The Mortal Instruments Series belongs to Cassandra Clare.

Chapter One: Alec

Center for the Intrepid: Military Amputation and Burn Rehabilitation Unit, Texas

There were goldfish in the outdoor pond at the Center for the Intrepid. Eight or ten of them. They liked to swim back and forth, starting at one end of their makeshift home, fluttering past the water lilies, then around the speckled toads, under the bridge that has become my safe haven, and out the other side. When they first heard the weight of my feet on the sanded boards, they propelled themselves toward the surface, merging together into one massive lump of aquatic frenzy. Once they devoured all the food I provided, they paid little attention to my legs, which dangled over the side, casting shadows above their heads.

That fascinated me – the fact that they all rushed toward this foreign noise. I mean, it shouldn't have, because really, what fuels a fish beyond the need to eat, mate, and repeat, ad infintinum? Still, it drew me back, day after day, the fact that those fish could do something that terrified me.

Dr. Baelish noticed that I had taken an interest in the pond, and wanting to do anything he could to keep me "engaged and enthusiastic about rehabilitation", he gave me a book on pond maintenance. Beyond learning how to construct and care for my own private pond – not that I'd ever be able to keep one going year-round in New York – I actually learned some interesting things about goldfish. Most importantly, as their behavior toward the sound of my characteristic limp indicated – they do not have a memory of only three seconds. So, for any people out there – like my sister Isabelle, for example – who feel the compulsion to make ridiculous faces in front of your fish tank at six second intervals, your goldfish thinks you're just as insane as I do. Though I can understand why a myth like that would circulate; sometimes it's comforting to believe that it's possible, somehow, to completely erase everything that's happened and start over immediately.

Even though I can hear his signature shuffle long before he enters the room, Dr. Baelish insists on announcing himself whenever he arrives. Claims he doesn't want to take me by surprise. But a little surprise would be welcome at this point. I'm pretty sure I would run after a hell monster with a feather staff if it meant I didn't have to sit through one more hour of the Home and Garden network.

"Alexander?" he says softly, after two sharp knocks.

"Come in," I reply, grabbing a bottle of water off my food tray – it still takes a few minutes for my voice to work properly. Like the rest of my body, it hasn't really gotten a chance to be properly worked out lately.

After taking a quick peak beneath my bandages and twisting my leg at just about every possible angle, he gestures toward the bed, eyebrows raised.

"Please, sit," I croak.

"Alexander," he begins again, and I know better than to correct him. No matter how many times I insist that he call me Alec, he refuses. It was hard enough to get him to stop calling me Mr. Lightwood. So much for equality. Still, I don't blame him. This isn't the first time that being General Mayrse Lightwood's son has singled me out. Like the first time I met Jace Herondale, for example.

Lost in my thoughts, Dr. Bealish has to wave his hands in front of my eyes before I remember that someone is even in the room. "Alexander, are you all right?"

I can feel my cheeks flush as I apologize – if only the burns could have severed those neurons. Wishful thinking, I know.

The doctor gives me a warm smile, and I know that I haven't offended him. He's used to much worse. Some of the things he's seen would send me running for the bathroom, but I guess you don't make it through forty years of military medicine without some serious balls. "The General called today, to ask about your progress."

"What did you tell her?" I can feel the sweat gathering between my shoulder blades. Which really, is only going to make my burns itch. Excellent. For all my imaginary demon-slaying prowess, I don't even know if I'm ready to handle the metro.

"I think you're ready, Alexander." I open my mouth to argue against this idea, but when Baelish wants you to be quiet, you know you better just shut up and sit there. "Being nervous is a normal reaction, but you're no longer at a risk for infection, your bandages can be changed by a physician in New York, and your leg is healing wonderfully. Better than we could have hoped for, really." He leans in, eyebrows raised, and I know he's going to play the guilt card next. Is it not pathetic when even your doctor knows you're a pushover?

"Besides, these beds are in –"

"High demand," I finish, feeling a little ashamed. Jace would be frothing at the mouth to leave. He wouldn't lie here, dreaming of all the things he would do, he'd get out of bed and do them. Just thinking about him makes me acutely thankful that I'm no longer hooked up to the heart monitor, since I don't really know how I would explain a spontaneous heart palpitation, but his memory also delivers the rush of strength that I need. "Okay," I say, trying to ignore the mix of surprise and delight on Dr. Bealish's face. "I'll book a ticket back to New York."