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an act of faith against the night

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Alec turns away, and all Magnus knows is the white flare of panic eating up the air in his lungs.

This has happened before. The shop is a hundred rooms where he's stood. The words Alec just spoke are a hundred accusations or platitudes falling from the mouths of a hundred lovers who decided they were done with Magnus. The pleas Magnus hears himself utter, he's tried them before. A hundred times, again and again, to no avail. Stay with me.

The kiss he presses on Alec's lips should be wet with tears. He feels it shudder through Alec and wonders dimly, stupidly, why Alec would shudder, when Alec has made up his mind and Magnus is only stalling the inevitable. Alec should be steady as stone, to match his blank, hard words.

Alec just told him he was too broken to put together. Fallen too far to climb back to the light. The lack of his magic feels like death, like a tarry shroud between him and the world, but now Alec has put it to words and torn it out of Magnus's head and made it into truth.

"Stay with me," he mutters, begs, because what use is pride when Alec is pulling his heart in two with his bare fingers? "Okay?"

"Magnus," Alec whispers. "I—I can't. I'm sorry."

It is grief, not pride, that makes Magnus drop his hands.

Then Alec's hands, taut at his sides, rise and drag Magnus into him, clutch him close too savagely for it to be an embrace. Alec makes a muffled sob against his shoulder. "I can't, I'm sorry, I tried, god, I need to do this and I—"

Magnus stands frozen in Alec's hold, his heart in his throat. Alec should have walked out. This is the moment where Magnus hears the door chime Alec's exit and despair rises like gorge in his throat. Where, once more, he was too much, too strange, too needy.

Alec's not gone. Alec's clinging to him like the floor might melt under his feet and plunge him into an abyss from which there's no coming back. Magnus, in his own shock, is letting him.

"Alexander," he tries. "Alec."

Alec's first reply is a choked, teary noise. His fingers dig into Magnus's back and it hurts, but he's here, he's here. The switch is too sharp for Magnus's reeling mind to follow.

"I can't go," Alec gasps. "I love you, and—and I can't even do this for you, this one thing that can help."

"What?" Cold shears down along Magnus's spine. He plants an ungentle hand on Alec's chest to wrest himself free. "What are you talking about?"

There's no such force to Magnus's shove that Alec should fall, but he goes to his knees on the carpet with a thump.

The cool, calculating part of Magnus's mind claws itself loose. He's stood in front of a thousand horrors greater than a scornful lover. Most of those lovers were far better at twisting the knife than Alec could ever hope to be. Not one of them ever broke down in the middle of deserting him. That isn't, generally, par for the course.

"Alexander," he says, "what have you done?"

And Alec, his steadfast soldier, his pinnacle of unwise principle, his champion of hopeless causes, squares his shoulders and says, eyes fixed on some detail to the side of Magnus's constricting chest, "I went to your father."

To Asmodeus.

A scream licks up Magnus's throat that never becomes sound. He clenches his fists, nails to his palms.

"And?"

"And," Alec says, his voice rough and dark, "it doesn't matter, because I fucked this up."

He's not looking at Magnus. Magnus feels like a live wire, crackling with sorrow and confusion and mounting fury that will slam through anyone that touches him now.

"Tell me."

"Why? Because it's over, Magnus, it was over the moment I couldn't go. I couldn't walk away from you, and now you're stuck like this, and there's nothing—"

"Oh, you idiot." The anger roars up to scour away every other emotion in him. He is a hollow vessel for it to fill. "You absolute fool. My father is a demon. Whatever in all the circles of Hell he told you he'd do, it was calculated to cause as much pain and havoc as he possibly can!"

"I know." Alec smears his hand coarsely over his cheeks. Magnus isn't certain that he is not crying, but the anger carries him.

"Do you? Do you really? And what did you ask of him? Tell me!"

Alec looks up, his eyes wide and red-rimmed, a tremor in his jaw. "You need your magic back. You—you need to be immortal again. This is tearing you apart and I can't sit by and watch."

For a moment, it feels like someone seized Magnus's heart and yanked it, still beating, out through his guts. A slow red horror wells through him. Alec remains on his knees and Magnus almost sways right down next to him.

"And my father, in his great kindness, told you that he'd return my magic if you broke up with me."

"Yeah." A breath could blow the word into dust, so fragile it sounds.

Every morning, Magnus wakes up, and his first conscious thought turns the day ashen and pale before his eyes are properly open. My magic is gone. I'm as good as human. In a handful of years, I'll grow old and wither and die.

I'm no use to anyone like this. It feels like there's a hole in my soul.

He tried to tell Alec, when Alec pushed him enough. Alec did that, of course, out of worry and love, out of his damnable, irrepressible need to fix everything he saw being awry. Magnus has twisted and turned in his loss without finding a way out, and so Alec decided to blow the walls of the maze to rubble to get him out, with no care to who and what would be buried under.

"Did you really think I wouldn't realize the cause and effect?" When my magic returned is sour on his tongue, and he forces it back down. "That I wouldn't know what you'd done?"

"It doesn't matter," Alec says. "It wouldn't have mattered. You'd have been right again. You would've had all the time in the world to heal."

Magnus inhales and feels the breath fill him, focuses on it, the rise and fall of his own chest. "That is not something you can know."

"You've done it before." Alec gets to his feet at last, like an afterthought, bracing himself on the well-burnished mahogany table.

"And," Magnus goes on, the words coming half unbidden, "that's not something you get to decide. I'm not a cause for you to die for, Alexander! I'm your partner, and you went behind my back with this! Like this is some battle strategy you can use to clear out a demon nest!"

"It was a thing I could do!" Alec bursts out. "Am I supposed to just watch you be in pain? Until—until you die? Because of something you did for me?"

"I would rather live out my life like this than let my father sink another of his hooks into me or anyone I care about." The truth of it seems to resonate in his bones. "I never told you about the things I did under my father's tutelage. I don't like to remember them. But that's what he wants. To drag me back under his influence, by any means necessary."

It's been centuries. Time has softened little of his memory, and the sharpest of all is still this part: His father was his world. His golden-eyed guide. The hand that drew him up from filth and hunger and fear, that soothed his misery and dulled the grief over his mother, that opened his eyes to the dark wonder of magic. Magic made it easy to wrap mortals around his finger, to coax them to his will, to discard them when he grew bored.

Alec knows none of this. A part of Magnus still hopes he never will.

"You banished him," Alec says.

"I did that once." The ire flakes from his tone. "When I was strong enough to leave him. When I realized his regard always came at a price. And eventually I found other people. My people. True friends, who cared for me without condition."

However Alec has been bruised by parental censure, whatever demands have been placed on him, Magnus isn't sure he understands this. Alec has always been loved. By his parents, by his siblings, even by his peers. He hasn't known the kind of total loneliness that made Magnus pliable to his father.

"You can't tell me it's going to be okay." From this angle, Magnus can only see Alec's throat working. "You, without your magic."

Are they both to batter themselves bloody on this unsolvable problem, before either relents?

Magnus glances around the shop, edged in warm old wood and gleaming knick-knacks, evoking a carefully cultivated old-world sensibility. His own conversation with Maryse earlier today comes back to him. The feeling that only lasted a blink but that said that all was not lost. That he had a touchstone. You're part of the family.

"You meant those things you said," Magnus says slowly, "about watching me suffer. About fixing this."

Alec flinches. "Yes. I did mean those parts. Look. I've tried everything. Everything I can think of. I even—that night you got drunk and sort of ruined the dinner, I was—" He cuts the sentence short. "It's not important."

The stilted way he says that belies the truth of the sentence, but Magnus can't find it in himself to push. He's been shoved from shock to dismay to despair, and then straight into the sheer fury that has now faded into bitter insight.

"I'm sorry." Alec folds his arms, a boyish, brittle gesture. "About the rest."

So he has enough awareness to realize how deep he tore into Magnus.

Magnus has begged before. For shelter, for mercy, for love. He did not think Alec would ever give him cause. His self-image is on wavering stilts right now, propped above a murk of aimless anguish, but he forces himself to balance.

If Magnus gives the slightest indication that it is what he wants, Alec will drop to his knees again. Will humble himself knowingly. Magnus won't need to drive him to it.

"About which parts?" he still asks. He pulls himself straight, settling his heavy shoulders at such ease as he can find.

As if mirroring him, Alec pushes up from his lean.

"The parts where I took things you told me because you thought I was safe to tell them to, and tried to push you away with them. So you'd just go, because I hurt you."

If Magnus had a thimbleful of reason left, he'd walk away now. Not to leave Alec, but because neither of them can take much more. This is what comes of opening up his heart. This is what comes of trusting beautiful, selfless Shadowhunter boys who stumble about the world you open to them with earnest abandon, nicking themselves on all of your sharp edges.

Alec has never, ever thought Magnus is too much for him to handle, even in those moments when it is demonstrably true.

"I just made a fucking mess of things instead." Alec slants his sigh heavenward.

"No," Magnus says. "You closed a line of inquiry. I do wish you hadn't done it by digging into every weak spot of mine you could think of, but you did establish something. Namely, that talking to my father is off the table."

Alec gives the most miserable excuse for a laugh in living memory, but it leaves a dash of wry hope in his expression. He meets Magnus's eye, sideways, abashed.

"And that I don't get to do this without you?"

Magnus gives in to himself then. He yields to the yearning part that bears no grudges, that knows only that above all, Alec loves him. That this whole horrible, hurtful encounter happened because Alec got caught in his own need to unravel this Gordian knot that no sword can cleave. That he was trying to save the life that Magnus himself can barely make sense of at present.

"The next time you pull something like this, I will get Cat to dangle you off a high place for me. Somewhere scenic, preferably." He presses his mouth tight against a chuckle that still, somehow, wants free. "You can't keep me in the dark about my own fate, Alec."

Alec only nods. His fingers make a small grasping gesture, a flickering wish in motion.

Without conscious thought, Magnus reaches out, and with a hesitant step, Alec is in his arms. Oh, it aches too, how well they fit together, how Alec winds close so slowly that Magnus has time to feel the breath he draws to brace himself. Alec slides a tender hand up Magnus's back, stroking away the tension knotted there.

It seems they both need to coax themselves back to believing that this is allowed. That they still have this.

That they're both still here.

For the second time today, Magnus lets himself find a solid point in the chaos, and hold on.