Alec strolled down the hall of the Institute, shaking his head a little at the fogginess that was lingering in his mind. He had just gotten back from meeting with a few authoritative mermaids and he was grateful that he had left unscathed. It hadn't been a trip he necessarily wanted to go on alone, but with Jace and Clary on an important mission to track down some lost Shadowhunters and Isabelle assisting Raphael and Simon with some vampire drama, he didn't really trust anyone at the Institute the same way he did them so it was pointless to drag someone along. Plus the queen of the mermaid clan he was meeting with had requested he come alone and mermaids were not the type you'd want to insult. They could be tricky, sly and manipulative.
Thankfully, Alec was feeling pretty good about the exchange. Being Head of the New York Institute was what he had always secretly hoped for for himself, but the reality of it was a lot of pressure. He enjoyed it though, felt as though now he had the opportunity to make a change, and that was what he had wanted for a long time.
Checking his phone, he had no new messages, and he sighed as he headed to his room to change. Training would be his next task to keep him occupied.
It had been days since he had seen Magnus, something that, since they started dating, was almost unheard of. Unless one or both of them had business to attend to that took multiple days, they saw each other frequently, even for short visits, or at the very least spoke on the phone and exchanged messages. But Magnus had asked for space as he dealt with the horrors of his past, horrors that he had relived when he was trapped in Valentine's body.
Alec could only imagine what tragedies Magnus had experienced in his long, long life, but he wished he could be there for the man he loved. He wanted Magnus to confide in him, let him help him heal, but Alec had suspicions that Magnus needed space from him too. After all, Alec hadn't believed him when he was in Valentine's body, and it nearly cost Magnus his life. Something Alec would have to live with for the rest of his life.
He had wanted to believe him of course. And he suspected things were off with Magnus when he saw him at the loft. And Valentine knowing intimate details of Magnus and Alec's dating life was more than a little suspicious. But seeing the man who he had been raised to fear and disbelieve, no matter what, was a hard thing to shake. Years of drilling that the man was manipulative, selfish, and only out for himself made Alec distrustful. And it nearly ended tragically for many.
He couldn't blame Magnus for being upset with him. If the roles were reversed, Alec knew he'd feel betrayed and hurt too. But it still ate at him, gnawed at his insides that he had hurt Magnus so badly. He wanted to make it up to him. He hoped he'd give him the chance.
For now, since he was determined to give Magnus what he asked for even if the space hurt, Alec turned his efforts over to training. The more training he got in, the more he'd be ready for whenever they had to face the next big bad, and he knew the stakes were higher for him now that he was the leader of such a large group. There wasn't room for the kind of mistakes he had made in the past.
The training room was empty, a rare luxury, and Alec figured his shooting was still on point thanks to his recent vanquish of Azazel, so his hand-on-hand combat skills were more of a priority. Prepping the dummy, he visualized an opponent and moved into action.
Swift kicks, elbow jabs, and targeted punches hitting the figurine sounded throughout the room amongst his grunts of exertion. Picturing Valentine helped him to focus, to use the extent of his strength and stamina to win the imaginary fight.
"You didn't believe him." suddenly whispered in his head, and Alec stopped short, turning around. The room was still empty.
He was breathing hard, trying to piece together what he just heard. It sounded as if someone had said it to him directly, but also like it echoed only in his mind. It was a weird sensation.
The mermaids couldn't have cursed him—he knew they were tricky and manipulative, but they didn't have the magic the Fairfolk had or other downworlders. They were more similar to Seelies in their mind-tricking ways.
So was it just his guilt speaking louder than before?
Alec shrugged it off. He was being paranoid. Spending too much time away from his family and his boyfriend was clearly affecting his rationality. He made a mental note to check in with Jace and Izzy later, see when they'd be back.
He went back to hitting his target, his body in a warrior stance, ready for the dummy to throw back hits if it had the capability. He really needed a sparring partner—that was when his mind could really get invested in what he was doing—but this would have to do.
"Magnus nearly died because of you." Another whisper sounded in his mind.
Alec shook it off right away this time, ignoring it. He wasn't having hallucinations like at Max's party at Magnus' not that long ago, when they all fell under Iris' spell. It had to just be his guilt talking, coming forward as he physically exerted himself, giving his mind more room to speak up.
He continued on, pounding harder as the sly voice in his head whispered similar things to him. Reminding him of missing Isabelle's addiction for so long. Of not keeping her safe. How she escaped when she was supposed to be recovering because he had left her at the Institute for other Shadowhunter duties. She should've been first priority, always. And it was Sebastian of all people to come to her rescue.
And then Magnus. Pleading with him while inside Valentine, doing everything in his power to convince Alec it was really him, only for Alec to slap away his desperate hands and glare at him coldly. Reject him. Turn against him. He had only stopped Imogen Herondale just in time. Only believed it to be true when the words came out of Jace's mouth as he and "Magnus" portaled outside of the prison cell the real Magnus had been in. He'd been tortured while in there, for answers he never had. And his life nearly ended with the familiar cruelty of the Clave's orders.
He hates you.
He's ending things.
He's reliving memories he's spent centuries burying, and it's all your fault.
You didn't believe him. He can't trust you. He'll never trust you.
Murderer. Murderer. Murderer.
His mind flashed to sitting on the floor, bloody hands in his lap, shaking all over and completely disoriented at what happened. Only to hear Clary's gasp of pain as she discovered her mother, bloodied and dead, at Alec's hands.
It was the demon, Alec growled to himself as he punched harder and harder. It was the demon. Clary doesn't blame you. You've been over it a hundred times with her.
How could she not? If you weren't so weak, the demon never would have gotten in. So weak. So worthless. Even your parents don't love you. They stay in Idris to get away from you. They'll never support you, your sexuality, and especially your relationship with Magnus. You're the dent and rust in the shiny family crest. No wonder they haven't come to congratulate you on the promotion—they'll always be ashamed of you.
Alec growled, smashing his fists harder into the padded material, pain shooting through his knuckles as the skin split, but he barely noticed. He hit harder and harder, trying to mask the sound in his head.
You were in love with Jace. Jace, your brother. Of course they're disgusted with you. Even Jace is. He just plays nice because he pities you and he stupidly became your parabatai at a young age and is stuck with you now. And then you went and found a downworlder boyfriend. Everyone at the Institute has bets on how long you'll last as an authority figure, knowing it can't be long. The gay downworlder-loving Shadowhunter of the disgraced Lightwood family. And soon you won't even have Magnus. He's going to leave you. Who else will ever love you?
Alec roared angrily, tearing into the dummy until it was in pieces scattered across the floor.
But the voices didn't stop. They kept coming. Reminders of all the mistakes he had made, all the people he had hurt. He couldn't escape it.
Alec ran out of the training room, grateful that everyone was too busy doing other things that they weren't paying attention to him, and he shut the door to his room to separate himself from everyone else.
He stumbled once inside and collapsed on the floor, trembling all over, and his hand reached for his stele.
He drew the rune that had blazed behind his eyes like a beam from a lighthouse.
He was suddenly thrown into a memory as the Agony rune shone red against his skin.
Across the city, Magnus twirled his index finger in his hair, styling it just the right way before nodding his approval at his reflection.
It had been a few days of grieving, trying to work through the pain of memories he had buried rather than try to bury them back down. If magic could bring those memories out of him in the way he had to deal with recently, he wanted to be properly past them this time. He wanted to move on. Be free from his past instead of just running from it.
Although his mind had been consumed with the past recently, he still missed Alec terribly. The loft seemed so much quieter, so much emptier, since Alec had left the other night after Magnus requested some space.
He knew Alec was hurting too, guilt tearing into him. But Alec held the weight of the world on his shoulders too much. That was proven the night of Max's party. He knew he needed to talk to the shadowhunter, let him know that he understood why Alec hadn't believed him. As much as he wished Alec could have known instantly that it was him, he was raised to believe Valentine would do absolutely anything to get the upper hand, and Valentine was clever enough to know that Magnus would be a great weak spot for Alec. And he saw the way Alec started to believe him, and he knew Alec would've picked up the changes in the man inside his body's actions. He was intelligent and observant, and he was very attuned to Magnus' mannerisms. His teasing over their months together proved that much.
Magnus had decided that it was the day he'd go see Alec. He wasn't answering his phone messages, which was odd, but he figured he was busy. He was sure there was some cleanup involved from the Valentine saga and then the usual shadowhunter duties. Raphael had mentioned Isabelle would be helping with a vampire matter, so it was possible Alec had taken over tutoring Max in her absence.
Creating a portal, Magnus stepped through to reach the New York Institute. He hoped Alec was around and not out on some mission.
Entrance to the Institute was simple nowadays—he had full clearance and most of the shadowhunter community knew who he was but now had a face to put to the name. Being the High Warlock of Brooklyn meant he was well-known, but his fame at the institute came from dating one of their most prized shadowhunters. No one could forget the warlock that broke up a shadowhunter wedding when the groom made out with him in front of the whole assembly.
Even just the memory of the event made Magnus' lips twitch into a smile. Alec's bravery and acceptance of what he deserved, after so long denying it and sacrificing his needs in order to be a good son, made his heart glow.
It made him want to see Alec even more.
A familiar face came running at him, and he smiled.
"Hello, Max. How are you liking shadowhunter training?"
"I LOVE it! Except for the theory stuff. I'm more into the combat and battle stuff. Reading about Fairfolk history is boring."
"Ahh, but it will have its place, I assure you. It'll help you win as many battles as combat skills will."
"You sound like Alec." Max grumbled.
Magnus chuckled. "Your brother knows his stuff. Speaking of Alec, have you seen him?"
"Someone said he was in the training room earlier. Everyone avoids going in there when he's training—too afraid they'll look stupid in front of the new Head of the Institute I think. But there are people in there now, so he's probably in his room."
Magnus' face must have showed his confusion since Max continued.
"You know Alec got promoted, right? That Herondale lady gave it to Jace first, since he's her grandson or something, but then Jace gave it to Alec because he didn't like it and made a bunch of people mad."
Magnus tried not to smile. "Well, Jace may have been misguided. Thank you for telling me, Max. I'll have to go properly congratulate your brother when I find him. We haven't been in touch the last few days."
"Is congratulating him code for something gross?"
Magnus rolled his eyes amusedly at the young boy, ruffling his hair and shooing him off before heading to Alec's bedroom.
He wasn't prepared for the sight he came across after he knocked and pushed open the door.
Alec was huddled in the corner of his bedroom on the floor, rocking back and forth, tears streaming down his face as he choked down sobs. His stele was shaking in his hand as he tried tracing a jagged design on his forearm.
Magnus recognized the symbol immediately and was horrified to see multiple burned on his skin on other bared skin.
"Alexander!" he cried out, his heart so heavy he could barely breathe, but Alec didn't even look up. It was like he wasn't even there.
"I didn't mean to. I made a mistake. I can't lose him. I can't." he was saying under his breath, as if arguing with someone.
Magnus flicked back his sleeves so his hands were fully freed and summoned magic that sparkled green out of his palms as he drew an invisible field that blanketed Alec.
He shook his head at the discovery. Alec had been poisoned. It was slow-acting but would grow in intensity. If Magnus hadn't found him when he did… he wasn't sure what he would've found. The night of the party flashed in his mind again, seeing Alec falling backwards to his death, and he shook himself out of it.
Magnus formed a portal and managed to get the taller man to his feet and through the shimmering threshold into his loft.
He removed Alec's stele from his fist gently, taking it with him for Alec's safety as he worked to mix up an antidote.
Alec seemed completely dissociative, muttering to himself with the occasional painful whimper. His hands were covering his ears now, as if trying to block something out, but the rest of the loft was quiet.
Magnus worked as quickly as he could, given his emotions, and he brought the cup to Alec's lips.
"Drink, my darling." he murmured, helping Alec tip the cup into his mouth.
Magnus noticed the angry red crescents on Alec's palms from his nails digging deep into the flesh before and exhaled slowly to keep his emotions in check. He needed to be here for Alec right now. He could break down later.
Alec's body seized upwards suddenly, a gasp escaping his lips, before his body slumped. He was breathing heavily, eyes closed as he recovered from the magical jolt.
"Come on. Let's get you to bed. You need to rest."
Alec didn't reply, just stumbled with Magnus guiding him, his arm around his shoulder as Magnus' wrapped around his waist to keep him steady.
Magnus summoned a potion to his hand, passing it to Alec.
"Drink this. It'll help you sleep. A dreamless sleep so you don't have to worry."
Alec still hadn't spoken, and, even just looking in his eyes, it was clear he was still quite disoriented and disturbed, but he listened to the gentle voice and downed the potion in one gulp.
He barely had passed the bottle back to Magnus before he was descending onto the pillows and slipping into a peaceful slumber.
Alec woke up some time later—he wasn't sure if it was a couple hours or an entire night had passed. He didn't even remember going to bed.
But he felt warmth all through his extremities, and his head felt lighter than it had in a while.
He started to stir, confused at the silky sheets underneath him. Had he fallen asleep at Magnus'? They hadn't met up yet since he left a few nights before after Magnus was returned to his own body. Or had they?
Alec opened his eyes, and the view above him confirmed that, yes, he was indeed at Magnus'.
He turned on his side, sensing the presence beside him, to find Magnus watching him carefully.
"How did you sleep?" the warlock asked softly, fingers reaching out to push back Alec's raven hair off his forehead. His touch was so gentle Alec's eyes fluttered closed for a moment.
Alec corrected his throat, surprised to find it scratchy, as if he had been screaming at a concert overnight.
"Good. Really good, actually. I feel better than I have in a while." he admitted, surprising even himself with the confession.
Magnus smiled at that, seeming pleased. But Alec could sense a hidden worry behind his expression and he sat up on one elbow.
"Magnus…. How did I get here? I don't remember falling asleep here. I'm sorry if I just… showed up or something…"
"Ah. I had a feeling you wouldn't remember much. It's okay, Alexander. I went to see you at the Institute. It was I who brought you back here."
"But why? Why don't I remember anything?"
Magnus sat up, moving to the edge of the bed, his back to Alec now. Alec immediately followed, getting to his feet to stand face-to-face with his boyfriend. Something was definitely wrong.
Magnus rose to meet him. "Did you meet with any Fairfolk yesterday? Do you remember doing any meetings for the Institute?"
Alec thought back, trying to piece together the broken bits of his memories.
"Mermaids. I met with the queen and a few others."
"Did you happen to accept anything during that meeting?"
"Well… just a couple bites of food. But I didn't think the mermaids had that type of magic. I knew they were tricksters and easily offended, but it's not like they're Seelies or Fairies…"
"True, but if you had spoken to some downworlder contacts prior to going, like the High Warlock of Brooklyn," he said pointedly, "you may have discovered that downworlders are forming alliances all over. And they're drawn to ones with similar tastes as their own. Most downworlders are not so happy with the Clave, let alone what happened with the Soul Sword, which was at the hands of one from the New York Institute. They likely saw you as an opportunity to carry a warning that they would not be easily swayed to supporting your mission."
Alec sighed. "Dammit. What did they do? How badly did I embarrass myself?" he groaned, thinking that if Magnus had come all that way it was a requested rescue mission from someone in the Institute.
Magnus' eyes grew sorrowful, and he shook his head. "You didn't embarrass yourself at all. I doubt anyone at the Institute had any idea anything happened to you. I found you in your room alone."
Alec was lost now, especially due to the pain in Magnus' face. Had he lashed out at him? Said cruel things while under the influence of whatever wicked magic the mermaid queen had forced on him?
"Magnus… If I said something to you to hurt you, I'm so—"
Magnus shook his head. "No, no, it was nothing like that. I don't think you even knew I was there."
Seeing Alec's bewildered look, Magnus finally sighed. He couldn't keep it to himself forever. Alec was a curious man, a seeker of knowledge. He'd get it out of him eventually. Now was as good a time as any.
"You were distraught when I found you, Alexander. It was like you were trapped in some sort of waking nightmare." He turned away from him, worried his emotions would get the best of him with Alec watching him so earnestly. "You were saying things, as if arguing with someone. I think it was similar to Iris' magic, the hallucinated voices, but this time without the people present to be distorted. It was all literally in your head. And it was the type of magic that grew in intensity, especially the more pain it had to feed off. And you, my love, have not exactly had a life of luxury."
Alec felt like an elastic snapped in his head, returning his memories in a rush. He remembered bits and pieces now, the taunts about his family's love, his failure as a shadowhunter, murdering Clary's mom under the demon's influence, the potential loss of Magnus that he feared was coming. He suddenly felt sick and braced himself against the dresser next to him.
Magnus moved forward instantly, helping catch him before he fell.
"Sorry." Alec muttered. "I just… I remember now."
He looked down at his arms, expecting to see runes drawn, but there was only the faintest hint of where the marks tainted his skin.
"I healed you while you were sleeping." Magnus explained quietly. "You had at least half a dozen Agony runes drawn on you, and your hands were a mess from no doubt attacking whatever training figurine you were up against."
Alec nodded. Despite the trauma, he remembered drawing the Agony runes. It was the only thing that gave him relief from the voices, forcing him into a single memory of pain instead of reliving a bunch at once. Minimal relief amongst the excruciating suffering.
Having regained his balance, he pulled Magnus into him, wrapping his arms around his waist.
"Thank you. For saving me. For taking care of me."
Magnus nodded, exhaling as he rested his face against his chest. "Always."
It felt so good to have him in his arms again, and Alec inhaled the familiar cologne. He felt so at peace when he was with Magnus, like the world couldn't really be that bad.
But then Alec remembered that Magnus was the one who was supposed to be healing, and instead, he was taking care of Alec. Rescuing him from his demons, the way Alec wished he could do for him.
Feeling suddenly emotional, the voices that had taunted him having some merit now, Alec broke away.
"I should go." he mumbled, pushing his hair back as he moved to cross the room.
He could feel Magnus' surprise, but he daren't look at him. He didn't want to feel swayed to stay. Magnus needed space, needed time to heal, and even if he had been coming for him, he likely hadn't been ready to pick up all of Alec's shattered pieces and put him back together while he was still fragile.
There you go again, burdening the ones you love. a familiar voice spoke, but this one was all him, he knew.
"Alexander, you don't have to go. I was hoping to see you today. I've missed you."
Alec stopped, exhaling slowly. It was nice to hear he hadn't been the only one struggling with their time apart. He had missed Magnus terribly. He couldn't count how many times he had picked up his phone, tempted to shoot him even a text.
Magnus sensed he was winning, and he walked over to where the conflicted shadowhunter stood. "Please stay." he said, reaching his hand out to twine it with Alec's.
Alec turned to look at him and nodded, even though he was still wondering if it was a good idea. He wanted Magnus to want him there, but he had put him through quite the ordeal that day already.
But Magnus tugged him close and tipped his chin down so he could kiss him properly, and Alec forgot about pretty much everything.
It was a chaste kiss, soft and sweet and too short for Alec's liking. They broke apart for a short moment, catching their lost breath, but Alec couldn't help his gaze from dropping back to his boyfriend's mouth. He licked his lips without thinking, tempted to kiss him again.
With difficulty, he tore his eyes away and corrected his throat. His throat still felt off from the sobs that had escaped him during his drug-induced trauma.
"How are you holding up? Since… since everything happened?"
Magnus slipped his fingers between Alec's and led him out to sit on the balcony, needing the fresh air to help gather his courage.
"It's been… difficult. But I've managed. I really should've taken time to deal with these inner demons before now. But when you're immortal like I am… it doesn't really compute that you're running away from your problems, when you constantly are moving and keeping busy. Your old lives… they just sort of blend into the background. You forget that you never truly forget some things, I suppose."
Alec nodded, running his thumb over the back of Magnus' hand in a comforting gesture as they sat next to each other.
Magnus sent him a soft smile. "But I'm okay. I've missed having you here. It's good we took some time apart though—it's easy for me to want to put all my past behind me when I have you around."
Alec's brow furrowed.
Magnus continued, sensing his confusion. "I can't help but look to the future when I'm with you. Of what I want for us. Things I never let myself dream about before. You've awakened something in me I never could have predicted, Alexander. Now that I took my blinders off, you've helped me want to heal from my past, so I can fully move forward with you into whatever future we have ahead."
Alec felt a lump forming in his throat, unable to believe that this man, this amazing man with literal magic powers and centuries of lovers, felt such a way about him. That, despite his immortality, he seemed to want Alec for as long as he could possibly have him.
"I'm sorry you had to relive all of that pain. I can only imagine how much you've suffered throughout the centuries you've been alive. If I could go back… if I could just ignore my discrimination of the man and trust my gut like I knew I should have…"
Magnus held up a hand to stop his ramble. "Alexander, I know how you were raised. I know what that man is, to the entire Shadow World community. I don't blame you for not trusting what a Valentine-look-alike spewed at you. In some ways, yes, of course I wish you could've believed me, rescued me from the hell they put me through, but I don't blame you. I… I honestly can't say if the roles were reversed and I didn't have magic to help me that I wouldn't have fallen into the same trap."
Alec was quiet, absorbing that.
Magnus reached out to stroke his cheek.
"When I found you, I heard you say something about not being able to lose 'him'. Was that about me?"
Alec looked at the balcony floor, feeling the blood rush to his cheeks.
"Maybe. I just… I didn't know how to fix something I broke so spectacularly. I never imagined you'd forgive me. You were almost executed because of me. I should've been able to see through the Valentine mask and see you. I'm supposed to be your… I'm supposed to be the one who knows you best, out of everyone. If anyone should've figured out it was you…" He sighed irritably. "I just… I'm still getting used to trusting my gut, and my heart. It's hard to shake the shadowhunter soldier status about some things."
Magnus hummed. "Well, that's part of who you are, Alec. That means it's not all bad. It has its purposes too."
Alec exhaled. "I know. I just… I want you to trust me. I want to be the person you can rely on, for anything. I don't want to let you down."
Magnus smiled. "You haven't let me down, Alexander. I trust you. More than you trust yourself, no doubt. But love means giving the other room to grow and supporting them through any mistakes they make. Neither of us are ever going to be perfect, but it's not about that. I plan to stick by your side through whatever comes our way."
Alec's face broke out into a similar smile, relief warming his skin. "Well, if we can get through that nightmare, I think we can handle just about anything."
"I'll toast to that." Magnus said, summoning full champagne glasses into their hands and clinking his glass against Alec's.
Alec couldn't help but roll his eyes at the unnecessary magic, but secretly was amused, and he sipped at the bubbly liquid.
Magnus clapped his hands after they both took a drink and the glasses vanished just as quickly as they came.
"So! I believe we have some catching up to do."
Alec was confused. He didn't really have anything all that exciting to report from his days away from Magnus. After all, he filled it mostly with Institute work and training. Not exactly a lot of room for stimulating conversation.
But Magnus moved to straddle Alec's lap, and Alec immediately found himself grinning, catching on quick to what his boyfriend was implying. His hands went to Magnus' waist immediately before nuzzling into his neck.
"Yes, yes, we do." Alec mused, pressing open-mouthed kisses along Magnus' jugular.
Magnus squirmed in Alec's lap, groaning in delight as his boyfriend started pushing his shirt up his torso.
"So maybe us separating for a few days isn't always a bad thing?"
Alec shook his head, growling. "No more time apart like that again. And no more talking."
Magnus would have voiced his agreement, but his lips were suddenly very busy.