Occupational Hazard

Disclaimer: Don't own it, not making a profit, leave me alone.

Timeline: approximately four years preseries. I imagined Jace to be about thirteen here.

Notes: I'm on a Benadryl-and-aspirin-induced trip right now thanks to a lovely mutant cold, so I apologize in advance if this is a lot worse than I think it is. Also, I'm very verbose. Also also, I've been on a subway exactly once, and that was in Spain, for five minutes. Please forgive any glaring errors that come from me having no idea what I'm talking about.

It's only one in the morning, so the subway car's not packed, but there is the usual assortment of weirdos – a teenager with too much eye makeup who looks like he stuck his face in a tackle box, small groups of half-stoned students, some drunken fraternity boys who leered at Isabelle a couple of times until she pulled out one of her daggers and started cleaning it on her skirt, and a filthy man with a tangled beard who keeps mumbling incoherently. He gets a whole corner to himself.

Of course, they themselves don't look too normal either. Jace figures that, the way they're dressed, everyone probably thinks they belong to some sort of suicide cult. He would have preferred something more badass, maybe along the lines of assassin or mercenary, except they're a little too young to give off that impression. Still, most people (except the human pincushion) give them a wide berth.

"I really can't believe it," Isabelle says abruptly, "what kind of demon pretends to be a teacher in a Catholic school?"

Jace glances around, trying not to move too much, but the frat boys are being so rowdy that they have no chance of being overheard. "Well, it was a good disguise. Who would suspect? Besides that gym teacher it almost ate." It was almost the perfect hunt – they located the demon with only a little help and killed it before anyone other than the gym teacher lost a few fingers – except that the school had chosen that particular night to have a 'Second Grade Sleep-In'. Brutally slaughtering a ten-foot tall demon masquerading as a human male might have been easier without worrying about it snacking on a bunch of children that were running around like inebriated chimpanzees. Jace doesn't like kids too much.

Unbelievably, the fraternity boys get louder. One of them starts yelling something that sounds like a school cheer and the others actually manage to drown him out. Isabelle frowns. "If they don't get off before us, can I stab one of them when we leave?"

"Sure," Jace says. The world could use a few less mundanes anyway. "Quickly, though, and then we run for it before they figure out it was us." While he doesn't care about getting caught, Hodge will probably explode if he finds out about it, and he isn't being too lenient on punishments after the infamous Microwave Incident.

She grins and leans to peer around him. "Wow. He is gone."

Jace shrugs one shoulder – the one that Alec isn't currently sleeping against. He's out cold and doesn't even stir when one of the students screams like a banshee. "That's good. If he's asleep, he's not throwing up on anyone – like me."

"Oh, don't whine. You moved in time."

"That doesn't ease my suffering."

Isabelle rolls her eyes at him and starts tapping the handle of her dagger, watching the group of boys with an unreadable expression. Assuming she's deciding which one to knife first, Jace leans back, out of her line of vision, and gingerly crosses his arms over his chest.

He can't feel his feet. He's been sitting in the same position for ages, ever since Alec fell asleep with his head on Jace's shoulder and Isabelle threatened to harm him if he woke her brother up. Not that he was planning to move anyway, because this is a little more normal than the way things have been lately. Alec won't come near him now and he doesn't know why. A year ago they would still sleep in the same bed, just because they had the most hilariously ridiculous conversations while half-asleep, and now they can't even have a normal conversation. Alec's always been high-strung, but during the last few months he got weird and neurotic around everyone except Isabelle. Jace had actually asked her if his bizarre behavior was due to some sort of head trauma he might have sustained. She just shook her head and walked away. She knows what's going on. Jace isn't happy with either of them – he thinks he might be losing his best friend and Isabelle knows why and she won't tell him.

Maybe this has been coming for a while, and he just couldn't see it until now. He and Alec are fundamentally different. Jace is loud, obnoxious, sarcastic, a prick to anyone he doesn't like (which is everyone), and he has the endearing habit of making every word he says sound like an insult. At the other end of the spectrum is Alec – quiet, withdrawn, and probably the only Shadowhunter he's ever met with more than two ounces of common sense. However, he also has the most spectacular temper ever, which Jace is usually the focus of, especially after that time he put a tarantula on his pillow. Now he has to check the bed before going to sleep to make sure there aren't any mousetraps where he's about to put his feet. Petty revenge aside, though, Alec is just as dangerous as he is. Maybe even more so – he's perfectly capable of causing serious harm to anyone who hurts his sister or Jace. He has this screwed up belief that he needs to protect them, and it doesn't matter what happens to him in the process because they're worth more than he is. It bothers Jace, but he doesn't know what to do about it, so whenever Alec gets self-deprecating he stops him by being sardonic and irritating.

Not that he has to do that, these days, since Alec won't even look him in the eyes anymore.

One of the college boys yells "SIX COCONUTS!" and the others erupt in laughter. Not privy to the joke (it sounds like it probably isn't funny anyway), Jace shoots them a dirty look. "Isabelle, I changed my mind – you can stab most of them on the way out. Just leave one for me, I need to maim something."

"Got it!" she chirps, grinning like a maniac.

Isabelle's nothing like either of them – she reminds him of a lioness. Pretty, graceful, luring you in with that tempting smile… and then she tears your throat out and brings your carcass back to the pride to be devoured. Nobody messes with Isabelle. Sometimes Jace thinks that the whole world is just the herd of deer she's stalking. She knows everything (or at least seems to), and she's the one who lies like a rug whenever they need an alibi, never getting caught and never failing to keep her stories straight. The biggest problem with that is that Jace wonders if she's ever lied to him about anything important and realizes he'll probably never know. Plus, she's a good enough Shadowhunter to flatten him with her eyes closed, especially with that damn whip. He made the mistake of calling her the world's first twelve-year-old dominatrix once. It's one of those experiences he never wants to repeat.

"So how did you know which teacher we were looking for?" Isabelle says, nudging his ankle with her foot.

Oh, and here's the part he was hoping she wouldn't ask about. He could lie, but the truth is pretty funny, even if she's never going to let them live it down. "These two little girls told me which one he was."

"Where'd you find the girls?" she asks. "I thought all the kids were in the auditorium."

"Girls' bathroom."

Isabelle opens her mouth, closes it, and then a wicked expression crosses her face. "Why were you in the girls' bathroom?"

Before Jace can answer, Alec shifts and mumbles, "Because Jace can't read,", voice barely above a whisper.

"Nobody asked you," Jace tells him, but he's already asleep again. "Actually, we were in there because the Jesus Army was headed our way and the glamour was wearing off. I didn't look at the sign, I just wanted to get us out of sight. And these little girls – Amie and Jamie, clever, right? – asked us if we were lost and said if we were looking for the gay club, it was six blocks away." He half-shrugs again and tilts his head in Alec's direction. "Then he ran like hell. I've never seen him move that fast before."

Isabelle's expression changes for a split second. He doesn't have a chance to puzzle it out before she starts laughing. "That's awesome. What happened then?"

"I just asked them where 'Mr. Henderson' was."

"That's it?"

"What did you expect? 'Oh, I forgot, I took the little girls into a stall and we had mind-blowing bathroom sex'? Do you really think I'm that depraved, Isabelle?" She's laughing too hard to reply, though, so he turns his attention elsewhere. The hobo is still muttering, the pierced teenager still staring off into space, a couple of guys drinking in the corner… the usual. A red-haired girl wanders into their car and he winks at her, but either she's immune to his charms or having Alec asleep on him ruins the effect, because she takes one look at him and keeps walking. He sulks a bit. For a mundane, she was pretty.

"Don't pout," Isabelle says, apparently recovered, "you look ridiculous." She yawns then, stretching her arms in front of her like a cat. "This is boring. I'm going to sleep." Without further ado, she turns sideways on the seat, propping her legs up, and puts her head down – in Jace's lap.

"Uh," he says, "do you mind?" Normally, in this situation, he'd simply stand up and drop her on the floor, but Isabelle might just stab him, because she's still holding that dagger.

"It's tragic," Isabelle says, "but you've been demoted to family pillow. Deal."

"So, what, I have to stay awake?"

"If you don't," she tells him, "we'll probably get stuck in New Jersey or something. Wake me up when it's our stop, okay?"

"Fine," he mutters, only because of the dagger. It doesn't really bother him as much as he pretends. After three years he's starting to get used to being part of a functional family. 'Functional' is kind of stretching it a bit, though, since Robert and Maryse are in Idris half the time, leaving them with Hodge, and he tends to forget they're there until they destroy something and he has to holler at them. There's also Max, who practically hero-worships Jace – probably just because his own brother resents him and his sister's a psycho, but he'll take it.

Isabelle sleepily mumbles something about remembering to wake her up, reminding Jace that his rear is numb, along with his legs, and he still can't budge. He doesn't mind so much. But he does have to keep up the charade, so he huffs and slumps against the seat – apparently too hard, because Alec punches him in the ribs. "Stop moving," he says hoarsely.

"You know, nobody even asks anymore, they just assume I'm okay with being used as a human pillow! Am I everyone's bitch tonight?" Jace exclaims.

"Yeah," Alec murmurs, "sorry." He curls up on the seat but doesn't take his head off of Jace's shoulder, even though Jace expected him to fling himself out a window as soon as he realized who he was sleeping on. Either he's too sick to care, or he's finally getting over whatever neuroses he developed about touching him. Jace hopes it's the latter. He honestly misses the pointless conversations debating whether Isabelle's cooking resembles a mutated crocodile or some kind of intestinal material (and then the subsequent running and hiding when she overhears). "Occupational hazard."

"I like you better when you're asleep," Jace says. Alec slugs him again – he's going to have bruised ribs tomorrow – but he actually smiles for the first time in four months before dozing off, so Jace figures he can forgive him.

And in the end, everything turns out okay, even though Jace falls asleep too so they miss their stop and end up in the Bronx, and then he thinks it might be funny if he gives the taxi driver the wrong directions. They end up at a strip club famous for its 'Big Surprises Cake' (which isn't edible but usually is a big surprise, knowledge they have courtesy of Jace), and Isabelle tries to cave in Jace's skull with her foot when she realizes he did it on purpose. Still, he thinks they might get home before Hodge wakes up and realizes they aren't back, except Alec chooses that moment to throw up in the back of the cab, so the driver kicks them out and they have to walk the rest of the way.

"You know," Isabelle says at one point, watching to make sure her brother doesn't wander into traffic in a feverish haze, "I never did get to shank any of those guys."

Jace pats her on the shoulder sympathetically. "There'll be other opportunities."

Hodge practically has an aneurysm when they finally get home around four am, five hours after Isabelle called and said they'd be back soon. He hollers indiscriminately for a while, then hollers at Alec for going with them when he knew he was sick, and Alec getting in trouble is such a rare occurrence that Jace and Isabelle discuss buying a card to commemorate the occasion. Of course, Alec actually falls asleep on the couch ten minutes into the diatribe, so Hodge goes off – probably to holler at the cat – and Jace leaves Isabelle to do whatever Isabelle does when she's alone so he can get some sleep himself. And it's all really okay, because maybe even if he does spend most of his time with a neurotic introvert and a girl who likes making his life an unending torrent of misery, he thinks he might be happier than he's ever been before.

More Notes:

There is actually such a thing called a 'Big Surprises Cake'. My brother's friend went to a strip bar with a group of his friends once and they thought about buying one just to see what it was, but none of them could get up the courage. At least, that's what he told me, but since I was only about twelve at the time he might have been censoring the story. And don't tell me you can't imagine Jace glamouring himself invisible and strolling into a strip club just for the hell of it. ;)

Reviews highly appreciated!