Idris cut through the waves at the edge of the Edom Bay, the furthest point the Alicantian people have ventured out so far. The ship was under the command of a Lightwood, as was expected. The noble family has built its power over years, giving everyone around them the time to accept their continued competency and to get used to the way they ruled their estate and the lands given to them in boons from the Consuls. With power and prestige came duty and responsibilities, especially when you happened to be the heir of the family fortune and name.
At 21, Alexander Lightwood felt all the weight there was to feel as the eldest Lightwood of the new generation, except being solely responsible for his decisions. For now, he was 'only' the eldest son, he wasn't the head of the family yet. In his heart, there was no desire to be that just yet, not when he struggled to keep up with what he had to do to keep his parents happy with what he was.
At 21, Alec had no time left to put marriage off. It wasn't even about children (yet), though his parents themselves did have him quite early. He needed to show his family and the other nobles the intent, the readiness for getting the family ahead. He needed to choose well.
Some thought him lucky: he'd known the brilliant daughter of the Branwell family since their teenage years. She was set to be her family's heir, being born a woman but an alpha. Some said it was perfect, the alphas of Lightwood and Branwell families creating their future together.
It sounded good. It even sounded good to Alec himself, so long as he gave no thought to anything beyond managing their estates and working with the Council together. They have always worked well with Lydia. Anything more than politics, however… he was not ready for it.
Hence his willingness to leave the land and give orders to set sail for a mission that came up somewhat unexpectedly. Having the physical distance put between Alec and Alicante served as a break of a sort, even if he had a whole list of tasks to accomplish, both expected by the ruling Council and by himself.
There have always been problems with Edom's peoples warring with each other and with the free people trying to live mostly peacefully in the stretches of lands between Edom and Alicante. The problem has always been that Edom liked to push at its borders, to spread and move where they were not invited. They spread their violence or, where they were lucky, they spread their ideas, making others join them rather than be defeated and stolen from.
The capital, the heart of Edom was far into the west and the 'true' borders were also not where they appeared to be these past years. Edom did not have a king. It didn't even have a steady council resembling that of Alicante. The separate rulers liked it that way. They were as quick to form alliances among each other as they were to stab each other in the back. It made them unpredictable and that made Alicantians hate them more.
Looking over the waters of the Edom Bay, Alec leaned on the handrail of his ship. They were not supposed to land anywhere that wasn't allied space, which was why they kept to the edges of the Bay.
There were as many pirates as there were military ships prawling the waters, the only difference between their actions being that pirates kept their coin to themselves and the military brought it back to the Lords they bowed to. Alec would like to sink at least a few ships from both factions and he probably would do just that in the incoming week. Since the borders were made so unclear by Edomites, Alicante was happy to use that as a reason to send their ships farther than they 'should' be and Alec agreed with that policy. If pirates dared venture so far, they deserved to be pushed back by Alicantian forces before they crossed the line. If legitimate Edomite military went just as far, they needed to be pushed back twice as hard.
Active combat would work wonders for Alec's current state of mind. He craved the distraction of what was simple and clear, unlike the vision of his future. He wanted to feel the simple accomplishment of having rid the world of criminals.
What he had his sights on this day was the mission he planned based on information they had received about a fleet recently completed and being tested out on open waters of the Bay. Admittedly, it was a large area and no one knew where they were headed but that was just fine by Alec. He wasn't in a rush.
On top of that, three days ago when they sent boats out to an unimportant harbor in the Free Lands, they've bought information that was confirmed later by more people: there was a ship, sleek but well equipped Edomite ship, carrying on its deck valuable people.
"We know for a fact the Edomite crew has a mage and an omega onboard," Alec told his people. "They're not pirates but we all know the military isn't that much different from them. They do not care about others' freedom."
Edom's people generally believed it bad luck to have women on ships and boats, for reasons Alec didn't know or care to know. It only made it more important that they help the omega. He didn't want to imagine why they would steal one to take him with them, if they didn't ask for a ransom and give him back.
"Which is our priority?" Isabelle asked the important question. It would matter to know that ahead of time, so they could make better decisions in the heat of the fight.
Alec's sister stood beside his adopted brother, both wearing the plain, practical clothes all crew wore on a normal day of sailing. Away from family home, they were his subordinates, not privileged family.
"Do your best to catch both and if they use the mage against us, do your best not to injure them beyond help. If you have to choose, losing the mage will cost us more than losing the omega." Alec said. "Unless, of course, they're clearly on the side of Edom. In that case, eliminate them."
It was accepted. His crew generally agreed that acquiring a mage they could convert to their side was worth more. Every mage was valued if they were allied with Alicante. If they refused... They needed to be convinced or killed. With both nations growing in power and inevitably heading towards a conflict, they could not afford to let a mage go to be a weapon for the enemy.
"What if the omega is a mate to one of them?" Came another question from someone.
"Thank you for asking. Our information says he was stolen from the Free Lands, not there voluntarily. If it turns out he is, in fact, someone's mate, well, we'll see how our meeting with the ship will go." Alec replied. "It might not be easy to win. We've heard the captain's name and we're aware of his reputation. He might be a true challenge. If we have to, we'll destroy the whole ship."
Soon after that, once the plans for the next day were clear, the meeting with the crew and soldiers concluded.
No one knew that for Alec himself, the male omega held more value than the mage. The sole chance of meeting one was his driving force on this mission and he kept that thought hidden deep. Luckily, the challenge of going against the Edomite captain was enough to make Alec shift his focus completely from personal to professional. This was not going to be easy.
The day was beautiful, the sun was bright and high on the sky, following the same path it did every day. The wind was, on one hand, too weak to be appreciated by merchant's vessels but that didn't matter to the two ships turning in the waters against each other. Edomite ship flew sails with dark stripes on each side. They didn't go as far as to dye their whole sails black but they did like their dark details. Ironic, that black was preferred color for Alicante's soldiers, while Edom went with plain brown leather.
The western flags were burgundy, opposite of Alicantian blue. On burgundy background, there were two pikes and a pair of ram horns embroidered in gold. Alicante's symbol was a white, winged crown, even though they no longer elected kings and the Council led by a Consul ruled them. Alicantians all agreed on this: they did not miss having a king but they all loved royal symbols in their main streets and palaces.
Alec wasn't looking at the colors. He followed the enemy ship's movements with his eyes, shouting orders as he saw fit. His people followed them without delay, their blood running faster too, as his did. For all the order and quiet that Alicantian treasured, their blood was that of warriors. They didn't acquire their peace by being soft and they kept it by being strong and swift in their reaction whenever it was needed. The seamen and the soldiers were equally strong, loyal people and Alec did his best to be worthy of being their leader.
Each man and woman on Idris was here because they were chosen, not because they were they by chance. The best proof of that was that all three Lightwood siblings were on the ship. Well, except the one not considered an adult yet, the youngest Max. Idris was made for success, the bright and young people of Alicante leading it and working on it.
Azazel woke Magnus up with a kick to his hip. It wasn't particularly strong or vicious and Magnus has become used to sad awakenings this past year. It used to be different, for him. He wasn't born into this and he'd spent the majority of his life free… but a whole year of constant captivity with no chance of escape, a year of captivity enforced by magic-suppressing shackles and a chain at the ankle always trapping it within its length changed a man. Seeing wooden bars day after day, after day changed a man.
"It's your time to be useful, omega," Azazel said, his voice carrying viciousness brought on by the current events, which Magnus didn't know about yet. "We're about to be under attack unless the first move is ours."
Magnus pushed himself up from the cot, watching as the key unlocked the ring of metal around his ankle. A danger to Azazel's ship was a danger to him. He'd learned early on that it didn't mean a chance of freedom for him and he didn't hate his life enough to want to end it on the bottom of the sea by being passive in the face of an attack.
"Who is it?" Magnus asked.
"Alicantian bastards," Azazel answered, looking into his eyes. "You know what that means. You make yourself useful and help sink them or they will sink us. If they board us first… they'll make sure you don't see the light of the next day, mage."
With that said, he unlocked the cursed shackles that kept Magnus defenseless. They dropped to the wooden floor of his little cell with a dull noise. At Azazel's signal, Magnus let the two crewmen accompanying the captain manhandle him until he was standing up.
Azazel didn't waste any more words on Magnus, even though the mage would have appreciated a little more description of their situation. The men dragged and pushed him up from his cell in the dark lower deck to the sunny topside, where chaos reigned. Magnus had to close his eyes against the brightness but he only had seconds to orient himself before he had to act. He could see that they should have come to him sooner. The great enemy vessel wasn't approaching them, it was right there, almost looming over theirs. It wasn't much wider or longer but its masts stood taller and the cut of their sails was different, giving the illusion of greatness. It was curious how these inanimate pieces of fabric could convey the pride of the people who made them.
Magnus had to make his decision, as usual. As usual, he chose: making sure that Azazel and his crew lived meant that he would live, as well. He feared no death by Azazel's hands, no matter if he angered him. Today, going against Azazel would free Magnus from his prison only to lead him into the hands of Alicantians, who were known for little compassion for people who weren't their own or at least of mixed blood. Especially people as dangerous as a mage.
Magnus couldn't expect anything better than execution for being what he was, his blood a mix of the free peoples and Edomites, none from Alicante. Even his second gender wouldn't help him, and it might even make things worse.
The second he began to help 'his' ship, he'd be recognized as a threat by the enemy, which meant he couldn't fail. Free of the confines of the locking curse, his smothered magic was now free to wreak havoc on the enemies who were attempting to board them. Magnus hated this. Being freed temporarily only to immerse himself in offensive spells was no joy when the violent energy of them coursed through his body, bringing no relief.
He always had to do his job, this or that task, and do it well enough to be deemed acceptable so he could return to his cell and his chains with bruises only on his pride, not his body.
The Alicantians fought hard. They were strong people, trained and fit. Most of them were beautiful, too. Magnus wasn't noticing it just now, he knew them from before. Now, he was too busy weaving a spell to protect the ship's construction from damage. It was curious, actually, how no cannonballs were hitting them as if the enemy didn't want the ship destroyed. It would have been the easiest to damage them and sink them. Azazel's ship was nothing special, it was of good design and construction and has served for a long time but it was just like other vessels built in Edom, one of many. What the Alicantians could possibly want with it, Magnus didn't know and he didn't care to find out. He couldn't let them get as far as carrying out any of their plans today. Awakened magic thrummed in his veins, in his fingers. It rose from them, building up until it was potent enough to be used as he wished.
The Alicantians raised alarm eventually, shouts going out to warn the others and Magnus knew he had to expend even more of his magic. He had to protect himself because he knew none of Edomites would protect him. They saw him as a tool, a weapon and a slave. He wasn't one of their own despite half his blood coming from Edom. The only one who would possibly do anything to protect him was Azazel himself, for his own selfish reasons but he wasn't anywhere near Magnus at this point, or Magnus couldn't see him.
The Alicantian soldiers were well trained and endlessly loyal to their Council. Magnus didn't have the time to form a plan, he could only act in the moment. He cursed the crew and Azazel for leaving him in the cell until the last moment just because they didn't trust him.
He pushed two Alicantians off of the ship with a burst of magic. He stopped another two from climbing across the rail by setting it on fire. It was a magical fire that burned only where cast and mostly serves as a threat. It worked well enough when you were sailing a large wooden vessel in the open sea.
Magnus had to be careful with his spells. With the way he was treated, his magic was stunted and didn't have the time to bloom into what it could be. They always expected him to show no side-effects of the shackles, they expected him to do this or that. When he sometimes told them that he couldn't, not right after he was freed, they sneered at him, pushing the fault for that onto him and sometimes claiming it was because he was an omega. Azazel knew better than that, but he didn't care to say a word in favor of Magnus.
So Magnus weaved the spells he knew he could handle casting, doing his best even if the others would never appreciate it. He protected Azazel's soldiers when they were losing, he stopped more Alicantians from swarming them.
No one warned him when he became the target himself. No one warned him when the captain of Alicantian forces threw a dagger at his back, knowing it was the only way of landing a hit on the mage. Otherwise, no one would have gotten to where he was standing near the steering wheel, higher than all the other men were.
Pain shot through Magnus, unlike anything he felt before and he staggered. The spell died in his fingers, which began to shake. After that… there was darkness.
The potion-drenched dagger hit the mage's right shoulder, as planned. Alec didn't enjoy making the man cry out in pain but it was the quickest and surest way of eliminating him from the fight before he could do something Alicante couldn't forgive him for. Jace, who's been inching towards the mage for the past minute finally leapt forward, catching the falling man and then threw him over his shoulder. He was fulfilling their goal as Alec had ordered: get the mage out of the game and to safety. Jace didn't look back, knowing Alec himself wasn't in any immediate danger. He had to make it down the stairs and then to where the two ships were almost touching sides.
Clary was waiting for him, her red head like a beacon on Idris's deck, her eyes looking for signs that more assistance was needed for their soldiers on Edomite ship. She was supposed to be ready to help once the mage or the omega were found. The rest of the men on Idris who weren't attacking with Alec were supposed to defend their own deck should the need for that arise.
Alec shouted orders at his men to cover the side of the ship, prevent the Edomites from harming Jace or the mage.
Isabelle was moving like a flash of dark, quick and sure in her movements, protecting his back while he was taking aim at the mage. With that done, Alec was able to return to the fight with her, keeping constantly in mind they haven't found the omega yet and that the enemy captain was still in good health and killing Alec's men. They couldn't let the fighting continue for much longer.
Alec and Isabelle exchanged glances. The two siblings worked as they'd always trained, a perfectly fitting team. Jace would be getting back to them soon and hopefully, it'd be the end of it after that.
Magnus woke as he always did: with shackles on his wrists and the third weight around his ankle. He woke on a bed as usual but for once he was covered with something that actually felt like a blanket instead of paper-thin fabric. He also woke flat on his stomach, which was a position he rarely slept in… In his sluggish brain, he didn't process one more thing: the constant dull pain in his shoulder that shot like lighting through his back and down his arm the second he tried to roll onto his side. A whimper left his lips involuntarily.
A voice spoke to him and he didn't recognize it. He was quite certain he could recognize anyone from Azazel's crew by their voice alone and this was nothing like anyone he knew.
Even though he wanted to see the owner of the voice very much, he didn't dare move again. First because of the pain and second because there wasn't anything to be done about the stranger anyway, what with the shackles holding him down. If they were hostile, he had no way of defending himself.
The voice repeated, "Do not move, you're not healed."
That, at least, he understood. "What happened?"
"You were sedated. And stabbed."
That made sense to him. He remembered the unexpected pain back on the open deck… and then nothing. A wound to that part of his body by sword or arrow shouldn't have made him pass out in such a short time. He barely remembered falling.
The voice was female, gentle. The person wasn't standing in his line of vision and what Magnus could see, told him he was either still on a ship, or a small hut resembling it on the inside. His mind swam enough that he couldn't even tell if they were on water or solid ground.
"How long was I unconscious?" Only five words, but speaking them seemed to drain his body of the little strength it had to keep him awake. It worried him, that there might have been something else besides sleeping potion on whatever hit him… what if he was poisoned?
"Half a day," came the answer.
It did feel like it might be the truth. Although, his body wasn't in the best shape to be telling him anything. He didn't know what was done to help him, if anything, beyond wrapping him in bandages. He could feel them going around his back, his right arm and chest, stopping the arm from moving freely. He hoped he didn't shift them when he tried to move.
The pain wasn't as bad as he would expect it to be after only half a day without treatment so he assumed there was something they did to him. Was it magical or just potions? He could not tell.
"Don't move, I'm going to touch you." Magnus didn't move while hands, warm hands, touched his bare skin below the edge of the bandage. A different kind of warmth spread from them, sinking into his skin and muscles, covering the pain with numbness. He breathed out in relief.
"Did we lose?"
"Yes. If you consider yourself part of the Edom's crew, you lost."
Magnus closed his eyes. He wasn't ready to consider the consequences of it. The woman was still speaking, telling him something more, but he let his thoughts drift. It was easy, with whatever was in his veins and the temporary lack of pain. He fell into dreamless sleep again.
The next time Magnus woke up and stayed conscious, hunger twisted his insides. He lay still, his head turned to the right and his cheek pressed into a thin pillow that smelled only of himself, which meant it was given to him clean.
In front of his eyes was a wall. Since no sounds indicated anyone's presence nearby he sat up slowly, only using his left arm to push himself up. Sitting cross-legged on the cot, Magnus winced at the clinking noise the chain produced when his ankle pulled it against the frame of the bed.
The new position allowed him to look around himself and find that he was indeed alone. He could hear voices somewhere far, coming like echo from above. Everyone must be on the top deck or in the other end of the ship. Magnus had no idea which part of it he was in so he let his curiosity be sated by taking in the details of his current location.
It was a proper room, complete with cupboards and a door. Magnus occupied one bed and there was another, empty one by the opposite wall. It was made neatly and didn't look like it was used regularly by anyone. There were only few items lying on uncovered surfaces, as was expected on a moving ship. What Magnus did see, led him to believe this was a surgeon's room or at least some other kind of medic's.
The last time he was awake came back to him. The woman who he'd heard but hadn't seen had touched him and it hadn't been a salve that took the pain away. So the Alicantians already had a mage. Magnus wasn't sure yet if it was a good thing for him or not.
Gazing down at his hands, he saw that the metal bands around his wrists were the same ones Azazel had made for him. The Alicantians must have found them in his cell, which meant they didn't have their own, which meant they weren't planning to use them. But they still locked him in those. It made sense, of course, to be careful around him when the last thing he'd done was hurling a fireball at one of their own.
Magnus moved his right shoulder very gently, testing its mobility. If he was hit by a blade, the wound wouldn't be wide but it would be relatively deep, requiring the time to heal regardless of magical aid. If only Azazel had cared to give him any leather protection… Now even his original clothes were gone, except for the pants.
He did at least have the blanket for warmth, which felt pleasant enough. The days were warm but nights on the open sea could be chilly.
Magnus didn't attempt leaving the bed. He wasn't quite sure how his body would like standing up at this point, if he'd be able to do it without getting dizzy from everything that had happened. Aside from that, he didn't want to be found walking around the room. No matter what he would do or not do, they might see it as escape attempt. It was enough to see that the chain was very short compared to what he had previously on Azazel's orders. Magnus understood the reason for the difference- Azazel had kept him in a locked cell and didn't care if Magnus walked in circles around it. Here the cupboards needed to be "protected" from him while no one was watching him.
Right after the battle, Alec had tried to get the information out of the enemy. At his question about the kidnapped omega, they'd stared at him and then laughed, telling him he'd never find him now, that he was late.
Alec's blood boiled when they suggested that he visit a brothel in the free harbors and try his luck there.
Unluckily, he hadn't managed to incapacitate the captain as easily as he had the mage. The Edomite was skilled and determined, and Alec had to put all he had into defeating him. The man fell, eventually, and with him died the knowledge of what he'd done with the omega, where he'd sold him… or left his body.
They had caught some of the crew alive and locked them up in a secure part of the low deck. The Alicantians were believed to be ruthless to whoever they believed had broken their laws, but the truth was they were always prepared to keep prisoners when it was reasonable.
These men were useless to Alec and he was going to get rid of them at the nearest military outpost of the Free Lands. He had no need or the right to deliver them to Alicantian authorities. The law was strange in these waters and Alec was always careful to only stretch it as far as it benefited the common people and as far as he could defend it later if he'd need to. The last thing he wanted was to do anything that would hurt Alicante's standing in their region.
After the battle, his men searched the ship and moved everything they could use to Idris. Weapons, leather items, tools, food and water. With Catarina's magical help, they even moved a few cannons, though it went slowly. Some of the items they would keep, the rest would be best sold in the harbor.
The rest of the ship burned as Idris set course almost directly south, as wind let it, towards the Free Lands.
Catarina reported to Alec on the state of their mage. He was strongly affected by the sleeping mixture and between that, the physical wound and the use of magic, she didn't expect him to be up and doing anything any time soon. Alec told her in turn about what they'd found below the Edomite ship's deck.
A cell - more like a crate – high enough to hold a person. Inside it: a cot and beside it, dropped carelessly, a pair of cuffs. Alec showed them to Catarina, who cringed at the sight.
"They're like a cage on the magic, trapping it within the body like a shard of ice. I've never experienced it, thank gods, but I've heard enough. There's your proof," she said, "that he might be convinced to our side."
"No love for Edom doesn't equal love for Alicante." Alec pointed out.
"That is true. We won't know until we speak with him."
Alec nodded. "Until then, I'm going to have ask that these are put on him."
"As a mage, I don't like this but I agree we can't risk anyone's health, including his."
"When he's awake and clear-minded, tell me."
"I will." She took the cuffs with her, holding them like they were particularly disgusting slugs.
Magnus looked up when he heard steps outside the room and then the door handle was pushed by someone who then entered the room. It was a woman, probably the woman, and Magnus took her appearance in for the first time. She wore simple, practical clothes and on top of them a kind of an apron with one large pocket and tree smaller ones for holding tools. Her skin was dark and her hair was tied up, held away from her face with a patterned blue bandana. Her eyes were kind when they met his.
"Good morning," she said.
"Is it? A morning?" That would mean he lost half of the previous day and then the whole night.
"Yes. We have another sunny day ahead of us and before the end of it we'll be docking in the Moon City's harbor."
Magnus knew Moon City. He'd visited once but his home wasn't near it so he didn't know it well.
"What happened with the others?"
"Some are currently held under lock and key here on Idris. The rest, well, their bodies burned with the ship."
Magnus couldn't pretend to be sad for it. What he had to pretend, however, was that it didn't make him afraid to know it was just him now.
"And the captain?"
"Our captain killed him."
Magnus closed his eyes. If he has to be trapped by the Alicantians, then at least that part of his past was closed and won't have to be revisited. He would have hated knowing Azazel was still out there.
"My name is Catarina," the woman told him then, and he knew she changed the topic on purpose. "I serve on Idris as a medic for this journey."
"Thank you for healing me," he replied with honesty. "It feels like you've done a good job, even if I can't see my back."
She nodded. "It wasn't a complicated wound. You will have to be careful with it for another day and after that you should be good as new."
He nodded, then offered his name in return. "I'm Magnus."
"Magnus. Are you from Edom?"
"I was born in the Free Lands but only one of my parents was from there. The other was from Edom."
"I thought that might be the case, by your looks, but I didn't want to assume. Now, I want you to eat your breakfast," she said, walking to one of the cupboards. She opened it and retrieved a plate with fruit and bread, and pieces of cheese. He hadn't smelled it being there all this time.
Considerate of his shoulder, she put it down in front of him on the bed instead of making him hold it first. Being very hungry, Magnus immediately reached for the bread.
Catarina gave him a wide bottomed cup to drink from and poured water into it.
"The captain will want to speak with you when you're ready."
Magnus was busy shoveling grapes into his mouth so he only nodded. It wasn't his most elegant moment but eating was his priority.
They were both mages and they both knew how healing worked. It took out magical energy from the healer but it also took vital energy from the body which had to close its own wounds. Magnus might have slept well but he was very weakened still.
"Who is he?" Magnus asked after having a sip of water. "Some Alicantian noble?"
"That's right. Son of Lord and Lady Lightwood."
Magnus couldn't say he was familiar with the name. Alicante had many noble families and he was somewhat familiar only with the oldest ones or the ones which held Council seats for the longest time, because those were spoken of the most outside of Alicante's borders.
"What will he want from me?"
"That's for him to discuss with you."
A blond man came to him later in the day, carrying some kind of bundle. At first Magnus thought he might be the captain, what with the way he carried himself proudly, but it soon turned out it was a wrong assumption.
"Catarina said you're well enough to walk and talk," the man got straight to the point. "If that's true, the captain wants to see you now."
Magnus nodded, standing up from where he sat on the bed. He'd napped for a while at some point and then spent his time looking out the small window at the waves reflecting rays of sunlight. Catarina had come again to make a list of the medicine acquired after the battle to know what they had enough of and what needed to be bought in the city, and then she left him alone.
The blond was the new first visitor Magnus met.
"Clothes for you to replace the old ones," the man said, dropping them on the bed. He also brought shoes. Magnus pulled the linen shirt over his arm slowly while the man watched. At least he wasn't telling Magnus to hurry up.
The mage ignored the new pants. His own weren't filthy and he wasn't about to change in someone else's presence, even if the shirt was long enough to protect modesty. The other man didn't say anything about it.
Once Magnus had shoes on, the Alicantian crouched to unlock the shackle on his ankle. Catarina had put a bandage over his skin to protect it from the metal and she had healed the previous damage done by it.
Magnus did. He finally saw more of the Alicantian ship, even if it wasn't very interesting. Shipbuilding followed the same rules in the whole region, including Edom, Free Lands and Alicante. Sails were the major difference that he could see and Magnus was noticing that the eastern people liked decorations more than Edomites did. Magnus spotted winged ornaments and patterns of vines along edges of doorways and by the stairs. These people really liked their wing symbolism.
He saw some of the other sections before they reached the last flight of stairs and walked in the Sun on the open deck. Seamen worked as usual, maintaining the course and looking out for possible danger. Magnus looked around and some people looked back, having noticed him.
The blond walked ahead to the captain's quarters. It was the grandest space any ship had. Magnus walked in with equal curiosity and trepidation. Following the man leading him inside, Magnus gave himself three seconds to take in the room before focusing fully on the form of the man sitting at the desk right in the middle of the quarters.
Once he looked, Magnus couldn't look away. The man was… well, he was gorgeous. His eyes were particularly striking framed by thick dark brows, creating an over-serious expression. Some of that gravity lifted from his face when his gaze fell on Magnus.
"Thank you, Jace," the captain said, standing up. He walked around the desk, gesturing to the chair in front of him, offering it to Magnus.
He wore a shirt that was admirably white in these traveling conditions. All of him was very well put-together, from his shiny shoes to his well-fitting black pants, to that shirt. He wore no jewelry save for a signet ring that Magnus was certain carried his family crest. Magnus missed his own jewelry, the pieces he had on him when Edomites took him and then sold at the first opportunity.
The blond, Jace, left them alone and closed the door behind him but Magnus assumed he stayed nearby. Or maybe he went on to his other duties and Magnus was just too used to Azazel's officers hounding him whenever he wasn't in the cell.
"I'm sure Catarina gave you food and drink but would you like to drink anything now?" The captain offered.
"No, thank you." Magnus made himself comfortable in the chair. It was padded and made of heavy wood, probably meant for the officers of this ship to sit on during meetings. There were two more chairs like this one, pushed up to the wall. The captain went back to sit in his own behind the wide desk. He folded up the map he'd been studying when the blond and Magnus interrupted him.
The captain simply looked at Magnus for a short while, as if he was seeing him for the first time. Magnus didn't remember this man from the battle. A lot had been happening and Magnus didn't have eyes around his head. Maybe he had seen him briefly and forgot him, though that was unlikely.
The mage tried to relax and not look like he had things to hide.
"Your name is Magnus, yes? Mine is Alexander Lightwood. The ship belongs to me and my family and you are currently our guest."
Magnus lifted his hand, pointing out the cuffs.
"I know this hurts you, as a mage. I'm willing to apologize for it and in time I might make it up to you for keeping them on. However, I don't know you and I don't trust you."
"I understand." Magnus has always preferred bluntness over fake courtesy that concealed ugliness.
"I hope that you do. Every person here is under my orders and under my protection and I won't risk their health in the middle of the sea."
He looked straight at Magnus as he spoke and Magnus met his gaze to show he took it as seriously as the captain did.
"I understand," Magnus repeated. "I don't wish to be seen as a danger and I can give you my word that I won't do anything, including jumping overboard. If you don't do anything to me."
The other man relaxed in his chair, sitting back.
"You're our guest. Non-magical guest. Before we talk more about this, I need to know something." He hesitated over his next words. Then he asked, "The omega that was on the ship… what happened to him?"
Magnus's heart beat faster, fear stabbing through him. They didn't know. Having no idea what happened after the battle, Magnus didn't know if the captain had asked the others from Azazel's crew this same question. Magnus could easily imagine they would have lied just to spite the Alicantian, leaving him in the dark.
"He's gone," Magnus managed to say out loud. "He has been gone for a long time."
The captain deflated, something leaving him drained. Magnus wondered if it was hope.
"If you've come specifically for him, I'm sorry. It wasn't your fault and you weren't too late."
The captain looked at the floor, his posture showing his disappointment.
"We only got word about this recently, I had thought…"
"The people living in the Free Lands are kind." Magnus said, his voice softer. "They wouldn't have mentioned that someone was taken a year ago if they wanted to lead any kind of help to them."
"A year?" The man asked weakly, looking up at Magnus.
To be honest, Magnus didn't mean to point out the time, he just mentioned it in his sentence but he understood the effect it would have on this young, privileged noble who sought glory sailing away from his home.
"They trapped me before last year's harvest." Magnus told him. "I've been on the sea ever since."
And he wished he could never see any water again.
The captain's eyes widened. "That's more than a year. And we knew about you, too. That is, unless more mages are taken. I thought we were right on time to stop it."
"Like I said, it's not on you that other people are cruel."
Magnus wasn't rushing with gratitude for himself, not yet. He did not know the plans the Alicantian had for him as a mage. Nothing was ever simple in Magnus's life.
The other man still seemed weighed down by this. Magnus wondered why that was.
"Where are you from?" The man asked after a while, shaking off the dark thoughts that seemed to cloud his head.
"You're asking where my loyalty lies." Magnus said, smiling slightly.
"Does it lie anywhere at the moment? I've seen how you've been kept by the Edomites but I don't know what you've been doing before that."
"I have a home in the Free Lands, south from the Coast. I only wish to return there and resume my work. I have neighbors who must miss me, if they don't think me dead."
"Did you live in a city?"
"No. It's more like a new settlement. And we have woods instead of beaches."
"You weren't associated with the mages guild of the Free Lands?"
"I was always in some contact with them but I saw no need to sign myself up for anything. I always did my work when it was needed by the people, not because I was commissioned to do it."
He saw no need to mention that he did work purely for money, as well. A mage had to pay for his or her food just like everyone else and if Magnus was particularly skilled at getting paid, it wasn't the Alicantian's business to know it.
"So what were you, a hedge witch?" The captain asked.
"I'm very sorry," Magnus said, not being sorry at all. "Is the concept of it beneath what you expect from other people?"
The captain shook his head. "Never mind."
He appeared to be temporarily occupied by his own thoughts.
"Are you going to let me go in the harbor?" Magnus asked the question that was most important to him. He already got the feeling the Alicantian was asking all these things to know if there was a chance someone else was still looking for Magnus or waiting for his return. After a year of captivity, Magnus wondered how easy it would be for him to slip into new apathy, exchanging one master for another.
The Edomites had made use of both his mage and omegan natures, having known about both. The Alicantians would only want to secure a magical weapon… until the next heat would reveal the truth to everyone.
"We'll talk about it when we get there." The captain replied, confirming Magnus's fear. Magnus hated non-answers when he was on the receiving end of them.
Then, the man said: "If you're willing, you'll have the dinner with us in here in an hour or so."
Magnus had no reason to say no. He certainly would like some civil human contact and he'd like to know more about the captain and whoever else would be eating with them, even if this conversation hadn't gone too well for his future.
When Magnus accepted the invitation to dine with them, the captain appeared to be still considering something more to say. Magnus waited.
"Would you like a bath?" The man asked, surprising Magnus. "Not that there's anything wrong with you, that is-" He stumbled over his words, his raised hand made an aborted gesture. He didn't mean to offend the mage's looks, it was only that it lingered on his mind how he was kept on the previous ship.
"I would love to have one," Magnus helped him out, not offended at all.
"Good. Good, I'll ask that it's prepared for you."
Together, they walked towards the doors leading out of the quarters. Magnus thought he'd be handed back under the watch of the blond man but the captain seemed to be looking for someone else on the deck of the ship. There were many people milling about but none were who the man wanted to see. In the end, he whistled. It took only a moment for a boy's head to pop up from behind some crates. The boy spotted the captain and dropped his work, which seemed to be tying up the crates with a length of rope.
"Please find Max and prepare a bath for our guest," the captain told the boy.
The boy eyed Magnus up and down with equal curiosity and distrust. Then, not wasting words, he simply ran off to do as he was asked.
He looked a little young to be hired to be part of the crew and Magnus wondered about that. He knew very well that older teenagers took many kinds of jobs for many reasons but this one wasn't even that old. To go sailing away from home and country…, he must have had some reason.
"Is he someone's son?" Magnus asked, curiosity getting the better of him. He only hoped the boy wasn't a child out of wedlock, possibly even the captain's. Asking about that might be received negatively.
"No, he's an orphan. Same as the other one. We're looking after them," Lightwood said, returning Magnus's gaze. It sounded honest so the mage nodded in acknowledgement.
After that, awkward silence filled the space between them.
Magnus looked around while he was allowed to. The weather was good, as usual at this time of year in these parts of the sea. He only knew where they were, roughly, thanks to Catarina mentioning the Moon City and the time in which they expected to dock there. He usually didn't know much with Azazel and to be honest it didn't matter to him while on open water. Wherever they were, he couldn't do anything about it.
Sun felt good on his face. Even though the air was always warm, Magnus usually felt cold inside unless standing in the direct heat of the sun. He wasn't like that, before. His body wasn't like that before.
Catarina walked up to them before the captain could find someone to escort Magnus back downstairs. She wore the same outfit as before but now her apron had smudges of something wet on it.
"Do you have the lists for me?" Lightwood asked her and she handed over small sheets of paper.
"The most important ones, yes. Everything Simon checked is there. I told the rest they have a little time left to think about what they want."
"Who will be going to the land?" Magnus dared to ask.
"Myself and a few others." The captain answered. "This isn't going to be a long stay so no trips for everyone."
"What do I have to do to be allowed to go with you?"
The Alicantian didn't look too eager to answer him but he also didn't look surprised to be asked this.
Catarina didn't speak but she was looking at the captain pointedly until he said: "We'll discuss that at dinner."
Magnus had to refrain from rolling his eyes. He was already promised two conversations. It was certainly nice to hear something else than a hard no from an Alicantian but not knowing the Lightwoods, Magnus had no idea how well the captain kept his word and just how willing he was to actually discuss anything with anyone below his station.
Clearly wanting to send Magnus on his way, the captain immediately called another man to take him back to the lower deck.
"Max and Rafael will be preparing the bath for Magnus." He said when a dark-skinned man came over. "Please take him to the cabin next to the healer's, it shouldn't be in use at the moment."
Not having much choice, Magnus followed his escort. They didn't exchange any words. At this point, he had nothing important to ask and the Alicantian probably wasn't interested in talking with Magnus. He was just a beta, without much of a scent at all but he was easy to read and what Magnus read was lack of interest.
Dropped among new people he knew nothing about, Magnus had to do his best to navigate the new relations to his advantage. With this man, for example, he assumed it'd be best to be silent and compliant just so he wouldn't give anyone a reason to dislike him. Once they reached their destination and stopped in front of the room, the man wasn't hiding that he resented the task itself even if he treated it seriously and stood there as ordered, watching Magnus, who studied the floorboards pointedly.
It was a relief when two young voices talking to each other became clear as they moved closer to them. Two boys were carrying a sizeable wooden tub, laughing when one of them nearly slipped and promptly called the other names. Seeing the second boy for the first time, Magnus thought he must be even younger than the other.
They carried the unwieldy item toward where Magnus and the other man were standing. The Alicantian pushed the door open to let them carry the tub in.
When Magnus had said he wanted a bath he was optimistically assuming there would be some kind of door involved and that he would be given enough trust to be allowed to be alone. It appeared he wasn't wrong about the door but whether he would be lucky enough to be left to himself remained to be seen.
The boys got the tub settled and they ran off again, presumably to get the water to fill it. Magnus didn't exactly want to give them more to do than they already had to on the ship daily but it wasn't like he could do it himself. Anyway, they didn't appear to mind much.
Magnus observed the other man when he was turned the other way. He assumed he wouldn't go so far as to hover over him while he washed but he also didn't like the idea of him hovering behind a closed door. It gave Magnus some hope that he looked bored after just the few minutes they've spent together.
"I'm not going to do anything," Magnus told the stiffly standing man. "I truly want this bath. If I try to run away, it'll be in the harbor and not in the middle of nowhere. I can barely swim in a river."
He was actually surprised when the other man considered his words in silence instead of telling him no and to shut up right away.
"I'm not going to do anything else, either," Magnus added. "Not before I've talked with your leader, which he promised me."
The man gave him another long look, then sighed and rolled his shoulders. "Consider this a test, mage."
Hearing this, Magnus knew he got what he wanted. He had no intentions to bring trouble on anyone's heads, least of all his own so he nodded and offered a promise of staying put and of possibly repaying the favor in the future.
The Alicantian, whose name Magnus still didn't know, only gave him last warning look, then glanced towards where the boys should be coming back from. They both could hear the ruckus they were making, apparently racing back to them.
"Hey," the Alicantian called out. "You'll burn yourself or make someone slip on a puddle you'll leave behind."
"It's not that hot, Raj," Rafael called back.
"And that's what we've got these covers for!" Max added cheerfully. There were indeed smooth wooden covers for the pot and jug they were carrying.
They reached the tub, poured the water in and raced back without paying any mind to the adults.
They came back two more times and didn't go again after that, at which point Magnus's reluctant guard finally left.
"Where were you bringing this from?" Magnus asked the boys, pointing to the water steaming from the tub.
"Only the cook is allowed to light fires on the ship." The smaller boy answered seriously.
Magnus wondered which of the crew came up with that rule to keep the kids out of trouble but he admired the idea.
"I see. So you are Rafael and you are Max?"
"May I ask how old you are?" He was just curious and he had his guesses. He wouldn't be offended if they didn't want to answer any more of his questions.
"Thirteen and eight," Rafael answered for both of them. Magnus assumed he added at least a year to his own age but he didn't comment on his suspicion.
The younger one played with the edge of his tunic, which now that Magnus paid more attention to it, looked to be a re-made adult's garment.
"Well then, thank you for setting this up for me. Are you going to be waiting here?"
There wasn't much left to do but for Magnus to go inside, close the doors, undress and get in the tub while the water was hot. He also had a towel and a bar of a simple soap that was almost used up.
Magnus put one foot in the water, then the other. These simplest of sensations felt divine for the level of comfort it brought him. The tub was most likely used for both washing clothes and bathing and it was half the size of what he had at home but it had to do and it was more than he got in the past. It wasn't the time to be picky.
Sitting down, Magnus pulled his knees to his chest and just sat for a while, focusing on the warmth his body was feeling.
Magnus looked down at his bruise-less ankle. He'd gotten used to the sight of the darkened skin, which didn't break but was always aching. Parts of him often ached, both physically and in other, deeper ways.
He could barely smell himself and he hated that fact. Just as his magic, his very nature was smothered not by chains but by unhappiness. He'd lost the sweetness of his scent day by day and only his heats could bring it back. It was just as well, he had no wish to smell sweetly for the Edomites.
Azazel hadn't minded that, either. He hadn't minded that others touched him. Azazel had a plan that he'd shared with Magnus once: one day, when he had done enough killing and robbing for Edom, he'd take Magnus back to land and bring him to his estate to permanently bind the omega to him. Only then would he care about others and only then would he make Magnus his. He'd make him stop taking the potion.
Magnus had known that he had to run before that came to pass but he couldn't run before returning to land. When on open water, he couldn't do anything but jump off of the ship and drown. No mage could summon items over water and they couldn't travel through portals themselves. Magnus's skill with magical travel was worth nothing on the sea.
What else could he have done? Overpower one man and try to use him as a hostage? Azazel would have killed him in a second and one man, even a mage, can't blackmail a whole crew. Especially not before getting his magic free. Magnus never excelled at mind magic. The idea of it repulsed him and he never trained in it.
With all those things to consider, he was trapped. Both back there and here with the Alicantians.
His body had lost its omegan allure and he might hate it but it had made things easier for him before and it accidentally protected him in the new situation.
It was better to be seen as a beta.
The Alicantians knew nothing of his capture and they knew nothing of his powers. They saw a fraction of it the day of the battle and nothing more. And they thought him a beta. Not a strong alpha, not a precious omega. Just a foreigner mage they hoped they could use.
"Alexander Lightwood," Magnus repeated the name to himself quietly. It certainly was a good name, fitting the man who wore it.
It was no hardship recalling the man's face, either. Magnus liked pretty much everything about it. It was exactly what he could expect from an alpha aristocrat but it didn't annoy him as some other alphas had in the past. Magnus had always been sensitive to how people acted and how they would force respect from others only for the fact of their privileged birth. He wasn't sure he felt that from the captain. He had some arrogance, sure, which was to be expected from Alicantian blood and the way he'd spoken to Magnus only proved that it wouldn't be easy to convince him to do anything he didn't consider beneficial to his name or his nation.
It was a mystery what drove him to search for a stranger omega who could have been a peasant or an orphan, way below the alpha's station. He surely didn't think they were a kidnapped noble? Free Lands didn't have many noble families.
Was he compassionate enough to answer the information about the missing omega with a search just like that? Just to find them and feel accomplished for it?
Magnus was aware there were more omegas in his country than there were to the east in Alicante. It was a possibility that the Lightwoods wanted one in their family at any cost and there simply weren't suitable options around them. But no, that didn't make sense to chase after one they'd never seen or knew nothing about.
No matter what he thought about it, Magnus saw no reason to reveal himself. Not only because he didn't trust Alexander Lightwood, no matter how pretty his face was, but also because if he did say the truth, it might not have the expected result. As Magnus was now, weakened, uninteresting and without a scent, he wouldn't be anyone's chosen omega. Except for Azazel, who'd known how Magnus could be.
He didn't want to see anyone's reaction to his state if he revealed what he was.
Magnus washed his hair, pouring water on his head with his cupped hands. It would need the time to dry before dinner so he didn't want to waste time unnecessarily. He stood up and stepped out of the tub before the water stopped being pleasantly hot.
He dried himself with the towel, taking extra care to dry around the enchanted cuffs. Then he dressed quickly.
His hair sat in a damp mess on his head and it wouldn't do to let it dry into such mess. No amount of blind finger-combing would be enough to make it look good, not to Magnus's own standards.
When he opened the door and looked outside the room, the two boys froze where they were sitting cross-legged on the floor. They each had a hand of cards and a pile between them.
"Done so soon?" The younger asked, eyeing Magnus's clothed body.
"I'm invited to dinner with your captain and I don't want to be late."
Rafael pulled a pocket watch from his pants and glanced at it. It was probably the boy's most valuable thing and the way Max looked at it with admiration confirmed it.
"You were in there only fifteen minutes," Rafael said matter-of-factly.
"There is no point bathing in lukewarm water," Magnus replied. "I could keep it warm with magic, but…"
"I could make the water appear in the tub, too, so no one would have to carry it."
"That's so cool!" Max exclaimed, his eyes wide. Magnus assumed the boy was imagining all kinds of things he could do with magic.
"Can miss Catarina do that, too?"
Magnus was amused but decided not to bring distractions in the form of two boys onto Catarina's head. If they believed only the cook could heat up things, Magnus would keep it that way.
"Maybe she can't because she's doing other things, such as healing wounds better than I could ever do."
"Isn't magic the same for everyone who has it?" Rafael asked.
"No. No, it isn't. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, just like non-magical people."
Rafael took the information in as stoically as he did everything else but Max had an adorable expression of hard thought on his face, no doubt considering the nuances of magic.
"Sir Lightwood is the best with a bow!" He said suddenly, giving an example.
"Is he?" Magnus asked, encouraging the boy to talk. Anything he could learn about the people on the ship would either help him be friendly with them or use the knowledge later.
"Yes! He can hit anything! And Rafael gets to the crow's nest faster than the grown-ups."
"What can you do?" Magnus asked, smiling at his enthusiasm.
"Well, I run fast. And I'm the smallest so I can get places others can't."
"I remember being that small."
"How old are you?" Rafael asked and then added: "I heard the herbalist in town say mages usually don't look their age. She said she met one who was a hundred years old! And he only looked forty or so."
"Is that true?" Max looked between Rafael and Magnus.
"It's true that you never know a mage's age but that doesn't mean you should just ask them about it."
"I have one more request, please," Magnus said, changing the topic. "Where would I acquire a comb and a mirror?"
"Someone's stuff, I guess."
"And who would be least mad about their stuff being borrowed?"
Max looked to Rafael, who nodded. They seemed to be very good at communicating without words and they probably had enough experience sneaking around the ship to know who owned what.
"Be quick so we can finish playing this round," Rafael told Max.
"Aren't you going? It'll be faster."
"I don't think we're supposed to leave strangers alone. Raj went because we're here."
The younger boy ran off, leaving Magnus standing by the door and Rafael still sitting on the floor. He probably would have stood up if it was one of the crew or the officers. Whether he felt comfortable being casual around Magnus or he didn't consider him important enough, Magnus didn't know. He hoped it was the former.
"How did you come to work on the ship?" Magnus asked.
"Max was already here before me. He said he'd snuck in back in Alicante and they didn't find him until it was too late to turn back."
"Are you from the Free Lands?" Magnus asked, wanting to know if his assumption was correct.
The boy nodded. He wasn't forthcoming with information on his own but he didn't seem to be against answering questions and Magnus wanted to use the opportunity to talk.
"The crew met you and took you in?"
The boy shrugged but it was a confirmation.
"I'm an orphan, too," Magnus said and that got him more attention from the boy. "I always had to work for myself. But I had friends, too."
"Are they dead?"
There was something in the way Rafael asked this that made Magnus believe he was asking not from a child's morbid curiosity but because he saw it as a clear possibility.
"No. They don't know what happened to me. It's probably me who they assume dead."
Magnus didn't see the point of making the truth prettier, not in this case. Rafael seemed to be the kind of a child who appreciated honesty over unnecessary coddling. It wasn't the time to ask him about his past, not when they've only met a little while ago, but Magnus wondered about that. The shrug at his question about how he came to be on the ship indicated a complicated story.
Max returned with a hand mirror with black wooden back and blue flowers painted on it. He also got the comb. Magnus thanked him and got to setting his hair straight. It was longer than how he usually kept it but it wasn't tragic. Without kohl for his eyes, he wasn't going to look like himself anyway so he didn't put in more effort than it was worth.
In the meantime the boys finished playing, sitting cross-legged on the floor.
Eventually, Raj returned to see if Magnus was still there and not doing anything stupid. At that point Magnus was ready and he told him so. If the captain was asking for him to join them at dinner, they could go.
Max and Rafael returned to work and Magnus followed his guard back to the top deck.
When he entered the captain's quarters, there were three people inside and all of them were alphas. They sat around the large desk, probably talking about things that weren't very important because their body language was relaxed. They easily dropped their conversation when they saw Magnus coming in.
The mage hadn't seen the woman before. She was sitting to the right, her leg crossed over the other. She wore an embroidered belt in her black pants and her white shirt had puffs in the shoulders. Her black hair was loose but the waves in it indicated it was braided recently. She smiled at him, welcoming.
Magnus looked between her and the captain. Their eye colors were different but their eyebrows, the color of their hair and the spark in their eyes were the same.
There was nothing similar about the blond man with them. And yet, for a room full of alphas, the atmosphere was familial. They were at least close friends, possibly raised together. It was common for noble families to have wards besides their own children.
Alexander Lightwood stood up to offer Magnus a chair to sit on but before he did that, the woman extended her hand to him.
"Isabelle Lightwood," she introduced herself, making her alpha nature even more obvious. She didn't wait to be introduced by her brother, who must be older (Magnus assumed) and was her commanding officer besides. Her smile was genuine and her grip nicely firm. The skin of her hands told Magnus she wasn't stranger to holding weapons.
"Magnus Bane," he offered in return. The second name didn't mean anything in the Free Lands. It wasn't even his mother's name.
"You came right on time," Alexander said. "Dinner will be brought soon."
"And we have a little time to talk," Isabelle added. "Wine?" she asked, indicating the waiting glasses and the bottle on the desk. The label in fancy lettering was Alicantian.
Any other time, Magnus would happily agree to be poured a drink, the fuller the better. But now… it didn't appeal to him much. It all came down to his body feeling off and he didn't think he'd like intoxication, no matter how light, on top of it.
"A little with the dinner later, maybe. Thank you." He said.
"Well, if you change your mind just ask. We've got the best wine you can get back home."
Magnus found it curious that the other alpha in the room didn't introduce himself. The mage remembered his name from before when the captain had used it. The blond seemed content sitting like the captain's personal guard and the others didn't address it so it probably was how they interacted with strangers when together in group. Magnus also remembered how the captain became flustered when alone with Magnus and offering him the option of a bath. It was so typical of alphas to act differently in packs than when alone.
From there came more questions about Azazel. Magnus carefully spoke of himself as mage only, omitting all abuse of his omegan nature. They already knew how he'd been treated from the cell they'd seen and they didn't need to know more, in Magnus's own opinion.
The woman didn't hide her sympathy for him and while he neither needed or wanted it, the fact it was there was reassuring for his future.
The questions stopped when the food came. It was carried in ceramic dishes with covers, cuts of meat together in one and groats in the other, kept like this for warmth.
They were left with plates and cutlery to serve themselves from the large dishes. Magnus wasn't used to such containers but he definitely saw how practical they were on a ship.
He didn't move, as always expecting to be the last to be given anything to eat.
Alexander wasn't serving himself yet, looking at Magnus across the desk while Isabelle and Jace took their share. Once they did, he pointed to the dishes and said: "As you can see, this is more than enough for us. Take as much as you need."
It was kind. Magnus wasn't starved but he also hadn't been eating as well as he should have for good health. He looked at the food. The groats were cooked with some sort of vegetable and smelled very inviting. Magnus rarely chose to eat meat back when he'd been free but he certainly wasn't to going pass up the opportunity to eat it now, when it looked and smelled as if it was prepared in a manor house and not by a field cook. His stomach approved even before he tasted it.
He put on his plate as much as he realistically expected to eat and only then did the captain take his share, too.
The dinner was reassuring Magnus that he was, in fact, not different from a beta. No one looked suspiciously at him or questioned him.
As for Magnus, he didn't feel much while being in a closed room filled with alpha scents. He was numb to them. Just as his scent had turned uninteresting, his nose became uninterested in what used to excite him. Magnus liked – used to like – being an omega, the rare combination of attributes that made his life interesting but also made him a target of others' desires.
He'd lost any naivety when his mother died but he'd lived his life without fear- until Azazel. And even then, he'd known he'd get out of it somehow. A year, two, but he'd be free again. It wasn't hope, it was expectation. Now, Magnus wasn't 'hoping' they would let him go but the longer he was with these young Alicantians, the fewer fears he had about them.
The blond to his left still wasn't giving him the most approving look so Magnus resolved not to pay him much attention. He looked to be a typical alpha, strong and fit, and perfectly happy in Alicantian military. The air of superiority around him got on Magnus's nerves. Their leader had that air, too, but it was quieter, more understated. Magnus knew that could be more dangerous.
They didn't talk much at all while they ate. Magnus let his mind focus on the food and not on his company. When Isabelle offered him a drink again, he accepted.
Of course, the complete peace wasn't meant to last.
Eventually, Alexander brought up the need of a mage in their forces. He didn't say outright he expected it to be Magnus.
Magnus, made content by a full stomach and the freshness of his clothes and skin, found that he no longer felt afraid of the Alicantians. Sitting with them played part in it, too. He didn't feel his anxiety increase from their auras and he chose to trust his instincts. On top of that, the little wine he had spread through his body much faster than he was used to. Maybe it was a mistake to drink just as he'd thought, when he was weakened.
"What about the circumstances in which you'd found me makes you believe I would be happy to offer up my freedom to work for you instead?"
Alexander opened his mouth to speak but Isabelle did it first.
"My brother is a good leader and we're all here because we believe something can be done about the unlawful behavior of the Edomites who choose piracy."
Magnus looked at her.
"Or your brother wants to go home to the capital and be able to say he achieved something others didn't. I'm sure it would give him some sort of seat in the lesser councils for a start."
She gazed back at him steadily.
"Did you know there are more pirate ships on the sea than in the past five years? Newer and better equipped than before. Free Lands might soon lose the ability to push them back."
"There is always something new," Magnus said, refraining from sighing. "A new weapon, a new leader who fancies themselves a warlord. It's nothing unexpected. Look, if you want to defeat them, I of course approve. But you need a fleet to fight them, not one pretty ship."
"Idris is more than a pretty face."
"Are you?" Magnus looked at all three of them in turn. "Are you more than a little pack of heirs chasing adventure and more fame than you already have through your name?"
Alexander's eyes narrowed. "Are you suggesting that it's enough for us to rest on our parents' achievements?"
Magnus leaned back in his chair and smiled. "No, I'm not."
"Alicante and Free Lands were never conflicted. We're out here, working for everyone. Won't you consider helping us?"
Magnus knew he had to tread carefully even though he was already talking too boldly. They've so far dealt well with him giving out personal opinions but accusing Alicante of anything might not go so well for him.
"That's true but we were always more neutral than allied. Alicante has always tried to gain influence where they had no right to insinuate themselves into and you can't deny this to my face. Your nation has always tried this along Free coasts nearest to the border."
Jace shifted in his seat.
"If the poor settlements nearest to the border didn't somehow always attract trouble, maybe we wouldn't have any reason to come over."
Magnus looked at him sharply.
"It's interesting how Alicante understands 'trouble'. I don't recall us receiving much help during the great illness three years past but you're very quick to step in with your soldiers to help any other time."
Alexander stopped Jace from replying by raising his hand and speaking himself.
"You know there aren't many mages born in Alicante and we do our best with what herbalists we have. We've always depended on Free Lands when advanced healing was needed."
"And we did send out supplies," Isabelle added.
"Hmm, yes, weeks late," Magnus said. He didn't mean to dig up the past like this but the illness that had hit many people that year had been his constant sore point. He felt he'd been too slow and too inadequate healing those in need around him… and Alicante's delayed medicines only made him more bitter about it.
The one thing Azazel hadn't done was to discourage Magnus from talking back when he'd held him. He'd liked his spirit, he said once. Magnus knew it was only because he'd wanted to break him later, once he owned him truly...
He shook his head as if he could physically shake thoughts off. The young alphas were looking at him, Isabelle saddened and her brother clearly thinking of his next argument to use to convince Magnus, who spoke first, a little softer.
"That doesn't change the fact that you were the ones who got me out and not my own people or anyone else," he told them, "and I would truly be thankful if not for the little issue…"
He raised his hands as he'd done before with the captain. The cuffs reflected the light coming in from the wide windows.
"I know I just ruined my own image in your eyes with my words but I can't take them back when I mean them. We're not enemies in any way but you can't expect me to just agree to anything you want from me for any reason. Why do you think you're worth my freedom?"
Just to be clear, Raj hates stupid tasks but he isn't stupid himself. Had Magnus been evil, he'd have learned more about Rafael's past if he tried to harm them :)
"He's interesting," Isabelle said when they were alone. "And good-looking."
Alec had noticed. He'd noticed how soft the mage's hair looked when freshly dried. It was raised a little and then the tips fell in a graceful wave over the right side of his forehead as if directed there deliberately.
Alec also rather liked how color returned to his face after he ate, even if nothing changed the dark shadows of tiredness under his eyes. He was moving mostly unhindered after the injury Alec had given him and that was a relief to see.
"We can't keep him," Alec told Izzy as if it was her idea from the start but he was mostly telling it to himself.
"Not if he doesn't want us to." She agreed. "He's not going to turn around and go to aid Edom. He has no reasons to. And he has no reasons to do anything against us- Alicante. That leaves us with no reasons to make him stay."
"You should try and talk with him again when we dock. If it doesn't work, well, we can't force him."
"You're supposed to be the diplomat," Jace added. "Do something. Remind him how we've risked our lives for him and he can repay the favor. Or promise him something. Hell, be menacing if you think it'll work."
Isabelle rolled her eyes. "You're only talking like this because you want to go home sooner to marry."
"Well, maybe I do. And I'd say it's normal of me to want us to succeed fast. Don't think I didn't notice how both of you jump on any opportunity to prolong our sailing."
Isabelle defiantly looked back at Jace but Alec dropped his gaze to the table. He wasn't sure what he was going to do now as far as his own future was considered. He did, of course, have specific goals in mind to fulfill while they were on the sea, such as finding mages and sinking kidnappers' ships but ultimately he was left stranded, looking for what might not exist. Jace was right. Alec wanted more opportunities before he had to give up and return home. Once he did return, he'd be no doubt faced with their parents' expectations to marry. The expectations had been vague before but would become loud and clear soon enough.
Jace's own marriage didn't depend on Alec's. He'd been raised under Lightwood wings and he was family to them but he wasn't included in the order of heirs to the name as long as three Lightwood siblings lived and were well. He didn't need to wait for Alec to be married first as the eldest sibling. Isabelle would have to wait but that wasn't an issue since she had no plans for it herself.
The three of them all had their own reasons for being where they were. Jace mostly because of Alec and because of the relationship they'd built around their brotherly relations and their military careers. Where Alec went, Jace went too, mostly to watch his back. And with them went Isabelle. Enabled by her alpha blood, she did what she wanted with her life within their family.
Their mother being a strong-headed alpha herself only made it easier for Isabelle to make her own way, although unfortunately, the same fact sparked conflict between them time and time again. It probably would have been harder for her if she were an only child or the eldest daughter. Isabelle tended to spend more time with their father while their mother focused on Alec.
The three of them, with fourth Max somewhat behind of them due to age, learned to live as a little pack of siblings, each of them knowing little tricks to turn things to their advantage within that relationship and with their parents.
Alec didn't want their balance thrown off by spouses. It was bad enough Jace had found his mate so soon and that he actually, truly wanted her, pushing Alec into feelings of jealousy. Not of Jace, but of the happiness he had and the lack of regrets.
Alec went to find the mage himself when they were near the coast, the town already within sight. If one were desperate enough, it was close enough to swim across.
Magnus was sitting on a bed in the medic's quarters, not doing much. His back leaned against the wall and his feet were on the bed, his knees bent. He was letting his thoughts drift, trying not to have any expectations. Not having expectations led to not having painful surprises.
He looked up when Alexander entered after two firm knocks.
"We'll be on land soon. I'd tell you to gather your items but… "
Magnus blinked slowly. "You're letting me go?"
"If I said we'd stay anchored until tomorrow… would you take tonight to consider joining us?"
"No," Magnus answered. "I'm sorry, but the answer is no."
Alexander nodded, saying nothing. He came closer, something shiny in his right hand. It was a key. Magnus sat up straight, letting his feet touch the ground. He dared to hope.
The captain indicated the cuffs and Magnus lifted his hands. The key wasn't regular, it wasn't a flat piece of metal with grooves. It was long and smooth like a thick pin and only the circle at the end was like other keys. It fit a hole where the cuffs had hinges and upon putting it in, they opened. It was, of course, enchanted. No similar piece of metal could have worked for the same purpose.
The first cuff fell into Magnus's lap and he moved to catch the second before it fell, too.
Both men looked at the metal half-circles and suddenly neither of them was sure what to do about them. Magnus didn't want anything to do with them but they also weren't Alicantian property.
Alec didn't want to make a misstep here. If he took the cuffs as if he meant to keep them, how would the mage feel about that? How would he feel knowing the Alicantians now had these items? He did, of course, think that these were a practical thing to have in a world where anyone could be an attacker, a criminal or simply the enemy. It was better to have the cuffs to use than to have to kill an enemy mage instead of taking them with the rest of their unit because they were too dangerous.
They way they'd been used on Magnus… that made Alec shudder.
"I'm sorry for making you wear them since yesterday but it was a decision I wouldn't change," he said.
"I know and that's fine," Magnus replied honestly. "I understood your concerns. You still barely know me."
"And it will stay that way, I suppose," Alec said, then paused before continuing. "Be careful in the future, and um, enjoy your home."
Magnus looked down at his hands. "I will."
A feeling of giddiness slowly took over his insides. He was free. A smile curled his lips.
"Oh, I will." He repeated.
The day was beautiful, the breeze moved Magnus's hair this and that way when he stepped off Idris and onto the pier. He was free to go. The group from the crew that was going to town was almost ready but they still had to prepare to move their prisoners to the local outpost and Magnus wouldn't be waiting for that.
Alexander followed him onto the pier.
Magnus looked at the town, then turned to the captain and took his hand into both of his. "Thank you for saving me, Alicantian heroes. I hope you'll do more good for us all and try not to invade us."
Too focused on the way Magnus's hand was warm on his and the faint tingle of something, like magic, Alec didn't get a word out. He could only nod.
Watching Magnus go, Alec felt as if he lost something.
Magnus walked the street of the town as if in a daze. Not like he couldn't focus but as if he wasn't walking through a real place. He'd been waiting so long for this to happen, to find a way to outsmart Azazel, to find a way to free himself, run away. His freedom came from what was, essentially, a random attack. One day he slept chained up, another day… he was still chained but in a different place and now… he was going to sleep free.
He could, technically, travel home immediately. He'd probably make it. It would be incredibly stupid, however, to do so. On arrival he'd be drained completely, weaker than even under Azazel's power and he had no way of knowing what he'd find in his home or if it was safe to appear there.
No, it was better to do a summoning, get his coins and buy a bed for the night in an inn. Rest, eat some more, sleep for ten hours. Go home in the morning. By then his magic would be so much stronger.
Whenever he'd been unshackled in the past, it was only to cast spells, usually offensive ones. He was always either blocked or being drained and the sensation of his magic simply replenishing itself, filling his body like an unblocked spring… it was pure happiness. There was nothing he had to do.
Even as he walked through the town, the people going past him in all directions and ignoring him completely, Magnus had to fight the urge to look behind his shoulder every other minute. That is, he didn't fight it at all in the beginning, he looked. He expected the Alicantians to change their minds at first and chase after him but then the fear grew in other ways. It was always there, only temporarily buried under the exhilaration. Magnus walked keeping his head down, stepping out of the way of clearly Edomite citizens. This was a harbor town, there had to be all kinds of strangers, travelers and merchants, and mix-blooded people like himself. His tired brain wondered: what if Azazel hadn't been killed after all? Magnus had to take Alicantian's word for it but he never saw any bodies or the burning ship. He never went near the prisoners on the ship and he didn't see who was there.
It was ridiculous to fear anyone would jump out at him as if they knew Magnus would be let free and knew where he'd go. But. He looked over his shoulder.
There was more than one inn around and Magnus chose the one which looked more expensive. The little purple satchel held in his hand was the first item of his he saw after all those months. He'd always kept prepared satchels in his home, ready to be summoned and leaving him free of concerns over money whenever he traveled. He'd summoned this one without a hitch, even if he felt that bit of power leave him more than he normally should.
Magnus paid for the night and for the evening meal. He also paid for breakfast in advance, knowing he'd wake hungry.
The owner's daughter led him to the first floor and presented the room to him. She left after wishing him a good stay.
The window in the room opened onto an orchard that seemed to belong to the next building. Magnus was glad he wasn't on the street side of the inn because his fears wouldn't let him look out the window, in case someone saw him and recognized him.
He sat and enjoyed the view, the three kinds of fruit trees all at different levels of development. One row of the dark-leaved ones was in full bloom. Magnus longed to see his own trees.
Before he expected the dinner to be delivered to his room, Magnus warded the space around him. He warded the window and the doors, and later when there would be no one in the corridor, he'd put up a ward at the entrance to the staircase.
After dinner, Magnus decided to do another test with his magic since he had another summoning in mind. He'd lost several items when Azazel's men had caught him but Magnus only cared about two of them: his rings. They were precious to him for various reasons and if they weren't on the bottom of the sea, he wanted them back.
He hadn't seen them for a long time but they were always on his hand before that so there should be no trouble at all calling them to him, just like the money satchel. If they were on land.
He focused on them first, then sent out a spell and two seconds later two rings fell into his palm. Such familiar, welcome weights. Magnus gazed down at them, happy and angry at the same time. Angry because they'd been sold to someone and someone had benefitted from his misfortune. At least he enjoyed the image of that someone losing them right from their fingers when he summoned them.
When night came, he couldn't sleep. He was tired, the sleep he had on Idris not being sufficient at all, especially when he was sleeping with an injury. He needed the rest to get his powers back faster but it was harder to fight off fears in the dark than it was in the light of day and the sounds of the bustling street.
When he dozed off, he woke up to a phantom sensation of being attacked. He'd thought Azazel found him- that he found the room, found Magnus, and that his fingers closed tightly on Magnus's throat.
He woke up gasping air even though nothing was there.
When he fell asleep again, he woke up two hours later to a vision of the Alicantian ship burning and the Edomite crew alive and laughing at his killed hope.
He tossed and turned like this until the light of dawn helped him to calm down. He did at least have the confirmation that Catarina's healing was excellent – there was barely a twinge where his wound had been after all that moving around.
After eating breakfast, Magnus returned home.
His garden flourished even without him, no doubt maintained by Elias. Magnus had many neighbors who'd probably stepped in once they saw it was needed but Elias had always liked Magnus's garden.
As he walked up the path, flowers peacefully bloomed on both sides of it, their petals wide and their colors rich. It was quiet. The gentle wind moved the plants and the little line of smoke from the building down the hill which housed the inn.
Magnus walked into his home like a visitor. He didn't know what had been happening while he was gone, who'd looked after it, who had looked for Magnus here. He didn't know who took care of his cat but he assumed it was Elias, too.
The house was empty and quiet. Magnus didn't feel anyone's presence inside, not even his cat's. Walking from room to room, he took in the familiar items. Even when no one was inside, the house was protected from ill intent by his wards. So long as he lived, so did the wards he'd put up.
There was some dust gathering on shelves but it was obviously too thin to be there from when he was taken. Now that, that he knew wasn't Elias's doing. It was likely the innkeeper had sent someone to clean up from time to time.
That first day, Magnus couldn't quite decide what to do with himself. He went over his ingredients inventory first and began restocking his shelves, starting with least demanding potions. It was the most logical thing to do, as he'd need potions for himself, both for his magic and for his body.
There were certain omega-specific potions he thought he should take to recover better. He also needed to make new ones for his next heat as contraceptives. It was the one thing he always had during his captivity; he was a magical tool to them and tools couldn't be pregnant and indisposed. Besides, it would have gone against Azazel's plans to mate him. It was the one thing Magnus never had to worry about.
While waiting between stages of brewing, Magnus simply sat in his favorite armchair and didn't think about anything.
The atmosphere of his home enveloped him slowly, welcoming him back. Magnus missed being grounded, literally and magically. Finally, he felt safe.
His nest was useless, as stale as he was. Scents weakened and the smell of dust settled over them. He undid it all and put the items away to be washed. He wasn't in a mood to rebuild it at that moment, he didn't think it'd help him any. If anything, it might just make him angrier about what had happened. The nest was just another thing taken away from him.
He didn't need nesting, he needed a distraction and something to do.
Magnus spent the day up until late afternoon doing various small tasks besides brewing that occupied his hands and mind without being too complicated. Only later, in the evening, did he decide to go down to the village and make his return known.
He was hugged tightly by the local herbalist while the village leader gave him a solid pat on the back with his big, warm hand.
"It's good to have you back, son." The man said. Magnus always smiled at the name and never pointed out that he was the older one without looking like it.
He got a lot of concerned questions and more expressions of relief from the villagers who couldn't have known if he even still lived after disappearing and leaving his home for so long without a word. They all knew he travelled often but whenever he stayed away for more than a week, he let someone like Elias know.
Magnus accepted the words and the pats from men, and the hand-holding from the most concerned women. They'd liked him for the work he'd done as a mage but they also knew him as one of the three omegas in the village. No one was insensitive enough to comment on his scent even if they knew it was all wrong.
He drank a lot that night with the villagers without planning to but in the end, it gave him a dreamless sleep.
The more time passed and the longer the distance between Magnus and the coast was, the clearer his head was.
Since he refused to think about the Edomites, his thoughts shifted to the Alicantians.
The fear and the resentment that he'd woken up with that first day after the battle didn't cloud his thoughts where the young alphas were concerned anymore and the more he thought about it, the more convinced he was they truly weren't deceitful or interested in conquests. He'd already believed that deep inside from the moment Alexander Lightwood came to take off the cuffs but he hadn't really thought about it.
They surely carried many Alicantian features of character that weren't too good in Magnus's opinion but they were young and eager, and possibly with much potential to be good people.
Or maybe Magnus was wrong about that. Maybe his outlook changed too much once he shrugged off the suffocating cloak of fear.
Maybe he thought too much and too often about big hazel eyes.
Regardless, Magnus was restless. He'd done what needed to be done around the house, he'd renewed the wards and set up some new ones. He'd spent a day portalling to various old acquaintances just to see if he was able to and if his powers were as they should be.
He'd gotten his cat back from Elias, although the animal wasn't much impressed with his return.
He slept without a nest but his bed was comfortable and warm even without it and it was heaven for his body after the thin bedding he'd been made to sleep on in his cell.
Five nights after his return was the night of the Full Moon. Magnus never used the moon for power but he'd take anything for a boost, if only to make himself feel better. It was also an opportunity to be around other witches and mages, some of them young and new to their craft and he'd never met them before.
He used to mentor some young people in the past but he hadn't done that recently, not in the last ten years. Magnus wasn't ready to go back to be an active member of their 'society' but his restlessness drove him to do many things, such as attending full moon rituals five towns away.
He thought about hazel eyes some more. He wanted to see the alpha captain again, smell him again when he wasn't wearing blocking cuffs and unsure of his fate. He wanted to talk to Alexander Lightwood again and ask what he was planning to do next.
Magnus couldn't have stayed with them from the first day even if he'd been curious about them from the start. It would only have ended badly for him even if his magic was freed. Going back home, resting, thinking, becoming bored… he needed all that. He needed to be himself, by himself.
Going back on the ship… it would be different at this point and he was ready to do it without resentment. That's what he was thinking a week and a day after coming home. He felt as though he was supposed to do it. He didn't owe anyone anything but he was free to help and able to help, and possibly, maybe, it was fate's way of directing him to what needed to be done by him.
Eventually, Magnus sent out a magical message to Catarina. It was the only form of magic that worked over water and only in one direction. A mage grounded on solid land was capable of sending a spell strong enough to reach its recipient across the water but it couldn't be sent back.
Magnus packed what he thought he'd need. Surprising himself, he chose fewer pieces of clothing than he usually considered essential for himself. He particularly picked high-collared shirts and waistcoats. He'd brewed himself fresh suppressant potions but once his scent began to return to normal, it'd be better to be safe with fabric covering his scent glands.
He collected a package of herbs as a gift to the ship's resident mage, he safely wrapped the bottles meant for himself, he collected the jewelry he wanted to take. He packed himself cloaks, light one and warm one. He packed pillows because he knew he wasn't going back to uncomfortable conditions.
He put all of that into a leather bag he'd once received as a token of gratitude besides payment from a wealthy merchant for taking a nasty curse off of his wife. It was a large travel bag, made of leather on a wooden frame and it was embroidered with northern flowers on the long sides. Magnus had liked it so much he spelled it to be impervious to wear and tear and to be basically bottomless. Everything that he wanted to take on the ship fit into the one bag.
He went down to the inn to tell the people he'd be leaving for a longer time again and to not worry if he's gone for more than a month. He also talked with Elias about his house and the care of it. Magnus had plans to portal home whenever they touched land, especially when the time for his next heat arrived but who knew how often that would be.
And so, one and a half days after he sent the message, a reply flew into his hands while he stood in the garden. Catarina wrote back the name of the city and the harbor they were in.
Magnus went back inside, changed his clothes, grabbed his bag and his cat, and opened a magical passage.
There were limits to magical travel. One had to either know the destination from a previous visit or they had to portal to a place of magical power which worked as an anchor. Such anchors usually existed in inner yards of temples, beside temples or were maintained by local mages outside of the city limits in a convenient spot or everyone.
The harbor Catarina named in the letter only had a small temple so Magnus made use of the mages' anchor set up outside of the town. It was a walk away from everything but he didn't complain about it; the area was pretty enough to be worth walking through and Magnus was still enjoying stepping on the solid ground more than he'd used to.
He could spot his destination from where he stood because it was on a little hill to the left of the town and the stone-and-wood buildings didn't completely cover his view of the local harbor. Or rather they didn't cover the ships moored there.
He could tell the shapes of them: merchant barges, small and medium-sized fishing vessels. And among them, a little more to the side peacefully floated Idris. Magnus smiled to himself. This wasn't Moon City, there were no military outposts to generate more traffic through the harbor. A beautiful warship with large Alicantian sails stood out like a swan among ducks and the local children who haven't seen anything like it before gathered to look at it from a respectable distance.
It was charming to think the captain made them go straight for the first convenient harbor instead of sailing a little longer to find a better suited, larger one. It made Magnus feel wanted.
He strolled down the last street that would get him to the docks. Buildings were less frequent here and he had a good view of Idris and her surroundings. There were quite a few men from the crew out on the pier and in the docks so they probably weren't a hurry to leave, possibly given some free time from the captain. Eyes turned to him as he walked and some of the crew who had seen him before recognized him.
Alexander himself stood by the railing near the gangplank, looking down at the pier. He wore a white shirt that stood out in his immediate surroundings as much as his ship did but at least he had a dark jacket on against the windy day.
Eventually, he too noticed Magnus approach. He moved, going down the gangplank to meet Magnus halfway, looking at him in a way that told the mage he wasn't sure up until now that he would show at all. Well, he showed.
The captain had a half-smile on his lips, a small but definitely charming thing.
"Oh," the short word left Alexander's mouth unfiltered by his brain before he caught anything else that might have wanted to be voiced. Something in Magnus sparked to life only to preen under the praise because he knew that little 'oh' was just that. Alexander's eyes lingered on him because there was much to take, Magnus knew that, before the man turned away awkwardly.
"You look, um- better. You look good," he stumbled over his words but even so the incoherent approval of him washed over Magnus like a warm breeze.
"Thank you," he replied, smiling. "You look good yourself, Alexander."
His hair was whipped by the wind every way, fluffed up and soft-looking. His skin, which had surely been paler when he'd been leaving his home, was glowing nicely in the Sun.
"May I call you that?" Magnus followed up his previous words.
"What? Ah, sure, yes." Alec hesitated. "Magnus. I probably should-" he made a vague gesture at the ship behind him.
"Show me around properly?"
Only when he started turning to lead the way did he notice the cat's head poking out of Magnus's enchanted bag.
"And who is that?" he asked, his hand pointing to the bag.
"That is Cat. I didn't want to separate us after I haven't seen him for a year."
"Cat. That's… original. Make sure the right Cat comes when we call for healing next."
Magnus chuckled. "True… well, this one won't come to a call at all, to be honest."
Alexander's brows rose and he shook his head. "All right, let me show you the quarters we've prepared."
It was a proper room. Adjusted for life on the moody waters, of course, but a proper room. It had a bed just like the one Magnus had slept on under Catarina's watch and it had drawers for private items and clothes. There were an elegant metal pitcher and a bowl with ornaments on its rim. The window was small but its presence alone was very welcome. Magnus assumed the captain's siblings and the officers were living nearby in this part of the deck.
Alexander stood just outside the door, waiting for Magnus's approval and the mage didn't make him wait long.
"Thank you," Magnus said, turning to him and seeing his expectant expression.
Once he turned, he could also see the space behind Alexander and the silhouette of someone coming from the corridor behind him. Soon enough, Magnus recognized the beautiful sister. She stopped at the sight of him, surprised, before a smile brightened her face.
"You came!" She said, walking around Alexander to properly look at Magnus.
The mage was charmed by the enthusiasm of these young alphas. He was charmed by the honesty of their body language. They were pleased because he brought his magic back to them, yes, but they also seemed happy to see him. Why? He wouldn't know, he had no time to make any positive impression on them the last time they've seen each other. Maybe it was their nature.
"Why wouldn't I come," he replied, "after sending the message?"
"I'm more surprised you're here so soon…" She admitted. "Well, some were, in fact, so sure you wouldn't show they just lost some coin."
"You took bets? Let me guess, your grumpy brother bet against me coming."
Isabelle looked at Alec.
"The blond one?" Magnus added to clarify and that made her chuckle.
"Jace is the grumpy one to you?"
At that point, Alexander stepped in.
"All right, let's allow Magnus to settle in his room. You have things to do, don't you?" He looked at Isabelle pointedly. "And I do, too."
Turning back to Magnus, he said: "We won't be leaving until evening. There are some repairs we need to complete."
"Repairs?" Magnus asked, concerned. "What happened?"
"Oh, just a run-in with a smaller pirate group." Alexander waved his hand like it was no big thing at all. "They were probably lost from their fleet after the storm from two days ago. We'd avoided the storm but then found them."
Magnus didn't particularly like that they received any damage while he was gone but at least he was here now and he had a whole array of spells that he'd been forced to use for Azazel. Now he could use them for Idris's sake of his own free will.
"So if you want anything from the land," Alexander continued, "you still have the time. Myself, my family and some of my men will probably be eating on land, too. But that's later."
"I'll make sure not to miss the departure."
The young captain lingered in the door but having nothing left to say, he eventually walked away to his tasks. Magnus watched him go, amused.
Then, he turned to Cat.
"How do you like this, hmm?" He opened the bag to give Cat freedom of movement. The first thing he needed to do was to set up wards on the edges of the ship to keep Cat from falling over a railing. He'd never been anything but a land cat and Magnus would hate to unintentionally cause him harm.
Magnus assumed Alexander had told at least some of the crew he'd be coming back because it'd be awkward for Magnus to walk around the ship and be stopped and questioned by anyone as to what he was doing…
On his quest to cat-proof the ship, Magnus ran into Catarina and he found that she was quite busy.
"Two cases of a fever," she told him. "It's not rare around these parts and it's mostly avoidable if you're not acting foolish…" She shook her head. "Men."
Then, more seriously, she added, "We also had some injuries from the fighting. A nasty sword wound but I have it handled. You don't worry about anything today."
"Oh. Well, I am here, if you need anything from me… In fact, I've brought some fresh herbs that'll surely be of use."
Her face brightened.
"You have? That'll be less for us to pay when we come into harbors. The people of Free Lands have been charging us more when they see our uniforms or anything like jewelry of Alicantian origin." Catarina complained. "It's fine by me when they overcharge the sailors for drinks at the tavern but I'd like my potions priced fairly."
At that, Magnus smiled. "I suppose you'll have to leave the shopping to me the next time."
A little while later, he found the two youngest crew members, Max and Rafael. They seemed to have some free time when Idris wasn't sailing and were spending it together. Rafael was reading a book out loud while Max fiddled with a short knife and a piece of wood that was only just beginning to take shape in his hands.
The older boy noticed Magnus first and his eyes widened.
"You're back?" He stood up and Max did the same, leaving his carving on the ground. By Rafael's tone, Magnus guessed the surprise was a pleasant one.
"Yes. I've come back to help you out a little."
"With magic?" Max asked with a lot of enthusiasm that made Magnus smile.
"Yes, with magic. Whenever it'll be useful."
"That's good. The last fight was scary." Max said. Rafael shot him a look.
"It wasn't that bad. We just got surprised." The older boy said.
"Hmm, I do have something to stop us from being surprised by an attack." Magnus offered as a comfort. "And I promise to do my best to help the next time."
Max's face lightened. "I want to see it. Catarina almost never does anything exciting. Just the usual stuff."
Magnus chuckled. He was sure the 'usual' stuff was Catarina's best healing magic or the most practical magic that would be hardly appreciated by this curious boy.
Fancy magic was more Magnus's style but he wasn't going to start his stay here by showing off. He'd find a suitable occasion to make the boys happy later. At the same time, he hoped they'd get to see as little of his battle magic as possible.
Luckily, from there they moved to the topic of Cat, currently in Magnus's arms.
"We have one cat already," Max noted.
"You do? Al-The captain didn't mention it."
"He doesn't know it's here, I think."
"He doesn't?" Magnus thought that Alexander would be the type to want to know everything that was going on his ship.
"Lady Isabelle hates rats and mice and everyone pretends there are none. The captain isn't afraid of them but he heard there are none so often he believes it too… So if there are no mice, why would there be a cat to hunt nothing?"
"That's… interesting." Magnus said neutrally.
"Church hunts well but he hates people, he avoids everyone," Max added.
"The boatswain says Church is a hundred years old." Rafael rolled his eyes. "He can't be but sometimes he does look like he is."
"I see," Magnus said. "If he stays away like that, he probably won't be meeting with my cat… That will probably be for the best."
Magnus spent some more time with them, answering a wealth of questions mostly about "what can you do with magic?". He always did like children (unless they were particularly mean and badly raised), he found them refreshing to talk to and his protective instincts over them weren't only due to him being an omega.
Eventually, Cat was let to roam free with an amulet on his collar which would let Magnus find him easily and the mage went up to the top deck. He found Alexander's brother there, his eyes looking to the sky. Following the line of his gaze, Magnus found a bird of prey flying in circles above them. He wasn't too familiar with kinds of birds, except those little songbirds living in his garden and in the trees around his house. He couldn't say exactly what this one was but he did know this wasn't a sea bird. The blond alpha had a thick leather glove on his hand and forearm so it didn't take much thinking to make him the owner of the bird. He also had some sort of raw meat in his right hand, probably a treat or a reward.
Magnus wasn't sure how useful such a bird was on a ship but he assumed it came with them because they were bonded and it wasn't unlike a pet.
Magnus left them to it and went to find the one alpha who interested him more. Alexander and his sister weren't difficult to find, currently talking with someone dressed in local garments down on the pier. Magnus waited, not wanting to interrupt.
Isabelle wore a jacket embroidered with red flowers and a woven belt with more red flowers. Magnus was quite certain such belts were made in the Free Lands, east of Moon City. She had a pendant on and when Magnus paid closer attention to it, he realized it was a coiled serpent.
Next to his sister, Alexander looked plain. Still, no less beautiful.
When the local man left, heading to the center of the town, Magnus walked down to the siblings. Alexander's attention shifted to him, feeling almost like a tangible thing on Magnus's skin.
"Would you like to have the meal with us?" Alexander asked, his tone making it clear it was all up to Magnus to decide if he wanted to go anywhere.
"Yes, I think it's the best time for it." He agreed and Alec nodded.
"Jace!" Isabelle called up towards Idris and soon enough Jace's head looked over the railing at them. "We're going to eat," Isabelle told him. "Are you going to catch up?"
"Yes, go." He waved his hand at them. He whistled, then, calling his bird back.
Magnus looked at Alexander, who said: "All right, let's go."
The tavern was small but nicely kept and only a small number of shady people sat inside at this hour. Magnus could see in the eyes of the barmaids and the man who was probably the owner that they intended to make a good profit off the Alicantians, just like Catarina had said. Magnus didn't really care. He didn't mind leaving his money in small places such as this and he certainly had enough to spare. He also didn't mind who was getting charged more here. Let the Alicantian nobles pay.
Being made a fool of would be different and he would never let anyone do that, but it wasn't the case here.
The meal was, at least, very nice. Food was good and filling but more than that, Magnus's mind kept focusing on the company. These were the people he'd be closely interacting with in the incoming weeks. Isabelle was interesting, beautiful and entertaining, but Magnus had the most interest in her brother. He still wasn't absolutely sure he was right to trust the young alpha but everything inside him seemed to believe so.
Magnus trusted his gut and so far his gut told him that getting on the ship of his own volition wasn't a mistake.
Being in a public space, they kept their conversation to light topics of no importance, private or otherwise. Magnus did mention his home but no one would have been able to tell just why he'd been away from it.
Jace joined them a little later, having left his leather protector and his falcon on Idris.
Magnus knew he was a disturbance, of a sort, in the siblings' usual relationship. He knew they wouldn't converse like they must normally do with him around, a stranger to them. Still, it wasn't awkward, either. They were vibrant young people, each of them in a different way. He'd been afraid of them before, yes, but he'd been in a different place then, in his mind and body. Seeing the world with a fresh mind, he was free to see them as they really were.
Truthfully, he focused on one out of the three. He knew that Alexander's eyes strayed to him, too. He also knew it was because of his appearance, the kohl around his eyes and the cut of his hair, because of his earring and pendants. Being an omega gave him better instincts than most of the other people had. Those instincts were made to let him know when someone was interested in him… and now they told him Alexander wasn't giving him looks just because he found his jewelry interesting or that he disapproved of his black-lined eyes.
That night started well. Magnus was settled with the items he took from his home and he made himself comfortable for the night. He had a few pillows and an additional blanket. He spared a thought to a nest, which he last had a year ago. He could have stayed home and rebuild it… having made the choice to come here and help, he wouldn't have a nest for another, oh, however long.
He did manage to fall asleep rather quickly, partly because of the long day and partly out of curiosity, to make the night pass faster and see what the following days would bring.
In the middle of the night, with his bed and body rocked by the waves as is usual on the sea, his mind lost its peace. Magnus woke, not knowing why but knowing something was wrong and he wasn't allowed to sleep anymore. He blinked in the darkness, recognizing the edges of furniture and his belongings on it… He knew where he was. His memory, joining together the past experience and his return to a sea vessel, put him back on Azazel's ship. Magnus shivered. He repeated to himself that he knew where he was. He knew who was with him on this ship, on Idris.
And yet, the air escaped the room and the walls seemed to come down on him any moment…
He knew what was the simplest way to dispel the disturbing feeling that he was back there, trapped and helpless... Pushing away the covers, he slipped his shoes on and grabbed a coat to put it around his shoulders. Telling Cat to go back to sleep, he left the room.
No one was there to stop him. He was free to walk around, leave his room, go up to breathe the night air. This was the difference that he knew would help him. Just simple freedom.
The sky was beautiful - the night was clear, the Moon a thick crescent above them and the stars hanging all around it.
It was quiet.
There were men around, of course, watching for everyone's safety in the night and minding the course of the ship but they were quiet, too.
Magnus stopped by a railing for a while, watching the black waves roll past the side of Idris. When he turned to walk away, he spotted someone standing near the steering wheel, a variety of equipment in front of him on a little stool and scattered at his feet. The man was young and when Magnus came closer, he saw more details, such as the glasses the man wore.
"It's a good night for observation, isn't it?" Magnus said, conversationally. He didn't mean to startle the young man, but that was what happened.
"Oh, hello. Yes, I guess it is." He looked at Magnus properly, then, as if he'd answered without really knowing who came up to him. "You're the mage."
"I am. Magnus." He offered his hand to the younger man.
"Nice to meet you in person. I'm Simon."
"What do you do here, Simon?" Magnus asked because he wanted to get to know the people he'll be living with but also because he wanted a distraction. A civil conversation with someone, anyone, was very far from what Magnus was used to, before, and it helped him right now just as walking out of his quarters had.
"Oh, I'm not the navigator, if you're wondering. I'm just learning from one but that's, um, a side interest. I guess you could say I'm keeping the books for captain Lightwood."
"And is that what you did before?"
"Yes. It was on land in the estate but it's not like there's much difference in subjects… I did like having tables which do not rock with everything else while I write." He glared down at one of the tools which began to roll away from the rest of the items.
"Oh, I absolutely understand that." Magnus agreed. "I still don't know what possessed me to come back on water but…" He made a vague gesture, "well, I suppose good deeds will bring me some good karma for it."
Simon stopped fiddling with his tools and looked at Magnus.
"I imagine you want some revenge, too. I mean, those who did that to you are dead or in a cell but there are still pirates who enslave people…"
Magnus didn't want to push the young beta away by being short with him but he also didn't plan on continuing the topic.
"Fighting is for your soldiers," he said with a smiled that was just a little faked. "I'm here to help and to show some appreciation for regaining my freedom."
"Whatever the reason, I'll be glad to see magic on our side when it's needed."
"Yes, I've heard that sentiment before. I think I'll go back now, hopefully, the night air helped and I'll go back to sleep."
"You couldn't sleep?" The man asked, understanding coloring his tone.
"Yes, but it's nothing to worry about. My body forgot all the rocking while I was home."
Simon chuckled. "I'm a little envious. I wish I could sleep in an inn or something for a night or two… Not that I'm complaining about being here, no one blackmailed me to come or anything. I like the people I'm working for and with."
"Yes," Magnus agreed, "the people you're with make all the difference. Well, I'll let you resume watching the stars now."
"Good night," Simon wished him when he turned to go back.
Magnus spent the following two days preparing to perform a spell which required a one-time magical effort and had to be redone after it was used but that single use was priceless. It was a shield: an invisible, magical shield which took one-time damage without letting it touch the ship, such as a flying cannonball. It served to give the crew the time to respond to an unexpected or a particularly dangerous attack but it couldn't be used again before being cast again.
Magnus had cast it before a few times but, usually, he wasn't allowed to gather enough power that was needed for it. Now, he had the power and he wanted the spell to serve this ship.
Other than that, since he was a free man, he had to fill his days himself. The Alicantians all knew he'd been kept against his will before but only some of them knew of details such as the cuffs and how he'd been kept. Magnus definitely preferred it that way. He was treated with respect for his magical nature but he was also treated more carefully than he was by people who didn't know anything about the past. He knew that care and caution would go away with time, thankfully.
During the first two days, he was invited to dine in the captain's quarters, during which dinners he could find out more about the plans for the immediate future. He wasn't a strategist, he had no military experience, but he had some insight to offer where Free Landers and Edomites were concerned. He also had some knowledge from the times when they'd come across Azazel's allied vessels.
Magnus answered more questions about himself as a mage and he didn't mind those, because he always liked talking about magic. It was particularly easy to talk about magic when Alexander's hazel eyes were intent on him, interested in what Magnus had to say. It may be shallow but he particularly enjoyed the way the alpha siblings reacted when he mentioned what he can do with magic. He wasn't offering to do everything with magic and it was understood by everyone but he talked about some offensive and defensive spells which would be useful to plan for. To use them in the best effective way, they needed to know about them first.
In those two days, when he wasn't alone by himself or having meals with the Lightwoods, he spent some time with the two youngest crew members and then some time with Catarina, the two mages rearranging the apothecary so that both of them knew where each ingredient and equipment was for the time when they'd need to use it.
A storm shook the ship at dawn of the third day, ending the sleep of those who weren't already (or still) working at the time. Magnus groaned, pulling a pillow over his head. It helped him nothing. He could feel Cat's weight on his legs and because of that he stayed as he was, awake and pretending the storm didn't exist. It didn't sound particularly vicious but it kept going on and in the end, the mage decided to get up and head up to see if he needed to do something to help, see if there was any damage. If it turned out to be not needed, he'd just return to bed and wait it out.
The sky was dark gray but he'd seen worse clouds before, both on land and on the sea. Not that it made it any better to start a day like this, but at least Magnus felt much less worried and unless it took a sudden turn for worse, he probably wouldn't be needed for anything. He decided to move out of the way so that experienced sailors didn't have to worry about him instead. He was going to go back to his bed and if he couldn't sleep then just lie there, at least in comfort and warmth… but he spotted something that interested him more.
Across the ship, the doors to the captain's quarters were open and the captain himself stood in them, shoulder leaning on the doorframe, his eyes looking out at the deck. He had a coat on to give him some protection from the wind but nothing shielded his hair form the wind's blows. He was dressed under the coat but it seemed he did so in a rush when the storm woke him up the same it did Magnus. In fact, Magnus was sure there was something wrong with how the edges of the shirt and the buttons lined up.
Suddenly, the early morning wasn't so bad. Magnus was standing on the stairs, a few steps down already, where he was somewhat shielded from the wind (if not from the rain) and he stayed there to watch the captain. The man's face looked about as Magnus had felt when losing sleep and he surely left his bed for the same reason Magnus had: to see if he was needed.
Alexander was the leader and he wore the title of the captain but it was more of a military rank than that of a seaman. He had his officers who had a true, long experience handling ships and they were the ones making the decisions strictly regarding sailing itself. By now Magnus knew Alexander had a good mind for tactical decisions and for the leadership of people. His sister aided him.
Magnus liked this about him - he liked that a young alpha with noble blood was sensible enough to let others, even betas, do their job when they were better suited for it than he himself was.
Alexander was rubbing his face with his hand but it didn't seem to work to wake him up any more- a yawn took over his lips right after that. During the gray, stormy dawn, he was like a shadow himself in the entrance to his quarters. Magnus found it difficult to look away.
And then he was noticed himself and the captain was raising his hand to acknowledge Magnus's presence. This, Magnus thought, was an opportunity. For what? He wasn't even sure. It was an opportunity to walk over there and talk with Alexander without his family present as they always were during dinners.
With the alpha's eyes tracking his movement, Magnus walked back up the two steps and then at a quick pace crossed the distance between them in the rain and wind. Alexander was already retreating into the room to make way for Magnus to enter.
They closed the door behind them to stop the unpleasantness of the weather from following them inside. They were on warm waters, in a warm region and it didn't compare to the storms in the east but a storm was a storm and it wasn't a nice summer rain anywhere.
"The best quality of those storms is that they're rare," Magnus said lightly, drying himself with a little bit of magic. If he used the same magic to make sure his eyes were lined and his hair was just right while Alexander was turned away, it was his business.
Alec was briefly ignoring Magnus in favor of lighting fire in the brazier to give the space some light and warmth.
"Would you like something to drink?" He looked over his shoulder at Magnus. "Tea? I have coffee, too."
"Oh? You drink coffee? How do you like it?"
It was one of the most popular things shipped around the Free Land by merchants but not everyone who bought it actually liked it.
"Well, if you asked my sister, you'd hear it's as bitter as I am," he said while pulling out various items from his shelves. "She uses a lot of sugar when she drinks it."
"Some people like it with sweet milk. I only need a little bit of sugar in mine."
"I don't have strong feelings about it either way, as a beverage… still, it does work better than herbs on a morning such as this and in winter."
Magnus made himself at home in the armchair while Alexander set up the two-piece pot above the brazier. He then prepared cups for them to drink from.
Soaking in the warmth building up slowly from the coals, Magnus enjoyed even the silence that fell between them. They waited for the water to boil and both being not quite awake, they found peace in that silence. Well, if they ignored the wind hitting the side of the ship and the thunder rolling above regularly.
Since it was all within the confines of the vessel, Magnus could have helped out with the coffee with magic. He was a man who liked things done quickly when they could be done quickly and usually only took his time with potion brewing. Being like this, however, comfortable, safe and basically being a guest… it was nice. Magnus watched Alexander move, watched his hands on the pot. There hadn't been an opportunity yet for Magnus to see him wield his bow but he thought about it, looking at Alexander's elegant fingers.
When he was handed a freshly filled cup, Magnus spoke: "This reminds me of another day of bad weather. Not much worse than this but I was stuck, having just helped an old friend with a ritual that took a lot of magic. I couldn't take myself out of there and we were forced to seek shelter in this exceptionally seedy inn…"
He continued the story while Alexander made himself comfortable in the other armchair. Magnus was happy to talk about his experiences and the alpha was happy to listen. That was how the whole morning passed and they barely noticed when the storm died, letting them go on to calmer waters.
Magnus didn't know that when he told other similar stories to Max and Rafael in the previous days, on one occasion the alpha had almost walked in on them, having been passing by on his way to find someone. He'd stopped behind a corner, recognizing Magnus's voice and he listened. It wasn't exactly that he was interested in the story itself, he cared more to know how the mage treated Alec's people, especially the youngest of them, who Alec had taken under his wings in absence of other guardians.
They were interrupted by a firm knock on the door that startled them both with how unexpected it was. For the past hours, they were almost like the only people on the ship.
"Alec! Aren't you hungry?" his sister called through the door. "I was told you haven't eaten yet."
"Yes, I- I know it's time," Alec answered hurriedly. "I just didn't want to yet. I'll be out in a moment."
"Is it your headache again?" she asked then, her voice concerned.
Magnus wondered if she would just come in to see her brother but she respectfully stayed outside.
"Yes, because of the storm," Alec called back. "I'm fine now."
"If you need to, you could sleep some more, we won't burn Idris if you do…"
She couldn't see Alec shake his head but Magnus could. The mage didn't hide the smile at that.
"Thank you, Isabelle, I'll be fine," Alec said and she went away after that.
Magnus and Alexander stayed seated but their time was over. Magnus could read in the alpha's face and in his scent that he was anxious now, knowing that more of his people were awake and out and about now that the wind wasn't keeping them below deck.
He didn't know what to do with that. His omegan instincts told him this was a good place to be. That he should stay. That he liked the scent of the room, he liked the scent of the kind alpha himself.
But he couldn't stay because that's not what this was.
Magnus smiled, thanking Alexander for the coffee and for the company. He admitted that he was hungry himself and it only occurred to him now that Isabelle had brought it up.
He stood up and Alexander went to the door with him as if Magnus was leaving his house, not just his quarters. Magnus paused before opening the door.
"You don't actually suffer from a headache, do you? Have I missed it?" It was easy to help with such aches with herbs and Magnus knew they had them on hand. The alpha probably didn't seek help for the pain, ignoring it instead. It'd be typical.
"No," Alec shook his head. "No, I do get them sometimes, like everyone, but not today."
He was being honest. In fact, it was surprising that the change in the weather didn't bring on a headache. Spending the time with the mage must have distracted his body from it. Aside from his empty stomach, Alec realized he was feeling much better just from the coffee and from the conversation than he'd felt in the early morning.
Later, after the day had passed peacefully and they moved closer to their next destination, when the night came, Magnus lay in bed thinking about the morning.
'Magnus, you old fool,' he told himself as he was falling asleep. 'When you get hurt this time, it'll be by your own wish.'
Chapter 6: Battles won and some lost
It wasn't that Magnus dedicated a significant part of his time to figuring out how to get Alexander alone to talk with. Not at all. That's what he'd say if asked.
After their morning spent together, Magnus was left wanting more while the alpha was apparently left afraid. Magnus couldn't tell if anyone had said something to him regarding Magnus's departure from his quarters and the mage wasn't sure why anyone would. Say that someone had paid enough attention to know that they've been inside for literal hours but what would that matter? No one knew his second nature so no one could have accused them of doing anything untoward with it. Magnus had full trust in his potions and he still wore long sleeves and high collars even if he knew he didn't smell like anything.
Whatever it was, it left the young alpha unsettled. Maybe it was just something he'd told him himself. Could it be that Magnus had been right during that first conversation when he'd accused the Alicantians of feeling superior? Is it possible that the captain remembered Magnus was just someone common from the Free Lands, no matter his magical profession?
But if that was the case, where do the brief but genuine smiles come from, the smiles which Magnus is on the receiving end of every time they see each other for the first time of the day?
If that was the case, why is he talking with Magnus with the same attention whenever they are alone?
He shouldn't be afraid of rumors, Magnus thought. They haven't done anything remotely suspicious and his crew clearly respected him. They liked him for his hard work, for his fairness.
Maybe the lie was the problem, then. The lie that Magnus chose to live, pretending he wasn't the omega. An Alicantian noble spending the morning with an omega, no matter their nationality, was different than the same noble dallying with a beta. Getting to know the Alicantians more wasn't enough to make him stop pretending - he was too afraid of many things. Admitting the truth for Alexander's sake had no worth to Magnus himself.
He was afraid it would change too much, such as the way people would look at him. He was confident in his nature when he was around people who knew him or who he met for the first time with his scent free.
But this? This would be different. First, he'd need to explain why – which, to be fair, wouldn't be too difficult since his reasons were sound and he stood by them. Second, he would have to see Alexander's reaction.
For that, he wasn't ready. Not because he was afraid he'd be looked down on but because he didn't trust him - trust them all - enough to be certain that no one would try to take advantage. It pained him to consider the possibility but he had to consider it for his own sake.
And that was why Magnus still tried to have these opportunities to talk with Alexander to know him better, preferably alone. In the end, it helped him that he was a person with a specific, valuable skill, such as magic. Magnus only answered to the captain as far as planning ahead and protecting the ship were concerned. He'd be ready to aid anyone, of course, he had never left anyone alone when he was able to help but the important spells were to be left to the leading alpha to decide on.
The shield spell Magnus had done on his own since he preferred to have it, for everyone's protection. What wasn't so clear was the use of offensive magic. Magnus thought back to the day they'd "met". He'd been using fire to discourage the Alicantians, block their way, scare them away. He'd used it to protect the crew which had used him as a slave… but he's quite certain he hadn't killed one of the Alicantians.
It's probably why it was easier for Alexander and the rest to come up with the idea to get him on their side. If he had killed one of them…
In return, he'd been hit, stabbed in a place that didn't threaten his life… he knew it was Alexander who'd taken him down that day. And Magnus didn't mind. He was grateful for it, if only because it'd stopped him from being forced kill someone eventually.
They didn't meet anyone for a week. That is, they didn't meet enemy ships. A short stop happened nearby a cluster of islands to which they sent out boats to buy fresh food and then they moved on.
After that, a solitary vessel showed up on the horizon, not going towards them but going west to east, cutting across their path and staying far away. That caused excitement among the people. If Idris could see it, the other ship could see them. Once they were sure it had all the characteristics of a pirate ship, it would be a mistake to let it go and possibly alert others to their presence.
And so the chase began. They Alicantians had the advantage of sailing with the wind and on top of that, their sails were larger.
Magnus stood on the deck, his eyes on the distant ship. He had hated pirates even before he had personal reasons for it. These people hurt way too many villages and small towns along the coast and Magnus had heard way too many stories about them. Later, when he'd seen them from Azazel's ship, sometimes he was made to fight them, which he did with dark satisfaction but sometimes, they were Azazel's allies. Pirates who made themselves useful to Edom's lords and princes were treated with different rules.
That, Magnus hated.
Under Alexander's lead, it was going to be different and Magnus looked forward to it.
They were following at good pace but it still felt too slow somehow. Magic pooled at his fingertips until they tingled and nervous energy filled him at the thought of the first battle after he regained his freedom.
Deep inside, Magnus knew he was going to enjoy this.
Alexander came up to stand next to Magnus a little while later. He'd given his orders to prepare and now he, too, waited.
"It isn't particularly large," Alec said, a simple observation just to say something.
"No. Let's hope there aren't more of them further ahead that we can't see yet."
"There shouldn't be. There are no islands on the map that way and I think I know where they were heading before we spooked them. There's a fort – or was – to the east, but that's still a fair distance away."
Magnus glanced at Alexander, took in his practical outfit and noticed the leather protectors he wore on his hands. He didn't have his bow with him but it must be somewhere near, within reach for the fight.
They were sailing under a little more cloudy sky now. No rain would come of it but more gray colors in the air made observation a little more difficult. Still, they weren't going to lose the pirates. They were closer now, anyway, and soon the pirates would have to decide if they were going to turn and face them, or keep running and be attacked eventually.
Impatience brewed under Magnus's skin. It wasn't a pretty feeling, it wasn't what an omega should feel. It was impatience and craving for something, for action, for revenge.
Omegas weren't strangers to anger, not at all. It was emotion like all the others but it was more than that for Magnus in that moment. That dark craving added to the anger, twisting up inside him.
It wasn't the first time he experienced it.
The anger had filled him, consumed him before. There had been one day when he'd lashed out and somehow, with a lucky spell, killed one of the men Azazel had been making deals with. They'd been left alone, the man and Magnus.
And it'd been worth it. That man never got to lay a finger on Magnus. Even through the punishment for it, Magnus hadn't regretted it and he'd enjoyed the way others became more wary of him afterwards. He'd paid for it, yes, but he'd been too precious of an asset to kill or maim so he only had to suffer for some time.
That was over now but his fingers still tightened on the railing he was standing by, his fingernails digging into the wood without his conscious decision.
Alec watched him. He wasn't staring but he saw the change in his posture. He even felt it in his scent. He sometimes wished Magnus had a scent as colorful as his clothes and as his personality. He was a beta, yes, but the plain, dull scent didn't fit him, somehow.
Alec itched to say some words of comfort but he didn't know what they should be when he didn't know what exactly clouded the mage's thoughts and eyes.
As if he sensed him preparing to speak, Magnus turned to Alec, his face wearing a whole different expression which Alec could tell was only a mask of lightness.
"I have something to waste less time…" Magnus said, raising his hands.
A gust of wind touched Alec's face and hair. It passed by him to fill the sails.
"It's not my favorite spell," Magnus said, "I suppose it's not in my talents to manipulate weather but I can do something like this for a little more boost. Not for long, just enough to make a difference."
It was quite like wearing uncomfortable shoes - he could do it when he needed to but he'd rather avoid it.
Alec gazed up at the masts. Magnus kept up the spell for a while, bringing them closer to their goal.
Their crew got excited, looking forward to bringing down another pirate ship. With it being solitary and not a warship, no one expected significant trouble in the battle.
And it wasn't difficult, once it started. It became clear quite fast that Idris was the superior vessel with the superior crew.
"You're not going to sink it without checking first?" Magnus asked the question that bothered him and while Alexander was still around, he could talk.
"No. We only destroy other ships when we're forced to. Just like we didn't burn the one you've been on."
Magnus nodded. Not all pirates kept or transported slaves but all pirates could have slaves and Magnus hated the thought of them being harmed even more by what they couldn't do anything about.
It was good that Alexander understood his concerns. Magnus wasn't expecting him to make only purely good choices all the time but some of those choices mattered more than others.
Idris turned faster than the still hesitating enemy and her cannons were ready sooner. When the orders were given, the cannons shot, all aimed at the masts and top deck of the other ship rather than the side.
When the enemy had the lucky shot at them, the shielding spell did its part, the cannonball shattering against it as if shot out of the air by a greater force. That was all that was needed to completely scatter the pirates. Even if it didn't scare all of them, those who panicked distracted those who were ready to fight.
The same thing wouldn't have worked so well against a better vessel or a whole fleet, or better-experienced sailors. These people made mistakes.
Idris suffered damage to her side, a broken railing and part of the deck shattering in jagged splinters but that wouldn't be that hard to fix once they had the time for it.
Soon enough they were side to side, seeing each other's' faces, seeing the weapons drawn and people ready to fight.
Magnus didn't think of offensive magic, not yet. He couldn't protect everyone at once without a spell requiring intense focus and power but he could protect individual people when he saw them in danger. He shielded one man who was the closest to the exploding wood. He sent a pulse of magic at another man to bring him down before a bullet hit him when he wasn't paying enough attention to his surroundings. The pirate who was shooting was on the deck of his own ship and the gun was an effective but a slow weapon and he couldn't prepare another shot in time.
Guns were rare, mostly in possession of armies and when seen outside of armies, they were stolen from the dead soldiers or acquired through less than legal means. The Lightwoods had some due to their wealth and close ties with Alicantian army. The family had always served their country.
Lightwood children were taught not to rely on firearms for advantage. Alec favored his bow and throwing knives, and he'd received an invention from the Wolf Lands as a gift from his parents for his coming of age: a crossbow. It was a strange weapon but he was learning to be proficient with it just as with his bow.
Jace always liked swords, he showed the best talent for swords out of the trio. Jace recently learned to fight together with the one who stole his heart, Clary of the Fray family.
Isabelle also had some talent for throwing weapons, which must have been part of Lightwood blood but she never touched a bow. She could do things with a whip the others couldn't and she could use a pole weapon like no one else.
During the fight, Magnus did his best to always be aware where each of the Lightwoods was at any time. Omega's instincts couldn't let him rest for a moment, the need to protect helped clear his heart and mind of the anger. Alicantians weren't his family that he needed to protect but since he came to like them, his instincts included them. Since he came to like them, it was easier to think that he owed them for freeing him and he didn't mind repaying them.
Eventually, Magnus focused on Alexander since it made the most sense to do so. Alexander stood with his bow at an elevated spot, picking out those pirates who posed the biggest threat to the safety of his own people. And so, those with firearms fell first from his arrows. Magnus spun a spell to protect him so that he didn't have to watch out for his own safety while aiming.
Alec noticed when magic surrounded him. It prickled his skin but it wasn't unpleasant. It was… power, almost a living thing that sometimes touched him, sometimes was just a hairsbreadth away from his skin and clothes. Alec spared a glance to where Magnus was, the mage's eyes on him, returning his gaze. Nodding once in gratitude, Alec then aimed at another pirate.
There were no enslaved people on the ship. It was a good thing, of course. Magnus wasn't sure how he'd handle it if there were any. As before, those pirates who weren't killed were taken on board of Idris and safely locked away.
They found some gold and expensive items which were also moved to Idris along with food and water. After that, the pirate ship burned and Magnus watched it.
The mage used a fair amount of his stores of magical power by using smaller but constant spells, but he wasn't drained. He needed a good dinner and then a good night's rest and he'd be back to normal.
Jace clapped him on the back and thanked him for watching out for them. Alexander then asked him how he felt and Magnus reassured the young alpha that everything was all right.
In his heart, the omega treasured the concern just as he'd treasured the praise of his looks, days ago.
After Idris was mended, both magically and by the work of human hands, after they've taken care of their wounded people and after everyone's eaten the day's main meal, Magnus found himself walking down to where the cells were set up. He'd caught word that lady Isabelle was to try and interrogate at least some of them, trying to get more information on a lead they already had – to pinpoint the location of a lair, a hidden outpost of a sort that gave a place for pirate fleets to restock and make repairs when needed.
They'd already checked some of the far-off islands that were known to be inhabited by regular people but none had buildings large enough to be of use to the pirates. They were just fishermen islands that could only support fishing boats.
Magnus didn't want to participate in any interrogation but he wanted to listen in on it.
When he came near the cells, he stopped within earshot from the people who were there and where he wouldn't be seen. He was late in a sense because he heard some sentences which didn't make much sense to him without the context of the previous questions but it wasn't what interested him, anyway. Not that he knew what he came for, exactly. To hear a reference to Azazel or one of the other captains who were, as far as Magnus could guess, free? To hear something which he could expand on for the Lightwoods? Out of morbid curiosity?
He stayed where he was in the shadows, touching the wooden wall of the corridor.
Isabelle hit a standstill when one of the man talked back in the lesser used language of the islanders who belonged to the Free Lands by law but since they lived away from the whole land, they mostly kept together and away from the rest unless they met to trade. Alicantians rarely learned that language; because of the distance it was impractical to. The man knew the common language but he did not use it, mocking her.
At that point, Magnus heard another voice that told him she was there with another Alicantian. The voice offered to go up and ask if anyone out of the crew spoke the language by chance. They had experienced sailors who could have possibly learned this in their past.
That's how Magnus was discovered, when the blond man who Magnus knew was Alexander's right hand (after his siblings) turned the corner and came face to face with him. They both stared at each other, Magnus embarrassed at failing to get out of sight in time and the other man surprised and probably a little startled.
Because of that, Magnus blurted out: "I know the language."
That definitely helped turn the attention from his lurking to the matter at hand. The beta raised his brows but he inclined his head, then turned to head back to Isabelle. Magnus followed.
Isabelle took his presence in, surprised. "Magnus."
"I can help out," he said. "If you wish me to."
"Please do, I seem to not have the patience today for this. If you'd please say what I've been saying to this one in a way he can't pretend not to understand…"
Even with his translating (with Magnus adding a few sentences of his own), they weren't getting much important information. Some would be useful in the future, yes, but nothing groundbreaking. These pirates weren't important enough for them to bother with.
Until, passing the several cells, Magnus was seen by one of them and Magnus noticed the man.
"You," the alpha spoke. "You, with these Eastern dogs." He sneered at Magnus, coming closer to the bars. "Azazel wouldn't have listened but I knew your only worth was as his b-"
Magnus didn't know which vile word for omegas he was going to use but it hardly mattered. None of those words was meant for Isabelle's ears.
He snapped, his magic going out and choking the air from the other man. Magnus kept his fingers pointed at him, the hold of magic steadily tightening.
Isabelle didn't stop him at first. She did startle at his sudden reaction but she watched him, expecting an explanation. Magnus met her gaze.
"Whatever he wants to say, if you want to know, you'll hear it from me, not from the likes of him."
A beat passed.
"I think he knows better now," Isabelle said.
"Maybe." Magnus pulled his magic back, not looking at the other man. "If he doesn't, I've already rested. I can do it again."
Freed, the pirate gasped for air and focused on touching his neck, checking for bruises. He had no more to say about Magnus. Isabelle was watching Magnus curiously, he could feel it, but he didn't know what else to say that would make this better. Right then, it was better to just leave, unless she wanted him to scare more people into talking.
Leaving, Magnus couldn't know if she would ask the pirate to elaborate. He couldn't make sure he really didn't talk. At the very least, the man shouldn't want to talk about Magnus any more.
He didn't know that Magnus was hiding. The alpha wanted to humiliate him because they now stood on the opposite sides of the bars but beyond that, he wouldn't have reasons to keep wanting to talk about it.
Magnus went up to breathe fresh air. He wished time ran faster so they could be done with their quest, so they could be successful sooner and so they could put this behind them. He wanted to do this by his own decision, yes, but he didn't have to always be happy while being there.
He looked around, hoping for anything to distract him. People were working as usual, maintaining the course. Jace was off to the side, his bird soaring above them. Magnus spotted Max crouched behind a pile of netting, trying to be sneaky about something and he assumed Rafael was nearby even if he couldn't see him at that moment. A second later Cat's tail poked up from behind the nets and that explained everything.
Magnus nearly jumped out of his skin when a hand touched his shoulder, its owner having appeared behind him as if out of thin air. That wasn't possible, of course, and the mage must have been more unsettled by everything than he thought if he didn't hear anyone approach.
He turned, schooling his face from fright to reproach for whoever just came up and touched him without speaking first.
It was Alexander. His eyes were wide, his lips parted as if he was going to speak but realized he made a mistake and now was searching for different words.
"I'm sorry, you must have been deep in thought, I didn't mean-"
"It's fine, I was thinking, but maybe I should be paying more attention to my surroundings."
"You don't have to," Alec said. Then, softer: "Not when we're just sailing. You're not our guard, we're meant to protect you, too."
"Thank you. I always look out for myself."
"That's wise but you don't have to be ready to fight shadows here."
Alexander was surprising him every day. Magnus wasn't offended at his observation. It wasn't shadows that he jumped at but Alexander was closer than he thought.
"Maybe I don't have to," Magnus said. "Still, don't fault my body for forgetting."
Looking into hazel eyes, Magnus fought hard the force that compelled him to speak the truth, to say all that had happened to him, to say just how much he'd love a pair of strong, kind arms around him to give him some comfort on a day like today.
He didn't speak of any of it and let the lie live.
"It's not your fault." Alec agreed gently. "You should eat something more and end the day earlier."
"Thank you for advice, Alexander, I didn't know you had such hidden mothering instincts."
Alec flushed and the omega's heart cheers at the sight. Still, what he said was meant to be mocking a little and maybe he shouldn't say it like that.
"I will rest, I promise. It's too early yet."
He left before he could make a fool out of himself in front of the alpha or say something he might regret for one reason or another.
He couldn't find peace for the rest of the afternoon and the evening. It was all of it- the anger, the craving for a fight, later the pirate down in the cells who'd recognized him from who knows which day when Magnus was a prisoner. When he was just an omega mage to be used. It all filled his head with uneasy thoughts, bits of memories and worry for his future peace.
Thoughts of Alexander were sweeter but then he thought to himself: 'You're chasing after him and yet you manage to keep up the lie'.
He was weak. He was a weak omega who did everything against his nature. Then he was surprised when he hurt.
Magnus knew he couldn't try sleeping like this. Instead of taking a potion, he went to find, well, another kind of 'potion'. He figured out where the wine and spirits were kept and he headed there to have a little for himself. It was already dark but not so late that most of the crew would be sleeping. Magnus knew the Lightwoods themselves didn't come here, they only had wine with dinner and even that not every day.
He wasn't planning to get drunk. It'd be embarrassing to be found drunk by one of the less understanding men who did not have the kindness of the young Lightwoods.
Magnus chose one of the already opened bottles of stronger alcohol. He liked wine just fine but it was meant for more elegant affairs than having a drink alone to chase away the shadows in his own head.
He thought back to the life on land. There was a college in the second largest city of the Free Lands, which taught mages. Magnus's old friend taught there for years and surely hasn't stopped yet. Even Magnus didn't know how old Ragnor was, exactly, but older than him. He'd been the one to make sure Magnus knew all that an omega mage needed to know in his life. Magnus hasn't contacted him yet after everything. It was how they maintained their friendship – no letter for a year and a half and then they get together to work on magic on a mountain for a week… to then stop talking for another six months. There was no reason for Ragnor to worry about Magnus and Magnus was too ashamed to mention it. It was too soon.
Alone in the spirit stash of Idris, Magnus was cheered by the memories of his past.
Until he wasn't alone anymore. Another person slipped into the larger storage area and then into the section with the safely kept bottles and where Magnus was sitting on a barrel.
It was the beta officer, Underhill, and he wasn't surprised to see Magnus this time.
"I thought someone was here but I wasn't sure," he said casually.
"Oh, I can go, I shouldn't even be here-" Magnus began to rise.
"Nonsense, you're part of the crew, you're entitled to the medicine."
Underhill patted his thigh. "This hurts sometimes. I got a dagger in it four weeks ago and I can still feel it at night. A drink of something warming for the night helps."
Magnus huffed. "We have potions for that."
The man eyed the bottle Magnus was holding. "I bet you've got potions for whatever's ailing you, too. And yet you're here."
Magnus cradled the bottle closer to himself.
"What you've got is good but the best we have – and that's a secret – is what the old man brews."
By then Magnus knew which of the men was nicknamed that and he wasn't the oldest around. No one knew exactly where the name came from.
Underhill came closer to where Magnus sat and he leaned over to reach behind the rack. When he stepped back, an unlabeled bottle was in his hand.
"This is the best. You magick us cups, you can do that, yes? I'll pour."
Magnus did so. He wasn't sure how he felt not being alone anymore with his thoughts but he didn't feel the need to leave. He let the beta pour him whatever the 'old man' brewed.
Magnus didn't know that Alec, who'd seen Magnus slink through the shadows earlier, was too hesitant to follow him himself. After Magnus had almost ran from him earlier, Alec wasn't sure he would be welcome. Still, guessing the mage's destination, Alec felt it was wrong to leave him to himself. He was going to owe his friend for this but it was surely the least he could do for Magnus, to not have him sit alone in the night.
Alec's dreams were strange lately. There was nothing he could recall in detail and only emotions lingered after waking.
A vague, very vague something like a goal, something for Alec to try and grasp at… and fail to touch it. He woke up empty, his mind struggling to identify what it could be that was so close he could almost brush it with his fingers but couldn't find.
Isabelle was waiting for him to come out of his room. She was standing not far from his door, spending the time waiting talking with Simon about something that couldn't have been very important because she immediately turned to Alec when he showed up. The three of them exchanged morning greetings and after that, Simon excused himself and left them alone.
Isabelle had new information for Alec, or rather a new suggestion based on the information that she'd worked late to put together with other officers. They decided that what'd seemed to be chasing untrue leads was worth trying after all and maybe they'd been too quick to disregard them. She presented all that to Alec who, always having trust in his sister's clever mind, agreed to follow the plan.
They'd sail out farther than seemed reasonable and see if there was indeed something out there that did not exist on maps that they had collected. Their stores of water and food were full so they could go wherever they wanted to.
Thanks to having company last night, Magnus had drunk much less than he'd probably have ended up drinking on his own and he felt better for it when the new day came.
Sometime after eating the breakfast alone, he found himself in the storage space of the infirmary, working with Catarina on a fresh batch of salves and potions. It was simple work because they've both done it many times but it still took time just to mix everything properly and let some things simmer over a fire. Magnus made sure to make a batch of head-ache relieving potions for Alexander when he remembered the alpha suffered from them.
They fit well together, he and Catarina. They liked each other pretty much from the start and there was no rivalry between them that often arose between mages who had to be around each other often. They were very different and specialized in different things so that probably helped their relationship grow.
At some point, Rafael came by with Max in tow and they got tasked with tying pieces of thread on the full vials: brown thread on vials on the table and red thread on vials in the wooden box. Magnus told them more stories while they worked and only Catarina could guess which parts of them were true and which were made up.
And so the day passed for the mages. It was nearing sunset, long after the boys were gone, when someone else came by looking into the little apothecary room. Alexander poked his head in, his gaze falling on Catarina first, then on Magnus.
"I'm not interrupting, am I? I've heard you worked all day," he said, prepared to back away if he was a distraction.
"We've done what we needed to do. Is there something we can help with?" Catarina asked.
"Oh, no. I don't need anything," he said and fell silent but did not move to leave.
Magnus stood up from his chair, sending the last of the scattered ingredients and tools away to their proper places in shelves and drawers with a bit of magic. Alec's eyes followed the blue light until it completely dissipated after serving its purpose.
"How can I help you, Alexander?" Magnus asked, standing closer to the alpha.
"Well, I was going to offer you some dinner since I'm quite sure you haven't eaten."
They had something to eat, actually, back when the boys were around earlier but it was only a little to chase worst hunger away until they weren't so work-focused. Magnus was going to get himself something soon but he wasn't exactly in the mood to sit with all Lightwoods right then. He planned to grab some bread and take it to his own room, probably eat in bed and go right to sleep when he was done.
"Thank you," he said, "but I can get it on my own."
The alpha fidgeted.
"Ah, of course, I only thought… well, I was looking for some company for the meal since everyone else has already eaten at a more reasonable time."
Magnus put his hand on Alec's arm. "In that case, I'll be happy to sit with you."
He offered an encouraging smile to counter Alexander's unsure look and it worked. Gods, how could it be possible for the smallest smiles from this young alpha to wake the butterflies in his belly? Alexander wasn't gloomy by any means but he was a particularly serious man, a serious leader and his smiles were rare and reserved for his siblings. Those little smiles made him even more beautiful because they reached his eyes – actually, most of the emotion was in his eyes and Magnus was weak for that. He was weak for honest men with good hearts.
He was truly weak, discarding the thought of getting his own meal the second he heard they'd be alone without distractions from the others.
Catarina thanked him for the help and Magnus waved his hand dismissively. He was a mage too, tedious potion-making shouldn't fall solely on Catarina just because she was the healer.
"I should be thanking you for all the tips you've given me, my dear," Magnus replied.
They left, headed to the captain's quarters. It was dark out on the top deck, with the lanterns sparse over the ship. Magnus and Catarina had used mage lights to see their ingredients perfectly and didn't really feel it was almost night.
Magnus liked the smell of the late evening and night air. He'd always liked it. Maybe it was silly, but it smelled like a promise of something good to come and he'd been waiting for it since childhood.
"Was your day productive as well?" he asked Alexander conversationally as they walked side to side.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, it was." Alec began telling Magnus of the plans for the immediate future and that they were hoping to find some sort of pirates' hiding hole, an outpost or anything that let these ships be a threat all around, even far into the sea.
Magnus liked that Alexander shared these things with him. He had no obligation to, he didn't need Magnus's opinion on this and, frankly, Magnus had no knowledge or interest in tactics and navigation. He only had an interest in the people and in actions he could participate in, such as battles. Magnus liked that he was offered details so freely in a conversation. Whenever Alexander made a pause as if he expected Magnus to agree or disagree, the omega offered his favorable opinion.
Like this, they reached Alexander's door. Magnus entered first and saw the desk set for the dinner, two plates and two cups, and two sets of cutlery waiting beside a platter of cut-up meats, fruit and bread.
Magnus paused for a second. So Alexander had this prepared before he asked him to come, being hopeful Magnus would agree. Butterflies in his belly flapped their wings furiously. Alphas taking care of omegas' meals was an incredibly attractive thing if it was genuine. Magnus went ahead and sat down, with Alec following to sit in the other chair.
"Thank you, Alexander," Magnus said. "Now that I see all this, I realize I was more hungry than I felt,"
He received another smile, a relieved one, from the alpha.
Whenever they were alone in a closed room, Alec didn't want to leave it. The longer they sat and talked, the more content Alec felt, the more relaxed he was. Magnus had a beautiful voice and the way he talked of his life, of the things he'd seen and experienced, the places he'd visited charmed Alec thoroughly, like he was a child waiting for a story.
Even when Magnus left for the night, leaving Alec alone to go to bed, the alpha was content somehow with the scent left behind by the beta.
Alec was falling. He was freefalling and he didn't know why or where he'd be at the end of it. He was supposed to stop talking with Magnus so freely, he was supposed to stop before he became used to having this sliver of a bond with someone who was not his family.
But he did not stop. If he couldn't have an omega like Magnus, he could at least have a friend in Magnus himself.
They ran into two more pirate ships and that let them know they were right to move ahead as they planned to.
The first encounter was as easy as the previous one against a smaller vessel and less prepared crew. Magnus protected Alexander and his family just as he did before and there wasn't much need for other spells before they won with cannons and swords, and arrows.
The second encounter was more difficult. It was only hours later and the new ship was large, with as many masts and cannon holes as Idris had. Magnus's protective shield saved them from losing one of the masts but after that, more magic was required to give them the upper hand when they came closer to each other, people fighting people instead of firing cannons.
Magnus used flames once again to frighten the pirates and to keep them from advancing where they shouldn't be stepping their foot. At all times, he remained aware of Alexander's position on the ship.
The alpha had his bow in hand, his eyes always tracking the movements of the enemy so he could shoot those who posed the most threat to his people. His brother was unstoppable with his sword at the frontline with others who fought with swords and his sister was always where Magnus didn't even expect to see her. She never stayed in a predictable place, shifting between helping protect her people and straight-up fighting the pirates.
Magnus knew they had some wounded people by then. He'd noticed some carried away to the side, where he assumed Catarina waited to help.
He wished he was better at this, better at offensive magic which would be powerful enough to need two or three spells to give them victory. But Magnus didn't like devastating magic. He knew how to fight, knew how to defend himself and his friends and how to be clever in a fight but he shied away from darker spells. He did not enjoy destruction even when he was angry, even after everything that was done to him. Ultimately, it satisfied him more to put men like pirates behind bars and to have them tried by an authority.
While he was feeding the flames and sending out an occasional fireball, Magnus couldn't actively protect Alexander, who was still shooting his arrows. It was better to move closer to the alpha, Magnus decided. It'd be easier for him to keep an eye on him when he was near, not when he was standing a distance away.
Meanwhile, their enemy apparently lost their confidence in their own win. The fight was taking too long now and the Alicantians suffered fewer injuries so far. Unlike in the previous encounters, these men did not fall into chaos because they were better fighters and better-experienced overall. They became more determined and vicious and caused more damage to Alicantians.
Standing near Alexander, Magnus could cast more offensive spells and when the need arose, he'd throw up a shield for both himself and the captain. It would drain him faster but it would also be more effective in the end. He was more vicious with his magic, too, because he knew he had to be.
Alec spared him a glance and even that short glance gave him the sight of the mage he wouldn't soon forget. His hands were bathed in a yellow and orange glow and from those hands, balls of magic flew at their enemy. And his eyes… his eyes glowed with power, with the magic that was at his call. He was fierce and beautiful and if Alec wasn't a trained fighter, he could get lost in the sight, forgetting all about the battle.
They had many injured. A few dead. They won.
Alec had used all his arrows and Magnus had conjured him more even though he shouldn't have been spending any more magic at that point. It worked out well.
Isabelle got a nasty cut along her shoulder and forearm and since there were others with worse damage, she had to wait for healing, a thick bandage being a temporary help. Magnus brought her a potion for the pain and moved on to the others. He did not have enough power left in him for healing but he was still perfectly capable of putting on salves and bandages.
Meanwhile, others surveyed the damage to the ship itself. There had been a moment when something exploded against the side and they weren't sure if it was one of the enemy cannons fired at close range or some kind of explosive invented for this purpose. The hole was of considerable size but it was above the water line. Because of that, they did not burn the other ship and kept it to take wood from it to fix Idris without going back to a harbor.
Magnus walked around, helped out where he could and then... then he ran out of energy completely.
Being actively drained of magic was a completely different sensation to being blocked from it and Magnus definitely preferred the former. It wasn't advised for any mage to allow themselves to spend so much magic they'd become drained but it was at least a sign of work done, it was a side-effect of something.
Magnus wasn't completely spent but it was a near thing and he was feeling the unpleasant bodily sensations that came with it. Headache, dry mouth, the occasional dark spot swimming in front of his eyes. He knew his body well and he knew his limits. He knew he'd be just fine in a little while but the others didn't know that.
The others had seen him use spell after spell and then they saw him sitting down on a pile of broken wood, his back bowed and his head in his hands. They worried.
Still working on their injured, Catarina only had the time to push a vial into his hand. It contained a tonic that mages could take. It had no power to replenish magic but it was going to help with the dark spots in his vision and with the shaking of his hands.
Alexander came to him next, the moment he had taken care of anything that needed his immediate attention as the captain. He crouched beside Magnus and put his hand on his back.
Magnus did his best not to lean into the touch. And alpha's solid but quiet support was a good thing and Magnus wanted it to continue. There was no threat to him among the Alicantians while he was weak but he wanted Alexander to stay near while Magnus simply breathed, his eyes closed.
"We should move you to your bed, I think," Alexander began speaking, his voice soft. "I'd feel better knowing you were in a safe, comfortable place rather than out here in the noise while we clean up the mess. Or where someone can walk into you by accident."
Magnus didn't nod only because he didn't want to make himself dizzy. "All right," he said. "I think I agree it'd be best. If I can walk there."
"You've got me to lean on, we can do it."
It wasn't that Magnus couldn't walk on his own but the contrast between sitting and standing up made him uncomfortable. Standing up, he was more aware of the physical weakness that overcame him. Alexander kept his hand below Magnus's elbow, holding him by the arm and the other hand at the small of his back. He didn't need to be that protective but who was Magnus to tell him not to do it?
Magnus was an omega, that's what he was, and he shamelessly soaked in Alexander's scent and his presence because a similar opportunity might not arise soon.
They got down the stairs safely and then made it to Magnus's room. The mage took off the jacket he wore to lay down just in the soft shirt and pants. It was so good to put his head on his cool pillow.
Alec took the jacket from him and placed it on the chair. With a last glance at Magnus, whose eyes were already closed, he left the room and quietly closed the door.
Magnus woke to the sound of someone moving not far away. He woke feeling a little better and perfectly knowing where he was. It wasn't as bright inside anymore, meaning it was evening and he managed to stay asleep for hours but he didn't mind. He'd sleep through the night, too.
The movement that he heard was someone coming to him. He was awake to answer the soft knocking and when he did, it was Alexander looking into the room.
"Hey. I've brought you dinner. I was going to leave it on your desk if you were still sleeping."
Magnus sat up on the bed. He saw the covered plate Alec carried in his hand and a full jug in the other.
Alec put the plate down on the bed in front of Magnus and then he located the cup that was supposed to be always in the room. He filled it with the water from the jug and gave it to Magnus.
The omega watched him while he did all that, not sure what he was supposed to be doing in the meantime.
"You're a sweet man, Alexander. Thank you."
Even in the dusk, he could see the blush that colored the alpha's cheeks. He truly was lovely. Magnus was still soft from his sleep and his thoughts were soft, too, circling lazily around the alpha's presence.
Alec stuttered, trying to find the words to say and then he settled on giving Magnus a report of what they've done so far with Idris and the enemy ship, which they were keeping whole for the time being. Magnus was amused by the way Alexander reverted to his official ways of being when flustered.
Magnus didn't want to hear about technicalities when they didn't really concern him. He asked about Alexander instead, if he'd rested at all, even for ten minutes since the battle and the lack of clear reply let him know that no, he hadn't.
"At least sit down for a while," Magnus asked. "I'll eat and you can take back the rest I won't manage to finish. I think I'll go back to sleep after this."
He'd never ask anyone else to do that, to take care of his plates or other things but he was doing this for a higher purpose: get Alexander to stay and sit. Get him to stop thinking about work.
"Oh. Of course. I'll wait."
Magnus chose bits and pieces to eat that appealed to him the most and his body was happier once he got some more food in it.
Not wanting to have more tactics talked at him by Alec, he talked in-between bites, asking questions that he didn't think to ask so far during his stay on Idris.
That's how the topic of the youngest Lightwood appeared and Magnus listened to Alexander speak fondly of his brother who stayed home. Then he talked about the boys on Idris.
Magnus remembered the conversation he had with them recently during which he'd heard: "Sir Lightwood said if we learn to work we'll be paid as much as the adults when the trip is done!"
He brought it up to Alexander, who chuckled and confirmed it was true.
"I still would prefer to just drop them off on safe land but… I don't think I'd be able to sleep at night, wondering about what they were doing."
Magnus nodded, understanding.
"Even if you gave them money and paid someone to keep an eye on them you couldn't be sure…" Magnus thought about it some more. "I suppose a school would be the only good solution at this point. But there aren't any suitable academies with lodgings for children near the coast in Free Lands."
Alec hummed. "I wanted to take them back to Alicante once we were done here, keep an eye on them and yes, give them a proper education then."
Magnus fidgeted with the little silver fork he got for the fruit and cheese. It was so soon to talk about the return of Idris to where her home was.
"I know you're not mated, obviously," Magnus spoke carefully, "but is there someone waiting for you? Someone to help you with things such as looking after stray boys?"
Alec's fingers flexed nervously. What was he supposed to say? Lie that he was not interested? Tell the truth that the only one acceptable for him would be a man and the only acceptable man for his family had to be an omega because of their fertility? Was he supposed to speak of the ache in his heart and the weight it put on his shoulders to not be able to find a candidate he could present in such a way his family would accept it even if the omega was not of Alicantian noble blood? Was he supposed to reveal he was broken in that way, not able to find any desire in himself for a woman (except maybe the desire to have a friend in her)? This was not Magnus's business and Alec would not burden him with this.
Instead, he spoke the bitter truth and omitted the rest: "I did not have anyone when I was leaving but I'm sure in the meantime my parents have found someone to wait for my return."
Alec found that being with Magnus in his room had the same effect on him as having Magnus in his own quarters. He was calmer, his body so content the sensation went down to his very bones. Instead of leaving as he ought to, he stayed.
He knew that just because he was supposed to keep his emotions in check it didn't mean they'd listen. Falling in love was just as possible for him as for anyone else and he was not made of stone even if he sometimes wished he could be.
He almost ran out after the question he was asked but Magnus was so quick to change the topic after he got his answer, Alec got whiplash from it.
Looking at Magnus, Alec thought he should leave if only to stop being the distraction from sleep for the mage, whose eyes were half-lidded and yet he didn't appear too willing to just lie down and rest. In fact, he ate everything Alec brought him and only when the plate was clear did Alec insist it was time for him to leave.
Magnus thanked him and wished him a good night.
The next day, they decided to keep the enemy ship intact and to have it sail with them. The wood they'd taken from it wasn't from any vital place and they even went as far as fixing the damage Idris had done to it, too. Next, the captain delegated just enough people from his crew to go and steer the ship and manage its sails.
They dubbed the pirate vessel Little Idris for the time being for lack of a better name, even though it wasn't exactly true to the ship's size.
That day, Magnus woke refreshed and almost happy. If he'd given it some thought, he'd have realized it was because Alec's scent lingered after he'd sat with Magnus the previous evening. But he didn't think about it too deeply and instead he washed, dressed and left the room to do something productive in the new day… which, for a mage, wasn't too easy to find after everyone's been healed and all holes have been patched.
Leaning over the railing, Magnus watched the water disturbed by their passing, the waves swelling and falling. It was a good day for sailing, lucky winds and calm waters brought them closer and closer to the point on the map they'd chosen to find.
Magnus sent his magic out. To the waves and to the air, as far as it could go before it reached its limit, caused by his being over the body of water. Magnus played with it, trying to sense where fish passed by. Only the most curious of animals got close to them. Also seagulls, which were not curious but opportunistic and using their masts as their resting place while away from the islands.
All this made Magnus happy. The complete freedom with his magic, freedom with his mind and his body… the sun's warmth on his skin and wind in his hair.
Isabelle came to stand beside him, turning her face up to the sun to enjoy it, too.
Magnus found it easy to talk with her whenever they were far from the issue of his recent past. Whenever it got too close, however…
Her eyes were too bright, too clever for him to feel comfortable with his secrets.
Fortunately, Magnus has always been good at talking and talking them away from anything he did not want to touch upon in conversation wasn't difficult at all.
That day Isabelle's attention was drawn by a school of silvery fish keeping right beneath the surface of the sea so they were clearly visible. They were like silver dust sprinkled on the waves, moving in the same direction Idris sailed.
They were keeping right at the edge of the limit of Magnus's magic so he could reach out and feel their life force. Some mages could use their magic to count living beings but that required special focus and Magnus never particularly cared to be able to do it as it didn't have much practical use for him.
After a while, Magnus called his magic back and simply watched the fish with Isabelle. A little later, Clary came to join them and they ended up talking about many things, light and insignificant.
Magnus was envious of the young red-headed girl. He truly was. He saw the happiness she shared with her soon-to-be mate and how it lit them both up whenever they were near each other and he wanted this for himself, too.
Not that this was the first time Magnus saw a pair of lovers in his life, no. It was different now because he was around them often, always within the limits of the ship. He was also different. He's been on his own long enough to grow tired of it and while he'll never let go of being independent, it no longer was enough to only have himself. Such thoughts had crossed his mind before, even before Azazel.
Magnus has always had partners for his heats, he's had lovers of his own but they were never long-term either because he wasn't interested in that or because they weren't. He'd known alphas who made his heart race whenever they were together, he'd known betas kind and protective as any alpha. He didn't miss them when they parted ways. Time has passed, however, and Magnus was starting to overthink.
On one hand, he knew that what he was thinking and doing was influenced by having been forced to be a trophy for Azazel and that he should wait it out until his emotions completely settled… but another part of him knew it wasn't just because of that.
No matter the reason and cause, where he found himself was here: thinking of Alexander whenever he wasn't with him.
He had to watch himself around Isabelle, he had to keep himself from asking question after question about her brother because he'd already asked enough that could be explained by an understandable curiosity about the leader. He'd used Catarina as a source, too, and he had to watch himself around her as well because she was as quick and clever as Isabelle was.
And that's why, in the company of Isabelle and Clary, they talked about everything but their captain.
Magnus tried his magic in a more important way than finding fish underwater- he tried moving himself between their two ships. It was safe to make attempts since if the distance proved to be too large, the spell would simply fizzle out, leaving him standing where he started.
He eyed the other ship again. He's already tried once and gotten nowhere but he had all the time in the world to try again when the waves brought them closer.
The second time, it worked and magic brought him onto the deck of their new vessel. The men working on it raised eyebrows at his appearance and one or two were probably startled but they didn't say anything. They probably talked when he disappeared, taking himself back to Idris.
When he did, Alexander was near, coming up to Magnus. The mage expected to hear something about his use of magic when he'd "recently" spent a lot of it but that didn't come. Instead, Alexander said: "That's quite something."
"It is, isn't it? I'm rather fond of magical travel and unlike my pitiful tries at manipulating weather, I won't be prideful if I say I'm the best you can find for travel spells."
"I've never used it," Alec admits. "I never needed to pay a mage to get me somewhere quickly."
"Hmm, then it's fortunate you've got me to show you how it's done."
"Oh, but I didn't mean-"
"Come on, Alexander, I'll take you to Little Idris so you can check on it while we're sailing."
Alec glanced at the ship, at the water between them and then at Magnus's hand, offered to him to take.
"Um. Fine, show me."
Magnus smiled at him but Alec didn't feel any more encouraged to do this. When their hands touched, magic raced from Magnus's fingertips into Alec's body until he could feel it in his toes. He barely had the time to react to the jolt of energy because then he was no longer standing on Idris's deck. For a time he was nowhere and then he was elsewhere, he was looking at Idris sailing ahead of them.
"That's convenient," remarked Raj, who was part of the crew Alec had delegated to run the second vessel. He was standing nearby, looking at Magnus and Alec now that they've appeared out of nowhere in front of him.
"Convenient but tricky," Magnus replied. He gestured at Idris. "It just now moved too far for us to go back right away."
Alec considered that but didn't appear to be too concerned. And he didn't have any reason to be, since they'd be close enough again in a little while. That's what Magnus said out loud to make sure there were no misunderstandings, that they'd need to wait to be close again. He did not say that maybe he should hold Alexander's hand until it happened so they don't miss the window but he thought of how nice that would be.
When it was time for them to return, Magnus did get to hold Alexander's hand again so that his magic knew to include him in the spell.
This time Alec knew what to expect and he paid more attention to how the magic spread inside him like a warm… something. Like a warm breeze that's not just confined to his lungs.
Isabelle asked for a demonstration next. Alec immediately moved to protest, wanted to say Magnus should be left alone because he's done enough already but in the end, that was for Magnus to decide.
Seeing the spark of curiosity and endearing excitement in Isabelle's eyes, Magnus didn't want to refuse at all. He still had enough magic for a few trips and he didn't mind doing this for Alexander's family at all. Besides, there weren't any others lining up to try it so he wouldn't overwork himself. Jace and Clary have seen them disappear the first time and they'd probably watch Magnus and Isabelle disappear, too, but they weren't eager to try it themselves.
Magnus assumed he'd have two more willing travelers but apparently, Max and Rafael weren't on the deck - or if they were, they weren't within sight so they did not approach him.
When the dusk came, the Lightwood siblings and Clary had late dinner together. Alec and Izzy discussed the experience of magical travel and the topic naturally moved to Magnus himself. The mage had been the object of their conversation quite a few times and while the Lightwoods weren't prone to gossip, there was just much to be said about Magnus it was hard not to mention him. Clary liked to point out his kindness and willingness to help when he was not obligated to. Isabelle said once it was a shame he was a beta, what with his looks but she was also quick to forget about his dynamic altogether when she talked about his magic.
Jace, unsurprisingly, was glad to have a decent mage onboard and beyond that, he didn't think about Magnus much once he decided the mage was actually trustworthy.
And Alec… Alec thought all that and more because to him, Magnus was perfect.
A storm was passing by them in the distance one night and it was rather minor so they barely paid attention to it. For some reason, the far-off thunders made it especially easy for Magnus to find sleep that night and he woke the next day early, well-rested.
It was so early it was in fact at dawn. Magnus tried to watch the Sunrise from his little window but he wasn't on quite the right side of the ship for observation so he wrapped himself in a robe and went up.
It was beautiful. Magnus breathed in the air that was still cool before the Sun's warmth could change it into something heavier.
After a while, he was joined by someone. Magnus turned his head to find Alexander coming towards him, dressed in a shirt Magnus was quite certain he'd worn the previous day. There was no question if the alpha had benefitted from the lulling sounds of the storm just as Magnus had – his eyes were shadowed and the smile he gave Magnus was tired. The omega kept the observation to himself and did not ask about it.
Instead, he looked at the waves again.
"I think I miss the birds the most," he broke the silence. "Animal life, in general, but birds in particular. Blackbirds live all over the village and they nest in the vines on the northern wall of my home. I don't know if a city boy like you knows this but they wake and begin singing long before dawn."
Alec was no expert on animals, Jace was the one who cared for birds more than he ever did, but yes, he was familiar with blackbirds' song.
"I'd love to have a spell to replace seagulls with them," Magnus continued. They had no seagull company these days but he could clearly hear them in his imagination.
That earned him a chuckle from the alpha. "I'm sure both birds would be thrilled with the change."
"Oh, for certain. Just like my cat, I imagine…"
From there, it was easy for the mage to keep Alexander there by his side with words.
More than bringing blackbirds there, Magnus would like to bring himself and Alexander to his home so they could be without constant company. If they could be alone, maybe then he could stop fighting the urge to bare the side of his neck to the alpha whenever they stood close and his scent drifted over, pleasing the omega's senses.
If they were alone, maybe Alexander would be more open with him, too. Magnus didn't fail to notice that the alpha found it much easier to talk about his siblings than about himself. Just like he was happy to talk about his youngest brother. But Magnus was a good listener and he let Alexander go on about his family because he was able to get glimpses of Alexander himself out of those stories. He was there in the background of them and Magnus did his best to catch all that he could.
The same day, an hour after the Sun set, they ran into a new ship. Considerably smaller, it stood no chance against Idris's speed and gun power. At this point in their travel, the Alicantians knew not to expect merchants, since it made no sense for them to venture this far. Yes, there were islands farther north but they were minor and of no value to proper merchants. The towns weren't rich and they didn't have much to sell.
No, where they were at that time, they had to run into no one else but pirates and running into anyone at all meant they were right to try going this way. It meant there was something out there to find.
The mixed crew of Edomites and Free Landers, threatened into giving the Alicantians information they demanded, proved to be quite useful. It was possible that Idris would have found the right place anyway, but knowing was different than guessing.
Magnus hadn't listened in on it this time but he knew by now that Alexander would share what was important with him later.
From then on they sailed without any lamps lit. The moon was out but it was far from Full Moon so it didn't cast too much light on the black waves.
Magnus didn't go to bed as early as before, standing on the deck and watching the sea instead. He was looking forward to getting something done, something more substantial than burning the occasional pirate ship and removing its crew either from the world entirely or putting them behind bars. He stood watch, in a sense, not wanting to miss anything.
His omegan nature made him work differently than the alphas and soldier betas. Magic tingled under his skin, impatient and building up. It would have been easier to focus on the revenge aspect of the fight but Magnus's priorities were not so simple, anymore. It wasn't as simple as wanting to protect the other vulnerable, common people from pirates.
Magnus thought of Alexander more often than he thought of himself. Protective instincts have taken over and it was only natural that they would. Magnus knew that and he did nothing to fight it.
And so, it was, on one hand, better to shift to what was natural for him but on the other hand, getting attached to the alpha more and more was bound to end… in a way that Magnus could not predict yet.
As time passed and they moved closer and closer to an invisible goal, the alphas and betas prepared for action while Magnus buzzed with nervous energy, thinking of what else he could still do to prepare them better while he had the time. He'd renewed the shielding spell and he'd made sure he had the most useful potions on him.
He talked to Catarina briefly and while she was also a little worried about the inevitable larger fight, her worry was spread over more practical matters, the whole crew, the future injuries.
Magnus couldn't stop his thoughts from circling around Alexander. The Alexander he'd seen at dawn, with the shadows around his eyes or the Alexander who was almost relaxed while they talked in the privacy of his quarters. Or the one in the heat of the battle, fierce and strong. And Magnus knew that he's passed a point where he could back out of this, remaining neutral.
There were lights ahead of them. Many lights, placed in such arrangement that they could not possibly be on a ship, not even three ships placed next to each other. And they were not moving. Idris moved as the waves rose and fell but those many little lights stayed fixed next to each other. It must have been a place of some sort but there were no islands on the maps here.
Magnus had some ideas as to how this was possible and the Alicantians probably did as well.
A decision was made to stop where they were most likely still unnoticeable by sight and send out a boat which could be cloaked by Magnus.
"It's not an invisibility spell," he was saying. "I could cast a real one but it requires the presence of the mage to sustain it-"
"And that's not an option," Alec said even though Magnus wasn't actually going to offer to come with them.
"It's an illusion," Magnus continued. "Makes the eyes of the others slip right over what's under the spell and it will muffle sound but only muffle. You have to be careful for the spell to be useful to you."
"We got it," Jace answered.
Magnus may have a hard time imagining the blond alpha being subtle and making himself "invisible" but at the same time he knew he was an excellent soldier and he took his tasks seriously and with determination in his eyes.
Jace was going with Clary and several other men. Isabelle was on a team including Raj while the remaining highest officer, Andrew, took over on their second ship for the time being. Alexander stayed on Idris, though Magnus was aware he'd prefer to be with either of his siblings, going out on the mission. Magnus wouldn't have liked that.
The teams were supposed to go closer to the pirate set-up ahead of them, see the details, not be seen in return. Find out as much as possible while not engaging the enemy, unless in a stealth kill. Depending on what was the situation, Idris would attack at dawn or retreat out of sight until a plan was formed.
Once all was clear and agreed on, they left.
This was the kind of wait no one enjoyed. Alexander paced the deck, trying to see something with the spyglass but he couldn't possibly see his teams when the whole point was for them to hide in the dark. He did see a little more of what was ahead of them. It was certainly a construction of some sort, grounded in some way. It couldn't be like a floating pier because the lights still did not move except to flicker in the wind. What everyone guessed was that there were rocks there, jutting out from the sea and way too insignificant to be marked anywhere except on the best maps which included dangerous points. Those maps were made for merchants, however, and they did not bother to go in these parts.
Meanwhile, it seemed pirates took advantage of this spot, building a whole… whatever it was… out here. A fort on rocks, probably some storage space, a convenient place to dock, fix their ships, restock.
Alec put away the spyglass for a moment. Magnus came up to him and put his hand on his arm. Somehow, his touch made it easier for the alpha to breathe. He didn't know why his lungs became so tight in the first place…
"Alexander, it's going to go fine," Magnus spoke, seeing the tension in him. "Even if they're discovered, they have the means to let us know and I'll do my best to help us be there on time."
"I know, I-" Alec hesitated. "It's not about that. I have a bad feeling, that's all. Not that something happened to them but-"
"But you feel like something is going to go wrong?" Magnus asked gently.
Alexander wasn't one to go with feelings like that, Magnus knew that. Yes, he had good alpha instincts but instincts were a different thing from bad feelings. He ran on logic, on planning. He reacted to what was happening, not to what his imagination came up with…
Magnus regarded him seriously. He wasn't about to give him simple reassurances which he couldn't possibly know would come true. Hearing his concerns, Magnus resolved to be extra cautious and prepared to use his magic.
Despite that, when their companion ship erupted in fire a few minutes later, Magnus hadn't been expecting that. The fire, whatever its source was, rained down, temporarily repelled by Magnus's shield. He'd spent the time and his energy to protect Little Idris, even though he hadn't been sure he should. Now he was glad he had done it.
The captain left his side, giving out rushed orders while he looked between the attacked ship and the sea around them. The attack hadn't come from the rocks because they'd been standing turned in that direction and nothing had been launched at them.
Magnus knew that their crew was always looking out for danger, they took shifts on the masts and were always aware of their surroundings, even if the main focus shifted to the two boats they'd sent out…
So how were they attacked?
Given the time by the magical shield, the crew on Little Idris prepared to defend the ship. They put out the little fires which got through after the shield burst and they, too, were trying to understand just what happened. There was more shouting, orders, questions.
Magnus felt it, then. Magic. He felt it like a wind touching his skin. He sent his own out, just like he'd done to sense the fish. And that's how he knew there was a whole another ship right there, still unseen by their eyes but visible to Magnus's magic. A whole ship with a crew and a mage.
He shouted a warning to Alexander and then he thought of their officers, quickly locating one on the deck. He knew exactly where they should tell the men manning the cannons to aim to hit the concealed ship.
How ironic that they'd just talked of invisibility and ended up being caught by surprise themselves. Magnus wasn't going to dwell on it, not when he had to act. Was there just one enemy mage powerful enough to maintain such a spell? Or were there more? Magnus was confident in his own power against one mage. He was no longer affected by the aftermath of wearing suppressing cuffs anymore and he'd practiced a lot. He knew what he could do.
The same magical energy that concealed the ship made it impossible for him to know how many magical people there were. On top of that, not seeing the ship itself, he didn't know how large it was or how many cannon holes it could open at them.
Another fireball lit the air above them, this time dropping on Idris and its shield. Magnus ignored it as much as he could, knowing it wasn't going to hurt them yet.
Meanwhile, their second ship fired first shots, one of them missing but the other hitting the enemy even though they couldn't have heard Magnus when he'd said the direction.
Soon enough, Idris was also ready and more cannons fired, not so blindly anymore.
The enemy invisibility spell didn't disappear immediately. If it were Magnus casting it, he'd have dropped it already to preserve his energy for other spells but he also understood how this worked as an intimidation tactic. He was sure that some of their crew were spooked by this danger in the dark and he knew some of them weren't very fond of magic in the first place.
And then, the pirate ship appeared at last, the same moment it wedged itself between Idris and her companion. That the pirates chose to do this didn't help Magnus's worry. They must have been quite sure of themselves to risk being attacked from two sides.
When they were so near and visible, Magnus tried to locate that other mage as soon as possible. Whoever they were, they were the worst threat at that moment and unless someone else got lucky attacking them first, it was his job to kill or incapacitate them.
Magnus could hear Alexander closer again, getting his people to organize the best defense, which they would soon want to turn into offense. After the initial confusion and fear at the sudden fire, the warriors and the crew fell into order, did what they were trained to do.
Magnus glanced at Alexander to know where exactly he was but he couldn't completely focus on him, he had to pay attention to the enemy crew to protect them. Standing there, facing the pirate ship that matched them in size and the number of men, Magnus was glad that Alexander's family wasn't there because it allowed him to have one focus while he was on the top deck. Yes, they could use their help, especially since Jace and Isabelle were the top of their skilled fighters but maybe them being in a different place would, in the end, work in their favor. At least that's what Magnus hoped.
Magnus did not have the time to stop and think and he really didn't like that. He was not trained or born for this, he didn't have instincts from training or his blood to help him in the middle of a chaos. But he had other advantages and he had to make use of them.
First, he did his best to locate the pirate leader because knowing what they were doing would probably let him find the mage, if the mage was taking orders from them. If they were anything like he'd been, forced to do as ordered and nothing beyond that, he should be able to locate them quickly.
On the rest of the ship, when the initial surprise passed, the Alicantians didn't let the Edomites increase their advantage. They fought as well as always, Alexander leading them efficiently.
Magnus thought of Catarina, who must have been looking after those who were not fighting on the top deck: the kids and the other members of the crew who were not fighters. Magnus had to trust she had her part under control and for now he didn't need to worry about them.
For the time being, he didn't see a direct threat to them. He did see threats to Alexander, however. A bright ball exploded nearby, blinding the archer temporarily and Magnus was ready when Alec couldn't be. Furious, Magnus threw his magic forward to deflect the attack that followed the blinding light.
The alpha was a little stunned at first but he was also too determined to let it stop him for long. He caught eye contact with Magnus briefly before resuming the fight. He had a whole ship to defend and lead, they could not be distracted even by each other, by staring too long.
It was good that Alec managed to retreat a little to stand in a position good for shooting his bow. He always found it easier to concentrate with the bow, find his targets and let the battle become a background noise.
Magnus stayed where he was. Now that he saw the most recent spells, he knew the general direction to look for the mage.
He saw the woman first. Her long, dark hair was tied back to not get in her face. Her face was strikingly beautiful but her eyes were cruel. That was what Magnus thought, looking at her. She had a sword in her hand which she used well, killing one of the Alicantians before Magnus could stop her.
She was the one telling the others what to do. She wore a precious stone pendant and her belt was lined with gold and more jewels. Her lips were red, dyed in Edomite fashion. Magnus couldn't tell from a distance if she were an alpha but she certainly carried herself like one. She seemed to thrive in the chaos of shouting, clashing weapons, the groaning of the wood where their ships pressed against one another.
Magnus looked at her and saw danger.
Not just to Alexander, himself and the people around. She was a danger to everyone. Magnus only looked at her for a short moment but he knew her type, and that was worse than Azazel had been.
And then… Magnus truly learned just how right he was about her when he aimed a spell at her and she deflected it. With magic.
Time itself seemed to stop around him as Magnus realized the extent of the threat to them. She was a free mage, not one that Magnus could hope to turn to his side, not a frightened one. She was doing this for herself and that made her all the more serious enemy.
But. That did not mean she was stronger than he was. Magnus didn't know just how much power she had yet but he knew what he was capable of.
Their gazes met across the space between them. She smirked, though there was annoyance in her expression, too. She did not want to deal with him, Magnus could tell. He did not want to deal with her but there they were, on opposite sides. Magnus would be damned before he let her win.
The woman didn't turn all her attention to him from that moment. No, she turned back to her target from before.
"No!" Magnus shouted and sent his magic out to protect Alec from her spell. He was better at this than at offensive magic- his wards were faster, almost as if created by his intent alone before he could think of the spell. His spell travelled faster than hers and it made hers crash against the shield he put up in front of Alexander.
She didn't stop after that. She threw another attack spell and Magnus countered it once more before attacking her, too. He moved himself to stand in her path, between Alexander and her. From then on, she had to pay attention to Magnus.
They matched each other spell for spell and Magnus grew tired but at the same time more determined. He had to be aware of his surroundings, he couldn't forget there were men without magic but with steel in their hands instead. Now that his alpha wasn't being attacked by the mage anymore, Magnus had to trust he'd be able to gain upper hand over the other pirates and hopefully protect Magnus in return.
Truth be told, all men and women around them were a little distracted by the show of magical power. Spells contained light in them and when clashing, the light scattered with a noise. Mages were rare on the seas and even if a crew was aware they had one among them, it wasn't the same as seeing this, the vicious battle between two equally skilled mages.
The woman was mostly using fire against him but Magnus knew he had to preserve his energy so he tried smaller things: trip her up, break her concentration, do anything to get some advantage while spending less energy than she was spending. It would be foolish to put too much into a killing blow and have it miss.
A break came when an arrow flew at her exactly at the same time with Magnus's spell. Defending against magic was different than defending against physical objects and she had to do both. She chose the arrow and Magnus's magic got through, pushing her back and making her lose balance. She dropped to one knee, putting one hand on the wood of the deck to support herself.
Magnus threw a grateful look Alexander's way but there was not even a second of time for him to rest. He retreated from the place he'd stood in fighting the pirate captain, moving closer to Alec.
In the meantime, he remembered they had another ship with them. Magnus looked towards Little Idris, separated from them by the width of the pirate ship.
Whatever Underhill was doing, it was working. Little Idris managed to put some distance between her and the pirates, which was still touching Idris's side. Once they were in a better position, they could fire cannons again and Magnus counted on it to help them. Until then, they had to survive.
This wasn't like any of the previous battles. There wouldn't be any yielding here except in death. No prisoners were going to be taken and Magnus knew that in his bones. They had to win.
Alec was fierce, his bow held firmly and with confidence, his stance unwavering. Blood smears darkened his cheek and it was hard to tell if it was his or someone else's. Magnus was sure he had blood on him, too, even though he avoided being too close to anyone.
That became harder to avoid when he was flanked by two pirates who forced him to back away if he wanted to avoid their swords before he retaliated with magic.
He shouldn't spend so much magical energy on this but he had to. He took both of his attackers down and he was ready to seek out Alexander again when the bright light of magical fire exploded on Idris again. Magnus was far enough from it to not feel it but he saw splinters fly in all directions from it before the light dimmed. He could hear cries of pain and then shouts, some of anger and the others were orders, attempts to organize around the chaos.
Magnus couldn't recognize Alec's voice among them.
Mindful of the possibility of another attack, Magnus made his way to where he's last seen Alexander stand. He found him. Now without the bow, he was fending off attacks from a particularly vicious man, who was rather tall and strongly built. The way Alexander was moving with his sword told Magnus that he was hurt but he couldn't tell if it was from the fire or something else. It was too dark.
Still, dark or not, Magnus's goal was clear: protect his alpha.
The pirate captain found him again, her spell aimed at him this time. Magnus defended himself successfully but every minute he spent doing that was one less minute defending Alec.
Angered, Magnus found new reserves of power in him. He took down two more pirates who tried to get him circled. Alicantian men came to his aid, seeing he needed it. Magnus could focus on the other mage, then, trying once again to tire her out or to make her show a vulnerable side.
He thought he almost managed it… but then another thing happened. An explosion, obviously not caused by her magic but rather by a weapon of some kind. The smallest mast on Idris shuddered from it and the wood groaned before it broke, falling down. Men from both sides scattered, trying to avoid the falling mast. Magnus wasn't near it but he had to watch out for the debris thrown in all directions.
He lost sight of the black-haired woman. He lost sight of Alexander as well.
Magnus took cover behind some crates dislodged from their usual place. He breathed fast, he tried to clear and then gather his thoughts again.
When he stood up again and went searching, he was just on time to see Alec in the middle of dueling another pirate who thought himself good enough to take on the Alicantian captain. Magnus felt annoyed on Alexander's behalf. He should have the time to give orders to his people and he was not getting that.
Moving towards Alexander, Magnus raised a line of magical fire between two pirates and one already injured Alicantian who fought nearby. The man looked at him gratefully.
Magnus moved on.
Not fast enough.
He saw Alec get hit, a thin sword going right through his chest on his right side.
Not the heart, Magnus thought, frantic. It was not his heart. The injury was too great, the alpha could not brave through it. Magnus watched as the pirate pulled the sword back, at the same time giving a push that had Alec falling, tipping over the railing and unable to stop the fall.
Running, Magnus blasted a spell at the pirate, the strength of his anger giving him a little more power. That man wouldn't attack him again.
Getting to the railing, Magnus cursed.
"I've told you before I can't swim very well, Alexander," he shouted at the water, his words rushed and desperate because no matter what, he had to jump in. He was probably the only one who was looking when Alec fell in and so he had to follow before the water claimed him. And if they drowned together? Well, there would at least be something poetic in it.
He should at least get a rope to pull in with him so they could get back or at least don't get lost in the sea. There probably wasn't one long enough anywhere near them but Magnus looked around. He wasn't given enough time. He was circled by three men, or rather they tried to surround him. Magnus knew he was left with one option. He could win this but it would lose Alexander time.
He swam to where he'd seen Alec last. Surely he wouldn't sink so soon, especially if there was a chance he was still conscious.
Magnus was too angry to let himself drown after all this. It just wasn't an option. He could accept dying defending someone or fighting a good battle but this was just unacceptable when the mage captain was still up there, leading her pirates to win.
Magnus prayed their Alicantian crew would hold out. He prayed that the other Lightwoods would come back soon and help them.
In the black water, Magnus looked for Alec. He couldn't rely on scent in the water and he could barely rely on sight. He did his best. He was tricked by the reflections many times but in the end, thank the gods, he spotted Alexander. Not a piece of wood, not someone else's body. Alexander.
With the constant movement of the water, Magnus couldn't tell if the man in front of him was moving at all or just floating. Magnus swam, not taking his eyes off of his goal.
He was scared. Knowing he only had limited stamina, he had to remind himself not to panic, do his best to swim towards Alexander, grab him and… somehow direct them to safety.
Magnus didn't know where safety was.
Don't panic. He reminded himself constantly. He thought he might have a best chance of staying afloat on his back. If he held onto Alexander like this, also on his back, they might just hold out for a while before Magnus figures out a way out of it.
They were on the side of Idris opposite from the pirate ship and Little Idris and there was no chance of Magnus getting them to where they could be seen by the latter's crew. He noticed they were being carried away from it all and rather fast. Waves weren't great, thank gods, but the current was different here. Probably because of this place where the distant lights and buildings were. The bottom of the sea was shaped differently here.
As Magnus strained his eyes in the dark as they got farther away from ships' lanterns, he began to see shapes. Not just in his imagination but actual shapes coming out of the water.
There were rocks ahead of them. Low rocks, as black as the water splashing against them. If Idris had sailed on, they might have missed them and crashed on them. How many ships have ended their journeys here, looted by the pirates just before they sank?
Magnus didn't see any other option but to drag the alpha up to at least partially rest on them. Luckily, they weren't full of sharp edges but were rounded or made brittle by all the past storms.
His breaths were coming out sharp, his limbs beginning to burn with exertion and his fingers scratched from touching the rocks - but he made it. He got his alpha to safety for a short while, just so they could rest. Magnus looked him over for the worst injuries besides the one he was already aware of. All he had was the moonlight to let him see.
There wasn't anything else that required immediate attention but there were things that worried Magnus. Burns on his arms from the explosion and probably sustained when Alexander touched something, surely helping his men who were nearby and also hit. Numerous bleeding cuts from splinters, one more serious cut from a weapon darken the pale skin. Magnus didn't even pay attention to the bruises which could also be found on the alpha's body.
He put his left hand on the alpha's chest, pleased to feel the steady breathing. His right he put on Alec's face, touching his cheek. It wasn't the time to enjoy the firmness of muscles under his hand.
He began healing. Healing was a demanding part of magic. It was serious magic and very important. Mages tended to specialize in it their whole life, like Catarina. Magnus wished she was here now.
He couldn't be distracted, though. He was all Alexander had right now and he had to do this on his own.
Magnus poured in the alpha's body everything that he had left and that wasn't much. Closing the deep wound took longer than Magnus hoped it would.
His eyes no longer saw clearly, the world before him swam, the edges of his vision were blurry. In the darkness of the night, he felt the darkness was pulling him in. But he couldn't stop. Having any magic left in him wouldn't mean much to him if he ended up alone with Alexander dead from injuries that he could have healed.
Before darkness took him, he was at least sure the wound was closed.
Alec woke slowly, his return to the world made unpleasant by the ache spreading all through his body but the worst of it was in his head. The last time he felt this bad had been after he'd foolishly let himself become dehydrated and he suffered for hours for it.
Now, he knew that wasn't the cause – or it wasn't the main cause because he didn't know how long he'd been unconscious. He remembered the battle but he didn't remember what caused him to be in the cold water, in the dark, in a mostly quiet place.
Stones or rocks made his back hurt but at least he wasn't slipping off of them. There was weight on his chest. He wouldn't call it a warm weight but it was certainly warmer than the water.
Magnus. It was Magnus laying half on Alec. The alpha's arms went around him on instinct, even though he wasn't slipping off either.
The mage was either unconscious or sleeping and for a while, Alec wasn't sure if he should try to wake him right away. He didn't remember where he'd last seen Magnus on Idris in the chaos but he was quite sure he wasn't very close. It was unlikely they were both thrown off the ship by the same cause.
They were both completely wet.
Was Alec thrown off and Magnus followed? Or was Idris lost and Magnus just happened to find Alec in the water afterwards?
Magnus's hair smelled like salt. They both smelled like salt, as did everything around them. But under that, Alec was comforted by the scent of the man he was holding. It was dull as always but also unique to Magnus, as always. Alec smelled fear on him but it wasn't fresh, since the man wasn't awake.
It made Alec's heart beat faster. He didn't want Magnus in danger and he didn't want him afraid. He wanted Magnus awake and able to tell him if he was hurt.
Alec thought about what to do. He wasn't in the best shape, he knew it. His arms hurt from the fire, his freshly closed wound hurt as well. He was bruised and exhausted and there was nowhere for them to go.
He looked at the sky above them, stars blinking back at him. Maybe he was seeing things but he thought it might be nearing dawn, the sky on one side of them lighter in color than pitch black.
Maybe he should just wait for Magnus to wake and together they'd make a decision. Honestly, there wasn't another choice for him to make.
Alec ran his left hand up from Magnus's back to the back of his neck. It somehow felt more right to hold him this way- one arm around his middle and the other cradling the back of his head.
Alec, still believing Magnus to be a beta, didn't know that the simple touch was recognized by the omega's body even though he wasn't awake. A comforting touch of alpha's hand to his nape may not be healing but it certainly helped the body rest, taking the edge off the stress it was under.
Unaware of it, Magnus fell into a better, deep sleep.
Alec hated waiting like this. He could be patient with a bow but he could not be patient like this, without help or information. To soothe his mind, he ran his fingers through the mages hair, slowly so as to not wake Magnus too soon. He did change his position a little to sit up more. To avoid pain, he moved only a little just to see more of their surroundings and he made sure to keep Magnus where he was.
Alec talked. It was dark, they were alone and Alec wanted to fill the silence. Even with the wave's noise, he felt the silence from lack of people.
He talked to Magnus even though he wouldn't answer.
He thought of holding Magnus just like this but not because Magnus was hurt, because Alec was hurt. He longed to hold the mage when he was happy, in their bed, in Alec's rooms in Alicante.
He didn't speak of that to Magnus but he did tell him more about Alicante and the capital city than he'd told him so far. He spoke of the woods and how he'd like to invite Magnus to ride through them with him.
The sky indeed became gray very slowly and in time it would be going red.
And then, Alec spoke of other things.
"I had a grand plan, you know," Alec was saying. "Once I knew there was an omega to save, I imagined we might not be terribly matched once I found him. We might like each other. I thought I'd surely find him attractive, as all omegas are… and I hoped he'd find something attractive in me, as well. I hoped he'd not be opposed to me proposing something more… If he didn't want me, then I'd not press. But that was the plan: bring the man I saved back home, tell everyone I'd fallen for him even though he was not of noble blood. They'd wave it off, then, they'd let me do it, thinking I was just a young alpha weak for an omega in distress. I'd present us as brought by fate, no matter what origins and how much wealth my mate would have."
He traced half-circles on Magnus's skin with his thumb.
"You might wonder why I wouldn't just look for one in Alicante… but it's not so simple. There are only so many high-born omegas and even fewer are the right age for me. And if I sent out word I was looking for one specifically, it might raise questions… Why would I care so much to find one? People would wonder what is wrong with me. What inappropriate plans this rich man has for an omega…"
Alec sighed, looking over the black waves.
"I just wanted someone for me. Someone I could make a family with."
He thought of his parents. He did miss them, of course. While stranded on a rock in the middle of the foreign sea, Alec was allowed to think of home. He was rather optimistic about their current situation, he wasn't having dark thoughts about dying on this rock but he was allowed to think of home when he was exhausted and hurt, and worried for the man in his arms.
He wasn't in the mood to continue the same topic and he couldn't think of any others, so he fell silent.
Magnus's heart ached for Alexander. He'd been awake for the bigger part of the confession and he stayed silent, not wanting to startle and embarrass the alpha. It was easy to feign sleep in his state, since his body would not move right. Magnus may have been awake but he knew that if he tried to move even a finger, he'd fail.
He needed food, warmth, potions.
He got some warmth from the alpha who served as a pillow for him as well but Alec's own reserves were limited. Still, Magnus didn't want to move from there, ever.
Although they were sluggish, his thoughts wouldn't stop repeating Alexander's words.
Alexander wanted a lover, a partner, who was not an Alicantian lady.
Magnus thought that surely he wasn't alone in that wish, surely there were young Alicantian lords out there who had the same wish but they, the same as Alexander, wouldn't admit to it.
Magnus couldn't say he understood that position exactly. He was an omega, he was free to be with any alpha he wanted. He could be with betas, male and female. Magnus didn't have expectations put on him by his family and since he was a mage, people tended to see that first before they saw his second gender. He was free to do as he wanted because he was always an asset to the community he was in.
Even Azazel… Azazel had wanted him, desired him physically and he'd used him many times but he primarily wanted to possess Magnus's magic. He wanted to possess all of Magnus because he knew the power Magnus had.
Meanwhile, Alexander just wanted an omega to make a family with.
And so, Magnus's heart ached for him.
Alec held Magnus for another hour, just waiting for the mage to recover. He didn't like that Magnus was shivering. It wasn't a surprise that he was, they were both soaking wet and it was always the coldest at dawn, no matter what region one was in. Alec couldn't do anything about it except to try and rub the other man's skin with his own stiffening fingers.
He watched the changes in the color of the sky from charcoal to gray and he kept looking out at the water around them. He couldn't see all around because the rocks they were resting on rose higher behind him and to his right, obscuring his view. He'd sat up a little more as much as his body and Magnus's weight let him but he'd have to stand up to see everything.
Wherever Idris was, he couldn't see her and since he hadn't been conscious when he'd been in the water, he couldn't really guess where they'd ended up exactly. Despite that, so long as his people were safe and made it out of the battle somehow, he knew they'd be found.
Alec thought back to the way it'd started. He wanted to blame himself for it but… he couldn't quite put the blame on himself for not noticing an invisible ship. Sending out people to spy on the unknown place had been the right thing to do and the consequences of it - his best fighters absent when they were needed – were not something he could reasonably regret. He couldn't have possibly predicted what followed if even Magnus didn't sense the spell on the other ship. And fine, maybe he'd had that… feeling that something was off but that'd been his vague gut feeling and not clairvoyance.
He could regret being slow enough to get himself stabbed and thrown off his own ship with no way to go back and maybe his leadership in the heat of the battle hadn't been sufficient… but Alec wasn't exactly new to this and what he knew was that no one was invincible.
Magnus finally began to stir a little, his fingers twitching where his hand lay on Alec's chest. The alpha could tell it wasn't a conscious action and he waited a little longer before he got to see Magnus open his eyes.
When Magnus woke this time, he was disoriented, he didn't immediately remember what happened or that he even woke before. It did come back to him, however, in bits and pieces until the whole night was in his memory.
"Alexander," he meant to say but it came out as a whisper, a barely recognizable word.
"How are you feeling?" Alec asked him, his voice soft.
"Meant to ask you that," Magnus managed to reply and got a huff out of the alpha.
"Right now I think I might be better off than you are," Alec said but he knew that they were probably in equally sorry shapes for different reasons.
The truth was, Magnus didn't stay lying on Alexander just because he enjoyed it so much. He really didn't think he could move yet. Draining oneself is a big no for mages and he had done it. For Alec.
Alec wasn't bleeding, his alpha scent wasn't sickly or weakening so Magnus assumed whatever injuries lingered on his hands and other parts were going to heal on their own. A shiver ran through him when the alpha's fingers kept brushing his skin.
"Are we still…?" Magnus began asking.
"Alone, yes. On a piece of stone in the sea, yes."
"We'll be fine."
They fell silent, comfortable enough with each other to just be like this, resting.
And then Alec was moving suddenly, dislodging the mage from his comfortable spot. He apologized for it but he also pointed out something on the water. A boat. A boat shaped very much like those from Idris. It was their boat for sure, but Alec couldn't tell if those sitting in it were from Idris as well.
They could not run from them if they were the enemy, anyway. Alec moved Magnus to hold him better against his side, helping him to sit up too.
"Alec!" Isabelle's voice carried over the sea to them, a most welcome sound.
Alec recognized her shape, waving at them. There were several shapes with her. Alec could guess the smaller one was Clary by the braided hair moved by the breeze around her head but he didn't think Jace was among them.
The rowboat got closer and closer until Alec could see them properly. Izzy, Clary, Raj and also a man Alec had never seen before came to find them.
Breathing came easier now. Alec still needed to see his brother was all right and he needed to know how many men they'd lost and how bad of a shape Idris was in. He needed to know how far Izzy and Jace got when going to spy and what they learned.
He had to decide what next: surely they'd have to go straight to a harbor to fix the damage-
Magnus lifted his hand slowly and touched Alec's face.
"Alexander. I can feel your breath quicken. Slow down your worries."
Alec swallowed. "I can't do that, can I? I'm the captain, I have to-"
"You have to remember you've got people second in command. Your family and your officers."
"I know that."
For some ridiculous reason, Alec wanted to keep arguing just to make Magnus touch his cheek longer.
"Alexander, right now you still need Catarina's help. You need to sleep, same as I do. If you try to take on everything right now, you'll make mistakes."
The rowboat touched the edge of the rock and Raj and Izzy jumped out to get Magnus first. They must have noticed he wasn't all right by the way he was leaning his whole weight on the alpha.
"He spent all of his magic on me," Alec said. "Saved my life."
Isabelle nodded, bit her lip nervously.
"No one could tell us where you were once we got back. You weren't anywhere and we found the bow… But then we couldn't find Magnus either and we thought there was a chance to find you both alive. So we went out in the dark and there were some bodies in the water and we had to check each one…" she trailed off.
Alec wanted to hug her.
"But we're fine, Izzy. Thank you for finding us."
"Yeah. Let's get you back."
Alec could move but he was stiff from the hours spent on the rock and holding Magnus. He got up slowly, with the help from Clary and the foreigner man while Izzy and Raj got Magnus into the boat.
"This is Meliorn," Isabelle said. "We've got some new faces on Idris now, thanks to our trip."
"From the Queen's Island, aren't you?" Magnus spoke up.
"That's right," the man said and he didn't pretend not to be impressed by Magnus's guess.
Clary looked between them. "Where is that? I've never heard of it."
"That's because you can't get to it unless you're invited and brought there by one of the Queen's men, or "Queen's children" as they're sometimes called," Magnus said.
It seemed Magnus was the only one in the boat to even be aware these people existed at all. Alec certainly hasn't heard of them before.
"That is true as well," the man said.
He didn't look like he was from Edom, the Free Lands or any other land Alec knew. The tattoos on the side of his face were completely different, too. Leaves and vines done in a green shade Alec never saw other tattoos in. They were usually black, gray or in Edom they could be red.
"Right now, we're closer to my lands than yours, Alicantians."
They settled in, Alec sitting down where he could be near Magnus to support him. Now that they were found and going back, exhaustion rushed in with the relief and his limbs were weak once more.
Alec knew the others eyed his bloody shirt and he had to reassure them even before they asked that Magnus had done a great job closing the wound. For the time being, they just focused on getting back.
"How bad is it, then?" Alec asked, because he had to know before he saw it.
"Idris will make it to a harbor without issues if we don't run into the same pirates again. Little Idris got away with even less damage. In fact, it was thanks to her that we ended the fight."
"You're not saying we won," Alec noted.
"Well, I wouldn't say we won when they got away. They retreated and we couldn't possibly follow when you were missing and too many of us were injured."
Alec nodded, his expression darker again. Izzy noticed and said, "I can tell you about what we found."
"Besides strange men from strange places?"
She rolled her eyes at him. "Yes, besides that, we found other things. It's like a fort on the water with much room for storing items, weapons, loose wood to use for repairs. It has piers to secure ships to on the opposite side from which we sailed so we didn't see that at first. There are rooms for people to stay there at all times. In short, it's a point for the pirates to hide at, rest and restock."
"And they're not forced to return to mainland or islands," Alec said. "So what did you do?"
"We snuck around in the dark to see as much as we could. It was plain luck that we were on the side where they had their cells, of a sort. They had prisoners of all kinds, many Free Lander merchants held for ransom."
"And you got them out?"
She grinned. "We stole some small boats that they probably fished from. At that point we did, of course, know of the trouble back on Idris because the fire was easy to notice… The people in the fort noticed as well, but since we already had the boats and no pirate ships were moored at the time, well, they couldn't come to make it worse for us."
"Don't they have any cannons over there?"
"They do, but they'd risk hitting the one who attacked us."
Yes, of course that made sense but Alec's thoughts were slow.
"The people we freed were happy to give us a little help if only to ensure they had a friendly vessel to take them away from there," Raj added.
"What about the mage?" Magnus spoke up, surprising Alec because the alpha had assumed he wasn't awake anymore. Magnus was sitting between the boat's edge and Alec's body, leaning sideways in a way that was barely comfortable but it at least gave him support.
"You must mean Lilith," Meliorn said. "She's the worst threat in this part of the sea and it's because of her that my own ship was destroyed."
"That name isn't familiar to us," Clary said.
"Likely because you haven't been around long enough and you haven't met anyone brave enough to mention her without a reason. She's a human, not a legend but the common, fearful people prefer to treat her like she is. They prefer not to speak of her at all to make sure no one comes after them."
Alec would have to give it some thought later after he wasn't tired, sore and hungry. In the light of dawn after the night they'd had, not everything seemed quite real to him. It was so much easier to focus on the things closest to him: his sister, safe and sound and Magnus still in his arms, in dire need of help from Catarina.
Alec leaned his back against the wood, thinking he'd like to close his eyes briefly.
He woke up when they were nearly touching Idris's side and Isabelle was touching his arm.
"We'll climb up the ladder but you two will stay in the boat and we'll have it pulled up with you," she told him.
Slightly disoriented, Alec nodded and looked at Magnus, who wasn't awake but he wasn't looking any worse either.
Jace was waiting for them on the deck, impatient. He approached the rowboat to help Alec get out of it, asking him questions about his condition. Alec let him hover because the help with keeping himself upright was appreciated but he waved off the concern over his injuries. Besides, being near his brother let him make sure he was all right, too.
Catarina was there, her attention almost immediately on his hands once she knew that the source of blood on his clothes was no longer the main concern. She also made a connection between that fact and Magnus's state. She gave quick instructions to have Alec placed to rest in his bed and have his burns tended to before she could come and use magic for them.
In his room, Alec drank a lot of water and ate something. He washed very quickly just to get the uncomfortable feeling of salt in his hair and on his skin. He was strictly forbidden by his siblings from attempting to look properly at the damage to Idris and he was promised they'd handle it with Andrew and Raj.
Once Alec's head touched his pillow, he was out.
Magnus was carried to his room and laid down on his bed as well. Catarina woke him briefly to make him drink a potion she luckily still had in their stores and she didn't need to make it from scratch. He did drink it but it was hard to keep him awake after that so she didn't try to make him eat. Food helped mages recover but he could do without it for some more hours. Sleep was equally important.
Max and Rafael came to linger in the door, their faces full of concern.
"We've seen the captain and he's sleeping, too. Will they be okay?"
"Of course," Catarina said. "They've been on their own and had to swim to an island. Then they had to wait for us to find them. I expect they'll sleep through the day so you'll have to be patient if you want to see them up and around. Now, that means we all need to work hard to help clean up our ship so our captain has fewer worries on his head when he wakes up. All right?"
She waited for their answers and smiled when they gave very serious nods.
"I was very proud of you both this night but we still need to work a little longer to get us to land safely. I know you're tired, we all are. But I'm sure once we're in a place to make repairs, we will all be given a lot of time to rest."
"On land in a city?"
She smiled at their careful excitement at the possibility of a trip to a city.
"Well, I don't know where we'll be headed but I assume it will be a bigger harbor city. We'll talk about what we can do there later, all right?"
Idris and her companion ship couldn't have attempted using the pirate fort because now that Lilith's ship was gone (and everyone knew it was gone only temporarily), they would have been welcomed with the fort's cannons. The day was starting, as well, and in the light of it, it would be the worst of bad ideas to attempt anything.
With Alec out of commission for the next few hours, the others made the decision where to move on. The decision was made easier when Meliorn suggested he'd guide them to his own island-country and he guaranteed help of his people. Isabelle and Jace discussed it with him, trying to understand the different ways his people apparently worked from the other nations around the sea. Meliorn had called himself a Knight of the Queen and apparently, it had a somewhat different meaning than the knights in Alicante. He wasn't a captain and didn't even call himself a sailor but he said he knew the sea. Jace wasn't much impressed with him overall because of the way he spoke like he was full of secrets. Isabelle wasn't naïve, either, but somehow she was the one who found it easiest to talk with him. Watching them from the side, Jace and Clary couldn't tell if they were both actually charmed by each other of if they were both playing a game, faking it.
Whatever the case may be, they learned that Lilith was the cause of the failure of Meliorn's ship and because of who he was, he wasn't in an enviable position while being a prisoner. He couldn't have been used for money like the rich men (the Queen would never have answered to any demands) but at the same time, his nationality made him too rare and valuable a person to be disposed of.
And so, the Alicantian ship came just at the right time to get all the trapped people out of there.
Eager to even the score against the Edomite pirates, Meliorn told them he'd have his people give Idris the best repairs possible and after that, if the Alicantians wanted to get revenge as well, they could join forces with the Queen's own ships.
The last part was for Alec to decide but for the time being, his siblings and officers decided it would surely be good to take Meliorn up on the offer of a safe harbor. Besides, they were all curious about this unknown place.
Alec woke slowly, coming out of dreams and into reality with some effort. He woke lying in his bed, on his back, his arms folded on his chest. They were wrapped from knuckles almost up to his elbows and the bandages were damp, implying a salve was applied under them. His fingers were fine, surely healed by Catarina so that he could use them sooner without pain.
He focused on each part of his body before attempting to get up and everything was much better now that he's slept comfortably.
The delicate part of him that had been healed by Magnus felt strange but it was good, too.
Alec sat up first before putting his feet down one by one on the floor. He should dress properly before walking out, in order to be presentable while talking with his people.
He wasn't looking forward to it. He wasn't looking forward to learning just how many of them were gone, how many were hurt and under Catarina's care. Seeing the physical damage to his ship was going to be easier but it was still going to be a problem to be handled.
He wanted to see Magnus.
It was early evening, still light out, when Alec stepped out of his quarters ready to face the remainder of the day. Many of his men were busy on the deck and it didn't take long for him to spot Jace and Clary, Max and Rafael (and what a relief that was), and slowly he saw more and more faces he'd hoped he'd get the chance to see.
Before going to find his sister to ask her to call a meeting in the captain's quarters, he went down to Catarina's rooms and to see Magnus.
The mage wasn't awake. He lay on his side, his right hand pushed under his pillow and his covers were half-tangled around his legs. He looked peaceful, like he was getting the rest he needed. Alec took note of the slightly pale color of his face but it wasn't bad enough to concern him too much beyond the worry he already had for the mage. Two vials stood on the shelf nearby, now probably empty.
Alec meant to only take a look and go but he walked inside, pulled in by an invisible but powerful force. He stood by the bed, leaning down to touch Magnus because he couldn't help the need to run his fingers through the black hair. No man had done this to him before. He hadn't met a man he wanted to take care of this much, look after him, make sure he was happy for as long as Alec was partially responsible for that happiness. He'd met attractive, good-hearted men before but none were like Magnus.
Back on the deck, Alec found his sister standing with the new man, Meliorn, at the helm. Simon and Raj were with them and they were discussing something, looking ahead at the sea. They noticed him quickly and Isabelle smiled widely, coming to meet him halfway. She wrapped her arms around him for a quick hug. Alec didn't mind doing this in front of the others. He'd gotten a scare too, last night, not knowing whatever happened to his siblings while there were away from Idris.
After that, they turned to the others.
Meliorn was wearing clothes that Alec was sure were from their ship. He honestly didn't remember if he'd already worn them at dawn when they were in the boat or not but it wasn't hard to guess he'd wanted to change after being a prisoner.
Watching the man, it was easy to believe he was of high standing in his own land because he carried himself in a way that was naturally confident, not overcompensating. Alec wondered what they could get out of this possible cooperation with the Queen. He still didn't know what the land - the island - was actually called and Meliorn was perfectly content making them all use the "Queen" when referring to the people and the place.
Alec would be happy to receive free or at least discounted help in return for delivering Meliorn (and as it turned out, two other of his people) home. On the other hand, he did not want to end up entangled in some relations with a foreign leader in case she wanted to pursue Lilith and do it together with them. He didn't want any strings attached to his ship but until he actually talked with said leader, he wouldn't know.
They'd see how it was going to turn out.
Magnus came out of his room on his own two feet just in time for the late evening meal. He was very, very hungry and he'd drank half a pitcher of the water waiting for him by his bed right after he woke up. He made sure to find Catarina first and ask about the potions she'd given him while he wasn't conscious. She gave him another one and told him he could go find Alec because they were supposed to eat together with a few of the rescued people, particularly those who had some information that could prove useful in the future should they find Lilith again.
When Magnus got to the top deck and was headed to the captain's quarters, he saw some people leave and they passed each other while they were headed the opposite way. They looked like Free Landers, mostly, but Magnus wasn't really paying attention to them and he was rather fine with being late. He knew he'd find Alexander with a much smaller company and that suited him better.
Looking in through the open door, he found the Lightwood siblings, Clary, Simon and that new man. There were also Raj and Andrew. It was a wonder how they all fit in there with the others who'd just left.
"Magnus!" Alec stood up immediately to welcome him. "Should you be walking at all?"
Magnus dismissed the concern.
"If our fearless leader is up and working, I might as well try and catch up."
Magnus had dressed well, choosing his shirt and vest, and a few pieces of jewelry to make sure he looked put-together and just fine. Besides, he remembered they were "having guests" from the fort and he certainly wanted to look his best. He knew Alexander's eyes lingered on the details of his clothes but he also wouldn't be fooled easily. He was an alpha, after all.
Before Alec spoke, it was Isabelle who said: " You've done quite enough last night, haven't you? You kept my brother safe and protected."
"It was nothing, my dear Isabelle."
Magnus looked back to Alec, who was looking back at him, warmth like he hasn't seen before filling them.
"Don't make him stand there, sit down," Jace pointed out the nearest free seat as he got up himself and made some changes to the layout of things on the table between them. He pushed a plate towards Magnus and at the same time Alec picked up unused cutlery to give him as well.
Magnus was very, very hungry and he would have eaten just about anything but of course the platters contained very nicely looking food, as usual. Magnus thought the cook didn't have to do all that today but maybe they were happy enough to have survived the night to prepare all the nice things for the others who also survived.
For a while he just ate, letting the conversation the others continued to flow around him. He listened but he didn't feel he needed to add anything.
He was curious about Meliorn. There had been a time when his friend, older mage Ragnor wrote to him a lot from the college he'd been invited to for a few months to teach. He'd mentioned the Queen's people in those letters because the college had an extensive library containing information on almost everything. Magnus didn't even remember much about it now, seeing as it wasn't of much interest to him but he did remember an important thing: it was said that the people from that island all were born with some magic. Less, more, they all had it in their veins.
Magnus was sure the man wouldn't answer a question about it if Magnus wanted to know just how much magical power he had. In this short time, they knew each other, Magnus knew this: he was mysterious and he often smiled instead of giving a straight answer but Magnus was inclined to believe in his good intentions rather than bad.
In his current condition, when getting to this room has been a feat of strength for him, Magnus wasn't exactly thinking about exploring anything but he knew he wanted to actually see the mysterious place and he wanted to step foot on it and try to feel its magic once he was up to it.
Apparently, he wasn't the only one who had heard something. Simon brought up some stories he'd heard somewhere back in Alicante and he was making a connection between those stories and what Meliorn and Magnus had said so far about the Queen's land.
"Is it the Seelieland, which is mentioned more than once in the books in the back section of the Clave Library? And I've heard that old man in the tavern talk about a land in the far north, where no merchants went and where no Edomite army tried to rule. So, is it that?"
Meliorn looked at Simon. "Is it? I wouldn't know what your authors had in mind while writing all that in Alicantian books."
Once again, the smirk was present when he talked.
Simon wanted to push the topic but Alec spoke before he could.
"There are many legends about gold and jewels all around the world," Alec said. "They're made to make those without a purpose have something to fool themselves and others with. Go out to hunt treasure that will never be found by anyone and pretend that's a goal. And if they're asked about their life, they're promising everyone they'll be rich soon."
Simon deflated but Meliorn looked at Alec with curiosity.
"What is your purpose so far from home?" he asked.
"Accomplishment," Alec replied easily.
Meliorn inclined his head. "Military one, yes? But you're not the local law so it's a mission, then. Are you trying to rid these waters of pirates? Do you think that's attainable?"
"It isn't possible to make crime or men's evil disappear," Alec replied. "But it is possible to make a difference and send a message."
"It is," Meliorn agreed. "And killing Lilith will make a difference, indeed."
When Magnus was done with the meat, Alec pushed the fruit bowl towards him. There were some small cakes hiding between the grapes and plums. Magnus reached for one and ate it before taking another one. He should probably be slowing down before his stomach made him regret it but oh well, he deserved this.
He knew Alexander's eyes were on him and he knew it was going to make the alpha happy to see him do his best to recover.
A little later, Magnus asked his own question about Lilith.
"She's from Edom, but do you know anything else? Is she of noble blood or not? If not, does she have any loyalty to the Princes? I don't think she does, but…"
"She might be a Princess herself. Is she a real one on land? I wouldn't know. She thinks herself to be just that on water, however. She's fearless, she's proud and she is powerful. People who know of her are afraid of her… or they go and try to join her."
"And you've met her before?"
"More than once, yes, but only once in direct battle, the one we've lost."
Magnus leaned his cheek on his hand, his elbow resting on the table. He had many questions about Lilith, some based on what he'd seen and learned of her himself at night. But his thoughts felt heavy and his whole head felt heavy.
He eyed the armchair pushed up to the wall of the room.
A few minutes passed. Magnus pushed himself up from the chair and went to the armchair and sat down in it, after a moment pulling his feet up on it and curling up in it. He stopped caring about looking dignified at this point. He was glad Alexander didn't tell him to go to bed in his own room, which would be expected of the alpha.
Magnus wasn't sure he could resist an order from the alpha, no matter if the man wouldn't have meant it to be an order.
The conversation flowed around him. It wasn't revolving about future plans anymore and instead, Meliorn answered other, lighter questions. Simon asked the most of them but whenever Isabelle had one, Meliorn seemed to be more willing to answer those.
Magnus wasn't aware the Alicantians in the room were trying to somehow pass the time before the nightfall when they'd have to attend the ceremony for their fallen crew members. Alicante had several practices for the dead: burning, burying in family crypts (or in castle crypts if one was deserving of the honor), and in case of dedicated seamen, they could also give their bodies to the sea.
Tonight, they would be doing both: the burning on a prepared pyre, safe for the rest of the ship, and throwing off the bodies. It depended on what they knew of the dead and also on the wishes of those who were still around and could speak of the wishes of their dead friends.
Alec had already spoken with his people, particularly those who he knew had lost friends. One had lost a brother. One had lost a cousin.
Alec carried the guilt of not having been good enough but his people had been happy to see him back and in good health. Alec had given his condolences as well as promises for the future. They weren't going to be surprised a second time.
Not thinking of those things, Magnus dozed off, the scent of his alpha soothing his senses. He was safe.
Meliorn looked between the captain and the mage. The mage was most likely of mixed blood, Edomite and Free Lander. It was curious how he came to be on this ship, working with Alicantians who were known for sticking with their own kind and following their own laws which they considered to be superior and made so well they didn't need any changes.
Not that Meliorn had any grudges against these people, not at all. In fact, he was rather glad it had been them who found the fort in the sea as he knew he could expect from them an eagerness to go against Lilith again. In that sense, his people and Alicantians were similar - they rarely lost but if they did, they worked even harder for their justice.
Meliorn wasn't very happy with himself for the way he'd ended up a prisoner with the few others but he knew he'd fought well enough. Lilith was a worthy opponent but he did not like her kind. Not Edomites, but the type of person she was. It irritated him to have lost against her and he'd do what it took to come back to his Queen, able to say that the previous mistake had been fixed. Before that, however, he had to come back to the Court with nothing but the Alicantians in tow.
Lilith had been cocky lately, sailing around what Meliorn and his people considered their waters. She was, obviously, no threat to their actual land but Queen's people lived half from land and half from the sea. They were not going to just let her sow terror on the minor islands which the Queen considered to be under her protection.
It was going to take one day, depending on the winds, to get to his home and then he'd be able to talk with the Queen.
Thinking back to the mage, Meliorn wondered about his scent but it made sense that an omega would prefer not to be "distraction" on a ship, even if that took away the good properties an omega's scent could have on the crew. It made sense when people wanted to blend in while spending a lot of time in spaces as small as a ship's bowels.
But, that would be more true for an unmated omega with no one to look after them. Considering the care the captain had for the mage, surely he would not have to fear anyone trying to take advantage, unless Meliorn greatly misjudged the characters of the Lightwood family, which he didn't think he did. The way the young alpha allowed the omega to just sleep in his presence while they were others around told Meliorn all he needed to know about their relations for the time being.
Whatever the reasons for the omega's suppressing his nature were, they were not for him to ask about.
In this universe, people who were Seelies in canon are human the same way Magnus is a human mage. They have more magic than any other nation (and they're shadier than other nations) but they're not bound by canon rules, such as no lying. And they don't command nature but they're much more in touch with it. "The Queen" isn't as threatening and unpredictable as the canon Seelie Queen but she is powerful. Actually, you can think of her like the queens of Naboo. There's always a woman monarch who's very respected, very smart and powerful in various ways, and her Knights are very loyal to her and their nation. Seelies aren't looking to trick everyone here.
Magnus's cat came to him at night, making an offensive scratching noise on his closed door. The mage had known the Cat had been just fine since the lower decks were pretty much untouched by the battle so he hadn't worried about it (too much). Of course, somehow, the Cat believed it was Magnus's fault that the noise of battle and the smell of fire, and the frantic atmosphere happened at all, and that was why the furry creature didn't show itself for the many hours after it was all over and Magnus and Alexander were back. Magnus let it in, stumbling out of his bed half-awake and immediately returned to sleep. Cat settled on his chest, benevolent enough to purr for a while, letting the mage sleep in peace.
The following morning was a new start. Magnus woke without a heavy head, without weakness in his limbs and shaking hands. He knew he shouldn't make it a habit to expend so much of his magic and he'd already done it twice… but he also knew he was going to do it as often as it was needed to help Alexander.
Magnus washed, dressed and left his room ready to face the day, at least for the nearest future not expecting any trouble while they sailed to the elusive "Seelieland".
He got to speak with Alexander when they met on the top deck, Magnus walking aimlessly and the captain clearly heading somewhere but stopping the second he saw Magnus. He had that look in his eyes which said he had more things on his mind than he knew how to take care of but still, he made time for Magnus.
They stood in the light of the sun, the wind moving Magnus's scarf and messed up Alexander's hair even more than it already was.
"Thank you for looking after me," Magnus said, thinking back to of the scent of Alexander which he'd recognized very well when he'd woken up the previous day.
"It was the least I could do after what you did for me," the alpha tried to brush it off but Magnus wouldn't have it.
"Nothing you do is "the least", Alexander."
They stepped aside to get out of the way of two men carrying some damaged part of the ship which Magnus didn't even know what it was called. During that brief interruption, the alpha found his words.
"Let's end this here or else we'll be thanking each other for the rest of the morning," he said.
"I'm glad we're working out so well. This… me being here. I'm just… I hadn't known if my decision to come back was a mistake. It wasn't."
Still looking abashed, Alexander only nodded at first. Magnus watched him, knowing he was once again searching for words to reply.
Something bright and warm was inside his belly, settled there but also becoming brighter the longer he looked at the alpha in front of him. He was almost giddy with the feeling and he did not want the moment to end.
"Are you laughing at me?" Alexander asked then, confused after he looked up at Magnus and saw him grinning.
"Not at all. Not at all, Alexander. I'm just happy to be here and alive, and to have such a solid partnership with you."
A smile appeared on Alec's lips as well.
"I- yes, I'm happy about that as well."
Magnus didn't know how much the alpha wanted to reach out for him at that moment. How much he wanted to touch Magnus, hold him in the light of day, where anyone could see it.
"All right," Magnus said, "I can't keep you here, you must have things to do and I'll go find Catarina."
"Right, yes." Alec took a breath and looked around himself, then back at Magnus. "I'll see you- I'll see you later."
"Of course." Magnus nodded, smiled again and stepped out of Alexander's way because somehow he knew if he didn't move, they'd have just stood there the whole day.
Magnus went back downstairs and stopped behind the first corner, leaning his back against the wall. He pressed his hand to his chest as if it could help slow his racing heart.
The giddiness passed now that he was alone but that bright and warm thing inside him remained.
Magnus knew he had to be careful from then on. He knew what was happening to him. His heat was going to come, soon.
That is, on land, it wouldn't have meant "soon" but like this, when he was on a ship sailing the seas, he had to be smart and he had to plan days ahead. They were going to the Seelieland and he wasn't worried about getting there on time but he had to make sure they weren't going to be made to leave there before he was good enough to be among others on the ship.
Magnus would have preferred much more to be in the Free Land territories or even the edges of Edomite islands but he had to do with what he had. He could probably portal to a familiar city to a temple or even his own home but… they were very far from the Free Lands and were going farther every hour to reach the island that wasn't even marked on maps. Magnus could make the journey with magic but he'd have ended up magically tired right before the heat and that was always a bad idea. Besides, he didn't like the very idea of putting any distance between himself and Idris. It didn't sit right with him to separate from… well, to separate from Alexander, he admitted to himself in his thoughts. The true nature of what he was could not be silenced with any scent-suppressing potions and no potion could make his desire disappear.
Somewhat later, after he felt more balanced, Magnus approached Meliorn and asked about their temples. He asked about the gods, first, to get a feel of what they might have built for them. He was relieved to find out they shared a few of them, like the goddess of Sun and Love. He found out that the Queen's People worshipped many more elements of nature than any of the other nation did. Magnus was familiar with blessed forests, blessed mountains and springs from his own land but for him and other mages, they were mostly practical and used to help their magic along. Magnus liked the thought of some sort of power looking after people but he'd never tried to rely on it in any way.
It seemed Meliorn and his people were different when it came to divine powers but Magnus didn't try to get too deeply into it while they were talking on the top deck, looking out at the waves. Ragnor would have been, without a doubt, much more inquisitive but Magnus had one purpose in asking these things. Once they would set foot on the Queen's island, he'd have to ask again to get directions to a temple. Only after his most pressing concerns were dealt with could Magnus relax and ask about other things.
A distant land appeared before them, at first like an illusion, like a dark cloud on the horizon that often fooled sailors. Meliorn told them that it was indeed what they were looking for and as they sailed closer and closer, it grew and the details of the land began to be more recognizable. It took a long time to reach it but everyone was curious, looking at it throughout the day as if they could get there faster by gazing at it.
And then, when they were close, it was clear the island and its hills and the two low mountains on it were covered in lush forests, any human buildings concealed by them. Forests weren't anything new to anyone on Idris but this.. this was something else. The shade of green was emerald, all plants seemed to be absolutely thriving there.
Maybe there was something to their beliefs in deities in nature, after all.
Even near the harbor that Meliorn directed them to, there were large trees growing on beautifully arranged city squares. They docked without any issue, Idris and her companion ship coming to rest in a peaceful place, from then on waiting to be repaired and restocked.
Alec had already divided all his people into three groups ahead of time to take turns so that two groups could be on land while the third one looked after the ships. The first day was supposed to be dedicated to rest both for the minds and bodies of their crew and for Alec to meet with the Queen and find out what they could get out of their stay here.
Magnus wanted to stick with Alexander for that first day and in the evening he'd go to a temple. Now that they were on land as planned, he didn't need to rush, he still had time.
Alec, his family, Magnus and Simon went with Meliorn who led them to the Palace. Raj (and to a lesser degree, Andrew as well) had tried to convince him to take more people for safety but Alec deemed it completely unnecessary. There was no animosity at all between them and these people, and they were going to discuss Lilith. Besides, Alec's sister and brother, and Magnus meant plenty of protection for the whole group.
While they were gone, Raj and Andrew each had a ship under their care. They were going to get their free time after the Lightwoods returned and took over the duties.
The city they were in was simply beautiful. It was full of trees and other plants, white buildings decorated with arches and pillars. Magnus has never seen such architecture before. Alicantians liked the color white and silver and gold for their buildings but they didn't have the kind of stone the Queen's Island had for building.
The people here wore light clothes, made with shimmering thread, embroidered with flowers and vines at the hems and sleeves. They wore jewelry depicting more flowers or birds. And the people were beautiful.
Despite the distracting beauty of their surroundings, Alicantians stayed vigilant as ever. Particularly Alexander. It was good that they had guides in the people they'd freed from the fort to get them to where they needed to go so they were bypassing any questioning and they had the chance to reach the palace without an issue.
Meliorn seemed to enjoy talking about the things that Queen's people were particularly proud of. It was interesting, actually, how he could be such a sure of himself and almost conceited guide and yet remained charming.
There were no horses around, that's what Magnus realized after a time. They took no carriage to the palace, they walked there instead. Somehow, the distance they walked didn't feel as long as it actually was while they passed gardens and decorative arches, and private homes with sheer fabrics in the windows which glistened like pearls.
Magnus felt the magic of the place just as if he were walking on Free Lander focus places for mages. Except, unlike those focus places for portalling, he felt that power constantly.
The palace had only two levels and it was built wide instead of tall as they did in Edom and Alicante. Still, it was no less impressive for it. White pillars covered with silvery-green vines were the entrance, where guards armed with long javelins stood motionless like statues. One guard did break form when he saw Meliorn and the other two of his people and he was clearly surprised but pleasantly so at seeing them back home, alive.
He exchanged greetings with them and eagerly led them to the throne room even though they knew the way themselves.
And then, there was the monarch herself.
Magnus had his own opinions on royalty which he kept to himself. He had his own opinions on nobles, aristocracy, and he'd thought those things about the Lightwoods back when he'd met them. (And even at that point, knowing what he knew about Alexander, there was a fear deep inside him, that the alpha would change once he's back on his own land, among his own people. The fear in his bones tried to remind him that these were special circumstances, that they were separated from the rest of the people, for the time being making their own way on the sea… and that when the time came to go home, Alexander and the other Alicantians would fit right back into their stiff society, leaving Magnus an outsider to it).
The Queen wore a great number of flowers. Real ones and silk ones, and a wealth of jewelry. All of those jeweled pieces were small, creating a whole picture of a stunning dress and hair decorations. She looked very youthful, as though she should be a princess, not a queen. Still, the very air that surrounded her spoke of authority and no one would have tried to doubt she was, in fact, the sole ruler here.
Magnus looked at Alexander. He was rather pleased with how his alpha presented himself at court. He held himself straight and proud, and he looked every part the noble he was. All Lightwoods were dressed for the occasion, perfectly put together. Alexander had his whitest shirt on and on top of it, a dark-gray, almost blue jacket. Magnus liked it quite much. Isabelle wore her black jacket and a belt both embroidered with red flowers. She wore pants as usual, just as Clary did.
As for Magnus himself, he did, of course, dress to impress. For once, he could think less of the practical aspects of his clothes and more about what he really liked. If that got him more looks from the Alicantians, he didn't really care. When Alexander's eyes lingered on him longer than usual, Magnus did care and he was pleased with himself. He was in pre-heat and with the convenient visit to the Queen at the same time, Magnus dressed for his alpha, knowing no one – even the alpha – would question his brighter colors.
"Welcome, most unexpected visitors," she spoke. "Meliorn, you've made us wait for your return longer than is reasonable."
The man lowered his head in acknowledgement. "And I am here to apologize, your Highness."
"We are all glad for that, that you're able to talk to us in person. You're unharmed."
"Luckily, yes. But until the help came, I hadn't expected to return home again."
Meliorn gave the Queen a quick recount of the events. Surely they'd later talk about it without Alicantians present but for now, it was enough.
"Lucky, indeed," she said afterwards. "You've been missed." She dropped the neutral tone of her previous words and she lets fondness show in both her voice and her face.
"I'm ready to serve again," Meliorn says, "but I also brought guests to whom I owe gratitude and who can, if you wish it, be of some more help to us as well."
"Yes, unusual guests. Far from home in Alicante."
"We consider it an honor to be here," Alec said then. "We appreciate this chance to see your beautiful land and we're thankful for the safe harbor."
"You deserve our help for returning our people back. You've fought Lilith, haven't you, so surely you've suffered some loss. We'll provide what you need to fix that which can be fixed."
"We'll be grateful for the help. As for Lilith, she had magic we haven't seen before and were unprepared for but we managed to hold our own in the end. We plan to make sure we won't be unprepared the next time."
"Yes, you want revenge," the Queen said. "We're not unfamiliar with that feeling. Edomite pirates cross great distances on the sea but Lilith is one of the rare ones who like to keep too close to our waters. She's been a great nuisance especially this past year and we've grown tired of her. She scares merchants away from us and causes injuries to our own vessels and our people."
Meliorn said: "Pirates have been more daring these past two years."
He looked at the Alicantians. "You've seen yourselves what they build in the middle of the sea to make attacks easier. The weaker groups are as easily dealt with as ever but the strongest ones grow stronger every week."
"Would you like to propose a solution, your Highness?" Alec asked.
"You'll need a little more than determination if you're going to meet Lilith again. We'll lend you our people's skills and powers. Meliorn will go with you, and so will several other Knights, whom I will pick later."
Alec managed to hold back the first expression of disappointment. That was it?
"Do you not think more ships is what is needed to defeat Lilith? If after our last encounter she went to get her own allies to join her…"
"We're not sending our ships," the Queen replied. "Not for this mission. You may think that's what you need but it's not. Lilith would specifically avoid our flags. Not because she's afraid to fight us but because it's a game. But, she'll want to attack you, I think."
Isabelle (and Jace, as well) looked at Alec. He was sure they had a lot to say about this but they knew better than to speak when it could be considered as out of turn.
"You may not like it," the Queen said, a smile on her lips, "but we don't want you to fail. You already have two ships and it'll have to be enough. You have a mage with you as well."
She looked at Magnus and somehow he was less surprised than he should be by her recognizing his powers without him using them in her presence.
"And you'll have our magic thanks to the Knights who will go with you. We'll give you maps which we're sure you don't have of the waters east and south from here."
Meliorn added: "You'll be pleased with what we can do for your ships, as well. As promised, as a favor for the help."
"I have my concerns about this," Alec said carefully, "but I will accept what you're graciously giving us. Will we have the chance to talk once more before our stay is over?"
"Most likely, on the day of your departure. Until then, you should rest, eat, try what our people have to offer. Maybe if you know us better, it'll ease your worry about what we're capable of… even in small numbers."
"Thank you, Your Highness. We'll take our leave, then."
They walked out of the throne room and out of the palace on their own, without Meliorn but they had offers of guidance from the other locals.
Once they were away from the palace and they began discussing the visit among themselves, Isabelle could finally roll her eyes.
"That was frustrating."
"And much shorter than we could have expected," Clary added.
Alec shrugged. "It was the first visit."
Jace huffed. "Somehow, I don't have a feeling there will be more of those except before we leave."
Magnus agreed with him. "Her Highness sounded quite final."
"Then there's nothing we can do except accept it and prepare the best we can."
"For now," Magnus said, "I say we shouldn't think about it too much. We'll have the time for it later. If we're getting more people to help, you'll have to talk with them about as well."
Magnus put his hand on Alec's arm. "I know you want to do the opposite but it won't help if you don't take your mind off of it for a few hours."
They walked through the city and they somehow drifted apart in pairs while different things interested them. Jace and Clary, Isabelle and Simon, Alec and Magnus.
Magnus had been waiting for an opportunity like this to speak with the alpha without having to tell the others at the same time. It wasn't easy to get him alone but the moment the opportunity presented itself, Magnus decided to go ahead and break the news to the alpha.
"I need to leave you for a few days while we're here on solid land," Magnus said.
"Why?" The confusion on the alpha's beautiful face was both endearing and left Magnus with a guilty feeling.
"I have matters I need to attend to and this is the best time. You'll be staying here and I'll be right back in time the repairs are finished, I promise."
Alec shook his head.
"Of course, you're free to do whatever you need. For however long you need… I just wasn't expecting it."
"I know, I'm sorry for that," Magnus said, heartfelt, and after that, he wasn't sure what else he could add.
"So you'll be portalling home?" Alec asked.
"Not home, but yes," Magnus lied.
"We can have dinner first."
"Oh, good," Alec nodded to himself. "Good, let's go find a place, then."
Magnus followed, happy to be with Alexander wherever they went. He wasn't sure which "place" they should choose to eat at since they were both complete strangers to this land but it didn't matter. He just wanted to spend the time with the alpha before he had to endure the lonely few days.
They found a place, they asked for a filling dinner, not wanting to ask for specific food they were familiar with. Even if both of their minds were on something else than dinner, they could still appreciate new experiences and learn something more about the Queen's people.
* * *
The temple Magnus went to had some familiar symbols, related to the goddess they shared among the other nations. The rest of the building, however, was built and decorated purely in local fashion. Vines spiraled up the entrance pillars and sizeable bushes of blooming, pale pink flowers grew between those pillars. The scent of them was heavy but not irritating. Magnus could already imagine more flowers grew around the back, where the haven part of the temple was. Having natural flowers distract from the scent of omegas was probably nicer than the incense they usually used] in the Free Lands and Edom. Not that there aren't amazing flowers in those lands but temples there just grew them for decoration, not a function like this.
Magnus was welcomed inside after he told his purpose here to the person near the entrance. It was a man, a beta, who told Magnus it was indeed possible for him to have a room for the duration for his heat and that priestesses and omega helpers would offer their care to him.
Service for omegas was free but Magnus offered payment for the temple anyway. He was welcomed in and given a room to stay in.
He had the late evening for himself. He came here early so that he wouldn't have to rush once the true pre-heat made him sweaty and made his scent thicken so he had hours yet to spent clear-minded.
He walked the inner grounds of the temple, he met a few omegas, some who worked there, some who came for the same reasons he had.
Back when he'd first come back to Idris and had thought ahead to this moment, he'd thought he'd go on land to a city to find a willing alpha to spend the heat with, just as he'd done time and again before. Even if what'd happened to him on Azazel's ship had soured his heats for him and had sometimes made him wish he'd not been born an omega, the truth was Magnus was comfortable being what he was. He liked being with alphas when he needed it.
However, by this time, he knew he couldn't possibly go out and find himself a partner when who he really wanted was Alexander. They'd made no promises to each other and yet Magnus knew in his heart he'd have made himself feel like he was unfaithful… and that, he knew, was the drawback of his own omegan nature. His heart had made a choice and his body was in agreement with it.
This heat, when it came, was miserable. Magnus could take care of and suffer through his physical need and discomfort but his emotions were another thing. He wanted Alexander.
With too much time to think, he'd wound himself in circles, calling himself a fool once again for his choice to lie about what he was. At this point, he could not be sure of the alpha's reaction if he went and told him the truth. How hurt would Alexander be? How angry?
Magnus didn't regret hiding at the beginning, that'd been necessary for his safety for as long as he'd needed to find out if these Alicantians were trustworthy at all. But now? Now he should have already told at least one person.
'You still have a chance,' he told himself while curled up, sweating on the bed. 'He wants a male omega, and that's you.'
'A liar omega,' a shadow inside him said. 'And a used one at that. He'll know everything if you tell him and how will he want to touch you then?'
Magnus was grateful, then, for the way his thoughts were muddled by the next bad wave of the heat for he couldn't berate himself any longer.
He brought himself to completion trying not to think of any alphas at all. Sometimes he even succeeded.
On the second day, while the heat let up and Magnus was hoping to fall asleep soon and sleep through at least three hours straight, someone knocked on his doors.
He'd already been given food that day and his bedding had been changed earlier so he wasn't sure who could be knocking but he told them to enter.
Catarina's familiar form appeared in the crack of the opening door and if Magnus wasn't so sluggish and exhausted, he probably would have shot out of the bed at the sight.
She came inside, looked at him, taking in the details of his room (such as the cleanliness of the furniture and the water on the bedside table) and then gave him a soft smile.
"There you are," she said. "I've been looking for you."
"Why? And how did you find me?"
She came to sit on the edge of the bed and reached out to touch his forehead just like a mother would.
"Well, I figured it out. I had to ask in two other temples first but I got here finally. It helps that we're all foreigners here and it's not that easy to disappear."
She ran her fingers through his hair and the comfort of the simple touch was so nice Magnus wanted to close his eyes and sleep right away.
"Does everyone know?" he asked miserably.
"Of course not. Only your smart mage friend, who knows your ingredient bag contains every single thing an omega would need for their potions."
"All those ingredients are used in various mixes."
She smiled at his petulant tone.
"That is true. That's why it had to be your smart mage friend to figure it out. Besides, since you were suppressing your scent, it was easier to smell our captain on you all the time… and you really didn't seem to mind his scent."
Magnus closed his eyes.
"Are you planning to tell him?" Catarina asked.
"I don't know. I don't know when."
He didn't say anything after that and she was silent for a moment as well.
"All right," she said finally. "I know this isn't the right time to push you about this. I only wanted to make sure you were safe and taken care of. I brought a few things, freshly brewed, that I believe you will appreciate."
She took some vials out of her bag to set them on the little table. Magnus glanced at them.
"Would you like me to stay with you for a while or should I go?"
"I was going to sleep," he said. "Stay for a while."
Something in Magnus was relieved that he had one person to know his secret. He liked Catarina enough that her presence was a comfort for his senses in this unfamiliar place. It was good to be reminded in this more lucid moment that he wasn't alone.
"All right," she said, eyeing the low armchair decorated with carved vines and with a green pillow on it. "I'll sit right here, you can rest."
When the next wave of his heat came, he was alone again and the sheets he'd covered himself with were suddenly too hot.
The most desperate part of the omega wished he'd asked Catarina to tell Alexander the truth for him. The more logical part of him knew she'd never do it even if he'd begged for it.
So he fantasized about the alpha finding him just as Cat had, he imagined Alexander coming in to sit with him and petting his hair.
And then, when the need got really bad, he imagined those were Alexander's fingers touching him in other places than his hair, helping him relieve the need and the ache.
But even with those imaginings, Magnus knew, he knew that Alexander was such a proper alpha. He was a noble, an Alicantian and a traditional alpha on top of that. None of those things, even put together, were bad, of course. Those things didn't matter to Magnus but what he did care about was Alexander… and so, he wanted the alpha to maintain his position and his image impeccable. The confession in the dark that Magnus had heard on those rocks had been for no one's ears and Magnus had always been good at keeping secrets and confidence.
It didn't matter how much his heat made him want to go and find the alpha and beg him to claim him.
Magnus would be the last person to do wrong by Alexander.
Magnus got through it. Of course he did. He was old enough, experienced enough and patient enough to do it all on his own. And if he imagined his possible future with his chosen alpha to get through it, it was his own business.
The last morning in the temple, he spent a long time in the hot baths until he felt that the smell of sweat and want were replaced on his skin by the water scented with flowers and cleaning salts.
After dressing properly, Magnus went to the area of the temple's haven where the temple's regular staff and the visiting omegas could have meals together if they wished to. Magnus did wish to eat with someone rather than alone as he'd done these past three days. One temple omega and one visiting omega who also just ended her heat were there that day so he joined them.
It was quite nice to talk with them, when he rarely met several of his kind at once. He was free to talk with them about himself and "his" alpha. The young woman was interested in someone but was too young to pursue anything with them yet, so she came here every time. The temple worker admitted he didn't exactly have the opportunity to meet an alpha who suited him and maybe it was for the best since he liked being dedicated to the temple and to the work he did for the haven and the priestesses.
Magnus decided to say the truth to them, that there was one man he wanted but for now he couldn't have him. And even if he could have him… Magnus knew Alexander was too proper to actually spend a heat with Magnus just because the time for his heat came. Most alphas would be happy for the opportunity... Magnus assumed Alexander would want proper courting, he'd want more before reaching the physical part. In that aspect, Magnus felt unsuited for the young alpha. In fact, Magnus wondered if the alpha was a virgin. It was very likely that he was.
Magnus didn't speak of that, obviously, but he did speak of the other things that weren't too revealing and it was like practicing it out loud before he would get to admit it to anyone else. He was aware Catarina would be the first to talk with him about it. She'd hinted at it when she'd visited but she'd been considerate of his state and left it there. Magnus didn't want to try and pretend now, act as if she was all wrong about what he felt for Alexander. He wanted her friendship and her support, and friendships needed honesty. While he wanted to protect himself, he knew that he couldn't do it all on his own.
Once he finished his meal, he returned to his little room for a nap. After the nap, he thanked the temple workers and priestesses again, gave them his donation and he left.
Although he craved Alexander's company or at least his presence nearby, he chose to stroll through the city first. He needed to make sure he was all back to normal before he stood face to face with the alpha. The walk was a good distraction, too. Before, when they were all following Meliorn, Magnus had too many thoughts crowding his mind and he only paid attention to his surroundings to know where he was and where he was headed. He had listened to what Meliorn had been saying, but hadn't appreciated the views properly.
Now he took the time to look into the various shops and left some of them with items he decided to buy. He would not pass the opportunity to send Ragnor a gift straight from the Seelieland. He also found several items which would be of interest to young Elias back home.
Magnus particularly liked the shop with magical items and amulets. There was a variety of them there he'd never seen before. While he might have been wary of Seelie ingredients, he was more willing to try out the amulets. The prices were rather steep but he could afford to pay them.
The after-heat mood may have made him a little softer towards the people around him - that is, the crew. He thought of little Max and Rafael and that they should have some sort of protection as well, so he spent a long time in the shop choosing amulets for them and Catarina. He also, obviously, thought about "his" alpha. He'd have paid any amount of money to have Alexander protected the next time an attack as serious as the last one came at him.
His choice for the two boys was easy- Seelies made many wooden amulets and many of them had forms of animals and plants. They weren't exactly easy to carry, even though they weren't big, but for kids, they'd probably be just right since their pockets had all kinds of items in them already.
For Catarina, he got a silver pin with one round green stone at the end. The stone was secured to the pin with winding silver threads. It was beautifully done and it was the most expensive piece Magnus bought that day. The price wasn't why he got it, however, but the usefulness of the enchantment.
And for Alexander… he considered a ring. It was an easy choice, practical, easy to wear, hard to lose if the size was right. But rings had a meaning in all of their countries. Rings were promises.
And maybe that's why he should choose one. Maybe he should use the opportunity and… try to make a point. But he wasn't sure he could handle rejection of it, if it so happened that Alexander saw through him and through the gift. He wasn't sure he'd be able to pretend it was not a big deal at all if the alpha didn't accept it.
Magnus stood there, looking at the enchanted items, hesitating for a long time. The woman at the shop asked him if he needed advice about the sort of enchantment he wanted but he thanked her and said he had to make a choice on his own.
In the end, he left the amulet shop with a ring for Alexander. It was local dark wood that would be a good fit for any alpha and while Magnus was happy with his choice of the specific ring, he still didn't know if the item in general was a good idea.
* * *
Alec walked the marketplace without much purpose. They'd made all necessary purchases two days ago and all repairs were pretty much done by now. They'd outfitted Little Idris with everything that Idris had and it was now a permanent decision that the ship would stay as theirs and be their support. The name had been a joke at first but it stuck and was left like that, Little Idris.
He was pleased with the repairs and the improvements done to both ships and he was feeling rather confident they'd be better than the pirates from then on even if he was still disappointed they weren't getting more ships.
There was still the significant issue of the concealing magic to worry about but they were going to have Seelie magic to help them out with that.
Alec also assumed that Magnus would want to do something about it as well. The mage put too much responsibility for the last battle on himself. No one ever expected miracles from him joining the crew, even Alec himself had been mostly looking forward to having a little more literal fire-power, possibly a little shielding and not much more. It was unfortunate that them not knowing that much about magic also made them more vulnerable to mages such as Lilith but they'd learned that lesson.
Alec would have liked to have Magnus around so he could check on him. He didn't want to hover or restrict the mage in even a smallest way but… well, he worried.
Separated from Magnus, Alec didn't particularly like where his feelings were going. He wanted Magnus back so he could see him and touch him. He hadn't known he was capable of such possessiveness… but he couldn't lie to himself that he wasn't possessive about the mage anymore.
Alec knew he was too weak to resist it. He didn't know how to fight it other than to send Magnus away permanently to remove the temptation altogether and that solution was unacceptable.
His mood soured for the days he had to spend waiting and Isabelle called him out on it once. She didn't have to do it twice because he tried watch himself from then on.
It was easiest to just work through it and wait.
The Lightwoods spent the three days resting while overseeing the repairs, planning for the future and exploring the harbor city. Jace and Clary took the time to be on their own for a while and Isabelle divided her spare time between Alec and Meliorn, who offered to show her around privately.
Alec had some thoughts about that but in the end he kept them to himself, only giving his sister a pointed look when she was leaving.
Alec filled his time talking with his officers about the future mission to find Lilith again and get rid of her for the sake of all people sailing these waters. He also spent more time than usual with their youngest crew members. Along with Catarina, they took Max and Rafael to the city and tried to answer all their questions, while showing them as much as they could. It was a perfectly good distraction, too, until Max asked about Magnus and brought the mage back to the forefront of Alec's mind.
On the fourth day, Alec was walking through the market, temporarily separated from his company after everyone went their way to look at what interested them among the stalls. He himself wasn't looking for anything in particular but he got some fruit that was especially appealing to him and some other small items he thought he might find a use for at some point. The truth was Alec wasn't one for spending money frivolously on things he didn't need but this was serving as a good distraction.
If it wasn't for Magnus, he would have liked to leave already, even if his crew was happy with the rest.
Alec was waiting for Magnus and however long it took the mage to get back, he was going to be here.
Alec saw Magnus that evening on the streets of the city. The Lightwoods were going back to Idris after a late meal they've had at an inn. It was already gray, the sun still coloring the western sky, but there was enough light for the alpha to spot what he wanted to see the most anyway.
Magnus saw them, too, and he changed his path to meet with them. He was smiling and Alec thought he looked even more beautiful than ever. In fact, he was dressed just as well as he had been at court and his eyes were lined thicker than they were while at sea.
Alec's heart pounded at the sight and if he wasn't accompanied… he wasn't sure if he wouldn't have ran up to the mage and hugged him.
Instead, they all exchanged proper greetings. Jace clapped Magnus on the shoulder and said, "Good, you're back so we can leave and Alec can stop his pacing."
Magnus smiled. "Well, I'm glad you waited for me instead of running off in alpha impatience."
Magnus was teasing all of them for being alphas but Alec's face felt warm for more than one reason. He did not appreciate his brother's remark about him and he also wasn't sure how he felt about Magnus's comment even though he knew they were just joking words. Most importantly, his flustered state was related to the mage's sole presence there. His proximity, his looks, his scent. Gods, his scent was like the first breath of fresh air after Alec had gone without breathing for days.
And that terrified him.
And he didn't want it to stop.
Somehow, he kept himself in check and did not embarrass himself while they returned to Idris together.
Magnus vocally admired the repairs done while he was away and asked some questions about details. He asked if something had changed in the agreement that he'd heard himself at court. There wasn't anything like that but Alec told him, with some pride, about the improvements that went beyond mere replacement of the weapons they had now on both Idris and Little Idris.
After not getting additional help in form of more ships, they'd had the time to accept the things they did get instead and they could see how it might actually be the better idea.
Back in his room on Idris, Magnus wasn't exactly thrilled to be back on moving water after having enjoyed solid land for three days but his mind was on the mission, same as everyone else's. He wanted to be here, he wanted to fight, he wanted to make a change.
He wanted to win Alexander.
To take his thoughts off of the singular topic of his wants and his past heat, Magnus approached Meliorn when he saw him on the deck later. He had some questions.
"Will I be able to return here by portal if I've been here once?" he asked, meaning the Seelieland.
"Do you think the whole Island is protected by magic?" Meliorn asked and the smirk belied the serious tone he spoke in.
Magnus thought about it.
"Yes," he replied. "Yes, I do think it is protected if it can't be simply found while sailing."
Meliorn inclined his head.
"You're right. But the answer to your first question is yes. You've come here once as a friend, you've even seen our Queen. You'll be allowed to return freely unless your heart changes."
"What if I had one more person with me? One friend, who never before set foot here but he'd would have purely academic interest in your land?"
"He probably could pass through as well, if his intentions are what you say they are. We don't exactly expect foreigners to be planning invasions on us. Being unknown is protection enough. He also would have to come for himself. He wouldn't be allowed to study us and bring the written information back as if we were a new species of bird."
Magnus nodded. It was enough to know. Ragnor wasn't going to love being unable to bring the knowledge back to a wider community of scholar mages but he would very much take the opportunity to see it himself.
"In that case, after all this is done, I suppose I know where I will take vacation with my friend."
Later, after he'd left Meliorn, Magnus almost literally ran into Isabelle. They were alone from the rest of the crew, behind a corner of a large cargo crate.
"Did you have a good heat?" she asked without preamble.
Magnus nearly choked on air. "Excuse me?"
"You were gone because you were in heat," Isabelle said and it was not a question.
"No," he said and made to leave, to run away but she reached out for him.
"Magnus wait, please. I'm not trying to scare you. Please, talk to me. Are you an omega like I fully believe you are?"
Magnus stopped, though his blood was running cold.
"Does everyone know?"
"I'm speaking for myself. If anyone else knows, then I haven't spoken with them about it. Except Meliorn. He had asked me two days ago why you wouldn't spend your heat with your alpha, as it would have been more beneficial to you. I'd told him you were a beta and you certainly didn't have an alpha around. When I said that, Meliorn said he must have been mistaken and didn't speak of it any more but he didn't sound like he believed he was mistaken."
And to think Meliorn hadn't said a single word about it to Magnus when Magnus had spoken with him earlier…
"But you shouldn't blame Meliorn for me knowing…" Isabelle continued. "He hadn't meant to expose you and I had my own… suspicions anyway. Especially after that time when we had prisoners."
"I remember," Magnus said weakly.
"Listen, I don't want to scare you or make you feel threatened. I only want to know the truth."
"And you're going to tell it to Alexander."
"No. I'm not going to tell about it to anyone. But I want to know why Meliorn was so convinced you had an alpha to spend the heat with. Seelies are different than us and I assume he recognizes scents better than we do… So I wonder, was he convinced Alec was your alpha?"
"I wouldn't know," Magnus said stubbornly.
"You're friends with my brother. You spend as much time with him as Jace and I do. Some days even more. And in hindsight, I know we were all quite oblivious to it."
"Are you heading somewhere with this?" Magnus crossed his arms on his chest to brace himself.
"Do you want to be with Alec?" she asked.
"It doesn't matter. I've deceived him for too long by now and I can't distract him from the mission."
"You haven't deceived us. You were just… hiding. You must have been afraid of us in the beginning."
She was silent for a short while, thinking of what to say.
"Even when you're "friends" with Alec, he's happy to have you around. He was irritating when you were gone and it's obvious now why, even if he can't see it yet on his own."
"Look, Isabelle, I will appreciate your promise not to reveal this to anyone but I don't want to discuss any of this. Not because of you but because I'm not ready to."
"I only want to look out for my brother. You must understand that as well."
"I do. I do and I can't ask you not to be loyal to him over everyone else. But I'm not going to be any kind of danger to him with my secret so you don't need to try and make me tell him before I'm ready."
"I want him to be happy. Being with you makes him happy. And you… you seem to like him as well and Meliorn's words only make me certain of it."
"Isabelle, I already love him," he said, surprising her silent. He steeled himself for the words that were going to leave his lips next.
"If… If Alexander can fall in love with me while I'm a beta to him, I will make up all of this for him."