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ghosts of memory

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“I always thought I’d die first.” Alec whispered. He was kneeling in a pool of blood, cradling Magnus close to him as if he could protect him from the wound that was poisoning him, drawing him closer to the eternal dark with every heartbeat. “I promised myself I would die first.”

His entire body felt numb. He felt as if he were watching everything from a distance, because he knew that if he got too close to the horror he would feel everything too clearly. It was like there was a glass window between him and the pain that was close to shattering and leaving him wounded beyond repair.

Magnus sighed softly against him and Alec plummeted to earth, heart pounding in blind terror. Magnus’s skin was cool as death and some small part of Alec’s mind was screaming that that wasn’t normal and that Magnus had lost too much blood for there to be any chance of saving him unless Alec ran to get help. And there was the larger part of Alec’s mind that kept him glued to Magnus’s side because after living so long someone as extraordinary as Magnus shouldn’t die alone.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep Alexander.” Magnus’s voice, despite being laced with pain, was gentle, a caress of the past that stopped Alec from spinning out of control. There were hot tears on his cheeks, clogging his throat and nose as he tried to keep it together.  He could see glittering tears on Magnus’s cheeks too, like an echo of the shimmering party where they’d met so long ago.

Alec choked. “I can’t help it. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” Time seemed to be going too fast. There would never be enough time for everything he wanted to say. There wasn’t enough time to tell Magnus that he was an adventure that never seemed to stop. That he had found Alec as if in a deep slumber and woken him to a world so much more vivid and intense than he’d ever known.

Magnus looked up at him, golden eyes that had always seemed so old and timeless wide with a fear Alec had never seen. “Alec I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. I don’t know. I never really thought about it—even in Edom. I don’t know.” His voice was shaking, hand gripping Alec’s tightly. “What if shadowhunters and warlocks don’t go to the same place Alec? I’ll never see you again. I’ll never see you again.”

A sob choked its way out of Alec’s chest. He felt like he’d fallen into a nightmare where there was no chance of waking up. “I’m not leaving you.”

“No,” Magnus’s eyes were shiny with tears. “I’m leaving you.”

“There’s not enough time.” Alec whispered. “To tell you I love you.”

Magnus brought up his free hand to touch Alec’s forehead, hot blood smearing on his skin. “I can give you time.”

Before Alec could protest that Magnus couldn’t use magic, that he couldn’t waste his remaining energy on Alec when he didn’t have much time left, there was a flash of blue fire and he was pulled into Magnus’s memory.

Magnus didn’t know when he’d started feeling permanent. He’d spent his entire life moving as if pulled by a turbulent wind, letting his whims take him wherever he pleased. Perhaps it was to stop himself from turning into stone or to stop eternity from feeling like a prison. But despite being immortal he’d never been permanent. Until he met Alec.

Alec who was like an anchor in the storm that had been throwing Magnus around for so long he had barely noticed anymore. Alec who had found Magnus and tethered him so that the storm wouldn’t touch him. Alec who had made the winds retreat with the light of his smile.

He was watching Alec now, spinning Rafael around as Max squealed with glee. Alec’s dark hair was rumpled, his cheeks flushed. Magnus felt his heart swell with pride at his husband.

Consul. Warrior. Father. Alec had come so far from the man he’d been. Magnus remembered shy eyes filled with a hesitant curiosity, those eyes now filled with a steady confident light that commanded respect.

Magnus had had many love stories, some tragic, some epic, some light and joyful. Magnus had seen the storm of immortality ease momentarily, but with Alec it felt permanent. Alec made his hearts’ compass point steady and true towards the home they had forged for themselves with Raf and Max. And Magnus knew in his heart of hearts that his compass would always point to that home, even after hundreds of years.

How could any “I love you” be enough to encompass that?

Alec was crying, sobs tearing themselves out, making his lungs ache. He came back into himself, shaking from an emotion that he couldn’t comprehend. The clock was winding down faster and faster and faster and there was nothing he could do to stop it. The memory had shattered something inside him. Something that had been holding him together with the fragility of spiderwebs. He’d never been more helpless in his life. Not when he had watched his father die in a split second. Not when he’d been trapped in a demon dimension.  

Magnus had always been and Alec didn’t know what would be after. What would replace the warmth of a hand in his or the voice he’d grown so used to hearing every day? Who would steal coffee at Alec’s protest or teach Max ancient, almost forgotten, spells?

Magnus squeezed Alec’s one last time. “Remember.”

Alec felt blank panic like static throughout his body. “What do you mean?” 

Magnus’s lips quirked in the ghost of his smile, an echo of joy that had been present for centuries, across the years of the world.

Alec didn’t feel the clock stop, or the hourglass run out. The world didn’t scream and rip itself apart. Magnus simply exhaled. And didn’t inhale again.

“No. No no no no no.” Alec whispered, his voice ragged. It didn’t seem fair that the world wasn’t ending with Magnus. Alec could still hear birds singing as he shook, rocking Magnus’s body back and forth. He wanted the earth to scream with him as he cried tears that he felt would never end. He wanted a hole to open up in the ground in the shape of the one that was being torn somewhere deep inside him. A hole torn by the pain of knowing memories were all you had left, the memory of someone’s laugh that would fade every day, as precious and fleeting as life itself.