of men and angels
archetype: the hanged man; major arcana: the moon (reversed), strength, the magician
Alec is used to keeping his focus. It’s second nature to not let his thoughts drift to unattainable wants, to not let his eyes wander to untouchable things. And while it’s true that it’s impossible to not be aware of Magnus Bane’s presence, it’s something that Alec had been able to compartmentalize and tuck away that first night at Pandemonium – and then later, in the chaos of summoning the memory demon.
But tonight is different. Tonight – tonight there are no other thoughts for Alec to distract himself with when he thinks about Magnus’ chiding finger stopping just shy of Alec’s lips. Tonight, the will that governs Alec’s body has been robbed and he can’t tear his gaze away from the sharp jut of the Adam’s apple moving at Magnus’ throat. The sweep of gold under his eyes, catching in the light. The way he cradles the glass of whiskey in his hands, effortlessly elegant.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
Magnus’ voice jars Alec back to himself. He blinks, and the world is more than Magnus once more. Alec registers the words Magnus has just spoken, takes in the way Magnus is looking at him – amused, intent, but with worry clearly lurking in the depths of his eyes – and says, “I’m fine.”
Magnus swans over to the couch, but to Alec’s relief he ends up sitting on the other end. Alec already feels hyperalert, on edge, an endless litany of, what the hell are you doing, Lightwood? running in an infinite loop in his head and he doesn’t know what he would do if Magnus had decided to situate himself closer.
But God – Alec wants him closer.
Magnus draws up his legs and folds them underneath him and Alec gets distracted, for a moment, with the newfound knowledge that it’s not just Magnus’ fingernails that are painted an inky black.
“It’s only that you gave me a lot of your strength earlier,” Magnus is saying. He frowns at the barely touched glass that Alec has set down on the table in front of him. It would have been Alec’s third drink of the night. Magnus murmurs, almost to himself, “Maybe I should've gotten some food in you before I started plying you with flaming martinis.”
“That was nothing,” says Alec. “Don’t worry about it.”
“That certainly wasn’t nothing, Alexander.”
“I don’t need anything,” repeats Alec. Magnus smiles at him, takes a sip of his drink and Alec feels unmoored once more. Clumsy, wrongfooted. His gaze drops down to his hands because as it turns out, he can look away from Magnus if it’s so that Magnus can’t look at him.
You’ve unlocked something in me, he had said, gazing up at Alec in such a manner that it was all Alec could do not to shy away, to say, stop, that’s dangerous, you shouldn’t – you shouldn’t let someone like me see you like this. But what does that mean? Why does Magnus even want him here? Why did Alec let himself stay when he knows that nothing will – that nothing can come out of this?
This is nothing but recklessness, Alec thinks, but it doesn’t stop him from drinking in the sight of Magnus pushing his hair out of his eyes, the way the tips of his fingers linger almost absently at the cuff clasped around the shell of his ear. From following the sharp line of Magnus’ jaw to the softer curve of his neck, to the hint of skin visible from the–
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Once again, Alec’s gaze snaps up to meet Magnus’. He feels his face heat up, and he has to clear his throat. When he speaks, his voice is mortifyingly raspy. “Nothing interesting.”
“Oh, I certainly don’t believe that.”
“Why’d you ask me to stay?” asks Alec abruptly.
Magnus looks surprised.
“I could swear we just had this conversation a few minutes ago.”
“I asked you a question a few minutes ago,” points out Alec. “But I didn’t – I didn’t understand the answer.”
For the first time, it’s Magnus that looks away.
“I don’t know how to explain it to you,” he admits. “Not when I don’t understand it myself. I suppose I wanted to get to know you better. Get to know you more. Figure out just what it is about you that–”
He cuts himself off, looking troubled. Alec is endlessly curious to find out how Magnus was going to finish that sentence – but there’s an equally strong part of him that shies away from it, doesn’t want to know what Magnus wants to know.
Instead, Alec addresses the other part of Magnus’ sentence. “There’s nothing to figure out. You already know all of it. I’m a shadowhunter. I’m a Lightwood. I’m the acting Head of the New York Institute.”
Magnus makes a small ‘tsk’ sound.
“Clearly I’ve got my work cut out for me if that’s what you think I want to know. You’re not exactly forthcoming, are you?”
“What does that mean?” asks Alec, defensive. “I just don’t have anything to say.”
“Hmm,” says Magnus thoughtfully. “You know what they say about still waters – but I digress. I’m not complaining, darling. I certainly love a challenge.”
“I’m not a challenge,” mutters Alec. Darling. Nobody’s ever called Alec anything like that. Something that’s so – tender. Sweet.
He doesn’t know what to do with it.
“But you are a mystery,” says Magnus, and the flirtation in his voice is unmistakable. It makes Alec’s skin feel stretched tight, makes a pleased flutter take form in his stomach and a guilty, exhilarated shiver race down his spine. The feeling only grows stronger when Magnus’ eyes light up as he adds, “And lucky me, I’ve got just the thing needed to figure you out.”
“What?” asks Alec, alarmed. That doesn’t sound good at all. Magnus puts down his drink and, with a snap of his fingers, summons something in his hands.
“Tarot cards,” says Alec, unimpressed. He frowns at the worn, faded deck that Magnus places on the table. “Do you really believe this stuff? That it can tell your future?”
“This craft is less about divining the future and more about... getting perspective on the present,” corrects Magnus. “Would it really be too much trouble to indulge your newest – and by my guess, only – warlock friend in a harmless hobby?”
“This is a hobby?”
“I am a complex man with many passions and interests,” says Magnus and again, something about his tone has Alec flushing. He smiles winningly at Alec. “Does that mean you’re in?”
There’s absolutely nothing about Alec’s response that could have suggested that and yet Alec finds himself huffing in laughter and saying, “Uh, sure, I guess. Go for it.”
The delighted look on Magnus’ face is so–
Alec has to look away again.
“So,” he says, clearing his throat. “How does this work?”
“Magic,” says Magnus with a wink, and doesn’t seem abashed when Alec gives him a flat look. “There’s no real science to it, and I’m too impatient to study it in the depth it would require to really understand the intricacies of the minor arcana. We’ll to something simple with just the majors – a modified three card spread, I think.”
The explanation made no sense to Alec and he warily watches Magnus banish three quarters of the deck away. “Okay.”
Shaking his head almost fondly, Magnus places a card face-down on the sofa cushion in front of Alec.
“This first one will be the archetype,” he explains. “It will represent you who you are right now and your place in the world around you. The next three,” continues Magnus, placing three more cards one sofa, all in a neat row. The one in the center perfectly aligns with the ‘archetype’ card Magnus had put down. “These will show something you know to be true about your present, something unknown to you that is true about your present, and something about your future.”
He looks up at Alec through his lashes, mischief lurking in the corners of his eyes. “Still want to indulge me?”
Rolling his eyes, Alec says, “Well, you did go through all that trouble of laying them out.”
“So thoughtful,” teases Magnus, but it’s so gentle that it almost doesn’t seem like a joke. It can’t be anything else, though. “We need one last thing,” he continues. “A question. It will help guide the reading, though it is still possible to have one without. Tell me, Alexander – what exactly is your soul yearning to know?”
The response comes to the tip of his tongue so quickly, so easily, that Alec almost chokes in trying to swallow the words back down: What exactly is going on here? Between you and me?
Magnus must correctly interpret the look on Alec’s face because he says, “You don’t have to tell me, though it will make it somewhat harder to interpret the results.”
“Isn’t this one of those things where you see whatever you want to see in the cards?”
“We’re about to find out,” says Magnus, waving his arm in a sweeping motion above the cards.
Alec watches with fascination as the cards glow a tempered blue, and even though this whole thing is probably Magnus having fun with him and Alec being too flustered to do anything about it – he finds that his breath has caught in his chest as Magnus reaches forward with those slender fingers and flips the archetype over.
“Ah,” says Magnus delicately. “The hanged man.”
Staring at the bleak drawing on the card in front of him, Alec dryly asks, “Does that mean death?”
“The archetype is supposed to represent you, as a person,” reminds Magnus. “Though this isn’t something set in stone. A person is dynamic and changes over time – I must have hit all twenty-two at one point or another over the last few centuries. The hanged man means – restriction. Feeling like there’s no way out. It can also mean an impending decision. Waiting for judgment.”
“I see,” says Alec evenly, even as his ears start to burn and his heartbeat accelerates in his chest. This is all bullshit, he reminds himself. Magnus is just guessing based on what he knows, or thinks he knows, about Alec – but that’s an even more frightening prospect than an ancient magic that could know, somehow, the truths that Alec will never speak.
Alec clears his throat and says, “Those are a lot of different meanings.”
“It also often means a drastic change in how you see the world,” says Magnus, voice soft. “Rarely, it can represent a willing sacrifice. Martyrdom.”
Alec stares down at the single card long after Magnus’ words trail off and he suddenly wonders if this was a good idea. If he wants to know what the other cards hold.
The second the thought occurs to him, however, Alec scowls. None of this is real.
“Okay,” he says. Alec picks up his long forgotten martini and downs it in one go. He nods at the other cards. “I think we all know where this is going. Let’s get this over with. What do the other ones show?”
Magnus hesitates for a moment, but swiftly flips the remaining three cards over when Alec glares at him unflinchingly.
If Magnus thinks Alec is freaked out by what is essentially Magnus making some educated guesses via glorified playing cards, he has another think coming.
“The moon in reverse,” says Magnus thoughtfully, reading off the first one. “What you know to be true about the present. Anxiety, disillusionment, fear.”
As Alec’s glare grows more ferocious, Magnus quickly moves on to say, “Followed by strength! What you don’t know to be true about yourself in the present.”
Magnus sounds almost relieved, and in an encouraging voice continues, “Strength usually goes hand in hand with resilience of spirit. Courage, and fortitude. Well, I don’t know why you wouldn’t know this about yourself, Alexander, when I figured this out within the first five minutes of meeting you.”
Alec rolls his eyes, crossing his arms across his chest. Wryly, he says, “Nice save.”
Magnus has obviously engineered this for maximum drama, but Alec still can’t stop his cheeks from growing warm. He supposes others might look at shadowhunters as brave, for living a life of service. It’s what they were born to do, though – to give their lives in this eternal war against evil. To train the next generation to carry on the fight. For Alec, it’s just a fact of life and yes – he’ll fight to extend this life of his, fight to prolong the lives of his family, his fellow warriors, but at the end of the day they all know where their paths are headed.
And yet, the way Magnus had said it so easily, so casually – as though this was a quality unique to Alec alone – it makes Alec think he’s missing something. Something he isn’t yet ready to investigate.
“I’m just the messenger here,” Magnus is saying. “Or perhaps ‘interpreter’ would be the better term.”
“All right then, interpret the last card for me. The – oh, come on.” Alec stares at the final card and resists the urge to smile at Magnus’ brazenness. If Alec had any doubts about this being something other than Magnus messing with him, it’s put to rest now. “The magician? You’re clearly rigging this.”
Magnus, who had been frowning down at the spread, looks up to meet Alec’s gaze with a beatific smile. “Ah, you’ve caught me.”
He doesn’t even look ashamed about it. This time, Alec lets himself smile.
“Well, go on then,” says Alec. “What does that mean? Other than what you’re obviously trying to hint at.”
“The magician represents many things,” responds Magnus, a little distractedly. “It means the ability to create. It means skill and effort, using creative means to achieve your goals... though having a handsome warlock in your future is the meaning you should be the most interested in.”
“Right,” says Alec, shaking his head. What exactly is going on here? Between you and me? For a second there, Alec had almost– but that had just been silly.
He picks up the tarot of the hanged man.
Restriction, Magnus had said. Waiting for judgment.
There’s a world outside of this place that Alec has forgotten about over the last little while. The world that Alec belongs to. The world that’s waiting for Alec’s return – an upset mother, an increasingly irresponsible parabatai, and a madman looking for a relic of unimaginable power.
“I should go,” says Alec at last, placing the card back down. “Thanks, for – well, thanks. It’s been–”
“Alexander,” Magnus interrupts gently. “Do you really want to go?”
It’s not a matter of what Alec wants. “I have to.”
“That wasn’t my question.”
Alec knows that the whole reading was a fun game for them both – that anyone can find meaning in any card that popped up. And yet Alec can’t help but wonder if another interpretation of the magician is simply just – magic. Something grand and powerful, something inexplicable. Something terrifying. Something close to what’s clawing at Alec’s chest just now.
Somehow, under the soft, muted lights of Magnus’ Bane’s loft, Alec finds the ability to say, “No,” even as the single word leaves him feeling raw, cracked open.
For an instant, Magnus looks shocked. And then he says, “Then stay. The world won’t be ending tonight, I think.”
He conjures another drink, directly into Alec’s hand.
With a dry throat, Alec says, “I guess I can do worse than listen to a guy who can tell the future, huh?”
“That is very true,” says Magnus, laughing. His gaze is warm and magnetic, and Alec lets himself get reeled in close.
how are thou fallen
archetype: the star; major arcana: the wheel of fortune, the fool, the chariot
Magnus is sitting on one of the tall chairs around the kitchen counter and hasn’t stopped smiling at Alec for the last ten minutes. This also means that Magnus hasn’t stopped looking at Alec for the last ten minutes while Alec tries to read the instructions from Magnus’ old cookbooks and put together some pancakes.
“What?” asks Alec finally, when Magnus actually rests his elbows on the kitchen counter and rests his chin on his palms. “It can’t be this interesting watching me figure out how a flour sifter works,” he grumbles.
“You’d be surprised,” is Magnus’ easy response.
“I’m just intrigued, that’s all. That you insist on doing this when you’ve clearly never spent a minute in a kitchen in your whole life. Do you even know what you’re holding in your hand right now?”
Alec rolls his eyes, even though Magnus is right in that Alec has no experience doing this. There just never was a need – he always figured he’d live at the Institute, and at the Institute everyone has their parts assigned to them.
But if Alec’s going to start spending more time here – more time at a place that’s a home, Magnus’ home – then there are certain things he has to start figuring out. Things about being a person that he never expected to have to learn. Never expected that he would have a reason to.
Looking at Magnus’ face, still a little bleary from sleep with remnants of last night’s eyeliner – Alec’ definitely has a reason to.
“A whisk,” he replies to Magnus’ playful question. “Just because I’ve never done this before doesn’t mean I’m a total idiot.”
“Certainly not,” says Magnus. “You know I think you’re very clever. And a very fast learner. Especially with your fingers, as you’ve proven last night.”
“Did I, now,” says Alec dryly. He can’t quite tamp down the pleased grin that pulls at his mouth even as his face grows hot, can’t stop the happy little jump his heart makes.
Magnus’ gaze shifts away from warm and enters into the territory of searing.
He still doesn’t look away from Alec, absently drumming his fingertips against his cheek. Alec pauses his motion of stirring the batter, distracted by the fall of sunlight hitting the metal of Magnus’ rings.
“You did,” murmurs Magnus. “If I’m being perfectly honest, I could do with a bit of a reminder.”
If that’s what Magnus needs, then it’s Alec’s privilege to remind him. He puts down his mixing bowl so he can lean over the counter, tilt up Magnus’ chin with one hand and use the other to curl into Magnus’ messy hair before pulling him into a deep and thorough kiss.
God, thinks Alec, closing his eyes. How had he gone twenty-four years without knowing what it’s like to kiss this man?
Magnus sighs when they slowly part away.
“Can I convince you to abandon your foray into cooking and take this back into the bedroom?”
“No to the first part of that,” says Alec, pressing another quick peck to Magnus’ lips before getting back to work. “But yes to the second. After we eat.”
Groaning, Magnus says, “How about I just summon us something this morning?”
“You already summoned me the ingredients for this. Besides,” adds Alec. “I want to.”
Because really, that’s all there is to it, and Magnus quiets. “I want to,” repeats Alec, voice softer. “I just – I don’t know. It seems like the thing to do this morning, you know? Make you breakfast.”
This morning. By which Alec means the morning after the night before. Waking up to the red rays of the sun flooding through Magnus’ windows, the silk sheets of Magnus’ bed soft against his skin. Nothing in his mind except the wonder that Magnus strikes in him, the fervent way he had whispered Alec’s name. The memory of Magnus’ mouth and hands mapping his whole body burned into his mind along with the ravaged sounds from Magnus that Alec had somehow, amazingly, drawn out of him.
The thought of the molten gold eyes that Magnus had looked at him with throughout the night still has Alec’s toes curling against the cool tiles. How many times had Alec called him beautiful while they were in bed together? A stupid question, for which Alec already knows the answer: not enough, even if the number is more than a hundred. He’ll say it a hundred more times today, press the word onto every inch of Magnus skin until the truth of it binds to Magnus’ blood and carries to his heart before spreading out again to nourish the rest of him – that quiet, achingly raw part of himself that Magnus had revealed to Alec this morning, a part of Magnus Alec is determined to cherish and protect.
Breakfast is the least he can do to get started on that.
Alec looks up from the bowl when he realizes it’s been quiet for too long. Magnus has that look on his face again. The soft, smiley one.
“This isn’t going to get done if you keep that up,” warns Alec.
“Keep what up?”
“You know, your whole–” Alec gestures vaguely at Magnus’ face. “Eyes. Face. Looking at me.”
For someone getting threatened, Magnus looks immensely pleased to hear Alec’s words.
“Well, all right then,” says Magnus. “If you insist, I’ll turn my eyes and face elsewhere – though I can’t imagine anything that could possibly distract me from you.”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
Magnus’ eyes light up with mischief. Alec raises his eyebrows, only mildly concerned. He’s more concerned over making sure that the three flat griddles he has going on three separate stoves are the right temperature to start pouring the batter on to.
“Now that you mention it,” says Magnus, lazily waving a hand. In a flash of blue flames, a very familiar looking deck of cards appears on the counter. “It’s been some time since I’ve practiced divination. I’ll do another reading for you.”
“Be my guest,” says Alec, carefully pouring a ladle of batter on each of the three griddles. Curious, Alec asks, “Hey, you know the last time you did this – that night I stayed for drinks–”
“The night when the mystery of Alexander Lightwood ensnared me completely?” teases Magnus, and Alec huffs out in laughter. “How could I forget?”
“Hardly a mystery.”
“Mm, I think you’ll find that I disagree because it’s been weeks and I still haven’t quite figured you out.” Magnus seemingly finishes shuffling the deck, because he looks expectantly up at Alec and says, “All right. Do you have a question in mind?”
That’s right. Alec had a question.
“Is this tarot reading thing real?” he asks. “Because I definitely thought it was nonsense that first time and you didn’t correct me, but those cards–”
“Alexander,” says Magnus gently. “I think we both know what you were thinking that night, and why I didn’t say anything different.”
“Oh,” says Alec, not sure what to do with the confirmation.
He busies himself with flipping the first batch of pancakes over. Alec had suspected this, of course, even that first night. A lot of Magnus’ words had been almost uncomfortably revealing. No matter how astute Magnus has shown himself to be when it comes to Alec, even he couldn’t have known the extent of it.
And then everything else that had happened after–
“And I meant if you had a question you want an answer to, my dear,” Magnus’ voice cuts in, startling Alec back out of his thoughts.
He quickly removes the pancakes and replaces them with a new batch.
“Um, I don’t know if I want the answer to something specific. Now that I know this is real.”
“Perfectly reasonable. I’ll do a general reading then.” Just like before, he lays out one card separate from the row of three directly below it. “Do you remember how this works? The first is–”
“The archetype,” finishes Alec. “I remember. And then known present, unknown present, and then the future.” He taps the card he’s referring to as he speaks, leaving a tiny trace of flour on them.
“You were really paying attention, weren’t you?” asks Magnus. There’s something a little wondering about his voice. “Even then?”
Alec doesn’t bother deigning that with a response.
Clearing his throat, Magnus waves his arm over the cards and just like that night so many weeks ago now, the cards glow a soft blue. He says, “Do you want to do the honours?”
Feeling trepidation and not sure why, Alec flips the archetype over without any fanfare.
“The star,” reads Magnus, and he’s beaming. “How lovely.”
“Step up from the last guy, that’s for sure,” says Alec, relief running through him. After the unpromising beginning the last time, Alec wasn’t sure what to expect. “Why’s it different?”
“Because the archetype is supposed to represent who you are at this moment,” explains Magnus. “And the star stands for good things. Feelings of hope or faith, as though anything is possible. Peace and serenity. Sometimes it means having a clear direction, interpreted somewhat literally from sailors using the North Star as their compass. It can also indicate increased confidence and personal growth.”
Alec focuses on his pancakes. “Huh.”
“Any of this ringing a bell?”
He doesn’t seem to be looking for a response, but Alec has the answer ready: it does ring a bell, and the resonating echo is far too familiar. Alec feels aware of where his body ends and the rest of the world begins, of each individual hair suddenly standing on his body. It feels strange to think that through these cards, Magnus is glimpsing right into the core of Alec. Just like he had the last time.
But it’s – it’s okay. Alec is okay with this, he surprises himself by realizing. With Magnus knowing this. In fact, he thinks, suddenly, almost irrationally – he wants Magnus to know. Wants Magnus to come to the right conclusion that he’s a large part of why Alec is this way right now. The star.
Magnus is going forward and flipping through the rest.
“Ah, the present – the wheel of fortune. This usually means to be in control of your fate. Knowing what you want and pursuing it, even if the future is unknown. And since it’s the right side up – it also means good luck. Are you feeling lucky, Alexander?”
“Incredibly,” says Alec, perhaps too honest for the joking tilt to Magnus’ question. Magnus looks startled, but the surprise softens into something sweet. “Though I’ll probably reassess after trying one of these,” he adds, gesturing at the stack of six pancakes before getting started on his last batch of three.
“I’m sure it’ll be delightful,” says Magnus, picking up the wheel of fortune. “I am particularly fond of this card, you know,” he continues in a fond tone. “The night before I gatecrashed your wedding–”
“It’s a good story,” shushes Magnus. “I did a reading for myself that night, once I’d made up my mind on what I was going to do. And this card – this was in my future slot.”
Alec hadn’t known this.
“Yeah?” he asks uncertainly. “Good decision made, then?”
“The best,” confirms Magnus, and when he kisses the air in Alec’s general direction, Alec feels the cool press of lips against his cheek. “No doubt about it. Now, what’s next? The unknown – oh, how interesting. It’s the fool.”
“The fool?” repeats Alec, raising his eyebrows. “Should I be insulted?”
“Admittedly, not the best named card,” says Magnus. “But it has quite the charming meaning. The fool represents innocence and new beginnings. New experiences and growth. Sometimes it’s concurrent with – I suppose the term would be recklessness.” Alec frowns, and Magnus further explains, “It’s the lack of fear that comes from not knowing the consequences. The possible negative outcomes.”
Alec mulls this over in his head. “I guess that makes sense.”
“Potentially,” adds Magnus delicately, “it could also be referring to the pancakes that are starting to smoke in the griddles.”
“Wh– shit,” swears Alec, rushing to salvage the last part of their breakfast while Magnus laughs and laughs. “Oh, be quiet and finish your reading.”
“Is this the kind of bossiness I should expect when we pick things back up again tonight?” Alec glares at him as he scrapes the burnt batter into the compost. Six pancakes for the two of them should be enough, right? Alec had been kind of aggressive with the sizes of the first batch, and before getting the idea to make these he’d already rifled through the fridge and pulled out five different types of berries that are waiting to be rinsed.
“All right, all right,” says Magnus. “Last card – the future for you, my dear Alexander, holds the chariot. The chariot usually indicates strength, determination. Victory that comes from great effort and perseverance.”
“It’s what I’ll need to get these stupid pans clean,” mutters Alec. It does make him think though – of how other than Magnus, everything else in his life seems to be slipping through his fingers.
It’s almost easy – though not quite – to forget that the Institute is no longer his and is going in a direction Alec doesn’t agree with. Then there’s Izzy, who’s been stressed and the toll of taking those special projects from Aldertree clear in the circles under her eyes. Jace, who is spiralling, drifting further and further from Alec’s grasp and this isn’t to get started on his mother, who he hasn’t spoken to since she’d returned to Idris after giving him the order to bring in Jace, her son and Alec’s parabatai.
Gently, Magnus says, “If this spread is to be believed, Alexander, you have everything in your disposal to achieve victory. Whatever that means for you.”
Alec considers this. What does victory mean for him?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a facet of the answer comes to him easily enough.
“For this morning, it can mean getting you to admit I’m an expert in the kitchen,” says Alec at last, removing the cards from the counter to clear the space for a plate in front of Magnus. “Or at least have the potential to be.”
He hopes Magnus understands what Alec is trying to say through these words. The atmosphere in the loft is far too light and hopeful to pull it down with the weight of what is in Alec’s heart.
And if Magnus doesn’t understand now, then Alec will make sure that one day soon he does, with the right words to accompany it.
Humming a little to himself, Magnus says, “That effort and perseverance will be key toward become the next Master Chef, I think.”
“Well,” says Alec. “I’ve always been pretty short on natural talent, but that stuff I’ve got in spades.” Passing a knife and fork to Magnus he says, “You can be my first judge, then, and give me your verdict.”
a problem of memory
archetype: the chariot; major arcana: judgment, the wheel of fortune (reversed), the tower
When they had gone to bed yesterday, Magnus had been exhausted.
“You should go back to the Institute,” he had said, head resting heavily on Alec’s shoulder and absently playing with the fraying threads on Alec’s jeans. “You might have a dissent in your hands if you end up spending five nights in a row here.”
Magnus had that tone though – the one that implied he wanted the exact opposite of what he was saying – and even if he didn’t, there’s no way Alec was going to leave him alone after the talk they had. After what Magnus revealed to him. The pain that he’d suffered in his young life, forced to relive it because of Valentine.
Because of Alec.
“That’s tomorrow’s concern,” Alec had said. “Right now, all of me is for you.”
It hadn’t even been a matter of weighing options, Alec’s choice so ludicrously clear in his head. There are certain priorities that aren’t negotiable and making sure Magnus knew that Alec was there as he fell asleep and would be there when he woke up is one of them. And last night Magnus had been so emotionally exhausted that it had resulted in him falling into a deep sleep – finally, perhaps for the first time all week. Alec had stayed up afterward, dealing with as many problems as he could via phone and email and ensuring Magnus wasn’t disturbed.
Alec fully expects to wake up with Magnus still fast asleep – so when he slowly comes into awareness and reaches out to Magnus’ side of the bed, he frowns when his arm just plops down onto the sheets instead.
“I’m here, Alexander,” comes Magnus’ quiet voice, and when Alec finally blinks open his dry, gritty eyes, he sees that Magnus is sitting up on the bed. He’s by Alec’s knees, and like Alec, he’s still in last night’s clothes.
When Alec makes another confused noise, Magnus runs a soothing – if absent – hand over Alec’s shins above the blanket. Alec forces himself to sit up as well, wincing at the sunlight.
“Hey,” he greets, voice still rough. “What’re you doing up so early?”
“A lot on my mind, I suppose,” murmurs Magnus. When Alec grasps his shoulder to provide some comfort, Magnus finally turns around to look at him and tries to give a brief smile. “Trying to sort it out.”
Alec leans in a bit more to see what Magnus is doing. In front of Magnus are his tarot cards, laid out in the same spread he usually does for Alec. Something aches in his chest as he recognizes the two cards in place for the present: strength in the slot for the known, and the hanged man, in the slot for the unknown.
Quietly, Alec asks, “Is it helping?”
“No,” says Magnus. “It’s making me more agitated, if anything.”
“Oh.” Alec rubs the sleep out of his eyes, crawls out of the blanket so he can sit cross-legged beside Magnus. “What’s it saying?”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“It’s the sun in reverse,” says Magnus shortly. “It means... well, the worst possible interpretation is depression. The best would be having a difficult time finding perspective. I guess the good news is that the sun is never a bad omen and it’s usually temporary. And then the other ones–”
“I know the other ones,” says Alec softly. “Are these cards showing stupid results, or is this really how you’re feeling?”
The way Magnus purses his mouth and looks away, Alec has his answer.
His heart feeling too big for his chest, Alec leans in and presses his mouth to Magnus temple. Magnus grasps his hand in response, squeezes it too tight as he holds on.
“I don’t know if what I said yesterday got through to you,” starts Alec slowly, “and if it didn’t, then I’ll keep saying it until it does. Whatever it is that you’re going through, you have me. I love you, Magnus. There’s nothing in you, or about you, that scares me. That would turn me away. I’m here to stay – so whatever you need, you tell me, and I’ll do that for you. Be that for you.”
Magnus is taking deep, controlled breaths as he listens to Alec talk and once Alec finishes, he doesn’t start speaking right away.
Alec waits, knowing full well what a painful, rigorous process it is to try and translate the storm of thoughts inside him into words that can be formed into the clumsy, spoken language of the tongue.
“When I did it for myself yesterday morning,” says Magnus at last, “the archetype I kept getting was the hermit. Always, always in reverse.”
“Is that really bad?”
“It’s very lonely,” admits Magnus. “Just having you here has made all the difference, Alexander. Talking to you last night and – and how you accepted everything I said–”
He cuts himself off, and Alec lifts their joined hands so he can kiss Magnus’ knuckle and says, “Always.”
Visibly pulling the still fraying ends of himself together, Magnus asks, “Would it be all right if I did a reading for you?”
“I just – I can’t help but think there’s something ominous about my reading. Almost everything I’ve been getting lately has been in reverse. It troubles me, and you – you’re the whole of my heart, Alexander. I just want to make sure.”
“Of course,” says Alec, the words scratching against his throat. As though he would ever deny Magnus this. “Go for it.”
Magnus kisses him in thanks and goes to shuffle the cards together. Curiously, Alec asks, “I don’t think I ever saw that last card before. The one at the end, for the future. Is that also stressing you out?”
Freezing only for an instant, Magnus says, “Yes, but it’s not the only one. I can’t make full sense of the hanged man, either.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Maybe after I do yours,” says Magnus, laying out the spread in front of Alec. “Do you have a question before I start?”
It’s out of Magnus’ love and concern for Alec that he wants to do this reading. Cognizant of it, Alec says, “Yeah. I guess–”
His, whatever it is you want to know about me, and us, never makes it out because Magnus says, “Don’t – don’t tell me. I want to lay out all the options for you without being biased, looking for the answers I want.”
“Okay,” says Alec, and Magnus flicks his wrist as he always does, sets the cards aglow in blue fire.
Alec goes to flip the archetype over.
“The chariot,” he reads. “We know what that one stands for. I got that last time, in the omen for the future.”
“Yes,” says Magnus, looking relieved. “Yes, you did.”
“Let me be the interpreter this time, in context of the question you didn’t want me to tell you,” says Alec. “I’m in love with you, and that means every ounce of effort I have in me is yours. I’ll keep doing what I can to be what you need, and if I fall short then I’ll keep learning to be better. I’m not going to stop.”
“Alexander–” Magnus looks like he doesn’t know how to finish that sentence.
“That’s what the chariot meant here,” says Alec. “Flip the other ones over.”
Unfortunately, Alec finds that he doesn’t know the meaning of the rest.
“The known present,” says Magnus, his voice shaking a little. “Judgment. Usually represents resolution. Strength in conviction. It’s also associated with feelings of absolution and acceptance. Justice, forgiveness, patience.”
“Well,” says Alec, glad that the mystical forces of the universe knows the truth that’s been ringing in Alec’s soul since Magnus revealed the most carefully guarded secret about himself last night. “I think that one’s clear enough.”
The baffled wonder on Magnus’ face fades away though as he starts on the other two. “The wheel of fortune in reverse. That’s bad luck. Usually a poor outcome of a decision, sometimes due to outward forces. It’s at the bottom of the cycle of life. It goes hand in hand with the last card. The tower.”
Taken aback, Alec says, “I – I don’t know what that could mean.”
Magnus almost doesn’t seem to hear him. “The tower means catastrophe. Complete upheaval of the world you know.”
“Magnus–” starts Alec, not liking the deep frown on Magnus’ face. “I’m sure – I’m sure it’s fine.”
When Magnus doesn’t respond, Alec repeats his name again. “Magnus?”
Something about Alec’s tentativeness must reach Magnus’ ears because he suddenly looks up and says, “Oh, my goodness. I’m so sorry, Alexander. I didn’t mean to alarm you. I don’t know why I – this card isn’t all doom and gloom. The tower also represents beginnings, in a way. The destruction of the old that must come to pass before it can give way to something better. Something new. So you shouldn’t–”
“Don’t worry about that,” says Alec, because at the end of the day this isn’t even about Alec. “You know I still at least fifty percent think this is fake.”
This invokes a short, almost affronted laugh from Magnus. Carefully, Alec asks, “Are you sure that you’re okay?”
“Yes, I’m – I’m fine. Thank you, Alexander, for letting m–”
“Magnus,” says Alec slowly, twining Magnus’ ringed fingers with his own. “I think I should interpret this tower for you.”
There’s something brittle around Magnus’ eyes that Alec doesn’t like and if there’s anything Alec has learned about this man he loves more than life, it’s that right now – right now the worst possible outcomes are running through his mind.
When Magnus doesn’t respond right away, Alec takes that as implicit confirmation.
“What this means,” says Alec, “is that the world can end and start again, and I’ll be right here with you.”
“Alexander,” says Magnus, and his eyes are bright and liquid. He blinks away the wetness. “That’s not how this–”
“That’s exactly what this means,” argues Alec. “That first time you did this for me, you said – you said that my question should guide what I see. And that everything goes back to that first card. The archetype. Whatever disaster’s coming – I’m not going to stop trying. Not about anything, but especially – especially not about you. Do you believe me?”
It takes Magnus a moment to respond, but when he does, he says, sounding almost shocked by his own response– “Yes,” he breathes. “Yes, I believe you.”
“Good,” says Alec, and reaches forward to cradle the side of Magnus’ face. “Good, because I love you, and that’s the truth.”
Alec’s phone buzzes beside him.
“It’s Izzy,” says Alec after a quick check. “I have to go supervise Valentine’s transfer to Idris.”
“You should be there,” says Magnus. This time he does sound like he means it, although the tiredness hasn’t left his voice. He presses his cheek against Alec’s palm. “Go, Alexander. Get that man out of our city and into the Clave’s tender love and care.”
Alec wasn’t planning on asking, didn’t want Magnus to have to worry about any duty except that to himself. But something about Magnus’ voice, thinking back to last night and then to the nights preceding, all the way to the night that started Magnus down this path–
Very gently, he asks, “Do you want to come with me?”
Startled, Magnus asks, “What?”
“We’ll need someone to open the portal to Alicante,” says Alec. “We have another warlock on standby if you don’t feel up to it, but I just – I wanted to ask. If you wanted to come. If it would help you in any way, to be the one to send Valentine off to face justice. Or to just be there, witnessing it.”
“Alicante isn’t justice, Alexander,” says Magnus softly.
“I know,” says Alec, and he hates it, hates that this is all that they can do. “Even death wouldn’t be justice, and you know – you know that if it didn’t turn out to be you inside his body, I would have stood back and let it happen.”
Even though the memory of that night in the holding cell, Magnus almost dying because of Alec will consume him with fear and regret for as long as he lives, there is no denying that there is a part of Alec that understood a sliver of the blind rage that had been in the Inquisitor.
And Alec has never backed away from taking responsibility of his actions.
“For everything that he did to Jace, to Madzie, for everyone that died in the Institute that night with the sword – I would have let him die. It didn’t matter that it was outside the legal system that I was – am – honour bound to protect. And after everything that happened to you, everything you endured by my hand – even if Luke and the Cabinet didn’t want Valentine executed, I would have pushed for it anyway.”
Magnus stares at Alec, and Alec doesn’t look away. The ugliness inside Alec is something Magnus has seen firsthand. He’d been the victim of it, even, had almost paid the ultimate price because of it. Magnus doesn’t have to find it beautiful. Magnus doesn’t find it acceptable and that’s – that’s okay. Lightwoods break noses and accept the consequences. Lightwoods almost kill the man they love and accept the consequences.
That’s a truth that Alec has been living with, and will continue to do so. Alec’s mistakes have costs that are wide-reaching. When Alec has errors of judgment, he pays the price for it. Alec knows he isn’t like Magnus, who even at his worst is better than Alec at his best. He isn’t a patchwork of transgression after transgression, composed more out of the lessons learned from failure than lessons learned from success. Alec’s crimes are not a product of his heritage so much as it is a manifestation of his endless list of deficits. He hasn’t received forgiveness for those crimes and he doesn’t want it.
But Magnus. There is no crime that Magnus can commit that Alec wouldn’t forgive while Magnus struggles to forgive himself. There had been nothing but truth in his words when he’d told Magnus there was nothing about him that wasn’t beautiful – that Magnus’ is so singularly, incomparably good and compassionate that mistakes can’t mar the wholeness of it.
Feeling unmoored and untethered and knowing exactly why, Alec tries to rein himself back and say, “So if you want to be the one to send Valentine off to face the only justice he’s going to get in this world – if that’ll help in any way – then come with me.”
Magnus continues to stare at Alec, but his mind is clearly a thousand miles away. Alec lets him think, hopes that Magnus believes him when he says that there is no wrong answer.
Alec can see the exact moment Magnus comes back to himself: his gaze gets sharp and the air around him shifts into something resolute. It’s a change that is subtle, but it nonetheless shifts the world under Alec’s feet. The tower, he thinks. The destruction of the old that must come to pass before the beginning of something better. Something new.
Except that had been in Alec’s path.
“Okay,” says Magnus. When he gives one last squeeze of Alec’s hand, Alec finds the vague worry that was starting to form in his head slip away. “Yes, I’ll come with you.”
beside still water
archetype: the hermit; minor arcana: two of cups (reverse), seven of pentacles, four of swords, ten of wands
Alec is on page forty-two of The Era of the First Angel when Magnus stumbles into the living room, looking alert but charmingly sleep tousled. He's wrapped up in a deep burgundy dressing gown that only goes up to his knees. He looks like he’s walked out of every fantasy Alec has had in the last few weeks, whenever Alec had a free moment to press the bruise Magnus’ absence had left behind.
It’s almost a shock, to find that that same ache start to take form in Alec’s chest even now.
“Hey,” says Magnus, voice quiet and rough from his broken sleep. “What’re you doing up?”
“Couldn’t stop thinking,” says Alec, a useless non-answer which is obvious given that he’s awake and curled up at the arm of Magnus’ sofa with a three thousand page textbook. He’s in nothing but his underwear and the blanket he’d appropriated from the guest room and only brings out an arm whenever he has to turn a page, unwilling to let the pocket of warmth he’s created be compromised.
Normally Alec would be passed out within minutes of such a fervent bout of sex, with sated muscles and a perfectly peaceful state of mind. Magnus would tease him about it mercilessly the next morning, about how “clean up duty” should be a shared chore – but tonight was different. Alec's senses kept tuning into every little thing, his thoughts noisy despite not being able to focus on any one thing. When it had gone past three and Alec still found sleep to be elusive, he secured the comforter around Magnus’ warm, vulnerable body before dragging himself out of bed.
It hasn’t even been an hour yet and here Magnus is, taking slow steps toward the sofa.
“Why didn’t you wake me up?” he asks, and the words are light but Alec can’t help but notice that he sounds slightly put out. “I could’ve kept you company.”
“Uh,” says Alec, blinking in confusion. “Because it was three in the morning and I wasn’t going to bug you just because I’m still wired after everything that happened last night. Thought I’d catch up on my reading.”
“Ah, I see.”
Magnus has his arms folded across his chest, and it occurs to Alec that he must be cold in the dressing gown. The hair on Magnus’ bare legs is standing from the chill.
“You look like you’re freezing,” scolds Alec, putting away the book and gesturing Magnus closer. “C’mere.”
This makes Magnus smile as he bridges the remaining distance toward Alec.
“You do look very cozy.”
“This is a good blanket.” Alec braces himself for the cold when he opens up said blanket to let Magnus crawl inside, the shock of it causing him to wince. It’s worth it though to have Magnus press up against him a second later, settling himself against Alec’s side and tugging the blanket around the two of them again. Alec closes his eyes, tips his head back and tries to will away the beginnings of a headache.
There’s no way he’s going to survive work tomorrow, he thinks. Not unless he has wakefulness and stamina and hell, even the rune for increased balance activated for–
He loses his train of thought when Magnus puts a tentative arm over his stomach, fingertips grazing Alec’s side right above the waistband of his boxers.
Alec shivers, and Magnus rests his warm palm more firmly at Alec’s hip. His rings burn cold against Alec’s skin.
“Why don’t you have any clothes on? Not that I’m complaining, mind you.”
“Wasn’t sure where they ended up,” admits Alec. “And I’m pretty sure you incinerated my only pair of pants here, so you have to portal me home in the morning.”
“Your only–” starts Magnus, sounding playfully indignant before suddenly coming to a halt. Clearing his throat, he says, “Of course I’ll portal you back, Alexander. What kind of gentleman do you take me for?”
Alec huffs out in laughter. His eyes are still closed, and he focuses on Magnus’ voice and the shapes he is tracing on Alec’s thighs.
“Would a gentleman do what you were doing to me a couple hours ago?”
“Absolutely,” answers Magnus. “If the gentleman was a skilled and generous lover.” Softer, Magnus says, “Who wanted to show the – the unwisely bold and tenderhearted man he loves just how much he is desired and how much he has been missed. How much he is cherished.”
He opens his eyes, turns to look at Magnus – who is resolutely looking ahead of him and away from Alec, a frown present in between his eyebrows. Sometime in the last few seconds, Magnus has stopped running his hand absently over Alec’s legs and it’s now out of the blanket, playing with the cuff at his ear.
Magnus is so close. He is almost too close, but there is something faraway about him and all at once Alec is finding it hard to breathe. There’s no way he can talk right now, respond to what Magnus just said. If Magnus wants him to then he is in for a world of disappointment – not that that would be new for him.
But Magnus must not want Alec to say anything because he quietly continues, “When I woke up just now and didn’t find you there, I thought – I don’t know. That I got wasted and passed out and made the whole evening up in my head. It would make more sense than it to have actually happened."
“What?” says Alec, voice hoarse. There is suddenly a tightness to his throat. “Why?”
Magnus doesn’t answer immediately.
“Because it was too easy,” he says at last, and Alec has no idea what to do with that. “I wasn’t – I wasn’t expecting it to be that easy.”
“I don’t understand,” says Alec. “What was so easy?”
Magnus starts to say, “Getting–” but then he stops, and instead says, “Making up.”
“What?” asks Alec. “That wasn’t – I don’t think it was that simple,” and the more confused he gets the more stifled he feels. He can’t have this conversation without being able to look at Magnus. The little alcove of warmth he had made feels more and more oppressive, and almost without conscious thought he finds himself opening up the edge of the blanket and stepping out into the cold of the living room.
Immediately Alec regret his decision, shuddering as goosebumps erupt across his body. Why doesn’t Magnus have temperature control in this place? he thinks, and it’s much easier to be grumpy about that than to think about how exposed he is, how foolish he feels for standing in the middle of Magnus' loft like this.
Alarmed, Magnus says, “Alexander, what are you doing?”
“I can’t talk to you when you’re not looking at me,” says Alec, and Magnus purses his lips together. With a wave of his hand, he summons a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt for Alec, straight from his dresser at the Institute. He also summons the blanket from the bed.
“Thanks,” says Alec, pulling on the clothes and wrapping the blanket around himself. Momentarily, he gets lost in Magnus’ scent, still lingering on the fabric. He takes a seat on the coffee table in front of Magnus and this line of sight gives Alec perfect view of Magnus’ face. Which is why he sees that Magnus’ expression twists, flinches – does something. “What do you mean it was easy, Magnus?”
“I forgot that you’re not like other people,” says Magnus, and he sounds almost – sad. “I just – I just thought it would be harder for me, is all.”
Alec doesn’t know how he can possibly respond to that. If everything that had happened was easy then Alec doesn’t think he could’ve handled it if it was harder for Magnus to let go of the anger and betrayal he had felt at Alec’s wrongdoings.
Unbidden, Alec is reminded of the confusion in the first few seconds he had felt in the mornings before everything came rushing back. The remnants of those sweet, barely remembered dreams giving way to the ache of that ever present bruise that he just couldn’t stop himself from prodding at. A reminder and a useless repentance.
At last, Alec says, “I don’t know what you want me to say, Magnus. I don’t want it to be harder for you to forgive me.”
Magnus, who had been staring at the general vicinity of Alec’s neck, snaps his head up so he can meet Alec’s gaze.
“What?” Magnus is staring at Alec in disbelief.
“I heard what you said,” says Magnus and Alec can’t describe the look on his face. Like he’s never seen Alec before in his life. Like the breath has been knocked out of him. “I was – I wasn’t talking about me, Alexander. I was talking about you.”
Frowning, Alec says, “What do you mean you were talking about me.”
“I mean how easy it was for you to take me back,” says Magnus slowly, still staring at Alec like Alec is some strange creature he doesn’t understand instead of someone whose soul Magnus has learned and explored in painstaking detail. “I mean that I wasn’t expecting you to come find me tonight. I definitely wasn’t expecting to you to come back with me and just. I don’t know. I thought I’d be going home and licking my wounds and trying to figure out how to convince you to give me another chance, and–”
“Why are you talking like this?” interrupts Alec. “You didn’t – you didn’t do anything, Magnus.”
“Alexander,” he says, and he sounds uncomfortable. Upset. “I did. I’m not – I’m not like you. It’s not easy for me to admit to my mistakes. So please just believe me when I say that I wouldn’t be saying any of this if it wasn’t true.”
It’s not that simple. “I still don’t get it – what exactly do you think you did?”
Magnus swallows, his Adam’s apple moving in his throat.
“I treated you poorly,” he says, closing his eyes. “God, even saying the words feels like – like shards in my mouth. I did a lot of things that I’m not proud of, Alexander, things that with the grace of hindsight I see was made with clouded judgement. But what I regret the most is how I was to you.”
That sheds some light on what Magnus is saying.
“Magnus,” starts Alec. “Don’t worry about that. I had that coming. I let you down and deserved it. And it doesn’t even–”
“You didn’t deserve it,” interrupts Magnus, sharply. “Don’t say that.”
“It’s really, honestly all right,” says Alec. He doesn’t want to talk about this – Alec is about action, about learning from his mistakes and moving forward. Talking just makes everything worse, and Alec already feels like he’s being scraped raw having to think back to those horrible days when just hours ago he’d been welcomed back into Magnus’ arms and had sunk into the heat of him.
Alec has learned a hard truth about himself and this relationship. It’s not like he hasn’t known that he’s not in a position to make mistakes, and it’s not like Alec hasn’t always tried to be better when he realizes he’s made a misstep but the importance of it has only been emphasized when being faced with the aftereffects.
“It’s fine,” he repeats. “When someone does something wrong, there should be consequences. That’s how the world works. I think we both learned from this experience that intentions don’t matter and it’s – it’s fine. We can move on.”
Magnus looks lost for words.
“Whatever happened that you think I should care about – I don’t,” emphasizes Alec. “I love you. And I meant it when I said I can’t live without you. So I’ll try my best to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again, okay?”
Abruptly, Magnus gets to his feet. He shrugs off the blanket and walks over to his bookshelf, and Alec watches in bafflement as Magnus starts to rummage around, shoving aside the heavy volumes of encyclopedias.
Unsure about what just happened, Alec says, “Magnus. What’re you doing?”
“Trying to make sense of what’s happening,” is the snapped response Alec receives and before Alec can even process the sharp sting of it, Magnus is striding back toward Alec and kneeling down on the ground with a deck of very familiar cards in his hands.
Alec immediately knows what Magnus is trying to do.
“That’s not fair,” says Alec, his heart suddenly hammering in his chest. Until this very moment, Alec has never had such a reaction to seeing Magnus with his tarot cards. “You can’t – you can’t just do that.”
“I wouldn’t have to if I could understand what you were saying.”
“Then you should ask me more que– hey, stop that,” says Alec, frowning when he sees Magnus separating the deck in two. “What’s wrong with you? I just told you that I didn’t–”
“Alexander, please.” When Magnus finally meets Alec’s eyes – Alec can see that he’s truly anxious, something a little frayed about him. “Just this once and I promise you I’ll never read into you again. This will be the last time. But if I’m going to fix this, I need to understand what you’re thinking.”
“What don’t you understand? I’m telling you what I’m thinking,” says Alec, with an aching, frustrated heart. “And what d’you mean if you’re going to fix it? Fix what? I thought everything was okay now.”
But Magnus is shaking his head.
“Let me do this,” he says again and because Alec is a fool and has no instinct for self-preservation – not when it comes to someone he loves – he says around the lump in his throat, “Fine. Fine, if it’ll help you with whatever you’re going through, then fine.”
“Thank you,” says Magnus softly. “I promise I’m asking because I really think this will help.”
Alec doesn’t say anything because there’s nothing to say and eventually, Magnus looks away from him and starts to lay out the cards.
“I’m going to do something a little different today,” says Magnus, taking one card from the small deck and placing it face down where he would usually start with for the archetype. Then he goes for the bigger one, laying four cards down in a row. “We’ve never done the minor suits before but I’ve been learning it over the past little while and I’ve found that it’s helpful in getting insight on the present.”
“What’s different about them?”
“They’re both more specific and covers a broader range of areas,” says Magnus absently. “There’s the suit of cups which represent personal relationships and emotional landscape, and the suit of pentacles are your goals and achievements. Then there’s the sword suit, which is your intellect and mental state. Last are the wands: the world around you that you can influence.”
Alec wants to crack a joke about the likelihood of randomly having four different suits as the first four cards on the deck but Magnus doesn’t look like he’s in the mood for jokes and statistical probability doesn’t mean anything for the unknown magic of the universe.
Instead he just looks at Magnus, still kneeling on the ground by Alec’s feet. His gaze bores down at the five cards in front of him as though they are the map to the secret treasures of the universe instead of just a glimpse into Alec.
“Okay,” says Alec. “Let’s get started. Do I need a question?”
“No, no question,” says Magnus before Alec sees him physically brace himself. Alec wonders why Magnus is so – so tense, in a way that can’t be fully explained by their conversation so far. “We’ll just see what these say.”
The cards glow blue with Magnus’ magic before he flips over the archetype. “The hermit,” he says.
Alec waits, but when Magnus doesn’t elaborate, Alec asks, “Uh, is that good? Bad? What?”
“It’s complicated,” says Magnus evenly. “It represents introspection and self-discovery. Coming to terms with your circumstances, gaining clarity and understanding and being content with solitude.”
“I mean, that could describe me on a daily basis.”
“No, it doesn’t,” says Magnus, so firmly that it strikes Alec silent. “Especially not the last bit. You hate being alone if you don’t have to be.”
Alec shakes his head. He knows better than anyone that he’s not good at making connections with others, and admittedly a large portion of that is his own disinterest. Emotionally sustaining the few relationships he had had been difficult enough, and there were too much other commitments to his time even when he did as small. Lightwoods are groomed to be leaders, not people with friends. Unless it happens naturally and without Alec realizing it as it did with Jace, or unexpectedly and irrevocably as it did with Magnus, Alec has rarely forged new bonds outside those that have been handed to him.
Alec has never felt he’d been missing anything other than what was already out of his reach. He had a family, a parabatai and a best friend. People like Lydia at the Institute, who he liked and respected. Being by himself a lot didn’t mean that he didn’t have love in his life – Alec’s language of love is through words and actions, in providing acts of service. Not spending time every possible second of every day together.
“Before I started hanging out with you – I’d be alone for most of it. I’d train or study. Sometimes I was with Jace and Izzy, but we don’t always like doing the same things in our free time, y’know? It’s usually just you and I guess it’s true that we haven’t spent that much time lately. I’ve always been like this.”
“No,” says Magnus again, but he moves on to flip the other four cards. He’s so dismissive, wrapped up in his stupid cards that he isn’t listening at all to what Alec is saying.
Frustration claws at Alec’s throat as Magnus says, “Something’s different now. This isn’t your default archetype, Alexander. But this doesn’t mean anything without the minor–”
“Forget it,” interrupts Alec, getting up from the coffee table and depositing the blanket around him onto the sofa. He’s had enough of this. “I’m not doing this anymore. It’s almost four in the morning and it looks like you already decided you know what the answers are and me saying otherwise isn’t going to help, so. I’m just going to try to sleep again.”
“You know this is real, Alexander.” Magnus stands up too. He looks angry, upset, his jaw tense. “This isn’t some smoke and mirrors bullshit. You know what this is showing is real–”
“When did I say it wasn’t? I’m trying to tell you what it means!”
“Fine – then tell me what this means, Alexander.” He bends down to grab the left-most card from the table, presses it against Alec’s chest. “Two of cups, in reverse. Lack of harmony in personal relationships. Struggling to connect. Sometimes because of lack of trust, but it can also be because of unfinished business. Something you haven’t addressed. Difficulty in communication. A fundamental obstacle in a partnership. What the hell is this supposed to mean?”
“You’re something else,” says Alec, disbelieving. His anger catches alight in his core and slowly traveling outward.
Personal relationships. If Alec thinks about this critically, he knows that this doesn’t have to mean any one person, or any one relationship – this could potentially apply to Alec’s relationship with his mother, or even Jace. There are so many things they haven’t talked about, so eager to forgive each other and have things go back to something comfortable and normal. So many things that ultimately didn’t seem to matter when underlying all the arguments and secrets and misunderstandings was this – foundation, of holding on to one another.
But Magnus is determined to make this about them, so Alec shoots back, “Maybe it’s talking about how you don’t believe what I’m saying to you right now. Maybe you’re right that it was too easy to forgive me, and you still think I’m a liar and a coward that can’t be helped, can’t be changed–”
“What?” Magnus looks gutted. “What are you talking about? I don’t think that. I never thought any of that.”
“Oh, come on,” says Alec, rolling his eyes. “You don’t have to say that. I can take it. I’ve always been able to take it. I knew this when I came to find you tonight. I only hoped that you would take me back anyway, give me a chance to prove myself.”
There might be some shortcomings that deserve patience. Certainly there are no words or actions from his loved ones that Alec hasn’t been able to bear or forgive the moment they want it. But those are not Alec’s shortcomings, and it’s a lesson that’s been drilled into him for as long as he can remember. It’s given him the ability to face them head on.
Not shy away from the truth of it.
It makes him unafraid to meet Magnus’ eyes. He’s always been able to meet Magnus’ eyes, even when Magnus didn’t want to look at him. Even when Alec felt like the shame and regret could consume him whole, each resentful look from Magnus enough to crush and grind his insides to dust.
Very slowly, Magnus picks up the next two cards from the row.
“Seven of pentacles,” he says softly. “An understanding that things that bear the most results requires the most effort, and the desire to put in that effort. Putting in the work and sacrifice in the short term to ensure long term sustainability. Associated with hard work and perseverance. And then the ten of wands. Accomplishments of goals, but awareness that that is not the end, just the beginning of the next cycle of challenges and trials.”
“That’s talking about you,” snaps Alec. “It’s talking about a lot of things – about what I’m going to do at the Institute, the Cabinet, but it’s also about you. From the second I realized I did something wrong, I never – I never stopped trying to make it up to you, and if you think for one second–”
“I know,” says Magnus. “I know that this is about me.”
The whiplash of confusion overwhelming the anger driving him just a moment ago. “Then why were you so hung up on that first one when–”
“Because you don’t have to prove yourself to me,” answers Magnus. His hands are clenched into tight fists, and Alec can see that he’s barely holding himself together. “You told me once that I didn’t have to prove myself to you and if that’s somehow still true even after I’ve made the worst, most colossal mistake with you and walked away and you could just – just take it and forgive me for it, then–”
He takes a moment to pause, to draw in a deep breath and saying, “The seven of pentacles, the ten of wands – your strength and dedication are what makes you you, Alexander, and I admire you for it. But you don’t have to be – you’re allowed to make mistakes with me, all right?”
“Magnus,” starts Alec, unsure how to respond because neither part of what Magnus had said is true: Magnus didn’t make a mistake so much as he just reacted how a normal person would, and Alec has already lived through the consequences of having made one.
Perhaps seeing Alec’s uncertainty on his face, Magnus swallows and says, “I mean it.”
“You shouldn’t,” says Alec. He repeats what he had said earlier, a truth he had conveniently let himself forget in the whirlwind of their romance. “This isn’t how the world works.”
Magnus closes his eyes,
“I found the answer I was looking for, I think,” he says, and all at once, Alec sees again how exhausted he looks. “It’s not your feelings for me that have changed.”
“It hasn’t,” says Alec quietly. “I love you now, I loved you a month ago, a week ago – I loved you a day ago, when I wasn’t sure you’d ever give me another chance. The world can end and start back up again, Magnus, and I’ll love you right through all of it.”
Magnus nods, and Alec doesn’t understand why he looks so unhappy when Alec is telling him that there is nothing that can make Alec stop loving him, stop fighting for him.
“I get that everything that happened – maybe that makes how I was with you worse, because I knew how you felt and I was so – I would never be able to forgive that, not as easily as you did, so. So it’s difficult for me to grasp. But I understand your feelings. I understand that that’s not what changed.”
“Nothing changed for me,” says Alec, addressing the easiest part of everything that Magnus said. Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, Alec thinks, recollecting one of the books of poetry he has read right here in the walls of Magnus’ home, remembering how it had struck a chord so deep that it had haunted him for days after. To think that love, as Alec experiences it, is something that can be said so artfully in fourteen simple syllables when Alec would need an entire lifetime of words and actions to convey the depth and vastness of what consumes him.
The rest of it – Alec doesn’t know where to start.
But Magnus just sighs wearily and says, “No, something did. Your expectations from me changed. Your expectations from this relationship.”
“What d’you mean?” asks Alec, frowning.
“You don’t expect me to give you the same kind of patience you’d give me. The same kind of – grit and commitment you have for me, for everyone else in your life.”
“I never–” expected that from you, Alec starts to say but then his voice catches in his throat.
Until right now – until Magnus had said it – Alec hadn't realized that he had somehow, stupidly been expecting it. Or no, not expecting – but wanting. An unfair ask of someone Alec has only known for months, something that not even the family he’s known and loved his whole life hasn’t been able to do. Magnus is a tenderness that Alec hadn’t been used to and he had gotten intoxicated, reliant on that sweetness in some way. Thought he’d always have it.
But how long has Magnus really known him? Certainly not long enough to really understand Alec and all the ways he is lacking, unprepared for the challenges of a relationship with nothing at his disposal except his determination to make it work.
“You’re right,” says Alec at last. “But I messed up with you, so I get it.”
“No you don’t,” argues Magnus. “You should expect this from me and even if you don’t – I’m going to make sure that you get it.”
“You don’t have to say all of this, Magnus,” says Alec, and Magnus looks a strange mix between infuriated and devastated. “You don’t have to do anything differently. And if I mess up again, if you think that you need to walk away – then maybe I need that to get that I shouldn’t be doing certain things.”
“Alexander,” says Magnus, and there is no more frustration in his voice. “You don’t deserve to be punished or for someone to – to cruelly teach you a lesson. You don’t,” says Magnus very loudly when Alec opens his mouth. “Because you’re decent and clever and kind. Because you have grace and humility to a degree that I can’t fathom. Because you try to make the best choice even when it’s difficult. Even when it’s going against everything you’ve known and learned for your whole life.”
Alec feels like he’s been frozen still. Very slowly, Magnus steps forward until he’s close enough that Alec could count each of his eyelashes if he wanted to.
Alec’s eyes flutter shut when Magnus takes Alec’s face between his hands and says, “Because you are an uncommonly good man, Alexander, and perfection should never be the enemy of what is good.”
For a very long time, the only sounds that Alec hears is his and Magnus’ breathing, the shuddering drumbeats of his heart, and the tick-tick-tick of the second hand of the clock. Magnus’ palms feel hot against Alec’s cheeks, and Alec doesn’t know what to think or what to feel. Mostly, Alec feels the fatigue that’s been escaping him all night start to pull at his bones.
It seems strange, to imagine a world where Magnus thinks he is the one who needs to – to do this.
Eventually, Magnus sighs and moves to shift away. When he does, Alec instinctively reaches out to grab on to his wrist.
“I love you,” says Alec. “I don’t – I don’t know what happened tonight and what it means but – what I do understand is that I love you.”
“And I love you,” says Magnus. “I know I said it before and I walked away anyway but Alexander, that hasn’t stopped being true for one second and I don’t know if that matters, or if you realized you made a mistake coming back here with me–”
“I made a lot of mistakes, but that isn’t one of them,” interrupts Alec, because they can’t – he can’t do this again right now. “I just want to go to sleep beside you. And I want to wake up next to you. And then I want to have breakfast with you and then – and then, if you want, we can keep talking. Does that sound okay to you?”
Because if the last hour has proven anything it’s that while Alec clearly doesn’t know or understand a lot of things – there are some things that are constant. Defies all other rules or boundaries. That Alec wants Magnus for as long as he can have him – that is one of those universal constants.
Looking uncertain but resolute, Magnus nods.
“Four of swords,” he murmurs. Alec’s inquiring sound, Magnus says, “That was your last card, Alexander. Weariness, but there is hope. Represents a pause, a time to reflect and gather the strength to commit to a difficult path. Usually this comes after a significant period of trial.”
“Taking a break before everything goes to hell? A good plan, all around.”
“It’s recovery before going on to the next big adventure,” says Magnus, and Alec thinks that that – sounds exactly right.
and the years still left to pass
archetype: the chariot; major arcana: the star, the sun, the world
In his eagerness to get Alec out of his pants the night before, after Alec returned home after a weeklong conference in Alicante, Magnus banished every piece of clothing on Alec’s body. While Alec’s a huge proponent of that kind of efficient thinking, what he is not impressed with is waking up after Magnus has already left for Shanghai to meet a client in the morning and realizing that he has no idea where his stele and phone and wallet are.
It’s definitely somewhere in the apartment. So far Alec has found his wallet, his sweater, and one sock in various nooks and crannies. Unfortunately, the two most important items are still unaccounted for. He’s rummaging through drawer number three of Magnus’ dresser with increasing annoyance when his eyes catch on something at the back, sealed inside a clear ziplock bag.
It’s Magnus’ tarot cards.
It must’ve been – wow, thinks Alec as he pulls them out, momentarily distracted from his search. It’s been at least five, six years since Alec has seen this deck. He’d forgotten about them. Probably aided by Magnus making good of his promise of never using them on Alec again after Alec had conceded that one time despite not wanting to.
It's strange to think back at that time, to think there ever was a time when Alec had hesitated in allowing Magnus to see inside of him.
He’s startled out of his thoughts when he hears the familiar ring of his phone from drawer number four. Alec hurriedly pulls it out – and finds his stele neatly placed beside it – to see that it’s Izzy.
“You’re cutting it awful close, hermano,” she says, laughing. “The delegates from the Bucharest Institute aren’t going to be pleased to be greeted by anyone other than the Head.”
“I just need ten minutes,” says Alec, placing the cards back into the drawer and activating his speed rune. “Can you stall?”
“Absolutely,” says Izzy, and before taking off in the fastest run of his life, Alec texts, No more magic to take off my clothes, to Magnus and receives a, ??? :( in response.
After the hectic, aggravating day with the delegation, dinner with Magnus is an even sweeter blessing than it is in any other day. As is collapsing on the sofa with him afterward, both of them in their pajamas and with an old favourite movie playing on the television while Magnus tells him about his day.
Alec’s responses are mostly limited to, “Mm hmm.” Magnus’ legs are stretched out across the sofa, his heels digging into Alec’s lap and most of Alec’s focus is going into easing out the aches in Magnus’ feet with deliberate strokes of his fingers. Magnus sighs through it, and his storytelling is only interrupted whenever Alec presses down on a particular spot in the arch of his sole.
Eventually, Magnus gives up and lets his head drop back with a deep and drawn out moan. “Oh, who cares about my stupid day,” he says, bonelessly slumping further into the couch. His toes curl in a way that makes Alec smile, and he decides to start on them next. “Just – oh, God – keep doing what you’re doing with your hands, Alexander. You can tell me more about your Romanians. And the upsetting message I received on my phone earlier today.”
“What upsetting message?”
In response, Magnus lazily waves a hand and Alec’s shirt disappears.
“Oh, that,” says Alec as his shirt reappears again. “It took me half an hour to find my phone and stele, Magnus. What if there had been an emergency?”
“Sounds like the real solution to this is for me to install a landline,” says Magnus, after patiently listening to Alec’s spiel on the time it takes to get to the Institute and how defenseless he is without the ability to activate his runes. “So you can call me for help. Though I have to say, there’s a certain thrill of pulling those jeans down your incredible, incredible legs...” Magnus trails off, and seemingly gets lost in his thoughts until Alec presses down at that spot on his foot again. “Ohhhh – okay. All right. I’ll take your request under consideration.”
“Thanks,” says Alec dryly. “Though hey, I found your tarot cards while I was looking for my stuff. You should do one of those readings for me. It’s been years since I saw them.”
Magnus stills, just for a moment, before slowly sitting up. “You want me to do what?”
“Only if you want to.”
“Huh,” says Magnus. “I think this is the first time you’ve ever brought it up. Wanting to do one of these.”
“I mean, you’re the most magical person in my life. I don’t think about this other stuff unless you’re bringing me into it, y’know?”
“That does make an awful lot of sense,” agrees Magnus. He’s looking at Alec thoughtfully, warmly, but when Alec looks at him inquiringly Magnus just smiles a little and says, “It’s nothing. Just thinking about how much I adore you.”
So many years together and still Alec feels his face heat up. “Oh, okay.”
Magnus regretfully moves his legs down so his feet are flat on the ground before summoning his cards, the deck appearing on his palm. He looks considering as he gazes down on them, and to Alec he says, “It really has been a while since we did one of these, hasn’t it?”
“Definitely not since I moved in.”
“At least six years then. I should probably apologize in advance for how this goes.”
“It’s the universe telling us something,” points out Alec. It feels so natural to say that he almost has to laugh, thinking back to the first ever reading Magnus had done for him. How certain he had been that this was all nonsense, a way for Magnus to flirt with him, push at his restrictive, self-destructive boundaries. “Nothing for you to be sorry about.”
“Let’s see if you’re still singing the same song after this reveals that disaster’s ahead,” says Magnus, and Alec just rolls his eyes. “We’ll just use the majors like I usually do.”
Alec tries to remember how it works. “Archetype, known, unknown, and the future?”
He separates the deck as he always does, and Alec can’t help but notice his hands are shaking a little as he deals out the cards in the space on the sofa cushions between them. Before Alec can ask, however, Magnus himself is saying, “Is it strange for me to be nervous about doing this?”
“Because you haven’t done it in a while?”
“Because I don’t – I don’t want to find out something that you don’t want me to know. Not without your permission.” Magnus runs a nervous hand over the cards, neatening up their alignment. “I do remember how upset you were the last time, Alexander. How you only gave in because I asked you to.”
“I think that was a pretty weird time for both of us,” says Alec. When Magnus still looks unconvinced, Alec takes one of Magnus’ fidgeting hands between both his own and says, “And this time I’m the one asking, so anything this shows – you have my permission to know it. Though I think it’s pretty unlikely that we’re going to find out something from this that you don’t already know.”
“You can never predict these things,” says Magnus, but he squeezes Alec’s hand before gently extracting his own and sweeping it over the cards until they glow a familiar, otherworldly blue.
Alec finds that he likes the anticipatory crackle of electricity that runs up his spine as Magnus reaches to flip over the cards. There’s no uncertainty inside him at all. When Alec thinks back to the other times they’ve done this, the times that stand out the most vivid and stark in his memories – he thinks about how those times had always been somehow associated with an event that is a marker in his life. In his relationship with Magnus.
But today is just a normal day, just like so many other days he’s accumulated over the last six, seven years.
“The chariot,” says Magnus, tapping the face of the archetype. A smile is tugging at his mouth. “I always did think this best represented you. Bold and fearless and determined. The drive to change the world, despite the challenges you encounter along the way.”
“That’s... a very positive way to see me.”
“Perhaps, but it’s not inaccurate,” says Magnus. “I think strength is a good fit for you as well, but there’s something about the chariot that resonates. The resiliency, I think. Always taking action and moving forward. Getting back up no matter how many times you’re knocked down. That victory that comes from effort and hard work. Always trying to be better than your last best self.”
“That’s just life,” says Alec, because Magnus makes it sound like this something uncommon instead of something that is necessary to survive, a quality shared by millions trying to get by.
“Maybe,” concedes Magnus. “But you’ve accomplished a lot, Alexander, and it hasn’t been easy. And every day I look at you – I know that there’s more in you. There’s more you want to do and it’s. It’s extraordinary.”
“Oh,” says Alec, not sure how to respond. “You know I – I think you’re extraordinary too.”
Alec can see the change, the spark of pleasure that warms Magnus’ gaze even more. “Oh? Tell me more.”
“You could try to be a bit more subtle when fishing for compliments,” says Alec and Magnus laughs. “I’ll tell you all about how sexy and smart you are once we’re done with his.”
“Let’s hurry along then,” says Magnus, going back to the cards, and Alec is helpless against the burst of affection that takes a hold of him. “The present – the star. I feel like we had this once before. It means hope for the future and tranquility in the present. Contentment with where you are at life. That’s good to know.”
“It’s not like I tell you this every day or anything.”
“Oh, be quiet,” says Magnus. “Let’s see – the unknown is the sun. Hmm.”
Frowning, Alec says, “The sun sounds like a good thing.”
“It is, it is,” assures Magnus. “Very similar to the star but – more certain, perhaps. Being content with what you have. Eager to make the most of the world. Trying to spread the warmth in you to those around you.” Pausing for a moment, Magnus says, “There’s an innocence to it, something guileless. Which is why it’s also sometimes associated with children.”
Alec tries to process this. “Like... a baby?”
“Yes, Alexander,” says Magnus, and he sounds helplessly fond. “Do you want to have a baby?”
The answer to Magnus’ question is – yes, yes of course Alec wants children. But the single syllable gets caught before it can make it out. It’s a dream that he had tucked away along with his desire to ever have love, certain that no child would ever be satisfied with Alec as their only parent, convinced that whatever is wrong with him would corrupt them, somehow.
But Magnus had come and brought that first hope back to life within Alec, had been the catalyst of making it reality. What does it mean that it’s showing up in Alec’s cards?
Clearing his throat, Alec says, “You know the answer to that. Doesn’t have to be a baby, exactly – but kids. Yeah. I know you and I, we’re a little family right now but–”
Alec stops, unsure how to explain himself, but Magnus seems to understand anyway.
“We’ll figure out how to go about that,” promises Magnus. “And until then we can have fun pretending we can make one on our own.”
Alec is startled into laughter. “Okay, okay,” he says. “Interpret that last one and we can go get started on that.”
“You sure know how to incentivize me,” teases Magnus before picking up the final card. “What’s in your future, my love, is – the world.” He looks down at the suite of face-up cards in front of him, seemingly in disbelief. “I hope you understand that this is – this is such an incredible reading it’s almost comical, Alexander. But I can’t think of anyone else who can make it happen.”
“What does that mean?” asks Alec, nodding at the last card in Magnus’ hand. “The world?”
“Just that,” says Magnus, tracing the drawing. “The final payoff for all your efforts. Accomplishment of goals and dreams. Being wiser from the experiences you’ve had, fulfilled and at peace when this cycle of life comes to a close.”
Mouth dry and heart racing in his chest, Alec says, “That sounds way too good not to have been rigged, Magnus,” his voice too quiet for the thundering of his pulse overwhelming his ears.
Pressing the world into Alec’s open palm, Magnus says, equally softly, “You’ve caught me.”