Disclaimer: The Mortal Instruments belongs to Cassandra Clare, not me.
Warnings: As a blanket warning for the whole fic, there's one mention of theoretical suicide, and one veiled reference to something that could be either suicide or self-harm.
Notes: *barrels back into the TMI fandom on a shining white unicorn*
This was supposed to be a one-shot, but it… sort of got away from me, so it's four chapters total and one will be posted each day. Consider it AU post-CoG – I didn't feel like handwaving everything that happened during CoFA and CoLS – and it contradicts one of the extra bits Clare posted on her website, but I don't care very much about anything that's not in the actual books. xD Enjoy!
For Anita, my self-appointed beta reader, idea-bouncer, and internet soulmate, who is directly responsible for the existence of this fic (along with some of the plot).
WALKED OUT THE BACK DOOR OF THE CLUB AND RANDOMLY GOT ATTACKED BY A GUY WITH A SWORD. :( -J
You've got to be kidding me, Alec thought.
It was just shy of three a.m. and Alec was quietly languishing in the kitchen of the Institute, feeling rather pathetic and reinforcing his patheticism through the most gloomy of solitary activities – drinking. Had Magnus been around, he would've scolded him for wallowing in self-pity, then scolded him for drowning his sorrows in off-brand vodka. The man was morally opposed to cheap liquor. Still, he was neither present nor answering his phone, and Alec was having a crisis (he wasn't sure if he was actually having a crisis, but it was a good excuse for consuming gratuitous amounts of alcohol), so he'd do as he pleased and the little voice in the back of his head that sounded like a certain warlock could just shut up.
"You can shut up too," he told Church, who blinked at him and stuck his face into the vodka. Alec quickly rescued the bottle from a tragic shattered death as the cat violently backpedaled, hissing and swiping at his nose and making horrible faces. "I know, it's god-awful." The liquid tasted like rubbing alcohol and didn't smell much better – it boasted a burning, antiseptic scent that reminded him of the infirmary, of broken glass and torn skin and blood bubbling up like lava through cracks in the earth. And wasn't that just the sort of metaphorical brilliance only someone who'd been trying to get wrecked on the stuff in the very back of the liquor cabinet would come up with. He really needed to stop before the floor turned into a rollercoaster ride.
"You realize drinking alone in a dark room is just about the most depressing thing you can do, right?" The voice broke into Alec's contemplation of the kitchen tiles. Reluctantly, he raised his head off his arms. There was a pale, tangle-haired wraith drifting into the room, carrying a cell phone and looking a bit annoyed. She flicked the light switch without warning, throwing bright spots into Alec's vision, and plunked herself onto an empty stool. "Let me guess – you're waiting for Jace too?"
"I am now. Did he send you a text message about a swordsman?"
"Yep. All in capital letters?"
Isabelle laughed and dropped her phone onto the island. "At least he's consistent." Suppressing a yawn, she picked up the bottle, scrutinized the label, shrugged, and took a swig. Then she made an indescribably disgusted noise and shoved it onto the counter behind her, out of Alec's reach, which was probably for the best. "I think people use that to clean their cars. Why the hell are you drinking that crap?"
"It's familiar," Alec said, settling his cheek on his folded arms again. Holding his head up took too much work.
"Is it? I never took you for the drinking type, you know," she said. "I've always assumed you had the alcohol tolerance of an eleven-year-old girl."
Alec rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."
"Really, I've never seen you drink anything. I started getting wasted at parties when I was fifteen."
"I know." He'd had to come and take her home more times than he cared to count until she eventually learned to exercise a little restraint. "See, when I was thirteen, I drank almost half a bottle of that stuff." He waved at the vodka bottle. "Somehow I didn't get alcohol poisoning, but for three days I was sicker than I've ever been in my life."
Isabelle's brow furrowed for a moment, and then she brightened. "I remember that! Hodge said you had the flu."
"That's what I told him. He didn't believe me for a second. I think he was trying to teach me some kind of lesson by letting me suffer." It worked, sort of – Alec hadn't touched anything remotely alcoholic for five solid years, but he'd progressed to other, equally unhealthy coping methods, which might not have been what Hodge had intended.
"He would do that." Her phone buzzed; she grabbed it off the countertop and, without taking her eyes from the screen or fingers from the keypad, said, "So why are you sitting here –"
Fortunately, before she could demand an explanation for Alec's semi-inebriated state, the geriatric rattle of the elevator caught Isabelle's attention and her head swiveled around to face the hallway. "That'd better be them. I want to go back to bed. JACE!" she shouted as the gates creaked open.
Jace wandered into view a moment later, flushed and rumpled and grinning like a loon. His t-shirt was ripped from left shoulder to right hip, but there was no blood staining the fabric, and he appeared far too pleased with himself to be nursing any serious injuries. "Why're you still up?" he asked, lounging against the doorframe.
"As if you don't know," Isabelle said.
Jace looked blank. Alec put in the effort to sit up, cradling his chin in his palm. "Listen," he said, "I am just drunk enough to be unsure exactly how drunk I am, so you're going to have to explain in very simple terms – what the hell did you do?"
Waving an inactive seraph blade around (because god forbid he go to a Downworld nightclub without any visible weaponry dangling from his belt), Jace indignantly said, "You speak as if I had something to do with it. I assure you I'm absolutely blameless in this situation. Blameless, I say!"
"Calm down," came a voice from somewhere behind Jace's shoulder. "And move it, you're blocking the doorway." Jace leaned to one side, creating enough of a gap for Clary to squeeze through. She looked almost as debauched as Jace, her cheeks pink, her hair a sweaty mess clinging to her neck. Alec had a sudden, vivid mental image of what they might've been getting up to in the elevator, and wished he had the vodka back so he could try scrubbing his brain with it. "Are you talking about Jace's "swordsman"?" Clary said, forming mocking air quotes with her fingers.
"Is it bullshit, then?" Isabelle asked. "It sounded like bullshit."
"You wound me, woman," Jace said. "It was not, as you say, bullshit. There were too many people by the front door, so we left the club out the back, and when I got into the alley, a guy with a giant overcompensating sword turned around and tried to cut me in twain. Then he ran for it."
Isabelle gave a jaw-cracking yawn and raked her fingers through her hair. "Yeah, still sounds like bullshit to me. Are you sure he didn't have, like, a pocketknife or something? It'd be embarrassing to get sliced up by a guy with a pocketknife. We'll understand if you exaggerated."
"It was a sword, dammit!" Jace exclaimed, swinging the seraph blade haphazardly. Alec was starting to think that his brother was far and away the most intoxicated person in the room. "I demand silence from the uneducated peasantry!"
"I didn't see it," Clary offered. "I was busy getting crushed in the crowd – thanks for the help, Jace – and when I got outside, he was swearing a lot and his shirt was torn but there was no one else there."
"I told you, he ran off. Maybe he was intimidated by the sight of my powerful abs."
"See, I can believe that the guy had a sword," Alec said. "You were in Brooklyn – there's all sorts of freaks there. What I don't believe is that you didn't provoke him somehow."
"Blameless," Jace said again. The seraph blade clattered onto the island as he threw himself onto a stool, sighing. Isabelle quickly swiped it and sent it to join the vodka bottle. "Well, whatever. You'll see. You'll all see."
"I bet we will." Isabelle patted him on the arm and slid off her seat. "I really need to get some sleep. How'd that dress work out for you, by the way?" she said to Clary.
Clary sighed and tugged on the hem of her alarmingly short dress. It was a glimmery green color that made Alec think of the small snakes that used to take cover in the overgrown garden behind the Institute, the ones he'd played with when he was little until his cat killed too many of them. "One of these days," Clary said, "you're going to realize that your clothes don't fit me."
"It's not my fault you don't own anything sexy. If you don't like it, then take it off."
"In the kitchen?"
"Sure," Isabelle said. "We're both girls, Jace has seen you in less, and Alec's not interested."
If Jace's eyebrows got any higher, they were going to achieve orbit. "I like where this is going."
That was Alec's cue to leave. He turned around on the stool and shoved his feet into his boots. "Well, if nobody's dying from sword-related injuries tonight, then I'm going."
"Late-night booty call with your hot boyfriend?" Jace said.
"That's immensely disturbing, coming out of your mouth," Alec said, knotting the laces, "and no. One of Magnus's friends is supposed to visit and I should probably be there when she breaks into the apartment."
Isabelle crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a look. "And you're just going to leave us here to deal with him?" she said, nodding towards Jace.
"He's not as drunk as he's pretending to be," Clary said. Jace smirked lazily. "You were perfectly fine a few minutes ago while we…"
Jace's smirk erupted into a full-blown leer. "While we were what?" he wheedled. "Go ahead, I don't care if they know."
Flushing crimson, Clary threw a hair clip at him. Jace caught it in midair, which was all the confirmation Alec needed. "He's fine," he said.
Isabelle sighed. "Right, right, go on then. I'm going to sleep – if I can ignore Mom and Dad fighting really quietly in their bedroom. They've been at it for ages."
Alec's stomach did something hideously unpleasant, and it wasn't caused by the alcohol. Occasionally, he wished his parents would just admit their marriage was a mistake, divorce, and get it over with – instead they saw some need to keep up this ridiculous farce and pretend there was nothing going on whenever their kids were around. This led to a lot of near-silent arguments behind closed doors. They were never quiet enough, though, and even when the words weren't audible, the tones were a clue that they weren't having a pleasant conversation about kittens. He really had no idea why they still bothered. Alec had known they hated one another for most of his life, even if he didn't know why, and he thought maybe the fighting would be easier to swallow if he had any idea what they were fighting about.
Given the conversation he'd had about an hour ago, he had a sick feeling that maybe it was him. And that was as good a reason as any to get the hell out of here. He shouldered his way past Jace (still gleefully tormenting Clary, who looked torn between laughing and beating him to death with the abandoned seraph blade), then paused in the doorway, looked back at his sister. He wanted to say something, anything, to reassure her, but he couldn't find the words. "Sleep in the library," he finally said.
Isabelle's voice followed him down the corridor – "Just because you sleep there all the time does not make that couch comfortable!"
Magnus's apartment was dark and desolate when Alec let himself inside. Even Chairman Meow, whose insatiable need for adventure led him to attempt escape almost every time the door opened, burrowed deeper into a blanket on the couch and hardly twitched an ear in Alec's direction. Cold-shouldered by a cat. This really was a miserable sort of night. He kicked off his shoes and padded along the hall to the bedroom, which, as usual, looked like ground zero of a department store explosion. Alec picked his way across the floor with practiced ease until he reached his destination – Magnus's closet. While he was fairly certain it didn't actually contain a magic portal to Narnia, it was still an unholy mess of clothing and boxes and things Alec had never seen before in his lifetime, so he quickly snagged the plastic tub where he kept his stuff and slammed the doors before anything unnatural leapt out at him.
Nothing in the bin was more comfortable than the jeans he had on now. He gave up, took off his sweater, and then plummeted to the mattress like a comet striking Earth. Half of the blankets were more than an arm's-length away, but Alec gathered the remaining covers to him and started building a cocoon. Magnus had once likened the way Alec wrapped himself up to a spider spinning webbing around a captured insect, which might've been funny if Alec wasn't a card-carrying arachnophobe. He'd retaliated by dragging Magnus down and trying to smother him in the comforter, heedless of Magnus's maniacal laughter, and in the end neither of them had made it out of bed for another two hours.
Once he felt sufficiently swaddled, he curled up and finally closed his eyes. He hadn't been sleeping well lately – at some point between Brocelind Plain and coming back to New York, he'd developed an extraordinary capacity for nightmares that was impressive even by Shadowhunter standards. Most of them had the same overused plotlines, but that didn't make them any less, well, nightmarish. Getting a proper night's sleep had become an effort that rivaled a trip to Mordor. Being in Magnus's apartment sometimes helped, though. There was something about the place that just screamed safe.
He'd almost begun to drift off when there was a bang from the other side of the apartment.
Right, Alec thought, forcing his eyes back open. He'd known Antoinette was coming over, so why had he bothered trying to sleep?
He had another moment of blessed peace as quiet footsteps approached, and briefly wished he was drunk enough to deal with Antoinette's particular brand of insanity before she opened the door. "So Magnus isn't here yet?" she asked, peering around the room like she expected him to pop out from beneath a pile of clothes in a shower of glitter. In all fairness, it was something Magnus would do.
"Pity." Antoinette wheeled around and exited the room and Alec allowed himself to entertain the possibility of her leaving him alone to sleep. He couldn't be that lucky, though, because she returned a moment later, a small container in hand, and plunked herself down on the edge of the mattress. "I suppose I'm stuck hanging out with you, then."
"You could go hang out with Chairman Meow," he suggested.
Antoinette opened the container. From the smell, she was eating the leftover spaghetti from Magnus's fridge. Alec decided not to tell her how old it was. "But you're sleeping with Magnus," she pointed out. "And I used to be sleeping with Magnus, so I figured we could have a nice chat and compare notes."
Alec said something very rude which was thankfully too muffled in the comforter for her to make out, but she laughed anyway. "No? All right, then."
Resigning himself to her presence for the time being, Alec rolled onto his stomach and buried his head in the pillow. "How did you even get in?"
"Climbed the fire escape?"
Antoinette huffed. "What's the point in having wings if they're not strong enough to hold my weight?" she groused, stabbing her fork into the spaghetti. Alec turned his head just enough to glance at her over his shoulder. He'd always thought Antoinette had rather a lot of hair for someone so short – it was even longer than Isabelle's and usually a mass of dark curls that looked like an enormous bird's nest, but then he realized when she left it loose, it almost concealed how misshapen her back looked with her clothes pulled over her folded wings. He had never actually seen her wings, since she didn't like to flaunt them. And evidently they had no use beyond looking pretty and being a nuisance, which was unfortunate. Magnus had gotten off lightly. He could just tell people he wore colored contact lenses and leave it at that.
"I'm going to sleep," Alec said. "Don't steal anything."
"You ruin all my fun."
Alec had no intention of really falling asleep, because he didn't trust Antoinette to not go poking around in his memory while he was out. She didn't seem interested in tormenting him, though. She was gazing at the bench of Magnus's vanity like it held all the secrets of the universe, mechanically twirling spaghetti around her fork, occasionally missing her mouth entirely. He hadn't any idea what had captivated her attention, but she wasn't talking anymore, so he tucked his face into his arms and let himself sink into that quiet, shadowy place between awake and asleep.
Minutes later – at least, it felt like minutes later, but Alec suspected it had been considerably longer – there were more voices in the hallway, a floorboard wailed, and the door swung yet again. "Why am I surprised to find you in my bed?"
Alec cracked an eye open in time to see Antoinette give Magnus a twinkly little wave. "You should never be surprised to find me in your bed. I ate your spaghetti, by the way."
"That's fine. It was about three weeks old," Magnus said, leaning against the wall. "I was waiting for it to develop an ecosystem."
Pulling a face, Antoinette snapped the cover onto the container and gave Alec a dirty look. "He didn't tell me that."
"He was probably hoping it would kill you. I know I am." The harshness to his words were belied by the sparkle in his eyes. Alec knew Magnus liked Antoinette far too much to wish death on her – although he'd admitted that the reason they'd broken up after two years was because they couldn't cohabitate without plotting how to kill one another and make it look like an accident. Apparently, Alec was much easier to live with. That was a nice thought, and when Magnus looked at him, he smiled tiredly and tried to decide whether he wanted to go back to sleep or kick Antoinette out, drag Magnus into bed, and have his way with him. He was still a little drunk. His blood felt much too warm.
"Is Alistair here?" Antoinette said, jabbing Alec's leg with her fork like she knew he was thinking impure thoughts. She probably did, too, he thought grumpily.
"He is, and you'd better hurry up and get out there before he decides to leave."
Alec yawned. "Is this something I need to be awake for?"
"Technically, no," Magnus said, "but…." He lifted his hand, a white paper cup dangling from his fingertips, and grinned. "I brought you coffee."
Damn. Magnus knew the way to his heart, and it was caffeine. While Alec debated the merits of movement, Antoinette said, "Did you find him?"
There was a curious hopefulness in her voice when she asked, "Alive?"
Magnus leveled an unreadable look at her. "You know the answer to that."
Whatever was going on sounded serious, so as Antoinette got up, so did Alec, detangling himself from the covers and holding a hand out expectantly. Magnus just waved the cup tantalizingly and practically skipped out of view. "That's cheating," Alec complained. He scooped up his sweater, yanked it on, and left the bedroom.
He was the last person to reach the apartment's main room. A couch and two squashy armchairs were gathered around the fireplace, which boasted a cluster of crackling blue flames. One of the chairs was occupied by a slender, brown-haired warlock in a dark coat. Alec had met Alistair exactly once, for about three minutes, but there was something memorable about the man despite his unremarkable appearance – maybe it was because Alec got the distinctive impression that Alistair didn't like him. He could live with that, it just bothered him a bit since he had no idea what he'd done. Knotting his fingers together, Alec edged around him and seated himself on the couch next to Magnus, who obligingly handed him the paper cup. Alec looked at the bright green logo and scowled.
"Don't give me that face," Magnus said, propping his feet up on the low table in front of the hearth.
"This isn't coffee," Alec said mournfully, "it's a lie."
"Your irrational hatred of Starbucks is really not the topic of conversation right now," Antoinette said. She threw herself into the remaining armchair and looked from Magnus to Alistair. "So, he's dead?"
"Yes," Alistair said.
"I knew it!" she exclaimed triumphantly. "I was right. I told you he was dead." For someone who was right, Antoinette didn't look at all happy, and she slumped in the chair like she wanted to melt into the gap between cushion and back. "We were supposed to meet for breakfast and Jackson didn't show and he's always so fucking punctual. He didn't even call. I knew it."
For a minute, no one said anything. Magnus looked pensive, Antoinette looked forlorn, and Alistair's face was inexpressive. Alec kept quiet not just because he had no idea who they were talking about, but also because he strongly doubted his opinion was welcome. This was their business and he wouldn't even be included if Magnus hadn't dragged him along. Story of his life. His coffee exhaled a cloud of steam as he popped the top off, braced his feet on the edge of the couch, and balanced the cup on his knees.
Antoinette closed her eyes, rubbing her hand across her mouth. "Where'd you find him?"
"Behind that horrible Thai restaurant in Park Slope," Magnus said. "He was dead for a few days. He'd been magicked, but a couple of werewolves picked up on the smell."
She made a sound that might have been a laugh, under other circumstances. "And to think I never ate there because of all the murders. Ironic." There was another pregnant pause before she sat upright again and sighed. "All right, whatever, doesn't matter. Have either of you seen Marlene lately?"
"Hold on, hold on," Alec said, cutting Magnus's reply off. "This guy's dead and it just… doesn't matter?"
The three warlocks shared a look. "If it was anyone else," Magnus finally said, "it would, but Jackson was…"
"He was a rubbish warlock," Alistair muttered into his mug.
"And a huge asshole," Antoinette added. "My friend, but an asshole nevertheless."
"It's not inconceivable to think that someone with a grudge took him out. A child could've done it." Magnus picked up his own untouched coffee and tucked a bit of Alec's hair behind his ear. "Don't worry about it."
"It's not Shadowhunter business, anyway," Alistair said, so sharply that Alec – who had a deplorable habit of avoiding eye contact with anyone who made him uncomfortable – looked up and stared at him.
"I'm not –"
"Oh, hush, you." Antoinette stretched out a leg and poked Alistair's arm with her bare toes. Alec momentarily wondered where her shoes had gone – or if she'd even been wearing any to start with. "It's not like he's going to go round up a posse of Nephilim to storm Brooklyn looking for a murderer. And if he does, we'll just have to speed up our timeline for the insurrection."
Now Alec was staring at her. "What insurrection?"
"You weren't supposed to tell him, Antoinette," Alistair admonished.
"Whoops," she said mildly. "Hold still a moment, I'll just wipe that from your memory." She slid off the chair, leaned forward, reached for Alec's face –
If Magnus hadn't grabbed the back of his shirt, Alec's reflexive lunge would've taken him right into the fireplace. "They're joking," he said. "And you quit it, Annie, he's pretty and I don't want him burnt."
"Don't call me Annie," Antoinette said, settling into the armchair again with a Cheshire Cat grin. Alec wanted to kill her. While he wouldn't have said that he liked Antoinette (because he wasn't entirely sure that he did), and though he liked her more than he did Alistair, she was downright unnerving when she wanted to be. She might not have been particularly prodigious when it came to regular magic, she had one specific, specialized skill – unrolling peoples' minds like they were balls of yarn. Where Magnus could block memories, Antoinette could erase them so thoroughly that even the Silent Brothers would never know they were there; conversely, she could fabricate entire lives and insert them into someone's head without the victim ever noticing. And that was nothing compared to her unmatchable ability to extract information. She'd worked for the Clave for a while in the early 1800s, interrogating prisoners, which might have accounted for her unusual benevolence towards Shadowhunters. But benevolence or not, Alec really wanted her to stop joking about screwing around with his memory. It creeped him out to know she could've done something to his brain and he'd probably never realize it. Magnus slipped his hand up Alec's sweater, brushing his knuckles over the small of his back, and Alec forced himself to stop glaring at her. Judging by her expression, she didn't care anyway.
"Well, if we're done here, I have work to do." Alistair set the mug down on the table and stood up, dusting off his hands. "Before I go, though – have you seen Marlene lately?"
The grin fell right off Antoinette's face. "No," she said quietly. "No, I haven't, and I should."
"I haven't either, but I'm going to drop by tomorrow. See if there's anything I can do," Magnus said. Almost absentmindedly, he raised his arm, curled it around Alec's neck, tugged him closer. Alec rested his chin on Magnus's shoulder. "I'll see you later."
"I should go too." Antoinette hopped to her feet and stretched. "I left Rico alone with this vampire chick who's been trying to get me to fuck with her sister's memory for half-price and he's probably crying and cursing my name by now." She followed Alistair to the door, waggling her fingers at them. "Toodles!"
The door slammed. Magnus's fingers traced the rune on the back of Alec's neck. Alec caught himself wondering about Antoinette's shoes again – she still hadn't been wearing any, and it wasalmost winter.
"Do you know how she got in?" Magnus eventually asked. Alec nodded towards the far side of the room. Magnus got up, crossed the floor, and cranked the window above the fire escape open. A whispered word, and the clear view of the skyline was replaced by a shimmering blue rectangle that curved inwards ever so slightly. "She bent my ward," Magnus said, sounding put-out. He began tapping the corners of the ward, sending a bell-like ring echoing around the room, but Alec had seen him do this a number of times and quickly lost interest. As Magnus pushed his ward back into its proper shape, Alec tried to figure out if there was anything resembling real coffee beans in his drink.
"I don't know about you," he said, "but I haven't gotten any sleep, so I'm going back to bed."
Magnus shut the window with a clang. "Bed sounds good to me." With a sweep of his hand, the table was cleared of his cup, Alistair's mug, and the coffee Alec had written off as a bad job. "Come along then, darling, it's disgusting o'clock. Sleep time."
They didn't end up sleeping. Alec thought he probably should've seen that coming.
The room was like a sauna and the blanket Magnus had thrown over them both was only exacerbating the feeling of being trapped in an oven, but Alec was still made of jelly and didn't have the energy to do anything about it. He barely made the effort to peel his damp hair off his face before shoving his arms back under the pillow. He was on his stomach, Magnus draped across his back, head between his shoulderblades. His chin was drilling into Alec's spine. Another thing Alec didn't feel like dealing with. He let his mind wander down more important paths – like trying to figure out where his jeans went. If Magnus had sent them to China again just to get them out of the way, Alec was going to strangle him. Those were his favorite pair.
"So," Magnus murmured, nuzzling Alec's skin, "what happened?"
"You don't usually drink without reason."
"Oh." Of course Magnus had picked up on that, even if Alec had been borderline sober by the time they had forgotten why they'd really gone to bed. "Had a fun conversation with my claustrophobically narrow-minded father." Magnus made a sympathetic noise. "It was just the usual – he implied that my poor life choices reflect badly on him and that my life would be so much better if I dumped you and got a proper girlfriend. I told him I'd date Aline, then. He didn't think it was funny."
"Neither do I," Magnus said. "Am I missing some relevant backstory?"
"A bit." Alec yawned, pulled his arms from under the pillow, and stretched them out above his head. "A couple months ago while we were all in Alicante – sometime after she tried to suck my brother's tonsils out – she and I were talking and she admitted some things, and I admitted some things, and, well… we kind of made a deal. If things didn't work out with – just everything, really – then in a couple of years we'd get together to shut everyone else up and then do whatever the hell we wanted. But now I have you, and Aline got a girlfriend, and my father knows all that, so he didn't think it was funny."
Magnus breathed a long, slow breath against Alec's back. "Good for her, but I don't know if that's funny, love. I think it's depressing."
"That too," Alec admitted.
Chairman Meow's arrival was heralded by a thunderous rrrrrrriiip as he merrily tore his toy mousie in half and started snuffling around in the catnip spilling from its severed head. "Don't eat that, crackhead," Magnus said, waving his hand. The catnip vanished, leaving behind a spicy-sweet scent and a pitifully meowing feline. "Oh, get over it. Come here." He reached out towards Chairman Meow and received a look of deepest contempt for his trouble.
"You ruined his life," Alec said. Chairman Meow climbed right over Magnus and settled down on the mattress next to Alec's hip, purring.
"Reduced to a speed bump by my own cat."
"It's not my fault he likes me better."
"Animal magnetism," Magnus said, and laughed. "It's high time you admit you're attractive, Alexander."
"Mmgrf." And there it was again, Magnus purring a word Alec wasn't particularly fond of. It wasn't his name he disliked so much as the way people said it – Alexander cracked between his mother's teeth like shards of ice, was practically synonymous with disappointment when it came from his father's lips, but Magnus… he stretched out the syllables and rolled them around in his mouth as if they were something to be savored. The only reason Alec hadn't told him to cut it out was because Magnus always sounded like he was lovingly caressing something he couldn't have.
Alec didn't move for a while, sleepily watching the progression of Magnus's hand as it crept up his left arm. The warlock's fingers paused, brushed over the bracelet on Alec's wrist. It was simple, a loop of wooden spheres interrupted here and there by black and red beads – Max had given it to him a few years ago as a birthday present. He'd been very insistent that it would 'protect' him, which was a sweet, little-kid sort of thing to say. Alec hadn't taken it off in almost three months.
"What did you do to your hand?" Magnus asked. Alec was tired enough that it took him a moment to realize Magnus was speaking of at the scar on his palm, the one that was matched by another on the back of his hand.
"Someone stabbed me with a seraph blade, once."
Magnus twitched. "God. Better you than me. We usually channel our magic through our hands – if you put something through my hand like that, you could cripple me, magically speaking."
"I'll keep that in mind if I ever need to cripple you. Which I will, if my jeans aren't still in the country."
"Relax, they're over there." Magnus waved at 'over there'. Alec didn't bother to check – he didn't care all that much so long as they were within reach when he decided to get dressed. "And don't change the subject."
"It's really not an interesting story," Alec insisted.
"Tell me anyway."
Sighing, Alec thumped his chin against the pillow and stared at the star-shaped crack on the maroon wall. "There was a girl."
"Oooh. Wait, hang on a second." Magnus propped himself up on an elbow and flicked his fingers at the window, opening it a fraction of an inch and bathing them both in cool, early December air. The breeze dried the sweat on Alec's forehead and behind his ears. "All right, continue," Magnus said, collapsing across Alec's back again.
Magnus wasn't going to let this go, so Alec decided he might as well tell him and get it over with so he could get some sleep. "It actually started before the girl. I was… almost fifteen, I think, and there was this vampire running around who'd killed three Shadowhunters in the past month. We didn't know who he was, and nobody had seen anything, so we were all just on edge all the time, waiting for somebody else to die – and then this girl showed up at the Institute one day."
"Is this going to be a romantic story?" Magnus said slyly.
"No. Quit interrupting." Alec turned his head to the side to look out the window. The sky was the same color as his favorite sweater, a pale, cloudy grey that inevitably brought some sort of precipitation. He wished it would snow. "She was a little older than I was, and she was a werewolf – her name was Jaina. She'd seen the vampire murder the last Shadowhunter, so she knew what he looked like, but she ran away and hid until she was sure he hadn't seen her. And then she came to us. She'd noticed that he had a scar next to his eye, so with that knowledge, we asked around – well, Jace and Isabelle did, to be honest – and eventually we found the coven he used to belong to."
"The girl, darling."
Alec could hear Magnus grinning. He knew he shouldn't have brought her up first. "Right, Jaina. She was just nice to me, okay? It wasn't as if I had any other friends who didn't live in my house. I barely talked to anybody. She always spoke too fast and turned Jace down flat every time he hit on her and I liked her." He smiled, but Magnus couldn't see his face and there was no real happiness behind it anyway. "Shouldn't have. Anyway, one night a couple of days after we met with the coven and got some more information, she called me – I have no idea how she got my number, but I think Isabelle was involved – and told me she knew where the vampire was. She sounded weird. When I asked where she was, she didn't say anything, and then she gave the phone to someone else."
"I am intrigued."
"Turns out she wasn't as good at hiding as she thought he was, and the vampire had finally hunted her down. He told me where they were and said if I came alone, he wouldn't hurt her anymore. I asked him – I said, "What did you do?" and he just laughed at me and hung up."
"This is a depressing story, isn't it?"
Alec didn't answer. "So on the list of all the stupid things I've ever done, going there by myself was probably the stupidest. And it didn't even matter, because by the time I got there, he'd already killed her. Then he promptly tried to kill me. I was… kind of against that, so he had some trouble, but he managed to bite me –" He turned his hand over to show Magnus the half-circle of bite scars on the side of his wrist. "I started bleeding a lot, which slowed me down, and eventually he backed me against the wall, got my seraph blade away from me, and stabbed it through my hand into the brick so I couldn't go anywhere.
"I probably would've died right there, but Jaina wasn't quite dead yet. She woke up and started screaming. He got distracted and went to go finish her off before taking me out – which was a really dumb idea, because of the two of us, I could move and he'd left me with a weapon. I couldn't get the blade out of the brick, so I had to break it off while it was still stuck through my hand – stop cringing. It didn't work anymore but it was sharp, so when he came back, I just… slashed his throat."
"Let me get this straight," said Magnus, who was terminally incapable of not interrupting when other people told stories. "Until a couple of months ago, you'd never killed any demons, but you killed a murderous vampire when you weren't even fifteen? Color me impressed."
"It was sheer dumb luck. I think I blacked out for a while – after I woke up, my father called to find out what the hell I was doing running around in the middle of the night when that vampire was still out there and I told him what happened. He came to get me, which was probably a good thing because it would've been really hard to explain to anyone else what I was doing in an alley with a dead werewolf and a dead vampire. The end."
"You're a terrible storyteller," Magnus said. He ran the pad of his thumb along the scar on Alec's palm, then laced their fingers together.
"I know." Alec was good at word-for-word regurgitation of things he'd read, but not so much at repeating things that had happened to him or making stuff up, which was probably why he was such a bad liar. A fluffy earflick at his elbow reminded him of Chairman Meow's presence and he reached down to pet the cat's head, lost in thought. "You know what's funny about it?"
"None of the things you think are funny are actually funny."
"Shut up. It's funny because that was probably the only time my father was genuinely proud of me, and once the adrenaline wore off I was so horrified and disturbed by the fact that I'd killed another person that I never wanted to think about it again." Chairman Meow, having tolerated enough affection, wandered to the other end of the bed to attack Magnus's feet for a while. Alec folded his arms under his chin. "It's different, killing people," he murmured. "Demons are just parasites – they come here to destroy and that's all. But that vampire… we talked to his coven and learned all this stuff about him. He had a name and a family and friends. He was a person, and I killed him." He ran his fingers through his hair. "Of course, I was still pretty firmly stuck in my 'I don't want to be a Shadowhunter' phase back then, so that probably didn't help. I got over it eventually."
Magnus had miraculously restrained himself from making comments during that little monologue. He now pressed his lips to the back of Alec's neck and said, "If it helps any, I don't think you had much of a choice in the matter. Better to kill than be killed, I suppose."
"That's a very Shadowhunter thing to say."
"I know, I hate myself." Magnus was quiet for a moment as Alec picked balls of lint and purple sparkles off the pillow. "I'm sorry about your friend. She sounded like a lovely person."
Though he didn't know what compelled him, Alec couldn't resist the impulse to say, "She kissed me once."
"It is amazing how quickly one's opinion of a person can change."
Alec laughed despite himself. "It's not like anything came of it. I had no idea how to react and she apologized, said it was fine if I wasn't interested, and never did anything else. I don't know if she ever worked out exactly how not-interested I was."
"I suppose I can forgive her, then," Magnus said, a bit grudgingly, which just made Alec laugh again because wasn't he supposed to be the jealous one in their relationship? He still felt miserably inadequate when he thought about all the people Magnus had had relationships with during his long existence – maybe that was the reason he wasn't too fond of Antoinette. "Hush, you."
"I wanted to like her." Abruptly sobering, Alec abandoned his futile attempt to de-glitter the pillow and dug his face back into his arms. "Do you know how hard I tried to like her? She was friendly and pretty and could be clever when she wasn't running all of her words into one long jumble – I was supposed to like her. I thought if I could just make myself fall for her, then I'd be normal and everything would be fine. Obviously that worked out really well."
There was a sharp tug on the back of his scalp. Alec yelped, lifted his head, and looked back at his boyfriend. Magnus let go of the lock of hair he'd yanked on and said, "I don't know where you're getting this ridiculous notion that you aren't normal."
Rolling his eyes, Alec settled his chin in his hand and dryly said, "Oh, where do I start? I kill demons for a living. I'm dating a warlock with a raging glitter fetish and most of my entire race doesn't approve of that sort of thing. I briefly got caught up in a complicated love octagon where practically everyone was related in some way."
"That sounds like an average afternoon to me," Magnus said, grinning impishly.
Alec winged the pillow over his shoulder and was rewarded with a satisfying fwump as it connected with Magnus's face. "Go to sleep."
"Sleep is dull," Magnus muttered, but he did fall silent for a few minutes, slotting his fingers into the hollows between Alec's ribs. Alec was starting to doze when he said, "What made your vampire go Nutter Butters?"
"Why was he killing Shadowhunters?"
Alec shrugged. "Appropriately enough," he said, "there was a girl."
Reviews are appreciated, because I worked my ass off to get this written in under a week and I'd like to know I didn't drive myself into insanity for nothing.