And the customers in Taki’s café shrank back from Alec, from angelic power revealed in a sudden blaze of fury. In that moment nobody doubted that he could lay waste to them all.
The peri and the werewolf slunk to opposite corners of the café, and then hastily made their retreat from the building. Alec subsided into the booth opposite Magnus, and sent him an embarrassed smile.
It was strange and startling and terribly endearing, like Alec himself.
Magnus then dragged Alec outside, pushed him up against the brick wall of Taki’s under the sparking upside-down sign, and kissed him. Alec’s blue eyes that had blazed with angelic fury were tender suddenly, and darker with passion. Magnus felt Alec’s strong lithe body strain against Magnus’s, felt his gentle hands slide up Magnus’s back. Alec kissed him back with shattering enthusiasm, and Magnus thought, Yes, this one, this one fits, after all the stumbling around and searching, and here it is.
“What was that for?” Alec asked a long time later, eyes shining.
Alec was young. Magnus had never been old, had never known how the world reacted to you when you were old, and had not been allowed to be really young for long either. Being immortal meant being apart from such concerns. All the mortals Magnus had loved had seemed younger and older than him, both at once. But Magnus was keenly aware that this was Alec’s first time dating, doing anything at all. He had been Alec’s first kiss. Magnus wanted to be good to him, not burden him with the weight of feelings that Alec might not return.
“Nothing,” Magnus lied.
Thinking about that night at Taki’s, Magnus realized what the perfect present for Alec would be. He also realized that he had no idea how to give it to him.
In the only piece of luck in a terrible day filled with slime and cruel friends, at that very moment the buzzer rang.
Magnus crossed the floor in three easy strides and boomed into the intercom: “WHO DARES DISTURB THE HIGH WARLOCK AT WORK?”
There was a pause.
“Seriously, if you are Jehovah’s Witnesses . . .”
“Ah, no,” said a girl’s voice, light, self-confident, and with the slight, odd inflection of Idris. “This is Isabelle Lightwood. Mind if I come up?”
“Not at all,” said Magnus, and he pressed the button to let her in.
Isabelle Lightwood walked straight for the coffee machine and got herself a cup without asking if she could have any. She was that kind of girl, Magnus thought, the kind who took what she wanted and assumed you would be delighted that she’d taken a fancy to it. She studiously ignored Elyaas as she went: she had taken one look at him when she’d come into Magnus’s apartment and apparently decided that asking questions about the presence of the tentacle demon would be impolite and probably boring.
She looked like Alec, had his high cheekbones, porcelain-pale skin, and black hair, though she wore hers long and carefully styled. Her eyes were different, though, glossy and black, like lacquered ebony: both beautiful and indestructible. She seemed as if she could be as cold as her mother, as if she might be as prone to corruption as so many of her ancestors had been. Magnus had known a lot of Lightwoods, and he had not been terribly impressed by most of them. Not until one.
Isabelle hopped up onto the counter, stretching out her long legs. She was wearing tailored jeans and boots with spike heels, and a deep red silk tank top that matched the ruby necklace at her throat, which Magnus had bought for the price of a London town house more than a hundred years before. Magnus rather liked seeing her wear it. It felt like watching Will’s niece, brash, laughing, cheroot-smoking Anna Lightwood—one of the few Lightwoods he had liked—wearing it a hundred years before. It charmed him, made him feel as if he had mattered in that space of time, to those people. He wondered how horrified the Lightwoods would be if they knew that the necklace had once been a dissolute warlock’s love gift to a murderous vampire.
Probably not as horrified as they would be if they learned Magnus was dating their son.
He met Isabelle’s bold black eyes, and thought that she might not be horrified to learn where her necklace had come from. He thought she might get a bit of a kick out of it. Maybe someday he would tell her.
“So it’s Alec’s birthday today,” Isabelle announced.
“I’m aware,” said Magnus.
He said nothing more. He didn’t know what Alec had told Isabelle, knew how painfully Alec loved her and wanted to shield her, not to let her down, as he wanted not to let any of them down and passionately feared he would. Secrecy did not sit well with Magnus, who had winked at Alec the first night he’d met him, when Alec had been simply a deliriously good-looking boy glancing at Magnus with shy interest. But it was all more complicated now, when he knew how Alec could be hurt, when Magnus knew how much it would matter to him if Alec were hurt.
“I know you two are . . . seeing each other,” said Isabelle, picking her words carefully but still meeting Magnus’s eyes dead-on. “I don’t care. I mean, it doesn’t matter to me. At all.”
She flung the words defiantly at Magnus. There was no need to be defiant with him, but he understood why she was, understood that she must have practiced the defiant words that she might have to say to her parents one day, if she stood by her brother.
She would stand by him. She loved her brother, then.
“That’s good to know,” said Magnus.
He had known Isabelle Lightwood was beautiful, and had thought she seemed strong, and funny—had known that she was someone he would not mind having a drink with or having at a party. He had not known that there were depths of loyalty and love in her.
He was not adept at reading Shadowhunter hearts, behind their smooth angelically arrogant facades. He thought that might be why Alec had surprised him so much, had wrong-footed him so that Magnus had stumbled into feelings he had not planned to have. Alec had no facade at all.
Isabelle nodded, as if she understood what Magnus was telling her. “I thought—it seemed important to tell someone that, on his birthday,” she said. “I can’t tell anyone else, even though I would. It’s not like my parents or the Clave would listen to me.” Isabelle curled her lip as she spoke of both her parents and the Clave. Magnus was liking her more and more. “He can’t tell anyone. And you won’t tell anyone, right?”
“It is not my secret to tell,” said Magnus.
He might not enjoy sneaking around, but he would not tell anybody’s secret. Least of all would he risk causing Alec pain or fear.
“You really like him, right?” Isabelle asked. “My brother?”
“Oh, did you mean Alec?” Magnus retorted. “I thought you meant my cat.”
Isabelle laughed and kicked at one of Magnus’s cabinet doors with one spike heel, careless and radiant. “Come on, though,” she said. “You do.”
“Are we going to talk about boys?” Magnus inquired. “I didn’t realize, and I am honestly not prepared. Can’t you come over another time, when I’m in my jammies? We could do homemade facials and braid each other’s hair, and then and only then will I tell you that I think your brother is totally dreamy.”
Isabelle looked pleased, if a little mystified. “Most people go for Jace. Or me,” she added blithely.
Alec had said as much to Magnus once, seeming stunned that Magnus might hope to see him instead of Jace.
Magnus was not planning on talking about why he preferred Alec. The heart had its reasons, and they were seldom all that reasonable. You might as well have asked why Clary hadn’t created a hilarious love triangle by getting a crush on Alec, since he was—in Magnus’s admittedly biased opinion—extremely handsome, and had been consistently sullen in her direction, which some girls liked. You liked the people you liked.
For all that, Magnus had many reasons. Nephilim were guarded, Nephilim were arrogant, Nephilim were to be avoided. Even the Shadowhunters Magnus had met and liked had been, every one, a trouble sundae with dark secret cherries on top.
Alec was not like any Shadowhunter Magnus had met before.
“May I see your whip?” asked Magnus.
Isabelle blinked, but to do her justice, she did not demur. She un-looped the electrum whip and tangled its silvery-gold length around her hands for a moment, like a child playing cat’s cradle.
Magnus took the whip carefully, laid across his palms like a snake, and he carried it to his closet door, which he opened. He drew out a special potion, one that he had paid an exorbitant price for and that he had been saving for something special. Shadowhunters had their runes to protect them. Warlocks had magic. Magnus had always liked his magic better than theirs. Only a Shadowhunter could bear runes, but he could give magic to anyone. He tipped the potion—faerie dust and blood taken in one of the old rituals, hematite and hellebore and more besides—onto the whip.
In the last extremity this weapon will not fail you; in the darkest hour this weapon will bring your enemy low.
Magnus carried the whip back to Isabelle when he was done.
“What did you do to it?” Isabelle asked.
“I gave it a little extra kick,” said Magnus.
Isabelle regarded him with narrowed eyes. “And why would you do that?”
“Why did you come to tell me that you knew about me and Alec?” asked Magnus. “It’s his birthday. That means the people who care about him want to give him what he wishes for most. In your case, acceptance. In mine, I know that the most important thing to him in the world is that you be safe.”