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Kiss With A Fist

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“Alec. A word. Now.”

Izzy pulls him around the corner and into a small alcove in the wall. She grimaces, folding her arms across her chest.

“Mom is sending you on a kill mission.”

Surprisingly, these words are not the strangest thing he’s heard. In fact, it barely makes the top ten.

Alec sighs. “It was bound to happen soon.”

Sure, it’s odd for your younger sister to announce your parents’ plans to encourage you to take a life. If you're an ordinary person, that is. But Alec definitely isn't, and neither is Isabelle; or their family. 

In fact, it’s the kind of topic that makes the dinner table.

Not that we even eat dinner together, Alec thinks with a scoff.

But Izzy’s words – or warning – don't hit him too hard. After all, he's trained for this.

If someone announced to any of the Lightwoods that they had three bombs to disassemble in three minutes, their only response would be, “I can do it in two.”

Really, he should be pleased. Or proud.

This is his first opportunity to live up to the honourable Lightwood name. To prove to The Clave that he can be reliable, loyal and never question the tasks thrown at him.

Working for The Clave has rather forcefully opened Alec’s eyes. Being trained since birth to fight, assemble weapons, track, locate, and to survive under torture means that sentences like this one are just another part of life. His life.

Still, a small stab of anxiety prickles his stomach.

Alec’s first kill mission.

He wishes he has it in him to smile at his sister - whose expression is a grimace of fear and worry. He wants nothing more than to convince Isabelle that the kill won’t affect him too much. And perhaps it won’t.

But it's one thing to capture the bad guys. It's another to assassinate them.

And that’s what it is. Whoever they are, and whatever horrific crimes they’ve committed, Alec knows it's still that; murder. Good, old-fashioned assassinating. Robbing someone of their life as if he were a god.

There's a dangerous power in holding a gun, in strapping yourself into a bulletproof vest and getting ready. It makes you feel invincible. As if you're above everyone else.

Alec winces.

How his mother would hate to see him hesitate. To consider their jobs as anything more than that. The emotional impact of the deed is to always come last. And by last, that means never. The Clave are strict in their laws. If you step outside the line, you're often cast aside. And without their protection, and with a crap load of bad people holding grudges against you, those who leave are normally pretty screwed. 

Alec swallows.

He can do this. A hit kill. Surely the first would be the hardest.

If he can do this, and prove to his parents and The Clave that he's an exceptional, loyal soldier – and killer – then Alec hopes the pressure will ease.

Still, the legacy that his parents have built hovers over Alec like a timer waiting to explode. The legendary Maryse and Robert Lightwood; the pair with the highest number of kills. And lowest number of complaints.

As soon as Alec rounds the corner - heading towards his parents’ office - he feels the weight dragging at his heels.

An even more dangerous thought whispers to him then;

What if he could escape? What if he just abandoned everything and ran away from The Clave, to live a life free from killing and danger and-

No. He cuts himself off. This life is the only thing he knows. His family mean more to him than his own freedom.

Alec thinks of Izzy. Bright, bold and deadly Isabelle; destined for being the first assassin to complete her kills in six inch stilettos. She's born for this. She has no trouble in shutting off the emotional parts of her brain. In fact, it's the opposite. She channels it into her fights; her passion being her greatest asset, despite their mother, Maryse, trying her best to scold it out of her.

But behind Izzy’s calculations and intelligence is a whirlwind of beautiful chaos. She became a blur during fights, ducking and lunging and bringing down her opponents without care.

Alec, on the other hand, turns everything off. He forces his logic to overwhelm every other sense; to control him. To block out the sunlight desperate to get in.

After all, there's no place for the light. Not in a world filled with more bloodshed that smiles. Where agents are raised to withstand torture before they've even learnt to tie their own shoelaces.

When he reaches a foreboding black door, Alec pauses.

The second he steps inside will spark a change he can't come back from. He will be sent to kill someone; to take away their life forever and live with that.

Would he feel guilty? Or worse, pleasure?

Alec isn't sure which one seems worse, and so he knocks once on the door and waits for a reply.

“Come in, agent.”

Alec takes a quick breath and walks in, keeping a calm pace as he walks to stand just before the desk chair. He plants his feet firmly in the floor, squares his shoulders, preparing. He looks up then, and is glad that he didn’t beforehand. Otherwise he might’ve turned and fled from the room and found the nearest trash can to throw up into.

Alec wasn’t just staring at his mom, and boss.

He was looking into the sharp eyes of not one, but six other Clave agents. Some are from this Institute, and other are unrecognisable. 

He recognises one, in the form of his old friend, Lydia Branwell. They'd been trained in the same classrooms, and grown up reciting Morse code together. But that was then. They're both fully trained agents now.

Greeting each other with a hug didn’t seem too appropriate to Alec, so he simply nodded.

The other five observers are dressed in dark suits and stern expressions, standing behind his mother’s desk. She gestures for Alec to take a seat.

His mind races. Why are there so many envoys here from The Clave to oversee his assignment? Is he being watched by them? Are his loyalties already being questioned-

“Thank you for coming,” Maryse says briskly. “These are envoys from the Los Angeles Institute. This is Alec Lightwood.” Her introductions over, she places a file in front of Alec. “This is your given assignment. A kill hit.”

Though he is prepared by Isabelle's words, Alec still feels his heart begin to race. He keeps his lips pressed together, praying they wouldn’t shake. He cannot afford to hesitate in front of so many important people.

Maryse continued. “It has come to The Clave’s attention that recently, someone decided to foolishly steal from Valentine Morgenstern.”

Alec notices how the agents tense up at the name. Alec does too.

He’s heard so many stories about the legendary crime family, the Morgensterns. Run by their slippery leader, Valentine, and his violent, bloodthirsty son, Jonathan, the Morgensterns have been the cause of many drug-related deaths across the whole of America. In the recent years, new drugs have slipped into the markets, and The Clave has failed to locate the ever-moving group. The family took underground business to a whole new, deadly level.

And now someone has stolen from them. Somehow.

Alec frowns. “Who is my target?”

Surely they didn’t want him to track and kill Valentine? The man who was like smoke; impossible to see, hear or grasp. They would be asking Alec to go on an impossible mission.

Maryse shakes her head. She nods to the file on the desk, and waits for Alec to turn the page.

Held in by a small paperclip is a blurry photograph of a young man. He is perhaps close to Alec’s age, a little older - perhaps early thirties - and is shown with a streak of coloured hair, sharp angles and dark eyes. He is pictured ducking into a car, a messenger bag clutched tightly to his chest.

A thick band of red spells out:

MAGNUS BANE; CODE RED

Code red: kill and retrieve.

“This is the culprit. Magnus Bane. He’s not on any records. Not any of ours,” Maryse snarls, and Alec can see how much it pains The Clave to admit defeat. This man has escaped even their knowledge.

“Who does he work for?”

“No one.”

Alec blinks.

Maryse’s voice drips with disdain. “From what The Clave has worked out, he’s an assassin who answers to no one. He doesn’t work for any company. He’s been hired by different governments around the world, hindering serial killers and robbers alike. He’s…freelance.” Maryse’s lips curl at the world, and he can only imagine how disgusted she is by the thought of having no connections; no loyalty, no family.

Alec, on the other hand, is horrified by how compelling that sounds. What would it be like to choose your missions? To use your skills in whatever way you wanted to?

His mother is still waiting for a response.

Alec nods briskly. “You want me to kill the assassin? This…Bane person?”

“Yes. Also,” She clicks a button and an image appears on the screen. A strange looking, old goblet fills the screen, adorned by many purple, glittering jewels. They circle the cup’s rim and holder too.

I know that cup...

Alec feels dread well up. He knows where this is now going. 

“Magnus Bane decided to steal something very important from Valentine. The purple gems you see here are taken from a rare, precious stone called painite. They are worth around $2 million dollars. Per carat," Maryse emphasises. “As you can see, there are over thirty five painite jewels on the Cup, making it to be a loss around $70 million dollars that Valentine is rather keen to get back. Also, as you know, this is the Cup that once belonged to The Clave. It is a very precious artefact, and one that we would like you to return to us. It has been long overdue." 

“How did he steal it?” Alec blurts out, unable to hide his curiosity. He hides his admiration though. Though Bane seems like a suicidal fool, Alec can’t help but feel a touch of surprised pleasure at how one person could cause so much trouble.

“You’re not to care about that,” Maryse says, coolly. “The Morgensterns already have people hunting him down. They’ll drag him back underground and beat him to death. And that’s if he’s lucky. They’ll likely make it last weeks, or months.”

Alec’s stomach clenches. He realises that the kill mission is so much more than that.

He’s not hunting down a serial killer, or a crazy terrorist.

He’s being sent on a mercy kill.  

“This is a mercy kill, Alec,” Maryse confirms. She looks at him and summarises, “Find Magnus Bane and kill him. Before Valentine gets his hands on him. And be sure to bring the Cup to us.” She adds casually.

At that, The Clave envoys shift. The movement is slight but Alec catches it; the way their eyes focus and their attention narrows onto him.

Won’t that put us in the direct line of fire? Alec wants to ask. Stealing said stolen Cup from one of the country’s – no, world’s – most dangerous crime leaders seems a little crazy.

Okay, try a crap load of crazy.

But Alec doesn’t feel like that statement will go down too well with The Clave, or his mom.

Still, like the good, loyal son he is, Alec simply nods. “Locate Magnus Bane. Kill him. Bring back the Cup," he repeats calmly. “Simple.”

One of the Clave envoys steps forward. “We’d advice you to keep this mission to as few as possible. Take another agent, but not a team. You need to be swift and careful, agent.”

“I understand." He stands to leave. "I have someone who would be perfect.”

~

“You not only want me to let you go on this mission, but you want me to tag along?" Isabelle exclaims. She glares at him with wide eyes. "I didn’t realise it was ‘kill two Lightwoods with one stone’ day.”

“Izzy, please," Alec tries again. "You know you’re the only one I’d trust as my backup. Please. I promise I’ll take the shot, just...support me in this." Another worry clicks in his mind. He looks at her seriously and promises, "I’ll position you away from the action-“

“Excuse you. If I’m going, I’m going. I’m not waiting on the rooftop with a sniper. I’ll be by your side or not at all, brother.”

“Damn it, Izzy. I need you to be safe while I’m-“

“Not?” she finishes. “You want me to sit back and watch if something happens to you? No chance. You want me as your partner? Fine. You want me as your witness? Adios, hermano.”

"Fine." Alec stands from his sister's bed and storms towards the door. “I’ll go on my own then.”

He turns to leave, but Isabelle grabs his arm and spins him back around. Her expression is unsure now, and Alec feels a stab of guilt. He didn’t mean to blackmail her, but how else could he convey that he needed her beside him? He needs Izzy to be there. Who knew what he’s going to feel like afterwards?

The one thing Alec did know was that he couldn’t do this without Izzy. He's never needed his sister’s support more.

Something flashes in Izzy’s eyes, and her expression softens. She tugs him back towards the bed again, and the pair sit down.

“I don’t like it…” she quietly begins. “But I know you can’t refuse your first kill. So I’ll be there. For you.”

“Thank you,” Alec breathes, pulling her into his arms. He hugs Isabelle tightly, allowing himself this small moment of comfort. The soft tickling of Izzy’s hair under his chin relaxes him. When she wraps her arms around his waist and sighs, Alec closes his eyes and smiles.

If she’s beside him, he has no worries.

A small part of him flashes warning signs in his mind. What if something happens to Izzy because of him? Alec shakes away that thought. If needed be, he’d kill a thousand arrogant assassins to keep Isabelle safe and alive. There will be no hesitation to shield her body from a knife, or a gun, or a fist.

He would choose her over the entire world.

And when Izzy pulls back and gently cups his cheek, Alec knows with tender clarity that his sister would return the favour.

They’ll probably get the lecture of a lifetime afterwards, but Alec and Isabelle would choose each other over any mission that comes their way. Whether it was protecting royalty, or taking down a crime lord, the Lightwood siblings would always choose each other.

It's their own private motto, hidden inside their hearts. It is a song that only they could hear.

Amidst the Clave’s rules, and their parents’ strict guidance, Alec and Isabelle have found their own freedom within the other’s love.

“Bane, uh, the target,” he quickly corrects. Thinking of the kill as a person is too dangerous. “The target is still in Brooklyn, for now. So we leave tomorrow and find him. Before he can get any further.”

For a moment, Isabelle looks ready to protest. She opens her mouth, but then shuts it quickly. She looks away and nods.

“Alright. I’ll get some gear together.” Her tone is laced with bitterness. “I’ll let you choose your own weapons.”

“Izzy, come on,” he protests. “I don’t have a choice. You know that. And besides, I’m doing the guy a favour anyway. If he’s stupid enough to steal from the Morgensterns then he should be lucky that someone’s going to kill him before he’s stripped to the bone in an underground cell.”

Izzy grimaces. “Imaginative.” She sighs, running a hand across her forehead. Something in her settles though, despite her frustration, and she plucks off the hair tie around her wrist and scoops her hair back into a messy bun. “Fine. But I’m not happy that mom’s thrown this at you.”

Alec is silent. To badmouth Maryse Lightwood was to badmouth the entire organisation. Though Izzy has no qualms with doing this, Alec still feels compelled to obey by the loyalty embedded into him.

And when Izzy walks away, the whispers of doubt leave Alec with a sour taste in the back of his throat. I

t will be an easy mission, he tells himself.

But so much rests on their shoulders. Not just killing Magnus, but retrieving the Cup – which is no doubt being searched for by many of Valentine’s scouts and own assassins. If they find Magnus first, or more importantly, the Cup, then the entire mission will be a failure. And the Lightwood name will have been dragged through the mud.

Alec exhales shakily, and turns his mind to the preparations ahead.

He needs a car.

And a gun.

Scratch that. Multiple guns.

Better to be safe than sorry.

Or; better to be a killer, than killed.

~

The lights outside Pandemonium are too bright. The flickering blue neon sign is practically giving Magnus a migraine already.

His head already hurts and he hasn’t even touched a sip of alcohol yet. Not that’s he’s going to. Not tonight anyway. Tonight is not a night to be careless, or to get lost in the arms of a beautiful stranger and dance away all the cares and troubles of the world.

Still, Magnus lets himself have half an hour. That’s all.

And then he has to get the hell out of here, and the entire country.

Not for the first time that day, he wants to throw himself against a wall and curse the fates for gifting him with both a beautiful brain and a stubborn need for payback.

Victory and stupidity have always gone hand in hand with Magnus, but the shit he’s just gotten himself into is really something quite spectacular.

He almost wants to cup his hands and cry out, “Hey! Guess who just stole from Valentine Morgenstern and in doing so, condemned himself to a very short lifespan?”

He can only imagine the looks of confusion the dancers would give him. Magnus doubts anyone knows who the Morgensterns are, but if he yelled out that he’s currently in possession of an object worth more than all their houses combined then surely they’d perk up a bit.

Half an hour, and ticking, he reminds himself. The bouncer notices him and waves him in without a second glance. It’s not like Magnus owns the place. But his dead friend does. Or did.

Past tense can kiss my ass, he thinks; anger and pain bubbling beneath his skin. He still owns it.

Technically, the club now belongs to Magnus himself. But unfortunately he isn't going to get too long to appreciate all the beautiful madness of the club. He could mourn for the redecoration ideas later.

He is here to say goodbye.

Part of Magnus really didn't want to come, but he knows that he owes it to his friend to brave the rush of memories now swarming him. Memories of nights out blur into one, but as he passes through, Magnus remembers the dances he’s shared on the dancefloor, and the kisses he’s given and received in the booths.

It hurts. It really, really hurts.

20 minutes.

He moves like a ghost through the packed club. Dancers twirl and laugh and smile, but Magnus can’t see the one smile he wants to see. The one he would kill to see one more time.

Ordering a drink is a temptation he doesn’t need, so Magnus heads towards the back and slips into a booth filled with a man and woman talking quietly. The couple nod politely and he returns it, and then they look away.

Good. He doesn’t want to explain why he looks ready to start weeping at any moment.

Because he seriously does.

Magnus bites his lip against the strain of wanting to have a sobbing fit. His throat feels tight; his hands twitching and tapping against the table counter. He can’t even close his eyes. All he’ll see is his friend’s face. He’ll only see the newspaper headline, and relive that awful morning over and over again.

15 minutes.

Fighting back tears, Magnus makes a decision. A very stupid one.

He pretends. He looks around the dancefloor and pretends that at any moment, he’s going to see a head of curly hair and a wicked grin. That his friend is going to come back with the next round of drinks.

Before the first tear falls, Magnus has almost convinced himself. The lie is so believable. It’s a crowded night, and there are so many bodies pressed together that his friend could have gotten a bit mislaid by a pretty boy or girl.

And then he does something even stupider. He has a drink. Sure, it’s just a wine spritzer, but if someone was on the hunt for a badass assassin, they would find a slightly tipsy man crying at the bar.

Not so legendary are we now? Magnus thinks. He flinches when he hears it in his friend’s voice, teasing and poking fun at their old jokes at leaving their names in lights.

The beat of the music is intoxicating. Even more so than the alcohol. Magnus stretches his neck and rolls back his shoulders, settling into the chair and relaxing a little.

A few people on and around the dancefloor catch his eyes. A beautiful woman with tumbling blonde locks and dark skin. A slender man with bright purple hair and tartan leggings that Magnus almost smiles at. A hazel-eyed beauty eyes him up from the bar, and the way he rests his elbows on the bar and watches him intensely sends shivers of pleasure down Magnus’ spine. The stranger’s dark hair falls over his eyes slightly, and they widen and quickly look away.

Aw. A shy hottie. A rare breed.

Magnus turns away from the man at the bar and sighs.

5 minutes.

Perhaps he should dance.

One last dance, he suddenly thinks, and then wishes he hadn’t. What a sombre, anguished thought it was. To never again dance at the club that was once his home. That was once a place of friendship and love and never having to worry about feeling unloved.

He glances over at the bar, perhaps hoping to ask the tall beauty for a dance, but the man is gone. Disappearing like smoke.

Magnus frowns. Damn.

“Dance with me!”

He’s saved from disappointment when the curly-haired blonde from earlier announces her presence with a dazzling grin. Her deep red dress is short and hugs her curves in all the right places, and when she leans down and grabs his hand, Magnus has a delightful eyeful of her breasts.

But he’s almost out of time, and although it’s tempting to allow himself a dance with the blonde – his hands are already wanting to cradle her hips and rock against her – Magnus forces himself to look apologetic.

“I have to go!” he says, raising his voice to be heard over the music. “Maybe another time," Magnus lies.

He’s not coming back. Ever. Unless he really does want to die.

The blonde pouts. “Please? Don’t make me lose the bet!” She gestures a little drunkenly at the giggling Korean girl standing a few feet away. “She chose you for me!”

Magnus can’t help but smile. He’ll never be able to close his heart to the little joys of humankind. He accepts her hand.

“One dance, dear," he warns.

She beams, and he returns it.

3 minutes.

They edge onto the dancefloor as another song begins to echo.

The blonde is a fantastic dancer; someone who knows how to dance with someone without being a total creep. He likes that. He holds her close, carefully making sure she’s okay with it before resting his chin in the crook of her neck. The scent of shampoo and strawberries and champagne washes over him, and he smiles. How easy it would be to fall in love with someone like her. Someone who smiles like the winning lottery ticket is right around the corner. A person with hope in their heart and a song on their lips. Magnus dances, swaying with the rhythm of the song, and loses himself for a moment or two. This is what he’s giving up. The last dance he’ll have in this club.

His eyes open lazily, and he catches sight of the beautiful hazel-eyed man again. At the bar once more, he leans back on his elbows. His head is angled sharply, following Magnus’ movements with a keen eye.

Magnus winks at him.

It’s a shame really. The guy clearly has good taste, and Magnus would’ve loved to drop everything – all his carefully made plans - and seduce him.

Unfortunately, it’s not destined to be, as Magnus is an assassin on the run from an impressively numerous amount of powerful people. And the stranger is probably a normal guy with a dead-end job and parents to visit on Sundays.

Minus 1 minute.

His movements still.

Reluctantly, he leans back and smiles at the woman. He wishes he could thank her properly; for being a wonderful last partner. Instead, he places a quick kiss on her cheek.

“Enjoy your evening, my dear," he says, into her ear, before leaning back.

She groans, but lets him go. “Bye, bye, gorgeous!” the curvy blonde calls, and he flashes her one last smile before heading off the dancefloor.

He turns to head upstairs; up into the recently abandoned apartment.

There are a few things he needs to grab before leaving…

~

The cool air hits Alec as soon as he walks outside the club.

He inhales a gulp of clean air and quickly turns around the corner, pausing to duck into an alleyway a few feet away from the club’s entrance. From here, he can lean around and have a perfect view of anyone who leaves.

Magnus is still dancing when he left, but Alec had watched as the man’s movements became less and less eager and realised that he was going to head for the exit soon.

He curses himself for waiting so long, but he quickly reminded himself that he had needed to check that Magnus was unarmed.

Inside the club, he had needed to rake his eyes up and down his body. At least three times.

The man moves like a weapon; lithe hip circles and graceful footwork. His hands are another thing entirely. Alec had watched, a gnawing heat growing inside him, as Magnus’ fingertips became a hurricane of movement. They edge along his dance partner’s hips, up along her forearms, and then caress the air around them. They were hypnotising, and Alec almost forgot the reason he is there.

To kill the man.

He quickly glances across the road. On the first floor railing of an apartment stood Izzy, hiding in the shadows like he was. Her hands are gripping the balcony railing tightly, and when she met his stare, she smiles briefly. It's a tense flicker of a smile, but Alec appreciates it.

There is one small issue with their original plan.

Inside, he had noticed that Magnus wasn’t carrying a bag. Or something that looked big enough to hold an important object of value.

Then he realises.

Magnus doesn't have the Cup. At least not right now.

And if they kill him as soon as he steps out of the club – like the original plan instructed – then they’ll be clueless to know where to start looking.

As much as Alec hates it, they had to change the plan. Just a little.

They are also going to need to force Magnus to reveal the Cup’s location.

Alec is still working out the details to that – can he torture a man and stay sane? – when Magnus steps out of the club.

Alec’s brain reacts quickly; assessing and analysing. His target has come out with a small group of people, who are laughing and stumbling around. Magnus is towards the middle, hidden away inside the circle of safety.

It would be clever, if it wasn’t so infuriating to Alec; who really needs to stuff Magnus into a car and kill him.

Really, the man is quite impossible. Why couldn’t he make it easy for Alec?

Glaring, he watches as Magnus lingers with the group as they chat loudly with each other, but not to him.

Magnus holds himself tall, as though he belongs with this group of strangers. His disguise is so casual, so practised. He smiles when the group smiles, and laughs when they do; blending in perfectly. Even with glittery eyes and skin-tight leather pants, Magnus is camouflaged by normalcy, and Alec continues to wait for the perfect chance.

Alec then freezes as he notices something that definitely wasn’t there before.

Magnus’ navy blazer is now slightly bulkier, pulling taunt against his chest. His fingertips also tick nervously against his hip, his hands ready to move.

Shit. He’s armed.

He signals to Izzy that their target has at least two handguns and perhaps a small knife. Magnus’ right leg is rigid, as though he couldn’t bend against the metal strapped to his thigh. Alec assumes it is a boot knife. Something larger would show through Magnus’ figure-hugging pants.

Figure-hugging?

Alec scowls to himself. He seriously needs to get his ass in gear. And he needs to stop thinking about Magnus’ ass.

The group is still standing outside the club, concealing Magnus.

Go home, he pleads to them. Continue your drunken adventures elsewhere.

And then, by a chance surveillance, Alec glances over and notices another sniper on the rooftop opposite the club. And it definitely is not Isabelle. The figure is aiming.

Alec doesn't think twice about leaping around the corner and crying out, “MOVE!”

Despite their intoxicated state, the crowd scatters surprisingly fast. But Alec only has a moment to be grateful. He dives, tackling Magnus to the ground just as the first shot hits into the wall behind them.

Of course he has to protect Magnus. It's the obvious choice. How else can Alec kill him later? 

He definitely did not save the man he's been sent to kill. No way, Jose.

He tells himself quickly that he had been protecting the innocent group. The last thing anyone wants on their hands is civilian blood, and Alec is certain that The Clave would not approve of cleaning up that mess. So he had scattered the group, and tackled Magnus Bane.

Ignoring that he was laying completely on Magnus, Alec glances up and watches the sniper re-loading. He then glances at the wall, at where the shot had fired, and sees a tranquilliser dart rolling to a slow stop on the floor nearby.

Valentine’s men.

They are going to try and bring Magnus in and do god knows what to the poor fool.

Alec doesn't give himself time to blush at how close their bodies are– and how every part of Magnus is firmly pressed against him – and sits up quickly, dragging Magnus up onto his elbows. He is still straddling him, shielding him from the sniper.

Heat crawls up his body as Magnus gazes up at him, his eyes wide. The intensity is too much. He needs to break the hold.

So Alec announces, “You have a tail.”

Magnus smirks. “No shit, pretty boy," he replies, his tone amused and yes, a little flirtatious.

Alec is mildly impressed that being fired at has not silenced him.

Magnus leans closer, his eyes flicking down to where Alec still straddles him.

“Is that a gun or are you just excited to see me- oh, fuck, okay, that is a gun.” Magnus sits up, pushing onto his elbows and tilting his head like a cat. “That’s actually hotter.”

Alec blinks, using the cover of the car to gather his thoughts for a moment. He could shoot Magnus right here. Or knock him out and drag him into the car, like planned. But the sniper isn’t going to leave them be, and he’s certain that others will arrive soon. He hopes that Izzy is on the move already. In fact, she probably had already taken care of the rooftop shooter. It would explain how Alec hasn't been shot during his little exchange with the foolish assassin beneath him.

“Come with me.” he demands, rolling sideways and keeping low as he releases Magnus from his hold. His body tenses, waiting for the moment that Magnus will whip out his knife and slit his throat. Or try to. Alec’s sure he could put up a fair fight.

’Come with me if you want to live?’” Magnus says, his voice weirdly robotic. 

Alec stares blankly.

“Really?” Magnus looks shocked. “You must know the movie, surely. Schwarzenegger? Machines? 80s classic?” He actually takes the time to shake his head in disappointment. “The world sure is a scary place-“

“Are you done?” Alec interrupts. He rolls his eyes and clicks the safety off his gun. “If you’re done, we can go.”

Magnus’ expression hardens. A dangerous look enters his eyes, turning their warmth into a fierce fire. He slowly takes out a small gun.

Alec feels his jaw drop.

“Do you like it? Custom made.”

“It’s very…”

“Charming? Exquisite? A thing of pure beauty like myself?”

“It’s, uh, pink,” Alec mutters.

This time, Magnus rolls his eyes and sighs. “Yes, I have a pink gun. Screw yourself if you don’t think it’s the hottest thing ever. I have one in every shade but something about pink makes my eyes pop.”

Alec doesn’t even have a reply to that. He grabs Magnus’ forearm, pointing.

“We’re heading down that alley.” Alec nods to where he stood before. “I’ll explain who I am later, but let’s get away from here first.”

Magnus hesitates. His fingers twitch around the gun, and a jolt of fear runs into Alec. What if he’s forced to kill him after all? He’s angered by how much he really doesn’t want to. But he will. If he has to, Alec knows with frustrated sadness that Magnus won’t stand a chance against him.

But then Magnus nods. “Let’s go.”

Relief mixes in with fear, and Alec channels it into his movements, quickly scanning overhead for anymore snipers. He looks across the street and quickly spots two men waiting behind the cover of a large red pickup truck.

“Okay, we have two tails,” Alec quickly says. “You head for the alley and I’ll cover you. On three?”

He really wishes he has the time to try and see where Izzy’s gone, but he knows she can take care of herself, and has probably already taken out half of their attackers.

Alec sends a quick prayer in her unknown direction before turning to Magnus. “Ready?”

Magnus sets his jaw determinedly. He nods, crouching and preparing to run. The corners of his eyes crinkle, the glitter glistening under the neon light of the club’s sign. Alec stares for a moment too long, enraptured by the man’s colours, and forces himself to focus.

“Go!” Alec yells, quickly standing and firing at both of the men opposite the street. He uses the car as a shield, protecting his lower half, and fires two, careful shots. His aim is true, taking out both attackers. They fall to the floor, and that’s all he has time to see.

Alec turns and runs to the alleyway, where Magnus stands with his back pressed firmly against the wall, breathing heavily.

Magnus’ expression softens as he joins him, and Alec ignores why this matters to him; why it matters that his target is pleased to see him alive. He throws an arm against Magnus’ chest, pinning him to the wall.

“We’re going to head down the alley and turn right. It’ll open up into a shopping mall. Hopefully it will have late night crowds for us to blend into it. Sound good?”

Alec curses himself. Why is he asking Magnus’ permission?

Alec takes a moment to curse the entire situation. Why couldn’t Magnus have made it easy to complete the mission? Why couldn’t he have had the Cup on his person like a good, naïve little thief?

But Magnus isn’t just a thief, Alec reminds himself. He’s an assassin, and clearly a very good one to have stolen from Valentine and lived this long already.

He keeps that in mind as they head down the alleyway, working together and switching positions to survey the opposite ends. There’s a natural rhythm to the movements, and Alec finds himself almost enjoying the feel of Magnus’ back pressed against his. It is a dance he can understand. One of logic. Not like the hypnotic, passionate dance of the club.

Just before they head out into the large, open square of shops and market stalls, Alec dares to ask, “Where’s the Cup?”

Magnus shoots him a surprised look. “You think I’d bring it to a nightclub?” His eyes narrow. “Who are you-“

“Later,” Alec pleads. He checks again for ambushers, and turns to Magnus, hoping to convey the urgency. “Look, I need you to be straight with me-“

Magnus interrupts with a laugh. A genuine, delighted laugh that fills the quiet night. It fills Alec to the brim with light. Alec watches in astonishment as, while having just been fired at, Magnus Bane throws his head back and giggles. He rests his head against the alley wall.

“I will never be straight with you, Alexander,” Magnus teases.

A stab of shock pierces Alec. He takes a hesitant step back, hand hovering near the trigger of his gun.

“How do you know my name?”

He didn’t remember saying his name. He’s sure he didn’t. So how the hell did Magnus know who he was? Perhaps he’d given something away-

Magnus reaches into his blazer pocket and pulls out a ballpoint pen. Alec’s pen.

“I swiped this when you so gracefully fell on me.” Magnus takes a smooth step forwards and slides the pen into the folds of Alec’s jacket, his fingers brushing over Alec’s shirt. Alec tenses beneath the touch, reacting to the sudden feel of skin so close to his heart.

Magnus steps back and winks. “I usually like to know the names of people who top me.”

Jesus Christ.

That’s it. Time’s up. They’ve been pushing their luck before, but now it was getting ridiculous. Alec really doesn’t have time to sit around exchanging names and flirting.

He hates – really, really fucking hates – that his brain stores this new information for later. Magnus’ teases become unhelpful answers to questions he didn’t even ask. Why does he need to care about Magnus’ sexuality? He’ll be dead before the hour’s up anyway.

Then why are you protecting him?

The Cup, he reminds himself. They need to find the Cup before he can complete the kill. His first kill. 

“I’m not a fool, you know. You’re after the Cup.”

Alec tenses. Without hesitating, he lifts his arm and swings the gun around; pressing it into Magnus’ forehead. A sudden weight presses against Alec’s throat, and he looks down and sees a blade resting against the delicate skin there. Magnus’ arm is tense, his expression unwavering as he holds Alec’s gaze.

They stay like this for a few moments; both ready to kill, and be killed.

Alec, with a gun pressed to Magnus’ head, and Magnus ready to flick his wrist and swipe a fatal cut across Alec’s throat.

Neither one moves.

“Get me out of here alive and I’ll take you to the Cup.”

Alec feels the weight of the gun beneath his hands. The cool metal of the dagger is like an invitation against his throat. Magnus is ready to go down with a fight; a fight that Alec won’t get out of alive.

But there’s another option now, and Alec considers it carefully. If he gets Magnus out alive, surely he can still kill him later on. Once they’ve retrieved the Cup. He can quickly fabricate some lies about protecting Magnus, and kill him when the time is right.

He looks at Magnus – really looks at him – and sees the fear in the other man’s eyes. It is so small, but Alec sees it. It is like looking into a mirror. It startles him that Magnus could be leaving the world soon, and Alec decides that the logical thing to do is to let him have another hour to live. Or a day even.

Until we have the Cup.

“Can you hotwire a car?” Alec asks slowly.

Magnus’ lips twitch. “You bet your hot ass I can.”

And then he lowers his arm, and the knife along with it. Magnus remains still though, staring across at him quite casually, as though he still doesn’t have a gun pressed to his temple.

The fact that Magnus trusts him so easily shocks Alec. But then, rethinking it, is Magnus really trusting him at all? He’s clearly a quick thinker, and Alec has no idea whether any of this was a good idea or not. But he really needs that Cup, and Magnus is now offering a quick route to it.

So, and with the regret already piling up, Alec lowers his gun reluctantly; quite certain that this is going to be a disaster in no time.

Still, he looks at Magnus and know with unusual clarity that he’s going to survive the day. And Alec is going to help him.

“Follow me then.”

Alec and Magnus slip out of the alleyway and into the open space. People fill the area, some lingering outside bars and clubs, and others just out for a late night walk because fuck it, it’s Brooklyn and that’s normal behaviour around here. The walk quickly, weaving between people and checking all around for anyone suspicious.

As they walk up the main road, Alec quickly nudges Magnus with his arm and gestures to the upcoming divergence, where the main square breaks off into different paths and roads. A small road with neat rows of houses calls to Alec when he sees a number of smart cars waiting to be put into action.

And then the gunfire starts.

“Fuck," he hisses, pulling Magnus behind the cover of a lamppost before taking aim at their pursuers. Alec quickly counts; one, two, three, four-

He stops, clicking a new round into place.

Just as he’s about to peer out and risk taking a few more shots, Magnus is one step ahead. Alec watches in horror as Magnus leaps out and fires at the men, ducking and weaving behind benches, shrubs and shoving aside people. He is a blur of movement and gunfire, and Alec is reminded that this is an assassin, not just a thief. Not just a target. This is someone like him, who can attack with lethal precision.

Unlike Alec, Magnus seems to have no cares about reckless behaviour. He fires with a grin, as if he’s firing at a fairground game and not in a serious life-or-death defence.

Alec swears loudly and takes out another two men, catching them aiming at Magnus from the cover of a bench opposite the square. He watches them crumple.

A sudden squeal of tires on tarmac breaks his concentration. Alec turns quickly and sees a black car pulling up a few feet away. The blackout windows fail to reveal the driver’s identity, so he’s about to start shooting at the tires when the door flies open.

Out steps an angel of fury.

Or, more specifically, Alec’s little sister.

But he takes one look at her and flinches. The smoke billowing from the car swirls around Isabelle like the gates to heaven and hell have been forced upon. She stalks towards the action, ignoring his apologetic look.

In her hands, Izzy holds two very large bombs, and it is with deliberate show that she uses her teeth to pull out the pins before launching them in the direction of Valentine’s men.

Fortunately Magnus is smart enough to get out of the way. He joins Alec behind the post again and watches with an impressed grin as Izzy launches the bombs at the men, carefully aiming for the centre of the group and not the citizens huddled in the corners of shop windows, or running away.

The bombs explode in a burst of harmless, but thick smoke, and Alec is pleased that Izzy didn’t feel the need to blow up half of the square. Using the smoke-filled air as a cover, Alec and Magnus head for the car; Izzy already hot on their trails. The click of her heeled boots is a deadly crack of determination.

Alec throws himself into the passenger seat, quickly checking that Magnus has climbed into the backseat without any trouble. When he sees the man grinning at him, his dark hair standing up in places, Alec swallows and looks away.

Why is Magnus such an infuriatingly happy assassin?

Whatever Alec had expected, Magnus definitely isn't it. He's colourful and excited and fierce. He's reckless, yet confident in his movements and attacks. He had watched as he wove a path through the square, unafraid to face whoever came at him.

Whatever vendetta Magnus has against Valentine and his people is certainly strong. Alec finds himself wanting to know, but keeps silent. He checks the rear view mirror as Izzy drives away with haste, her knuckles taunt and tense against the steering wheel.

When they have safely drove for a few minutes, Alec turns to her. “Izzy, let me explain-“

“What the fuck, Alec? The actual fuck?”

“Look, we had to change the plan.”

“We? This was all you,” Izzy growls. She takes a corner sharply and Alec winces at her clear distress. She rushes through the nearly-empty roads with determination. “I’m going to kick your ass as soon as we find a safe spot.”

Magnus chooses that moment to undo his seatbelt and hover in-between them, his lips inches from Alec’s cheek.

“Hello, dears. Thought I’d introduce myself. I’m Magnus. Magnus Bane. I thank you graciously for the epic save.”

Izzy huffs. “I wasn’t saving you, but whatever. You’re welcome, I guess.”

“Honest and beautiful. Do you two have any other hot siblings by any chance?”

“Just us,” Alec says quickly.

Izzy’s eyes widen, and then narrow in anger.

Crap. Why did he just revealed that?

Also-

“How did you know we were related?”

Magnus shrugs happily. “Good guess.” He's still hovering between them, his arms balancing on Alec and Izzy’s headrests. “You have the sibling banter down to a tee.”

Annoyed, Alec shoves his chest with a careless hand.

Magnus falls back into the backseat with a little yelp.

“Rude," he mutters.

Alec hides his smirk.

And then the situation replays in his mind; the fighting, the lack of killing, and the lack of a Cup.

His smile fades quickly.

Glancing across at his sister, Alec wonders if there is any way he can explain his plan to Izzy without giving anything away to Magnus.

Probably not.

So he just keeps quiet, and tries to catch Izzy’s eye and beg her forgiveness.

“Where are we headed?” Magnus calls out. He's decided to lay down over the three seats, stretching out his legs and closing his eyes.

Alec growls, “Away.”

Magnus smirks, a smug expression on his face. “Fine. I know the silent, brooding type. Very well.” He stretches out like a cat, crossing his legs and acting like he’s at a five star hotel. “I’m in your hands, Alexander," he purrs. "Take me somewhere where we can get to know each other-“

Alec elbows the steering wheel.

The car swerves, Izzy swears, and Magnus falls off the seats with a yelp, but Alec feels happy for the first time that night.

Chapter Text

After Alexander’s rather rude display – Magnus can already feel at least two bruises forming on his arse – Magnus keeps quiet.

Well, what counts as quiet for him at least.

He watches out of the window, catching glimpses of long roads and large houses. As they leave behind Brooklyn, and New York, Magnus feels a stab of panic. He’s in a car with two people who are trained with weapons and know things that he doesn’t.

Siblings, he reminds himself.

The idea that they’re just two crazy adrenaline junkies crosses his mind, but the moment Izzy stepped out of the car had clarified their status. These were two people who knew how to fight, and kill, just like him.

But where are they taking him? And why are they after the Cup?

He’s certain they’re not Valentine’s men. They don't bear any tattoos – or 'runes', as the Morgensterns so proudly dub them – on their necks. They were strange markings that show their loyalty. Magnus had checked earlier when he leaned forwards, and was about to study their shoulders too when Alec had so rudely pushed him backwards.

A guy would have pretty mixed signals with that one, Magnus thought, silently studying Alec. First he eye-fucks me on the dancefloor, and then he tackles me to the ground outside a club. And now he’s protecting me, just to get his hands on the Cup. 

Alexander was a strange creature.

Sexy, but strange.

With his strong jaw, hazel eyes and lean frame, Magnus would’ve assumed Alec was a model, or a dancer. Not an assassin or a bodyguard or whatever he really was.

He had kept his remarks teasing and playful throughout the car ride, not wanting either Alec or his sister – who he quickly learnt was called Isabelle – to notice his assessments. Magnus curls against the window and pretends to sleep, knowing that it was a childish move, but one that earns him two things. One, time to think and plan. Two, time to see if Alexander and Isabelle will reveal anything useful if they thought he wasn’t listening.

From what he’s assumed already, Magnus is certain they knew who he was. Both siblings have been far too careful not to say his name, which means they already knew, or didn’t give a damn. Considering that Alec has inquired about the Cup, Magnus is confident it was the first.

Great. Magnus thinks. They knew who he was. So what? Didn’t every agent or assassin or thug know by now?

If Alec and Isabelle are assassins, they were doing a piss poor job by saving his life.

But Alec has made his intentions clear; protection until the Cup was his. What happens afterwards is clear. Kill or be killed.

But something isn't sitting right with Magnus. It's the way that Isabelle was unfamiliar with the car; and in the way that Alec kept fiddling with his jacket and sighing.

Whatever their plan had been, it has now changed.

Never one to say no to an adventure, Magnus keeps quiet and thinks. He ought to be on the plane to London by now. He knew that going to the club had been a stupid sentiment that would cost him valuable time. And it had almost cost him his life.

He still has his gun, which he estimates to have around four bullets left, and his boot knife is still strapped to his thigh. He’d been forced to abandon his other dagger during the fight earlier, having launched it at an attacker who was just close enough in range. It had sailed into his neck, and Magnus didn’t really feel it was polite to skip across and pull his dagger from a dead man’s throat.

But he’d checked the boot earlier, and there were no other weapons. Which meant that Alec and Isabelle were either winging the entire situation – much like he was – or he had just teamed up with the dumbest siblings in the world.

He really, really hopes it was the first.

Who did they work for? He wonders. Because with their logical tactics and training, they’ve both been trained by very exceptional people. The options are limitless, both in who wants to protect Magnus, and who wants to kill him.

The FBI, the CIA, Morgenstern hit-men, two bored siblings playing at being heroes or killers.

They could be from one of The Clave’s snobbish group of families. One of the families who act like they are better than assassins like him, and yet torture and kill in the name of justice.

But they didn’t seem snobbish, despite their frustrations.

It's also clear that they love each other very much. Isabelle’s anger comes from fear, and Magnus listens as she scolds her brother with a voice that is fonder, rather than pissed off. Alec’s soothing words are murmurs he fails to make out, but Magnus is sure that he is trying to win back his sister’s approval.

He almost smiles at their affection. He’s always wanted to have a sibling, and here he is in the backseat of two who might possibly try to kill him later.

The car is still being driven quickly by Isabelle, but the roads are smooth and the traffic is minimal. Against his own will, Magnus finds his lids growing heavy.

Despite the unknown threat of Alec and Isabelle, Magnus falls asleep.

~

“He’s not asleep, Izzy.” Alec whispers.

But he's unsure now. Magnus hasn’t moved for at least half an hour, and the soft snores coming from the back sound real.

“Well then, why don’t you poke him?”

“I’m not poking an assassin!”

Izzy scowls. “Why not? You have no trouble bringing one home with us.”

“Isabelle, please-“

“Oh, no, sorry, more like, ‘oh, hey mom! So we kinda, sorta, maybe brought back the man we were supposed to kill. Set another place at the dinner table?’”

Izzy.” Alec hisses in warning. He looks over his shoulder, but Magnus shows no sign of having heard them. His nose presses against the window, and Alec almost considers slipping his jacket under the other man’s head. Surely that angle can’t be comfortable.

But it’s not his job to make sure Magnus is sleeping at a comfortable angle.

“I told you, he has the Cup." Alec says quietly. "We need to know where it is before…” He trails off and runs a finger across his neck.

Izzy snorts. “Subtle.”

They’ve been driving for hours now, and they’re almost there. Occasionally doubling back and avoiding the main roads adds a little time to their journey, but Alec is surprised – and fearful – as to why their journey has been smooth. No tails or attacks.

They discard their phones as soon as they leave Brooklyn; quickly stopping to run over them and leaving them in unrecognisable pieces. Magnus had protested but surrendered it to Isabelle after a moment’s consideration.

The first thing they are going to do when they reach the Lodge is to get a few hours of sleep, find a disposable phone to contact headquarters, and then get the Cup’s location from Magnus. Whatever method they have to use – torture, blackmail, lies – they are going to find out where the blasted object is.

As they drive further into Pennsylvania, Alec forces Izzy to pull over and takes over from her for the final hour. She looks exhausted, and not just physically drained, and Alec feels guilty that he’s likely dragged her on a dangerous-

“Stop.” Izzy cuts into his thoughts. Her expression is firm as she holds up a finger in warning. “Don’t do that to yourself. I chose to come with you, Alec, and I’m pissed as hell, but I’m not leaving your side. We’ll sort this out. Together.”

He nods, squeezes her hand, and turns his attention back to the road ahead.

Soon, all of this will be over.

~

Magnus looks around at their room in delight. “Oh my gosh. It has an actual wooden fire place!" He points to the tray sitting on the bed. "And cookies! How darling! Alexander, come and see!”

“We’re not here to relax.”

“Suit yourself-“ Magnus breaks off and gasps. “What the fuck?”

Alec turns around, the lock sliding across the door. He turns to find Magnus holding up a biscuit in between his forefinger and thumb. He looks at it in horror. “Who puts raisins in cookies?” He whispers, distraught. “What kind of hell is this?”

Isabelle snorts and plucks the offensive cookie from his hand. “More for me.” She bites into it and moans, placing a hand over her chest. “Heavenly.”

Alec has watched Magnus almost get killed, shot and stabbed and yet he still smiles, but he’s never seen Magnus look so horrified. He actually edges away from Isabelle, and the cookies.

“I hate this place.” Magnus mutters, throwing himself onto the bed and spreading his arms out like a snow angel.

“That’s fine. You just take it easy.” Alec deadpans. “We’ll work around you.”

Alec ignores the little laugh that Magnus gives him in return and busies himself with carefully removing the large painting. He places it on the floor and stands, the bare wall now revealing a very small keypad. He punches in the code and waits patiently. After a long moment, the entire wall clicks and begins to slide down; disappearing into the floor.

Magnus whistles. “That’s neat.” He says, sitting up on his elbows and watching as the wall drops to reveal a fully stocked supply of weapons, from small hand knives to rifles to grenades.

“We have at least five in each state.” Alec says proudly, earning him a stern look from Isabelle. He quickly shuts up. The little that Magnus knows is the better, for all of them. He doubts that The Clave want him sharing their little places with every assassin that falls into his life.

Turning back to the task at hand, Alec plucks a few different guns from the wall, as Isabelle walks over and joins him; weighing different ones in her hand and swiping as much ammo as possible.

She spots him eyeing up a compound bow and shakes her head. “Not today, big brother.” Izzy grins. “There won’t be time to show off your archery skills in front of our new friend here.”

Alec sighs, but agrees. If anyone comes after them, it’ll be a battle of handguns and possibly fists, not long-distance shooting.

With his back turned still, Alec grabs another foldable dagger and tucks it into his jacket pocket.

He clears his throat and addresses Magnus. “We’re not staying here a moment longer than necessary.”

His eyes rake the wall of weapons again, searching for a disposable phone. He finds one and pockets it, continuing to speak. “We’ll explain what’s going on when we’re back in the car, but we can’t stick around here. Valentine has dozens, probably more, men out searching the state for you. Word will reach that you’ve fled New York, so we can’t stick around and wait for- what the hell are you doing?”

“Taking a shower. Want to join me?”

Alec gapes as Magnus steps out of his pants, leaving him shirtless and wearing nothing but a pair of hot pink boxer shorts that cause a flush to spread across Alec’s cheeks.

“Y-you can shower when we’re out of here." Alec mumbles. "Do you have a death wish?”

Unhelpfully, Isabelle is sniggering, which leaves Alec to play the firm, angry solider. But his brain has other ideas. Illogical, desire-filled thoughts flood his mind as he stares at an almost-naked Magnus. His muscles are defined; his build slim but muscular enough to carry Alec.

Why would he need to carry me?

He blinks.

Don’t answer that, he warns himself.

Magnus stretches his arms up over his head and lazily smiles at him. Holding Alec’s gaze, his fingers dance across his hips and begin to tug at the waistband of his boxers-

“As fun as this is, we’re now leaving.” Izzy reloads her final gun and places her hands on her hips. “So you’ll have to wait another few hours to shower. Sorry.” She smiles apologetically at Magnus, who grumbles but starts sliding back into his pants.

Izzy punches in the code to re-conceal the weapons. She turns to Magnus and offers, “I have some dry shampoo if you get desperate.” Her grin is teasing as she fluffs her hair and sits on the bed, crossing her legs and leaning back. “Not everyone can have hair naturally this good.”

To Alec’s surprise, Magnus doesn’t snap or retort back. He actually smiles back. “Isabelle, that would be lovely." Magnus replies. "Thank you, my dear.”

Alec rolls his eyes. Wonderful.

He’s possibly just fucked up an important mission for The Clave, but hey, at least his sister and the assassin are bonding over hair products.

“If you two are quite done,” He says, loudly – as to be heard over the sound of a forming bromance – and stares pointedly.

Izzy picks herself up off the bed and rolls her eyes. “Relax, Alec.” She pats his arm and quickly pecks him on the cheek. “We’ll sort this mess out.”

“Ah, yes. That.” Magnus has finally pulled his navy blazer back on, and Alec lets himself meet the assassin's eyes again. Now that he’s not practically naked, Magnus can be just that; an assassin. Not a beautiful man with a wicked grin and intelligent eyes. He can become Alec’s target again.

“So, as much as I’m enjoying this spontaneous road trip, would anyone care to explain the situation?” Magnus straightens his jacket, his fingers once again tapping against his thigh. The only sign of nerves. “And by that I mean, have you been sent to torture me and retrieve the Cup? Because, if so, you’re doing a spectacularly terrible job so far.”

Izzy snorts and lifts her chin. “If we wanted you dead, you’d already be in a ditch somewhere.”

Magnus sighs sadly. “I thought we were friends, Isabelle.”

“There’s no such thing in our world.”

“And what exactly is your world? Because I know my world, and I’m trying to work out how similar they are. I think you know more about me than I do about you.” He grins. “And that’s just bad etiquette.” Magnus looks away, surveying the room, and then turns his narrowed eyes back to them. He watches Alec and Izzy carefully, and when he speaks, his words are slow; thought out with care. “I know why you’re here – for the Cup – so let’s start with this. Who sent you?”

Alec exchanges a quick look with Izzy. She nods, giving him the all-clear to go ahead and spin the web of lies they’d agreed upon. They were to pretend to be special agents, hired by the FBI to keep Magnus safe until they had the Cup in their possession.

Alec opens his mouth to lie-

And then, three things – one after the other – happen. In the space of about thirty seconds, all hell broke loose.

The first thing that happens is the most unexpected.

Someone else enters the room.

Well, stumbles is the correct word.

A tall, lanky boy in his mid-twenties shoves open the door and waltzes in. He hums under his breath, completely oblivious to them. In his arms is a pizza box, and as he struggles to drag in a suitcase behind him, three guns are drawn at his sudden appearance.

The boy has headphones in – large, bright yellow ones that actually hurt Alec’s eyes – and is completely unaware of where the three of them stand in the bedroom. Too shocked to react, the three of them watch as the boy steps into the lounge area a few feet away, humming and throwing his head back and forth as he listens to his music.

He glances at Izzy and mouths, ‘what the hell?’.

He is about to take a step forwards when the boy turns, catching them standing there with their guns trained on him. He suddenly screams. He yelps so loudly, and jumps so visibly that Alec is instantly certain he wasn’t another assassin.

The pizza box lands on the floor with a dull thud.

The boy’s face pales as he throws up his hands in surrender. He falls to his knees, gazing up at them with wide eyes. “Oh, god.” He moans. “This is about the music downloads, isn’t it? I swear it was just three songs. Four! Just four songs, I swear!”

“We’re not here for that. Who are you?” Alec interrupts, swiftly cutting off his pleas. He's certain this is just a misfortunate accident, but he needs to be sure. “Do you have the room booked?”

“Y-yes! I just checked in a little earlier.” The stranger chokes back a sob, and Alec quickly lowers his gun. “You can have it! I promise, I won’t say a word. I’ll just leave and-“

“What’s your name, cutie?” Isabelle asks, flashing him a sweet smile. She steps closer and holds out a hand, helping him to his feet.

The boy’s eyes widen even further. His headphones dangle around his neck as he sways slightly on his feet. Alec prays he isn't going to faint. The boy blinks a few times and then shakes Izzy’s hand. “Uh- hi. Hello.” He mumbles. “Um. I’m Simon. Simon Lewis.”

Izzy holds his hand for a moment longer. “Pleasure.” She says softly.

Alec watches as his sister’s charms have their desired effect on the poor man. He relaxes, his shoulders lowering. Still, Simon's gaze keeps flicking to Alec, and Magnus; who is now standing just beside Alec. His presence sends unwelcomed tingles along Alec’s forearms.

“Alright, well, Simon,” Alec begins. “We’re going to need you to find another room-“

And then, the second thing happens.

Gunfire breaks through the three windows – one in the bedroom, and two in the lounge area – and Alec didn’t have time to finish yelling at him.

Poor Simon screams. Again.

Izzy, thankfully, has reacted quickly, and shoves him to the ground; landing neatly beside Simon. They cover their ears from the loud noises.

Meanwhile, Alec has thrown Magnus against the wall of the bedroom; escaping the main gunfire. His body is flushed against his, heat and adrenaline swirling inside his blood. Alec ignores that Magnus is trembling slightly. He also ignores that Magnus’ hand have instinctively wrapped around his waist, pulling Alec even closer against him. His eyes are like molten liquid, and for a moment, Alec wonders how many stories there are inside those eyes; and how many more adventures are waiting to be shared.

Logically, Alec is a little distracted. Even as gunfire echoes around the room, his body reacts to the embrace.

Logically, his body has reacted a little too eagerly.

Logically, his brain needs to shut the fuck up.

His sister, and an innocent man, are currently being fired at, and he’s in the bedroom with an assassin.

Oh, the joys of today, Alec thinks warily.

He ducks his head to the side, cheek brushing Magnus’ stubble slightly. He calls out to Izzy, “On three?”

His sister nods, still with an arm around Simon; keeping him close to the ground. She clicks her safeties off, and so does Alec. He hears a third click and turns to see Magnus watching him; waiting for the signal as well. Surprise, and then gratitude, flashes across Alec’s face, and he nods to the assassin.

For now, they’re on the same side.

The bow of Magnus’ top lip pulls taunt by hidden fear. It’s the only tell, the only sign of nerves, and Alec hesitates. He wishes then that he has a moment to murmur something supportive. But he doesn’t.

Judging from the rapid gunfire, there are at least seven attackers, and the fact that they’re not coming closer, or coming into the room, makes Alec relax; just slightly. It means they’re further away, and not prepared for close combat. This was a long-range hit and kill. Which means they can escape.

Hopefully.

“Three, two, one, now!” Alec cries.

They step out of the bedroom, rush to the window ledge and take turns covering each other and peering out into the early hours of the morning. Their room is on the second floor, and facing the back; where the Lodge’s gardens are, which means the men are firing from the building opposite, from a gray block of apartments. Alec spots them, quickly tells Izzy and Magnus where to aim, and then spends the next minute and a half taking out as many as possible.

Simon, thankfully, keeps on the ground.

“Izzy, two minutes.” Alec warns.

“I know!” She yells back.

Magnus frowns. “Till what?”

Alec pulls back, glancing across at him. “Hotel security.” He says, and then he’s back leaning over the window and taking out another sniper. Fear lodges in his throat when he sees a few shadows in the gardens below.

They're getting closer.

Izzy suddenly pauses. She looks at Simon, and then her brother. Her expression is too focused for Alec’s liking; trying to prove something to herself, and the world. “Go. Find a car.” Izzy says. “Get those two out of here, and I’ll meet you in the car.”

Alec hesitates. He always hesitates with Izzy, and he likely always will. She is, after all, his greatest weakness; as well as his proudest strength.

But the other thing about Isabelle Lightwood is that she’s excellent. His sister is a master of survival and grace, and Alec knows with pride that she’ll make it out alive, as well as leave anyone who comes after her wishing they’d stayed away.

“Go, Alec.” She snaps, but not unkindly. “Please. Now.”

All he has time for is to offer her a quick smile before dropping into a crouch. Magnus catches on and follows suit. They crawl to where Simon is sitting – or cowering – and make it, somehow, to the door.

With Izzy holding off the shooters, the three of them rush out into the hallway. Alec has a firm hand on Simon’s shoulder, dragging him with them as they head down the hall and take the back exit to the ground floor. Magnus takes up the position of walking backwards and checking for hotel security.

Alec doesn’t hear any footsteps, or guns clicking. What he does hear is anxious cries and shouting from inside every room they pass. He hears doors lock, and men and women crying out as the shots echo loudly. He sends out a silent prayer, and apology. One they will never hear, but he says it anyway. Alec knows fear, and he wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Once again, he’s reminded that all of this is his fault. He has led Valentine’s men – or whoever is trying to take them out – straight to the Lodge, and to the other guests. He prays that there is no innocent blood spilt tonight.

For now, this is a job, and he can wallow in guilt at a later – and safer – time.

They slip out of the fire exit and duck into the car park, ducking behind cars and snapping at Simon when he starts moaning about his college paper due in a few days.

“Let me go, please.” Simon mumbles into his hands. “I’m not even getting a good look at your faces. I wouldn’t be able to pick you out of a line-up!”

“Shut up.” Alec hisses, keeping guard as Magnus flings open the door of a car and starts to – Alec assumes – hotwire it. It’s a nice car – sleek, black and looks fast – and Alec is pleased with the choice.

It’s barely a few seconds when he hears the engine growl to life.

“That was quick.” Alec admits. He turns to see Magnus sitting smugly in the driver’s seat, feet resting against the dashboard as he swings a pair of sunglasses around his finger. He then gestures down, and Alec follows the direction and sees a key in the ignition.

“Masterkey, Alexander.” Magnus says proudly. “Never leave home without one.”

Alec rolls his eyes. “That’s cheating.” He mutters, shoving Simon into the backseat before quickly glancing up, and then down. He’s just out of the line of danger when the shot hits the car behind him.

“We have company.” He announces. He makes a quick gesture with his hands. “Move over. I can’t get around the other side.”

Magnus grumbles, but quickly slides into the passenger seat. Magnus gets out his gun - the pink monstrosity that Alec swears sparkles with glitter - and smiles fondly at it. “Do your best for daddy, hm?” His eyes flicker to Alec.

Great, Alec thought. He's about to try and survive a getaway with an assassin who talks to his gun.

It gets worse when Magnus smirks at him. “I’m sure the gun will do a decent job as well.”

Alec adds ‘daddy kink’ to Magnus’ list of impossibly frustrating quirks.

Why is the assassin so determined to give Alec a heart attack? Distracted, Alec simply stares at him, his thoughts only returning to a place of logic when a bullet skims over the car hood.

“Any day now, handsome.” Magnus sings.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Yelling at Simon to get down under the backseats, Alec quickly reverses and launches the car around the corner as fast as possible. Well, as fast as one can escape from a packed carpark in the early hours of the morning. He briefly slows down, rolls down the window and fires at the two security cameras. They need to erase as much of today as possible. He then rolls the window back up and crashes through the barricade.

Magnus lets out a whoop of delight. It turns into an angry cry when Alec swerves the car around to the outside of the Lodge and parks on the road outside.

“Why are we stopping?” Magnus asks, his cheeks flushing red.

“Izzy.” Alec hisses.

He ignores Magnus’ string of curses and makes sure that Simon is in one piece. The poor boy has, as per request, curled into a ball on the backseats.

Alec awkwardly pats his shoulder. “Hang in there.” He offers lamely.

Simon shrieks at the touch, but relaxes when he sees that it’s Alec.

"Stay put." Alec grumbles under his breath.

A sudden weight presses against him, and he’s abruptly shoved back into the front seat as Magnus reaches up to open the sunroof. He turns around, granting Alec with a rather unexpected, close-up of his groin. Alec doesn’t move. He doesn’t even breathe. If he moves even an inch then Magnus’ dick is going to be brushing against his nose, and Alec’s not sure if he can deal with that. Ever.

Magnus turns around, freeing Alec from the dangerous position, and his top half disappears through the now-open car roof. A gun clicks into place as Magnus takes up a solo guard position, without even asking for backup.

Alec frowns. Why didn’t he ask for help? He wonders. He then comes to the – strangely sad – conclusion that Magnus is someone used to working alone. Someone used to surviving and protecting himself by leaving others well alone.

For some reason, that thought spurs Alec into action. He elbows Magnus in the thigh, asking him to scoot over and give him room to join him. Alec climbs up, the cool air hitting his face and whipping strands of longer hairs over his eyes. He pushes them back hastily and shifts, trying to find a way to stand beside Magnus without pressing so close to him.

“I didn’t call for backup.” Magnus says, coolly. He doesn’t meet Alec’s eyes for a change; simply takes aim and fires at the first man who appeared around the corner. The man goes down in an instant, a clear shot to the head.

Alec takes aim. “I can’t let you die.”

His voice is too soft, and he feels Magnus stiffen beside him; surprised. Alec swallows and forces his tone to sharpen. “Not until we have the Cup, remember?”

Magnus scoffs. “Indeed.” His voice is silky smooth; elegant where Alec’s is hoarse.

Footsteps echo, growing louder, and the pair tense; waiting for the men to approach. But then, cries and shouts break out. Alec tries to see over the row of hedges, but he can’t see a damn thing, and so he waits.

And then, a glorious sound fills the night air.

The sound of high heels crunching the gravel.

As Isabelle rounds the corner, stalking towards the car, Alec tenses as he notices splashes of scarlet staining her cheeks and streaking across her forehead in an angry slash. She notices his expression and shakes her head. “It’s not mine, I promise.” She dabs at the blood on her cheeks and then smiles sheepishly. “Okay, that’s mine.”

“No time for the big brother speech, Alexander.” Magnus warns. He ducks back under the sunroof and climbs into the back, pulling Simon up and smiling widely. “Hello, you!”

Simon scatters away from him, pushing himself against the corner of the backseat.

Alec quickly lowers himself into the passenger seat. Izzy is already slamming the door shut behind her, her bloody hands on the wheel and her lips set in a thin, firm line.

“Strap in.” Alec says over his shoulder. “Quickly.”

He wishes like hell that he could tell Simon to bugger off. They really didn't need the added stress of keeping an eye on him. But, unfortunately, until they’re further away and The Clave can approve of his freedom, Simon is under their care. Also, Simon might’ve been captured on camera by one of Valentine’s men. If they let him out at the next gas stop, and Valentine interrogates him until breaking point, it would be Alec’s fault entirely.

Magnus winks through the rear-view mirror. “Now that’s something a fellow likes to hear. ‘Strap in’, he says broodingly.” Magnus mimics Alec’s low voice crudely. “How very Mr. Grey-like-“

“Don’t fucking call me that. Ever.” Alec snaps. “Or i’ll put a hit out on you.”

He winces as soon as the words are out. Izzy glares at him, astonished that he’s acting like a kid on a playground, and not at all like a respected agent of The Clave.

Magnus, on the other hand, is delighted. “Another one? Today just keeps on giving.” He says gleefully. He actually grins, and Alec suddenly wants to undo his seatbelt and throw Magnus through the window.

There’s a moment of silence, and Alec almost relaxes. Perhaps Magnus is done with the comebacks for now. They’re quickly putting distance between them and the Lodge, but Alec still won’t feel properly relaxed until they’ve gone twenty minutes without a tail.

“Wait.” Magnus says, his expression serious.

“What now?” Alec sighs and turns to face him, peering through the gap in the headrest. It’s like playing hide and seek, he thinks dumbly. But with an assassin.

Magnus stares at him and innocently says, “So, Alexander, have you actually read Fifty Shades of Gr-“

Alec flips him off, and the sound of Magnus’ laughter fills the car.

“Uh, guys. And lady.” Simon’s voice pipes up. He is still curled up in the corner, but manages to lift his chin a little and smile shakily in Isabelle’s direction. She smirks to herself.

“I don’t suppose you’re headed for New York?” Simon asks.

Magnus shakes his head and answers for them. “As far from it as possible.” He announces brightly.

Simon groans, once again covering his face with his hands. Alec notices how they tremble and despite his frustration, feels a prick of sympathy.

“Look,” Alec says. “When we get to-“

Izzy coughs, a subtle reminder to be cautious.

“When we get to where we’re heading,” Alec says, slowly. “We’ll just need you to sign a few papers and you can be on your way. No harm done.”

“No harm done?” Simon repeats, and the anger in his expression is the first sign of life that Alec has seen in the guy. “All of my belongings were back there. My guitar. My music. Everything I worked hard for!”

Magnus pats his hand. “There, there, Si.”

“It’s Simon.”

“I was trying for a cutesy nickname." Magnus offers. "Not feeling it? Fair enough. Simon, I understand, but these lovely people are our best chance. While they lack in etiquette, they are very good at what they do.” He turns to them. “What do you do?” He asks sweetly.

Alec glares. “Nice try.”

Magnus shrugs. “It was worth a try. But I mean it. Simon, I know everything seems pretty fucked up, but…” He winces. “Actually, everything is pretty fucked up. Go ahead, panic.”

Simon whimpers.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Izzy mutters. She shakes her head, and Alec winces at the fierce scowl on her face. His sister is pissed and he’s afraid for everyone in the car if she decides to express some pent-up rage.

It surprises him when Izzy’s expression softens as she glances at the backseat through the front mirror. “Simon.” She calls quietly. When he looks up, eyes wide in fear still, Izzy smiles at him. “Hey, I’m Isabelle. I’m going to make sure you’re safe, okay?”

“You are?” Magnus says, like the little shit he is.

Alec glares at him, like the asshole he is.

Simon straightens a little. “Uh, well, thanks! I think.”

Silence finally settles in the car. Alec watches out of the window, staring furiously in the distance. If there’s a glimpse of someone following them, he wants to know. He’s messed up enough for one night. In less than twenty four hours, he’s managed to fail at completing the kill hit, and failed to retrieve the Cup.

“Hey,” Izzy murmurs. “We have time.”

He nods, swallowing back his uncertainty.

I sure hope so. Or I’ve dragged you into a crap load of trouble.

Chapter Text

When they reach Pittsburgh in a few hours – only stopping to switch cars when Izzy complains about the leg room – Alec is burning with that awful feeling of anxiety and fear. It spreads through his body, almost to the point of numbing pain.

Later, when Izzy puts a hand on his arm, Alec jumps in his seat. “Uh, sorry, what?” He asks. His voice is a wincing croak.

Isabelle gestures to the place they’ve arrived at. “We’re here, Alec.” She smiles, but it’s a nervous smile, and Alec realises that she’s putting on a front, just like he is.

He sighs and shoves open the door, stepping out into the morning sun.

Standing before them is a small church, which to anyone else, would be simply glanced over. It was a simple white, marble building with red doors and an empty parking lot behind it. It has been closed to the public for a few years now. Thanks to The Clave, it now serves as a cover for the safe house that rested below; underground.

The town of Scranton, Pennsylvania is quiet as the group quickly park as close to the exit as possible. Alec ushers Magnus and Simon out, and walks beside Izzy as they head towards the church. Everyone is strangely quiet, and Alec wonders if Magnus has finally run our witty comebacks.

Not that Alec finds them witty, or clever.

He risks a glance at Magnus, and finds him surveying the area; the long road, and the occasional jogger or dog walker passing by. They are a little distance from the busier, city area, so although there aren’t as many people, Alec is still suspicious of anyone who passes by. And apparently Magnus is too.

He doesn’t know whether to feel frustrated or pleased that they’ve finally agreed on something.

He decides on frustration. If only because it fuels his mind.

Thinking about pleasure in the same lines as Magnus Bane doesn’t strike Alec as a sensible thought. So he doesn’t.

“Around the back please, boys.” Izzy says calmly. She gestures around the church to a hidden back entrance, and waits till Simon and Magnus have obeyed; shuffling like naughty schoolboys. Izzy then rolls her eyes at Alec, who smirks back in agreement.

Inside, they entered into an ordinary church layout; neat rows of pews, stained glass windows and a high, elegant, arching ceiling.

Alec didn’t pay it much attention, searching the walls for something more useful.

Magnus whistles.

Of course he does, Alec thinks, already waiting for the inevitable remark he’s likely to make about how many people have banged in the confession’s box.

It surprises him when Magnus runs a finger across the stained glass, gazing up at them with a smile. He looks happier than Alec has ever seen him. Almost as happy as when he’d been when he was on the dancefloor.

Not that Alec thinks about that a lot.

“What it is?” He asks, the words slipping from his mouth. Alec stands beside Magnus and looks up. The stained glass window is bold blues and vivid reds and blinds Alec slightly. He blinks, trying to focus. The story told is of the famous fall, from the bible. When Eve gave into temptation and the serpent – and evil – won; dooming mankind to an existence away from heaven.

“How delightful.” Alec mutters.

Magnus gives a little laugh, his fingers tracing the serpent. “I think it’s rather fitting. Even if it’s a lie, you can’t deny that our lives do not feel like a curse sometimes.” He speaks quietly, and Alec finds himself wanting to lean in. Magnus’ fingers trace the stained glass tree, briefly touching the top of Eve’s head. His voice changes; lowering. “As if someone has already doomed us, before we even had the chance to live or change.”

Just when Alec opens his mouth to reply – although he has no idea what to say because what the heck was that? – Magnus’ expression shifts. It changes back into a playful demeanour. “Also,” He says, lightly. “It’s hard not to believe Eve is evil." Magnus smirks. "Look at her tits. Only devils have perfect breasts like that.”

Behind them, Izzy bursts out laughing. The sound echoes warmly around the church, and even Simon cracks a small smile.

Magnus grins and lowers himself into a flourished bow. “Glad to see my ability to go both ways is appreciated by someone.”

Alec scoffs, wondering why his cheeks suddenly feel hot. He’s not a prude, but Magnus’ comment is so abrupt that he’s not sure what else to do other than roll his eyes. Again. He needs to come up with something original. His eyes are going to hurt soon.

Magnus Bane is bisexual.

Alec freezes.

Thank you, brain, for that unhelpful confirmation.

No problem, agent. As you were.

Alec turns back to the wall, running his hands along it and searching for anything different. His cheeks slowly stop burning, and he ignores that he can feel Magnus’ eyes burning into his back.

Where is it? Come on, come on-

His fingers find a small bump in the wall.

He presses into it, hard, and the sound of clicking is a welcoming one. He follows the sound, to the altar of the church, and sees that a long, rectangular box has lifted a fraction. Alec nods to Izzy, who hurries over. With her help, he pushes it across the floor, the loud scraping bouncing off the walls of the church. When it is pushed fully away, a large hole in the floor is revealed; with long, winding steps descending into darkness.

Magnus leans over Alec’s crouching form, his chin brushing the top of Alec’s head. He stares into the darkness and asks, “Does anyone else get a serial killer vibe?”

“Me.” Simon quickly says. His face has paled even more. “That looks like the back entrance to Mordor.”

“Or the Death Star.” Magnus offers with a wink.

Simon blinks in surprise, a little colour returning to his face. He adjusts his glasses and smiles nervously. “You like Star Wars?” He asks Magnus.

“A guy I dated once was crazy about them, so I watched them for him.” Magnus shrugs. “I even dressed up as Leia as a surprise. Believe me, that golden bikini is not comfortable around certain areas-“

“Sorry to interrupt,” Alec says, loudly. “But we need to move.”

“Spoil sport.” Magnus mutters, but he doesn’t sound too annoyed. He leans back, waiting for Alec to stand and survey the church once more.

Izzy smiles across at Simon. “You doing okay?” She asks.

He nods quickly. “Uh, yeah. Sure. Completely.” He leans casually against the altar and adds, “I’ve always been pretty chill.”

A candlestick falls to the floor, and it lands with a loud clang.

Simon yelps.

Magnus gives him a thumb’s up. “Glad you’re keeping your ‘chill’, Si.”

“I told you not to call me that.”

“Why? Afraid of me ruining your badass reputation?”

Alec sighs in frustration and rubs the back of his neck. He leaves Magnus and Simon to their bickering and takes the lead, walking carefully down the stone steps as they disappear downwards.

He knows there is a safe house below, but the darkness is still intimidating; playing with Alec’s mind. He sees shadows where there are none, and hears cries instead of footsteps. And then a hand touches his shoulder, and he almost jumps out of his skin.

He turns and exhales shakily.

“You okay, big brother?” Izzy asks quietly. Behind her, Simon and Magnus are waiting. They’re about halfway down the steps now, and the light from the small opening grows dimmer by the second.

Alec swallows and nods. “What about the box? Someone needs to close it-“

“It closes on its own, remember?” Izzy says, gently. Her hand on his arm is soothing. “Mom told us.”

“Oh. Right. Yes.” He mumbles, glad that his embarrassment is hidden by the low light. He shakes away his fear and begins to take the steps down again. After another few steps, light begins to appear; this time from below.

Alec relaxes.

As he reaches the last step, the safe house below the church opens up into one large room, and two separate, smaller ones which Alec logically assumes is a bathroom and a bedroom. He switches on a flick, and lights brighten the room. Wooden floorboards creak under his feet. It looks so ordinarily like an apartment that for a moment Alec forgets he’s on the run from a powerful crime family. A large kitchen – fully stocked thanks to The Clave’s well-prepared nature – takes up a third of the room, and the rest is bare except for a couple of large sofas, a keypad in the middle of one of the walls, and a large desk and a handful of computers that are untraceable.

Alec hopes they are at least. He’s done with car chases and fights for at least a few hours.

“Nice.” He hears Magnus say, brightly. “Cosy.”

As the foursome enter the room, Alec feels the events of the night before catch up with him. He leans back against the wall, letting the others pass further into the safe house as he closes the door behind them. His breathes are uneven gasps, and he runs a hand along the nape of his neck. His fingers come away damp with sweat.

Izzy, clearly less unaffected – or at least hiding it a lot better than he is – heads straight for the computers and begins to power them up.

“Is E.T. going to phone home?” Simon mumbles. He then gasps, hastily looking to Isabelle. “N-not that you look like an alien! I-I mean…you’re otherworldly, but not…in a bad sense.” He flushes a deep pink, turning to look at Magnus with wide eyes. “Make me stop talking.”

“Is that a flirtation?” Magnus quips.

Alec fears that Simon might drop dead from embarrassment if Magnus doesn’t leave the poor boy alone. He pushes himself off the wall and stands between them. He tries to lower his voice into a threat, but it cracks with exhaustion. “So this is what’s going to happen. You,” He points to Simon. “, are going to take a seat and focus on being as quiet as possible. Can you do that?”

Simon gulps, and then nods. He moves to sit on the sofa without another word, but his eyes keep flicking towards Izzy as she types and concentrates.

Alec runs a hand through his hair. “And you,” He points to Magnus. “Are going to-“

“Shower? Finally?”

“Tell us where the Cup is.” Alec counteracts with a scowl. He folds his arms across his chest and narrows his eyes. “We got you out alive. We protected you. Now tell us where you stashed the Cup.”

Magnus narrows his eyes in opposition.

Alec randomly notices that traces of silver glitter still dust the corners of his eyes. Like stardust, they shimmer when he moves.

Magnus holds his stare and says, slowly as if speaking to a child, “Shower…then….the Cup.”

Alec throws his hands up in frustration. “There’s a crap load of dangerous people after you, and your first priority is to look good?” Alec growls. “How the hell did you even manage to steal the Cup, Bane?”

As soon as the name slips out, Alec shuts up immediately.

Magnus stabs the air in victory. “Ah!” He cries, happily. “I knew it. I knew you were an agent. I just needed you to crack and say my name.” He tilts his head playfully and grins. “That wasn’t so hard was it, Alexander?”

Alec swats his hand away and presses his lips together, afraid of what else could slip out. It was one thing to admit that he’s been sent to protect him, it was another to admit that he has been sent to kill him.

And likely still will.

Maybe.

“So,” Magnus continues his thoughts out loud. “Whoever sent you to take back the Cup is resourceful. I don’t leave many traces behind. As much as I like to make an impression, I know when to pull out.” He winks, and Alec ignores the innuendo. His cheeks absolutely do not flush.

Although he should probably bite back a lie, Alec can’t seem to look away. Or interrupt. He feels pulled into orbit as Magnus starts to circle him, drinking him in with a careful eye. “Hm, let’s see. Rigid, like a soldier.” He is behind Alec now. “Irritable, like someone who’s been confided his whole life.”

Magnus’ voice washes over Alec like the melody of a song that he’ll be singing long after it’s finished. “No sense of humour. Or…hidden.” His arm brushes Alec’s right sleeve, and his breath hitches; waiting and holding as still as possible for Magnus to finish circling him. Magnus’ expression is careful, and he recognises it as the concentration of someone pulling clues from a crime scene.

Right now, Alec is the victim, and Magnus is the killer; murdering whatever is left of his secrets and spilling the blood of his control. And yet, Alec doesn’t seem to mind being the prey. There is something relaxing about being read by Magnus, who speaks quietly, but without judgement. He is simply revealing what Alec has long since known.

Magnus takes the last few steps, finally facing him once again. “Lawful. Sticks to the rules.” He murmurs huskily. His hand reaches out, as if to touch Alec’s cheek, and Alec feels his chest tighten and heat burst like sunlight through his veins.

But Magnus lowers his hand quickly. His eyes narrow. “The Clave sent you.”

He hears Izzy push to her feet, quickly crossing the space to stand beside Alec. Out of the corner of his eye, Alec watches as she lifts her chin and smiles, but it is a tight, tense smile. “Why don’t we sit and discuss this before we do anything…untoward?”

Magnus flashes her a grin, and it is a sharp, lethal smile that strikes Alec right between the ribs. “If you insist, my dear.” Magnus says. He is already turning around, and takes a seat on one of the armchairs. He kicks his feet onto the armrest and sighs.

Alec quickly looks at Isabelle. “Have you contacted them?” He whispers.

She nods. “Someone will call us shortly.” Caution flashes in her eyes as she inclines her head to the thief slash assassin slash life ruiner. “In the meantime, we have our new friend to fill in.”

Alec swallows and follows Isabelle over to where the two men are waiting. He lowers himself into the two-seater sofa with Isabelle, opposite Magnus. He doesn’t meet his gaze for a moment, gathering his thoughts. When The Clave contact them, they will be waiting for an explanation, and a plan. At the moment, they have neither. All they have is an unwilling assassin who is supposed to already be dead, and no sign of the Cup.

Alec looks across at Izzy, who has sat informally cross-legged on the settee. To her right, Simon sits in the other armchair, watching her with a hesitant smile. She returns it briefly.

“This will be over soon, Simon.” Isabelle says, kindly. “Why don’t you lie down in the bedroom for a little while? I will wake you when it’s time to leave.”

“Uh, it’s fine. I can stay-“

Alec glares at him until he gets the hint.

“Oh, you’re going to talk secret stuff.” Simon’s eyes widen. He quickly climbs to his feet, pushing his glasses further up his nose. “My bad, I’ll uh…get gone.” He hurries into the bathroom, comes back out with a shaky laugh, and heads into the correct room.

Izzy ducks her head, but Alec sees her smile. He frowns. Why does she find the boy so amusing? To Alec, he is a liability, and an irritation.

But, isn’t Magnus? And yet, Alec finds him more intriguing than a threat.

“So, The Clave wants the Cup. Why?”

Alec blinks. He realises how unprepared he is for Magnus to speak so openly. He tries to look as calm and composed as possible. Which probably means he’s grimacing or squirming like an idiot. “That is not your business to know." Alec says. "All you need to know is that The Clave will pay you greatly for your cooperation.”

“Ah, yes, the money.” Magnus says with a little laugh. As if he hasn’t just stolen one of the richest items in the country to sell it to a buyer.

Alec suddenly breaks out in another sweat.

What if Magnus has already passed it along to his buyer? What if they’re wasting valuable time?

Magnus continues to speak, his voice airy and distant. “The obvious reason why someone like me would steal from Valentine, right?” A hidden tension knits Magnus’ eyebrows together. He doesn’t meet their gazes either.

Alec looks at Izzy, and she frowns back in agreement. Something isn’t quite adding up.

“Have you sold it or not?” Izzy asks.

Alec can feel his fingers twitching. On the one hand, he’s ready to withdraw a weapon at any moment, but his fingers ache with nervous energy.

Whatever is Magnus Bane up to? He wonders.

He doesn’t have to wait too long to find out, as Magnus stares pointedly at his nails. With a nervous laugh, he asks, “Uh, how much is the Cup worth again?”

Alec gapes openly.

Beside him, Izzy gasps. “You...don’t realise what you’ve stolen?” She asks, her eyes wide. “You took the job of stealing from the Morgensterns, one of the most powerful crime families in the country, and you didn’t ask your employers for more information?”

“I answer to no one.” Magnus quickly snaps. His expression has darkened with fierce pride. He sits up a little straighter, rolling his shoulders back. His gaze holds Alec’s own like a dare; asking him to challenge his next words. “No one hired me.” Magnus admits. “The Cup just happened to be important to Valentine. So I went after it.”

“For the money?” Alec insists upon this, though he isn’t sure why. Maybe because it will mean re-thinking everything he thought he knew about Magnus Bane. About why he stole from Valentine, and why he ought to be killed.

Mercy kill, Alec reminds himself quickly.

“No, not for the money.” Magnus says. He sighs, swinging his legs off the armchair and hunching over. He rubs at the bridge of his nose before leaning back, slumping back into the seat with defeat. And then, a wicked grin tugs at the corners of his lips. It reaches his eyes, lighting their green with fire.

“I stole the Cup for myself.” Magnus reveals.

Alec feels Izzy stiffen beside him. Does this mean that Magnus won’t offer to go down without a fight and hand the Cup over to them, and The Clave? For a moment, Alec fears that everything is about to go to hell. Magnus will reach for his gun, or Izzy will throw a knife, and the safe house will be left in a bloody ruin. Who knew who would survive?

Probably Simon, Alec thinks, a little disappointed. But then the thought of Simon, afraid and dragged into a mess he created makes Alec refocus.

He forces his mouth to move, and for the words that come out to be slow and as relaxed as possible. “The Clave will pay a lot of money for the Cup, Magnus.” Alec says, hoping that Magnus can see the right option. The only option without a bloody ending for both of them.

Alec leans forwards. “For whatever reason that you want to keep the Cup-“

“Why would I want to keep that thing? It’s awful.” Magnus wrinkles his nose in disgust. “It doesn’t match my apartment at all. Bugger the Cup to hell.”

Alec blinks. He looks at Izzy and holds out his hands in the universal gesture for ‘what the actual fuck is going on?’.

She nods in agreement, turns to Magnus and asks, “What the fuck is going on?" She asks plainly. "We’re not here to hurt you, Magnus, but you need to stop skirting around the truth. You said you wanted the Cup, but you don’t plan on keeping it?”

Magnus nods. “That’s right.” He winks at her. “Smart, and beautiful.”

Izzy can’t help but smile. “You too.” She says, good-naturedly, but then her expression turns serious again. “Magnus, help us, and we can help you.”

Really, Izzy? Alec wants to ask; to warn his sister against making false promises. Has she forgotten what his original mission asked for?

Magnus is quiet then, and Alec watches carefully for any sign that he’s going to start shooting up the place at any moment. But he doesn’t. He actually smiles.

“Yes, I stole the Cup. For reasons that will remain my own.” Magnus pauses, daring them to push for more. When they don’t, he carries on. “But you’re right, I don’t want it. I wanted to steal from Valentine for personal reasons, but I’m not interested in becoming rich on stolen money.”

“What are you interested in?” Alec asks, the question bursting from his chest. He curses his eagerness. The Clave has taught him control and patience, and here he is; snapping and paying far too much attention to a man he ought to be preparing to kill.

Magnus winks at him. “Men, women, people in-between-“

“In terms of the Cup.” Alec stresses. He shuffles his feet, awkward under the intense stare that Magnus has locked onto him.

Why does he keep staring like that? Alec thinks, furiously ignoring that he himself had been stealing glances throughout the night.

Magnus seems to get the hint, and his smile fades. “I’m interested in freedom, Alexander.” He says, and there is a weight to his words that makes Alec shiver. A thousand truths behind the playful exterior. “I’ll do whatever it takes to live my life to the fullest.”

“And you didn’t think that you’d be hunted? Or tracked down by Valentine’s men? That you could get away with stealing the Cup, and live to brag about it-“

“Don’t insult me.” Magnus interrupts, coldly staring at Alec. His lips are a thin, dagger-like line. “I don’t care what you think of me, and I don’t care what The Clave has to say about me either. They don’t know me, and neither do you.” His final words are a snarl. “Do not presume to think that you are superior to me because you work for The Clave.”

Silence haunts the room for half a minute. Magnus’ cool tone has turned the tension up to an eleven, and Alec isn’t sure where to go from here.

Luckily, Izzy takes the next step. “Magnus,” She begins, softly. “We do not think ourselves better than you. True, we come from different backgrounds. You’re freelance; we’re tied to our family.”

Alec shivers at the word. Tied.

As if The Clave has a noose around their necks, waiting to pull it tight with a fatal snap.

It scares him to think that it might even be a little bit true.

“But,” Izzy continues. “I think we can come to a solution here. If you’re willing to cooperate, perhaps we can offer our protection in exchange for the Cup.”

Alec swallows. Even though they had agreed on this cover, he’s still shocked to hear the words spoken to Magnus; the person who should’ve been his first kill.

And still could be.

But when they’d risked discussing it in the car – when Magnus’ snores were too loud to be fake – Alec knew it was the only option. For now, they would pretend to work with Magnus. If he agrees to take them to the Cup, surely The Clave will be a little less angered by the failure of the mission.

Any moment now, The Clave were going to contact them.

Alec doesn’t move. He stares at Magnus, who stares back with narrowed eyes that are far too easy to admire. The assassin’s – and Alec realises he should probably stop calling him that – eyes are a strange yellow-green; a storm of colour that Alec thinks would look good on a canvas. He imagines painting the colours onto a black background, so that they stand out like stars in the sky.

He shakes those thoughts away. Quickly.

After minutes have ticked by, Magnus plasters a smile onto his face that Alec is sure is ninety-five percent bravado. Although he’s only known – could he even call it that? – Magnus a day, he’s picked up on the jokes he hides behind. Alec shoves away the reminder that he’s hidden behind his work for years now. He doesn’t need to choose today of all days to rethink his life.

Magnus waves a casual hand around. “So, if I take you to the Cup, you’ll help me not die?” He asks.

Izzy doesn’t hesitate, and nods. “That’s right. When The Clave contact us, we can tell us that you have offered your services to them; free of charge.”

“Whoa now.” Magnus holds up a hand to stop her. “I never said I didn’t want payment.”

Alec scowls. “You said that you stole the Cup for your own reasons. Not for money.”

“I did say that. What good listening skills you have, Alexander.” Magnus says sweetly, and Alec so badly wants to flip him off. Magnus shrugs, a cocky little gesture that has Alec scowling even harder. “But then you mentioned it was worth a lot, and I’ll probably be needing to get the hell out of America soon; so some cash would be helpful.”

Alec opens his mouth to protest, but Izzy shakes her head at him. “That’s fine.” She says, quickly. “We can sort the money out. The Clave were willing to pay you anyway.” She lies so smoothly that Alec almost believes her. His sister is a lot better at improvisation than he is, and he’s incredibly glad that she’s by his side. As always.

Magnus smiles. “Then we’re in agreement.” He says. “I’ll take you to the Cup, hand it over, receive my lovely bundle of cash and disappear out of your lives forever. Sounds good?”

Izzy stands, and holds out her hand to Magnus. Alec’s nerves are in his sister’s hands, as he sits and stares at the other man. Whatever happens here will make or break his resolve. If Magnus doesn’t agree, what the hell is he going to say to The Clave? And what if Magnus suddenly decides to whip out his gun and kill them?

Alec reminds himself that he doesn’t know a damn thing about Magnus Bane.

But why does he want to?

Okay, he knows a bit. He knows that Magnus is a mystery. A man, and an assassin, who likes his freedom, but was willing to risk death to steal an object that didn’t even matter to him. An object that struck the Morgenstern’s pride.

Magnus was someone who understood strengths and weaknesses. He had gone after the object as payback, but for what?

The way he circled him earlier plays afresh in Alec’s mind; the shivers he felt being gazed at so fiercely; the heat pooling in his stomach as he looked at Magnus and felt like he was staring at not an opponent, but an equal.

He’s so lost in thought that he jumps when Magnus stands. He quirks an eyebrow at Alec. “A little jumpy for an agent, aren’t you, Alexander? Something to hide?” He teases, but it hits a nerve.

Alec glares. “Are you with us, or not?”

Izzy is still standing; her hand hovering in the air close to Magnus.

~

Magnus isn’t a fool.

He’s more than halfway certain that he’s been fucked over by the two agents.

He believes that they want the Cup, but he’s not convinced that The Clave want to get involved with him. Why would they risk it? But then, if what Alexander and Isabelle have told him is true, and that the Cup is worth a lot more than he thought, perhaps they long for it like the arrogant bastards they are.

He glances at the two siblings and realises something.

Before he strikes the deal that’s going to come back and bite him in the ass, Magnus tilts his head and asks, “What family are you from?”

Without hesitation, Izzy replies, “Lightwood. Isabelle and Alec Lightwood.”

Magnus conceals his disgust with a smile.

He’s good at that.

He’s also good at denial, and he tells himself that Alexander is not related to the same woman who refused to look into human trafficking in Indonesia all those years ago. That he’s not related to Maryse Lightwood; a woman who helped destroy the woman who raised Magnus and taught him how to be strong and brave and good and compassionate.

Magnus shakes Isabelle’s hand firmly, imagining it as the neck of their mother. He closes his eyes briefly, picturing the look of horror on their faces if he dared to tell them just what their mother had done to him, and to his mother.

He’s sure that Isabelle would be disgusted, and although Magnus’ instincts tell him that Alec is a good man beneath the layers of doubt and solider-like obedience, he can’t meet Alec’s stare. He can’t look into his eyes and see any kind of resemblance between the handsome man he’d almost grown to respect, and the woman who agreed to turn away and ignore the suffering of so many.

Rule number one, Magnus reminds himself: always keep walls up around your heart.

But even as he shakes Izzy’s hand, and she smiles brightly, Magnus feels a crack in the walls. A small hand reaching in to comfort him. Even Alec’s stare has softened, and he relaxes, trying for a small smile that Magnus doesn’t believe, but appreciates. The walls around his heart strain under the effort to keep them upright.

He doesn’t need this.

Not so soon after-

“So,” Magnus says, loudly, to distract himself from his own thoughts. “Can I have that shower now?”

A hint of a smile teases Alec’s lips. He stands and stretches his arms above his head; the gesture revealing a slither of skin and his elegant hip bones. Magnus stares in appreciation at the hint of strong muscles beneath Alec’s black jumper.

Of course he’s got abs like a Greek god, he’s an agent, Magnus tells himself. He’s half tempted to make a teasing remark, but he’s still shaken from the reveal of which family they belong to. So he asks again, “Can I shower? I promise I won’t shoot anyone.”

Alec lowers his arms, his hair a little messy from his stretch. Magnus licks his lips. He’s sure that gorgeous hair like that is made to be pulled-

“Uh, sure.” Alec says. He points. “The bathroom’s just through there.”

And then he turns to join Izzy at the computers, as they look through a series of what looks like blurry numbers and letters. Encryptions, he realises then. The Clave probably has their own snooty way of setting up safe house communications. He leaves them to it and wanders into the bathroom, glaring at the lack of colour and basic hair products.

It would have to do.

He quickly strips and turns the shower on, ready to get lost in the hot water and steam.

Chapter Text

“Right, so I’ve sent off the codes.” Isabelle announces to her brother. She taps one final command in and smiles, pleased with herself. “The Clave should receive our message in a few minutes."

"Why was that necessary again?" Alec grumbles. 

"The Clave need us to verify that we are who we say we are. They'll contact us when the codes match up. Give me a shout when the call comes through?”

“Where are you going, Izzy?”

She’s only made it a few steps to the bedroom when Alec protests. She nods in the direction of their third, unfortunate guest. “Simon.” She says.

Alec rolls his eyes. “Really? Him?”

“Don’t be an asshole, Alec, he’s probably thinking we’re about to shoot him in the head." Isabelle scolds him. "He needs to know he’s safe. And...”

A smirk pulls at Izzy’s lips as she giggles. “He’s pretty cute, right?” She wiggles her fingers in Alec’s direction before turning and knocking softly on the bedroom door.

“Hey, Simon, it’s me. It’s Isabelle. Would you mind if I come in?”

“Uh…is it just you?”

She smiles, and then realises that Simon can’t see it. “Yes, it’s just me.” She says, gently.

There’s something about Simon that makes Izzy want to shield him from danger, but she’s also intrigued about what lies beneath. His quick remarks earlier were intelligent, even hidden inside his never-ending rambles.

When she enters, carefully closing the door behind her, Simon is sitting cross-legged on the bed. For a moment, that startles her. It’s normally Izzy’s thing; sitting like that. At headquarters, she was always getting heckled for leaning back too far in a chair, or for propping her legs up on the sofa in their apartment in New York.

Seeing Simon like this on the bed leaves her with a friendly smile.

Slowly, as not to frighten him, Isabelle joins Simon; sitting opposite and crossing her legs beneath her. “Hey.” She begins.

Simon’s face crumples. “Oh god, this is it. You’re going to kill me, aren’t you? That’s what the secret meeting was about. I tried to hear, but the door is really solid. Like…really good wood.” Simon rubs his forehead, his legs starting to bounce nervously. “I’m going to become that body on the news in ten years’ time, huh?” He laughs, a bubbling, anxious sound.

Izzy opens her mouth to sooth him, but he rambles on.

“God,” Simon moans. “I didn’t even get to finish reading Lord of the Rings! I’m going to die a fake geek.”

As if this is the worst news of his live, Simon places his head in his hands and shakes. His trembles move Izzy into action, and she shuffles closer and places both hands on his; slowly pulling them away from his face.

His very handsome face, Izzy notices.

She’s noticed before, but didn’t really give herself much time to think. What with the car chases and almost-dying.

“Breathe, Simon. You’re going to be okay, I promise. And,” She grins. “You’re not missing out much. The books are tedious. Bearable, at best.”

He looks so startled that for a moment he forgets to be afraid. “You’ve read Lord of the Rings? All three?”

“Yep.” Izzy nods. It’s probably the only fantasy series in the libraries of the headquarters, and she’d forced herself to read them in her teens. She didn’t really see the fuss, but enjoyed the escapism.

“Is that part of spy training?” He asks with a laugh. Simon looks less scared now, and his leg no longer bounces like he’s seconds from sprinting out of the room.

“Yes.” She says, solemnly. “And we also have to learn how to kill a man in over a hundred different ways.”

“T-that too?” Simon gulps.

“No, I was only teasing you.” Izzy tosses her hair over her shoulder and grins. “There’s actually over two hundred ways…”

To her surprise, Simon doesn’t snap. He doesn’t scream or try to rush past her. Instead, he looks at her with wide eyes, and then…he smiles. And it’s such a sweet, tender smile that Izzy almost wants to hug him.

Simon pushes his glasses again, and then rests his hands on his knees. “So, do you make this a regular thing of yours? To go out and kidnap students and part time accountant assistants?”

Izzy snorts. “Only fortnightly.” She jokes.

“That’s good to know.” Simon looks around the room, unsure. He then says, “I’ll tell my colleagues to keep an eye out for beautiful ladies who pull guns out on them in hotel rooms.” His cheeks flush slightly at the end.

“You think I’m beautiful?” Izzy beams. She lifts her chin a little higher, a warm feeling tickling her stomach.

“W-well, yes.” Simon nods, his Adam’s apple bobbing nervously. “Don’t you?”

Izzy winks. “Yes. But it’s nice to hear you say it.”

“Oh no. Triple threat.” Simon holds his hands up in surrender, his smile wide. “Confident, beautiful and clever. I think I’m already dead.”

Izzy finds herself blushing at that, and is the first to look away. Sure, she’s been complimented before. Lots of times. And she’s always felt proud to look in the mirror and welcome the woman looking back at her. But Simon’s playfulness is tender, and sincere, and she’s not sure how to push the comfortable feeling she now feels.

So she’s almost glad when Alec knocks on the door and says, “Isabelle. The Clave.”

A mixture of fear, worry and danger cramps Isabelle’s stomach. She slides from the bed, and away from Simon’s lovely smiles and crinkled eyes. She looks apologetically and says, “I’ll be back in a bit, okay? You should get some rest.”

He ducks his head, nodding, and then – to Izzy’s delight – gives her a little wave.

She disappears through the door, still smiling.

~

Alec hates that as soon as Izzy leaves the room and walks to him, her smile is gone. Whatever brief moment she's had with Simon has left her softer than usual, and he wishes that he could keep it that way. But The Clave have sent a precise time, and he’s anxious to keep the focus – and blame – on himself, and draw attention away from Izzy.

“Ready?” He asks.

“Are you ready?” She frowns, placing a hand on his cheek. “Just do everything like we planned. Be brave and firm and calm. Don’t give them a reason to doubt you, because you’re doing the best you can, alright? Promise me you know this, Alec.”

Isabelle looks up at him with a tenderness only reserved for him. The love in her eyes leaves Alec feeling a little stronger; a little less vulnerable. That in the face of The Clave and the mission’s failure, Izzy is here.

He leans into her touch, her hand warm against his cheek. “I do.” Alec replies. “Let’s just wait to see what they say.” He offers her a brief smile.

If he knows The Clave at all, and his parents, Alec knows that they’ll respond best to logic, and self-gain. He knows the company will want to hear a plan, and reasoning behind it.

Which is exactly what we’re going to give them.

The computer bleeps, sending through The Clave’s private communication line. It’s more Izzy’s area of expertise; the computers and the science. He knows she also has a passion for all things gross and dissect-able. She once tried to train rats to act as decoys, sending high-pitched screams of fully grown men and women around the Institute one evening.

All Alec knows is that The Clave is about to appear onscreen, and probably give him the biggest verbal lashing of his life.

As the call starts to connect, and Izzy leans up to adjust the webcam, Alec stands up straight and places his hands behind his back. Upright, calm and collected.

Then why doesn’t he feel it?

He remembers Magnus’ comments from earlier, as he read him like a book. How he’d commented about his posture. It suddenly makes Alec want to slouch, or to lean against a chair lazily like Izzy does, or throw up his feet onto the desk like Magnus-

“Agents.” A cool voice greets them.

Alec snaps to attention.

His mother’s cold expression fills the screen, and what renders Alec even more anxious is the sight of two of The Clave’s envoys standing behind her chair. The webcam shows his mother sitting down, with the two figures – two women with tight ponytails and equally taunt expressions – watching.

For a moment – and it’s such a brief flicker that he almost misses it – Maryse’s expression softens. At the sight of her children, her eyes widen, but then she clears her throat and presses her lips together again. “Would you care to fill us in on yesterday’s events?”

Alec nods once, taking the second chair beside Izzy; who is sitting in obedient silence. Under the table, she rests a gentle hand on his leg and squeezes in support.

He begins. “At precisely 12:15am, agent Isabelle Lightwood and I made contact with the target, Magnus Bane.”

He swallows back the sour taste of that. The reminder that Magnus was, or is, still his first hit kill, leaves Alec a little less confident.

Still, he continues. “We were tailed and followed by at least twenty men, who we assessed and logically presumed were working for the Morgensterns. They fired with extremely hostile intentions, and we left the area. No citizens were harmed.” He adds quickly, praying that Maryse doesn’t interrupt and claim otherwise.

When his mother is silent, Alec hides a sigh of relief and carries on with his careful explanation. “With our given orders,” Alec stresses the last word. He knows how much The Clave loves it. “We understood that The Clave has expressed strong wishes in wanting the stolen Cup. Once we were certain that the target did not have it in his possession, we made a decision. Knowing the importance of this, we made the choice to leave the area and take the target with us.”

Alec pauses. He is about to add that Magnus came willingly, but The Clave would not care either way; as long as they won.

“After arriving at The Lodge-“

“Yes. The Lodge.” Maryse repeats. Her eyes narrow, and Alec can feel her frustration burning through the camera. “Which was another mess that The Clave has had to clean up. Fortunately, security have been dealt with and tapes have been wiped. Still, you were reckless.” She glances down at a file on her desk and sighs. “Agents, why do you have Simon Lewis in your company?”

Izzy leans forwards. “That was unfortunate timing. Valentine’s men caught up with us while Simon was in the room. We protected him and have him safely with us. We understand that The Clave would wish to have him sign confidentially agreements.”

She taps a hand against the desk, her nails clinking in defiance. “And is it not The Clave’s purpose to protect the people?” Izzy's last words are just as cool as Maryse’s; daring their mother to pick up on her concealed insult.

Maryse ignores the stab and looks to Alec. “Very well. Continue.”

Behind her, the other Clave agents continue to stare with stern looks.

And so, Alec stresses his next words loudly, and clearly. “After we left, we came to a safe house as soon as possible to contact The Clave. Just like protocol states.”

Alec swallows his hesitation and finishes. “Magnus Bane has agreed to exchange the Cup for protection. Only until the Cup is in the hands of The Clave. That is all he asks. I feel this is a fair resolution. The Cup will be in The Clave’s possession as soon as possible.”

After a long pause – and one so long that Izzy actually leans forwards to check the webcam – Maryse clicks her tongue against her teeth.

“So, you do not have the Cup, and the assassin is still alive?” She concludes. Her words are like ice, slicing through Alec’s nerves. “Agents, you were given a very clear, and important, mission.” Her eyes glance towards the Clave envoys, and Alec swears he sees a hint of fear in his mother’s dark eyes.

She looks back. “The Clave is…aware of you. As of now, they have agreed to let us keep control over this mission. As long as the Cup is ours, theirs, soon.”

Alec can’t help but sigh, relief flooding through his body. He will not be kicked out or stripped of his rank today. He shouldn’t feel so pleased about staying tied to The Clave, but he is. He really is.

“You are to bring Magnus Bane to us. We will handle him.”

Alec gapes a little. “W-what?” He clears his throat. He cannot, and will not, stumble in front of his mother. It’s an awful habit and he’s been doing so well to break it.

Perhaps not.

Hiding his fumbling, Alec asks, “To the Institute?”

Maryse nods. “Yes.”

Alec forces himself to nod back. His fingers start to drum anxiously against his knees.

They’re going to kill him.

The thought hits him quickly, and then slowly; whispering inside him like the codes to a nuclear warhead. It’s a dangerous thought, because Alec realises how much he fears it. How much it worries him that he might be leading Magnus straight to his death.

Only yesterday Alec had been sent to kill the assassin himself, and yet, the thought of putting a bullet through his brain is horrifying.

And it terrifies him even more when Maryse smiles. “Thank you for your compliance, Alec. And Isabelle. Agents, The Clave will be awaiting your return. With the Cup, and Bane.”

She lowers her voice to a warning. “Do not tarnish the Lightwood name any more than you have done already.”

We tarnished the name? Alec wants to fight back and snap. Are you sure it wasn't our uncle-

Maryse clears her throat, interrupting his thoughts. She leans back, offering them one last nod. Which, for his mother, is the equivalent of a jump-into-your-arms hug. “Good luck.” She says, simply.

“Are you going to kill him?” Izzy asks suddenly.

Alec feels his chest pull tight with tension.

Fear for Izzy, and Magnus, colours his lungs a burning red. It is like fire rushing into his rib cage, and he cannot breathe.

One of the Clave’s envoys narrows her eyes. “That is not up to you anymore.” She says. Her long ponytail sways slightly as she leans down to peer into the webcam. “The mission has changed, no thanks to the both of you. And your heroism.” She says the word with a sigh, and leans back. “You have you orders. Now follow them.”

Fear drives Alec into action.

He can’t help but try and get them to change their minds; just one last time.

He convinces himself that killing Magnus would not make a difference either way. That he’s only defending him because surely there’s a reason someone so talented made such a reckless move?

He mimics his mother’s voice; stone-cold and cruel. “Surely the Cup is more important than a worthless assassin. A thief.” Alec spits the word out, wishing that he didn’t need to use insults to get The Clave to value his opinion.

When he realises they are watching intently, Alec quickly continues. “He has no ambition; no desire to look out for anyone but himself. He means nothing to no one, and he certainly won’t be pulling anymore stunts like this.” He lifts his chin, feigning arrogance. “The Clave shouldn’t waste their time with Magnus Bane.”

Beside him, Izzy inhales sharply enough for Alec to hear. He really hopes that she’s catching on, and doesn’t think he’s turned into an asshole.

Well, any more of an asshole.

“Alec.” Maryse says, holding up a hand in warning. Her expression is composed, but there is a tremble in her voice, one of anger. “Complete your orders. That will be all, agent. Do not contact us again unless something else goes wrong.”

And then, blackness. The screen fades, leaving Alec with a hollow sensation in his chest; one that he’s pretty sure means that he’s fucked up again.

Alec still faces the computer, thinking. At least The Clave didn’t outright fire him for causing such a commotion last night. They’ve given him another chance to prove himself, and Alec was going to take it-

“I’m glad to know where we stand, Alexander.”

Alec stands up so quickly that the chair falls back onto the floor.

He feels his eyes widen as Magnus leans against the bathroom door, studying him with a distant look in his eyes.

Once again, the shirtless form of Magnus takes Alec’s breath away; the elegant, long frame of his body, the strong, defined abdominal muscles, and his absurdly strong forearms – honestly, Alec thinks angrily, who has a body like that?

Water droplets still cling to his hair – hair that is dark, sticking up in places, and so tempting to touch. Magnus is dressed in a pair of black pants from the safe house’s supply, and Alec can’t seem to look away from their snug fit.

Because they are very snug. In all the dangerous places that Alec can’t afford to be caught staring at.

Thankfully, Magnus is glaring at him too hard to notice his ogling. “There won’t be any friendship bracelets in our relationship. I understand. Loud and clear.” A fingertip trails over the doorknob, the sound sharp and as angry as Magnus’ expression.

It clicks then.

Magnus must’ve caught some of the end of the conversation, and Alec’s heart races as he realises how hurtful his words had been.

It confirms his fears when Magnus waves a hand at him in dismissal. “Don’t worry, you just do your job.” His tone is painfully sarcastic. “I’ll go work on being worthless in the corner somewhere.” Hurt lashes out from Magnus’ eyes, more painful than any knife he could’ve thrown at Alec.

There’s a moment of quiet, and he thinks about filling it with words. Meaningful words.

But Alec’s not good with words. Apparently he’s only good at using them to hurt others and meekly agree with The Clave. So he keeps his mouth shut and tears his gaze away from Magnus. This isn’t a situation he should feel apologetic for. It’s Magnus’ damn fault after all; for stealing the Cup in the first place.

Izzy places a hand on his arm, slowly turning him around to face her. She smiles. “You done well, Alec.” She says, and then holds out her arms. He steps into them with a fond shake of his head, surrendering to the inevitable hug.

Whether she’s kicking ass or science-ing the shit out of a new drug, Isabelle always has time to be the most compassionate woman Alec has ever known. He’s always known that whatever happens in his life – whether he lives a long, futile life or dies young and bleeding out in an alleyway somewhere – Alec will think of Izzy in those last, few moments. Her smiling face, or Jace’s wicked grin, will send him off to sleep like a lullaby.

He pauses then, pulling back from Izzy’s hug but keeping his arm around her waist.

“Do you think Jace is alright?” Alec asks.

Izzy nods. “He’s probably still on the mission that mom sent him on a few weeks ago. You know, the super-secret one he ran off on.”

Alec winces. He hates the reminder that Jace was once again chosen as the Institute’s best agent.

A few weeks ago, his best friend – and practically his and Izzy’s brother – Jace, had left without a word. Another agent, Clary Fray - a redhead girl who agitated Alec to no ends – had been partnered with him; and the two had sped off without telling them. They’d only learnt that night that Jace and Clary had been chosen by The Clave for an important task.

Until now, Alec’s been too focused on the present to think of him. And now, he lets himself worry about Jace.

His friend’s skills as an agent are unquestionable, but his impulsive nature frightens Alec. He always worries that one day Jace will dive headfirst into a roomful of bad guys and die laughing at the world. His self-destructive nature is almost as bad as Alec’s.

But what has always struck Alec with pride, and warmth, is how strongly they bring out the best in each other. He, Izzy and Jace were his family by choice, not by blood; and whenever they enter the room, light pours into every broken part of Alec. All the chips and cracks of self-doubt and anxiety fill with smiles and playful teases. They accept and love him completely, and he gives them his heart in return.

“So, now we need to ask our beautiful friend very nicely”, Izzy looks at him with a warning. “, for the Cup.”

Alec snorts. “Beautiful?” He scoffs. “Bane is about as beautiful as a panther waiting to kill.”

He almost laughs at her words. Beautiful? Magnus Bane?

It’s all too easy to shut off the parts of his brain that scream otherwise.

He’s still unsteadily thinking about what Magnus heard him say earlier; the cruel words he’d used to get The Clave to reconsider mercy killing him.

How, to Magnus, it just looks like Alec was wanting him gone as soon as possible.

Well, don’t you? He asks himself.

Because he doesn’t have an answer, or doesn’t want to answer, Alec once again sits in the settee opposite a now-sulking Magnus and tries again. “Where’s the Cup?”

Magnus contemplates his answer for a second or two. Alec can see him wanting to make up a lie, but after a short while, he mutters something.

It’s too quiet for Alec to hear.

“What was that?” Alec asks again. He leans forward, straining to hear.

To his surprise, Magnus ducks his head and mutters a curse. “Look, I just want to say that it was not planned. I didn’t really think about where I was going to put it so I…”

Alec is almost amused now. He can feel himself fighting back a smile as Magnus is the one stumbling for a change.

“Where is it?” Alec asks with a smirk.

“Fine.” Magnus looks at him, and grimaces. “I kind of threw it up a tree.”

“WHAT?” Alec explodes, all amusement disappearing. “You stole the Cup and decided to stash it in a tree? Is it even a special tree? Or one you just saw and thought, ‘why not?’. You’re the worst thief ever.”

“I’m an assassin. You’ll do well to remember that, Alexander.” Magnus mutters. “I could kill you at any moment.” He says airy, but the threat is ruined as he stares down at his nails and examines them slowly, one by one.

“And I’m an agent.” Alec retorts. “I could kill you before you’ve looked up from checking your nails for bloodstains.”

Magnus looks up at that, and the corners of his lips twitch. It’s not quite the carefree smile he was flashing the night before, but Alec’s pleased to see a hint of it at least.

Magnus cocks his head and asks, “How did you know I was checking for blood?”

Alec lets himself shrug casually. “I just did.”

Now is not the time to be arrogant, but Magnus brings out a side of him that makes him feel like he’s walking on a tightrope. He feels dangerous, and in danger, all at once. It’s a strange feeling, Alec thinks; not one that he can examine logically.

Which is probably why he chickens out, shoves his hands into his pockets and looks away first.

“So, the Morgenstern’s precious Cup is up a tree somewhere in New York?”

And The Clave's precious artefact...

Magnus nods happily. “Yep.” He finishes expecting his nails and smiles pleasantly. “Oh, goody. No bloodstains.”

Alec lets himself memorise the curve of Magnus’ lips, and the glint in his eyes. He lets himself file it under the excuse of needing to be aware of Magnus’ tells and movements. He needs to be aware of how Magnus thinks, feels and reacts to things. He’s just doing his job.

It also helps that Magnus Bane isn’t, Alec admits to himself, the ugliest person in the world.

“Uh, that’s good." He mutters, looking away from Magnus' lips. He concentrates back on the task at hand. "Any idea where this tree is?”

Magnus perks up. “Oh, sure. It’s actually quite near to the club you so gracefully tackled me outside of. Thanks for that by the way.” His gratitude expresses itself in the form of Magnus making a gun with his hand; the thumb and forefinger pointing at Alec playfully. Magnus play-shoots, winks, and Alec swears he can feel an imaginary bullet hit his chest. His ribs ache against his chest, as though they want to be set free.

Alec forces his lungs to breathe, and his face to remain blush-less. Why does Magnus rile him up so much?

Magnus continues, looking away from him. “If you get me back into Brooklyn with my head still intact, I’ll take you right to it.”

“Now that,” Izzy has joined them now, and perches on Magnus’ armchair. “, we can do.” She says, holding out a glass of water she’s brought from the kitchen.

She hesitates then, and takes a long gulp first, before handing it to Magnus. “There. No poison, I promise.”

Magnus smirks. “Thank you, my dear. Appreciated. Also,” He eyes up Izzy’s face and frowns. “How has your eyeliner stayed put this entire time? Mine was a mess before I got to the Lodge. I had to swipe some from the gas station."

"You did what?" Alec snaps.

Izzy laughs, and the sound releases some of the tension from the talk with their mom and The Clave. She grins at Magnus. “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

“Sly minx.” Magnus jokes, but the way his fingers reach for a gun that isn’t there seems to bring him back to earth. A world where he’s an assassin being hunted, and the only allies he has are people who he can’t trust.

A pang of sympathy hits Alec, but he buries it quickly.

He will not feel sorry for Magnus. He absolutely cannot. Emotions are nothing but weakness in their world, and to be controlled by them in one of Alec’s greatest fears. He then wishes that the entire mission could be over and done with, but The Clave has been adamant in their instructions; retrieve the Cup, bring back the assassin.

Whether he likes it or not, Alec decides that he has better get used to Magnus Bane fucking with his head.

Because for the meantime, he’s not going anywhere.

Chapter Text

“I cannot believe you’re making me wear the same shirt two days in a row. This is the worst day of my life.”

And I can’t believe I have to sit in a car with you for six bloody hours, Alec thinks to himself, wincing.

“Not the day you stole from Valentine?” He bites back. “Or how about the day we almost got killed two times in one night? When was that? Oh, yeah, yesterday.” Alec deadpans from the front seat. He doesn’t glance to his left, at where Magnus has settled into the passenger seat.

They’ve been on the road barely half an hour when Magnus starts to be a pain in the ass.

First, he started to fidget. Which Alec absolutely cannot stand.

But Magnus has this restless energy that he can’t control. His hands constantly dance across the window, or across his lap. At one point, he even leans forwards and exhales deeply onto the glass. He’s halfway through drawing a huge, phallic shape on the window when Alec slaps his hand away; taking one off the wheel long enough to hit Magnus.

Magnus is unfazed. He smiles widely at Alec and asks, “Was that not appropriate of me, Alexander?” He says his name slowly, rolling each symbol off his tongue. His words are too coy for Alec’s liking, so he quickly returns his hand to the wheel and mutters back, “Just keep still.”

“Izzy was right. You are a buzzkill.”

Two things were strange about that, Alec realises.

One, when the hell did Magnus and Izzy have time to chat?

And two, he is not a buzzkill. He just likes his day to not be ruined by a talkative assassin in the front seat.

Alec gathers up his patience and says, “Look, we have well over five hours till we reach New York, and we’re probably going to have to switch cars halfway too. Can we please just ignore each other for four of those five hours?”

“You know we could’ve just caught a plane, right? It’s an hour flight.”

“And you’re aware that said plane could easily be blown up? Or taken control of by Valentine? Or someone else who wants the Cup, and will torture you to get it.”

“Lovely as always, Alexander.” Magnus laughs. “But you’re a great deal more likely to die in a car, than in a plane.”

“Well, I don’t want to die in a plane.” Alec says, stubbornly. He’s not in the mood to argue over transport, and he’s definitely not in the mood to argue about it with him.

Magnus turns in his seat and smiles sweetly. “So, I get an hour to ask questions later?”

“W-what? I didn’t say that.”

“Yes, you did." Magnus says coyly. He holds up a hand. "Now, I am paraphrasing here, but you said if I was quiet for most of the journey then we could talk later.”

Damn it. Damn him. Damn all of this.

“Fine.” Alec surrenders. Surely the peace and quiet for a long time will give him time to prepare for whatever uncomfortable questions Magnus wants to throw at him. It’s probably payback for the harsh things he said at the safe house.

The safe house.

Alec stares down at the road, letting his thoughts catch up. They had rested for a few hours and then prepared to leave; stashing some more weapons, food supplies, and water and disposable phones. They changed into fresh clothes - more black pants and jackets for Alec and Izzy. They then returned to the floor above. Fortunately, no one had been in the car park when they left, so they’d snuck out around the back again and waited in the parking lot.

The Clave had a nearby agent drop off two cars with untraceable plates, and true to their word, both were waiting outside for them. Both were slick, fast and fully stocked with petrol. One was a navy blue; the other, a deep green.

And then Izzy had smiled and said, “Simon, you’re with me.”

And Alec had wanted to blow up himself. Or Magnus.

Anything to avoid sitting in a car, alone, with the assassin.

Which was exactly how they ended up.

But at least Magnus was agreeing to stay quiet, even if it meant Alec would have to be put under interrogation later.

And he’d done that before. Once. A few years ago, when he’d underestimated a small drug cartel and ended up as a hostage for one night, Alec had felt true fear. He’d assumed he was going to die that night, and although he had not said a word about The Clave to his kidnappers, Alec was so afraid that his last words could harm someone he loved. Could harm Isabelle, or Jace, or little Max...

Before he could reminisce some more on the joys of being held captive, Magnus sighs. He shrugs out of his jacket, exposing his toned forearms to Alec – who only glances over for a few seconds. He applauds himself for his self-restraint, until Magnus chuckles and says, “You can look all you like, Alexander.”

Alec notices something else. A small mark on Magnus’ shoulder. “Where did you get the scar?”

It's a blotchy, white mark in a lose circle shape, but Alec calls it a scar because he has a sinking feeling in his stomach that he knows what really causes marks like that.

The silence that fills the car is a terrible one. It echoes loudly, until the scraping of the wheels against the road sounds deafening. Alec is about to think of something else to say, when Magnus folds his jacket up against the window; making it into a pillow. His last words are a warning.

“You’re right.” Magnus says, lowly. “Silence is good.”

~

Damn it, Magnus thought, as he stays unmoving against the makeshift pillow. I’d been looking forwards to winding him up.

But then Alec had mentioned his scar, and Magnus realises that he wasn’t quite ready for sharing time just yet.

Definitely not with a Lightwood; someone who was related to the woman partially responsible for the cigarette burn on his shoulder. 

Magnus warns himself that prejudice is a dangerous thing.

He knows this, and yet he can still feel himself torn between hating Alec for his parents, and The Clave, and wanting to get to know the man he’s seen brief glimpses of. The big brother who holds his sister gently in a hug. The agent who wants to do his best, and so firmly believes in the law that he’s scared to consider how corrupt it might be.

Magnus almost feels pity.

He’s always liked a challenge. His friends have always warned him time and again about his broken bird complex. It always surprises people to realise that Magnus became an assassin to help people. That he hasn’t fought his way up the ranks for money, revenge or power, but to make sure those who are weak can never feel the pain he has gone through. To make sure that mothers do not hang themselves out of a desperation to escape their lives. To make sure that angry fathers do not beat their children and leave them with a mess to clean up.

Magnus breathes in the soft leather, and tries to calm his nerves. Alec’s words touched a nerve earlier, and it surprises him that the man could be so cruel; so cold. Although he knew Alec was an agent, his introverted nature was clear to Magnus in just a few minutes of meeting him. He found it endearing, and then a little bit sexy. There was nothing as attractive as a man who knew what he was doing and yet, kept surprising him.

But then Alec’s words to The Clave had sent a violent shudder through his chest; breaking down a wall around his heart. And not in the good sense either. It was a horrible reminder that he would always be judged, and hated, for who he was. And it wasn’t until then that Magnus had realised how much he was starting to like Alexander; despite every instinct telling him to stay far away.

Worthless.

That’s what hits Magnus the hardest.

Worthless. As in; nothing.

He is not nothing. He has worked hard and struggled to become the man he is today, and damn Alec to hell and back if he doesn’t treat him with basic respect.

Magnus scowls into the jacket.

He knows, deep down, that he could never fully yell or scream at Alec. He didn’t want to, not really. He is pissed - and strangely hurt quite deeply by the man he’s met only a day before – but that isn’t something new. He’s been pissed for a while now. Pissed at himself for letting his emotions run away with him in the first place.

Magnus squeezes his eyes shut, tightly.

He hurriedly tries to block away the images of the newspaper. The newspaper. But it will forever burn inside his mind. He’ll never forget the moment that he saw it. The anguish, the heartbreak, the sorrow. Why did he have to find out so ordinarily? That was the worst part. How he’d never been expecting to see a friend’s face on the front page of the daily paper; or the words ‘body found outside club’ plastered across it in ugly, red letters.

He’d made a vow to bring honour to his friend’s name, to bring his killer to justice. And yet, all Magnus has done so far is steal a Cup and almost start a war. He tilts his head a fraction; looking at Alec as he drives.

Perhaps he’s not the only one who’s started a war. Magnus is sure that Alec is fighting with something. His head, his heart, his logic. And Magnus hates that he wants to help him. Why did Alexander have to be so intriguing?

He decides that the best thing to do is bring up a barrier. A careful, strong barrier that can wrap around what is left of Magnus’ heart and keep it upright. When this business is all over, he can fly away and start a new life elsewhere. A fresh start. A new life. A new him.

Again, Magnus drifts off to sleep. This time, he dreams of a bird trapped in a cage. Another one sings from the outside; calling and setting him free with the song. The cage door flies open, and the bird chirps happily.

It’s a nice dream. Magnus decides to make it a reality as soon as possible.

A bizarre thought enters his mind.

Who is the caged bird, and who is the saviour bird outside; setting the other one free?

~

“Do you think Alec and Magnus have killed each other yet?”

“Hm. How long has it been?”

Simon glances down at his watch. “Three hours and twenty four minutes. And twenty seconds. Twenty one. Twenty two. Twenty three-“

“Thank you, Simon.” Izzy says, loudly, but she’s smiling against her will. She taps a sharp nail against the wheel and thinks for a moment. “No. I think they’re still both alive. For now. I give it another half an hour until Alec throws Magnus out of the window.”

“My money’s on Magnus. If I had any money. Which I don’t.” Simon grins. “I’m a student, can you tell?”

Izzy smiles again. She’s been doing this so much for the past few hours that her cheeks are hurting, but it’s a pain she doesn’t mind. Simon is so warm and sweet that it makes Izzy feel like she’s doped up on morphine. Not in a scary over-dose way, but in a fuzzy, relaxing one.

He’s also clever enough to not ask her questions that delve into work, or why they were getting fired at by people and dragging around a reluctant assassin.

Instead, he asks her strange, bemusing questions like, “What’s your favourite ice cream flavour?” and Izzy’s personal favourite, “Are you a dog or a cat person?”.

She answers, pretending that she’s indulging him and keeping him relaxed. Truth be told, Izzy is rather pleased to fill in the silence with friendly conversation. Simon is wordy, but adorable, and also intelligent. She finds herself asking about his own job.

“So, you’re a student?”

“In my third and final year, so it’s kind of important that I get back soon.” He laughs nervously, twitching his nose.

She smiles kindly. “You will. I always keep my word.” Distracting him again, Isabelle asks, “So…you write music too? I remember you said something about a guitar…”

“Oh, that! Yes, I do. I’m in a band. It’s uh, not very good at the moment, but we’re practising like crazy and we nailed our last set.”

“Sounds fun.” Izzy says, and she realises she’s being honest. It does sound enjoyable. She wonders what it would be like to start a band and make music with your friends. To go to a normal college and learn with normal people. Not grow up under The Clave’s watchful eye and strict tutoring schedules.

But she’s had her fair share of fun, behind The Clave’s, and her parents’ backs. Alec knows, of course, and so does Jace, but Izzy likes dancing, and often sneaks out to go to raves and dances whenever she has free time. Which is rare, but she still enjoys her moments of freedom. It’s probably why she likes to fight so much; the fluid movements, the dangerous grace in swinging a leg around.

Do I? She asks herself. Love to fight? Or am I just reciting words of The Clave? And mom and dad?

She shakes her head. Those thoughts are going to do more harm than good, and for now, she needs to be as well put-together as possible. For Alec’s sake. She knows that her brother made a smart decision last night, even if it was abrupt. He was right in that The Clave care more about the Cup than Magnus, so the fact that he was alive, and basically teaming up with, didn’t horrify them too much.

“Isabelle,” Simon calls her name softly. The gentle way he says it leaves her feeling uneasy. Not awkwardly so, but vulnerable.

She doesn’t look over to him, but replies, “Sorry. Miles away.”

“Understandable. I, uh, hate to bring this up but…” Simon scratches his ear and mumbles, “Do you think we could stop for a pee break? You might have some superhuman gift, but my bladder is as mundane as they come.”

Izzy shakes away the last of her worries and nods. “Sure we can.” She looks ahead, at the long stretch of highway to go, and then backwards; at the navy car identical to theirs and carrying her brother and their beloved assassin.

“Let’s pull over at the next gas stop. I’m sure my brother will catch on fast.”

Izzy smiles fondly. “He’s a smart one.”

~

Alec couldn’t work out how to turn off the radio.

He was trying to. He’d been trying for a few minutes now. But ever since his elbow had awkwardly hit a button, music had suddenly started bouncing around the car without warning. He’s been trying to stab at buttons, but the roads got busy then and he’d had to ignore the music and try to focus.

He winces as a hectic song starts playing. It’s annoyingly catchy, and something that Izzy would play to wind him up during training sessions. It’s not even in English but Alec knows that whatever they’re saying is not worth putting up with.

When Magnus stirs, Alec winces again. Now he’s woken him up again, and all because he’d been clumsy.

He tries to remain calm. He stares straight ahead, concentrating on the faint blur of green that is Izzy and Simon’s car in the distance. Grateful that at least the music is blaring loudly, Alec manages to stay quiet as Magnus stretches out his arms and neck, yawning.

The urge to admit his mistake is overwhelming.

Why does it matter if Magnus thinks he has bad taste in music? They’re not even friends. They’re barely past the enemy stage.

Aren’t we still supposed to be there?

Supposed.

“So, Alexander.” Magnus begins. His voice is a little hoarse and husky from sleep, and Alec ignores the little shivers it sends up his spine. “You like k-pop, huh?”

Alec blinks. “What’s that?”

Is Magnus already starting with the questions? If so then damn, the guy moved fast.

He turns his head and finds Magnus looking at him with a wide grin. He rests his head in the palm of his hand, cocking his head like a cat again. His smile turns triumphant. “You did it to wake me up, didn’t you?”

“W-what? No. It was an accident. I hit this button with my elbow and…”

Alec trails off. He realises what he’s just confessed as Magnus’ smile grows even bigger. He flushes and looks away before Magnus can add something else to his list of things to tease him about.

He presses his lips together and doesn’t say another word for minutes. The music plays quietly, and it’s enough for him to fuel his anger on and stay occupied. He doesn’t think about Magnus, smiling and sitting beside him. He doesn’t think about his hands, or his lips, or his burning questions that he hasn’t even started to ask yet.

Why? Alec wonders. Why isn’t he asking me anything?

His grip tightens on the wheel. Are you…feeling sorry for yourself?

Why does he care if Magnus doesn’t want to speak to him? Wasn’t that what Alec had wanted in the first place?

All Alec knows is that he’s really confused.

Like, really fucking confused. 

His cheeks burn again, as he lets his mind wander to other scenarios where one might be confused-

“What do you call a blind dinosaur?” He blurts out.

Magnus slowly turns his head to face him.

Alec gathers up his courage, realising that he still hasn’t apologised for his cruel words, and calmly finishes the joke. “Doyouthinkhesaurus.”

It’s an awful joke. He hates the joke with a newfound burning rage.

It’s literally the worst joke he’s ever heard Jace say, so did he really just repeat it to Magnus simply because he felt awkward about before?

Alec was blushing furiously now.

Great. Just….great.

And then, something harmonious happens.

The rain stops pouring, the storm stops brewing, and the ship pulls up into the harbour as Magnus throws his head and laughs. It’s the same laugh as before, the one that caught Alec’s breath in the alleyway. But whereas that one was slightly dazed, this one is happy, deliberate and merry. His shoulder shake and he starts to smile as wide as Alec has ever seen him smile.

“Alexander, that was quite awful.” He says, in-between laughs.

Alec realises his shoulders are shaking with laughter too. He is grateful that they’ve reached a small traffic jam, just so he can relax his hands on the wheel and lean his head back a little. He closes his eyes and lets himself smile. It’s a nice feeling. To laugh. Alec wonders why he doesn’t do it as often as he should.

Because laughter is made to be shared, something tells him.

He shuts up pretty soon after that. He sits up straighter and rubs a hand across the back of his neck. Whatever gap he’s trying to bridge between himself and Magnus needs to stay open for a reason. He can’t go around trying to be friendly to a man he might still have to kill. He’s leading Magnus into a potential execution.

If he has to, Alec will be a killer, but he certainly won’t trick Magnus into trusting him only to stab him in the back. Loyalty drives Alec, and he’s horrified that he’s forgotten to stay focused.

So that’s exactly what he does. He shoots a quick look at Magnus, careful to keep his eyes on his face. He doesn’t need them wandering anywhere else.

“We’re stopping in Easton for the night. We'll find a small hotel somewhere.” Alec tells him. “We can work out a plan of action to get the Cup, and everyone can be well prepared for whatever hell tomorrow brings.”

Magnus frowns, but doesn’t push further. He simply shrugs and says, “Fine by me.” He then asks, coyly, “Are we sharing a bedroom, Alexander?”

“No.” Alec says quickly. They haven’t even discussed the room situation yet, but he knows with complete certainty that he’d rather get shot then share a room with Magnus Bane.

Part of Alec whispers to him that he’s afraid to face something. A truth. And that it’s the only reason he’s too afraid to sleep with Magnus so close. He reminds himself that Magnus in an assassin too, and would make for a very dangerous bed companion.

Bed companion.

Why does that thought send shivers down Alec’s back? He dismisses it as fear for his life. For Izzy’s safety. And even Simon’s. Anything other than consider the fact that his mind wouldn’t be able to switch off if Magnus was sleeping beside him.

Or on the next bed, Alec quickly changes the image to a safer one. 

In-front of them, he can see Simon and Isabelle’s car begin to slow down; searching for the long, winding road that leads to the hotel they randomly chose at the gas stop earlier. It made sense. It was a little off the main road – close enough that they could quickly make a getaway if needed be – and didn’t draw any attention to itself. It was cheap and old and hopefully somewhere they wouldn’t get shot at.

Alec really, really needed a decent night’s sleep.

He glances across at Magnus, who is once again tapping the window with a nail.

Why does he get the feeling that the assassin is going to keep him up all night?

Chapter Text

“This is charming!” Magnus announces. He’s the first to get out of the car, smiling up at the little hotel.

“Um, no. It looks like a horror movie hotel.” Simon counteracts. He and Izzy walk up to join them, and Magnus notices with a smirk that Simon keeps watching Isabelle with a nervous smile.

The boy continues with his usual rambles. “I’m like the side character that’s going to get murdered in the bathtub to motivate you all to leave.”

Izzy happily loops her arm through his. “I promise to protect you from the one-dimensional villain.” She vows solemnly.

“Does that make me the damsel?” Simon asks, but he says it so adorably that even Alec hides a smile. He’s been doing that a lot, Magnus realises. Alec hides so many of his real feelings that Magnus finds him hard to read. He’d be pushier under any other circumstances.

As they walk up the stairs, he asks Alec, “So if Isabelle is our lovely hero, and Simon is our beautiful and dumb love interest, what does that make me?”

“A problem.” Alec mutters.

Magnus chuckles, and accepts it good-naturedly. At least Alec is talking to him again. He’d gone rather silent after his adorable attempt at making a joke. It was actually a pretty good joke, Magnus had thought. It was so bad it was brilliant, and his laughter had been genuine.

But then Alec had silenced up, backtracking once again. Magnus had occupied himself with trying to remember what tree he’d thrown the Cup up. He remembered the park, but was trying to remember which tree it was again…

“Are you coming in?” Alec asks.

Magnus blinks up at him from the bottom steps. Alec is waiting at the top, awkwardly holding the door open for him.

He’s so tall, what the hell?

Magnus has always been the tallest out of his friends. He’s dated a few people taller than he is, but still, Alec is something else.

But he could be so much taller if he stops hunching, Magnus thinks, as he brushes past the agent and walks inside. Although Alec holds himself rigidly, there are moments when he slumps and seems to shrink himself. To make himself smaller; as if he doesn’t believe he ought to take up space.

“Thank you, Alec.” Magnus says quietly. He doesn’t glance up at Alec, but he feels his warm breath tingle across Magnus’ skin as he enters the foyer.

Izzy and Simon are already talking to the receptionist; a smiling blonde woman who looks a little too young for him. Still, after Simon and Izzy are done - and Izzy gives him the nod to say 'all clear' - Magnus saunters up to the desk and gives her his best charming smile. “Hello.” He says. “Do you have a room for me and my fiancé?”

Izzy turns away, but Magnus catches her guilty grin.

Behind him, he hears Alec gasp. He is beside the desk in no time, and when Magnus looks across, Alec’s face is flushed a deep pink.

“I, uh…”

“It’s okay, honey.” Magnus says sweetly. “I’ll find the perfect room.” He pats Alec’s arm. “Why don’t you go and sit down and rest that gorgeous head of yours?”

Unable to do anything other than gape, Alec finally gathers his wits and glares at him. In a very non-romantic way.

If Alec was his fiancée, Magnus decides he’d be very pissed with this treatment. Perhaps he’d even punish him later-

“Sir, we have two lovely rooms available right now. The third has just been taken by these two.” She nods to Izzy and Simon with a smile, and then turns back to Magnus. She taps a polished nail onto the desk, at where rows and rows of pictures show what the rooms look like.

She gestures to one. “I think this one would be perfect for you two!”

Magnus smiles brightly, mimicking her peppy tone. “How darling!” He says, happily. If he’s likely about to get killed by Alec as soon as they’re out of the public eye, he’s going to milk every second of it.

“Excellent.” The woman takes out a pen, and a large sign-in book and smiles up at them both. “Can I take your surname please?”

“Of course.” Magnus says, and then calmly pronounces, “Ottovordemgentschenfelde.”

A strangled noise escapes Izzy’s lips, and she quickly pulls Simon up the stairs to their room. He hears her laughter breaking out as they walk away.

The woman looks surprised, but then asks, “Oh, are you German?”

“Nope.” Magnus says, cheerfully. “Asian.”

He turns to Alec and beams. “Would you like to show the kind lady how to spell my troublesome name, dearest?”

Alec finally decides he’s had enough. He smiles, but Magnus can feel the anger beneath it and takes a little step back. “Not at all, sweetie.”

Magnus has never been called sweetie before, and he’s not sure he’s ever going to want to again. Not after hearing it come from Alec’s lips like a death sentence.

Alec hands him the pen. “It’s your surname, after all.”

Magnus quickly writes the name – correctly, he notes proudly – and smiles apologetically at the receptionist. “Thank you for your patience.” He says, truthfully. When she hands him their key and points them to the stairs, Magnus makes sure to smile warmly at her before following his not-so-eager fiancée up to their room.

They’re starting to walk down the corridor of the first floor when Alec finally snaps. He growls out, “Care to explain what that was?”

“We needed a cover. I thought it was a nice improvise.”

“And the surname? Really, Magnus? What was it again? Otto….ottovor…?”

“Ottovordemgentschenfelde.” Magnus repeats.

They reach the door to their room, and Alec pauses. His expression is a frown, but there’s something else waiting to change it.

His voice is quieter when he asks, “So…it was a real surname?”

Magnus nods. “Yep. The longest surname in the world. I read it somewhere, but I’ve never had the opportunity to use it before.” He smiles, unable to keep his shoulders from swaying to and fro. He’s never been good at keeping still. “Thanks for the chance, Alec.”

Alec’s expression clears, his shoulders releasing some of their tension. He runs a hand across the back of his neck, and when he replies, he almost sounds…impressed. “You even said it with the accents.”

“Oui.” Magnus jokes.

“That’s French. Not German.” Alec smiles, and the sight is such a lovely surprise. It’s a curving, warm smile that draws attention to his full lips.

“Ja?”

Alec nods. “Ja.”

“As entertaining as these language lessons are,” Magnus says, lightly. He raises an eyebrow. “I suggest we unlock the door now and continue this inside?”

As soon as the words come out, he realises they could easily be flirty. Had he meant to sound flirtatious? He glances up at Alec and swallows uncertainly. Fortunately, Alec is already working the key into the door, not even paying attention to his concerns.

Of course not.

The room is small but cosy, and although Magnus had enjoyed his role-playing downstairs, he had actually picked the room for a reason. It had a long window seat that he points out to Alec as they enter. “I’ll take that bed.” He says, dryly.

“Oh, uh…you don’t have to. I can take it.”

“Really?” Magnus sits on the window ledge, bouncing on it slightly to test it. When it springs back nicely, he leans back and smirks at Alec. “With your height, you’ll have leg cramp all day tomorrow.”

Alec is still standing in the middle of the room, watching him with uncertainty. He looks back and forth between the bed, and Magnus, and then replies, “You’re almost my height.”

“Almost is not equal, Alec.”

Alec blinks.

Magnus busies himself with rearranging the cushions and doesn’t meet Alec’s gaze again. He hadn’t meant to once again point out their awkward situation. Could he not go a few moments without reminding himself, or Alec, that they were from opposite sides? That Alec was an agent of The Clave, and a Lightwood, and that he was a freelance assassin with a tendency to act with his heart.

He covers up his anxiety with a smile, and calls out to Alec, “You do realise you’re leaving Simon alone with your baby sister?”

“Simon. The giant womanising maniac. Yes. I fear for Izzy’s life.”

Magnus chuckles. He quite likes Alec like this; sarcastic and witty. It’s definitely a step up from closed off and brooding. As much as Magnus likes the tall, strong and silent type, he knows that Alec is more than that, and he finds himself desperate to learn just a little bit more.

“I’m worried for Simon’s life.” Magnus admits. “Your sister is definitely capable of eating him alive.” He places one final pillow onto his pile and settles back, testing it out and laying down.

A quiet gurgling noise breaks the silence, and Alec places a hand over his stomach and looks surprised.

Magnus raises an eyebrow. “Hungry, Alec?” He says innocently.

“I guess.” Alec shrugs off his jacket, leaving him in the simple black jumper he’s been wearing since the safe house. Alec smiles, almost as if he’s somewhere else, and not a small hotel with Magnus. The gesture is soft and relaxed in a way that makes Magnus ache. Ache for more of something he doesn’t even know how to ask for.

“Uh, do you want to…?” Alec awkwardly points to the door, and then to Magnus, and then to himself.

Magnus stands, stretching his legs and trying to hide his smile at being invited to dinner by Alec. It shouldn’t mean anything, but Magnus likes that Alec asked him.

As he waits in the hallway while Alec locks the door once more, Magnus gestures to the room a few down from theirs. “Should we ask Isabelle and Simon to join us?”

Alec looks down at floor, concentrating on the swirling carpet beneath his feet. He doesn’t look up, suddenly very interested in the carpet. “We should at least pretend to maintain our cover.” He says. “It would be suspicious if four strangers randomly had dinner together.”

“Oh. Yes. I see.”

Magnus wants to hit his head against the wall. Of course it’s a stupid idea for all four of them to waltz down to dinner and pretend they’re just friends, and not actually a weird misfit group of agents, assassins and poor, innocent guitar-playing Latino boys.

Thanks to that logic, he’s now going to have to suffer through an awkward meal with an agent who hates his guts.

Lovely.

~

For a small hotel on a long, winding road, the restaurant they enter is elegant and pleasing to the eye.

They enter a large, open space of crème and black. With only a few other couples dining, Magnus follows Alec as they’re led to a table by the window; as per Alec’s request. Magnus is about to ask why when he realises that it offers Alec a sizeable view of the carpark and entrance; a perfect spot to see any threat approaching.

Of course, Magnus thinks cheerfully, they could always break in through the windows. But he doesn’t say this to Alec. The agent has been quiet, but less defensive, and Magnus wants to keep it that way.

As he flicks his eyes briefly down the menu, Magnus firmly tells himself that he’s to eat as quickly as possible and get back to the room without a fight breaking out. He’s determined to have a decent meal without fearing for his life.

Even if Alec pulls out a gun, Magnus decides that he’ll simply swat it away and continue eating. They can fight afterwards.

When the waiter comes over, Magnus smiles warmly and orders the salmon, new potatoes and salad dish. He waits for Alec to order. For now, he can pretend that he’s on a road trip with one of the most beautiful men he’s ever seen. He’s allowed to watch Alec. He’s allowed to smile at him. Surely a good fiance would pay attention to his other half and bat eyelids at him?

“And would either of you care for any drinks?”

Magnus thinks for a moment. “Cosmopolitan, please.” He allows himself to ask for a single cocktail, knowing that it won’t be anywhere near his limit. Alcohol might even loosen up his nerves. Not that Magnus is nervous. Why would he be?

As the waiter jots it down, Alec knits his eyebrows together in confusion. “What’s that?” He asks.

Magnus blinks. “You’ve never had cocktails before, Alexander?”

“N-no.” Alec absently taps the corner of the drinks menu. He laughs awkwardly. “It’s not really appropriate, what with my job and all.”

“I insist you try a…” Magnus scans the list, determined to pick a good one for Alec’s first ever cocktail.

He grins wickedly when he catches the ‘Virgin Mary’ cocktail shining off the page with a brilliant red. He glances up at Alec, the temptation to see his reaction to the name, but Magnus bites his tongue and holds back. He’s never been one to assume someone’s sexuality or inactivity, and even if he’s right – which Magnus has a strong feeling he is - he’s not ever going to use it as leverage or an insult towards Alec.

He settles for something teasing, but not cruel. “How about a Brandy Alexander?”

“Just a brandy?” Alec looks confused. “That doesn’t sound like a cocktail. Aren’t they supposed to be, you know, fancy?” He makes an awkward little arch with his hands. “With the little umbrellas?”

The waiter laughs and pipes up, “I can put an umbrella in a brandy for you, sir. If you’d like?”

Alec starts to flush. “Oh, no, that’s not what I...”

Magnus holds up a hand, cutting Alec off with mercy. “My dear friend here has never had a cocktail before.” He says charmingly to the waiter. He turns back to Alec and calmly explains, “The name of the cocktail is ‘brandy alexander’. No comma.”

“Oh. Oh!” Alec’s expression clears then. His flush is still faint on his cheeks, and it almost matches his lips when he smiles. “I’ll trust you then.”

Magnus almost blushes this time. He almost believes the words, but then reminds himself that Alec is simply going along with their cover. Like the good agent he is.

When the waiter leaves, Magnus is unsure what else to say. Or where else to lead the next conversation.

It’s been made pretty clear that talking about the Cup, or their jobs, is not allowed. So what else are they supposed to chat about? Magnus thinks about improving a discussion on honeymoon destinations, but he fears that Alec might end their engagement before it’s passed the twenty-four hour mark.

He also seriously needs to stop thinking so fondly about their fake engagement.

Magnus reverts back to joking instead. “So, do you think Izzy has trained Simon by now?”

Alec snorts. “I’m sure she has everything under control, yes. Also, we really shouldn’t be drinking.” His nose twitches, the only sign of anxiety that gives him away. “We should stay alert.”

“Looks like someone can’t hold their liquor.”

Alec meets his gaze and coolly says, “Unlike others, I don’t feel the need to drink away my heartache.”

Ouch.

“Please.” Magnus waves a hand in dismissal. “What heartache?” He says. He hopes his voice is as steady as Alec’s, because he doesn’t feel calm at all.

Magnus taps his foot against the floor. Why did Alec have to remind him of the one thing he’d been trying so hard to forget? He knows it was simply a thoughtless remark, and not a personal one, but it hits Magnus right in the centre of his chest.

He scoops out Alec’s words like a bullet and fires back, “At least I know what honour is.”

“I know what honour is.” Alec’s voice rises a little in anger. “And I understand loyalty more than you ever could. Who do you answer to? No one. You’re a slave to your impulses, and you’re clearly ruled by your emotions in ways that I-“

“Would never allow yourself to?” Magnus snaps. He keeps his voice quiet, but he can’t keep the heat out of it. “Of course, because you fear emotion, Alec. I bet the only reason you like taking orders is to suppress your own feelings.”

He glares at the agent, but there’s a slight dip in his voice - and a softness in his heart - when Magnus adds, “It makes it easier, doesn’t it? To hide behind the law?”

“I don’t hide away from anything.” Alec mutters, but he looks away. The tips of his ears are a bright pink, and he fiddles with the stem of his glass in frustration.

When the waiter brings out their meals, Magnus fakes a smile and thanks him, hopefully distracting the poor man from Alec’s scowl.

They eat in silence for too long, and he’s almost finished with his salmon when Alec’s chair scrapes back. He swallows a stab of anger – and hurt – and looks up.

Alec nods once. “Don’t stay down here too long.”

And then he turns on his heels and disappears from the room; leaving Magnus with a full stomach and a need to refill his now-empty glass. A little alcohol could ease the frustration he feels towards Alec; the strange mix of curiosity, sympathy and, dare he admit it, desire.

Alec is everything he expects of a Lightwood, and yet, everything different too.

He’s loyal, but afraid. Stubborn and witty, but also a loving big brother with a reserved shell.

Magnus finishes his meal slowly. He needs more time to head back into a hotel room with the perplexing agent.

~

“Hey, Alec. I’m glad I caught you. Do you have a moment?”

He leans back on the room door, smiling tiredly at his sister; who is resting her head against the wall opposite.

“Sure. Is everything alright?” Alec rolls his eyes and adds, “Is Simon giving you any trouble?”

Izzy scoffs. “Yes. I am extremely frightened by his evil nature. Really.” She rubs her arms and widens her eyes in mock-horror. “I have chills, Alec!” She jokes.

“Ha.” He says. “So what is going on?”

Her expression turns serious. “That’s what I wanted to ask you. Is everything alright? I know we haven’t had a lot of time together since this whole thing began, but I’m sure we’re going to finish this soon. The Clave will have the Cup, and we can move on.” She smiles hopefully, and he returns it. Or at least tries to.

“Me too.” He lies. Well, it’s only a half-lie because Alec really wants to believe that it’ll be over soon, but he has a feeling it’s only the beginning. “What about…”

“Magnus? I know, I’m not sure what The Clave wants with him either.” Isabelle chews her lip for a moment and then sighs. “All I know is that we have to bring him in, or we’re going to be in even more trouble.”

“But,” Alec leans forwards and lowers his voice to a whisper. “Do you think they still want to kill him?”

His sister is quiet for a moment, lost in thought. She slowly shakes her head. “No. I do not think they’d risk bringing him unless it was something important. They need Magnus, for some reason.”

“But why so suddenly? Is this my fault? Is this because I didn’t carry out the mission as originally planned?”

“No, Alec.” She steps closer and places a hand on his. The touch is gentle, and so is her reassuring smile. “I think this is The Clave realising that you gave them an opportunity to rethink the kill hit. Whatever they want with Magnus is important enough to change the mission, so I’m choosing to believe that we’re not leading a really cool guy to his death.”

“Magnus isn’t cool.” Alec quickly says. He pats her hand and takes a step back, turning to unlock the door behind him.

He hears Izzy laugh, and teasingly ask, “Well then, big brother, tell me. If you’re so smart, what is Magnus Bane like?”

Many words could be used to describe the assassin, but in that moment, only word enters Alec’s mind.

Magical.

The thought races through his blood like fire, but it’s not a painful feeling. It’s…inviting. Like someone has just offered him a space beside the fireplace, or a scarf against the biting of a winter wind.

Alec hastily shoves the unhelpful word aside and mutters, “A smartass assassin who’s going to ruin the mission.”

He ignores Izzy’s giggle and heads inside the room.

Busying his mind with something other than Magnus, Alec heads over to the duffel bag he’s dropped onto the bed earlier and rummages through it. When he finds a pair of black and navy striped flannel pyjamas, he grimaces and shoves them back inside the bag.

Like hell is he going to wear those, not when he can respectably sleep in his current black pants and not give Magnus a chance to tease him about his fluffy jammies. He can change into something else in the morning, and leave the dumb pyjamas out for Magnus. Didn’t the assassin say he wanted to change into something else?

Alec smirks, pleased with himself as he folds them neatly onto the window seat of Magnus’ improvised bed for the night.

And then the door slowly opens, and Magnus walks in; his hair a little dishevelled and messy. He rubs at his eyes, yawning, but still manages to crack a grin and point to the still half-open door. “You’re a terrible spy, Alexander.”

“I’m not a spy. I’m an agent.”

“Tomato, tamato.”

Alec rolls his eyes and checks both windows for any sign of unwanted company. There are no loitering men or women in the carpark, and he can’t see any sign of cars approaching down the long, winding road.

Still, he knows better than to relax. He takes a pair of small screens from his bag – a nice little device of The Clave’s – and switches them on; placing them on the bedside table. They turn on, revealing three camera views of the carpark, the road, and the hotel’s reception area.

A flood of relief washes over him. Finally, something had gone smoothly. If all went to plan, Izzy would have a view of the back of the hotel, and the back exit as well. As he left the restaurant, Alec had planted the alarm devices throughout the hotel. They would bleep at the first sign of intruders.

“Those are impressive toys.” Magnus says, and when Alec turns to face him, his expression is one of awe.

“You don’t have anything similar?”

“Sometimes. Depends on my mood.”

Mood, Alec repeats to himself. Not logic, or careful planning, but mood.

Magnus’ words were spoken airily, and Alec was just about to dismiss him as irresponsible when he realises that there are hidden truths behind Magnus’ casual remarks. There are signs of darkness in his troubled eyes, and touches of pain and regret behind his jokes.

He wonders then why Magnus chooses to present himself as careless and playful. Alec has seen moments of vulnerability from the assassin, and almost wishes that he hadn’t, because it makes him see Magnus as a contradiction. One of sulks and smirks, and also vulnerability and passion.

Alec doesn’t understand him. Or perhaps he does, and would rather believe that he doesn’t.

Magnus interrupts his thoughts with a laugh. “What are these?”

“They’re pyjamas. You wear them to bed.” Alec says dryly, kicking off his shoes and placing them neatly beside the bed.

Magnus holds the pants up against his legs and shakes his head in disgust. “A pathetic excuse for pyjamas.” He tosses them onto the floor and places his hands on his hips. “It’s silk or nothing.”

When Alec doesn’t say anything, Magnus slowly unbuttons his shirt, his fingers toying with each button like he’s pulling the trigger to a gun.

“I guess it’s nothing then.” Magnus shrugs. It’s a lazy gesture, accompanied by a coy smirk. “Unless you have a problem with that, Alec?” He’s teasingly slow as he plucks at the next button, and Alec almost wants to rip it open himself.

Instead, he focuses on the swirls and patterns on Magnus’ shirt. The main portion of the shirt is a sheer black, slightly see through and lacy, and the sleeves are a deep brown with black patterns. The velvet patterns are slightly raised, and Alec wonders if running his fingers across the surface would feel soft or rough-

Why is he letting Magnus strip in front of him?

And why are his cheeks flushing with the desire to think ‘fuck it’ and study the other man some more?

Alec suddenly blinks quickly and spins around. He throws up a hand and mutters, “Could you do that in the bathroom?”

He hears Magnus laugh, and then feels his bare forearm brush Alec’s elbow as he passes and moves to the bathroom; carrying the pyjamas in his arms. It gives Alec the time to study his back; the lines and curves of Magnus’ muscles; the dips and dents in his dark skin. His deltoids tense with movement, and Alec stares at the way his black pants ride low on his hips.

Speaking of hips, Alec decides that Magnus is someone who knows how to walk, and how to draw attention to the parts of him that – and quite justly – deserve praise. His hips sway confidentially, but it’s such a natural movement; born from a pride and quiet confidence.

Although Magnus has always given off the air of being confident, and at times, arrogant, Alec somehow knows that a great deal of it is bravado; a way to carry the weight of the world and carry on smiling.

He watches, cheeks flaming, as Magnus walks away from him. The ache in his stomach grows from a simmer to a flaring throb when Magnus closes the door and gives him one last, slow wink. Alec feels twitchy all of a sudden, as though he’s just been caught doing something incredibly stupid and dangerous.

Studying someone isn’t a crime, he quickly tells himself.

But as Alec undoes his top two buttons, he realises that his hands are trembling. He decides to keep his shirt on after all, and quickly climbs into the bed. He sinks down into the mattress. He then waits for Magnus to come back out, saunter across the room and probably remark about the itching of the fabric before climbing under his pile of towels and blankets.

After the minutes tick by, Alec finds himself wide awake. He throws back the covers and tiptoes to the bathroom door. He feels stupid and childlike, but whatever Magnus is doing might be getting them into trouble. He thinks of Izzy, and what could happen to her if he doesn’t keep a proper eye on the assassin, and leans his ear against the door.

Luckily, the bathroom door is a thin wood.

Alec listens to silence for a few moments, and then hears Magnus’ voice; soft-spoken and almost tearful. “Vincit qui partitur.”

The words lodge in Alec’s throat. He finds it difficult to breathe as he pulls away from the wall and makes his way back to the bed.

The proverb hits Alec, hard.

He conquers who endures.

For whatever reason Magnus had spoken those words, Alec feels them stay with him for the rest of the night. Even when Magnus re-enters the room a minute later, and silently lays down on the window seat, Alec feels the words like a third presence.

In some way, he understands the words. He respects Magnus a little more, knowing that he’s endured something in his past. It fits into place as well; behind the sadness in Magnus’ hidden looks, and the slight quiver of anger in his lips sometimes.

The thought of endurance starts to create a black hole inside Alec’s mind. Thoughts of his own worries and hidden endurances start to slip from their hiding places. His secrets. His determination to separate his heart and his head weakens, just for a moment.

And then he focuses on inhaling, and exhaling; letting go of the tension as best as he can. Alec stays awake until he hears Magnus’ light snores. He relaxes, just slightly. Now that Magnus is asleep, he can…

Do what?

There’s nothing to do but sleep.

Alec hates the burning feeling rushing through his body. He doesn’t understand it.

It’s not even warm in the room and yet he’s sweating up like he’s in a sauna. He rolls up his pants and then grumbles and throws off the covers. Cool air hits him, and for a moment, it soothes his prickly skin. But then he finds himself missing the protection of the duvet; the comfort of having something to hide under.

As he tries to occupy his thoughts, he realises that Simon and Izzy are probably asleep by now. Which means he’s the only awake one.

He should be looking out for his sister; not sleeping and being a terrible lookout.

Alec quickly sits up and stretches, ignoring the yawn that escapes from his lips. He stands, drags the desk chair to the window and studies the lowly lit carpark. He pulls the bedside table closer, so that he can keep an eye on the security feed at the same time.

It’s well into the early hours of the morning when Alec feels his eyelids start to droop.

He props his chin up with his hands, forcing it to remain upright. But his eyes keep glazing over, and soon, he’s just going to fall asleep in-front of the wide window; which is probably an even more dangerous idea than not being a lookout at all.

Bored, Alec picks up a gun and starts to practise disassembling and reassembling it.

He’s doing it for the fourth time when he hears a floorboard creak.

He twists in his chair too abruptly, and tumbles out to the left. His back lands on the floor with a dull thud.

Alec winces, rubbing the back of his neck as he sits up; his legs sprawled out before him.

He lifts his chin and gasps. Magnus is leaning down, his face inches from his. His handsome face is pulled taunt with worry, and his hand reaches out to steady Alec and pull him to his feet. Alec grasps his hand without thinking and hauls himself to a standing. The warmth of Magnus’ hand rushes into his fingers, leaving them with pleasing tingles.

“Are you alright, Alexander?” Magnus gently enquires. He’s dressed in the hideous flannel pyjamas and yet, somehow it looks elegant on the other man. The dark colours flatter his brown skin, and they settle over his muscles in a complimentary way.

“Uh, yeah. I’m fine. Sorry for waking you, I was just…”

“Going to shoot me?”

“W-what? No. No, that’s now what I was…” Alec shakes his head quickly. Realising he’s still holding the gun, he throws it onto the table and looks apologetically at Magnus. “Sorry.” He repeats.

For someone dressed in flannel pyjamas that belong in a knitwear catalogue from the 1950s, Magnus sure smiles confidently.

He cocks his head at Alec and asks, “Have you slept at all?”

The question is so straightforward, but Alec hesitates. Is Magnus asking out of friendliness or logic? Because if it was Alec, then he’d also want to know if his temporary partner was in risk of falling asleep during a fight. So he shrugs away the concern. “I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not.” Magnus holds up a finger when he starts to protest. “And I think even top agents of The Clave need a few hours’ sleep.” He nods to the window. “I’ll keep watch for any of the little buggers who want to skin me alive.”

Alec debates this. He can’t argue with the sleep thing though. He’s basically sleepwalking anyway, he might as well sleep comfortably on a bed for a little while.

“I know you don’t want to trust me, and I get it.” Magnus says softly. “I’m a stranger to you, and you’re looking out for your sister, and your job." He runs a hand through his hair, absently tousling it. "But I promise you that we’re on the same side.”

For now, the silence that follows adds.

Not having any energy left to think of a reason to protest, Alec nods. He leans down to pull the chair back to its feet, his legs aching with the effort.

Alec winces. Yeah, he definitely needs to rest. And not on a hardback chair with no support.

Which means leaving a very conscious Magnus with a very unconscious Alec.

It means trusting him, even for just a few hours, with his life.

Alec climbs into bed, slowly, and watches as Magnus sits on the chair and begins gazing out of the window; mirroring Alec’s pose from earlier. From the lamps outside, light hits Magnus’ cheekbones and the corners of his eyes, and for a second, Alec swears they glow. He rubs at his eyes again and turns over. The pillow is cool against his burning cheeks, and he relishes the coldness.

Still unsure about sleeping in the same room as Magnus, Alec realises that Magnus himself had slept without the same concerns. He’d fallen asleep quite easily, in fact, and Alec wonders if Magnus was being careless, or he didn’t consider Alec a genuine threat.

Or perhaps he, like Alec now was, couldn’t fight the beckoning of the low lights. Exhaustion poured through every part of Alec, and he fell asleep; his last thoughts replaying Magnus’ whispered words from the bathroom;

He conquers who endures.  

What is Alec going to have to endure to conquer his own heart?

Chapter Text

Izzy wakes before the alarm goes off.

It’s always been something she’s good at; timing.

She likes making an entrance, and is always the first into the training room, shortly followed by Alec, and then Jace; who decides to grace them with his presence whenever he feels like it. He is a good fighter, and Maryse is soft on him in a way that never reaches Isabelle.

She supposes it should be an honour that her mother expects the best. There is reasoning behind her strict rules and expectations, and Izzy hopes that one day she can fully show her worth.

It surprises her when she glances across at the other single bed.

Simon is already up, and has taken a shower by the looks of his damp hair and sheepish smile. “Oh, um, sorry." He says, quietly. "I didn’t want to wake you, so I took a quick wash and changed. I can go inside if you want to change out here, or I can hide under the bed…” He pauses and swallows.

She slides off the bed in a single movement and stretches quickly, tossing her hair over her shoulder and smirking at Simon. “Don’t tell me you were afraid to wake me?”

“Are you kidding? No! Of course not, I was…” Simon suddenly grins; a dazzling, charming and achingly beautiful grin. “I was totally afraid.” He admits, happily.

“Good.” She teases.

She’s suddenly aware that she’s standing before Simon in her brother’s navy polo shirt and a pair of lilac, loose boxer shorts. It’s not in Izzy’s nature to feel anything other than confident in her skin, but Simon makes her feel youthful and carefree, and that’s a dangerous thing for an agent who’s supposed to be ready for danger, and death.

So she takes a page out of her brother’s book and focuses on the mission. “Let me change, and we’ll leave in ten minutes. Be ready, okay?”

Izzy grabs a change of clothes and heads into the bathroom before Simon has time to protest.

As soon as cold washes splashes onto her face, she relaxes. A little alone time allows her to turn her thoughts to something other than Simon’s bright smile.

In a few hours, they’re going to locate and retrieve the Cup.

And nothing can go wrong this time.

Izzy feels certain that this could be the only chance they have. Everyone has to be completely focused, which means Izzy needs to remember why she joined the mission in the first place; for Alec. However, her brother’s first kill hit has turned into something else; a dangerous race against extremely powerful, and pissed off, men.

She wishes she could blame Magnus, but really, she can’t help but point fingers at The Clave. Why was an artefact - no matter how prestige - worth dying over? And why did they suddenly require Magnus to be brought it?

Like Alec, Izzy is also secretly worried that they could be handing Magnus over for execution.

The mercy kill had seemed simple at the time, and there was only one way the thief who stole from Valentine would end up, and that was dead. Izzy’s humanity both agreed and protested against killing someone.

On the one hand, the assassin slash thief was going to be tortured otherwise, and this was the humane option. On the other hand, and especially now that she knew Magnus a little more, Izzy couldn’t find a reasoning behind killing a man she knew nothing about.

Although Magnus hasn’t revealed the true reason he stole the Cup, Izzy gets the feeling that it’s a very serious one. And a personal one. On this level, she respects Magnus. The research they gave her and Alec led them to believe that Magnus was of little importance to The Clave; a nobody, replaceable, and a rule breaker.

They had failed to mention his jokes, his great taste in fashion and his approachable nature. Izzy has tried so hard to stay unattached, but she’s more open with her heart than Alec is and she’s frightened by how much she likes Magnus already.

Under less tenser circumstances, they might even be friends. She’d like that.

She splashes another load of cold water onto her face, gasping. Damn it, she’d lost focus again. Thinking about things like friendship was almost taboo for a Lightwood, and an agent of The Clave. Theirs was a lifetime of law, loyalty and justice, not one that allows the luxuries of sleepovers and karaoke nights.

As she stares at the mirror reflecting a frightened girl back at her, Izzy thinks of someone else.

Against her will, the thought of him consumes her. Someone who is far away, in more ways than one.

This person is miles away as well as laying on a hospital bed, unmoving. This person holds part of Izzy’s heart in his hands as he breathes through dozens of tubes, surrounded by monitors that keep him alive.

She wants to whisper his name. She wants to cry it out into every street she walks past, just so the world does not forget it. So that everyone in the world remembers him. Back at home, her parents, and even Alec and Jace, refrain from mentioning it. It’s a secret, more deadly than any nuclear codes.

It’s a secret because it’s their fault that their little brother is stuck between life and death, likely numb and afraid as he lays unmoving.

Max.

She allows the name to flash across her thoughts like a star. It burns brightly inside her mind, the light of his smile appearing like a worn-our photograph. The memory is faint, and almost black and white, but it’s still there. She clings to it, memorising the soft dimples and dirty blonde hair, before filing it back where it belongs inside her heart.

I miss you, Max.

She dries her face on a towel and ties her long hair back into a tight ponytail. She tugs it once, winces, and stands back to admire her work. She’s almost convinced by the proud, confident woman now staring back in the mirror. Almost.

Still, it’s an improvement to the tears she had fought back at seeing her little brother’s smile in her thoughts.

Izzy now realises why Alec and Jace mention him so infrequently.

Because it hurts too much.

It was like sticking a knife between her ribs, taking it out to give her time to heal, and then plunging it back in; even further.

When she walks out of the bathroom, she is glad to see Simon sitting on the edge of the bed with his shoes on and his smile off. She can’t deal with distractions right now.

Izzy shrugs on her jacket – a deep purple leather one with altered straps inside for small knives – and sighs. She makes sure the safety is on her gun - and the silencer - before shoving it inside her jacket.

She grabs the room key and looks at Simon. “Let’s go.”

~

Two days ago

“Mr. Morgenstern requests your presence. Immediately.”

“Which one?” Jace can’t help but retort.

Hodge’s expression darkens. “Both.”

Beside him, Clary tenses, but manages to smile back at the right-hand man of Valentine. “Thank you, Hodge. We will be there right away.”

As he disappears around the corner, Clary blinks once, then twice in Jace’s direction. She taps her left ear, and then holds up three fingers against her thigh.

The coded question is clear: do you think he know?

He brushes over his left eyebrow, and then sighs. Answer: likely yes.

Their hands reach for each other then, and they lock them tightly together; creating a little cage of safety. Even for a moment, standing in the hallway of one of the Morgenstern’s underground dens, Jace smiles at Clary, and she smiles back.

He taps her wrist, the touch warm. Clary savours it, replaying it in her mind and clinging tightly to the sensation of love. Of tenderness and hope. It might be the last one she ever experiences.

Jace’s touch needs no more words. This time, the message is one that flows into both of their hearts and eases their fears.

Together.

Knowing how many cameras and guards are watching, Clary mentally checks the time it will take to withdraw her gun, and the small knives she has hidden in her boots. Too long.

They don’t have an exit strategy, or a fight plan, and so, knowing that it’s the last steps they may walk, Jace and Clary make their way towards Valentine’s main room.

~

Present

Forte Green Park is far too open for Alec to relax and enjoy the sunshine.

The large stretch of greenery is full of joggers and dog walkers, oblivious to the Cup stashed carelessly up a tree somewhere in this very same park.

A thousand awful scenarios cross Alec’s mind. It could’ve been stolen by a group of dumb kids, and taken home to be played with as if it was a movie prop. It could be the new dog chew toy of an overexcited Dalmatian.

Magnus takes him down a long pathway, trees on either side. Some are tall oaks, whereas others are smaller and easy to climb. Alec wonders which would be the smartest to throw the Cup into, and then realises that absolutely none are appropriate to hide a million dollar object.

But Magnus hadn’t been trying to hide it, Alec reminds himself. He was getting rid of it.

“I remember seeing the flag that night, and having a wonderful moment of patriotic pride.” Magnus muses, partially to himself. He’s been doing this as they’ve walked around the park; thinking out loud and trying to remember. Alec wants to shake him and yell at him to hurry up, but he’s sure that would only make things worse.

They finally see the flag, on a long, tall pole, and beside it is a large, circular monument which Alec vaguely recalls being in memory of ship victims in one of the wars.

He feels a little guilty for not remembering, and even more so when Magnus quietly says, “Did you know over eleven thousand people are buried in the vaults below that?”

Alec stays silent, not wanting to reveal his ignorance.

“You were more likely to die as a prisoner, than in the war.” Magnus continues. His tone has lost all of its playful thinking. “But the victims go unremembered. It’s the way of life, Alexander. We remember and celebrate the victors, and bury our losses too far for anyone to remember them. Their lives became just another broken body. Which is why, you should always fight for the battles you choose. Not the ones that people force you into.”

Magnus turns to watch Alec as he says this, and Alec shuffles on his feet. He finally looks up and asks, “You risked your life for the Cup. To steal from Valentine. Why?”

“I told you. That’s personal.” Magnus turns away, but Alec sees the shift in his eyes. His expression was one of raw agony before he’d looked away, and Alec wants to know even more the reason why Magnus, someone who is clearly very well trained and respected, would take something so personally.

The area around them seems to triple in size, and Alec realises that they’re standing out in the open, talking like they have all the time in the world.

Alec squares his shoulders. “Let’s find the Cup and finish this then.”

“Let’s.” Magnus says, his voice cool and distant.

He doesn’t say another word, and walks into a small collection of cherry trees. Their pink blossoms are bright and dazzling, and Alec blinks against the sudden bursts of colour in the otherwise cloudy day. Izzy and Simon are waiting in the carpark, with – hopefully – a new car that The Clave has left there. They agreed that travelling the last hour together was a sensible idea, and even Magnus had nodded without adding an infuriating remark.

Alec hid in the cover of a cherry tree as he watched Magnus, surveying the large area to the best of his abilities. He was even tenser when he could spot no obvious signs of any undercover agents or tails. The joggers that passed were either shirtless or in tight-fitting clothes, with no room for weapons, and the dog walkers were mainly elderly people, or kids playing together.

“Alexander, may I borrow your delightful hands?”

“W-what? To do what?”

Magnus snorts, and waves a hand from underneath one of the largest cherry trees. “Just come over here.”

Gathering up his nerve, Alec steps under the tree. Shadows fall across his face, but the sun still falls through the pink blossoms and halos Magnus’ face in a pale glow.

As he tilts his head up, gazing at the tree, Magnus smirks. “Found it.”

“Found what?” Alec asks, still staring at the light hitting Magnus’ jaw. It flickers and shimmers like water, touching the man’s upper lip as he smiles. And then he turns his head to Alec, and the light in Magnus’ eyes hits Alec like electricity. He looks like an angel with a devil’s smile; his smile soft, but his eyes filled with danger and adventure.

“Your sister is really hot.” Magnus says, loudly.

Alec blinks. “Excuse me?” He steps back and folds his arms across his chest.

Magnus doesn’t lose his smile. In fact, it widens. “Just checking you were listening.” He says evenly. He points to Alec’s hands. “Give me a boost?”

Alec blinks again. It takes a moment for his brain to kick back into full gear. Magnus keeps doing that, he realises; throwing him off guard. But if Alec is honest with himself – which he rarely is – he’d admit that it’s a welcoming feeling.

But he doesn’t.

He hunches over and makes a hold for Magnus to step into. He places an arm on Alec’s shoulder to steady himself, before placing one foot in his hands, and the other on the first, low branch. He’s climbing quietly for a few moments until he sighs.

Alec is instantly alert. “Is it gone?”

“No, it’s just on the highest branch. And lodged really tight. Damn my awesome throwing skills.”

He doesn’t focus too long on the knowledge that the precious Cup is stuck in a cherry tree, or that the assassin who put it there is climbing with such grace that Alec can’t seem to look away. He glances away just as Magnus places his foot on the next branch, his pants pulling tight against his ass as he stretches.

Alec surveys the park again, ignoring the grunts and groans coming from up the tree. The passers-by who walk past them occasionally stare, and Alec forces himself to appear normal. And that it’s a totally ordinary thing to be an agent waiting for an assassin to rescue a goblet from a cherry tree.

And to be checking out said assassin’s ass.

Then, Magnus puts together a string of such impressive curses that Alec has to bite back a grin. He rubs the back of his neck and waits. Shortly afterwards, Magnus descends the tree quickly and lands on the ground in a crouch, almost like a cat. In his hands is an ornate cup with glistening jewels and a crystal-encircled rim.

’Having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immortality’.” Magnus quotes. He offers the cup to Alec. “One pesky cup coming right up!”

Alec takes it from him and quickly places it inside the messenger bag Izzy handed him earlier. He clutches the bag over his shoulder, suddenly feeling its weight like a thousand gravestones.

He then frowns at Magnus. “Did you just quote the bible to me?”

“Yep. Revelations. Are you a good church boy then, Alec?”

“I respect all religions.” Alec says carefully. He can’t help but ask, “Wasn’t that verse about a prostitute?”

The idea that Magnus was calling himself, or Alec, a biblical hooker is an incredibly unsettling one.

And then Magnus laughs, shaking his head softly. “Yes, it is. Ever the surprise, Alexander. But I only meant that the Cup is a troublesome bugger that has caused me more pain than good. And for you too, I imagine.”

Alec can’t help but smile in agreement as they take the long path back up to the car park. All around them, the park dazzles in greens and orange leaves and cherry trees. The colour forces Alec’s anxieties to weaken. As they walk, side by side, he can’t stop thinking about the bible’s passage.

Another line of Revelation 17 enters his thoughts;

They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 

He doesn’t want to know why this strikes him as relatable. He doesn’t want to think about the power of The Clave, and how easily they could cast him away from his family.

He also wonders if the fire is a bad thing. All his life, The Clave, and his parents, have raised him to think logically and follow the rules. To choose his head over his heart, always.

But compassion is an admirable quality too, is it not? He thinks. Loyalty can come from freedom. Strength can come from vulnerability.

He jumps with a start when Magnus loops his arm through his. He fits his chin on top of Alec’s shoulder and laughs, unnecessarily loudly.

He’s about to pull away when Magnus leans in and whispers, “Tail at 3 o’clock ahead. Behind the oak tree.” He whispers. His breath hits Alec’s collar bone and he shivers. “I can’t see a gun but they might jump us. And not in the fun way.”

Alec nods, forcing himself to relax and smile fondly at Magnus. Two can play this game. He leans his head down a little. He swears he hears Magnus’ breath suddenly catch but he doesn’t say anything else.

“How fast can you run, Magnus?” He asks.

“15 miles per hour. Maybe a little more if one was being fired at.”

“One might be.” Alec says, his eyes briefly glancing at the two men behind the oak tree. They have two guns each, and are less likely to be afraid of collateral damage as Alec is. The tree is coming further and further into view, and he sees the men tense; ready to jump out at them.

Alec smiles at Magnus again, keeping his voice quiet as he says, “Get ready, and on my signal, run like hell and get the Cup to Izzy, you hear me?”

“What? What are you going to do-“

“Shh.” Alec hushes him quickly. “You’re faster than me.” He explains. “So you get the Cup away, and I’ll hold them off.” He has his hand around the bag strap, ready to pass it to Magnus when the moment is right. Magnus’ arm is around his waist, and for a second he forgets that this isn’t because they’re feigning ignorance of the two men. He pretends they’re just walking through a park.

“On your own?”

“I think I can take them.”

Magnus’ hand tenses around his waist. “You think?”

“Stop repeating things!” Alec grits his teeth together. “Yes, I think.” Adrenaline begins to slowly trickle into his blood; ready. The tree is a few feet away, and the men nod to each other; also ready.

Magnus opens his mouth to protest.

“No. You have to get the Cup, and yourself, away.”

Magnus is silent. He swallows, inclining his head in a subtle nod. He doesn’t speak, but Alec feels his fingers close around the bag strap.

When the tree is a feet away to their right, they explode into action.

Magnus transfers the bag onto his shoulder so quickly that Alec stumbles, but he uses the momentum to shove Magnus forwards; urging him to run. He doesn’t look back, and Alec is pleased. One less thing for him to worry about.

He ducks into a roll just as the two men step out from the tree; guns aiming at where they thought Magnus and Alec would be ignorantly strolling along the path. Their cover has brought them valuable seconds, as the two men hesitate when they see Magnus already halfway down the path – holy shit, the man could run – and Alec lunging at them both. He knocks them to the ground and in one quick, precise movement, shoves the heel of his hand into one of his attacker’s foreheads.

It slams to the ground with little resistance, and his body goes limp beneath him.

One down, one to go.

He doesn’t have time to mentally thank Jace for his little pressure point lesson last month. The second man is taller, and a lot larger than Alec; with large arms and a very fierce scowl that puts Alec’s own to shame. A small slither of skin above his collar bone reveals the black tattoo of Valentine’s mark.

Alec holds up his fists, ready. They’re too close to pull out their guns, so he’s going to have to put him down with hand to hand combat. Alec hides a wince. There’s a reason why he asked Jace for extra training, and it’s not just because he loves his friend’s company.

When the man swings a fist at his jaw, Alec grabs it. He ignores the jarring pain of his shoulder as it protests against the pressure and quickly launches a fist into the man’s stomach; sending him reeling back. It’s just for a moment, but it gives Alec the time to roll out his aching shoulder and place a firm front kick into the man’s chest. He stumbles back, landing on his knees.

Alec does a very stupid thing then. He hesitates. Instead of kicking another blow, or swinging his fist across the man’s jaw, he pauses for breath. In that time, the man quickly lunges forwards and closes around Alec’s legs; sending him sprawling to the floor with his attacker now pinning him down onto the pathway.

Alec struggles, and quickly angles his head sharply to the left. The man’s fist lands angrily into a now-bare spot on the pathway, but he still has Alec completely helpless beneath him. His legs are pinned down painfully.

The man lifts his chin.

Alec closes his eyes, bracing himself for the cracking of his nose and the pouring of blood. He waits. He waits for the man to head-butt him with painful accuracy. He waits to feel the blackness and the swimming sensation of falling unconscious.

But it doesn’t come.

A groan suddenly echoes, and then Alec hears the sound of a body collapsing to the ground beside him. The pressure on his legs eases up, and the only thing pouring from his skin is sweat and fear.

Alec inhales sharply, the breath refilling his lungs. He coughs as the cool air hits him sharply.

With a groan, he pushes himself up onto his elbows and forces his eyes to peel open.

“And people say I’m dramatic. That was spectacular, Alexander.”

Still catching his breath, Alec gazes up at Magnus; who is happily swinging his pink gun around his forefinger. Alec realises the thud must’ve come from the sound of the gun’s handle against the man’s head.

He’s trying hard to regain his breath, but looking at Magnus really isn’t making it any easier. The way he stands, looming over him, could so easily be threatening. Magnus is holding a gun; Alec is on the ground and breathless. Magnus is quicker; Alec is in no position to flee.

And yet, all Alec wants to do is smile up at him, both in gratitude and respect.

“You came back.” He says.

A flicker of hurt crosses Magnus’ features, but he quickly smooths it away. “Don’t sound so surprised. I’m not a complete asshole.”

“N-no, I didn’t mean…” Alec winces as his chest protests against movement. Still, he forces himself to climb to his feet and looks Magnus straight in the eye. “Thank you.”

The words have a surprisingly strong effect on Magnus. He stops swinging his gun around and drops it to his side. His eyes widen, as though it’s been so long since he heard something as simple as a thank you. His smile is small, but it’s the most genuine one he’s seen yet from the assassin.

“You’re welcome, Alec.” Magnus nods. “Now, let’s get that Cup out of here before any other bastards come after us.”

Us.

Alec thinks about that word as they hurry towards the parking lot. Us. As in, having a partner or a team, or being a part of something. Alec enjoys the way the word feels hovering on his tongue. It tastes like honey and spice; sweet and a little bit secret.

He also realises that Magnus has the Cup still in the bag, and he’s not at all worried that Magnus might run off with it. Knowing that Magnus came back to help him, even though he’s done nothing but treat Magnus like a job, makes Alec’s shoulder slump with guilt.

He can’t meet Magnus’ eyes for the rest of the journey.

~

As they cross Brooklyn Bridge, Magnus waits for the inevitable.

When it doesn’t come, he tenses. Really, he’d been waiting for it; for Isabelle or Alec to inject him with something, or to knock him out with a careful hit. When it doesn’t come, and he’s left in the backseat with a chatty Simon, Magnus doesn’t know what to think.

He remembers the look of surprise and gratitude on Alec’s face as he gazed down at him in the park. He’d looked so shocked that Magnus had returned to help.

Or perhaps, Magnus argues, he was just worried about the Cup still being out in the open.

But Magnus likes to think he has good people skills, and he can read others quite well. Alec was definitely surprised to see him, but also pleased, and that pleased Magnus a lot more than it should’ve done.

Which is why he’s unsure now. They made a deal to exchange the Cup for his protection, but they had the Cup now, and Magnus was a loose end waiting to be tied up. And he feared that the tie was going to be a swift bullet to his temple.

“The Clave would like us to take you back with the Cup.”

Alec.” Izzy gasps. Her expression turns anxious, and then conflicted. She says nothing else, but Magnus feels her anxiety burning like a fire around her.

He keeps very, very still and asks, “Why?”

“I don’t know.” Alec says.

Magnus believes him. He’s not sure why, but when Alec looks at him through the mirror, Magnus reads it as the truth. His hazel eyes are oddly focused for someone who – judging by Izzy’s surprise – just revealed something they weren’t supposed to.

“And if I choose not to come in?” Magnus keeps his voice very calm. One wrong word could send this whole thing into a chaotic mess. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone in this car, let alone draw a weapon on them.

How quickly things change, he thinks, unhelpfully.

He watches as Alec chews his lip thoughtfully. When he answers, it’s just as careful as Magnus’ words. “You’re faster than me, remember? You could easily outrun me. And Izzy was watching Simon, and we thought The Clave would again want us to prioritise the Cup over one simple assassin.”

Alec quickly glances at him, and Magnus knows that he’s explaining the plan, not expressing an insult. He nods for Alec to carry on.

“This car is untraceable. Take it, and go. Get as far as you can. That’s all I can do for you.”

“I see.”

Magnus considers this, listening to the gentle sound of light rain hitting the car windows. It pleases him; the steady rhythm of the water against the glass. He thinks some more. What if The Clave have an offer that’s better than running away to England and always having to look behind his shoulder?

Of course he has to consider the opposite.

What if this is some twisted double bluff to bring him in and kill him?

His losses threaten to unfurl like a pack of cards; spilling across his mind. Hearts for the heartbreaks he’s somehow lived through. Diamonds for the wealth that has never quite satisfied him. Spades for those departed from his life, but never his heart.

And clubs? He looks at Alec and holds his gaze for a moment.

Clubs, Magnus decides; a weapon, and a clover.

Something that could be sharpened into danger, or unfurl into something rare and precious.

Clubs and clovers; fight or run.

Izzy speaks then. “Magnus, we can’t guarantee your safety either way.” She sounds apologetic, which also surprises him. Her voice softens. “But…I’m with Alec. If you want to run, we’ll let you.”

“Me too.” Simon chimes in. He shrugs. “Not that I have any idea what you’ve done. But I think you’re a good person.”

Magnus looks to his right, at where Simon is sitting, and smiles. The boy has been a bundle of nerves – and quite rightly so – since the Lodge, but today he seems calmer, and Magnus finds it easy to say, “Thank you, Simon.”

“No problem, Mags.”

Magnus narrows his eyes. “Come again?”

The laugh that comes from Simon is nervous. He winces when he sees Magnus’ expression. “I was trying the cutesty nickname thing. Ha. Ignore me.”

Magnus can’t believe his life has come to this; to an awkward boy calling him a nickname as he contemplates running from a moving car.

He looks out of the window, at the busy city passing them by. The colours rush into his eyes, and he can taste the excitement and the passion from those living and loving and daring to push themselves.

He thinks of what he wants out of life, and finds himself coming up short.

When he stole the Cup on a whim, all Magnus had thought about was his heartache. The pain of losing his friend swept him into an aching fury. But now, sitting in the backseat of a car, surrounded by people who should be enemies, all Magnus wanted to do was stay exactly where he was.

Even if he was heading towards The Clave, and the Lightwoods who had started his reckless path, Magnus felt something stirring in his blood. A purpose. A new beginning out of the pain and loneliness of his past.

So, he looks straight at the back of Alec’s head and say, “Take me to The Clave.”

After all, what else did he have to lose?

So when Alec leans back a few minutes later with a blindfold, Magnus allows him to reach around his neck and tie it.

“What, no sassy comment?” He hears Alec ask.

The soft material tickles Magnus’ eyelids, and although he’s cut off from one of his senses, he swears he can feel Alec’s smile inches from his.

“Would that help you relax, Alexander?” He asks quietly.

“I don’t know.” Alec murmurs. “You could try…”

Magnus is glad for the blindfold then. He’s pretty sure his eyes would’ve been bulging out of their sockets in shock.

Is Alec…flirting with him?

His voice had certainly had a teasing edge to it.

Magnus doesn’t risk replying. There’s already too much rushing into his mind. He doesn’t need to add a possible flirtation to the list of things he needs to focus on.

And certainly not a flirtation with an agent of The Clave.

Instead, he leans back in the seat and waits until the sound of creaking leather tells him that Alec is sitting back down in the passenger seat.

Magnus counts the minutes; making sure he knows just how far they travel after the Brooklyn Bridge. He still needs to keep in mind that shit could go from zero to real very quickly.

The blindfold tells him one thing though: that The Clave, and the Lightwoods, definitely want Magnus to safely get to wherever they’re taking him.

What he doesn’t know is if he’ll make it out.

Chapter Text

Magnus remembers everything he’s been taught – and self-taught – to focus on when entering somewhere blindfolded.

He counts the steps he walks, and the sounds he hears; listening for any recognisable sounds like market stall cries, or the business of Time’s square. He concentrates on any familiar smells such as bakeries that only appear on certain street.

He figures out that they’re driving into the Upper East Side after they drive for another ten minutes past Times Square. It’s a guess, but one that makes sense. There are lots of tall buildings for The Clave to blend into, and lots of space to work inside. The Clave might be government-approved, but they're not public. Not at all. And Magnus can't exactly imagine them wanting to advertise jobs on billboards. 

When they slow to a stop, Magnus waits. He holds very still as his door is pulled open.

A hand touches his forearm, the fingers spreading across his muscles and gripping very lightly. “Magnus, it’s me.” Alec murmurs. “We’re here. I just…need to guide you. I-if that’s okay?”

Do I have a choice? Magnus wants to bite back. But he can’t bring himself to snap at Alec in that moment.

Parts of Magnus are afraid. His brain tells him to tear off the blindfold and slip into the secret spaces of the streets.

But, as always, Magnus’ heart wins out.

So he steps out of the door, guided by Alec’s hand on his shoulder, and waits. The desperation to believe in people’s goodness has been his downfall in the past, but Magnus can’t help himself. He’s succumbed himself to a lifetime of following his heart, even if it breaks over and over again.

He’s been tormented by loss, beaten, scarred, laughed at and hated, but Magnus could never flip the off switch to his heart. Too much of his mother’s kindness, and his own compassion, lies within. To root it out would be to destroy everything about himself. And despite the front he puts on, Magnus does care about himself.

He realises then that loneliness and confidence go hand in hand.

He also trips as the ground sinks slightly.

“Uh, steps.” Alec mumbles.

Magnus snorts. “Thank you, Alec.”

He hears Izzy laugh, the sound coming from a few feet away. The shuffling of feet must be coming from Simon, who he realises is also having to meet the dreaded Clave.

There’s a reason Magnus never wanted to tie himself to The Clave, and it’s because their so-called honour and justice is extremely limited and unreliable. They’re very quick to judge, and very quick to cover up their mistakes too; two things Magnus hates.

He wonders how Alec and Izzy have managed to stay as likeable as they are, but then Magnus reminds himself that he’s not known them very long at all. He should probably keep reminding himself of that otherwise he’s going to place trust in the wrong people.

So as he steps down at least a dozen stairs, and voices begin to echo, Magnus realises they’re on either the bottom floor, or the underground floor, of The Clave's New York Institute; run by Maryse and Robert Lightwood. Alec’s hands are steady on his shoulders, but Magnus hears his breathes start to get a bit sharper and louder.

What does he have to be anxious about? Magnus wonders.

And then he remembers how Izzy had been so shocked at Alec in the car, and wonders; did Alec risk something by telling him The Clave’s instructions? Knowing The Clave, they likely demanded rather than asked for Magnus to be brought in, so Magnus begins to realise that Alec and Izzy’s offer was a lot more than a simple plan change.

They would defy their orders for me?

Alec’s hand on his shoulder suddenly feels a lot less threatening, and a lot more protective.

When they come to a stop, and Magnus feels the glass floor beneath his feet and the whirring of machinery, Magnus guesses that they’re in the centre of the Institute. He’s likely being watched by guards and agents alike; all stopping in their work to stare at the blindfolded assassin they’ve heard so much about.

But Magnus has never been bothered by the stares of others.

At least, that’s what he tells himself. Anything else is too upsetting to linger on.

A sharp clicking of heels – authorities and powerful – overthrows the quiet buzzing of computers and whispers. Magnus feels cold all of a sudden. He focuses on Alec’s hand holding him in place, and the certainty that Isabelle is also here. Even Simon’s jokes would be welcome now, he thinks.

“Magnus Bane.” A steely-voiced woman says. “Welcome to the New York Institute.”

Her welcome is anything but warm, and Magnus is tempted to ask her to work on her public speaking skills.

But then her next words strike him into a pained silence.

“I am the Head of this Institute. Maryse Lightwood. We have something to discuss with you.”

The cold feeling spreads. It coats Magnus in ice and the painful numbness of staying outside without a scarf. He’s glad that he’s blindfolded because if he looks at Maryse right now, he might just get the urge to deck her right in the face.

His fists clench. They harden and itch to move, but he keeps them by his sides. Temptingly, his knuckles beg to collide with a nose, or gut, but Magnus uses whatever self-control he can muster to stay quiet and wait.

“Alec, Isabelle.” Maryse greets them coolly, which doesn’t surprise Magnus in the slightest. “You will take our…guest, to the conference room. But first, Isabelle, do you think you can handle briefing Mr. Lewis on the citizen confidentiality agreement? Without him escaping? Or do you need help?” Her tone is laced with scorn, and Magnus hates that her own mother is belittling Izzy so rudely.

He hears Izzy clear her throat and mumble, “I can do it. Come with me, Simon.”

Two pairs of shoes echo across the floor, walking off to the right. Magnus strains his ears and hears them enter a door a few feet away; leaving him alone with Maryse, Alec, and likely many other agents in the Institute’s hub.

“Alec, The Clave is waiting for you both. I will meet you inside in a moment. I need to find your father as well.”

Her heels click on the floor as she leaves them.

Magnus pauses to take in the information. If The Clave want to speak to him, Alec, and both Heads of the Institute, then perhaps this is something bigger than his stupid actions. Perhaps this isn’t a simple execution of an assassin who threw himself in the deep end.

Alec seems to be thinking the same. “What’s going on?” He mutters, under his breath.  

Magnus stays silent, wondering if he hadn’t meant to speak.

He’s about to clear his throat and speak up when Alec taps his shoulder and gives him a little nudge. “Uh, this way. Please.”

As they walk up another small set of stairs, Alec guides him slowly and carefully; never once rushing him or letting him put a foot wrong. When they reach the top, Alec hesitates. He can feel the tension in the air, and despite the blackness of the blindfold, Magnus can envision the burning hazel of Alec’s eyes watching him.

“I don’t know what they want with you, Magnus. I promise…I-I don’t know.”

“It’s quite all right.”

“No, it’s not.” He hears Alec sigh in frustration, lowering his voice. “The Clave have the Cup, for whatever reason, but whatever they want with you can’t be good.”

“For who?”

“For you.”

Magnus doesn’t react. Why is Alec looking out for him? Or at the very least, telling him to look out for himself? Does he feel like he owes him something for the save in the park? It’s a very un-Lightwood thing to do and Magnus doesn’t know how to take Alec’s words.

Fortunately, they’re not given much more time, as he hears a door swing open and a loud voice say, “This way, sir. The Inquisitor herself is here on The Clave’s behalf.”

The way that Alec’s shoulder tightens tells Magnus all he needs to know about this Inquisitor person. Whoever they are, they’re powerful enough to frighten Alec. It also tells Magnus that he was right earlier; that whatever is happening is bigger than his heartbreak and stupid behaviour.

The Clave need something from him, and as he’s led into another room, Magnus hates not knowing who his allies are against such a powerful body of law.

“Bring him in.”

~

As he leads Magnus into the conference room, Alec can’t help but grimace. He’s expected to carry out orders - and usually he’s fine with this – but he can’t help but feel involved in something that’s going to cause a lot of damage.

He can’t help but touch Magnus’ shoulder and feel like he’s going to shatter more than the bone.

He’s only known Magnus a few days now, but he’s spent enough time with the assassin to figure out that there’s a lot beyond the surface layer of his smirks and jokes and carefree attitude.

And Alec knows how different The Clave is. The logic, headstrong, law-driven government will not treat an independent, cocky assassin with any respect at all. Their prejudices will blind them against seeing Magnus as anything other than expendable.

Because didn’t his? Until now, Alec has still been seeing Magnus as someone more different to him than similar. As someone he will soon part from and never look back on. He will be a tiny, strange colour insert into his dull life story.

But as soon as he steps into the meeting room, and is greeted with the stern faces of many agents and Clave envoys, Alec knows that they’re going to be deciding something very important in this room. And he’s leading Magnus into a room where he can’t rely on anyone else. Not even Alec.

As much as he wants to do otherwise, Alec knows where his head lies, and he can quickly feel himself falling back into the easy, familiar pattern of obeying orders.

At the front of the room stood two chairs; one empty, one already filled. The older woman is wearing a stern expression, and greets him with a brief nod before waving him on upwards. Her eyes narrows as she looks at Magnus, her lips pressed together.

The Inquisitor.

Jace always says the role of the inquisitor is to scowl, and he's not wrong. Although they mainly oversee trials, Alec has never known someone to look so stern. Not even his mother could match this woman's death stare. 

Alec quickly inclines his head respectfully, and then leads Magnus up onto the stand and nudges for him to sit down on the large, wooden seat beside the woman. Its high back is curved like a throne, and Alec admires how Magnus keeps his chin tilted up. He isn't letting them known a single damn thing about what he's feeling, and Alec hides his smile.

Despite being blinded completely, he feels like Magnus can see more than he can.

Slowly, Alec leans forwards, his elbow brushing Magnus’ chin, and unties the knot of the blindfold. The velvet falls from Magnus’ face like a curtain, revealing the soft expression that quickly turns tense as soon as he looks around the room.

Alec hastily steps back and stands in-front of the Inquisitor with his arms behind his back. He angles his body slightly, so that The Clave’s envoys and other agents are less hidden from view. Around the table, they sit waiting. Alec spots his parents at the head of the table; the only two agents who are standing as well.

All eyes are on The Inquisitor, and Magnus.

Alec fights the urge to fidget. He closes his shaking hands into fists, pressing them into the belt of his pants behind his back. He focuses on the cool bite of the leather and holds his breath.

The Inquisitor’s commanding voice breaks the silence. “I have gathered you here today to discuss something very important. A problem has arisen, and it is one that The Clave want dealt with as swiftly, and as efficiently as possible.”

Alec wants to frown, but forces his expression to stay neutral. What other problems are there, other than Magnus? He glances towards the man, and finds him staring straight down at his parents with a fierce look. It’s a livid, hot-white anger, and it shocks Alec to see such a fierce hatred on Magnus’ face.

Did Magnus really hate Clave agents so much? Did Magnus really hate him so much?

“Maryse Lightwood. Please come to the front.”

Alec watches in surprise as his mother joins him, her head held high as usual. But there’s a brief moment of worry in her eyes, and that frightens him more than her usual scowl.

“Madam Inquisitor.” Maryse greets.

The woman nods, and then gestures with an open hand. “Would you please relay the information you received yesterday to the room?”

Yesterday? Alec swallows a nervous gulp. Was this meeting about his incompetence in killing Magnus and causing a mess of the Cup’s retrieval? He fought back the apologetic pleas and waited for his mother to speak.

“Yesterday marked the 24 hour period in which we have not been able to make contact with two of our agents.”

Guiltily, Alec’s shoulders relax.

This isn’t to do with punishing him, or more importantly, Isabelle. He looks around for his sister then, and finds her sitting halfway down the table. She looks pale and frightened, and he raises an eyebrow.

What do the two agents have to do with them? Alec wonders why Izzy looks so afraid.

And then his mother sends a shockwave to his system.

“Agents Jace Wayland and Clary Fairchild have likely had their undercover operation found out by Valentine Morgenstern.”

The words tear a violent hole into Alec’s heart.

He hears the words echo in a blur of static and sharp whistles. They claw into his stomach, spilling out in a bloody mess of fear and anxiety and shock. He can't breathe. Air swims all around, but he can't make his lungs work. 

Alec feels his legs give way, and he stumbles back into the boardroom table. He clutches it with shaking hands to stop himself from falling to the floor in a trembling mess.

Jace, he thinks.

Jace, he prays.

He can’t be he can’t be he can’t be he can’t be-

Alec presses a flat palm to his chest, quite sure that his heart is seconds from flickering out and fading. He tries to focus. He really tries, but the room is tipping and swaying, and all he can see is Jace’s smile in his mind.

Blood splatters across his friend’s face, and Alec can’t stop imagining the way his best friend’s body would look under white sheets. How it would feel to place flowers on a bodiless grave.

He can’t lose Jace. He can’t.

He can’t have lost his best friend; his partner; his brother.

He’s already lost one brother, he’ll be forever broken if he loses the other one.

“Alec.” His mother’s face appears in his vision then, and she grips him so tightly that he winces from the pain. She pulls him away from the table, and for a second, Alec is sure she’s going to slap him into focus. But she doesn’t. What she does do is dig her fingers into the sensitive flesh just above his collar bone.

The pain screams into his mind, and Alec quickly finds the floor beneath his feet, and the ceiling no longer looks ready to cave in. His mind becomes a blank, white, colourless vision. He doesn’t let himself feel anything else. He closes off everything and shoves it behind one, giant wall. Just like his mother has taught him.

Alec hastily wipes away the single tear that betrayed him.

He then realises that Izzy is also beside him, and she’s holding his other arm. Unlike their mother, Izzy’s touch is soothing and sympathetic, and he pushes her strength into his heart; restarting it again.

“Can we continue?” The Inquisitor cuts in. Her expression is unapologetic, and her eyes are narrowed into slits. “We will have time to sit around and worry later. For now, would you please continue?”

She nods to Maryse, who turns her back on Alec and carries on.

“During this time, two of our agents retrieved the Cup, and Magnus Bane, the man currently being hunted by Morgenstern’s men. We have been led to believe that Valentine wants the Cup in exchange for the two agents; unharmed and alive.”

Alec looks up at this, still holding onto Izzy. He’s less shaken now, but the reminder that they’re surrounded by Clave agents and important figures sharpens Alec’s fears into concentration. He furrows his brow, focusing.

The Inquisitor finally acknowledges Magnus’ presence with a quick glance. “Magnus Bane. The Clave would like to present you with a proposal." She declares. "One that will make you very well respected in the eyes of The Clave. Something you strongly lack in currently, given your recent…escapade.”

“All due respect, but I don’t care much for The Clave’s opinion of me.” Magnus says sharply. For a moment, he looks to Alec and his eyes widen. He looks down, and a slight pink colours his cheeks.

Is Magnus ashamed to see Alec as an agent?

The thought hits Alec with surprising pain, as though he really doesn’t like the idea of Magnus hating him for his job. But why wouldn’t he? After all, The Clave are clearly only keeping him alive because they have use of him. Why wouldn’t Alec treat him any differently?

The Inquisitor doesn’t snap at Magnus. Instead, she turns and voices her question to Maryse. “Can you repeat the message we received?”

Maryse nods. “The trackers we gave our agents were found outside the Institute with an attached note. The note said that Valentine Morgenstern has Jace Wayland and Clary Fairchild, and is willing to exchange them for the Cup, and for Magnus Bane. His official mark proves the legitimacy of the claim.”

“Then give him the Cup!” Izzy suddenly bursts out.

A few gasps come from the around the table. One person laughs, but it’s a dry, humourless sound.

The Inquisitor narrows her eyes on Isabelle. “Agent, you will do well to remember that the Cup has been a long lost item of The Clave’s. It was once the symbol of pride and legacy in our government. We do not intend to once again have it taken from us after we have only recently retrieved it. With your help, the Cup has been restored as a precious artefact to The Clave. We are not handing it back over again.”

“So you’re willing to let Jace and Clary die? To choose people over a cup?” Izzy sneers the word with such passion that even Maryse is stunned into silence.

She turns to the agents around the table and holds out her arms. “You would all agree to ignore the trade? To turn your backs on two agents who are not only loyal and well-respected, but have risked their lives to go undercover in the first place?”

A hushed silence falls over the table. The agents duck their heads, refusing to speak. Alec feels heat flame his cheeks, from anger this time. He understands Izzy’s rage. Jace and Clary are his friends. If he can’t risk himself for them, what is the point in preaching loyalty and betraying your family so easily?

But then Alec looks at Maryse, and the Inquisitor. He sees the legacy they expect him to continue.

“What is the proposition?” Magnus’ voice is an unexpected one, and all eyes in the room turn to stare up at the stage.

The Inquisitor pauses, and then replies, “We wish to stage an exchange. To pretend to offer both yourself and the Cup to Valentine by presenting you with a decoy goblet.”

Magnus’ jaw clenches in understanding. The movement is jarringly displeased. “But I won’t be a decoy, will I?”

Horror hits Alec with full force. He can feel his knees wanting to collapse again, but forces them to remain standing. 

Izzy gasps. “You want to use Magnus as bait? To lure Valentine in?”

“Do you wish to have the agents returned? To have your friends back, Isabelle Lightwood?" The Inquisitor raises her voice angrily. "Or do you wish us to value the life of a reckless assassin over two agents?”

Izzy’s eyes flicker with rage. “I’m asking you to value them all.”

“My dear, it’s quite alright.” Magnus holds up a hand just as Izzy opens her mouth again. He shifts slightly in his chair, crossing one leg over the other and resting his hands on his knees. “What happens afterwards? Will I be free to go?”

Alec gapes. He can’t actually be considering this.

He reminds himself that this is Jace; his best friend, and his brother in every other way. He reminds himself that if he had to, he’d easily choose Magnus over Jace.

Would you?

Alec hates that he's no longer sure what he wants. Why can't it be easy to say yes, of course he would sacrifice Magnus for Jace and Clary? Inside, he's burning up with anger, fear and sorrow, and the three are angry shades of red inside his mind. 

Guilt colours Alec’s cheeks. He looks away from Magnus and stares down into the floor, at the simple, logical lines in the carpet. It’s plain and makes sense and Alec focuses on it, rather than the clever assassin who he really doesn’t want to watch walk into Valentine’s trap.

Izzy was right. The Clave were willing to risk Magnus’ life, but not the Cup.

And did Alec really want to stay loyal to The Clave when it was a government that valued wealth and legacy over the lives of others apparently less important to them? Wasn’t justice supposed to protect those people? Was he not supposed to use his training to help, not to destroy lives?

The war within his head rages on as the meeting continues.

“What will happen to me afterwards? If I make it out, that is.” Magnus’ expression is distant, but the way he swallows tells Alec that he’s bravely putting on a front.

“You will be free to do as you please. As before.” The Inquisitor adds, a look of disapproval on her face.

Magnus’ eyes briefly land on Maryse, and once again, a flash of disgust twists his handsome face. It smooths over, again quickly, and he asks, “And if I say no?”

The silence that answers is deafening, and Alec wishes there was something he could say; some way he could convince Magnus that he would be safe. But if he helps Magnus, he’ll be condemning his friends to die at the hands of Valentine. The situation is awful, and he can't wrap his mind around what to do. Or say.

Beside him, Izzy’s hands tremble into fists. She’s breathing heavily as she asks, “So that’s it then? The Clave are all in agreement to send Magnus and a decoy Cup as an exchange?”

The Inquisitor gives a brief nod. “Yes. And you and Alec Lightwood will be expected to ensure that our assassin here is trained and prepared for different scenarios.”

Izzy shakes her head. “No.” She says, firmly. “If I cannot stop this, then I will not be a part of it.”

“You don’t want your friends rescued?” The Inquisitor asks coldly.

“I do. But I will not support risking another person’s life to do so.” She bites back, before turning and walking from the room without asking for a dismissal.

The look on Magnus’ face is torn between surprise and affection. As he watches Isabelle walk away, Magnus almost smiles. The corners of his lips tug upwards, until he looks up and remembers. Remembers that his life has just been thrust into their hands.

Magnus meets his gaze then, and holds it. He studies him slowly, and Alec feels like he’s suddenly the one being put on trial. His feet are rooted to the floor, surprisingly grounded considering how shocked and fearful he felt before. But there’s something in Magnus’ eyes that begs him to be invited inside. It was like a call that Alec didn’t even realise he could hear, until now.

As he watches him, Alec lets himself hope. He lets himself believe that they can work together to rescue Jace and Clary, and make sure that Magnus doesn’t sacrifice his life either.

Magnus inclines his head towards Maryse. “What time and place did the note give for the hostage exchange?”

“Next week. Friday. Nine pm.” Maryse tells him. “In the upper floors of a multi-story carpark.” There’s an unusual look on his mother’s face, and he can’t read it at all. It’s not quite anger, or happiness either, but it’s certainly surprised.

Magnus gracefully uncrosses his legs and stands, swaying his shoulder slightly. “Then why are we wasting time? Train me, wise ones.”

He stands like he’s agreed to perform at a concert; not offer his life in exchange for two strangers. His smile is lethally sharp as he dares Maryse to challenge his words. Because he’s just agreed to save two of their agents, and even Maryse herself can’t find any words of dismissal.

“Then it is settled.” The Inquisitor then turns her eyes to Alec. “You will assemble a small team to accompany Magnus Bane and the decoy Cup. You will comply with our instructions and prioritise the lives of our two agents. Is that clear?”

Alec nods, unable to do a whole lot else. Shock still threatens to send him falling to the ground, but he uses the time frame to remain calm. They have time. They will save Jace and Clary. Everything will return to normal soon.

He wishes it could be easy to dismiss Magnus’ life; the way that The Clave, and his parents, clearly have no qualms with doing. But he can’t. Alec may hide it behind his loyalty, but his heart isn’t quite as hidden away as he’d like to think it is.

Again, the fears for his friends’ lives reminds him that he should be thinking only of them. He should be wanting to save Jace even if it means sacrificing himself, or Magnus. He’d hand over the Cup right away if he was in charge.

But, Alec reminds himself, you’re not in charge. And that’s exactly why.

Ruling with your heart was the very reason Magnus had stolen the Cup in the first place. For whatever personal vendetta he had against Valentine, Magnus had struck at his pride to hurt him, and had ended up almost killed himself. Alec shook away the curiosity that had stuck with him for a while now; the question he wanted to ask Magnus, but was too afraid to ask again.

Would it make it easier knowing why Magnus had stolen the Cup? And even if he knew, what right did Alec have to make a judgement call for or against it? They were not friends.

But they were certainly not enemies anymore. Alec knew that for sure. And he also knew that he had a week to work out if he could trust Magnus Bane to help him rescue his best friend.

His heart began a war cry like no other, but Alec silenced it. Quickly. 

Whatever emotions were threatening to spill from him would have to wait. It was not the time, or the place, to be thinking about why Magnus Bane affected him so. 

Chapter Text

“So Jace is your-“

“Friend.”

“Ah. Is he cute?”

Alec ignores Magnus’ teasing grin and says, “No comment.”

Magnus chuckles. “So he is then.”

He suddenly lunges, knocking Alec to the floor in a second. His weight - made up of strong muscles and glistening, sweat-soaked skin -topples onto Alec, leaving him breathless in more ways than one.

Quickly Magnus reaches to pin his arms above his head, but Alec digs his elbows into the training mat and uses the momentum to spring back up and brings his knee up into Magnus’ stomach. A muffled groan escapes the man, and he gives Alec the second he needs to roll him over and place a palm to his exposed neck.

Alec traces the thin line of sweat against Magnus’ throat slowly, his chest heaving as he says, “You’re dead.”

The fact that he’s once again straddling Magnus doesn’t escape his imagination. Nor does the fact that’s his muscles are tense and sweaty. His shirtless form really shouldn’t be that much of a problem, but it’s stopping Alec from being as hand-sy as he’d normally be with Jace, Raj or any other agent.

It doesn’t help that Magnus keeps cocking his head in that way; like he’s eyeing Alec up for his next meal. It leaves a sharp ache in Alec’s stomach, and in other places he prays is less obviously affected by Magnus’ semi-naked body beneath his.

Thank god he’s wearing loose training pants.

Alec quickly rocks back on his heels, crouches, and offers Magnus a hand up. When he’s pulled him to his feet - and hastily dropped his hand before he can let the shivers spread – Alec sighs. “Again then.”

“This is pointless. You know I can fight just as well as you.”

“Then why can’t you render me defenceless?”

Magnus winks, opening his mouth to remark-

“No.” Alec warns. He holds up a hand. “None of your shit today, Bane. We have six days left before the exchange. I need you as focused as possible. Please.” He adds, hoping that Magnus can see how serious he is.

It was Maryse’s idea to have Alec test out Magnus’ hand to hand combat skills. He’s already proven that he can steal, and escape, but can he fight under pressure? Magnus is an assassin, not a long-term fighter, and although he’s clearly got the body for it, it’s clear he hasn’t been trained as well as Alec. At least, not in a precise method.

“What did you learn?” Alec asks, genuinely curious. “Boxing? Karate? Yoga?” He snorts to himself.

He thinks about Magnus stretching, his dark skin glistening with sweat and gloriously on show, and looks away.

“Yes, yes, and yes.” Magnus replies. He tilts his head to the left, and then the right, un-knotting the tension there. He sighs. “Look, I know I haven’t been taught to fight like you have. The Clave haven’t trained me year after year in drills. But, I can take care of myself.”

Trying hard not to fall back into retorting, Alec takes a few breathes and asks, “Why did you learn how to fight then?”

Magnus smiles, and it's a soft one. “To protect those I love, and to protect myself.”

“You don’t love yourself?”

Alec is astonished to think that Magnus wouldn't love himself. Not because of his confidence, but because Alec really can't think of a reason why someone would hate Magnus. As much as he's been frustrated by him, Alec could never look at Magnus and feel hatred. Whatever he felt before was a desire to stay focused on the mission. Now that they're not, he's beginning to realise how nice it is to feel...challenged. 

Magnus blinks, surprised by the abruptness of Alec’s question. “Most of the time I do.” He says, honestly. His green eyes flash with remorse for a moment, and Alec fears he’s awoken a painful memory for Magnus. The assassin steps back, his bare feet barely making a sound against the training mat. They’re in one of the gym rooms, and it’s in such late hours of the evening that no one else is around.

Magnus then glances up at him. “And you?” He asks quietly. “Do you value yourself, Alexander?”

Warmth radiates around him then, and he’s sure it’s not from the exercise.

Alec settles his feet into the mat and squats slightly, readying himself. He nods to Magnus. “Again.”

~

It’s been four days now, and Magnus wonders if he’s ever had this many bruises on his ass.

The Alec he’s pictured on-top of him is very different to the one who knocks him to the training mats every damn day. Although he’s careful not to break anything, Alec doesn’t treat him like glass. He isn’t breakable, and Alec isn’t afraid to remind him of that.

In a way, Magnus likes this.

He doesn’t feel weak to admit his methods of fighting are hasty and by instinct.

And each time Alec pins him down, or has his thighs – which Magnus has learned to both appreciate and fear – wrapped around his neck on the floor, Magnus learns something new. He learns to use the weight of his opponents against themselves. He learns to leave more distance between himself and others; and to carefully assess before diving into action.

Shamelessly, it also gives Magnus hours to check out Alec’s gorgeous chest, and to be held by the agent’s large hands. Their training sessions are a blur of dance and fight; ducks and hits and spins and kicks. Magnus is normally the first to strike, and although he often gets a lot of hits in, Alec is always the one who finishes it. He grounds himself in a way that cuts off his hesitation.

Alec’s personality seems to lose all of its shyness on the training floor. Whereas he’s usually more reserved, Magnus finds him commanding and confident as they fight. His hazel eyes grow stormy and even more beautiful in a post-fight victory, and his sweat-coated torso makes Magnus guiltily pleased that Jace Wayland is a shitty undercover agent.

Magnus reminds himself to thank the stranger if he ever meets him.

Thanks for giving me the excuse to touch up your best friend. Your beautifully-formed, muscular, tall, dark-haired god of a friend.

When he told Alec that he learnt how to fight to protect his loved ones, Magnus wasn’t lying. For some reason, he hated the idea of lying to Alec. He felt that The Clave was filled with corruption and half-truths, and he couldn’t bring himself to become a part of that.

Part of Magnus wanted to say more, to tell Alec a story about a young boy who threw himself into exercises and self-defence classes and trained himself in time to realise it was all too late. And that his mother was already lost to him. He wanted to tell Alec that the young boy had become a man who realised he could help protect others from dealing with the hell that had been his childhood.

But now wasn’t the time. Alec was so focused and worried about Jace.

It didn’t take a fool to see what Jace was to Alec, and Magnus had fought to hide his jealousy when Alec had no problems sharing memory after memory about his best friend. But then he smiled at seeing Alec so relaxed, and happy. Living under The Clave’s, and Maryse’s, sharp guidance must’ve left little room for personal enjoyments, but Jace, Izzy and Alec had clearly fought to maintain some normalcy.

After hearing a story about how Izzy had snuck them out to go bowling once, Magnus smiled in gratitude. He thanked Alec for telling the story, and the look of surprise on Alec’s face was startling.

“Why are you thanking me? You’re the one listening to me rant about my family.”

Trying to keep the conversation casual, Magnus hits the punch bag that Alec is holding tightly for him. He can feel sweat building up underneath his black tank top, but Magnus keeps hitting. He swings a couple more times and says, “It means something when you let someone listen to your stories. Stories are a big part of who we are, no matter how much we may try and hide them. If you have the gift of hearing one, you should always welcome it. And thank the person for sharing.”

He goes to hit the punch bag again, but quickly pauses mid-strike.

Alec’s grip on the bag has loosened as he stares at Magnus, his eyes slightly rounded. His chest heaves, the shirtless, bare form of him presenting itself to Magnus like an unholy temptation of dangerous thoughts. Thoughts about just where he'd like to run his tongue along- 

“What?” Magnus asks quickly, his thoughts jumbled. He swallows, unsure. Has he said something strange again? He thought they were building up the first steps of trust, but perhaps he should keep their training time strictly related to the rescue op.

“Nothing.” Alec scratches the back of his neck. His face is half-hidden by the punch bag, but a faint colour tints his cheeks a delicate rouge. “It’s just…you’re not what I expected.”

“For an assassin?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“That’s nice. I think.”

Footsteps mark the presences of two newcomers, who are chatting as they walk into the gym. They hesitate when they see Magnus and Alec, but after a quick nod from Alec, they enter and begin starting up the treadmills in the corner.

“They look to you.” Magnus suddenly says. He’d been thinking it for a day or two now, ever since Raj - one of the agents who would be working on the hostage mission with them – had spoken to Alec before Maryse, and Lydia - who was in fact one of The Clave’s envoys who lived in Chicago but was staying here to lend a hand – always looked to Alec during their daily meetings. In these meetings, they repeated the plan, and ran through any new ideas that agents wanted to offer up.

Alec blinks. “W-what?”

“Your co-workers. The other agents.”

“No. No. It’s not that. It’s just that we’ve all grown up together.” Alec explains. He holds the punch bag a little loosely, and it bumps his nose. He steps back, shakes his head, and then holds it more firmly. “We’ve been taught and trained together as agents. We all look to each other for support.”

“I see.” Magnus says carefully. But he knows what he saw. And what he saw was Alec’s friends and agents respecting him, and valuing his opinion. He wonders why Alec doesn’t let himself see this, or respect himself as much as he does everyone else.

“You could still get out of here you know.” Alec says, quietly. “You could leave. Why are you still helping us?”

Magnus lands the next punch angrily. “I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”

“Yes, you do.” Alec tells him. He lowers his voice, his fingers gripping tightly against the bag. “We haven’t known each other long, Magnus, but I don’t think anyone could force you to do anything. So why are you here?”

“Because I don’t have anything better to do, Alec.” Magnus quickly lies. He finishes the punching sequence and steps back, breathing heavily.

As Magnus regains his breath and stretches out his arms, Alec switches positions and binds his hands with support bandages. He waits patiently for Magnus to hold the bag, and when he does, he begins; his hits strong, but carefully aimed far away from Magnus’ face.

Magnus doesn’t speak anymore.

He can feel Alec’s frustration as he hits into the bag. Is he angry that he didn’t properly admit why he’d stayed? That Magnus didn’t confess that he’d rather give his life in exchange for two agents, despite never meeting them before in his life? Why would Alec believe in his compassion? He didn’t know Magnus’ past, or the reasons why he felt so compelled to help others and surrender to his heart.

All he needed to know was that Magnus was here, and he wasn’t going anywhere. That they were going to work together, save Jace and Clary, and then part for good.

And hopefully, as allies.

Friends? Magnus found himself hoping.

He hid that hope away in a safe spot in his mind.

In this line of work – both as an agent or an assassin – Magnus knew that being someone’s friend was dangerous. It was holding a trigger against someone’s skull and praying they had the safety on. And it was swallowing down the poison to an antidote that was being held behind their back.

Because sometimes, the safety isn’t on.

And sometimes, the person holding the antidote ends up spreading the poison faster.

~

“Izzy, please, just hear me out-“

“I already told you, no.”

“But Magnus wants to help-“

“Are you sure? I think he’s just too kind to tell you otherwise.”

“Magnus? Kind?” Alec scoffs, but the words fall flat even to his ears. Because Magnus is kind, and he wishes it was easy to say otherwise. It would make it a lot easier.

He grumbles out a curse and tries to find the right words to make Izzy join the team. There’s a place for her on the rescue op, and if Alec is leading in, he wants his sister there beside him.

But he’s having a hard time convincing her to.

Izzy points to the door of her bedroom. “Look, just go, Alec. I’m not in the mood to hear yours, or The Clave’s excuses for treating a person as expendable.”

“I’m not. Why do you think I’m training him every day and making sure he’s prepared?”

Izzy sighs, but doesn’t argue back; and Alec takes it as a sign to keep pushing. “Look,” He says. “Why don’t you speak to Magnus about this? Perhaps he can make you believe it’s his choice. Because it is. Izzy,” Alec lowers his voice to a careful whisper. “You know he could escape from the Institute at any moment. He’s smart. So why do you think he’s staying if not because he wants to be here?”

Izzy looks guilty then. “You must think me awful. Not wanting to rescue our friends as soon as possible. But I just…I feel like something is going to go wrong. And if it does, how can we look ourselves in the mirror knowing we’ve rescued our friends, but left someone else behind to die? Because you know that they will, don’t you?”

Anxiety floods into Alec. He blinks a couple of times. “What do you mean?”

Izzy looks at him seriously. “The Clave envoys are sticking around to help us, yes, but also to protect us more than Magnus. We’ll be the ones looking out for him during the exchange. No one else will.”

“But they promised Magnus his freedom.” Alec argues lamely. He doesn’t know why he’s defending The Clave when they sent Jace and Clary into such a dangerous undercover position in the first place.

“Yes. They’ll say anything to get him to work alongside them. Anything to get this operation to run smoothly. But afterwards, he’s as good as dead.”

“Magnus can protect himself.”

“I know. But if Valentine’s men want him, they’ll all go after him. And The Clave’s agents will focus on getting Jace and Clary to safety, rather than prioritising his life.”

Alec sits down on the foot of her bed. He places his head into his hands and rubs at the stubble he keeps forgetting to trim down. The rough feeling against his hands is prickly, and stabs like tiny needles.

A weight dents the bed as his sister joins him on the bed. She sighs, and loops an arm around his shoulders, bringing him into a hug. He goes willingly. Already, Isabelle's arms are a comfort, and her warmth wraps around Alec like a blanket. He leans into her embrace.

“We’ll get them back, Alec.” Izzy says softly. “They’ll be okay.”

He wonders who she’s really trying to convince. His sister is always so strong and brave, and he worries that she’s carrying the world on her shoulders.

“How long has it been since…you visited him?”

Izzy doesn’t need to stress the last word. She doesn’t even need to say the name. Alec knows exactly who she means.

He closes his eyes. “A long time.”

“Me too. I think…when Jace and Clary come back, we should all go to the hospital together. It would be nice.”

Years later, and his little brother’s coma leaves Alec sick and shaking and guilt-ridden. He knows that it tore his parents apart. They might work together still, but Alec knows they stopped sharing the same room not a month after Max was shot. He uses Izzy as a harbour, keeping his thoughts away from the storm of emotions he could quickly get swept into. She holds him tightly, and after a few more minutes, he leans back to press a quick kiss to her temple.

“I think that sounds like a plan.” Alec says, slowly, the words like a medicine he has to force down.

He stands, heading for the door. He turns back, hand resting on the doorknob. “Izzy, I do want you there with me on Friday, but…I understand why you can’t be. I have to do this. It’s the right thing to do.”

“Are you sure?”

“I have to be.” He tries to smile, but it’s a pathetic attempt. “I have to be a leader, and a leader has to make tough decisions like this.”

Izzy doesn’t look too upset with his answer. In fact, she inclines her head in a nod and then stands. “Do you know where Magnus will be?”

“W-what? Why would I know?”

“Because you’re training him.” Izzy’s eyes glisten playfully. “A little jumpy, are we, big brother? Something to hide?”

Alec rolls his eyes. “Yes.” He says sarcastically. “I’m hiding a talkative assassin and his pink gun in my bedroom, Izzy.”

Her grin widens. "I meant in the training room, but sure. Bedroom is clearly where your mind went, hm?”

Alec disappears through the door before her laughter can reach his ears, but he catches Isabelle’s grin and tucks it away in the corners of his mind. Her smiles are always memories that Alec cherishes, even if they’re at his expense.

~

“Hey, Magnus, do you have a minute?” Isabelle approaches him with a little wave. 

“Depends. Do you have a second to hold my legs?”

Izzy raises an eyebrow at him questioningly.

Grinning, he suddenly drops into a handstand without warning. He quickly feels strong hands wrap around his ankles, and lifts his chin to smile at Isabelle from upside down. “Thank you, my dear.”

As he holds the pose, Izzy carefully keeps him upright as she speaks. “So…I might be a part of the team on Friday.”

“Might be?” He repeats. It’s unlike a Lightwood to sound unsure.

“Well, I’m not personally a fan of using people as bait.”

“Ah, yes. I remember your kind words at the meeting.” Magnus says quietly. His face is turning crimson from holding the handstand, so he nods for Izzy to release his feet and slowly lowers.

He pulls down his tank top and meets Izzy’s eyes. “I never did say thanks for that.” Magnus smiles warmly. “It means a lot to me, Isabelle, even though I have a feeling you would do it for anyone.”

“You’re welcome.” Izzy smiles back, but the tension still crinkles the corners of her eyes. It saddens him that someone as compassionate as Isabelle is constantly put under stress and discouragement. She should be supported and lifted up by her family, not placed under scrutiny.

“So what can I help you with?”

Izzy’s smile turns into something to be feared. She takes out a knife from her boot and wields it in her left hand, flicking it around with expertise. She grins like the devil; sweet, violence and gleeful all at once. “Come and get this,” She nods to the dagger. “, and I’ll believe that you won’t hold us back on Friday.”

Hold them back? Magnus repeats angrily.

He powers his fury into his first attack, ducking and swiping a leg out to knock Izzy to the floor.

She lands on her back but quickly rolls to the side before he can pin her. She then dives into a forward roll, creating some distance between them as she stands, waiting for his next move. “You can do better than that.” She teases.

Magnus grits his teeth. He’s had it about up to here with agents and their pride.

Fine.

Then he’s going to show them just how proud he is to beat Izzy at her little game.

He thinks back to Alec’s lessons from this week. He needs to think; to control the parts of him that want to go in guns blazing. It’s not that Magnus is careless, but he’s never had to think as a team player before now.

Izzy is swinging the tiny dagger with teasing slowness, whistling a little tune that sounds an awful lot like a Wham! Song.

Well, Magnus can definitely wake wake Izzy up before she goes goes falling onto her cute ass.

They fight for another minute – quick bursts of fists being swung, and fists blocked; legs kicking, ducks and spins. They’re well-matched in rhythm, and Magnus almost finds himself enjoying it. Izzy is, like he is, less focused on repetitive movements than Alec is. They’re both driven, but Izzy likes her improvisation and flair.

The only reason he catches her off guard is because he pretends to be repetitive.

Knowing she would try to trip him, Magnus left his foot exactly where it was, feigning ignorance. When she pulls back her leg, ready to spin and sweep him onto the floor, Magnus steps the other way and wraps an arm around her waist.

Before she has time to throw him off, or elbow him in the gut, Magnus kicks his own leg out and she goes falling to the floor. His arm around her waist is there, providing a little comfort as she lands on her back. He winces at her weight on his single arm, but doesn’t mind too much.

Victory numbs the ache as Magnus swipes the dagger from her clammy palms and hoists it in the air like a flag. “Suck on that, you snobs!”

Izzy pushes up onto her elbows and glares. “Rude.” She mutters, but a smirk weakens the impact.

“Sorry. Not you, my dear.” Magnus looks apologetic and offers her a hand, pulling her to her feet.

Isabelle dusts off her deep purple dress and sights reluctantly. “I really don’t like this plan.” She surrenders.

“I know. But we have to save your friends.”

Isabelle smiles widely at him. “We?” She repeats, her eyes shining brightly.

Magnus doesn’t fall into the trap. He nudges her with an elbow as they walk to the side, grabbing their water bottles and gulping down the cool water for a few moments.

“I just like knowing that everyone on my team wants the same thing." Isabelle says. "That’s what earlier was about. I needed to know you wanted to live. To fight.”

“I do. Very much so. And I also want to rescue your friends.”

Izzy puts down her water bottle and meets his gaze. She scratches her nose absently, and Magnus finds the gesture endearing. She smiles up at him. “Then we’re in agreement.”

"I knew I liked you." Magnus winks at her. “I liked you ever since you stepped out of that car with those killer shoes and saved our asses.”

“Oh, with the smoke bombs?” Her eyes light up with joy. “I was proud of that.” Isabelle mutters a curse, her features twisting into a scowl. “Damn, I wish they’d let me keep the camera footage.”

He pats her shoulder sympathetically. “Maybe next time, my dear.”

They walk off towards the dining room, and for the first time that week, Magnus sits with Isabelle and feels that maybe having a friend isn’t such a bad thing after all.

~

Thursday morning and afternoon stretches into oblivion as Alec paces the Institute. The team is ready to go, the plans have all been made, but he’s so on edge that the slightest sounds are making him jump out of his skin.

When the door opens to his room, he cries out in surprise.

“Crap, sorry, Iz.”

“You need to relax.”

“Relax.” He repeats slowly. “As in, act as if we’re not just about to meet Valentine Morgenstern in a car park to exchange our new assassin friend for our other two friends? Because we are. Tomorrow.”

She nods. “Exactly. I’m just as worried as you are, but Alec, we can’t do anything else. You can’t do anything else.” She taps him on the nose, a childlike gesture she’s never seemed to quit doing, but it relaxes Alec.

Izzy’s eyes burn bright with pride. “Alec, you’ve done everything that’s been asked of you and more. You’ve organised this entire operation, and – forgive me if I’m biased - chosen a kickass team as well.” She smiles. “We are going to do this.”

“Okay.” He says slowly, exhaling. The tension rolls off his shoulders at Izzy’s kind words, and he rolls his eyes and asks, “So, how does one relax knowing all of that?”

“You used to swim when you were stressed out.”

“Yeah, with…with Max.”

Izzy’s lower lip trembles. Her smile is shaky, but sweet. “Why don’t you go take a few laps, and I’ll join you in a bit?”

Alec smiles, and kindly replies, “That sounds nice.”

~

“Now that’s a pool.” Magnus’ voices echoes around the walls, bouncing around like the soft lapping of the water.

Izzy told him that no one hardly ever uses the pool in the evening, so here he is, standing alone in-front of the Institute’s huge pool and gaping like a fish.

The pool itself is a fairly narrow, single strip of clear water, but between the high ceiling, the soft chair loungers around the edge, and the huge glass windows that open up to reveal the skyline of Manhattan, it's like magic.

The pool is accessed by one of the Institute’s elevators, hidden away in the maze of the place, and Magnus realises he’s on one of the higher floors somewhere. He’s still pretty sure that the Institute is mainly on the underground floors, covered by some unknown business skyscraper where people merrily go about the day without realising The Clave is beneath them.

He strips his shirt off, grimacing at the damp stains of sweat from his earlier sparring with Lydia; a quick-thinking, determined young agent with eyes that shone fiercely. It was the look of someone who knew how to defend themselves, as well as have the courage to defend others. He decides that he likes Lydia as soon as she lands a strong, upper cut to his jaw and then tells him how to avoid it next time,

Izzy pointed him to a storage room for spare clothes, and he chose a pair of loose, black trunks that reached his knees. When he asked if he should have anyone to watch him, Izzy smiles knowingly and says, “I’ll send someone up to guard you. Just in case you decide to take a dive off the roof instead.”

“Please.” Magnus retorted. “I like my face too much to ruin it to prove a point to The Clave about consent.”

So here he is, standing in-front of a still pool. It ripples gently when he sits down at the edge and dangles his feet in. The water is surprisingly warm, and he lets the liquid settle around his ankles. The water calms, and he sighs, running his hands along the concrete edge and thinking.

Tomorrow, he would finally be free from The Clave.

If he survives, he wouldn’t have to look at another Lightwood ever again.

“Uh, Magnus?”

The voice carries over the pool, low and deep and unsure.

“Oh, come on.” Magnus mutters to himself. He looks over his shoulder and finds Alec standing a few feet away; his eyes darting between Magnus, and the door. He holds a large, red towel in his arms, and is– once again – shirtless.

Magnus randomly thinks that he’s seen the agent more times without a shirt than with, but he realises that it’s not the worst thing to look at. The dark hairs that decorate Alec’s chest make Magnus’ toes curl in the water, and his stomach clenches as he sees the way his navy trunks rest low on his broad hips.

“What are you doing up here, Alexander?” Magnus asks. He watches as the agent hovers awkwardly, and then it hits Magnus why he might be here.

“Come to spy on me?” He asks, not unkindly. He’s likely been sent up by Isabelle to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid before tomorrow.

“N-no, uh, I didn’t realise anyone was…”

Alec looks away, which makes Magnus frown. Could it just be coincidence that Alec wanted to swim in the pool?

After all, it is his pool, Magnus reminds himself. 

The thought crosses his mind that Alec might be lying. He might be pretending to swim instead of just taking a seat and guarding him in awkward silence. But Magnus watches the way Alec is still hovering; his expression unsure, and decides that the agent is either a terrible liar, or this is a genuine random turn of events.

Unless Isabelle-

“No harm done. Let me just do a few laps then.” Magnus calls out. He waves a hand at Alec, hoping it’s a casual gesture for him to carry on with whatever he came up to do.

Without hesitation, Magnus slides into the pool, takes a deep breath and cuts through the water in powerful strokes. He can feel his forearms burning as he swims; still raw from the day’s training. He reaches the other side of the pool, pauses briefly for a deep breath, and then pushes off the wall and swims back to the other side.

He’s so focused on the rush of the water - and the welcoming burning of air rushing in and out of his lungs – that Magnus almost collides his head into a pair of legs dangling over the ledge. He pauses just in time, his nose inches from Alec’s long calves. He bobs in the water, treading slowly until his lungs don’t feel like they’re seconds from catching fire, and then looks up.

Alec is sitting on the edge of the poolside, dangling his long legs into the water, just like Magnus had been doing a few moments before. He’s been running his hands through his hair, as dark strands stand up at odd ends, as though he’s been frustrated and taken it out on his poor locks.

If he’s going to ruin his hair, he could at least let me do it-

“Twenty-nine seconds. Exactly.”

“Hm?” Magnus blinks water out of his lashes.

He’s glad for whatever Alec is trying to tell him, because staring hungrily at the agent’s pecs isn’t going to help clear his mind.

“Your time.” Alec explains. His voice is quiet, but there’s an edge to it; a rawness. It sends goosebumps along Magnus’ arms, and he continues to tread water lightly, holding his chin above the water to stare up at Alec.

“Right. Thanks.” Magnus quickly replies. He realises it’s not the wittiest of comebacks, but Alec is using those hazel eyes to steal away his common sense and it’s the best Magnus can do.

He stops treading water and places his elbows up on the ledge, just beside Alec’s thighs. He rests his arms on the cool concrete, his legs and lower half still submerged in the warm water.

Magnus tilts his head to the right, gazes up at Alec and asks, “Are you not going to swim?”

“No. I, uh, I think I just want to sit. And think.”

Magnus grins, half-concealed by his arm. “Sounds dangerous.”

Alec chuckles in agreement. He stares out across the pool, and the low lights of the pool catches his sharp jaw in such a way that Magnus feels his arms slip a bit. He leans on them with more of his weight and remains quiet, letting Alec’s mind work away at whatever he’s focused on.

Probably that teeny, tiny hostage exchange, Magnus reminds himself dryly.

He wonders if Alec wants a distraction. Although Magnus knows it’s good to think, and plan, he also knows it’s good to recharge before a fight, and to recharge sometimes means to let go.

Beside him, in the water, Alec’s toes trace circles; around and around. It’s an absent-minded gesture, but Magnus looks up at Alec and finds his expression relaxed and almost fond, as if he’s remembering something.

Taking a risk, Magnus says, “Do you know what I like about the water, Alexander? It’s always moving. It changes and then grows still, and then becomes chaos once more. I like that it is unpredictable, because you can learn to work alongside it, rather than hope to overpower and control it.”

“Do you think that’s what The Clave is doing to me? Trying to control me?”

Magnus doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t want to start a fight with Alec, and certainly not tonight. If his friends were captured by a powerful crime family, Magnus knows he doesn’t want a bubbly troublemaker shooting off at the mouth.

Alec’s voice loses its anger when all of a sudden he says, “I have a brother. A younger brother.”

“You do?” Magnus can’t hide his surprise. He makes a decision – probably a stupid one - and quickly pushes up onto his hands. He lifts himself out of the water completely to sit beside Alec. He doesn’t say anything else. He waits.

Soon enough, Alec nods. “His name was Max. Uh, is. His name is Max.”

The ripples in the pool are still moving from Magnus’ laps. He watches as they snake gently, coming to a slow still after another minute passes. Under the lights, the blue shimmers, and Magnus can’t help but compare it to the equally bright blend of colours in Alec’s eyes. The soft browns and forest-greens are a combination he’s seen before, but nothing as striking as the agent’s eyes.

Alec turns his head to the left, to Magnus, and his eyes put the sea itself to shame. Magnus can’t look away. He digs his fingers into the pool’s ledge, making sure they don’t do anything stupid like reach out and touch Alec’s face, or trace the curve of his lips, or the thick, strong brows above his stormy eyes.

After a few more moments, Alec exhales. His next words are spoken slowly. “It was a little over six years ago now. We – uh, Jace, Izzy, me and Max – convinced ourselves that we could take Max out for his birthday without telling mom, dad or anyone else at The Institute. It was his sixth birthday, and one that he was confident should be celebrated in a huge way. As all five year olds claim.” Alec laughs quietly, his eyes growing distant with fond memories.

Magnus takes his own advice about treating secrets as a gift. He stays quiet.

And then, just when he opens his mouth to finish, Alec hesitates. Magnus sees it. The agent catches his breath, as if he is holding in his hands and deciding whether or not to let it go; to share it with Magnus.

Just as Magnus is thinking about quietly excusing himself, Alec starts talking again. “My father had an older brother called Benedict. Benedict Lightwood. He was a top agent of The Clave, very well-respected and admired. Until he was found out for running a drug cartel.”

Alec’s jaw clenched. “My father led the team who brought him in to be arrested.”

Magnus feels his eyes widen. He couldn’t imagine the shame at having your uncle arrested for the very thing they were supposed to be fighting against. He wanted to offer Alec his support, but he knew, fearfully, that Alec wasn’t finished with his tale.

“Because he was once an agent, The Clave went easy on him. Benedict was sentenced to just five years in prison, but…whatever happened in those five years drove him into a madness that could only focus on one thing: his brother’s betrayal. Benedict became obsessed with needing to take revenge on our father.”

“So…he was released?”

Alec nodded. “Six years ago, Benedict was released from prison. He shouldn’t have been. Someone should’ve told us at least.”

Magnus gaped. “You didn’t know?”

“Mom and dad did. But Jace, Izzy, Max and I had no idea.” Alec rests a hand against his thigh, spreading out his palm. The slight shaking of his hand makes Magnus want to reach out and hold it, but he doesn’t. He listens to Alec finish, “All we knew was that our uncle had shamed our family, and it was up to us to make sure we didn’t put a foot out of place.”

Magnus opens his mouth to sympathise; to say that if anyone understood the pressures of dealing with family, it was him. If anyone understood what it was like to feel consumed by the past, it was Magnus.

But the look on Alec’s face is vulnerable, and open, and Magnus fears that saying the wrong thing will chase him off.

Instead he gently hints, “And your brother…?”

“R-right. Max.” Alec mumbles. He glances away again, focusing on the skylines of skyscrapers through the windows. “Benedict’s revenge clearly had no problems in hurting others. And he realised that to hurt Robert, he needed to hurt us. To tear the family apart, like they’d torn his world apart. On Max’s birthday, Jace, Izzy and I made a stupid bet to see how long we could last if we snuck out of The Institute. We brought Max tickets for this band he liked and thought it was a good idea to leave, without guards.”

His voice drips with self-loathing now. “Because we were arrogant and thinking with our hearts, we didn’t keep an eye out for any threats. We just wanted Max to have a good time.”

Sorrow punches Magnus in the gut, and he blinks against the forming tears in his eyes. He knows where this is going now, but he feels like Alec needs to say it. Not for Magnus, but for himself.

“The papers reported it as a random misfire, with no causalities. They called it, and I quote, ‘fortunate’. Of course, The Clave kept it under wraps that it was one of their own agents who shot Max. Not many people know, except mom, dad and other agents who worked it out. Everyone else just sees us as a broken family.”

He sighs. “Max has been in a coma ever since. But…it’s unlikely that he’ll wake, we’re all just not willing to be the one to say it.”

Alec pulls one leg out of the water and hugs it against his chest, his arms wrapping around it. He says, quietly, “My mom pushes us because she’s scared to lose someone else. I know she looks at me and sees Max’s face.” His grip on his leg tightens, his expression clouding with anger. “I know she blames Izzy as well. She’s always been hard on her and I can’t stand it. Whereas Jace gets the special treatment because he’s the best of us.”

Guilt spreads a red flush across Alec’s cheeks. He lets out a sigh. “My best friend has been risking his life as an undercover agent and I’m here badmouthing him?” He rests his chin against his knee, turning to look at Magnus.

“There’s something wrong with me, isn’t there?” Alec whispers.

Magnus shakes his head. “You are allowed to question things, Alec. You are allowed to feel hurt and disappointed and angry. But you are also allowed to be happy. I just don’t think you’ll give yourself that chance.”

“Izzy says that sometimes. She thinks I’m repressed.”

Uncertainty rushes into Magnus. He chooses his next words carefully. “And what do you think?”

Alec looks down into the water again, his other leg still making gentle movements in the pool. His voice is quiet and lonely when he replies, “I don’t know. Which is why I like to stick with what I’ve been taught.” He admits. “It doesn’t confuse me.”

“Like your heart does?” Magnus probes carefully. Part of his brain is flashing warning signs at him, telling him to back away and stop. But he looks at Alec and recognises something similar. Recognises someone fighting against themselves.

Alec’s answer is given with a long sigh. “Yeah.”

“Well, I know I’m just one person, and I know I’m just a stubborn, know-it-all assassin to you, but Alec, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in wanting something for yourself. In wanting respect and wanting people to see you for the things you’re most proud of. Trust me, I know it’s hard, but it’s also worth it to fight for what you want in life.”

“And if I don’t know what I want?” Alec says, his voice small. He still hasn’t looked away from the pool, but in a way, it makes it easier for Magnus to reply so passionately.

“Then you fight for the chance to explore.” Magnus encourages. His hand is so close to Alec’s, but he forces himself to remain still. He pushes the urge to touch him into his words. “You test yourself. You try new things and learn to listen to how your heart, and your soul, reacts to those around you.”

You learn to love yourself, Magnus wants to say.

The seconds tick by, and he has no idea what Alec is thinking about. He seems to be in deep concentration, furrowing his brow as he taps his knee. Finally, he shifts to look at Magnus. His voice is low, but steady, when he asks, “Why did you steal the Cup, Magnus?”

Magnus is ashamed by how quickly he pulls back. After focusing on Alec, and encouraging him so easily, the idea that the situations are reversed reminds Magnus that he’s coming close to crossing a line. A line between curiosity and intimacy.

He runs a hand through his hair, pushing back damp strands away from his face. He shuffles a little, creating some distance between them and says, “I’ll tell you tomorrow, after the exchange. If we make it.”

Expecting him to pull away, Magnus is surprised when Alec laughs. It’s a short, burst of happiness, and it fills the pool with even more light.

“Are you bribing me with secrets?” Alec asks, a smile in his voice.

“Perhaps.” Magnus keeps his voice steady. He’s suddenly very conscious that he’s unarmed, though it’s never normally left him feeling this…open. But with Alec sitting so casually beside him, Magnus feels more in danger than ever before.

“That’s not fair.” Alec mumbles. “I told you something.”

He actually pouts then, and Magnus cracks a smile. “Fine.” He surrenders. He holds up his forefinger. “You get one question. And then the rest for tomorrow.”

Are you really sticking around after the exchange? He asks himself. Do you want to? Why? What is there for you here?

Alec chews his lip for a moment, thinking again. “How do you know my mother?”

“Pass.”

Alec throws up his hands in frustration. “That’s not how this works!” He grumbles.

“Are we playing a game, Alexander?” Magnus teases. “I didn’t realise we were.” Another warning light starts flaring inside Magnus’ mind. He listens to it this time, and knows they shouldn’t be doing whatever it is they’re now doing. This is more than crossing a line. It’s destroying the line completely.

“Have you ever killed an innocent person?”

The words are like a gunshot.

They fire into Magnus’ heart, piercing it and gushing blood into his chest.

How can certain words string together to make someone feel like this? He wonders.

When Alec is still watching him intently, Magnus holds his gaze. “No one is innocent, Alec.” He says, coolly. “You should know that by now.”

He stands, pushing up to his feet and reaching for his discarded shirt. He pulls it on quickly and leaves Alec with his legs dangling over the pool.

Although he doesn’t protest his quick departure, Magnus did catch the surprise on Alec’s face, and he wishes he could erase it.

He didn’t mean to hurt Alec, but that was a question that he didn’t want to think too much on; especially not in the presence of someone who worked for The Clave. Someone who valued justice while judging unfairly and looking down on people like him; people who came from backgrounds that were like the nightmares told in their bedtime stories.

He reaches the door, and comes to a sudden halt. The button to the lift turns green, and as the elevator opens up, Magnus can’t fight the urge to leave Alec with something more. Something better than a defensive remark.

“Yes.” He answers Alec’s question a little late. “One.”

Alec doesn’t move, but his back muscles tense; telling Magnus that he heard his words. Magnus can only imagine the look of horror on Alec’s face as he sees Magnus as nothing more than a violent monster; a killer with no remorse.

And why not? Isn’t that what you’ve always been? Magnus feels someone hiss to him.

It’s a voice he thought he had buried completely. A man he hopes never to think of again.

My monster.

Magnus fights back against the whisper. As the door closes, he closes his eyes and focuses on the hope, and the light, that his mother taught him. The strength that she helped him create flares to life, repeating her words;

He conquers who endures.

The proverb his mother was so fond of dances inside him. It stirs the happy memories and pushes away the darkness.

Magnus smiles. He forces the corners of his lips to move upwards; to fight against hatred and anger with goodness.

Never again will anything, or anyone, break him.

He will endure the weight of the world if it means he can conquer the darkness.

And he will.

His mother’s face and words brings tears to Magnus’ eyes. But he keeps on smiling.

And as the elevator door opens up back onto the main floor, he lifts his chin and retaliates against the incoming stares and scowls with a happy smile.

Chapter Text

Friday evening - and the night of the exchange - comes around quickly, Alec realises.

As he helps strap Raj into his bulletproof vest, Alec tries hard not to remember the weird moment that had passed between he and Magnus at the pool the previous night.

What the hell was that? He asks himself, not for the first time that day.

His head sees it as just a conversation. As something to be filed away and forgotten.

But how can Alec forget how it felt to talk about Max, and to not feel shamed, but to feel grateful?

The fact that Magnus had asked, and let him speak at his own pace, relaxed Alec, and it was only after Magnus left that it hit him how large and empty the pool was. When Magnus had sat beside him, the pool had felt welcoming and safe. Without him, it was just a dark, vacant pool where people trained or came up for some air.

Alec reminds himself that Magnus is leaving after tonight. That he will disappear into another country, for good. He will be gone, just like the smoking remains of a fire. No more little teases, or soft smiles that create dimples at the corners of Magnus’ lips-

“Thanks, Alec.” Raj interrupts his train of thought. He stands back and shifts on his feet, an uncomfortable gesture that is normally more Alec’s forte than Raj’s.

“Are you feeling alright?” He asks the agent, quietly so that no one else can hear. If he’s having doubts, or anxieties, Alec wants Raj to share them without feeling watched.

Raj quickly nods. “I’m fine. Just...a little nervous I guess.” He looks away, something unreadable flashing briefly over his features. 

“We all are.” Alec says, kindly. His voice is, thankfully, steadier than how he feels. “This will all be over soon. If we keep on guard and make sure we’re all looking out for each other, we can do this. We can exchange the decoy Cup and get Magnus and our agents out as well."

Raj smiles, a shakily, small smile, but it’s a smile at least. He straightens. “Then I will see you outside, Alec. Good luck.”

He leaves, and Alec feels a warmth in his chest. It takes him a few seconds to place it. Pride, he realises. But this is a pride that comes from within, and not because of anyone else. He thinks of what Magnus said to him at the pool; that he ought to look within to find out what he wants.

Did Alec want this? Did he truly want to be a leader?

Did he want others, like Raj, to look to him for comfort and guidance, even when Alec himself felt nervous?

He didn’t have long to think it over, as Lydia pops her head around the door. Her blonde ponytail swings a little. “Ready when you are, Alec. The team are waiting in the hall.” She flashes him a brief smile, and then leaves.

Alec stands in the weapons room for another minute, focusing on inhaling and exhaling like a normal person.

So many things occupy his mind – Jace, Clary, his parents, Magnus – but Alec makes himself ignore everything except the mission. He focuses on the floor beneath his feet, the vest strapped to his chest, and the protection of the guns and his team. He folds his feelings away inside tiny boxes; separating them from his head. This mission would require quick-thinking, logic and caution. Now was not the time to cry out to someone, or to panic and start a war out of an already tense situation.

They could not take down the Morgenstern's tonight. All they had to do was retrieve their agents.

His friends. His family.

Alec steps into the hallway, zipping up his black jacket. Immediately, his small team stops their nervous shuffling and turns to him. All five of them – Izzy, Raj, Lydia, and two top agents from the Los Angeles Institute, Helen Blackthorn and Aline Penhallow – look to Alec as he stands before them.

Izzy looks at him pointedly, raising an eyebrow. She inclines her head to the group.

He realises that they are waiting for him to speak.

Does being a leader mean giving pep talks? Alec thought anxiously. Because I don’t know how to do this.

Before he can stutter out something, an unmistakable smile appears in the corner of his eye.

“Did I miss anything important? Or are we still dangling me like a very sexy carrot in front of the Morgensterns?”

Magnus arrives in such a delightfully Magnus way, skipping up the stairs and breaking the tension with a grin. He stands beside Izzy, giving her a quick wink before turning his eyes to Alec.

Alec feels some of the tension leave his shoulders, and then wonders why. Magnus’ presence suddenly reminds him that he’s risking so many lives in this mission, and that his team want to know that their leader will protect them to the best of his abilities.

Alec finds Magnus’ smile encouraging, and he uses it to bravely push himself into speaking.

“I know that tonight may be the most dangerous mission The Clave has ever asked you to complete. Your loyalties are commendable.” Alec swallows. “But this is more than duty. And honour. This is about rescuing not one, but two of our own, and standing up to a powerful man who thinks he can rule with fear. I think it’s important that we are all on the same page here. A team is strong if all its players are in sync.”

Everyone nods. Lydia and Raj share a glance, their hesitation painfully clear to Alec.

He squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, desperately thinking of the words that could bring them all together.

Four words come into his mind.

They light up with hope and determination; demanding that Alec take what they are offering and share it with his team.

So he does.

Alec lifts his chin up proudly and says, “He conquers who endures.”

The only strong reaction comes from Magnus. His eyes widen; the bright shine turning ferocious under the lights. There’s a burning emotion in them, and Alec doesn’t know if it’s anger, passion, pleasure or a combination of all three. Either way, it roars into Alec and consumes him completely.

Alec holds Magnus’ gaze, and then says to the group, “We will endure the danger, and conquer our fear. We will fight against the cruelty of Valentine’s threats and bring back our agents. No, our friends.”

Everyone stands a little taller, and Alec feels more confident than ever before when Magnus’ lips curve and his eyes shine with pride. He checks that his guns are firmly in place one last time and then nods. “Let’s move out, team.”

Izzy squeezes his arm before following Raj, Lydia, Helen and Aline out into the hallway as they make their way towards the lifts.

Alec finds Magnus hovering, his hips swaying slightly. His expression is odd; almost tortured, as if he’s caught between fear, hope and surprise.

“Where have you heard those words before, Alexander?” Magnus asks quietly. He doesn’t sound accusing, but Alec knows the question holds weight and he’s afraid to admit that he was so inspired by the secret words he had heard Magnus speak in the hotel.

“I…” He finds silence quickly swallowing whatever lie he was about to spin. He thinks about claiming it is a Clave motto, but the look on Magnus’ face makes it clear this is important to him, and Alec fears mocking it.

So he keeps his expression neutral and replies, “A smart man once said them. And I borrowed them.”

Then, a hopeful smile betrays his feelings.

Alec looks at Magnus and slowly says, “I hope he doesn’t mind.”

After a long pause, Magnus stretches slowly, his arms hiding a great deal of his expression; which is, to Alec's frustration, unreadable. “Not at all." Magnus says, quietly. "His mother used to whisper it to him, in the dark moments where all light seemed to be gone from the world."

Magnus lowers his arms, and his expression - so focused, so raw and open - hits Alec like a sucker punch. "They are, even now, years later, a source of strength for me." Magnus admits softly. "I’m glad they have brought someone else the same strength.”

“You’re going to live.” Alec suddenly says. “I promise you this.” He knows they are dangerous words, and could easily become a lie; a regret to look back on. But he looks at Magnus and feels the desperation to see him tomorrow morning. To see one more smile before he leaves. Alec will not let Magnus sacrifice his life to help The Clave recover their own mistakes. He learnt a few days ago that Jace and Clary's undercover mission was never supposed to last this long. The Clave grew arrogant, thinking they would have time to collect information that could bring the family down. 

“Don’t say that.” Magnus objects, but not rudely. “You cannot promise me that. It’s offering me a safety net I never asked you for, Alexander.” He turns, leaning over the handrail to look at the agents tapping on their computers, or milling about and quietly talking.

When he turns back around, Magnus' voice is louder now and confident. “I have never been frightened to die. I have lived each day with everything I can. Sometimes more. My heart will have no regrets if something happens tonight.”

Alec can’t help but feel like his last words become a question.

He and Magnus walk side by side through the Institute hallways until they reach the elevator. The others have already headed on up to the assigned cars, so it’s just the two of them, close together in the small space of the lift.

As the gentle movement sways him, Alec turns to Magnus and says, “You won’t die tonight, Bane.” Alec tries to joke. “You still owe me those answers, remember?”

“Do you really want them? Do you want to know more about me? You might not like what you have to find out.”

“You? Unlikeable? I doubt that very much.” Alec teases, but his voice is a lot lower, and thicker with emotion than he’d meant it to be. It sounds too serious; too tender. He doesn’t want Magnus to misread it as something else.

As what? Alec asks himself. Friendship? Does that really seem so bad?

Magnus is quiet for a few moments, leaning against the elevator wall and watching him. He’s wearing all black, just like the rest of the team, but a smile tugs at Alec’s lips when he sees the familiar flash of pink that means Magnus hasn’t abandoned his favourite gun. He opens his mouth to ask Magnus to leave it behind, or to exchange it for a more camouflaged gun, but then he sees the vulnerable expression on Magnus’ face and rethinks. Who is he to take away his crutch?

Just as the elevator comes to a still, Magnus takes a step closer to Alec. He crosses the short distance in one fluid movement, and Alec blinks as Magnus is suddenly right there in-front of him; smiling like he’s just given him the world. “Thank you, Alexander.” Magnus says softly. “Whatever happens tonight, thank you.”

“For what? Not letting you get killed?”

“For a long while now, I’ve kept myself under lock and key. It’s easier that way; something I’m sure you understand." Magnus' lips tug at the corners. "Following your heart is hard to do in my line of work, but, because of you, I think I’m ready to start again.”

“W-what did I do?” Alec asks, puzzlement overcoming his nerves.

The elevator is about to open and yet all he wants to do is hit the red button so that they can talk some more.

Magnus stares down at his combat boots for a moment. He looks up, and Alec is shocked to see tears forming in his eyes. Is he upset about something? Alec wracks his mind, desperately searching for words to comfort him.

And then Magnus smiles. “You gave me hope, Alec.” He confesses. “Unintentionally or not, you’ve reminded me of something very important. That I-“

The elevator slides open, and with it, Magnus’ words dissolve into thin air. He silences in an instant.

Alec wishes more than anything that he could hover inside a moment.

He wishes that he could take time into his hands and tame it; to control it long enough for Magnus to finish his sentence.

But he can’t. And he never will be able to. So Alec squares his shoulders, walking side by side with Magnus as they head out to join the team and head towards the most dangerous mission of both of their lives.

~

The top floor of the car park is a dark, large space that sends chills down Alec’s spine. He tries to suppress them, but the second they arrive, he can’t help but feel a cold sweat prickle his neck. It’s exactly the type of place that a hostage exchange would take place. It’s large, but empty, except for a handful of cars scattered around.

Long, large pillars line the space; the only rhythm and logic that calls out to Alec. He latches onto them, making sure to organise his team behind them so that they can see Valentine approach from the opposite end.

The four security cameras that are placed in each corner have already been blackened out, and Alec swallows down his fear that whatever happens here will not ever make it outside. It will go unremembered and unnoticed.

Death doesn’t scare Alec, but after Magnus’ words earlier, he wonders if he still has things he wants to do with his life. If something happens, would Alec feel ready to die? Ready to leave behind a world of possibilities he had just begun to open up?

They split into pairs behind the pillars; he and Raj, Lydia and Isabelle, Helen and Aline. Magnus is already waiting behind the one closest to Alec and Raj; shrugging when he’s one step ahead in realising he doesn’t have a partner.

Alec is about to beckon him over to their column when the loud screeching of tires hurtles through the silence.

Three large, black vans round the corner, and fast.

They stop in the centre of the car park, the doors swinging open as Valentine’s men leap out and scan the area. They’re not spreading out far, just circling the cars; particularly the third one.

Alec tenses as the third van’s door slides open.

From it, out come two familiar faces. He sees Izzy clasp a tight hand over her mouth to keep from calling out to them. He knows the feeling, fighting back the urge to cry out for his friends as they stumble out of the vans; held in place by two of Valentine’s followers.

Though a little bedraggled, Alec can’t spot anything too horrifying on either Jace or Clary. Their hairs are tangled, and their faces pull into grimaces as they are held tightly, but they are alive. Alec allows himself a brief moment of relief. And then he concentrates.

Unless they are careful, they might not stay alive, and he’s responsible for them.

A final man steps out of the third van, his body language open and powerful as he surveys the near-empty car park. His narrowed eyes are like a snakes; focused and deadly. He walks over to Jace and Clary, standing behind them both. He holds out his hands and shoves them violently, sending them sprawling onto their knees before them.

Jace gives a small cry, and Alec feels it pierce his sanity.

His anger flows into his blood even more as Valentine grins at the sight of his friends helplessly kneeling.

He steps forwards, holding out his arms to the open space. “Welcome, agents.” Valentine calls loudly. His voice reaches the far end of the car park easily, powerful and dangerously confident.

One of the men who is holding Clary steps forwards and kneels beside her. Although he is tall, he bounces on his feet like a child. His movements are manic and fill Alec will dread. As the man touches Clary's cheek tenderly, Alec watches in horror as the man leans forward to kiss her forehead. It is a sweet gesture, if not for the lunatic offering it.

Clary flinches away from him and quickly turns her head, slamming her forehead into his nose.

Alec winces. He hears the sound of bone cracking even from behind the pillar, and quickly risks another glance to make sure Clary’s impulsive anger hasn’t gotten her into more trouble.

“I told you to be careful with that one, son.” Valentine says coldly.

The man – presumably Jonathan Morgenstern- grunts, rocking back onto his heels. He holds his nose between pinched fingers, and then laughs.

It’s an awful, gleeful laugh that sinks into Alec’s skin like a disease.

There’s something manic and reckless about the son, as he climbs to his feet and wipes the rest of the blood onto his jacket. He still glances down at Clary with gentleness, but the spark in Jonathan's eyes tells Alec that it’s not a positive emotion after all. It is a crazed kind of passion, and even from a distance away, Izzy sees it too, because disgust twists her face into a furious storm.

She looks at Alec, mouthing, ‘Is it time?’.

He holds up a finger.

One minute.

And then, the device in his pocket vibrates. He almost smiles, looking down at the small screen as the message comes through;

That’s all of his men. Good luck.

Having been unsure if Valentine was planning on slaughtering them all, Alec had asked Emma Carstairs, an agent he trusted, to set up a lookout in the opposite building and take note of who entered. He’d asked Emma to tell him when no one else arrived, and she’d just sent him the cue.

Three vans. Nine men. Two hostages.

They could do this.

We have to.

“Come on out.” Valentine baits. He steps in-front of Jace and Clary again and holds his hands up; showing empty palms. “No weapons needed. Just a good, old-fashioned exchange. You have something, and someone, I want.”

Magnus’ fingers grip his gun a little tighter, and Alec catches his expression darken for a moment.

Valentine gestures to his friends, still kneeling. “I have two lovely agents to return to you.” He says.

Alec swallows back his hesitation and steps out from behind the pillar.

“Morgenstern.” He greets coolly. He walks slowly, and hears his agents come out of hiding and follow him. When Alec feels Magnus’ shoulder brush his, he almost slams an arm across his chest to push him back.

Why did he step out first? Alec thinks fearfully. He should’ve hid amongst the others. Now Valentine will focus on him from the beginning.

Magnus is staring straight ahead, and Alec hates that he has no idea what the man is thinking. He’s expressionless, with slow, careful movements, and Alec fears he might be going into shock. He carefully shields Magnus, using his full height to draw Valentine’s attention away from the assassin he wants to tear into.

Alec stops a few feet before them, and his team assemble a wary stance around him in a half-circle of nervous energy.

He lets himself nod to Jace, who is staring up at him with wide eyes. The hint of a smile curves at his friend’s lips, and Alec almost gives in to the temptation to drop to the floor and gather Jace into a tight embrace. He wants to feel Jace’s arms around his, and to hear his laugh again.

He wants to know that the Jace kneeling before him is real, and alive. He needs to know that his brother has not left this earth without saying goodbye.

Beside Jace, Clary is shaking, but her expression is as fierce as always, and Alec nods to her as well.

“Well,” Valentine says. “Here are your agents.” He quickly drops into a crouch.

A flash of silver metal appears in his hands, and Alec is about to react when the sound of rope being cut soothes his anxieties. He waits patiently as Valentine cuts through Clary’s, then Jace’s binds, and then takes a step back. His smile is too casual for Alec’s liking.

“As promised. Two alive agents.” Valentine offers.

Jace and Clary stumble to their feet, holding onto one another. They take the first step together, and everyone on Alec’s team braces for impact. They brace themselves for the moment when guns are fired and knives are thrown. They wait to start dodging and ducking and screaming their way out of the car park.

When Jace and Clary reach them, Alec touches their shoulders, exchanging a look of relief. He then guides them to stand behind the team, where they can wait until the exchange is complete.

The silence is what terrifies Alec then. He’s expecting shouts and threats, not Valentine’s cool composure, and Jonathan's cruel smirks. Even the men holding their guns are holding them loosely, not preparing for any sudden gunfire.

Something is wrong.

“So, where is the assassin I asked for?” Valentine asks. He looks straight at Magnus, his eyes narrowing to cold slits. “And the Cup that was stolen from me?”

Alec gestures for Izzy to take out the decoy Cup. She slides it across the floor towards the other men, rolling it carefully and then stepping back again. It was made by a special forger that The Clave didn't care to enlighten Alec, or his team, about.

Valentine snatches at it, holding it around the stem and gazing at it with violent possessiveness. He looks at it with greed and hunger, and Alec feels disgust wash through him anew.

Magnus was right to target Valentine’s pride, Alec thinks. He could think of no greater punishment for Valentine than to lose an object he craved like oxygen. The object that showed off his wealth and power; two things that Alec was slowly realising Magnus did not care for.

“Did you tell them?”

Alec blinks.

Valentine tears his gaze away from the Cup and asks, louder this time, “Did you let them in on why you stole it?”

Alec realises then that his words are directed towards Magnus, who is glaring at Valentine with such resentment that Alec feels it dig into the air around them.

Enjoying the moment, Valentine hands the Cup to one of his men and turns to face them.

“I killed his friend, did he tell you that?” Valentine says. He speaks slowly, deliberately rubbing salt into any wound he can find, create or re-open.

Beside him, Magnus digs his nails into his palms. Sharply.

Blood wells, and Alec can’t look away as his nails dig deeper and deeper, creating the pain he feels inside.

Valentine simply laughs, encouraged by their silence. “He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s all. It really wasn’t personal.”

“Not personal?” Magnus chokes out. His voice is thick with emotion, and the pain cracks it unbearably. “He was an innocent man, you bastard.”

“He was a stupid man.” Valentine sneers. “He tried to be a hero in a world filled with corruption. He was destined to die.” He sighs deeply, looking so sarcastically apologetic that Alec wants to rip his eyes right out of his sockets.

Valentine shrugs. “I was only trying to get information out of someone and your foolish friend tried to play the hero.” He suddenly smiles, and the sight is so wrong, and so awful, that Alec looks away.

But Valentine’s smile creeps into his words. “Is this why you stole the Cup? To try and hurt me like I hurt your friend?” He laughs, and then his voice quietens to a whisper of torment. “It won’t bring your friend back. Do you want to know what his last words were?”

“No.” Magnus hisses. His chest is heaving so greatly that Alec can hear his sharp breathes. He feels sick with heartache and anger, wanting nothing more than to shoot Valentine and end Magnus’ suffering, but he remains still.

He has to let Valentine maintain his allusion of control, even though it means putting Magnus through this horror.

Valentine leans in, looking right at Magnus as he says, “Your friend’s last words were selfless. There he was, lying on the alleyway floor with a knife between his ribs, and do you know what he did? With his last breath? He looked at the man I was hurting and said, ‘run’.”

Valentine chuckles, low and deep and dark. “Pity the man was already dead. But your friend was too dumb to see, and wasted his last words on a man whose soul was already destroyed, just like his was. And do you want know something else?” Valentine throws his head back and laughs. He looks at Magnus, his grin like a feral lion.

“I still don’t know your friend’s name.”

The cruelty of such a confession hits Alec. Valentine isn’t just confirming that he killed someone, but he’s confirming that the life meant nothing to him. The very same life that Magnus has mourned for, Valentine had thrown away without even bothering to see him as a person. He was simply a body to be disposed of; evidence to erase.

Magnus’ hands clench into fists, and Alec watches as his entire body trembles with anger, fear and sorrow. He wants to whisper something; anything. He wants Magnus to know that he is there beside him.

And although Alec knows it isn’t much, all he can offer is a touch, and so – when Valentine is looking at the other agents – Alec reaches out and runs his forefinger down the inside of Magnus’ wrist.

The tip of his finger is a magnet; drawing closer to Magnus. Alec holds his breath and touches him for the briefest of moments, just to let Magnus realise that he’s not alone. Blood drips onto Alec’s finger, from the cut that Magnus has made previously, and Alec feels it trickle down his finger and seep into his nails. He feels Magnus’ blood, hot and cool all at once, and wonders if touching someone like this could start a war.

It was dangerous to touch, and dangerous to let someone touch you.

Right now, Magnus was letting him, and Alec felt the intimacy rush into his own veins.

When Valentine’s gaze began to shift, Alec drops his hand to his side again. The blood still rests underneath his fingertip, and he wonders if it will seep into his skin forever. It feels like the touch will stay long after Magnus’ wrist falls away.

Valentine nods to Alec, and then to the trembling assassin standing beside him. “Hand him over, and we can end this.”

He glances around at the team, ready to give them the cue to start the fight-

“Do you know how many people are in Times Square? Per day?” Valentine suddenly asks. His voice has a knowing edge to it that has Alec hesitating.

Valentine’s expression is one of someone about to teach a very deadly lesson.

“Over 50,000 people are currently enjoying shows and walking around Time Square. Some are milling about. Some are rushing to meet up with an old friend, a lover, a child. And they are all completely oblivious to one very, very terrifying fact."

He waits a moment and then asks, "Do you want to know what it is?”

Alec doesn’t.

He has that sickening feeling in his stomach, like the one he had when the doctors came out of the operating theatre to say that Max was in a coma, and would likely never wake up. It was the same feeling now; the knowing, and the anticipation of feeling the world about to come crashing down.

Valentine answers him anyway. “There are explosives right in the middle of Times Square, agents.”

He pretends to grimace. “And if you don’t leave now, then I’m afraid you’ll have to explain to your precious Clave why you let so many people perish in an attack you were warned about. You will become murderers. Villains.”

He looks at Alec and his expression turn hard. “Just a precaution in case you thought about doing something stupid, like trying to spare the assassin from the pleasures I have awaiting him.”

Magnus doesn’t react, but his fist clenches a little harder, and in that moment, all Alec wants to do is say screw it and go out in a bloody battle fighting for him. His desire to protect Magnus consumes him, and he realises everything his mother has ever warned him about is true.

Thinking with your heart is not just a weakness, but it’s following a path that puts so many people in danger. If he didn’t have his team beside him, Alec knows that he’d shoot everyone here to save Magnus.

He’s seconds from doing it when Valentine speaks again. “Let’s see. It will take you ten minutes to get there, and ooh, let’s say, three minutes to defuse?”

Valentine lifts his hand to look at his watch. “If you don’t leave in the next…forty seconds, a lot of good people are going to be killed. And also, if half of you leave, there’s no way you’ll make it out alive against my men.” He stares at Alec. “So I firmly suggest you leave now, and give me Magnus Bane.”

The clock is ticking.

Alec can hear it now.

He can hear the screams of children and innocent victims burning alive. He can hear the news reports and the sorrows and heartbreaks of their friends and families; knowing for the rest of his life that he didn’t save them. He sees a hundred Maxs. A hundred Isabelles and Jaces burning. 

“Go.” Magnus says, loudly and without hesitation.

He turns just a fraction towards Alec, inclining his head. “Go.” He repeats, more firmly this time.

“30 seconds or you won’t make it.” Valentine warns. “29, 28, 27…”

Alec looks at Magnus, studying the softness in his eyes, and the hardness in his expression. He wants to hold his hand again, just for a moment, and to convince him that they’ll find a way to stop the bomb and save him.

But Alec can’t lie, and he feels the words stick in his throat like tar. “I…I can’t just…” Alec whispers. He can feel tears start to burn in his eyes, and he prays they go away, and fast. He cannot show weakness now, especially not in-front of Valentine and his men.

“20 seconds, agents.”

“Alec.” Lydia suddenly calls out. When he turns to her, her expression is apologetic.

“What-“

He doesn’t have time to finish as something sharp stabs into his neck. He stumbles a little, falling backwards into someone’s arms. Blackness swarms his vision, bordering everything that Alec can see, and everything that is quickly fading.

As he falls, he sees Magnus step forwards; away from him and towards Valentine.

Alec reaches out a hand clumsily. “N-no…” He tries to say, but it comes out a broken whisper.

He tries to fight against the pull, but soon, oblivion beckons and consumes him without permission. He feels the fight leave his body, his eyes growing heavier and his weight falling entirely into whoever was waiting to catch him.

The last thing he hears is a faint call; a cry of, “Alexander!”

And then; nothing.

Unthinking, vacant, empty nothing.

~

As soon as Raj stabs the needle into Alec’s neck, Magnus realises – with half hope and half fear – what the other agents are doing.

They are prioritising.

It shocks him that they thought Alec might actually be unable to choose.

Surely between his life and hundreds of innocent lives, the decision would be an easy one.

But if the situations were reversed, would you leave? Magnus asks himself, as he watches Alec fall back, unconscious, into Raj’s waiting arms.

As Alec reaches up a hand, Magnus’ heart strains. It lurches out of his rib-cage, fluttering painfully against his bones; reaching out in return to Alec. He forces it back, swallows his fear and steps forwards; closer to the man who is going to make Magnus wish he was dead.

“Are you ready?” Valentine looks at him with ice in his eyes, and the cold washes over Magnus instantly.

He can feel the warmth and the kindness sapping from the air all around him. It makes it worse when Jonathan– who Magnus is sure is the psychotic son – steps to him and slowly runs a finger down Magnus’ cheek. His nail scrapes the skin, and Magnus forces his body not to shiver.

He won’t give these assholes the pleasure of knowing how frightened he is.

“You’ll be a fun one to break.” Jonathan says.

And then he throws something over Magnus’ head that descends his world into darkness. The bag is tight and constricts his breathing so that he can only inhale and exhale in short, sharp gasps. As they roughly walk him into the van, Magnus starts to feel hazy. His steps become sluggish and he can’t think straight from the lack of air.

He starts to pass out, but it’s such an agonisingly slow process that he almost wishes he could bang his head against the van just to make it happen sooner. But his body knows how to fight, and Magnus can only pray that it will come soon.

He thinks of Alec, in his last few moments. He thinks of his mother, smiling and soft before her death. He thinks of Isabelle and the way she stands up for others. He thinks of Ragnor, so kind and noble as he selflessly died.

Anger tries to re-awaken Magnus, but it fizzles out into empty emotion. He can’t find the energy to feel anything at all. No anger, sorrow, fear.

The one thing he can still feel is the trickle of blood across his wrist, and the ghost of where Alec’s finger had caressed the broken skin there.

The air leaves his lungs, and his eyes close behind the bag.

When the van kicks into movement, Magnus is unconscious and dreaming of a world in black and white; where the only colour is splashes of hazel across a black sky.

Chapter Text

Voices.

The first thing that Alec tunes into is voices. Fragments of conversation swarm around him.

“ – not our call to make. With all due respect, ma’am, I was not happy with what you made us do-“

“It is not your job to give your opinion, Branwell. Agents obey orders. They do not challenge them.”

The second voice is sharp, and Alec is awake enough to place it as belonging to his mother. Whatever they’re talking about is serious, because Maryse only raises her voice in rare occasions. He pities whatever Lydia is arguing with her about.

“It was Alec’s team.” Another voice, male this time, speaks. Alec thinks it might be Raj, but he’s still coming to and his logic is clouded with hazy thoughts. “And I agree with Lydia, what you had us do was unfair and…”

“The reason my son and thousands of people are alive?” His mother snaps. “The fact that you had to obey my orders is proof enough that Alec was not going to decide quickly enough. He would have hesitated and everyone in Times Square would have died. Would you want that, agents?”

“But…Magnus Bane is now in the hands of the Morgensterns.” Lydia protests. “Surely that isn’t right-“

At those words – those awful, painstakingly clear words - Alec snaps to consciousness.

Though his eyes remain closed, he can feel his body now resting on a settee. Probably the leather one in his mother’s office, judging by the slight creak and coolness of the air conditioning overhead. He listens intently, trying to remember something.

Something about Magnus.

Something unbearable.

What happened…?

His mother’s voice trembles with anger. “The Clave is not responsible for that man. And neither were you, or anyone else on the team. It is not our fault he decided to get involved with Valentine.” She sighs and he can feel the surrender in it. “We did our best. The Clave has the Cup, and our agents are alive. The mission was a success.”

The mission.

The mission.

Alec suddenly remembers. He remembers everything.

Magnus.

He remembers reaching for Magnus, and watching in that last moment as he stepped up towards Valentine.

He remembers the stabbing sensation in his neck.

Anger floods his bloodstream, pushing aside the drowsiness.

“Agents, you are dismissed.” Maryse says. “Lydia, go and check on Isabelle. When she wakes, bring her straight to my office. Raj, file out the paperwork for the mission. That will be all.”

Alec waits until the door slams shut – and it’s hard enough that he realises he can’t be furious at either Raj or Lydia, who are clearly distressed and guilt-ridden – and sits up. He launches up onto his feet, and then realises it was a mistake.

His brief plan had been to sit up, turn to his mother and demand answers, but then the room starts to tilt violently, and his stomach decides to flip upside down. His vision swarms with light for what feels like the first time in forever. He is like a new-born; blinking against the cruel brightness of the world.

“Alec!” His mother cries out. Her arms wrap around his shoulders, steadying him on his feet. She holds him tightly. The fear in her voice is almost enough to dissolve some of Alec’s anger. But it isn’t. He waits until the colours fade to normal and then shoves her away.

Her eyes widen, astonished. “Alec, listen to me-“

“What did you do?” He asks hoarsely. His voice feels scratchy and awful, and the words are breathlessly spoken, but he tries. He has to. He feels sick to the stomach but he has to know. “Mom…did those people...the bomb?”

“The bomb was defused.” Maryse quickly soothes. She swallows, and glances away. It’s just a moment, but Alec catches the gesture. His mother is not usually one to avoid eye contact, so why would she now?

She takes a slow step forwards, her arms hovering in the air as if to hold him again. “Helen and Aline disarmed it, while Raj and Lydia brought you and your sister back to the Institute.”

Memories of a needle, a sharp sting, and falling jolts back into Alec’s mind. He gasps. “You...drugged me.”

He doesn’t know why this upsets him so much. Surely his mother was doing what she thought was best. If she was simply saving his life then why does he feel likes his insides are knotting and twisting painfully?

And then Alec remembers the rest.

“You left him there.” Alec whispers. Tears fill his eyes as he steps backwards. His legs collide with the chair and he sinks into it; blind to anything but the feeling of a thousand, tiny little pinpricks stabbing at his eyes. “You left him.”

Just like Izzy had warned him, they had left Magnus to die.

“This is all my fault.” Alec says.

Alec can feel his heart pounding away in his chest, in a pathetic excuse to keep breathing like a normal person. But something is tearing through him like an electric current. His fingers tingle, turning numb, and whatever Maryse is saying fades into a faraway whisper. There is only the ringing in his ears and the fearful, loud breathes escaping his body.

Valentine took Magnus.

They took him.

They’re going to kill him.

The tears don’t come, but the pain of guilt and sorrow and anger is excruciating.

Alec keels over, unable to do anything other than remember how to breathe.

Words echo through his mind. Magnus’ words.

“You gave me hope, Alec.”

In his mind, he sees a smile curving at full lips; teasing laughter and the sign of something beginning.

I gave you hope. Alec shudders. And now I’ve destroyed you.

Alec closes his eyes, but all he sees is Magnus’ face before he gave in to the blackness of unconsciousness. He opens his eyes and looks down at his hands. Blood still stains beneath his fingertips. Magnus’ blood. From where he’d so briefly touched him, trying to comfort and shield him against Valentine’s cruelty. He stares at it until it becomes the only colour in the room.

Violent, broken, achingly vivid red.

Suddenly, a softer voice reaches into Alec’s mind. It pushes past the fear and the shock and nestles quietly.

It, or she, kindly says, “Hey, Alec. It’s me. I’m here.”

“Izzy.” He mumbles.

“I’m here.” She repeats quietly. She leans in and brushes a hand down her brother's cheek. She brushes away the dampness that he ignores might be tears. “Can you see me?” Isabelle asks. She tilts his chin up, gently, directing his eyes towards her face.

“Yes.” He manages to say. Truthfully, she’s still a little blurry; his vision still fuzzy around the edges. Perhaps it’s the drug’s effect, or something else. Alec doesn’t let himself think about why his heart almost exploded out of his chest. He counts down for a minute, and then another; until the air conditioning can finally be heard again over his heartbeat.

“Izzy, they-“

“I know, Alec. I know everything.” A flash of anger swirls into Isabelle’s eyes. “They drugged me too.”

Maryse finally interrupts them. She folds her arms across her chest. “Alec, Isabelle, we did what we believed was best for you-“

“Best for us?” Izzy cuts off their mother. She stands from her crouch, pulling her arm away from Alec. She holds out her hands in question. “You forced Lydia and Raj to go against our orders and obey you. You forced them into an awful position and then made it seem like it was perfectly acceptable to leave behind Magnus. We promised him protection!”

“We did no such thing.” Maryse snaps. “We promised that he was free to go, if the mission went smoothly. But it didn’t.” She looks away from Izzy’s eyes, still refusing to meet Alec’s. “There is nothing to be done about it now. He’s likely already dead.”

“Do you even have a heart?” Izzy cries, her voice trembling. She looks disgusted and ashamed as she stares down Maryse. “How can you be so okay with this? How can you stand here and try to convince us that you drugged us to save our lives, and yet throw away Magnus’ without even blinking?”

Maryse holds up a finger in warning. “It was Magnus, or everyone in Times Square.” She reminds them coldly. “Remember that.”

Her eyes lose some of their anger, and for a moment, they become glassy with unshed tears. Her hesitation is what makes it unbearable, because if Alec could manage to look past it and only see the stone-cold exterior, it would make the conversation easier.

Maryse blinks the tears away quickly – so fast that Alec wonders if he imagined them - and settles her expression. “Leaders make hard choices sometimes, Isabelle. If you hate me, hate me, but I will not apologise for choosing you, Jace, Izzy and over 45,000 people instead of a wayward assassin.”

“But…” Izzy trails off.

“I told Raj and Lydia to act only if Alec hesitated. And you did.”

Maryse turns her cool expression to Alec, finally acknowledging him. “There’s a reason we sent out a mercy kill, Alec. He should’ve died painlessly, not like this.” She sets her lips into a firm line. “Can you convince me with complete certainty that you were going to leave in time?”

Alec says nothing. He doesn’t argue or protest or lie. Honestly, he isn’t sure. He might not be sure of anything ever again. Today has become a thing of nightmares. It will haunt him, always.

The one thing he knows is that Magnus Bane is gone. Forever.

And that thought sickens Alec more than the idea of his own mother drugging him. It sickens him more than the thought of not choosing between thousands of people and one man.

Alec doesn’t know why, but he’s certain that his life is changing with every passing second. With every moment that passes, Magnus is dead; and Alec’s hope is blackening and burning and crumbling.

Is it guilt? Or something else? It felt stronger than simple guilt. He felt like he’d ripped Magnus away from his life.

“It’s not your fault, Alec.” Izzy says gently. She leans down again and wraps her arms around her brother, tightly. She hugs him, pressing him into her warmth. Tears drip from Alec’s eyes, and he lets himself cry; ignoring that his mother is still standing right there.

“I have to go and see Jace and Clary and make sure the security department didn’t find any hidden trackers on their persons.” She informs them, without any emotion colouring her voice. Maryse opens the door. “We will talk again. Soon.”

And then it’s just Alec in Izzy’s arms.

Although the world feels like it’s still violently swaying, Alec finds a harbour in his sister’s embrace, and wraps himself in her kindness.

“Alec,” Izzy says quietly. She carefully detaches herself from him and pulls back, holding him gently by the shoulders.

A smile touches her lips as she says, “It’s not over yet.”

“What do you mean?” He asks. He wishes he could smile back, or hug her, because hey, we’re not dead. But his body feels drained; tired and wrecked from dealing with whatever emotional mess his brain is throwing at it.

Izzy’s eyes are gleaming with dangerous energy. “I have an idea.” She says.

He knows that voice. It’s the voice that accompanies the final blow in a series of deadly kicks. It’s powerful and confident and something that Alec knows to both fear and admire. It’s the voice of Isabelle in her element; passion.

Alec meets her eyes. “Is it dangerous?” He asks, already knowing the answer.

“Very.”

“Will it save him?”

Alec doesn’t need to be specific. Izzy knows.

She nods, her expression focused. “We’re going to break into the Morgenstern’s lair and get Magnus back.”

And there it was. She’d said it.

After a moment, Alec laughs. He leans his back against the settee and rests his head on one of his knees, realising that his laughs are starting to sound a lot like cries. A lot like something hopeless and frustrated.

The idea of swooping into Valentine’s base and plucking out Magnus like a toy in a claw machine sounds hilariously impossible.

Izzy’s expression twists into hurt. Her eyes narrow. “I’m not joking, Alec.” She insists. And then her eyes soften. She crosses her legs on the floor, shuffling closer to where Alec sits, and rests her hands over his.

“Listen to me.” She says, softer this time.

Izzy quickly casts her eyes back to the door, making sure it’s firmly closed. “Look, Jace and Clary have gained some information from their operation. They didn’t manage to infiltrate much, but they do have some locations for us. We can narrow down which Magnus will be in. Plus, we have the element of surprise.”

“There’s no way Valentine will think we’re coming back.” Alec finishes. He sits up a little straighter, nodding for Isabelle to continue.

Perhaps this idea has some sense. Not a lot. But just enough for him to pull his head out of the abyss. The pit inside him – so full of anger and frustration and disappointment in himself – hovers on the edge. It wants to pull him inside, but he fights it. He looks at Isabelle, who is waiting patiently for him to think it through.

She nods. “We can find Magnus, big brother. I promise. We can keep our word and get him out of this alive.”

“You’re…really not joking? You want to get Magnus back?”

“Don’t you?”

Alec nods before he can think of a reason why he shouldn’t. It’s probably going to haunt his ass to hell and back, but the thought of giving up settles into his skin like a needle. He won’t let someone make this decision for him.

This time, he’s going to do something for himself. Selfishly, and a little guiltily, he makes the decision then.

“We’re getting Magnus Bane out of there alive.” He tells Izzy.

Her smile is beautiful and proud. “We are indeed.”

~

They step outside, intent on tracking down Jace and Clary and filling them in, but two figures block their path.

“Alec, we are so sorry.” Lydia says. Alec looks at her with surprise. He has never seen his friend look so small before, and he recognises it. Her shoulders are hunched, and the tremble in her lip makes it impossible to feel anything but understanding. “I know you probably hate us for what we did.”

Alec shakes his head. “I don’t.” He says, and it’s the truth. He knows how hard the tough demands of being an agent are. He’s known Lydia and Raj since they were children. He knows their strengths and their weaknesses, and knows that loyalty is something that runs deep in their blood, like it does in his own.

“Your mother gave the order only the night before. To…bring you back, if things got heated.” Raj explains quietly. He doesn’t meet their eyes. “We didn’t have time to think and-“

“Please.” Alec says. “None of that. What happened, happened. We can’t change it now.”

No matter how fucking wonderful that would be.

“Guys, we get it. We live with our mother.” Isabelle snorts. “We know she’s…persuasive.”

“But that doesn’t make our actions right.” Lydia argues. She sighs, rubbing a hand across her temples and looking like she’s questioning her entire purpose in life.

Alec winces. He knows that feeling all too well. Especially recently.

And all of his anger is directed towards his mother, not the two agents. Not his two friends, who were put under a likely amount of pressure from their own bosses, as well as Maryse. He knows that the situation went down in a way that no one expected. If Magnus wasn’t taken, perhaps he could forgive it so easily. But he can’t. At least not yet.

“But, there’s a way you can make amends.” Izzy says, lowering her voice. Her expression is a challenge; a dare to make a stand. “You didn’t have a choice before, but you have one now.”

Lydia and Raj exchange a quick look.

Pulling her lips into a stern, focused line, Lydia finally meets Alec’s eyes. She nods. “We’re in.”

Alec lets out a quick sound of relief, but that’s all he gives himself time for. He nods to the both of them, telling them where to meet in a few minutes.

But first, there’s someone very important he needs to hug.

~

As soon as Alec sees Jace, his friend’s smile plucks away some of Alec’s heartache.

Just seeing him sitting down, rolling his eyes as one of their medics fusses over a bruise on his arm, brings tears to Alec’s eyes.

He looks so…Jace.

And more importantly, alive.

As he enters the room, he clears his throat, torn between shoving aside the medic and waiting for him to finish giving his best friend the all clear. He has no idea what Jace has endured, so he’s not sure about rushing in recklessly just yet.

But then Jace looks up, and his lips curve into such a wide smile that Alec can’t help but close the distance between them.

“Alec!” Jace cries happily. He brushes aside the medic, leaps up from the chair and wraps his arms tightly around Alec before anyone can protest.

Alec doesn’t mind one bit. He embraces Jace, closing his eyes and feeling safe for the first time that day. A part of his soul has returned, safe and alive. It’s more than enough to sooth Alec’s nerves. Some people in their line of work have suffered much worse, and Alec knows better than to push his luck and wish that Jace hadn’t left in the first place.

“I thought I might never see you again.” Alec mumbles into Jace’s shoulder. He pulls back, still gripping Jace’s arm as they stand together.

“Why? Because I was held hostage by the Morgensterns?” Jace scoffs. “Please. It takes more than an all-powerful crime family to take down all of this.” He gestures to himself and grins.

Alec can’t help but return it, happiness washing over him. He allows himself this moment. He lets them share a moment to simply breathe, and to be breathing in the same space again.

“You are okay, right?” Alec asks. “Nothing permanently damaged?” He scans Jace’s face, and arms, but can apart from a few bruises and the bags under his eyes, Jace looks as ready for a fight as usual. His smile is still sharp and prepared to take on the world.

Jace shakes his head. “All the goods are intact.” He winks, and then turns slightly to the medic. “Right?”

The man nods, still clearly reluctant to let Jace go. He takes a seat, staring down at some forms while the two men talk.

“See? I’m fine.” Jace says quickly. He smiles, but Alec knows they’ll need to have a more thoughrough talk later. He wants to know the details, even if they’re hard to handle, because there’s nothing than can tear him and Jace apart.

Jace grins. “Nothing a couple of whiskeys won’t fix. You up for it?”

“Uh, not right now.” Alec says, apologetically. He tries to keep his voice steady, but his expression must’ve been something else, because Jace’s smile fades. He narrows his eyes.

“What’s up, Alec?”

For a moment, he considers staying silent. Just giving up entirely. He really doesn’t want to burden his friend so soon after he’s returned, but this can’t wait. Alec knows this. And deep down, a clock is ticking away Magnus’ life. He can hear it getting louder and louder and refuses to ignore it.

“I need to speak to you.” Alec finally says. “In private.”

Again, Jace picks up on the urgency. He nods. “Of course. Give me five minutes to finish up with this stalker,” He waves a hand at the medic, who mutters something highly unprofessional that involves words rhyming with ‘sucking that’.

Just when Alec turns to leave, Jace catches his arm and slowly turns him back around. His expression is sad now. “Alec, the assassin who was exchanged for our return…did he save our lives?”

Alec flinches at the reminder. Pushing against the bile in his throat, he focuses his breathing, and remembers Izzy’s words. They have time. They can fix this.

He nods with certainty. “He did.”

Jace is silent for a moment, his eyes growing distant. “I wish there was some way we could…” He trails off, tapping his fingers against his thighs. His expression is solemn when he looks back up. “I’m sorry he had to die to save us. Whatever he did, he doesn’t deserve whatever Valentine has planned for him. No one does.”

“He’s not dead yet.” Alec says quickly. He needs to say it. He needs to keep reminding himself that there’s still hope; there’s still time. The image of Magnus, bloody and broken, is an image he wants to keep as far away as possible.

Jace tilts his head up sharply. “What?”

“Uh, later.” Alec notices the medic’s impatient scowl and remembers where they are. “Come as soon as you can. Meeting room five.”

Jace nods, squeezing his arm for another second or two before letting him go. Alec turns to leave, letting out a sigh, but then he turns back and pulls his friend into another hug. He closes his eyes again, savouring the happiness. Jace is someone he can never lose, and having him back reminds Alec that he has his family finally back together.

“I’m so glad you’re okay, Jace.” He whispers.

“Me too, buddy.” Jace admits, his voice shaking slightly. “Me too.”

~

Izzy leans against the table as she waits with Clary and Lydia in one of the meeting rooms.

Her brother and Jace still haven’t arrived and she’s growing impatient. Every second is a second more for Magnus to be put through hell.

She knows that Alec feels it too; the need to go on this secret operation. Although Alec is less likely to admit it, Izzy would easily admit that Magnus has become someone she likes. Perhaps not trusts – because in their world, trust is so easily broken – but she likes him enough to call him a friend. And to want him to have a life that extends beyond a week.

She tunes back into the conversation happening around the room.

“But he didn’t hurt you?” Lydia is asking Clary. She sounds incredulous. “At all?”

Clary nods, her red hair piled into a messy bun. There’s a small bruise on her lip, but nothing that hints towards violent beatings or interrogation. “He didn’t even ask who we worked for. He didn’t ask for our real names, or anything.”

“And…Jonathan?” Izzy asks, reluctantly. “He didn’t…do anything?” But she'd seen how the son had looked so strangely at Clary, and Izzy wanted to stamp over every inch of the asshole for looking at her friend like that. Izzy moves closer to Clary, resting her hand over hers and waiting; letting Clary know that she’s here for her, if she wants to talk.

But Clary shakes her head again, her brow furrowing. “In a weird way, I wish he had interrogated us. Or threatened us. Even Sebastian, who was pretty insane with his creepy obsessive love, didn’t touch me until the exchange.”

Lydia frowns. “I thought his name was Jonathan?”

Izzy grits her teeth together. “And what do you mean that he’s in love with you?” Her nails dig into the table, picturing it as Jonathan’s heart splattering under her hand.

Clary looks at them both, her expression turning solemn. “He’s both. I think he has…two of him.” She grimaces. “He’s not just Jonathan.”

“Like twins?” Lydia asks.

“No, as in, personality split. And not one that can be fixed. All we found out is that Valentine had a daughter, but she died. A long time ago. And it really fucked Jonathan up, so he created another version of himself that could shut out the pain.”

“Let me guess, Sebastian?”

Clary nods. “Yeah. Jonathan is still the son of a crime lord, but he doesn’t laugh at pain, or sing nursery rhymes as he reads the morning paper.”

“Fuck.” Izzy mutters. The new information is disturbing. It twists her insides with anger thinking that darkness could corrupt someone in such a sickening way. “Just what the world needs. A crazy son of a crime boss who thinks he’s Hannah Montana.”

She glances at Clary, and then winces. Her friend is staring down at the table, her eyes glazed over as she sets her jaw.

Izzy squeezes her hand. “I’m sorry, Clary. I know it must’ve been awful for you.”

“It wasn’t though.” Clary insists. She leans back in her chair, still holding Isabelle’s hand for comfort. “In the two days we were tied up, they didn’t do anything to us. They gave us food, water, a bed even. It was better than some motels we’ve stayed at, right?”

Lydia and Izzy both nod, reluctantly, in agreement.

“But why?” Lydia asks uncertainly. “Why would they not care about who you were?”

“Because,” Clary began, and there was fear lacing her voice now. “He thinks he’s unstoppable. And he has a point. He has so many resources; so many powerful people in his pocket. What does it matter if two agents think they can get inside his walls? We didn’t learn anything important afterall. We barely infiltrated the first layer. We didn’t earn his trust. All we were sent out to do was occasionally sell drugs, or harass people for money they owed, which was easy enough to fake…”

Clary trails off, looking out of the window. Her grip on Isabelle’s hand loosens as she stares, chewing her lower lip.

Isabelle leans forwards, her hair brushing Clary’s shoulder. “Hey, you did your best, Clary. No one can be expected to do any more than that. And you’re alive.” She smiles shakily. “, which is all that matters to me.”

“It's really not your fault, Clary, I promise.” Lydia adds kindly. “We would’ve traded anything to get you back.”

“Even an innocent person.” Clary’s face falls. She places her head into her hands, sighing. “They handed over that man because of me.”

“It’s no one’s fault.” Izzy said quietly. “We thought we could play Valentine, but we were wrong. And this is why we’re here now. We can get Magnus back, and then go from there.”

Clary sits up again. She’s quiet for a few moments, and then nods. “Alright. We did get some information about locations, and the date of something he has planned.”

“Oh. Wonderful.” Izzy rolls her eyes. “What could it be this time? A new drug coming out onto the scene? Another bomb?”

“Um.”

Izzy looks across at Lydia, who is staring at her with wide eyes.

“What is it now?” Isabelle demands.

Lydia looks uncomfortable, refusing to meet Izzy’s eyes. She finally plucks up the courage. “There was no bombs.” She reveals quietly. Her eyes are sad. “Valentine tricked us. He played to our humanity, and it worked. We left Magnus, just like he thought we would.”

Izzy lets out all the curse words she’s ever known.

She lays them out like guns, firing them into the room. Anger fuels her words, and all she can see is her mother’s face, lying so easily and pretending that they made the right choice. She knows that Maryse wanted to shield them from any mistakes that The Clave, or her parents, made, but Izzy wanted to grab her by the shoulders and scream.

Don’t they know? Mistakes make us human. We should face them, and apologise. Instead, they cover them up and run.

“Well that’s fucking fantastic.”

Izzy gasps as her brother curses.

Silently, he’s just arrived, and apparently in time to catch Lydia’s words. Alec hovers in the doorway with Jace just behind him, and Raj beside him. The three men look astonished, and then angry; just like she is.

“We could’ve taken them down after all.” Alec hisses. He slams the door as they enter, leaning on it for a moment. His back arches in frustration, and she can see the tension in the way his veins stand out so clearly on his forearms. He turns around, his expression a storm of regret.

Izzy shakes her head quickly. She won’t have her brother putting more blame on himself. “No. We were still outnumbered, and some of us might’ve been injured, or died.”

“We’ll never know, so let’s move on.” Lydia suggests, and Izzy offers her a grateful look. She nods in understanding, someone else who also understands how Alec’s mind works.

“So,” Izzy stands, stretching and casually hitting the button located in the security camera behind them. When a small bleep clicks, letting her know that the visuals are now gone, she smiles a little. “, we have ten minutes. Let’s get started.”

~

Cold water splashing into his face startles Magnus awake.

He gasps, the icy water filling his mouth and seeping into his eyes. Trying to regain his senses, he coughs, spluttering on the sudden rush of water and spitting it out quickly. The cold makes his teeth ache with sharp agony.

“Ah, you’re back with us.”

Magnus gives himself a moment to try and fill his brain with something useful. Anything other than the desperation to start shouting out for help; help that is never going to arrive.

He makes a quick study of his surroundings.

It gives him time to let go of the shock and try to summon any ounce of courage. His hands are tied by ropes, stretching to the ceiling above his head where low beams hang. The rope is knotted tightly around one of the beams, and Magnus knows that tugging will only rip his arms out of his sockets.

He’s on his knees, only held up by the ropes, and standing before him is Valentine Morgenstern; as pale, tall and scowling as when he’d last seen him in the parking lot.

“Do you know something?” Valentine asks him. He’s dragging a chair across the room, stopping in-front of Magnus and taking a seat. In his hands, he holds a small dagger; the point glinting dangerously. “In all of my life, you are one of the most difficult people I have ever had the misfortune to cross paths with.”

“Should I be flattered?” Magnus chokes out. His throat is raw. It feels like someone has reached a hand inside his throat and turned it inside out.

He digs his fingers into the rope, trying to use the pain to remain upright. If he falls forwards, his arms are going to ache and bruise, and he has a feeling he’s going to need to stay as strong as possible until he can work out a way out.

A way out? Some part of Magnus hisses cruelly. The last thing you’ll see in this lifetime is these four, grubby, dark walls. Accept it.

But he would not. He was going to fight up until his last breath.

“You should be flattered.” Valentine tells him. “I consider myself a very powerful man, and you’ve managed to piss me off more than once and live to tell the tale.”

“How humble you are.” Magnus can’t help but sneer. He can hear part of himself protesting against his taunts. He’s tied up before Valentine Morgenstern and he’s shooting off at the mouth. It’s probably not his smartest move.

But if he’s going to die, he’s not going to die easily. He’ll go out swearing and biting and clawing and laughing.

He’s going to replay memories of his mother’s smile. He’ll block out the pain of his skin peeling and his teeth being pulled from plyers and hide behind memories of Ragnor dancing, and Catarina teasing him as they make coffee together. He’ll think of lovers who have given him beautiful nights. He’ll think of possibilities and dreams and everything in-between.

And when he dies, his mother will be waiting for him.

“Are you…smiling?” Valentine sneers. He looks so surprised that Magnus really does smile this time.

“Just a funny thought.” Magnus says.

Valentine leans forwards in the chair, his teeth flashing white as he sneers. “Do share.”

Realising that he’s screwed beyond hope anyway, Magnus decides to go out with a good one. He leans forwards. “There’s water on your pants, sir.” He says innocently. “It looks like you’ve pissed yourself.”

Valentine moves so quickly that he doesn’t see it coming.

Although, he really should’ve expected a reaction. The back of Valentine’s hand collides with his cheek. The rings sting the worst. Their sharp metal bites into Magnus’ skin, drawing blood as soon as they collide with his skin. He winces, but doesn’t let out a groan. Insulting Valentine’s pride has proven worth it so far, and Magnus hopes it’ll keep his spirits up as his life is slowly drained away.

Valentine leans closer and grabs the back of Magnus’ head, roughly tugging his hair and forcing his chin upwards.

He glares. “I don’t like people who best me.” Valentine says, quietly. It’s a deadly sort of quiet; one of someone who knows they have all the time in the world. And someone like Valentine having time means Magnus’ life is about to become a horror story.

Valentine digs his nails into Magnus’ head. “I like it even less when people think they’re heroes.”

“I’m not a hero.” Magnus mumbles, the biting pain of the slap leaving him dizzy. His ears ring, but he focuses on Valentine’s face and keeps from passing out.

“Oh, but you are. That’s exactly what you are.”

Valentine leans back, sitting back down in his chair. He runs the dagger across Magnus’ forehead as he speaks, hovering over his eyes and then resting it on the tip of his nose. “You risked your life to honour your dead friend, and then you stepped in so that two agents were saved. And I bet you’ve never met them before.”

Magnus opens his mouth to lie, but Valentine presses the dagger’s point into his nose. The threat is clear. Truthfulness is going to make his torture a little less agonising. At least, that’s what Magnus lets himself believe. Anything else is unbearable.

“So you do know when to shut up. I’m pleased.”

I’ll tell you where to shove your pleasure. You can shove it right up your-

“It was a test, you know.”

Magnus looks up, helpless against the pull of curiosity.

Valentine smiles knowingly. “The exchange.” He elaborates. “I wanted to see something. You see, I want to know what makes you tick.” He takes the dagger away from Magnus’ face and runs it across his bare shoulders, the tip cutting in a little, but not enough to draw blood. Not yet, at least. “I needed to know your weakness. Everyone has one, and now I know what yours is.”

The dagger tip makes a line down Magnus’ chest, and Valentine pauses; hovering the blade just above Magnus’ heart. “Your weakness,” His smile turns victorious and menacing. The blade pushes into the soft skin above his heart. “, is right here.”

“Yes, my heart.” Magnus quickly says. “It requires blood to live.” He has to distract Valentine, to divert his attention and buy himself some more time. So he smirks at Valentine and says, “I’m so pleased you payed attention in class, Val.”

The heel of Valentine’s palm slams upwards, right into Magnus’ nose. The crunch echoes around the room, and Magnus feels his eyes roll into the back of his head. He slips, his knees collapsing as he falls in an awkward motion. But the restraints hold him up, so he ends up with his head thrown back and his neck fully exposed to a madman.

Sweat trickles into his eyes, and Magnus inhales sharply, counts to three and then uses every ounce of his strength to push his head back up again. Agony pulses through his nose, numbing the skin around it as blood trickles out, but Magnus ignores it as much as he can and blinks the sweat out of his eyes.

The pain is still screaming into his brain, but the parts of Magnus that have dealt with worse remind him of just that. He reminds himself that his father had broken his nose as a child, and he’d had to reset it on his own, with his mother crying and curled on the floor beside him.

Magnus reminds himself that this is nothing compared to being told that his mother has been sold like an animal. It was nothing compared to finding her broken body and having your own father laugh and say, ‘good riddance’.

It was nothing compared to the hell he’s already suffered through, and come out a survivor.

You will survive this, he tells himself. No, he commands.

You will survive this. You will.

He is about to recite the words that have become a source of strength for him, and a source of hope quite recently, when another pops into his mind. A pair of hazel eyes; a small smile; secret looks.

Alec.

Magnus realises that he’s been desperately trying to not think about the agent. It hurt to imagine Alec feeling guilty over his inevitable death. It also hurt him to accept that they would not be coming back for him.

Would you?

His answer is easy.

Yes.

Valentine is right. Magnus would always choose helping others. He would always choose compassion and kindness over hatred and cruelty. There’s too much evil in the world – evil that Magnus has seen and witnessed and experienced – and he’s always made sure that he’s one to remove it, not add to it.

So when Valentine makes the first cut, right above his heart, Magnus sets his jaw firmly and plants his knees on the ground.

He is going to survive this.

Somehow, he’s going to fight and make his own way out. Just like he always will.

Magnus glares at Valentine, anger flaring inside every part of his body. He uses it; channels it into numbing himself to the small cuts that the man is making across his chest.

I’m getting out of here, Magnus tells himself.

And when I do, Valentine is going to wish he’s never met me.

Chapter Text

Simon is sitting in his room, trying to remind himself that things like essays used to be his biggest problem, when a spy crawls through his window.

He jumps out of his skin, throwing his notes at the intruder.

As if paper cuts are enough to stop an attacker.

When a familiar face appears out from under a curtain of long, dark hair, Simon gapes.

“Hey, Simon.” Isabelle says with a charming smile. “Thought I’d come and say hi.” She waves her hand. Her fingerless gloves are a deep red shade that matches her lips. She turns, closes the window and then makes herself at home in his desk chair.

Caught between surprise, fear and excitement, Simon hurries to collect his poor notes. He picks them up from the floor as Isabelle peers at his comic collection lining the bookshelves above his desk. She stands, her heels clicking as she slowly paces. 

“W-what are you doing here?” He asks in a whisper. It’s late at night, and he’s pretty sure the only reason he’d be able to explain the situation to his flat-sharers involves a great deal of bullshit. He can't imagine explaining Isabelle to his fellow students. 

Isabelle shrugs. “Rest easy, hombre. I’m not here to hurt you.”

“I knew that.” Simon mumbles. He shoves his papers into a pile and quickly swipes at a grubby fingerprint on his glasses. When the lens is clear, he pads over to Isabelle. He hesitates as she runs her long fingers across the books.

“Is everything alright?” He asks her. And then curses himself.

He reminds himself that Isabelle is an agent of The Clave, and they ought to never see each other again. He remembers signing the confidentially agreements and being hurried off in a car and back to his house. The power of the organisation both scares and impresses Simon, as he headed back to his dorm and back to his classes with no sign of anything being out of place.

His guitar, laptop and belongings have all been returned from the Lodge, and all of his teachers believed him to have a family emergency.

Isabelle turns to face him. “I realised we never got to say goodbye, that’s all.” She says, smiling a soft smile that has Simon weak at the knees.

“O-oh. That. Uh, I doubt your parents wanted me to place a foot out of line." He gulps at the reminder of Maryse's cold look. He remembers something else, something foolish. "I tried to ask the escorts to let me find you but-“

“You wanted to see me? To say goodbye?” Izzy beams. She looks at Simon in surprise, as though it’s the first time someone’s risked a beating for her. Simon very much doubts that’s true. Isabelle is snarky, quick and beautiful, and he imagines there are maybe only a dozen men who wouldn’t lay down and die at her command.

Something catches his eye. As he watches Isabelle standing there, looking so out of place in her black gear, Simon realises that she’s looking around the room rather fiercely. She keeps rubbing circles into her fingertips too, a gesture of uncertainty.

She almost looks...unsteady.

Again, he takes the risk. “Isabelle, are you…in danger?”

The words are hesitant. 

She laughs. It's a bitter laugh, but not - he hopes - one directed at him. “We’re always in danger." She mutters. "Comes with the job, remember?”

And then, Simon makes a decision. He takes a look at the powerful woman standing in his room and starts to see her as a person. As someone who can let down her guard and crawl into his room to look for comfort.

He sits on the edge of his bed and pats the space beside him.

“Sit with me?” Simon asks weakly, wishing it sounded less like a kid asking for an extended curfew.

Isabelle narrows her eyes. She looks at the window, and then at the space on the bed.

“Not to brag, but I also make a mean honeycomb hot chocolate.” He adds, grinning proudly. He forces himself not to say anything else. He just sits and waits for Izzy to decide. He wants her to feel welcome, but not forced into staying either. 

After a few more seconds, Izzy cracks a smile. She looks tired then, rubbing her eyes and sitting down beside him with a heavy sigh. She tilts her head to look at him. “That sounds really good, Simon.”

“Really?” He says, wincing at how obvious he’s being.

But Isabelle is Isabelle, and he wants to impress her. Or, at least, make her feel at ease.

Why are you trying so hard to impress a girl who just crawled through your window in the middle of the night?

Because, Simon thinks, as he notices the fear in Izzy’s eyes, that right now, Isabelle might be needing a friend.

Tonight, she’s not a badass agent – although to Simon, she’ll always be this mesmerising creature of grace and passion – she’s just a girl. And he’s just someone with a willing ear. He heads to the small kitchen in the other room and brings her back the hot chocolate. He also makes sure to close the bedroom door carefully.

She takes a big gulp, and Simon waits for the verdict.

He feels his knees wanting to move, but he ceases their twitching and sits up straighter.

Isabelle lowers the cup, and when she smiles, there’s a cream moustache above her lips. “This is amazing, Simon. Thank you!”

He beams. “You’re welcome. It’s part of the deal."

Izzy raises one perfectly shaped eyebrow.

Gulping, Simon then clears his throat. "You know?” He points to the now-closed window and explains, “The ‘crawling through the window at midnight’ package.”

Isabelle has the good grace to look sheepish. It’s a new emotion, one he’s not seen on her face before, but he likes that she has a good sense of humour. “Sorry about that.” Isabelle says.

“I’m not.” He says, a little too quickly. And happily.

She raises her eyebrow again. Under any other circumstances, it would have Simon stuttering out an apology. But she’s still sporting the chocolate moustache, and he finds her too adorable to fear in that moment.

But he remembers her uncertainty earlier, and decides to be brave. Again.

As brave as anyone can be wearing Star Wars pyjama pants and retainers.

He quickly pops them out of his mouth when Isabelle takes another sip of her drink.

“Isabelle, is there…something you want to talk about? With me? I mean, there’s no one else here. You could try talking out loud. It helps me sometimes.” Simon pauses. “Okay, it doesn’t, but it’s a start.” 

Isabelle studies him for a moment. She wipes a sleeve across her mouth, the cream rubbing away.

The sigh that follows is a surrendering one. In a rather unladylike manner - that has Simon crushing on her even more – Isabelle throws herself down on the bed. Her hair splays out around her like a snow angel. She stares up at the ceiling, and after a moment, Simon lays down beside her and waits.

“I’m scared, Simon.” Izzy says. Her voice is small, the tremble easy to pick out in the dark.

He nods, and then remembers that she probably can’t see it. “If you’re afraid, how is there hope for us?” He teases lightly.

Isabelle laughs, and the happy sound floats around the room. “We’re all afraid. Every one of us.” She sighs. “I think it’s what we do when we’re afraid that’s really important.”

“I usually cry.” Simon admits. He curses himself as soon as the words slip out. “Or do something manly like work out. Or punch a wall. Manly stuff like that, you know?”

Izzy snorts. “Now I just feel inadequate. All I do is kill people.”

Simon freezes. 

After a moment, Isabelle bursts out laughing. She quickly clamps a hand over her mouth, but the muffled giggles still sound out into the room.

Simon joins in, quite fine with being teased if it means hearing Izzy’s laugh.

Turning onto his side, so that he’s now facing her, Simon whispers, “You know you can come and talk to me, right? I mean, you know where I live now.”

Izzy turns to him, and her face is close enough that he can almost see the freckles on her nose. The curve of her lip stretches into a smile. “I really didn’t mean to frighten you. Before, I mean. I just…needed to get away.”

“And you thought you’d come to my dorm?”

Izzy shrugs. In the dark, it’s hard to see, but Simon thinks she’s still smiling. Her voice sounds playful. “Why not? Also, you make a killer hot chocolate.”

“It’s the only thing I kill.” Simon says, quite proudly. He blinks. “I mean, not that I judge you for doing that. I don’t. I don’t at all, I swear. But…”

In the dark, Isabelle holds a finger to his lips. “I know what you meant. No harm done.” She pulls away quickly, but the warmth of her fingertip has Simon grinning like a total idiot in the dark. His desk lamp adds a slight glow to the room. 

“So, are you going to tell me what’s going on?” He asks again. “Or are we going to ignore it?”

Izzy is quiet again, and for a moment, he thinks she might be asleep.

Her voice is quiet when she does speak. “We’re going to do something really stupid. And brave.”

“And dangerous?”

“Yeah.”

“Wonderful.” Simon says weakly. He’s not sure what else he can say to that. He doesn’t know the pressure that Izzy faces, or the stress of the thousands of people like himself that she has to protect.

But he does know one thing. He says as much. “You have a good heart, Isabelle." Simon tells her quietly. "I don’t think there’s anything, or anyone, that could stop you.”

“Not even you?” She teases.

“Oh, be warned. I’ve been known to be very intimidating at Comic Con.” He warns her. “You haven’t seen my Darth Maul cosplay.”

She laughs, leaning on her elbow to look down at him. “I didn’t understand a word of that sentence.”

Their close proximity means that Simons can feel her warm breath on his cheeks, and hear the smile in her voice. He swallows, hoping she can’t see the blush likely spreading on his face. “Never mind.” He says quickly. “I can teach you.”

“Oh, really?” Izzy asks. He’s sure she’s raising an eyebrow again. “And what can I teach you in return?”

“How about starting with how to land a punch?”

He says it teasingly, but as soon as the words slip out, Izzy tenses. She sighs and climbs off the bed, the weight of it growing lighter. 

Simon watches as she heads to the window, opening it up again.

After a couple seconds of hesitation, Izzy turns back to him. “Maybe next time.” 

Simon smiles. "Next time?" He asks, and the hope in his voice is painfully clear to his ears. 

Izzy shrugs, her hair falling over her shoulders in slight waves. “Who knows?”

He places a hand over his chest and sighs deeply. “Playing it cool. You’ll break my heart, Isabelle Lightwood.”

Again, she tenses. He can see it, even with only his desk lamp lighting her features.

She lifts her chin. "I won't." She says quickly. Something flashes across Izzy's features that looks an awful lot like fear. "I won't." She repeats, more firmly, as if convincing herself.

Simon digs his fingers into the quilt, not quite sure what to say. He doesn't want their time together ending so...abruptly. He can feel the tension replacing their laughter.

"Let me just put this cup in the sink. One second." He tells her, taking the empty mug and rushing into the kitchen. He places it in the sink and takes a deep breath. Gathering up his courage, he counts to twenty and then goes back into the bedroom.

He keeps his voice light this time. "Well, if you feel like coming back, you can use the front door this time. And I can make you another..."

Simon trails off.

"...hot chocolate."

The room is empty, and the window is slight ajar.

Disappointment twists in his gut for a moment, but then he can’t help but smile when he sees the note pinned to the window lock. It's hastily scribbled, and he can see where she's torn off a piece from his notepad, but he only smiles wider. 

It reads: Tip number one: don’t tuck your thumb into your fist when you punch. Also, the next time you make a girl hot chocolate, put some marshmallows on top. Don’t be such a heathen, Simon Lewis. xx

~

“You certainly took your time.” Alec mutters.

“Sorry. I had an errand to run.”

“At this time of night?”

Isabelle shrugs, and there’s a hint of pink in her cheeks as she looks away. She closes the door behind her and joins the rest of the group at the table. They arranged to meet outside of The Institute, in one of the office buildings above. Alec was anxious that if they switched off the camera again, someone would grow suspicious.

One time is a risk, the second time is asking for trouble. 

Whatever, Alec thinks, as Izzy apologises again. She’s here now, and they have a job to do. An incredibly dangerous, reckless, and - as Jace has pointed out – a very unpredictable job.

“This is insane.” Jace protests. 

“You’ve said that three times now.” Alec points out, gritting his teeth. He’s trying hard not to get angry, but really, Jace is pushing his last nerve.

“And I’ll say it again. And again. This is complete insanity.”

Jace turns to look at him, and what he sees in his friend’s eyes is enough to make Alec feel guilty over getting pissed. Jace looks ready to tie him down and never let him leave. He looks shocked and hurt, but most importantly, fearful. 

“Alec,” Jace says, quietly. His expression is almost wounded. “If we give you this information, you’re really going to go in and try and bust out Bane?”

Alec swallows. Without saying a word, he nods.

He hears Jace’s sigh. “I don’t want to sound like a total asshole, but…is there any way I can convince you otherwise? I’m not saying Magnus deserves to get cut to pieces, but if something happens to you...” Jace looks at him, his eyes burning. “If something happens to you, I’ll never forgive myself, Alec. Never.”

Alec realises then that there’s even more at stake than before.

There’s Magnus’ life, his own life, and now Jace’s. There’s everyone he’s ever met and loved; risking letting them down, or dying. He could die without his parents knowing, and it would be on Jace’s conscience. He imagines their faces when they hear that Alec has died.

He closes his eyes, shutting them tightly.

He can’t bear to think about his mother losing another son in such a brutal way.

But he has to do this. Selfishness rushes through Alec's blood. He wants to do this. He wants to try and save Magnus. And perhaps it’s a little bit for himself, but it’s also for the man who came back to save him from Valentine’s men in the park. It’s also for Magnus, who sat with him by the pool that night and listened to Alec’s story.

It’s for the man whose stories Alec never got the chance to hear in return.

I want to. He realises. I really, really want to.

It’s not quite friendship, but it’s something that settles itself in the pit of Alec’s stomach. It lodges somewhere between his heart and his head, and Alec is surprised that the two seem less at war with each other today. For the first time in a long time, he feels…sure.

“Jace, you won’t lose me. I swear it." He places a hand on his friend's shoulder and tries to smile. "Tell us what you know. Please.”

When Jace still hesitates, Alec looks across at Clary, pleadingly. She gets the hint and comes around the table to stand beside Jace. She places a hand on his and waits. When he doesn’t pull away, Clary looks up at Alec and addresses him.

“There are two possible places that they’re holding Magnus." Clary finally says. "At least, two that make sense.”

“I didn’t realise Valentine was a sensible man.” Isabelle mutters.

“He didn’t become powerful without a plan." Clary points out. "He has a brain, and a cruel one at that. Which is why we think we know the two places. Do you remember what Valentine said that day? What he said about Magnus’ friend?”

“Ragnor.” Alec nods. He says the name carefully, knowing its weight. He knows that this person was enough to send Magnus into a desperate need for revenge. Well, not revenge, but something to honour his friend. To wound Valentine’s pride, his greatest flaw.

But, Alec thinks with a grimace, Valentine is having the last laugh right now.

“Yeah. So we can rule out some of his hide outs."

“We can?” Alec asks bluntly. Under any usual circumstance, he’d be ashamed to confess not being able to keep up. But with every second that passes, Magnus is slipping further and further away. 

Jace nods. "See, Valentine knows why Magnus went after him. He knows Magnus’ weakness; his friend. So we can rule out Valentine sending him off somewhere. This is someone he wants to deal with himself. It's personal. So he’s going to want to take Magnus somewhere he can…have fun, so to speak.”

“And by fun, I’m guessing it won’t be laser tag.” Izzy says drily.

“Or making friendship bracelets either.”

"Or-"

Before they can finish, Alec angrily slams his hand down onto the table. “Enough." He says, loudly. "Can we get back to saving my friend?” Alec snaps.

The room falls silent.

Friend.

They all hear the word. They hear the tremble in Alec's voice, and he knows they see beneath the worry, because Izzy is now watching him with a sad look, and Lydia stares down at the table guiltily.

Jace’s eyes widen a little. The guilt that washes over his face makes Alec wince.

Alec rubs a hand over the back of his neck. He sighs. Damn this all to hell.

“I'm sorry." He says, quietly this time. "I didn't mean to..." He looks around at the group and remembers their loyalty. He remembers why they're here, to help him. And he's just snapping at them because he doesn't know what else to do; how else to process the fear, and the anger, and the anxiety.

Jace shakes his head. “No. You’re right." He agrees solemnly. "I’m sorry.”

Alec tries to smile, but his lips feel stuck. His mouth is too dry, and he has to clear his throat twice before the words come out. "No harm done." He manages to say, finally. He pushes back the slight anger still remaining and nods. "Please, go on. I didn't mean to snap."

The tension drops when Jace nods, his blond hair falling into his eyes a little. He addresses the group. “He has a small prison in Manhattan. That’s one option. If he wants to keep someone for a long time, Magnus might be there." Jace winces. "If he wants to, you know, draw it out.”

Ignoring the mental images trying to worm their way into Alec's brain, he nods stiffly. "That sounds like it then." 

Before they can move on with their plan, Clary holds up a finger. Her expression is apologetic. "But there is somewhere else he might be. It's a house that Valentine uses for...personal vendettas. People who don't hold up their end of deals, or scam him. It's...isolated. Underground."

Alec is about to nod, and think it over, when he sees the anxious look that Clary and Jace exchange. 

"Meaning?" Izzy asks, before he can add it.

Jace sighs. "It's only accessible through tunnels, Alec. It's a walking death trap if you go down there."

"Shit." Izzy says.

"That sounds impossible." Lydia adds, and she continues staring down at the table, her nose scrunching slightly. 

"But you know a way in? Right?" Alec asks. Surely they wouldn't suggest it otherwise. He knows Jace. As eager as he is to fight, his friend is loyal and caring, and Alec is sure that there must be a reason Jace suggests the second option. 

"Yeah. Valentine had us take someone to one of the entrances."

Alec's stomach flips. He swallows down the sickening feeling and tries to keep his expression neutral. "And...you obeyed?" He asks. He's trying not to judge, because undercover ops are difficult and challenge just what how far you'd go in the name of the law. 

Jace shakes his head and the relief is huge. “No. We told the poor guy to run, got the money he owed and faked a suicide. Valentine got his money so he didn’t care, but it means that we know a way in.”

“Perfect.” Raj says. "Is it easy to get to?"

This time, Jace hesitates again. "Uh, not really." He digs his fingers into the desk and says, "You have to go through a fucking well to get there.”

Alec blinks. "A well?"

Lydia's eyes widen. "Are you serious?"

"Unfortunately." Jace runs a hand through his hair, his voice lowering. "Yeah, it leads you right down into the tunnels, but from there, you'll be on your own. You'll have to find the room he's keeping Magnus in."

Clary nods in reluctant agreement. "Jace is right. We can get you in, sure. Getting in won't be the problem. We know the runes."

"Runes?" Raj asks.

"It's the name for the Morgenstern's mark. The black patterns. They're very hard to copy, but Clary can do them." Jace says, and pride seeps into his voice as he smiles as the redhead. "You're amazing."

Clary blushes a little, and Alec smiles, letting them have this brief moment. 

"But, again," Jace looks away from Clary and back to Alec. ", getting out of there is going to be hard. We don't know how many men will be waiting, or guarding. Either way, if he's held at the prison, or the underground house, you'd best hope that Magnus is in a fighting condition. Otherwise you'll be taking on a lot of men. Alone." Jace emphasises. 

Around the table, everyone lets this sink in.

He can feel the weight of the moment resting down on their shoulders. It hovers, waiting for them to come to a decision. 

Izzy is the first to brave the silence. "So. We have two locations." She summarises.

"Two options." Alec agrees.

He can feel the danger in the words; the danger in choosing the wrong location.

"I'm guessing flipping a coin won't settle this." Jace says grimly. 

Alec hesitates, an idea on his tongue that could be the best, or worst, idea he's ever had.

"You're thinking about splitting up." Lydia suddenly says. "Right?" She's looking at Alec with an unreadable expression, but she says it so surely that he doesn't even need to nod. 

"Wait, that could make sense." Izzy says, to his surprise. His sister is as determined as him, but he's shocked that she'd so easily agree to the dangers of separating. Of having less protection.

She chews her lip for a moment, thinking. "Alec and I can go to the well, and get in through the tunnels, and Raj and Lydia, you can check out the prison." She nods, her voice getting stronger. "That way, we can be sure he's not in either."

Jace folds his arms over his chest. "And I'm supposed to, what? Sit back and watch?" His jaw clenches angrily. "You're asking me to stay behind."

Although Clary's expression is just as pained, she speaks up in support of the decision. "We can't go near either of the places, Jace." She reminds him gently. "His men could recognise us, and then we're putting them in even more danger."

"I hate this." Jace says, and his voice cracks on the last word. Beside him, Clary reaches for his hand and holds it in her own. 

“We can do this." Alec hears himself say. "I promise."

Silence falls around the room again, as they all run through the new information, and plans. They take the time to remember who they're doing this for, and why; their loyalties and fears circling the table and creating a nervous energy. 

"Alec is right." Izzy says quietly. "We can do this, and get him out alive. Magnus is strong."

"He shouldn't have to be." Lydia says coolly. 

A solemn silence falls then, and the truth in her words hits them full-on.

While Raj and Lydia discuss the prison's location with Jace and Clary, Alec turns to isabelle. His sister is leaning against the wall, staring off into the distance. He takes a step towards her.

"Do you think I should have killed him?" Alec asks bluntly. "Magnus, I mean." The words fall flat. Even to his own ears, they sound like a terrible lie. The question sounds like an apology, for the entire situation. Alec knows he shouldn't feel guilty, but he does, for all of it. He can't help but think that a mercy kill is more deserving than torture at the hands of a wicked man.

"You're wondering if he's beyond saving." Izzy voices his fears out loud. She closes her eyes, fighting back the tremble in her lip. 

"We can't think like that." Lydia calls out. 

Everyone turns to face her, and she tilts her chin up. "We get there first and see what's waiting. There's absolutely no use in thinking up possibilities. We deal with the hard facts. The truth. When we get it, that is." She holds up a hand. "For now, we can hope that Valentine's busy schedule works in our favour for once. And in Magnus'. Let's hope he's arrogant enough to think he has all the time in the world."

Izzy pushes herself off the wall and places her hands on the table. She grins at Lydia. "Because Valentine doesn't know what we know."

"And what's that?" Jace asks. He sounds weary, and Alec reminds himself to buy his friend a whole bunch of drinks once this is over. 

Izzy's smile turns dangerous. "That Magnus has very powerful, and very pissed off, friends."

That word again. Friends.

Alec decides it's a good word; a strong word. 

And a dangerous one.

"We're going rogue." Lydia says plainly. She says it like a final declaration; the last chance to back out. 

No one moves.

Beside her, Raj nods, but he doesn't look angry. His expression is focused and in agreement. "It's true. We are going rogue. If we do this, we have to accept the consequences that might come of it."

"We're Lightwoods." Alec says, and he realises how proudly he says it. "We break noses and accept the consequences."

"Or, in this case," Izzy retorts. "we break out assassins and accept the fallout."

"So, we're all in?"

There are moments when a plan comes together. There are times when everything adds up to make sense, and everyone feels prepared and ready for anything. 

This isn't one of those.

But as Alec looks around the table, he doesn't see soldiers prepped for battle. He sees friends ready to change the world. He sees good, ready to fight bad. He sees small smiles and anxious gestures, but also hope. 

Alec rolls up his sleeves. "Then let's get to work."

~

“Hold still.” Jonathan snaps. He’s rolling his eyes and trying to dab at the small cut below Magnus’ lip.

But Magnus isn’t making it easy. “Bugger off.” He hisses.

He tries for another headbutt, but Jonathan leans to the side and avoids it easily.

“Is that any way to talk to your medic?”

“You’re not a medic." Magnus tries to bite at the other man's fingers, but he leans too far forward and the ties around his wrists burn into his skin. He fuels the pain into his next words. "You’re a bloody maniac with a father who likes to send his son in to do the cleaning up.”

“You won’t get to me, you know.” Jonathan says with a smile.

It’s the smile that makes Magnus sick to the stomach.

After the first visit from Valentine, his son had entered the room and begun wiping away the blood and cleaning Magnus up. Too surprised to react then, he’d watched as Jonathan poured a little alcohol into the cuts – not even to cause pain, but to make sure they didn’t become disinfected – and chatted as he reset his nose and fixed him up.

As he stood to leave, Magnus had choked out, “Why?”

Jonathan knelt down and lifted his chin, raising it up to meet his eyes. What Magnus had seen left him overwhelmed with fear. If it was disgust, or anger, it would be easier, but Jonathan’s eyes are almost kind, and it messes with his head to the point that he doesn’t quite know what the hell is happening anymore.

Perhaps it’s all part of the plan to break him. Which Magnus assumes is what’s happening.

Why else would Valentine cut him a little, fix his wounds, and then start dragging the knife across his chest again?

He’s been here long enough now that food and water are being brought to him. It’s not exactly five star, but he’s surprised that the food is all in-date and actually tastes like something vaguely food-like.

He’s still tied up, on his knees, and his arms are aching a lot, but apart from the cuts, nothing else happens.

Until Valentine’s third visit.

He comes in with Jonathan this time, which should’ve been the first red flag. In the time he’s been locked up, Magnus has only seen them separately. So when they walk in together, and Jonathan is no longer smiling, Magnus braces himself for the unexpected.

“Up for a longer chat this time?” Valentine asks him. He sits down on the same creaking chair, leaning forwards and glaring at him.

Magnus doesn’t say anything. He’s learnt that being a smartass is only going to hurt more.

It angers him that they’re already taking away some of his will. He ought to be snarling and swearing and making sarcastic remarks. Instead, he’s silent as he hangs his head and waits.

“Hm, then perhaps you’d like to hear a story?”

It’s Jonathan that speaks this time, but his voice is so twisted, so warped by something grossly childlike and eager, that Magnus almost recoils.

He lifts his chin reluctantly, and sees Jonathan sitting cross-legged on the floor. He’s like a child, looking up at Valentine and waiting to share his toys. He’s not an unattractive man, but his cheekbones are deathly sharp, and his eyes glisten with something wicked and cruel.

It’s not the same man that cleaned up his wounds the previous visit. Surely, it's not.

Magnus tries to pluck a memory from his mind. Did the Morgensterns have any other children? He doesn’t believe so, but Jonathan looks so different now. His mannerisms; changing like the seasons.

“What story?” Magnus finally asks. Unless he does, he knows they’ll likely start cutting him up again sooner. And he’d rather delay that for a while. Even if it means listening to whatever fucked up tale they want to twist into his mind. It’s probably some mental technique to make him lose his mind.

Magnus sets his jaw firmly and waits.

He’s endured worse than a madman telling him he’s not worthy of anything.

But then Jonathan holds up the first image, and Magnus’ heart crumples like an old page.

Mom.” He whispers.

The words slip helplessly, tumbling from his lips before he can force them back inside.

Jonathan smiles coldly. “That’s right.” He says without emotion. He holds up the photo for a few more moments, and Magnus can’t seem to tear his eyes away. Whatever he remembers from finding his mother’s body is locked away, but it starts to poke holes in the back of his mind.

The image being held up shows a truck with the doors wide open. Inside, countless men and women are huddled together. No, not huddled, but squashed. They’re packed together like animals, without proper room to breathe.

A red circle points out a thin woman with thin lips and eyes too big for her face.

It’s not the face of his mother. He tells himself, furiously, that it's not. It’s just someone who looks like his mother. She has the same colouring, and the same build, except she’s so fragile and slim. Magnus wants to dive into the photo headfirst and change the past.

“Alya.” Jonathan says. “Alya Yao. Does the name ring a bell at all?” He cocks his head to one side and taps the picture again.

Magnus looks away from the angry, red circle pointing towards his regret. He looks away from Jonathan, who is smiling as if he’s retelling a simple story of a fairy-tale, and not the tragedy of his mother’s life.

Jonathan begins the tale of Magnus' life. “Alya was a poor, lovely mother, who wasn’t treated very well by dear old daddy.” Jonathan says. He sighs sadly. “He beat her and drank an awful lot because he wasn’t very happy with his job, was he?”

Magnus bites his lip, hard. He doesn’t draw blood, but he wants to. To refocus the pain into something he can control. The story that’s coming up is going to require enormous amounts of control, especially if that’s only the first photo.

“But she did love her little boy, didn’t she?” Jonathan stares at Magnus, and when he doesn’t make a single sign or reaction, Jonathan places the photo down and continues. “Her little boy was so brave and strong, but he wasn’t a match for her husband. He tried to stop his mother’s beatings, but he was too small. Too weak.” Jonathan hisses the word, and it’s the only emotion he’s shown since entering the room.

Magnus winces. Weak.

It’s what his father used to yell at him when he came back from school with a grade lower than expected. He’d shove the report card in Magnus’ face and spit at him. He'd chase him up the stairs until Magnus was safely tucked away underneath his own bed; somewhere his father’s big form couldn’t reach him.

“One day, his father decided to pay off some of his debts – because daddy really liked to drink and smoke whatever he could get his filthy hands on – and the little boy comes home.” Jonathan’s eyes widen, and tears actually form in his eyes. “And he can’t find his mother. He can’t see her in the house. ‘Where is my mom?’, he asks.”

Jonathan mimics a child’s voice so hauntingly well, and Magnus feels bile clot in his throat.

His stomach is sick, and his eyes are burning as he fights back the tears.

Jonathan grins. “The father laughs and says she’s gone. Gone forever. But the boy doesn’t like this one bit. Oh no. He thinks he’s a fighter. A survivor. He thinks he can work hard and get big and strong so that one day he can go and find his mother and say, ‘aren’t you proud of me, mom? Look at me. I’m a warrior now. I can save you.’”.

Stop.” Magnus hears himself whisper. His voice sounds so far away, and he feels like his head is somewhere in the sky, or maybe buried so far in the earth that he can’t quite hear anything clearly anymore.

“What was that?” Valentine asks. He pushes the chair closer.

Magnus presses his lips together. He’ll be damned if he says anything that sounds like begging. Not in-front of men like Valentine.

Never again.

The splintering pain in his heart says otherwise. It wants Magnus to smile; to give into whatever it takes for them to quit shoving the pain down his throat, and into his eyes.

Jonathan carries on, and Magnus bites back a cry.

“The boy tries very hard at school. He becomes fast and strong, and is one day old enough to stand up to his father and win. He can stop his punches, and land his own without breaking his knuckles. He’s stronger; braver. He thinks he has a chance.”

Magnus can see it. He can see his past flashing across his mind.

He can see himself joining track club, and every other single sports club. He remembers the burning in his muscles as he pushes himself to work out every day, and almost every night too. He trains hard and pushes himself. Always pushing, pushing, pushing. Along the way, he learns that it’s as much for himself as it is for others.

He doesn’t feel helpless anymore.

“He feels powerful. He has hope that maybe he can save his mother. If he can find her when he's older.” Jonathan taunts. “But he can’t.” He picks up the next picture, dangling it between his fingers like bait on a hook.

It’s a larger photo, and so clear that Magnus once again feels like he’s tumbling back into the past.

His mother’s body is even thinner, and looks ready to snap at any moment. The picture is an awfully clear close-up, as she sits in shackles beside a road. He knows that spot. He could probably find it in the dark, he’s certainly dreamt about it enough. It’s dusty and cramped with other bodies – no, slaves. Magnus realises he might as well think it before they say it. She’s looking at the camera and crying, except no tears are coming out.

Her body doesn’t even have the energy to push out tears anymore. Magnus can almost hear the dry sobs echoing around the room.

“I already know this story.” Magnus growls out. His voice cracks, but his glare is focused. “Try something original.”

“Oh, but you don’t.” Jonathan shakes his head and laughs. “There’s something you don’t know because you weren’t there. You'd left her. The boy was off making himself strong, while she was slowly dying, bit by bit each day. Would you like to guess the age of some of her…friends?”

Jonathan flips through the photos quickly, each showing rows and rows of women. Some are just girls, their faces still chubby and squinting at the camera. In one of them, Alya has her arm around one of the girls as a man hits her, his fists half-raised.

“She left one abuser, and found another. Well, lots.” Jonathan’s eyes gleam with wild delight. He grins a sickening grin. “She tried to protect all of them, but she couldn’t. Do you think she saw your eyes in theirs?” He asks Magnus. “Do you think she lay around them at night and curled up to keep them warm, knowing that her own son wasn’t coming to get her?”

Magnus squeezes his eyes shut, tightly. He ignores Valentine’s laughs, and Jonathan’s tutting, and tries to breathe.

He can feel his insides twisting, and his mind screaming at him to focus, focus. But the images are stuffing themselves into his mind like cotton, and his mother’s warmth turns cold as he imagines what shackles feel like instead of arms.

“Stop.” Magnus pleads, again.

He wishes he was strong enough to deal with it, to look at the pictures and force back the pain.

But his mother is in every heartbeat that he beats, and right now, his chest is cracking and splitting, and his mother’s voice is crying out. He can hear her whispering soft lullabies. He can hear her laughs when he dances around the kitchen with her when his father is out working.

The memories become tainted with iron as blood spread across Magnus’ tongue. He almost chokes at the metallic taste, but anything is better than crying out and begging them to stop. To leave him alone, or to just shoot him in the head already.

How do they know? How did they find out? How do they-

“The boy found his mother too late, didn’t he?” Jonathan says, sadly. He suddenly loses the emotion in his expression. His voice becomes a sheet of ice; cool and crisp and unforgiving. “He found her broken body abandoned on the road. And then, he fled his home and-“

“I think that’s enough for today.” Valentine interrupts coolly. He examines Magnus, looking at his head hanging in defeat, and his chest heaving from the effort not to break down. He scrapes the chair across the room, standing. He bangs on the door and it opens.

Jonathan gathers up the photographs, but after a moment, he rethinks.

He spreads them out like playing cards, directly below Magnus’ gaze.

“Just in case you get bored of looking at the walls.” Jonathan says coldly.

They become larger with each passing second. The images grow and grow and Magnus can't look away. 

“What do you want from me?” Magnus chokes out.

Anything to quit staring at the images. He lifts his chin and waits.

Did they want names of who he worked for? Because that was going to take all but five seconds of him laughing to work that one out. Did they want to know the names of men he had killed? Men who likely worked for Valentine in the past? His assassin days consisted of killing dangerous men. He’s bound to have taken down a few of Valentine’s men.

Perhaps that’s what this is about. Plain, simple, excruciating revenge.

He suddenly worries that they’re after information. Something that they have to break him to get.

Surely there was a reason they were keeping him…whole.

He almost doesn’t want an answer. Magnus doesn't want to know why someone like Valentine is interested in him beyond hearing him scream.

Valentine gives him an answer anyway.

His smile is cold and calculated as he grips Magnus’ chin and looks him dead in the eyes.

“This isn’t an interrogation, Bane.” Valentine smirks, and Magnus’ blood turns cold. “It’s an initiation.”

Chapter Text

“So, have you given our question another thought?”

“Sure. It’s still a firm and resounding no." Magnus says, with as much anger as he can muster. Which isn't a lot. "Accompanied by a head shake.”

He realises then that he simply doesn’t have the energy to even lift his chin. Magnus sighs. “Just…imagine I’m sassing you. Come back when I’ve thought of a good retort. Being this fabulous takes a while.”

Jonathan stands to one side today, leaning against the wall. “He’s strong." He says. "I told you.”

After a moment, Valentine leans back in the same rusty chair. His jaw clenches. “You know, it was Jonathan here who suggested we recruit you.”

“My saviour." Magnus mutters. "Let me out of these cuffs and I’ll kiss you?”

It's the biggest lie he's ever told. He'll rather kiss a python that go anywhere near the Morgenstern bastard again. 

Jonathan simply smirks. “He’s tough. I told you the pictures wouldn’t break him. He has a good heart.” He snarls the last word viciously. 

“Then we’ll have to try something else.”

Magnus turns his plan over. If he says yes, and goes through with whatever final initiation they have for him - and he’s assuming it will be a task, or some way to prove himself – then how is he any better than the people he’s stopped in the past? How is he any different to the serial killers, and the sick bastards who drove his mother to her death?

He lifts his chin. “Again, I’ll pass. The first rule of Fight Club. You don't talk about it. Morons.”

Valentine looks pissed now, and Magnus tries not to flinch when he stands and slams a hand down on the back of the chair. “Fine." Valentine snaps. "Seeing as you’re clearly too idiotic to break in the usual way, let’s try another approach. One that might get you thinking a little."

He tilts his head, sizing Magnus up. "How about you tell us what you know about the Lightwoods?" Valentine asks coolly. "I’ve heard impressive things.”

Magnus doesn’t react.

“Oh, come on. I’m no fool. Those two agents were so clearly working for The Clave, but I’d recognise Maryse’s brats anywhere. Is the third one still half dead?”

Magnus flinches that time. “How do you know the Lightwoods?”

“Did they not tell you?" Valentine curls his fingers into the chair and looks pleased with himself. "Their dear old uncle got it into his egotistical brain that he could start a drug cartel. Obviously he came to us for help. Pity he was caught. He made some good money for a while." Valentine's smile turns cold. "And then he shot sweet little Max, which even I admit, was cold. Even by my standards. Say what you like about me, but I’m a family man.”

Magnus still doesn't say anything. He can't give up their location, or anything else he knows about them. And if saving his own skin means betraying someone he cares about, Magnus decides he'll die a loyal man. 

“Fine. Let's try something else. Send her in.”

Her?

Magnus braces himself for the unexpected.

He waits to see knives and devices that belong in a Saw movie being brought in for him. Instead, he watches as a tall lady with blonde hair and wide eyes is pushed into the room. He frowns, trying to work out if this is meant to mean something.

For now, it doesn’t.

Until she turns to Magnus, and something about her sweet face is familiar. A foggy memory pushes into his mind, but it’s like water and it slips from his grasp.

“Y-you!” She gasps. She points at Magnus, her finger trembling, and the way her eyes widen is what triggers the memory.

“Sir, we have two lovely rooms available right now.”

Magnus widens his eyes at her quickly. He gives a slight shake of his head.

You don’t know me. You don’t know me.

He stares at her.

Please say you don’t know me.

“This is Eleanor." Valentine says, loudly. He places a hand on the woman's back, guiding her into the room and closer to Magnus. "Why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself, hm? You work at a quiet little hotel as a receptionist, yes?” His voice is cool.

The woman wraps an around her torso, the panic in her expression clear. “L-look, I don’t know what kind of shit this is. If you’re p-playing a joke, it’s not funny. At all.” She gulps. “Please, I just want to go home now. I didn’t see anything…”

Seeing her fear drives Magnus into a panic. He opens his mouth to say something. To bullshit something about The Clave. To maybe shove false hideouts down Valentine’s throat, and to make sure this poor women gets out of here alive.

Magnus believes – he has to – that Isabelle and Alec would not do this to him. They would not betray him.

Before he can think of a lie, and some way to buy more time, Valentine sighs. “Fine. You’re free to go.” He gestures for the door to open.

Fuck. Magnus hides his sigh of relief. I have time. I can think of a way out of this shit-

Valentine suddenly turns to face him. He smiles.

In one quick movement, a click echoes around the room, followed by a loud blast that not only sends a bullet into the girl’s forehead, but also cracks Magnus’ heart into bloody pieces. He swears he can feel the blood draining out of his chest.

When the girl's body falls before him, her eyes are still half-open, her blonde hair dripping into her own blood.

Valentine places the gun back inside his pocket. “She didn’t say thank you.” He says.

He steps over the body as if it’s a speck of dust on the floor. He kneels, forcing Magnus’ chin up to meet his cold stare. “That’s one more innocent death on your hands. How many more do you want to add? You can either join me, give me something that keeps you alive, or I can keep bringing you new companions, and I can keep killing them.”

Magnus bites his lip, hard. The pain is sharp, but focuses him on something other than the hopeless despair seeping into his skin. 

Valentine steps back again. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Make the right choice. I need people like you on my side.”

As he steps away and leaves the room again, Jonathan following soon after, Magnus stares at the woman.

Eleanor.

He reminds himself of the name.

He repeats it again and again, over and over. He will not let Valentine take away her name. Not now. Not ever.

Magnus realises that the tears are falling when they splash onto the floor. It’s so quiet that he can actually hear the first one land. After that, he loses count. His entire body is a trembling mess of fear and shock. He cries for his mother, who he can still see so clearly in the photos. He almost cries for his father, and for all the things he wanted to scream at him but never did.

He cries for Eleanor, whose life has been thrown away. What if she was to become president one day? Or listens to her friends when no one else will? What if she’s engaged and so in love that the world feels like it’s hers to dance through?

What if she was supposed to write a story that touched the hearts of many?

So many options. So many destroyed. Her life would never be explored.

How many lives does one person change?

He thinks of Alec then. Suddenly. He wonders, just for a moment, and selfishly, if he’s thinking about him. Has he just brushed Magnus aside? Or is he thinking about him, and wondering if he’s already dead? He recalls what Alec said to him, and what Magnus promised him in return.

He had been cut off before he’d finished his sentence. In a way, Magnus is glad. Finishing that sentence would’ve left Alec with the knowledge that they would always be unfinished. That what they could become would never have the chance to grow.

He finished it in his head, reminding himself of what Alec had made him realise, without even realising it:

Unintentionally or not, you’ve reminded me of something very important. That I deserve love. That I want love. That I will always fight for it; for myself, and for others. It’s who I am, and I will never change that.

Still, the tears drip. Magnus lets them fall.

He starts to think that it might be best to build up his walls again, but he thinks of everyone who has ever loved him, or taught him about kindness and goodness, and realises it would tarnish their memory.

But the body of Eleanor is still thrown down on the floor. And the images are still spread out before him.

His cries soon become sobs, and then…silence. Whatever he has to cry over turns to anger. He focuses on the burning of the ropes holding him up. He tugs. His body protests, but he tugs.

He pulls carefully, loosening the ropes bit by bit.

~

“I didn't come for a fight, but I will fight till the end.

I'm coming for you and I'm making war."

~

“Hold still, big brother.”

“Jesus Christ, Izzy. Is this going to take the entire afternoon?”

“Do you want the guards to suspect you?” She demands. “Do you want me to slip up and be the cause of your death?” She flinches, and the thin pen she's holding trembles slightly. Izzy sighs. “Clary is busy with Raj and Lydia, so I offered to do the outlines as carefully as possible.”

She looks hurt now, and Alec feels guilty.

“Iz, I’m sorry." He says. "It’s just, the longer we’re out here-“

“-the longer Magnus is in there.” Isabelle finishes. “I know that, Alec. But he’s either already gone, or they’re taking their time. Rushing in without proper preparation could just mean Magnus ends up with a new cellmate." She digs the pen lid into her thigh angrily. "I want to just draw Valentine out and shoot him in the head.” She snaps.

Alec nods. “Yeah. Wouldn’t that be nice and easy?”

“The Morgensterns are too powerful to take down.” Isabelle says reluctantly. “It would be like stopping an entire country. He has people everywhere.”

“So do we.” Alec reminds her.

Izzy shrugs. “True, but we can’t risk barging in. We need to catch Valentine in the open so we can properly condemn him. The police can’t do anything otherwise. Remember Clary’s step father?”

Alec nods. Luke Garroway, an officer, has been trying to find dirt on Valentine for years, but he's slippery and careful and always moving. Whenever they bust into a hideout, it was abandoned. Every time they got word of an illegal fight, or drugs, it was always gone.

They need to catch Valentine, but in the open. For now, they would have to win in this way; rescuing one man at a time, or stopping one exchange at a time. Locking away Valentine’s men was better than nothing at all, but they needed to catch the man, and his son, to really take down the family.

“Clary will be here in a few. She can fill these in.” Izzy took a step back, sighing as she leans back against the table and looks down at him. “Look, Alec, whatever happens…it’s not your fault. Any of this.”

Alec digs his heels into the chair. “It’s not?" He mutters. He thinks of all the things that have led them to this moment. "I didn’t kill Magnus in the first place. It was a mercy kill for a reason, Iz. I was too weak. I…”

I let myself get attached.

Izzy shakes her head, firmly. "No." She places an arm on his shoulder, leaning down to look at him. “This is the Morgensterns using fear and cruelty to win. This is The Clave prioritising their elitist values above someone’s life. I may be young, Alec, but I know that’s not the way it should be.”

Her eyes flash with an unreadable emotion. Something like anger and fear and disappointment brewing into one fire. 

“What are you saying?” He carefully asks.

“I’m saying, that if this is who we’re working for, the kind of people who throw away lives and don’t look back; the kind who create laws and break them when it suits them, then…” Isabelle sighs. “Then maybe I don’t want to be an agent anymore. Not if The Clave are not that different from Valentine. They preach loyalty, and about protecting the people, but…this isn’t fair.”

“Hey.” Alec soothes. He stands from the chair and wraps an arm around Isabelle’s shoulder, pulling her into his chest. He hugs her, resting his chin on-top of her head. “This isn’t your fault either, Izzy. There was no bomb, but it doesn’t matter now. What we’re doing now matters, and we need to focus.” He pulls back. “I see now why mom told us to keep our hearts in check.”

“Why’s that?”

“It really starts a war with your head.”

Izzy looks thoughtfully at him for a moment, and then smiles. It's a sad smile, but always hopeful. “Some wars need to be fought, Alec." She says quietly. "Whenever you’re ready to talk about it, I’m here. Always.”

He nods, swallowing down the urge to panic. He knows what she means, and right now is not the time to discuss it. But he does smile. “Thanks, Izzy.” He zips up the backpack with the climbing equipment in and throws it over his shoulder. “Let’s go.”

~

They’re halfway down the hallway of The Institute, heading for the elevators, when the sound of sharp heels clicking makes them freeze.

Alec forces his expression to remain calm. We’re ready for this.

“Where are you four going?” Maryse demands. She doesn’t need to raise her voice; the icy tone is more than enough. “Without permission, I might add?”

They turn to face the Head of the Institute as inconspicuously as possible. Which is difficult considering they have guns tucked into their shirts, backpacks that look pretty stuffed, and black strike-team gear on.

“Did you receive the statement this morning?” Lydia asks. Her voice is just as level as Maryse’s, and Alec praises her nerve.

His mother actually looks uncomfortable for a few moments. “Excuse me?”

Lydia lifts her chin, her voice cool. The lies that come out are so smooth that Alec thinks he would believe them if he didn’t know the plan. “The Clave sent out a very important mission statement from the Chicago Institute. It is high on their priority list, and they have entrusted the task to your children and myself, and Raj.” Lydia explains. She taps her finger against her thigh impatiently. “We are expected without delay, ma’am.”

Alec almost smiles.

His mother’s expression is so surprised that she almost takes a step back. Then she composes herself, running a quick hand across her ponytail and facing them again. “Well, then I won’t keep you. I…I will sort through the paperwork immediately. Tell The Clave that there must have been a delay. On our end, of course.” She adds quickly.

Lydia and Raj turn to leave, heading for the elevators, but Maryse hovers.

She reaches for Alec and Isabelle, taking both of her children gently by the wrists. “Please be careful. Both of you.” Maryse says quietly, and then surprises them further by leaning forwards to press a kiss onto their temples; Alec, then Izzy.

When she pulls back, their mother's eyes are damp, and Alec swallows down the truth that suddenly wants to rush out. He wants his mother to be proud, but not because of a lie. What would she say if she knew they were really rescuing the wayward assassin he was supposed to kill?

“Can I do anything?” Maryse asks, her expression unusually vulnerable. “Monitor you? Give you backup locations? Anything?”

Izzy shakes her head, but when she replies, her voice is softer than before. “No, mom. We’re good, I promise.” She kisses Maryse’s cheek hesitantly, and then steps back. “We’ll be back soon.”

Alec hesitates, wanting to speak, to reassure his mom that they’ll be alright and home soon, but he can’t bring himself to lie.

But he does promise one thing. Alec steps forward, repeats Izzy’s gesture and kisses his mom on the cheek. He says, quietly so that Izzy doesn’t here, “I’ll look after her, I swear it.”

Maryse places her palm on his cheek for a moment and then nods. With tears in her eyes, she turns and walks away, leaving Alec and Isabelle in thoughtful silence.

Izzy recovers from the shock first. “We need to get moving.” She says. “We need to take separate routes to get to the well, so we’d best leave as soon as possible. Raj and Lydia are already on their way to the prison.”

“Jace and Clary?”

Izzy hands him the tiny ear piece, barely the size of a pea, and he slots it into his ear. After a few moments of static, Jace’s voice speaks clearly into his ear. “Hey, buddy. You ready for this?”

Alec waits until they’re in the elevator, and away from the security cameras, before replying. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“I won’t leave your side, I promise. Now get those long legs walking, my friend.”

~

Central Park at 1am is dark, closed and a giant space of walkways, greenery and water. It stretches out, both beautiful and dangerous to a lone walker.

As he tightens the rope around his waist - and secures the belay hook over the side of the well - the irony of it all doesn’t escape Alec.

Climbing down a wishing well to break out an assassin.

He’s pretty sure you’re supposed to wish for good luck, or to pass an exam; not to pray for your life as you descend into the tunnels of a crime family’s personal underground hideout house.

Beside him, Isabelle circles the well with her back to him, peering out into the darkness with her adorably large night vision goggles. She still looks dangerous enough that Alec doesn’t tease her about the giant glasses wrapped around her curls. Especially when she’s the only one watching his back right now.

“Remember, if you’re not back in 10 minutes, I’m coming down. Probably 9.” She admits.

Alec scowls.

She shrugs. “You’d come down after 5. Don’t pretend otherwise.”

He can’t argue with that. In his ear, he hears Jace give a quiet bark of laughter, but then he sobers and says, “I promise I won’t distract you once you're down there, but…be careful, Alec." Jace says. "Remember the code words?”

“Yeah. I got this.” Alec lies. He thinks he's as prepared as possible, but still, this is arguably the most insane thing he's ever done.

“Great. I know you do." Jace says kindly. He clears his throat. "Clary’s on the line with Raj and Lydia, but they’re finding it hard to take out all the cameras. Until then, they’re still waiting. So…good luck.”

“Isabelle,” Alec says softly, ready to make the drop. “I just…”

“No.” She snaps back, not meeting his gaze. “You don’t get to say goodbye to me." She says stubbornly. "Get your ass down there, save our friend, and come back to me. If not, I’ll kill Valentine himself if it means bringing you home.”

Alec blinks back the tears. “I love you, Iz.” He says softly, having just enough time to catch her lip tremble before he takes the first leap downwards.

It’s a short descent, but he takes it gradually, keeping his eyes glued to the bottom and waiting for anyone to appear. When his feet hit something solid, Alec loosens the rope and unties it quickly.

He turns around and a cold, steel pressure stabs into his forehead.

He doesn’t move. He doesn’t even blink. Alec just stares down the gun and waits for the man holding it to speak.

“What time is it?” The man asks. He's in a dark gray suit, looking formal and dangerous as he stares at Alec with narrowed eyes. It's not quite what he thought a guard would look like, but he doesn't think on it any further. 

Alec answers without hesitation. “12:25.”

Valentine's bizarre Alice in Wonderland reference isn't something Alec wants to think too much about.

Or why a madman uses quotes from it for a passcode. 

“Collar.” The man simply demands.

Alec tugs down his shirt, slowly, and reveals the rune mark that Clary spent over two hours drawing on. The man studies it for a few moments, and Alec hopes he can’t see the trickle of sweat running down his neck.

The guard looks at it for another second or two. Alec wonders if something isn’t right. What if they change the design regularly, as well as the passcode? What if Clary hadn’t drawn it quite right?

He was about to take a deep breath and start fighting for his life, when the man steps back.

The guard nods. “Valentine’s not in, but you can wait overnight if need be. Is it urgent?”

Alec thinks quickly. What would get him into the compound as a priority? “Transfer." He says. "You guys have some assassin here?”

The man frowns. “Oh. I thought that he’s supposed to stay here.”

Alec has two thoughts then.

One, that Magnus Bane is alive. And two, that he's in the right place. He only gives himself half a second to let the relief wash through him. It gives him the confidence to focus, and use his brain wisely.

“You can take that up with Valentine when he gets back.” Alec says coolly. “For now, are you going to let me pass? I’m sure you have a spare room. Look, I’m sure it’s nothing, but I just came from the prison and they have the room ready." He runs a hand through his hair and tries to look sympathetic. "When Valentine gets back, I’ll take blame for any miscommunication.”

The man relaxes slightly and steps to one side, letting him past. “You’ve been here before?” He asks.

Alec shakes his head, keeping his voice calm. “First time. The boss wants me to prove that I’m capable of doing something slightly worthwhile. Took me fucking years.” He mutters.

Fortunately, he’s playing the right card, because the man looks almost sympathetic. “Yeah, I hear you. Been stationed here for half a year now, but I haven’t been invited into any of the rooms.”

Alec pauses. Rooms?

The man continues on blissfully unaware as he leads Alec down a series of tunnels. “I’d break that assassin in an hour if they gave me the chance.”

The man’s back is turned, so Alec’s flinch goes unnoticed. Magnus is alive, but he has no idea what they’ve already done to him, and he knows that a transfer guy would know better than to ask questions. He’s not willing to push this guy further.

They tunnel they walk through isn’t like a sewer. It isn’t dark, and it only gives Alec shivers because he knows how many innocents have been taken down here. It’s quite high as well, the ceiling curving above, and he can see why the drop took a little longer than he’d anticipated.

A few coins are scattered on the floor as they walk, and the guard snorts. “Yeah, some poor bastard has to collect the coins at the end of the night. Used to be me, but I’m above that shit now.” The guy boasts.

Alec just nods, gritting his teeth against biting back a retort. “So, where...?”

As they turn onto another wide hallway, where moss covers the sides, and factory-like pipes rest of the walls, Alec suddenly tops dead in his tracks. They’ve rounded a few corners by now, but he’s kept track of where the well entrance is.

Until now.

There is a single, large steel door rooted into the wall on the left. It’s not guarded, which makes Alec stop in his path.

“They let you guard the assassin alone, huh?” He asks. His fists curl into his sides, preparing. His heartbeat starts to drum, the adrenaline kick-starting when the guard turns around and frowns.

“Are you kidding? Don’t you know who your boss is working for?" The guard narrows his eyes, but gestures around them. "Valentine has people all over here.”

Alec keeps his voice steady, playing the ignorant card. “But he clearly respects you, if you’re guarding the prisoner? I’m sure they’ll let you in before I go.”

The man hesitates. His eyes narrow even further as he stares at Alec. “I’m not a fucking moron.” The guard snaps. “He’d break my neck if I asked. Take a little tip from me, boy,” He sneers. “Don’t ask stupid question, and don’t say anything unless you’re asked.”

“Right. Yeah, you’re right. Uh, just one more thing.”

The guard glares.

Alec just smirks. “Do you want me to break your left arm, or your right?”

“The fuck you-?”

When the guard swings a fist at him, Alec lets the adrenaline fully kick in. “Left it is then.” He mutters.

He grabs the man’s wrist, pushes forward and waits for the loud crack. He quickly clamps a hand over the guard’s mouth to silence his cry, and then slams him into the hard concrete floor. The man gasps, and then the heavy weight of his unconscious form falls down. A trickle of blood drips from the corners of his lips, and Alec quickly heaves his weight to the corner and hurriedly searches his pockets.

When his hand finds cool metal, he pulls, tugging out two keys.

“Bingo.” A voice says.

For a second, he panics, and hastily looks up. When he doesn’t see anyone, he mutters a curse.

“Shit. Sorry, buddy. Carry on. Do your thing.”

Alec smiles a little at hearing Jace’s voice in his ear again, but he continues to pull out the keys and heads to the door. He looks up and down at the hallway and sees a camera in the far corner.

“Shit.” He mutters. “Jace, options. Now.”

He listens to his friend as he shoves the key into the large lock. “If you shoot it out, you’re more likely to attract the nearest guards more quickly.” Jace tells him. He pauses. “But if you don’t…”

“People will come anyway. They’ll see it on the camera soon enough. Fuck.”

The runes would likely put the guards off for a few seconds, Alec hopes, giving them enough time to get back to the well.

“Just hurry up, Alec, and you’ll be fine.”

“Liar.”

At last, the door clicks, and the steel pushes against Alec’s muscles as he strains with pulling it. It’s a two-person job, but fuck it if he isn’t going to bruise himself opening it just as quickly.

He thinks of how little time they have. Fortunately, no footsteps are sounding just yet, so he takes a deep breath, braces himself, and steps into the room.

The first thing he sees is the body. A woman lies unmoving on the floor, her blonde hair spread out and matted with a little blood. She isn’t facing his direction, but Alec can’t see her shoulders moving, and that kind of stillness usually means one thing.

He looks further in.

“Magnus.” He exhales the word out like it’s the first time he’s ever let it out. He’s inside the club all over again, watching Magnus dance and occasionally catching his eye. He’s beside the pool; training; in the elevators before the exchange.

Alec replays the memories for longer than he thinks, because he hears Jace clear his throat. “Alec, you need to get yourselves out.” He says calmly. “Soon.”

Alec blinks. He shakes his head, trying to use the relief to push himself forwards. Magnus is tied up with two ropes, kneeling, and with his head hanging, but as he goes to cut them with a small knife, he sees that Magnus’ wrists are almost slipping out.

When Alec takes his fingers away, wetness spreads across his palm.

Blood.

Carefully, he cuts what’s left of the ropes and lowers Magnus’ arms so that they loop around Alec’s neck. Magnus moans a little and leans into Alec’s side, muttering something that Alec can’t quite make out.

He takes a second or two to check for any major injuries. Legs. Arms. Face. Bleeding.

But although Magnus’ shirt – and it’s still the same black, v-neck that he wore the night of the exchange – is torn right down the middle, Alec can’t see anything like a gunshot, or even major cuts. There are papercut-like marks across his bare chest, and although Alec is sure they’d sting, he has to stay firm and pull Magnus up onto his feet. The assassin’s hair is lose and falls into his face a little, damp with sweat and a red, sticky substance that Alec really doesn’t want to think about anymore.

Magnus suddenly snaps to attention. He lifts his chin and gasps.

He shoves Alec away, stumbles and falls back onto his knees. “No.” Magnus rasps out. His eyes widen, and Alec holds out his hands slowly.

“Magnus…it’s me. It’s Alec.” He says softly.

“Sure.” Magnus croaks. “And I’m the Queen of Sheba.” His expression hardens. He climbs to his feet, unsteadily, but his eyes burn with anger. “You were working for Valentine, weren’t you? All along? Are you here to kill me?”

Alec pauses. His heartbeat is drumming away so loudly that he can’t even make out whatever the hell Jace is trying to tell him. They need to leave soon, but Alec watches as Magnus holds his wrists, cradling them to his chest as he stares at Alec. It’s not a nice look either, and Alec flinches from the fear. Whatever they’ve said to him has made Magnus unsure.

Taking a risk, Alec glares back. “Screw you, Bane. Is that how you thank your rescuer?”

He waits.

Magnus blinks. He tilts his head, and it’s the first familiar gesture that Alec recognises. He almost relaxes. “Alexander?” Magnus whispers. His brows scrunch up, and his lip trembles.

Alec nods. “Y-yeah. We, uh, we’re here to get you out, but we need to hurry. Can you walk?”

Magnus laughs. The sound is too loud.

Alec quickly closes the distance between them and places his palm across Magnus’ lips. The softness of his skin pushes into Alec’s palm, and he shivers as warm breath bites into his bare skin. He stays like that for a moment too long, just watching Magnus. His eyes are still the same eyes. His mouth is as soft as Alec thought it would be, not that he’s thought about it a lot.

When he slowly drops his hand, Magnus smiles, and although it doesn’t quite reach his eyes, or dimples, Alec wants to weep from sheer joy.

“I would offer you a smile, but my lips hurt.” Magnus says quietly. “Kiss them better?” It’s true, they look slightly cracked and chapped, but still, they’re far too enticing for Alec to look away from. They’re pink and thick and Alec feels that familiar heat start to coil in his stomach.

His laugh is still slightly manic, but the words make Alec’s lip tug into his own smile. He hesitates again, not sure where to place his hands. He decides that by his sides is okay for now.

“Can you stand?” Alec asks again, watching as Magnus simply continues to stare at him.

Magnus nods, swaying slightly. “Of course. I’m a big boy.” He flexes an arm, and although it’s supposed to be amusing, or perhaps flirtatious, it kills the moment when Magnus stumbles forwards into Alec again. He coughs. “Fuck.”

“You can’t stand.” Alec says bluntly. He makes a quick decision and bends to wrap his arms around Magnus’ long legs.

Magnus flinches away. “What on earth are you doing, Alexander? No.” He says, and the fear in his eyes makes Alec wince. Why did he think it was alright to just grab him? He thinks of how Magnus has been tied up for days now. No wonder he didn’t want anyone near him right now.

“Shit, I’m sorry.” Alec gasps out.

Before he has another moment to think, Magnus falls to his knees again. He lowers himself in-front of the blonde woman, turning her over slightly. “I’m sorry.” He says, so quietly that Alec only catches it because he’s stepping closer.

“Alec, I hear people.” Jace suddenly says, loudly.

Not giving Magnus another second to protest, Alec helps him stand and then loops Magnus’ arm around his neck again, taking most of his weight as they walk out the door.

Magnus stumbles a bit, but remains upright, leaning his face into Alec’s collar as he moves. He exhales, and a shiver runs down Alec’s spine when Magnus nuzzles in slightly. It’s probably completely accidental, or just someone needing comfort, but Alec feels the tip of Magnus’ nose touch his collar bone, and he feels his knees threaten to give way.

When a breathless laugh escapes into the hallway, Alec realises it came from Magnus.

The assassin coughs again, and when he speaks, his voice is still croaky. “This is the worst first date ever.”

The shivers that wash over Alec this time are far from amused. He pauses, leaning around and checking the next hallway for signs of guards. He pulls them back, just for a moment. He gently leans Magnus against the mossy wall and wraps his hands around his waist.

“I need you to tell me your name.” Alec says firmly.

As he waits, sickness bundles in with the nerves, and the fear. He begins to grasp at straws in the time it takes for Magnus to reply. Magnus; who is watching him so intently, so strangely, that Alec is sure his theory is about to be proven right.

He’s horrified that he might be seriously injured, and not in the physical sense.

So he asks again, “What’s your name?”

Please say you remember. Remember. Please.

Magnus leans his head against the wall and nods. His lips press together, and then he sighs. “Bane Magnus.” He says. “I mean, Magnus Bane. Shit. I’m fine. Really. Just…tired, Alec.” He mutters.

“Yeah. I see that.” Alec says dryly, trying to keep the fear out of his voice.

But then Magnus glares at him and he almost smiles. “Don’t talk anymore though." Alec begs. "Do me a favour; close your eyes and focus on your breathing. I need to get us out of here. Now.”

He pulls Magnus away from the wall, repeating the same pose as before and pulling Magnus’ arm up and over his neck. His fingers touch the tip of Alec’s ear, and his body is a heavy, but warm, and very real reminder that Magnus is okay. And very much alive.

They round another corner, and Alec can hear footsteps echoing behind them.

He keeps a quick pace and marches forwards.

Two more hallways to go.

“I could carry your weight too, you know.” Magnus mumbles as they walk. “I’m not tiny. I am not the woman in this relationship.”

Alec blinks. “We’re both men.” He says blankly.

“But the straights want to know.” Magnus laughs again, breathless and oblivious to the danger. “Who is the woman?”

“Magnus, please. Be quiet.” Alec begs. He doesn’t stop, but he gives himself a quick moment to lower his chin and look at the assassin. He’s looking even more drained, and Alec just wants this whole thing to be over, for the both of them.

Magnus suddenly sobers up. “Alec,” He begins. His arm trembles as it clings to Alec’s neck, and his fingers dig into the skin there hard enough to draw blood. He lifts his chin, tilting it up so that his nose brushes Alec’s. “Will you help me?”

Alec swallows thickly. “Help you what?” He whispers.

“Help me find her. Please.”

“Who?”

Magnus’ chin quivers, and the first tear slips from his eyes and lands on Alec’s shoulder.

“My mom.” Magnus whispers. “I miss her.”

At those words, a shockwave hits Alec, right in the chest. He takes a sharp intake of breath, turning away. If he lets himself, he’ll cry until he can’t breathe. The pain in Magnus’ voice is too much. He can’t comfort him. Not right now at least.

He steadies himself, and forces his chin to turn to the path ahead. It’s the hardest thing he’s ever had to do; to focus his gaze and shut off the sound of Magnus’ sharp breathes, and ignore the tears streaming down his own cheeks.

When they get halfway down the next hallway, Alec can hear footsteps coming from different directions. Cries and shouts grow nearer, and he knows they need to hurry.

It makes it worse when Magnus’ weight suddenly grows limp.

Alec bites his lip, gathers up his nerve and elbows Magnus in the ribs, startling him wide awake again. He hates himself for it, but he knows that he’ll hate himself more if he lets them catch up, or lets them drag Magnus away again.

Alec mutters a curse as they walk quickly. “If you die, I will resurrect and beat the everlasting shit out of you, do you understand? Magnus?”

Magnus nods, his weight easing up again as he matches Alec’s pace. “I hear you.” He says. “I hear you…” He coughs. “And if I live?”

“You owe me at least two stories.”

“How forward, Alexander.”

Jace suddenly gasps in his ear. “Alec, your exit is blocked. Isabelle just said. Turn around. Now.”

Alec groans. “And go where? It’s the only exit we know.”

Beside him, Magnus makes an obscene gesture at one of the cameras. Alec nods in agreement, tempted to repeat the gesture.

“Head down the tunnel to your left. I think there’s a staircase.”

“You think?”

“Alec, you don’t have a choice." Jace growls into his ear. "I think there’s one there. I didn’t say earlier because we never got the chance to go there, but…”

“It’s that, or facing a death squad.”

“Pretty much.” Jace says grimly. “Go now, Alec. Please.”

They break into a run down the hallway, and Alec is grateful that Magnus is using whatever energy he has left to keep up and stay quiet. He makes a note to thank him for pretty much everything, if they make it out alive.

One more corner.

Alec rounds the corner. He gasps at what comes into view. Or, who.

Beside him, Magnus lets out a groan.

Too late.

“Fuck.” Alec says.

It’s the only appropriate response to finding out the only hallway leading to your exit is blocked by well over a handful of well-trained men with cold expressions and weapons.

“I can’t fight them and hold you off.” Alec says.

The men, thankfully, don’t have guns.

After all, why would they need to? It’s ten versus two, and one of their pair is injured and tired and not in the best of shapes.

Magnus turns to him. “Let me.” He says coolly. His eyes narrow into such a dangerous look that Alec feels his soul is right out in the open for Magnus to devour. “They’re not hurting anyone else I care about.”

Alec frowns. 

What did he mean?

Let Magnus what?

“Looking for this?” One man calls out. He steps to the front and a flash of pink catches Alec’s eye.

Anger turns into rage, and he can feel it radiating from Magnus like fire.

“That’s mine.” Magnus hisses. He stares at the men, and the familiar, pink gun he’s holding up, with a newfound focus. It’s dangerously focused, and it replaces the softness in his eyes; hardening his expression to a deadly concentration.

“Well then,” The guard calls out. “Why don’t you come and get it?” He taunts, throwing the gun to the floor behind him and stepping forwards. Behind him, the men laugh, and they stare at the pair down the hallway as if they have all the time in the world.

Hopelessness sinks its claws into Alec. He’s about to stammer out an apology to Magnus.

They’ve come so far, only to be brought down at the last moment.

He wishes he could give them time to say a goodbye at least, but this is what his mother always meant.

Hearts are dangerous. 

They're about to die, and all because of him.

Because of his feelings for Magnus.

He might as well admit it, at least to himself. 

It's not like anyone would ever find out, and if he's dead, no one can disown him for it.

Alec is seconds from drawing out his own weapons when Magnus holds out a hand.

“Alexander, don’t move.”

“What?”

Magnus leans in, and for a second, Alec thinks he might get to find out after all what Magnus’ lips would feel against his. A kiss soaked in blood and tears makes sense. But then he pulls back, and a flash of silver appears in Magnus’ hands.

He’s now holding two daggers, and Alec pats his empty pockets, realising what’s just happened.

“Magnus…” Alec trails off. What is he going to say? Ask him to step behind and not fight?

Alec knows he could never ask that of Magnus. Especially after everything Valentine has done to him.

What he doesn’t expect for Magnus to take a step forwards, and then turn back to him, place his hands on Alec’s chest and shove him back so hard that he falls to the floor. He barely has time to blink and sit up before Magnus is a moving blur, rushing down the hallway.

Valentine’s men charge at him.

What happens next turns into the deadliest dance that Alec has ever seen.

The first two men approach. Magnus uses the running momentum to propel himself forwards and slides onto his knees. His arms dart out; holding the blades out. The dagger slashes through their ankles and the two men collapse to the floor.

Even from sitting down, Alec can see the blood pooling as the two men shuffle back to the wall and try to stop the bleeding. They’re not fatal wounds, but there’s no way they’ll be able to stand. Magnus’ cuts are precise and almost artistic. They stab into all the right places. 

The rest of the men quickly work out that this isn’t any ordinary situation. This isn’t going to be easy.

Magnus rolls to a stand, quickly swiping out a leg to bring a third man down. He kicks a heel back into the man’s nose, and blood begins to pour into his eyes. He doesn't give him another thought and turns to face the rest.

Six men remain.

Magnus spins in an arc, the men circling him. Their smiles are gone. Their stances are wary, their fingers itching for guns they didn’t think they’d need against one man.

But this isn’t one man. This is Magnus Bane, and Alec is mesmerised.

And then Magnus lunges.

He drives the pummel of one of the dagger hits down into one man’s forehead, ducking as another lunges and lands his punch into the other guard. Magnus spins, pulling the now-unconscious guard around. He uses him as a shield for a few moments, and then shoves him into the other men with a groan.

Using their split-second stumble, he ducks and moves between the men; cutting forearms, legs and cheeks. He cuts and slashes, but never drives the blades into any lethal place. Ribs are avoided; eyes left well alone.

Which is more than Alec would’ve done.

He wonders, if he was locked up and possibly tortured, would he still have mercy on the souls behind the bars?

But Magnus does. As fluid as his movement are, there’s passion in his strikes. Anger, fury and something that tears into Alec’s chest. He’s pissed, but also hurt, and it comes across in his movements.

Magnus uses his movements like art; expressing himself in quick ducks and pin-point accuracy. It’s a warning, and it’s a powerful one at that. It’s showing mercy, but also warning; you are helpless against me.

It’s revenge, and it’s Magnus’ revenge.

Alec realises then why Magnus had pushed him away before fighting. At least, one of the reasons. He wants to do this by himself.

Another part of Alec thinks, you don’t have to.

And when he glances back up, climbing to his feet and slowly walking up to meet him, Magnus is surrounded by a circle of defeated guards. The men are all clutching at various wounds, some completely knocked out, and others groaning as they curl in on themselves. A few kicks later, and silence falls completely.

Magnus looks up as Alec walks towards him. There’s a streak of crimson in his damp hair that drips down Magnus' nose. It dips his lips in red. It reaches his chin and Alec can’t take it anymore.

He steps closer, ignoring the pounding in his ears, and swipes his shaking thumb across Magnus’ skin. He rubs at the blood, fading the red into a barely-there pink, leaving Magnus gazing up at him with wide eyes. 

In that moment, as Alec stares at him, both unable to speak, Magnus is immortal. He's unbreakable and powerful and beautiful; bloodstained, or clean. 

And then Magnus smiles, and it shatters the godly image. He becomes human; broken and beautiful and something between frightening and soft. He is the quick-witted assassin who smiles as fast as lightning. He is covered in blood, and yet the tremble in his hands makes him more human than anyone Alec has ever known. Even more so than himself.

Without saying a word, they break the moment and turn to run up the stairs, the pink gun now secured in Magnus' waistband.

They take them two at a time, and then come to a small door a little while later. It’s dark and takes both of their efforts to open it, but they push it hard enough, and after a moment, it swings open to reveal a small, public bathroom. They shove the large bin blocking the door, replacing it once they close the door behind them. It's hidden carefully, blending into the wall except for a tiny crack.

While Alec checks his comms, only getting a painful feedback in response, Magnus turns away from him and turns on a tap. He splashes his face with water and then grips the sink with both hands. He grips them so hard that Alec thinks they might break.

Don't hurt yourself, he wants to beg Magnus. Please.

He takes a careful step towards Magnus, approaching him from the side. He waits until he knows that Magnus can see him, and then just waits. He doesn’t speak, because honestly, he’s not sure what else to say. He doesn’t want to ask Magnus questions. He doesn’t want to know why there were bloody photographs on the floor, or who the body is, and what it means to Magnus.

One question wants to be asked so badly that Alec burns his throat trying to hold it back.

Do you want to know why I came back for you?

Magnus straightens. He turns to Alec and smiles, his bloody chest heaving. “Can you do me another favour?”

Alec blinks. “W-what’s wrong?”

He almost rolls his eyes. Idiot.

What a dumb question to ask someone who’s been in Valentine’s charge for almost a week and a half.

“Catch me, Alexander.” Magnus says, his voice barely a whisper, before his eyes roll back and he falls backwards.

Alec leaps forward and catches him; one arm gripping Magnus' neck carefully, and the other pressing to the small of his back. He takes a deep breathe to prepare himself for the weight and then scoops Magnus fully into his arms, with the assassin’s legs looping over an arm as the other carefully cradles his back.

His fingers just about reach the nape of Magnus’ neck, and for a second, he strokes the few hairs sticking out. Magnus’ head is lulling against his neck, and Alec stares down at him for a second. He’s still sharp angles, and sculpted muscles, but he’s soft too. His skin is warm, and his eyelids flicker.

Alec carries him out of the bathroom, realising all of a sudden that if someone sneaks up, there’s no way he’s going to be able to fight them off.

“Alec?”

He jumps just a little as the voice returns in his ear.

“Jace. What happened?”

“We lost you through the comms about halfway through. Are you okay? Do you have him? Izzy’s beside herself. She wanted to head in but I told her it could get you both killed. There’s a car waiting at the entrance just around your corner. Get out now, Alec. We have no idea how many other spots they have in the park.”

Alec doesn’t wait around. He follows the small concrete path, carrying Magnus through the trees and quickly coming up to a black gate. Izzy waves frantically from the seat of a navy Honda, already throwing the door open in time.

Alec carefully places Magnus into the backseat, lying him down across the three, large seats and then runs around to the other side. He gently lifts Magnus’ head, takes the third seat and then lowers the man’s head onto his thigh.

“Go.” He says to Izzy quietly.

“I thought something had happened.” Izzy’s face falls for a moment. “God, Alec, I was so scared.”

“I’m fine.” Alec promises. He smiles, but it’s a pathetic one. “I promise. We’re both fine. He passed out, that’s all. Go.”

And as Izzy pulls away, Alec watches Magnus’ sleeping form. Exhaustion, and the fading adrenaline, makes Alec do something incredibly stupid. He takes Magnus’ hand and holds it in his own, gazing down at him.

He keeps watching the assassin's chest, making sure that it’s still rising and falling.

He thinks of the last time Magnus was in the backseat of a car. Alec was in the front, pushing him backwards. And the next time, he was blindfolded; trusting Alec to guide him through The Institute.

Magnus has done so much for them, without even asking for anything in return.

Alec smiles wearily, still holding Magnus’ hand. “You’re safe now.” He says quietly. “I’ve got you.”

And as he holds Magnus’ form in the backseat, Alec wonders over the events. He thinks about how Magnus has protected him. As much as Alec had wanted to whisk Magnus out like a storybook hero, he knows it was an equal effort. He thinks back to how Magnus took down Valentine’s men, keeping them away from Alec so clearly. He thinks to how he was also willing to let Alec catch him, and wipe away the blood afterwards.

Alec looks down at Magnus and wonders something. Is this why the heart is dangerous? Does it mean killing for someone, and letting them in close enough to see you at your strongest, and weakest?

He feels his eyes closing, but Magnus’ hand in his is the strongest anchor Alec has ever felt.

He falls asleep with Magnus' head in his lap, and their hands locked tightly together.

Chapter Text

Soft pillows. Persistent beeping. A never-ending bustle of murmurs and footsteps.

Oh no.

And when he flexes his hand, and feels the bandage holding the IV in place stay firmly where it is, Magnus is quite sure he knows where he is.

He only hopes that he’s in a hospital where security cameras can be easily wiped. Because he’s made a lot of enemies recently, and it's doubtful that The Clave will be offering him that protection anymore.

Magnus almost smiles at that. At least his brain is working well enough to think about his safety. His eyes are still closed, but his other senses start kicking into overdrive. He can smell alcohol of the worst kind: disinfectant. His nose wrinkles at that. He can hear more footsteps, but no cries or children, which means he’s likely in a private ward of sorts.

Or perhaps, he’s not in a ward at all.

Am I still in danger?

Another thought stabs into his mind.

What if I never left? He thinks. Did I dream him?

He thinks of Alec’s hands around his waist, helping him walk through the tunnels, and then the gentle touch of his thumb against his chin, wiping away the blood and colouring Magnus with sudden tenderness.

And then, as if the memory of Alec’s touch alone is enough, everything comes flooding back.

The time he’s spent with Valentine and Jonathan in that dark room.

The growing despair that he might not ever get out.

Eleanor’s body, the photographs, small cuts; again and again.

They circle inside his mind, fighting to take control away from him. He struggles against them, still with his eyes closed. Opening them means accepting where he is, and Magnus admits to himself that he’s shit scared to accept the truth. At least, for a few more moments.

“Hey.”

The soft voice startles him, and Magnus opens his eyes quickly. Too quickly.

It was a bad move, because the brightness all around the room is suffocating. He blinks a few more times, groaning. Wherever he is, they’re certainly not in a short supply of lamps, which only makes Magnus more aware of how used to the darkness he was back in Valentine’s room.

He takes a deep breath. Surprise and relief floods his mind when he realises it barely hurts at all. Nothing in his body cries out for him to stay still; to fix broken bones, and heal. His chest feels sore, as if he’s been running all day, and the dryness in his throat means he can barely cough, but Magnus feels a smile pull at his lips.

He’s okay. He’s alive.

Now if Magnus could just work out where exactly it is that he is.

Fortunately, he didn’t have too long to wait.

“I’m glad you’re awake.”

Again, the woman’s voice comes from his left, and when he sits up with a groan, angling his head towards her, Magnus sees a blonde-haired lady with a braided ponytail. Her legs are crossed, and her hands rest carefully on her lap as she waits for him to speak. Her expression is calm, but Magnus is sure she’s biting her tongue against whatever burning questions she has to ask.

“Where am I?” He mumbles. Now that he’s sitting up a bit more, he wiggles his toes, and then shifts his whole body; surveying where it hurts, and where it doesn’t. His knees protest, and he remembers how long he spent kneeling in that cell. Taking another deep breath, Magnus stares down at the IV in his right hand, and the two bags – morphine, and blood – dripping their liquid into his skin.

Looking around, Magnus sees a white curtain pulling around the room, cutting off the outside. The bed he rests in his simple, but comfortable; with a few visitor chairs to the left, and a warm glow to the room. It’s too bright, and again, he blinks until the spots start to clear from his vision.

“Near North Side.” The woman replies. She narrows her eyes, and her name suddenly swims back into Magnus’ mind.

“Lydia, right?” Magnus asks. “You were the one who drugged Isabelle.” He rests his head back on the pillow, enjoying the crinkle of soft cotton against the nape of his neck. Why is he so aware of every move? Of every stillness and everything in the room?

Because, he then realises, he’s grateful to feel them; to see everything; to hear everything. As bright as the room is, Magnus can’t help but smile. He can deal with whatever Lydia wants to know as long as he’s alive, and safe.

He has a future. Which is more than he’d hope to have in these last weeks.

Lydia replies after a few moments. “Yes. That’s right.” She looks down at the paper in her hand, a faint blush spreading over her cheeks.

“I wasn’t judging.” He says, as kindly as he can. And then the words catch up with him. “Wait, I’m in Chicago. Why?”

“You don’t remember the…” She broke off. “You’re at the Chicago Institute. We brought you here afterwards. After the-“

“Dashing rescue?” Magnus says with as much humour as he can muster. Which, admittedly, isn’t much. As casually as he can, Magnus asks, “Speaking of heroes, where is Alec? I believe I owe him a thank you.”

“He’s not here for the time being.”

Magnus blinks. He hopes his disappointment doesn’t show.

He scolds himself. Why would Alec want to be beside his bedside, waiting for him to awake? It wasn’t as if they were…

Suddenly, he remembers falling backwards, and he remembers Alec’s hands holding him up. Magnus remembers how it felt to dance around Valentine’s men. Perhaps it took all of that to realise how badly he wants Alec to care about him.

Fighting the men off had felt so easy, so righteous in the choice between risking Alec’s life, and risking his own. He knew he could take them on. He could always win a fight with unlikely odds, if he had something, or someone, worth fighting for.

And perhaps, just perhaps, Magnus has found someone. Somewhere between sharing hotel rooms, training together - and somewhere between anger and hope - Magnus realises that he isn’t quite ready to let Alec step out of his life just yet.

“Magnus?”

He blinks back to the present. “Sorry. You were saying, my dear?”

Lydia’s lips twitch, and for a second, he swears she’s fighting back a grin. “Do you have any information on Valentine that can help The Clave?"

“Oh.” He says dryly. “You’re here for that. Of course. And here I thought you were here to see me.”

Of course, now that’s he’s survived Valentine, he’s going to have to deal with The Clave, and their stupid hypocrisy again. Magnus scowls down at the drab white hospital gown he's in. Really, they could've picked something a little more tasteful. He has an image to keep intact. 

"The Clave doesn't know you're here." Lydia says after a few moments. She lowers her voice. "The Head of this Institute wants it kept quiet for now. All we know is that you found your own way out, and you came to us." She says it slowly, her eyes focused and begging him to listen. "Understand?"

Magnus understands. He knows what's going on, and what's being asked of him. What he doesn't know is why. But if he doesn't want to get Alec or Izzy in trouble, he's to stay quiet, and spin a tale of how he made it out alive without their help.

But Lydia then surprises him. She looks conflicted for a moment, and then puts down the pen. “Can I get you anything?” Her eyes dart around the room, and when they look back, there’s a kindness in her eyes that Magnus knows is a rare vulnerability. “Not...The Clave. Me. Can I get you anything?”

He cocks his head to one side. “You feel that bad, huh?”

“Maybe.” Lydia mumbles.

Her honesty is enough to silence Magnus’ teases. He might be a bit of a cheek, but he knows when to stop.

Magnus sighs, relaxing into the half-drowsy state he's still in. “It wasn’t your fault.” He assures. "You had your orders."

Lydia finally meets his gaze. She studies him for a second or two, and then sighs. “Thanks, but I still made the choice to decide for you. And for Alec, who was in charge of leading the team."

“Are you sure you work for The Clave?” Magnus tries to smile, but his cracked lips protest a little. Still, he tries. “They don’t admit their mistakes.”

“They should.” Lydia says firmly.

At that, they share a smile. The silence that follows is relaxed, relief on both sides. 

Lydia stands up from the chair and watches him for a second. “Can I?” She asks again, timidly. “Can I help at all?”

Magnus thinks on her offer. “I’m dying for a coffee.” He admits. 

“Uh, the nurse said no caffeine for a week. You need to get your strength back, and then they'll take the IV out and...”

He sighs, closing his eyes. Of course.

Biting back the disappointment, he waves her away. “Fine.”

“I, uh, I’ll be back later." Lydia hovers for a moment. "We have a few things to discuss, but it can wait. Ask for me if there’s anything I can do, Magnus. I'll do my best to help in any way."

And then, as if he hasn't had enough surprises for one lifetime, Lydia sticks out her hand with a small smile.

He lifts the IV-free hand and shakes hers, surprised but graciously accepting of any apology that comes from the heart. Although Lydia isn't the first person he thought to see when he woke up, Magnus can already feel the fear slipping away, little by little. It's a struggle, but he realises that if people like Lydia - loyal and unafraid to learn - exist in this world, then Magnus thinks he'll be just fine.

Not fine. But okay.

Later, after waking from another drowsy sleep, when Magnus opens his eyes, there’s a paper cup sitting on the bedside table.

That first sip of coffee makes Magnus smile.

Simple pleasures, he decides, are another thing worth fighting for.

~

“Did you finish that essay?”

“Yeah. All thirty freaking pages."

"Simon, that's great!"

"Thanks. And you? Did you kick anyone’s ass recently?”

“Only yours. At Mario Kart.”

“I let you win.”

“Why? Because I’m a a pretty girl?"

“Mainly because you could put me in the hospital if I fired a red shell at you.” A grin spreads across Simon's face. "But, yeah, also because you're pretty."

“True. And true."

This is not, Isabelle thinks, how normal conversations go. She thinks of the people she’s hooked up with in the past, and how she’s had to hide so much of her identity from them. And then here’s Simon Lewis; geeky, charming and a lot more suave than he believes himself to be.

As much as she hates herself for it, she doesn’t let Simon go. She doesn’t cut him out of her terrifying, unpredictable life. Izzy lets herself have this, have him. She lets herself have meetups around the campus; in the park, at the student café. Sometimes they stay in his dorm room and Simon studies while Izzy flips through comic books, or watches a film that Simon insists she has to see.

Today, they’re on a park bench overlooking the small pond. It’s a quieter spot on the campus, and Simon has notebooks and pens and highlighters scattered between them as he tries, and fails to study for approaching exams.

She feels a little guilty for her part in the distractions, but Simon doesn’t complain. She finds it easy to talk to him, and also easy to listen to him. The warmth that spreads inside her chest almost overflows with each passing day.

She’s starting to teach Simon some more moves; just some basic punches and defence manoeuvres. To sooth her worries, she tells herself that she’s simply being a good agent and looking out for civilians. After a while, Isabelle realises that this is complete bullshit. She cares about Simon, and even thinks of him as a friend.

Bad. Bad. Bad.

But no matter how many warning signs her brain flashes at her, Isabelle still sneaks in visits whenever she can.

Isabelle glances down at her watch, and sighs. “I have to go.” She says, reluctantly.

Simon glances up. “Oh.” His face only falls a little this time, and she smiles, grateful. He’s getting a better poker face, but still, Simon is readable. Not uninteresting, just…open. And his openness leaves her happy and feeling like she’s wrapped up in scarves and dangling her feet into an ocean.

“We’re visiting…family today.” She says carefully. Ignoring how her stomach flips, she glances at the pond; away from Simon’s kind eyes. “We haven’t seen them in a while.”

“Do you want me to come along? I’m prone to charming stubborn relatives. Ask my friend, Maureen. When she first started dating her girlfriend, I had to pretend to be the mysterious man in her life. I charmed the pants off her grandma.”

Izzy raises an eyebrow.

Simon rubs his nose and laughs. “Not like that. Isabelle, you’re awful.” But he says it so sweetly that Isabelle simply shrugs in agreement.

“Really, though, do you want me to come along?”

When she looks back at him, Simon’s expression is concerned.

Isabelle blinks in surprise. “You would do that? You know my family, you know what they’re like, but you’d still come? For me?”

Simon chews on a pen for a second, and then nods. “Yes.” And then, solemnly, he adds, “And to catch pokémon. Can you get a charizard in the Institute?"

“Oh my god.” She starts to laugh, and it’s one of relief and joy. She leans back on the bench and rests her head in Simon’s lap, her legs dangling over the edge. Izzy smiles up at him. “Never lose your smile, Simon. Promise me that. No matter how hard the world gets, smile. Be hopeful and good. Be you.”

Simon’s hand reaches out and brushes away her dark hair, as if carefully pushing aside the layers of walls wrapped around her heart. He trails a fingertip down her cheek, and then lets it drop to the side.

“You don’t have to be strong all the time, Isabelle." Simon says quietly. "I know how hard you work to protect everyone else, but…it’s okay to let your guard down. Sometimes. You never have to pretend with me. I’m just me. I would like to be your friend.”

Izzy beams up at him. “No one’s ever asked me like that.” She smiles, but there’s also a part of her that just wants to hold Simon’s hand, and kiss him under the stars and pretend they’re on a normal date.

But then she thinks of Max, and how letting your guard down is dangerous. How much danger is she putting Simon in simply by visiting him so often? She has been sure to make sure they meet at different spots, and she always wears different clothes, but still. It is a risk that she shouldn’t be taking.

But Simon is too appealing. He's handsome, funny, and makes her feel safe. And a little out of control. More than any fight that she’s ever faced.

Isabelle sits up. She stands up from the bench, stretches out her neck and turns to face him.

“Show those exams who’s boss, Simon.” She says. “And…I’ll see you soon.”

Simon gets the message, but he doesn’t look annoyed. He just smiles, and nods, flicking to another page in his notebook and clicking the lid off another highlighter. “I hope your visit goes well.” Simon calls out.

She smiles, waves her hand and disappears down the campus pathway.

~

“You can’t avoid it forever, you know.”

Alec sighs. This is the second time that Jace has said this, and they’ve been in the waiting room barely five minutes.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Alec mutters. He scratches the back of his neck before realising he’s doing it. He sighs. At least he’s not stumbling. “Besides,” He rushes on. “Magnus won’t even want to see me.”

“Interesting.” Jace’s expression turns smug. “See, I was talking about Maryse.”

“Oh.”

Fuck, Alec thought.

Jace is smiling like he’s won the ultimate prize of all blackmail prizes. He clicks his tongue against his teeth and grins. “Something you want to get off your shoulders, buddy?” He asks.

“Yeah, actually. Do you think you could back off?”

“Whoa.” Jace frowns. He holds up a hand. “I didn’t mean…” He breaks off, and turns in the waiting room chair. "I didn't mean to push you, but..."

When Alec doesn't say anything, his friend tries another approach.

“Seriously though, what we did…that wasn’t a small move." Jace says, keeping his voice low. "We rescued Magnus, and that’s great, but we still need to be careful. Valentine’s men could be out searching for him. We’ve been trying to persuade The Clave that they need to focus all their efforts on finding something on the Morgensterns, but all we have to go on is this unknown date.”

“What date?” Alec asks, glad for something else to focus on.

“The one we mentioned before. When we were undercover, we overheard them mentioning a date." Jace sighs. "It was kept hushed, which means it's likely very important, which is bad. Which means something new.”

“Great.”

Jace sighs again. “Yeah.” His expression shifts again, and there’s a careful smile on his face; not too shit-eating, but still gleeful. “For now, you can let yourself have a break. Maybe go and see Magnus?”

“Why?”

“He probably wants to thank you.”

“He rescued himself.” Alec says, thinking about Magnus’ quick movements again. “And I’m sure he would’ve gotten out on his own.” He adds hastily.

“Stop being stubborn. You like the guy, right?” Jace nudges him in the side. “You like the look of him at least?”

Jace.” Alec protests, but the corners of his lips are tugging up a little. He looks around, but there’s only an elderly couple in the other side of the waiting room. Still, he starts to fiddle with his zip. “I don’t know.” Alec says, finally. “I didn’t let myself think about it before. I always follow the rules, Jace. You know this. They told us that loyalty was everything, but…I just don’t know anymore."

He doesn't need to clarify who they are. Jace knows he means The Clave, and his parents.

Alec digs a fingernail into the cold metal of the hoodie zipper. "How am I supposed to go back to burying my head in the sand?”

“You’re not alone in this.” Jace pats his hand. “That I will, and can promise you. And you never will be. Whenever you make a tough decision, we’re going to be right there beside you. We will have each other’s backs."

Alec smiles across at his friend. Knowing this is a relief. Even in a cold, violent world, Alec has friends and family who are irreplaceable. Who would take on the world if he asks them too, and for whom he would do exactly the same for.

Jace looks at him and carefully asks, "What do you want, Alec? Not because someone else wants you to, but what do you want?”

Alec doesn’t have time to answer, as Isabelle plonks herself down in the chair and says a quick hello. She’s nervous, and Alec watches as she swallows and turns away, just in time to see the nurse coming out of a room and smiles kindly at them.

“You may come in now.” She gestures them in.

They step inside, and their baby brother is sleeping, as always. He looks peaceful, but still not alive, and Alec still hates that small, hopeful lie that says his little brother will sit up at any second.

Max is surrounded by machines that bleep and buzz constantly, almost making amends for their silent companion.

As he walks around the room, hovering by the window, Alec wonders if Max can hear them. Is his little brother grumpily yelling at the machines, asking them to shut up?

He reaches out and brushes his brother’s forehead.

He’s still so warm. It’s like at any moment he’ll sit up and beg Alec for a piggyback, or rush to Isabelle for a hug.

“Hey, Max.” Isabelle says, quietly. She rests her hands on the side of the bed. “It’s pretty warm in here, huh? I can ask about getting you a fan or something.”

She carries on like this, sharing little stories about their days, and how they made a new friend, and that mom and dad are well and missing you still. She’s always been good at this, at filling in the silence in the room. She doesn’t ask Max questions, because Izzy knows he can’t reply. Yet, she doesn’t cry. She looks sad, but the tears don’t fall.

Alec steps across the room and stands beside his sister, as they look down at their brother. Alec wraps an arm around Izzy's waist and pulls her into his side, kissing her forehead and trying his hardest to take away some of the pain. Jace stands beside Isabelle, and their foursome is complete. 

"I miss him so much." Isabelle whispers, and her voice cracks. Her shoulders start to tremble and then she's crying, burying her face into Alec's chest as he holds her. Jace rubs a soothing hand over her back, tears falling down his own cheeks. 

They stand together for a bit, and then sit down. They share each other's company in that familiar way of theirs. They don't talk much, just occasionally making comments to Max about things they want him to know. It's always been this way; they don't try and pretend that everything is alright, but it's a step in the right direction. 

As they walk out, and close the door behind them, Alec lingers. He brushes his fingers across the doorknob and sighs.

What would you tell me, Max? What should I do?

He's sure that asking his now ten year old brother for advice wouldn't be a smart move, but Alec does it anyway. And when he catches up with Isabelle and Jace in the parking lot, his head is held a lot higher than before.

Alec turns to them and makes a decision. 

What do I want?

Jace’s question hovers in his mind, daring him to fight for something.

Not for anyone else, but for himself.

What do I want? He asks himself again.

He thinks of Max, and everything he didn’t get a chance to do. Would he want his big brother to act like a cowardly ass and run away?

And so, Alec turns to his sister and friend and says, “I’m going back to Chicago.”

~

Having homemade food brought to his bed every day is something Magnus likes.

He likes the nurses, and the quiet stillness of the Institute's hospital wing. It's not as big as the New York Institute, but he likes that. It has personality.

He enjoys when the nurses roll their eyes and sit with him while he asks about what’s happening in the outside world. Magnus learns that he’s been here over a week now, and also, that some cute blonde guy won some dance show and has won the nation’s heart.

One day he asks, a little sheepishly, for just a burger and fries. Although they’re reluctant at first, one of the young nurses, Anna, smiles and brings it to him later on that afternoon. The first bite is heavenly, and he savours each mouthful as if it’s the last.

If the last weeks have taught him anything, it’s that. To appreciate every damn second. Magnus thought he had been appreciative before, but this was something new. This was memorising every stranger’s face, and appreciating every moment of kindness and joy.

But what he really likes best is the morphine that drips into his IV and stills his mind. Although his chest is now a canvas of faint scars – that will soon fade completely – the nurses warn him that he needs to talk before they let him leave.

So he takes the morphine, and then takes a little more, draining away the worries and the heartache that looms around every corner. It waits behind the drawn curtains, in the evenings. When he can’t sleep, on those nights when sleeping is just nightmares and fear, Magnus secretly undoes the clip cutting off the morphine. He watches as the liquid trickles into the tubes.

The only way to sleep sometimes is to stop thinking.

He realises then that he might be alive, but perhaps a part of him is lost. Wandering in the dark. His heart still aches for those he’s lost. If anything, the pain is worse now. The cuts are healed, but the ones underneath are torn right open.

Magnus tries to think of his mother’s smiles. He repeats her words, and her kindness, and everything she’s taught him. Even the things he’s learnt himself are failing him now. Magnus tries to lift his chin, but it keeps quivering. Fighting back the tears gets harder and harder, and he bites his lip until blood wells.

Don’t break don’t break don’t break

Because this, he thinks, is letting them win. If he cries, he swears he’ll be able to hear Jonathan’s laughter as he dangles the photographs in his hands. If he cries, Magnus is sure he’ll hear the gunshot end Eleanor’s life all over again.

The nurses are fools, he thinks. It’s easy to plaster on a smile and eat the food. It’s easy to tell them that he’s feeling great, when inside, his stomach is churning with anger, fear and sorrow. He’s still hurting over Ragnor. He’s angered that he can’t stay angry. It would be easy to turn to darkness and rage, and throw back the covers and storm from the room. But he doesn’t.

Because it’s not in Magnus’ blood to be cruel. It never has been. He might turn his fists towards himself, pounding away at his own heart, but he could never spit hateful words at someone else.

And so, the morphine becomes his friend. It’s trustworthy, the way it drips slowly, but always steadily, into his blood. He’s sure to never let too much drip in, just enough to lose some of the edge.

Besides, he’s not got much else to do.

He doesn’t talk, and they don’t make him. Lydia comes to visit sometimes, and she’s friendly enough, but Magnus misses people. He misses friendship. He misses conversations that make him nervous and excited. He misses laughter and grinning and biting back playful remarks.

He misses-

“Hey.”

And then Alec is suddenly there, standing in the hospital and watching him with those hazel eyes that Magnus realises are so much brighter than before. He pulls the white curtain around, cutting them off from the outside room. He’s looking good, Magnus also realises. He's wearing a simple pair of black pants, but paired with a purple hoodie, the zip lowered enough to see the dark hairs above his chest. His full lips are damp and glistening, and there's a healthy flush to his cheeks that warms his stomach.

Magnus is awake enough to – frustratingly - see this all of this.

Who is he kidding? He’s always seen Alec. He’s always been looking at him and stealing glances.

Well, he was.

Now Magnus is no longer sure where they stand. Or, where Alec stands.

“Hi.” Magnus manages to say. It’s been one of those days where the nurses come in too regularly for him to mess with the morphine drip, so he’s a little more focused than he would like to be. He’s focused enough to see that Alec is smiling, and it’s a small, but sweet smile, and it does things to Magnus’ insides that he forgot he could feel. It doesn’t twist them with fear or anxiety. It loosens them. It gently nudges them.

“How are you?” Magnus asks. Before he can stop himself, he adds, “You look well, Alexander.”

He thinks back to asking Alec to catch him, and he remembers being conscious in those last few moments to feel Alec’s hands on his back, and the fierce browns in his hazel eyes locking onto his.

Thanks for catching me, he wants to say.

Alec blinks. “Are you seriously asking me that?” He laughs, a little nervously. “You actually are. Wow, okay. Uh, I’m good. I’m doing well, I guess." He doesn't take a seat, but he perches on the edge of the bed, just beside Magnus' left leg. Alec looks up at him. "And you?” He asks casually, not quite meeting Magnus’ eye.

"Let's see." Magnus holds up a hand. “I haven’t done my nails in weeks, my coloured streaks are almost faded, and I have two zits on my forehead. Right here.” He taps them with a grimace. “How do you think I’m doing?”

Despite the complaints, he realises how grateful he is for Alec’s question, because answering him like this, grumpily and a little jokingly, is helping Magnus remember that familiar feeling. That normalcy.

Alec stares at him for a moment, looking shocked. He rubs the thin quilt between his forefinger and thumb, hesitating. “I, uh, can ask Lydia about,” He makes a vague hand gesture at Magnus which has him helplessly grinning at the agent's - infuriatingly sweet - awkwardness. “, all that.” Alec finishes.

Magnus tries, and fails, to hide his grin. Really, Alexander. You are unbearably adorable.

Alec shifts. “But, I mean, how are you doing? Really?" His expression turns serious. "The Head of the Institute here is Cassandra Branwell, Lydia’s mother. She…wants to know what happened." He glances down again. "And if it might affect us.” He says, slowly.

Magnus takes the hint. He's not looking his best right now, only wearing borrowed clothing of simple gray sweatpants and a deep green sweater that frays at the sleeves. The ache in Magnus' stomach turns to frustration. He narrows his eyes at Alec. “You want to know if I’m now working for Valentine, right?”

Sharply, Alec's head turns to face him again. His eyes widen. “W-what? No. You wouldn’t.”

“Wouldn’t I?” Magnus asks coolly. “How do you know? I might have been offered riches beyond belief. I might have been tempted.”

“Not you.” Alec says, so firmly that Magnus feels that warmth tugging in his chest again. It fills in the gaps between fear and pain, slowly filtering through the bad. 

Still, Magnus, pushes. “Fine, then what if I gave in?" He challenges. "What if they broke me down?”

Alec is silent for a few seconds, and then he shuffles closer, up the bed. His hand hovers above Magnus' knee, but then he places it on his own lap. When he speaks again, Alec's voice is soft. “The body on the floor, and the photographs…”

Magnus flinches.

“I d-didn’t look. I swear." Alec says quickly. He hastily rubs his forehead, sighs, and then tries again. "But…you can talk to me. Or someone.” He adds, when Magnus raises an eyebrow.

Alec clears his throat. “Actually...there’s someone I want you to meet with. A good listener. He works here, and…I think you should see him. To talk about what happened." Alec shakes his head firmly. "And no, not because The Clave have asked me, but because…”

“You feel responsible?" Magnus cuts him off quietly. "For what happened?”

He's not sure how to feel about this, about Alec owing him anything. He wants the agent's trust, not his pity. He wants conversation and sharing, but not if it's for the wrong reasons. Magnus sighs. “Alec, it wasn’t your fault, and you don’t owe me anything.”

“You saved my friends, Magnus. We owe you a great deal.”

“Is that why you came back for me?”

The question is one that holds weight, for the both of them. As soon as he asks it, Magnus feels the silence hushing over the small, cut-off room. He waits patiently, despite how anxious he is to hear Alec's answer. 

“Yes, and no.” Alec finally admits. He raises his eyes, and what Magnus sees in them is reassuring. There's no pity or fear in Alec's eyes, but rather a calming confidence to confirm what he's about to say. “I came back for you because I wanted to." Alec says softly. "And...because you deserve better.”

That's all he says; but it's all Magnus needs to hear. 

He slowly sits up, crossing one leg beneath the other and leaning a little closer. When Alec doesn't move back, Magnus just pauses; hovering in the peaceful silence they're sharing. After a long enough wait, Magnus sighs. "I guess this was easier when we didn’t trust each other.” He says, casually.

Again, Alec doesn’t say anything. And he doesn’t protest against the pretty damn huge statement Magnus is subtly asking.

And a weight lifts from Magnus’ heart. It’s a small one, but it’s a start.

Alec trusts me.

When he stands to leave, Alec half opens the curtain and then turns back to face him. His eyes flicker across Magnus' face, lingering on his lips for a brief moment before his own pull into a warm smile. "I’m glad you’re back with me." Alec says. His eyes widen. "With us, I mean. I’m glad you’re alive.”

Magnus smiles back. “Me too, Alexander.”

That night, Magnus asks for the morphine drip to come out.

~

The therapist's office is, in a word, homely.

Magnus walks into it, expecting it to be a plain white room with frustrating motivational posters on the wall, or a single coffee machine. But, in fact, it’s rather charming. The walls are a pretty lilac, and the only poster is of an orchestra in full swing. The two sofas facing each other are plum, and comfortable, and when Magnus takes a seat, the guy sitting opposite him is, also, not at all what he’s expecting.

“You’re not old.” He says dryly. “And you didn’t quote Freud as soon as I stepped in." He quirks an eyebrow. "Are you sure you’re qualified to be a therapist?”

The man smiles charmingly. “And here I was worrying about making a first impressions.”

He's close to Magnus' age, and has that calming disposition of a man who enjoys life enough to help others enjoy it too. His hair is slightly curly, a deep brown in colour with a couple of silver-gray streaks that are oddly pretty. The man himself is beautiful; high cheekbones and graceful eyes. His smile is gentle, but not sickeningly sweet, and Magnus fights against wanting to like him so easily. 

“I don’t think you’re supposed to let your patient know that you have problems.” Magnus says. He taps a finger on the armchair.

“Then how are you supposed to trust me?”

“Whoa. Easy there. We’ve only just met.” He winks, and is pleasantly surprised when the other man simply looks amused.

His therapist for the day - thanks to Alec's gentle, yet firm persistence that Magnus gives it a shot - then leans forward and holds out his hand. “Let’s try this again. I’m James. James Carstairs. You can call me Jem if you like.”

Magnus shakes his hand. “Jem?"

The young man nods. “Or Ke Jian Ming. But that’s a bit of a mouthful.”

“Why do you think I chose Magnus Bane?”

Jem smiles in understanding. "It's not your birth name?" Jem asks. He leans back in his own chair, picking up the pen and notepad on the coffee table.

Magnus shakes his head. “No.” He confirms. After all, he might as well give this a proper attempt. Lying would get them nowhere. Also, he’s grateful that Jem didn’t say ‘real’ name, because Magnus will always be the name he chose, and the name he will have till death. It’s the one with meaning and freedom; a reminder that he's making his own path.

“Perhaps we should start there then.” Jem suggests.

Magnus hesitates. He stares down at his freshly painted nails - now a lovely shade of navy blue thanks to Anna - and feels the desire to run. “Look, I understand that you want to know if I’m…corrupt. If Valentine twisted with my head in a way that could make me a danger to The Clave."

He waits for Jem to protest, to jump in and defend his employers, but he doesn't.

So Magnus continues. "But I’m fine." He rushes on quickly, trying to get the words out before the pain catches up. "Sure, I had a shitty childhood, but it wasn't all bad. My mother was a good person, and raised me with kindness as well. I don’t see how talking changes a thing.”

Jem waits a moment before replying. “I’m not here because The Clave asked me to." He says. He has a voice like the wind; gentle, yet strong. "I’m here for you, Magnus. I'm here to help you." He continues to speak, and there's nothing forceful, or judgemental in his words. He's speaking like Magnus is an old friend.

"We’re all lost, Magnus." Jem says. "Not always, but we wander." He gestures around them. "Choosing this life, whether it’s an agent or an assassin, means that our lives are never easy. But we are never alone."

Magnus picks at his nails, but the words whisper in his ears, and he can't ignore them.

Jem doesn't seem to mind the silence. Can I ask you a favour?" He asks, and then before Magnus can come up with a retort, Jem stands up from the chair and makes his way over to the desk behind the sofas. "Listen to this for a moment.”

There's a loud click, and then music pours out into the room. It’s a classical piece, and it’s familiar in that sense that it’s probably been overused in commercials, but it’s sweet and calming and Magnus lets it play on.

Jem makes his way back over to the armchair, and sits back down. 

When it ends, Magnus sighs deeply. “Oh my. Do you have any tissues?” He teases.

Jem shakes his head, and then makes a note of something. He looks up and reads out, loudly, “Intuitive. Hiding behind humour. Likeable. Compassionate. Stubborn.”

Magnus blinks. “Are you supposed to share that?”

Jem laughs, and the sound is a delightful, musical one. His smile is kind.

“This works best in lots of different approaches." Jem tells him. "You’re not an idiot, and I’m not going to treat you like one." He puts down the notepad. "I do want to see you again, if you’d like. I want to." His expression is sympathetic now. "You lost a friend recently, as well as being in Valentine’s charge for over a week."

Jem holds out a hand to silence him. "And yes, you’re right. You can deal with this alone. But you shouldn’t. No one should.”

Magnus is silent for a few moments. There's not a lot to argue with there, and if he's honest, talking to someone like Jem doesn't seem so bad. 

Sensing his conflict, Jem says, "You’re human, like all of us. And we all have things in our pasts, things that can haunt us and control us, but we can choose how to move forwards." Jem smiles again. You’re a good man, Magnus. From what I hear, you saved two agents. And you didn’t give up any information either, I bet.”

‘I thought about it.’ Magnus admits.

“No, you didn’t.” Jem says, his eyes kind. “But you are hurting. And likely have some symptoms of PTSD. Which is completely understandable.”

"Right, well..." Magnus sighs, rubbing a hand across his forehead. “I think I might overstay my welcome pretty soon.”

Jem shakes his head. “Miss Branwell, and her mother, have made it clear that you have a room waiting for you here, in the Institute. If you want it. Not as a patient, or a civilian, but as a friend. As an ally to us."

Magnus blinks in shock. What did they mean?

Jem answers his thoughts fairly quickly. "You have helped us a great deal, and although I understand that this situation is difficult, there are people here you can call friends. People who care about you, Magnus."

His eyelids suddenly start to burn, and Magnus struggles to hold back the tears this time. 

Jem doesn't comment on it, but his smile returns. "Besides, I've been informed that Lydia could use a hand with the new recruits. It’s training season soon, and I hear you’re more than capable as a fighter. Yes?"

Magnus finally looks up, refusing to hide the two tears making a damp pathway down his cheeks. "I think I need that tissue now." He mutters.

Jem laughs, but it's a gentle, warm laugh, and Magnus smiles back. He gratefully accepts the box of tissues that Jem leans across to offer him.

After a few more minutes of setting up a plan, and a schedule, Magnus stands up from the sofa and offers the doctor a hand.

Jem shakes it warmly, and says, "I'll see you soon, Magnus."

~

Magnus steps out of Jem's office and decides to go for a walk around the Institute. It’s smaller than the New York one, and less like a base for agents. It’s more like a home, and he walks around the small computer clusters, and the cafes and training rooms, until he eventually finds a library.

It's not a huge room, but the ceiling is high and decorated with pretty paintings that Magnus stares at for a while. And then he wanders the aisles, brushing his fingers across the shelves and breathing in the quiet afternoon calm.

He starts to look through the books when he hears someone clearing their throat.

When Magnus turns around, he's pleasantly surprised to see Alec standing there with a sheepish smile. 

“Alexander." Magnus greets him with a smile, and a little wave that is supposed to be coy, but probably looks incredibly dumb. "I thought you’d left. Don’t you have a job to get back to?” He teases, but he’s swallowing back the disappointment; waiting for the goodbye that’s about to come.

Alec shoves his hands into his pockets. “Uh, actually…I’m needed here. In Chicago. For a while.”

“Oh.” Magnus says casually, but in his head, he's cartwheeling and doing crazy dance moves that are not appropriate to do in an elegant library. He tries for the subtle approach, leaning back on the enclosed bookcase. He crosses one leg over the other, swaying a little. His hands are resting against the little ledge behind him. Although he's really trying not to stare, he gazes at Alec out of the corner of his eye. Today, the agent is wearing a dark blue shirt that's unbuttoned a little, and his hair is fluffy and oh so tempting to touch. 

Really, quite unfair.

“And you? Y-you’re staying?” Alec asks.

Magnus nods. “For a while.” He repeats back the agent's words with a grin.

Alec smiles back. “I’m glad. You, uh, deserve a little peace and quiet.”

“Thank you."

When silence falls, Magnus feels the desperate urge to fill it. Anything to quit from staring at how nicely Alec's muscles fill out the shirt he's wearing. Anything to stop hoping, to stop wishing more than he can ask for.

"I met with the lovely Mr. Carstairs, by the way." Magnus offers. "In case you wanted to know. I think I’ll see him again.”

Alec blinks in surprise, and when he smiles, it's delightfully bashful. “Oh. Good. I mean, it’s up to you, obviously, but we should all have someone to talk to. No matter how hard it is." He rubs at the back of his neck, his shyness only sending Magnus' frustration through the roof. 

He's about to excuse himself when Alec suddenly blurts out, “You can talk to me, Magnus. If you want." He takes a hesitant step closer, eyes locking onto the bookshelf pressed against Magnus' back. "You had to listen to my stories, back in New York, so...”

“You still want those stories?” Magnus asks. Pleasure swirls in his stomach, and he can't fight the beaming grin anymore. He lets it spread, fingers dancing across the wooden ledge behind him. Restlessness overwhelms him, but he fights it down.

Alec nods. “You promised.” He says stubbornly.

Magnus' smile only grows wider. “Ever the surprise, Alec." He says, but happily. He shrugs. "Alright, fine. Soon, then." He tries to say it casually, but his heartbeat is in his throat, and the joy in his heart is too great to suppress. "Come and find me when I’m not having my ass handed to me by Lydia.” He offers.

Alec looks confused. He cocks his head a little. “What?”

“Oh, Lydia’s got me training the new recruits or something." Magnus explains, focusing on the wood beneath his fingers, and the glass pressed to his back; not Alec's intense eyes and handsome face. "It's supposed to keep me occupied for a bit, and I have to get back into some kind of normalcy I guess.”

“N-no, it’s not that. I, uh…” Alec scratches his neck again, and then drops his hands to his sides. His smile turns shy again. “I’m training them, not Lydia. That’s why I’m staying. She asked if I could…”

“Oh. Then we will be spending more time together.”

Magnus finds this to be an absolutely wonderful development. 

Until Alec mumbles, "Sorry about that."

For a moment, Magnus thinks he might be joking. His own version of dry humour. “Yes. Because being near you is always such a burden, Alexander.” He teases, but when Alec glances away, Magnus frowns. Did he need to make himself clearer? Or was Alec just not letting himself see it?

Perhaps he should’ve gone with, I look forwards to us straddling each other again.

But he’s still afraid of pushing Alec away.

Alec clears his throat. “I see you sorted the…things out.” He points to Magnus’ freshly lined eyes.

Magnus grins. Yesterday, he'd bribed one of the agents passing by to let him borrow her eyeliner, and he’s now sporting a deep blue liner, and a little concealer for the blasted zit that still won’t disappear.

“Free eyeliner." Magnus jokes. "Comes with the post-care package, I suppose.” 

“Right.” Alec laughs a little nervously again. “Well, you look…you." His cheeks start to flush a pretty pink. "Nice, I mean.”

“Thank you, Alexander.” Magnus smiles, trying not to get carried away, but his own cheeks are growing warmer by the second. Not wanting the moment to end, he asks, “How is the lovely Isabelle? And Jace? Are they well?”

Alec nods, the tension leaving his shoulders. “They are, yeah. Thanks. Jace and Clary are in New York, and mom didn’t ask any more about the operation we went on. We’re fine, and Lydia’s faked papers were pretty damn convincing."

He meets Magnus' eyes, and there's such a strong emotion in them that Magnus feels completely enthralled. "I think….we won." Alec says, softly. "For once.”

Rather than getting lost in the agent's eyes, Magnus pushes himself away from the bookshelf and turns to a nearby, empty table. “Fancy a well-earned night cap then?” He asks.

There's a decanter of whiskey there, and Magnus unscrews it and helps himself to a drink. He pours out another and holds it out. He cocks his head, trying for the coy approach again. What he really wants it to touch Alec, but that would be incredibly stupid.

“Sure.” Alec says. He clinks their glasses together and takes a sip, wincing a little.

Not a regular drinker, Magnus makes a note.

Then again, why would Alec be? He’s an agent of The Clave. He likes rules and the law, not Magnus’ enjoyments of the wilder side of life. Although now he’s thinking that he might like a bit of calm, and that Alec likes a bit of danger too. This realisation means that they’re not as different as they both thought, and Magnus hides the warm aching feeling in his stomach.

He can't stand still, and starts to circle the glass in his hand as he sways. Magnus turns back to stare at the books. “So, what do you recommend to read? A classic? Some poetry? A saucy erotica?” He winks, not lingering on Alec too long, but just enough to see the slight blush. “Don’t be shy, Alec. Share some of that all-knowing agent brain with me.”

He’s surprised when Alec stands up from the table, and joins him by the bookcase.

Magnus turns around fully and suddenly Alec is right there. Personal space isn’t really his thing, but even Magnus takes a sharp intake of breath when Alec walks right up to him, slowly but with a strange look in his eyes. Tapping on the rim of his glass, Magnus takes a sip, letting his tongue dart out and lick the last drop of whiskey from his lower lip. He swears Alec’s eyes follow the movement.

Alec raises an arm, and places it on the case beside Magnus’ head. His forearm is ever so lightly grazing Magnus’ cheek, and he can feel the hairs tickling his skin with a feather-like touch.

A quiet creak then breaks the moment, and Alec pulls open the bookcase and withdraws a book from the shelf. He leans back, pulling away with a grin that Magnus really wants to wipe off his smug face.

“You might like this.” Alec says, his voice oddly low and breathless.

Magnus takes it from him. “I could’ve reached for that myself, you know.”

Alec ducks his head, but his smile doesn’t fade. “I know.” He murmurs.

He realises then that they’re both still holding the book, almost frozen in place and waiting for the other to pull their hands away.

Magnus doesn’t. He doesn’t want to. What he wants is for Alec to make it clear what he wants, and right now, he’s a little unsteadily thinking that maybe this is what he’s trying to do. So Magnus doesn’t let go of the book.

Heart leaping into his throat, Magnus takes another risk.

Although it’s the lightest touch, it feels like a terrifyingly intimate embrace when he lifts his thumb and places it over Alec’s, grazing it softly. Alec’s knuckle is soft and hot to the touch, and Magnus isn’t sure why, but the gesture is communicating a lot more than he intended it to. His wrist is still pressing into the book, and the contrast of cool paper and hot skin is dangerously overwhelming. Magnus tears his eyes away from Alec’s thumb, and lifts his chin.

It both surprises him, and spreads relief through his tightly-coiled nerves, when Alec meets his gaze with ease. The agent doesn’t flinch away, or even hesitate to stare at Magnus. He starts to flicker his eyes over Magnus’ face; taking in his eyes, his lips, and then their touching thumbs again.

The biggest surprise of all is the nicest one. It’s rewarding and mesmerising and steals Magnus’ breathe completely.

Alec smiles.

The sight is a charming one, and Magnus feels his words stick inside his throat. He blinks a little, waiting for the reality to sink in. Because Alec Lightwood is smiling at him, and their hands are touching, and the world isn’t ending.

No one is trying to kill them. They’re not running away and watching their backs all the time.

They’re living in the quiet of the library; in the warmth of finished drinks and shared conversation.

They pull away at the same time, not forcefully, but both sensing that anything more would be silly. Nonreturnable.

Magnus watches as Alec walks away, shoving a hand in his pockets and tapping as he walks. He’s not as hunched over as he used to be, standing a little straighter, and Magnus smiles, even though he’s watching him leave.

And when he stares down at the cover and sees Fifty Shades of Grey in his hands, Magnus bursts out laughing. He laughs, his chest protesting a little, but otherwise fine. The sound rushes into his ears, and the room, filling it with joy.

Even if Alec was just teasing him about his wild personality, Magnus likes to think it’s because he remembers their conversation that night. When Magnus had called him Mr. Grey as a joke. Their bickering seems so far away now. It’s a reminder of how far they’ve come, and it makes Magnus smile until his cheeks hurt.

He leans his head against the bookshelf and sighs, quite happily clutching the book to his chest. “Oh, Alexander.” He murmurs.

He shamelessly starts to hope that those new recruits need an awful lot of practise, and supervision.

Chapter Text

After spending twenty minutes with his assigned recruits, Magnus decides two things about his five trainees, who are all age thirteen to seventeen.

One, is that they are all focused and courageous. Ready to learn. Their eyes are bright and eager, and their determination is clear.

Two, that they are quite clearly little shits.

Lydia says, “They remind me of you."

Magnus has to hide his nod of agreement. 

It starts when the small group enter the room. Well, before that even. He hears them first.

“I hear that they kick you out if you eat takeout.” One guy is saying.

“No, that was a rumour, you idiot. It’s only if you eat chocolate.”

“What the fu-“

“Welcome.” Magnus cuts in smoothly. He claps his hands together, loudly, to divert the group’s attention towards him. Which leaves him standing in the middle of a training room with five grumpy recruits who are watching him like a hawk.

He surveys them quickly. Two boys, three girls. Three smiling, two most definitely not. All folding their arms and waiting for him to speak.

Magnus isn’t often prone to shyness, but then again, he’s never taught five teens how to shoot, defend themselves, and prepare to work for The Clave.

Hiding his nerves behind a grin, Magnus says brightly, “Alright then. Let’s get down to business.”

“To defeat the Hun.”

Everyone giggles at that, and the girl who spoke – a dark-skinned girl with pretty hazelnut-coloured hair - grins in delight. She’s one of the oldest, sixteen and far-from-sweet as it seems.

“You don’t get points for knowing good songs, I’m afraid, my dear.” Magnus says with a good-natured smile. He raises an eyebrow. “Still, I’m more than happy to assign you to climbing a huge wooden pole outside, if you’re feeling Mulan-inspired?”

The girl is quiet after that.

Although their nervous energy means they giggle and make silly retorts sometimes, they’re recruits for a reason, and after a brief introduction session, Magnus is pleased when they settle down almost immediately.

Pairing them up for sparring – at first, he eye rolls at The Clave’s old-fashioned regime, but he doesn’t question it – Magnus partners with the leftover recruit, the girl from before.

“You should probably tie your hair back, dear.” He says, nodding to her loose locks. He grabs one of the wooden sticks and then carefully throws one to the girl, who he soon learns is called Zoe. There’s a spring in her step that’s ready to be turned into a fighting strength.

To his surprise, the girl ducks her head, her dark hair falling around her face even more. Zoe makes a little noise - a surrendering sigh - and then reluctantly pulls her hair up into a high ponytail.

Magnus doesn’t react at all because, really, there’s nothing to react to – but a quiet hush falls around the room. It’s brief, but to Zoe, he’s sure it’s the end of the world, and so he smiles at her and settles into a defensive stance.

“Whenever you’re ready, Zoe.” Magnus instructs calmly.

Zoe blinks at him. If she’s waiting for a reaction, or questions, she’s not going to get them from Magnus, who knows that people like to trust those they share stories with. And he knows that even if Zoe’s missing ear is from an accident, or a simple deviation at birth, it’s not in his right to ask her about it.

He’s here to train five recruits, and so far, Zoe is proving herself worthy of that. And when she strikes with precision, and slowly becomes more and more confident over the next couple of days, Magnus admits that he might have a favourite.

On the fifth day, they’re at the gun range, and Magnus is helping the recruits hone in on their aiming skills.

Admittedly, he’s never taught anyone a damn thing before, but weirdly, he’s enjoying it. Magnus likes people. He likes watching them grow and flourish. There’s something delightful about seeing Zoe finally hit the target, or seeing Sean and Fiona high five each other after a wonderfully intense sparring match.

The other two, Kian and Lillian, are quieter, and excel more in their studies and in the school room. Magnus is sure they’ll be directed towards the role of an executive agent, which is less active, but by no means less worthy. Their minds are sharp; their fingers typing faster than Magnus can shoot. Still, he teaches them the basics of shooting and fighting with pride.

Sean, Fiona and Zoe, also seem to be making bets.

Magnus realises this one day at the gun range, when their time slot is running a little overdue, and Alec’s recruits walk in. There is only friendly tension between the two groups, as they eat and sleep together rather than separately, but still, Magnus enjoys the team spirit. And the bickering.

“Come on, kids.” One of Alec’s recruits, a cocky, red-haired teen called Julia, winks at them. “Time to let the real badasses train.” She drawls.

Zoe snorts. “Hey, Julia, it’s okay to admit that you need more time to train. Not all of us can hit the bullseye every time, right, Magnus?”

Magnus bites the inside of his cheek to quit grinning. He holds up both hands. “I’m not taking sides on this, my dears. I’m your trainer, not your queen bee.”

“You’d make a fabulous queen bee.” Julia admits. “Even if you’re the enemy.”

Magnus laughs at that. “Don’t make me like you, villain.” He teases.

At that moment, Alec walks in, rounding up the last of his recruits into a corner and waiting for Magnus’ to empty out their rounds. Gunfire sounds out as they finish up the last of their shots. Most reach close to the target's heart, or the head. Magnus tries, and fails, to not look smugly at the other recruits.

I love my kids, he thinks, fondly.

As they turn to head out – and leave Alec’s recruits to the range – Julia turns back and calls out, “I bet you can’t hit the target every time either, Bane.”

Magnus looks at Alec, who is suddenly very interested in the conversation unfolding. The agent grins, and it’s that lovely, open smile that means Alec is in a rare mood of happiness.

Who is Magnus to deny Alec anything? Especially when he knows just how easily he can prove the girl wrong.

And so, under the watchful eyes of the giggling recruits, and the quiet agent, Magnus clicks off the safety, tenses his arms against the backfire, and shoots in quick recession. One, two, three, and then four bullets end up in the wooden target’s head, almost precisely in the same spot every time.

The recruits gasp, and some nudge each other as they lift their chins proudly. Some mutter a remark about Magnus cheating.

“Fine.” Magnus calls out, loudly. He rolls his eyes. “Beat this.”

Lifting the gun, Magnus keeps his arm straight but turns his body around to face the others. He locks eyes with Alec and holds his gaze. He winks, fires the gun, and hears the gasps around him letting Magnus know that his aim shot true.

“Where did it hit, Alexander?” Magnus asks coyly.

Alec smiles back. “The heart.” He reveals. He glances away, but the pink flush colouring his cheeks is another story altogether. 

Ignoring his own burning cheeks, Magnus turns back to the recruits. “Always aim to win.” He tells them. He looks between them all, slowly. “Fight for what you want, and your aim will always be true. Rely on yourself, and no one can ever take away your fight.”

He looks at Alec, who is, once again, already watching him. “You should always fight for what you want.” Magnus says.

Alec is quiet for a few moments, and then he nods. “Good advice.”

As they walk out, and back down the corridor towards the main training room, Zoe and Fiona turn to him.

“Are you and Alec…friends?”

The meaning in their grins is clear. Painfully so. 

“I don’t like that tone, madam.” Magnus warns.

The two girls turn back around, but then Fiona leans in closer to Zoe and whispers, “I bet he would if Alec said it.” 

“I can hear you." Magnus retorts. "I’m literally walking behind you.”

“Do you think they’ve already hooked up-“

“That’s enough.” Magnus cuts in swiftly. He holds up a hand in warning. “I can kick you out, remember?”

Suddenly joining the conversation, Kian shakes his head. “Only the Head of the Institute can, and my mom has been friends with Cassandra Branwell for years." He says. "There’s no way you could do that.”

Beside him, Lillian nods in affirmation.

Magnus just glares at them harder. “You're all demons.” 

~

Alec never knew that training recruits could be…fun.

But, he reminds himself, you’ve never trained recruits with Magnus Bane before.

Although they only crossover at dinner, or during switch overs at the range, Alec likes the friendly competition between their recruits. Seeing Magnus for those brief moments does strange things to Alec’s stomach. Just before they walk into the canteen, he feels the muscles in his chest start to tremble; to clench until they start to ache. Only when he spots Magnus sitting at one of the tables, or catches his eye during a sparring match, does the ache go away.

Or it gets worse.

When they split to play capture the flag – always a favourite amongst the recruits – Alec remembers how fiercely they used to play it. He and Jace were always on the same side, but Izzy always liked being on the opposite team to prove how she was ever so slightly better at it than they were.

To this day, Alec still hasn’t seen Izzy, or her team, lose.

As he watches the teams talk in hushed whispers about where to hide the flag. Alec remembers how fierce the competition gets. It takes place throughout the entire Institute, turning the building into a large maze of tense teens. From the hospital wing, to the library, to the pool and the canteens, the game takes place. It borders off at the archery field outside. Despite the tension, it always brings the team closer together; as they learn to communicate tactics and play to each other’s strengths.

Alec notices how Zoe is leading Magnus’ team. He smiles at seeing how much newfound confidence she is showing, and when Magnus comes beaming into the room and demanding that his team kicks serious ass, it’s clear as to why they’re all eager to make their trainer proud.

When their teams rush off – as interference from mentors is strictly forbidden – Magnus turns to him and whistles slowly.

“This is certainly an experience.” He says with a smile.

An apologetic shrug seems the most appropriate response, so Alec does it. And then curses himself for not trying to carry on the conversation.

Fortunately, Magnus isn’t too put off. He looks down at his nails and asks, “I don’t suppose we could take a little detour while they’re running around like headless chickens?”

“Where to?” Alec asks. His heart is already thumping loudly at the chance to escape to a quiet place with Magnus.

Magnus inclines his head to the window. “Will you teach me how to shoot with a bow?”

All at once, Alec relaxes, and tenses. On the one hand, bows are his speciality. The sensation of the wood between his fingers, and the logical rhythm to aiming and hitting calms him.

But, as he finds himself walking towards the field with Magnus, Alec realises that teaching him to fire an arrow is going to require touching.

It makes it worse when Magnus coyly smiles. He picks up a simple, black bow. “This do?” He asks.

“Uh, y-yeah. That’s fine.” Alec flushes at the way Magnus’ fingers curl around the grip. His violet-coloured nails are a warm splash of colour.

Alec shoves his hands in his pockets and then thinks better of it, placing them by his sides instead. The urge to fold them across his chest is tempting, but Alec pushes aside the anxiety. He watches as Magnus struggles for a moment with the bow.

He’s holding it too gingerly, and when he draws it back, the bow string is quivering and shaking under the lack of tension.

Without giving it much thought, Alec steps forward and stands behind Magnus. He curves a hand over Magnus’ raised elbow. It’s sticking out at such an angle that Alec bites back an amused grin. Seeing Magnus so inelegant should be giving Alec some leverage against the ache in his chest, but really, it’s not safe being this close to him. He realises this as soon as Magnus’ elbow is beneath his fingers, and he’s gently pushing his arm down until it’s level with the bullseye across the field.

Afraid to speak, and give away the tremble in his throat, Alec nudges at Magnus’ legs with his toe, encouraging them to widen the width of his stance. Magnus makes a little sound in the back of his throat. It’s caught between a sigh and a gasp. Alec hides the shiver that runs down his spine.

“Anchor it.” Alec murmurs. He holds up another hand to gently tilt Magnus’ chin up, so that it's parallel to the string. The string brushes Magnus’ cheek for a brief moment, and Alec’s forefinger radiates with warmth when his nails scrapes against Magnus’ cheekbone. The gulp that Magnus swallows down makes his Adam’s apple bob furiously. Alec can’t keep from staring at his bare throat.

“Now what?” Magnus asks quietly. Not moving at all. He’s looking straight ahead, but Alec swears he’s just as aware of every little touch.

“When you’re ready, take a deep breathe,” Alec instructs. He takes his hands away, but doesn’t step back, staying unnecessarily close. His next words escape in a whisper, “and let go.”

The arrow goes flying.

Alec watches. It sails almost right into the centre, missing by only half an inch. He’s about to say that it doesn’t matter, or that they can try again, when Magnus turns to face him. There’s a dazzling smile on his face, and his brown eyes are lit up with a joy that spills sunshine into the space around them.

Alec is sure he can feel the sun coming out all over again. He watches with a smile as Magnus sways in a circle – the gesture casual, but incredibly frustrating to Alec who can’t keep from staring at his hips. Magnus is unaware, staring at the target and enjoying his moment of victory.

Magnus’ smile fades a little then, and Alec is about to take a risk and ask why. But he takes too long. Magnus rests his chin on the tip of the bow handle and gazes up at him. His expression is almost blank, and Alec recognises it to mean that Magnus is anxious, and covering it.

“I’m not worthless after all then?”

Alec blinks in surprise. What a strange thing to say.

He raises an eyebrow. Is Magnus joking around?

Alec studies him for a few more moments, and when Magnus doesn’t say anything else, or crack into a grin, Alec hesitates.

“What are you talking about?” He asks carefully.

Magnus glances down, and then sighs. “If I remember correctly, you told The Clave that, ‘surely the Cup is more important than a worthless assassin’. And then something else about not meaning anything to anyone. It was a little…disheartening.”

Again, Alec hesitates. Is Magnus angry at him for something? Has he said something that-

And then it hits him.

The memory rushes back into Alec, and it’s like someone is sucker punching him right in the jaw. If he could, Alec would take that moment back. He would rip it from Magnus’ memories. It makes it worse to know that Magnus is likely still thinking how little he means to Alec.

And so, Alec swallows down the excuses and tells him the truth.

“I thought they were going to kill you.” Alec admits. “They didn’t share the reasons why we were instructed to bring you back, and I wanted to…well, stop it. Get them to back off…”

He sighs, and looks away. Closing his eyes seems like the best option.

Anything to avoid watching the smile fade from Magnus’ face; to see the joy turn to anger, disappointment or sadness.

Although he’s said those words to protect him, Alec knows that it sounds like a lame excuse. He thinks about trying again. Surely Magnus deserves to know that he didn’t wish to treat him so disrespectfully? Even when they were supposed enemies, Alec never really truly felt anything even close to hate. Frustration, perhaps, but simply because he was given a job, and Magnus was making everything complicated; pushing him from the right path.

Although now, Alec is struggling with the right path.

He’s beginning to question whether he was ever on the right one to begin with.

“You were trying to save me?”

Alec’s eyes snap open.

He looks at Magnus, who is gazing across with wide eyes that are filled with tears.

Unable to speak again, Alec simply nods. He nods again.

He must be nodding like a moron for a while because Magnus laughs and holds up a hand.

“I understand.” Magnus says. The laughter is back in his voice; the joy back in his warm, brown eyes. “Thank you, Alec. I appreciate it. More than I can say. I-“

They’re suddenly interrupted by whoops and cheers and what sounds like war cries. Alec turns hastily, but relaxes when he sees a large, white flag being danced across the field by the recruits. Well, half of the recruits.

Alec’s own team is sulking as they walk slowly across to join the others.

Zoe reaches them first, out of breath and waving the flag with glee. “We won!” She cries. Her team is soon surrounding her, and they all clap her on the back and start a strange group handshake that Alec is pretty sure Magnus taught them in secret.

He also sees how they’re all wearing bubble-gum blue nail varnish, and hides his grin when they tackle Magnus into a group hug.

Alec brings his own team around and doesn’t scold them too much. He asks them to have a think about where they went wrong, but also to focus on what they did right.

He notices Julia eyeing up the winning flag and grins. “You’ll get it one day.” Alec promises her.

“Why would I want Zoe?” Julia scoffs. “She’s a pain in my ass, and a huge know-it all.”

“What? I meant the f…” Alec trails off as he watches Julia and Zoe stare at each other for a few moments. The intensity in the look is oddly familiar, but Alec can’t place it. It’s magnetic and strong, and he realises then just why the two girls are so competitive with each other.

“It’s okay, Julia.” Alec tells her quietly, when he’s sure the others are out of earshot. “You don’t have to ever hide anything. Not from me, and not from yourself either.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Julia snaps, but her eyes flicker briefly to the other girl again, who is dancing around with the flag.

Alec looks at her carefully. The girl standing before him is not so different to himself, he realises then. How often is he focusing on the task at hand, rather than the heart beating desperately beneath his chest? How often is he pushing away, instead of pushing forwards?

“What would you know about it anyway?” Julia mutters.

Alec takes a deep breath. “I’m gay.” He says, loudly.

The few recruits who are close enough to hear simply pause for a moment, and then carry on. They don’t whisper or mutter an insult. They just accept it. The only one who really looks surprised is Magnus, but his expression isn’t horrified or shocked. It takes Alec a few moments to identify it.

Pride.

There’s something in Magnus’ expression that gives Alec even more strength. He smiles at Julia. “I’m gay, so yeah, I understand. And dealing with your head, and your heart, is a war, Julia. I’m not going to lie and say it isn’t.”

He lets the words fall around them, quietly but confidently. As he speaks, Alec knows this is something he needs to say, just as much as Julia needs to hear it. “But you can do this. I promise. You can find a way to choose your own path. It might take a little time, but if it’s what you want, it deserves all the hell you go through to get there.”

“Really?” Julia asks uncertainly. She stares down at her hands, as if thinking they might suddenly look different. “I always thought it was best to hide that part of me.”

Alec shakes his head firmly. “Never hide who you are.”

“And you?” Julia asks. “Are you still hiding?”

“Not anymore.” Alec says. It's a bit of a lie, but he wants to believe it; more than anything. Before he tries to give another poor inspirational speech, he smiles at Julia and calls out, to the entire group, “Everyone go and head inside. You’ll be late for your classes. Go.”

They scatter off, all as one group. Julia and Zoe linger in the back, and after a few moments, they start to talk. Alec can’t read lips, but he’s sure that whatever Zoe is teasing her about is making Julia grin.

Realising that it’s just him and Magnus on the field now, Alec marches right up and says, “Loser buys drinks. It’s a thing.”

He hopes to god that Magnus doesn’t see it as the pathetic lie it is. 

“Oh, is it now?” Magnus asks, his lips tugging at the corners. He looks so gentle like this; a small smile on his lips, and his eyes crinkling with hidden amusement. But the confidence in his gaze mixes into the beautiful chaos of Magnus Bane, and Alec is – and perhaps he always has been – captivated.

"Lead the way, Alexander."

~

The only bar in the Institute is a small room, lit only by tea lights on the tables in the booths, and the overhead, low light. There’s no bartender, so Alec grabs a bottle of wine and two glasses, hoping the brand is a nice one.

He rarely drinks, let alone wine, but he’s sure that he remembers Magnus mentioning his wine collection at some point.

They sit at the bar, taking two stools and relaxing away from the tense afternoon.

After a few moments – and Alec is already filing away conversation topics in case things turn dangerous – Magnus finishes his glass, places it on the table and begins, “So, those stories-“

“Wait.”

Magnus does look shocked this time.

Alec almost hates himself for interrupting. But he knows he has to say this. He has to stop hiding from the things that frighten him. He has to start befriending the truth, and treating his heart with some respect, as well as Magnus’.

“I, uh, need to tell you something first. Before you share.” Alec says, slowly. He grips the edge of the bar for support. “And then you have every right to tell me to get lost.”

Magnus is quiet. He nods, once.

Alec licks his lips, savouring the slight bitterness of the wine, and then sighs. “When we first met…I wasn’t just sent to retrieve the Cup. I was-“

“Sent to kill me?”

The world dangles on those four words for a heartbeat.

Alec hears them, processes them, and then replays them again.

He knows.

How long has he known? Alec wonders, partially surprised, partially unsure, and completely anxious.

When he speaks again, Magnus’ voice is far from angry. In fact, it’s almost amused. “I was about seventy-five percent sure. Maybe eighty, after seeing how annoyed Isabelle was that night.” Magnus laughs. “Don’t look too shocked, Alexander. I’m more than just a beautiful face, you know.”

Watching Magnus top up his glass, Alec takes a few seconds to think this over. He thinks about how there are less secrets between them now. He feels closer, and…for once, it doesn’t frighten him.

Alec waits and then refills his own glass before solemnly replying, “You are, Magnus. Uh, more than a beautiful face.”

His stumbles are worth defeating, especially for Magnus’ sake. Because he wants Magnus to see his sincerity. And hear the apology in his voice. Even though telling Magnus at the time would’ve been insane, things are different now, and he can’t continue whatever this is unless the truth is out there entirely.

Magnus runs a finger over the rim of the wine glass, and Alec follows the strangely hypnotic movement.

Magnus then smiles across at him. “Thank you for telling me, Alexander.”

A pained expression flashes across Magnus’ face then, and when he speaks, his voice is quieter, and vulnerable. “Do you still want to kill me?”

How can he ask that? 

Alec feels a stab of regret. Has he treated Magnus so terrible that he thinks he still wants to hurt him?

“I never did.” Alec says, honestly. The words are a little difficult, and so they push out with strain, but the truth is worth fighting against the habit of hiding away. Or pushing someone away with an eye roll or a retort.

“It was just an order. A mercy kill. At first.” Alec adds hastily. “But no, if they asked me to again, I wouldn’t. I promise.”

Eyes flickering across his face, Magnus then exhales, letting out a deep breath and leaning back again. “Well, that’s good.” He holds out his glass for Alec to chink, and Alec smiles, enjoying the strange comfort that honesty brings.

Perhaps the truth isn’t so scary after all.

~

Finishing off his second glass of wine, Magnus hesitates. He's tempted to fill it up again until his resolve is completely sure. He wants to share, but after Alec’s confession – well, affirmation – Magnus feels stripped open.

There's something final about the evening; about letting Alec in close enough to know his stories.

But Alec’s hazel eyes are warm and inviting, and his presence is calming. Magnus loses his fears, bit by bit. Taking a few – but small – sips, Magnus swivels the bar stool around a little to face Alec.

If he’s going to do this, he’s giving it everything; no hedging around the details, or blurring out the ugly parts.

Like all stories, Magnus starts at the beginning.

“My father was a very angry man. He was unhappily making each day pass and the only joy he took pleasure in was intimidating my mother and me. My mother, on the other hand, was kind, gentle, warm and brilliant. She taught me that compassionate is worth everything, and that being true to yourself is the one thing we can control.”

Magnus smiles, memories of her embraces forever fresh in his mind.

“You loved her very much?” Alec asks. His expression is open, and Magnus feels a wave of comfort wash over him. He realises that Alec is trying hard to listen, and to choose his words carefully. He’s mimicking Magnus’ posture too, turning around in the stool.

Magnus nods. “I did.” There are no tears in his eyes, but the emotions that stir are – as life is – strange, complicated and hard to pinpoint. There’s anger, yes, but there’s also fondness and love.

He carries on. “My father was a gambling man, Alec. It called to him; offering a beacon of hope for the future. He believed it could make him the wealthiest man in Asia. He made friends with people whose longest lasting relationship was with a bottle of whiskey and a dollar bill.”

Magnus feels anger flush his cheeks with heat. “One day, his debts required something...more than money. Something to trade in for his debts.”

Silence filters through the bar, and after another long pause, Alec works it out. He gasps. “Your mother?” He asks, and the horror in his voice reminds Magnus of the ordeal all over again.

But with Alec beside him, listening, Magnus feels the truth coat his tongue like a medicine, rather than a poison. This is sharing your story with someone who cares; not having it forced out like an awful public speaking project in high school.

Magnus can’t keep the sorrow out of his voice, and he doesn’t try anymore. “She was sold and trafficked while I was blissfully unaware and learning algebra in a classroom.” He says.

Taking another small sip, he gives himself a few seconds to gather up the nerve, and continues. “I was too young to run off and try to find her. I didn’t have the strength to challenge my father either. Not yet. But…I made myself stronger.”

A smile tries to pull at his lips, and Magnus happily obliges. Tragedy and hope go hand in hand, and Magnus is always one for optimistic outlooks. “I made myself into the man you see today. For her, and for myself. I promised my mother that I would one day find her, and free her. I could save her, and thank her for all the times she encouraged me to stay clever and smart and learn.”

He looks across to Alec and smiles. “To survive in this world, you need two things, Alec. Brains, and guts. I have both because of my mother. Not because she taught me how to hold a gun, or to crack a retort, but because she held me tightly and showed me why love is the strongest force in this entire world. I am who I am because of her love.”

Magnus’ eyes close for a moment, and when he speaks, there’s regret there he wants to wipe away. But the truth is important, and Magnus trusts Alec enough to let the pain seep into his words. “I was too late to save her, Alec. She protected the children who were trafficked alongside her, and eventually, the weight on her soul was too great. They beat her, and hurt her, until one day, she lost her fight. She hung herself, and they discarded the body on the side of an old dirt road in Indonesia.”

“And the police didn’t help?”

Against his will, Magnus feels his shoulders stiffen. The tension washes over him, and he looks away from Alec.

How can he reveal that The Clave turned their back on him? How can he reveal that the newly appointed Head of the New York Institute, Alec’s own mother, was reluctant to investigate?

This is one truth he can protect Alec from, until the time is right at least. Besides, there is nothing to be done about it now. Magnus doesn’t want to make things even more unbearable for any of the Lightwoods, who he realises are all complicated but beautiful creatures.

Eventually, Magnus replies. “I went to…some important people, but they didn’t wish to pursue it further. Not without evidence. Evidence that I didn’t have.”

Fortunately, Alec doesn’t press further. He pushes aside his glass and asks, “And…your father?”

Magnus sighs. “After I found and buried my mother, I returned to the house. As I drove up the drive that night – the drive I had walked up for years – I remember thinking of all the things I wanted to say to him. I wanted to scream and yell, and perhaps beat him.”

Magnus feels the shame well over him then.

It’s the one thing he’s almost grateful; not being given the chance to turn to darkness, to hatred and anger. He may have lost his mother forever, but he’ll be damned if he loses any of the goodness she taught him.

“When I opened the door, my father’s body was lying in a pool of blood, and there were five men hovering over him.”

Alec raises a hand halfway to his mouth, and the shock in his voice is clear. “W-who were they?”

Magnus looks at him carefully. This is where the important truth was; the truth that could corrupt whatever was growing between them. Magnus’ own story; his ugly rebirth, and the freedom he fought for.

“My father still had not paid off all his debts.” Magnus begins carefully. "The men were petty, but powerful gamblers." He glances away, not wanting to see the displeasure of Alec’s face. He’ll speak the whole truth, and then face the agent. “Knowing they would take it out on some poor, innocent souls, I offered to work for them. To pay off the debts."

Magnus sighs. “My father made enemies, and I wanted to pay them off. God knows who would’ve suffered if I hadn’t." He sighs. "So I worked them off, mainly collecting money and making sure people feared me, and in return, feared them.”

The low light of the bar suddenly grows brighter, as if placing him under a spotlight. Magnus ignores the desperate need to run, to escape the focus.

Instead, he lifts his chin and tries to keep his voice level. “And then, when I earned my freedom, I made a vow. I promised that I wouldn’t ever answer to anyone again. Not ever. I decided to use my skills for good. To work for the police; stop killers and crime and take out anyone who tried to put others through a similar hell. I’d put my ass through karate, yoga, fencing. You name it, I did it. Even joined the bloody swim team when I was a junior. All to save my mother, who was already beyond saving. And then, to pay off my father’s debts. But now…I’m a free man.”

Magnus finally finishes his drink.

He tips the last of the red liquid back and lets it burn down his throat. It’s a subtle burn, not sharp or overly bitter; just right.

He doesn’t ask Alec to share his thoughts. Perhaps it’s enough to know that he’s still here; still listening and staying by Magnus’ side.

So, when Alec speaks, and he’s basically just musing out loud, Magnus is surprised at how calm, and possibly proud, he sounds. “And you still help people.” Alec says. “You have so much kindness in your heart, Magnus….how?” He asks. “Think of everything this world has thrown at you. You have every reason to give up and hate, and yet…you still smile, and laugh, and guide others with courage.”

Alec shakes his head, and his expression is one of awe. Not disgust, or shock, or even pity. He’s openly relaxed, both hands folded over on the bar top.

Alec smiles across at him. The warmth in it is almost too much for Magnus to bear. “I think, Magnus, that you are the bravest man I have ever known.”

Magnus stares at him.

The seconds tick by, and still he stares. He can feel that his eyes are filling with tears, but they don’t fall. He blinks them away, and although he feels startled by Alec’s words, he can’t deny the pleasure that pushes aside the anxiety. Absently, he’s starting to run a fingertip around the glass rim again, and he can feel the desire to run burning away; hopefully, forever.

“Thank you.” Magnus eventually hears himself say. He reaches for the almost-empty wine bottle, topping up his glass; but he doesn’t feel like he needs the alcohol to relax anymore. He just wants to drink beside Alec, and enjoy his kind words and quirks.

He gestures to Alec’s empty glass, and Alec nods, watching as Magnus refills his glass.

Alec suddenly raises an eyebrow, a smirk tugging at his lips. “So, what else have you got for me?”

~

They spend another half an hour in the bar.

Alec learns that Magnus can also speak French, German, Spanish and Italian. He's also never spent Christmas in the same place two years running.

Alec listens to Magnus’ stories and smiles, all the while secretly hoping that he’s doing this right. Is he treating Magnus with the respect that he’s desperate to show? Is he listening as intently, and carefully, as Magnus listens to him?

As they part in the hallway – heading for their private rooms – Alec counts the steps, and listens to Magnus walking away behind him. The slight buzz of the wine is still warming his chest, but it doesn’t push the ache away. This damn, infuriating feeling of needing to touch, to act, to burn something to the ground.

Alec tries to bury it away, but finds that it keeps unfurling and spilling free.

He waits until he’s safely inside his room and then tries to get lost in the pull of approaching sleep.

Although he falls asleep fairly soon, Alec stills feels the emotions spill into his dreams; joy, anger, frustration, and the most powerful of all, hope.

~

Once again, the next week is spent training the recruits.

They excel even more at their drills.

Until Magnus finds himself noticing a slight error in Zoe’s movements. She tugs at her hair and stumbles, distracted. She shifts her body awkwardly sometimes, giving her opponent leverage. And the thing is, Magnus realises, it’s not her unilateral hearing that affects Zoe. It’s the power she gives to it; the self-conscious tugs, the focus she gives it, instead of her attacker.

One Friday afternoon, he calls her over. The rest of the group are filing out, and he notices she glares at him particularly hard. Julia hovers in the room for a moment, but when Magnus stares at her pointedly, she sighs and turns to leave.

Zoe folds her arms over her chest and demands, “What is it? I’m not falling behind, so what it is?”

He doesn’t leap to defend himself. If there’s anything he’s been learning from his sessions with Jem, it’s that people don’t like to be snapped at, but they like it even less when people don’t think about what they’re doing.

It’s thoughtless words, and thoughtless actions, that cause the most harm.

Magnus doesn’t say a word.

He picks up a thick piece of cloth from the table and wraps it tightly around his eyes, shielding off his vision completely.

He hears a little gasp escape Zoe’s mouth, but other than that, she doesn’t react. At least, not with sounds. Her expression is likely a fierce scowl, but Magnus has a point to prove.

He tosses her the sparring stick and then gestures for her to hit at him.

When Zoe doesn’t land a hit after a few minutes, Magnus whips off the blindfold and takes a few breathes to steady himself. The girl is watching him with narrowed eyes, but at least he has her full attention now.

“Any idea what I was going for there?” He asks her.

“That you’re a show off?” Zoe mutters.

Magnus raises an eyebrow, refusing to take the bait to retort back. “Anything else?”

Zoe is quiet again. She chews her lip, deep in thought.

Magnus decides to stop tiptoeing around her. He rests his hands on top of the stick and waits.

He looks at Zoe and sees the edge to her; the retorts she hides behind. Magnus sees right through them because, well, it’s a painfully clear mirror to what he’s always done with his own fears. Shoving them aside behind humour; masking the pain.

“My dear, just then...I wasn’t at a disadvantage because I lost a sense.” Magnus says. He keeps his voice gentle, but not pitying. Because he doesn’t pity Zoe at all. But he does admire her, and wants her to push herself to become even more confident.

Magnus keeps watching her as he speaks. “Working with what you do have is important, Zoe. You’re smart and strong and incredibly hardworking, but you can’t force yourself to create something that isn’t there.” Magnus tells her. “You lose your balance sometimes, not because you can’t hear, but because you’re too aware of it. You overthink it, and fear what you’re missing. Instead, you should be focusing with your eyes. You should be enhancing your sight, and your touch too. Stop worrying about what others think, and focus on yourself. First and foremost, you should be your greatest support, Zoe. Not the person who tears you down.”

Magnus shifts, balancing the staff once again. He smiles at Zoe, who is following his movements with careful eyes. “Once you can do that, nothing can stop you.” He says. “You will be unbeatable."

“You really mean that? I’m not…at a disadvantage?” Zoe asks, her voice a little shaky. She goes to tug at her hair, but then she stops, lifting her chin higher. She says, “I can do this. Right? I’m not…different.”

“You are different. And training to suit those differences will make you more powerful, not less.” Magnus says. “But, Zoe, my dear…different is not broken.”

He twists the stick around, flicking it in a circle behind is back and then revealing it with a flourish.

Zoe smiles, and Magnus takes it as a sign to go on. “Different is human, and it's learning to use the strongest parts of you, and the weakest parts too.” He steps closer, and pushes the girl’s hair away from her eyes, tucking it into her bun. She stares up at him, grinning.

“You’re amazing, darling.” Magnus says. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

He winks, and then steps back and starts twirling the staff again. “Now, let’s spar.”

Zoe grounds herself, wipes the smile from her face and focuses, tightening her grip on the stick.

They spar, and Zoe has Magnus on his back before the five minutes are up. She lets go of her fears, scraping back her hair even tighter. All the energy she’s been wasting on feeling insecure and anxious is now blossoming into a strength that no one can take away from her. She becomes powerful in her attacks, and in her defences too.

When it's time to finish, Magnus lets himself smirk. “Now, about that cute redhead girl you seem to be flirting with.”

“Julia?” Zoe gapes at him and stabs the staff into the carpet. “She’s so…she’s so…” Zoe’s brow furrows in concentration, but the flush in her cheeks betrays her.

“Gorgeous?” Magnus offers cheekily. “Funny? Alluring?”

Zoe glares at him. “You’re just thinking about yourself, aren’t you?”

“Probably.”

After a long pause, Zoe starts to laugh, and pretty soon, so is Magnus. They laugh together, loudly, and until their stomachs hurt.

Magnus places their staffs back in the slots and fondly bops the girl on the nose. “Nice job, my dear.” He nods to the door. “Go on, get out of here. Go join your friends.”

Zoe hesitates at the door, a sheepish smile on her face. “Thanks, Magnus. For the training, and for the…advice.”

He inclines his head. “Anytime. Oh, and remember,” He forces his expression to remain very serious. “Be as strong as a raging fire, Zoe. Be as mysterious as the dark side of the-“

Zoe flips him off, and he breaks off into helpless laughter.

Magnus waves goodbye to his recruit and finishes stacking away the staffs, still humming the rest of the Disney song under his breath. How strange, he thinks, that training future agents for The Clave is becoming more than a job. It’s becoming something that Magnus genuinely takes pride, and pleasure in.

When he’s done, Magnus heads out of the training room, well aware that he’s grossly sweaty. His dark gray tank top clings to his body, and his sweatpants are lazily riding low on his hips.

So, of course, he bumps into Alec.

“Alexander.” Magnus tries to smile, or act like he’s not drenched in sweat and wearing half-faded eyeliner, but it’s a mess. He’s a mess.

And Alec looks…

Fucking gorgeous.

Asshole.

“Magnus, hey.” Alec says, and there’s a red towel swung over his shoulder.

“Evening workout?” Magnus asks. Anything to distract him from the simple black t-shirt Alec is wearing. Or the way it sits nice and snug on his forearms and makes his shoulders look deliciously broad...

“Uh, no. Swimming. I like swimming.” Alec mumbles.

"Of course."

It’s clear now that Alec is heading to the pool. Swimming trunks are poking out of the towel.

But it doesn’t explain the agent's flushed cheeks. Is he embarrassed that Magnus is glistening with sweat? Or just surprised to see him? There’s no other reason that Magnus can think of as to why Alec is hesitating.

Unless he wants to ask something else.

Magnus watches as Alec shuffles a little, not meeting his eyes. He suddenly blurts out, “Do you want to come?”

Magnus quirks an eyebrow.

“You know, swimming. In a pool.”

“Is there another place to swim in?” Magnus teases. Really, it’s a little unfair, but Alec flustered and blushing is too easy to pass up.

Alec rubs at his neck. “Guess not.”

Magnus thinks this through. Is he going to be able to swim beside Alec again, knowing this time the temptation to touch him would be hundreds more irresistible?

Without concern for his confused heart, another part of Magnus rushes on and makes a decision. “Sure. I’ll meet you there in a few.” He says, so casually that he wonders if he’s been temporarily possessed. 

He feels a smile wash away his concern. “See you a bit then.”

Before he can regret the decision, Magnus heads off to find a pair of trunks. Because swimming nude with Alec is something that could make him lose whatever is left of his strength. 

Stop making this so hard for yourself. Just stay away.

But Magnus couldn’t.

Very selfishly, he didn’t want to stay away from Alec.

Shoving on a pair of long, surfer-style swimming trunks – dark burgundy, and in a similar colour to the new pinkish streaks in his hair – Magnus grumbles to himself about making poor life decisions.

He takes the stairs up onto the second floor, where the Institute’s private pool is.

What do you want from this? He asks himself, and for the first time in a long while, Magnus isn’t able to admit the truth. Not even to himself.

He leaves his sweat-soaked tank top in the wash basket beside the entrance, and heads on inside.

Of course, on the one day he wouldn’t mind other people to distract him, there’s no one else in the pool. Magnus thinks about turning around; about making up an excuse for when he sees Alec next.

They didn’t have spare trunks.

My highlights will come out in the pool.

I want to do things to you that aren’t appropriate to do in a private pool in an agency base.

Magnus shoos those kind of thoughts away. Quickly.

“It’s not as big as the New York one, Alexander.” Magnus calls out with a grin.

It isn’t bigger, but it’s certainly prettier; with a marble flooring, beautifully clear, blue water, and a little door on the far end with a health and safety guide. Magnus eyes it up with joy. A sauna would make a lovely reward.

If he can get through this without doing something stupid.

He turns back to the single pool. Alec is already cutting through the water with powerful strokes, his arms rising up and over his head before plummeting into the pool. When Magnus calls out to him, Alec’s head pops up so quickly that Magnus can’t help but laugh. He watches as Alec slowly continues swimming to the edge, over to where Magnus is standing, and then rests his arms on the side to gaze up at him.

They're so close that Magnus can see the small goosebumps along the agent’s arms.

“Are you getting in or what?” Alec retorts. He raises an eyebrow. “Or are you scared you’ll get beaten?”

“Please.” Magnus scoffs. "That is called goading, Alexander, and really, quite beneath you." A delicious heat coils in his stomach as he stares down at Alec’s bare chest.

“Someone’s been enjoying their therapy sessions.” Alec teases, but not unkindly. And then he adds, “Are they going…well?” 

Magnus nods. “They are. Thank you.”

It's true. He's spoken with Jem a few times, and they are slowly making their way through whatever Magnus wants to talk about. The thing is, Magnus is beginning to really see the benefits of talking. Of sharing, and opening up. After so long, he’s finally letting himself open up again, and if he’s honest, the agent swimming before him is partially the reason why. He watches Alec push away from the wall again, his back muscles rippling. 

Filling his lungs with oxygen, Magnus locks away the emotions inside his heart, and dives into the pool.

The water envelops him in a cool embrace. It’s a lot colder than he thought it would be, but Magnus pushes through, grits his teeth and swims carefully along the lane beside Alec.

He makes sure they don’t overlap, or get too close. The distance between their half-naked torsos stays a safe amount, but god is Magnus aware of the energy radiating from Alec. The breaths that escape him, and the way his movements ripple the water with powerful strokes, stokes the fire inside Magnus’ blood.

Alec is powerful, swift and focused, and it takes all of Magnus’ focus to stay in his own lane. Temptation whispers for him to swim closer to Alec. He curves his hands into the water and curses himself.

Magnus feels the concrete edge of the pool beneath his hands. At the opposite side, he pushes up and out of the water, gasping for air. Perhaps he forgot to breathe evenly, because he’s panting and gasping and resting his forearms over the side of the pool; half in, half out of the water.

Beside him, Alec hovers, placing a hand over Magnus’ bare, droplet-covered back and asking, “Are you okay? Magnus?”

Magnus nods, hunching over.

After a moment, Alec’s hand pulls away, and Magnus can suddenly breathe again.

He waits for Alec to shuffle away a little further, and then risks turning his head.

Bad move.

Looking at Alec means looking away afterwards, and Magnus isn’t sure he’s going to have the strength to do so.

Completely unaware of Magnus’ growing agony – because it is, he realises, agonising to be so close to Alec and yet still feel the distance stretching out for miles - Alec breaks the silence.

“You’re safe here. You know that, right?” Alec asks. His smile is careful, as though his words are promises and he is scared they’ll be torn apart. 

Alec then scoffs at his own words. “I mean…as safe as can be.” He mumbles. “We wiped the plate off the car we left in, and had it scrapped too. We know Valentine has something planned for the mysterious date or whatever, but…I feel like we’re going to get to the bottom of it soon. And…Cassandra is pleased with what you’re doing for the recruits, and…and…”

Alec breaks off, takes a deep breath and finishes with, “….and it’s going to be okay. I promise.”

I promise.

How often is Magnus promising to look after others?

How often have the words escaped from his lips, and caused him so much trouble?

And yet, here is Alec; promising the same and looking at him so fiercely that for a long moment, Magnus believes no one in the world will ever hurt him again. Not if Alec Lightwood is vowing to be by his side.

But that’s not what he’s saying, Magnus warns himself. This isn’t personal. Don’t let it become personal to you.

With his heart still racing – both from the sudden swim, and the rush of desire – Magnus realises he has to do something. Anything to stop this moment becoming a trick to goad him into making a complete fool of himself.

But isn’t Alec worth that risk?

Magnus wonders this now. He wonders it with feverish focus. A focus that makes him bite down on his lip, hard. He continues to stare down at the water droplets on the tiny hairs on Alec’s arms.

When he glances up, Alec is staring at him with wide eyes, as if he’s let something slip that he’s desperately now trying to rein back in.

Magnus gulps. He isn’t sure whether to laugh at the sheer irony of how far they’ve come – from mercy kills to vows of protection – or whether to whisper the truth about his growing feelings.

The sincerity in Alec’s eyes is almost overwhelming.

Magnus finds himself grinning and lifting a hand to splash Alec with water. He sweeps an arm, sending a gentle, but abrupt wave, into the agent’s startled face.

Alec blinks the water out of his eyes, running a hand through his soaked hair, and then asks, “Did you just splash me?” His eyes are wide.

Magnus grins. “Surprise attack. You should always be aware.” He teases, swimming backwards.

He treads water for a few moments, glad that the tension is now broken. He waits for Alec to smile again; to let him know that they’re back on opposite sides of the line, and not dangerously tiptoeing over the edge of something they can’t come back from.

When Alec clenches his jaw and frowns, Magnus grins. “Have you never been splashed before, agent? What’s the matter, Alexander? Afraid to fight back and-“

He doesn’t have time to finish, because a wave of water gets tossed into his open mouth. Soon, he’s coughing up pool water and listening to the warmth of Alec’s laugh dance around the pool.

The tightness in Magnus' chest burns. It's painful and raw and-

I need to get out of here.

“The water is cold.” Magnus says, the huskiness in his voice surprising to his own ears. He swallows it down, coughs once, and tries again. He scans his eyes over the room, trying to make sure he doesn’t look at Alec. Or his torso. Or his arms. Long legs. Hazel eyes. Smirks-

Stop.

“I’m going to try out the fancy sauna.” Magnus says coolly. At least, he hopes he says it casually. He definitely ignores the fluttering in his stomach, and the way his hands shake as he lifts himself out of the pool.

He doesn’t wait for a goodbye, but he realises that the sound of water parting means Alec is swimming laps again.

Magnus lets out a breath, and pads softly over to the small door, pushing it open and welcoming the heat.

He pushes away the hope that maybe, just maybe, Alec will come after him.

~

Magnus leaves the pool so quickly that Alec isn’t sure what the hell just happened.

Although Magnus is one of the most confident people Alec knows, he’s never seen him so unpredictable before. Until now.

Ever since he’s been in the pool, Magnus is acting cryptic, but Alec can’t work out what’s changed. Has he done something to upset Magnus? Has he unintentionally pushed him away again?

For those brief moments when they had splashed each other, Alec remembers smiling, and laughing. He remembers throwing his head back. He remembers grinning, and Magnus smiling back happily.

Why is he pulling away now?

Alec suddenly comes to a halt.

He’s halfway in the pool, bang in the middle between the two sides, and the sauna is directly in-front of his eye line.

He finds his feet, standing upright in the pool. His chest heaves.

Is it…my turn?

To move; to make the next step; to go after him.

If this is a test, Alec is beginning to realise that he really doesn’t want to fail it. He wants to pass.

Perhaps even more than he’s ever wanted anything before, which shocks him.

He thinks back to all the times that Jace and Izzy beg him to open up; to start trusting what he feels. To look to his head, and also his heart.

Suddenly, there’s cool marble slabs beneath his feet, and water dripping onto the floor as he walks towards the sauna. He’s out of the pool. He’s running a hand through his damp hair, wiping the back of his hand across his forehead.

Without overthinking it, Alec places both palms on the sauna door and pushes it; stepping inside before he can give himself one, or a hundred reasons, to just step away and leave this well alone.

The smell of mint and herbs dances across the room – coming from the small curved alcoves high above in the wall. Alec inhales it deeply, enjoying the warmth that settles around him as he closes the door behind him.

It’s warm, but not intense or constricting. It burns away the water droplets, tingling his skin from the tips of his ears, to the soft skin underneath his toes.

The three large benches make up a rough semi-circle, and there are two tiers. The ceiling is high, and Alec is surprised that it doesn’t feel cut off, or claustrophobic. It’s well-lit by corner lamps, a golden glow across the benches.

It bounces off the chest of the man lying down in the middle of the bench.

Magnus is stretching out on his back, a soft, white towel beneath his body. He breathes in and out slowly, and Alec watches the movement in his chest. He licks his lips.

The slight sweat glistening over Magnus’ muscles has him rooted to the ground. It takes Alec a long moment to realise that he’s still standing there, standing like a complete moron.

He takes a few steps closer, hesitating. Why is he even here?

“Are you going to sit down, Alexander?” Magnus asks. An arm is resting across his forehead, and his eyelids are lazy as they half-open to peer at Alec. His lips are slightly damp with moisture, and as they pull into a slow grin, the sight makes Alec grab a towel and take a seat on the opposite bench.

He doesn’t lay down, because laying down means Alec can’t watch Magnus; can't try to work out why he’s so affected by every small move he’s making.

The warmth continues to burn across his skin, but it’s a delicious heat. Not as feverish as the one inside his chest, but still, it holds Alec in place. Unashamedly, he stares at Magnus, who is now lazily rubbing his toes across his other calf.

Alec follows the movement. Magnus' toes brush against the hairs on his muscular leg, and Alec focuses on suppressing the urge to reach out and run a hand across the very same bare skin.

The silence also gives Alec time to think. Which makes it worse.

Does Magnus want me here?

Do I want Magnus here?

Do we both want the same thing?

The line is drawn, and Alec can’t help but see it so vividly in the space between them. The middle bench where Magnus is laying is like the final leg of a race, and Alec isn’t sure whether throwing himself into it will result in anything other than realising he was never a contender to begin with.

Do something. He commands himself. Or go.

Alec closes his eyes. He's still sitting with his legs slightly apart.

He clenches his hands into fists by his sides. Nail against skin suddenly cools him down a bit, but then Magnus shifts, his stomach muscles straining and pulsing with mesmerising rhythm, and suddenly Alec is flushed all over again.

“You do flatter me so by staring, Alec, but really, do try and relax.”

“I can’t.” Alec says honestly. His voice is hoarse, and the sweat forming on the nape of his neck is just a fraction compared to the heat burning beneath his skin.

Magnus laughs, and it’s quiet and amused and oh so dangerous.

It’s a laugh like no other; enchantingly rich with music.

It draws Alec in. It pulls him closer, if not physically, then inwardly.

Something changes then. Shifts.

It starts when Magnus slowly sits up, his legs still splaying out before him, but his torso rising up. His elbows hold him up, and he cocks his head at Alec, studying him. It’s heated, and desire is written clearly all over Magnus’ face. It shocks the hell out of Alec because he’s seen it before, time and time again, and yet it’s only now that he’s letting himself believe it.

“You frighten me, Alexander.” Magnus whispers, but his expression doesn’t shift. He’s still watching Alec carefully, sizing him up and staying still. “You make me lose control.” He drags a painted nail across his lip, wiping away a tiny bead of sweat on his upper lip.

The slight gesture breaks Alec’s focus, and he blinks. He stares down at his hands, which are now nestling in his lap. His leg starts to bounce up and down.

“Agents don’t lose control.” He replies dumbly.

“Oh really? Is that so?”

“I d-don’t give into distractions.”

Of all the dumb things that Alec is ashamed of saying, this one has to make it to the top ten.

He’s daring Magnus Bane of all people to challenge his control.

He’s daring a man he has to tear his eyes away from to tease him about containing himself.

It’s the wrong move, and the right move all at once, because Alec is watching Magnus sit up, and then stand up. He moves towards him, and all Alec wants to do is let whatever is happening unfold.

Alec doesn’t move. He just watches as Magnus slowly steps towards him, his hips circling with lethal grace. His brown skin is warm and elegant under the light, and Alec stares at the damp moisture clinging to his muscles, and the long, dark reddish-purple trunks that are still sticking to his legs and hips.

The shape of him beneath his trunks is making Alec’s own body react uncontrollably, and he shifts his legs closer so that they’re touching.

Which is probably why Magnus straddles them so easily, and so gracefully.

Positing a knee on either side of Alec’s hips, Magnus balances himself carefully, swaying slightly as he leans forward.

Acting by instinct, Alec finds his shaking hands reaching around and steadying Magnus. The muscles ripple, taut and warm and pressing into Alec’s palms. Alec doesn’t move any further. He just holds Magnus, and tries to remember how to put together sentences.

But the words are sticking to his throat, and all he can think about is Magnus’ back arching slightly into his hands, and the slight tremble of his thighs as they tense around Alec, anchoring them firmly together.

Magnus is soft and rough all at once; tensed muscles, soft lips. His eyes burn like the lamps lighting up the room.

“You’ve never lost control?” Magnus asks in a sultry murmur.

Alec grips his waist a little desperately. He grits his teeth. “No.”

He should really be pushing Magnus off his lap, but his hands won’t move. 

“Really?” Magnus’ voice is velvety. It’s like warm wine soaking in the sun; sweet, sharp, and addictive. His left hand begins to trail down and across Alec’s bare chest, skimming over the dark hair at the top, and dipping down onto the defined muscles below.

The touch is feather-light, and Alec resists the urge to arch and press into Magnus’ hand further; to feel those fingers more firmly against his chest.

Magnus’ hand circles his navel, and then disappears behind his back, pressing into the small dip below his spine.

Alec shivers, his eyes rolling slightly. His lips are dry, and he licks them, slowly running his tongue across the dry, lower lip and swallowing down a moan.

“Control is overrated, Alexander. Surely you must know this by now.” Magnus’ hands pause, rising up to cup either side of Alec’s neck. It’s a gentle touch now, not trying to prove a point. It’s soothing and exciting and makes Alec want to lift his chin and gaze at Magnus.

So he does.

Magnus’ eyes are shining. His lips are slightly open, parting in desire. Warm thighs are still firmly pressing against Alec’s legs, yet Magnus still leaves a slight gap between their bodies; a line he’s asking Alec to let him step over.

Magnus brushes his forefinger across Alec’s pulse point, still cupping his neck tenderly. His chest is heaving urgently.

“Stop fighting this. Let yourself want this.” Magnus begs.

He moves one hand slightly higher, teasing the nape of Alec's neck and stroking the lowest strands of his hair. “Let yourself want me, Alec.” He smiles, as if the offers slipping from his tongue are secrets he’s been wanting to share for a long time. And perhaps he has, just like Alec.

With a feverishly aching need, Alec feels his hands slide across Magnus’ waist. He slowly pulls him a little closer, so that their chests are almost touching.

Magnus lowers his head a little, their noses brushing. “Want me, Alec. Please.” Magnus whispers. “Touch me. Kiss me. Cry out my name. Wrap me in your arms and-“

Unable to fight the hunger any longer, Alec lifts his chin, coils his free hand around the back of Magnus’ neck and, finally, closes the distance. His lips meet Magnus’ and the pressure around Alec’s neck deepens as Magnus kisses him back just as passionately, his nails scraping as they tangle themselves into Alec’s hair.

The first kiss is brief. It’s hungry and desperate and an answer to a question.

The next ones become heated and slower, deeper and hungrier. Their chests push against each other, and their hands refuse to let go.

Alec feels Magnus tug at his hair, and a wretched groan escapes his lips. He grips Magnus’ neck with one hand, gently, but the hand around Magnus’ waist – the one holding his straddling form as closely as possible – is strong and unyielding. Magnus is leaning down a little, but they sit comfortable; the blanket-covered bench giving them enough room to stay like this for a while at least.

Kissing Magnus, Alec thinks, is like touching a star. It’s brilliant and blinding and otherworldly. It’s too much to hold in one pair of hands, but god does Alec try to.

Their lips chase each other, over and over, hungry and desperate. They share quick, but deep, kisses, nibbling on lips. Moans mix with the gentle steam around the room, and the ache inside Alec becomes a need; becomes a must.

They pause.

By now, Alec’s fingers are trembling, but he can’t keep from reaching up and brushing a forefinger across Magnus’ cheek, gazing up in wonder. The beauty of Magnus overwhelms him; the softness in the smile, the sharp edges of his gaze; lit up with desire.

Magnus leans down first this time.

He takes Alec’s face between his hands once more and slowly kisses him, his tongue flicking out this time. Magnus takes his time, his hands untangling from inside Alec’s hair and reaching down on either side of his neck again. His fingers are warm, but not unbearably hot and sticky, and they rest lightly by Alec’s pulse point. The elegance, the smoothness, of his movements makes Alec tremble even more. He’s sure that Magnus can feel his racing heartbeat beneath his fingertips.

After a few more kisses, Alec pulls back. Not giving Magnus time to ask why, or even giving himself time to rethink it, Alec shoves at his chest, making Magnus stumble upwards and out of his lap until he’s standing.

Magnus stands. He watches Alec with a surprised expression. 

Alec follows suit and stands, walking up to Magnus. Confidence washes over him as he steps forwards, and the smile tugging at his lips threatens to ruin the controlled walk he’s trying to make. Placing his palms on Magnus’ chest, he pushes him, gently this time, until he’s walking Magnus backwards, and into the door.

When the wooden door meets Magnus’ back, he gasps, and Alec doesn’t let himself overthink this anymore. He wraps an arm around Magnus’ waist to keep him pinned there, and then dips his head to place an open-mouthed kiss on Magnus’ neck.

Lost in desire, hesitation gets thrown aside. Alec presses his flushed body against Magnus, enjoying the sighs and moans that Magnus is making as he sucks and licks at his neck, edging his tongue over the strong collar bone. 

Magnus gasps again. “What…happened…to your control, Alexander?” He breathes out, as Alec starts kissing his jaw. He makes a slow trail across until he reaches the point below Magnus' ear. He’s restless, trying to kiss every part of Magnus that he can reach.

“At…your mercy.” Alec mumbles into his neck.

He licks a single, firm strip up Magnus’ neck, and the groan he’s rewarded with shoots pleasure off in every direction.

Magnus suddenly wraps his hands around Alec’s torso, and it's the sudden heat of his fingers that has Alec reeling backwards.

He catches himself quickly, but the distance is, once again, back.

They pause for a while, gazing at each other and studying the rise and fall of their chests. The breathless energy colours the moment in a tinge of red.

Alec touches his lower lip, still feeling the ghost of Magnus’ own lips, and he sighs, closing his eyes and letting his burning lungs catch up. They’re still in the sauna, and Alec can feel sweat beading across his forehead.

We can’t stay here.

The realisation doesn’t disappoint him, but it does startle him.

Alec feels the sweat sticking to his skin, and then forces his eyes back open. Magnus is watching him silently, his hands bracing against the door as if he’s going to collapse at any moment.

Alec can relate. His legs are still trembling, and he wonders that if he takes a step, he’s just going to keel over, or stumble back into kissing Magnus until they’re both on the floor.

And although it’s not how he imagines kissing Magnus, it’s messy and raw and achingly real, and Alec wants more, more, more.

“We have to go. And…change.” Alec says hoarsely. He sounds completely wrecked, and his cheeks are burning from more than the sauna’s temperature. Strangely, he shivers then, and it makes it ten times worse when Magnus smiles.

“Agreed.”

“Separately.” Alec adds quickly.

Magnus looks across at him, and for a split second, Alec is sure that he’s going to protest. Or worse, look hurt. Fortunately, they’re still on the same page for now, because Magnus nods.

“That’s probably for the best.” Magnus says slowly. His voice is strained, and Alec can see his fingers grasping the back of the door still.

Both are waiting for the other to move.

Alec is seconds from attempting to move his shaking legs when Magnus takes a deep breath, nods and then swings open the door for Alec. In one fluid movement, he steps back, and Alec decides to make this situation as easy as possible.

He steps through the door, his feet suddenly heavy and unwilling to walk away from Magnus. He reminds himself that this is necessary. They can’t stay wrapped in each other’s arms in the sauna. It’s not safe, for countless reasons.

When he reaches the changing room, Alec sits down, welcoming the coolness of the locker as he leans against it.

He can still feel Magnus in his lap; Magnus pressed against his body, and against the door. His body is trembling still with desire. It’s seeping out in the shaking of his fingers, and the restless energy burning through him.

There are so many questions. So much passion warming his blood. 

And despite the uncertainty of what's coming next, one thing’s for sure. Alec is really damn pleased that he never went through on the kill hit.

Chapter Text

Having just made out with a top agent of The Clave, Magnus expects his body to remain in shock for at least half an hour.

Okay, perhaps he’s still grinning – even though Alec left a while ago – but surely that’s a reasonable reaction.

Pressing his back against the shower cubical, Magnus turns the dial a little and shivers at the temperature change. The coolness is nice, however, and saves him from remembering the burning hunger from earlier. Restless energy still stirs, waiting in his chest to spring out once again.

He waits at least five minutes before leaving the sauna, and there’s – fortunately – no sign of Alec when he arrives. Magnus ignores the slight stab of disappointment. After all, he understands why the agent didn’t hang around to exchange awkward, polite small talk. That’s never been their thing, and Magnus cringes at the idea of tiptoeing around Alec.

After this, he knows there’s no way to go back; no way to hold up their hands and say it didn’t mean anything.

That morning, Magnus watches the sun rising from the rooftop of the Institute. He rests his hands on the railing and gazes out into the rippling sky of violet and blue. It’s a gentle colour. For now. He can feel it getting ready to burst into a new day.

A new start, Magnus thinks.

Another thought, a dream, enters his mind then.

Perhaps one day, he could watch the sunrise with Alec beside him.

One day.

~

“Why do you have that silver streak in your hair? Is it a fashion statement?”

“I assure you, it’s not. Genetics, that’s all. Nothing as intriguing as your own." Jem smiles warmly. "Why do you dye yours so often?”

Magnus shrugs. “I like to make people tremble before me.”

“And dyed hair is the best way to do that?”

“Yes."

"Interesting."

Magnus laughs when Jem doesn't move to make a note of this. He just folds one leg over the other and looks deep in thought for a moment. They're in the office again, and today is a simple chat that makes Magnus almost sad to realise that this will soon be over. The graduation ceremony for the recruits in next week, which means he'll be out of a job and likely on the move again. 

Magnus pushes aside the sadness and plasters on a grin. "The silver streak is sexy." He jokes, wiggling an eyebrow. "It gives you the whole ‘therapist on the streets, lady killer in the sheets’ vibe.”

He's sure you're not supposed to flirt with your therapist, but he likes Jem; likes his open nature and kind smiles. He's not ignorant enough to start calling him a friend, or asking for his Instagram - what would Jem's even be filled with? Violins and motivational speeches? - but Magnus admits that he'll miss their talks. A lot.

Jem's cheeks are a light pink when he blushes, but he shakes his head fondly. His smile fades slightly, and Magnus braces himself. Back to the deep talk.

“We never talked about the body in your cell, Magnus. Who was she?”

Magnus takes a second. He swallows. "Eleanor." He says quietly. "Her name was Eleanor. She was the receptionist at a hotel we stayed at, on the way to New York. She was young, and sweet. I teased her and tried to make her spell this absurdly long name, poor dear.”

The memory comes back to him in a strange blur, partially amusing, but now tainted with sorrow. It's a clouded gray, wanting to remember the sun, but hiding behind it. 

“You feel responsible.”

“No. I am responsibleShe was only there because Valentine wanted to break me. He wanted me to exchange information, otherwise more innocents would die.”

Jem doesn't rush to question this. He thinks again, and Magnus lets him, tracing a forefinger around the cracked leather of the armchair. 

“Cruelty is one of the hardest things in this world." Jem finally says. He looks at Magnus without hedging around it, but it's a soft intensity, not demanding anything. "Mainly because we can understand it. How easy would it be to brush it off as random? But you're smart, and you can read and understand people well."

He leans forwards slightly. He's not even holding a notepad today - he hasn't since the first session - and Magnus listens to him carefully; to the gentle lilt in his voice. It's clear to anyone that Jem is a musician, and he's tempted to ask him to play something. Magnus is sure that Jem plays beautifully. 

You feel things so deeply, Magnus." Jem says. "You met Eleanor so briefly, but you mourn for her the same as you would mourn a best friend. Or a lover. This is a hard life. But also one filled with compassion, and love." His lips tug into a smile again. "I imagine you have shared great loves in your life already.”

It's not judgement in the man's voice, but respect; intrigue. 

Magnus just shrugs again. “I have. Too many.”

Jem frowns this time. “Why do you say that? Love in all its forms, and no matter how long it lasts, is worthwhile." His brow furrows slightly, the silver streak in his hair shifting. "Isn’t it?”

Thinking it through, Magnus leans his head back against the chair. How can he explain his worries to Jem, without sounding...dismissive of everyone he's loved before? He values the memories of each love, but now? Magnus wants...more.

“I used to live in the circle of attention." Magnus begins. "I would pride myself on looking the best; being with the best. I would flirt with anyone I wanted to, and kiss anyone I wanted." He smiles at that, his younger self. Perhaps Magnus still enjoys a flair for dramatics, and looking good, but it's only part of his desires now. "Now…I want something more. Something I deserve.”

“Good. I’m glad to hear that." Jem says, his expression openly warm. 

Magnus quirks an eyebrow. “Because my cocky nature wants to be tamed?” He asks coolly. Perhaps he's being unfair, trying to bait Jem. But falling back into being defensive is easy. Too easy.

Of course Jem doesn't rise to it. He shakes his head. “No." Jem tells him. "Because you know what you deserve. And that takes people a lifetime to work out sometimes.”

Damn, he's good.

Magnus smiles good-naturedly. Something tugs at his mind then. Or someone.

He clears his throat, staring at the chipped varnish on his nails. “What if…the other person doesn’t know what they deserve?”

Jem doesn't say anything. He waits patiently.

Magnus isn't a fool. He knows the signs; waiting to hear more details. But he wants to share. It's just going to take a bit of an effort to get past his walls. 

After a short while, his words come back to him. “What if that person is afraid to love?" Magnus asks quietly. "And with one wrong move…you could push them away. Forever.”

“And this person is special?”

“Very.” Magnus answers truthfully. Easily. 

Really, he's trying hard not to make this about Alec, but it's pretty damn hard when the agent keeps occupying his mind so often. Up until now, it's been easy to hide behind the 'someone' and the 'they'. But it's blinding obvious. He's being see through; dangerously so, but Magnus wants to hear what Jem has to say. 

The other man's smile is cheerful, and slightly playful. “Then you already have your answer, don’t you?”

He swears that Jem winks then, but then his controlled expression is back.  

Magnus grins. He stands, uncrossing his legs and stretching out his neck. He holds out a hand to Jem, who leans forwards and shakes it warmly, smiling like he's in on the secret. Magnus' secret. Although, it's not exactly a secret when he's beaming like an idiot.

"Thank you for your time, but I have something I need to do.”

Jem doesn't look annoyed in the slightest. He stands too, and they head for the door together. “Good." Jem says, holding open the door to let Magnus out. "I have a very important meeting, and I cannot be late.”

Magnus hovers outside for a moment, grinning back at him. “Late for tea, Mr. Rabbit?”

“Something like that.” Jem smirks, a crooked, gentle tease. “Goodbye, Alice.”

The door closes slowly, but Magnus is already rounding the corner; his destination clear. 

~

Alec is pacing. He hates pacing, but he does it anyway.

He picks up the phone. Thinks. Drops it.

He places it carefully on the bed. He sits down beside it.

He punches in a number and waits, standing up again and beginning to walk in circles around the bed. 

“Jace’s phone. Can I help?”

“Clary. Uh, hey. It’s me. It’s Alec.”

“Alec, hi!" He can practically hear Clary beaming. "It’s been a while. Lydia tells me the recruits are training hard.”

“What? Oh, right. Yeah.”

Alec bites his lip for a second. Should he just hang up? What the hell is he even trying to ask? Why did he call-

“Is something urgent? Jace is just in the shower, but I can-“

“No. It’s…nothing.”

Clary's voice lowers, and she sounds unsure now. “Are you sure? He’ll be out in a few.”

At that, Alec admits defeat and stops pacing. He throws himself down on the bed and stares up at the ceiling. When the clock had struck midday, and the recruits left for lunch, Alec found himself heading straight for his room to avoid Magnus. Part of Alec wants to leave his body and whack himself over the head with the nearest heavy object. Not too heavy. Just heavy enough to knock some sense into him. Or courage. 

I kissed Magnus, Alec wants to say. A lot.

Perhaps that's why he's on the phone to his best friend. Or...his best friend's girl. Perhaps he wants advice on something that he has no idea how to ask advice on. 

Alec can almost hear Izzy teasing him. You're a genius. Kiss the assassin in the sauna and then avoid him all morning. Bravo.

Kiss him, and then kiss him again. And then again, slowly, quickly, hotly, desperately-

“Clary, how did you know you had something?" Alec interrupts his thoughts quickly. He doesn't need to relive those moments. He was doing that long enough last night. Which is probably the likely reason why he's exhausted and trying to convey to Clary Fairchild why he's feeling like a lost boy in Neverland; with only his pounding heart and absolutely zero logic to navigate him home. 

"How did you know you had something special?"

“With Jace?”

“No, with me.” Alec retorts.

He pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs.

He's about to mutter an apology, when Clary’s laugh comes bubbling down the phone. “That would be wrong for so many different reasons.” She snorts. 

“Yeah.” He agrees, smiling then. Underneath him, the bed is soft, but cool, and he tries to ease some of the tension from his shoulders with his free hand. 

After a moment, Clary speaks again. “And to answer your question, I’m not sure." She admits. "But…I knew it felt right. In our world, there’s so many things to die for, but so little that’s actually worth it."

This strikes Alec as such a raw truth. It's too logical to argue with, and he waits for Clary to continue.

"But love is." Clary says quietly, and he hears her settle into a chair. "Family, and friendship, and those who touch our hearts? They're always worth it. So when you find someone like that, you don't let it go. Even if it terrifies you. You grab it with both hands, even if they're shaking."

Alec closes his eyes for a moment. He sees Magnus; his smile, his colourful energy surrounding him like a coat. 

Alec smiles, opening his eyes and realising that the world isn't ending after all. Things are still spinning, and life is still unfolding around them. He isn't pacing, and he doesn't feel the urge to anymore. 

He suddenly realises that he's left Clary hanging. 

“Uh, Clary? You still there? Sorry about that." Alec mutters. He clears his throat. "Have Jace call me back later. It’s not urgent."

"You sure?"

"I am, yeah."

She's about to hang up, when Alec clears his throat again. He smiles, and hopes that he can push the gratitude into his voice like other people do. "And Clary, thanks.”

“Anytime." She says happily. "Oh, and say hi to Magnus for me.”

She giggles, and hangs up before Alec can curse at her. 

~

Magnus is watching the entire group sparring together when it happens. 

In their final week, they're all lumped together and training gets less intense, but by no means easier. The teens are focused and smart still, but they're all restless and waiting to be placed in their new work fields.

Magnus watches, walking carefully amongst the recruits and occasionally shouting out advice, or slightly correcting the odd awkward form. But really, they're just going through the motions. They know as much as they ever will, and the only way they'll get better now is through field work, and real life situations. 

He's watching Julia and Zoe spar with a grin on his face.

Really, it's a miracle that they haven't killed each other. Or ran away to get married. They're fierce and always grinning at each other now, and they push each other to the edge, but are always there to help the other climb back to their feet. 

"Where's your boyfriend?" Julia calls out, dodging a blow from Zoe and spinning around.

Magnus tells himself that flipping off an underage recruit is bad karma. He glares at her instead. "If you're referring to Alec, I don't know. He has a life outside and away from you buggers, you know."

Julia quirks an eyebrow. She opens her mouth to retort some more, but Zoe swipes out a leg and sends her sprawling to the ground. A victory cheer erupts from the girl's mouth and Magnus' hand is raised and waiting when she turns for a high five.

As he watches them, the minutes blur together. Magnus keeps staring at the door, at all of the doors, waiting for the familiar sight of a tall, muscular, hazel-eyed, sarcastic, frustratingly stubborn man to walk in. But he doesn't.

After leaving Jem's office earlier, Magnus headed straight for Cassandra Branwell's door and asked for a meeting. He set one up with the receptionist and smiled in thanks. Although the only thing he really wants to do is knock furiously on a certain agent's door until he opens up and stops hiding away. 

But he doesn't. He tells himself that this is the second thing he wants, the follow-up. He wants to sit down and ask Cassandra if there's any way he can oversee any future recruits and their training. He'll lie about wanting payment, but honestly, Magnus realises that training the teens is one of the most rewarding things he's ever achieved, and not to gloat, but it suits him. And they're open-minded and brave and compassionate. 

And maybe, just maybe, it's a new generation of agents that The Clave can't corrupt, or mislead. These will be teens, and soon, agents, who can think for themselves and shape a better future, and world. 

He's still lost in these thoughts when the door bursts open. Well, both doors. Double doors. Doors that Alec pushes open with both hands and then blinks in surprise, as if shocked by his own eagerness. He storms into the room with red cheeks and bright eyes, cuts a careful line through the recruits and marches up to Magnus. 

He stands there, chest heaving, dressed in black pants and a simple navy v-neck that gives Magnus an eyeful of sharp collar bones and dark hair.

Before he can stop himself, Magnus opens his mouth.

"Are you avoiding me, Alexander?"

At the same time, Alec asks, "Do you want to get a drink sometime?"

Only he doesn't ask it, per say. He sort of yells it. Loudly.

A hush falls across the training room, and all of the recruits turn quickly to face the pair in the middle, gaping with wide eyes and suppressed grins. Only they're not being subtle at all, and Julia is gaping while Zoe covers her mouth with her hands and is quite clearly laughing her ass off, judging by the shaking shoulders and tears forming in her eyes. 

Magnus finally cracks a grin, and he makes a dismissive motion with his wrist and turns to glare at the group. "Alright, kids. Quit gawking or I'll cancel your stupid graduation dance. Don't give me that look, Fiona, I will find a way to cancel it. Try me."

She doesn't. She picks up her staff again, and after a few moments, the others follow in her footsteps and turn away, settling back into training. Only Julia and Zoe have decided to take a break without asking and are whispering at the side of the mats.

Magnus wants to scold them. Honestly, he does. But the smile on his face is too wide, and not threatening in the least.

His smile only grows when he looks back up at Alec, who is flushing a beautiful shade of salmon pink.

"Come here." Magnus says. He takes Alec by the elbow and leads him away from the heathens that are immature teenagers. He also ignores the wolf whistle as well.

Definitely Zoe.

They round the corner, and thankfully, it's deserted. From here, Magnus can still poke his head around and make sure the group aren't doing something stupid. He ignores that some are handing out money to each other.

"Betting is so irresponsible. And childish." Magnus mutters, mostly to himself.

Alec leans back against the wall, his forearms flexing, and Magnus is certainly not looking at the recruits anymore. 

He tilts his head to the left. “That was rather bold, Alexander. Ever the surprise." Magnus says, the huskiness in his voice spilling over the edges of his control. He wants to touch him. Again. But there's a lot to risk if he does, and Magnus isn't ready to. Not yet. 

But he does shamelessly eye Alec up. Magnus excuses it by thinking that by this point, he’s pretty sure there’s no need to hide it.

“So, drinks?”

Alec's voice surprises him. It's just as low as Magnus', and when he looks up, there's a little smile on Alec's face that is not without double meaning. 

Magnus steps closer. Just one step, but it brings them chest to chest. “Are you asking me out on a date?” He asks, lifting his chin so that it brushes Alec's own. The touch is brief because he cocks his head again and waits, but Magnus shivers in delight when Alec gulps. His Adam's apple bobs, and Magnus wants nothing more than to sink his teeth into it. Nicely. 

“M-maybe. Yes. Or dinner?" Alec asks, firmly this time. He lifts a hand to scratch the back of his neck. "If that’s…okay with you?”

Magnus almost laughs. Not unkindly, but absolutely in amusement. 

No, Alexander. That's the worst idea i've ever heard of. How can I eat dinner with you and suffer in such awful company? Really, I want to cry. 

Holding back the teasing, Magnus steps back and lets a smile answer for him. He lets it grow. "I think we’ve earned that." He says sweetly. The huskiness is gone, and the softness seems to sooth Alec, because he smiles back. 

"Uh, does tomorrow night sound good?"

"I'd love that."

"Great. Me too. Obviously."

"Obviously."

Alec narrows his eyes, and then, realising that Magnus is teasing him, grins. It's that lovely, wide, carefree smile that Magnus adores. It's a smile he would take on the world for. A look that warms his heart. 

Magnus is still smiling when he heads back into the training room. 

Zoe approaches him with a sheepish look, and it's still not enough to threaten his good mood. Because Alec just asked him out. Sort of. In front of other people.

And maybe he's making too much of a big deal out of the situation, because the recruits are just teenagers. It's not like Alec proposed in front of The Clave or anything. Still, Magnus feels the warm fluttering of relief in his chest. Alec wants this, whatever it is, just like Magnus does. And he can't stop grinning because he and Alec are going out for dinner, and that means alone time. Which is a rare and beautiful thing that Magnus knows very well to cherish. 

Zoe waves a hand in front of his face. 

"What are you after, you minx?" Magnus asks, but even then it comes out with too much cheer. 

Zoe lifts the other hand out from behind her back, and hands him something. 

“So, this is for you.” She says. 

Magnus frowns, looking down at his hands. There's now an envelope in them, and he's pretty sure it's a card, but why?

Julia joins Zoe, and the two girls watch, waiting.

He slides a careful finger under the paper and tugs the card out. When Magnus flips it open, a sudden spray of glittery confetti comes bursting out of the card; dancing around the air and showering the training mats below. The recruits laugh, turning to watch the colours fall. 

Magnus smiles, watching it fall like colourful sparks of rain.

A bright blue piece stick in Zoe's hair, and he plucks it out and winks.

"I wanted to say thanks." Zoe says. "For everything. You're a really awesome teacher. The best. Probably."

Julia nods. "You are fairly adequate." She admits.

Magnus snorts, flicking the confetti at her. "I think that's a compliment, my dear. I'll take it. Happily."

Zoe's voice quietens, and Magnus picks up on the sincerity in her eyes. "Really, thank you. I couldn't have done this without you. You've been so patient with me. With all of us. So thank you. Even for the songs."

They laugh, and as the last of the confetti falls, Magnus tucks the card back inside the envelope and swipes away at the lone tear. 

As they start to pack away their gear, Julia comes up to him again. She looks a little nervous. “Do you have any idea where we’ll be assigned?” The red haired girl asks. She bites her lip, waiting. Her shoulders are squared as if the verdict has already been given. And it's not one she wants to hear.

Magnus doesn't look at Zoe, but Julia does, and he watches the emotion flashing in her eyes.

"No, I don't." Magnus says, apologetically. He reaches out and lightly touches Julia's shoulder. She turns back to him and he smiles. "I have a meeting with Cassandra soon, and I promise, if I can do anything, I'll certainly try and...keep certain recruits partnered. Together."

Julia relaxes, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. "You really are a cool teacher." She mumbles.

"I won't tell anyone you said that, my dear."

"Appreciate that."

"Now go, before I make you clear up this glitter."

She heads off, grinning, and when the others file out, Julia and Zoe linger behind. They look around, realise no one’s there but Magnus – who is suddenly very interested in the glitter stuck to his toes – and then grin. Zoe kisses her cheek, and Julia swats her away, but then wraps an arm around her waist as they walk down the corridor together.

Picking up the last of the glittery confetti, Magnus suddenly freezes. 

He stares down at his sweatpants and loose shirt, and curses. 

Fuck.

He’s suddenly got a very dangerous problem on his hands.

"I need new clothes."

~

That evening, Alec gets changed out of his training gear and then settles back onto his bed.

He dials another number - as familiar to him as his own - and then waits.

"Big brother, I thought you had been killed by teens! How have you been?"

"Izzy." Alec smiles into the phone, lifting a leg to stretch out the aching muscle. "I'm good. Really good. Uh, how are you? How are things?"

For a while, they talk about the usual incidents; small jobs, how training the recruits has been, when Alec is coming back - he doesn't know, and won't elaborate. Izzy doesn't ask him to either. It's always good to hear her voice. Whenever they're separated, Alec constantly thinks about what his sister is doing, and what kind of trouble she's getting into without him there to say no. 

And then she asks how Magnus is. A simple enquiry. With absolutely no judgement in it. 

Alec just blurts out, “I kissed him.”

He wants to stab a pen through his eye as soon as he says it. He tells himself that it's only Izzy, his sister, one of his best friends, that he's talking to. Why should he hide things like that from her anyway? 

Yes, he tells himself, this isn't just because you've been constantly thinking about the kiss since yesterday. 

Izzy smothers her squeal, but it still escapes down the line. He rolls his eyes, but smiles anyway. 

She clears her throat, composing herself enough to ask, “Do you regret it?”

"No." Alec answers quickly. He lowers his leg, and stretches out the other one. "No, I don't. It’s just…very new. And complicated.”

“Please. New, my ass. It started the minute you knocked the poor guy to the ground.”

“Wait. You knew?” Alec asks blankly. 

Isabelle's voice sounds a bit guilty now. “Maybe. I didn’t want to add even more stress to your plate, that’s all.”

He tries to think of something to say to that. A way to convince her that it's their job to share their burdens, not take on everything for each other. But that would be a lie, because Alec will take on every burden if it means Izzy doesn't have to. 

Izzy then asks, “So why are you unsure now? Is it because…he’s a guy?”

Alec swallows. He surprises himself then by rushing on, not with haste, but simply because he wants to. It's not something to shy away from. “Being gay isn’t anything to do with it, Izzy. I just…don’t see how there’s a future we can have. He’s going away soon. Probably forever, if he wants to be careful. And I’ll go back to New York. We can’t exactly date over Skype.”

Izzy is quiet for a moment. So quiet that Alec wonders if the connection is broken, which is odd because the Institute's private lines are legendary.

And then a little sound echoes, and it sounds like a sob.

Alec tenses. "Are you alright?" He asks quickly. He sits up, hunching over and pressing his ear firmly against the phone. "Isabelle, answer me. Please. What's going on?"

She laughs then, after a pause that feels like a lifetime, and Alec relaxes just a bit.

“It’s just…you’ve never said it to me before. Not directly." Isabelle says quietly. Thick emotion cracks her voice. "I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t make a big deal out of it, but…I’m so proud of you, big brother. And I love you.”

“For what? I…” He breaks off, catching up.

"Oh, that."

Izzy laughs. "Mm. Just that small thing. That you've kept hidden for so long."

She says it teasingly, but Alec knows that she understands the power in her support. Alec wraps it around him like a blanket, grateful for the billionth time that someone up there gave him an angel for a sister. 

"Thanks, Iz. And I love you too."

A knock sounds at the door, but Alec realises it's coming from the other end of the phone when Izzy sighs. "Sorry, i'm needed in a few. But...as for your other points, you’re discussing them with the wrong person. Talk to Magnus about this, I'm sure he's just as worried."

She sighs again. "I really do have to go. Mom wants me to work on the code with Clary and Jace. We’re getting there.”

“What code?”

“Oh.” She sounds a little guilty. “We wanted you to have a break. But…do you remember the date we have? For something Valentine is planning? Well, we’ve finally figured out a code he uses, and we’re hoping to finalise it. Try and put the pieces together."

"You think the date is also a message? Something coded?"

"It doesn't matter. It's not your job." Izzy tells him firmly, and he knows that she's protecting his freedom for a little while longer. Making sure he can enjoy his last few days before returning. Maybe returning. 

"It'll be a while yet anyway." Izzy says. "Lots of coffee.”

Alec grins, imagines the tension back in New York and then grimaces. "I'll be thinking of you, Iz." He says truthfully. Pride seeps into his voice. "You'll get there. If anyone can crack a crime lord’s codes, it’s you, Izzy.”

“I even have my lucky stilettos on today.”

Alec snorts. “Well then, good luck.”

“You too.” Isabelle giggles. “I have to go. Someone else is on the line. I need to take this."

“Oh. Okay. I’m sure it’s a lot more important than my not-date. Take care, Iz."

"You too, Alec."

~

“Isabelle. Emergency.”

“Does this involve the date you have with my brother?”

Magnus comes to a stop. "How did you know...? Did you hack into the cameras or something?"

Until then, he's been pacing, waiting for her to pick up. Really, what's more important than helping your friend get it on with your brother?

He pictures Izzy scanning through the images, filtering through all the juicy conversations. 

“Yes.” She says.

“Isabelle!” Magnus cries, his eyes widening in horror. What kind of a friend does that? He's up on the roof again, savouring the cool breeze and ignoring the panic creeping into his mind. 

He's starting to rethink their friendship when Isabelle laughs into the phone, and then says, “Kidding. Oh my god. You’re so…not chill right now. You used to be cool, what happened?”

Still on edge, Magnus says coolly, “Goodbye, Isabelle.”

“No, no, wait. Please don’t hang up. I may or may not have spoken to my big brother earlier. That’s how I know.”

"Oh." Magnus doesn't hang up. But he does frown. “Whoa, back up, little miss smartass. Alexander called you…about our date?” Magnus finds himself grinning at that. “Really? How...charming. What did he say?”

If he had long hair, Magnus is sure he'd be twirling it around his finger right now. Instead, he settles for another stupidly wide grin. 

“You want me to betray my sibling bond? For you?”

Magnus groans. “You can’t see me right now, but Isabelle Lightwood, I am giving you my best pout.”

“Shame.” Izzy teases. She doesn't say anything else.

Magnus pouts, if not for the benefit of winning, but for the self-satisfaction that sulking brings him. 

“My dear, you are cruel." He whines. His thoughts catch up with him again. "Very well. What I was originally calling to ask is of the utmost importance, so i'll ignore this act of betrayal."

“Oh. Make it quick, I have work to do. What is it?”

Magnus sighs deeply. “Does Alec like blue?”

~

I shouldn't be taking Magnus out for dinner. Not tonight.

This is stupid.

So stupid.

We're not...normal.

Alec raises a hand to knock at the door again, but then he lowers it and settles for staring at the wood.

The name on the door reads, in fancy, curling gold: Cassandra Branwell, Head of the Chicago Institute. 

He's not even sure what to ask. For a permission slip to take someone on a date? 

It's not like agents need permission to go out, but Alec isn't foolish enough to play ignorant and not take precautions. 

Alec fills his lungs with air, trying to calm himself, and then raises a fist to knock.

He's about to knock - and he even convinces himself that this isn't a lie - when the sound of heels clicking breaks the silence.

Alec turns, and then smiles, as a familiar face approaches. 

"Lydia, hey. What are you doing here?"

His friend raises an eyebrow. "This is my mother's office." She folds her arms across her chest. "What are you doing here?" There's a small smirk on her lips that Alec chooses to ignore.

"Uh, nothing. I just...needed to..." Alec makes a hand gesture that, to him, seems appropriate. It's vague and doesn't express anything helpful. Which is exactly what his thoughts are like right now. 

For whatever reason, Lydia somehow understands. At least partially. She places a hand on his arm and smiles. "I can cover for you." She says.

Alec blinks. "Y-you can? You will?"

"Of course. You don't need to explain anything to me, or to my mom. Unless it's breaking the law?"

Alec quickly shakes his head. "No. No."

Unless dating is against the law. Alec decides that it's wise not to ask if it actually is.

Lydia surprises him then and places a hand to his cheek. "You deserve to be happy, Alec. I’ve got you covered, I promise."

"But the recruits-"

"Will be fine without their mentors for one night. I'm sure."

"And the Cup-"

"- is being transferred back to New York tonight. Yes, I'm well aware."

That was, admittedly, the one thing Alec was lingering on. He knew that the Cup was here for a few nights, because Cassandra was desperate to show it off at their meeting last week, and it was being taken back to the New York Institute tonight.

Alec smiles. "Sorry. I know you're doing your job. I wasn't questioning that."

"I know. Now go have fun."

"Okay. My new number is on the side. If you need me, call me. I'll come right back-"

"Alec, oh my god." Lydia exclaims, but she's laughing. "Shut up. And go."

~

Normal people pick their dates up at their apartment. Or they meet at a restaurant and the world stops turning for a moment when their significant other glides in. Swoon-worthy violin music starts playing in the background, and the only thing they can see is that first moment.

Alec is quick to realise that as normal as they want to be, he and Magnus are just going to have to do this in their own way. Besides, Alec thinks, old-fashioned is ridiculously overrated.

The thought of waiting below a large flight of stairs as Magnus descends like some storybook hero is insane.

Although, he’s sure that Magnus would look divine; with his fingers dancing across a marble stair railing. His fingers – probably painted – would brush the tips of the stone, and he’ll likely be wearing that award-winning grin, his eyes made up and a low-cut shirt stealing Alec’s breath away-

A shiver runs through Alec's body. It’s partially because of where he’s standing; in the early afternoon breeze, overlooking Osaka Garden.

He isn’t even allowed to pick Magnus up, for god's sake. They decide that it's too dangerous to walk through Chicago together, and so they’re making their way separately and arranging to meet here. Like a damn meeting, not a date.

It’s not even a date anyway, Alec reminds himself. Because if he starts thinking too much, he’s going to panic. And the thought of ruining whatever this is makes his hands grip the wood of the bridge.

He can still hear Izzy’s voice teasing him in the back of his mind.

What was it she had said? About damn time!

He smiles then, remembering how carefully Isabelle guided him through picking out an outfit. He's gone for a simple, but hopefully smart look; dark blue, slim jeans, a button-up deep green shirt, and a slim black tie that's more like a thin scarf than an informal tie. A simple dark gray blazer completes his look. 

Alec even runs a comb through his hair, trying to tame the wild pieces, but accepts defeat when they stick up of their own free will.

It was actually one of Magnus’ recruits, Sean, who makes the suggestion to go to Osaka Garden. Not intentionally, but still. Alec remembers how he overhead the boy talking proudly about his parents holding a music festival in the park, and how it was a beautiful park that was soon to be closed down. Alec then quickly – and discreetly – looked up the place, and here they are. Dinner in the park, with music.

Ordinary, but - hopefully - nice.

Alec decides that he really likes that word, the normality of it. The simplicity of a nice night. With Magnus. 

And so, here he is. Standing on a wooden bridge that covers the lake, waiting for Magnus Bane to join him for a not-date that is definitely a date.

Oh, how the times change, Alec thinks.

He stares down at his watch again. Five minutes late.

Magnus is five minutes late already, and Alec is already starting to regret this entire idea. This entire risk. Because it is a risk - and not simply because they’re trying to have a normal date when there’s always the chance that far away, someone needs their help.

It’s dangerous for many reasons. One being that Alec is sure that dating is something The Clave frowns upon. Especially with a possible former assassin he is supposed to be leaving for dead in Valentine’s clutches.

He stares out into the water. The sunlight reflects off it for a moment, and he sighs, the sleeves of his shirt crinkling a little. The tie around his neck suddenly feels a little constricting, and he resists the urge to just chuck it into the lake. But Izzy was adamant that dressing good shows care, and consideration, and Alec leaves the tie exactly where it is.

Even though they’re in an elegant park, and they’re having dinner later, he still feels overdressed.

Until-

“Alexander, you look simply ravishing.”

Alec turns in the direction of the familiar, silky smooth voice. 

He stares, open-mouthed, as Magnus steps onto the bridge; towards him. Towards Alec. Magnus walks with such a natural rhythm, an elegant flourish of hips and long legs, and Alec can't tear his eyes away. 

It also helps - and practically kills Alec - that Magnus is wearing a partially velvet shirt that is basically translucent. It's a deep, rich blue, and the raised velvet looks soft to touch. Alec wants to. He wants to trace his thumb over the bumpy patterns covering Magnus' chest, and feel the muscles rippling underneath. Instead, Alec just stares; powerless against the taunt sleeves hugging Magnus' forearms.

Alec feels his heartbeat jump into his throat as Magnus continues to walk over the bridge until he's standing right in front of him.

Alec stares some more, digesting his outfit with shameless hunger. And lust. And desire. 

Magnus is pairing his positively sinful shirt with slim, oh so tight black pants that Alec thinks for a moment of horror – and unconcealed want – are crafted from leather. He hopes they’re just shiny, because he doesn’t need to think about Magnus is skin-tight leather. He doesn't need to follow his eye line downwards to see just how tight they are. Magnus is only wearing two necklaces, and they’re two simple silver chains with a handful of charms on them. His nails are painted a matching blue, and the eyeliner wings – Alec thanks Isabelle for that particular cosmetic knowledge – are sharp and graceful.

Magnus spins around, holding out his hands. “Do I polish up nicely?” He purrs.

Fuck. Alec gulps. He’s actually trying to kill me.

Perhaps this is Magnus’ revenge. For the mercy kill.

Alec sort of wants to throw up his hands and plea for mercy anyway.

And then he thinks of getting on his knees before Magnus for a whole other reason, and flushes.

His hair is tipped with blue again, but it’s a softer blue; like the blue that appears from behind a cloud, not the harsh blue strobe lights in a nightclub. Alec wonders what’s happened to make Magnus like the softer colours; the gentler look.

And you still didn’t answer.

He realises this when Magnus’ smile slowly slips away. It tries to hover for a moment, and Magnus raises an eyebrow to cover it, but Alec still sees the fall in his mood.

Great job.

“Y-you look…polished.” Alec finishes lamely.

He waits for Magnus to shrug it off, or worse, look annoyed. After all, he’s clearly making an effort, and Alec – on the surface later – is just appearing to be vacant.

And then a strange, wonderful thing happens. Magnus smiles.

“Try again?” He says softly, his expression understanding.

It’s the patience that startles Alec. It embraces his nerves and soothes them; letting them, and him, know that it’s okay. He’s okay.

“Blue suits you. Really well.” Alec says, and he lets the admiration slip into his voice. It slips out, low and husky, surprising him. What also surprises Alec is how comfortable he suddenly feels in admitting this. But Magnus is beaming, and his toes are curling with the desperation to hold back. To not reach around Magnus' waist and tug him into a searing hot kiss.

“I know.” Magnus replies, flicking his wrist in dismissal. He winks. “But I do like to hear you say it.” And before Alec is thinking of something else to reply, Magnus tugs at his elbow and is pulling him over the bridge and further into the gardens.

“So, dinner is…?”

“Over here. Uh, there.” Alec awkwardly points to a little far off, where the reservation for their meal awaits. It’s past the path of trees, which opens up into a large lawn and a grass area.

“It’s outside. The restaurant." Alec explains. "I hope that’s okay. It’s a bit different, so I’m not sure what to expect. And there’s a band on. Later. Or maybe it starts now. But there’s dancing too. Which I won’t do, but I’m sure you like that…”

Magnus interrupts him gently. “Alexander, it sounds wonderful." He then inclines his head to look at Alec. "I don’t really mind where we are, as long as I get to spend time with you.”

“Oh. Okay.” Alec flushes and looks away.

How could it come so easily to Magnus? To say what he thinks, and express what he feels? Alec isn’t ignorant enough to believe it means Magnus doesn’t care. Quite the opposite. Magnus admitting his feelings, and sharing them so easily with Alec, is a sign of trust. At least, he hopes it is. Because it means that whatever’s stirring between them is happening naturally. Normally.

Which Alec admits is hilariously ironic considering how unnatural their circumstances are.

“What are you smiling at?” Magnus teases.

“The first time I saw you.” Alec says, before he can stop himself.

He pauses. Luckily, they're walking up the steps to the restaurant on the lawn - a large, elegant, wooden-styled hut with a high ceiling. And Alec ignores the sudden rush of emotions and gives their name - an alias, of course - to the waiter, who starts to lead them up onto the second floor, and to their table on the balcony.

Outside, on the lawn outside the restaurant, there's a large stage, and raised dancefloor, being set up. 

When they sit down, Alec is glad, because he can now hide his surprise by accepting the menu and pondering over it. Inside, he’s panicking. Well, aggressively thinking. Izzy will call it panic, but Alec’s sure it’s just surprise. A lot of it.

Because just then, he realises how much he was thinking about that moment. That first moment. In the club. Not when all he’s seen beforehand is a blurry photo that barely captures Magnus’ side profile, let alone his full beauty.

The moment imprints itself, again and again, in the very front of Alec’s mind. It spins around and twirls with flourish, making sure it’s occupying front stage.

The lights are low, except for the flashes of pinks and deep reds flicking over the dancefloor. An aroma of vanilla mixes in with the cool air – and it is, surprisingly and pleasantly cool for a nightclub – and Alec finds a spot at the bar, turning to survey the room. It’s elegant. Simple booths. Deep purple and navy colour scheme. Chandeliers better suited to a ballroom than a club.

The man – his target – is equally as elegant. And dangerous. No one moves like that, Alec thinks, and doesn’t know how to kill a man. No one controls their hips with such precision, or smirks against someone’s ear, unless they know how good they look. Knows the sway of the crowd; the way to catch someone’s eye.

And he catches Alec’s before the agent has time to keep his cover intact.

Their eyes meet across the dancefloor. The grin he offers is worse than any gunshot. Because Magnus Bane is beautiful. Too beautiful. And the gun is Alec’s jacket pocket becomes a sentence he doesn’t want to serve. Magnus’ navy jacket flaunts his graceful figure, and hugs his forearms deliciously. Heat coils in Alec’s stomach, before he can shove it aside.

So when Magnus briefly looks away, Alec slips into the crowd, still watching, but far from view. He watches Magnus dance with the blonde girl, and then he leaves...

He’s not sure if he ever quite recovers from that moment. Meeting Magnus, well, simply seeing Magnus, changes Alec in an instant. It’s a natural change. Like smoke. Like fire. Like rain. The elements dig into his heart, rooting out the desire and making it move Alec forwards, one step at a time-

“Alexander? Your drink order, darling?”

Alec blinks. Back in the present, he stumbles out a quick order for water, and then looks down at the menu, trying to pick something that involves lifting the menu closer to hide his flushing cheeks.

“So, you were saying…about how we met?”

“Just that it was…interesting.”

"Interesting?" Magnus laughs, cocking his head to the side. “You straddled me, tried to kill me, and then teamed up with me. In less than an hour.”

“You tried to kill me too. You held a knife to my throat. And stole my pen.” Alec mumbles.

“I can’t believe you remember that.”

“Well, I liked that pen.” Alec says stubbornly. Magnus gave it back, but still, he needs an argument. It wasn’t really special at all, if he’s honest. Something comes into his mind then, and he looks up at Magnus and asks, “Your gun. Why is it important to you?”

Magnus swallows. “The one I murdered all of Valentine’s guards for?”

“You didn’t kill them.” Alec defends quickly. “I don’t think any of them had fatal wounds. Honestly.”

“What do you think happened to them when Valentine got back?” Magnus asks, his expression suddenly serious. “I doubt they get warning slips in their line of work. I left them for dead. I should’ve killed them.” He glances away, looking out over the gardens. 

"Hey," Alec reaches out and lightly touches Magnus' hand. “They chose to be there. It’s not your burden.”

It's a few, long moments before Magnus replies. "Thank you." He squeezes Alec hand, and then pulls back when the waiter returns with their drinks, and then takes their orders. When he leaves again, Magnus smiles across at Alec. 

"Oh, and to answer your question, about the gun,” Magnus' smile turns fond, and he takes a sip of wine before continuing. “It was the first thing I ever bought that truly mattered. After I stopped working for those…men, I began to build up my own reputation. One I could control. I was free to be whoever I wanted to be. The gun…is the one thing that has always been mine. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s silly.” Magnus breaks off and laughs, a little shakily.

Alec shakes his head. “No. Not at all." Alec says firmly. He tries for an encouraging smile. "Izzy has a stuffed bear from the only fairground we’ve ever been to. Jace has a ticket stub from the one and only time he’s ever beaten me at bowling. We all have our prized items. It’s not another’s place to judge them.”

“And you?”

“Hm?”

“What’s your…special thing?”

Only Magnus could say such a thing innocently, and yet not innocently at all. Not when someone smirks like that.

Alec rolls his eyes. He thinks for a moment. “I have this bow, actually. It’s, uh, not exactly practical for field work. Hand to hand combat is our usual go-to, but…I love archery. It’s always helped me to focus. And when I was ten, my parents got me this bow. It’s beautiful. I held it in my hands, and remember mom smiling at me. I remember how happy she was, and how happy I was."

He meets Magnus' eyes, sees their kindness, and feels the tightness in his throat. Alec pushes past it and finishes, "I’ve only ever wanted to make them proud.”

Magnus doesn’t say anything for a moment. They sit in silence for a short while, but it's certainly not uncomfortable. Just thoughtful. 

When Magnus replies, he speaks carefully. Slowly. “Your mother is a complicated woman.” 

Alec bristles. He narrows his eyes, and thinks about pushing further, but now isn't the time to discuss family reputation. 

But still, he feels the need to say something. “You’re still not going to tell me, are you? About how you know my mother.” Alec doesn’t ask again, because he really doesn’t want to ruin their little time together. But he needs to say this. “But whatever it is, I trust you.”

Their meal arrives, and they talk some more as they eat. Alec watches Magnus, before realising that it's not helping the tightness in his throat - which still remains. If it's fear, Alec doesn't want to think about it. He's determined to enjoy this evening, and not think about Magnus leaving soon. 

He laughs when Magnus scrunches up his nose and glares at the glass in his hand. "Alexander, this wine is even more bitter than I am." He says, but drinks it anyway. Alec takes a small sip when Magnus offers it to him, and pulls a funny face in agreement. 

They laugh again. They laugh a lot, many times throughout the meal, and Alec loves watching the dimples appear in Magnus' cheeks. He's flushed and smiling and sharing stories about his old friends, Catarina and Ragnor. Alec listens, enraptured, and then shyly offers some of his own stories in response. As the sun gets lower, bit by bit, Alec feels more and more confident. The edge starts to wear off, but the tension remains. Just a little, but enough to notice. 

Still, Alec tries to cut it off; cut off the fear, and the hesitation. 

He looks across to ask Magnus something, and then it slips his mind completely, because Magnus’ glass is half raised as he watches him, a wide, happy smile on his face.

“Why are you smiling like that?” He repeats Magnus’ words from before with a smirk. 

Magnus doesn’t look ashamed at being caught. He just shrugs, a strand of blue falling across his eyes. “Because you’re cute when you’re concentrating." He teases. "Your brow gets all line-y. Your eyes squint too.”

Alec huffs at that. “Kittens are cute.” He mutters, stabbing at his last bite of chicken. “Not agents.”

“I’m so glad you said that. I’m a cat person too. I love dogs, but cats.” Magnus sighs happily. There's a beautiful smile on his face, and Alec can’t remember what he’s forgetting to be grumpy about.

“You have them?” He asks. "Pets?"

“No.” Magnus says. His face falls, but then the smile is back. “But I’m determined to – one day – have a place long enough to have them. A whole bunch of them. Cats. Everywhere. Imagine it.” He sighs again.

“So, you’re leaving.”

Magnus’ fork clangs to the table. His plate is empty, so it echoes loudly off the china.

Alec winces. What a smooth move he's gone and pulled. What a way to ruin the smiles, and the jokes, and the easy companionship.

His words hover in the air. 

All around them, the quiet chatter speaks volumes compared to their sudden silence. 

Magnus turns his head and looks out across the balcony, at where the band is now in full swing. The makeshift stage – a raised wooden platform that covers the lawn - is decorated with hanging lilac fairy lights. It’s also completely vacant. No one is dancing. Not yet, at least.

“Dance with me?” Magnus asks.

He asks it simply, but still Alec stumbles out, “But…no one else is.”

He doesn’t want to think about how little he knows about dancing.

Perhaps it’s like fighting, part of his brain suggests. He strongly disagrees with this part.

He decides to go down the panic route instead, and starts thinking of the times he’s seen Izzy dancing. How she moves so gracefully, but fiercely. How in the hell’s name could Alec copy those movements? And with Magnus?

The music doesn’t seem to be edging towards grinding, though. It’s sophisticated and classical, only picking up the pace when it turns to swing music, which is exactly what the band next starts up.

Magnus winks. He stands up from his chair and smoothly undoes another button, which leaves his shirt open almost to the breastbone. He then grins. “Give me two minutes.”

“What…?”

Alec’s voice trails off, as he watches Magnus skip down the steps to their right. He heads out of the restaurant and walks over to the table nearest to the platform.

Alec watches in awe, and surprise, as Magnus leans over and talks to the total strangers. They stare at him like he’s some whisked up dream from their imagination. They return his smile with ease, and Alec can’t blame them. Magnus moves smoothly and extends his hand to one of the older ladies, who in turn, stands and says something with a smile to the others.

They all make their way to the platform, and then they’re dancing. The song is fast and jolly, and Magnus twirls his partner happily, occasionally stealing glances to look up at Alec and wiggle an eyebrow.

Soon, as if finally relieved someone else is moving first, other couples join the platform. Groups of friends start to dance, and then couples, and soon, the floor is comfortably packed with dancers, and Magnus is in the centre of the delightful madness.

Alec leans over the restaurant railing and gazes down at the lawn. He watches Magnus dipping the woman back into his arms, before doing a light spin and then they’re back to doing…well, Alec’s not really sure what the style is, but it’s certainly looks fun. And carefree. Two things he’s utterly terrified to take part in.

The lyrics are a little irritating. Why would someone ask ‘Why do fools fall in love?’ if they were not going to provide an answer. Alec is most annoyed by this. He pays the bill when the waiter comes back over, glad for the distraction. But then he's back to staring down at Magnus, watching him dance.

He’s so annoyed that he doesn’t realise Magnus is standing below him, looking up at him coyly as he wraps his hands around the railing and stretches his neck. “Well,” Magnus begins, and as he looks up, and Alec looks down, Alec can’t help but think of how Juliet must’ve felt, peering down at her Romeo and fearing the distance between them.

Not that they’re star-crossed, Alec thinks. Or fourteen year old kids who make terrible life choices and get mistaken for a love story. But still, he feels a little grossly romantic right now. 

Magnus stretches his neck to look up at him from the ground floor. “Alexander, I have seen you fight, and I have seen you train." He says, loudly. "I have never seen you look so frightened of something before. It’s a dance. Not an orgy.” He winks. 

Finally, Alec laughs at that. He rolls his eyes. Holding Magnus’ gaze, he slowly unbuttons his jacket and removes it, placing it lazily on the back of the chair before coming down the stairs to join Magnus on the law. Never once do his eyes look away.

Besides, it’s not like they’re ever going to dance together after this. The thought tries to sober Alec, but he ignores it. Hides it away. It keeps resurfacing, reminding him. When will they ever have this again?

When they get onto the patio, the large projector screen behind the band keeps changing. It moves between colourful artworks that are the sponsored pieces. Alec watches as streaks of red, a burning sunset, change into the New York skyline, and then shifts into a calming capture of an approaching storm. The clouds are gray, the sky is swirling, but the image is calm. Still.

The end of the swing song is still playing, and Alec barely has a second to think because Magnus grabs both of his hands and pulls him closer. He grins, their noses so close that they almost brush, and then Magnus is lifting their hands to spin Alec around. He goes through a series of spins and careful moves, not too complicated, but still, fast. Alec is almost out of breath by the time the song ends, but his cheeks are warm, and he can't keep the smile away. 

A few of the older ladies are beaming at them, watching them dance. Alec hunches a bit, the uncomfortable feeling of being watched; noticed. But Magnus is then kicking out his long legs and circling his hips, and Alec watches him instead. 

When the song ends, the band starts up a slower song next. Groups become couples, and the intimacy of their gazes drives Alec forward. He steps closer to Magnus, a little more in control as a slow rhythm plucks away at the guitar. The only sounds that interrupt them are random bursts of coughing. Alec assumes that there's a flu going around, but at least it's a distraction from Magnus' enticing ways. 

"You're too far away, Alexander." Magnus murmurs, just loud enough to be heard over the song. Magnus looks up at him from beneath his dark lashes, slipping a hand around Alec's waist. He tugs, fingers gripping his hip.

Alec gasps as their bodies press, flushed, together, and Magnus doesn’t give him the time to overthink it anymore. He links his right hand through Alec’s left and pulls him into a proper hold. 

Acting on instant, Alec places his right hand around Magnus’ shoulder, fingers brushing the nape of his neck. It leaves them standing a lot closer than what’s considered proper, but the floor is crowded, and all Alec wants to do is be close. For as long, or as little, as they have.

The song that plays is still slow, and Alec hates it because it’s haunting. Mixing sweetness and bitterness, the soft voices are almost hypnotically calm, and the simple guitars mean that the dance is slow and easy to follow. Which is, for Alec, even worse, because it means he can watch Magnus and feel him.

Their foreheads are touching slightly, and Alec can feel warm breath against his lips. He closes his eyes as they sway. 

“Are you…”

Alec opens his eyes, surprised. He’s never seen Magnus lost for words. Until now.

He concentrates on keeping his toes away from Magnus’. He doesn't want to ruin the dance, because to his surprise, he's enjoying it. Mainly because it means he can stay in Magnus' arms for as long as possible. Alec lets the song slip between them, giving them something to focus on.

It seems that Magnus’ supply of courage is bigger than Alec’s, because he lifts his chin and just asks him straight out. “Are you going to stay an agent forever?”

Alec swallows. Such a simple question. With answers that mean thinking about so much in his life; so many choices, too much to lose, so little to gain.

“It’s a dangerous life, Alec. We both know this.” Magnus says, as they continue to dance. “If you found something…more, something better…would you leave?”

Alec waits until they've stepped carefully around another couple before replying. “But…we save lives." He says quietly. "I know that The Clave isn’t this perfect body of authority, but they save a lot of people. Protect the people around us. It’s what I’ve always been taught, and it's...what I want to do.”

“I understand that." Magnus says. Although his voice is calm, the arm around Alec's waist shakes a little, despite the firm grip. "I’ve done a lot to help others, but do you think that means giving up on something special?" Magnus' thumb brushes across his hip, and it's like electricity. "Would you give up…love?”

“Love.” Alec repeats. The word tastes odd on his tongue. Or perhaps it’s the bitter wine, still coating his tongue.

“Yes, love.” Magnus says it with ease. Or perhaps not, because his fingers start to grip a little tighter. He looks at Alec, a soft smile on his face. “Even people like us fall in love, Alec. I mean, your parents had a family together. And Clary and Jace are-“

“- different.” Alec finishes. “They make it work because they’re the same.”

“And we’re not?”

Three words. Simple ones too. And yet, the effect is startling. So startling that Alec almost gasps, suddenly crystal clear in where this conversation is going. Where the thing growing between them is going.

If, before, it was questionable, now it’s not. Perhaps he’s been playing ignorant on purpose – it’s easier that way – but until now, Alec is sure he’s been one step behind; not quite realising just who Magnus is talking about.

We’re. We. Us. The two of us. Together.

Alec could think it a thousand different ways. And in different languages. He could whisper it, or shout it, but either way, it would still have the same effect.

Fear and hope, settling inside, at war with each other. Fear that maybe, just maybe, he’s going to have to relearn everything he’s been taught; everything Alec once thought was right. He can start to hope that this could mean fighting for something like love.

Because the growing emotions, Alec realises, is building. Still, building. Stronger and stronger, second by second.

The song ends. The dancers stop dancing. 

Alec reluctantly lets his hands fall to his sides again, but he doesn't step away from Magnus. He doubts he could, even if he wanted to. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, if we could just interrupt you for a few minutes. Please, turn your attention to the projection.”

Alec blinks, and steps away completely, creating a little pocket of space between himself and Magnus. He misses the closeness already. 

As the couples stop dancing, they all turn towards the large screen, where the image is lingering on a snowy landscape that is so white, so vacant in colour, that it almost freezes Alec’s heart. It drips with ice and soothes the heat warming his chest.

He realises then that he’s still staring at Magnus. And he still isn’t answering his question. 

A lady in a smart navy dress makes her way to the front of the large stage, stepping in-front of the band. A microphone is held gingerly in her manicured hands. She smiles at the crowd of dancers, and waves a hand at the people mingling on the lawn as well. Alec turns to see that lots more people are now chatting and sipping wine from flute glasses, and turning towards the announcer.

The woman smiles. “Welcome to a lovely evening of celebrating great music, art and good company!” She beams, and it’s such a polite, controlled smile that Alec almost rolls his eyes. He listens, but his heart is still elsewhere. He wants nothing more than to rush off into the park with Magnus; to pretend that this evening isn’t going to be over.

They won’t separate. Magnus will stay. Alec will stay. They can be together.

All lies.

Magnus reaches for a glass of wine from the table at the edge of the stage. He takes a large gulp as they wait for the woman to speak. 

“I would like to just take up a few moments of your time to thank our generous sponsors for this evening, Mr. Richmond, and his wonderful company. Thanks to their donations, we are able to keep this park running, as well as celebrate the art you see on screen tonight. And, of course,” She laughs airily. “Thank you to our delightful band.”

Polite applause scatters around the lawn, and Alec tries to join in, but his hands are clammy and he can barely muster up the energy to smile. There's a woman beside him that coughs loudly, and again, Alec frowns. 

“We’re going to hear a few words from our sponsors now, if we can get connected.” She laughs again. “Technology, right?”

Alec wants Magnus to elbow him; to nudge him and make a teasing remark. But he doesn’t. Magnus doesn’t even turn to face him. Staring straight ahead, Magnus is acting like he wants to be anywhere but here, and really, Alec can’t blame him. Disappointment buries itself deep within his chest, smothering the delicious flames of new desire, and hope. It tarnishes it; melts it into a cooler glaze until the only emotion Alec is left with is cold logic and steely truths.

Whatever this is, between them, it’s ending.

And Alec is just going to have to watch it burn out completely.

He’s distracted when the woman sighs, and she’s joined on stage by a nervous teen who keeps pushing his glasses higher onto the bridge of his nose. He shoves a small card into her hands and then walks off stage as quickly as possible.

The woman plasters on her fake smile again, but a few lines appear on her forehead now. Her tension grows as she faces the crowd. “Uh, apologies, everyone. It appears that there’s been a slight change in plan. Mr. Richmond is unable to speak to us all right now, but don’t worry, his assistant is being kind enough to step in and say a few words!”

As if this is the greatest news of the century, the woman beams, and turns to the tech guy stabbing at the monitors behind her. He nods, brow furrowing, and after a few moments, the large projection that was once showing artwork, is now blurring into a webcam.

“Alexander.”

Jumping at the sound of his voice, Alec closes his eyes for a moment. Even now, just hearing his name spoken softly from Magnus’ lips, makes Alec want to just risk everything. Risk it all and fall for a man he can't be with. 

Tears pricking behind closed eyelids. Alec bites his tongue, hard, but not hard enough to be noticeable – hopefully. He opens his eyes and turns to look at Magnus, as the projection still scrabbles to connect to its sponsors.

Magnus is looking at him oddly. He’s composed, with a careful smile touching his lips, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. He clears his throat. “We should go.” Magnus says. He looks down at his hands. Alec watches Magnus he rubs his fingers across the glass stem, the nervous tick so similar to his own.

“Yeah.” Alec replies.

Neither one of them moves. They pretend to. Alec glances around to try and locate the nearest steps, but really, he’s trying to freeze the moment; trying to hold it in his hands. But, like water, it just spills out, sifting between his fingers and disappearing into droplets that he can barely see, let alone try and save. Because that’s what he’s doing, Alec realises then. He’s trying to save this.

He looks at Magnus, drinking in the sight of him; blue and beautiful and coloured with raw energy. He’s still, so still, which is startling. Magnus is usually always moving, always wanting to tilt his head and smile and circle his hips as he sways. But now, he’s still, and Alec doesn’t want to think about why.

Nethertheless, his brain still tries to find out the logical reason. Anything other than the answer; that Magnus doesn’t want to move either. He doesn’t want to accept that moving means stepping back into a real world; their true world. Where violence and tough choices covers up the possibilities for dates and getting coffee and sharing small talk.

“Let’s go.” Alec says, and not looking at Magnus – or his sad eyes – he turns and starts to carefully weave through the crowd.

At that moment, a quiet beep lets the crowd know that the connection is made. The sponsors are ready to talk, and Alec and Magnus can make their quiet exit. Alec doesn’t even look up; just stares down at his shoes as they pass pair of polished black shoes and dainty kitten heels and even a pair of sneakers and polka dot boots and-

“Leaving so soon?”

Alec halts abruptly.

Someone stumbles into him, but he barely registers it. The voice echoes around them, the sound amplifying it. There is no way to avoid it. Nowhere to hide.

The stage beneath his feet suddenly becomes thick, like tar, and Alec is unable to move. Numbness coats his body. Shock travels down his spine in shudders. He tries to lift his leg, but it weighs down. Numbness coats his tongue some more, and Alec can’t even feel how badly his fingers are shaking as they close into fists. They curl by his sides, reaching for a weapon that isn’t there.

Defenceless.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

“At least stick around to hear my, sorry, our, little speech.”

Alec turns then, with a sickening dread burning into his stomach, and lifts his chin.

There, on the projection and staring right at them, is Jonathan Morgenstern. His expression is smug. Too smug. It’s a smugness that Alec knows he’s helpless to fight against. And so is Magnus, who is staring up at the screen with wide eyes.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please, be ready.” Jonathan sits behind a desk, his hands spreading leisurely over the table. As he smiles, he stretches out his neck, readying himself for whatever horrors he’s about to share. “We have some wonderful surprises in store for you tonight. My name is Jonathan Morgenstern, and I have a story to share with you all. It won’t take up much of your time, and then you can be on your merry, mundane way,” He sneers this, and the crowd start to murmur, some frowning and some twisting their smiles into anger.

Alec stands beside Magnus and thinks. Waits.

What can they do? They have no idea where Jonathan really is, and why he’s doing this, or what message he’s really sending.

He glances, briefly, at Magnus, who nods. It’s just a tiny movement, barely a fraction of a nod, but Alec sees it. He understands.

Wait for the moment.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this evening is about art, yes? Then that’s where I’ll begin. Art. The expression of human creativity. Colour. Movement. Freedom. Yes, freedom. How arrogantly you use that word.”

The divide is clear. You. Alec hears it, feels it, in the man’s cruel anger. It’s snide and dangerously cold. It also explains a great deal about him; someone who doesn’t see the people he hurts as people. He sees them as toys; separate from himself.

Jonathan shakes his head, and the screen shudders a bit. “You are all arrogant. Freedom is a lie. A myth. It always has been, and always will.”

When he leans forward, closer to the screen, his narrowed eyes are even more calculated. He’s not even in the room, and yet, Alec feels his stare cut to the bone. “Agent, assassin,” Jonathan flickers his gaze towards Alec, and then Magnus. “, you are going to be taught a very important lesson. Freedom cannot save you. It will burn your lives to the ground. You will wake up surrounded by the ashes of everyone you have ever loved. Everyone you care for – your friends, your family, your co-workers – are all in danger because of you. Because of your arrogance, you’re going to lose them. Every single one."

He laughs once, coldly. "Your greatest fear will become true." Jonathan's voice rings out. "You will put them in danger, and they will die. It’s that simple. And,” His lips turn to an angry, thin line. “, you cannot stop us. This is not a warning. Or a chance. You’ve already had too many. And thrown them away.” He glares at Magnus, who flinches.

“There is only one thing left to be done. This isn’t a lesson. I don’t have anything to prove to you. My threats are real. You’ll see that, in time. This is a prophecy. An expression of the only true freedom that belongs in this new world. Fear. You will scream and feel the raw agony of losing everyone you love. Fear will eat away at your bones. It will destroy you. And you will realise, in those last moments, that we wield the power." He laughs again. "Not your government, or your agents, or even your lone little assassins with messiah complexes."

He holds out his hands, spreading his arms out wide. His expression is gleeful. "We have the power. And you cannot stop us. It’s our world, not yours. We’re taking it back. Everything you tried to take from us. We’re going to win.”

The woman and her assistant are desperately trying to disconnect the projector, but Jonathan’s words are causing panic and a stir beyond control. He sits back in the chair and smirks again. “Go ahead. Cut me off. Just…one last piece of advice. Well, an observation." Jonathan sighs, raising an eyebrow in question. "Is it just me, or is there an awful lot of coughing happening tonight?”

Jonathan leans forward, his finger hovering over what Alec assumes is a disconnect button. He tilts his head. “Did the wine taste odd to you?”

The screen goes black.

~

Jonathan laughs, and it suddenly gets cut off halfway, which makes it somehow worse; an ugly, half-sound; an unfinished threat left dangling in the air like a noose.

Magnus wonders who it’s for; him, or Alec, or both.

There are moments in life, Magnus notices, where you don’t have a choice. Not even between two bad options. You can’t be in control all the time, no matter how few risks you take, or how many times you go over the plan.

As they stare up at the now-blank screen, Magnus closes his eyes.

This is one of those moments, and he has no idea what the hell to do next. Some days, the dice gets throw before you can place a bet.

The last words take over Magnus’ brain. He turns them over, again and again, and listens to the growing volume of coughs that splutter around the floor.

The woman beside him gasps, stares down at her wine and then drops it. It crashes loudly to the floor. The sound startles the crowd, and they begin to cover their throats – as if they can somehow claw out the wine, and others start to panic, fear flashing across their faces.

Magnus stares down at Alec’s empty hands, relief flooding his body. Alec didn't drink the wine. He's safe. Magnus stares down at his own glass, and sees how little wine remains in the glass. 

He grimaces, realising that the tightness in his throat isn’t just from nerves after all. 

“I have an idea.” Alec suddenly speaks, and although it cracks slightly, the forced calm in his words refocuses Magnus. “We need to work out what’s in the wine. Quickly. Our priority is saving these people.”

“We’re thinking poison, right?” Magnus asks simply.

Alec nods, eyes crinkling slightly as he thinks. He nods again. “That has to be it. It explains the bitterness. But…I wasn’t paying attention. I don’t have enough of the taste…I can’t…I wasn’t thinking about it earlier, I was just lost in…”

You.

Magnus realises it then, because he feels the same. They were selfish; lost in each other, rather than recognising the strange taste in the wine.

In all the years of his life, Magnus has seen love as a strength. Compassion is as a gift. Caring is brave, and strong. But now, how could he deny that his heart is part of the reason they are in this dilemma?

“Everyone, please listen.” Alec calls out loudly, and despite the spreading panic, the crowd turn towards them. “If you could remain calm, we can make sure you all leave this evening with nothing more than aching feet. Please, do not leave for now. Thank you.”

He turns to Magnus. “We don’t need these people running around like ants.” He mutters. “We need to identify what’s in the drinks. And how serious it is. I’m guessing that it’s a slow poison.”

“If one at all.” Magnus attempts to ease some of the tension away. “But you’re right, one of us needs to identify what’s in the wine.”

“One of us.” Alec repeats slowly. He stares at Magnus, and then his eyes narrow. “And I suppose you’re going to volunteer to-“

“I’m not asking you, Alexander." Magnus says coolly. "I’m taking the damn drink. I’ll take it, tell you about the taste, and then you can call Isabelle and she can identify it. Whatever happens to me, whatever effect it has on me, doesn’t override your job. You’re an agent, remember? Your duty is to your people, not to me.”

Magnus tries to hide the fear swelling inside his chest, because if he takes a large gulp – and he’ll need to in order to focus on the flavour – then he could collapse instantly, or turn gray and choke until he’s coughing up a pool of blood. Who knows?

Whatever the Morgensterns are trying to do – spread panic, or fatally injure them – it only needs to place one of them in danger. Magnus lifts his chin, daring Alec to challenge him. Because there’s no way in hell that he’s going to watch Alec risk his life and drain the glass. Not when the poison, or unknown liquid tainting the wine, could harm, or kill him.

“Don’t argue with me, Alec. I’m not asking.”

For a moment, the agent’s expression turns fierce. His eyes are burning feverishly, and his gaze is focused like he’s trying to burn out the reason behind Magnus’ words. He wants to see the absurdity of it. He hates that Magnus is right, and he doesn’t know how to let it happen.

With a sickening feeling of anticipation, Magnus swallows. “Let me do this, Alexander. I’m not letting you risk your-“

“Okay.”

Magnus blinks.

“I said okay.” Alec takes another glass from the nearby table, swirls it a little and then thrusts it out before Magnus. His eyes glue to the stem of the glass, refusing to look at Magnus. But his voice is strangely steady. He takes the almost empty glass and places it on the table.

“Whenever you’re ready, take a sip.” Alec tells him. “But not too much. Focus on the sharpness, and anything distinguishable about the flavour.”

The surprising reaction makes Magnus hesitate. He takes the glass and holds it gingerly for a few seconds. He doesn’t meet Alec’s eyes either. How can he, when the agent so quickly dismissed his argument? He didn’t even say a word of warning, or smile in encouragement. Magnus shoves aside the hurt. They have people to save.

“Oh, and Magnus…just…one thing first.”

“Hm?”

Reluctantly, Magnus lifts his chin. He expects to see Alec looking sheepish, or uncomfortable. Instead, he sees a man ready to leap into battle. His expression is focused, but also soft. He sees Alec smiling, and then lifting a forefinger to gently lift Magnus’ chin a little. He tilts it up, and then closes the distance between them.

Alec dips his head and kisses him. Unlike the first kiss, or the series of kisses exchanged in the steamy heat of the sauna, this kiss is gentle and tender. It’s a subtle brushing of lips. The feather-light touch of Alec’s finger under his chin melts away the cold stab of hurt from before, and Magnus closes his eyes and lets the doubt slip away. This, is a kiss before the storm starts; a kiss to savour and remember in the dark times ahead.

Light-headed all of a sudden, Magnus slowly pulls away. The warmth of Alec’s breath ghosts against his cheek for a moment, and when he opens his eyes, Alec is almost smiling. His lips are tugging up at the corners.

“I’m not sorry.” Alec says.

Magnus doesn’t even have the time to blink, or kick-starts his brain again, because Alec swats away the glass in Magnus’ hand. It tumbles to the ground and shatters loudly on the stage below, shards of glass like sprinkled snow on the wooden stage. Magnus stares down, his mouth gaping wide in surprise.

It’s that moment that makes him lose; makes him not realise quickly enough what Alec is doing. Because when he looks up a second later, it’s already too late. Alec is already gulping from the glass he’s picked up during the moment of distraction.

He’s at least halfway through it when Magnus tears it from his lips and cries, “Alec!”

He holds the glass carelessly, spilling out the rest of the laced wine. His fingers are shaky, but he grips it tightly, surprised when the stem doesn’t shatter under the tension.

Magnus grabs the collar of Alec’s shirt and tugs him closer; desperately. He stumbles a little, keeping Alec upright. “You fool.” Magnus whispers. His fingers curl into Alec’s open shirt. “Why did you do it?”

The agent doesn’t answer him. But he doesn’t collapse either.

Half a dozen scenarios play out in Magnus’ mind. Awful, gut-wrenching images like Alec keeling over and passing out. Like Alec coughing up blood and the colour draining from his flushed cheeks. Alec’s heartbeat fading. Alec wounded and wheezing and dying.

Alec coughs once, but only to clear his throat. His hands come up to wrap around Magnus’ fingers, and he holds them tentatively, still to his chest. “Rasprint.” He murmurs. He licks his lips and then nods. “Yeah. It’s rasprint.”

“What?” Magnus asks. His voice sounds faint. Far away. He feels it too; like he’s caught between a dream and some sick joke. Is this it? The fears toppling through his mind come to an abrupt standstill. He stares at Alec intensely, searching for any sign that suggests anything fatal.

He doesn’t even look hurt.

The crowd are still coughing a bit, and the event coordinators are calling out that the police are on their way – which obviously means The Clave are being contacted in return. Soon, teams will be swarming the area, and searching for anything untoward.

Alec frowns. He rubs a hand against his throat, finally letting go of Magnus’ hand. His right still gently encircles Magnus’ wrist for a moment, but then he slowly lowers it and sighs. “It’s not dangerous. Poisons and chemicals are more Izzy’s forte, but…even I know this one. It’s why we didn’t recognise it. I…don’t understand.”

Magnus chews his lip in agreement, thinking things over. Why would Jonathan scare them, if only for a short while? Was the entire purpose just to prove that their power was still in full swing? That they could try and cause a panic?

“Surely it wasn’t just a bluff?” Alec continues to frown. He moves to the side of the stage, taking the steps down to the lawn. He ushers a few anxious people to the security now arriving, and thanks them for their patience. His voice is calmer, but Magnus sees the furrow in his brow. He’s confused, and so is Magnus.

When they finally separate from the crowd, Alec runs a hand through his hair, messing it. Strands stick up at random, and there’s a slight sweat forming in his forehead. “It was a bluff?” He asks, still unsure.

“It wouldn’t be the first time.” Magnus reminds him carefully. He doesn’t want to bring up the non-existent bombing, but it’s all he can think about. The Morgenstern’s strategies rely on fear, and control, and there’s absolutely nothing they’ve gained from this evening.

Something Jonathan says suddenly pierces through Magnus’ memories. He remembers the words. He hates how clear they come back.

We’re taking back what’s ours.

“Alec.” Magnus gasps. “It wasn’t a bluff.” His fingers fly up to his mouth, and he knows that Alec is seconds from realising it too.

Because if they were here, then it meant that the Morgensterns could reclaim something that belonged to them. Until recently.

It could mean that, once again, Valentine wins.

“The Cup.” Alec breathes out.

The Cup. In the Institute.

Not a bluff after all. A distraction.

Alec is already punching in a number on his cell for a car to collect them.

Too late, Magnus thinks. He closes his eyes, closes them tightly.

It's too late. They've lost.

~

The emptiness is the worst.

There is no noise, no laughter or orders being given.

As they fling open the doors to the Chicago Institute, they’re soldiers, ready to scan the sea of bodies for their friends.

Magnus is beside him; comrade, friend, and something in between.

Alec wants to shield this bloodbath from his life; shelter him in the peace he deserves. But he can't. He never will be able do. 

Blood coats the corridor as they enter, grabbing the first weapons they see - a fallen knife for Alec, and a large, metal pole for Magnus. They round the corners, one by one, covering the rooms, but all they come across is signs of a struggle, and fallen agents. A few of Valentine's men lie unmoving as well, but it doesn't make their losses any easier to see. 

They push open the training room. 

"No. No. No, no, no no..."

Alec squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, but he can't block out Magnus' words. Or his cries. It's a broken series of whispers, and Alec can't do anything at all to stop them. 

Before them, the bodies of at least half the recruits are crumpled and bleeding out. Their eyes are open, and blood streaks across their faces in ugly slashes. One by one, they lean forwards and check their pulses. One by one, they accept the truth. Accept the silence. 

Alec remembers all of their names. Fiona. Kian. Daniel. Greta. Martha. Orla. Kiera.

They're just children. Kids. Teens who will never graduate; never go on to save the world.

A few of them are still alive, and Alec helps the sit up, and quickly starts tearing at his shirt to bind their wounds. Small mercies, but still, a victory of the smallest kind. 

He suddenly hears a loud cry. His head shoots up, and he scans his eyes across the room. 

Magnus darts off down the corridor, already placing the sound, and Alec dashes after him.

They round the corner and see a struggle. Three figures are fighting, but when they rush down the hall, and catch up, Alec sees that it's Julia and Zoe, and the guy on the floor is Sean, and he's five seconds away from becoming a bloody pulp.

Alec grabs Julia around the waist and pulls her backwards, and away from the boy. She screams, blood-curling and agonising. Alec hugs her tightly, pulling her away and fighting against her kicks. She struggles for a while, and Magnus holds back Zoe as well. When they eventually stop, tears are dripping from their cheeks, and Alec brushes them away with a shaking hand.

On the floor, Sean coughs up blood and trembles as he stares up at the four of them; the survivors. 

"They killed them." Julia sobs. "They killed them all. And...they took the Cup." She shudders again, cradling her face with her hands as she cries.

Zoe growls. "He betrayed us. He led them to the Institute." She kicks backwards again, but Magnus holds her back, whispering something into her ear until she calms. Because Magnus knows what Alec knows; that it's too late. Revenge isn't going to help them.

But Alec stares down at Sean, at the boy they've been training. He admits that there's a strong part of him that wants to punish him. This is a boy he's trained and grown to care for, and Sean turns around and leads his supposed friends into a bloodbath. 

"You led Valentine into our home." Alec says, his voice low and dangerous. He looms over Sean, who is holding his stomach and moaning. "You're not going anywhere until you give us some answers."

Alec realises how easily they were tricked. How it wasn't just by chance that he overhead Sean talking about his family's music festival in the park. How they left, and Valentine's men raided the Institute.

The thought spurs Alec into action. "We have to leave. Right now." He takes Julia gently, but firmly by the shoulders. "Is anyone else still alive?"

"L-Lydia." Julia says, after a moment. "She went after the Cup, but I saw them cut her down. I think she's still alive though. Maybe. I-I don't know..."

"It's okay." Alec lies. "It's okay." He hugs her again, because there's nothing else to be done.

He suddenly looks up, feeling his eyes widen.

"Where's Magnus?" He demands, and Zoe sniffs, still glaring down at the bloody boy. 

After a moment, Magnus comes stalking back into the corridor. His expression is cold. "They took my gun. Again." He snarls.

Alec closes his eyes against the stab of pain. 

The Morgensterns really were taking back everything. 

Julia and Zoe stand next to each other, an arm around each other's waists as they embrace. 

Alec stares across at Magnus. "What now?" 

Julia's expression hardens. "Now, we make them pay."

Alec hates the horror shaping her young face into a soldier's disposition. He can feel the fear turning her numb, and Zoe's face is also a mask of hidden rage. 

"We have to get out of here first." Alec says again. With Magnus' help, they pick up Sean, and start to head to the back exit. If they can find a car, just maybe they can make it out of here long enough to work out a plan. 

“And go where?” Zoe asks quietly. She's trembling still, and Magnus has an arm around her. 

Alec looks across at Magnus, who is staring ahead; a challenge. He doesn’t know how he’ll react, but he knows that this is the only option.

“We’re going back to New York.”

Chapter Text

“It’s August, lady. Everyone’s gone home for the summer.”

Izzy frowns across at the caretaker, trying to hide how incredible ignorant she feels.

How is she supposed to know regular term times?

“Home.” She repeats. The word tastes bitter on her tongue. “Right. Cool. Uh…Simon…the boy who was staying here, did he…” She sighs, looking around the now-empty dorm room. “Never mind.”

Besides, it isn’t like they can exchange numbers and chat over the phone. Especially now that they’re trying to make a move on the Morgensterns. Surely she needs to focus entirely on protecting her family. No mundane distractions. But Simon, Izzy realises, isn’t a distraction at all. He’s become another part of her life. 

So her heart is heavy as she heads for the door. Probably for the last time.

The caretaker clears his throat. “Hold on.” He hesitates, and then says, “If I said, ‘Dinosaurs eat man’, what would you say?”

Izzy grins. “Woman inherits the earth.” She finishes the quote with a winning smile.

The man rolls his eyes but returns it with a nod. He digs into his pocket and hands out a scrunched up bit of notepaper. “Kids.” He chuckles.

Happy that she’s remembered the film quote – how could she not when Simon tried to marathon, with her, as many Spielberg movies as they could one night last month? – Izzy unfolds the paper. There’s an address scrawled in large letters along it.

Izzy’s eyes widen. She almost gapes at the irony.

Brooklyn.

You’re from Brooklyn. All this time .

It amuses her that she’s been travelling up to visit him at university, when his home is, in fact, near New York, close to her. Before their meeting, how often has she walked past Simon in coffee shops? Seen him as someone to protect?

Now, he’s a friend. Perhaps even something more if she dares to follow that path.

It makes things easier. And harder, because as Izzy settles back into the car, letting the university campus grow smaller and smaller in the mirror, she knows this means they can see each other still.

And after all, what’s life without a little danger?

~

Hey, you.”

Simon’s expression is sheepish. He's not surprised in the slightest when Isabelle climbs over the balcony on his first floor bedroom and taps on the window. He doesn’t even look fazed anymore, and Izzy is almost disappointed.

It just means she’ll have to find another way to keep things interesting.

Not that she’s ever bored with Simon. His energy matches hers; excitable charm mixing well with her fire.

“How were exams?” She asks, keeping her voice neutral. She smiles, but that’s it. She doesn’t need to think about the fact that simply by being here, she’s answering a question that both of them unintentionally asked. 

“Really amazing.” He beams, and sits back down on the bed.

She looks around Simon's room, noting the familiar posters from before now decorating deep blue-painted walls. Family photos show his mom and sister. Izzy smiles at one of them; the three of them hugging beside a picnic basket on the grass. It reminds her of her own family. Sure, they never went out on family park days, but they bonded over training. And they’re not, in fact, complete heathens. They celebrate Christmas.

Even if it means taking turns to be on guard duty.

“They went amazingly! I get my results soon, but…our band has been getting a lot of gigs, and I have the part time job at the shop. My life isn’t a complete mess!” He victoriously fist bumps the air.

“Exciting stuff.” She says, and means it. Simon’s excitements are more mundane, but god, are they still amazing.

“Um, what’s in the bag?” Simon asks. He points to her shoulder. His smile fades. “Rocket launchers are banned in this house I’m afraid.”

“No weapons, I promise. Well, except this.” Izzy points to her thigh holster, and blushes a little when Simon’s gaze lingers on her legs for a long moment.

She clears her throat. “So, I brought popcorn, and the best movie in existence.” She pulls it out with a flourish.

Simon grins, already reaching for his laptop and setting it up on the bed. “Singin’ In the Rain. Amazing choice.” He smiles, killer dimples flashing. “I didn’t know they raise spies on Gene Kelly movies.”

“Only on Sundays.” She jokes. “The rest of the time it’s James Bond movies, and sometimes Mission Impossible.”

Simon starts arranging pillows for them while she starts unzipping her boots. She shrugs off her coat too, leaving her in a thick, green jumper and navy jeans. Her hair is loose for a change.

“Have you ever scaled a tall building?” Simon asks. “Without a harness?”

“God, no.” She wrinkles her nose in disgust. “Those movies.” She makes a sound in the back of her throat. “Tonto.”

Simon types something into his laptop. “Tonto: meaning stupid, and/or crazy." He reads out. "Aka, those Tom Cruise films are tonto because they are unrealistic.”

He looks up at her with those big eyes and Izzy sighs. Why does he have to make it so easy to want this? Want a normal life? She loves her work, and loves that it helps people, but if it means giving up this, Izzy’s not sure if it’s worth it anymore.

“Come on.” She says, mainly to herself. “I can’t be back too late, so budge up.” She pushes him over on the bed, and although it’s a large bed, Simon still gives her a lot of room in between them.

He offers her a blanket, and Izzy tucks it up to her stomach, fiddling with the frayed edged for a second or two. “So…what’s the story if your mom comes up? Or your sister?”

“That I’m twenty two, and an adult. I can have an agent in my room if I want to.”

“Replace one of those words please.” She snorts.

“Fine. I’m twenty two, and an adult, and can have a spy in my room.”

“Simon.” She warns, prodding him with a toe, but she’s laughing so it’s not much of a threat really. He just shrugs, nudging her back. He presses play on the laptop and settles back beside her. They pour out their snacks into wooden bowls.

It’s a quiet night, and the musical makes Izzy laugh, smile and bob along to the songs. They’re in stitches laughing when the synchronisation error scene happens, and Izzy wipes away the tears. She buries her face into Simon’s shoulder to stop grinning. He’s soft and warm, but the muscles beneath her fingers are defined, and she quickly pulls away and turns her face back to the screen. Her blush takes another minute to fade.

As Gene Kelly finally serenades Debbie Reynolds with You Are My Lucky Star, Izzy tosses back the last handful of popcorn - a secret talent she’s picked up from Jace – and catches it easily.

Simon gapes at the catch. “Is there anything you can’t do?” He asks in awe.

She shrugs, smiling lazily. “I can’t sing.”

“Liar.”

“Hm. Okay…I can’t drive stick shift.”

“You drove us to New York. Stop lying.” Simon grins. “Admit it. You’re a genius. A badass, smart, stiletto-wearing genius.”

“Fine.” She grins. “I admit it.”

“Gotcha.” He says, and throws back a handful of popcorn. None land anywhere near his open mouth, and one hits him in the glasses.

The movie starts playing the ending credits, and Simon hits the enter key. The screen turns back. He nudges the laptop closed and leaves it on the bed, sitting upright and turning to her.

The sudden quiet is intimidating for some reason, but Izzy forces herself not to pull away, not to take the easy way out.

After a moment, Simon asks, “How are…things?”

Izzy’s first thoughts turn to Alec. Her brother’s absence is a constant, dull ache, but she’s also pleased, and overwhelmingly proud of him for putting his heart on the line. She knows it’s never been easy for Alec to do so. He’s an excellent solider, and brother, but less inclined to turn those considerations towards his own desires. He has them, Izzy knows this, but only recently has she been able to see Alec openly want them, and chase them.

And then, there’s The Clave. And the threat of the Morgensterns, in the distance, yet looming over them. There’s something brewing, but Izzy’s desperate to work it out before the storm hits.

“Okay as can be.” Isabelle finally replies. “The Clave still don’t believe that Valentine is a threat. Not to them directly. At least not enough to properly go after him, which means we’re privately cracking the code and working out what's happening on this date. We have a month, but…I can’t help but feel we need a plan of action. And soon. But…we’ll get there. I hope.”

“You will.” Simon nods. “If there’s anything I’ve learnt from comics, it’s that the hero always defeats the bad guy.”

Isabelle kicks off the blanket with her feet and shuffles a little closer. “There are female comic book heroes?” She teases.

Simon nods seriously. “Yeah. Could do with more. Like, a lot more.”

Hiding back the amused grin at Simon’s sorrowful look – really, it looks like the poor guy’s lost a puppy – Izzy just nods in agreement. “True.”

His hand is resting on the bed between them.

For a second, she stares at it, wondering what Simon’s fingers will feel like if she rests hers against them.

“Um,” Simon pushes up his glasses, even though they’re already firmly in place on the bridge of his nose. He shifts his body so that he’s facing her. “Is there anything…I can do?” He asks. “I don’t want to sound stupid – well, any more than usual – but…I want to be here for you. I’ve said that before, right?” He laughs. “But seriously, if you ever need me to do anything…I’m in. I can’t kick ass, but I’m pretty good with a computer. And I’m an adorable distraction.”

“You really are.” She mutters, before she can stop herself.

Simon blinks in surprise, and the grin that spreads over his face sends her warning signs. They flash across her mind, a brilliant red.

She ignores it. 

But then her bold nature wins out, as it always does.

Izzy runs a hand through her hair, slowly, and says, “There is…one thing I’d like from you.” She tries not to pout, or use her go-to distraction move; usually a toss of the head, or a slow, enchanting smile. Genuine emotions are harder. She doesn't want Simon to confuse her passion with seduction; mistake her courage for carelessness.

“What it is?” Simon asks, and he places his hand over hers. The touch is light, and brief, and Izzy stares down at the bed.

She takes a steady breath, lifts her chin and smiles. “I’d like you to kiss me.”

“W-what?”

He doesn’t move, but his surprised expression makes her heart jump.

Perhaps she’s misreading.

It’s Isabelle’s turn to hesitate now. “Never mind.” She mumbles, staring down at their hands again. At lease Simon isn’t pulling away. Not yet, at least.

“No. No. I just – I mean…why?” His knee starts to bounce up and down. “I don’t understand. Am I missing something? Are you…are you…I don’t know-“

“Simon,” She interrupts softly. Reaching out, she places a hand across his thigh and presses down firmly, but not too hard. She keeps her hand there, thumb brushing over Simon’s knee.

Her fingers tremble slightly, but she keeps her voice steady. Still, it’s barely a whisper. “I want to kiss you. That’s all I want from you. If you want it too…”

Simon doesn’t say anything to cut her off, but he slowly lifts a hand. Isabelle's breath catches. He stares for a moment, eyes tracing across her face, lips, eyes, and then down to her lips again. His hand comes up to cup her jaw, and when his thumb traces the curve of her ear, Izzy bites back a gasp. No one has ever touched her so tenderly before. At least, not so carefully.

The stillness of the moment is extraordinary, and Isabelle feels it lulling away her worries. She leans in as Simon’s right hand gently cups the back of her neck, drawing her closer towards him. They’re so close now that she can see the small red marks that his glasses make.

“I do want it.” Simon whispers. “I…want you, Isabelle.”

His fingers are warm, but the shivers down her spine are almost violent with energy. She doesn’t move for a moment, just relaxing into his touch. And then, Isabelle dips her chin and melts into her very first kiss with a boy she’s wanted to kiss since he dropped the pizza box in the lodge. Since he asked her questions about herself, and really listened. Since he smiled, and captivated her. 

Their lips meet again, firmer this time, and Izzy trails her hand up his thigh until it’s wrapping around Simon’s waist, keeping him close. The mattress shifts with them, and Isabelle relishes in how soft everything is; the blankets, the touches, the kisses. It’s delicate, but strong. She feels Simon’s strength beneath his thin shirt, and the steadiness in the way he cups her jaw.

At some point, Izzy moves, and Simon is now underneath her. With a thigh on either side of his legs, Izzy carefully places her weight on her knees and reaches down to kiss him again. Simon is more than eager to help her out; resting his hands on her waist, keeping her steady.

Always steady. Sure.

But Izzy has never felt so desperate. Even though she has Simon’s arms around hers, and his lips chasing hers, there’s something dangerous in the calm. Unpredictable, despite the absolute rightness of the moment.

Restlessly, Isabelle stretches out her left leg. A moment later, she feels a weight beneath it. The laptop.

She gasps, reacting quickly and diving to the side to catch it with both hands. She’s half sprawling across Simon’s lap, and half dangling over the bed. When she turns back to Simon, they both stare at each other in surprised silence, and then burst out laughing.

Simon helps her get back onto the bed, placing the laptop on the coffee table instead. His lips are a bright pink, and his eyes shine.  “You saved the laptop.” He beams. “Marry me.”

“Shut up.” Isabelle laughs, and she’s still laughing when Simon pulls her down for another kiss. This time, they’re side by side, arms around waists and foreheads pressing together. The blankets are abandoned, and so are their cares.

They pause when it’s clear that they need to stop grinning first, but this, Izzy realises, is like sunshine. It fills her up with so much warmth: an irreplaceable kind of joy that comes from knowing you are cared for.

Her lips start to ache. When she glances up at the alarm clock on the table, her eyes widen. Disappointment buries itself within her chest.

“I can’t stay.” Izzy murmurs, still cupping Simon’s face between her hands. She strokes his cheek for a moment.

He smiles. “I know. And I won’t ask you to. Ever, I promise.”

it’s almost enough to make her stay. Almost.

“Thank you.” Isabelle says, and means it.

She reluctantly pulls away and climbs off the bed, sitting on the edge as she shrugs on her jacket and reties her boots.

The bed creaks a little as Simon sits up. He swings his legs around to sit beside her. “But, I keep spare blankets in the closet.” He points. “And an air bed, if you ever want to crash here for the night.”

“Why can’t I share your bed?” She winks.

Simon blushes. “Well…I hog the covers. That’s all.”

“You’re killing me here.” Izzy groans. Before she can stop herself, she pushes forwards on the bed and kisses him again. She lets it grow a bit, but cuts it off quickly.

Because they’re seconds from giving in completely, and that’s a bad, bad move. Not just because Simon’s mom and sister are home for the night, but because Izzy doesn’t know if she’s ready to face that desire just yet.

Kissing Simon is one thing. Wanting more…comes with a future.

And it’s a future Izzy can’t promise.

She sighs. “I…”

“- have to go? Don’t worry. I have an early rehearsal with the band tomorrow. It’s fine.” Simon smiles brightly, but his shoulders are tense.

“Take care, Simon. I…like you.”

He beams. “Isabelle...” He says it like a prayer, and she doesn’t know what else to do with that. No wonder Alec’s heart is all over the place because of Magnus.

She finally understands the turmoil of love, of falling in it, and trying to work around it too. Because it doesn’t let you have the time to work out all the details. Love just approaches one day and says, ‘here you go, best of luck!’ and then that’s it. The rest is all up to you.

She’s just about to start climbing down the pipe outside Simon’s house – because doors are for wimps – when Simon softly calls out her name. He’s on the tiny balcony, and when he leans over, Izzy leans across the railing and kisses him. There are shivers down her back, now from the cool night air, and Simon’s warm fingers against her cheek.

“We’re really breaking all the rules, you know. The prince is supposed to climb up and down the tower.” He says it good-naturedly, so Izzy doesn’t scold him.

She simple smiles. “It’s a new era, Simon. This is the new fairy-tale.”

“I like it.” Simon says, and then he’s stepping away. “Be careful. Please.”

“Always am.”

And then she’s climbing down, and away from Simon, who sneaks another look in when she’s reached the bottom. She blows him a kiss and even from down below, she swears he’s blushing.

~

“Someone had a good night.”

Isabelle scowls as she hovers halfway in her door. One foot is inside and the other's in the hallway.

Almost made it , she thinks.

Next time, she’ll have to remember that she doesn’t just have one protective brother. She has two.

She turns, folds her arms across her chest, and stares pointedly at Jace. “What are you even doing up?” She demands, but not too loudly because it’s almost three am. Even agents sleep at normal hours. “Does Clary know you’re obsessing over another woman’s sleeping arrangements?”

Jace makes a face that looks like he’s eating a raw lemon. “Izzy, ew. And don’t change the subject. What were you up to? Or should I say, who were you with?”

“I was with a person called, and you might know their name, Mr. None of Your Business.” Izzy mutters.

Jace ponders this for a few seconds. “Huh. I always ignore that guy.”

“I figured. You should make yourself more acquainted with him.” Isabelle pushes open her bedroom door again. “Goodnight.” She says curtly.

A hand suddenly covers hers on the door knob.

“Jace, seriously-“

Her retort silences when she looks up and sees Jace’s expression.

He’s looking at her carefully, and worriedly.

She sighs. Who is she to get angry, when if the situations were reversed, Izzy probably would’ve also pushed for more details?

“Are you in trouble?” Jace asks quietly. “Real trouble?”

Isabelle shakes her head. “What? No, no, I’m fine.” She whispers. She places her hand over Jace’s, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Really.”

Jace still doesn’t relax. “You’re not on some secret mission that’s going to get you in danger?” He asks. His lips quirk at the corners. “You wouldn’t do that without me, right, Izzy?”

“Never.” She promises, and leans forward to kiss his cheek.

Apparently happy with that answer, Jace steps back again, watching her with a small smile. He yawns, and Izzy suddenly feels bad. How long was he up waiting for her return? Worrying if she isn’t coming back?

She decides to lighten the mood. “Oh, and the answer is: nine out of ten. If you were asking.”

Jace folds his arms across his chest and frowns. “What’s that rating for?” He asks.

“For how pleased Alec will be to learn that you’re taking his role seriously as the responsible brother.” Isabelle says. She rolls her eyes. “But really, it doesn’t suit you, Jace. I want my partner in crime back.”

Jace winks, and she relaxes. He even smiles lazily, his usual trademark. “Soon.” Jace promises. “When Alec is back, then we can get back into our usual roles.”

She nods. When quiet falls again, she clears her throat. “You’re okay too, right?” Isabelle asks. “I know that the Morgensterns didn’t do anything physically, but…I’m sure it wasn’t easy.”

“No. It wasn’t. Nothing we do ever is, Iz.” Jace leans against the wall beside her door and sighs. “This is what we do, and we just have to accept it. We deal with this, so other people don’t have to.”

“Yeah. And wouldn’t it be great if The Clave actually listen to us for once?”

Jace rolls his eyes. “Fat chance at that ever happening.” He mutters. “They’re too stuck in their ways.”

Isabelle nods in agreement. She leans closer, her voice turning to an urgent whisper. “Jace, Valentine is a threat. And he’s only going to grow into a bigger one. We need to start planning a big move against him, before this gets worse.” Her hands clench angrily into fists. “What will it take to make The Clave wake up and-“

The elevator suddenly pings. And opens.

Which is strange, Isabelle thinks, because it’s three in the morning and everyone is either sleeping, or staying overnight at a safe house.

No one travels around at night unless it’s absolutely vital.

So it’s an understatement to say that Isabelle is shocked to see Alec, Magnus, and two young girls hurry into the Institute. There’s a boy getting carried, no, dragged, between them. He’s being held up by the arms and his head is lolling to the side, his eyes lazily rolling.

At a first glance, the group just seem tense. But when Isabelle rushes closer, followed by Jace, she gasps. A hand flies to her mouth as she takes in the sight with wide eyes. Alec’s shirt is ripped and torn, and Magnus’ hands are stained with a painstakingly obvious shade of red. There’s also blood streaking across the two girl’s faces, and the boy’s.

Their eyes are wild, like they’re on the run, and it’s the look in Alec’s eyes – the fear, the haunted, glazed over look – that gets Izzy’s blood pumping. The adrenaline kicks in instantly.

Izzy cups Alec’s jaw, tilting it slowly. “Who’s hurt?” She demands, ignoring the quiver in her voice. She tries to remember the things to focus on in an emergency; identify the biggest wounds, check for an obvious things.

Alec flinches away. “Just the boy.” He rasps out. It’s like he’s been shouting at the top of his lungs for days. His voice is scratchy and raw, and his cheeks are tear-stained. “But…” He breaks off.

Isabelle stands like that for a moment, hands hovering in the now-empty space. She lowers them, hiding the trembles. Fear tightens across her chest like a seat buckle. Too tight. Digging into her air supply and making her gasp.

Jace puts it together in the same time as she does. They add up the blood, the sudden arrival, the three teens dressed in training gear.

“Chicago.” She breathes out. The word cuts into the air like a death sentence. She can’t help but feel like the air is being pulled from her lungs. “What happened? Alec? Magnus? Is…anyone else…oh my god..” Her voice cracks, no longer able to hold back the tears. They start to well in her eyes and she blinks against the stinging.

Beside her, Jace gasps. “Are you the only survivors…?”

Alec shakes his head. It’s the first proper sign that he’s functioning. But it’s a wild gesture; so un-Alec like that it makes Isabelle want to cry harder. His usual control is gone, and it’s unnerving when paired with his detached voice. 

It terrifies Izzy, and she tries to reach for him again.

“No.” Alec says, his arms gripping the boy tightly. He tugs him onto his feet properly, ignores the boy’s groan, and stares at him.

The coldness in Alec's eyes makes Izzy sick. Whatever emotions her brother is tumbling into is making him distant. Alec speaks slowly, “There are others, but…they’re at the hospital. Hospitals, actually.” Alec closes his eyes, his lips pressing firmly together. He’s trying to hold back, but Isabelle knows it’s killing him. “When The Clave arrived they…they…uh…”

“What-“

Alec suddenly growls, “Take him,” His voice cracks. A sudden flash of anger burns into his eyes. He pushes the boy forwards, and he stumbles into Jace’s arms. “Put him in a holding cell. Now.”

The silence that follows is excruciating. Izzy blinks, taking in his words. Did she hear that right? “Alec, what…?”

“Now.” Alec repeats, this time through gritted teeth. His jaw clenches angrily. The torn shirt and messy hair make it look like he’s five seconds away from starting a fight. Or ending one.

Beside him, Magnus stares down at his hands, no longer helping to hold the bloody boy up. He lingers for a beat, turning to look over his shoulder at the two girls.

Jace speaks first. He takes the boy – gently – and wraps a strong arm around his torso. “I’ve got him.” He says. He nods to Izzy. “Go and wake Maryse.” He says, calmly, but his brave face is a careful mask that looks ready to slip at any moment. He turns away before it does, and leads the boy around the corner.

Izzy can’t quite remember how she gets to the door near the west wing, but she does. Somehow. And then she’s bounding loudly on her mom’s door, the words lodging in her throat as she sobs silently. Izzy pounds until her fists feel like they’re going to shatter.

The door swings open.

Maryse rubs her eyes, and then narrows them. Even though she’s dressed in simple gray pants and a matching long sleeve shirt, Isabelle still trembles at the first sign of anger.

“Isabelle, really, at this time of-“

Her mom suddenly breaks off. Annoyance quickly fades into awareness. She scans Izzy’s face, and then sees the tears; the worry, and the uncertainty. Maryse steps forwards and takes Isabelle’s face in her hands. It shouldn’t remind her of Simon, not in this moment, when there’s so much darkness surrounding them, but it does. Izzy can’t help but remember the warmth for a split second.

“Tell me what’s wrong.” Maryse says, softly.

“It’s…Alec. And the Chicago Institute. Mom. It was…” Izzy takes a few deep breathes. Speaking in fragments isn’t going to make this easier. She needs to focus. Remain calm for her family.

Izzy looks up at her mom. “I think it was attacked.”

“You think?” Maryse repeats. It’s not unkind, but the detachment is familiar. Her mother is already analysing the situation, wanting details and answers. She’s not getting lost in the emotions.

Izzy doesn’t say anything else.

The helplessness must’ve shown on her face, because Maryse is suddenly nodding – almost to herself- and grabs a jacket before closing the door behind them. “Take me to them.” She requests, still soft-spoken. It frightens Isabelle more. Her mother’s unusual kindness must mean that Izzy’s face is a mess of tears and last night’s eyeliner. No wonder she’s pacing down the corridors and gripping Izzy’s arm firmly as they walk into the main room.

Alec is still there, and he’s leaning back with his hands on one of the tables. Jace stands before him and drapes his jacket around Alec’s shoulders. Or, tries to. But Izzy watches sadly as Alec shrugs it off without a second thought, shoving it back into Jace’s arms and staring down at the floor.

Jace turns around as they enter, and his expression mirrors her own helpless one. She tries to smile, but it doesn’t tug up at the corners. She gives up and braces herself instead.

This isn’t going to be pretty, she thinks. She tries not to look at Magnus, who is – thankfully – now standing with his back turned to them as he talks to the two girls. He’s gesturing with his hands a lot, but other than that, Izzy really hopes that Maryse doesn’t notice him.

A sense of dread washes over Izzy. They can’t hide Magnus forever. Soon, they’ll have to own up to their secret mission. Own up to saving their friend and risking their lives.

Luckily, for now, Maryse is focused on them. She steps towards Alec. “Report.” Maryse says simply.

Izzy winces at the abrupt tone. Surely her mom can see the damage – even if not physical – that’s echoing around the room.

Isabelle opens her mouth to say something, but then closes it. Alec is standing a little taller, and Jace is lifting his chin and waiting. Izzy realises then that at the same time, what her mom is doing is probably the best thing for them all right now. She realises what Maryse is doing; focusing them, pushing away the fear, and the dangers of losing hope.

She’s leading, Izzy realises.

When Alec replies, it’s like he’s reading off a list; logical and to the point. “Valentine attacked the Chicago Institute.” He says. “The Cup is gone. Four recruits died. The rest are in Evanston Hospital, or NorthShore Hospital, or-“

He cuts off, a brief moment of pain amongst the control. He straightens again and continues. “Some are in critical condition. Others got lucky.” He swallows, and quickly looks at Isabelle, his expression softening. “Lydia Branwell…lost a lot of blood, but she’s alive. Just.”

Isabelle’s relief floods her, overwhelmingly. She wipes away the falling tears and says a quick prayer. But then the realisation that four others are dead, and possibly more, and the guilt is a punch to the gut; a dagger to her good fortune.

“Her mother was not so fortunate.” Alec says. He sighs, and without the anger, he just looks tired now. There are shadows under his eyes, and a sag in his shoulders. “She was in surgery when we last heard. The Morgensterns were after the Cup, but they didn’t care who they cut down to get it. Lydia Branwell saved a lot of lives. She called in for backup.”

Beside them, Maryse is breathing heavily. Her chest rises and falls, and Isabelle watches her, waiting for a reaction. They all are.

Maryse pinches the bridge of her nose between her fingers. It’s the first sign of uncertainty. It’s quickly replaced, however, by a fierce look. She presses her lips together and storms over to the nearest computer, leaning over and stabbing at the keys. She presses a final button.

A loud, shrill bell pierces the room.

Izzy winces, but in a strange sort of relief. It’s a confirmation that what’s happening is real, and not some godawful nightmare she’s conjured up. Facing her fears, she stares up as the lights start to flash.

An overhead voice echoes, “Emergency lockdown. Please remain in the building. Emergency lockdown. Please remain in the building….”

Maryse stalks back over. Her hands are now on her hips. “And where the hell were you?” She snaps.

Alec flinches back as if he’s been shot. He stares at their mom, his face falling.

Isabelle goes to speak, but the look on Maryse’s face silences her in an instant. She’s never seen her mom look so…uncontrollable. Stern, yes, but never livid with anger. Never with shaking hands and wide eyes.

And she’s directing it entirely at Alec.

Isabelle opens her mouth again. But what can she say? After all, she knows exactly where Alec was. And Magnus too. Their happiness unfolding means the world to Isabelle, and she’ll damn herself before she slips up and says too much. She keeps quiet, letting the tears fall silently.

Staying strong is the only support she can give right now. She has a horrible feeling that soon, Alec is going to need all of it.

Her brother doesn’t say a thing, but his shoulders are shaking, and when the first tear falls, the only reason Isabelle doesn’t rush forwards is because Maryse shoves an arm out, blocking her.

“No.” Maryse says, ice dripping from her tone. “Your brother is now learning the consequences of arrogance.”

Loud slaps against the concrete, and then a growl, and suddenly Magnus Bane is standing directly in front of Maryse. His chin lifts in defiance, but also pride, and Izzy’s well aware – and she’s sure her mom is, unfortunately – of how he’s guarding Alec as well.

Magnus storms in front and plants himself inches away from Maryse. “Everyone makes mistakes.” He says, lowly. “I would suggest you do well to remember that.”

Izzy almost gasps. The strength of his anger is intense, but what’s worse is the threat behind it; the challenge, and the dangerous way that Magnus’ eyes are narrowing. He looks cold; all sharp angles and torn clothes. If Isabelle didn’t know him as a friend, she really, really wouldn’t want to be on the opposing side right then.

You.” Maryse actually takes a step back. “What…?”

Her mother halts abruptly. She stares at Magnus for a long moment, and the only sounds are from the sharp overhead warnings. Other agents are waking now, and they tear into the room and start to head to the computers, and switch on machines and await commands.

Maryse is oblivious to all of this. She just stares at Magnus, who shows no signs of backing down. Thankfully, he doesn’t say anything else, but his presence is enough. 

“How did you…?” Maryse leaves the sentence dangling in the air. It’s spoken quietly, but it’s the loudest damn thing in the room. Alec, Jace and Magnus all stay silent, and when Izzy does too, she notices the moment where her mom’s confusion, and surprise, turns to realisation.

Maryse suddenly gasps. “No.” She whispers. The fragility in it shocks Isabelle. Has she ever heard her mom sound unstable before? 

She turns her head to look at Alec, and then Magnus.

Maryse takes a step forwards, and when she holds out her arms, it’s a weak attempt for a plea; to change the past. “Alec, please….you didn’t…” A broken sob chokes off her words, and Maryse places a hand against her forehead, covering her eyes for a few, long, painful moments.

Alec steps away from the table. He stands beside Magnus, but looks towards their mom. With tears welling in his eyes, he mirrors her gesture and holds his arms out. He looks like a lost child, begging for forgiveness, and Isabelle wants to shake her head and tell him not to. Tell him that he was right to fight for this.

“Mom.” Alec whispers. “Please, I…”

Maryse suddenly holds up a finger. She inhales sharply, and loudly enough to be heard over the bell.  “It doesn’t matter anymore.” She says. Although the shock is gone from her expression, her hands are still trembling. From anger or surprise, Izzy doesn’t know. She doesn’t want to.

“What’s done is done. The little I know the better. For once.”

Alec’s shoulders are still tense, but he looks hopeful now.

And then Maryse crushes it. With a single look that sucks out all the warmth from the room. There’s a clear answer in her coolness. No, it says, you are not forgiven.

Izzy hears it loudly. Alec does too, because he leans heavily against the table again and stares at the ground.

Maryse starts noticing the others entering the room, waiting for her direction. She nods briefly to them, and then stabs a finger at the three of them. “For now, do your job. I want to know how Valentine got into the Institute. Find out.” She looks at Alec. “Do not fail.”

Again.

The unspoken word hovers.

Before anyone says anything, Alec steps away from the table and places his hands behind his back, lifting his chin. His expression is passive, vacant of any emotion. “I won’t.” He replies.

Isabelle is shaking her head even before Maryse leaves.

When their mother does turn to leave, she rushes forward and grabs both of Alec’s hands. “You need to clean up.” Izzy pleads. “Go, take a shower, have some rest, and sleep. Please. Do that before you do anything, do you hear me?” She tries to hold back the sob wanting to escape.

She tugs on her brother’s hands. “Alec? Are you listening?”

Jace is there too, and he wraps a hand around Alec’s neck, in that embrace of theirs that seems odd to anyone else, but is so normal for Jace and Alec.

Jace smiles, a brave gesture that makes Isabelle want to sob more. “Buddy, you there?” He says lightly, but the quiver is undeniable. He’s watching Alec carefully. “You need to look after yourself for a bit.”

Alec suddenly shoves away his hand. “I’ve been doing far too much of that recently.” He snaps. He pushes past them, but then stops, and turns back around. Izzy notices that he’s avoiding look at Magnus. “This happened because of me, because of-“

“Us.” Magnus finishes. He finally joins in with a sorrowful look. His makeup is smudged, and there’s blood staining his navy nails.

Magnus takes a few steps forwards, towards Alec. He talks to the group, but his eyes don’t look away. “We were led right into a trap. But they’re right, Alec…rest. Please.” Magnus whispers the last word intimately.

Isabelle glances away when Magnus takes Alec’s hand and brings it up to his chest. He holds it there, cradling it close to his heart. Magnus just holds it, and doesn’t say anything else, but it’s enough to pull Alec out of his haze because after a long pause, he pulls his hand back a fraction. He stares at them, entangled before his eyes, and then nods. Just the once.

“Okay.” Alec says, slowly. “But you have to wake me after three hours. And then, we work.”

He looks over to Jace and Isabelle, and they both nod, relieved.

“We will.” Izzy says softly. “Go.” She squeezes Alec’s other hand. The other is still held by Magnus, and after a moment, he seems to realise, because he lowers it reluctantly and untangles their fingers. Magnus nods in agreement.

Stifling a yawn, Alec walks away, already starting to unbutton his ruined shirt. Isabelle feels her face starting to crumple again, because only her brother would forget to sleep if it meant blaming himself for everything.

“Hey. Magnus, what happened when…?”

Jace breaks off suddenly. Isabelle turns back around and sees why.

Now that Alec is gone, Magnus looks even more defeated. He presses his fingers to his temple, pushing aside the damp hair falling slightly into his face. The light blue highlights are a small brightness in the room.

A tear falls down his cheek, and when Magnus bites his lip, Izzy knows he’s finally letting everything catch up.

When he starts to cry, she’s there in an instant to embrace him. She hugs Magnus fiercely, not letting him go through this alone. Jace stands beside them and rubs Magnus’ shoulder. It’s an odd moment of comfort, but they take it.

The only way to survive in their kind of lifestyle is to grab these moments; embrace your friends and get back up again.

When Magnus sighs, they pull away. Still, they stand close together, watching as more agents start to wake and head into the conference rooms. Soon, they’ll likely be called in, but Isabelle wants to ask a few things first.

“Is Alec okay?”

Magnus shakes his head. “I don’t know.” He says sadly. “The boy we brought in…he was working for Valentine. Or he was forced to. Who knows?” Magnus sighs, absently tapping his finger against his thigh. “But the Chicago Institute…it’s a ruin. There’s no way to restore it. The Morgensterns know where it is now. No one can go back. Bastards.”

Magnus suddenly slams a fist into the table. The anger paired with the tears, and the smudged makeup, makes him look even scarier than before. He looks like an avenging angel; bloody, bright-eyed and soaking in compassion. He’s angry because he cares, and Isabelle dares anyone to say otherwise.

“They destroyed a home.” Magnus hisses between his teeth. “Destroyed children.”

Izzy holds back another sob, reaching up and brushing away Magnus’ sweat-soaked hair. He has an arm around her waist, and she keeps stroking his forehead. It’s not much, but it’s all she can do right now.

“You should rest too.” She says. “You’ve been driving for what, ten hours?”

Magnus brushes aside her concern. “We took turns.”

Still, she doesn’t let it go. Beside her, Jace shakes his head; clearly on her side in getting him to rest as well.

“I don’t care.” Izzy says, but not harshly. “You need to rest. Go. The boy will still be here in the morning.”

Just like Alec, Magnus seems to surrender only because he doesn’t have the energy to fight anymore. He runs a hand through his head and starts to head out of the room, only stopping at the edge to turn back to the two girls – who, Izzy realises, are two of the surviving recruits who must’ve been in a condition to walk, and run.

“I’m so sorry.” Magnus says, and he gazes across at them with sorrowful eyes. The two girls reach for him, and they hug, the three of them together. He has an arm wrapping around them, and their affection makes it clear that they’re sharing whatever strength they can with each other.

Isabelle can’t help but think of family again – how can she not at a time like this?

She thinks about how sometimes, the families you choose for yourself are more important; not by blood or law, but this. By love and choice.

“Make sure they’re okay.” Magnus whispers to Izzy. “Don’t question them yet. Please.”

Jace nods, and is the first to make a move. He places an understanding arm on Magnus’, before leading the two girls away. He talks softly to them as they walk out.

Magnus just stares after them, watching them leave. “They didn’t even get to graduate.” He says sadly. “There was supposed to be a dance…and a celebration but…” Magnus sighs. He stares down at his hands.

Izzy takes them in her own. “You’ll do no one any good if you tire yourself out. Magnus, take your own advice. Rest.” She points to the busy room beside them, the glass panes revealing the rush of agents inside. “We’re under lockdown, you can’t do anything. Not now. Soon, we’ll have a plan. The Clave won’t be able to shy away this time. This was a direct attack.”

Her anger pushes her onwards. Why did it have to come to this? To The Clave letting their selfish loyalties affect their priorities? All they wanted was a Cup, and now, it wouldn’t even surprise Isabelle if they asked them to repeat the mission. To retrieve the Cup again, rather than take down the Morgensterns from the head of the snake.

But that’s a thought for another day, and she watches sadly as her friend stands.

Magnus looks at her, his usually warm eyes shadowed with regret. “We did this, didn’t we?” Magnus asks. “This all started because I stole the Cup. Because I wanted revenge...”

Izzy shakes her head. “No. This started long before that.” She says fiercely. “Cruel men are desperate for us to turn on each other, and ourselves. Do not, ever, make their jobs easier. Do what you’ve always done, and fight. Rest, and fight tomorrow. There’s always another chance, Magnus. Always another beginning; another way to bring closure to an awful, unjust event. We’re going to do this. All of us. Together.”

Magnus leans into her, and presses a kiss to her forehead.

He smiles, just a small one, but enough to make her smile too. “You’re amazing.” Magnus says, and then walks away.

It’s only then that Isabelle is truly on her own. It’s only then does she realise that her feet are carrying her away, out of the main room and down the corridors. She’s marching with purpose, and when the lab door arrives in her eye line, Isabelle isn’t even surprised.

She takes out a hairband and ties her hair into a tight ponytail, scraping her hair away.

She wipes away the last of the colourful lipstick on the back of her hand.

Izzy stands before the large table, observing the chaotic cluster of codes, scribbled notes, and theories. She stares down at the underlined date in red. Her anger wraps around her, and the room suddenly feels hot. Her body starts to grow warm, her cheeks flushing with fury.

You can’t hide from me. Not now. You went after my family.

Grabbing a pen, Izzy says the last words out loud.

“You don’t have to worry about finding us. I’m coming for you first.”

~

The last time Magnus was in the New York Institute, he remembers being worried the entire time. Never knowing who was a friend, and who was waiting to stab him in the back.

Nothing’s changed then, he think, a little bitterly, and very tiredly.

But it’s a lie. He knows, and trusts, more people now. He cares for them too. The surging anger at seeing Maryse criticise Alec rises once more. He couldn’t stand by and watch a mother yell at her son for being human. Not when she’s still so oblivious to the damage she’s caused him.

Not that Maryse will care, but Magnus still gets furious when he imagines her going around without realising what she – intentionally or otherwise – helped with.

Now is not the time to think about his past, Magnus decides. Because there’s a lot happening in the present. Too much to ignore, that’s for sure.

Magnus suddenly stops. He blinks, trying to remember where he’s walking to.

Where is he supposed to lie down and sleep? He doesn’t have a room to go to. There’s no spare sleeping bags for wayward assassins who are harbouring feelings for Clave agents.

So whose door is he now facing?

You know.

Of course he knows. It’s the only room he knows; the only one that pulls him closer.

It makes sense that Magnus would walk towards it. Towards him.

The only person who, right in this moment, will understand. Someone who can understand the pain, but also the comfort.

Magnus hesitates, half raising his hand to the door.

As if answering for him, the door disappears beneath his hand, slowly pushing opening on its own. Or perhaps it was never really closed to begin with. Magnus wonders if maybe, just maybe, someone left it ajar on purpose.

Because after the drive, so full of tension and phone calls to the hospital for updates, Magnus isn’t sure where they stand. Where any of them stand. It frightens him enough to want to pull away. Part of him wants to throw up familiar walls and take a cautious step away from the fire.

But the thing about Magnus Bane is that he’s never been a coward.

So when the door opens, he steps inside, slowly closing it behind him and leaning against it.

The room inside is simple; oak floorboards, a desk, chair, deep green curtains letting only a single stream of moonlight in. There’s a figure lying on the double bed, and when Alec sits up, his hazel eyes catch the light.

Magnus’ breath catches in his throat. It’s like he’s slipped into some private corner of the world that divides light and dark. Alec is drenched in soft moonlight, and Magnus is in the shadows, but as soon as he takes the first step forwards, the light catches him too. Alec leans forwards and the shadows cut into his glow.

The balance is almost enchanting, Magnus thinks. How easily it is to slip between light and dark, good and bad. How unstable the divides are.

He doesn’t go any further, just stands at the edge of the bed and watches Alec. The agent’s shirt is removed, and the rise and fall of his chest is making Magnus’ heart pound away. He tries to steady it, but around Alec, how can it? How can he think of anything other than wanting to hold him?

“You’re here.” Alec says, with surprise in his voice. The relief in his expression haunts Magnus in the best possible way. He captures the moment, or at least tries to, when Alec places a hesitant hand down on the space beside him. On the bed. Next to him.

“Do you want to…?”

Magnus hesitates too. There’s something so easily breakable about this night.

How easily could he say the wrong word? Or smile the wrong sort of smile, and ruin it completely?

Finally, Magnus nods. He slowly reaches down to untie his shoes, taking them off and placing them quietly on the floor. He tugs his shirt over his head, the raised velvet rough against his skin, and leaves it beside his shoes.

He doesn’t unbuckle his belt, or shrug off his pants. Even Magnus knows when to stop.

But there is a hint of a smile on Alec’s face now, and a slight blush in his pale cheeks, and Magnus knows he’s making the right decision. They’ve both caused a lot of damage, even if it is accidental, but also joy, and bringing people together. The balance is terrifyingly level. If you lose people, it brings others together. If people are brought together, other people's lives change.

And sometimes for the worse, if Alec is judging his mother’s face as anything to go by.

Magnus isn’t sure what Maryse has worked out; likely that her son is gay, and that he rescued Magnus and defied orders. 

Either way, it’s not going to be easy to brush aside.

Magnus comes over to the right side of the bed, staring down at the covers, at where Alec’s hand is still resting. Only when Alec removes it does Magnus pull back the covers and climb in beside him.

Alec sits up for a moment longer, and then sighs, falling back against the pillow. From this angle, his jaw is clenched with tension, and Magnus resists the urge to gently run a fingertip across it; to soften the worries. He wants Alec smiling again.

It sort of hits Magnus then, that he’s in a bed beside another man. How long has it been since this kind of intimacy has been given to him, freely and tentative? Too long, Magnus realises. Too long since he’s wanted it too.

“You’re not going to torture that boy, are you?”

Magnus hears himself ask it, and then quickly returns to silence. He’s sure Alec didn’t leave his door open to be interrogated.

So it surprises him when Alec replies. “I don’t know.” He says, almost too quietly to hear. He’s staring up at the ceiling. One hand is propped against his elbow as he absently traces the curve of his upper lip.

Magnus doesn’t say anything to this. He’s not going to judge, especially not now.

There’s silence, until Alec’s hand suddenly lowers. He curls it into the sheets and lets out a strangled groan. “How can you be near me?” He whispers. He still doesn’t look towards Magnus. “Knowing that I’m considering this…how are you here? You were tortured, and I’m thinking about doing it to someone else…I’m….”

Alec gasps, his chest stuttering as he thinks. It’s another moment before he lowers his hand. There are tears in his eyes, and Magnus hates to see them.

“I can’t.” Alec whispers. “I won’t do it.” He turns towards Magnus, angling his head to the left, and his glistening eyes suddenly become warm. Even in the low light, they’re mesmerising. “That’s crossing a line, isn’t it? We need to separate ourselves from them. Otherwise, how are we any better? How am I any better than the Morgensterns? I’m not a…I can’t…”

“Hey.” Magnus calls out softly. He sees Alec’s chest rising and falling far too quickly, and knows that the panic is soon going to overwhelm him.

Gently, Magnus reaches out and runs his forefinger over Alec’s clenched fist. It relaxes, just a bit, so Magnus continues and pushes a little more. He unfolds Alec’s hand so that the palm is facing upwards on the bed. He links their hands together, again.

Against the cool sheets, the touch burns, and Magnus savours the heat; the connection.

“It’s okay.” Magnus says, again, calmly. “Come here.” He shifts his body so that he’s facing Alec. Taking the other man by the shoulders, Magnus gently urges him to turns over so that Alec’s back is turned towards him. After a brief moment’s hesitation, he wraps an arm around Alec’s torso and pulls him back, and closer.

Only then, with Alec’s back pressing against his chest, does Magnus sighs. Feeling braver, he lets his head rest in the crook between Alec’s shoulder and neck, the feverish warmth prickling his cheek.

“You have to forgive yourself, Alexander. For everything.” He strokes his thumb across Alec’s stomach as he speaks. The abdominal muscles quiver. “The things beyond your control are just that. If we were at the Institute, we just might have died alongside the others.” Magnus exhales, and Alec shivers as his breath hits the nape of his neck. “And I know you don’t want to die, even if you’re not scared to.”

They stay quiet for half a minute, and Magnus wonders if Alec is falling asleep.

He’s about to pull away, and try and catch a little rest himself, when Alec suddenly speaks again.

“I am. Scared, I mean. I really am.” Alec admits. He raises a hand to keep Magnus’ arm pinned against his chest, and it’s an invitation to stay. “How can I die when I haven’t had the chance to live yet?” Alec whispers.

His words spell out a secret that has Magnus wondering how long he’s kept it hidden. How deeply is Alec burying what he wants?

Too far, Magnus realises. Far too far.

But the very fact that he’s saying it now, in the comforting arms of someone who cares deeply about him – and Magnus really hopes Alec knows this – fills up the room with hope. The chaotic blur of the last twenty four hours is catching up with them, but here, in the room, it’s just Magnus and Alec. Nothing between them except sheets and soothing words. It’s just Alec holding onto his arm, and Magnus’ forehead pressing against the nape of Alec’s neck.

“You will live, Alec.” Magnus promises. “I’m going to make sure of it.” With each passing moment, he vows it more fiercely. With each touch of their hands, and each whisper. “If it’s us against the world, Alec, I’ll take those odds." He assures him. "I haven’t had a lot to fight for in my life. Not consistently. I have wonderful friends, and my mother’s memories, but love; I haven’t had that for a while. And family.”

It’s the truth, and Magnus feels the words tumbling straight out of his heart. He shifts his head again, his nose caressing the back of Alec’s shoulder blade. “Somewhere along the road, Isabelle became my friend. Jace. Lydia. Everyone here, and…in Chicago. I understand your fears. I do. I swear it, I do. But…your heart is still beating, Alec.”

Magnus moves the arm covering Alec’s torso and spread out his palm across his chest. He feels the beating of Alec’s heart, pounding and throbbing and begging for life. “Can you feel that?” He says. “You’re alive. And beautiful.” Magnus says, truthfully.

He’s never seen anyone as beautiful as Alec, and it’s about damn time that Alec knows it.

“Human. Strong. Weak. Brave. Scared. All of those emotions are a part of being alive. Don’t ever cut yourself off from it.” Magnus begs. The pressure against his chest tightens, and his words slip back inside. He swallows.

Perhaps he’s saying too much. Crossing a line.

Alec lets out a deep, shaky breath, which makes his chest press closer to Magnus’ hand, which is still covering his heart. “Well, at least I did one thing right.”

“What’s that?”

“I met you.”

He says it simply. Casually making Magnus’ stomach do somersaults. His eyes start to blur around the edges, but they’re tears of happiness now, and he doesn’t feel the burn, or the sting, anymore.

“You did.” Magnus says. “And I’m not going anywhere, love.”

Magnus lifts his chin and places a kiss against Alec’s shoulder, right on the top. He doesn’t let it linger. Lingering will be dangerous. There’s only much he can take of having Alec in his arms, and not wanting more.

Alec chuckles then, and his chest bounces slightly as he laughs. “Sorry our first time in bed isn’t…up to your speed.” He mumbles.

Magnus smiles into his collar bone, his chin dipping. He closes his eyes and whispers, “This is better.”

“Really?”

“Mm.” He murmurs in agreement. He kisses him again, just on the tip of the shoulder, to prove it.

Tiredness washes over him, and he feels Alec yawn as well.

“I don’t want nightmares.” Alec mumbles. He sounds exhausted, but at least some of his humour is coming back. Magnus has never been pleased to hear someone rolling their eyes, or at least the tone of it.

“You won’t. I’ll eat them.”

Alec laughs again. “That’s weird.”

“It’s hot.” Magnus says, but he has to bite his lip to stop laughing.

Alec chuckles, but then quietens again. “You’re really…not leaving?” He asks, and his voice is small again.

He’s asking more than if Magnus is sleeping in the room.

And he’s not just asking whether or not Magnus is going to leave after the lockdown ends either.

Magnus sighs. Closing his eyes, he wonders if this decision is easy because it’s Alec, and Magnus doesn’t want to leave his side again.

Scaring Alec away now seems unlikely, and it relieves Magnus to feel this way. To not feel so hesitant, or unsure that Alec isn’t feeling what he is. You don’t wrap someone in your arms, or hold their hand to your chest and smile, and then walk away. Surely.

“I’m staying. Right here.” Magnus finally replies. “I’m staying with you. This is my choice. Not yours. You can ask me to leave if you want, but…I want to fight. Preferably in front of you, to make sure you don’t do anything stupid like drink weird wine again.”

Alec snorts. “That was me being romantic.”

“Stupid.” Magnus corrects. He nips Alec’s shoulder, just lightly, and then kisses the same spot. “But yes. Very romantic hero of you, Alexander.”

After a moment, Alec slowly pulls Magnus’ arm away, but instead of pushing it aside completely, he turns so that he’s facing Magnus, and then places his arm back around his waist. Now they’re face to face, and Magnus doesn’t have anywhere to hide. And there’s a lot more places he wants to kiss, but can’t bring himself to.

Alec sighs. “I don’t want to be a hero.” He says quietly. “I just want to be me.”

Magnus squeezes his waist in understanding. His fingers skim over the waistband of his pants, but he doesn’t do anything stupid. He just wants to touch Alec, if he’ll let him. Judging by the blush in his cheeks, and the smile tugging at his lips, Alec doesn’t mind one little bit.

“That’s all I want from you.” Magnus promises.

The sigh that escapes from Alec’s lips after that is in its own league of truth. “Thank you.” Alec says.

The rawness of the sound moves Magnus. It presses urgently against his heart. He looks at Alec, really looks at him. He’s almost like a mirror then. Magnus knows with perfect clarity that all Alec wants is to be seen as himself, and for that to be enough.

Alec speaks again, and although it’s still soft, and quiet, there’s an urgency to it. Alec brings up a hand and then lowers it, staring down at it. “I…I don’t know how to make you see it, but…I need you.” He finally looks up. “And I think you need me too.”

Magnus closes his eyes. He smiles. “I do. Believe me, I do.”

They’re silent for a long while after that, laying together in the sheets and touching ever so slightly. When the rise and fall of Alec’s chest becomes slower, more languished, Magnus smiles. He reaches up a hand and brushes aside a damp lock of Alec’s hair, a cog in the wheel of his emotions breaking free. The burning ache he’s felt for a while now is becoming stronger, but less physical. It’s always there, around Alec, but whereas before it was eager, now it’s patient. It wants time. It wants nourishing and support, as well as the fire.

Magnus waits another few minutes to leave. When he’s sure that Alec is fully asleep, he gently pulls his arm away – already missing the warmth of Alec’s torso – and slowly starts to move.

He’s barely sitting up when Alec lazily throws an arm out. It gets slung across Magnus’ chest, reaching up to stop him from moving.

“Hm?” The surprised sound slips from Magnus. He gazes down at Alec, who opens one eye and shakes his head.

“Stay.” Alec mumbles. “Please.”

“Alexander...”

Magnus swallows, staring down at him and wanting nothing more than to do so. But his trembling hands are a reminder that he can’t stop himself anymore. If he does this, if he lies down beside Alec, he might not ever want to rise.

Please.” Alec murmurs. The whisper is almost enough, but what breaks Magnus is the hand against his chest. Especially when Alec makes the decision for him and wraps a strong arm around Magnus’ waist before pulling him back down.

As Magnus finds himself nose to nose with Alec again, he tries to relax. “I’m here.” He says softly, because that’s all he can say right now. He pulls up the covers and concentrates on smoothing them out.

The sound of Alec gently snoring is a welcome one. Magnus relaxes as soon as he hears it. He stops playing with the edges of the covers and leans back, putting a little distance between them. He tries not to watch Alec, but the temptation is almost unbearable. Still, he manages to fight it. Just about.

Magnus rolls onto his back and gazes upwards instead. As his eyelids finally start to grow heavy, and Alec’s body shifts a little, Magnus finds himself wondering how long it takes a man, on average, to fall asleep.

And he also wonders, on average, how long does it take a man to fall in love?

Magnus ponders this until his eyelids start to close. Darkness greets him slowly, and sleep beckons.

The first question is answered rather easily. 20 minutes.

Magnus doesn’t let himself answer the second question. But when his dreams fill up with a hazel-eyed ghost, he thinks that he might have to start to.

Chapter Text

When he awakes, the first thing Alec notices is that there’s no arm around his torso. There’s no heat from Magnus’ chin dipping into his shoulder. The comfortable fit calming Alec’s nerves is gone. 

Reluctantly, he turns over, and his disappointment becomes the truth. The empty space beside him is clear. Magnus is already gone.

His head – and his heart – are still brimming with words from last night, but Alec clamps down on them. He quickly reminds himself that just because someone is there, doesn’t mean they’ll stay. Last night didn’t mean that Magnus would always be the first face Alec sees every morning. Last night didn’t mean-

Someone’s singing.

He interrupts his own thoughts then, sitting up quickly in the bed. The curtains are still closed, but the light that streams through tells Alec that it’s at least sunrise, if not later, and he urgently swings his legs around.

A wave of fatigue hits him, almost like a slap. It wakes him up, but it doesn’t calm him, and after a long pause, Alec sighs, trying to remember how to pull it all together, like he used to.

A quiet, pleasant humming cuts the air again, like silk swishing on a clothing line. It’s soft, and Alec follows the sound, not with his legs, but with his eyes and ears. The bathroom door is wide open, and although he can’t see anything inside, a smile begins to finally tug at the corners of Alec’s lips.

He’s pretty sure he could place that voice anywhere by now. Even when it’s a quiet, unconscious lullaby drifting through the room.

Magnus steps out quietly, still humming, his voice rising and falling with the tune, and Alec stares at him shamelessly. He’s clearly gotten his hands on some new clothes because Alec is not prepared for seeing him in darker colours. Dark colours that are unavoidably tight-fitting as well.

Magnus is adorned in a thin, black cotton shirt with sleeves that reach his elbows, and they hug the strong muscles in his forearms as he runs his hands through his hair – which is without product, softer-looking. The blue streaks remain.

Alec feels a smile forming, as well as the heat in his gut, when he notices that Magnus has somehow managed to update the usually drab agent look. There’s a slim, dark gray scarf trailing over the top, and Magnus’ charm necklaces from their date last night are back around his neck, reaching his chest. Pair that with tight, black pants and combat boots, and Alec is sure he deserves a damn medal for not emitting a groan. 

When Magnus sees him sitting there, he stands to his full height, smiling. That contradiction of danger and power, softness and compassion, strikes Alec as unique. He’s never met anyone like Magnus before, and he doubts he ever will again. 

Instead of collapsing back onto the bed with the world’s biggest, surrendering sigh, Alec instead asks, “What were you singing?” He stays exactly where he is, sitting on the edge of the bed.

Magnus’ hands dance by his sides. Alec watches as his fingers tap against his new pants, and he wonders if Magnus is feeling insecure. His expression shifts, softening slightly. His hands stop their fluttering movements, but he still can’t stand still. His hips circle in that familiar, absent way. “Shall we dance?” He finally says.

“W-what? Now?” Alec furrows his brow in confusion. He’s not sure why Magnus is asking him to dance, especially when there’s so many things they have to worry about, to face in the day to come.

He opens his mouth to say something, but a high pitched giggle cuts through the air, silencing him.

“No. No.” Magnus laughs, still running a hand through his hair. He grins, and the happy sight is a welcome one. “Shall we dance?” He repeats, teasingly this time. “It’s the name of the song.” He leans back against the chair by the desk, his hands stretching backwards. His hips are slightly bucked, and Alec warns himself not to give in and let his gaze lower.

“Oh. Right.” He says. The awkward laugh that escapes his lips does nothing to ease his embarrassment.

It dissolves as soon as Magnus continues to speak. “We had a few old musicals on tape when I was growing up.” He says. “They used to relax me, so I guess I never let go of the habit.”

The casual manner in which he says this relaxes Alec, who knows how much the past can haunt you. He’s once again reminded of how far they’ve come; how he can sit here and listen to Magnus sharing his past, without feeling afraid to say the wrong thing, or make the wrong move.

“It sounded nice.” Alec offers. “The only musical I know is that damn dancing in the rain one.” He glances down, suddenly acutely aware that he’s still wearing only black pants.

Singin’ In the Rain.” Magnus corrects. His eyes flicker down to Alec’s bare chest, but then he blinks, looking back up at him. “Hm. I didn’t think that movie would be on the Institute’s teaching regime.”

Alec allows a smile to show then. “It wasn’t. I still don’t know where Izzy got it from, but she would sneak into my room and play it.” The memory overcomes his self-consciousness then. He mirrors Magnus’ pose, leaning back on the bed with his arms. “She’d always fall asleep before the end, but I didn’t mind. Just, don’t tell her I said that. Please.”

Magnus inclines his head. “Your secret is safe with me.”

Quiet thoughts replace the conversation then. Alec gets lost in it, thinking through the many things that need to be done, and the events that have led up to it.

“I do have one question.” Magnus begins.

Alec looks back up, leaning forwards instantly. Magnus’ expression is serious now, and there’s no trace of humour in his eyes.

“What is it?” He asks.

Just when Alec thinks the tension might snap his chest in two, Magnus breaks out into a proud grin. “Well, Alexander, did Moses ever find his roses?”

“Oh, god.” Alec mutters, but he’s laughing as he shakes his head. “That song was always getting stuck in my head.” He admits. “Try and remember how to reload a gun when you’ve got overplayed musical scores in your head.” He groans. “I’m pretty sure I know all the words still. Damn it. I’ll never forgive Izzy for that.” But he’s shaking his head fondly, so the threat doesn’t really follow through.

He suddenly sits up. A sobering reminder hits him, cutting off his laugh.

He can already feel the tension settling into his shoulders, but still, Alec lets himself look up at Magnus and ask, “Is it unfair to do this?” He can hear how small his voice sounds. “You know, laugh.”

Magnus tilts his head to the side. His expression is solemn now, but he doesn’t lose the smile. “Life goes on, darling. You know this.” He doesn’t sugar-coat his words. He doesn’t say it patronisingly either. He just speaks honestly, and from the heart, and Alec likes this. He likes the honesty, and the trust it conveys.

So he finds himself nodding in agreement. “Yeah. It does.”

Now, onto the other thing that’s capturing his attention in an equally distracting way.

Alec blurts out, “You’re, uh, wearing my clothes.”

Magnus props an elbow onto the chest of drawers and rests his chin on top of his hand. He peers at Alec with slow, deliberate care. His chest puffs out slightly, and Alec can’t help but find the preening anything but endearing. “No.” He says, smiling knowingly. “They’re Institute clothes, yes, but know yours.” He cocks his head, the grin turning sly. “What kind of man do you take me for?”

“I wouldn’t have minded.” Alec says quickly. He blames it on the sleep deprivation, before remembering that he’s just caught up on sleep. Telling his logical brain to get lost, he plasters on a smile. “Sorry we don’t have a lot of colour.”

Magnus laughs, warm and bubbly. “Tell me about it.” He says. He pushes away from the drawers and holds out both arms, staring down at the sleeves. He gingerly plucks at the sleeve, pulling away a thread of cotton.

He pouts, and Alec tries not to laugh. “Black flatters me, but really, dear, you ought to work for a company that understands the beauty of complimentary colours.” Magnus sighs deeply. “Oh, the things I could fashion for your gear…”

Alec holds up a finger in warning. “Hey. Black is a good colour.” He defends. “And anything else isn’t exactly good for secrecy. Do you think The Clave keeps their reputation by wearing polka dot into fights?” He imagines it then, heading into the field in bright stripes and dots, and snorts ungraciously.

“Pleased with yourself for that one?” Magnus asks, grinning. “Fine, okay. Black it is. It does flatter me, doesn’t it?” He spins around on the spot, holding his arms out slightly, and when he comes to a stop again, he’s standing closer.

Alec ducks his head, scratches the back of his neck. “You know it does.” He mumbles, but makes sure it’s loud enough to be heard.

Because he’s staring at Magnus’ thighs – it’s not his fault that’s where his eye line lands – and drinking him in in detail, Alec notices a small thing. A tiny observation. It tells him that although Magnus is drying his hair, he didn’t shower, because there’s still dirt and a bit of blood under his nails. The sight makes Alec’s throat seize up. It tells him that Magnus didn’t want to waste time, and even skipped his usual beauty routine to make sure he wasn’t away too long.

“Alexander?” A soft voice calls him.

Alec looks up, and Magnus is standing even closer, barely a foot from the bed as he stands, looking down. They’re still not touching, but the distance doesn’t feel overwhelming. It’s comfortable, and Alec almost doesn’t want to move. He doesn't want to head into the bathroom, or accept that there’s a long day ahead of them.

“I’ll be quick.” He says, eventually, when the moment lingers too long to simply stay static. It’s either this, or touching, and Alec knows that’s the more dangerous of the two options. He tries for a comforting smile, steps around Magnus and gathers up some fresh clothes from the cabinet before heading into the bathroom to his right.

He turns back to close the door slowly, lingering on the way Magnus watches him, always giving his attention, his support.

While he dresses, yesterday still comes back to Alec. It rushes back in quiet, guilty cries of anger, worry and fear.

He washes his face carefully, before slipping into black pants and a simply gray, cotton long-sleeved top of similar design to Magnus’.

He’s tugging on socks when he remembers – and with painful clarity – just how fearful his mother looked yesterday. And it was that, Alec now realises. Still, he can’t place why she’s afraid. For herself, for The Clave, for the attack.

Or perhaps, because she’s realising how little she knows about her own son. Alec certainly doesn’t feel like his mother recognises him anymore, and he can’t bear to think about the rejection that feels ready to come at any moment.

I’m gay, mom. He wants to say. I’m gay, and I’m still me. I’ll make mistakes, and I’ll learn, but I won’t hide anymore.

He takes a deep breath, steadying his nerves. The cool marble sink beneath his hands lets him focus.

Alec waits until his hands are no longer trembling and then straightens. He stares into the mirror again.

Although the anger, and hurt, is still lacing his gut, Alec gets other glimpses too. Nicer memories. He sees The Clave helping to send the other survivors off to the hospitals. He sees Jace and Isabelle, waiting to support him.

There’s a lot about yesterday that Alec would change in a heartbeat, but never those things. Never the date, or the good times. And definitely not the feeling of being held in Magnus' arms last night.

Like a ghost he never wants to exorcise, Alec can still feel Magnus’ fingers brushing his torso, lightly touching the dark hairs on his chest. He feels his cheeks burning, just at the memory. Is there any way he can have it again? Have Magnus in his arms again? The thought stops Alec, dead in his tracks.

He’s still staring into the mirror, at his stubbled jaw, his tinted cheeks, and slightly damp eyelashes. Perhaps his mother is right. Alec barely recognises himself. He can’t see the desire to hide, to duck his head, or turn away. The usual frustration he feels towards himself is almost gone. If not gone, then weakening.

How often did he refuse to recognise the emotions tearing him apart? Alec wonders if, given any longer, he would’ve become even more like the ruthless solider The Clave wants him to be.

Although they’re in the middle of a war, Alec almost smiles. Change is frightening, but Alec wants it, can feel it in the trembling of his fingertips as he reaches for a flannel and takes it back into the bedroom with him.

Magnus is sitting on the bed now, tying up his boots with swift movements. They’re neat, graceful, and a little edgy with studs around the back, and Alec doesn’t need to think twice about whether they suit him.

Magnus looks up, his brown eyes widening. “Alec?” His gaze lands on the cloth. 

“Oh, right, uh, I just noticed that,” Alec hunches over, his shoulder blades shifting as he hovers for a moment, still standing. “You have blood. Under your nails.”

When Magnus doesn’t flinch back, and instead, leans closer, Alec slowly takes Magnus’ hand in his own, first his left, and then his right. He goes through it all methodically, precisely, but by the time he reaches Magnus’ thumb, Alec can hear his breathing getting erratic.

This should be simple, he thinks, but it’s the softness of the moment that’s making Alec’s heart race. He concentrates on wiping away the stains, until Magnus’ skin is free from the reminders of last night. The washcloth is rough, and Alec makes sure to be as careful as he can while he finishes with the last finger. It’s Magnus’ forefinger, and he’s still wearing a simple, silver band with a pretty green jewel in the centre. Alec skims his finger over it for a moment.

It makes his lips tug into a smile, though he’s not entirely sure why. Perhaps because it’s Magnus, and he’s standing before a wonderful man and being allowed to comfort him, to take care of him in a way that Alec usually feels too afraid to try. But Magnus makes him want to, and he makes it seem easy, which Alec knows is mainly because Magnus is one of those people who likes others to feel at ease.

But it goes beyond that, at least for Alec. He’s gently placing Magnus’ hands back down again, awkwardly holding the flannel and wondering if he should say anything, when Magnus clears his throat.

All this time, Magnus is quiet. Almost too quiet, so when he makes a small noise, Alec risks glancing down again.

“Thank you.” Magnus says, quietly. His expression is a strange one, unreadable, but the flash of open affection makes Alec suddenly very aware that his knees are feeling weak.

Alec smiles. “You’re welcome.” He scrunches up the cloth into a ball, but his feet don’t carry him back to the bathroom. They’re stuck, or just being stubborn, so Alec places the cloth on the bedside table and waits.

“We should, uh, go. There’s going to be a lot to do today. For both of us.”

Magnus just nods.

When he doesn’t say anything, Alec swallows. After another moment goes by, he decides that if Magnus can be kind enough to comfort him last night, Alec can damn well at least try to return the favour.

He perches on the edge of the bed beside Magnus, still giving him some space between them. He sinks into the bed.

“Oh.” He suddenly hears himself say. He’s turning away from Magnus again, and reaching for the flannel before he can stop himself. Gently gripping Magnus’ chin, Alec rubs at the small, scarlet spot just below Magnus’ ear, and then suddenly freezes. He’s touching Magnus again, and it feels like the most natural thing in the world. 

Magnus doesn’t seem to mind, Alec quickly notes. One sign of distress, and Alec is sure he’d be pushing away before he even needed to ask. He quickly lowers his hand, but his tongue darts out to wet his lips as he stares at Magnus. He can’t help it, really. There’s always a new way to appreciate Magnus, to marvel at the little things that add up to make him beautiful, but here, in the new light of a new day, and mixing softness and confidence, Magnus is like a god.

“You’re staring again.” Magnus whispers. His lips, slightly cracked, but still, beautiful and alluring with their fullness, pout a little.

“Sorry.” Alec says. It’s a lie. “There was just a spot, and I…yeah.” He trails off, staring down at his hands.

Magnus brings his legs up, and crosses them beneath him, almost like a kid. Alec winces as the shoes cover the pristine bedsheets, but he doesn’t say anything. It soon slips his mind, especially when Magnus speaks again.

“Do you remember when we were escaping from Valentine’s place? You touched me then. Right here.” Magnus brings his thumb up, and holds it against his chin for a long moment. Alec follows the movement, swallowing again. Yesterday, he remembers dancing with Magnus, and today, the desire to be close to him, to touch him, is still strong and urgent, even in the new face of growing danger.

Magnus' jaw tenses. “I thought you would be scared of me." He says. "After you saw what I was capable of.”

“I thought you were beautiful.” Alec admits. The truth in this statement adds a new kind of tension to the moment. 

The creases in Magnus' forehead suddenly smooth out. He looks to the right, and smiles. “What a pair we make. Beautiful and deadly.”

“But not broken.” Alec says quickly. The fear seeps into his voice. “We’re not broken.”

“No. We’re not.” Magnus squeezes his hand, the bed covers soft underneath. “Whatever happens, today, I just want you to know something. Well, a great deal many things, but we don’t have time for that.” He grins. “My verbal worshipping will have to wait.”

Alec hopes his cheeks aren’t flushing too badly, because there’s no darkness to hide in anymore.

“The Clave won’t do anything to you.” He says instead. Although he still doesn’t want to go up against the place that’s been his home since birth, that’s taught him everything he knows, Alec is sure about this. He’s sure about protecting the man beside him.

Magnus smiles in understanding, but his words have a sadness to them, an inevitability. “I’m not asking you to promise that.” He says, quietly. “I know they’ll have questions, but after that, I’m on my own. They’re not interested in my well-being. And besides, I don’t have any valuable information to trade in either."

“Then offer your skills.”

Annoyance flashes across Magnus’ expression then. “No. They don’t deserve them.”

Alec hides his guilty look. He doesn’t disagree, but selfishly, he doesn’t want Magnus to leave, and he wants to find a way to keep him working beside him. If only The Clave could see Magnus as a brave, clever, capable fighter. Not just someone who works outside of The Clave.

Magnus waves a hand through the air. “Besides, why should I work for a place that left me to die?” He says it airily, but Alec is in tune with Magnus’ emotions enough to recognise the hurt underneath.

“I didn’t.” Alec says quickly. He curses himself. Magnus knows this already. Still, he can’t suppress the urge to make sure that they’re on the same page.

Magnus smiles. “No. And I’m not including you in this. Which is why…I don’t know what to do.” He admits with a sigh. He unfolds his legs, pushing his palms against his thighs as he thinks. When he speaks again, it’s a whisper that Alec has to strain to hear. “Alec...I don’t want to leave you.”

“Then don't.” Alec says stubbornly. “Stay. Please.”

Magnus shakes his head quickly. “I don’t want you to get disowned because of me.” He says.

Alec squares his shoulders. “It’s my choice.”

For a long moment, Alec waits in fear for Magnus to shake his head, apologise, and make plans to leave. He waits for the look of sorrow; the selfless sacrifice that he knows Magnus would offer in a heartbeat to save Alec’s life. But Alec doesn’t want him to, not if it means letting go of the bond between them.

The seconds tick by. He can almost hear Magnus thinking, but he doesn’t ask him anything else.

He waits. Impatiently, but he waits.

After quite possibly the longest pause of Alec's life, Magnus nods. The tightness around Alec’s chest unbuckles and lets go of its tension. He catches the gesture simply because he’s watching Magnus with fierce concentration. Still, Magnus nods again, clearly in his direction this time, and Alec feels the smile pulling at his lips hard to fight. He lets it blossom as he watches Magnus looking back. His eyes are glistening with their usual spark again.

There’s a promise in the moment, and Alec wants Magnus to know that he’s engaging with it, and wholly completely, offering it.

They lean in across the bed and their foreheads rest against each other’s. Magnus’ temple is warm and cool all at once, his hair tickling Alec’s forehead as they stay like that. Alec doesn’t feel the need to push it any further, and Magnus doesn’t press against him too firmly either. They sit for a few more moments, letting the seconds pass by until Alec begins to lose the sensation in his legs and he has to stand up.

He nods to the door. “Ready?”

Alec nods. “Ready.”

~

“Good. You two are here.”

“I think you’re the only person who will be saying that today.” Alec says grimly. He sighs. At least they’ve been approached by Jace as soon as they step into the main room, and not an angry, commanding Maryse. There are agents going about the room, all wearing the same straight-laced, focused expression.

Alec concentrates on Jace, the one friend he knows he can rely on to. “What do we need to brace ourselves for?”

Our. The word doesn’t surprise him, not like it would’ve done before, but it does sooth some of his anxieties. He’s not alone.

Jace is holding a tablet in his hands. He squints at it, and then looks up. “Oh, it’ll be fine. I think.” He adds, and his voice at least doesn’t give away any sign of a white lie.

Alec waits until they’re standing by one of the computer tables, further from the main space, and then sighs. “Look, just…what can we expect to get accused off?” 

Jace looks up from the screen, this time giving him his full attention. His brow is drawn close with tension, but other than that, he really doesn’t suggest anything terrifying to come. “Uh, nothing?” He says.

His eyes skirt between Alec and Magnus, and then it clicks. Jace’s eyes widen. “Oh. No, nothing about that. I don’t think. We’ve got your back if anything does get brought up, but I doubt it will. There’s bigger problems than how Magnus escaped. But you’ll be needed in the meeting soon. We all are. Twenty minutes, in the conference room. And no, I don’t know any more than that. Maryse has a plan or at least, has been given a plan. Oh, and,” He grimaces. “The Inquisitor, Imogen, is coming back. As well as a few other Clave members. Important ones.”

Alec takes this in, bit by bit. If The Clave are focusing on the attack, then perhaps they have little to worry about in regards to Magnus’ escape, and the trap they fell into last night.

Alec exchanges a quick look with Magnus. The urge to take his hand is overwhelming, but he fights it and smiles instead. Hopefully, there’ll be time for that later. For now, at least he can agree with his mom. Bigger things are happening.

“One more thing. We’re still on lockdown, but some of the Chicago agents have been brought in, and some are coming later. Those who can make it. A lot are still…” Jace swallows. “, incapacitated.” He finishes, wincing slightly.

Alec steels himself for hearing the worst. “In the night, did we…did we lose anyone else?” He asks quietly. He doesn’t want to know, but dealing with the facts is important, and trying to establish routine again helps him to focus.

“Lydia’s fine.” Jace replies quickly. “She pulled through. Her injuries were minor, but she lost a lot of blood. She wants to be here as soon as she can.”

Alec lets out a relieved sigh, although he knows it’s just a small victory in a sea of violence. Right now, they need all the little wins, so he lets himself smile.

“But?”

It’s Magnus who speaks then, noticing Jace’s grim expression before Alec does. His friend is fiddling with the tablet pen, twirling it around as he stares down at the screen.

Finally, he replies. “Cassandra.” Jace reveals. “She’s…she didn’t make it through the surgery.” He stops twirling the pen and sighs sadly. “Lydia is now the Head of the Chicago Institute.”

The silence that follows is mournful, and it’s only accompanied by the buzz of the agents around them.

“God.” Alec mutters, running a hand through his hair. As conflicted as he is with his mom right now, Alec doesn’t ever want to think about losing her like this. He hopes Lydia knows she’s in their prayers. Losing family is a special kind of hell. As soon as Lydia gets here, Alec makes a mental note to see if he can take any burdens away from her. Any filing or statements or duties.

He thinks of another thing. “And Julia and Zoe?”

“They’re staying here, for the meantime.” Jace tells them. “It’s the safest place for them, but, and you’re not going to like this part, so brace yourselves,” Jace exhales with a sigh. “Maryse wants them out in the field. She thinks it’ll do them good, to get out there and focus.”

Magnus lets out a growl. “Bugger that.” He snaps, and it’s a rare sight to see Magnus so angry, but Alec knows it comes from a place of compassion. “They need recovery time.”

“But where’s our recovery time?” Jace asks, but not rudely. “We were their age when we went out on the field.” He reminds them carefully. He starts fidgeting with the pen again, absently, and leans against the table. “Look, I get it, they’re young, and they had a terrible shock, but…they are agents. This is the life, we all know that.”

When Alec opens his mouth to protest, he closes it again. Jace has a point, and although the two girls have been through an ordeal, this is the life they’ve been brought into. It’s dangerous and tests you constantly.

Jace’s expression softens, and he places a hand on Alec’s shoulder. “But I’m on your side, Alec. I don’t think they should be going anywhere, but…let’s wait till the meeting. We can see what happens, alright?”

Alec nods, resting his hand atop Jace’s for a second.

Jace pulls back, his expression still soft as he asks, “And how are you?”

“Fine.”

“Alec-“

“I said, fine.” He raises his voice without meaning to, and hates that Jace doesn’t fight back, or roll his eyes. He looks hurt, his eyes flickering down again.

After a long pause, Jace fakes a smile, and it’s fake because Alec watches as it doesn’t quite meet his eyes. “Alright. Have you seen Izzy by the way? She needs to be at the meeting, but…” Jace shrugs. He’s tapping away again, only half in the conversation, and Alec again feels guilty that he’s been sleeping and talking while the others are put to hard work.

“I’ll keep an eye out for her.” Alec promises. He clears his throat. “And Jace, uh, sorry.” He waits until his friend is looking up, and then nods gratefully. “I know you’re just trying to help. I am fine. Really.”

Jace’s smile is warmer this time, white teeth flashing as he grins. “It’s okay.” He points down the corridor. “I suggest you guys get something to eat before the showdown begins. It’s about to get Wild West up in here. Imogen’s not happy, and well, she wants to…redistribute.”

“What does that mean?” Alec demands.

Magnus scoffs. “Placing the blame, probably. Typical.”

Jace doesn’t argue with that. “I don’t know.” He says. He looks at Alec. “That’s all your father said to us, but it doesn’t sound good. I think it’s The Clave tightening their control on us, that’s all, but we’ll get through it.”

Alec nods. “Yeah. I hope so.”

“Let’s hope they have a plan for fighting back too.” Magnus says coolly, a dangerous edge to his voice. “Not just how to get their precious Cup back.”

Jace looks away for a moment. “I wouldn’t hold your breath.” He mutters. Something pops up on the screen and he sighs. “Sorry, I have to clear this with Maryse. I’ll see you soon.” He promises. Just before he turns to leave, he narrows his eyes at Magnus. “Make sure he eats.” He warns, pointing at Alec.

Alec turns in time to catch the grin on Magnus’ face, and decides that it’s not a bad thing to be cared for after all.

They head to the canteen, and find it surprisingly normal. Half a dozen agents are getting a late breakfast as well. All the usual buffet tables are filled with hot food, continental breakfast selections, and even pancakes.

“At least The Clave does one thing right. Food.” Magnus is already piling up a china plate as he weaves around the options. He’s helping himself to a waffle – or three – when he suddenly pauses, glances over at Alec and says, “If you’re not holding a full plate of food, with at least two pieces of fruit on it, in three minutes, I will take away your bow.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Try me.” Magnus then widens his eyes. “Please?” He purrs.

Damn those eyes.

Alec is practically wolfing down watermelon slices before he can count to five. He loads up his plate with whatever looks good for energy – fruit, cereal, protein – and sits down opposite Magnus at one of the smaller, round tables. They eat quietly, fully aware that they don’t have much time together until the meeting.

“This is your home. I never meant to suggest you leave it behind. I’m sorry if I did, yesterday.”

Alec is finishing off his coffee, and chokes. The startled feeling stays with him, even if he manages to gulp down the drink without any major coughing. He places the mug down and thinks back to their date. It really was a good evening, he thinks, excusing the slightly rude interruption.

Still, the casual apology from Magnus just now makes it clear that he’s been thinking about what they said before.

“I only meant-“

“, for me to be sure that it’s what I want.” Alec finishes for him, quietly. He looks up, wanting Magnus to understand that he understand. He gets it. Appreciates it, also. “You don’t want me giving up my life for a cause I don’t believe in.”

Magnus hesitates, and then nods. He takes a sip from his own mug.

“So, what now?” Alec asks simply. Hiding his feelings isn’t really an option anymore. “I appreciate what you said. Really, Magnus, I do, but I just…”

He cups the now-empty mug in his hands. The china is cooling, but the heat at the bottom almost scolds his fingers. “Everything is happening so fast. Not just…us, but everything. It’s…overwhelming.”

He doesn’t know how to say it without it sounding negative.

Looking across at Magnus, and all Alec wants to do is spend more time with him, go on dates and put their lives on hold. At the same time, he has a duty, and a job. He has family to stay loyal to, and lives to save. But he means what he said before. Alec wants this.

Magnus makes it easier then. He gently pries the cup from Alec’s fingers and sets it away from them, out of reach. This leaves Alec’s hand on the table, and he watches as Magnus gently slides his fingers underneath, linking them together.

He’s leaning over, adoration in his eyes as he smiles. “Look, why don’t we take it slow?” Magnus invites. “Things are tough right now, I get it, and I don’t want to be a burden on you, even if I am an attractive one.”

He tries to laugh it off, but Alec shakes his head, firmly.

“No. I want this.” Alec says, his voice suddenly low.

Magnus quirks an eyebrow at his brazenness. He begins to stroke Alec’s palms with his forefingers, the slow circles gradually driving Alec insane.

“I’d like that. The, ‘taking it slow’ thing.” He suppresses a groan when Magnus’ forefinger reaches the delicate skin of his wrist, tracing a vein with deliberate slow, ease. “Please.”

Magnus ceases his tormenting movements and smiles. He doesn’t unlink their hands, either. “You don’t have to ask me twice, Alexander.” Magnus grins. “And besides, I’m sure others have dated through worse.”

Dated.

Alec finds an ear-splitting grin on his face before Magnus can take it back. Although, judging by his flushing cheeks – and Alec tucks away the pleasure at being able to make this beautiful man blush – Magnus doesn’t want to.

Now it’s Alec’s turn to feel forward, and he lifts up one of Magnus’ hands and softly kisses the inside of his wrist. He hovers there, lips pressing to his warm skin, and holds Magnus’ gaze. His pupils are slightly dilated, wide, and Alec can’t help but grin, very pleased to have one-upped him.

When he lowers the hand, Alec doesn’t stop smirking, and Magnus watches him with an open fondness, and something stronger, until Alec has to rip off a piece of toast instead of grabbing him by the shirt and kissing him until they’re both senseless.

Magnus gets the hint, and leans back again. Still, his manner is at ease. “The question is, can our second date top the first?” Magnus asks, cocking his head.

Alec snorts. “Doubtful. How do you fancy a mugging next time?”

“Stop flirting. I’ve barely had any coffee yet.”

“Sorry.”

He allows them another minute, checks his watch and then realises the time. Magnus’ plate is empty, and so is his, so Alec takes them over to the conveyor belt and watches them disappear through the hole in the wall.

Magnus is already up and waiting by the door when he turns around.

“Ready for the meeting?” Alec asks, as they head out of the canteen and down the hallway. Their shoulders brush, and Alec revels in the casual way their steps match up.

Magnus groans. “If you wanted to kill the mood, you did an excellent job, dear.”

Alec grimaces. “Sorry.”

“I never avoid my problems. Best to face them, head on. There’s no point in putting off a fight, especially one that means something to you.”

“I’m starting to see that.”

The grin that Magnus gives him in reply is worth everything. 

~

“Welcome.”

It’s funny – and by funny, Magnus thinks, it’s actually hilariously unfunny – that The Clave starts a meeting like this. He feels anything other than welcomed as he joins the conference room with Alec, Jace, Raj and a few other agents. The room is packed full, so their entrance doesn’t get scrutinised, except by Maryse, who turns her head sharply to stare as soon as they enter.

Good afternoon to you too, Magnus thinks bitterly. He glances around at the single, long table, and the half-empty seats. The agents are standing, talking in groups, while the older agents, and Clave members like Maryse, are sitting down.

Magnus hides an eye roll. Why not just start with colour-coded seating arrangements for who has respect and who doesn’t? At least then everything would be out in the open.

They mingle awkwardly until three people enter the room, and silence falls quickly as they make their way to the front of the table, filling up the three head seats. The agents all stand up straighter, taller, and turn towards them. The places around the table, the seats, are now all full. Magnus only recognises Maryse and Robert, however he realises the now-empty seat belongs to Lydia.

A pang of sympathy almost overwhelms him, but he stands beside Alec, in the midst of the crowd of agents, and makes sure to keep hidden. The last things he wants for Alec is to direct The Clave’s attention to his presence. Even if they’re aware, he doesn’t want the reminder, so Magnus sympathises for Lydia in silence and waits.

“Thank you for coming.” A woman Magnus recognises from his own trial is staring grimly out into the sea of faces. He wonders what she sees looking back; agents, soldiers, fear-struck men and women. Imogen is as scary and scowling as Magnus remembers, and it’s worse now that he can fully concentrate on her.

“As you are all now aware, yesterday there was a violent attack on the Chicago Institute. Agents were injured, and the Cup was taken. Again.” Imogen’s voice is sharp and as clear as a bell. Even Magnus finds himself anticipating her next words.

“I know you have all been waiting for our plan of action, and here it is. Everyone in this room will be under scrutiny. Our information tells us that a recruit was able to slip beneath our radar. A betrayal like this has consequences, and The Clave intends to follow them through."

Imogen casts her eyes around the room. "You will all be interviewed. Lengthily. For those of you who have nothing to hide, this should not be a problem, but if anyone so much as winces, there will be investigation. Your loyalty to us is not being questioned. If you are honest, and assist us, this will all be over as soon as possible. We only ask that you cooperate. Efficiency is the fastest way to find a solution.” She nods once. “Thank you.”

Is that it? Magnus thinks.

He glances around the room. Surely The Clave had a better plan that this. 

“What about the Morgensterns?” Jace suddenly asks.

The room stirs, and some agents widen their eyes as they wait for Imogen, or anyone around the table to respond. Although Jace’s voice is calm, Alec catches his fingers looking for a pen that isn’t there to fiddle with.

Imogen meets his gaze, and coolly says, “Unless you want to risk the lives of countless agents, and start a world war, I suggest you listen to your orders. The Clave will share their plan when they best see fit. Understood?”

“Yes.” Jace says, without hesitation. He takes a step back. 

The man beside Imogen perks up. “Without proper preparation, Valentine will burn not just our world to the ground, but the entire world." He says, his British accent crisp and cool. "You said this is a personal attack against The Clave. Against our culture. Fine. We are not allowing the public to become endangered because…”

“Because of me. You think this is my fault.” Magnus says.

Every eye in the room turns to stare at him, but he doesn’t even blink. Having the attention of a room has never bothered Magnus before, even if it’s never been a room full of anxious agents and glaring superiors. If they’re waiting for him to flinch, they’ll be waiting a long while.

After a long moment, Imogen narrows her eyes. “You certainly caught the Morgensterns' attention, yes,” She says, coolly. “And as much I’d like to blame you entirely, we can’t. Valentine has always been a problem. The problem is only now an urgent one.”

It wasn’t when people like me were getting hurt, Magnus thinks angrily. The Clave didn’t give a damn when people like his mother were getting cast aside, mistreated by villains like Valentine. They only care when their own kind were under attack.

He steels himself, trying to keep his expression calm. “Then your suggestion is?”

Maryse answer this time, but only after looking to Imogen. When she nods, Maryse turns back to him, and addresses the others also. “The lockdown will be lifted. All missions will be approved, and sanctioned. Top agents are to interview the Chicago survivors, get descriptions and sketches done of whatever they can remember. Everyone else, wait until you are called in to see a superior. That will be all.”

Imogen smiles, but it’s doesn’t fill Magnus with any ease. It’s dismissive and cold. “Valentine will not destroy our people, but we must stay united.” She says. “A strong force is only unbreakable as long as everyone is on the same side, the same page. If anyone thinks they have a problem with this, say so now.”

No one speaks. Magnus considers speaking up again, but glancing around the room makes him remember that this isn’t his place. He’s here as a guest, if not that, then simply because he hasn’t been forced to leave yet.

Imogen places her hands in front of her lap, eyes trailing the room. She holds their gaze, and then smiles. “In the meantime, day to day activity must still be monitored. I want statistics of crime activity, muggings, shootings, everything. If a drug gets sold at a teenage party, I want to know about it. Agent,” She looks directly at Alec, seeking him out. Only Magnus is close enough to see the tiny jump Alec gives. “, I suggest you prove to The Clave that you are in fact capable of following orders. Lead the reports.”

The low blow is almost enough to make Magnus reconsider his no speaking policy. He tenses almost as much as Alec does, but for different reasons. Alec nods in understanding, and Imogen glances away, but still, Magnus sees the effect of her words.

Please don’t start hunching over again.

Magnus angrily knows what they’re doing. It’s clear. The Clave, and Maryse, are keeping Alec close, close enough to monitor him and keep him in line. If they’re suspecting any shifts in loyalty, Magnus is furious that they’re even thinking about testing Alec.

He’s never known anyone as loyal, and selfless as Alec, even if it’s misguided loyalty at times.

The meeting ends on that note, and agents begin to file out of the room. The agents, mostly older, sitting around the table, stay to discuss other things, and they make it clear from their fierce scowls that this is not a voluntary meeting.

Just when they’re heading for the door – and there’s only a handful of people left – Imogen clears her throat pointedly.

Magnus plasters on a breezy smile and spins around.

Imogen’s expression is anything but pleasant, but there’s an underlining respect that Magnus is almost taken aback by. “The only reason you are here is because I received a file report from the late Head of the Chicago Institute.” Imogen says. She places her hands on her hips. “Do you care to know why? Or was it a wasted final move?”

He tries to hide the surprise, but the shock is too great. He remembers speaking to Cassandra, about a possible future position, but this, knowing that there was someone who actually was listening, and wanting to put his name forwards, strikes a chord in his heart. Magnus blinks in surprise.

Imogen takes this as incentive to go on. “Cassandra Branwell wrote her last report on you.” She reveals this with abruptness, but there’s not a point to prove anymore. Her expression is softer too. “You have been recommended for a recruit trainer position, but I’m afraid that will have to take a backseat. For now, you are welcome to stay in the Institute. We are not hiring you, but you are not under our protection either. If you wish to stay here, that is fine, but you will be assessed and interviewed. Call this neutral ground.”

Magnus considers his words. He’s aware that Alec is waiting for him, but his gut tells him to follow this through; to leave the room without feeling regret. “Neutral ground. Understood.” Magnus nods.

They walk out of the door, in a thoughtful, quiet solitude. Magnus doesn’t ask if Alec is okay with the responsibilities, and he doesn’t try and force it out of him. If he wants to, he’ll share, and in good time, perhaps.

They’re heading for, well, Magnus isn’t sure where they're going because he’s just letting Alec lead the way, when someone catches Alec’s arm. The sharp clicking of heels is already making Magnus grit his teeth.

“Where is Isabelle?” Alec’s mother hisses. “She should’ve been at the meeting. This isn’t the time for fooling around.”

“I don’t know.” Alec says. “I actually trust her.”

The stab is far from subtle, and it’s not just Magnus who catches it. Maryse narrows her eyes. “This attitude has to stop, Alec. I don’t know what’s happened to you recently, and I don’t care to know, but…this,” She gestures. “, is not a loyal agent. This is a rebellion waiting to happen.”

Alec hesitates, but then his voice lowers, a hint of danger in it. “I’m not rebelling. I never was. I was standing up for what is right, which is something The Clave always taught us, but didn’t exactly execute themselves.” He stares down at his mother.

Maryse looks away first, almost reeling back. “Alec.” She warns sharply. “If this is about...” She glances just for a moment at Magnus, but it’s enough.

“What?” Alec demands. He opens his mouth, but then closes it, seemingly changing his mind. When he speaks again, he’s practically growling. “Have you never made any mistakes?” Alec asks. He’s confident, but still with hunched shoulders, and Magnus doesn’t cut in, but he shifts to stand a little closer.

“I am trying to protect you.” Maryse says, a little quieter now. “The Clave are questioning all of our loyalties as of now.” She hesitates. “Be careful. Please.”

It’s the please that surprises Magnus, and he feels Alec react to it also. When has he ever heard Maryse beg for anything? Magnus feels oddly ashamed then, because he knows that this is a mother unable to shield her son, and caught between changes. He hopes they can work through it, but that isn’t Magnus’ decision to dwell on.

“Take statements from those two girls.” Maryse finally says. “The Chicago survivors are arriving still, so I’ll place you in charge of delivering their reports to me. Oversee that. Nothing else.”

Alec nods.

Satisfied, or at least getting damn good at pretending, Maryse turns to leave.

Watching his mother leaves, Alec lets out a slow, long breath. “She’s furious.” He mumbles. “I get it. I…know why she’s mad. I embarrassed her. And threatened her image when this all began.” His eyes flash with anger, but also hurt.

Magnus dances his fingers lightly over Alec’s forearm, drawing his attention away from the now-absent space where Maryse once stood. “That’s her problem. Not yours.” He cuts in gently. “I’m not one for parental guidance, but Maryse loves you. Misplaced as it is, she does.” That’s all he says, but Alec does briefly smile.

“Yeah.”

Magnus smiles back, hopeful till the end.

Realising that they’re still standing outside the conference room, and surrounded in the buzz of agents getting ready for interviews and day to day activity, Alec pats Magnus’ hand for a moment. He holds it there, and then says, “I’m going to have to go to the library. It’s a good place to take Zoe and Julia. I need to get their statements done.”

“Do you want me to come with you?” Magnus asks, walking alongside Alec, but not wanting to intrude. He’s sure he could find a way to help out, or get his own interview out of the way.

Alec smiles gratefully. “Yes. Please.” He adds. His brow furrows suddenly, and he pushes up onto his tip toes as he scans the room. When he’s still searching after half a minute, Magnus clears his throat.

“I’m sure Isabelle is fine.” He reassures Alec. “She’s a smart woman.”

“How did you know…?” Alec breaks off with a brilliant smile. It’s a smile that could make even the coldest of men weep. “Of course you knew.” He says, softly this time. He reaches for Magnus’ hand and squeezes it, briefly. The contact barely lasts more than two seconds, but Magnus wants it to last forever. To hold Alec’s hand for the rest of his life would be a worthwhile cause to go to war for. Magnus doesn’t speak. He just smiles, afraid that speaking would reveal the thick emotion tightening inside his throat, and chest.

He only pulls out of his thoughts when they’re away from the crowd and walking down a series of corridors.

“So, have you seen the Institute library before?” Alec is asking. His long strides are precise, and Magnus falls into step easily beside him.

“I didn’t get the chance.” He says. “I imagine it’s very…archaic.”

They reach the room, an arch opening up into a high-ceiling, domed room. It’s large, and spacious, with light oak tables and chairs. It has more of a period drama vibe than Magnus is expecting, and it doesn’t quite match the tech-and-glass vibe of the Institute’s layout. He says as much with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, yeah, the Institute was kind of built around this part. It’s Victorian. They wanted to preserve the historical appeal, I guess.”

“You guess? Not much interest in reading?” Magnus asks, genuinely interested. They find a spot towards the far end of the library, where a brilliant glass mosaic covers the lower portion of the wall, spilling in light. When Alec sits opposite, the rays catch his eyes, the hazel blend sparkling as he looks across.

“We had an education.” Alec says dryly. “Maybe we didn’t have to write essays on George Orwell, but we read. We still do. Strict regimes include reading. It’s good for the mind. Helps improve memory too.”

“And it’s fun. Just a thought.”

“That too. The girls are coming around in a few moments - Oh, hey.”

Magnus frowns when Alec’s voice calls out, and he twists in his seat to see a tall woman, perhaps in her late twenties, coming towards them. She’s carrying a large stack of books in her arms that reaches her chin, but she rests it on top and smiles at them.

“Hi, Alec.” She says. Although it’s a polite greeting, Magnus sees the tension in her face, and the shadows under her eyes.

“Hey, Tessa. This is Magnus. Magnus Bane. He, uh-“

“I know who you are.” There’s a small smile on Tessa's face now, but it doesn’t quite reach her lovely, brown eyes. “You’ve caused quite the stir, both here, and in Chicago. Nice to meet you.” She lifts a leg, and with impressive steadiness, balances the books on her raised thigh as she sticks out a hand to shake Magnus’. He takes it quickly, and then keeps a hand on the books until she’s steady again.

Tessa places the books down on a table to their right, and then sighs before coming over to them. The dress she’s wearing is simple, dark blue and has a blouse top and a high-waist skirt. It’s neat, but the tight bun holding back her brown hair is hastily put together. Strands are standing up at awkward angles. Also, Magnus notices, her eyes keep darting to the door.

“Tessa’s a bookkeeper here. She’s worked here for a while now. What are you looking for?” Alec asks.

“Oh, just a few books your sister asked me to find."

Alec perks up, leaning forwards. “What it is?”

Tessa shrugs in apology. “She wouldn’t say too much, but they’re old guides on cryptology.”

“Oh. Okay."

Tessa's eyes dart towards the door again.

Alec clears his throat, glancing away. “Sorry." He says. "I shouldn’t complain. I’m one of the lucky ones.”

“Everyone suffers, and we’re allowed to show that." Tessa says, the kindness in her eyes oddly familiar to Magnus. "It doesn’t make you a bad person.” She picks up one of the books, running a finger absently down the spine. It’s clearly a source of comfort for her.

Magnus quirks his head. “That sounds an awful lot like something a friend of mine would say. My dear, do you know a-“

Tessa.”

“Oh!”

Magnus’ eyes flicker towards the archway entrance, and there, standing in dark blue jeans and a gray shirt that almost matches the streak in his hair, is a happily smiling Jem. The satchel bag over his shoulder falls to the floor, and he leaves it there, discarded, with eyes for only one woman in the room.

Tessa is hurtling forwards before he can say another word. They meet halfway, crashing together as Jem wraps his arms around the librarian and lifts her slightly off the floor. His head buries itself in her shoulder, and Magnus can feel his heart pounding with joy as their laughter fills the air with warmth.

Magnus glances for a moment across at Alec, who is already watching him. He mouths, ‘husband’, and Magnus nods. He did work that out on his own, thank you, but still, it’s endearing the way that Alec doesn’t speak it, as if he’s not wanting to interrupt even the sound of their reunion.

When Jem gently lowers Tessa to the ground, he cups her face and kisses her soundly. For Magnus, who has only seen a softer Jem, a kind, compassionate one, this wilder side is strange, but makes sense. He can’t see it working in the therapist’s office.

Although, Magnus slyly thinks, he sure won’t think of Jem as shy anymore.

“Stop watching.” Alec whispers.

Magnus grins across at him. “It’s cute.”

Alec runs a hand across the back of his neck, but his smile grows, and Magnus doesn’t think he’s too offended by Magnus’ indiscreet observation.

“I’ve never seen you drop a book before.” Jem says, laughter in his voice, and light in his eyes. They’re walking together, an arm around each other’s waists, towards the table.

“Only for you.” Tessa says, and the shadows under her eyes are practically dissolving by the second. She then laughs. “I really should pick it up.” She bends, dusts off the poor book and places it back on the pile, before turning to her husband. “I thought I’d never laugh again, James. When they told me you were safe…I still didn’t believe it. Not until now. And seeing you walk through the door…”

Magnus does look away this time. The intimacy in Jem’s eyes, and the smallness in Tessa’s voice, makes him feel guilty for watching. He pays close attention to the stained glass instead, whistling.

“That’s even less subtle.” Alec mumbles.

Magnus smirks. “Well, they’re in a public library, so I’m doing my best. Why? Are you jealous?” Magnus wiggles an eyebrow. “Do you want to make out in the other corner?”

“No.” Alec whispers, horrified. The tips of his ears start to turn pink in disagreement.

“I’m sorry.” Tessa calls out, directing their attention. She ducks her head, a tad sheepishly, and then a brilliant grins removes any trace of embarrassment that either Magnus or Alec feel.

“This is my husband, Jem.”

“We’ve met.” Magnus says, and he stands, holding out a hand. “I’m really happy to see you.” He says. “I didn’t see you during the…after mass. I wasn’t sure who made it.”

“I was fine. They didn’t come down most of the West Wing, so I only heard the commotion after they were finishing." A flash of remorse covers Jem's face. "I…couldn’t help.”

Tessa leans into him. “You did." She says. "You stayed to help with the bodies. That takes courage. Not all fighting is physical, we both know this.”

“Wise as always, my love. Wǒ ài nǐ.”

“I love you, too.” She kisses him again, softer, and Magnus sits back down again, this time with the uncontrollable urge to look at Alec.

Seeing Tessa and Jem is making him think about something close to his heart. Because looking across at Alec, and feeling the familiar ache in his chest start to settle into something deeper, Magnus doesn’t find the idea that they could have this future so crazy after all. Tessa and Jem are both working for The Clave, even if it isn’t field work, yet they have lives together. They have marriage, and love. They have an unshakable bond, that’s clearly been tested a great deal many times, but the joy in their eyes, and the love in their embraces, makes it hard to look away from Alec. He can’t quite tear his gaze away.

Alec makes it worse – or better – when he holds that gaze confidentially. Magnus feels the game settle in the air; the challenge sparking heat inside Magnus’ gut. He lets his eyes wander, flicking to the agent’s lips – full, slightly damp, brilliantly red – and then his stubble. Magnus can almost feel the burn of it against his cheek. Against his neck, his torso, his thighs.

But Magnus is sure about one very important thing. In the midst of all of this, Magnus is staring at Alec like he’s a lifeline. And Alec is staring back just as hungrily.

“We’re going to…catch up.” Tessa says, cutting through the moment with a giggle. She’s looking between them, and when she glances up at Jem, he nods, as if in confirmation, and Tessa bites her lip. It’s a useless attempt to suppress her smile. “It was nice to meet you. Oh, and I’ll get these to Isabelle right away.” She gathers up the books, and Jem takes half of them without asking.

“Remember what I said,” Magnus calls out. “Therapist in the streets….” He trails off, sneaking in a cheeky wink.

Jem is too happy to do anything other than shake his head and smile, and the pair walk off together, shoulders leaning into the other’s.

Watching them walk away means he misses an opportunity to study Alec’s face, but Magnus doesn’t overthink it. Besides, what does it matter? He’ll have plenty more glances to steal in the future.

Will you?

He’s glad it’s not an anguished thought anymore, just a simple one. Because it can be solved by exchanging a few words with the man sitting opposite him. Talking, Magnus decides, isn’t as bad as everyone likes to build it up to be. 

“The girls are coming in.” Alec says. There’s an unreadable emotion in his voice that Magnus still can’t work out when he looks across. Alec’s eyes are slightly narrowed, and he’s leaning forwards and parting his lips, absently.

“We don’t need to ask them much, do we?” Magnus asks uncertainly. “They went through hell already, I…”

“I just want to know if they saw anything that could be helpful. It won’t be an interrogation, I promise.”

“I know. I trust you.” Magnus says.

Alec stares at him for a long moment, and then blinks. His long lashes are all Magnus can focus on, and then Alec lets out an awkward, half-laugh and sits back in the chair. “Do you think I’ll ever get tired of hearing you say that?”

“You tell me.” Magnus says. Perhaps he purrs it a little, lowers his voice and leans forwards.

“Stop that.” Alec says. His voice is definitely huskier than it was before. Magnus counts it as a victory before leaning back again.

It’s a few minutes later that Julia and Zoe enter, and they sit down at the table. They still look out of place in their recruit gear, but they’ve been washed and fed and now have a little more colour in their cheeks as they take a seat.

As they speak, Magnus listens, but he doesn’t interrupt. Alec’s questions are to the point, but carefully asked. He doesn’t shy away, but he’s sure to make this go as quickly as possible. The two girls sense this, and look appreciative as they answer.

Soon, it’s over. Just like they thought, Julia and Zoe remember little detail, only focusing on protecting their friends and fighting for their lives. It’s a fair argument, and Magnus gets ready to punch anyone who scoffs at them. He can imagine The Clave interrogating them even more, pushing for details, disregarding their emotional trauma.

As they spend the rest of the afternoon interviewing some of the other Chicago agents – the ones with easily fixed bones, and not issued with long-term hospital stays – Magnus finds the time passing quickly. Alec takes notes, and Magnus tends to offer a new direction, or suggestion, if he thinks it might help.

After each person signs off their statement, Alec always turns his head and looks at Magnus. Magnus will then nod, or add a final question, and it’s that small moment that always sticks in Magnus’ mind. The casual notion that Alec wants his advice, and is listening.

Memories of approaching Cassandra for a position as a recruit trainer flashes across his mind, and again, Maryse telling him that her last report was encouraging this. As greatly as he wants to wash his hands completely from the snobbish agency, Magnus knows it’s not that simple. There are good people here. There are ways to help others, and protect the public.

He’s caught between wanting to run, to find a place far from the violence, but then wouldn’t he be bored? This life, this grand, epic adventure of partying, helping others, and basking in the full spectrum of emotions, is what makes Magnus, Magnus. Would it be wrong to leave it all behind?

What if you don’t leave it behind? Instead, find your own place inside it. Not The Clave. And not on your own. Something else. Something new.

These are the thoughts that are still occupying his mind when Alec taps him on the back of the hand.

Magnus turns, still half in a daydream. “Yes, dear?”

“You, uh, here?”

Magnus smiles, but there’s a tiredness to it. “For you, Alexander, always.”

Alec must see his weariness because although his cheeks are warm from his words, he frowns, his eyes widening just a fraction. “We should get dinner.”

“How forward.” 

Alec just taps at his watch. “It’s eight pm, so.”

Magnus does feel surprised then. “It’s really that late already?” He asks. 

Pushing away his chair to stand, Alec stretches, and Magnus gets a lovely eyeful of his stomach. 

“We’ve gone through all the list, yeah.”

“Wonderful. What are our dinner options?”

“Canteen, or canteen.”

Magnus taps his lip, thinking. "Hm. I’ll go for canteen, if that’s fine with you.”

Alec grins. “Sure.” He says. He looks away for a moment. “Sorry we can’t go out for a meal or something….more your speed. Lockdown means no takeout either. Not for another twelve hours.” Alec looks glum then.

Magnus doesn't bother to hide his amused grin. “Izzy tells me you have a five star chef. Are you really complaining about no takeout? I mean, I understand. Nothing beats takeout kebabs. Or Chinese. Or...bugger, you're right. I want takeout now." 

They exchange easy conversation as they find a place in the canteen to eat. It’s busier this time, and the conversation topics are all on the attack, the interviews, and the fears that there are more moles hidden in The Clave.

They eat dinner quietly, on a table with Jace, Raj, and some other agents who introduce themselves, but don’t make any further effort to include him.

Jace asks if anyone has seen Isabelle today, and this time, Magnus frowns alongside Alec. It is strange that he hasn’t seen the other Lightwood, especially on a day like today. It’s likely that she’s taking some of the focus away from Alec. It certainly wouldn’t surprise Magnus at all. Still, he’s starting to worry too, his gut twitching at the thought of something happening to his friend, and Alec’s sister.

The table gets very quiet then, and Jace’s smile fades completely when Alec asks, “Has mom eased up yet?”

“No.” Jace doesn’t hold anything back, but he does offer Alec a sympathetic look. “Even the reports you handed in just seemed to make her even worse. The Clave is losing their nerve, so Maryse is too. No one knows what to do. They’re not telling us anything.”

Raj pipes up, “It’s The Clave. I’m sure they’ll put together an army of superheroes soon.”

Jace smirks. “That’s the plotline for The Avengers." He turns to Alec for support. “Right?”

Alec lets out a scoff, but he shakes his head fondly. The tension underlining the group is still there, and before he can stop himself, Magnus speaks up.

“The Clave cares more about their image. About keeping everyone under control. They don’t want you to use your brains, to think of a way to win. They just want loyalty. All they’re focusing on is that someone slipped past their defences. They should be encouraging you to think, to use your strengths-“

He doesn’t get to finish that sentence – which is good, because it’s starting to get sulky and bitter – as the confident clicking of heels across the marble floor makes them all look up. Unlike Maryse’s, these clicks are like music to his ears. Isabelle, dressed in a smart blue pencil skirt dress with her hair tied back in a high ponytail, is storming towards them.

Her lips are pressed firmly together as she marches over, reaching the table and leaning down. “There’s a security breach.” She whispers, so that her voice only reaches the trio at her end. “In the floors above us. Be my backup?”

“W-what?” Alec stands so quickly that his chair falls over. He’s likely already thinking where the nearest weapon stack is when Izzy places a hand on his arm. She shakes her head, and he relaxes. 

Magnus is up as well, reaching for a gun that isn’t there anymore. He sucks in a breath. It doesn’t matter, he tells himself. A gun is nothing in the face of it all. Still, it's odd to not have it there. 

Isabelle quickly shakes her head. “Just trust me. No weapons needed, just…come with me. Please.” She lowers her voice, and the look in her eyes is unreadable, concealing something. “I can’t explain anything else.” No one else in the canteen is watching, but still, Izzy hesitates, biting her lip.

After a quick glance around the table, the three of them – Alec, Magnus and Jace - walk out of the canteen behind Isabelle as she leads them through the main clusters and towards the elevators. Obviously - because life isn’t ever easy, Magnus thinks dryly -they pass Maryse, who quickly crosses the room.

“Where are you-?”

“Security breach on the floor above. You asked us to monitor usual activity, yes?” Isabelle announces brightly. He can’t see her expression, but Magnus hears the false smile in her voice. “Office number thirty four. We’re on it.” Her tone is a mirroring of Maryse's, right down to the crisp finality.

Not giving her mother any time to hesitate, Izzy walks past her, and the others follow, keeping up with whatever game Isabelle is trying to keep them in the loop of. Magnus can’t help himself and throws a quick glance over his shoulder. As they walk away, Maryse isn’t even bothering to watch them leave.

The elevator ride is tense, and silent, and Magnus is wondering what the hell is going on when the doors open onto a main office reception area. They follow Izzy, and she quickly looks around before gesturing to the door. It looks like an ordinary meeting room, and Magnus is still frowning as he steps into the mundane room with the others, who all look equally as lost as he feels.

Alec grits his teeth as they step inside, tapping Izzy on the shoulder. “Iz, what the hell is going on? Just tell us-“

He breaks off. Everyone else hesitates, now inside the room. They all turn to the far side of the room, at where a tall man stands behind Clary. The red-haired girl looks up, a small smile on her face, and nods to Isabelle.

Isabelle closes the door with finality. She turns to them, folds her arms across her chest. A smile suddenly turn her expression into the confident, clever Isabelle that Magnus knows and adores.

“Sorry for all the secrecy, but you’re going to want to hear this.”

Alec stays quiet, frowning, but moves further into the room. He waits until the man is only a few feet away and then asks, “Who are you?”

The man smiles, and although he’s only dressed in a simple blue shirt and dark jeans, the gun holster over his torso, and the way he holds himself, tells Magnus that they’re not the only ones with authority in the room.

The man looks down at Clary and grins. “Do you want me to start us off?” It’s clear from the way they lean towards each other that Clary is not only familiar with the officer, but cares for him.

The man steps forwards, and holds out his hand. Only after he drops the last offered hand, Jace’s, does the man smile again. “Agents, I’m Luke Garroway.” He says, and his voice is low, but gentle. Magnus finds himself instantly liking him.

Luke’s eyes shine with hope when he asks, “The question is, how do you feel about taking down the Morgensterns?”

He hears a small gasp escape from Alec’s lips, and even Jace’s eyes are widening when Magnus turns to see their reactions. He conceals his own carefully, but still, he can feel his heart starting to race.

This is clearly where Izzy’s been; and what she’s been up to. She has a plan, and they’ve been included in it. If they want to.

Magnus looks across at Alec, whose expression is flicking between hope, and confusion. As soon as he meets his eyes, they soften, and crinkle at the corners. He nods.

It’s clear where they stand. Together.

Magnus lets himself nod. “We’re listening.”

Chapter Text

13 hours earlier…

~

Sneaking around is always Izzy’s forte. As is a craving for independence.

Combine the two together and Izzy is sure that it’s a recipe for trouble of the best kind.

Still, it doesn’t stop her from locking herself in a lab for hours, or from missing a very important meeting. It certainly doesn’t stop Isabelle from kindly harassing – and she uses her best doe eyes to her advantage – poor Tessa into locating a book or two for her. 

But after seeing Alec’s face, as he stumbles into the Institute with Magnus earlier that morning, his sunken expression torn between fear, and guilt, Isabelle knows that there’s only one thing left to do. Only one person she can count on.

Isabelle’s motivation comes in spikes of high adrenaline and focused rage. She takes all the hidden emotion, all the anger, and the frustration, and channels it into a break-less, intense code-cracking session. She takes the determination too, forcing deep breathes in and out of her nose and mouth until the logic seeps into her actions.

It’s only then, with a careful balance of passion and intelligence, does Isabelle get another piece of the puzzle. 

There’s a meeting in full swing as she makes her way down the corridor. There’s no other explanation for the absence of agents patrolling the halls, or an angry Maryse demanding her presence.

She holds up a forged approved signature – it’s not Izzy’s fault that her mother has incredibly logical, rigid handwriting – and the guard, Raj, steps to unlock the door.

“Knock once to be let out, and twice for assistance," he tells her, smiling. "Do you need anything?” His tone is polite and casual, and Isabelle almost feels guilty. Almost. 

“No. I just need to ask him a few more questions. I doubt he’ll answer, but thanks, Raj, I’ll knock if I need you.” Isabelle smiles, keeping it small, but genuine. A small stab of guilt prickles at her ribcage then. Is this what it’s come to? Lying to friends and forging her mother’s signature?

It’s not your fault that The Clave refuse to listen to you. She tells herself. It’s best to get justice first, and deal with the repercussions of untoward methods afterwards.

It’s with that thought that Isabelle steps into the room and greets the recruit with a carefully blank look. Ex-recruit? Mole? There are lots of things to call the young boy sitting handcuffed to the table, but right now, Izzy knows she has to tread gently, if she wants information from Sean that is. Which she does.

“Sean," she greets, pulling back the chair. “Thought you might be thirsty.” Taking a seat, she extends the cup, and when the boy frowns, Izzy takes a slow sip before placing it down again.

“Nothing deadly in there. It’s lukewarm, though," she warns.

Sean takes a small sip, and then changes his mind and gulps down the rest. The blood is wiped from his forehead, and he’s in a clean white top and canvas pants, but there are bruises forming on his arms and a particularly large one curves over his eyebrow. Someone got in a good left hook there, and Izzy’s sure she can match it to the bruised knuckles on Julia’s left hand.

“Have they made their minds up?” Sean asks. He sounds less croaky now, but his gaze is frighteningly unsure. He’s barely sixteen, which is a sickening reminder for Isabelle, who just wants to force information out of him as quickly as possible. But she can’t.

There’s a certainty that this could be her only chance to find a lead, and so Izzy shrugs.

“Depends. Do you have any juicy information for us? Or do you only betray the kids you trained and lived beside for weeks?”

Sean flinches back visibly, and Isabelle bites her lip, hard. Low blow, she warns herself, forcing the swelling anger back down. Just because he betrayed the Chicago Institute’s location to the Morgensterns doesn’t give her the right to make jibes. Not yet, at least.

“I...didn’t think they’d…”

Sean presses his lips firmly together. His voice is so quiet that she almost misses it. 

She won’t feel sorry for the boy. Not a chance.

Still, there is a hint of empathy in her chest as Isabelle asks, “Why you?”

She thinks that Sean won’t answer, and her gut instinct proves her right. She waits for another long moment and then sighs.

“Do you know how long you’ve been here?”

Sean looks almost grateful for the subject change. “It’s probably around 1300, right?” he guesses. 

“Close," she admits, finding it odd that Sean uses military time. Sticking with this angle, Isabelle says, “Good. So you’re smart. At least Valentine has good taste. The question is, why didn’t you go back with them when they attacked? Why'd they leave you behind?”

“I…”

He trails off, glancing aside.

“They used you, Sean," Izzy continues, ignoring the boy’s narrowing eyes. “Surely you know this. They left you for dead.” The answer is pretty obvious to her, but Isabelle has a feeling that the kid is still stuck in believing otherwise. 

Therefore it doesn't surprise her when Sean lashes out. 

“My parents will come for me," he snaps. His eyes widen, realising the trap he’s fallen into.

Isabelle leans forwards, her elbows meeting the cool table. “Ah, so they’re involved too.”

There’s little time for glee, so she carries on quickly.

“Do they work for the Morgensterns? Was this a way for you to prove yourself? To get into our ranks and find out our location? You were a late applicant, which means Valentine sent you after Magnus escaped. It was a revenge attack. We hurt his pride, he…hurts our family.”

She says this part swiftly, swallowing down the pain. Thinking about the attack isn't going to help anyone right now.

She muses the rest out loud. “One thing I can’t work out is why your parents were recruited. Or involved. What grudge do they have against The Clave? Are they part of the drug cartel? Criminals? Identity thieves? Did Valentine doubt their loyalty and send you to do the dirty work-“

Sean lunges forwards and hisses, “My parents would never work for The Clave again.”

“Again," she repeats. Isabelle runs her tongue over her teeth, thinking. “Okay. They’re ex-agents. Interesting.”

She resists muttering a thank you. It makes sense then, that Sean would’ve been given a task to prove that the family were truly against The Clave, and not double bluffing their switched sides. Sean was a mole to prove his own loyalty. In a weird, twisted way, Izzy can’t help but see the comparisons to their own family.

Also, agents were only kicked out if they disobeyed orders frequently, committed crimes or acts of violence against the public, or threatened the peace that The Clave fought for. Surely Sean’s parents sought revenge for the wrong reasons…

It doesn’t matter, Izzy quickly tells herself. Get back on track.

She needs to work out if the date is also a code. She has to. The thought of it all coming up empty, of chasing a dead end, leaves her breathless with fear. Izzy’s gut tells her otherwise. It has to be important. Dates can change usually, so the fact that there is a date at all means that it’s important.

Keeping her voice as soft as possible, Izzy says, “Sean, we can offer you immunity. You know that, right?” The temptation to scowl is almost overwhelming, but she keeps her expression cool. 

“I’m a dead guy. They know I’ve been in Clave custody. You’re better off just putting a bullet into my head now.”

“Sean…” Isabelle pauses. What would she say to her younger self? She can’t be truly empathetic or manipulative. Techniques won’t work on a boy who’s given up hope.

Instead, she simply asks, “Were your parents in the military before they worked for The Clave?”

“Yeah, how…?” The shock on Sean’s face once again reminds Izzy that he’s not an agent. He’s trained, sure, but he’s not an expert in masking his reactions. A strand of dark hair falls across his eyes, and he doesn't bother to push it back. 

Isabelle refuses to feel guilty for this. “Military time," she explains. It was a bit of a stab in the dark, but it makes sense.

A hint of a smile appears on the boy’s face. He surrenders then, or at least, pretends to, and stares down at the handcuffs.

“They wanted to quit because of me.” His voice is quieter than before. “They didn’t want to raise me as an agent, so they wanted to leave. Have a life outside of this. Look how well that turned out.”

Sean laughs without humour. “But The Clave didn’t like them walking. So they kicked them out without protection. My parents had no choice but to side with Valentine after that. No one else matches The Clave’s influence. I was born into the Morgenstern’s world instead.” Sean looks up, and the anger is back in his voice. It has the same sharpness as her mom's, Izzy thinks, suddenly uncomfortably by this.

“My parents exchanged violence for more violence, and then more," Sean says.

Isabelle lets herself sympathise then, only a little, but enough to look remorseful. “I’m sorry.”

“Are you?” Sean challenges with a glare. He looks more and more like a kid by the second, and yet, it still doesn’t erase the blood on his hands.

“I am,” Isabelle says. “I can feel sorry for you and dislike you. I can sympathise, and disapprove of your choices.” She offers him a steely look. “There’s a lot of moral grayness in the world, Sean.”

“No. There’s good and bad. In-between gets you killed.”

He glances away, and Isabelle wonders if she’s pushed too far again.

Deciding to keep going, she pushes a piece of paper across the table. “Does this mean anything to you?”

“It’s a date,” Sean scoffs, and then narrows his eyes. He touches the corner of the sheet gingerly. “Is this a trick?”

“Any idea what’s happening on this date? Anything your parents, or Valentine, talked about? Anything at all?” Isabelle puts on her business front, sitting up straight and holding the boy’s gaze. “You help us, we help you.”

“You can’t help me.”

“Alright. Would you rather die at the hands of Valentine, or live in prison?” she demands bluntly. The time for niceties is well over.

Sean is just a boy, and the need to survive wins out, because after a very long minute, he leans forwards and deliberately places his fingers over the dashes that divide the day, month and year. With his placement, they become an eight number sequence. He leans back, pressing his lips together.

“It’s...not a date?”

Sean raises an eyebrow.

“It is a date?"

Sean looks down, briefly, but the glance is enough of a tell.

Isabelle grins triumphantly. “It’s a date, and something else.”

It’s an eight number sequence, and it’s something. She pushes on.

“I’m not going to promise you anything. I can’t," Isabelle admits. She sighs. “You’ll have the guilt on your shoulders the rest of your life. Four died. And their innocence died. You realise that." She thinks of the injured recruits, and the ones who survived, but will live with the memory, always.

"You didn’t just kill four recruits, you killed the others," Isabelle says. "A part of them, at least. No one can change that.”

Sean looks down. It’s not regret on his face, but she’s certainly given him something to think about. It’s not Izzy’s place to forgive, but the pang of hope inside her chest threatens to make the tears fall from her eyes. Perhaps her mother is right. Could it be that passion is weakness? Does empathy make you a weaker person, and agent?

Izzy reminds herself then that she has another lead, a new detail. Her way worked just fine.

Keep going, She urges herself on. She can do this. On her own.

She manages to duck into the fray of the now crowded room and keep her head down, careful to make herself as small as possible. There’s a brief moment of hesitation when she sees Jace directing another agent into a smaller room. She bites her lip, tucks away the urge to catch his gaze, and hurries away.

If her mother finds her, it’ll be too late. She’ll be assigned a task, or an order, and this lead will disappear like smoke. A tall figure catches her eye momentarily, and again, Izzy almost stops. Her brother is exchanging words with their mother, and it doesn’t look pretty. Magnus is standing beside Alec, and although their backs are both turned to her, Izzy is sure they’re providing a unified front as always.

She almost smiles. Knowing that someone is beside Alec, supporting him, fills her with oddly conflicted emotion. Magnus is kind and wonderful but Izzy finds a twisted ache in her chest protesting otherwise. It takes her until reaching the lab door until she can work out why there are tears in her eyes.

I wanted you to have love, big brother, Izzy thinks, but does it mean that you don’t need me anymore?

The lab’s silence greets her solemn mood with appropriate gloom. Isabelle closes the door quietly, observing the empty room for a lingering moment. The clicking of her heels against the floor doesn’t feel as satisfying as it usual does.

Izzy pushes aside the books, and the code printouts, and the highlighted papers, and clears a blank space on the worktable. She types in the eight number sequence onto the screen above, and with a flick of her wrist, transports it digitally onto the desk: projecting and enlarging it before her eyes.

Think. Think. Think think think-

Isabelle starts up the nearest computer again and gets to work. An eight number sequence could stand for various things, but chemical formulas seems like a good place to start. Any evidence that the sequence could make up a dangerous drug becomes Izzy’s sole focus.

After twenty minutes of coming up empty, she sighs again.  

What else has eight letters?

She tries using a few codes to switch the letters into numbers. The closest thing she gets to in decoding a meaningful word is ‘unpuzzle’, which, under any other circumstances, Izzy would find amusingly ironic.

This doesn’t make sense.

Tears of frustration build behind her eyelids. She grips the edge of the table and closes her eyes, blocking out the chaotic mess of papers and ideas scattered about. The blank, deep blackness behind Isabelle's eyes calms her, even if it’s just a moment of peace.

The thought that all of this is a waste of time washes over her with fear. Sometimes, perhaps, a hunch is just that. A gut feeling is a lie. A lead is just a dead end.

Sean was lying. I let him lead me down a stupid, hopeless, motherfu-

Isabelle’s grip around the pen in her hand tightens. With an angry cry, she stabs it into the table, the pressure jarring her wrist painfully.

As she hunches over, breathing heavily, and seconds from letting the tears fall, Isabelle suddenly thinks of Simon. His handsome face pops into her thoughts, smiling and reminding her of the warmth in her world. She thinks of Alec, and Jace, her brothers and anchors. Clary. Lydia. Raj. Max. Her parents. Everyone who believes in her, and loves her, turns the frustration back into determination, back into strength and courage and a desire to win.

This can’t all be for nothing. I can’t let them down. I can’t let myself down.

She twists the pen around, the small dent drawing her attention suddenly. It turns out pens make pretty decent weapons…

Isabelle frowns.

Weapon.

She straightens her shoulders; loosens her grip on the pen, but continues to hold it.

As she stares down at it, her thoughts begin to change direction.

An idea, a spark of an idea, chases the others away.

Why would Valentine recruit ex-military agents? Why recruit anyone with that area of expertise if you were ruling over the streets with drugs?

The seconds tick by.

Thoughts become bigger ones, and Isabelle shifts them into piecing together a very big puzzle. Smaller pieces become bigger ones.

Isabelle slowly, and carefully, sifts through the papers of codes until she finds the one her mind prompted her to think of. She studies it, chewing on her lip, and then taps on the screen to re-arrange the sequence of numbers. She follows the steps to the code, an archaic military code used in WWI, and after following a series of calculations – ones that make her grateful for the Clave’s intense schooling regime – she’s left staring at another sequence. This time, it’s four digits.

She runs her hand along it, and a grin breaks out. 4533.

Or: 45-33.

Not just an ordinary number, but a confirmation. Every nagging protest, and every worried whisper inside Izzy’s mind gets wiped away. Here, staring down at the new number, makes it all worthwhile.

You did it.

They were looking in the wrong direction, but Isabelle is sure she’s on the right track this time. It feels right. The military recruitment. The code. The lack of drug-related incidents recently.

Valentine Morgenstern is getting his hands dirty elsewhere.

And like fools, The Clave fell blindly into the trap of familiar patterns, of assuming that the Morgensterns would be as unchanging and traditional as The Clave.

Isabelle sends Clary a brief message: Training room, 5 minutes. Sparring session? Please.

Hopefully Clary would pick up on the urgency, or at least, her curiosity would lead her towards the gym.

Isabelle quickly sweeps the books into a pile, and stacks up the papers into a neat corner before sliding them into the farthest desk drawer. She erases the digit, and then erases the user history for the past hour.

Let The Clave accuse me of being a traitor, she dares. I’ll show them just how hot-headed Lightwoods can be.

~

“Isabelle, what the hell? You want to train, now? Where have you been? Your mom is furious that you missed the meeting earlier, and you still haven’t signed in for your interview.”

“Good afternoon to you too, Clary.” Isabelle grins. She throws a bo staff towards her friend. “You still fight with that one, right?”

The gym is completely empty, which is a good thing, as Clary's protests fill in the space around them with ease. The red-haired girl narrows her eyes, but there's also a hint of a smirk that suggest she's already listening. 

“Alright. I’ll play.”

Clary settles reluctantly into a fighting stance and lunges, but her attacks are half focused as she questions her friend.

“Seriously, Iz, you’re going to be in trouble if you don’t show up. No one’s seen you since yesterday, and Alec is beside himself, and Jace-"  Clary grunts, the muscles on her forearm straining- "is burying himself in these damn interviews to compensate for your disappearance.”

Isabelle doesn't miss the frustration. She lets her friend take a few more steps, and then pushes back. Her chest heaves, the exercise warming her blood. 

“I’m sorry,” Isabelle says, and means it this time. She knows it was the right thing to do, but still, the thought of her brother and friends taking some of the heat makes her feel sad.

“And…” Clary looks around, leans in and whispers urgently, “I know you went to see Sean. Without asking. Isabelle..."

When she doesn't argue, Isabelle watches as her friend stops fighting completely, dropping her hands to her sides.

Clary’s eyes widen. “You did. You really did. That was you? There was a short cut out in the cameras, and I recognised your hacking pattern. Don’t give me that look. You’re not the only smart one around here.”

Clary lunges out and sweeps the staff against Izzy's ankles. She lands on her back with a firm thud. 

“Ow,” Isabelle hisses, her shoulder jarring almost hard enough to bruise. But still, she gets it. Her friend is hurt at being left out.

When Clary sighs, and extends a hand in offering, Isabelle takes it with a smile.

When she's up and standing again, Izzy leans on her staff and asks, "So, do you think you can contact Luke for me? I need to speak with him.”

"Uh, why?" The look Clary gives her is surprise mixing with confusion, and then a smirk. “Need a get out of jail free card?” she asks, and then snorts at her own joke.

A moment later, and her expression shifts again. Noticing the shift in Isabelle's mood, Clary drops the snark almost instantly.

"Uh,…yeah. Yeah, I can, but why? Why do you want to bring a cop into the Institute? Especially right now. You know The Clave look down on the police.”

“Well, I don’t. It’s important. I think…I have something." Izzy meets her friend's curious gaze. "On Valentine.”

Clary’s eyes widen, and she quickly lowers the staff onto the floor. “Why didn’t you say?" she whispers, urgently. "Do you need resources from the police databases or…?”

“No. I need Luke to confirm something for me. But…We’re going to need his support in this. And his resources later on.”

A pause leaves her waiting, but she tries to be patient as Clary takes it all in. Eventually, Clary places the staff back in its rightful place on the wall and then grins.

"You’re cooking up one hell of a storm, aren’t you?” Clary says. The pride in her voice makes Isabelle smile. 

“I hope so.”

They take a seat on one of the benches, and wait together while Clary texts her step-father. Or, father. Isabelle knows they're family in every way but blood, but she still forgets sometimes that Clary's birth father died in the field. She knows from many stories that Luke is an amazing dad to her friend, and Isabelle is almost excited to finally get to work with him. 

A few minutes later, a message pops up again. Clary taps out a reply, and then looks up.

“We still have elevator access to the offices upstairs, right?" she asks. "Luke thinks it’ll be best to meet there. The Clave released the lockdown, but only for the agents who are out looking for leads.”

“They won’t find any,” Isabelle says, straightforward. She shrugs at Clary's look of bewilderment. “Do you think we can get upstairs without getting stopped for questions?”

“Well, Maryse is looking for you, so…”

Isabelle does let out a groan then, and starts to head over to the wall to replace the staff. “I can’t stop. Not now." Izzy turns back around. "I’m so close, Clary. This is something.”

“I know," Clary interrupts. She holds up a hand to cut off Izzy's protest. "I don’t know what you’re working on, but I’ve got your back."

Clary takes out her phone again. "Let me text Jace. He can give me the all clear when Maryse leaves the main computer station. We can get out then. But afterwards…” She quirks an eyebrow. "Then it's over to you."

Tension is still knotting in her stomach, but Izzy fights it down. She nods. "Okay. By then, we’ll have a solid plan. I can give The Clave something concrete. They can’t stop me.”

She's only half paying attention to her words, rambling, trying to keep it all together for a short while longer. This has to be a victory. It has to. Otherwise her family's pain is all for nothing, the recruits suffered for nothing, the world is suffering for nothing-

“Careful, Iz," Clary is suddenly saying, and she places a gentle hand on Izzy's forearm. Her smile is also comforting. "You’re smart, but don’t be an idiot. You need to know when to let others help you.”

“I have to be sure this is a serious lead. That’s what The Clave want, and I’m going to give it to them."

Isabelle smirks at the bewildered girl. "We are going to give it to them.”

~

Present

The first thing Alec does is frown, which doesn't surprise anyone.

“You work for the NYPD, right?" he asks. "You're Clary's, uh, dad?"

Luke smiles. It's a good-natured, friendly smile, and Alec warms to it, just slightly.

“Sorry my title isn’t as fancy as secret agent," the man teases. Beside him, Clary rolls her eyes, her grin affectionate. 

“No, I uh, only meant…” Alec shakes his head. The tension around the room seems to break a little, so he refocuses the attention. “We’re listening.” He repeats Magnus’ words, grateful that his mind remembers to act like a civil human being.

Isabelle is standing to Luke’s left, and Clary to his right, and the quick glances they exchange makes Alec feel a little on edge. It’s clear that this is where Izzy has been, and it explains why no one has seen her around. He’s about to hear why, and the anticipation settles in, fast. 

“How much do you know about nuclear weapons?”

Of all the directions Alec thinks this conversation might lead, Luke’s first words startle him entirely.

He tries to approach it pragmatically. “A bit. I’ve never been involved in a mission with them, if that’s what you’re asking," Alec says.

Good. Calm. Not at all panicking.

"I’m not an expert.”

At that, Luke nods. He turns to Magnus and asks, "And you?" 

To Alec's left, Magnus shakes his head, the new, pink tips catching the light through the window. “Radiation would mess up my skin, so no, I like to stay away from pesky nuclear weapons.”

Isabelle lets out a quiet laugh, but it's a much needed sound, and the room relaxes considerably. 

“Bombs are carefully encased," his sister says, half smiling. "So are warheads. It stops harmful amounts of radiation getting out.” Isabelle's expression turns solemn again. “Your skin will be fine, I promise.”

Although he's sure Magnus was merely jesting - and knows fore well about radiation effects - Alec narrows his eyes at his sister. 

“Why would be going near nuclear weapons, Iz?” he asks, keeping his tone neutral. For now. The tension in his jaw becomes painful, but it doesn't stop him from clenching it harder. 

Panicking now. 

“Because Valentine Morgenstern is selling a stolen warhead to a buyer in two weeks’ time.”

The response to such a claim is, apparently, silence. Alec feels his jaw unclench, and fall, as he gapes at his sister, and then Luke, searching for any hint of teasing. Clary nods in confirmation, and then Jace repeats the gesture. Even the small, supportive smile on his best friend's face isn't enough to calm Alec's nerves down. 

Magnus speaks first. He whistles a single note, slowly, and his face is a mask of careful indifference as he says, “That definitely wasn’t on the local news. How do you know this?” 

“Do you have detectives undercover?” Alec asks in follow-up. He tries not to pile up the questions, but really, it's impossible not to. “And how do you know things that The Clave doesn’t?” He tries to hide some of his suspicion, but Alec can feel it creeping in; the hostility, the prestige. 

Isabelle doesn't look alarmed. In fact, there's a happy smile on her face. A proud one.

“We worked it out. Together," she says.

“Without me?” Alec asks, clicking his tongue against the back of his teeth. He sounds like a child, like a little kid who's annoyed that his best friend ran off with a new playmate. The desire to shelter Izzy, to keep her safe, is blowing up in his face, and Alec tries to sooth his urge to stubbornly retort.

Isabelle doesn't back down, but she does come around to their side of the table, looking at him carefully. Her dark hair is loose again, and the smile on her face is soft, so soft that Alec can't be frustrated for much longer.

“I didn’t want to involve you in my…unauthorised activities,” Izzy mumbles. 

Magnus clears his throat. “Isabelle, my dear, what have you done exactly?”

“I had to get a lead, a real one, before I went to The Clave," she reveals. "I needed to do it without them asking questions before I had any answers." For a moment, she hesitates. "I…went to see Sean.”

Alec's nerves shoot through the roof. “Without mom, or The Clave’s permission?" he demands, raising his voice. "Iz…”

“I know, Alec. I know." Isabelle holds up a hand to stop him. "It was risky. Now do you see why I wanted to do this alone?" There's that stubbornness to her voice now, a one that matches Alec's, and he'd be amused if he wasn't so frightened. Still, he takes a deep breath and lets Isabelle speak.

"If something happened to me, if I got caught, that’s fine. I would be ready to take the punishment," Isabelle says. The corners of her lips twitch again. "But…the world can only handle one rebellious Lightwood at a time, yes?”

She’s protecting you, you idiot, Alec scolds himself.

He’s sometimes so lost in being a protective big brother that he forgets he has a little sister who would return the favour just as quickly. There's little time to be mad, because, and he realises this all of a sudden, there's still an unheard plan to be shared. Now isn't the time for sibling rivalry over who can protect the other the most. 

Alec nods, reluctantly agreeing to let it go. For now. “Okay. What did Sean tell you?”

“Not much. But enough. We were right," Isabelle says. She looks over at Luke, and he nods, clearing his throat to speak.

"The date wasn’t just a date," the officer confirms. "It was a way for the Morgensterns to communicate to the buyer, that the weapon was ready to be sold. Think of it like establishing a meeting, and following through with the details. It's also a power display: establishing control with the second party. Valentine sets a date, and confirms the correct sale at the same time."

Isabelle nods, and begins to unfold a scrap of paper. It's clearly been opened and re-opened a lot because it's ripped at the corners.

Isabelle glares at it with a personal vendetta. "It took a while, but I used the right code, rearranged the date - as a sequence of eight numbers - and was left with this.” She points to a four digit combination, that doesn't ring any bells to anyone else.

She stabs it angrily. “This little bastard almost made me go insane. But eventually I had an idea. A change of direction," Isabelle explains it carefully, making sure they're all listening before carrying on. "It wasn’t a drug related incident. The date, I mean. That's where we were going wrong. The date isn’t the release of a new drug, or an attack. It’s an exchange, like Luke explained. A buyer meeting with the Morgensterns to buy the stolen weapon.”

"And the four numbers told you this...how?” Alec asks.

Luke takes over again, placing his hands on the back of the chair. “The numbers make up the sequence to the bomb's tracking code. 44-36. Military bases use this system. Of course, Valentine would have erased the trackers, and removed the tracking code."

Alec is about to let out an exasperated sigh - because of course, one step forwards, two steps back - when Isabelle holds up a finger.

"But, and here’s the important thing," Izzy says. "I was able to bring Luke in, and he made it possible to confirm that this bomb was stolen from a military base. Sean’s parents were ex-military. Valentine used them to get the bomb.”

“And the mole himself?”

“A loose end," Clary says, her expression grim. "He was likely sent here to prove his worth to Valentine, but they only wanted him for the attack. They left him here, assuming that The Clave would kill him, or throw him in confinement for the rest of his life."

Isabelle nods. "That's right. He’s expendable. The attack, even the drug that they used that night, it was all to point us in that direction," she explains, her voice rising in anger. "To make The Clave afraid, to look into that way.”

“Right…” Alec clears his throat.

Jace speaks up then. “And your plan…our plan, is to what exactly? Get back the weapon?”

Isabelle nods. “Yes.”

“And take down Valentine Morgenstern and his team of creepy druggies?”

“Yes.”

“Simple.”

Isabelle narrows her eyes at him. “No one’s saying it’ll be easy, Jace. But this requires a lot of numbers, yes." She sighs, and stares down at the desk again. "When Valentine sells the weapon, he’ll have a lot of men guarding him, and the weapon, but…the buyer will too. It’ll be a three-sided showdown.”

Magnus taps a finger against the desk, the silver polish gleaming pleasantly. “And we don’t know who the buyer is?”

“Nada,” Izzy confirms with a sigh. It's surprisingly deflated, especially for an agent who's possible put together a very difficult puzzle. 

Before Alec can offer a word of praise, Clary leans her head against her friend's shoulder.

“Iz, you did amazing," Clary promises. "This-" she points to the sequence, and then around the room- "is amazing.”

Alec feels the similar words stick to his throat. Pride unknots the anger in his gut, but the worry is still there. It always will be with his siblings and family.

“She’s right,” Luke says, kindly. The officer pats her shoulder, and says, “If you hadn’t worked this out, we’d all be stuck in dead ends. Back at the precinct, we've been trying to find evidence for a while now, but nothing's come up. We need all of our resources, and that's what Valentine won't see coming. The Clave are at a dead end. So were we."

"Thanks." Isabelle takes a moment to smile, and embrace the praise, but then she turns back to the group. “Which is why I called Luke. The Clave were on the wrong track. So were the police. This is a job we all need to get involved with. That’s why we’ll have the advantage.”

“Because we teamed up with cops?” Jace asks, but not rudely. He holds up a hand quickly, turning to Luke. “Hey, I’m just warning you what The Clave will say. You know I trust you, but how are you going to win them over?”

Alec thinks this over for a moment.

“Jace has a point," he admits. There's truth to Jace's concerns, and it won't be easy to convince them. He looks around the table, thinking out loud. “Do we need the numbers? Yes. Will The Clave accept outsider help? Unlikely. Iz?” He turns to his sister with a small smile. “Are you out of genius plans for the year?”

She's already grinning. “Not a chance," she says, and there's his confident, smart sister back again.

Isabelle asks, "Think about it. Who has the authority to put mission plans into place?”

Alec raises an eyebrow. “Heads of Institutes only," he says. He can't help but roll his eyes this time. "Iz, you can’t think that mom will actually support-“

“Not mom.”

“Then who? No one else we know is….” Alec trails off. He lets the news sink in, and realises who Isabelle means to ask. 

“Lydia,” Clary confirms. Her face falls for a moment, and her voice gets quieter. “It’s awful, what happened to Cassandra, but Lydia is the Head of the Chicago Institute now, and when she arrives tomorrow, we just need her approval, her voice, to give us a way in." Her expression turns fierce. "Then The Clave will have no choice but to listen.”

“So…" Alec says, slowly. He puts it all together one last time. "So, we persuade The Clave to work together with the police to track down a buyer meeting between an unknown third party and the Morgensterns?”

Isabelle nods. “Yes." She folds the paper up again, holding it like it's the only thing that matters. And maybe it is. His sister's eyes shine bright with determination. "We know the date. We know the missing weapon. We have concrete evidence."

"The Clave will love that,” Clary mutters. “Plus, we can win them over between all of us.”

Jace lets out a sigh, that's caught between relief, and surrender. “And it’ll be over, easy as pie?” Jace asks, jokingly, but it loses the humour when he carries on. “What then? Say yes, we manage to overpower the meeting? What then?”

“Anytime now.” Clary nudges Luke.

The officer smiles fondly and then clears his throat. “Your main problem is that Valentine is the head of a large organisation. Much like you.” He grimaces suddenly. “God. Don’t tell your parents I compared The Clave to a drug cartel.”

Even Alec barely manages to suppresses his smile this time.

“Thing is, it will be a lot of work afterwards. As you know. Once we bring in Valentine, and whoever the buyer is, there will still be a cartel to take down. But,” Luke pauses and nods. “This is our advantage to working together: image.”

Beside Alec, Magnus perks up. He lifts a painted fingernail in the cop's direction, and the smile on his face lets Alec know that he's already ahead. 

“Image is important,” Magnus confirms, the tone of his voice one of admiration. “You want to take down more than Valentine himself. You’re talking about destroying his image. His power.”

Luke grins, nodding as he glances to Clary. “I like this one," the officer says, and then he nods again, this time, to everyone. “Yes. If we take Valentine out, his followers, his crew, whatever you call them, will weaken. They’ll need a new leader, a way forwards. The lower level members will scatter. That’s a given. They’ll find new sellers, a new boss. The tighter ring, the ones closest to Valentine, will be the ones to watch for in the few months afterwards."

Luke nods once more. "But, yes, if Valentine is there, at the exchange, we can make sure his followers know that he’s not as powerful, or as limitless as he thought.”

Alec takes another initiative. “This is also why we need you. Publicity. You can get the word out on the street, and elsewhere."

“That's right." Luke's lips twitch again. He points to his leg. "Do you think I wear this holster just to show my thigh off? I’m more than a handsome face.”

Clary covers her face with her hand. “Please stop," she mutters, embarrassed, but her smile peeps out. “What Luke means is that the police can spread the word, get it into the streets that Valentine is done. And he can’t be taken into any Clave holding cell. Even our best prisons aren’t ideal for Valentine, not after it’s been such a personal involvement for The Clave. For us, too. Luke has a location ready, and he won’t say where it is, but we can trust him.”

The plan concludes itself at last. It's warm in the room, but Alec still feels a shiver run down his back. 

"Okay."

The word hovers in the air.

Isabelle asks, hesitantly, "Yeah?"

Alec realises that everyone else is watching him, including Magnus, who gives him a brief smile. 

"Okay," he repeats. "Let's go for it."

"Good," Luke says, firmly, "because we need a team of smart people to take down Valentine."

When no one argues with this, Alec asks, “Then we have to act soon. It’s in two weeks, yes?”

Izzy nods in confirmation.

Luke pauses, surveying the room. “That’s enough time, hopefully, to convince The Clave to let us take this stand together. In the meantime, you need to keep me informed as soon as you put the mission plan forward."

"I will," Clary promises. "As soon as Lydia arrives, we'll fill her in as quickly as possible, and then," She pauses, and takes a moment to relax. "And then, we make our move."

The tension immediately snaps when Jace says, “Have fun sleeping tonight, everyone.” 

Clary quirks an eyebrow, but merely smiles in response. She hugs Luke, who is getting ready to leave.

"So, we’ll meet here at the same time tomorrow," Clary confirms. "We can’t contact you outside, but hopefully, if all goes well, The Clave will let you come into the Institute after the plan gets put forwards."

The officer nods, and he takes another second to hug her, before pulling back. Luke starts to head for the door with the others, and before they part at the elevators, he kisses Clary’s forehead before leaving.

“You take care," Luke murmurs. "Your mother is worried sick, but we know you can look after yourself.” He casts a quick glances at Jace. “Please keep an eye on her," he says quietly.

“Yes, sir,” Jace says seriously, and there's nothing but understanding in his voice now.

Everyone starts to file out of the room, heading off to try and get sleep before another long day tomorrow.

Because, Alec thinks, it will be.

And yet, something about everyone working together, pulling their skill sets into one operation, feels good. Strong.

It’ll be a long time cleaning up the Morgenstern family’s business. There will always be new drugs, new power-hungry figures at the top of the food chain. But stopping Valentine and his people will be a huge help.

“You ready?” Alec asks Magnus, gesturing towards the elevator outside. They're the last ones in the room to leave, but Alec is grateful for the moment alone.

Magnus nods. “I’m fearless, dear," he jokes, stepping into an easy pace as they walk down the empty hallway. “I’m only…this much afraid.”

Magnus lifts up his forefinger and thumb, the distance barely noticeable. He laughs, and the Institute's hidden elevator pings as it slides open.

“I’m a force to be reckoned with if I have someone to fight for. And you, Alexander-" Magnus turns to face him- "are worth risking everything."

Alec feels his breath catch then, and as the doors close, they're left in the private, isolated space of the elevator. It's a short ride, but Alec lets Magnus take his hand and link them together, slowly, the warmth of his hand soothing his nerves.

"This,” Magnus says, quietly. “This is worth it.”

Alec smiles, wanting to agree, but finding the right words is proving itself to be quite difficult. As always.

Still, he tries. “We’ll take down Valentine the right way, and then…”

What else can Alec say?

And then we can kiss whenever we want.

And then we can lounge around and watch movies.

It’s never going to be that, but it doesn’t mean they can’t find time. Enjoy the good with the bad.

“Stop frowning," Magnus teases lightly. His smile softens, and the look of open affection lifts the tension inside Alec's chest.

"It’s our time,” Magnus says, softly. “We can work out the details, but…there’s a future out there, for both of us. Together." He doesn't look away, and the close proximity is making Alec want to slam the emergency button and kiss him, hard and fast.

Magnus speaks slowly, but surely. "I know what I want, and I have done for a while now. I want you." He seems to say this like a confession. Alec wants to wrap it around him like armour. There's strength in this kind of honesty, and Alec opens up, and lets it in, lets it all in. 

"If you want to stay an agent, Alec, that’s fine. If it’s truly your calling, I’ll find a way to be okay with that," Magnus promises, and he grips Alec's hand a little tighter. "And if it’s not, if you want something else, that’s fine too.”

They're almost at ground level, and Alec chooses his words carefully. He's not sure when they'll have another moment alone. 

“And you?” Alec asks carefully. “Are you going to still work…freelance?” He’s never judged Magnus, and he never will, but he wonders whether it’s what Magnus truly wants anymore. Especially after all the people he’s lost, and the new life they want, together.

Magnus tilts his head to the side, thinking. 

“I’ve always used my…gifts, to make a living," Magnus says. "It’s who I am now. But…I don’t know what I want to do, but not that. Perhaps I’ll become a teacher.” He laughs, and Alec smiles too. Magnus makes the decision to let go first, but he stays close and smiles.

“There are different ways to fight back," Magnus says, eventually. "But first, we have to see this one through. Are you ready?”

He finishes speaking just as the elevator is settling into a stationary position. Alec nods.

They step out of the elevator, and fortunately, there's a lot of agents  still gathering around computers, trying to monitor things that are likely leading them in circles. Maryse is talking to her husband, and it doesn’t look good. Luckily, there are many people, which means they can keep out of sight and turn the corner quickly. 

Just before they reach the place where they need to split - Alec's room, on the left, and Magnus', to the right - Alec turns to Magnus.

“Can I kiss you?” he asks, suddenly, and yet, as he says it, he realises how much the question is occupying his mind. 

Surprised, Magnus takes a step back. "Right...here?" He gestures to the corner, at where the sounds of the agents at work can still be heard. He's smiling, but Alec understands the question, and realises that yeah, it's probably a bit dumb to go for a goodnight kiss in the midst of all this. 

“Yeah, you’re right. It’s a bit…out in the open.”

“Good point. Hm.” Magnus looks thoughtfully at him, and then grins. “We should find somewhere more private. Like a sauna...”

“Hilarious,” Alec says dryly, but he can feel his eyes crinkling as he smiles. And remembers how it felt to hold Magnus in the heat of the room, and the way his legs curved around his hips is making Alec ache with longing-

“Later then,” Magnus promises, softly, but by no means innocently.

“Later what?”

Magnus steps closer again, and he risks lifting a finger to run it over the bow of Alec’s lips.

“I want to take my time," he murmurs, and the feather-light touch really tests the limits of Alec's self-control. 

“Oh," he says. It's all he can say. "Me too.”

Magnus lowers his hand, but doesn't step away. He raises an eyebrow.

“You do?” he purrs.

“Yeah.” Alec forces himself to stay upright. And bold. Half in response, he lifts Magnus' hand and kisses the same forefinger, right on the top, and it turns from a gentle gesture to an unexpectedly intimate one. He lowers it, slowly, but the tiny stutter in Magnus' throat still comes spilling out.

Just before he pushes open the bedroom door, Alec turns back around with a grin, “I have a lot of ideas. I’m a planner.”

“Don’t turn me on right before we have to face your mother, and The Clave. That’s cruel, Alexander.”

“Fine. Then don’t say the words ‘turn on’, in the same sentence as my parents. That’s just wrong.” Alec scrunches his nose up, the moment losing some of its tension. Still, he smiles. “I do, though. Have…ideas.” He doesn't step into the room just yet. 

Magnus' tongue swipes out, brushing his lower lip, and Alec follows the movement, hungrily. 

“Good. Keep them," Magnus says. "I want to hear all of them.” He makes an appreciative sound that will stay in Alec's mind long through the night. “I never thought logic could be so...”

“Logical?” Alec teases, interrupting on purpose this time. If they carry on, there's no way they'll stay in different beds tonight. 

Hot,” Magnus corrects. He doesn't let Alec leave either. He runs his palms against the lapels of Alec's jacket, slowly dragging them down as he gazes up. “Have I told you that before?”

“Told m-me what?”

“That I find you incredibly, unbearably, sexy.”

“Oh. Uh, yes? No?” Alec blinks, fumbling as he speaks. He's still lost in how good Magnus' hands feel, even if they're just brushing his jacket, and now resting on his hips. 

“Add that to your list.”

“It’s uh, getting long.”

Magnus quirks an eyebrow.

Alec laughs. “Jesus," he mutters.

“Please don’t bring god into our foreplay, Alec. Fine, goodnight," Magnus says, grumpily, stepping away and holding his hands up in surrender. And yet, Alec knows that this is Magnus' way of helping, of easing the tension. This is a tension that Alec embraces, however, and tucks in his mind for later use.

"Goodnight, Magnus."

"Sweet dreams, Alexander."

He does, in fact, have very sweet dreams. Followed by not-so sweet ones that are filled with kisses that burn into his thighs and leave him feverish with desire. 

Still, it's not so bad. 

~

It's barely into the next morning when the other kind of tension - the bad kind - finally snaps. They’re barely out of their rooms - Magnus, Alec, Jace and Isabelle - and into the main space of the Institute when Maryse approaches them. Her navy dress is as tight and cold as her expression.

“Isabelle, did you interrogate Sean?" their mother whispers. She almost looks afraid, which is an unsettling look for her. 

“No.”

Maryse barely pauses. “Did you speak with him?”

“Yes.”

“Isabelle-“

Sensing where this is already heading, Alec holds up a hand, and even though it's only out of surprise, Maryse stops her verbal assault. 

“Mom, when is Lydia arriving?” Alec inquires loudly. The sooner this is over, the better. 

Maryse doesn't seem to agree. She looks across at him, astonished. “Alec, I am trying to discipline-“

“You can yell at Izzy later. Schedule it or something.” He mutters.

Izzy is now also staring at him, wide eyed, and Jace and Magnus stay - thankfully - not involved. 

“She’s already here.”

“What?”

This does recapture Alec's attention, and he waits for his mom to elaborate. 

Which she does. With a sigh. “You said you had to check the perimeters yesterday, so I left you to it.”

Maryse narrows her eyes, and there's an accusation in the silence. “Anything to report back? Other than your suspicious disappearance all day, and you," She stares pointedly at Magnus - so much for no involvement, Alec thinks grimly - and says, ", are still hanging around instead of getting interviewed.” 

Magnus doesn't even blink. “Okay. Interview me." He says. "Now. Unless you have something more important to do than interview a dangerous assassin who could be a mole trying to seduce your son and bring down the entire organisation?”

Alec hides his cough of surprise. Somehow.

“Room four. Two minutes.” Maryse snaps, turning on her heels and stalking away. 

As she disappears from view, all four of them let out a sigh of relief. 

Magnus, even, is actually beaming. “Aw. She likes me.” He says happily, placing a hand over his heart. 

“Winning over the in-laws already. I’m so proud.” Izzy grins, and she invites him for a high-five, which Magnus gleefully accepts. 

Alec raises an eyebrow at their display.

Jace smiles too. “That was, uh, pretty great.” He says, and Alec is surprised - and secretly very pleased - by how sincere his friend's smile is. 

“The war’s not over yet.” Magnus sighs, but he accepts the compliment with a gracious nod. “If I’m not out in an hour, make my funeral glittery.”

“I promise.” Izzy says, solemnly, and she elbows Jace in the ribs until he's nodding too. 

“God. You three. Stop being dramatic.” Alec retorts, but he’s grinning now, against his will. He nods towards the corridor and gives Magnus an encouraging smile. “Go. Get it over with.”

“That is not something I ever want to hear in the bedroom, Alexander.”

Alec splutters this time, but Magnus is wiggling his fingers and walking off, so he doesn’t get the desired time to come up with a reasonable comeback. At least he has the benefit of watching Magnus walk away, his hips swaying-

“Big brother, can you save the eye fucking for later?”

Izzy.” Alec hisses.

His glare doesn't bother Izzy at all. “Hey, I’m allowed some slack.” She says. 

“You are.” Alec admits quickly. He smiles again, helplessly happy in the moment, and presses a kiss to Isabelle's forehead. He nuzzles her close for a second, letting out a slow breath. Jace is grinning at them both, and Alec returns it. He needs to check into his own interview soon, but for now, Alec just wants a moment with his family. “Those lucky shoes worked then?” He asks Izzy, as they pull apart. 

“It wasn’t just the shoes.”

“I know.”

“It was the hair tie, right?” Jace offers cheekily. He ducks away from Izzy’s playful swipe, and then pulls her into another hug. “You’ve always been good, but Izzy, this really is something else." Jace says. "Just…leave some puzzles to solve for the rest of us? I need to keep my reputation up.”

Izzy nods. “I promise, the next time there’s a bomb missing, I’ll let you find it out first.”

“Appreciate that.”

“Careful.” Alec warns them. He looks around quickly, but no one's in direct earshot. “We still need to wait till the interviews are over. If there’s another mole here, we can’t go around voicing a plan before it’s put into motion. We wait until we explain it to Lydia, and then she can call a meeting. We go from there, yes?”

“We’re with you. Go get your interview over with. You’re with Aldertree. He’s uh, fun.” Jace offers grimly. “He asked me about my future. Who does that?”

Alec snorts. “Did you reply?”

“Apparently ‘survive until tomorrow’ wasn’t an appropriate answer. Oh well. I wasn’t put on the naughty list, if that’s what you’re worried about. Now go.”

“Stay out of trouble while I’m gone.” Alec says, sternly. “Don’t say anything that’ll get you noticed.”

~

“I don’t like The Clave.” Magnus begins, leaning back in his chair and resisting the urge to flip off the camera.

“I didn’t ask any questions.” Maryse’s voice is as cold as the arctic sea. Not that Magnus has been, but he decides that taking a skinny dip into said sea will be warmer than the icy smile Maryse is giving him now.

“I know. I just wanted to state that for the record. You don’t like me. I don’t like you. There’s no reason to start a relationship based on lies, hm?” Magnus smiles innocently.

I’m dating your son so hard, he thinks.

“Magnus Bane. 30 years old…”

32, Magnus corrects to himself, hiding his smirk. It’s comforting that The Clave still know very little about him, at least anything that isn’t based on rumours and assumptions that is.

“...assisted The Clave with a hostage exchange earlier this year…”

Forced to, but okay then.

He tunes most of it out, just the little they know about his time spent working with various police forces and royalty who wanted access to someone who could work quickly and cleanly and leave no mess behind.

“…escape: unknown.”

Magnus perks up at that. He waits patiently until Maryse sighs.

“Would you care to explain how you fled the compounds of the Morgensterns?”

“Hard pass.”

“Think on it.” Maryse says lowly. “I’d hate to mark a reason for you to be imprisoned.”

I’m sure you’d hate that very much, Magnus thinks. He tries to stop smiling, and settle his expression into something appropriate. He settles in-between a scowl and a blank look. “I escaped on my own. I’m very good at what I do.”

“You’re an assassin, not a locksmith.”

“I assassinated the locks.” Magnus replies simply.

“And before you escaped," Maryse carries on, ignoring his sarcasm. ", Valentine didn’t express any desires for you to give up valuable information to The Clave? You didn’t-“

“With all due respect,” It pains Magnus to say this, but he bites the bullet; swallows down the bitter taste of unearned respect. “I believe that I was already questioned in Chicago.”

“You were. Without our knowledge, or consent. I myself want to be sure that there are no more traitors in my home.”

Magnus doesn’t fight against that. He knows what it feels like to have a home, and to have that home destroyed. He won’t fight with Maryse on this at least.

The next questions are fairly straightforward. She asks about his intentions, his reasons for staying, and Magnus is able to stick to reasonable responses. I’m here to help. I’m here to take down Valentine. I want to work with The Clave.

His answers seem decent to Maryse, and she scribbles furiously as she throws question after question at him. The recording device is on the table, its small red timer ticking slowly. 

“Final question.”

“So soon?” Magnus asks, sadly. It’s been half an hour, but he’s not willing to lose his wit just yet.

Maryse doesn't even dignify this with a glance. “I have more important work to do besides clearing up my son’s loose ends.” She says. 

“I’m sorry?”

Maryse slowly pushes the pad of paper aside, and presses a button on the recorder. The hand pauses.

When she speaks again, Magnus knows this is a different version of Maryse. A dangerous one. “I know Alec helped you escape." She says. "I don’t care that he went back for you, but I do care that one wrong word to the wrong person and everything will be taken from us." Her eyes glare across the table, and her lip trembles with anger. "Our loyalty is well earned, and it will not be questioned because of you.”

“What did I do?”

Maryse doesn’t answer.

She's about to switch the recording back on, when Magnus holds up a hand. 

“No, seriously. I helped you in the hostage exchange. I helped return two agents to a company that hates my guts. Why? Because I keep my word. I didn’t run away, and believe me, I could’ve."

He doesn't wait around for Maryse to argue with this. By now, the fire bouncing against his rib cage threatens to burst out.

Magnus cools his temper, but barely. "I could leave right now if I wanted to." He says, slowly. "I could before, and I could now, but I won’t.” He sighs. “And as for the other matters…regarding your son…I can’t speak for Alec. He came back for me, and I’m grateful."

Maryse doesn't speak, still, and Magnus keeps going. "Your son saved my life, and I did everything in my power to keep him safe and bring him back home." He says, quietly this time. It's hard to keep emotion at bay whenever Alec is mentioned, and especially now, when everything is so close within Magnus' grasp; happiness, a future, family.

Magnus lets the truth come to the surface. "I never once tried to hurt Alec. I never will. If you believe anything I say, believe that.”

It takes a while for Alec's mother to reply. She keeps the recording off and asks, “Why do you care? Why could you possibly care? Alec was sent to kill you.” Maryse says, and her brow knits itself together, almost in confusion, like this situation is impossible. She waits for a reaction.

Magnus shrugs. “I know. I’ve had worse first dates than that. Alec was following orders, as per instruction. It was never personal.”

Until it was, he thinks. Until I opened up and let myself fall for him.

Maryse doesn’t say anything. She makes no attempt to argue, but also doesn't agree. Instead, she leans forwards and clicks the same button as before. The hand starts moving again. “Final question. Given your…history with The Clave, would you consider yourself an ally?”

“I believe the term used was neutral ground. I’d like to stick with that.” Magnus resists adding, ‘over’, but Maryse is no longer scowling and he almost likes that, surprisingly.

Maryse finishes off the statement, and finishes the recording as well. Once it's saved, she then folds the notebook over and regards Magnus for a long moment. “It is not wise to cross me." She tells him. "When it comes to my family, I will protect them, and ensure their safety from any threat. Including the ones they don't see coming." She stands, and Magnus mirrors her, but stays on the other side of the table.

“You think I’m a threat?” He asks. Perhaps it should hurt, or perhaps he should be used to people fearing him by now, but it hits Magnus, hard. 

Maryse clearly isn't aware of this. She simply carries on, blindly. “Yes. You’re a disruption and a nuance and go against every rule that we enforce here in The Clave. I don’t trust you. I never will."

“The feeling is mutual." Magnus snaps. He curls his fingers into the back of the chair. "Although, my place comes from reasonable judgement.”

“And mine isn’t?”

“Is prejudice an acceptable form of reason?” Magnus asks, icily. His fingers are trembling with anger now. “Fascinating. The world continues to enlighten me.”

Maryse just narrows her eyes. “My point is proven." She says, proudly. "You’re a liability. You ask too many questions, and don’t provide enough answers.”

Bugger this.

Magnus doesn't raise his voice, but he lowers it, and watches as Maryse notices his expression darken. “I answered all of your questions." He says, slowly, and dangerously. "I followed all of your rules. I stood by and pretended to get manipulated into risking my life for a bloody object. You chose wealth and status over blood, over another human being. That is a liability against compassion." He pauses, reigning in the anger. He'll not lose his cool in front of Maryse.

Still, the anger swells like a storm inside him, and Magnus finds his next words slipping into the room like a warning. "In a world that loves to start wars and keep fires burning for as long as possible, your biggest concerns should be with yourselves.”

The startled look on Maryse's face means that Magnus has done the impossible, and his words are actually getting through this time. She turns to leave, but then whips back around and says, “Don’t talk to me about compassion." Like an afterthought, Maryse carelessly adds, "You only care about yourself.”

It strikes Magnus like a poisonous blade. He can feel the brute strength of her fury slicing into his chest, and it’s only then that Magnus loses himself in the next words, in the sheer anger of being told who he is by someone he can’t stand.

He lets the secret out. Finally. 

“Do you remember Indonesia?”

Maryse blinks. “What?” She asks, confused enough to forget her anger.

“Do you…remember Indonesia? Anything ringing any bells?" Magnus takes a step closer, and there's no table to hide his shaking hands behind anymore. He steadies his nerves and says, "Many years ago, someone came to you, needing help...?”

Me, he wants to shout. I came to you, and you didn’t care. You didn’t care then, and you don’t care now.

“I don’t…” Maryse frowns, and she hovers, uncertainly. “What are you talking about, Magnus? What happened in Indonesia?”

You don’t remember. No surprise there.

Magnus closes his eyes, and when he opens them, the danger in his expression must show, because Maryse takes a step back. 

“Judge me again," Magnus warns. ", and I’ll show you the true limitations of my compassion. I’m leaving now.”

He doesn’t wait for an answer. He just walks out.

~

When Lydia walks across the room, Alec is already waiting with his arms outstretched. He hugs his friend tightly, holding her carefully but close to his chest, cradling the back of her neck.

He whispers, “I’m sorry to hear about your mom. If there’s anything we can do, tell us. Please." There's not much else he can say, but it still feels necessary to try. "We’re here for you, in whatever way you need.”

Lydia pulls back, tears in her eyes, Her hair is neatly braided, but there are bags under her eyes, and they're still red-raw with emotion. “Thank you, Alec.” She tries for a smile. The tiredness in his friend make Alec feel guilty for getting her involved in their plan, but they don’t have a choice.

“Setting up the new Institute will be hard, but…the work will keep me going." Lydia says. "Hopefully. I have to find a new location, and reorganise our resources and-“

“Hey.” Alec interrupts her quietly. “We’re here to help lift any burden, okay? We’ll find you a new Institute. We’ll make it the safest one in the world, do you hear me?" He assures her. "Then we'll make sure that this never happens again. Your mom’s memory will be honoured.”

Lydia squeezes his shoulder. “Thank you." She says, gratefully. She looks around the room. "I’m glad to be here. It’s good to have a distraction right now.”

“Well, you’re certainly going to get one soon.”

“Hm?”

Alec curses himself for the almost-reveal. He smiles. “Uh, I just mean...Isabelle needs to speak with you.” Alec tries to appear casual. “She’s upstairs.” He points to the elevators behind them.

Lydia frowns. “Where?”

“The office buildings. Floor 13, room 5.”

“Why is she interfering in public offices?” Lydia insists, still frowning as Alec leads her over to the elevator area. 

“She’s not. Please, trust me." Alec waits beside her, nervously wringing his hands in his lap. "This is something we need your help with.”

“Oh. Okay." This seems to ease Lydia's mind. When the elevator opens up, she steps inside, and presses a button inside. "Room 5, right?"

“Yeah. I’ll see you in a bit.”

When the doors shut, Alec sighs. The secrecy is starting to make him go insane. He leans against the pillar, the cool stone greeting his flushed skin. He only has a second to relax, as when Alec opens his eye, a flash of rings and honey skin catches his gaze-

Magnus is stalking down the nearby corridor, and the expression he's wearing is extremely vexed. 

Pushing away from the wall, Alec quickly rushes after him. He catches up to him - jesus, how fast can he walk? - about halfway down the corridor, reaching for Magnus' arm as he calls out, "Hey, Magnus..."

Initially, Alec reaches for his arm, but ends up slipping a hand around Magnus' waist. They’re away from any crowd, but still, Alec hesitates before pulling him around the corner and into a small alcove in the wall. “You look pissed.” He says plainly.

“I am.” Magnus says, equally honest. He bites at one of his nails, still not looking up at him. 

“Oh. Are you okay? What happened?”

“Maryse was in a charming mood, that’s all.”

All at once, Alec understands. Of course. The interview.

“What did she say to you?” Alec demands. He's already trying to work out how to apologise for whatever awful things his mom has said. “Did they accuse you of-“

“-corrupting their son and threatening their entire world? Basically.” Magnus smiles, and it's far from the warm, open grin that he often wears. This one hides pain, and fury too, even when Magnus tries to brush it aside. He waves a hand in dismissal. “I’m used to a little opposition. This is far from the worst I’ve had to face, Alec.”

“You shouldn't need to.” Alec mutters. He shakes his head. Why can’t his mom see that? “I wish…”

“What?”

“She could see you. I mean…really see you.”

“Am I invisible?” Magnus grins then, and even though he's teasing Alec, Alec decides that it's very welcome. If it means Magnus is at his happiest, Alec will endure any teasing whatsoever. He batters his eyelashes, which are lined in electric blue today.

“Far from it.” Alec admits. They're still in the alcove, and it's a reminder that they're once again alone in a small, private space.

Alec doesn't shy away from it.

“I just mean…this.” He brings his hand up and taps Magnus’ chest, right in the centre. “She doesn’t see your heart.”

“Like you do?” Magnus asks. He says it quietly, the vulnerable edge filling the small alcove with even more intimacy.

Alec doesn’t say anything. In reply, he lets his hand spread, the palm resting against Magnus’ thin shirt. The muscles beneath are firm, and his heartbeat is strong against the tips of Alec’s fingers. He strokes the collar bone, thumbing it with a light touch, and when Magnus shivers, he’s reminded that they’re in a hidden alcove, but it’s a corridor and anyone could walk by.

Magnus reaches up and captures his hand, keeping it there and holding it with both hands.

He meets Alec’s eyes and smiles. “I’m glad you like what you see.” Magnus tells him, and it’s not laced with humour, or suggestion. It’s genuine and sincere, and so gentle that Alec wants to let the compliments pour out like wishes.

Footsteps approach, and Alec quickly pushes them out, and into the corridor, so that they’re leaning against opposite walls and staring down at the floor.

Much more subtle.

The agent that passes isn’t one that Alec knows well, but he nods politely and waits until they’re gone from sight again.

He smiles sheepishly across at Magnus, who is grinning widely. “We, uh, should wait for Lydia to return. They’ll be back soon, and we have to be ready for the meeting. We’ll all need to be ready.”

“No flirting. Got it.”

Alec feels his face fall. “I didn’t ask you to stop.”

“You didn’t have to.” Magnus says kindly. “But don’t worry. I’ll save it for later.” Magnus promises.

“We should walk for a bit. Just…give Isabelle some time to explain it to Lydia. I don’t want to run into anyone and ruin her hard work.”

“Isabelle really saved the day.” Magnus smiles appreciatively. He walks beside Alec but doesn’t make another move to touch him, but the way he leaves his hand swinging by his side is a nice, open gesture.

“Yeah.”

“You don’t sound too happy, Alexander. Something wrong?”

“No, I just…why didn’t she come to me?”

“You know why.”

“Yeah. It doesn’t make me worry less.”

“I imagine it’s a blessing and a curse to have siblings.” Magnus says wistfully.

“You can have one of mine.” Alec offers, only half joking.

“Wouldn’t that make us related? Because that’s a kink even I draw the line at.”

Alec wrinkles his nose at that. “Anyway,” He says, pointedly, but with a smile. “Once we do this…have you given any thought about…things?”

“Ah. Things.” Magnus repeats, suddenly very interested in his polished nails. “I’ve been thinking about taking up hula hopping. I think I’d make an excellent gymnast. Put my flexibility to use, hm?” He wiggles an eyebrow, and then looks away. “No, Alec. I’m still thinking-“

“Alec. Magnus.” A voice calls out.

Down the corridor is Isabelle, and the look on Lydia’s face beside her means that she’s all up to speed. Judging by her fierce concentration, Alec is relieved, and tense all at once, to see that Lydia is ready and waiting for what’s to come.

“We’re ready.” Isabelle confirms.

Alec exchanges a quick look with Magnus, stares for a moment at his dangling hand, and then shoves his own inside his pockets.

Maybe later, he thinks.

He swears that Magnus’ shoulders slump, but he catches the movement anyway and bites down on his lip, hard.

~

Magnus ignores the way that Alec firmly shoves his hands into the pockets of his pants.

He also ignores, furiously, that it affects him so much. Of course Alec isn’t going to start flouncing their relationship down the hallways of the Institute.

Still, the slump in his shoulders lasts way into the meeting, which probably isn’t a good sign.

Halfway through, Magnus makes sure to nod when Lydia gestures to his desire to cooperate – he remembers that part at least – but other than that, he lets Alec and his team take the lead. It’s their mission statement, their idea, not his.

As soon as Lydia begins the proposal, everyone in the room tenses. Maryse and Robert, who are seated at the far end of the table, lean forwards, and the agents around the room listen intently.

Magnus notices that half of the agents are unable to make the meeting; the ones who haven’t passed their inspections, or haven’t been interviewed yet. The room feels larger, half empty.

Imogen, a few other Clave officials – including Victor Aldertree, the man Alec says gave him a stern, yet fair interview – and Lydia herself are seated, while the others stand around the large table. Her new place as a Head is making her anxious, but she keeps her voice steady and her words to the point.

As Magnus listen to her, and then Isabelle, Jace and Alec chipping in with details of their plan, he watches the faces around the room. He scans the agents’ expressions, and finds them all eager and hopeful.

His eyes land on two smaller figures. Julia and Zoe are looking a lot better than when Magnus last saw them in the library. They look put together and focused, which is a lot more than Magnus expects anyone to be after going through an ordeal like theirs.

He catches their eyes and smiles for a moment, happy when they return it with ease.

He mouths, ‘doing alright?’ as subtly as he can – which is difficult considering they’re in a meeting to decide how best to take down a crime family. Fortunately, everyone is focused on the speakers – who are currently proposing that the Institutes all supply a team to scout out the possible locations of the weapon exchange - so Magnus holds their gaze.

Julia nods, her face taunt with tension, and beside her, Zoe nods.

He reminds himself that he should probably refocus:

“…which is where we’ll need full cooperation from as many available agents and outside resources, like Luke’s team, as possible.”

There’s silence, as The Clave body discuss with each other.

It’s unusual to see so many officials talking together, rather than giving orders, and obeying them. Seeing the organisation like this – debating, discussing, listening – is almost comforting. Until now, Magnus has only seen the narrow-minded side of The Clave: seen their fear, their prestige arrogance, and their desire for good image.

To Magnus’ lack of surprise, it’s Maryse who speaks first, but only after consulting with her fellow officials, except Lydia, who has put forwards the proposal with her authority.

“Do you understand the risks in putting this mission into actions? You are asking The Clave to put all their resources and time into one plan.”

“A plan with solid leads and evidence, yes.” Isabelle says, calmly. She stands at the front, chin lifted, and head held high. “This is our best course of action. I’m sure of it.”

Imogen narrows her eyes. “And more importantly, would you care to explain why you have failed to share this information until recently?”

Clary jumps in quickly, defending her friend. “We were needed during the lockdown, and it was our duty to interview agents as quickly as possible.” She says quickly. “Only now did we feel it was the right time, when we were sure not to waste your valuable time.”

She says it so surely that Magnus only catches the little undertone of bitterness because of Clary’s narrowed eyes. She doesn’t back down from the officials’ stares either.

Isabelle waits another moment before speaking. “As we were saying, afterwards, working with the force, and complying all our resources, will help us to bring down Valentine's image, and his ranks. We can work from there.”

“And you somehow believe this will put a stop, once and for all, to Valentine and his followers?” Imogen asks curtly, her eyebrow risen in disbelief.

“No.” Alec shakes his head. He doesn't deny the hard work ahead, and Magnus smiles. Despite the pressure in the room, Alec is doing tremendously well, and Magnus feels more proud than ever before.

“There will always be people like Valentine, unfortunately." Alec says, addressing the agents. "That’s why The Clave is so important. We stop them.” His voice rings out, sure and clear. “But we can sure as hell cut down the numbers as much as possible.”

“Well said, agent.” Victor says, his voice cool, but his expression is agreeable as he nods. “Your plan is a strong one. That cannot be argued against.” He begins. “But, Maryse is right, this risks more than your lives. It risks many. You are asking for agents to follow you into a three-sided exchange without knowing who the buyer is, or their numbers. Wait,”

He holds up his hand when Isabelle opens up her mouth to protest. “I am not criticising you." Victor says. "These are the facts. Would anyone else be willing to join this mission?”

The Clave don’t usually ask you to sign up, Magnus thinks, but he keeps quiet.

Many of the agents nod, and the relief on Isabelle’s face is evident. Alec is almost smiling too, and Lydia looks around with tears in her eyes, and Magnus remembers how raw her loss is, and how strong she must be to be putting it aside to help others now.

“Then, I believe we have a plan of action.” Victor says, slowly. The Clave officials remain silent. “Is there any other issue anyone wants to address? Otherwise, we will be assigning teams and placing you in the field, or in another area we think best. Who is heading the mission?” Victor looks up at the four agents standing at the front.

Isabelle meets his gaze, her expression poised. “I’ll lead the mission.” She says.

“No, you won’t.” Imogen suddenly says. She shakes her head, firmly. “I believe that some of your…information, was required through unearned access. Did you or did you not interview a witness behind The Clave’s back?"

Isabelle hesitates a moment too long.

Imogen's voice drops to a warning. "Did you really think we’d turn a blind eye in the light of your heroism?” She says the word coldly.

“I…”

Alec makes a little hand gesture to silence his sister, but judging from his wide eyes, it’s to ensure Izzy’s safety.

“May I head the mission then? With your approval, ma’am?” He asks Imogen, inclining his head respectfully. “I’d like the chance to prove myself to The Clave. To honour my family.”

His sincerity is clear, but Magnus doesn’t miss the way that Alec is redirecting the attention away from Izzy, and towards himself. He also doesn’t like the idea of Alec being at the centre of the exchange mission, but it’s not his place to fight that decision, so Magnus balls his hands into fists and waits.

“With Lydia Branwell, yes, you may. But you will keep The Clave in mind at all times, and no decision will be made without our consent and knowledge, yes?”

Alec nods. “Thank you.”

“The date we’re working from is in thirteen days, yes?”

“That’s right.”

“It’ll be a lot of hard work until then, so I suggest we get moving. Again, does anyone have any further inquiries to add?”

Magnus catches Zoe gazing out of the room, and it’s such a forlorn, lost look that it makes him step forwards.

“The older recruits, who made it out alive,” Magnus begins, glad that his voice sounds strong. “Will they have their graduation ceremony?”

I promised them, he thinks sadly.

“That isn’t a priority.” Maryse snaps. “We are now in preparation for confronting one of the most powerful crime bosses in the country.”

“But they’re going to be in the field for this.” He throws Maryse’s own argument back at her. He’s still raw with anger over her refusal to remember what happened. “How can they be agents if they’re not properly graduated?” Magnus challenges. He wants them to have one final victory, something that promises them a reason to keep going, to keep fighting.

Victor almost smiles, breaking the moment of building tension. “If you can find the time, I don’t see why not.”

“I can do it.” Izzy suddenly says. “All of it.” She folds her arms across her chest and smiles down the table towards Victor. “Leave this to me. I’ll arrange something as soon as possible, and it won’t be a disruption to the mission.”

“Very well.” Victor nods. “It’s always been tradition to graduate our agents before they step into the field. It would be wrong to oppose tradition now, hm?” He asks.

Magnus narrows his eyes. Yes, because tradition is always a winner around here.

Still, he’s not an expert in reading the man, so he settles for neutral interest and turns away, turns towards Alec and the victorious team of rebels and agents he’s come to call friends. Lydia is speaking to Clary, and Jace is with them as they start directing agents to their assigned teams.

Isabelle and Alec are talking quietly, but the smiles on their faces are relaxing the tension knotting itself inside Magnus’ chest. It uncoils a little further when Alec looks up, and smiles across at him. Over a sea of agents, Alec somehow finds him easily, and he smiles wide and nods towards the door.

Magnus nods back, and stays hidden in the busyness of the agents leaving. He waits until he’s near the door before holding back and waiting for Alec. Magnus walks up to the front, and when the last of the agents leave, the group all seem to exhale at once.

They laugh together then, and it’s a relieved, single body of surprise and happiness at things finally going their way. Clary and Jace tug each other into a hug, and Alec has a hand on Lydia’s forearm as they share a pleased smile.

“So,” Magnus grins. “When are you running for president, Isabelle?”

She laughs, tugging at her ponytail and letting her hair spring out, loose and free. It tumbles down her shoulders, slightly wavy, and the shine of her lipstick is almost as bright as her smile.

“Soon.” Isabelle laughs, answering his joke. Her smile turns sombre then. “Thank you. All of you. I couldn’t have done this without your support.” She says, softly.

Alec presses a kiss to her temple, and the open affection makes Magnus start to feel tears prick behind his eyelids. He likes this softer side of Alec: the happier, relaxed side that he only lets himself become on rare occasions.

Magnus finds it shocking that Alec lets him see it as well, and that, even, sometimes it’s because of Magnus himself.

“What are you grinning about?” Alec asks, leaning closer.

“Nothing.” Magnus lies. He moves to brush a strand of hair away from Alec’s forehead, but his hand hovers slightly, before lowering it. He looks away, and then smiles to replace the uncertainty.

“Now, if you’ll all excuse me, I have some ceremony planning to do.” Isabelle smiles excitedly, and hurries out of the room, already jotting down ideas.

Magnus loves this about her; her sense of confidence and intelligence, and also the playful, childlike enjoyments of life.

He looks around the room, surveying them all, one by one. There’s Clary, with her firecracker determination. Jace, with his strength and loyalty. Lydia, who Magnus doesn’t know all too well, but trusts and respects enough to see a woman unafraid to hurt, and to fall down and get back up. He sees a group of survivors, and winners: victors and learners. There’s a strange beauty to the moment, and the silence leaves room for Magnus to appreciate it.

But, with the group together, Magnus feels as though the Morgensterns really don’t have a chance at all.

Before they leave, ready for a week or two of intense organising, Magnus risks grabbing Alec’s hand, pulling him back into the room.

“Alexander,” He says, quietly.

“Yeah?”

“Be my date for the graduation ceremony?”

Alec grins. “You don’t need a date for that. It’ll be a quick thing, probably.”

“Is another thing you will not be saying in the bedroom. Ever.”

He turns to leave, and Alec grabs his hand this time, pulling Magnus back in. Alec pushes him up against the door, staring down at their interlocked hands. “But yes, I’ll be your date for this ceremony that currently has no time, date or location.”

“Oh, good. I thought you were going to make me beg for a second.”

Alec tips his chin up with a finger, and he’s close enough that Magnus’ nose brushes his chin. He stares up, his words lodging in his throat as Alec grins, slowly. It’s the kind of smile that Magnus will frame inside his mind forever. It’s a smile that tilts the world over the edge. There’s nothing uncertain in the way that Alec looks at him then, and Magnus doesn’t miss the shiver that runs down his spine either.

“That,” Alec murmurs. “, can be said in the bedroom, hm?”

Fuck, Magnus thinks. He thinks it a few more times before letting himself answer.

He swallows. “Saving the world isn’t that important. We can fit in…personal time, right?”

Alec chuckles, and steps back. “I don’t think that’s wise. Isabelle needs me to follow this through carefully. She needs us, Magnus. The Clave will be watching for any kind of slip up, and…”

“You and me sleeping together can wait. I get it.” Magnus says quickly. He tries to hide the frustration, because really, it’s quite unfair to have someone as beautiful as Alec beside you so often and not be allowed to….explore them.

“Actually, I was going to say that if we did, I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else other than wanting you again.”

“Oh.”

“Ideas.” Alec reminds him with a taunting smirk.

Magnus nods. “Ideas.” He repeats, and lets himself lift his chin and brush Alec’s nose. He rubs his own against it slowly, and although he only meant it half-jokingly at the time, by the time Magnus is touching him, Alec’s breath becomes shaky, and he closes his eyes.

Magnus keeps his own open, and Alec soon opens them, the warm hazel colour revealing a world that Magnus can’t wait to fall into. Well, even more than he already is. He pulls away, the tickling touch still leaving a memory behind long after the physical space is back again.

Alec leans forwards on instinct, but pulls back. He keeps his hand in Magnus’. “Come on. You can come help me assign the teams for next week.”

Magnus lets out a slow breath. “Alright. I’m ready. Let’s go help save the day.”

Alec’s replying smile makes stepping into the main area oh so easy.

~

If Alec tries to count how many times he’s been outside to the archery range, he’ll lose count way into the hundreds. He’s seen it during the day, and the night, and in all the hours in-between.

Although he’s certainly never seen it set up like this: with a large, velvet-carpeted aisle, separated rows of seats, a podium and stage, and a large white marquee tent.

Until today, that is.

With the help of his sister, the outside garden space is transformed into a lovely place for the graduation ceremony. There are hanging lights draped around the trees, warming the dull evening with golden light. It’s only early afternoon, but it’s mid-September now and the chill is approaching. Still, the air is mildly warm as Alec enters the fray of agents and gatherers.

It's all a little dramatic for Alec’s taste, but still, he smiles at the thought of the recruits stepping up and onto the stage to receive their official badges. It’ll be nice to take a break from the careful focus of the past week.

With only a week till the date of the mission, the Institute is a place of organised chaos. Organised, in the sense that everyone is occupied with carrying out a task: confirming the assistance of another Institute across the country, or prepping another team in radiation spotting. Chaos, in the sense that Alec can’t remember the last time he dreamt without thinking about fight strategies.

Still, as he looks around now, everyone seems relaxed. Or, as relaxed as they can be as they prepare for the mission ahead. Isabelle and Jace are ushering agents to their seats, and Alec can see his parents seated at the front, beside Victor.

The lights dotted about the transformed garden distort the reality, and for a moment, Alec lets himself believe that they have all the time in the world. He sips from his champagne flute and heads down the aisle, careful not to catch anyone’s eye and instigate a conversation he can’t escape from.

All he really wants to do is find Magnus, but he hasn’t seen him all day. Alec finds himself searching hastily through the crowd, but still, there’s no Magnus, and Alec feels a little disappointed that he couldn’t make it after all.

“Hey, big brother. Looking good.” Isabelle greets him with a quick peck on the cheek. She nods in approval at his suit and tamed hair – well, tamed to the best of Alec’s abilities – and smiles. “Speech all ready to go?”

“Yeah. I, uh, I think so.”

Jace grimaces. “Damn, I forgot you have to give a speech.”

“I hadn’t.” Alec mutters. He's read through the piece of paper that his mom handed to him this morning, but still, the nerves are eating away at him. He’s about to grumble some more when Maryse and Robert come over to join them. Their faces aren’t taunt with anger, and certainly not disapproval, and Alec hates how easy it is to fall back into wanting to please his parents.

He smiles nonetheless.

“The recruits made it through this because of your teaching, Alec.” Robert surprises him by saying. He claps a hand over his shoulder. “Good job.”

“And Magnus’.” Isabelle adds.

“Yes.” Maryse narrows her eyes, but her smile doesn’t drop. Alec is almost impressed that she can force the scowl away. “But we’re proud of you. This hasn’t been easy on any of us, and The Clave appreciates the hard work you put in with the recruits.”

The Clave. Not Maryse directly.

Alec picks up on the careful wording. It’s evident that his mom still doesn’t approve of half of his recent decisions, but he can’t keep track anymore of what he’s supposed to be apologising for. Instead, he settles for a small nod, and waits, letting Isabelle and Jace fill in the silence with their ushering of guests.

The recruits are standing in a small group – and the reminder that it used to be a larger, happier group, doesn’t escape Alec’s thoughts. They're waiting nervously for the ceremony to begin.

Alec excuses himself from his family and heads over to where they stand by the stage. Julia and Zoe are joined by the other survivors, Fiona, the quieter girl, and the four boys, Kian, Bobby, Liam and Jonas. Three other kids made it out alive, but weren’t able to leave the hospital just yet, so Alec hopes to hand them over their badges when the time is right. The ghosts of the four others linger in the silence.

“Hey.” He greets them quietly, wringing his hands in his lap.

He hesitates, unsure of what to say, but needing to say something.

“I’m not going to sit here and say how lucky you all are." He tells them, keeping his voice steady. "I know you sure as hell don't feel lucky right now, but you’re young, and you’re strong. If I could, I would change the things you saw that day, but I can’t. The only advice I have is this: don’t shut others out. Look for strength in your friends, and your family, and those you can trust beside you when times get tough. You’re not alone.” Alec finishes kindly.

He’s saved from waiting for a response when someone taps the microphone onstage. It’s Victor, and he looks confident as he surveys the gathered agents and guests. “Please, find a seat. We will begin shortly.” He gestures for Alec to climb the small steps up to the stage.

Sending a quick smile in the direction of the nervous recruits, Alec turns away.

He focuses on the stage, and the thick carpet beneath his feet. Anything other than focus on the building silence, or the many pairs of eyes now watching him, and waiting for him to speak. Anxious bubbles of nerves unsettle his stomach, but Alec swallows down the bile and stares only at Victor. He nods, and Victor steps aside, leaving Alec with the microphone, and a crowd of people watching him.

They’re just family and friends. Co-workers, he reminds himself. These are people he fights besides, and trains beside and lives with.

Still, he takes a few deep breathes before starting.

“Thank you for coming. I understand that your schedules are busy, and we appreciate you celebrating the graduation of our new agents with us.”

Another breath. Let it go. Speak slowly.

“If I’m honest, I didn’t see the importance of this ceremony until now. Not fully.” He clears his throat. Derailing from the speech suddenly feels like a good option, even if Maryse is now narrowing her eyes.

“The Clave has always been a body of protection, for the public, and to those we are charged with watching over. We have always provided a service that maintains order. It is important to remind ourselves that although men like Valentine exist, and are able to weaken us, there will always be good people to fight back.”

He nods for the recruits to take their places on the stage, and as they walk up, Alec takes the badges from Victor and assigns them as he finishes speaking. “You have all earned your place, not because of the families you were born into, but because of your skills. You courage. You have shown endurance and strength, both of the body…and the heart.”

He sees his mother frown, as if to ask, ‘where are you taking this?’.

Alec hands the final badge to Zoe, and her growing smile gives him the final prompt to turn back to the stage, back to the crowd. “The Clave is an organisation that prides itself on fighting back. On following the rules and working together as one. But, I stand before you as someone still learning.” He looks back, briefly, at the newly graduated agents. They look back with bright eyes and new focus. “I was your teacher, and now your co-worker, and the people around you will become your family.” He tells them. “Learning is important. Growing, and challenging yourself, is everything we ought to stand for.”

No one interrupts, but there’s a moment of sudden fear when Alec catches his mother’s angry look. She doesn’t make a move to interrupt, but it’s clear that his words aren’t warming the cockles of her heart.

Alec quickly gestures with a hand for the new agents to step forwards, shifting the focus away from his words. “And with that, everyone, please raise your glasses in celebration, to the newest agents, the graduates of the Chicago Institute.”

Everyone stands in their seats and claps. A few look mildly annoyed but most are pleased, proud as always.

Alec doesn’t pay them too much attention, because there are smiles on the recruits’ faces, and Alec can’t look away from their happiness, and from the small reminder in his mind that he’s helped to get them to this moment.

The only other person who could understand is still nowhere to be seen, and Alec searches every seat, and then again, before accepting that Magnus simply couldn’t make it. It’s a shame, really, given that Alec knows how much Magnus has done for these agents.

Half of the guests begin to head inside, or over to the marquee tent, but some linger in their seats, talking with each other.

The recruits look over to Alec, and he nods.

“You’re free to help yourselves to food.” He grins. “You might have to fight Jace for the blueberry muffins.”

Not risking another moment, the new agents become kids again, just for a few seconds, and they laugh, taking the steps as quickly as possible and heading down the aisle towards the tent at the far end of the garden. With their badges in hand, and happy smiles on their faces, it’s like a dream coming true.

To Alec, it’s seeing hope in the future. It’s seeing new agents with new ideas and welcoming change. This time, the tears that form feel a lot like happiness.

He’s still smiling as he heads down the same steps and is stopped by Jace. His friend is beaming proudly as he wraps a hand around Alec’s neck and hugs him. Because it’s Jace, Alec lets him, and returns the embrace for a few seconds before pulling away again.

“Nice speech, buddy.” Jace praises warmly.

Isabelle comes bouncing over, and she is, really; smiling one of her lovely, wide smiles, and looking at Alec as if he’s changed the world. “I’ve never been more proud of you.” Izzy says, and the sincerity in her voice puts a quiver in Alec’s throat. He smiles, thanking her silently.

His smile fades almost instantly when Maryse heads to the front. She's followed by Robert who looks less inclined to face the storm brewing. There’s a cold dismissal in the air long before his mother speaks, and Alec braces himself.

“What do you think you were doing up there?” She demands. Maryse looks around, making sure that none of the officials are nearby, and then turns her furious gaze back to Alec. “Now is not the time to start improvising. I gave you the speech for a reason, to show The Clave that the Lightwoods are still loyal and able to follow orders-“

The sigh that escapes Alec’s lips is loud enough to surprise his mom into silence.

Using this as a chance, Alec realises that he’s so incredibly tired. Tired of fighting, and preparing for the verbal lashings and loyalty speeches.

The thing he’s most tired of is the overwhelming pressure to succeed, of being afraid to fail. Of trying to pleasure his mother, a woman who quite clearly cannot ever be pleased unless it means sacrificing any hope Alec wants of building his own future.

“Do you want me to apologise?” Alec asks bluntly.

This startles Maryse even more, hearing the sharp demand from her usually obedient son.

He carries on. “Do you want me to follow the rules and bury my head in the sand and believe that everything we do, everything you do, is right? It’s not, mom. I’m tired of The Clave’s hypocrisy. I’m tired of feeling like I’m not good enough, when all I have ever done is try to please you.” He takes a deep breath. “I’m done, mom.”

Beside him, Jace and Isabelle are quiet, but he can feel their tension from their stances. They hover by his sides, however, making no move to leave him alone with this, and Alec wants to thank them, later, for their support.

“What are you saying, Alec?” Robert asks, his voice quieter, but no less strained than his wife’s.

Maryse ignores this. “Do you want to quit?” She demands. The only thing that gives away her shock, and fear, is how her eyes widen ever so slightly. The tremble in her lip catches Alec’s eyes. He realises how uncertain his mother is in this moment.

No. No more feeling guilty.

His mother whispers harshly, “Do you know how selfish that is-“

“I’m not quitting.” Alec says firmly. It’s the truth, but he’s not saying it to settle the argument, or to comply with their wishes. “But…I’m not staying either.”

“Explain yourself clearly.” Maryse warns him, her thumb pinching her forearm so hard that the skin turns an angry pink.

“Perhaps we should discuss this later.” Robert offers.

Alec shakes his head. They’re standing in front of the stage still, the aisle directly in front of Alec’s eye line, and there are people mingling around the garden, but still. He knows that if he doesn’t finish this now, it will linger long afterwards. It will take him longer to try again. Too long. Long enough to convince himself to stay silence.

“I can’t stay here.” Alec says, slowly. “Not if we’re always clashing. I think,” He nods, confirming it to himself before voicing it. “I think I need to start doing what’s right for me, as well as The Clave. What’ll make me a better agent, the strongest one I can be, is if I leave here."

A small gasp comes from his mom.

Alec pushes on. "Lydia is going to need help finding a new place for the Chicago Institute, and maybe…maybe I could…” He trails off, tapping a finger against his thigh. He lets out a small sound of frustration. “That’s beside the point.”

“What is the point of all this?” Maryse asks. Some of the anger is gone now, but Alec still doesn’t feel like he’ll be welcomed with a smile just yet. Or anytime soon.

“I’m done fighting with you, mom.” Alec says, and he feels like a child again. Because as easy as it is to pretend otherwise, his mother’s harsh words will always hurt, as much as he buries it behind excuses of obeying orders.

“With this mission ahead, The Clave are giving me a chance to prove myself." Alec says. "Not under our family name, but…just me. Me, mom.” Alec smiles a little. “This is me. I can’t go back to being the version of me that you want to see, and…”

It’s in that moment that Magnus steps into view.

The irony doesn’t escape Alec that he’s looking at Magnus from the opposite end of the aisle, with his parents in the way.

In fact, all the details come rushing into his mind. They wash away the tension, and the frustration.

Everything pinpoints down to the freshly coloured pink tips in Magnus’ hair, and the sheepish grin lighting up his handsome face, and the way he stands tall and proud as he stares, not looking away. He’s found Alec, and he’s not going to be the one to look away first. It’s a challenge, a game, and a victory announcement all at once. Alec feels the truth in the room; feels it in the warmth of the dangling lights, and the smile tugging at his lips.

Weariness washes away, until all Alec can cling to is the desire to be seen, and be seen for the reasons he wants to explore.

Maryse doesn’t miss the shift in Alec’s gaze, and she looks over her shoulder and follows his eyes. When she turns her head back, sharply, her lips are pressing so tightly together that they’re almost white.

“Is this because of that assassin? Alec, you can…befriend other people.” Maryse looks uncomfortable then, looking briefly away. It makes her look surprisingly small; uncertain. “Not him.” She finishes.

“Mom, Magnus has helped-“

Alec holds a hand up to interrupt Izzy’s protests, but he smiles gratefully at her attempt to smooth things over. This is his responsibility, his choice. He’ll be damned if he doesn’t give it everything.

“Befriend?” Alec laughs. It’s a little short of breath, but he shakes his head. The anger, the denial of his mother, is frustrating to extremity now. This is just another way for Maryse to place the blame elsewhere, and if it wasn’t so aggravating, it would be amusing. But she’s slipping Magnus into her argument like a poison, and Alec wants to shout out that they’re insane if they don’t realise that Magnus is saving him, not destroying him.

Maryse ignores the sarcasm and continues on, folding her arms against her chest. “Do you know anything about him?” She demands. “Really? Do you know his past?” She asks.

“Your mother has a point. He’s…a mystery.” Robert says, carefully, and there’s nothing positive in the way he says the word.

“Yes.” Alec says. He can’t help but smile. “I do know him, mom, and he is an incredible man. Magnus is compassionate, courageous, intelligent, and smiles despite everything people like you try to throw at him. But, you wouldn’t know that, because you, and The Clave, are too prejudice to see the goodness.”

Maryse looks down. For a second, there’s hesitation, and even when she looks up, and speaks, her voice doesn’t have the same intensity. “Alec…it’s not that…he’s a guy,” She swallows, uncomfortable. “That’s not the biggest concern. Why…him?”

“Why don’t you get to know him and find out for yourself?” Alec dares.

“Look, it still doesn’t change the fact that we have family honour to live up to. You have to protect the name and-“

Alec groans. “Christ, mom.” He snaps. His voice almost cracks from sheer exhaustion. Is it always going to be this hard to fight for a moment of peace? To make his parents see?

He straightens then, catching Magnus’ eye again. He’s not talking to Lydia anymore, just watching the exchange, his chin lifting.

He’s too far away, Alec thinks. He doesn’t like that this is a graduation ceremony, and he’s arguing with his mom, and Magnus Bane is right there, waiting.

You’re what I want.

The thought enters his mind like a light. It shines and dazzles so brightly that Alec can’t ignore it anymore.

“Stop, please.” Isabelle says.

Jace is holding out a hand as well. “We should save this for later-“

“Alec, are you even listening to me?” Maryse is asking. She ignores the attempts to still the anger of her questions, and stares furiously at her son.

Alec.” She says, louder this time.

The expectation in her eyes makes Alec want to roll his own. How often is he letting his parents do this to him, time and again? How many more times is he going to let their ideas cloud his own changing judgements?

He answers his own question by pushing past his mother. “Enough.”

He moves past Maryse, and steps down the aisle with purpose. There are no words that can describe how he feels then, making this choice. It’s not even a choice. How can it be, when Magnus is offering his heart up, free for Alec to cherish?

It’s the most natural, true, righteous thing in the world to grab Magnus by the lapels and kiss him, hungrily, suddenly. With the clearest expression of a kiss like this one, Alec finds himself answering an unasked question: yes.

He finds it like a traffic light turning green, or the victory of an outnumbered fight. There is only certainty and pleasure in finding this moment unfurling around him.

Alec strokes the soft velvet of Magnus’ jacket and pushes against him, keeping him upright as they kiss before whoever else is watching. How many eyes are on them? How many whispers are going to echo around the room? Alec doesn’t care. If he’s going to later, it doesn’t matter too much either. Because Magnus will be there. They’ll face it side by side. He kisses him one more time, less desperate, but still heated, and the small sigh slips from between his lips.

The many moments that come before this all line up. Alec can see them, flip through them like they’re stills from a movie, or pages of a book. He feels the uncertainty of breaking the rules, of crossing all the lines just to open his heart up to fall for Magnus. He feels the anxiety, the caution, the passion, and the longing for a tenderness that Magnus himself yearns for just as deeply.

When he pulls back, he opens his eyes slowly, only keeping them on Magnus. He’s not quite ready to look around just yet. His thoughts are on the kiss, and on the man smiling up at him with a playful glint in his warm eyes.

“And just what was that for, Alexander?” Magnus whispers, tilting his head rather coyly for someone who just contributed to a spontaneous make out. 

“That was for you.”

Magnus regards him for a long moment. “I don’t think so.” He says eventually, and kindly. “I think that was for you, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.”

“No.” Alec insists. His fingers are still coiling around Magnus' jacket. “It was for you too. Because I don’t want us to hide this." Gently, he cups Magnus' face with both hands. "You’re not a secret I want to keep because I’m ashamed. I promise. I, I-“

“I know that.” Magnus assures him, smiling as he does. “But there’s no shame in accepting yourself too, Alec.” His eyes flicker away, towards the side, and then he quickly looks back and smiles again. “Now come on, let’s go and get a drink. We, my dear, have a bit of an audience.”

“Oh?” Alec turns, and his mother and father are staring. Well, gaping. A few other Clave members, and a small group of agents are staring, and Alec struggles between rolling his eyes and cowering. He settles for halfway and lets Magnus pull him towards the bar inside the marquee tent.

“I don’t regret it.” Alec says, as soon as they’re ordering a drink by the bar. Raj is behind the table and offers him a brief nod of encouragement before taking other orders.

The recruits are sitting around a table, eating and occasionally thanking a Clave agent who approaches them, no doubt wishing them good luck in the future.

“I feel like our children just left home.” Magnus teases, leaning back against the bar. He stirs the drink slowly. 

Alec rolls his eyes, not quite ready to admit that he feels the same. “I’m glad they got this." He says instead. "Thanks to you.” He takes a sip from his own drink, taking in the moment. 

“And you.”

"Hm?" Alec is only half paying attention, distracted by the way Magnus' hands dance against the rim of the glass. "Oh. Fine. Us." He corrects dryly, if only because Magnus will never let it drop until he does. 

“Us.” Magnus confirms, and he tips the drink towards Alec’s.

~

Afternoon turns to evening, and as the graduation party moves inside, and back to work, Alec forces himself to lift his chin and refuse to hide away. He carries about his duties as usual, but he doesn’t shy away from asking questions. When his mom asks him to assign the new agents to a team, he nods, but tells her that he’ll be keeping them away from the main action.

The fact that she surrenders without a word tells Alec that he’s won the battle.

At the same time, as he watches his parents refuse to meet his eye, Alec knows that he’s created a chasm. The distance between them only seems to grow. 

But it hurts less when Isabelle keeps grinning whenever they pass, or when Jace wiggles an eyebrow and asks Alec if he’s seen Magnus. He might flip his best friend off, but Alec is pleased by their teases. It’s comforting and sweet and their kindness is overwhelming, especially to the parts of his heart that are now open.

The energy buzzing inside his bloodstream lights a match to his happiness. Alec can’t sign off on a team without thinking of the moment in the garden. He hands over a paper, and then, in his mind, he’s kissing Magnus again. He’s remembering soft lips and quick grins. He remembers how it feels to hold onto someone as they let you in to see all the complicated little pieces of their soul.

Magnus appears long after the other agents are retired for bed.

As soon as he enters the small room – where Alec himself is finishing up with checking for possible locations in Brooklyn – Alec feels the prickle of anticipation dance across the back of his neck. He doesn’t look up. He waits; waits until Magnus is standing closer, still silent, and running his hand across the back of Alec’s hand.

Alec doesn’t hesitate. He grabs Magnus by the hand, smirking at his little yelp, and tugs him from the room – making sure, of course, to lock it up. The echoing footsteps as he walks Magnus down the corridor are almost loud enough to drown out his pounding heart, but not quite.

No sound is possible to drown it out, not with Magnus so close.

When his door finally comes into sight, Alec leans against it and pulls Magnus towards him, with one hand around his waist and one coiled tightly around the back of his neck. His lips find his, and everything gets a little sharper, a little brighter.

Sighing into the kiss, Alec is pleased when Magnus gets the hint and tilts his head to deepen it further, his tongue skimming lightly against Alec’s lower lip. He loses count of the kisses and gets lost in the non-existent space between them. The door is cool and hard against his back, and keeps him upright, but still, as Alec’s knees tremble, he finds himself gripping the doorknob, unintentionally, and stumbles.

Magnus tugs him back, and places a gentle hand against the door handle, resting it there for a moment. His lips are bright red as he smiles, shaking his head. “Not now.”

“Oh. Oh.” Alec realises what he’s referring to, and quickly shakes his own head, laughing. “That’s really not what I meant, honestly. You’re right. Not now.”

“Wait, are you saying that I’m undesirable-“

Alec shuts Magnus up by cupping his face and capturing his lips again. Really, sometimes his boyfriend needs to learn to answer without words.

Magnus is only too eager to respond. He wraps both hands around Alec’s neck and digs his finger into the nape of his neck. As they kiss, Magnus rocks his hips forwards, perhaps accidentally, but considering it’s Magnus, and Alec knows he rarely does anything to be subtle, Alec decides that it’s definitely deliberate.

It doesn’t matter. Alec is more than happy to embrace the teasing, especially if it means Magnus is grinning and has to stop kissing for a moment, just to stop.

The feverish hunger burns out. Alec doesn’t complaint. Not at all. If it means that he can focus on Magnus, wholly, that he’ll let the fire sooth itself. Time ticks on, and they stay pressed closely together in the shade of the corridor. The hard frame of the door keeps Alec standing as he rests his forehead against Magnus’.

“After this ends,” Alec begins, and he clears his voice to shake away the throaty edge. Still, the huskiness lingers. “I want you to help me with something.” He wraps his arms, slowly this time, around Magnus’ waist, keeping him close. The tips of his thumbs brush across the bare slither of skin from where his shirt is riding up. He’s soft and warm, and god, Alec is helpless in wanting to open the damn door. It feels good, safe, to stay like this, and Alec is unwilling to take this to a new level with the threat of the Morgensterns hanging over their heads.

“Oh?” Magnus raises an eyebrow. He licks his lips, and the gesture draws Alec’s gaze back down to his mouth, and then back up again. At least Magnus isn't pressing any closer.

Alec waits a moment, considering his words. “Would you…consider working with me? Not for me, but with me? If…” He takes a deep breath, and then just says it. Out loud. “If I decided to set up my own branch.”

Magnus’ eyes widen. “Alec…” He trails off.

Now that he’s said it, Alec realises how huge it is. It’s not like anyone hasn’t done it before, but it would mean truly establishing something on his own, separate from the family. He would be a leader in a different way.

“Your skills are something else, Magnus. You were amazing with the recruits, and you were going to ask for a position with Cassandra, and I’m not her, but…”

“No, you’re not her.” Magnus agrees, and his eyes shine bright as he beams. “You’re you, Alexander, and I-“

He stops so abruptly that his entire body tenses. Alec blinks. What did he miss?

He watches as Magnus, oddly immobile, takes a step back, although he’s still within arm’s reach.

“You, what?” Alec asks, quietly. He keeps his arms around Magnus’ waist, stroking his thumb slowly against the lower planes of his back. He doesn’t want to push, but really, the startled look on Magnus’ face is making Alec anxious now. “Hey…Magnus. Look at me.” He says softly.

The tension finally leaves his body. Magnus' broad shoulders relax, and he’s finally able to look up and meet Alec’s eyes as he nods, almost to himself.

“I think that sounds wonderful, Alec.” Magnus says, smoothly. Perhaps too smoothly. Alec catches the all-too familiar sign of Magnus’ careful words, but this time, he can’t read why he’s playing it casual. There’s nothing angry in the smile on Magnus’ face. There’s no hidden tension in his body either – at least none that Alec can see, so perhaps…

Magnus interrupts his thoughts with a quiet yawn. “I’m in, but perhaps we should discuss this after the confrontation.” He covers his mouth with the back of his hand, and it’s not fake – or entirely so – because his eyelids are drooping slightly. Alec’s are too, if he’s honest with himself.

“Oh. Alright.” Alec tries to smile, even if his heart isn’t completely in it.

Still, looking across at Magnus means that he can’t keep his spirits down for too long.

Magnus smiles back, and lifts his chin to kiss Alec once more. This kiss is slow, barely a soft, light, brushing of lips, but it’s the sweetest thing that Alec has ever felt in his life. The fragility of the kiss, and of Magnus’ tenderness, makes Alec’s throat cease up. It takes all of his strength not to deepen it, but rather just to enjoy the intimate moment, and welcome the joy in falling for someone like Magnus. Of falling for someone who’s always willing to wait, to be patient, and to push you when it’s needed.

“Sweet dreams, Alexander.”

“Goodnight.” Alec says quietly, watching the other man walk away.

~

Magnus closes the door and leans against it.

"You what?” He repeats in his head. He runs over it again in his mind.

The words almost slipped out, and so easily at that.

He’s not had that feeling in a long while, but he’s had the feeling enough times to recognise it.

What Magnus had been seconds from saying now darts around inside his chest. It’s a firmly lodged bullet, but it doesn’t hurt. It settles inside of him, a reminder that it’s there, and not going away anytime soon. Magnus doesn’t say it, although he wants to rush back and whisper it to Alec. But saying it now is selfish. They have time, and there will be a moment for it. Magnus knows this.

He smiles to himself, at least letting himself say it in the quiet, private space of his room.

He lets the sentence finish itself:

“You’re you, Alexander...and I love you.”

He’s been in love enough times to recognise it. It’s familiar, and excitingly new. It’s learning to fly again after forcing yourself to crawl for so long. Magnus' fingertips tingle and his smile wants to grow wider and wider. He lets it, shutting his eyes and embracing the yearning for more, more, always more. As he undresses and falls into bed, tomorrow doesn’t seem very troublesome after that.

Loving someone as courageous and loyal as Alec is a dream Magnus will chase forever. Although, he thinks, it looks like it won’t require much chasing, only running…together. The dream of watching the sunrise with Alec no longer feels like hope. It feels like the future.

Alec feels like the future.

Love, is Magnus’ future.

Chapter Text

“And you’re fine with that? Being separated from your beau?”

“No one says that anymore, Jace. What are we, courting?” Alec snorts, studying the papers with the team locations on the table. They're organising the last of the agents into teams that'll be stationed throughout the state. Alec focuses on the papers, rather than Jace's questions. 

“And yeah, I’m fine with that.”

It's a lie, but Jace doesn't need to know this.

“Really?”

Alec scribbles a name particularly hard, and when the ink spills out a little, he sighs. 

“No. I hate it," he finally admits with a mutter. “I don’t want to lose sight of Magnus during the attack, but I can’t file a report asking to switch teams because ‘my boyfriend is on the lower levels, can I please protect him, thank you’.”

“Romance, right?” Jace sighs, patting his friend’s arm.

Alec gives him a tight-lipped smile. It’s the best he can do right now. During the final strategy meeting, they were splitting their 20 agents – The Clave wanted small groups of top agents on the streets, ready for both close contact fighting and long ranged attacks. Those teams were then split into two sub-teams of six or seven. Those on the ground, and those on a second level, depending on whatever was available. Roofs on other sides of the building, or balconies if the space was open, like a warehouse or underground facility.

As much as Alec wants to argue, it makes sense to put him on the top with a bow. And Magnus on the ground, quick and lethal and good with his hands, makes even more sense.

“Hey. Magnus is smart,” Jace points out gently. 

“Yeah. I know that,” Alec snaps. He sighs, running a hand through his hair.

“Sorry," he mutters. There's an awkward pause, and Alec realises that his best friend is under an equal amount of strain and deserves a better apology. “You’ve been beside me the whole time, Jace, and I couldn’t have done this without you. Sorry for being…”

“You?” Jace interrupts him, grinning. His expression softens in understanding. “Hey, I get it. Every time I see Clary getting ready to go on a mission, I think up at least a dozen excuses to get her out of it. But, that’s who she is, and I wouldn’t love her as much as I do if it changed.”

“I can’t lose him when…”

As Magnus' face pops into his thoughts, Alec feels his throat getting dry all of a sudden.

He takes a few slow, deep breathes, and then replies, “We’ve made a lot of plans," he finally says. “I’d like for us to both live through them.”

“And you will. Both of you," Jace promises quickly. He takes the last of the papers from Alec and gently plucks the pen from his hands. "Besides, I’m on your team too, remember? I’m always on the winning side.” Jace grimaces. “Except for that one time I got held hostage by the very men we’re now up against.”

“Don’t remind me. I thought for a second you were dead, and it almost made me lose my damn mind.”

“Hey, we’ve got this. It’s going to be tense, and we’re all going to need to stay strong, as a unit, but whoever finds the bomb, and takes on the Morgensterns, we’re all ready. Breathe, Alec. You can do this. We can do this.”

At last, some of the tension leaves his body. Alec lets it go, knowing fore well that it might return soon, but for now, with his best friend beside him, and the mission looming ahead, he'll take even a moment of calm. 

Jace taps his fingers against the table, and looks down. “Have you…spoken to Maryse-“

“No. Not unless I have to.”

Dealing with his mom is something that Alec is keeping completely at bay. For the meantime. Thankfully, Maryse is taking the hint. Either that, or she's also loaded with work and desperate to keep the focus on the mission as well. 

“Buddy…”

Alec holds up a hand, his voice straining as he says, “Not now. Please. We have enough to deal with than adding family drama to the mix.”

“There’s always family drama," Jace points out, dryly. He leans against the counter, shrugging as he looks up at Alec. "Wouldn’t be home without it, right?”

Alec admits that his friend might have a point there. Which is another reason he’s considering taking some distance...

Sensing that if he waits another minute, he'll talk himself of it, Alec clears his throat. 

“So, I’ve been thinking about doing…something," he finishes lamely, pointedly ignoring the huff of amusement from his friend. 

“Slow down,” Jace deadpans. “I can’t catch up.”

Alec blurts it out then. “I’m leaving. Possibly."

“The agency?” Jace asks. He frowns. "I thought we covered this at the ceremony...?"

“Yeah, and I meant that. I don’t want to stop working for The Clave. I like this job. I just…need to do it my way.”

“You want to move to another Institute, right?”

Alec considers just dropping the issue. This can wait, surely. But Jace is waiting, and he's giving Alec his full attention, and that, combined with the urge to share his ideas, makes him continue. 

“Uh…”

“You want to build another Institute?”

“No. No. Well, more like a new branch-“

Alec,” Jace exclaims then. "That's..." For a moment, he looks too shocked for Alec to judge it as good, or bad. He just hovers awkwardly, waiting.

Finally, a brilliant smile breaks across Jace's face. His eyes shine with pride. 

“Why is this the first time I’m hearing about it?" Jace demands, but he doesn't look offended in the slightest. "And…”

He leans casually on the counter-top again, his chin jutting out as he grins up at Alec. "Are you hiring now?" Jace teases. "Because I want to recommend this guy. Tall, blonde, abs like an angel’s. I think he’d be a good agent.”

“He already is.” Alec smiles then, warmth mixing with gratitude in his chest. “And my best friend.”

Jace widens his eyes, mock-horror mirth in his expression. “You know him too?”

“Shut up.” Alec laughs. He quietens, and after a pause, nudges Jace and smiles. “If you want to, though, and I want you to know that you don’t owe me anything to say yes, but…I’d like that. If, and it's a big if," he warns Jace pointedly, "I decide to set up a new branch, I'd like that. I'd like your help.”

Jace clasps his hand over Alec's, squeezing it. 

"You never have to ask," Jace says, quietly. "I'm always here for you, Alec." He ruins the moment by breaking into a sly grin. “Got any clever names for a branch of agents who rebel against their parents and rescue pretty assassins?”

Alec doesn't have a good retort for that, so he just raises an eyebrow and asks, “Uh, you think Magnus is pretty?”

“I’m not blind,” Jace says this with such an incredulous look that Alec lets out a happy, warm laugh. Until then, he didn’t realise how much he needed it, and when he looks back across, Jace is smiling too, like he knew it all along.

“It’s getting late. I’ll finish up here, and you, go find him.”

“Who?”

Pff,” Jace huffs out. “Your lover. Your soulmate. Your everything-i-ever-dreamed-of man. The one you would cross oceans for and defy the stars-“

Alec scrunches up a ball of paper, and watches happily as it sails through the air and lands right in Jace’s face. His friend lets out a small cry, and retaliates with a single raised finger that just makes Alec laugh harder. 

“Really, Alec, go," Jace insists. "We only have a few days, and…”

Enjoy every minute.

“I’ll send Clary your way too.” Alec smiles, and Jace’s face softens instantly.

“Yeah. Please do,” Jace adds, quietly.

~

It takes Alec a little over ten minutes to locate Magnus.

It’s not a part of the Institute that he tends to hang out at, but the greenhouse garden is quiet and peaceful as it opens up in a long maze of cobblestone path, lush plants and an open, glass curving roof overhead. The warm air settles comfortably around him as he walks over the small wooden bridge that looks out over the goldfish pond. Magnus is sitting on the bench beside it, staring down at the array of water lilies and flashes of golden fish in the clear water.

“I thought I was supposed to be the dramatic one,” Alec greets him with a smile as he sits quietly beside Magnus.

The swing-seat rocks for a moment, before settling again.

Magnus’ answering laugh is as soft as the rippling water. “That’s my job, Alexander, no?” he asks. “I’m the one who stole an important Cup. I’m the one who leads a very lavish lifestyle with beautifully custom guns and expensive cosmetics.” He blinks deliberately, his muted gold eyeliner blending into his skin beautifully.

Alec just shrugs. “Well, I kissed you in front of my mom, my dad, and a ton of Clave agents," he points out, rather smugly in fact. It settles inside the pit of his stomach; he’s proud to have made that decision. He would do it again in a heartbeat.

“Hm. That only earns you three points I’m afraid,” Magnus says, his expression teasing as he smiles. His right hand rests on Alec’s knee, his fingers splaying out and stroking slowly across his thigh, as if to make the touch as gentle as possible. It softens his next words.

“You have a lifetime of my dramatics to catch up with, sorry.” He looks very pleased with himself then, and Alec doesn’t even mind that he’s lost the argument.

“Seriously. What are you doing in here?”

“I was exploring.”

“Still not enough excitement for you?” Alec asks, ignoring the little quiver in his voice. It’s not his fault that Magnus craves adventure, craves more, and yearns for-

“Alec.”

Magnus is suddenly leaning a lot closer, and his expression is soft and careful, like he’s very aware of everything Alec is thinking of. Maybe he is. Alec knows that Magnus is very good at reading people, and understanding them. His empathy is one of the reasons why he’s falling easily, softly, fiercely and wonderfully in love with him.

Oh.

Hey there.

He greets the thought with surprising calm. Unlike before, the urge to suppress it, to dissolve it, isn’t there. Alec, instead, holds it gently, as though cupping his own heart between the walls of his mind.

It’s a strange little creature; love, Alec thinks. The love he feels around Isabelle, or Jace, is different, a different leaf from the same tree of emotion. It’s only then that Alec truly understands Magnus, and his past, and those who have come before him, who have had the privilege to love Magnus. It’s a line drawn across a map that’s forever changing. It’s drawing in red ink with one person, and then drawing in thick, curly green with another. Loves can take you on short journeys, and long ones, and loop around and find themselves rushing back together again.

For the rest of his life, however brief, or long it is, Alec hopes that he spends that lifetime loving and running and laughing in parallel to Magnus’ line. The shift inside must be showing in his expression, because when Alec finally refocuses, there’s a tear falling down Magnus’ face, pausing at his cheek before falling down; down, down, like Alec’s own heart.

He suddenly stands, taking the few steps over to the bridge. He overlooks the pond for a few seconds.

When he hears Magnus coming up to stand beside him, Alec suddenly blurts out, “Promise me you’ll be safe.” It’s an awful, broken whisper, and he can’t hide the pain in his voice. “I know you’re fast and- and clever, and you’re not going to rush in and do something heroic, but…I can’t lose you. Please. Please, Magnus, I…”

He surges forwards and brings Magnus stumbling into his arms, holding him close. He hugs him so tightly that for a moment, it doesn’t seem scary.

“You won’t," Magnus says, whispering it into his collar bone. He places a gentle kiss there, and then rests his head, gently, against Alec’s neck. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”

“Good. Good," Alec repeats, and leans back, still with his arms around Magnus’ shoulders. They loop around his neck, softly stroking the hair at the nape of his neck.

“You’re getting stubbly," Alec murmurs, slowly running a finger down Magnus’ chin. The short hairs prickle his finger, and sudden thoughts of how heightened the feeling would be if other places of his body were feeling it overwhelm him. He quickly withdraws the finger, placing it back, safely, around Magnus’ shoulders.

“So are you. Not that I’m complaining.” Magnus smiles, and he curls a strand of Alec’s hair around his forefinger, and the simple gesture is intimate and comforting and achingly domestic. Alec knows that he’ll never want this with anyone else, never be so sure that he can be the best version of himself beside another. And with sudden confidence, he knows that he too, can bring out the best in Magnus, and love him deeply, and with total support.

“Three days till all this is over,” Alec reminds himself, and Magnus. “Three days.”

Magnus’ face suddenly falls. “Do you think…I’ll have to leave behind the glitter, for the mission?”

“Is it glow in the dark?”

“No.”

“But it catches the eye easily, so no. No glitter.”

Magnus pouts. “But…”

“My boyfriend can take down bad men, and undergo torture, and still come out smiling, but god forbid someone take away his eyeliner.” Alec chuckles in amusement. “It’s not the end of the…Why are you looking at me like that?”

Alec raises a hand, suddenly self-consciousness, worried that there’s something on his face, or between his teeth. Was he eating grapes earlier? Did Jace throw tiny pieces of paper into his hair again?

Magnus shakes his head, smiling. “I like hearing you say that, that’s all,” he admits. He’s suddenly shy, and Alec swears there’s a blush creeping onto his cheeks. The thought that he can make Magnus bashful is going on his list of favourite things. He doesn’t have one, but he sure as hell will start making one now.

“What did you originally come to find me for?”

“Uh, to say goodnight.”

“How sweet.” Magnus beams. He offers Alec an arm, and the gesture is beyond endearing. “May I walk you to your room, Alexander?”

“Yes, good sir.”

“Where’s my curtsy?”

“Don’t push your luck.” Alec snorts, as they make their way out of the greenhouse. He’ll play along for a bit, but he’s not getting into roleplay anytime soon. He looks away as his thoughts turn down another route again. At this point, he wonders if just getting it over with will make the thoughts go away, but then he feels a stab of guilt, because this is Magnus, and he doesn’t want any of their times together to be rushed, under pressure, or lost in fear and worry.

But...we deserve it.

Not later, or in the future. Now.

When they arrive at his door, Alec just kisses Magnus.

Just, however, turns into more pretty quickly. Alec realises that a quick make out is becoming a manhandling groping session. When his heart starts racing, he has to physically push Magnus back in order to separate them.

But Magnus doesn’t step back, and it takes looking down for Alec to realise that he’s still holding on – and rather tightly at that – to Magnus’ hand. He stares down at it, the touch burning hot. It brings back so many memories; holding Magnus’ hand like a lifeline. For how long have they both wanted more, both deserved more?

The sudden stillness in Magnus’ body surprises Alec. He doesn’t move an inch. From the hand he’s holding, to the kiss-damp lips, Magnus stands frozen, but his eyes open up a world of adventure. His jaw is clenching, and Alec is hit with a wave of desire as he works out that it’s not from concentration, but rather a determination to stay still, to wait, when all he wants to do is surge forwards.

Alec rests one hand on the door handle. The other is still in Magnus’; waiting to let it go, or to tug him closer.

“If I let you in, things will...happen, right?” Alec murmurs.

A quiet pause hovers in the air after the question. Magnus’ head tilts to the side, and although his pupils are so clearly dilated that Alec can see them from the doorway, Magnus still doesn’t make any of his usual flirtations.

“Is that so bad?” he asks. His lips curve into a beautiful smile, that leaves Alec gripping his hand slightly tighter.

He wants this, wants Magnus, but…

No. He’s done waiting. A groan almost slips out from between Alec's lips, because he can’t stand how patient Magnus is being, how respectful. Really, it’s a sin to have Magnus standing outside his bedroom and be contemplating the action, rather than damn well doing it.

Alec sucks in a breath when Magnus’ tongue darts out to wet his lips. He does it slowly, and somewhere between the tremble in his fingers, and the stirring desire waking up his entire body, Alec sets aside all concerns. The night beckons.

“We can take it slow.”

“Slow,” Magnus repeats it like a death sentence, though judging from his curving smirk, he doesn’t look too unhappy with this idea. “Hm.” Parts of his usual personality start to resurface; his head tilts, and he starts to run his fingertips slowly, and playfully, down Alec’s wrist, and forearm as he steps closer.

“No. You’re right. I, uh…we should wait. Right?” he asks, weakly. His voice teases on the edge of breaking, and he hates that he can barely speak because of Magnus’ dancing fingers, which have now reached his elbow.

“Haven’t we earned some good? Besides, you seem rather tense, Alexander. I think we can help each other out, hm?”

He’s going to turn away. Really, he is.

But then Magnus gives him a shit-eating grin, and it all goes to hell.

The doorknob gets rather forcefully turned, and then kicked back with Alec’s heel. He kicks it back so carelessly that it collides with the wall, but it’s no matter because he’s already preoccupied with someone’s mouth assaulting his own. Magnus leaps at him, and there’s no other word to describe it other than that. He’s a tightly sprung coil, and Alec can’t get enough of it, of him. They make it inside the room, somehow. The energy bursts from his lips, and Alec can feel the need between the kisses; in the way that Magnus’ arm fumbles backwards to find the door. With a forceful flick of his wrist, Magnus sends it slamming back, shutting it firmly behind them. 

The room is dark, lit only when Alec flips the switch, turning it on the lowest setting. It’s dim, but not unbearably dark, and it’s bright enough that Alec can see Magnus’ shiny, pink lips, and his white teeth flashing as he grins.

They stumble backwards, further into the room, until Alec’s legs hit the edge of his desk by the window.

The wood digs in sharply, and he doesn't have any time to catch his breath because Magnus grips his hips, and lifts him, hoisting Alec up onto the desk. His hands are strong guides, and Alec feels the world tumbling to pieces with each kiss. 

Letting out a deep groan, Magnus coils his hands around the back of Alec's neck. A moment later, and he lower them again. He suddenly pulls Alec forwards by the hips. Alec reaches back, to hold onto something, anything, but his fingers accidentally grip the dressing table mirror too forcefully and it tumbles from his grasp, landing on its side with a small thud.

“Oops,” Magnus comments dryly, pulling back only to survey the damage. The mirror is on its side, there are papers falling to the floor, and Alec really doesn't care at all.

He shrugs, not even feeling a slight bit guilty. He just turns back to Magnus, grips him by the shirt and pulls him closer.

Screw balance, they’re doing just fine thank you very much.

Excitement stirs in his blood, and Alec relishes it, stroking his fingers against Magnus’ neck, working the most exquisite noises out of his mouth. And oh, what a dangerous mouth it is. Soft lips that drag across his, with tantalising slowness. Magnus also knows when to deepen the touches, enticing Alec to push back. He grips Alec’s hips, his fingers teasing the waistband of Alec’s pants, but he keeps them there, firmly holding him in place as they kiss.

From this angle, they’re exactly the same height, and Alec can wrap his legs around Magnus to keep him pinned in place. He kicks his shoes off, prodding with the first heel, and then the other, and when they clang onto the floorboards, Magnus makes another sound in the back of his throat, like he’s understanding the decision, the permission to keep going.

Magnus’ hands begin to move again. The cool, sharp metal of his rings makes Alec gasp, as his fingertips start to unbutton his shirt. The movements are fluid and graceful, but his kisses are no less desperate, and Magnus reaches the last button as he takes Alec’s bottom lip between his and tugs, his teeth dragging the skin down with careful pressure. He hums, taking his sweet time with the moment. Magnus’ eyes are half closed, and Alec can’t feel a damn thing other than the Magnus’ teeth nipping at his lower lip as he sucks it. All this time, he's dancing his fingertips down the plane of Alec’s chest. He starts at the top, palms flat against his pectoral muscles, and then smooths his hands down until they’re resting on his hips again, the touch leaving behind a burning trail.

Alec whines, the sound rushing out of his throat. It’s embarrassingly frustrated, but Magnus’ expression turns from surprise to hunger to complete devastation.

“Alexander, if you make that sound again, I’m not going to make it to the bed.”

“Stop biting me then,” Alec mutters.

“Hm. Can I do…this?” Magnus asks, humming, low in his throat, as he kisses Alec’s jaw, his nose brushing against his cheek as he tilts his head to the side. He pauses, looking up with wide eyes. “Allowed?”

Alec nods, desperately trying not to keen and whine again. “Yeah," he rasps out. His fingers fumble back again, gripping the corners of the desk as Magnus holds him steadily.

“And…what about this?” Magnus digs his fingers into Alec’s hips, and then slowly unbuckles the belt. When he throws it aside, he makes quick work of the buttons on Alec’s pants. He keeps holding Alec’s gaze the entire time.

“This?” he asks, slowly dragging the material down.

Alec nods. At least, he thinks he does. He can’t say a damn word, that’s for sure. He lifts his hips, and then he’s left in just his boxer briefs, and a very smug Magnus staring down at him with hungry eyes.

“I see you really hated the biting, Alexander.” He arches an eyebrow, and Alec doesn’t have to look down to know that he’s achingly hard and needing release.

Magnus dives in for another kiss, and Alec makes steady work of his buttons in return, before slipping the shirt completely off Magnus' shoulders. He runs his hands down Magnus’ body, as the other man kisses down his neck again. This time, it’s slower, and his tongue grazes the soft skin with care.

“Allowed?” Magnus whispers. He lifts his chin, and there’s hardly any space between their faces, and he’s so warm, and wonderfully close, and Alec tangles his arms around Magnus’ neck, just holding him still for a moment. He waits, letting their chests heave, and there’s that quiet, calm silence, with only room for quiet breathes. Alec smiles. It happens lazily, truthfully, and so happily, and Magnus returns it with an equally pleased one.

“Allowed,” Alec repeats, the word becoming not just permission, but a way of saying a thousand other words. In the silence, it says to wait, but also to enjoy. He gently nudges Magnus back, and now it’s his turn to take control, for the meantime. He slips off the desk, and doesn't give himself time to rethink it. He just lifts Magnus up into his arms, and keeps their gazes locked as he walks over to the bed.

It’s the vulnerable, small smile on Magnus’ face that forces Alec to slow down, to lay him down gently, rather than throw him down on the sheets – and Alec is sure there will be other times for that. For now, he knows that this is worth taking the time for, worth embracing the stutters and the hesitation, and more importantly, the encouragement; the understanding in the pauses between kisses. It’s why, when Alec covers Magnus’ body with shaking hands, Magnus smiles up at him and kisses him until they’re no longer trembling.

Alec works at Magnus’ pants, and slides them off, with an awkward fumble that has them pausing to laugh for a moment. Magnus makes a soft tease about how taking it slow didn’t mean with everything. Alec kisses him to shut him up after that.

The solid warmth of Magnus beneath him, on the cool sheets, is a beautiful feeling. Alec lingers on the edge of letting Magnus push him over, and cherishing the sight of the other man arching underneath him. And he does, arch. Magnus arches and preens and moves, touching and kissing and pressing so closely to Alec that he’s not even sure there’s a part of them not touching anymore.

After another minute of kissing, Alec feels an ache building, and when he opens his mouth to speak, Magnus just nods.

“I know," he murmurs. “Me too.” Until this point, their hands have been wandering, and their naked bodies and rolling hips seem to almost be enough, but Alec knows that they still need more.

“Is this still taking it slow?” he asks, and almost rolls his eyes at his dumb question. To cover his blunt question, and to show Magnus that he really is ready, Alec slides open the desk drawer and pulls out the small tube of lube.

“Hey.” Magnus gently covers the hand, and it’s like they’re sharing the possibility, but making sure each other is ready to take it. “You’re sure?” He wipes Alec’s hair from his forehead, bringing him down for a light, soothing kiss. 

Alec licks his lips, still holding Magnus’ gaze, and places the tube down again. He waits until he's ready to go on, and their hands are slick and ready too, and then slowly, and as steadily as he can, lowers his hand and takes Magnus into his hand. The effect is instant, and sends a coil of fierce heat into his torso. Magnus moans, slowly and without any hint of coyness. 

After a moment, Magnus reaches down and mirrors Alec’s strokes. He’s gentler, and slower, and Alec tries to copy the rhythm. It’s only when he sees Magnus smiling that he realises he’s focusing too much, as always. Letting go of his uncertainty, Alec kisses him again, pressing them closely together, with only their hands between each other’s legs.

Magnus rolls them over, and Alec knows it’s a subtle move, so that Alec can have a better grip, whereas Magnus needs to do little more to send Alec over the edge. Still, he holds out for another minute. His free hand suddenly needs to hold onto something, and he finds himself running his nails down Magnus' back, the skin slick with sweat. His nails dig in, and Magnus lets out a groan that finally pushes Alec completely over the edge. 

He slows, arching away from the bed as Magnus grips the back of his neck, letting his body tremble and ride it out. After a few moments, Magnus starts to shake, and he comes with a series of gasps that leaves Alec wondering how it's possible to break a man with a single sound. He feels positively wrecked as they come down together, grinding slowly and pressing slow, tender kisses to each other's damp skin. 

Magnus kisses him along the jaw, before falling to the side, but leaving their legs tangled together.

His chest is warm, and although they’ll need to move, and clean up, in a short while, Alec can’t bring himself to pull back. In the haze, and lust, and desire, and passion, Alec just holds Magnus to his chest and buries his head against his shoulder. He sinks his teeth in, and Magnus sucks a bruising kiss of his own against Alec’s neck.

After they get the last of the desire out of their systems - for now, at least - Alec loosens his grip on Magnus’ hair, and helps him climb out of Alec’s lap so that he can lay down beside him instead. Alec immediately turns onto his side, and lets himself have this, a moment where everything is well, and he’s in love with a man who’s going to stay by his side and build a life together. He’s not in a dream anymore. This is real. Magnus is real.

He faces Alec, simply breathing in the lack of space between them. 

Alec can't stop staring at Magnus. He looks beautiful, but so much more than that. He's happy, and openly so, and Alec feels overwhelmed knowing that he's the reason why. He's smiling before he can stop himself, and when Magnus grins back, they share a laugh. 

“I’m getting a towel,” Magnus murmurs," and when I get back, you’re telling me what’s on your mind. Other than this.” He points to himself, and Alec would roll his eyes if he still didn’t feel so overwhelmed by the orgasm. Watching a very naked Magnus walk away is also going on Alec's list of things he's grateful for. 

Scratch that. Very grateful for.

When he does get back, and they carefully clean up, and smile and lazily kiss as they do, Magnus pushes Alec back down until they’re side by side and under the new bed covers.

“To answer your question," Alec finally says, and his voice sounds hoarse still, "I was thinking that if I knew what taking it slow was, I would’ve said yes months ago.”

Magnus peers up at him from beneath long lashes. “Months ago, hm? So…when I was locked up?" He cocks his head, and winks. "I’m all for bondage, but we didn’t even have safe words, Alexander.”

“Don’t joke about that," Alec says quickly. He glances away, but keeps his arms around Magnus' waist, keeping him resting against his chest. "I still wish I’d gotten you out sooner.”

“Stop that. You saved my life.”

“You saved mine as well.”

Magnus shrugs, the small dismissal a humble gesture.

Alec brings Magnus' hand up to his lips, and kisses each finger, one by one. He leaves the thumb for last, and brushes a feather light kiss across the tip before smiling. 

“I don’t just mean…that. I mean, you did so much for me, and…made it so that I could have the courage to do it myself.”

Magnus is smiling gently now, staring down at his hand like Alec has left a mark there. 

“And you taught me how to feel again," Magnus admits, softly. "To let in something that scared me, something deep, powerful, and real. I think…I was close to giving up, when you found me.”

“Thanks for stealing the Cup then, and starting this.” He gestures to their entangled bodies with a lazy grin. 

“Any time.” Magnus grins back, just as smug. “Thanks for not killing me.”

“You would have killed me first,” Alec admits that this is probably true.

“You underestimate yourself.” Magnus tuts. “You would’ve lasted a solid two minutes, perhaps three, I’d be ashamed to damage such a beautiful face.”

Something slots into his thoughts then, and he winces. “I never said sorry…for your friend, Ragnor.”

Magnus swallows, and when he replies, his voice is dipped in sadness. “I was hurt, and in a place of recklessness when you found me. I lost a friend, one of the only men who’s ever truly known me, all of me, and I thought…I would be lost. To myself, I mean."

His eyes are shining with tears, but this time, when he gazes up, Magnus' eyes are bright with joy.

"But you, without realising it, reminded me of who I am, and who I want to be. Someone who fights.” Magnus leans up, and kisses him, and it's a thank you, and a promise wrapped up in a simple touch. 

“Someone who fights,” Alec repeats. Helpless against the sudden wave of fatigue rushing into his body, he yawns.

Magnus yawns moments later, and murmurs, "For tonight, can I be someone who sleeps?”

“Yeah," Alec says, laughing quietly. He runs a finger down Magnus' jaw, tilting it up for one last kiss. "I think you’ve exerted yourself for one night," he murmurs.

“Mm. The pleasure was all mine,” Magnus purrs.

“I assure you, it wasn’t.” Alec snorts, but he’s too happy to put a proper bite back into the argument.

He lets Magnus snuggle in closer, and drapes an arm around his shoulder as they fall asleep together.

~

The next morning, Magnus can barely look Isabelle in the eye. It’s a good thing that going over negotiation tactics and bomb tracing information doesn’t require much time for personal talk.

I am not thinking about your brother naked.

He winces.

Shit. Now I am.

They spend the hour making sure that all the teams are ready to go to their assigned areas. The plan is simple, but relies, still, on chance. They have as many areas covered, from Chicago, to New York, even to Texas, but the lack of any kind of activity recently means that the Morgensterns could be anywhere, underground or otherwise. Still, the minor drug-related deaths over the past few weeks are still in the Brooklyn area, and so it makes sense to place more teams here, than any other state.

“We’re kind of lucky there’s a third party. It means the date definitely won’t change, if they’re establishing control,” Isabelle says.

“I’ll add thanking Valentine to my to-do list,” Magnus says dryly. 

“You’re sure you want to do this? Be on the ground team when it goes down?”

“It’s where I’m best.” Magnus shrugs. He knows Alec too is anxious about this, but it's going to be tough for everyone, so they agree it's the best choice. “I have