Unruly power crackles like lightning in the air, and it smells like ozone and ash as Magnus feels his glamour slip without permission.
‘I can’t control my magic,’ Cat gasps, and Magnus wants to go and reassure her, but the next moment he hears a familiar voice say I’m out of here, man, and whirls around too late to stop the portal being conjured.
Portals can be dangerous at the best of times, Magnus knows that better than anyone, and whatever’s going on here turns this one against its maker. The warlock screams, vanishing, but the portal’s still moving and oh, god, it’s heading straight for them –
Alec’s quick enough, unceremoniously shoving Madzie away from the threat.
But Magnus is a moment too late.
He skids to a halt, throwing the magic out before him, only centuries of honing his self-preservation instinct stopping him from reaching out and pulling Alec away. His Alexander, who’s disappearing before their very eyes, a soft gasp still on his lips as he watches himself disintegrate with a kind of stunned fascination.
It’s over in seconds. With nothing to hold it open now, the rogue spell succumbs to Magnus’ counter-spell. The portal – and Alec – are gone.
For a moment, no-one seems to breathe, shock stilling all tongues in the room. Or maybe it’s just the ringing in Magnus’ ears drowning them out.
But then Madzie’s timid voice comes from his right. ‘Alec?’
And that’s it, Magnus can’t do this – can’t break down here, in Lorenzo Rey’s gaudy reception room, with Cat his only ally in a crowd of people who have either forsaken him or just outright hate him.
He turns on his heel and strides from the room, nearly knocking the double doors off their hinges even without his magic.
He walks blindly into the night until he feels his power reel back under his control, and then he conjures a portal to the Institute.
Jace is already in Alec’s office when he arrives. ‘Magnus,’ he says, as soon as the door opens, ‘what the fuck-‘
‘Show me,’ Magnus interrupts.
Jace’s brow wrinkles in confusion. ‘What?’
Magnus doesn’t answer, just slams Jace one-handedly into the nearest wall, the other yanking up the hem of his shirt, because he has to know.
The parabatai rune sits starkly above Jace’s hip.
Magnus makes it over to a chair before his legs give out, and he buries his head in his hands. He’s alive. Alec’s still alive. His heart rate slows, and he breathes deeply, deliberately.
He can feel Jace’s anxiety, thrumming across the room like the bass from a speaker, but the hand that lands on Magnus’ shoulder is gentle, and so is the insistent voice that asks, ‘Magnus, what happened?’
He tells Jace the whole story, dispassionately noting how little life there is in his voice – even as he explains that with the portal acting up in that way, Alexander could be anywhere, in any realm of this universe.
When he’s done, Jace swallows hard, and nods. ‘Alright. We have to find him.’
Magnus hears a note of steel enter his own dead tone. ‘Oh, I plan to.’
He doesn’t sleep that night. Instead, he pores over grimoires and spellbooks and any text he can find on the veil – he has almost nothing to go on, but he has to start somewhere.
By now, Jace has told the rest of Alec’s family what happened. Magnus declines Isabelle’s offer of help, because he knows for certain that whatever went wrong tonight, it’s outside the expertise of any Shadowhunter – it’s a portal mishap, it’s warlock magic, and he’s the one who has to fix it.
Dot arrives at sunrise, her familiar magic brushing against his wards as she knocks, before letting herself in. ‘Magnus?’ she calls, and he doesn’t answer, but she finds him in the apothecary. ‘Magnus,’ she says, her voice unbearably kind, and he doesn’t look at her because he can’t face pity right now.
‘Did Biscuit tell you what happened?’ he asks quietly.
‘Cat did,’ Dot says, and she closes the distance between them, placing her hands on Magnus’ forearms and commanding his attention. It isn’t pity on her face, but it’s a sweet, sad sympathy that hurts almost as much. ‘Magnus, I am so sor-‘
‘Don’t.’ He means to snap, but he only musters a whisper. ‘Don’t say that.’ He stands up a little taller, wishing he could feel the confidence he’s trying to convey as easily as he can fake it. ‘He’s still alive, Dot, or his parabatai would know. He’s alive, and I’m going to bring him back.’
Dot just stares at him for a moment, but then she nods slowly. ‘Okay,’ she says. ‘Okay. But Cat made me promise to get some food in you. I’ll go sort something out.’ She heads towards the kitchen. She could have conjured something, of course, but Magnus is grateful for the moment alone.
It doesn’t last long. There’s a loud knock at the door, and Magnus’ chest swells with irritation as he checks his wards and feels who it is. There’s no time, no time for this nonsense right now, and he storms over to the door, wrenching it open. ‘What do you want?’
Lorenzo just glowers at him, stepping past him into the loft without asking. ‘Don’t play coy, Bane. You know what you did.’
‘I have no idea what you’re-‘
‘Enough,’ Lorenzo snarls. ‘The ley line under my home was intentionally corrupted, and it had the stink of Edom all over it. Did you think I wouldn’t recognise Asmodeus’ power? Your handiwork?’ He steps closer to Magnus, sneering. ‘You know, I almost feel bad for you. Obviously you planned to humiliate me, but I doubt you expected your pet Shadowhunter to get caught in the crossfire - ‘
He’s cut off as Magnus’ brittle control breaks, his magic closing around Lorenzo’s throat, around his torso, pinning his feet to the floor. And part of Magnus wants to end this insignificant brat, keep squeezing until the life chokes out of him and the fear and anger die in his eyes; because Magnus is already blaming himself for Alexander being at the party, and the suggestion that he would put anyone, let alone the man he loves, in that sort of danger -
Dot’s voice manages to cut through the rage, and Magnus reluctantly releases Lorenzo.
He doesn’t speak, doesn’t even look at the man – he just walks out, back into the apothecary. Right now, he owes every moment to someone far more important.
Dot stalks over to Lorenzo, holding up a hand to stave off his protest. ‘You know as well as I do,’ she says, her voice low and dangerous, ‘that murder is not exactly Magnus’ style. But he is suffering. He’s not himself. And if you come here again, I might not be able to stop him.’ Nor would I be inclined to, she thinks.
She doesn’t wait for a reply, just sends her own bolt of magic to push a stunned Lorenzo from the loft and slam the door behind him. If it gets her in trouble later, then good. She’d do far worse for Magnus Bane, and if Lorenzo is going to command her as High Warlock, it’s best that he know exactly where her loyalties lie.
The next people to enter the loft, less than two hours later, don’t bother to knock. ‘Magnus!’
He walks out into the living room to find Clary, Jace’s arm draped over her shoulder, and his stomach drops for a moment – because Jace appears uninjured, which means that whatever’s wrong is likely on Alexander’s end of the parabatai bond.
But Clary doesn’t look afraid, she looks excited. ‘Magnus, we think Jace saw something. Something that’ll help us find Alec.’
Magnus summons three chairs, one directly behind each of them, dropping into his and gesturing for the others to do the same. ‘What did you see?’ he asks, all the fatigue evaporating from his brain in the face of a potential lead.
Jace steadies himself, looking relieved to be sat down. ‘Ever since last night, I’ve been dizzy. Like, really dizzy. At first I thought it was just cosmic distance, or something – the bond doesn’t like being stretched between realms. But I should have adjusted to that by now, and this isn’t going away. I think it’s something to do with where Alec is.’
‘Plus,’ Clary interjects, ‘he said that when he was asleep last night, he dreamed of all these swirling colours – ‘
‘It wasn’t a dream,’ Jace corrects. ‘I mean, I don’t think it was – Magnus, it felt real, from the moment I fell asleep to the moment I woke up and nearly threw up. I think – I think I was seeing what Alec is seeing.’
Magnus sits back in his chair. He can see the hope on the faces in front of him, and he hates to dash it, but in his head this is all adding up to something hopeless. ‘There are stories,’ he says quietly, ‘about a place like the one you described. Mismatched gravity, swirling, violent colour, all three dimensions spinning out of shape. All of them – all of those accounts – come from people who had near-misses with portals. People who fell through and were saved, but in that moment, glimpsed the… the in-between.’
Realisation dawns in Jace’s expression. ‘Fuck. Alec’s in limbo.’
Clary’s head turns between Jace and Magnus, hope draining from her face as she begins to understand. ‘But there’s no – there’s no way back from limbo,’ she says quietly, disbelieving, and Magnus shuts his eyes. ‘You mean… there’s nothing we can do? He’s stuck there?’
And Magnus had been thinking that. Once he realised what Jace’s vision meant, he’d begun to despair. But hearing it said out loud like that, something just snaps. Something deep in his chest, his soul, something that faces the impossible and growls –
'No.' He looks back at the Shadowhunters, getting to his feet, his spine straight and his lip curling. ‘No, he isn’t. I won’t let that happen.’
Clary looks bewildered, but Jace is clearly still tumbling into despair. ‘Magnus,’ he says, ‘Clary’s right. There’s no way back from limbo.’
Magnus smiles, and it’s a smile that’s only graced his features a few times in his long life. It’s the one that stares down and cows monarchs, the last one he gave his father; the one that looks at an unscalable climb and says Game on, fucker. ‘Two hundred years ago, there were no portals, either. Go. Call Idris, call Isabelle. Tell the others what we’ve learned.’ The smile doesn’t slip from his face as he turns, walking back to his books. ‘And tell them that I’m going to bring Alexander home if it’s the last thing I do.’
He waves a hand, shutting the door behind him, and produces a pen and paper with a flourish, beginning to brainstorm. For the second time in his life, Magnus Bane is about to make magical history.
Designing the ritual takes him six days.
He summons book after book, absorbing everything he can find on summoning spells, on restoration rituals, on the bonds between souls. Some of the texts are deep in the Spiral Labyrinth, others in the bowels of the Clave’s most sacred libraries; but Magnus is the son of Asmodeus, rightful heir to the throne of Edom. Love and rage pour gasoline onto the fire of his magic, and he reaches through wards that are no match for him, tearing through them like paper and leaving no trace. He’s never claimed to be invincible, but every defeat he’s ever suffered has been at the hands of trickery, of deceit and deception that brings him lower than his station. This heist of knowledge is one based in pure, refined power, and there are few alive who can match him in that.
He works alone in the apothecary, but there’s almost always someone else in the loft. Dot, Cat and Clary take shifts, plying him with coffee that makes his blood spark and food that tastes of nothing.
When his hands are shaking from caffeine and the words begin to move on the page, whoever is there at that moment will steer him into the bedroom, coax him to rest. He always refuses, because he’s always sure that he’s close to a breakthrough. And they always win him over, because they say, You can’t help him if you’re too exhausted to function. Sleep, just for a while – it’s the only way to get him back. If he had any space for it in his brain, in his heart, he might resent the mothering; the way they put him to bed like a mundane toddler, swaying his opinion with nothing more than the obvious.
But he doesn’t. Instead, he lies down on Alexander’s side of the bed, because he can’t bear to look over from his and see it empty. His head hits the pillow, and he catches a hint of his lover’s aftershave.
Since Alec disappeared, these few rest periods have been the only time Magnus has cried, one or two silent tears running over the bridge of his nose and darkening the silken pillowcase.
He dreams of running through syrup; hearing Alec gasp as the portal steals him away; Magnus’ hand always outstretched, but always just a moment too late to catch his love before he disappears.
When the ritual is finished, he gathers his materials. He goes to the Institute that morning, the outskirts of Idris in the afternoon. Alec’s family, bar Jace, meet him at the border, and he takes what he needs without ever stepping foot in the Shadowhunters’ precious home realm.
As he turns to leave, Maryse grabs his shoulder with surprising force. ‘Please,’ she says, and in all the years Magnus has known her or known of her, she’s never looked so raw. ‘Please bring back my boy.’
And if this were anything less than what it is, if this were anything less than a grieving mother and a desperate lover finding sacred common ground, he might comment on the irony of a high-ranking ex-Circle member being so dependent on one she once looked to destroy.
But centuries of life will teach you things no mortal ever could – like the sheer, staggering degree to which people can change. Or how forgiveness is the most powerful tool to build that change into something that lasts. Or how, even when you have centuries of it ahead and behind you, love is the only thing that gives life any true meaning, and everything else – habit, history, hatred – will always pale in comparison.
So Magnus doesn’t say anything. He just nods a silent promise, and turns away to keep it.
It’s another three days until the ritual. Three unbearable days of waiting, and wondering, and hoping beyond hope. Magnus eats slightly better, sleeps slightly better, and trains every day – because new magic is always dangerous, and he can’t afford to screw this up. He has to go in as close to his full strength as possible.
The night of the full moon, he follows Meliorn to a grove in the Seelie realm. ‘Here, my friend,’ Meliorn says, voice quiet and reverent in the still air. ‘This is the fourth most powerful site known to our realm, and the only one that the moon will pass directly overhead.’
And Magnus can sense the power of this place, feel how the veil here is nothing more than a breath of gossamer, hear the buzzing of magic in his bones that disturbs the silence of the night. ‘Thank you, Meliorn,’ he says, and with a final nod and a grasp of his forearm, the Seelie turns away, vanishing into the shadows. Magnus is alone in the clearing, as requested. He doesn’t know if this will work, and if it goes spectacularly wrong, he’s determined to be the only piece of collateral damage.
He works quietly, efficiently, drawing a pentagram on the forest floor with a thick layer of soot. When the moon reaches its highest point, his magic sings, and he can almost feel the silver light infusing the veil, pulling it thin. ‘Amator meus, cor meum,’ he says, ‘te revoco mihi.’ Magic begins to prickle at his skin, and he relaxes slightly, knowing the ritual is successfully underway.
He holds up Alec’s favourite bow, fingers ghosting over the curve Isabelle kissed as he flicks his wrist and turns the weapon to dust. ‘Officium tuus te revoca mihi,’ he chants, as he uses the dust to draw a smaller pentagram in the centre of the first. ‘Meum amatorem solve, munde nihili.’ He places the next few items in different points of the smaller pentagram; bone marrow, a small piece from each of Alec’s parents. A thread from the omamori charm, intertwined with one of Alec’s hairs. An iratze rune, drawn by Max on a page that Magnus tore from an ancient Shadowhunter text.
‘Raziel fortissimum, restitue militem tuum.’ He snaps his fingers, and the offerings burst into flames, which he douses with a small golden cup of Jace’s blood. ‘Amorem et imperium nostra libere damus.’
He takes a step back, willing himself to stay steady, and recites the final words as he expertly moves his hands, shaping the magic in front of him. ‘Reveni mihi, quidam carissimus meus,’ he chants – his voice barely above a murmur now, yet still ringing with power – ‘et magiam complere ossa tua sine, et spiritum pulmones tuos.’
As he says the final words, he casts his hands forward, releasing the magic he built between them. The pentagram vanishes, only the acrid marrow-smoke remaining, and the wind starts to howl around him as a portal opens up on the ground where it once lay. The edge of it crackles with blue-white angelic light, hisses with the red-gold touch of Edom – and for a terrifying few seconds, nothing else happens.
And then a hand strikes up out of the light.
Magnus lunges forward, seizing the wrist and holding it firm, feeling the clasp reciprocated. He moves his other hand down, grasps just beneath the elbow, then plants his feet and heaves with all his might.
Alexander stumbles free, and both of them fall to the ground as the portal vanishes.
For a moment, there’s nothing but heavy breathing in the still night, but Magnus pushes himself up, crawls over to the body lying a few feet away. ‘Alec,’ he gasps. ‘Alexander.’ He hauls Alec to his knees, cups his jaw with both hands and guides Alec’s dazed focus to meet his eyes. ‘Alec, speak to me,’ he says, and he can’t say with certainty whether he’s commanding or begging.
‘M’gn’s,’ Alec murmurs. His eyes sharpen a little, some of the fog clearing; his hands move to Magnus’ waist, and a small, relieved smile appears on his face. ‘Magnus.’
Magnus feels the tears of the past eleven days well in his eyes, and tips his head forward, burying his sobs in Alec’s shoulder as he feels his embrace returned. Thank god. Oh, thank god.
They stay there a long time, kneeling in the gliding moonlight, both of them hanging on for dear life.
When they eventually get to their feet and leave the clearing, they find Meliorn, who greets them with a gentle smile. ‘I am pleased to see you both safe.’ He leads them back to a shimmering doorway, and they step through, turning to call out their thanks.
They step out to see the Institute gleaming before them, and Magnus has never been so happy to see it. ‘Come on,’ he says. ‘Let’s not keep them in suspense.’
They walk hand in hand to Alec’s office, only breaking away when Izzy and Jace leap to their feet to take Alec in their arms, all but crushing their brother in their overwhelming relief. When they step away, Clary flings her arms around Alec’s neck – Magnus sees the surprise flit across his boyfriend’s face, and can’t help the smile on his own when Alec tentatively returns the hug.
Alec places a call to Idris, and despite trying to afford him some privacy by explaining the details of the ritual to the other three, Magnus can’t help but catch little snippets of the conversation. Yeah, mom, I’m fine. Really. If you’re all in Alicante another day, I’ll come see you tomorrow – yeah, okay, Max, only if I’m feeling up to it, I promise. I love you too.
It’s a world away from the cold relationship they once had, and a soft warmth blossoms in Magnus’ heart; the kind that only comes from feeling happy for someone you love.
‘I still can’t believe it,’ Isabelle says, shaking her head and tearing her eyes away from her brother, just for a moment. ‘Magnus, what you did… You found a way to rescue someone from limbo. That’s been impossible for centuries, but you managed it. Do you realise what this could mean?’
Magnus smiles at the awe in her voice. ‘There’ll be plenty of time to muse on my genius tomorrow,’ he says with a smirk, but it quickly softens into a more genuine smile. ‘But for now, all I want is to take my recently-returned boyfriend home, and sleep.’ He pauses. ‘…Maybe after a stiff drink or three,’ he allows.
Magnus barely remembers the walk home, the exhaustion of the ritual catching up with him, compounding his general lack of sleep over the past eleven days. What does register is the bite of the cool night air, the warmth of Alec’s arm around his shoulders, and the fact that when they enter the loft, there’s someone already there.
‘I’m sorry to intrude,’ Cat says. ‘I didn’t want to mention anything earlier, but she’s been inconsolable.’
Madzie peers out from behind Cat, and as soon as she catches sight of Alec, she barrels straight into him, wrapping herself around his legs. ‘Hey, woah, it’s okay,’ he says, bending down to lift her into his arms. ‘Everything’s okay now.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Madzie sobs into his shoulder, and Magnus tries not to feel embarrassed about the similarity to his own reaction earlier that night. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’
‘Hey, hey, come on now,’ Alec says gently, and tilts her back so he can see her face. ‘Now you listen to me,’ he says, his expression serious, but not at all stern. ‘What happened was not your fault, okay? Not even a little bit. You didn’t make that portal, and you didn’t mess up the magic. None of it was your fault, sweetheart. Okay? You understand?’ He waits for Madzie’s nod, and then smiles. ‘Okay, good.’ He tilts her back into a hug.
Magnus finds himself staring, even as Alec hands Madzie back to Cat; even as Cat pulls Alec into a brief hug; even as they leave, Cat pausing to clasp Magnus’ shoulder.
And suddenly, Magnus is alone with the man he loves, a man he never thought he’d see again, and as they lock eyes, the sheer strength he sees in Alec renders Magnus unbearably weak.
‘Are you okay?’ Alec asks, a concerned frown gathering on his forehead.
That question, that tone, crumbles the last of his resolve. He practically runs at Alec, pushing him back into the wall. His hand cushions Alec’s head, but he barely feels his knuckles slam into the stonework before he’s kissing him, his own lips fierce and desperate against his Alexander’s, his other hand in a death-grip on his collar. He pulls away after a few seconds, and his voice is a low hiss. ‘You self-sacrificing idiot of a Nephilim.’ A sound swells from deep inside him, forcing its way up his throat – it’s not a laugh, or a growl, or a sob. It’s all three of those and something else entirely, something that overwhelms and demands an escape.
He’s out of tears, after his display earlier. But that was relief and love and joy, and this is fear, all the fear he’s been pushing down, shoving aside, numbing himself from for the past eleven days. He feels Alec’s arms wrap around him, and for a while it’s all he can do not to shake apart.
Eventually, his shudders turn into nothing more than a subtle shakiness. Alec pushes away from the wall, and Magnus lets himself be led to the bedroom, pushed gently into sitting on the edge of the bed.
Alec kneels in front of him, starting to tackle the buttons of Magnus’ shirt, and shame blossoms under the careful fingertips. ‘I’m sorry,’ Magnus says, just loudly enough to be heard. ‘I should be taking care of you, not the other way around. You’re the one who’s been through hell, trapped and alone.’ Exhaustion has always made him too honest.
Alec stops unbuttoning the shirt, moving both his hands to cradle Magnus’ face, and despite his shame, Magnus leans into the touch. ‘Magnus, no,’ Alec says, and there’s such intensity in his expression that Magnus almost forgets how to breathe for a moment. ‘That’s not true. I guarantee you, this whole thing has been far worse for you than it was for me.’
‘You don’t have to-‘
‘No, Magnus, listen. How long was I gone?’
‘Eleven days,’ Magnus whispers. It’s no surprise that Alec doesn’t know, without the rhythm of the sun to keep track.
‘Okay. You were here, worrying about me, probably barely taking care of yourself, for eleven days. Magnus, I was only gone for a few seconds.’
Magnus blinks, and thinks that even if he weren’t operating at half-speed right now, that one would take a minute to process. ‘What?’ he asks, intelligently.
Alec moves up onto the bed, turning so that their knees knock together and Magnus can still see his face. ‘When the portal touched me,’ he explains, ‘there was a moment where I felt cold, and- and scared. And then there was a flash of light, and I was pulled towards it, and when I reached out you grabbed me. Next thing I knew, I was lying on the forest floor, with you right by my side again.’
He moves one of his hands back up to cradle Magnus’ jaw. ‘I don’t remember limbo, Magnus,’ he says softly. ‘As far as my head’s concerned, I was gone for two moments – the one where I disappeared, and the one where you pulled me back.’
If there’s a decent reply to that revelation – a way to express the surprise, and disorientation, and overarching relief – Magnus is in no condition to think of it right now. But Alec seems to get it, because he leans in for a slow, sweet kiss. ‘So,’ he says when they break apart again, and Magnus finds himself smiling at the no-nonsense tone. ‘Stop worrying about what this was like for me, okay? It was only a few seconds. It’s not even a blip on the radar.’ He moves back around to kneel in front of Magnus again, resuming his efforts with the shirt. ‘And now I’m back, and all I want to do is take care of you. Are you gonna let me do that?’
Magnus closes his eyes, the smile still playing on his lips. ‘When you put it like that, how could I refuse?’
Alec makes short work of both sets of their clothes. Magnus snaps his fingers, removing any residual hair product and makeup, which earns him an exasperated eyeroll but no verbal chiding.
They clamber into bed and tangle impossibly close, and Magnus treasures the comforting heat of skin against skin, the easy rhythm of their breathing.
He’s asleep in less than a minute.