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How to Fly With a Broken Wing?

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/ It was Alec Lightwood’s first day as a doctor without someone watching over his shoulder, instructing and criticizing. He was so terrified of screwing up that he felt sick to his stomach. People trusted themselves to his hands, and while he was the top of his class he felt like he had no idea what he was doing. The responsibility was a huge strain on his chronically tense shoulders.

He was still scared, even though by two in the afternoon that day had been anticlimactic. A couple of cases of flu... A screaming and crying child with a toy-soldier in his nose, who punched Alec while he tried to assess the situation... A seventy-year-old suffering from acute confusion who was convinced that she was pregnant and feared that her husband would leave her if he found out about her infidelity...

When Catarina, one of the nurses, briefed him on one Magnus Bane he actually dreaded what awaited. Especially with how worried she seemed. “Something went wrong during a dance practice and he hit his head pretty badly. According to Dot, his dancing partner, he was unconscious for about fifteen minutes while they waited for an ambulance.”

Alec’s brows furrowed as his mind went through all possible results of a head trauma. “Confusion? Nausea?”

Catarina shuddered. “While I was putting away the cardboard-bowl he vomited into he found it amusing that there were three of me ‘fluttering around’. So, yeah.” Deep worry made her tone sharper than it usually was.

If those symptoms weren’t alarming, Alec would’ve appreciated the comedic elements. He made a list of all the scans and other tests he wanted done. When he was finished Catarina breathed in deep. “I’ll make sure that these are taken care of. But Magnus is a friend of mine, so if it’s okay, another nurse will take over after that.”

Alec nodded in understanding. “Of course.” His eyes softened in a manner someone might’ve labeled uncharacteristic. “I’ll do my best to take a good care of him.”

Catarina smiled the best as she could. “I know. I wouldn’t trust one of the most important people in my life to just anyone.”

Alec was simultaneously flattered and scared. After letting Catarina go he headed to the mysterious dancer. What came next was like out of those romantic movies his sister’s boyfriend loved.

Alec walked through a door, too focused on his tablet to notice a wet spot on the floor. He did a ridiculous little dance before falling down gracelessly. He groaned from embarrassment and pain when his behind suffered the brunt of his clumsiness.

Almost instantly there was a ring-decorated hand held out for him. For some reason his attention locked on the burgundy nail polish. “I’m so sorry, that was my fault! They had to clean up because of me.” Every cell in Alec’s body reacted to that voice. “Are you alright?”

Alec nodded slowly, not remembering to take the hand. “I’m fine.” Although losing consciousness or sinking through the floor might’ve spared him from the humiliation of stumbling in front of his patient. He lifted his gaze and his breath caught.

Because the man looking down at him was the most beautiful human being he’d ever seen.

If the appreciative stare he earned in return was any indication, the other thought something similar of him. “My goodness, you’re pretty.” With those words Magnus fainted. /

/

Alec Lightwood-Bane had heard from a lot of people that over time magic disappears from every relationship. That while love remains, it becomes mundane, like a calm sea. He wasn’t sure he agreed. After exactly ten years together his skin still tingled pleasantly even after just a simple message from Magnus. This time his heart also soared and ached simultaneously. Because a picture of two sleeping boys had been added to the words.

It took two hours. But I finally got them to calm down. And I’m ready for our anniversary dinner.

Alec frowned. Then typed back. ‘What happened?

Magnus was likely leaving their apartment, because it took some time before he answered. ‘Max is upset because his classroom’s pet-hamster Turbo died. Rafe is upset because he didn’t win that stupid science fair.

Alec’s stomach dropped and knotted. He’d forgotten that stupid hamster’s name although Max talked about it all the time. He’d also forgotten that the science fair was today although Rafael had been preparing something for it for months. How many others things had he forgotten? He often had to leave for work before the boys were awake and entirely too often they were sleeping when he returned home. It’d been especially bad lately with the flue-season forcing him to do a double-shift after a double-shift.

He was missing out, and he’d sworn to himself that he’d never miss out.

And now you are upset. I’m calling you.’ Almost immediately after the message Alec’s phone was ringing. Magnus’ voice still had the same impact on him it did the day they met. Which was why the doctor sputtered out before it could distract him. “I’m a horrible dad.”

What?” A car door was slammed closed on Magnus’ end. “We’ve talked about this. You have to stop reading those books about parenting.

“This isn’t about the books.” Under different circumstances Alec might’ve been embarrassed by how high-pitched he’d become. He didn’t like the bitter taste rising to his mouth. “Sometimes... Sometimes I feel like I spend more time with my patients than our boys.”

You’re amazing, incredibly skilled and busy with saving lives. I spend too much time at the dance studio and the club. We love what we do about a tenth of how much we love our kids, and that’s a lot. We’d be miserable without our jobs.” Magnus sighed heavily. “Maybe Max and Rafe would deserve better but they don’t want better. They want us, in all our chaotic, insane, imperfect glory.

Alec actually started to feel a little better. He hummed. “We’re lucky.”

Damned right we are.” Magnus’ voice softened, like it always did when they talked about their kids. “And in case you’re worried about them resenting you... Remember that when you’re home, Max always comes to you first when he needs an adult. And Rafe wanted to win that fair so badly because he wants to be just like you when he grows up.

Alec hadn’t known that, either. A smile appeared to his lips. “Really?”

Really.” Magnus sounded more emotional than he probably meant to. “We’ve got great kids.

“I’ve got a great husband, too.” Not for the first time Alec thanked whatever higher power was listening that he found Magnus.

Best not tell him about me, then.” Magnus seemed to come to the conclusion that he was feeling better. “As much as I enjoy talking with you, I have a few things to do before a hot date. And I’d rather not be on the phone while driving.

Alec’s smile widened. “I’ve got some paperwork to wrap up, too. I’ll see you at the restaurant.” After ten years he didn’t hesitate before continuing. “I love you.”

I love you, too.” Magnus was about to hang up before adding something. “For the record... I have a great husband, too.

/

Life brings along plenty of surprises. Some precious few of them, like Alec, were pleasant ones. Others, such as almost cracking his skull during a dance practice, were less welcome. That day Magnus faced what was certainly one of the worst surprises of his life. Everything seemed to progress in slow motion, although in actuality it was over in less than three minutes.

He continued driving when his light turned green. Only to find that another car was charging right at him. It hit before he could finish asking himself what the other driving was thinking.

The impact was rough, slammed breath from his lungs and made his ears ring. The car spun once, twice, before the whole world seemed to still. Magnus was just about to try breathing again when something occurred to him.

On a busy street two-car accidents rarely remain two-car accident.

His head and whole upper body jerked forward when a brutal force struck from behind. His forehead collided with the steering wheel almost hard enough to knock him out. Somehow he was conscious for the next hit.

Car number three, a heavy SUV, struck his side. The whole world exploded with pain, noise and movement. Magnus’ last thought before darkness swallowed him was relief that the boys and Alec weren’t there with him.

(Magnus wasn’t aware of collisions four and five.)

/

Alec was just about to leave the staff’s changing room when Catarina approached him. He grimaced. “Don’t you dare tell me that there’s some emergency...!” He frowned when her distraught facial expression registered. “Cat? What is it?”

Catarina sobbed. Just once, but it was enough to reveal how bad things were. “It’s Magnus. There’s...” She had to try again when her voice broke. “There’s been an accident.”

Everything was hazy after that. Somehow he ended up to the waiting room with Catarina. Neither was in the mood for talking, but her presence was a hint of comfort. Maybe he’d called someone, because one by one others started to appear.

Jace and Clary came first. Instead of offering words his brother sat beside him and placed a supportive hand on his shoulder. It helped ground Alec on what was definitely one of the worst days of his life. Simon also rushed in soon, eyes wide and suspiciously red. The musician’s frantic babbling was enough to wipe out some of the chaos in the doctor’s head. Then his mom was there. Her hug nearly made him break down to tears. He fought the sobs building up deep in his ribcage with a will of iron.

Stay strong and keep it together, he told himself firmly. (Desperately.) Over and over again. Keep it together, just like after Max... Thinking of his late brother was a mistake, because it made his chest tighten still. Stay strong...!

“Alec, honey...”

He didn’t want to hear what his mother had to say. “I... I should call the kids, let them know...” Oh, god, how was he supposed to...?

“Alec, no!” Jace shook his head. “Izzy said that they’re sleeping. If you wake them up and tell them in that state of mind you’ll just scare them.” His brother didn’t give him a chance to protest. “We’ll wait until we actually know something. Then we’ll call Izzy, together. And she’ll tell them, calmly and gently.” The blond went on after processing his own words. “Well, as calmly and gently as Izzy can manage.”

Alec’s broad shoulders slumped from something like defeat and he looked down. His hands, which were usually admirably steady, shook. “It’s... It’s our tenth anniversary”, he mused quietly and miserably. “I didn’t... I forgot to cancel the restaurant reservation.”

“It’s okay”, Maryse soothed softly. “Don’t worry about stupid things like that now.”

Alec shook his head almost frantically, irritation and thousand other things bubbling in his veins. “You don’t get it! That place, it’s... It’s Magnus' favorite. We made that reservation two moths ago...!” His breathing wheezed, and he buried his face to both unsteady hands when a few treacherous tears escaped. “I can’t... I can’t lose him! I can’t...!” He wasn't able to finish.

Jace pulled him closer. Everyone else seemed to inch closer, too, trying to offer silent support. But none of them was able to tell him with certainty that he wouldn’t lose Magnus. That everything would be okay.

It was hard to say how much more time passed by before steps entered the room. By then daylight was breaking outside. Andrew, a surgeon and a friend, seemed utterly exhausted and tense. “Hey”, the arrival greeted hoarsely. “Sorry it took me this long to come.”

Alec stood and straightened his tall frame. He barely noticed how several muscles complained. “How is he?”

Andrew took a deep breath. “Magnus suffered several injuries in the accident. Such as a broken sternum. One of his broken ribs came close to puncturing his lung. There was quite a bit of internal bleeding even without that, which was a big reason why I took my time.” The man’s jawline tightened. “We’re worried about the head trauma. A scan showed a hairline fracture to skull and we’re doing everything we can to make the swelling in his brain go down. At this point it’s impossible to predict what the long-term effects may be. Our best neurologist is examining him right now.”

A shocked silence filled the room. That... was a lot of unpleasant information to take in. Alec, however, had delivered enough horrible news to know that his friend was hiding something. By then he was so numb from shock that his voice came out clear and even. “What aren’t you telling me?”

Andrew tensed up. Then gulped and just spat it out. “Magnus’ lower body got trapped in the accident. And the damage done to his right leg... It was catastrophic. We had no other choice but to amputate it below the knee.”

Chapter Text

It wasn’t until in the early hours of the morning Magnus was stable enough to have Alec visiting him. The dancer wouldn’t be able to handle more than one visitor at a time, briefly, and it didn’t take a lot thought-work to settle who’d go. Maryse and Jace, who were still there at the time, gave him tight hugs. Alec surprised himself with clinging to them both.

“I love you. Give Magnus my love, too.” Maryse had only ever held him so tightly after his brother Max... “Whatever you need, let me know.” (Of course they both understood that she couldn’t give him the one thing he wanted and needed the most. But it was a sweet sentiment, anyway.)

Jace held him longer than would’ve been necessary. “Magnus is tough, and so are you. If there’s anyone who can get through this, it’s you two.” (Neither brother wanted to imagine a much sadder outcome.)

Andrew walked him to the ICU, and braced him for what was coming. “Magnus will be kept in a medically induced coma until the swelling in his brain goes down. And because of all the damage done to his chest area a ventilator helps him breathe.” The man gave him a moment to absorb the information so far. “He’s already very bruised, and it’ll probably get worse before getting better. His face is swollen from injury and medication, and we had to shave his head, so he’ll look very different.”

Breathing with the help of a damned machine... Bald and swollen... No makeup... No leg... Magnus would've been mortified if he was awake. The absurd thought nearly pulled a hysterical half-sob, half-laugh from Alec. “I’m a doctor, I know that”, he announced stiffly instead, perhaps more sharply than his friend would’ve deserved.

Andrew shook his head. “Right now, in this moment, you’re not a doctor. You’re the family member of someone who was injured badly and the professional part of your brain isn’t working.” The other man glanced towards him evaluatively. “Your tone just now gave away that you’re not even ready to hear about what’s going on. And when you enter the room, you have to be ready to see it all. If you’re not...”

“I’m not bailing on him.” Alec took a deep, shuddering breath to pull himself together. He couldn’t look towards Andrew in fear that it’d make him break down. “For better or for worse, that was the deal we made long before we were married.” And they held on to it when Magnus struggled with alcoholism and episodes of depression, when Alec sank into a sea of depression after his brother’s death, when the surrogate mom they chose miscarried... The doctor wondered bitterly how hard one couple could be tried before fate was satisfied. “Whatever happens, I’ll face it with him.”

Andrew smiled softly. “Okay. But just so you know... You’re not alone in this.”

Alec did his best to draw comfort from that. “I know.” He didn’t manage to go on until an elevator’s doors closed. “I’m scared”, he confessed at last, in a breathless whisper. Terrified, actually. That Magnus wouldn’t wake up. Or would wake up too damaged to ever be himself again. Or traumatized enough to slip back to old, horrible habits. He was scared to death that he’d lose the love of his life and the other parent of his children in one of too many possible ways.

Andrew, someone who’d found love similar to Alec’s, understood. His friend gave his shoulder a supportive squeeze. Under that comfort Alec steeled himself the best as he could.

While Alec had worked at the hospital for years, he’d never been a part of the ICU staff. Which meant that the strange and quiet ward was a foreign planet for him. The only time he’d been there before was when Max died, and the horrific memory made him sick to his stomach.

Two nurses were talking barely audibly, both wearing solemn expressions. At the end of the long hallway a young man, roughly Alec’s age when he first met Magnus, stumbled out of a room. Then buried his face to both hands before sinking to the floor. Shortly after a sad-faced doctor followed and lay a hand on the man’s shoulder, murmuring something that sounded like ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’.

Alec had to look away when his chest tightened painfully. The hallway was a place of worry, pain and grief. He wished that he could’ve been anywhere else in the world. Preferably home, waking up to start a new day with Magnus safe in his arms. That thought brought a lump to his throat.

Then they entered the correct room and most of Alec’s thoughts came to a screeching halt. Seeing Magnus rendered to a condition where he could barely recognize the man he’d shared his bed with for a decade... Surrounded by a nauseating amount of tubes, wires and machinery... It was almost more than he could bear.

A nurse named Helen, who was a student at Alec’s ward a few years earlier, greeted them with a small, sad smile. “Hey. I just changed Magnus’ IV bag. He was frowning and moaning a little, so I gave him a bolus of...”

“Is he in pain?” Alec asked immediately, ache surging through his own body.

“Not anymore”, Helen reassured. (Even if they realized that there was no way to be a hundred percent certain. But at least Magnus appeared calm and had gone quiet. Too quiet and still.) “Right now he seems pretty comfortable. If you see anything that alarms you, press the call button. I just started my shift so I’ll be here to help for a while.”

Alec nodded. While support and information were appreciated, he needed a moment. With his husband and his thoughts. The two seemed to understand, because after a few words of comfort and promises to be there for him they left.

And Alec... didn’t know what to do. He hated not knowing what to do. Slowly, determined to not accidentally make things worse, he sat down to a chair beside the bed. Then took Magnus’ hand and gave it a cautious squeeze. “I... I don’t know if you can hear me, but... I’m right here.” He cleared his throat when his voice threatened to break. He made a conscious decision to not let his gaze stray to where a blanket gave away a missing leg. “Whatever happens next... We’ll make it through, together. Like we always do. Whatever help you need, we’ll find it. So...” He wanted to wipe away the tear that escaped but couldn’t stop holding his beloved’s hand with both of his. He sniffled. “So I need you to fight, baby. I need you to stay with me. Because I can’t... I can’t lose you.” He shook his head at the unconscious man in front of him. “I won’t.”

The only sounds heard in the room were those coming from the machinery and Alec’s tiny sniffles while he fought like a warrior to stay strong.

/

Rafael was only nine but he was a smart kid. So he knew that something horrible was going on the moment he woke up later than he was supposed to and his parents weren’t there. His alarm grew when he found aunt Izzy from the kitchen and noticed how red her eyes were. She didn’t manage to greet him and Max with a smile. “Morning, you two.”

Max, who hadn’t even turned seven yet, was too young to read the alarm signs. The boy smiled like the sun. “Morning, aunt Izzy.” Max looked around. “Where are papa and daddy? What’s for breakfast?”

Izzy stopped trying to pretend that everything was okay, there. She swallowed hard. “Kids... Something really bad happened yesterday.”

Rafael held his breath the whole time. While Izzy explained that there’d been an accident. (Like a police officer explained that his mama-from-before was dead when he was six.) While Izzy explained that their papa was badly injured, and wasn’t awake at the moment. (Badly injured. Not dead, like mama-from-before. But what if...? What if...?) While Izzy explained that their papa was at a hospital and wasn’t able to wake up yet, so their daddy was there to keep an eye on him. (What if papa would die? What if their daddy would disappear, after, like dad-from-before did? What if...?)

What if he’d lose another family?

His papa and daddy loved him, they’d told him so many times and it took far too long before he believed them. He loved them back, so much that it scared him. Max, too, even though his little brother was stupid sometimes. He couldn’t lose them. He couldn’t lose this home he’d only just started to hope might be his forever-home.

Max burst into loud, miserable sobs and clung to Izzy with all his might while she did her best to console him. Rafael still couldn’t breathe. And he absolutely couldn’t cry. (Dad-from-before made sure that he knew how pathetic and useless crybabies were.) It was all too much on a child, so he did the only thing he could.

Rafael walked to his room and closed the door.

/

In the meantime Alec sat in front his boss, Jia Penhallow. She was notoriously merciless on those who crossed her and professional to a point of being a running joke. (Behind her back. No one would’ve dared to make fun of her to her face.) He’d dreaded how she’d react to his leave-request. He'd wondered if she’d fire him or yell. Empathy wasn’t high on the list of possible responses. (Well, she was called Harpy for a reason. Also behind her back.) “No one would expect you to be able to focus on work at a time like this. And I need doctors who have their head fully in the game. So right now your husband and sons need you more than I do.” She huffed when he remained paralyzed to his chair, but her eyes softened. “Go. Be there for your family. We’ll hold the fort until you return.” She rolled her eyes, subtly and briefly, when he still made no move to leave. “You’re dismissed.”

Alec pushed himself up with a shaky nod. “Thank you.” He wanted to say more but couldn’t.

Jia nodded back. “I’ve been in your situation, once”, she revealed. “If you need to talk, my door is open.” As though she hadn’t just said something big, she started to do paperwork. Before noticing that he was still there. “You may also use the door to leave.”

Alec took the hint.

Alec was even more grateful that he didn’t have to worry about his job when he got a message from Izzy. It was uncharacteristically curt, which suggested that she was preoccupied while typing it. ‘The boys need you.

Alec glanced helplessly at the elevator that would’ve taken him to the ICU. Instead he headed towards the exit. Feeling like he was torn in two while his heart ached in his chest.

/

Izzy wanted to go after Rafael. But she had her arms full of another, hysterical child. The older boy emerged from his room twenty minutes later, when Max’s sobs were subsiding. The state of Rafael’s knuckles suggested that he’d punched a wall several times and there was a horrible, empty look in his eyes. Izzy sighed heavily. “Rafe...”

“I’m making us breakfast. Someone has to make breakfast.” Rafael flinched momentarily and avoided eye-contact while freezing to the spot. “I’m sorry I interrupted you.” This was the way he was right after the adoption. Reserved, guarded, expecting punishment for even the smallest mistakes.

The regression broke Izzy’s heart. “It’s okay”, she promised as softly as she could. With Max still clinging to her she opened one arm. “Sweetheart, come here.”

Rafael didn’t notice her gesture or hear her invitation. Or pretended remarkably well that he didn’t. “I’m making us omelets”, the boy decided. And got to work like someone who was used to being the grownup of the household.

She sighed from relief when Alec came home. Max ran into his daddy’s arms, once again in tears. “Papa’s gonna be okay, right?” the boy begged. “He’s... He’s asleep. But he’ll wake up, and he’ll be just fine.”

Whatever Alec replied, it was so quiet that Izzy didn’t catch it. When Max retreated to his room Alec focused on Rafael with a frown on his face. “Rafe, what are you doing?”

“Making breakfast.” Rafael’s voice was incredibly tight. The boy’s eyes remained fixed firmly on the omelet. “Papa... He always makes breakfast, but... He’s not here, now.” For a second, just one, the child looked like a nine-year-old instead of a grownup. “So... Someone else has to. Or the social people may take Max and me away.”

Alec opened his mouth. "Rafael, I'll never let anyone take you and your brother away. I swear." His oldest didn't react and the doctor sighed. “I’ll set the table, then.”

An hour later Rafael was allowed to do the dishes after he’d begged desperately for it and Max had cried himself to sleep. Izzy found Alec from the balcony, leaning against the railing so heavily that his knuckles were white. “Rafe’s acting like that because he’s terrified of losing us. We already got past this phase once, and now...” He trailed off.

“I know.” Izzy wrapped one arm around him and leaned her head against him. “I also know that you’ve already heard the ‘if there’s anything I can do to help’ speech from too many people.”

Alec breathed in deep, appearing decades older than his actual age. “I don’t suppose you can wake me up from this nightmare?” He didn’t sound bitter, just heartbreakingly sad. “Because, unless you can... There isn’t much you can do.”

But there was. Izzy could stay there with him. So she did.

/

That evening bedtime in the Lightwood-Bane household was a somber affair. Max clung to Alec almost painfully tightly when they hugged each other goodnight. Just before closing the door the doctor caught his younger son’s whisper. “Goodnight, papa. I love you.”

Rafael announced, startlingly maturely and politely, that he was too old for hugs. Then lay down and turned his back towards the door. Just as Alec was leaving the room the child spoke up. “Dad?” (It always used to be ‘daddy’.) “You’re going to the hospital for the night, right?”

That... was a surprise. Alec wondered if Rafael heard him talking to Izzy. “Yeah.”

Rafael nodded. “Good. Hospitals are scary places. Papa needs someone looking after him.”

Alec managed to keep it together when Clary came to spend the night and watch over the kids. And when he took his place beside Magnus, who was still unresponsive and horribly injured. He couldn’t let himself fall apart. Because if he did, he didn’t know if he would’ve been able to pick up the pieces again.

It was a long, lonely and solemn night, the first of many.

/

The next five days passed by in a blur of horrible chaos. Rafael withdrew further and further into himself. Max had awful temper tantrums and sporadic episodes of clinginess, crying and angry screaming. And Magnus... Magnus wasn’t improving. The swelling in his brain was going down but far slower than the doctors treating him would’ve liked. Over the past couple of days he’d also developed a fever. It terrified Alec beyond all words. Because he knew that his husband likely wouldn’t survive an infection in his current condition.

If Alec had felt stretched thin before, it was a thousand times worse with the three people he cared about the most crashing simultaneously.

Alec himself survived with the aid of caffeine and fool’s hope. He still didn’t let himself break down, no matter how much he would’ve wanted to, because he couldn’t afford it. His family couldn’t afford it, they needed him to be at his strongest.

And then came one horrible evening.

Maryse babysat the boys that night, while Alec headed to the hospital again. He kissed Max’s cheek and wished goodnight to the silent lump under bedcovers he presumed was Rafael. Then he braced himself for seeing Magnus. (He felt like a horrible human being for needing to brace himself for seeing his husband. Even if a logical part of his brain messaged that there was a good reason for his reaction.)

Helen was working the nightshift. The look on her face nearly made his knees go weak in the worst way. “I was just about to call you.” She sighed heavily. “There have been... complications.”

Chapter Text

Alec fought a mighty battle to breathe through what was told to him. “Magnus... had seizures?” As in, several of them?

Helen nodded and gave him a second longer before explaining further. “The first started...” She checked the time. “... twenty-eight minutes ago, and lasted roughly two minutes. I was just about to call you when another one began. We got it under control just before you arrived.”

Alec blinked once, very slowly. His eyes were blurry and stung when he opened them again. “Okay”, was all he managed to squeeze out of the million things his brain screamed.

The sympathy on Helen’s face suggested that she understood. “Further tests will tell more, but it’s likely that despite medication his intercranial pressure is increasing again. Which means that he’ll need a shunt to bring it down.” She would’ve told him that the seizures would stop there but they both knew that there was no certainty. A few moments passed by in a silence. “We’re also worried about his newest CRP value. It’s very high, and a chest x-ray will probably confirm pneumonia. A doctor will start him on antibiotics as soon as we’re sure.”

Alec was a doctor himself. But those words and what they meant barely registered. The thing was, he didn’t want them to make sense.

Because they meant that Magnus’ prognosis had just darkened.

Helen knew better than to touch him. But she leaned slightly closer for support. “Alec, I’m so sorry...”

Alec shook his head firmly, not wanting to listen. He didn’t want to hear apologies, he didn’t want to hear and see defeat. He wanted... He needed...

/ “... you’re pretty ...” /

/ They kissed for the first time at the end of their first date. In the middle of the street in pouring rain, because a red light kept them from making it to Magnus’ apartment before the temptation got too much. They were both a bit too eager, trembled from cold and want. It was perfect. It was also Alec’s first kiss ever, and he knew immediately that he never wanted to kiss anyone else. /

/ Alec had heard from far too many people that... first times are hardly ever perfect. Or even pleasant. He begged to differ, despite moments of discomfort. The way their bodies fit together... The way they moved in perfect sync, enjoying one another... It was exhilarating, electrifying. Alec had never felt such a deep connection with another human being. The bonding only continued when they lay side by side, after, both exhausted but sated and happy. Safe in each other’s arms. /

/ Alec probably should’ve realized that he was falling in love far sooner than he did. Because there were about a million little things he loved about the dancer. One winter evening Magnus took him skating, and Alec had the grace of a full-grown bull at a china store. He stumbled on bravely. Until his poor balance took down them both. Magnus landed under him and hit his head on ice quite hard. Every minute until the older man opened his eyes again was pure torture on Alec. And that was when he knew. He sputtered those three words as soon as Magnus woke up. /

/ “I love you.” /

“Alec, you need to breathe.” Helen’s worried voice barely registered. “Alec, focus on breathing.”

I love you. I love you. I love you. What if those were the last words he’d ever get to speak to Magnus with his husband awake? What if he’d never get to talk with Magnus again?

Someone touched Alec’s shoulder. It felt like a flame brushing him and eventually the agony centered to his chest, curled around his heart. The doctor pounced up, would’ve shouted if he’d had enough air in his lungs for it.

Darkness greeted him almost immediately after.

/

Max’s school was aware of Magnus’... situation. When they couldn’t get a hold of Alec, either, they tried contact number three. Which belonged to Maryse. That her oldest didn't pick up worried her. Especially after the message she just got from Jace. (‘I think Alec got bad news about Magnus. I’m with him at the hospital.’ Something told her that she wasn’t given the full truth.) Maryse sighed heavily while sitting to her car with a visibly seething, teary eyed child. “Max...”

“Tom deserved it”, Max proclaimed firmly and sniffled while folding his arms to his chest.

“I’m sure he did. But that still doesn’t make it okay to hit someone in the face.” Maryse couldn’t believe that she was having this conversation with a boy who usually shone like the sun. “Whatever he said or did...”

“He said that ‘your faggot dad’s going to die’.” Max’s voice broke long before the horrible sentence had been voiced. Fresh tears traveled down his cheeks while heartbroken eyes met hers. “But he won’t. Right, grandma?”

Maryse wished, desperately, that she would’ve been able to tell him that everything would be okay. But the truth was that no one knew what’d happen next. “He has the best care. And with you, your daddy and Rafe... He’s going to fight with absolutely everything he has to recover.”

“Even if I’m just an adopted fake-brat?”

Alright, this time Maryse wanted to punch someone in the face. “Did Tom say that, too?” She went on when Max nodded solemnly. “Well, in that case he’s stupid. Because there’s nothing fake about you and Rafe being your parents’ sons or my grandkids.”

Max nodded again and fought visibly to draw comfort from her words. She held him readily when he basically dove into her arms, quickly wetting her clothes with his tears. “Can we get ice-cream?”

Maryse sighed while caressing his hair. “No, because you did hit someone. We’re going home, and you can choose any movie you like for us to watch together.”

Max chewed his lower lip. The boy used a fist to wipe his cheek. “So dad’s gonna stay at the hospital with papa?” he inquired quietly.

“Yeah”, was the best Maryse could offer.

Before she could find out how Max felt about the matter her phone started ringing again. She groaned upon noticing that the call was from Rafael’s teacher. How much could go wrong for a family in one day? “Maryse Garroway”, she greeted stiffly.

Apparently Rafael got a B from his math test. The boy threw up, then started crying hysterically and didn’t seem able to stop. By the time Maryse got to the school nurse’s office he was mortified, grief stricken and miserable. He swallowed hard and blanched further upon seeing her, clearly expecting punishment. “Grandma, I’m...”

Maryse shook her head. “Hush, now. You haven’t done anything you’d need to be sorry about. Let’s get out of here.”

Rafael followed her slowly and hesitantly. The distance he left between them seemed deliberate. It broke her heart. Neither said a word on the way to her car.

Usually Max took the front seat whenever he could. That day was a different story. As soon as Rafael had sat down and tensely fastened his seatbelt Max crawled to the backseat. The younger brother took the older’s hand and held on desperately. Rafael returned the grasp after moment of surprise. It was the first time they ever held hands. They didn’t let go until they were home.

/

Alec didn’t know long he was out. He came to hearing the already too familiar sounds of machinery. As soon as the fog filling his head cleared, he identified a new beep. Shortly after his eyes managed to distinguish Jace’s sad, tired face.

“You had a really bad anxiety attack. Your heart was also out of whack, so you need to be monitored for a little while.” Jace frowned. “They said something about... stress cardiomyopathy. Is it something serious? Because it sounded serious.”

Alec’s heart ached when he recognized the diagnosis. He swallowed hard against the lump rising to his throat. “Broken heart syndrome”, he explained quietly. “No, it’s not serious.” Just stupidly, cruelly befitting.

Jace’s eyes filled with sorrow but the man refrained from commenting. For a time. “That name... might explain something.” His brother sighed heavily and ran a hand through his already disheveled hair. “This doctor, I can’t remember her name, mentioned that you should talk to someone. A professional. I agree.”

Alec narrowed his eyes. Even if he lay in a hospital bed. “I’m fine. And I don’t have time to waste on talking to shrinks”, he hissed. He was furious with himself. His family needed him to stay strong, damned it, and he...! The thought of his husband crossed his mind and the beeping closest to him intensified. “Magnus...!”

“... is in capable hands. The whole staff of this ward is doing everything they can to help him.” The look on Jace’s face communicated clearly how glum things seemed at the moment. The blonde nodded towards something on his other side. “Helen... used her connections and got Penhallow’s approval for your bed being placed here. Apparently it’s against a lot of protocols, but you wouldn’t have been able to calm down at all anywhere else.”

Still a little dizzy, Alec turned his gaze. His heart lurched and soared when he discovered that his bed had been dragged right next to Magnus’. He almost smiled, until it sunk in properly that his beloved still wasn’t awake. And there was a new shunt on the shaved head.

Somewhere in the distance Jace was trying to get his attention. “What happened, anyway? And what’s that thing on Magnus’ head? No one’s telling me anything...”

Alec had been hanging on tooth and nail to stay strong. He’d locked up a mountain of emotions deep inside. Perhaps it was because of medication. Or maybe he’d just had his fill, and couldn’t cope with the pain anymore.

The first sobs were quiet. But the more he tried to stop them the more the volume increased. Before long he was crying so hard that he could barely breathe.

Jace helped him to a sitting position and wrapped a pair of firm but tender arms around him while he crashed entirely. In his brother’s arms Alec wept from the bottom of his heart and soul, like he hadn’t even as a kid. When he had no more tears left he continued to whimper, the weight of the world impossibly heavy on his shoulders.

In that overwhelming moment it was only understandable that neither brother noticed how for a few moments, Magnus’ heartrate sped up.

/

Helen wasn’t surprised when she heard that Alec basically discharged himself later that evening. Especially after Jace and Izzy, who also stopped by, revealed that the boys had a horrible day. The three Lightwood-Banes were struggling horribly. Of course Alec needed to go home, ready or not.

Helen was just about to enter the room to check up on Magnus. She froze to the doorway when she heard Alec whispering to the still unconscious man. “I’m... I’m so sorry, that I can’t keep it together. You and the kids... I’m failing you all.” The younger man wiped his eyes. “I’m trying, Magnus. I’m trying so damned hard, but... I need you. We need you. So, please...!” Alec’s voice cracked and vanished. He kissed the injured man’s knuckles. “Please, don’t go. You’re probably tired, and in pain, but... We need you to stay with us.”

Helen couldn’t stand listening anymore. Not that it would’ve been any of her business, anyway. When she came back Alec was pulling on his coat to leave. (It was incredible, in the worst way, how small someone so tall could seem.) “Are you okay?” she asked softly.

Alec opened his mouth. Then shook his head. Even a fool would’ve been able to tell how hard it was for him to leave. “If anything changes...”

“I’ll call you”, she swore. “Now go home. Your troupes await.”

Once the distraught man had gone she focused on Magnus. “Did you hear that? The poor thing’s heart is breaking.” Literally. She brushed the unconscious man’s feverish cheek gently with her hand. “You need to fight through this, Magnus. Your family can’t lose you.”

It was over so quickly that she couldn’t be sure, but she could’ve sworn that Magnus frowned.

/

Rafael tensed up when their dad came home and their grandma left. He expected the man to yell because of the stupid, easy test he messed up. Or because Max, apparently, punched someone. His heart pounded when their dad invited them to the kitchen and sat them down. Was this the part where they’d be sent away?

“Here’s the thing...” The man breathed in deep. “I was... away today because I haven’t been handling your papa’s accident well. And from what I’ve heard of your day, you haven’t been doing well, either.” A solemn pair of eyes went from one child to another. “I’m not mad at you, or disappointed. But we need to talk, because we haven’t been good at that lately.” When they didn’t speak their dad did. “My heart hurts, because I miss your papa being home so much.”

Max swallowed loudly, his eyes downcast. “I’m sad. And angry.”

Their dad nodded. “So am I”, the man admitted. Then looked towards him. “What about you, Rafe?”

Rafael froze. Before this home no one had asked him how he felt, because no one had cared. How was he supposed to express something that couldn’t be put to words? He gulped convulsively. “I’m scared”, he whispered at last.

Rafael expected great many negative things to happen next. Instead of those their dad pulled him and Max to a hug. The three of them clung to each other tightly, all too aware that there should’ve been four of them.

After that they spent one hour of each day talking and sharing their feelings before Alec headed to the hospital.

/

If someone would’ve asked Alec later how he and the kids made it through the next six days, he would’ve had no idea. On day two they went to see a therapist whose name Catarina gave him. Max was atypically shy and quiet, possibly nervous that he’d say the wrong thing. Rafael asked her, point-blank, if she’d tell the social people to take him and Max away if she didn’t like his answers. Alec wanted to believe that the meeting helped both kids. Once the children had been sent to another room to play a video game, the therapist focused on him. And opened their talk with the most healing thing he’d heard since Magnus’ accident. “I can tell that needing help bothers you, but it shouldn’t. You’ve been doing better than anyone could expect.” (Except for Alec himself...) “Magnus is going to be proud of you.”

Of course he’d heard that from others, but the statement coming from an unbiased stranger nearly made him cry for the second time in a week.

Alec did his best to keep himself and his family together. Even if each passing day made it harder. Especially number three, when Magnus had another seizure. At least the swelling in his brain went down, infuriatingly slowly but surely. Unfortunately it took even longer before the antibiotics began to work. On day five pneumonia had finally been almost fully defeated. That same evening Magnus’ primary doctor sat Alec down.

“I don’t want to get your hopes up too soon”, she cautioned. “But Magnus is ready to be extubated. And if all looks good tomorrow, we’ll lower the dosage of sedatives.”

Alec’s heart thudded. It took very, very long before he found his voice. “So... He’s going to...” He didn't dare to finish.

“We’re giving Magnus the chance to wake up.” There was cautious hope in the other doctor’s eyes. “What happens next is up to him.”

/

Time dragged after that. Hours turned to a full day. Eventually two and a half days had passed by. Apart from a few frowns and grunts Magnus hadn’t shown signs of waking up. Doctors and nurses convinced Alec that there was progress, sometimes coming back just took time. It was hard to be comforted when he was anxious to see his husband conscious again.

Alec waited, and waited. Because he was determined to be the first thing Magnus saw. But he was only human. Eventually, after not sleeping for several days, he nodded off. It wasn’t a surprise that he dreamed of being in his own bed, with his beloved in his arms.

Alec woke up, barely, to the tiniest movement. He shook his head to clear it and expected to find a morning shift nurse. His heart skipped a beat at what awaited instead.

Magnus’ eyes were bleary but half-open, and they were fixed on him.

Chapter Text

Alec held his breath while Magnus stared at him. First blankly, then with a frown. With the type of injury his husband suffered brain damage was entirely possible. What if Magnus wouldn’t recognize him? What if...?

“... ‘xander ...?” After a sluggish blink number five (which Alec counted) Magnus found a tiny hint of his voice. The man tried to sit but gave up with a groan and a scowl when his chest area was aggravated. “... what ...?”

Alec swallowed hard, wondering how much he could reveal without it being too much. Talking was also difficult through the lump that’d settled to his throat. “You were in a car accident and got hurt pretty badly.” Unable to hold himself back for another second, he took his husband’s hand. His eyes grew watery the second his grip was returned. At last. “You have a lot of recovering to do, but... You’ll be alright, I swear.”

Magnus’ frown deepened still. The hand that wasn’t in his hold rose to caress his cheek gently. “... okay?”

Alec couldn’t quite contain his sniffles anymore, no matter how hard he tried. He attempted to claim that he was perfectly fine. But those words refused to roll off his tongue. He shook his head, over and over again. “You almost... I almost lost you”, he choked out.

Magnus didn’t have enough energy for more words. Fueled by stubbornness, the man used one arm to pull him closer. A pair of lips, a little chapped but soothingly familiar, brushed his cheek. Kissing away tears Alec was only just becoming aware of. He wanted to hug Magnus tightly but feared that the still healing chest area would’ve made that agonizing. Instead he lifted the hand in his grasp and gave each knuckle a peck. The longest he gifted to the finger that couldn’t have its special ring at a hospital.

After that the emotional turmoil got a bit too much on Alec. Needing to hide his face seconds before he broke down entirely, he leaned quite heavily on his husband’s stomach and grabbed the other’s hospital gown so hard that his fingers turned white. Magnus continued to caress his hair tenderly until the man fell asleep.

For the first time in over two weeks Alec could breathe properly.

Alec didn’t even try to keep track of time after that. He kept a steady hold of Magnus, comforted by the knowledge that his husband was only sleeping, not unconscious. Eventually he dozed off, too.

/

The whole Lightwood family was in an agreement that Alec shouldn’t be left alone at the hospital for long. They knew how bad off he was after Max’s death, while trying anxiously to support others. And Magnus... They didn’t want to imagine Alec without him, for even a second. Because it’d be a loss he wouldn’t survive, at least as himself.

Izzy braced herself for great many things on her way from her workplace at the morgue to the ICU. Her chest clenched and she almost dropped the takeaway coffees she carried when she saw her brother sitting on a bench, wiping his eyes. Then she realized that the tears he fought back were those of joy.

Alec’s eyes shone from tears and happiness when they met hers. “He... He woke up, Iz. Magnus woke up and talked to me.”

Izzy decided that it was time to ditch the coffee. She tossed the mugs aside, not really caring where they ended up. Then she pulled her brother to a tight embrace. Which he returned with equal vigor. She could practically feel the relief radiating from him.

Of course they knew, even in that moment of euphoria, that the path ahead wouldn’t be easy. And that Magnus was far from alright. But this... This was a small victory. Alec deserved a moment to enjoy it.

/

“Magnus?” The woman’s voice seemed to echo from somewhere far away. “I’m Dr. Gray, feel free to call me Tessa. Now that you’ve decided to join us, I’d like to examine you. Then you can go back to sleep.”

Magnus felt tempted to continue sleeping right away but decided that he’d already done far too much of that. With a ridiculous amount of effort he wrestled his eyes open. At first the figure above him was blurry but eventually he managed to distinguish a penlight.

The doctor smiled at him. “Hello there. Can you follow this light with your gaze for me?” He obeyed, and she nodded approvingly when they were done. “Do you know where you are?”

“Hospital.” Magnus hated being questioned like that, even if he understood logically why it was all necessary. “Alec said... ‘re was an accident?” He groaned from frustration at how hard it was to find the words. What was wrong with him?

Dr. Gray squeezed his shoulder. “Don’t worry about your speech, you only just woke up.” She gave him some time to compose himself before continuing. “Do you remember anything about the accident?”

Magnus shook his head. And regretted it when the world spun despite him laying down. His last coherent memory was of kissing Alec goodbye before his beloved headed to work. How much was he missing? How long did he keep Alec worrying? He wanted to ask but couldn’t quite vocalize his troubled thoughts.

“It's okay to not remember the crash. It’s not exactly the kind of a memory you need.” Dr. Gray made some notes. “I noticed that your blood pressure spiked. Are you in pain?”

“No.” Magnus was hurting all over. But he didn’t want her to give him anything that’d confuse him even further. “I’m fine.”

Dr. Gray, who’d clearly heard about his legendary stubbornness, gave him a small smile. “Try to get some more rest, it’ll help you recover faster. I’ll tell your hubby that he can come back in before he walks a hole to the hallway.”

Magnus smirked, the best as he could, anyway. Hubby? He liked that word.

A few moments later Alec dashed into the room before Tessa had enough time to leave. She’d never seen a kiss quite as beautiful and intimate as the one the men exchanged. She didn’t mean to eavesdrop but caught the whispered words, anyway.

“I love you”, Alec breathed out. “I thought I’d never get to tell you again.”

Magnus nuzzled his shaved head against his husband. “... 'love you, too. ... not getting rid of me that easily.”

/

Rafael had developed a sixth sense of knowing when adults were keeping secrets from him. And uncle Jace was pretty bad at keeping secrets. The question was, would this be a good or a bad secret?

He got his answer when his dad came home. With a pizza-box and the kind of a grin he hadn’t seen in over two weeks. It was the kind of a smile only his papa was able to spark.

“Pizza dinner!” Max squealed.

“That’s right”, their dad affirmed, ruffling the younger boy’s hair. “Because we have a reason to celebrate today. Your papa finally woke up from his beauty sleep.”

Rafael fled the room as quickly as he could. Because he didn’t want his tears to be seen. It was the first time in his life he cried with happiness.

Maybe he wasn’t doomed to lose this home, after all.

/

Tessa told Alec that Magnus would probably sleep for several hours, perhaps until the following morning. She couldn’t possibly know that Magnus had always defied expectations. So of course he started to wake up again faster than anyone expected.

He had only a very vague idea of what the heck happened to him. And of how much damage, exactly, had been done. He forgot to ask if it was safe to move. But he really, seriously wanted to try sitting, because he was stiff, sore and restless.

Hospital beds are wonderous things, Magnus decided with the help of strong pain medication. One press of a button made his efforts considerably easier. Sitting for the first time in... he had no idea how long, Magnus examined himself. In seconds his face twisted to what he presumed was a scowl.

His head and chest hurt, even with whatever medication he was on. He brushed his scalp delicately and decided to shift his attention elsewhere as soon as he realized that his hair had been shaved. Just how bad was the pummeling his thick skull received?

Not wanting to think about that further, he inspected lower areas. In a flash he noticed that his chest and ribcage were still covered in bruising of various colors. Glancing lower still, the dancer watched with a shudder of disgust how urine traveled to a bag. Vain, perhaps, but he hoped dearly that such an arrangement was only temporary.

Then, inevitably, his gaze strayed even lower. Towards his legs. His brows furrowed when he registered the empty space where his right leg was supposed to be.

What...?

The cold that filled Magnus... It took his breath away. His hand trembled pitiably while he gathered all his courage and grabbed the blanket. Then pulled it aside.

It was one of those moments when time stood still. Magnus stared at the meticulously wrapped stump. For a moment his mind convinced him that it wasn’t his own mangled body. Until he reached out to touch the stump and reality sunk in like a knife.

His leg was really, actually gone.

His career was over.

He’d never perform again.

One of his greatest joys in the world was destroyed.

Magnus stared, and stared. Willing himself to wake up from the nightmare. Until he realized that he couldn’t, never would. Under the weight of that realization he did the only thing he could.

He screamed.

/

Alec could sense that something was wrong the second he entered the ward. Chills went down his spine when a young nurse he'd only seen once before rushed to him. Her eyes were wide and full of worry. “We were just about to call you. Magnus woke up and found out about the amputation.” That was all she needed to say.

Moving as fast as he could, Alec dashed to his beloved’s room. His heart skipped a beat when he saw the empty bed. And broke when he explored further and discovered Magnus on the floor. There were nauseating smudges of blood around the fallen man from where the stump had been harmed. Physical pain very clearly didn’t register. Face buried to his hands and fingers tangled to his hair, Magnus struggled to drag in wheezing breaths. A male nurse attempted to get the hysterical man’s attention but obviously wasn’t making any progress.

Alec approached the love of his life with no hesitation, the need to protect him stronger than anything else. The second he pulled the smaller man to his arms the nurse fled hurriedly. The doctor barely noticed. “Magnus, calm down.” He swallowed thickly when the only response he got was a muffled cry. “Baby, you have to calm down.”

Magnus’ fingers tangled to his shirt with the despair of a drowning man. “They... They took my... I lost my...”

“I know. And I’m so sorry”, Alec sighed. By then there were tears running down his own cheeks. He pulled Magnus even closer when it felt like the man was falling apart physically. “Shh, it’ll be okay... Shh...”

It was impossible to tell if Magnus even heard him. His husband cried, like Alec had seen him break down only once or twice before, pitiable whimpers coming out after there wasn’t enough breath for proper sobs.

Slowly and tenderly Alec picked up Magnus, who was lighter than before with the missing limb. With utmost care he maneuvered them to the bed, his hold on one of the three pieces of his world never faltering. It didn’t take long before the injured man passed out from how overwhelmed he was.

Alec didn’t stop his soothing murmuring for even a second. “Shh... It’ll be okay.” Oh, how he wanted to believe that...! “It’ll all be okay.”

He liked to think that Magnus heard him, because despite his current state the man’s hold on him tightened.

/

When Magnus woke up the fogginess of his head gave away that he’d been medicated quite heavily. He cared less than he’d expected. Dull phantom pain radiated from his amputated leg. The arms wrapped around him helped chase some of it away.

“Hey.” Alec kissed the side of his head. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Magnus shook his head as firmly as he could without starting to feel sick. He knew that he’d have to talk, eventually. But not yet.

“I don’t like where your head seems to be right now.” Alec tightened his hold on him and he did his best to draw comfort from it. “When you feel up to it, we’ll call home. It’ll do us all good.”

Magnus closed his eyes and nodded, too tired in several ways to speak up.

It was ironic, wasn’t it? To be safely in the arms of the man he loved. And still wait desperately to wake up from a nightmare.

/

It took another few hours before Magnus was ready for the phone call. Alec held his husband’s hand supportively while putting the call on a speaker as soon as it was accepted. “Daddy, aunt Clary said that I don’t have to go to bed yet because you have a surprise”, Max greeted. Curious and excited for the first time in far too long.

Magnus’ eyes softened and regained some of the light they’d lost. The man’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “Hey, Little Blueberry.”

Shock silenced Max for exactly three seconds. “Papa!” It was easy to hear how thrilled the boy was. (Someone would take ages to fall asleep that night. Alec experienced a bang of sympathy for Clary.) “Papa, papa, papa...!” For a while that was all the child managed to utter. “You slept too long.” It didn’t sound like an accusation.

Which didn’t make it easier to hear. Magnus sighed. “’m so sorry. ... ‘wanted to wake up sooner, but I couldn’t.” The parent and child both needed a second. Especially because saying so much was almost more than the ailing man had energy for. “I had dreams of you all the time. And of daddy, too.”

Really?” Max inquired, quietly but elatedly.

“’course. Good dreams.” Magnus seemed to strain to speak as clearly as possible. “’made sleeping so long less scary.”

Good.” Max hesitated uncharacteristically. “Are you okay? You sound funny.

Alec had hard time concealing a grimace. Magnus’ speech was still slurred and slow. He’d been hoping that the kids and his beloved wouldn’t notice. No amount of soothing touches chased away the tension the innocent question and comment sparked. “I will be”, Magnus murmured eventually, hoarse, embarrassed, frustrated, exhausted and pained.

Alec was tempted to cut the phone call short, before it’d do more harm than good. That was when Rafael joined in. “Papa? When are you coming home?

That question was agonizing. But it was nothing on Magnus’ reaction to it – or rather, to Rafael’s voice. The man blanched even further, eyes widening while becoming panicked. A few moments later Magnus’ whole frame was trembling.

Alec had no idea what was going on. But he knew that he needed to put an end to the call. “Rafe, everything’s alright, but I need to hang up now, okay? I’ll be there when you wake up in the morning, I promise.”

Max protested. Rafael said nothing. Alec hoped dearly that Clary would manage to calm down them both enough to help them sleep. His attention then locked on Magnus. “Hey, what’s...?”

“... ‘was that?” Magnus looked at him like someone who’d just seen a ghost. “... second kid ... Who was he?”