Title: Masks

Fandom: Wizards of Waverly Place

Word Count: 2,313 (Chapter 10)

Rating/Content: Jalex, duh. I'm going to say this is PG-13... possibly PG.

Spoilers/episodes: None.

A/N: Happy Halloween!


I've missed this story, and FFN, terribly. Yes, I'm hoping to get it all out tonight; yes it's mostly written, but I'm, er, distracted by holiday things and it's hard to get the time and space I need to put the polish on it - even as little polish as it has. Yes, there's still dirt and typos on it - I promise to clean it up sometime after it's published. No false promises this time; just that I'll try.

Happy best-holiday-on-the-whole-damn-calendar, everyone!



Beta(s): Nope. Any and all weird mistakes, grammar problems, continuity errors and grievous offenses are my own.

R/R: Yes, please! As always, love is appreciated, critiques will be received with slightly less joy but just as much gratitude. Also, I write faster when I'm being told how great I am. Don't you? (Reviews might encourage me to get it out faster, if at all humanly possible. Just sayin'.)

Summary: Chapter 10

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

In the empty ballroom, Justin stands bewildered. He's come early, and he's not surprised that there's no one here yet... but he can hardly believe the room itself. The commnons has been transformed.

Oh Alex he thinks, what did you do?

The Wiz-Tec commons is normally a small, crowded room of dreary colors and grey brickwork, but now it's become a shining expanse, huge, stretching away from him on all sides. Alone in the new space, Justin drifts like a single atom, unbound to the larger form, whole but somehow incomplete.

He turns in a slow circle, taking it in. Impressed, despite himself. He wonders what combination of spells Alex used, makes a mental note to ask her later and then curses himself. Because no, he's not talking to her now or later or ever again, but it would be nice to know... and as he turns, he finds that he's looking back at himself from every angle. A dozen Justins frown at themselves... and he gets it. The big open space hasn't been magicked or stretched or expanded- it's been mirrored.

The commons room has been walled by mirrors on all sides, their angles conspiring to create an illusion of depth and distance. Their reflective planes combine to create hallucintory bends and stranges curves in the illusory space. The effect is strange and dreamlike, like being trapped in a crystal. The ceiling is hidden by swags of white and purple satin, tiny white fairy-lights trickling from their folds.

The floor is a checkerboard pattern of purple and white, reflecting the glow from what must be hundreds of tiny candles, set in elaborate sconces in the mirrored walls.

High above his head looms the chandelier. It's an absolute eyesore; probably Alex's idea of a joke, as if she'd been deliberately out to counter all the fairytale sweetness of the room. A curling, candy-colored monstrosity, it appears to have been constructed from enormous RedVines and twisted black licorice-whips. The cups for the lightbulbs are the same shape and pastel hue as gumdrops, and various poisonous-looking sweets dangle from its arms, in what Justin assumes is some sort of freaky homage to Hansel and Gretel's candy house. Not like something you'd want to eat. Of course, neither was the candy house in their story, in the end.

And speaking of the candy house next to a small podium is the bounce-house itself, in all its rubbery glory.

Justin shudders, and looks away.

There's a brief flare of purple light as Alex and Harper arrive, jostling for balance on the fat rolls of rubber flooring, inside the gingerbread bounce-house.

"Alex!" Harper yelps, badly unnerved by the sudden change in terrain. "Why did you... where am I? I thought you said this was a party, not a playground!"

"Psh, Re-lax," Alex assures her, struggling to keep her own feet. Privately, she's impressed that her heels haven't deflated the whole place. "It is a party. I just thought it would be easier to hide from-er, to enter without making a big deal out of it- if we didn't just flash ourselves into the middle of the room. This isn't a playground, it's, uh, a prop."

Picking her way toward the door of the thing, Alex peers through the cutout window, bouncing slightly… and breathes a sigh of relief... no one's here yet. Well, practically no one. There's just Justin, who hardly counts at all since he stopped talking to her. Which doesn't bother her, not even a little bit. Anyway, he's looking the other direction, so he probably hasn't seen them come in.

"Hurry up, Harper!" she hisses at her friend, who takes another tumble or two, righting herself with a scowl. God love her, but the girl is clumsy. Maybe she should have helped her with the whole walking on an inflatable floor thing... but Harper's upright again anyway, so that's probably fine. Together they creep from the bounce-house and sidle around the edge of it like particularly colorful spies in a Mission Impossible flick... but Alex isn't hiding from Justin, or anything. Honest. She's just... not ready to ignore him properly yet, okay? No big deal.

Justin checks his watch. Again.

Juliet won't be here for at least half an hour, as she tends to be "fashionably late" ...all that's missing now are the other guests. (And Alex. But Justin isn't looking for her.)

He wanders toward the small bar, wondering if they'll make fun of him if he asks for a virgin cocktail, or if a glass of sparkling water will be a safer bet. He settles on glass of sparkling water (on the rocks) in a highball glass. Casually he turns to lean back against the bar, trying for the not-drinking-alcohol-but-still-totally-cool-profes sor image, sipping as he scans the still-mostly-empty room... he finds himself face to face with Alex. He chokes on his sparkling water.

Except, it isn't really Alex.

Or rather, it's her reflection. Her image thrown back at him by a dozen of the weird mirrors, he's staring right at her... and she doesn't seem to see him at all. It's an oddly familiar feeling, but he'll worry about that later. Right now, he's a little bit... transfixed. It's almost exactly the feeling he had when he walked into the ballroom only multiplied. Squared, even. By a power of ten.

Alex looks... amazing.

She has her back to him, but he can see her in profile at the same time, thanks to the mirrors. His sister is sheathed in a long, elegant dress, something much more grown-up, much more sophisticated than anything he's ever seen her in. It's a brilliant, vivid red that makes everything else in the room seem dull in comparison. Her dark hair is piled loosely on top of her head and circled by thin, intricate braids, with curling tendrils pulled loose to frame her face. Her bare left shoulder is dusted with glitter and larger metallic bits that catch he light, as if she were wearing part of the mirror on her skin. Her right shoulder is half-hidden in froth of decorative gauzy stuff that erupts like petals from the shoulder of the gown, emphasizing the nakedness of its twin. Strapless, it leaves her thin arms and the sweet arc of her throat bare. The dress emphasizes the swell of her bust, tapers at the waist, then drops all the way to the floor in barely-visible loose pleats, flaring very slightly near the ankles. The effect is strangely organic. Mesmerizing, in fact. (It must be - Justin can't take his eyes off of it.)

Justin's mouth feels dry. She looks like a... a candle. A spark. No, he thinks: like a flame.

Alex, still apparently unaware of him, leans forward to whisper something to the girl she's brought with her (is that her date? he wonders, with a painful stab of jealousy he tells himself is indigestion), her mouth curling in a slow, familiar expression of wickedness he knows by heart. Now she's turning in a slow circle, undoubtedly showing off to her companion. He notices (what? He's just looking!) that her long back is bare, and that the material there has a curiously wrapped look, satin and gauze layered over one another as if they could be peeled back and undone (not that he's thinking about it like that, that would be… wrong), as if she were a gift. Even more interesting is the quiver of arrows and curved wooden bow she carries (why?) on a strap over one shoulder, the way most women would carry a purse.

Swallowing, Justin looks away. Speaking of dates... he checks his watch, sipping his club soda, and scans the room for his girlf-, er, his ex-... well anyway, he's looking for Juliet. Who hasn't arrived. But she's coming. She'll be here any time now. Any minute, in fact.

He looks determinedly at his watch, his shoes, the terrifying chandelier... anywhere but at his sister and her friend. It doesn't matter to Justin that she's here, that she's gorgeous, and that they're (practically) alone in the big, empty, romantic ballroom. He doesn't even care. Really.

As he's checking the time (again) and wondering where Juliet is (she's totally going to show up, she promised. He's not even worried), something catches his eye, and he looks up sharply. A flash of of orange among the purple and white, something that's not Alex's dress... but it IS.

Alex is on fire.

No, but seriously.

She's still rotating like a top, spinning faster and faster now, not seeming to notice the hem of her skirt has erupted in flames. She's burning, and neither she nor the girl she's with seem to be doing anything about it. Panic rises in him like a fever.

Justin doesn't waste even a heartbeat. One moment he's leaning against the bar, trying his best to look casual, unworried, and professional-yet-understatedly-devastatingly-attra ctive (all the things a professor should be), and in the next he's moving, faster, running now, his unsatisfying drink still clutched in one hand...


Justin doesn't hesitate. With no more time than the space between one thought and the next, he's *moving* (see the mirror of Alex's behavior here?), racing through the space of the mostly-empty dance floor, pushing the body of the girl who's dressed like a confection out of his way without so much as an apology...

"Alex!" he cries, "Look out! Don't move!"

Her eyes go wide. "Justin! What the hell are you-"

But he's hardly hearing her protests, or those or the strawberry-cupcake girl beside her, as he whips his cape off, having already dashed the contents of his glass at her flames

and then discarded the cup, dropping to the floor to wrap the cape around her legs and smother the flames and as he does he realizes...

There are no flames, and no one is...

No one is burning. Nothing is on fire here. There's not even any smoke.

And a two sets of *very* angry eyes are looking at him.

But... Justin just saved her life! That isn't fair! Still half-crouched, his crumpled cape swaddling her lower legs, his arms around around her calves, He stammers, "B-but your dress... the fire... I just... but you were burning!

Alex narrows her eyes, and Justin's pretty sure that if he wasn't holding her legs, she'd kick him.

"This. Is. A. Costume," she hisses, through her teeth. "It's *supposed* to do that. Magic, ever heard of it?"

Justin lets the cape fall. His expression, humiliated, falls with it.

"Get. Up. " Alex breathes, and it's impressive, honestly, the amount of menace she can instill into a single breath. "You're embarrassing me!"

Justin follows her quick, mortified glance, and yep... the ballroom is just now beginning to fill with people. Of course it is. Because this is exactly the kind of night Justin is having.

Still, he's just grateful, so grateful, that she's okay. Relief washes over him in a wave. Followed quickly, by shame, dismay, and a thin but bright thread of anger.

Gathering his cape and what's left of his dignity, Justin gets up.

He's still feeling a little lost. He wants to apologize, really he does. First for the cape, then for what he said in the dressing room, then for everything he's done to hurt her, not just lately but ever, anything he's said, or left unsaid, to make her beautiful brown eyes go dark with hurt and fury. He wants to tell her...

No. He's not telling her that. He's not telling her any of that, and as the moment hangs between them, his guilt twists, turning into something darker. Defensive, he cries, "A costume that sets things on fire? Alex, you out of your mind? This is a whole new level of recklessness, even for you. Do you have any idea how many health code violations you're wearing right now? Did you even think about asking me about this? Are you trying to-"

But Alex isn't listening.

Backing away, eyes sparkling with what Justin tries to tell himself are definitely not tears, she tells him in a flat voice, "It's an illusion, Justin... it isn't real. It's just a dress. It's from a movie, you know, moving pictures that talk? I'm Katniss, stupid! I thought it would be fun, alright! Excuse me for living! God, you're so embarrassing!

He's embarrassing? Justin's anger swings into full-fledged fury.

"Me?" You're the one who needs to be the center of attention so badly that she's willing to set yourself on fire, Alex! I don't care what you think you saw in some stupid movie! What was I supposed to do? Let you burn to death?"

Out of the corner of his eye, he notices Alex's friend backing away, but he's too angry to care.

Alex throws her arms in the air, exasperated. "I don't know - that maybe a little magic was involved, at a Magical party, on the most Magical night of the year, in the Magical Wizard World, Professor ?" She gives the moniker a cruel twist, and he feels it sting.

Justin balls his hands into fists at his sides, his mouth pressed into a thin line. He feels like he's filled with poison, that if he opens his mouth now, it'll get everywhere, and ruin everything. But he's almost ready to do it, just the same...

Somewhere behind him, someone titters. Justin looks around, and reminds himself of who he is, and where he is. He's Professor Russo, head of Wiz-Tech, and he can't be letting himself be drawn into fights with his ridiculous sister as if he were still a child. Still, though: he can't ignore how unfair she's being, how mean. He leans in, his voice low and intimate, nothing that can be overheard.

"Next time," he hisses, "I"ll just let you burn."

Justin turns on his heel and stalks away, heading for the relative safety of the min-bar. And just like the shine in his sister's beautiful eyes wasn't the reflection of unshed tears, the irritating sting in his own isn't either. Allergies. He has allergies, okay?