It was supposed to be a nice evening. Fancy restaurant, romantic ambience, wonderful company. But Magnus felt totally distracted, lost in his head and unable to enjoy it.
Alec had been watching him carefully for the past several minutes, clearly picking up on something odd in Magnus's behavior, but so far hadn’t said anything. Magnus would have tried to start up a conversation again, actually engage with his boyfriend on their date night, but his mind kept straying to —
“Hey,” Alec said abruptly, snapping Magnus out of his reverie and laying a hand gently on his arm. “You okay?”
Magnus swallowed his bite of steak, the expensive meal tasting like so much ash, and chased it with a gulp of wine.
Finally, he turned his attention to Alec. “No. I—” Alec’s expression was open, encouraging him to go on when he couldn’t quite get the words out. “It’s— Chairman is sick.”
Alec’s face crumpled. “Oh, Magnus…”
“The vet doesn’t know what it is,” Magnus continued, staring blankly somewhere in the vicinity of Alec’s collarbone, “and the Chairman can’t— can’t handle any more tests. He doesn’t deserve that.”
“There’s nothing your magic can do?”
Magnus gave him a rueful smile. “I can make him comfortable, but there comes a point where even magic is not enough.”
Alec grimaced. “How long…?”
“I don’t know. Not long.”
Just thinking about it was eating away at Magnus’s chest, the growing hole so disproportionate to Chairman’s small body. They’d been together for— well, in Magnus’s lifetime it was the blink of an eye, but for a cat, it was a long time. A very long time.
Alec stood abruptly, throwing a random amount of cash onto the table. “Come on.”
Magnus stared at the money, at their half-finished meals. “What are you doing?”
Alec offered his hand — which Magnus, still befuddled, took — and pulled him to his feet. “We’re going.”
“Going where? ”
“Home. Um, to your apartment. So you can spend time with your cat while you’re still able to.”
Magnus just stared at him with a sinking feeling. “I didn’t mean to ruin—”
“You’ve ruined nothing. I’m coming with.”
“You are? ”
“Of course.” Alec's expression faltered. “Unless you don’t want me to…?”
“No! Of course I want you there. It’s just…caring for an invalid cat isn’t normally one’s definition of a romantic evening.”
“Supporting my boyfriend fits in my definition of romantic,” Alec said firmly.
Magnus blinked at him. “Well then,” he said once he’d regained his words, “the Chairman awaits us. Shall we?” and he let Alec lead him out of the restaurant.
Chairman tottered over to the door to greet them as soon as they arrived home. His bones jut out from under his fur, and he walked gingerly, but his eyes were bright and clear as he meowed up at them.
“Hi Chairman,” Alec said in a light voice as he crouched down to scratch him on the head. “How’s it going, little man?” He didn’t remark on how skinny the cat looked, for which Magnus was grateful. It was hard enough to watch Chairman wobbling around as it was.
Alec picked the cat up and deposited him in Magnus’s arms. “You take him over to the couch, I’m going to make tea,” he said.
So Magnus went to the couch and sat lightly on the very edge, Chairman purring softly in his hold. Magnus looked at him. It was hard to even recognize in the frail body before him the vibrant animal that had once hurtled around the loft with such abandon. But then those golden eyes blinked up at him, and he saw his old friend, clear as day.
A tear slid down his cheek before he could stop it. And then several.
Alec came back into the room carrying two mugs of tea. “Oh no, hey, it’s okay,” he said as he saw Magnus crying, hurriedly placing the mugs down on the coffee table and sloshing some tea out in the process.
He sat next to Magnus, wrapping an arm around him. Wiped away Magnus’s tears with his other hand.
“I’m sorry,” Magnus said, sniffing a little. “I know I get too attached.”
“Don’t do that. I’m glad you love him so much.”
“Some people say cats aren’t capable of love,” Magnus said, stroking along Chairman’s back gingerly, feeling the hard curve of his spine. His fur was still soft as ever, even in his age and illness.
“That’s ridiculous,” Alec said indignantly, “It’s clear as day that he loves you. Just because his love isn’t the same as a human’s doesn’t mean it’s not there.”
Magnus sighed. “You’re right, of course. Maybe it’s just easier to believe that it’s one-sided, that I’m being all melodramatic while he doesn’t even care. But he does care.”
Chairman purred louder as if in response, leaning up to bump Magnus’s palm with the top of his head.
When Chairman had first gotten sick, Magnus had asked Catarina for help. Healing was her specialty, after all. She’d examined the cat, then gently told Magnus that he should prepare.
“I am prepared!” he’d snapped — clearly revealing that he wasn’t. The following weeks had done nothing to change that. Magnus wasn’t ready to lose him.
Alec pulled Magnus closer to him. “Come here.”
Magnus followed him down onto the couch, resting his back against Alec’s chest. Chairman picked his way up Magnus’s body, curling into a tiny ball in the crook of his neck. Magnus didn’t usually let him sleep there, wary after nearly having his carotid sliced open by the cat’s claws one too many times, but he wasn’t about to deprive him now.
Alec dragged a blanket down onto them from the back of the couch, ran his other hand through Magnus’s hair.
“It’s difficult to see him like this,” Magnus admitted. “Laid low. Frail.”
Alec tugged at a few strands of his hair gently, a grounding motion. “It’s only natural. He got his time on earth, and it was a good run, but it couldn’t last forever.” There was something small and tremulous in his voice as he said it that Magnus decided he was not going to unpack in this precise moment. He swallowed down the hitch that it put in his chest.
“All that vibrancy will wear a body out,” he agreed instead. “Nature must reclaim what is hers.”
Alec stroked the fur along Chairman’s back. “He doesn’t seem to be suffering.”
Magnus chuckled. “He’s on a lot of pain medication.”
“Good. He deserves it.”
Chairman’s small breaths were warm on Magnus’s neck, his paws kneading gently in his shirt the way he’d done when he was a kitten and liked to ride around on Magnus’s shoulder. It had gotten darker rapidly in the loft, the patch of moonlight cast by the glass balcony doors moving across the floor and onto their bodies. As it fell across Chairman’s face, he opened his eyes and raised his head, looking out at the sky.
He had always liked being near the open air — when in doubt, Magnus could always find him sitting by a window or testing his balance along the balcony railing. He wondered, as he did nowadays whenever he saw Chairman doing anything, if this would be the last time. His last chance.
A twist of his hand, and the balcony door popped open, letting cool night air spill into the living room. Chairman sniffed, taking it in, his eyes glowing in the moonlight. Then he yawned and tucked his head back under Magnus’s chin.
Magnus lay in silence for a long time, just listening to the quiet sound of Chairman’s purrs. Alec’s hand never ceased its ministrations in his hair, and Magnus felt tears slipping down his face again as he reached up to clutch his cat to his chest, burying his nose in his fur. It couldn’t have been comfortable for Chairman, but he never stopped purring.
Stay with me, Magnus thought. Stay here with me, my dear, one more day. Just till morning.
Magnus didn’t remember falling asleep, but suddenly he was jerking awake, sunlight falling across his face.
Chairman was still, unmoving against his neck.
“Chairman?” He couldn’t keep the note of panic out of his voice."Chairman?"
He sat up quickly, dislodging the cat from his neck. Chairman tumbled down his chest with a squeak, landed in Magnus’s lap in a jumble of limbs. He picked himself up with all the dignity befitting a feline, stretched, and jumped off the couch to totter off somewhere else in the loft.
Magnus huffed, breathless with relief. “Well,” he said to himself, “he lives to fight another day.”
Alec groaned under him. “Magnus, your elbow is digging into my kidney.”
“Apologies, my love.” Magnus delicately untangled himself from Alec and sat down on the other end of the couch.
Alec pushed himself upright, hair sticking up in every direction. “How’s Chairman?”
“Still with us. He seems to be in good spirits.” Magnus pointed towards the kitchen, where Chairman had gotten onto the counter and was occupying himself with knocking all of their paperwork onto the floor.
Alec looked between Magnus and the cat for a long moment. Finally, he sat up straighter and stretched his arms over his head. “The resemblance really is striking,” he said through a yawn.
Magnus’s mouth popped open in instinctive affront. “I beg your— actually, I’m going to choose to take that as the compliment that it should be.”
Magnus watched Chairman flop down in the pool of sunlight on the countertop. “Did you know,” he said, “that I’ve had him for nearly twenty years?”
“That’s pretty long for a cat, right?”
Magnus hummed an affirmative. “His whole life, he stuck by me. Oh, don’t get me wrong, he ran away a few times. Had to go on his little adventures. But he always came back.”
Alec’s gaze turned to rest on him, soft and a little sad. He started rubbing small circles into Magnus’s outstretched ankle.
Magnus continued, “I thought a few times about enchanting him to live longer, but it didn’t seem quite fair to him.”
Alec’s hand on his leg stilled. “Is that…even possible?”
“Sometimes. It’s difficult. The more complex the animal, the more difficult.”
“How much longer could— would you have wanted?” Alec’s voice was breathy, false-casual. Impossibly light.
Magnus finally turned to look at him. The same sunlight that Chairman was so happily basking in illuminated Alec’s hair in a watery halo. He was beautiful like this, clothes from last night crumpled around his long limbs, sinking into the couch and still blinking away sleep. “Alexander…?” he said lightly.
“Yes?” Alec’s tone was equally airy, breathing a flutter of…something into Magnus’s chest. A luminous possibility had suddenly opened before him, silhouetted gently by the new day.
No. Later. There would be time.
“Never mind,” Magnus said. “It can wait till after breakfast.”