“Don’t look, don’t look . . .”
Isabelle laughed. “I’m not looking.”
There were hands over her eyes: Simon’s hands, slim and flexible. His arms were around her, and they were shuffling forward together, laughing. He’d grabbed her the moment she’d walked in the front door, wrapping his arms around her as her shopping bags dropped from her hands.
“I have a surprise for you,” he’d said, grinning. “Close your eyes. No looking. No, really. I’m not kidding.”
“I hate surprises,” Isabelle protested now. “You know that.” She could just see the edge of the rug under Simon’s hands. She’d picked it out herself, and it was thick, bright pink, and fuzzy. Their apartment was small and cozy, a hodgepodge of Isabelle and Simon: guitars and katanas, vintage posters and hot-pink bedspreads. Simon had brought his cat, Yossarian, when they’d moved in together, which Isabelle had protested but secretly liked: She’d missed Church after she’d left the Institute.
The pink rug vanished, and now Isabelle’s heels clicked onto the tile floor of the kitchen. “Okay,” Simon said, and withdrew his hands. “Surprise!”
“Surprise!” The kitchen was full of people: her mother and father, Jace and Alec and Max, Clary and Jordan and Maia, Kirk and Matt and Eric. Magnus was holding a silver sparkler and winking, waving it back and forth as the sparkles flew everywhere, landing on the stone counters and Jace’s T-shirt, making him yelp. Clary was holding a clumsily lettered sign: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ISABELLE. She held it up and waved.
Isabelle whirled on Simon accusingly. “You planned this!”
“Of course I did,” he said, pulling her toward him. “Shadowhunters might not care about birthdays, but I do.” He kissed her ear, murmuring, “You should have everything, Izzy,” before he let her go, and her family descended.
There was a whirl of hugs, of presents and cake—baked by Eric, who actually had something of a flair for pastry creation, and decorated by Magnus with luminous frosting that tasted better than it looked. Robert had his arms around Maryse, who was leaning back against him, looking on proudly and contentedly as Magnus, one hand ruffling Alec’s hair, tried to convince Max to put on a party hat. Max, with all the self-possession of a nine-year-old, was having none of it. He waved away Magnus’s hand impatiently and said, “Izzy, I made the sign. Did you see the sign?”
Izzy glanced over at the hand-lettered sign, now liberally smeared with frosting, on the table. Clary winked at her. “It’s awesome, Max; thank you.”
“I was going to put what birthday it was on the sign,” he said, “but Jace said that after twenty, you’re just old, so it doesn’t matter anyway.”
Jace stopped with his fork halfway to his mouth. “I said that?”
“Way to make us all feel ancient,” said Simon, pushing his hair back to smile at Isabelle. She felt a little twist of pain inside her chest—she loved him that much, for doing this for her, for always thinking of her. She couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t loved him or trusted him, and he’d never given her a reason not to do either.
Isabelle slid off the stool she’d been sitting on, and knelt down in front of her little brother. She could see their reflection in the steel of the refrigerator: her own dark hair, cut to her shoulders now—she remembered vaguely years ago, when her hair had reached her waist—and Max’s brown curls and glasses. “Do you know how old I am?” she said.
“Twenty-two,” Max said, in the tone of voice that indicated he wasn’t sure why she was asking him such a stupid question.
Twenty-two, she thought. She’d always been seven years older than Max, Max the surprise, Max the little brother she hadn’t expected.
Max, who should be fifteen now.
She swallowed, suddenly cold all over. Everyone was still talking and laughing all around her, but the laughing sounded distant and echoing, as if it came from very far away. She could see Simon, leaning against the counter, his arms folded over his chest, his dark eyes unreadable as he watched her.
“And how old are you?” Isabelle said.
“Nine,” said Max. “I’ve always been nine.”
Isabelle stared. The kitchen around her was wavering. She could see through it, as if she were staring through printed fabric: everything going transparent, as mutable as water.
“Baby,” she whispered. “My Max, my baby brother, please, please stay.”
“I’ll always be nine,” he said, and touched her face. His fingers passed through her, as if he were passing his hand through smoke. “Isabelle?” he said in a fading voice, and disappeared.
Isabelle felt her knees give. She sank to the ground. There was no laughter around her, no pretty tiled kitchen, only gray, powdery ash and blackened rock. She put up her hands to stop her tears.
The Hall of Accords was hung with blue banners, each gilded with the flame blazon of the Lightwood family. Four long tables had been arranged facing one another. In the center was a raised speaker’s lectern, decked with swords and flowers.
Alec sat at the longest table, in the highest of the chairs. On his left was Magnus, and on his right his family stretched out beside him: Isabelle and Max; Robert and Maryse; Jace; and beside Jace, Clary. There were Lightwood cousins there too, some of whom he hadn’t seen since he’d been a child; all of them were beaming with pride, but no face glowed as brightly as his father’s.
“My son,” he kept saying, to anyone who would listen—he had buttonholed the Consul now, who’d been passing by their table with a glass of wine in hand. “My son won the battle; that’s my son up there. Lightwood blood will tell; our family have always been fighters.”
The Consul laughed. “Save it for the speech, Robert,” she said, winking at Alec over the rim of her glass.
“Oh, God, the speech,” Alec said, in horror, hiding his face in his hands.
Magnus rubbed his knuckles gently across Alec’s spine, as if he were petting a cat. Jace looked over at them, and raised his eyebrows.
“As if we all haven’t been in a room full of people telling us how amazing we are before,” he said, and when Alec glared at him sideways, he grinned. “Ah, just me, then.”
“Leave my boyfriend alone,” Magnus said. “I know spells that could turn your ears inside out.”
Jace touched his ears worriedly as Robert rose to his feet, his chair scraping backward, and tapped the side of his fork against his glass. The sound rang out in the room, and the Shadowhunters fell silent, looking up toward the Lightwood table expectantly.
“We gather here today,” said Robert, reaching out his arms expansively, “to honor my son, Alexander Gideon Lightwood, who has single-handedly destroyed the forces of the Endarkened and who defeated in battle the son of Valentine Morgenstern. Alec saved the life of our third son, Max. Along with his parabatai, Jace Herondale, I am proud to say that my son is one of the greatest warriors I have ever known.” He turned and smiled at Alec and Magnus. “It takes more than a strong arm to make a great warrior,” he went on. “It takes a great mind and a great heart. My son has both. He is strong in courage, and strong in love. Which is why I also wanted to share our other good news with you. As of yesterday, my son became engaged to be married to his partner, Magnus Bane—”
A chorus of cheers broke out. Magnus accepted them with a modest wave of his fork. Alec slid down in his chair, his cheeks burning. Jace looked at him meditatively.
“Congratulations,” he said. “I kind of feel like I missed an opportunity.”
“W-what?” Alec stammered.
Jace shrugged. “I always knew you had a crush on me, and I kind of had a crush on you, too. I thought you should know.”
“What?” Alec said again.
Clary sat up straight. “You know,” she said, “do you think there’s any chance that you two could . . .” She gestured between Jace and Alec. “It would be kind of hot.”
“No,” Magnus said. “I am a very jealous warlock.”
“We’re parabatai,” Alec said, regaining his voice. “The Clave would—I mean—it’s illegal.”
“Oh, come on,” said Jace. “The Clave would let you do anything you wanted. Look, everyone loves you.” He gestured out at the room full of Shadowhunters. They were all cheering as Robert spoke, some of them wiping away tears. A girl at one of the smaller tables held up a sign that said, ALEC LIGHTWOOD, WE LOVE YOU.
“I think you should have a winter wedding,” said Isabelle, looking longingly at the white floral centerpiece. “Nothing too big. Five or six hundred people.”
“Isabelle,” Alec croaked.
She shrugged. “You have a lot of fans.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Magnus said, and snapped his fingers in front of Alec’s face. His black hair stood up in spikes, and his gold-green eyes were brilliant with annoyance. “THIS IS NOT HAPPENING.”
“What?” Alec stared.
“It’s a hallucination,” Magnus said, “brought on by your entry into the demon realms. Probably a demon that lurks near the entrance to the world and feeds on the dreams of travelers. Wishes have a lot of power,” he added, examining his reflection in his spoon. “Especially the deepest wishes of our hearts.”
Alec looked around the room. “This is the deepest wish of my heart?”
“Sure,” Magnus said. “Your father, proud of you. You, the hero of the hour. Me, loving you. Everyone approving of you.”
Alec looked over at Jace. “Okay, what about the Jace thing?”
Magnus shrugged. “I don’t know. That part’s just weird.”
“So I have to wake up.” Alec put his hands on the table, flat; the Lightwood ring shone on his finger. It all seemed real, felt real—but he couldn’t remember what his father was talking about. Couldn’t remember defeating Sebastian, or winning a war. Couldn’t remember saving Max.
“Max,” he whispered.
Magnus’s eyes darkened. “I’m sorry,” he said. “The wishes of our hearts are weapons that can be used against us. Fight, Alec.” He touched Alec’s face. “This isn’t what you want, this dream. Demons don’t understand human hearts, not well. They see as through a distorted glass and show you what you desire, but warped and wrong. Use that wrongness to push yourself out of the dream. Life is loss, Alexander, but it’s better than this.”
“God,” Alec said, and closed his eyes. He felt the world around him crack, as if he were tapping his way out of a shell. The voices around him vanished, along with the feel of the chair underneath him, the smell of food, the clamor of applause, and lastly, the touch of Magnus’s hand on his face.
His knees hit the ground. He gasped and his eyes snapped open. All around him was a gray landscape. The stink of garbage hit his nostrils, and he jerked back instinctively as something reared over him—a surging mass of inchoate smoke, a cluster of glittering yellow eyes hanging in the darkness. They glared out at him as he fumbled for his bow and drew it back.
The thing roared, and rushed forward, surging toward him like a wave breaking. Alec let the runed arrow fly—it flicked through the air and sank itself deep into the smoke demon. A shrilling scream cracked the air, the demon pulsing around the arrow buried deep inside it, tendrils of smoke flailing outward, clawing at the sky—
And the demon vanished. Alec scrambled to his feet, fumbling another arrow into position, and swung around, scanning the landscape. It looked like pictures he’d seen of the surface of the moon, pitted and ashy, and above was a scorched sky, gray and yellow, cloudless. The sun hung orange and low, a dead cinder. There was no sign of the others.
Fighting down panic, he jogged up the rise of the nearest hill, and down the other side. Relief hit him in a wave. There was a depression between two rises of ash and rock, and crouched in it was Isabelle, struggling to her feet. Alec scrambled down the steep side of the hill and caught her in a one-armed hug. “Iz,” he said.
She made a sound suspiciously like a sniffle and pulled away from him. “I’m all right,” she said. There were tear tracks on her face; he wondered what she had seen. The wishes of our hearts are weapons that can be used against us.
“Max?” he asked.
She nodded, her eyes bright with unshed tears and anger. Of course Isabelle would be angry. She hated to cry.
“Me too,” he said, and then whirled at the sound of a footstep, half-pushing Isabelle behind him.
It was Clary, and beside her, Simon. They both looked shell-shocked. Isabelle moved out from behind Alec. “You two . . . ?”
“Fine,” Simon said. “We . . . saw things. Weird things.” He wouldn’t meet Isabelle’s gaze, and Alec wondered what he’d imagined. What were Simon’s dreams and desires? Alec had never given it much thought.
“It was a demon,” Alec said. “The kind that feeds on dreams and wishes. I killed it.” He glanced from them to Isabelle. “Where’s Jace?”