Title: Masks

Fandom: Wizards of Waverly Place

Word Count: 4,719 (Chapter 1)

Rating/Content: Jalex, duh. I'm going to say this is PG-13... but more for insinuation than anything else.

Spoilers/episodes: Finale episode, "Who Will be the Family Wizard."

A/N: Halloween Fic! My god, I love Halloween! I've loved writing this Jalex Halloween fic, and with any luck, maybe you'll love reading it. Because, come on. Wizards? Halloween? WIZARDS? HALLOWEEN?

(I rest my case.)

...This is still a work in progress, but the last chapter will be published by All Hallow's Eve, so help me Jack.

This is a future-fic, set slightly less than a year after the Russo family Wizard Competition. Justin's still the Headmaster of Wiz-Tech, Alex is still a Wizard, and there are still more than a few unresolved issues in the air between our favorite pair of siblings.

Betas: My sincere (and very deserved!) gratitude goes out to my beta- buddies TheWolfHourx (aka UsexSomebodyx) and mktoddsparky, who both dropped what they were doing to review and revise this story in all its unfinished glory, and I can't thank them enough. This one is both really important to me and much longer than I realized. Whatever your opinion of my writing in general and this story in particular, believe me when I say that this story is much better for their help. Also, they've both been rather mysteriously silent lately, so I suggest you look up their WOWP fics, and if you love them, review them so that these two excellent authors will have a reason to come back to our twisted little family.

R/R: As always, love is appreciated. Got some love? Give it here. Concrits, on the other hand, will be received with less joy but just as much gratitude. I write faster when I'm being told how great I am. Don't you?

Disclaimer: I don't Wizards of Waverly Place, or anything else that might look familiar.


"Masks hide what you are, Alex"

"Or they make you look like something you're not."

Justin sighs. "It's the same thing."

(But honestly, it's not.)

"Trick or treat!"

Caught off guard, Professor Justin Russo lurches backward, away from the monster's leering face, dropping half the stack of papers he's carrying. The hand holding his coffee jitters, then dashes the still-fragrant warmth all over the front of his carefully pressed dress white dress shirt, probably staining it for good.

Alex hopes it wasn't too hot.

...But it is pretty funny to watch him dance around, trying to keep his papers from falling while pressing a hand to the coffee stains on his shirt.

Pushing her monster-mask up and out of the way, grinning, Alex stoops to help him gather his papers. "A little jumpy, Professor?"

Justin grimaces. "When I'm accosted in my private offices at an ungodly hour of the morning, yes. What exactly are you doing here?"

Alex's lips, painted a dark plum just this side of black, purse in a moue of hurt. "What? A girl can't stop by to say hello to her big brother now and then?"

Across the spilled paperwork, Justin's eyes narrow in frank suspicion. "It's three in the morning, Alex. How'd you even know where to find me?"

She shrugs nonchalant, saying, "I just had a feeling you'd be here, is all." Her smile, all false sweetness, is nonetheless engaging. It's a smile that makes him want to smile back, makes him want to believe her, though he knows from experience that the statistical probability of Alex telling the truth is practically zero. She's always been his weakness.

"I mean, come on. Where else would you be, on a Friday night?" Alex adds when her brother doesn't respond. "This is you we're talking about here. Not somebody with, say, a social life..."

Saturday morning, he thinks, and doesn't say. Instead, he says, "What do you want, Alex?"

She goes all indignant then, scowling at him. "What makes you think I want something?"

Justin rolls his eyes. "Because every other time you've come to see me, you've needed money-"

"Hello? Getting it magically is against the rules! I thought you wanted me to follow the rules, Justin!"

"-or administrative favors-"

"You're the headmaster! You know, the big guy in charge of all the school stuff in the most important school in the Wizard World? I'm supposed to not exploit that? Have we met?" Alex flings her arms in the air, exasperated by his stupidity. And nearly smacking Justin, who ducks just in time.

"…or for me to come to the rescue when you mess up with your ridiculous, irresponsible, barely legal use of magic!" He's almost shouting now. The two of them are still crouched close to the ground, still too close to each other. Alex glances around the wide hallway, marked with alcoves, but it's empty: no audience. Just the two of them.

With a grimace, she stands up. Justin does too.

"That," she says, shoving a sheaf of paper into his arms, "you should be used to."

Professor Russo signs in resignation, detouring to hand the sadly crumpled coffee cup to the nearest trash-hands. "Come on, walk with me," he grumbles. I have to drop these off. And you can fill me in on your latest Evil Plan." Still, there's a hint of a smile playing at the edges of his lips, and in his eyes. Alex takes his arm, and they walk.

"It's weird," Alex mumbles after a moment. She appears to be talking to herself more than anything - she's never been able to handle silence for long. "I mean, it's funny to think that it's been such a long time since we went to school here, since before you got so important and all," with a sidelong glance that Justin pretends not to notice. "It just seems so much, I don't know, smaller?"

Justin doesn't say anything - still sulking about the coffee and the remark about his social life - but he thinks he knows what she means. It seems less, somehow. The halls of Wiz-Tec are much smaller and less menacing than Justin remembers them from childhood, but just as old and dark. There's still an oppressive feeling in the air like a bad smell.

"Okay, you're magical," the walls seems to say, "so go ahead and make your magic. But make it OUR WAY. Or else."

As is so often the case, Alex seems to read his mind almost before the thought is complete. Wrinkling her nose, she wonders aloud how Justin can stand it. Aren't there, like, special quarters for the headmaster to live and work in?

Justin sighs. "For the millionth time, Alex, I like being close to the student body." She'll never really understand his passion for teaching, he knows that. Helping others when there's nothing to be gained is completely beyond her.

"Any student body in particular?"

Justin doesn't dignify that with a response, although he struggles to keep his flaming cheeks hidden.

Alex's black-plum lips curl up at the corners, amused by his lack of response. This particular tactic of Justin's, namely his pointed silence, has never worked particularly well on Alex- Almost invariably, she'll end up treating it as an invitation to keep talking, just to make sure she doesn't give him the upper hand. She does so now.

"How is Juliet, by the way," she presses. Already, her falsely conciliatory tone is enough to raise her brother's hackles. One of the unwritten rules between them, now, is that they don't talk about Juliet. Alex pretends to ignore the way he stiffens.

They know this routine by heart, after all. It's a little dance they like to do, sidestepping around dangerous topics as if walking the edge of a cliff, while beneath them the ground trembles, threatening to crumble at any moment. It's all part of it: the teasing and the counter-teasing, the veiled affection and the knife-sharp games, the banter that is only half play. And, right now, the tension in Justin's posture at the sound of his lover's name in his little sister's mouth.

"Alex…" he warns.

She widens her eyes. "I'm just asking!" His face says he's not convinced, lips thinning into a tight line. "You're my brother, Justin," Alex adds, attempting to placate him. "My dear, dear brother, the salt of the earth, always hospitable, a regular prince of a guy who never minds doing a little favor for a friend in need… and dear old Fangy-face is practically the love of your life! Why wouldn't I ask about her?"

"Fangy-face… practically?" The little vein in his temple begins to pulse. The precipice looms. It's never long in coming, when they're together, alone.

Alex plows ahead as though he hasn't spoken.

"And here I thought I was finally getting the hang of this whole "politeness" deal," she muses, squeezing his arm and smirking as he stiffens up again. She pronounces "politeness" as if it's a mildly disgusting social disease, or a nasty but unavoidable chore.

Justin's jaw tightens.

"I thought I was supposed to ask. No?" Alex pushes him. Her expression is composed, innocent, like she has no idea what she's doing to him. She looks up at him through her dark lashes. He almost walks right into the locked office door, stopping just in time.

Justin's stomach turns over, and he wishes he hadn't made the mistake of looking at her. He wishes, really wishes, that he'd left work on time. There was just so much grading left to do, and midterms looming.

And there's another reason, of course: Justin really doesn't like sleeping alone. When he comes to work early and leaves late, it's much easier to ignore Juliet's increasingly frequent absences. Butt Alex doesn't need to know about that.

Ever since the family Wizard Competition, and following a never-discussed interaction between the two women at the celebratory party afterward, Alex has made no secret of her dislike for Justin's girlfriend. She hasn't elaborated on why, exactly, but their superficial-but-friendly-relationship, her tacit approval of Juliet as Justin's first serious girlfriend with normal feet, vanished as if it had never existed. Justin sometimes wonders about that. Okay, sometimes is an understatement. But Juliet has been unusually taciturn as well, and Justin's sense of self-preservation is way, way too strong for him to consider bringing it up to either of the two most terrifying women in his life.

Justin sighs, trying to clear his head. Reaching into his left-hand pocket, he pulls out a ring of skeleton keys and sifts through them until he finds the right one. It turns easily in the lock, and the door open to reveal an office cast in shadows.

"She's fine, Alex." Moving to the other side of the office, he begins to sort the stack of papers into a set of cubbyholes. "Thank you so much for asking. How's, uh, Zane?" Justin doesn't think he's actually met Zane, but like always his mind conjures an unpleasant image of a high school drop-out with greasy hair and a a lecherous grin. In Justin's mind, her seemingly-endless string of boyfriends are always the same: not good enough.

"Zane was last week," Alex scoffs, as if he should know. "Look, can we go get a coffee or something? These heels are killing me."

Heels? As if able to hear his unspoken question, she rocks back on one spiked heel to display the other to him, her face an exaggerated contortion agony. Justin, who always learns from his mistakes except where Alex is concerned, looks.

He's immediately sorry. His baby sister, who's hardly a baby these days (though she certainly acts like one most of the time), is sporting tall suede fuck-me boots with wicked heels, black and soft and molded to her long legs. Justin's familiar with them (oh, what! It's not as if he's paying attention! Alex wears a lot of boots, that's all.) Yep: These are the kind of shoes she wears when she's on the prowl. (Of course, when is she not on the prowl, these days? Ever since things ended with Mason, it's like, well, like she's looking for something. Or running from something... but he doesn't shuts the door on that line of thought in a hurry. She's just being Alex, that's all.) And he's not going to get started on the abbreviated length of her short, flounced skirt, (not that he's looking at that either, it's just that it's hard not to notice, alright?). Face hot, he looks away.

His sister laughs.

After he regains his composure, Justin coughs once or twice and says gruffly, "If they really hurt that much, maybe you shouldn't be wearing them." He cocks one eyebrow. "Just a suggestion."

Alex rolls her eyes.

They end up at the Shamrock, a run-down Leprechaun joint in a questionable part of town. The dingy "bakery", not far from the Ghost District, is really just a glorified all-night diner. Once, it had been part of the successful 'Leprechaun Grill' franchise. However, when the Grill went out of business, the new owners had changed the name to Shamrock, expanded the donut selection and hours, and had hunkered down to weather the dreadful economy, which even Wizard World had taken a beating. It's a dive, but it's a dive with personality. It's also got passable coffee and the best deep-friend delicacies for quite a few miles around. Plus, it's open at this hour of the night. So that's a plus.

Over the last year or so, Justin and Alex have washed up here more than once. She tends to show up unannounced, during the small hours, when Justin's apt to be up working late, left alone in his big empty school building. They never eat at the Wiz-Tech cafeteria. The school's cafe is open 24/7, but Alex refuses to set foot in it, claiming it once gave her food poisoning. Justin suspects that her being banned from the premises is closer to the truth. And, although neither one of them would want to admit it, the fact that they're pretty unlikely to cross paths with either Justin's Schnuggly BooBoo Mcutiekins or Alex's current "flavor of the week", at the Shamrock, is something of a relief.

A few Sure an' Begorah's later, the two Russo siblings make their way through the painfully green interior, cradling plastic baskets heavy with homemade donuts still hot from the fryer, and Styrofoam cups steaming with hot chocolate. The restaurant is all but deserted.

Justin slips into a vacant booth and Alex slips in right beside him, instead of sitting across from him like she's supposed to, wiggling to make herself comfortable on the cracked wooden bench. So much for mastering the social niceties, he thinks.

She sits too close. Justin assumes she's placed herself there strategically, for better access to his food, and he's not wrong. The apple-cranberry fritters they serve here are amazing: Alex always claims she doesn't like them, or is on a diet, or isn't hungry, yet she always manages to eat most of his. Which is why he always orders two, even though they're big.

"Hey," says Alex, pointing to a nearby blank wall, "Remember the Leprechaun they used to have in a box over there? Whatever happened to that guy?"

Justin looks up obligingly, pretending to be completely taken in by her ruse. (More dancing. They have a way of doing things, after all.) He keeps his eyes on the wall just long enough for Alex to snag one of his fritters. "The Display workers went Union," he sighs, turning back to her, "and the 'Rock can't afford to keep them on premises anymore."

"Too bad… I wouldn't mind poking something with a stick right now."

Justin bites into the sweet-greasy crust of the surviving fritter, and a glob of still-warm filling drips down his chin. Mouth full, he rubs at it meticulously with a napkin.

"I guess you'll have to settle for me," he says after swallowing. "So what kind of favor do you need, seeing as how I'm so great and all?"

Munching on her own pastry (well, Justin's), his sister takes a few seconds to consider, which in itself is pretty rare. This oughta be good, he thinks. It must be a big favor, if she's not ready to convince him it was his idea all along, right out of the gate. Alex has incredibly nefarious ways of talking him into these things. Usually.

"Well," she says, carefully, "I guess my boss is throwing this party, or whatever."

He frowns, unable to see where she's going with this. "And?"

She turns her attention, and her gaze, to her cocoa, drowning a curl of pastry in its thick froth. When she bites into it, a dollop of foam sticks to her upper lip, and Justin tries not to think about brushing it away. Or what black-plum lipstick and chocolate foam would taste like together. Or… don't finish the thought, he tells himself. And doesn't.

Alex is still talking. Justin has sort of lost the thread of the conversation. He tries to pay attention again. "And so, it's sort of this fundraiser…"

"Alex, I know you're not asking me for money for this thing." Not like he has any. The job doesn't pay what you'd expect, not until he reaches tenure. It's one of the main reasons he works much, insomnia being the other one.

(And then there's the thing they don't talk about.)

"No, of course not!" she reassures him, slightly indignant, as if that's completely out of the realm of possibility. "It's just, well…" she fidgets, which is very unusual, and Justin feels himself getting nervous. She draws with the tip of one manicured nail in a spilled drop of hot chocolate. When she lifts her fingers to her mouth absentmindedly, Justin can't take it.

"Alex!" he yelps. "Do you have any idea how unsanitary…!" She rolls her eyes, but takes his napkin instead, cleaning her fingers.

Then she rests her hand on his forearm, looking up into his face. "And, well, I guess we lost our space at the Emporium or whatever?" She says it like a question, like she doesn't know what she's asking him for, and it takes a minute for Justin to catch up.

He chokes on his hot chocolate, and Alex has to pound him on the back. Hard, until he waves her away, worried that she'll give him some kind of spinal injury to go with his asphyxiation. "Alex!" he sputters, when he can talk, "I've been headmaster for less than a year! How can you possibly expect me to ask the school to donate space for that kind of thing!"

His sister's brows come together as she gives him a dirty look. "This kind of thing?"

Justin kicks himself, mentally. That may have been a poor choice of words. Still, though. "You know what I mean! Hanging out with street-people all the time is hardly…"

"Homeless! The word is homeless, Justin! God, for a smart guy you can be so STUPID! Do you know how you sound when you talk like that?"

She's nearly shouting, and the aging dude with the surfer-haircut behind the counter glances up from till. Alex shoots him a quick, don't worry about it glance, and he turns his attention away again. She lowers her voice, leaning in close enough to make Justin slightly uncomfortable. "You can be so intolerant," she hisses, "You don't even know what I do, Justin!"

"I know that you spend all your time at that so-called charity, doing something you never get paid for and can't even tell Mom and Dad about. Are you even working, Alex?" And really, Justin thinks, no one can blame him for wondering. After all, this is Alex. When has she ever worked a day in her life?

She pulls away, stung. "I should have known it was a mistake, coming to you. I'll just tell her that the head of Wiz-Tech is a stingy bastard and we'll have to cancel the benefit."

"Wait… Benefit?" Suddenly, he feels really stupid.

She glares at him over her cup. "What did you think I wanted you to do… host a sleepover?"

Actually, he had been thinking something along those lines… he knows that the dingy building where she "works" with the Wizard Worlds street peo- with the Wizard World's homeless sometimes doubles as a shelter when its denizens have nowhere else to go, and he'd assumed that some of her clients needed a new place to crash.

Rubbing his forehead, Justin asks, "Alright, well… what's the benefit for?"

She just looks at him for a minute, as if trying to decide if he's worth the effort. Finally she takes a deep breath, lets it out, and turns back with an air that suggests she's doing him an enormous favor.

"Well like I was trying to tell you, if you'd been listening… It's a benefit. We're raising money for… a new center." It doesn't take a brilliant mind like Justin's to see that she's being evasive again, hiding things. But he feels chastised all the same.

"And you want to host it… at Wiz-Tech? Why?"

She sips her cocoa. "The Wand Emporium cancelled on us at the last minute… something about their lease restrictions… and I don't exactly have a lot of options."

"You don't exactly have a lot of experience hosting fundraisers, either," he points out.

Alex smiles winningly. "That's why I'm not going to host it."

"I'm not sure I follow you, Alex…" But, with a sinking heart, he realizes he does. Alex, for once, doesn't say a word. She just stares at him expectantly, licking the last bits of whipped cream from the corners of her mouth.

"Alex," Justin groans."No..."

A week later they're back in the Shamrock, working out the details of the fundraiser over a plate of mini-tostadas (because Alex protested that she was starving).

The fundraiser, which is basically a Halloween "Masquerade Ball" is being held on behalf of Helping Hands, the aforementioned shady organization that Alex does so much volunteer work for. For a not-very-important event it has a pretty extensive guest list, and there isn't room for anyone on the planning committee (Justin still can't believe it requires a committee) to bring more than one guest apiece. HH isn't a very high-profile organization (in Justin's opinion), so it still surprises him that there are so many important people on VIP list… or so much planning to do.

"You're inviting Mr. Cucuy," Justin asks, raising an eyebrow as he scans the last few names of the VIP list.

"Oh, sure," Alex remarks casually, cramming a pile of beans and salsa into her mouth and making Justin wince. "It just wouldn't be the same without Carlos - seriously, once you get past the whole 'monster' thing, the guy is a hoot!"

She would know Carlos Cucuy of the infamous Cucuy family, known for being both monsters and millionaires, a first name basis. He shouldn't be surprised.

"Oh, and here's the best part," Alex crows, giggling around mini-tostada crumbs (god, she's so ladylike). "He's bringing his mother, out of all people. Apparently she's providing the ride."

Without thinking, Justin reaches out with his napkin to dab the smear of sour cream from the edge of Alex's mouth. She freezes, giving him a curious (cautious) look.

Whoops. "So, uh, who are you planning to bring?" Justin murmurs quickly, trying to draw the attention away from whatever that was. "What's-his-face …Zane?"

Alex shakes her head, reabsorbing herself in sketching the layout for the tables, the stage area, the dance floor. "Broke up with him last week."

Justin's brow wrinkles in confusion. "I thought last week was Edward?"

"Edward was three whole weeks ago, Professor. Honestly, I don't know what I was thinking." She moves the DJ from one end of the room to the other then proceeds to rearrange the tables at that end. Her eyes are too blank.

"Okay, I'll bite," Justin sighs. "Who's this week fresh catch?" He looks up from his food, waiting, frozen in mid-bite.

She's quiet. Not sketching. Not looking up. Then, "Actually…do you remember that cute guy in your Delinquents class, kinda big, and with the most powerful wand in the Wizard World?" Her gestures draw him in the air as Justin turns to her, incredulous.

"Please tell me you're not talking about Felix. Alex!"

"Hey, he's the one who came on to me," Alex protests. "I didn't think-"

"Are you kidding me?" Justin explodes, before he can reign himself in. She's so very, very good at pushing his buttons. Because of course he's mad that she's stooped to Felix's level. "Every guy within a hundred-mile radius, as long as he doesn't know firsthand how evil you are, comes onto you, Alex! Look at you!" He makes an exasperated, sweeping gesture that seems to take her in from head to toe.

Justin's little sister looks down at herself with a puzzled expression, as if this is news to her, as if the dark leather skirt, silk off-the-shoulder blouse, and those damned boots happened by accident. As if she didn't dress like someone's dark fantasy every time she went hunting for her next heart to break, often as not showing up on Justin's doorstep on the same damn night, her eyes full of what Justin tells himself are crocodile tears. Everything about her saying, without her having to say a word: Save me, Justin. Justin, help me. And, most of all: Justin, make it better? And he does, because he can't help himself. And she knows it. And around they go.

It's like she wants to spite him.

Justin feels the vein in his temple begin to throb. Taking a steadying breath, he tries again. "Alex. Come on. Felix is fragile. He's practically a kid."

Her head snaps up from the party plans, eyes flashing, bright with what Justin tells himself is emotion, anger, and definitely not tears. "What are you trying to-"

"I'm just saying, maybe you should slow it down a little. Four guys in three weeks…"

"…Five," she mutters, "…if you count Claudia as a guy…" and he pretends not to hear. He's so not touching that.

"…is too many, even for you. This can't be good for you. And I know it's not good for them!"

"Justin…" Alex has her head bowed, her beautiful mess of dark curls concealing her face.

"Alex, I'm serious," Justin pleads, "I'm worried about you-"

"Just leave it, Justin." She's back to not making eye contact, but he knows by the steely sound of her voice that she's angry. She pushes crumbs around on her dish. Puts her thumbnail into her mouth; nibbles it. There's a little moment of quiet.

Justin reaches out to still her restless fingers of the hand roving on the tabletop, then gently takes the other one from her mouth, and holds her hands. He's surprised, like always, at how small her hands are in his. She shivers, finally looking up at him. Her eyelashes are wet.

Justin says, "I can't. Ever since Mason, it's like you've been-"

Alex snatches her hands back, her eyes flashing dangerously. "Leave it."

"-like you've been, I don't know, looking for something? Like you've been someone else. And I'm afraid you're going to get hurt, Alex. You're my little sister. I'm supposed to-"

He doesn't get to finish. She stands, pushing away so hard that the booth's table - which isn't attached but is plenty heavy - actually moves, the metal feet screeching against the wooden floorboards. Something like panic scuttles across her expression, so fleeting he might have imagined it.

"Alex! …Look, I'm sorry! It's just that I'm supposed to…"

"I gotta go," she says in a rush. Her voice is low. There's anger there, sure, but also, he thinks, sadness... and a resignation that's somehow worse than either.

(As if she'd expected this.)

(But so had he.)


But she can't. Balancing on one foot, Alex pulls her wand from her left boot (are those heels still killing you, Alex?) and then in a flash of magic, she's gone.

I'm supposed to take care of you.

Justin comes close to swearing in public (again). Eyes still smarting from a sudden attack of allergies, he gathers their trash in one big pile. Justin's food is mostly untouched, his cup half-full of mint cocoa that's still warm, but he throws the whole mess into the trash bin. He's not very hungry anymore.

(Sometimes, the dance goes wrong.)

(The precipice beneath his feet widens, and Justin feels the rush of air as their momentum sweeps him over the edge.)