Magnus looks up from the surface of the finicky potion he’s brewing for a client, still scowling slightly as the potion’s hue stubbornly remains a rather verdant leaf-green instead of the soft mint of the completed brew.
“Alec?” Magnus calls uncertainly, listening for the sound of Alec’s weapons being placed in the rack Magnus has long since installed for his partner. He’d felt the Shadowhunter pass through his wards a few minutes earlier and Magnus can normally set his watch by the exact amount of time it takes for Alec to shed his weapons and come greet Magnus with a gentle kiss.
This afternoon, however, the loft is silent (and Magnus himself is sadly unkissed).
When Alec fails to respond to his call, Magnus casts a quick preservation charm on his cauldron, flicking his fingers nimbly to remove the various protective charms on his person as he hastens from the apothecary to the living room.
“Alec?” Magnus calls again, worried at the continued silence.
Magnus stops in his tracks. Alec is standing in their entryway, still fully dressed in his formal blacks from the meeting he’d been summoned to in Alicante that morning.
His bow is hidden from sight, glamoured as it usually is when Alec isn’t on patrol, but his quiver is still on his back and his seraph blade is prominent in the holster on his thigh.
“Darling?” Magnus prompts, stepping carefully towards his Shadowhunter, suddenly unsure.
There’s an expression on Alec’s face that Magnus has never seen before, and Magnus’ heart speeds up in sudden worry. As High Warlock, Magnus generally hears of any major goings-on of the local Shadow World, which very much includes the Institute, even without the benefit of being the partner of the Institute’s Acting Head.
Today has been unusually quiet with the exception of Alec’s early morning summons, but perhaps something happened with his siblings? Alec’s expression is far too close to shock, far too close to frozen disbelief, for Magnus’ comfort.
When Alec finally looks up from where he’s been staring blankly at the weapons rack in front of him, he meets Magnus’ eyes and opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.
Alec swallows harshly, still staring helplessly at Magnus, and Magnus’ worry increases exponentially. He steps closer slowly, feeling oddly as though he’s attempting not to spook a wild animal.
Alec doesn’t move for a long, terrible minute before he abruptly jolts forward, closing the distance between he and Magnus in three loping strides. Magnus is suddenly enfolded in Alec’s arms, and he automatically brings up his own to wrap them around his partner, alarmed by the strength with which Alec is clinging to him.
Alec unceremoniously buries his head in Magnus’ shoulder and the warlock presses a gentle kiss to Alec’s dark locks, worry rising in his throat.
“Darling, please,” he entreats softly, drumming his fingers almost without thought against the tense muscles bordering Alec’s spine. “What’s wrong?”
It takes far longer than Magnus would like to feel Alec’s lips mumble an answer against his neck. Magnus smooths a hand down Alec’s back, having to slide carefully underneath the quiver that Alec has yet to remove.
“Alexander,” he whispers into Alec’s hair, pleading. He’s uncertain if Alec actually put breath to his words, so faint was the momentary sound.
Finally, Alec turns his head to the side, moving just enough so that his next words are spoken into the small gap of air between Alec’s lips and Magnus’ throat.
“They’ve-” Alec stops, swallowing again before he can continue, his voice soft enough Magnus has to strain to hear him. “Magnus, the Clave is calling me as Head.”
For the barest moment, Magnus blanks, wholly confused. Alec has been acting as Head for years.
And then realization floods through him in a tsunami of understanding.
He jerks backwards, pushing Alec’s shoulders lightly with his hands and tugging him away to meet his boyfriend’s slightly reddened eyes.
“You’re serious?” Magnus demands, taking down his glamour and using the sudden change in his vision to analyze the face before him. “They’re calling you?”
Alec blinks, nodding wordlessly in response.
There’s a liquid shimmer in his eyes and Magnus is fairly certain that shimmer is echoed in his own.
“Alexander,” he breathes, nearly speechless in surprise.
Almost as though that single confirmation has suddenly made it real, made it tangible that this is actually happening, Alec releases a breathless peal of laughter and Magnus can’t do anything but join in with the sudden exclamation of joy.
Alec swings forward to catch Magnus right back in his arms, lifting him up off his feet in his elation and euphoria, spinning them around, his excitement contagious as he twirls Magnus in a nearly complete circle.
The moment Magnus’ feet return to the ground, he leans forward into his boyfriend’s chest, squeezing him in a hug tight enough to leave bruises on a mundane, still laughing in disbelieving elation.
Alec is returning the hug every bit as tight and he closes his eyes, pressing his forehead to Magnus’s own.
“I never, not for a single moment, thought it possible the Clave would call me,” Alec whispers. “I thought the next Lightwood to be called may be from the coming generation, more probably the one after that.”
Alec sounds incredulous and Magnus doesn’t blame him. He doesn’t say anything, but he had definitely thought the same.
The idea of the Clave cutting short and declaring a formal end to Maryse and Robert’s punishment should be easy to believe, but it isn’t quite that simple. It was clear to everyone that the Clave had never intended to truly punish the elder Lightwoods for what they’d done to the Downworlders nominally under their protection. The punishment given had always been a result of them embarrassing the Clave. It was punishment for getting caught, for defying Clave authority to follow Valentine, not for the murder and torture of the dozens of warlocks and vampires and wolves they’d tortured and slaughtered.
The Clave had decreed the New York Institute the Lightwood’s to govern, yes, a move that had absolutely infuriated the Downworld, but they’d placed an enormous caveat on what would have been an honor in any other situation.
When Shadowhunters are called by their people and named as Head by the Consul, they are formally vested with the power and authority needed to lead their people as absolute ruler. Institute Heads govern their given lands with all the independence of fiefdoms of old.
The Heads may bow to the Clave in name, but the Clave’s soul is in Idris and Idris alone, existing to form the body of law that governs Shadowhunter society and to ensure the Covenant and the Accords remain unbroken. They are far too removed from the rigors of constant patrols and the disparate needs of hundreds of territories spanning the globe, from the ten-man Institute on the Andamar Islands to the sprawling five-thousand Shadowhunter Institute in Beijing.
When the Clave dumped the New York Institute on Robert and Maryse’s lap, they’d refused to name them as Heads, refused to vest them with that power. Instead, the Lightwoods were Acting Heads alone, all of their authority deriving solely from the permission and beneficence of the Clave.
Alec doesn’t know how Maryse and Robert had managed to keep the Institute functioning when he was younger, but he knows all too well of their pride. He knows from bitter and personal experience what it takes to keep the New York Institute running- the weapons, the technology, the intelligence reports, the personnel, and, more than anything, the miserable and utterly unending slog of paperwork and the all but begging on bended knee it takes to get that paperwork approved by the Clave.
The lives of the New York Shadowhunters are his to command and Alec has been their Head in truth, if not in name, since he was fourteen and Maryse and Robert moved their home to Idris. They’ve been his since his parents decided that clawing their way up Idris’ political circles would be better for their ‘society reputations’ than the backbreaking grind of running the third largest Institute in the world. They’ve been his since his parents were too proud to beg, even as they watched their Institute come to have the highest casualty count on the globe.
That work they were content to leave to Alec.
It’s Alec who has quietly led the hundreds of Shadowhunters under his command for the better part of the last decade, leaning heavily on his seconds during that first, terrible year. Those first few months he was desperate and floundering, petrified to fail in taking up the duty his parents had abandoned without a thought.
It took time he didn’t have to learn how to work within the bounds of his limited authority, not even truly Acting Head, but only Deputy Head until he came of age. He had no authority to requisition the myriad necessities his Institute had been without for far too long, and every Shadowhunter that died while he was learning how to work the Clave, learning how to convince and wheedle and beseech every extra dime of support he could manage, was a burning drop of acid-bright pain under his skin.
Alec remembers every name his parents’ refusal to do their fucking job had added to their death list. (Alec remembers being fourteen years old and making kin-calls, his second Isaiah a shadow at his back.)
The past few years as Acting Head have been almost unimaginably difficult and Magnus has often joked that Alec spends more time in Alicante, justifying his actions before the Clave, than he spends in New York.
It's a joke far too close to truth.
As Acting Head, every decision Alec makes requires Clave approval. Alec walks a careful tightrope daily, balancing the dual problems of his absolute refusal to cater to Idris’ preference towards Downworld discrimination and his unfortunate need to have nearly every action gold-stamped by the Clave.
Alec had come far too close to losing his position when he’d first requested the formation of a Downworld Cabinet. However, for all that he has no true power as an uncalled Head, he is still one of the most influential Shadowhunters in the Clave and the Acting Head of the third largest Institute in the world. Alec hasn’t thrived in Alicante’s highest circles as he has, openly gay and in support of full Downworld equality, by being anything other than brilliantly cunning. He got his Cabinet, if only barely.
It’s all too easy to forget (though Alec never forgets), that he is only one vote away from losing everything.
With all his centuries of experience, Magnus never thought that the Clave would allow Alec Lightwood, lover to the High Warlock of Brooklyn, founder of the Downworld Cabinet, and close friend of half the New York Downworld, to slip their leash.
“Alexander,” Magnus repeats, pulling back from where he’s holding onto Alec so he can look him in the eyes, “how is this even possible?”
Alec shakes his head, still looking as though he believes he’ll wake up to find this all a dream, “After, well, after everything, Isaiah petitioned the Clave to formally call me as Head.”
Magnus knew he liked Alec’s grizzled old second for a reason. The man had taken an overwhelmed fourteen year old, far too much responsibility dumped on his thin shoulders far too soon, and taught Alec more about leadership and family than his parents had managed in fourteen years.
The stories Alec tells about him are few and far between, but Magnus cherishes each peek into Alec’s life before they met and Isaiah is one of the few consistently good points Alec has mentioned.
“You know as well as I do,” Alec continues, “how difficult it was fighting the Clave each step of the last months.”
Magnus does. There’d been times the Clave had refused permission or refused resources, ones they desperately needed, and Alec wouldn’t come home for days at a time, leading his Institute by day and arguing in Idris each night, catching hours of sleep as he could on the couch in his office. Several times, Magnus had truly thought the Clave’s need to be kow-towed to before they would allow Alec to do as he must would cost lives, Shadowhunter and Downworlder alike.
“He- he argued that the changes I’ve made since I’ve been Acting Head have made New York the most effective it’s ever been- cited our casualty counts, death counts, all of it - and then went further and told them that if I hadn’t had to modify some of my plans to get Clave approval, our numbers would be even better.” Alec swallows. “Magnus, every single member of my officer’s corps co-signed that letter.”
Magnus hears the wonder mingled with awe in Alec’s voice and wishes deeply that Alec would understand how much his people love him.
“And Magnus,” Alec breathes, “the Consul agreed.” He sounds stunned. “Jia Penhallow just summoned me to her office and informed me that tomorrow morning she will accept my Institute’s call and name me as Head.”
He grins, the reality suddenly sinking in as he says it out loud, and Magnus is helpless but to beam right back.
“Magnus, once I’m installed as Head the Clave will have no authority in New York.” Alec’s mind is clearly already racing. “Those ideas I had, making the Downworld Cabinet a real power? Enacting programs to exchange ideas and culture?” Alec is near breathless with excitement. “As long as the Covenant is upheld and the Accords are unbroken, the Clave can’t stop me .”