Robert Lightwood sat bowed over a desk, scribbling notes in black ink on a piece of paper. A fire crackled in the fireplace beside him, illuminating only him and the desk; the rest of the room remained smothered in darkness. Despite the blazing flames, the room was abnormally cold. Under the cruel chill, breathing was accompanied by sharp bursts of pain.
I waited for my father to sense my presence, to look up at me, but his gaze remained on the paper in front of him. I cleared my throat timidly. He still did not acknowledge me. Taking a deep breath, I approached his desk. The clunking of my boots against the floor punctured the silence, drowning the snapping of the flames and echoing through the shadows.
"Father," I said, coming to a halt directly in front of the desk.
He remained hunched over, but stared daggers at me through the tops of his eyes. "Alexander, I'm busy."
I tried not to let his clipped tone unnerve me. "I need to talk to you about something."
My father's focus returned to his writing. He waved his hand dismissively. "It can wait. I have more pressing matters to attend to."
"This is important," I insisted.
The soft scrawling abruptly stopped. My father's knuckles turned white, gripping the pen so hard it was a wonder the object did not snap in half. He leaned back in his chair and fixed me in his displeased stare. His silence signaled for me to start talking.
I could feel drops of icy sweat beading at the nape of my neck. The words I had practiced over and over in my head were being burned to ash under the intense watch of my father. He raised an eyebrow and began tapping his pen against the paper impatiently. His irritation only made me more flustered.
"Father," I began, "I think you should know that I'm--" The last word became lodged in my throat. My mouth opened and closed as I fumbled for something to say.
"Are you quite finished wasting my time?"
"Father, I'm--" Gay. Homosexual. The words made my throat clench, much like the way trying to say "God" would choke a vampire. Why was this so difficult? Lightwoods were always straightforward, never tiptoeing around anything. It was in my genes to be blunt, so why couldn't I just say it?
"Get out of my study."
Too afraid to lose this chance, I blurted, "I'm in love."
The pen slipped through Robert Lightwood's fingers and plopped softly on top of his paperwork. His lips were pressed into a thin line and his eyes were fuming. I took an involuntary step back.
"You interrupted my work," he hissed, his voice low, "to tell me you're in love?"
Not trusting my voice, I nodded my head. My palms were sweating, more from the anxiety than the temperature of the room, which, in spite of my father's burning rage, had dropped another couple degrees. I discreetly wiped my hands on my pants.
"Well, you'd best make it worth my while, Alexander. Tell me all about this girl. Please, do tell me everything about her. I want to know everything from her hair color to her shoe size. Don't leave out her interests. What's her name?"
Sarcasm dripped thickly from his voice. His hands were clasped in front of him and he was twiddling his thumbs. The chair creaked in protest as he reclined in false interest and ease. If there was ever a time to be straightforward, it was now.
My father was on his feet in an instant. He was leaning forward, both hands braced on the desk. His gaze was calculating. He tilted his head, never taking his eyes off mine. I restrained myself from fidgeting under his scrutiny. Never had I felt so intimidated by another man.
"What did you just say?"
"Magnus Bane," I repeated. "The man I love, his name is Magnus Bane."
With a frightening calmness, my father strode out from behind the desk. He came around to stand in front of me. His brow furrowed, as if this was some lie he was bent on seeing through. I opened my mouth to speak, but his hand was faster. The back of his hand struck my cheek forcefully enough to make me stumble. The harsh sound of the blow reverberated around us. I straightened and gaped at my father, stunned.
"You disgust me, Alexander."
He might as well have backhanded me again. I wiped my lip with the back of my hand, and a light trail of blood stained the pale skin there.
"Let me get this straight," my father went on, as if he hadn't just struck me. "In your moment of confused sexuality, you decided to devote yourself to a warlock?"
"I'm not confused," I objected. "I know what I am."
"And what are you?" he inquired snidely.
I squared my shoulders. "I'm gay."
I didn't see the flash of movement this time. Pain erupted on the side of my face and I was knocked to the floor. The split in my lip stung and my head throbbed. A wave of dizziness made my stomach churn.
"And what was it that turned you gay, Alec?"
I waited for the nausea to pass before answering, "I was born this way."
My father crouched down beside me. If I wasn't mistaken, there was enjoyment etched into his face. "I think I know what it was."
I refused to respond, unwilling to go along with this delusion.
He continued anyway. "It was Jace, wasn't it?"
My eyes widened, mortified. How dare he bring Jace into this? My father misinterpreted my shocked expression. He smirked, thinking he'd solved the equation.
"Jace has nothing to do with it!" I shouted.
"Oh, give it a rest," my father scoffed. "Do you think I didn't notice the way you watched him when we adopted him? You didn't look at him the way one boy is supposed to look at another, Alec. You weren't normal. You were repulsive. I thought you'd grow out of it."
"It's not something you grow out of," I said, incredulous at his ignorance. "It's not a phase, it's not a choice. It's just who I am."
"I can fix you, Alexander," my father said, ignoring me. "How do you cure an addict? You take away his drug of choice. You eliminate the temptation. That's what we're going to do, Alec. We're going to eliminate your temptation."
Robert Lightwood straightened and snapped his fingers. Two rings of fire ignited at the far end of the room. I shielded my eyes against the burst of light. When I lowered my arm I noticed a figure was standing in the center of each ring. One had a crown on golden hair, the other black spikes. Jace...Magnus...
"What are you doing?" I cried, leaping to my feet.
My father snatched my wrist in his hand, his clutch so tight I yelled in agony. He held me in place, preventing me from running to the aid of my friends. I struggled to get free, never taking my eyes off my parabatai or my boyfriend. I squinted to get a better look at them. They were struggling against invisible restraints, constricting their bodies to elude to tongues of flame licking at them.
"Father, let them go! Please!"
My father looked down at me. The coldness, the emptiness, in his eyes stopped my heart. Ever so calmly, he said, "I'm going to fix you."
He snapped his fingers. The flames began to close in around Jace and Magnus. They thrashed wildly, frantic to get free. I don't know whose screams were louder: the screams of my loved ones or my own.
I sat bolt upright, breathing hard and fast. My clothes clung to my body and my legs were entangled in a blanket I had no recollection of laying under. Magnus was seated on the bed next to me. His hand was clutching my shoulder and his yellow cat eyes were apprehensive.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yeah," I panted. "Just a nightmare."
"You looked like you were being electrocuted."
"I would have preferred that over what really happened."
Magnus frowned. He reached up and ran his fingers through my fair, pushing it back off my damp forehead. I closed my eyes and welcomed the coolness of his hand against my burning skin. My heart finally ceased its attack against my chest.
"What time is it?"
"Two in the morning," Magnus said, brushing the backs of his fingers against my still-warm cheek.
I looked over at him and couldn't help but notice his hair was carefully styled, eyeliner framed his awe-striking eyes and he was wearing fresh, unwrinkled -- and sequined -- clothes. He looked oddly sharp to be going to bed.
"I have a client," he answered my unasked question.
I blinked tiredly. "What kind of client makes an appointment at two am?"
Magnus winked. "The one that pays good moolah."
I began untangling the blanket from my legs. Magnus watched me curiously.
"What are you doing?"
"You have to leave, so I should go back to the Institute," I replied without looking at him.
"Don't be ridiculous," Magnus objected, genuinely surprising me. "You need rest. You're welcome to stay. I shouldn't be gone long."
"Really? I wouldn't want to impose..."
"Nonsense! Just pretend you're my housekeeper." He tapped his chin thoughtfully. "I'm sure I've got a French maid outfit around here somewhere."
"Thank you, Magnus."
The warlock leaned forward and gently pressed his lips against mine. My heart fluttered at the tenderness behind it. He pulled back and pushed his fingers to my chest, gently laying me back against the mattress.
"Go to sleep," he whispered, brushing his fingertips over my eyelids.
Though I kept my eyes closed, I was awake long enough to know that Magnus watched over me until I finally drifted back into sleep.
A soft thud snapped me back into consciousness. Magnus's bedroom was dark. My limbs were heavy with fatigue, bringing me to the assumption it was still in the early hours of the morning. I rubbed my eyes and yawned.
Quietness answered me. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Though I couldn't detect any movement, I could tell I was not alone. I slipped out from under the blankets and cautiously approached the door before creeping out. My hand reached blindly for the light switch. The lights overhead flipped on instantly, momentarily leaving me sightless. When my eyes adjusted I saw a figure standing in the middle of the room. He was admiring the painting on the wall, much like Magnus had been when I first entered his home. The stranger's familiar build would have led me to believe he was Jace. The mop of white hair on his head, however, was unmistakeable.
"Sebastian?" I gasped.
"The warlock has good taste in art. His taste in fashion, on the other hand..." Sebastian turned to face me. "Hello, Alec."
I automatically reached for my weapons belt, cursing when I realized it was back at the Institute. Sebastian chuckled and pulled a knife from his own belt. My heart was racing in my chest. I didn't know if I could survive a fight with Sebastian without a weapon. The best defense I had was to run.
"Funny how we get so attached to our little toys, isn't it?" Sebastian said, turning the blade over and staring at the sharpened edge.
"What are you doing here?" I demanded.
Sebastian looked up at my authoritative tone. His lip twitched. "Where is Magnus Bane?" His voice was as commanding as mine.
"I don't know."
"Don't make me force it out of you, Alec."
The threat turned my blood to ice. Sebastian had no intention of letting me walk away unscathed, that much was already clear. My hand pressed against my pocket, feeling for my phone. All I had was my stele.
"Looking for this?" Sebastian held my cell phone in his hand. "I found it on the counter."
"Want do you want with Magnus?" I asked, stalling to come up with a plan.
Sebastian pressed the point of his knife against the tip of his index finger on his other hand and glanced curiously around the room. "He has something I want."
"And what's that?"
"The Book of White."
I could feel the blood drain from my face. My knees could barely support me. It was all I could do not to crumble to the floor.
"Rumor has it," Sebastian went on, "that the book has spells in it."
"Really?" I hissed sarcastically. "I heard it was a book of carpet samples."
Sebastian snorted. "Keep it up, Lightwood, and I'll be cutting that clever tongue out of your mouth. As I was saying, some of these spells hold very high interest to me."
I dreaded what I was going to hear next. My eyes darted over to the door. There was no way to make a break for it without him cutting me off.
"Now, apparently there are methods to end immortality...but you knew that already, didn't you, Alec?" The evident shame in my face made Sebastian smile. "That is not what I'm after, though. The idea of achieving immortality is what appeals to me."
"No," I whispered in disbelief. Immortality was a curse upon itself, but to have someone like Sebastian alive for eternity...
"Come now, Alec. I've shared with you. Now it's your turn. Tell me the warlock is."
I shook my head defiantly. "No."
Sebastian's eyes burned and he gripped the knife tightly. "I will ask one last time..."
"No," I repeated firmly.
"Then you give me no choice." He cocked his head to the side. "I wonder how Magnus will react to my ultimatum."
"He'll never give you the Book of White."
"Oh, really? Not even if your life depended on it?"
My body trembled. Sebastian was not going to allow me to run, but he was not going to leave me behind. He was going to take me with him.
"You may have gotten inside undetected, but you'll never leave without being seen."
"That's where you're wrong, Alexander. You see, thanks to my beloved sister, I have a rune, a very special rune. It allows me to portal wherever I please. It's how I arrived, and it's how I intend to depart. The return trip won't be quite as lonely--"
I bolted for the door. Sebastian rushed forward and tackled me to the floor. We rolled together, fighting for control. I grabbed Sebastian's wrist and pushed against it, keeping the knife from cutting my flesh. With a final roll I pinned him underneath me.
Sebastian arched his back and jerked his body forward, ramming his skull against mine. He took advantage of my immobilization and rolled us over again, this time pinning me underneath him. He punched me in the side of the head, blurring my vision. My hand instinctively let go of his wrist. Sebastian lifted the knife and brought it down hard, stabbing me in the shoulder. An agonized scream tore from my lips. Sebastian laughed, and, with the blade still embedded in my flesh, twisted the knife. My body writhed under the pain. Sebastian tore the knife out. He shifted his body so he was seated on my chest with his knees holding my arms against the floor. His weight, combined with the pain, forced the breath from my lungs. The tip of the blade bit into the skin at my temple.
"I thought you'd put up a better fight than that, Lightwood. You ought to rethink your sexuality. It's made you feminine...soft..."
Sebastian pushed down on the blade, separating my skin. He slid the knife down the side of my face, cutting across the corner of my eye and down to my cheek. My cries sounded inhuman. Another blow to my head subdued me. The room became eerily quiet. Sebastian punched me again. Black spots appeared before my eyes. The pain in my knife wounds began to fade. I struggled to keep my eyes open.
"Enjoy your sleep while you can, Alexander. We're going to have much more fun once you wake up."
The final blow knocked me into oblivion, my last thoughts being the feel of Magnus's lips against mine, the way he brushed my hair back from my face...and the bloodstain on the floor that would greet him when he got home.