Title: Almost Paradise
Author: Claire Watson
Fandom: Shadowhunters (TV)
Genre: Amnesia, Episode Related, Established Relationship, Family, Paranormal/Supernatural, Slash
Relationship(s): Alec Lightwood/Magnus Bane, Isabelle Lightwood/Simon Lewis, Maryse Lightwood/Luke Garroway
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Hate Crimes/Hate Speech, Discussion of planned rape and incest
Author Notes: Almost Paradise begins right after the Malec wedding, and goes AU from there. Thank you to Alinora for her stellar beta, and to Saydria Wolfe for a read through to make sure it flows. An especial big thank you to desertpoet for being my bounce buddy, fandom expert, and alpha reader, all in one. Fashi0n has provided art so beautiful that it literally brought tears to my eyes. And thank you to Jilly, for all her work running this challenge and wrangling us all.
Word Count: 69,920
Summary: Clary Fray may have been stripped of her runes and her memories of the Shadow World, but the consequences of her brief sojourn amongst them would be felt for years to come. Even without the reckless redhead around to stir up trouble, Alec had plenty of work to occupy him. On top of his duties as Institute Head, Alec also fully intended to find a way to get Clary’s memories back.
Alec frowned as he read the latest message from the Clave. He’d been married for just over a week, had taken only a single day off for his honeymoon, and already the Council was breathing down his neck.
He looked up as the door to his office opened, face breaking into an involuntary smile as Magnus entered holding an extremely picturesque looking picnic hamper in one hand.
“Alexander!” Magnus said cheerily, putting the hamper down on a chair and coming forward to kiss him with his usual enthusiasm. “I decided the weather today was perfect for eating outdoors. Care to join me? There’s a long-standing Mundane practice of Sunday family lunch that I think would be a good tradition to start.”
Alec made a face. “I’d love to, but I’ve got too much to do here.”
“Surely you could put some of this paperwork off for long enough to eat? A bit of rest will increase your productivity, you know.”
If it was just paperwork, Alec might have let himself be tempted. “I’ve got a video conference with the Council in fifteen minutes,” he said regretfully.
To say that Alec was busy would be an understatement.
In a relatively short amount of time, the Morgenstern/Fairchild family had upturned centuries of tradition and exposed seemingly solid alliances for the flimsy trumpery they really were, and while the Clave would no doubt like to react to that with their usual disdain for anyone that didn’t carry angel blood, Jonathon’s final raid on Institutes all over the world meant that they were critically shorthanded across the board.
The fallout from the last couple of months was going to take years to fix. On the positive side, the upheaval had created space for changes that were long overdue. If Alec could just seize the moment and capitalise on it, the long-term benefits would probably even be worth it.
Unfortunately, in the absence of any of the actual firebrands, the Clave had begun making noises towards the idea that he—and if not Alec personally then certainly the New York Institute under his leadership, which amounted to the same thing—should be held accountable for the responses of the Downworlder factions. The Clave really excelled at passing the buck.
Alec’s first Downworld Cabinet meeting since his marriage—only days after his return—had been an exercise in diplomacy and tact, two skills that Alec already needed to work harder at. As the highest ranked sympathetic Shadowhunter that the Downworld had easy access to, he was presented with various communications that the Downworld representatives wished to be passed on to the Clave.
The Fae were infuriated that an angel-blooded had murdered their queen. The Clave had initially tried to argue that Jonathon wasn’t one of theirs, that he’d been their enemy as well, but the Seelie representative responded by rattling off three historical precedents showcasing times when the entirety of the Seelie race had been penalised by the Clave for the actions of a rogue member.
Now, both sides were looking to Alec for solutions that would favour them.
Meanwhile, the Praetor Lupus representatives were making insistent inquiries about the experiments that Aldertree had been running. They were pushing hard for concessions, demanding that changes be made to the Accords to require the Clave to make their legal process open to scrutiny. After all, if ‘The Law is the Law’, and the Clave was adhering to that law, then there was nothing to hide, was there?
The Spiral Labyrinth had yet to make any demands, but Alec wasn’t naive enough to think that that meant they didn’t have any. Even if he had been inclined to think that, Magnus had quietly warned him that meetings were going on behind closed doors. Meetings that Magnus had been politely asked to excuse himself from, as he was considered to have a conflict of interest.
Which only left the vampires. Alec wasn’t even sure who the clan leader of New York was right now, and none of the vampires he’d met had been willing to divulge the identities of individuals with a higher rank. The Clave had documentation on several people that they claimed were global vampiric leaders, but Alec had seen Clave files turn out to be wrong too many times to place all his faith on that.
Simon wasn’t much help. He’d always been on the outskirts of vampiric society, given his ties to the local Institute. He had mentioned to Izzy and Alec that the local vampires were treating him even more strangely than usual, but he’d been too worried about how to deal with Clary’s sudden memory loss to properly investigate what was going on there.
And hadn’t that been a shock. Thanks to a concerted effort by their friends and family, Alec and Magnus had been kept unaware of that piece of news until after their short honeymoon.
Alec had been annoyed at first, because what if he and Magnus could have done something? But Magnus had encouraged him to see the delay as the gift it really was. If Clary had been telling the truth in her farewell letters—and Alec had no reason to suspect otherwise—then the only thing informing them earlier would have achieved would be cutting short their already limited time alone together.
And really, Alec wouldn’t trade their mini honeymoon for the world.
It might be only a week in the past, but it already seemed like a distant memory. Right now he had to deal with the Clave response to the report he’d sent them two days ago; in which he’d detailed the Downworld reactions to the recent Morgenstern Family rampage and given his recommendations. Recommendations the Clave were apparently not happy with, recommendations they wanted to discuss with him.
Magnus didn’t let Alec’s refusal dampen his upbeat demeanour. “What about afterwards? Couldn’t you leave one of your siblings to hold down the fort for a mere hour?”
“An hour? Just one?” Alec raised his eyebrows. “It’s never just an hour, Magnus; you know how we get. And no, they can’t hold down the fort because they’re not here. I sent them both to the Seelie Realm to gather up the shards of Glorious. Hopefully the turmoil within the Seelie Court has kept the Fae from picking them up themselves. The last thing we need is more people experimenting with heavenly fire.”
Magnus cocked his head to one side. “A compromise then, darling. I’ll leave this, here,” he indicated the basket, “and take the opportunity to do a check-up on the wards, maybe tweak them a little. You get as many of the urgent matters as possible taken care of, and when Izzy and Jace get back, you leave the Institute in their hands and join me for lunch.”
“They might not be back for hours yet,” Alec pointed out.
“In which case feel free to help yourself from the basket as and when you feel like it,” Magnus replied. “I’ll just drag you away for an early dinner.”
“You know how to drive a bargain, Mr Lightwood-Bane,” Alec capitulated. “You have a deal. Just…please try not to create any havoc between now and then.”
Magnus gave him a highly unconvincing innocent look.
“I mean it.” Alec frowned half-heartedly. “The more work you give me, the less likely I’m going to be able to make it away at a reasonable time tonight.”
“You drive a hard bargain yourself, Mr Lightwood-Bane,” Magnus replied, pouting. “Very well. I promise I’ll behave myself while amongst all your delicate Shadowhunters. I’m sure you’ll be appropriately grateful later.”
Alec smirked, and kissed his husband quickly. “I always am. Now go, and I’ll see you later,” he promised, moving back behind his desk.
Magnus sighed. “Just so you know, being a kept husband isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” He opened the door, turning at the last moment to flick his fingers in Alec’s direction. A wisp of blue mist danced over the intervening space, and Alec felt the ghostly impression of familiar lips on his cheek before Magnus closed the door gently behind him, no doubt intending to go and bother Underhill.
Alec’s smile lasted until he remembered what he’d been doing before Magnus arrived. With a sigh, he gathered what he needed in order to be ready for his ‘discussion’ with the Clave.
It went about as well as Alec had expected. The Clave was hoping to save as much face while ceding as little ground as possible and had—in their infinite wisdom—determined that Alec was their best chance at achieving this.
Alec had tried pointing out his obvious divided allegiances, only to be firmly told that as a Shadowhunter—and the leader of an Institute—he was expected to be loyal to the Clave first and foremost. They also made it clear that they fully expected him to leverage his marriage to Magnus—who, thanks to recent actions while saving Alicante, was arguably considered the most powerful warlock in the world—in their favour.
They rang off before Alec could argue further, leaving him fuming, shoulders twitching irritably. How dare they demand such a thing of him? After everything that had happened, after Magnus had saved their asses by holding the rift to Edom closed! After he had willingly gone into exile there in order to achieve that! How dare they ask that of Magnus!
He was peripherally aware that his fingertips were tingling slightly, but that in no way prepared Alec for the tablet he was holding to fizzle and spark and then catch fire in his hands. He dropped it onto his desk in surprise. The fire winked out, leaving a broken device and the smell of scorched electronics in the air.
Seconds later, Magnus burst into the room, his magic swirling around him, only to fade back to its usual levels almost immediately. “Alexander!” Magnus hurried towards him, looking concerned. “The wards showed an unregistered magic user casting magic in here.” His gaze dropped to the ruined tablet. “What happened?”
Alec looked at his hands. “I think I did that.”
“I was angry,” Alec explained. “The Clave, they…” he hesitated.
“The Clave were being their usual charming selves,” Magnus said with a wave of his hand. “Not unexpected, really. Don’t concern yourself that I will hold you responsible for their offensive machinations, dearest.”
Alec nodded, still staring at his hands. “I noticed my fingertips tingling slightly and then the tablet just…caught fire.”
“Just caught fire?” Magnus repeated, poking at the tablet with a frown. “How odd. Hmm. Tingly fingertips… Has anything like this ever happened to you before? When you were younger, perhaps?”
Alec shook his head. “No. The only time something like this happened was in Edom, when I realised that I couldn’t use my stele to track you.” He felt his face flush. “I got a little agitated and started a miniature wind-storm.”
Magnus looked intrigued. “You never told me about this, darling.”
Alec shrugged. “I didn’t think it mattered. We found you, Izzy killed Lilith, and then we were back home, none the worse for wear.”
Magnus frowned thoughtfully and undid his right shirt cuff before pulling up his sleeve. He inspected the site where Clary had drawn the rune that had connected them all together. The skin was smooth and blemish free, no sign that a rune had ever been drawn there. “It seems you’re still being affected by being joined to Lorenzo. I don’t recall actually seeing the rune on your skin…where did Clary draw it for you?”
Alec had already rolled up his sleeve. “Mine’s gone too. There isn’t even a scar left.”
“Is that usual?”
“No. It’s not usual at all.” Alec rolled his sleeve down again.
Magnus cocked his head to one side. “What exactly did Clary say about it?”
“She called it ‘Alliance,’” Alec answered. “She said it would bind us together, almost like a temporary parabatai rune; something that would allow us to share powers and immunities. And skills.”
Magnus slowly rolled his sleeve down and fastened his cuff. A spark of blue washed over the fabric, removing the wrinkles. “That seems odd…is that how a parabatai rune works?”
“Not really,” Alec said slowly. “Parabatai share strength, and we’re more aware of each other and can share emotions and impressions. You already know that we can use the bond to track each other, although not without cost.”
“So, Clary’s rune wasn’t much like a parabatai rune at all,” Magnus said with a sigh. “What were you thinking, Alexander, to let her experiment on you like that? You’re usually much more level-headed.”
Alec raised his eyebrows. “Yes, well my fiancé isn’t usually facing permanent exile in a demonic realm that I can’t get to, about to come under attack from an enraged Greater Demon and her demon horde,” he replied. “At that point I was desperate enough to be considering vampirism as an option. Besides, I didn’t notice you objecting when she placed the rune on you.”
“There was no time,” Magnus replied. “Isabelle was on the brink of burning up, so something had to be done. There’s no way I could let you lose her like that, Alec.” He hesitated. “Also, I rather trusted in Lorenzo’s instinct for self-preservation. I was certain that if he thought what we were doing was truly dangerous he wouldn’t have allowed it. I didn’t realise that you had all infected him with your noble heroism.”
Alec’s eyebrows remained up.
“Oh, very well,” Magnus groused. “I suppose it would be hypocritical of me to berate you. Still, it seems probable that this rune of hers might be responsible for your current predicament, if it can truly be called such.” He tapped at his lower lip with a manicured fingernail. Alec found himself concentrating more on the softness of those lips than the conversation they were having. “I wonder if this has any relation to what’s been happening with my magic…”
That caught Alec’s attention. “What’s been happening with your magic?”
Magnus shrugged. “Since we got back from Edom it’s been more…robust…than I’m used to. There have been a few fluctuations, mostly to do with output on spells that I’ve previously found reliable. You recall what happened on our honeymoon, I trust?”
Alec smiled as he recalled the ‘day’ they’d spent together immediately following their wedding.
It had seemed to get off to a slow start. Magnus had portaled them to the loft, given Alec a swift, toe-curling kiss, and then spent the next thirty minutes in his workshop carefully building a spell. He’d come out holding a dark blue sphere in his hands. A few muttered words and a wave of blue exploded outwards from Magnus’ hands, the sphere enlarging like a giant bubble that ended up visibly stuck to the exterior walls of the apartment.
Alec had been confused and slightly worried until Magnus informed him that everything on the inside of the bubble would experience elongated time over the next twenty hours, effectively extending their honeymoon. Magnus had estimated that the spell he cast would double the next twenty hours, making it seem like forty.
When the spell had yet to end sixty hours later, Magnus had started to look thoughtful, but insisted it was nothing to be concerned about. He’d only just got his magic back, after all, there were bound to be readjustment issues. Not that either of them was complaining, they had spent the entirety of their extended honeymoon immersing themselves in each other.
It was the first time since they’d met that they’d had more than an occasional night together. It was amazing to have the chance to enjoy each other without the world intruding. They had revelled in it. They could finally talk about things, most notably how they’d each handled the most recent events. They renewed their promises to each other with words and actions.
It wasn’t all serious though. They took the opportunity for some extended sexual romps, and Alec learned things about himself—and what he liked in bed—that would have shocked him six months prior.
All too soon even their stretched-out day was over, and they had returned to their duties.
Alec still wasn’t familiar enough with the ebbs and flows of Magnus’ magic that he was able to tell what kind of fluctuations were within reasonable parameters and what was cause for further investigation. His smile faded as he considered the implications of what Magnus was saying.
Magnus must have decided he looked worried. “No, no, my dear, it’s nothing particularly concerning, considering the recent upheavals. There were bound to be side-effects after trading my magic away to Asmodeus and then having it returned; it was always something I was going to have to keep an eye on. That was one of the reasons I wanted to check the wards here. Not that they appear to need my supervision; I don’t think I’ve ever seen them stronger. They’re one of my masterpieces, you know. None of the other Institutes are warded even half as well.”
“I thought you were ‘checking the wards’ as a not-so-subtle ‘fuck you’ to Lorenzo,” Alec said, watching with amusement as Magnus’ nose tilted higher.
“I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t some of that in there,” Magnus admitted. “But it wasn’t my primary motivator, no.”
Alec laughed. “Are you two ever going to be able to get along?”
Magnus grimaced slightly. “Oh, he’s not so bad, I suppose.”
“Regretting your refusal of his offer to give you back the High Warlock position?”
“No, not really.” Magnus sighed. “The manner and reasons for my demotion might have been more about politics than a reflection of my abilities, or of my day-to-day care for my people. But it was done in accordance to the rules laid down by our governing body, and therefore it should stand. It’s not up to me and Lorenzo to trade the position between ourselves like so much rice.” He smirked. “There are a number of people who voted for him that regret it now, of course. Lorenzo is not as…indulgent…as I am, and he’s very insistent on being given his due as the leader of the region. I’ve been approached by several of my former constituents about the likelihood of me throwing my hat into the ring again.”
Alec eyed his husband. “But you don’t plan to do that, do you?”
Magnus flicked his fingers dismissively. “No, darling. I don’t think I will. I was the High Warlock for decades, you know, and I immersed myself in that role perhaps more than was good for me. The distance has given me a little perspective, and I think it’s time to find something new.” His eyes danced mischievously. “In the meantime, Manhattan might be a good location to set up shop, don’t you think?”
“You mean like an actual shop?” Alec asked, frowning.
“Nothing so tedious,” Magnus replied. “No offense to Maryse, of course, who appears to be thriving in that environment. No, I mean letting it be known that I’m available to take on contracts. For potions and warding etc. The High Warlock of the area has a certain obligation to provide services at an affordable rate, you understand, but I shall be able to charge what I like.”
“Is this your way of warning me that the Institute is going to get an enormous bill shortly?” Alec could feel the corner of his mouth twitching.
Magnus leered playfully at him. “Don’t worry, darling. If you’re nice to me, I’ll let you offset the costs with a tit-for-tat arrangement.”
Alec heaved a mock sigh. “Well, if it’s for the good of the Institute…” he leaned in towards his husband’s inviting lips.
The door banged open. Given that generally only his siblings barged in without even a token knock, Alec didn’t let that stop him from thoroughly kissing his husband. His expectations proved correct when he heard Jace exclaim with disgust.
Alec made sure draw the kiss out for several moments more—it was no hardship—before lifting his head to greet his parabatai.
Jace had his arms folded across his chest. He so resembled an adorable disgruntled child that Alec had to work to keep his amusement from showing openly on his face.
“I thought that once you were married all this lovey-dovey stuff would stop,” Jace complained. “Isn’t all the passion supposed to die once you get a ring on it?”
“Not that I’ve noticed,” Alec replied, stepping back from Magnus and falling into his usual working stance of parade rest. He cocked his head to one side. “Maybe it depends on what kind of ring you’re talking about? Have you heard of a cock ring? They’re these—”
“I know what they are!” Jace exclaimed, looking horrified. “Stop! Please!”
Alec kept his expression bland. Magnus didn’t bother, smirking gleefully at his brother-in-law.
“I’m really starting to regret some of the lengths I used to go to when I teased you,” Jace said sourly. “Do you want to know how our mission went, or what?”
“Of course,” Alec agreed. He went to pick up his tablet, only to see the scorched and broken electronic mess sitting on his desk. “Damn. Forgot about that.”
Jace raised his eyebrows and shook his head. “I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know. Right, so the short version is that Izzy and I managed to pick up nearly a hundred shards. She’s locking them in one of the safes right now.”
“Was your presence questioned?” Alec asked.
“We were watched the whole time, but no-one approached. Izzy said that they were friendly, that we’d know if they weren’t.”
Magnus nodded. “Your sister is right. The Seelie Realm is extremely reactive to the moods of its denizens. Normally the Queen keeps close control over how much of that is visible—on display, so to speak—to outsiders, but…”
“Right,” Jace said. “No Queen, so if they hated our guts then—”
“You would have been dodging aggressive tree roots and branches, and you’d be sporting squirrel bites in some uncomfortable places.”
Jace looked at Alec. “Well, thanks for that, fearless leader.”
Alec shrugged. “If you want to change places and take over all the paperwork while I spend most of my day out in the field, then be my guest.”
Jace’s pout turned into alarm. “No, no. You’re doing a great job. Why don’t I just…” he gestured to the door. “I’ll find some swords to sharpen, or something. Okay?”
“Get your reports done!” Alec called after his parabatai as he hastened out the door. He sighed as the door slammed without any further acknowledgement.
“I see what you mean about his coping mechanism,” Magnus remarked. “If I didn’t know better, I would think it’s business as usual with him.”
“He’s always dealt with things this way. You’d hardly know by looking at him or talking to him that he’s not sleeping. Our training equipment is beginning to show signs of needing to be replaced again.”
“How long will he keep that up?”
“Until he breaks.” Alec sighed again. “That could happen any time now. It won’t be pretty, but at least then he’ll be ready to talk about it a little.”
Magnus reached up and smoothed out Alec’s brow with his fingers. “Since they’re back, are you ready to come and join me for lunch?”
Alec let Magnus’ touch settle the discomfort Jace’s distress had caused him. “Yes, let’s. I’m not going to get much done until I get a new tablet anyway, so just give me a moment to stop by security so I can let them know what I need, and we can go.”
Lunch was as delightful as Alec thought it would be, but the rest of the day did its best to dispel the lingering good humour that the interlude with his husband had brought him.
He had a meeting that afternoon with his senior staff, shift supervisors, and patrol leaders. The main topic under discussion was something that had been on Alec’s mind for the last week.
“We just don’t have the people to maintain the levels of watchfulness that are needed,” said Jeremy Ashheart, one of the older patrol leaders in the Institute. He’d transferred in under Aldertree’s command, and then stayed when the leadership had changed hands. Alec didn’t really know him all that well. “Our fighters are already logging overtime. If we continue to send them out without adequate rest, they’re going to end up dead, and then we’ll be in an even worse position.”
“No,” Alec said firmly. “Our people aren’t expendable. We need to find more people, quickly.”
“We’re already better staffed than most,” Underhill said. “There are no more people.”
“There may not be more Shadowhunters available,” Izzy mused. “But I don’t see why we can’t ask Downworlders to patrol with us. They live in this city as well. They’ve got as much stake in its safety as we do.”
“We can’t depend on Downworlders!” Ashheart said with a sneer. The only person who appeared to agree with him was Teresa Penmount, a newly minted patrol leader who had been a member of the New York Institute for over three years. She was a competent fighter and a hard worker but had frequently agreed with Raj whenever he and Alec had butted heads. Alec had been surprised that she hadn’t taken any of the earlier opportunities to transfer out.
“Why not?” Alec said, running over the pro’s and con’s in his mind. “Izzy’s right. If we don’t have the personnel, then why can’t we appeal to the local Downworld leadership to bolster our numbers?”
“What? You mean go begging to the Downworld?” Penmount looked truly horrified. “I would rather die!”
“That might be sooner rather than later, if we don’t pad out our numbers,” Alec replied, eyebrows raised. “We don’t have to beg. It’s easy enough to offer them the chance to be a part of the protection of the city as part of the concessions they’re wanting. We’ll need to set up joint training, of course, and I’m not going to send any of my Shadowhunters out with Downworlders until I’m completely sure they’re not going to jeopardise the work that’s already been achieved with the Cabinet meetings.”
Izzy beamed at him from across the table.
“The Clave will never allow it,” Penmount insisted. Ashheart nodded in support.
“The Clave doesn’t need to be asked,” Underhill said unexpectedly, turning to face her. “The mandate of the Institute Leadership is clearly established. The Institute Head—or Heads—are to use all tools at their disposal in order to control demonic activity in their allocated region. The only avenues the Clave has for objection are if current laws are being broken, and I can’t think of a single law that says that an Institute leader can’t deputise Downworlders.”
Penmount scoffed. “That’s because the whole idea is ludicrous!”
Alec narrowed his eyes at her. “I’ve made my decision,” he said. “Underhill, I want you to find four volunteers to work with you to put together an offer I can present to the next cabinet meeting. No one who is already doing three or more jobs.” He ignored Izzy’s pout with the skill born of a lot of practice.
Underhill agreed, making a note on his tablet, and Alec moved to the next item on the agenda.
As soon as the meeting was over, Alec had a quick word with Underhill about doing some discreet surveillance on Penmount and Ashheart. While he didn’t mind dissenting opinions, bigotry was another matter. If they were going to be making waves for the policies he wanted to implement, he intended to know who they were talking to and what they were saying. There was no place in his Institute for prejudice.
When he got home that night, he sounded Magnus out on Izzy’s idea. As he expected Magnus was enthusiastically in favour.
“It might be the very thing we need, darling,” he said. “I spent the afternoon catching up with some old friends, and they had some rather disturbing rumours to relate.”
“What now?” Alec asked wearily.
“It seems that with Lilith’s death, Asmodeus’ disappearance, and Edom’s destruction, a bit of a power vacuum has opened up in the demon world,” Magnus said apologetically. “The Greater Demons are all hoping to add to their power base, and then there are any number of rather ambitious Lower Demons who are feeling that the time is ripe for a bit of an uprising, and that they are naturally the best suited for advancement.”
“So, there’s a demonic war brewing,” Alec summarised. “You expect it to spill over here?”
“On the whole, probably not,” Magnus answered. “My biggest concern is about what will happen after it’s all resolved. The way I see it, someone is going to come out at the top of the heap. That someone is going to have a lot of strong demon underlings that suddenly have nothing to do. When that happens, I think it would be fair to expect renewed activity.”
“You think that they’ll bring their war to us,” Alec finished. “Right at a time when the Shadowhunter numbers have been reduced catastrophically.”
“You see why I thought your Downworlder Deputy idea might be just the thing?”
“Wait. You said ‘Asmodeus’ disappearance.’ You mean he isn’t dead? Where is he then? When you said he would never come between us again, I sort of assumed…”
Magnus looked uncomfortable. “He’s in limbo. I trussed him up with my magic, opened a portal, knocked him out, and sent him through.”
Alec blinked. “It was that easy? Why didn’t we just do that with Lilith?”
“I confess it didn’t occur to me,” Magnus admitted. “Besides, we don’t know much about limbo. Most of what we ‘know’ is theoretical only. We’ve observed that those who go through a portal unconscious never emerge, and limbo is the name we’ve given the place where we imagine they’ve gone.”
Alec frowned. “So, for all we know they’re ending up forward or back in time, or just in some other dimension.”
“Exactly. Or they may be dead. Since no one’s ever come back, we’ve gone with the assumption of their death, but since there are no guarantees…”
“It’s not really a good idea to just use portals as a dumping ground for inconvenient enemies,” Alec finished.
“Well, just imagine it, darling. What if you manage to send all your worst enemies to a place where they’re all perfectly fine, and they just stay there making evil plots against you, only to come back when you least expect it? Better to just get rid of your enemies the old-fashioned way.”
“By using experimental runes to change our very nature, busting into demonic realms, destroying our enemies with heavenly fire that almost kills us too, before burning the place to the ground on our way out?”
“It was a rather eventful afternoon, wasn’t it?”
The next morning Alec awoke a bit out of sorts. His skin felt tight, stretched too thin over his bones. It wasn’t until he was brushing his teeth that he realised that the origin of that feeling was the air. It felt un-naturally heavy, almost full to bursting with something. It was unnerving. At first he thought he might be imagining it, but Magnus seemed disgruntled as well.
“What do you think it could be?” Alec asked, leaning down to tie his shoes in readiness for his morning jog to the Institute.
“I don’t know, and I don’t like it,” Magnus replied, watching from his spot curled in the weak November sun and absently rubbing at his shoulders. “Are you sure you don’t want me to make you a portal?”
“I’m sure,” Alec said, coming over to give him a kiss goodbye. “I’ll feel better after a run. Remember that Mom, Izzy, and Jace are coming over for dinner tonight. Will I see you at lunch?”
“If you think you can make time for me in your busy schedule?”
“Count on it,” Alec promised. He kissed Magnus again for good measure before heading out.
The route between Magnus’ apartment and the Institute was a familiar one now, and Alec lost himself in the rhythm of his feet and his breath and the feel of his blood pumping through his body.
Despite all the death and destruction and the upheaval of the last few months, Alec was happier than he’d ever been before. He was living the kind of life that he’d always secretly wanted, but never dreamed that he’d get the opportunity to have.
He was leading the New York Institute, working with Jace and Izzy every day to make the lives of Shadowhunters, Downworlders, and Mundanes easier and safer. Then, every night he went home to Magnus—his smoking hot husband who was like all his teenage fantasies come to life—who loved Alec so much he traded away his magic for Alec’s parabatai, because he knew that losing Jace would have crippled Alec and Magnus would rather cripple himself than let that happen.
Naturally, Alec had since informed his husband that he was never to do anything like that ever again. Magnus had skilfully evaded the requested promise, but with Asmodeus gone it was unlikely to ever be a thing again anyway. And Alec was going to take much better care of all the people in his life, so hopefully it wouldn’t be an issue.
Of course, with Clary losing her memories and resuming her Mundane life, everything had calmed down considerably. How could one small woman, not even out of her teens yet, cause so much chaos? It was baffling.
Alec slowed down as he approached the small café that Izzy liked. Life wasn’t so busy that he couldn’t stop and pick his siblings up something nice to brighten their day, and Izzy had been working extra-hard lately. She could do with a bit of spoiling.
Armed with coffee for Izzy and chocolate pastries for Jace; Alec stopped by the training room first, where Jace was drilling some of the newer Shadowhunters; and then moved onto the armoury, where Izzy was working on the schematics for a thinner and lighter seraph blade.
“Thank you, big brother!” Izzy beamed at him, barely letting him put his offering down before throwing her arms around him.
“Hey, Izzy,” Alec said, hugging her back. “Anything interesting happen overnight?”
Izzy released him and picked up her coffee, inhaling the aroma with her eyes closed. “Not unless you count the messy implosion of the Kingsmill, Rosewain, and Makepeace love triangle.”
Alec made a face. “No, I really don’t. In fact I’m quite glad I missed it. Was it everything you hoped it would be?”
Izzy made a so-so motion with the hand not holding her coffee. “There wasn’t any throwing or hitting and minimum shouting, but lots of crying. I’ll say maybe a six out of ten? There was a lot of crying. You would have been making ick-face. Yes. Like that one.”
“If there had been throwing or hitting there would have also been a reprimand,” Alec pointed out.
“You just don’t understand drama.”
Alec rolled his eyes. “Izzy, I grew up with you and Jace. I’m married to Magnus. Believe me, I understand drama just fine. I just don’t think the workplace is the correct place for it. Also, no relationship drama is a good enough reason to physically assault your co-workers.”
Izzy blew a raspberry at him. “Oh, go be sensible and responsible somewhere else.”
Alec picked up his coffee. “I’ll see you at dinner tonight?”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
Izzy brought Simon with her to dinner, and Maryse brought Luke. Their presence turned out to be that extra bit needed to push Jace over the edge from denial into anger. He managed to hold onto it for an hour, quite obviously letting it seethe and simmer until it exploded over dessert.
“What the hell?” Jace stared furiously at the beautifully presented tiramisu that Magnus had just placed in front of him. “What kind of stupid plan was that, anyway? How can taking Clary’s memories away from her teach her anything? She doesn’t remember! She doesn’t remember any of us, not even Simon! Not even Luke! This is utter bullshit!” He shoved the plate away.
“I can assure it’s not bullshit, Jace,” Maryse said calmly, taking another bite. “It’s tiramisu and quite delicious, in fact. And that was rude.”
Face like a thundercloud, Jace brought the plate back in front of him and picked up his fork, stabbing at the dessert as if he thought it was going to try and get away from him.
Simon and Luke sat there looking uncomfortable, but Izzy and Magnus continued their conversation about belt buckles as if nothing had happened. Alec got up and poured Jace a glass of Magnus’ best brandy. He knew Magnus wouldn’t mind. Magnus didn’t even like brandy, but it had been a gift from Ragnor—who did like brandy, and who had apparently made a habit of gifting it to Magnus so that he’d always have something he liked available—and he couldn’t bring himself to throw it out.
Jace stared at it for a moment, before necking it. Alec raised a brow at Magnus, and at his slight nod of approval poured Jace another one. It wasn’t like Jace had never crashed in the spare room before, after all.
Half an hour later, Simon and Jace were sitting together out on the balcony, having a long and only slightly weepy angst session about the unfairness of the world, the angels, and anything else that conspired to keep Clary away from them. The rest of them had gathered in the lounge, except for Luke, who was hovering halfway between the two groups looking like he couldn’t make up his mind if he should join Jace and Simon outside or stay inside with Maryse, Magnus, Izzy, and Alec.
“Did you have to get your brother drunk?” Maryse asked Alec with fond exasperation. “He’s going to be a nightmare to deal with tomorrow, you know.”
Alec shrugged. “It’ll be better for him to get the worst of it over and done with here, where no-one will blame him for it. I think that after everything he’s entitled to be difficult for a few days or so.” He shifted uncomfortably at the proud look Maryse was giving him. He still wasn’t used to receiving her open approval.
“It’s like a part of me is missing,” Jace’s intense voice carried in through the open doors.
“I keep thinking, ‘I’ll have to tell Clary about this later,’” Simon was starting to sound more maudlin than angry. “And then I remember, and it’s like the worst thing ever.”
Maryse got to her feet. “I can’t listen to this, or I’ll end up out there crying with them. I’m going to poke around in the kitchen. Anyone want a hot chocolate?” Magnus opened his mouth, probably to offer to conjure as many as were required but closed it again when Maryse shook her head at him. “Just let me have fun in your kitchen, Magnus.”
“Yes, Maryse,” Magnus agreed with a put-upon smile.
If Alec hadn’t been expecting it, he might have missed the way Magnus’ fingers flicked the moment Maryse’s back was turned.
“Do we even have chocolate in there?” he asked knowingly.
Magnus gave him a smug smile that was just begging to be kissed off his face. “We do now.”
Dragging his eyes away from his husband, Alec refocused and turned to Izzy. “So, while we’re on the subject…how are you holding up?”
Izzy gave him a look. “I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I thought you and Clary had agreed to be parabatai,” Alec said slowly.
Izzy’s eyes flashed. She angled her body so that Luke, Simon, and Jace wouldn’t overhear her response unless they were trying to and dropped her voice to just above a whisper. “Yes, we did. But her letter to me made it abundantly clear that she didn’t even consider consulting me—or even warning me, for that matter—before making another decision that would change all of our lives.”
Alec winced. Izzy would not have taken that well. She hated being kept in the dark and having choices made for her, a lesson that he’d finally learned in his early teens. Izzy could take care of herself, and while she welcomed his care and affection, she put her foot down when he tried to protect her.
Magnus twirled little wisps of dancing blue magic around his fingers like a child playing with string. “Ah yes. That Fairchild habit of charging off to do what they think is right without fully considering the consequences. Her mother was the same, you know, in her youth. It took motherhood—and living in constant fear for her daughter’s life—to temper that trait, and even then it still popped up here and there. Jocelyn’s decisions around the Mortal Instruments, for instance. She was so certain that only she knew the way forward, that she knew what was best for everyone.” He shook his head fondly, smile turning sly. “Not an unusual state of mind for Nephilim, I’ve come to realise.”
“Izzy, you knew that Clary was like that,” Alec pointed out, ignoring his husband’s last jab in his direction. “She’s been running off and causing chaos wherever she goes since we met her.”
Izzy shrugged, eyes still flinty. “What I’ll accept from someone I just met, and what I’ll accept from my parabatai are different, Alec.” Her gaze softened. “I’m angry with her right now. I want to have it out with her, but I can’t, her choices made that impossible. And I’m angry about that too.”
Magnus nodded sympathetically. “We know that she’s safe, at least.”
“Exactly. And who knows how long this ‘punishment’ from the angels will last? I miss her, of course I do. But right now I’m not particularly broken up about it.”
Alec glanced outside. Luke had finally joined Jace and Simon, and although he wasn’t weeping openly, he did wipe his eyes on the back of his hand at fairly regular intervals.
Alec turned back to his sister. “So, how are the new blade designs coming along?”
Izzy’s eyes lit up in excitement. “I’ve been in contact with Sister Asenath. She heard about how I re-forged Glorious, and wanted to talk about the method I used, and the results. I told her my ideas on how to streamline an adamas blade so that it can be worn a bit like my bracelet, and she’s going to get back to me. She said that I might have what it takes to be an Iron Sister after all!”
“That’s incredible, Izzy!” Alec said, trying to feel as enthusiastic about it as his sister was. It wasn’t that he didn’t want her to receive the honour of being admitted to one of the two most exclusive groups the Nephilim had, he just didn’t want to lose her. The Iron Sisters lived secluded and isolated, and they didn’t exactly visit with family. He wasn’t ready for Izzy to be gone from his life.
Izzy must have read what he was thinking from the expression on his face, because she laughed at him. “Don’t worry, big brother. I won’t be joining them anytime soon.” She looked over her shoulder at the group on the balcony. “I’m not ready to leave my family and friends behind just yet.” She made a face. “Just when I’ve finally got you squared away with someone who will take proper care of you, Jace has to turn into a goobering mess.”
“I can take care of myself!” Alec objected.
Izzy gave him a pitying look. “Of course you can’t. I love you, big brother, but no, you cannot take care of yourself. You’re always far too busy taking care of everyone else to even spare yourself a thought.”
Magnus was nodding. When Alec glared at him, he just shrugged. “There’s no arguing with right, Alexander dearest. It’s no matter, I enjoy taking care of you. But then you take good care of me too, so it works out equally.”
Maryse walked in, carrying a tray of steaming mugs. Alec took the one that was offered to him, inhaling the familiar sweet aroma. It brought back memories of his early childhood, when Maryse would sometimes read to him and Izzy at night while they drank her special hot chocolate. From the look on Izzy’s face, she was remembering the same thing.
“Thanks, Mom,” Alec and Izzy chorused.
Maryse squared her shoulders and took her tray out onto the deck.
“She’s still allergic to strong emotion then,” Izzy said quietly.
“She’s trying,” Alec defended her. “Six months ago, she would have handed over the tray and told you to take it out to them.”
“Six months ago she would have told Jace to stop wasting time, and to channel his emotions into training,” Izzy responded with a trace of bitterness. She sighed, staring into her cup and stirring with the stick of cinnamon poking out. “I’m not trying to attack her, Alec. I just sometimes wonder when this new and improved Mom is going to change back into the one I grew up with, that’s all.”
“Hopefully never,” Maryse said, stepping back inside with an empty tray. “Luke has strict instructions to give me a wake-up call if I seem to be backsliding.” She put the tray down on the coffee table and went to sit beside Izzy, although the tension in her body betrayed her unease. “I know I can never make up for those years when I never put you first, or even second. I’m grateful that you’re willing to give me another chance, that I can still be a part of your lives.”
Maryse’s smile was tremulous, but looked more real than most of what Alec had seen from her growing up. “Almost despite my best efforts, my children are the most loving, beautiful, talented, and smart Shadowhunters I have ever known. I am so proud of you, every day, and just when I think I couldn’t love you more, I find that I can.”
“Thank you, Mom. I love you too.” Izzy and Maryse both had tears in their eyes now.
Alec’s eyes were tingling a bit too. He cleared his throat. “So, did you tell Sister Asenath that you’re holding onto the shards of Glorious?”
Izzy blinked her eyes rapidly, leaning into her mother slightly. “No. I thought I should discuss it with the Head of the Institute first. He’s been a little busy, what with his revolutionary decision to invite the Downworld Cabinet to volunteer their members to join us on patrol.”
“It was your idea,” Alec pointed out.
“Yes, but you’re the one who’s going to be on the end of any Clave fallout,” Izzy replied.
“What’s this?” Maryse asked.
Alec explained Izzy’s idea, and his strategy on how to put it into action.
Maryse looked surprised at first, but as Alec outlined the training regime and the teamwork exercises they were planning, a beaming smile filled her face. “You’re doing it, Alec,” she said when he paused, uncertain if he should continue. “I told you that your generation would have to be smarter about how you changed the Clave. You and Izzy, and Jace too, of course, you’re doing it. My babies are changing the world!”
The next morning, Alec woke Jace with a wet flannel to the face. “Come on, get up.”
“It’s not time yet,” Jace mumbled, opening one bleary, bloodshot eye.
“You’ll feel better after a run,” Alec promised, handing Jace his freshly laundered clothes. “We leave in fifteen minutes.”
Jace sat up. “Can’t your Warlock husband just make us a portal?”
Alec raised his eyebrows. “I’m sure he would if I asked him to, but I won’t. Magnus isn’t here to be a substitute taxi service. Now get up and get dressed.”
Out in the kitchen, Magnus leaned against the bench and absently rubbed his left shoulder with his right hand while he watched the kettle heating. He looked up when Alec came in. “Will he live?”
Alec snorted. “He’ll be fine once he gets up and moving. He’s on early patrol or I probably would have let him sleep in. Is your shoulder hurting you?”
“No, they both just feel a little odd,” Magnus said, leaning away from the bench and into Alec. “I must have used one of the muscles in a way it’s not used to being used, is all.”
Alec gave him a lingering kiss. “Maybe tonight we can get out those oils of yours, and I can give you a rub down. Were you—”
He stopped as the air around them grew heavy again, the way it had the morning before. “What—?”
Magnus straightened up instantly. Even while wearing his gold silken dressing-gown, he suddenly looked dangerous. His narrowed gaze went unerringly to the living room.
Alec pulled out his bow and followed his husband. In the centre of the room the air was a pulsing, seething, visible mass. It looked like something was trying to get out. Magnus raised his hands just as Alec nocked an arrow. From behind him Alec could feel Jace enter, ready to help deal with whatever was happening.
The air pulsed faster, and then seemed to split open. On the other side of the tear in reality, was an inky, ominous darkness. To Alec’s great surprise, Asmodeus came tumbling out.
Asmodeus’ unconscious body was quickly followed by another—although this person was female, and a stranger—and then another. After a moment of stillness, Magnus snapped out of his initial shock. He immediately began using his magic to drag the new arrivals away from the strange portal, which continued to eject bodies at a rate of one every ten seconds or so.
Alec put his bow away and hurried to help him. Not that there was much he could do, they didn’t have vast expanses of space available. They ended up just laying the people side-by-side wherever they could be squeezed in.
Finally, they stopped coming. The strange portal pulsed once more, and then disappeared, taking with it the heavy feeling that had been saturating the air.
Magnus snapped his fingers. In a blink, his dressing-gown was gone, and he was now dressed in his impressive, ‘I’m a High Warlock and can thrash you with my pinkie’ best.
“What in the angel’s name…” Jace croaked, not looking nearly as well put together.
Magnus stared at Asmodeus’ unconscious form. “I suppose it was wrong to assume that he would never bother me again,” he muttered. He twisted his fingers; golden circlets of magic appeared around the wrists and necks of all the newcomers, before sinking into their skin, fading from view. “Well, that should take care of that. For a while, at least.”
“I recognise Asmodeus, of course,” Alec said, coming to stand beside his husband. “None of the rest of these people look familiar, though. Do you know any of them?”
“About half of them look like warlocks I once knew,” Magnus said. Blue wisps of his magic spread out from his hands, dipping and sliding around the newcomers before returning to him.
“‘Look like?’” Jace said, coming to stand on Alec’s other side, seraph blade still at the ready. “You think they’re fakes?”
“Warlocks have a general sense for each other’s power,” Magnus said, pursing his lips and cocking his head to one side. “I’m not getting anything from these people.”
Alec blinked. “What about…” He gestured to where Asmodeus—or someone, something, that looked exactly like Asmodeus—was lying.
Magnus shook his head. “As far as I can tell after a cursory examination, they’re just ordinary people.”
Jace put his blade away. “Mundanes?”
“As far as I can tell,” Magnus repeated. “My magic is better suited for battle and warding than diagnostics, though, so it might be a good idea to see what Catarina thinks.”
Alec nodded. “I really have to get to the Institute,” he said, wishing he could just stay here and help Magnus deal with whatever this turned out to be. “Jace, you stay here as my representative. Magnus, feel free to let Catarina know that Madzie is welcome to hang out with me for the morning. She might prefer to keep her away from this until we know what’s going on. Oh, and Magnus, would you mind terribly—”
“Opening a portal for you?” Magnus finished. “Not at all, darling.” He leaned up for a kiss and then used a familiar gesture to open a portal. “I’ll pass your message on to Catarina.”
Alec kissed his husband, exchanged nods with Jace, and hurried through the portal. Looked like he had another busy day ahead.
Alec notified Underhill that Jace was dealing with a situation and probably wouldn’t be available for patrol and told Izzy what was going on. He then did some quick juggling of his calendar so that if Catarina took him up on his offer, he’d be able to include Madzie.
Sure enough, five minutes later Catarina arrived at the Institute doors with Madzie in tow. “Thank you for this, Alec,” she said gratefully.
“It’s no trouble,” Alec replied. “Besides, I love being able to spend time with my favourite sorceress.”
“Alec!” Madzie greeted him cheerfully. She lifted her arms up in invitation.
Alec picked her up. “You know, you’re getting too big to be picked up like this. Lucky I’m strong, right? Well then, Catarina, we’ll have to leave you now. I have it on good authority that Izzy is keeping candy stashed in her office where she thinks I can’t find it. Now that I’ve obtained my super-candy-sniffer, I have somewhere I need to be.”
Madzie started giggling. She waved cheerily at Catarina. “Look how high I am!”
“Be good,” Catarina replied, grabbing Madzie’s hand and giving it a quick kiss. “I’ll be back in a few hours, okay?”
“Bye!” Madzie said, not looking worried in the slightest. “What kind of candy, Alec?”
“I guess we’ll have to find out.”
“Do you think Magnus will let me play in his garden?” Madzie asked as they headed out into the corridor.
Alec didn’t really consider the planters scattered around their balcony to be much of a garden. Still, he was familiar with Madzie’s skill at using her imagination to fuel her magic. Who knows what they looked like to a young magic-user of her potential? “When was the last time Magnus said no to you?”
Madzie leaned into Alec confidingly. “Magnus gives me flowers sometimes.”
“Of course he does,” Alec murmured, his heart swelling with affection. He pushed open the door to Izzy’s oft-neglected office. “Alright, Madzie. Time to get to work!”
Alec had already planned to do an Institute-wide surprise inspection later in the week. Still, with Madzie in tow, it was easier to get it done right then. It didn’t really matter to everyone else anyway, because when Alec performed a surprise inspection, it really was a surprise. Not even Izzy and Jace got a heads-up.
He was pleased with the results. Aside from a couple of small matters—two or three people who were behind on their required sparring hours, and one who was on duty without the correct equipment—everything was running smoothly. Izzy came and stole Madzie from him just as he was finishing up, which gave him time to get the report written up and logged with the Clave. Then he sent an Institute-wide email letting everyone know that they were all doing a great job.
Next was a quick read-through of the previous day’s action reports. This wasn’t technically his duty, but Alec liked to keep his eye on the source documents so he could spot any worrying trends. It also gave him an insight into the people writing them. Today there were two that were a little too brief for his liking. Those were put aside to be handed back for further clarification.
Once that was done, Paul Alatini, the Shadowhunter currently standing in as Alec’s secretary, would summarise them into the daily report that needed to be signed off on.
Various other small matters needed his attention, but nothing lengthy or arduous. Alec finished up his daily tasks and considered tackling the dwindling inventory backlog. His concentration wasn’t at its best, so he decided to go looking for Izzy and Madzie.
They were in the cafeteria, coloured pencils in hand and heads bent over a drawing. Half-finished plates with the kitchen’s version of macaroni cheese were abandoned next to them.
When he got closer, Alec could see that it was a drawing of him and Magnus, going by the one figure’s spiky hair and the way the other one was carrying a bow. They appeared to be at a party, and there were hearts liberally sprinkled around.
“Is that our wedding?” Alec asked with a smile.
Madzie nodded and kept drawing. She’d picked up a yellow pencil and was using it to outline the figure with the fangs. “There were a lot of pretty clothes there,” she said solemnly.
Izzy caught his eye. “Have you heard from Jace yet?”
“No, but it’s only been a couple of hours. I figure no news is good news. They’ll let us know if they need us.”
She smiled knowingly. “Not knowing is driving you insane, isn’t it? Want to lay a bet on who can last the longest without checking on them?”
Alec scoffed. “Right, like you’re any better. I’m pretty sure I can hold out longer than you can.”
“Izzy already called Jace,” Madzie volunteered. “He said that Cat and Magnus think it might be some kind of knees-hair.”
Izzy gave Madzie a betrayed look. “Amnesia,” she clarified, her tone daring Alec to comment.
Alec figured he didn’t actually need to say anything. “So, they really are who they look like then?”
Alec wondered what that meant for Asmodeus, given that Edom had been destroyed. “I was wondering if you two wanted to stop by that café with the big blue sign for lunch,” he offered, putting the matter of the strange arrivals to the back of his mind. “If you’ve already eaten then I suppose I’ll have to go by myself.”
“No!” Madzie exclaimed, jumping to her feet and putting down the pencil. “I didn’t eat hardly anything, Alec. I can go with you!”
Izzy nodded seriously. “She’s right, big brother. We mostly picked through the macaroni for the bacon bits; it’s almost like we haven’t eaten at all.”
“You shouldn’t be supporting bad habits,” Alec scolded, but couldn’t keep the smile from his face. “Come on then. If we get there early enough, they’ll still have that caramel slice that Magnus loves. We can buy some and bring it to him later.”
They ordered and found a table big enough for the three of them. Alec took the opportunity to ask Izzy if she was managing her workload comfortably. It was something that had been concerning him slightly. As formidable as she was, he didn’t want to see her take on too much and then burn herself out by trying to live up to everyone’s expectations.
She laughed at him. “One day you’ll realise that I’m all grown up, Alec,” she said, rolling her eyes in fond exasperation. “I promise that I’m fine. I would have thought you’d be pleased, since, if I’m keeping busy, then I’m not getting into trouble all over the place.”
Alec shook his head. “I’m just worried that you might be wearing yourself too thin.”
Izzy tossed her head. “I’ve never felt better,” she assured him. “As soon as I start feeling overwhelmed, I promise you’ll be the first to know.”
Their food arrived, and not wanting to push it, Alec reluctantly dropped the subject.
They were nearly finished eating when Jace called with an update. Alec left Izzy and Madzie at the table and stepped outside to hear it.
“None of them remembers a thing, so we spent most of the morning trying out various methods of identification,” Jace reported, sounding weary. “The majority of them seem to be warlocks. Between them, Magnus and Catarina were able to put names to about fifteen, most being warlocks they had known who had disappeared mysteriously. One was a werewolf that Catarina had once treated in Amsterdam.
“Magnus made a few calls—did you know that other dimensions can get cell service?—and the grumpiest warlock I’ve ever met arrived from the Spiral Labyrinth and identified more. There are currently about twenty that we have no idea about, Magnus is worried that we’ll never know who they are. And then…” Jace dropped his voice. “Hey, Alec…”
“Mom came by. Did you know that she and Magnus have made plans to regularly get coffee together?”
“Of course I know,” Alec replied, rolling his eyes. “What possible reason would either of them have to keep it secret from me? Every Tuesday and Thursday, provided no earth-shaking emergencies come up.”
“Well, excuse me for being surprised!” Jace’s voice dropped even further to a whisper. “I mean it’s one thing to know that she accepts Magnus as your husband, you know? To keep you happy? But she actually gets on well with him, Alec!”
Alec sighed. “Is there a point to this, Jace?”
Jace cleared his throat, his voice returning to normal. “Mom offered to leave when she saw how busy we were, but Magnus asked for her help. Alec…some of these people are Shadowhunters.”
Alec’s whole body came to attention. “I didn’t see any runes.” Not that he had been looking for them, exactly, but runes were generally pretty hard to miss unless someone was hiding them on purpose.
“Maybe I should have said that they were Shadowhunters. I had one of them hold my witchlight, and it didn’t activate. Whatever happened to them, they’re not Shadowhunters anymore.”
Alec’s thoughts were racing. This made the whole situation officially Clave business. “How sure is Mom that they’re the people that she thinks they are? Could she be mistaken?”
“If you want to suggest to our mother that her memory is faulty, then go right ahead,” Jace said, voice dry. “I’m not going to be your go-between, parabatai or not.”
“I don’t know what exactly you think she would do to you.”
“I don’t know what she’d do to me, and I have no intention of finding out.”
“The best male Shadowhunter of our generation is afraid of an unarmed, exiled, middle-aged woman?”
Jace snorted. “Okay, I dare you to call Maryse Lightwood that to her face.”
Alec decided not to respond to that one. “We should look through the Clave files to see if we can find identities for the rest. If they’re Downworlders, then they might be listed in the database.”
“We can try, I suppose,” Jace said doubtfully. “Magnus said that one of the warlocks he recognised, Kalmin, disappeared sometime between WWI and WWII. Does the Clave database even go back that far?”
“There’s only one way to find out. Why couldn’t this have happened when we were better staffed?”
Jace chuckled. “Right, because emergencies should run to a schedule.”
“It would be nice. Although I suppose that means we have space in the Institute for some of these unidentified people.”
“Alec, for all intents and purposes these are amnesiac Mundanes,” Jace reminded him. “They don’t have the sight. Cat said there was no guarantee that any of them would ever regain their memories or their abilities. And to be frank, I think that might be for the best.”
“I get what you’re saying,” Alec sighed, running a hand through his hair. “We have to find somewhere to put them, though. They can’t stay with Magnus and me indefinitely. Even Magnus might find stretching the apartment to accommodate so many people is a bit on the challenging side.”
“Relax, the Spiral Labyrinth has offered their assistance. Ayyash is going to start portaling them out in the next half hour.”
Alec groaned. “You couldn’t have mentioned that a little earlier in the conversation?”
“I was getting there!” Jace objected. “You derailed me. Anyway, Cat said to tell you that she’s finished for the moment. You can bring Madzie back, if you like.”
“We’ll be there soon.”
Alec disconnected and turned around to go inside, only to see Izzy and Madzie walking out the door, hand in hand. When she heard that Alec was taking Madzie back to Catarina, Izzy decided that she was coming too.
“I’m not on patrol until late,” she said. “Besides, I wanted to see Magnus about something anyway.”
Alec looked at her suspiciously, remembering a conversation he’d overheard a few days prior. “That ‘something’ wouldn’t happen to be my birthday, would it?” Izzy’s denial might have been believable if he didn’t know her so well. He shook his head. “Izzy, it’s not until January! Just, no surprise party, okay? No strippers or exploding cakes or anything like that. I’m happiest just having a relaxing time with the people I love.”
Izzy sighed. “I sometimes wonder how we can be related. I love you, big brother, but you’re so boring.”
“Alec is not boring,” Madzie objected, frowning up at Izzy. “He’s tall.”
“See, Izzy?” Alec said smugly. “Hey, Madzie, want to ride on my shoulders?”
Madzie shrieked with excitement. “Yes, please!”
Izzy shook her head with a smile. “Talk about biased.”
At some point in the proceedings, Magnus must have called Lorenzo Rey, which made sense. Lorenzo was the High Warlock of Brooklyn, after all, and this matter fell well within his purview. Alec could only imagine the drama that would have resulted if Magnus hadn’t called him in. Luckily, while the two warlocks might never be besties, they had learned to work with each other, even if it was grudging.
When Alec arrived, Lorenzo and Catarina were conferring. Alec nodded hello as he handed Madzie over to Catarina. He turned to find Magnus, only to come face to face with his father-in-law.
Asmodeus looked Alec up and down with undisguised interest. “And who might you be?”
Magnus arrived at Alec’s side so fast that Alec wondered if magic was involved. “Alexander! Thank you for coming to our little soirée. You must allow me to introduce you both. Asmodeus, this is my husband, Alec. Alec, you have of course met Asmodeus before, but since he currently has no memories, it might be best to start afresh.”
Asmodeus extended a hand for Alec to shake. “Ah, so you are the husband I’ve been hearing so much about! Well, my son certainly knows beauty when he sees it. What do you do for a living, Alexander?”
Alec pasted his best ‘Clave representative’ smile on his face. “Please, call me Alec. Without going into details, I suppose you could say that I run the New York branch of an international security firm.”
“That’s quite the achievement for one so young,” Asmodeus said, looking smugly proud. “You are as talented as you are beautiful, it seems. And I couldn’t possibly call you by such a diminutive name. It feels so…informal.”
Alec’s smile sharpened. “If you don’t want to call me Alec, you can always call me Mr Lightwood-Bane,” he suggested with an edge to his voice. “Magnus is the only person I like to call me by my full name. It’s a thing between us, a married thing. I’m sure you can understand why I would find my father-in-law using it uncomfortable.”
Asmodeus frowned slightly. “Oh, very well.”
“Father, why don’t you look through this catalogue and pick out some furniture for your apartment?” Magnus interrupted, thrusting a glossy magazine into Asmodeus’ hands. “Just make a note of anything you particularly like the look of, and I’ll see about getting it shipped as soon as possible.”
“Of course,” Asmodeus agreed, taking Magnus’ obvious brush-off with more dignity than Alec would have expected. “Please excuse me, Alexan— I mean, Alec. I’m sure we’ll have more of an opportunity to get to know each other later.”
“Right,” Alec agreed. He watched Asmodeus settle into an armchair—with the air of someone who was gracing a throne—and turned to his husband. “I’ve got mixed feelings about this,” he confessed. “Is it really safe to have him in his own apartment?”
Magnus was looking slightly frazzled. “It will actually be an extension of our apartment rather than a separate dwelling,” he explained. “I hope you don’t mind. I know I could probably have let him be taken off with the others to the safe-house that Tessa has arranged, but…”
“But he’s your father,” Alec finished. “It’s okay, Magnus. I get that there are complicated feelings involved. You don’t have to explain yourself to me. If you want to look after your amnesiac, ex-Greater Demon, Prince of Hell father; then I’ll support you in any way I can.”
“You never cease to amaze me,” Magnus murmured, kissing Alec softly. He hesitated. “It’s not just about my feelings. There is another—more practical—reason for housing him.”
“You’re worried about people who might want to get their hands on a former Greater Demon? Like maybe, I don’t know, the Clave?”
Magnus winced. “It’s not just the Clave that concerns me, dearest,” he said defensively. “What if an ambitious vampire decided to try and turn him? Who knows what would happen! Then there’s the matter of children.”
Alec blinked. “What children?”
Magnus gave him a significant look. “Any little half brothers or sisters that might be the result of my father running around unattended in an amnesiac state. Who knows what that would result in? As difficult as it may be, I think that it’s better to have him here where I can keep an eye on him until we have a better idea of what’s going on.”
“You’re probably right.”
“As far as we can determine, my father is the only one of his kind amongst the group,” Magnus went on. “For the rest, there are warlocks and werewolves, a couple of Seelie and, according to Maryse, at least three Shadowhunters. But only one pure-blood demon. Only one pure-blood anything, for that matter, since denizens of the Shadow world are of mixed blood by definition.”
“Before I left this morning, you said that none of them had any magic.”
Magnus sighed. “Yes. Whatever happened to them, wherever they were, their magic and their memories have been stripped from them. Catarina has taken numerous blood samples for testing, and I’ve already suggested to Isabelle that a collaboration with the Institute on this matter might be in order.”
Alec raised his eyebrows. “I thought you wanted to try and keep this from the Clave.”
“Oh, Alexander, I know far better than to think that something of this magnitude can be kept from the Clave. Even then, I wouldn’t ask you to divide your loyalties like that. Of course you must report what you discover. I just don’t want the Clave to completely take over this investigation and have everything disappear into the depths of Idris, never to be spoken of again. Lost magic or not, these are my people. I won’t hand them over without a fight.”
Alec nodded. “I think that given the events of the day I should call a Cabinet meeting,” he mused. “I know that Lorenzo is the High Warlock, but it might be a good idea for you to attend this one as well.”
“I would be delighted to,” Magnus assured him. “I wonder if Catarina would be amenable to watching my father for me while I’m gone?”
When Alec returned to the Institute, the first thing he did—after sending out notifications about an urgent meeting—was find Underhill and ask for an update on the Downworld Deputy Initiative. To his pleasure, Underhill had a presentation involving a rough policy document and several possible implementation strategies ready for Alec’s perusal.
A quick glance through showed that it covered the angles Alec wanted and that it had been designed for untroublesome amendment. There were only a few minor changes that Alec wanted to make before it could be presented to the local Downworld leadership. There was enough here to at least get the ball rolling. The Institute really couldn’t continue functioning the way it had been since Jonathon Morgenstern’s rampage. Efficiency ratings were already starting to drop.
It wasn’t that Alec cared about the efficiency ratings just because they looked good. It was about safety; for his people, but also for the Downworlders and Mundanes they were protecting. Hopefully, the Cabinet would agree. Magnus was already onside, and his approval would be highly valuable in his bid to convince the others. If there was one thing their public disagreement over the Seelie/Valentine thing had achieved, it was demonstrating to their small world that while Alec and Magnus might love each other madly, they were both still committed to doing what was best for their people.
The meeting went even better than Alec had hoped it would. The vampire contingent was still a little leery of the whole idea—Simon notwithstanding—but Maia was able to recommend several of her wolves straight away. She also mentioned that she’d been working hard with her pack, strengthening the bonds and ensuring that they all felt safe and happy and were in control of their shifts.
Lorenzo promised that there would be a significant warlock contingent. He was clearly enjoying the power inherent in his position and was just as clearly annoyed at Magnus’ presence at the meeting.
Meliorn was accompanied by another Fae warrior Alec had never met before, although Magnus seemed to be on nodding acquaintance with her. She definitely carried her sword like she knew how to use it. Meliorn introduced her as the Unseelie King’s representative, which was only a little surprising. The Unseelie King was traditionally more internally focused and usually didn’t concern himself much with matters outside the Seelie realm, leaving that to the Queen’s discretion. It made a certain amount of sense that until a new Queen was appointed—and maybe even after—he would be keeping a closer eye on things.
The meeting lasted just over four hours, but by the time it was done a tentative plan had been formed, and the basis for an agreement had been hammered out. It would need further work and then would have to be ratified by each group’s leaders for true legitimacy, but Alec came away hopeful that the first steps had been laid towards something workable that was good for everyone, and that had a chance of lasting.
Provided the Clave didn’t stick their size twelves in and stuff it up.
It was helpful for Alec to have Izzy and Jace on his side, and to be married to the warlock that almost singlehandedly saved the whole of Idris. At present, Magnus and Alec had political capital to burn in Idris. Alec couldn’t think of a better way to use it than to try and set up something that had the potential of building lasting beneficial relationships between the Clave and the Downworld that they had run roughshod over for so long.
Walking over the threshold into the loft, Alec felt the tension and stress of the day lift from his shoulders. No matter how his day had gone, the sensation of Magnus’ wards sliding over his skin never failed to make him feel better.
Arriving home to find their cosy apartment occupied by Asmodeus was a bit of a dampener, but Magnus—who was just as thrilled as Alec by how the meeting went—just pulled him into the bedroom, locking the door and soundproofing the room with a wave of his hand. Dinner would have to wait.
The next week was the closest thing Magnus and Alec’s marriage had come to a test. Asmodeus would never have been Alec’s first choice as a co-habitant, and he wasn’t sure if the memory loss thing was as much as an advantage as it had first appeared to be.
Mind-wiped or not, Asmodeus retained many of the character traits that had made Alec wary of him in the first place. For one, he was very concerned with status. Which he made clear after having the ins and outs of the Shadow World explained to him.
“This, Lorenzo Rey,” he said as the three of them sat down for a very late dinner that first evening. “I understand he is the High Warlock of the region? Which means that he has dominion and influence over all of the warlocks that reside within his area?”
Magnus and Alec exchanged glances. Magnus had already related to Alec exactly how and why Lorenzo had been occupying a terrarium in Magnus’ apartment, a story that Alec had probably enjoyed more than was appropriate. Clearly, Asmodeus’ thoughts were running along the same lines as they had then.
“Theoretically, yes,” Magnus responded, sounding so aggressively casual that Alec had to raise his glass to his mouth to hide his smile. “I myself was High Warlock for many years. I’ll admit, at first I was chagrined that Lorenzo was chosen to fill that role in my place, but I’ve since come to see what happened as the opportunity it truly is.”
Asmodeus didn’t look convinced. “Oh?”
Magnus lifted his wine glass and swirled it around, admiring the vibrant liquid within. “The title of High Warlock does sound very grand, of course, but the responsibilities that come with it can be rather onerous and are rather demanding. Rather than the warlocks being beholden to the High Warlock, it is all too often the other way around. And it’s not just other warlocks. A High Warlock is required to maintain a visible presence in his locality, which quite effectively ties them in place. The High Warlock is in high demand and is required to make their services affordable to all who require them, which limits the acquisition of personal wealth. In all honesty, the High Warlock position was rather expensive to maintain.”
Alec nodded along in support. If his husband wanted to paint himself as a mercenary hedonist, only out for what he could get, then Alec was only too ready to help him.
He recalled reading Magnus’ Clave file, which had him listed as asking ludicrously high prices to perform the simplest of spells, but Alec’s own personal experience gave the lie to that. And that was even before they had begun to mean anything to one another. He’d several times contemplated the possibility that Magnus’ reputation was carefully cultivated to sound uninviting so that he wasn’t inundated continuously with desperate-sounding tales of woe. Magnus pretended to be as prickly as a porcupine, but his soft centre was so incredibly obvious to anyone who cared to look that Alec sometimes wondered how so many people managed to miss it.
Asmodeus frowned. “Are you saying that you don’t owe him your fealty?”
This time Magnus’ laugh sounded genuine. “Warlocks are like cats, father. We give no one our fealty. Some individuals have our grudging respect, of course, and the High Warlock position is one way in which to garner that respect. There are other ways, however. The entire Shadow world knows that I was part of a select group of individuals who were responsible for the destruction of a demonic realm. Before that, I singlehandedly held closed a breach between that realm and this one that threatened the entire world. I really have no need for any title other than my own name.” He smiled at Alec. “Or that of ‘husband,’ I suppose, but that is another matter.”
“Lorenzo offered to relinquish the title,” Alec informed his father-in-law. “Magnus declined.”
Magnus made a pfft noise. “Our dear Lorenzo is finding the High Warlock position is a lot harder than I made it look.” If there was more than a hint or two of gleeful smugness, then Alec couldn’t really blame him. Despite his attitude now, Alec knew that Magnus had been deeply hurt by the decision to oust him as High Warlock. Lorenzo hadn’t helped matters either, with his decree that none of New York’s warlocks could give Magnus any aid.
“Good!” Asmodeus said approvingly. “I’m glad to see that my son is respected amongst his peers. Now tell me, Alec, what are your plans for the future?”
What followed was a grilling, not unlike the ones Alec used to receive from his own parents.
At the Institute Alec was hard at work trying to ensure the Downworlder Deputy Initiative succeeded. He was simultaneously assisting Magnus with the ‘Travellers,’ the name given to the group that had appeared in their apartment. He also had to keep ahead of the Institute paperwork, all while running a standard patrol shift. As one of the Institutes best fighters, Alec’s presence out in the field would have been greatly missed.
There were also a couple of Shadowhunters who had required cycling out when Alec made an Institute-wide announcement that the Downworld Deputy Initiative would be implemented before the month was out. He made it clear that anyone who couldn’t work effectively and professionally with Downworlders, or who took issue with Downworlders being ranked equally to them, should transfer out of their own accord. Alec wasn’t going to be kind to anyone who put the program in jeopardy.
All in all, their loss was a good thing. More left than Alec had hoped, but less than he feared, and it was heartening to know that everyone who remained was at least open to the idea of working together with Downworlders, despite the prejudice they’d been taught from infancy.
After all, it was Clave policy that Downworlders were wrong by their very existence. Alec knew all too well that it wasn’t the easiest thing to challenge the beliefs that you were brought up with, and having so many Shadowhunters that seemed enthusiastic about what he was trying to achieve was heartening.
The Cabinet had agreed that the best thing to do would be to have everyone train together before trying any kind of integration. They wanted to allow groups to form as naturally as possible.
There were understandable limitations; for instance, Simon aside, the Vampires could only patrol at night. The Seelies were much more effective in the parts of the city where nature was more abundant than they were in the concrete and metal warehouse areas. Not that Alec let a person’s species be the deciding factor in their patrol route. Everyone needed to be familiar with everywhere and everything, he just ensured that for the most part people got sent where they could be most effective.
Soon it started to pay off, and Alec could almost feel the walls of the Institute give a sigh of relief as the inhabitants went from a constant state of high tension back to the more common alert readiness. It was a sign that everything was flowing well.
Meanwhile, none of the Travellers showed any signs of regaining their magic, their abilities, or their memories. They remained as Mundane as they had appeared that morning. All except one.
Naturally, the one that would buck the trend would be Asmodeus.
A week after their appearance, Magnus came by Alec’s office to report with some alarm that he had started to get a magical reading from his father.
“It’s only very faint,” he said, “but it is there, and it’s growing.”
“But none of the others show any signs, right?” Alec checked.
“Not a one,” Magnus confirmed. He cocked his head to one side. “It makes sense, I suppose.”
“In what way?”
“Most Downworlders get their strength from their blood,” Magnus explained. “Whether it was blood they were born with or something that happened that changed them, like werewolves and vampires. That was how Aldertree was curing them. He forcibly changed their blood with the heavenly fire. Warlocks are a bit different, our magic isn’t tied to our blood quite the same way, although it is generated from within us. But Greater Demon’s don’t just gain their magic from within, they’re also supported by the magic of their realm as well.”
“Edom,” Alec said. “But I thought Edom was destroyed?”
“Everything in Edom was destroyed,” Magnus corrected. “The realm itself remains. An empty place, to be sure, but still there. It can never be completely eradicated, not without also destroying all the realms that connected with it. To do so would require exacting precision and a great deal of power, more power than belongs to any being that I’m aware of. I don’t think that all the power of the angels and demons combined could achieve it.”
“Is that one of the things the Greater Demons are fighting over?” Alec asked. “Who gets to claim the realm?”
“Most probably,” Magnus nodded. “Of course, they might get a bit of a shock when they do.”
“What? Why? Because Asmodeus is back?”
“Indeed,” Magnus smirked. “Although, I think that Asmodeus’ use of my magic before he was stranded in limbo might also play a part. I would pay good money to see the look on various Greater Demon’s faces when they try to sink their power into a realm that is not, in fact, untethered and open for possession.” He sighed. “I might have guessed that my father wasn’t truly dead when my own connection to Edom wasn’t broken. The upheaval would help explain the inconsistencies I’ve been having with my magic.” He raised an eyebrow at Alec. “I’m sure you recall the time when my spell rather overshot itself, turning a simple time-extension into something far more substantial.”
Alec couldn’t help the smile that spread over his face. Yes, he remembered those extra hours with great fondness. “Okay, I can see that the signs have been there if we’d known what to look for. But wait. If you’re connected to Edom through your father’s blood, and your father’s connection to Edom is why his magic is generating, then why aren’t the other warlocks recovering? Wouldn’t they be connected to their demon parent’s realm as well?”
“It’s not the blood that’s the important factor for warlocks,” Magnus said. “It’s the magic. For Asmodeus… Perhaps things might have gone differently had I not traded my magic to him, and had you not traded for its return. Maybe Edom would be a true blank slate, a prize to be fought over and won by whichever demon comes out on top of the war. As it is, my link to Edom was never severed.”
“Asmodeus came back though,” Alec pointed out. “And since his magic is regenerating then his connection is still there.”
“Exactly,” Magnus agreed. “Even then, there are a few questions that I would like answers to. For instance, I would have thought that even in this realm, his magic should be returning far faster than it has been. Then again, who knows the true ins-and-outs of dimensional magic? If his memories were not gone, no doubt my father would have had some insight, but…” He shrugged.
Alec was reminded of why they were having this discussion in the first place. “Speaking of that, if his magic is returning, does that mean that his memory is too?”
Magnus sighed. “We can’t discount the possibility. This is all made a lot harder, of course, because if my father’s memory is returning, then he will naturally do all that he can to conceal it from us.”
“Do you really think so?”
“You met my father before I threw him in limbo,” Magnus pointed out. “Do you really think that he wouldn’t use whatever situation he found himself to his best advantage? Not to mention that if he does regain his memory, then he’ll no doubt also be remembering me informing him of my plan to knock him unconscious and shove him through a portal.”
Alec winced. Yeah, that might strain even their fledgling new relationship. “I suppose doing something to make sure his memory stays gone would be bad too?” he suggested half-heartedly, not really meaning it.
Magnus rolled his eyes. “I would love to just wave my magic wand and make all the nasty things in the world disappear, Alexander, but unfortunately, we have to deal with reality. And while I have, in the past, been known to tamper with people’s memories, it has only ever been at the request of the person involved. Or their primary caregiver, in Clarissa’s case, and we all know how that turned out.” Magnus gave a theatrical shudder.
Alec shifted uncomfortably. That memory-demon thing hadn’t been his finest hour. Now that he’d experienced what romantic love really was, Alec understood that his feelings for Jace weren’t the ‘endless love’ that he’d struggled with, that he’d been so ashamed of.
The truth is that Jace was not only a good-looking man—who was not related to him, despite their brother-like bond—but the most highly-skilled male Shadowhunter of Alec’s acquaintance. Alec hadn’t really had a lot of options for his pubescent libido to fixate on. Alec and his siblings had been isolated far more than most Shadowhunter children during their training, which Alec had lately realised was a direct result of Maryse and Robert’s desire to keep their exile from Idris secret from their children.
Izzy and Jace had solved the problem of their relative isolation by going out into the city and finding distractions there. However, Alec had never been as interested in that lifestyle. He’d always done his best to be as faultless as possible in the hope that, if he was perfect enough, everyone would overlook the shame of his sexual orientation. It would have been astonishing if his hormones hadn’t focussed on the only target around as an object to fantasise over.
Izzy had always known, it seemed, and she’d never been all that worried about it, concerned more for Alec’s wellbeing and how he was affected than what his feelings might say about him as a person. Perhaps she’d always known that his feelings weren’t the world-ending, shameful, hopeless, pine-away-forever variety that he’d always thought them to be.
It hadn’t helped his confusion that, while Alec enjoyed looking at the male form, he wasn’t interested in one-night stands or short flings. At one point, he’d thought that it was proof that he was in love with Jace and would be forever, but a frank discussion with Magnus about different sexualities had been eye-opening. Maybe his lack of interest in meaningless sex wasn’t proof that Alec was in love with Jace, just an expression of his need to have an emotional attachment to his partner before feeling sexual desire. Magnus had described demi-sexuality, and everything about it made so much sense to Alec. He wished he’d known about that sooner, it might have saved him a lot of heartache.
The culmination of that—the embarrassment of his reaction when faced with the price the memory demon had demanded—was something that still popped up in his dreams sometimes. And really, Jace was his parabatai! After Magnus, it would be a toss-up over whether Jace or Izzy would have been at the top of the list on any given day, so back then the memory demon pulling a memory of Jace as his ‘most treasured’ wasn’t proof of anything.
Alec shook his head, focusing back on the matter at hand. “You mean you could do it in theory?”
“In theory, I could do a lot of things,” Magnus said, narrowing his eyes at Alec. “In reality, there are things that I will not do. Playing with people’s minds without consent is one of them. Besides, Asmodeus is a Greater Demon. There’s no guarantee that what works on a part-human would be effective on him. I, for one, don’t want to find out just what kind of reaction a Greater Demon has to someone playing with his mind.”
Alec sighed. “I knew that. And I wouldn’t ask you to do that anyway, I just wish…”
“That life would slow down long enough for you to get bored?” Magnus asked gently. “There is an old tale of an ancient Chinese curse, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ It’s fake, as far as I know, but I sometimes think we all must have been terrible people in a former life considering what we have to deal with in this one.”
Alec laughed. “So, you believe in reincarnation then?”
Magnus waved his hand. “Not really. I mean, I don’t not believe in reincarnation. Let’s just say that no theory has offered up enough proof one way or the other yet, and so I’m open to many possibilities.”
“You don’t think the existence of ghosts is proof of life after death?”
Magnus raised his eyebrows. “I think that ghosts are proof of magic, my dear. Are they remnants of people who’ve died? Could they be reflections, based on our own memories only, or wisps that take forms they glean from our minds to garner a reaction from us? Any of those could be true. They could be souls that for some reason are having difficulty moving on, or souls waiting in the queue for their chance at reincarnation. They could be anything, and they’re proof of nothing. In truth, I don’t think it really matters. I think I’ve come across far too many people who are far too focussed on what might be coming after they die. The only true moment anyone ever has is the one we’re living through right now.”
“Live in the moment?” Alec asked. “I thought you once told me that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.”
“There’s a difference between living in the moment and living as if each moment is the only one that matters,” Magnus said. “We should live each moment as fully as we possibly can because we don’t know how many moments we have. We should try to do good in the world because bringing joy to others is more rewarding than bringing them pain, not because we’re racking up imaginary brownie points for a future existence that might never happen.” He stopped, looking self-conscious. “Forgive me, Alexander, I didn’t mean to get on a soapbox and start preaching.”
“I like hearing you talk,” Alec said. “Sometimes, the things that you say make a lot of sense. You can clarify thoughts that I’ve had, but didn’t know how to put into words.”
“I’m glad I could be of service,” Magnus said with a short bow. “But I believe we’ve strayed from the topic. I think we’ll just have to deal with what happens with my father as and when it occurs.” He sighed. “Let’s look on the bright side, shall we? It might never happen.”
“Well, it’s definitely going to happen now,” Alec groused.
Magnus smiled at him. “Coincidence is not causation, Alexander. Besides, it’s entirely possible that his new love of art will supersede any nefarious intentions, even if his memory does return.”
Asmodeus had taken to filling his copious spare time by watching art classes online and then trying his hand at the various mediums. Alec didn’t think of himself as a connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination, but to his eye, Asmodeus’s stuff looked pretty good.
He brightened. “You think?”
Magnus patted him gently on the cheek. “I love how hopeful you are, darling. Now, are you just about done here for the day? I’m feeling like Italian for dinner.”
In an effort to drown out his feelings, Jace had taken to going out on patrol three times a day. It wasn’t ideal—studies had shown that Shadowhunters couldn’t maintain a schedule like that for long before breaking down—but Alec knew what battles were worth fighting, and this wasn’t one of them. So long as Jace wasn’t hunting alone, Alec would allow it. And if he checked in with the patrol leaders a little more often than was really necessary, then so be it. He wouldn’t apologise for loving and taking care of his family.
By the end of the second week, they had a few more answers. Not that much had changed with the Travellers—except for Asmodeus, whose magic Magnus reported was continuing to replenish at a glacially slow but nevertheless steady rate—but the tests that the Spiral Labyrinth and the Clave had been running on the blood showed some fascinating stuff.
While the blood of the Travellers clearly displayed markers that were usually only found in the race that they had once belonged to, it seemed that a protein that was only found in Downworld blood was missing.
“Their bodies just aren’t making it anymore,” Izzy said, eyes alight with scientific enthusiasm. “Although we’ve been able to use those markers to narrow down the former species of the remaining unidentified Travellers. Which means that while we still don’t their names, we know that there are three Werewolves, two Nephilim, and two Warlocks.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Magnus said thoughtfully.
Izzy blinked. “I’m sorry, what?”
“That none of the unidentified people used to be Seelie,” he explained. “Warlocks don’t really take a proper census, and we don’t keep proper records. Shadowhunters are extremely numerous. Given the high mortality rate—coupled with instances where bodies might be unrecognisable or even unrecoverable—it’s not surprising that several might have fallen through the cracks. Werewolves, on the other hand, are concentrated into their little packs… Hmmm. There aren’t any Vampires. I wonder why that is?”
“Once we knew two of the remaining Travellers used to be Shadowhunters, we were able to use DNA matching to discover who they were,” Izzy said. “Both of them were reported dead in the Uprising. Since they were both confirmed Circle members, their families didn’t exactly advertise their disappearances.”
“Does anyone have any idea what we should do with them all?” Alec asked since it seemed that no one else was going to address the elephant in the room.
“The Clave has issued a standing offer to house any of the Travellers that wish it,” Alec went on. “I think that even the most trusting and naive of us can recognise that for what it is. I’ve also heard suggestions that the Mortal Cup might be used to restore those Shadowhunters that have ‘lost themselves’ back to their birthright, but with the knowledge that some of them used to be Circle members…” He grimaced. He personally didn’t want to bring that crazy back.
“Is there any way to tell if re-activating their blood will bring back their memories?” Lorenzo asked.
Izzy shrugged. “Not without trying it. And given that the markers are already present in the blood, it might not work at all. A werewolf bite might just be a painful bite, drinking from the Mortal Cup might just be a gross bloody cocktail.”
Magnus tilted his head to one side. “What about the experiments that Aldertree was running, his ‘Downworlder cure?’ I wonder what would happen if we gave that to these people? Would it remove the markers, or have another effect?” He shook his head. “The problem is that the only way to really find out the answers to these questions is by experimenting. Experimenting on live, sentient subjects, which is repugnant.”
“Look, we didn’t do this to them,” Alec said. “Maybe the best thing we can do for them now is to find a place for them in the world, and then let them go off and live Mundane lives.”
Izzy sighed. “The problem with that is that we all know there are people out there who aren’t going to want to leave it at that,” she pointed out. “The Clave has already openly expressed their interest. Can we really guarantee that elements working within it—or the Spiral Labyrinth, the Seelie court, or the Praetor Lupus for that matter—won’t just wait until no-one’s looking, pick up whatever Travellers they can find, and run their own experiments? At least if it’s us doing it, then we can ensure that the ethics have been considered and that the subjects aren’t harmed in any way.”
“I think that no matter what we do, the Travellers are going to be in danger for the rest of their lives,” Magnus said seriously. “Even if we manage to ‘cure’ them, even if all of them have miraculous recoveries where they’re completely back to their former selves, memories and powers intact, then there are still those who would do harm to them in the name of science.”
“I think that the only thing we can ethically do is lay all of this information before the Travellers and let them make their own choices,” Alec said pensively. “They might not have their memories, but their ability to reason seems intact. Catarina has mentioned that a number of them are already chafing at their circumstances. Imprisoning them for their own good isn’t an answer either. Something has to be done.”
There was silence as Alec’s words were considered. Izzy was the first to speak. “Alec is right,” she said simply. “We need to let them choose for themselves.”
Most of the Travellers were sick of hanging around with nothing to do and more than willing to take whatever risks they needed to so they could just get on with living their lives.
Nine of them were concerned enough about being abducted and experimented on that they came together as a group and asked Ayyash, the Spiral Labyrinth representative, if he would be willing to be their advocate for negotiations with the Clave. They agreed to offer up samples and to be part of a test group to see if using the Mortal Cup or being bitten again would assist them, either in regaining their memories or at least by giving them a new community to which to belong.
Three of them were just terrified. Terrified of being captured and experimented on, terrified of undergoing even above-board testing, terrified of regaining their memories, terrified of just living. After some discussion it was agreed that they would be allowed to join the Spiral Labyrinth, to work in the archives there. They consented to be fit with magical tethers that would stop them from running off with the irreplaceable items housed there, under the understanding that these tethers would also keep the warlocks they trust notified about their wellbeing. That meant that if anyone tried anything with them, Magnus, Catarina, Lorenzo, and Ayyash would all know about it right away.
Alec couldn’t help but think that it sounded a lot like prison. It was their choice though, freely chosen, and so he didn’t protest it. He didn’t really have time to spend worrying about them.
The Downworld Deputy Initiative was going forward, full steam ahead. The first Downworlder volunteers that had been endorsed by their leaders were nearing completion of the intensive training programme that Underhill’s group had devised. Unsurprisingly, they were doing very well. Alec would have been shocked if it had turned out otherwise. It made sense that the Downworld leaders would initially send some of their most trusted and capable members so that they could gauge how this new initiative would pan out.
No, the training itself wasn’t the bit that Alec was keeping his eye on. He was more concerned about monitoring the interactions between the various Downworld groups for signs of tension. Even more critical was the Downworlder interactions with the Shadowhunters that would be fighting with them, and vice versa. He made a point of joining several of the training sessions, sharing tips and tricks with the two Seelie candidates that favoured the bow, and taking instruction from one of the vampires in hand-to-hand fighting techniques.
Izzy and Jace both followed his example. Jace appeared thrilled at the chance to beat up a new set of people that hadn’t learned to be wary enough of him yet, and Izzy probably would have joined in anyway, but admittedly took a pretty big interest in how Simon was faring.
Simon had put his name down as a prospective deputy, although he wasn’t formally connected to any of the clans. Given the erratic reputation changes that Simon had experienced with New York’s Downworld population, Alec was a little surprised at the open respect that he was currently being showed by the other Vampire candidates.
“Is it because you’re a Daylighter?” Izzy asked as they all sat down for lunch after the first training session.
“I don’t think so?” Simon answered, sounding confused. “It’s a kind-of new thing. Ever since I had the Mark of Cain removed, they’ve…avoided me, really. Or if they can’t avoid me, they’re very…nice?”
“The Vampires…are being nice to you,” Alec repeated, trying not to sound as unimpressed as he felt. Simon was Izzy’s boyfriend, after all, and while Alec still couldn’t see what she found in him to like so much, he tried to be supportive of her choices. Even if that meant making nice with Simon. Well, as nice as he could manage, anyway.
Simon either didn’t pick up on his lack of enthusiasm or didn’t care. “I know! It’s totally weird, right? They used to be all, “Don’t try and pretend to be one of us, freak,” and now they’re like, “Oh, hey there, please don’t smite me.” I mean, it’s not like I go around smiting people, so I don’t know where that’s coming from.”
Izzy gave Alec a slightly scolding look. “Well, if it’s not because you’re a Daylighter, maybe it’s something to do with the ritual to remove the Mark of Cain?”
Simon brightened. “Oh yeah, did I tell you that Cain is in New York? I’m not sure why he made his way here from France, and I think he’s still living in the sewers, but he’s stopped by my place a couple of times now. I’ve suggested he should stay, you know, because it can’t be fun hanging down with the rats all the time, but he just mutters and leaves.” Simon frowned. “Maybe it’s the idea of having a shower. Cause I told him that if he wanted to put his head down on any of my furniture, he was going to have to wash his hair pretty thoroughly. Or maybe cut it all off.”
Alec was forcing himself to listen with some semblance of politeness. He couldn’t help wondering if this was really everything Izzy had been hoping for. She was directing an indulgent smile at her boyfriend, like he was a particularly adorable puppy.
Alec shook his head, deciding it was none of his business. “I have work I need to get done.” He got to his feet, cutting off Simon’s monologue about whether ancient Vampires really understood the importance and relevance of shampoo. “Got to get back to the office and churn out some more of that riveting paperwork. Good luck with the training, Simon. I’ll see you at the meeting this afternoon, Izzy.”
Izzy smiled knowingly at him. “Bye, Alec.”
“Oh, sure, bye, Alec,” Simon said.
As Alec walked away, he could hear Simon ask Izzy if Alec was mad at him for some reason.
Alec scraped his plate clean and stacked it up, giving his hands a quick wash. Rather than head back to his office, he made his way to the security centre where Underhill was doing a systems-check of the surveillance hardware. “Anything to report?”
Underhill shook his head. “Either she’s being extremely paranoid, or she’s not in contact with any of the rogue groups,” he informed Alec. “Of course, the kind of scrutiny you asked for would miss several covert methods of communication.”
Alec rolled his eyes. “Unfortunately, just because we don’t like her, it doesn’t mean that we can run deep surveillance on her. Just…make sure you do regular irregular sweeps for bugs or other clandestine monitoring devices. I’ll send Magnus down here at least once a week for a magical sweep. Between you both we should at least manage to keep operations somewhat secured, even if we can’t guarantee our people are on the up and up.”
Underhill nodded. “I’ve been talking to two of my officers who are also leaders of their patrol groups,” he remarked, apparently ready for a change of subject. “They’ve both shown preferences about wishing to include certain deputies in their patrol set-up. I was thinking that I should post the sign-up sheets at the end of the week and see how many of our new people get snapped up.”
“There are more than enough candidates for each four-person squad to be assigned one,” Alec said thoughtfully. “Although it might be better—at least at first—to shuffle things around so that the Downworlders join patrol groups in pairs.”
Underhill pulled up the schedule on his tablet. “Are you wanting to reassign the patrol groups to make room, or join patrol groups together and widen their route?”
“What do you think would be most effective?” Alec asked him. “Keep in mind that we’re less concerned about efficiency, and more about making sure that our people—all our people—can work together safely and effectively.”
“Well, with the Downworlder numbers added to ours that puts us well over the optimum minimal numbers,” Underhill said, flicking through several screens. “I think that if it was up to me, I’d join patrols together. That way, each patrol can have two Downworld Deputies, which means that they’re not going to feel isolated and the Shadowhunters are still going to feel like they have control.”
Alec grimaced. “Yes, I see what you mean. This Initiative isn’t going to succeed if the Shadowhunters are resisting. We’ve got to make sure that they’re not made too uncomfortable right off; even if I just want to shake the stupid off them sometimes.”
“We have more warlocks than anything else,” Underhill remarked. “What if we sent each patrol group out with a Warlock and one other? That way, the skill sets will be passed around a little more evenly.”
“Also, if something ‘happens,’ the Warlock will be able to portal the Downworlders out of there,” Alec agreed. “Not that I’m expecting any of the Shadowhunters here to pull something so underhanded. Still, knowing that they have a way out in case things do go wrong will doubtless put our Downworld friends more at ease.”
“I agree,” Underhill said.
Alec rocked back on his heels, thoughtfully. “I’ve changed my mind. While we’re doing a shake-up, I want all the patrol groups shuffled around. Let’s not stick Downworld Deputies into already established teams and leave them to feel like outsiders. That will also give you an excuse to make sure that Penmount and Ashheart are separated and in groups full of people that aren’t going to give credence to any fear-mongering that they might try to start.”
“I’ll get onto it right away,” Underhill promised. “If we’re doing a full reshuffle, are you wanting to keep the eight Shadowhunters to every two Downworlders ratio?”
“Drop that to groups of eight total,” Alec instructed. “One Warlock, one other Deputy, six Shadowhunters. That way there should be enough leeway for some extra rotating leave. Let’s try and start treating our people as though they’re people again, shall we?”
Underhill frowned as he made notes. “I’ll do my best, sir.”
“If you need help, Jace should be free this afternoon,” Alec suggested. “He’s spent a lot of time on patrol recently, so he’ll probably have some useful insights as to who would work best where, and who might be saying the right things, but acting differently when they were out in the field, no longer under surveillance.
Underhill made another note on his tablet. “Was there anything else, sir?”
“No, I think that’s enough to be getting on with,” Alec said. “I’ll see you at the meeting later.”
That night Alec didn’t get home till after nine. He felt it was worth it; the schedules had been worked out to the satisfaction of him, Jace, and Underhill—with Izzy promising to give them a look-over to see if there was anything obvious that they’d missed. Unless something else unexpectedly cropped up, Alec would finally be entirely caught up on Institute business by the end of the week.
It would be the first time everything was properly in order since Aldertree left. For someone who liked to spout off about rules and requirements, and who breathed down everyone else’s necks for their perceived breaches in regulations, Aldertree had left far too much of the administrative side of running the New York Institute undone.
Luckily for Alec, he’d been running the Institute in all but name for years now. He already knew what needed to be done and when it needed to be done by. When various files weren’t where they were meant to be, he knew to go looking for them; and when regular reminders didn’t activate the way they always had in the past, he remembered the tasks involved anyway.
It was almost like Aldertree was determined that whoever followed him as Head of New York Institute would have to suffer. Well, Alec had the last laugh. Now that he was the Head and had complete control over everything—rather than having to defer to his parents’ final choices—things were being run the way he’d been wanting to run them for a while now.
Several internal checks and balances that he’d suggested, that had been dismissed by his parents as ‘micro-managing,’ were now in place and the results spoke for themselves. Even with all the upheaval going on—the roster changes, the rapid transfer of staff—injury numbers were at an all-time low. Even better, under his command, no one had died on a routine mission yet.
He knew that he wouldn’t be able to keep this up forever. There were always going to be those situations that couldn’t be accounted for. Nevertheless, Alec was making history with the Clave for his record as a new Head, figures that meant that his recommendations wouldn’t just be ignored as the ideas of someone new who didn’t know what he was talking about.
Even knowing that the hard work he’d been putting in was necessary and temporary, he still slightly resented it. Now that the end was in sight, he could finally start paying more attention to his home life.
“Hey, Magnus,” he said, smiling gratefully as his wonderful husband set a plate of something steaming and noodle-y in front of him with a flourish. It smelt amazing. “Want to come and have lunch with me tomorrow? I’m finally all caught up after the mess that Aldertree left, and I feel like celebrating.”
Magnus waggled his eyebrows. “Why, Alexander, are you suggesting that we indulge in a little afternoon delight?” He came around the counter to lean against Alec, dropping a kiss behind his ear and nuzzling at his hairline.
Alec frowned. “Is that like Turkish Delight? Cause that stuff’s not all that great.”
Magnus dropped his face and laughed into Alec’s neck. “I promise you that ‘afternoon delight’ is in a whole different realm of enjoyment than Turkish Delight. Don’t worry, I’ll show you tomorrow.”
“You can ‘check on the wards’ again.”
“The wards have never felt better,” Magnus informed him. “I’d be feeling even more unbearably smug about it if I could just figure out what I did that made them that way. I’ve never seen wards so firmly attached to an Institute.”
Alec sighed. “I told Underhill that you would stop by and make sure that no-one’s planted any listening devices in the security sector,” he said, twirling some noodles around his fork and then spearing a slice of onion and a chunk of beef with the tines. “We’ve got at least one person that we think might be working with the rogues. Until we get some confirmation one way or another, I want to be extra-vigilant.”
“Of course, Alexander,” Magnus promised.
Alec closed his eyes to savour his food. Magnus, as always, had provided something absolutely delicious. Alec chewed in bliss.
“I’m truly living my best life,” he declared after swallowing. He opened his eyes and took a sip of the crisp white wine that Magnus had provided. “Seriously, I don’t think life can get any better than this.”
“Oh, my dear Alec,” Magnus said, shaking his head. “You are so easily pleased, and your levels of expectation are worryingly low. But don’t worry, I aim to make sure that you ‘live your best life’ as much as possible.” He waited until Alec had finished his next mouthful, and then darted in for a swift kiss. “Now, eat up. I’ll run us a bath; we can lie back and relax for a little while before bed. My father has informed me that he is ‘Communing with his muse’ and doesn’t intend to grace us with his presence this evening, so we have the place to ourselves.”
Alec hummed contentedly and took another bite.
The next two weeks went by swiftly. Jace continued his self-imposed mission of personally overseeing the training sessions of everyone attached to the New York Institute, and only disappeared to watch over Clary occasionally. Alec had tried to convince him that what he was doing was not just bad for him but an invasion of Clary’s privacy, but Jace had argued that he only ever followed her when she was out and about, to make sure that she was safe. Alec knew that he didn’t have enough people available to set up a dedicated watch for her, and the truth was that she was in some danger, lack of memories or not, so he didn’t argue too hard.
The Spiral Labyrinth very quickly organised new lives for the Travellers that wanted to be integrated into Mundane society and sent them out, with planned weekly check-ins so that they could be kept track of.
The nine that were undergoing tests in the hope that they could be reabsorbed into the Shadow World were still in the safehouse. It had been remodelled, giving those that remained their own private space. Izzy and her team of scientists met with them regularly.
The three who wanted safety had disappeared into the Spiral Labyrinth, and Alec truly wished them the best. All three of them had been warlocks before their trip into limbo, so maybe it felt familiar and comforting on some level.
Asmodeus was still slowly regenerating his magic. Magnus and Alec were keeping a close eye on him to see if his memories were returning as well, but so far, there was no indication that he remembered anything before being dumped out of limbo. The rather impressive portfolio of artwork that he was building up contained nothing to suggest otherwise. Everything was recognisable from people and places he’d been exposed to since his return.
“How long is this going to take?” Alec wondered. “Does magic regeneration usually take this long?”
“No,” Magnus shook his head. “A Warlock would have been back to full strength weeks ago. But then my father is not a Warlock, so we can’t expect to base his recovery on that.”
“What are we going to tell him if he asks about what he was like before he lost his memory?” Alec asked.
Magnus looked uncomfortable. “He’s hinted several times that he wants to know,” he replied. “I’m not sure I can tell him. There’s just too much…history. If it comes up, and you think it’s a good time, you should do it, Alexander.”
“Are you sure?” Alec asked. “I’m not the best person for heartfelt talks, you know.”
“You’re perfect,” Magnus insisted. “I trust you to know when the time is right.”
There were a few small bumps and bruises, but the implementation of the Downworld Deputy Initiative mostly went smoothly. By two weeks into it, most of the rough edges had been dealt with. The Shadowhunters and the Downworlders on their teams seemed to be finding appreciation in each others’ skills.
Every time Alec walked past one of the training rooms and saw mixed groups training together of their own accord outside mandated training times, he felt a warm glow. This was the kind of integration that could make a difference in Shadow World relationships, this kind of acceptance at the lowest, unremarkable levels of their society. Provided that the upper echelons weren’t actively trying to block or sabotage it, this is where the start of real change could happen.
Naturally, it was when everything had started to regain some semblance of calm that the next upheaval happened.
Alec and Magnus had invited most of their close circle around for dinner on a Thursday night, in the hope of providing a broader group of people for Asmodeus to relate to. It was a calculated risk; both Magnus and Alec were cognizant that if Asmodeus regained his memories, he could use the inevitable increased familiarity against their loved ones. On the other hand, they couldn’t keep him shut up forever; they needed to start somewhere.
Everything seemed to be going well. Izzy and Simon were there, along with Catarina and Madzie. Jace had brought Max with him as his plus-one, pointing out Madzie’s presence when Alec had wondered aloud whether it was a good idea.
Magnus and Alec had agreed wholeheartedly that, regardless of the strides she’d been making recently, asking Maryse to make nice with a Greater Demon might be asking too much, especially without Luke. Luke was in Idris, at one of the training stations, taking a refresher on changes made to Clave policy, strategies, and methods, during his time as a Werewolf.
Maia and Meliorn had joined them, which was unexpected and highly enjoyable. Maia’s pack responsibilities coupled with her already busy schedule meant that she wasn’t often available to socialise with, and Meliorn had related that he was under a lot of scrutiny from both the Seelie and the Unseelie court.
The Unseelie King had informed the Clave that determining any remaining internal culpability for the recent cluster-fuck—the late Seelie Queen’s blatant grasp for power that had backfired on her so spectacularly—would be a task for the next Queen.
“That’s rather surprising,” Magnus said, eyebrows raised. “I was under the impression that the Unseelie King’s primary responsibility was internal security. What could be more important than recent events?”
Meliorn looked uncomfortable. “I could not say. Our King has never been one to speak openly of his thoughts, and he has been secluded away with our most powerful sages since our Queen’s passing. Forgive me, but I will say no more.”
“It’s hard to believe that she’s gone,” Simon said. “She always seemed so powerful. So, is there an election, or what? How do you choose her replacement?”
Meliorn refused to tell them exactly how a new Queen was going to be determined, only that it might take some time. Until then, he was trying to keep his nose clean. He did share that not all of the candidates approved of the Fae having close contact with the Mundane world, and since he was the most prominent member of either Court with ties to the outside it was possible that whoever rose to the throne would want to make an example of him.
Izzy and Jace both looked horrified. Alec wished there was something he could do to help, but it was likely that any attempt of theirs would only make things worse for Meliorn.
After dinner, everyone mingled, moving between conversations companionably. Magnus had promised to keep tabs on his father, and Alec was enjoying having all his siblings in one place and not injured or otherwise in some dire straits or life-threatening trouble for once.
If Alec hadn’t been watching Magnus—as he so frequently did—he might not have seen what happened. Magnus was waving his glass in the air to punctuate whatever point he was trying to make to his father when a wisp of blue magic appeared out of nowhere. It wasn’t the familiar deep blue shade that Alec was so familiar with, but a different shade of deep blue altogether. Even as Alec opened his mouth to ask about it, it sank into one of the rings that Magnus wore all the time, making it glow.
Magnus must have felt the tingle and glanced briefly at his hand. When he saw the glowing ring, his eyes widened. With a gesture, his cocktail glass disappeared, and he turned to Catarina.
Catarina had a matching glowing ring on her finger. She looked just as shocked as Magnus. “You said it failed!”
“I thought it did!” Magnus exclaimed. “I followed the instructions to the letter! But there was a delay of nearly a minute, and I presumed that perhaps I’d waited too long, or we’d made some mistake in the brewing process, or maybe we’d got the translation wrong! And then there was—” he broke off abruptly, looking slightly self-conscious.
Catarina made her own glass disappear. “We can’t sit around debating what might or might not have happened when for all we know he needs our help!” She turned to Alec. “Magnus and I have to go. Can you keep Madzie with you until we get back? It shouldn’t take long, but there’s no way of knowing for sure.”
“Of course,” Alec said, wishing he knew what was going on. Magnus was radiating a complex mix of emotions, but he didn’t seem afraid at all, more excited than anything else. “Can you tell me what’s happening?”
Cat gave a short, sharp shake of her head as she knelt in front of Madzie. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but I have Warlock business to take care of that can’t wait,” she explained, the gentle tone of her voice at odds with the restless energy thrumming almost visibly through her body. “You’ll be okay here with Alec, won’t you?”
Madzie nodded straight away. “Alec, can Max stay the night? We could have a sleepover!”
Alec glanced over to Max with his eyebrows raised. Max nodded happily enough, and Jace didn’t seem averse to the idea either. “Why not?”
Magnus came out of their bedroom looking every inch the powerful Warlock that he was. He snapped his fingers, and a small silver case from his workroom flew into his hand. At some point, while Alec was concentrating on Magnus, Catarina had changed clothes as well. Together they bent over the sliver case, magic swirling about them.
“We should take our leave,” Meliorn said gracefully, extending an arm to Maia. “I’m sure we will see you all again, before too long.”
Alec saw them out and then stood watching his husband, trying not to hover too obviously.
Izzy came over to stand next to Alec, watching avidly. “Are you as curious as I am?”
Jace joined them. “If he’s not, then I certainly am.”
Alec snorted. “Welcome to the joy of watching your friends and family run off willy-nilly without telling you what’s happening.”
Izzy had the grace to look slightly sheepish.
Jace tilted his head. “Yes, but when I do it, it’s because I have a good reason. Right now, I think Magnus and Cat are just trying to be annoying.”
Asmodeus watched the proceedings with unconcealed interest. “My son certainly knows the value of a dramatic display, doesn’t he?”
Alec laughed, remembering his dealings with Asmodeus back when he was trying to get Magnus’ magic back. “I think it’s pretty safe to say that he came by that habit honestly.”
“Does anyone have any idea what it’s about?” Simon asked. “Any clue at all!?”
Madzie and Max got bored with watching Magnus and Catarina communing with a silver box and went out on the balcony together. Not long after, Simon and Izzy wandered off together over to the other side of the lounge, leaving Jace, Asmodeus, and Alec to stand watching the warlocks work their magic. The familiar feel of Magnus’ magic was growing richer and wilder, with Cat’s magic bolstering and supporting it. The air had become so saturated with it that his view of them both had become distorted.
Asmodeus was almost looking wistful.
“Are you alright?” Alec asked him.
“My son tells me that of all the Travellers, I’m the only one who has been recovering any part of who I used to be,” Asmodeus said pensively. “He hasn’t explained why that is, precisely, just suggested that it probably had to do with my existence before my sojourn in this ‘limbo.’” He turned to Alec. “I asked him about our shared past on several occasions, and each time he redirected my enquires. He’s quite skilled, at first I didn’t even notice the deflection until afterwards. When one is looking for it, the technique is rather obvious, of course.”
The air around Magnus and Catarina cycled from blue through green to yellow so quickly that Alec almost didn’t see it. The yellow brightened into gold before being sucked into their matching rings.
“He’s truly alive!” Catarina exclaimed. “Although that’s subject to change once I get my hands on him.”
“He’s in France,” Magnus said barely a second later. “Which makes things easier, since there’s only one place he would have considered placing the anchor.” With a twist of his wrist, he opened a portal.
“Magnus!” Alec called, catching his husband’s attention as he moved towards it. “Do you want to take back-up?”
Magnus flicked a warm glance his way. “That shouldn’t be necessary, Alexander, but thank you. I’ll see you when we get back.” Magnus and Catarina walked through the portal, letting it wink out behind them. The swirling feel of strong magic in the air dissipated.
Madzie and Max came back inside.
“I’m glad that’s over,” Madzie said. “That much magic in one place makes me uncomfortable. Alec, can I have an ice-cream?”
“Yes, okay,” Alec replied. “Max, you want to help her with that?”
“Sure,” Max replied. “I know where Magnus keeps the maple syrup, the special stuff from the magical trees in Canada. It tastes like those delicious Belgian chocolates, and it makes even ordinary vanilla ice-cream taste like the most amazing stuff ever.”
“Don’t use all of it!” Alec called after them. “Unless you want your hair to start strobing rainbow colours next time you have an exam!”
When he turned back, it was to see his father-in-law eyeing him with a frown.
Asmodeus raised his eyebrows. “Don’t think you’re going to get out of this discussion, Alec.”
Jace’s shoulders twitched uncomfortably. “You know what? I have this thing that I wanted to talk to Izzy and Simon about, and since they’re right over there, I thought I might just, you know, go over and talk to them about it. Okay?” He sloped off without a backward glance, leaving Alec to talk to his amnesiac father-in-law about his past as a Greater Demon.
Asmodeus waited. Alec sighed. It was completely unfair that this had to fall to him. On the other hand, perhaps it was unfair to ask Magnus to try and explain the fraught nature of his relationship with Asmodeus to this alternate version of him. Maybe Alec was the only viable choice.
“I don’t know all the details of your history together,” Alec warned, guiding Asmodeus onto the balcony so that their conversation could be a little private. Not that it would stop his siblings from eavesdropping if they wanted to, but it made him feel a bit better since he was talking about Magnus’ private business here. “I do know that his feelings towards you were…complicated.”
Asmodeus gave him a look. “Yes, this much I had gathered for myself, Alexan—Alec.”
“Did he ever tell you why you were in limbo in the first place?”
Asmodeus shook his head slowly. “No, although his ability to give the researcher an exact date and time as to the event led me to the conclusion that he was present when it happened. Given that there were no expressions of overwhelming joy at my return, I have developed one or two theories. None of them quite explain why he would be so willing to open his home to me, though.”
“Right.” Alec blew a breath out his nostrils, wondering how he should put this. “How much do you know about the Angels and the Greater Demons?”
Asmodeus rolled his eyes. “I’m aware that I used to be one of these Greater Demons, yes. I’m aware of how Warlocks come to be, also the origins of Werewolves, Vampires, and Shadowhunters. The Spiral Labyrinth felt that before we Travellers could make informed choices about our futures, we first needed to be informed, a sentiment I find great favour with. Stop pussy-footing around the issue.”
Alec squared his shoulders. “Fine. The realm that you ruled, Edom, was also home to one of the other Greater Demons. Her name was Lilith, and she was known as ‘Mother of all Demons.’ As far as I know, you and Lilith were balanced pretty much equally. Your powers manifested themselves slightly differently, but neither of you had any significant advantage over the other.”
“Because of some stuff that would take too long to go into, Lilith was in this realm doing her best to resurrect a Shadowhunter that she considered to be her son,” Alec went on. “To do this, she took advantage of another set of unusual circumstances—don’t ask—and took control of my brother and parabatai, Jace.” Alec indicated Jace, who was on the other side of the balcony door and currently pretending he couldn’t see them. “You’ve met him. Now, has anyone explained parabatai to you?”
Asmodeus nodded. “My son explained that you go through a joining ritual which involves the exchange of pieces of each other’s souls.” He sniffed disapprovingly. “It seems a most unwise choice, to make yourself so completely vulnerable to another being, but it’s not my place to say one way or another.”
“There are drawbacks, of course,” Alec admitted. “There are also numerous benefits. My parabatai and I have already experienced far more than most parabatai do in their lifetimes, endured more of the negative aspects than most ever even hear about. Still, if I could go back and choose again, I would choose the same.”
“If you say so,” Asmodeus said, looking doubtful.
“Back to the subject at hand,” Alec said, not really caring about what Asmodeus thought about parabatai, “Lilith had gained a hold over Jace, who as you know holds a piece of my soul. We had been trying to find a way to remove her influence from him without doing him irreparable harm, but we hadn’t had any luck.”
His shoulders twitched, as he remembered how desperate he’d been feeling, how despairing, how certain that after everything they’d been through he was going to lose Jace. “I was pretty upset,” he admitted. “Magnus knew how I felt, and since he couldn’t think of any way to fix my problem himself, he decided to go to the one person he knew who did have the power.”
“Me,” Asmodeus said, face blank.
“Yes. Magnus went to Edom and asked your price; Greater Demons don’t do anything for free, after all. You told him that you would free Jace if Magnus promised to join you in Edom forever.” At Asmodeus’ raised eyebrows, Alec shrugged. “Magnus said once that he was your favourite son. He’s never elaborated, and I haven’t asked. Anyway, Magnus refused. So…” Alec took a deep breath. “So, you demanded his magic.”
Asmodeus eyes flickered, the only reaction that Alec could read. “Did my son agree to pay this price?”
Alec nodded. He didn’t want to look at Asmodeus anymore, so he turned to look out at the chilly winter’s night. “He did. He returned to this realm in time to see Lilith banished back to Edom during an explosion that we thought was the death of a friend of ours, and found me near death.” He gave a self-deprecatory smile. “Lilith had used Jace against me,” he explained. “I knew that he wasn’t himself. I don’t have it in me to kill him, so it wasn’t hard for him to defeat me. If Lilith hadn’t been intent on hurting him as much as possible by making him draw it out, I would already have been dead. As it was, it was a close thing.”
“My son clearly has the full use of his magic,” Asmodeus murmured. “Something must have changed.”
“Before Lilith was banished, she managed to achieve what she had been striving for,” Alec said. “Jonathon Morgenstern had been risen from the dead. Unfortunately for us, he was a psychopath. Not surprising, really, he’d been raised by a psychopath, trained to be one all his life. There are a lot of other details that are less relevant, except that he was going about, here and there, kicking up chaos. Magnus—who had once been one of the most powerful Warlocks in the world—was helpless against it, without his magic.”
Alec shifted uncomfortably. “I tried to be as helpful as I could, but I confess I didn’t really understand what he was going through. I still can’t, I suppose. He seemed to be coping so well, but he was dying inside. It took me too long to realise that his magic was such an integral part of him. I was selfish enough to be glad that we had a chance to grow old together.” Alec snorted. “Right, like a Shadowhunter on the front lines has much likelihood of reaching middle-age, let alone old age. Let alone the times that Magnus and his magic have been all that’s been between us and death. It was a selfish thought.”
“What opened your eyes?”
Alec sighed. “He took a desperate chance to get even a little bit of magic back, and that chance backfired on him enough that he nearly died. I realised then that even if Magnus survived that particular thing, that he wouldn’t have likely made it much longer. He was dying inside every single day. And because I love him, I decided I would do what I had to do to get his magic back.”
Asmodeus closed his eyes, an expression of pain on his face. “Don’t tell me,” he said, holding up a hand. “You decided to petition me to return my son’s magic to him.”
Alec nodded. “As expected, you demanded a price.”
“What was it this time?”
“You told me that I had to break his heart,” Alec said, remembering how awful it had been to have to make that decision. “You told me that I had to break his heart for good. You promised that after I broke his heart, you would give his magic back.” Alec shrugged. “Magnus has loved people and lost them before,” he explained, sounding defensive even to his own ears. “I figured that he’d make it through losing me too. But he needed his magic to be whole, and at least I could do that for him. Even if he hated me, he’d still be around for that.”
Asmodeus looked disgusted, although Alec couldn’t tell if it was because of all the rampant emotionalism he was being exposed to, or because of the actions his past-self had taken. Or both. “Am I to infer that you broke his heart, as instructed?”
“I did,” Alec confirmed. “It went about as well as I thought it would. Afterwards, I tried to concentrate on work. Jonathon Morgenstern was still making trouble, so there was plenty to do. First, he managed to get hold of Morningstar and used it to open a rift between Idris and Edom. Then, he destroyed the sword so that it couldn’t be used to reverse what he’d done.”
Izzy, Jace, and Simon approached, which was all the proof Alec needed that they’d been listening.
“The towers fell, and demons poured through the tear to invade Alicante,” Izzy said, eyes distant. “Each one we killed just respawned in Edom and flew back through the rift. It was never going to stop…it was the end of the world.”
“It would have been,” Alec agreed. “Izzy and I went out there prepared to do what we could to distract the demons long enough for the non-combatants to get to shelter, but we both knew that it was going to be our last fight.”
“And then Magnus was there,” Izzy said. “Making bad jokes, and ripping demons apart with his magic, as though it had never been gone. Like he’d never been without it.”
“I told him that he couldn’t be there,” Alec remembered. “I was terrified that his magic would be ripped away from him again, and I didn’t know if I would be able to go through with giving him up twice. He told me that he knew about the deal I had made, that I didn’t have to worry about you coming between us ever again.” Alec sighed. “It was only moments later that he realised the only way to boost his power enough to hold the rift closed meant that he would need to stay in Edom, forever. So we had to say goodbye anyway.”
“He’s clearly not in Edom,” Asmodeus pointed out.
“It wasn’t long before we heard that Lilith had started gathering an army to destroy him,” Jace said. “We knew we needed to get there to help him, quickly, but we also knew that if we tried, we’d die. We don’t have demon blood, and let’s just say that demonic realms aren’t interested in hosting those of us with angel blood.”
“Alec asked me to turn him into a Vampire so that he could go,” Simon offered.
“Izzy forbade me from doing something so reckless, and then, the moment our backs were turned, ran off to save Magnus all by herself,” Alec said, glaring at his sister.
She tossed her head. “I said the heavenly fire would protect me, and I was right. I thought I could use it to harm Lilith, and I was right there as well.”
“You nearly died,” Alec pointed out. “The heavenly fire nearly burned you up. If Clary hadn’t found a way to get us all down there, and if her rune hadn’t worked to share our angelic blood around, then we would have been exchanging your life for Magnus’. Which…no, Izzy. That’s not okay.”
Izzy glared back at him. “Chances are the heavenly fire would have ended up killing me anyway,” she said. “I wanted my death to have meaning. More meaning,” she said, glancing at Simon.
“Because you wouldn’t have even been in that situation if you hadn’t been shielding me,” Simon said.
Jace rounded on him. “Yes! Why were you even there? We told you not to come!”
“I don’t take orders from you!” Simon said. “And it’s a good thing I did! If I hadn’t, then we might not have been able to save Magnus!”
Alec shook his head. When Clary and Simon had exploded into the Shadow World, he’d tried to make them see that just running off all over the place without knowing what they were doing was making all of their lives much harder.
Neither Clary nor Simon had been interested in listening, and their actions in those last couple of days before Jonathon’s final death showed that they hadn’t changed at all in that regard. Simon ran off and inserted himself into an operation that had been carefully planned out, resulting in Izzy being peppered with shards of Glorious. Clary, having just been given a clear ultimatum by the Angels, went ahead and defied them without even discussing what alternatives might be available with the people closest to her.
Yes, disaster had been averted, but this constant scraping a win by the skin of the teeth and dumb luck wasn’t a workable strategy long term, and if they kept pushing their luck they could end up screwing up big time one day.
Not that he wasn’t grateful for the good that had come from the messes they’d made, but Alec couldn’t help but think that if there had been less running off and more careful planning, then a lot of awful things might never have happened.
Alec reigned his thoughts in. “So, to answer your original question,” Alec said to Asmodeus, “as you can see, you and Magnus didn’t have the best relationship before you lost your memory. And you were in limbo because that’s where he put you. It was the only method he could think of to get you out of his life for good.” He hoped that he was doing the right thing and hadn’t screwed up everything. Magnus might have given him permission to tell his father the truth if the subject ever came up, but that didn’t mean that Alec couldn’t get it wrong.
Asmodeus nodded slowly. “I thought it might be something like that. Now, if you will excuse me, I think I might retire for the evening. I have a lot to think about. Please leave me alone.”
“Okay then,” Alec said, watching him go. He wished he knew what to do. Should he go after Asmodeus, or abide by his stated wish for solitude? He looked helplessly at Izzy, hoping that she would have a better idea, but she just shrugged at him.
“I really hope that doesn’t blow up in your face,” Jace said, not sounding concerned at all.
“Oh my god, you mean Magnus really threw his own father into limbo?” Simon squeaked, looking half horrified and half impressed. “Wow, you people in the Shadow World really do things differently than they did where I was brought up.”
Alec bristled at the implied slight to Magnus. “You know nothing about Asmodeus’ and Magnus’ relationship,” he snapped. “You’re in no position to judge anything.”
“Easy, big brother,” Izzy said, laying a hand on Alec’s arm. “I’m sure Simon didn’t mean to sound like a judgemental asshole.”
“No, no, of course not!” Simon said. “Although, you have to admit that it’s a pretty harsh thing to do.”
“I can’t deal with him right now,” Alec said to Izzy, slashing his hand through the air to indicate that he was cutting off the conversation.
He stalked off to the kitchen to see what Max and Madzie were getting up to. It had been suspiciously quiet over there for long enough to be slightly concerning. As he walked away, he heard Simon say, “Wow, I thought that getting laid on the regular would get that stick out of his ass, but I guess that’s just the way he is naturally.” At which point Alec deliberately tuned them both out.
Max and Madzie had managed to find not only the ice-cream and Magnus’ special maple syrup, but also the raspberry compôte. Going by the state of their bowls and the empty ice-cream container, they’d taken plenty of advantage of their lack of adult supervision.
Alec felt better immediately. “It’s a good thing that you’re not Mundanes,” he said, fighting back an involuntary smile. “I hear that they have something called a sugar-coma.”
“Yeah?” Max said, with the triumphant smirk he always wore when he was going to get away with something. “Then you’re right, it’s a good thing that we’re not Mundanes.” He dropped his spoon back into the empty container. “Have you guys finished talking about all the serious stuff for now? You know, the stuff you think that we’re too young to know about?”
“Yeah, we’re done,” Alec replied. “Come on, you two. Time to get cleaned up. If you can get clean and into bed in under half an hour, I’ll let you borrow Magnus’ tablet to watch a movie on.”
“Yay!” Madzie cheered. She snapped her fingers, and she and Max were instantly clean. “Come on, Max! I want to watch Frozen!”
“Again?” Max sighed long-sufferingly. Madzie gave him a pleading look, and he capitulated. “Fine. But this is the last time.”
Alec turned to survey the rest of the mess they’d left in the kitchen, and wished he’d thought to include cleaning up after themselves in his demands.
Not long after Max and Madzie got packed off to bed, Izzy and Simon said their goodbyes. Izzy offered to stay in case Magnus and Catarina came back needing help, but Alec had already had enough of Simon for the night.
“I’ll call you if I need you,” he promised, saying goodbye to them at the door. “But I don’t expect to, so I’ll see you tomorrow.”
That left him alone with Jace, who had made himself comfortable on the couch with a glass of something amber and strong-smelling.
“This stuff of Magnus’ is much better than the stuff you get in a bar,” Jace opened with.
“The stuff that Magnus gets is probably significantly more expensive than what you can just pick up in a bar,” Alec pointed out. He poured out what was left of the red wine into his glass and sat in his usual place on the couch. Magnus’ spot beside him felt glaringly empty. Alec dropped his head back to stare at the ceiling. “What a fucking terrible evening.”
“Hey, it could have been worse,” Jace pointed out.
Alec groaned and lifted his head to glare at him. “Come on, Jace, you know better than to say things like that!”
Jace just grinned. “You want to lay bets about what the emergency Magnus and Cat had to deal with was?”
“No,” Alec growled, letting his head thump back down. He sighed. He wished Magnus would finish whatever it was and come back.
“You are so whipped,” Jace observed.
“Good,” Alec replied shortly.
Jace’s answer was quiet. “Yeah, it really is.”
Alec lifted his head to look at him enquiringly.
Jace shrugged. “Until Magnus came along I didn’t know just how unhappy you were,” he mused. “What kind of parabatai was I, that I didn’t realise that about you? I mean, I knew you weren’t a box of fluffy ducks. Thank the Angel.”
Alec snorted. Jace’s weird aversion to ducks would never not be hilarious. And he was right. Alec had never in his entire life been described as ‘a box of fluffy ducks.’ By anyone. At any point.
“It took Izzy opening my eyes to the fact that you were forcing yourself into a marriage of duty to make me take notice, and finally fucking recognise the sustained misery that you had been feeling all along. I thought that it was just the way you were. I mean, you had happy moments, you know? Izzy, and Max, and me, and sometimes when Mom would tell you that you did well. I thought, when I noticed how it was, that that was when you were happy.”
Alec didn’t know what to say. He’d been hiding who he was for longer than he’d known Jace, so he didn’t blame Jace for accepting the façade he’d presented as truth. In fact, until Magnus, until he’d begun to believe that he could have what he wanted and that he wasn’t a deviant, he hadn’t felt truly happy for years. Not since he’d realised how different he was, and that he would never be accepted. He would never be okay. After that, even his happiest moments had been tempered by his need to hide his shame.
“But if your engagement to Lydia was the duty that Izzy insisted it was, and your emotional landscape hadn’t changed so much as deepened, that meant…I didn’t want to accept what that must mean.”
Alec felt a twinge of shame for how he’d treated Lydia. She was far kinder than he deserved in the aftermath of what must have been a profoundly humiliating moment. She still insisted that he wasn’t to blame. Alec was glad that she seemed to be doing well in the Brisbane Institute, and that it wasn’t one of the Institutes that Jonathon had hit on his final rampage.
Maybe once everything calmed down, and the Shadow World was stable, he and Magnus could take a holiday down that part of the world. They could stop in and spend some time with Lydia that wasn’t overshadowed by the demands of trying to run an Institute while dealing with being under the Clave’s magnifying glass, and a brewing Uprising.
“The contrast of how things were then, and how they’ve been since you and Magnus started dating…” Jace shook his head. “Even when things between the two of you were at their worst, even when you’d broken up over that whole Mortal Sword thing, it hasn’t been that bad again since.”
Alec shrugged. All this talk about him and his emotions made him uncomfortable.
Jace sighed. “The happiness you feel is like…like this constant glow of contentment that’s surrounding me all the time. Sometimes it even drowns out the emptiness that losing Clary left me with. Right now, I don’t know how I’d cope without it. So yes, you’re whipped. But you’re so completely, incandescently happy, that I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He snorted. “And it’s not like Magnus isn’t whipped too. Together you guys are so in love it’s almost sickening.”
“Even more sickening than Izzy and Simon?” Alec asked, not bothering to try and hide his smile.
Jace snorted again. “That romance isn’t going to last. I mean, Simon’s an okay guy. He’s been through a lot, and I kind of respect him. But Izzy’s not going to be happy playing house for long. Personally, I think the whole thing is your fault.”
“Excuse me?” Alec objected, feeling insulted. “I’ve never tried to tell Izzy who she should or shouldn’t date. It’s not like there’s anyone that even comes close to being good enough for her, so if she wants Simon, then she should have him. I’m not going to throw them a party, but I’m also not going to try and break them up.”
“No, I mean it’s seeing how happy you are in a long-term committed relationship that has Izzy wondering what she’s missing out on,” Jace explained.
“That doesn’t make sense,” Alec muttered. “We’re completely different. Just because something works for me, doesn’t mean that it will work for her.”
“It’s something that she’ll have to figure out for herself,” Jace replied, yawning. “Hey, do you mind if I just kip here for the night?”
“Go right ahead,” Alec said absently, still considering the whole Izzy and Simon thing. “I’d offer you a bed, but the kids are using the spare room.”
Jace shifted around, kicking off his footwear and shrugging out of his jacket before lying down lengthways on the sofa. “This is fine; just bring me a blanket or something?”
Alec heaved himself out of his seat and did as instructed, before heading to bed. If Magnus needed him, he could wake him.
Alec managed nearly two hours of sleep before Magnus and Catarina arrived back.
He was woken by the feel of Jace’s shock, and the following loud exclamation of, “You’re dead!” got him leaping from his bed. He grabbed the seraph blade that he kept close by and threw himself into the lounge to confront whatever undead nightmare had made its way through Magnus’ wards to threaten his parabatai.
It turned out to be less of an undead nightmare, and more of a surprised looking Warlock. A recognisable Warlock, at that. Accompanied by Magnus and Catarina. Alec lowered his blade.
“Alexander!” Magnus said, looking delighted to see him. “I’d like to introduce you to one of my oldest friends, Ragnor Fell. Ragnor, this is Alexander Lightwood-Bane, Head of the New York Institute, and my husband.”
Alec was suddenly aware that he was only wearing a pair of boxer-shorts—a precaution he’d taken because of Max and Madzie’s presence, thank the Angel. He and Magnus had learned that one the hard way. “Uh, hello. Nice to meet you.”
“Husband?” Ragnor Fell asked incredulously. “A Shadowhunter? A Lightwood? Just how long was I incapacitated for?” He glared accusingly at Catarina. “You let him do this?”
Catarina scoffed. “What makes you think Magnus would have taken my advice even if I wanted to change his mind?”
“You were gone far too long, my friend,” Magnus said. “About six months all up, I believe.”
“I’m going to go and put some more clothes on,” Alec said to the room in general, before turning around. His whole body felt warmer than usual.
“Please don’t feel like you need to hurry away on my account,” Catarina teased, wandering over to the drinks trolley. “Wow, Magnus.”
“Openly drooling is unattractive, Catarina,” Magnus responded. “Blondie? What are you doing on my couch?”
By the time Alec re-emerged—feeling a lot less vulnerable in a t-shirt and some sweatpants—everyone was sitting around with drinks, except for Magnus who was at the bar mixing Alec his preferred strawberry daiquiri.
Magnus handed over his glass, leaning up for a kiss. “Come celebrate with us, darling.”
Alec took the glass and kissed him back. “I thought Ragnor died,” he murmured. “Wasn’t he killed by a demon?”
Magnus waved that away. “He was only mostly dead. Luckily, the three of us long ago made preparations for such an eventuality. As soon as Biscuit and Blondie left, I enacted our plan.”
Jace was glowering. “You mean I’ve been feeling guilty about getting one of your oldest friends killed for nothing?”
Magnus raised his eyebrows. “Were you feeling guilty? I confess I didn’t notice.” He pulled Alec over to their preferred couch and carefully arranged him so that he could drape himself comfortably over his lap. Alec allowed himself to be positioned, taking a sip of his drink. Lovely.
“I suppose that an infatuation with this fellow makes your appearance at my cottage with Shadowhunters in tow a little more understandable,” Ragnor mused, swirling the liquid in his glass in a circular motion. He took a sip and grimaced. “Does the lack of demanding red-head mean that you managed to locate the Book of the White?”
“Yes, but I’ll have you know that my feelings for Alec weren’t the only reason that I was helping Clarrisa,” Magnus replied indignantly. “At the time, Valentine was a genuine threat, and it seemed to me that having someone who knew him as well as Jocelyn did on hand could only be beneficial to the cause.”
“Well, whatever you did must have worked,” Ragnor drained his glass. “Much as I’ve enjoyed this little catch-up and this…delightful…horse piss that you’ve tried to disguise as brandy, my wards must all be getting a bit tatty by now. I should really go and do something about that.”
“Ah,” Magnus said, casting a desperate look in Catarina’s direction.
“Don’t look at me, Magnus,” she said. “You were the one who decided the ritual didn’t work. You were the one who was so sure that Ragnor was dead. You explain to him about the dismantling of his prized library.”
“I thought I’d waited too long,” Magnus explained. “You didn’t react at all, and I wondered if perhaps we’d brewed the potion wrong, or we mistranslated the text, or—unlikely though it is—maybe I mispronounced one of the words. I initially followed the usual steps—brought all of your effects to my place and closed down your cottage—but then I was visited by your ghost, Ragnor! That proved my fears correct, and it made me rather angry with you for leaving me so abruptly, so rather than store your things away where I would have to deal with them again later, I…”
Ragnor rolled his eyes. “Just tell me without all the dramatics, Magnus. What did you do with the collection of rare books and artefacts that it took me over six centuries to accumulate?”
Magnus sighed. “I donated the lot to the Spiral Labyrinth.”
“Oh.” Ragnor tilted his head to one side. “Well, that’s fine. I have a standing agreement with the Great Library, which includes clarification of ownership after an assumed death. Provided I present myself in person within two calendar centuries and can pass the tests to prove that I’m me, that is.”
Magnus sat up straighter, digging his elbow into Alec’s stomach. “What?”
Ragnor looked amused. “You mean, you haven’t come to a similar agreement? My, my, Magnus. How positively reckless of you.”
“If you already have an arrangement with the Spiral Labyrinth, one that you trust, why were you always so insistent that your things should never fall into their hands?”
“Because I know you all too well, my friend. I’ve seen the way you react to the deaths of your dear ones, and I had no wish for my belongings to be consumed in some enormous bonfire of spiteful mourning.”
Magnus sniffed rudely but relaxed back into Alec without otherwise responding.
Catarina hid a yawn behind her hand. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m more than ready to get some sleep. Ragnor, are you coming with me or staying with Magnus and Alec?”
“I believe I’ll come and stay with you,” Ragnor responded with alacrity. “Lodging with newlyweds has never been something I’ve enjoyed.”
“I don’t want you to stay here anyway!” Magnus insisted petulantly. Alec didn’t believe him. Judging by the looks on their faces, neither did anyone else.
“Does this mean that I can get some sleep?” Jace asked grumpily. “Warlocks jabber worse than children.”
Alec decided not to tell his parabatai that his hair had suddenly become a decidedly fetching shade of blue. It reminded him of the colour of Magnus’ magic. Jace would surely find out on his own.
It wasn’t until after Alec and Magnus had seen all their overnight guests home in the morning and Asmodeus was uncharacteristically absent for breakfast that Alec remembered to tell Magnus about the conversation the night before.
“Thank Ruschmann for that,” Magnus said fervently. “What a shame I happened to be otherwise occupied and therefore missed the whole thing. How did he take it?”
Alec shrugged. “I have no idea. He said he had things to think over and just went back to his rooms.”
Magnus frowned. “Hopefully he doesn’t plan to just get his memories back and pick up where he left off.”
“I don’t really mind him like this,” Alec admitted. “It’s not really optimal, though, is it? Just waiting and watching for the day his memories return.”
“Who’s to say they ever will?” Magnus responded flippantly. At Alec’s look, he sighed. “No, no, you’re right, of course. Hmmm. If it’s going to happen, then it might as well happen sooner rather than later. Perhaps we should ensure it happens in a controlled environment.”
“You mean before he gathers more possible ammunition against us?” Alec asked.
“I’m not sure that really matters,” Magnus replied. “My father was always a master at exploiting any weaknesses he could perceive, and he was also excellent at spotting them. On the other hand…”
“Since it happened, I’ve thought of several other methods he could have utilised to orchestrate a break-up between us,” Magnus said. “At the time we had some issues that we’d been ignoring rather than dealing with. His bargain with you…the open nature of it…it just wasn’t really his style.”
“What does that mean?” Alec asked.
“I’m not sure,” Magnus responded. “It could mean one of several things. Nothing I’ve come up with explains all of his actions.”
Alec shook his head, fondly. “You know, Asmodeus said something very similar last night? He’s built up a couple of theories about your actions, but none of them answers all his questions.”
Magnus narrowed his eyes. “What are you trying to say to me, Alexander?”
“Nothing,” Alec lifted his hands in the air in a placating gesture. “Just an observation, that’s all.”
Magnus’ expression smoothed out. “Oh, who am I kidding. I’m too elated to be properly annoyed this morning. Ragnor is alive, Alec! Alive!”
“Yeah, how did that come about exactly?” Alec asked.
“We’d found a ritual,” Magnus said. “It was a rather complicated thing, and its efficacy was never guaranteed. There were too many variables, not the least which, was that we knew our translation was imperfect, at best. Since it was always going to be a final resort, possible side effects weren’t our biggest concern. So… When a Shax demon ripped Ragnor open, I waited just long enough to get Biscuit and Blondie out of there and then completed the final step of the ritual.”
Alec nodded, remembering what Magnus had said the night before. “You thought it failed?”
Magnus sighed. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he admitted. “When I couldn’t see any difference, I just followed the steps that we’d planned out and activated his Sommeil Fou.” At Alec’s confused look, he rolled his eyes. “I suppose you could call it a personal dimensional capsule. It’s a complicated piece of magic that Ragnor, Cat, and I designed together for purposes such as these, but its performance in an emergency has been largely untested. I was hopeful, rather than expectant. When he showed up in my living room as a ghost, I felt sure that meant that it hadn’t worked and he’d passed on.”
Alec blinked. “You saw his ghost? Is that something Warlocks do? Haunt people after they’re dead?”
Magnus waved his hands in the air in sweeping gestures. “Who knows what ways a Warlock’s residual magic might choose to express itself after their death? Of course, given that Ragnor turned out to not be dead then it obviously wasn’t his ghost that was visiting me.” He frowned thoughtfully. “I wonder what it was?”
“Good morning,” Asmodeus said from the door.
Alec twisted around in his seat to greet him. “Good mor—” the rest of the word died in his mouth.
Asmodeus was dressed for maximum emotional defence. He was wearing an outfit that Magnus himself might have put together on the days when he wanted to remind everyone that he was an all-powerful badass Warlock and that he didn’t care what anyone thought.
“Magnus, I want you to take me to Edom,” Asmodeus commanded. The performance was only slightly ruined by the way he twiddled with his cufflinks, a nervous tick that Alec had seen Magnus use more than once. He should probably be worried that he found that endearing.
“Edom was destroyed,” Alec said helpfully, wondering what Asmodeus was leading up to.
Asmodeus gave a haughty sniff. “My research has indicated that a Greater Demon’s well-being is inextricably tied to his realm,” he asserted. “Mapping Demonic Energies states that while inhabiting other planes, most demons are unable to access the greatest of their powers. It goes on to hypothesise that only by killing demons in the realm that fuels them can one be sure to vanquish them forever. Otherwise, their essence reforms and the Demon respawns.”
Alec already knew that, of course. It was the reason why the rift Jonathon opened into Edom had been such a terrible thing. It meant a continuous flow of Demons. Every Demon they killed just respawned back in Edom and immediately headed back for another go. Such an onslaught might be contained for a time, but would ultimately have meant the end of the world.
Asmodeus continued talking. “As it has been observed that my magic is regenerating, then it logically follows that Edom must still be there, must still be connected to me.”
Magnus straightened to his full height, dialling up the natural commanding presence he so often displayed when dealing with threats. “Given what Alec told you last night, why on earth do you think I would be willing to take you directly into the seat of your power?”
Asmodeus lifted his chin. “Because you would rather it happen under your auspices, and therefore your control, than have me find my own way there.”
Magnus nodded once. “True. Very well, I agree to take you to Edom.” He raised a hand as Asmodeus took a step forward. “Not today, however. The events of last night and the magic I expended have left me slightly depleted, and I have no intention of risking a trip to Edom while not at my full power. I will also be asking at least three of my Warlock friends to accompany us.” His eyes narrowed, his earlier playfulness gone. “Take it or leave it, Father.”
Alec shifted slightly in his seat as his body reacted to Magnus’ ramping up his authority. Unfortunately, there wouldn’t be enough time to deal with it before his morning meeting at the Institute. Maybe Magnus would be willing to stop by for lunch again. It shouldn’t be too hard to convince him to try a little more ‘afternoon delight.’
Since the integrated patrols had begun, Alec had limited the amount of time he allowed himself to hover in the Ops area, since a helicopter Institute Head wasn’t conducive for positive morale. He still went over each of the Patrol Logs with a fine-tooth comb, focusing on areas where the reports differed. He hoped to gain the insight needed to assist Jace in fine-tuning their training strategies to take advantage of the many new skills that the Institute had available to them.
Things between Magnus and Asmodeus had warmed up slightly from that distinctly chilly morning when Asmodeus asked to be taken to Edom. Magnus had started talking Asmodeus through the mechanics of using his magic.
“Is that wise?” Alec asked.
Magnus shrugged. “As his system becomes more saturated, then it will become more and more necessary for him to have conscious control. That was one reason why it was so important to get the difficult revelations out of the way now. The last thing we need is a fully powered Greater Demon with no control of himself, reacting emotionally. I’m not sure even my wards would be able to handle it.”
“Who are you taking to Edom with you?” Alec asked. “Catarina and Ragnor, I suppose? Who is the third?”
Magnus frowned. “Both Catarina and Ragnor declined my invitation, so I’ll just have to make do with Lorenzo.”
Alec’s eyebrows rose. “Lorenzo? Lorenzo Rey? Lorenzo Rey, who was recently turned into a lizard by the father who you plan to return to his seat of power?”
Magnus’ smirk was a little bit evil. “Lorenzo Rey, the High Warlock of the city that I, a registered Warlock, reside in? Why, Alec, didn’t you know it’s part of a High Warlock’s duties to provide their constituents with support when dealing with their demonic parents?”
Alec shook his head. “One day, you’ll both stop trying to wind each other up.”
“Today is not that day,” Magnus intoned, looking at Alec expectantly. When Alec didn’t respond, he sighed mournfully. “So much that you’ve missed out on.”
Given the quite reasonable concerns about Asmodeus’ reaction to Edom, Alec was a bit annoyed that Magnus categorically refused to take him along too.
“But what about the lingering effects of Clary’s rune?” Alec asked. “Remember when I blew up a tablet? Doesn’t that mean that I still have some kind of access to Warlock magic?”
“You might be right,” Magnus admitted. “However, you might be wrong, and I have no intention of endangering your life on a ‘might.’ Your life is needlessly risked far too often already, Alexander.”
Alec folded his arms across his chest. “Well, if it’s so ‘needlessly risky’ then why are you going?”
“You know why I’m going. And at least we know the landscape isn’t going to try and kill me as soon as I arrive.”
Alec sighed. “I don’t like it. You should have more than just Lorenzo to watch your back. I would probably be fine.”
Magnus refused to be moved from his stance, and the next day when Alec talked about it with Izzy and Jace, he discovered that he didn’t have any support there either.
“Magnus can take care of himself,” Izzy said, rolling her eyes at him. “Now that Lilith isn’t around to plot his death, he’ll be fine.”
“It’s not like Asmodeus was trying to kill him even when he did have all his memories,” Jace reminded him.
“That was before Magnus deliberately threw him into limbo,” Alec pointed out.
Izzy sighed. “What exactly do you plan to do if Asmodeus gets his memories back and immediately tries to incinerate Magnus? Lilith already made it clear that adamas weapons aren’t really all that effective in Edom. Either Magnus will be fine, and your presence not required; or Magnus will be destroyed, with nothing you can do to stop it. Once again, your presence is not required.”
“What if Asmodeus imprisons him or something?” Alec asked.
Izzy’s eyebrows rose. “Why are you even asking questions that you already know the answer to? Magnus is a big boy, he knows how to take care of himself. Just let him do what he needs to do without you looming over him and distracting him.”
Alec sighed. “I’m not very good at letting the people I love walk into danger without me.”
“We know,” Jace said.
Hearing a familiar swishing sound, Alec reached out and caught the fire message that came whipping through the air towards him. It was from a Kalda Furie, the High Warlock of Ottawa, and it informed him that they’d come across what appeared to be one of Valentine’s secret bases.
Ottawa had been one of the Institutes that Jonathon had wiped out, and the Clave presence there was currently mostly made up of young and inexperienced Shadowhunters and what admin staff Idris could spare.
Given that there wasn’t much of a rapport between the newcomers and the local Downworld leadership, it perhaps wasn’t all that unusual for them to contact Alec with this information. Clave response to Downworlder requests for assistance had never been a fast process, right now it was practically glacial.
Alec looked at his siblings. “Want to go and raid one of Valentine’s secret bases?”
Kalda was right, the place was one of Valentine’s hidey-holes. One of his more personal and private ones, given the size and scope. It was a small underground bunker, ringed with angelic runes for hiding. The runes were probably replenished frequently while Valentine was still alive. Now that they’d been left for a while their power had started to wane.
Even better, it seemed that this particular bolt hole was where Valentine liked to stash some of his paperwork.
“Why even write all of this down?” Izzy asked, stacking the numerous journals they’d found into boxes for transportation. The books were all rune-locked with blood protections, which might have been an issue if Izzy didn’t have a stockpile of Clary’s blood that would do the trick.
“Megalomania?” Alec replied, looking around to see if there were any signs that they’d missed something. He was already planning the best way to word the report he was going to have to write about what they’d found there. “Jace, I’ll leave you to make sure that we get everything. Make sure to lock things up tight behind you, I’ll want to send another team by in a month or two just to check again.”
“Sir, yes, sir!” Jace said with a mocking salute.
Before taking the portal back to New York, Alec took the time to thank Kalda personally for her help.
“You’re the only Institute that we can be reasonably sure isn’t led by a covert Circle member,” Kalda said frankly.
Alec winced. It was a fair point. Since the Consul had been discovered to have been in Valentine’s back pocket, the continued suspicion of the Downworld was a reasonable response. The Clave had tried to take a harder line in the wake of those revelations, with Maryse’s deruning and exile being one example. However, since the Clave tended to keep its inner workings a secret from the rest of the Shadow World, it wasn’t shocking that they were sceptical that any real change had been made.
In all honesty, Alec wouldn’t be confident betting money on it either. The Clave had really shot themselves in the foot with the way they’d handled Valentine and the Circle the first time around.
Alec arrived back in the Institute just in time to witness Penmount being forcibly escorted inside by her own patrol group. When she saw Alec, her face twisted briefly in hatred before smoothing out into a blank mask.
Alec turned to Underhill with an eyebrow raised.
“We’ve got that proof you wanted,” Underhill said with a sigh. “One of my security team, Clara Blauwald, caught an outgoing message sharing details of a current mission that could have compromised the safety of high-ranking members of the Institute.”
Letting her co-conspirators know about the discovery of Valentine’s base, no doubt. “Where was the message being sent?”
Underhill shook his head. “As far as we can ascertain, it’s the first step of a relay. I’ve woken up my two best technicians, and they’re working on it. I’ll let you know when we have anything useful.”
Alec nodded. He wasn’t surprised, but he was a little disheartened. Still, going by the glares Penmount got as she was marched towards the cells, there weren’t many who sympathised with her. Either that or they were pretty good actors.
Unfortunately, Penmount’s arrest meant that Clave would be drawn to the discovery of Valentine’s base a little sooner than Alec would have liked. It would have been nice to be able to look over everything thoroughly before the Clave got their hands on it, but that plan was down the drain now.
Since that was the case, the best strategy would be to make sure the report made it as far up the chain as possible right away. Alec smirked to himself as he marked the notification with the code that would ensure that Jia Penhallow would have it on her desk by the end of the day.
Given her insistence on poking her nose into the New York Institute’s business, he’d taken to copying her into several of his day-to-day matters. It was entirely possible that she’d see another communication from him and just shove it to one side, to be dealt with later.
Penmount’s arrest ended up turning into a bigger mess than Alec had been expecting. Rather than the small group of disaffected Shadowhunters that disliked Alec’s efforts of integrating the Shadow World together, it quickly became apparent that he’d uncovered an illicit splinter group that appeared to have incorporated the remaining undiscovered Circle members. Unlike Valentine’s group, there would be no easily identifiable runes to give them away.
Unfortunately, the data relay that Penmount had been messaging was set up in such a way as to make the identification of the recipient/s very difficult. The final destination was a server in Bengaluru that was then manually accessed. It was the electronic version of a dead drop, with no surveillance of the area and therefore no way to make a record of who had been picking up the info. Penmount’s arrest was too public for any kind of sting operation to be successful.
At least they knew of the groups’ existence now, which was more than they had before.
Jia Penhallow came to escort Penmount to the Gard herself, accompanied by three Shadowhunters from Alicante. Alec listened to her thanks for his vigilance with a straight face. That much was expected. What was not expected was what came next.
Jia looked down her nose at him. “Given our current personnel problems and the news of this covert group operating within our society, the Council has decided—in emergency session—that for the time being any assets of Valentine’s that are discovered are to come under your authority.”
Accustomed as he was to dissecting the meaning of the Clave’s decrees and then working out ways to simultaneously follow his orders to the letter and also achieve what he wanted, Alec didn’t take long to decipher that particular order. The Clave wished to test him, test his Institute.
Some within the Council would be only too keen to see him fail, of course. But there were also more liberal thinkers trying to steer the Clave towards inclusion rather than the isolationism that they’d operated under for so long.
“Of course, Consul,” Alec said, mind racing over the implications and possibilities. “We’ll endeavour not to disappoint.”
“See that you don’t.” Penhallow left with her prisoner.
It might be a test, but it was also an opportunity. Alec planned to take it with both hands.
He immediately summoned the trusted mini-council that he’d put together to help him run the Institute. He called Magnus, asking for his presence too. Now that Magnus was no longer the High Warlock, Alec could ask for his assistance without it becoming a political mess.
It did mean that he had to deal with Lorenzo for anything official, but then, since Clary’s binding rune he’d found Lorenzo a lot easier to get along with. He’d asked Magnus if it was an expected side-effect, but Magnus hadn’t been able to give him an answer. He did agree that it most likely didn’t hurt matters.
When everyone that he’d called had gathered, he told them gravely that Christmas was cancelled.
“It’s like all your childhood dreams come true,” Jace said with a snort, breaking the silence. Izzy laughed softly.
Alec let the grin break over his face. “I told you that you would regret calling me a grinch.”
“Of all the pop-culture available, this is what you recognise,” Magnus mused, looking mildly entertained.
“Come on, we need to get on top of this,” Alec ordered, although he was still smiling. “This cache is going to be hot property; we don’t want to give anyone a chance to steal it from us.”
“Alec, I’ll need two of my assistants taken off patrol,” Izzy said, immediately making plans. “We need to work through the stuff we found as quickly as possible, get everything logged and recorded. Once that’s been done then the physical items become less valuable.”
Alec nodded. “I’ve been given carte blanche to deal with this information how I want,” he reminded them. “We need to decide the best way to proceed with the knowledge we find. Do we suppress it in the hope that other disaffected Shadowhunters don’t use the information, or do we publish it far and wide, make sure everyone knows all the sordid details?”
“The Clave tried to clamp down on any mention of the Circle after the First Uprising,” Jace pointed out. “It ended up being more of a help to Valentine and his goals than a hindrance. I vote that we publish.”
Alec winced. “There might be stuff in there about you, Jace.”
Jace stared at him, jaw set stubbornly. “I know. And obviously, I would prefer not to have the details of my upbringing made common knowledge for everyone to gawk over. But this is bigger than my feelings.”
“What about Clary?” Izzy asked. “He probably had plans for her too. Letting all of that out for everyone to see might bring her into more danger.”
Jace’s shoulders twitched. “She’s already in danger. If there are any signs of overt interest in her, we can deal with the situation then.”
“I can discuss matters with Lorenzo,” Magnus offered. “There might be more we can do to safeguard her. I would be willing to help fund a protection detail if it comes to that.”
“Thank you,” Alec nodded. “Hopefully that won’t be necessary. Right now, we can’t be sure what we’ll find, what weaknesses he was planning to exploit. It’s entirely possible that by publishing this information, the Clave will come under attack. If that happens—in fact, even if it doesn’t—elements in the Clave might try to hold us accountable. We need to be aware of this before any decisions are made.”
Alec saw the same conflict on his fellow Shadowhunters’ faces as he was feeling. The instinct to protect the Clave, protect Idris, was strong. It was an instinct that had been instilled in him as a child. But he’d learnt over the last few months that what was best for Idris wasn’t necessarily what was best for the Shadow World.
Alec knew what his choice would be. “Jonathon Shadowhunter asked Raziel for power to protect the world from Demons,” he said, feeling the certainty of what he was saying deep within himself. “Not for glory, or so that he could be held above those he was protecting. A big part of me wants to protect Idris, but Idris…” He shook his head. “Idris has protections the rest of the world lacks. I refuse to limit myself, my mission, to what is best for Idris. That kind of thinking is what has kept the Shadow World divided all this time.”
Izzy gave him a proud look. “I agree. The safety of Idris is no more important than the safety of the Spiral Labyrinth, or the Praetor Base.”
Jace and Underhill both nodded.
Magnus beamed at them. “This generation of Shadowhunters continues to amaze and delight me. If you decide to go forward with this plan, every effort of mine that I can give will be put towards it. You know that if you tell the Clave your plans, they will rescind their order and make releasing Valentine’s knowledge an act of treason.”
“Which is why we have to act fast,” Alec agreed. “Izzy, you can have as many people as you think you need. I suggest that you take advantage of our new Deputy Initiative and sift through the personnel records to find people who have the right skills to join you. Magnus, given the delicacy of this operation and the need for secrecy, I’d like you to do whatever you think is best to safeguard them and their project until we can release the information that we gain.
“When we’ve recorded, logged, and copied everything, I’ll want at least five back-up copies taken and hidden in various locations. As soon as that’s done, we present what we’ve got to the Shadow World.”
Underhill and Alatini looked a little overwhelmed, but Jace and Izzy were both fired up with enthusiasm. His siblings had always liked railing against authority, and this was practically waving their naked asses at the Clave and daring them to take their best shot.
“They’re going to crucify us,” Underhill muttered.
Jace and Izzy turned to reply, but Alec beat them to it. “Yes, they are,” he admitted. “I fully expect that this action will see me demoted at best, de-runed at worst. I’ll do my best to shield the rest of you; I’ll make it clear in the documentation that you were ordered to take these actions, but the Clave isn’t actually stupid. There will inevitably be repercussions for you as well.”
The sound of Magnus slapping his palms down on the table was a sharp retort. “If the Clave tries to take punitive action against those here for holding up the stated mission of the Accords—which, I’ll remind you, is the shared responsibility of all factions of the Shadow World—then they will have me to answer to. Me and every ally that I can convince to act. I will not see you being made into a scapegoat, Alexander. Nor the rest of you either.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Alatini said. “The Clave is currently not in a position to be making unpopular choices, and by making Valentine’s information public, we’ll be increasing that pressure. Also, at this point, we don’t actually have any idea what we’re going to find. Valentine was nuts, we all agree on that. We may yet discover that this whole bunker was where he was storing his family’s secret tomato sauce recipe.”
If there was a prize for synchronised eyebrow-raising, Alec’s Council would have won it.
Alatini shrugged defensively. “I know it’s not probable, but it is possible. My point is, let’s not start making plans for nuclear war before we check the armoury. We could find anything from super-soakers to core-crackers.”
Alec made a mental note to find out what a super-soaker was. “You have a point. We should find out what we have before making hard and fast plans on what we should do with it. First, can anyone think of anything that we’ve overlooked?”
He looked around. No one had anything to say. “Right. Izzy, make your personnel choices and get the names to Jace. Jace, I want you to reshuffle the patrol schedules so that Izzy has who she needs. Once you’ve got that worked out, double-check it with Underhill. Alatini, you’re going to be our official project head. I want you to oversee everything to do with the information gathering as well as the bunker safety/security. That will also mean that anyone who wants to target the information is going to be aiming at you.”
“Thanks for that,” Alatini said dryly.
Alec leaned forward. “Do not go anywhere unless you’re accompanied by someone on Underhill’s approved list until this matter is taken care of. Magnus, I know that you have that Traveller issue to deal with. I would be grateful if you could recommend one of Lorenzo’s people—not one of the Deputies—for me to request as a back-up in your absence. Izzy, you still have the Traveller research, along with your duties as weapons-master. I want you to delegate as much of the organisational part of that as possible to Jace. And Jace…”
Jace was grimacing, but not arguing. “I get it. I’ll be a general go-between and paperwork ninja.” He sighed. “I hate paperwork.”
“I know,” Alec said sympathetically. “Look on the bright side, whenever you feel cooped up, you can do an impromptu training exam.”
“It’s something I’ve been thinking of implementing,” Alec explained. “We’re expected to put in five to ten training hours each week outside of our usual duties for maintenance of our fighting skills. My recent inspections have shown that most of our people are falling into a rut rather than mixing things up.”
Jace shook his head. “That’ll get them killed.”
“Exactly,” Alec agreed. “My plan is to have semi-frequent, tournament-style training sessions. They’ll be on the schedule, but the participants will be randomly selected. No two sessions will go the same. The idea is for everyone to get practice fighting everyone else, not just their buddies, and for them to practice fighting styles and weapons that they might not have picked up since training. Until we get it set up though, I want you to have ‘irregular’ training sessions. Just pull in anyone who’s not on duty and give them an hour-long workout.”
As expected, Jace thought that idea was great and started coming up with ideas on the spot. Alec left him to it.
Two days into their newly frantic schedule, Izzy sent Alec a message marked ‘URGENT’. It had two files attached, so Alec opened the first one curiously.
It was some of Valentine’s records on his experiments with Angelic blood. As they’d come to expect from Valentine’s private notes, there were ramblings mixed in with more scientific notations.
It made for sinister reading. It was clear, by the manner he was talking about them, that Valentine had known where to find Jocelyn and Clary all along. His plans were convoluted though, and he’d found ways to use Jocelyn’s paranoia to his own advantage. He’d stationed people in Clary’s schools, keeping a close eye on her development.
Valentine had initially intended for his daughter to be a control subject for the different training methods he was trialling with Jace and Sebastian. Later he was going to use her as a breeding option—for either or both of them.
There was more than one long rambling discourse on the effects of the more potent blood and the differences between the Angel blood and the Demon blood, but also the similarities he noticed between his two ‘sons’. He even contemplated at length about experiments he’d done based around the bloodlines of his followers. Valentine had studied the differences between the offspring of those who’d chosen their partner based on attraction and those who submitted to arranged marriages and speculated on possible biological reasons for the attraction they felt.
His conclusions inevitably circled back around to the angel blood that they held and how it made them superior to both other part-humans, and humans too. There were some rambling regrets that he’d dosed Jace with Angel blood rather than Demon, but in general, Valentine seemed to think that his dynastic plans had great merit. By joining his own bloodline back to the Herondales’ and adding the Angel blood and Demon, he fully expected to produce the closest thing to a full Angel that the Nephilim had ever seen.
That’s where the first file cut off. Alec swallowed hard and opened the next one.
These entries were dated years later. Valentine had decided on a plan. He intended to allow/encourage Clary and Jace to produce children until a female was conceived, at which point Valentine would enact one of several different plans he was concocting, depending on the circumstances.
He intended to ensure that Lilith’s blood was introduced to the foetus so that the girl-child produced would have the blood of both Angels and Demons. The girl-child would be taken from her parents and raised by Valentine, groomed to be Sebastian’s wife.
The resulting offspring would be the birth of a new race of Shadowhunters, a race that would rule over the Shadow World, with Valentine himself guiding their steps.
It made Alec feel sick to read it. His stomach sank when he realised why Izzy ensured that he saw it. Jace needed to know about this, and Alec was the best one to tell him.
Looking back, Alec couldn’t help but see how Valentine’s theories on the attraction Jace and Clary would feel because of their shared blood had played out exactly as he had expected them to. The way Jace and Clary had so instantly been drawn to each other, their near obsession, the instant trust. To know that it was something that Valentine had engineered, something that he’d counted on to fulfil his sick and twisted plans…
Alec sighed. There was no easy way to handle this. Jace needed to know before this information could be spread far and wide. It might even change Jace’s mind about their plans going forward.
Magnus was still two days away from his trip to take Asmodeus to Edom. Perhaps Alec should invite Jace over to their place, so they could have this discussion in a safe place. A safe place that was well stocked with booze.
Jace arrived, looking concerned, just as Alec was getting ready to text an invitation. “What’s wrong? I can feel that something’s wrong.” His hand rested lightly over the spot where the parabatai rune was.
Alec sat back down. “Izzy sent me… There’s some stuff about you in Valentine’s journals. About his long-term goals, and about the reasoning behind some of his choices.”
Jace set his jaw. “Tell me.”
Alec shook his head. “Not here. Come over tonight, have dinner. I’ll make sure Magnus stocks up on that cognac you like so much, and I’ll ask him to have a hangover cure ready for the morning.”
“It’s that bad.”
“Fine.” Jace spun on one heel, exiting the office.
Alec waited until after they’d eaten to start the discussion, hoping that, since the resultant drinking would be happening on a full stomach, Magnus would be able to ensure there was no danger of death or dismemberment by stupidity or by alcohol poisoning.
As expected, Jace wasn’t thrilled to discover that Valentine had planned for his and Clary’s instant infatuation. Had worked towards it before they had even been born.
“How can I be sure anything I feel for her is real?” Jace complained, after draining his glass. “The moment I spoke to her, I was drawn to her. I’ve never felt a connection like that before. The closest I’ve ever come to it was that time when it was just Alec and me, alone against a whole pack of Raveners. Now I find out it was a trick?”
Magnus shrugged, topping-up his drink with a twirl of his fingers. “It’s not that shocking, surely? As soon as I discovered the link you both had to Ithuriel, I suspected that to be a contributing factor to your fiery romance.”
Alec turned to look at him. “You did? Why didn’t you tell me about it?”
Magnus raised an eyebrow. “It was just a theory, and I couldn’t see any way to prove or disprove it. It seemed to me that there was no point in bringing it up unless it became an issue.” He looked towards Jace, now staring mournfully into his glass. “Does it really matter to you one way or another?”
“Yes!” Jace replied. “I thought that we were soulmates, you know? That we were fated to be together, brought together by a higher power. Made for each other, designed to be each other’s perfect compliment. And it turns out that we were destined and brought together, but the higher power was Valentine! How can I trust that what I feel is my own doing, and not something he orchestrated? Just another thing that he trained me for?”
Alec grimaced. “There’s no such thing as fated soulmates, Jace. And if there were, you wouldn’t want one. You hate even being told what shoes to wear.”
Jace stared at him. “What are you talking about? Of course there’s such thing as fated soulmates. It’s…it’s…romantic! The ultimate romantic connection! You don’t think that you and Magnus are meant to be?”
Magnus shook his head. “Oh, Blondie, no. What Alec and I have…we’re not fated, or destined. And he’s right, there’s nothing romantic about your choices being made for you by a third party, no matter who that party might be.”
“But you’re the most sickeningly in love people I know! How can you think that you’re not soulmates!”
“We’re two highly compatible people who met at a time when we were both wanting the same thing,” Magnus explained. “I would have thought that the ups and downs we’ve experienced would be enough proof of that. There was an instant attraction, of course. It then developed into feelings that I’ve never experienced before, not with anyone. I’m the happiest I’ve been in my long life, and losing Alec would be devastating, but I’ve never considered us to be soulmates.”
Jace looked nonplussed. “That’s…I always thought…”
“Anything that involves predestination removes any semblance of choice,” Magnus pointed out. “Even if you think you’re the one choosing, how can you be when it was already chosen for you? It’s almost like extremely advanced roofies. No more your choice than if you’d been dosed with a love potion.”
Alec shrugged. “Think of it as an arranged marriage by a different name. Don’t get me wrong, arranged marriages are fine, so long as everyone is consenting, aware of what’s going on and what’s expected. But they’re not inherently romantic.” He remembered what it had been like to stand at the altar with Lydia, moments away from signing his life away. How absolutely freeing it had been to realise that he could choose.
And he had. He’d walked down that aisle and kissed Magnus, burning all his bridges at once. For the first time in his life, he finally felt free, felt more like himself than he ever had before. He’d faced everyone knowing that for better or worse he’d just publicly made a statement that could never be recanted.
Jace gaped. “But you risked everything, your standing with the Clave, your opportunity to run the Institute, for love!”
Magnus gave him a pitying look. “We’re not in a romance novel, Blondie. Those are fiction. We weren’t in love. We had a strong physical connection, and despite our disparate backgrounds, mutual respect. There was compatibility there that we both recognised. With Alec, I felt open to possibilities that I had closed myself off from.
“When he informed me of his plan to irrevocably tie his life to a person for whom he would never feel attraction, to gain approval from an institution as capricious as the Clave…it made me desperately sad. Not only for what I might miss out on, but because I could see that living such a life would inevitably crush someone like Alec. He wears his integrity on his sleeve, and that marriage would be living a public lie.”
Maybe Alec should have discussed this with Jace a while ago. Who knew that Jace, serial womaniser, had been reading romance novels? Although, given that Maryse had banned them from the New York Institute when she caught Izzy reading one, perhaps Jace’s familiarity with them wasn’t such a surprise.
“Magnus and I hadn’t even been on a date,” Alec pointed out. “I wasn’t risking everything for him, I risked everything for a chance to be me, to explore that side of myself that I had always thought was so shameful. Magnus… I’ll admit, he was the tipping point. I had a moment of clarity when I saw him standing in the doorway. I could continue forward on a path that only ever made me miserable, or I could take a chance.” He shrugged. “It turned out that he was even more incredible than I already thought he was, and he thought I was incredible too. But we’re not soulmates.
“When Asmodeus made me promise to break his heart as payment for giving his magic back, I did it, because Magnus’ magic is a part of him. He sacrificed a part of him to save a part of me, because he loves me. I love him too, and my sacrifice was much easier to make because I know that Magnus doesn’t need me.” He smirked at Jace. “He just wants me very, very badly.”
Jace screwed up his face. “I’ve asked you not to wave your sex life in my face all the time, Alec.”
“How sad for you,” Alec replied as deadpan as possible.
“I’m less concerned about Valentine’s dynastic plans and more worried to discover that he was keeping tabs on Biscuit all through her childhood.” Magnus twisted a ring on his finger contemplatively.
“I know; it’s pretty creepy,” Jace acknowledged. “It’s not surprising that I was left alone so much, now that I’ve discovered how many other irons he had in the fire. When did he find the time?”
“It’s worse than creepy,” Magnus replied. “It means there was a leak, one that neither Jocelyn nor Luke picked up.”
“You not including yourself in there?” Alec asked.
Magnus sniffed. “Of course not. Other than completing one or two small tasks for Jocelyn—”
“Like wiping Clary’s memories,” Jace interrupted.
Magnus glared at him. “Jocelyn felt that it was safer to keep her distance from me. I was, after all, the most recognisable Downworlder in New York. I can’t say that I minded. Recent events had made associations with Shadowhunters, of any kind, a rather risky proposition.”
Alec frowned. “If you were such a notable Downworld figure, then how was it that Izzy, Jace and I had never heard of you before Clary came on the scene?”
Magnus gave an elegant shrug. “How am I supposed to know why you Shadowhunters do the things you do? Perhaps you were more focussed on demon-hunting than on checking up on the ‘Who’s Who’ of the local Downworld.”
“Well, Izzy and I used to go to Pandemonium all the time, and we never saw you,” Jace said frankly. “I think I would have remembered. If I didn’t, Izzy certainly would have.”
Magnus waved his hand. “I might have been in the habit of using a glamour to disguise myself from Shadowhunter eyes.”
“It doesn’t matter right now,” Alec said, remembering why they were talking in the first place. “What matters is that unless we do some heavy-duty redacting, this information is going to be widely circulated soon.”
Jace frowned, then shook his head. “We can’t afford to play favourites with this, Alec. You know that better than I do.”
Alec just looked at him. “You’re my parabatai, Jace. My actual soulmate, the one I chose. There are a lot of rules that I’ll break for you. You know that.”
“Yeah,” Jace’s smile was twisted. “You shouldn’t do that, you know.”
Alec shrugged helplessly. “I can’t not.”
“Yes, yes,” Magnus interrupted. “You both love each other very much, etc. and so forth. I’m sure that in an hour you’ll be weeping into each other’s hair and proclaiming your eternal devotion. Right now, we need to make sure that everyone’s on the same page, and that Blondie is prepared for the undoubted fallout.”
Jace grimaced. “The Clave has already questioned me rather thoroughly about Valentine. Thank the Angel that I won’t have to go through that again.”
Magnus sighed. “But that’s the point we’ve been making. The Clave’s actions are always secretive. The rest of the Downworld wasn’t privy to the questioning, and there will be some who will not trust any actions the Clave has reportedly taken on the matter. Not with the scars of recent history still so fresh. You might find the Downworld…difficult…for a time.”
Jace set his jaw pugnaciously. “I don’t care.”
Alec exchanged a look with Magnus. “Yeah, that was convincing.”
“I’m not going to run around crying in everyone’s faces because of my sad childhood and my mean father!” Jace insisted.
“I’m not suggesting you do,” Magnus soothed.
Alec snorted with laughter. Jace and Magnus stared at him. “Oh, come on, can’t you just see it? Jace on that show you showed me, with that famous opera woman, crying about how he’s not his father and the world doesn’t understand him.”
Magnus’ brow furrowed. “Opera woman…do you mean Oprah?”
Alec nodded. “That’s the one. She likes guests who cry all over her, right?”
Magnus’ lips started twitching.
“I’m glad that you’re enjoying yourselves,” Jace said, crossing his arms.
Alec waved a hand. “One day, when you’re feeling a little less raw, I’ll show it to you. Trust me, you’ll find the idea as funny as we do.”
Jace looked unconvinced.
“Getting back to our Biscuit,” Magnus said, redirecting the conversation. “I think that we’re going to have to do something about this memory loss of hers. Leaving her like she is at the moment isn’t tenable. As soon as these documents are made public, she’ll be under even more threat than the Travellers are. After all, there are fifty or so Travellers, but as far as we can tell, there are only two of Valentine’s experimental children still around.”
Alec exchanged a look with Jace. “Magnus,” he said, carefully trying not to sound accusing, “if you know how to fix Clary’s memory, why are we only hearing about it now?”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. If I knew how to restore her memory, I can assure you I would have done so already.”
“Then how…” Jace asked.
“Why, by going to the people who took it away, of course. We’ll need to talk to the Angels.”
Alec blinked. “Right. Why didn’t we think of that?”
Magnus waved his hands. “I didn’t mention it before because it’s not something to be taken lightly. Getting the Angels’ attention is difficult and somewhat risky. If we get my father’s memories back, he might actually be useful there.”
Alec raised an eyebrow. “Right. Because he’s known to enjoy being useful.”
“Well, he’ll owe us a favour. Best to use it up quick, and this would be perfect. But we’re going to have to wait until we get back from Edom.”