Magnus's Vow - Cassandra Clare

A short story set during City of Bones.

            Magnus Bane lay on the floor of his Brooklyn loft, looking up at the bare ceiling. The floor was slightly sticky, as was much else in the apartment. Spilled faery wine mixed with blood on the floor, running in rivulets across the splintery floorboards. The bar, which had been a door laid across two dented metal garbage cans, had gotten wrecked at some point during the night during a lively fight between a vampire and Bat, one of the downtown werewolf pack. Magnus felt satisfied. It wasn’t a good party unless something got broken.
            Soft footsteps padded across the floor toward him and then something crawled onto his chest: something small, soft, and heavy. He looked up and found himself staring into a pair of wide gold-green eyes that matched his own. Chairman Meow.
            He stroked the cat, who kneaded his claws happily into Magnus’s shirt. A bit of Silly String fell from the ceiling and landed on both of them, causing Chairman Meow to leap sideways.
            With a yawn, Magnus sat up. He usually felt like this after a party—tired but too wound up to sleep. His mind was humming over the events of the evening, but like a scratched CD, it kept coming back to the same point and spinning there, sending his memories into a whirl.
            Those Shadowhunter children. He hadn’t been surprised that Clarissa had finally tracked him down; he’d known Jocelyn’s stopgap memory spells wouldn’t work forever. He’d told her as much, but she’d been determined to protect the girl as long as she could. Now that he’d met her, conscious and alert, he wondered if she’d really needed all that protecting. She was fiery, impulsive, brave—and lucky, like her mother.
            That was if you believed in luck. But something must have led her to the Shadowhunters of the Institute, possibly the only ones who could protect her from Valentine. A pity that Maryse and Robert were gone. He’d dealt with Maryse more than once, but it had been years since he’d seen the younger generation.
            He had a vague memory of visiting Maryse and Hodge, and there being two boys in the hallway, about eleven years old, battling back and forth with harmless model seraph blades. A girl with black hair in two braids had been watching them and vociferously complaining about not being included. He had taken very little note of them at the time.
            But now—seeing them had shaken him, especially the boys, Jace and Alec. When you had so many memories, sometimes it was hard to identify the exact one you wanted, like flipping through a ten-thousand page book to find the correct paragraph.
            This time, however, he knew.
            He crawled across the splintery floor and knelt to open the closet door. Inside, he pushed aside clothes and various packets and potions, feeling along the walls for what he wanted. When he emerged, coughing on dust balls, he was dragging a decent-sized wooden trunk. Though he had lived a long time, he tended to travel light: to keep very few mementos of his past. He sensed somehow that they would weigh him down, keep him from moving forward. When you lived forever, you could spend only so much time looking back.
            It had been so long since he’d unlocked the trunk, it came open with a squeal of hinges that sent Chairman Meow skittering under the sofa, his tail twitching.
            The heap of objects inside the trunk looked like the hoard of an unfastidious dragon. Some objects gleamed with metal and gems—Magnus drew out an old snuffbox with the initials WS picked out across the top in winking rubies, and grinned at the bad taste of the thing, and also at the memories it evoked. Others seemed unremarkable: a faded, cream-colored silk ribbon that had been Camille’s; a matchbook from the Cloud Club with the words I know what you are written on the inside cover in a lady’s hand; a limerick signed OFOWW; a half-burned piece of stationery from the Hong Kong Club—a place he had been barred from not for being a warlock, but for not being white. He touched a piece of twisted rope nearly at the bottom of the pile, and thought of his mother. She had been the daughter of a Dutch colonialist man and an Indonesian woman who had died in childbirth and whose name Magnus had never known.
            He was almost at the bottom of the trunk when he found what he was looking for and drew it out, squinting: a black-and-white paper photograph mounted on hard cardboard. An object that really shouldn’t have existed, and wouldn’t if Henry had not been obsessed with photography. Magnus could picture him now, ducking in and out from beneath his photographer’s hood, racing with the wet plates to the darkroom he’d set up in the crypt to develop the film, shouting at his photographic subjects to keep still. Those were the days when in order to render an accurate photograph, one had to remain motionless for minutes at a time. Not easy, Magnus thought, the corner of his mouth flicking up, for the crew of the London Institute.
            There was Charlotte, her dark hair up in a practical bun. She was smiling, but anxiously, as if squinting into the sun. Beside her was Jessamine in a dress that looked black in the photo, but which Magnus knew had been dark blue. Her hair was curled and ribbons fell like streamers from the brim of her straw bonnet. She looked very pretty, but very unhappy. He wondered how she would have reacted to someone like Isabelle: a girl her own age who obviously loved Shadowhunting, who showed off her bruises and the scars of her marks as if they were jewelry instead of hiding them with Mechlin lace.
            On the other side of Charlotte stood Jem, looking like a photographic negative himself with his silvery hair and eyes turned almost white; his hand rested on his jade dragon-topped cane, and his face was turned toward Tessa’s. Tessa—Tessa’s hat was in her hand and her long brown curls blew free, slightly blurred by their motion.
            There was a faint halo of light around Will: as befitted his nature and would have surprised no one who’d known him, he had not been able to stand still for the photograph. As always, he was hatless, his black hair curling against his temples. It was a loss not to be able to see the color of his eyes, but he was still beautiful and young and a little vulnerable-looking in the photograph, with one hand in his pocket and the other behind his neck.
            It had been so long since Magnus had looked at the photograph that the resemblance between Will and Jace struck him suddenly. Though it was Alec who had that black hair and those eyes—that very startling dark blue—it was Jace who had more of Will’s personality, at least on the surface. The same sharp arrogance hiding something breakable underneath, the same pointed wit . . .
            He traced the halo of light around Will with a finger and smiled. Will had been no angel, though neither had he been as flawed as some might have thought him. When Magnus thought of Will, even now, he thought of him dripping rainwater on Camille’s rug, begging Magnus for help no one else could give him. It was Will who had introduced him to the idea that Shadowhunters and Downworlders might be friends.
            Jem was Will’s other, better half. He and Will had been parabatai, like Alec and Jace, and shared that same evident closeness. And though Alec struck Magnus as nothing at all like Jem—Alec was jumpy and sweet, sensitive and worried, while Jem had been calm, rarely bothered, older than his years—both of them were unusual where Shadowhunters were concerned. Alec exuded a bone-deep innocence that was rare among Shadowhunters—a quality that, Magnus had to admit, drew him like a moth to a flame, despite all his own cynicism.
            Magnus looked at Tessa again. Though she was not conventionally pretty in the way Jessamine had been pretty, her face was alive with energy and intelligence. Her lips curved up at the corners. She stood, as Magnus supposed was appropriate, between Jem and Will. Tessa. Tessa, who, like Magnus, lived forever. Magnus looked at the detritus in the box—memories of loves past, some of whose faces stayed with him as clearly as the day he’d first seen them, and some whose names he barely remembered. Tessa, who like him, had loved a mortal, someone destined to die as she was not.
            Magnus replaced the photograph in the trunk. He shook his head, as if he could clear it of memories. There was a reason he rarely opened the trunk. Memories weighed him down, reminded him of what he had once had but did no longer. Jem, Will, Jessamine, Henry, Charlotte—in a way it was amazing that he still remembered their names. But then, knowing them had changed his life.
            Knowing Will and his friends had made Magnus swear to himself that he would never again get involved in Shadow-hunters’ personal business. Because when you got to know them, you got to care about them. And when you got to care about mortals, they broke your heart.
            “And I won’t,” he told Chairman Meow solemnly, perhaps a little drunkenly. “I don’t care how charming they are or how brave or even how helpless they seem. I will never ever ever—”
            Downstairs, the doorbell buzzed, and Magnus got up to answer it.