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: Huzzah, the final chapter! I think it's a bit weirdly paced, but this was supposed to be a one-shot, so… Again, please do forgive the action scene, they are not my forte.
Small reference to Understanding in here. Also, ending fatigue like you wouldn't believe – I will never try to write 34,000 words in five days again.
Sunday mornings had been sort of special when Alec was younger. That was the one day of the week when he got up while his mother made breakfast, rather than dragged himself out of bed at five a.m. to get the stuffing beaten out of him by Jace and Isabelle. He didn't have to pretend to listen as Hodge attempted to explain for him for the fiftieth time why there were suddenly letters in his numbers (Alec had never been any good at math, and he thought algebra was just a vile torture device). He even had one distant, grainy memory from that particular Sunday when his sister was born, when he'd stared, fascinated, at this squirming pink thing in his mother's arms and let her gum his finger, then lost interest and wanted to go play with his cat.
Now, Sundays were just like every other morning. He stumbled out of his room at almost noon – he'd left Magnus's place around six a.m., sore, tired, but happy – and meandered down the hall, yawning and pushing his wet hair off his face and rubbing his shoulder just to make sure it was still in one piece. He crashed into Jace, who looked about as awake as Alec felt, outside the kitchen. "What day is it?" Jace mumbled, blinking owlishly.
"The sixteenth." Alec's brain was still in the shower, but he'd been keeping careful track of the date. Sometime tonight, it would be five days since Raven had been killed. There hadn't yet been another body. Suddenly feeling very conscious, he took out his phone and sent Magnus a text message, just to make sure he was still all right.
"Ugh," Jace said intelligently. "There'd better be something in here besides your sister's wretched culinations…." He found a box of Lucky Charms in the cabinet. There were always Lucky Charms in the Institute, and Alec couldn't figure out for the life of him who kept buying them.
"I don't think 'culinations' is a word."
"Nonsense," Jace said. "There has to be some term for her poisonous inventions. Remember the Vomit Casserole?"
Alec did his absolute best not to. "Jace, I'd like to be able to eat."
"I don't think the microwave's ever recovered." Jace gave the appliance a loving pat. He then dropped the subject, thankfully, and fetched bowls from the cabinet. "How's your shoulder?"
"Fine," Alec said shortly.
"That bad, huh?" Seating himself at the island, Jace gave Alec a look he couldn't place – and for a moment, he was afraid his brother was going to start asking questions he would not be able to answer. He didn't think Jace would let it go as easily as his mother did when Alec told him that there was nothing they could do about the dead warlocks right now. But maybe Jace understood what Alec was going through a little better than Alec thought he did, because he just dumped some cereal into a bowl and started eating.
Magnus texted back about an hour later, reassuring Alec of his continued existence and complaining about the nixie he was trying to heal. Alec was relieved, but Magnus being busy meant he ran into a problem – he was bored.
Normally, Alec spent about ten hours per week in the garden behind the Institute, shooting at various targets and making sure he didn't lose his edge (and that number had only dropped off slightly since he'd gotten a boyfriend). It wasn't work for him so much as relaxation – he had to stay calm, block everything else out, and focus completely on drawing the bow, aiming, and hitting the target. Even when he was pretending that target was someone's head, it was a good way for him to separate himself from his emotions for a while. But now he didn't have that – his shoulder wouldn't permit him to so much as budge the bowstring. He was beginning to feel twitchy and on edge, despite the exhaustion that still dogged him.
He wandered into his bedroom, picked up a book, then put it down after seven pages. He texted Magnus again. He couldn't join the sparring session Isabelle and Clary had initiated, but from the looks of it, that was a bit of a disaster anyway. He took a nap, which ended poorly. Alec knew half of the reason he couldn't sit still was out of sheer nervousness, and, after he'd restlessly circled the library four times, his mother got annoyed and told him to sit down or leave. "You're driving me insane," she said. "Go do something."
Alec's first thought was I can't, Magnus is working, but there were absolutely no circumstances under which he would say that to his mother. He threw himself into a chair in front of the fireplace and said, "I can't use my bow. I physically cannot draw the bowstring and still get my arm back far enough to be able to shoot anything."
Her attention flickered from the massive book she was paging through to him and back. "I see you've elevated sulking to an art form."
"I'm not sulking." Talking to his mother was almost as bad as talking to his father occasionally. "I'm complaining because I can't use my arm properly and I wake up and I'm afraid it's not there anymore. There's a difference."
"Mhm. Are you going to keep complaining, or do you want to know what I think?"
Derailed, Alec said, "Um," and blinked at her until she spoke again.
"I think you nearly lost your arm and it traumatized you a little."
"What –" He wasn't traumatized. How weak did she think he was? "I'm not traumatized. It's just inconvenient, and another damn thing to lose sleep over –"
His mother raised an eyebrow. "What else are you losing sleep over?"
"Notwhat you think," Alec said immediately, and then realized he shouldn't have – if he'd let her believe that he wasn't sleeping because he and Magnus were having wild sex all hours of the night, then the conversation would be over. But Maryse had always been very good at prying without sounding like she was prying, and he'd walked right into it. "Dammit." He slumped against the back of the chair, rubbed his eyes, and stamped down the odd urge to laugh. He really wasn't all that bright at times.
"Do you know what it's like to dream about people dying practically every night?" he eventually asked, quietly, staring into the cold fireplace.
He heard the heavy book close, heard her sigh. "Of course I do."
Alec sank further into the squishy armchair. "I don't know how to make it stop," he whispered.
"Time," Maryse said simply. "You're eighteen years old, Alexander. You were almost killed by a Greater Demon, you were in a few violent battles, and you lost your brother, all within a few months." He finally looked at her at that, because it was the first time she'd even indirectly mentioned Max within his earshot. "If you weren't bothered by any of that, I would be concerned."
"Oh," Alec said faintly. He'd half-expected her to tell him to suck it up and get over it already… though that might have been a tad hypocritical. He just wasn't used to having his feelings validated. "All right."
She was still gazing at him with that expression, the one she had used on Isabelle when she came home drunk and Jace when he'd talked about avenging his father's murder and Alec when he'd never talked to anyone. It was both maternal concern and sheer maternal exasperation. "Have you ever told anyone about this?"
"Not exactly," Alec muttered against his palm, "but Magnus woke me up once and I broke his nose, so he's kind of aware."
She was quiet for a very long moment before saying, "You don't have to handle everything alone, you know."
"I used to," he snapped, then instantly felt bad when her fingers twitched – it was as much as she'd ever let herself flinch. He went back to studying the crumbling brick on the fireplace. "The other day, while I wasn't totally conscious – what did I say to Dad?"
"Nothing he didn't deserve to hear," Maryse said in the tone she reserved for his father and the rats that Church sometimes dragged in. "Don't worry about it."
Alec did worry about it, because as much as his father tended to frustrate him, he didn't want to alienate him further, but he understood that the topic was closed. He sat in the library for a few minutes longer. His mother had returned to her reading, and he was beginning to feel antsy again, so he soon got up and left the room to check on Magnus via text message. There was still a warlock out there trying to kill his boyfriend. Maybe he didn't have to handle everything alone, but this, he did.
Ten p.m. found Alec in the exact same place he'd been since dinner: facedown on his bed, contemplating dying. He wasn't planning on killing himself or anything, he was just feeling the slow progression of boredom-induced brain death. How had he survived before he met Magnus? The Institute was tragically dull, what with Clary and Jace sucking face all the time and Isabelle usually off gallivanting with Simon, and since Alec had finished all of the books in the library when he was fifteen, he didn't even have anything new to read.
The boredom was almost tolerable, though. What wasn't was the fear.
Magnus had finally called and told Alec to stop texting him around seven o'clock. "I know you're concerned," he'd said gently, "but when I have to stop working to answer you, it just makes everything take longer. The sooner I finish, the sooner I can go back to my nice, safe, thoroughly-warded house. Okay?"
"Okay," Alec had muttered, feeling like a scolded child. He'd kept his nerves to himself since then. Despite Magnus's reassurances, though, he still kept thinking that if Dominick couldn't get to Magnus, he'd probably just go after someone else. And there was a tiny part of him that almost wanted that, just so he'd have an excuse to get the Conclave involved and could stop feeling so damn helpless.
He sighed deeply and turned his head to look out the window. Sure, now it was snowing.
Alec got up, simply because lying around lethargically wouldn't get anything accomplished and it was making his shoulder ache. He started journeying towards the kitchen, but his feet had other ideas – a minute later, he found himself standing in front of a nondescript wooden door.
When he opened it and walked inside, he had a curious sensation of having just stepped back in time.
Nothing in his brother's bedroom had been touched. He almost expected to find Max in bed, glasses askew, because he always forgot to take them off – or sitting at his desk, writing a letter to some little girl in Alicante he always insisted wasn't his girlfriend. But Max wasn't there, he was a tiny urn of ashes in a cold tomb on the other side of the ocean. Alec felt sick. He forced himself to keep going, though, stopping in the middle of the room. It would be so much easier if he could do what his parents did and just pretend that a boy who liked comic books and climbing trees and who wanted to be an even better Shadowhunter than Jace had never been alive at all.
He stared at the model seraph blade Max had fought imaginary monsters with, the overfull bookshelf, the stuffed lion almost hidden under the blankets. Something on the nightstand caught his eye, and he slowly went over to get a better look. Max had been keeping a small wooden bowl of marbles next to his bed – for what purpose, Alec had not an inkling, but they were kind of pretty. And dusty, he noticed when he picked a few up and let them roll into the center of his palm.
Wait, he thought. Marbles….
"What are you doing?"
Alec ignored Isabelle, preoccupied with the objects in his hand and the realization that was clawing at his brain, begging to be understood. "Do you have a map?" he said.
"Brooklyn," Alec said, dumping the marbles back into the bowl and turning around. Isabelle was standing just outside the doorway, arms crossed over her chest, clutching her elbows tightly.
"No, I don't," she said. "Mom and Dad might."
Alec nodded, brushed past her on his way out, left her staring into Max's unoccupied room. He normally would've tried to say something comforting, but his thoughts were already racing and picking up speed. He made it to the library, stopped, and then moved on – his mother was still in there and he needed someone who wouldn't ask any questions. So he kept going down the hall until he reached the office, opening its door without knocking. "Do you have a map of Brooklyn?"
His father looked up from whatever he was writing. After a moment, during which he most likely got over his surprise that his son was talking to him for the first time in five days, he bent down and rummaged through a drawer, then held out a map. Alec snatched it from his hand and unfolded it, spread it over the desk with complete disregard for whatever his father had been doing, and plucked a pencil from the jar.
Wracking his brain, he leaned over the map. The first two warlocks had been killed in places he was peripherally familiar with. He circled their general locations. Ophelia had died behind Flannery's house – if he recalled correctly, Flannery was that Irish half-fairy/half-human whose apartment he'd been to once when Magnus had dragged him along on a job. Alec had spent a very uncomfortable hour avoiding her Akita (he didn't like dogs). He circled that block as well. Raven's body had been found in Bensonhurst, and he was intimately familiar with the alley where Rico had been attacked.
When he made an educated guess and marked one last area, one right around the street where Magnus lived, he glanced over his handiwork and saw, with a mix of triumph and horror, that the six circles did indeed form the points of a hexagon. It wasn't just about why the warlocks were being killed, it was about where. Dominick was trying to form a conductor. But it didn't center on Magnus's house, as he'd originally thought – Magnus might be a target, but he did not seem to be the target. Alec tapped the pencil point against the group of buildings in the middle of the hexagon. "Who lives here?" he muttered to himself.
He abruptly remembered where he was and that his father was staring at him like he had lost his mind. "I need to borrow this," Alec said, scooping up the map and taking off without waiting for permission. He yanked his phone out of his pocket, dialed, and felt his heart sink into his stomach when Magnus didn't pick up. Hoping he was just disregarding Alec's call and not dead, Alec waited for the voicemail and said, "Magnus, call me back when you get this. It's important."
Isabelle had vanished when Alec strode back down the hall. Max's door was closed again. Alec shut himself into his own bedroom, dropped the map on his bed, and scrubbed at his face with his hands. If he had to choose, he would say Dominick was going back to the vacant lot first. No one had died there, and if Alec were him, he would want to be as powerful as possible before trying to kill Magnus, who had proved himself to be one hell of an asset in a fight. He'd try there and then go on to Magnus's apartment. And if Magnus didn't call him back, Alec was going to strangle him with his bow.
His train of thought screeched to a halt there – his bow. No matter how dire the situation, there was absolutely no way he'd be able to draw it. Unless….
After painfully struggling into his gear, Alec yanked his closet door open and stared into its murky depths. For all his comments about the state of Magnus's closet, his own wasn't much better, and Jace had once claimed that he'd opened the door and the lack of organization had caused him to have a psychotic break. Alec tried not to think about the possibility of lurking spiders and tossed a few items of clothing aside until he found his other bow. He hadn't touched it in close to a year, but it would do for tonight.
Magnus didn't answer his phone when Alec called again. Alec was tempted to just speed right to his apartment, but he told himself to be rational as he burst out of the Institute and into the freezing air – first of all, Magnus might still be out on a job, and second, the parking lot was directly between the Institute and the apartment. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off would be counterproductive. He willed the subway train to arrive sooner, willed it to move faster, willed himself to not be too late while he bounded up the stairs to the street.
"All right," he said to himself, closing his eyes for a moment. He hoped that Dominick hadn't found any more victims, not just because he didn't want anyone else to die, but also because he didn't fancy another run-in with the warlock. He hadn't yet recovered from their first meeting. Rubbing at his collarbone, heart drumming against his ribs, he turned and set off at a brisk walk towards the alley.
Just as he had last time, he nocked an arrow before peeking around the corner of the building. He had a clear view from one end of the alley to the fence at the other end of the lot, which was a good sign – and suddenly there was a clink of glass from somewhere beyond his sight. It didn't sound like someone being murdered. Still, he crept down the alley, wishing there was a rune that made him invisible to warlocks. His arm trembled slightly as his shoulder spasmed and he gritted his teeth, tightening his grip on the smooth wood beneath his fingers. It was one thing to hold the bow in his right hand and the arrow in his left, it was entirely another to actually draw that way. He wasn't even sure his shoulder would be able to take the strain of bracing the bow. God, this was such a bad idea.
That bad idea only became worse when he didn't pay enough attention to where he was putting his feet and accidentally kicked an empty can.
Time slowed, as it was wont to do when awful things happened. Alec was at the mouth of the alley, and he saw everything at once. He saw the figure crumpled against the back wall of the apartment building. He saw the warlock kneeling on the pavement, leaning over something Alec couldn't make out. He saw the warlock turn, leap to his feet, saw the light glinting off the sword at his hip, saw Dominick's arm sweep in a wide arc….
Alec drew the arrow back and fired. Half an instant later, something hit him across the face so hard that his vision turned white – he yelped and stumbled, blinking rapidly. He could taste blood. Dizzy, his shoulder screaming, he managed to raise his bow again and prepare a second arrow. A shot to the kidney hadn't taken Dominick down the first time, and though the warlock was gasping, clutching the arrow in his stomach, he was still on his feet. Alec loosed the second arrow, but he missed, and it only skated across the warlock's shoulder before clattering against the chain-link fence. He was already fumbling for another arrow, and Dominick was raising his hands –
His hands –
If you put something through my hand like that, you could cripple me, magically speaking.
The third arrow didn't miss its mark. Dominick howled. Alec yanked a fourth from his quiver, nocked it, and cursed when his shoulder buckled and he nearly smacked himself in the face with his bow. He tried to draw it again, but that moment had cost him, and Dominick still had one working hand. Rather than go for the sword, like Alec expected, he lifted his hand and snapped his fingers twice in quick succession.
Alec threw himself to the side, quickly enough to avoid the bulk of the brilliant white stream of flames that blazed from the warlock's fingertips, but the fire burnt his arm, left behind a swath of blistered skin in its wake. Gasping, Alec swept up the arrow he'd dropped, fit it to the bow, and drew the string, willing his shoulder to remain steady – and, by some miracle, it did. It held just long enough for the fourth arrow to pierce Dominick's other hand. He felt something tear and bit back a cry, digging his fingers deep into the back of his shoulder.
Dominick made a sound like a wounded whale. His knees shook, then gave, sending him crashing against the fence and sliding to the ground. He was staring in horror at his hands, at the arrows puncturing them. Alec held his position for a moment, clinging to his bow – he wouldn't be able to make another shot – and, when Dominick didn't get up, he took a few steps forward, swiping the back of his hand under his bleeding nose. He spared half a glance for the figure slumped by the wall as he passed, but Alec wasn't stupid enough to take his eyes off Dominick again. If the person was dead, they were dead, and there was nothing he could do about it right now.
Something caught the toe of his boot. Remembering the broken pavement he'd noticed after he'd been stabbed, he knocked a bit of the asphalt away, reached down, and picked up the tiny glass vial partially buried in the dirt. Though it was glowing slightly, he could still tell that the liquid inside was blood. That was creepy.
At that very moment, Alec's phone rang. He looked at it just long enough to see the name on the display, flipped it open, and said, "The alley where I was stabbed. Now." He put it back in his pocket and slid another arrow out of his quiver, feeling exposed without a useable weapon at hand.
Surprisingly, Dominick spoke. His tone was peculiarly casual. "I didn't think you'd still be able to shoot that thing."
Alec stared at him for a second. Then, shaking off the confusion – he'd expected screaming and invectives, not what sounded like an attempt at conversation – he said, "The thing about archery is that if you spend all your time shooting from one side, you can screw up your spine. I learned how to shoot with both hands early on so that wouldn't happen." Still holding an arrow, figuring he could stab Dominick with it if the man made any suspicious moves, he slowly sank down onto his heels and looked the warlock over. He had to suppress the urge to yank out the arrows. He'd been taught very firmly to always, always, always collect his arrows after a hunt, because in a real battle, he couldn't just go get more if he ran out. "You were going to kill Magnus."
Dominick said nothing, but the ugly look that flashed over his face told Alec everything he needed to know. "Let me make this clear," Alec said, in a soft, cold tone that even sounded threatening to his own ears. "Magnus is mine. If you touch him, you will have me to answer to – and I shot you three times, I can do it again. Stay the hell away from him, got it? You hurt him and I'll hurt you – I don't like other people breaking my toys."
If Dominick was intimidated, he didn't show it. He merely gave Alec an impassive glare. Alec looked at the warlock's hands – they were trembling, coated in blood, the fingers curled inwards like claws – and the arrow protruding from his stomach. Finally, he asked, "Why did you do it?" He didn't get a reply, so he tried a different angle. "The conductor – who lives in the middle? Who were you trying to kill?"
"I wasn't trying to kill her!" Dominick spat. His eyes, which had been cool and resigned, were suddenly alive and wild and blazing with anger. Alec tightened his grip around the arrow. "I was trying to save her."
"Save her?" Alec repeated blankly. "Who…."
He didn't have time to think about it; seconds later, he heard quick footsteps in the alleyway. Alec got to his feet just as Magnus surged into the lot. "About time," Alec said. "Where have you been?"
"Working," Magnus said shortly. He came to a halt at Alec's side, looking down at Dominick with icy contempt. "Well. I'd say this is a shock, but it really isn't." He nudged Alec with his elbow. "How did you know he would be here?"
Alec pulled the hastily-folded map from his back pocket and handed it to Magnus, along with the vial of blood. Magnus looked at them both for a moment, shook his head, and said, "Unbelievable." He shoved them into his jacket and asked Dominick the same question Alec hadn't gotten an answer to, "Why?"
Thinking Dominick still might not respond, Alec muttered, "There was a girl."
Magnus's expression didn't change, but the corner of his lips curved upwards the slightest bit. "Isn't there always. Marlene, right? Her house is right in the middle of the conductor he was attempting to build."
"He said he was trying to save her –"
"I'm sitting right here," Dominick hissed.
"Save her," Magnus echoed, just as Alec had. He abruptly dropped into a crouch and fixed Dominick with a ferocious glare that Alec was glad not to be the receiving end of. "You killed warlocks, took their power and their blood, and built a giant conductor just so you could save her? Have you completely lost your tiny mind? What in the world were you planning to do, pour your life-force into her and kill yourself so she would suffer even longer?"
Flinching like he'd been struck, Dominick snarled, "And you're so virtuous, Bane." Alec did notice that he didn't deny the accusation. Figuring Magnus had this under control, he stepped back and allowed himself to lean against the wall, hugging his right arm against his ribs. "Bring her to me."
"You don't get to make demands," Magnus said, but he did stand up. "Keep in mind, I'm doing this for her, not for you. Stay here for a moment, Alec, would you please?" He waved a hand and Dominick gasped, muscles freezing, as a light blue glow settled over his frame and sank right into his skin. "He'll not be able to move."
"Okay," Alec said tiredly. He watched through half-lidded eyes as Magnus created a Portal against the side of the apartment building and wondered, perhaps absurdly, if whoever lived on the other side would notice it. His shoulder was aching so badly that just turning his head hurt.
Magnus vanished through the Portal. When he returned, hardly two minutes later, he was not alone. The young woman with him was small, terribly thin, and looked oddly shiny – it wasn't until she walked by Alec, moving like someone in a dream, that he realized she was covered in flesh-colored scales. It was both bizarre and strangely pretty. She stopped in front of the wounded warlock, fell to her knees, and said, "Dominick."
For a moment, Dominick's expression changed. He looked at her like he simply could not look away, like she was the only thing in the world that had ever mattered. Alec realized, with startling certainty, that he himself probably looked at Magnus the exact same way, and it just seemed wrong on the face of a murderer.
Then Marlene started shouting.
Startled, Dominick jerked back, the fence rattling where his head struck it. Alec had no idea what she was shrieking, but he suspected it wasn't printable in any language. He saw, out of the corner of his eye, Magnus lean down to inspect Dominick's victim, then shake his head and straighten up. Damn.
"Um," Alec muttered when five minutes had elapsed and Marlene showed no sign of slowing down, "How long…."
"Oh, this is nothing," Magnus said breezily, slipping his hands into his pockets and blinking snowflakes off his eyelashes. "I once heard her shout at someone for three-quarters of an hour without repeating a single swear word. It was incredible. But… Marlene?" The woman glanced back at him. "Wrap it up, please."
"Fine." She muttered a few more words in whatever language she'd been speaking. Then she reached out, touched the bloody furrow in Dominick's shoulder where Alec's arrow had clipped him, and murmured, "What did you think you were going to accomplish?"
"You don't have to die," Dominick said, a note of desperation in his voice. "Listen to me, Marlene –"
Marlene slapped him. Alec was pretty sure he heard Magnus snicker. "Are you crazy?" she demanded. "I've been sick for three-hundred and fifty years and I'm a bit tired of it, thank you. There's nothing you can do."
"I believe," Magnus offered, "that he was planning to transfer his life-force to you."
"You were – damn you, Michael!" Marlene promptly slapped Dominick again.
Magnus sighed. "I love her so much."
Choosing to ignore that, Alec leaned closer to Magnus and quietly said, "I thought his name was Dominick…."
"That's what he said his name was," Magnus said. "I don't know of many warlocks who weren't rejected by their families for being monsters. We tend to rename ourselves, give ourselves new identities… if he wanted to tell her his real name, that's his prerogative."
"You're not a monster," Alec muttered, tilting his head back against the wall.
Marlene, who had been silent for a few minutes, suddenly grabbed Dominick by the shirt, ignoring his gasp as the wound in his stomach was jostled. "I don't want your life," she said fiercely. "If you'd bothered to ask me, I would've told you what a stupid fucking idea this was and we could've spent the rest of my time together. But no, you had to come up with this ridiculous scheme to save me." Blinking rapidly, she put her hand on his cheek. "You idiot. I never wanted you to kill anyone."
"It was for you –" Dominick began despairingly, but she cut him off.
"No. It was for you. I wouldn't have wanted any part of this." Her hand dropped away from his face. "I always knew you were selfish, but this is… I can't, I'm so sorry." She stood up then, turned away from him, walked back over to Magnus with the air of someone who was holding herself together through sheer willpower alone. "I would like to go home now."
"Of course," Magnus said. He put a hand on her back and crooked a finger at Alec. "You too."
Alec looked up at him – very far up, he noticed, and discovered that he'd slid down the wall at some point. "You're just going to leave him here?" he asked. Dominick was still collapsed against the fence, his expression the very picture of hopelessness.
"Don't be silly, I called in the cavalry." Magnus glanced meaningfully over his shoulder. Alec looked past him, saw Alistair standing in front of the alley, and wondered how long he'd been there. "Now, up you get."
Alec struggled to his feet. Magnus wound his other arm around his shoulders and led them both into the alley, past Alistair, who began walking towards Dominick with slow, deliberate steps. "Marlene!" Dominick cried, but though her hands clenched, Marlene did not look back at him, and a moment later he was out of sight.
Magnus had dumped Alec onto a couch with strict instructions not to move until he returned, then left to take Marlene home. Alec laid there just long enough for the white spots dancing in front of his eyes to vanish. He couldn't stay still with adrenaline continuing to sizzle through his veins, so he got up and wandered around the apartment a few times, eventually coming to a stop in the kitchen.
"Out," he said to Chairman Meow, who was sleeping in the sink. The cat gave him an affronted look and didn't budge. Alec went to pick him up and only then realized he was still clutching an arrow. Almost reluctantly, he set it down, scooped Chairman Meow up with his working arm, left him on the table, and opened the tap. His nose had long since stopped bleeding, so he scrubbed his dirty face until the water came away clean. Chairman Meow complained about the horrible way he'd been treated. Alec ignored him. Drying his face on a dishtowel sporting a smiling onion, he turned off the faucet, took three steps, and dropped into a chair, letting his head fall back.
He thought he might have dozed off for a while. Some time had certainly passed when the slam of the front door alerted him to Magnus's return. Alec did not have the energy to get up and greet him. He didn't have to, as it turned out, because Magnus strolled into the kitchen a second later. He was carrying things – in one hand, he held a few arrows, which Alec took as they were held out to him. When he opened his other hand, four glowing glass bottles of blood clinked onto the table.
"It's so obvious, now, isn't it?" Magnus said wearily. "I can't believe I didn't realize what he was doing. How did you know?"
Alec shrugged, which was not a very good idea considering the amount of pain he was in. "I was looking at Max's marbles."
Confusion, then comprehension, dawned on Magnus's face. He stripped off his damp jacket and threw it over a chair. "Are you hurt?"
"I can't lift my arm."
"Take off your shirt," Magnus instructed, coming around the table.
Alec glanced at his gear and put in the effort to roll his eyes. "I can't do that either."
"Right… I'll fix this later." Magnus once again magically split the fabric, tearing the sleeve away and exposing Alec's shoulder, and began poking. "I told you this was going to happen if you used your bow."
"I drew with the other hand," Alec protested weakly.
"I don't care if you drew it with your goddamn –"
Alec decided this was a good point to cut in, before Magnus started ranting about how Alec was an idiot who never listened to proper medical advice and completely disregarded the fact that he himself wasn't a doctor. "Could he really have given Marlene his life?"
"In a manner of speaking," Magnus said, jabbing Alec's collarbone and sending a flare of pain across his chest. "It's… essentially a massively amplified version of the spell I've used to borrow energy from you before. It's one of the most difficult spells known to our kind, and if I'm correct – which I usually am – there's only one warlock in the city with enough power to pull it off."
"You?" Alec guessed.
"Me. Which explains why he had to kill me for my power. But I may be giving myself too much credit – I can only recall a handful of successful uses of that spell, all by greater warlocks than I, and it's possible that I just wouldn't be able to put enough into it. I suppose he anticipated that and, when he killed the other warlocks, he pulled some of their blood, enchanted it immediately, and began building his conductor. With that, he could concentrate and amplify my power and he'd have a much better chance of performing the spell properly. It's brilliant, really, I didn't think he had it in him."
"Oh." There were so many other questions crowding Alec's thoughts, but he was beyond exhausted. His shoulder had gone pleasantly numb, thanks to Magnus's ministrations, and he slouched in the chair. This seemed like a good time to collapse gracelessly on the floor. "I don't feel good. I think I may pass out."
Magnus glanced up at him. "Don't be absurd, you're fine."
Alec took his word for it. He stared outside for a while, impressed by how heavy the snowfall had gotten. His mind drifted and he barely noticed Magnus moving around to his other arm, healing the burn he'd mostly forgotten about already, and trying to tug him out of the chair. "You really ought to get some rest," Magnus said when Alec didn't budge.
"Hold on," Alec said, rubbing his eyes. As soon as he let Magnus coax him into bed, he knew he wouldn't get any more questions answered. "That warlock – was he dead?"
"The one Dominick was after? Yes. I've no idea who he was. He may have been a recent arrival who didn't get the warning about Dominick being a raving lunatic."
"What about Dominick?"
Magnus's expression closed. "Don't worry about it," he said, again attempting to pull Alec to his feet – but, weary and weakened or not, Alec was still physically capable of holding his own and resisted. "Alec –"
"Whenever someone tells me not to worry about it, it's inevitably something I'm going to worry about." Alec pulled his hand from Magnus's grasp. "Look, just tell me."
Sighing, Magnus gave up and plopped onto the chair next to Alec's. "Yes, he's dead too."
Alec swallowed. "Did I…."
"I imagine the wounds you gave him would've eventually killed him," Magnus said, "but it might've taken a while, and there's always the chance that he could have been able to heal himself. So Alistair..." He paused, then shook his head, smiling ever so slightly. "You know, I think he may have been trying to spare you the guilt. We might just endear you to him yet. Now, remove your behind from that chair, you're going to bed."
This time, Alec allowed himself to be brought to his feet and dragged down the hall. "I," he said, stumbling over a footstool that was mysteriously inhabiting the middle of the floor, "am really tired."
They had a bit of fun getting Alec undressed – not their usual kind of fun, but the sort that came about from Alec barely being able to move one arm and wanting to just crawl into bed fully clothed. Magnus took exception to that and successfully got him down to just boxers and the shirt he'd been wearing beneath his gear (now short most of a sleeve) before Alec swatted him away and fell into a heap on the mattress.
"I'm sorry," he said suddenly while Magnus was changing his own clothes.
Magnus gave him a very odd look. "For what?"
"I kind of did exactly what I wasn't supposed to do." Alec rolled onto his stomach, turning his head so he could face his boyfriend. "Everyone was pretty insistent that I not get involved in this."
"Excuse me, I never said that."
"It was implied."
Magnus lay down next to Alec and breathed the long, slow sigh of someone who'd had a terribly horrid day. "I'm not complaining," he said. "We might not have caught him if you hadn't figured out what he was doing. You saved Rico. You may have saved me."
"Are you finally admitting that he had a chance of overpowering you?" Alec mumbled into his pillow.
"Yes, as much as it pains me to do so. I'm not sure how much power the last warlock had, but Alistair insists Raven could, as he said, 'kick my arse from one side of the borough to the other'. I expect he was embellishing, but still."
"Well, I wouldn't have let him hurt you."
"Awww. I'm touched."
Something swelled up inside Alec at that, something wild and fierce he couldn't name, and before he could think about what he was doing, he'd swung a leg over Magnus and forced himself upright to straddle his hips. Magnus merely blinked, lips quirking up. Alec leaned down and kissed him so hard their teeth clicked together painfully. "You're mine," he whispered against Magnus's mouth, "okay, you're mine. I wasn't going to let him touch you."
Magnus laughed, laced his fingers together at the back of Alec's neck. "You're starting to sound like a warlock," he murmured.
"You belong –" Alec breathed between kisses, "– to me – you can't die –"
And then Magnus was pushing him back, hands tight on Alec's shoulders, concern written all over his face. "Alec, you need to calm down."
"I am calm."
"No, you aren't. You're shaking." Magnus sat up, keeping Alec in his lap, and wrapped his arms around him.
"I'm –" Alec's voice caught. "I don't –"
Magnus suddenly looked terrified. "Please don't start crying. I don't think I could handle that right now."
"I'm not cry– what are you talking about?" It was like a spell had been broken. Alec sagged against Magnus's chest, panting, heart pounding. Whatever had come over him had receded, leaving him feeling weak and shivery. "Wow, that was weird. Sorry."
"It's all right." Magnus's thumb swept back and forth over the top of Alec's spine. "I think we both can agree it's been a rough two weeks. You're probably just a tad overwhelmed. Call it a delayed reaction."
"Mmf," Alec mumbled, running his tongue along his teeth to make sure he hadn't chipped any. "Remind me not to kiss you that hard." He squirmed until Magnus let go and then flopped bonelessly onto the mattress again, uninterested in holding himself up any longer.
Magnus tossed a few blankets over him. "Noted. Now sleep."
"I don't want to sleep. I have nightmares." It was the first time Alec had actually said the words aloud. He found it curiously freeing.
"I know. You punched me once and broke my perfectly straight nose," Magnus said sourly.
"I hate to break this to you," Alec told him, burrowing into the blankets, "but you lie. Your nose has never been perfectly straight."
"Yet again, you're impugning my honor."
"Shut up." Alec grabbed a fistful of Magnus's shirt and yanked him down. "If I have to sleep, so do you."
Magnus draped an arm over Alec's back, pressed his nose into his hair. "Everything's going to be fine now," he said quietly. His breath was hot against Alec's ear. "It's over. It's over because of you. Just try to think about that instead of whatever's scaring you into breaking my almost-perfectly-straight nose. It's over."
Alec gave the snow crunching under his boots a dirty look as he pulled another arrow from the quiver lying on the bench. Why had he wanted it to snow? There were fifteen inches of the stuff, the entire city had ground to a halt trying to deal with it all, and it hadn't melted in four days because the temperature had been about three and a half degrees the entire time. Talk about being careful what you wished for, he thought grumpily, lifting his bow.
The arrow hit the yellow ring of the target on the other side of the garden, much to his frustration. He hadn't realized how poor his aim was when he shot left-handed. Considering it something of a miracle that he'd managed to hit Dominick's hands at all, he dropped down onto the bench, rubbing his shoulder. It was still stubbornly refusing to move properly despite Magnus's efforts, but the pain had diminished enough that he could at least practice again – though only with a very old bow that boasted a draw weight of about twenty pounds. He was almost embarrassed to be using it. Still, at least then he could shoot for a little while until his shoulder began to twinge.
He looked over at the back door when it clattered open. His mother stepped out, squinting in the bright glare off the snow, and walked over. "I see that's going well for you," she said, eying the cluster of arrows in the target.
"Yeah, it's all right… I can't believe I didn't think of it sooner."
"That's because you were sulking."
"Maybe a bit," Alec admitted. He set the bow aside and leaned back against the fence.
"How's your shoulder doing?" Maryse asked after a moment.
"Well… it doesn't hurt quite so much, unless I try to move my arm forwards or backwards – and I still can't lift my arm above my shoulder." He fiddled with the zipper of his jacket. "I think it was getting better, but I kind of made it worse the other night."
His mother sighed. "I don't know whether I should kill you or just ground you for the rest of your natural life." She lifted the bow and looked it over. "I'm glad it all worked out – although I suspect if it had been anyone but you interfering in Downworld affairs, there would be quite a bit more trouble. I know you're not particularly interested in politics, but I shouldn't need to tell you that you're in a precarious position. You could accidentally disrupt Shadowhunter-Downworlder relations if you aren't careful." Alec nodded. "However –" She grabbed an arrow. "If you're ever again in such a situation like you were last week, I expect you'll still do the right thing and keep making me proud."
She fit the arrow to the string, pulled it back, and let go. It struck so close to the edge of the target that it wasn't even in any of the colored rings.
"If you were trying to make a point there –" Alec started.
"Be quiet," she said, but mildly. "I haven't picked up a bow in eight years. Once you were better than I was, I decided that was the time to stop." She handed the bow back and turned towards the Institute, wrapping her coat around herself. "Don't stay out too long, it's below freezing out here."
Alec watched her go. Then, smiling to himself, he got up and went to pull the arrows from the target.
Later, after he'd showered and was getting dressed, he yanked his jeans on and noticed something papery in one of the pockets. It turned out to be the map of Brooklyn he'd borrowed. He was half-tempted to just hang onto it – the thought of initiating conversation with his father was always a vaguely frightening prospect – but he didn't really need it. So, once he'd put on a shirt (he'd borrowed a couple of Magnus's less ostentatiously-colored button-downs, as they were easier to get over his shoulder), he took it down the hall and knocked on the office door.
"Come in," his father said.
Alec took a deep breath, opened the door, and walked inside, holding out the map. "Here."
Robert glanced from it to Alec. "You wrote all over it," he said. "You can keep it."
"It was in pencil, it erases," Alec said, perhaps more irritably than he meant to, but he couldn't quite figure out whether his father was genuinely annoyed or just stating a fact.
Without replying, his father took the map from Alec's hands, then made the mistake of trying to unfold it. Alec had been in a hurry when he left the Institute and had just crumpled it up before jamming it into his pocket, and Magnus had folded it arbitrarily before giving it back to Alec, so it had turned into a piece of complicated origami. Robert looked up, eyebrows rising. "I can't fold a map, okay?" Alec blurted. He spun around and headed for the door.
Then he froze in his tracks when his father said, "Alexander." As badly as Alec wanted to keep going and make his escape before any blow-ups occurred, he slowly turned around. "I..." Robert cleared his throat, tapped the map against the desk, tossed it into a drawer without any more attempts to flatten it out. "I think I owe you an apology."
"Um," Alec said blankly. Of all the things he had expected, that was not it.
"I'm not sure how conscious you were after you'd been injured," his father said. "But you woke up at one point and told me – and I quote – 'every time you talk to me I have to get drunk so I can forget how much you make me hate myself'."
"Did I really?" Alec said, a bit dazed. "I don't – I mean, that's a little exaggerated. I've only gotten drunk because of you twice. Maybe three times."
Judging by his father's expression, that hadn't been quite as reassuring as he'd intended it to be. At the same time, some part of him was pleased with his semi-conscious self – it wasn't like he'd said anything that wasn't true.
"Be that as it may," Robert continued, "I… hadn't realized I was having that effect on you." He sighed, rubbed a hand over his beard. "My father raised me to parrot all the beliefs he'd been brought up with. I knew they were outdated, but until recently I didn't know exactly how outdated. And I suppose… I haven't been a very good father to you lately."
This was the most uncomfortable conversation Alec had been apart of since he was thirteen and Hodge had tried to give him and Jace some sort of sex talk. Not only was Hodge not the best person for the job, as they both suspected he'd never actually had a whole lot of sex, but Jace was unable to stop making lewd comments and Alec spent the entire time trying to work out how much force he'd need to break the library window and throw himself to his death.
"It's –" Alec began, then stopped. He couldn't really say 'it's okay', because it wasn't, but this was the first time in months that he and his father had talked to each other without anyone getting angry, and Robert was actually making an attempt not to be prejudiced. He was afraid to ruin that. "It's not like I wanted to be gay," he finally said, "but I am, and there's nothing I can do about it, so I might as well get used to it and be happy anyway and stop caring what everyone else thinks."
The look his father gave him was almost unreadable, but Alec caught a flicker of something that looked like sadness before it was gone. "I just don't want everything to be harder for you."
Alec had absolutely no idea what to say to that. He gaped at his father for a moment, floundering for words, found none, and just nodded. Then he turned and headed for the door, but once again didn't make it that far. "Wait a minute," Robert said.
When he turned back around, his father was gesturing at the chair by the desk. "Sit. There's something else I want to talk to you about…."
"You're brooding again," Magnus declared, waving a jar of what looked like tiny eyeballs in Alec's direction. "What have I said about brooding in my den?"
"I'm not brooding."
"What do you call that, then?"
Alec shrugged. He was sprawled lengthwise across the couch, one leg hooked over the back, left arm dangling off the cushions. "Uncomfortable," he said, "but I'm too lazy to move."
Magnus flicked his wrist, sending the jar off to god-knows-where. Alec really hoped it didn't end up in the fridge again. He hated finding body parts between the milk and the orange juice. "I can assist with that," Magnus said, coming to stand in front of the couch, "but you'll have to tell me what's on your mind."
Rolling his eyes, Alec swung his leg off the back and sat up. "Never mind, I fixed it myself." He tugged on a thread that was escaping the ragged cuff of his jeans and said, "Listen, there's something I need to tell you… yesterday I found out my father's going back to Alicante right after Christmas."
"Ah, Alicante," Magnus said, seating himself next to Alec. "Most likely the only capital city in the world without its own Starbucks."
"Yet," Alec said darkly.
"You're just mad about that barista who yelled at you once."
"I was twelve!" Alec exclaimed, flinging his hands up. "Do you know how difficult it was for me to talk to people I didn't know when I was twelve? I'm not even sure what I did. And then she yelled at me again because I was standing there trying to figure out what her problem was and I was blocking the line. Also, their coffee is disgusting," he added. "Anyway, as I was saying… he's going to Idris for a couple of weeks, and I'm going with him."
Magnus looked surprised at the impending separation, but not upset. "What for?"
"I told my mother that I still can't move my shoulder that much," Alec said. He turned, stretched his legs over Magnus's lap, and leaned against the side of the couch. "And she came to the same conclusion you did – so I'm going to Alicante to see some physical therapist she knows and we'll see if that helps any."
"Good." Magnus ran his finger around a hole in the knee of Alec's jeans.
"You're okay with it?"
"As long as you remember to write to me so I can tell you all about my fabulous adventures with my long-lost, devastatingly handsome accountant ex-boyfriend."
"Only if you're telling me how you drop-kicked him out the window," Alec said, and Magnus laughed.
"I suppose I'll just have to get myself invited into the city. Really, Alec, I wouldn't be angry with you over something like that. Besides, you're still coming to my Christmas party, aren't you? 'No' is not an option here, by the way."
Right, the Christmas party. Alec wondered if he could contract the bubonic plague before Christmas Eve. "For twenty minutes," he bargained, "and then I'm locking myself in the bedroom. And if anyone gropes me, I reserve the right to rip their hand off, shove it down their throat, and throttle them."
"Do you really need to suffocate and strangle them?" Magnus asked, then held up his hands placatingly when Alec glared. "All right, it's a deal."
"Good." Nothing else was said for a while. Magnus kept rubbing small circles on Alec's knee, and Alec gazed at the muted television with unfocused eyes and thought about sleeping. Though he'd mostly recovered from all the recent exertion and energy-draining, he still tired much quicker than he was used to. At least he was sleeping a little better now.
He'd almost decided to take a nap when Magnus said, "Was that all that was bothering you?"
Alec opened his mouth to say it was. Then he closed it again, considering – it hadn't really been what he was 'brooding' about, and while Magnus would drop it if he said yes, hadn't he been told not long ago that he didn't have to handle everything alone?
Dammit, Mom, he thought. "I was thinking about that warlock," he said, "the one Dominick killed before I got there –"
"Ohhhhh," Magnus said, stretching out the word for so long that Alec smacked him on the arm. "How did I know your guilt complex would rear its ugly head sooner or later?" He sighed and ran his fingers through his spiked hair. "You know, I'd been thinking about the likelihood of this conversation the other day, and I was going to make a Power Point about all the reasons you shouldn't feel guilty, but Alistair came over and touched my laptop and the hard drive melted. I almost uninvited him to my party, but then I thought, when else will I have such a prime opportunity for revenge?" A worryingly evil expression crossed his face for an instant, and then he said, "Where was I? Right, so you're just going to have to hear the oral report."
Amused, Alec said, "Okay, go ahead."
"That werewolf girl you were friends with when you were younger," Magnus began, "and your brother, and that warlock from the other night… do you know what they all have in common?"
"Besides being dead?" Alec said flatly.
Magnus gave him a look. "It wasn't your fault they died."
Alec stared at him, unable to come up with a response, and Magnus touched his cheek. "You can't save everyone," he said gently. "But, given the circumstances, I'm pretty sure you did a damn good job saving who you could – you saved Rico. You saved me from a potentially fatal battle. Hell, Alexander, you even saved Marlene."
"He wasn't going to kill Marlene."
"No, but you saved her from living another few centuries in misery." Magnus started to take his hand away from Alec's face, but Alec grabbed it and laced their fingers together. "The way that spell works, it literally pours one person's life on top of another's. It's not measurable in years, because a warlock could potentially live until the end of the world if they were careful – but Dominick would've died, and Marlene would've continued to live as long as her body could support her. It wouldn't have cured her." He stroked the back of Alec's hand with his thumb. "She's been ill for a very long time," he murmured. "She came to terms with her eventual mortality a long time ago, and I think she was actually glad to have an end in sight. If Dominick had gotten what he'd wanted, that end would have disappeared."
"He loved her," Alec said quietly. "He couldn't bear the thought of her dying."
"I guess not. But he also didn't think about what she wanted."
Alec nodded, rested his head against the back of the couch. "That spell," he said after a few moments had passed, "does it only work on warlocks?"
"It's only been used on warlocks," Magnus said, shifting back and settling his feet atop the coffee table, which was still covered in books. "Like I said, it's so hard to use that only a few people have ever managed it. It might also work on other immortal beings like vampires, but mortals…." He threw Alec a sideways look. "I assume a mortal, given immortality in that way, would technically be able to live forever, but their body would keep aging, since it wasn't made for immortality. After maybe a hundred and fifty years, their body would be so ancient it would be more like a cage."
That thought made Alec shudder. He had enough misgivings regarding getting old without thinking about getting trapped in a crumbling body. "Forget I asked."
"As for us," Magnus said breezily, making Alec look at him, "I look old enough to get into most places without being carded, so I think we've got four or five years before we have to worry about anything, hm?"
Four or five years sounded… pretty good, actually.
Alec dozed after that. Magnus had turned the volume on the television back up, since the closed-captioning had devolved into a line of black-and-white gibberish scrolling across the screen. Only catching every third word, Alec tried to figure out if Magnus was watching something very romantic or very violent without opening his eyes. He was about to pick violence when Magnus nudged him and said, "Are you still awake?"
"Barely," Alec murmured.
"Never mind, then."
"No, tell me," Alec said. He forced his eyes back open and blinked until the room sharpened.
"I asked you this already, I know, but…." Magnus flicked his fingers at the television, muting it and ruining Alec's game. "Are you happy?"
Sighing, Alec looked down at their intertwined fingers. They'd been doing that a lot lately, especially while they slept – Magnus would take a hold of Alec's right hand, and when Alec woke up in a panic, afraid he'd find that his arm just wasn't there, all he had to do was realize he could still feel Magnus's fingers in his own and he could fall back asleep quickly. The fact that this was necessary made Alec suspect that maybe his mother was right about him being a bit traumatized. Still, the nightmares were coming less frequently now. "I think 'happiness' might be kind of an abstract concept."
"That's probably true," Magnus said, thoughtfully tapping the television remote against his chin. Alec didn't know why he hung onto the thing. It contained no batteries and Magnus didn't need to push buttons to change the channel.
Although Magnus seemed to have dropped the subject, Alec kept thinking about it. A week ago, he'd been unsure, quick to insist he was happy and then getting caught up in all the reasons he shouldn't be happy. Things had changed since then – he might not have chosen to be a Shadowhunter, given the choice, but making a difference in ways other than mindlessly killing demons wasn't such a bad prospect. He and his father were at least trying to repair their relationship, even if the upcoming trip was likely to be hideously awkward for the both of them. And he thought he could learn to get along with himself – he drove himself crazy sometimes, but Magnus drove him crazy too, and Alec still loved him.
No, his parents weren't going to magically fix their problems. He wasn't going to get his little brother back. There were so many things he wanted but could never have, and he'd just have to learn to get along without them. Avarice, it seemed, was a universal experience rather than a warlock one.
"Hey." Alec poked Magnus's shoulder until the warlock looked at him. "I'm happier than I've ever been in my life."
"That'll do," Magnus said, smiling, and leaned down to kiss him.
If you got this far, ALL OF THE LOVE. And to think I expected this to top off around fifteen thousand words… oh well. Please review, I'd so like to know what you thought! :D