Chapter 1: prologue
Magnus was gone.
Alec's arm was on fire. All he could think about was that Magnus was gone. The look in his eyes when he'd looked over his shoulder at Alec, imploring, pleading. To let him go. Not to follow. To forgive him for leaving. Alec didn't know which and now Magnus was gone.
He said his name, or at least he thought he did, but maybe he yelled it, maybe he sobbed it, maybe it was a bit of all of that.
His heart felt punched out of his chest. He couldn't breathe. People were saying his name and grabbing at him and he saw nothing, heard nothing but the ringing in his ears, his laboured breathing, and the nausea that gripped him. He couldn't breathe and he smelled smoke and something horrifyingly like cooked meat and looked down at his arm.
Smoke was coming from the inside. The sleeve of his shirt had melted into his skin. The skin itself was bubbled and cracked and bleeding. A wave of pain so intense and bone deep crashed over him, incomparable to any physical pain he'd ever experienced. His vision blacked out, and for a moment he could still hear the others, garbled and distant, like his ears were under water. He felt the impact of the ground against his cheek.
Chapter 2: alec alone
Alec woke slowly, his senses returning one by one. There were hushed whispers around him, the hum of machines. Then the scratchiness of the sheets he was in, and a dull weight in all of his limbs. As if a great invisible hand was pressing him down. He knew he was in the infirmary. He could smell it, that sterile smell. It wasn't that long ago he'd been here, touching his little brother's arm, flooded with relief that he was alive.
He hadn't opened his eyes yet. He was tired, as tired as if he hadn't slept in days, and a nagging tug in his heart told him it would be better if he stayed asleep, if he didn't open his eyes and face what was next.
Details of why he was here were returning to him. His arm, heavy at his side, was a reminder. The sensation of a portal closing, that sound of air closing in.
He took in a sharp breath, eyes opening at once.
Magnus. His shape disappearing in the distortion of the portal, Alec's arm doing the same, the doorway to the other dimension shrinking and Alec pushing to get through and Magnus growing fuzzier and fuzzier, his back growing more and more distant, and then pain. A burning sensation from within and a crack in his heart, like the last time he had watched Magnus walk away from him.
He closed his eyes again.
He closed them more tightly. A hand found his shoulder. It was Izzy's voice, but he could summon no joy or relief to hear it. He breathed out, then tried to speak. He only let out a croak. His throat, his mouth, they both felt dry. Dryer than they should. He tried again, knowing the answer would not be one he liked, but needing to know.
"How — How long have I been asleep?" It was barely above a whisper, but Alec's heart was too heavy to punish himself for not being strong enough to speak. Magnus was in Edom. A heavy weight settled in his chest, making it hard to breathe.
Izzy's hand rubbed his shoulder and he wanted to tell her to stop, that it didn't help, that she could try to make him feel better but nothing would ever work, not until Magnus was back to their realm, safe and sound. Until Magnus returned, a piece of Alec would be missing. There would be no comfort without it.
"Three days." Izzy said after a pause.
Alec's eyes snapped open.
Fuck. Shit. Magnus could already be dead by this point. All the colour left in Alec's face disappeared, and he scrambled to get up. The room spun, dizziness over taking him. That didn't stop him. He got as far as turning his middle to swing his legs over before he felt as if he was being pinned down on his right side. His arm refused to move. It was dead weight by his side. He reached to touch it with his left hand.
"Don't — " Izzy said, grabbing his hand before he could. "It's still healing. It was badly burnt, Alec. They weren't sure you'd be able to keep it."
He looked at his arm, bandaged up to the shoulder. It was like it triggered the pain of the injury again, or the reminder of it made it flood back to him. It was dulled now, but a type of pain that reached deep, at the very core of him. Whatever they had him on helped, but it was not gone. He pulled his hand from Isabelle's grip to prod at his arm. Even through a haze of painkillers and healing runes, the pain was sharp and immediate, like one hundred tiny knives shooting through his veins. It made his head throb, and he gasped in pain, dropping back against the pillow. The monitor next to his bed beeped a warning as his heart rate escalated, then eased after the initial spike of pain.
Izzy sighed, one of those I told you so sighs reserved between siblings. Even as she did, her hand came to Alec's forehead, and she pushed his hair back with careful tenderness. Alec thought he would choke, the touch too gentle for how dismayed he was, a reminder of a similar gesture made by Magnus himself one night not a week ago; pushing Alec's hair out of his sticky forehead, laughing as it stuck up, both of them sweaty and breathing hard and grinning, seeking each other's lips to laugh against one another's mouths.
He closed his eyes, brow knitted together, and let out a shuddery breath. This was how it was going to be, wasn't it? Everything would make him think of Magnus. It was bad enough when they'd been apart and he'd known just where Magnus was, had seen him safe and sound. This was different. This… this was like that night in the Institute where he'd scoured it top to bottom in terror of stumbling upon his broken body. This was the pain of Magnus turning away from him to go somewhere Alec was not allowed to follow.
He didn't ask if Magnus was back. He'd have been here, or nearby, or Izzy would've told him immediately that Magnus was okay. She'd been there, after all. She'd seen what happened, and she'd heard him scream Magnus' name, and while it was Clary who had pulled him back, he'd heard her say his name too.
When he opened his eyes to look into his sister's, she was frowning.
"You're going to do something stupid," she said, her fingers carding through his hair. The affection was both welcomed and reviled. He wished it was Magnus' hand. He wanted Magnus' smile. He wanted to hear his voice. He had not noticed the precise moment in which his life had shifted and Magnus had become more important to him than his siblings, but it had come. Even as Izzy was safe and present and comforting him, he wanted only Magnus. Wanted to find him.
He was going to find him.
He let out a breath. Somehow, that helped. It was a goal. A purpose. He would find the man he loved, no matter what it took, and bring him home. There was no risk he wouldn't take, and to him that was far from stupid. It was a matter of course. Risking his life didn't enter the equation as it should. It was not something he even thought of, not really. Risking his life for Magnus felt as normal as making him a cup of coffee in the mornings and knowing how he liked it. It was not stupid. It was love.
"I won't," he croaked. It wasn't a lie.
Izzy's mouth was drawn in a thin line. She dropped her hand from his hair. He didn't take it back.
"I won't, Iz."
She scoffed and shook her head, wiping under her eyes with her fingers, painted nails looking stark against her skin. Alec's heart squeezed and left him breathless as he remembered she was wearing a color Magnus had given her.
"What did I do to land myself reckless, infuriating brothers like you three?" She grumbled, but Alec only watched her hands, suddenly feeling a great distance between himself and his surroundings. It was like it wasn't really happening, while he knew it was. It was like he was off from the rhythm of the rest of the world, just slightly. It wasn't the first time he felt like this, but it was the first time it was so intense. He lifted his good hand and stared at it a moment, then dropped it back.
"I should call mom," Izzy breathed. She gave Alec's hand a squeeze and left to do so.
Alec didn't even care to learn his mother wasn't just outside. Surely there had to have been some explanation for her absence from his bedside. He was stuck in sluggish, disconnected thoughts now, watching Isabelle's retreating back. Magnus was somewhere else, in another realm. It was like part of Alec was trying to get there, distancing himself from this world, unpinning himself from its fabric to transcend into the next. He let himself go. Floating into the space he occupied, not quite fitting in, hoping to go further and further until he was gone, until he felt the scorching heat of Edom and Magnus' hand in his own.
Pain held him back. His arm was pinned here, in this world. The more distance he gained the heavier it became, the more it hurt. Fire in his veins, tiny knives going upstream, shooting into his chest and his temple and his head. He could not dissociate himself from the pain, yet he felt too disconnected from himself to let the grief in his heart overcome him. He wanted to cry. He wanted to scream. He wanted to be angry.
He was too tired and in too much pain for any of that.
Eventually, he dozed off again. He dreamed of hazy, grey fog. He dreamed of his arm aflame from within, of a fever that consumed him from the inside, of being lost in nothingness, of a touch to his cheek that felt warm and safe and that disappeared as soon as he gave into its comfort.
While Alec had been bedridden, the Clave had appointed Maryse as Head of the Institute. It explained her absence at his bedside, and Alec felt a twinge of helpless anger at the relief that came with the news. It meant Maryse had not been absent on purpose or willingly. He shouldn't have expected that to be the case, but part of him had. How many times had he injured himself, and she'd come to him to tell him if he'd done things perfectly, it wouldn't have happened? Although things had been changing, it was hard to reconcile the woman he'd grown up with and the woman he knew now.
He wanted to, though. Something had changed, while he slept. Or in the past few weeks. A new shift in Maryse. It made Alec wonder where that woman had been all his life, if his father had been part of what had hardened her so much. He loved her, in spite of what she'd put him through. Now that he was standing up for himself, he could love her without attaching his own worth to what she thought of him.
The room was warm and filled with golden light thanks to the fire burning off to the side. Maryse was bent over a tablet, brow furrowed, a cup of tea steaming by her hand. Seeing her at the desk was strange, like going back in time. As a child he'd often stood by the doorway to watch her work, dreaming of the day he'd take her place. He does this now, then rapped his knuckles against the door frame.
"Alec," she said softly, waving him in. "Feeling better?"
"Good enough," he said, coming to stand by her side. He gave her a smile that must not have been all that convincing, because her hand found his and she stood.
"I'm sorry, Alec. About Magnus," she offered, which was strange but so very welcome. He wanted, more than anything, for his mother to see how important Magnus was to him. She was, step by step. Every instance of her acceptance warmed something in him and healed something too. "I'm sure he's fine out there," she added, but there was no contempt like there once might have been. No implication that he would be fine because he would be amongst his own.
"I know," he answered. He did. Magnus wasn't helpless. He still had to go find him, at least to be at his side during all this. Alec only vaguely knew why he'd gone, but that didn't matter. Magnus had believed he could help them stop Lilith, but that it was dangerous enough for him to do so that he left Alec behind.
He was quick to change the subject, not wanting to linger on Magnus' absence. It had been a week already, and no news.
"I should be able to get back to work by tomorrow," he said instead, and watched as something flickered in Maryse's face. Something that did not bode well.
"I'm to remain as Head of the Institute until they find a replacement," Maryse told him, her voice softer than it had ever been with him, her eyes warm.
A sinking feeling filled Alec. Of course . Maryse was temporary, and Alec must have overstepped one too many times to be allowed to claim the Institute again.
He knew it would happen eventually. He had the title, but he would have to work harder to keep it. That was how he'd thought about it then, and that was why he stayed so late, missed so many dinners with Magnus, slept in his office so often. He'd known even that might not be enough.
The disappointment was still crushing. Maybe because he was already without Magnus, and worried about him; maybe because he was still in pain, and trying to pretend he wasn't.
The office looked strange and unfamiliar, suddenly. Alec was standing by the desk, fingertips of his good hand touching the edge. That was his desk, wasn't it? So why did it feel so foreign to the touch? He pulled his hand from his mother's grip and moved toward the fireplace. Alec loved having a fire going when he had to stay late, answering last minute queries, filling reports, confirming mission approvals from the Clave.
He remembered one night Magnus had come to fetch him, knocking on the doorframe to announce his presence. After a greeting kiss, Alec had asked for five more minutes to finish up, so Magnus had taken a seat on the couch. When ten minutes had passed and Alec hadn't looked up, he'd turned the flames of the fire different colors to get his attention. Magnus had looked pleased with himself when it had worked, making the flames dance while wiggling his eyebrows, making Alec laugh and join him, finally.
These flames looked boring and dull. What had Maryse said?
Oh, yes. A replacement. Not him, then. He couldn't find it in himself to be heartbroken. Just tired. Disappointed.
"They won't let me have it back, will they?" He closed his eyes, clenching his jaw. It felt unfair, it felt like prejudice. Was it because he'd injured himself for Magnus Bane? Was it because he'd dropped everything to try and jump into the portal after him? Or was it that his relationship with him showed no sign of disappearing, and now this was an excuse? Or perhaps Jace and Clary had acted against orders enough times that his skills as a leader were in question. If he couldn't keep track of two Shadowhunters, how could he be trusted to run an Institute?
Alec clenched his fist, relaxing it and closing it again a few times.
"Where's Jace? I haven't seen Clary, either," Alec asked, wishing he could cross his arms, but his injury still not permitting much movement. He folded his good arm behind his back, turning back to face Maryse.
"They went to Edom to find Sebastian," Maryse said, and Alec's steps faltered. Anger filled Alec immediately. Of course they'd gone without him. Of course they'd taken this upon themselves, alone, without permission from the Clave, without taking a team with them. Alec was so tired of this. It made him glad the bond was gone. The longer he went without it, the happier he was it had never returned after the night Valentine raised Raziel. He still did not know what happened, exactly, except that he had felt Jace die and Jace was not dead. He refused to talk about it with Alec, or at least dodged his questions with non answers and untruths. It didn't matter. The bond was gone. At first it had been strange, a little empty, lonely in a sense.
But he'd been lonelier and more miserable in all his years as Jace's parabatai than he'd been in the few weeks he'd adjusted to the loss of the bond. It was easy to see why, but difficult to explain to others. Jace understood, he thought, but Alec hated to talk about these things with him. Not because he was ashamed, or because he hadn't made peace with his feelings. He had overcome them completely, and so quickly once he'd met Magnus. It made sense, to him, that he'd held confused, mixed up feelings for the only other boy he really knew, the boy he spent all his time with.
He hated talking about it with Jace because he could remember him holding his feelings over him that time by the entrance to the City of Bones. And when Alec did, it made him angry. Jace had known. Jace had said and done nothing, and that didn't feel like the way a parabatai should make you feel.
The loss of the bond had been less painful than his time as a parabatai because being a parabatai had been the source of his misery, of his pain, of his fear, of his loneliness. He had used his own feelings for Jace as means to convince himself of how wrong they had been, how secret they had to remain. Of how he was doomed to be alone forever, that there would never be anyone who could love him. He had lumped his feelings for Jace with his attraction to men, and it had become an untangle knot that had unraveled only when Magnus had introduced himself to him and Alec had felt his heart jumpstart, kicking back to life.
Whoever had said parabatai lost themselves after a bond was destroyed was an idiot. Luke was fine, and he'd been Valentine's parabatai. His own father had lost a parabatai and was still a functioning person too, although whether or not he was a good one was definitely up for debate. So by general consensus, Alec was fine.
Jace had hardly been a friend, these past few weeks. Alec could see something was wrong, knew his brother well enough, but Jace pushed him away, disappeared into this little bubble with Clary, shutting everyone else out.
The lack of bond now meant he could feel his anger anew. Differently. Now, when he was angry with Jace, there was no sense that he should have to forgive him. No he's my parabatai, I accept that this is how he is . Only frustration. Only hurt, even. To know the man who had been meant to be his other half for the rest of his days was not letting him help him, that this same man had not thought they should wait a few days so Alec could come with them and get his boyfriend back.
Because Jace didn't even know.
He didn't know Alec had been planning to propose.
Alec shut down the thought hurriedly. He couldn't think about that. Couldn't afford to. The light cast by the fireplace was not as calming as Alec had once felt. This wasn't his office anymore. Not officially. It might never be again.
There were more pressing matters. More urgent things to be angry about.
"When did they leave?" He asked, training his voice to be even and smooth, but every inch of his body was tense. It wouldn't fool his mother.
"Day after." The desk chair creaked as Maryse stood to join him. The door wasn't closed, and Alec could hear the hustle and bustle of the Institute, down the hall. Hushed conversations over maps, the sound of weapons being put away, taps and beeps from their computer systems. He took a breath. None of this felt familiar or safe anymore. He felt that distance once more, like in his infirmary bed. As if his life before all this, the things that had mattered, were beyond a thick glass wall he felt no urgency to get past.
"How?" He leaned his forearm against the mantle of the fireplace, staring down into the flames. The fire crackled pleasantly and filled the room with a smell that would stick to his clothes and his hair, and no Magnus to magic it away after wrinkling his nose at him for it.
"Clary opened a portal," Maryse said, with a world weary sigh. It might have made Alec smile, and throw a line about how much of a pain Clary Fairchild could be, but instead it fed his anger. That was what had Maryse so busy. Dealing with the fallout of Jace Herondale and Clary Fairchild doing whatever they wanted, again. Jace surely would face no consequences. And he would protect Clary from any. So it would be on him, and on Maryse.
Alec glanced at her, scoffed, and shook his head.
"That easy, huh?"
Getting into Edom was tricky. You couldn't simply walk in and out like you would a coffee shop. Alec had already looked into it from his hospital bed, now locked out from many of the Clave files he would have needed. It was no wonder Magnus had taken the opportunity to follow Lilith right then and there. It was impulse, but guided by logic. Or maybe it wasn't impulse at all, and Magnus had been thinking of going all this time.
Alec did not like that thought. He was upset enough as it was, frustrated enough as it was. At the Clave, at Clary and Jace, even at Magnus, a little. Alec had believed that, from now on, they would face what would come side by side. It hurt that Magnus had chosen to go alone. Not as much as the thought of Magnus by himself and in danger, but enough to be felt.
"I've requested a rescue mission for Magnus Bane," Maryse said, and Alec could hardly believe his mother would want to rescue Magnus Bane for anything at all. Yet he knew she was telling the truth, and that this may still have more to do with him than Magnus, but… it was something.
The fire was warm over his face, and he felt a flash of memory: the open portal causing a waft of hot, thick air blowing in his face, having to close his eyes against it as he blindly reached for Magnus.
A hand on his elbow brought him back to the present. Maryse was standing next to him, looking up at him with… something in her eyes. Something that made his chest ache. The kind he'd only seen when he'd beaten someone at something, or scored a perfect score. Maybe it was love. He couldn't understand what he'd done to earn it now.
"Alec," she said, and she sounded so dismayed, it was all it took for him to step closer to her, for his arms to go around her. She returned the embrace at once, sighing as she held him, her hand stroking the back of his head where he'd tucked it against her shoulder. "It's okay," she breathed. "It's okay."
He couldn't think of one time that she'd held him like this or said this to him. It was nice not to have to justify himself or say anything. It was nice for her to see he was hurting, to do nothing but comfort him. It made him feel worse to need it, but that was okay. Getting the so often sought-after affection of his mother made up for that.
He closed his eyes, and didn't step away, not even when she began to sway, when she pressed a kiss to his temple like she used to when he'd only been four, five years old, showing her his bad drawings of the runes his parents wore.
That night, the restless anger came to a boil. Without a mission and no Institute to take care of, Alec was left with much too much time to think. It was infuriating to have come so far for everything to be taken away again. As much as he prepared for the eventuality, he'd hoped he could show the Clave he was the best one for the job. He'd been trained for this all his life, from birth, and he'd gotten there even after years of thinking he never could.
And he had lost it. It hurt all the more that the one person he wanted to confide in, to talk to about this, was not there. It was Magnus' thoughts on the situation he wanted, Magnus' voice comforting him, Magnus' quips about the Clave to make him smile.
Everytime he thought of Magnus a new wave of anxiety and worry crashed over him. How would he find him? How would he get to Edom, find Magnus, bring him home, then start over again to show the Clave his worth as a leader?
With all of this brewing in his mind, Alec made his way to train. Unleashing some of these frustrations on a punching bag felt like the right call. It never helped, not really, but he always believed it would.
The room he chose was empty. No one would be in here at this hour, and he felt convinced the sight of him would send anyone in the other direction. Approaching the bag, he tried to clear his mind of thought. He flexed the fist of his bad arm at his side, but could barely close it completely, let alone squeeze it.
It didn't matter. He took his stance and hit the bag with his good arm, again and again. The more he hit it the more pain he felt in his knuckles, his wrist, his arm. The angrier he became. Losing the Institute and losing Magnus. Two of his worst nightmares happening back to back.
With an awkward swing of his bad arm, he hit the bag. It was more like throwing his limb at it, but he welcomed the pain that shot through him upon impact, gritting his teeth and making his vision warp. That was good. That brought him back into sharp focus.
He'd wanted to change things. He couldn't do that as a low ranked Shadowhunter. The Council would be kept in place, Maryse had assured him. She and Lucian would see to it. He hadn't thought to ask her how that was going. Her and Lucian. He'd meant to ask her how that was going. But he didn't have the heart to talk about love.
Magnus had lost his title, too, several weeks before. Alec wondered if Magnus had gone alone as a form of punishment. A sick feeling caught in his throat. He'd done what he could to make Magnus feel better, he'd tried so hard, and it hadn't been enough. It was his fault. Not that he blamed himself, no, not directly. Alec had learned not to take full responsibility for every little thing anymore. He had learned some of these things were the fault of the prejudice of others.
But he did think, maybe, if Magnus hadn't been in a relationship with a Shadowhunter... Maybe things would've been different. He thought Magnus knew as much, too, and neither of them said anything about it, both knowing the world they lived in thought so little of one of the best things in their life but not wanting to give it thought. Why would they, when they've chosen each other again and again, and would keep doing so?
Magnus had been mourning something. His title, but something else, too, perhaps the responsibility itself. The responsibility to care and watch after his people. The duty to keep others safe, to make decisions based on the protection of those like him.
Alec could not quite understand exactly, being a Shadowhunter. He couldn't pretend to know what being a Warlock was like, how it felt to see others endure the prejudice of people like him. He would never claim to know how that was, because he didn't. He could imagine a degree of it, due to his attraction to men, but it was not the same and didn't begin to touch on the reality of what Warlocks experienced.
He did know how it felt to want to keep others safe. To want to honor your people. To want to do your duty well. He did know what it was like to be ready to give up your own happiness for others. Magnus had done that for the Warlocks of Brooklyn. His happiness had come second to keeping his own safe. A happiness Alec knew meant so much to Magnus.
Maybe that was what Magnus had been mourning. Not the luxury that came with the title but the involvement, knowing it was up to him to speak for Warlock-kind at Council meetings, to fight for his people's rights, to work toward improvement in Downworlder-Shadowhunter relations so others after him would have less mess to deal with.
Alec had failed in clearing his thoughts, even as he kept hitting the bag with his good hand a couple of times, then the bad one, then back to the good one. As sharp as this pain was, it could not distract him from how Magnus had been without his title.
"Alec." Alec was dragged out of the quicksands that were his thoughts. "You're going to hurt yourself," she said. Alec was too sweaty for her to accept it if he said he had only just begun. He grit his teeth and hit the bag harder. She grabbed his arm when it pulled back, applying force. She was strong, as strong as he was. "Have you slept? You still need to rest, for your arm."
"I don't need to be babysat," Alec said, ripping his arm from her grip. Instead of returning to the punching bag, he whirled around, wiping his bandaged hand over his sweaty forehead, getting his hoodie over his shoulders. He couldn't put his bad arm through without having to do some awkward dance he didn't feel like exposing Izzy to right now. It would only prove her right.
"Right," Izzy said with an eye roll. "The minute I have my back turned you'll be knee deep in some scheme to get to Edom."
Alec remained silent, picking up his water bottle to drink.
"Listen," she tried again, her expression softening. Alec hated that look, right now. It was the "Alec needs to be talked down" look. "Everything that happened with Lorenzo, with Magnus, with Sebastian. None of that was your fault."
Her makeup was as perfect as ever, even this late at night, her hair falling over her shoulders. Alec couldn't look right at her, gaze flickering away from her face. She looked pleading. She wanted Alec to believe her, and Alec did. It wasn't his fault. He wasn't going to blow up the very ground he stood on because he thought it was his fault it had all gone to shit.
He was going to do that because he had to. He loved Magnus, and Magnus should not be out in Edom all by himself. He feared nothing more than never seeing Magnus Bane again and knowing he'd never even tried to find him.
"I know," he said. It was true that a few months back and he would have taken the brunt of responsibility for this, would have behaved as if he'd pushed Magnus into the portal and closed it behind him himself.
But he'd changed. Grown, really. It felt good to feel that in action, even as Izzy looked at him like she knew he would do something reckless anyway.
"The Clave isn't going to consider you at all if you step out of line."
"You think I don't know that?" Irritation slipped into his tone. Izzy did not need to tell him this. It was all he was thinking about.
"No. But I think you need a reminder." She crossed her arms, standing her ground.
"Magnus is missing," he said, putting emphasis on every word. Like nothing else should or did matter right now. His shoes squeaked as he turned around to pick up his bag and shoved the water bottle into it, wincing as a false movement of his bad arm sent a needle of pain through his nerves.
"He can take care of himself." Alec was stubborn, but so was his sister. Alec closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He hated hearing that. It wasn't about that. Fingers trembled as he lifted his hand to push his hair off his forehead. He felt shaky with exhaustion, anger, hurt. When he spoke his voice was unsteady, growing more and more strained with emotion.
"I know. I know he can, I know that if anyone can get out of Edom unscathed it's him. But I can't… I can't think, while he's gone, while I don't know if he's okay." He shrugged, spreading his hands. "I just can't, Izzy."
She had the grace of not looking surprised at the outburst. Probably she wasn't. She knew Alec better than anyone, though Magnus had been rapidly catching up.
"Alec. Please. At least get some rest. Some real rest. You don't have anything to be doing, right now."
She was right about that. Without his title his responsibilities had been diminished, with his injury he wasn't being sent on even the most basic of missions.
If he wasn't going to be busy with Head of the Institute responsibilities, he could dive into research on Edom. That relieved a tight knot of tension in his chest immediately. He could keep looking into this with no other responsibilities. Suddenly the loss of the title became a blessing.
"Okay," he said after a moment, and Izzy almost beamed at him.
"Yeah. I'll go… rest. I'm going to the loft," he said as he pushed past her. He reached for her hand on his way, giving it a squeeze, and she let him go after squeezing it back.
The loft felt too empty to feel as comfortable as it had become. It was odd to be here with Magnus. The loft had recently begun to feel more like theirs than his . The shared space they created here was one where they could be with each other in private, safe. Magnus' visits at the Institute were often not the most pleasant for him, and Alec was not eager to be found pressed against the wall with Magnus' hands all over him – not that Magnus would do this there, but sometimes Alec would want that, and remember where they were, and think this was not the right place. At the Institute, they kept it professional, for the most part.
Rather than make some dinner, grab a drink, pick up a book and sit on the couch, Alec went straight for the rows of texts in Magnus' study. He picked up whatever seemed relevant, though was frustrated that he did not speak Chthonian. How was it that their job was to combat demons, yet the Clave didn't bother to teach them their language?
He found enough books to get started in Latin, and some in French. There was one in Greek, which he had more trouble reading, but he added it to the pile nonetheless.
"That'll do for now," he muttered to himself, the books now reaching near his chin.
Magnus' desk was a bit of a mess. Alec had tried to get him to clean it, once. He'd asked him; Do you ever clean your desk a little? And Magnus had scoffed. Why would I? I know where everything is as it is . Alec had not argued the point, but minutes later when Magnus was upending everything on his work table and his desk, muttering to himself about being unable to find a document, Alec had opened his mouth. Magnus, without looking at him, had lifted a finger at him. Darling, don't, he'd said, and Alec had held his hands up. I didn't say a word , which was answered by Magnus pursing his lips at him in that pout of his. Alec had helped him find it, in the end, and Magnus had conceded he would think about cleaning up.
A honking car down the street brought Alec back to reality. He'd just lost a few precious minutes, and now his heart ached more than ever. The memory was so comfortably domestic. It felt like they'd been Alec and Magnus forever, at times like those. They could never be anything else, and that was why Alec had to focus.
Alec cleared his throat, rolled his shoulders, and got to work.
He spent all night with his face in dusty tomes and barely readable scratched notes in margins. With every other time the notes were clearly Magnus' (sometimes he made fun of the author, sometimes he added his own knowledge, sometimes he doodled something like a cat, or what looked like a rose but was decidedly something else), he kept on. Rather than let these little pieces of Magnus hurt, he used them to fuel himself. This was the man he was doing this for. Magnus was there, in the margins with him. Making him laugh, sharing what he knew, making him smile.
He read until his eyes burned and they blurred over, making already difficult to decipher texts all the more complicated. Light was beginning to stream into the room in lines through the slats of the shades. Alec grunted and rubbed at his eyes, sat at Magnus' desk with a pile of old tomes. One of these smelled funny. Not moldy, dusty old book funny, but more like it had spent some time close to something dead.
It was at the bottom of the pile, and still Alec could smell it, faint as it was. He wrinkled his nose and tugged it from under the books, running his fingers over the cover.
Then he sneezed. His bad arm tried to lift so he could sneeze into his elbow and instead banged against the desk's edge. He cried out in pain and dropped the book, gripping at his arm with his good hand as if it could quench the shooting pain coursing through it. It went from an intense sharpness that made Alec's vision swim, then dulled to a throb.
That was bad, Alec thought numbly, reopening his eyes and letting his arm go. His gaze fell to the floor, where the book had landed open. Something caught his eye, and he reached over to pick up the book. The harsh buzz of his phone alerting him to a text stopped him, and he reached for that instead.
The Clave refused.
He did not need to ask his mother what she was talking about. A new wave of anger crashed over Alec. How could they treat him like this? How could they both need his services and yet have complete disregard for who he was, for his safety, for his well being?
The chair complained as he got up abruptly, stepping over the book and staring at the text. Why was he even surprised? Maybe the Clave had no way of getting to Edom, but surely there was something that could be done, if they wanted to save Magnus' life.
"Screw this," Alec muttered to no one. He hadn't made enough progress yet to find a way into Edom that did not involve summoning a demon, so it was time to sleep.
His head was so crammed with thoughts he knocked back a shot of whiskey to make himself sleepy. The taste reminded him of Magnus, of kissing whiskey off his lips.
The sheets were cool when Alec climbed into them. Everything smelled like Magnus, which was both a comfort and difficult. The bed – their bed – felt bigger than it ever had. It was the first night he spent thoroughly alone in the loft since he'd moved in. There had been a night where he'd crawled in knowing Magnus would be there when he woke, and had felt kisses at his shoulder and tugged Magnus' arm around him sleepily when he'd slipped into bed with him. There had been a night where he'd gone to bed earlier, but Magnus was puttering about in his apothecary, and the sounds of his presence had lulled Alec to sleep.
Now it was the sounds of the city coming in from the open window that lulled him, and the harsh burn of alcohol in his throat, and his complete and total exhaustion.
In the morning, he went straight to the shower. He had to clock in at the Institute, yet felt no rush to do so. His priorities had shifted. To be fair, they had been shifting for the past few months. His duty was still important to him. Keeping others safe mattered. Being head of the Institute was – well, he wasn't fond of thinking of what it meant to him these days.
Through all of that, though, he was seeing a side to the Clave he'd longed turned a blind eye to. Even as he struggled with his identity, he'd held prejudiced, outdated ideas. The more he let those go, the more blatant it became that the Clave was in no way impartial, or even fair. The harder it became to trust the institution he worked for.
As Head of the Institute, he'd done what he could to start ameliorating things, but the prejudice ran deeper than that. He no longer felt like he owed them the same degree of respect as he once had. If they couldn't see Magnus as a living person with as many rights and depths as him, he didn't care what they thought.
After stepping out of the bathroom smelling like Magnus' sandalwood shampoo, Alec decided to pick up after himself at least a little. He'd left a pile of books on Magnus' desk, and in case Magnus came back soon…
He sighed as he accidentally kicked the book that had fallen onto the floor last night a bit and it slid across the floor. He leaned over to pick it up, and then frowned at the image on the open page. It was a strange looking demon, illustrated in a frozen dance, doors of all shapes and sizes in a circle around it. There was writing beneath the drawing, scrawled and cramped and unreadable. One word was written in capital letters. It stood out amidst the rest of the text, and Alec ran his fingers over it with a frown.
The demon's name.
Putting the book aside, he wandered back to the walls of books and vials lining Magnus' apothecary. Finding what you were looking for was nearly impossible, as Magnus ordered his books in an order that made sense only to himself. After twenty minutes of scouring the book spines one by one, Alec found what he was looking for.
Opening the cover of the [demon book], he held his breath. It seemed evident from the image what the demon's specialty was, but he wanted to be sure. He was careful with the pages of the book as he looked for the corresponding entry. It was very old and fragile to the touch.
He let out a breath at the sight of the description.
Suddenly, Alec had a plan.
Not an ideal one, but it would have to do.
He left everything as it was. There was no more time to waste. On his way out, he whisked by the small desk at the entrance of the loft, sending the strip of pictures from Tokyo into a flutter. It landed on the floor face up, and then flipped with the force of the air when Alec closed the loft door behind him.
There, it gathered dust. It would be weeks before it would be picked up again.
He had called Cat, but she'd only gotten mad at him, and said she couldn't risk her life recklessly like he was, because she had a child to take care of, because Magnus wouldn't want her to, and wouldn't want him too either, and Alec had listened to the lecture thinking it didn't matter what Magnus wanted. Magnus had chosen to go alone, and he was a fool if he thought Alec wouldn't even try to get to him.
So he went to his next best bet. It showcased how desperate he was, because no other circumstances would have brought him to this man's door.
The most infuriating thing about him was that his demeanor was perfectly polite, but every word was calculated and sharpened, every other sentence an implication that he was superior in every way. Alec had entered multiple conversations with him that were battles, arguing without arguing, remaining polite while lacing every word with smooth vitriol.
He didn't like him at all, but between that and waiting to find another warlock who would help, gathering the funds, ensuring he could trust them… Lorenzo would have to do. Not that Alec trusted him, but he believed Lorenzo would find it to his advantage if Alec was as much out of his hair as Magnus was.
Alec knocked on Lorenzo's door with a fist clenched tight. Lorenzo had stolen something from Magnus and Alec was not close to forgiving him, but he had to bite back any comments now.
Lorenzo was sipping at a drink when he opened the door with a swing. It infuriated Alec how he seemed to emulate Magnus . Imitation is the greatest form of flattery , Magnus had once said, and Alec had made a face and shaking his head. He's not you. He'll never be you. So he can stop trying , had been Alec's response, causing the type of smile on Magnus' face that made Alec feel like he'd said the right thing without meaning to.
"Yes?" Lorenzo said, and Alec took a breath, steeling himself. Either this would be very easy, or very difficult. The fact of the matter was that it was a blow to his pride to come crawling to Lorenzo, and they both knew it.
"I need your help. Summoning a demon."
"Of course you do," he said, gentle, yet with all the condescension in the world.
Alec didn't blink. His jaw hurt from being clenched so tight. Lorenzo nodded and stepped aside. Lorenzo's place seemed to intentionally mirror Magnus', but everything was a little grander, sleeker, bigger. It was more spacious, and it lacked the coziness of the loft, this impression that someone lived there and loved the things they'd put in it very much. It was all for show.
Alec stepped inside, hating it. He looked right at Lorenzo, trying to read him. In reality he did not care what motivated Lorenzo to help, if he chose to. What mattered was getting to Edom, and the rest he would figure out once there. That was all he needed Lorenzo for, and Alec failed to see how Lorenzo could turn this to his advantage, if a deal was made.
In a way, it would be convenient for him, wouldn't it? Believing Alec and Magnus to both be out of his hair.
"I need to get to Edom. I've got the name of the demon who can get me there," he explained, standing still by the doorway. Lorenzo must enjoy seeing Alec coming to him, knowing how important Magnus was to him. He paid it no mind, keeping his anger at bay. "So, will you do it?"
Lorenzo watched him. He was smiling peacefully, his suit as intricate as some of Magnus', threaded with accessories that reflected the light of his loft. Yet it felt different, because contrary to Magnus, who was all fluid grace and movement, Lorenzo was still.
"For a price," he said after a moment of silence, and Alec answered immediately, without missing a beat.
"Anything." Alec knew what Lorenzo wanted. Being the High Warlock of Brooklyn did not mean much if the New York Institute insisted on paying Magnus Bane for his services and not Lorenzo. Alec had been clear on that front: they would continue to pay Magnus for his wards and his services provided, not Lorenzo.
He also knew he no longer had any say in the matter and therefore wouldn't actually have to forfeit Magnus' work. Whoever would take over the Institute next might decide to do so anyway, but the point here was that Lorenzo knew it was Alec who had refused his services and renewed the Institute's contracts with Magnus. And he knew it would hurt them if Alec cancelled these in favor of working with Lorenzo.
Lorenzo smirked. He asked for exactly what Alec expected, which he accepted with no argument. It wouldn't be up to him in the end, and if it meant having Magnus back, he would make this one.
It took more or less an hour for Alec to reach out to who he needed to. Maryse, Luke and Maia had all agreed to help, Maia with some convincing from Luke, who had required some convincing from Maryse. It wasn't that Luke didn't want to save Magnus, Maryse had explained, as they were friends, but rather that involving himself in Shadowhunter business further than he already was with Clary and Maryse looked bad in the eyes of his clan.
Alec had told her to do her best, and that he didn't want anyone doing anything they were uncomfortable doing.
When Maryse arrived, Luke and Maia were in tow. With Alec and Lorenzo, that was five.
"Are you sure about this?" Luke asked him after Lorenzo explained what was required of them. Alec only adjusted the strap of his quiver at his back for the hundredth time.
Was he sure? Yes. Was he scared? Yes. It was possible to be both. Alec had been sure and terrified at the same time before, when it came to Magnus.
He was always sure when it came to Magnus. Just like he was sure he would ask Magnus to marry him when they returned home. Just like he was sure he didn't care if that meant the Clave would not take him seriously again. He'd had other things on his mind that would make the Clave balk. Things he'd not yet voiced to any living thing.
"Alright," Luke said when no answer from Alec came.
Maryse looked worried, but Luke's hand was on her arm and she kept her mouth in a tight line. She did not speak, yet Alec knew what she thought of his decision. She was here, though, wasn't she? She looked over at Luke and her expression softened minutely.
She must understand, now, what a love that was true companionship was like.
Maia brushed past Alec and bumped her shoulder against him.
"I'm only doing this for him," she said as she turned to face him, and Alec nodded.
"So am I," he answered, and she looked about to make a wry comment before she stopped herself, crossing her arms. She did not look defiant, only… thoughtful. Curious.
"Did you… ever get Magnus an omamori? A Japanese charm."
"How did you… I did, yeah. A while back," Alec answered. Maia looked at him a moment longer, then put a hand on Alec's arm and nodded.
"Bring him back in one piece, alright?" Then she turned away and took her place on the pentagram drawn onto the floor, holding out her hand for Luke to take.
"Alright, let's get the show started," Lorenzo said, clapping his hands and rubbing them together, expression one of total glee.
Alec hated him. But he hated Magnus being gone more. He took a breath, running a hand over his arm. It still hurt, and wasn't very mobile, but he held it up to reach for Maryse's hand. It trembled wildly, but she grasped his hand tight enough to steady it. He could barely feel her touch at all, but any concern for the state of his arm was overshadowed by everything else.
His heart began to beat faster as Lorenzo took his good hand and they completed the circle. He was doing it. Soon he would be in Edom, soon he would be with Magnus again. He wanted to see him more than anything he'd ever wanted in his life, and had to squeeze his eyes shut a moment when he thought of how close he was to feeling Magnus' hand in his own, his cheek against his palm, his voice in his ear.
The incantation began, a gust of wind filling the summoning room. Alec blinked against chalk dust and hold on tightly. A low grumble seemingly coming from the depths of the Earth filled his ears, Lorenzo's voice rising above it.
Then the demon was here.
Landing in Edom was a shock. His body slammed into the ground, air escaping his lungs with an oomf that would otherwise be comical.
The air was dry and hot. There was no wind, only a pressure from the air itself, as if it had weight. Alec blinked dust out of his eyes and pushed himself up. It was impossible to orient himself, all he could see was a vast stretch of nothing, the ground beneath him like fine compact sand, cracks running along it; the horizon ahead blended into a sky in which Alec could see no clouds or sun, only the same reddish grey as the ground. He coughed, his lungs displeased with the state of the air. It smelled like fire, like burnt plastic, like burned trees.
Here and there, he could see shapes. A tree half uprooted, tipped to the side. What looked like a rib cage, half buried in the dirt. In the distance, where clarity was poor and things seemed to be caught in a sandstorm, he could see a building.
Alec realised he had not brought a map. In fact, he'd not prepared for this at all, had he? Reading books was one thing, being in Edom, alone, with no idea of where Magnus was – that was another. How would he find him? How could he find him?
The demon had seemed amused at his request, Lorenzo as well. They must have known that sending him here would mean nothing. That without knowing where Magnus was, Alec could roam this place for years and never find him.
He brushed dust off his chest, looking around, and eyes constantly drawn to the shape of those ruins in the distance. An uneasy panic rose in his throat. Not out of concern for himself, but out of not knowing if he could even find Magnus. He'd been so focused on getting to Edom. That had been the priority. The after had not seemed so important. He hadn't thought it through, even if he'd been far from imagining he'd stumble right into Magnus' arms. He wasn't stupid.
Right. He wasn't stupid. He could do this. If he stayed focused, he would find his way, but if he let the panic set in, he might as well have signed his own death certificate. He could not afford to let it in, not when Magnus was out there.
Alec took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He did not believe he would be left alone for long. Demons would learn of his presence and make their way to him soon enough, so he took this moment to center himself. Magnus had given him a technique or two, for when things weighed too heavily on his shoulders. Eight seconds in, eight seconds out.
His arm hurt. Pain was shooting through it over and over at the pace of his heart beat. It was like it was filled with fire rather than blood.
Alec's relationship with pain had always been a conflicted, strange one. There were times the pain he felt inside him felt so big, so immense, that experiencing pain on the outside brought on the illusion of relief. It was a distraction. It was a reminder he was alive, at least, and that was something. Now that impulse had shifted and changed, but the pain he felt in his arm as he took in shortened breaths of scorching air was sharpening his focus. If he could pour part of the weight in his chest into the pain of his arm, if he could imagine that it hurt because it was being drained away to burn there instead of in his head, in his heart – he felt a sort of relief. Clarity filled his mind. He knew pain, and understood it. Emotions he was still learning to fully grasp, feeling at times awkward and clumsy with them. So he let his arm take the brunt of what he was feeling, let the ache in his chest dissipate, let thoughts of Magnus fill him without the yawning crater his absence created.
This wasn't like last time. Magnus had chosen to go, but he had not left Alec. He had just left. In a way, that hurt. In a way, that made Alec angry. They could and should have gone together.
But he knew if he'd been in Magnus' position, he might have chosen to go alone too.
They'd found their way back to each other once before. They would find their way back once again. Alec simply had to keep going. He could do this. He would find Magnus, and together they'd find their way out of here, and when they'd return home he would tell him what's been in his heart since that day celebrating Valentine's death, since they'd walked away huddled together to eat steaks and cuddle and talk all night and kiss and kiss and kiss until their lips were sore.
When he opened his eyes they landed on the ruins, and Alec set for them without hesitation.
At first, it was easy. Alec walked toward the ruins for the better part of half a day. He had stopped to rip a piece of fabric dangling from a tree, blanking his mind to questions about its origins. No need to wonder if it was a left over from a demon's human snack. No need to question if it was a piece of the Shadowhunters that used to exist here before. No need to ask if there'd been a body attached, picked to the bones, and then the bones themselves eaten.
The strip of clothing was pocketed. He did not need it yet, but his arm was useless at his side, a weight, and if time came to fight, it would help to have it secured in a sling.
Dust lifted at his feet with every step he took, making his breathing more labored more quickly. As light seemed to fade from his surroundings, all things turning greyer than before, so did the temperature. The air became less heavy, but cooler, too. His jacket felt thin even as he pulled it around himself, so he opted instead to stop walking for a moment and draw himself a heat rune. It would keep his body heat up temporarily, and like this he would be able to keep the same pace.
Pocketing the stele, Alec looked back up only to narrow his eyes toward the horizon. There was a shape in the sky. It looked like one of those flying demons they'd fought after that portal on the beach had been opened.
Those were bad news. Not only did they signal Lilith's presence, but they were a pain in the ass to deal with.
On instinct, he ran. Bolted toward the next indistinct shape until it became a boulder, and made himself small behind it. If the thing flew right above him it was no use, but this way he might be disguised from a greater distance. Peeking over the side, he watched it come closer. Then it stopped dead and turned in the other direction, drawn by something Alec couldn't see.
With the quick activation of another rune, he could hear, though. The sound was muffled and unclear, but distinct enough to identify. It was Clary and Jace and…Sebastian? Alec frowned. Had they found him already? Thankfully, the surprise at hearing Sebastian's voice overtook the anxiety that Magnus was not there with them too. Clary and Jace hadn't found him.
He should go to them. That was the voice in him that was dutiful and trained. The one that told him to look out for his own. The rest of Alec wanted to leave them to their own devices and continue onward to find Magnus. That was what he was here for; it was what his heart wanted. Jace and Clary could fend for themselves, right?
The flying demon let out a screech, and he heard their voices overlap, getting more urgent. Alec heaved a sigh, dropping his head back and wincing when it hit the stone. God, these two really couldn't be left alone. He should at least tell them he was here, right?
He got up. He did so without paying attention to his surroundings, wanting to hurry and make his way to them before their voices grew too far. A mistake, as a shax demon that had been creeping up on him now lept at his movement.
"Shit!" Alec stumbled back, the back of his legs hitting the boulder and rolling backward over it. His hand grasped for the stele strapped to his thigh as he rolled, holding his useless arm up over his face. He could feel it writhing with all of its strength to try and get at him, could smell its disgusting stench coating his throat with every panted breath. This is easy , he told himself. You've killed a dozen of these in a night before , he reminded himself.
The stele came free and with one swift movement the shax demon was impaled on it, squeaking and trashing and eventually going limp. Not disappearing. This was its realm.
It simply died, and stayed impaled.
Alec grimaced. Not only was it disgusting, he was annoyed at himself for having made such a mistake. He'd had an activated sound rune and still not heard it? How was that possible? How terrible would it be if because of his lack of attention he'd been killed by a shax demon, of all things?
He pressed his boot against the demon's body to draw his stele out of it. Runes must've drawn it to me . The thought made him turn around quickly, and right enough, as two shax demons had been creeping up from behind the boulder.
Fighting with only one and a half functioning arms was difficult, but Alec bared the pain. Shax demons were nasty, difficult creatures. But they were simple minded ones Alec had been trained to kill since childhood. Having taken a horde of a dozen shax demons by himself before, this was still a relative walk in the park.
As he kept one at bay with his arm folded to protect his face, he swing at the other with his blade. He missed, but with a wave of his arm he threw the other off of him only to send it flying at the second demon. It caused him to cry out in pain, his nerves on fire at the joint of his shoulder, but he stayed focused, using that pain and charging ahead, slamming his blade through both bodies in one hit.
Gasping for breath, he shook them off the seraph blade and dumped them with the other.
When he turned toward the direction from which Jace, Clary and Sebastian's voices had come, there was nothing.
They were gone, and Alec was alone again.
A day went by. He could not tell if he was getting much closer to the ruins of Idumea, but he kept going. He was hungry, he was thirsty, but he used his nourishment rune sparingly. Shax demons he could handle, but what if he drew in something bigger? What if one of the Edomai spotted him and came after him? There were few places to run. Even hiding in the occasional cave he came upon would be unwise. The demon would wait him out.
Edom was strange, which should not have been unexpected, but its strangeness still left Alec uneasy. From time to time, he came across pieces of civilization, a reminder that this realm of Hell had once been home to people like him. There were ruins of cabins, an old collapsed wooden bridge. Sometimes he found bodies. He found a piece of metal that looked like it had been part of a shield, the angelic power rune etched on the back, scratched and faded. The metal felt hot in his hand when he tugged it out of the sand.
A little further, he found a carved toy. It looked a little like the Christopher Shadowhunter toy he'd envied of his classmates when he'd been Max's age. It was old, ancient. Something about it made Alec feel a longing despair. There had been children here, before the demons had overrun it. There had been life. There had been parents, children, friends and people in love, like Magnus and himself.
This was what they were trying to prevent. This was why Magnus had gone to Edom in the first place. Lilith could not have her way. She would destroy everything they were meant to protect.
He propped it up against a rock and continued on. He had to find Magnus to get him to safety, but also to help him get the help they needed. They were stronger together. Alec wanted to be at his side, fighting to keep their world safe. He did his best not to let his mind wander. Whenever panic seized him at the thought of how big Edom was and how he had no idea where Magnus is, he took some deep breaths. He thought of what he wanted to say to him, what he had planned. He thought of telling him he wanted to be with him forever.
And to talk about what that meant to them. Forever.
There came a point where dust gave way to mud. There were more dead trees in this area, and a putrid smell of mold and rot. The ground squelched beneath his feet.
He stopped, fishing for the piece of cloth he'd grabbed with the aim to eventually turn into a sling. He'd use it as a cover for his face instead, to help with the smell, and filter through whatever could be emanating from the mud. There could be gas he was not seeing. Better safe than sorry , he told himself, even if placing some age old piece of fabric over his mouth did not enchant him.
Going on, he found himself in front of a body of water. The ruins were on the other side. The closer Alec got and the less like ruins they seemed. It looked like Idris, but uncared for. Abandoned, but not completely falling apart. A high structure rose nearby, just a few hundred feet from the other side of the lake. Magnus may not be in Idumea, but he could climb the ruins and get a good look at what was around him. Maybe leave some kind of message somewhere for Magnus to find.
He just had to get across the lake. Alec approached its shore, wary. The closer he got, the less he believed it was water. The pool stretched ahead of him, into the horizon. It was flat as a mirror, but reflected nothing. It's dark surface shone like fuel did, like an oil slick. It was almost beautiful, all those colors in darkness. It would have been, if Alec wasn't keenly aware that he had to cross it.
He put one foot in first, to test it. The substance was strangely unlike both oil and water. Yet it seemed easy, possibly even, to keep getting in. Something chittered nearby, and Alec took a couple of steps into the pool, paying the noise no mind. They wouldn't follow, of that he was convinced. He was similarly convinced that the only way to get to where he wanted was to swim.
Water splashed at his ankles as he kept going, boots being suctioned by the muddy lake floor. The smell was worse here. It was revolting, thick, filling his nose and making it burn. Still, he didn't think to walk back. Nor did he consider going around.
Once he was in to his waist, his limbs felt heavier. His clothes were sticking to him and weighing him down, but nothing felt more wrong than considering turning back. There was a pull from the other side of the lake. Maybe it was Magnus. Maybe that was what he was feeling in his chest, tearing at him, urging him to keep going.
He was up to his shoulders now. He couldn't move his arm. It weighed a ton, dragging him down. I have to go down , he thought, unbidden. Yes, to the very bottom. His arm was pulling there for a reason. That was where the exit was.
He dived. He opened his eyes, but the substance was too thick. It made them burn, and he could see nothing. No light came through from above. He swam toward the bottom, one arm useless, hindering him. He wanted to rip it off. Then he could go faster. The liquid filled his ears. They popped, and Alec went to take a breath before realizing he would drown if he did that.
Actually, he would drown if he tried to get to the bottom. Fuck . What was he doing?
He kicked his feet, this time angling himself upwards. He could not tell if it was the right direction. Up, down, it was dark down here. He kicked up with everything he had, but still felt like he was getting nowhere, legs clumsy and slow, too heavy. Panic began to rise in his chest, making the need for air that much greater.
Calm down, he heard his mother say. If you panic, you lose sight of what's important. Focus. Deep breaths. He could almost feel the bow in his hand, the tremor in his young hands.
He stopped struggling. He let himself be still.
The water pulled him down. His lungs were burning, but now he could not move. He felt too heavy, his arms and legs like lead.
As he sank, he thought of Magnus' face. He thought of Magnus' arms going around him, his hand on his cheek, and he felt calm.
His back hit the bottom.
Chapter 3: alec and magnus
Everything with Asmodeus was a game. A game to prove to Magnus that he could not deny his heritage, and that he belonged here, in Edom. He was the son of a Prince of Hell, and that made him one as well.
Magnus should have known. It had been days of these mental games, of dinners in grand dining rooms, sitting across from each other, casual conversation as if they were discussing the weather, when it was the world's fate they were really there to discuss. The room Asmodeus always met him in had high ceilings with equally impressive windows, so big they gave Magnus slight vertigo when he stood in front of them. The building looked nicer on the inside than the outside. At the foot of it, Magnus had thought it might collapse if the wind was a little too strong. Once inside, he saw there was no risk of that whatsoever. It was richly decorated, full of dark hues, but clean. Not left to ruin.
Magnus had made it a habit to look out of the dining room windows as they ate. He could see far into the distance. On one occasion he saw Edomai, circling an area. Today, it was the lake by the foot of the building that caught his eye. Something was off about its surface. It looked more like tar than water.
Asmodeus had noticed, and smirked, although Magnus had not then understood why.
He should have known. As they were finishing up, Asmodeus had pointed at the shape of Alec at the shore of the lake, and Magnus had watched, not believing him when he'd said his lover boy was there for him. He'd thought it a trick. He'd laughed that Asmodeus believed he would fall for that. Alec had no way of coming to Edom.
He'd watched Alec dive to the bottom from the highest window of Asmodeus' home and felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. What if it was Alec? Could he risk it? He had waited a moment for Alec to resurface, and when he didn't, he portalled down to the lake without sparing Asmodeus another glance. Whether he was playing into his hands or not didn't matter. Asmodeus wouldn't kill Magnus. But he could kill Alec. Magnus could not simply stand there without being sure.
Wouldn't it be very Alec to come after him? Wouldn't it be typical that he would find a way to come here in spite of the difficulty it presents, in spite of the low chance of survival?
Magnus rushed to shore, summoning magic beneath his feet to stay afloat as he breached the surface of the lake. He shot a concentration of magic at the center of the body of water, again and again, from one hand to the next. As he did, splashes of the dark oil fell to the side. It was ineffective, and Magnus felt fear turn into panic. Alec could be drowning. The liquid wasn't moving out of the way, even with his magic. It was as if there was no real depth.
That must be it. It must be flat, only a few feet deep, but the tar itself enchanted to trap it's victims. He looked around, and noticed the shape of the lake was changing. It was shrinking. It would eventually become nothing, and whoever had been left within it would be gone along with it.
He dove to his stomach, using the magic from his feet to hold himself to the surface, then shoved his arm into it.
"Come on. Come on, Alec," he muttered through gritted teeth, hand seeking for something to grab, moving around in tight figure eights. He exclaimed when he felt something brush his fingers and moved it more slowly, getting increasingly desperate.
His hand closed on fingers that nearly slipped from him, but he reached again. There was a great force trying to pull Alec back to itself, away from him. Magnus kept pulling, grunting as he did, using all his might and all his magic. Eventually the hand was out in the air, the shape of the lake becoming smaller and smaller, now more like a large pond than anything. He was sweating, his clothes sticking to his back, but his eyes looked nowhere but at the arm now jutting out of the substance, at the shoulder, the neck – then the face. He let out a sound as if the air had been knocked out of him.
It was Alec, the real Alec, and he'd almost let him drown. Magnus' arms went around Alec's chest and he sat back on the shore, tugging, pushing himself away with his feet and keeping Alec with him. He couldn't feel him breathe, but it was more urgent to get him out before the lake, now a pond, shrunk to nothing but a puddle. Or something smaller.
Magnus fell back, wriggling more into the mud until he was sure Alec's feet were no longer touching the tar's surface. He slide from beneath him, kneeling at his side, one muddy hand taking Alec's in his own, the other searching for a pulse. At first he couldn't find anything. Then he felt Alec swallow, and then he was gasping for hair, struggling to sit up, looking around in dazed horror.
"Alexander, take it easy," Magnus said, putting a hand on his arm, the other over his back to help him stay upright. There were rivulets of dark, oily sheen running down the side of his face, his lips, making him blink.
"Magnus?" His voice was so raspy, but it was his Alexander's voice. Magnus nodded, swallowing hard. His hand was shaking as he wiped at Alec's face. How many times were they going to go through this? How many times was he going to have to watch Alec return to consciousness after believing his life in danger? How many times would Alec have to follow him some place like this?
Magnus made a promise to himself as Alec's face fell and he grabbed for him that he would not let that happen again. He heard Alec make a choked sound, face buried into the crook of his neck, and Magnus folded himself over him, holding onto him, one hand curling into the hair at the back of his head.
"You're okay. I got you."
Alec made a disgruntled sound, lifting his head, shaking it. His brow was furrowed in that way of his, when he didn't understand something that was so clear to him.
"I'm fine, Magnus, I was just so worried; I didn't know if you were okay, if you'd ever come back. I didn't even know if I would find you."
Magnus didn't know how Alec could say he was fine after crossing Edom to find him. He must have been cold, and hungry, and alone. This place had a way of giving your darkest thoughts more weight. Yet still it was Magnus he'd worried about, Magnus he was so relieved to see safe and sound. He was more relieved about that than about being saved from the lake.
It seemed impossible that someone like Alec could exist. It seemed impossible that someone like Alec would choose him. But here he was. He'd found a way to get to Edom for Magnus. Alec continued to take his breath away, to surprise him, to stun him into silence. When he'd arrived here, he'd done his best not to think about Alec too much, which of course meant he'd thought of him constantly. Yet he'd never imagined Alec would come this far for him.
It made Magnus' chest ache. He was loved beyond measure. He was loved as much as he himself loved.
Magnus stroked Alec's cheek, unable to look away from him.
"You found me," Magnus said, and the words meant I love you .
"Who was it that said that? That we always find our way back to each other?" Alec smiled, almost cheeky, and Magnus felt such a burst of love for this man that all he could do in response was laugh and then kiss him, know that he meant I love you too . Alec let out a startled sound but then kissed him back, fiercely. Alec's relief was tangent in the kiss, and Magnus returned it with all the love and gratitude he couldn't express.
"Eugh," Asmodeus said from right next to them. Alec jumped, and Magnus ripped himself away so he could shield Alec with his body. Asmodeus stood there, in his perfectly tailored suit and his impeccable oxfords. The mud seemed to spread away from them with each step he took. "Him? Really?"
Magnus felt the anger in him boil to the surface. For a long time, Magnus had been afraid to be angry. For years, he'd thought that anger made him a monster. The incident with his step father as a child had cemented in him a belief that when he was angry, people died. It became a habit: keeping his anger in check. Lashing out in small, other ways, like a well placed, slicing comment, or hiking up his prices.
It meant when the anger was too much to contain, it came out of him in bursts. It meant his anger was immense, a force. It meant his magic took its shape.
A breeze picked up around them. Magnus stood to shield Alec and lifted his hands, and those winds became a gale. That gale became a dust storm, spinning with them at the center, the ground shaking beneath Magnus' feet. He could hear Alec saying his name, but he was far away. All that mattered was that burning, sizzling anger he felt right now, how exhausted and infuriated he was that others could not stop trying o take things from him. The Queen. Lorenzo. Now Asmodeus.
They all took something from him, or tried to. Something precious, something he loved. He'd worked hard enough, lived long enough, to deserve these things.
A few months ago Magnus might not have felt like this. Before Alec he might have thought this was all par for the course. Of course he would lose what mattered, he always did, they always left, or he started to drive them away.
But his title? He wanted that back, one day.
And his love for Alec? He wasn't going to let it go again.
Alec had made Magnus see in himself things he'd long thought were nonexistent. Alec had stood by him and made him feel human, and loved, more than he'd thought he deserved. Alec was fallible, Alec had hurt him, but Alec hadn't given up, and whenever he failed he did whatever he could to repair it. With Alec in his life, Magnus thought he wanted Asmodeus gone, he thought he deserved better, he thought he should fight to prove he was nothing like him. He thought he should fight for the things he lived for.
"If you come near us again, I'll end you," he said through gritted teeth, his eyes alight. Asmodeus just laughed, his hands in his pockets and standing as casually as a model being photographed. It made Magnus want to rip him in half.
"I'm your father, Magnus. I am and always will be more powerful than you are," Asmodeus drawled, and experience had taught Magnus that arrogance always left a weakness, an open window, overlooked by someone who didn’t think they needed the fortifications. His hand moved in an arc, like a slap, and the dust followed. It whacked Asmodeus off his feet.
Magnus' jacket flapped in the wind, and he heard Alec say his name again. This time, Magnus looked behind him. Alec was on his feet, his arm hanging at his side, expression set. Before Alec even opened his mouth again, Magnus knew what he was about to say.
"You're going to drain yourself," he said, stepping closer. How was he not afraid? Magnus was causing each particle of dust in the area to concentrate around them, his hands glowing a dangerous red. Power was coursing through him, in his veins, under his skin, electric and hot and just itching to be let out. Yet Alec came close enough to put a hand on his arm. "Magnus. We have to get back."
Alec's eyes were beautiful. They reminded Magnus of the strength in nature. Stately trees, the constant ground, the endless sky. What was most breathtaking was the complete sincerity in them at all times. Alec was not good at hiding things, because often his eyes said them for him.
In Alec's eyes now was nothing but certainty that Magnus would not hurt him and hope that Magnus might listen and lower his hands.
It was true there was no way for Magnus to kill Asmodeus like this, and not here, in Edom. But he could have made him hurt. He could have made sure he would need a few years before resurfacing. He'd come to get help to stop Lilith, not commit another patricide.
He lowered his hands. The wind stopped abruptly, and Alec relaxed next to him, looking over at Asmodeus with a clenched jaw. Magnus put a hand on his arm to draw his attention back to him. Asmodeus did not matter. He had spun Magnus in circles for days, playing mental games with him that Magnus expertly side stepped, but that weren't any less draining.
"My place is up there, with the other Warlocks," Magnus said, turning back to Asmodeus.
"The ones who rejected you?" He asked, and Magnus rolled his eyes.
It wasn't the first time Asmodeus made a comment like this. At first it had stung. At first it had hurt, even. It was not something Magnus was proud of, and it made the loss of his title an easy target for Asmodeus.
With Alec at his side it was easier to see how meaningless it all was. His title had meant everything. That was true. He had worked tirelessly for it, he had proven himself, he had earned it and deserved it.
But couldn't he still protect his kind? Wasn't he still one of the most powerful warlocks out there? Asmodeus thought that meant Magnus would return to where he belonged. Yet this power he held, the strength of his magic coursing through him, meant something else to Magnus now. It had taken years of work, and some days was harder to believe than others.
But what he wanted to use this strength for was to help others. Not destroy. Not join Asmodeus in Edom to wreck havoc. A part of him had thought all his life that he was no better, deep down. After murdering his father as a child, the guilt had stayed with him, buried deeper and deeper with the years, all tangled up in his grief for his mother. The whispers of the Shadowhunters kept those fears from disappearing, years of finding connections but not the kind to last a lifetime gave them enough life to last through the centuries.
Then there had been the agony rune.
But there had also been Alexander.
Magnus looked at him now. Alec was an anchor; one of the things in his life he wanted to keep fighting for. There were so many more, back home. People needed Magnus Bane - High Warlock of Brooklyn or not.
Magnus took Alec's hand and opened a portal, pulling Alec through it with him. He heard Asmodeus speak and ignored it completely, closing the portal behind them. This was the right option. He was sure of it.
"We don't need him," Magnus said in response to Alec's bewildered look. "I don't know why I even believed we did," he admitted, and Alec smiled, soft, lacing their fingers together.
"We don't. We have you," he said, and kissed Magnus, making him feel lighter than he had in weeks, making him feel like he was floating, like everything was right with the world or would be soon again. They held onto each other a while after, standing there covered in dust and tar and grime, arms around each other tight. Alec's fingers curled into Magnus' shirt, Magnus tucked his head against Alec's shoulder until Alec snuffled and said his hair was tickling his nose.
"I can't believe you're here," Magnus said, once they'd parted enough to look at each other again. Magnus had thought of Alec everyday. When he'd laid down on the ornate bed reserved for him in Asmodeus' tower and closed his eyes to sleep, it was Alec's face as he watched him step through the portal that he saw. At night, his dreams were a confusion of dreams, split threads and tangled knots of images and feelings and Alec, a permanent fixture. Sometimes it was a nightmare, of Alec rejecting him when he returned, or Alec being taken away from him by some dark force. Sometimes it was a better dream, in which Alec appeared at the last minute to sweep him away, or was simply next to him, offering his steady, quiet adoration and support.
"Why wouldn't I be? You're here," Alec answered, as if that was something people said all the time, as if it was normal that two people who loved each other would follow one another into Hell. As if there was no other place Alec could be than wherever Magnus was.
Magnus' hand cupped Alec's face, as it so often did. This person, standing right in front of him, had somehow thought him so worthy that finding a way into Edom and scouring it for him was the logical thing to do. Magnus felt so very young, his heart clenching, his breath short.
"I love you, Alexander." It was rare for Magnus to say it first. It was something he was getting used to, not because he didn't love Alec, but because saying those words as eagerly and often as he wanted in the past had lead to hurt. Enough of it that he'd become guarded, and while Alec did unlock something in him, he still found himself stunned when Alec did something that expressed love toward him.
"I love you too," Alec said, almost pained. He must have been scared. He must have been angry. Magnus nodded against him, held onto him tighter. "I didn't… I didn't know what to do without you. I couldn't…" Alec took a shaky breath and shook his head. What mattered was that he'd found Magnus, not how devastating it had been to be without him again. "I'm so glad you're okay."
Alec was kissing Magnus' neck now, and his jaw, his hand cupping the side of his face and his thumb running along the stubble on his chin and Magnus had missed the warmth of his hand, the feel of his skin, the press of his lips. Then they were kissing again, and Magnus felt a kind of joy that was so good it hurt, a kind of rightness he'd waited for so long he'd thought he may never find it. He laughed into it, and then Alec laughed too. The kiss fell apart, but Alec's forehead rested against Magnus', and stayed like that for a moment, taking each other in.
Magnus felt stronger than he'd felt in a while. Since he'd been stripped from his title. He was still one of the most powerful warlocks of all time. How easily he'd forgotten that, after the surprise and shame of being unseated.
But it was not being High Warlock of Brooklyn that made him who he was.
Contrary to the wishes of his father, Magnus knew what he wanted to do with his magic.
"Let's go home," he whispered to Alec, who grinned at him with that disarming smile of his. The one that had made Magnus' stomach flutter when they'd first met.
"Okay. Let's go home."
It turned out to be a little more complicated than simply going home. Magnus' portals weren't at full power. Magnus suspected it was Asmodeus' doing. That meant finding another way out, and Magnus knew of one, but feared taking Alec to it. For a Downworlder the passage would not be difficult, but Alec was a Shadowhunter. Every demon here was out for his blood.
In fact, Magnus wondered how he'd made it this far. He didn't doubt Alec's abilities, but he'd come far, and as they walked to find shelter to rest, he told him of what he'd seen. He was avoiding the questions about how he'd come here in the first place, dancing elegantly around them.
He noted Alec kept sticking close to him, but always to the same side. He seemed to be favouring one arm over the other, and Magnus remembered seeing it hang at his side oddly, when he'd been over taken with anger. Just as he opened his mouth to ask him about it, Alec lifted a hand, pointing towards a cliff with an opening not too high from the ground.
It was a small cave, but it was dry. Magnus wrinkled his nose at a root that momentarily got caught in the height of his hair, and Alec's lips quirked into a smile. It was good to see. Magnus hoped the things he had to ask him wouldn't wipe it from him. He needed answers, to know how much trouble Alec had gotten himself into, and why he seemed intent on hiding that he was hurt.
As they both shed a layer of clothing to try and make some form of bedding, Magnus started from the beginning.
"You didn't sign anything, did you?"
"What?" It was spoken way too lightly to be genuine. Magnus knew Alec, and he knew just then that he had, in fact, signed something. Alec was tugging his sleeve off his arm rather than pulling his arm from the sleeve, which made more worry creep up on Magnus. How much pain was he in? Why didn't he let Magnus know, so Magnus could help?
Alec sighed, bunching his jacket up in a ball and placing it where Magnus' head was to be when he lied down. The gesture made Magnus' heart clench. It was small, but so typically Alec to think of Magnus first, to not even think of himself.
It was why this concerned him. Alec was willing to come to Edom for him. What wouldn't he have given up for that?
"It's fine, Magnus. I just owe him one thing," Alec said as he sat on the dusty ground. He leaned back against the cave's wall, grimaced, squirmed and then leaned forward again. Even in the midst of some slight tension, Magnus thought Alec was adorable. He held his scarf to him, so he could place it against his back.
"It's never just one thing," Magnus said, taking a seat next to Alec. On the side Alec seemed to want to keep as far away from Magnus as possible.
"It is this time."
"Alec. You made a deal with a demon, not your sister," he kept his tone even, concerned. He wasn't mad, couldn't be. Alec had come to get him. Even if Magnus had been fine, at least physically. "Whatever it's going to ask of you, you won't want to give it up. It'll make sure of that."
Alec looked down, away from Magnus. It reminded him of early on, when Alec couldn't look him in the eyes. Now Alec did this when he didn't want to admit to something, or knew what was going on was wrong.
"It'll be fine," he said. Then he lifted his arm to put it around Magnus' shoulder, but it stopped halfway up and he let out a gasped, pained noise.
"Are you okay? What's wrong with your arm?"
"Nothing. I just moved it wrong fighting off those Shax demons. Didn't want to use an iratze since runes kept drawing them to me."
Magnus turned to Alec, reaching for his arm.
"Then let me."
But Alec shook his head, pulling his arm to himself.
"I'm tired, Magnus. We should sleep," he said, getting ready to lie down. Magnus could not deny it stung a little, but it wasn't the first time Alec refused his help. Alec didn't like making Magnus use his magic for nothing, nor did he like needing other people's help. That was part of the man he loved.
With a sigh, Magnus settled on his side next to Alec. The ground was far from comfortable, rocky and sharp. Alec's back was to him, and he shuffled back so it was against Magnus' chest, reached blindly to pat around until he found Magnus' hand, and pulled his arm over his middle. Magnus pressed his face against Alec's shoulder, closing his eyes. He smelled like home, beneath the smells of dust and grime and sweat.
As uncomfortable as the ground was, Magnus would be sleeping soundly like this, Alec's back against his chest, fitting so perfectly against him. Alec may be taller, but Magnus was broader. They fit like puzzle pieces this way.
He held onto Alec more tightly, and Alec sighed, almost happy. Maybe he was. Maybe, just like Magnus, he found happiness in simply being close to the man he loved.
"I love you," Alec said, and it sounded in part like an apology. Magnus kissed his shoulder. His exhaustion was catching up to him, weighing him down.
"I love you too."
"We're almost home." Alec sounded like he had more to say, so Magnus said nothing. He could almost hear the gears turning in Alec's head, but nothing else came.
After Magnus spoke the words, Alec started to turn around, shifting so he was facing Magnus now. The furrow in his brow, just visible in the light barely making it past the entrance of the cave, said enough. Alec had something on his mind. Magnus gave him time, watching him.
"Magnus, I... I wanted to ask you something."
While that sort of statement might have caused anyone to worry, Magnus felt none of that with Alec. He was tired, too worn to think of all the things Magnus might ask him about his heritage, Asmodeus, Edom.
"Hm?" Magnus took Alec's hand, rubbing at his knuckles, massaging at his palm.
"I don't, uh. I've been thinking about this a lot, before… before all of this. And then you were gone, and I just… I couldn't…" Alec trailed off, looking at a loss for words, and Magnus squeezed his hand gently. Alec continued. "Maybe this is all the wrong circumstances but if it is just tell me and I'll uh, ask you again at a better time."
Magnus was a bit more awake now, unsure of where this was going, yet a part of him screaming that he knew, making his heart jump to his throat and pound there. He couldn't know what Alec was possibly going to ask. It couldn't be something he'd longed to hear so long.
It had to be something else.
"Are you going to ask me if you can grow a beard? Because you know the answer to that."
The word was tender. Magnus felt known. He was nervous, deflecting with light humour, but Alec saw right through it, as he always did. And he was patient, giving Magnus a moment to collect himself until he nodded slowly. Then Alec put a hand to his cheek.
"I want to marry you, Magnus."
The air was knocked right out of Magnus at the words. He blinked, trying to absorb them. Alec kept talking, but Magnus was dizzy, suddenly, and his heart was too big for his chest, and his grip on Alec's hand got very, very tight.
"I've been wanting to for a while. Since after Valentine died, actually. When we went back to the loft and walked all the way there. I wanted to… to set something up and ask you soon. Then you were gone, and every day without you felt wrong. I want to spend every day of my life with you in it. If you want that too."
"Alexander…" It was all Magnus could say.
He was reeling, his heart full, his chest aching. How many times had he loved with everything he had and wished to be asked? How many times had he wanted to ask but been too afraid to? How many times had he come close, rings exchanged and promises made, before things had changed? It had always been a weight in his heart.
Alec was so completely different from any past relationship Magnus had had, and here he was, proving it yet again. Offering him something so significant, a commitment so big to make to someone immortal as a mortal.
Of course he wanted this. Of course. With every fiber of his being he wanted to call Alec his husband, to tell the world they were entirely committed to one another, to let everyone know how much they loved one another.
Alec went on.
"Do you – Do you want to marry me? I should… Hold on. Okay." Alec took a deep breath, then looked right into Magnus' eyes with such a burning, steady intent that his breathing hitched. Even in the relative gloom of the cave, it was clear in his eyes that Alec meant every word. Alec had thought this through, and wanted this. With him. It wasn't a spur of the moment thing resulting in the high emotions of having found on another again. "Magnus Bane. Will you marry me?"
Magnus' eyes welled up. He couldn't help it. Centuries of thinking himself unworthy of that level of love, that level of dedication.
"Yes, Alexander," he said, his voice raspy, full of emotion he couldn't have hidden even if he'd tried. "I want to marry you."
Alec's answering grin was the brightest Magnus had ever seen Alec smile. He laughed softly, lifting their hands to kiss Magnus' knuckles.
"Okay. Let's get married, then."
"Okay," Magnus said with a grin. Then they were kissing, soft at first, filled with laughter, Alec wiping at Magnus' wet cheek, muttering if you cry I cry against his mouth, both of them having a giggle fit that turned into more tears, clutching at each other until that simply was not enough anymore, until their kisses grew more intense and insistent, until their hands were fumbling to touch beneath clothing, until those were pulled off and they showed each other how loved they were with hands and mouths and whispered I love yous .
Later, with his head against Alec's bare chest, their fingers entwined, Magnus thought about what this meant. It would be hard, living such a long life, and knowing he would lose Alec in the end. It was hard everyday, though he did his best to focus on the days he had with him. Experience had taught him that if he worried too much about the future, about that upcoming loss, he closed himself off. He would act strangely, differently, and it would lead to the end of a good thing.
He does not want the end of this good thing. The best thing, perhaps. No, definitely. Because Alec wanted him as his husband. Alec Lightwood, Shadowhunter, Head of the New York Institute, wanted Magnus Bane, warlock, as his husband.
In a way Magnus was happy for Alec too. In no way was this self importance. Rather, he'd seen Alec nearly give his life away to marry someone he did not and would never love for the sake of his family. It had made Magnus miserable to see him like that, had made him ache to think Alec would give up his chance at finding true happiness.
Magnus hoped he was Alec's true happiness. As they dozed off together, Alec's fingers brushing over the skin of Magnus' back, he was grateful to be given the chance to make Alec's life the happiest it could be.
Chapter 4: alec, magnus, ad aeternam
In the end, it was Alec's injury that had allowed them to go home. The arm still caused Alec pain as it was riddled with portal shards. Extracting those from Alec had not been difficult for Magnus, and he'd been able to reconstruct a portal to their realm within a couple of hours, needing to borrow a little of Alec's strength to do so. Holding each other's hands and feeling their power course through one another had made them smile, a memory of very first time they'd ever touched.
Their return to the loft had been an emotional one. Magnus had picked up the photobooth pictures and tucked them back where they'd be visible, they'd taken a shower, intended to be quick but in the end lingering as they got lost in each other, then finally called everyone they needed to call about their return.
Alec learned Clary and Jace had returned with Sebastian, hopeful to break the connection that in turn had allowed Lilith control over Jace. Alec was not eager to talk to either of them when he learned how much they'd been keeping from him since the night Valentine had summoned Raziel.
Izzy had punched Alec hard before hugging him, holding on for a long time as she chided him for doing exactly what he promised not to do. Maryse held onto Alec, too, and told him he'd done well. That she was proud of him for going after the person he loved and for fighting for him. She welcomed Magnus back with open arms, the relief genuine in her face to see him in one piece.
The Clave was less than pleased with Alec's actions. Alec's case was to be reviewed, and until a verdict was reached, he was not to participate in any missions. Alec's patience for the Clave's nonsense had been running thin as it was, and to see Jace and Clary applauded while he went punished didn't help matters.
Plans were in motion to stop Lilith once and for all, Magnus' expertise and magic at the core of it all. Alec helped as much as he could from the sidelines, reluctant to do nothing in spite of his orders to do just that. The final battle against her took a lot from them.
The day she was gone, the demon came for Alec.
"You should never have signed anything," Magnus said as he rushed through his apothecary in a tizzy, fumbling through labelled bottles and containers, going from shelf to shelf with no rhyme or reason.
"I figured the demon would come later and that we'd have time," Alec said, watching Magnus and knowing he was barely holding himself together. Late afternoon sunlight poured in from the shutters at the windows, coloring everything with gold, flashing on the chains of Magnus' jacket.
Alec loved him with every fiber of his being, and so hated to see him like this. It gave Alec something to think about other than his own fear. He couldn't afford being afraid for himself when Magnus was afraid enough for both of them. Besides, he had an idea, from one of the many books he'd perused during his search for a way into Edom.
"Why did you expect anything but the most inconvenient?" Magnus knocked over a box of fangs, gathering them back up with an impatient wave of his hand.
"He didn't sound in a hurry when we made the deal."
"He also didn't make it sound like working for him would involve him taking possession of your body, did he?"
Alec pursed his lips. Magnus was upset. He was right to be. Alec had made a deal with a demon, which was one of the stupidest things a Shadowhunter could ever do. Further proven by his reason for doing it. Magnus could've come home on his own, safe and sound. Most likely would have.
He didn't regret it. He had done what felt right to him then. He had followed his heart. He'd found Magnus in Edom and they'd come home together. They'd gotten engaged. He would do it all over again.
"It'll be okay," Alec said, reaching for Magnus' arm as he brushed past him. He let his hand slide from his elbow to his hand. His thumb touched the ring he'd bought Magnus a week after they'd returned from Edom. It was much simpler than the type of rings Magnus usually wore, a thin but wide textured gold band. Yet it fit on his finger like it had always been there.
Alec held onto Magnus' hand, hoping to calm him, but he was still frazzled.
"You make it sound easy."
Alec shook his head. Not easy, no. Even the best things in life were hard. They didn't come all this way to let that stop them. It's by sticking together that they made it through.
"It won't be easy. But we've made it all this way, right?"
Magnus looked down, then closed his eyes. Alec was struck for the tenth time that day by how beautiful he was. That thought was followed by the reminder that Magnus was his fiancé, soon to be husband, and it doubled in intensity.
Maybe it was time to suggest it now.
"I love you, Magnus. I've been thinking about this a lot, and… hold on." He held up his hand, then headed to one of the bookshelves. It took him a minute to find the book again, but he did, tugging it out by the top of its spine with a finger. "Here. In here."
Magnus looked dubious, but came closer. Alec flipped through the book until he found the page. His heart began to race. He hadn't said anything about this to Magnus yet. He'd been waiting until things quieted down, which was ridiculous, in hindsight. Things had not been calm in either of their lives since they'd met. The moment of peace Alec was waiting for was likely never coming.
Still, he wished they could have spoken about it in different circumstances.
"Alec, did you read through this?" Magnus said when he finished the page, looking up at him with a guarded expression. Magnus took the book from Alec's hands as he nodded.
"I did." Alec put his hands behind his back, watching Magnus stare down at the page. He slammed the book shut and placed it on his work table, pushing aside a mortar and a vial of some sort to make room for it amidst the mess.
"No. You didn't."
"Magnus… I've been thinking about this since I first thought of marrying you," Alec said. "I want this. I can't imagine ever having enough of you."
Magnus looked at him sharply then with that expression he often got when Alec said something that took him completely by surprise. It had taken a while for Alec to grasp that it was because no one else had ever said anything like that to him before. Most of the time Alec found it confusing. It was so clear to him that Magnus was someone he was lucky to be with, lucky to love, lucky to know. And he would be all the more lucky if he got to spend an infinity of time with him.
Between dying and leaving Magnus alone and heartbroken and living forever, the answer was almost stupidly simple. Alec would do anything to make sure Magnus was okay, happy, and doing well.
Maybe Magnus was not ready for that. He could imagine it required some thinking to go from wanting to marry a man for his lifetime to wanting to marry a man forever.
Alec wasn't stupid. Becoming immortal for someone else was a bad idea. There had to be more, or at least some understanding that this person might not want the same forever, an acceptance that things might change, decades down the road. He had to want to be immortal for himself.
It had been a tough thing to think about. A part of Alec had been so tired and miserable for so long, he'd more than once felt so exhausted he'd wanted everything to end. Never to the point of thinking about doing something about it, but enough to take risks. Enough to put his life in danger with no regard for his own at any opportunity.
But since meeting Magnus, Alec had changed. And since meeting him, Alec wanted to be more than he'd ever allowed himself to be. He wanted to live, because he now got to have the life he thought he would never have. He wanted to change things, like with the cabinet meetings. He wanted to show other Shadowhunters what it was like, when they allied their strengths to the Downworlder's. It would take decades, centuries, to rid the Clave of it's outdated, warped thinking.
He wanted to be there for it.
"It's not just you, Magnus. I've thought about it a while, and I think… I want to change things. I want to teach new generations of Shadowhunters to think more than the Clave likes them to. I want to work however long it takes to help kids like Madzie, to make sure things like that don't have to happen again."
Magnus was frowning, his mouth in a line. Alec was worried, but he was also so sure of what he wanted, had thought about it so much. Doing it for Magnus was an immediate yes. Doing it for himself had required some thought, but he'd come to the same conclusion. Why wouldn't he want more time, more opportunities for change, more of everything? He could see all the parts of the world he'd yet to see. He could do things he couldn't do before, they could get married in a new country for every anniversary, celebrate each new breakthrough in the laws for it. They could make their family a bigger one, eventually.
Alec thought of this choice and saw a life fuller than he'd ever dared imagine for himself. He saw change, progress, hardship and strife at times, but love and happiness, a peace within himself, with Magnus at his side.
It was the most evident, obvious choice.
Magnus' hand came to Alec's chest, and he looked smaller than usual right now, the furrow in his brow deep, something furtive in his eyes. Alec had no idea what he was thinking. He wanted to smooth his forehead over, to kiss his face until all of Magnus' worries eased away.
"Alexander. What about your family?"
"My — " Alec blinked, confused, then cupped Magnus' face in both hands. He would grieve his parents, Izzy and Jace and Max. It would be hard. He spent so much of his life living for them, doing everything for them. Now he's a different person. Now he's living for himself, and that means making choices for himself. No matter what happened, they were Shadowhunters. Jace and Izzy could die on any mission, this was something they accepted at a young age. Even if the Parabatai bond was still in place, he would make this choice. Luke was fine, wasn't he? In fact, Luke was one of Alec's favorite people, now part of his family as well.
"Magnus. We're getting married. You're my family."
One second Magnus was looking at him in shock, then there were tears running down his cheeks. Alec was startled, taken aback by the display of emotion. All of this was so evident to him, he didn't expect it to be a shock that not only he would want this, but that he considered Magnus his family.
"Magnus — Hey," he put his arms around Magnus, pulled him into a tight embrace as a hand ran up and down his back. "Magnus. It's okay."
"I didn't think you could surpass proposing to me," Magnus mumbled against his shoulder. His voice was thick with tears, hoarse. "I should know by now not to underestimate you," he added with a sniff and a soft laugh. It made Alec's heart soar, that sound. He held onto Magnus more tightly, laughed against his ear as he pressed a kiss at Magnus' temple.
"I love you so much, Magnus." Alec felt it, a squeeze in his chest, like a hand around his heart. It came with no pain whatsoever, a heartache that he welcomed, a heartache that made him want to give Magnus everything in the world he might want, from the moon to the stars to the oceans to eternity.
Magnus nodded against Alec's shoulder.
"I know," he answered after another sniff. He eased back, enough to look into Alec's eyes. "I love you too, Alexander."
Then he smiled, beautiful and bright and bittersweet and Alec's heart just about burst from his chest.
"So… are we doing this?" Alec asked, his lips curling into his crooked smile. He asked the question as if he was asking Magnus whether they were really going to go skinny dipping in broad daylight. Magnus laughed again in an exhale, shaking his head.
"This isn't like choosing which outfit to wear!"
"Considering you've kept me on the phone for an hour while you tried to figure out what shirt to wear with which shoes, definitely not."
"I didn't say I didn't like it," he countered, locking his arms around Magnus so he wouldn't leave his grip. "I told you, I've thought this through."
Magnus' expression sobered. He nodded, lifting his hand to bring it to Alec's cheek.
"I know you have. You wouldn't have brought it up if you hadn't."
Alec nodded, then leaned into the touch.
"I want forever with you," he said in a sigh. It sounded like the most perfect way to spend forever. There was so much about Magnus he wanted to know and discover, and so much about the world he wanted to share with Magnus and Magnus alone.
Magnus' breath hitched audibly again, and Alec pressed a soft kiss to his lips.
It was okay if Magnus didn't have words. It was also okay if Magnus wanted time to think about it.
"Do you want to think about it?" Alec asked, and Magnus looked away, considering. When he looked back to Alec, he shook his head.
Alec grinned wide and swept Magnus up in his arms, lifting him with the enthusiasm of his hug. Magnus yelped out in half-protest, and Alec put him down, red faced and beaming.
"Sorry. I'm just -- I'm happy."
"Me too, Alexander. More than I ever thought possible," Magnus said, sounding breathless. All Alec could think was good, that's all I ever wanted, that's all I'll ever need. As long as Magnus was happy, Alec would be.
Alec tipped his head down to kiss Magnus, a soft press of his lips that quickly became another, and another.
Eventually they talked more. About this forever together, about what it meant to them individually and together. They kept coming back to it as they worked on the ritual of the book, the conversation flickering from planning to overcome the demon and their projected future in the outcome.
By sunrise, they were ready.
Alec was meeting the demon alone at dusk, and Magnus was to listen carefully and intervene at just the right time.
He had less than five seconds. Between the moment Alec was Alec and the moment the demon took over, and that was all. If Magnus missed the mark, it would be too late. If he did it too soon, it wouldn't work. They needed the demon to do half of the work.
He couldn't believe he'd agreed to this. It was insane. Risking Alec's life like that - it went against everything in his heart. Yet when it was that or his soon to be husband being possessed for an indeterminate amount of time, the choice was easy.
To some, the consequences may have been a curse. Magnus wonders if the Alec he'd first met would rather have died than live the way he would live now. A quasi-warlock, his life's energy intertwined forever with the demon who thought he was his captor. It would be the other way around, in the end. Alec would take the demon's immortality for himself and gain some of its strength.
If it worked. Which it had to.
Magnus heard the dull thump of a body falling and ignored his heart's cry that it was Alec. He knew this. It was part of the plan, part of everything. He ran into the clearing, startling the demon long enough that it stopped midway into Alec's mouth. Magnus' hands snapped up, creating a field around them, a cage from which the demon would not be able to escape.
He could feel Alec in that space, a living, thriving strength. He took comfort in it as mumbled the incantation, breaking down the demon piece by piece.
Magnus didn't dare blink. As he held the demon and Alec's life forces within his magic, as he felt Alec's soul respond to him like it knew him, as he felt it fight the demon's force to win over, he held his breath. He had to keep them both alive, which was a herculean feat.
Just behind the light of his magic, just behind the glow of what was happening, he could see Alec's body on the ground. Motionless. It made his heart race. If he failed, Alec would not wake up.
So he would not fail.
He took a breath and gave another push of his magic, his hands trembling, the familiar buzzing electricity of it filling his limbs. Alec would survive, and he would be immortal, and they were going to change the world.
Magnus shouted as he felt pushes against his magic, the demon trying to break out of it. He doubled his efforts, giving more of his magic than he should, pouring everything into it. He was sweating, his vision clouding. He was going to pass out. Spots swam in his field of vision. With another shout, he gave another push of magic. The light of the magic flowing from his hands filled the clearing with more red hues than the sunset.
It would work. He believed it. He believed it because he knew what he was capable of, knew his strength, believed in his control of his magic. He believed it because Alec did. He believed it because after Edom, after Lilith, he knew he had enough power in him to overcome anything, that this strength was an asset, that he didn't have to be afraid of it.
Alec trusted him. Magnus wanted to give him everything. This would work, and then Magnus would be able to give him everything, because he would have centuries of life to share with the love of his life.
He needed to tell Alec that. He should have told him that before they did this. He should have told Alec that he'd changed his life, made it better. He should have told Alec that he made Magnus want to be better, want to see in himself what Alec saw in him. He should have told Alec that he did see. He always believed there was more to him than the rumours or the prejudice. Always flaunted it easily, even. Sometimes it was armour. Sometimes it hid away that he was afraid those things were true, that what he'd done would forever make it true. That every mistake he made proved it.
What did Alec do, when he made a mistake? He did whatever he could to repair it, and did better next time. Did that make him less incredible in Magnus' eyes? Absolutely not. It made him more so.
Magnus closed his eyes, concentrating. He thought of Alec's smile, his hands, the faces he made as he rifled through his things in the apothecary, the way he sneezed when opening a particularly dusty book, his snores, the way his arm went around him in the middle of the night and held on so tight he could barely breathe, his voice saying I love you, and a thousand wonderful things he'd never dreamed of hearing, his eyes and the way they closed when he laughed really hard, and he thought of how badly he wanted this forever and how much he deserved it, too, how much Alec helped him see that he could be both a frightful and powerful and intimidating warlock and a caring, thoughtful person who deserved to be loved fully and wholly.
When he opened his eyes, he looked at Alec's unconscious form, whimpered his name, and collapsed onto dewy grass.
It was dark in the bedroom when Alec woke up. The curtains were drawn and the lights shut, which made it difficult for him to tell how long he'd been asleep, or what time of the day it was. He blinked and reached out an arm, smiling when it met a warm back. Turning over onto his side, he pressed his chest against Magnus' back and wormed both his arms around his middle. After a second his hand came back up and swept at the air. The curtains parted, just enough to let in some sunlight.
"Morning," he mumbled.
"Hmm," was the only response, a relatively discontent sound that turned into a much happier one when Magnus squirmed and got himself even more squarely in Alec's hold. Magnus' hand found Alec's, and his fingers traced the wedding ring there. Alec smiled against the skin of Magnus' shoulder, pressing a kiss there.
"Yeah, that happened," he whispered. "I'm your husband."
"You are," Magnus said, lifting that hand to kiss Alec's knuckles. "Took long enough."
"Five years isn't that long," he said, though there was a note of amusement to it. The five year wait had only been for the official Clave approved wedding. And it had seemed long. Alec had complained about it enough. "I can't believe none of them figured it out."
"What, that we got mundane married the day we woke up in that clearing?" Magnus looked back over his shoulder, Alec laying back a little to look at him with a cheeky grin.
"I think they might have been humouring us, Alexander. I recall you referring to me as your husband more than once." Magnus ran a hand over the hair on Alec's chest, raising an eyebrow. Alec did not even look sheepish, the grin firmly in place. He had no reason to regret that. He assumed most thought it was pre-emptive. Izzy and Raphael had both kept their promise not to say a word after signing as witnesses, though Alec had let his mother know, in order not to shake up the peace they'd rebuilt.
As amazing as the ceremony yesterday had been, that day had been as well. He had signed his name with a trembling hand, holding Magnus' with the other, and then they'd clutched at each other as Izzy wiped proud tears from her eyes and Raphael had smiled, genuine and warm.
It was the first best day of Alec's new life. He had a list of those now, ongoing. Like the day Magnus was so good to Alec in bed he made a couple of light bulbs blow. It was a funny way to discover he'd inherited a small amount of magic as well as immortality, a story they loved reminding each other of.
For now, that magic was their secret. It wasn't significant enough for him to do real damage, not powerful enough to be a risk, and the Clave still had him under a close eye in spite of having promoted him to be on the Council. Maybe this was a way to keep an even more watchful eye on him, but frankly, Alec didn't give a shit. He could have more of an effect at that rank, could change things in a broader scale. It worked out.
"Now I get to sign my name Alec Lightwood-Bane on official Clave documents, though."
"Oh. Does that mean I need to replace all my stationary so it says Magnus Lightwood-Bane?" Magnus wrinkled his nose.
"Only if you want to."
"I'll have to see how it looks," Magnus teased. "I might have to have a whole batch redesigned."
Alec, who knew Magnus was joking but could also be completely serious, only kissed his forehead. Then leaned back, as if remembering something.
"Actually, I should get back to the Institute."
A pair of feet nudged at his leg, and Alec laughed with an unnecessary ow.
"That only worked once."
"I can't believe you really got a whole month off." Magnus' expression softened, his hand going from Alec's chest to his cheek, brushing against the stubble there. "Where to, for our first day of honeymoon?"
The sunlight was hitting Magnus' eyes and making them look all the more golden than ever. Alec loved that sight, every morning he was lucky enough to see it. Knowing he would have forever with those eyes didn't make it any less special.
"Paris," he said at once, thinking of their favorite terrace cafes, of Magnus' apartment with a wonderful view of the Champs Élysée, of delicious food to eat in bed completely naked. Magnus smiled and kissed Alec's cheek.
"Tokyo?" Alec offered, this time thinking of other types of food, of kissing on balconies, of photobooth pictures and sushi belts and shrines and kisses up high in Tokyo Tower. Magnus kissed his other cheek.
"And after that?"
Alec smiled. They could go on like this forever. He would list place after place without thinking about it much. There was no place he didn't want to be with Magnus. As long as he was with him, as long as he got to see his husband's face, to touch him, to see him alive and happy next to him, he would go wherever.
"Anywhere, Magnus. With you, I'd go anywhere."
This time Magnus kissed him for real, and it was a long, long while before they got out of bed.
But that was okay. They had forever.