Chapter 1: Storm
“That was the worst one yet.”
A laugh chases the words from Alec’s mouth, leaving in its wake a smile so wide his cheeks hurt.
He’s stretched across Magnus’ bed, spread out like he owns the place. And even though Alec’s only given him a thin line of real estate along the edge of the bed, Magnus doesn’t seem to mind the arrangement one little bit. But that could just be because Alec’s head’s been resting on his thigh for the better part of the last hour.
It’s only been a few weeks since they got Jace back, but Alec already feels more comfortable here than pretty much anywhere else in his entire life. And yeah, they’re still looking for Valentine, and war is still brewing on the horizon or whatever, but nights like this are precious to him. The stolen moments where he can disappear for a while, just him and Magnus.
“What?” Magnus barks out with feigned hurt as he tugs on where his fingers have been curled in Alec’s hair ever since he had the amazing idea to lay in his lap. “That was my favorite one!”
“Babe,” he groans. “It was so bad. Your poems are so bad.”
They’re not all haikus as he was lead to believe, but they are all terrible. Which is another thing he and Catarina can commiserate about the next time they talk.
Magnus shakes his head like there’s no way he could possibly accept as truth that he’s not an underappreciated artist. “I don’t think you’re getting the nuances, Alexander. Let me read it again.”
Magnus shushes him. “Be quiet and listen.”
Alec goes to get up at that, the smile still playing at his lips when he says, “I think I’m needed back at the Institute.”
It doesn’t surprise him when Magnus grabs the back of his shirt and drags him down to the bed. Neither does the tone of his voice – more playful than agitated – when he says, “Fine, I’ll stop. I don’t know why I even bother with you anyway. You have terrible taste.”
Alec snorts. “You do know you just sort of insulted yourself there, right?”
He tips his head up just in time to catch Magnus glaring at him. “Terrible taste in all things except partners. Like literature. And clothing.”
“Hey, what’s wrong with my clothes?”
“Gray is not a style, Alec. It’s barely even a color.”
Alec smiles. Because for some reason, even when Magnus is mocking him, he can’t seem to help himself. And it strikes him suddenly that he is screwed. He is so, so screwed. But he guesses it’s good that he can recognize that now. Maybe that means he’ll be able to get through this without drowning.
“Well, if you hate my clothes so much, why don’t you come down here and take them off?”
The words are out of his mouth before he can even properly think them, which is another new addition to his life, this ability to just speak. And it’s pretty much hit or miss at this point in time, and usually way more miss than hit. But every now and again he manages to say something that actually resembles the speech of a normal human being capable of flirting. Which is pretty miraculous in and of itself.
“That’s a marvelous idea,” Magnus says, his voice all liquid and heat.
And it makes Alec’s throat so tight he almost can’t get enough air to say, “Yeah, well I’m due one or two of those every couple of months. Might as well make use of them.”
His head thuds lightly on the mattress when Magnus swings his legs off the bed in order to free himself to crawl on top of Alec. And the way he hovers over him like he’s getting ready to do push-ups, the fabric of his shirt pulled tight over his muscles, makes all coherent thought flee Alec’s head like his mind is on fire. And not the kind where you can stand outside your house and wait for the fire department but, like, a forest fire, the kind that calls for citywide evacuation.
He puts his hands under Magnus’ shirt, rides his palms over his stomach, his hips, then back around to the small of his back before wrapping his arms around his waist and tugging him down into him. And it stuns him, just like always, how well they seem to fit together as all the hills of Magnus’ body settle into all the valleys of Alec’s.
The kiss is lazy, warm, the kind of thing that implies promise while reminding you that you’ve got time. And he and Magnus have had a lot of different kisses, so many that Alec has started categorizing them, making lists in his head because Alec likes lists. Likes order. And this one, right here? This is one of his favorites.
It’s a kiss of exploration, of searching for the spots that make Magnus whimper, the ones that make him moan. And it’ll build eventually. Unless they’re interrupted, it always does. But the longer they’re together, the more they seem to be content with taking their time, getting to know each other in every way imaginable.
The first few times they’d tried it, going slow, Alec was the one to push it, desperately wanting more, faster, harder, now. But he’s grown to appreciate the softness of these moments, the rarest commodity in their relationship given what their lives have become outside of this, outside of them. And so tonight, he’s just going to let it take its course.
They’ve only gotten one article of clothing off between the two of them – Magnus’ shirt – when there’s a knock on the door. And even though the heat in Magnus’ eyes says he wants to ignore it, the desperation of the knock itself makes that a practical impossibility.
That and the fact that it’s the middle of the night, and people don’t usually just panic pound on your door in the middle of the night if it’s not important.
“You, stay,” Magnus almost purrs, the catlike yellow slipping back to brown as he leans down to give Alec one final kiss, a scrape of teeth along his jaw. “I’m not finished with you yet.”
Alec just smiles as he links his fingers behind his head and trails Magnus’ movement towards the door. His voice heavy when he replies, “I won’t move a muscle.”
It’s a promise he intends to keep, and one that almost puts him to sleep until he hears a loud pounding and even louder voices rise from downstairs.
He’s out of bed quickly, making his way to the spiral staircase that now leads to Magnus’ bedroom because sometime shortly after he and Magnus got together, something inspired him to move the entire room upstairs. But he doesn’t go past the top few steps because this is business, he can tell that already from the tone of the woman’s voice carrying down the hall. And he’s not about to stick his head into Magnus’ business unless it's absolutely necessary.
Unless there’s a threat.
“When did her mark appear?” Magnus says, his tone from a few minutes ago already lost in something harsh and cold.
“A few days ago,” the woman says shakily.
“Lena, why didn’t you call me?”
“I thought it would be fine, Magnus!” she bites out defensively. “She’s such a quiet girl. And her father wasn’t exactly the strongest of us. I thought that when it came time, I would be able to handle it.”
“So they manifested then? Her powers?”
“Yes,” she – Lena – says, her voice quieting so much that it’s even difficult for Alec to hear her when she adds, “There… there was a neighbor, Magnus. A mundane.”
A chill runs up Alec’s spine when Magnus asks, “How bad?”
“He’s… he’s dead.”
Something flashes out of the corner of Alec’s eyes just then, and he’s surprised he didn’t notice her before – the girl, no more than twelve, sitting on Magnus’ couch. She shudders at the word dead, red sparks flicking off the bare skin of her arms, her neck. And she looks so completely terrified that Alec is moving before he even puts a conscious thought to the action.
He grabs his jacket from the arm of the chair before approaching her, making sure to stay far enough away so as not to spook her.
“You look cold,” he says in response to her shivering. And the way she darts her eyes up at him like she’s afraid he’s got a gun in his hands ready to fire makes something twist in his gut.
“May I?” he asks through the knot in his throat, holding his jacket out in offering.
She nods, allowing him to wrap the jacket over her shoulders. But when he sits on the couch next to her, he still makes sure to give her enough space to feel comfortable. Because the last thing he wants to be right now is intrusive.
As soon as she meets his eyes, she looks away, tipping her head down to try and hide the warlock mark Magnus and Lena were talking about – deep red eyes with black veins cutting down from them like morbid tear tracks. It’s hardly the most shocking thing he’s ever seen, though, and so he lets his expression slip to the softest smile he owns – the one he saves for Max, Izzy, and now Magnus – and risks hooking a knuckle gently under her chin so he can tip her face back up to look at him.
He pulls his hand back, brushing the tip of her nose on the way, and says, “I'm Alec.”
“Zoe,” she says quietly, her voice hoarse from crying, he’d be willing to bet, as the sounds of the discussion in the other room continue to carry to them in sharp, heated snatches.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Zoe,” he replies, raising his voice to try and drown out everything else. “I like your mark. It’s pretty awesome.”
She raises her hands to her face in an attempt to cover up, her eyes wide in horror at the mere mention of it. And even though he should probably stop touching her without invitation, he still finds himself reaching out to lower her hands.
“Yours is way cooler than Magnus’,” he says. “All he has are cat eyes. Which, you know, can get pretty boring after the first time or two you see them.”
That’s a lie. A flat out, complete fabrication. The way Alec’s stomach rolls at the mere mention of them says as much. But he’s trying to make her feel better here, and so a little lying can’t hurt.
“I… I remember you,” she says in response to his comment about Magnus, which actually isn’t a response at all so much as it’s a complete course alteration.
“You were at the lair when… when it was attacked. You were one of the angels that saved us.”
The word, “Oh,” puffs out of him as his memory clicks back into place of the day he met Magnus. Of so many slaughtered warlocks strewn around the loft and one little girl, lost in the midst.
He didn’t recognize her with her mark.
“We’re not angels,” he corrects because he feels like maybe he should. But the way she looks up at him, red eyes full of a sense of awe and gratitude, makes him think she doesn’t quite believe him.
“My dad, he was… he was killed that night,” she stammers, and when the tears escape her eyes they’re deep red too, like blood, following the black tracks down her face.
He puts his hand on her shoulder, fairly confident she won’t mind given her previous reactions to his touch.
“I’m sorry, Zoe.”
But instead of staying on that same path, she widens her eyes and asks, “Are they going to kill me?”
“Is who going to kill you?”
“The Clave. Are they going… are they going to kill me for what… for what I did… what I...”
Her panic is causing her skin to spark again. Just tiny red flecks now, but he’s not really interested in letting her slip much past that and so when she buries herself in his side, he lets her. His hands rubbing soft circles in the center of her back the same way he used to when Max would wake up from a nightmare as he says, “It’s okay, Zoe, no one’s going to kill you. I promise.”
It’s really not a promise he should make, because it’s really not a promise he can necessarily keep. But he’s always been crap when it comes to crying kids and so there you have it. Another person whose life Alec has sworn to protect, and this one he’s only known for what, five minutes? That’s got to be some sort of record.
“Magnus, what is he doing here?!” someone shrieks a few seconds later.
Alec looks up just in time to see a woman in her forties, maybe, with orange sparks burning from her hands staring in his direction like she’s ready to bury him in fire. And it’s stupid, what he does next, because clearly the woman is threatening him, not Zoe. Only his instincts haven’t really caught up with his mind just yet and so the second he sees the fire, he pulls Zoe across the couch and tucks her so firmly behind him that there’s no part of her left exposed to the impending attack.
“He is a friend,” Magnus says, and he sounds angry, the deep kind, his voice as hard as steel.
“He is a Shadowhunter,” Lena hisses, her hands still burning.
“And a friend, Lena,” Magnus says, and with a snap of his fingers, her fire evaporates, leaving behind it a look of pure disgust that only deepens when she takes in Magnus’ bare chest and Alec’s bare feet.
She makes a slight gagging noise that does nothing to improve Alec’s opinion of her before saying, “I don’t know if I feel comfortable leaving her here with a Shadowhunter.”
“And I don’t know if I feel like talking to you for another moment,” Magnus replies, and for the first time all conversation (if that’s what you can call this), Alec really looks at him.
He looks tired already, the kind of bone-crushing exhaustion Alec is used to. But fifteen minutes ago he was light, airy, completely at peace. And the quick turnaround is jarring to him.
“I trust him more than I trust just about anyone,” Magnus continues as he reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “You included, Lena. She is safer here than anywhere else.”
“Magnus,” she tries to argue, but he just cuts her off.
“You may go.”
“I said you may go,” he snaps, his eyes slipping to their natural state as he flicks his wrist in order to throw up a portal for her. The words, “Go home,” practically hissed out as she sputters a few more nonsensical syllables at him before casting one final death glare Alec’s way and disappearing.
He doesn’t look at Alec once she’s gone, he just sinks to his knees and sighs, “Zoe, my dear, come here.”
She disentangles herself from Alec’s misplaced protection immediately before practically tripping her way to where Magnus is waiting for her. And the way she flings herself into Magnus’ embrace makes Alec’s chest tighten.
They stay that way for a long while, with Zoe shuddering in Magnus’ arms. And Alec can see the hug get progressively firmer in the strain of Magnus’ muscles, almost as if he’s hoping that if he holds her tight enough, he’ll be able to keep her together.
“Everything will be all right,” he says once she’s cried herself quiet, Magnus’ touch gentle when he lets her go and runs his thumbs under her eyes to catch the stray tears. “You will see.”
She hiccups out another sob, and Alec can’t bring himself to look at Magnus right now, to see the pain carved into every inch of his expression. So he puts his face in his hands and listens instead to the determination in Magnus’ voice when he asks, “Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” she says so quietly it’s little more than a puff of air.
“Then believe me when I say that you will be fine. I will not let anyone hurt you. You have my word. Now, go wash up for bed. I’ve put some things in the bathroom for you, and whatever else you need we’ll get tomorrow.”
He can hear Magnus kiss her, probably on the forehead knowing him. But even though the next things he hears are Zoe’s footsteps retreating from the room, he doesn’t take his hands off his face until Magnus makes him.
He’s on his knees still, but he’s directly in front of Alec now as he tugs Alec’s hands down. Which means he can see every line of pain and fear on Magnus’ face as clear as day.
“C’mere,” Alec says as he sinks to his knees as well, pulling Magnus into his arms the same way Magnus had done for Zoe. And he’s got no clue what he’s doing, what Magnus is thinking or what’s even going on here, but there’s a pit in his stomach that keeps trying to remind him that this is bad, and that maybe he should pay attention to that.
There was a neighbor.
Alec knows full well what all of that means. But he doesn’t have the capacity to think about that right now, not when Magnus’ muscles are so tense beneath his touch they feel ready to snap.
“I have a lot of work to do,” Magnus says as he pulls away from Alec and sinks down so that he’s sitting on his heels, his face set in resignation. “Quite a few calls to make. After I get her in bed, I’ll-”
“I’ll do it,” he interrupts, reaching out to card his fingers through Magnus’ hair before settling his palm on the back of Magnus’ neck.
Alec shrugs to show Magnus that this isn’t as big of a deal as he seems to think it is. “I used to get Izzy ready for bed all the time when we were younger. And once Max was born… well, let’s just say my parents seemed to think having an older son meant free babysitting until age eighteen. It’s no big deal. Really.”
Magnus sighs, and although Alec can still clearly see the tense lines of the muscles in his bare shoulders, there’s a slight sense of ease about him now that feels almost like victory.
“What would I do without you?” Magnus asks.
Alec shrugs again. “You’d probably have a lot more free time on your hands. I’m thinking Pandemonium, open shirts, heavy makeup, loud music. All of which would probably be a hell of a lot more fun than playing Who Can Pick the Most Awful TV Show with me every night.”
Magnus reaches out to trail a knuckle over Alec’s cheek. “I love that game.”
“Yeah, that’s only because you’re so freaking good at it. I mean, come on, that one where the people are just naked in the middle of the woods? Where did you even hear about that?”
“A warlock never tells his secrets,” Magnus says, and Alec thinks, there it is. That’s what he was looking for.
It’s small and tired but it’s there, and he’s so grateful that he reaches out to touch it before he can stop himself, tracing his fingers over Magnus’ lips like he’s trying to draw it bigger or something.
Magnus turns into his touch, reaching up to hold his palm so he can kiss it. And that familiar warmth settles deep in Alec’s stomach when he leans in to kiss Magnus on the cheek and say, “Go be High Warlock.”
The smile is different this time, bigger but colder. It’s still a smile, though, which is better than the alternative, so Alec will take it.
“There’s a bed in the library for Zoe,” Magnus says with a flick of his fingers. “If she needs anything, come get me.” And with that he’s getting to his feet and heading into the other room, grabbing his cell phone from the end table on the way.
Alec waits patiently outside of the bathroom for Zoe, making sure that he’s smiling when she emerges – wide enough to comfort her but not so wide that he looks creepy. A line he’s having difficulty navigating right now. She seems glad enough to see him when the door opens, though, and she takes his hand almost immediately after he offers it, and so he’s pretty sure his smile is okay after all.
Just as Magnus had said, there’s a bed waiting for them in the new library, also known as the old bedroom. And a genuine, rather large smile presses across Alec’s face when he sees it.
It’s hideous. Like… hideous. With gaudy bubblegum pink sheets covered in frills with rainbows and unicorns everywhere. And Alec can’t help but find it almost overwhelmingly endearing because for someone with as much style as Magnus, he clearly knows absolutely nothing about pre-teen girls.
Zoe looks up at him almost desperately, and Alec has to stifle a laugh. His voice as professional as he can make it when he asks, “Too old for unicorns?”
The way she rolls her eyes reminds him of Izzy as she breathes out a helpless, “A little.” And the combination is enough to make a snicker escape his carefully crafted façade.
Zoe laughs too, which results in them both laughing together for a good, solid minute before Alec calms down enough to say, “I’ll see if we can’t get you something more age appropriate tomorrow.” And he thinks that’s the end of it, of all the ridiculousness, until he catches sight of the pajamas Magnus had conjured for her.
They’re even worse than the sheets.
“Can I just stay in this?” Zoe asks as she pulls Alec’s coat tighter around her body.
And he actually reaches down to run his fingers through her hair at that, and what’s more she actually lets him, as he says a tender, “Of course,” in response to her completely justified mortification.
When Zoe asks him to stay with her until she falls asleep, Alec can’t help but agree. And it’s strange to him, how this night is turning out, especially how she seems to trust him after knowing him for less than an hour. But he guesses that when you’re terrified and operating under the assumption that a team of assassins is going to come and put you in front of a firing squad at any minute, you’ll latch on to any friendly hand you can.
Especially if that hand belongs to someone you think is an angel.
It takes her a while to fall asleep, even with Alec’s arms around her. And it takes even longer for her to be still, for whatever nightmares are assaulting her to fade into the background enough for her to rest. Which means it’s been at least a few hours since Magnus went off to be Magnus.
He’s on the couch now, still on the phone, or on the phone again, it’s hard to tell. But what isn’t hard to grasp is the fact that his mood hasn’t improved at all in the last few hours. If anything, it’s gotten worse.
“Kann ich eine minute?” Magnus says when he sees Alec approach. And his eyes are so tired when he turns to the end of the couch to look at him that they’re almost black.
“Are you leaving?” he asks, blinking up at Alec in a daze as he sets his phone next to him on the cushion.
“Yeah. I thought I’d head back to the Institute, keep my ear to the ground to see if or… or when any of this hits there.”
“That’s a very practical idea,” Magnus says as he reaches out for Alec’s hand.
“Well, you know me. Practical is my middle name.”
He leans down to kiss Magnus goodnight, and he intends it to just be a quick thing, honestly. Magnus has a lot to do and Alec doesn’t want to be a distraction. But Magnus doesn’t seem to agree with any of his assumptions, judging by the way he twists his fist in the front of Alec’s t-shirt to hold him in place as soon as their lips meet.
He’s on his knees a second later, attempting to pull Alec over the arm of the couch, and Alec is more than willing to go with it until whoever is still waiting on the other end of Magnus’ line screams his name so loudly it makes them both jump.
They laugh, the hysterical hand caught in the cookie jar kind, if by cookie jar he means Magnus’ pants. Which is where his hand currently is, something he didn’t notice until this very second. And the way Magnus groans when Alec pulls his hand out makes all sorts of unhelpful thoughts skitter across his mind in rapid succession.
“Rain check?” Magnus asks.
Magnus’ forehead feels warm beneath his lips, like there’s a fire just under his skin when Alec echoes, “Rain check.”
He watches him for a minute before he leaves, trying not to read too much into how angry his voice sounds, reasoning that it’s probably just because he’s speaking German, and a lot of things sound angry in German.
He wishes he were speaking a different language, though, something that sounded a little less foreboding. Like French. Because he already feels like something has shifted, not far enough to push them off course but enough to mess with the alignment. And he doesn’t really want to leave the loft with that feeling heavy in his gut.
You’re just tired, he assures himself. They’re both just tired. It’ll all look better tomorrow, in the light of day, right? But as he makes his way out into the night, he feels so far from comfort he’d need the freaking Hubble Telescope to see it.
The problem is, Alec’s never been the best of liars, especially when he’s lying to himself.
Chapter 2: Bad Dream
There is a dream prowling at the edge of Magnus’ perception. It is one that he has had many times over the course of his long life, a memory more than a fabrication. Hands tight around his neck, water in his lungs and a sense of release unlike anything he has felt since as blue flames dance on his skin. But it is not a welcome dream, it never has been, and it always leaves him feeling shaken when he awakes from it.
It feels as if he has only been asleep for a minute, if even that. Each of his muscles groaning in chorus as he reaches out for his phone to check the time, only to discover that he has been in bed for little more than an hour.
It is better than a minute, but not by much.
He considers rolling over, burying his head beneath his pillows and making a second attempt at rest when his senses are assaulted by the scent of food. Quite a lot of it, it seems, in varying types, with the strong bite of coffee, dark and thick in back of it all.
In the end, his stomach wins out over everything else. So even as his body tries to protest his decision, his feet still carry him downstairs.
It is Alec that is cooking, as if it would be anyone else. Like some random burglar would break into his home simply to make him breakfast before attempting to rob him blind. His back is to him as he works on something at the stove that smells like hash browns only the mixture of spices makes Magnus’ mouth water instantly as he trails his eyes down to Alec’s bare feet – a common sight these days inside the loft.
He is so distracted that it takes him a moment to notice that they are not alone, and that Zoe is not the only one currently staring at him, beaming up from a plate of something that looks like it materialized straight out of the Cooking Channel. But his eyes only remain on the food for a moment because he is far more intrigued by the second occupant at the table.
Catarina is sitting in Magnus’ chair, her hair pulled back into a loose ponytail, her eyes practically twinkling in the early morning light. And Magnus has to walk out of the room, pause, then walk back in again because he is not entirely sure if he’s actually awake right now.
Catarina is looking at him oddly when he returns, her voice lighter than it had been on the phone last night when she says, “Are you okay, Magnus?”
“No,” he says. “I was almost certain that this was a dream. But that does not appear to be the case.”
“Well, I can’t say as I blame you, given the level of artistry your boyfriend is whipping up this morning. You didn’t tell me he was a good cook.”
“Truthfully, I did not know,” he says almost forlornly as he thinks of all the mornings he could have utilized yet another one of Alec’s secret talents.
“Well, if you’d known and told me, I might not have fought so hard against you trying to save his life,” she says. And at first, Magnus is horrified that she’d allow something like that to slip out within earshot of Alec. But then something very odd happens.
It starts with Alec, biting out an exaggerated, “Ha, ha,” and it ends with Catarina chucking a croissant at the back of Alec’s head. And now Magnus is almost certain that he is still asleep.
He tries to leave the room once more, but Catarina grabs his wrist this time, using him as leverage to pull herself to her feet before linking their arms and walking out with him.
“Am I missing something?” he asks as soon as they are alone. But Catarina just shrugs as if she is already picking up habits from Alec.
“What do you mean you talk?”
“You know, when two people speak words out of their mouths in the general vicinity of one another. We talk, Magnus, on the phone mostly.”
“Mostly? Where else do you talk?”
She waves her hand at him as if his question has little importance right now. “He’s not a bad kid once you get past all the Nephilim nonsense. Which, I have to admit, is something he wears far better than his contemporaries. You look tired. Are you feeling all right?”
“No, I am not feeling all right, and you are not helping matters with your… your words. That you are speaking. Out of your mouth. In the general vicinity of me.”
“There’s no need to be nasty, Magnus. I am sorry that I didn’t tell you about my secret phone conversations with your lover. I thought that he would tell you himself, but I suppose he was just too shy to ‘fess up. I assumed you would be happy that we are getting along.”
“I am,” he says, the words coming to him as a sigh. “I’m just…”
“Tired?” she asks when he trails off. “That’s why I’m here. I know you told me not to come, but I thought you would need a break today. Clearly I was correct. I can watch Zoe. You go, eat some breakfast then take your boyfriend upstairs and ravage him until you pass out. I will, as they say, hold down the fort in your well deserved absence.”
He blinks at her a few unhelpful times, incapable as he is of processing what she’s saying.
“I’m glad you moved your bedroom, by the way. It was tacky having it wide open to the rest of your living space like that, even for you.“
He is still just staring at her as if she were speaking a language he does not know. Which is impossible, given that he knows pretty much every language known to man, demon, angel, and everything in between.
“Magnus?” she asks rather pointedly.
“I call your decorating tacky and you say nothing in retaliation? Are you feeling all right?”
She rests the back of her hand along his forehead now, her concern genuine in all of her blue. But he is not in the mood to be diagnosed and so he bats her arm away as gently as he can.
“Stop treating me like one of your patients. I am fine. And tacky is a funny word coming from someone so fond of parachute pants.”
She narrows her eyes at him. “Everyone wore them in the eighties.”
“Yes, but not everyone wore them last week.”
His comment makes her beam, as he knew it would.
“There he is! Good to see you, Magnus. Now go. Eat. Sex. It will make you feel better.”
He rolls his eyes at her before heading back into the kitchen, but even if he didn’t want it, he cannot help but agree with her diagnosis.
He takes an open chair at the table and waits to be served by his giant, barefooted, gourmet cook of a boyfriend. But when Alec turns around to hand him a plate, food is the last thing on Magnus’ mind as his eyebrow rises practically to his hairline.
“What?” Alec asks, but he gets it a second later, his eyes looking down as if he is trying to see his own cheeks as he says, “Oh, right. So I told Zoe that I thought her warlock mark was cool and she insisted on giving me a set as well. We may or may not have ruined one of your eyeliner pencils. Sorry. I’ll buy you a new one. I hope that’s okay.”
The words spill out of Alec’s mouth like so many of his declarations, as if there is a valve and he either forgets how or is incapable of shutting it off. And Magnus’ chest is pressed full and running over, just like Alec’s words, as he trails his eyes down the hastily drawn track marks on his cheeks.
“Zoe, dear, close your eyes for a moment, would you?” Magnus asks as he rises to his feet. But he doesn’t wait to see if she acquiesces before he digs his fingers into Alec’s hair and pulls him in for a kiss.
“Are you guys kissing?” Zoe asks with a laugh in her voice. “Because I’ve seen people kiss before, Magnus.”
“I’m just wondering why he didn’t tell me to close my eyes as well,” Catarina supplies, but Magnus is paying very little attention to anything other than Alec’s mouth and the way he seems intent to map every single inch of it in the span of a breath.
“Hi,” Alec says once Magnus has completed his task, the word more laugh than anything as he leans his forehead against Magnus’ and looks down at him with eyes that are dazed and heavy.
But Magnus is feeling much the same and so the only word he has in return is, “Hello,” spoken with the precise sense of awe Alec had used.
He forgot how good it felt to be able to kiss Alec first thing in the morning. And he swears now, on the plate of food he is about to devour, that he will never take that simple gift for granted again.
The food, to put it plainly, is some of the best Magnus has ever eaten. And that may just be a combination of adoration, exhaustion, and starvation, but he almost chokes a few times simply from how quickly he is shoveling it all into his mouth.
Alec appears amused by the whole situation as he sits across the table and stares out over a cup of coffee, not partaking in the meal because he is clearly a little bit off his rocker. And the way he is perched there, one leg pulled up onto the chair as his arm rests over the top of his knee, the smoke from his mug wafting over his painted face, makes Magnus wish he had the ability to stop time like Camille.
It’s probably for the best that he doesn’t, of course. If he did, none of them would ever leave this moment.
“This food really is remarkable,” Magnus says around a bite of some sort of quiche that melts as soon as it touches his tongue. “Let me guess, this is another byproduct of absentee parenting?”
Alec smiles, all warmth and ease. “Yeah, that and my sister is terrible. Like, eat at your own potential death terrible.”
“Well, here’s to the Lightwoods being shitty parents,” Catarina exclaims as she raises her glass of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice into the air. “I do not think I’ve eaten this well in a decade at least.”
She’s in a fantastic mood, which is strange, given her general temperament. Magnus is usually the boisterous one between the two of them, playing the bouncing child to her longsuffering parent. And for not the first time in the last few months, he thinks that it must simply be Alec.
When he is not actively trying to push you away with sarcasm and contempt, he can be quite charming. A fact that is proven further when Zoe wraps her arms around Alec’s waist like she is attempting to fuse herself to his body when he and Magnus move to head upstairs.
It’s not like Magnus can blame her for her current choice in heroes. If there were one person in the world whose arms he’d want to run into when scared, it would be Alec.
Catarina extricates her a moment later with the promise of movies and “girl time.” And the way Zoe smiles as if last night never occurred, coupled with how his hand feels held loosely in Alec’s as they make their way to the bedroom, makes him feel as if just this once, the darkness will not overtake them.
As a testament to how sore and tired he is, when Alec asks him to lie face down on the bed for a massage, nothing else, he obeys.
The sheets are cold against his bare skin as Alec straddles his lower back and digs his fingers into the knotted muscles occupying every inch of his body. And it does not surprise him that, as in everything else, Alec excels here as well. His body becoming pliable under Alec’s strong fingers, his muscles yielding to his touch as if ordered to relent while the memories of the previous evening slip further and further into the background of thought.
“I am glad that you and Catarina are becoming friends,” he says, his voice muffled by the way his face is currently buried in silk and down.
“She’s great. A little scary at first, but great.”
Magnus turns his head to the side so that he can both breathe and speak more clearly. “Scary how?”
“Well, I think she only started calling me to make sure I wasn’t some sort of threat to you, you know? Our early conversations were more interrogation than anything. But… I don’t know, I think once she realized that I… uh… that I cared,” he says, the word cared coming out quieter than the others, as if he’s embarrassed to admit even that in such a straightforward way. “She eased up a bit. This morning was the nicest she’s been to me yet, but that’s probably more to do with the food than anything.”
“Although it was very good food, I doubt that is the case,” Magnus says because he knows Catarina. She can seem cold if you are on the outside of her circle, but all the fine cuisine in the world could not get her to smile the way she did at Alec this morning.
That is all will and heart.
“Well, either way, I’m just glad she seems to like me now. I want to… I want to fit here, you know? Not just with you but with… with your life. Does that make sense?”
“Complete,” Magnus says as he bends his arm around his back so that he can hold Alec’s hand briefly.
“So,” Alec says after clearing his throat one loud time. “Did you get any sleep last night?”
Magnus sighs. “Not much.”
“Well you’ll be glad to know that no one at the Institute has caught wind of any of this yet. Hopefully it’ll just blow over.”
“And that will not bother you?”
“Why would it?”
Magnus sighs again, but this time it is in response to the way Alec continually surprises him in even the littlest of things. As if every time he thinks he has found the bottom of his sincerity well, he breaks through to find yet another layer.
“According to the Accords, she is a criminal, Alec. A dangerous one in need of punishment.”
He can feel the way Alec shrugs in the interrupted press of fingers into muscle.
“If we can let Camille off for what she did to Simon, I think we can let off a scared little girl who couldn’t help herself.”
“You really are a terrible Shadowhunter, Alexander Lightwood.”
“Hey, I wasn’t always this way. Clearly you’re a bad influence.”
He knows that it is a joke, but still he wonders if there is not some merit in Alec’s words. Which is perhaps why he says what comes to him next. Because he wants Alec to understand, and because he thinks that maybe Alec is the only one that will.
“This should never have happened,” he says, his voice startlingly tired, even to someone living inside of his head, well aware of how exhausted he feels.
He has had plenty of sleepless nights before, plenty of sleepless weeks. And most of them were far more active than the one previous. But for some reason, he feels as if a part of him was carved out last night, leaving him drained and empty. And he is not sure how to go about reclaiming what has gone missing, not leastwise because he is unsure of what was even lost in the first place.
Alec remains quiet above him when he speaks, a solid, reassuring presence that gives him the courage to continue.
“I should have been paying more attention to her. I should have… I don’t know, perhaps I should have kept her myself. Her father was a good friend. He… they both deserved better than this. Than what I have given them.”
“What happened to her mom?” Alec asks, and Magnus knows that it is a deflection, just like the rune on Alec’s neck. But he still follows the trail anyway because now that he has begun speaking, the words don’t feel so much like they are going to suffocate him.
“She died in childbirth. Nikolai was all Zoe had, and I just passed her off to the first warlock willing to take her in.”
“Magnus,” Alec tries once he realizes his deflection did not work as planned. But Magnus simply talks over him, like he has somehow contracted Alec’s inability to be quiet once the dam has been broken.
“I failed her like I have failed so many under my charge. My people are dying and I have just let it happen. It is inexcusable, the way that I have allowed my attention to slip of late.”
It pains him, the way Alec’s body flinches at his words. And he did not mean them the way they sounded, or if he did he certainly did not mean Alec to bear the blame for them. But before he has a chance to formulate an apology, Alec moves off of him in order to roll him over.
He places his hands on Magnus’ shoulders as he settles back over his waist, his expression made of cast iron as he stares down at him like a challenge and says, “It’s not your fault, Magnus. None of what’s happened is your fault. You can’t control everything, right? Nobody can. You’re doing your best, and anyone that doesn’t see that can go straight to hell as far as I’m concerned.”
Even if that someone is me, he thinks, but he does not say the words out loud. Because Alec may have cut off his apology at the knees, but there are other ways to make amends.
He runs his hands up Alec’s arms, watching in wonder as Alec’s eyes go glassy at his touch. And Magnus is tired but not so tired that his body doesn’t react to the feel of strong muscles beneath his palms, or to the pressure from Alec’s body, resting on his hips.
He enjoys tracking the way Alec unspools above him. Often it is quick, like a rush of water, but sometimes if he’s very lucky he gets this: A slow unraveling, working its way from the inside out.
If the last few weeks have been a discovery process, Magnus has enjoyed every single excavation. A thought that swims lazily in his head as he twists his hips to spur the process along, calling up an almost choked gasp from Alec’s lungs.
When Alec reaches down to grab the back of his neck so he can pull him upright, Magnus takes a moment before the kiss to hold Alec’s face, rub his thumbs through the makeup so that it is smeared across his cheeks. And it calls up something deep inside of him, seeing Alec like this – wrecked in too many ways to count already. And so the kiss is so potent his whole body is alight with it within seconds.
Their position is awkward, with Alec still pinning his legs. The only thing keeping him upright is the way Alec’s arms are wrapped tightly around his waist. And Magnus’ fingers dig into the back of Alec’s neck like he is holding onto the edge of a cliff, scraping at rocks that seem intent to slip beneath his fingers.
When Alec shifts his weight, the alignment locks into place in a way that makes white light flash behind Magnus’ shut tight eyes. His nails digging into Alec’s skin so hard his fingers cramp.
It only takes a moment for Magnus to slip, for the rocks to break beneath his grip, for blue fire to spark electric from his fingertips. And the way Alec breaks the kiss in order to hiss the word, “Ow,” into the space between them feels like the world, crashing around Magnus’ feet.
He tries to pull back, but Alec will not let him go, his arms still tight around his waist as he stumbles through an apology as if it’s his fault that Magnus just used his magic on him.
“I’m okay,” he says. “It’s fine. Just… come here, it’s fine.” And the way he keeps repeating the fact that he’s fine makes Magnus feel sick to his stomach.
“Let me see it, Alec.”
“Seriously, Magnus, I’m good. It didn’t even really hurt. It’s like when you stub your toe, you know? Like, you say ouch but it’s really not pain so much as you just weren’t expecting it, you know? You weren’t expecting the table or whatever to be there and-”
“Alec,” he says, forcefully enough to get him to listen. “Please get off of me.”
Because he is Alec, he does as Magnus asks. But Magnus cannot bring himself to look at the crushed expression on Alec’s face as he shifts to the side to allow Magnus the freedom he requested.
He pushes Alec down immediately, forcing him to his hands and knees in order to get a better look at the back of his neck. And the way Alec shudders beneath his grip makes fire flash feebly along Magnus’ skin.
“Uh, Magnus. I feel the need to point out that if you’re trying to kill the mood, it’s not working,” he says, his voice thick in a way that wants to press through the concern screaming in Magnus’ ears. But he does his best to ignore it, focusing instead on the marks sprinkled across Alec’s skin.
There are small burns embedded in the prints from his nails, nothing serious but enough to make Magnus feel cold inside as he raises his hand to rest a few inches above the marred skin.
“Magnus, you really don’t have to do that,” he says as the healing energy begins to flow from Magnus’ body. “Seriously. I do worse to myself shaving.”
“Alec, be quiet,” he replies, his voice distant as he settles into focusing on the work, grateful for the distraction.
“This is ridiculous, Magnus. I mean, when have you ever had problems marking me before?”
He’s trying to joke with him, to lighten the mood. But his words only make the pit in Magnus’ stomach open wider.
“Jace still rags on me about that hickey you gave me the night of our first date,” he continues.
And Magnus hisses out a desperate, “Alec, please,” because the sound of his voice is like a thousand tiny knives right now, puncturing his skin.
“No,” Alec replies, bucking against Magnus’ grip so he can settle back into a sitting position. His hands reaching out immediately to grab Magnus’ as if he senses how much Magnus wants to pull away.
“It’s nothing,” he says before leaning in to press a kiss to Magnus’ neck, his lips and tongue and teeth working immediately at his skin like he is trying to return what he incorrectly views as some sort of favor. His voice dark, heated as he whispers the words, “Besides, I kind of liked it,” directly into Magnus’ ear.
It is the exact thing that Magnus did not want to hear.
“You never use your magic on me,” he continues almost pleadingly as if he thinks Magnus is withholding some sort of precious gift from him. And the words, that is because I am afraid I might kill you, come so quickly to his mind that they steal his breath from him.
He knows they are not true, that he does not have to fear that happening because it is not even a logical possibility. And yet the words are still stuck inside of him, pounding against his ribs like his rapidly beating heart as he remembers the dream. The fire. The release.
He pulls away from Alec because it is the only way he will be able to breathe, his legs draped over the side of the bed as he buries his face in his palms and forcibly tries to shove the unhelpful thoughts back into the corners from which they emerged. But even with his increased efforts, the word consume still rushes rapidly to the surface.
He is not truly afraid that he will kill Alec, but he is afraid that he will consume him, whatever that means. And he is shaking at the half-formed thought.
“Magnus, what’s wrong?” Alec asks, all the heat drained from his voice as he rests a palm gently on Magnus’ back like he’s unsure if he should touch him but is unable to resist.
“Nothing,” he lies. “I am just tired.” And that, he supposes, is the truth. But it is not the truth he should be giving, only how can he explain to Alec something even he doesn’t understand?
“C’mere,” Alec coaxes, the bed shifting as he moves across it, his back resting against the headboard when Magnus finally gets up the courage to look at him again.
“If you need to sleep, come here and sleep. I’ve been told I’m a pretty good pillow.”
Magnus’ eyes thin as his body continues sagging under the weight pressing on his shoulders. “Who told you that?”
“Well, no one actually ever told me it, but Max and Izzy both fall asleep on me all the time, so I must not be terrible at it.”
“No, I’m serious. I think it’s my uncanny ability to remain perfectly still for long stretches of time. Once, when I was pissed at Izzy, I sat in the middle of her bed for an entire night, wide-awake and unmoving. She finally gave up and slept on the floor but when she woke up I was still there. Only I guess I moved a little because by that point I was grinning like an idiot.”
Magnus smiles lightly in spite of the war still raging in his head. “Why didn’t she sleep in your bed?”
Alec cocks his head in a way that further works to lessen the load on Magnus’ shoulders.
“You know, that’s a really good question. I don’t know why she didn’t sleep in my bed. That probably would’ve been a smart idea, and it definitely would’ve made my victory way less… you know… victorious.”
Magnus thinks of Isabelle now, of the mysterious Lightwood fondness even she calls up in him. And he wonders vaguely if he will he ever be able to get over them, or if there will ever come a day when he will want to.
He decides eventually to take Alec up on his offer of a human pillow. And as he settles into Alec’s arms, the weight becomes feather light and nearly insignificant.
“Your siblings were correct,” he says, his voice weakened by the past twelve hours to the point that it’s hardly above that of a whisper. “You are quite well suited for this.”
One would think he wouldn’t be, what with all the muscles. But there’s a softness to his body Magnus isn’t sure he’s ever noticed before, mostly because when they are close enough to touch he is generally on a prolonged scavenger hunt for all things hard.
“I’m a man of many talents,” Alec says, and it’s happening fast, unspooling of a different kind as the sleep that had seemed so illusive last night rushes upon him like it’s desperate to claim him as its own.
Magnus just lets it take him, regardless of any fear he might have of what’s on the other side as if he thinks the mere presence of Alec beneath him will ward off any unpleasant dreams. And as he falls asleep to the strong, steady thrum of Alec’s heartbeat, he wonders at why he was even afraid to begin with.
It was just a dream, even if it was also a memory. And dreams only have the power that you give them. As someone well versed in the removal of memories, Magnus knows this fact better than most.
Chapter 3: Take It All
In the past week, Alec has spent every free minute he owns at the loft, helping out with Zoe. Between trying to train her to use her powers and trying to work whatever magic he’s doing in the Downworld to keep the incident under wraps, the stress is clearly eating at Magnus, more deeply than he’s letting on if Alec were to hazard a guess. And the only way he’ll seem to let anyone help carry the load is through menial, physical labor.
It’s a good thing Alec’s spent a lifetime perfecting his menial.
Due to a particularly rough training session this morning that left Zoe in tears and Magnus at something that had looked remarkably like a breaking point, Alec had offered to take her out for ice cream and a movie, two places that wouldn’t be crowded at ten a.m. on a Tuesday. And as a testament to how done Magnus was, he’d agreed to the arrangement.
He rarely lets Zoe out of his sight, and even more rarely lets her out of the house. But Magnus clearly trusts Alec’s ability to keep her under control, keep her from harming herself, from harming others. And that quiet vote of confidence had carried him through the morning.
She hasn’t even gotten a simple glamour down, so there’d been a solid hour of makeup and contact application to make her presentable. But the smile she’s wearing as they make their way home again makes everything that came before it worthwhile. A smile he’s wearing, too, but one that evaporates as soon as he sees who’s sitting in the living room with Magnus when they get back.
“¿Qué carajo está haciendo este aquí?” Raphael spits out in disgust once Alec catches his attention.
Alec can already feel a headache developing just behind his eyes when he replies, “Él ha sido invitado.”
If Raphael is surprised that Alec knows Spanish, he doesn’t show it. But that’s probably just because he’s too busy looking at Alec like he wants to vomit all over him before setting him on fire.
“Alec is right, Raphael,” Magnus says coolly, which is better than the pressed heat of this morning. “He has a standing invitation to be here whenever he wants. And given what a monumental help he’s been lately, I feel as if I should give him part ownership of the loft itself.”
The words are comforting, even if his tone of voice isn’t. But none of that makes Raphael’s expression soften in the slightest.
Alec had worked really hard to make Catarina like him. He’d even gone to Izzy on numerous occasions to ask her for conversation topics he could use whenever Catarina called – because Alec always waited for her to come to him first. But in spite of how much he knows Raphael means to Magnus as well, he can’t picture himself making the same effort here.
Basically, he’s just grateful that he’s too polite to tell Magnus that he raised an asshole.
“Magnus!” Zoe exclaims in a way that seems to shatter the silence as she runs over to him and hops into his lap. “I’m ready to train again.”
Alec tracks the way Magnus’ entire demeanor shifts once Zoe is in his arms, how his posture loosens, his shoulders lowering slightly, his arms relaxing as they wrap lightly around her waist. How the lines in his face seem to soften, smoothing out until Magnus is all that’s left, free of the burdens that threaten to crush him on a daily basis. And it brings Alec a sense of comfort as well until he makes the mistake of looking at Raphael again.
He’s still just staring at Alec, only now it’s like he’s studying him. Like the face people get anytime Izzy puts a plate of home cooked food in front of them. All poking it with your fork and trying to figure out if the food is actually food and not some morbid joke.
It’s a decidedly uncomfortable look to say the least, and so Alec tears his eyes away and settles them back on Magnus because when you’ve got a view of the ocean, there’s no point in staring at a mud puddle.
“Are you sure, my dear?” Magnus asks softly, his fingers playing at the pigtails it had taken Alec fifteen minutes to perfect this morning. “I do not wish to push you too hard, and you already made good progress this morning.”
“That’s why I want to continue!” she exclaims. “Alec told me that when you make progress, you need to push it. You can’t sit on your… feet?” she asks, glancing over to Alec in search of the right word.
“Heels,” he corrects, prompting a smile to cascade across her face.
“Right! You can’t just sit on your heels or you’ll never get anywhere. So no more sitting for me!”
She hops off Magnus’ lap at that, reaching down to take Magnus’ hand, and it’s such a perfect freaking moment that Alec feels lighter than he has in days because of it.
Magnus mouths the words, thank you, to him as he walks past, pulling slightly on where Zoe is still tugging him along so he can pause beside Alec just long enough to give him a peck on the cheek. And he’s smiling like an idiot as Magnus and Zoe make their way to the balcony until, yet again, he makes the mistake of looking at the Armani clad elephant in the room.
“Ugh,” he says as he makes his way back to the TV room. But for some strange reason that Alec will probably never understand, Raphael actually follows him and plops down on the opposite end of the overstuffed velvet couch.
Not velour, but velvet. Magnus had made sure to point that out early on.
He leaves the TV on the channel they’d been watching last night, which just so happens to be HGTV – Magnus’ favorite background noise. And it’s one of the few programs Alec actually likes, the one where the people build crazy houses in, like, trees and train cars and on the sides of cliffs and stuff.
It feels like he and Raphael are in some sort of standoff, like they’re playing Chicken here, waiting to see who will swerve first. But even though Raphael was here when he got home, Alec technically got here first because he slept here last night, and so there’s no way in hell he’s going to be the first one to leave.
“Hasta su gusto en televisión está de pedo,” Raphael says eventually, the words mumbled under his breath but still loud enough to be heard.
“Would you quit it with that? You know I understand what you’re saying,” Alec replies, his voice pulled taut around the way his muscles are clenching at the mere sound of Raphael’s voice.
“Yeah, genius, that’s why I’m saying it.”
Alec shuts his eyes, breathes one sharp, deep breath through his nose before turning to face Raphael head on.
“Do you have some sort of problem with me?”
There’s a smirk on Raphael’s face when he shifts in his seat so he can face Alec as well. “How long you got?”
Alec rolls his eyes, because that’s his standard reaction to people who annoy the crap out of him. But he doesn’t say anything back this time, mostly because he really doesn’t feel like getting into an argument with Magnus’ sort-of-kid like some harpy stepmom on that god-awful talk show Magnus loves. The one where every other episode is about paternity tests.
If he has to hear, you are not the father, one more time he may actually go insane.
He turns back to the TV in a mild huff because he’s not perfect, but Raphael doesn’t seem as keen on letting the matter drop as Alec is.
“That house is made from refrigerator panels,” he says dryly. “Who cares?”
Alec grits his teeth, takes another sharp nose breath, and remains calm.
He swears he is totally calm.
“The least they could do is blow something up,” Raphael continues.
And Alec can’t stop himself before the words, “What are you, twelve?” slip from between his clenched teeth.
“What are you, eighty?”
“Okay,” he says, turning back to face Raphael again and really just, like, hating the smug look on Raphael’s face. “I’ll have you know that Magnus likes HGTV.”
“Yeah, and Magnus also likes you. And he spent a few decades banging Camille. There’s no accounting for taste with him.”
Alec opens his mouth to say something, but for some reason he can’t seem to form words right now past rage.
Raphael uses his momentary lapse to fill the space with more insults, though, which is just freaking fantastic. His voice full of the kind of superiority Alec would just like to beat out of him as he asks, “Are all Shadowhunters as boring as you? Or is that just, like, your special gift to the world?”
“Are all vampires as obnoxious as you?” Alec asks. And it’s not his best insult by far, but at least he’s speaking again.
“Seriously, Lightwood, are you some sort of old man trapped in a younger person’s body?”
“I’m about a half a century younger than you, grandpa. I wouldn’t talk.”
“Grandpa. That’s funny, coming from you. Tell me something: Exactly how big is your suspender collection?”
“You’re just jealous because I can get a suntan,” Alec bites out, the dull heat of the argument working through his veins now as he settles into it like a warm bath.
“And you’re just jealous that I won’t wither and die with a beer gut and three hairs left on my head as I crap in my adult diaper.”
“Whatever. At least I won’t look like a sixteen-year-old boy for the rest of my life.”
“At least my life will last beyond a handful of rapidly declining decades.”
Alec leans in, getting ready to deliver his next blow, when the sound of someone clearing their throat freezes both he and Raphael in place.
Correction: The sound of Magnus clearing his throat.
At some point in the argument both Magnus and Zoe had entered the room, and one of them had turned off the TV. But neither he nor Raphael had picked up on any of that because they were too busy trying to bury one another in insults.
“Zoe needed a glass of water and we thought we would see how you two were getting along,” Magnus says, his words tired around the words getting along. And the headache that had been building behind Alec’s eyes is a full on migraine, now that he’s given himself a second to notice it.
“I think I’m going to head back to the Institute,” he says as he gets to his feet, forcing himself not to look down at Raphael because he knows exactly what’ll be there: Triumph.
He’s tired, though. Tired still. Tired always. And he doesn’t have the energy to fight with someone other than himself right now.
“Alec,” Magnus says in an attempt to stop him, but Alec just takes his hand in his and smiles as softly as he can.
“It’s okay. I really do have work to catch up on. We’ll talk later.”
He’s on his way to the door at that, Raphael’s voice pinched and defensive in the background as he says, “What are you looking at me for? He started it.”
And Alec is half tempted to go back and set the matter straight but what would be the point?
“Alec, wait,” Magnus tries again once he’s made it to the door, one arm in his coat and the other one well on its way.
“It’s really fine, Magnus. It’s not him, I promise,” he says because he still doesn’t want to make this awkward. This is Magnus’ house, Raphael is Magnus’ friend, and so regardless of how much Alec really wants to throw him off the balcony, he’s got no place to complain.
Magnus reaches out to run his fingers down the hems of Alec’s coat, his nails scraping along the zippers before he tugs lightly on the bottom and says, “Promise?”
Alec leans in to kiss him, a soft, slow movement of lips before tipping back and saying, “Promise.”
“Thank you for today,” Magnus continues as he does Alec’s zipper for him, pushing up the sleeves next because he knows how much Alec hates wearing his sleeves all the way down.
It could be ten degrees outside, and Alec would still want to roll up his damn sleeves.
“I’m glad I’m able to help,” he says truthfully, stopping himself from adding, I wish you’d let me do more. “Her training is going good?”
“In the few moments we had, it looked promising. Better than this morning, anyhow. I think the time out of the house did her good. Perhaps I should let her out more, I am just…”
“I get it,” Alec says in response to the lost look in Magnus’ eyes, his hands settling on Magnus’ hips as he pulls him close enough to settle together. “It’s scary, given what happened. But it’s going to be okay, you know? We’ll figure it out.”
He rests his forehead against Magnus’ for that last part, his eyes slipping shut as he breathes Magnus in like he’s afraid he’s never going to see him again even though, knowing him, he’ll probably be crawling back tonight the second Raphael is gone.
“Don’t work too hard,” Magnus says, and he sounds so tired. Which isn’t rare these days but every now and again it still manages to take Alec off guard. Like he was somehow hoping that if Magnus could just get one more night of sleep, or one more morning off, he’d somehow be back to normal again.
He drags his nose along Magnus’ cheekbone, settling his lips just beneath Magnus’ ear before responding, “You either.”
He calls out a quick goodbye to Zoe before he leaves, but she doesn’t run to the door to give him one of her patented leech hugs this time, calling out just as quick of a goodbye instead before the sounds of explosions drift from the TV.
“Cool!” Zoe exclaims so loudly it practically echoes through the entire loft. And Alec can’t stop himself from mumbling, “Freaking twelve year old,” under his breath.
“What was that?” Magnus asks, because Magnus is still here. Standing directly in front of him. Within earshot.
“I said I can’t believe she’s only twelve years old,” he responds with a giant, fake smile, even though the twelve year old he’d been referring to was most definitely not Zoe.
Magnus seems content to let it slide, though, which is kind of him. Because Magnus is kind. And beautiful. And warm. And strong. And powerful. And Alec really needs to leave before he gets himself into trouble here.
So he leans in for one more quick kiss, making sure to land nowhere near Magnus’ lips, before turning away quickly and heading out. Spending the entire trip back to the Institute counting down the minutes until he can return.
He’s in the control center working on some new leads on Valentine a few hours later when Izzy comes up to him like she’s got a literal fire under her ass.
“Can I speak with you?” she hisses under her breath. And he’s considering asking her what about but the way she puts his wrist in a death grip and drags him toward the hall keeps his words firmly locked in his chest.
Once they’re some place more secluded she lets him go, but only so she can round on him, her finger outstretched and pointing, her eyes almost black when she asks, “Did you know?”
“About the warlock, Alec. The one that killed a mundane last week.”
He remains silent, his arms rising of their own volition to cross over his chest. But Izzy’s always been a pro at reading every single shift in his expression and so it doesn’t take her long to call bullshit.
“Alec, why didn’t you report it? You could get into a lot of trouble for this.”
A sharp bark of laughter erupts out of him. “Gee, Iz, that’s rich coming from you. How’s Meliorn doing these days?”
“Meliorn didn’t kill anyone, Alec.”
“Did you read the report?” he asks, and his question takes her off guard momentarily, her eyes blinking as she tries to regain the track as the word, “Why?” puffs quietly from her lips.
“Did. You. Read. The. Report?”
“Yes, Alec, I read it,” she says, her posture straightening once she finds her way back to center.
“What did it say?”
“It said that a highly powerful, highly volatile female warlock killed a mundane in Bensonhurst last week.”
He nods and feels the familiar tug of a smirk pressing across his lips, his voice dripping with derision when he asks, “That’s it?”
“Yes. That’s it. Is that not enough?”
He crosses his arms tighter and takes a few measured steps closer to her, his head tipped down and his voice low when he says, “So you’re saying the report didn’t mention that this ‘highly powerful, highly volatile female warlock’ was actually a twelve year old girl. Or that she killed her elderly neighbor by accident when her powers manifested beyond her control.”
“No,” she says. But even though her voice is starting to waver, she still stands her ground.
“Okay, so how about her dad, did it mention him? How her father – the only family she had left – was killed two months ago alongside a couple dozen other warlocks when the Circle attacked Magnus’ lair because of Shadowhunter business.”
“Alec,” she tries, but he isn’t finished yet. Not by a long shot.
“I’m pretty sure it didn’t mention the nightmares, right? How she has them every night, waking up screaming her head off like she’s back in that moment again. A moment she’ll probably remember for the rest of her life, the life she’s afraid is going to end at any minute because she sees the Clave as the literal boogeyman, jack boots and everything. Did it mention any of that?”
“No, Izzy, just… no. They can arrest me if they want, but I’m not apologizing for what I did.”
He goes to leave at that, fully satisfied that he won their argument pretty handily. But the next words out of her mouth stop him dead in his tracks.
“They know she’s with Magnus.”
Alec literally. Stops. Breathing.
“They’re putting together a team now,” Izzy says to the hard lines of his frozen back. “To go to the loft. If you wanted… if you wanted to call anyone.”
He turns around then, wanting to see the look in her eyes, to gauge what she’s doing, why she’s doing it. And something warm presses feebly through the cold when she looks up at him in the defiance he’s always loved so much and says, “I didn’t see you. We didn’t have this conversation,” and walks away like there’s nothing left to be said.
And there isn’t. Or not to her, anyway.
He wastes no time on the issue, pulling out his phone as soon as he regains his bearings and hitting send because Magnus was not only the last call he made but pretty much the only call he’s made in the last few weeks.
It takes him too many rings to pick up. And it’s probably only four or five, but four or five is too freaking many.
“Alec, I’m glad you called, I wanted to apologize again for-”
“Magnus, shut up and listen,” he interrupts, his words and his tone of voice – harsh and desperate – more than enough to get Magnus to comply.
“You need to move the loft now.”
“They know about Zoe. They know what she did, Magnus, and they know you have her and they’re coming. Like… now. Move the loft, ditch your cell, and find me when you can. I’ll see… I’ll see what I can do here.”
“No, Magnus, don’t talk, just go. I lo-” He stops there, biting the words down because he can’t seem to choke them out, saying instead, “Be careful. Please, just be careful. Find me.”
He hangs up the phone at that, confident that he got his point across. And he’s in the middle of trying to figure out what the hell to do next, how to help, when a voice cuts through the silence surrounding him.
“Who were you talking to?” his mother asks, because why wouldn’t it be her? He wasn’t already having his worst day in recent weeks, might as well add another ring of fire to the mix.
He turns around and tries to look like he isn’t as guilty as sin, painting on a hasty mask of innocence when he says, “No one.”
She reaches out to grab his phone, slipping it from his grasp before he has the time to catch it. Her voice pinched so thin it sounds painful when she repeats, “Who were you talking to?”
“It was Magnus,” he says because why not, right? Might as well lean into the skid. “I was calling Magnus to warn him about the strike team headed to his loft.”
“Alec!” she hisses, and really, he’s not sure why she sounds so surprised, after everything that’s happened in the last month.
“You could be arrested for that,” she says as if he didn’t already both know and accept that. “You could be tried for treason.”
He shrugs. Because Alec really, really loves to shrug in the face of overwhelming desolation.
“You need to turn them in, Alec. If you tell the Clave of their location, I am sure that they will be lenient with you.”
He laughs. Like, full on, disdain-filled laughter. Which is probably something his mother didn’t even know he was capable of because until this moment, he’s never done anything but stand at attention in front of her.
Well, other than the day of his wedding. Or that time he was stupid enough to ask her for help in finding Jace. But there definitely has never been mocking laughter, and so the look of abject horror on her face is not entirely unexpected.
“That’s not going to happen,” he says once he finishes all the laughing, and even he’s a little surprised by how calm he sounds. How confident. Because treason is actually a pretty big deal, just ask Izzy. Only for some reason, Alec just doesn’t care.
“She broke the Accords, Alec. She killed someone.”
“She’s only twelve years old, mother. She’s just a scared little girl. I’m not… I’m not going to hand her over to the Clave so they can throw her in a freaking dungeon for the rest of her very long life.”
“She is not a twelve year old girl,” she says, her voice taunting as she repeats his words, the phrase as you say inherent in her tone even if she doesn’t say it out loud. “She is a monster.”
His eyes thin to slits. “What, you mean like Magnus?”
There’s a challenge in her expression when she moves closer to him, her head held high, chin jutting out when she replies, “No, not like Magnus. Magnus is worse. Magnus is dangerous.”
Alec is really very tired of this conversation. So he says pretty matter-of-factly, “He’s long gone by now, and I won’t help you or the Clave or anyone else that means him harm find him. So you can just save your speeches for someone who gives a shit.”
For a moment, she looks as if he just hauled off and slapped her right across the face. But because she’s a Lightwood, she composes herself almost instantly, the haughty superiority back in full force when she says, “Alec, I know that you think that you love him, but you are making the wrong choice.”
He laughs again, just a small bark of it this time before saying, “It’s funny that you think this is actually a choice for me.”
“It is always a choice. And life is full of hard choices.”
He leans in the way he’d done with Izzy only more menacing, his jaw aching from how hard he’s clenching it as he says, “I don’t give up on someone just because they’re a hard choice.”
He goes to walk away from her at that, but she still tries to stop him. Her words more desperate than he’s probably ever heard them when she calls out, “If you continue down this path, you will lose everything.”
He turns around and throws his hands up flippantly in the air, pulling the motion of a shrug as he says, “Then I’ll lose it.”
She’s on him in a second, her hands gripped tightly around his biceps, her voice so full of desperate pleading that he’d almost feel bad for her if he hadn’t spent his entire life with her as his mother.
“Alec, think about your future,” she begs.
But he just shrugs her off, his voice more determined than it’s maybe ever been before when he says, “I am.”
Pausing to let that fact settle into her brain before he adds:
Chapter 4: Until We Go Down
The first few nights, Magnus just watches him. He’s taken to walking the streets of New York, never the same one twice, his steps spreading out in erratic patterns known only to the voices in his head. And for hours each evening, that is all he does, moving amidst the bustling crowds, completely unseen by anyone but Magnus.
He is waiting to be found. Magnus knows this. But that is never the problem. He made a promise that he would always find Alec, and it is a surprisingly easy promise to keep. For some reason, however, he cannot bring himself to take that final step. To call out to him. To make his presence known.
It is difficult to accept what Alec did for him. Hiding his knowledge about Zoe had been one thing, a hard pill to swallow but one that he could at least comprehend. But outright defiance like this? There are no words in Magnus’ vocabulary to explain what that means.
Even if I did feel something for you, you want me to give up my life for you? I have to do what’s right for me. I could lose my family, my career, everything.
Those words have been burned into his memory, branded there like so many others. And he can still remember how they had stung. But whereas before they hurt, now they simply feel heavy, as if he has somehow tricked Alec into doing the exact thing he feared.
Back then, Magnus had pushed knowing what it might cost Alec because he believed Alec deserved love above all else. That he deserved a chance at the happiness he’d been depriving himself of his entire life. But what happiness has Magnus brought to him?
Alec had said no but Magnus had still gone to the wedding, still pressed the issue. And here he has done it again, only now the words are more prophetic. The threat of losing it all far more real than when it was just Alec, backing out of a hasty political marriage.
This could mean his freedom. Could mean banishment. Could mean his very life. And he may not be in shackles yet, but that is likely only because they are using him as bait. A way to lure Magnus out of hiding so they can do something they have wanted to do for centuries, ever since the son of Asmodeus set hoofed foot onto the stage. And behind it lingers a question that makes Magnus cold inside just to think it:
What happens to Alec when the Clave gets tired of waiting?
Sometimes he thinks that Alec can sense his presence. The way he will stand completely still, just breathing. How he will tip his head towards the sky, shut his eyes to the night. And it reminds him of the Alec in his memory, the one spread out beneath the stars, longing for a life he could not have.
It breaks his heart to watch Alec waiting for him but he wonders if maybe it is better than the alternative. To just disappear now while his wounds are shallow enough to heal.
Catarina calls him an idiot repeatedly. She stays with Zoe at night while Magnus goes out on his excursions, as she has taken to calling them. But every time he comes home alone, she gives him a look that cuts to bone.
He cannot find a way to explain to her that he does not know how to do this. How to be with Alec without destroying what little life he has left simply by being a part of it.
This is not Alec’s battle; it is Magnus’ war. And if he truly loved him as deeply as he claims to, he never would have allowed him to set foot on the field.
“This is his choice,” Catarina says, each and every time, an echo from the past that presses intently on the present. “It is not your place to make that decision for him.” But perhaps it should be. Perhaps Alec doesn’t know enough, cannot see enough of the larger picture to make the choice that is best for him.
On the sixth night, Magnus cannot take it any longer. There has been a cold snap, and Alec’s breath creates small clouds of smoke every time it leaves his mouth. His teeth chatter, his body shivering beneath the stubborn layers of clothes that are never enough for the weather around him and yet still, he walks. His hands shoved deep in his pockets, his eyes cast down to the ground as if the only thing he can focus on is one foot, continuously planted in front of the other. And the surge of emotion is too much for Magnus to bear.
His voice is hardly above the sound of a whisper, but he knows that Alec will hear him. That wherever they are, Alec will always hear him.
He stares at Magnus for a few moments, his eyes blinking into the harsh light of the street, unable to process the image before him. And it makes him feel as bad as Catarina continually implies he should feel, to see the cracks in Alec’s expression. The way that he is afraid to believe, as if he had assumed he would be wandering these streets forever in search of a ghost.
He breathes Magnus’ name like a prayer, lost on the wind. Chasing it with the words, “What took you so long?” And they are a sob, more than anything. A rush of sincerity that Alec either cannot or will not hide. But before Magnus even has a chance to formulate a lie to answer his question, Alec’s arms are around him.
His body is physically so cold, but Magnus is not sure if he has ever felt this warm in his entire life.
When Alec kisses him, it is simultaneously every fire Magnus has ever started, and every pile of ash left in their wake. Alec’s rune and Magnus’ glamour keeping them invisible to the crowd of people pressing around them, moving through their lives unaware of the war that is about to break wide. And he is selfish; he knows this. He is utterly selfish to hold on as tightly as he is, but in this moment, he could not stop himself even if he wanted to.
Magnus does not want to.
Alec pulls him into an alleyway a few moments later, grabs the front of his jacket and hauls him around so violently it might startle Magnus if not for how focused he is on Alec’s expression. On the anger warring with the desperate relief as he practically throws Magnus into the brick wall of a nearby apartment building and molds his body to every inch of his.
The kiss is frenetic, all tongues and teeth, Alec’s hands moving so quickly over Magnus’ body that he cannot keep up. And it is everything Magnus can do to simply breathe, to stay on his feet and hang on as Alec zeroes in on every inch of exposed skin he can find.
A sharp moan escapes painfully from Magnus’ lungs when Alec’s knee rises between his legs, the pressure sending waves of heat through his blood, over and over in time to the way Alec’s hips are moving against him. And it feels like a flash flood, like being pulled downstream to a likely death only Magnus wouldn’t grab on to a stray branch even if one presented itself.
He is lost. He is utterly lost. But he is not the only one adrift in this particular abyss, and so whatever the consequences, he is apparently willing to face them if only this one thing will remain.
“Magnus,” Alec says when he finishes, the word so raw, so wide open and bloody that it sends Magnus immediately over the edge as well. And as they stand there together, arms around each other, breath panting into the frozen air, the thoughts of earlier return to him, one by one like the ghosts of dead enemies.
You will ruin him, they say. You will lay waste to his entire existence. There will be nothing left but scorched earth when you are finished with him.
And Magnus only wishes that he had the strength to heed their warnings.
“Where are Cat and Zoe tonight?” Alec asks sleepily as he twists his fingers in a chunk of Magnus’ hair.
It has been over a week since they found each other again, almost two since the moving of the loft, but it is only the third time they have managed to get away like this. Hidden in the type of seedy motel that makes Magnus fear the contraction of diseases heretofore untold because it is the only way to ensure Zoe’s safety.
He misses seeing Alec in his loft. Misses the image of long legs, draped over his furniture. Wonders if he will ever see Alec’s bare feet again. But they do this because they have to, because the loft must remain hidden and there is no way to know if Alec is being followed at any given time. So at least here, Magnus could portal away at a moment’s notice and Zoe’s home would still be secure.
“Peru, I believe,” he says in response, referencing the way Catarina has taken to bringing Zoe on grand world adventures on the nights of Magnus’ absence. “Zoe wanted to see the rainforest.”
“I’ve never been to Peru,” Alec says in a way that translates to: I have never been outside of New York or Idris.
But when Magnus says, “I should take you there some time,” a pit settles in his stomach that has nothing to do with the fact that he is technically no longer welcome within its borders.
“So how’s she doing? She miss me?” Alec asks as if he does not already know the answer to that question.
“Like a lost limb.”
“Eh, it’s probably not that bad. I miss her too, though. She kind of grows on you, you know?”
“Like a fungus,” he jokes, but he only says it because he knows that Alec will see it for the lie it is.
It is remarkable how attached they have both become to her in such a short period of time. And it makes everything that they are trying to do so much more difficult, but also so much more worth it.
“Is her training going any better? Last time you said she was able to hold a glamour for almost half a day, right?”
“She is up to a full waking one now,” he says with something akin to pride. “From morning until the ice cream I am forced to give her before bed because someone got her addicted to the substance.”
“I took her out for ice cream once, Magnus. How was I supposed to know she’d never had it before?”
He wraps his arms tighter around Alec’s waist, burrowing his face into Alec’s bare chest like he wishes he could crack open his ribcage and crawl inside, steal the warmth from his heart.
It is a morbid image, but Magnus is in a morbid mood. One not helped by the topic he has been avoiding ever since he and Alec settled into the talking portion of the evening.
“She finally talked about it yesterday,” he says quietly, and the way Alec’s heartbeat speeds up slightly at his words indicates his comprehension of what Magnus just said.
“How did that go?”
“It was difficult for her to relive the night, that much was plain. But I think that it will help her in the long run to have spoken about it. That is my hope, anyway.”
Alec does not ask for details because he is far too polite to pry, and Magnus is grateful for that. Because Zoe was not the only one that had a difficult time of it.
He knows that it is not about him, but hearing her speak of losing control like that made the nightmares press almost into the daylight. The loud, grating creak of the barn door. The shadow, swinging across the dirt. The cold, dark water of the lake. Hands, calloused from hard labor, squeezing around his neck like a vise. Water filling his lungs and hellfire burning through his skin. It was all there, just below the surface as Zoe spoke of what it had felt like to kill someone for the first and hopefully, in her case, the last time.
That is not something Alec needs to hear. Ever. And so he uses the silence left in the wake of Alec’s politeness to change the subject.
“How are things at the Institute?” he asks, because if he is already going to feel ill, he might as well get this out of the way as well.
Alec shrugs beneath where Magnus is still draped across him. “They’re okay.”
“Alec,” he says warningly.
“They’re not great, Magnus, but you know that already. I’m being watched 24/7, I’ve got my mother so far up my ass she’s probably lost all sight of daylight, and I’m being handcuffed on doing any work that might actually be beneficial to stopping the war everyone seems to have forgotten about because a twelve year old warlock accidentally killed some old man. It sucks. But whatever, right? It is what it is.”
The harshness in his tone is not meant for Magnus, but in spite of how well he knows this he still feels the bite nonetheless.
“Alexander,” he says, rolling over and rising to an elbow so that he can see Alec’s face, trace his finger over the tense line of his jaw.
But Alec refuses his comfort, deciding to dole it out instead as he captures Magnus’ hand in his own and says, “It’s fine. I’m fine. I’m a big boy and I can handle this. Besides, none of that’s important now anyway. Not tonight. Not here. Leave your troubles at the shitty plywood door, right?”
“Right,” Magnus says, but only because that is the arrangement they made when they first started down this new path together, full of clandestine meetings and hurried goodbyes. He agrees because that is the agreement he made, but it is not what he is truly feeling.
“Perhaps we should set up a meeting,” he says. And it is a thought he has been having ever since he got off the phone with Alec on that first night. But it is one that he has been dreading voicing aloud because he knows, deep down, how slim the chances are that it will actually work.
He can handle the disappointment, but he has been reluctant to risk subjecting Alec to it.
“What do you mean?”
“With the Clave, Alec. Perhaps we should try and meet with them, see if we cannot negotiate some sort of middle ground.”
“Absolutely not,” Alec says, and while the words themselves are not necessarily a surprise, the forceful tone of his voice is.
“No, Magnus, okay? I’m not risking that. I’m not risking…”
The word you hovers in the air between them, and it feels like yet another nail in Magnus’ ever decaying coffin.
“Things are fine at the Institute, I swear. I’m totally okay with just waiting this out.”
“Waiting what out?” Magnus asks, and he does not mean the words to sound as cynical as they do, but that is sadly what he is left with.
Alec waves one hand absently in the air. “This situation.”
“There is no waiting this out, Alec. I should have thought that you would have seen that by now. This is not something that will simply go away.”
“You don’t know that,” he says stubbornly. But despite how admirable his hope is, it is also wildly misplaced.
“When have you ever known them to give up? When have you ever known the Clave to just let something slide?”
“There’s a first time for everything, right?”
“Not this, Alec. There are very few ways for this to end, and none of them are particularly pleasant.”
Alec groans at that, a deep one that works through his entire body before rebounding back into his voice when he asks, “Can we just not talk about this tonight? Please? Next time, I promise, but just… just give me some time to think about how I want to respond to you.”
“You mean to think of how you might try and shoot down my very valid, very solid argument?”
“Basically, yeah,” Alec says with a smile. And it has been so long since he has seen a proper one of those that he had almost forgotten how breathtaking they are.
Alec takes advantage of his momentary distraction to flip him over, pin him to the bed. And this is another thing that he is discovering with Alec: When he wishes not to talk about something, he utilizes Magnus’ blatantly obvious weakness to his touch to force the issue into the background.
Sometimes, Magnus finds it annoying. But tonight, he is too tired to find it anything other than welcoming.
It has been a hard week, rougher than most. But although Magnus has spent a lifetime learning how to deal with difficult situations – how to triumph not only in general, but with a style and flair all his own – he is beginning to bear the cracks from the pressure in ways he hasn’t experienced in a long while.
Alec was right, though. Those are not things to consider this evening. He will have all day tomorrow to mull them over, all evening alone in bed to run through them time and again. If he is only to get a few hours with Alec every couple of days, he does not wish to waste them in thought.
As if he is afraid that if he gives Magnus long enough to relax he might try and converse again, Alec wastes little time making his way down Magnus’ body, his lips cutting a burning path along his skin before he settles his teeth on his hipbone. Soft bites that work their way inward as something pools deep in Magnus’ stomach until Alec’s lips are around him, pulling him in.
It did not take him long to become an expert at this, taking cues from Magnus’ reactions to see what worked and what did not, taking lessons from what Magnus would do to him. And as he digs his fingers into Alec’s hair to hold himself in place more than Alec, he marvels again at how lucky he was to find such a quick study and eager learner, wrapped inside too many other wonderful qualities to count.
There is much to admire about Alec, but right now the only trait Magnus can seem to settle on is his tenacity.
It’s something he gets lost in easily, allowing his eyes to shut because in spite of how wonderful it would be to watch Alec work, right now he simply needs the release. To give the reins to Alec and let him take him wherever he chooses. His body coming alive, inch-by-inch, as Alec’s fingers dig into his skin.
He lets go, leans back like a trust fall, knowing that he will be caught. And it is the best he has felt in days until something slips inside of his mind, jarred loose no doubt by all that they discussed this evening.
There are thumbs digging into his Adam’s Apple, the world is tipping on its axis as the water rushes over his head. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand, and then he is up again, choking, desperate for air as dark eyes swim blurry before him.
“It’s your fault she’s dead,” a voice hisses in a language he has not spoken in ages. The word, “Demon,” spit at him with such venom that it makes him quake before he is under again. Further this time. Deeper. And he can’t get a grip on anything, his fingers, so small, so weak, scratching feebly at arms that hold him tightly. And it’s slipping… it is all just slipping as he loses almost all sense of the present. All sense of Alec.
Help me, he thinks, the words coming to him from centuries ago. I don’t want to die. Someone help me. And almost as if in response to his plea, it comes. Pulled from beneath him, inside of him, from his very bones, a fire that doesn’t burn in spite of how it comes from his own skin and he can feel it now, building. Spooling. Coursing through him, pounding so hard on his veins they feel ready to split wide open and somewhere, buried beneath it all, is the word no.
This is not you.
You are not this.
It is Alec that brings him back, Alec’s lips, his tongue, his desire to please. And the fire is there but it is within his control once more as he comes with a startled cry that makes tears bead in his eyes. His fingers loosening in Alec’s sweat dampened hair as he tries to reclaim the breath stolen from his lungs. And he is so grateful right now that he could cry out from it, but not because of what happened so much as because of what didn’t.
He did not hurt him. He was lost inside of his head, inside of his memories, inside of the fire, but still, in spite of all of that, he did not reach out. He did not burn. And as he opens his eyes to see Alec’s untouched skin, he cannot help but wonder if next time, they will be so lucky.
Chapter 5: Monsters
Against Alec’s better judgment and persistent disagreement, they decide to set the meeting with the Clave. Or rather Magnus decides, and Alec goes along with it because he can’t think of a better option.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. He spent days mulling it over, attempting to figure a way out of this situation that didn’t result in them losing Zoe to a system bent on breaking her. But short of sticking their heads in the sand and hoping for the storm to blow over, there’s nothing. And Magnus had been one hundred percent right about one thing.
In all Alec’s life, he’s never seen the Clave back down from anything.
It takes some back and forth to find a location and arrangement favorable to both sides. But that’s actually been the only good thing about this whole mess, how it feels to be able to play the diplomat again. For the first time since Zoe – for the first time since Jace’s disappearance – Alec has felt useful, comfortable, right. And so even though just the thought of the meeting itself is giving him ulcers, at least he has that.
It’s Magnus’ call to leave Zoe at the loft with Catarina. It would’ve been Alec’s call, too, if Magnus were allowing him to make even the slightest decision here. But he just chalks up the bossiness to that’s his job. You don’t get to be High Warlock by allowing other people to do your work for you, and so Alec is fine with letting it slide. For now, anyway.
Besides, he’s got bigger things to worry about. Slight… shifts, in Magnus’ attitude, his expressions. Things Alec can’t really put his finger on other than to say they’re there, but things that eat at him nonetheless as he shuttles himself between Magnus and the Institute like the most overworked delivery boy on the planet.
There’s stuff. Like when Raphael asked to come along to the meet, offering his whole den as backup, and Magnus told him in no uncertain terms that it would neither be necessary nor welcome. And it’s not like Alec wants him there at a peace talk. That would be like bringing a hand grenade to a dinner party. But the coldness of Magnus’ outright dismissal had been jarring.
He wants to think of it as determination, that all these little tweaks are just a result of how freaking determined Magnus is to make this work. But he knows it’s deeper than that. And it makes him wish that he knew Magnus for longer than a couple of months because maybe if he did, maybe if he had a stronger base of knowledge, he’d be able to figure out what’s wrong.
When this is over, Alec thinks, but that’s as far as he ever gets. When this is over… something. They’ll talk. They’ll figure it out. They’ll figure them out. But that’s what he thought last time, with Jace. And maybe they’d been doing that for those couple of weeks but now…
Now it just feels like they’re stuck in reverse.
When Magnus portals in to their meeting spot, three blocks from the abandoned warehouse to be used for the negotiations, he’s a portrait of dominance. Everything about his appearance tonight is fierce, dark clothes, sharp metal, thick makeup.
He knows what Magnus is trying to do. That he thinks the more menacing he looks the better this will go for him. Which is probably a pretty accurate assumption. But it still makes Alec’s stomach twist into knots because if he thought Magnus was cold before, he’s an iceberg tonight. And thanks to late night cable and crappy romance movies, Alec knows all about what happens when something runs into an iceberg.
“Are you ready for this?” he asks because it’s the only question he can formulate as he trails his eyes from Magnus’ steel-toed boots to the jagged points of his hair.
“Are you?” Magnus asks, and the question… it’s weird. Detached. Empty. Which is pretty much exactly how Alec feels as they make their way silently to their destination.
There are five members of the Clave waiting for them when they arrive – Alec’s mother, three men he’s never seen before, and an Inquisitor. The same one that had Izzy on trial, which does little to help Alec’s comfort level or acid reflux right now.
Inquisitors don’t usually mess with Downworld business, being used more often to police Shadowhunters themselves. And so whatever last minute change put her here sets Alec more on edge than he already was.
“It’s good to see you again, Imogen,” Magnus says smoothly, his voice warm honey beneath eyes that spark lightning. “How’s the family?”
“I would watch your tongue, warlock,” she responds, and all Alec can think as he settles into his spot just over Magnus’ left shoulder is well that’s a good start.
He refuses to even glance at his mother, keeping his eyes settled on Magnus instead, currently sporting a small flicker of triumph in a smile that dies on his lips just seconds after it appears. And as Magnus’ expression settles back into the dominant neutrality of earlier, Alec pulls himself to attention, hands clasped behind his back, shoulders up, eyes forward like a good little soldier.
It feels wrong here, out of place and uncomfortable. But it’s really the only way he knows to be right now, and so he sticks with it in spite of the discomfort.
“Where’s the girl?” the Inquisitor asks, her eyes scanning the area like she thinks Zoe is just trailing behind them somewhere, picking flowers.
“She is some place safe,” Magnus replies, his tone so level you could balance a freaking egg on it.
“That was not the arrangement.”
A bark of laughter erupts out of Magnus, pulled tight enough for Alec to recognize how genuine it isn’t. “It most certainly was, Madame Inquisitor. I am fairly confident that I never would have agreed to bringing her here.”
“We gave our word that she would be safe.”
Magnus’ eyes thin, pulling his entire expression into darkness. “And in my experience, the word of a Shadowhunter is not worth the flash paper it is printed on.”
Alec flinches at that as a cold shiver rushes down his spine. And he knows Magus doesn’t mean him, he knows that, but it’s still difficult to see him like his. Like they’re on some sort of battlefield only somehow, they ended up on opposite sides of the line even though five minutes ago they were fighting back-to-back.
“That is an interesting comment coming from the mouth of a warlock,” the Inquisitor bites back, and Alec is starting to get really itchy here. Because this was supposed to be a peace summit, a negotiation, not a sparring match.
He’s about to say something when his mother, of all people, steps in. Her words muffled as she leans in to say something in the Inquisitor’s ear that makes her grit her teeth and slam her eyes shut. But when she opens them again, the ire she’d been shooting Magnus’ way seems to have lessened.
It’s an odd sensation, wanting to actually thank his mother for something.
“You said that you had a proposal to make,” the Inquisitor says haughtily. “Make it.”
“Our proposal is simple: You leave the young warlock in our hands. This is Downworld business, Madame Inquisitor, not Nephilim. We are taking care of her. She will get proper training with us.”
“She should have gotten proper training before she killed somebody,” she spits back at him. But Magnus doesn’t even blink at the words.
They make Alec’s blood run cold, but they don’t even make Magnus falter for a second.
“That is something that we will deal with as well, through our own laws. This has nothing to do with the Accords. It is warlock business, plain and simple.”
“The Clave does not see it that way,” the Inquisitor says, and truthfully, Alec was expecting this. Hoping for something different, yeah, but expecting it nonetheless. And given the way Magnus has been talking lately, he knows he was expecting it too.
Which brings them to the crossroads, the standoff, whatever you want to call it. And Alec’s skin feels so tight right now it’s like someone got him soaking wet and threw him in the dryer.
“Pardon me, but I do not believe that I care how the Clave sees the issue. Zoe is ours. That is the end of our discussion.”
The Inquisitor scoffs at that, her cheeks turning red like her blood is actually boiling beneath her skin.
“If you had no intention of giving her to us, why did you come?”
“I did not come here to negotiate any more than you did, Imogen.”
The Inquisitor takes a few steps closer to Magnus, which Alec can clearly tell is a very stupid move on her part.
“Then why did you come, warlock?”
Magnus just stands his ground, both literally and figuratively.
“To warn you,” he says, his voice so low it makes Alec shiver. “You know what I am capable of. The only reason I have shown restraint up to this point is because it has served the interests of my people. The second that no longer becomes the case, Valentine will be the least of your concerns.”
The Inquisitor makes a sharp gasping sound that causes the flicker of triumph to reappear briefly on Magnus’ lips.
“Do not come for her. If you do, the outcome will be on your shoulders.”
“Was that a threat?” she bites out helplessly.
Magnus’ voice is so sharp it could cut glass. “I like to think of it as more of a guarantee. Stay out of this. And if you even consider taking any of this out on Alexander, you will regret that as well.”
He walks away at that, just turns on his heel and walks away. And Alec’s mind is spinning so fast that it takes him a few seconds to realize that he should probably be following him.
He glances at his mother briefly before he leaves, but her wide-eyed look of whatever doesn’t help in the slightest.
The cold air stings his lungs once he’s outside, his footsteps speeding up in order to catch Magnus, his voice borderline hysterical when he shouts, “Magnus, what the hell?”
Magnus rounds on him. Doesn’t turn casually, doesn’t move in a friendly fashion, but flat out rounds on him like he’s expecting a fight.
“I thought you were going to try and make a deal,” Alec says, his voice a touch more restrained in the interests of getting Magnus to hear him above all the rage swirling in his expression.
“They had no intention of dealing, Alec. Why should I?”
“How do you know that? How could you possibly know that they wouldn’t have made a deal?”
“Did you see how many Shadowhunters were there?”
It’s a funny question, mostly because the answer is so simple. So small. But before Alec can get the word five out of his mouth, Magnus is continuing.
“And I don’t just mean the visible ones. I mean the ones in the rafters. Or the archers out here on the rooftops.”
Alec’s eyes slide up of their own volition, and like a glamour wearing off he can see them now. One, two, three, four, ten archers, spread out on the rooftops, bows at the ready. And who the hell knows how many more in the factory. All of which he didn’t notice before this very second because he didn’t think to look for them.
Damn it he’s an idiot sometimes.
“So if you knew they wouldn’t deal, why do this?” he asks because he just can’t think about the fact that the Clave was ready to potentially murder a twelve year old girl if he and Magnus had been dumb enough to bring her along. “Because our lives weren’t shitty enough as is?”
“They will not dare to do anything to you, Alexander,” Magnus says as if he thinks that’s Alec’s problem here.
“Yeah, that’s great Magnus, thanks, but I don’t need a bodyguard. I need a partner. I need you to talk to me, or at least warn me before you decide to go off on the Clave and blow everything to hell.”
“I had not planned to go off on the Clave,” he says, and Alec is pissed now. Good and severely pissed.
“See, Magnus, that right there? That’s a lie. Which is another thing I’m getting a little sick of.”
“When have I ever lied to you?”
“Every single time in the last few weeks when you’ve said you were okay!” he practically shrieks, and he’s getting louder here, loud enough for the Shadowhunters on the rooftops to hear him. But he doesn’t really care about that right now. All he cares about is this. Them. Here. Trying to freaking exist on something even remotely resembling the same page.
“Do you honestly think I can’t tell something’s wrong?” he continues in response to Magnus’ stubborn, brick wall of silence. “And it’s not just because you’re stressed or you’re tired. In fact, if you brush me off with I’m tired one more time I’m tempted to just, like, shake the crap out of you. I’m not stupid, Magnus.”
“What do you want from me?” he replies, finally honoring Alec with the presence of his words. But the way his voice just sounds, like, dead makes him wish the words were screamed at him. Makes him wish for fire if only to cover up all the damn cold.
“I want you to tell me what’s going on. I want… I want you to explain to me why you had me spend six days setting up this meeting just so you could piss all over it.”
“The meeting served the purpose I intended,” he says, and that… just…
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Magnus takes a few steps closer to him, like a tiger on some nature program, hidden in the grass. And it takes every ounce of self control Alec has not to take a few matching steps back.
“It is supposed to mean that they would be wise to heed my warnings. Because if they want a monster, I am more than willing to give them one.”
He turns away at that, throws up a portal like he thinks he can just do that, can just say stuff and walk away, leave Alec here holding the bag. And he hates how desperate his voice sounds but he can’t really care about that now as he reaches out to grab Magnus’ arm and says a pained, “Magnus, please.”
When Magnus yanks his arm back, something cracks inside of Alec. It’s not anything huge, not something he’ll never be able to fix, but it’s a crack nonetheless, and it feels like crap.
“Please, talk to me,” he begs. That’s what he’s doing. Begging. No shame whatsoever. But Magnus just clenches his jaw and shakes his head once, tightly. So Alec doubles down.
Closing the distance between them, he reaches out again, this time with both hands, his palms resting flat over the sides of Magnus’ neck as he presses his forehead down into Magnus’ and says, begs, “Please, talk to me.”
Magnus tries to pull his hands away, his eyes screwed shut so tight he looks like he’s in pain. But Alec’s pretty damn strong when he needs to be and so he holds them in place, refusing to back down as the words, “You’re not a monster,” slip from his mouth like a sob.
Magnus’ eyes are dark when he opens them, hard like granite, his voice just as rough when he says, “You don’t know that.”
He slips his hands to the back of Magnus’ head for a better grip, twisting his face a few times like he’s trying to burrow into Magnus’ freaking skull before he says, “Yes, I do,” because he does.
There are very few things in his life that he is more certain of than the simple fact that Magnus Bane is not a monster, regardless of his mother’s or the Clave’s views on the issue.
“How do you know?” Magnus snaps, and he’s not sure if it’s magic or just brute strength that does it, but Magnus is out of his grip a second later, his features liquid in the light of the portal dancing behind him.
“What do you mean how do I know? I know because I know you, Magnus.”
“But what do you know about me?”
His voice is insistent now, like there’s an answer he’s looking for and he’s not going to rest until Alec gives it to him.
Judging by the hard lines in his expression, Alec’s response is probably way off base, but he says it anyways because he has to.
“I know that you’re a good person. That you’ve lived a long, hard, shitty life and that somehow in spite of it you’re still a good person.”
Magnus scoffs. Which really, Alec was probably expecting.
“What else do you know?”
“That’s all I need to know, Magnus. That’s all that matters.”
“You’ve researched me, yes?” he asks, and Alec sort of bucks at the sudden shift in the conversation.
His hand reaching up to rub the back of his own neck as he says almost shyly, “Yeah, I guess a bit.”
“What do you know about my parents?”
“Uh,” he says, drawing the sound out to at least ten syllables as he tries to gain his bearings. “There wasn’t… wasn’t much… much of anything on them.”
“So my file doesn’t say that when I was ten, my mother killed herself when she found out what I was? Or that my stepfather tried to drown me in the lake behind our farm as soon as he was alone with me?”
Alec freezes, his mind doing a poor job of wrapping around the words coming out of Magnus’ mouth. Because he knows crappy parents, or at least he thought he did. But this…
“Magnus, I’m so… I’m so sorry,” Alec tries, but Magnus just holds a hand up and shakes his head.
“That is not the point of the story, Alec. I neither want nor need your sympathy. The point is that I am not like you. I will never be like you.”
“Why? Because you’re half demon? You think I didn’t know that already?”
Magnus tips his head in the way that indicates how naïve he thinks Alec is being. But that doesn’t stop him from continuing.
“So what, Magnus. So you’ve got demon blood. It means literally nothing.”
“Says the boy with the angel blood.”
Something burns up the back of Alec’s neck when he says that, causing his voice to bear the touches of the flame as well when he says, “That’s not fair Magnus,” because it isn’t. And Magnus of all people should know that.
“Perhaps, but it is still the truth. You cannot know what it’s like to wear my skin any more than I can know what it’s like to wear yours.”
“Then explain it to me. Just… talk to me. Let me help. Let me fix this.”
“You cannot fix this, Alec. And you cannot fix me because I am not broken. This is simply who I am.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he says like he’s a broken record all of a sudden, incapable of understanding the simple English Magnus is speaking.
“Never mind,” Magnus says, his voice tired as he turns back to the portal that’s been waiting for him all conversation.
But Alec will be damned if he’s going to let this end there. And so he rushes to get in front of Magnus, bodily blocking him from going through the portal.
“No,” he snaps. “You don’t get to say stuff like that and then walk away. Either we’re in this or we’re not, Magnus, but you can’t… you can’t just push me away like this. It’s not fair.”
“You cannot possibly know what it’s like,” he says, and it’s like he’s the one pleading now, like he’s begging for Alec to understand him while at the same time admitting that it’s not actually possible.
“It’s not something I can just turn off or ignore. It is always there, just beneath the surface, and it is always hungry. It has taken me centuries to get to this point, Alec, and sometimes… sometimes it still feels as if it is not enough. Like it will consume me, burn the part of me that is human in hellfire the same way I burned my stepfather for laying his hands on me.”
Alec’s heart is pounding so hard it feels like it’s going to break through his chest, but he still manages to force the words, “He was trying to kill you, Magnus,” out because even though Magnus already knows that, Alec really needs him to know that.
“Please don’t do that,” Magnus says like he’s sinking all over again. “Please do not be kind right now. I could not control my magic. It was a vast abyss of darkness threatening to swallow me whole and I gave into it. I would have been lost, a monster to be hunted, my head hung on a wall if not for the Silent Brothers taking me in, teaching me how to control my powers, how to harness my anger. But I fear… Alexander, I fear the harness is slipping. That the monster is making its way to the surface once again and I am not sure how to stop it.”
“Hey,” Alec says, reaching out again to pull Magnus into his arms. And he’s shaking – Magnus is, hell, Alec probably is too. But he thinks that maybe if he can just hold on tightly enough, this will all just stop.
He really needs this to just stop.
“We’ll figure this out,” he says, and it’s another promise he may not be able to keep but nothing in the world would be able to stop him from making it right now.
Magnus just pulls away again, though. The hardness returning as he reaches out to remove Alec’s hands from him so he can take a few steps back. His voice resolute when he says, “I cannot let her become… that. I will not let this world break her.”
“We won’t,” Alec corrects, and for a brief second, there’s something there. Something warm and loving and Magnus. But it’s swallowed up a breath later in the darkness that seems poised to consume everything around them right now.
“They think that we are all monsters, Alec. Nothing is going to change that.”
“We could change it,” he counters like his new plan of action is to refute every negative thing Magnus says with the most positive garbage he can come up with.
Magnus just sighs and shakes his head. “So much optimism. It is too bad that it is wildly misplaced in this instance.”
“So what? We just give up? You take Zoe and move to Siberia, I go back to being benched at the Institute and we walk away? Is that what you’re proposing? Because… damn it, Magnus, I don’t know what you’re trying to say here. I don’t know what you want.”
Magnus is looking at him like he’s got no clue what he wants either, which isn’t exactly comforting. And Alec has never been great with his words, but he’s never had them fail him as spectacularly as they are right now, with Magnus literally on the edge of a freaking portal, waiting to disappear.
“I will never forget what it felt like to kill him,” Magnus says eventually. And Alec is so wrapped up in how freaking sad Magnus sounds that it takes him a few seconds to grasp what he’s saying, and a few more seconds to understand what his words mean.
“He was trying to kill you, Magnus. There’s no reason to feel guilty about it.”
Magnus hangs his head at that, defeat heavy in his voice when he says, “Guilt is not what haunts me, Alec.”
He looks up then, something shattered in his expression as he adds, “What keeps me up at night is the fact that I enjoyed it.”
With two quick steps, he’s gone, swallowed in dancing light that blinks to black as soon as he’s through. And all Alec is left with is the weight of Magnus’ words, wrapped around his neck like an anchor.
Chapter 6: Closing In
Huge, massive, mondo, Extreme Home Makeover thanks to my darling Laelipoo for holding my hand last night while I wrote this. I’m not entirely sure I could have navigated my way through it without you.
The sounds of Catarina and Zoe’s voices carry dully through the loft, tickling the edges of his perception. They are playing some card game whose name Magnus has already forgotten, one that involves a lot of yelling and slamming things on the table. But in spite of the ruckus, it is still soothing to hear.
He’s in the TV room, stretched out along the length of the couch, with a book resting open on his chest and HGTV on in the background, loud enough to be heard but not so loud that he can make out anything that’s being said. And every time he dozes close to sleep, the card game snaps him back awake.
There isn’t an ounce of begrudging to be had. Sleep has not been a friend these past weeks, so he would much rather stay awake and listen to people having fun even if he does not feel capable of joining in the festivities.
It has been three days since the meeting with the Clave, but he has found very little rest within the supposed peace. He knows better than to think that it is over, to imagine that the fact that they did not try to kill him after all, with or without Zoe, means that they have somehow agreed to his terms. And so every day that slips by in silence only makes him feel that much more on edge.
He has neither seen nor spoken to Alec since he left him standing in the cold yet again, the honesty of his final words still bitter on his tongue. And he does not know why he said them, why he was willing to admit so much, but there is no way to take them back now regardless of how much he wishes he could.
It is a strange tug-of-war, the desire to be known on the one end and the fear of being seen on the other.
None of these are helpful thoughts, of course. And so he’s in the middle of actively attempting to scrub his mind clean of them when there is a knock on the door.
He was not expecting anyone, which means his heart is lodged in his throat before he even rises from the couch. And he wants to scream at Catarina not to open it – Catarina who has somehow beaten him to his own door, and who for some reason feels as if it is her right to open said door – but his voice is stuck in his throat, right alongside his heart.
He tries to remind himself that the Clave would not knock. That if they found him, there would be shattered glass and boots on the ground, not a polite rapping on the door. But his nerves have been frayed from weeks of friction, and so panic is the only thing he is capable of feeling. That is until he sees who is at the door.
A different kind of anxiety overcomes him when Alec materializes as if from a dream, like Magnus reached inside of his own head and plucked him out. And he looks wonderful – clean-shaven, rosy-cheeked, sporting the denim shirt he’d worn the night they met, a rare favorite of Magnus’, beneath a coat far too thin for the frigid night air. And there is no logical reason for him to be here, no explanation for how he even found them, but that does not stop the surge of gratitude from rushing through Magnus’ entire body.
Gratitude that immediately turns to dread.
“Here’s your sweater,” Alec says, his eyes locked on Catarina in a way that Magnus can clearly tell is forced, like he’s trying to will himself not to look in Magnus’ direction.
“Oh, thank you!” Catarina exclaims as she takes the offered article of clothing and slips her arms into it. “Magnus keeps it so cold in here! Which is odd, given how few clothes he likes to wear when he is alone. Isn’t that right, Magnus?”
Both she and Alec turn to him when she says that, Catarina’s openly defiant expression in stark contrast to the way Alec is looking at him as if he expects to be scolded. But he is saved from having to respond to any of that by the sudden, shrieking appearance of Zoe.
“Alec!” she screams before launching herself literally into his arms, the impact causing a soft grunt to escape Alec. And Magnus takes the opportunity to steal a moment with his oldest, dearest, and currently vilest friend.
“Catarina, darling, may I borrow you?” he asks with a smile that makes his teeth hurt. He does not wait for her to respond, though. He simply grabs her by the crook of her elbow and drags her outside of Alec’s earshot before the question is even cold in his mouth.
“You had him track you?”
She sticks her chin out rebelliously. “Well I was not about to sit around and allow you to ignore him again. That was tiresome enough the first time.”
“What if he was followed? What if they tracked him?” he asks, in spite of how well he knows that there is no need for worry. It is, however, the only thing he can think to say apart from the truth, which is not something he is keen to utter at the moment.
The phrase that goes something like: How could you bring him here when I am doing everything in my power to let him go?
She tips her head in the perfect visible representation of the words stop being such a fool, Magnus Bane, High Warlock of Stupidville.
“He is a very smart, very tactically minded young man, Magnus. When he called to ask me for assistance, he promised that he would leave his cell phone behind and would spend at least an hour zigzagging around the city, making sure nobody was on his tail, as he so eloquently put it. Plus, you know, he loves you and Zoe, so I am fairly certain that he would not do anything to risk the safety of either one of you.”
“You are supposed to be my friend, Catarina. That generally means taking my feelings into consideration before those of others.”
“I am your friend, Magnus. Your very best one, sadly. And that is why I did this.”
She pauses briefly there so she can place her hands on his shoulders in the way that always makes him want to either roll his eyes or run away.
“You are walking down a dark path. You need a light. Let him be that for you.”
He shrugs away from her before crossing his arms tightly over his chest. “That is not his responsibility.”
“Ah, but it is his choice. He would not be here if it wasn’t.”
She lets the matter drop at that, seemingly confident that she has won the point. But Magnus’ face is still screwed up like he is sucking on a lemon as Catarina makes her way back to where Alec is now on his knees being assaulted by Zoe.
“Zoe, dear, come help me make dinner.”
“You’re making dinner?” she asks with only mild disgust, which is kind of her given Catarina’s lack of talent in the food-manufacturing department.
“But Alec’s here.”
“Alec has had a very busy day, my child,” Catarina soothes.
As if he cannot abide the thought that he is letting Zoe down in even this small matter, Alec immediately adds, “I’ll make breakfast tomorrow. How does that sound?”
He is planning to still be here come breakfast. Magnus does not have the stores of resistance necessary to withstand that long of a barrage.
“Awesome!” Zoe exclaims before taking Catarina’s offered hand and allowing herself to be lead from the hall. And that just leaves them.
Alec brushes off his pants when he stands up, his gaze locked on the motion like he’s still afraid to make eye contact. And they look new to Magnus, the pants, or at least less demolished than his normal fare. Which is a recognition that makes something very warm pool at the center of him.
He tried to look nice tonight. And Magnus’ first thought upon seeing him was of how much he wanted him to leave.
He is, as Catarina would say, the living worst.
“Um, hi,” Alec says shyly once he’s done removing the imaginary debris from his appear to actually have been ironed pants.
“Hello,” Magnus replies, and it is silly, the formality of this all. But if Alec is at a loss for what to say, Magnus is equally adrift.
“I wasn’t followed,” he says, as if he thinks that perhaps Magnus’ aloofness is due to that, and he can feel it happening already. Can feel the fissures in his heart, spreading out like fault lines, cracking the pavement. And he just wants…
Magnus just wants.
“I would not have assumed that you would have been,” he says as he takes a few careful steps closer to Alec, doing his best not to get pulled entirely into his gravity just yet.
“Well, I just wanted you to know, in case you were worried. I’d never do anything to risk this… risk them finding this place. And I know I wasn’t technically invited, but I just… I wanted to see you, Magnus. I needed… I needed to, after what happened. And you weren’t answering my calls and so I called Cat, and she came up with this stupid idea for me to-”
“Alec,” he says softly, interrupting the snowdrifts before they can become a full-scale avalanche. “It is all right. You do not need to explain anything to me. In fact, I am the one that should be doing the explaining here.”
Alec sucks his bottom lip into his mouth and opens his eyes wide, a sharp shift in mood already present in his expression now that Magnus has admitted culpability. And it is almost adorable, the way he flips on a dime like that. But given that adorability is not something that is going to help in this situation, Magnus almost wishes he could ask Alec to simply stop having expressions altogether, especially since he has still not found a single one he could deem unappealing.
He had thought it odd, when Alec had forced him to turn around that day at the Institute, after he’d awoken from his injuries sustained on Valentine’s ship. But Magnus is so close to asking him to do the same he almost cannot resist the urge.
He takes a deep breath, then steals a few more before he continues.
“I am sorry for how I left things,” he says, dipping his toes in the water because there is a list in his head, growing longer by the day, of things that he needs to apologize to Alec for, and he is not sure at which point to start.
“And for ignoring me for three days,” Alec says as if he is privy to the same list as well.
“And for ignoring you for three days.”
“And for keeping me out of the loop.”
“And for keeping you out of the loop.”
“And for disappearing through a portal that you knew I couldn’t follow you through.”
“I do believe I already apologized for that,” Magnus says, but Alec just shakes his head stubbornly at him.
“You apologized for how you left things, not for how you left, they’re two entirely different apologies.”
“You know, Alexander, this is supposed to be my apology.”
“I know. You just looked like you could use a little help. And since you’re terrible at actually asking for it, I thought I’d jump right in.”
The words aren’t spoken as harshly as they could be, but they still manage to sting.
“I deserved that,” he says because it is true, he deserved that and so much more.
“You’re damn right you did,” Alec replies, but his voice is softer now, as if the words have very little meaning to him. “It’s a good thing I’m such a forgiving person.”
“That is very true, given how much it appears I have to be sorry for,” Magnus says, and miraculously, his voice is lighter as well. As if their ability to make up is just as seamless and easy as their ability to do just about everything else.
Magnus has never had anything fit as well as Alec, and he has had a string of very expensive personal tailors dating back hundreds of years.
“That just means you have a lot to make up to me,” Alec says, and there’s something different here as well, another shift as he tips his head down and looks up at Magnus as if he is some sort of prey.
And so Magnus cannot help the heat that slips into the edges of his tone when he asks, “What did you have in mind?”
Alec goes to take a step towards him, but for some reason he restrains himself, shoving his hands in his pockets as he says, “I’ve got a few ideas kicking around.” And it is odd, the distance here. As if their voices have found home base but their bodies have not yet caught up.
It is something that Magnus would like to explore in whatever way Alec has kicking around. But before he can even pose the suggestion Zoe is skidding back into the hallway.
“Dinner’s ready,” she says.
And Magnus replies, “So by cooking, Catarina meant conjuring food from the Thai restaurant around the corner?”
Zoe giggles, Alec smiles, and something else tips easily back into place.
They eat around the kitchen table like a real, American, nuclear family, and it feels so good that Magnus almost cannot bear it. So even though the thoughts want to encroach on his joy – the ones that tell him this is short-lived, that there’s danger on the horizon, that he should not let his guard down for a moment – he just steals this time and hoards it as best he can. Because tomorrow, these moments will be gone, and he would hate to think that he just threw them away.
They move to the living room once everyone is full to sickness, and because she is twelve years old, Zoe insists on turning on some music. And because she is a twelve-year-old girl, that music turns out to be the sort of bubbly, obnoxious pop music that makes Magnus long for the deep bass of techno or the smooth burn of jazz.
All is forgiven, of course, when Zoe coaxes Alec off of the couch with an invitation to dance. And it is not dancing in any strict sense of the term, what they are doing. But the way Alec swoops Zoe into his arms and twirls her around the room like a particularly gleeful ragdoll is enough to make Magnus forget everything outside of this very second.
He is happy. By some stroke of luck or fate, he has managed to carve a chunk of happiness out of a life that seems thick and dark of late. And because he has been lulled by this sense of joy, when Catarina reaches out a hand of invitation to him, he accepts.
He and Catarina have danced across entire continents, moving in time to the rhythm of countless musical trends. So it doesn’t take them long to figure out this new one, how to turn Zoe’s grating so-called music into something artful. It is another thing for him to lose himself in, his arms wrapped around the oldest and best friend he has left as the furniture parts like the Red Sea for them, giving them all the room they need to soar.
When the song ends, Alec and Zoe are staring at them, ready to burst into a cheer that involves squeals on Zoe’s part and whistles on Alec’s. And he might be embarrassed if he didn’t love everyone in this room so much that he feels ready to explode from it.
He’s so lost in the sensation of it all that he doesn’t notice what Catarina and Zoe are doing until it’s too late. How Zoe skips out of the room with a look of mischief in her eyes while Catarina shoves Magnus so hard from behind he has no choice but to literally trip into Alec’s arms. And he is about to right himself, regain his bearings and give Catarina a stern talking to, or at the very least a stern glance, but he is caught off guard yet again by what comes next.
Catarina is out of the room in a flash, seemingly taking all of the light with her. But before his eyes can settle to the dark, small sparks begin to ignite the air around them, as if Catarina is bringing the stars down from the very heavens, just for them.
Alec has his hands clasped around Magnus’ elbows, still in place from when he caught his fall. But his eyes are transfixed right now, hypnotized by the dancing stars that Magnus has to admit are fairly impressive.
The music swells next, sounding as if it is being broadcast from the very air itself. And as soon as he hears the opening strings, he rolls his eyes because of course Catarina would pick this song.
He and Catarina spent the summer of 1960 in California. Ragnor only lasted three days before things got too hot and crowded for him, but for three months the pair of them moved along the ocean like migrating birds searching for warmth and sun.
They met Etta James that summer, a woman with unearthly warmth and kindness, a soul that lit up the world around her and a voice that could melt the heart of even the hardest cynic. Or the hardest cynic apart from Magnus Bane, at least.
Alec would’ve adored her, and she would’ve adored him right back. But that summer it was Catarina and Magnus doing the adoring. They were there with her when she recorded this song, a cover of one that had been popping up every now and again over the previous decades. But hers was something special and everyone knew it.
He hated the song, of course, because his heart was a blackened piece of coal at that point. He thought it was sappy, trite, and utterly ridiculous, with its declarations of finding love at last.
Catarina told him that he would love it someday, but it was easy for her. At the time she was two decades into a sixty-plus year stint with the love of her life. Of course she would fall for the sentimental lyrics and moaning strains. And so every time she’d say, “You’ll get it someday, Magnus, just you wait and see,” he’d simply laugh and have another drink or ten.
When she picks this song for her little game here, he’s bitter at first. Until he looks up into Alec’s eyes, dim in the starlight, and feels something wrench loose inside his chest.
“At last,” Etta sings, her voice carrying down to him like a promise sixty years in the making, “my love has come along.”
He absolutely hates it when Catarina is right.
Worrying that Alec will think this whole thing is inane, and worrying as well that he is about to show every single card in the deck, let alone his hand, Magnus makes a move to back away. His voice faltering only slightly when he says, “It is all right, Alec, we don’t have to-”
Alec stops his words by tugging on his wrist, his expression so earnest, so open when he looks down at Magnus that it takes his breath away when he replies quietly, “No, Magnus. Please. Stay.”
He is a deer, caught in the headlights of an oncoming freight train. But he cannot think of a better way to go and so he does exactly as Alec asks.
For the first time in too long to remember, Magnus stays.
There is nothing fancy about this dance either. It is merely them, holding onto one another, moving in time to the music. But there is something complex buried beneath the simplicity, a web of emotions too intricate to untangle. And it is almost enough to undo him completely.
He cannot allow that, not at a time like this. And so he turns his head away, refusing to look at Alec, because he learned at a very young age that staring at the sun was a dangerous endeavor.
Catarina has rigged it so that the song just loops on repeat, and every time it finishes he thinks that Alec will tire of this activity and let him go. Only he doesn’t. As if to prove Magnus’ silent assumptions incorrect, he uses each recurrence to redouble his grip, pulling him in until there is not even space for air between them.
His cheek is resting against Alec’s shoulder, his arms wrapped tightly around Alec’s waist as they continue to sway. And he is so completely lost in the feel of the moment that he doesn’t notice that Alec is humming until he noses Magnus’ head up so he can press his lips to Magnus’ ear.
“You smiled,” he sings, actually sings, even if Alec’s version of singing is at minimum half talking. “You smiled, and then the spell was cast.”
And Magnus finishes the rest of the lyrics in his head while Alec’s lips work their way down his neck.
And here we are in heaven, for you are mine at last.
It is far too much to take in, especially at a time like this, and it makes Magnus feel as if he is shutting down inside. His hands sliding downward, his fingers hooking over the waist of Alec’s pants as Alec’s hands run up and down Magnus’ arms in slow, strong strokes. And he is drunk off of it all, his blood pumping slowly, dully like an afterthought as they continue to move to the music that keeps cycling through the air like it’s the very oxygen they’re breathing.
He can feel the moment when things shift, when the slow, lazy wanderings turn heated, purposeful. It comes this time with Alec’s teeth, bit around his earlobe, and his own fingers gripping Alec’s pants so tightly he’s afraid of ripping the fabric entirely. Only when he goes to smooth it all out, something happens.
It is not unlike having a bucket of ice water dumped unexpectedly on your head.
“There’s something in your pants,” Magnus says, but the way Alec laughs indicates that he hasn’t yet picked up on the serious tone of Magnus’ voice.
“If that’s supposed to be foreplay,” he says silkily in Magnus’ ear, “I’ve got to say, it’s not your best attempt.”
“No, Alec, there is something in the waistband of your pants,” he says, forcibly disentangling himself from Alec’s grip because there’s something going on here, something he can’t put his finger on yet but something that has him inexplicably terrified.
Alec blinks down at him a few times, attempting to right himself before asking, “What is it?”
“I do not know,” Magnus replies truthfully as he moves his attention back to Alec’s pants, flipping the waistband over so that he can see it better in the dim light.
There are seams there, hastily sewn around a piece of fabric not quite the same color as the rest of the pants. And Magnus’ heart is hammering in his chest as he rips back the fabric to pull out the small piece of thin metal sewn into the waist.
“What the hell is that?” Alec asks, but Magnus cannot seem to form words right now. Nothing apart from no as he stares at the blinking red light like it is a harbinger of death itself.
“Magnus,” Alec snaps, reaching down to grab Magnus’ shoulders, shake him back to the present.
Magnus’ voice is ash already when he looks up at Alec and says, “It’s Mundane tech. A tracker.”
Alec removes his hands and takes a few steps back, his face painted in shock, horror, guilt like he thinks he has just killed Magnus, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. And Magnus would like nothing more than to be able to soothe him right now, tell him that this is in no way his fault, but he can feel them. Now that he knows to look for them, he can sense how close they are. And so time is in very short supply at the moment.
“Catarina!” he screams, his voice so desperate he almost cannot recognize it as his own. “Catarina!”
“Magnus, what is it?” she asks as she finally makes her way into the room. And he can trace the fear plainly in her face already, even in just the starlight, as if she needs little more than the tone of his voice to understand him.
“Get Zoe. Take her… take her far. As far away as you can.”
“What’s going on?” she asks, but he doesn’t have time for this either. He doesn’t have time for hesitation, for anything but submission.
And so his voice is sharp, bloody, when he snaps back, “They have found us. You need to get her out of here. Now.”
She doesn’t ask how, she doesn’t ask why, but she does start to say, “I’ll take her to,” before Magnus cuts her off with a snap of his fingers and a flash of magic that he should really be saving, given what’s coming.
“Do not tell me where you are going. I do not want to know, in case they…”
He cannot finish that sentence, cannot even entertain the notion that anyone but him will emerge from this victorious. But he knows how Shadowhunters work, and if they happen to take him alive today, as they most certainly will try to do, he does not wish to risk having Zoe’s location stolen from a torture-weakened mind.
“Magnus,” she says, and it is gut wrenching, the way she pleads his name. But he does not have the capacity to consider that right now as he bites the word, “Go,” at her and turns away, knowing that she will obey.
He listens to Catarina’s footsteps, follows them as they make their way to the library, to Zoe’s bed. And the sound of her portal is music to his ears as he waits a ten count until it is closed.
Then and only then does he breathe.
“Magnus, we’ve got… got to move the loft,” Alec says. And his voice is so empty, still in shock as it clearly is, that Magnus can hardly believe that a few short minutes ago they were in each other’s arms, lost to everything but that.
“There is no time, Alec. They are already downstairs.”
That seems to jar something loose in him, shake him enough to bring him crashing back to the moment. And the look of determination in his eyes is comforting until he says, “Then we need to leave. Now.”
“I warned them what would happen if they attempted this,” Magnus says by way of response, and Alec must still be a little shaken because it takes him a few moments to realize that Magnus just said no.
“Magnus, come on, you can’t really be planning to-”
“This is my home,” he hisses, his anger pooling in his veins at an alarming rate. And he does not wish to take it out on Alec. Alec is the absolute last person he would ever want to hurt. But he does not have the ability to entertain Alec’s care right now, not when he is already so certain of what needs to be done.
“They have made it very clear that they will not stop until they have what they want, and so I will give it to them, Alec. I will give them exactly what they have asked for.”
Alec blinks at him a few times, his eyes almost utterly blank. And Magnus is expecting more push back, a fight, a lecture, something. And so the next words out of Alec’s mouth startle him to immobility.
“Okay. Then we fight.”
One of the things he loves about Alec is that he never gives up, but incidentally it is also, at the moment, one of the things he hates about him as well.
In the past, Magnus had assumed that was only something he held in reserve for his family. He never actually imagined it extending to him, only now that it has…
“Do you remember our first date?” he asks, going on instinct alone. And Alec is thrown so completely off track that all he can manage to do is blink furiously at him.
“Alec, focus,” he says as he pushes his own fear down, out, away. Because if he entertains even the slightest hint of it, he will tear apart at the seams and he knows it.
So he takes Alec’s shoulders in his grip, shakes him hard enough to hopefully jar his thoughts loose, and asks, “Do you remember our first date?”
“Yes, of course I do, but what does that have to do with-”
“Where did we go?” he interrupts, his voice desperate as he feels the strike team – ten, twenty, at least thirty Shadowhunters deep – making their way through his building.
“Magnus, what the hell are you-”
“Alec, where did we go?!”
“We went to that Ethiopian place you love, the Downworld one with the shitty werewolf waiter that kept giving me a hard time, what the hell does that matter?”
“What did we do after?”
“Magnus, we’re about to be overrun here, I really don’t think-”
“What did we do after?!”
Alec breathes in once sharply through his nose, gritting his teeth before saying, “It was pouring rain so we ducked into the alley to try and find shelter under the fire escapes.”
“And then what?” Magnus asks, and they’re almost here. He can feel them, two floors, now one away and he just needs Alec to focus for a few more seconds. Just a few more seconds and things will be all right.
“And then you shoved me up against a dumpster and kissed me so hard I thought I was going to pass out, are you happy?”
He is not happy. He may never be happy again, after today. But he is relieved, the sensation of it washing through his veins as he says, “Remember the dumpster,” and leans in to kiss Alec for what may well be the last time.
Alec’s eyes are glazed when Magnus breaks the kiss, which is another thing to be grateful for as he releases one of Alec’s shoulders so that he can get his hand free. His other hand sliding up to cup Alec’s face as he says, “I’m sorry, Alec. Remember the dumpster.”
He kisses him again because he cannot help it. The strike team is on his floor now, just doors away, but he needs whatever strength he can get as he flicks his wrist and kisses Alec as if life itself depended upon it.
“I love you,” he says when he pulls back this time, burning the image of Alec, illuminated by the dancing light of the portal, into his mind before he says one more, “Remember,” and pushes.
He imagines Alec emerging on the other side, miles away from the loft, safe, and it gives him comfort. Gives him strength, as Etta continues to sing in the background. And though he extinguishes the stars because he does not need their light to see, he leaves the music on, wanting as he does the presence of her voice, of that promise, here with him. Because he is still aware enough to know that he will need a tether before this is done.
He can feel his magic spooling, can feel the waves of it, riding through his body. And he knows the danger, knows what will happen if he pushes too far, lets his grip slip too much. But this is his home, his home, and it is not as if he did not warn them what would happen if they tried to set foot in this place.
“I found a dream that I could speak to,” Etta sings, “a dream that I can call my own,” and Magnus shuts his eyes to the words. To the world, allowing the magic to flood every inch of him, rising from the part of him that will never be human as the words let them come flash behind lips pulled into a sneer, with eyes that open catlike to the dark.
Let them come.
He is lightning itself, the fire of the gods, a harbinger of destruction. The flame and the flamethrower, the bullet and the gun, created in seamless symmetry. And he has always been this way, a weapon made for mass destruction, only now he has finally been given a target.
Magnus knows that he could harness the very power of the sun here, but he does not want the sun. It brings light and warmth. So he chooses the power that comes from below, from the black volcanic depths of the earth itself, and it is all at his fingertips. The ability to smother the world in fire and ash, choke out the sun itself, it is all his.
There is glass shattering behind him, wood splintering in front as they force their way into the loft, but none of that concerns him. He does not even need to open his eyes to do this, a dance of a different nature as a clarity he has never known, a purity of thought never experienced washes everything else away, leaving just him and the fire.
They do not get close enough to touch him. Their arrows fall at his feet, their blades remain hovering in the air. And it is quick, not a fight so much as a defeat, masked as a battle. And just like that, he holds thirty lives in the palm of his hand.
He is ten years old again, drowning in the lake, calling on the devil himself for help and he can hear him now, whispering in his ear. His father. His real one. Speaking only two words to him in a language as old as time itself.
The voice becomes more persistent as it continues its urgings. Come home. Come home. Come home. There is a demon clawing at his ribcage, one that only wants blood, and it would be so easy to give it to him. He could level the entire block with the flick of his wrist, reduce the world around him to dust. And he wants to. A part of him has been starving for ages and he wants to feed it.
But something breaks through before he can, a violin, words sung softly in his ear, and a voice ringing faintly as an echo in a large, deep cavern.
“Magnus. Please. Stay,” the voice says. And though it is not loud, it is insistent. Steady as a drumbeat, calling him home. And he is not sure if it is enough, if he can still find the light in the pull of the undertow, but he reaches out for it with all that he has left. All that’s left of him. Because it is a voice that he will always come back to, if there is enough of him left to return.
He is a supernova, though. He is the last dying gasp of a collapsing star. And once that has been set in motion...
Stay, the voice insists. Magnus. Please. Stay.
And somewhere on the edge of his perception, on the edge of the world itself, Magnus thinks, I will try.
He will try.
Chapter 7: Up In Flames
Alec hits the dumpster so hard it knocks the wind out of him, the cold air searing his lungs as he doubles over, gasping for any oxygen he can find. And his mind is racing so fast, so hard, so fast that it takes him a few seconds to figure out what the hell just happened.
He was in the loft. The strike team was almost at the door, Magnus was kissing him, Magnus said… said he loved him and then…
It takes him a few more seconds to get his bearings, once he’s able to breathe again. A few more seconds to force the anger to the back of his mind where he can deal with it later as he makes a mental map of the city, where he is, where the loft is, and how he can bridge the gap between the two. And then he’s taking out his stele, activating his invisibility and speed runes, and running.
Alec has always been good at running. Normally he’s running away from something, though. From someone. From life. Only now…
It’s not too late. He won’t even entertain the thought that it could possibly be too late.
His sight is good enough even without his runes that he’s able to see the loft clearly from a block out. There’s blue fire, dancing through the windows, the balcony doors, which means he’s still there, still alive, still fighting. And really Alec has no clue what he can even do here. He has no weapons other than his fists, and judging by all the flames it’s not really a hand-to-hand combat situation up there. All he knows is that he needs to get there.
If he could just get there.
He’s on the corner across from Magnus’ building when it happens. And at first, his senses are too overloaded to realize what’s going on. Why the sun is rising in the middle of the night. Why the cold winter air is pressed full with heat. Or why it feels like someone just hit him square in the chest with a freaking sledgehammer.
It’s not until he’s on the ground looking up at a different kind of fire, yellow, bright, pouring out of the loft, his ears ringing, burning from the concussive wave that he realizes what happened.
That the loft exploded.
He stays where he is for something that feels like a decade but which is probably only a few minutes at most, just blinking up at the fire. And he can’t process it. Can’t process the thought of Magnus, up there, in that, because he knows what that would mean. Deep down, a very scared, very dead part of him knows exactly what that means and he just can’t seem to deal with that. So he sits on the cold pavement, hypnotized by the image, and tries not to think about how his life literally just went up in flames.
He’s not dead. He’s not dead. He’s not dead.
When he regains his breath for the second time tonight, he gets shakily to his feet, determination riding through his veins as he runs into the building because there’s still hope. He has to believe there’s still hope. Only once he’s on Magnus’ floor, that hope begins to be crowded out by the smoke filling up his lungs.
No matter how many times he draws the extinguish rune, how many surfaces he scrawls it on, the fire is too much, too big, too much. Everything is just overwhelming as he struggles to remain conscious long enough to find him, Magnus’ name burning his lungs until he no longer has enough breath to call out for him. But it’s still burning through his mind even after that, through his chest, carved into his heart as he searches every square inch he can reach on shaky legs and an increasingly oxygen deprived brain.
Where are you? he thinks. Where are you, where are you, where are you? But he can’t find him. Magnus was always the one that was good at this, the one that could find Alec in the middle of a hurricane, but now that it’s his turn he’s failing. He’s just… failing.
He’s forced to leave eventually. He can feel himself slipping, his eyes going black, his body giving up, and so he stumbles back outside into the night, into the air. Only once he’s there, he realizes pretty damn quickly that he’s not alone.
“On your knees, Lightwood!” someone shouts. And he almost points out that he was already well on his way there, that standing isn’t exactly something he’s entirely capable of anymore, but he’s coughing too hard to form words at the moment so he just does as the voices ask, both the ones outside and inside of his head.
He falls to his knees, feels the vibrations of his impact with the pavement work up through his body, and his vision is dimmed but he can still see that he is thoroughly surrounded. There are at least ten of them here, Shadowhunters, weapons at the ready as the one who’d originally screamed at him breaks from the circle to approach him. His face a shapeless blur as he says, “Alexander Lightwood, by order of the Clave, you are under arrest for high treason.”
Of course I am, he thinks. But that’s pretty much the last thought he has before the darkness overtakes him.
He’s handcuffed to a bed in the Institute's infirmary some time later. He’s not entirely sure how much time, mostly because he’s not entirely sure how long he was unconscious. Stupid him, he forgot to check his watch before he passed out. He’s awake now, though, feeling very much like he just got run over by a freaking parade of semi trucks as he rubs his wrists around the cuffs in a circular motion for lack of anything better to do with his nervous energy.
He’s not alone. There are five guards spread out along the far wall, despite the fact that he’s weak and handcuffed, his new best buddy Inquisitor Herondale is sitting in a chair beside his bed, and his mother is standing a few feet behind her, looking very much the picture of mortification and disgust.
This is going to be a great freaking night, he thinks, allowing the anger to override everything else because anger is better than the alternative. Than the crushing realization that the only person he’s ever allowed himself to love outside of his family is most likely very, very dead.
“You have one opportunity to save yourself from banishment, young man, so I suggest you listen to me very carefully,” the Inquisitor says, but her voice is like gnats buzzing around his head. Little more than an annoyance that he would swat away if he weren’t strapped down.
“Tell me where the girl is, and I will be lenient with you.”
He laughs, which causes him to choke, but it’s well worth it to see the look on her face, even if he has to see that look through the tears beading his eyes.
“You’ll never find her,” he says once he regains the ability to speak, his voice so rough it sounds like it belongs to someone else entirely, like some cheesy action movie star from one of his and Magnus’ late night cable sprees.
The Inquisitor sits forward in her seat, her expression lit up with the kind of fire and brimstone that might have impressed Alec earlier in his life, before he fell in love with a man literally made of fire.
“Give her to us or you will be finished.”
“I’m going to go ahead and say no. Actually, fuck no. And I think I’m going to add a friendly go to hell to the end of it, if it’s all the same to you.”
His mother gasps, the Inquisitor hisses, and Alec really just wants to go to sleep. Forever, maybe, that’s how tired he is of everything right now.
He thinks of Magnus’ bed, always so much softer than his, warm, home, only now it’s a pile of fucking ash and so, yeah, they can all go to hell as far as he’s concerned.
“May I have a moment alone with him, Madame Inquisitor?” his mother asks, her voice so cowed it almost makes a smile crack his otherwise miserable expression.
The Inquisitor gives Alec one more supposedly scathing look before she gets to her feet in a huff befitting a high-ranking member of the Clave.
“See that you talk some sense into your boy, Maryse, or he will not be the only Lightwood suffering for his crimes.”
He snorts at that, a reaction that he honestly cannot help, but the accompanying smile disappears when the thought Magnus would get a kick out of this skates across his thought.
As soon as they’re alone – or, well, as alone as they can be with five guards still holding watch – she sits on the edge of his bed, reaching out to take a cloth napkin from the side table before dipping it in a cup of water and raising it to Alec’s face.
He wishes he could slap her hand away when she tries to clean off some of the soot, but given that he’s still cuffed he has to settle for a sharp jerk of his head and a harshly bitten, “Don’t touch me.”
“No, mother, just… just stop.”
“Stop what?” she asks like she doesn’t see the hypocritical BS she’s wearing like one of her thousand dollar business suits.
“Stop pretending that you actually care about my well-being.”
“That is all I care about, Alec.”
“No, all you care about is saving your own ass, so spare me the Mother of the Year act, okay? I’m too damn tired to deal with it.”
“The only reason that you are not yet in a cell is because you were not there for the attack itself, that you were not a part of it,” she tries next, thinking for some reason that this tack will work better than her feigned concern of a moment ago.
He just laughs again, a hysterical bark of it this time before he says, “Do you actually think any of that matters to me right now? We’re done.”
“Alec, we need to talk about this.”
He sits forward in his bed so that he can get a little height on her, his eyes burning from how intently he’s staring her down when he says, “Oh, I didn’t mean we’re done talking, although that’s true, too. I meant we’re done. Me and you. I am done with you.”
He pauses for a second to let the weight of his words settle into her thick, stubborn ass head before he adds, “As far as I’m concerned, I no longer have a mother. So if you would please just leave me alone with my impending doom, I’d greatly appreciate it.”
She blinks at him a few wild times before saying, more quietly than he’s ever heard her speak, “Alec, listen-”
“No, Maryse, you listen. I have done everything for this family. I have given up everything in service to the stupid Lightwood name, and for what? So that I could lose every single thing that ever mattered to me? So that the one time – the one fucking time – that I actually try and take something just for myself, I can have it ripped away from me because what? Because he was a fucking Downworlder? Because he didn’t fit the rigid standards of the Lightwood brand?”
“I. Said. No!” he snaps as heat rushes through his body so quickly it makes him dizzy, threatening to steal consciousness from him again. But he isn’t done here, not by a long shot, and so he just pushes right back at the fire and continues.
“You don’t get to talk anymore. I’ve been listening to you talk my whole life. It’s my turn now. You have stripped away every single part of me that was even remotely me. You have spent over two decades trying to carve me into your perfect little soldier but you know what? You messed up. You left me with a little too much of my own brain, of my own thought, and apparently that little bit was all it took for me to see what a monumental asshole you are.”
She backs away from him at that, her hand rising to her chest, clutching at the gaudy jewel draped around her neck.
“My whole life, you drilled into me that I wasn’t good enough, when you were the one that wasn’t good enough. The one that didn’t deserve me and Izzy. The one that doesn’t deserve Max. You were in the Circle, in the fucking Circle! You killed countless innocent people, just because you thought they were somehow beneath you but you want to know something? You are not worth the ground any of those Downworlders set foot on.”
He takes a deep breath, shuts his eyes for a moment and imagines the look Magnus would have on his face if he could see Alec right now. The hot press of anger coating every inch of his skin when he opens his eyes and says, “You do not get to judge me. You do not get to judge him. You do not get to judge anyone, ever again. And you do not get to have the benefit of having me as a son for another fucking second, not after what you did.”
“What I did?” she asks, her voice shaking slightly, quiet and weak when she finally gets up the courage to speak to him again.
“Putting a Mundane tracker in my pants? Sending that team to the loft?” he says, his voice pinching around the words as the heat increases, boiling his very blood as he strains against his handcuffs like he wishes he could break free of them, wrap his fingers around her neck maybe, take his anger, his fear, his desperation, his grief out on her because she’s the only one here.
“Pushing this issue over a little fucking girl and now… now this?” he says, the words choking out of his mouth like he can’t bear to speak them, can’t bear to face them.
“Now what?” she asks, and he’s had it. He’s done. Enough is enough.
His voice so loud, so fierce, so burnt, that it startles even him when he finally has the courage to say, “And now the man I love is dead and it’s all because of you!”
He’s shaking. Head to toe shaking as the truth behind those words settles into his bones, rattling him from the inside out. But there’s a funny look on her face, one he can’t place until she says, quietly, “Magnus is not dead.”
A noise he’s pretty sure he’s never made before chokes out of his throat, something like a sob but deeper, more guttural, and he can’t wrap his mind around her words, not yet. His heart is beating too loudly to hear them properly, his head spinning too fast to catch them. But eventually, he does, and when that happens…
“What do you mean, he’s not… not dead? I saw… the loft… I saw it explode… how…”
“He transported himself and all thirty members of the strike team to the building across the street just before the loft blew. When the explosion occurred, the few Shadowhunters that were still conscious saw him enter a portal and disappear.”
Alec is falling from a great height, the wind whipping past his head, rushing in his ears, he’s just falling. And he doesn’t care where he lands, when or how, because Magnus is alive.
Magnus is alive.
“He nearly killed them all, Alec. Many of them will likely need long hospital stays because of what he did to them. Once he is found, the Clave will not deal kindly with him,” she says, but Alec isn’t listening mostly because Alec doesn’t care. Her words mean less than nothing to him because the only thing that matters was established a few short seconds ago.
Magnus is alive. The rest is just meaningless details.
“They are sending a Silent Brother for you,” she continues. “They will find out where the girl is.”
But Alec just shrugs his shoulders and says weakly, “They can’t find out what I don’t know,” because it’s true. Catarina and Zoe could be in Antarctica for all he knows. So let the Silent Brothers do their worst.
Magnus is alive.
“Alec, please,” she begs, but all he does in response is lean back in his bed, shut his eyes and turn his head away from her.
His voice more tired than it’s ever been when he says, “Please just go away.”
“I said go,” he snaps because he’s sick of her not listening to him. And thankfully, this time it works.
He waits to hear her leave, follows her footsteps, clacking through the ward until she’s gone. And then and only then does he let the tears come, a stream of them, slipping down his face as he lets the reality of this moment wash over him like a flood.
He is alive. Magnus is alive. And pretty soon Alec’s going to be in a cell, rotting away the rest of his life, but somehow that doesn’t matter anymore. Somehow nothing matters anymore. Because the worst didn’t happen. The world didn’t end.
Magnus is alive.
Because his mother literally does not know when to quit, she makes a return appearance a while later. Her posture erect, her tone commanding when she looks to one of the guards and says, “Remove his cuffs. We are moving him to a more secure location in case the warlock makes an attempt to free him.”
Something flutters in his chest when she says that, a thought rushing over him now that hadn’t even occurred to him before. And he assumed he was done with fear for today, but it’s working over him again as he imagines Magnus, riding in on a freaking white horse to rescue him and getting himself captured in the process.
He thinks he’s going to be sick.
“But ma’am, we have orders from the Inquisitor,” the guard starts to complain, but his mother just cuts him off.
“Is the Inquisitor the head of this Institute or am I? Now do as I say. Remove his handcuffs or I will remove you.”
The guard snaps to attention at that, taking out a set of keys and moving towards the bed. And Alec is only mildly interested in what’s going on, preoccupied as he is, until his mother moves to a spot just over the guard’s shoulder and actually smiles at him.
He’s about to tell her off, rip into her for daring to be kind in his general vicinity, until she reaches under the collar of her dress to pull out a necklace. One Alec recognizes instantly.
The last time he saw it was at his wedding, when he was clasping it around Lydia’s neck.
He remembers the day they met now, the rune that had made her look just like Valentine, and his heart rate increases exponentially as one then two hands are freed from their bindings.
“I will take it from here,” she says as she tucks the necklace back into her dress. And Alec isn’t entirely sure what’s going on here, but he’s more than willing to go along with it if only to see where it leads.
It’s not like he had great plans for the rest of the night or anything, right?
“Alec, follow me,” she says thinly as she turns on her heels and whips her hair back over her shoulder. “And do not try anything funny. Every single Shadowhunter in this building is on high alert right now, so if you try and run you will not get far.”
As far as warnings go, it’s not the subtlest one in the world. But then again, Lydia is pretending to be a woman that’s about as subtle as a heart attack. So all in all, she’s doing a pretty good job.
He follows her in complete silence, his legs still shaky from all he’s been through in the last few hours, his equilibrium so off that he lists to the side every few steps, leaning right, overcorrecting, leaning left, lather, rinse, repeat. He can feel everyone’s eyes as they follow him, and it makes him wonder how many of them think he’s a traitor and how many of them don’t.
Not like he cares, of course.
Once they’re out of the control center, in a visibly empty part of the Institute, Alec thinks it might be a good time to ask what the hell is going on. But before he can even open his mouth to form words, Lydia is opening a door to their left and shoving him inside.
It’s a little awkward, being stuck in a small, dark closet with a woman that looks exactly like his mother. But thankfully she’s letting down the disguise a second later, her lips smiling but her eyes telling an entirely different story as she returns to her normal self and stares up at him in something that resembles sadness, if he had to put a name to it.
“What’s going on?” Alec asks, because he’s spent enough time in the dark lately to last him the rest of his life, however long that ends up being.
“We’re breaking you out, that’s what’s going on,” she says matter-of-factly, and he has to admit, he’s a bit dumbfounded right now. Which, okay, if he really thought about it, that’s sort of the only logical explanation for what Lydia just did. But having her actually say it so bluntly makes Alec… like… feel things.
“Who’s we?” he asks, because he’s actually pretty curious who exactly is willing to risk both their career and their life to help him out of this jam of his own damn making.
“Clary is on distraction duty, Raj should be here any minute to get you through the rest of the Institute, and I’m fairly certain you can guess who is waiting outside for you,” she says, and Alec is stunned to silence. Because Jace and Izzy he gets, but the rest of them?
“I don’t know how to repay you for this,” he says honestly as the truth of what’s happening starts to settle into him, the excitement warring with the still overwhelming sense of desperation he’s been feeling ever since he tumbled through that stupid portal.
“Just take care of yourself. That’s all we want.”
She rises on her tiptoes at that, cups his left cheek while placing a soft kiss on his soot-covered right one. And he wants to thank her, wants to say so much, but she’s opening the door a second later. Her voice hushed as she says, “Wait here for Raj. Be careful,” and leaves.
The silence left in her wake is oppressive, but luckily he doesn’t have to abide it for long before the door is opening once again.
“You ready?” Raj asks. And Alec just shrugs his shoulders because he honestly cannot remember the last time he was ready for anything in his life.
They make it down to the tunnels with minimal effort, only having to duck into blind spots a few times before they’re miraculously safe, just a few dozen yards from the exit. And Alec can still not believe this is actually happening. Because he’d do this in a heartbeat for pretty much any one of these people, but them doing it for him?
His mind is still a bit too fuzzy to comprehend that entirely.
He’s reaching out his hand to shake Raj’s in gratitude when Raj grabs him and pulls him into a hug. And it’s… well, it’s awkward, he’ll admit it, mostly because he’s not entirely sure if he and Raj have ever actually even touched one another. But given that the guy is in the process of saving him from a lifelong prison sentence, a hug is the literal least Alec can do.
“Take care of yourself, Lightwood,” Raj says when he pulls back, and he’s got that look in his eye, the same one Lydia had. Sadness, like this is some sort of goodbye, and that’s when it hits him like a ton of freaking bricks.
This is goodbye.
He’s not just heading out for the night, or a long weekend, he’s heading out for life. The only way he’s walking back into the Institute again is in handcuffs and all of a sudden he can’t breathe. His throat is closing up on him at an alarming rate and he’s actually a bit worried that he’s going to pass out again until Raj says something that acts like a release valve.
“Give Magnus my best.”
Oh. Right. Magnus. And just like that, he’s okay again. He’s him again. Because Alec may be walking away from something right now – something that’s literally been his life as long as he’s been alive. But he’s also walking towards something else. And if that something else is Magnus, then he’s fairly confident that he can take whatever comes with it.
Or he’s mostly confident at least, his resolve shaking ever so slightly when he finally spills out into the night air to see Jace and Izzy, waiting for him in the moonlight.
“I packed a bag for you,” Izzy says, getting down to business immediately because they’re in the middle of an actual prison break here, so there’s really no time for formalities.
“An assortment of your favorite plain black t-shirts and some sweaters I know you won’t wear just in case it’s cold wherever you’re going.”
She hands him a duffle at that, her eyes as hard as granite as she looks up at him like she’s daring him to say something sentimental.
“Uh… thank you,” he replies because really, how’s he supposed to respond? But before he can go too far down the road of saying goodbye to his baby sister, Jace yanks his attention his way.
“Are you sure about this?” he asks, his arms wrapped around his stomach and his eyes hard as well, but in a different way than Izzy’s. Like he’s spinning his tires more than settling down to a will of iron.
“If you run and they find you again, it won’t be Alicante, Alec. It’ll be the Silent City. Or worse.”
“I know,” he says, because even though he’s had only about fifteen minutes to truly contemplate this course of action that he would like to point out was thrust upon him, thank you very much. But even with only that quarter of an hour to think, he’s pretty much figured out all of the angles and then some.
“So you’re sure?” Jace asks again, his tone of voice pleading almost, like he can’t tell what he wants Alec to do here – stay or run.
Alec just nods, his voice entirely resolute when he says, “He’s worth it,” because he is.
Magnus is worth a million risks just like this one all piled on top of one another.
Jace nods tightly, biting out the word, “Okay,” before wrapping his arms around Alec. And something burns in his rune at that, cutting all the way to the core of him, and it makes him not want to let go. Makes him wish he could take them with him, stick Jace and Izzy in his pathetic duffle bag and drag them with him.
But this isn’t their fight. And Alec may be willing to basically throw his life away, but he would never ask them to do the same. Even this much is too much, too dangerous, too risky, too much. But now that he’s here, one foot over the line and getting ready to pull the second one with it, he can’t help but think about everything he’s leaving behind.
He loves them, but it’s different now. He’s different now. And when he shuts his eyes and takes a breath, he can feel a sense of certainty etched into his freaking bones, telling him that this is the right thing to do. The only thing to do.
“I love you, Alec,” Jace says, and he’s shaking slightly now, still holding on to Alec like he’s afraid of what will happen if he lets go. And all Alec can do is hold on right back, squeeze his arms that much tighter because if this is potentially the last time he’s going to get to see his brother, get to hold his brother, he’s not letting go until he absolutely has to.
Absolutely has to comes a few seconds later when Izzy clears her throat in a way that tells them plainly how unhelpful their current choice of action is.
“I thought you reached your crying quota for the year already,” Alec says in a way that tries and fails to be light when Jace pulls back with tears beading his eyes.
“Shut up,” he replies, punching Alec on the arm harder than is really necessary, and Alec thinks this is it.
This is it.
His heart breaks when he looks at Izzy, her eyes still just fierce as hell, unwilling to crack. And he wishes for not the first time in his life that he had even a fraction of her strength. Maybe he wouldn’t be in this mess if he did.
“I am not saying goodbye to you,” she says, her voice all force and resilience.
“Okay,” Alec replies, biting his lip to keep it from trembling. “Would you… could you tell Max that… that I love him?”
The tears are back at that, stinging his eyes, but he does his best to blink them away because if Izzy is going to be strong for him, the least he can do is return the favor.
She crosses her arms over her chest and nods, and that… well that’s it, isn’t it? There’s nothing else to really say other than I love you both so much I’m worried I might actually die without you, which would be even less helpful than his and Jace’s prolonged hug fest. And so he lifts his duffle more solidly onto his shoulder and turns to leave.
“Wait!” she cries out before he gets two steps away from her. And he doesn’t want to see her miserable, honestly he doesn’t. But when she wraps her arms around his waist and sobs his name into his chest, he can’t help but feel grateful because he really, really didn’t want to leave her without saying goodbye.
“Please be careful,” she says, her voice still stronger than it has any right to be while Alec is not so slowly breaking down inside.
“I will,” he manages to choke out as he shuts his eyes and buries his face in her hair, breathing in the scent of her shampoo so deeply it’s like he’s hoping he’ll be able to make it a permanent part of his senses.
She squeezes her arms tighter, turns her head so that the front of her face is pressed into his ribcage, and says a muffled, broken, “I love you big brother,” that makes every single part of his heart crack.
“I love you too, Iz,” he says, kissing the top of her head, and he’s looking to Jace at that with pleading in his eyes, begging him for help.
“C’mon, Iz,” Jace says, reaching out to remove Izzy from where she’s wrapped so tightly around Alec he’s pretty sure she’ll be leaving bruised ribs in her absence. And that word sticks in the center of his throat, cutting off his breath.
He doesn’t say another word. He just nods at where Jace is currently allowing Izzy to burrow into his side and turns to walk away. Because if he stays here for one more second, looks at them for one more second, he’s not entirely sure he’ll be able to leave.
When he gets to a safe distance, he lets the tears come for the second time today. His body wracked with them as he continues to move on shaky legs. But his attention is arrested a few moments later by a sharp jab coming from his duffle.
He slings it off his shoulder, balancing the bag on his knee so he can open it, rifle through the contents until he finds what he’s looking for.
He recognizes the frame instantly because it’s the only one he owns, containing the only picture that’s ever mattered to him. The one of him, Izzy and Jace on the day of his graduation from the Academy and it looks different, like the glass is newer, shinier. Like it’s somehow been made to make them look even happier than they were. And in spite of the way it wants to tear him apart inside, he still finds himself smiling here nonetheless, mimicking the expression from the picture because this isn’t the end.
This isn’t goodbye.
And he may not yet know how to prove that, but that doesn’t mean he won’t.
Chapter 8: War of Hearts
I know this is supposed to be a Magnus chapter, but we’re just going to have to wait a tiny bit more to see inside that beautiful, messed up head of his. And along those lines, I know this has been a rough batch of chapters, but I give you my word that the light is finally going to break through in chapter nine. And man, is it going to SHINE. So just bear with me a little while longer. I promise it will be worth it.
Alec hates that it’s come to this. But the few options he had ran dry so quick he didn’t even get to see them evaporate. And he guesses that means he doesn’t really know Magnus as well as he thought he did – doesn’t know his life – because he could count on one hand the places he thought to look for him and still have a couple fingers to spare.
Pandemonium was a bust, the fire took care of anything trackable in the loft, and Cat’s phone is dead. So this… this is his last resort.
“You look like shit,” Raphael says in a voice that makes Alec’s skin literally crawl as he plops down onto his probably stolen, very expensive couch and puts his feet up on the table in front of him. Linking his fingers behind his head and staring out at Alec, bored to death, like this is the most casual night in the history of the freaking world.
“Do you ever bathe, Lightwood, or is that another little Shadowhunter quirk no one talks about?”
He grits his teeth, pulls a deep breath through his nose in an attempt to calm his murderous rage, and dives in.
“I need your help, Raphael. I need… I need to know where Magnus is, and you’re the only person I could think of to ask.”
“Person?” he asks with a raised eyebrow, and Alec knew this wasn’t going to be easy. But he thought he’d be able to get at least five or ten minutes into it before he started losing his shit.
It’s hard. It’s very, very hard.
“Do you know where he is? Or do you have, like, anything of his I can track?”
Raphael laughs. Which improves Alec’s mood by exactly zero percent.
“That’s cute, that you think you could track him if he didn’t want to be found.”
He’s clenching his fists now, doing his level best to try and stem the tide of anger and frustration and just… pissed off-ness that wants to overtake him here. Because Raphael is literally his only shot at finding Magnus, and so he needs to watch every single word he says.
“Raphael, please,” he begs, not bothering to hide the desperation in his voice in the hopes that there’s a beating heart somewhere beneath his not actually beating heart, one that will take pity on him and just tell him what he wants to know.
“How do I know this isn’t for the Clave? That you’re not trying to find him so you can arrest him?” he asks. And for the first time all conversation, he sounds pissed as well. Which makes sense. Magnus saved his life, Magnus gave him a life, like so many countless others both before and after him. Like Alec. And so, yeah, he can totally get behind the overprotective vibe.
But he really, really doesn’t have the time or patience for it.
He throws his hands up in the air in a show of surrender. “I’m unarmed, with zero backup, and it’s the middle of the night. You could kill me and dump my body before the sun even comes up.”
“Don’t give me ideas,” Raphael hisses, and Alec…
He is so tired.
Which is why his voice raises at least a half an octave when he says, “I walked away, Raphael. I walked away. What the Clave did tonight? It was wrong. On so many levels, it was fucking wrong. I would never… damn it, I would never let them take him. I would die before I let the Clave lay one fucking hand on him. I just… I just need to find him. Please. Please just help me find him.”
Raphael rolls his eyes and groans. And it makes Alec feel like puking all over his soot-covered boots.
“What?” he asks, the word bitten out in anger because he just can’t seem to hold it back any longer.
“Nothing,” Raphael says as he gets to his feet, smoothing out the wrinkles in his jacket as he turns his face up in disgust and says, “I just… I believe you.”
Alec doesn’t know what to say in response to that, so he just stands there blinking and waits to see where Raphael is going with this.
“Magnus!” he calls out. And hearing his name, just that one word, sends shockwaves through Alec’s body every bit as powerful as the one that’d knocked him on his ass when the loft exploded.
“Get your ass out here, old man. If I have to listen to your boyfriend pine for another second I’m draining him dry.”
Raphael shoots Alec another did I just step in a pile of dog crap look, but he only focuses on it for a second because a second after that, Magnus is actually appearing from a back room and Alec…
Alec’s world stops.
Magnus’ name is every sob, every prayer that’s ever left his lips. The only word that matters, the only one that matters. And he feels like he’s freaking gliding across the floor as he makes his way to Magnus and grabs him, pulls him in, squeezes so tight it makes his muscles ache but none of that matters because he found him. He’s here. And that means there’s hope.
That means there’s life.
“Don’t ever do that again,” Alec snaps a few seconds later, releasing the hug so he can shove Magnus once, hard, before reaching out to pull him in again. His face buried in the crook of Magnus’ neck, Magnus’ sweat salty on his lips, and he’s real. He’s here and he’s real and Alec doesn’t entirely know how to deal with all of that.
When he lets Magnus go the second time, it’s only so he can get a better look at him, rest his hands gently on the sides of Magnus’ face so he can tip it up, look him in the eye when he asks, “What happened? Are you okay?”
“I am okay,” Magnus says, and his voice… it’s different. Everything about him is different, in fact, now that Alec’s coming back to himself enough to see. And it makes him feel cold all over, like when dark clouds roll across the sun and the temperature drops ten degrees in an instant.
“Magnus,” he says, probably sobs again, if he’s being honest with himself, as his thumbs swipe gently under Magnus’ eyes and his back bends so he can lean down, get a better look. Because something is wrong here. Something is off. And even though he can’t explain it, he can apparently fear it.
“Talk to me.”
“I said that I am fine, Alec,” he says as he reaches up to take Alec’s hands off of his face. And he’s not. It is very clear that he’s not. But he’s never been very good at making Magnus talk when he doesn’t want to, and so he’s got no freaking clue what to do here. Especially once Magnus turns the conversation around to him.
“Why are you covered in soot?” he asks, his voice still that same dead tone.
Alec can’t help how his own voice sounds almost annoyed when he says, “Because I went into the loft.”
Magnus tips his head and narrows his gaze. “Alec, it was on fire.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”
“Why did you go in?”
“Why?” Alec barks out, the word sounding like a choked laugh more than anything. “Why? Because I thought you were in there, Magnus. Because I saw our home explode and, because I’m apparently the biggest fucking idiot in the world, I assumed you were still in there. And so, you know, I thought I might try and see if you were anything other than fucking dead.”
Magnus just stares at him, dead-eyed and confused, and this… this is not how Alec thought this was going to go. And sure, he didn’t really give it too much thought, mostly because he’s only been away from the Institute for a few hours and because in those few hours the overriding thought in his head has been find Magnus find Magnus how the hell am I going to find Magnus? But this… right here? This isn’t right.
There is something very not right going on here.
“Why did you send me away?” he asks because he thinks that maybe, if he keeps pushing this issue, something will crack in Magnus and he’ll magically become Magnus again.
“I’m a soldier. I’m perfectly capable of fighting any battle you put in front of me.”
“They were your people, Alec. I would not have allowed you to fight your own people for me.”
“You’re my people,” he says, and it’s startling, how small his voice sounds. How young and sad and pathetic. But he’s slipping inside here. He’s probably still suffering from smoke inhalation, he just had to say goodbye to two of the three most important people in his life, and he’s just…
Alec is slipping.
“I pushed you through that portal for a reason, Alec. This is not your fight; it never was. I could not allow you to give up your life for me.”
“But you did the same and more,” he says, a little more maturely but no less desperately.
“That is different.”
“Why? Because you’re immortal and you’ve lived a few centuries so it doesn’t matter if you die? That’s bullshit, Magnus. It’s all just bullshit. And besides, it’s not just me ‘giving up my life’ for you. The Clave is wrong. This whole thing is wrong. And if I stand with them, then I’m no better than they are.”
“You should not have come, Alec,” he says like that’s somehow a valid response to what Alec just said. And, to put it plainly, Alec sort of loses at least half of his shit. Maybe three-quarters.
“Are you kidding me?” he asks. “Are you fucking kidding me?!”
“Go home, Alec,” Magnus says because apparently, he is not fucking kidding Alec. “While you still can.”
He buries his face in his hands, rubs his palms hard over the ash still covering his skin, and pretty much whines, “I am home. You’re my home,” because it’s true. The loft was great and all, and having family at the Institute has given him a sense of comfort over the years, but he has never felt more at home than when he’s simply standing in the same room as Magnus.
“And besides,” he says, because he thinks that maybe the point needs to be made. “I don’t have any other home. You took care of the loft and I kind of burned every single bridge I had left with the Clave. So I’m basically fucking homeless here.”
“What?” Magnus asks, and for the first time, there’s a flash of him. A flash of actual, human emotion. And it floods Alec with a sense of something resembling giddiness because maybe, just maybe they’re getting somewhere.
“I was arrested, Magnus,” he says, tempering his excitement as best he can because he still needs Magnus to hear him. “Jace and Izzy, they helped me escape. They were sending a Silent Brother for me, they were going to crack my freaking skull open and dump me in a cell and so I ran, which essentially means that I’m a fugitive. I don’t even have my stele, so my runes are useless. I have nothing.”
Nothing but you, he thinks, but he can’t bring himself to say that right now for fear of pushing Magnus away again.
There’s a look of anger on Magnus’ face when he finishes, nothing all consuming but it’s still there, hidden in the cracks. And it gives Alec the courage he needs to reach out for him again, rest his hands on Magnus’ shoulders when he says, “I left everything for you,” because maybe if Magnus knows that, knows that someone cares enough to do that, he’ll come back to him.
“I did not ask you to do that,” Magnus says, and it’s like flushing the toilet on Alec’s hope. Like it’s all just swirling down the drain as he adds, “Perhaps you shouldn’t have.”
Alec takes his hands back, unwilling as he is to wait for Magnus to do it again. His voice inching ever closer to hysteria when he says, “Are you joking?”
Magnus remains utterly silent, and Alec…
Yup. There goes the last quarter.
“You don’t get to say that, Magnus!” he shouts, not even caring anymore about whether or not he’s going to spook Magnus into bolting. “Not after everything we’ve been through. Not after everything I’ve done for you. After how hard we’ve fought just to get here. You don’t… you don’t get to say that.”
Magnus just stares back at him like he’s some sort of robot, a crappy B movie android version of himself or a pod person or something. And the only thing Alec wants to do right now is reach out and shake him until he’s Magnus again, his Magnus, because this?
This is too much.
“You promised me,” he says as he runs his fingers back through his hair, tugging on the short strands because he just needs to do something right now.
“What did I promise you?”
“That you’d stay with me. And I quote: ‘We are not fighting a war today, Alexander. But we will be ready when it comes. And I will be by your side through every moment of it.’ You… fuck, Magnus, you promised me. This is the war. This is our war. And you can’t… you can’t just leave me. You don’t… you don’t get to just check out on me, tell me that I shouldn’t have come for you when you’ve spent literally every fucking moment of our relationship coming for me. It’s just… it’s not fair.”
“What has being with me given you?” he says, and it’s so cold, his voice is so cold that it makes Alec’s skin feel clammy instantly.
“All it has done is take, all I have done is take. Stripping your life down until there is quite literally nothing left.”
Alec laughs, because this is truly very funny to him.
“You and my mother should get your own talk show,” he bites out bitterly as he reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose in the hopes of stemming a migraine that’s already pounding in the back of his head.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means, Magnus, that you’re both assholes. I know this may come as a surprise to you but I’m an adult, and a pretty damn smart one at that. I’m perfectly capable of making my own decisions and I decided a long time ago that I wanted you. You’re left.”
“What?” he asks, slipping back to the confused look of before because Alec’s words are doing that Alec’s words thing again, where they don’t entirely make sense to anyone not currently residing in the briar patch inside his head.
“You said you stripped down my life until there was nothing left, but even if that were true – which it’s not – but even if it were, none of that matters as long as you’re left.”
He pauses for a second, trying to read the lines of Magnus’ face, see if he’s getting through to him at all, before saying, “I thought you were dead, Magnus. And sure it was only for like an hour but it fucking gutted me. It was like looking down the barrel of a gun, staring down a life without you. I didn’t walk away from the Institute for you. I did it for me. Because… fuck, Magnus, because I think that maybe I deserve you.”
He’s shaking now, like he just pulled those words from some place deep inside, some place raw and vulnerable. And they’re just spilling out of him now, pouring from the black hole that’s always been at the center of him. Only it’s not sucking things in anymore, it’s spewing them out. And he’s not entirely sure how to stop it.
“I would die for anyone back at the Institute,” he says because why not, right? He’s on a roll for the first time in his life, so he might as well see where it takes him. “I’d probably even die for my mother still because I’m an asshole too, but I don’t want to die for you.”
A weird look slips across Magnus’ face, and it’s not a pleasant one but at least it’s not blank. And so Alec will take it as he steps back into Magnus’ personal bubble so he can rest his palms along the sides of his neck, tip his head down and press their foreheads together when he says, “I want to live for you.”
He lets the moment settle, lets his words settle. And Magnus doesn’t respond to them but he has to believe that he heard them, that he gets them, because Magnus is supposed to be the one that understands him even when he doesn’t understand himself.
“Tell me to back off and I will,” he says, his voice lower now, deeper as he presses a kiss to the sharp edge of Magnus’ cheekbone.
“Tell me to leave and I will,” he continues, his lips working downward with his words, tracing them over Magnus’ skin. “Tell me you never want to see me again and I’ll walk out that door and never come back, I swear, but you’re going to have to say it.”
Magnus’ arms are still at his sides, his body still frozen beneath Alec’s assault, but he can feel the way his muscles are tensing, can see in how tightly Magnus’ eyes are shut that he’s getting through to him finally. And he probably should’ve just tried this from the jump. His words have always been crap, but his actions? Alec has lived a life of action.
And he’s taking full advantage of that now as he sucks on the soft patch of skin directly over Magnus’ pulse point, the thud of Magnus’ heartbeat increasing with every nip of Alec’s teeth, and it’s working. It’s actually working. And so there’s nothing in the world that would be able to get him to stop short of Magnus telling him all the things Alec is daring him to say.
“Tell me you don’t want me anymore,” he says smoothly as his hands slide down Magnus’ arms before moving to his hips, riding up beneath the hem of his shirt to find skin, warm and waiting. His nose nudging away the collar of Magnus’ shirt so he can press his lips to Magnus’ collarbone.
“Tell me you don’t want this anymore,” he says, and when he goes to reach for the buckle on Magnus’ pants, something awakens in Magnus like a stick of dynamite igniting.
His hands are around Alec’s wrists in a flash, his eyes catlike, burning when Alec finally looks back at him. And Magnus’ breath is heaving so hard it sounds almost painful to Alec.
There’s heat coming from Magnus’ palms, steady, smooth, warm as it pulses in time to Alec’s heartbeat, spreading up his arms, through his body like a drug injected directly into his veins and he feels lightheaded almost instantly. Feels like he did when he left the loft, like standing and breathing and being conscious were simply luxuries he could no longer afford as he stares into Magnus’ eyes and tries to at least stay awake, stay alive for a few more minutes.
“What do you want, Magnus?” he asks as he moves his hands back to Magnus’ waist. And even though he’s still clutching Alec’s wrists, he follows the movement, lets Alec return to the buckle, lets him slip it open and it’s like that black hole at the center of him is spreading out, pulling everything into it but he doesn’t care.
All he cares about is the look of need in Magnus’ eyes when he asks him, simply, “What do you want from me?”
Magnus doesn’t answer with words, he just answers with lips, with tongue, with teeth, with the way his skin feels like it’s burning up from a fever when he lets Alec put his hands all over him. Pressed up under a shirt that’s off in an instant, vanishing like Alec’s ruined denim one, or his demolished new pants, covered in soot and reeking of smoke but he doesn’t need them here. Now. He doesn’t need anything but Magnus and for the moment, he has him.
He has everything.
He tastes amazing, somehow better than ever before, and Alec feels drunk, like Magnus was soaked in alcohol and set in a stupid martini glass. And Alec is just drowning in him, literally drinking up the way Magnus whimpers into his mouth when Alec reaches down and wraps a hand around him, tugging. And it’s the world on fire, kerosene and a lit match, boiling oil slicks in the middle of the ocean and Alec is ready and willing to burn.
He walks Magnus backwards into the room he’d left at the start of this all. And he’s never been more grateful that one of his half-cocked assumptions was correct than when he sees a bed out of the corner of his one opened eye. A bed he literally shoves Magnus down on because he’s had a long, shitty night and he’s done waiting for the stupid sunrise.
He molds his body to Magnus’, feels every one of his muscles sigh in relief when they settle together. And when Magnus touches him again, he can feel it, deeper this time. So where before he might have been able to chalk it up to the heat of the moment, now he knows it’s real.
Magnus’ magic is pouring into Alec’s veins and it is literally the single most amazing thing he’s ever felt in his entire life.
At some point Magnus manages to get on top of him, and the way his tongue is tracing the rune on his neck, the way his teeth scrape every few beats along over-sensitized skin, gives Alec the courage to admit something he’s been wanting to for a while now.
“I want you,” he says, his words coming in breathless hitches.
Magnus breaks away from his neck so he can lean up, look down at him. His eyes unreadable but his voice liquid when he says, “You already have me.”
“No,” Alec says, the word choked out through a rapidly shrinking airway as he shakes his head and takes Magnus’ hands in his own. And he’s shivering now, trembling all over, but he wants this and so he keeps going.
He runs Magnus’ hands over his hips, rides them around to his lower back before arching his body just enough to give him room to push Magnus’ hands lower.
“I want you.”
As soon as the words are out of his mouth, he wishes he could take them back, because it’s like they’ve somehow managed to break a spell he wasn’t even aware was in play.
It happens fast.
One second Magnus is there, with him. Is right there with him, fully committed, one hundred percent. And the next second he is literally pulling away.
“Magnus, what’s wrong?” he asks as he sits up and moves down to the end of the bed where Magnus is currently sitting, his elbows pressed into his thighs, his hands wrapped over his face.
But when Alec reaches out to touch him, Magnus moves, lightning quick until he’s halfway across the room, staring back at Alec with eyes that look terrified.
“I am sorry, Alec,” he says. And an apology has never filled Alec with more dread than this one, right here, as Magnus adds, “But I could not live with myself if I dragged you down with me.”
“Dragged me where?” he asks because he’s lost here, completely and utterly fucking lost. But Magnus doesn’t answer him, not with words anyway.
Like it’s become their new horrible, awful, miserable thing, Magnus opens a portal. And before Alec can even get the word wait past his lips, he’s just… gone.
Magnus is gone.
And Alec, as per usual, is left behind with nothing but his own pathetic confusion.
Chapter 9: I Get to Love You
Thank you so much to my darling Srtawalker, for opening my eyes. And to Laelipoo, for holding my hand through this. I love you guys!
Also, I totally stole the original title from chapter six because it fits so. much. better. here.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Magnus is not sure why he is here. When he opened the portal, he was simply trying to think of the furthest place in memory, as if he imagined that if he could put half of the globe between them it would allow him to forget all of the things Alec had said to him. All of the things Alec had done for him.
It was the first place that popped into his head, but he thinks that it must be a coincidence that it is also the place of his birth. A country he has not seen since he was ten because he has done his best to never look over his shoulder if it could be helped. Only he is here now, two days later, and he cannot fathom why he has not yet left.
The island is different than he remembers, but the beach is still the same one from the day trips he and his mother would take once a month when he was young. The same sand is between his toes right now, soft and warm, as he pulls his knees tighter to his chest and stares out at the water as if he thinks the lapping waves might hold the answers to the questions plaguing his mind.
He is lost in that, in warm sand and a warmer breeze, in the sounds of the waves punctuated by those of the various day tourists dancing along the shoreline. And his mind is so far adrift that he does not notice that someone has taken a seat beside him until a familiar voice reaches his ears.
“Nice view,” Alec says. Alec. Who is here, halfway around the world, sitting beside him. And at first he thinks that it must be a mirage, that he has spent too much time out in the sun and it has caused him to hallucinate. But when he looks to his left and sees the sharp line of Alec’s jaw, illuminated by the sun as he stares out at the same water that had hypnotized Magnus, he knows that this is real.
There is no way his imagination could ever hope to conjure anything so beautiful.
He looks different here, outside of the harsh lights of New York. Even his clothes have changed – the grays and blacks replaced by khaki colored linen pants and a white button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up because he is, after all, still Alec. And Magnus is having a hard time processing what he is seeing because he did not imagine that he would be anything other than alone here. And yet somehow, there he is.
“How are you here?” he asks, because he cannot bring himself to voice the other question. The one that begins with why.
“You left your shirt at the hotel,” he says, his voice level, unreadable as he lets his eyes slip finally to Magnus, sliding them up and down slowly before adding, “Not like you need it. I like the look.”
He is referring to the fact that Magnus does not look much like himself right now either, due to the aforementioned assumption that he would not run into anyone that he knew here. It is why he is wearing very little, just a pair of dark gray sweat pants ripped off at the knees and nothing else. No jewelry, no makeup, just skin.
“Thanks for not blocking the track, by the way,” Alec continues as his eyes move back to the water. “I was having trouble with it on my own, but when Cat didn’t hear from you after the loft she found me, and… well, warlock tracking is stronger, right?”
Alec nods his head in the direction of the shore, and for the first time since he sat down Magnus allows himself to look away from Alec, confident that he will not disappear if he does. And something constricts in his chest when he sees what Alec is now watching: Zoe, fully clothed and running towards the water as Catarina chases after her.
They are all here. How are they all here?
“I like your look as well,” he says because he cannot think of any other words to speak, how to put his thoughts, his feelings into a language that Alec would understand.
“Yeah, Cat made me change. She said that I would both stick out like a sore thumb and roast my ass off if I wore my usual wardrobe out here. So… you know… when in Rome. Or when in Indonesia, I guess I should say.”
“I wasn’t going to give up the boots, though. She tried to get me to wear these, like, loafers I think they were? Or boat shoes? I don’t know, but they were terrible. They kept slipping off my heels and they were giving me blisters after only about five seconds, so I scrapped them.”
Magnus is following everything that Alec is saying, but he is also not following anything that Alec is saying.
“It’s not so bad, though. But I have to say, I’m already missing New York. It is hot here.”
“Why did you come?” Magnus asks, using the small inlet Alec supplied to pose a question that needs to be spoken aloud if only to be able to put it in the rearview mirror. “I should have thought you would be mad at me.”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong, I was pissed. Like… pissed. Just ask Raphael,” he says, his jaw tightening slightly with his words as he keeps his eyes locked on where Catarina is now actively trying to drag Zoe away from the water.
“By the way, we may owe him a Ming vase, I think he called it? I’m not sure if you know where I could pick one of those up. Is that, like, a special thing or is it something I could get at IKEA?”
Alec looks at him then, and there is a smile, hidden in the shadows of his lips. And though it is barely there, it is enough to make Magnus’ frozen veins begin to thaw.
“How did you break it?” he asks, unwilling to allow the hope to reach his voice because he is still not sure what is happening here.
“I may or may not have thrown it at his head,” Alec replies, his voice lighter now, like something is softening in him as well the longer he speaks.
“But in my defense, he was being a monumental prick and it was the closest object to me. I’m sorry, Magnus. I don’t want to, like, disparage your parenting skills or anything, but you kind of raised a real douche bag there. I’m thinking it might be best to just leave the majority of Zoe’s rearing to me.”
Magnus’ chest constricts at Alec’s words, like a vise squeezing around his heart. A sensation that is not helped by the way Alec ducks his head away to hide the slight flush in his cheeks as a shy smile presses across his lips.
“Raphael said he wished he could come too, by the way,” he continues as he rubs the back of his neck in a likely attempt to brush away what he just said. “But, to quote, ‘There is too much damn sun in Indonesia, and I love him but not enough to die for him.’ I called him a weakling. He may be plotting to murder me.”
“Alec,” Magnus says, his fingers itching to reach out in a way he almost cannot bear.
“It’s okay, I’m not really all that afraid of him. I mean, I’d probably feel more comfortable if I at least had my stele, but I’m still pretty sure I could take him in a one-on-one situation. Now, if he brings his whole den into it, I might have something to worry about, but-”
“Alec,” he says again, and this time he does risk touching him, just a slight brush of his fingertips on Alec’s bare forearm.
Even that little is almost enough to undo him.
“I am sorry for both how I left and how I left things,” he says because he cannot watch Alec spin his tires for another moment. But before he can get any further into his apology, Alec is looking at him with something like determination in his eyes.
“Don’t apologize. You… you don’t have to.”
“I don’t?” Magnus asks. And he cannot help how incredulous he sounds because he is fairly certain that if there were ever a time in his life when he needed to apologize for something, now would be it.
“No. In fact, I think maybe I should be apologizing to you?”
The words come to Alec like a question, and it is one that Magnus is asking as well. Because if Alec was making little sense before, he is now making even less.
“What could you possibly have to apologize for?”
Alec takes a deep breath and holds his hands up in front of him in supplication. “Bear with me. I’m not… not great at this,” he says.
And for some reason, Magnus allows the words, “That is strange, because you are quite good at apologizing for others,” to slip from his lips.
Thankfully Alec smiles at him, ducking his head away and laughing at what Magnus is so grateful turned out to be a joke. The flush returning to his cheeks, coloring the patches of skin behind his ears as he says, “That’s because of my uncanny ability to know when everyone else is wrong. It comes from a lifetime of always being right.”
Magnus wants to smile. So badly he wants to smile. But he is still unsure of how to do that here, with Alec, after everything.
“I think… I think I went about this whole thing wrong,” he continues, squinting out into the sun as he tries to dig out the words he wants to speak. And it always strikes him as odd, how sometimes Alec can say the most amazing things with complete ease, and other times he stumbles over the simplest of phrases.
“It’s like… like I was hoping that if I held you tight enough, I’d be able to keep you together, you know?” he asks, turning to face Magnus like he’s asking the question to him instead of his own thought.
“Like I was trying to just… just squeeze it all out of you to keep you from breaking, but that’s not what you needed. You didn’t need someone to hold you together, you needed someone who would let you fall apart and be there with a broom, a dustpan, and a bottle of glue when everything settled.”
Magnus squints his eyes down in an attempt to read Alec’s expression as Alec’s words do their best to settle into the cracks spread throughout his entire being.
“I’m sorry for not listening to you,” he says. “For not listening to what you weren’t saying.”
“And what wasn’t I saying?” Magnus asks because he honestly does not know.
“That you needed someone to see you? That… I don’t know, that all you needed was for me to see you, and I just… I just kept looking right through you.”
Alec pauses there as his words ring so loudly in Magnus’ ears they drown out everything else. Everything but Alec’s voice.
“Which, in my defense, you are hundreds of years old and, like, literally the most powerful thing in existence – congratulations on that, by the way,” he says, laughing lightly at his own words. “And you’re smart and confident and funny and kind and well put together and… and it’s just easy to forget, I guess.”
“Forget what?” Magnus asks through the overwhelming tightness in his throat.
Alec looks at him then, really looks at him. His eyes so determined to make Magnus hear him that it actually rattles him when he says, “That you’re also human. And humans are fucked up. I should know, given that I am also human and fucked up.”
“That is a lot of insight for someone so young,” Magnus says because he can’t seem to bring himself to say what he wants to right now.
I love you Alec. More than anything I have ever loved in the past or anything I will ever love in the future. More than life, I love you.
“Yeah, well, everyone is young compared to you, old man,” he says before leaning over to bump his shoulder into Magnus’. “Plus, there’s a slight possibility that Cat might’ve helped me just a little with this.”
“I shall have to remember to thank her for that,” Magnus replies. But just when he thinks that he can breathe again – that Alec is finished being the kind of sincere that cuts Magnus off at the knees every time – he adds a few more logs to the fire.
“I didn’t come here to fix you, Magnus,” he says, reaching down to take Magnus’ hand in his own. “But I am here to support you. However you need.”
And when Alec looks at him again, he believes him. From the bottom of whatever is left of his soul, he believes him.
“So what did you want to do? Because I’ve always wanted to learn how to surf. And I’m assuming, given your advanced years, that you had to have learned at some point.”
“Actually,” he says as the hint of a smile starts to break through the cracks in his veneer, like just being able to hold Alec’s hand again is enough to bring him back to life, however slowly. “I thought I might like to go home. To my first one.”
Alec nods at him, such a simple gesture but one that means the world to Magnus as he says, “Sounds good,” like it is just that easy.
And who knows? Maybe with Alec, it can be.
Magnus’ bare feet ache as they make their way back into the island. And he supposes that he could have portaled them all there, to the farm, but he had felt like walking. Like having the ground, solid beneath his feet as he gradually worked up the courage to do what he was about to do.
He is fairly certain that he is following the same path he and his mother would take on their way home from their trips. But there used to be more trees here, now cut away to make space for rice fields and the accompanying villages, so he cannot be sure. It is a few hours of walking, though, but Alec has not let go of his hand since they left the beach and so in spite of the weariness and the pains in his feet, it is well worth the effort.
Even in his new attire, Alec sticks out like that sore thumb, screaming the word tourist at everyone they pass. There are strange looks accompanying every new cluster of villagers, as if they are wondering why Alec is holding his tour guide’s hand while his wife skips ahead with their daughter. But he does not seem to notice any of that, opting instead to look out with wide-eyed wonder at the world around him. And it overwhelms Magnus with the urge to show Alec the entire world, if only to keep that look on his face as much as possible.
They don’t utter a word. None of them do, not even Zoe. But their silence speaks volumes to the cold recesses of Magnus’ heart.
Alec forces them to pause for roughly ten minutes when they reach the first of the big terraces, his mouth hung slightly open, his eyes more than slightly wide as he stares at the layers of rice fields cut into the hill. And this used to be all green, lush with trees that Magnus knew every inch of. But in spite of the longing he feels at their absence, he can understand Alec’s amazement.
It is still a sight to behold.
He feels his magic spiking the closer they get as if it knows, as if it is being called home. And it is frightening to him, after what happened at the loft, this worry that he might, at any moment, lose control.
Perhaps he should have done this alone, or maybe not at all. But as if Alec can sense his increasing alarm, he tightens his hold on his hand so that it is almost the only thing Magnus can feel.
“We can go back if you want,” he whispers, leaning down to speak the words directly into Magnus’ ear so that the girls will not hear them as well. “Just say the word and we’re gone.”
But it is as if just hearing him say that, just knowing that there is no pressure here, makes it easier to push onward.
The farm he grew up on was a small one, set in a flat in the middle of the hills. And it is sweet how Alec seems almost disappointed to learn that they grew soybeans up here and not rice, as if he does not wish to relinquish the image of a tiny Magnus, gleefully splashing barefoot through a rice field like the ones that had so arrested him on the hill.
There is not much left of it when they arrive, though, overgrown as the area is with weeds and grass that reach up to their waists, and practically over Zoe’s head. And it is not like he actually imagined that it would still be here after all these years – the barn, their house – but seeing it empty makes something sink inside of him nonetheless.
He still remembers where everything was, like ghosts, overlapping what’s now here. And so he is able to point the places out to everyone like they are simply taking a stroll down memory lane.
That is where our house was, where I spent the first ten years of my life in blissful ignorance of what I was.
That is where the barn was, where my mother hung herself.
And that is the tree I hid in after finding her.
He does not provide all of those details, mostly because he does not wish to alarm Zoe. But both Alec and Catarina know more than enough to fill in the blanks as they finally make their way to the small patch of land where his mother was buried.
The grave marker is long gone, just like everything else, but it is as if he can feel her beneath the earth, calling out to him. And it makes him feel emotions that he was not aware even existed for him anymore.
He loved her so dearly, and until she found out what he was, she loved him as well. Adored him, really. And he cannot seem to shake the notion that he killed her – killed someone he loved with the depth only a child can feel – simply by existing.
This was supposed to help, but it is feeling like yet another mistake in a long, long life of them.
He does not know what possesses him next, why he imagines that, given the way he is feeling, going to the lake would be anything other than a disastrous affair. But it is as if he is no longer in control of the situation, of his very actions, like something is simply carrying him along.
Still, through it all, there is Alec’s hand, clasped in his like his very lifeline. And so he pushes forward.
He is standing a dozen or so yards away, too frightened to get closer, watching as Alec and Zoe lean by the edge trying to catch frogs when Catarina approaches him. Her arm immediately linking with his, her head pillowed on his shoulder as she sighs as if to say that she understands the inarticulate cries of his very soul.
“Look at her,” she says eventually, nodding her head at where Alec and Zoe have now begun splashing each other playfully like they are, in fact, simply crouched beside a body of water that has no meaning beyond that.
“Look at what you’ve done for her, Magnus. Look at how happy you two have made her. She lost everything. Everything. And then to be responsible for the death of an innocent?”
A shiver runs through Magnus’ entire body, but it just makes Catarina hold him that much closer.
“She was not broken by this and do you know why? Because you and Alec gave her hope.”
As if he knows that they are speaking of him, Alec chooses that exact moment to look over his shoulder and smile at them. And it is the Alec Light one, the one that illuminates the entire world. And somehow, seeing it here, now, makes Magnus feel like its rays might actually be capable of penetrating the darkened caverns inside of him that have returned of late, if only the light would shine for just a little while longer.
“You do not have to be broken by this either, Magnus. No matter how many centuries you’ve spent believing you were. It is time to make some new memories here, let the old ones go.”
She releases him at that, turning her face up to beam at him before saying, “I feel like swimming.” And with that, she is running towards the water, shedding clothes along the way until she is stripped down to her underwear, her glamour disappearing for the first time today, covering her in the kind of blue that always reminds Magnus of home.
When she runs in between Alec and Zoe and takes a leap into the lake, the first wall crumbles inside of him. The bricks turned to dust as the water splashes those unlucky enough to be sitting on the shore. And he is still unable to move any closer, but there is something tugging inside of him already, different from the pulls he’s been experiencing the past few weeks. And it is almost enough to allow him to breathe.
Catarina conjures a swimsuit for Zoe for comfort’s sake as Alec casts a look back at Magnus as if he is asking for permission, his hands clasped around his own belt in a way that indicates that he wants to join in the fun but that he will refrain if Magnus wants him to. And the look on his face is so caring, so loving that Magnus makes a vow, right here and now, to never deprive Alec of anything ever again so long as he lives.
He nods, and within seconds Alec is stripped down to his boxer briefs, his expression beaming like a child before he turns away from Magnus so he can do a cannonball in the middle of the small lake. And with that, the second wall collapses to dust as well.
He eventually makes his way to the edge of the water, wanting as he does to be able to see what’s happening more clearly, hear the words spoken between those in the lake as something more than muffled cries across a field of weeds. And as he trails his fingers along the surface, careful not to push them too far in, he feels the supports of the third wall begin to give way.
He’s covered in a spray of water a moment later as Alec emerges, shaking off the excess drops. And the way he looks when Magnus casts his eyes up to him, backlit by the late afternoon sun, is enough to send that third wall crashing to the ground.
They sit in silence for what seems like an eternity, their shoulders pressed together, their knees pulled up in mirrored poses, just watching the girls have fun.
It appears that Catarina is teaching Zoe how to do flips underwater, somersaults that increase in number – two in a row, three in a row, almost four – their tireless work punctuated by fits of giggling every time one of them flops back to the surface. And he has no words to explain what he is feeling inside, what this is doing to him, but he wonders if somehow, miraculously, he has discovered what it means to heal.
His life has been one gaping wound after another, scabs that never quite go away. But even scars fade over time and so maybe…
“You want to try?” Alec asks eventually, his voice so soft Magnus almost misses it, lost in thought as he is. But although he does not immediately understand what Alec is asking, as soon as he sees the look in his eyes he knows.
“No pressure, of course,” Alec adds, in case Magnus forgot his offer of earlier.
And the fourth wall is still there, but it is groaning as Magnus says, “I think I do.”
He thinks it’s time.
Alec stands up first, reaching down to help Magnus up. And like with the majority of the rest of the day, he does not seem to want to let Magnus’ hand go. Which is not something he will likely ever complain about as Alec turns around so that his back is to the lake, takes Magnus’ other hand in his own, and waits.
He is scared. He is not sure if he has ever been this scared before in his entire life, not since the last time he was here. And yet he still wants to do this, wants to try this, if only for Alec, for Catarina, for Zoe. Because they have all been so brave during this trial, braver even than he, and if any three people in the world deserve his trying, it is them.
“I,” he starts to say, unsure of where he is going with this. But Alec does not let him finish, does not let him falter, taking the opportunity instead to kiss him.
He is still holding Magnus’ hands, but all of Magnus’ attention is focused on his lips, on the heat of the kiss that seems to press so deep that it punches holes right through the center of the fourth wall. And he needs this, wants this so badly and needs it, and so every time Alec pulls away in even the slightest bit, Magnus chases him for more.
When they break apart finally, Alec is smiling at him in something like pride. And it is something that Magnus does not grasp until he realizes that he is knee-deep in water.
He looks down as if he cannot actually believe where he is, how he got there. And it is so surreal that it somehow does not even faze him when Alec reaches down to literally scoop him up in his arms.
“Is this okay?” he asks, his breath warm on Magnus’ lips as he leans his head down so that their foreheads are touching. And all Magnus can do in response is nod because words could never be enough right now.
Alec carries him the rest of the way into the water, depositing him back down once they reach the last possible depth for Magnus to be able to stand on his own. And as the fourth wall joins the other three in a pile of rubble on the ground, a real, genuine, deep smile breaks across his face for the first time all day.
It feels as if it is the first smile of his entire life.
He gets lost in the simple but overwhelming fun of this almost instantly, laughing as Alec picks Zoe up repeatedly, tossing her across the lake as she shrieks in delight, or twirling with his hands clasped in Catarina’s as if they are synchronized swimmers, dancing on the water. And it is all too much but also exactly enough as the sounds of joy begin to crowd out everything else that came before it.
He is floating on his back later, his eyes shut to the sun poking through the trees, when he feels strong hands grip around his hips, tipping him downward until his feet are on the ground again. The water almost rising to his chin as Alec reaches out to drag his fingers through Magnus’ sopping wet hair.
“I love you too, you know,” he says so earnestly it might break Magnus’ heart if that same heart weren’t currently singing every song he’s ever known. “Just in case you hadn’t already figured that out by this point.”
Magnus kisses him. Magnus may never stop kissing him. A thought that gives him a sense of peace he’s not sure he’s ever known as the girls come up and begin a war of splashing that leaves them all exhausted a long while later, heaving breathlessly on the shore.
He is lying in grass even later than that, his shoulder pressed to Alec’s, their fingers entwined while Catarina and Zoe chase butterflies in the distance. And he is happy. Simply, completely happy. And it is such an all consuming emotion that when Alec says, “If you wanted to talk about what happened at the loft, I just wanted you to know you could. No pressure,” Magnus actually wants to.
It’s like a nightmare. How it’s scary when you first wake up, when the lights are still off and you have yet to realize where you are. But once you turn the lights on and get your bearings, the fear melts with the distance.
“I almost killed them all,” he says, but his voice sounds detached, distant, like in spite of how he can still feel his magic, burning just beneath his skin, it doesn’t quite have the power that it had just twelve short hours ago.
“I wanted to kill them.”
“What stopped you?”
Magnus shuts his eyes and says, “You,” because that is the truth. “Thinking of you, of what you would’ve had me do, it gave me the strength to pull back.”
“Uh, to be honest, I don’t know if I would’ve had the will to stop if I were you.”
Magnus turns his head so he can look at Alec, the flattened grass scratching at the back of his head as he gives Alec a look that plainly indicates how confused he is.
“They broke into our home, Magnus. They threatened our dau-… Zoe. I’m just saying, wanting to kill them? That wasn’t a demon thing. That was a human thing.”
Magnus searches his expression, looking for the signs of dishonesty, any hitch to tell him that Alec is simply trying to make him feel better here. But all that he sees is iron, the kind that reminds him of Isabelle, and it makes him feel…
“It ruined our chances of having a home there,” he says because he cannot help it. Even if he hadn’t burned the loft down, there is a fair chance that New York will never be his home again.
Alec simply shrugs, because that is what Alec does. His voice completely unconcerned when he says, “We’ll figure it out. And if not, we could always stay here forever. I’m sure you could find plenty of clients, and I could learn to farm.”
Magnus bites out a laugh that sounds more like a snort. “You? A farmer?”
“What? I could totally be a farmer. I mean, how hard could it be? You put seeds in the ground and Mother Nature pretty much does the rest, right?”
Magnus sighs, reaching out his free hand to trail his fingers lightly over Alec’s cheek when he says, “You are forgetting that I grew up on a farm. I know how difficult the labor is.”
“Yeah, but that was, like, before the wheel was invented. Technology has gotten a lot better since then.”
Magnus flicks his nose possibly harder than he should. “We had wheels, Alexander.”
Alec rolls onto his side at that, careful not to let Magnus’ hand go in the process. “Really? Did you have fire too?”
“Do not make me hurt you,” Magnus says, and the words… they should probably sting. Saying something like that, even as joke, should cut him like usual. But for some reason, it doesn’t.
“We’ll find a way to make it right,” Alec says in the voice that makes Magnus believe he could pull the very stars down from the sky if he wanted to.
And so he cannot help the fondness in his voice when he says, “Alexander Lightwood, you are an angel.”
Alec winks, which is not something he has ever seen him do. His mind so caught up in the wonder of it that he almost doesn’t catch it when Alec says, “So are you.”
He means it. Magnus knows because Alec rarely ever says anything he does not mean.
They are looking at the clouds a short while after that, calling out the shapes like they are children again. And Magnus cannot stop himself from laughing at Alec’s most recent suggestion.
“Why are you laughing? That one totally looks like a cow.”
“That looks… nothing like… like a cow,” Magnus replies through the laughter now causing tears to stream down his face.
“Just… look,” he says, grabbing Magnus’ chin to tip his face towards the cloud that looks like nothing even remotely resembling a cow. “See there?” He points. “That’s the tail. And that bit on the right? That’s the… snout. Or wait, pigs have snouts. What do cows have?”
“Faces?” Magnus says, the word coming out like a question because despite having been raised on a farm, his knowledge of all things bovine is incredibly limited.
“Yeah, right, that’s its face. How can you not see that?”
“Because you are the only one of us delusional enough to,” he replies, and the way Alec looks down at him makes it feel like the world itself is slipping into the kind of focus Magnus has only ever dreamed about.
“I’ll show you delusional,” Alec says, a comment that makes no sense whatsoever as he leans in to kiss Magnus. But he is kissing him, and so Alec can say whatever he wants, can claim every single cloud in the sky looks like a herd of cows if only he does that.
“Ew!” Zoe says a few heated moments later. “Don’t you guys ever stop kissing?”
Alec pulls away with a laugh, shouting the word, “Never!” as he rolls onto his back just in time for Zoe to jump onto his chest.
She’s crawling over him immediately, ignoring his oomph of pain in favor of shoving her way into the very minimal space he and Alec had left between them. Her voice annoyed as she elbows Alec in the side and says, “Move over,” like he is being the most particularly annoying person in the world.
Alec is forced to let go of Magnus’ hand for fear of having his entire arm crushed by Zoe. But he’s reaching out for him again a moment later, resting his arm under Zoe’s neck before gripping his hand around the back of Magnus’, his fingers digging into the long-tense muscles just below his ears in a way that makes him sigh in relief.
Catarina joins the party a moment later, lying down on Magnus’ other side and taking his left hand in hers at the same time that Zoe reaches down to grab his right. And something about this moment – one hand in Catarina’s, one in Zoe’s, with Alec’s palm bracing his neck – makes Magnus wish he could take Alec up on his offer and stay here forever.
He brings Catarina’s hand to his lips, places a soft kiss along her knuckles before turning to face her so that he can mouth the words, “Thank you,” to her. But even though she rolls her eyes at him, the way she squeezes his hand and curls deeper into his side says you’re welcome better than words ever could.
“That is not a cow,” Zoe says a second later, clearly in response to a comment from Alec that Magnus somehow missed. And his smile presses deeper into him when Alec responds, “What is wrong with you people? That is clearly a cow.”
There’s a laugh in his throat, pressed deep within the overwhelming peace of this moment. But he doesn’t feel the need to let it out as he closes his eyes to Alec’s and Zoe’s game. Because if he is completely honest with himself, he has seen more than enough clouds to last him all of his lifetimes. And most of them have looked nothing like cows.
I just wanted to wish a quick happy holidays to anyone who celebrates them! I'll be back after Christmas to finish this story off, but in the meantime, I'll be enjoying spending time in Indonesia with Magnus and his family. I hope you guys liked this one! I told you there'd be light. *blows kisses to you all*
Chapter 10: Daydream
So there were actually three chapters left after the last one, not two. I suck at math. Sorry!
Also, I'm not sure if (not terribly graphic) rimming is something that needs to be kink!warned but... um... consider yourselves warned?
Alec’s never been on a vacation before. So given the intense levels of crap he’s had to deal with lately, when their stay in Indonesia extends by one day, then another, then another, he doesn’t resist. He just buys a pair of flip-flops and some swim trunks and goes with the flow.
The swim trunks are a tasteful two-tone gray, but the only flip-flops they’d had in his size were suspiciously bright pink. And he’s almost positive Magnus enchanted the shop before they went in, but he’s fine not bringing it up because the way Magnus smiles every time he looks down at his feet makes all the pink worth it.
He only puts on a shirt when they go some place “fancy,” which is weird too, the whole topless wandering thing. But something about being on an island halfway around the world from where he came from, with three people that have somehow become integral to where he’s going, makes him feel comfortable enough to just exist in his own skin for a while.
Go figure, right?
He’d been nervous as hell, walking up to Magnus on that beach. It hadn’t helped that he’d just been sitting there, half naked and golden in the freaking sunlight like something that toppled out of every repressed fantasy Alec had when he was younger. It was probably the most nervous he’s ever felt, which is saying something considering their first kiss was in the middle of his wedding. But somehow, as soon as he was there, in the sand, so close, the words just came to him. The exact right ones like somehow Magnus settles him enough inside to think, to speak.
Once he’d realized that Magnus wasn’t actually running from him (thanks Cat), but was rather running from himself, things began to lock back into place. So this time, instead of grabbing Magnus’ hand and yanking on it, he offered Magnus his own. And he took it. Thankfully. Because Alec is pretty sure that if he’d opened one more portal on him, he would’ve followed him through out of spite alone.
He’s always sort of wondered what limbo was like.
That’s not what happened, though. Not even close. And so basically what it boils down to is that Indonesia is great and he never wants to leave, end of story.
They’re a week into their stay now, and it’s not an overstatement to say that it’s been the best solid week of his life. Seven days of nothing but sun, sand, surfing and sex. Or, well, kind of sex. He’s still a bit gun shy on what he told Magnus at the Dumort, and Magnus hasn’t brought it up either, which means he forgot or he’s too embarrassed to mention it.
Alec knows it’s not that he doesn’t want it, necessarily. As weird as it still is, that Magnus actually wants him, he’s not an idiot and Magnus is not exactly subtle. Every time they’re alone Magnus literally cannot keep his hands off of him, and the same goes for a lot of the times when they’re not alone. Like, perfect example, how he almost sent Alec into a fit when they were out to dinner the other night, his hand under the table, roaming. So it’s not that. But whatever it is, Alec’s content with waiting so long as the waiting is filled with exactly this.
They’d been out surfing again this morning, just the two of them this time, on a secluded beach that Magnus portaled them to on a nearby island. And Alec had almost choked when Magnus suggested “(not actual) sex on the beach.” But really, it’s bad enough having sand between your toes. So Alec wasn’t really interested in getting it in… other places. And besides, their bed is nice. It may not be the one from the loft, but it’s soft and spacious with open windows and cool night breezes and it’s not a pile of ashes, so it’ll do.
Magnus had laughed at him when he’d pointed all that out. Had made a comment about how he would’ve gotten them a blanket. But sand is tricky. No matter how many blankets you use, it finds a way through. And so Alec had gone for a hard pass on that one.
As it stood, they’d had to take an hour-long shower just to get de-beached when they got home. Well, the hour really wasn’t about cleanliness so much as it was about they were dumb enough to take a shower together under the assumption that it would just be a shower yeah right what are they morons? But they’re back in their bed again, with a few hours to kill until they’re supposed to meet up with Cat and Zoe for dinner, still slightly damp from the shower that probably would’ve stretched the entire night if they hadn’t run out of hot water and Alec’s skin hadn’t been severely pruned and it’s just… nice.
Everything about this week is freaking nice.
Alec is face down on the bed, half asleep as Magnus sits cross-legged next to him and uses one of his eyeliner pencils to play connect the dots with the freckles that have sprung up between Alec’s shoulder blades. He hasn’t had freckles in a long time, mostly because he hates taking his shirt off in public (when he’s not in Indonesia). And even when he’s in tanks, he rarely spends enough time in the sun for anything other than his usual flash burn because the sun is just plain awful (outside of Indonesia).
There’s a whole mess of them now, and they’ve fascinated Magnus ever since they started coming in. Hence the art project. It feels good, though, the soft press of the pencil, the closeness of Magnus, the lazy way he knows this is either going to build into a really good nap or a really good something else. So Magnus could be writing Alec is stupid or drawing dirty pictures on his back and he wouldn’t even care at this point, that’s how relaxed he is.
“I received a fire message from Raphael this morning,” Magnus says eventually, dialing Alec back from three-quarters of the way to sleeping to somewhere near half again.
He’s been getting messages at least a half dozen times a day since they got here, but up until now it’s been all warlocks, all business.
“If it’s about the vase, tell him I’m not dropping… what was it, five hundred grand? Not on something that’s used to hold flowers. He can put them in a glass pitcher like a normal person.”
Magnus laughs lightly, and Alec is pretty sure he’s never going to get over that sound. The way it seems to slip beneath his skin, burrowing into marrow and settling there like it’s a part of him.
“No,” he says, but he sounds different now. Alec gets that right away and it makes his muscles tense immediately, how he sounds not sad but… forlorn maybe? His voice coated with forlornness when he adds, “There is a meeting between the New York Downworld leaders set for tomorrow.”
“Oh yeah?” he asks, trying and failing to sound casual. “What about?”
“They are considering leaving the Accords.”
Okay. Now Alec is at one hundred percent awake-ness.
“We’re going, right?” he asks as he rolls over so that he can see Magnus’ face, gauge his mood better than he could with just his voice.
“I have to, but you can stay-”
“No,” Alec all but snaps as something resembling panic begins to work through his chest. “Where you go, I go.”
“It will be dangerous. The Clave is still looking for us.”
Alec shrugs. “I’m beginning to think you and I can handle anything at this point.”
He meant it to sound inspiring, but the way Magnus wrinkles his brow indicates that he missed the mark by a few feet at least.
“That is a dangerous thought to entertain, Alexander,” he says softly, forlornly again, as he reaches out to trace his fingers over the stubble Alec’s been allowing to grow ever since they got here. Half because he didn’t feel like buying a razor and half because if he’s going to be a fugitive on the run, he figured he might as well look the part.
Alec just shrugs, because this is apparently at least a two-shrug conversation.
“What can I say? You make me feel invincible.”
Wow. That was really lame, even for him.
“And you make me feel as if I’m dating someone that does not know the meaning of the term common sense.”
“Is that like the sixth sense? Because I really liked that movie. I can’t believe the guy was actually dead. What a mindfuck, right?”
“Alec,” he sighs, but Alec’s leaning up at that, cupping his face in his hands and just sort of holding it there because usually when Magnus sighs his name like that, he’s not all that fond of the words that come out next.
“The first sign of trouble we portal out,” he says, placing a kiss on the tip of Magnus’ nose to seal the point.
And even though there’s still an argument swirling in Magnus’ eyes, he nods in agreement. Which means that Alec can lay back down and return to his maybe-nap.
Magnus has apparently given up on his art project, but considering that he’s moved on to slowly kissing the expertly tanned skin of Alec’s back, he’s not about to complain. His lips feel way better than the pencil, and the freckles were all high up, not reaching down more than six inches or so, whereas now Magnus has included the entire expanse in his navigation. And Alec is just…
He’s gone. There’s no other way to put it.
Magnus makes his way to the rune on the lower left side eventually, calm anger, which if you know Alec Lightwood at all, you know it’s a rune he rarely uses. But right now he’s supremely glad for its existence because it’s a larger rune, in a really nice spot. And so regardless of how useless it is in his day-to-day life, he’s quietly thanking Past Alec for having the foresight to draw it.
Or have Jace draw it anyway. Alec’s not bendy enough to do a rune there by himself.
Magnus continues moving lower once he’s finished, then lower still. And Alec is good and naked here, his bottom half just covered in a soft, white bed sheet because he was still air-drying from the shower. But when Magnus starts to slide the sheet away, something tenses in his stomach that only gets worse when Magnus places one kiss on the lowest part of the center of his back, and then another kiss about four inches lower.
He jerks involuntarily, his whole body freaking spasming with the realization of what Magnus may or may not have been about to do. The verdict falling down on the may have side when Magnus immediately starts apologizing like he’s afraid he overstepped some line that doesn’t even exist. Because when it comes to Magnus, Alec has no lines, just places they haven’t gone yet but that he’d really, really like to go someday.
“No, don’t,” he says as he turns around to grab Magnus’ hand, hold him in place so he can’t retreat too far out of reach. “You just… it caught me off guard, that’s all. I don’t… I don’t want you to stop.”
The words sound weak, not frightened but small as they come out of his mouth, like he doesn’t know how to ask for this. Only the way Magnus raises his hand to his lips, sucking the tips of each of Alec’s fingers gently into his mouth, one at a time, makes him think the tone of his voice either doesn’t matter or is actively helping.
They stare at each other for a few seconds before Magnus lets go of his hand and gives a tight nod. And Alec may be on the verge of hyperventilating already, but he still rolls back onto his stomach because there is absolutely no way in hell he’s missing out on this short of passing out.
Magnus doesn’t go back there immediately. Instead, he runs his hands over the ridges of Alec’s body, digging his fingers in, massaging his muscles, calming the fear that’s not actually fear. His nails scraping lightly over Alec’s skin, his fingers dug into Alec’s thighs, going everywhere but where Alec wants him. And it would probably be maddening if it weren’t also incredibly soothing. Which means inside of ten minutes, Alec is basically a giant, boneless puddle in the middle of the bed.
When Magnus lifts his hips to slip a pillow beneath him, his muscles try and tense again. But the way Magnus says his name – Alexander – all soft and freaking reverent calms him again instantly. And then it’s his lips, his tongue, sliding inside of him and Alec…
Alec is not entirely sure where reality went, but it is definitely no longer present in this room.
He balls his fists in the sheets, afraid to loosen his grip like he’s dangling off some cliff and this is the only thing between him and certain death. And he can feel the need leeching off Magnus already. He doesn’t need a spell binding their souls together to feel it in the way Magnus spreads him wider, moans against his skin and presses deeper.
He might be sobbing, Alec might be. He’s definitely making some whining, keening noises that are not native to his lungs, muffled in the pillow pressed to his face. But he wouldn’t be able to help it even if he wanted to, and given the way it seems to be spurring Magnus on, he definitely doesn’t want to.
There’s something here. Alec can sense it already. Something more than I’ll find you, more than I need you or I want to protect you or I’d do anything for you. Maybe even more than I love you. Something sacred almost, you and me, nothing else, the only thing, forever. And the thoughts don’t make any sense, spiraling along with every other part of him as they are, but he can still feel the weight of them, pressing against his lungs and they basically…
Well, to put it bluntly, his mind completely short circuits.
It’s like he’s come unstuck in time, bouncing between the past, the further past, and the present. His memories colliding with one another like Magnus has somehow become his own personal point/counterpoint.
Fifteen years old, his mom screaming at him for coming home with a failing grade on a test because he’d been too distracted by the new kid in class with the bright green eyes, put up against the way Magnus had looked at him the night they met, eyes wide and inviting, zeroing in on him like there was no one else in the room.
The demon vision, the memory of Jace pulled from his head and Magnus saying, “There’s nothing to be ashamed of, Alec,” like it really could just be that simple.
Believing he had to shove this down, shove him down, his whole life, every minute, because what he was was wrong, laid up beside every single moment he’s spent with Magnus. Magnus chasing him, Magnus waiting for him, Magnus wanting him.
Magnus, who is so freaking unbelievably great. Magnus, who could have anyone in any room he steps foot in. Magnus Bane, High Warlock of Brooklyn, picking Alec, Dingy Clothes Wearing, Short Temper Having, Sarcastic Ass Being, Only Third in His Class There Were Two Whole People Better Than Him, Never Kissed Anyone Until He Was Twenty-Three Lightwood.
It makes no sense, but it also makes, like, more sense than anything else in his life as his mind slips to a memory that’s always stung him more than the others.
It was one of his and Jace’s “nights,” drinking in the woods, always with two girls but rarely ever the same two and Alec would always make an excuse. She’s not smart enough. She’s too ditzy. She’s not my type. He’d end up chatting with the one Jace didn’t want, nothing more than conversation as his eyes kept slipping to Jace on the side, hands and lips everywhere. And there’s always one that hurts more than the others.
It was one of their last nights together before he graduated, and for the first time, Alec didn’t follow him. He told Jace he’d catch up, had watched him walk away with two six packs of beer and a girl on each arm but he never caught up. He just stayed right where he was until the cold from the ground seeped into his bones, silently hating himself. Only when he reaches back for the memory now like he’s done a hundred times before, it’s different.
It’s not just him. There are two of him, actually, a then-him and a now-him, and for some reason, Magnus is there, too. And Alec’s brain has done some trippy things when Magnus’ lips are on his body, but this one takes the freaking cake.
“It is okay, Alec,” Magnus says to him. Now-him, his hand resting on Alec’s arm. “You don’t need to know where you are. That’s my job.”
Alec can feel the words, “What is?” in his throat, here, now, like he’s actually saying them even though all he’s doing is biting his lip and moaning into a pillow.
“To find you,” Magnus replies, and it’s weird, the memory. Because he remembers how it used to feel – vile, dirty, twisted and wrong – only now there’s a sense of something else pervading it, seeping in from the corners, melting into the cracks like hot wax, solidifying. And he knows what it is because he’s been feeling it in ever increasing intensities ever since Magnus said, “I’m Magnus,” and his life was turned upside down.
It’s love. And it’s overtaking everything that was here before it, forcing him out like a floodtide, shoving him back to the present and so he’s back now, grinding his hips into the pillow beneath him, trying to get friction. And the memory is still dancing on the side, trying to draw him back in. But Magnus is moving, is kissing his tailbone, is crawling up his body, is tipping him over, pulling him back into him, his voice liquid when he says, “You are so perfect,” directly into Alec’s ear. And it’s enough to hold him here.
Magnus hardly even needs to touch him – just two slow strokes, that’s all it takes – before he’s just gone. And consciousness almost goes with him as his eyes flick to black and stars and more black.
There’s a vague sense, once he catches his breath, that he should return the favor, figure out a way to repay Magnus for whatever the hell kind of magic he performed on him without an ounce of actual magic. But he honestly can’t even function as Magnus moves out of the way to allow him to lie flat on his back, his eyes shut tight, his lungs burning from their desperate attempt to acquire oxygen, his body both weightless and heavy as lead at the same exact time.
“Alec, you’re bleeding,” Magnus says, his voice still thick with need but losing its edge fast as concern starts to get inside position.
“Am… am I?” he manages to pant, but he doesn’t need to feel Magnus’ finger trail lightly over his lip to know what he’s talking about. Mostly because his mouth tastes like a tin can.
His lip starts throbbing as soon as his attention is drawn to it and he makes the mistake of checking it with his tongue. A mistake because it hurts like hell, something that’s true because Alec bit a chunk out of his own lip. And that’s something new but it’s also something he can’t focus on because every inch of his body is still so overly sensitized that just having Magnus’ arm brush against his is enough to make him shudder from head to foot.
He doesn’t know what he’s thinking, knows even less about what he’s feeling, yet he knows on some molecular level that something has changed here. That he has changed here. And he can’t help but think that it’s going to be a hell of a ride figuring out what that something is.
So yeah, basically Alec loves Indonesia.
As soon as they walk into the meeting, Magnus is immediately swallowed up by people who want to talk to him. Which is something Alec probably expected, given Magnus’ status in the Downworld coupled with the fact that he’s been out of the country for ten days. But something about watching Magnus literally pulled away from him reminds Alec of just how much he doesn’t belong here. How much he doesn’t belong anywhere anymore.
It was easy to forget the rest of the world when he was half a globe away, lost with Magnus. To forget everything they left behind, all the problems but also all the people. But it all comes crashing back once their feet touch New York asphalt. And now that Magnus is better, at least close to okay and no longer running, Alec’s mind is apparently freed up to worry about everything else.
There’s a lot to worry about.
A quick scan of the room tells him that there are six separate vampire clans represented here tonight, five wolf packs, and at least a dozen scattered warlocks of various ranks. Which is… a lot. A lot more than he was expecting, anyway. A realization that causes dread to settle into his stomach until he sees a friendly face.
He goes immediately over to Luke, half because he knows Luke is the one person in this room outside of Magnus that will actually talk to him, and half because it’s been over a week and he’s dying to hear news on everyone at the Institute.
Alec has never gone this long without talking to his sister, without talking to Jace. And the separation has been slowly, quietly killing him inside ever since he said goodbye.
“Alec!” Luke says, his expression brightening as he turns away from Alaric and reaches out to shake Alec’s hand. “I like the beard.”
“Oh, um, thanks,” Alec replies, feeling thankful for the patch of dark hair covering his face because he can already feel himself blushing at the comment.
“You look good, kid. Well rested.”
He feels something stab in his gut at that, prompting him to say, “Yeah, well, I know I should’ve been back here, trying to figure out how to-”
“Hey,” Luke interrupts softly, resting one hand on Alec’s shoulder and tipping his head so that he can catch Alec’s downturned eyes. “I didn’t say it to make you feel bad. The whole Downworld knows what you and Magnus have been going through with the girl. If anybody deserves a vacation, it’s you two.”
“Oh,” Alec says, a surprised puff of air that just sort of hangs there before he thinks to add, “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it. But I’m betting you didn’t come over here to chat about your island getaway, am I right?”
“Yeah… um… how’s… how’s…”
“Everyone?” Luke asks, and all Alec can do is nod helplessly. “They’re okay. The Inquisitor’s really been putting the screws to them, but given that there’s no proof that they did anything, there’s not much she can do.”
Alec opens his mouth to speak, but he feels kind of like he’s going to throw up right now, so he closes his mouth a second later.
He knew it wouldn’t be great for them, knew that the Inquisitor would assume they helped him escape and go after them potentially just as hard as she was willing to go after him. But hearing confirmation of that fact…
“They’re fine,” Luke says as if he can read the swirling mass of guilt all over Alec’s face. “And they wouldn’t have done it if they didn’t want to. They’re just worried about you, Alec. No need for you to be worried about them.”
“They’re worried about me?” he asks, and the way Luke laughs lightly at the question makes Alec’s face scrunch up until his eyes are just thin slits.
“You are on the run from the Clave, and the last time they saw you, according to Jace via Clary, you looked like you got dragged by a freight train through a field of broken glass and burning coals. So yeah, I’d say they’re a little worried about you.”
“I didn’t want them… they don’t need to be,” he starts to say, his words coming out in feeble stammers because this conversation isn’t exactly going the way he expected. But Luke is just laughing again, resting his hand on Alec’s shoulder again, and it’s enough to get him to shut his rambling mouth.
“They love you,” he says. “We all do. You’re just going to have to let them be worried about you. That comes with the territory.”
“Will you tell them I’m okay?” he asks, not even bothering to be embarrassed by how desperate his voice sounds.
“Of course. Anything to shut Jace up, right?”
A sharp, unexpected bark of laughter escapes Alec at the comment, and it’s enough to settle him slightly inside as the meeting is called to order.
He takes a seat in the far back, away from pretty much everybody because he may be on the run from the Clave, but he’s still technically a Shadowhunter. And just because Magnus and Luke like him, that doesn’t mean anyone else will. The daggers Raphael has been shooting him ever since he arrived prove as much.
He’s hiding, though, basically, watching as Magnus takes a seat between Luke and Raphael at the head table with all the other leaders while the lower ranked delegates settle in the card chairs set in front. And he’s just settling in when someone flings their arms around him so tightly he can’t breathe.
“What’s happening?” he asks as he realizes who exactly is assaulting him. “Why are you hugging me?”
“Because I’ve missed you,” Simon says, and it’s annoying, just to hear the sound of his voice. But at least he pulls back from the hug and is no longer touching him, so he’ll take it as a slight win.
“Okay, maybe I haven’t miss missed you, but I am glad you’re alive, so that counts, right?”
Alec glares at where Simon is now sitting in the chair next to him, but Simon just continues to smile like he’s completely oblivious to Alec’s rabid distaste for him.
“I like the beard,” he says, motioning to Alec’s face before rubbing a hand over his own cheek. “Even before the whole vampire thing, I couldn’t manage to grow one. Now I guess I’ll never be able to.”
He pauses, like he’s expecting Alec to join the conversation. But all Alec does is continue to stare at him in contempt.
“What happened to your lip? Did you get bit by a dog or something?”
When Simon reaches out to touch his lip, Alec reflexively grabs his wrist. And for once he’s actually glad Simon is a vampire because if he weren’t, Alec’s pretty sure his grip would’ve snapped his wrist by this point.
“Please don’t touch me again,” he says as levelly as he can manage before letting Simon’s hand go. And it’s a testament to how completely oblivious this kid is that he’s still smiling when he nods at Alec, a nod that’s accompanied by a salute that makes Alec’s eyes roll practically all the way back into his skull.
He’s glad he came to this meeting, but he also really wishes he were back in Indonesia. Only even with Cat and Zoe, Indonesia would be nothing without Magnus, so he’s stuck. And now, he’s stuck with Simon.
The night isn’t starting off well at all.
It only gets worse when the meeting plummets downhill fast. It’s clear that the majority of the leaders have already made up their minds and want out, which seems more than a little abrupt to Alec, given that the last time he was in New York there weren’t even rumblings of something like this. But now it’s almost like a foregone conclusion and he’s panicking inside, plain and simple, because war is quite literally on the horizon. If the Shadow World splits in half now, there’s no chance they’ll be able to beat Valentine when the time comes. And the time is coming.
Luke is really the only one advocating they stay, and he’s doing a decent enough job of it. But Magnus’ silence is more than a little unsettling to Alec, the way he’s just sitting there with his eyes locked on a patch of ground in front of him with his mouth shut tight. And he knows they’ve been going through a lot lately, and that the Clave has been nothing but assholes to them, but if anyone knows the value of the Accords it’s the guy that signed the very first one, right?
When someone makes a comment about how Shadowhunters are all a bunch of “bigoted murderers that only care about using Downworlders as cannon fodder,” Magnus’ eyes shoot up to Alec. But he still doesn’t say anything, and so Alec decides to say something instead.
It’s probably a really bad idea, but he’s not about to just sit here and watch their only shot at beating Valentine flush down the drain. So he gets to his feet, swallows through the lump in his throat, and says, “Shadowhunters don’t see Downworlders as cannon fodder, but without the Accords, you’ll all be easy targets for Valentine.”
The one who’d said the original comment – a werewolf whose name Alec doesn’t know from a pack he’s not familiar with – glares at him in a way that indicates how much he’d like to tear Alec limb from limb. “Fuck Valentine. He’s your guy. You deal with him.”
“He might be our guy, but he’s all of our problem,” Alec says as he makes his way to the front of the room, his courage increasing with every step he takes. “If we break the peace now, it’s only going to make his goal that much easier to attain.”
“What do you care about his goal?” the werewolf asks. “He’s not trying to murder your kind, he’s coming after us.”
“Isn’t that all the more reason for us to stick together?”
The wolf scoffs and spits on the ground at his feet. And Alec really wishes he could punch him in the face right now.
“Alec is right,” Luke says because he’s awesome. “Valentine wants to see us all in the ground. It’s reckless to break ties with an ally when there’s a far bigger threat out there to contend with.”
“Ally?” the wolf says. “Ally?! According to who? The two ex-Shadowhunters in the room?”
“Right now, it’s according to the leader of the first New York wolf pack, so I suggest you mind what you’re saying, Fenton.”
“You’re not my alpha,” Fenton replies, and Alec… Alec has never felt this ineffectual in his entire life, basically. Like he’s just shouting at the wind. A sensation that’s not helped in the slightest when Magnus takes the occasion of the fight to slip out of his seat and through the back door.
Alec follows him immediately, half because he’s clearly not helping here and half because he wants to know why Magnus isn’t helping here. But once he’s outside, his voice almost fails him entirely.
“Magnus, wait up,” he says, his tone weak again, quiet and small as he jogs up to Magnus and grabs his shoulder so he can turn him around. “What was with the statue act in there?”
“You were doing so well, I did not wish to interrupt you,” he says, and… well, that’s clearly a pile of bullshit.
Something Alec conveys in his own tone when he says, “You’re using that voice again, Magnus.”
“The lying one. The oh, Alexander dear, everything is so bright and breezy and wonderful, let’s have cocktails voice.”
“Your impersonation of me is improving,” Magnus replies, but even though there’s technically a smile on his face, it doesn’t come anywhere near his eyes or his voice.
“Don’t,” Alec warns.
“Don’t try and distract me. What the hell is going on?”
“I don’t know what you’re,” Magnus starts to say, but the second Alec raises an eyebrow at him, he stops. “Fine. I just think… Alec, I think you would not have wanted me to speak my mind in there, and so I didn’t.”
That’s… an odd response. One that’s going to need a lot more clarifying in order for Alec to comprehend it.
“What do you mean? Are you trying to say that… that you’re with them on this? On breaking the Accords?”
Magnus shrugs. And Magnus almost never shrugs.
“Look, Magnus, I know what happened at the loft was horrible, but this can’t be about that. It can’t be about us. Not with Valentine still out there, ready to strike.”
“This is not about the loft, Alexander. Or not just.”
“Then what is it about?”
Magnus shuts his eyes for a second, takes a deep breath like he just needs a moment to figure out how he wants to say whatever it is he’s going to say. And the whole picture in front of him makes Alec’s entire body tense like one giant, terrified muscle.
“How many warlocks have died since Valentine’s reemergence?”
Alec is so taken aback by the question that all he can do is shrug his answer.
“Forty-one, Alec, including… including the best friend I have ever had. How many vampires have perished?”
“I don’t know,” he says honestly, because he doesn’t. And the way Magnus’ voice sounds right now makes him think that he really should.
“Twenty-nine. Six seelies, seventeen werewolves, and how many Shadowhunters?”
Alec’s stomach sinks, because this is a question he does know the answer to.
“None,” he says as his mind finally finds the track Magnus has been on all along.
Magnus sighs at that, reaching out to run his hands along the sides of Alec’s neck as he tips his head like he’s trying to study Alec’s face before he says softly, “You know that I adore you, right?”
Alec nods weakly while his insides continue to burn to ash.
“But darling, you are not the rule. You are the exception. Your people? They have never been friends to my kind. They will not even protect us in a time of relative peace. Why should we think it would be any different in a time of open war?”
“But you were one of the first people to sign the Accords, Magnus. Why… why would you do that if this is how you feel?”
Magnus sweeps his thumbs up and over Alec’s cheekbones as his expression softens in a way that somehow makes Alec hurt worse.
“I did not always feel this way. Back then I thought the Accords would help. I was naïve enough to believe the Clave when they claimed that they wanted to bring the Shadow World together. I fear that is sadly no longer the case, if it ever was to begin with.”
Alec shuts his eyes and pinches his lips together, his movements shaky as he bounces on the balls of his feet and crosses his arms over his chest. But Magnus refuses to let him go.
His voice even more resolute than before when he says, “You were raised to believe the Accords were created to keep peace. Most of those Downworlders in there?”
Alec opens his eyes in time to see Magnus tip his head back in the direction of the meeting still likely spiraling out of control behind him.
“They were raised to believe that the Accords were created to control them. They are not for our protection, Alec. They never have been. They are for yours. And perhaps… perhaps it is time that we start looking out for our own.”
“But I’m your own too, right?” he asks. And he’s not entirely sure what the question means, why he felt the need to say it, or why he sounds almost like he’s whining when the words fall out of his mouth. But he thinks it might have something to do with lines, and with the fact that he can’t stand the thought that he and Magnus are on opposite sides of one.
Magnus leans up to him at that, presses their foreheads together and says, “You are my only,” in a way that leaves no room for argument or disbelief.
Alec wants to say something, wants to do something, maybe even open a portal and disappear again because the entire world is slipping from his grasp and if he can only hold onto one thing, it’s going to be Magnus. But before he can get any of that out of his mouth, there’s a bright flash of fire above their heads that startles them enough to break apart.
The letter falls to the ground at their feet, and Alec lets Magnus pick it up because the odds that it’s actually for Alec are slim to none at this point. When Magnus reads it, though, his entire expression falls flat in something that looks almost like fear.
“Magnus, what is it?” he asks, reading Magnus’ low level panic and absorbing it into himself in a way that makes his skin tingle when Magnus finally looks up at him.
“It is… for you,” he says. And Alec isn’t sure what could possibly be in the letter that would make Magnus look this way, but his fingers are already shaking when he takes the offered piece of parchment and holds it up to the street light.
It’s simple, less than a dozen words, but it’s a knife straight through Alec’s heart:
institute being attacked
“Alec,” Magnus says, but his voice sounds like it’s very far away right now, being carried on the rushing water between Alec’s ears as he takes a step right, then a step left, like he doesn’t know where to walk or how to walk or what walking even is anymore.
“I… um… I have to… have to go,” he stammers, blinking furiously at the area around him as he tries to figure out where the hell they even are. Because Magnus portaled them here, holding his hand, so he didn’t have to even explain what part of town they were going to. Which means he doesn’t even know which direction the Institute is, much less how to get there.
“Alec,” Magnus tries again, using his hands this time, placing them on Alec’s shoulders. But something about the physical contact jars him.
“I have to go!” he snaps, brushing Magnus’ hands off of him and walking to his left because for some reason he thinks that might be the way to go. He only gets a few feet away, though, before Magnus’ voice stops him.
It’s not a roar, but it’s pretty damn close.
He does, physically anyway. But his mind doesn’t even slow down for a second.
“It’s my sister,” he says, the words pleading as Magnus steps in front of him again, his fingers pushing up into Alec’s hair, twisting in the short strands to hold him in place. “It’s… it’s my baby sister, Magnus. I have to… I can’t…”
“I know,” Magnus says, and he’s using his soothing voice again, the roar all gone as he adds, “But running into the Institute alone, with no weapons or stele, will accomplish nothing but your death.”
He’s about to argue, about to say that that doesn’t matter one damn bit to him when Magnus says, “And hers.”
“Give me five minutes,” he continues, taking Alec’s hand in his own and leading him back to the meeting. “With or without help, I will portal you there myself; we will go in together. But let me at least try.”
He doesn’t have to explain what he wants to try. The way they are reentering the building says all it needs to.
Things become a blur after that point. Magnus interrupts the fight still in progress between Luke and the asshole werewolf whose name Alec has forgotten, his voice loud, commanding as it arrests the attention of everyone in the room. He says something about the attack, which prompts Simon to try and make a run for it, which prompts Raphael to practically yank him to the ground by the back of his shirt, and then Magnus is making his case. Is trying to sell them on helping when five minutes ago he was telling Alec essentially that Shadowhunters on the whole could go to hell as far as he was concerned.
“You really expect us to risk our lives for your fuck buddy?” the wolf says.
And Magnus’ eyes flash catlike when he replies coldly, “I would watch what you say.”
“We called this meeting because we wanted to get out of Shadowhunter business,” one of the vampire leaders says next.
But Magnus doesn’t give up, his voice more determined than Alec has heard it in a long time when he says, “No, we called it about the Accords. If the New York Institute falls, it will jeopardize all of us, with or without the Accords.”
“He’s right,” Luke says, his eyes full of determination as well when he adds, “I’ll call in the rest of my pack,” and walks out the door. Followed closely by a very put out looking Raphael muttering a quiet, “I’ll get my clan.”
And that’s something, something that turns to even more when another two clans and one other wolf pack agree to help, along with about half the warlocks in attendance. And it’s great, it really is. Help and backup and more hands or whatever is great. But Magnus’ five minutes are just about up and if Alec doesn’t get the hell out of here soon he’s probably going to explode.
Izzy is in trouble. Jace is in trouble. His family is in trouble. And if anything were to happen to them when he wasn’t there, he’d never, ever be able to live with himself.
He won’t have to, though. That’s what he keeps telling himself: He will not have to live with that, because they’re leaving now. Magnus is opening a portal for the ones coming from here, and calls are going out to the Downworlders helping from elsewhere and they’re moving.
They’re finally moving.
And so whatever faces them on the other side, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that they’ll be facing it together.
Chapter 11: Game of Survival
Ugh! So this chapter turned out to be WAY longer than I thought it would be - way too much stuff going on. So I decided to cut it in half and do it as two separate ones. So now there are still two chapters left after this one and I really should stop saying that, eh? Anywho, enjoy!
Given Magnus’ status as a fugitive and enemy of the Clave, it is unnerving that the Institute has not yet eradicated and replaced his wards. But though it is one more tick in the column of suspicion that he has been working with since he read Isabelle’s message, it is something he has not bothered to mention to Alec because he knows that he would not hear it.
If there were a blinking neon sign on the outside of the Institute that said “Alexander Lightwood, This Is Most Certainly a Trap, Do Not Enter,” he would still run in blindly if he thought for even a moment that his siblings were in danger.
The only thing that is keeping Magnus from opening a portal back to Indonesia and dragging Alec with him, kicking and screaming, is the fact that the letter was written by Isabelle. It bore her mark, was written with her stele, by her hand, which means if they are being lead into a trap, they are being lead there by her. And Magnus cannot fathom any threat put upon her that would have her place her brother in jeopardy like this unless it were quite literally a matter of life and death.
He still casts a spell of concealment on those who came through the portal with them. Because he may be willing to risk his very freedom to figuratively hold Alec’s hand through this, but that does not mean he has to be entirely reckless, especially with the lives of others. All fear of a trap evaporates quickly, however, to be replaced by fear of a different sort as they spill into the tunnels beneath the Institute.
There are bodies here, fresh kills, and Magnus can feel the anger leeching off of Alec and Luke already as they stare at their fellow Shadowhunters, dead on the ground.
They move as fast as caution dictates, breaking off into smaller groups as they reach one crossroads after another. And with all of his wards broken, there is a part of Magnus that knows he should worry about what may be allowed in behind them. But the real threat is not there, is not in Forsaken or demons following them through, but is rather in front of them. Out there. Somewhere. Waiting for their arrival.
Alec checks every single body they come across, leaning down to roll them over, memorizing the ones not bearing Circle runes on their necks like he is trying to burn into thought the name and face of every single one of his people that has perished here tonight. His voice quiet and distant as he absently counts off the dead as if he does not even realize he is doing it.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven…
Magnus’ own words come back to him, how many warlocks have died, how many vampires, but this is not what he wanted. He did not wish for the score to be evened; he just wanted Alec to see the score. To realize what was happening around him and possibly understand why Magnus felt the way he did. But these are his friends, and though they have never discussed it at length, Magnus is fairly positive that Alec has never had a friend die on him before.
He is so young, so untouched, which is something that Magnus has always admired like Alec is a reminder of a part of him that has been buried under the rubble of too many wars to count. But it is painful to watch him here, now, as he trails his fingers over the faces of the men and women he trained, he lead. The ones who put their trust in him and who he no doubt feels he has let down because he is Alec, and that is the way Alec exists.
Whether he was still the head of the Institute or not, it was Alec’s job to protect these people because it is apparently Alec’s job to protect all people. And the mere fact that Alec was not here when they died will likely be something that eats at him for a long while if they make it through this night in one piece.
This is neither the time nor the place to entertain those types of thoughts and Magnus knows it. So even though Alec’s eyes still remain glazed, lost in the pull between fury and despair, it is up to him to remain focused if only so Alec does not have to.
The task is not an easy one, especially when they round a corner at the end of the tunnels to see a body that freezes even Magnus all the way to his core.
It is just three of them now – him, Alec and Simon – but the long, dark hair of the girl face down in a pool of blood is enough to make them all stop dead in their tracks.
When Alec falls to his knees, Magnus can feel the shockwaves run through his own body. Waves that turn into an outright earthquake when Alec picks up an object from beside the body and holds it up to Magnus like a sacrificial offering.
The last time he touched that necklace, he was clasping it around Isabelle’s neck. The jewel dim in the darkness of the tunnels as Alec stares up at him like he does not know what to do here. What to do anywhere, anymore.
He has never seen Alec look so helpless, so young and lost as he does in this very moment. And even if he thought Alec had the strength to take the next step – which he does not – Magnus would not want him to. And so he sinks to his knees as well, takes Alec’s free hand in one of his own, and uses his other to roll the body over.
A choked sob escapes Alec’s lips when they all see the Circle rune on the woman’s neck, the woman who is very clearly not Isabelle. And he can hear Simon crying softly as well, can feel tears in his own eyes. But they do not have time to remain here and linger over this stroke of luck because the real Isabelle is out there somewhere, along with the real Jace, and the real Clary, and the real Lydia. And so if they have any hope of helping their friends, they need to move now.
Alec slips the necklace into his pocket as Magnus helps him to his feet. And he takes it as a sign of strength, of fortitude, as if Alec is planning to return it to her sometime in the very near future. So for now, it is enough.
They make their way to the weapons cache next, because Magnus and Simon may not need blades or bows, but Alec does and Magnus cannot bear another moment of him being unarmed and vulnerable. But it is still eerie, how they have yet to come across another living soul not portaled in with them. And so if he couldn’t still feel the fire of battle, raging somewhere inside this building, Magnus might be tricked into believing all hope was lost.
The room is quiet, just like the halls they left behind, silent and tomblike. Which is why even Magnus startles when something bright red flashes from behind a pillar.
Before any of them can get a handle on what is happening, Clary is punching Alec in the face. And then she is apologizing profusely for punching Alec in the face, babbling about how she thought they were Circle members as Jace emerges from behind another pillar, seraph blade at the ready. And it is all so very ridiculous but it is also such a relief just to see other living creatures with friendly faces that Magnus cannot help but laugh in spite of all the desolation surrounding them.
“Why did you punch me?” Alec asks, pinching the bridge of his nose to stem what looks to be blood trying to drip out.
“Did you not just hear me say that I thought you guys were Circle members?”
“Yeah, but why didn’t you punch him instead?” he asks, nodding his head to where Simon is standing next to him, mouth agape. “You would’ve had a better angle and everything.”
“I’m sorry, Alec, next time I’ll make sure to punch Simon instead of you. Does that make you happy?”
“No, because you still punched me,” he says, and Magnus is about to say something in the hopes of ending this rather inane conversation, but thankfully Jace steps in first.
“Why are you here, Alec?” he asks, and he sounds angry. Which is an odd way to sound when speaking with the cavalry. A sentiment Alec seems to share as he stares down at Jace with one scrunched up eye and lips pulled tight in incredulity.
“Izzy sent me a fire message.”
Alec’s comment only seems to increase Jace’s ire as he deactivates his blade and literally stomps one foot on the ground before saying, “Damn it, Izzy! I told her not to do that.”
“Have you seen her?” Alec asks, completely bypassing Jace’s attitude in favor of hopefully retrieving useful information.
“The last time I saw her she was in the War Room with your mother. But she wasn’t supposed to call you. She just… wasn’t.”
“Look, I’m sorry I’m interrupting your one man army or whatever, but I’m here… to help. So could you maybe stop giving me freaking grief about it?”
“Well you better hope your help doesn’t get you arrested, because I highly doubt we’ll be able to get you out of here again. And you,” he says, turning to Magnus now and pointing one sharp finger at him in a way that makes Magnus’ face turn up as if he just smelled something incredibly foul.
“You can’t tell me that you actually thought this was a good idea? I know my brother is a moron, but I thought you’d at least have a little more sense.”
Magnus can feel small spikes of anger tickling up the back of his neck, replacing the confusion that had replaced the relief that had replaced the dread. But before he has the chance to put the Wayland boy in his place, Alec is stepping in.
“Look, jerk face, Izzy called for help and we came to help. You can be bitchy about it all you want, but we’re here now, so you might as well just deal with it.”
Jace rounds on him, rage still coating his expression. “Well maybe we don’t need your help. I mean, clearly we’ve interrupted some kind of vastly important, world saving work between you and Magnus.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Alec? It’s supposed to mean you smell like cocoa butter.”
Even Magnus balks at the randomness of that comment, and he has spent centuries dealing with irrational people just like Jace.
“It means we’ve been back here fighting a war, worrying ourselves sick about you, and you’ve been off… smelling like cocoa butter.”
“I do not smell like cocoa butter,” Alec says indignantly.
And Magnus is so caught up in the absurdity of this moment that he can’t seem to stop himself from saying, “You do smell faintly of cocoa butter.”
Alec’s eyes are daggers when they shoot towards Magnus, his voice pinched with agitation when he all but hisses, “You’re the one who kept telling me to ditch the shirt, and I burn easily, okay? And besides,” he turns back to Jace. “Luke said I deserved a vacation.”
Jace barks out a surprised puff of laughter. “Oh, so you’ve been in contact with Luke, but you couldn’t drop a single fire message to your brother, to your parabatai letting me know you were alive?”
“I wasn’t… I haven’t been in contact with Luke. I just saw him like an hour ago, which was the first time I’ve been back in New York in over a week. And I’ve been… I’ve been going through a lot, okay, and I just-”
Alec stops speaking as soon as Magnus’ hand rests in the small of his back, his other hand reaching out to grab Jace’s shoulder because he has a fairly good idea of what is going on here and as entertaining as it is to see Alec and Jace fight, it is another of those time and place scenarios.
So he pushes Alec and pulls Jace in an attempt to physically bring them closer together. But both of them resist him so thoroughly that he is forced to pause his efforts.
“What are you doing?” Alec asks.
“I am trying to get you two to hug each other,” Magnus replies. And the way Jace sputters off to his right makes Magnus start to deeply question some of his more recent life choices.
“He was worried that you were dead in a ditch somewhere,” he continues, resting his eyes on Alec while tipping his head Jace’s way before turning his head to the right. “And he feels guilty for allowing you to think that way. But you both love each other and were both worried about each other and we have Circle members to find and kill, so would you please hug so that we can move on?”
Clary seems to be in deep agreement with Magnus, judging by the way she takes up position behind Jace. And with a nod of his head, she is helping him, shoving Jace at the same time that Magnus drags Alec until their bodies are pressed into one another, leaving them no choice but to comply.
The hug starts off stiff, but within a few quick moments their arms are rising, Jace is burying his head in Alec’s neck, and Alec’s shoulders are sagging. And so Magnus breathes a sigh of relief that gets caught somewhere in the middle of his throat when he’s snapped back to reality by the sounds of faint screams somewhere off to their left.
The Shadowhunters in the group collect as many weapons as they can carry before the five of them make their way through the War Room. And although Alec is still counting dead Shadowhunters, he has not been counting dead Circle members. Which is why Magnus has been doing so all along.
It is unsettling, how much smaller Magnus’ number is than Alec’s. But when they get to the cloisters, he begins to understand why.
There are pockets of Circle members scattered throughout the entire expanse, all of them carrying bows and all of them aiming at one of the highest balconies in the room. But even though he cannot see who is up there, the way the Circle members are pinned despite their superior numbers by expertly aimed arrows makes him assume that there are Lightwoods in that balcony.
“Can you,” Alec asks quietly as they all crouch around the opening into the room, the eyes of each of them trained on the scene before them as if they are trying to individually assess the situation. “You know.”
He makes a flourish with his hands, indicating that he would like Magnus to make a clean sweep of the room, wipe them all out the way he said he almost did at the loft. But even if he weren’t still afraid to tap into that particular well, there are other things to consider here too.
“Not with so many innocents mixed in,” he says, his voice a touch shakier than he’d like it to be at the moment. But it is a valid point to make.
The only reason he was able to dominate the strike team so thoroughly was because he did not need to worry about collateral damage. That kind of magic does not yet come with pinpoint accuracy for him.
“I’m sorry,” he starts to say, but before he can get much further Alec is shaking his head and leaning in to place a kiss in the center of his forehead.
“Forget I even asked,” he says with a small smile as he squeezes the back of Magnus’ neck. “We’ll just do it the old fashioned way.”
With that, Alec is taking control like the leader he was clearly born to be, directing everyone to take care of various pockets of Circle members down below while he volunteers for the most dangerous job of the bunch because that is also how Alec exists.
Then they are moving, the four of them into the room to fight and Alec to make his way up the series of ascending balconies that are also filled with smaller, but no less lethal, groups of Circle members trying to work their way up to where Isabelle and Maryse are stemming the tide. And as he watches Alec jump and climb over the side of the first and lowest balcony, he can feel his magic spool beneath his skin like an old friend.
But it is the kind of friend that you need to watch at every moment for fear of something precious getting destroyed the second you look away.
There’s a small voice in the back of Alec’s head that keeps reminding him that he probably should’ve found his stele as he makes his way across the first balcony. But he doesn’t really have time for that kind of second guessing right now, mostly because he’s in the middle of a freaking battle and so with or without his runes, he’s got no choice but to push forward.
He also doesn’t have time to worry about what’s going on either beneath or above him, even though his mind is trying to take a swan dive through the hierarchy of worry currently arranging itself in the back of his mind.
Magnus, Izzy and Jace are holding the rotating top three spots, with everyone else sort of shuffling beneath them as his brain tries to figure out who he cares less about, Simon or his mother. Because his mother is awful and she thinks his boyfriend is literally a monster, but she is blood and Simon is… Simon. But all of those things need to be shelved for the time being because he’s about to jump to the second balcony in his track and although the first one was empty, the second one isn’t.
It’s been a while since he’s had to fight anyone, even longer since he’s had to fight anything that wasn’t a dimwitted demon. And so complete mental clarity is something he really should be striving for right now. Or bare minimum seventy-five percent mental clarity.
It’s important to be realistic in cases such as this one.
There’s a steady thrum in his bloodstream as he makes the jump to the second balcony, his bow slung over his shoulder, his blade sheathed on his hip. It’s beating in time to the anger pressing into every crevice, pounding out the numbers of dead Shadowhunters. And Alec has never felt particularly bloodthirsty before, but his mouth is a desert right now, that’s how badly he wants it.
Emotion is not an asset. It is a detriment. But right now he wouldn’t be able to shove it down even if he tried, and he doesn’t want to try.
There are only two Circle members here, trying to follow their friends up the balcony-created ladder to where his sister and his mother are fighting for their lives. And he’s almost disappointed in how quickly they go down, how little of a fight they put up. Because it was clear from the bodies that some of his friends died slowly and in a lot of pain, and it is only fair to deal back in like kind.
Don’t look down, he thinks as he steps onto the ledge of the balcony and slides his blade back into its sheath, the blood of the dead dripping out the bottom onto the leg of his pants. Don’t look up. Just look forward. And that’s exactly what he does.
He looks forward.
By the time he reaches the fourth balcony, the fighting has gotten harder. There are four Circle members up here, closing in on him, and it makes him almost wish that he’d taken Jace with him. Or even the vampire or Clary who, by this point, is at least three-quarters of a Shadowhunter, maybe more. It was a dumb mistake, one brought on by both pride and fear – pride in the fact that he thought he could handle it alone and fear of having any one of those people risk their lives out in the open. But as one of the Circle members literally shoves him over the edge of the balcony, he’s wondering about how exactly he’s going to have to pay for his mistake.
There’s a blade hovering over his head, a smile on the Circle member’s disgusting, pale face. But before the blade can find its home in Alec’s skull, the balcony erupts in blue flame.
He smiles deeply as he watches the guy that was about to kill him go up in literal freaking smoke. And he’s still smiling when he climbs back over the edge and allows himself one quick glance downward.
He blows Magnus a kiss. Because Magnus is freaking terrific.
He’s at the sixth balcony when the arrows stop falling from above. But he still has two more balconies and a half dozen Circle members to go, so he can’t really allow himself to think too hard about what that might mean. All he can do is fight, swing the blade through the stomach of the enemy in front of him, ram it into the chest of the next and hope that he’s not too late as all the wasted minutes of the last few hours begin to add up in his head.
Panic is pushing at the backs of his ribs, pressing into the area just below his ears, roaring like a tidal wave inside his brain, but his body doesn’t pay any attention to that. Fighting is more muscle memory than anything, instinctively knowing where to move, how to move, when to move and Alec has been doing this his whole life so he knows.
The blade is an extension of him, and he is an extension of war.
It’s why he’s entirely calm by the time he reaches the final balcony, his pulse steady and even as he joins his mother and his sister in the fight already in progress. And it makes him remember the early days of his training, time in the gym with his mother as Izzy played with her toys on the side, too young to learn just yet.
He’s had a few different trainers over his life – those at the Academy, Hodge at the Institute – but he will never forget the lessons his mother taught him when he was young. How to use every part of your body as a weapon, how to strike hard and fast, how beauty and fluidity were no match for brute strength and oppressive power.
He’s learned many things from many people, but his mother was the one who taught him how to put someone down with one strike that would ensure they never got back up.
The final Circle member they kill is a joint effort, his blade slicing open the guy’s stomach while his mother’s pierces through the back of the guy’s neck. There’s blood on her face when she looks back at him, blood coating his bare arms like a second skin. And in that moment he forgets everything that’s happened in the last few months, the last lifetime, and sees her the way he did when he was eight years old, flat on his back in the middle of their gym.
The illusion shatters quickly when reality rushes back to him in the form of Izzy, wrapped around his stomach. And he lets go of a breath that he feels like he’s been holding for hours, for days as he presses his lips to the top of her head and settles back into Alec again.
Not Alec the soldier, not Alec the Shadowhunter, but Alec, her brother.
Their little moment is shattered a second later by the harsh sound of their mother’s voice as she yells, “Alec, what are you doing here?!”
Here we go again.
“I sent him a fire message,” Izzy says indignantly as she lets go of Alec so that she can stand beside him, link their arms and jut her chin out in defiance.
“After all you did to get him out of here?”
“I panicked,” Izzy says. “I was scared and clearly I had good reason to be. We would both be dead if Alec and Magnus had not shown up to help.”
“For someone who claims to care so much about her brother, you are incredibly selfish, Isabelle,” their mother says, and Alec… he’s a little lost here. And it could just be because his brain hasn’t quite settled from the odd flash of bloodthirsty rage that literally propelled him up here, but even without that he’s pretty sure he’d be freaking lost.
“How did you know what she did?” he blurts out before either one of them can continue their Argument of Bewilderment, latching on to something his mother said earlier because that was the thing that made his brain stall out in the first place.
“I am not an idiot, Alec. Do you really think I couldn’t tell that the Fairchild girl was trying to distract me? That I didn’t know exactly what Lydia was doing?”
Alec scrunches his face up because, well, yeah, that’s sort of exactly what he thought.
“You were trying to get me to turn in Magnus,” he says, like he still can’t parse this out.
“And you made it very clear that you would not. Do you think I wanted to see my child in chains or worse?”
Alec shrugs, which only seems to piss her off more.
“I know you have a very low opinion of me, Alec, but you are my son, whether you want to be or not. And I sincerely hope that my daughter has not just written you a one-way ticket to the Silent City.”
She storms off at that, leaving Alec feeling pretty much adrift. But Izzy is hugging him again, a glance below tells him that the fight is wrapping up down there, and all the people he cares about are alive and accounted for. And so his mother can be as irrational as she wants to be, so long as he has all of that.
It’s why he takes a moment. Just one moment here, with her. Because the battle is far from over, he knows that. They’ve only covered a small fraction of the Institute, and there are still so many people unaccounted for. But Izzy is alive. Jace is alive. Magnus is with him and Alec is still here, ready to fight. And so whatever pops up around the next bend, he’ll be ready for it.
They all will.
There are three more battles just like the one in the cloisters. Which means Magnus has three more chances to watch helplessly as Alec does something recklessly heroic, and three more opportunities to try and save Alec from his own misguided tendencies.
He wants to panic. Every single inch of him wants to spiral into the fear that comes upon him when he watches Alec hurl himself in front of every metaphorical bus he comes across. But he knows that it will serve no purpose, that it will only jeopardize Alec’s safety more to allow himself to be lost to it. So he does his best to hold himself together if only to ensure that Alec will remain safe under his watchful eye, provided that he can keep that eye on Alec at all times.
In the last fight, he literally threw himself into a pack of Circle members that had the rest of them pinned from higher ground. And though they were archers, with no blades at the ready, for a few long, excruciating moments Magnus thought for sure that Alec was lost.
There was no way to get up to him in time to help, and he could not even pick him out of the crowd, which meant his magic was useless from any angle. So all any of them could do was stand by and watch the scene unfold like some bad horror movie Alec would have loved.
He emerged eventually, covered in blood with a smile on his face, waving enthusiastically to the crowd below like a giddy child. But even more than the taxing of his magic, being in battle with Alec is wearing on him tonight. Weighing him down like an anchor as he stares through potentially sixty more years of this because he is certain that even old age will not stop Alec from fulfilling his duty.
The only thing that will stop him is death.
It is a hard pill to swallow, but it is one he is determined to save for another day. Alec is such a remarkable person that sometimes Magnus forgets that he was born to be a weapon. That he is literally a sword of the angels. But tonight there are extenuating circumstances. Not every day will be like this one. And Magnus is willing to take the bad with the good as long as the good is Alec, safe in his arms at the end of each day.
There are three more battles, but they are all victories, meaning the tide has turned and the Institute will be safe before they are through. And it is a comfort, if it is not also incredibly exhausting. Which is why Magnus’ magic is a dull throb throughout his entire body as he and Alec make a sweep of one of the top floors containing the living quarters of some of the lower ranked Shadowhunters.
There are additional worries to contend with as he peers through the walls of each room, looking for survivors or enemies. And the main one is Raphael. But there are others still missing as well, likely still fighting in small pockets spread throughout the Institute. So Magnus refuses to fear the worst until all of the best has been thoroughly discredited.
“I still think that’s one of the coolest tricks you have,” Alec says quietly from beside him as Magnus opens the view into another empty room. “How come you never told me you could do that?”
Magnus’ mind slips to the day he stole Alec’s stele, to the guilt he felt crushing his ribs as he watched Alec tend to his wound, oblivious to what Magnus and his siblings were doing.
He had rationalized it that day, shoved the guilt down when Alec broke the news of his engagement, swearing to himself that he would never again care what the Lightwood boy or any other Shadowhunter did with their life. But all of his internal claims were proven ineffectual when he spent the next few days at the bottom of a bottle of scotch.
Or rather multiple bottles.
“I did not think it was special enough to share,” he says, just as quietly as Alec because despite the fact that they have not found anyone in their current search, caution is still of the utmost importance, especially when Alec is near him. “We could use it if you’d like, though. Perhaps loiter outside of movie theaters, watching things for free through the outside wall?”
“We could probably think of better things to do with it,” Alec says smoothly, his voice low and dark as he slips behind Magnus, wrapping his arms around his waist while pressing his lips into the curve beneath Magnus’ jaw.
This is another thing he has had to contend with this evening, the way battle seems to make Alec far more forward than usual. But though, under normal circumstances, Magnus would take full advantage of a mood such as this one, there is still far too much to fear for him to allow himself to be distracted.
“How about for now we just use it to try and find survivors?” he says as he disentangles himself from Alec’s grip.
Alec looks almost feral when he stumbles back a few steps, his tongue flicking out to lick his lips as he drags his eyes up and down Magnus’ body and says a heated, “Rain check,” that makes sweat break across Magnus’ skin and a shiver work up his spine.
In one way or another, Alec Lightwood will be the death of him; Magnus is fairly certain of this.
Alec gives him a reprieve now, however, slipping back into Soldier Mode as they make their way towards the end of the hall. And it is a fortunate thing because three walls later, they come across a rather unsettling sight. One that will require the complete attention of them both.
There are a dozen Circle members inside the room, spread out along the entire expanse of the room’s four walls. And in the middle of them, Imogen Herondale is strapped to a chair, barely breathing while a warlock Magnus strangely does not recognize uses his magic to drain the life from her body.
“Do it again,” one of the Circle members hisses as he shoves the warlock down to his knees. But although the warlock’s eyes are full of pain and regret, he still does as he’s told, pulling on the Inquisitor’s life as she screams weakly in front of him.
“Tell us where it is, Imogen, and this will all stop,” the leader says. But either she is too far gone or too stubborn to give in to his demands.
“Let me go get backup,” Alec says, his voice completely serious for the first time since they entered this hallway.
But Magnus grabs his arm before he can go, holding him in place as he looks him directly in the eye and says, “She does not have enough time for that.”
Alec nods, saying in that one gesture that he is here, with Magnus, and that he is willing to do whatever Magnus feels is right.
“Realistically, how many of them can you take out in two seconds?” he asks as he takes Alec’s bow from off his shoulder.
He watches patiently as Alec counts out the one-thousands in his head before he says, “Four. Maybe five.”
That is not as much as he hoped, but it is more than he expected. So it will simply have to suffice as he scans the room again and tries to formulate a plan quickly enough to save the Inquisitor’s life.
“If you can take out the ones on the left side of the room,” Magnus says, referring to the gathering of Circle members closest to Imogen, “I think I could manage the rest without harming her.”
Or the warlock, he thinks, as he eyes the suspicious collar latched around the warlock’s neck with a feeling of dread pooling in his stomach.
“Are you sure?” Alec rests a hand on his shoulder. “You look pretty drained. Is she really worth risking-”
“I am fine,” he interrupts, unwilling as he is to hear Alec finish that particular sentence. Because he knows it is not Alec talking, that it is fear talking, it is the battle talking. And that as much as they both still blame the Inquisitor for the vast majority of their problems of late, neither one of them truly wishes her any sort of personal harm.
At least that is the way Magnus sees it. Sometimes, Alec surprises him.
Right now, though, he is simply nodding again, taking his bow from Magnus’ outstretched hand and pulling out an arrow before standing in front of the door, awaiting Magnus’ cue.
Magnus takes up his position beside him, feeling some comfort in the way his shoulder is resting against Alec’s arm. And with one final, deep breath, he is raising his hands and obliterating the door in front of them.
Alec moves as fast as the lightning that springs from Magnus’ fingertips, his movement liquid motion as he takes out six Circle members in what feels like a breath. A breath that Magnus is holding as he unfurls his magic around the rest of their enemies, pressing outward while pulling in at the side in order to create a protective bubble around the Inquisitor and the warlock tasked with torturing her.
Alec pulls out his blade next, slicing an X in the leader’s chest as Magnus’ victims burn to ash. And it is over so quickly that Magnus doesn’t even have time to properly worry that his plan will fail before it succeeds.
They are formidable, he and Alec. It would be hard for him to miss that on a night like tonight. And though it is not the symmetry of fighting alongside a parabatai, there is something of the dogs of war that slips through whatever connects them when they are faced with a foe. And it is both exhilarating and terrifying at the exact same time.
Desire is threading through his veins when he calms his magic enough to feel, his eyes drifting to where Alec is wiping his blade off on pants practically caked with blood. But it is different than normal. It is ancient, primitive, and it is enough to make his skin burn.
He reaches out reflexively, twists his fingers in the front of Alec’s shirt, ruined by battle, and pulls. And though there is surprise at first, pooling in the hazel of Alec’s eyes, his pupils dilate almost instantly as he reaches out to grab Magnus’ elbows, digging bit down nails into his skin.
He is delirious, adrift inside his own thoughts, lost in a need that has seemingly sprung up out of nowhere, no longer within his control. But before he can act upon it, there is the slight sound of a dying woman, coughing what could possibly be her last breaths, drifting to his blurred senses.
The words, “Rain check,” are torn ragged from his lungs as he lets go of Alec’s shirt so that he can attend to Imogen. And there is disappointment in Alec’s eyes to match that swimming in Magnus’ blood, but there will be time for that later. There will be time for so much. They just need to make it through the rest of this night first.
Magnus unties Imogen’s bonds and lowers her gently to the floor, intent to do healing work here before he moves her in the hopes that he can keep her alive long enough to get her to the infirmary. Only as soon as she opens her eyes and recognizes who is above her, she begins to resist.
“I am not here to harm you, Imogen,” he soothes as he snaps his fingers and allows his healing magic to flow from within him. “I am here to help. Remain calm. I assure you that everything will be fine.”
She looks as if she wishes to spit in his face, but she stops struggling as his magic works through her system, seeking out the pain. And within moments she has drifted into what appears to be a rather peaceful slumber.
He checks her pulse just in case his assessment was incorrect before sliding his arms beneath her body and lifting her up.
The warlock is gone when Magnus thinks to check for him again, and there is a look of shameless culpability on Alec’s face that causes something warm to settle in Magnus’ stomach before he even asks, “What happened to the warlock?”
“I may have told him to portal out while the wards were still down,” Alec replies before holding up the collar that had caught Magnus’ attention earlier. “They were controlling him with this. I figured acquiring some of Valentine’s tech was worth a little bit of freedom in exchange.”
“He is a criminal,” Magnus sighs, but Alec just smiles at him, winks and says, “So are you,” in a way that is quite literally the entire world to Magnus.
He is finished. Alec has finished him. There is simply no other way to view this situation.
As soon as Imogen is safe in the infirmary, in the care of both Shadowhunters and warlocks, Alec grabs Magnus’ hand and begins dragging him from the room.
“Alec, what are you doing?” he asks, but the way his own heart is hammering almost painfully in his chest indicates that he already has a fairly good idea of the answer to his own question.
Alec’s voice is raw, stripped so bare that it cuts right to bone when he all but begs, “I just need five minutes, Magnus. Please, just give me five minutes.”
He cannot see Alec’s eyes when he speaks, given that he is still pulling Magnus behind him. But he does not need to see his face to know the exact look that is painted across it, because it is the same one Magnus is feeling etched into his own skin.
They settle on a closet eventually, the first door they come across that can offer them a modicum of privacy. And the door is barely closed before Alec is on him, pressing his hands beneath his shirt, shoving him back into the wall, crowding his space as he leans down and crushes their lips together.
He tastes like gunmetal, like fire and ash, like the flames that lick the battlefield when all is done, claiming the souls of those that were lost. And Magnus has kissed Alec many times, but never before has he understood more clearly the lips pressed feverishly against his.
He is more than a soldier, more than a savior, more even than an angel. He is the bright shaft of heaven itself, sent to scorch hellfire from the earth. And the part of Magnus’ blood that belongs to a demon boils at his touch.
Alec grabs his thighs a moment later, lifts him so that his legs are wrapped around his waist. And then he is reaching between them, doing his best to find skin, find friction as Magnus clings to his shoulders like he is afraid of what will happen if he lets go. And it is messy and fast, spurred by the desperation of still literally being locked in the middle of a battle, but it is the strength Magnus needs to finish what he started tonight.
Alec’s teeth sink around Magnus’ collarbone when he comes, biting a stifled cry into his skin. And Magnus only needs a few more thrusts of Alec’s strong hips to join him. His body racked by tremors until he is wrung so thoroughly dry that he’s worried he will not even be able to keep his feet beneath him once Alec returns him to solid ground.
It is a well founded concern, one that plays out exactly as he imagined, ending with Alec laughing lightly as he holds Magnus up and presses a kiss to the same curve beneath his jaw that started this all up in the hallway. And Magnus isn’t even expecting words, much less ones with any meaning, which is why he is taken off guard by the question that slips from Alec’s lips:
“Why did you save her?”
Magnus squints up at him, because his brain is still too focused on recovering breath to fully comprehend what Alec is talking about.
“The Inquisitor,” he clarifies as he reaches out to trail his fingers through Magnus’ hair in a way that is so tender it is almost jarring, here in the middle of so much death.
“You didn’t have to, Magnus. I wouldn’t have… I would’ve understood.”
He sighs and places a soft kiss to Alec’s bottom lip.
“No more Shadowhunters will die, especially because of a Downworlder,” he says. “Not if I can help it.”
And that is the truth. Because Alec has lost enough of his people tonight, has counted enough bodies to last the rest of his life. So if there is any way for Magnus to keep that number from increasing, he will do it without so much as a second thought.
Once the battle starts officially winding down, Alec insists that Magnus stays in the infirmary. Which is probably not as helpful as he imagines it will be, given that he’s still using his magic there, joining his fellow warlocks in helping all the injured brought back from the sweeps. But at least he’s only using it to heal, which has got to be less strenuous than when he uses it to fight, right?
Basically Magnus just sort of looks like shit, like he’s completely wrung out and working on an empty tank, sucking on fumes. And Alec’s been feeling pretty much the same way, but he finally found where the Inquisitor stashed his stele, so now he’s got the advantage of strength and endurance.
When he’d drawn the endurance rune, right before his eleventh sweep of the night, his mind had immediately gone to Magnus. To what they could… um… do with something like that. But right now its sole purpose is to keep him upright long enough to search every inch of the Institute for every last survivor, every last Circle member still breathing. The rest?
Well, that’ll just have to be his reward for a battle well fought.
It’s bugging him that they haven’t found Raphael yet. That’s one of the reasons he’s pushing so hard, because he can tell how worried Magnus is. And Alec could probably go either way with the guy, but every time Alec leaves, Magnus calls out some form of, “If you find Raphael,” before he’s out of earshot.
He’s never able to finish it, like his worry is just short-circuiting his brain. And so Alec tries to joke with him, says stuff like, “I’ll try not to strangle him,” or, “I’ll make sure we don’t break any more vases.” But it is what it is, and what it is is Magnus, freaking out about the fact that the longer they go without finding him, the less likely it is that they’ll find him alive.
He’s coming back from another Raphael-free sweep with Raj basically draped over his body, Raj’s lips kind of pressed into his neck in a way that makes him uncomfortable in spite of the fact that he knows it’s just because Raj is almost entirely passed out at this point. But when Magnus sees him come in, he immediately runs over and takes Raj off his hands, wearing the same expression he’d had when Alec had told him about the awkward hug during his escape.
It’s weird, the look. But Alec doesn’t have time to properly analyze it because as soon as Raj is on a gurney, a voice fills up the room in a way that makes his muscles tense in spite of the fact that he’s never heard it before in his life.
“What the hell is that monster doing here?!”
When Alec turns around it’s to see an unfamiliar Shadowhunter, shrugging off the way Lydia was trying to help him into the infirmary as he stares literal death at Magnus. So Alec looks to Magnus next, gauging the oddly unconcerned expression on his face before asking, “Um, do you know him?”
Magnus turns to him and, without even so much as a blink, says blandly, “He was at the loft.”
Alec’s vision may have just gone a little fucking red.
“Wait, are you serious?” he asks as the guy continues to seethe across the room. And the way Magnus shrugs at him just…
To put it bluntly, it sets him the fuck off.
“Alec, don’t,” Magnus says in a half-hearted attempt to stop him.
But Alec just holds up his hand and smiles, the expression all teeth when he replies, “No, it’s okay, I’m good.”
He is most definitely not good.
Magnus doesn’t try to stop him again, which basically means he just gave Alec permission to approach the guy. His voice pinched tight around the anger coursing through his veins when he says, “Excuse me, but would you repeat what you just said?”
“What?” the guy basically spits out at him, his face turned up in disgust.
“I asked you to repeat. What you. Just said.”
The asshole straightens his shoulders, rolling them before pulling his arms up to cross over his chest as he replies, “I said: What the hell is that monster doing here?”
Alec smiles, all the way to the tips of his freaking toes. “See, that’s what I thought you said.”
He is not entirely sure if he has ever felt more satisfied when punching someone as he does right at this very moment.
“You break into our house,” he says a bit more shrilly than he probably wants, which can’t exactly be helped right now. “Threaten our kid, and then you have the balls to call him a monster? The guy that saved your life twice?”
“Twice?” the guy asks once he recovers from the punch that really should’ve been more forceful, looking back. Like the kind of thing his mother taught him, one and done.
“Yeah. Once by showing up here tonight and once by not smiting your ass at the loft when he had the chance.”
“That is enough, Alec,” Magnus says before he can continue his tirade, his touch gentle on Alec’s shoulder. “He is not worth the effort.”
And it’s a testament to how much he loves Magnus that he listens to him here, goes with the whole Be the Bigger Man bit Magnus is clearly advocating. Because he’s actually letting Magnus lead him away.
That is, of course, until the asshole with the split lip makes the stupid mistake of opening his mouth again.
“I don’t need to be saved from some punk ass kid by a filthy half-breed,” he spits out and… okay… Alec’s had enough of this guy’s shit.
“Hold my bow,” he says to Magnus as he slides it off his shoulder. And he’s expecting Magnus to fight him on this, keep pushing for diplomacy. But all Magnus does is shrug again in a way that clearly says you do what you have to do, sweetheart, and… like… yeah… he really fucking loves this guy.
Someone he does not love is the moron that just called his boyfriend a filthy half-breed. But his fists sure love punching the guy’s face repeatedly in a way that doesn’t even allow him time to get in one single shot.
Like with all things Alec enjoys, this one is eventually interrupted. And it takes him a few good seconds to realize that it’s Jace pulling him off, not Magnus. Which is almost more annoying because at least if Magnus were doing it, he’d have the benefit of having Magnus’ hands on him. But Jace?
“What the hell?” he asks as he shoves Jace away from him.
But all he gets in return is one raised eyebrow before Jace grabs his arm and says, “Come on, let’s go do a sweep.”
Before Jace can drag him to the hallway, the guy with the split lip and the now possibly broken rib opens his mouth again, this time to mutter the words, “Fucking faggot,” under his breath. And Alec, honestly, is willing to let that one slide. Only Jace…
“Give me a sec,” Jace says with this sort of, like, quizzical look on his face before he walks back into the room and decks the guy. And this time he stays down, either because he can’t get up or because he’s smart enough to know that if he does, someone else is likely going to punch him. Maybe Lydia this time, or Raj if he’s conscious again.
Alec knows instinctively that there’s going to be a crash soon, that once he has a second to really think about what happened here tonight, to process all the people that they lost, it’s going to hit him like a ton of bricks. But right now, with Jace by his side, Magnus safe, and a bigot writhing on the floor, life seems pretty okay.
“We can go now,” Jace says once he’s done doing what he had to do, and he’s beaming at Alec, giving him the kind of smile that he hasn’t seen since they were teenagers. And Alec…
He just feels freaking good. Until Jace calls out a quick, “Bye Magnus!” over his shoulder, and Magnus responds with an even quicker, “Bye Jace! Take care of our boy!”
Because… like… Alec is perfectly capable of taking care of himself, thank you very much. Did they not see what he did tonight? Simon spent twenty minutes calling him freaking Spider-Man before Alec flat out refused to do any more sweeps with him, that’s how amazing he was. So he doesn’t need anybody to take care of him.
He sighs deeply and thinks, these are the two people I have chosen to share my soul with. And although the thought was meant to be longsuffering, it feels like a knife stabbed into his chest for some reason. One that dazes him enough that he doesn’t realize Jace is speaking to him until he bumps his shoulder and almost sends him careening into the wall in the hallway.
“What?” Alec asks in response to whatever it is Jace just said.
“I asked you what crawled up your butt,” Jace evidently repeats, and the wording…
Let’s just say it strikes a chord with him, one that makes him blush behind his never getting rid of it for this express purpose of concealment beard before he stammers, “My butt? What about your butt? Three hours ago you were attacking me for smelling like cocoa butter and now you’re all smiles and bigot punching.”
Jace glares at him for a second, but the expression is quickly swallowed up in another of those teenage smiles. “Well, given what the Downworlders did here today, and the way Magnus literally saved the Inquisitor’s life, it’s seeming less and less likely that you’re going to be arrested anytime soon. And… you know… I guess you helped a little yourself, too. A little.”
“Wow!” Alec says as a smile works its way across his lips. “Tell me something, how hard was that to admit? On a scale of one to ten?”
“I’d say a solid fifteen?” he says before bumping Alec’s shoulder again and it’s weird, this moment, given what’s going on around them. But it feels so stinking good to have Jace back… again… that he doesn’t really care about the absurdity of it all.
“So how are things?” he asks a second later. “With you and Magnus, I mean. And the girl. Zoe, right?”
“Yeah, Zoe,” Alec replies, and he should probably be embarrassed by how, like, dreamy his voice sounds when he says her name, but his tolerance for discomfiture seems to be at an all time high right now.
“She’s great, man. You’d love her. She’s like, strong as hell, you know? Which I can’t even grasp, given what she’s been through these last few months. But she’s just powering through all of it and still maintaining this… like… fierce sense of humor. She even gives me a run for my money sometimes. And she just… what?” he asks once he notices the strange way Jace is staring at him. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“It’s nothing,” Jace says with a laugh. “It’s just… you’re different.”
Alec scrunches down his eyes and shifts his shoulders as his arms wrap reflexively around his stomach. “How am I different?”
“I don’t know, you’re… happy?”
Alec pffts. “I was happy before.”
Jace raises one perfect Jace Wayland eyebrow at him. “Right, Alec, whatever you say.”
“Dude, you once went off on me for twenty minutes for eating your cupcake.”
“Are you talking about the red velvet one? Because I bought that special from that bakery in Midtown. That thing cost me nine bucks!”
Before Jace can defend himself, Alec is placing his hand flat over Jace’s mouth. And before Jace can bat his hand away, Alec is nodding at the ground in front of them. Or more specifically, at the six piles of ash in front of them, clearly the remains of vampires. And Alec feels a little like he’s going to be sick as he and Jace huddle outside the room closest to the dead.
They can hear voices inside, and Alec really wishes he had Magnus’ see-through-the-wall magic right now as he turns the knob as slowly as he can and inches the door open until he and Jace can get a clear look at what’s going on.
There are six card chairs set up at the far end of the room, four of them empty except for what are probably solid silver manacles and piles of ash, and two of them currently occupied by Raphael and Simon, also chained with silver.
Raphael is alive, which should be something that gives Alec a sense of relief. But Raphael is also chained to a chair being tortured by at least seven Circle members, maybe more. And so relief is something that’s going to have to wait.
When one of the Circle members puts the tip of her Seraph blade to Raphael’s stomach and begins to slowly slide it in, Simon struggles against his chains. His voice panicked as he screams, “Leave him alone!” like he thinks that’s actually going to work.
“Shut up, Simon,” Raphael says, his words spoken through gritted teeth as he does his best to pretend he’s not in as much pain as he’s probably in.
The woman looks to Simon as she pulls the blade out of Raphael and points it at Simon’s throat. “Yes, shut up, Simon. You’ll get your turn, don’t you worry. But you came so late to the party, you’ll just have to be a good little boy and wait.”
When she drags the blade down Simon’s cheek, Raphael hisses at her, pulling against his shackles. And Alec has seen about enough of this. Which is why he’s looking at Jace a second later, communicating with their eyes because there’s no need for words here.
There are at least seven Circle members, maybe more, but there could be thirty of them in there and they’d still go in because those are their friends in there. Sort of. Well, not really, but close enough.
Something sinks in Alec’s gut, though, when he reaches for his bow and realizes that it’s not there, thanks to the fact that he’d handed it off to Magnus so he could beat the crap out of a fellow Shadowhunter. And he still has his blade, but he’d feel a lot more comfortable if he could take out some of the targets before he and Jace even had to enter the room.
As it stands, he can’t. Because he’s an idiot. But the woman is sliding the blade into Raphael’s stomach again and so Alec gets to his feet, readies his blade, and prepares to dive in, just like usual.
“Hey assholes, you got any room in this party for us?” Jace asks as they bound through the door.
He’s smiling so cockily even a small part of Alec wants to beat the smile off his face. Which means the Circle members are all too happy to oblige them in the fight they’ve come for. And they do well for themselves, fighting in sync the way they always do, feeding off what the other is doing until they’re moving as one.
As part of their silent agreement, it’s Alec’s job to try and get past the main batch of Circle members and make his way to Raphael and Simon so he can free them: A) So they are no longer vulnerably chained to card chairs, waiting to die, and B) So he and Jace can have some backup. And everything is working out fine until he sees a Circle member coming up behind where Raphael is slashing open the girl that had been working on him.
Raphael clearly doesn’t sense the newcomer, preoccupied with vengeance as he is. And gauging the coming upward swing of the Circle member’s blade, it’s easy to see what that would mean for Raphael. And so it’s not a conscious decision so much as it’s gut instinct that causes Alec to do what he does next.
It all happens incredibly fast.
One second he’s lunging into the path of the Circle member, shoving Raphael out of the way in the process. Then he’s watching as the blade completes the upward arc he was expecting, causing something strange to tighten in his chest. And then Jace is there, killing the Circle member before staring at Alec over the guy’s dead body and it’s weird, the way he’s looking at him. But what’s almost weirder is where Jace is looking.
Alec looks down at where Jace’s eyes are locked on his chest, and there’s something odd there too, going on with his shirt. It’s been slashed, from the general area of his left bottom rib all the way up to his right shoulder. And that’s funny, he thinks, only it’s not as funny as the fact that it looks like there’s blood coming out from between the now two halves of his shirt and…
He collapses at that, the realization that it’s his blood leaking down his stomach, soaking into the top of his pants hitting him at the same time that the pain does. And Jace is catching him, lowering him slowly to the ground as Alec blinks like he’s trying to communicate in Morse Code only he forgot the letters.
How do you say, “help me,” again?
“Go get Magnus!” Jace shouts in the general direction of Simon, Alec thinks, and Jace sounds terrified. Like, really terrified. Which sort of makes Alec feel kind of terrified too, a little bit, because he’s in pain, sure, but he’s been in pain before. Been injured before. Been injured with Jace before only he’s never heard Jace sound quite like that.
It’s all just so damn weird.
“Everything’s going to be okay, Alec,” Jace soothes as he takes out his stele to activate the healing rune on Alec’s arm. And it helps a little, with the pain anyway – did he mention that there’s pain? A lot of it, actually, radiating out in ever more powerful waves. And so the rune helps a little with that but he’s starting to feel a little dizzy as the blood that’s supposed to be in his body continues to leave his body like it’s going on vacation.
Vacation. Vacations are nice. He and Magnus had a nice vacation and Simon is going to get Magnus which is nice because Magnus is nice and Alec would like to see him now because he’s so nice. But his blood is going on vacation, too, and Alec really needs his blood so if it would just stop the mass exodus from his body he’d really appreciate it.
“Damn it, Lightwood, why the hell did you do that?” Raphael asks.
He’s kneeling next to Alec now, taking off his jacket that probably cost more than everything Alec has ever owned in his entire life so he can press it to Alec’s chest. And he has to bite back a scream when Raphael does that, because of all the pain, but he’s pretty sure Raphael is doing it to try and get him to stop bleeding so much and so he lets it slide.
“No more Downworlders will die,” he says, the words sticky in his mouth like the glue he definitely didn’t eat when he was a kid because only stupid kids eat glue. “Especially because of a… of a Shadowhunter.”
Raphael rolls his eyes, which is something Alec can feel even if he can’t see it because he’s staring at the ceiling now, his head in Jace’s lap as Jace’s fingers tremble in his hair.
“You sound like a walking, talking propaganda poster. Did you forget I’m a vampire? I’m perfectly capable of surviving a stab wound.”
“Could you have… have survived getting your head chopped off?” Alec asks, his general anger at all things Raphael ramping up inside of him, warring with the shock that seems to want to overtake him.
“No, but I’m pretty sure I also won’t survive the wrath of Magnus Bane, High Warlock of Pettyville when he finds out his boy toy died because of me.”
“I’m not his boy toy,” Alec says, his voice weaker but still strong enough to tell off Raphael. “And I’m not… not dying.”
Is he dying?
“Would you please shut up?” Jace hisses as he reaches one hand down to hold Alec’s mouth closed. “Both of you?”
And Alec… he’s tired. Really too tired to think, let alone fight. And so he lets Jace keep his hand on his mouth, lets Jace continue to hold his head in his lap, and lets himself close his eyes as Raphael continues to try and bandage up the rather large, rather gaping wound in Alec’s torso.
He feels Magnus’ presence even before he hears him, and he can feel the way he smiles against Jace’s hand at the realization that he’s here. Because Magnus will save him. Magnus always saves him. And then maybe they’ll go on another vacation together.
“What happened?” Magnus asks, and he sounds angry, which makes Alec feel guilty like he somehow needs to explain why he was stupid enough to get cut open like this.
But evidently the question was aimed at Jace, not Alec, because a second later Jace is barking out the words, “Don’t look at me, he did it to save him.”
“Thanks, asshole,” Raphael says, but before they can continue their argument, Magnus is shoving Raphael out of the way so he can kneel at Alec’s side.
“Alec,” he says, but his name, it sounds more like a sob than a name. Which doesn’t match up at all with the way he continues with, “Everything is going to be okay,” because sobbing names and things being okay generally don’t mix.
But Alec is willing to take his word on it because he’s so tired – did he mention that? – and you need energy to make points. To say stuff. With points. And Alec doesn’t have energy, regardless of the endurance rune that’s still throbbing on his stomach.
He can feel Magnus’ magic working on him now, can feel the warmth it presses through his bloodstream, and it’s one of his favorite feelings in the whole entire world. But he’s never felt it like this before, never felt it heal, never felt it tug on the life that’s still trying to evacuate his body and Alec… he loves him. He just… he loves him.
And so he can’t help the way he looks up at Magnus and blurts out, “You’re so pretty,” because he is.
Magnus Bane is the prettiest thing Alec has ever seen in his entire life.
Magnus looks down at him, his face too blurry to read his expression as he says, “Thank you,” to Alec. Which is an odd response, one that doesn’t fit the way his tone sounds: Dark, sad, scared.
And so Alec attempts to sit up as he says, “No, you’re so pretty,” because it’s somehow very important that, in this moment, Magnus realizes that.
“Alec, please,” Magnus says as both he and Jace force him back to the ground.
But the pain is gone, and he feels like he’s flying through the air, the wind in his face, weightless and free and so he says, “I’m gonna marry you someday,” because he totally is.
“Alec, please stop talking,” Magnus asks, and he sounds tired now, even worse than before. But his magic is still pumping through Alec’s blood and it’s making him feel invincible, like he told Magnus in Indonesia. Like together, they’re invincible.
“I am. I’m gonna marry the fuck out of you,” he says, hiccupping out a laugh at the end.
“That’s nice, dear, but would you please remain still?”
“The fuck. Out. Of. You,” he says.
And Jace’s hand is back over his mouth again, his voice hysterical almost as he bites out, “Alec, shut the fuck up he’s trying to save your life.”
It makes Alec want to laugh for some reason, the feel of it tickling around the cotton in his head, because Alec’s life doesn’t need to be saved. His life is just fine. It’s here and it’s now and it’s fine, right here in this room only the room feels sort of colder now. Which is strange because usually when Magnus is around everything feels warm only Alec is sort of shivering now that he’s thought to notice it and he’s tired. He’s just… tired.
His eyes slip shut. Either that or the lights go out in the room, he can’t really tell. And Magnus is talking to him again, but he sounds really far away as he says, “Be still, my love. Your wounds are deep.”
And then it’s Jace, letting go of his mouth. Jace’s body moving as he says, “Here, take my strength. Take what you need. Hell, take it all, just help him.”
And Alec is cold. He’s so cold and the room… it’s dark. And everything is so hollow and he just wants to curl up. Find a blanket in a warm room and curl up in it, like he’s in their bed again, wrapped up in Magnus.
“Hold on,” Magus says as a renewed surge of magic floods Alec’s body. “Please.”
But Alec is cold. He’s tired. It’s so, so dark and he’s col-
ALEC IS NOT DEAD. I seem to feel the need to have at least one of these disclaimers in every story, but I PROMISE that I will never, ever kill either one of them! Just... you know... almost kill them sometimes.
Chapter 13: Where Do We Go From Here?
For laelipoo. Thanks for keeping me sane!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Magnus has relived that night more times than he can count. In the almost month since Alec nearly died in his arms once again, the entire experience has stretched across his consciousness like a bank of clouds, dark with an impending storm, offering little reprieve and almost no chance of escape.
He remembers clearly the way Simon had rushed into the infirmary, tears in his eyes and a hitch in his voice as he tried to speak through the hysteria visibly racking his body. But though Magnus had only been able to pick out a few scattered words – Alec, bleeding – Simon’s panic was more than sufficient to tell the story.
The words still taste like ash in his mouth, the way he had asked without even thinking, “Is he still alive?” just like Isabelle, all those weeks before. And with one tight nod from Simon, Magnus was moving.
There had been so much blood, far more than he’d been expecting as the image of Alec, sliced open on the ground, resting in Jace’s lap met him once he stepped through the door. And he can remember the way he had hesitated, how his feet had felt as if they were fused to the floor as the more conscious part of his brain tried to make sense of what was before him.
They’d only been gone a short while. Twenty, maybe thirty minutes had passed since Alec and Jace left the infirmary with smiles on their faces. And yet something had happened in that span of time that brought them all to that moment.
When he finally was able to make it to Alec’s side, the thought had come to him about how lucky they were. Which had seemed ridiculous, given the way Alec’s life was quite literally leaking from his body at an alarming rate. But if the Circle member that had slashed him had been right handed instead of left, it would have been Alec’s heart cut in half. Or if Raphael had been taller, or Alec shorter, it would have been his neck, his head. As it stood, there had been hope, however faint, and so they were lucky.
Holding Alec’s life in his hands, it had felt different from the track. Finding Alec then had been far easier than digging through the darkness of Alec’s fading soul in search of what was left of the spark of his life. And he had been so weak, Magnus had, his magic so depleted that even the search felt like it might end him. But as soon as he discovered it, his only thought had been to pull. To grab ahold of it with whatever was left of his magic and pull.
Then Alec had spoken, had said the sorts of things whose only result could be a shattered heart when put up beside the life leeching from his body, pooling on the floor. His blood soaking into the knees of Magnus’ pants as he continued to hold on in spite of what Alec was saying.
As if Magnus had never considered it, had not stood in that aisle, staring at Alec in that tuxedo, and wondered. But you cannot marry a corpse, and so for what had felt like the hundredth time that evening he had pushed down his own emotions in favor of protecting Alec.
It had tried to drag him down, the way he clung to the spark, feeble and dim. He was too weak, too tired, too drained by a night spent saving the lives of others, leaving him so little to save the only life that mattered. So when Jace offered his hand, offered his strength, Magnus had reached out without a second thought.
He had been careful with Alec, the night they saved Luke. But he had opened the floodgates with Jace, pulled at Jace’s life like a drowning man, dragging everything near down with him. And he had wanted to take it all, had been willing, in that desperate moment, to drain everyone in the room dry if that was what it took because the responsibility that had hung around his neck like a noose could be shared, couldn’t it?
With Jace, who was supposed to protect him. Or with Raphael, whose life Alec had tried to trade in the bargain for his own. But he could not do it – could not take everything from Jace, even though he had offered it (take it all). Could not pull from Raphael, even though the sense of guilt he was feeling hung about him like a stench. Because in the end, the blame rested solely on his own shoulders and he knew it.
He should never have let Alec out of his sight. It had been just that simple.
Every time he has closed his eyes in the last month, he has been right back there. Which is likely why he has drained many a liquor cabinet dry as he, Zoe and Catarina have bounced around the globe in search of a peace that Magnus knows he will not find until Alec is back with him. Safe with him, even though he is not sure if that is even possible any longer. But still, he drinks, because while it may not keep the nightmares at bay, it does at least dull their effects, which is something.
It is not much, but it is something.
They are in Paris this week, as if perhaps he thought the City of Love would keep him from dreaming of Alec’s death. As of yet, it has not worked, and in fact last night brought the most brutal recreation of them all.
It had left him shaking in his bed, with aching fingers and blood in his palms from where his nails had broken through skin, his throat raw from the way he had likely been screaming in his sleep. And like many a night before, he had crawled into bed with Zoe under the pretense that he was doing it to bring her a sense of comfort she has needed every bit as much as him ever since she learned of what happened to Alec. But that is not why he did it; it is never why he does it.
He knows that she is not really their daughter, no matter how many times Alec seems to want to make absent claims of the sort. But holding Zoe in his arms brings him a faint sense of serenity that he can find nowhere else in his life of late. And he knows it is because when he is near her, he feels as if he is near Alec as well. Near to a life that, while never promised to them, was still a flicker of a dream, dancing on the horizon.
The three of them, together.
Catarina is back in New York today. She has been a stalwart friend through all of this, a pillar for him to lean against, but she does still have a job, one she needs to return to periodically. And so today, it has just been him and Zoe.
Catarina had asked him repeatedly this morning if he was sure he would be okay without her. I can do my rounds with her, she had said, take Zoe along, make a girl’s day of it. But he has known Catarina for centuries and so he could clearly pick the concern out of her voice.
It had been insulting, as if she thought that he could not even manage the simple task of watching Zoe for a day in the state he was in. And he had told her as much, made it clear that her insinuations cut. Only now, as he sits on a park bench in the waning daylight and watches Zoe play with other children because in her training, if in nothing else, Magnus has seemingly succeeded, all he wants is a drink. Either that or a fire message from Isabelle.
Because she is an angel, she has been in sporadic contact with Magnus ever since the attack on the Institute. The one Magnus fled as soon as Alec was in seemingly stable condition because even in his grief and shock, he was aware enough to realize that if he stayed much longer, he would likely be arrested and be no good to either of them.
She has been sending him fire messages, though. And despite the terse, almost heartless nature of their contents, they have been a lifeline for him throughout this trying month. One he may not have survived without their assistance.
The first one had come roughly twelve hours after he left: He is alive. And over the weeks, there have been more.
He is awake.
He is speaking.
He is sitting up.
He is eating on his own.
He is standing.
He is walking.
The last one was nine days ago, when Alec evidently took his first steps in weeks. And he knows that if his condition worsened, Isabelle would tell him. Or at least he thinks she would. But he had grown accustomed to receiving word every few days and so, like an addict, the not knowing makes his skin itch.
He’s thinking about those three words – he and is and walking – his vision blurring as he watches Zoe and a girl roughly her own age spinning on a merry-go-round when his phone buzzes shrilly in his pocket.
He does not need to check the caller ID because there is only one person in the world that has this number.
“Where are you right now?” Catarina asks without so much as a hello, Magnus, how has your day been?
He looks around him to remember his bearings.
“We are at the playground near the Tuileries Garden, Rue de Rivoli.”
Because in the hundred and forty years since Bell invented the telephone Catarina never bothered to learn the intricacies of polite phone etiquette, she hangs up with a missing goodbye to match her lack of hello.
Her portal opens a few moments later, somewhere a few dozen yards away and behind him, by the sound of it. But he does not bother to look mostly because he is simply too tired to even swivel his head.
“I brought you something from home,” she says as she plops down onto the bench beside him.
“If it is another mini Statue of Liberty, I want you to know that I have been throwing them away for decades.”
“No, it’s better,” she says, and he can hear it now, in her voice. Something almost resembling glee. And so his heart is already racing when he looks up at her and follows the way she tips her head to the side.
For a moment, he is utterly frozen, staring at Alec like he’s some cruel mirage, a dream brought to life only to shatter the moment Magnus reaches out for him. But the way Alec shifts awkwardly, ducking his head and shoving his hands in his pockets as he blushes behind a now full beard, the pink rising all the way to the corners of his eyes – it is so Alec that it makes Magnus realize just how real this is.
His legs shake as he gets to his feet, threatening to give out on him before he can cross the distance between them. And the sense of uncertainty he is feeling is overpowering, like he does not know what he is supposed to do here, with him. Because he has not truly allowed himself to even hope for this, has been bracing himself subconsciously for a future without him, and so having him here, now, close enough to touch?
It is a bit much to wrap his mind around.
He hugs Alec out of reflex, out of the need to simply feel his arms wrapped around Alec’s body so he can assure himself that he is real. But when Alec flinches, the month of nightmares collapses on him like an avalanche.
He pulls back immediately, an apology on his tongue, but before he can say anything Alec is speaking. His voice hoarse, cracking around something resembling a sob as he reaches out to Magnus and says, “No, please, come back.”
He does not wish to cause Alec pain, either physical or emotional, and so he is torn. But only until Alec’s hands are on his shoulders, pulling him back in.
It is difficult not to imagine what he is resting against, to imagine the blood that had poured from a wound still present beneath two thin layers of fabric. But when he takes in one deep breath through his nose, breathes in Alec’s scent, the images begin to flicker like they are the mirage, the fabrication. Like reality does not exist outside of Alec’s body, pressed against his.
There are other things to ignore as well, like the way Alec is clearly thinner, with less muscle mass than before. How his arms, while still powerful, are not as strong as they used to be. But none of that matters because none of that is permanent. And so the only thing he wishes to focus on is this.
There are tears on his cheeks, ones Alec is shedding as well, judging by the slight, quiet way his body shakes as he cries into the curve of Magnus’ neck. His hands rising to fist in Magnus’ hair, holding him tight, holding him close. And it is more than he could have ever hoped for, more than he could have dreamed after the Institute.
When Alec reaches out to lift Magnus’ head, his breath catches at the sight of Alec’s face, this close. At sharper lines and hollowed cheeks, hidden beneath the beard. At a dimness to his eyes that makes them look almost murky. But then Alec’s lips are on his, soft and chaste, and it quiets his concerns so thoroughly that his entire body is instantly flooded with a warm sense of peace.
He is alive, Magnus reminds himself. He is here and he is alive. Everything else is meaningless detail to be worked out later because, as of this very moment, they have a later.
“I was so worried that your progress had slipped,” he admits when he rests his forehead on the uninjured side of Alec’s chest, his hands wrapped over the tops of Alec’s shoulders like that is the only thing holding either of them up. “It has been over a week since I last heard from your sister.”
“My sister?” Alec asks, his voice sleepy almost as he presses his cheek to the side of Magnus’ head and sighs.
“She’s been sending me fire messages ever since the attack, keeping me appraised of your condition.”
“That’s not possible,” he says as he turns his head so that his lips tickle Magnus’ hair. “She and Jace were under house arrest until a few days ago. My mother confiscated their steles the morning after the attack.”
That is curious, Magnus thinks as Alec adds, “You sure you weren’t just hallucinating them?”
But even though Magnus says, “That must have been it,” he’s fairly certain that he has already figured out the missing piece to this particular puzzle.
It is no wonder the messages sounded so cold.
He does not spend any more time on that issue, though, leaning back instead to ask, “How are you here?” Because if Isabelle and Jace were under arrest until only recently, it stands to reason that Alec was as well.
“You mean why aren’t I in the Silent City?” he asks, and there is a smile on his lips now. One that, while tired, is the most beautiful sight Magnus has seen in a long while. “It’s seems like I’m a Shadowhunter again.”
A surge of relief presses through Magnus’ blood. “They have reinstated you?”
“Even better,” Alec replies as the smile pushes wider on his lips while his arms settle loosely around Magnus’ waist. “They offered me a new job.”
Magnus quirks his head.
“You’re looking at the new Ambassador to the New York Downworld.”
“I… was not aware such a position existed,” Magnus says as his eyes thin in confusion.
“It didn’t. I’m the first. And it gets better.”
Magnus is not sure how anything could be better than Alec, alive and no longer on the run from the Clave. But he’s still willing to play along and so he asks, “How so?”
“Before I accepted I… um… sort of gave them an ultimatum.”
Magnus’ stomach sinks as he sighs Alec’s name into the small space between them.
“No, it’s good, trust me. I told them that the only way I’d take the job was if they dropped the charges against you and Zoe. Completely.”
“And they went for that?”
He shrugs. “Not at first. The Inquisitor, she tried to threaten me with the other way.”
“Banishment?” Magnus asks, unable to hide the horror in his voice.
But Alec just shrugs once more.
“Alexander, that was a dangerous card to play.”
Alec tightens his grip on Magnus at that. “I wasn’t about to give up on you guys. So I told her I’d be fine with that. That I always wanted to be a farmer. That I had a little plot of land picked out and everything.”
“Oh I did. And… well… I may have also told them about the threat of the Downworlders leaving the Accords, and how if they kept going after you the split was pretty much assured.”
“You’ve become quite the politician,” Magnus says, but though his voice is a touch lighter, he still feels sick to his stomach.
“Yeah, but so I implied that if she tried to go after you again the whole Downworld would be in open revolt and, lo and behold, she took the deal. I think almost dying at the hands of the Circle made her a little desperate, you know?”
“Alec,” Magnus says as he tries to wrap his mind around what exactly is happening here.
But Alec just reaches up again, cups Magnus’ face in his hands and says, “You’re free, Magnus. Both of you are. You… we can go home.”
They can go home.
Before he can thoroughly process this new bit of information, they are interrupted by the sharp scream of one very happy twelve-year-old girl. And as he watches Alec sink to his knees, absorbing Zoe’s running leap, the concern of earlier presses sharply through his body.
“Be careful, dear,” he says as he reaches out for Zoe, ready to pull her back if necessary.
But Alec just holds up a hand, using the other to wrap around Zoe’s waist and hold her close as he says, “She’s fine.” His head turning so that his face is now buried in her neck as he adds, “She’s perfect.”
And as Magnus looks down at them, curled around each other in the dying light of day, Alec’s words burn brightly in his mind:
We can go home.
It takes Magnus a few days to find the right loft, one with enough room and a good enough view to satisfy all of his varied qualifications. But he’s still hoping for the same things he’s always been – for this to be more than just his home, alone through the years. And so he wants to make sure that it is absolutely perfect, just in case.
Alec is with him today, taking advantage of only half days of work while he continues recuperating. And for some reason Magnus’ insides are twisted into knots as he walks Alec through the condo, freshly bought for cash up front because Magnus has managed to accrue more than his fair share of wealth over the years.
It is like he is a boy again, out on his first date. And it makes him wish that he could slap himself across the face without Alec noticing and worrying because it is silly to feel this way, after everything they have been through.
His anxiety reaches a fevered pitch when they settle outside the room at the far end of the hall on the first floor, his palm sweaty as it wraps around the gilded knob so he can swing the door into the room.
There is already a bed in there, with plain, unadorned gray sheets and a utilitarian, black metal floor lamp hooked up to the light switch. And he’s hoping that the room’s purpose will be obvious, once he turns on the light. But the way Alec scrunches up his left eye in an expression that has oddly been climbing the ranks of Magnus’ favorites tells him that he will likely need to explain himself.
“What’s this one for?” Alec asks, sealing the deal.
Magnus does his best to not allow his voice to shake when he says, “I thought it could be yours.”
“Yes, yours. I know that you are mending things at the Institute, and so you will probably take up residence there again, but I thought until then, or even after, I would offer… a place. Offer you a place, whenever you might want it.”
He sounds like an utter imbecile, but at least he is not backing out, which is something he feared he would do. It’s why he brought in the bed. Because he knew if he didn’t, if he opened the door to an empty room, he would have been more likely to simply say this is my third study because I am the type of person that needs three studies and leave it at that.
“That’s sweet and all, Magnus,” Alec says in the voice he uses when he is forcing himself to be polite. “But I already had a place in mind.”
Magnus paints a smile on his face and flips his head to the side to indicate how completely fine he is right now. “Oh! That’s wonderful, Alec, that you are branching out. Is the place in Brooklyn? Or is it closer to the Institute?”
Alec laughs, which does very little to help Magnus’ mood. His voice lighter, losing its tight civility when he says, “Magnus, I meant…”
He trails off there, pointing vaguely into the air above him. But Magnus’ apartment is the penthouse of this building, so unless Alec was planning on pitching a tent on the roof…
“I meant your room,” he says with another laugh as he grabs Magnus’ shoulders and leans down so he can look him directly in the eye. “Or… like… our room. I was… I don’t know… thinking that maybe I could move in? With you?”
“Oh,” Magnus says before Alec’s words finally settle in.
“It’s just, I want to live here, I do. I was sort of hoping you’d ask, actually, because, full disclosure, I’ve been kind of sick worrying about asking myself. But I don’t need a separate room here because… I don’t know, your bed is always more comfortable than mine?”
“This bed is an identical match to mine,” Magnus says as if he thinks that Alec is only asking to move into his room with him – his bed with him, on a permanent basis – because he thinks that Magnus only splurges on his own sleeping arrangements.
Alec laughs, but this time the sound settles over Magnus like warm water.
“Yeah,” he says as he sways into Magnus’ space, reaching down to link his wrists over the small of Magnus’ back. “But if you’re not in it, then the comfort level drops by, like, 800% at least.”
“That is a very high percentage,” Magnus replies as he leans in to the way Alec is now pressing his lips to his forehead.
His words muffled by Magnus’ skin when he says, “You’re very comfortable.”
“So this will be the guest bedroom then,” Magnus says brightly as he lifts his head so that he can look into Alec’s eyes, grown brighter already in the few days since Paris.
“Unless, of course, you could think of anyone else you would like to have move into the loft? I could add another floor even, if you had the strange inclination to turn this into a halfway house.”
“Actually,” Alec says as he raises one hand to rub the back of his own neck. And there is a shyness to his tone now, a hesitation in his eyes that piques Magnus’ attention instantly.
“There was someone.”
“Let me guess? Isabelle?” he asks, still trying to play this off as a joke until he is sure of what Alec is asking.
“No I was thinking… Zoe?”
Magnus’ breath locks in his own throat.
“I don’t know, Magnus, I was thinking… hoping, anyway, that we could… like… keep her?” He sighs. “That makes her sound like a puppy. I don’t think she’s a puppy, I just thought… I don’t know what I thought, that I could move in maybe and that we could take care of her. Together. Like we have been only more… permanent?”
Magnus must be making a very strange face, because something starts to sink in Alec’s expression as he continues.
“I know we’re both kind of workaholics, but I talked to Cat and she said she’d help. And I’m sure everyone else would be willing to chip in, too, you know? With, like, babysitting and stuff. And I mean, we’ve sort of already been doing it, right? And I figured if we could do it while we were on the run from the Clave, how much easier would it be to do it now? When we don’t have to worry about crap like that?”
“You talked to Catarina about this?” he asks because he is incapable of focusing on anything else Alec just said.
“Yeah. I wanted to run it by her first, see if she thought I was crazy to ask.”
“And what was her assessment?”
Alec smiles crookedly and rubs the back of his neck again. “Fifty percent you’d say no, fifty percent you’d pin me to the bed and kiss me senseless?”
Magnus smiles at the joke, but the smile doesn’t even come close to matching the way he’s feeling inside.
He feels as if he has just awoken from the best dream of his life, only to realize that it was not, in fact, a dream.
“Those aren’t very good odds,” he says, continuing the tease.
And his expression must be softening sufficiently as well because Alec’s voice is smooth when he replies, “I’ve worked with worse,” and leans in to press a kiss to Magnus’ cheek.
“So is that a yes then?” he asks a moment later, his eyes a mixture of worry and hope.
And Magnus can almost not temper the joy in his own voice when he says, “If that is truly what you want, then yes, Alec, it is a yes. Only this cannot be her room.”
“Why’s that?” he asks, his eyes narrowing in faux suspicion.
“Because I had already picked out a much larger one for her at the other end of the loft.”
Alec beams at that, and Magnus feels buoyed by the intense levels of promise latent in that single expression.
“I have a present for you,” Alec says on the other side of the smile, his eyes sparkling with mischief now as he leads Magnus to the end of the bed and pushes him down to a sitting position. “Stay here. And close your eyes.”
There are very few people Magnus is comfortable shutting his eyes around for any extended period of time, but Alec is at the top of that particular list and so he does as he is told.
He can hear wheels on the hardwood in the hall a minute or so later, the sound dulled when Alec pulls what is likely some sort of cart onto the new, plush bedroom carpeting. And then he is sitting down next to Magnus on the bed and saying a quiet but excited, “Open them.”
When Magnus sees what Alec has brought him, he can completely understand why he had been so excited.
“The salvage team found it at the loft,” Alec says as Magnus runs one hand almost reverently over the large safe placed in front of him. “It was the only thing that survived the fire. It’s been in evidence collection ever since. Once the charges were dropped, though, I convinced them to give it to me so I could give it back to you. Since no one could figure out how to open it anyway, they were pretty quick to comply.”
Magnus pushes a wave of magic over the safe at that, releasing the locks instantly.
“Well, that works,” Alec says with a small laugh. “Anyway, I figured it was probably pretty important, given that it was a giant magical safe and all. So… um… happy housewarming, I guess.”
Magnus pulls his hand back from the safe, but only so he can turn to Alec, hold his face in his hands and place a soft kiss to his lips.
“Thank you for this, Alexander. This safe holds my most precious belongings.”
“So what, like jewels and stuff? Original shares in Apple computers?”
Magnus smiles, brushes his lips to Alec’s jaw and pulls back. His voice softer than it has been in weeks when he replies, “No, even more precious than that.”
When he opens the safe and Alec finally sets eyes on its contents, he releases a small, “Huh,” that indicates it is not what he was expecting. And Magnus cannot blame him.
Most people fill their safes with the exact kinds of belongings Alec mentioned. With money, or things that are worth a lot of money, like Ming vases. But when you have lived as long as Magnus has, have created storehouses of wealth on six of the seven of the earth’s continents, the word value takes on an entirely new meaning.
“This was the first, and only birthday card Raphael ever made for me,” he says as he takes the small, brown paper card from the top of the safe and hands it over to Alec. And it is a testament to how wonderful of a person Alec is that he treats the card as if it were made of the world’s finest, most delicate china.
“So Raphael knows when your birthday is and I don’t?” he asks, but his voice is not hurt so much as it is interested.
“I do not know when my actual birthday is,” he replies as he runs his fingers through the belongings neatly organized inside the safe. Over Ragnor’s photo album, a log from the fire that had almost consumed Catarina the night he both met her and saved her life. “Warlocks do not tend to celebrate them as it would be silly to commemorate every year in a life stretching into centuries.”
Magnus looks to Alec then, and there is an expression of such disappointment on his face that it almost makes him laugh.
“Are you upset that you will never be able to throw me a birthday party?” he asks as he trails his fingers gently through Alec’s beard.
“What? No. I was just… wondering. Something. Um. I was wondering about this,” he says, holding up the card like a shield. “If you don’t celebrate birthdays, when and why did he give you a card?”
“It was a few months after he came to stay with me, and he was feeling… particularly down,” Magnus replies as he takes the card and sets it gently back into the safe. “I thought if I gave him something to celebrate, it might lift his spirits.”
Magnus lets his thought drift back in memory now, to the way Raphael had smiled for the first time since he met him that night as Magnus introduced him to every Downworlder within a three-city area. To people like him.
“Yes, as a matter of fact it did.”
Before Magnus can add anything to the story, Alec is reaching into the safe, his voice almost appalled when he pulls a piece of fabric out and says, “Hey, that’s my shirt!”
Alec is correct; it is, in fact, his shirt. And Magnus might feel embarrassed by its discovery if not for the fact that a few short minutes ago Alec asked to move in with him so they could essentially raise Zoe together. So the only thing he is feeling is incredibly secure.
“I’ve been looking all over for this,” Alec says as he runs his hands over the worn cotton. “Where did you get it?”
“It is entirely possible that I stole it from your room when I was at the Institute doing the autopsy on the Forsaken that attacked you,” he says without a single ounce of shame in his voice.
Alec smiles at him, the crooked, confused one when he asks, “Why?”
“It was the one you were wearing the night we had drinks together, the night we saved Luke. I thought…” He pauses so he can take a deep breath before admitting, “I thought that if things went… another way, with us, that I might want a small token to remember you by.”
The way Alec is looking at him, his eyes full of openness, acceptance, makes Magnus’ heart ache, and so he adds, “Plus, I wanted to save you from ever having to wear it again. It is a remarkably hideous piece of clothing, and that is saying something, coming from your wardrobe.”
“Hey!” Alec bites as he pulls the shirt to his chest like he is trying to protect it. “This was one of my nicest t-shirts. I was trying to look good for you.”
Magnus laughs and rests a palm over the side of Alec’s neck, swiping his thumb up along his jaw. “And I appreciate the effort, but might I suggest next time asking Isabelle or Jace for advice?”
“You’re a jerk,” Alec says, but the way he pulls Magnus’ hand to his mouth so that he can kiss the center of his palm tells a different story entirely.
“It’s too bad you didn’t put your poems in here,” he says next, the mischief back in full force, dancing in his eyes.
“Oh, don’t worry, I have them all memorized,” Magnus replies, playing along. And he is having so much fun with this game that it actually takes him off guard when Alec leans in to kiss him.
It is not as heated as the ones they shared before the incident at the Institute, but Alec’s hands are on him a moment later, rucking up his shirt, trying to find skin as he leans over in an attempt to push Magnus down onto the bed. But Magnus resists him as the same fears he’s been dealing with the past few days begin to work through his system.
“Magnus,” Alec moans when he slides to the side, out of Alec’s reach. And his eyes are so full of need already that it makes Magnus’ breath hitch in his chest.
“What?” Alec asks, his voice angry almost as he returns to a sitting position and glares out at Magnus in defiance, for lack of any better way to describe it.
“Alec, you are still hurt.”
Alec sighs. Deeply.
“Magnus, it’s been a month since we’ve been together. Four weeks, actually. Four weeks, two days, and…” he pauses so that he can take his cell phone out of his pocket to check the time, “eleven hours, give or take a few minutes because I didn’t check the time before we ducked into that closet. But it’s been a month, Magnus, and… and I’m not made of glass.”
“I do not think that you are made of glass,” Magnus replies even though there is evidently a part of him that fears exactly that.
Alec chews on the corner of his bottom lip before nodding his head and saying a quick, “Okay.” And then he is taking off his shirt, lifting the black cotton tee over his head in a way that steals Magnus’ breath more thoroughly than anything that came before it.
He does not want to look at it, does not even want to lay eyes for a moment on the scar slicing its way across Alec’s torso. But when he turns his head away, Alec says, “Magnus, please, look at me,” in a voice so desperate that he does not have the heart to resist.
He looks at Alec, trailing his eyes down from Alec’s face to the marred flesh beneath. And it shakes him all the way to his core to see the puffed up skin marking the wound that almost took Alec’s life.
“I’m sill here,” Alec says. And Magnus doesn’t quite get his words until Alec reaches out for his hand so he can lift it to his chest, press Magnus’ palm flat over the uppermost portion of the wound.
He begins to drag Magnus’ hand downward then, over the expanse of the scar. His grip shaky around Magnus’ wrist to match the tremor in his voice when he says, “This isn’t… it’s not a sign of something bad that happened, it’s not a marking of, like, a curse or something. It’s a testament, Magnus, to the fact that I’m still here, with you.”
He raises Magnus’ hand so he can rest a kiss along his knuckles.
“I’m not going anywhere. And neither are my organs, if that’s what you’re afraid of. That you’re going to, like, jar them out of my body or something. I’m okay. I’m stitched up, I’m healing, and I’m okay.”
He reaches down, takes both of Magnus’ hands in his own and squeezes.
“It’s not a reminder of me almost dying, it’s a reminder of me living. Of you, saving my life. Of me needing you more than I ever have before and you being there, finding me because that’s what we do, right? We find each other. We’ll always find each other.”
“What do you want from me, Alec?” he asks quietly when he’s finally able to remove his eyes from the scar long enough to look Alec in the eye.
Alec moves closer at that, resting his forehead against Magnus’ so that he can feel Alec’s breath warm over his lips when he says, “What I’ve always wanted, Magnus. Everything. Every… every part of you.”
In that moment, Magnus surrenders. But he refuses to give up caution entirely, and so he makes sure that every kiss, every touch between them is as gentle as possible.
He knows exactly what Alec had meant when he said everything, remembers the way Alec had looked up at him at the Dumort, the way he had reacted their last night in Indonesia. And he does not wish to hurt him, to put too much pressure on a body that has only been back on its feet for less than two weeks. But he made a promise to himself beside that lake that he would never deny Alec anything again so long as he could help it, and if he is completely honest with himself, this is not something that even he wants to help.
Magnus wants Alec every bit as much as Alec wants him, perhaps even more so after he came so close to losing him. So he submits to that desire, stripping Alec down until there is only skin remaining, allowing Alec to do the same for him. And then Alec is on his hands and knees and Magnus…
It wants to remind him of the day after Zoe’s arrival, of letting his magic slip and burning Alec’s neck. But he shoves that memory aside as he drags his palm down Alec’s spine, feeling the way Alec shivers at his touch all the way into his own bones.
So much of their time together these past few months has been heated, fast and hard like they were both afraid that any moment they would be torn apart. But they are home now, they are safe and free and home, and so Magnus takes his time, relishing the fact that a slow burn is no less of a burn than the flash fires they are used to.
He is thorough in his work as he summons lubrication and begins teasing Alec open, taking his time to both decrease his discomfort and increase his pleasure. And he can feel Alec coming undone beneath his fingers already, beneath his lips, just like that night in Indonesia.
He uses small touches of magic to keep Alec’s heart rate level, because he cannot entirely erase the fear. But if Alec minds it, he does not mention it. And the soft, breathy moans escaping where Alec’s mouth is bit around a pillow this time to save himself further injury indicate that he is enjoying this.
The spark is easy to find now that he knows where to look for it, the one that represents the life inside of him. Alec’s burns blue, like the center of a flame, like Magnus’ own magic. But though on that awful night the blue had been barely a small fleck of ice, melting away, it is strong today. Alec had not been lying about that, how he is okay, not made of the glass Magnus had been dreading.
He keeps constant track of the spark, his magic licking around it, keeping it safe as he adds another finger and stretches in a way that makes Alec release a low, keening hum. He tries not to pay attention to that, though, or to the way Alec’s muscles feel, bending to his will, extending open to accommodate him. Because he needs to keep his focus here.
That proves to be a very difficult endeavor when he slicks himself up and slides inside.
When Alec had told him he wanted this at the Dumort, it had overwhelmed him. The earnestness with which he’d asked for it, the soft plea in his voice had, at the time, been far too much for him. How Alec had offered him something he had only ever dreamed of up to that point. But here? Now?
Once he is inside, Alec tenses at the pull. But Magnus simply places his palms around Alec’s hips and lets another pulse of magic slip into his skin, emanating out from the spark he will not release until they are through, if ever. Protecting it like it is the most precious thing in Magnus’ world because it is.
The spark only gets brighter as they go, flashing in a way that seems blinding behind Magnus’ shut tight eyelids the first time he allows himself to thrust. And he imagines that this is what it is like to be inches from a burning star. Not a dancing light overhead, but the roaring fire of an actual star, burning beneath his skin.
He was wrong, that night at the loft. He is not a supernova; he is a nebula, the place where stars are born. And in that realization, in this moment, Magnus is able to feel it.
There is no explanation for it. The spell had only been a temporary one, not meant to last beyond a few days. And it is not like he had almost died alongside Alec at the Institute, that they were bound in such a way that if one of them were to slip from existence, the other would as well. But he can still feel it here, now, as he loses himself to the rhythm of his body, buried in Alec’s.
He can feel Alec. Beneath him, around him, but also within him. And it is only a faint presence, hardly more than the flicker of a candle, but it is there, and Magnus is not entirely sure what he is supposed to make of that.
It has been months now since the spell but it feels fresh, like waking up next to Alec finally and feeling every panicked emotion in his own blood only it is not panic here. It is pleasure. Alec’s. Simple. Raw. Deep. And it makes Magnus’ spine burn, makes his muscles ache as he reaches beneath him to take Alec in his hand, slick skin against slick skin.
He loses himself. Feels both removed from his body and in touch with every single nerve ending. And Magnus has done this many times before, is centuries past the point where he would count acts or even partners, but he has never felt like this before. Like he is experiencing literal heaven, a place he always assumed his demon blood had locked him out of.
Alec reaches back for his hand. And though it upsets the balance, Magnus removes his free hand from Alec’s hip so he can take it. Can hold it in his own as he buries himself deep enough finally to reach the spot at the core of Alec. The one he had been working towards all along.
The sensation that floods Alec when he does so is overwhelming, forcing Alec to choke out a strangled cry as he slips down to one elbow. And Magnus cannot help the way he simply collapses over Alec’s back and comes at the same time that Alec spills over his hand. Their connection fading into the background as he presses his lips to the sweaty skin of Alec’s shoulder blade and attempts to remember what it feels like to breathe.
Even when they both roll to the side, Alec refuses to let go of his hand. And it makes for an awkward position, his arm pulled over and wrapped under Alec as he pulls out of him and uses his magic to clean them up as best he can. But his heart is thundering in his chest, beating in time to the strong pulse he can feel where he is pressed to Alec’s back, and so the discomfort of their embrace is of little consequence to him.
He almost laughs when he realizes what this is, how this is only the beginning, the starting line of a life they have agreed to somehow share with one another. And as he lets his magic unspool from around the spark, now flashing stronger than he has ever felt it, he allows himself a few fleeting moments to imagine what that might be like.
Sixty years, give or take, just like this.
“I thought gray wasn’t a style,” Alec asks what could be either minutes or hours later, his voice sleepy as he presses a soft kiss to Magnus’ wrist and curls into the rather bland sheets Magnus had chosen especially for him.
“That it was barely even a color?”
Magnus laughs. It’s light and quiet, but it feels like the world to him as he says, “Somehow, it has managed to grow on me.”
“I’m glad you’re finally open to my suggestions, because I had some ideas for the rest of the loft.”
Magnus laughs again, twice in a row like that is something he is all of a sudden capable of as he trails his lips gently over the back of Alec’s neck. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, darling. I will allow you to finish off the guest room, but I make no promises about the rest of the space.”
“Zoe’s room, too,” he says, and Magnus actually bucks at that, given how serious his tone sounds.
“Why Zoe’s room?”
“Because she’s not six years old, Magnus, and unicorns are terrible.”
His third laugh is more of a snort than an actual laugh, but it feels just as good as the previous two as he asks, “Are you trying to tell me that I did not do a good job of decorating her previous bedroom?”
“Let’s just say that at least the fire served one good purpose.”
Magnus pulls his hand free of Alec’s so that he can roll him over, pin him to the bed and kiss him senseless, exactly the way Catarina had half predicted. And he doesn’t even care that Alec just technically called his decorating tacky because sometimes the retaliation can be worth it.
And this is. All of this is incredibly worth it. Every struggle, every misery, every pain that they’ve experienced from the moment Zoe was placed in their lives has been worth it simply because it has brought them here. And as far as places go, here is, as Alec would say, pretty freaking terrific.
Ah! So I wanted to first just thank every single one of you lovely people for reading, commenting, meta-ing, and just being incredibly awesome. I'm so super new to this fandom, and everyone has just been so wonderful and welcoming and I can't say enough how much I love you all!
And second, I wanted to say that there will be a third story in this verse. I always sort of wanted to go that way, with the third one focusing plot-wise on the battle with Valentine, and as I got closer to the end of this one, the plot just started exploding in my head. So it's coming. I will probably take a short break to figure out the plot a bit more concretely, and to freak out over the start of the new season (OMG THREE MORE DAYS YOU GUYS HOLY CRAP), but I will be back. And I hope you all will be too!