Title: Masks

Fandom: Wizards of Waverly Place

Word Count: 3,531 (Chapter 9)

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

Spoilers/episodes: None.

A/N: Aaaaaand... we're back!

Oh... hi!

I've missed this story so, so much! So, the short version is, I fell in love with this idea, worked on it like it was my goddamn job, published several chapters in as many hours, got more reviews than (almost) anything I've ever written... and choked. Drunk on success, I worked on it off and on for several more months, but my life started to spiral out of control and I had to put it aside. Now I've come back to 'Masks'... and I even know how it ends! I hope to get the last few chapters out within a week or so. I hope that those of you still following the story (if anyone is left by now!) will enjoy it. And I hope you will forgive, again and again, the typos and errors - Once again I'm in a hurry to get this out, get it published, make it live. I WILL come back and wipe off the dirt later... I promise.

Thanks for reading it. Really. It's been an oddly long journey.

Beta: Not this time! Any and all weird mistakes, grammar problems, continuity errors and grievous offenses are my own.

R/R: 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?

Summary: Chapter 9

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

Justin is never going to speak to Alex again.

Never, he promises himself, again, peering into the mirror as he adjusts his new and improved costume. He'd altered it in the wake of the dressing-room argument with Alex, as if by undoing her handiwork he could free himself from her evil influence. Her barbs about Juliet, her assessment of Justin - those things had hurt. And somehow, wearing the costume she'd fashioned - just for him - was just too, well, intimate. It was almost like wearing her against his skin, the garment invisibly charged with her own particular brand of black magic. It set his nerves to prickling in a way he didn't like: as if the air was full of electricity, humming with it. It gave him a sense of chaotic magic just waiting for an excuse to be set into motion.

He still feels it, to be honest that knowledge of something-not-right tingling in his nerve-endings, his head throbbing as if with the phantom beginnings of one of his famous migraines... He just had to get through tonight, he assures himself. And his costume is better like this. Less panache maybe, but also less Alex, a sacrifice he's more than willing to make.

Besides... he isn't really sure he's a Zorro kinda guy. Zorro's a hero, sure... but isn't he also a criminal? Justin is the law abiding type - maybe it wasn't such a good fit after all. It had hurt to give up the sword, though: that was one cool-ass weapon. Too bad his new character doesn't carry that kind of thing.

Oh, and his new character? Well, it isn't half-bad, if he does say so himself. He might not have his sister's magic touch with costuming... but he thinks it's okay. Better than okay. Pretty good, even. And he was very put out when Juliet didn't even pretend to know who he was. It should be obvious, to anyone who knows him even a little.

He's still dressed in black - that part was easy enough - but gone is the cape, the gilded gauntlets and gaudy beltbuckle. His pants are the same ones - (they were too flattering to give up, Alex really is a genius with this sort of thing) - but in place the blousy linen pirate-shirt shirt he's wearing a thin cotton button-up that he's really much more at home in. Instead of a cape he wears a long black trench coat, straight and serious, with no flounce in the hem. He looks serious all over, actually, grown-up and sombre... as if he's dressed for a particularly mournful business meeting. It's a look he likes. His silk necktie, the only shock of color in this monochromatic ensemble, is a bright and crimson red... it practically shouts. With a sense of satisfaction, Justin adjusts his windsor knot.

Is he forgetting something? He feels an inexplicable absence, an itch almost, as if something is missing. But no... no. He's fine. He's *perfect*.

He hopes at least a few people will know who he's supposed to be; he was very put out when Juliet didn't even pretend to know... but she'd spend the night with him, after all.. the first night they'd been together in a rather long time... and he'd been too grateful to complain.

Isn't it obvious? He'd demanded, pulling his clothes from the hanger so he could iron them before it was time to get ready. Can't you tell? I'm The Spirit! You know, The Spirit? Fights bad guys? Friends with the Police Chief? He's like a... an early Batman! He fights crime without Super Powers?

Alex, he knows, would have called him lame, dorkus, made fun of him, so it's a good thing she isn't around... but Juliet couldn't even be bothered to feign interest. She'd kissed his cheek and left the room, leaving Justin oddly deflated. But... that's okay. She has things on her mind. Besides, he knows things will go much, much better tonight. They have to... right? This will be their big moment. It's all been a misunderstanding, it has to be: his Juliet still loves him, even if she doesn't know it. They'll talk it out... surely that's why she's agreed to come? They'll make up, and get back together, and... and have a happily ever after. Right?

Justin sighs, and tries to convince himself, one more time, that he believes that. Otherwise, why go at all? Where will he find the strength to do anything at all, if no one loves him? If no one believes in him?

It's going to happen. It is. It has to. Firming himself with steely resolve, he gives his reflection a curt, authoritative nod in the mirror.

Reaching carefully into a freshly ironed pocket, he unfolds a ragged scrap of black - teh purloined eyemask, pressed back into service - adjusting it over his eyes and reaching back to tie it behind his head, then smoothes his hair. Not bad. Just right, actually. He hates to agree with Alex, but it would be a shame not to use it, the one tangible thing that came of their strange night in the costume shop, and by the way, he's really not thinking about Alex right now. Really, he's not. Because he's not going to speak to her ever again. He settles his black fedora on his head, and examines himself in the glass. Not bad. Not bad.

(Alex could have done better.)

(But he's not going to think about her. Ever again.)


With a little time to kill, Justin practices posing in the mirror. He misses the sword, and wishes that The Spirit came with cool props. He's entertaining the idea that maybe, just MAYBE he could find a way to work the sword back in... it's such a great sword, after all...

But his wand is ringing.

His wand is ringing and immediately Justin bristles, stiffening every so slightly. There's only one person likely to be calling him tonight, and just the knowledge of her presence on the other end of the line fills him with a slow, deep foreboding that makes him feel just a little sick.


Justin is tempted not to answer. But experience has taught him that an ignored Alex can be even more dangerous than an ordinary one... and is certainly more distracting. Already the buzzing vibration of the wand-phone is boring down into his sense of peace and wellbeing like a dentist's drill. He feels his head begin to ache, low and throbbing. He takes a deep, steadying breath, strokes his aching temple- and picks up.

"Alex, look. I don't think we have anything to say to each oth-"

"Alex? No, Justin, it's me."

Juliet! Her sweet voice is a welcome reprieve from the one he was expecting. Justin tries hard to ignore the way his heart races with hope at the mere sound of her voice. He's like a schoolkid with a crush, Alex was right about that, and if she was right about that much then... damn it, no! He's not thinking about Alex!

"Sweetheart," he says, and he doesn't like the way his voice comes out, unsteady, that sense of foreboding still eating at him. He clears his throat, tries again: "Juliet, honey. It's still, erm, a little early, but if you're ready now, I could come get you. Maybe we'll get something to eat, or..."

"I'm going to be running a little late," she cuts him off. "Something's come up. Can I just meet you there?"

Of course she can, he reassures her. But a new worry blooms in his gut: "Er, you are still coming...right, darling?"

"I said I would," his beloved snaps, sounding just a teensy bit testy. "What do you want, a notarized letter?"

Justin chuckles... uneasily. He runs a hand through his hair, or tries to, but only ends up skewing his mask and nearly dislodging the fedora. He it before it can fall. She's so... funny. "Heh... no, of course not. Sorry. I guess I'm just a little nervous about the party." He coughs into his palm, throat dry. "So, I guess..."

"I'll see you there," she repeats, curtly. She doesn't offer an explanation as to what's keeping her, and he doesn't ask. When they hang up, Justin's dark-cloud feeling, a sense of something bad waiting to happen, is stronger than ever.

Justin fixes his mask in the mirror, and reties it behind his head. Then the hat. He has a party to host, after all.

"Alex, what am I doing here?"

Harper and Alex are closeted in the secret dressing room, the one inside the witch's cage that's parked in the commons. Alex has been here for a little while already; Harper has just arrived. Dizzy and startled, she stands among discarded costumes and the residue of traveling magic, which is a smell like ozone in the air. Harper is in full clog regalia, surprised to find herself there. Also confused and a little mad.

Alex, half-costumed, half-dressed, flanked by fairylights, sighs at her friend. "Honestly Harper, I'd think you'd catch on quicker by now. Isn't it obvious?" She switches on her most winning smile. " I need your help!"

"Alex, I'm supposed to meet Zeke at the Halloween Clogging Workshop in ten minutes! What am I even doing here?"

Harper stomps her foot, her clog making a loud echo in the long room. "What? No! I was in the middle of something! You can't just... just flash me in whenever you need something!"

Alex has a hard time not smirking; she SO can. Harper's good like that. But she has some convincing to do here: she schools her face to seriousness.

"Harper, come on... This is important! I wouldn't flash you in here, interrupt your..." she studies Harper's outfit, frowning, "...your wooden shoes convention with, um, Zeke, if I didn't need you!"

Harper sinks heavily down into a straight-backed chair in front of a dressing table, sighing. "Okay, I'll bite. What's so important?" Harper's frown deepens, as she really looks at her friend for the first time. "And what are you wearing?"

Alex grins, shielding herself with her arms and turning in a slow circle, so that Harper can appreciate the full glory of what she already has on. "It's a costume," she says, looking pleased with herself. Harper isn't sure what to say.

Alex sidles closer to her friend. Turning so that her back is to her, she sweeps her hair away from the back of her neck. "Zip me up," she offers, "...and I'll explain everything."

Reaching for the zipper that splits the rich cloth of Alex's gown from spine to shoulder blades, sliding it carefully up the teeth of the zipper, Harper, as always, does what she's told.

God, Alex loves that about her.

"Alex, are you sure about this?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Sure."

They're almost done. Arrested in the act of pinning the last rebellious curl into place atop her head, Alex smiles at Harper's reflection in the mirror. "It'll be fine," she reassures her friend, "Trust me...?" Satisfied that she's put Harper's fears to rest and everything is under control, she turns her attention back to her own image. She has to look good. Like, even more than usual.

Tonight is important for HH, and she needs to be perfect. Not that she has any ulterior motives, or anything. She just likes to look good, okay? Stupid Justin and their stupid fight have nothing to do with it, alright?

Tonight is a big night. It could be really important for the Helping Hands project, if everything goes well. And Alex needs for things to go well; really, she does. She also needs someone to tell her she looks great, assure her that the play is perfect and the party is incredible, and she needs someone to run interference with Justin if starts putting his big nose into things that don't concern him... in short, she needs Harper.

Which is exactly why she flashed here in about an hour ago; they've been getting ready... well, getting Alex ready... ever since. Well, after the Convincing Harper to Go Along With It portion of the evening was over. Oh sure, Harper protested and complained a little at first, but Alex is used to that. She's been making Harper do things since they were in First Grade, after all. First she flashed her in, then she talked her into it, magicked her a Harper-appropriate costume, and they got down to business.

Harper, for her part, is resplendent on a grown-up Strawberry Shortcake getup that only a Finkle could love: A short, pinkish-red dress with a flared skirt that stops just above the knee, edged in filly white lace and tiny pink bows, topped with a toothachingly-sweet apron printed with strawberries and capped with puffed sleeves. Her stockings are green and striped above shiny mary-janes. Her had, though is her crowning glory. Pink and puffy, it's both shaped and colored like an enormous strawberry, complete with stem. As a finishing touch, she's made Harper's hair bright green... it offsets the hat. Privately, she thinks that Harper looks the world's biggest five-year-old... but Harper seems to like it. (Alex knew she would.)

Also, it went a long way toward her acceptance of her role as Alex's assistant and Justin-wrangler for the evening.

But now that they're almost, done, well... she's having some doubts. "I mean, are you *really* sure? Because you don't seem, you know... sure."

"God, it's like you don't trust me at all," Alex grumbles. "When have I ever let you down?"

"Actually-" Harper begins,

Alex cuts her off. "I meant recently!"

Harper hands her a small tube of glitter without being asked. She raises a tentative hand. "Well, there was..."

"No, I mean like with stuff that was important!" Alex smears the glitter over one bare shoulder and half her decolletage, narrowing her eyes at it critically.

Harper considers. "What about the time in the competition where-"

Alex slaps the tube down on the table, feeling her patience wearing thin. The glitter spreads across the makeup scattered there, but it doesn't seem important. "Oh for the love...! When will you stop bringing that up! We got you back from the Gryphon, didn't we?"

Their eyes meet in the mirror. Alex gives her best friend a dark, sulky look... and Harper capitulates almost at once. "Yeah, I guess you did!" She smiles her sweet, forgiving smile, and Alex remembers why she keeps her around. She turns to put the finishing touches on her makeup.

"But, Alex...?"

"God, what?" Sometimes being with Harper is like babysitting, she swears. Can't she just enjoy being flashed into the Wizard World by her best friend, out of the blue with no warning, in order to attend a magical party she just now found out about? Is that so much to ask?

Alex flashes her best friend another warning scowl. But Harper is undeterred.

"It's just, I'm a little nervous. This party's gonna be full of Wizards!"

Alex touches her hair, dabs expertly at the corner of her lipsticked mouth, and turns to face her friend. She takes Harper by the shoulders, looking her full in the face. Wearing her best Sincere Look (tm), she promises "Look, there's nothing to worry about." She pretends not to notice the way Harper winces when she says it. "You'll only run into trouble," she reassures her, " if they think you're not a Wizard."

"But I'm not a Wizard!"

"Which is why I'm loaning you my training wand!"

Retrieving the training wand from the dressing table where Harper abandoned it the first time she tried to force it on her, she brandishes it toward her friend with a flourish. "Ta-da!" The greyish surface is now dusted with glitter- but hey, that just makes it more magical.

Harper backs up a step, holding up both hands, as if to fend off errant magic. "Oh, because it worked out so well the last time I used it? Come on, Alex, I'm scared of that thing!" Her voice dwindles into a whine, and Alex rolls her eyes. She puts the bulky cylinder into Harper's hand and makes her close her fingers around it.

"Take it. It's not as if it's a real wand, or anything. Just remember.. all this can do is open things - don't use it unless you have to prove you're a Wizard, okay?"

Harper grimaces, the way she always does when she's forced to wield magic. She's complaint to Alex, more than once, that it feels slippery and wild, and gosh, she'd just rather not. But she nods, and holds the wand against her chest. "Just- tell me what I'm supposed to do, again?"

"Just point it at the object that you want to open, and say 'open'. And then it'll-"

But Harper shakes her head. "I know that," she protests, in a tone of voice that implies she's not usually the first one to run screaming at the first sign of magic. "What I mean is... Alex, what am I really doing here? Be honest."

Skillfully avoiding eye contact, Alex rearranges the objects on the dressing table. "Just keep an eye on Justin for me."

"Isn't he a little too old for a babysitter?"

Alex snorts. "You tell me. Dude still plays with dolls!"

Harper frowns at the slander. "Alex, they're action figures."

Alex makes a face at her, reaching to gather their jackets. "I said keep an eye on him, not channel him!"

She lifts her wand to flash them out, but Harper stops her, clutching her arm. Alex shakes her off irritable. "Oh, what now!"

Harper, who's spend a lot of time with Alex, is unfazed by her temper. "Alex, I need a little more to go on." Her expression grows serious. "What is this about, anyways?"

Alex doesn't say anything for a minute. Harper waits for her. For once, Alex is the first one to drop her eyes. "Okay... look. There are some things about my job that Justin wouldn't understand, okay? I just need you to keep him away from my boss- from everyone on the HH staff, really-and if he starts asking too many questions about Helping Hands, just- I don't know, distract him?" She looks a plea at Harper.

Harper just nods, her face a picture of quiet concern. Her Thinking Face. When Alex lifts her wand again, Harper grabs her. "Harper!" Alex yelps.

But Harper ignores her. "Hang on. There's something I can't figure out. Why aren't you doing it yourself, Alex?"

Alex looks at her blankly. "Doing what?" And Harper folds her arms, gives her a what-do-you-take-me-for look.

"Alex, I'm not stupid. And I'm not new around here. And manipulating Justin is practically your full-time job... so why don't you do it? Why not just keep an eye on him yourself?"

Alex hesitates. "He's... kind of not speaking to me. And I can't fix it." She bites her lip. "I mean, I can't fix it in time for the Masque," she corrects, too quickly. She won't look at Harper.

Harper frowns. "But, you guys fight all the time, right? It's never stopped you before."

Alex swallows, looks away. "This time I think he means it."

Harper looks way from the pain in her friend's face. When there are no further interruptions, Alex lifts her wand and flashes them out.

A/N: I know, I know... there's not a lot of action, *right*? And you've been waiting so long (assuming anyone is watching for this to update, which is honestly not all that likely). But buildup has its place, or at least I hope it does. Trust me, stuff happens. There's more up ahead.

With love,