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When You're Too in Love to Let it Show

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Thomas used to think of Alastair as a star, bright and shining like a beacon of all he’d ever wanted to be. That was, of course, when he was young and susceptible to hero worship. It was also when Alastair’s hair had been dyed a blinding sort of blond and it was that hair that appeared to Thomas in hazy daydreams.

Now, however, his hair was ebony (and much prettier, though he hated to admit it to himself). The light had filtered into dark, just as his visions of him had. The sparks in him had withered down to a swirling black mass of confusion. He had always known that twinge of envy and adrenaline and something else that pinched his heart whenever Alastair came near; it was just a fact. After learning of the dreadful rumors that had passed his lips, though, that twinge was coupled with anger so immense that it threatened to overwhelm all those other feelings.

People always jokingly said he was a gentle giant, like Little John. Thomas had never minded. Sure, being tall had its disadvantages, and doorways were always a bit awkward, and hugging people felt a bit like squishing them, but that was it. Never had he considered using his strength against anything other than a demon.

Yet here he was, sitting on the steps of the ballroom, his face burning with rage, his throat sore with having uttered the words: “I will knock you into the Thames.”

Alastair had fled, Lucie hot on his heels, and that was all Thomas was really thinking of as Matthew snickered and quietly told him, flask raised high in mock salute, “Good one, mate. Here’s to teaching that fig a lesson!” He had then proceeded to seem extremely confused as Thomas, too, ran, albeit in the other direction. Matthew could be quite entertaining, and Thomas was not exactly in the mood to be entertained. Besides, Magnus Bane was here. Matthew had plenty to distract himself with.

He just wanted to be alone.

There was much too much going on. Barbara, firstly; being hailed as a hero for Christopher’s antidote; Alastair. He wanted to bury his face in his hands and let the thoughts revolve around him like the chaos of Pandemonium. Though it seemed the universe had other plans.

Lucie hurtled toward the stairs, almost tripping over her dress, but after all, that was the Lucie way. Always running, always thinking, always excited and breathless and ready to throw herself into a situation whether she was wanted there or not. Thomas could not help the small smile that split his face.

“Thomas!” she panted, finally skidding to a stop at the bottom of the staircase. “Whatever are you doing up there?” she asked loudly, her voice echoing through the space. “Shall I come up?”

Without waiting for an answer, she hopped nimbly from step to step until she reached him and sat down. Noticing his forced joy, her expression crumbled and she placed a hand on his arm. “What’s wrong?”

Her hand, he realized, was on his tattoo, but unlike the drifting grace with which Alastair had touched it, Lucie’s grip was firm and unwavering, snapping his focus back to reality. Thomas shook his head and glanced up with another award-winning smile. It probably looked like a chipmunk, in retrospect. “Nothing! I’m fine, Luce. Go enjoy yourself.”

Lucie’s features twisted with sympathy, but her grip on him only tightened. “No, you are not. Block yourself off all you want, but I refuse to leave you until you decide to spill.” She reached up with her other hand, locking it with a strength no one would have guessed she had, had they not seen her throw one of her battle axes. “Is it Barbara?” Her voice was soft, careful. Shadowhunters knew loss.

Tears stung and sharpened his vision but he pushed them back hastily. Shaking his head again, he replied, “I suppose. That is only a part of it.”

The writer’s spark visibly ignited within her. Lucie’s eyebrows arched of their own accord. “Some special lady is causing you trouble?”

He chuckled lightly, but his heart wasn’t in it. “You’ve been spending too much time with Anna, I think.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“It’s Alastair, actually,” he blurted, as if it had been wrenched from him. He clasped his free hand over his mouth. He hadn’t meant to say that. Lucie didn’t say anything, though, just pursed her lips and let her hands fall. Circulation began flowing again, which was nice, but a part of him had wanted more. A gasp, perhaps, or maybe some confusion. Definitely not the sad, final “oh” he received.

Wait. “Did you know?”

Lucie glanced away, fidgeting with her gloves. “Hmm?”

He rounded on her, and she turned her head, wincing. “Kind of?”

“Kind of?”

“Well, it explains a lot!”

The world was moving too fast. “It explains what, exactly?”

She was practically vibrating with the urge to tell. “Why he was crying!”

Thomas stopped short. His vocal cords felt strange and constricted. “He was crying.”

Her blue eyes darted hurriedly, finally resting on Grace in the corner with her green dress. She jerked her head venomously, and Lucie stood up, smoothing the fabric of her gown. “Well, I will leave you.” Her face held shadows of worry and sorrow. “Good luck, Thomas.” And with that, she was gone.

Thomas had never been so confused in his life.

 

——————————

 

It had been a full week since the engagement party and still Thomas could not sort himself out.

Alastair had, in effect, ruined Matthew’s life.

Alastair had also felt so badly about it he had cried, something Thomas had never seen him do nor did he wish him to do.

The twinge was not receding and yet the anger was.

Why was that, exactly? Why could Thomas never hold on to grudges? He had always been quick to forgive. But Alastair had hurt so many people by just repeating words that he did not even mean, people that meant so much more to Thomas than Alastair ever would.

Right?

One man was not worth the trouble. Not even if that man was so beautiful, so inescapably beautiful that if Thomas looked at him long enough he wanted to forgive him. Because when he did look at Alastair, only good memories flashed behind his eyes: Alastair in Paris, interested in what Thomas wanted to say. Alastair in the Academy, so cold to everyone but warm and gentle toward Thomas, never brushing him off or ignoring him like many people did just because he was so small. Alastair leaning against the counter while Thomas worked at the antidote, helping clean tables and passing him tools and carrying the conversation, laughing and smiling all the while until Thomas couldn’t help but smile too.

How can you be mad at someone who makes you feel like that?

Yet he had not seen much of Alastair, not really. Nobody had. According to Cordelia, he refused to leave the house. Once when Thomas had glanced up at the Carstairs residence in passing, he had seen the other boy at his desk, and he looked drawn and pale and not like Alastair at all.

When he was not near him, it became easy to be swallowed up in the anger, but one look and it dissipated and was replaced, instead, with pity and curiosity.

After one too many late nights spent in a fog of warring emotions, he decided to find out. It couldn’t hurt, right?

 

—————————————

 

Thomas didn’t usually mind heat. Liked it, in fact. But this late summer day was a bit too hot. His face was flushed, which was surely due to the sun. He was breathing hard by the time he had arrived at the Carstairs house and knocked on the door. Again, the heat. It was a real bother.

A pretty woman in an apron answered the door. Thomas recognized her as Risa, the Carstairs’ servant. He’d never spent enough time around her to really garner an opinion, but she had always seemed kind. And she let him in, trying her best to keep a straight face as he smacked into the doorframe, so that was good too, he reminded himself as his face burned even more fiercely than before.

“Thomas Lightwood. I was looking for Alastair?” he said, viciously rubbing his forehead. She stared at him a moment before he realized his mistake. “Ahem. Mr. Carstairs. I’m here to see Mr. Carstairs.”

She stifled another laugh, but directed him wordlessly upstairs and down the hall to his door. As Risa left him to stand awkwardly on his own, she raised a doubtful eyebrow past her shoulder but said nothing.

“Alastair?” he called quietly, once Risa had disappeared to where she was (hopefully) out of earshot.

When there was no response, he knocked. Still nothing. Damn it.

“I’m just going to come in.”

No one moved behind the door, which Thomas took to mean that he was decent. Thoughts flew to his mind unbidden, and his cheeks darkened even further. He must look like a beet at this point, he thought, a tall, broad, humanoid sort of a beet, but a beet nonetheless.

What did he care what Alastair thought of him? His opinion no longer mattered.

Thomas decided to stop thinking and just opened the blasted door.

On second thought, he might have pushed a little too hard, because the door gave a bit too easily and he entered Alastair’s room tripping over himself and grabbing onto the nearest thing for support, which happened to be Alastair sitting at his desk.

By the Angel, was it hotter in here?

Alastair, to his credit, seemed perfectly unfazed. He simply glanced up, his eyes red-rimmed, from sleeplessness or tears, it was unclear. He looked completely exhausted, but upon seeing Thomas, clutching at his shirt, his face transformed, by pure habit, into an expression of disgust.

“What are you doing here, Lightwood?”

“I— I, um, sorry. I wanted to see you, I suppose,” Thomas stuttered out, standing up and trying very hard not to take note of the fact that Alastair was wearing neither jacket nor waistcoat, and his white button-down was quite thin, in terms of material.

“I thought you told me that if you saw me again, you would chuck me into a river.” He actually sounded angry. Not false, defensive anger like Thomas was used to — this was real annoyance, and Thomas hated how all his plans were stripped away just like that. All he wanted to do was have Alastair not be cross at him.

“I’m so sorry. I wasn’t thinking then. I do— I do miss you, Alastair.” His voice was inconveniently shaky. “I miss my friend.”

The embers behind the deep brown of his eyes softened and died away until it was just Alastair, vulnerable without the fire that usually burned so brightly, brightly enough that it was all that some people noticed.

Thomas had never seen such a sight.

“I thought you hated me.” His voice was quiet.

“I don’t hate you. I’m mad at you. There’s a difference.” Thomas swallowed. “I will never hate you.”

“And I never hated you. I’m not the only one who wasn’t thinking, Thomas. When I said those words— I never thought—” — he faltered, then forced himself to meet Thomas’s gaze— “I never thought that it would hurt you so greatly.”

“And Matthew,” he felt compelled to say. Alastair seemed ready to object, but after a moment decided it was better to agree.

“And Matthew.” He smiled crookedly, and Thomas was suddenly aware that he was towering over the other boy and took a seat opposite him.

There was still one thing he needed to ask, though.

“Why?”

“Excuse me?” The sneer was back, but Thomas could tell it didn’t mean anything.

“Why did you do it?” He spoke softly, but they both knew he wasn’t leaving without a response. The uneven thumping in his chest could stay as long as it wanted; it didn’t mean that he couldn’t be angry, or at least didn’t deserve answers. Even if he still wasn’t precisely sure what that thumping meant.

Alastair sighed and nested his head in his hands, fingers pulling at his hair. Thomas’s gaze was steely. When he spoke, his voice was muffled. “I have never told anyone this before. Cordelia only just knows.”

A part of him wanted to stop, wanted to not do anything to make him uncomfortable, but he had to quit being such a pushover. So he waited.

When Alastair did talk, he really talked. The story was extensive and difficult to hear — with his father and his “illness”, the trial, Charles. How he had carried the burden of Elias’s alcoholism on his own. How he had begun protecting himself before he was even hurt, how he used his attitude as a shield. How, when Clive Cartwright had been killed, he had begun to realize the serious consequences of his suit of armor but he had already gone in too deep. How he used Charles to escape, and how Charles had used him, and how love sometimes was just not enough to save two people.

It had started off as a form of protection and evolved into so much more. Into so much worse.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Thomas was pretty sure he’d heard that before.

Chapter Text

Alastair had always considered himself a relatively closed-off person. He was good at keeping secrets. Hell, he had hidden the fact his father was an alcoholic from his own sister for her entire life. That said something.

Yet, there he was, pouring out his life story. And to whom? The very person that, just days before, had promised him violent harm lest he even look at him, let alone talk to him. Let alone talk for this long.

But Thomas was a good listener, despite the confusing mood swings he had shown moments earlier, and after a few minutes, Alastair found himself lapsing into a sort of rhythm. It was different talking to Thomas. With Cordelia, he had been worrying about her; he knew not to try with Charles. It was difficult to talk to Charles about anything but his career. His mother had lived through it with him, and even then he couldn’t talk to her about boys. Matthew and Anna, he knew, were lucky. Alastair was Persian, he was new to London, his father was on trial, and most people hated him already. They didn’t need to know he was gay as yet another reason to avoid him.

It was fear, really. His love life was his business, the one thing that he could keep for himself and the one he loved, and only them two. The rest of his dirty laundry was on full display; in a way, his secrets were his refuge.

But Thomas. Somehow Alastair was unable to keep a single secret from him, and he realized that he did not mind.

When he finally was done, there was silence. Thomas seemed to be processing. Alastair could not blame him. His life story was actually quite confusing.

When he looked up, his lashes were wet. “Are you okay?”

Alastair was a bit taken aback. Incredulously, he said, “I’m not the one crying, Lightwood. Are you okay?”

He cracked a small smile, but shook his head. “No, that was really… brave of you. Thank you. For telling me that. It helped,” he added.

“Helped what?” he replied, raising an eyebrow.

“You,” he said, smirking. “It helped you.”

“So I’m on the road to forgiveness, then.”

“Yes.” Standing up, his grin widening, he pulled Alastair into a crushing hug. It was nice. He felt better than he had in a while, which, yes, was not saying much, but he did feel good, really good. It was new. He leaned into Thomas’s solid frame, taking comfort in his closeness and his kindness. He didn’t deserve him, but really, who did?

When they pulled apart (too soon), it felt as though a weight had been lifted from his chest and he could breathe again.

That night, he slept for the first time in a week.

 

——————————

 

Cordelia was getting nosy.

“Risa says he was in your room. Your room, Alastair. What about your virtue?”

He decided to skip over the fact that she was one to talk, considering her controversial (to say the least) announcement at the latest Enclave meeting. “I don’t recall you wanting to know this much when I was dating Charles, Layla.”

“Well, that’s because I saw that one for myself,” she said, smirking. Then a look of terror passed over her features. “And I do NOT want to see that again.”

Secretly, he enjoyed talking with his little sister about these things. It wasn’t like being with Thomas, but it was natural and carefree in its own right. The secrets had been shed and they were finally able to enjoy each other as siblings.

He had an inkling that it may have had to do with the fact that she no longer considered him a horrible person.

Layla brought him back from his thoughts with a nudge to the shoulder. “Alastair!”

“Sorry, what?”

She rolled her eyes exasperatedly, but her words were playful. “I said, is there anything for me to know?”

Alastair could feel himself blushing, and his heart began to beat like a woodpecker against his chest. “No,” he lied, but she snickered and walked away with an alarming amount of a spring in her step.

“Don’t tell Lucie!” he called after her. He could almost hear the wicked smile growing on her face.

She had perfected the innocent singsong long ago, though. “But it will be such an exciting addition to The Beautiful Cordelia!”

He could pretend to be annoyed all he wanted. It didn’t make it true.

 

——————————

 

Patrol was uneventful that night. He was paired with none other than Ariadne Bridgestock, which made conversation strained - on his part because she made him think of Charles, which he didn’t want to do, and on her part because, well, Alastair was not the most riveting of conversationalists at the best of times and they probably knew way too much about each other than was comfortable.

Alastair had always known she loved women, and he supposed she knew about him as well. The way she looked at Anna, it was like puzzle pieces falling together. Click, and suddenly everything was all right, or you would think so, from their expressions.

Most people didn’t notice these kinds of things, but after a lifetime of acting, you picked it up. And Anna and Ariadne stared after each other with such longing that sometimes he wondered how the others could be so incredibly blind. Charles, he knew, had never gaped at him in that way. But Ariadne seemed like the perceptive sort.

He felt his heart close up, the iron encasing it again. He had let too many fools punch through his defenses, and it was not going to happen again. He had been failed too many times. The ease of this afternoon’s exchange with Cordelia suddenly seemed far away.

How was it that just thinking about Charles could put him in such a foul mood?

After an hour of silently shuffling through the city, Ariadne glanced up at him tentatively through the escaping strands of her thick dark hair. “Are you okay?”

“Are you?” he shot back. He didn’t need this girl serving as a reminder of all the pain he had endured.

She was visibly hurt, but a steady strength began to build behind her features, steeling them, and Alastair thought perhaps it wasn’t such a wonderful idea to mess with her.

“I’m actually perfectly dandy, Alastair, thank you,” she spat, and he couldn’t help but be impressed with her sarcasm.

“Good for you.”

“What is wrong with you?”

They had stopped right on top of the roof to some mundane bed-and-breakfast called “The Cheerful Cup” or something similarly daft. Their Soundless runes made their footfalls, well, soundless, but the death glares they were exchanging were so fierce Alastair wouldn’t have been surprised if a mundane was woken from the sheer force of annoyance radiating off of these two mightily passive-aggressive people.

“What’s wrong with me is that— that—” he was scrambling for the right thing to say, the right way to say it. Ariadne smirked, maddeningly.

“Boy trouble?”

The words slipped from his throat. He cleared it before asking, “How did you know?”

“The Sight.”

“You are infuriating.”

“If you don’t tell me, I won’t tell you, Alastair, it’s that easy.”

They had at least continued moving, so he supposed that was progress.

“Two boys, I suppose.”

“Two?” Her eyes looked ready to pop right out of their sockets.

“That’s all I’m saying. Your turn.”

At this, she brightened. “It’s actually going well. Once Charles became engaged to Grace” — he shuddered involuntarily — “I was able to re-establish a connection of sorts with someone special.” She flushed, though whether from embarrassment or happiness, it was unclear.

“Anna,” he said succinctly. She bit her lip to prevent her smile, and looked away. His heart clenched in envy, and he was tempted to make another sneering remark, but suddenly Thomas, all kind and disapproving, flashed in his mind’s eye and he chose, surprising himself, to be kind.

“I’m happy for you,” he said, resignedly trudging along the roof shingles. Ariadne didn’t bother trying to hide her smile.

“Who knew you had it in you?” she mocked, nudging him slightly.

“Shut up!”

Well. Patrol had gone better than expected, he supposed.

 

——————————

 

Several nights later, there was yet another ball, and this time Alastair hadn’t the slightest idea of what it was for. The Herondales seemed to greatly enjoy throwing these kinds of festivities, which was nice of them, but these functions had the capacity for copious amounts of awkwardness and gossip.

This, he reflected, was probably the reason why the Herondales liked them so much. They were such drama queens, really.

It never did take long for Alastair to dress, and Cordelia had a knack for being early to everything, so they stood together in the front hall as they waited for their mother to be ready. Since her pregnancy it had become evident that there were fewer gowns she could actually fit in, so pre-party prep was a less timely affair. Not that he minded. Secretly, Alastair liked children. He didn’t have to worry about propriety with them, and as long as you played with them, they liked you, especially if you were their big brother. Sometimes he wished that adults were that easy to please.

He and Layla made small talk about unsubstantial things. Neither wanted to acknowledge the discomfort of her engagement and his obvious infatuation with Ms. Blackthorn, and they definitely didn’t want to think about their father’s impending arrival. Normally Cordelia would have been ecstatic; after all, it was all that she had ever wanted for their family to be whole again. But Alastair had shattered her vision of a heartfelt reunion and of the perfect father. He wondered if she loved him or hated him for it.

It was becoming obvious that he had a knack for overthinking things. Thankfully it was at that time Sona came gliding down the stairs, announcing that they were set to go.

 

——————————

 

When they were actually at the party, however, Alastair quickly came to the realization that he had absolutely no idea what to do. At previous parties, he sought refuge with Charles under the front that he was “making connections”. Evidently that was no longer an option.

Layla, of course, had rushed over to the Merry Thieves and Lucie like an arrow to its target and immediately they became engaged in rapt discussion, most likely concerning Alastair and Thomas, judging from their whispers and giggles and stolen glances. He watched from afar with his champagne glass.

The six of them were so different, yet they worked so well together, like a body, pumping and flowing seamless jokes and conversation that never once ground to a halt. Alastair knew that he had never had any kind of exchange close to that. It was as if they were each other’s soulmates, constantly around each other and never tiring of it.

Sighing, he downed his champagne in one go and stood up from his place at the wall, intending to hunt for more. In reality, he never made it that far because there was a light tap on his shoulder and when he turned around, there was one Thomas Lightwood offering him a flute.

He could suddenly hear the blood rushing in his ears and into his cheeks. Play it cool, Alastair. He cleared his throat. “Thomas. Thank you,” he said, accepting his glass, and there were thousands of better ways to say that and why couldn’t he have chosen one of them? Silently he cursed himself. Damn you, Alastair.

Thomas seemed similarly nervous, which provided a bit of comfort. They stood there for a moment, blushing furiously, Thomas reaching up to rub the back of his neck like he always did.

All at once he felt the prickle of eyes on him and swiveled his head to see Ariadne and Anna, as well as Cordelia and Lucie, staring and clearly trying not to laugh. They were failing miserably. Alastair felt the urge to stick out his tongue.

“I think I’ve made a decision.” He snapped his attention back to Thomas, who was fidgeting with his champagne flute.

“Yes?” Alastair knew he sounded painfully anxious, even to his own ears.

He beamed, and it was like a lightning strike— hazardously bright, and he found he could not look away. “I’ve decided to forgive you.”

He wasn’t done talking. “I forgive you, but I’m not going to forget it. Okay? You hurt me and a lot of people, but… I just want to be your friend.”

Alastair breathed out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Thomas.” And for the second time in a week, Thomas hugged him and he held on tightly, closing his eyes to the world.

They spent the rest of the evening in easy conversation, back and forth, and he realized he was beginning to understand the Merry Thieves’ casual camaraderie.

It was good, he decided, to have a real friend. The girls could gossip and theorize as much as they liked, but there was no way that he was going to ruin this, not when it was the best he had felt in years.

Chapter Text

Life was like a wound, Thomas decided. It hurt for a while, but as long as you didn’t pick at it, you healed. He felt he was recovering.

His sister’s funeral was hard. There was no doubt about it. He remembered it clearly. It was sunny and blue as London almost never was, and it was only a couple of days ago. He remembered thinking that Barbara would have loved a day like that, when you could see to the tips of the sky. Her perfect Sight was the envy of most Shadowhunters. Of course, she never paid it much heed — becoming a loving mother and dutiful wife was always prevalent in her mind over Shadowhunting, and he smiled fondly whenever he pondered at just how good of a mother she would have been. When he was younger, small and sickly, he had seen his sister as less of a sister and more of a third parent. Like a warm blanket. Smothering at times, yet comforting all the same. He had never considered how strange might be without its familiar weight, without the glimmer of her gentle smiles, without her affectionate hovering. He had always hated being coddled, but now he thought that he would endure all of it ten times over just to see her face once more.

So, yes. Watching Barbara burn, wreathed in white and flecks of ash and drifting to the heavens where she deserved to be, was hard. It was nice, though, to have closure. And he had a new friend to talk to. Alastair was always willing to listen to his stories about Barbara. Or just sit with him while he grieved.

He no longer felt angry at himself for not being able to hold on to grudges. Yes, he loved his friends, but Alastair felt different. New. He wasn’t constantly worrying about him, like he did with Matthew and Christopher, and he wasn’t always trying to figure him out, like with James. It was just Alastair, and the world was right. It had only been a week since the ballroom, but he felt the twinge in his heart more firmly now. He took this to serve as corroborating evidence for the peeping notion that tickled at the back of his mind — the one that told him that Alastair could be someone special, someone more than just a normal friend.

Like a best friend! Though his cousin harbored... contrasting... ideas.

Looking back on it, he probably should have expected something fishy when Anna invited him over to her flat for some “tea and catching up”, but she really did have good tea, and he always liked hearing about her latest romantic exploits. Judging from what he had heard from Alastair (and honestly, from just looking at her, she was glowing), she was doing well. Plus, it was good that now she had a steadfast lover, there were fewer crying girls on the doorstep.

When he knocked on her door, she answered with an overly bright smile and an exquisite red suit that suggested she was going out, but he knew she wasn’t. Anna was just like that, dressing for any occasion. It was one of the things Thomas liked best about her, that every second held the promise of adventure. Of course, on occasion, her love for “spicing it up” resulted in very awkward conversations like this one.

“Well, hello, Thomas! It is perfectly capital to see you this fine day. Please, do come in.”

Considering that she usually answered her door by calling “It’s open” through a mouth full of cheroot pipe, this warm greeting really should have tipped him off, but it didn’t. He bumbled in, marveling a bit at how just being with Ariadne had improved her mood. Then he saw the person sitting on her gold sofa and he understood the real reason for her sunny disposition.

Lately, during Lightwood family dinners and Enclave meetings, Anna had been asking after Alastair quite extensively. Normally, Thomas would have taken it to indicate that she was simply glad for his new friendship, but the wiggle of her eyebrows and conspicuous winking told him otherwise and had also sparked some much-unneeded interest in the rest of his family.

It seemed Anna had had enough of skirting the topic and elected to do some good old matchmaking. He could already feel his cheeks painting a telltale red, and involuntarily his hand flew up to scratch at the nape of his neck, where his skin was already beginning to dampen with perspiration.

“Um.”

Anna smiled widely, and he could have sworn that her teeth glinted in the light flitting through the window. Thomas was horrified to notice that she had removed her wingback armchairs from the space. Leaving only the one couch. And him, and Alastair.

Giggling like a madwoman, Anna ducked out of the doorway with a flutter of her fingertips and Thomas told himself to cool it. There was nothing strange about this other than his dear friend’s warped view of a purely platonic friendship. Her judgement was probably cloudy with love. After all, she was in a very real, very committed relationship. Everything was probably romanticized to her. It was only natural. She would get over it soon enough.

For all his excuses, his heart was still beating very hard.

Did Alastair’s eyes always catch the light like that? Because the shifting sunbeams danced over him like spotlights, turning his irises to from black to amber and gold and warm brown, he looked beautiful, like a prince, with eyes of layered muscovite, and how had Thomas not noticed that before, he could lose himself in those eyes, really, could spend a whole day studying them, and he was staring. He was standing and staring like a fool and Alastair was looking at him strangely, which was not how this was supposed to go. Unless… that look meant that he was staring too?

Friends, he reminded himself. The word had never felt so hollow before this moment.

Clearing his throat in an attempt to clear his mind, he remained standing. “Hello.”

“There is no need to stand around like a clod, Lightwood,” Alastair scoffed.

Thomas smiled awkwardly and moved to sit next to him and suddenly, it wasn’t weird at all. “Do you have anything fun planned?”

Alastair let out a dry, humorless chuckle. “My father’s coming home. I wouldn’t exactly classify that as ‘fun’.” His tone was light, but he was refusing to meet Thomas’s eyes and fidgeting with one of his folding spears.

“Oh,” he said, carefully. “Do you… want to talk about that?” From what the other boy had told him, Elias wasn’t a very good father, and he felt a small pang. It was far worse to have a horrible father that no one knew about, rather than a wonderful father who was only rumored to be despicable. Hiding the pain was so much easier than denying it, because when darkness surrounded you, the candle was not put out. It remained, a small comfort.

“Layla knows about him now. I’m really more worried about her.”

But if the darkness was inside, candles would only do so much.

Never had Thomas seen Alastair so vulnerable, and there was a reason for that. This wasn’t a story to be rehearsed and recited, this was real feeling. He wondered momentarily if he had ever let himself break down in front of anybody before. The Angel knew that he had done it enough about Barbara.

“He became someone new whenever he drank. Layla never really saw him when he was… under the influence, I suppose, only the day after, but I saw things, Thomas. When he came in stumbling drunk and needing my help to guide him to the couch.” His voice was gravelly with barely concealed rage and he was putting so much strength into the spear that it seemed ready to snap. “He said things to me that I would never want her to hear. Ever. And he’s been under so much scrutiny that I know he’s going crazy and I don’t think he will be able to control himself when he comes home.”

A small fracture was beginning to appear along the wooden shaft of the weapon, so without thinking Thomas reached out to grab hold of Alastair’s hand to prevent further damage. Subconsciously he knew that Alastair would hate to tell anybody of this moment, but if he broke his spear, there was going to be some explaining to do, and Thomas was ready to do anything provided his friend did not fall apart. He had a feeling that in-pieces Alastair was different from normal in-pieces people. He had a feeling that he would not want to be the nearest person if that was to happen, and Alastair had been working so hard at salvaging relationships. It would kill him to see those fall away again.

Alastair’s knuckles were shaking, and white with pressure. His eyes, wide and black, snapped up the moment Thomas’s hand grazed them. He seemed to have lost the ability to blink.

“It’s going to be okay,” he comforted, his thumb revolving in slow circles against his skin. He kept his voice low and soothing. People had always said that he had a soothing voice, hadn’t they? “Cordelia is strong. She can handle anything. And if you need anything, you can always tap on my window and I promise you that I will come.”

Then, of course, he realized how that sounded, and his mouth suddenly transferred to autopilot. “Um, not just my house, I mean, really any of the Merry Thieves, they would be sure to come, maybe not Matthew, though I suspect he’d come anyway just to help Cordelia. They seem awfully close. But James is also quite nice, plus he’s her fiance, and, um, well, Christopher can be quite helpful and he probably would be awake at all hours if you needed him. Then. I mean.”

He decided to shut up and pulled his hands away, fisting them in his lap. Curse Anna and her faith in their “love”. Whatever that meant. Comforting was not his forte, as he was quickly coming to learn.

To his surprise, Alastair laughed at that, and Thomas laughed too, though whether it was derived from relief or gratitude or at Thomas’s expense was unclear. It didn’t matter, not really, not when his friend was smiling like that. It made Thomas’s heart thump and his stomach flutter. It was new and wonderful and if he could have stayed in that moment forever, he would have.

 

——————————

 

Unfortunately, all moments must come to an end. Alastair was off to the Carstairs home to make preparations for his father’s return, and Thomas, having nothing better to do, drove to the Institute for some light training. Lucie was there and she had promised him a lesson in throwing axes. He always liked learning new things, so it was with a bounce in his step/carriage wheel with which he headed to the training room.

When he entered the room, however, Lucie had company. Thomas hovered between apprehension and appreciation concerning her. Playing dumb won out in the end.

“Anna!”

She turned around, looking not at all shocked to see him. “Ah, Thomas. How was catching up with your good friend?” she asked with a conspicuous wink, wink. He fought the sudden compulsion to roll his eyes. Alastair was really rubbing off on him.

“It was fine, thank you.”

“I am so very sorry that I couldn’t stay for conversation. There were pressing matters I was forced to attend to, though I trust that you two kept it… lively?” Her eye held a mischievous gleam that he could not bring himself to trust in the slightest, and he felt his cheeks burn.

“What sort of pressing matters?” he replied, working desperately to keep his composure. Lucie was looking equal parts smug and amused. Never had Thomas wished that the training room windows could open so much, for the express purpose of flinging himself two stories into thin air.

Anna ignored him completely. “Well, I am very glad you two were allowed to talk. Now, if you’ll excuse us, Lucie and I have somewhere to be.”

“To do what?”

“Pressing matters!” Lucie clamored as she stumbled over herself trying to keep up with Anna’s long legs. “Pressing, pressing matters! Never you mind!”

The sound of their cackling echoed throughout the halls of the Institute, and Thomas spared himself a moment of throwing his hands over his face, his signature move reserved usually for whenever Christopher lit something on fire. This, he reasoned, was a special case.

Had he kept his eyes open, he would have seen Anna hauling her cousin all the way to the library, just around the corner, where Ariadne and Cordelia waited.

Some people. You really got to wondering what better they could possibly do with their time.

Chapter Text

As Alastair strolled through the doors to his house, he felt like he was walking on air. He felt like whistling. He felt like smiling. He felt light.

Which was peculiar, because clouds heavy and succulent with dread had been hanging over him for weeks, demanding attention and necessitating denial all at once. His father’s impending homecoming clenched at his chest whether or not he was aware of it. It had seized upon him today, the hole in the dike widening until the ocean flooded in and threatened to drown him (and break his favorite spear). Then he was rescued. Pulled from the water. He had always been the one to save others. He had never considered that someone might care enough to save him, that someone might notice when he was flailing. He had accepted long ago that he would be the one to save himself.

Obviously he knew Anna’s intentions when he received a note calling for “an urgent meeting concerning the health of an injured bunny rabbit”. He was not a dolt. He did not rush over envisaging some poor wayward soul with an adorable twitchy nose and silky fur; that would have been ridiculous.

Secretly, he was pleased that the others were taking an interest in his and Thomas’s relationship. Not that he was unhappy with how things were at the present. It just seemed like there could be something else, something… more.

With Charles, they had dived in almost without a second thought. They were both lonely and inexperienced. The other person was there, and they had been starved for a modicum of understanding, a taste of what they had craved with a nearly desperate sort of want, despite what society impressed upon them. It had been rushed and messy, neither of them sparing a thought for what they might be looking for until they were in too deep to come up for air without shattering the delicate balance that hung between them. It was a forced love, a love that they shared only because they believed there was no one else in the world who may love them the way they wanted to be loved.

Then there was Thomas. Thomas was different, like a palate cleanse, fresh and sweet and the memories weren’t all bright and shiny, but they weren’t all dark and heavy either and that said something. Thomas was so incredibly Charles’ opposite that it was rather intoxicating, and if there was even a sliver of the possibility that he may— no. Alastair could not allow himself to think that way. He had let hope carry him once, and the sensation that he was slowly plummeting, falling out of love, falling out of a dream, hurt so deeply that if he was even slightly sane, he would have closed off his heart and constrained it tightly enough to suppress the little leaps it performed whenever Thomas looked his way.

But he was human, with a human heart. Human hearts did not listen to reason. And the flight was so exhilarating. In those moments when he soared, well, he had never known such happiness, even if it was a lie.

Such was his mind cluttered with romance and revelation that he did not register the suitcases and trunks piled at the foyer, or the carriage parked on the street. Which was why he was as shocked as he was when he strode into the house to find his family sitting primly in the parlor.

His whole family. In the parlor. As if Elias was a special guest and not a bloody alcoholic, which was exactly what everyone knew he was. Alastair had a premonition that he may not be able to control the constricting sphere of anger slamming around his insides. He also did not find himself caring. Elias was chattering away as he did sometimes, gesturing to Cordelia. “There’s our long-lost brother.” Her smile was so forced it was painful to look at.

“Hello.” He spoke coldly, directing his words only to his mother and sister and Risa, and seeing that Elias sat all his own on a loveseat, he settled himself promptly between Layla and Sona, who were perched at the edge of the sofa. Neither protested, even as they were jolted aside and thrown back into him; his sister shot him a grateful, if not amused, smile. Alastair saw nothing amusing in the situation but decided to humor her and smirked a bit in her direction.

Okay, so it was a little funny.

He slung his arms around them for good measure and felt a bit like he was in a gang. His father’s expression made it all worth it.

“Hello, Alastair. It’s good to see you.”

He nodded curtly. “Father.”

There was no use in pretending. Elias wasn’t stupid. He may not have memory of it, but he knew as well as his son who carried him in at night, who cleaned up the vomit, who filled brandy bottles with water. All possibilities of love were erased by those incidents.

They made stiff conversation, his sister and his father. He asked her about training and her upcoming wedding. She answered his questions politely, but the coldness in her words was almost palpable. Elias’s eyes sparked.

 

——————————

 

Alastair was heading off to train. He wanted to get out of the house. Before he could leave, however, a shaking hand was placed on his shoulder and the acrid stench of alcohol hovered over the back of his neck, and he revolved in a slow half-circle. His father’s blue eyes were outlined by ruby red, hideously like the Vetis. The image of Clive Cartwright's corpse swirled in his mind. He didn’t have wonderful memories of Vetis demons, or his father either, for that matter.

Dread crept into his throat. “Yes, Father?”

“You told Cordelia.” His voice was measured and even, but those eyes flickered with hostility. “You told Cordelia about me and now my daughter hates me.”

Alastair became acutely aware of the fact that his mother and his sister were only in the next room, chatting amiably as they sewed a quilt for the baby. “I did what I had to do,” he hissed. “She had a right to know.”

“What gave you the right to tell her?” The sound was rich with enmity, and his shadow encroached upon him and wreathed him in darkness. Alastair drew himself up to his full height. He was not actually very short, about Will Herondale’s height, but because he was so often with Thomas now, and because he was so slight, people often thought him smaller than he truly was. He didn’t mind usually, but he also wasn’t about to let Elias outshine him. His head peeked back into light.

“I am your son. I was basically your caretaker my entire life. Without me, you may be dead. I think that gives me the independence to say whatever I would like concerning you.” He was trying to keep his voice down, but with each word it grew in volume and disgust. Layla and Sona stirred. Stools scraped on the floor.

Elias advanced further, forcing Alastair to back into the door. A pocket knife glinted in his fingers. “Don’t take my daughter away from me, you—”

“Well, then don’t take my father away from me!” Alastair was horrified to hear how his carefully sculpted hatred had melted away into hurt. Tears stung his eyes and he widened them further. He would not cry.

It was then that Layla and Sona hurried in, hands interlocked. Mâmân was having increasing difficulty moving quickly these days. “Elias! Alastair!” she cried, her eyes glassy. Alastair relocated his gaze hastily. If his mother were to cry, he surely would not be able to keep it together.

“How dare you!?” Elias roared, slamming the knife into the door, centimeters away from Alastair’s head. Cracks splintered through the wood like glass.

“No— no— please, Alastair joon, don’t anger him, he’s ill—” Sona whimpered, her hands wringing subconsciously. Risa gaped from the top of the stairs.

“Don’t lie to me, Mâdar,” Layla snapped, letting go of her hand. “I know what he is. He’s not ill. He’s drunk.” She stalked up next to her brother, squeezing his wrist when she arrived. Her hair flew like dark fire as she turned her head to face Elias. “I don’t love you any less,” she said, her voice gentle. “You are still my father. You are like Matthew, and he is one of my dearest friends. All you need is a little bit of help, and then everything will be all—”

Elias cut her off with a mute shake of his head. The blond hair that Alastair had always envied so much was greasy and unwashed, the strands separated and wet-looking. “It will not be all right,” he said. The intense blue in his eyes had subsided somewhat. “Nothing will make this all right except— except for—” He yanked the door open, sending Alastair tripping forward, and walked out, mumbling incoherently. Layla reached in front of her to chase after him, but her brother stuck out his arm. He felt exhausted and yet he was seething at the same time.

“There is no point, Layla. Leave him be.”

Her face drooped. Meters away, their mother stood in the middle of the room, sobbing quietly. Risa raced down the staircase and put her arms around her, muttering soothing words in Persian and wiping her face with a handkerchief. Cordelia looked about as numb as he felt.

There was still a knife stuck in the door.

 

———————————

 

Needless to say, he did not train that day.

He and his sister ended up in her room. She sat on her bed and he was at her vanity. Neither had anything to say, but it wasn’t as if he was going to leave her alone at times like this. He had learned quite swiftly that they were similar when it came to grief. Solitude didn’t do anything for either of them.

He had always thought that it did. Solitude, that is. He had always considered himself to be a lone soul. But talking with Thomas had done so much more good than locking himself in his room ever had, even when they were both at the Academy. And, well, she was his baby sister. He would always be there for her.

When she finally spoke, he had to blink before comprehending. “I hope you have someone for you.”

“Excuse me?”

Her black eyes saw right through him to hidden things that even he did not understand. “You are sitting with me right now. You are comforting me. And you know that I would do the same for you,” she added rapidly, twining her fingertips into the deep blue of her skirts. “But I cannot always be with you. And if I am not there— well, I am just saying that I hope you have someone you can always speak with. Who you can break down with.”

The words echoed in his mind, but he played it off with a snort. “When have I ever broken down?”

She only looked sad. “I don’t know, Alastair. But someone. You need someone.”

She patted him on the shoulder before gliding out into the hallway. “I have to be at the Hell Ruelle for Anna. I will see you soon, okay?”

It was only until after she left that he replied, “Okay.”

 

——————————

 

That night, Layla’s words kept thudding around his head. He asked himself over and over. Who is my someone?

When he repaired holes in his gear.

When he neared Sona and was given such a fierce evil eye from Risa that he could only back away.

When he stared blindly at some papers he needed to sign.

When he went out at midnight and found his father passed out in the gutter.

When he led his father to the bushes as he had learned to do so that the house would not be splattered with the aftereffects of his father’s activities.

When he dragged Elias home and threw him on the couch, not bothering to take off his shoes.

Why did he even do this anymore? Why couldn’t he just let his father stew in his own sick until he was devoured by a demon? What was the point of it all?

He sighed and washed up before slipping under the covers.

As he lay in the dark, suspended in the fragile space between waking and sleeping, his sister’s voice in his head died away and visions of large hazel eyes and a compass with a rose drifted in the expanse that rested behind his eyelids. He shook his head to relieve himself of the notion and shoved a pillow on his head.

Goddamn Lightwoods. Ubiquitous, kind, and disgracefully attractive Lightwoods.

They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Chapter Text

Thomas got that axe-throwing lesson in with Lucie, finally. Rolling up to the Institute he had been excited. He had always been a quick learner, and though the bolas was wonderful, and seraph blades were cleanly effective, neither had the theatricality that a spiraling axe did when it sunk into the stomach of a demon. Especially if that demon was the kind that squirted goo.

It was childish, he knew, but still a bit thrilling.

When he stepped into the training room, though, Lucie was a bit more distracted than usual. Which said a lot. Next to Christopher, she was the most absent-minded of the group. Her eyes only sparkled a small amount as she swept her hands over the battle axe arrangement (to his disappointment, only a select few were over a meter long: for the most part, they were only about a foot or so, small enough to be dwarfed in his large palm), and as they set up the targets, she stubbed her toe on the corner of the wood.

Thomas was intrigued — usually Lucie could only be distracted by a very good story, and hearing her tell those was always a good time — but he decided to leave her a bit of space. He had been doing that quite a bit lately. Alastair’s father’s arrival left his friend quiet and sullen, even around Thomas. When he wanted to talk, he would talk. It didn’t stop him from worrying.

Despite everything, Lucie was a good teacher. After a couple moments of truly atrocious beginner attempts (and a very nearly broken window), she told Thomas that if he were to hit a target, he would receive his compensation: Masnavi, a collection of “incredibly brilliantly outstanding” (Lucie’s words, not his) Persian stories and morals, all compiled into one mystical poem.

“Thank you. I— wait. The target?”

She giggled nervously, and played it off with a wave of her hand. “Really, if you hit a demon anywhere with that axe, it’s got to do some serious damage, hasn’t it?”

“Um—”

“Phenomenal! Let us get started, shall we?” she replied, far too chipper and polishing the wickedly sharp blade with her training clothes. Thomas squinted and shrugged. He really did want that book, if not for improving his Farsi than to impress Alastair with his aptitude with the language. And he didn’t exactly need this. All his other weapons were quite sufficient.

Fifteen minutes in, even Lucie was missing the target during her demonstrations, and that was really the breaking point for Thomas. He had never, ever seen her do anything of the sort.

“Okay, Lucie, what is happening?” he asked, setting down the axe.

She avoided his gaze. “Oh, nothing. That would interest you.”

“Hmm. All right, then.” He gathered up the axe and thumbed it ruminatively, giving himself a splinter in the process. He looked away to hide his wince, which was apparently the right move, because that was when Lucie said, “Oh, don’t ignore me, Thomas! I will tell you!”

“Okay, carry on, then,” he answered, feigning disinterest, rather unsuccessfully. The girl did not notice. She was far too excited, and absolutely trembling with the emotion.

“Grace and I— you know Grace? The Blackthorn, new to town, and she’s very very pretty, and all too delicate for a Shadowhunter. Well, in any case. She and I joined forces to help resurrect a ghost— her brother, Jesse!” she burst out with, her cheeks flushed with exhilaration. Thomas stopped dead. His fingers, previously holding the axe and examining his thumb, went limp and the blade clattered to the floor, spinning in a frenetic loop.

“What?” he demanded, desperately hoping that he was beginning to hallucinate.

Lucie, however, was blind to his panic, and chattered along happily. “I resurrected a ghost!”

The blood sapped out from his face and he took a few steps toward her, resisting the urge to shake her by the shoulders until all the crazy flew from her skull. “Necromancy is illegal,” he said, his voice deadly low. “You could have your Marks stripped. You could be banished from our society. You would never see your family again, Lucie!” he said, aware that he was beginning to sound slightly hysterical. She brushed him off, laughing.

“Oh, Thomas, you are such a fussbudget. Don’t worry! It is not necromancy. Not technically, after all. Ta-someone else did the actual necromancing. We simply finished the job. It is like finding baked cupcakes and finishing the icing,” she soothed, sounding annoyingly like a mother calming a distressed child. It was even more annoying that it was working. The hairs on the back of his neck leveled out.

“Well.” She waited. “Did it work?”

“Obviously it worked. It was not all that difficult. Of course the main person could not complete the job, and it was supposed to be almost impossible, considering all the hidden dark magic was destroyed in the fire, and that Grace is under almost constant scrutiny from the Bridgestocks, the Inquisitor's family, I mean, and how he had given away his last breath to James, you know, when he was dying and all that, but Christopher really is quite the magic worker, and with Henry too, well, it would have been impossible not to—”

“You enlisted Henry?” he yelped.

She seemed only mildly confused. “Yes, Thomas. Who else could have done the job?”

He covered his face in his hands and moaned. “Did it occur to you that Henry is the Consul’s husband?” he cried. At this rate, he was going to need to find a new group of friends. He was already under the threat of arrest every other day, and now that Lucie and Cordelia had joined them, well, he really would have to begin plotting a way out of the Silent City’s cells.

Rolling her eyes, she deadpanned: “No, Thomas. I did not consider that one of our dearest family friends may be breaking wild records and empowering women for the rest of time, and that I was utilizing her scientific genius of a husband — a wonderful love story, by the way, you must remind me to tell you — to help me with illegal activities. Yes, I did. Aunt Charlotte has enough on her plate already, and Henry may or may not have had the impression that we were creating a potion to turn a mouse into a cat, so he can’t tell her either.”

“What?” Thomas had heard far too much troubling news that day; he feared he could not handle this. And yet Lucie answered anyway. Of course.

“He kept going on about rising up to defeat your enemies, and about rodent rights.” Her voice was amiable, unconcerned.

“Why would you even do this?” he said quietly. He honestly could not fathom doing something of that nature for anyone except for his closest friends, and Grace was a stranger. Yes, James had been smitten with her for a while, but he also noticed how different, how isolated of a person he was around her, and he remembered the self-loathing and disgust on Matthew’s face following his interaction with her. He didn’t know her, didn’t know what she had done, but what he did know he did not like. Plus, she was marrying Charles.

Thomas wasn’t terribly impressed with Charles.

This question, of all things, was what made Lucie turn away and pry the axe from between two bricks in the wall. When she finally turned round to face him, her cheeks were colored, not with excitement or embarrassment, but something else.

“Because,” she murmured, and cleared her throat, “one will do anything for love.”

“You’re in love with Grace?” he practically shouted, his voice reverberating throughout the concave dome of the training room. “What is it with you Herondales?!”

“Thomas!” she said, patting his back. “Really you must calm down! I am not in love with Grace - she is engaged to Charles, remember?”

A voice inside him whispered, that hasn’t stopped people before. He kept silent.

“I am in love with Jesse.”

Ah. The ghost. Was that even better? He was so much older than her…

Upon seeing the gears meshing in his head, she told him, preemptively, “Death years don’t count. He is seventeen years old. Only one year older than me. All right, then?”

He cracked a small smile. “All right, then.”

She wiped an invisible line of sweat from her hairline, sighing heavily. “Goodness, if this is only your reaction, what will become of me when James finds out?”

He chuckled at the joke, and with the tension mostly dissipated, they returned back to training. Lucie went back to throwing the axes directly in the center every time. Thomas, at least, was getting closer, and the window’s everlasting safety seemed more probable with every shot.

In fact, he was only centimeters away from the large wooden prism when Lucie stepped up behind him to square off his shoulders when she whispered, quite offhandedly: “Is there anyone you are in love with?”

The problem of the matter was not Lucie, nor her question, but rather the timing. He had been winding up, eyes squinted. The feeling that beset him whenever he flung his bolas toward a demon settled in the air then. He could not miss. The axe was going to hit home this time — or at least, somewhere near home. He was in a mode of utter concentration.

Then Lucie spoke and a trail of sparks flew through his mind, much like how the axe soared, backward, through the air and implanted itself deeply in the large wooden door. Cracks spidered out and there was a horrible fracturing sound as the fissures darkened enough to cast their own shadows. Thomas raced toward the door, sending Lucie stumbling to the side, and muttered obscenities the whole way.

A large ligneous wound was not enough to deter the young storyteller (i.e., huge gossip), however, and she continued peppering him with questions during his lengthy wrestle with the steel.

“Some lovely lady?”

“Childhood flame?”

“A mystery man?”

He must have blushed sometime between the latter two, because she gasped and he could easily visualize her, blue eyes lighting up, hands fluttering instinctively for her pen. “Both?”

As he should have expected, that was the very moment that he yanked the hatchet free, and he took to the air for about half of a second before landing hard on the floor. His head hit the ground, and Lucie’s face floated above his vision.

“Is it one of the Merry Thieves?” she said, knowingly. “Matthew, I should think.”

Reflexively he grimaced a bit at the thought of feeling like that toward such a close friend. Lucie grinned, evilly. “Aha. I knew it, I knew it. It’s Alastair, isn’t it? Isn’t he?”

A smile began to spread over his face before he could stop it, and Lucie squealed and seized the hatchet from him, using it as a counterweight to spin in happy circles, prattling all the while.

“You really do have taste, Thomas. He’s good-looking. And he’s never been terribly kind to me, but you are friends, so he must be kind to you. I think that you two will be blissfully happy.” She spun faster, and released the axe mid-air like the hammer throw. It landed the bulls-eye, because the universe was teaming up with Lucie today in the mission titled Let’s Make Thomas Miserable.

“That’s preposterous, Lucie, do stop it,” he called to deaf ears as he got to his feet.

“You did not deny it!” she cried in singsong.

Tessa Herondale came in just then. They both froze, and assembled in a line without thinking. “Hello, Lucie, Thomas. Do either of you happen to know anything about this crack in the door?” she inquired, staring at the damage with nothing short of dismay.

“No, Mother,” Lucie replied, her eyes wide and her face the picture of innocence. Her hands were clasped behind her back, ever the perfect angel. “Perhaps you should try and give it an iratze?”

“Ahem. Yes. I agree, Mrs. Herondale. Your daughter— erm, Lucie, has it, iratze, yes, capital idea,” he stammered out.

Tessa glanced between them, the doe-eyed actress and the red-faced giant, an eyebrow elevated, amusement threatening to turn up the corners of her mouth. She was losing the fight. “Okay. Lovely to see you, Thomas. Say hello to your mother for me, will you?” she requested as she walked away. Her voice floated down the hall. Thomas was extremely tempted to curse Lucie’s name, but considering she had an understanding with a post-ghost, there was only a certain amount of haunting a person could take. And he never would have admitted it, but he was infinitesimally pleased and his heart warmed a bit whenever she or anybody else talked like that. When he missed the target again, it didn’t matter so much. He had a friend who could probably get him a copy of the book anyway.

In retrospect, he should have paid more attention. Snapped out of the dreamy mood. Because if he had, he might have been a little warier when Lucie excused herself early, and he might have registered the clacking sounds of the typewriter echoing from upstairs and done something about it.

But he wasn’t, and he didn’t, so The Beautiful Cordelia got a brand-new chapter, Thomas considered the state of his friendship, and Tessa considered the state of her door. These were small imperfections, ones that made the days more interesting but in the future weeks would not be spared more than a passing thought.

Behind other doors other issues, bigger and smaller, raged, but for right now things were good and that was really something.

Chapter Text

It had been several days since the Great Carstairs Explosion of 1903, and still the tension had not lessened. After realizing that once again, his own son had been the one to carry him home, Elias had been silent and moody. Alastair felt the energy accumulating within him every time he passed by his father, and knew that it was going to explode in time. He had been giving it a hint of effort, at least, trying to stay sober during the days. It wasn’t as hard as he had been working when Cordelia didn’t know, but it was something. Alastair appreciated it, a little, but not enough to apologize. And he had the feeling that since Elias had been cleared, he felt invincible. He was going to fly off the hinge soon enough. Alastair wasn’t about to get his hopes up.

Still, life progressed. Unlike his and Cordelia’s fencing and knife throwing skills, respectively, which was why they were off to the London Institute’s training room to help each other out. When they were younger and moving all the time, they would simply train inside of their houses, but the Institute room was so much bigger, with a much larger assortment of weapons and platforms, and they had to make connections, right?

Also, they were avoiding their father, but that was just an added bonus.

Anyway, when they arrived at the Institute, Tessa informed them that Lucie was off in a deep zone of writing, and “not to be disturbed”, which meant that the training room was free for just them.

Much to Alastair’s chagrin, though (and Layla’s delight), a useful afternoon’s sibling bonding and practice was not to be had. James entered through the mysteriously shattered door (with dozens of ineffectual iratzes encircling it, no less) not ten minutes after they had begun throwing knives, and Cordelia jumped at the chance to meet him, though whether it was because she was glad to see him or she just hated throwing knives, it was unclear.

Perhaps he was a pessimist when it came to James. He would have to work on that. If he was going to continue his friendship with Thomas, he must win over all the Merry Thieves. He made a conscious effort to turn around, stick out his hand, and create a blinding winning smile. James raised an eyebrow in return, but shook warily.

“Good to see you, Alastair?” It came out as a question, and he supposed that the whole “winning them over” thing may take a while.

“And you, James.” His cheeks were beginning to hurt. He didn’t smile all that much and his muscles were unused to the motion.

Layla was staring, wide-eyed, but she applied a happy expression nevertheless. “James! It’s wonderful seeing you. We were just working on throwing knives. Care to join?” she bubbled, glowing. Alastair sighed inwardly. His sister had been smitten with James Herondale for seven years, and even though she was engaged to him, it was clear he did not return her affections. He was pining, hopelessly, over Grace Blackthorn, who was engaged to Charles. Somehow he knew the feeling.

Of course, James was never not the perfect gentleman, and he grinned in return, kissing her hand. Layla blushed fiercely and Alastair gritted his teeth and took a deep breath.

“Well! It has been lovely to meet with you. I think I’ll go up to the rafters for some falling practice. Layla?”

Her eyes looked slightly dazed, and she nodded somewhat unconsciously. “Oh, okay.”

“That’s perfect, actually. If you wouldn’t mind, Daisy, I actually came here for you,” James told her, in a low voice that she probably found charming. He laughed, embarrassment tinging the tops of his impossibly high cheekbones. “I’ve been attempting to work on my fencing, and you’re the best of the best. So I was wondering if you could help me.”

She giggled and agreed happily. Alastair, who was climbing the side of the wall, had to restrain himself from rolling his eyes so hard they popped out of his head, like a screw.

He actually did have to practice falling. As much as he tried not to show it, landing with several concealed spears was always a bit of work. There were also certain benefits, such as: 1) James did not see his exasperation at their constant flirting, and 2) so that he could see their hands at all times. No, he may not have been the best person to judge what was proper and what was not - the prospect of “waiting till marriage” had been thrown out the door long ago (which was only partly due to the fact that he was never going to get married) - but teenage boys were teenage boys, and lovestruck girls were lovestruck girls. Especially if said lovestruck girl was his very own baby sister.

He’d lost his virtue, but that wasn’t about to stop him from protecting his sister’s.

However, looking back on it, it was probably James that he should have been worrying about. Here is how it happened:

James and Layla (Daisy? Cordelia? All too many names) began sparring. Layla was trouncing him soundly, but was a very good teacher. Alastair closed off his ears. The sweet words were making him want to gag. Maybe he was jealous. Maybe he was just grossed out. Either way, his system wasn’t responding very well.

Alastair was balancing atop the rafter, teetering on the edge. His soles of his shoes had only just grazed the air when the sound of metal shattering met his ears like shards of glass. Keep in mind that he was in the middle of tucking for his backflip; the world was spinning and blurring, so when he saw Cortana strike James’s wrist, how was he supposed to know that there was a silver bracelet that blended so well with his pale skin?

As any sane person would, he promptly lost his mind. Thank the Angel for the mat on the floor, because if it wasn’t there, he may well have broken his back (for that was where he landed). In an icy panic, he flew across the floor, scanning the ground desperately for bespattered blood, for a severed hand.

“Layla,” he gasped, “what have you done?”

She looked just as horrified as he did, paralyzed in shock. Her eyes were very dark, her eyes were so wide that the lashes stood out like fangs upon her skin, and she had taken several steps back. Cortana lay on the ground, forgotten. James was in a state. There was no other way to say it. He had the alert watchfulness of one who has just woken from a dream; he had the gratitude of one who has had their soul saved; he had a spark in his eyes that Alastair had never seen before. He was looking at Layla in total surprise and - this was the ringer - love.

It was the strangest thing that Alastair had ever seen, and Iceland housed some very interesting demons. Involuntarily, he shuddered at the thought.

This brought the other two back to reality. Collectively, they all stared at James’ wrist, and upon finding it intact, at the silver bracelet on the ground, now accessorized with a neat little incision on one side.

Layla fell to her knees, seizing the bracelet. “Oh, James, I’m so sorry. This was Grace’s gift to you, when you were young? I— I know you loved her, I’m so sorry.” She glanced up at him, her eyes open and shielded at the same time, expecting a blow and yet transparent with love. Alastair felt at that moment just how good she was. She knew that James did not love her, and yet her love was so strong that she still wished for him to be happy. With some other girl.

He knew he had never felt like that with Charles. Some loves just didn’t go the distance, especially when they were built of fear.

But now James returned that look, and he did not even spare the bracelet a movement of his pupils. They remained fixed upon Cordelia, and a gentle smile smoothed out his features. “Don’t worry, Daisy,” he said, and his voice was sweet and comforting. “I don’t care. Somehow I feel… freed.”

Cordelia smiled too, and he helped her to her feet. They gazed at each other quietly. Words lay unspoken between them and they would need to be spoken sometime, but they had time. Oh, the jocundity of love. Oh, what a brother never wanted to see.

Alastair was happy for his sister, and all. Still. He bored his eyes into the crevices of the door, through to the hallway, and wished momentarily that he was a warlock so he could Portal himself to literally anywhere else. Perhaps this was the universe’s payback for making out with Charles while his sister watched. Now, he regretted it twofold.

The lovebirds were still not speaking, and the atmosphere grew heavy with, well, Alastair didn’t even know what. Love? Desire? Understanding?

He didn’t know what a bracelet had to do with anything, but it wasn’t his mystery to solve, and he had a sneaking suspicion that they might know already. Layla would have to let him know later. Conspicuously, he cleared his throat. “Ahem. Well, I think I will be off. I think I’ll take the carriage back, if that’s all right with you.”

Jolted, James snapped his attention to Alastair. He coughed, twice. “Ha. Well. Yes. I can get Balios or Xanthos to get her home. She can um, return them anytime. The carriage, I mean. And the horse. That too. Ahem.”

Alastair was still a bit on edge with allowing his sister to be alone with James, because no matter what she said during that Enclave meeting, Layla was much too much of a priss to actually commit the deed before marriage.

Right?

Well, anyway, it was better than sitting in the corner while they stood and stared at each other for God knew how long.

“Goodbye, Alastair!” Layla called as he left the room. Was he pleased to be an afterthought? No, but it was better than nothing.

“You’re not allowed to train with James anymore!” he answered, over his shoulder.

As he walked along the halls, it occurred to him that anyone could walk by and see what was happening in that training room. He stopped for a moment to mutter a small blessing to whoever it was that cracked that door. Whoever they were, Alastair owed them a lot.

 

——————————

 

That night, Layla came home around ten o’clock, presumably having had dinner with the Herondales. Will Herondale seemed to adore her even more than her betrothed and her soon-to-be parabatai did, so he suspected that she hadn’t had a choice. Sona was ecstatic that her daughter was so beloved by such a well-respected family. Now that the court drama was over, they had less of a reason to establish such connections, but old habits died hard. Besides, wherever the Herondales went, drama and excitement followed. The Carstairs were a relatively stable bunch, the wood burning placidly while the Herondales leaped and danced about, so it was an interesting dynamic. The two families just gravitated toward one another. Even Alastair had to admit, they were fun to be around, though he would never say it aloud.

He hadn’t paid much attention, opting to go to bed early. In fact, he was sleeping soundly when Cordelia burst into his room at four o’clock in the damn morning, but then again, he was normally asleep then anyway.

“Alastair!” she whisper-shouted, filled to brimming with childish younger-sibling excitement. She hadn’t done this since she was seven and excessively happy about cutting off the training dummy’s head. Rightfully, he had been annoyed (“why were you training at four o’clock in the morning?!”), as he was now.

“Alastair!” she repeated, thrusting her lamp into the room. He blinked in mild irritation. No; screw that. In total irritation. “Alastair! It was all a trick!”

“Why were you thinking at four o’clock in the morning?!” he grumbled. There was no need to mess with tradition.

“Oh, Alastair,” she sighed dreamily, sinking into the bed and lying on her back. He rolled his eyes - there was no James to stop him now, was there - and unhappily sat up.

“What.”

“I couldn’t sleep until I told somebody, and Lucie is far away. I cannot be by myself on the streets at this time.”

“You shouldn’t actually be awake at this time, either.”

He could almost see her smug smile through the impenetrable darkness, the lamp on the floor flickering uselessly. “Grace Blackthorn is a witch,” she said simply.

Alastair felt a twinkle of approval, despite his misgivings. “That’s the spirit,” he replied, drawing the covers to his shoulders.

She furrowed her brow at him, and he couldn’t see it, of course, but the implication was clear and bright as day. “No, she used magic. On James. To make him fall in love with her.”

He hummed uncommittedly. “Hm.”

“For four years, Alastair.”

Something stirred, murkily, in his mind, a mixture of alarm and concern. “Demonic magic?”

Layla worried at her lip, and responded, “I think so.” Then she remembered herself, and shook her head, her hair rustling and tumbling on her nightgown. “But, Alastair, he actually is in love with me. We should have figured it out long ago, actually. Grace took off the bracelet for a few days, and, well…” She trailed off, snickering lightly. Her brother ducked his head underneath the duvet.

“I don’t want to hear this. I don’t want to know any of this,” he moaned, his voice muffled. “Please, don’t tell me more.”

“I hereby grant you permission to tell me of any romantic escapades that you have in the future,” she offered, but the amusement shone through her voice like sunlight behind muslin curtains.

“You need to stop conferring so often with Lucie. She is rubbing off on you.” Then he sighed, and memories returned to him all of a sudden. “Besides, I doubt there will be many ‘romantic escapades’ for me to embark upon.” He meant it teasingly, but Layla’s body tensed, and she sat up to face him fully.

“Oh, Alastair joon,” she murmured sadly. “Charles broke your heart, didn’t he.”

His eyes, previously blurry and unfocused with sleep, prickled and stung. He wiped at them furiously. “No,” he shot back, and she didn’t deserve it, but he didn’t like hurting. It was easier to protect himself by attacking others. Maybe he did need to process. He had loved Charles, after all, no matter how mangled a love it was. But how was he supposed to, when he could no longer open himself up to feeling?

When he was younger, small, too small to realize how broken his father was and how broken he would become, he had befriended a snail. Every day, he would go to see it, and feed it slivers of potatoes. It learned to wait at the spot next to his fence for its daily food. One day, he decided to splurge for his little gastropod mate, and salted the potato. When the mineral touched its skin, it had dissolved, melted, right before his eyes. He had cried for days. It was silly, he knew, but he wanted to hold on to the feeling. Like the sun's light stained the sky in fluorescent streaks, long after it had set, he had not wanted to let go.

Now, he was letting go too fast, and he wondered if there was anyone to blame but him.

But his sister knew him. Sometimes it felt as though she knew him better than he knew himself. Maybe she had known all along that this was what he had been feeling, when he had only just figured it out.

“Okay,” she said, not pushing it. “You will find your love one day, Alastair. And maybe he will break your heart. But don’t give up, okay? Miracles can happen.”

He was grateful to her, so grateful that he didn’t know how to say it. So he did what he always did, and turned away. “Good night, Layla.” The use of the nickname would let her know that he was not cross with her. It was all he could give.

She nodded and left the room, leaving him alone in the dark. Just how he thought he wanted it.

Chapter Text

It had been a couple of weeks, and everyone had carried on as usual, despite a number of interesting things happening. Well, specifically one thing, and that was James’s un-hypnotization via Grace’s silver bracelet. It cleared up a lot of other issues, though, which was why everyone had made such a big deal of it for a couple of days and then carried on as usual.

For example, it made Cordelia very happy, as she had been not-so-secretly crushing on James since the day they met, and it made James much more down-to-earth than normal. He lost the twinkling glaze that he was usually dripping with whenever anyone mentioned Grace or the Blackthorns. And Matthew owned up to kissing Grace, though it became clear rather immediately that it was just more of her magic, so that was good too. The others had been walking on air, not that different except for that spring in their step. Merry Thieves meet-ups were, yes, slightly more uncomfortable, given all the sappy looks, but Matthew didn’t even seem jealous the way he used to be when he caught Cordelia staring. He unscrewed the flask less often. And Lucie typed, typed away, telling them nothing except for the fact that now that the Beautiful Cordelia had her heart’s devotion in one place, the story may be taking different focuses. Along with her married life, of course.

No, things were very very good. And Thomas would have been happy, truly happy, except for this one little problem. A drop of water on the page and that sadness and worry was seeping in, and smearing the joy just a little bit. That drop of water, of course, was Alastair.

It wasn’t his fault. And it wasn’t his father’s fault, not really. It was the alcohol, and the circumstance, and the lack of love that forced his friend to put up the cheerful façade that only a select few people could see through, and Cordelia, swarmed with well-wishers as she was, could only be expected to help so much, and if Thomas remembered correctly, even she hadn’t suffered the way Alastair had. She knew the extent of what had been done but she didn’t understand it. She couldn’t understand it.

The fact that it was no one’s fault was what made it so frustrating, because how could you be mad at a circumstance? A drink? How was he supposed to exact revenge on fruit, or the fermentation process, or the distributors? And how could he hate a memory?

So while all the people around him celebrated and danced, he would join in but halfheartedly. He was so muddled by all the feelings inside of him that he spent two weeks in a fog, almost wishing for something new and terrible to happen just so that he could be sharpened up and square off his attention to one specific zone. Where he was forced to do so and he didn’t have to make a choice whether to be happy or sad, because it was wrong to be anything but scared.

It was wrong to think that at all, he knew, but it wasn’t as if his thoughts could influence anything.

Needless to say he had lost his “at least right now things are okay” outlook. You could only let so many serious problems fall between the cracks until they piled up and tripped you, after all.

(Un)fortunately for him, his friends stirred up enough drama on their own.

 

——————————

 

It all began one day, at one moment, as these things often do. Thomas was at home, drearily looking over some study or other concerning — a type of gunpowder? He wasn’t even sure — but in any case, it was something to help out Christopher.

It was probably gunpowder. Christopher was a sucker for explosions.

It wasn’t that gunpowder wasn’t interesting. Or that he didn’t like helping out his cousin, he did enjoy that, quite a lot. But he had a sneaking suspicion that his friend had actually taken pity on him, moping around like a ghost, so he put him up to a task even when Thomas was ninety-nine percent sure that Christopher knew everything there was to know about the substance. He knew a lot of things like that. An explosive encyclopedia, he once thought, with his prescription-embedded safety goggles and in-a-state-of-permanent-entanglement hair.

Suddenly, there was a frantic pounding at his window, and the face of one of their Irregulars appeared through the glass. The day was gray and the clouds were heavy with rain, and the young werewolf’s face was the quintessence of panic. “Sir!” he shouted through the wall. “You have a note! The lady said it was urgent!”

Alarm bells sounded in his brain as he twisted the latch savagely and snatched the note with a hurried thanks, handing the boy a couple of coins. The Irregular nodded gratefully and rushed away, throwing worried looks over his shoulder as he journeyed down the street.

He tore it open, and Anna’s handwriting was scrawled and slanted, so different from her normal relaxed, looping script. It read:

Come to the Hell Ruelle immediately. It’s Matthew. Please hurry.

Signed,
Anna Lightwood

 

——————————

 

The blood pounded rhythmically in his mind, along with the steady stream of horrible thoughts. Was he hurt? Was it a relapse? Must I get the Silent Brothers? Matthew had been hard at work at self-improvement, which was not his select activity on any day, and Thomas had long been fearing a fatal mistake. Perhaps it had all become too much. The engagement, the constant parties, the lure and barb of alcohol; too many people were suffering from his friend’s condition already. He didn’t know how anyone could help but if his being there might, well, then, there was no doubt where he was going to be.

His sister and mother were off shopping, and the family’s carriage was gone with them. The nearest ones were at the Institute, which was in the opposite direction of where he was going, so he just ran.

A perk of his monstrous growth spurt was that he rarely tired from physical exertion, even less so than typical Shadowhunters, and the Hell Ruelle was only a few kilometers away. A short carriage ride and only a bit longer of a walk, so he arrived quite quickly.

He burst into the Hell Ruelle like a bat out of hell. Normally he would have considered the irony of going into hell like others flew out of it but the circumstances demanded his attention. His eyes found Anna quite easily, as she was one of the tallest, and best dressed, in the room.

“Anna!” he panted. “Matthew! Where is he? Is he okay?”

“Thomas!” she drawled, sweeping over to meet him, drink in hand. She pushed it into Thomas’s grip. “Good to see you. Right this way, please,” she said as she escorted him into a room separated by a curtain. The crowd tittered, but one fierce look from Anna and they directed their gazes back toward the current poet, a tipsy vampire with an affinity for limericks. Despite everything, Thomas found himself grateful for the secluded space, and not just because drunk vampire = vomiting vampire, and vomiting vampires were always messy and more than a little gross.

But when Thomas untangled his head from the curtain and peeked inside the room, he did not find Matthew’s unconscious body. Or Matthew at all, for that matter.

Instead, there sat Ariadne, four glasses of wine, and for some odd reason, Hypatia Vex, perched on a cushion and looking carefully bored. His eyebrow elevated slowly. “Where’s Matthew?”

To his surprise, the three women laughed and pulled him down to a cushion of his own, and Ariadne patted his shoulder, saying, “Oh, dear. Matthew isn’t here. We just… wanted you.” And she gave him a saucy little smile, flicking him with her fingertip. He flinched. This wasn’t Ariadne Bridgestock, Inquisitor’s daughter, epitome of politeness, not as he knew her, anyway.

“Are you drunk?”

“Slightly. But this isn’t about me!” she added, remembering. “It’s about you!”

Thomas shrunk into a faded corner, illuminated slightly by a dancing candle. “Why, again?”

Hypatia sat up slightly and lit up a cigarette by sticking it into the candle, then positioned it in her mouth as casually as one would place a bookmark. “I was told I would be privy to Shadowhunter gossip. Not that I like Shadowhunters,” she said quickly, pointing at the three surrounding her. “I hate Shadowhunters. They always cause so many problems and force me to fix them. But when they get down and dirty, they can be quite interesting.” She said this with a sideways exhale and a flirtatious glance at Anna, who, for the first time, seemed to be the most sober of the group. Thomas tried not to think about what “down and dirty” meant. Anna often utilized her… assets… to help them out with missions, but that didn’t mean that he needed to know what happened behind closed doors.

“What would you like from me? There isn’t anyone I have an understanding with,” he sighed, making ready to stand up. This had been a colossal waste of time.

“That’s the best part!” Ariadne blurted out, her black hair wild. “You needn’t have an understanding to have something else, do you?”

“Excuse me?”

“With someone special.” She wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.

“I’m not quite following.”

“Darling, we must explain better,” Anna lamented, petting her girlfriend’s hair. Sometime during the conversation, Ariande had slipped into her lap. Looking back up, Anna said to Thomas: “Sex.”

What?” Thomas jolted so quickly that, if he were standing, he might have hit the ceiling. The ladies stared at him expectantly.

Did they mean— “No!” he nearly shouted. “What? No! No. I’ve never done— that,” he said, shuddering.

Hypatia heaved a sigh and extinguished her cigarette, what Christopher called a “cylindrical killing machine”. He was fascinated by them. “Well, if the boy can’t even say the word, this has been a colossal waste of time,” she said, echoing Thomas’s thoughts.

Anna scoffed slightly. “Not yet,” she said. “My apologies. We’re moving too quickly. Here, have some of this.” With that, she dumped an entire glass of wine down his throat, ignoring his plaintive sputtering. “We’re just saying that there might be someone who you might do that with. In due time, of course.”

Thomas stared. He didn’t want to get her point.

“And we think we know who it is, so we want you to — how do I phrase this nicely — scrape your chiseled jaw off of the ground, stop lumping about, you’re like sugar at teatime, honestly, and get a move on.”

So perhaps Anna wasn’t that sober after all. Or they were just crazy. That, too, was a distinct possibility. He felt quite sure that most people didn’t have these kinds of conversations with their cousins.

“On who.”

“Alastair,” she said simply, and Thomas choked on air. Giggling, Ariadne poured him another glass and kept the bottle to herself, while Hypatia snickered quietly in the corner.

“But we aren’t anything!” This received six raised eyebrows, collectively. “We’re just friends,” he amended. Hypatia rolled her eyes and dropped the nail file she had been using.

“What is wrong with you Shadowhunters? There are so many damn love triangles. You people suck at talking about your feelings. I have had numerous opportunities to sabotage you all, yet I charitably don’t, and even then it takes months for you to get a simple idea through those thick, Angel-given skulls. It is not that difficult to understand. You are all attractive. You all fall in love, ridiculously early. Of course someone wants to fu—”

“Language!” Ariadne admonished, sitting up abruptly. Or at least trying to. She tumbled onto the floor like a velvety bowling pin. Propping herself up on her hands, she turned toward Thomas. “Don’t worry about it a lick, darling. You’ve just got to tell your man how you feel. Now don’t sell me out here, but I do think that this certain someone returns your feelings.” She nodded knowingly, keeping her eyes on him even as she finished off the bottle.

Against his will, Thomas felt himself redden. He cleared his throat. “And who do you think this certain someone is?”

She furrowed her eyebrows, as if he was the one that was dangerously drunk. “Alastair, obviously. I have patrol with him an alarming amount of times. He refuses to shut his trap about you.”

He blanched and looked helplessly toward his cousin, then at Hypatia. All they did was simply exchange a look and nod in tandem. “It’s quite clear, really.”

“Wait, what?” He took a moment to process. “I like Alastair?” Another pause, another nod. “Hmph. You’re all mad.”

Anna rolled her eyes to the sky in thought, weighing her thoughts. “Mm, no, I really don’t think so.”

“I like Alastair?”

“I’m afraid you do,” Ariadne sympathized into the bottle. Her voice echoed.

“I had no idea,” he said, wondering. Hypatia made an exasperated noise, rather like a cat, and flicked her cigarette at him.

“How do you not know when you are interested in someone? How dense can one get?” She sounded outraged. “For the Angel’s chosen one, you are truly a blockhead.”

“Don’t you have an institution to run?” he demanded. “Why are you even here?”

“Fine,” she grumped. “I do. Now get out of here, Shadowhunter. I can barely tolerate these two as it is.” And with that, she stormed out. Thomas followed suit, though he was still in a bit of a daze, so it didn’t have the same theatrical flair. Anna simply smirked a bit at Hypatia’s comment, and Ariadne waved a drunken goodbye. The vampire swung around in circles on the stage, reciting his limerick. It was not being met with much acclaim.

There once was a vampire named Frank
Legend tells that he really quite stank
His wife finally quit
And so he threw a fit
Now her heart’s run through with a plank!

He, Thomas Lightwood, had feelings for his best friend! It was— well, he wasn’t sure what it was, exactly, or why the women in his life had taken such an interest in it, but things made a lot more sense now. Like Lucie’s behavior, and Anna shoving him and Alastair into her flat.

Yes, it was bordering on strange. But it served as a very welcome distraction, so that was good, he supposed.

It would certainly make things awkward. That was a given. But still.

He liked Alastair! Who knew?

 

—————————

 

Outside, it could not have been said to be as pleasant as the smoky interior of the Hell Ruelle: a thundering deluge of rain awaited him. Weather was not usually perfect in the UK, and this sort of afternoon was typical (and honestly, long overdue), but his current lack-of-carriage state made the situation more of a conundrum than it usually was.

After a few streets of ducking under the odd storefront, he was soaked to the bones and decided to take refuge nearby at the Devil’s Tavern. When he stepped into the Merry Thieves’ room, however, to grab a towel, he was met with three stony faces.

Well. One stony face, one mildly confused face, and one chair back, but the intention was there. Matthew spun his chair around, dramatically petting Mr. Oscar Wilde. (Historians would later use this scene for a hit movie called “James Bond”.) The other James, a.k.a. the stony face, stared at Thomas.

“Lucie had some very interesting developments in her latest installment of The Beautiful Cordelia that she was so excited about, she even read aloud to the whole family.”

He didn’t quite get what this whole thing was about, so he just stood there, quietly dripping. “Ah.”

“These particular passages held some very risqué content about two friends, both boys, who were clueless but it turned out that they fell in love. Brave Knight Al and Sweet Earl Tomás.”

Here was when he coughed. “I see.”

“Yes, well, Lucie didn’t like the names either. And we don’t have an issue with the boys falling in love! That would be wrong! But there were so many parallels between you and Alastair, and the books. So we just wanted to ask, are you in love with Alastair?”

“Um…” What was he supposed to say?

Matthew sighed, and set down the puppy. “It’s fine if you are, Tom. I’m over it. Mostly. Well, I’m working on being over it. Isn’t that right, Christopher?”

Christopher looked down and blinked, as if surprised to be in the room. “Hm?”

“You get the point. So?”

Thomas rubbed at the back of his neck, which didn’t really do anything, considering he was still sopping wet. Without meeting their gaze, he said, “Well, I wouldn’t say love, per se…” He trailed off.

And was promptly attacked by three boys engulfing him in a hug. “Wow!” James exclaimed. “Now that’s two of us! We’re halfway to being a right little love group!”

Matthew paused. “Love group?”

Shrugging, James replied, “It sounded better in my head.”

It was cheesy, Thomas knew, but he really was grateful for his friends and their intrusive, idiotic distractions. They made life better. Even though there was still rainwater in places rainwater should never be.

My, the things he’d never dreamed he would think. He really must begin a journal.

Chapter Text

Elias had basically disappeared. Nobody knew where he had gone, and honestly, Alastair didn’t mind at all. He suspected that they’d probably see him soon, and anytime was too soon.

It was a dark night tonight, so dark that one wouldn’t be able to tell if there were clouds or not if not for the stars that shone in small pinpricks. Like someone had poked tiny holes through the blanket of the sky and revealed a side of unimaginable light. Not that Alastair knew, because he was contentedly polishing his prized dagger, the pisgqabz, carved from pure ivory. It was late and it was quiet, and he was just placing the knife back on its stand when Cordelia came hurtling in the room practically dying of laughter.

“Are you in love with Thomas?” she panted, swinging around his doorway.

Before he could answer, or be sufficiently mortified, a street lamp flickered in the wind and cast a beam of light into the room, where it glinted off of something beneath Alastair’s bed. A brandy bottle. They froze in sync.

It was glass, and it would have been clear had it not been stained with amber liquid. Like my father, Alastair realized with a jolt. Separately, the culprit was obviously Elias — no one else in the family could have downed an entire bottle without feeling sick.

They hadn’t seen Elias in a while, assuming he went to the slums for some easier access to alcohol. It hurt, of course, to think that their father was gone, but really he had been gone ever since he had turned to drink. They had lost their father long before this moment and they were both determined to not let him ruin their happiness at Layla’s wedding. Alastair was to walk her down the aisle; it was all planned out. But no.

That meant that Sona had either been harboring him — unthinkable — or he was sneaking about, coming home at night for shelter and crashing in a guest room. Or he was drinking all night and sleeping anywhere that seemed like his bed during the day, and he and Alastair owned the same bedspread. It was plausible and preposterous at the same time. He couldn’t allow himself to be appalled. Layla had been thinking along the same lines, because she straightened and her face set in a grim way that Alastair never wanted to see.

“What are we supposed to do?” she asked, steadily. He forced himself to be calm. It was all too familiar a situation.

“I can handle this,” he replied. “I’ve done it before.”

She whirled to face him full-on. “No, Alastair! I know you do this all the time. I want to help. I’m old enough now.”

“Layla, stop,” he warned. “You don’t want to see it. You think what you know is bad? This is so much worse. He was always trying for you. Now he’s stopped. You’re going to lose your father, Cordelia. It’s not honorable.” He began walking toward the bottle, and peered out the window. He was probably in an alley somewhere, perhaps near the Devil’s Tavern…

His thoughts were interrupted by his sister taking hold of his wrist with deadly determination. “I am not asking. I know I will lose him. But if you keep isolating yourself I will lose you too, and that is the one thing that I cannot handle.”

It was sweet, he knew. His sister was sweet. What she said was dramatic, but he sensed she meant everything. Alastair wondered, not for the first time, what he had ever done to deserve her. Probably nothing, but he could at least allow her to help. The decision was already made. If he didn’t bring her along, she would probably just slink behind him like she used to, and that didn’t help anybody.

It was purely due to reason, then, that he grudgingly accepted her aid. “All right. Fine. What do you think we should do, then?”

Her eyes were wide with surprise, but she chewed her lip thoughtfully nonetheless. “Have you tried a Tracking rune?”

Resisting the urge to scoff, he said, “No. He would have applied a Blocking rune. He’s not careless.”

“Yes, but he’s different when he’s drunk. Let’s try it.”

They did. Shockingly, it worked. “He’s in St. James park.”

Layla looked alarmed. “That’s dangerous. He’s exposed to mundanes. And children! I’ve got to go grab my gear!” She raced out of the door in a nightgowned flurry before he could argue that no child was awake at midnight.

 

——————————

 

Ten minutes later, they were silently slipping out of the door, dressed in gear and plastered with weapons. There was no need to stress out their pregnant mother with a simple recovery mission. It was a bleak way of phrasing it, but it was also in all likelihood true — Elias was probably passed out on a bench, totally incoherent. Layla’s presence did mean that they could actually pick him up instead of just dragging him. Alastair supposed that was progress.

It didn’t take long to find him. St. James park wasn’t far, and it was empty. A couple sat in a nearby tree, kissing. Alastair felt a sudden pang of gratitude for his glamour rune, and Layla seemed nothing less than scandalized, walking next to him. He would have chuckled, but it was at that moment that he saw his father, slumped near a bush and utterly inert.

“Come on,” he whispered, gesturing toward the brush. The mundanes couldn’t hear him, but he didn’t want to wake his father. Perhaps it was to save the nonexistent shred of his dignity, perhaps to make the job easier; he didn’t know. It was automatic.

“Is that a juniper?” his sister hissed back as they jogged toward him. “Why there? Shouldn’t that hurt?”

She attempted picking out the fragrant needles as he inked a glamour rune into Elias’s arm, with some healing runes, just for good measure. That technique was probably the only good thing about Matthew’s previous alcoholism. Unfortunately, Elias was completely and totally plastered, and the juniper was unfailingly stubborn. Elias remained unconscious and smelling remotely like Christmas.

They hoisted him on their shoulders, and Alastair’s vision swam, albeit less than usual. “At least it makes the stench better,” he responded, staring at the verdant fronds jutting out of Elias’s clothing with more than a little disdain. His sister laughed quietly, and he cracked a small smile in her direction. Perhaps it was a good idea to bring her along, he thought, even if this was the strangest situation he’d ever landed himself in. Then the demons descended from the trees like windblown lanterns, and all his thoughts faded out minus one blinking neon sign that read, Oh, shit.

Layla, being the resident Brave Person With a Very Pointy Sword that she was, seized her father and raced him over to a bench with an impressive display of strength. Snap out of it, Alastair, he told himself, tracing a quick Night Vision rune onto his neck. The world sharpened and brightened, like how it did with tears, and suddenly he could see long white maggoty bodies shucking along the ground with alarming speed. He rolled his eyes internally. The pleasant holiday smell of juniper drifted away and was replaced with rotting garbage, a trademark of the Drevak demon.

His gaze roved over the ground, counting. Packs of ten or so were common with Drevaks. He unsheathed a spear and impaled the nearest one in its mouth, but as it writhed, poison foaming, its friends’ noses picked up, and they lurched closer. It was only then that he realized just how bad it was.

There were at least thirty, and they were moving quickly. Toward his father, and by extension, toward his sister. Drevaks navigated mostly by smell, after all. Two demons lunged toward Elias and Cordelia sliced them neatly in half, all in one smooth movement, but the demons had organized themselves by now. They funneled into three splashes of white. Each person had at least ten demons heading toward them, and one of them couldn't even move, much less fight. They weren’t going to be able to handle this, even as Alastair moved closer to his sister and drew two seraph blades, jabbing and cutting. For every demon that disintegrated two appeared. They weren’t going to make it on their own, and there was only one friend who lived nearby. Alastair and Cordelia came to understand this at exactly the same time.

“You’re going to have to do it,” she told him, throwing him a look that was both mocking and beseeching at the same time. It was quite a feat. “Come on, please, it’s not a big deal.” This time Alastair did actually spare some time to roll his eyes. A blob lunged toward him at the same time that a golden blur whirled through the air, and the demon fell to the ground, screeching and slowly dying on Alastair’s foot. “Go!” she screamed with real urgency.

“You’re going to die!”

“I can handle it! Just — hurry!”

He didn’t need to be told a fifth time. With only a couple of backward glances, he dashed two blocks to scale the side of Thomas’s house and slam on his window. He wasn’t about to wake the whole family at this hour.

Thomas was obviously asleep, and ambled over to the window looking far too cute in his pajamas and mussed hair, but Alastair couldn’t focus on that at the moment and he probably wasn’t gay so there was literally no point. Plus his sister and his father were about to die, so he let Thomas know (about the demons, not the pajamas) in a similarly confusing jumble that could, he supposed, constitute as a sentence, as long as you didn’t own a dictionary. “Anyway… we’re just down at the park, will you come help? Please?”

Despite everything, Thomas’s eyes shot open in fear. “Of course!” he sputtered, as if appalled that Alastair hadn’t asked sooner. He grabbed his bolas and some seraph blades and threw on some gear while Alastair dropped to the ground, tapping his knives anxiously.

He needn’t have worried. Thomas practically exploded out of the house in a record thirty seconds, and they took off to the park, where somehow more demons had gathered. Layla was doing her best but just as the boys arrived, a demon struck at her calf during the split second it took for her to notice them. Beads of sweat gathered around her hairline and her features pulled themselves in a terrifying grimace.

Without hesitation, they leaped into the fray. Layla truly was working hard to be helpful, but it wasn’t long until she blacked out in pain. It was a miracle that she was alive anyway. Cortana was coated up to its hilt with Drevak insides, which would have been gross usually but if you hadn’t noticed, his father and his sister were both unconscious. He talked a good game about not loving Elias and about being a cold and vile human being, but when it came down to it, well, dammit, he was going to keep him safe. Or at least alive. And Thomas was, quite plainly, a good person, who not only had the instinct to protect everyone he saw but also understood Alastair with a remarkable clarity.

He was really beginning to panic now, and the adrenaline began pumping. The two of them worked impressively well together, standing back to back, surrounded by the demons. Alastair’s knives and spears had been mostly used up, but somehow Thomas seamlessly picked the weapons out of the ashes that were demonic carcasses and threw them at him. Usually Alastair wasn’t at his most coordinated when it came to having items chucked at him, but somehow it worked. Almost like parabatai, but if those thoughts that kept on buzzing in Alastair’s mind continued showing up the way they were, that possibility was certainly out of the question.

It also helped that Christopher was not there. That way he could yell “Lightwood” and not endanger any person, or dog.

Furthermore, Cordelia was a very good fighter. It was a simple fact. Normally Alastair would have felt a tang of resentment at knowing that his little sister was handier with a sword than he, but here he felt only appreciation. There were more demons than before, approaching from all sides, but she left them with a sizeable clearing. Of course, some were attempting to scurry away, as Drevaks often did after facing real danger, but the surrounding trees and benches assisted in keeping the great lumping creatures contained. Not that he was paying much attention to that. If they wanted to run away, Alastair wasn't about to stop them.

In all honesty, he felt a bit out-of-body; he wasn’t exactly sure what he was doing. Alastair couldn’t guess if it was the panic or the adrenaline that blurred his mind, but he was grateful nonetheless. He was convinced that if he were to actually come to terms with what was happening - Elias thoroughly sloshed, his sister in excruciating pain, both of them senseless on a bench, you know, the usual - he would be unable to fight, and that was likely to kill them all. In the tree, the couple kissed away and murmured sweet nothings into the dark. He envied their ignorance.

Then it was over. Just like that. Thomas’s seraph blade glowed in the night, and it had been whirling for a while, but suddenly there were no more demons to whirl it through, so it was just them and the bodies of his family and the disgustingly affectionate boy and girl. Alastair was really beginning to freak out, his nerves fraying. The panic, so helpful in battle, but dizzying out of it, was fogging his vision. He steeled his jaw. He would not break down. There were people to be saved, and if there was one thing that he absolutely would never do, it was letting a loved one die without him doing all he possibly could to prevent it.

Unprompted, both Thomas and Alastair headed to the bench to pick up their respective bundles. Though Alastair was slender, he was strong, so he could carry Layla quite easily. And of course Thomas was a real-life giant, so Elias did not prove to be a problem.

They sprinted (or what counted as “sprinting” when you were holding that much weight) back to Thomas’s house, where Thomas snuck out back and prepared a carriage for them. Alastair felt numb. Like static electricity. Buzzing but unable to move. Even as he and Thomas loaded his father and his sister into the back of the carriage it felt a bit surreal, like if he pinched himself, he might wake. He wondered if this was how Silent Brothers felt every single day of their lives.

Thomas climbed up to the driver’s seat and shot Alastair a worried glance, mentally asking him if he was all right. Alastair, sandwiched between his beloved sister and his estranged father, felt that question was irrelevant.

Intellectually he knew that Layla, his Layla, would be healed. Drevak poison was painful, yes, but easy to treat if there was a Silent Brother or a warlock who knew what he was doing. Yet, his throat tightened at the thought of her in pain that he couldn’t absolve. And his father. Memories of his father like this, passed out and oblivious to the world, were plentiful, but he’d never been in danger before, not real danger anyway. Something about it all caused a little fracturing feeling in his chest. He took a deep breath, closing it up and closing off the pain before it truly hit him. He leaned his back against the seat.

“Thank you.”

His throat felt alien and yet his voice was the same as always. Thomas turned his head slightly, keeping his eye on the road, and spoke quietly, gently.

“It’s fine.”

Was it?

“Okay.”

And he wanted it to be. He wanted to believe this boy’s words. He didn’t want to cut him down, or tell him that he didn’t understand, which he didn’t, not really. Alastair found himself hovering in the balance between blind belief and anger and that was when it hit him that he didn’t really trust anyone, not even good people like Thomas.

He sighed inwardly and smoothed the hair back from Layla’s face. She and Sona were his only exceptions, and she was the only one he should actually be worrying about.

Still, he smiled to himself, a little. It was nice to know that there were good people in the world.

Chapter Text

As soon as the carriage wheels ground to halt, Thomas was out, flying out, and all he could think was not another one, not another one. Not another sister, not another father. The rumors about Gideon were incomparable, he knew. Still, there was something about the loss of control of your own thoughts, though he would bet a sizable amount that Alastair never allowed himself to lose control.

Some people had willpower like that, like stone or iron. It was impressive and terrifying.

Sure enough, when he eased open the carriage door, not wanting to do anything to shock him, Alastair’s face was dry as the surface of the moon. He was moving faster than Thomas, already slinging his sister over one shoulder and nudging Elias toward him.

Despite his lingering consternation, he accepted the— body? package? Both ways it sounded like Elias was dead.

They shuffled up the path, carrying the injured silently. It didn’t feel that way because the air was electric, laced with echoes of worry and fear. Inside, Brother Zachariah and Magnus Bane stood at the depth of the hall, talking quietly, stopping when Alastair and Thomas burst into the room. Neither spoke as the boys laid Cordelia and Elias down on their hospital beds. If the older men were surprised to see the Carstairs father blackout drunk and reeking of a holiday ornament, they did not show it.

“What happened?” Magnus Bane asked, gesturing to Cordelia.

Alastair’s voice was tight as he responded. “Drevak poison.”

From what Thomas had gathered, Magnus was a talkative person, but he sealed his lips as he pressed a hand to her arm, where the poison had entered. The wound glowed cobalt blue, sparks flying as if someone had blown on them. He hadn’t known Cordelia for long, but what he did know he liked. A knot of fear, subconsciously formed, loosened and pulled apart as her features eased back to her usual peaceful expression. The only difference from normal was the missing hint of amusement. Her wise kind eyes were shut.

Elias was in the same room as his daughter. Brother Zachariah inspected him calmly, pulling out threads of juniper here and there.

He once tried to give Cortana to Will, he said, remembering. The voice boomed in all their minds. Thomas jumped.

Brother Zachariah continued on, heedless or unruffled, it was unclear. Will refused. Tessa said that he did not need a sword to remember me by.
He didn’t sound regretful, or sad. Just wistful. For better times, clear-eyed times.

I am grateful for them. Now you can make your own memories, instead of holding on to mine.

It’s funny, how the simplest of things can make someone so happy so long as their expectations are low enough.

Thomas knew he was thinking about becoming a Silent Brother. He didn’t know the full story, but he did know that Jem was so close to death that the Brotherhood was his only chance at a semblance of life. They had all gotten so used to his presence, a steady, permanent light guiding and saving and granting advice, but his very existence was still a miracle. And yet the rest of the Silent Brothers they took for granted. He wondered what their stories might be.

It wasn’t important. Alastair’s eyes kept on flitting back and forth between the two patients and they were beginning to look glassy, so Thomas decided to wait it out in the hallway. Brother Zachariah followed him smartly. Magnus Bane already leaned against the cold stone wall, fiddling with his rings.

Zachariah headed back to work - other patients, organizing files, whatever it is Silent Brothers did - and Thomas sat there quietly, at a bit of a loss. Magnus Bane was one of the few people that was close to his height, and though he was several inches shorter still, he seemed to loom over the entire room. Even if Thomas was the only one there. Indeed, his thoughts were jumbled. It was going to be a long wait. Magnus was fashionable and suave and confident; Thomas owned several replicas of the same outfit, tripped over his feet at least once a week, and was painfully shy.

At least, that’s what people who had met Magnus Bane said. What people forgot to mention was that he was also kind, and excellent at reading emotions. With eyes softened by pity, he spoke to keep Thomas’s mind off of other matters.

“I’m here currently for some archives,” he explained. “I’m staying in town for a while. You people certainly seem in need of my help.”

At this, Thomas laughed, a little self-consciously. “Usually we’re a bit more put together.”

“If Will Herondale is any indication, I don’t think you are,” Magnus said good-naturedly. “You’re doing quite well for now. I thought I would send for my cat during my stay. Unfortunately, while I was planning his birthday party, the catnip streamers seemed to contract a sort of magical radioactivity. It shot into his food bowl. Now my cat is dying from a magical overdose. I’m here for a certain spell book.”

He was looking far too nonchalant for his words. Leaning against the wall, his legs crossed, hair wild, and waistcoat a glaring turquoise, he looked like an ethnic Matthew Fairchild. Certainly not a centuries-old warlock with a dying pet.

Thomas cleared his throat. “Excuse me, what?” Magnus seemed to sense his concern, albeit a little late.

“Oh, he’s not dying at the moment. I slowed it down. Charles Kittens will be perfectly fine. I’ve used the spell before.”

That wasn’t much comfort either, but he decided to smile. Magnus probably knew what he was doing. “That’s good, then. Thank you for healing her. Cordelia, I mean.”

A spark of curiosity flickered in his eyes. Nephilim didn’t often thank warlocks for their help. “Hmm. It was no trouble.” Thomas felt a slight pang. He felt bad: his eyes were unfocused, his fingers tapping. It probably didn’t seem like he meant it. He hoped that one day, Magnus would find a Shadowhunter who would make him feel appreciated. Thomas didn’t think he was going to be the one. He wasn’t exactly an expert on conveying his thoughts.

The silence continued in a similarly awkward fashion for a couple of minutes, until a Silent Brother called from the end of the hallway.

Bane? We have your document.

Magnus flashed Thomas another pitying smile. “Can’t keep Mr. Kittens waiting,” he half-joked as he walked away. Then he was alone again.

He didn’t even know why he was so nervous. He ticked through the possibilities in his mind. Cordelia was going to be fine. Elias, well, Elias always provided a bit of a problem, but the Brothers were going to sober him up enough to awake on the trip home. And Thomas was never one to become all riled up from the aftereffects of a battle.

It was truly a conundrum. Then Alastair came through the door, biting his lip, and his heart rate picked up again and he immediately thought, oh. The ladies’ words thudded in his ears.

The other boy took a seat next to him on the narrow bench, and Thomas couldn’t help but notice that their knees were touching. The place of contact felt warm, like fresh honey. Alastair took a deep breath, staring at the bricks between his feet.

“I didn’t thank you. You came and it was late and I woke you up and I’m sorry.”

He frowned, then chuckled a bit at the simplicity of it all. “Don’t worry. No one deserves to lose their sister.”

Alastair’s gaze snapped up. His face crumbled.

“Oh, shit, Thomas, I—”

“No, wait, no, that’s not—”

“I can’t believe—”

“No, that was selfish, I didn’t mean to—” and of course right then was when Magnus Bane chose to walk by, smirking with a spell book (Healing Remedies for the Felis Catus) tucked under his brocaded arm.

“Flirting, I see. You two do make a lovely couple.” He elevated an already pointed eyebrow.

To the casual observer, it may have seemed that Alastair and Thomas’s faces had been placed behind a red filter. “We’re not—” Alastair called, his voice hoarse in a way that Thomas couldn’t resist finding attractive, but Magnus had already disappeared into the night. The door swung shut and gusted wind into the room.

“He certainly knows how to make an exit,” Alastair muttered, and he actually seemed surprised when Thomas laughed. “But what I was going to say was, you saved my sister and my father. So, thank you.”

“It’s all right. You know, Magnus isn’t the only one who’s made that assumption,” he blurted out, mostly just to direct the conversation away from Alastair’s lifelong debt to him. Then he realized how that made him sound, and he cursed himself while reaching up to rub at his neck. “It’s just, Lucie and Anna and Ariadne, they’ve cornered me. A bit. To ask if there was, um, anything. Which there is not.”

Alastair stared at him. “Yes. I mean. No. There is not.”

“Ahem. Okay.”

It was all very uncomfortable. Thomas tapped his foot.

“Layla asked me that earlier, too. She asked me if I was in love with you.”

What did you say? Deep down, in a very secret vault, Thomas was hoping. He wanted to ask so badly. But that vault was very very deep. And very very secret. That was probably for a reason. So, instead of asking, he chuckled. “Lucie must have told her! She did write about it in The Beautiful Cordelia.”

“Damn it, Layla,” he swore quietly. “I always wondered what was in those letters. I suppose I’ll have to start censoring them. Break into the mailbox and everything.”

“That would probably be best,” he agreed.

Well. At least they could laugh about it. It seemed funnier when he was actually talking about it with Alastair. Somehow less mortifying.

“It’s nice to know that they care about our love lives so much,” Thomas suggested.

Alastair made a face. “It’s also creepy. But, yes. I suppose it is.”

They continued with their quiet conversation, careful not to wake the patients opposite them. Alastair was his regular sarcastic, dark-humored self, the one that Thomas had learned to enjoy. It was always good to see him animated. Whenever he was quiet and stormy, that was when he had learned to be concerned.

Still. He was hesitating. Slower than normal. He caught Alastair staring more than once. He would open his mouth, then close it. The hope stirred, once again, in his chest. He wondered if Alastair felt what he felt, something so near to best friendship, but it wasn’t. Something that Anna and Ariadne and Hypatia had told him meant something else. It meant being interested in him. As more than a friend. It was so confusing.

If Alastair felt the same way, well, what happened then?

Obviously he knew that the Merry Thieves would lose their minds. Lucie & Co. - he was convinced that they were all somehow in cahoots - would have a field day. His sister would probably have a heart attack. So that part was clear. He knew how other people would react.

He just didn’t know how he would. He didn’t want what Alastair had with Charles. He didn’t even want what James and Cordelia had; a relationship fraught with obstacles thrown in from the outside. He didn’t want what anyone else had. He just wanted him, and Alastair. Like this but more.

This whole thing was just a monumental puzzle. The pieces were strewn all over his brain and - oh, Lord, this was cliché - his heart.

What he knew for sure was that he didn’t want to think too hard on it. He had his friend right now, and he was okay, so that meant that Thomas was okay as well. It was easy and simple and not confusing. Yes, his heart kept on tugging at all the right places whenever he looked over at Alastair. Yes, it was getting more difficult by the minute to quash down those feelings.

What did you say? Had Alastair wanted him to ask? Had he wanted to answer just as much Thomas had wanted to know?

The inclusion of these feelings made Thomas’s life very, very complicated.

Chapter Text

Of course Magnus Bane, debauched icon, fashion symbol, and heartthrob to many a teenager (boy and girl), had to show up right when Alastair’s hair was a mess and his eyes were tired and puffy, because that was just how the world had decided to work. Not that he cared or anything (maybe a little). He was long past that phase.

Also of course, that meant that he was now in a new phase, and said new phase happened to be massively tall, hazel-eyed, and currently asleep on Alastair’s shoulder. Was it better? He couldn’t say. Well. At least his crush knew he existed this time around.

At any rate, he was still impressed with his acting. That was one of the benefits of being closed-off: any attempts to get into his heart just ricocheted away, rolling off his tongue. It had barely taken any effort at all to say that they weren’t together, that there wasn’t anything between them. It wasn’t even lying. It was true.

Yes, he had wanted Thomas to ask him how he had responded to Cordelia’s (totally intrusive) question. And yes, there was a bit of a warm glow in his chest whenever people said things like that, the type of glow that acted as a key to open up an intractable smile. Thomas was awfully cute. He’d never felt this way before, not with anyone, and if their easy friendship was any indication…

Alastair’s last romance was a total train wreck, it was true. But Thomas was so completely different. He felt himself allow a flicker of hope. He lifted his hand so that it no longer smothered the wick.

Then again, Thomas may not have been into men at all. Maybe he had read the entire situation wrong. Maybe the only way to find out was to, well, try. It was what Charles had done with him, and he had been right, hadn’t he?

The words stampeded through his mind. Several times, before Alastair had even noticed, his mouth had opened, so ready to say what he wanted to say. But now was not the time. His sister and his father, although no longer in mortal peril, were still only one (very thin) wall away and if he were to be rejected, or even if he was not, if Thomas did return his feelings, well, either scenario resulted in a situation that would be uncomfortable if they were to be walked in on.

Eventually, when the morning began to tinge the sky a light blue, a cozy silence descended. He wasn’t sure what happened, only that one second Thomas was passed out on his shoulder and that his own eyes slipped shut somewhere along the line. The next second, he woke up to their hands interlocked and, most notably, Cordelia’s face.

“By the Angel!” he whisper-screamed as his sister’s inquisitive irises swum into view. Thomas hadn’t woken the whole time, even when Alastair’s head had jerked up violently - instead, the movement caused his angle to slip ever so slightly, so that he nuzzled into Alastair’s neck. He shivered involuntarily. His sister smirked at the flush that flew to his cheeks.

Ah, Layla. So brave and good and yet a younger sibling at heart.

“What is it?” he asked, flicking his vision to her forearm. There wasn’t even a mark. Magnus Bane, despite his swagger, was actually very good at what he did.

“You still have not answered my question from before, Alastair.”

His face burned as he gestured to Thomas’s sleeping figure emphatically with his chin. Thankfully, she rolled her eyes and lowered her voice to a whisper so to repeat her statement.

“Are you. In love. With Thomas Lightwood.”

He feigned his best unimpressed look. “What would make you think that?”

She stared at him, then at Thomas’s admittedly compromising position, then back again with a look of pure and utter incredulity. He cleared his throat.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better, Layla,” he told her as she plopped down on his left side.

“Me too. It was hard work, saving all our lives, and all.”

“You’re never this boastful around James - and you’re marrying him!”

“Well, there are certain perks of being your sister,” she grinned, side-eying him knowingly.

“Just because I used to be a supreme tosser doesn’t mean you have to.”

She sighed contentedly, leaning back against the bricks. “I’m happy for you,” she said, sincerely meeting his gaze. “I’m happy that you can be who you are now.”

He retaliated, not wanting to think about those times. Besides, the nerves on his neck had refused to quit their buzzing. Alastair didn’t need a reminder of what he’d done to this boy. “Whatever. It’s not as if I didn’t save your life as well.”

Cordelia nodded, unfazed. “Thank you. I’m very lucky to have you,” she added, then took his hand. It was strange to have two people who were so important to him beside him, holding onto him. As if it was natural for people to love him. Alastair knew it wasn’t. He hid his childish beaming by staring down at his lap.

“Mm-hmm.”

“Don’t ‘mm-hmm’ me, Alastair Carstairs. I am not the one with the handsome ‘friend’ sleeping on my neck.”

He turned to look at her. “So you approve?”

She looked back, gawping as if he were mad as a bag of ferrets. “Of course I do! Thomas is one of my dearest friends! And, he’s sweet. He’s perfect for you.”

It was a comfort. It was also bridging into awkward territory, so he cut her off. “Ah. Thanks.”

“Do you really believe that I would allow Lucie and Anna to plan all those crazy meet-ups? And that chapter of The Beautiful Cordelia?”

“Wait. Did you read that? Were you behind it all?”

Layla made a face. “Good God. No. I’ve seen more than I ever wanted to see of your personal life - which is none at all, by the way. No, Lucie wrote that purely for show. And so that the Merry Thieves could corner Thomas.”

“You people are terrible,” he reprimanded, but the giggles were escaping through his words. Layla seemed ready to respond, possibly with another tale of Lucie’s antics, so thank the Angel that it was then that Thomas stirred. Though that might not have been the optimal circumstance either.

Alastair threw his sister an expression of panic, and, as the extraordinarily wonderful sibling/matchmaker that she was, Cordelia snickered and traipsed back into the patient room, presumably to check on their father.

Well, shit.

(Cordelia would be mortified.)

 

——————————

 

Alastair had only a couple of seconds of proper freak-out time before Thomas lifted his head, his eyes flickering wildly. “What?” he mumbled to himself, then he saw their hands. Then he saw Alastair’s rumpled shirt.

Then, finally, he placed his hand on his cheek, and drew the connection. He looked as wide-eyed as Alastair felt.

“Oh my God!” he squeaked, detaching his hand quickly, as Alastair bit his lip and swore viciously in his head.

“Ahem!” Thomas continued, his voice having dropped several octaves. “Um. I am very sorry. Wow, okay. Deepest apologies.”

So this is what people meant when they said that they were “melting”. Alastair felt his embarrassment dent, just a little bit.

“Don’t worry about it.”

There was an awkward silence, where they both just kind of stared at each other.

“My father will be awake soon. We should get some water?”

The question that should not have been a question became a question. Alastair’s mind was thoroughly muddled. He suspected that his speaking patterns weren’t exactly helping Thomas clear out his thoughts.

Nevertheless, he smiled a bit. “All right.”

Then he helped Alastair up! The chivalry!

Focus, he berated himself. By all means, he should have been stretched thin, irritable, cantankerous, even. That was how he usually was after dealing with his father.

So why was it that with Thomas - where he should have been horrified that a friend had witnessed his father at his lowest - everything was suddenly okay?

On an unrelated note, it was a testament to the stupidly reckless nature of Shadowhunters that the Silent City had a tap, because Silent Brothers never drank anything. It was a separate testament to the stupid recklessness of the Lightwoods and Carstairs in particular that both boys knew the way to the aforementioned tap without even looking up.

Still, it was highly convenient, even if it was almost never used, Alastair reflected as he flicked the knob. The water sputtered so loudly that neither of them could hear anything.

That, too, was a bonus.

Yet, human eyes still functioned. And Alastair nearly choked as he watched Thomas’s Adam’s apple bob with each swallow.

It was decidedly creepy. He glanced away.

Thomas, perceiving this simple defense mechanism as annoyance, practically stumbled over himself apologizing (again). “I truly am sorry. It was… um, ha. Very inappropriate.”

Alastair’s head snapped up, and he forced all the dirty jokes out of his mind. “I think we’re close enough for that. Don’t you?”

And, well. Thomas blushing was a different Thomas. If Alastair looked like that whenever he got embarrassed, he just might choose to fall down the stairs every day.

“So, um, how’s Cordelia? I saw her leaving.”

“I think she’s fine. More than fine, actually,” he scoffed, thinking about their conversation.

“Really? How can you tell?”

… and he was an idiot. A certified plonker. An absolute sod. Now he was actually wishing for a flight of stairs to tumble down, just to stop this moment in its tracks.

“She just… asked me some questions.”

“Oh.”

“Yep.”

“That’s good, then.”

He actually wanted to die.

“Sure.”

Thank the Angel - thank all the angels! - that the hallway was short. Alastair never thought he’d be so grateful to see his father’s openmouthed and drooling sleeping figure. Layla was already shaking his shoulder to go home before their mother noticed. It wasn’t working. Alastair solved the problem by executing a tried-and-tested maneuver: sliding both his arms behind Elias’ back and pulling up, forcing him into a sitting position. Then he proceeded to slap him lightly on the face.

He’d be grateful later. For now, he just blinked, mildly surprised to see three teenagers staring at him from all sides: Alastair with practiced resentment, Cordelia with apprehension, and Thomas with what could only be described as a “what am I doing here” face.

“Good morning, children,” he announced, paternal energy crackling through his voice like a piano horrifically out of tune.

Cordelia and Thomas were silent, not that Elias noticed.

“Wonderful, we’re all settled, now let’s go,” said Alastair, throwing in an exaggerated amount of sweetness.

The others assented briskly. None desired to address the hangover-shaped elephant in the room, though Thomas, bless him, offered his arm to Elias, who was sure to have a pounding headache. Alastair could have saved his time. His father was too proud to accept help from anyone, preferring to suffer in silence than to sacrifice his shreds of dignity.

That, at least, was one thing that Alastair shared in common with this man. This man stumbling and wincing his way to the carriage, ten meters in front of the rest of them because nobody really wanted to walk with him. They let the pitiful display run its course before Cordelia, eventually taking pity on Elias, helped usher him into the back. Before she turned away fully, however, she glanced at her brother meaningfully. Alastair didn’t miss her not-so-subtle wink.

She had a point, however. If there was a time to just try, it was now, when they were alone, and the sky was bright. What was the worst that could happen? Well, let's see. He could lose the only true friend he’d ever had. He could sever family ties. If Thomas was feeling vengeful, the secret of his father could be spread across the community. All the people he’d ever truly loved could lose their reputations forever, and Layla’s was already at stake— and no. He wasn’t going to think about it. Thomas wasn’t a homophobe! Thomas didn’t say anything blatantly against the assumptions that the girls had made! There were so many upsides!

Alastair took a deep breath, steeling himself. Thomas stopped alongside him, placing a hand on his arm. “Alastair? Are you okay?”

The words racing through his mind finally came out, calmer than he’d ever thought they might.

“Would you like to meet up sometime? Not as, um, friends, or anything. As something more than that.”

Huh. Who knew it was so easy.

Chapter Text

New developments. That seemed like all Thomas was exposed to lately. He thought he was okay with just friendship, but Alastair just continued being Alastair and suffocating that want for more was just becoming unbearable. But. Thomas had been handling it! It was fine! And now… this?

He couldn’t believe his ears. It was one thing to be told by your cousin and her girlfriend (and a random gossipmonger?) that you had feelings for someone, but it was a completely different thing to be asked out by that same someone. It was — well, something he had been dreaming of for much longer than he would ever admit, even if at first, he didn’t realize it.

So, Thomas Lightwood met this magical moment with the kind of tenacity and grace that Thomas Lightwood was known for. Meaning that he choked on air, or dust, or something determined to ruin this moment, and coughed so hard that he couldn’t breathe.

Lovely, indeed.

Because here was the thing. Thomas used to be so small and so clumsy, and had embarrassed himself so often in front of Alastair that he wondered now if the other boy found it endearing. If anything, it was nostalgic, to have Thomas all doubled over and red-faced, while Alastair patted his back with an expression of alarm. He felt twelve years old again, only taller.

Still. He had something to say, and finally managed to wheeze out: “Sure. Um, where?”

“Hatchards?” Alastair suggested, weakly. “Everyone seems obsessed with that place. I’ve never been. It’s a bookstore, right?”

“That— sounds good,” Thomas hacked out. “It’s great. I could show you around.”

Phew. The mysterious substance ceased the havoc it was wreaking on Thomas’s vocal cords, and (evidently) Alastair’s nerves. The uncomfortable air was whisked away, and suddenly everything made a bit more sense. They stared at each other a moment.

That is, until Cordelia tapped on the window, audibly giggling. Elias seemed to be pulling his jacket over his head to block out the sun. Thomas, again, mentally panicked for a bit and then schooled his features back into “hanging out with a friend”. If Lucie found out he was never going to hear the end of it. Ever. Thankfully, Alastair broke the silence.

“Okay. Then I will see you at two o’clock on Saturday?”

“Perfect. I can pick you up.”

“Thanks.”

The awkwardness was palpable, even though they were both grinning like idiots.

“Yep.”

Thomas sneezed. Their gazes both pounced on the same crack in the road. Cordelia sunk down in her seat, though whether it was so she didn’t have to watch or out of second-hand embarrassment, it was unclear. Either way, Thomas was inordinately grateful for it, because Alastair seemed to perceive it as her feeling tired, and rushed to the carriage to get her home.

Driving back, he realized that this is how James must have felt when he went swinging by to drop off Cortana, all boy-next-door. It was impossible to not like Cordelia, though. She was brave and intelligent, like her brother. Although Alastair (in Thomas’s extremely unbiased opinion) was more interesting to be around, and better for conversation.

And also, far, far prettier.

Anyway, James’s newfound adoration finally made Thomas understand what people meant when they spoke about puppy love, because he had been looking absolutely puppylike anytime anyone ever mentioned Cordelia. It would have been sweet - albeit a little much - had Christopher not speculated, aloud and often, just how to capture a bit of that essence and bottle it into an honest-to-goodness love potion. As one did.

It was with these thoughts that Thomas distracted himself on the ride home, and also how he could force himself to not stare at Alastair when he dropped the Carstairs’ off, instead choosing to wish Cordelia and Elias well. And he only waved to Alastair once, so he considered it a win.

Then, of course, the nerves set in, because Alastair was extremely well dressed and, well, the same could not be said for Thomas. He was pretty sure he owned seven replicas of the same outfit, plus a frilly tuxedo that he would not be caught dead wearing (but would probably be dressed in for his funeral, which was both contradictory and unfortunate).

There was only one person who both knew of his, shall we say, situation, with Alastair, and had a modicum of fashion sense on top of it.

Anna was going to have a field day.

 

——————————

 

“Anna!” he called, rapping his knuckles against her large mahogany door like a frantic woodpecker. He pressed his eye to the peephole. “Anna?”

The door flew open, sending Thomas staggering backward. “WHAT.” Anna looked sleepy, her hair a wreck, her robe wrinkled.

“Um. Am I, uh, intruding?” he asked, tentatively sneaking a glance through to the interior of her flat.

“What? No,” she responded, yawning. “No. Matthew forced me to read the entirety of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ in one evening. I only started at ten o’clock.”

“Hmm.” His thought process was interrupted momentarily. It had been a long time since he’d read it.

“What did you come here to do?” Anna said, the annoyance peppering her words as she slowly awakened. “If this is Matthew’s way of telling me again to buy a playmate for Mr. Oscar Wilde, I don’t care.” She was about to slam the door when Thomas stuck out his arm and uttered the magic words.

“Alastair asked me out and I don’t know what to wear and I’m panicking.”

“He did WHAT?!” she screamed, eyes flying open. “Why didn’t you start off with that?” she demanded as she grabbed the front of his shirt hard enough to pop out a button and dragged him inside. He smacked his head on the doorframe.

The magic words had worked, it seemed.

“It’s not that big of a deal,” he reasoned to deaf ears. “It might have been an apology thing.”

Anna stopped, and stared at him with her “are you dumb” face. “Apology thing,” she repeated.

“Well, he tapped on my window past midnight and had me go help him fight some Drevaks that were killing his family.”

A short span of silence succeeded his words, during which his cousin plopped down on one of her cozy armchairs. Thomas followed suit and sat carefully on the edge of the couch.

“He tapped on your window. You saved his family.”

“Sure.”

“So you are the boy next door and the knight in shining armor at the exact same time.”

“Um, no?”

Anna rolled her eyes, muttering something about needing tea before she dealt with him. As the cold water poured into the kettle, she finally glanced back at the very nervous family member she was hosting. “I don’t do male styles, all right?”

He raised an eyebrow at her collection of suits, which sat quite conspicuously in the corner. “That’s not true.”

“Fine!” she said, slamming the kettle down with unnecessary force. “I want this date to go well for you, Thomas. I don’t want you thinking it’s some sort of ‘apology thing’. I want you to feel like you deserve to be happy.”

At this, he stood up and walked over to Anna. “I do feel like that.”

“No, you don’t. You think of yourself as the sidekick.”

He said nothing.

“Right. That’s what I thought.” Anna glided over to the teacups, which lay upside down on a shelf. They were beautiful, porcelain with a gilded rim, simple and elegant. Thomas had the feeling that they were an engagement gift that Cordelia had passed on to her friend. “An outfit can be empowering, yes. But you have to want it enough.”

“So you’re saying that I don’t care enough about Alastair?” Thomas asked, his teeth a bit on edge.

Anna sighed, sensing his budding irritation. “You forget. I’ve done this before. I know what it’s like to think that I can throw myself around like I’m not worth anything, but the truth is, none of that - attraction, little crushes, whatever - none of it matters if you aren’t completely sure. And you’re not. Yet. I’m not saying you never will be. I’m just telling you, so that you don’t make the mistakes I did.”

Thomas, despite himself, smirked a bit and leaned against her countertop. “I thought you wanted me to go head on. Down and dirty, as I recall.”

“I was drunk!” she cried, nearly splashing tea all over the floor. “And I didn’t think it was, you know, going to happen that fast, per se. I thought you might tell your family first.”

He ignored her latter comment. “Ah. So this is real matchmaking, whereas that was…?”

“Pretend matchmaking, obviously,” she told him, pressing a cup into his hands. “Drunken fun. Ariadne—” and here her voice softened— “well, Inquisitor’s daughter as she is, has never been drunk before. We decided to make it memorable.”

Thomas trailed after her as Anna swept back through the apartment and to her cozy living room. “I’m having a hard time believing that Ariadne remembered anything at all.”

“She didn’t,” Anna clucked. “Poor thing. But it was memorable for us. You, me, Hypatia. Oh. That reminds me. I must tell her of our accidental success. It’s the only way she’ll ever let me back into the Hell Ruelle.” She seated herself back on her favored chair, her navy robe a dark spot like an ink blotch on the well-worn fabric. “Apparently she’s moved on to seducing Matthew.”

“Isn’t he underage?”

She pointed a finger at him. “Exactly. It’s ridiculous. Now that he’s sober, she’s got even less of a chance.”

“Hmm.”

They sat in comfortable silence, watching the shadows move on the floor as the day began. Finally, Thomas couldn’t stop himself.

“So, about the clothes. Should I just wear what I have now, or…”

“What?” Anna spluttered. “By the Angel, no. Is that your only choice?”

“I mean, yes?” he said, but she was already up and moving.

“No, no. I didn’t think your wardrobe was that bare. We shall have to do something indeed.” Anna chanced a glance back at him, only halfway suppressing a shudder. “Good God. Okay. Wait here a moment while I get dressed.”

“What’s going on?” Thomas inquired to her wall.

“Shopping!”

 

——————————

 

It had been hours. Hours of shops and measurements and standing quietly in the corner while Anna spoke with saleswomen like they were old friends — and who knew? Maybe they were! The shopping world was eerily connected. But, the point was, it had been hours. And all they had come up with was something that, to his eyes at least, was a precise replica of his entire closet (minus the frilly tux).

“What is so great about this?” he said, squinting at the fabric. It was hazel, supposedly to match his eyes, but also very plain.

“It’s you,” Anna said. “It says that you’re trying and the intentions are sweet but something got a bit bungled up along the way.”

“Huh.” Thomas couldn’t decide whether or not that was a compliment.

“No, I’m joking,” she said, patting his shoulder. “It’s a good fabric, so it says you’re making an effort, but it also is something that you would wear.” As she spoke, she eyed a deep indigo waistcoat with black polka dots.

“So I’m ready.”

“Yes, you are. Go get ‘em, tiger.”

She pushed Thomas out and onto the street before he could protest that the date was two days away.

 

——————————

 

The date itself was a surprise, actually. Alastair (of course) showed up in a stunning all-black ensemble, but graciously complimented Thomas on his suit anyway.

“It’s nice fabric,” he said, hand on Thomas’ shoulder. It lingered a little too long.

“Let’s go, then?” Thomas asked, almost offering an arm, but then he realized that it was broad daylight and although he never wanted to hide what might be there with Alastair, people could be cruel. They could throw them in jail just for existing.

Still, it was all easy and pleasant. If you really thought about it, they’d already been on several dates; standing in the corner together at balls, run-in’s at café ‘s and the Institute, even whispered conversations at Merry Thieves meet-ups that Alastair attended along with Cordelia. Though, in retrospect, those were most likely orchestrated by Lucie.

The only difference now was that their hidden feelings were out in the open. This meant catching each other stealing glances. Exchanging silent, bashful smiles. It meant walking close enough so that their hands touched only barely, at the pads of the fingertips, and those slight whispers of communication sending adrenaline shooting through his mind.

After they had both found what they wanted at Hatchard’s: a hefty collection of Persian epics for Thomas (clearly Lucie was too busy drafting his alter ego’s love life to remember her bribe), and a collector’s edition of Machiavelli’s The Prince (now leather-bound!), the two found a table near a window and carried on as they always did.

Thomas couldn’t have named a single specific topic they discussed. It was like they were two well-oiled gears that just meshed perfectly. Words, usually so hard for him to figure out what to say, rolled off his tongue without second thought.

Thomas was quiet, but firm in his beliefs. Alastair was, yes, highly opinionated, but also a remarkable listener. He never made Thomas feel stupid or unheard. Everything just worked. It was ironic, considering their physical attributes, but with Alastair Thomas felt spectacularly safe.

And there was one thing he really did need to say.

There was a lull in conversation sitting there just for him. Thomas clasped his hands on the table and Alastair looked closely at him.

“What is it?” he said, sounding concerned.

“I just wanted to ask.” He flicked his gaze upward and held it there. “Was this an apology thing?”

Alastair blinked, as if he hadn’t heard correctly. “Pardon?”

“Just— this. Date. Thing. Whatever this is. I just wanted to know if it was an apology for the other night, because I don’t want to, um, guilt you, I suppose, into something you don’t want. With me. I mean. I would have done it for you regardless. You don’t need to - compensate, I guess.” Thomas’ cheeks flushed so red, they must have looked purple. They felt purple, at least. Alastair’s— stunned? appalled? trapped? — silence found him wishing for a bookcase to fall over and land squarely atop his skull.

Alastair didn’t agree, though, or apologize, or anything. He just laughed. “Lightwood, honestly,” he chuckled, “do I really seem one for grand apologies? No. I asked you - for a date, because I like you.” His voice quieted, deepened with seriousness. He, too, fiddled with his fingers. “And because I realized that the only person I would ever want with me whenever anything - bad, good, mundane, whatever - happened. I realized… I wanted to be with you always.”

Alastair’s eyes seemed desperate to look outside at the darkening sky, at the table, at anything else, but he forced his eyes to meet Thomas’.

And as for Thomas - well, feelings do cloud judgement. Because right then, without acknowledging the eyes of people all around them, without any forethought at all, he reached out and took Alastair’s hand.

So this was what it felt like.

 

—————————

 

Perfect moments can last for only so long. Thomas and Alstair had had their hands gently, tentatively laced - and therefore owned a small slice of heaven - for perhaps a minute or two before a woman began conspicuously clearing her throat. Alastair rolled his eyes. Synchronously they gathered their books and walked out of the shop, hands defiantly connected all the while. The door swung shut behind them.

“I’ve never understood exactly why people are against love,” Thomas said after the moment had had adequate time to sink in. They were circling the sidewalk, enjoying the beginnings of sunset in theory, but it was clear they were both simmering a little with confused anger.

“I know,” agreed Alastair. “It’s not like we get to choose how we feel. Although I suppose we’re lucky, aren’t we. Magnus Bane. Anna Lightwood. Matthew Fairchild.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “At least our own friends will accept us.”

Thomas smiled privately to himself that Alastair had called them “friends”. He had made a very good point, however.

“I know. I’m kind of… waiting for the right moment to tell them. It’ll come along,” he said, a trifle nonchalantly, until he noted the quietly terrified expression on Alastair’s face. “But what of you?” he asked, carefully.

He shrugged. “Layla knows, of course. I think my mother suspects. But my father - no. I am waiting for the right moment as well.” Alastair offered him a small grin, and Thomas nodded. They had come to a stop in front of the carriage.

“All right, I’ll drop you off.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

And since it was just the two of them, they perched in the front together. The clopping of the horse’s hooves filled the peaceful quiet.

At last, they arrived at the Carstairs home. If this had been any other circumstance, Thomas might have glanced up and seen the whiskey bottles in the bathroom, the vodka in the hallway windowsill, the wrinkled and stained jacket on the lamp of the master bedroom.

But it wasn’t, and he didn’t, because Alastair stopped and turned to him at the infamous doorstep and asked, totally matter-of-fact, “Have you ever kissed anyone, Thomas?”

He was pretty sure planet Earth ceased its rotation right the. He very nearly fell over.

“Ahem. Wuh?”

Alastair smirked with one corner of his mouth. “I’ll take that as a no,” he murmured, stepping closer. All Thomas could think of was I hope I don’t start coughing again.

When it did happen, the next second, when Alastair pecked him lightly on the lips, he did not cough (thank God). He did not move. He did not think.

Then it was over and the thoughts returned, full force, like a dam breaking free. His line of thinking went a little something like this:

“Pachow worlds are exploding wait how is it even possible that... there are no words did that actually just happen how could that happen to me oh my God Angel everything Alastair just kissed me and I don’t think I deserve it but that somehow doesn’t even matter to me I WANT IT TO HAPPEN AGAIN!!!”

Unwittingly and in a daze, Thomas leaned forward again. He didn’t have to think or worry at all. Later, he would wonder if this was what Anna meant by saying he would be completely sure - but (as you can see) he was neither physically, emotionally, nor mentally capable of forming a coherent sentence, even in his mind.

Alastair smiled small, tilting his head downward so that their foreheads touched. He stepped back, eyes wide, hand on the doorknob.

“Would you like to come in?”

Chapter Text

They had found themselves back at Alastair’s house. The sun was set and the sky was bright and he felt that if the moon could be singing, it would be. It was doing a nice job already, full and hanging like a fruit from the branch.

He didn’t even know how it happened, but suddenly they were inside the living room, and kissing again, and Thomas was gentle, he really was, but he found his body tensing. The last time he had done similar things in this house it had been with Charles, and unbeknownst to him, Layla had been watching. He’d attempted to play it off but it was truly mortifying.

These thoughts came with others. Whispered conversations and hiding and hurt, but that was all unwelcome in this moment. He aimed his focus back to the present and tried to lose himself in this man, how he was cutely inexperienced and running his fingers through Alastair’s hair but they kept on getting caught in the thick black strands.

Inexpert as he was at kissing, Thomas was a Shadowhunter and did have a heightened sense of touch. He felt Alastair’s strain.

“You need to stop doing that,” Thomas said, pulling away forcefully. “Otherwise - otherwise I can’t do this.”

Alastair’s mind felt gauzy, and he stared at his companion without really seeing anything. There were only pictures of heat and pain and pleasure, like with Charles except this time it was a live wire, charged with the security of real and reciprocated emotion, love, perhaps. Was it love? He had considered his affair with Charles love, and that couldn’t have been said to end well by any stretch of the imagination. His thoughts began to wander.

Then he heard what he had said, and the world pulled itself together. “What?”

Thomas’s eyes were kind and soft, his hair sticking up adorably. “Protecting yourself from the hurt before it hits you.”

“I don’t do that.” He spoke too quickly, and he knew it.

“You just did, though. Please, Alastair, look me in the eye.”

Alastair braved a glance upward, frightened of the understanding that he knew lay there. Never had he met someone with as pure a heart, except maybe Layla, but even she could be fiery and vengeful. Thomas never was. Thomas never schemed or lied, or kept secrets, or pretended to be anything that he wasn’t. It was his openness, and Alastair’s love and longing for it, that scared him most of all.

Thomas was obviously aware of his emotional turmoil. His voice was quiet, steady.

“Can you please trust me when I say that I will not hurt you?” And there was so much innocence and expectancy in him, so how could he say no?

“Okay,” he whispered, and then Thomas was shucking off his jacket and pushing him backward into the wall, their lips hot against each other. Alastair couldn’t help it and sighed a bit against his mouth, just a tiny gasp really, but it was enough.

Elias appeared on the stairs, hurrying down and working not to stumble. His shirt was wrinkled, his lips red from the suction of the bottle; he looked altogether disgruntled. In fact, he looked rather like the two men in the living room. Alastair facepalmed inwardly and wondered if he was going to be walked in on by every single member of his family. He simply must begin looking into the ways in which he had sinned in his past life, and atone earnestly.

It seemed the moment was now, then.

“Alastair, is that you?”

Thomas flew from him like a moth, smacking into the corner at the opposite of the room. His jacket lay in the middle of the room, splayed carelessly over an ottoman, but his expression suggested that he would not be moving from his nook unless some very nearly extinct dragon demons began tearing up the house.

Even then, it was doubtful.

Elias wasn’t concentrating on him, though. Alastair felt a little trapped under his stare. Like a mouse caught under a magnifying glass.

“What was that?”

Somehow they met in the center of the living room. He could smell the alcohol on his breath, see the glaze over his eyes. Syrup over a network of blood vessels.

“WHAT WAS THAT?!” and suddenly his father was screaming, his face cherry red, his words like ribbons of language, obscene and in pieces, like cheese on a grater, and they flew past him like a flurry of snow.

Alastair found himself in Paris.

Not the hidden feverish nights in the hotel room, not the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre or anything that made the City of Lights what it was, to most people anyway.

No, Alastair thought of the hazy afternoon sun and descending twilight. The way the stars waited patiently while sunlight made her final appearance. How light clung to the sky in frantic stains and brushstrokes, how those stars finally shone, faintly visible as they hovered above the lambent gold of the streets. How these brilliant beauties were dim in his mind compared to Thomas’s easy smile and his gorgeous hazel eyes and his hair like straw dipped in honey and the pleasure of imagining tangling his fingers in that hair, like branches and fog. He thought of the throbbing pull in his chest when he gazed at those eyes. The fluttering in his stomach as he hovered his fingertips along that forearm. He had meant it to be teasing; instead, he had been falling, falling hard for Thomas Lightwood and not realizing it because he had mistaken desperate desire for love.

It was with these thoughts gusting through his mind like wind through a cobweb, that he spoke, effectively silencing his father.

“Whatever, Father. I love men.” And cue the perfunctory eye roll, even though his breath was getting harder and harder to catch.

It was easy, really. He had known since he was fourteen. He hadn’t always understood. Considered himself above the deliberations of the mundane. He wasn’t like Anna, or Magnus Bane, knowing innately that he was different in this way. It had taken time.

When he did understand, it wasn’t a revelation or a horrifying secret. It was a fact. Trivial. Unimportant. Humans fell in love, so what did it matter who or with what sex? He didn’t expect to need to come out with fanfare and trumpets. He wasn’t atop Mount Sinai, receiving the tablets. He wasn’t anything but himself, and he couldn’t wrap his mind around the presumption that discovering something that had always been a part of him suddenly made him different. It wasn’t an opinion that he had. It was purely logical. If he fell in love with a man, he fell in love with a man. Big deal. He was still Alastair Carstairs, and that would never change.

Elias, however, was drunk. And “logic” was not a word in Drunk Elias’s dictionary.

His voice crackled like sparks encased in ice. Like Hell. Hell is cold. Tessa Herondale’s words, though she had been joking with her husband at the time, thudded in his ears with his blood.

“You are no longer welcome here. Please leave.”

Sona appeared at the top of the stairs, hurrying because of the clamor. Thomas shrank in the corner of the room and Elias Carstairs whirled and stalked up to him. “Is this the one?” he shouted, jabbing his finger into Thomas’s shoulder. He flinched. “Is he your— your lover? Your fag?”

Alastair’s muscles contracted. “Why.” It was only one word. One statement.

It held eighteen years’ worth of questions.

“Why?” His father’s eyes gleamed maniacally, and Alastair’s heart pumped in gratitude that Layla was on patrol. Anywhere was safer than here. “You — you are disgusting. You are a disgrace. You are nothing,” he spat, “and I will not tolerate your filthy presence a moment longer. I am the man of this house—”

Something roared to life in Alastair then, a twining mass of vines and thorns. One for every ounce of utter bullshit he had endured in his life.

It was a very heavy and very prickly tree.

“No,” he snapped, cutting the older man off. “No. You’re not. You’re not the man of this house. I am. I took care of you, not the other way around. I am so much better than you. I am so much stronger. I cannot change who I am. Don’t you think I want to?” His voice broke infinitesimally. “Don’t you think I’ve tried?” His father’s image blurred. He wiped at his eyes, annoyed. There was no time for this.

“I have accepted this. I have accepted me. But you haven’t, and you don’t. You don’t try. You don’t stop. You don’t get help. You don’t accept the fact that you have a problem, Father!

“And all I have ever wanted to do is solve that problem. All I have ever wanted was for this family to be okay. And you have made that impossible. Did you know that you have hurt people, physically hurt them, with your problem? Did you know that they are not the only ones suffering?

“You have no idea what it is like. To not love your father. To try so hard to look up to you when in reality, I must look down.” He was really crying now, the tears streaming down to his neck. Sniffling hard, he stuck himself back together. It was makeshift. Temporary. It would be a long time before he would truly be whole, but for right now it had to be enough. He forced his voice not to tremble. Beside him, Thomas took a step, and in front of him, his mother did the same. Alastair paid them no mind. He would not allow himself to break.

“So I became my own father. And look how well that turned out.” He knew he sounded bitter, and he felt he had every right to. Elias looked crushed for but a moment and then remembered himself. Opening his mouth, he—

But Sona had made her way down the stairs by then. She swept in, her yellow skirts flowing and enveloping her son’s frame. He was taller than her, had been for years, but when she drew herself up and fixed her gaze on her husband she seemed to tower over everyone in that room.

Her eyes burned with frigid fire. “I have held my tongue for so long. Making excuses for you, crying and holding your hand. But no more. Alastair is right. He is better.” The words were simple, succinct. “I will call the Silent Brothers. You can stay with them until you find someone who will take you.”

“I can help you with that,” offered a meek voice from the corner of the room. Thomas rubbed at his neck awkwardly and shot them all a small smile. “My carriage is waiting just outside.”

“Wonderful,” Sona said, voice warm, and Alastair couldn’t help but be a bit impressed at how even now, she retained her air of politeness. “I have a note ready.”

Elias looked nothing short of indignant, childishly so, when Sona reached behind one of the pillows and pulled out a folded sheet of paper, holding it between two fingers like a cigarette. “Have you been saving that?”

“For weeks,” she replied, obviously taking pleasure in the words. Her face was scrunched up in a petty sort of a smirk and Alastair had to work to suppress the short beat of laughter that kept on threatening to escape his throat. Thomas coughed quietly from his shadow, his bowed head not quite concealing his grin. Elias glared, but after a quick glance at Alastair (who was innocently stroking his unfolded spear), faltered and settled for rolling his eyes. Perhaps it was a Carstairs thing.

 

——————————

 

The visit to the Silent City was uneventful. Thomas drove. The three of them — Sona had insisted upon coming, and Alastair refused to leave her side — sat silent. The Silent Brothers took him in with minimal fuss, reading the note that Sona stuck into his breast pocket. Elias looked resigned and exhausted as the Brothers escorted him in. The rest of them remained in the carriage. There was no need to explain. One of his Clave friends would probably be there in the morning, and clap him on the back to congratulate him for dealing with his disgusting son the way a man should. Oh! Or maybe he would call him an “uphill gardener”. That was the most creative one that he’d heard.

Alastair felt a little numb.

When they returned to the house, Thomas remained outside, claiming he was off to find the horses some water. Alastair was grateful to him for understanding that he needed a moment with his mother. (He also had the sneaking suspicion that he was physically incapable of meeting Sona’s eyes without literally turning into a tomato, but the gesture was sweet nonetheless.)

As soon as the door shut behind them, Sona threw her arms around his neck, whispering, “Oh, Alastair joon. I had no idea you felt that way.”

He stiffened automatically, again. “About men?”

She straightened, her face rigid with shock. “What? No! Azizam. I don’t care about that. I meant about your father. I did not know.”

“Oh.” His mouth twitched. Not quite smiling, but it was something.

“Love whoever you like, my son. I only wish to see you happy. And you have been, these past few days. Now I know why.” She cupped the side of his face, and he leaned into it, feeling blissfully like a child. Perhaps he should learn to trust her, too. Then she smiled mischievously, looking startlingly like Layla.

“He’s very cute, you know. Good family.”

“Mâmân!”

They laughed a moment, his mother almost unconsciously laying a hand on her ever-swelling belly. He grinned down at the promise of a new and better life.

“They will be blessed with a very good mother.”

“They will be blessed with a very good brother.”

A gentle happiness flitted in the air, and suddenly the very good brother was struck with a thought. “Layla will be so upset when she finds out what she has missed.”

He was convinced that his mother’s laughter made the angels dance.

 

——————————

 

The goodbyes were predictably awkward, more for Thomas than anyone. Alastair himself was quite used to it after seeing the way that Sona treated prospective husbands for Layla, and of course Layla was outraged that she had missed so much (“WHAT!?”). Then inordinately pleased at the state of Alastair and Thomas’s newfound closeness, which was entirely irrelevant given the circumstances (“what did I tell you…?”).

Then it hit her that her father was gone. Again. (“Oh.”)

The worst part was, she wasn’t even upset on her own behalf. She and Sona had sat him down on their couch, sandwiching him between two female power figures. “That’s disgusting,” she had opined, patting his arm consolingly. “I am so, so, sorry, Alastair joon.”

The pitying look in her eyes reminded him. Who was his someone?

He wouldn’t break down. He told himself that it was a long time coming. He told himself that it was a blessing. He told himself that it wasn’t wrong to essentially throw his own father into jail, that he should be happy that he was free at last.

He told himself that he needed a distraction. And, well, what else are governments for? Not protecting the people, surely. Though this time the Clave surprised him.

Alastair received a note the next day, from the aforementioned political body. It was stamped with the seal of “Official Business”, and he was momentarily confused as to why it was addressed directly to him, rather than his father, or their family as a whole, but things were made clear pretty quickly.

It wasn’t as though the body of the letter wasn’t important. On the contrary. It made Alastair feel quite idiotic, actually. The contents:

To Alastair Carstairs:

You reported a large demonic presence in the areas surrounding your home. We applaud you for extinguishing nearly all of them, and are grateful that the rest of your family is safe.

However, in your report, it was also mentioned that these particular demons were Drevak demons, also known commonly as messenger demons. You are required to report any enemy, however personal, capable of harnessing demonic energies, as the entire Shadowhunter populace is in danger. You have found yourself a very dangerous foe. We recommend you either solve the problem on your own, or utilize the Shadowhunters of your local Institute to assist you in your difficulties.

Again, congratulations on your triumph. We hope you have a good day.

Signed,

Your Friendly Neighborhood Consul, Charlotte Fairchild.

P.S. Give your sister my love! We are all thrilled for her wedding. Cannot wait to see you there, dear.

The letter itself was innately problematic. Clearly, Charlotte had not read it herself. The sign-off was truly horrendous. And the news - well. He couldn’t think of any personal adversaries he had garnered, minus Matthew, but what with him being the Consul’s son and all, that didn’t seem likely. Perhaps it was a nemesis of the Herondales. Issues seemed to gravitate toward them like ice in water. He must ask them at the next and inevitably soon dinner party.

Also, nearly all of them? He almost felt insulted, until he realized that they were probably right.

There were so many demons. His mind was plagued with fear and intensity and panic. He probably wouldn’t have noticed if one slipped away, no doubt to report to its master. Whoever they were.

In all, he had more than filled up on his quota for unsettling distractions. Then, prompted by his annoyance-driven toss of the letter, another, smaller note fluttered to the ground next to its thick manila counterpart. It was written on journal paper, thin and flimsy. It read:

Alastair,

This is Charles. I know you do not want to see me. I promise that I am not going to try to take you back, but I do think that we should discuss, so that we can face each other in public. Otherwise, people will begin to suspect. They may already be. After all, we used to be very close.

You know where my house is, but you are by no means obligated to come. You don’t even have to respond. Just show up whenever you can, preferably at night, but if you do not, I understand.

Thank you.

Charles

It was even colder than the government-formulated notice. He was still trying to sneak around, to keep secrets, to pat down suspicion.

He had cried over Charles. He had. It was horrible, to feel like his heart was breaking, to know that some loves just didn’t last. He never wanted to see the other man again.

But hope, ignited by Thomas and everything that followed, was still thriving, oblivious to the past and to rational thoughts, and a part of him that he had worked so hard to destroy - a part that understood even a fraction of the mess of secrets that Charles was - knew what he was trying to say.

Charles wanted closure. He wasn’t brave enough to come out with it - he never was - but as much as it hurt, Alastair wanted the same thing.

He kept the note on his desk and wondered what he might do with his life if he were ever to get a break.

Chapter Text

Thomas had a lot of thoughts, but they could be relatively easily summed up in an uncomplicated explosion of woah.

That was about it.

When he could stall no longer - and really, the carriage had always been in perfect condition - he headed back inside for his goodbyes, which was probably the only dreadful part of the evening he could have prepared for (but didn’t). What happened was this:

Scene one: Thomas and Alastair kind of stare. They perform the weird hesitant hug-or-handshake back and forth like some dysfunctional dance. Sona snickers in the back.

Scene two: Thomas shakes Sona’s hand while Alastair stares at the floor. Sona purses her lips to hide her smile. So polite.

Scene three: Thomas flees the house and nearly knocks over the umbrella stand.

During his almost-ill-fated mad dash from the Carstairs home, Thomas glanced back often so to maybe catch a glimpse of the expressions on their faces. It didn’t work, considering their door was solid wood, but what it did accomplish was an inability to see what was directly and plainly in front of him: namely, Cordelia Carstairs.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, startling. “Thomas! What are you doing here?”

“Ah,” he explained. “Nothing.” You just missed your brother’s best literary work since ever, he wanted to say, but it was Alastair’s story to tell.

There was a pause.

“Hope you had a good patrol,” he added, then resumed his speed-walking to the carriage. Cordelia, after shrugging, moved on to her house, obviously exhausted. Thomas was just leaving when he heard a piercing “WHAT!?” echo through the night. He grinned a little bit at that.

On the way home, he got to thinking. About Alastair. Not about the kiss - though he really wanted to - but rather about the yelling moment. It was slightly safer: he wasn’t in total danger of flying off the road because he was too busy being a pillowcase filled to bursting with happiness and worry and just feelings, all in one. But. About the yelling.

All those words were far too well strung together for a spur-of-the-moment accusation. It sounded almost - like a speech, like something he’d been keeping bottled up inside, perhaps for years.

If Alastair could maintain an acceptable level of sanity while simultaneously having all those words and all that anger, that frustration, that spite, coursing beneath his skin, well, what else was he hiding? And for whom? Cordelia and Sona, of course, and possibly even for Elias himself until he crossed that line. And, he epiphanized with a jolt, me. It made him a little sad, a little rueful, that Alastair could not yet trust him enough to not be strong around him, strange as that seemed. His thoughts flickered, illuminating images at random, kisses to crying, light to dark, silence to screaming.

Then a blur of white passed in front of him and he was slammed back into reality. The horses stopped so fast, they were inches away from getting knocked over by the sheer momentum of the metal compartment. Thomas let out an involuntary little “ack!”.

“Hello?” he called out cautiously to the vaguely anthropomorphic figure before him. “Is that…” He squinted. “Grace Blackthorn?”

The silver hair billowed around maybe-Grace like a shifting cloud. “Your friend stole my brother from me,” she told him in response. “I was the one who brought Jesse back - well, mostly - and now he’s spending all his precious time as a human with her.”

Ah, jealousy. Such a lovely emotion that Thomas was not in the least equipped to handle. “Sorry?” he offered, feeling a lot out of place. “Do you want me to talk to her, or…”

“What? No, you absolute cretin,” she said, waving about a large leather-bound spell?book. “No, I want you to come with me. Please.”

Now, Thomas wouldn’t classify himself as inordinately gullible. He had a respectable amount of street smarts. Mounting evidence suggested otherwise, however, because he agreeably hopped out of the carriage and stood beside her with all intentions to help her in.

“Where are we—”

And that was when she took the genre-curious book, smacked him over the head, shoved him in the back of his own carriage, and forced a potion of some sort down his throat.

The final lingering thought he had before blacking out was, why is everything happening on just one night.

It was actually quite overwhelming.

 

——————————

 

The next morning, he woke up in the Adamant Citadel’s basement, which he didn’t even know they had: it was littered with broken adamas and seraph blade hilts and wow, Tatiana Blackthorn. Not littered with her. She was completely (unfortunately) intact.

“Have a good day?” she asked, smugly picking at a hopelessly black fingernail like the high class lady she once was.

Thomas eyed it suspiciously. “I wouldn’t call it that, Mrs. Blackthorn.” He found himself wishing for Grace’s book, just to cut off the idiocy streaming from his mouth. She wasn’t a schoolteacher! She was the enemy. She was Grace’s mother, and Grace was a conniving little witch who had hurt many of his friends. Tatiana was... well, hmm. She was quite ridiculous, if he was going to be honest. She hadn’t proved to be much of a threat. More like a dear old lady who’d gone a wee bit off her rocker. Plus, he was certain that they were related somehow.

“Oh, dear,” she replied, attempting a charming laugh. It sounded a bit like a duck that had had its vocal cords smacked by a wonky hammer. “I apologize for our means of transport. It was probably very grubby.”

Thomas’s eyebrows mimicked the lift of morning fog.

“I mean, with the dirt, it must have been crawling with maggots,” she furthered, prodding him along with her words. “Only a Lightworm like you would know, right, right?”

“I believe I’m still dreaming,” Thomas remarked, to no one in particular.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake! I’m talking about the Drevaks!”

His mind slowly began connecting the dots. It was still the morning, you must remember. Thomas wasn’t exactly the earliest of birds. “Ah. So, you sent them.”

Maybe she was the enemy after all.

“Of course I sent them! Honestly, once I left that family, it all went straight to the dogs. You are all positively simple. You are making this whole process significantly less entertaining.”

“Entertaining.”

Yes, definitely the enemy.

“Well, it was fun at first, with the demons. Oh, my. Aha! You should have seen the looks on your faces!” Here she burst into peals of that same ducklike laughter, pounding her knee, gasping for breath, and Thomas came to three key realizations as he sat against the wall, unsure of whether to be concerned or angry or just plain confused.

1. Will Herondale’s hatred of ducks was beginning to make marginally more sense.

2. She hadn’t even been present for the attack, meaning:

3. Tatiana Blackthorn was more than a wee bit off her rocker. She had skewed completely sideways. The rocker was no longer in her line of sight. She was, in fact, quite mad.

“What are you even doing down here? I thought you were to live with the Iron Sisters!” he demanded, cutting her off. The less time he spent in this place, the better.

Tatiana - his aunt, that’s who she was - straightened up indignantly. “I am living with the Iron Sisters!”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“Biding my time, have you lost the plot,” she said.

“How did I get here, then?”

“The door, obviously, the door to London.”

Thomas considered this. “There’s a door to the basement.”

Tatiana looked at him petulantly. “No, this is the dungeon! There is a door to the dungeon!”

“Really.” Alastair was really rubbing off on him, more so than he had thought.

“Yes. Well, a makeshift dungeon, but still a dungeon!”

“But… I thought that all the entrances are guarded?” he said, feeling redundant.

A sly smile grew from her lips.

“You killed an Iron Sister?” Thomas yelped, and when she didn’t respond, he stood up. “THREE IRON SISTERS? You killed ALL THE GUARDS?!”

I didn’t kill them,” Tatiana protested, her defenses walling up around her. Thomas could cut a very impressive figure.

“Who did?” he said, walking up. “Who did kill them?” By this point, his shadow was spilling all across her spindly frame, and she looked as close to afraid as he’d ever seen her.

“No one.”

“Please don’t lie,” he warned, deadly soft. It could have been intimidating, he supposed, but he was actually feeling a little terrified. He’d never done this whole interrogation thing before.

But who knew: it worked! “James,” she said, firmly but quietly, “James is very foolish. He has a powerful lineage. And he is throwing it all away. But I, I have been chosen, I am the one that he has preferred, I am the one that he is helping. I am not working for him. He is working for me.”

Thomas stepped away, feeling strangely deflated. “Belial,” he said resignedly. “It is Belial.” He would not be pursuing a career in interrogations, however good at it he might be. People were beginning to disappoint him.

“Yes!” A spark passed over Tatiana’s eye, and maybe it was his imagination, but her gaze seemed hungry for a moment, maniacal, possessed by a wanting deeper than Thomas could ever scrape upon knowing. He knew what it was about. Everyone knew what it was about. It was about her husband’s death, and her father’s, and her perceived loss of her brothers, her protectors, when they ceased protecting her from those rumors. It was Will Herondale, partly, mocking her first love, it was people telling her that her beloved father was a monster, and it was Jesse, always Jesse. She had been broken by those first losses. Jesse’s had torn her into two and lunacy had patched that hole within her.

Those losses were tragic, it was true. Tatiana had suffered more than any human, or even Shadowhunter, should. But she wasn’t driven by love or grief. This had crossed the threshold. His Auntie Tati was dealing with dark magic and killing everyone who might infringe upon her path to getting her son back. That wasn’t love, that was selfishness. She didn’t know if Jesse even desired to be resurrected, to live at all. She had just… wanted it to happen, and so she assumed everyone else did too.

These revelations were hitting Thomas, pelting him like snowflakes, but Tatiana was inattentive and still talking. “I sent them - the demons - to find out more about you and Alastair. You know something about him? That boy - he cares. I could see it from the moment I saw him. He really cares about the people who are important to him. Desperately. Cordelia’s out of the question, and so is Sona, clearly.”

Thomas had absolutely no idea what she was saying, and Tatiana didn’t bother clarifying at all.

“Cordelia’s popular, and about to get married. People don’t take their eyes off of her. And Sona is pregnant. I wouldn’t kill a fellow mother. But you - the quiet boy in the corner, the kind and gentle one that nobody really takes notice of - well, you were the only bait I could use!”

Her hands were reached out, gnarled and grisled from decades of working with substances that only a warlock should touch. Thomas got the impression that she was trying to draw out his soul to inflict some of her craziness into him, to make him understand.

He did, just not what she wanted him to.

“You want him to come for me. You want all of them to come for me. So they can die. So they can’t hurt you anymore.”

In his head, he had stopped for a moment. Was he one of the three - just three - people that Alastair really, truly cared about? But then the cruelty of her plan struck him, that she was using his — best friend, whatever he was now — she was using his best qualities against him. And just because she was afraid. She hadn’t even met these people, and still she judged them off of tragedies from long ago.

Tatiana clucked consolingly. “Aw. Don’t be worried, darling. They’ll find you. A letter is on its way. Soon all your little friends will be charging in mindlessly like they always do — and well. It would be quite rude to storm the Iron Sisters’ palace without asking, now, wouldn’t it?” Her voice was treacly sweet, dripping with it. Thomas fought off the urge to vomit.

And yet, despite knowing that his friends would never be so stupid as to run in blind, Thomas couldn’t find a way for them to ever successfully find him without getting them into trouble (it would seem like they were trying to break out the convicted criminal) or getting him into trouble (why was he even there). Men were not allowed in the Adamant Citadel, period. He didn’t feel like finding out the consequences.

Inwardly, he screeched in frustration; his outward expression was actually worse, if you can believe it.

Shaking his head, he muttered, “Jesse is the only tolerable one of you lot.”

He realized his mistake as soon as he said it, but it was already too late. Tatiana was staring straight at him without seeing, her eyes glassy, her face a mask. The spark was completely gone for a shining sliver of a moment. It was like the world had flipped, like she was the victim once more.

“Jesse is alive?” she said, hollow and innocent. Like a child. “My son is alive and I wasn’t there?”