The sky was soft gray with evening, stars not yet out. Alec Lightwood was napping because he and his parabatai had been out fighting Croucher demons all last night, and Jace Herondale, famed among the Nephilim as a master strategist, apparently thought “about a dozen demons” was a fair estimate for “definitely thirty-seven demons.” Alec had gone around counting them out of spite.
“Give yourself a break, Should-Be-Sleeping Beauty,” Magnus had told him. “I need to make a potion, and Max is scheduled for his evening temptation.”
Alec woke in a nest of lavender and green silk sheets. Under the door of the bedroom, eerie silver lights played. There was a smell of sulfur, and the hiss of a demon, and the sound of beloved voices. Alec smiled against his pillow.
Just as he was about to roll out of bed, letters of fire appeared on the wall.
Alec, we need your help. For years we have searched for a family in peril, and the truth behind why they are in danger. We believe we have found a lead in the Shadow Market of Buenos Aires.
But there is unrest between the Shadowhunters and Downworlders of this city. This Shadow Market is guarded like a throne room, run by a werewolf known as the Queen of the Market. She says her doors are closed to every soul associated with the Nephilim. Every soul, except for Alexander Lightwood, who she says she has need of. We need to enter the Shadow Market. Lives are at stake.
Will you open the doors for us? Will you come?
Jem and Tessa.
Alec stared at the letter for a long moment. Then he sighed, fished a sweater up from the floor, and weaved his way out of their bedroom, still half asleep.
In their main room, Magnus stood with one elbow casually propped against their mantel, decanting a vial of turquoise liquid into a jar of black powder. His green-gold eyes were narrowed with focus. The dark worn floorboards and the woven silk rug alike were littered with their son Max’s toys. Max himself was sitting on the rug, wearing a sailor suit with elaborate navy ribbons to match his hair, tightly embracing Chairman Meow.
“You are my meow friend,” he told the Chairman solemnly, squeezing him.
“Meow,” Chairman Meow protested. He’d lived a life of torment since Max learned to walk.
The pentagram had been drawn a safe distance away from the rug. Silvery light and mist rose from within the pentagram, shrouding its inhabitant in shimmering fog. The demon’s long, writhing shadow fell dark against their green wallpaper and family pictures.
Magnus raised an eyebrow. “Ease up,” he suggested to the pentagram. “It’s like someone loaned overly enthusiastic kids a dry-ice machine for their high-school production of Demon Oklahoma! in here.”
Alec grinned. The silvery mist dissipated enough to see the demon Elyaas in the pentagram, his tentacles drooping in a sulky fashion.
“Child,” he hissed to Max. “You know not of what dark lineage you come. You are naturally inclined to evil. Join me, infernal foundling, in my revels—”
“My bapa is Ultra Magnus,” Max announced proudly. “And Daddy is a Shadowhunter.”
Alec thought Max had got the name Ultra Magnus from one of his toys. Magnus seemed to like it.
“Don’t interrupt me when I’m promising you dark demonic delights,” the demon Elyaas said fussily. “Why are you always interrupting me?”
Max brightened at the word “demonic.”
“Uncle Jace says we will kill all the demins,” he reported with joy. “All the demins!”
“Well, have you considered that your uncle Jace is a hurtful person?” said the demon. “Always rudely stabbing everyone, and sarcastic.”
Max scowled. “Love Uncle Jace. Hate demins.”
With his free hand, Magnus picked up a marker and drew another blueberry on the whiteboard to show Max had successfully resisted today’s demonic wiles. Ten blueberries, and Max got a reward of his choosing.
Alec crossed the floor to where Magnus stood considering the whiteboard. Carefully, since Magnus was still holding a bubbling jar, Alec slid his arms around Magnus’s waist, linking his hands together over the embossed buckle of Magnus’s belt. The T-shirt Magnus was wearing had a dramatic scoop neckline, so Alec put his face down in the smooth bare expanse of skin and breathed in the smell of sandalwood and spell ingredients.
“Hi,” he mumbled.
Magnus reached back with his free hand, and Alec felt the slight sweet pull of rings in his hair. “Hi, yourself. Couldn’t sleep?”
“I slept,” Alec protested. “Listen, I have some news.”
He filled Magnus in on the message Jem Carstairs and Tessa Gray had sent: the family they were searching for, the Shadow Market they could not enter without his help. As Alec spoke, Magnus gave a little sigh and leaned against him, one of the small unconscious gestures that meant the most to Alec. It reminded him of the first day he’d ever touched Magnus, drawn close to and kissed another man, someone even taller than he was, his body lean and lithe and right against Alec’s. At the time, he’d thought he felt dizzy with relief and joy because he was finally touching someone he wanted to be touched by, when he’d thought he might never have that. Now he thought he’d felt that way because it was Magnus: that even then, he’d known. Now the gesture spoke of all the days since the first.
When he felt Magnus relax against him, he felt like he could relax too.
Whatever this strange task Jem and Tessa needed him for, he could do it. Then he would come home.
As Alec fell silent, Chairman Meow made a break for freedom from Max’s loving stranglehold, streaking across the floor through the door Alec had left open and into Alec and Magnus’s bedroom, where Alec suspected he would be hiding under the bed for the rest of the night. Max stared sadly after the cat, then looked up and grinned, his teeth tiny pearls. He launched himself at Alec as if he had not seen him for several weeks. Alec always got the same enthusiastic greeting, whether he was back from a trip, back from patrolling, or had simply been in the other room for five minutes.
Alec took a knee and opened his arms to scoop Max up. “Hey, my baby.”
He stood with Max curled against his chest, a warm soft bundle of ribbons and round limbs, Max’s gurgling laughter in his ears. When Max was tiny, Alec used to marvel at how neatly his little body fit into the crook of Alec’s arm. He’d scarcely been able to imagine Max getting bigger. Alec needn’t have worried. Whatever size his kid was, he was always a perfect fit for Alec to hold.
Alec tugged at the front of Max’s sailor suit. “That’s a lot of ribbons there, buddy.”
Max nodded sadly. “Too much ribbons.”
“What happened to your sweater?”
“That’s a fine question, Alexander. Allow me to unfold to you the tale. Max rolled his sweater in the cat litter,” Magnus related. “So he could ‘look like Daddy.’ Thus he must wear the sailor suit of shame. I don’t make the rules. Oh, wait, yes, I do.”
He waved a reproving finger at Max, who laughed again and tried to grab for the glitter of rings.
“It’s really inspiring to see you crazy kids making it work,” chipped in Elyaas the tentacle demon. “I don’t have much luck with romance. Everyone I meet is treacherous and heartless. Well, we are demons. Comes with the territory.”
Magnus had insisted warlocks needed to know what summoning demons entailed. He said that the more comfortable Max was with them, the less likely he was to be tricked or terrified when he summoned his first. Hence the temptation lessons. Elyaas was not so bad, as demons went, which meant he was still terrible. As Max had passed the pentagram, Alec had seen the wicked silver curve of one tentacle moving hungrily close to the edge lest Max make a false move.
Alec looked at Elyaas with narrowed eyes.
“Don’t imagine I ever forget what you are,” Alec said grimly. “I’m watching you.”
Elyaas held up all his tentacles in surrender, scooting to the other side of the pentagram. “It was a reflex! I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Demins,” said Max darkly.
Magnus banished Elyaas with a snap of his fingers and a murmur, then turned back to Alec.
“So, they’re asking for you in Buenos Aires,” said Magnus.
“Yeah,” said Alec. “I don’t know why anyone at the Market wants me specifically, as opposed to any other Shadowhunter.”
Magnus laughed. “I can see why someone might.”
“Okay, other than that.” Alec grinned. “I don’t speak Spanish.”
Magnus could speak Spanish. Alec wished that Magnus could go with him, but one of them always tried to stay home with Max. Once, when Max was still a baby, there had been a terrible time when they were both forced to leave him. Neither of them wanted to repeat it.
Alec was trying to learn Spanish, as well as several other languages. The Speak in Tongues rune didn’t last, and seemed like cheating. Downworlders from all over the world came to New York to consult with them these days, and Alec wanted to be able to talk with them properly. First on the list of languages he was trying to learn was Indonesian, for Magnus.
Unfortunately, Alec wasn’t great at languages. He was able to read them, but when he was talking he found words difficult, no matter the tongue. Max had picked up more words in various languages than Alec.
“It’s fine,” Magnus had commented once. “I never knew any Lightwood but one who was good at languages.”
“Which one?” Alec had asked.
“His name was Thomas,” Magnus said. “Tall as a tree. Very shy.”
“Not a green-eyed monster like the other Lightwoods you’ve mentioned?”
“Oh,” said Magnus. “There was a bit of the monster in him.”
Magnus had elbowed him, and laughed. Alec remembered a time when Magnus never talked about the past, when Alec thought it meant he was doing something wrong, or Magnus didn’t care. Now he understood it was only that Magnus had been hurt before, and afraid Alec would hurt him too.
“I thought I might bring Lily,” he told Magnus. “She can speak Spanish. And I thought it might cheer her up. She likes Jem.”
Nobody at any Market would question Lily’s presence. Everybody had heard of the Downworlder and Shadowhunter Alliance by now, and it was well known that members of the Alliance helped each other out.
Magnus raised his eyebrows. “Oh, I know Lily likes Jem. I’ve heard the nicknames.”
Max looked back and forth at their expressions, his face bright.
“Bring back brother orra sister?” Max hoped.
They had talked with Max about the idea of another kid, as they had talked to each other. Neither of them had expected Max would take to the idea so much. Max asked about the brother or the sister every time one of them left the house: last Tuesday Magnus had forestalled the question by yelling “Not getting a baby, going to Sephora. There are no babies at Sephora!” and bolting. One day at the park, Max had seized a pram with a mundane baby in it. Luckily he’d been glamoured at the time, and the mundane mother thought it was a rogue gust of wind rather than Alec’s little rogue.
It would be nice for Max to have someone to grow up with. It would be nice to have another baby, with Magnus. Still, Alec remembered when he’d first held Max, how the world and Alec’s heart had gone quiet and certain. Alec was waiting to be sure again.
Alec’s pause left Max obviously thinking there was room for negotiation here.
“Bring back brother anna sister anna dinosaur?” asked Max. Alec blamed Max’s attitude on his aunt Isabelle, who kept telling him his bedtime was never.
They were saved by Jace’s signal, a faerie-leaf folded plane striking the glass of the window.
Alec gave Max a little kiss, in the midst of his curls but avoiding his horns. “No, I’m going on a mission.”
“I come with you,” Max proposed. “I be a Shadowhunter.”
Max said that a lot too, for which Alec blamed Max’s uncle Jace. Alec looked appealingly at Magnus over Max’s head.
“Come to Papa, bluebottle,” said Magnus, and Max went unsuspectingly to his open arms.
“Go get Lily,” said Magnus. “I’ll have a Portal set up for you.”
Max shrieked his outrage. “Down!”
Magnus put him down gently. Alec paused at the door to catch one last glimpse of them. Magnus glanced up at him, touched his own heart with his ringed hand, and made a little flicking gesture. Alec grinned and opened his own hand to see the tiny blue spark of magic burning briefly there.
“Hate you, Daddy,” Max sulked.
“That’s a shame,” said Alec. “I love you both,” he added quickly, and closed the door on his own embarrassment.
The words were seldom easy for him to say, but he tried to say them whenever he was going on a mission. Just in case they were the last words.
Jace was waiting for him on the sidewalk, leaning against a sad-looking city tree, flipping a knife from palm to palm.
As Alec reached the sidewalk, there was a sound from above. Alec looked up to see Magnus, but instead he saw Max’s round face. Alec assumed Max wanted to get a glimpse of his magnificent uncle Jace. Then he saw Max was looking at him, big blue eyes mournful. He put his hand on the front of his sailor suit, then gestured to Alec the same way Magnus had, as if Max could do magic already.
Alec pretended to see a magic spark in his hand and put the magic kiss in his pocket. Then he gave Max a last wave as he and Jace headed down the street.
“What was that about?” Jace asked.
“He wanted to come patrolling.”
Jace’s face softened. “My good boy! He should—”
“No!” said Alec. “And nobody will let you have your own kid until you stop putting other people’s kids in bags meant for axes and trying to smuggle them out on patrol.”
“I almost got away with it, due to my supernatural speed and unmatched cunning,” Jace claimed.
“No, you didn’t,” said Alec. “That bag was wriggling.”
Jace shrugged philosophically. “Ready for another round of heroically defending the world from evil? Or if it’s a slow night, pranking Simon?”
“Actually, I can’t,” said Alec, and explained the message from Jem and Tessa.
“I’ll come with you,” Jace offered instantly.
“And leave Clary to run the Institute alone?” asked Alec. “A week before her exhibition?”
Jace looked shaken by the force of this argument.
“You’re not letting Clary down. Lily and I can deal with whatever’s going on,” said Alec. “Besides, it’s not like Jem and Tessa can’t handle themselves. We’ll be a team.”
“Fine,” said Jace reluctantly. “I guess three other fighters are an acceptable substitute for me.”
Alec thumped him swiftly on the shoulder with a fist, and Jace smiled.
“Well,” he said. “To the Hotel Dumort.”