Magnus hummed thoughtfully, running his finger along the intricate gold outline on the tarot card in front of him. In the middle of the image was a wheel with lettering at the end of each spoke--the Hebrew spelling of God and the word “tarot.” The middle wheel had the four symbols for the four elements. Descending down the left side of the wheel was a snake, ascending up the right side was an anubis, and sitting atop it was a sphinx. In each of the four corners sat a creature: an angel in the top left, a bull in the bottom left, a lion in the bottom right, and an eagle in the top right. Each one held the Torah.
Wheel of Fortune, reversed.
Misfortune, negative external forces, unforseen setback.
He didn’t have any clients lined up for the day other than potential walk-ins, and therefore would have opted to sleep in as late as he could, were it not for the fact that he’d been utterly restless all night long. After spending the night continually waking up from dreams that left him with a sense of unease, he had to get out of bed and find something to occupy his thoughts. He couldn’t remember what he dreamt of, which added to the disconcerted feeling. That was how he found himself with a ten card spread before him, tenderly running his middle finger lightly down the next card before flipping it.
He rubbed instinctively at his goatee in thought, but was startled out of them by the muffled sound of an alarm clock coming from the bedroom. With a soft sigh, he scooped up the deck and put it back in its box on the shelf of ingredients and magic objects. His tarot cards, a few assorted crystals and pyramids, and old tomes lined the bottom two rows, and making room for his jars, glass containers, and bowls on the top. He had each one meticulously labelled in neat script: vampire hair, werewolf fangs.
Magnus’ movements caught Chairman Meow’s attention as he made his way towards the kitchen to make coffee, causing the small cat to excitedly weave between his legs, mewling happily, conditioned to hope that if Magnus went to the kitchen, it likely meant something good for him. With a flick of his wrist, the bowl was refilled and the Chairman’s enthusiasm paid off, causing him to leap for it excitedly.
It had only been a few months since Magnus had embraced his magic once again, and it was like flexing an atrophied muscle. He’d started small after returning Clary to her dimension, working his way up to more intricate spells and grander magic. At this point, small tasks like feeding the cats were done with magic on instinct.
The soft sounds of padding footsteps made Magnus turn towards the doorway, a soft smile blooming on his face. “Alexander.”
Rubbing the back of his head sleepily, Alec gave him a grin. “Morning. You’re up early.”
“Couldn’t sleep.” The soft gurgling of the coffee machine hummed like white noise behind him. “What time is your meeting?”
“Nine thirty.” Alec glanced at the clock behind Magnus’ shoulder, squinting slightly. “Planning the museum gala should never have been put off this long. I’m certainly going to have my work cut out for me.”
“You’re the best at the job, Alec. If anyone can pull this together, it’s you.” Grabbing Alec’s monogrammed coffee mug from the cabinet, Magnus poured his coffee for him and put in a splash of cream and two small spoonfuls of sugar before offering it to him.
Alec smiled, his sleepy expression drawing up. His eyes were soft, and seemed endless as Magnus gazed into them. “I appreciate the vote of confidence.”
“Just make sure you get your shirt on right side out when you go,” Magnus teased, tugging on the tag that was prominently visible just under Alec’s neck.
“Just my luck,” he mumbled with a grin, taking a sip of his coffee. He appeared to be regarding Magnus over the top of his mug. “Are you sure there’s nothing wrong?”
“Just some bad dreams.” Magnus offered what he hoped was a smile of reassurance.
Alec lifted his hand to softly press against Magnus’ cheek, and the way Alec was studying him gave every indication that he wasn’t buying it. Nonetheless, he let it go. “Are you still free to have lunch with me today?”
“Of course.” Alec moved to lower his hand but Magnus caught it before he could do so, pressing a light kiss to his palm before letting it go, pouring himself a cup of coffee.
Alec sported a soft, warm smile as he got to work preparing breakfast, making enough scrambled eggs and bacon for the two of them. He even warmed up some maple syrup, just for Magnus, who liked to dip his bacon in it.
While they weren’t formally living together, Alec spent more time at Magnus’ than he did at his own place. He’d been living in a modest apartment with Izzy, but when she moved in with Simon, he realized that without her, it wasn’t really to his taste. And it was lonely. It was a rarity that Alec had to—regretfully—inform Magnus he’d be staying at his, and he always made up for it by bringing over a slice of cake or some left over alcohol from a meeting or event.
Whistling softly, Alec doled out their food and then swept over to the dining table.
When one of the plates slipped in his grip, starting to fall, Magnus reflexively reached for it. His magic cleared the remaining distance, cradling the porcelain delicately.
“Good catch,” Alec praised, eyebrows lifted high on his forehead as he watched the plate slowly lower to the tabletop.
“One thing to be said about you; you’re exceptionally adaptable,” Magnus praised.
Alec laughed. “I like watching you do your…” he trailed off, making frantic hand movements that were meant to be dramatic imitations of Magnus’ smooth, fluid ones.
“At first it seemed like a lot to hope that you’d find any normalcy in this,” Magnus admitted.
“‘This’ meaning you?”
He offered no response, simply looking back at Alec with an unwavering stare.
“You’re exceptional, Magnus,” Alec began softly. “Extraordinary. And the things that make you that way don’t scare me.”
Magnus dropped his chin to look at his hands and lifted two fingers, a small blue flame between them moving slow and serpentine. When he flexed his fingers, the energy moved with him, accommodating his movements while staying close like elastic stretching.
When he gave up his magic many years ago, it had been in the name of discretion. While there had been a time he embraced his magic without any hesitation, to the point of being what some would consider a touch ostentatious, he had long since lost that edge. And in that time of abstinence, there was more than just magic that he gave up. After the Shadowhunters’ war against demons, Magnus had given up the community of warlocks as well, for the most part. But now, immersing himself back into the shadow world meant reconnecting with all those he’d grown apart from. He’d begun to rebuild his clientele of warlocks recently.
He was quite out of practice when it came to balance in his life, however, so the solution to attempting a commitment to Alec was overwhelmingly unclear. After meeting at the Institute party, Magnus hadn’t expected to be pursued by Alec. He was nothing short of shocked when he walked through the door the next day, requesting a tarot reading. Alec had been very up front with his interest and intentions, and even though everything with him felt as natural as breathing, Magnus was afraid of what it would mean to allow himself to get close to a mortal. It seemed safest to continue the charade he’d kept up for so long, but as he started to free himself from the confines of locking away his magic, it became increasingly more difficult. On top of it all, though, was the fact that Magnus didn’t want to be dishonest with Alec.
As it turned out, though, things had unraveled both suddenly and unexpectedly, and in retrospect, that seemed like the best way it could have happened. While Alec was clearly caught off guard by the confession, he made it clear he was willing to take it in stride when the first question he had asked was: “So, you’re actually psychic?” Magnus had been unable to keep himself from laughing in utter relief, elatedly kissing his boyfriend full on the mouth. As time went on, Alec only became more comfortable with the whole scenario, and now, just shy of five months, it sometimes felt like Magnus’ magic was reaching out for him, seeking the familiarity.
The clatter of Alec’s utensils against his empty plate startled Magnus, drawing his attention back to his food. “How’s it?” Alec asked, mouth full.
“I think you’ve perfected your breakfast menu. I told you, you just needed to get back on the horse.” Magnus stifled a smirk behind the food on his fork.
“I thought we agreed not to talk about the pancake debacle ever again,” Alec teased, shoveling the last of his food into his mouth. “I’d better get moving or I’ll be late.” Abandoning his silverware in the sink, he left for the bathroom to get dressed.
Magnus had yet to adjust to the overwhelmingly joyous feeling of having someone to share his home with, to wake up to and go to bed with. It was more than just company, it was companionship.
Alec emerged from the bedroom and grabbed his jacket from the chair by the door. “I’ve gotta go.” He lingered in the doorway on his way out of the apartment, hip pressed against the wall. “I’ll see you in a couple hours?”
“Yeah.” Magnus gave him a smile and leaned in for a kiss which Alec was happy to return. “See you.” He squeezed Magnus’ fingers lightly before turning his back to him and heading for the stairwell.
Magnus’ shoulders sagged with the weight of his thoughts when Alec was gone. The tenuous feeling of unease was still in the back of Magnus’ mind, stuck to him like gum on a shoe. There were too many unreliable variables in play by keeping things quarantined to his mind. Pulling his phone from his pocket, he swiped his thumb across the screen thoughtfully before dialing a familiar number.
“Have you got some time to spare today?”
“Always for you,” Ragnor murmured, a shade of concern in his tone. “Is this a talk that requires a stiff drink?”
“I’m not a very good drinker anymore. How about an Irish coffee at my place?”
“King of compromise. I’ll be there in a bit.”
In the middle of brewing a fresh pot of coffee, given the one from breakfast would have been far too weak for Ragnor’s standards, there was a brisk knock on the door. Church, coiled on the top of the bookshelf, let out a grumble of discontent and jumped down, streaking off to his pillow in Magnus’ room.
Just before Magnus reached the door, it swung open, a faint silver glow fading. “You were moving a bit slow,” Ragnor shrugged, striding into the apartment.
Magnus rolled his eyes. “All this time and your patience is still as thin as ever. Coffee’ll be ready in a minute.” In all the time he had known Ragnor--more than a few lifetimes over--patience had never been on his list of virtues; but Magnus deemed himself endlessly benevolent when it came to his prickly nature because he had seen many times the softness that lay underneath.
“You’re making it by hand? It must be true, what they say about kicking habits.” Dropping down onto the far side of the couch with a satisfied grin, Ragnor appraised his surroundings. “When did you get that Monet?”
“Filched it from you a few decades ago,” Magnus said smugly, pouring them each a cup of coffee and then spilling in a generous amount of Bailey’s.
With a noncommittal hum and a wave of his hand, Ragnor replied, “I’ll nick it back next century.” Taking the proffered cup from Magnus, he nodded in thanks. “So, tell me what’s on your mind.”
Running his index finger along the handle of his mug, Magnus looked at Ragnor, eyebrows furrowed in consternation. “I’ve been having strange dreams the last few weeks. It started off just…like normal nightmares, I guess. There wasn’t anything off about them, really. But then the last few nights they’ve escalated. They’ve been more vivid, more jarring, but I still can’t remember them when I wake up. I just have this feeling that there’s something bad happening. I don’t know why I feel that way, but it’s unshakeable. I tried the cards, but…” He trailed off with a shake of his head, looking pointedly at the deck of tarot cards.
“You have no memory of anything? Not even from the early dreams?”
“They were vague when they started; just a nebulous feeling of…darkness.”
“You’ve never had anything like this before?”
“Not even when the Shadowhunters were still fixtures in our world.”
Rubbing at his jaw soberly, Ragnor was quiet for a moment. “You’re certain this is magic?”
Magnus responded by dropping his carefully constructed glamour, molten gold cat’s eyes looking determinedly back.
“There’s no need for dramatics,” Ragnor reproved. “This could be one of many things, Magnus; ranging from simply bizarre to something more serious.”
“I’d feel better if we could narrow that down.”
“I’m not sure I can, yet. I’ll do some digging, see what I can find. You should talk to Catarina—maybe she knows something I don’t—”
“—pertinent to the circumstances.” He’d known Magnus too long not to anticipate the retort. “And what about Garroway? He might have come across something like this in his studies.”
Magnus nodded slowly, a small smile on his lips. “You give the best advice, my friend.”
“I damn well should, spending centuries with that mind of yours.” He poked Magnus’ temple lightly. “I’ll be in touch when I’ve got something you can use. Until then.” Knocking back the rest of his drink, Ragnor stood and held out his hand towards the door, opening a portal. “Please don’t do anything rash.” With that, he disappeared through it, the filmy silver magic going with him.
As soon as Ragnor was gone, the peace that his presence brought seemed to dissipate. There was peace of mind in talking to someone about your problems, having someone at your side. The only way to redirect his mind was to throw himself into his work, and fortunately, he had three clients lined up consecutively for the day.
When lunch time rolled around, and his last client had left, Magnus took his time walking to the restaurant he was meeting Alec at. It was a few blocks over from his loft, and he usually enjoyed the walk. The air was crisp and cold and the leaves crunched beneath his boots.
It was a high traffic time for customers, the restaurant packed people on their lunch break, chatting with coworkers or friends. It was the perfect atmosphere for comfort and conversation, between the warm color scheme of the interior design, the cushy booths, and the soft instrumental music playing from the speakers on the wall.
Alec was already waiting for him at their usual table in the back corner when he arrived, his face breaking into a wide, warm grin. He stood quickly, sliding his hand into the pocket of Magnus’ jacket to pull him close. “Hey.” Alec’s voice was deep and rich, hushed to keep the exchange exclusively between them.
After a quick hello kiss, they both took their seats, unfolding their napkins.
“How was the meeting?”
“Ugh,” Alec groaned, waving a hand dismissively. “I don’t even want to talk about it. The whole thing is shaping up to be an unmitigated disaster. If I somehow manage to salvage it, it will be nothing short of a miracle.”
“I happen to believe in miracles,” Magnus offered, flagging down a waitress.
After they’d ordered, Alec leaned across the table, pushing aside their drinks. “How was your morning?”
“I had a couple clients come by. Not exactly your typical reading, though.”
“Oh? I’m intrigued.” Resting his chin in hands, Alec listened attentively as Magnus relayed his story about a rogue candle flame, a touch of magic, and a misleading tarot card that left him laughing so hard he had tears running down his cheeks by the end.
“Glad to have entertained you,” Magnus tried to say wryly, though Alec’s delight was infectious and he was actively hiding a smile behind his glass of water. “I doubt you would have been laughing if it had been your —”Alec’s hand resting on top of his abruptly cut him off.
“I’m sorry your morning was so taxing,” he composed himself enough to say before lapsing back into a fit of laughter.
After their food was delivered, there were a few moments of silence between them as they ate. It was such a simple pleasure for Magnus, an easy silence among familiar company underneath the shade of the trees as the warmth from the sun soaked into his skin. When Alec’s knee brushed his, Magnus smiled to himself. There was so much contentment in their little bubble, where things were simple and easy.
“Should we get dessert?” Alec asked, fingering the small menu propped up on the condiments tray. Magnus could read him like a book—Alec had an undeniable sweet tooth, and when paired with his penchant for indulgence, it came as no surprise.
They ordered a large slice of chocolate cake that they shared between them as they finished off their coffees. A small glob of icing stuck to Magnus’ knuckles, and upon noticing it, Alec took his hand and lifted his fingers to his mouth, purposefully sucking them clean with a smile. “Couldn’t let it go to waste,” he explained, kissing the open palm of Magnus’ hand before releasing him.
“It reminds me of Paris,” Magnus mused, picking at little stray crumbs of cake with his fork. “The pastries and baked goods are exceptional there. You’d love it.”
“When did you go to Paris?” Alec’s interest appeared to be piqued, a look of genuine curiosity on his face as he leaned back and looked at Magnus.
“I lived there for a while, many years ago,” Magnus replied with a distant smile. His tone had gone slightly wistful. He reached across the table for Alec’s hand, rubbing his thumb across his knuckles lazily. “Ragnor was there for work and I wanted a change of pace. The city was beautiful, and there were so many places to see.”
“What was your favorite?” Alec’s eyes shone with childlike fascination, pure and unadulterated.
“It all depends on what you’re in the mood for,” Magnus replied. “Notre Dame Cathedral is gorgeous, Montmartre is rich with history—with the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and Square of Tertre, the Palace of Versailles and especially the gardens are lovely.”
“I’m jealous. You’ve seen the world a hundred times over.” Alec looked up at him with a lighthearted pout on his face. Magnus found himself wishing he could take Alec on a thousand adventures, to give him the kind of joy and excitement that would light up his eyes. To give him that kind of happiness would be worth more than anything. “What’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen?”
“I could never choose just one. Santorini was heaven. Barcelona was exquisite as well.” Leaving behind a generous tip, Magnus stood and offered his hand to Alec who took it. “Have you ever travelled?”
“No, no, we’re not done talking about you,” Alec protested, tugging on Magnus’ hand. “I’ve only got twenty three years to reflect on, you’ve got...more.”
“Approximately four centuries,” Magnus supplied cautiously. There were some specificities he wasn’t in the habit of sharing, even with Catarina and Ragnor. Alec’s heart had touched his in a way very few ever had in his life, and what he could offer, he wanted to. “I didn’t cultivate an interest in new things until I’d lived a while, though. I like comfort, familiarity. I like having a home, a place in the world for myself that’s safe, simple. I didn’t venture out of the country very often until later in life. But since I’ve come around to the idea of willingly seeking out change, I’ve seen most of the world, yes.”
“How many places have you lived?” Alec looked over at him, eyes narrowed slightly against the breeze blowing against them.
“Not that many. Six permanent residences.” Magnus shrugged. “Most of them were either here in America or Europe. Other than where I was born.”
“Where’s that?” Alec reached up to brush his windswept hair off his forehead.
“When I lived there, it was still the Dutch East Indies. Batavia,” Magnus clarified.
Alec hummed thoughtfully, and though Magnus felt like he was walking a fine line, he couldn’t help but be endeared by his curiosity.
The wind picked up, tousseling their hair and ruffling their jackets, and they both pressed closer to one another as they braved the cold breeze.
“Which place had the nicest people?” Alec’s eyes were on his feet, watching the sidewalk glide by below him. His fingers pressed into the dips between Magnus’ knuckles, rubbing at the delicate skin absently.
“That I really couldn’t say,” Magnus replied, looking over at Alec with a fond smile. “I’ve found it to be true that wherever you go, there will always be good and bad. You just have to seek your path.”
“You talk like a psychic sometimes, you know,” Alec teased, bumping Magnus’ shoulder with his own.
“I’m a wise old hermit; I’m entitled to.”
As they rounded the corner, arriving just outside Alec’s office building, Magnus slowed them to a stop. “This is where I get off. Will I see you tonight?”
“Of course. I should be home in time for dinner; I can cook for us.” Alec had a self satisfied grin on his face at the suggestion.
“Mm, I can think of nothing better,” Magnus hummed, resting his hand against Alec’s chest. The pulse beneath his fingertips was a pleasant counterpoint to his own.
“You sure know how to make a guy feel special,” Alec grinned, inclining his head towards Magnus for the kind of kiss that started off with the intention of a casual brush but instead turned into a more tender drag, punctuated by a soft scrape of teeth.
After parting ways, Magnus slipped into an alleyway off the main street to open a portal. It still wore him down more than it used to to harness that kind of magic instantaneously, but with every attempt, it got easier. Stepping through it, he came out just outside Luke’s bookstore.
In all his time practicing magic and studying the preternatural, he’d never done much research on dreams. While there were plenty of cultures that believed they were highly significant, Magnus never really had. There were ghosts in his past, just like anyone else, and sometimes he couldn’t fight them off. But this was something that sent chills down his spine and an ache in his bones. Luke’s eclectic collection seemed like a good place to start, especially when he had so little to go on.
The small bell above the door jingled when he pushed through it, and Luke looked up from where he was sitting behind the counter with a large volume in his lap. “Magnus!” His smile was warm and friendly. “Good to see you.”
“You too. How’s business?” Magnus reached across it to shake his free hand.
“Not bad, not bad.” Luke gave his hand a friendly squeeze before letting go. “I’ve got some help now, too. She’s in the back right now, unpacking some boxes but you might see her around. Can I help you find anything?”
“Lore on dreams.”
Luke quirked up an eyebrow in curiosity but asked no questions, taking off his glasses. “Yeah, we’ve got some things. Follow me.”
They meandered through rows of shelves and carefully arranged stacks of books, moving towards the back where the more obscure reference materials were kept. There was a long mahogany table with a few large, old chairs around it that Luke gestured for Magnus to sit at while he went to the left wall to browse a few rows.
“Is there a specific type of dream lore you’re looking for?” Luke asked, looking over his shoulder at Magnus. “Or just whatever I’ve got here?”
“Whatever you’ve got.” Magnus shrugged off his jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his sweater, moving aside the heavy volumes left behind on the table from previous customers.
“Sorry, I was just getting to those,” a warm voice said from behind one of the book piles in the hall in front of him. A young woman stood up from where she was crouched, gathering books that had been dropped on the floor, offering a smile.
“This is my assistant I was telling you about.” Luke piled a number of old, weathered books in all sizes in front of Magnus with a thud. “Maia, this is Magnus Bane.”
“ The Magnus Bane, who helped you open the shop? Nice to meet you.” The thin gold bracelets on her wrist jingled as she shook Magnus’ hand.
“You too,” Magnus replied, standing up to help her load things on the cart she was pulling behind.
“Oh, don’t worry about that.” Waving her hand dismissively, Maia scooped up the discarded books.
“Here’s a good start for you, Magnus,” Luke said, drawing his attention back with his hand resting on the top of the stack. “If you need any more, just ask.”
“Thank you, Luke. I appreciate it.”
Luke’s interest seemed to be piqued by the whole scenario, but he said nothing, leaving the room with a nod. Magnus and Maia were the only two left in the room.
“Don’t mind me,” she said, continuing with her cart towards the front of the shop.
Once Magnus was by himself, he reached for the first book on the stack and skimmed the table of contents.
He wasn’t really sure what he was looking for, and had no anticipated answer in mind; he was more in search of a direction to walk in. There seemed little room for doubt that this was an ordeal related to the realm of magic. It was clearly a warning; that Magnus was sure of. There was something dark and destructive coming. But while he was undoubtedly feeling the effects of the magic that existed around him connecting with the same energy that fizzed in his blood, he was unsure what this thing was. He’d felt what was best described as disturbances before, when the Shadow World was much more prevalent and there were threats of greater darkness hidden among them, but he’d never been affected like this. Never felt a foreboding of this magnitude.
The ancient cultures preserved in the delicate, yellowing pages almost all spoke of the importance of the gods and goddesses in relation to one’s dreams. Ancient Babylon documented belief in a goddess who gave good dreams to her people as a means to protect them from the demons who tried to saddle them with bad ones. The Egyptians believed the gods appeared in their dreams to either demand an act of piety, warn of illness or bestow revelations, or as a result of a ritual. The gods of ancient Greece were responsible for sending either true dreams-those which manifested in life-which entered through the Gate of Horn or false dreams-those which tricked the recipient-which entered through the Gates of Ivory. Additionally, they fostered a belief that dreams were ways in which a problem in one’s life was made clear when interpreted by a priest who could then divine the cure.
With a muted thump , Magnus shut the last book in the first pile and shoved it away from himself with a sigh. The same questions still remained, and his eyes were stinging with the dust kicked up from rustling the pages. He scrubbed a hand through his hair, tugging a bit roughly at the ends, then glanced down at his watch. Alec would be off work soon, so he wouldn’t have to be alone with his thoughts for too long if he went home now.
His chair scraped as he pushed it back from the table and stood, slipping on his coat. Neatly restacking the books, he gave them one last look before weaving through the shelves to get to the front counter. “Thanks for the help, Luke.”
He looked up from the computer screen he had previously been squinting at upon being addressed. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
Magnus pursed his lips, hands stuffed into his pockets as he shrugged.
“I’ll keep an eye out for you,” Luke promised, offering look of reassurance.
Magnus gave him a nod and a tired smile as he pushed open the door.
The smell of oncoming rain permeated the air, and the cool breeze that swept across his cheek was damp. It reminded him of when he was a much younger warlock, learning how to use the atmosphere to his advantage. Storms fed into his magic as it flared inside his body, primal power seeking out its equal. He would stand out in the middle of some of the worst storms, and feel the surge of energy that created a feedback loop with what was already humming beneath his skin. In those times, he felt more powerful than anything he could imagine. Now, however, he was fostering the flame he’d only recently rekindled, and that kind of control and overflowing sensation of bursting at the seams with something great was simply an aftertaste.
He wasn’t home alone for very long when Alec arrived, arms full of grocery bags that Church was eyeing conspiratorially from his perch.
“Now I feel bad you went out and bought a bunch of stuff,” Magnus complained, giving him a kiss of greeting. “I thought you were just going to use what was in the house.”
“I had a bit of inspiration and needing a few things.” With a shrug, Alec began to unpack the groceries on the kitchen counter. “How was the rest of your day?”
“Dropped by Luke Garroway’s. How about you? How are the turbulent waters of event planning?” Magnus asked, one eyebrow quirked playfully.
“Don’t joke,” Alec groaned teasingly.
They were quiet as they ate their meal, both hungry and worn out from the day. Sam Cooke was crooning softly in the background, the vinyl record revolving slowly on the turntable.
After the dishes were taken care of thanks to a casual flick of Magnus’ fingers, they lounged on the couch, sated. Magnus had one hand running absently up and down Alec’s forearm as he watched Alec’s rolling a quarter absently between his fingers and over the tops of his knuckles.
“You’re quiet tonight,” Alec pointed out, his head pillowed in Magnus’ lap.
“Am I? I’m sorry.” Magnus absently traced a blueish-green vein that trailed down the inside of Alec’s wrist, standing out against his pale skin.
“Don’t be sorry,” Alec was quick to say. “I just wondered if there was something bothering you.”
“I’ll be fine.” Leaning over to kiss Alec’s forehead, Magnus’ hair tickled the bridge of Alec’s nose, causing him to laugh.
They lapsed back into indolent silence, content to simply share each other’s space. Magnus lost himself in the motion of Alec’s fingers and the steady rhythm they kept up.
“My brand of magic,” Alec explained after noticing that he’d caught his attention. “I always liked magic tricks; I liked knowing how they worked.”
“Little Alexander, the tenacious child out to expose magicians one at a time.”
“Yeah, more or less.” The movements of his fingers were mesmerizing; fluid and smooth.
With a grin, Magnus fluttered his fingers towards the ceiling, allowing swirls of blue to disperse into a night sky.
Alec tilted his chin up to look, warm hazel eyes going wide with wonder. The quarter slipped from between his fingers, his attention diverted.
“This was my first magic trick when I was a child. I loved the night sky, and so I would lay in bed and look up at the ceiling and make my own. I made my own stars, and named them myself.” Small, bright stars blazed to life. “ Langgeng .” Magnus lifted a finger to point at one. “ Gedhe . Kuwat . Ayu . Eternal. Great. Strong. Beautiful.”
“It’s amazing,” Alec whispered, the soft glow of magic causing his eyelashes to cast shadows on his cheekbones.
“It kept me company, all these years. No matter where I went, this was something I could always have with me.” Magnus had never shown anyone before. He always kept it tucked away unless he was feeling particularly unanchored. It was something that had always belonged to him.
Alec reached back for Magnus’ face, pulling him in for a kiss, and when their lips touched, a shooting star blazed above them. Besok .
The sunlight that bathed the bed sheets warmed them and made it nearly impossible for Alec to entertain the idea of getting out of bed. He stretched languidly, arms tossed over his head. Cracking open one eye, he turned towards the other side of the bed, a smile on his face to greet his boyfriend, only to find it was empty. With a groan, Alec rolled over into Magnus’ space, feeling it was already cool, before getting to his feet.
He pulled a clean cotton t-shirt from the drawer and pulled it over his head as he made his way out the bedroom door. The soft sounds of movements in the main room told him that Magnus was already up to something.
Chairman Meow was lazily stretched out on the couch, spotting Alec immediately. He jumped down and made his way to Alec, rubbing against his ankles.
Magnus turned at the change in the Chairman’s attention and smiled brightly at Alec. Alec still had a hard time believing that smile was intended for only him. It was warm enough to send a pleasant shiver down his spine, and make his blood feel fizzy like soda. “Good morning, Alexander.”
“A very good morning,” Alec replied, making his way over to the high-top table. “What’s that?” He peered over Magnus’ shoulder tentatively, looking down at the viscous contents being stirred in the basin.
“A bit of practice. I used to be pretty proficient with potions but it’s been awhile. I’ve been considering perhaps expanding my business, now that my magic is no longer dormant. There’s more I can do for people, if I can rekindle the flame.”
Alec gave the potion a cautious sniff and smiled slightly at the sweet smell wafting from it, kind of like honeysuckle. He pressed a sleepy kiss to the exposed skin of Magnus’ shoulder before turning his attention towards the shelf of reorganized and restocked ingredients. “When did you get all this stuff?”
“Up early again?” Alec inquired, picking through the odd artifacts and jars on the bookshelf that he had previously thought were just for show when he’d first visited Magnus’ apartment. He carefully poked through a few jars, insatiably curious.
“Yeah,” Magnus replied, going quiet as the gentle bubbling from the bowl got louder.
Alec watched him for a moment, the way his steady hands seemed to have a slight tremor to them, but his expression seemed set and unfazed, so he returned his attention to the shelves. Even though the jars could be full of magic with potentially dangerous side effects, especially for a human, he knew Magnus would surely never let anything hurt him. Magnus seemed perfectly comfortable with his snooping, so he continued. “This is some weird stuff,” he mused, peering down into something dark and mushy. “At least there aren’t any cobwebs.”
“I’m hurt, Alexander,” Magnus said with a tone of faux offense, coming up behind him. “Stereotypes aren’t founded in fact.”
Gingerly picking up a tiny, withered thing that looked like some kind of shriveled bean between his fingers, he turned around and waved it at Magnus theatrically. “This looks more like what I was expecting.”
Rolling his eyes, Magnus shoved him lightly. “Very funny. I don’t use spiders.”
Alec gagged in revulsion, dropping the dead spider to the floor and yelling “Gross gross gross!”
Magnus’ eyes went wide, lips parting slightly.“Oh, you weren’t…?”
“No! I hate spiders!” Alec said indignantly. He felt like his skin was crawling as he looked down at his hands.
“I guess it’s been awhile since I’ve cleaned out some of these older jars.” From the look on his face, it appeared that Magnus was stifling a smile as he rubbed Alec’s arm in what was likely meant to be a comforting gesture.
“It’s not funny!” Alec insisted. “Stop laughing at me.”
“I would never,” Magnus managed to get out with a straight face, though his voice wavered with how hard he was trying to suppress his tone.
“You are right now!” Alec accused, crossing his arms.
“Would a kiss make you feel better?” Magnus offered, pulling Alec by the hands to the couch, pushing him back onto the pillows.
“Why don’t you try and I’ll let you know?” Alec couldn’t help the smile that played at the corners of his mouth, and he hooked his fingers through the belt loops of Magnus’ pants to pull him in. The kiss lasted for only a second, before Magnus was pulling back just enough to speak.
“Happy birthday, by the way,” he murmured against Alec’s lips.
“Thank you.” Magnus started to pull back and Alec chased his mouth with a soft groan of displeasure. “What?”
“We can’t afford for you to be late to work today,” he reproved, pressing a finger to Alec’s lips. “We have a schedule.”
“Mm,” Alec agreed, leaning his head against the back of the couch contentedly. “I’ve been looking forward to it.”
“So, no distractions,” Magnus said with finality.
“I hate being responsible,” Alec sighed gustily, looking at Magnus out of the corner of his eye playfully.
“Well, how about we sweeten the pot with a nice breakfast?” With a wave of his hand over the coffee table, a serving dish with a warm coffee cake that smelled of cinnamon appeared, surrounded by smaller plates of fruit and cream, and two large mugs of coffee. “A special treat seems to be in order.”
“You know me so well,” Alec praised.
Magnus smiled, drawing Alec close with a finger under his chin and kissed the tip of his nose. Turning his attention to the spread before them, he sliced up the cake and topped both pieces with fruit and cream.
There was a special kind of tenderness Alec felt at being so indulged by someone who wanted to. It was the first time he’d ever felt so treasured by someone. He’d never been in love, though he had loved someone once before. It was the kind of love one experiences early on, as the heart first develops its ability to make room for someone else. It wasn’t unconditional or enduring, but it was real while it lasted, and Alec had held that love close to his heart for a long time. But Magnus eclipsed it all.
“So you had more of those dreams last night? The nightmares? I’m assuming that’s why you were up early.”
Magnus nodded, eyes slightly averted, offering Alec his plate.
“How many nights has it been now?” Alec didn’t want to pry or crowd Magnus, but it was clear that it was more than a bad day that was causing Magnus to not act like himself. He would rather take the chance of being wrong and owe Magnus an apology than let it go on unaddressed any longer.
The way Magnus’ shoulders tightened slightly wasn’t lost on Alec. “A few.”
“Why didn’t you wake me up?”
“There wasn’t anything you could do. Besides, you look so peaceful when you sleep.” Magnus took a sip of his coffee then set it back down on the coffee table next to Alec’s. With his legs pulled up on the couch, he rested his plate in his lap.
“You watch me sleep?” Alec asked, eyebrows raised at Magnus goadingly.
“Your snoring wakes me up,” Magnus replied simply.
“I do not snore.” Alec set his fork down with an indignant clink . “I would know if I snored.”
“It’s okay; it’s kind of cute.” Leaning his head back and letting his eyelids flutter closed, Magnus relaxed his mouth and made a soft snoring noise.
Plucking a strawberry from his plate, Alec placed it between Magnus’ lips to muffle the noises he was making. “That’s enough of that.”
Magnus laughed, pulling the fruit into his mouth and licking the juice from his lips.
As soon as breakfast was over, Alec insisted on cleaning the dishes before he went to take a shower.
Most of his birthdays were spent waking up alone, to a text from each of his siblings and in a hurry to get to work. After he was off the clock, he’d usually get drunk with Izzy and do something extravagant and indulgent, then finish the night off by meeting up afterwards with Simon, Clary, and Jace for one more round of drinks. He’d never complain about the past, but this year just felt undeniably different and Magnus was the common denominator.
A soft knock on the bathroom door preceded Magnus sticking his head in. “You’re running a bit behind schedule.”
“Well, as I’m already late…” Alec leaned around the edge of the shower door. “How about joining me?”
“You’re incorrigible. And I like it a bit too much.” Magnus shook his head with an amused smirk before dropping his button up shirt to the floor, followed by his pants. “Remind me again why I’m enabling you?” he asked, dipping his head under the hot spray.
“Because it’s my birthday and I asked nicely.” Alec punctuated his factual statement with a smug smile.
“This soft spot I have for you will be the death of me,” Magnus relented.
“Rest in peace,” Alec hummed, nosing at the skin behind Magnus’ ear with a contented hum. He had discovered that it was his favorite place to press kisses. Not only because it was soft and warm, but because Magnus seemed particularly fond of it, if the way he would reach for Alec, fingers tangling in his hair to hold him closer, was any indication.
Magnus laughed, letting him go in favor of reaching for the shampoo. “Turn around, handsome.”
The second Magnus’ fingers started massaging his scalp, Alec let out an involuntary moan of pleasure. Magnus always knew just how to touch him, how to send that bolt of electricity shooting through his bloodstream.
Magnus hummed encouragingly, pressing his front flush to Alec’s back.
“Now who’s getting carried away?” Alec managed to say, laughing a bit breathlessly.
“I could stop if you want,” Magnus taunted, biting Alec’s earlobe softly.
“Don’t,” Alec groaned, pushing back against him.
They took a little detour to cleaning up that began with Alec on his knees, kissing his way down Magnus’ torso, and ended with them pressed together against the shower wall, Alec breathing heavily against Magnus’ collarbone, forehead pressed to his shoulder.
Leaving Magnus was hard, especially after the morning they’d had together, but he knew how important their evening plans were to Magnus so he couldn’t, in good conscience, be too late for work.
As soon as he walked into the office, he was greeted by the receptionist who wished him a happy birthday, and told him that his sister had left a package on his desk. A large black gift bag sitting next to his computer with a silver balloon tied to the handle was visible the second he turned the corner.
Shaking his head affectionately, he pulled out his phone and dialed Izzy’s number.
She picked up after the second ring.“Happy birthday!”
“Thanks, Iz. You know you didn’t have to do all this.”
“Have you opened it yet?” She asked instead.
“No, I just got in.” Alec shifted his phone to the other ear, wedging it against his shoulder to free up his hands.
“Well, then don’t say that until you see what I got you,” Isabelle said smugly.
With his free hand, Alec pawed the tissue paper out of the way and pulled out the large box inside. Underneath the lid and another layer of tissue paper was a camera bag with tickets wedged into the back pocket. “Iz, you didn’t…”
“Oh, but I did!” she replied gleefully. “Three days in Hawaii for you and Magnus, and a new camera to document it all.”
“This is too much; you shouldn’t have spent this kind of money on me.” Running his finger along the sharp edge of the ticket paper, Alec continued to shake his head.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I wanted to do something nice for you,” she replied dismissively
“Have I told you I love you?”
“Mm, you can say it anyway. Nothing’s stopping you.” The smile was evident in her voice. “I can see how happy Magnus makes you, Alec.”
“Will I still be seeing you tonight?” he asked, hand on the camera bag protectively.
“Of course! We can’t break with tradition now! Straight on to drinks after work?”
“No, it’ll have to be tonight. Magnus has had dinner planned for almost a month.” That bubbly feeling of happiness that felt like sunlight radiating through his entire body engulfed him, and he found himself smiling.
“How about you just call me tonight?”
“It’s a plan.”
After another minute of well wishes and doting from Isabelle, they hung up. Alec reached into the camera bag and carefully pulled the camera out. He’d never had a nice camera like this before, though he’d had his eye on one in the last few years. If Magnus could take him around the world, he could get a picture of him in front of every sunrise and sunset, illuminated by skies of all different shades of orange, pink, red and purple.
Throughout the day, he got texts from Simon, Clary, and Jace wishing him a happy birthday, and after lunch, Magnus sent him a picture of Chairman Meow and Church batting at the ribbon on a wrapped gift with a tag that read “To Alexander”.
The closer it got to six o’clock, the harder it was for Alec to keep his mind on his work. His thoughts were running away from him, towards Magnus. He’d never been so infatuated with someone before--never yearned for every second he could get with them, never craved the feeling that they were the only two people in the world.
The whole way to Magnus’ apartment, Alec felt a giddiness building in his chest that he had never felt before, even with his first childhood crush. Life back then was simple and feelings were black and white. He excitedly twisted the ring on his index finger, watching the buildings go by in a blur.
When he pushed the front door open, he was met with a dark apartment.
There wasn’t even the soft patter of the cats coming to greet him. Reaching for the lightswitch next to the bookcase, he flipped it on, and was taken aback by his surroundings. There were a few new tables set up, one lined with food and drinks, another with a small pile of presents neatly stacked. Scattered around were a few balloons and streamers that matched the black and silver color scheme of his gift from Isabelle.
“Surprise!” All the guests were standing around the tables, smiling at him, and Magnus was the one closest to the door, next to the coffee table.
“Magnus… You guys… Thank you.” Alec set his things on the chair and went to Magnus to give him an appreciative kiss. “You planned all of this?”
“Do you like it? I know this isn’t exactly my area of expertise but--”
Alec cut him off with an enthusiastic kiss, savoring the sweet taste of the drink on his lips. “It’s wonderful.”
“Happy birthday,” Magnus whispered in his ear, cradling his glass of champagne between their bodies.
“I helped a little, you know.” Isabelle was now standing next to him, grinning. “But please don’t kiss me too.”
Alec laughed and grabbed her face, giving her a noisy kiss on the cheek. “Thank you, Iz.”
“You must be hungry, come on.” Magnus towed him over to the food, and the room relaxed into a low hum of conversation.
Jace intercepted him, clapping him on the shoulder and pulling him into a hug. “You’re getting old, you know.”
“You’re not far behind,” Alec shot back, shoving him back lightly.
“Who has to know, right?” Jace said, and Alec snorted as he began to stack the food onto his dish.
Once his plate was full, Alec made his way around the room, snacking as he went, greeting all of his guests.
He was just talking to Clary about a design change for an event logo when Magnus leaned over the kitchen counter and crooked a finger at him.
With his eyes on Magnus, Alec murmured, “Excuse me for a second,” drawn like a magnet to his side.
“I have a present for you,” Magnus said once Alec was within earshot. He pulled him in close so that his lips were at his ear. Even though the room was just barely loud enough to warrant such a move, Alec enjoyed it far too much to point that out. “Use it responsibly.”
Eyebrows raised, Alec nodded. His interest was piqued.
Magnus produced a neatly wrapped gift from a small wave of magic in his palms, hidden from the guests by the way his back was turned, and handed it over.
It was heavy, and felt fragile, made of something that could shatter. It seemed to be a bit of an odd shape as well. Carefully freeing it from the wrapping, Alec realized it was a bottle of whiskey. He didn’t recognize the brand name printed on the top of the label, but it was clear it was costly. “Whoa.”
“There was a time when whiskey was almost always in my hand--on the rocks was for heartbreak, straight up was for a good time.” Running his finger down the base of the bottle, he smiled to himself. “Maybe you’ll like it too.” After a moment’s pause, he shook his head slightly. “You’d better get back to the party. I’ve monopolized the guest of honor too long.”
Lifting Magnus’ hand to his lips, Alec pressed a kiss to his knuckles. “Thank you, Magnus.”
“You’re very welcome. Oh, and one more thing.” Magnus snapped his fingers and a glass was suddenly nestled in Alec’s palm. “You’re far too sober.”
Alec rolled his eyes affectionately, slipping back into the closest crowd of people.
For a few hours, he talked with his friends and family, enveloped in so much kindness and love. And it seemed to all stem back to Magnus, who arranged the party and invited the guests and provided the space. Every now and then, his eyes would wander until he caught a glimpse of him.
“Hey, big brother.”
Glancing over at his sister with a smile, Alec raised his glass of gin and tonic at her in greeting.
“Glad you could make it,” she teased, bumping against him with her shoulder. “It’s pretty damn hard to throw an amazing party for someone who does that for a living, you know. Magnus should be commended for all this; I don’t know how he managed to pull it off. Pretty spectacular, huh? And he’s not even half as ostentatious as you.”
Looking adoringly over at Magnus who was currently leaning against the kitchen island talking to Simon, Alec nodded.
The drastic change in Izzy’s tone caught his attention, and he turned to look back at her. “Yeah?”
“I’m not trying to pry, and you know I would never want to overstep, but… is Magnus all right?”
“What do you mean?” Alec leaned closer to her, his voice dropping below the hum of conversation around them.
“I’m sorry, I’m not trying to stick my nose in your business.” Izzy bit her lip shyly, looking down into her glass to avoid the gaze of her brother.
“Watching him tonight, he just looks so…worn out.”
Alec sighed, fingers pressing against the bridge of his nose. A watered down truth was better than a bold faced lie, but it still caused him discomfort. “He hasn’t been sleeping well the last few nights; he’s been having these nightmares that wake him up and he can’t get back to sleep.”
“That doesn’t sound good.” Isabelle’s expression was drawn in concern, eyebrows furrowed just below the top of the frame of her glasses. “Maybe he should talk to someone?”
“Maybe. I thought—I hoped it would just go away with time but it seems like it’s almost getting worse,” Alec admitted.
“I’m sorry. If there’s somehow something I can do, I’m always here for you. And Magnus.”
“I know,” Alec grinned, wrapping his arm around his sister’s slim shoulders and planting a kiss on the top of her head. “Thanks, Iz.”
She scrunched her shoulders with a giggle, holding onto the hand that was dangling off her left shoulder. “Anytime.” After a gentle squeeze, she extracted herself from Alec’s hold and set down her empty glass. “I hate to say it, but Simon and I are going to have to head out. I’ve got an early day tomorrow and he’s got a gig.”
“Of course. Thanks for stopping by.”
“I love you,” she murmured warmly, kissing him on the cheek. With that, she turned and began weaving through the clusters of people to get to the kitchen.
Alec followed after a moment of hesitation, seeking out Magnus. Simon was just saying his goodbyes when he joined them, putting a hand on the small of Magnus’ back in greeting.
“I was wondering where you got off to,” Magnus smiled at him. It didn’t appear to be forced, but it was duller than usual. Alec also noticed that there were new dark circles under his eyes.
“Distracted by the open bar,” Alec replied, eyes lingering on Magnus for a moment.
“Alec,” Simon interrupted, one hand extended towards him. “Happy birthday. Good to catch up.”
“Definitely. Thanks for coming.”
Simon gave him a nod then looked at Isabelle. “You got your coat, sweet?”
“It’s on the rack by the door.” She wrapped her arm around his waist, leaning on him, and blushed happily when he pulled her closer with an arm around her shoulders.
“Well, then it looks like we’re all set. Have a good rest of your night, guys. Magnus, good seeing you.” Simon grinned toothily at him.
“You as well.” Even the tone of Magnus’ voice was tired, Alec noticed. His grip reflexively tightened on him, somehow comforted by close proximity.
Isabelle and Simon’s departure seemed to trigger the others, and in small herds, people dispersed after wishing Alec a happy birthday and offering a general goodbye to Magnus. Luke was the last to leave, lingering to catch Magnus alone.
“Magnus, could I have a word?” he asked in a low voice, leaning in towards him discreetly.
With a silent nod, Magnus followed him to the front door where they spoke in hushed tones that Alec was not meant to hear. He would have felt bad eavesdropping, but given Magnus’ circumstances, he was markedly curious.
They didn’t talk long, and as soon as Luke slipped out the door, Magnus began busying himself with cleaning up the discarded plates and cups.
“Everything okay?” Alec’s attempt at nonchalance sounded artificial to his own ears and he immediately regretted opting for that tactic.
“Yeah,” Magnus said simply. The warmth that usually softened his expression wasn’t quite there.
“You can talk to me, Magnus, if there’s something on your mind,” Alec continued carefully. “I won’t even say anything if you don’t want me to. I can just listen, be there for you, you know?”
Magnus stopped cleaning for a moment, straightening up. “I do know. Thank you.” He was quiet for a moment. “Did you know,” he continued, “that you have one more birthday present left to open?” With a wink, he turned on his heel and moved towards the shelf in the corner, opening a small box to extract a tiny object carefully wrapped in tissue paper. “I’ve had this a long time but I think it’s high time it went to you. I never did it justice.” He hesitated for only a moment before offering the petite bundle to Alec.
“You didn’t have to do this. You threw me a party and got me a bottle of whiskey that probably costs more three month’s rent on my apartment!”
“Well this didn’t cost me much, considering the lack of inflation at the time of purchase,” Magnus said with a grin, crossing his arms. “Open it. Please.”
Carefully unfolding the paper eventually revealed a slight, golden rose twisted into the shape of a ring. The petals were intricately carved, and there were small notches made to look like thorns on the stem. “It’s beautiful,” Alec murmured, running his finger around it before picking it up gingerly. It fit perfectly on the ring finger of his right hand.
“I’m glad you like it.”
“I love it,” Alec corrected, stepping closer. “Thank you, Magnus.”
“Happy birthday.” Magnus ran his hand lightly up and down Alec’s forearm affectionately. “So, I propose we clean everything up, then open a bottle of champagne and do some celebrating of our own.”
“You’re full of good ideas,” Alec laughed.
“It’s so nice to be appreciated.” Magnus picked up the tray of glasses he had finished loading with a soft clink and disappeared into the kitchen.
As soon as all the furniture was rearranged and every plate and cup had been put in the sink or thrown in the trash, they curled up on the couch with the champagne.
“Tell me the truth: was the party really a surprise?” Magnus asked, taking a swig from the bottle before passing it back to Alec.
“Shockingly, yes.” he admitted. “No one spilled the beans early.”
“Simon mentioned that he came close but was quick to assure me he hadn’t. I couldn’t decide if I believed him, though,” Magnus tacked on. “So I thought I’d ask.”
Alec chuckled, a bit of alcohol dribbling from his mouth and down his chin. “He’s learning from the best secret keepers around now that he’s a part of the Lightwood family.”
“We learned young.” Alec hesitated for a moment, teetering on the edge of spilling open and laying bare everything he usually kept locked away. It would have been easy to blame on his blood alcohol level, the effervescent lightness of champagne, but deep down he knew it was simply Magnus. “My dad had an affair when I was a kid. Izzy found out somehow, and she got scared. She kept it to herself for months and figured it wasn’t her secret to tell, but eventually she told Jace and I. Max was too young at the time to know any better.”
Magnus hummed sympathetically, rubbing his thumb across Alec’s knuckles softly.
“When they filed for divorce, my mother sat us down and told us that they were separating because my father was in love with someone else. We never told her, and she never let on, but I think somehow she just…knew. When I got older, I realized she had known pretty much all along that he was unfaithful. I wouldn’t be surprised if she also knew we’d found out.”
“That’s horrible,” Magnus murmured.
“Lightwoods don’t let emotions reign,” Alec explained, dropping the pitch of his voice in imitation of his father’s stern, reproving tone.
“That’s a dangerous lesson to teach a child,” Magnus said disdainfully.
“Yeah, and when coupled with an overbearing sense of duty and expectation, that doesn’t really set you up for success. Believe me when I say they didn’t plan for their first born son to be a gay event planner.”
Magnus snorted at that, covering his mouth immediately. “I’m sorry.”
Waving his hand dismissively, Alec continued, “It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, though. My father was gone by the time I started high school, and my mom… She didn’t really understand how to accept it, at first, but she’s decided she wants to be a part of my life so she’s choosing to learn.”
“I’m glad you told me,” Magnus said gently.
“I didn’t really plan to,” Alec admitted, “but something about you just makes everything spill out before I can stop it.”
“That’s probably because you’re drunk,” Magnus pointed out, taking the bottle from Alec to take another swig. “But I like knowing what’s going on in there.” Magnus reiterated his statement with a soft kiss pressed smack in the middle of Alec’s forehead.
“What about you? You haven’t mentioned your family.” Magnus had amassed so much history, and Alec wanted to know it all. It was just difficult to know where to start.
“I haven’t got one,” Magnus replied, sobering abruptly. “Not for a long time.”
“How long?” Alec kept his tone gentle, though he was unsure of whether it was more appropriate to be sympathetic or casual.
“My mother died when I was a child. My father was what you’d call absent.” Magnus shrugged, but Alec knew him well enough to know that while he had faced the loss, he hadn’t evaded the pain.
Alec reached for his fingers, sliding his own into the spaces between them. “No siblings?”
Magnus shook his head. “Two old friends are the closest thing I have. I’ve known them nearly all my life, and we’ve become a bit of a trio of sorts.”
“Are they like you?”
“Catarina is a doctor; she works mostly in hospitals, where she can put to use her knowledge of magic and medicine. Ragnor is an art collector; he spends most of his time traveling—he’s more on the nomadic end of the spectrum of warlocks.”
“I’d like to meet them sometime,” Alec hedged.
Magnus leaned back, head pressed to Alec’s chest, and kissed the underside of his jaw. “I’d like that too. They’d love you.”
“Really?” While Alec would never even entertain the thought that Magnus would surround himself with people who were hateful or exclusionary, it was reasonable to him that they would be skeptical of him.
“Really,” Magnus assured him. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Alec smiled, reveling in the soft brush of Magnus’ hair against his chin when he pressed his nose against the crown of his head. Given his track record with love, he wasn’t used to feeling so at home with someone. He wasn’t used to giving so much of himself without a second thought. “Hey, there’s something I wanted to ask for. For my birthday.”
“It’s almost midnight; you sure waited long enough,” Magnus teased.
“Would you do a reading for me?”
“Do you believe?” Magnus teased in a low voice, sitting up on the couch and summoning his deck of tarot cards to his hands in a swirl of blue magic.
“In you? Of course.”
Shuffling the cards carefully, Magnus’ eyes never once left the deck. “Since you’re a beginner, we’ll start you off easy, with a three card spread. It’s the height of simplistic, but also considered one of the most powerful tarot spreads.”
“So, how does this work? Do I ask a question or do you just…predict something?”
“If you have a question, I can sort it into a category for your spread.”
The way Magnus’ hands grazed each card in the deck thoughtfully was enthralling. His fingers would trace over the edges, run down the front, and then he would artfully shuffle it away.
“I, uh… I don’t really know what to ask. Can you just...tell my future?”
Magnus rolled his eyes playfully. “You really don’t know anything about what I do, do you? I think I’ve got what you’re looking for.” With sweeping motions over the tarot deck, he pulled three consecutive cards and put them face down in front of Alec. “Current situation.” He pressed his forefinger to the first card. “Challenges.” The second. “And guidance.” The third.
“Okay.” Alec rubbed his fingers together anxious, leaning over the table.
Magnus flipped over the first card. It was right side up, with a man on it, his back to the sun as he stood on a cliff’s edge, about to step off. In one hand he held a white rose, and in the other hand, a staff with a bag on it. At his feet was a white dog. In the background, there was a mountain.
Alec looked up from the card, eyebrows raised. “Is that a bad thing?”
“No. No, even the death card isn’t implying physical death of the body. They’re not quite as literal as they sometimes sound.” Magnus’ comforting smile set Alec at ease. “The fool represents someone who is at the beginning of their journey--there’s so much hope and potential ahead for him. That’s what the rising sun represents. Stepping off the cliff represents his journey into the material world, and the bag he has with him contains the tools he brings with him. The white rose signifies his innocence. The dog is his guardian, who will both protect him and push him forward to help him learn the lessons he’s come for.”
Biting his lip thoughtfully, Alec nodded.
“First and foremost, this is a card of potential. It’s about a brand new beginning, where there’s an abundance of opportunity. You’re stepping into unknown territory, and this card is asking you to take a leap of faith; trust that the universe will provide for you. There’s an acceptance to not knowing--he is wonder and curiosity. It encourages you to blindly move forward.”
“Your second card--challenges.” Magnus flipped over the next card so it was face up. The card featured a woman, tied up in rope and blindfolded, surrounded by swords that seem to be caging her in. The ground had a bit of water on it, and the sky was grey, without clouds or sun. In the lower right background was a white castle with red towers, and in the lower left background was a small mountain. “Eight of swords.”
“That doesn’t look promising.”
“This card is alternatively called “The Test.” It’s about one being faced with obstacles and challenges. The woman being bound and blind symbolizes the improbability of escape from the swords, or threats, that have her trapped. She’s isolated, in a wasteland. The little water there is is not accessible to her, symbolizing her restriction. The cloudy, gray sky indicates a lack of hope. However, there is still a clear path away, even though she can’t see it. This card is an indicator that it’s your time to be tested by the universe, and that the power must shift back to you. While your options may be limited and not what you wish for yourself, it’s important that you recognize that you do have them, and that it’s important for you to make a choice.”
“And the last one? My guidance?”
Magnus flipped the last card over. On the card, a man was sitting in a chariot beneath a canopy with stars on it. On his shoulders were outward-facing crescent moons, alchemical symbols were printed on his tunic, and he wore a crown made of laurels with a star in the center. In his hand is a wand. On the front of the chariot are a pair of wings, and in front of it are two sphinxes, one black and one white. In the background is a city.
“The Chariot. The six pointed stars on the canopy represent spiritual influences at work. The symbols on the tunic represent man’s spiritual transformation through the journey. The little square on his chest represents strong will as represented by earth. The crown represents the peak of humanity’s spiritual evolution. The chariot’s wings and the two sphinxes are inspiration, and signify positive and negative forces coexisting. The wand that the charioteer is holding is a reference to the Magician card, in which he has control through the strength of his will. Having his back to the city represents the way he is actively rejecting materialism in favor of spiritualism. This card advises that to overcome your obstacles, you will need to depend on the strength of your will. Determination and self-discipline are crucial for you in this time, as well as hard work. Even leveraging opposing forces may be used to your advantage. If you pursue these techniques, you will triumph, and become stronger. Boldness and faith in yourself is another key to your success.”
Magnus moved his hand off the cards and looked at Alec. “Does that answer your question sufficiently?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’d say that gave me more to go on than I was expecting,” Alec murmured, running his thumb across his lip thoughtfully. “What do you think it means?”
Magnus hesitated for a moment. “I think you’ll know when it’s time. You know what they say about knowing too much about your future… I’ve found it to be true.”
Eyebrows furrowed, Alec tilted his head slightly. “I should have expected a cryptic response from a psychic.”
“Alexander. You should know by now that, with you, I’m never cryptic.”
“You’re right,” Alec baited him, nodding thoughtfully. “Coy is more your thing, isn’t?”
“Flattery will get you everywhere, my love.”
As Magnus dragged his index finger down the center of Alec’s chest, goosebumps rose on his arms. He never got used to the way his body reacted to Magnus’ touch, and frankly, he never wanted to.
Orange flames. Blue tendrils of magic gliding across his palms. Fingers adorned with large silver rings. Rampant massacres of downworlders. Guilt that constricted his lungs. Bold, black runes against alabaster skin. Blood stained clothes sticking to his skin. A rush of adrenaline and magic in his veins. Kissing Alexander. Utter bliss with a calloused hand in his. Stifling fear. Warm blood between his fingers. Healing a bruised and broken body. Valentine. Clave. Brooklyn. Children. Alec. Downworld. Family.
With a sharp gasp, Magnus sat bolt upright, nails digging into his palms hard enough to draw blood. A trail of sweat trickled down the back of his neck and down the slope of his spine. Running a hand through his hair to push the damp strands off his forehead, he tried to take slow even breaths.
“Magnus, baby, it’s okay,” Alec was speaking in a placating tone, gentle and timid, from where he was propped up beside him on the bed.
He realized that it wasn’t the dream that had jarred him awake, nor was it Alec; it was the flare of crimson flames that had shot from his hands and disrupted everything in the bedroom. All the lightbulbs in the room had shattered, little fragments littering the carpet and tabletops on which they sat, and items such as the chair in the corner, the jewelry box on the dresser, and the stack of books beside the closet had been scattered across the floor. There were even a few scorch marks that had distorted the wallpaper and frayed the carpet.
“It was just a…a dream.” Magnus sounded as if he were trying to convince himself as well as Alec. “That’s all it was.”
“The same one you’ve been having?” Alec asked concernedly.
“They’re never the same, exactly. They’re sharper, more distinct each time. At first, trying to remember anything about them was useless, gone like a normal dream after you wake up. But I remember this. I know what I saw. But I was…I was feeling things too. They were familiar, like… Not like déjà vu, but it felt like me .”
“I had no idea they had gotten this bad.” Alec said softly.
Magnus knew that tone. It meant that Alec was blaming himself, justifying the notion that he should have found a way to make it better. But how could he have, when Magnus had barred him from getting too close.
“I didn’t want you to worry.” After a moment of silence, Magnus tossed the covers off and got out of bed, arms wrapped around his middle as he left the bedroom and headed to the foyer. The lights were all off, so he swept his hand out, lighting the candles on the shelves and the coffee table to illuminate his path to the main window. Pulling back the curtain, he looked up at the velvet sky, dotted with small stars and streaks of grey clouds.
There had always been something comforting for him about the night sky. It was one of the only things that hadn’t changed through all the time that had come and gone for him. It looked the same as it had over a hundred years ago in London when he sat on the roof of Ragnor’s flat; it looked the same as it had when he’d sketched it from where he sat in the vast emptiness of the meadow he called his sanctuary as a teenager; it looked the same as it had when he’d made a wish on one of its stars from where he stood in the middle of an abandoned village road as a child. It calmed him down, helped him recenter himself.
Alec’s footsteps brought him back to the apartment, to his hand pressed against the glass.
“Magnus… Is there anything that I can do?” Alec asked, grabbing Magnus’ arm to get his attention. “I hate seeing you like this; and not being able to do anything to help you, I—”
Turning his back on the view of the city, Magnus gently cradled Alec’s face in his hands, rubbing his thumbs against his cheeks. “You’ve done more for me than you can ever know. You’ve trusted me, believed me, sacrificed for me. I don’t need anything else.”
“But I love you,” Alec said insistently, and Magnus was certain that if love were enough, he would never falter in life again.
His expression softened, and he felt exceedingly aware of where his heart was tucked away behind his ribs as it beat stronger, wilder. “I love you, too,” he whispered with a smile, tipping his forehead against Alec’s. “God knows I never, ever wanted to drag you into my world like this. All I want is you, and I’m satisfied to live half a normal life. I just hoped that the other half would… I don’t know…”
“I’m with you, Magnus. Always. I’m not afraid,” Alec insisted, eyes searching his. “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m ready to learn.” Following a small shake of his head, he pressed the tips of his fingers to Magnus’ lips. “From the second I saw you at the Institute party, I knew that there was something in me that had been waiting for you.”
Magnus hesitated for a moment.
“I’ve lived for…a very long time,” he said quietly. “I’ve known many people, loved a handful of them, and yet somehow, everything with you feels brand new. That was why I was okay with being selfish.”
“You’re not. You never were.” Alec shook his head sharply.
“Alexander, I’m—I don’t know what’s happening to me, and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if this hurt you too. I can’t let that happen. Whatever this is, it’s coming fast and it’s dark. I don’t know how to protect anyone from it, let alone you.” He needed Alec to know that. He needed that to be clear, even if nothing else was.
“You don’t have to. That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Magnus.” Alec gripped the tops of his arms, keeping them in each other’s space. “All I want is to stand at your side in this. Let me do that. Please.”
There was too much to say, and yet Magnus felt simultaneously lost for words. Infinite reassurances, concerns, promises were vying for his attention. “I want you with me. But I don’t want to be afraid of--”
“Then don’t be,” Alec whispered, his fingers tracing along Magnus’ jaw tenderly.
Putting his hand over Alec’s to hold him there, Magnus looked down for a moment, then carefully raised his eyes.
The glamour on them that he hadn’t let dissipate for so long was gone, and he felt even more exposed than he would if he were wearing nothing. His glamour was the last thing he would have considered laying down for someone, not just for his protection, but for theirs. How could they ever feel safe with him? But Alec meant more--more than the comfort of a white lie, more than the fear of being rejected.
He knew what Alec was seeing--the sharp, saturated gold cut sharply with slitted pupils--and he knew he couldn’t have seemed more foreign than in that moment. “This is who I am, Alexander. I think maybe I can’t escape the darkness because it’s in me too. Many warlocks choose their names at a young age. I knew what I was--Magnus Bane, great destruction.”
“Stop,” Alec cut in firmly. “Magnus.” His thumb traced a slow path from his chin up his cheek to just below his right eye. “They’re beautiful. You’re beautiful.”
He hadn’t known what to expect from Alec, but whatever eventualities he’d entertained, that was certainly not one of them.
“Come back to bed. Please.”
Magnus allowed himself to be towed back to the bedroom and tenderly tucked under the covers. Not having answers was frustrating enough for himself, but when Alec became tangled up in them too, it suddenly was bordering on unbearable.
Alec pressed up against his back, his left arm hanging off Magnus’ hip, and he pressed a line of kisses down the back of his neck. His breath was warm and tickled pleasantly. “I’m here,” Alec whispered softly.
There was comfort in that, and Magnus would never say otherwise. No matter how turbulent his mind was, or how heavy his heart felt, Alec could always calm him, whether with a casual touch or intimate words. Tonight he wanted nothing more than to just be enveloped in Alec’s presence, to chase away the bad dreams and worries. He wanted to fall asleep without worrying what was coming for him.
It didn’t take long for him to fall asleep, given the way Alec’s face was pressed against his shoulder and the steady beating of his heart was a gentle pulse against him. The dreams didn’t subside, but when he woke up in a sweat just after sunrise, he was awakened by Alec’s hand rubbing at his arm.
“Hey. You’re okay.” Alec spoke quietly, lips close to Magnus’ ear.
With a soft sigh, Magnus scrubbed his hand over his face. “I’m fine.” He reached back to cradle Alec’s cheek in his hand and tilted his head to give him a kiss. “Thank you, Alexander.”
They stayed in bed for another few minutes, reveling in the quiet calm of the early morning. The orange and pink hues of the rising sun dappled across their skin was beautiful, and the gentle warmth of the light made leaving bed feel almost impossible.
Alec was the first to muster the willpower to get out of bed, groaning as he rolled off the mattress. “Cold,” he grumbled as his feet hit the hardwood floor.
Magnus watched him with an affectionate grin. Alec’s hair was ruffled and sticking up in the back, and there were indentations against his cheek and neck where he’d pressed his face into the sheets while he slept. It was nice, he realized, to see someone he loved be so at home with him, because of him. Fluttering his fingers subtly, he sent a wave of warmth cascading across Alec’s bare torso.
“We’ll never get anything done if you start that,” Alec reproved, grabbing the t-shirt he’d hastily discarded the night before on the dresser and tugging it over his head. “And we’re meeting Izzy and Simon this afternoon. I don’t intend to go back on a promise I made her--she takes boxing classes, you know.”
“Your sister wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Magnus disagreed, padding past Alec to the living room.
“Not intentionally. She still can’t land her roundhouse, but that’s arguably more terrifying.” Alec went over to the cat tree, humming at the Chairman, who flicked his tail interestedly at the attention.
Magnus wandered over to his shelves along the side wall, tapping at his tarot deck thoughtfully. He’d gotten into the habit of doing daily readings for himself, tirelessly searching for some kind of answer in the cards, though he knew that, most likely, none would show. He was just tired of scrambling to get his footing. Sliding the cards from the box, he shuffled them haphazardly, then pulled one.
A lump rose in his throat. This was a card that, whether upright or reversed promised destruction--the crumbling of one’s foundations, the loss of security in your place, power, and purpose. It implied ruin that one would feel on every level of their being. It was the prologue to crisis and an aftermath of chaos. It was a card of inevitable ending. Defeat and dispossession were guarantees, cushioned only by the potential to rebuild something of value from the ashes of what was taken away.
They decided to walk to the coffeehouse they were meeting the other two at, as it was only a few blocks away, around the corner from Simon’s apartment. When they walked in, he was perched on a bar stool, in the middle of a ring of clutter consisting of old books, yellowing board game boxes, and faded vinyl record casings. He often played small gigs for the shop, just him and his guitar, in exchange for free coffee and pastries. The fairy lights strung above him illuminated him like a halo as he strummed softly, singing at a low volume.
My regrets are a chain around my neck, you know
It’s torturous, have some burdens that I can’t let go
Royal blue, Royal blue
Isabelle was sitting at a table for four to his left, swaying easily to the music. Her finger tapped the beat on the edge of her cappuccino mug, a dainty ring causing a soft clink on every other touch.
“Hey,” Alec greeted her, settling into the seat to her right.
“Hi! Did you guys want to order something? Simon’s set is almost over, and the drinks are free for us today.”
“I’ll get ‘em.” He shrugged off his coat and draped it over his chair. “Magnus?”
“Chai latte. Thank you.” His fingers grazed Alec’s knuckles lovingly and his reward was a dazzling wink.
When it was just the two of them, Izzy, propped her elbows on the table top, leaning in towards Magnus. “How are you doing?”
“I’m doing well. Business is good and your brother is excellent company so I can’t complain. How about you?”
“Really great! I just got assigned to a new project at the Institute, and I can’t wait to get to work on it.” Her glasses had slid down her nose as she spoke animatedly, and she punctuated her sentence by sliding them back up haphazardly.
“They’re lucky to have you,” Magnus praised her. “One of the most brilliant minds in your field, I’m sure.”
To know Isabelle was to love her, Magnus had learned early on. She was a delight, complimentary to her brother in the ways they differed. She was quieter, but had more childlike bubbliness. She was easy to please because the world had so much good in it to be enjoyed as she understood it. And Simon seemed to feel the same--all one had to do was watch the way he looked at her when she told a story to see how clearly he adored her.
“Hey, Magnus!” Simon dropped down into the chair on the other side of Izzy, guitar case propped up against his leg.
“I liked the song, is that yours?”
“Thanks! Yeah, I wrote it a couple months ago and forgot about it, but I think I like it. Izzy does, at least, and that’s good enough for me.” Simon poked her hand playfully, wearing a radiant smile that she was eager to return.
“We should come here more often if being Simon’s fanclub gets us free stuff,” Alec said when he returned with the coffees and a plate with two blueberry scones on them.
“I knew you only liked me for my fame,” Simon huffed, kicking Alec’s chair away from him.
They lapsed easily into conversation, a hum of warmth in the air around them. Alec hadn’t stopped grinning, between the looks he kept giving his sister and the jibes he directed at Simon. Izzy’s laugh was soft and light, and she cradled her chin in her hands comfortably. Simon was comfortably reclining in his seat, one hand resting on Isabelle’s knee fondly while he tapped excitedly against the table top with the other.
All at once, Magnus felt a sharp pain in his forehead, and his fingers reflexively probed the skin. Squeezing his eyes shut in an attempt to relieve the pressure proved ineffective.
“Magnus?” Isabelle asked with concern, interrupting a story Alec was telling.
Crumbling concrete. Breach in the Institute. Valentine. Demons let loose. Casualties. Bodies on the floor. Blood spattered runes. Glowing seraph blades. Find Alexander. Magic flaring in his palms.
“I’m fine,” he said quickly, holding up his fingers dismissively. He could feel Alec’s gaze on him, the tension palpable. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his fingers flex where his hand rested on his leg. “Excuse me, I’ll just be a moment.” He strode off to the restroom, leaning against the sink weakly as another throb of pain hit. Splashing cold water on his face was useless, and when he straightened up and looking into the mirror, he noticed a thin trail of crimson dripping from his nose.
Relief. Frantic heartbeats. Torn leather. Body count.
Magnus hastily dabbed at the blood and made sure all the evidence was gone before he returned to the table. He made sure to present a reassuring smile as he slid back into his seat.
“You okay?” Alec asked, reaching for his hand under the table. When their fingers intertwined, he squeezed softly.
“I’m fine.” He didn’t mean to be curt, but it seemed his clipped tone had caught the attention of all three.
“Are you sure? You don’t look too good.” Simon’s expression was drawn in concern.
“We should be going anyway,” Isabelle said suddenly, sharing a knowing look with Alec that lasted only a fraction of a second before she pulled on Simon’s hand. “You promised me Thai food tonight.”
“I did, didn’t I?”
After saying their goodbyes, they parted ways. As soon as they were out of earshot, Alec asked, “Are you sure you’re okay? There’s blood on your sleeve.”
“It’s more than just dreams now, Alec,” he replied. “These are visions.”
“Visions of what?”
“I need to talk to Ragnor and Catarina,” Magnus said instead, his strides quickening. When they got to a small alleyway, he steered them into it, opening a portal to Ragnor’s. He clutched Alec’s wrist and pulled him through, the two of them stepping out onto a brick walkway that led up to an old apartment building.
“Where are we?” Alec asked, looking around in curiosity at the drastic change of scenery.
“London.” Magnus walked up to the door and held his hand up, magic glowing against the door, revealing vertical silver bars. Ragnor’s warding was designed to grant entrance when it encountered very specific energy signatures, such as Magnus’ magic, and it took only a moment for the bars to fade back into the wood.
As soon as he pushed the door open, Magnus was greeted by Ragnor himself, a look of concern on his face. “What’s happened?” he asked immediately, shepherding he and Alec across the threshold.
“The dreams I’ve been having--they’re not dreams at all. They’re visions. I should have realized it sooner.”
“Visions of what?” Ragnor asked conceredly, head tilted slightly.
“I think it’s the alternate dimension Clary Fray came to me from.”
“Wait, alternate dimension?” Alec interrupted, holding his hand up. “Like, theoretical physics and multiple universes?”
“Alternate dimensions are really just alternate timelines. Infinite alternate timelines,” Ragnor supplied.
“That’s right. According to her, there is another dimension that still has Shadowhunters, and the war against the demons hasn’t happened yet.” Magnus paused. “And I think I saw it.”
“How do you know what’s happening in this other dimension?” Alec asked, holding up a hand haltingly.
“The day of the Institute party, Clary was inhabited by another dimension’s version of herself, and she was seeking a portal that she needed my help to track,” Magnus began. “It was a special kind of portal, one that existed independently of its creator. Portals warlocks create are usually limited in their ability--they can only take the traveler to a place they’ve been to before. This portal could take you to anyone, anywhere, regardless of whether you’d been there before. Apparently that also includes dimensional travel as well. She told me that where she came from, the Shadow World--the population pertaining to those of varying combinations of angel, demon, and human blood--was on the brink of war, facing a terrible threat, and that finding that portal was the best chance she had at finding a way to put a stop to it.”
“Were there ever any in this dimension?” While Alec’s expression was tense, eyes narrowed slightly and framed by furrowed brows, there was no doubt that Magnus could find.
“Centuries ago, yes,” he began. “There was a massive war between the demons and the Shadowhunters, and the Shadowhunters were victorious. Because of that, this world didn’t need them to police the shadow world any longer, and they sealed the rifts between worlds. The people like me, Downworlders, as we were once called, assimilated into society and became like the humans. For the most part. Some still practiced magic privately, but our identity was no longer in our true selves.”
Turning his attention back to Ragnor, he continued. “In these visions, I’ve seen glimpses of Shadowhunters and Downworlders, and I’ve seen the threats of war Clary spoke of come to fruition--today I just saw what looked like an attack on their Institute. I’m somehow connecting with the consciousness of myself in that dimension. I feel what he feels, see what he does. How is that possible?”
Ragnor pondered his question for a moment, rubbing his chin. “It would take an extraordinarily powerful spell to bind across dimensions like this, but theoretically, it seems plausible. And there is an advantage here. Magic stretched this thin is bound to be highly volatile. If we can find how to break it’s hold, it shouldn’t take much to overpower it.”
“We’re going to need Cat.”
“I’ll call her.”
As soon as Ragnor had disappeared into the next room, Alec spoke again. “What am I like, in this other dimension?”
“I don’t really experience anything very clearly there,” Magnus prefaced. “When I see, it’s just glimpses; Most of what I experience is through an abstract lense, so it’s mostly just fragmented emotions and thoughts.” He stepped closer into Alec’s space. “We have each other there too. You bring him great joy. But he worries for you with the darkness that’s coming.”
“You’re a Shadowhunter. You, Isabelle, Clary, Jace…” Magnus lifted his left hand and let it hover over Alec’s left wrist, slowly trailing it up. His magic licked at Alec’s skin, leaving a transparent, shimmering imitation of his runes. Angelic Power. Recall. Accuracy. Up to his neck. Deflect . Moving across to his right side, starting at the round of his shoulder, he continued. Stealth. Equilibrium. Strength. Soundless.
Alec looked down at his arms, then probed his neck with his index and middle fingers. “What are these?”
“They’re called runes. All shadowhunters bear them. They’re imbued with angelic power, and when activated with a stone called adamas, they give you enhanced abilities.” He trailed his finger lovingly over the deflect rune that ran along the curve of Alec’s neck. “I think this one is my favorite.” After a moment, he waved his hand across Alec’s body, erasing each rune with care.
“Catarina will be here any moment.” Ragnor’s re-entrance into the foyer caused them to pull apart. “She’s coming from the hospital.” With a hand on Magnus’ arm, he herded them into his office, the second door off the hallway.
All of a sudden, a portal came to life on the opposite side of the room. Catarina emerged from it, still in her pale green scrubs with her hair pulled back in a neat braid.
“Magnus,” was the first thing out of her mouth, striding towards him and enveloping him in a hug. It had been some time since he’d last seen her, and there was that special kind of comfort in her touch that only a near and dear friend could provide. “Ragnor told me what’s happened. I was thinking, it sounds like pas de deux.”
“Of course,” Ragnor breathed in understanding. “Step of two.”
“We should try to track the magic signature attached to you,” Catarina suggested. “Maybe it will helps us figure out the spell.”
“How?” Alec asked.
“ Apertum ,” Magnus answered him. “It’s a Latin spell for revealing energies at work.” With a nod to Catarina, he laid down on the loveseat, arms at his sides.
Alec moved forward, seeming to hesitate.
Catarina went to stand at the foot of the couch, above Magnus’ head. She held her hands out, palms down, above him. Pale purple magic started to pour from her fingers and circle his head.
He felt his eyes roll back in his head, and he felt like he was surrounded by television static, between the gray flecks in his vision and the low buzzing sound in his ears. He could feel Catarina’s magic moving through his body, reaching for his. His own magic began to expand in his chest to get closer to her. The second the two energies connected, he suddenly felt his body pitch backwards and everything went black. The sound in his ears got louder, and the black around him began to swirl, like storm clouds.
And then all at once, he was standing in the middle of it. There was nowhere to go, caged in by the darkness. At the other side of the enclosed circle was someone else. They were far enough away that he couldn’t quite make out anything about them, but they seemed to have their back to him.
The person turned at being addressed, and Magnus’ jaw dropped. He was looking back at himself, somehow, though he looked entirely unfamiliar.
His hair was spiked up and shaved short on the sides, accentuating the row of jewelry that lined the outer shell of his ears. Delicate gold chains dripped from his neck and off his collarbones, coming to rest at the base of his sternum where the neckline of his sheer maroon button up shirt began. His pants were black with grey stripes and the ends were tucked into black boots with small silver studs along the back. Most shockingly, however, was the fact that his face, while having some altered details, was Magnus’.
Magnus found himself drawn to his counterpart as if pulled by a magnet. “Who are you?” he questioned guardedly.
The man’s dark russet irises turned to molten gold. “Think for a second and you’ll realize you already know the answer to that.”
“That’s not possible,” Magnus disagreed, shaking his head.
“We’re tied together, you and I,” his counterpart explained patiently. “In here.” He tapped his forehead lightly. “That’s how.”
“So you’re from the other dimension. The one Clary Fray came from.”
“We’re in the space between our universes,” Magnus realized, taking in the swirling darkness around them.
“The spell that bound us together was cast from my dimension,” his counterpart started.
“Why? By who?”
“Clary told me about the portal that you helped her find. If you know what it does, then you must know why it’s so valuable. The shadow world is on the brink of war where I come from. Years ago, a small faction of Shadowhunters splintered from the others. They call themselves The Circle. They created a new manifesto, declaring that in order to protect the Shadowhunter race, and the mundanes they were sworn by blood and law to protect, all demon-blooded creatures would need to be eradicated. The man responsible for this new movement was the one who ordered that the spell be cast.”
“How do you know for sure?” Magnus rubbed his index finger and thumb together anxiously at his side.
“The warlock who cast it is now in my care. This man, Valentine, tortured her with injections to force her hand. She managed to escape him, however, and came to me seeking a safe haven, and in return confessed to me what he had made her do. He has spies everywhere, among every Downworlder race. He knows about the portal you helped Clary find, and what it can do. A portal like that, in his hands, would be a weapon. He doesn’t know where to look for it, and while seelies can’t lie, they are masters of twisting the truth into knots you can’t untangle. If anyone would know its location, it would be Magnus Bane.” His counterpart smiled wryly, gesturing to Magnus.
“It has to be destroyed,” Magnus stated, nodding.
“As soon as you’re back in your body, go to the Institute and obliterate it.”
Magnus exhaled heavily. “What’s it going to take to break this so I can get back?”
“Fortunately, some of the oldest spellwork is surprisingly simple. The counter for it requires a lot of magic to enact, but it only needs a blood offering from us both paired with an incantation.”
Without hesitation, Magnus held out his hand, palm up. The sharp sting of the initial cut against his skin was unpleasant but he didn’t even bat an eyelash. When both had provided an offering of blood, dripping crimson droplets to the ground below them, his counterpart began to speak steadily in an old demonic language he hadn’t heard or spoken for many centuries.
Bloodied hands clasped together, Magnus echoed his words, and as they progressed,the billowing, dark clouds around them seemed to move faster. With its increased speed, a harsh wind encircled them.
Magnus could feel the way their magic cycled through them in a continuous feedback loop, keeping them locked together. Where their hands were connected, a small dome of blue magic encased them protectively.
“Two souls that bind, we break apart…”
Magnus’ body locked up and he sunk into the pillows. His eyes were no longer rolled back, but closed, as if he were sleeping. The tense line of his body, however, indicated that was not the case. “Magnus?” Alec dropped to the floor beside the couch, gripping his hand.
Catarina’s hands faltered and dropped. “The connection broke,” she murmured from above him.
“Why? What’s happening?” His entire body felt cold, blood turning to ice in his veins.
“What if Magnus is somewhere between our dimension and the one he’s tied to?” Ragnor interjected, coming up behind Alec. “We already know this magic is volatile, unstable. We gave it an energy source, jump started it. It could have fritzed, so to speak.”
“Can he survive that?” Alec reflexively tightened his grip on Magnus’ hand. He could feel the steady beat of his pulse, and it was a comfort. Even if only a small one.
“Unless he’s gone too long,” Ragnor replied simply.
“How long is that?”
“Don’t worry,” was all he offered.
Alec looked from Catarina to Ragnor, both of whom were quiet, resigned to just sit and wait for something to happen. Resigned to just let Magnus be wherever he was all alone. “We can’t just leave him!” The frustration tainted the fear, thawing the ice in his veins back to hot blood.
“Alec, I understand you’re afraid,” Ragnor began. His expression was measured, but sincere, and something about it did mollify Alec. “It’s disorienting to learn that the world is significantly bigger than it used to seem, and more uncertain. And I know that you love him; you want to protect him. But you need to trust him. He has to bring himself back, and he will.”
His head knew these things to be true, but his heart just couldn’t bear to let go and let things unfold. Alec was a fixer, but there was nothing to fix if Magnus had gone somewhere without him.
“I’m going to make some coffee,” Catarina said kindly, resting her hand on his shoulder. “Would you like some?”
“No, I’m fine.” The thought of leaving Magnus was one he couldn’t entertain.
She hesitated for a moment, but left him be, going to the kitchen.
Ragnor offered a small smile, sitting down in the armchair in the corner. “I can see why he feels the way he does for you. He insisted that I would understand when I met you.”
Alec raised an eyebrow in curiosity.
“He’s lived a half life for as long as he’s been trying to be like the mortals. He called it abstinence, but it was more than that. He became a shade of himself, and had been for so long. Rekindling his magic started to bring him back, and the fact that even though it’s not your world, you’ve let him remain in it because it’s who he is… That’s extraordinary for a young mortal to understand and be willing to sacrifice.”
“It never crossed my mind to doubt,” Alec admitted. “I didn’t have a category for a world where magic exists, but he wouldn’t be himself if he could be tamed by conventionality. That was what I liked about him, from the second I saw him. While he was unassuming and quiet, there was something about the look in his eyes. There was a kind of spark I’d never seen before.” A dark contrast to the way he was now lying motionless on the couch. He looked almost peaceful, the way his hair looked soft as it drifted across his forehead, and the way his arm had fallen to the side.
“I think I’m going to join Catarina for some coffee.” He heard Ragnor stand and carefully make his way around Alec. “Untoward circumstances,” he said softly, resting his hand on Alec’s shoulder kindly for a moment before leaving for the kitchen.
Alec appreciated the privacy, a moment to breathe without trying to just be cooperative and unshaken by everything happening around him. He was ready to hit the ground running to be there for Magnus, as long as he had the time for his head to catch up. And now, he needed a minute to feel. Even though it was like the dull ache of blood behind a bruise.
“I don’t know if you can hear me, but I’m here. I’m waiting for you to come back,” Alec said softly, sliding his hand into Magnus’. “I know you can find your way. I know you’ll come back to me. But you’ve gone somewhere I can’t follow you, and that means I’m breaking my promise, that I would stand by you.” He tilted forward, resting his forehead against Magnus’ chest, feeling the rise and fall of his chest.
He must have been more tired than he recognized, because he ended up fading in and out of consciousness, yet still too tired to resituate himself. When he was somewhat awake, he could hear the sound of voices but none of it was clear; it was simply the soft hum of speech. When he was asleep, his dreams were muddled, and barely dreams at all. When he jerked awake, heart pounding in his chest, he decided he didn’t want to sleep any longer.
They were no longer the only ones in the office. Ragnor was back in the armchair, a large book in his lap and glasses perched on the bridge of his nose. He noticed Alec stirring, and spoke without looking up from the page he was scanning. “I’ll stay with him; it’s all right.”
“I’m just going to get some coffee.”
Ragnor gave him a curt nod, eyes flicking up to meet his for only a moment.
Catarina was in the kitchen when Alec got there, sitting at the breakfast bar with a bowl of untouched oatmeal in front of her, and an empty mug beside her hand. She looked deep in thought, cheek resting against her hand. When she heard him come in, she turned, already armed with a smile. “Alec.”
“Could I take you up on that coffee?”
“Of course.” She reached for the half empty pot and touched the corner gingerly. “It’s gone a bit cold.” Her hand that was cupping the glass emitted a soft purple glow of magic, and when she moved it away, there was steam curling out from the carafe. “How are you holding up?”
He took the mug she offered him, and carefully held it in both hands. The heat made his palms tingle, a jolt of sensation that grounded him. “I hate waiting. I’m not scared he won’t wake up, but I hate just sitting around feeling useless.”
She gave him a sympathetic look, refilling her own coffee mug. “I understand--being a doctor means playing the waiting game the majority of the time.”
“He told me what you do; I think it’s really admirable to use your magic to help people like that.”
“Having the power to change things and not using it wisely is the greatest tragedy I’ve seen across time.” She paused, thoughtfully looking at Alec. “I’m sorry, I get philosophical when I’m in a somber mood for long enough.”
The two of them sat in silence while they finished their coffees. Catarina seemed to have abandoned the idea of eating her oatmeal, which she pushed away with a slightly frown.
“How did you meet Ragnor and Magnus?” Alec questioned.
Catarina laughed, her expression softening it one that only the people you love most in the world can put on your face. “Sometimes it feels as if there was never a time I didn’t know them, with all the history we’ve accrued. We were young warlocks at the time, still in our first lifetime. We were in Greece, the two of them together and I on my own. We all share an ambition for knowledge, and that was how we fell into the same circles. For a long while after we met, we were on opposite corners of the world from one another, but we kept contact. And then the war between the demons and Shadowhunters began, and we found ourselves looking for allies.”
“Alec! Catarina!” Ragnor called from the office, voice muted by the distance. When they joined him, he was crouched on the floor beside Magnus, whose posture had greatly relaxed and seemed to be stirring.”He’s waking up.”
Alec inhaled sharply, holding his breath as he watched Magnus’ body start to thaw out and begin to move. It started out small--little twitches of his fingers, a jerk of his chin. But then his eyelids fluttered for a moment before opening wide.
There were a million things welling up in Alec’s mind in that moment, but the most prominent was utter relief that felt like a wave that rolled through his entire body. “Magnus.”
“The portal,” Magnus exclaimed, propping himself up on one arm.
“Portal? Magnus, what happened?” Alec dropped to his knees beside him, taking his hand in both of his own. Smooth, warm fingers that squeezed his own had never been a greater comfort.
“I saw the alternate dimension’s Magnus. I talked to him. He told me everything. The man who facilitated casting the pas de deux spell is trying to find the portal--the one I helped Clary find. He knows it’s here, but he doesn’t know how to cross the dimension without the portal she used. He thought I was his greatest chance at finding it, so he needed a way to contact me. It took a strong counter and blood offering from the alternate Magnus and I, but we severed the connection. That’ll buy me some time, but I doubt the search for a way to this dimension will stop. There are other ways, if you look hard enough. The portal has to be destroyed. There isn’t any time.” He pushed off of the couch using the leverage of Alec’s grip.
“Wait, slow down. It has to be destroyed? That’s going to take a lot of power,” Catarina said slowly, trying to placate Magnus.
“I can do it,” he insisted, holding out his hand, palm up as his magic flickered to life in his palm like a flame.
He was standing defiantly, a steely look in his eyes, and when Alec looked at him, he couldn’t find any room in his mind to doubt that Magnus could do whatever it took. Great destruction , he recalled. The power to bring down worlds and create extraordinary things resided in him. “Okay,” Alec agreed simply, nodding.
Magnus’ hand that blazed with magic grasped one of Alec’s, and there was a warm sensation to it, licking along his fingers pleasantly. It sent a zing through his veins.
“Are you coming with me or not?” Magnus asked the other two, chin tilted up slightly.
Catarina’s response was to lift her hand to the wall behind him, opening a portal. “To the Institute.”
Magnus and Alec stepped through it first, and Catarina and Ragnor followed behind as they entered the dark basement. It was relatively wide open, lined with shelves that held neatly organized boxes and containers of equipment. Ragnor flicked his wrist and the lights that lined the walkway came to life, illuminating the concrete walls and floors.
“Where’s the portal?” Alec asked, looking around for something that resembled the soft glow of portal magic.
“I can feel it,” Ragnor said, pressing his hand to the left side wall.
“It’s this way.” Magnus moved past two more rows of shelves then came to a halt at a large, empty spot. It didn’t look any different from the rest of the room until Magnus reached for it, and a purple glow began to emanate from it. It created a faint, circular outline of energy that grew slowly until it was fully filled out, a dense mass of purple magic.
“Stand back.” Catarina lightly grabbed Alec’s arm and pulled him back from Magnus’ side. There was already a pulsing orange energy expanding from Magnus hands, moving in tandem with his fingers as they began their smooth, fluid movements. Alec had never seen Magnus’ magic any color other than blue, and the change was clearly significant.
Magnus stood with his feet planted firmly, left just in front right, and his hands out in front of him. His shoulder were set, shoulder blades sharp against the material of his shirt. A strong gust of air seemed to come from nowhere, fighting against Magnus. His eyes were narrowed and blazing gold. The entire amalgamation made him look like the wild and unstoppable force Alec knew him to be. It was an otherworldly kind of beauty, seeing him overflow with magic that he harnessed so seamlessly. But it had also unearthed something in Magnus that he had never seen before; something he likely kept carefully locked away for a reason. Alec knew all the way down to his bones, however, that he could never be afraid of Magnus or what he could do. Seeing just a fraction of the power Magnus had the potential to wield was enough to inspire reverence.
Thrusting one hand forward, fingers locked, Magnus sent a concentrated pulse of energy crashing into the portal, causing it to start vibrating.
Little streaks of orange started to infiltrate the portal, creeping like veins in a living organism. And then, a cracking sound began to permeate the air, along with the intense scent of ozone. The little veins were now breaking down the structure of the portal.
With a harsh exhalation of air, Magnus extended his other arm out next to the other, and the magic coming from his hands deepened into an orange so dark it was nearly red. The portal began to visibly splinter, and then all of a sudden, it exploded into a million shards that resembled purple-tinted glass.
Alec raised his arms defensively, feeling the bite of small cuts along his hands and the outer edges of his face that were left exposed.
“It’s done,” Ragnor murmured softly, the sound of crunching glass under his feet echoing as he crossed the floor.
Dropping his arms to his sides, Alec saw the full extent of the damage. There were little portal shards all over the concrete, the wall was now bare once more, and some of the boxes nearest to them had been jostled, items spilling out.
Magnus was slightly hunched over, breathing hard. His magic had been extinguished, but his eyes were still molten ochre and blazing with the power that was still bubbling at the surface.
Alec made his way over to Magnus, carefully wrapping his arm around his waist to help hold him up. “That was amazing,” he breathed.
Magnus scoffed weakly, tipping his forehead against Alec’s chin. “The bar is pretty low when all you’ve seen is domestic magic.”
“Well, I think you’ve exerted yourself enough for one day, so you can blow my mind later,” he laughed with relief.
“Go home.” Catarina’s voice drew their attention away from one another and back to the debris they were in the middle of. “You’re going to burn out if you don’t rest.”
“We’ll take care of the mess,” Ragnor added, lifting a hand to stop either of them from disagreeing.
Catarina insisted on opening the portal back to Magnus’ apartment, and Alec was immensely grateful for it when he realized he was supporting most of Magnus’ weight himself.
“I just need some sleep and I’ll be fine,” Magnus murmured, steering Alec towards the door to his bedroom.
Shouldering the door open carefully, Alec lowered him onto the bed. He helped divest him of his shirt and jacket, and then knelt to untie his boots for him.
“I can manage that, you don’t need to.” Magnus’ hand rested on his shoulder.
“Let me do this for you.” Turning his head to catch the hand with his mouth, he pressed soft kisses to his knuckles.
Magnus relented, allowing Alec to carefully undo the knots in his laces and then toss aside the boots. Flicking his wrist aimlessly, Magnus’ pants disappeared, and he rolled to the side, lifting the covers.
“That defeats the purpose of what we’re trying to do here, Magnus.”
“Shh. Come lay with me,” he said instead, patting the spot next to him.
Unable to deny the smile spreading across his lips, Alec toed off his own shoes and shed his jacket before lying down beside him.
Offering his hand, Magnus’ fingers fanned out to make room for Alec’s. “It’s over now, baby,” he whispered. “It’s over.”
They were quiet for awhile, just reveling in the press of each other’s bodies, the steady, thrumming heart beats.
“How long does it usually take for you to get your energy back?”
“Not long,” Magnus hummed sleepily. “A few hours rest should be enough.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“I’m not going to take your strength, Alec, I’ll be fine.”
“I want you to. I want to give something. After everything you’ve done--a blood spell between dimensions and destroying an independently powered portal--I’m feeling pretty useless,” Alec teased.
“You shouldn’t,” Magnus insisted, rolling over to face Alec directly. “To find your way back when you leave your body often requires an anchor.”
Alec fell silent, holding his breath.
“You were my anchor.”
Snaking his hand down their bodies to Alec’s hand on which he wore the gold rose ring, Magnus tapped it lightly. “I’m connected to you, in more ways than one. But love is ancient magic, older than all else, and therefore is the most powerful. My heart and soul are tied to yours, and having something that was once mine that you keep close to you, that binds us physically even when we’re apart… You were the tether that reminded me to stay on the path.”
“Well, that makes me feel a little better. But I want you to take my strength. It’s yours.”
“Only a little.” Magnus flexed his fingers around Alec’s, then relaxed them, their hands encircled with his magic.
It left behind a faint tickling sensation on Alec’s skin, but more than that was the sensation that his body was pouring itself into Magnus. It was an all knew feeling of connection; a new kind of intimacy than he’d ever known. It felt like their molecules were learning each other, their very essences touching. And while the concept of giving your strength and energy to someone else was inherently exhausting, there was a distinct rush of adrenaline that shot through Alec’s bloodstream at the depth of familiarity he was sharing with someone else. The fusion of their beings was such an overwhelming feeling that he let out a soft gasp.
Magnus’ eyelids dipped nearly shut in response, and he dropped his head back slightly, welcoming the energy coursing through his body. His free hand found its way to Alec’s neck, bringing him close and tipping their foreheads together. His lips parted and he breathed shakily against Alec’s mouth.
Strangely, Alec found himself craving the simplest touch, a kiss. And Magnus seemed just as eager when he caught his lower lip between his teeth.
The separation of their hands on Magnus’ end brought the overflow of sensation to an abrupt end, their fingers separating. “I’m sorry, I lost myself there a little,” he said softly, chest heaving.
“Did it work?” Alec replied, breathing heavily.
A weak chuckle escaped Magnus’ lips and Alec wanted nothing more than to catch it with his own. “I’m certain of it.” He paused briefly, the smile on his lips starting to dissolve. “Did I scare you?”
“At Ragnor’s? A little. Catarina and Ragnor promised you would come back; they trust you implicitly. And I do too. But it was definitely not the easiest thing in the world, feeling so ridiculously useless. I promised I would stand with you, and I physically couldn’t. I had to just sit there and wait. But I knew you would come back--it was just a matter of time.”
“And at the Institute?”
Alec cocked his head slightly. “Magnus… I think the things you can do are incredible. You’re this wild, unstoppable force and it’s extraordinary.”
“I’m the unstoppable force, you’re the immovable object, and when we collide, we, what?”
“We become something so much more immense and illimitable; something so much bigger than ourselves.”
“I like the sound of that,” Magnus admitted, brushing the tip of his nose against Alec’s longingly.
“I love you.” Alec’s voice was gentle, using the tone he saved just for Magnus. The knowledge that Magnus had earned his own tone of voice made him surprisingly elated. It was such a small thing and yet it was something he held close to his heart.
“You are my greatest love,” Magnus replied tenderly. It was a simple response, and though he wished he could give him a list of every word in every language that could do the love in his heart justice, this was the most raw and unadulterated he could give.
“You know,” Alec said suddenly, eyes flicking up to meet Magnus’, “I think tomorrow would be the perfect time to take that trip to Hawaii Izzy got us for my birthday. I can’t think of a more opportune moment.”
“No,” Magnus disagreed, wrapping himself around Alec, chin resting on top of his head. “I just want to be with you. Here.”
“Home,” Alec hummed in reply.
It didn’t take long for Magnus to fall asleep, looking peaceful and relaxed for the first time in a long time. His breathing was soft and slow, not punctuated with sharp gasps or ragged and harsh as it had before.
Alec stayed with him, tangled in the sheets and Magnus’ limbs for a while, until he realized he just wasn’t tired enough for sleep. Carefully disentangling himself, he slipped out of bed and closed the bedroom door softly behind him to keep Chairman Meow and Church from waking him up.
Padding into the kitchen, he noticed a book sitting on the dining table with a note attached to it. It was addressed to Magnus from Luke Garroway. He picked the folded paper up, glancing at the writing.
Magnus-- I found something that may help you.
There’s documentation from centuries ago about the connection between our dreams and the theory of multiverses. The concept dates all the way back to ancient Hindu literature, such as the Bhagavata Purana, so there’s some weight to it.
This volume contains some excerpts of Isaac Newton’s writings on the multiverse written about in Opticks (1704).
Alec set the note back down. They’d have to call Luke tomorrow and let him know everything was okay. He glanced back at the closed bedroom door. Everything was okay . Magnus was okay.
Tapping his fingers aimlessly against his thigh, Alec walked over to Magnus’ shelves of magic materials and reached for the deck of tarot cards. Taking them over to the table where Magnus did his readings, Alec carefully slid the cards from the box and shuffled them a bit messily for a bit before looking down at the top card, sitting face down. He hesitated for a moment before pulling it and turning it rightside up on the table.
The image depicted a young child riding a white horse without a saddle. In his hand was an orange banner, and just behind him were four sunflowers growing towards the anthropomorphized sun just above them.
Good fortune, happiness, joy, and harmony.