Family Life-16. A New Road
*Peeks worriedly from behind the theatre cutains*
Okay, I know I said I’d have this ready for February, and you see, I actually had something ready… the draft. Now, you know how old-fashioned I am… I always do my drafts by hand, and with everything going on I hadn’t had time to actually transcribe and publish, but here we are now.
As a peace offering, I’ll post two chapters today, hoping to make it better.
Now, I think this is long overdue already, so… I hope you enjoy!
PD: in this story Max is supposed to be around five and I have to apologize because I’ve never been around children, not even siblings or cousins, so I tried to drop some grammar mistakes and mispronunciation in his speech to make up for my ignorance, but if there is something that seems weird or if you want to point something out to me, please feel free to do so!
Also! This is some months before Rafael’s adoption, that’s why he’s not even mentioned here.
If someone had told Robert Lightwood that, one day, not very far in the future, he would be cradling a warlock child in his lap as he tickled the blue boy he would have rolled his eyes. If someone had warned Robert Lightwood that one day a little warlock would look up at him and claim “Gra'pa”, arms stretched out to be picked up and a smile big and trusting enough to make Robert smile back, he would have laughed. If someone had foreseen that Robert would love a downworlder child as if he were his own flesh and blood, he would have thought said someone was going crazy.
He should have known better.
Currently, he was sitting at the library of the Institute, a newspaper lazily sprawled on his legs while he kept an eye on Max, who was busying himself with building blocks, laughing gleefully once every couple of minutes.
He was supposed to keep an eye on Max for the day while Alec attended a meeting with the vampire clan of New Jersey and Magnus sorted out some things with a picky werewolf that had asked for his services. Looking over his reading material Robert couldn’t help the smile that climbed to his lips.
Noticing his grandfather’s heavy gaze, Max stopped his game and looked up, returning Robert’s smile.
Folding the newspaper to put it away, Robert gestured for Max to approach him. Without a second thought, Max walked over to the couch Robert was sitting on. Jumping on his chubby legs, Max struggled to climb the couch, crawling to Robert’s lap soon enough.
“What are you building, buddy?” Robert inquired, wrapping his arms around the small warlock.
“Castle,” Max smiled, nodding repeatedly.
“A big one, it seems,” the shadowhunter laughed, to what Max nodded some more.
For a long while, they remained in silence as Robert marveled at the simple domesticity of holding a child, of loving and being loved in return.
“Gra'pa, I ask something,” Max declared after a while, playing with the buttons of Robert’s shirt.
“Can I ask something?” Robert corrected gently.
“I ask something,” Max repeated, waiting for his grandfather to nod before continuing. “What’s the Circle?”
No sooner had the words left Max’s heart-shaped lips than the color was drained from the shadowhunter’s features. The smile that had adorned Robert’s lips until then froze and his fingers stiffened where they’d been playing with the warlock’s locks, He swallowed hardly.
“The… the Circle you said?” he questioned, forcing his voice to not falter. Max, oblivious to his inner turmoil nodded vigorously.
“Uncle Jace and Dad talked about the Circle,” he declared. “I asked uncle Jace what it as, but he said ‘Forget it!’” Max continued, mimicking out Jace’s expression with a furrowed brow and what he tried to make come out as a stern voice, although it sounded too high to be taken seriously. “But you always tell me 'Max, don’t listen Jace’, so I ask you now.”
“To Jace, Max, I always tell you not to listen to Jace,” Robert corrected numbly, his reply mechanic.
“To uncle Jace,” Max repeated dismissively, his eyes turned to his grandfather in expectation. “But what the Cir-Circle?”
“The… the Circle,” Robert echoed unceremoniously, feeling all over again as if the oxygen had been drained from his lungs, leaving only his dry throat behind. “Max, I don’t think I should―”
“Pwease?” the little warlock inquired, pouting slightly, just enough for Robert to feel bad if he denied an answer to him.
Then again, of course Robert had known that someday he would have to look at Max in the eye and tell him that, not far away in the past, Maryse and him had opposed to the relationship of his parents. More importantly, he had been aware all along that, one day, he’d have to hold Max’s hand and confess to him, with shame and regret and pain that he’d not always been the loving grandfather he knew, that only a few years aback he’d been backward and bigoted and a murderer.
Robert Lightwood knew very well that lying only made things more complicated than they had to be and that, if one lived surrounded by lies for long, the moment of the truth only became more painful. He knew there’d come a time in which he could have to come out clean to his young grandson―he had just hoped they’d have more time before Max stopped looking up at him with such trusting, beautiful eyes. He’d just prayed that they’d have more time before his grandson learned about the monster he was.
“I… I don’t think I should tell you, or at least not all of it,” Robert offered at last. “This is an… an adults’ thing, okay?” he continued, his breath hitching. On his side, Max pouted again and Robert could only smile with pain at what he would surely loose very soon. “You’ll learn more as you get older, but I can tell you a little today, is that alright?”
“Yes, yes!” Max clapped with excitement. Holding him to make sure he didn’t fall off the couch, Robert sighed, the shadow of memory darkening his eyes.
“Long ago,” he began. “There was a group of bad people, bad shadowhunters,” he corrected. “And they… they did bad things. They thought they were better than everyone else, that the world was meant to have a special place for them, because they were stronger than others.”
“Dad says Uncle Jace thinks he’s better than everyone,” Max interrupted with a scowl. “But uncle Jace isn’t bad.”
“No, Jace isn’t bad,” Robert smiled weakly, biting back his next remark―Jace had never killed innocents as a consequence of is boastful attitude. “But these shadowhunters were and they called themselves the Circle.”
»They didn’t like downworlders, like you or your papa, and they… they hunted them down.“
"Like Dad hunts down demons?” Max inquired in confusion.
“Yes, like that,” Robert nodded.
“But shadowhunters and downworlders are friends!” the boy replied. “Like Aunt Lily and Dad and Aunt Cat and Papa!”
“They are now, but these shadowhunters didn’t like downworlders, they thought they were bad, because they were different,” Robert tried to explain, making a fuss with his hands to illustrate. “Remember that woman in the park who said your parents shouldn’t be together because they’re both boys?” he offered, waiting for Max to nod before he continued. “The Circle was like that―they didn’t like what was different. They feared it.”
“That lady was mean.”
“Well, the Circle was mean too, worse than that woman,” Robert sighed, feeling his chest contract at the way Max’s brow furrowed, deep in thought, as if he couldn’t conceive a world in which that was possible, a world in which the malicious remark of an old woman wasn’t the worse there was to hear, a world in which shadowhunters thought of themselves so highly that they forgot the humanity of the downworlders.
“Dad says different is good, it makes us spe-special,” the little warlock declared at last.
“And your dad is right,” Robert replied gently, marveling once again at the fact that people full of prejudices and painful ideas as Maryse and him had managed to raise someone as loving and forging as Alexander.
“Differences are good. Like, like wawlocks, they have magic and they heal shadowhunters, like Dad and Papa, and welwolves help keep mundanes away from the vam-vampire nests during day, like Aunt Lily and Aunt Maia and that way we all happy, because we help each other!”
“Indeed,” the shadowhunter nodded. “But the Circle thought we’d be happier if there were only shadowhunters, with no vampires or werewolves or… or warlocks.”
Silently, Robert watched Max bite his lip in concentration, as if he had to stop and make an effort to consider what his grandfather was saying.
“That’s mean,” Max decided at last, his voice so sad that Robert had to stop himself from leaning down to pull the boy closer to him. “Downwolders aren’t bad.”
“No, they aren’t,” Robert all but whispered, letting his finger ghost over the warlock’s cheeks. “But they thought they were.”
After that came silence―dense, unnatural, something that shouldn’t have been there. An infant Max’s age shouldn’t be trying to imagine a time of history in which half of his family tried to annihilate the other half of it. Oh, and how badly, terribly, longingly did Robert wish he wouldn’t be forced to do it.
Now that he was older and ―at least he wanted to believe he was― a little wiser, Robert recognized the importance of honesty.
He wanted nothing more than to take Max into his arms and shield his ears from the truth, he yearned to pretend that the horrors of what Valentine had done ―with his and Maryse’s help― were nothing but an invented stories to scare naughty children, like the bogeyman Simon and Clary joked about.
On the other hand, Robert also knew that it’d hurt his little boy much more to learn about the dark past of his family later, and it’d be even worse of he learned so by someone else, say a malicious shadowhunter or a misfortunate comment.
If after coming clean his grandchild decided that he wasn’t trustworthy, that he was scared of him, then at least Robert would have the bittersweet comfort of the memories of Max’s carefree laugh.
“I… Maxie, there’s something else I want to tell you,” he began, short from a whisper. “But I need you to be brave for me, okay? Can you do that?”
“Like Dad when he goes dem-demon hunting?” he asked curiously.
“Like your dad when he goes demon hunting,” Robert conceded. “Though, for the record, your dad is always brave, demons or not,” he added in a second thought, recalling the countless times in which, during a meeting someone as close-minded as he’d been made a sarcastic remark about Alec’s relationship with Magnus or about the warlock child they were raising together.
Alec always remained quiet when that happened, perhaps too used to being treated in such a way, perhaps recognizing that there was no use in explaining the validity of his feelings for Magnus and of their relationship to someone thick as a bucket of shit.
Robert couldn’t do that. He felt his blood boil every single time one of those bigoted Clave members decided they could have a saying in the way his family lived. Sometimes, Alec himself had told him to let it go, to calm down when Robert was a little too close to punching someone. Whenever Alec reassured him that it was fine, that the best one could do was ignore those jerks Robert didn’t fail to notice how resigned his son sounded. And every single time he realized the pain behind Alec’s statement Robert’s breath halted in his lips.
The fact that barely six years in the past he would have sided with those assholes instead of with his son didn’t make it any better.
“Max,” Robert continued after a long pause, taking a deep breath. “I… the Circle started around twenty years, you know?”
“That’s a looot,” the young warlock decided, forcing a smile on Robert’s lips at his exaggerated pronunciation.
“It is,” he agreed. “Over time, when the other shadowhunters realized the Circle was bad they fought against it and they won,” he added gravely. “But, a few years ago, the Circle came back. There was a huge fight, and once again, the good shadowhunters won over the Circle, with the help of warlocks like your Papa and Catarina and vampires and werewolves.”
“Like Aunt Lily and Aunt Maia!” Max clapped cheerily. “That’s good! It means no more bad shadowhunters!”
If only it were that simple, my boy, if only, Robert thought wistfully.
“Yes, it was very good,” he said instead, not wanting to say anything about Max’s last statement, not when Alec and Magnus were still forced to listen to Thomas Hightower’s bigoted comments, not when they were equally attacked when they were around mundanes.
No, Robert didn’t want to admit that there were still a good number of bad shadowhunters, mundanes and downworlders, not when Magnus and Alec had done such a wonderful job shielding their son from it that Max still had the naïveté of ignoring their existence.
There was, however, one thing that Robert had to say.
“Max, when… when the Circle first started I… I was part of it.”
Gasping, Max recoiled in Robert’s lap, albeit the fact that she didn’t try to scoot very further away from him, his eyes denouncing more surprise than they did horror.
“But… but they were bad!” Max whispered in a shaky voice, his eyes glassy. Oh, Robert thought, how beautiful it was that the worst word Max knew was bad, how marvelous that his young mind was still too innocent to understand how atrocious the Circle had really been.
“They were,” Robert recognized, feeling the weight of his words as they rolled off his tongue. “They were worse than bad, and anyone that thinks like the Circle did can’t be a good person. But I… I was stupid and I thought they were… that they were right. How stupid I was! I… I know it’s no excuse for what I did, Max, but I’m very sorry, more than you can imagine.”
“Stupid is a bad word,” Max complained softly.
“It is,” the shadowhunter nodded as a bitter voice echoed in his mind that a bad word was fitting for a bad person.
He was brought back from his musings when Max’s small hands reached up to cup his cheeks, a feather-like caress.
“You look sad,” Max said, a worried tone taking the place of the scared one from before. “Is it because you helped those bad people?”
“It is, Blueberry,” Robert sighed, forcing a weak smile for the sake of his grandchild. “I feel terrible that I hurt downworlders.”
“Papa says that sometimes good people make mistakes and that those mistakes can be bad, but they don’t make good people bad people,” the little warlock explained. “You’re not bad, gra'pa.”
“Oh, Max…” Robert let out, finally leaning down to pull his boy closer to his chest, and if he shut his eyes tight enough to hold back the moisture that had gathered at the bottom of his eyes, then it was a good thing that Max didn’t notice him doing so. “Your Papa is a very wise man, Max, never forget that,” he said after some silent seconds, clearing his throat as he slowly pulled back.
“And he has magic!” Max declared, making a tiny fuss with his small hands.
“He does, just like you,” the shadowhunter said, stroking Max’s right cheek fondly. “And, Max, remember, if you turn out to be anything like your parents I will be endlessly proud of you,” he concluded, genuinely smiling at the innocent curiosity in his grandson’s eyes.
By the time Robert heard a knock on his door Max had already fallen sleep in his arms, head supported in the crook of the shadowhunter’s elbow, surrendered to a blind trust that Robert couldn’t fully explain after what he had just told him. A trust that, in all honesty, Robert was convinced he didn’t deserve.
Careful not to disturb the small warlock, Robert rose from the couch and, ever so gently, placed Max back on it, considering it just a second before he took off his jacket and covered Max with it. He couldn’t help a lopsided smile as Max nuzzled into the fabric of the cloth.
Surprised that the person at his door hadn’t knocked a second time, Robert hurried to open it, revealing no other than Magnus Bane on the other side.
“Magnus,” he greeted, stepping out of the doorway to allow the warlock to enter.
Magnus, ever so eccentric, had arranged his hair so it was falling in blue-glittered locks to the left side of his face, matching eyeliner surrounding his un-glamoured orbs. He wore a purple shirt with a deep v neck, not seeming to mind the cold weather. Hanging from his neck the warlock wore at least three different necklaces, each one a little shorter than the one before so they could each be appreciated separately. There were four rings around his fingers, among them, the Lightwood one Alec had given him after Max’s adoption.
In another time, Robert would have stared back at Magnus in contempt. In another time he wouldn’t have opened his door to a downworlder, especially not one dressed like that. Oh, but in that other time he wouldn’t have had a young warlock sleeping on his couch, tucked with his very own jacket.
“Robert,” Magnus echoed, a business-like undertone to his voice, just like every time the two of them spoke.
Over the years they had found a way to coexist and be civil around one another, if nothing else. Perhaps they weren’t close, perhaps they weren’t as trusting as they should have been, but they were civil, polite, and Magnus trusted Robert enough to watch over his child and not poison his mind, something that Robert sometimes doubted he even deserved, no matter how grateful he was that he’d been allowed to stay close to his family after all the damage he’d inflicted upon it.
It wasn’t that he thought higher of himself than he did of Magnus or any other downworlder, for that matter. That was the point of it all―he’d learned from his previous mistakes and now he knew better.
It wasn’t that Magnus actively avoided him either, or that he adopted a threatening demeanor whenever he was around his in-laws. Far from it, Magnus better than anyone, perhaps, understood the importance of family and he wanted to teach that to his child.
Life was both too short and too long to hold grudges.
No, it wasn’t that either of them held a disdainful attitude towards the other, it was merely that they had yet to find a way to become close, and while they both had come to an agreement in favor Max having a safe environment and a united family instead of a gathering that ended up with broken cutlery and slamming doors, they’d only come to a peace accord because of the little warlock.
Perhaps that was their mistake―perhaps it was time they forgave each other for the sake of themselves. Perhaps it was time they started building a road for them to follow, one in which they all fitted, not only the new generation.
“Can I… can I have a word with you?” Robert inquired, unable to hold back a grimace when Magnus’ laidback expression became more guarded.
“Did something happen?” Magnus asked back, a small scowl making its way to his forehead. Robert held back a bitter laugh, noting how, at the prospect of merely speaking with him Magnus immediately assumed something had gone wrong.
Oh, but he wasn’t mistaken, was he? Something had happened, or had it not?
“It did, actually, but not… not the something you might be thinking of,” Robert sighed, deciding to say it with no circumlocution when Magnus raised an eyebrow at him. “Max asked me about the Circle today.”
“He did what?” the warlock asked, choking on his breath.
“He heard Alec and Jace speaking about it and, you know how children are, he asked me and…”
“I assume you told him off and―”
“I told him the truth,” Robert interrupted, suddenly raising his gaze from the floor to look straight into Magnus’ eyes.
“It's… he had the right to know, Magnus, I couldn’t lie to him,” the shadowhunter tried to explain with a shaky voice.
“Where’s Max?” Magnus inquired, raising his hands to push Robert out of the way, his calculating eyes searching for his son, a glimmer of something that was almost madness in his gaze.
“He’s fine,” Robert assured, catching Magnus by the arm before the warlock had time to get past him and storm into the library. “He’s so… forgiving, so innocent. I… I didn’t mention Maryse… that’s her secret to tell, and I didn’t tell him about the war, not much anyways, I didn’t mention Sebastian, but he… he knows there were bad shadowhunters hurting downworlders and I think that’s enough of a summary.”
“You… you told him that?”
“I did,” Robert managed, his eyes trained on Magnus.
“Why?” the warlock inquired, a confused tone making its way to his voice, his expression still defensive.
“Because hiding the truth won’t result in anything good,” the Lightwood answered gravely. “And because I don’t want him to grow up thinking I’m a better person than I really am.”
“You… you didn’t have to do that,” Magnus let out, eyes still scanning his interlocutor.
“I did, Magnus. I did,” Robert replied gently. “And I want to tell you that I’m sorry. I am infinitely sorry for all I did,” he continued, feeling the formality of his words slip away as his speech came out more rapidly. “I’m sorry I ever believed what Valentine said, I’m sorry for the way I treated Alec and, most of all, I’m sorry for the way I treated you.”
For a moment, Magnus didn’t say anything, too wrapped up in staring back at Robert, disbelief clear in his made-up features. At last, he raised his right arm to awkwardly pat the shadowhunter’s shoulder.
“Hey, it’s alright,” he all but whispered.
“No, it isn’t,” Robert insisted, making a fuss with his hands to punctuate his words. “I could have killed you or Catarina. Had Max been born twenty years ago I could have killed him, Magnus, and I wouldn’t have regretted it.”
“It was war, Robert. For all that matters I could have killed you too.”
“It’s not the same,” the shadowhunter replied. “I enjoyed killing. I genuinely believed that, once the world was cleaned of these… these soiled creatures it would be better… purer, that I… that I would be seen as a hero,” he continued remorsefully. “I was so stupid. Oh, Angel, I… how many did I kill? How many did we kill? We showed no mercy for children or whatsoever, we murdered and we gloated of doing it.”
“I have blood on my hands too, Robert,” the warlock responded quietly.
“It’s not the same, for the Angel’s sake!” he said, almost shouting, a part of him still conscious of the small warlock sleeping soundly in the next room. “Downworlders were defending themselves, protecting each other. The shadowhunters of the Circle were just being assholes.”
Magnus cat-like pupils widened minutely, his hand still awkwardly placed on Robert’s shoulder, his breath caught up in his throat at the shadowhunter’s sudden confession.
“It was war, Robert,” he repeated, voice tired, resigned. “It’s over now, thank the gods. Besides, we had agreed to leave this behind us for Max’s sake.”
“Indeed we had,” Robert nodded, taking a deep breath, as if the oxygen he’d just inhaled could consume the regret that burned in his chest. “But I never apologized to you, Magnus. I never told you that, if I could, I’d give back all the lives I ended prematurely, at the cost of my own, if it were necessary.”
“You have now,” Magnus reassured after a moment of silence, still taken aback by Robert’s rush of sincerity. “That’s enough.”
Suddenly, and out of the same place that this sudden need of honesty had come from, Robert took grip of Magnus’ hand on his shoulder and pulled the warlock forward to embrace him tightly, as if he needed the touch to keep himself together, to anchor his rushing mind.
“I’m proud of Alexander,” Robert said in something that sounded suspiciously like a sob. “And I’m proud of you, Magnus. You’ve done so much with so little that it makes me wonder… it makes me wonder where you’d be if it weren’t for jerks like me that stood in your way.”
Letting out a breath of air that he wasn’t even conscious of holding, Magnus relaxed into the touch, flabbergasted-ly raising his own arm to circle Robert’s shoulders.
“Thank you,” was all he managed, his voice thick with emotion. “Thank you, Robert.”
A long time passed before Robert stepped back, clearing his throat as if he had suddenly remembered that such a way wasn’t one in which the Inquisitor was allowed to act. Magnus let him do, not wanting to be the first one to break the improvised embrace, perhaps fearing that, if he did, he’d break whatever spell that was making Robert so… open. And perhaps, because, he, too, was tired of that semi-civil attitude he felt whenever he was around Alexander’s father and wanted something… more.
“Thank you,” Robert echoed with an awkward smile, clearing his throat once again. “Now, Max is in the library. I think I have held you up enough.”
“Not to worry,” Magnus brushed off carelessly. “It was… good that you did.”
Robert made a face, as if he couldn’t decide whether or not if Magnus was being sarcastic, but in the end he decided to let it go and not make a comment, turning towards the living room instead.
“Robert,” Magnus stopped him, his right hand firmly wrapped around Robert’s wrist, to which the shadowhunter turned over his shoulder. “We’re free next Saturday, why don’t you come over? Just the four of us?”
“I would like that,” Robert smiled tentatively.
“Good. So would we,” the warlock added sincerely.
He wanted Max to have the stable he had lacked of as a child, that was all Magnus had been certain of from the beginning, and he was willing to make whatever sacrifice it took to ensure that. On the other hand, Magnus also knew how devastating losing one’s parents support was and he didn’t want that, let alone for Max, but for Alexander.
Sure enough, Robert Lightwood hadn’t been the best of people, not to him, at least, but Magnus knew how important his parents ―his whole family― were to Alexander.
More importantly, Robert ―and Maryse too, in her own way― was trying to make amends, to fix his previous mistakes. The gods knew there’d been a time in which Magnus would have sacrificed anything just for the chance to change the way in which things between his stepfather and him had ended, and if he could do anything to spare Alexander even the smallest of rejections or aches by forgiving Robert and Maryse Lightwood… well, his pride wasn’t bigger than his love for Alexander.
It was a chance―a new road that both downworlders and shadowhunters were building, side by side. It was an opportunity―to forgive, to let go, to accept and to start again.
And Magnus Bane was eager to take it, for it was, too, a chance to finally be happy and find a place where he belonged.
Right, so… this is definitely one of my favorite chapters. It’s sweet, there was character development (I’m telling you, ever since I started this story Robert has insisted in appearing! I just hope you’re liking the result!) and it has Hurt/Comfort.
To make up for Rafael’s absence the next chapter will be dedicated exclusively to him! Please stay with me for more Lightwood-Bane Family fluff and read you soon!