is to follow the Law to the letter. But above that, my duty as a Shadowhunter is to be just. It seems like ordering Warlock Bane's execution infringes upon both."

A slight smile curls at one corner of Alec's lips, and he inclines his head, and says again, "Thank you."

Lydia folds her fingers together, as she always seems to before she says something important, and exhales heavily. "I don't know whether you're aware, Alec, but if you're not, I feel like I should tell you." She looks up at him, maintaining steady eye contact that's just shy of too intense. "Your sister came in, before you went on patrol, to tell me that she overheard your parents discussing a marriage arrangement. Between the two of us."

The first thought that flits through his mind, far from relating to the idea of his apparently prospective nuptials, is that he wasn't even aware that his father had returned home from Idris.

He stares at her for a moment, trying to process the words, and then lets out a little laugh of bewilderment. "Are you serious?"

Lydia doesn't smile. "Perfectly."

"I, ah." He scratches at the back of his neck. "Lydia, I like you, really, but I– I'm not really– I don't think—"

"Alec." She holds up a hand, palm forwards, and a somewhat amused smile flits across her face. "I don't want to marry you, either. In this line of work, the only thing worth falling in love with is the job itself."

"Oh." He lets out a laugh that's undoubtedly relieved, and he hopes it doesn't sound too rude. "I'm actually—"

He stops, because fuck, why the hell had those words come out of his mouth? What is he thinking?

Lydia raises an eyebrow. "You're actually...?"

Alec chews on the inside of his cheek for a moment, hear thudding lightly, considering. He'd been so terrified to say the words, last night, even to Magnus, whom he knew wouldn't care. And Magnus had smiled, like the fucking sun, and told him he was proud of him just for saying it.

But that was Magnus. He trusts Magnus and he knows Magnus a hell of a lot better than he does Lydia. Lydia's a Clave envoy, and a Shadowhunter besides, and most Shadowhunters he's ever met think anyone like him is an abomination.

Then, most Shadowhunters he's ever met would have suggested Jace and Isabelle spend a night in the Silent City for daring to suggest that the Clave's accusations regarding Magnus were false. Lydia had agreed to help them, risking her own career in the process.

"Swear to me," he says, "you won't tell anyone."

Lydia frowns. "I swear on Raziel's name, Alec, but whatever it is—"

And, throwing caution to the wind and not giving it a further thought for once in his life, he says, "I'm gay."

Her eyebrows shoot up, and she appraises him carefully, giving him an brief up and down. Then one corner of her mouth tilts up. "Well, that explains why an attractive guy has a distinct lack of a girlfriend."

Alec is still, eyes the only point of movement as they flicker across her face. "You don't care?"

She smiles. "I'm currently questioning whether it would be perverted or disrespectful of me to ask your sister out, or whether she'd just punch me in the face. Of course I don't care."

It takes him a good fifteen seconds to dissect Lydia's sentence, and when he does, his mouth falls open, before abruptly snapping shut again, because he doesn't know what he's supposed to say to that.

"Isabelle?" he says, at last.

Lydia smiles. "Yes, I believe that's your sister's name."

"Why on earth would you think that's perverted?"

Lydia shrugs. "I suppose it's not. She's legal. But I am twenty-four."

"I'm fairly sure she's dated Seelies who were a lot more than twenty-four," Alec says, mind casting back to Meliorn.

"It doesn't really matter," Lydia says, with a dismissive, cheerful smile that doesn't reach her eyes. She sits back, tossing her braid over her shoulder. "I'm fairly sure she loathes my very existence."

"I think it might be a little more complicated than that," Alec says, and Raziel, he needs to stop this conversation soon, because discussing his sister's love-life with the woman who is effectively his boss is not his idea of a pleasant morning. "She— Well. I don't know. But a lot of it doesn't add up. And she broke up with her boyfriend recently. Because of– Well, me, I suppose. Something we did. I don't think it's all on you."

Lydia inhales, and this time, her smile is smaller, but it seems more honest. "I appreciate the vote of confidence," she says. "Now, I've got some things to get you out of, so I'm afraid I can't sit and chat. Unless there's anything else?"

Alec decides not to mention that it was Lydia who asked him here, and instead says, "No, that's everything. I volunteered you some help, if you'd like it. From Raj."

Lydia wrinkles her nose. "Really?"

Alec's lips quirk up. "He's not that bad," he promises her. "He's just a little...rigid. And his insensitivity is to cover up any vulnerabilities."

"Hm." Lydia raises her eyebrows. "It's not really any wonder you understand him so well. Thankfully, you're just sarcastic instead of a perpetual dick."

Alec rolls his eyes, even as he lets out a laugh, and Lydia grins at him. "Alright, I see how it is. I'll leave the report from this morning on your desk later. And I've got some notes on Clary's training over the last week from myself and Jace and Isabelle."

Lydia agrees to look them over and sign anything off to be sent back to Clary's trainers in Idris, and shoots Alec a smile as he leaves.

As he walks out, he feels his phone vibrate in his pocket.

[Mags, 10:15]

Anytime, darling. And if you fancy watching some more inter-galactic battles, let me know.

And his heart turns over, a smile catching at his lips, and he's helpless, a slave to the feelings Magnus Bane ignites inside him with a mere handful of typed words.

***

Magnus isn't expecting any clients today, because he's left himself a day off meetings to stock up on supplies, finish several potions, and start translating an ancient demonic scroll for the Seelies—they're paying handsomely for it, as they always do, so ignoring it in favour of increasing his workload doesn't seem like best practise.

He's caught up in trying to balance the right amount of ingredients in one potion while simultaneously casting intermittent spells over a second, so when the buzzer goes, it makes him jump out of his skin. He scowls at the offending noise, and waves a hand to keep the potions going while he goes to deal with whoever has turned up at his door.

Unbidden, the thought that it might be Alexander flashes through his mind, and hope blooms in his chest, sharp and aching, before he pushes it firmly back down. He saw Alec twelve hours ago, the Shadowhunter isn't going to be coming to bother him again. They both have lives.

It doesn't stop his heart fluttering when he presses the button beside the intercom, and says, "Who dares disturb the High Warlock of Brooklyn?" in a deep, growling voice.

"I do," says a soft, male voice that Magnus doesn't recognise. "My name is Cirrus. I require warlock help on a...personal matter."

Magnus' eyebrows raise. "Very well, then. Come up."

The man who appears in Magnus' doorway a few seconds later is, as Magnus had suspected from his manner of speaking, a Seelie. His hair is black but tinted a dark blue at the tips; he's slight, a little shorter than Magnus, and very handsome, despite his somewhat unadventurous sense of fashion.

He's holding flowers.

"These are yours," Cirrus says, extending the flowers out to him with a look of distinct discomfort on his face.

Magnus stares at him for a moment, and then down at the flowers, in astonishment. Does he know this Seelie? Have they slept together? He looks like the kind of person Magnus might have slept with, but he certainly doesn't remember him. At all. Has Magnus had him as a client before? Is this some kind of thank you gift?

Hesitantly, Magnus reaches out to take the flowers. They're a little wilted, and tied together with a piece of brown string, and they're not wrapped in paper, nor do they appear to have anything with them. They don't look shop-bought.

"Ah, thank you," Magnus says, trying not to pose his statement as a question in his bewilderment. "Come in, I'll just...put these away."

He's never had a client bring him flowers before any transaction. And, although he despises stereotypes, it is true that it's usually women who give him flowers, even afterwards. Men - especially straight men - tend to just pay him, or send him food, or, if they're very lucky and very pretty, kiss him. Not that there aren't women who spark his interest too, of course.

But that's afterwards. Before? Not before. This is unusual. This is, in fact, a first. It's rather thrown him—and not in a good way. He feels just a touch uncomfortable.

"They're not from me," Cirrus says, moving into Magnus' loft with relative ease. "They were on your doorstep. I presumed they were intended to be for you."

"Oh." Magnus smiles at Cirrus over his shoulder. "Well, thank you for passing them along."

That's significantly less cringe-worthy, Magnus decides. Not that he can think of anybody he knows who would leave him flowers. Catarina leaves him flowers, very occasionally, when she knows he's had a hard week, but they're always beautifully presented. These are decidedly not. They're lovely flowers, if a little mismatched, but they're not precisely Interflora standard.

Magnus snaps his fingers to set the flowers in a vase of water - he can sort them later - and forces himself not to ponder who on earth would leave flowers on his doorstep. His social life hasn't really been the most active, lately, with the ever-looming threat of Valentine and the Clave. He hasn't even thrown a party for eighteen months. Although he has been to a fair few.

"So." Magnus whirls back round to face Cirrus, and shoots him his best business-charming smile. "What can I do for you, darling?"

Cirrus flushes dully, and averts his gaze. "It's a little...improper."

Magnus tries not to laugh, because he can see where this conversation is going. "It won't go outside these walls. And I assure you, I've dealt with more embarrassing things than you can even begin to imagine. I won't be judging you."

So Cirrus explains, recounting a tale about a gay mundane bar, a handsy mundane, and a sweet werewolf who'd been all too happy to help—beyond merely terrifying the mundane enough to make him leave Cirrus alone.

"See, much as I know we like to gently roll our eyes at mundanes," Magnus says, already snapping his fingers to summon some items to fix Cirrus' problem, "they do have some rather useful inventions. Condoms, for example. Fantastic for when getting an STD test would kill the mood."

Cirrus' scowls. "I was told by a warlock that such things were unnecessary. She gave me a spell."

Magnus snorts, waving his fingers as he empties the contents of various jars into a bowl. "I'm sure she did. Did you visit our darling Iris Rouse, by any chance?"

"Perhaps."

Magnus drops Cirrus several tips on which warlocks to trust, while he finishes up the potion that will sort all of Cirrus' medical issues, and hands it to him in an attractive glass vial, scrawling dosage instructions on the side with a snap of his fingers.

"You can come back in a week if there are any remaining issues," Magnus tells him, and then begins to move towards the front door so he can usher the Seelie out. "I'll send you a cheque to sign."

It's strange, Magnus thinks, idly. Cirrus is a very attractive man, and he told Magnus he likes men within five minutes of walking through the door, recounting his story about meeting the werewolf at the bar—and yet Magnus has absolutely no urge to flirt with him.

"Thank you," Cirrus says, and Magnus shoots him one last smile, before shutting the door firmly behind him.

His eyes land, immediately, on the flowers sitting on the table in his living room. They're a little mismatched, some colours clashing, others overwhelmingly vibrant, they haven't been arranged at all, and their stems haven't been cut to make them all sit at a similar height, but they're lovely, nonetheless, and there's something personal about them. The sight makes his lips curl up in a smile. Magnus just wishes he knew who on earth they're from.

Chapter Text

After three days of glancing at his phone every half an hour, hoping for a text from a certain warlock but too much of a coward to send one himself, Alec finds himself being cornered by his sister after a tiring midday mission in the depths of an old subway station, where demons had been running rife.

"Bedroom!" she barks at him. "Now! Come on, we don't have all day! And you–" She peers around Alec to fix Clary and Jace, who are doing that vile, nauseating, in-love thing, with a hard stare "–stop frolicking."

"Iz," Clary says, smiling a little. "I'm pretty sure he said seven o'clock. In the evening. We've got four hours."

Clary's got one hand slipped into Jace's and the other loosely around his neck, fingers playing idly with the hair at the nape of his neck. It makes Alec's chest ache—because he can never have that. He can never do that. He's never going to be allowed to behave like that with someone he loves, out in the open for all to see.

"I know what you two are like," Isabelle says, and, to be fair, she's got a point—not that Alec has a clue what either of the women are on about. "We are not going to be late. It's poor show."

"There's such a thing as fashionably late," Jace points out.

"Yes, if you're an obnoxious ass," Isabelle says, with a sweet smile in Jace's direction. Jace sticks his tongue out at her. "Come on, Alec."

She grabs his hand, and hauls him through the Ops Centre unceremoniously, ignoring his confused protests. What the hell is going on? And why has nobody told him about it? Late for what? Where are they going?

"Isabelle, what—"

"Sit and shush," she says, pushing him none too gently into his bedroom and pointing to the bed. She walks over to his closet and yanks the doors open, beginning to rifle though. "If there's anything in here that's even remotely appropriate, I'll be astounded."

Alec is too disorientated and too taken aback by the afternoon's abrupt turn of events to notice when Isabelle strays too far to the left of his closet, and begins to rifle through his sweaters and hoodies—which is where he'd placed Magnus' letter from all those weeks ago, because nobody ever looks through his clothes.

"Wait, don't—!"

But it's too late. Isabelle pulls the piece of paper out, spares it a momentary glance, and tosses it behind her carelessly. Alec gapes. There's no way Isabelle would see a letter hidden in amongst Alec's things and not read it, just out of frustrating sisterly curiosity. And she certainly wouldn't throw it over her shoulder with such disregard for Alec's possessions.

What the hell is going on today?

"What?" Isabelle looks at him like he's the most bizarre thing she's ever seen. "It's a blank piece of paper and I threw it on the floor, is that a crime?"

"A blank—" Alec snatches it up, and, as he'd expected, the familiar lines of Magnus' handwriting are scrawled across the page, line after line, until his name is signed at the end. He turns the paper towards Isabelle. "It's not blank!"

Isabelle's frown deepens from one of mild irritation to one of genuine concern. "Alec, that's blank. There's nothing on it."

Alec opens his mouth to refute her statement, because quite clearly it is not blank, but then a thought hits him, and he wonders. Could Magnus have enchanted it? Magicked the paper, so that the words are only visible to Alec? So that no snooping, Clave-loyal Shadowhunter could find it and have him hanged? His chest tightens a little at the thought: it's such a fucking considerate thing to do.

It's so Magnus.

"What's going on today?" Alec asks, setting the paper carefully under his phone, on his nightstand. "Where are we going?"

Isabelle frowns. "Didn't you get a text? Your warlock invited us to a party. It promises to be a night beyond your wildest dreams." She smirks. "Downworlder parties are notoriously fabulous, and one thrown by him? Yes, please."

Alec barely hears the rest of what she says, mind too stuck on your warlock. He knows, logically, that Isabelle is referring to Magnus as that partly because they can't risk being heard to say his name in the Institute, and partly just to rile Alec up. But something in him twists, at the thought.

His warlock.

It's stupid, he knows, for more reasons than he can possibly list, but predominantly because Magnus could never be anybody's but his own. But...the connotation. The phrasing. It's...

Clary's Jace. Isabelle's Meliorn. Alec's warlock.

Alec's Magnus.

"Alec?" Isabelle waves a hand in front of his face. "Really, are you okay? You keep spacing out. Did you get hit during the mission?"

"What? No, of course not. I'm fine. Sorry."

Isabelle's brow doesn't smooth out. She makes a noncommittal humming noise, and then turns back to Alec's clothing, rifling through significantly more slowly. It takes her several minutes, but she finds a pair of dark jeans that Alec didn't even know he owned and a denim shirt, and tosses both on his bed, and then hangs his leather jacket - which she'd bought him for his birthday two years ago, insisting that a leather jacket and his gear jacket were entirely different things, Alec - on the back of his door.

"That'll do," she says, and then she smiles wickedly. "Although I don't think he'll care much what you're wearing."

Unimpressed, Alec quirks an eyebrow at her. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing," she says, with a conspiratorial smirk. "Put that on, then come and find me."

"Wait, Iz." He reaches out to grasp her hand, gently, before she can waltz out. She raises her eyebrows. "Will you talk to Lydia?"

Isabelle's expression hardens, and, when she speaks, her voice is like granite, unforgiving and impermeable. "Why should I?"

"Because she thinks you hate her," Alec says, softly, with the patience he only has for his siblings, for the people he loves, cultivated over so many years of being the older bother of the household. "And I'm fairly sure you don't."

"So?" Isabelle's words are harsh, and she spits them into the air, but there's something in her eyes that's a little bit broken. "So what if she thinks I hate her? Why do you care? Why should I care?"

"Because I like her, and because she doesn't want you to hate her. Look, I get that–"

A little hopelessly, he grasps at the air for words that won't come. What would Magnus say to Isabelle, now? How would he phrase it? Magnus always manages to find the right words, the right turn of phrase; why does Alec find it so difficult?

"I get that you're upset, about Meliorn, and I get that Lydia embodies everything you hate about the Clave, but Lydia isn't the Clave, and she's not what ruined your relationship. Everything she's doing, inspecting the Institute under my leadership rather than our parents' lack thereof, ignoring the fact that Luke is a werewolf pack leader and Clary's stepfather, trying to clear M– his name, just because she's got our word for it—she's not a bad person."

All the breath seems to leave Isabelle, and her shoulders slump in a little. She drops her gaze to the floor, and glances down at where she's gripping Alec's hand a little too tightly. "It's not just that," she says.

"I know," Alec says, and he does. He squeezes her hand. "You're always telling me that if I want to talk to you about things, I can. Back at you, Izzy. You're my sister, I love you. I want to help."

She smiles, and reaches her arms down to hug him, having to bend only a little even though he's sitting and she's standing. Alec wraps his arms around her, and presses his cheek to her hair, before kissing the side of her head.

"I love you too, big brother," she tells him. "And you help more than you know."

***

"You didn't tell me you were throwing a party," are the first words out of Alec's mouth when Magnus picks up the phone.

Magnus pauses, the greeting he'd had prepared dying on his tongue. He stops stirring his potion. Of all the things he'd expected Alexander to say, that certainly hadn't been it.

"I told your sister," Magnus says, resuming his stirring slowly. It's not a complex potion, but over-stirring will leave his apartment stinking for days. "And I extended the invitation to the rest of the New York Nephilim with whom I'm acquainted."

"I know," Alec says, and his voice is quiet on the other end of the line. There's a pause, and Magnus hears the distinct sound of someone scuffing the heel of their shoe through fallen leaves. He wonders where Alec is—not the Institute, clearly.

"Then what is it?" Magnus asks, softly, because he can tell that something's wrong; what, he really can't imagine.

But he wants to know.

"It's just– I don't know." Alec exhales through his nose, clearly frustrated with himself, and Magnus wants to tell him not to be, because he holds himself to such impossible standards in everything, and it can't be good for his mental wellbeing. "It's not about that, I know parties are more Isabelle's thing than mine, but I– I thought you might...text. Or call. Or something. I don't know. Forget it."

Magnus' brows draw together, and, for a moment, he's silent, trying to work out what Alec's talking about. Because there's clearly some event, some reason, Alec had thought Magnus would reach out to contact him, but Magnus can't fathom what it would be.

But, before he can give it much thought, Alec's speaking again, and this time he's rambling, stuttering, tripping over his words and mixing them up in his haste to get them out.

"I didn't mean– When I left them, I didn't– Well, I did, but it wasn't– I was just—"

Magnus' eyes fall on the flowers still sitting in his living room, having recovered from their wilted state after a few days of care, and it's like every puzzle piece he's been given over the last week suddenly slots together to form a single picture.

"Alexander," he says, "did you leave me the flowers?"

There's silence. Then:

"Yeah? I– Didn't you see the note?"

Magnus snaps his fingers to put his potion in stasis - he can spare five minutes, and he could do with a break to regain some concentration - and rises, moving towards the flowers. He rifles through, searching for a note, while he tells Alec that he didn't get it.

"Oh!" He finds a piece of paper slipped between two thick leaves, and he beams. "Found it! You know, I really should have realised these were from you, note or not. They're very you."

"Why– Me? They're just flowers."

Magnus can't stop himself grinning. "It's not a bad thing," he says, sliding a finger under the intricate folds to open the paper. "Should I be worried?"

"No." Alec laughs, sounding embarrassed. "Don't read it out, please."

Magnus raises his eyebrows, but he acquiesces, and reads through in silence.

Magnus,

Words aren't really my thing, so maybe this is all a really bad idea, but I wanted to say thank you. For last night, but also for everything else. I'm never going to be able to tell you how much meeting you has changed everything about my life, in the best way possible.

So thank you, for saving my life, and for giving me a chance to become a better person, and for last night, and for everything. And for the record, I don't think you're a demon. I don't think you're predisposed to be evil because you're a Downworlder. I don't think any Downworlder is. I'm ashamed I ever did. I think you're the best man I've ever met.

~ Alexander

Smiling, Magnus runs his fingertip over the words, over the soft little dents in the paper where Alec has pressed in a fountain pen. His handwriting is all messy loops that manage to have a little elegance in them, scrawling across the page carelessly. It's very Alexander. The note itself is very Alexander. All of it is, right down to the mismatched flowers with the uneven stems and the note folded like a piece of origami.

He reads the note a second time, and then a third, and his heart does a little somersault in his chest at such words from Alec—who is essentially incapable of anything but honesty, even when he tries.

"Well." Magnus clears his throat when it doesn't quite come out as strongly as he'd intended it to. "I think I prefer this letter to your last one."

That last one, oh so very long ago, after Magnus had given him a tip-off he'd heard at a bar one night that had led to the rescue of twenty-some Nephilim children. Alec had hidden his every word behind the Clave, then. It had been impersonal, stilted, formal. This isn't. This is exactly the opposite.

This one makes Magnus' heart turn over.

Alec lets out a little laugh. It's nervous, giddy, and Magnus realises that it's exactly how he feels, as his eyes roam over the words, again and again and again, with the knowledge tucked away in his mind that Alec came to his apartment block sometime and left him flowers, entirely unprompted—hand-picked flowers, at that.

"I think I prefer this one, too," Alec says.

"Thank you," Magnus tells him, finally setting the note down. He props it up against the vase, and decides that he'll put it away somewhere later—in the same drawer as the one in which Alexander's first letter currently sits, perhaps. "Really. Thank you. It's sweet of you."

He wants to say more. He wants to take away the filter, and tell Alec how warm it's made him feel, the knowledge that someone - someone, anyone, but especially Alexander - has thought about him long enough to give him flowers, for no real reason except—

What?

"You're more than welcome," Alec says, and his voice is low, soft, introspective. "It wasn't exactly a hardship."

Magnus smiles at that, but he doesn't comment. Instead, he says, "Will I see you, tonight?"

"Jace would be planning my funeral about now if I'd told Izzy I wasn't going," Alec jokes, and Magnus snickers. "Yeah, I'm coming."

"Good. That's good." Magnus barely has time to curse how pleased he feels that he gets to see Alec tonight, because his potion is being to bubble, and if he leaves it any longer, everything's going to go horribly wrong. "Alexander, I hate to cut this short, but I've really got to go. My potions are throwing tantrums. I'll see you soon."

Alec's resulting laugh is enough to set something in Magnus' heart alight for an eternity.

"I'll see you tonight, Magnus."

***

Lydia doesn't expect a knock on her bedroom door at half past five. She's been awake for thirty-six hours, and she's veering towards so tired everything around her starts to blur and tilt every time she forces her eyes open for a moment longer. Raj's grumbling hadn't helped matters, as she'd talked him through the contents of the documents she had on the Clave, on the Accords, on laws regarding Downworlders and criminals and convictions, and on Magnus Bane.

Hence why she'd left Raj to finish reading, and had retired upstairs to fucking sleep. Because Raziel, she likes her job, and she likes the Lightwoods, but she's so tired, and she needs to catch a break, just for an hour.

Clearly, the universe is conspiring against her.

"Lydia?" Isabelle's voice is muffled, and it lacks the anger and the frustration and the everlasting note of underlying irritation that Isabelle seems to hold whenever they exchange any words, no matter how inconsequential. "Can I come in?"

Lydia exhales, heavily. She's dressed to sleep, in shorts and a tank top, and she's only been in bed for three minutes, and she's really not in the mood for politics right now.

But this is Isabelle, and she can't say no to her.

"Yes, come in," she says, swinging her legs out of bed and flicking on the lamp.

The door is opened just a little, and Isabelle pokes her head around as she says, "Lydia, I– Oh." She pauses when she sees Lydia's attire, and sweeps her eyes up and down, before her eyes fix deliberately on Lydia's face. "I'm sorry. I didn't realise you were... Would you like me to come back?"

"No, it's okay." Lydia feels a little taken aback by Isabelle's sudden change in attitude. She swallows, sitting on the edge of her bed with the toes of one foot on the floor, one leg bent under the other.

Isabelle slips fully inside, and pushes Lydia's door shut behind her. She's dressed up, in ripped back jeans that huge every curve and dip of her body, and a silvery grey top that exposes one shoulder, the sleeves pushed up to her elbows. She's got an extensive amount of jewellery on, and—

Well. Her hair looks more or less as it always does, but Lydia doesn't really see how Isabelle could ever need to do anything more to her hair than whatever she already does, except decide whether she wants to wear it up or down. It's down, currently, falling over her shoulders like a waterfall.

"I wanted to apologise to you," Isabelle says, and Lydia blinks at her. "I don't– I haven't been fair to you. We got off on the wrong foot, and I wasn't really willing to give you a chance in the first place. You're from Idris, and...most people I've ever met from Idris hate me upon first glance."

"Isabelle, I—"

"I know," she says, and shakes her head. "I know you're not like that. It's just..taken me a while to accept it. It was easier to hate you. I'm not used to having my judgement controverted by the subsequent experiences." She smiles a little. "I'm very opinionated. You might have noticed."

Lydia lets herself smile back. "You? Never."

"It gets me into trouble a lot. I should probably have learnt better by now. Look, I–" Isabelle exhales. "I'm sorry, Lydia. I'm sorry for how I've behaved towards you, and I'm sorry I didn't give you a chance, and I'm sorry it's taken so long to get my head out of my ass. This is the kind of thing I'm supposed to yell at Alec for."

"You're both stubborn as hell," Lydia says, not unkindly. "I forgive you. I've been treated far worse, I assure you."

Isabelle frowns at that. "Why? By who?"

"Well, I'm young, and female, and I hold a fairly high position within the Clave's ranks. Certain old-fashioned people in Idris weren't overly impressed by my appointment."

"Bullshit," Isabelle says, waving a dismissive hand. The bangs on her wrist catch the lamplight. "You're good at your job. That's obvious. Nothing else should matter. But– Please, let me start over. Let me—"

"I don't do starting over," Lydia says, interrupting her smoothly. "But I stand by what I've said. I don't hate you. I like you, Isabelle. And I forgive you. I do understand, whatever you might think of me. Your break-up with your boyfriend—"

Isabelle rolls her eyes. "Alec told you."

"He was defending you," Lydia tells her. "He didn't tell me anything detailed. Just that you broke up and that it upset you, as I'd imagine it would anyone."

"Yeah." She sighs, leaning back against the door, and lets out a tired little laugh. "I'm okay. Meliorn wasn't— We were never going to end up growing old together, let's put it that way. But we loved each other, in our own way. Our break-up was partly my fault, anyway." She shrugs. "I arrested my own boyfriend. I didn't stand against it. I suppose that makes me all bark and no bite, and no better than the Shadowhunters I spend my life insulting."

"Obeying orders doesn't make you a bad person."

Isabelle smiles wryly. "If I preach it, I should have the strength to have my actions reflect it."

Lydia's voice drops to a murmur when she says, "I think you do that plenty just by being yourself."

There's a pause, a silence that hangs in the air between them, and Lydia feels like something fundamental has shifted between them. She's just not quite sure what it is, or what it means, or why.

"How do you feel about parties?" Isabelle asks, abruptly, scrutinising her with slightly narrowed eyes. The aura of discomfort and regret that had been hanging around her dissipates, and she seems more like herself again. Or, rather, more like the version of herself she usually chooses to let people see.

Lydia raises her eyebrows. "Classy parties, or Downworld raves?"

"Classy parties thrown by classy Downworlders," Isabelle says, and, to Lydia's doubtful look, she snaps, "Going to Downworld parties isn't technically illegal, you know. It might break every unspoken social rule we have, but it doesn't break the Law."

Lydia's lips turn up. "Are you asking me to come to a party with you?"

"I'm offering."

Lydia looks at her for a long, hard moment, wondering whether this is some kind of test. Isabelle merely returns her gaze steadily, unblinking as she stares back with her chin tipped up defiantly.

"Alright," Lydia says. "I'll come."

***

It's not often that Shadowhunters allow themselves to have fun.

It's especially not often that Alec allows himself to have fun with his siblings, returning to the days of childhood wherein their responsibilities were few and far between and the world seemed that much lighter, and that much more wondrous.

But as he flies through the air, rolling and spinning and making shapes with graceful arcs, laughing with Jace and Isabelle as they do the same, he can't help but remember how much fun it used to be, to do this as children.

They're not born able to fly perfectly. Shadowhunters don't really use their wings until they get their first runes—they're not allowed to. As children, they can't rune their wings away, but the Clave insists that no child is permitted to learn how to fly until they're able to suppress, and therefore control, their wings.

(Not that that had stopped Jace, of course.)

But it means that Alec spent a lot of time, as a child, and as a young teenager, swirling and twirling through the sky with Jace, and then with Isabelle when she was old enough, practising flying in a straight line, practising moves of agility and stealth in the air. Because, of course, flight combat is just as integral to their training regime as anything else.

And when Clary had first come to them...

Well. Alec still snickers when he remembers the first time Jace had told her that she had wings, that the scar on her shoulder was a rune designed to suppress them that had been glamoured by a warlock, and that she'd probably seen her wings, as a child, but had had her memories altered so she didn't remember.

Apparently, Jocelyn had left the bit about wings out of her explanation of the Shadow World.

"You three are such show-offs," Clary mutters from where she's flying steadily beside them, keeping her distance. They're all glamoured to look like birds native to New York, but she keeps looking down at the mundanes below.

Lydia laughs from her vantage point overhead, making elegant rolls in the air. "Clary, you just need to give it a shot. You're too worried."

"That's easy to say for someone who's been flying since they were ten."

A smile curls at the corner of Lydia's mouth. Alec isn't entirely sure why Lydia Branwell is with them, because parties seem like about as much of her thing as they are Alec's—and she doesn't know Magnus. Although, he supposes, it's tactical; she probably wants to meet the man she's trying to defend.

And, according to Isabelle, Magnus doesn't mind, so long as there's no trouble.

It's rather a lot of trust to put in them, Alec thinks, although he supposes Magnus is more than capable of protecting himself. He has been for the last four-and-a-bit centuries.

"Believe it or not," Lydia says, swooping down gracefully until she's beside Clary, "I used to hate flying. I was scared of heights."

Clary raises her eyebrows. "Really?"

Lydia replies in the affirmative, and sets about showing Clary how to roll sideways in the air, while still controlling forward speed. He notices Isabelle slowing in her somersaults, watching Lydia and Clary; a fleeting smile crosses Isabelle's face when Clary rolls over successfully, and whoops.

Flying to Magnus' loft is a lot quicker than taking the subway, and they touch down on the pavement near-silently. Isabelle is the first up to the door to knock. It's flung open almost immediately, and Magnus smiles at her.

"Isabelle Lightwood," he says, eyes crinkling at the corners. "You look ravishing."

Isabelle grins. "Of course I do."

They exchange a few more words while Alec hangs back, because parties really aren't his thing, and he can already tell that this evening is going to be horribly awkward. Other people are going to be there. Downworlders. People he's never met. People who'll hate him on sight.

He really hasn't thought this through.

And, of course, there's the little fact of Magnus, who looks like Lust incarnate in a pair of ripped black jeans that hug every curve, a burgundy shirt that's open to below his navel, and a fitted navy blazer. The amount of skin on display makes it unfairly difficult not to stare.

"Alexander!"

Alec glances up, and sees that his companions are all filing in. Magnus stands in the doorway, smiling at him, and he jerks his chin.

"Come on, darling," he says. "I'm the host, I'm not standing here all night."

"Yeah, I—" Alec shakes his head. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be silly." Magnus ushers Alec inside, and then pushes the door shut while Alec busies himself with concealing his wings away.

Then he glances up, and realises exactly how far out of his comfort zone this is.

***

Alec isn't good at socialising at the best of times. It's something he's been told by his siblings all his life. But he's especially terrible at socialising with people he doesn't know.

And the people currently filling Magnus' apartment aren't just strangers, but Downworlders, most of whom take one look at his runes and give him a wide berth and a disapproving look.

Magnus' loft has been altered so much to accommodate all the people that Alec hardly recognises it. The furniture has been moved, some disappearing entirely, and a bar has been set up where the sofa and coffee table once sat. A space has been cleared in the centre, and it's currently being occupied by people dancing. Just the sight of all those people in such close proximity makes Alec feel uncomfortable. The lights have been dimmed, replaced with colourful flashes and the heavy fluorescence of a club.

It's really not his scene. Not when he's essentially alone. Despite Isabelle's promise that she wouldn't abandon him, she's currently in conversation with Lydia and Magnus across the room, and Clary and Jace are dancing together, exchanging kisses that are so sweet Alec can't look at them.

"Refill, Shadowhunter?" Maia asks, from where she's standing behind the bar, clearly having been employed by Magnus to serve drinks for the night. She seems to know most of the people attending, and has been chatting and laughing with those she knows as they come up to the bar.

Alec looks down at his beer, considering. He's had...four? Five? And he doesn't even like beer. He needs some of that slightly-fruity thing Magnus had given him, once, but he hasn't got a clue want it was.

"Yeah, alright," Alec says. "Thank you."

Maia hums as she turns, and reaches down to grab a bottle from under the bar. "You're a lot politer than your brother," she says, snapping the cap off and pouring it into his glass. "I can see why Magnus is giving you the benefit of the doubt."

Alec huffs out a laugh through his nose, and shakes his head. Because, really, Magnus shouldn't be. Alec is all too aware of the fact that he's supposed to be killing the man, not attending his parties.

"Don't throw a pity party at my bar, Lightwood," she says, sharply. Then she tilts her head slightly to one side. "Why are you sitting here all on your own, anyway? Haven't you got a girlfriend? Why not go and join her?"

For a moment, Alec stares at her, perplexed, because can't imagine who on earth Maia would be referring to, because he's never had a girlfriend, and he certainly hasn't taken anyone to Magnus' party. Unless Maia thinks...

"Do you mean Lydia?" Alec asks, incredulous, and a laugh bubbles up his throat. "Oh my god. No. No. She's my boss."

Maia pauses. "She's the Clave representative? And Magnus has let her come here? Are you joking?"

Alec frowns. "You're not doing anything illegal. And she knows about Magnus. She's trying to get rid of the kill order on him."

Maia rolls her eyes. "Not doing anything illegal hasn't stopped Shadowhunters arresting and torturing us before," she says, wiping a glass dry with a cloth. "And forgive me if I'm not convinced that some blonde from Idris is going to be Magnus' saviour."

He bristles a little. "We follow the Law, Maia. Just because—"

"No." She slams the glass down, and fixes him with a glare. "You don't. You know damn well you don't. You twist the Law to fit your own agendas. Not all of you, I'll give you that much, but the Clave? The Clave doesn't uphold the Law. The Clave upholds its own archaic beliefs that totally disregard any progress we managed to make when the Accords were signed. And you want to know why so many Downworlders are siding with Valentine?" She leans forward, eyes flashing. "Because there's a Shadowhunter out there who wants to commit mass genocide, and the Clave has failed to take any measures to stop him. They're more worried about him exposing their own incompetence."

"That's exactly why so many Shadowhunters think Downworlders are irrational," Alec snaps. "Valentine wants to slaughter every Downworlder in existence, yet you side with him over the Clave?"

Maia throws her cloth down. "And that, Lightwood, is exactly how much we despise the Clave. They treat us like dirt, so much so that some of us would rather take our chances convincing Valentine that we deserve to live. And if the Clave can never see that, one day we're going to be the ones waging war on you. Without Valentine."

And, with that, Maia snags his empty glass, shoots him a glare, and stalks over to the vampire waiting at the other end of the bar, leaving Alec to ponder her words.

***

"Do you think I should go over?" Simon asks, leaning into Clary nervously, eyes fixed across the room. "I think I should go over. I've got to go over eventually. I'd rather do it when I'm not so drunk I can't walk straight, because then I'm doubly likely to embarrass myself. Although honestly, I'm probably going to embarrass myself anyway. Because, you know, I always do. If I'm drunk, maybe I won't remember it in the morning. Can vampires get that drunk? I can't believe I said all that crap to him the other night, I just—"

"Simon." It's Jace who speaks, rather than Clary, and he's looking at Simon with thinly veiled amusement laid over unending irritation. "Shut up. If you don't go over there, right now, I'm going to hijack Bane's music and announce to the room that Simon Lewis is utterly, pathetically in love with the leader of the New York vampires."

Simon shoots Jace a glare. "You're an ass."

Jace grins. "Oh, I know. Has it taken you this long to realise? I'm disappointed. I'll have to up my game."

"For god's sake, Simon," Clary says, but with more care and less sarcasm that Jace. "Go on. All you want to do is give him his jacket back."

"And get a kiss," Jace says, with a smirk that Simon really, really wants to smack off his face.

Simon raises a single finger in Jace's direction, and then pushes through the crowd towards where he can see Raphael, walking away from where he'd been making conversation with a slightly-drunk, very-miserable looking Alec Lightwood.

(Simon wonders whether Alec thinks he's being subtle. He's not. After having a clearly heated discussion with Maia, Alec has been brooding and drinking, alone save for his five minute conversation with Raphael just now, sneaking particularly unsubtle glances towards where Magnus is surrounded by people.)

(He hadn't realised someone like Alec was even capable of having a crush.)

"Hey— Raphael."

Simon reaches out to tap Raphael's elbow lightly as they pass each other. Raphael snaps his head round to look at Simon, and he blinks once, blankly, and freezes immediately.

"Simon," he says, expression inscrutable.

"Yeah. I mean, obviously I'm Simon, you know that. I mean—" Simon shakes his head, and wonders whether vampires can actually get mind-numbingly drunk. He hasn't tried since he's transformed. "I just wanted to give this back."

He extends Raphael's jacket out to him. Raphael stares at him for a moment, then down at the jacket, then back up to Simon's face.

"Keep it," Raphael says, with a shake of his head. "It's probably the most fashionable item of clothing you own."

"Your inner Magnus is showing," Simon says, with a grin, because even if Magnus has apparently been using his perception filter spell (who knew America's most powerful warlock was secretly a Doctor Who nerd?) on every Shadowhunter in New York, Simon hasn't been subject to having his perception of reality altered. He's seen the High Warlock of Brooklyn around and about in the Downworld, in passing.

(Jace's pissy attitude when he'd realised Simon had known of Magnus Bane's existence and approximate location for years had been the best gift Simon has ever received.)

Raphael rolls his eyes. "He did practically raise me."

"I know." Simon gentles his voice a little, and pushes the jacket towards Raphael. "Just take it. It's too fashionable for me."

"Fine." Raphael snatches it out of Simon's grip, and turns, but Simon's fingers snag on his sleeve, and he pauses. "What?"

"What I said, the other night— I'm not going to pretend I'm glad about your involvement with my mom, but I get why you did it. And you're right. You've offered to help me at every turn, and I— You deserved better than my shitty attitude. So I'm sorry. Really, I'm sorry."

Raphael looks at him for a long, hard moment, not a single muscle in his face so much as twitching, and Simon shifts nervously under the other vampire's scrutiny.

Then Raphael's face breaks into the closest thing to a smile Simon has ever seen from him, and he shakes his head. "You were starving. It gives us bad attitudes. I'm sure I'll get over it. But you need to get it into your head that I don't hate you, amigo."

Simon huffs out a laugh. "You hate everyone."

Raphael shrugs. "Perhaps. I hate you less than I hate most people."

And—

Well. Okay. If Raphael wants to make Simon's undead, unbeating heart arrest, he's succeeding.

"Do you, um." Simon clears his throat, and Raphael raises his eyebrows. "Do you– Maybe we– I mean, would you want— Drink?"

Holy shit, he needs to stop taking the piss out of Alec's lack of subtlety. He's worse. What the fuck was that? That wasn't even remotely coherent.

Raphael's lips are twitching, and fuck, he's so cute. Simon wants to hug him, and kiss his cheek, and ruin his stupidly perfect hair, and preferably not get his head bitten off for it.

"Drinks are at the bar, Simon," Raphael says, lips still doing that infuriating twitching-pouting thing. "Maia's serving."

Simon rolls his eyes. "You're such an asshole. You know what I mean. Come on."

Simon grabs the startled Raphael's hand in his determinedly, and marches them both through the crowds towards the bar. He pretends not to see the grin on Raphael's face, because if he acknowledges it, he knows he's well and truly fucked.

Although, when Raphael's grip on his hand tightens infinitesimally, palms pressing together, he thinks maybe that wouldn't be so bad.

***

Alec can't remember the last time he ingested enough alcohol to actually feel its effects. Shadowhunters - and most Downworlders - have a much higher alcohol tolerance than mundanes. Jace takes it as a challenge, to drink as much as he can and get completely pissed regularly. Alec takes it as a reason not to bother drinking in the first place, as he doesn't exactly enjoy the taste of most alcohol.

But, seven - or is it eight? - pints down, and he's feeling a little bit fuzzy. He's certainly not drunk enough to forget anything in the morning, or to start falling on his face, but he feels a bit...emboldened.

Across the room, he can see Magnus. He's been glancing over his shoulder to find him every now and then all the time he's been sitting here, but now Magnus has moved, he barely has to turn his head.

And there's some boy standing with him.

He's a Seelie, Alec can see, with a shock of dark hair that's been dyed with streaks of blue and purple, and he's dressed to impress, showing off as much skin as he can without being indecent. He looks young - younger than Alec - but he knows he's probably older than he looks, as most Seelies are.

Magnus, Alec has noticed, doesn't stay talking to the same person for too long. He flits around, making conversation and then pulling himself gently out to move on, speaking to as many people as he can. Because, clearly, the people here are his friends, people he likes, and as their host, Alec supposes he wants to converse with them all.

But this Seelie, Magnus has been talking to for nearing half an hour.

Magnus hasn't given Alec a second glance, since Alec had walked in and Isabelle had dragged Magnus' attention away to introduce him to Lydia.

Alec has never thought he's a particularly jealous person. He never resented all those girls Jace used to pick up when they were teenagers and Alec had an unpleasantly overwhelming crush on his parabatai. He didn't like hearing about Jace's latest hook-up, but he wasn't jealous.

But he is now. Not resentful of the Seelie - well, maybe just a little - but he is jealous. Maybe it's more like envy than jealousy, he thinks. Because Magnus... Well. He'd thought, recently, that they'd been... What? Closer? More friendly?

Clearly, however, Alec's been fooling himself. Because, surrounded by all his friends and acquaintances - people he likes and loves and can have fun with, people who understand him and can empathise with the abuse he's suffered at the hands of Alec's people, people who aren't supposed to be killing him - Magnus seems to have forgotten Alec even exists.

And it's... It's something about him. Magnus spoke to Isabelle and to Lydia extensively when they'd arrived. He went to talk to Clary, some time later, and exchanged verbal quips with Jace, and had another fleeting conversation with Isabelle, but he hasn't even glanced in Alec's direction.

He knows - by the Angel, he knows - that it's moronic to be so disappointed. It was foolish to think that he had anything remotely close to friendship with Magnus Bane. He's a Shadowhunter, and the Acting Head of the New York Institute, and a Lightwood. Magnus is a Downworlder, the High Warlock of Brooklyn, and there's no reason for him to be willing to associate himself with someone like Alec.

With hindsight, it all seems so very obvious.

Alec only wishes he'd had the clarity to see it three nights ago, when he'd spilled his heart to Magnus on the warlock's doorstep, and then on his sofa, and then in his bedroom.

"Alec, man, seriously. You're making me depressed."

An irritated frown crosses Alec's face as he looks up to see Simon and Raphael sitting at the bar a few stools along from him, both with blood-infused drinks. Simon has his eyebrows half-raised in mild concern, and Raphael is halfway through rolling his eyes.

"Look the other way," Alec says. "I'm not making you look at me."

"You're not subtle," Simon tells him. "You're lucky nobody here is paying you any attention, because you are honestly the most unsubtle person I've ever seen in my life. And trust me, I've been to Comic Con, I've seen a lot of very unsubtle people."

Alec glances past Simon to Raphael. "Does he ever shut up?"

Raphael shrugs. "No. But he's got a point. Honestly, you and Magnus are just as pathetic as each other."

Alec squints one eye at him. "What's the supposed to mean?"

"It means that you're looking at him every five seconds," Simon says. "Go on, stare at that poor bloke with him a bit harder, he might spontaneously combust."

Raphael's lips twitch up, and he ducks his head quickly, but it's too late to hide the grin that flashes across his face.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Alec says, shortly, and turns back to his half-empty beer.

"Lightwood," Raphael says, "if you want to go and talk to him so badly, go and talk to him. He's not going to eat you. He's a soft touch behind the bravado. I'm sure you've noticed."

"I don't know," Simon says, doubtfully, "I'm fairly sure he could, y'know, burn down the world and not bat an eyelid? Torture someone who's done him wrong and leave them screaming for mercy and not give a shit? Be a total badass and stand for zero bullcrap?"

Raphael shrugs. "He could," he agrees. "But not to Alec. Except perhaps the last one."

Alec blinks. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Raphael looks skyward. "Dear God, I am surrounded by morons. Get up, Shadowhunter, stop moping, and go over there. You're insufferable. And ruining the mood."

"We had a mood?" Simon asks, sounding a little bewildered but horribly hopeful. "What kind of mood? Was it a good mood?"

"It was fine," Raphael says shortly, and Simon beams.

It's a little sickening. And it's definitely enough to make Alec get up. Especially when he looks over to where Magnus is, and sees that bloody Seelie with one hand on Magnus' chest, leaning up to whisper something to him.

"Fuck it," Alec says, and tips back the rest of his beer. "Fuck all of this. Fuck them. Fuck everyone."

And, leaving Maia and Simon staring slack-jawed and Raphael looking just a touch amused, Alec stands up, slams his empty glass down, and stalks through the crowd towards Magnus.

Chapter Text

Cirrus is very sweet.

That's about as far as Magnus can go, as he stands conversing with the Seelie for longer than is entirely appropriate, mostly owing to his unwillingness to hurt the feelings of a man so very nice and so very pretty. He's polite, and he listens, and his flirting is obvious enough to notice but subtle enough to be classy, and he's gorgeous.

But, beyond a nice conversation, Magnus doesn't feel all that much. He doesn't even have the desire to drag him out of the party and into his bedroom, when the guests have gone. Or right now.

The reason, he knows, is currently sitting at the bar, nursing yet another glass of beer, with a scowl on his face. Part of Magnus wants to go over there, slide into the empty bar stool next to him, and strike up some stupid, meaningless conversation to make him smile. But Alec's entire being screams fuck off, so he thinks he's probably going to have a more pleasant time with Cirrus. Even if he's going to have to let him down gently later.

Magnus forces his thoughts away from the Shadowhunter apparently having an awful time, and returns his attention to the young Seelie, instead. He's caught up in conversation, focusing on being an attentive listener and a polite host, and he doesn't notice someone approaching them until he hears someone saying his name.

"Magnus."

Magnus glances up, and sees Alec walking through the crowds towards them. He can't help the way his eyes dip down, flickering over every inch of the Shadowhunter stalking up to them in a huff, determination setting his brow. He suspects Isabelle is probably to credit for Alexander's attire—flattering fitted jeans, a denim shirt, and a black leather jacket that does everything for his shoulders.

He's really never had any problem admitting that Alec is more than a little attractive. It's the rest that he can't quite bring himself to embrace—Alec is a Shadowhunter, for god's sake. It's only going to end in heartache.

Cirrus glances over his shoulder as Alec nears them, and his eyes catch on Alec, clearly noticing the object of Magnus' attention. He raises his eyebrows, and a small smile of understanding flits across his face.

"Ah." He looks up at Magnus, and shakes his head. "I'll leave you to it."

Magnus feels instantly guilty. "Cirrus—"

"I'm not a fool, Magnus. I know a look of longing when I see one. I'll be at the bar. If you desire companionship."

With that, Cirrus tilts his chin up to kiss Magnus' cheek, the merest breath of a kiss, platonic at best irrespective of any intentions Cirrus may have had tonight, then he smiles, and disappears through the crowd.

Magnus meets Alec's gaze. He's stopped several feet away, and is staring at Magnus with his lips pressed together and a hard look in his eyes.

"Was– Who was– Was that your date? Or your boyfriend, or—?"

The words are blurted out in a rush, tumbling over each other, face full of discontent and discomfort, and Magnus nearly smiles.

"No," he says, leaning back against the wall and taking a sip of his cocktail. "He's a client. I met him a few days ago. I remain decidedly single."

He leaves out the anecdote about Cirrus unwittingly delivering Alec's flowers.

"Oh." Alec chews on his lower lip. "Oh."

Magnus raises an eyebrow at him. "Are you going to come over here, or are we going to shout across the room?"

"I– Yeah." Alec steps closer, and Magnus doesn't miss his eyes dropping down from Magnus' face, lingering on his partially exposed chest and abs, before he drags his gaze back up. "Magnus, I– Have I done something wrong? Said something?"

Magnus blinks. "Not that I'm aware of. Why? What are you talking about?"

"You haven't spoken to me all night. I just– I know we're not exactly friends, and I know you probably don't want to spend all your time making nice with someone who's– someone like me, but you spoke to my sister, and to Jace, and I just..." He shrugs. "I don't know. Forget it."

"Alex– Alec," Magnus says, firmly, Isabelle's passing comment from earlier as she'd dragged him over to introduce him to Lydia Branwell ringing in his ears.

Nobody calls him Alexander, you know...

"I don't know what you think I do with my business partners, but Stars Wars, sleepovers, and pillow talk isn't usually on the agenda."

Alec opens his mouth, and then closes it again. "What does that mean?"

"I've been more honest with you than I've been with anybody for a long time," Magnus says, dragging a finger through the condensation on the side of his glass, eyes following the path he makes. "There's no reason I wouldn't want to talk to you. If I didn't want you to be here, rest assured, you wouldn't have been invited."

If anything, Alec only looks more bewildered. "Then why—?"

"Because–" Magnus pushes off the wall, and comes to stand in front of Alec, close enough that their breaths intermingle "–you walked in having spaced out on my doorstep for a good minute, barely said a word to me, and then went straight for the bar. Forgive me for thinking you didn't want to talk to me."

Alec's brow furrows, eyes flickering around Magnus' face as though he's not sure where to look. He's quiet for a moment, mouth open slightly, and then he says, "I always want to talk to you."

Magnus' breath catches, heart stilling for a moment before it restarts, thudding double-time against his ribs. His lips part a little as he stares up at Alec, and by Lilith, he hasn't wanted to kiss anybody this much for such a long time.

"How much have you had to drink?" he manages to get out, eventually, and the delivery isn't as smooth as he'd like it to be, but it's better than whatever jumbled, incoherent mess is running through his brain.

One corner of Alec's mouth tips up. "I don't know. I had, like, five, and then I pissed Maia off, so I picked up the pace. By the Angel, I sound as bad as Jace."

Magnus raises his eyebrows. "What did you do?"

"To piss off Maia? Put my foot in my mouth. I was being ignorant. I think." He frowns a little. "Maybe I should apologise."

"I'd wait twenty-four hours, if I were you. If you'd like to keep your head attached to your shoulders," Magnus advises him. He snaps his fingers to make his drink disappear, and then says, on a whim, "In the mean time, how do you feel about dancing?"

Alec blinks, looking adorably confused in the way people do when they're a little bit drunk with fuzzy brains, and they can't quite keep up with quick changes in topic.

"Dancing?"

"Yes, Alec, dancing." Magnus jerks his head towards where people are meshed together in what had been his living room. "Like that."

"With you?"

"Mmhm."

"Yeah, okay. But–" His face falls almost comically. "I don't know how to dance."

"I'll teach you," Magnus says, and holds out a hand. He wiggles his fingers pointedly when Alec just looks at it, making no move to take it. "Come on. Nobody's going to be looking at you. They'll all be looking at me." He drops Alec a smirk and a glittery wink, and delights in the flush that covers Alexander's cheeks.

Uncertainty flashes in Alec's eyes. "Are you sure?"

Magnus arches an eyebrow. "That they'll be looking at me rather than you? Yes."

"No, that—" But Alec cuts himself off, and odd expression covering his face, and he shakes his head, resolve setting into the lines of his face. "No, fuck it."

While Magnus recovers from his surprise at Alec's abrupt change of tone, he takes Magnus' hand, gripping firmly. Magnus flashes him a smile over his shoulder, and then drags him through the people milling around towards the centre of the room.

The music is loudest over there, the bass drum of the song pulsing through the floor, vibrations running through Magnus' feet and diffusing through his entire body, until he feels like his heart is in synch with the song, the music washing over him until he's drowning in it.

He twists, pulling Alec to a halt, and turns to face him, dropping his hand but staying close.

"Think of it like fighting," Magnus says, already swaying his hips to the beat of the music. "There's a rhythm, and you don't need to overthink it."

Alec is standing frozen, rubbing his lips together as he watches Magnus ease himself into the movements. Magnus has to bite down on the inside of his cheek to stop himself laughing, because Alec looks so utterly lost.

"Come here," Magnus says, reaching out to drag Alec closer by his hips, trying to ignore the way Alec's body feels under his palms. "Don't worry about what anybody else is doing. Nobody is looking at you. I promise."

"I can't do that," Alec says, eyes flickering down Magnus' body. "And you're looking at me."

Magnus shrugs, a smile tugging at his mouth. "Darling, most people can't dance like me. I've had four centuries to perfect it. I won't judge you."

That makes Alec laugh, and Magnus' smile stretches out into a full grin.

It takes him a moment, but Alec manages to follow Magnus' instruction, shifting his hips side to side under Magnus' hands. It's inelegant, movements stilted and stiff with nowhere near enough flex in his knees, and it's painfully obvious that Alec has never danced like this before, but Magnus couldn't care less. Because it's fun. This is fun, dancing with Alec, watching him loose some of that infuriating Shadowhunter decorum as he throws his head back and laughs when Magnus executes a particularly spectacular full body roll. It makes Alec's eyes crinkle at the corners, and god, Magnus wants to evoke that reaction again.

After a while, he slips one hand off Alec's hip, instead draping his forearm over his shoulder, so they're actually dancing together. Alec looks momentarily panicked as Magnus' body shifts, the angle between them changing, bringing them closer together so that Magnus can really let loose.

"Relax," Magnus says with a smile, and reaches up to brush a strand of hair out of Alec's eyes. "You're fine."

The song changes twice before Magnus feels fingers brush hesitantly against his hip. Alec's eyes have dropped down, watching where his hand is going; Magnus slows their movements a little, realising that Alec has seen how other people are dancing together, and is trying to imitate it.

"Go on," Magnus murmurs, when Alec hesitates.

"This isn't as awful as I always thought it would be," Alec says, securing his hold and glancing up at Magnus.

Magnus laughs. "It's only a little bit awful?"

"Well. Yeah." Alec shrugs, and it throws off his rhythm, but it doesn't matter. Nothing matters, except this, right now, making Magnus feel elated in ways he hasn't for years.

Just because a pretty boy - and a Shadowhunter, at that - is dancing with him.

"You're such a Shadowhunter," Magnus says, shaking his head, still smiling so wide it's making his cheeks ache.

"Hey! What's that supposed to mean?"

He looks adorably outraged, and Magnus can't resist tilting his chin up to kiss his cheek, laughing again. Alec's eyes glaze over a little as Magnus pulls back, expression softening, and—

Fuck.

Magnus spins, arms above his head, flinging his head back so that he can look elsewhere, just for a moment. He can't look at Alec with that expression on his face. It makes him hope. Makes him consider than maybe, maybe, he hasn't been reading too much into Alec's actions, that maybe—

The song comes to a rather abrupt end, and the soft guitar chords that float through the air are decidedly slow, intimate, and Magnus decides that enough is enough. He can't slow dance with Alec. It'll tear him to pieces.

"Drink?" Magnus suggests, stepping back to put a little more space between them.

"Yeah." Alec's eyes flicker, up and down again, several times. "Yeah, okay."

***

Isabelle offers Jace a grin as he approaches the bar, dragging a hand through his hair. Clary's standing across the room, trying to convince Lydia to dance, and Jace, apparently, has decided to leave her to it and grab a drink.

"Here." Isabelle slides a glass of vodka and coke over to him.

He catches it before it slides off the bar, and winks. "Thanks, Iz."

She jerks her chin up towards where Alec and Magnus have been dancing for the last five minutes, Alec having finally gone over to talk to the warlock after hours of pining at the bar. How Alec can be so dense he can't see the way Magnus looks at him, she'll never know.

"Alec's having fun," she says, as Jace stands beside her, both of them leaning back against the bar in lieu of utilising the bar stools provided.

"I noticed," Jace says, and shakes his head, smirking. "Walked straight past me when Bane was dragging him over to dance."

Isabelle rolls her eyes. "Why do you call him that?"

Jace shrugs, taking a long swig of his drink. "He's got eyes for Alec. I can't be too nice, can I?"

"You're an ass," Isabelle tells him.

Jace hums noncommittally. Isabelle can't help glancing over to where Clary and Lydia are; Clary appears to have given up on convincing Lydia to dance, and is instead pointing out people around the room. She's gesturing at Simon and Raphael, who are at the other end of the bar, leaning towards each other. Simon is babbling, talking so rapidly Isabelle is surprised Raphael can understand him, and waving his hands around dangerously. Raphael has his eyebrows half-raised, lips turned up just a touch.

Lydia meets Isabelle's eyes across the room, and Isabelle can't hold her gaze. She drops her eyes, focusing instead on the toes of her boots. The guilt she feels about how she's treated Lydia is still eating at her.

She can't count how much she's fucked up in the last few months. First not paying enough attention, letting her brother get shot and fall out of the sky, because she'd been so desperate to see whether Meliorn had been part of the Downworld group the Circle had been meeting.

Then she'd arrested her own boyfriend, unable to practise what she's spent her life preaching. She hadn't stood up to her mother's orders to arrest dozens of innocent Downworlders, leaving children without parents and the most powerful warlock in the country with a desire for revenge.

And, however hard she's tried since, she can't stop making things worse. Their rescue plan had succeeded—but it had been Alec's idea to go to Magnus, not hers, and he's the one whose favour won them such an alliance, and Meliorn had dumped her anyway.

She's been so determined to disobey authority, since, that she's ended up alienating one of the few people in Idris who isn't a stuck-up bigot. Her fury with herself, her devastation about how terribly everything ended with Meliorn, led to a fierce prejudice against Lydia before they'd even met, just because she knew she was a Clave envoy from Idris.

And now—now, she can barely look her in the eye. Because Lydia is doing everything she's never managed to. Lydia is putting words into action. Lydia is trusting them, trusting that the case the Clave has built around Magnus isn't as simple as it seems, and investigating, trying to find a way to prove it.

Trying to find a way to save Alec from a mess Isabelle had a hand in creating.

She pushes the thoughts away. She's not going to think about it. She's going to watch her hopeless brother try to dance with the most graceful man in the room.

"Do you think he realises?" Izzy asks, abruptly, wrapping her lips around the neck of the bottle of beer to take a swig. She's leaning back against the bar, arms braced on the rough surface, and has her ankles crossed, balanced on the long heels of her shoes.

Jace quirks an eyebrow, but doesn't glance over at her, instead watching Alec try to follow Magnus' instruction. He's moving in time with the music, but his motions are stilted, awkward, especially in contrast to Magnus'. Magnus is laughing, eyes bright, and he tilts his chin up to kiss Alec's cheek.

It's not that Magnus looks at Alec as though he's the only person in the room. He doesn't. Isabelle's always thought that's an odd expression, because if there's only one person in the room, where else would you look? It doesn't mean you'd look at them favourably, or willingly, or with any pleasure. No. Magnus looks at Alec like he's fully aware of the fact that there are a few hundred utterly beautiful people surrounding him from all sides, all probably more than eager to impress the High Warlock of Brooklyn with their flirting and their seductive dancing, but he doesn't care; he only cares about Alec.

"Realises what?" Jace asks.

"That he's in love."

Jace snorts into his vodka and coke. "No. He hasn't got a clue. Not that Bane could make how besotted he is any more obvious. Although, I'm surprised he's into someone like Alec."

Isabelle turns to glare at him. "Really, Jace? What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well—" Jace waves a hand at the pair of them. "Magnus is...all that. Alec's more...low-key."

Isabelle smiles, and leans her head against Jace's shoulder. "Yeah. He is. I think that's part of the reason Magnus likes him."

Jace wraps an arm around her shoulders, and kisses the top of her head. "Whatever it is, I like it. Magnus seems good for him. And he's patient with him. God knows things haven't been easy recently, but Alec... I don't know. He feels calmer. More settled. Less on edge."

"Yeah." She snuggles against Jace a little. "Yeah, he does."

"They're coming this way," Jace murmurs. "Shall we go find Clary and Lydia?"

Isabelle follows Alec and Magnus making their way through the crowd with her eyes. Magnus is leading him again, their hands linked, and it's obvious that Alec can't take his eyes off the warlock. Not that Isabelle blames him—Magnus is gorgeous, and he's dressed to impress.

Lydia's face flashes through her mind, and, unbidden, she remembers what Lydia said to her.

I like you, Isabelle. And I forgive you.

"Come on," Jace says, straightening up and offering Isabelle his arm with a lopsided grin on his face. "Let's leave them to it. I wouldn't want to interrupt, if Alec is finally pulling his head out of his ass. Maybe you'll have more luck convincing Lydia to dance than Clary did."

Isabelle doubts it, somehow, but she takes Jace's arm anyway. Just for once in her life, she wishes something could be simple.

But then she catches sight of Magnus and Alec smiling at each other as though nothing else in the world matters, and she thinks that maybe some things are.

And she swears to herself that irrespective of anything else, she's not going to let circumstance fuck things up for Alec. Not any longer. She's going to fight the Clave with her bare hands before they can even try to force Alec to kill the man he's falling in love with.

***

"Pulled your head out of your ass, Shadowhunter?" Maia asks, sharply, when Magnus approaches the bar with Alec in tow.

Alec swallows. "Maia, I'm sorry. I didn't– I'd never thought about it like that. I don't think I really understand, what we do to you and why it makes you so desperate. But I'd like to."

Maia purses her lips. "Apology accepted. Drink, Magnus?"

"I'll have a margarita," Magnus says, leaning one hip against the bar and sending Maia a lazy smile. "Alec?"

Alec considers asking for something non-alcoholic, because he's probably had enough for one night - it's more than he's ever drunk in one period, ever - but then he registers that Magnus' hand is still wrapped around his, and he thinks that he might need a top-up, if he's going to survive the rest of the night.

"I, um." He looks across at Magnus. "What was that thing you gave me, once?"

"Port?" Magnus raises an eyebrow. "Oh, no, I know what you mean. A Manhattan, please, my lovely Maia."

Maia rolls her eyes. "You're such a flirt, Magnus. And your friends are just as bad. It's a good thing you're paying me so much for tonight. Do you know how many times I've been hit on?"

Magnus smiles. "I apologise for their poor behaviour. If I need to perform any castrations, let me know."

Maia shakes her head, lips twitching. "No. You got this one away from moping at the bar, that'll do."

Magnus glances over at him, smile not diminishing, and Alec finds himself drowning in the depths of Magnus' slitted pupils, gold-green irises glistening like halos around them, enchanting every cell in Alec's body.

But it's not some demonic mark of seduction. It's just Magnus.

"Here you go," Maia says, sliding two glasses towards them. "Enjoy."

Alec breaks his gaze away from Magnus', not without effort, and turns to take his drink and thank Maia, their hands dropping as they both reach forward. He glances back over at Magnus, and finds the warlock already watching him, that same small smile still on his lips.

He's fucking beautiful.

It's the only thought Alec can get through his stupid head. Magnus Bane is beautiful, and he's not smiling at anyone else, he hasn't been dancing with anyone else, he isn't holding hands with anyone else—he's doing all that with Alec.

"You're really pretty," Alec blurts out, because, apparently, being slightly drunk dissolves his brain-to-mouth filter.

Fuck.

He feels himself flush the moment the words are out, and Magnus' face goes blank in surprise, lips parting. Alec busies himself with taking a sip of his drink, instead. He's fairly sure it tastes of whiskey, and it's sweet, but not overpoweringly so. It's nice. If a little...red. It's a nice distraction from his sheer idiocy.

Then soft laughter meets his ears, and he looks up to find Magnus watching him as though—

"Thank you," he says, a smile on his face and something gentle in his eyes. "You're very pretty too, angel."

Oh.

That's new. Alec's been called handsome before, by his parents and by other adult Shadowhunters when he was younger, but never by anybody he's been...interested in. And never pretty. Male Shadowhunters aren't really allowed to be pretty. It's not considered masculine enough. But from Magnus, it makes his stomach flutter.

"Hey." Magnus ducks his head to catch Alec's gaze more fully. "You okay?"

"I'm good. Where, um. Where does Chairman Meow hide, while all this is going on? Does he go somewhere else?"

"He tends to hide behind closed doors," Magnus says, dragging a finger around the rim of his glass but not breaking his gaze away from Alec's eyes. "Why don't we go and have a look?"

The idea is awfully appealing - getting away from the plethora of sticky, writhing bodies and the excruciatingly loud music with that thudding bass drum - but Alec doesn't want to take Magnus away from something that he clearly enjoys.

"It's okay," Alec says. "I wouldn't want you to miss out. It is your party, after all."

"No." Magnus straights up from where he's been leaning against the bar, and turns away, already walking through the crowd, swaying his hips in a way that tugs Alec's attention downwards, as he turns to call over his shoulder, "I think I want to find my cat, in the company of the prettiest boy in the room."

Alec's brain revolts at that description, because Magnus is in the room, for Raziel's sake, but he can't stop himself following, as though Magnus is a magnet that he's eternally attracted to.

It's like chasing an elusive ghost, following Magnus through the crowds. Without their hands joined, Alec has to push past people and crane his neck and utilise every last drop of his agility rune to successfully follow Magnus through to a door—his bedroom door, Alec realises.

By the time Alec reaches him, Magnus is already inside, and he's got the Chairman cradled in his arms, petting the cat and murmuring to him. His eyelashes are swept down, almost brushing the sharp edges of his cheekbones, and the line of his mouth is soft, relaxed. Kissable. Alec takes a moment to simply stare, leaning back against the door once he closes it behind him, because Raziel, Magnus Bane is so beautiful.

In more ways than the obvious.

Magnus glances up. Alec knows that there's a quip, a snarky comment, on the tip of his tongue, because there's that glint in his eyes that he always seems to get when he's about to make that sort of comment. But it disappears after a mere moment, and instead he steps towards Alec, the Chairman purring contentedly against his chest while Magnus scratches at his fur absently.

"Alec," he says, a look of concern on his face, "you know you don't have to be here, don't you? I was teasing you. If this makes you uncomfortable—"

"Magnus, stop."

Alec shakes his head in frustration, taking a step forwards, towards the warlock, so he's away from the door. Like this, standing up straight, he's a few inches taller than Magnus. The height difference only really notices when they're this close.

"I'm not—" He makes a noise of annoyance in the back of his throat when he can't find the words, and takes a breath before he tries again. "I'm not some innocent kid who needs protecting."

"I know, Alec, I—"

"Then why do you always do this?" Alec asks, softening his voice. "You're always so considerate, it's— I'm not afraid of you. Not like that. If I were uncomfortable, I wouldn't be here. I know what I want."

Magnus raises his eyebrows just as the Chairman leaps from his arms, dropping onto the floor and disappearing into Magnus' en suite.

"And what is it that you want?" Magnus asks, voice low as he moves closer, so there's a mere handful of inches between their faces.

"You're doing it again," Alec whispers, while he tries, desperately, not to let his eyes stray from Magnus'. If they do, he knows they'll fix on Magnus' lips. "You're testing me, or trying to make me nervous, or something. You don't need to."

Fingers brush against his forehead as Magnus reaches up to push Alec's hair back. It's not a practical movement: Alec's fringe isn't quite in his eyes, and it flops back down the moment Magnus finishes brushing it back. It's...affectionate, Alec thinks. The kind of thing he might do to Max, or his mother might do to him. But...different, somehow.

It's puzzling, and confusing, and feels unlike anything Alec's ever felt—much like every emotion he experiences around Magnus. Beyond that, it lights something warm in Alec's chest, and he has the horrible urge to lean into the touch.

Magnus drops his hand, letting it slide over the curve of Alec's shoulder and down to rest on his bicep. His eyes flicker, down and near-instantly back up again, and Alec freezes. Did Magnus just—?

"Don't I?"

"No," Alec breaths, and shakes his head in a tiny motion. "No, you don't."

"And why–" Magnus' eyes dip again, and this time, it's unmistakable, and it makes Alec's heart hammer against his chest, anticipation and desire flooding through him "–is that?"

"Because I trust you," Alec tells him, and he lifts a hand, fingers just flitting against Magnus' side before dropping down again. "And I like you, and I'm not scared of you. Not like that. I know you're powerful, and I know you could devastate the city with a snap of your fingers, but I also know that you won't. Because you're not like that. Not unless something's at stake. You're a good person. You're an incredibly good person."

Their gazes are locked, and Magnus is staring up at him in wonder, eyes wide and jaw slack, and he shakes his head, not moving his hand from where it's still resting lightly on Alec's arm.

"Alec," he whispers, searching the Shadowhunter's face as though looking for something that might explain the impossible enigma Alec is apparently presenting him with.

"Why have you started calling me that? You never call me Alec."

Magnus shrugs. "Your sister said that nobody calls you Alexander. I presumed that meant you didn't like it."

Astonished, Alec huffs out a little laugh, and shakes his head. "Don't you think I'd have said something by now if I hated it so much?"

"Hate is a strong word."

"Magnus." Alec lifts a hand, and brushes his thumb against Magnus' cheek, where glitter from his eyeshadow has fallen in a perfectly imperfect little circle. "I don't mind you calling me that. It's...it's just what you do. It's a you thing."

"Alexander," Magnus whispers, something desperate, something almost pleading, in his voice.

Alec doesn't realise that he's had his eyes fixed on Magnus' mouth until he glances up to see that Magnus' gaze is locked down below his eyes, too. Magnus is the most beautiful man he's ever had the privilege of seeing.

And he's staring at Alec like he's the wonder in the room.

Fuck, he wants to kiss him. He wants to kiss Magnus Bane. The skin of his jaw is warm against Alec's palm, and they're close enough to feel the heat rolling off each other, to feel the pounding of each other's hearts, and Alec has his chin angled down a little, head tilting to one side without conscious thought.

"Alexander," Magnus murmurs again, this time so lowly it barely disturbs the air, but Alec hears him, because they're so close. He can smell the citrus of Magnus' drink on his breath, and he slides his fingers back to tilt Magnus' head up as their eyes just begin to flutter closed, and—

"Alec!"

Isabelle's voice cuts through the air. Alec screws his eyes shut, a breath leaving him suddenly as the tension in the room shatters, and the real world comes crashing back around them like an icy shower after too long in the sun.

Magnus leans back, clearly planning on putting a vast amount of space between them to accommodate for Alec's closeted status, but Alec doesn't let go of him, dropping the hand on his jaw to his shoulder, and resting the other lightly on his hip in a sober imitation of how they'd been dancing, earlier. His fingers are light enough to let Magnus step back is he wants to, but firm enough to communicate that he wants him to stay close. He knows Isabelle doesn't care, and he's fairly sure she knows about this, anyway.

She probably worked it all out before he did.

"We've got to go," she says, and she has the decency to sound apologetic, but the tone of her voice is just slightly harried. "Mom just called. The Institute—they're under attack. We need to go. Max is there, and—"

Alec's eyes snap open at that. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. The Institute is under attack, his family, his little brother, is in danger, and he's at a Downworld party, a mere moment away from kissing the High Warlock of Brooklyn. He shouldn't be here, he should be doing his job, he should be protecting his family—

Fuck.

"Shit," he says, turning to look over his shoulder at Isabelle. He relaxes his hold on Magnus, but he doesn't let go. Not yet. Not when he feels like Magnus' hand on his arm might be the only thing grounding him and stopping him flying off into self-deprecating hysterics in his head. "I'm coming."

"Alright. Lydia's looking for Jace and Clary, we'll meet you outside."

He hears the click of her heels as she jogs away, and he turns back to Magnus. Magnus is curling his fingers lightly into the sleeve of Alec's shirt, worry - for what, Alec doesn't know - plastered across his face, brow furrowed anxiously.

The urge to reassure Magnus that this isn't an embarrassing drunken moment that he never wants to speak of again grips him. It's not. He's not that drunk. He's drunk enough to feel the effects, and he's perfectly certain that he'd never have leant down to kiss Magnus and would never have said such things perfectly sober, but he's far from out of his mind.

In lieu of a real kiss, he leans in and presses his lips to the elegant arch of Magnus' cheekbone, letting the touch linger for several long seconds. Magnus tilts his head into the contact, and Magnus' free hand rests on his forearm.

When he pulls back just slightly, he lets his mouth brush Magnus' skin as he whispers, "I'm sorry."

He feels Magnus' eyelashes flutter against his cheek, and Magnus' grip on his arms tightens. They're close enough for Alec to feel Magnus' heart thudding, rapid and heavy against his chest. It's intimate, and closer than Alec's ever dared to hope he'd be to any man—let alone Magnus Bane.

"Be careful," Magnus murmurs, turning his head so that his cheek rests against Alec's, their hair brushing together. "Please, angel, be careful."

"I'm always careful," Alec says, chest tightening, and Magnus pulls back, eyes searching Alec's with a desperation that Alec doesn't understand.

At last, he shifts back, loosening his grip. "Go on. Go. Get out. And for god's sake, call me. I want to know you're okay."

"Promise," Alec says, inclining his head. He holds Magnus' gaze for just a moment longer, and then he turns, before anything can persuade him to stay.

"Alexander!"

Alec pauses at the door, hand resting on the handle, and he glances over his shoulder at the man who's haunted his dreams in the best and worst way for so many weeks. "Yeah?"

"If you need help, call me. I'll be there."

Alec shakes his head. "You can't come to the Institute. We'll be fine. Just- just enjoy all this, or whatever. This is our job. We've got it."

"If you do any more wing acrobatics, I swear—"

"I won't," Alec says, with a little laugh that eases the tight band of worry around his lungs. "I've got to go. I'll text you."

"Stay safe, Alexander."

And, with that, Alec slips out of the door, pulling it shut behind him, and makes his way through all the people entirely ignorant to the battle waging a mere few miles away, out towards his siblings and his friends.

Because by the Angel, he isn't going to let anybody, not even Valentine, hurt his family. He's good at his job. He's a leader. They're going to kill whatever has infiltrated the Institute, and then–

Then, Alec is going to come back, and he's going to kiss Magnus Bane.

Chapter Text

It takes Magnus several moments to find the sense of mind to move.

He's caught in his head as he stares at the space where Alec disappeared from. The memory of Alec so close to him, eyes fixated on his lips, hot breath washing across his skin, is so sharp in his mind it's almost tangible.

In a split second of weakness, Magnus lifts his hand to his face, brushing fingertips across where Alec's lips touched his cheek in a kiss so soft and so tender it could only be described as a caress. His eyelids flutter closed, and he exhales. He can't remember the last time somebody got under his skin quite like this—so intensely, but in such a good way.

Well. He can. And perhaps that's what terrifies him.

But, right now, he knows he can't stand around in his bedroom and reminisce. The Institute is under attack from Valentine, which means every Shadowhunter in New York is in danger. Including Alec, but also, more urgently, Clary. He knows Alec can look after himself. But Clary hasn't even passed all her exams.

He has to call Luke.

He clicks his fingers once to sound-proof the room, because he really doesn't need his guests overhearing this, and then slides his phone out of his pocket.

"Magnus?" Luke's voice comes through the speaker gruffly, as though he's just woken up. A quick glance at the clock shows that it's long past midnight. "What's going on?"

"The Institute is under attack," Magnus says. "Right now. I'm assuming Clary isn't going to call you and say anything, but they're all going to be there, and they're all going to be in danger."

"What?" Luke's voice is clear, and Magnus can hear the rustling of sheets as Luke gets out of bed. "How do you know this? Tell me you're not at the Institute, Magnus, they'll kill you."

"No, of course I'm not." Even if that's exactly where he wants to be, to defend those in the younger generation of Shadowhunters he's come to care about, despite the fact that he doesn't give a rat's ass about what happens to the rest of them. "But I thought you'd want to know. I'm throwing a party. I invited some of them. Isabelle, Jace, Clary, Alexander, their Clave envoy—"

"You invited a Clave envoy to a party?" Luke demands. "Magnus, what the hell are you thinking? Have you forgotten that you're being actively hunted?"

"I'm being hunted by Alexander," Magnus reminds him. "And, apparently, he's convinced said Clave envoy that I'm not a heinous monster who deserves to rot in hell for all eternity."

"When I'm done ripping out Valentine's intestines, we need to discuss your lack of self-preservation tactics." Magnus hears the sound of a door being ripped open, the handle smacking against plaster. "I'm going to grab the pack and get over there. I'm supposed to be their ally, and if Clary's in danger—"

"She'll be fine, Luke," Magnus says, quickly. "She's with Jace and Isabelle and Alec. Jace especially isn't going to let anything happen to her."

Luke makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat. "They're good kids," he admits. "I don't like Maryse and Robert, but their kids give me hope."

The sight of Alec grinning flashes through Magnus' mind, and he smiles a small smile as he remembers Alec's most recent letter. I think you're the best man I've ever met...

"Me too," he says, a little wistfully. "Be careful. And Luke, please—"

"I'll look out for Alec," Luke says, before Magnus can voice his urgent desire to ensure that Alec isn't harmed.

He doesn't even know how disastrous this attack is. The Institute could be burning, its inhabitants could be dead, and Valentine could have raised his proverbial flag up onto the rafters. Or there could just be a single Forsaken that's managed to get through the wards.

But the panic in Isabelle's voice when she'd burst into the room and called Alec's name...

"Look out for all of them," Magnus says, and drags a hand over his face. "God, I want to be there."

"You can't be," Luke says, not unkindly. "I promise I'll do my best, Magnus, but I've got to go now."

And, feeling more helpless than he has for decades, Magnus stares at his phone screen when Luke disconnects the call, wondering how in the world he's allowed himself to come to care so much for the children of people who murdered his friends and persecuted his people.

***

When Alec reaches the Institute with his siblings, all of them clattering down onto the pavement from flight in their haste, too rushed to activate any more runes than the essentials, it's like the world is burning.

The Institute is alight. Flames are licking up its walls, casting eerie shadows in the darkness as sizzling timbers fall from the roof with crashes that make the ground beneath their feet tremble. It's a picture of tragedy painted against the obsidian background of the nighttime, devastatingly beautiful beneath glittering stars that hang overhead, peering down at the destruction.

"Holy shit," Clary breaths, eyes wide. Alec glances over at her, and sees the fires reflected in her pupils, her lips parted, horror and wonder spread across her face in equal proportions.

It's a gorgeous tableau of ruthless chaos, the fires lighting up the stain glass, causing colour to splatter across the ground. They're all of them enraptured by the sight. But it's their home, broken and flawed and ruined as Alec knows it is, and people they love are inside.

He can hear screaming. He prays it's not Max. Not Raj. Not his mother.

"We have to go in," Alec says, grabbing Jace's shoulder and a stele to activate his parabatai's fireproof rune, while the others turn to activate their own runes and Jace tugs at Alec's sleeve. The rune won't stop them burning to a crisp if they walk straight through the fires, but it'll protect them against the heat.

The moment Alec steps over the threshold, flames trying to catch onto his gear as he leads the team with Jace at his shoulder, there's a roar, and a Forsaken appears in their path.

Clary shouts, but Alec has an arrow released and embedded in the creature's eye before the sound can die. It staggers, but it doesn't fall, and Alec barely has the chance to share an astounded look with Jace before it's on them again.

"Izzy, get Clary out of here!" Jace hollers as he shoves Alec sideways before the Forsaken can land a blow, rolling after him quickly. "Find Maryse!"

Alec slashes at the Forsaken's legs with a seraph blade, but it merely turns its head and spits. He spins the blade in his grip, so the tip faces himself, and brings the hilt across the creature's face, again and again, quickly brushing and battering its nose.

It screams, reeling back, and Alec's seraph blade clatters to the floor as Alec jumps up, wings flaring out to shoot him up to the high Institute ceiling. He catches onto the chandelier overhead where Jace is already poised, eyes flashing as he watches the progress of his parabatai. Jace grabs Alec's free hand, the friction of their gloves stopping Alec slipping back to the floor the moment the propulsion of the single beat of his wings runs out.

Wings tucked tight into his sides, Alec lets go of the chandelier, and snaps off one of the ornate candelabras. His shoulder wrenches as Jace takes his weight, and he swings, right in time to scratch the uneven edge of the metal of the broken chandelier across the Forsaken's face.

Viscous black blood oozes out of the wound, dripping from its eye socket and pooling at its lips. Jace lets go of his hand. Alec lands in a crouch beyond the Forsaken, almost back by the front door, right by where he'd tossed his seraph blade before he jumped up.

He turns, sweeping up his fallen weapon with his wings spread wide, and raises it, ready to cut the creature in two. But Jace is already there, hovering in the air, plunging his blade into the Forsaken's neck. Blood spurts out of its jugular, painting across Jace's gear and feathers, and the Forsaken roars at him, swiping Jace across the chest. Jace lands halfway across the entry hall, skidding across the stone floors, narrowly missing a burning chair with his wingtip.

"Jace!" Alec shouts, and the creature spins, clearly about to attack him too, but it freezes suddenly. It reaches up to pluck the seraph blade from its neck, stares, and then its knees flood, and it falls to the floor, dead.

"Jace," Alec says again, rushing to his parabatai's side, but someone is already there, crouched over, a stele in hand as runes are burnt into Jace's skin. Iratzes, energy runes, stamina runes...

"Alec," his mother says, relief clear in her voice as she looks up. She presses the stele into Alec's hand immediately. "Help him. The runes from his parabatai are stronger."

Alec does, but he can feel that Jace is okay. He's breathing, he's alive, and as Alec pulls away his jacket to activate another healing rune, he coughs, eyelids fluttering before he sits bolt upright. Alec ducks to avoid being hit in the face with Jace's wing.

"Shit," Jace hisses, rolling his shoulder, and then blinks when he sees Maryse. "What the hell is going on?"

"Valentine," Maryse says grimly. "He's not here, but he's sent half his forces. And they're not...natural."

"We know," Alec says, and Jace nods as he sits up, looking better by the minute. "That Forsaken wouldn't die."

Maryse shakes her head, and, to Alec's shock, she leans forward and presses a kiss to first Jace's forehead, and then his own. Her hair is pulled up in its signature, scraped-back style, but strands have escaped, and are falling around her face. Clearly, the attack took the Institute by surprise—she's still in a blouse and a skirt, and she's barefoot, as though she hadn't had enough time to find a pair of flat shoes. Fighting in heels is more Izzy's style.

"Where did Lydia go?" Alec asks, suddenly, realising that she's not here. "We told Izzy and Clary to go, but—"

"I don't think she'd have let Izzy go on her own without fully trained backup," Jace says, and jumps up onto his feet. "We have to find them. Mom, where is everyone?"

"I don't know," she says, and bites her lip. "I was in my office when people started screaming. Raj was trying to control the Ops Centre, and without you three here—" Alec sees her lips tremble, but she shakes her head, hauling herself back together instantly. "We've done our best. But Valentine must have employed a warlock, because the Institute, it just lit up. Things exploded and fires appeared out of nowhere, simultaneously."

"Where the hell is Dad?" Alec asks. "And where's Max? Is he okay?"

"He's fine," says a voice behind them, and Alec turns to see Max's hand clutched in Clary's. Max's wings have jumped free, apparently too frightened to override his instinctual fight-or-flight (literally) response. "But his room was burning. I didn't know where else to—"

"Alec," Max says, and lets go of Clary to barrel into him.

"Max, Max, it's okay," Alec says, because there isn't time, not now, for comfort. Not when everyone could die in a mere moment. He wraps an arm tight around Max's shoulders. "Come on. I need you to hold together, okay?" He looks up at Clary, and purses his lips. "Where did Izzy and Lydia go?"

"The Ops Centre," Clary says. "I think that's where the battle's raging. And also—" She drags a hand through the fire consuming the charcoaled chairs beside her. Jace flinches next to Alec, reaching out to her with one hand reflexively.

But when Clary removes her hand from the scorching flames, her skin is untouched, blister free, smooth and unblemished.

"It's warlock fire," she says. "It's not real. If you know it won't hurt you, it won't."

Maryse's face darkens. "Downworlders," she hisses, eyes flashing. "Demonic scum. How dare they—"

"Not now," Alec says, straightening up out of his crouch while he fights down the urge to snap at his mother that, actually, the Downworlders he's come to know in the last months are some of the best people he's ever met. "Max, I want you to stay with Clary." It's killing two birds with one stone, getting the two most untrained people out of the firing line. He fixes Clary with a sharp stare. "Don't attack. Don't antagonise. Defend yourselves, but don't go looking for trouble. Hide, if you have to. Understand?"

Clary nods sharply. "Max, come on."

Alec turns to his mother and parabatai. "Ops Centre. Now."

***

The Ops Centre is a breeding ground of death.

Not even the fire can cover the stench of overheated, decaying bodies lying around the stations. Computer screens are cracked, glass covering the floor in a fine sheen, and Alec glances across at his mother's bare feet.

But she, he reminds himself with considerable bitterness, has been in this war for far longer than he has. And she learnt from the best Shadowhunter of her generation. She learnt from Valentine, when she was in the fucking Circle. She's grabbing at a dead woman before Alec can blink, tearing off her shoes and gear jacket without mercy, unconcerned at wearing a dead woman's clothing.

Alec looks away in time to see Lydia standing balanced on Isabelle's shoulders with her wings tucked tight into her sides to decrease the amount of vulnerable bodily area that the demons can target, physically ripping off a Forsaken's head with her bare hands and tossing it into one of the fires. She somersaults down gracefully.

"Alec! Jace!" Raj hollers from across the room, where he's locked in a battle with a demon that has to be six times the size of an ordinary Drevak. "Look behind you!"

Alec whirls, just as a whip whistles past his ear to wrap around the neck of a Moloch demon, yanking it away from the rest of the group. The demon screams, folding in on itself as Lydia slices a seraph blade across it.

"For an Idris girl, you're not bad at this," Jace says, not looking at Lydia, already palming a seraph blade in one hand and a throwing knife in the other. There are another seven demons behind, all with the same semi-corporeal, liquid appendages in place of their legs, and shrunken, ruined faces that have always reminded Alec of half-decomposed corpses.

Alec knows his bow isn't useful in close-range combat, so he kicks up off the wall, flipping back over Jace's head to land on one of the consoles in the middle of the room. He knocks an arrow against his bow, and exhales as he shoots the first demon, firing off another six arrows in rapid succession.

But the demons, like the Forsaken, don't die.

One screams, launching itself at Lydia, and only Maryse stepping in front of her and flicking a double-ended blade through its sternum prevents another tragedy.

"This is insane," Isabelle shours. "What the hell has Valentine been feeding these things?"

"Or the Downworlders," Maryse snarls, as she ducks a blow from a stray Eidolon demon. "Brooklyn's supposed High Warlock, that vile monster Bane—"

"Enough!" Alec hollers, and tries not to let himself be so consumed by rage that he becomes distracted from the battle. "It doesn't matter! Not now!"

Just as Isabelle dispatches the last of the Moloch demons, and he hear the slick sound of Raj withdrawing his blade from the Drevak with an audible sight of relief, a small figure appears in the doorway. Alec's heart leaps into his throat when he recognises Max, and he freezes. What the hell is his little brother doing in here?

But then he sees Clary in front of him, two blades raised in front of her. Fear flashes across her face, but she's covering Max as she backs away from—

Fuck.

"Well," hisses the demon, with a broad grin as he surveys them all. "Isn't this a delightful little gathering?"

Every Shadowhunter in the room is frozen, staring at the writhing mass of smoke and oil that's walking through their door. Moloch. The Greater Demon, who commands the lesser demons that are his namesake.

"Don't look so frightened," he says, with a laugh. "Valentine sends his regards. As does Iris. Delightful woman."

Maryse's lip curls, and Alec feels his own stomach swoop with guilt at the resentment for the Downworlders that builds inside him. They've done this. A warlock has let this happen. A warlock has worked with Valentine to achieve such chaotic, meaningless destruction. People lay dead around him with their guts and blood slicking the floor, and a warlock has let it happen.

But it's not all warlocks, he reminds himself, tightening his grip on his blade. It's not all warlocks, and it's not all Downworlders. It's not even most. It's not nearly most. It's a handful, who have a right to be pissed, anyway.

And he can think of five Downworlders, just off the top of his head, who would be repulsed by the sight of so many dead people, no matter their race. There are horrible people in every niche and corner of humanity. There are horrible Shadowhunters, horrible Downworlders, horrible mundanes—their race is irrelevant.

He repeats it to himself, twice, because he knows it's true, and he won't let himself be hauled back into such a close-minded mindset. Not after all he's been exposed to. The voice in his head sounds exactly like Magnus.

"What?" Moloch laughs. "Cat got your tongues? No witty comebacks from the Nephilim? No futile attacks? Tut tut." He clucks his tongue, but with his swirling, almost-gaseous form, it sounds more like the hiss that results from water being flicked on boiling coals. "I'm almost disappointed. I suppose that makes it easier to—"

A snarl, unlike any Alec has heard all day, meets their ears, and an enormous dark mass boulders at Moloch. The Greater Demon snarls as a werewolf rips through him, dispersing part of him through the air before he reforms across the room.

"What in the name of Raziel is a Downworlder doing in the Institute?" Maryse demands, fury written into every line of her face, but they ignore her.

"Luke?" Clary breaths, as the werewolf circles, still snarling, and moves to stand in front of her, hackles raised. "It is you. How did you know?"

Alec doesn't know why she's bothering to ask. He's fairly sure he knows, anyway. The only other person who knew about this attack who might have told the leader of the biggest werewolf pack in New York is Magnus.

Luke gives Clary an affectionate swipe of his tail before he leaps forwards, snapping his teeth as he sails over Jace and Alec's heads to roll right through Moloch this time.

When the demon reforms, his face is set, all amusement disappearing from his features, just as two more wolves appear at the door, moving to flank Luke.

"I am a Greater Demon," Moloch spits, smokey tendrils of fires jetting through the air. "Mortals will not harm me."

Abruptly, Jace is standing beside Alec, teeth barred and weapons held aloft. "Try murdering my family and my friends again," he growls. "We're going to blast you back to hell."

Moloch sneers. "Oh, the arrogance of the Nephilim."

With that, he dissolves, appearing around the wolves, and he wraps himself around one of them, smoke tightening until the werewolf is choking, collapsed onto its belly.

Adrenaline surges through Alec, and he jumps, snatching a blade from Jace's belt as he catapults thorough the air, slicing through Moloch, wings beating harshly to blow his atoms through the room.

The wolf is still for a moment, before it picks itself up, shaking its fur like a dog coming out of water. Alec almost smiles at the disgruntled look in its face, and, abruptly, he feels like he recognises the brown eyes, set with anger and determination.

"Maia?" he asks, eyebrows shooting up, and she kicks at him lightly with a paw.

Maybe their alliance with Luke and his pack wasn't such a bad idea, after all.

But Moloch is reforming, and he dances out the way of Izzy's whip and then Lydia's throwing knife, appearing behind Jace. Jace lands a blow to the demon's face, but Moloch is by Clary and Max in a moment, and, before any of them can move, he plunges a hand into Max's chest.

"Max!" Alec screams, while Isabelle and Maryse make similar sounds of distress. Only Maia and the third unknown wolf leaping in front of him stop Alec running forward, and he clenches his jaw.

"He's not just here to kill us," Lydia says, voice strained, holding back Isabelle. "He's here to taunt us. He's a Greater Demon. Don't give into his games."

"Games?" Alec spits. "He just—"

He looks back over at Max, whose eyes are rolling back in his head. The smoky nature of Moloch means he hasn't just ripped through Max's flesh, he's infected him, done something, because Max's veins are turning to liquid gold, sparking like forks of lightning as the demon withdraws his hand.

Moloch grins round at them. "Who shall I target next, for the most destruction?"

He peers round at them all, and then his eyes fix on Jace. Alec stills, every function in his body pausing as he takes in the smirking, predatory look Moloch is fixing Jace with.

"Friend, brother, son," he says, tilting his head to one side. His eyes fix on Jace's parabatai rune. "Parabatai. Boyfriend to the girl? Friend to the Downworlders, too?"

Jace grits his teeth. "You're not getting inside my head."

"Oh, my dear boy." Moloch lets out a delicate little laugh, and it sounds like the dripping of hot oil. "I don't need to get inside your head to know how loved you are. The innocent–" he doesn't even spare Max a glance, where he's on the floor, clutched in Clary's lap "–was obvious. You, I think, will be a nice addition."

With that, Moloch disappears, and, almost instantaneously, reappears, warping his form to wrap itself around Jace. He grips Jace's throat before Jace can kick out, and smoke floods out of Jace's nostrils. He chokes; Alec's parabatai rune throbs.

"Come on, child of the angels," Moloch hisses. "Give in. Your father will be so pleased to see you."

"Valentine is not my father," Jace gasps, as Alec catches Luke and Isabelle's gazes. A look from Luke, and Maia and Lydia both step back slightly, loosening their grips on Alec and Isabelle as they communicate, silently, as only siblings can.

"No?" Moloch's form expands, until he flicks a grossly elongated finger against Clary's cheek. "Perhaps I should just kill you and take this one instead. Valentine longs to be reacquainted."

"Fuck you," Clary spits, slashing a knife through Moloch's smoky finger, and, despite himself, Alec feels a flash of pride.

"Ouch," Moloch says, pouting, one hand still wrapped around Jace's throat, slowly replacing the air in his lungs and the oxygen in his veins with smoke, while Jace chokes and writhes. Alec has to look away before he's sick.

The wolf that Alec knows is Luke - bigger than the other two, his fur a dark umber colour - pads up silently onto the table directly behind Moloch, and jerks his chin to the right. Isabelle understands, eyes flashing with rage as she curls her fingers tighter around her whip.

Luke rears up, front paws slamming into Moloch's back and tossing him to the right. The Greater Demon is caught by surprise, reforming almost immediately in the direction Luke tossed him—

And Isabelle is there, whip cracking with deadly precision, flinging him across the room as the smoke begins to lose its ability to reform, and the oil begins to move sluggishly, lacking the energy required to hold Moloch's form together.

Alec's bow is held steadily against his arm, and Luke lands the other side of Jace, crashing into and wrecking the computers on the table, just in time for Alec to let three arrows fly.

Moloch screams at the arrows hit him near instantaneously, another two whooshing through the pitiful curls of smoke that try to regroup. The scattered smoke begins to disperse as he tries desperately to haul his form back together, to make himself semi-corporeal again rather than mere atoms in the air.

Alec drags his stele over one of his arrows, activating the fire rune, and the tip lights up. The arrow soars through the air, catching on an oil droplet, and the meagre remains of Moloch flare up. For just a moment, the air burns as the volatile oil flames.

And then, fuel gone, the fire extinguishes itself, and all that's left of the Greater Demon is the lingering stench of burnt oil.

***

The sound of Jace coughing hauls them all out of their frozen staring. Alec's parabatai clutches at the edge of the table he's sprawled on, head hanging over as he dry-heaves, body trying to reverse whatever Moloch did to him.

Alec is torn, as Isabelle flings herself down by Max lying limp in Clary's arms, between which brother to go to first. Luke stands by Jace, eyes fixed on him as though...

Well. As though - even if only because he knows what Jace means to Clary - he's protecting him.

"I'm fine," Jace gasps, when he sees Alec lingering, hesitant. "I'm fine, I'm fine."

Alec's parabatai bond feels strong, steady, stable like it hadn't when Moloch had his hand around Jace's throat, but it's fizzing, hissing, restless. So Alec drops everything in his hands, stops by Jace, and hauls him off the table and to his feet.

"Okay?" Alec asks, as he slings one of Jace's arms over his shoulders. Their bond seems to settle with the physical contact, and Alec's restless mind eases a little, slowing enough to become clear.

"I'm really fine," Jace says, but he leans into Alec and clutches at the material of his jacket. "Max—"

"I know," Alec says, already easing Jace to the ground as they both fall to their knees beside their little brother.

"I don't know what to do," Maryse says, looking up at Alec and Jace with panic in her eyes. "The healing runes— They're not working, I—"

"Let me try," Alec says, taking his mother's stele to sear healing rune after healing rune into Max's near-unmarked skin. He's only had his first rune for a few months. He's ten years old.

He can't die. Alec won't let him.

"I called the Silent Brothers," Lydia says, while Isabelle clutches at Jace's hand, both their knuckles white. "They said there have been attacks in other cities, and in other countries, but that they'll come when they can."

"There isn't time for that," Alec says, abruptly, tossing the stele back at his mother. And, whatever her emotional state, she catches it cleanly. "Iz, can you grab my bow?"

Isabelle flies up into the air, apparently as unwilling as everybody else is to walk through all the dead bodies, and scoops up everything Alec dropped when he dashed for Jace.

"Here." Raj's voice is quiet as he slides several arrows back into the quiver still strapped to Alec's back. "Alec—"

"Not now," Alec says through gritted teeth. "Thanks, Iz."

"Alec."

Maryse's voice is shaky, but her jaw is clenched and her eyes are dark, full of icy rage. She looks, in that moment, so very nearly like Isabelle, full of passion and feeling and emotion. But whereas Isabelle explodes in burning flames, Maryse is trapped, frozen and repressed behind walls of ice that are too transparent to truly mask the storm brewing beneath.

"What are you doing?" she demands, when Alec slips an arm under Max's shoulders and another under his knees. "Alec, what in Raziel's name are you doing?"

Alec lifts his little brother, whose eyes are still rolling and whose veins still look like rivers of magma, and fixes his mother with a blank stare. "What do you think I'm doing? I'm taking Max to someone who can help him."

"You can't just fly to the City of Bones and demand to see a Silent Brother," Maryse says, standing. "There might not even be anyone there!"

He doesn't bother correcting her. "Watch me," he says, coldly, and then he's in the air, because flying is less jarring than running, and he won't let Max be in any more pain.

Jace's hand wrapping around Maryse's arm is all that stops his mother coming after him.

***

Magnus lunges across his apartment when his phone buzzes, Isabelle Lightwood's name flashing up on the screen. He pauses for just a moment before answering. Why on earth is Isabelle calling him? Why isn't Luke calling him?

Is Luke hurt? He's never going to forgive himself if Luke is hurt from a battle he was only in because Magnus alerted him to it.

"Isabelle?" he says, when he answers. "What's—"

"It's me, Magnus," comes Luke's deep, gravelling voice, warm and rich and soothing. Magnus exhales a little. "My phone got fried. Literally. I need to brief you on this attack. And someone needs to arrest Iris. I'll get on it, unless you've got objections."

"She helped Valentine?" Magnus asks, horror pulsing through him. He'd visited Iris, after Cirrus had first come to him and reported that she'd fed him lies. He'd warned her about poor trade, and dishonest business. How hadn't he noticed that something was more wrong than the norm?

"Warlock fire," Luke says, grimly. "It's fading, now, but it looked like the Institute was going to burn to ashes. And plenty of the Shadowhunters didn't realise what it was. Some are waking up now. But a lot of them died. Valentine sent Forsaken and demons way beyond the ordinary, and Moloch paid us a visit."

Magnus' heart is thudding against his ribs, hammering arrhythmically. It's so much to take in. It's too much to take in. And he knows, logically, that it's because of who's there, and who was caught in the crossfire, and that on a normal day he'd process Luke's words instantly.

But it's not a normal day. And it's not a normal battle.

"Are they alright?" Magnus asks, and he manages to force his voice into something that resembles a vague sense of decorum. "Clary, and Jace, and Isabelle, and...?" He trails off.

"They're fine," Luke says, shortly. "Clary's traumatised by her first real battle and Jace is vomiting Moloch's remains out in the bathroom, but they'll be fine. I took Maia and Alaric, and we've all been kicked out by Maryse. She's not happy. Iris' involvement only seems to have fuelled her hatred and her prejudice. Magnus—"

"The others?" Magnus asks, feeling desperation claw at him. "Lydia, and—Alec?"

He hadn't wanted to say the name, because he'd known that his voice would break the moment he did. It makes Luke pause, and his answer comes painfully slowly.

"They're both unharmed, to my knowledge," Luke says, and relief floods through Magnus so forcefully he collapses into a chair, uncaring of the debris from his party that he has yet to finish cleaning up. "But Magnus, the little boy, the Lightwoods' youngest—Moloch did something to him. Whatever he was doing to Jace stopped, once we killed him, but this..."

Magnus sat up straight. "Max?" he asks, and fear pulses through him - fear for Alexander, because he knows, painfully well, how much Alec cares for all his siblings, and how entirely it would break him if any of them were to be incurably wounded - quickly followed by concern for a child so young. "What kind of something?"

"I don't know exactly, but—"

The buzzer to Magnus' apartment goes off, and Magnus makes a noise of frustration in the back of his throat. He tells Luke that he'll call him back, and then forces himself up off the sofa. He buzzes whoever it is up without question, because his wards don't detect danger, but familiarity, and footsteps thunder up the stairs.

He opens the door, and the sight that greets him makes him freeze.

Alexander stares up at him from where he's on the floor, a shivering, convulsing boy in his arms. The boy is young, not more than twelve, Magnus would guess, and his veins, quite literally, are flooded with fire.

Magnus can't help scanning over every inch of Alec that he can see, cataloguing every cut and bruise and tear in his clothing and reassuring himself that Alec is fine, he's fine, he's not hurt. But his little brother...

His little brother looks an inch from death, and sheer agony is written into Alec's face.

"Please," Alec whispers, and his voice is so broken and so desperate it makes Magnus' heart crack in two. "Please, help him."

Chapter Text

Alec can't fight down his terror as he gazes up at Magnus from the floor, Max cradled in his arms—dying. Magnus has to help him. He has to. He'll pay, he'll pay anything and everything, he'll pay with his wings or his bow or his own damn life, but Max can't die.

"Come on, come in," Magnus says, and relief hits him.

As Alec straightens up with Max held close to his chest, he realises that Magnus is dressed as though he'd been about to go to bed. He's in a robe, make-up gone from his face and hair down, washed, free of product and a little bit fluffy, as though it's been towel-dried but no more.

"Here." Magnus snaps his fingers, cleaning everything off his sofa and laying a white linen sheet over it. "Put him there."

"Can you help him?" Alec asks, hovering a few feet away with his wings pulled tight into his back.

Magnus is peering down at Max, peeling back his eyelids and pressing fingers against his neck. He shoves Max's sleeve up, examining the veins in his wrist and their path up his arm.

"I don't know," Magnus says, dropping Max's arm, and Alec doesn't think he's ever heard words that terrify him more. Magnus always knows. Magnus knows everything. He's the High Warlock of Brooklyn, he's arguably the most powerful warlock in all of America, and he creates spells and potions as a hobby in his free time.

He has to know.

Magnus is no longer by Max's side, and Alec drops to his knees at the end of Magnus' sofa, by Max's feet. Magnus is rummaging through the jars and bottles and boxes on his shelves, clearly looking for something specific, and items appear magically on the coffee table.

"There's a pestle and mortar sitting in the kitchen on the draining board," Magnus says, while picking leaves from a box. "Go and get it, and then start peeling that ginger root."

Alec has a feeling he's being given jobs to distract him, because he's fairly sure Magnus could do both of those things instantly with a wave of his hand. But he doesn't argue. He appreciates it.

"What's this for?" Alec asks, a minute later as he's peeling the ginger and Magnus is adding careful quantities of various ingredients into a bowl.

"If I get this out of his system, he's going to be sick in the morning," Magnus tells him, snapping his fingers over the glutinous liquid in the bowl. Blue swirls around the bowl, and its contents bubble. "The ginger will make him feel less nauseous, and kick his immune system up a notch."

Alec pauses. "Like, old mundane medicine?"

"This might surprise you, but the health benefits have been extensively researched. Mundanes are not entirely stupid."

Alec doesn't argue. Hands trembling, he continues, peeling rhythmically while Magnus steps towards Max with the contents of the bowl, and sets it on the arm of the sofa. He snaps his fingers, blue sparks cracking in the air, and runs a hand along the length of Max's body, fingers twitching and fluttering in the air.

Max gasps when Magnus' magic begins leaking down, into his skin, eyes rolling back in his head. He arches up off the sofa, and Alec drops the ginger and finds himself on the other side of the sofa. He leans over the back, one hand reaching down to Max's sweaty hair, and he looks up at Magnus in terror.

"Help him," he begs. "Please, Magnus, help him."

"I'm doing my best," Magnus says, brow furrowed in concentration. "Greater Demons are tricky creatures."

He drops his hands, magic dissipating, and picks up the potion still bubbling lightly in the bowl. It's gentling to a fizz as Magnus stirs, and it smells like cardamom oil; it's a soft, sunset pink in colour that belies the severity of its purpose.

"Tilt his head back," Magnus says, "and hold him still."

Alec does at he's told, rounding the sofa so he's at Max's head. He presses one knee into the cushions, bracing one arm over Max's chest and holding the side of his head simultaneously as gently and firmly as he can.

Magnus' eyes are unglamoured, flashing and sparking with magic as he places the bowl at Max's lips, tipping the potion down his throat slowly. For a moment, there's nothing, and Alec's eyes dart over Max's body, where his veins are still bright, filled with fire and glowing through his skin, the wound at his chest still seeping blood everywhere.

Then Max's eyes shoot open, and his lips part in a wordless scream. His irises have turned the colour of thick petrol, resembling Moloch's oily form, and it's all Alec can take in before Max begins to thrash.

Blue sparks at Magnus' fingertips, and he spreads his hands wide, fingers steady as his magic flows into Max. Alec grips his little brother, his throat tight with fear as though Moloch had tried to strangle him, not Jace.

"Come on, Max," Magnus murmurs, as every piece of glass in the loft begins to rattle, ornaments wavering precariously on the edges of tables and countertops. The bottles set on Magnus' bar clink together, and a crystal bottle of whiskey shatters, liquid spraying everywhere.

Alec's heart is pounding against his ribs as magic pours from Magnus' hands, as though a dam has been breached. He's chanting in a language Alec has never heard, sweat beading on his brow, and Alec can feel the sheer power radiating off of him.

Raziel, he can see why people fear Magnus. And he knows this is a mere fraction of the full ferocity of his magic that lingers beneath the surface. He can't tear his eyes away from Magnus, from the elegant lines and curves of his body, the way he glides his weight slowly, steadily, from one foot to the other, stance wide as though to balance himself against the chaos his magic his causing.

He's powerful, and he's beautiful, and he's making Alec breathless.

Alec wonders how hard Magnus has worked to cultivate such a mass of raw, writhing power into something like this—focused, contained, able to heal rather than escaping in destructive, defensive whirlwinds. He wonders who taught him. Ragnor Fell, perhaps? He wonders how many other warlocks Magnus has taught the same things.

Magnus' chanting becomes louder, and his magic crescendos, items clattering to the floor around them as sparks zip off Magnus' fingers, rebounding off walls and causing wind to flood through the loft out of nowhere.

And then Max gasps, stilling in Alec's arms, eyes wide and his back bowed in a perfect arch. Golden rivers of fiery magic seem to rise out of his veins and evaporate off into the air like a thousand shimmering dust mites made of polished metal, glinting in the light.

Magnus claps his hands, and they explode in the air in a roar of blue flames. Alec stares, enthralled by the sight.

Then Max starts convulsing.

"Magnus," Alec says, panicked, as Max's eyes roll back in his head, eyelids fluttering restlessly, foam forming at the corners of his mouth as though he's been poisoned. "Magnus—"

But Magnus' fingers are already pressed against Max's chest, where Moloch had plunged a hand through his ribs and straight to his heart to sink his curse deep into Max's body. Swirls of blue glow around Magnus' hands like smoke, untouchable and ethereal. The magic sweeps along Max's body like a caress, and, as it falls into his skin, disappearing, Max falls limp in Alec's arms, head lolling against his elbow. The pulse in his wrist is heavy and rhythmic against Alec's fingers.

Magnus snaps his fingers once more as he straightens up, the blood disappearing from Max and the sofa as well as from himself and Magnus.

"Thank you," Alec says, shifting his grip on his brother so he can cradle Max in his lap, feeling his chest rising and falling steadily under his hand. He strokes the fingers of his other hand slowly through the feathers of Max's exposed wings. "Raziel, thank you."

Magnus smiles at him tiredly, already bending to pick up a fallen book. "You're welcome."

"I—" Alec looks down at Max to reassure himself that he's really okay, that he'll be fine, that Moloch hasn't left any lasting damage, and then he stands, resting Max's head on the pillows. "Let me tidy up. And tell me how much I owe you."

Magnus' eyebrows shoot up. "You don't owe me anything."

"Bullshit," Alec says, and Magnus blinks. "This is your job. You get paid for it. It's not like the Institute can't afford it. I can't send it straight to you, obviously, but—"

"I'll ask Catarina Loss to send your mother a bill," Magnus says, pursing his lips a little. "If you insist."

Alec nods, and feels a wave of vertigo hit him. He sways a little on the spot, reaching up to clutch at his head as it pounds, and swallows a moan of discomfort. By the Angel, what's wrong with him? Max is the one who nearly died. Magnus is the one who's just used a considerable amount of magic to fix a curse in a mere few minutes that the Silent Brothers would have been hard pressed to cure at all. He's got no such excuses for feeling like this. He should be fine.

"Hey." When Alec opens his eyes, Magnus is watching him with his eyebrows drawn together, and he's considerably closer than he was a moment ago. He's got one hand hovering by Alec's forearm, reaching out but clearly wary of touching. Why, Alec can't imagine. "Are you alright?"

Magnus is in a robe, Alec registers. A red silk robe that barely reaches his knees, and his hair is fluffy, free of product, going wildly in every direction, and he looks like he stepped out of the shower thirty minutes ago. Alec is hit by the hysterical urge to laugh. The High Warlock of Brooklyn and Magnus Bane have just clashed so dramatically—casting powerful spells in his fucking bathrobe.

"What happened to your head?" Magnus asks, lifting a hand to brush the skin to one side of Alec's eye. The touch stings, makes his face throb, and Alec flinches, realising that the area is cut and bruised. "Did you get hit in the face?"

"I—don't remember," Alec admits. "It happened so fast, it's all a blur."

"Hm." Magnus studies Alec's face for another moment, eyebrows furrowed, then says, "Go and clean up in the bathroom. If that still hurts in the morning, or you still feel dizzy, tell me. Or find a Silent Brother. Head injuries aren't things to be scoffed at."

"Alright." Alec clears his throat. "Thank you. We can- We can go, when I'm done. We'll get out of your way. I can glamour us and fly, it's how I got here. It only takes a few minutes."

"Oh, no, I really don't think so." Magnus shakes his head, determination flashing in his eyes. "You're not going anywhere tonight except to bed. I'm not letting your brother leave until I'm certain my magic has got rid of every last atom of Moloch's influence. And you look like you're about to pass out. I wouldn't trust you to fly yourself home, let alone Max, too."

His eyes flit across Magnus' face, and he forces himself not to glance down at his lips. This evening, he'd almost kissed Magnus. He'd wanted to. God, he still does. But without the alcohol riddling his brain, he can't help but think that perhaps he'd been a little too arrogant about the whole thing. He'd wanted to assure Magnus that it wasn't a drunken mistake—but what if that's exactly what it had been for Magnus?

After all, what, exactly, could Magnus possibly see in someone like Alec - a Shadowhunter, a Nephilim, a part of the institution that slanders his name and slaughters his people - that he'd find attractive?

"I'm going to put your brother in my guest room," Magnus says, leaving no room for Alec to argue. He has a feeling that he'll lose any debate he has with Magnus over this. "And my bed is at your disposal. Providing you're not a blanket-hogger."

Alec stills, chest tightening when Magnus' words sink into his foggy brain. "I– It's fine. I can...sleep out here. I don't need to...impose on you."

Magnus shakes his head. "Alexander, I like you, I trust you, and you nearly kissed me six hours ago. You do not need to sleep on the couch, unless you are wildly uncomfortable with sharing a bed. But I assure you, I can keep myself to myself. My bed is enormous. And very comfortable."

Memories of earlier assault him, and he feels his stomach churn and his chest tighten. Magnus' breath hot on his cheek, the feeling of his skin under his fingertips, standing close enough to feel Magnus' heart hammering against his ribs just like Alec's had been...

He wishes there were something in Magnus' voice that would clue him into how Magnus feels about it. But his tone is flat, factual, stating rather than feeling, the words hanging in the air, charged but elusive.

Fuck it. He has to know. He has to say something about it.

"I wish I had kissed you," Alec murmurs, eyes dipping to the floor, while his heart thuds, hard and heavy against his chest, nervousness clawing at him.

Warm fingers cup his cheek. Skin sliding against skin sets Alec's nerve endings alight, and he feels goosebumps spread down his neck. The absence of the smooth metal of Magnus' rings is noticeable, and Alec wonders when the touch of the High Warlock of Brooklyn became so familiar to him.

"I wish you had, too," Magnus says, voice soft.

Heart skipping a beat, Alec's eyes snap up to his, searching his gaze for some evidence that Alec should be distrustful, that his words aren't as simple as face-value would imply. "Really?"

"Yes, sweetheart, really." Magnus leans in and brushes his mouth against Alec's cheek, a mere breath away from the corner of his lips, and Alec shivers. Magnus stays close, nose and lips and eyelashes caressing Alec's skin as he murmurs, "Really. Because then I could kiss you now."

Magnus pulls back far enough to meet his gaze. Alec's breaths are shaky, cracking and catching a little when he reaches out to clutch at Magnus' elbow, keeping him close. Close enough to share body heat, and for their breaths to intermingle, because the thought of Magnus moving away makes his heart physically hurt.

"Why can't you?" Alec whispers raggedly.

Magnus' smile is small, sad, as his gaze drops behind Alec to the sofa, where Max is lying, safe and healed but unconscious. "Because I don't want to kiss you for the first time when your brother nearly died, after a battle that devastated your home and your family, when you're half-delirious from exhaustion and I'm not exactly full of energy myself."

The hand still resting on Alec's jaw shifts a little, and a thumb strokes along the length of his cheekbone, up to just below the bruise by his eye. The tenderness of the touch makes Alec's breath hitch, and his eyes flutter closed, leaning into Magnus' hand. Warmth spreads through him, radiating out from the single point of contact.

"Come on," Magnus says, his voice quiet in the silence of the loft at night. He drops his hand, and Alec feels cold. "Clean up, then sleep. I don't want any more unconscious Nephilim in my house that need watching. One is plenty."

"Magnus."

Alec catches Magnus' bicep as he turns, and Magnus' eyes fixate on where Alec is holding his arm before they flicker up to his face, uncertainty flashing across his face. He's caught Magnus unaware, he realises—Magnus doesn't know what he's going to do.

"I just—"

He can't finish the sentence. He doesn't know how to. So instead, he pulls Magnus into him, wrapping his arms around his torso and dropping his head onto his shoulder. And, finally, as Magnus' arms close around him and warm breath hits his neck, he feels himself relax. Only now, with Max fighting off any lingering aftereffects of the curse and Magnus warm and solid against him, does he feel like everything might just be okay.

What would the Alec Lightwood of three months ago have said, if he'd been told that his future self wouldn't feel safe after a battle until he's in the arms of the High Warlock of Brooklyn?

Reflexively, as though they're mere extensions of his limbs, his wings follow the lines of his arms, stretching out from where they're pulled in behind him back to curl around Magnus, close but not quite touching. He barely registers what he's doing. It's the kind of thing he might do with Izzy, or Max, or Jace, but not anybody else. It's an intimate gesture. Part affection, part protectiveness, part desire to be close, to connect.

To other people, to people outside of those closest to them - family, a long-term lover, friends more that just good - a Nephilim's wings are a private, untouchable phenomenon. Simultaneously delicate and powerful, they're seen by many Shadowhunters as a symbol of status and power—a gift from Raziel that marks them as superior.

And, of course, such a gift is the sort of thing that many angry, wronged Dowmworlders have wished to cut off and hang on their walls in revenge, like how Shadowhunters once collected warlock marks as common practise—except the Shadowhunters had done so essentially unprompted.

The Alec Lightwood of three months ago was genuinely concerned that Magnus had had the same fate in mind for his wings, when he'd healed him. And now, Alec's exposing himself in such a vulnerable manner, yet he's never felt safer.

Magnus tips his head up, and his goatee catches lightly at the skin of Alec's neck. "I'm surrounded by feathers."

Alec huffs out a laugh, because he knows it's a joke. He can feel Magnus' smile. "Sorry."

"No. It's...more than alright."

Alec wonders if Magnus knows how unusual it is, for Alec to have his wings so close to Magnus like this—almost close enough to brush against him. He wonders if such matters are common knowledge, amongst Downworlders, or whether they have more important things to worry about.

"Maybe I should call Jace," Alec mumbles against Magnus' shoulder; he tucks his face into the warlock's neck, and exhales slowly. "I didn't stay around to check that everyone was okay."

"Everyone is fine," Magnus says firmly, holding him tighter, thumb drawing circles into his shoulder. "Luke told me everyone is fine. And Max is going to be perfectly alright."

He pulls back a little at that, just so he can catch Magnus' eye. He drags his wings away, tight into his back, trying to ignore the embarrassment flooding through him at how inappropriate that was. "You know I'm not—I'm not here just because I want to...leech off your good will, right?"

Magnus raises his eyebrows. "You're here because your brother was dying, and you trusted me to do my best to help him. You trusted that I'd be able to. That seems perfectly reasonable to me. If I felt I was giving and giving to you and receiving nothing in return, I wouldn't keep doing it. I don't offer people things unless I want to. Honestly, Shadowhunter, I'm not a doormat. You don't have to feel guilty about asking for help and support." He pats Alec's uncut cheek condescendingly, and Alec glares at him. Magnus winks. "Now enough talk. Wash and sleep. You stink, and you look like you're about to pass out, which would be very inconvenient. I'm going to put Max in my guest room. Okay?"

Alec nods his consent. "Yeah. Thank you."

***

Magnus has just finished carefully settling the still-unconscious Max into his guest room when his phone rings, glaringly loud in the quiet and darkness of the room. He sets a glass of water by Max's bed, and walks to the window to answer the phone.

"Isabelle," he says. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your call?"

When she speaks, Isabelle sounds breathless with worry. Magnus can hear a dog barking on the other end of the line, so he presumes that she's walked out of the Institute to call him, to avoid being overheard. "Magnus. It's Alec, he– Max was hurt, and he just took off with him, and now he's not answering his phone, and Luke thought maybe—"

"Luke was right," Magnus says, gently. "Your brothers are both here, and they'll both be fine."

"Max is going to be okay?" Isabelle asks.

"Absolutely."

"Oh, thank Raziel," she whispers. "Thank you. Thank you so much, Magnus, I—"

"That's quite alright," Magnus tells her. He likes Isabelle, and he knows - knows, and has inferred - that she hasn't had a particularly easy time as of late.

Isabelle says something, but there's a sudden gasp from behind him, and he whirls round to find Max awake, eyes wide and clutching at the sheets, terror written across his face as he stares at Magnus.

"Isabelle, my darling, I'm so glad you're alive and kicking, but I'm afraid I have to go," he says, and hangs up before she can reply.

He takes a step towards Max, hands raised with his palms forwards. "Max, it's okay, you're—"

"How do you know my name?" Max demands, and sits up a little straighter. "Who are you? Where am I? I was with Clary, where is she? What's going on?"

His posture is defensive, poised ready to take a swing at Magnus should he need to. There's something horribly sad about the picture—both the fact that a ten year old child thinks he needs to be prepared to physically defend himself against Magnus, and the fact that he knows how to.

"Hey, hey, it's alright, I'm not going to hurt you," Magnus assures him gently, with a small smile. "You were injured in the attack at the Institute. I healed you."

"How do you know about that? And how did I get here?"

"Your brother took you. He's here, he's just—"

"Why should I trust you?" Max clenches his teeth, fear and anger flashing in his eyes in equal measures. He's brave for a child, Magnus thinks. Too brave. "You're a warlock. How do I know you're not lying?"

Magnus closes his eyes for just a moment. He doesn't know why he's surprised at the way Max spits the word warlock as though it's a brand that marks him as something filthy, but he is. Perhaps he expected better, because all the other Lightwood children are so open-minded.

But Alexander wasn't, when they first met. And Max has probably met no more than a handful of Downworlders in his life. He's been exposed to the bigoted, hateful views of ex-Circle members, tempered only by comments from Isabelle, and, perhaps, Jace and Clary, which are eternally dismissed as the ludicrous rebellions of the younger generation.

"Alexander is here," Magnus says, keeping his voice level. "He's in the other room. I can get him in a moment."

Max narrows his eyes. "Nobody calls him that. You're lying."

"No, I—" Magnus takes a deep breath, and tampers down his growing frustration. Max is a child. He's scared, and he's in pain, and his immediate distrust of Magnus based on his species is not his fault. "Your brother has a scar on his eyebrow that he got from training with Jace. He insists it wasn't Jace's fault, but he makes excuses for the people he loves like it's his heavenly duty, so it probably was."

Max's eyes go wide, and Magnus sees him swallow. "You do know Alec."

"I do. I swear to you, Max, I'm not going to hurt you. Do you feel okay?"

Max looks horribly confused. "My chest hurts, but– You're a warlock, why does Alec—?"

A voice in the hallway interrupts them as Alec calls Magnus' name. He appears in the doorway a moment later, and relief floods across his face when he sees that Max is awake.

"Max," he says, and rushes over to his brother to wrap him in a hug. Max clings to him, fingers digging into Alec's shoulders, and Magnus has to look away. It feels too much like intruding upon a private moment.

The brothers are talking to each other quietly, Max shooting Magnus suspicious glances over Alec's shoulder while Alec soothes him, so Magnus steps out of the room, letting himself collapse onto the sofa. He snaps himself a glass of whiskey, and pulls open his chat with Isabelle to apologise for hanging up on her.

The feeling settling inside his chest is bitterness, he realises. Bitterness because a ten year old child actively distrusts him just because he's a warlock. He's become so used to Nephilim not looking at him like he's the dregs of the planet that he's forgotten that most do—adults and children alike.

He's forgotten. He's been lulled into a false sense of security, by Alec and Isabelle and Clary, and even Jace and that Clave envoy, Lydia, who'd been clearly dubious about him and suspicious of every word he spoke, but unfailingly polite nonetheless. He's let himself forget that most Shadowhunters despise every fibre of his being. Most of them want him dead.

So much so that they've instructed Alexander to execute him.

Footsteps pad across the floor of the loft, soft and hesitant; Magnus glances over at Alec, and sends him a small smile. His wings are still out, pulled right into his back, and he's put on the sweatpants and t-shirt Magnus left him—the former too short and the latter a little looser at the shoulders than it is on Magnus.

"I'm sorry," Alec says, scratching at the back of his neck. "About– that."

"It's not your fault," Magnus says, and Alec shrugs.

"It is. I've been as much a part of the rhetoric telling Max that Downworlders aren't to be trusted as practically every other Shadowhunter in the world."

Setting his whiskey down, Magnus rises, and crosses to where Alec is standing, swaying dangerously in place.

"We're both too tired to have this conversation now," Magnus tells him. "And laying blame doesn't help anybody. All that matters right this moment is that Max is okay."

Alec frowns at him, eyes flickering across his face. "That's not true," he says. "Your feelings don't become irrelevant just because someone else is hurt."

"Alexander," Magnus says, shaking his head even as Alec's words make his heart ache. Never, in four centuries, would he ever have believed that he'd one day meet a Shadowhunter and be able to change his mind about Downworlders. "I've received far worse than a terrified child telling me they don't trust me because I'm a warlock."

"So?" Alec demands, folding his arms across his chest and staring Magnus down with a ferocity that causes Magnus' mind to scatter. "You shouldn't have. Not from my parents, not from me, not from anyone. Especially no Shadowhunter. You shouldn't be treated like you're lesser, because you're not."

"Alec." Magnus' voice rasps a little, and fuck, it's only the image of Alec at his door, terrified and desperate and covered in his little brother's blood that stops Magnus from leaning up and kissing him. "You have no idea—" He exhales, and closes his eyes to ground himself for a moment. "Is Max okay?"

"He's fine, I think," Alec says. One corner of his mouth curls into a humourless smirk. "He's asleep now. He said his chest aches, but I'd imagine that's fairly normal after having a demon rip through his ribcage."

"Fairly," Magnus agrees, but he's a little distracted by the way Alexander is shifting involuntarily, as though he's struggling to stay upright. "If you're happy your brother is alright, then I'm going to insist you go to bed, now."

And who in the world would dare argue with the High Warlock of Brooklyn?

***

Alec is perched on the edge of Magnus' bed when the man himself walks through the door, twenty minutes after he told Alec he wasn't allowed to stay awake a moment longer. He'd pulled his phone out to text Jace and Isabelle, to let them know that he and Max are alright, and then he'd gone to pick up his stele to rune away his wings, only to realise that they were aching and cramping far too much for that.

It hadn't quite felt like the acceptable course of action to sprawl out in someone else's bed with his wings still on display, so he'd decided to just...wait.

"Alexander," Magnus says, a reprimand in his voice as he enters. "I'm fairly sure you should be asleep. You've been a moment from passing out since the second you came in."

Alec's lips quirk up. "I'm sorry. I just– You might...prefer me to sleep elsewhere."

Magnus rolls his eyes as he turns to his wardrobe so he has his back to Alec. "We had this conversation earlier, darling. Unless you don't want to sleep here because it makes you uncomfortable, there is no reason at all for you to force your frankly ludicrously long frame onto my five foot sofa."

Alec realises a moment too late that Magnus has undone his silky robe, and is about to drop it. He gets a flash of the smooth bronze skin that makes up Magnus' incredibly muscular back, broken only by the waistband of his briefs, before he averts his eyes, heart hammering against his chest.

It's not that he's being exposed to a half-naked man. He's seen plenty of men with most of their clothes off, in the infirmary and in the training room and ripping off shirts or pants in the middle of a mission to get at injuries that require urgent attention. Most of them don't set his heart racing. In fact, nobody has ever set his heart racing quite like this. It's that it's Magnus half-naked—Magnus, who's beautiful beyond any fantasy man Alec's most forbidden dreams could ever have imagined, and who admitted a mere hour or so ago that he wished Alec had kissed him.

"It's not that," Alec says, staring down at his hands rather than risk looking up at Magnus, and end up leering. He doesn't want to be creepy. Even though he's currently wondering whether Magnus' back would feel as smooth beneath his fingers as it looks, like silk laced over steel. "I've got twelve feet of extra limb. I can't rune away my wings, because I've exacerbated my back muscles too much, and—"

"I'm not at all bothered," Magnus assures him, and Alec feels the bed dip behind him as Magnus climbs on. "Nephilim wings are far from the most inconvenient bodily part that have shared a bed with me."

A chance glance over his shoulder provides Alec with the sight of Magnus wearing a t-shirt with 'best bi' picked out across the front in silver thread and a pair of boxers, so he lets himself meet Magnus' gaze properly.

"I could extend the bed," Magnus says, with a hum of consideration. "Perhaps—"

He snaps his fingers, and a line of blue flames licks up the side of the bed. They fan out, spreading in the direction of Magnus' en suite, dragging out Magnus' bed to extend it horizontally by four or five feet. Objects in its path - the nightstand, a discarded box of make-up, a haphazard pile of books on the floor - dart magically out of the way.

"There," Magnus says, apparently satisfied. He swings his legs out from underneath him and slips his toes beneath the sheets. "Be honoured. This is the first time I've ever willingly made concessions for a Shadowhunter."

Alec smiles briefly. "Thank you."

He turns, deciding that it's time to bite the proverbial bullet and fall asleep willingly before he's dragged over the edge and passes out in an inconvenient position. His head is swimming, temples pounding lightly as they have been for the last hour, and by the Angel, Magnus' bed is so soft.

A quiet, strangled noise that originates in the back of his throat escapes him as he sits fully on the bed and reaches for the sheets. He's got his wings tucked into his back as he moves, and every muscle in his back screams in protest at each minute shift.

It's not uncommon, muscle pain after using his wings more than he's used to. They train in flight, of course, and train to improve their flight endurance, but he's flown to and from the Institute and Magnus' house three times, today, and he flew during the attack at the Institute, and he'd flown on morning patrol—

And he hasn't been training back up to full strength for long after he fell out of the sky all those months ago. He's a little out of practise. With the adrenaline finally fading out of his bloodstream after such a warm hug from Magnus and a hot, soothing shower, the pain is finally beginning to hit him.

"Are you alright?" Magnus asks, frowning as Alec hisses while lowering himself to the mattress. He's propping himself up on one elbow, surveying Alec as he shifts around.

"Fine," Alec says. "I overdid it. It happens. I'll be fine."

"Alexander, if you're hurt—"

"I'm not." He meets Magnus' gaze straight-on. "It's just muscle strain."

Magnus lips twitch upwards, and he moves to sit up. "Well, I can fix that. Take your shirt off, and turn around."

"You don't have to. You've used a lot of magic already."

"Alexander, you seem to be under some kind of misapprehension. I don't do things for you because I feel obliged to. I do them because I care about you, and because I want to. And that was at least an hour ago. I'm the High Warlock of Brooklyn. I'm more than fine."

Alec doesn't have the energy to argue; he moves as Magnus instructs him to, until he's sitting cross-legged, elbows on his knees with his head braced in his hands and his shirt in his lap, exhaustion beating against his skull like the thump of the bass drum in a club.

Magic crackles behind him, and the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end as he feels wisps brushing against his skin. A moment later, he feels Magnus' hands resting just below his neck, bare skin brushing bare skin tantalisingly.

Thumbs dig into his aching shoulder muscles, and a moan rips its way out of Alec's throat at how good it feels. The firm, circular motions are almost relieving enough on his sore body to distract him from the fact that Magnus has his hands on him like this, in such an intimate way.

Almost.

Magnus' hands massage down, into the grooves of his spine and each painful, knotted muscle he encounters. Alec feels tension bleed out of him slowly, Magnus' ministrations easing the discomfort settled deep within him with warm fingers and soothing breaths of magic that tickle across Alec's skin.

His hands reach the join between his back and wings, where skin melds into coarse scapular feathers. Alec's breath hitches at the touch, sensation rocketing through him, densely packed nerve-endings firing off at lightning speeds, and Magnus pauses.

"Would you rather I avoided your wings?" His voice is barely a murmur.

"It's okay," Alec says, before he can consider saying anything else.

Lit with smoky plumes of magic, Magnus' fingers brush against the base of his wings again, before shifting along, up a few inches. He hesitates.

"Can I—?"

"Yes."

He shouldn't. He should say no. He can count on one hand the people who have ever touched his wings, outside of medicinal purposes. His mother, Isabelle, Jace, and Max. And he's fairly certain that his mother hasn't done such a thing since he was younger than Max.

And like this? He's never been touched like this.

But Magnus' fingers are running through his feathers, smoothing them into place where they've been knocked about and crumpled during the battle and during flight. His breath leaves him in a heady rush, and he shivers as Magnus' careful sweeps become surer.

He's never felt anything like this in his life. Grooming each other's wings is a bonding habit, done between family, between the closest friends, between lovers. Certainly not between business acquaintances, or tentative friends, or whatever Alec has been trying to convince himself he and Magnus are.

This, Magnus' fingers straightening his primaries and his magic floating across his secondaries, is unlike anything he's felt with his siblings tidying up his feathers—or, indeed, when he's helped them with theirs.

This feels like a thousand tiny explosions everywhere Magnus' hands venture. Like a supernova erupts at every fleeting kiss of magic. Like his every nerve ending is a firework that Magnus' touch sets off, blazing into the sky in a bright spray of colour, blinding and beautiful and breathtaking.

It's making his heart stutter, his breaths turning ragged, blood singing and pulse racing, thrumming beneath his skin. He wants to shy away, because he shouldn't allow himself to feel like this, but he wants to lean into it, to melt under Magnus hands, because it feels so wonderful, warm and tender and intimate.

"Oops," Magnus whispers behind him, sounding a tad sheepish but not particularly apologetic. There's a shimmer above the nightstand in Alec's peripheries, and a grey-white feather lands on the polished wooden surface—one of Alec's.

"It happens all the time," Alec says, voice low. "Don't worry."

"I wasn't," Magnus replies, matching his tone in a way that sets something in the pit of Alec's stomach on fire. He's close, closer than Alec realised, and when he speaks, warm breath curls around Alec's ear. "Feel better?"

"Yeah. I– Yeah."

Magnus' hands run up the length of his back to his shoulders, and then he's being turned around, gently, until he's facing Magnus. Alec is sat with his legs sprawled sloppily beneath him, but Magnus is leaning back on his haunches, a deep-seated fire burning in his eyes, chest rising and falling deeply.

"I've never been drawn to the Nephilim's wings," Magnus says, eyes raking across Alec's, tracing the paths his fingers just made. "They've always been used by your people as evidence of some kind of heavenly gift. An excuse for retribution the Clave considers its divine right. But you..." Magnus trails off, and snaps his eyes back to Alec's. "Even when you loathed me, you didn't see them like that. You didn't use them like that."

"They're just part of our anatomy," Alec replies, without thought. "They're not replicas of angel wings. Every depiction of angels we have shows their wings as something entirely different. My wings are no more angelic than any other cell in my body. And I'm just the same amount of angelic as Valentine and the Circle, which I've been aware of all my life. It's never seemed like a particularly wonderful attribute."

One side of Magnus' lips curl up, just enough for the corner of his eye to crinkle. "Your self-awareness does you favours," he says. "And you're beautiful."

Red stains Alec's cheeks, bleeding across his skin like ink spilling across thick paper, sinking into the fibres and spreading out, a river of crimson heat. "So are– God, Magnus, so are you."

A little laugh escapes him, gold-green irises shining in the low light of his bedroom. "Well, yes. I know." His expression softens, the teasing evaporating as he gazes at Alec with impossible tenderness. "Thank you, darling."

"I never thought I'd get to tell a man he's beautiful," Alec admits quietly, looking up at Magnus from beneath his eyelashes. "It's not– It's never been something I allow myself to think about. This."

"I know." The backs of Magnus' fingers brush his cheek. "I know."

Alec reaches up to catch Magnus' wrist before he can withdraw his hand, and leans into the warmth of his touch.

"Alexander," Magnus whispers, reaching up his free hand to run fingers through Alec's hair. "You're making this very difficult."

"Sorry."

"No, you're not," Magnus says, lips quirking upwards. "But we have to stop. Otherwise I am going to kiss you, and I'm not going to be happy about it."

"Isabelle told me once that no moment is ever perfect."

"Isabelle is right. Imperfections are often what make moments special. But not like this. Not with Max, and Moloch, and you being so delirious I'm not convinced you'll even remember this conversation in the morning."

Unbidden, his eyelashes dip and his eyes fix on Magnus' lips. He's not wearing any make-up - he hasn't been since Alec turned up at his door - but his lips look so soft, drawing his gaze and holding it captive.

"I'd remember kissing you."

Magnus makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat, closing his eyes for a moment as though to steady himself. When he reopens them, he's glaring at Alec; he kicks his shin lightly with the ball of his foot.

"Stop it," he says, with a huff of indignation. "You're being a manipulative little shit, and I will not stand for it."

Alec laughs. "My apologies."

After a rather exaggerated amount of huffing and humphing from Magnus, Alec finds himself lying stiffly in Magnus' bed on his stomach, wings folded up either side of him. He's got one arm tucked beneath the pillow, and he's turned his head away from Magnus in the darkness of his bedroom.

He can't quite relax. He's exhausted - he has been for hours - and his entire body hurts, although less than it did before Magnus' magical massage, but he can't let himself slip into sleep. He's too tense. His brain is too active, filled with thoughts about this being Magnus' bed, and Magnus' loft, and Magnus being right next to him in very limited clothing, having just touched his wings like—

"Alexander."

Magnus' voice comes as a mere whisper, and the sheets rustle before Alec feels a hand on his back, below where feathers meet flesh.

"Mm?"

Alec glances over, turning his head the other way on the pillow so he can face Magnus in the dark. He can make out only slitted golden pupils, but they're filled with mixed concern and amusement.

"You are allowed to relax, angel. Nobody is going to ambush you in your sleep. This loft is perfectly secure."

"I know. I'm sorry." It's a fact he's perfectly aware of, that Magnus' loft is safe—he wouldn't have left Max alone if he had any doubts as to its security.

He takes Magnus' proffered hand when it slips across the sheets, and sighs. "I suppose I just haven't slept in the same bed as someone else since I was a kid. Jace and I fall asleep in the same place mid-conversation, sometimes, but not...like this."

Not with someone I'm half-way to falling in love with, Alec thinks, and then freezes.

In love with?

Magnus doesn't reply, merely humming in acknowledgement. Instead, he slides his body forwards, closer to Alec's so that he's resting a mere few centimetres from Alec's curled wingtip, and brings their joined hands up in between them. His lips press against Alec's knuckles, lingering for a single golden moment that makes Alec's entire body hot.

It's...less awkward, Alec thinks, as Magnus settles their hands back on the bed, not relinquishing his hold, and closes his eyes, clearly settling in to sleep. He's separated from Magnus by the barrier of his wings - their bodies can't touch beyond their hands and feet unless Alec lifts up a wing and drapes it over Magnus, which he certainly won't be doing - but they're recognising the fact that they're sharing a bed.

It's with Magnus' fingers laced through his and the soft sound of Magnus' breaths filling his ears that sleep finally hauls him under, his aching body sinking into the mattress and his mind falling to rest at long last.

Chapter Text

The insistent buzz of magic wakes Magnus far too early in the morning. For a long moment, he lays in bed, groaning, with one arm slung over his eyes, wondering what on earth his magic is monitoring that's woken him up at such an ridiculous time. It's not even light outside.

It takes him several moments to force his eyes open, and when he does, it's to the fuzzy silhouette of a body sprawled out in bed beside him. Alec's chest is rising and falling steadily beneath the sheets, nose pressed into his arm, wings curved around his body like a barrier between himself and the outside world. His fingers are still resting a hairbreadth from Magnus', where they'd fallen asleep with their hands joined.

Something in Magnus wants to stay. He wants to card his fingers through Alec's unruly hair and watch the growing daylight filter through the curtains and spill across his back like glistening honey. He wants to witness Alec wake, slow and drowsy and dazed, to hear the low rasp of his voice in the morning. He wants to find out whether Alexander is a morning person, or whether he's monosyllabic before ten o'clock.

Unfortunately, he's all too aware of why he's being woken, his magic acting like an alarm to alert him to Max's transition into the land of the waking. He spares Alec, peaceful in the realm of slumber, a fleeting glance as he slips out of bed, tugging on a robe and waving his hand to summon himself a coffee.

Max Lightwood is awake when Magnus enters his room, having knocked and been bidden entrance. He's upright, wings - significantly smaller than Alec's, unruly where Alec's are carefully groomed, fluffy white where Alec's are silky and speckled with grey and faint streaks of silvery blue - twitching behind him in what Magnus interprets as nervousness. Not that he's particularly well acquainted with the subtleties of Nephilim wings.

"Good morning," Magnus says, with a soft smile that he hopes puts Max at least a little at ease. "How are you feeling?"

Eventually, after teasing out of Max that he still feels sore, but otherwise alright, Magnus manages to coax the youngest Lightwood out of the bedroom and into the living room, where he offers him croissants or pancakes.

Max's face positively lights up at the mere mention of food. "Really?"

Magnus raises his eyebrows. "Is that not on the menu in the Institute? Shame." He tuts. "You should adopt a warlock parent. We don't abide by such silly rules about fun-policing."

Albeit involuntarily, Max looks like he's about to smile, when their conversation is interrupted by an obnoxiously loud purring noise. A jet of fur darts out from under a chair, shooting for Max and leaping up onto the sofa beside him. The Chairman sniffs at Max's legs, scrutinising him closely, before apparently deciding that he'll do as a pillow; he settles on Max's lap, and fixes Magnus with a distinctly unimpressed look. It's very unfair. It's hardly Magnus' fault that he's got a devastatingly attractive Shadowhunter in distress who needed to steal Chairman's sleeping spot for the night.

Max glances from the Chairman to Magnus and back again. "You have a cat?"

"Mmhm. He's called Chairman Meow. And I think he's upset with me because your brother stole his bed."

"He's sweet. We used to have a cat called Church, but he was really, really grumpy. Brother Zachariah stole him," Max says, stroking between the Chairman's ears. Magnus nearly laughs. Then Max looks up at him, eyes horribly earnest. "Can I have croissants? Please?"

It's not until an hour later, when Magnus is sorting through his emails and Max is entertaining himself watching TV while they wait for Alexander to wake, that Magnus realises he's got his eyes unglamoured, as he usually does in his home.

Max Lightwood looked straight into his demonic eyes, and didn't so much as flinch.

***

Isabelle can't remember the last time she saw so much destruction in one place. She's not sure she's ever seen anything so catastrophic—and this in her own home. In the one place in the world she's supposed to feel safe.

Nobody's slept. The sun is rising outside, shining through the stain glass and casting intricate pools of colourful incandescence across the stone floors. A new day has dawned, the world still spinning on its axis, and yet all around her is the stark reminder of the tragedy of the previous night.

She feels a hand on her arm, and turns towards Clary, who's dragging Simon with her by the hand. Clary looks exhausted. There's a cut on her cheek that nobody has helped her heal, but she's otherwise unharmed. It's a miracle, really, that they've come out as well as they have. Isabelle knows all too well that much of the thanks lays with Luke and the wolves who came with him.

"Did the wolves toss you out again, Simon?" Isabelle asks, summoning a tired smile to her face.

Simon shakes his head. "No. Magnus kicked everyone out pretty much as soon as you lot left. Raphael demanded to know what was going on, so I heard about it. I wanted to come and check you were all..."

Alive goes unsaid, but the word makes Isabelle's skin prickle with discomfort anyway, as Max's limp, bloodied body cradled in Alec's arms flickers in her mind. Alec had texted her, and Magnus had texted her after she'd called, and she knows he's alright, but she can't help fearing how close her little brother came to death.

Like so many of her colleagues, dead on the floor of the Institute.

"If I can help," Simon says, uncharacteristically solemn, "let me know."

Isabelle doesn't flinch. "You could help Raj drag the bodies out back."

Simon's eyes widen almost imperceptibly, and she sees him glance at Clary. They appear to have one of those silent conversations that only people as close as siblings can have, and then Simon shrugs, jogging over to Raj. For once, Raj doesn't make a comment about a Downworlder being in the Institute. He merely gives Simon a tired, disinterested once-over, and continues his work without comment.

"Luke's going to arrest Iris Rouse," Clary says, quietly. "But I'm fairly sure they want to trial her by the Downworld Council, not by the Clave."

Isabelle exhales, and flexes her wings. She doesn't care. She doesn't care who punishes Iris. She just wants justice, without the Clave's inane and outdated rhetoric regarding the Downworlders.

"Have you got your stele?"

Clary replies in the affirmative, confusion clear on her face, and hands it to Isabelle when she asks. Isabelle takes Clary's chin between her fingers gently, and traces an iratze onto her cheek, before tossing the stele back at her.

"Thanks," Clary says. "I'm going to help the others clear up the Ops Centre. I think Lydia was looking for you."

Isabelle finds Lydia in her office, pouring over documents. She's too tired to feel resentment at the fact that Lydia is looking at papers and legalities when the rest of the Institute and several Downworlders are picking up the dead bodies of their friends.

"Isabelle," Lydia says, straightening when Isabelle walks in. "Are you alright?"

Isabelle shrugs. "Fine. You wanted to see me?"

"Not—" Lydia purses her lips. After setting a stack of papers down with a soft thud, she rounds the table, and comes to stand close enough for Isabelle to feel her breaths disturb the air. "I've received a bill from one Catarina Loss."

Isabelle raises her eyebrows. "Okay?"

"She's currently in England meeting with the High Warlock of London, but has historic associations with Warlock Bane, before he went into hiding," Lydia says, plainly. "And your brother has been miraculously healed from injuries inflicted by a Greater Demon. Might I presume that Alec did not go to the Silent City last night?"

"Raziel, Lydia, do we have to do this now?" Isabelle asks, dragging fingers through her tangled hair. "Ask Alec when he comes back. Call him now. I don't– I don't know what you want me to say."

"Hey." Lydia catches her hand, pulling it gently down from her hair, and Isabelle's heart stutters oddly, skin flooding with warmth. "It's okay. I understand why he would. But untoward relations with Bane are only going to jeopardise this case, and—"

"It's too goddamn late for that," Isabelle snaps. "Untoward relations already exist."

"Alright." Lydia swallows visibly, and Isabelle can see that she wants to say something else, but she merely says, softly, "Alright."

"Make sure my mother doesn't see that bill," Isabelle says, as she turns to leave. "If she asks, which she won't, tell her Max saw Brother Zachariah. Alec doesn't need any more shit from her. Least of all for taking Max to the one person in the world who could help him."

She goes to slam the door behind her on her way out, but catches it with the heel of her hand at the last moment, and lets it slip shut with a soft click.

***

Moonlight is pouring down over the balcony, liquid silver spilling across Magnus' bare back, making the sporadic flecks of glitter on his face glisten and shimmer like precious gems. He's smiling, eyes radiant and unglamoured, lips parting when he throws his head back and laughs, exposing the length of his neck to Alec's gaze.

Alec is smiling back. They're on a creamy wicker sofa, long enough for Alec to be sprawled out on his back, gazing up at Magnus above him as though Magnus' eyes hold every star in the vast night sky.

"What are you thinking about?" Magnus asks, picking up Alec's hand to brush his lips across his knuckles.

"You," Alec says, the simplest answer in the world, and Magnus' smile becomes dazzling, so bright it almost hurts to look at.

"Good things?" Magnus leans down a little, until he's got his arms folded on Alec's chest and his chin propped on his hands, mischief glinting in his pupils.

A hand reaches up to tug through Magnus' hair, silky strands slipping through his fingers. "Always."

"Mmm. What kind of good things? Really good things?"

"Magnus," Alec chastises, laughing through the word. "You're shameless."

Still grinning, Magnus sits up again so he's hovering over Alec's thighs. "You love me."

"Somewhere deep down," Alec murmurs, and follows Magnus up, leaning on his palm to bring his face towards Magnus'. He brushes his nose against Magnus' cheek, eyelids fluttering closed as Magnus' breaths wash across his cheek, warm and tantalising in the cool summer air. "You're so beautiful."

"So is the moon," Magnus whispers, fingers coming up to cup Alec's cheek with the utmost care, "but I don't seem to notice it when I'm with you."

Alec would only need to tilt his head slightly to brush their mouths together, but he can hear something faintly in the background, distracting him, making him pause in his movements.

"Alexander," Magnus whispers, and Alec feels fingers in his hair, raking through in a slow rhythm. "Alexander, darling."

And the scene dissolves, Magnus disappearing beneath his hands, while he falls into deep, empty space, down and down and down in an endless chasm of black.

***

Despite his dream, Alec feels himself wake slowly. His eyelids flutter open, and screw immediately shut when he registers the bright sunlight streaming through the curtains. He's far too comfortable, he thinks, on such a soft mattress with such silky sheets and—

Oh. Magnus. He's at Magnus' loft.

"Hey," says a voice to his left, and Alec blinks his eyes open, staring at the figure beside the bed blearily. "Good morning, sweetheart. Just about."

Alec's brow furrows as he realises that it's Magnus by the bed, fully dressed with his hair styled and his make-up painted intricately across his face, armour and fashion and sheer beauty all in one.

"Hi," Alec rasps. "What time is it?"

"Half past eleven," Magnus tells him. "I only woke you because you hit your head yesterday. I wanted to make sure you've still got all your faculties."

"Not around you," Alec says, and then flushes bright red when Magnus laughs, and he realises he's spoken aloud.

"My my, Alexander, flirting," Magnus says, with a wink that absolutely doesn't make Alec's heart thud double-time. "You are adventurous in the mornings."

"Shut up," Alec mumbles, sitting up. He scrubs a hand across his eyes. "How's Max?"

"As good as can be expected. I'm sure he'll be back to normal in a few days. He's playing with my cat. You Lightwoods and cats. I've got no hope of retaining prime position in the Chairman's life."

Alec smiles a little, ducking his chin to hide how charmed he is by Magnus' huffy complaints about his fluffy companion.

"Come here," Magnus says, extending a hand towards Alec. Alec acquiesces, and lets Magnus tug him up off the bed and in towards him. Fingers rest on his temple, and he feels the tingling warmth of magic flooding through him, chasing away a headache he hadn't realised he had. "Better?"

"Yeah." Alec tries - really, he does - not to look at Magnus' lips, but it's an impossible task. He wants to kiss this man so much it almost hurts. "Thank you."

Magnus' hand slides up from his temple to swipe his hair back off his forehead, the touch saturated with tenderness, slitted pupils following the movement. Alec can't look away from Magnus' face. He wants to kiss him. He wants to feel the suppleness of Magnus' lips against his, he wants to feel hot breaths hitting his jaw, he wants to map the shape of Magnus' mouth with his tongue.

But he wants more than that. He wants to cradle Magnus' face in his palms and trace over every line and plane of his face with his fingertips. He wants to press their foreheads together, kiss his nose, his forehead, the spot that creases when he frowns. He wants to drag his lips along the sharp line of Magnus' jaw to his ear, and whisper everything Magnus makes him feel. He wants to press his mouth to every inch of his face, until they're both breathless with laughter, and then he wants to lose himself in kisses and drown in Magnus' touch.

He doesn't realise how close they are, or that he's staring at Magnus' mouth, until Magnus whispers warningly, "Alec."

Alec closes his eyes, pulling back abruptly. "I'm sorry."

Magnus shakes his head, a small smile on his lips, but he doesn't say anything further. Instead, he steps away, out of Alec's grasp, leaving cold air in his wake. "There are some clothes in the bathroom. I think they'll fit."

A smile flits across Magnus' mouth, but it doesn't sit quite right on his face. It doesn't look...honest. Not entirely. But Alec doesn't have the chance to say anything, because Magnus is already slipping out of the room, leaving Alec alone.

***

It only takes Alec a few minutes to dress and rune away his wings, while he ponders Magnus' abrupt exit. Had he said something inappropriate? Was he being too forward about just how much he wants Magnus? Had it made Magnus uncomfortable?

But all that disappears the moment he steps out of the bedroom, and sees Max on the sofa, chatting to Magnus while he strokes Chairman Meow absently. Nothing in his body language suggests that he's in pain, and he looks—

By the Angel, he looks fine. He looks healthy. He looks perfectly healed, even his energy seeming rejuvenated.

"Alec!" Max says, when he spots his brother standing still behind the sofas. "God, you've been asleep for hours."

Alec shakes his head. "Hello to you too, Max."

Max grins cheekily as Alec makes his way over, sitting down beside him while being mindful of the sleeping cat between them.

"How do you feel?" Alec asks, lifting a hand to Max's forehead. "You feel okay?"

Max's eye roll is so hard Alec wonders it doesn't make him dizzy, and then realises that it's probably a rather hypocritical thing to think. Izzy's always saying that Max gets his eye-rolling abilities from Alec.

"I'm fine," Max says, giving Alec the kind of look that suggests he considers the question obsolete. "Do you think Magnus would just be sitting there doing– doing whatever it is he's doing, if I were sitting here in agonising pain?"

Alec raises his eyebrows at Max's apparent goodwill towards Magnus. Max has had even less exposure to the Downworld than Alec had, before he met Magnus, and he's fairly sure Max has been just as indoctrinated by the Clave and their parents as he had been.

"The curse is all gone," Magnus says, before Alec has a chance to bring the subject up. "You're welcome to bring him back in a few days if you'd like me to check anything, but you can consider yourself discharged and medically fit, Mr Lightwood."

Max gives Magnus a deadpan, unimpressed look. "Are all warlocks this dramatic?"

Alec chokes on a laugh, while Magnus leans forwards, playful sparks flying from his fingertips as he waves a hand. "Oh, no. I'm just particularly fabulous."

Max snickers; a faint smile crosses Alec's face, but he's too busy trying to clamp down on the suffocating rush of affection that overcomes him. Magnus earning his brother's seal of approval, and smirking and playing carelessly with his magic, eyes gleaming—

Maybe the Alec in his dream had been right. Maybe he is falling in love with Magnus, somewhere deep down in layers of his heart he thought he'd barricaded. He's spent so many years trying to sterilise himself, to prevent any planted seeds of desire and romance and love germinating, and yet here he is, heart blooming, so overgrown with affection for this man that he doesn't know what to do with himself.

He shouldn't. Nothing's changed. He shouldn't let himself do this. He shouldn't let himself fall in any deeper. But every time he tries to stop, he feels like he's drowning. This, whatever this is, with Magnus, isn't like an addiction that he needs to stave off tremors and sweats and hallucinations. It's like oxygen, clean and sweet and healing. Trying to cut himself off from Magnus, emotionally, had only led to heartache.

And it hadn't worked at all. He'd just fallen apart in the training room when Lydia told him of his mission.

By the Angel, he shouldn't. There are so many reasons he shouldn't. The Clave, and his family, and the Institute, and the fact that he's supposed to be hunting Magnus, just off the top of his head.

But he wants to. Oh, god, he wants to. He wants Magnus. He wants to fall in love with Magnus. And then he wants to shout to the world that he's utterly, stupidly gone for the High Warlock of Brooklyn.

"We can go," Alec says, hauling himself out of his thoughts before he has a meltdown in Magnus' living room. "Get out of your way. You must have clients."

"A few," Magnus says, inclining his head. "But in the aftermath of a party, I tend to limit my workload where possible. Luckily for you."

Alec smiles faintly. "Thank you, Magnus. I'll make sure Lydia pays that bill."

Magnus looks like he wants to say something to that, but Max interrupts, rising up off the sofa to tap the stele Alec has shoved in the pocket of his jeans. He's fairly sure they're not Magnus', because they're long enough, but he's equally certain that they're not his.

"Can you rune away my wings?" Max asks, and, to Alec's hesitant expression, adds, "Magnus says it's fine."

"You need to learn this rune properly," Alec says, but he crouches down and tugs at Max's t-shirt to activate his wing rune, two curling arches that tip together, swirling into a spiral at the base, close but not quite touching at any point. "When we get back to the Institute, ask to do some runes with Clary."

Max adores Clary. He didn't, to begin with, but he realised that as a mundane, she'd read comic books, and that she liked art, and that Jace wouldn't abandon Max just because he and Clary were clearly very interested in each other, and his suspicious dislike had turned into a fierce friendship. Especially when it transpired that Clary was perfectly happy to sit and go through the tedious task of learning runes with him whenever she came back from Idris.

He finishes the rune, and Max's wings - significantly smaller than his own, feathers shorter and fluffier - shimmer in the air, turning translucent while they fold up and then disappearing entirely.

Magnus walks them to the door, and Alec pauses on the threshold, turning back to face him. He's not exactly sure what he wants to say, but he needs to say something.

"Magnus—"

"Call me," Magnus says, with a small smile. "I haven't got any clients tomorrow afternoon. Let me know how Max is doing." He turns his gaze on Max, and Max looks back at him with surprising transparency.

"Alright. I– Yeah. Okay."

He wants to reach out. He wants to touch. He wants to grab Magnus' hand, or squeeze his forearm, or press a kiss to his cheek, but he knows he can't. Not with Max here, and not after Magnus' oddly swift exit from the bedroom earlier.

"Goodbye, Alexander. And you, Max."

Max bids Magnus a fairly cheerful goodbye, and Alec swallows. He needs to make sure Max won't mention Magnus' name at the Institute. "Bye, Magnus."

***

Simon isn't really in the business of making social calls to the New York Institute. Hearing about the attack, however, and learning that both Luke and Clary had been in the middle of such destruction, had forced him over there in moments.

Spending extended periods of time around Shadowhunters, in their home, always leaves Simon feeling inexplicably uncomfortable in his own skin. The way they look at him, and at Luke and Maia and Alaric, makes him feel as dirty as so many of them think he is.

He feels particularly awful this time, when he leaves just before midday, having spent much of the morning helping the Institute clear up, while Luke took his pack to find Iris Rouse. So many Shadowhunters are dead. So many people died in that battle. And little Max, a child in every sense imaginable, harmed in the crossfire.

And yet, most of the people dead wouldn't bat an eyelid at his brutal destruction. Most of them would be happy to be his executioner. Is he supposed to feel remorse, or relief? Is he becoming some cruel, frozen immortal for feeling both?

Worse, he finds himself sympathising with the warlock suspected of helping Valentine's attack, when Maia tells him about her. She's a criminal, Maia says, in every sense of the word, and has been for decades. The warlocks have reported her to the Clave, but, as her misdemeanours were directed merely towards the Downworld, they chose to turn a blind eye. Even when Valentine kidnapped her granddaughter and exploited her for her magic.

The little girl is suspected dead, or abandoned, Maia had said, her expression calm but rage simmering in her eyes. And the Clave had made no attempt to find her, irrespective of Iris' pleading, claiming that they did not help criminals.

Simon can understand why the woman would resent the Shadowhunters. He can't help the fury he feels at an Institution supposed to protect the world letting a little girl die at the hands of a genocidal maniac. He can't possibly condone her actions, causing the deaths of dozens of people, but he can't quite find it in himself to feel nothing but contempt for her.

The Shadowhunters - Maryse, Raj, Lydia, but even Jace and Izzy and Clary - don't quite see it that way. He supposes it's hard to feel sympathy for a woman who enabled the slaughter of dozens of their friends and coworkers. But he can't stay in the Institute.

Inexplicably, he finds himself standing in front of the Hotel Dumort. It sounds quiet inside, as Simon would expect at midday, and the place looks distinctly less desolate and haunted than it does at night.

He doesn't so much a raise a hand to knock, before the door is ripped open, and Raphael is revealed. He's shirtless, hair tousled and eyes a little bleary, and Simon has to take a very deep, deliberate breath to stop himself doing something stupid, like staring at his gorgeously defined torso, and the sharp lines of his hips, and—

For fuck's sake.

"Simon," Raphael says in clear exasperation. "What are you doing here?"

Simon blinks a little, hauling himself out of his appreciative musings about Raphael's abs. "I... What?"

Raphael rolls his eyes. "What are you doing here, at the Dumort? Why have you graced us with your presence?"

"I don't really know," Simon admits. "I just, sort of, got here. It wasn't really a conscious decision."

"Get in, before you start attracting attention just standing in the sun like a mundane," Raphael says. There's a note of that perpetual irritation in his voice, but the way he reaches out and grabs Simon's arm to pull him inside is decidedly gentle.

The door shuts behind him, and Simon blinks a little at the abrupt lack of light.

"You've been at the Institute," Raphael states. "And something's bothered you."

"Something's always bothering me," Simon says, with a forced laugh. "It's how I roll."

"Simon."

He exhales heavily, and shakes his head a little. "Alright, alright, I just– How am I supposed to trust my own judgement, when I'm standing here feeling sympathy for some crazy cat lady who just helped an insane, real-life Darth Vader murder dozens of people?"

To Simon's shock, Raphael's expression softens. A smile, minute but tinged with sadness, flits across his face, and he shakes his head, taking half a step closer, so they're standing a mere few inches apart.

"Simon, you're a Downworlder," Raphael says. "You're never going to see the world like they do. You're never going to experience the world like they do. Not until Downworlders are afforded the same rights and protections and respect as Shadowhunters."

"But she killed people," Simon says, guilt twisting in his gut while he gesticulates his frustration. "Or, at least, she helped some demons do it, that's basically assisted murder, she—"

"Simon," Raphael says, yet again, this time reaching out to grab one of his wildly flailing hands. Simon fixes his gaze on where their fingers are suddenly intertwined, heart thudding. "Someone very wise with horrible hair once told me that the world is not black and white, that people are not black and white, and that to see the world and its inhabitants in monochrome does the universe a great injustice. That our world isn't just shades of grey, but a technicolour display in a thousand tones. People can never agree because issues are never simple, and to oversimplify a situation is often to lose essential aspects."

Simon thinks, almost comedically, of technology fifteen, twenty, thirty years ago, saving photographs in low resolution, pictures pixellated and distorted until the image itself was all but unidentifiable. An analogue image oversimplified digitally until it was distorted entirely.

"It takes a strong person to see the wider, clearer image," Raphael says, quietly. "Because seeing more means our perception of reality is constantly being challenged, and our opinions must be constantly evaluated. You are not a horrible person for being able to see the tragedy in Iris Rouse's story, however vile the ending. Her granddaughter was kidnapped and is most likely dead because of the Clave."

"It's not black and white," Simon murmurs, lifting his gaze up from their joined hands to look at Raphael.

"No," Raphael agrees. "It's not. It never is. Not even Valentine and the Circle. If I remember correctly from when Magnus dragged us to the cinema, neither was Darth Vader and Luke."

Good god, Raphael Santiago has seen Star Wars? Simon thinks he's going to have an existential crisis over that, too.

Simon is silent for a moment, holding Raphael's gaze, and then he says, "Magnus told you that?"

"He did," Raphael says, lips quirking up. He looks skyward, amused resignation on his face. "He'd gloat for all eternity if he heard me say this, but he does often have stellar advice."

"So Magnus is, like, the Downworld Dad?"

"Ragnor bought him a mug saying 'world's best dad' once. He—"

Abruptly, Raphael's face shutters, and he snaps his mouth shut. His jaw clenches, eyes fixed determinedly somewhere over Simon's shoulder. Simon feels his own face twist into a frown, and he glances behind him to locate whatever it is that's made Raphael freeze.

But there's nothing there. Raphael is staring into space.

Simon turns back to him, questions on the tip of his tongue, but they evaporate when he notices the way Raphael is trembling all over, lower lip quivering and eyes glossy. Is Raphael Santiago...crying?

More taken aback than he knows how to express, Simon squeezes Raphael's hand and ducks his head in an attempt to catch his gaze. "Raphael?"

Raphael glances at him for a fleeting fraction of a second, and then wrenches his hand away from Simon's.

"Go," Raphael says, voice rough.

"Hey, no." Simon steps towards him, and rests a hand on his shoulder. "What the hell is going on?"

"Nothing. It's—"

"Who's Ragnor?" Simon asks, and feels Raphael flinch beneath his hand. "Oh."

"Oh, nothing," Raphael spits, and whirls round to glare at Simon. "I asked you to leave."

"Because you're upset?" Simon demands, feeling anger rise within him at how fucking frustrating Raphael is. "Because you're embarrassed at showing an ounce of emotion? Raphael Santiago, cold-hearted bitch, daring to feel something? Shocking."

His voice drips with sarcasm, as bitter as the revoltingly strong black coffee Clary likes to drink, but he doesn't let his gaze stray from Raphael's.

Raphael is the first to break. He blinks, slowly, and then his eyes flutter shut, eyelashes almost brushing the tops of his cheeks as he bows his head.

"Raphael..."

Simon's gut instinct is to reach out and wrap his arms around the other vampire; hold him tight and let him cry out whatever it is that's tearing at his heart. But he knows Raphael isn't the greatest fan of physical contact. The last thing he wants to do is make this situation any worse.

Hesitantly, Simon slips a hand down Raphael's arm, touch light, until their palms slide together. Surprise washes through him when Raphael grips his fingers tightly, but he doesn't draw back.

"I'm sorry," Raphael whispers, and Simon's eyes widen. "Please, just— Don't go."

Heart hammering, Simon lifts his free hand to Raphael's face and brushes back several stray strands of hair. "I won't," he promises. "I won't. I'm right here."

A sob, unmistakable in its intensity, wracks through Raphael's body. Alarm claws at Simon's skin while he watches Raphael fall apart, but none so great as when Raphael shifts forward to rest his forehead against Simon's shoulder.

Simon swallows, and curls his hand lightly around Raphael's neck. "I've got you."

He feels Raphael huff out a watery laugh. "I know."

They don't move for several long moments that seem to stretch out into an endless infinity. Eventually, Raphael withdraws, but only far enough to tug Simon onto a sofa, and whisper stories about Ragnor Fell into the dying light of the afternoon.

Chapter Text

The dull thwack of a thick paper folder of official documents hitting his desk makes Alec glance up from reports and details about the attack on the Institute the previous day. It's all so complicated it's making his eyes glaze over. Partly, he knows, because his thoughts are otherwise occupied, with concern for Max and...

Well. It's probably best that he doesn't let himself fantasise about Magnus again.

Raj stands over his desk, square stature casting shadows across the room. He's in gear, a pair of seraph blades strapped to his belt, but his clothing and weapons are all perfectly clean. He must be about to go out on patrol.

Figures. Alec was on morning patrol with Jace and Clary. He can't remember the last time he went on patrol with Raj. Sometime before they freed the Downworld prisoners, he supposes. Some part of him can't help doubting that Raj will ever forgive him for that.

Raj jerks his chin at the folder, but stays silent as Alec's gaze flickers between the folder and his coworker. There's a deep-seated anger in Raj's eyes, but it's not quite the blazing rage and bitter betrayal of a month of two ago. It's dimmed a little, but the embers are very much remaining, hot and blistering.

Alec flicks the folder open, and is immediately greeted by a cover page with Magnus' name on it. He turns the page, and finds himself looking at a summary page of, he presumes, everything Lydia and Raj have put together on Magnus over the last week or so, in an attempt to pick holes in the Clave's case on him.

Fleetingly, Alec wonders if Lydia is a lawyer in another life.

He reaches a loose page, not attached to the rest of the document, and picks it out to scrutinise its contents more closely. On it, are written a variety of estimates of the total people dead at Bane's hand, or as a direct result of his actions.

The numbers are all astonishingly high—even those estimated by three different councils of warlocks, and one mixed Downworld council. The bulk, of course, are quoted from the incident in Indonesia.

"Do you see now?" Raj says, voice quiet but saturated with flames on the cusp of licking across the desk to envelop Alec whole. "Do you see how pointless this is? Do you see what he is?"

Alec throws the folder down and fixes Raj with a cold look. "I'm sorry, Raj, what exactly is he?"

"He's a murderer," Raj snaps. "He's a murderer, and he's a Lothario, and he's playing you, and you're so busy thinking with your dick that you can't see it."

Fury rushes through Alec's veins so fast it's blinding, and he's on his feet before he makes a conscious decision to move. He leans across the desk, narrowing his eyes.

"Say that again," Alec breathes, "and I swear to you, Raj—"

"Look at the numbers, Alec!" Raj gestures frantically at the folder on the desk, as though desperate for Alec to understand. "Look at all the people he's killed!"

"It's not that simple."

"How the hell can dead innocents be anything other than simple?" Raj's gaze doesn't waver as he stares Alec down. "Warlock Bane has killed thousands of people."

"The single biggest incident was Indonesia," Alec states, jabbing at the folder with a finger but not breaking eye contact. "He was a child. He was being hunted by adults, what the hell do you expect to happen when people terrify a warlock child?"

"Child?" Raj asks, with a laugh that sounds on the edge of hysterical. "He'd call anything under the age of fifty a child."

"Stop." Alec softens his voice, not without effort, and shakes his head. "I knew all of this. I'm not a fool. Nothing you can uncover will change my opinion of him."

"By the Angel, Alec, you're insane. This is insane. Even if this is true, do you really think the Clave will change their mind?"

Realisation hits Alec like a freight train, and he stills, lips parting as tension begins to ease out of his body.

"Is this about Cameron?" Alec asks, as gently as he knows how to—as gently as he imagines Magnus would, with that open expression and the encouraging eyebrow tilt and warm duck of his head, eyes searching but not pushing.

Raj stiffens. His teeth snap together, jaw locking, and he pales visibly. He shakes his head sharply and curls his fingers into his palms, cold indignation in his eyes. For a moment, Alec thinks Raj might hit him.

"No."

"Isn't it?" Alec asks, tilting his head a little. "Is this because you're scared the Clave will end up doing the same thing now they did then—kill an innocent man?"

"He's not innocent," Raj spits. "Cameron was. How dare you compare—?"

"But if you and Lydia prove that he is innocent of the crimes the Clave accuses him of, then you've got to accept that they're trying to do to him the same as they did to Cameron. But this time, you can't hide behind some misguided thoughts about love, because he's not being put to death for love. You'll have to accept that the Clave isn't as perfect as you're determined to think."

Raj closes his eyes. "Enough."

"Raj—"

"I said, that's enough."

When he looks at Alec, his eyes are wild, uncertain, flitting around Alec's face in clear desperation. Alec feels sympathy shooting through him, as Raj begins to confront everything Alec has been faced with since he was shot out of the sky all those months ago, only to catapult onto the doorstep of the man who would change his life.

As though someone up high is observing Alec's thoughts, his phone rings, flashing up with Magnus' name. He glances back at Raj, who's standing stock still, frozen in place. A sad smile tugs at his lips.

"I'm sorry," he says, squeezing Raj's shoulder in an attempt at comfort as he passes, and hits accept on his phone.

He doesn't stay to see the tears glistening in Raj's eyes.

***

New York is beginning to show signs of summer, Magnus thinks, as he strolls down the street after an exceptionally successful meeting with a client, in which he'd negotiated a deliciously obscene number of zeros into his bank account. Green is beginning to overshadow the eternal grey of winter, and the sun has chased away the hard-set chill in the air just enough for Magnus to take out merely a light blazer.

He hums as he scrolls through his contacts to find Alexander's name, deciding that a call on his walk home will fit nicely into his schedule, before he starts translating that awfully long text for the Seelies this evening.

A wonderfully familiar voice crackles through the line after a few rings. "Magnus."

"Alexander," he says, a smile turning up the corners of his mouth. "Hi."

"Hi."

He can hear his smile reflected in Alec's voice, and it's all too easy to imagine the way it crosses his face, reluctant and then eager, hesitant and then unashamed. It makes Magnus' heart soar.

"I was calling to see how Max is doing," Magnus says breezily, glancing up the road as he crosses to the opposite side of the street. "And the rest of you at the Institute. Well." He pauses in momentary contemplation. "Those of you I care about."

Alec lets out a little laugh. "We're okay. I heard Luke arrested Iris Rouse, but that you don't want to hand her over to the Clave."

Magnus' smile slips. "No. I don't think that's going to be happening."

"I—" Alec exhales. "I know the Downworld has a very limited voice in Clave legalities, so I told Luke and Raphael that if the Clave calls a meeting on the case, I'd speak for them. Whatever they want to be known, I'll tell the Clave. Luke accepted. Raphael is considering. I wanted to extend the invitation to you. To the warlocks, in general."

Magnus' eyebrows shoot up. "You're not going to tell me that she's a criminal who needs to be brought to justice?"

"She is, and I was," Alec admits. "But I had that argument with Luke, earlier. He told me about her granddaughter and what Valentine did to her, and the Clave's lack of action in helping. I don't...agree, necessarily, but I understand. And it's hardly as though she'll go unpunished by the Downworld Council, which is the important thing. Right?"

Magnus is momentarily taken aback at Alec's attitude, and at his willingness to listen, despite how close to home - literally - the attack had been. He can't imagine Iris' actions - allying herself with the man who wronged her and took away her granddaughter in the first place - make much sense to the Shadowhunters. They don't understand the desperation the Clave drives people to.

He's impressed, and proud, that Alec is listening anyway.

"Right," Magnus agrees. "And I'd be very grateful to have you talk on our behalf, Alec. Although you don't technically have any alliance with the warlocks."

"Technically," Alec says wryly. "Although I suppose I can't name-drop you in a Clave meeting."

Charmed, Magnus lets out a laugh. "I'll put you in touch with Catarina Loss. I believe the Institute has had some dealing with her, in the past."

"With our resident High Warlock conveniently disappeared off the face of the planet, she has been our go-to."

Magnus can't stop smiling as they quip back and forth, half business talk and half friendly banter, and he tries to conjure up an image of the last Shadowhunter who spoke to him like Alec does. Will Herondale, perhaps? Jem Carstairs?

But, whatever alliances and friendly acquaintances he'd had with the London Institute back in Victorian London, none of them had ever been...like this. London had been the setting of a blooming love that had exploded and broken him into pieces. He'd drowned his heartache in sex and smoggy streets and opium dens and the nasty, cruel business around poor Tessa, and all it had done was prolong the bleeding.

Victorian London isn't a place he's in a hurry to remember.

So, frankly, it's just as well he's in New York, with the warm breeze that comes just before spring turns into summer blowing through his hair, the rich warmth of Alec's voice in his ear rather than the deceptively silky, biting lines of—

"Magnus?"

Magnus blinks out of his reverie - not there's much pleasant from the nineteenth century to reminisce about - and shakes his head a little. "I'm so sorry, I spaced out. Tell me again?"

"It's not important. I was just saying thank you, again. For Max. I paid Catarina Loss this morning."

"Not out of your own pocket, I hope," Magnus says, because he's entirely aware of how poorly paid the Nephilim are. He remembers once asking a lone - and rather rude - French Shadowhunter who was under the mistaken impression that he could afford Magnus' services whether he was dealing in meth or cocaine. The Shadowhunter had been terribly offended, even once he'd realised Magnus was being sarcastic.

Alec assures him that the money is from the Institute's reserves. Magnus lists off a few symptoms he should keep an eye out over the next few days while Max recuperates, and their conversation quickly dissolves into meaningless chatter.

Alec is halfway through an amusing account of his exasperations with Jace when Clary first arrived at the Institute, when Magnus hears a snap behind him. He whirls around, Alec's voice fading into the background as he scans the darkening street.

Nothing. It's empty, not a soul in sight. But something makes the hairs on the back of Magnus' neck stand on end; his cat eyes flash into existence, fingers twitching and swirling by his side as his magic itches to defend him, to eliminate the threat he can sense.

He can hear Alec calling to him on the other end of the line, but he doesn't dare reply. He doesn't want to draw the attention of whatever's lurking in the shadows—or startle it, if it does, in fact, hold no malicious intent.

There's a deep growling sound from one of the bushes just off the sidewalk, and Magnus' eyes snap sideways. A stench permeates the air, and Magnus chokes, lifting his hand to cover his nose and mouth in an attempt to ward it off. It can only be described as the smell of death. The repugnant, putrid smell of rotting flesh makes Magnus gag.

A figure appears out of the shrubbery, seeming to expand as it reveals itself to Magnus' gaze. The demon gazes down at him with enormous gleaming white eyes, their circumference larger than Magnus' handspan, set into a mass of thick dark gas that seems to ooze an unspeakable viscous liquid onto the sidewalk.

Magnus raises a hand, blue sparking at his fingertips and turning a livid scarlet as he prepares to attack. Every muscle in his body tenses as the demon roars, and he tilts his elbow to shoot his first attack, and—

"Magnus? What on earth are you doing?"

Magnus' eyes widen and he freezes, magic dying on his fingertips. Catarina Loss stands before him, eyebrows drawn together as she watches him with clinical concern that borders on bewilderment.

"Catarina?" he says, deaf to Alec's muffled voice shouting from the other end of the phone, lying on the sidewalk where he tossed it away in readiness to attack. "What are you doing here? I saw—"

"What did you see?" Catarina asks, taking a step towards him. "Magnus, are you alright?"

"Going insane, I told you so. Too many centuries, old man," says Raphael with a smirk in Magnus' direction, appearing behind Catarina as though he'd been strolling down the sidewalk a moment ago. But Magnus had looked behind him, he'd—

"Raphael," Catarina chastises him. "I'll remind you of that, on your four hundredth birthday."

Magnus is too confused, too taken aback by the sudden appearance of his friends, to notice the man striding down the street, a determined purpose to his gait. He feels like he's got whiplash. He'd been talking to Alexander, and then he'd seen something, sensed something, and then—

"Downworlders," the man spits, and, before any of them have a chance to make a move to defend themselves, he's bringing a shimmering silver seraph blade down across Raphael and Catarina, slicing through them in a smooth arch. The thick crack of the blade cutting through their spinal cords fills the air.

Magnus is too numb with shock to scream as blood sprays across the sidewalk, splattering like fat droplets of rain. The bodies of his friends slump. Blood bubbles at Raphael's lips and Catarina's eyes roll back as they fall, choking and gurgling.

Chest heaving, eyes wide in unadulterated horror, Magnus dashes across the few metres separating him from his friends and flings himself to his knees beside them. He stares between them for a moment. He's frozen, fear and rage and utter despair oppressing him. Even as magic bleeds from his hands in a desperate attempt to haul them back into the world of the living - to restart Catarina's heart, to force blood back into Raphael's body - he knows it's hopeless.

He's trembling all over as he looks up at the Shadowhunter standing over them. The Shadowhunter is tall, his face obscured by the hood of a dark black clock that's drawn tight around him, pushed back at his hip to expose a long line of wicked glimmering blades in his belt.

Magnus is going to kill him. He's going to tear this man apart, limb from limb. He's going to scatter him through the forest and set him alight. He's going to make him scream, for what he's done. He's not going to see another sunrise without feeling the agony ripping through every cell of Magnus' body. He's not going to take another breath without it rattling in his chest, without his heart clenching and twisting in his ribcage, without pleas for mercy falling from his mouth.

"Show your face," Magnus snarls to the Shadowhunter. "You coward."

Pale hands raise, long fingers curling around the material as he pulls the hood back. Magnus' nostrils flare as the dying light of the evening casts shadows across the planes of his face. A beat, and the man turns his head, eyes meeting Magnus', and every breath Magnus was clinging onto leaves him.

"No," Magnus whispers, clutching at Raphael's suit jacket involuntarily. "No, no, you— No."

Magnus shakes his head in vehement denial, and the Shadowhunter laughs, cold and cruel and merciless. It shatters any illusions Magnus retained of this being some elaborate trick. Some cruel joke. A startling, awful vision sent by his father.

Nothing could recreate such a horrific sound from those lips.

"Cat got your tongue, Magnus?" Alec asks, eyes flashing as he speaks, voice a deadly caress that makes Magnus shiver. "You're a fool."

"Alexander," Magnus chokes out. "You– You can't—"

Alec tilts his head slightly to one side, narrowing his eyes a little. The expression is so Alec that it makes Magnus feel physically nauseous; he has to grip tighter at his dead friends to stop himself vomiting all over the filthy pavement.

"And why, exactly, is that?" Alec asks, a sickening smile on his face. "Because you trusted me? Because you liked me? Because I nearly kissed you?" He bends over so he can whisper in Magnus' ear. "I lied, Magnus. It was all lies. As though I would ever kiss a Downworlder."

"I don't believe you," Magnus says, closing his eyes and leaning away from Alec. "I don't believe you. Everything you did, everything you said—"

"You know nothing about me!" Alec's eyes are maniacal, gleaming beneath a street lamp that's just beginning to flicker on, and it ignites a deep-rooted fear in Magnus' gut—a fear of the Nephilim that no Downworlder, no matter how powerful, is ever quite able to shake. "You know nothing about what I'm capable of! All of it, every bit, has been a ploy, Magnus. This is a Clave mission. This is a play. A script. I was acting. I lied to you, for months. Every word, every moment, was a lie."

"Freeing those Downworlders—"

"Clave-sanctioned," Alec snaps. "God, keep up. As soon as you saved me, as soon as the Clave knew you were in New York, they wanted to find a way of getting to you. Previous methods hadn't been particularly successful. They needed a soldier to infiltrate you. To gain your trust. To strike you when you're at your weakest."

Magnus stares up at Alec - so familiar, but with such an alien note of utter hatred in his voice and disgust in his eyes - and feels horrific realisation clawing at his heart. He's been betrayed. He's been taken in by Alexander, and all of it has been a lie.

Lilith, he's just as naïve as he's always been. He trusts too fast. Ragnor always said so. How many people has he let in, only for them to destroy him, tear him apart, betray him in the worst of ways? Camille, and now Alec...

Alec moves in close—close enough for his breath to hit Magnus' face as he murmurs, "And you know the best part?" A smirk curls at his mouth. "I get to enjoy that heartbroken look on your face as I kill you."

Cold lips brush his cheek, and Magnus shudders, and then retches as the smell of decaying flesh and rotten eggs hits him, making him reel back in revulsion.

Alec is stepping away, talking, but Magnus' mind is spinning, because that smell... It's the same thing he'd smelt before Catarina had appeared, right before he'd seen, just for a split second—

"Agramon," Magnus whispers, blinking. His eyelashes cling together, and he realises he's been crying. He lifts a hand to wipe at his face, smearing make-up and dirt in equal measures.

Alec stills. "What?" he snaps.

"Agramon," Magnus repeats, surer now, voice steadier, the terror beginning to bleed out of him, slowly, drop by drop. He focuses on the smell - that awful, awful smell - and holds it in his head. "The demon of fear."

Alec - not Alec, Agramon - bars his teeth, snarling. "Enough, warlock."

Magnus rises to his feet, jaw set, and shakes his head sharply. "No. No, not enough. You're a Greater Demon. You show people their worst fears." He gestures to the ground with a quickly steadying hand, where Raphael and Catarina are sprawled on the floor. "The death of my best friends at the hand of someone I've grown to trust implicitly. The ultimate betrayal."

With a roar, Agramon lunges forward, hands rising to slash the seraph blade down on Magnus' neck.

But Magnus is faster. He whirls out of the way, ducking the blow as though evading a stray ribbon in the midst of a dance, and snaps his hand forward to shoot a sizzling ball of magic at the demon.

Agramon's form flickers as the magic hits him, and an inhumane spitting noise escapes his mouth as Magnus spins to avoid a second attempt at an attack, and tosses twin flares of magic at him, again and again and again as he twists and leaps and contorts his body to escape harm.

His magic drives Agramon back, further and further, until he slams a hand into the demon's chest. His eyes are wild, flesh scorched and marred, and he looks almost as other as he sounds, like a monster from a horror movie. Skin is peeling away to reveal bloodied flesh below, hair charred and burnt off, and Magnus can't look at the demon wearing Alec's face a moment longer. He knows it's not Alec, in his head, in his heart, in his gut, but something in his subconscious wants to save the face of the man he's some to care so much for.

"Your father is looking for you, Magnus Bane," Agramon whispers, eyes darting between Magnus', white rather than the familiar hazel hues of Alec's. "He'll find you. He'll claim you."

"I don't like being claimed," Magnus snarls, shoving harder at Agramon's chest. "Enjoy hell."

With a final pulse of magic, Agramon screeches, fire consuming him, licking through his stolen body from the inside out. A beat, sharp and ragged in the silence of the evening, and he explodes in an effervescent crackle.

Breaths coming heavily, Magnus glances down, and nearly weeps in relief when he sees no evidence of Catarina or Raphael—merely a smear of blood from—

Shit.

He hisses as he presses fingers into his side. When he draws them back, they come away slicked with crimson blood. He can't remember Agramon landing a hit, but in the adrenaline of battle, he supposes it could have gone unnoticed.

He has to get home, he thinks, waving a hand to slip his phone back into his pocket. The screen is smashed, and it's clearly fucked, but he's not going to leave it laying around for the mundane police to find.

Gritting his teeth against the growing pain, he swirls a hand to open a portal, and topples through into his loft.

***

Frantic doesn't begin to describe how Alec feels as he runs down yet another street, Magnus' necklace from all those weeks ago when they'd freed the Downworlders clutched in his hand. He's terrified. Terrified in a way he can't remember ever being.

It had been so sudden. Magnus had gone silent on the other end of the phone, and then his phone had clearly clattered to the floor, and then Alec had heard voices, and then awful, sickening sounds—the sounds of death and battle, and then the line had gone dead.

It was only minutes between the call ending and Alec finding Jace, necklace in hand, begging him to help him track Magnus from his bedroom, out of sight of anyone else in the Institute.

Not that tracking the High Warlock of Brooklyn would ever be simple. He doesn't know why he'd been so naïve as to think that Magnus would just let anyone track him. They'd found an approximate location, not many streets away from Magnus' loft, but—

Alec has been searching for an hour - more than - and he's found nothing.

Helplessness is beginning to overwhelm him as he skids round a corner, darting around another mundane as he glances at faces, scours the ground for clues, for indications of Magnus' presence, for anything at all—

Is that—?

Alec drops to his knees when something glittering catches his eye, and he picks up the ruined remains of a necklace that's clearly been ripped off and tossed on the floor. Is it Magnus'? It looks like something Magnus would wear, but it's difficult to recognise in pieces like this, and—

Shit.

Smears of red cover the floor, thickest on the sidewalk, thinning into a trail of drips further along, and then disappearing abruptly a few metres away. Because Magnus went through a portal, maybe?

But where the hell would he have gone to? And why did they track Magnus here, if he's portalled elsewhere?

Both necklaces in hand, Alec pulls out his phone, and dials Raphael's number with shaking hands.

"Shadowhunter."

"Raphael, I— I'm sorry, it's about Magnus, I– I don't—"

"My god, Lightwood, calm down. What is it?"

"Have you heard from him? I– I don't know where he is, and something's wrong, something's—"

Raphael's voice on the other end of the line is oddly soothing, if a little impatient. "Magnus is four hundred and some years old. I'm sure he's fine. What's going on?"

Alec explains, in breathless, fractured sentences that are barely coherent. But somehow Raphael seems to understand. He hums his attention as Alec speaks, and, when he's done, is silent for several seconds.

"If Magnus was in a fight or attacked, and you think he's portalled somewhere, his most likely destination would be home. And if he's not at the loft, I can make some calls. Check. If he's not there, call me again. Otherwise, leave me be. It's rather peaceful without calls from the Nephilim."

Alec huffs out a strangled laugh. "Alright. Thank you. I– Thank you."

"I'm quite sure he's fine, Alec," Raphael says, and then hangs up.

He takes a steeling breath as he shoves away his phone, tucks the necklaces into his pocket with more care, and then takes off down the street at a run. If Magnus is hurt, there's no time for dawdling.

***

A mundane woman keeps the door to the foyer open long enough for Alec to slip in without buzzing. He takes the stairs up to Magnus' loft three at a time, hollering Magnus' name as he goes.

"Magnus!" he shouts as he slams his palms into the door, barely registering the abnormality of the door swinging open without Magnus bidding him enter. "Magnus! Magnus!"

A series of plaintive meows meets his ears. Almost robotically, he steps in the direction of Chairman Meow, who's standing a few metres into the loft, tail swishing behind him as he stares up at Alec with wide eyes.

"Where's Magnus?" Alec asks the cat stupidly, as though it can understand him. Fleetingly, he thinks that Magnus must be rubbing off on him.

Chairman twists, leaping elegantly and trotting across the floor towards the living room and out of sight. Desperate, Alec follows, heedless of how utterly ridiculous he's being, following a cat, and—

"Magnus."

Magnus looks up from his spot on the couch, where he's reading an intricate-looking text, expression entirely blank as he takes in the Shadowhunter abruptly in his loft. Alec feels relief crash through him at the sight of Magnus, alive and in the flesh, giving him that look. He seems perfectly put-together, wearing a loose pair of sweatpants and a silky shirt that's undone to his navel, make-up minimal but just as perfectly done as always. He must have been in the shower, Alec thinks, because his hair isn't styled and is free of product, fluffy and chaotic and going in all directions.

"You're okay," Alec states, stupidly, exhaling. "God, you're okay."

Magnus frowns. He shuts the gold-gilded book with a soft thud, and swings his legs off the sofa. It's only a slight wince and a pause before he stands that gives Alec any indication that something's wrong. Magnus' movements aren't normally disjointed like that. That blood was his. He was in a fight. And he was hurt.

"I'm fine, Alexander," Magnus says, standing in front of him. Absently, he reaches up to fix Alec's collar where it's half tucked in, fingers skimming his neck as he does. He smoothes his hand along the material of the jacket, hand gliding along his shoulder. "What's this about?"

Alec chokes on a laugh of sheer disbelief. He catches Magnus' arm before he withdraws his hand, slipping his hold down until their fingers are tangled together. He wants the reassurance that Magnus is real.

"You can't abandon a phone call that dramatically with no warning, sound like you're in the middle of a fight, and not expect me to be worried," Alec says, shaking his head. "What the hell did you think this was about?"

Magnus seems to pause, and his eyes glaze over a little. "I...forgot we were on the phone. I—" He shakes his head as though to clear his ears of water. "I'm sorry. I was a little distracted."

"What happened?" Alec searches Magnus' eyes, tightening his grip on his hand infinitesimally. "I– I tried to track you with Jace using your necklace, and we found your approximate location, and I found this—" He pulls the tattered remains of Magnus' jewellery out of his pocket, holding it in the small space between them. His fingers are trembling. "And there was blood, and—"

"Hey, hey." Magnus' free hand grips at his shoulder, the pressure of his fingertips grounding enough to make Alec suck in a long, deep breath. "Alexander, I'm fine. I promise, I'm fine."

"You were hurt," Alec says. "You must have been. Unless that wasn't your blood."

"It was, but I'm a warlock. I can deal with minor wounds."

Alec is about to protest, to say that that much blood does not constitute a minor wound, but Magnus is ahead of him. He lifts the hem of his shirt, exposing a thick, raised red wound across the side of his torso. It looks deep, but it also looks at least a week old.

He doesn't realise he's reaching out to touch the skin around it until Magnus' stomach tenses. Alec pauses, embarrassment flushing through him, and he glances up at Magnus.

"I'm fine," Magnus whispers. "I'm fine."

Instead of inspecting the wound like he wants to, Alec covers the hand Magnus is using to pull up his shirt, and pulls the garment gently back into place. He slides his hand up Magnus' arm, heart thudding as he gazes down at him, searching the depths of his eyes.

"What happened?" Alec asks, voice a mere breath between them. Without conscious thought, he finds himself chafing his hand up and down Magnus' arm lightly, touch fleeting and barely there. "Who did this?"

"I had an encounter with Agramon," Magnus says, and just the name strikes fear deep into Alec's heart. Agramon. The Greater Demon who transforms into a person's greatest fear. A being who literally scares people to death.

If anything in the world is the epitome of sadistic, it's Agramon.

"By the Angel." Alec swallows. "How did you... How did you get out?"

Few people can. Few people are strong enough, clever enough, to find the flaws in the illusion Agramon creates. Few people are able to break through the horrifying fantasy to see the grotesque reality beneath.

"I'm not the High Warlock of Brooklyn for nothing, angel," Magnus says, with a smile that, for all its softness, is overwhelmingly sad. It tugs at Alec's heartstrings until he feels himself cracking down the middle. "The demon transformed into Raphael and Catarina, and had them die in front of me at the hand of a Shadowhunter. You. And you - or, rather, Agramon - told me everything between us was a lie."

Alec stiffens in surprise, eyes widening, equal parts horror and guilt flooding through him. That's Magnus' greatest fear? The death of his best friends—at Alec's hand?

"Magnus," Alec whispers, shaking his head. "I would never—"

"I know." Magnus brings their joined hands up between them and presses his lips to Alec's knuckles. His eyelids flutter, lashes brushing against Alec's skin as he looks up at him from beneath them. "I know this isn't a lie. And I know Catarina and Raphael are far more capable of defending themselves than Agramon implied. But fears aren't rational. Not even mine."

"I'm sorry," Alec murmurs, and, before he has time to second guess himself, he's drawing Magnus towards him, wrapping his arms around his waist and tightening his hold until they're flush together. "I'm sorry."

Magnus doesn't tell him it's not his fault, but Alec knows it's because he understands. That's not what Alec means. I'm sorry, in that ridiculous mundane sense of I share your sorrow. Because he does. He's never faced Agramon, but he's been trained to fight against him, and just the training was the most nightmare-inducing thing Alec had ever experienced, at the time. He can't imagine how awful the real thing must be.

And, perhaps more terrifyingly, he feels Magnus' pain and discomfort something like he does his siblings'—more keenly than he feels his own.

Magnus merely presses close, nose pressing against Alec's neck, and inhales slowly as they stand still, wrapped in each other's arms, as though breathing Alec in. The embrace is calming in its familiarity, quieting Alec's racing, anxious heart, now that he knows Magnus is okay, now that the evidence is tangible against his chest.

"I was so scared I was going to find you dead," Alec confesses. His cheek is pressed to the side of Magnus' hair where it's short, shaved close to his scalp, and his voice is quiet but seemingly loud in the near-silence of Magnus' loft. His lips are close enough to brush the curve of Magnus' ear if he were to tilt his head slightly to the side.

Magnus huffs out a little laugh, and he draws back just enough to meet Alec's gaze without their faces blurring. "I didn't realise you cared so much."

And that—

Fuck. That's a misconception Alec wants to get rid of right this second. The idea of Magnus being dead is as gut-wrenchingly nightmarish as the idea of someone cutting his parabatai bond, or finding his siblings murdered.

He doesn't know when he began to care so much. He doesn't know whether this began at the first, infuriatingly sarcastic little angel, or in the aftermath of their Downworlder rescue, or when he told Magnus he's gay, or the first time he made Magnus laugh so hard he outshone the goddamn sun, but whenever it started, it's here. This feeling in his gut, this desperate adoration and overwhelming desire for Magnus to be okay, to be happy, to be safe. The need to make him laugh, the fluttering feeling in his chest when he succeeds, the sparking warmth at every press of Magnus' lips against his skin—

"Magnus." Alec's voice comes out as a croak, voice broken and cracking as he shakes his head. A hand slides up from Magnus' waist, over his shoulder to cup his face, goatee just catching at his skin. "Of course I care. Of course I care. Magnus, I–"

Words evade him. He shakes his head again in a desperate plea for Magnus to understand him, to realise what he wants to say without him having to find the words, like he always seems to.

Magnus' eyes are liquid soft, unglamoured and impossibly tender as he gazes up at Alec with a smile flickering at the corners of his mouth. Fuck, he's the most beautiful being Alec has ever had the privilege of laying eyes on.

Something about Magnus' expression stirs instincts that Alec's heart has reserved for his family—for his siblings and his parabatai and nobody else. He's hit with the crippling need to protect the man in front of him from every blow the world wants to land on him. He wants to defend Magnus with blades and shields, to be the armour he wears to war.

He knows - Raziel, does he know - that Magnus doesn't need protecting. He's one of the most powerful warlocks - the most powerful people - in the world. He's four centuries old. He doesn't need a Shadowhunter to defend him against the sadistic cruelties of the universe.

But Alec wants to anyway.

"Magnus," he says again, almost pleadingly.

"I know," Magnus whispers back, and Alec is helpless, a slave to the feelings erupting inside him. He's spent so long trying to repress them, trying to force them down and lock them behind steel doors, but they're too much. They're too powerful. Like magma brewing beneath a dormant volcano, they're rushing up, exploding into existence, bright and burning and devastating. And all the forces in the world couldn't stop them.

He tilts his head down just a little, because fuck, they're so close he could count the flecks of green in Magnus' golden eyes, and their lips brush together. The touch is fleeting, barely half a second, but it sets Alec's heart alight like a match thrown on gasoline.

He exhales shakily, pulling back mere millimetres, heart hammering against his ribs and blood rushing through his veins until it's deafening. Magnus' breath is warm on his mouth, fingers sliding round to his waist, curving into the small of his back to keep him close.

His eyes are half-lidded, open just enough to see most of Magnus' face, but he feels Magnus angle his chin up in encouragement more than he sees it.

It's invitation enough. Their lips slide together again, firmer this time, surer, and Alec feels at once horribly uncoordinated and too exhilarated to care. The hand cupping Magnus' jaw trembles a little as they part again, lips dragging against each other as they both exhale, breaths turning shaky and heavy between them.

"Alexander," Magnus breaths, and that's all it takes.

Alec surges forward, free hand fluttering for a moment before landing on the back of Magnus' neck, fingers just sliding against his hair as their lips meet, harder than before. Magnus inhales sharply against his lips, and Alec's heart hammers so hard he's sure Magnus can feel it, with how close they're pressed together.

He can certainty feel every beat of Magnus' heart, tattooing a wild rhythm against his chest. He remembers wondering, once, what it would be like to be this close to Magnus.

"Oh, god," Alec rasps between kisses, drawn to Magnus' mouth like a planet orbiting a star. He feels like a starving man, desperate for more now he's been gifted with the slightest taste. He can't find it in himself to stop as their mouths slip and slide together, Magnus' goatee scratching tantalisingly against his stubble.

Magnus' hand finds his cheek, and he tilts Alec's face so he can kiss him deeper. Teeth nip at the seam of his lips as Magnus pulls back just enough to press a messy kiss to Alec's cheek and whisper, "You never cease to surprise me."

"In good ways?" Alec asks, voice a mere breath against Magnus' jaw as he presses his nose into his skin and inhales deeply.

He feels Magnus smile against the arch of his cheekbone. "Always."

"Kiss me," Alec whispers, and Magnus obliges, dragging his mouth across Alec's skin tantalisingly as he makes his way back to his mouth.

A strangled moan forms in the back of Alec's throat when Magnus' teeth tug at his lower lip again, lightly enough to be teasing but hard enough to make him press into the kiss in an attempt to alleviate the overwhelming desire for more.

Their teeth click together awkwardly at the jarring, inelegant movement. Mortification floods through Alec, but it lasts only a moment; Magnus lets out a laugh, warm and kind, and he presses sweet kisses against Alec's jawline.

"Smooth," he says, teasing but not unkind, and Alec finds himself smiling at his own inexperience as they pull back just enough to stare at each other.

"You're so beautiful," Alec tells him, thumb brushing beneath Magnus' eye. "I don't— You're so beautiful."

Magnus' expression softens into something decidedly vulnerable. He leans in until their foreheads are pressed together, and tips his chin up to brush a featherlight kiss to Alec's nose.

"As are you, my darling."

From anyone else, Alec thinks it would sound insincere, a compliment returned because it's easy, the polite thing. From anyone else, he'd protest; he'd reject such a description of himself. But from Magnus, it sounds painfully honest. And being touched like this, being looked at like this, with equal parts tenderness and passion and affection, he feels something akin to beautiful.

"In fact," Magnus says, lifting his hand to lay it along the length of Alec's cheek, "I found how attractive you are rather annoying, for several weeks."

Alec's lips twitch as he leans into Magnus' touch, chest aching at it's warmth. "I spent months convincing myself that my attraction to you was due to some kind of seductive magic you were casting."

Magnus looks like he's trying very hard not to laugh, eyes shining with mirth. "Shadowhunters. Honestly. As though I'd be so tacky. I rely on my natural charm and charisma and devilishly good looks."

Words had been brewing in Alec's throat, ready to quip back at Magnus, but he's distracted by Magnus' lips, and the way his mouth curves and pouts and shifts to form each syllable. It's alluring, heady, entrancing, but he knows it's not magic. It's just Magnus.

He doesn't know who moves in first, but frankly, he couldn't care less. He just needs to get his mouth back on Magnus'. Their lips press together, kisses warm and quickly turning hot, fingers clutching at each other, dragging them closer, until they're pressed together, chest and hips and thighs.

Magnus' fingers sink into his shoulders, slipping round to tighten in his hair, turning his head to change the angle, their lips sliding together slower, every touch more tantalising. Magnus' other hand moves beneath his gear jacket to press into the small of his back, over his t-shirt, and Alec shudders at the press of rings against his spine.

"Magnus," Alec gasps, when Magnus pulls back to trail soft, wet kisses along his jaw.

Magnus doesn't descend any further; Alec can't help but be glad. This already feels like more than anything Alec has ever experienced. There's so much. Too much. It feels like Magnus is everywhere, all around him, invading his every sense and casting his mind into chaos. He's already too turned on to function, kissing Magnus and feeling him beneath his hands and how close they're pressed together, and—

Oh, fuck.

Alec goes stiff, and Magnus pulls back slowly, dotting kisses against Alec's face as he shifts so he can look him in the eye. "Are you alright?"

Alec is sure his eyes are wide, and he must look like a complete mess, and he's sure Magnus can feel how hard his heart is hammering against his ribs. The hand that shifts from his hair to press along his jawline doesn't calm him quite as much as it should.

"Yeah," Alec says, and clears his throat. "Yeah, I just– It's just– I'm–"

He glances down at where they're in close proximity, and nudges his knee against Magnus' in the hope that Magnus will get the hint. If he doesn't, he's not sure how to say it. I'm hard because I'm kissing the most beautiful man in the world but I don't want to have sex and what exactly is the protocol, here?

To his relief, after a moment of scrutinising him, Magnus seems to catch on, and he smiles a little. "So am I," he says, and shifts his hips just slightly, and—

Oh, by the Angel, Alec is going to explode. Magnus' crotch just brushed the top of his thigh, and he's—

Fuck.

"It's fine," Magnus says, and drags his fingers lightly through Alec's hair. "It doesn't have to mean anything. I certainly don't expect it to mean anything."

Alec exhales. "I can't believe I just kissed you."

Resting a hand on Alec's chest, Magnus smiles, leaning in and tilting his head up. "Neither can I," he says, and brushes their lips together lightly. "But I don't think I ever want you to stop."

"Neither do I," Alec murmurs, hand migrating to Magnus' waist, and—

"Ow."

Alec snaps his head back, eyes scanning across Magnus' body urgently. Magnus' face is twisted in discomfort, and he's cringing back from Alec's touch, and—

"Your side?" Alec asks, brows furrowed. "I thought you said—"

"I may have glossed over it a little," Magnus admits, wincing as he shifts in place. "It was demonic. The wound itself was an easy heal, but demonic injuries are always a bit sore for a few days."

"I barely touched you," Alec says, still frowning. "That's more than a bit sore."

"Alexander—"

Alec grabs Magnus' hand in his before he can trot out another I'm fine speech, and drags him gently over to the sofa.

"Sit," he says, letting go of Magnus' hand so he can stoop to pick up the discarded mug sitting on the floor, "and tell me what I can do to help."

Magnus rolls his eyes spectacularly. "Alec, I'm fine."

"No, you're not." Alec feels his expression soften, and he reaches out to touch Magnus' face lightly with the backs of his fingers. "You've helped me so much, Magnus. Let me help you. Just this once."

Magnus lets out a frustrated sigh. "It's so hard to say no to you. Coffee would be nice, if you insist."

"I can manage coffee," Alec says, and is momentarily distracted by Chairman Meow pouncing on the toe of his boot. He smiles, and reaches down to pet Magnus' cat, fingers stroking over soft fur. The Chairman arches his back into his touch, purring loudly, before apparently deciding that Magnus's lap looks like a more comfortable napping spot.

"Hello, you," Magnus says to his cat, face breaking into a smile so sweet it takes Alec's breath away. He runs a hand over the top of the Chairman's head, scratching between his ears. "Did you miss Alexander too, hm? Are you trying to steal my Shadowhunter's attention?"

And if that doesn't make Alec's heart lurch and twist and stutter in his chest, he doesn't know what would. Magnus missed him. Magnus wanted to see him, wanted to spend time with him. And my Shadowhunter... He knows - or, at least, he presumes - Magnus is using it as a figure of speech. A little joke. Baby talk for his cat. But he can't help wondering...

What if he really were Magnus' Shadowhunter? What if they really had some kind of claim on each other? Not in a possessive, creepy way, but...

Well. How many times has he heard Clary's tutors in Idris refer to Jace as Clary's boy? How many times has he heard Clary? Jace's Clary? from people in New York?

He pushes the thoughts away hastily, before they can overwhelm him. It's too much, and it's too soon. He kissed Magnus for the first time all of ten minute's ago. Magnus is in pain. It's not the right time to be thinking about anything except that.

Alec slips out of the room without a word, and sets about making coffee in the kitchen as quietly as he can. It becomes apparent rather quickly that while Magnus' cupboards are stocked full with tea of more varieties than Alec knew existed, coffee is clearly something he's less picky about. He's got a single jar that's past its sell by date—Alec wonders whether it's because Magnus always summons coffee. He doesn't think he's ever seen Magnus make himself coffee.

"Here," Alec says, coming back into the room with two mugs. He slips one onto the table and offers the other to Magnus, who's got that enormous book propped against his thighs, and is scribbling notes on a pad of paper with a ballpoint pen, brows drawn together in concentration.

Magnus glances up, and smiles. "Thank you, darling."

"I think you need new coffee," Alec tells him, trying his best not to turn into a fool and do something stupid like drop the mug when Magnus' fingers graze very deliberately against his as he reaches out to take the drink. "It's past its sell by date."

"I'm lazy," Magnus says, waving a hand to shut the book on his lap. It's not in a language Alec recognises - it's not even an alphabet Alec is familiar with. He's fairly sure it's demonic. "I don't usually make coffee."

Alec picks up his own mug, and stands by Magnus' coffee table while he tries not to grin. "I've noticed," he says dryly. "I gave you sugar, in your coffee. I wasn't sure, but I remembered you put sugar in your latte when I got Starbucks, and—"

"Will you go on a date with me?"

Stilling, Alec stares at Magnus, feeling like his entire world has just been hit by an earthquake. "What?"

Magnus is smiling, soft and small, gazing up at Alec with an expression of mixed amusement and affection so tender it makes Alec's chest ache. "I said," Magnus says, "will you go on a date with me?"

Alec's lips part. He can't find it in himself to be embarrassed by his gaping, because he's far too stunned to consider anything aside from the words that just fell from between Magnus' lips.

"Really?" Alec asks, and he tries not to sound too hopeful as he grips at his mug and wills himself to keep it together, when all he wants to do is holler in ecstasy that Magnus Bane just asked him out.

Magnus lets out a laugh. "You kissed me not five minutes ago, Alexander. Yes, really."

"Yeah," Alec says, quietly, smiling at him while his heart swells. "Yeah, I'll go on a date with you."

Magnus' smile broadens, one of those lopsided grins that's wide enough to split his face and bright enough to blind any onlookers, and by the Angel, Alec wants to kiss him until neither of them can breathe.

And he can, he realises abruptly. He's stepped over that first hurdle. He's kissed Magnus before. Magnus reciprocated, and asked him out, and is looking at him like that. He can kiss Magnus.

But, before he can even begin to consider how to do so smoothly, when both of them are holding hot drinks and Magnus is sitting down, a shrill ring pierces the air, and his phone vibrates in his back pocket.

"It's Raphael," Alec says, to Magnus' questioning look. "I called him to ask after you, so he's probably calling to see whether I found you." He swipes to accept the call, and holds his phone to his ear. "Raphael, hi."

"Lightwood." Raphael's voice is dark, serious, and there's an underlying note of panic that makes Alec straighten, senses on high alert as his smile drops off his face. "I need you and your sister down here right now. Do not bring Clarissa. Or her blonde boy. Is that understood?"

"Of course," Alec says, confusion and mild concern filling him, "but where are you? What's going on? Are you in danger?"

He sees Magnus sit up straighter through his peripheries, eyes staring sharply at Alec's phone, worry pinching at his features.

"No. I'm outside Taki's café," Raphael says, "with Luke. We've had an...incident."

"What kind of incident?"

"A vampire drank from a mundane," Raphael says, and Alec raises his eyebrows, because while Shadowhunters are notoriously repulsed by vampires feeding - on any blood that's not packaged prettily in a bottle until it could be mistaken for wine - it's not against the Accords. "Maia Roberts separated them before the girl lost too much blood, but she's got the Sight, and she's terrified, and this seems like the kind of incident Shadowhunters are supposed to assist with."

Alec notices the sarcasm in Raphael's voice, but, rather than get offended as he might have done months ago, he feels determination fill him: this is the perfect opportunity to prove to the leader of the New York vampire clan that not every Shadowhunter is so blinded by prejudice that they're unable to do their true duty.

"We'll be there," Alec promises him. "Is Maia alright? And the vampire?"

He knows vampires - especially if they're young, or starving - can get violent if they're interrupted mid-feed. It's not their fault, he supposes, thinking about it now—three months ago, it had just seemed like another marker of how inherently wild and volatile Downworlders were.

"Maia got a bit scratched up, but Luke's with her," Raphael tells him. "The vampire... Look, Alec, just get down here."

Raphael cuts the call, and Alec shoves his phone in his back pocket. "He's fine," he tells Magnus, before he can ask. "There's been an incident with a vampire getting overly excited on a mundane. Raphael's asked Izzy and I to help clean the situation up."

Magnus nods, relaxing back into the array of cushions. "Alright. Be careful."

"Always," Alec says, taking a deep swig of coffee. "Are you going to be okay?"

"Alec, I'm a four hundred year old warlock," Magnus says, lips twitching upwards.

"And I'm a twenty-two year old Shadowhunter," Alec replies, deadpan. "Your point?"

"Oh my god." Magnus rolls his eyes even as he laughs. "I'll be fine. Go! Raphael isn't particularly patient." His mouth twists wryly.

"Okay, I'm going," Alec says, and has only taken two steps forwards to walk past the sofa when he feels fingers wrap around his wrist, halting his progress. He glances down at Magnus, who's got his eyebrows raised.

"Come here," Magnus says, and tugs him down gently to press a soft kiss to his mouth that leaves Alec's blood thrumming and his head spinning. Magnus smiles. "Now you can go."

And Alec does, fighting to keep the idiotic smile off his face, stumbling down the stairs and tripping on his way out and making a complete fool of himself—but frankly, he couldn't care less.

Chapter Text

Alec reaches Taki's café before Isabelle. Night has fallen since Alec desperately scoured the streets for Magnus, and the moonlight is casting a milky glow over the city. Fluorescent streetlights flicker overhead, the windless atmosphere distinctly eerie as he rounds the corner.

Luke stands outside Taki's, face set in grim resignation. He's talking to two mundane women who have their arms around each other, gesturing down the street, clearly making up some story as to why they can't go into the café. He shifts his jacket a little to draw attention to his NYPD badge, and they look a little less irritated and a little more respectful.

"Alec," Luke says, once the women have left. "How much did Raphael tell you?"

"Just that a vampire drank a bit too much from a mundane who has the Sight," Alec says, "and that Maia broke them up."

Luke inclines his head, and turns, jerking his chin for Alec to follow him inside. "The vampire was Simon," Luke says. "And he's pretty shaken up about it, so cut him a bit of slack, okay? He's not had an easy time."

Whether it's because of the events of the last few months, or just because of Magnus' influence, Alec doesn't know, but as he agrees, he feels sympathy shoot through him. He's not always very generous where Simon is concerned, because he is practically the most infuriating person on the planet, but equally, he can't imagine how hard such a drastic change in lifestyle must have been for Simon. Also, he supposes with some shame, he might have been a little uptight about a Downworlder getting at all close to the lives of Shadowhunters in the Institute.

He'll do better, he decides. He'll be better.

Inside, the lights have been dimmed to prevent too many mundanes getting curious. Maia is sitting atop the bar, cleaning a deep slash on her arm with an antiseptic wipe. She glances up when the door swings open, and purses her lips.

"Shadowhunter," she says. "Don't be an asshole."

"It's alright, Maia," Luke tells her. "I'll be watching."

Luke leads Alec through to the back, the double doors swinging back and nearly smacking Alec in the face as Luke shoves them open. Raphael is crouched beside Simon in a corner, murmuring lowly, one hand on Simon's arm. Simon is trembling, head in his hands, protests muffled and indistinct but clearly more than a little self-deprecating.

Alec clears his throat, and the two men look up. Simon goes pale - even for a vampire - and swallows heavily.

"It's okay," Raphael tells him, and then straightens, narrowing his eyes as he approaches Alec with the aura of someone preparing to protect their own at whatever cost. "Don't imagine for a second that I won't tear your face off if you hurt him."

Alec promises Raphael that he won't, and walks over to Simon slowly. He's got a blade strapped to his hip, so he slides it out and tosses it on a countertop before sitting down on the floor across from Simon.

"Please don't tell Clary," are the first words out of Simon's mouth. "Or Jace. Please, just—"

"Relax," Alec says, holding up a placating hand to quiet Simon before he gets hysterical. "I'm not going to tell anyone. Nobody died. You didn't do it purposefully. You're not in trouble."

Simon blinks a little, clearly taken aback, and glances over at Raphael uncertainly before returning his gaze to Alec. "I'm not? Even though I attacked a mundane?"

"She'll be okay, won't she?" Alec asks, looking to Luke for answers. Luke nods sharply. "Then no. You're not. I'll file a report, but you won't be mentioned by name. Just location. However, I do need to know what happened, and why, so we can prevent repeats."

"I—" Simon twists his hands together on the table, eyes fixed on his fingers instead of Alec; he stiffens abruptly when he appears to take in the smears of blood caked into his skin, and flinches visibly. "I was— It was too long since I last fed. I just didn't— I guess I just didn't really pay enough attention to what my body was telling me, you know?"

Alec raises both eyebrows. "How long have you been a vampire?"

"Three years, but—" Simon pauses. "That was rhetorical. You were being sarcastic. Right."

"What's going on?" Alec asks. "I know this isn't the first time this has happened recently." Simon's eyes widen, so Alec says, "I mean you starving yourself, not you attacking people."

Simon shrugs, picking at a rip in the knee of his jeans. "I don't know."

"Simon—"

"No." Simon looks up, then, staring Alec right in the eye with a desperate ferocity than makes Alec swallow the words of doubt on his tongue. "I really don't know. I guess..." He exhales heavily, and lets out a weak laugh filled with self loathing. "Look at me. Do vampires get depressed? Is that a thing, or am I a freak in that way too?"

Alec frowns, about to tell Simon that he's not a freak, but Raphael beats him to it, speaking quietly from where he's standing across the room. He's got his arms folded across his chest, suit jacket nowhere to be seen, and is leaning against the wall with his eyes fixed unblinkingly on the proceedings.

"Anyone can get depressed," Raphael says. "There's nothing to be ashamed of. If that's what this is—"

"For fuck's sake, I don't know, Raphael!"

There's a crack as Simon flings the nearest object to hand, which happens to be Alec's discarded blade. It embeds itself in the wall a mere inch from Raphael's head.

There's silence. Simon's rest rises and falls rapidly. Horror is clear in his eyes and his lips part as he stares at the blade stuck in the wall, gaze flickering between the weapon and the vampire beside it.

Raphael, in contrast, looks entirely calm, unmoving and unflinching. Luke is glancing between the two vampires, clearly ready to get involved if need's be, but willing to stay out of their business unless necessary.

"Raphael," Simon whispers, brows drawn and face gaunt. "Fuck, I'm so sorry."

"It's alright," Raphael replies, with a gentleness that Alec would never have believed the fierce leader of New York's most powerful vampire clan capable of. He's reminded that Raphael is more than a friend to Magnus—he's Magnus' family. And, whatever their differences, it's clear that Magnus has taught Raphael more than how to pick out the best suit.

Luke catches Alec's eye, and nods lightly out into the main room. "Isabelle got here a few minutes ago," he says. "And the blonde woman from Idris. You done here?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm done." Alec chews on the inside of his cheek for a moment. "Simon, you've got nothing to worry about."

Simon doesn't look at him as he rises and passes both vampires, following Luke out to see Isabelle and the mundane girl Simon attacked.

***

There's silence in the back room after Luke and Alec leave. Simon stays on the floor, arms curled loosely around his bent-up knees, and drops his chin, trying his best not to look at Raphael.

A scraping sound fills the air, followed by a clank. Simon glances up just long enough to see Raphael dropping Alec's blade onto a countertop, and then lowers his eyes. He doesn't know what the hell is going on in his head, but he wants it to stop.

"Hey." Raphael rests a hand on his shoulder. "You okay down there?"

"Peachy, Raphael."

Raphael's hand slips away. For a moment, Simon wishes he hadn't moved, missing the grounding sensation of Raphael's palm pressing against his skin through his t-shirt. But then a sleek, slate-grey suit moves into his line of vision, and Raphael drops onto the dirt-ridden floor opposite him. His hands cover Simon's, and Simon snaps his eyes up, jerking away from the touch and curling his arms tighter around his legs.

Raphael lets him go, but frowns. "Simon, it's okay."

"I just attacked a mundane," Simon says, letting out a short, bitter laugh. "How is that okay? How is that in any way okay? You know, if it hadn't been for Maia, she could be dead. How old is she, eighteen? Nineteen? I can't even blame it on being a vampire, because it's not like you'd ever do something like that. It's just me. It's me who can't function, it's me who—"

"Stop." Raphael shakes his head. "Stop. You're being irrational because you're upset. There's nothing wrong with you. If you're struggling with your mental health—"

"If?" Simon shakes his head. "I feel like I'm going insane."

Raphael watches him for a long, hard moment, scrutinising him so thoroughly that Simon feels like every facet of his mind is being put on display. It's not a comfortable feeling. But being around Raphael is.

"Perhaps we should take a trip to see Magnus," Raphael says. "He's probably got better advice than me."

"And what's your advice?"

"I don't know yet," he admits. "But I swear, I'll help you. Whatever's going on, I'll help you."

Simon huffs out a laugh that's a little more sincere than the last one. "I didn't know you were a sweetheart, Santiago."

Raphael fixes him with a glare. "Don't push it, Lewis."

But Raphael's eyes are soft, concerned, the bite behind his words a little less frigid than normal. And when he lifts a hand to offer it to Simon, the only logical course of action seems to be to slide their hands together. Palms press together, and fingers interlace, and the restless, writhing mass of self-hatred and anxiety and guilt in Simon's stomach eases, just a little.

"It's going to be okay," Raphael whispers. He squeezes Simon's hand, and Simon feels his heart glow in response, like sunset-orange embers on a fire. It's the most human he's felt for three years. "I promise."

"Raphael?"

"Mm?"

"Can I come back to the Dumort? Tonight?"

Raphael nods, and picks up Simon's other hand, pulling both into his lap. "Of course you can. You don't have to ask."

Simon nods, suddenly exhausted, and lets Raphael rake a hand through his hair, the touch soothing beyond belief. He sighs, eyes slipping shut, and Raphael pulls him into a hug, taking the weight Simon didn't realise he was holding like it's nothing.

"I've got you," Raphael whispers against his hair.

Simon smiles against his shoulder, their conversation a mere couple of days ago after the attack on the Institute flashing through his mind.

"I know."

***

For a mundane, Isabelle thinks, the woman is remarkably calm. Alec thinks she's probably got some Seelie blood, to have the Sight. But after allowing Isabelle and Lydia to ask her a few questions, her only real desire had been to go home.

Lydia is walking her out, standing by the door of the café while the woman calls a taxi to take her home, at Lydia's insistence—because she was exhausted, Lydia had said, and shouldn't be walking around at night on her own after that much blood loss.

Isabelle feels as though she's being exposed to a new side of Lydia. A more compassionate side. A woman a little less cold-hearted, a little less stoic, a little less orientated around the Law.

Although, perhaps that's not quite fair. Lydia's proven herself more than a heartless bitch from Idris time and time again. Perhaps it's Isabelle who's struggling to accept that not everyone in a senior Clave position is a complete asshole.

"Okay?" Alec asks, walking up to her from where he was conversing with Luke.

Isabelle smiles at him. "I'm fine. Jace said you were looking for Magnus. Did you find him?"

Fascinatingly, Alec's cheeks go pink, and he clears his throat, averting his gaze and studying something on the wall with astonishing intensity. "Yeah. He was hurt, but he's okay."

Smile blooming on her face, Isabelle raises her eyebrows and nudges Alec with her elbow. "Did something happen?"

He glances down at her. "Other than Magnus being attacked by Agramon?"

Her eyes widen. "Holy shit. That's got to be Valentine, right?"

Alec scrubs a hand across his eyes, and shakes his head. "I've got no idea. It could have been anyone he's pissed off. Magnus managed to fight Agramon off, but Raziel knows how. If Valentine wants one of America's most powerful warlocks on his side, that's not a very smart way of going about it."

"Who ever said Valentine is smart? It wouldn't be the first time he's sent greater demons after powerful Downworlders."

Alec huffs out a tired laugh. "That's true."

They're quiet for a moment, standing side by side, arms pressed together. Isabelle can't help but wonder what exactly is going on between her brother and Magnus Bane. Their mutual adoration of each other was made blatantly obvious at Magnus' party, but her brother has a habit of sinking a long way into denial.

"Lydia and I can finish up here," Isabelle says. "You can go. I know you want to."

Alec frowns over at her. "What?"

"Back to Magnus'. I know you want to go and make sure he's okay, because you worry incessantly. Nobody minds you going. You've been on your patrol shift today, and we can cover your paperwork for one night."

"I do not worry incessantly—"

Isabelle snickers. "Yeah, Alec, you do. Go on. We all know he's fine, but go and check anyway. It'll make you feel better."

The longing in Alec's eyes is clear, but he hesitates, uncertain, unwilling to abandon his duties for even a moment to make sure the man he's so clearly enamoured by is alright after being attacked by one of the most feared greater demons to ever enter their dimension.

That conflicted expression shatters Isabelle's heart. She wishes Alec hadn't been held to such an impossible standard for all his life. He tries so hard to be perfect, because that's what he's expected to be. The perfect Clave soldier, the perfect leader, the perfect brother, the perfect parabatai. He struggles with not reaching that ideal. He blames himself for every minor shortcoming, for every anomalous failure, for every mission that goes awry. He bears the weight of the world on his shoulders by taking it off everybody else.

She hopes Magnus doesn't hold him to such standards. Not that she imagines he would, logically - Magnus is far more well-balanced and realistic and in-tune with the truth of humanity than the Clave - but Alec is her brother. It's her job to worry about him.

"Alec." She softens her voice, and reaches out to touch his arm. "It's okay. Someone you care about was hurt a few hours ago. It's not unreasonable to want to reassure yourself that they're okay. I'd want to, if it were you that'd been hurt."

"I'm your brother," Alec says, brow furrowing. "That's different."

She smiles, thinking of the way Magnus had kissed Alec's cheek when they'd been dancing together, and the way they'd looked at each other as though nothing else in the world mattered, and the way their hands had fitted together.

"Is it?" she asks.

Alec opens his mouth, presumably to refute her statement, and then pauses. "I- I don't know."

"That's okay," Isabelle tells him. "Being confused. But Jace said you were pretty frantic when you thought he'd been hurt."

"I was," Alec admits. "I care about him. I don't want him to be hurt."

"I know," Isabelle says, and squeezes his arm gently. "So go and see him."

***

Magnus doesn't realise he's nodded off on his sofa in practically the same position Alec left him in until he's awoken by a growling, snarling sound coming from by his feet. Blearily, he rubs at his eyes, and glances around himself in an attempt to combat his disorientation. It's dark, the lights in the loft low due to the the light that had been present outside in the early evening when Magnus had fallen asleep, and it takes his eyes a moment to adjust to the dark.

At the end of the sofa, Chairman Meow is curled up, head pillowed on his paws, looking entirely unfazed. His eyelids are drooping, disinterested in the proceedings—Magnus would almost describe his expression as disparaging.

By the end of his coffee table, a dark, four-legged figure stands with its hackles raised, snarling quietly in the direction of the front door. Its ears are back, fur on end, iron-tipped mace-like tail swishing in unhappy suspicion, while red eyes peer through the dark.

Magnus flicks his gaze up, following the direction of his hellhound, and sees a man standing a couple of metres from the sofa, frozen, hands raised with his palms forward in surrender, clearly attempting to placate the dog. Frankly, if she hasn't torn his face off, yet, he can't have any ill-intent.

"Magnus," Alec whispers, entirely unmoving. Magnus isn't even sure he's breathing. "Magnus, what—?"

"It's alright," Magnus says, to the hellhound and to Alexander. "Padfoot, sit. Don't be so pathetic." The dog whines, turning her head to stare at Magnus with wide eyes. Magnus raises an eyebrow; she sits.

"There we go," he says, and scratches between her ears. A pleased rumble sounds from low in her throat, and she tips her snout up towards his hand. "That's Alexander, you silly dog. Don't start scaring off my dates."

Alec makes a choking noise in the back of his throat, and Magnus lifts his eyes to meet his, waving a hand to turn some lights on. It takes a little more out of him than it should.

"I thought you were a cat person," Alec manages to get out.

"I like both," Magnus says, as Padfoot curls up at his feet, glaring up at Alec. "Mundane dogs are a little impractical with my job. I decided to piss off my father by taming one of his hellhounds instead. She spends most of her time in Edom, but she always comes when I need her, or fancy company of the canine variety."

"Oh my god." Alec lets out a weak laugh. "You're insane."

Magnus grins wickedly. "My dear, has it taken you this long to realise that?"

Shaking his head, Alec looks down at the hellhound, a conflicted, nervous look in his eyes. He reaches out a hand, as though about to approach, but then pauses, catching Magnus' eye instead.

"Can I—?"

"Go ahead. Just be careful."

Padfoot sniffs at Alec's proffered hand with snooty suspicion that could rival even the Chairman's. Alec remains still, knees bent in a half-crouch so he's at her level. Padfoot nudges her nose against Alec's hand, and lets out a short, gravelly bark.

"Hey," Alec says, while he scratches behind Padfoot's ears. The hellhound relaxes, flopping onto her stomach while tilting her head to encourage Alec's attention. Magnus is determined to believe that it's a coincidence that every animal he ever domesticates is simultaneously too proud to bother with humans and an attention whore on every occasion they allow themselves to be pampered.

Magnus settles back against the sofa while he watches Alec play with Padfoot, now sitting on the floor with his legs sprawled around him. A smile quirks at the corners of Magnus' lips. Padfoot has been exceptionally well-trained—he'd spent a whole four months abandoning his job to dedicate his time to domesticating and training her. Padfoot is trained to detect threats and intimidate ill-intentioned clients, and she often comes to stand guard when she senses that his magic is low, and he's alone to defend himself. That she trusts Alec like this says rather a lot.

Alec lets out a laugh when she licks his hand and swats at his knee with her paw. Magnus feels his expression soften. He wants to bottle that sound and hear it forever.

God, he's so far gone. Alec kissed him a few hours ago, and already, he's too far gone. Always, always, he falls too hard, too fast, and it's too much. He's determined not to do that this time. He cares about Alexander too much. He likes Alexander too much. He won't fuck this up by becoming too intense before they've even been on a date.

As though sensing his inner turmoil, a quiet meow sounds from the end of the sofa. Tiny paws press into the cushions, and the Chairman hops up onto Magnus' lap. He doesn't whine, or beg for attention, but he curls up on Magnus' chest where he's reclining against the arm of the sofa with his feet up.

The Chairman feels warm against him, the joyful sounds of Alexander and his hellhound oddly comforting, and Magnus feels exhaustion wash over him in waves, eyelids drooping as he watches the man he's sure he's falling in love with.

***

"Magnus."

A hand rakes through his hair, fingers gentle and soothing. He hums, the sound originating from deep in the back of his throat, leaning into the touch.

"Magnus, hey."

The noise he makes this time is one of protest. He frowns. He doesn't want to wake up, or open his eyes: he wants to stay right here, and he wants the slow rhythmic caresses to continue, and he wants the voice to shut up.

"Magnus."

The voice sounds a little amused now, but fond. It makes Magnus think of a warm summer breeze tumbling through the air and rushing over his skin, blowing through his hair and bringing with it the smell of fresh grasses. It makes his chest tighten, and he really can't think why.

"Come on," the voice whispers, suddenly close enough for Magnus to feel air particles shifting as they breathe. "Beds are more comfortable than sofas."

Magnus cracks his eyes open to glare at the person ruining his perfectly lovely sleep. Alexander's face is a mere few inches from his, and he smiles when their eyes meet, the skin around his eyes crinkling and melting Magnus' bad mood instantly.

"I hate you," Magnus mumbles, rubbing his knuckles over his eyes. "I was asleep."

Alec's smile only widens, and Magnus wants to kiss the damn thing right off his beautiful face. "How about you go to sleep somewhere you aren't going to wake up with a bad neck and a headache?"

He huffs. The movement startles the Chairman, who jerks awake, head snapping up. He shoots Magnus an utterly disparaging glare, and leaps off his chest with a disillusioned meow of irritation at his stupid human, disappearing into the kitchen.

Magnus looks after his cat for a moment, chewing absently on the inside of his cheek. It takes him a moment to realise that Alexander's hand is still resting lightly by his hair, fingertips skimming the strands.

He glances back over at Alec—and finds that Alec is already gazing at him. He's watching him as though Magnus is the single most important thing he could lay eyes on. As though he needs to commit every fleck of glitter and stray strand of hair to memory.

He's kneeling on the floor, Padfoot nowhere to be seen, and his free hand is a mere hairsbreadth from Magnus'. The temptation to reach out and touch is astonishing. It grips at Magnus, hot and overwhelming, until the inconsequential distance between their hands is physically painful, making a sick and desperate aching sensation form in his chest that he knows can only be relieved by the heat of Alec's skin against his.

They've been staring at each other for far too long. Magnus blinks twice, hauling himself from the depths of Alec's entrancing eyes. They don't pull Magnus in like a black hole, sucking him in and in and in without heed nor mercy; it's like gazing upon a nebula and being willingly transfixed by something utterly breathtaking.

"Will you stay?" Magnus asks, voice soft in the silence of the night.

Alec's brow furrows. He slips his hand across the distance between them as though it's irrelevant, covering Magnus' hand without preamble. Something anxious in Magnus dissipates. He lets out a breath and turns his hand over to curl his fingers around Alec's.

"Are you alright?" Alec asks, searching his face with devastating intensity.

"I'm fine," Magnus tells him, although he'd probably tell Catarina that no, he's not, because although his working day was successful it was so long, and he's tired - from working and from the mental exhaustion of experiencing his friends die right in front of him, albeit in a demonic illusion - and his head hurts, and his side still stings despite having healed it with magic, and all of it together just means that he really, really doesn't want to be left alone, which is exactly why he called Padfoot, but canine company isn't quite sufficient this time.

He doesn't say any of that to Alec.

Alec is quiet for a moment, lips pursed, the set of his brow suggesting that he's not convinced. "Are you sure?"

"I'm fine," Magnus says again, trying to sound dismissive but sincere. He's not sure he succeeds. "You don't have to stay, darling. Don't feel obliged. I'm sure you want to get back to your family."

"No, I'll stay," Alec says, but the creases between his eyebrows don't smooth out. "Just— You seemed— Never mind."

Alec rocks back to rise up onto his feet, and reaches down a hand to help Magnus up. It's sweet, Magnus thinks, and it makes his heart turn over and his stomach flutter, because when was the last time someone offered him a hand up? Not because he needed it, but just because they wanted to?

He takes Alec's hand firmly in his and follows him up. He pauses, holding fast to stop Alec turning and tugging him towards Magnus' bedroom, and touches his knuckles to the side of Alec's eye.

"Alexander," he says. "You don't have to worry so much. Certainly not about me."

The stubborn set of Alec's jaw becomes infuriatingly more pronounced, and Magnus doesn't know whether he wants to scream or kiss him when he says, "Someone has to."

"Leave that to the Chairman," he says, as off-handedly as he can manage with Alec's eyes boring into him with such sincere intensity. "He's always fussing."

For a moment, the seconds stretching out between them, Alec just stares at him, one eye squinted, eyebrows furrowed, entirely unconvinced by Magnus' easy deflections. His lips press together in a thin, unhappy line, but he seems to relent. He threads his fingers through Magnus', apprehension only noticeable because Magnus notices the flicker his eyes do, darting down to where their hands are joined, and pulls Magnus gently away from the sofa.

When they reach the bedroom, Alec turns away pointedly when Magnus begins to slip off his shirt. Lips quirking, Magnus takes pity on him, and reaches for a tank top that he'd discarded on the floor that morning, and a pair of boxers.

"You can look," Magnus says, wincing as his side twinges. "I'm not exposing anything scandalous."

Alec rolls his eyes and opens his mouth, clearly about to let out a snarky retort—but he stops. His eyes are flickering over Magnus' torso, and, for a split second, Magnus is ready to preen under Alec's gaze.

But it's not an appreciative gaze. It's detached. Clinical. Raking over every inch of him not out of passion, or attraction, or even admiration, but out of a pertinacious resolve to locate something specific. It's horribly unromantic.

Or at least, it is until Magnus realises what Alec is looking for.

"I know I'm not a warlock," Alec says, voice gentle, "but I am a Shadowhunter. We get injured pretty often. You could have told me it still hurts."

Frustrated, Magnus exhales through his nose. "Alexander, for the last time, I'm fine."

"Fine isn't good enough," Alec says firmly. "Tell me how to help."

Lilith, Magnus is so gone for this man he can't breathe. He wants to wrap Alec in his arms and never let go. He wants to have this - and so much more than this - until the day he dies. He wants to keep Alexander Lightwood.

And it's such a horribly dangerous pathway to go down. Those thoughts. Those feelings. It's like kissing Alec punched a hole in a dam, and now water is rushing through faster and faster as the whole widens, emotions and desires Magnus isn't at all ready for crashing over him relentlessly like waves breaking on a beach, over and over and over, knocking him off his feet each time.

"Alec," Magnus says, a little weakly, while his heart twists.

"Tell me how to help," Alec says again, but this time it's softer, the harsh edge disappearing from his tone. He reaches out a hand slowly, and Magnus finds himself leaning towards Alec before their skin meets. Alec's palm skids across his cheek, and oh, god, Magnus wants to kiss him, more than he's wanted anything for so long.

"I just need to sleep," Magnus says, honestly. "It's rejuvenating."

"Then sleep," Alec replies, suddenly close enough for Magnus to feel his body heat rolling off him in tantalising waves. His eyes dart down, and his thumb drags across Magnus' cheek, leaving a blazing trail of warmth in its wake. "Sleep."

Clutching loose handfuls of Alec's shirt in his hands, Magnus tilts his head up, and whispers, "Can I kiss you first?"

Alec's eyelids flutter, chest heaving. "Yeah," he whispers back, tongue darting out to wet his lips. "Yeah."

It's softer than Magnus expects, when their lips press together. Alec exhales, eyelashes fluttering, and Magnus releases his shirt to rest a hand on his shoulder, fingers curling to press into the muscle as they lean into each other.

"I never thought I could have this," Alec murmurs, as they break apart. "With a man."

Magnus' lips drag against the stubble on his chin as he pulls back. "What changed your mind?"

"You."

A smile tugs at Magnus' lips. "Charmer."

"It's true." Alec's eyes dip to his lips, but he doesn't lean in again. "You've changed my mind about so many things."

Magnus' heart aches. He slips his hand down to twine his fingers through Alec's, and tugs him gently towards the bed, pulling him down onto the mattress beside him. Alec spares a moment to kick off his jeans, and then slides into bed beside him.

"Didn't anybody know?" Magnus asks, while they shift into place.

"Jace knows," Alec says, and, fascinatingly, something about the anecdote makes his cheeks turn pink. "I'm fairly sure Isabelle knows. And Lydia. Oh, and Clary, but that...was a mistake."

Magnus hums in acknowledgement, giving Alec the space to elaborate if he so desires. When he doesn't, Magnus snaps his fingers to turn the lights off, kicks the sheets up over their legs, and says, "The first person I ever came out to was Ragnor. Not that we had the word bisexual then."

The sheets rustle as Alec turns on his side to look at him. It's too dark to make out more than his silhouette and the whites of his eyes, but it takes a horrible amount of willpower to prevent himself cuddling up against the Shadowhunter in his bed.

"Did he mind?" Alec asks, voice quiet.

"No." Magnus stifles a yawn. "No, he didn't mind at all."

Silence falls between them. Magnus can hear Chairman Meow scratching against the closed bedroom door, and he feels momentarily guilty for kicking his cat out. The Chairman has always been rather fond of sleeping on the spare pillow in Magnus' bed.

But then fingers brush his forearm, and Alec shifts close enough for Magnus to feel the warmth of his body rolling across the space between them, and something inside him churns, nervous and excited and anticipatory.

"Turn over," Magnus whispers.

The broad expanse of Alec's back is presented to him, regretfully covered by the thin cloth of his t-shirt, and Magnus swallows. He can't remember the last time he felt like this, like a teenager sharing a bed with a crush for the first time, infatuated and falling far too hard and far too fast, but too naïve to care.

It's almost like—

No. No, it's not. It's nothing like that. Alexander is nothing like that.

Slowly, giving the man in his bed the chance to say no, if he wants to, Magnus lets his arm drape over Alec's waist, and settles himself in behind Alec, chest pressed to his back, legs aligned beneath the sheets.

Alec isn't breathing. Magnus can feel his heart hammering, but he's holding his breath, rigid and frozen, as though he dare not move for fear of scaring Magnus off, or doing something wrong.

Drawing attention to Alec's reaction feels too patronising. He's young, and he's closeted, but he's not a child. He's not incapable of making decisions. He's certainly not incapable of saying no, if something's making him uncomfortable. And he doesn't seem uncomfortable, he seems cripplingly nervous. Which is understandable, Magnus supposes, for a closeted twenty-two year old man who's probably never been in bed with a man before, for sexual or romantic activities.

So, instead, Magnus dips his head to press a kiss against the back of Alec's neck, to one side of the ridges of his vertebrae. Goosebumps rise across Alec's skin at the touch in such a vulnerable, intimate place, and then he positively melts. The breath leaves him in a messy, fractured exhale, and his eyelashes flutter, and he curls lightly back into Magnus, sinking into the mattress.

"Isn't this hurting you?" Alec asks, voice a mere murmur in the nighttime, and then, right there, in such a broken, beautiful second, Magnus feels himself give his heart over to Alexander Lightwood.

"No," Magnus whispers, but it is. Not in the way Alec means, but buried inside his heart in places untouched for so long, where scars run deep like chasms in mountainsides. He screws his eyes tightly shut before he can become any more overwhelmed than he already feels, and nudges the hair at the nape of Alec's neck with his nose. The scent of sweat and leather and cheap all-in-one shampoo is quickly becoming familiar, and it slows his racing heart. "No, Alexander."

I'm not in love with him, he thinks, desperately, while the hand not wrapped around Alec's waist clutches at his pillow. I'm not in love with a Shadowhunter. I'm not in love with the son of my best friend's murderer. I'm not. I can't be.

A hand grasps at his own, tugging until Alec can reach to press a kiss to his knuckles. "I wish I could tell you what you make me feel."

Magnus lets out a weak laugh, because he's quite sure that if he doesn't, he'll cry. "I think I know, darling."

Chapter Text

"Good morning, Magnus."

Magnus stares at Ragnor Fell, sitting at his kitchen table with a copy of the New York Times open in front of him, a steaming mug of tea set beside him. Sunlight is spilling through the kitchen window, casting golden beams across the early morning scene of domesticity so reminiscent of Magnus' youth, when Ragnor had helped him all those centuries ago.

It's not an image Magnus has been greeted by for twenty years.

"What are you doing here?" Magnus asks, unmoving from his frozen position in the doorway of his bedroom. "This is impossible."

Ragnor peers at him over the top of his newspaper, one eyebrow quirked. "And why is that?"

"Because you're dead," Magnus says bluntly. The words hurt less than they did twenty years ago, but he's not sure the sting will ever go. "I'm hallucinating."

A smile, small and tinged with sadness, passes over Ragnor's face. Without setting his newspaper down, he waves a hand to push out a chair with flares of green magic that are more familiar to Magnus than his own.

"Sit," he says.

A second mug appears in front of Magnus, and he reaches for it. The sensation of scalding liquid against his tongue and sliding down his throat distracts him from the utter impossibility of Ragnor Fell being in his kitchen in the morning.

Come to think of it, hasn't he got things to do? He must have clients. He needs to check his phone. Although, that's usually the first thing he does upon waking. And—

"Have you worked it out, yet?" Ragnor asks, sipping his tea nonchalantly.

"Worked out what? Ragnor, this is insane, what—?"

"How's that cat of yours doing?" Ragnor is scrutinising a section of the paper closely, brows drawn together. "Still tearing up cushions?"

"You weren't alive when I had the Chairman. I'm definitely hallucinating. I'm going insane."

"You're not hallucinating," Ragnor says, not looking up, with the patience of a teacher and a parent and a friend who became family and knows Magnus better than he knows himself. "You just needed me, so I'm here. Like I always am."

Magnus chokes out a bitter laugh. "I've needed you in the last twenty years, but you're dead. I couldn't save you."

"Pity," Ragnor says, as though they're discussing the high probability of a rainy afternoon. "Didn't you want to talk about your little existential crisis?"

For a hot, blistering moment, Magnus is gripped by the urge to snatch that goddamn newspaper out of Ragnor's hands and smack him over the head with it. He's so infuriating. He can never just give a straight answer, and it's always maddened Magnus.

"What existential crisis?" Magnus demands. "My only existential crisis is that I've got clients, and I've got things to do, and my dead best friend has turned up for breakfast."

"The Shadowhunter." Ragnor taps the newspaper and lets out a disapproving tut. "I knew Brad and Angelina wouldn't last."

The Shadowhunter? Magnus thinks, puzzled. What Shadowhunter?

"Your Shadowhunter," Ragnor replies, as though he can hear Magnus' every thought. "The one sleeping next to you."

"I'm not asleep. I'm talking to you."

"Of course you are," Ragnor says, with the tone of one placating a young child. "The Shadowhunter who's dreaming about you. Very nice things, I hasten to add. It's all sickeningly nice. I may have to go and vomit." He pauses, appearing to consider something he's reading, and then says, "Alec might actually be halfway deserving of you."

Magnus' mind whirls at Ragnor's words, sentences and names and syllables jumbling together, tumbling over and over each other like seeds dispersing in the wind. Your Shadowhunter. Alec. Dreaming.

"Alexander," Magnus whispers, realisation clawing at the edges of his mind. "Alexander. How–? How could I forget?"

"Delayed reactions." Ragnor still doesn't look up. "Nothing to worry about. Now, come on, tell me. What is it?"

"I think I love him."

"Well," Ragnor says, rustling his paper with disinterest, "then you love him. I can think of worse people in the world for you to fall in love with. The vampire bitch, that insane werewolf you were convinced loved you in a healthy manner, and the mundane who stalked you across the world in the seventies, for starters. Your Shadowhunter is much nicer. Etta-style nice. She was lovely. Shame she and you didn't quite fit."

"But he's a Shadowhunter." Desperation fills him, whic Joy followed by fear - fear at who Alexander is, and fear at the power he holds over Magnus' heart - and he feels like the child Ragnor saved on the filthy streets of Indonesia, unable to properly control his magic and entirely out of his depth, terrified of who and what he was. "He's a Shadowhunter, and he's mortal, and he's supposed to be my executioner, and he's a Lightwood, and—"

Finally, finally, Ragnor looks up, and fixes Magnus with a piercing stare that steals every hysterical word brewing inside him.

"And you love him," Ragnor says, so simply that Magnus' heart stutters.

"But he can't love me back."

Ragnor raises an eyebrow. "Why not? Because of all those silly things you just said? Good god, Magnus, when has that ever stopped anyone? You don't get to choose who you love. No amount of screaming and wrestling and digging your heels in will stop anyone falling in love. And he doesn't seem to be trying all that hard to fight it."

"Not yet," Magnus whispers. "But he will. The Clave will ruin him, and they'll ruin his family, and his family means everything to him."

"The people he loves mean everything to him," Ragnor agrees, inclining his head. "So the way this will play out seems really rather obvious, to me."

"Exactly," Magnus says, leaning forwards across the table, begging Ragnor to understand, because nobody else will. "Exactly. He won't have a choice. He'll hunt me, because they'll threaten his family, and he'll break my heart, just like—"

"Magnus." Ragnor's hand covers his. The touch is warm, solid, and Magnus turns his hand over to grip at Ragnor's fingers as though it's the last thing anchoring him to sanity. "You underestimate what you mean to people. You always do, after what life has done to you. Your parents, and the Shadowhunters, and too many mundanes to count, and the vampire bitch. But I think perhaps you need to give Alec a chance to show you."

"What does that mean?"

"It means you should love him," Ragnor says, simply. "It means you shouldn't run away from what you feel. You should embrace it. Because even if this day isn't quite yet, one day I think you're going to be loved like you deserve to be."

"I can't," Magnus whispers. "Ragnor, I can't. The last time I let myself—"

Ragnor shakes his head, and lifts his free hand to cup Magnus' cheek. "You've been broken into so many pieces," he says, softly. "You're so much more broken than you let anybody realise, because you're powerful and strong and don't take any crap. You never let yourself heal, always too determined to insist that you're fine. I think it's time to let somebody in, my friend. It's time to accept that those walls you've built around yourself are nothing to the right person. It's time to stop fighting what you've found."

"What is it I've found?"

"Love." Ragnor smiles. "The love you should have been blessed with from the start."

The sound of scratching meets Magnus' ears, and he frowns. There aren't any closed doors. Why would the Chairman be scratching at open doors?

"Have you worked it out, now?" Ragnor asks, as a bird tweets a tune outside in the early morning sunlight.

"You're not real," Magnus says. "You can't be real."

"Of course I'm real," Ragnor says, patting his cheek gently, eyes shining with the sort of love Magnus has felt bereft of for twenty years—Ragnor's love for him, which has always been unlike that of anybody else's. "You needed me, so I came."

"But you're dead."

"Yes." Ragnor's smile turns soft. "You're dreaming, Magnus. But that doesn't mean it's not real."

Magnus shakes his head firmly, tears stinging at his eyes. "Dreams aren't real. This is all just a figment of my imagination."

"You're a magical being in a world of angels and demons, and you believe dreams can't be real?" Ragnor lets out a little laugh. "Oh, Magnus. Always so cynical. Don't you remember the last thing I ever said to you?" He pauses, and tilts his head to one side, expression turning serious. "I will always be here for you."

And the world dissolves, Ragnor floating away while Magnus screams.

***

When Magnus wakes, his face is wet with tears. It takes him a moment to orientate himself, to haul his mind out of the dreamscape his subconscious created and pin it back in the harsh vista of reality.

It's still dark, the contents of his bedroom barely visible even with his glamour down. And it's cold. A shudder runs through Magnus' body, goosebumps rising across sweat-slicked skin, and he lifts a hand to drag it through his hair, fingers trembling and heart pounding against his ribcage.

He turns over in bed, drawing his knees up to his chest; he tries to exhale steadily, deliberately, in an attempt to calm his frantic pulse. Dreams about Ragnor always throw him. There's nothing he can do to quell the overwhelming feeling of being so utterly alone after he dreams of his best friend—his dead best friend. Ragnor was the most important person in Magnus' life for so very long, and he's never coming back.

It's always harder at night, without the clarity of the daytime to chase away the demons lurking in the corners of his mind. It's harder to remember that Ragnor has been dead for twenty years, and that Magnus has managed. It's harder to remember that he's not alone, not really, because—

"Magnus?"

The voice is low, raspy, and Magnus freezes, panic consuming him as he remembers that he's not alone at all, that Alec is here, in his bed, right next to him, and oh, god, he can't, he can't do this now.

A hand brushes his shoulder clumsily, the movement laden with the heaviness of sleep, and Alec says, "Why are you crying?"

"I—"

I'm not, Magnus thinks, because that's what he should say. That's the lie he should tell. That's the emotional barrier he should erect between them, to reinforce the fortress around his heart. I'm fine. You must have been dreaming. Go back to sleep.

But the words of Ragnor in his dream ring in his ears, and he finds the words dying on his tongue like flames extinguished under the steady beat of rain.

I think it's time to let somebody in, my friend.

"I don't know," Magnus says instead, voice cracking, more broken than he'd intended to let Alec hear, and it's not quite true, but neither is it precisely a lie. It's more honest than Magnus has been with anyone who's shared his bed in more than a century.

Alec doesn't speak, but Magnus feels palms slide over his back, pulling him in close, and he exhales shakily against Alec's neck, relishing in the solid warmth of another body against his. He's not sure whether Alec is really awake, or whether Magnus' restlessness merely roused him enough to alert his senses to Magnus' distress and little else, but he decides it doesn't matter.

"S'okay," Alec mumbles into his clavicle. "'M here."

It makes Magnus' heart thud faster, and he presses closer to Alec, clinging on.

"I'm sorry," Magnus whispers, and he's glad when all that meets his ears is the soft sound of Alec's breaths evening out as sleep tugs him under. Because if Alec were to ask what, exactly, he's apologising for, he really wouldn't know what to say.

***

"Knock knock."

When there's no response, Isabelle slips the door to Lydia's office open a couple of inches, and glances inside. Lydia is at her desk, just as Isabelle expected, papers strewn around her, laptop sitting atop a large pile of books.

She's thrown herself into things in New York more entirely than Isabelle would ever have expected from a Clave envoy. Not only has she fully embraced Jace's request to investigate Magnus' potential innocence, but she's delved into the general running of the Institute, helping Alec with all the tasks that everyone knows Maryse and Robert are supposed to be doing.

And since the attack, mere days ago, Lydia hasn't stopped for a moment, working almost as tirelessly as Alec always does. Isabelle almost wishes they wouldn't, either of them. If they didn't, it might stop Maryse and Robert portalling back to Idris the moment their immediate attention isn't required.

Isabelle's expression softens as she takes in the sight that greets her. Lydia has one arm folded, the other sprawled across the desk with her fingers curled lightly around a rollerball pen, head resting in the crook of her elbow. Her chest is rising and falling steadily, eyelashes fluttering against her cheeks.

Quietly, Isabelle steps in, closing the door behind her. She makes her way over to Lydia, manoeuvring around the chaotic piles of books and papers and folders - Raj has clearly been in here recently - and sets the mug of decaf coffee she made down on the edge of the desk.

"Lydia," she says, resting a hand on her shoulder. "Lydia, hey. Wake up."

Lydia blinks, and sits up sharply, without any sleep-ridden preamble. She blinks again when she takes in Isabelle in front of her, and frowns. "Isabelle. Is everything okay?"

Isabelle thinks about all the dead Shadowhunters no longer working in the place she's called home for her entire life. She thinks about her brothers, the youngest having diced with death a mere few days ago and the eldest being forced into a corner by a corrupt institution; she tries not to wince.

"Everything is fine," she says. "I just came in to see you."

The furrows in Lydia's brow deepen. "Any particular reason?"

"No." She smiles faintly. "Although maybe it's a good thing I did come in. You look like you need some sleep."

"Probably," Lydia admits, and, as though to prove Isabelle's point, yawns. A rueful expression crosses her face. "Definitely. Thank you for the coffee."

"It's decaf. Won't stop you sleeping. But I didn't peg you as a tea drinker."

"I'm not," Lydia says, picking up the mug and blowing across the surface of the steaming liquid before she takes a sip. "Mm. That's nicer that the crap I get in Alicante."

Isabelle scoffs. "They don't even sell nice burgers in Alicante. It's why Alec hates going so much."

Lydia's mouth curls up at one corner, and Isabelle is reminded, horribly, of that conversation she walked in on, what seems now like years ago, between her parents as they discussed encouraging a match between Alec and Lydia. They'd be good for each other, in another world. They're similar people with similar outlooks on life, both hard-working and competitive and, it seems, fiercely loyal.

In another world, Isabelle thinks, in which her brother isn't solely into men. If such a world could possibly exist.

Regardless, in this world, Isabelle will fight tooth and nail if she has to, to prevent such a marriage taking place. It would spell disaster for Alec. There's no way she's letting it happen.

"I don't know whether I can sleep," Lydia says, quietly.

Startled, Isabelle lets out a laugh. "You seemed to be doing alright a moment ago."

"I know. But I feel...restless. After the vampire attack earlier, and that poor woman..."

For a moment, Isabelle just watches her as Lydia trails off, eyes gazing into the distance, her mind clearly far away from the dimly lit office they're inhabiting. What is it about Lydia that makes her want to wipe that conflicted, upset look off her face and replace it with a smile?

"Come upstairs with me," Isabelle says, extending a hand towards Lydia in offering. "We can find something to put your insomnia into."

Lydia's eyes meet hers, and Isabelle's breath catches in the back of her throat as the moment stretches out between them. It's like Lydia is moving through treacle as she rises, moving around the desk to reach out and clasp Isabelle's proffered hand. Their palms slide together, Lydia's smoother than hers, lacking the callouses Isabelle has from daily combat with demons and Circle members.

They reach Isabelle's bedroom without speaking a word. It doesn't seem necessary. And Isabelle isn't quite sure what she would say, irrespective of necessity. Lydia has cast her preconceptions and assumptions about Clave officials into disarray anyway, highlighting the prejudices Isabelle hadn't realised were an issue, and now, the feeling of Lydia's hand in hers, arms brushing as they move, is making something in the pit of her stomach smoulder.

It seems natural to reach over and flick her speakers on, hitting play on her iPod to fill the room with music, quiet due to the late hour but infectious nonetheless. Music is how she always unwinds at the end of the day, when she returns to her room and falls into bed, sleep scrabbling to overcome her without the nightmares sinking their claws into her subconscious. Alec reads, and Jace is prone to a late-night training session - in which he just somersaults off the rafters repeatedly - followed by an extortionately long shower, but Isabelle has always found solace in music.

Lydia glances at her, a smile catching at the corners of her lips. "I shouldn't be surprised," she says, softly. "You and music."

Isabelle can't help the way her own expression mirrors Lydia's, a smile sneaking across her face before she has the chance to quell it. "Why's that?"

"It seems like something you'd appreciate," she says, with a small, diplomatic shrug.

"It was something Meliorn and I had in common," Isabelle tells her, glancing away, out of the window, her gaze drawn to the trees she can see in the distance, leaves rustling and beaches swaying just slightly in the breeze. Her mind always flits to nature when she thinks of Meliorn. "He liked things you could dance to. Or have sex to," she adds, and her smile curls into a smirk at the memories.

"Me and dancing don't really mix," Lydia says, unfazed. "Do you miss him?"

"Sometimes," Isabelle says. "We weren't monogamous, sexually. But we were emotionally, and I miss that. Having someone to confide in, and to talk to. I mean, I have my brothers, and I have Clary, and I love all of them to pieces, but it's not quite the same. They're family. Even Clary is more like my sister than anything else. I don't know if any of that makes sense."

"I get it," Lydia says, and Isabelle is suddenly very aware of the fact that they're still holding hands. She doesn't let go. "I was married, for a very short while, until my husband died three years ago. I've made my peace with that, but I miss him, and I miss what we had."

Isabelle looks over at her, a frown pulling at her lips. "Lydia, I'm sorry. I had no idea."

"No." Lydia shakes her head. "It's alright. I loved John, and a part of me always will, but life goes on. It has to. There's no point dwelling on the past and losing all possibility of a better future."

Isabelle huffs out a laugh. "Can you tell Alec that, next time he mopes about a mission going wrong for a week?"

Lydia grins. "I can try. I don't know if I'll have any luck. He's stubborn, and determined to carry the weight of the world."

"He is," Isabelle agrees. "But I'm not. Dance with me."

The mere suggestion makes a look of terror flash across Lydia's face, and she stares at Isabelle in abject horror. "I can't dance, Isabelle. At all. There's a reason I didn't dance at the Downworld party."

Isabelle shrugs, slinking backwards until their arms are stretched out between them, fingers just touching. She begins to shift her hips, shoulders moving as she lets the beat of the song spilling from the speaker wash over her, sinking deep into her bones.

"You don't have to be good at dancing to have fun."

"No, really, I am a horrible dancer."

Isabelle raises her eyebrows. "I don't believe you."

She lets go of Lydia's hand and twirls, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she looks back at Lydia, a smirk playing on her lips.

"Dance," she says. "I dare you."

It takes a moment. A moment of awkward shifting, and embarrassed laughter, but then, between one turn and the next, a mere second in which Isabelle's eyes aren't trained on the woman in her bedroom, something seems to flip inside Lydia.

"I'm never going to believe anything you say, ever!" Isabelle says, laughing incredulously as Lydia flicks her hair sharply, body rolling as her fingers tangle together overhead before sliding back down. "I can't dance, my ass."

Lydia rolls her eyes, but she's grinning. "What can I say? You bring out my wild side."

The song changes three times, running on shuffle through Isabelle's playlist, before Lydia collapses onto Isabelle's bed, laughing and out of breath. Hair has fallen across her face, and her cheeks have turned pink with exertion and joy, and Isabelle wants to kiss her, and she can't even begin to fathom why, or how feelings of utter hatred a few weeks ago have transformed into this.

"Can I just stay here and not move?" Lydia asks with a gasping laugh, eyes bright as she looks over at Isabelle. "I don't think I have the energy to walk all the way across the Institute."

Isabelle shakes her head. "Far be it from me to complain about pretty people in my bed."

Something about that seems to make Lydia pause, and Isabelle sees the smile slip slightly from her face before she turns round to change the music to something softer, and to turn down the volume.

"Hey." A hand catches her elbow, and she turns to see Lydia sitting up, concern creasing her forehead. "Are you alright?"

Isabelle nods, because she is, she really is. She's confused, and she's conflicted, but she's alright. She's no stranger to the intricate and confusing workings of the heart. She's learnt to hang on and enjoy the ride as best she can.

"Perfectly," she says, and it's not a lie. She sits down on the bed, and reaches out to push hair back from Lydia's face; Lydia's lips part as they gaze at each other for a moment. "Will you tell me something about yourself?"

Lydia blinks. "What sort of something?"

"Anything." Isabelle pulls her legs up onto the bed and leans back against the pillows. "I don't know much about you."

"Okay," Lydia says, and the smile has returned to her face. "But only if you tell me something about you, too."

Isabelle's lips curl up. "Deal."

They talk until the battery on Isabelle's iPod runs out, and light begins to ease into the impenetrable darkness of the deepest night, leaking slowly across the skies outside Isabelle's window. It's not until they hear the faint clattering of the night patrol returning, just before four o'clock in the morning, that they succumb to the inevitable pull of sleep, sinking beneath the waves and letting dreams wash over them.

And something about the press of Lydia's shoulder against hers, and the tickle of blonde hair against her neck, seems to drive away the unending nightmares filled with blood and death and her brothers' faces saturated with terror.

Instead, Isabelle dreams of a beach, wind whipping through the air and waves crashing onto golden flakes of sand, and the laughter of a blonde-haired woman with soft hands and a well-armoured heart.

***

Beauty has never been something Alec has had much time for.

It's always been an arbitrary distraction. People describe Isabelle as beautiful. That's as relevant as the word has ever been to Alec. It's not something he pays an awful amount of attention to, the beauty of other people, or the beauty of landscapes and objects and materials.

But being roused into consciousness while blanketed in the warmth of Magnus' bed affords him the sight of Magnus staring at him, eyes half-slitted and face sleep-ridden, hair tousled and chest rising and falling slowly, a smile just curling at his lips.

And Alec decides that the only thing in the world deserving of such an adjective, other than perhaps his sister, is Magnus Bane.

"Morning," he says, voice husky and a yawn catching at the back of his throat. He turns a little so that he's facing Magnus properly. "How do you feel?"

Something odd flashes across Magnus' face, something Alec can't quite place, and the smile drops away as though Alec's words doused him with a bucket of icy water.

"What?"

"Your side," Alec says, brows drawing together at Magnus' strange reaction. "From Agramon, yesterday. Does it still hurt?"

Magnus' expression clears like wind blowing away rainclouds, and his eyes sparkle softly. "No. Not at all."

Alec reaches fingertips to brush across Magnus' face, bare and cleansed of makeup. It's not that Magnus looks more beautiful with or without makeup, but he looks different. He looks more vulnerable, like this. It's a sight Alec is well aware not many people get to see. And he feels privileged to be granted the opportunity to see Magnus Bane as few do.

Falling into Magnus is natural. He can't look away from those eyes, soft and gleaming and unglamoured, and it's like Magnus commands the powers of all the seas and the heavens, an irresistible magnet that drags Alec in.

Magnus makes a soft sound when their lips meet, and curls a hand around the back of Alec's neck, fiddling with the downy hair there. Magnus' nose presses against his cheek as he tilts his head, Alec's lips parting under Magnus', and he shifts closer, until their knees bump and their feet touch.

It's silent in Magnus' bedroom save for the sounds made between them. Slow breaths as they exhale, and sharp gasps on every inhale; the soft sounds of lips meeting and parting; the rustle of sheets as they move together. Alec doesn't want it to end. He could kiss Magnus like this for an eternity.

"We're doing everything the wrong way round," Magnus whispers, lips dragging across Alec's jaw and making him shiver. "Sharing a bed without a date, and morning kisses without sex..." He trails off, nipping lightly at Alec's earlobe in a way that makes Alec swallow a moan. "And I here I was presuming you'd be traditional."

Alec pulls back just enough to look Magnus in the eye. "I don't care about traditional."

Magnus' mouth twists into a smile, and the look is so undeniably fond that Alec's heart turns over, thudding heavily against his ribcage. "I'm sure this will shock you, but neither do I."

"Magnus," Alec says, glancing down between them where they've got their hands loosely twined together. "I think you should know that I've never– I've never done this before."

Magnus raises his eyebrows. "Which bit of this?"

"Any of it." He clears his throat nervously. "I mean, you must have guessed. You were the first person I ever came out to."

"No women?" Magnus asks, with a clear note of caution in his voice, unglamoured eyes flickering across Alec's face.

"No. Nobody. Not ever. I– I'd never even kissed anyone. Until you."

"Okay." Magnus says the word slowly, syllables dragging through the air like it's honey, and he strokes the hand at Alec's neck round and up to cup his cheek. "You don't owe me anything. You know that, don't you?"

"What?"

"Just because you kissed me," Magnus says, softly, "doesn't mean you've entered into some kind of contract with me. You don't have to do anything."

"I know. I want to. I meant what I said, that night at your party. I like you, Magnus."

Magnus' lips quirk up, eyes turning to liquid caramel in the morning light. "I like you too, Alexander."

Alec lets loose a breath he hasn't realised he's been holding, and feels Magnus' legs shift beneath the sheets until he has one ankle crossed over Alec's. Their calves brush, Magnus' skin bare and warm. It's so intimate that Alec's chest thuds harder against his ribs, exhilaration rushing through him.

"I'm sure the Clave has educated you about my extensive and illustrious dating history," Magnus says, and the words are lazy, unconcerned, tossed into the air with immeasurable casualness, but there's a flicker of uncertainty in his eyes.

"I'm not sure those are the words they used," Alec replies, "but your file is fairly...comprehensive on the subject."

Magnus snorts inelegantly. "I highly doubt it. But go on, tell me. What words did they use? Slut? Whore? Demonic seducer?"

Alec wants to make a quip about Magnus fishing for compliments, but, despite the lightness to Magnus' tone, something tells him that the topic at hand is decidedly more fragile than either of them are willing to acknowledge.

"Yes," Alec tells him, honestly. "Although not in official print. Even the Clave aren't that indiscreet. But I don't see why that's their business, or why your dating life should be used against you. Last time I checked, dating isn't illegal."

Magnus' expression goes soft, and he leans in to press a kiss to Alec's lips. "You're sweet," he murmurs. "For a Shadowhunter."

Alec huffs out a laugh. "Should I be offended?"

"Mmm." Magnus kisses him again, lingering for long enough for Alec to return the kiss before he pulls back to speak. "No. You're sweet for not a Shadowhunter, too. I just like teasing you too much."

Their lips meet for a third time, and, as Alec sinks his fingers into Magnus' bicep, he thinks that this, here, with Magnus beside him in the light of the morning, soft and warm and sleep-ridden, might be the most wonderful thing he's ever experienced.

And he knows, with absolute certainty, that he wants to experience it again, and again, and again.

Chapter Text

"I'm glad to see you've finally discovered Grindr."

Alec glances up from the pile of papers regarding the Downworld Council's sentencing of Iris Rouse on his desk that are signed by Catarina Loss but have definitely been written by Magnus. Jace is leaning against the door jam, arms folded across his chest, a smirk on his face.

"What?"

"Grindr," Jace repeats, eyes alight with mischief. "I'm glad you've found it. Great stress relief."

"I don't know what you're on about," Alec tells him, honestly, "but I need to get these sent to Mom or Dad to sign, so if you could arrange a secure transportation to Idris—"

Jace shakes his head, and covers Alec's hand instead of taking the proffered papers, pushing it away. Alec stops and raises his eyebrows at his parabatai.

"No," Jace says. "You sign them. You're Head of the Institute."

"Acting," Alec corrects him, and, when Jace rolls his eyes, adds, "These aren't just patrol reports, Jace. This is approving a decision made by the Downworld Council about a Clave-wanted criminal."

"If you don't sign them, I'll forge your signature as soon as you give them to me."

"For god's sake." Alec exhales in frustration. "Just—"

"No, you just. We all know that Luke, Raphael, Meliorn and your warlock aren't going to let Iris off with a slap on the wrist. If you think it's fair, sign it yourself. It was our home that was attacked, after all. Not the Inquisitor's."

Alec shakes his head at Jace, but he concedes. Why his twelve year old self decided a hot-headed, rule-breaking golden boy with a bit too much love for twisting the law would be a good parabatai, he really can't imagine.

The quiet, distinct thud of the door shutting fully makes Alec lift his gaze from the night's patrol report and back to his parabatai. Jace is watching him with a strange amount of intensity, but he doesn't speak when Alec meets his eyes.

"What is it?" Alec asks at last, exasperated by Jace's continued staring. "If this is about that Grindr thing, I still don't know what that is, so—"

Jace cuts him off by breaking away from his frozen position by the door. He sits in the chair opposite Alec on the other side of the desk, and braces his elbows on the worn wooden edge, fingers folded beneath his chin.

"Where were you, last night?" Jace asks.

"Didn't Izzy tell you?"

"She told me about Simon," Jace says, inclining his head. "And I know you were at Magnus' before that. Thanks so much for telling me you'd found him, by the way."

Alec lets out a groan. "I'm sorry, Jace. I forgot I'd asked you to help track him. I got...distracted."

Magnus' lips have a tendency to do that to a person, he thinks.

That night - which was only just twenty-four hours ago - seems like such a long time ago. Running across the city to find Magnus, seeing him at home, kissing him for the first time, desperate and biting and filled with longing...

"It's fine," Jace says, with a quick shake of his head. "Izzy told me you went back to see Magnus, afterwards. But then you didn't come home until seven o'clock this morning. Where were you all night?"

Alec tries not to think about this morning. It had taken him a moment to extract himself from Magnus' kisses for long enough to remember that he had a job to do, and that he had to go. It had taken him even longer to persuade Magnus that he really didn't have to get him breakfast or make him a portal or show him to the door.

Magnus is a hard man to dissuade, once he's got something in his mind. And his insistence has only succeeded in leaving Alec wondering what it would have been like if he'd given if, and stayed for toast and coffee and jokes over breakfast.

He wants to find out what that's like. He wants to spend a morning with Magnus like that. It's a ridiculous thought, really, because he only kissed him for the first time a few hours ago, but he can't strike it out of his head. He wants to see Magnus get dressed, and put on his make-up, and get ready for his day. He wants to hear about what he's going to be doing, and he wants to kiss him goodbye, and he wants...

"I was at Magnus'," Alec says, gaze unwavering as he looks at Jace.

Jace's eyebrows shoot up. "All night?"

"All night."

"Alec..." Jace tips his head to one side. "Are you and Magnus...?"

"I don't know," Alec says, exhaling. He shakes his head, and runs a hand through his hair. "I don't know what we are, Jace. I've never known. He's always...confusing me."

"Have you kissed him yet?"

Alec closes his eyes. "Maybe."

"Oh, thank fuck." Jace makes a triumphant sound, and Alec glares at him. "What? Come on, man, I've only seen you two together a few times and it's so obvious that you like each other. It's nauseatingly sweet."

"You're not helping."

"I'm not?" Jace grins, but then it fades, to be replaced by something infinitely more serious, and unusually caring. "Alec, I'm just looking out for you. I know Lydia and Raj are doing their thing, but even if they work some miracle and the Clave absolves him of all blame, nothing between a Shadowhunter and a Downworlder is ever going to be easy. Look and Iz and Meliorn."

"I know," Alec says. "I'm not stupid. And we're both men. It's doomed before it's even begun, I know, I just... I can't help it. I like him."

"Hey, I didn't say it's doomed." Jace reaches out to squeeze Alec's forearm. "It's been pretty clear to me that you like him for weeks. And I meant what I said to you before. Don't let the Clave rule your heart. It's not worth it."

"What if it's a choice between my heart and my family, Jace?" Alec asks, voice sharp.

Because it's the reality he's faced with. He's stalling, sending the Clave fake reports about his investigations into Magnus' whereabouts that are utterly misleading and totally ambiguous, but they're going to lose patience eventually. One day, he's going to run out of time. And unless Lydia and Raj have managed to come up with something concrete, he's going to have to choose between Magnus' life and his family's. He's going to have to choose between saving Magnus only to condemn his family, and handing an innocent man - a man he cares for more than he knows how to express - over to the Clave to protect his siblings and his friends and his parabatai from the Clave's wrath.

It's impossible. It's an impossible situation. And he doesn't know what he can do to stop it.

"Then we fight," Jace says, simply. "None of us, not me or Izzy or Clary or anybody else you care about, want you to hand Magnus over to the Clave. Not if he's innocent."

"We can't fight the entire Clave."

Jace's lips curl up. "That's where you're wrong, Alec. Do you know how many people would support you, if you could gather enough evidence to prove, unequivocally, that Magnus is innocent?"

"Three?" Alec suggests, serious despite the sarcastic note to his voice. "Four?"

"More than you might think," Jace tells him. "The Clave has fucked over a hell of a lot of people, with its incompetence regarding Valentine. And just about everything else. There are Institutes that have been left smouldering by Valentine's attacks. People have been slaughtered. And there are a fair number of people who are getting sick of the Clave's attitude towards Downworlders. Particularly our generation."

"I'll believe that when I see it," Alec says. "But none of it's going to help us unless we can prove that Magnus is innocent."

Jace purses his lips. "Does he have anything?"

Alec arches an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

"Well." Jace pauses, looking uncharacteristically thoughtful. "Lydia and Raj are struggling to find something concrete to latch onto, but Magnus might have something. He might be able to point us in the right direction. Or the right century."

"I can ask," Alec says, but he's a little hesitant. "I suppose."

"Have you not told him?" Jace asks, catching on irritatingly quickly. It's supposed to be Isabelle who knows things she shouldn't, not Jace. Jace is supposed to be oblivious. "About what Lydia is doing?"

"We don't really talk about it," Alec admits. "Or, we haven't. Not recently."

"Well maybe this is something you should talk about," Jace says, not unkindly. Then he smiles, and makes a shrugging motion with his shoulders as he says, "Take him out for dinner, chat about all your woes over drinks."

Rather than paying any attention to the way his stomach curls and twists not altogether unpleasantly at the thought, because Magnus did ask him out on a date last night, Alec shoots Jace a glare.

"I have work to do," he says, shaking his head. "Go. I'll see you on morning patrol."

"Just one more thing," Jace says, as he stands. "Then I'll leave you alone. Do you think Iz and Lydia have some kind of thing going on?"

A smile curls at Alec's lips. "I think they're getting there."

***

Alec doesn't hear from Magnus for four days following their night spent together. He finds himself glancing at his phone at every opportunity, hoping for a text from the man who's entirely taken over his thoughts, but he gets only radio silence.

He can't quite bring himself to be the first to reach out. Magnus had said, so clearly, that they didn't owe each other anything. They haven't talked about any of it, and Alec doesn't know what the protocol is. Where's the handbook for what to do when you finally kiss the man you can't stop thinking about?

So, rather than let himself mope about it, he throws himself into his job. Into the routine monotony of training and early morning patrols and endless amounts of paperwork, and, also, into his new attempts to keep some degree of open communication between the various Downworld leaders and the Institute.

"Alec."

The knock on the door makes Alec glance up, and he smiles faintly at Lydia as she walks in. "Lydia. Hey."

"I just wanted to let you know, the Clave has approved my reports on the leadership of this Institute. They'll be appointing a new head shortly."

Alec's eyes widen, fear shooting through him. He's worked so hard to help his parents keep this Institute, to do proud by them and ensure that it's kept by his family, and now the Clave wants to give it to someone else, anyway?

"What?" he demands, setting his pen down. "Why? Who?"

"Your mother was officially in charge, here," Lydia says. "But she wasn't really. And she's spending more and more time in Idris, pouring over intelligence regarding Valentine and the Circle, so it didn't seem practical to me to recommend that she remain in charge."

"So who are they appointing?" Alec asks, feeling his heart calm a little at the easy, unhurried tone in Lydia's voice. She doesn't sound like she's bringing bad news. "Are they putting Jace in charge?"

To Alec's surprise, Lydia lets out a snort. "God, no. That would be a disaster. I can't tell you who I've recommended for the position, Alec, but my advice came from many weeks of observation and close contact. He's exceedingly familiar with how this place runs, and I think he'll do a phenomenal job. Especially in the Downworld. He's already improved relations with the wolves immensely, drawing their leader out of hiding and anonymity by extending the proverbial olive branch, or so I hear."

The insinuation makes Alec gape at Lydia, jaw going slack. "You– Really? Even after...what I told you?"

Lydia seems momentarily bewildered by that, but then her expression clears, and her lips twist into a wry smile. "It's completely irrelevant to how you do your job. Trust me, I'd know," she tells him. "I also told your parents, in no uncertain terms, that there is not going to be any kind of marriage arrangement between us. Your family is keeping this Institute. A political alliance is totally unnecessary."

Still stunned, Alec lets out a weak laugh. "Yeah. Okay. Thank you, Lydia."

Her expression softens, smile turning into something more generous, more genuine. Slim fingers reach out to cover his hand, and she squeezes lightly. "The Consul's approval is a formality rather than a decision. So congratulations, Alec."

She turns to go, but before she can reach the door, Alec calls out to her. "Hey, Lydia?"

"Mm?"

Lydia never seems to get to go on practical missions. She's fully trained in field work, despite Isabelle's initial assumptions when she'd first arrived - Alec's read her file - but she never seems to get much practical experience in New York, and he can't imagine she got any in Idris.

"There was a call about a demon sighting near the Hunter's Moon that came in a few minutes ago," he tells her. "Izzy's going to have a look. Will you go with her?"

Lydia's eyebrows raise, but she doesn't question Alec's request. "Of course. If that's what's needed."

Alec inclines his head. "Thank you."

"No problem," Lydia says, clearly a little mystified. She shakes her head slightly as though to clear her ears of water, shoots him a fleeting smile, and then slips back out of the office.

My office, he thinks, a pleased, twisting sort of feeling settling in the pit of his stomach—the same sort of feeling he'd got when Magnus had told him he was proud of him for coming out. Really, officially, his office.

***

Iris Rouse is a tall, solid woman with a heart far more vicious than the soft wisps of auburn hair and the flowing clothes that drape across her body would suggest. There's a streak of defiance blazing in her eyes as she stands before the Downworld Council, chin tipped up and shoulders back despite the sizzling orange magic holding her wrists together.

Magnus doesn't think he's ever seen The Hunter's Moon so empty. They've commandeered the entire building, kicking out half of Luke's pack, several vampires and a number of warlocks in the process. Maia had shut down all and any protests with a sharp word.

Magnus drums his fingers against the table as Luke and Meliorn argue hotly across the room. They've discussed Iris' sentence on several occasions since the attack, in two official meetings and on a brief Skype conversation that Meliorn was exceptionally reluctant to participate in. It hasn't quite been long enough for Luke and Meliorn to iron out all their differences.

Iris, for her part, hasn't made any attempt to deny any of the accusations they threw her way, confessing to her part in the attack on the Institute with only minimal prompting. She'd also admitted to a long-standing agreement with Valentine—that he'd help her find, or avenge, her lost grandchild, if she continued to help him.

"Gentleman," Magnus says, clearing his throat as he hears Luke and Meliorn's argument turn a corner, straying a little too far from the topic at hand. Meliorn is less than impressed with Luke allying his pack, officially, with the New York Institute. He's similarly snooty about Raphael and Magnus' more informal agreements.

Meliorn and Luke both look over at him. Luke exhales, and Meliorn rolls his eyes; through his peripheries, Magnus sees Raphael bite down on the inside of his cheek to hold in a laugh.

"Iris," Luke says, suddenly calm following his heated debate with Meliorn. "We've made our decision. You will be banned from practising magic in North America indefinitely, you will serve a sentence of fifteen years exile with the warlocks in Iceland, and you will be subject to sporadic follow-up calls, irrespective of your location. Any contact with Valentine Morgenstern will result in further consequences. Is that clear?"

"Yes," Iris says, eyes flickering between them but face impassive. "And I'll do it, without any fuss, but only if you promise to find out what happened to Madzie."

Magnus feels his breath leave him at Iris' demand. It's what the Clave refused to do, and their decision to ignore Iris' pleas had led her, in her desperation, straight to Valentine. The Clave brought more trouble upon themselves by angering a warlock with a more than competent grasp on defensive and offensive magic.

"You are not in a position to be making demands," Meliorn says, cooly. "We will not do the job of the Clave. Few Downworlders would be willing to risk their necks investigating Valentine for the sake of a girl who is probably long since dead."

Iris clenches her jaw, anger writing itself into every line of her face. "Then I will not go quietly."

"You're not getting out of those in a hurry," Luke says, nodding to the magical cuffs around Iris' wrists. "Not unless Magnus wants you to."

Magnus lets the conversation wash over him as Iris attempts to negotiate. Meliorn isn't wrong—there aren't many Downworlders who would be willing to poke their noses anywhere near Valentine. It's the Clave's job to investigate such cases, but the Clave has proven itself ever unwilling to intervene in the case of a missing warlock girl.

The New York Conclave, however...

"I will make inquiries," Magnus says, "regarding Madzie. I will not ask any Downworlders to risk their lives, but I will do my best, Iris. You have my word."

He can feel his colleagues staring at him, clearly taken aback by his declaration, but he doesn't look away from Iris. For a moment, she merely stares back, frozen and unblinking. Then she swallows, and inclines her head.

"Alright."

Magnus doesn't reply, instead turning towards Raphael, Luke and Meliorn. "I'm going to bring the topic up with the New York Institute," he tells them. "Unless I'm still needed here."

"No," Luke says, talking over Meliorn's bewildered protests. "You can take the cuffs off. We've got it."

Magnus waves a hand lazily, the cuffs fizzling out from around Iris' wrists and dissipating into the air. He doesn't look back at Iris, and steps towards the doorway with a nod to the other Downworld leaders.

"Magnus." Raphael catches his forearm as he passes, meeting his gaze. "Be careful. You're putting a lot of trust in these Nephilim."

"You trusted them enough to call them in for Simon," Magnus points out, and Raphael shrugs. "I know it's a risk, and I know they're still Clave soldiers, but it's the best we've got. And I'd rather try to build alliances than carry on as we are."

A small smile crosses Raphael's face. "I know. Just...be careful."

Magnus pats a hand lightly against Raphael's cheek. "I always am, cariño."

He's a mere two steps away when Raphael says, "And Magnus?"

Magnus turns back, peering over his shoulder and blinking. "Mmm?"

"Your Shadowhunter. The Lightwood boy. I like him. He could be an invaluable ally to the Downworld among the Shadowhunters. I can count on one hand the number of Shadowhunters I've ever thought were good, and he's one of them."

Magnus scoffs. "You could count on one hand the number of people in general you've ever thought were good, Raphael." But his voice softens as he says, "You're right. He is good. He's a good Shadowhunter and he's a good leader."

"Then this is his chance to prove himself to all of us." Raphael tilts his head a little to one side and steps closer, lowering his voice so that Luke and Meliorn, standing behind and clearly pretending they're not curious as to what he and Raphael are saying, can't hear. "I saw Maryse Lightwood every time I looked at him until the other night, with Simon. She'd have executed or arrested Simon on the spot. Alec was...fair. He didn't do anything spectacular, he just did what any Shadowhunter should have done. Which I suppose is somewhat spectacular in itself, as depressing as that sounds. And then I realised that I can't pin the actions of his parents on him anymore than I can his race in general."

"No," Magnus agrees, and glances down at his hands, where he's spinning rings around his fingers. "I found it hard, sometimes, to separate him from his mother. But he's so unlike her. He wants so badly to do good. He always has. The Clave just lied to him about what that was."

A smile tugs at the corners of Raphael's lips, and Magnus wonders, momentarily, whether this conversation was some sort of devious ploy on Raphael's part. He looks oddly triumphant. Magnus can't imagine why.

"So let's encourage him to do some more of that good. Let's encourage him to be an active ally to us."

***

It only takes a moment after Isabelle plunges a seraph blade into a demon, spraying Lydia and herself with thick, acidic ichor, that they both burst into laughter where they're kneeling on the filthy sidewalk.

Lydia's eyes are bright with mirth as the soles of her boots hit the floor and she lifts herself up onto her feet in one smooth movement that makes Isabelle's eyes flicker down. She's not sure she's ever seen Lydia in gear like this—in a fitted leather jacket and leggings and a skin-tight burgundy top. It's inappropriately appealing.

As Lydia reaches a hand down to help her up, Isabelle hauls her gaze back up; she grasps Lydia's hand and pulls herself up, only to find herself a little closer than she anticipated. Unable to help herself, she glances down at Lydia's mouth.

"I've never seen you move like that," she murmurs, looking back up and noticing that Lydia's eyes at this time in the evening look like moonlight reflected in an undisturbed stretch of water.

Lydia's lips twist up in a wry smile. "You've never seen me fight."

"I have now," Isabelle says, eyes flickering between Lydia's. "I'm impressed. How can an Idris native fight like that?"

"I don't know," Lydia says. "How can a New York Shadowhunter be the city's best forensic pathologist?"

"I'm a woman of many talents."

"Mm." Lydia is smiling lazily, and it's stirring the fires of desire in Isabelle's gut. "That you are."

For a moment, Isabelle thinks she's going to kiss Lydia Branwell. She can see the stars reflected in Lydia's pupils, she can feel her every breath disturbing the air, she can smell the coconut scent of her shampoo—and she wants to taste her lip balm.

Then a slam resounds through the night from the Hunter's Moon, just a few metres away where the call about the demon had come from, and Isabelle glances up, over Lydia's shoulder. Footsteps sound along the pavement, and she sees a shadowy silhouette rounding the corner to turn into the alleyway she and Lydia are standing in. The figure turns, just slightly, and the moonlight hits his face.

Isabelle freezes.

So does the figure at the end of the alleyway. They stare at each other, eyes locked and bodies externally still but internally restless. Isabelle's stomach churns and her blood pounds through her veins, heart thudding against her ribs so hard it's just shy of painful.

Or maybe that's just the emotional pain wracking through her.

She can feel Lydia's hand still curled around hers. She can feel the body heat rolling off Lydia and crashing into her like waves rippling onto a beach and rushing up the sand. She can feel Lydia reaching her free hand up to grip her shoulder in a gentle attempt to draw her attention.

But all that her mind can accommodate is guilt, and devastation, and a longing she didn't ever expect to feel. In front of her is the marker of everything she's done wrong in the last four months; the physical reminder of all her failings.

"Isabelle."

Meliorn is the first to break out of it. He inhales visibly, shoulders shifting back as he rises up tall, eyes clear and unconcerned as he looks her up and down with clinical detachment. The only sign he gives to let her know that he's just as affected as she is is the hand that drags through his hair, fingers catching in the knots and yanking through.

"Meliorn," she says, voice steadier than she feels.

This - this emotional distance and dancing around their deepest and darkest secrets and desires and selves - is just one of the multitude of reasons she always knew that she and Meliorn were never going to be an eternal thing. But the way they ended, the reason they ended...that was never part of the plan.

"How are you?" Isabelle asks, stepping away from Lydia and dropping their hands but making no move to close the distance between herself and the fey she'd shared much more than a bed with for many months.

"Better than the last time you saw me," Meliorn says, and Isabelle winces. The last time she'd seen Meliorn was when he'd dumped her after she'd arrested him upon Clave orders and only broken him out because of a plan that was really concocted by Alec and Magnus, not her.

"I'm sorry," she says. "For...all of it."

Meliorn inclines his head. "I know," he says. "And I forgave you for all of it long ago, Isabelle. That doesn't change our situation."

"I know," she echoes, because she does. In an attempt to change the subject, she says, "Why were you in the Hunter's Moon?"

"The Downworld Council were meeting," Meliorn says carefully, with a glance towards Lydia. His wariness is obvious.

"It's okay," she tells him. "You can trust Lydia."

"I trusted you," Meliorn says bluntly, and Isabelle flinches. "I learnt my lesson."

Isabelle feels her heart break all over again. "Meliorn—"

"Isabelle." Meliorn says her name with impossible gentleness, kindness clear in his face, and she can't help but feel like she doesn't deserve any of it. "I don't blame you for what happened. You broke us out." Isabelle feels Lydia's eyes turn on her sharply, but she doesn't look away from Meliorn. "There aren't many Shadowhunters who'd do that. It's just a fact of our world. The Clave isn't a democracy, it's a