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Tipping the scales

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Alec was twelve when Valentine's Circle overran Alicante, forcing every Shadowhunter loyal to the Clave to flee Idris, to abandon their Institutes all over the world, and to seek refuge in the mundane world amongst their Downworld brethren instead.

Even now, more than ten years later, no one is entirely sure how the wards were brought down, how exactly Valentine and his loyal Circle and those weird forsaken creatures - that barely make a difference between friend and foe - got into Alicante without anyone noticing.

Although, everyone kind of assumes it likely had something to do with the truly staggering number of spies and moles and traitors who had apparently been hiding themselves within Alicante and who promptly crawled out of the woodwork to stab former comrades in the back as they joined Valentine’s ranks during the invasion.

It had been chaos, making it all the easier for Valentine to take over Alicante, forcing everyone else to flee the city originally given to them by the angel Raziel himself.

That thought alone still stings sometimes.

+++

The attack had come in the middle of the night.

No one had expected it. No one had even considered that Valentine might so much as attempt a takeover, much less that he could possibly ever succeed.

They were all taken by surprise, utterly unprepared for the pure viciousness of the attack, forcing them to flee and scatter all over the world.

Insidiously, the first part of the invasion had been done in the dead of night, pure, cowardly stealth, as the Circle crept through the city, specifically targeting the more well-known, more powerful families in Alicante. And by the time the first alarms actually sounded around Idris, a devastating number of loyal Shadowhunters had already been killed, most of them in their own beds, never even having seen an attack within their own walls coming.

The Silent City and Adamant Citadel immediately went on lockdown, closing their walls to protect their secrets and priceless artifacts from those who might seek to take what wasn't rightfully theirs.

Of course, Alec only heard about all of that afterwards, seeing as his family had been living at the New York Institute back then.

Still, he remembers that night with perfect clarity, remembers the yelling and the confusion and the obvious fear from his parents and holding on to his siblings while not entirely understanding what was going on.

There are especially two images from that night that Alec thinks he will never be able to forget.

One is of his mother, standing in the doorway to his bedroom, backlit by the red flashes of the Institute’s alarms from the corridor behind her, face pale, one hand on her pregnant stomach, the other holding on to a sleepy Izzy's hand, as she urged Alec and Jace to get their coats and shoes and wait for her in the entrance hall.

The other image is of his father.

Not the one of him yelling instructions in the Ops center, alerts from other Institutes requesting backup against invaders flashing on the screens, as he assigned groups of Shadowhunters to follow him to Idris to help defend Alicante, and others to stay behind and defend their own Institute if need be.

In the end, they hadn't succeeded in either.

Because the other image seared into Alec's brain is of the next time he had seen his father later that same night, only eleven of the forty-three Shadowhunters he had led to Idris still with him, plus those who had stayed behind to defend the Institute, all of them bleeding, roughed up, and with a desperate sort of helpless anger around them that Alec hasn't been able to forget until this day.

And he remembers holding on to Izzy and Jace on either side of him as the adults talked urgently between themselves, voices grim, expressions angry, eyes desperate, remembers his siblings leaning into his sides, clearly exhausted but so very wide awake with the obvious fear they were picking up from the adults.

He knows his siblings didn't quite understand what was happening at the time, had been more than a little confused at finding themselves standing in a random back alley still in their pajamas with only their coats on top.

He knows that even now they can't remember everything that actually happened that night.

But it had been different for Alec. He had been just old enough, had already been training as a Shadowhunter for long enough, had been receiving schooling as the Lightwood heir for even longer, had spent enough time studying Clave-Downworld politics, knew enough of their history on both ends of the spectrum, to realize even then why his mother had looked so absolutely terrified when the alarms had sounded in the middle of the night. The alarms that signified the Institute's wards were down.

Of course, as much as he had gotten the gist of what was going on back then, these days Alec knows even more about the reasons why his parents had been honestly terrified, not only for themselves but also for their children. Knows that with his parents having once been part of the Circle and thus having personally betrayed Valentine when they left, they would never have received any sort of mercy from the Circle if any of their family had ever been caught.

And without a safe place to retreat to, his parents simply hadn't stood a chance of escaping Valentine, not with his mother heavily pregnant and with three children in tow, two of them their own and one of them adopted barely a couple of months ago, none of them fully able to defend themselves, not against Circle members and not against any Downworlders who might decide to take this chance to get their revenge against the Clave.

So, Alec also knows why, as much as his mother’s general disdain for Downworlders hasn’t really changed, to this day there is a certain gratitude in her voice when she speaks of those first couple of weeks after they had been forced to leave the Institute behind.

Because, that night, in their absolute helplessness and with nowhere to turn to, his parents had done the only thing they could think of.

They called the resident High Warlock for help.

Which turned out to be the best damn decision they could possibly have made.

Because as soon as he heard of Idris’ fall, Magnus Bane had not only sent word to every other High Warlock around the globe, but he had also immediately put the entire city of New York on lockdown, had called in the warlocks under his jurisdiction, combining magic to put up city-wide defenses, wards that somehow spanned most of New York's metropolitan area and locked out any nephilim who weren't already within city limits.

And then, in contrast to most other places, Magnus Bane had decided to extend the protection of his wards to everyone who had a reason to hide from Valentine and his Circle, Downworlders and Shadowhunters alike.

New York's Shadowhunters might not have realized it right away, but as more and more cities fell, more and more Institutes being taken over by the Circle, they certainly learned to appreciate the fact that their city was apparently home to one of the most powerful warlocks alive.

Who apparently also had a rather eccentric collection of ridiculously powerful warlock friends, who - when Magnus Bane asked them for help with fortifying his city - promptly answered his call. And after feeding their magic into the city wards, they also seemed to collectively decide they might as well stay now that they were here, cheerfully taking up residence in New York City and - as Magnus Bane was apparently happy with keeping just Brooklyn for himself - proceeded to divide up the other boroughs amongst themselves.

Somehow, their city ended up being home to some of the most powerful warlocks around, making for quite the formidable line of defense.

These days, Magnus Bane is rarely seen going anywhere without being accompanied by at least one other Downworlder, more often than not Catarina Loss or Ragnor Fell, frequently even flanked by both.

It might not be quite official, but everyone in New York's Shadowworld knows that their city has a sort of Warlock Triumvirate instead of just a single High Warlock as used to be the norm.

Then again, considering the sheer number of Downworlders who started flocking to their city - not only in the weeks immediately after Alicante's fall but also continuously ever since - having more than just a single warlock in charge might admittedly be a bit of a necessity.

And it's not only Downworlders.

Because New York turned out to be one of the very few cities where - as soon as the Clave fell and lost its hold on the Shadowworld - Downworlders didn't collectively turn on Shadowhunters.

If for no other reason than because their High Warlock made it so.

So, Alec knows his family was lucky, knows that Shadowhunters from other Institutes weren’t nearly as fortunate, being driven out of their cities the moment Idris fell and the Clave's retaliation to any action taken against Shadowhunters stopped being a threat.

Nowadays, Alec even gets why, can retrospectively understand why after centuries of having to deal with Clave laws - being treated as second class citizens at best and volatile threats at worst - the Downworld as a whole simply wasn't willing to extend their own protections to Shadowhunters, not when collectively kicking out all nephilim was so much easier and safer for everyone else.

In those early days, when Shadowhunters suddenly found themselves without any sort of safe haven to retreat to, without allies or resources to fall back on, they had made rather easy pickings for Valentine.

And, of course, New York isn’t the only city that decided to give refuge to Shadowhunters, and it most certainly isn’t the only city that held out against Valentine, not at all.

But New York with its city-wide protections, the security of warlock wards against anyone with angel blood who hasn't been specifically keyed into them, is something else entirely. Their only real security gap being that there is really no way of knowing how many of Valentine's people might have been within city limits when the wards originally went up.

Still, it is much safer than almost anywhere else in the world. There really aren't many cities that can boast something even close to their city's protections.

Sure, it's not like just stepping foot outside the wards will immediately get you killed, but the danger of a run-in is definitely there, and Downworlders and Shadowhunters alike quickly learned that the Circle is most certainly looking for any 'dissenters' and 'abominations' to eliminate, forever continuing their zealous 'cleansing' of the population.

Of course, these days - more than ten years after Alicante's fall - a sort of equilibrium has long since established itself, with quite a number of strongholds all around the globe where Shadowhunters and Downworlders alike congregate under the protection of their resident warlocks' wards, while the fight for the upper hand between the various factions - of Shadowhunters, Downworlders, and Valentine’s Circle - continues.

Thankfully, New York had been the first to put up wards around the wider metropolitan area, had done so while Valentine had still been busy conquering Idris, so at least the number of possible security threats is rather limited. Which seems to be enough of a reassurance for their High Warlock. Because the only way to reliably get rid of any Circle members that might still have access to the city, would be by kicking out all Shadowhunters. And Alec - and everyone he knows - is incredibly grateful that Magnus Bane seems unwilling to do just that.

So, he knows he and his family were lucky, simply because they were in New York at the time of the invasion.

And once the initial panic on all sides finally settled, ‘equal treatment for all’ had actually turned out to be a surprisingly popular sentiment, as signified by how even now it isn't only Shadowhunters who continue flocking to New York, seeking refuge, but just as many Downworlders who are apparently more than willing to live alongside nephilim, just as long as everyone is treated fairly.

Who would have thought.

The only other cities Alec knows of that can rival New York in sheer numbers of Shadowhunters and Downworlders combined, are Osaka, Cologne, and Johannesburg, an admittedly rather odd collection of cities.

Still, as a Shadowhunter, New York is definitely one of the better places to end up in.

Not only do they have a sort of cabinet of the city's various leaders - werewolf alphas, vampire clan leaders, faerie delegates, Shadowhunter representatives, and usually the High Warlock himself - where everyone gets to have a voice.

But also because Alec isn't aware of a single other city where Shadowhunters received actual help with settling into the mundane world, even if it was just with something as simple as forging identification or documents about schooling and degrees and supposed previous jobs.

Those initial couple of months where they suddenly realized that life was quite a bit harder without the Clave's financial reserves backing them, suddenly having to find ways to support themselves, to make enough money to feed themselves and their families.

Sure, as a twelve year old that sort of problem hadn't really been something Alec thought about, but he still remembers the stack of official-looking documents one Magnus Bane had handed his parents without much of a comment at some point. None of them might have realized it at the time, but after a couple of years outside their Clave-protected bubble, they all know just how invaluable those few pieces of paper actually are when trying to make a living in the mundane world.

As a kid, Alec's image of the future most certainly hadn't ever included his parents having actual day jobs, with his mother working at a book store and his father working at a normal office, and then taking care of assigning missions and patrols to the Shadowhunters of their city once they got home.

Same as he had never thought he and his siblings would be sent to attend mundane high school and then actually go to university, so as to give them better odds at finding a higher paying job in the mundane world later in life, even as they completed their Shadowhunter training on the side.

Alec never imagined being as much a part of the mundane world as he is part of the Shadowworld.

And it took New York's Shadowhunters about a year to strike a deal with the other city leaders, a deal that still lets them hunt demons freely, even if they are required to stay entirely clear of any Downworld business.

Alec is honestly glad that - Alicante having fallen or not - they still get to go after the demons forever popping up all around the city, to fulfill their angel-given duty the way it was originally intended, before the Clave ever decided that their angel blood somehow made them more and that concurrently demon blood must make Downworlders less.

Alec certainly isn't alone in thinking that the Clave might have been overreaching just a little with that.

And word spread.

Word of a city mostly safe from Valentine, where Shadowhunters and Downworlders were about as equal as they could be. A city kept protected from the Circle under warlock wards, kept safe from demons by Shadowhunters, and kept at peace under balanced Shadowworld law.

Word of a utopia, or at least as close to it as you could ever hope to find.

And even now, more than ten years after Idris' fall, it seems like almost every week another Shadowhunter or Downworlder - sometimes entire families or even larger groups from other cities - knock on the wards, asking for entry.

Alec has heard of the rather harrowing questioning everyone has to go through in order to gain access to the city, but most of them don't really complain about it.

Because why complain when it is that same protocol that has so far kept their city safe from Valentine's people gaining access as well.

New York's Shadowworld has grown exponentially in the past decades and just the number of Shadowhunters who now live in their city is almost staggering compared to the number that used to be assigned to their Institute. And all of them have certainly gained a new appreciation for Downworlders.

And one Downworlder in particular.

High Warlock Bane.

Even those Shadowhunters amongst them who might not like him, even those who might resent the fact that they are now more or less living under warlock rule, are fully aware that it is that same warlock who is also keeping them safe, the reason why they were initially allowed to stay in the city at all, and also one of the main reasons why they have been treated fairly ever since.

So, no one in their entire city would ever refute that - as much as he seems happy to take everyone's opinions into account - High Warlock Bane is the one person in their entire city who could easily topple the balance. If only because, as much as other warlocks still feed their magic into New York's defenses, Magnus Bane is still the one who holds most of the city-wide wards. By himself.

Everyone in New York's Shadowworld is fully aware that it is the High Warlock who their little utopia depends on, that he is unquestionably the most important, the most sought after, the most powerful person in their entire city.

So - of all people - of course, that is also the person Alec has been harboring a rather enormous crush on ever since he was fifteen and first met the warlock in all his sparklingly bright glory face to face.

Because, of course, Alec couldn't have picked an at least slightly more attainable person to fall for.

He knows full well that there is just no way that he could ever actually have a chance with the man, is actually fairly certain that Magnus Bane is at most vaguely aware of the fact that Alec even exists.

So, he has long since resigned himself to the fact that he'll live out his days as a virgin, gazing wonderingly, longingly - and rather pathetically - from afar at the only person he has ever felt attracted to at all, seeing as he just had to fall for the most unattainable person in their entire city.

Probably on the planet.

Possibly even including any other realms associated with theirs.

You know, just to further reduce Alec's odds of ever so much as getting to actually talk to the man.

+++

And then comes the day Alec accidentally stumbles across a rather insidious plot to get rid of said High Warlock from the inside.

Something Alec takes definite exception to.

Of course, he is only so very appalled at the idea that someone might try to kill Magnus Bane because of the implications for their city's security, only because there seems to be a traitor on the inside.

It has nothing at all to do with that enormous crush Alec isn't harboring. Really.

Well, anyway.

Now, Alec just has to find a way to warn the most sought-after man in their city of said murder plot, has to somehow get word of the traitor amongst his most trusted to the High Warlock, while also bypassing all those people he seems to be constantly surrounded by, seeing as Alec really has no way of knowing which one of them might be working with the would-be assassinators. 

...

Well, fuck.