Chapter 1: These Walls Contain You
— “these four walls contain you
supposed to save you from yourself
these four walls will keep you”
- Four Walls, Bastille
* * *
There was a party currently going on at the Hunter’s Moon. There had been a party at the Hunter’s Moon for the past three nights. Alec had attended the first event, but he couldn’t bring himself to join in the rest of the celebrations. Izzy had tried to convince him, but he had been adamant. Thankfully, being the Head of the Institute gave him the perfect excuse to elude his sister’s insistence; the aftermath of a war made for a very busy time.
Alec had yet to figure out what to do with the aftermath of heartbreak. Presently, he stood at the large window in his office and looked out at New York like the city’s night lights might have the answers.
He knew he was being ridiculous. Valentine was dead. Sebastian was dead. The demons were MIA. The Downworld had been saved. Jace was alive. He should be over the moon. And he should be focusing on far more pressing matters than his broken heart. The Seelie Queen had betrayed them all, and she most likely would do so again; she wanted change, after all. Badly. And Seelies had a reputation for being relentless when it came to going after something they wanted. He had a diplomatic crisis on his hands and a parabatai who needed him. There should be no room for anything else in his mind.
He didn’t know the details of what had happened on Lake Lyn, but whatever it was, Jace was clearly still traumatized by the experience. Alec’s hand automatically went to cover his left side, where the parabatai rune was. He absently fingered the mark underneath his t-shirt, a habit he had picked up ever since he got Jace back. It helped him to reassure himself that his brother was safe and their bond was intact.
He winced when his other side pulled and throbbed, reminding him of yet another matter that called for his immediate attention. He lifted his t-shirt and peered under the bandages that covered the wound. The claw marks were red and angry, and he cringed at the sight.
“Damn it,” he said softly.
Alec turned away from the view of a city that held no comfort for him and made his way back to the desk. He took fresh bandages and a bottle of disinfectant out of a drawer and set to work. He was breathing heavily through the burning sensation of the liquid acting against the venom that still lingered in his flesh when there was a knock at the door. Before he had the chance to do or say anything, Jace walked in.
“Enough with the paperwork, Alec. Just come—shit.” Jace closed the door carefully and rushed to his parabatai. He peered at the wound critically. “That looks bad, brother.”
Alec shrugged. “It’s fine,” he said as he finished applying fresh bandages. “Brother Enoch said it might take a while to heal.” He put the t-shirt back on and forced a nonchalant expression on his face for Jace’s sake. He hoped his brother wouldn’t notice just how heavily he was relying on the desk for support. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d be off celebrating.”
“I was. I came to drag your lame ass out of this office, but now I see I’ll be dragging you to bed rather than to a party.”
“I’m fine. And my ass is not lame, I just have stuff to do.” That much was true. There was a stack of paperwork and a few pending calls to make that were all but screaming Alec’s name.
“It can wait,” Jace said. He was watching him sternly with those mismatched eyes of his. “I’m serious, Alec. You look like hell.”
Alec scoffed. “Look who’s talking. Have you been getting any sleep?”
Jace grinned. “Are you worried about me?”
“Constantly,” Alec said, and he was only half-joking.
Jace looked drawn. There were dark circles under his eyes, his skin was a shade paler than usual, and he had taken upon carrying himself with a slight hunch that was very much unlike him. Alec could see the exhaustion and lingering fear past his brother’s cheeky smirk, and it unsettled him.
“I’m okay, Alec,” Jace said.
And if Alec weren’t Alec, if they didn’t share the bond they shared, he might have believed him. Things being as they were, however, he wasn’t fooled for one second. But he also knew Jace well enough to know when to let things go, and he was pretty good at telling what his parabatai needed. What Jace needed right now was a breather, so Alec resorted to leaving him be for the time being.
“Then you should go back to the party,” he said, as casually as he could. “I’m sure Clary would be happy to see you.”
He walked behind the desk and lowered himself into the chair, holding back a grimace when his side sent a fiery pang up his whole ribcage.
“Speaking of lovely people,” Jace said with an airy tone and a casual smile, pulling the chair across the desk towards him and sitting down with cheerful determination, “have you talked to Magnus?”
Alec did wince this time. He couldn’t help it. Physical pain, he could ignore, but he hadn’t yet figured out a way to ignore Magnus Bane. He picked up the shiny metal pen that lay on top of the paperwork stack and began fidgeting nervously, rotating it over and over around his fingers.
“No,” he said quietly. He had planned on keeping his voice level, but even he could hear the vulnerability in it.
Jace could too, apparently, because he sat further on the edge of the seat and leaned forward over the desk like he could reach out to Alec through the mahogany.
“Are you going to?”
“I don’t know,” Alec admitted.
Aside from a short, friendly-enough exchange the night of the first party, he hadn’t had any contact with Magnus. He couldn’t tell who was responsible for that. He didn’t know what was truly stopping them, whether Magnus’ resentment or his own hurt. Whatever it was, there was a wall between them that Alec was at a loss as to how to tear down.
“Alec, you were doing what you thought was right,” Jace spoke gently. “Magnus has to see that sooner or later.”
Alec watched for a few moments as the pen slid easily through his fingers, sliding across his knuckles like he was doing magic. Magnus’ magic was another thing entirely. Magnus’ magic enveloped Alec completely, and he missed it like one might miss a limb.
He snapped out of his reverie and looked up at his parabatai, who was watching him with a worried frown on his face.
“Yeah. It’s not just that,” he finally said.
“Then what is it?”
Alec licked his lips nervously. He had no idea how to explain this to Jace. Frankly, he could hardly explain it to himself.
“It’s…it’s everything, Jace. Everything that happened. He put up wards that could kill Shadowhunters without telling us first. He sided with the Seelie Queen. How am I supposed to process that?”
“Alec…Magnus made mistakes,” Jace said quietly. “He’s only human. Well, sorta.”
Alec’s eyes flashed. He couldn’t help it; it was a natural reaction. He hated it whenever anyone spoke of the demonic side of Magnus’ nature. He didn’t think any of them really understood or appreciated it. Magnus’ cat eyes were the most beautiful thing Alec had ever seen, but he knew for a fact his fellow Shadowhunters didn’t see it that way. Not even Jace. Even now, with everything that was happening between Magnus and himself, it made him furious.
“Hey,” Jace said, sharply but not unkindly, as if reading Alec’s mind. “You know I don’t mean it like that.”
Alec relaxed slightly. He spoke after a few moments. “For the first time, I got to see what it would be like to be on opposite sides. The chance that it could happen again if tensions were to escalate…it scares the hell out of me. I don’t think…I don’t think I could take it.”
And there it was, the core of all of it. Alec had never thought of Magnus as a Downworlder, not really. He hardly ever thought of him as the High Warlock of Brooklyn. When Alec thought of Magnus, he just thought of Magnus—the person. The man he was hopelessly, incurably in love with. He had downplayed their differences because, to him, there weren’t any. Now he had gotten a taste of just how naïve he had been, and it terrified him.
Jace sighed. “Alec, it won’t happen again—”
“How do you know?”
Alec wished Jace had the answers that New York City and its nightscape had been unable to give him, but it was all too clear from the pained expression on his brother’s face that he didn’t.
“I’m fine, Jace,” Alec said, with a finality that left no room for discussion. He simply didn’t have the energy to keep this conversation going. “Go back to the party.”
Jace hesitated. But Jace was pretty good at telling what his parabatai needed too, and eventually, he got to his feet.
“Get some sleep, okay?” he said.
Alec flashed him a smile that he knew wasn’t reaching his eyes, but it was the best he could do. “Okay.”
They both knew he wasn’t going to keep his promise, but neither of them said anything. Jace nodded and walked out, leaving Alec alone in a now silent room, with thoughts that wouldn’t shut up.
* * *
New York never sleeps. Shadowhunters didn’t, either. At least, not in the aftermath of the battle of a lifetime. Not when everything was so raw and scorching on their skin. And right now, Jace’s skin was on fire. It was in flames with everything that had happened to him, and everything that was happening to Alec. It was difficult to sleep when every time the room was silent he could hear his own ragged, dying breaths.
His parabatai rune throbbing fiercely also didn’t help. Now that everything had calmed down and he was once again able to focus, Jace could feel the parabatai bond as strongly as ever. One would have thought that was a good thing, but Alec’s pain was killing him. How had he not noticed before?
There was nothing he could do for his own nightmares, but he could do something for Alec’s.
So Jace ran. He ran because running through the city’s streets at night gave him a sense of power. He ran because he could. Because he was alive. Because his legs worked, his lungs expanded, and his heart pumped. He ran because he was done with watching his brother’s pain from the sidelines.
Jace ran all the way from the Institute to Magnus’ loft. He briefly considered passing up knocking, but he soon realized that barging in on a warlock who had just been through the heat of battle and probably still had some adrenaline going wasn’t a good idea. Instead, he pounded on the door with his fist.
When Magnus opened the door, it was quite obvious that he hadn’t been sleeping, either. He was fully dressed, and his gaze was bright and alert.
“Jace? What are you doing here at this hour?” The warlock’s perfectly rimmed eyes widened in fear. “Is everything okay? Is Alec…?”
“What do you care?” Jace snapped. He couldn’t help it; now that he had Magnus in front of him, all his anger was bubbling to the surface.
Magnus blinked. “Excuse me?”
“We need to talk.” Jace pushed his way into the loft. This place had felt like a refuge, once. Now it felt more like uncharted territory, and he wasn’t sure whether he was behind enemy lines or friendly ones. “It’s about Alec.”
Magnus stared at him with a studiously blank expression on his face. “What about Alexander?”
Despite everything, there was still a soft note in Magnus’ voice when he spoke Alec’s name, but all it did for Jace was remind him of one of the very few details his brother had shared with him.
“He called me ‘Shadowhunter,’ Jace. It felt like I was being stabbed.”
Magnus may be keeping his voice toneless and steady, but Jace remembered the pain in Alec’s, and it drove him crazy. “I told you I’d never let anyone hurt him. Did you think you would be an exception?”
Magnus’ jaw twitched dangerously. “I’m not in the mood, Jace.”
“Yeah? And I’m not in the mood to see my brother hurting.” Jace was hit with a wave of renewed anger so strong, for a moment he actually saw red. “Why are you doing this to him? To yourself?”
But Jace was on a roll. “It’s bad enough that he’s hurting physically—”
“Wait,” Magnus said sharply. “What do you mean, physically?”
“He got hurt during the battle.” Jace paused, frowning. “He didn’t tell you?”
“No, he…he didn’t let it transpire.” Magnus’ features had lost all of their stony elements and were now etched with concern. “How bad is it?”
“He’ll be all right, but it’s a pretty painful wound.” Jace could feel an echo of it even now; his side had yet to stop throbbing.
“Perhaps I should come and use my magic to—”
“No,” Jace snapped. “You’re not getting near Alec right now, not until I know where you stand.” He crossed his arms over his chest and stared hard at Magnus, fury slowly returning to make his blood boil. “Besides, you’ve done enough.”
Magnus frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You could’ve killed him, Magnus. You could’ve killed all of us.” Jace dug his fingertips into his forearms until it hurt. He felt an almost unbearable urge to attack the man standing in front of him, but he knew that even with his angelic powers, he was probably no match for Magnus Bane. “You must be out of your fucking mind if you think I’m letting you anywhere near my brother.”
Magnus looked utterly shocked. “What are you talking about?”
“Are you kidding me?”
Jace could feel himself almost trembling with rage. He didn’t know what was up with that. He was angry at Magnus, had been for days, but it still didn’t explain the hot fury coursing through his veins. Ever since he had woken up on the shores of Lake Lyn, he had been feeling raw, split open.
He decided he would worry about it later. For the moment, he simply continued to glare daggers at Magnus.
“What about the wards your warlocks put up? You know, the ones that would vaporize any Shadowhunter who tried to leave the city? Luke warned us, not you.” He took a step forward, his whole body a block of tension and anger. “Are you that blinded by your resentment that you would risk our lives? Alec’s life?”
For a moment, Magnus’ carefully constructed walls crumbled. His face became a mask of pure horror. “I did warn you. I sent Jasmine to the Institute as my official envoy to warn you as soon as the wards were in place.”
Jace arched an eyebrow. The look of unadulterated dread on Magnus’ face gave him pause, but it still didn’t quite tame his anger. “Well, you should’ve done it yourself, because no one ever showed up. Do you have any idea how that felt? How Alec felt?”
Alec never said anything to him, but Jace vividly remembered the shock and pain that rolled off his parabatai when they had come to learn the news from someone else. It was only one moment before Alec had pushed everything down, but it had been enough for Jace to feel it all.
“You betrayed us, Magnus. You betrayed him.”
Just like that, the walls were back up. Magnus’ features turned to stone, and his eyes glistened with a kind of bone-deep fury that Jace could hardly begin to understand.
“Don’t talk to me about betrayal, Shadowhunter. You have no idea.” He stared at Jace for a long time, his face unreadable. “I would never put Alexander’s life in jeopardy. Ever.”
“I’m sorry, Magnus, but I don’t quite believe you.” Jace had never wanted to believe anyone more in his life, but he found he was wary of Magnus almost beyond reason. Once again, it felt like all of his emotions were heightened. “You walked out on him. You never gave him a chance to explain. You put your people’s lives in jeopardy by siding with the Seelie Queen. You put all of the Shadow World in danger because you were feeling hurt. And now you’re telling me you wouldn’t risk Alec’s life?” He shook his head. “You already have.”
“Then why are you here, Jace? If you don’t believe me, what do you want from me? Did you come just to tell me off? I don’t need you to point out my mistakes. I’m well aware of them.”
There was a sudden exhaustion about Magnus that made Jace pause and finally dissipated some of his anger.
“I don’t know,” he said quietly. “I once thought I had a friend here. I wanted to see if he was still around.” He ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “I don’t know if I can trust you, but I know you’re wrong, Magnus. You’re wrong about Alec.”
“Do you still love him?”
Magnus hesitated for only a split second, clearly taken aback by the question. “I do.”
“Then talk to him!” Jace tried to remember the last time he had been this frustrated at someone, and failed. “What are you doing making the both of you miserable? I know he loves you too, but right now he needs you to fight for him.”
Magnus was silent for so long, Jace began to think he might have finally gotten through to him. But then the warlock spoke, and it was once again business as usual.
“How bad is the wound? Seriously. I can help.”
“We can heal him, Magnus,” Jace all but growled. “We don’t need your magic for this. I’m not even sure he wants to see you right now. I just need to know you’ll talk to him when the time comes. I need to know he won’t be hurt any more than he already has been.”
Magnus didn’t say anything, but there was something new about him, a kind of open vulnerability that hadn’t been there before. He crossed to one of his bookshelves and took out a tin jar, which he then held out to Jace.
“Give him this, at least. Rub it over the wound. It stinks like you wouldn’t believe, but it’ll help him heal faster.”
“Magnus…” Jace hated this. He still had no idea where Magnus stood, but he found that he couldn’t take the raw concern emanating from the warlock’s every move any more than he could take Alec’s pain. “Damn it,” he muttered. “Fine. You can heal him yourself. If he gets pissed, I’ll handle him.”
Magnus gave him a small smile, but it was quickly wiped away by a look of renewed tension as he caught sight of Jace’s parabatai rune shimmering through the thin fabric of his t-shirt. “Frankly, I don’t care if he’ll punch me in the face. Your parabatai rune is pulsating like mad, we need to move.”
Jace grunted. “I feel it. He’s getting worse. Let’s go.”
He pushed past Magnus and strode out of the loft. He walked faster than he had in a while, because he was done. He was done with pain—his own or anyone else’s.
Chapter 2: Do You Hurt for Me?
Malec *is* the endgame, we promise!
— “I see your face in blurry shades
and I reach out for your hand
all your ways I can’t explain
but I want to understand
how long before you hurt for me?
do you hurt for me?”
- Hurt For Me, Syml
* * *
Alec’s head was throbbing. And his side, where the demon’s claws had scratched and carved and left a web of red, angry welts. And his heart, where Magnus had left a hole. There was a pile of paperwork he should be going through, but instead he sat at his desk in the dead of night and cradled his aching head between his hands.
“Heavy is the head,” Izzy had said once. And it was. Alec’s head felt so heavy these days, sometimes he wondered how he was even holding it up. He wondered how he was managing to keep his head above the water and not drown. It certainly felt like he hadn’t taken a proper breath in days.
His side gave a sharp tug, almost like the pain was a living thing. Alec winced and gritted his teeth until he could almost hear them screech as they grated against one another.
There was a sudden bang and the door to the office burst open. Alec jumped and sat up straight, and he barely had time to blink before Jace all but hurled himself into the room.
“What the hell are you doing, Alec?”
Alec looked up into the furious face of his parabatai. “You know, there’s this thing called knocking…”
Jace ignored him. “You should be resting.”
“No, you’re not.” Jace watched him sternly. “It’s getting worse, isn’t it? Don’t,” he interrupted when Alec opened his mouth to protest, “even try to deny it. I can feel it.”
Alec huffed and went back to the seemingly endless stack of papers on his desk. “It’s fine,” he repeated, laconically and with a finality he hoped Jace would accept.
Jace, of course, didn’t. “By the Angel, Alec! Stop!”
Alec looked up sharply, surprised by the outburst.
“Stop hiding it. Stop pretending you’re fine.”
Jace seemed enraged and on edge, and Alec couldn’t quite figure out why.
“Clary drew an iratze earlier,” he said, his tone softening at the concern he could sense rolling off in waves from his parabatai. “Her runes are stronger. I’ll be fine. You’re the one who…” His voice betrayed him and broke. He looked at Jace and committed to memory the image of his brother standing strong and angry in front of him, and he let it anchor him to reality. He cleared his throat and tried again. “You’re the one who died. So how about you take it easy and let me worry about this?”
Jace was silent for a few moments. His gaze glistened with renewed intensity, and it wasn’t just a trick of the soft light in the office reflecting in his odd-colored eyes. He stepped forward until the sturdy mahogany desk was the only thing standing between them.
“I’m here, Alec. I’m good. I’m not leaving you.”
Alec swallowed convulsively against the rush of emotions that suddenly came to try and choke him. “Jace—”
“You’re in pain,” Jace cut him off, firmly but not unkindly. “Alec, please. I’m not good at deep talks, just let me take care of you. Please.”
There was something in Jace’s eyes. In Jace’s voice. Finally, Alec realized that Jace needed to be with him now just as much as he needed to be with Jace. They needed to be reassured of each other’s presence. Of their rushing blood. Of their beating hearts. They were here. They were alive.
Jace was alive, and damn him if Alec was going to refuse his parabatai anything after the nightmare Jace had just been through.
“Okay,” he relented.
He began to stand, but it was suddenly all too clear that the wound in his side had other plans. A sharp pain stabbed through him and he grunted, holding onto the edge of the desk for support. He would have fallen if not for Jace rushing over and grabbing him.
“I’ve got you. I’ve got you.” Jace was staring at him worriedly and with a suspicious hint of guilt. “Alec, I’m sorry.”
Alec frowned. “Sorry? For what?”
“For this,” Jace said, and he turned his head to the side and called out, “Magnus, come on in.”
Alec felt himself falter—whether from the shock or the pain, he couldn’t say. He dug his fingertips deeper into Jace’s forearm as he stared at the man who now stood in front of him. Magnus was looking at him with intense, eyeliner-rimmed brown eyes.
Despite his best efforts, Alec’s heart skipped the proverbial beat. Magnus was here. In his office. In his life. But for how long?
Calling upon a lifetime of training, Alec carefully wiped all emotions from his face. He pulled away from Jace’s support and stood as tall as his flaming side would allow.
“Magnus,” he said, and he didn’t know whether to be proud of or heartbroken for himself that he was able to keep his voice toneless. “What are you doing here?”
Magnus, on the other hand, seemed to be willing to let Alec see the myriad of feelings swirling within him. To the casual observer, the warlock would appear unperturbed. But Alec knew the signs, and he could spy Magnus’ emotions in the slight tightening of his eyes, in his too-straight posture, in the brief, almost undetectable fluttering of his fingers.
But the warlock’s voice was as steady as Alec’s when he spoke. “Jace told me you were wounded. I thought I could help.”
Alec sent Jace a brief but scathing glare, but he was soon staring at Magnus again. He couldn’t help it; try as he might, he just couldn’t look away.
“I don’t need help,” he said, because there was simply no way he was going to show that he was in fact breaking into a hundred million pieces. “It’s healing.”
Magnus didn’t budge. “Alexander, please. Jace says the pain is intensifying. We don’t have to talk, just let me heal you.”
Alec did his best to ignore the way his name on Magnus’ lips never ceased to sound somewhat like a caress. “I don’t need your magic.” ‘I need you.’
Jace went to say something, but Alec was quick to cut him off. He was done with this. He needed to put a stop to it while he had the strength. Before they could see him break.
“Also, in case you haven’t noticed,” he snapped, “we’re still on the brink of a war. The Seelie Queen isn’t backing down. So I suggest you two focus on finding a way to solve that mess, instead of worrying about trivial matters such as a wound that’s healing itself.”
He was being harsh, he knew, but he couldn’t see any other way. He needed to be functional, and he needed for other people to be functional as well. Practical. Efficient. He needed for Magnus not to be in his office, because the warlock was messing with his head just by being there.
Jace, of course, wasn’t having it. “Alec, come on. We can figure all of that out later. Just drop the attitude and let Magnus help. We need you healthy as soon as possible, and warlock magic goes a long way.”
Alec was distantly aware of the fact that Jace was talking, but he couldn’t for the life of him make out the words. At first, he thought it might be the onslaught of emotions brought on by Magnus’ presence that made his head spin. But then he came to the realization that Jace’s voice sounded like it was coming from underwater.
Alec blinked and looked at his brother in confusion.
“Alec?” Jace called. “Are you listening to me? What’s wrong?”
Out of nowhere, Alec’s world tilted.
“Alec!” Luckily, Jace was quicker. He launched himself forward and caught his brother before he could hit the floor. “Magnus, do something!”
Sounds and shapes blurred together. Alec was vaguely aware of being maneuvered by two pairs of strong arms. When his bearings returned, he found himself sitting on one of the two leather couches in the office, Jace and Magnus hovering over him.
“The hell’s goin’ on?” he muttered, words slurring together slightly as he felt cold sweat break out on his forehead. He looked down at his abdomen and frowned. He appeared to have lost his t-shirt somewhere on his way from the desk to the couch, but that wasn’t what worried him. “Why is it still bleeding?” He wasn’t a medic, but he knew for a fact bandaged wounds weren’t supposed to do that.
Jace sat down next to him and watched him apprehensively. “I don’t know. It’s probably infected. Just let Magnus do his thing, all right?”
Alec hesitated. He didn’t want to “let Magnus do his thing.” But he also didn’t want Jace to keep looking at him like that, like he was afraid he might keel over and die at any second. Finally, he gave Magnus a curt nod.
The warlock wasted no time. He undid the bandages with expert hands and began examining the wound. He hissed in sympathy.
“It’s infected, alright,” he announced. “This is going to sting, Alexander. Just hang in there, I’ll be quick.”
Alec swallowed hard. It wasn’t the pain that worried him; it was the way the touch of Magnus’ fingers on his bare skin was already clouding his judgment. He was tired of hard choices, but in that moment, he knew he had to make yet another one.
“Jace, could you give us a minute?”
“Of course.” Jace squeezed his shoulder and stood up readily. “Magnus, take care of him. And…thank you.”
There was a moment of silent communication between the two of them. For one precious instant, it felt like everything was back to normal. Like they were back to watching each other’s backs and caring about each other. Like they were back—all of them. But Alec was painfully aware that wasn’t the case, and he was tired of pretending it would be anytime soon.
“Magnus, stop,” he said quietly, once the door had shut behind Jace. He reached out and closed his hand around the warlock’s wrist.
Magnus looked up. Their eyes met, and damn it if even now, after everything, the air didn’t feel like it was suddenly electrically charged.
Alec swallowed hard and let go of Magnus’ wrist. He felt the loss of contact as an almost physical blow, but he ignored it. “I asked Jace to leave so he wouldn’t be here for this, but I don’t need your magic.”
“What?” Magnus looked at him worriedly. “Why? Alexander, Jace is right. You need to heal quickly. We—they,” he hastily corrected himself, “need you. They need their leader.”
“You don’t get it, do you? Magnus, I can’t…” Alec took a shaky breath. “I can’t do this.”
Magnus’ eyes were pain-filled as he spoke. “Alexander, please,” he breathed softly. “Just let me heal you, then I’ll be gone. You won’t have to see me again except for on official occasions.”
Alec didn’t think there were big enough pieces of his heart left to break, but as it turned out, he was wrong. He half-wondered how it was possible that his ribs weren’t caving in.
“Well, thank you,” he scoffed. “Doesn’t that make me feel better.” He pulled nervously at his bottom lip, but it was only for a moment. He pushed that childhood habit aside and sat up straighter, and he looked Magnus straight in the eye. “I’m not talking to you as Alec. I’m talking to you as the Head of this Institute. I can’t…” He took another deep breath. He hated this. He hated the words that were about to come out of his mouth; they tasted bitter and deadly, like poison. “I can’t trust you. We can’t trust you. You came to aid us in battle, and I appreciate it, and I thank you. But…the wards, Magnus. You didn’t tell us.”
He curled his fist over his thigh, anger and betrayal briefly warring within his battered chest before he pushed them down along with everything else. “It’s one thing to be pissed at me, but you put my men in danger. My family. Jace. Izzy. Clary. I can’t just pretend that didn’t happen.” Magnus’ eyes were overly bright with renewed sorrow, but Alec refused to look away. “I’ll heal this wound myself.” ‘I’ll heal all wounds myself.’ He took a deep breath. “I think you should go.”
Magnus was silent for so long that eventually Alec began to think the warlock would simply stand up and leave. But Magnus didn’t. Magnus refused to look away, too.
“Alexander…I sent Jasmine as my envoy to warn you about the wards. Before you say anything, let me finish,” he said quickly when Alec opened his mouth to interrupt. “Jace told me she never came, and I’ll deal with her. But…do you really believe I would ever put your life in danger? Or your family’s?” His gaze found Alec’s and held it steadily. “Alexander, look at me. Do you?”
And just like that, for the first time in days, Alec’s heart resumed its beating. In fact, it began slamming furiously against his ribcage. He wanted nothing more than to believe Magnus, but he felt so rooted in fear he didn’t even know where to begin to do that.
“You sent somebody?” he said, and he hated the vulnerability in his own voice.
Magnus’ hand went to cover his. “I did. I would never risk your life. Not any more than I already have, for which I’m so, so sorry, Alexander.”
Alec stared at him for what felt like an eternity. He looked down at Magnus’ hand resting over his, and it took all the strength he had left to eventually pull his hand away.
“I believe you,” he said quietly. “But I still don’t want your magic.”
“I can’t let myself rely on you. I have to go back to doing things on my own, including healing wounds. Because…” Alec hesitated. The words scraped like sandpaper against his throat. “Because you’re not here anymore.”
Magnus did look away then. “I don’t know how to fix this,” he murmured. “I’ve never felt so vulnerable and exposed as when I’m with you. I was hurting. Badly.” He looked up again, his eyes shining with unshed tears. “I made the wrong choice. I tried, and I’m still trying, to amend. What can I do to prove to you that we’re on the same side? That you can still rely on me? Tell me what to do, Alexander.”
Alec smiled. The irony of their roles being reversed wasn’t lost on him. “Magnus, I told you once. You never have to prove yourself to me.” He reached out and touched Magnus’ cheek. He needed Magnus to know he wasn’t speaking out of anger or pettiness. He needed Magnus to know he was simply, utterly lost. “But I can’t do this. Not now. Not yet.”
Magnus swallowed visibly and forced out a smile. “I understand,” he said quietly. “It’ll take time to fix this. I almost gave up on you, on us.” He leaned into Alec’s touch, then he reluctantly pulled away and stood. He only turned back around once he was at the door. “I once told you I’m all for effort. I’m going to prove to you that I stand by those words.”
Alec wanted to say that he didn’t need proof. He wanted to say that he just needed Magnus to sit down next to him and tell him he would never, ever leave him in pieces again.
Alec wanted to say a million things, but he said none. Instead, he offered a weak smile and once again watched as the love of his life walked away.
* * *
“Alec? Bro? Can I come in now?”
Alec tried to pull himself back together. He didn’t know what hurt the worst—his side, or his heart. He idly wondered how much a heart could take before it was impossible to glue back together.
He lifted his head off the back of the couch and forced out a smile for Jace’s sake. “Sure. Come in.”
In a heartbeat, Jace went from peering warily into the room to rushing in. He was sitting on the edge of the couch before Alec could even realize his brother was moving.
“What the hell happened?” Jace gripped the back of Alec’s neck with one hand while the other hovered uselessly over the bleeding wound. “Where’s Magnus? Why hasn’t he healed you?”
“I told him to go.” Alec stared at his parabatai. He could have addressed the wound. He could have told Jace that it was hurting like hell and they really needed to take care of it. But there was one thing he wanted to know first. “Why the hell did you bring him here in the first place?”
“I went there to roast him, Alec.” Jace glared fiercely at the empty air, as if Magnus was still standing in front of them.
Alec blinked. He had not been expecting that. “What?”
Jace took a calming breath and busied himself with cloths and bandages, which he none-too-gently pressed down on the wound. “I was so mad at him for you, the wards, the Seelie Queen…all of it. I told him you were hurt and he offered to help. I said no at first, but then…I saw how worried he was, how sad. And I thought, ‘Screw it. He deserves another chance.’” He grimaced, whether in sympathy for Alec’s painful wound or his sorrow, it was hard to say. “I’m sorry, Alec.”
Alec ran a hand over his face, both to keep the pain at bay and to hide a fresh round of tears that sprung, unexpected, to his eyes.
“Thank you,” he finally said when he had himself back under control. “I appreciate the effort. But I think I’d rather have our runes stop the bleeding.”
Jace looked at him sternly. “I don’t agree with this,” he stated unnecessarily. “But I know you’re not gonna change your mind. Still…” He turned his head to look at something and grinned. He picked up a jar left on the couch’s leather cushions and held it up triumphantly. “We might get to use some of Magnus’ magic, after all.”
Alec eyed the jar distrustfully. He was suddenly hit with a very vivid memory of a jar of werewolf fangs stacked on the shelves of Magnus’ apartment. “What the hell is that?”
“Oh, relax,” Jace said, opening the jar and letting out a godawful smell that had them both pause for a moment. “It’s just a powder.”
“A powder made of what?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care. Magnus said it’ll help with the healing.” Jace looked up at him and glared. “Now will you stop whining and let me fix it? So I don’t have to feel this stabbing pain in my side all the time?”
Alec paled. The parabatai bond. How could he be so stupid? His pain was quite literally transferring to Jace, and the Angel knew more pain was the last thing his brother needed.
“Shit,” he said quietly. “Sorry.”
“Alec…” Jace gave a long-suffering sigh. “Stop it, okay? Not everything’s your fault. I was just trying to trick you into cooperating. Now, let’s do this.”
Alec let himself be maneuvered into a more comfortable position on the couch. He stared up at the ceiling as Jace began spreading the powder over the angry wound. It was like having liquid fire poured onto his flesh. Alec clenched his jaw so hard his whole face became numb, and he put all of his energy into keeping the cries in. The thought that this pain might also be transferring to Jace was almost unbearable to him. Hadn’t his brother had enough?
“Alec,” Jace said sternly, “I can hear you thinking. Stop.”
“Sorry,” Alec said, pushing the words out through gritted teeth. “It’s just that I know how much pain you felt when you…” He trailed off. He knew he didn’t have to say it. “I almost died, too. Part of me, anyway. I just don’t want to cause you more pain, that’s all.”
He was half-expecting Jace to deflect again, like he’d been doing for the past three days whenever the subject of what had happened at the lake came up. This time, however, Jace took a shaky breath and forced himself to look at Alec. His hands shook slightly as he kept tending to the wound.
“While I was dying…I felt your pain, too.” Jace’s voice had gone very quiet, like he was afraid just speaking the words aloud might break him. “It was like I was feeling you die. It was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. I never want to go through that again.” He took another breath, and his voice was stronger when he spoke next. “So just let me handle this, okay? You always took care of me, now it’s my turn. Just trust me.”
Alec wanted to tell Jace that he trusted him with his very life, but he found that he was suddenly unable to speak. They had not talked about this, not yet. Not really. It was the first time either of them voiced their terror aloud—that all-consuming dread that had gripped them both, albeit in different ways, as Jace died on the shores of Lake Lyn.
Alec took his brother’s hand and held on for dear life, and he couldn’t even bring himself to feel ashamed when a tear escaped his hold and rolled down his cheek. It was too much. It was too fresh. It was too raw.
“It’s okay, Alec. It’s gonna be okay.”
Jace’s voice sounded every bit as broken as Alec felt. He didn’t let go of Alec’s hand as he sat on the couch and gently placed Alec’s head in his lap. In that moment, Alec realized this was exactly what they needed—touch. Contact. Holding on to each other like they always had. Dropping the masks.
He turned his head to the side and hid his face against Jace’s abdomen. He squeezed his eyes shut against the pain and the lingering terror. “I can’t lose you too, Jace.”
Jace gave a sharp intake of breath, as though Alec’s rough whisper had hit him square in the mouth of the stomach. He stroked Alec’s hair, a soothing gesture he hadn’t quite outgrown and that he only resorted to in times of great distress—generally when Alec was too hurt or too sick to notice. The motion mostly had the purpose of calming Jace more than Alec.
“You won’t ever lose me, Alec. I’m here with you, for you. Do you hear me?” There was a fierce determination in Jace’s voice, like Alec hearing him was a matter of life or death. Perhaps, in a way, it was. “We’ll figure out a way out of this mess. Together.”
Alec wasn’t even sure which mess Jace was referring to—if the lingering emotions they both so clearly still needed to process, the disaster that was the Shadow World’s relationship with the Seelie Queen, or the disaster that was Alec’s relationship with Magnus. Maybe it was all of the above that Jace was setting out to fix. The more Alec thought about it, the more it seemed like an impossible task.
“I’m just glad you’re okay.” He unglued himself from Jace’s abdomen and stared up at his parabatai. “’m sorry I wasn’t there.” He was vaguely aware of his words slurring again and of things’ outlines getting blurrier by the second.
“You were there, Alec,” Jace said forcefully. “And it wasn’t like you were having a party. You were fighting, saving people. Risking your own life.” There was a pause and a frustrated hiss on Jace’s end. “Damn it. This is taking too long, you’re getting weaker.”
“’s okay. ‘s gonna be okay. I’ll be fine.” Alec shifted a little on the couch, mostly to keep himself awake through movement. “Magnus wouldn’t have left this smelly powder if he didn’t think it would work.”
Jace grinned down at him. “He has all the answers, doesn’t he?”
Alec’s features darkened. “Not all of them.”
Jace cringed. “Wanna talk about it?”
Alec’s head was spinning, and not from blood loss alone. He wasn’t sure he even knew where to start “talking about it.”
“Do you think…” he began cautiously, “…do you think he really sent someone to warn us about the wards?”
Jace pressed down harder on the wound, and Alec winced. “Sorry,” Jace offered. “He looked me straight in the eye when he told me. He was honestly scared. I saw terror in his eyes when I told him we got the news from Luke. So yes, I believe he did send somebody.”
Alec sighed. He felt an overwhelming sense of relief. “Good,” he said quietly. “I love him, Jace.”
Jace smiled. “I know you do. I’m sorry I didn’t get that something was wrong, that you were hurting so badly. I don’t know why I didn’t feel it. I wish I’d been there for you.”
Alec gave him a reassuring smile. “You were kinda preoccupied with other things. We all were.” He shifted again and grimaced. “You and Clary…you’re…?”
Jace shrugged. “I don’t know. We kissed, let’s see where it goes. With her, you can never say.” He hesitated, and then he blurted out the words he had kept in for so long. “But I love her, Alec. I do.”
Alec smiled. It was the first time Jace admitted his feelings for Clary out loud to him. “Yeah,” he said. “I figured that.”
Jace grinned. “Of course you did.”
“I hope it works out for you. You both deserve a break—”
The fire in Alec’s ribcage flared up suddenly. For all of his training, he couldn’t hold back a scream this time. When he began to reacquire his bearings, he looked down and saw that the wound had finally stopped bleeding.
“For once…I wish…Magnus’ remedies didn’t hurt…so damn much…” He realized he was holding Jace’s hand in a white-knuckled grip, and he hastily let go. “You okay? The bond…are you in pain?”
“A bit,” Jace admitted. “Nothing I can’t endure.” He grabbed Alec’s hand again, like breaking the link now would send them both adrift all over again. “I’m so sorry, Alec. I forgot about everything. I was so focused on myself, on my insecurities, that I was never really there for you. Or rather, I was, but…I guess I never really showed it.” He caught Alec’s gaze and held it. “It won’t happen again.”
Alec stared softly at Jace. It spoke volumes about just how distressed his brother was for him to be rambling like that, to be so unabashedly open. He took a deep breath and offered a smile that he hoped didn’t look just like a pained grimace.
“It’s okay, Jace. You don’t have to apologize.”
It took a few minutes for the pain to subside, but eventually Alec lay exhausted with his head still in Jace’s lap and his eyes staring absently up at the ceiling.
“Alec, what can I do?” Jace was peering down at him with a somewhat terrified expression on his face. “How can I help?”
“It’s okay,” Alec said. “I think the worst has passed.”
Jace reached down and pushed sweaty strands of hair off Alec’s forehead. “You get some rest. I’ll stay with you.”
Alec blinked owlishly up at his brother. Now that the pain was finally receding, he felt unconsciousness pulling insistently at him, so much so that it took him a moment to even understand what Jace had said.
“Maybe you should go to Clary…I mean, you finally have a chance to spend some time together…”
Jace looked at him in disbelief. “Alec Lightwood, did you get a word of what I just said?” He shook his head in open disapproval. “I’ve been pouring my heart out here, and you tell me to go to Clary? Are you kidding me?”
“Okay, okay. Sorry. You’re right.” Alec cringed, but he was secretly relieved to see Jace’s spark come back. “It’s just…I want you to be happy, Jace. You and Izzy and Max…” He shifted his weight again to be able to better stare up at Jace and make sure he had his undivided attention. “Jace, you’re my brother. No matter what else is going on, nothing’s gonna change that.” He didn’t know how he knew, but he was sure Jace needed the reminder.
Sure enough, Jace’s whole posture changed. He suddenly appeared more relaxed, like a small part of the weight he seemed to be carrying on his shoulders had been lifted.
“I know,” he said.
Alec smiled and finally allowed himself to close his eyes. He was already drifting off when he spoke again. “Hey, Jace?”
“D’you think…d’you think Magnus will come back for me? Eventually?”
“He already has. He will again. Once someone is lucky enough to have you in their life, they just can’t let you slip away.”
Alec gave a weak grin even as unconsciousness came. “You’re biased, Jace Lightwood.”
He never saw Jace smile down at him like everything was suddenly right with the universe, like he had just been given back his identity. Alec never heard Jace’s words, or felt his brother’s fingers run through his sweat-dampened hair.
“Whatever you say, Alec,” Jace whispered in the semi-darkness. “Whatever you say. I’ll save my ‘stop underestimating yourself’ speech for later. Now rest, brother. And just so you know,” he added for good measure, “if Magnus doesn’t come back, I’ll kill him.”
— “I drew a sabre through her
it was a bloody knife
I threw her in the river
which was a dreadful sign”
- Down In The Willow Garden, Norah Jones & Billie Joe Armstrong
* * *
Jace tried to remember a time when he had felt prouder than this, but his mind drew a blank. To say that Alec was being magnificent would have been the understatement of the century. He was tearing into the Clave with strength and determination, a man on a mission that so many opposed and so few understood the vital importance of.
“Mr. Lightwood. I suggest you calm down.”
Least of all Imogen. Jace had thought his newly found grandmother might be different, but as she now looked at Alec with razor-like sharpness in her blue eyes, he realized that she didn’t get it either. Not entirely. It began to occur to him that no one who lived so far away from where the Downworld and the rest of the Shadow World merged would ever be able to understand. Those who lived in Idris and within the shelter of Alicante simply had no idea.
But there was a huge difference between being skeptical and set in one’s ways, like Imogen, and downright hostile, like some of the faces around the table in the Alicante Council hall. Jace studied them carefully. Most members of the Council didn’t understand what Alec was saying, nor could they comprehend why the Head of the New York Institute was so angry. On the other hand, some of them understood perfectly, and they hated Alec for it. Jace could see it written all over their faces—the indignation, the fury. The fear of the change Alec was trying to bring along.
Jace felt chills run down his spine. He shifted his weight inconspicuously, enough to inch just a little closer to Alec.
‘Make an attempt. Make one single attempt, you bastards. I’ll slit your throats open.’
Whoa. Where had that come from?
The force of his own hatred and resentment caught Jace completely by surprise. Ever since the Angel had brought him back, his emotions had been a raw mess boiling just under the surface of his skin, somewhere in-between nerve and muscle. He should have known it would only get worse once he got back to Idris, where everything had originated. Where he had died. Where he had been brought back at some unbearable cost he was only now beginning to glimpse. But he had insisted on accompanying Alec anyway.
At first, Jace couldn’t understand why Alec couldn’t report in to the Clave via the screen in his office like always. He didn’t get why Alec was so adamant about going all the way to Idris. But now, as they both stood in the Council hall, Alec standing his ground, exposed and in the middle of it all, and Jace a few feet away, guarding him like he would guard his own soul, he understood. There was simply no way Alec could have conveyed it all through a screen, no matter how much of a skilled communicator he was.
Here, however, the message was very effective. Jace could feel the fury roll off his parabatai in waves. If he’d ever had any doubts about the fact that Alec was born to lead—and he didn’t—this would have erased them all. Where Jace’s rage would have been explosive and unproductive, Alec’s rage was collected and calculated, a blunt instrument held in an iron grasp and directed with inescapable accuracy. It was like his brother had a steering wheel. Like he was shooting arrows. He certainly was shooting daggers from his eyes, and his voice dripped with arrowheads.
“And I suggest you open your eyes,” Alec said. He had his hands clasped behind his back and was standing to the fullest of his stature. He looked unshakable. He looked like he could have moved mountains and tamed rivers. “As much as Valentine and the Circle would have wanted us to believe otherwise, the universe does not revolve around Shadowhunters. It is vital that we better our relationships with the Downworld. I’m trying to implement change, and you have jeopardized it all by lying about the Soul Sword.”
“We don’t want your change,” Eric Callaghan growled out. His family had been sitting at the Alicante Council table for generations. While they were never members of the Circle, rumors had it that the Callaghans had once actually sympathized with Valentine’s cause.
Jace took one step forward, his whole body tensing. Callaghan’s tiny black eyes shone with contempt. They reminded Jace of a demon’s eyes, and he once again felt an uncomfortable chill run down the whole length of his body.
“Mr. Callaghan,” Imogen said, sternly. She didn’t have to say anything more. The man pursed his lips and lapsed back into a resentful silence.
Alec barely spared him a glance. Jace had no idea how his brother was doing it.
“Mr. Lightwood, I understand what you’re trying to do—”
“No, I don’t think you do.”
Imogen blinked and stiffened further in her seat. “Excuse me?”
“With all due respect, the Clave has proven anything but helpful in trying to mend our relationships with the Downworld. In fact, quite frankly, you’ve been making my job harder. I don’t think you grasp just how important this is and how precarious is the balance.” Alec’s hard gaze shifted to each member of the Council, one by one. With that one look, he made sure they knew he would not be satisfied with only letting their spokesperson take the fall. He made sure they knew they were all culprits, and he wouldn’t stand for it. “Your lies have given the Seelie Queen the pretext she needed to stand against the whole Shadow World. Even as we talk, she’s spreading poison among the Downworlders. I’m doing all I can to contain the damage, but it won’t be easy. I need you to understand what you’ve done. And I need you to understand what I’m doing.”
“And what are you doing, Mr. Lightwood?” Theresa Highwater spoke up. She was looking at Alec like she couldn’t quite believe he’d even had the nerve to show up in this hall.
Jace’s hands itched for a fight, and he crossed his arms over his chest and buried his eager fingers underneath his armpits.
“I’m implementing transparency,” Alec said, not missing a beat.
“Yes. It’s the only way to move forward. Complete transparency from all sides, both external and internal.”
“I think you’re letting your newly acquired role get to your head, Mr. Lightwood,” Theresa said.
“And I think you’re not comprehending the role you’ve given me.” Alec shifted his attention back to Imogen. “You have allowed me to remain Head of the New York Institute because I know the city better than anyone here in Idris. And I do. I know New York and I know how fragile the balance between all factions is, and I know how to talk to every single one of those factions’ leaders. You need to let me do my job.”
Imogen studied Alec carefully for a moment. “What is it exactly that you are requesting of us, Mr. Lightwood?”
Alec lifted his chin just a fraction, but it was enough to make him look even taller. Even stronger. Even more formidable. “Any decision the Clave makes that involves the Downworld, involves New York in a far more impactful way than you can imagine. I want to be made privy of it. Immediately, and without fail.”
“So you can run and tell your warlock lover about our business?” Callaghan snarled.
Jace cringed inwardly. He glanced at Alec, but to his surprise, his brother seemed unperturbed even by this provocation.
“Magnus Bane is the High Warlock of Brooklyn. He will be involved in all decisions that may concern the warlock community. As will Lucian Graymark for what concerns the lycanthropes, and Raphael Santiago for what concerns the vampires.” Alec stared coldly at the man. “If the Clave has a problem with that, then we might as well prepare ourselves for an uprising.”
“I assure you, Mr. Lightwood, peace is the ultimate goal for all of us,” Imogen said, her voice hard so as to interrupt any further unpleasantness. “The Clave will grant you all the support you might need in your endeavors, and you will be consulted as much as possible.”
An uncomfortable silence fell upon the room. Jace bit back a smirk. They all looked like they were sucking on lemons. Alec nodded curtly. He didn’t say he appreciated it. He didn’t say thank you. He nodded and accepted what was due to him. Jace felt like he might actually burst with pride.
“If that is all,” Imogen said, “I would adjourn this meeting so we can all get back to work.”
He would be hard-pressed to admit it out loud, but Jace was also quite impressed with his grandmother. He could see that most of the members of the Council were anything but happy with the concession that had been granted to Alec, but no one spoke up.
“That is all,” Alec said.
“I will require full reports after each of your Downworld Cabinet meetings, Mr. Lightwood.” Imogen mentioned it almost as an afterthought, but Jace had no doubt it was carefully calculated.
Alec clearly wasn’t surprised, either. He also wasn’t happy. He stiffened ever so slightly, a change so imperceptible that Jace was fairly sure he had been the only one who noticed, and only because he knew Alec better than he knew himself.
Alec nodded once more, in a somewhat sharper manner.
“You’re dismissed,” Imogen announced.
Her blue-eyed gaze landed on Jace, and he had to force himself not to look away. It was like she was trying to spy his thoughts.
He turned around when Alec did and followed him out of the Council hall. They walked together through the corridors of the Gard, their stride speeding up in unison, both equally eager to get to the portal and get out of there.
“That was impressive, Alec,” Jace said, and he had never meant anything more.
“Yeah, well. I’ll believe in the Clave’s full cooperation when I see it.” Alec’s lips were pursed, his brow furrowed. Jace could almost hear his brother’s brain whirring with thoughts.
“But the fact that Imogen gave you that concession in front of everyone, that must count for something, right?” he ventured.
Alec shrugged. “It does give me some wiggle room. That’s something, I guess.”
They lapsed into silence, Alec preoccupied with how to fix the world and Jace trying to figure out the best way to help him do that. They didn’t speak again until they finally walked past the walls of Alicante. Jace breathed an inner sigh of relief as they left the buildings behind. You couldn’t portal into the city, so they had to get back to the woods in order to get back home to New York. Jace couldn’t wait to be rid of this place.
“So,” he began as they all but marched onwards, both spurred on by some unspoken urgency. “Are you really going to report to the Clave with what will be said during the Cabinet’s meetings?” He couldn’t really see Alec giving in to that request, no matter what he might have said in the Council hall.
“I have to,” Alec said. “I can’t afford to ruin this small victory by disobeying a direct order.”
Jace stared at his brother in shock, but then Alec gave him a sideways glance and smirked.
“Of course, they don’t have to know everything.”
* * *
Alec was running on pure adrenaline. There was something galvanizing about having finally had the chance to make an official stand to the Clave. He found himself prey to a near-frenzy. He had never been anything but determined in his mission, but now he worked with renewed urgency. He had already lost too much to mounting tensions between his kind and the Downworld. He wasn’t going to let it escalate further. He wasn’t going to let the Clave’s obtuseness or the Seelie Queen’s selfishness lead them into a war where they would all be losers. He was going to bring change, starting from this very Institute.
“…which is why I’ve given orders to convert the rooms in the southwest wing into a specifically designed location for our meetings. Construction began this morning.”
He leaned back into his seat behind the desk and suppressed a satisfied grin at the flabbergasted expression on Luke’s face.
The man had entered his office a few minutes earlier, having given Clary a ride back to the Institute after a surrogate-father-daughter afternoon. Luke was also a focused leader, and the conversation had unsurprisingly gravitated towards Alec’s recent meeting with the Clave.
“You’re converting an entire wing to Downworld Central?” Luke said, with an impressed grin on his face. “Your people must be thrilled.”
Alec shrugged. “They’ll adapt.” He ran a hand over the back of his neck, only then noticing the stiffness there. “I realize it’s still on Institute grounds, but the southwest wing hasn’t been used in decades. It’s the most neutral meeting place I can offer you at this moment.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine, Alec. It’s already more than any Head of the Institute before you have offered.” Luke smiled. “Magnus and Raphael will be pleased.”
Alec’s heart gave a lurch at the mention of Magnus’ name. He was going to have to figure that out. He couldn’t possibly spend the rest of his career trying not to die inside every time he came in contact with the High Warlock of Brooklyn. Perhaps mending relationships with the Downworld also had to pass through mending his personal relationship with Magnus. Perhaps it was unrealistic to believe he could keep the two completely separate.
Luke seemed to read his mind. He studied him intently as he leaned back against the fireplace’s mantel and crossed his arms over his powerful chest.
“Have you talked to him?”
There was no doubt as to who “him” might be.
Alec clenched his jaw briefly against the tension in his body. “No.”
“Maybe you should,” Luke said. “He told me about what happened. He said you got hurt during the battle and wouldn’t let him heal you. Is that true?”
Alec scowled. He felt more than a little annoyed that Magnus would refuse to talk to him for days, and yet he was apparently happy to talk to Lucian Graymark, of all people, about their relationship.
“I’m fine,” he said dismissively.
Luke arched an eyebrow. “Oh, yeah, you’re clearly over him.”
Alec’s body gave a half-jolt, like it instinctively wanted to jump off the chair. He clenched his jaw tighter to keep in the words that came to him in a fiery rush. ‘I will never be over Magnus.’
Luke gave the long-suffering sigh of someone used to dealing with the turmoil of young people in love. “I’m just saying, what you guys have is rare, Alec. Don’t throw it all away because of a misunderstanding. Magnus is stubborn and hot-tempered, but he loves you. Don’t give up on him.”
“I would never give up on Magnus,” Alec said fiercely, unable to stop himself. “I just need some time.”
“Yeah, well,” Luke said, “time may not be on your side.”
Alec’s stomach spasmed. For a terrible, heart-stopping moment he thought Luke might be referring to something horrible that he didn’t know about having befallen Magnus, but he soon realized that wasn’t the case. There was a darkness to Luke’s eyes and a bleakness to his features, and Alec understood. Luke was thinking about Jocelyn. About the time they didn’t get. Because Alec had killed her.
‘The demon. The demon killed her,’ Alec reminded himself.
He had found that he had to do that every time he thought of Jocelyn. He had to remind himself that while it may have been his hands that had ripped Jocelyn’s heart out of her chest, it certainly had not been his soul. It had not been him. And so Alec repeated the words to himself like a mantra, whenever the guilt came.
“The demon killed her.”
It was Magnus who had taught him that trick. It didn’t necessarily push the guilt away, but it kept him sane—and away from ledges and fathomless darkness.
Alec was trying to think of something to tell Luke, some words he could offer that wouldn’t sound utterly empty, when there was a crackling in the air in front of him, right above the desk’s mahogany surface. A flame blazed up, and as it faded as if blown away by an imperceptible gust of wind, a piece of parchment fell upon the desk.
Luke frowned. “It’s almost midnight. Who’s sending you fire messages at this hour?”
Alec shrugged and picked up the paper. His insides went cold.
“Downworlders are scum. And so are you. You are not worthy of leading a Shadowhunter Institute. Remove yourself, or we’ll remove you.”
“Alec? What is it?”
Alec swallowed. He stared at the words in shock for what felt like forever, then he looked up and tried to wipe all disconcert from his face.
“Nothing,” he said.
Luke stared at him. “Alec. You said complete transparency, remember?”
Alec sighed. Would this be considered a Downworld issue? He supposed, in a way, it might be. He held out the paper silently.
Luke unglued himself from the fireplace and walked up to the desk to take the offered piece of parchment. He looked up sharply once he had read it.
“Are you kidding me?”
Alec gave a half-shrug. “I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later.”
“Alec, this is serious. We have to get to the bottom of this.”
“Tensions are running high after everything that went down recently,” Alec said, his brain already kicking back into motion, examining the situation from all angles.
He was not naïve enough to believe that no one would ever openly express their discontent about what he was attempting to do. Granted, this was quite extreme. He would have to be on his guard—more than usual. But he wasn’t going to blow it out of proportion, either. Not yet.
“Let’s just wait and see what happens.”
Luke stared at him in disbelief. “Alec Lightwood, you’re insane.”
* * *
What happened was that two nights later, Jace somehow managed to convince Alec to “just let go for one night, by the Angel, Alec,” and dragged him to the Hunter’s Moon. Alec would have been lying if he said he didn’t have a nice time of it. For a precious couple of hours, he was able not to think. He hadn’t thought it would ever be possible, but Jace did the trick.
For a life-saving couple of hours, the outside world didn’t exist. There was no Seelie Queen. There was no Clave. There were no death threats. There was, however, still a Magnus Bane. As far as Alec was concerned, there would always be a Magnus Bane. But he was able to push thoughts of the warlock far enough into the back of his mind that for a crucial couple of hours, they didn’t destroy him.
For two hours, there was only him and Jace and beer. And breathing. Alec still felt like he had forgotten how to breathe, but for an oxygenating two hours, he began to remember. They didn’t talk about anything in particular. They simply took two hours to themselves, to just be.
At the end of it, even Jace seemed to feel lighter. He looked less drawn, like the tension he had been carrying with him since Lake Lyn had somewhat dissipated. Alec deemed the evening worth it for that result alone. As for himself, he felt recharged too. More focused. More in control. Like maybe, just maybe, things would be okay.
Of course, he should have known it wouldn’t last.
Jace sped up the pace as they got nearer to Institute’s entrance.
“Jace, what?” Alec called, hurrying after him.
There was a knife stuck into the wooden doors of the Gothic cathedral that hosted the New York Institute. It gleamed from blade to hilt in the lights from the street. It wasn’t so much the knife that was distressing, as the fact that it had been used to pin a note to the door.
Alec’s stomach clenched. Jace was going to kill him. He reached out to wrench the weapon out of the wood, but his parabatai was faster. He watched as the color drained from Jace’s face as he stood with the knife in one hand and the note in the other.
“Alec…” Jace said. His voice sounded slightly strangled.
Alec cringed inwardly. “Let me guess,” he said weakly. “Death threat?”
“Yes. It says—wait, what?” Jace’s mismatched gaze snapped up to him. “You know about this?”
Alec shifted his weight from one foot to the other, uncomfortable. “What does it say?”
Jace watched him suspiciously. “It says, ‘Alec Lightwood, we will not ask again. Next time, there will be blood.’”
Alec gulped. He began to consider the possibility that this whole affair might be more serious than he’d first thought.
“Alec!” Jace said sharply. “What’s going on? Has this happened before?”
Alec sighed. There was no point in lying to Jace anymore. “I received an anonymous fire message a couple of nights ago. The gist was pretty much the same.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Jace was looking at him with a mixture of disbelief and pure rage written on his face. It made Alec wince.
“I didn’t think they were serious,” he said. “I thought maybe someone didn’t like what I said to the Clave the other day.”
If possible, Jace went even paler. He was clutching the note so hard that the parchment had been crumped into a ball. “You think it comes from the Clave?”
“No!” Alec said sharply. “Of course not. But I can’t imagine no one has heard about what happened in the Council hall.”
Jace ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “Well, whoever it is, they’re definitely serious. We have to report in.” With that, he turned around and all but strode into the building.
“What?” Alec blinked and sprinted forward to keep up with his parabatai. “Report in? To whom?”
“Who do you think?” Jace snapped. “The Inquisitor.”
“We’re not—hey. Stop.” Alec grabbed Jace’s arm and held him in place. He searched for Jace’s gaze and found a pair of wild eyes looking back at him. “Calm down.”
“Calm down? Are you kidding me?” Jace all but exploded.
Alec cast a quick look around and was relieved to find that the corridors remained quiet; no one seemed to have been drawn out by their raised voices. He made a frantic gesture for Jace to keep it down.
“I’ll keep my eyes open, but I don’t want to report this in yet.”
Jace was staring at him like he thought he had gone insane. “What’s the plan, then? Wait until they actually give this a try?” He waved the note in front of Alec’s face, like a flag of war. “Will you report it then?”
Alec took a calming breath. “Jace—”
“What’s going on?”
‘Dammit.’ “Izzy. Hey.” Alec tried for a casual smile, but he could see his sister wasn’t fooled.
Isabelle closed the door of her room behind her and walked over, hair swinging in a high ponytail and hips swiveling with purpose. She was wearing pajama pants and a tight white t-shirt, but she looked as intimidating as if she were wearing battle gear.
“It’s two in the morning. What are you two arguing about?”
“We have a problem,” Jace said sharply, handing the note over to their sister.
Isabelle frowned. She read it quickly and then looked up, her eyes wide as saucers. “What the hell…?”
“Apparently, it’s not the first note.”
Both his siblings were staring at him. Alec felt the sudden urge to run.
“They didn’t set off any alarms when they approached the Institute,” Isabelle said, her brain instantly going into battle strategy mode. “They must be Shadowhunters.” She looked vaguely nauseated by the thought. “We need to report this to the Inquisitor.”
“That’s what I said,” Jace all but growled.
Alec wanted to argue. He wanted to tell them to just calm down and let him handle it. But while he might win an argument with Jace, Isabelle was looking at him with reproach and steely determination in her dark eyes, and he knew then that he didn’t stand a chance.
* * *
As it turned out, he also didn’t stand a chance with the Inquisitor. Imogen Herondale was as uncompromising as his sister, with the notable difference that she’d had a few more decades to perfect that side of her personality. Which was how Alec found himself with an escort he didn’t think he needed and most definitely didn’t want.
The men were part of the Inquisitor’s personal guard—highly trained and completely trustworthy. Still, it made him feel like a helpless idiot to have them stand guard outside his office and follow him around wherever he went. But their presence seemed to have given Jace and Isabelle some of their peace of mind back, which at least was something. Alec could finally work in peace without having his siblings watch him like overprotective hawks all the time.
As for his own peace of mind, it had officially gone out the window. He felt trapped in his own skin, and as for breathing, he had given up on it. There was simply no way he would ever learn again. With a huff, Alec wrenched the bottom drawer of his desk open…
…and he promptly froze.
He had forgotten he had shoved it in there, a couple of days after Magnus walked out on him, when he simply couldn’t bear to look at it. He took it out now, surprised at the way his hand didn’t shake as he did so. His own face smiled radiantly back at him.
That’s what really hit him as he looked at the strip of pictures from the photo booth in Tokyo—not the fact that Magnus looked gorgeous no matter what pose he was striking (because, really, what else was new?), but his own smile. Alec tried to remember whether he had ever smiled like that, before or after Magnus. He didn’t think he had. He didn’t think he had even known how.
He looked at the pictures, one by one, and he realized that in those still frames, he was breathing. And that’s when he decided that maybe, just maybe, it was about time he got his breath back.
Stay tuned for *the* Malec chapter on Monday!
Chapter 4: My Clarity
*The* Malec chapter is here!
— “if our love is tragedy
why are you my remedy?
if our love’s insanity
why are you my clarity?”
- Clarity, Sam Tsui
* * *
Magnus Bane had lived for centuries, but to say that he had learned how to remain emotionally stable when things got dark would be a huge lie. Whenever life pushed him, Magnus pushed back. Hard. Irrationally. Wildly.
He wasn’t like Alec, who despite his young age seemed to be able to keep the big picture in sight and his head level even while his heart was breaking. When Magnus’ heart broke, he broke right along with it. It had always been that way, and he suspected it always would be.
Alec would blow up the very ground he stood on in order to make something right. Magnus would burn down the world to avenge the pain. When Magnus got angry, the ground shook. Sometimes literally. It was the demon in him.
He had heard a Shadowhunter once say Downworlders were slaves to their impulses. Magnus didn’t like to agree with Shadowhunters, on principle, but the man was not wrong. The High Warlock of Brooklyn could bend the laws of physics to his command, but he was powerless against his emotions. They would always rule him.
The sky over New York was a triumph of red and oranges as Magnus looked at it from the vantage point of his terrace. Below, the city was a-bustlin’, as it always was—people and lights and sounds. It was constant sensory overload.
“How many Downworlders do you think live in New York?” Alec had asked him once.
“I don’t know,” Magnus had said, “but they’re not all your responsibility.”
And they really weren’t. They were Magnus’, and he had failed them.
He leaned against the stone ledge of the terrace and wrung his hands together, the twisting of his fingers matching the twisting of his insides. The more he thought about all he had done, the more wildly his heart slammed against his ribcage. The past few weeks had been a string of one disastrous decision after another. He still couldn’t wrap his head around his own idiocy. To say that emotions had clouded his judgment would be the understatement of the millennium.
Magnus took a long breath and exhaled it slowly, but it did nothing to calm his nerves or soothe the guilt that was eating away at him. He could not believe he had trusted the Seelie Queen, of all people. He could not believe he was going to hand the whole of Brooklyn’s warlock community over to her.
“You put all of the Shadow World in danger because you were feeling hurt.”
Jace’s words rang in his ears like war sirens. A war which he had almost helped start. Magnus shuddered at the thought. He had lost sight of his path because of his emotions before, but never like this. Never so spectacularly.
The enormity of his feelings for Alec never really hit him until hurt and fury had made him deny them. Now they terrified and overwhelmed him, and yet he would give anything for the chance to voice them again.
Magnus looked out at the city with its 8 million inhabitants and realized he had never felt this alone. Or this vulnerable. Or this scared. For all of the pain in his past, he tried to remember one instance in which he had felt this lost, and he failed. Because he now knew that in over 400 years, he had never loved anyone like he loved Alec Lightwood.
“Alec Lightwood,” Dorothea had said. “No wonder you’re a mess.”
No wonder, indeed. Except that, to Magnus, everything about Alec was a wonder.
He was abruptly pulled away from his bleak reverie by a knock at the front door. Magnus took a deep breath and tore himself away from the ledge. His annoyance grew as he walked back inside with long strides. Couldn’t a warlock commiserate in peace?
He pulled the door open and froze. Alec stood in the doorway, flanked by two Shadowhunter guards. He was looking considerably better than the last time Magnus had seen him, and the warlock breathed an inward sigh of relief. Jace had been updating him on Alec’s condition, but seeing with his own eyes that it had improved knocked some of the weight off his shoulders.
Alec’s eyes flashed with emotion for a split second before he wiped it all off and became Head of the Institute again.
“Mr. Bane,” he said. “I apologize for coming here unannounced, but I was hoping you could give me a minute of your time.”
Magnus’ insides grew cold. Mr. Bane. He remembered the first time Alec had called him that, at the first meeting of the Downworld Cabinet he had set up as his first act as Head of the Institute. They had greeted each other formally, but both their voices had been dripping with subtext. This time was different. This time, it sounded icy.
Magnus’ stomach rolled with sudden nausea, but he took a leaf out of Alec’s book and kept his voice level as he stepped aside.
“Mr. Lightwood. Please, come in.”
The guards moved to follow inside, but Alec incinerated them with one look. They wisely turned around and went to stand guard outside instead. Magnus smirked and shut the door with a flick of his wrist.
“Dammit.” Alec let out a long-suffering sigh. “I’m sorry, Magnus. I couldn’t shake them.” He dropped the formal attitude so suddenly that it made Magnus’ head spin.
“What’s happening, Alexander? Why do you even have guards?” He didn’t think he had ever seen Alec being escorted anywhere before. “Are you okay?”
Alec dismissed his concerns with a wave of his hand. “Yeah, I’m fine.” He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and produced a familiar-looking tin jar. “I brought your smelly powder back.” He paused briefly. “Thank you. For helping me.”
Magnus sighed. “Alexander. You are not here to return a jar.” He stared at the man intently, but Alec was studiously avoiding his eyes. “Why are you here?”
Alec licked his lips nervously. “Right.” He walked over to the small desk in the hallway and put the jar down.
Magnus watched as Alec’s retreating hand froze in mid-air. Next thing he knew, Alec was picking up the pictures from the Tokyo photo booth he had discarded days ago. His head was bowed and Magnus couldn’t see his face, but there was emotion written all over Alec’s stance.
Eventually, Alec let the pictures fall back onto the desk and turned around.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know why I’m here. I just…I miss you.”
Magnus’ heart picked up the pace. All he wanted to do in that moment was cross the distance between them and kiss Alec senseless, but he couldn’t. He had to respect the man’s space, even though it was torture.
“I should probably say I’m sorry,” he began instead, “but I’m not. I’m not sorry that you miss me. It makes me…happy.” It was certainly more than he was hoping to hear from Alec. It was a sign that made him wonder if maybe Jace was right and all was not lost.
Alec stared at him and took a step closer. “What, you thought I wouldn’t?” His voice had dropped to that soft tone he always reserved for when it was just the two of them.
Magnus’ skin, as always, tingled in response. “I don’t know what to think anymore, Alexander,” he admitted quietly. “I feel like my world is upside down. I doubted you, and I shouldn’t have. I made a mistake, I know that now. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if you wanted to stay away.”
It was Alec who bridged the distance—he had a tendency to do that. He stepped forward until they were only a couple of inches apart, and this time he did meet Magnus’ eyes. In fact, he stared so deep into them that Magnus had to wonder if he was trying to see into his soul.
“I don’t want to stay away,” Alec whispered. “Magnus, this…this whole mess began because we stayed away when we should’ve been staying close. I’ve made mistakes, too. And I’m sorry.”
Magnus felt like he was freefalling. In one instant, the world righted itself again. It was like being reborn.
“I’m sorry, too. You were right all along. We should be together.” He covered the short distance left between them and took Alec’s face gently between his hands. “I love you, Alexander. I won’t ever push you away again.” He leaned in and covered Alec’s lips with his own.
Alec reacted instantly. He wrapped his arms around Magnus’ waist and yanked him impossibly close, his fists clenching around the fabric of Magnus’ shirt. He seemed to wince briefly when their bodies collided, but it was soon forgotten, swallowed in the renewed depth of his kiss.
Magnus barely realized just how easy this was. How naturally their bodies fit back together, how effortlessly their mouths found each other again. He just allowed himself to enjoy Alec’s arms around him. The taste of Alec’s lips. He couldn’t breathe, but it didn’t matter—Alec was all the air he needed. He stroked the fingers of one hand along Alec’s neck and kept the other gently cupped around Alec’s cheek. He couldn’t shake the fear that this might go away. That Alec might go away. He didn’t think he could take that again.
Eventually, however, Alec’s wince registered, along with the slightly-too rigid way in which he was holding himself. Magnus pulled back just enough to look at him.
“Isn’t your wound healed yet?”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m okay, Magnus. I’m okay.” Alec spoke between kisses, and there was a note of relief in his voice that told Magnus he was speaking about more than just the wound in his side.
Magnus’ heart broke all over again. How had he ended up with someone so…pure?
“Alexander…” he whispered, and he reluctantly forced himself to pull away again. “No, you’re not. Please, just let me take care of it, and then we can put it all behind us.”
Alec smiled. “It’s almost healed, Magnus. I promise. Don’t waste your magic.”
Magnus sighed. He knew arguing would be pointless, so he just grabbed the front of Alec’s t-shirt and pulled him in for yet another kiss. He kept pulling until they were both moving, stumbling, towards the bedroom.
Alec chuckled, low and happy and youthful. The sound drove Magnus crazy. Now that he had Alec back in his arms, he simply couldn’t get enough. Their hands were clumsy and eager as they tugged at each other’s clothing, and soon they were both lying bare-chested on the bed, Alec sprawled beneath him and Magnus’ fingers dancing over every available inch of gloriously naked skin on his Nephilim’s body.
Alec seemed as oblivious to the world as Magnus felt…until he surged upward to chase Magnus’ lips and froze with a sharp gasp.
“Damn it,” he hissed as he all but fell back onto the mattress.
Magnus frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Alec said quickly. He grabbed Magnus’ nape and pulled him down for a hungry kiss. “Come here.”
Magnus wanted nothing more than to sate Alec’s hunger, but they clearly had a more pressing matter on their hands.
“It’s the wound, isn’t it?” he said.
Alec hesitated. “Yes, it’s…I don’t know. It’s taking a while. Brother Enoch said the venom was a strong one.” He gave a reassuring smile and stroked Magnus’ chest with one hand. “I’m okay.”
“No, you’re not okay. And you’re stubborn.” Magnus leaned down and pressed a quick kiss to Alec’s lips. “Now, since you won’t let me heal you with conventional methods, how about we play a little game?”
Alec’s brow furrowed. “What do you have in mind?”
Magnus grinned and began to gently remove the bandage covering Alec’s side.
“Magnus, what are you doing?”
“Shhh, darling. Just trust me.” It occurred to him that he was probably asking a lot, considering.
But Alec didn’t seem to think so. Alec instantly relaxed, like trusting Magnus was still the most natural thing in the world to him. Magnus was hit with such an overwhelming wave of awe for this man, he almost faltered.
He forced himself to remain focused on what he was doing and finished prying off the bandages. He hissed in sympathy at the sight he was presented with; the claw marks were raised and angry, and the flesh around the wound sported the red halo of a lingering infection.
Magnus looked down at him incredulously. “This is most definitely not fine.”
He silenced Alec’s protests with a kiss, but his lips didn’t stop there. Even as his fingers began to sparkle with healing blue magic, Magnus’ mouth began to trace a map of Alec’s body. The warlock smiled when he reached the area around the wound and felt the heat of infection fade under his lips, to be replaced with a healthy coolness.
“All done,” he whispered against Alec’s skin. He sat up and was pleased to find only faded traces of scars where the wound had been.
“Uh…” Alec was staring dazedly up at him. He looked like he was having trouble forming a coherent thought, let alone an out-loud sentence. It took him a while, and Magnus had never been so pleased with himself. “Did you…uh…did you just trick me into healing me?”
Magnus smirked. “Are you complaining?”
Alec grinned. “No.”
Before Magnus could figure out what was happening, his world tilted upside down again. Alec wrapped a strong arm around his waist and flipped them over with renewed energy, so that Magnus was now lying under him.
And really, Magnus wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
Chapter 5: Between the Wars
I have a very early wakeup call tomorrow, followed by a very busy morning, so I'm posting the Friday chapter on Thursday night instead. I'm pretty sure no one will mind. ;) Thanks everyone for the support you've shown so far! We're thrilled that you're enjoying this ride.
– “between the wars we dance
between the wars we left
don’t wake me yet
don’t wake me yet”
- Between The Wars, Allman Brown
* * *
Alec let out a long breath. Just because he could. Just because he knew how again. He had been painfully aware of having lost the ability to breathe, but he hadn’t fully realized just how oxygen-deprived his lungs had been until now, when he was finally breathing again lying in Magnus’ bed.
He had his arms wrapped around Magnus, the warlock’s head resting on his chest, the spikes of Magnus’ dark hair tickling his chin. The universe was soft again—that softness Magnus had introduced him to and that smoothed the sharpness of Alec’s edges.
“Alexander?” Magnus called softly, his fingertips running idly over Alec’s bare chest.
“Hm?” Alec hummed low at the back of his throat. He felt like he was floating.
“What about those two waiting outside my front door?”
“Shit.” Alec laughed. He had completely forgotten about the guards. In fact, he had forgotten about the whole world. “I should probably get back to them.” Still, he made no move to get up and tightened his hold around Magnus instead.
“Why did you need them to escort you?”
Alec snorted. “I don’t need them. The Clave seems to think I do.”
He could practically feel Magnus frowning. “Why?”
Alec hesitated. He was reluctant to shatter their newly found peace with reality just yet.
“Alexander?” Magnus disentangled himself from the embrace and sat up. His eyes shone with concern as he stared down at Alec. “No more secrets. Please.”
Alec sighed and sat up, too. He reached out to run his fingertips gently down Magnus’ cheek before he leaned back against the headboard.
“There have been a few threats on my life,” he began carefully. “Mostly fire messages, and a knife stuck into the doors of the Institute.” He remembered the look on Jace’s face when they had found the blade and the note attached to it, and it made him shiver. His parabatai was running too raw these days, and Alec was secretly terrified of what he might do. “We know it’s Shadowhunters, but we don’t know who yet. It appears someone doesn’t like that I’m trying to make peace with the Downworld.” Magnus was looking more horrified by the second, so Alec flashed him a reassuring smile. “The Clave saw fit to assign me bodyguards until this blows over.”
Magnus didn’t look at all reassured. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with the Clave.”
“I mean it,” Magnus cut him off gravely. “If the Clave thinks you’re in danger, then these threats must be serious. Don’t underestimate them. We’ve seen what fanatics are capable of.”
Alec smiled fondly. “You sound just like Jace.” Except that Jace had been yelling at him, all exploding anger and razor-sharp concern, while Magnus’ voice was deep and smooth and pleading. Alec took the warlock’s hand and began to play with the rings on his fingers. “Look, everyone’s on edge after everything that happened with the demons and Valentine. It’ll blow over.”
“Alexander, stop.” Magnus squeezed Alec’s wandering fingers urgently. “This is serious, and it’s not over yet. The Seelie Queen is still a threat, the Downworlders still don’t trust the Shadowhunters. War may still be in the cards after all. Think about it. If they kill you, it could be the beginning of the end…for all of us.” Magnus’ gaze was almost unbearably intense as it sought out Alec’s. “You are important, Alexander. You’re working to change things, and that’s a dangerous task. Please, be careful.”
There was something in Magnus’ eyes that Alec didn’t recognize. He had seen concern before—shining in Izzy’s eyes, etched on Jace’s face. This something that he was seeing in Magnus’ eyes now was different. Rawer. More forceful.
He suddenly understood that what he was witnessing was the kind of bone-deep fear that came from having seen far more than Alec could ever imagine. All the wars, all the blood. All the destruction. They went back centuries. Alec couldn’t quite wrap his head around it, but Magnus had seen it all. He’d been there. And it weighed heavily on him in a way that Alec had never quite grasped before.
It broke Alec’s heart, that look in Magnus’ eyes.
“I’ll be careful,” he said softly. He entwined his fingers with Magnus’ and brought the warlock’s hand to his lips. “I promise.” He spent a few moments just running his thumb along Magnus’ knuckles, enjoying the knowledge that he would get to hold Magnus’ hand again and again. Eventually, he resigned himself to breaking their fragile peace. “There’s one more thing.”
Magnus looked at him like he expected a bomb to go off, right there in his bedroom.
“Whoever they are, they’ve made it pretty clear that they won’t be led by someone who has a warlock for a boyfriend.” He searched for Magnus’ gaze and held it steady. “I don’t expect them to come after you directly, but I need you to be careful too.”
To Alec’s surprise, a pleased smile actually blossomed on Magnus’ face. “Are we boyfriends again, then?”
Alec flushed scarlet. “Uh…I thought…” His hand slipped out of Magnus’. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed.”
“Alexander.” Magnus smiled and took Alec’s hand again. “I’m just happy we’re together again. After everything that happened, I wasn’t expecting you to be so open, so willing to have me back into your life.”
Alec wanted to tell Magnus that he never really had a choice. That life without Magnus was simply no longer an option as long as he had any say in the matter. He wanted to tell him that he loved him and had never stopped, didn’t even know how to. Instead, he choked on the sigh of relief that escaped him.
“You scared the hell out of me,” he breathed, and he leaned in to press his lips over Magnus’. “I’m here,” he whispered over Magnus’ mouth. “If you’ll have me. If you now believe we can have both.” He pulled back and stared intently at the one he now knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt, was the love of his life. “I do. Do you?”
Magnus didn’t hesitate. “I love you, Alexander.”
Alec’s heart began beating a mile a minute. He would be embarrassed about it if not for the fact that it so often did that wherever Magnus was concerned.
“I want all of you.” Magnus cupped Alec’s nape and pulled him in for a long kiss. When they pulled back, he reached out and ran his fingers gently through Alec’s hair. His eyes had gone dark with worry again, but now there was also a glint of determination in his irises. “I’m sorry I’ve changed your life to the point someone wants you dead, but I know you…we are doing the right thing. We have the chance to change things for good. I’ll be by your side the whole time, and I swear, I’ll protect you from anyone who threatens you.”
Alec smiled. “I’m not,” he said. “I’m not sorry you’ve changed my life. But I don’t need you to protect me, I’ve got those two out there for that.” He nodded in the general direction of the front door. “I just need you. Period. I don’t need a warlock. I need you.”
It was crucial to Alec that Magnus knew that. He may not be a relationship expert, but he knew for a fact people tended to look at Magnus’ magic first and then, maybe, at Magnus himself. Alec needed him to know he wasn’t in it for the perks of having an all-powerful warlock by his side. Alec wanted Magnus, the man. He couldn’t care less about magic and portals and nights in Prague.
Magnus’ eyes were liquid pools as he stared at Alec in open awe. “And I need you, Alexander. You’ve unlocked everything in me. You have a power over me that I haven’t allowed anyone to have before. I don’t regret opening up to you for one second. I trust you.” He reached out and placed an open palm to Alec’s cheek. “I need you to trust me, too.”
Alec didn’t even think about hesitating. “I trust you,” he said immediately.
Magnus smiled. He brought up his other hand to take Alec’s face between his palms, and he kissed him softly. “Thank you,” he whispered against Alec’s lips.
Alec covered Magnus’ wrist with one hand and kissed him again, deepening the contact, lips sucking, teeth nibbling, tongues exploring. He groaned when his whole body started to respond, and he reluctantly pulled back.
“I’d better go,” he said, giving Magnus an apologetic smile. “I don’t think I could come up with an explanation for another round.” He squeezed Magnus’ nape tenderly with one hand and then got out of bed, picking up his discarded clothes from the floor. “I hate this,” he said as he angrily poked his head through the neck hole of his t-shirt. “I hate that I can’t come and go as I please anymore. This is ridiculous.”
Magnus was staring at him with an amused smile on his face. “I hate to see you go, but I’m glad the Clave is protecting you.” His expression turned grave once again. “Be careful, Alexander.”
“You too. No, don’t get up,” Alec hurried to say when Magnus moved to disentangle himself from the sheets. He crossed over to the bed and leaned down to kiss the warlock’s lips softly. “I’ll see myself out.”
His mouth hovered over Magnus’ for a moment. Alec smiled, feeling finally at peace with the world again. Then, oh-so reluctantly, he pulled away and walked out of the bedroom, the image of a naked Magnus surrounded by dark green silk sheets forever branded in his mind. It took all of his self-control not to turn back around. Instead, he took a deep breath and forced himself to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Alec did his best to cool down as he walked; he knew the men outside were only doing their job and didn’t deserve his frustration. He opened the front door and walked out into the hallway…
…and he froze, eyes wide and heart thundering in his ears. It was a bloodbath. Crimson liquid was smeared on the floor, on the walls, on the black wood of Magnus’ front door, making it even darker. Alec’s stomach twisted as he took in the slumped bodies of the guards, their throats brutally slit open.
His seraph blade had come into his hand without Alec even realizing he had drawn the weapon, but it was all too painfully clear that the hallway was empty and whoever had done this was long gone. All he could do was stand there with his sword in his hand and his heart pounding so hard his ribs hurt. He tried to look away, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t tear his gaze away from the bodies. From the blood. From the men who died for him—because of him.
The cry tore from his throat before he could stop himself. He wasn’t sure what Magnus could do in the circumstances—perhaps, if anything, he could anchor him.
Magnus was there in a heartbeat, chest bare and eyes wide, looking every bit as distraught as Alec felt as he took in the scene. He rushed to Alec’s side, his face pale and his eyes wild.
“Alexander!” He reached out and gripped Alec’s arm—hard, desperate. “Are you okay?”
Alec turned his head to stare blankly at him. “I…I don’t…yes.”
Magnus’ hand flew to Alec’s neck and squeezed, effectively anchoring him in place, then he stepped up to one of the dead guards and bent down to retrieve a piece of parchment from the man’s chest. It was bloodied, but still readable. The warlock’s hand curled into a fist, red magic already coming to hover around his knuckles. It faded slowly as Magnus visibly forced himself to regain control.
He went back to Alec and held the note out to him. “They’re coming for you,” he said quietly, his voice low and menacing, like he could kill whoever had done this with words alone. “We need help.”
Alec stared at him. For a moment, it was like Magnus’ words didn’t register. Eventually, he blinked the shock away and reached out to take the piece of paper. His hand was trembling, but it didn’t matter; he could let it, with Magnus. He could allow himself this one moment of weakness.
“Step down as Head of the New York Institute,” the note read. “Or next time, it will be you.”
Alec felt suddenly lost. Two men lay dead on the floor because he hadn’t taken this seriously.
“This is my fault…” he whispered. His head was spinning.
“Alexander, no. It’s not your fault.” Magnus stepped closer and took Alec’s face between his hands, forcing their gazes to meet. “Darling, look at me. It’s not your fault.” Magnus held his gaze steady for a few life-saving moments before he pulled back and snapped into his role of High Warlock of Brooklyn, all action and pragmatism. “We need to get back to the Institute. I’ll portal us. I’ll call Jace first, so he can send someone to clean up this mess.”
Alec swallowed. He drew himself up and forced himself to snap out of it. He owed these men better. “No,” he said, looking Magnus straight in the eye. “I’ll handle it. I owe them. Tell Jace to send somebody to take them home. They’ll be ready.”
Magnus looked at him in open admiration. “All right. But we do it together. Without magic, if you’d rather.”
“You’re not alone,” was what Magnus was really saying. Alec could have kissed him right then and there for that message alone.
He gave the warlock a weak smile. “No,” he said quietly. “No magic.”
* * *
Magnus was watching Alec worriedly out of the corner of his eye. The evening air was crisp and chilly against his face, the winter breeze like sharp blades slicing at his cheekbones. Even with the collar of his coat pulled up high, it was still quite the cutting experience.
Alec seemed not to feel the cold. He was walking almost in a daze with his jacket pulled open, thrown onto his shoulders like it didn’t really matter. Magnus wanted to tell him to button up, that he was going to catch pneumonia or something, but he held his tongue and wondered silently at his own overprotective instincts when it came to one Alec Lightwood.
They had stayed at the loft until the team Jace had assembled had come over to pick up the bodies. Magnus had opened a portal to the Institute for them, but not for Alec and himself. Alec wanted to walk, and Magnus let him, on the condition that he would walk with him. They walked in silence—Magnus watching Alec, and Alec so clearly lost to him. Thinking. Mourning.
“This is my fault.”
Magnus’ heart had shattered into a million pieces when Alec had uttered those words in the bloodied hallway of his building.
‘No, no, no, no, silly boy. Stop carrying the burden of the world on your shoulders. No,’ Magnus had wanted to say, but he hadn’t. Because that wasn’t the time or the place.
Still, he kept thinking it now as he watched Alec walk beside him. He was walking tall, but Magnus could see the weight crushing him. He wished he could magic that load away.
By the time they reached the Institute, Alec had grown even taller. He squared his shoulders before entering. His eyes got clearer, more determined. Focused. Magnus watched the transformation from burdened young man to Head of the Institute, and his love and respect increased tenfold.
You could cut the tension in the building with a knife when they stepped inside, but Shadowhunters being the soldiers they were, no one made a move. No one asked their leader what was happening. No one let their unrest transpire as they went about their daily activities like two of their own hadn’t just been brutally murdered on a warlock’s doorstep.
No one but Isabelle, who all but flew towards them as soon as they stepped into the ops room.
“Alec! Thank the Angel!” She wrapped her arms tightly around her brother and clung to him with all her considerable strength. “Are you okay?”
Alec held her close for a moment, like he was letting her ground him, then he gently pushed her away. “I’m okay, Izzy.”
Alec hesitated briefly, but then he produced that horrific note from the inside pocket of his jacket and handed it over to her. Magnus watched as the color drained from Isabelle’s face while she read. Eventually, she looked up, her dark eyes wide and troubled. Over her shoulder, Magnus could see Jace hurrying over to them, his whole body tense. Isabelle passed him the piece of parchment as soon as he reached them. Where Isabelle’s face had flooded with horror upon reading the words, Jace’s features immediately darkened with a fury so complete that even Magnus was stunned.
“Damn it, Alec!” Jace exploded. “I told you this was serious! You could’ve been killed! I’m gonna find those bastards and kill them all.”
Isabelle was still biting her lip nervously. “The Clave is sending over new bodyguards—”
“That’s not gonna happen,” Alec cut her off sharply. By the time they all turned to look at him in shock, he was already stalking away to his office. “No one else is dying in my place.”
“Give him some time,” Magnus said quietly as they all hurried to keep up with Alec’s retreating figure. “He’s pretty shaken up. As for us, we need to act fast. I might have an idea, but I’m going to need some help.”
Isabelle frowned at him. “What is it?”
“A protection spell.” Magnus’ brain had been working furiously since he’d left the loft, but that was the only solution he could come up with for the time being. “I’m going to need my friend Catarina to help me. It won’t ensure Alec’s complete safety, but it will give us some time to figure things out.” He frowned worriedly in the general direction of Alec’s office. “I just hope he’ll let me do it.”
Alec was brave, and he was stubborn, and he had the tendency to do things on his own whenever his safety was involved. Magnus had no idea how he would react.
“He will,” Jace all but growled. “I’ll make sure of it.”
Magnus had to smile. Alec was stubborn, but Jace even more so—and he was fierce and wild, like fire. Magnus knew that if Jace put his mind to it, Alec wouldn’t stand a chance.
“Alec, what the hell are you doing?”
Both Magnus and Jace’s heads snapped towards where Isabelle was looking with wide eyes. Alec had emerged from his office, bow and quiver slung over his shoulder.
“I’m going after them,” he said.
Magnus’ blood ran cold. There was an iron-like determination in Alec’s eyes—the kind of resolve that gets you killed.
“WHAT?” Isabelle cried out.
“They want me, let them come at me.”
“Alec, this is ridiculous.” Isabelle planted herself in front of her brother, who sidestepped her easily. “You’re not going to be bait for those maniacs—”
Alec turned around so fast it made Magnus’ head spin. “Who else should do it, Izzy?” he snapped. “Huh? You? Jace? No. This stops, and it stops now.”
There was a low growl coming from Jace’s throat, so deep and feral he might as well have been a werewolf. “Alec, by the Angel, if you don’t stop right now I’m gonna fight you. I said, stop!” He lunged forward and grabbed his parabatai’s arm tightly, effectively holding him in place. “This wasn’t your fault. You’re not going anywhere. Not alone, at least.”
“You’ve said it yourself, Jace,” Alec said, his voice dripping with anger and sorrow and that guilt that he seemed to carry everywhere. “I didn’t take it seriously. So you tell me, whose fault is it?”
“Alexander, please.” Magnus tried to catch Alec’s eyes, but there was a wild look in them that he didn’t recognize and that made Alec unreachable to him. “Listen to them. We all want to get these people. Let’s just take a breath and figure it out.”
Alec turned to him. There was something else in his wild gaze now, something that Magnus couldn’t quite place but that tore at his heart. “They’re not coming after you,” Alec said, quietly but firmly. “They’re not coming after any of you.”
“Alec…” Isabelle stepped forward and placed a placating hand on her brother’s arm. “Is that what you’re afraid of? That they’ll come after us to get to you?”
Alec didn’t say anting, but there was a flicker of emotion across his face that gave them the answer. Magnus could have kicked himself. How could he not see it before?
He took a step closer and took Alec’s hand in both of his, much like he had done outside of the infirmary back when they were waiting on word on Max. This time, however, Alec didn’t pull away.
“Together, Alexander,” Magnus said softly. “Together. Remember? I’m going to work on a protection spell for you and your family. No one is going to die. Trust me.”
Alec sought out Jace with his eyes, as he had done for a lifetime whenever he felt lost. Magnus could see how lacerated he was, torn between bursts of action and clear-mindedness and intense, all-consuming guilt.
“Yes, Alec,” Jace said, his voice softer now, his odd-colored eyes seeking Alec’s gaze in return and holding it firmly, anchoring his parabatai in place. “A spell. We need time to figure things out. Please, stop thinking you’re responsible for their deaths. I don’t wanna see you…”
He trailed off, but it was all too painfully clear what he was thinking about. It was the same horrifying image that flashed across Magnus’ mind.
“…on that ledge again, Alexander,” Magnus whispered. “That would kill us all.”
Alec stared at them both in shock. “I would never—”
“Alec, please, big brother,” Isabelle cut in. “Let Magnus help.”
Alec watched them all for a moment, and then finally, mercifully, he relented.
“Okay.” He flashed them a smile that didn’t even come close to reaching his eyes. “I’m going to call the Inquisitor. I need to report in and make arrangements for the funerals.”
“We can do that, Alec,” Isabelle offered gently.
“No. Did you know Kyle had three kids?” Alec shook his head like he was trying to make sense of it all. “I’ll do it, Izzy.”
They watched as he walked away from them and back into his office. When the door shut behind him, Magnus’ heart broke—again, and again, and again.
* * *
Magnus gave Alec plenty of time to make the call to the Inquisitor. Mostly, he was giving Alec the chance to calm down and collect himself—and, if he had to be honest, he was giving himself the very same chance. His head was spinning from all the recent events. Now that he finally had a moment to himself, he was beginning to process the blood-chilling realization that he was running the very real risk of losing Alec again after having just gotten him back.
Magnus’ hands clenched and unclenched at his sides, red sparks dancing around his fingers. He only became aware of it when a passing Shadowhunter gave him a look of even deeper mistrust than usual. He cursed quietly under his breath and recalled the magic to him. Not for the first time, he wondered what it was about Alexander Lightwood that sent him reeling so completely.
When he decided that they’d both had enough time, Magnus let himself into Alec’s office. What he found made him pause for a moment. Alec was sitting behind the large mahogany desk, the chair half-turned so that Magnus could only see his profile as he stared into nothingness. The light from the flames in the fireplace danced across Alec’s features, making his hazel eyes look all the more golden, his cheekbones and jaw all the more sculpted, like they had been carved from actual stone.
Magnus realized he was looking neither at the Head of the Institute nor at Alec Lightwood—rather, he was looking at both, the leader and the man merging in a delicate balance that was fierce and sorrowful and beautiful to behold. It was the first time Magnus was truly faced with Alec coming into his own in his role, no longer able to keep himself separate from it at will but rather rising into it.
It filled Magnus with pride and also terrified him. Because Alec stepping deeper and deeper into his position meant he would be more and more exposed to dangers, even more so than regular Shadowhunters. Case in point, someone was currently trying to kill him because of his political stands.
Magnus gulped and forced himself to snap out of it. He walked up to the desk and placed a hand gently on Alec’s nape, his fingers stroking Alec’s tense neck.
“What’s going on in that beautiful head of yours, Alexander?” he whispered.
Alec didn’t move, but he leaned back into Magnus’ touch. “Nothing,” he said quietly.
Magnus knew he was lying, but he chose not to push. He watched as Alec swiveled the chair around to face him, and he felt his heart give a tug when his boyfriend somehow found it within himself to smile for his sake.
“Tell me about this spell,” Alec said.
“It’s a protection spell. I’m afraid its effects are only temporary, but it will ensure your safety and that of your family while we search for these fanatics.”
Alec watched him warily. “How much energy will it require from you?”
Magnus frowned. “A bit,” he admitted. “Why?”
Alec crossed his arms over his chest. “You were just in a battle. You sealed a demonic rift. Are you sure it’s wise for you to perform a complicated spell right now? I don’t want you exhausting yourself.”
Magnus’ insides melted. How had he ended up with this man? He smiled in reassurance. “That’s what Catarina is for. I’d like her to come help. She’s very powerful. Besides,” he reached out and gently pushed a stray lock of dark hair off Alec’s forehead, “I’m perfectly fine. You don’t have to worry about me.”
“Not worry?” Alec arched an eyebrow. “Have you met me?”
Magnus laughed. “Alexander,” he said, and he bent down to press a quick kiss to Alec’s lips. “I’ll be fine.” He stroked his thumb along the length of Alec’s throat for a moment. “But we need to do this quickly. I’ve already called Catarina while you were busy with the Inquisitor. She’s ready to portal herself here. All she needs is your go-ahead.”
Alec stood. He crossed the short distance between them and curled one fist around the fabric of Magnus’ shirt, his strained body language at odds with the cool, collected quality of his voice. “This spell…will it protect you, too?”
Magnus blinked. “Me?”
“Yes, you. I need you protected, too.”
Magnus covered Alec’s hand with his own. “Alexander,” he said gently, “I’m the High Warlock of Brooklyn. I don’t need a protection spell.”
“And Jace is the best fighter we’ve had in generations,” Alec retorted, “but I still want him under this spell. Please, Magnus,” he said when Magnus opened his mouth to protest some more. “For me.”
Magnus sighed. There was simply no way he could refuse Alec anything when he asked like that. “Okay,” he said quietly, squeezing Alec’s still-clenched fist in reassurance. “Okay.”
Alec smiled. It was bright and relieved and the first real smile to cross his face in hours, and Magnus thought he would have given him the moons of Saturn if it meant Alec would smile like that.
“Thank you,” Alec said. He leaned in and kissed him—long and passionate like he was trying to commit Magnus to memory. When he pulled back, his eyes were liquid amber. “Get Catarina here.”
It took Magnus a moment to come back to the here and now, Alec’s taste still alive and vibrant on his lips. Eventually, he drew himself up to his full height and snapped his fingers, purple magic zapping from his hands into the empty air. A portal opened right there in the office of the Head of the Institute, something he was sure was very much against Clave protocol, and Catarina stepped out.
She was carrying a large bag that tinkled noisily with the sound of jars clinking heavily against one another. A massive spell book was tucked under her armpit. She was still wearing her hospital scrubs, and a less-than-pleased expression was painted across her face.
“Magnus, this better be good. Can’t we all just catch a break?” Her dark gaze zeroed-in on Alec. “You look shaken, Shadowhunter.”
“Welcome, my dear friend,” Magnus stepped in, flashing Catarina his best smile. “Thank you for coming on such short notice.”
“What the hell’s going on?” Catarina demanded. “You were quite vague on the phone.”
“A few Shadowhunters, fanatics, I’d say, are threatening Alec’s life. They want him to leave his post as Head of the New York Institute due to his seeking peace with the Downworld.” Magnus was quite proud of himself when his voice didn’t shake with the anger that was stirring deep within his ribcage. “They slaughtered his guard right outside my door. I need a protection spell, my dear.”
Catarina looked between the both of them for a moment, and then she all but impaled Alec with her stare. “Do you want peace, Shadowhunter?”
“I do.” Alec didn’t even flinch and looked her straight in the eye as he spoke.
“And is peace the only thing you want,” Catarina smirked devilishly, “or do you also desire a certain warlock? Should I consider you back in the good graces of my friend here?”
For a moment, Alec’s composure slipped, and he blushed furiously. “Uh…”
Magnus bit back a laugh. It wasn’t the first time he witnessed Catarina reduce someone to a floundering mess; she was certainly a force to be reckoned with. He took Alec’s hand and came to his rescue.
“It’s all right, Cat,” he said. “It’s all good. We always find our way back to each other.”
Despite the tense circumstances, Alec flashed him the softest smile Magnus had ever seen on the man’s face. It made his heart skip the proverbial beat.
“Well, then,” Catarina said, blatantly choosing to ignore whatever was going on between them, “if you’re okay with Magnus, you’re okay with me.” She dropped the bag to the floor and flipped the book open. “Now, shall we?”
“Wait,” Alec said hurriedly. “My family have to be here, too. I need them protected as well.”
Catarina leveled him with a cold stare. “What do you think we are, Shadowhunter bodyguards?”
“It’s okay, Cat,” Magnus said. “I want his family protected, too.”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, for God’s sake…fine. How many more people besides you?”
“Four,” Alec said. “And Magnus.”
Catarina scoffed. “Magnus doesn’t need a spell, Shadowhunter. He can snap your kind like twigs.”
Alec’s jaw clenched visibly. “I don’t care,” he all but hissed. “I want him protected, too.”
If Catarina was at all fazed by Alec’s anger, she didn’t show it. Instead, she grinned. “Oh, you do, huh? All right, then.” She waved her hand in the general direction of the door. “Go get your people. We’ll set up here.”
Alec nodded curtly and walked out of the room with long, purposeful strides.
Catarina turned to Magnus, both her eyebrows raised. “I’ll be damned, Magnus,” she said, her voice dripping with open—if reluctant—admiration. “You may be right, after all. He doesn’t seem like your typical Shadowhunter.”
“He’s not,” Magnus said immediately. For some reason that he didn’t quite care to examine right now, his heart was pounding. “He’s something else. He will either be my salvation or…” He let the words hang in the air. He knew he didn’t need to finish the sentence.
Catarina let her mask drop and gave him a gentle smile. “Let’s hope he’s the first option.”
Magnus really, really hoped so, too.
Chapter 6: Brave
— “are you scared? ‘cause I am, too
we sleep now with the light on
but shadows make shapes in the light
and I don’t know what they might be”
- Brave, Wild Culture & Riley Pearce
* * *
There was something about this kind of rituals that always made Magnus nervous. It shouldn’t happen, not after so many centuries, but he just couldn’t help it. Perhaps it was the knowledge that he was directly responsible for the lives of other people. Perhaps it was the pressure of other people’s hopes.
This time, in particular, was quite nerve-racking. Because it was Alec. Alec was entrusting him with his life and with the lives of his family, and Magnus was feeling all the enormity and the implications of that incredible act of faith.
All the furniture in the office had been pushed back against the walls, the rugs rolled up and placed in a corner. The large circle Magnus and Catarina had traced on the floor was already glowing with their combined magic, as were the symbols they had drawn within. Despite their Shadowhunter training, Jace, Isabelle, Clary, and Max all looked slightly uncomfortable as they stood around the perimeter, waiting for the ritual to begin.
Not Alec. Alec looked like the very personification of resolve, his jaw set and his eyes glinting. Gone was the young man crushed by guilt. For now, there was only a warrior hell-bent on protecting the people he loved. Magnus could have kissed him senseless right then and there, for his courage alone.
‘My brave, fierce Alexander.’
“Relax, Shadowhunters,” Catarina said, her sarcasm-tinged voice snapping Magnus out of his reverie. “You’ll live…maybe.” She gave young Max a wink to let him know she was only joking.
The kid looked back at her with a tense smile and a certain amount of mistrust. Magnus couldn’t really blame him; Catarina was an imposing figure, and Max Lightwood’s instincts were always on full alert, particularly now that he was beginning to see some real action in the field and after his horrifying encounter with Sebastian.
“A few drops of everyone’s blood are needed to make this work,” Magnus said. “I’ll go first.”
He conjured a small knife and opened a cut in his index fingertip, and he let the blood drip into the cup Catarina was holding under his hand. She nodded in satisfaction and began to go around the circle to collect.
Jace stared at her straight in the eye, a ferocious expression on his face as he allowed the cut in his thumb to bleed into the cup. “You’d better not screw up with my brother’s life.”
Catarina looked between Jace and Alec, clearly puzzled by the fact that they looked nothing alike.
“They’re parabatai,” Isabelle explained as she, too, opened a shallow cut into her flesh.
“Also, Jace is a Lightwood,” Alec practically growled. He sounded like he would fight anyone who dared say otherwise.
He sliced his palm open when Catarina came up to him. Magnus winced. The cut in Alec’s hand was deeper than what the ritual required, the blood that poured into the cup was more than what was necessary. It was like he was trying to keep them all safe with his blood alone. Magnus’ heart ached for him.
“Come on, Max,” Clary said. “It’s our turn.”
She crouched down in front of the young Shadowhunter and gently prickled his finger, and then her own.
Once all the blood was collected, Catarina placed the cup in the center of the circle and then resumed her place at the pole opposite Magnus. They all linked hands. Magnus’ eyes met Alec’s across the circle. By the small smile that played across Alec’s lips, it was clear he, like Magnus, was also remembering the electricity that had passed between them at their very first touch, when they had held hands while standing around a circle very similar to this one—electricity that had very little to do with the magical powers that had been invoked.
Magnus took a deep breath and focused all his energy on the current ritual. Magic was running through his veins at breakneck speed as he chanted along with Catarina.
Everyone’s names were repeated three times before a massive, benevolent cloud of electric-blue magic appeared above them. It descended over them like a blessing, and then faded as if gently blown away by a breeze they couldn’t feel.
“It’s done,” Magnus announced. He slowly let go of Jace’s and Isabelle’s hands as the magic quietened within him. “The spell is up and working.”
Alec’s shoulders slumped visibly, releasing the tension that resided within their muscles for the first time in hours…and then, to Magnus’ absolute horror, he let out a blood-curdling scream and crashed to the floor.
“ALEC!” Isabelle was across the circle and on her knees by her brother’s side faster than Magnus could blink. She tried to take Alec in her arms, but he was thrashing too wildly.
Catarina dropped down next to them, her open palm hovering over Alec’s writhing body. Her head snapped up and she looked at Magnus with wide eyes. Magnus’ heart stopped.
“Magnus, reverse it!” she cried, her fingers already sparkling with blue. “Reverse it on him now! His body’s rejecting the magic!”
‘What?’ Magnus couldn’t comprehend, couldn’t process. All he could see was Alec convulsing on the floor like he was being burned alive from the inside out.
“Why?” Clary demanded, her voice tinged with panic. “What’s happening?”
“There’s something demonic in his blood.”
Their voices were distant to Magnus’ ears, like they were coming from underwater. By contrast, Alec’s screams were crystal-clear. Beside him, Jace crashed to his knees. Magnus hardly noticed.
“MAGNUS!” Catarina’s roar snapped him out of his stupor. “Reverse the spell on him now, or he’s dead! I’ll hold off the demonic energies in the blood, but I can’t do it for long. Hurry!”
Magnus did. His hands danced, white magic sparkling and swirling in the air in front of him, undoing what he had done, unknotting the ropes that bound Alec to this excruciating pain.
Alec let out a horrible gurgling sound, and then the screaming stopped. Magnus didn’t know what was worse—if the screams or the silence. “Alexander!” He rushed over, his body finally regaining his movement faculties, and he all but skidded to a halt next to Alec.
He lifted him carefully into his arms, supporting his upper body with one arm while his hand dropped onto Alec’s chest, reassuring himself that there was a heartbeat underneath his palm. Alec’s whole body was tense all over with lingering pain, but then he suddenly went slack and still in Magnus’ arms, his head lolling limply like that of a puppet with its strings cut. It was the scariest thing Magnus had ever seen.
“Alexander?” Magnus’ own heart was thundering so fiercely that he could hardly hear anything past the deafening drumming in his ears. He placed a hand on Alec’s cheek and shuddered; it was cold and clammy to the touch. “Alexander, please…”
“What the hell have you done?” Jace was holding himself upright on unsteady legs, one arm draped across his abdomen, his back hunched. But he still had enough energy to glare fiercely at both warlocks.
“Jace, calm down,” Clary said, her arms wrapped tightly around Max, who was clinging to her like to a lifeline, his eyes wide and fixed on Alec.
“Calm down?!” Jace all but roared, looking at her incredulously. He rounded on Catarina like he wanted to smite her on the spot. “What have you done to my brother?”
“Shadowhunter,” Catarina said, her dark eyes flashing—literally. It gave everyone pause, even Jace, to see the blue light that crossed her brown irises. “I suggest you take a deep breath. This wasn’t our fault.” She looked at Alec’s unconscious figure thoughtfully, like she was trying to piece a puzzle together in her head. “What is he doing with demonic energies in his system?”
“He…he was hurt in battle,” Isabelle said from where she was still crouched next to her brother, her hand gripping Alec’s shoulder and her thumb stroking absently at the fabric of his shirt. “A demon got him. Maybe some of the venom is still in there.”
“Like what happened to you when we went to the Iron Sisters,” Clary said quietly.
“Damn it,” Catarina spat fiercely.
“Is he going to be okay?” Max asked fearfully from the shelter of Clary’s arms. In that moment, Max Lightwood wasn’t a Shadowhunter. He wasn’t a warrior. He was just a kid terrified for his big brother.
As if on cue, Alec came awake with a gasp, coughing like he had to re-learn how to breathe. He blindly grasped at the first thing within his reach, which just so happened to be the front of Magnus’ shirt.
Magnus almost passed out from relief. He held Alec a little closer to him, right hand sparkling with blue as he poured healing magic into Alec’s chest to soothe the pain.
“It’s okay, Alexander,” he said softly, meeting Alec’s wild gaze with a steady one. “Just breathe. Breathe. In and out.”
Alec did, and he let his head fall onto Magnus’ shoulder. Everyone held their own breath for what felt like an eternity as they waited for Alec to fully return to them. Eventually, he turned his head and looked at them all with tired eyes.
“It’s okay,” he said, his voice scratchy and rough but already getting stronger. “I’m all right.”
“Well,” Catarina said after a moment, “this spell backfired spectacularly.”
Alec tried to sit up, but he was still too disoriented and ended up falling sideways.
Magnus caught him readily. “Easy, Alexander,” he said, his heart still thundering in his chest.
Alec leaned gratefully back into him, and Magnus resisted the urge to wrap his arms around him and never let go.
“It…it didn’t work?” Alec asked.
“On them? Yes,” Catarina said. “On you? I’m afraid not.”
The relief in Alec’s voice hit Magnus like a punch in the gut.
Apparently, Jace felt the same way, because he took a step forward and tore into his brother. They say Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but as far as Magnus was concerned, Hell hath no fury like one Jace Herondale.
“No!” Jace all but roared. “It’s not okay! You’re the one who needs protection, and the damn spell didn’t work on you because you have residues of demon venom in your blood, which apparently two warlocks weren’t enough to get you rid of. It’s not okay, Alec! At all!”
Alec sighed heavily like he was about to explain the workings of the universe to a child. “Jace—”
“He’s right,” Magnus surprised even himself by speaking up. There was a mounting fear within his stomach that was shooting up to his head and making him crazy. He kept a tight leash on it, however, and his voice sounded clipped but firm as he spoke. “We couldn’t do anything in the end, and it’s frustrating, to say the least. We need to think of another solution, and we need to do it fast.”
“I don’t think there is another solution, Magnus,” Catarina said. “Not as long as he has demon venom still in his system.”
Magnus glared daggers at her. He couldn’t help it. He knew his friend was direct and only had his best interests at heart, but naysayers weren’t what he needed right now—even if those naysayers may be right.
Alec attempted to stand, and Magnus wrapped an arm around his waist and helped him. He frowned at the way Alec still leaned heavily against him. There was a slight tremor in his muscles too, which Magnus was only noticing now that they were standing close together. Clearly, Alec’s body was trying to rid itself of the remains of the shock from the ritual.
Magnus felt the sudden urge to kick himself. Rationally, he knew this wasn’t his fault. But it was Alec—exhausted and in pain because of a ritual he, Magnus Bane, had performed, and all rationality went out the window.
“Alexander, you need to rest,” he said quietly. “Everyone, I’ll handle him. Thank you.” He could hear the dismissal in his own voice, and he couldn’t have cared less.
“You’ll ‘handle me’?” Alec looked affronted as he arched an eyebrow at him, but an amused smile was also dancing on his lips.
“Just let your boyfriend take care of you, big brother,” Isabelle said, grinning as she came up to hug Alec tight.
Max joined in, and Alec let go of Magnus and wrapped his arms around the both of them.
“I’m okay,” he whispered into his sister’s hair. “Go get some rest.”
Magnus stepped back as he watched Jace walk up to his parabatai. There were deep lines of worry and anger etched in Jace’s features. Even to those who didn’t share an angelic bond with him, his anguish was palpable.
Alec, of course, noticed immediately. He gently disentangled himself from Isabelle and Max and pulled Jace into a fierce hug. “I’ll come find you later,” he said.
Magnus didn’t know what that meant exactly, but he had the feeling there was a promise in Alec’s words, a vow to reassure Jace that he would never, ever leave him alone.
Jace seemed to get the message, because he squeezed Alec just a little tighter and drew a proper breath for the first time since Magnus had seen him that evening. “I’ll be in the training room.”
Alec nodded. He gave one final slap to his parbatai’s back and pulled away.
“Magnus, if you’d like, I can stay and help you try to figure something out.”
Magnus looked over at Catarina. There was kindness in her eyes, and he appreciated her attempt to smooth her edges for his sake more than he could ever put into words.
“I’ll be fine, my dear,” he said with a grateful smile. “Thank you.”
She nodded. “Very well. Call me if you need me.”
“Thank you,” Alec said. “For coming.”
Catarina looked surprised for a moment, like she hadn’t expected to ever be thanked by a Shadowhunter—and Magnus knew for a fact that she hadn’t. She gave Alec a real smile, one devoid of sarcasm or defensive humor.
“You’re welcome, Shadowhunter,” she said. Then she snapped her fingers and disappeared through the portal that briefly materialized into the office.
Once everyone was finally gone, Alec let himself sink down onto the couch that was still out-of-place against the wall. He looked bone-tired. Magnus wanted nothing more than to go to him, but he found himself pacing the space like a wild tiger instead.
Alec watched him intently. “Are you okay?”
Magnus snorted. “No, Alexander. I am not okay. I’m not okay, because I don’t know what we’re dealing with. Because you’re not protected. Because they’re coming after you. Because—”
His pacing was suddenly interrupted by a pair of strong arms wrapping around him from behind. Magnus stilled. He could feel Alec’s breath on his ear shell, and it made him shiver. Without thinking, he leaned back into Alec’s body.
“Hey,” Alec murmured against his temple. “I’m all right. Okay? We’ll figure this out. Together.”
“Together,” Magnus said quietly. He turned around in Alec’s hold to face him and wrapped his arms around Alec’s back, palms open wide over his shoulder blades, touching as much of Alec as he possibly could—reassuring himself of Alec’s solidity. “I love you, Alexander.”
Alec smiled like Magnus had just given him the sun. “I love you, too,” he said, and he leaned in to capture Magnus’ lips in a soft kiss.
Magnus sighed against Alec’s mouth and sagged a little in his boyfriend’s embrace. And he just allowed himself to be, just for a moment. Just for a precious, life-saving moment.
Chapter 7: 'Til Morning Comes
Parabatai feels galore! You've been warned.
— “three guns and one goes off
one’s empty, one’s not quick enough
one burn, one red, one green
search the graves while the camera spins”
- Tessellate, alt-J
* * *
When Alec blinked his eyes open next, the room was in almost-total darkness except for the dim light of a single lamp by one of the couches. He groaned and sat up groggily. Everything in the office was where it was supposed to be. The floor was clean and devoid of summoning circles or arcane symbols. Magnus must have magicked everything back into place after Alec had fallen into his exhausted slumber.
Speaking of Magnus, the last thing Alec remembered before falling asleep was the warlock’s fingers threading gently through his hair, and soothing blue magic seeping into his chest no matter how many times he tried to tell Magnus that he was fine. He looked around for his boyfriend now and found him stretched out on the opposite couch.
Alec sighed. Even in sleep, he could see the lines of tension etched into Magnus’ features. He stood and cautiously worked his cramped-up muscles and joints, then he snatched the blanket off the armchair by the fireplace and carefully draped it over Magnus.
He lingered for a moment, his fingertips gently pushing back a couple of uncharacteristically errant locks that had fallen in front of Magnus’ face. He felt like he could have watched this man for hours. He could have stayed here all night, just enjoying the rise and fall of Magnus’ chest in the semi-darkness. But he knew he was needed elsewhere.
Alec tore himself away from his boyfriend’s sleeping form and left the office, closing the door quietly behind him so that nobody would disturb Magnus’ rest. The Institute was quiet and still, but he wasn’t surprised when the silence was broken by some familiar grunts as he approached the training room.
He also wasn’t surprised to find his parabatai venting his frustration on a multi-armed wooden man. It was a further statement to just how worked up Jace was that he didn’t seem to register Alec stepping up to him.
Jace whirled around, leg raised in a roundhouse kick.
“Whoa!” Alec slammed his forearms down, effectively neutralizing the kick’s momentum. “Calm down. It’s just me.”
Jace froze for a moment and then relaxed ever so slightly.
“Hey,” he said. “Have you had your beauty sleep?” There was still a wild look in his eyes even as he forced irony and lightness into his voice.
Alec knew from experience there was only one way to tame that kind of fire when it took hold of his brother. He danced backwards and dropped easily into a stance. “Shut up,” he said, with a feral grin of his own. “Come at me.”
Jace hesitated. “Alec, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. You probably still need to rest—”
The next thing either of them knew, Jace was on the floor.
Alec, bent low over him with Jace’s wrist trapped within inescapable leverage, smirked. “You were saying?” He released Jace’s arm and pulled his parabatai to his feet.
A matching grin was now painted over Jace’s lips. “Okay, then,” he said, eyes dancing and dimples carved deep into his cheeks. “I’m gonna kick your ass.”
Alec felt that familiar competitive fire come over him, and he shut his brain up and let the flames burn.
The thing about Jace was, he was all about instincts. He was fast and powerful, but he was impulsive. Alec, on the other hand, was all about technique. Where his brother was all explosive fury and hot adrenaline, Alec could rely on both fire and ice in equal parts. Jace may be aggressive, but Alec was patient. He could wait. In archery, he waited for the sweet spot to be revealed to him. In combat, he waited until he could strike at just the right time, in just the right place.
They didn’t run at each other; this wasn’t grappling. Tonight, they both needed something more. Something primal. Something visceral that would pump under skin and nerves and muscle, that would run through veins and seep into bones. So they danced around each other instead—guards up, feet light, eyes ablaze.
Jace lashed out with a jab, but Alec double-parred easily. Jace always lashed out when he got impatient; Alec had been trying to get him out of that habit for years. He trapped Jace’s outstretched arm underneath his armpit and threw himself within the space of Jace’s guard. He clamped his hand around Jace’s nape and spun his parabatai around, sending him stumbling away from him with momentum alone.
“Come on, Jace.” He sneered. “You can do better than that.”
Taunts worked on Jace. Taunts always worked on Jace. Alec had also been trying to get him out of the habit of listening to his opponent. Sometimes Jace managed to follow that advice, other times he didn’t.
This was one of the other times. Jace charged, and Alec sighed inwardly.
“Jace!” he snapped as he shut down his brother’s flying elbow with the cut of his hands. “Focus!”
Jace, finally, did.
The next ten minutes were a flurry of hooks, jabs, and crosses. Of side kicks and front kicks and furious, sometimes-desperate pars. Of sweat and blows. Of darting muscles and thundering hearts. Alec hadn’t felt this alive in forever.
He only went in for the kill when he could feel his somewhat still-tender side starting to pull. Jace threw a head kick, his whole body tilting lightning-fast on its axis. Alec slammed his elbow upward and let his forearm absorb the full impact. Even as he parred, he was already moving, bending low, his free arm shooting out and slapping Jace hard, square in the ribs. Jace gasped in surprise, and Alec spun around and swept a kick at Jace’s heels, and he watched in satisfaction as his brother flew to the floor.
Jace blinked up at him in shock, then he sighed and tapped out, defeated.
Alec grinned triumphantly and lay down on the floor next to his parabatai. They were both panting from exertion, and it felt heavenly.
“That was some excellent ass-kicking, Jace,” Alec said.
Jace laughed. “Okay, so it may not have gone as planned, but it felt good anyway. Really good.” He turned his head to look at his brother. “I’ve missed this.”
“I’ve missed you,” Alec heard, and he smiled. “I’ve missed it, too.”
What with Valentine and the war and everything else, he couldn’t quite remember the last time they’d had the chance to just be themselves. No Head of the Institute, no Best Fighter in Over a Generation. Just Alec and Jace.
“Feel better now?” Alec asked.
“I do. It’s way better to spar with your parabatai than with a stupid wooden man.” Jace spoke airily, but there was real gratitude in his eyes. They were both well aware of the fact that Alec was the only one who could tame the destructive, all-consuming fire that came upon him from time to time. “What about you?” he asked after a moment, brow furrowing in concern. “How do you feel?”
“I’m good.” Alec sat up. Jace’s question was enough to break the spell, and suddenly the weight was back, as crushing as though it had never lifted at all.
“Alec.” He heard movement behind him, and he knew that Jace had sat up, too. “What is it?”
Alec hesitated. He wanted to lie. He wanted to tell Jace that everything was all right, that he was all right, and not to worry about it. He wanted to hold onto that fragile illusion of normalcy for just a little while longer—just two parabatai in a training room, amicably kicking each other’s butt. He wanted to close his eyes and lean into his brother and forget about everything, just for a few minutes.
Instead, he heaved a deep sigh and spoke in a voice that sounded faraway even to his own ears. “Remember how I told you Kyle had three kids?” He didn’t look at Jace, but the silence that answered told him his brother was patiently waiting for him to continue. “The Inquisitor told me Derek’s wife is pregnant with their first child.” He swallowed. He felt like he was trying to breathe around razor blades in his throat. “Jace, what have I done?”
His voice broke a little, but Jace caught him. Jace always caught him. He wrapped one arm around his shoulders and left it hanging there in support.
“You haven’t done anything, Alec,” Jace said, quietly but fiercely. “You hear me? They did. I know you’re gonna blame yourself until the end of time, but it wasn’t your fault.”
“No,” Jace cut him off, tightening his hold like he could squeeze his own conviction into Alec’s tense muscles. “Even if you had believed those threats, what could you have done differently? Given in to their demands? Locked yourself inside the Institute forever? No. It wasn’t your fault, Alec.”
Alec found it within himself to turn his head and stare into the determined eyes of his parabatai. Jace looked back at him urgently, silently begging him to believe him.
“We have lost many of ours in these past few weeks,” Jace said, “and it hurts. But it’s part of what we do, who we are. Shadowhunters. You’re a Lightwood, Alec. You break noses and accept the consequences. It’s what you’ve always done. It’s what we do. We keep our head up and we keep on fighting to make things right. You’ve always done it and you always will.”
Alec smiled as Jace quoted his own words back to him. He had told his mother once, and Maryse had been so proud she had repeated the words to Jace and Izzy once or twice after that. “We’re Lightwoods. We break noses and accept the consequences.”
Alec leaned into Jace and let his parabatai anchor him.
“You’re right,” he said after a moment. “I need to figure this out.” He pulled away from his brother and ran a hand tiredly over his face. “I may have a plan, but I don’t think you’re gonna like it very much.”
Jace looked at him in suspicion. “What is it?”
Alec sat up straighter. “I’m going to bait those bastards.”
Jace frowned. “How?”
“By doing exactly the opposite of what they want. I’m going to set up a fake meeting of the Downworld Cabinet, somewhere outside of the Institute. We’ll spread rumors. They’re bound to get angry and attack. We’ll get them then.”
The idea had come to him as he made his way from his office to the training room in the dead of night, and now that he had a moment to actually think about it, he realized it was the best option they had.
“Okay,” Jace said. He was looking very grave all of a sudden. He had instantly dropped into soldier mode. Alec could practically hear whirring sounds as Jace worked the plan out in his head. “We’ll have to work on it thoroughly. I don’t want any details left to chance.”
Alec nodded. “I’ll talk to Izzy in the morning. She’s the best at this stuff.” He found himself hesitating again. There was something else he needed to discuss, something he wished he didn’t have to put on Jace. He took a deep breath. Sometimes he really hated this leader thing. “We also need to talk about what you’re going to do if they win.”
Predictably, Jace paled. He opened his mouth to protest, but Alec was quick to cut him off—mostly because he wasn’t ready to hear the turmoil of emotions that would undoubtedly color Jace’s voice. He needed a few extra seconds.
“Jace. It’s a possibility we have to consider. Shadowhunters, remember? But if they kill me, things can’t unravel.”
“No one’s gonna die,” Jace growled. “Especially not you.”
“End of story, Alec.”
Jace made to get up, but Alec grabbed his arm and held him firmly in place.
“I need you to face this,” he said, voice low and urgent. He caught Jace’s gaze and held it, and he tried not to let the mounting fear and the sorrow in his parabatai’s eyes break his heart. “If anything happens to me, I need you to step in. I need you not to let it all go to hell. Promise me, Jace.”
“I can’t.” Jace wrenched his arm free and stood. He turned away from Alec, back tense and arms wrapped around himself. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse. “If I promise you this, then I’ll be contemplating the option. And I can’t, Alec. I’m sorry. I hate to disappoint you, but I just can’t.”
Alec felt a rock settle into his stomach. He wanted nothing more than to let it go and give Jace a break, but he couldn’t. This was too important. He pulled himself to his feet and walked up behind Jace. He placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder, silently asking Jace to forgive him for the support he couldn’t give him.
“Jace, please. I…we have worked too hard for peace to let these bastards jeopardize it all now.” He tightened his hold around Jace’s shoulder. “Please.”
Jace’s shoulders slumped. “Fine.” He turned around and looked Alec straight in the eye. “I promise you.”
“But I’ll be your shadow wherever you go outside of this Institute. Do something stupid, and I’ll kill you myself. Are we clear?”
“Crystal.” Alec smiled. “After all, the spell worked on you. You might as well make yourself useful.”
His heart sank when Jace didn’t even give him the ghost of a smile in return. He sighed heavily and pulled his parabatai into a hug. Jace wrapped his arms fiercely around him, and to his horror, Alec could feel him shake. It was only a slight tremor, but it cut through Alec like a knife.
“I’m not gonna lose you,” Jace said. His voice was broken, and he was holding onto Alec like letting go would send him adrift forever.
Alec held him back even tighter. “You won’t. We’ll give them one hell of a fight, I promise.” There was a suspicious sniffle coming from Jace, followed by a shaky breath. Alec’s heart clenched. “I promise you, Jace,” he said again. “I just need you…us…to be prepared. I’m sorry.”
Sometimes, Alec really, really hated this leader thing. All he wanted was to give his parabatai’s frayed nerves a break—smooth the edges, make Jace’s emotions just a little less raw, just a little less suffocating. Instead, circumstances were forcing him to do the exact opposite.
“I’m sorry,” Alec murmured against the side of Jace’s head. “Calm down.”
Jace did. Eventually. After what felt like an eternity, he pulled back. His eyes were dry and clear, but he still looked exposed. Naked. Split open, like nerves and veins and muscles were on display.
“Are you okay?” Alec asked quietly.
Jace flashed him a smile that didn’t even manage to bring out the dimples in his cheeks. “Yeah.”
Alec knew he wasn’t. He knew they would have to talk about this eventually. But not yet, not now. Now, he was more concerned about the shadows under Jace’s eyes.
“You need to get some rest.”
“You, too.” Jace eyed him critically. “To be honest, you look like crap.”
Alec laughed. “I feel like it,” he admitted.
Jace reached out to clasp his shoulder. “Let’s go get some sleep, then. Is Magnus still here?” he asked as they made their way out of the training room and towards the living quarters. “You shouldn’t leave him alone for too long.”
“Magnus is perfectly capable of looking after himself.”
“I know. But he was as terrified as we were when you collapsed after the ritual. I’m just saying,” Jace hurried to add when Alec turned his head to raise an eyebrow at him. “That guy loves you, Alec.”
Warmth spread through Alec’s chest so quickly that he almost had to stop mid-stride. “I know he does,” he said, and he didn’t even care that he was grinning like a lunatic.
Jace smirked back, but for once he didn’t comment. “Good night, Alec.”
Alec lingered at the end of the hallway just long enough to make sure Jace really did walk into his bedroom, and then he turned around and made a beeline through the corridors for his office.
He found Magnus just as he had left him—fast asleep on the couch, curled up under the blanked Alec had tossed over him before he left in search of Jace.
Alec smiled. “That guy loves you.” He didn’t even stop to contemplate the thought of sleeping on separate couches again. Instead, he carefully lifted Magnus’ head and settled it in his lap, his fingers carding absently through the spikes of Magnus’ hair.
“I love you, too,” he whispered quietly.
Magnus didn’t wake, and Alec sighed contentedly. He leaned his head back against the cushions and, despite everything that was going on, was asleep in no time. Because Magnus was his peace during war times. He was the silence within the chaos. And Alec, who would’ve spent the night pacing if it wasn’t for the warmth of this man’s body against his, closed his eyes and slept.
* * *
Magnus didn’t wake slowly. Like anyone with nightmares running through his veins, there were only two ways for Magnus to wake up—either with a start or simply waking, going from asleep to awake with little warning. That morning, Magnus simply woke.
The first thing he noticed was the soft golden light streaming through the windows in Alec’s office. The second thing he noticed was that his head was on Alec’s lap. He sat up carefully. Alec was half-sitting, half-slumped against the back of the couch, his head thrown back. Magnus cringed; he could almost feel the neck pain. But despite the uncomfortable position, Alec looked peaceful.
Magnus allowed himself a few moments to admire the man’s features. Alec looked younger when he slept. More importantly, he looked lighter. Like he wasn’t carrying the world on his shoulders. More than once Magnus had wanted to tell his boyfriend that while he loathed Ayn Rand, the woman had a point; Atlas should be allowed to shrug every once in a while.
He hated to wake him. He hated the thought of being responsible for putting the weight back on Alec’s shoulders after such a short rest. But they had work to do, and he didn’t have a choice. Magnus ran his fingertips lightly along the outlines of Alec’s features like he was drawing a map.
It was only a testament to how exhausted Alec must be that it took a few moments for him to begin to stir. Eventually, his eyes blinked open and a soft smile spread across his lips when Magnus’ face came into focus.
“’morning,” he said, voice low and sleep-rough.
Magnus could have kissed him forever. “Good morning,” he said, and he pressed his lips over Alec’s sleep-warm ones. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay.” Alec sat up straighter and carefully craned his neck from side to side. There was a loud crack.
Magnus arched a skeptical eyebrow. “I doubt you were able to sleep comfortably on this couch.”
Alec shrugged. “You were here. I slept comfortably enough.”
He spoke in such a gentle, natural way that Magnus blinked, taken aback. Alec was so careless about it, it was like he was never aware of the potential impact of his words—and he probably wasn’t. Unless he was talking politics, he never seemed to really notice the weight of what he said. He didn’t seem to know how rare it was for someone to speak in the honest, uncensored way that he did.
Magnus had fallen in love with that innocence, that absolute purity. He leaned in and kissed Alec again, because there was simply no other possible response.
“Good to know, Shadowhunter,” he said, smiling against Alec’s lips.
When they pulled back, Alec was staring at him with a strange look on his face. He looked almost green around the edges, like he may be nauseated.
Magnus’ own stomach clenched. “What is it?”
He began to rack his brain for possible further side effects from the spell. What if he hadn’t reversed it properly? What if Alec’s blood was still being poisoned by Magnus’ own magic? What if—
“Magnus, can you not…?” Alec took a deep breath. “This is going to sound stupid, but can you never call me ‘Shadowhunter’ again? Please?”
Magnus’ breath caught in his throat. He tried to remember the last time he had felt so utterly, entirely guilty…and then he decided that he didn’t want to think about it. This guilt was more than enough to focus on.
“I’m sorry, Alexander. I never should have—”
“It’s okay,” Alec was quick to interrupt. His voice was gentle and his eyes were soft. “It’s just…I like Alexander better.”
Magnus smiled. “I like Alexander better, too,” he said quietly. “My Alexander.”
Alec’s smile lit up his whole face like Magnus had just presented him with the sun. He leaned in and kissed Magnus softly and deeply, and he did it over and over and over again, his hands resting on Magnus’ thighs like he was anchoring them both in place.
Magnus was so lost in Alec that he hardly registered the sound of the door opening.
Alec, however, immediately did. A few months ago, he would have jumped back faster than one could blink. Not now. Now, he simply pulled away, calmly and somewhat reluctantly. He even glared at his sister.
Isabelle had poked her head in and was watching them with a knowing smirk on her face.
“Good morning, big brother,” she said, and she shoved the door open all the way, letting herself in along with the large tray she was carrying. “I’ve made you breakfast.”
Alec’s annoyance immediately disappeared, his face softening. “Thanks. You shouldn’t have, though.”
Isabelle rolled her eyes. “Alec, you almost died. The least I can do is feed you a decent meal.” She looked over at Magnus as she set the tray down on the coffee table in front of the couch. “There’s enough food for everybody.”
Magnus smiled. He had always been quite fond of Isabelle Lightwood. “Thank you, Isabelle. I am, in fact, starving.”
There were two cups of coffee and one cup of green tea on the tray, which told Magnus that Isabelle had been thinking of him from the start. He felt an alien kind of warmth spreading through his stomach, like maybe he belonged.
Isabelle settled onto a nearby armchair, tucking her legs underneath her. She watched them both intently as she munched on a hummus-spread cracker.
“So…are you two…?”
“What do you think?” Alec said somewhat irritably as he took a sip from his mug.
Isabelle grinned. “I think that was some pretty hot action that I walked in on.”
Alec went scarlet and actually choked on his coffee.
“And I think it was about time.” She glanced toward Magnus casually enough, but he heard the message loud and clear: “You hurt him again, and I’ll kick your warlock ass.”
“Yes, it was about time, Isabelle.” Magnus met her gaze straight on to let her know he’d heard her. “Sometimes, lovers’ spats tend to get out of hand,” he added to lighten the mood. While he was perfectly all right letting her know he was taking her silent warning seriously, he didn’t want her to see the guilt he was still wrestling with; that was for him and Alec alone.
Isabelle smiled. “Well, I’m glad this one’s over.”
“Can we change the subject?” Alec all but groaned. “Please?”
“Fine,” Isabelle replied without missing a beat. “What are we going to do about those maniacs?”
Alec sighed. It was all too clear that he wasn’t quite ready to have this conversation yet. Magnus wished he could gift him with just one more moment of peace, but clearly, that ship had sailed for the day.
“I’m serious, Alec,” Isabelle cut him off in the clipped tones of the ever-practical. “By the looks of it, you’ve barely slept, so I know you have a plan. Just tell me.”
“Well?” Isabelle prompted impatiently.
“I’m going to be bait.”
Magnus’ head turned around so fast he nearly gave himself whiplash. “Absolutely not, Alexander. You don’t even have the protection spell on you.” He tried to chase away the images of Alec writhing in agony on the floor and focus on the matter at hand.
“No, but Jace does,” Alec said. “And Izzy and Clary. They can be my guard.” He looked at his sister, who in turn was staring at him like she thought he had lost his mind. “We’re going to announce a meeting of the Downworld Cabinet to be held outside of the Institute. If they’re consistent, they’re bound to lash out. I’ll need your help setting it up.”
Isabelle’s anxiety was palpable in the way she was ferociously worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. “I don’t like this, Alec.”
“I want to be there as well,” Magnus spoke up. He didn’t like this, either. In fact, he hated it.
“Well, I kinda need you to, to make it work. You’re the High Warlock of Brooklyn.”
Alec gave him that crooked little smile that always made Magnus’ insides melt and sent his resolve flying out the window. There was just no way he would be able to refuse Alec anything now. Beautiful, beautiful bastard.
Alec took his hand, his fingers wrapping reassuringly around Magnus’ palm. “I’ll be fine, okay? I have to do this.”
“I don’t like it,” Isabelle said again.
Alec sighed. “Yes, I heard you the first time.”
“I’m not crazy about this idea, either,” Magnus said, for good measure. “But I suppose it needs to be done. Does Jace know?”
Alec’s features darkened visibly. “He knows.”
“Alec?” Isabelle frowned. “What is it?”
“I told him I want him to step in as Head of the Institute. In case.”
Magnus felt like someone had just punched him in the gut.
Isabelle looked equally shocked. “In case what?” she demanded. Her voice was already rising. “In case you die?”
Alec’s silence was all the answer she needed.
“Are you serious?” she exploded. “You went to Jace with that? After everything? He’s in no frame of mind to deal with—”
“Look, I don’t like the timing, either,” Alec snapped, his hand tightening convulsively around Magnus’ as anger swept over him. “Okay, Izzy? But we’re soldiers. We need to figure this out and have a plan B. And plan B involves Jace being Head of the Institute and you being in charge of strategy. You’re the best at it.”
Isabelle opened her mouth to protest again, but Alec was quicker.
“That’s an order, Isabelle.” His voice was like a whip.
Magnus stared. He stared at Alec’s square shoulders, at his straight back, at the steel in his eyes. He didn’t know whether he should be in awe of this man’s attitude or terrified by it. He knew why his boyfriend had spoken like that; Alec needed Jace and Isabelle to be thinking clearly. He needed them to be unbiased. He needed them to be Shadowhunters.
Magnus felt a wave of nausea sweep over him. In order to prevail against the enemy, Alec could not be Alec, and he couldn’t allow his siblings to be his siblings. They had to be warriors—and that entailed being uncomfortably, terrifyingly okay with the idea of dying.
“Well, no one is going to die,” Magnus said, because he wasn’t a Shadowhunter nor was he expected to be, and therefore he could very well refuse to take the possibility of Alec’s death into consideration, thank you very much. “I’m sure Alexander will remain Head of this Institute for a long time to come.” He clapped his hands together and forced lightness into his voice. “Now, shall we get to work?”
Isabelle remained stone-faced as she stiffly rose to her feet. She reminded Magnus uncomfortably of her mother.
“I’ll make the arrangements,” she said coldly. “I’ll report in later today.”
Alec nodded. “Good.”
He only dropped his role of Head of the Institute once the door had closed behind Isabelle. His shoulders slumped and he let out a long exhale. “She’s gonna make me pay for that.”
“I can’t say that I blame her,” Magnus said, eyeing his boyfriend critically.
Alec smiled. He cupped Magnus’ nape and pulled him in for a kiss.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I just don’t have any other ideas.”
Magnus grimaced. He really, really hated to say it out loud, but it needed to be said. “To be honest, I think this is the best shot we’ve got.”
Chapter 8: Shot, Sold, and Bleed
WARNING: Blood. (nothing too graphic, but still)
clot, cold, and bleed
all crimson and hinges
tarot and inches
- Faux, Novo Amor
* * *
It was another chilly night in New York. An icy drizzle had begun to fall, but Alec barely felt it. His frustration was keeping him warm. He was walking with long strides through the darkened streets, Jace by his side matching him step by step.
Alec could feel exasperation to rival his own roll off his parabatai in powerful waves. Perhaps they were also feeding each other’s discontent, making everything feel much more strained. It was like they were wrapped in their very own bubble of anger.
They had just left the Jade Wolf, where the fake Downworld Cabinet meeting had eventually turned into a real Downworld Cabinet meeting, because why not kill two birds with a stone. Except that no stones were thrown, because there had been no birds. The meeting had begun and ended without interruptions. Not even the by-now trademark threatening note had disrupted the evening. It was suspicious, to say the least.
Alec had been so vexed that he had decided to walk it off by himself—except for Jace, of course, who was keeping true to his promise of shadowing his every move outside of the Institute. His head was throbbing. He needed time to think. Granted, the enemy had probably smelled a trap. But they had been bold enough so far that he had thought it wouldn’t matter, that they would attack anyway.
“Now what?” Jace spoke from beside him.
“I don’t know,” Alec admitted darkly, his head spinning with thoughts that went nowhere. “We need to get back to the Institute and regroup.”
“You think they knew it was a trap?”
Jace went quiet for a moment. “Do you think there’s a mole?”
“Probably,” Alec said. It was the first thought that had entered his mind. “We need to figure out who it is, if a Downworlder or a Shadowhunter.”
Jace made a growling sound from the back of his throat. “If it’s one of ours, I’ll kill them myself.”
Alec had to smile. “I know you will.”
There was a glint in the darkness that didn’t belong. Alec only caught it out of the corner of his eye, but he instantly recognized it for what it was.
“JACE!” He grabbed his parabatai’s arm and pulled him out of the path of the flying knife while drawing his sword in one single movement.
Jace reacted just as quickly, back flattening against Alec’s as they fell into a familiar, perfected battle stance. The combined shine of their seraph blades illuminated the alley with a cold light that bounced off the wet asphalt, making the figures that emerged from the shadows around them seem all the more eerie.
Jace tensed against his back, and Alec knew his brother was probably thinking the same thing he was: Where the hell had they come from? And what had possessed them to take the back roads? Alleys didn’t allow any room for bow and arrows, and Alec really could have used the space right now.
There was a dozen of them—Shadowhunters in black battle gear, like they were going to war. All traitors. All wanting Downworlders dead. Valentine’s seeds. Alec felt sick. Against his back, Jace’s muscles, already taut almost to the maximum, tensed further.
Then one of the figures moved, and it began.
They may be outnumbered, but Alec and Jace had been fighting together for a lifetime. They were a perfectly-oiled machine, and they were giving these people hell. When a hit finally managed to get through their defense and to Jace, the sword bounced off as if it had hit some invisible bubble around him. Jace lunged forward and grunted in grim satisfaction when his own blade plunged into the man’s stomach.
Alec could relate. He felt no joy in striking down his own, but he also felt no sympathy for these people who so viciously opposed peace. These people who he knew would rather see Magnus dead than with his hand held in Alec’s. He felt a wave of cold, controlled fury sweep over him, and he let it take over and guide his every movement. His back was never away from Jace’s and vice versa. They whirled and slashed like one man, blades singing and muscles straining.
Until something slammed into Alec with the force of a sledgehammer. The impact was so ferocious that it sent him flying into the air, away from Jace who screamed out his name like he was losing a limb. He landed on his back, skidding for a few feet and losing bow and quiver in the process, the wet asphalt scraping against his clothes and opening tears in his skin before he finally came to a stop.
It took him a few moments to drag himself upright, but when he finally managed to sit up, it was only to find the tip of a seraph blade pressed against his windpipe. Alec froze. He didn’t know the Shadowhunter who was looking down at him, but the hate in the man’s eyes was personal.
Still, that wasn’t what struck him. What really shocked him was the woman giving her back to him. She stood a few feet ahead like a guardian, an insurmountable obstacle between him and Jace. A curtain of silver-gray curls cascaded down her shoulders, and purple magic swirled around her open palms.
Alec’s heart gave a lurch. What did a warlock have to do with this? Just how deep did it all run?
“It’s over, Jace Herondale,” the man standing over Alec snarled. “Drop the blade, or I swear I’ll open his throat right here, right in front of you.”
Jace was frozen in place, his sword still held high in his hand, his body still locked into a fighting stance. His eyes burned. All the survivors had gathered past the imaginary line of where the warlock stood, and Jace was looking at them like maybe he could kill them all through sheer willpower.
The man pushed the blade deeper into Alec’s neck, drawing blood. “I’m not gonna ask again.”
Jace looked horrified. He let go of his sword, which fell to the asphalt with an ominous clang. “It’s okay, Alec,” he said. “It’s gonna be okay.” Alec wasn’t sure whom he was trying to reassure.
The warlock half-turned her face to look behind her. Her eyes were also glowing purple. “Just kill him, so we can get this over with. I don’t like working with you any more than you like working with me.”
“Oh, we’re not going to kill him now.” The Shadowhunter standing over Alec looked down at him with disgust written all over his face. “We’re going to have some fun first, make him sorry he ever thought he might be worthy of leading us.”
“No!” Jace lurched forward.
Purple coils shot towards him and wrapped around his body, holding him in place. He struggled like a man possessed, but the warlock’s magic was too strong.
“Pull him up,” another man ordered.
Two of the Shadowhunters grabbed Alec’s arms and hauled him to his feet. He fought against the instinct to free himself. Magnus’ protection spell may be keeping Jace safe from weapons, but there was no telling what another warlock could do. How long before her magic went from restraining to hurtful? Would the spell hold then? So he kept tense and still, and he studied the man walking up to him.
The guy must have been in his sixties, but he looked as capable as any of the younger warriors around him. He had deep-set eyes that stared at Alec with a deep-born rage that unnerved him.
“Alec Lightwood, you are not going to die a Shadowhunter,” he said, and something in the way he said it made it sound like a sentence. “You are not going to die with the sacred Angel runes on your skin.”
Alec’s heart had begun to thunder in his chest. The man produced a small knife, and Alec held as still as he could as the blade ran lightly down the length of his chest. The tip of the knife went to lift the hem of his t-shirt, and the man paused.
“Ah,” he said. “Parabatai runes can be a pain for us, what with the tracking and all. Should we remove it right now? What do you say?”
He looked right at Alec when he asked, like he was giving him a choice. It sent a chill down Alec’s spine.
“No! Don’t touch him! Don’t touch his runes!” Jace roared, struggling uselessly against the magic that bound him.
Their eyes locked. Alec could see his own terror reflected in his brother’s wide-eyed stare.
“Jace.” Alec mouthed his parabatai’s name like a prayer, but he wasn’t sure what he was praying for.
Then the pain came. He didn’t remember ever screaming so loud in his life. His world was white-hot agony and red flames.
He could hear twin screams past it all that he recognized as Jace’s. They were hurting his brother. They were hurting his brother, and he couldn’t take it. “JACE!”
Alec tried to push past it, past the all-consuming torture that devoured his body and burned his mind. As his senses returned to him in blurry form and broken pieces, he became aware of the fact that he was steadily being dragged away by strong, unrelenting arms. He tried to struggle…or so he thought, he couldn’t be sure. His body was not his own anymore; it belonged to the flames.
“No! Let me go!” His blurry vision showed him Jace, curled up on the asphalt and shaking with pain. “Jace!”
A voice roared. It wasn’t Jace’s. A fire roared too, and it wasn’t the one licking away at Alec’s flesh. A crimson beam of burning magic shot across the alley, illuminating it like a million lights from Hell. It crashed against a veil of purple.
Alec blinked. There was a figure running at full speed towards him, coat flapping, red swirling around his frame. Magnus’ flames were fierce enough to rival the ones ravaging Alec’s body, but Alec knew, even in his confused, altered state, he knew that Magnus wouldn’t be able to reach him in time.
But he screamed anyway, because his world was made of fire and he wanted it to stop, and he couldn’t do anything else. “MAGNUS!”
There was another blast of red, but again the purple fought it. Distantly, Alec thought he heard the whooshing sound of a portal opening.
And then there was nothing.
* * *
“They took Alec. They took Alec.”
Jace had been repeating those words over and over like a mantra for the past few minutes, as if he could either somehow make them untrue or mark them deeper into his skin. The boy was clearly in shock.
Magnus had his arms wrapped firmly around him. At first, it had been to help him sit up and support him as he recovered from the pain, but as Jace progressively unraveled, it had become something else. The Shadowhunter was holding onto him like Magnus was the only thing keeping him sane. He wasn’t even sure Jace knew he was doing it.
“They took Alec.” Jace shuddered, and Magnus tightened his hold around him.
His own head was spinning. His ears still rang with Alec’s screams—he’d heard them before he had ever entered the alley, and they had frozen the blood in his veins. Blood had also been running freely down Alec’s side, where his parabatai rune was—or, from what Magnus had gathered from Jace’s jumbled recounting before shock had settled over him, where the rune used to be.
Alec’s wide-eyed stare was forever branded into Magnus’ memory. He had seen that primal, absolute terror on someone’s face only a handful of times in his long life. Seeing it on Alec’s face had broken him.
“They took his rune,” Jace said, his voice dull and cracked. His trembling hand reached for his side, where his own parabatai rune was. “They carved it out of him.”
Magnus clenched his jaw so tight he could almost hear the bones crack. Magic was rushing through his veins, threatening to explode out of him.
Jace made a weird sound, halfway between a strangled gasp and a sob. He wrenched himself free of Magnus’ hold and rolled over on all fours, and he retched painfully.
Magnus felt sick, too. And yet, for all of his overwhelming nausea, he knew he was only feeling a fraction of what Jace, as Alec’s parabatai, was going through. He crouched next to him and placed a hand on Jace’s back, and he left it there, palm open and heart shattered, until Jace was done puking his guts out onto the wet asphalt.
Jace sat back on his haunches. He was pale and shaky and so obviously, heart-wrenchingly broken, but his eyes were finally clear.
“I can’t feel him, Magnus,” he croaked.
Magnus swallowed past the dread in his throat. “We’ll find him.” There was fire swirling within him. He kept a tight leash on it, because Alec needed him to be thinking clearly. “If it’s the last thing I ever do, Jace, I’m going to find Alexander and bring him home.”
It sounded like a vow, and it was.
Chapter 9: Part A: Brother
Due to narrative choices, this chapter will be split into two parts (but don't worry, we're posting them both today!). Thank you everyone for your support, we appreciate each and every one of you so much! ♥
p.s. We highly recommend listening to NEEDTOBREATHE's acoustic version of Brother while reading Part A, as it was the song that was in loop while this part was being written.
— “brother, let me be your fortress
when the night wheels are driving on
be the one to light the way
bring you home”
- Brother, NEEDTOBREATHE
* * *
To say that Jace was in pain would not cover it. To say that he was broken wouldn’t even come close to describing what he felt. Jace felt more than broken. He felt destroyed, like he had disintegrated into a million glass shards upon which he was still cutting himself. He felt like he was moving through a haze of ever-present pain. He couldn’t think, and he had no idea where even to begin to breathe—his body had forgotten how to draw oxygen into his lungs.
The only place that made him feel somewhat functional was Alec’s office. It shouldn’t be surprising, really; Alec had always been his home. His anchor. His salvation whenever Jace got just a little too lost.
He could feel Alec’s presence all around him. His brother had enough of a formidable spirit that Jace felt as if he were surrounded by it even though Alec hadn’t really added any personal touches to the space, with the exception of a picture of Magnus and himself on the desk, and an opaque silver vase filled with a spectacular bunch of white lilies on the coffee table.
The flowers would never die, because Magnus had magicked them not to when he had brought them to Alec, shortly after their reconciliation. Alec had been so stunned and overwhelmed that he hadn’t even attempted to deflect when Izzy had questioned him about the floral addition. He’d simply spilled the whole tale, which had brought a teasing remark from Jace, a devilish grin from Izzy, and a longing stare from Clary that had made Jace feel vaguely guilty, as he was pretty sure it was about time for him to get off his ass and make some romantic gesture, too.
Jace looked at the lilies now and thought that it was all wrong. It was wrong that the flowers were here and Alec wasn’t. It was wrong that flowers could be spelled into living forever and Alec couldn’t even be spelled into temporary protection. And it was wrong, so wrong, of Jace to have failed him.
He shivered and let himself fall onto the chair behind the large mahogany desk. He tried to look at the world from the post of the Head of the Institute, tried to see it all through Alec’s eyes—this pain and despair that clutched at Jace’s heart and guts and muscles and refused to let go. What would Alec do? What would Alec want him to do?
He put a hand to his side underneath his t-shirt, palm open over his parabatai rune. He closed his eyes and tried to focus, tried to stretch his mind and senses through a bond that no longer existed….because they had carved it right out of Alec’s flesh.
Jace’s eyes flew open when the images flashed behind his closed eyelids. The small blade slicing into Alec’s skin, scraping. The blood—all that blood. The pain. The white-hot, blinding, all-consuming pain that still, Jace knew, was probably barely a fraction of what Alec had experienced. The screams. God, the screams. Jace had heard Alec scream in pain before, though he didn’t like to think about it. He’d seen his brother hurt and bleeding and shaking with injury-induced agony. But never like that. By the Angel, never like that.
He covered his face, the heels of his hands digging painfully into his eyes, desperately trying to rub the images away.
Jace lowered his hands slowly. He knew his eyes were probably bloodshot and overly bright, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He couldn’t bring himself to even try to pull himself together. Why should he? Alec was gone and he was lost, and he didn’t give a damn if the world could see it.
Clary was looking at him with heartbreak written all over her beautiful face. She didn’t say anything else as she slowly let herself into the room and took a seat on the chair across the desk. She reached out and took his hand, and again she didn’t speak as she entwined their fingers over the wood.
Jace knew he should probably pull away and pretend like he wasn’t breaking inside, but instead he found himself holding onto her hand as if to a mainstay. His knuckles were white, but if Clary thought he was squeezing too tightly, she didn’t show it. Her thumb began tracing reassuring patterns over the back of his hand.
“It’s gonna be okay, Jace,” she finally spoke softly.
“Is it?” Jace was shocked at the raspy sound that came out of his throat.
He supposed it had to be expected, this complete disintegration of self. Even before they became parabatai, his bond with Alec had been his guiding light. After, it became his lifeline. Now there was nothing where Alec used to be, their rune nothing more than a meaningless drawing on his skin, and Jace felt like he was losing his mind.
“We’ll find him,” Clary said.
Jace’s eyes flared, a single spark finally igniting somewhere within his chest. “I know we will,” he said fiercely. ‘And then I’m gonna slaughter every single one of them.’ He didn’t say that to Clary; he didn’t think she would want to hear the murder in his voice.
To Jace, the question wasn’t whether or not they were going to find Alec; he knew for a fact they would never stop looking until they did. Magnus, for one, would exhaust the magic of the world if it came to it. The question, the horrible thought that kept bouncing against the walls of Jace’s skull, was whether or not they were going to find Alec alive. He knew that every passing hour made the odds of that happening so much slimmer, and it had already been two days.
Terror came to grip his stomach, so sudden and violent that he almost doubled over. He snatched his hand away from Clary’s as if her fingers burned, for fear of being sick all over her arm.
Clary watched him apprehensively, but she didn’t address his obvious state of mounting panic. “I have an idea,” she said instead.
Jace froze. He didn’t dare to hope, but it was a fact that Clary’s ideas had proven quite effective in the past.
“I know the parabatai bond is gone,” she clearly took care to speak as gently as she could, but still, Jace felt his stomach roll with renewed nausea, “but maybe we can still track him.”
Jace frowned. “How? Magnus tried, it’s not working. Their warlock must be screening them against magic.”
Magnus had almost set the entire ops room on fire in his frustration. It had been both terrible and heartbreaking to witness.
“But can she screen them against angel power?” There was a small, confident grin on Clary’s face that made Jace want to kiss her. “Maybe if you and I combine our focus…maybe we can reach him.”
Jace stared at her. “Do you think that’s possible?”
Clary shrugged. “We’ve done more impossible things, haven’t we?”
They really had. Jace’s whole existence had been one impossible thing after another since Clary had walked into his life.
“It’s worth a try,” he said. He stood and walked out from behind the relative safety of Alec’s desk. “Clary…” He took in a shaky breath, hating the audible emotion in his voice. “Thank you.”
Clary also got to her feet. They were now standing only a few inches apart. There was electricity between them, as there always was, but this was a different kind of current—softer, gentler. Almost nurturing. Clary stepped into his space and wrapped her arms around him, and Jace let her.
“Jace,” she spoke softly against the side of his head, “this wasn’t your fault.”
Jace could feel the tension snapping back into his body with renewed force. Still, to his surprise, he found himself not letting go of Clary.
“I had one job, Clary,” he said through gritted teeth. “Protect him. And I failed.” He swallowed past the razor blades that had taken up permanent residence in his throat since Alec was taken. “So yes, it is my fault.”
Who else’s? Who else’s, but his? He was the one who had sworn to protect Alec at all costs.
“No. It’s not.” Clary pushed him back enough to stare into his eyes. Her gaze was fierce and burning. “You did everything you could. We all know that. Alec knows that.”
Jace felt like someone had just punched him in the stomach. He would have gasped if only he had any breath left, but he had stopped breathing the minute they had taken Alec’s parabatai rune.
“It doesn’t matter now,” he said, his voice rough and his words terse. “All that matters is saving Alec.”
Clary nodded. “We’re going to need something of his, something personal.”
Jace didn’t even have to think about it. “His bow. Right behind you.” He had brought Alec’s bow and quiver back to the Institute, and he had propped them up against the wall by the desk in Alec’s office like they were sacred objects—which they were, as far as Jace was concerned.
Clary grabbed the bow, and it was clear from the slightly startled expression on her face that it was heavier than she’d thought. She laid it carefully on the desk in all its length, and she put her palm on the cold metal. She held out her other hand, and Jace took it. He hesitated only briefly before he curled his fingers around the weapon, where Alec’s hand used to grip.
Jace closed his eyes and did his best to follow Clary’s example and call upon the angelic power in his blood, but his head was spinning. His hand, he thought, shouldn’t be touching Alec’s bow. He wasn’t worthy. That weapon had saved his brother’s life in battle countless of times, whereas Jace had not been able to. He had not been up to the task. What good were all his famed combat skills for, if he couldn’t even save his parabatai?
“Jace!” Clary’s voice snapped from beside him. “Focus.”
‘For Alec,’ Jace thought, and he took a deep breath.
And that’s when he saw it.
* * *
Facilis descensus Averno.
Those words meant only one thing to Alec: He could not be broken.
He had spoken the words to Jace with that very meaning, and Jace had spoken them to him—more times than he cared to recall. More times than he liked to think about, he and Jace had had to remind each other that for all that they bled, they were, in fact, unbreakable.
But Jace wasn’t here now, and Alec had to remind himself. He clung to those three words with everything he had, but it was getting harder and harder to keep them into focus. Because he had bled before, profusely so, but never like this. This bleeding was something else. It was something different. This was more than just the bleeding of the body. Alec felt like his entire being was bleeding—flesh and nerves and muscles and soul, all pouring their very essence in crimson flows onto the floor.
It was dark where he was…wherever that was—he didn’t know. It didn’t matter. What mattered was where they wanted to take him—past the brink of insanity. And the pain was indeed maddening, a crazed creature in its own right as it devoured Alec’s body and clawed at his mind.
He had kept track at first. He had counted the runes he lost as they carved them out of his skin—sometimes with blades, sometimes with magic (because his runes had already been desecrated by that warlock’s filthy touch, so why not let magic do some of the work when the knives got tired?). But eventually, he had lost the clarity for numbers.
He wasn’t aware of how many runes they had already taken, how many parts of him he had already lost. He wasn’t aware of time. All he was aware of was pain and the fact that he could not, would not, go insane.
“Facilis descensus Averno,” Alec whispered for the benefit of the dark around him. His voice was barely there, consumed by his own screams. That didn’t matter, either; he would mouth the words if it came to that. “Facilis…descensus…”
Alec shuddered. His whole body seemed to seize in on itself. It did that sometimes, he had discovered—even when no knives were carving, every cell in his body would at times scream out. He simply didn’t have enough breath left to cry out, so he choked on the pain instead.
It had been easy, indeed. Too easy. Alec had not descended into Hell—he had plummeted into it through a freefall he never had a chance to stop. This was Hell. It had to be. There sure was fire enveloping him, burning off his skin, flames licking at every ounce of strength he’d ever had.
Alec didn’t want to speak the words anymore. He didn’t want to think about Hell, or about how these people were, in fact, breaking him. So he turned to the one thing, the one person who had always kept him sane when everything else failed.
“Entreat me not to leave thee…or…” His voice broke. It broke like his being had not yet broken.
They had taken the oath from him. They had taken Jace from him. Alec could feel a sob rising at the back of his throat, and he choked on that too, spitting blood and tears into the darkness.
“Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee.”
Alec’s head snapped up. The voice was strong and familiar, and it penetrated the delirium of pain like nothing had been able to do so far. There was a figure walking towards him, and he didn’t need light to recognize it. His whole body gave a jolt, adrenaline coursing through him and bringing a burst of renewed energy to his exhausted muscles.
He tugged at the chains that held him. “Jace?”
Hope surged within his chest in a wave he was terrified to give in to, because what if this wasn’t real? What if he was dreaming?
“I’m here.” Jace stepped up to him. Now that he stood close, Alec could see him clearly, could see how his brother’s features were set into a mask of tension as his mismatched gaze swept over Alec’s body to assess the damage. “I’m here, Alec. I’ve got you.”
When Jace reached out to grasp his shoulder, it was all Alec could do not to cry in relief. “Jace…” He swallowed past the dryness in his throat. “How’d you find me?”
Jace gave him a dimpled little smile. “I’ll always find you, Alec. We’re parabatai.”
A wave of sorrow washed over him, adding to the pain eating away at his body. “Not anymore,” he whispered. “Our rune…”
“We’ll get it back,” Jace said. He cocked his head to the side and seemed to ponder for a moment. “Or maybe not. Maybe it’s better this way.”
Alec’s stomach gave a spasm that had nothing to do with the fire in his flesh. “What?”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have a parabatai rune. Maybe you shouldn’t have any rune at all.”
Jace was staring coldly at him, and that’s when Alec knew.
“You’re not Jace.” He felt like he might be sick. He thought he had known despair, but this was more than that. This was annihilation.
“No,” the warlock said, her eyes flashing purple. “But I can hurt you like any Shadowhunter out there. In fact, I can hurt you better.”
She didn’t change back. She kept wearing Jace’s face as she gave a sharp turn of her wrist. And Alec, who thought he knew pain, threw his head back and screamed like he had never known he could scream.
* * *
Jace thought he knew pain, but he now threw his head back and screamed like he had never known he could scream.
He returned slowly, like waking from a nightmare. Except that he knew, with heart-shattering, breath-stopping clarity, that this was real. What he had seen was real. What they were doing to Alec was real. He vaguely registered the fact that he was crumpled on the floor and his body was shaking like his bones were about to turn into dust.
It took him a few moments to realize that Clary’s hands were on his shoulders. Her fingertips dug into him as though she was trying to keep him there, to prevent him with all her considerable might from drifting away and getting lost in the horror he had witnessed.
Speaking of horror, there was no trace of it in Clary’s eyes when Jace finally managed to focus on her, and he knew then that she hadn’t seen what he had seen.
“Clary, we have to go.” His voice was choked and strangled. It was no wonder, really; he could hardly breathe, let alone talk.
Jace staggered to his feet, stumbling. He blinked furiously a couple of times and forced himself to regain his balance if not his sanity.
Clary was staring at him with a terrified expression on her face. “You saw something, didn’t you? What did you see?”
“How about my brother, being torn from limb to limb?” Jace didn’t say it. He couldn’t bring himself to. By the Angel, he felt like he was going crazy.
“They’re deruning him.” This time his voice was low but strong, menacing. There was a promise in it—he would make them all pay.
Jace felt the deadly clarity of war settle over him like a familiar cloak. He donned it swiftly, expertly. The fog in his brain cleared, his body snapped to full attention. He pushed the trauma deep down inside of him, where even he wouldn’t be able to reach it, and he claimed back his sanity. For Alec.
“We have to go now.”
There weren’t many things in life—or death, for that matter—that Jace knew for certain. But he knew that time was running out, and he knew that he was not going to lose his brother.
Chapter 10: Part B: Lover
Find You by Ruelle was playing in loop while this part was being written. We highly recommend listening to it while reading!
— “just hold on
it won’t be long
I will find you
here inside the dark
I will break through
no matter where you are”
- Find You, Ruelle
* * *
Magnus Bane knew pain. He didn’t like to think about it, he’d much rather dance through the suffering of existence whenever possible, but he did. He knew pain so well he could find it within his veins whenever he felt like it. He could reach past skin and occasionally frayed nerves and find it pumping through his system like venom. He rarely allowed himself to tap into it, but it was there—behind his eyelids at night, underneath his fingernails as debris from the times he had either clung to life or clawed at it.
Magnus knew fear, too. It was less easily accessible to him than pain, as he had spent decades making sure he would never have reason to be afraid again, but there had been a time when fear had been his constant companion. And yet, for all the terrible emotions Magnus had felt in his long life, for all the horrors he had seen, nothing compared to this. This utter, undeniable darkness. He was drowning in it, choking on it, and he was powerless to stop it. Just like he had been powerless to stop those monster from taking Alec away.
Magnus had occasionally thought of himself as a monster, he still pondered the notion from time to time, albeit a lot less often since Alec had entered his life, but he was nothing compared to the people who had carved the parabatai rune right out of Alec’s flesh. He may be a monster, but they were beasts. And Jasmine…he didn’t even know what Jasmine was. Perhaps she was the perfect example of what a warlock could become if they let their demons take hold.
Still, he was having a hard time wrapping his head around the lengths she had gone to. First, failing to warn the Institute about the lethal wards Magnus had ordered put up during the battle against Valentine, and now…this. This atrocity. This abomination of an event that had all but ripped Magnus’ heart out of his chest and left him raw and bleeding and afraid, like he hadn’t been in forever.
Magic crackled and snapped around his fingertips like a fire ready to roar, but what good did it do if he didn’t know where to direct the flames?
He sat down heavily on the bed and clasped his useless hands in his lap. There were no personal touches in Alec’s room at the Institute. It was a soldier’s room—practical and functional and completely devoid of frills. There was more of Alec in Magnus’ loft than within these four walls. And yet, Magnus could feel it, Alec’s presence. He could feel him there, in this room that had shaped him. He could feel Alec’s strength and solidity, and his resolute, indomitable spirit. Magnus could feel him so much that it broke the breath in his throat.
“Alexander,” he whispered into the empty air, and he poured all of his energy into ignoring the possibility that he may never get to speak that name again to listening ears, “where are you?”
The door opened, and Magnus’ head snapped up.
Isabelle momentarily froze in the doorway. She seemed surprised to find him there, and Magnus couldn’t blame her; he wasn’t quite sure why he was there himself.
“Oh. I…uh…” Isabelle smiled weakly as she took a few steps into the room and wrapped her arms protectively around herself. “Sorry. I don’t really know why I’m here.”
She looked pale and drawn and lost. In that moment, Magnus hated the world just a little bit more. It wasn’t fair. She didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve this.
It was a titanic effort, but he somehow managed to keep his composure and give her a small smile. “Same, Isabelle,” he said. “It looks like we all need to feel Alec’s presence.”
“Yeah.” Isabelle’s voice broke. She quickly wiped away a couple of lonely tears that escaped her huge, overly bright eyes.
Magnus’ heart broke all over again. And here he thought there was nothing left of it to break. “Isabelle…” He trailed off helplessly. What could he possibly say to her? There was no comfort to offer, and he was too terrified of being proven wrong to voice any hope that things would turn out all right.
Isabelle didn’t seem to mind the absence of false reassurances. She came to sit next to him on the edge of Alec’s bed and leaned casually into him, like it was the most natural thing for her to do. Like he was part of her family. Magnus’ insides experienced warmth for the first time since Alec was taken.
“I know I should be grateful they didn’t kill him on the spot,” she said quietly, “but I just…I can’t stop wondering why. Why didn’t they just kill him? What do they want with him?”
All the warmth left Magnus’ body as quickly as it had entered it. Isabelle didn’t know. Jace hadn’t told her. He supposed he couldn’t blame him, but he also didn’t want to be the one to do it.
“I don’t know,” he said after a moment, “but we need to find him as soon as possible.” He had to find him. He had to. There was simply no other option.
Magic crackled with renewed intensity around his hands, and Magnus silently cursed himself; now was not the time to lose control.
If his brief hesitation hadn’t already given him away, the crimson sparks around his fingers surely did. Isabelle stared at him in suspicion and, despite her open-mindedness, also with a hint of wariness that Magnus couldn’t really resent her for. Alec was the only Shadowhunter Magnus had ever met who wasn’t afraid of his magic. Alec was the only one who wasn’t afraid of him, of what Magnus really was.
His stomach rolled, and he would have certainly either thrown up or destroyed the entire room if Isabelle’s sharp tone hadn’t snapped him out of it.
“Magnus,” she said. She was staring hard at him, her famed iron will pushing through her despair. “What is it? Do you know something?”
Magnus wanted to lie. He wanted to tell her he knew nothing. He wanted to tell her he hadn’t heard Alec’s inhuman screams, or seen the blood drenching his shirt, or witnessed the frightening whiteness of his skin. He wanted to tell her he hadn’t seen the pain-crazed look in Alec’s eyes. He wanted to tell her he wasn’t hearing Alec call out for him even now, among the buzzing of the Institute.
But Magnus couldn’t lie, he didn’t have any strength left for it; all his energy was focused on keeping himself together and his magic from blowing up the entire cathedral. And he couldn’t lie to Isabelle when she was looking at him like maybe he might have the key to solving the whole horrible mess.
‘If only,’ Magnus thought, his stomach clenching painfully.
If only he could save Alexander. If only he could do anything other than sitting here with his guts in spasms and his heart gone.
He took a deep breath and tried his best to fool Isabelle into believing he wasn’t falling apart. “They deruned him,” he said, and he was stunned when his voice didn’t break. “They removed the parabatai rune in front of Jace’s eyes.” He shook his head a little more vigorously than necessary, like maybe he could flick the memories right out of his brain. “We couldn’t do anything.”
“What are you talking about?”
The pure, unadulterated horror in Isabelle’s voice saved Magnus from retreating too far into himself. Instead, he reached out and placed a hand on her arm. She pulled away from him as if his touch burned and shot to her feet like the bed was suddenly on fire.
“What are you saying?” she demanded.
Magnus swallowed. “I’m saying we have to find him before they remove all the runes.”
“Why would they do that?” Something in Isabelle’s strained voice suggested that she wanted an answer.
Once again, Magnus wished he could say he didn’t know, but that, too, would have been a lie. He did know. He knew only too well. He had seen it happen to his own people when warlocks’ marks got removed.
“I think they want to humiliate him,” he said, his voice grave and thick with centuries-old memories, “destroy his identity as a Shadowhunter.”
Isabelle was now openly weeping. Magnus would have given anything to stop her pain. His pain, too. He stood up and crossed the distance between them with long, purposeful strides, because damn him, damn him to Hell and back if he failed Alexander’s family like he had failed Alexander.
He pulled Isabelle into his arms and held on tight. She clutched at him like he was the only thing keeping her from sinking, and Magnus thought that if he couldn’t do anything else, he would do this at least—make sure Isabelle Lightwood remained afloat.
“I’m going to kill them,” Isabelle choked out. “I’m going to kill them all.”
It was precisely Magnus’ plan, but he had to make a conscious effort not to let her anger feed his magic.
“We will, Isabelle,” he vowed, cupping the back of her head with one hand. “We’re going to bring him back and make them pay.”
There were demons batting dark wings within Magnus’ chest, pumping rage into his blood. He kept a tight leash on them for now, but when the time came, he would release them. He would shield Alec from his power, protect him with his own body like he was supposed to do all along, and he would burn the monsters and their hatred to the ground.
The door burst open, making him jump. Isabelle whirled around, and she wasted no time. She rounded on Jace as soon as she realized it was him and Clary standing right inside the doorway.
“They took his rune?” she cried. She advanced on him and hit his chest—hard. “You lost the parabatai bond? How could you not tell me?”
“Izzy!” Jace snapped. He closed his hands around her fists and held her steady. There was an expression of renewed purpose on his face. “We don’t have time for this. We know where Alec is.”
Magnus’ heart practically shot out of his chest. He took a step forward, his whole body responding to this unexpected, unhoped-for call to action.
Isabelle had frozen in Jace’s hold and was now looking at him and Clary like she didn’t quite dare to believe them. “You know where he is? How?”
“We tried harnessing the angelic powers in our blood,” Clary said. “It worked. We tracked him.”
Isabelle’s hands shot to her mouth. Her eyes were liquid pools, but she didn’t let the tears fall. Instead, she took a few deep breaths and composed herself. “Thank you,” she said, reaching out to grab Clary’s hand in a grateful hold.
Clary smiled and gave her friend’s fingers a reassuring squeeze.
“We need to move,” Jace said. His jaw was set into a tight line, like his very bones were fighting against the emotions battling inside of him. “They’re torturing him.”
Magnus’ magic surged. For a moment, he couldn’t hear anything past the terrible roaring in his ears. He clenched his fists at his sides to stop the power from exploding out of him. ‘Not now. Not yet.’
“Where?” he heard his own voice growl as if from a great distance.
The demons wanted out, and Magnus would let them.
Chapter 11: Echo
Huge thanks to valfromrome for letting me experiment a little with this chapter, narrative-wise. ♥
— “listen, listen
I would take a whisper if that’s all you had to give
but it isn’t, isn’t
you could come and save me and try to chase the crazy right out
of my head”
- Echo, Jason Walker
* * *
It was almost time. Magnus could feel it. The demons were getting antsier and his magic was getting hungrier, and his skin itched for blood that wasn’t Alexander’s to dirty the ground.
Not long. Not long now. Magnus could feel it.
The quiet sloshing of the water was at odds with the fury within him just waiting to be unleashed, but the dark…oh, the dark fit him like a glove. Magnus drank them up, the murky shadows of the docks of New York City at night, and he let them feed the demons.
He had found he was ready to give in to the dark and the rage in a way he had never been before. This unknown eagerness would have scared him if not for the bone-crushing, soul-wrenching knowledge that Alec was probably a hundred times more terrified—right now, alone in one of these containers.
It didn’t take them long to find the right one. The traitors had chosen an isolated area, abandoned and all but forgotten, so much so that there were barely any lights installed. There were also very few containers left, heavy and rusty-thick with disuse. Shadowhunter guards stood around one of them, dark figures in black battle gear that still wasn’t nearly as black as the anger coursing through Magnus’ veins.
Magnus took a deep breath in through his nose, inhaled the acrid, tangy scent of humidity and old iron. His breath fogged in the air, but he didn’t feel the cold; he was too bone-deep enraged to feel anything but the fire of his magic pumping through his blood. His heart spelled out war rhythms in his chest as he surveyed the scene from their sheltered vantage point on a half-rotten balcony in an equally crumbling warehouse. It was a wonder the ridiculous perch hadn’t collapsed under their combined weight yet.
Magnus chanced a look to his right and saw that Jace was keeping very still in the darkness. It was something more than a soldier’s stillness. Jace, like Magnus, was very aware of the fact that Alec was currently trapped within the metal walls of a rusty box in the middle of nowhere, and undergoing unspeakable torture. His mismatched eyes burned with focused intensity as he stared at the container like a bird of prey would stare at his next kill. Jace, like Magnus, was straining to keep himself from going off.
Magic crackled anew around Magnus’ fingers, fueled by Jace’s impatience. Clary shot him a wary look, but he ignored her and she didn’t question him.
“We need to get inside quickly,” Jace whispered, his voice crisp and tense. “Remember, the priority is getting to Alec. Nobody do anything stupid. We can kill the bastards once he’s out of harm’s way.”
“We need a distraction,” Isabelle said. Her whip had been half-uncoiling and then coiling again around her arm over and over, the weapon’s movement the only display of the tension she, too, must certainly be feeling.
“Magnus,” Jace said, “how about some magic tricks?”
Magnus’ jaw twitched as he strained under the weight of his own anger. “It would be my pleasure.”
“Wait,” Clary spoke up urgently. “You said there was a warlock with them. I don’t see her. It’s best if Magnus goes in with you.” There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Jace was to go inside.
“She’s right,” Isabelle said. “You’re gonna need Magnus’ magic if that bitch is in there with Alec.”
“You and Magnus go in and get Alec out of there. Izzy and I will keep them busy,” Clary said, and the two exchanged grins that frankly gave Magnus the chills. Hell hath no fury.
They all jumped over the decrepit railing and landed gracefully quite a few feet below, runes and magic keeping them safe and silent. Magnus briefly considered the fact that he would never have thought he would one day be fighting alongside Shadowhunters. Not like this. Not with his body moving in sync with theirs, and not with all of their hearts in the same place.
A muffled sound reached them, traveling in the foggy air. Everyone froze. It took Magnus a moment to realize what it was, but when he did, his blood boiled. Screams. Alec was screaming.
Magnus’ glamor dropped, his cat-like eyes gleaming freely in the dark. His magic flared so violently that the crackling around his hands became as audible as lightning-fueled electricity. Bright-red tendrils of raw power coiled around the whole length of his arms.
“Oh, shit,” Jace muttered from somewhere beside him.
“Magnus!” Isabelle hissed in warning.
Magnus barely heard them. How could he? Alec was screaming. And Magnus set off at a run, red magic like blazing flares in the night, and he fed the demons.
* * *
‘Stop. Make it stop.’
Alec was past the ability for coherent thought, but that’s what he would have asked for if he still had been in the condition to form sentences. Someone, anyone, please make it stop.
The pain had morphed into something else, something clawed and alive that escaped definition. Alec’s senses had short-circuited. There was no more sound, no more smell, no more taste. There was just agony and darkness and his own head, his own brain twisting and clenching and desperately trying to hold on to the last shreds of his sanity.
Sometimes words would appear in his mind, tendrils of what he had been before the knives started carving and the magic started burning. He would cling to them then, bounce the words around the walls of his skull like sacred chants.
He clung to the word that came to him now, used it to keep his mind safe from the blade and the agony and the craziness.
‘Magnus. Magnus, Magnus, Magnus.’
Alec had lost all sense of space, too. He had no idea where was up and where was down, and he had forgotten what light looked like. He thought maybe it looked a little like the gold of Magnus’ eyes.
‘Magnus. Magnus. Magnus.’
Make it stop. Someone, make it stop.
‘Magnus, make it stop. Magnus. Magnus. Magnus.’
* * *
“Magnus! Enough! MAGNUS!”
It was nothing short of a miracle for Isabelle’s voice to penetrate the haze, the fury. The all-consuming, all-destroying rage. Perhaps it wasn’t her voice so much as her whip coiled around his forearm.
The crazed fog lifted enough to allow him to stare at her in utter outrage.
Isabelle released him immediately now that she had his attention, but instead of backing away she stepped up to him, determined and unafraid. The possibility that Magnus might strike her down in his frenzy didn’t seem to even enter her mind, and at that moment she reminded him so much of Alec that his heart ached.
Before Magnus could explode again, Isabelle grabbed his shoulders—tightly, firmly. There was no ignoring her or sidestepping her now.
“Magnus, you need to get inside. Now. We’ll handle them.”
Magnus blinked and looked around. Clary and Jace were already “handling them,” blades shining like beacons in the misty dark and limbs snapping, their bodies lashing out with practiced moves that Magnus couldn’t even begin to comprehend.
A few bodies were already on the ground, struck down by Magnus’ magic. He remembered wanting to kill them, but he didn’t quite remember doing it. He gave Isabelle a curt nod.
Isabelle squeezed his shoulders one last time and whirled around, black hair whipping behind her like a dark cloak.
“Jace!” she cried, and she threw herself into the fight, taking Jace’s place among the chaos.
“I told you not to do anything stupid,” Jace growled as he walked past Magnus and up to the door of the container.
Magnus didn’t say anything. Magic was still thrumming underneath his skin, too close to the surface. He didn’t make an attempt to tame it; he could feed the demons for a little bit longer. He snapped the lock open with a flick of his wrist and barged in, Jace at his side.
There were more Shadowhunters inside, Magnus counted about six of them at first glance, but he didn’t see them for long. What he saw was Alec, strung up at one end of the container, hanging from heavy chains secured to the ceiling. He was no longer screaming. Instead, he was twitching weakly even as a man held a knife to the bare skin of his chest.
Magnus’ world exploded. He didn’t feel himself moving, he was barely aware of his arms thrusting forward. But he was highly, keenly aware of the power inside of him detonating like a thousand powder kegs. The crimson beam shot all the way across the container and slammed into the man at full speed. It burned him alive, the same way it had once burned his stepfather, but Magnus felt no remorse now as he listened to the dying man’s screams.
The container began to shake, rattling and screeching as the old metal struggled to contain Magnus’ unleashed magic.
“Magnus!” Jace cried, unperturbed by the ground trembling under his feet as he parred and plunged his blade into the chest of a charging Shadowhunter. “Get Alec!”
This time, Magnus snapped out of it instantly. Because Alec was finally within reach, and Magnus just wanted to bring him home.
* * *
‘Magnus. Magnus. Magnus.’
As he clung to the name in his head, Alec gradually became aware of something happening, something changing. His clouded senses were slowly awakening, and he realized he could now hear sounds. New sounds. Sounds that had not been there before.
He forced his eyes open. The world swam with shapes and color and light—
Alec’s heart leaped to his throat. There was light, bright and red and burning.
‘Alexander. Yes. That’s me. That’s my name,’ Alec thought, and it was absurd, because of course he knew that was his name. Didn’t he? Or had he forgotten?
His stomach twisted with renewed terror. By the Angel, they had finally done it. They had made him insane.
There were hands on his face. Cool hands, fingertips caressing his cheeks like he mattered, pushing the damp hair off his forehead, tracing his cheekbones.
“Alexander, please, open your eyes. Please, look at me.”
Open your eyes? When had he closed them again?
Alec obeyed, though he wasn’t sure why. Gold swam in his line of vision, and he was right; light did look a lot like the gold of Magnus’ irises.
‘Magnus. Magnus, Magnus, Magnus.’
“Yes, it’s me. I’m here.”
There was a renewed urgency in the voice that told Alec he must have spoken out loud.
Alec’s heart gave a lurch as it finally hit him that he was looking at Magnus’ face. That it was indeed Magnus’ golden eyes staring back at him. That it was Magnus’ hands on his face.
He blinked. Should he even believe this? Should he—
As his eyesight sharpened, he caught sight of Jace, whirling like a madman somewhere over Magnus’ shoulder, seraph blade swinging.
Alec swallowed. The Angel knew he had dreamed of both Jace and Magnus enough, had screamed both their names enough. Enough to know better. But this felt different.
“Are you…” His voice cracked from disuse, and he cleared his throat and tried again. “Are you…real?”
Magnus made a sound that Alec had never heard coming from him. It resembled a strangled sob. “Yes. We’re real. I’m real.” He ran a hand along the side of Alec’s face. It was trembling. “You’re safe, Alexander.”
It sank in then. This was reality. He had not gone crazy. He was alive…somehow. Barely.
Alec swallowed past the sudden knot in his throat. “Magnus…” He trailed off. There was nothing else to say. No other words were worth uttering but the name that had saved his sanity.
“Shhh. Let’s get you out of these, huh?” Magnus said. “Oh, my darling, what have they done to you?”
Alec had no idea. Had they tortured him? Broken him? Destroyed him? He couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter, not when it was Magnus standing in front of him.
The chains’ manacles gave way with a clang under Magnus’ magic. Alec didn’t even know where to begin to catch himself as he all but plummeted towards the floor, but he didn’t have to worry about it. Magnus caught him and gently lowered him to the ground, crouching down next to him.
Alec collapsed into him, body spent and mind reeling. He wrapped his arms around Magnus’ waist and squeezed his eyes shut. Magnus’ familiar scent invaded his nostrils from where he had his face pressed against the man’s shoulder—sandalwood and the unique smell of battle magic. When unleashed, Magnus’ magic smelled like flames, if flames had a smell.
“You found me,” Alec whispered, and he could hear the disbelief like a living thing in his own voice. “You found me.”
Magnus’ fingers carded once through his hair, and then Magnus’ hand cupped his cheek and gently tilted his face up so that their eyes could meet. Golden eyes stared down at him. “I’m the High Warlock of Brooklyn.” A weak grin played on Magnus’ lips.
Alec smiled back and let out a noise that was somewhere in-between choked laughter and a sob of relief.
And then Magnus bent his head down, and he kissed him like it was the Apocalypse and the world was going to end in the instant between his kiss and Alec’s next breath.
Chapter 12: My Heart Has Learned to Kill
Massive apologies for the missed update last Friday. It's entirely on me. Life got in the way, as it often does. But now we're back on track! Thanks everyone for your continued support, we appreciate it so much. ♥
— “and I’ll throw it in the current
that I stand upon so still
love is all, from what I’ve heard,
but my heart’s learned to kill
oh, mine has learned to kill”
- Love Is All, The Tallest Man on Earth
* * *
Alec tasted like blood and fear when he kissed him. Something in Magnus broke and twisted, fell apart within his chest. The fire in his veins didn’t quieten. If anything, it burned fiercer, hotter. Deadlier.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Alec’s skin was a sickening palette of white and crimson, and Magnus didn’t know how to touch him, he was terrified of inflicting more pain, and it wasn’t supposed to happen.
Sounds of battle still echoed behind him, but he knew he didn’t have to worry about it. A battle-charged Jace was a force to be reckoned with; a fury-inflamed Jace was an inescapable hurricane. Magnus didn’t have to turn around to know that Alec’s parabatai was efficiently disposing of all of his opponents.
Alec gave a violent shiver in his arms, and Magnus’ stomach rolled. He realized that despite the burning-hot agony that was sure to be coursing through Alec’s body, his skin was cold to the touch.
Magnus cursed himself. How had he not thought about it before? It was freezing outside and Alec’s chest was bare, exposed to the cold as it had been to the blades that had cut into the skin— He took a sharp breath. He could not let himself go there. Not yet. The demons were still howling inside of him, but he knew he had to silence them for Alec’s sake.
“Hold on, Alexander,” he said, the softness in his voice at odds with the Hell unleashed inside of him.
He was halfway through shrugging off his jacket when his skin began to prickle. There was magic crackling in the air, and it wasn’t his. He looked up to see Jasmine advancing upon them, purple magic dancing around her hands and long silvery curls cascading down her shoulders.
Magnus felt a pang. He had been betrayed many times in his life. The world itself had sometimes beaten him down and tossed him around until he no longer knew where to turn, until he could barely trust himself. But it always hurt. Always. Especially when the traitor was one of his own, someone he had bent over backwards trying to protect.
“You shouldn’t have come, Magnus,” Jasmine said. Her voice was rough and menacing and angry.
But Magnus was angrier, and he was darker. And he knew, the very moment he saw her, he knew how this would end.
He settled Alec carefully against his chest so he could free his hands.
“What have you done, Jasmine?” he demanded.
“What had to be done. We don’t want an alliance with the Nephilim.” There was a crazed look in her eyes that sent a chill down Magnus’ spine. “Have you forgotten how they slaughtered our kind?”
“You’ve just helped Nephilim,” Magnus pointed out, even though he knew it was useless to argue with an insane person.
And he had no doubt Jasmine had gone insane; he had seen that wild look before, and not just in desperate Mundanes or in starving vampires. He had seen it in a couple of warlocks’ eyes too, when either the weight of eternity or the pent-up rage from years of persecution finally got to them. They lost themselves, and they lost their sanity, and they just went wild and mad and destructive.
“These Nephilim were worthy of help,” Jasmine said. “They want Downworlders and Shadowhunters to go their separate ways, as do I. As does any sane Downworlder out there.”
Magnus almost snorted at the irony of her using that word. Sane. Right. It was entirely sane to attack and torture the Head of a Shadowhunter Institute. He had to swallow down yet another overwhelming wave of white-hot rage. He half-wondered if maybe he wasn’t going crazy, too. It felt like it, whenever he let himself think about what these people had done to Alexander.
“I thought you wanted peace,” Magnus said, and his voice sounded too rough to his own ears, like there was a growl on the tip of his tongue just waiting to break free.
“I want our High Warlock not to be fucking the enemy!” Jasmine exploded, and at the same time a purple blast erupted from her palm.
Magnus threw his hands up, and the lilac beam crashed harmlessly against his barrier. Damn him, damn him if he was going to let anything else happen to Alec.
Alec who, Magnus was shocked to realize, had been trying to push himself up in response to the attack. Alec who had half-turned his body when he had realized there was nothing else he could do, as if he could somehow shield Magnus from Jasmine’s magic, as if Magnus needed shielding.
Alec who was breathing raggedly against Magnus’ chest, painful sounds that dragged against Magnus’ skin like sandpaper.
“I swear to all Hells, Jasmine,” Magnus spat through gritted teeth, “if he dies—”
Jasmine let out a sharp laugh. “What do you mean, if? They took his runes, Magnus. He’s already dying. You’re too late.”
Magnus ignored the cold dread that came to squeeze at his entrails. He ran his thumb along the outlines of Alec’s neck rune, one of the few that remained intact. Underneath his fingertips, Alec’s pulse was erratic.
“Someone had to stop him,” Jasmine ranted on. “Someone had to save us from him. Someone had to—”
Magnus had heard enough. His magic was the color of a thousand exploding suns when it shot from his outstretched hand. He watched impassively as his power crashed into Jasmine and killed her instantly. He didn’t feel satisfaction, but he didn’t feel remorse either; he couldn’t bring himself to. Under other circumstances, he might have pitied her madness. But not now. Not when it was Alec lying in his arms bearing the marks of torture all over his body.
Magnus shivered. The rage and the adrenaline were slowly wearing off, leaving despair and fear in their place. He wrapped an arm around Alec’s shoulders and lowered his head, burying his face into Alec’s sweat-dampened hair. He squeezed his eyes shut and breathed Alec in, and he let Alec seep into him and calm him. Alec’s essence. Alec’s presence that even now, in this weakened state, was one of the strongest forces Magnus had ever known.
“I love you,” he whispered into Alec’s hair, and he didn’t care that his voice broke. There was no one to hear it, and besides, in that moment, he wasn’t the High Warlock of Brooklyn. He was Magnus Bane, and he was heartbroken and heartsick and terrified. “I love you, Alexander.”
“Alec!” And then Jace was crouching down beside them. He was pale and wide-eyed as he took in the state of his parabatai. His face was splattered with blood that wasn’t his own—it looked like war paint on his white skin.
Jace’s hand hovered uselessly over Alec’s body for a moment, making it painfully clear that he, too, didn’t know where to touch. Then he grasped Alec’s fingers and held on for dear life.
“Alec…” Jace’s voice broke too, but he didn’t seem to care either. All he cared about was Alec.
“Jace...” If relief were a sound, it would have been Alec’s voice as he spoke his brother’s name. If it were touch, it would have been the way Alec’s fingers curled around Jace’s. Rune or no rune, there was a bond there that Magnus couldn’t begin to comprehend. “Jace, they took our rune.” Alec swallowed thickly. “I want it back.”
Jace’s jaw clenched visibly, but his voice was gentle when he spoke. “We’ll get it back, Alec. I promise. It’s our bond, no one can take it away from us. Ever.”
Alec smiled. And then he moved. He pushed himself off of Magnus and moved faster than what should have been possible, considering. There was the hiss of a blade slicing through the air as he picked up Jace’s discarded dagger and threw it with all of his remaining strength.
The weapon embedded itself into the chest of the Shadowhunter who had slipped unnoticed inside the container. The man went down with a grunt, the bow in his hand tumbling harmlessly to the ground, the arrow never reaching Jace’s back.
Magnus looked down at his boyfriend in shock. He knew Shadowhunters, as a whole, were strong, focused beings. He knew Alec was even stronger. But never before had he seen it more clearly. He couldn’t begin to imagine the levels of pain Alec must be in, and yet he had somehow managed to dull it all, push it all aside long enough to kill. Long enough to save his parabatai’s life.
Jace, by contrast, didn’t seem at all surprised by Alec’s display of superhuman endurance. He smiled a dimpled smile, pride written all over his face. “You’ve just saved my life, Alec,” he said. “Once a Shadowhunter, always a Shadowhunter.”
Magnus understood immediately. He may not know what being deruned meant, but he knew about the self-annihilating horror of having something that makes you who you are ripped away from you. Jace was making sure Alec knew that even without his runes, he was still Alec.
Alec heard the message. He let out a small gasp that had nothing to do with physical suffering, a tiny sound of agony and relief. He closed his eyes, steadying himself against either the pain or the emotions or possibly both, and when he reopened them, his gaze was unfocused and his skin had gone a shade paler. He held out an unsteady hand, blindly seeking out the one person that had always been able to anchor him whenever the world wouldn’t keep still.
When Alec’s eyes rolled back in his head, Magnus’ heart stopped. “Alexander!”
Jace was faster. He grabbed Alec before he could fall and held him close, his body all but folding around his parabatai as if informing the world it would have to go through him first before hurting Alec again.
“I’ve got you,” Jace said, his hand grasping the back of Alec’s neck. “I’ve got you, Alec.” He closed his eyes briefly, and even with the blood of other men staining his skin, he had never looked younger.
In that moment, Magnus didn’t see the warrior. He didn’t see the Shadowhunter. He only saw the parabatai, the best friend. The brother. In that moment, Jace was just Jace, the same way that Magnus had been just Magnus a few instants ago.
Alec had that kind of influence; he brought all of them out for who they truly were. It was a miracle, considering that Alec had hidden himself away for so long. It was a kind of magic to rival Magnus’—bigger, even. So much bigger. So much larger. Larger than Magnus’ immortal life.
“Magnus, we have to get back to the Institute,” Jace said, his voice clipped. “I want the runes back on him before he can get any worse.”
Magnus froze. Something dared to blossom in his chest, something similar to hope. “Is that possible?” He had never heard of a Shadowhunter being “reruned,” so to speak.
“This was not done through a deruning ritual,” Jace said. “The Silent Brothers can heal him and put the runes back.”
Magnus was hit with a wave of relief so strong that the whole world swam in front of his eyes for a moment.
He was startled out of it by Clary and Isabelle bursting in like Hell itself was on their heels—which of course was impossible, because Hell was currently inside of Magnus. He could feel it tugging at his magic and running through his veins.
There was blood all over the two women, staining their clothes and matting a few locks of hair here and there. They didn’t seem to mind. In fact, they looked frighteningly thrilled.
Isabelle cried out Alec’s name and rushed over.
“You’ve killed them all?” Clary said as she surveyed the scene. She visibly shuddered when she walked by Jasmine, who lay on her back with a bloodied, gaping hole in her chest. “We left one for the Clave to interrogate.”
“We should’ve killed him too,” Isabelle said darkly. She was stroking the side of Alec’s face over and over, like she wanted to reassure herself that he was really there, under her palm and within her reach. That they had really found him.
“How is he?” Clary asked softly as she crouched down next to Jace.
She placed a hand on Jace’s shoulder blade, and Magnus saw it all in that one simple touch—all the loyalty, all the love. He wondered how long before Jace finally let himself dive into it and finally accepted that he deserved it. Before he finally believed that he was worth it. That he was not cursed.
“Not good,” Jace said. “They took almost all of his runes. It’s killing him physically and emotionally. We need Brother Enoch to fix it. There’s not much time left.”
“Magnus, open a portal.”
Magnus, who had not heard anything past “it’s killing him,” blinked at Clary.
“I’ll bring over the survivor separately,” she continued, oblivious to the gaping precipice that had opened inside Magnus’ stomach.
“Clary,” Isabelle said, “perhaps we should all go—”
“No,” Clary snapped. Her eyes were burning. “That bastard is not getting anywhere near Alec, and he’s not worth a portal. I’ll take him.”
“Be careful,” Jace said.
Clary grinned. “Always.”
Magnus had to smile. He had always liked Clary Fairchild, and he was getting fonder of her by the minute. But he was only half-listening. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t silence Jasmine’s voice in his head.
“Someone had to save us from him.”
He couldn’t fathom how anyone would ever need to be “saved” from Alec, who as far as he was concerned had saved him—over and over and over again.
The demons kept howling inside of him, and as they stepped through the portal, Alec slumped in Jace’s arms, Magnus clung to the thought of the moment that soon would come, when Alexander would wake up and silence the Hell raging within him.
Chapter 13: Brave Your Flood
1) Did I say I was back on track? I lied. haha! Seriously, I'm so sorry for yet another missed update. In order to make up for it, we're posting the new chapter today, and I'll do my best to get an extra chapter out before the one on Friday.
2) Parabatai feels!
3) Thanks to all of you for being so patient!
— “they’re your artery thieves
run your pain to your teeth
I will save your blood for years
and I will brave your flood to breathe”
- Silvery, Novo Amor
* * *
Alec woke up in flames. There was fire all over. His world was fire. The Universe was fire. He writhed and tossed and turned, but the flames just wouldn’t be escaped.
Shadows hovered over him, black shapes swimming in the dark before his tired eyes. Pain radiated from every fiber of his being. He tried to keep the agony out of his soul at least, but it was an impossible task; everything in him was screaming.
The fire burned especially scorching in his left side. Suddenly, clarity returned to his mind. They were taking his parabatai rune. They were carving Jace out of him.
He wouldn’t have it. He wouldn’t let them.
Alec surged upright, the pain and flames and the pitch-black confusion propelling him forward, and he slammed his forehead as hard as he could into the head of the nearest shadow.
There was a nonplussed grunt, but the fire didn’t stop burning. If anything, it got hotter. Wilder. More untamable.
“No!” He tried to fight, but something was now holding him in place. Straps, maybe? Magic? His own paralyzing terror? “Let me go! You can’t have it! You can’t have him!”
“Keep him still,” a voice said. It seemed to speak in Alec’s mind rather than in his ears.
For a split second, the flames subsided as the blood froze in his veins. ‘No. Don’t keep me still. Just let me go. You can’t take him.’
“No…” he heard himself mumble as if from underwater—except that the flames had returned, and the water was actually lava. “No, you can’t…”
Not Jace. They could rip the entrails out of his abdomen, but they couldn’t take his parabatai.
“Alec! Alec, stop!”
And then Jace was there, his face pale and his eyes wide as he looked down at Alec like they might both break into a million pieces if he were to look away.
Alec wanted to reach out to him, but he found that he was still being restrained…and that Jace’s hands were doing the restraining, their grip firm and iron-like on his shoulders. And he understood. This wasn’t Jace. It was just another trick, just more smoke and mirrors and distorted reality.
Alec had been handling the warlock woman’s deceptions pretty well so far, considering. Somehow, he had managed to hold on to his sanity through it all. But he was long past the end of his endurance, and it gutted him to see her wearing Jace’s face again. He supposed he should be thankful she wasn’t wearing Magnus’; he was sure that would have destroyed him.
The flames in his flesh flared, and he screamed.
“I said, you can’t have it!” he roared, thrashing as wildly as he could against the warlock’s grasp. He was in agony, and he was furious. And he was desperate. “Let me go! You’re not Jace! You’re not my brother!”
“Alec…” Jace looked so devastated that for a moment, Alec almost believed him. Almost.
“LET ME GO!”
“Alec, enough!” The warlock gripped him tighter. “It’s me. It’s me, Alec. It’s Jace. I need you to calm down. I need you to—Alec!” She blocked the punch Alec threw at her with surprising ease. Then, instead of using more brutal force, she wrapped her fingers around his fist and held on for dear life. “Alec, stop. It’s really me. You’re safe. You’re home. You have to believe me.”
Pleading. That was a new approach. She hadn’t tried it before. It sounded so much like Jace—that soft cracking in his voice that only Alec and a very select number of people ever got to hear.
“Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee.”
Alec froze. After that first time, shortly after he was taken, the warlock hadn’t tried reciting the parabatai oath again. But she was doing it now, and her voice broke in Jace’s tones, and her hands gripped him with Jace’s strength, and in his life Alec had never wanted to believe anyone more. His heart was breaking inside his chest. He had to wonder which was worse—if the pain from a shattered heart, or the agony from the knife removing his runes.
“Please,” he whispered, horrified at his own weakness. “Please, don’t.” He needed her to stop. He needed her not to be speaking words that weren’t meant for her, not to taint the oath for him. He needed her to let him have at least that.
“Alec, it’s me. I swear on the Angel, it’s me.” The warlock released him then, and she clasped his hand and held it. “For whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge.”
Alec found himself curling his fingers around Jace’s palm on pure reflex, and that’s when it finally hit him. The grasp around his hand felt exactly like Jace’s because it was. It was Jace. It was really Jace.
He took in a breath, and it broke in his throat. “Jace?”
Jace let out a huge sigh of relief and smiled a somewhat watery smile. “It’s me, Alec. You’re safe.”
“I thought…” Alec trailed off, confusion washing over him as nightmares and reality fused together.
“What did you think?” Jace asked gently. His thumb was running along Alec’s knuckles in a soothing motion.
“The warlock…she…she wore your face sometimes. Or Magnus’.”
Jace paled. His hand trembled before it tightened its hold around Alec’s. “Not this time,” he said fiercely. “It’s really me, Alec.”
Alec let the words wrap around him, and when they finally sank in, something snapped inside of him. He didn’t have to resist anymore. He didn’t have to strain against endless agony. Jace was really here, and he was really safe.
He let out a sound that was halfway between a sob and a pained moan.
* * *
It broke Jace’s heart, that sound. It was worse than the screams that had first made him burst into the room, Silent Brothers’ orders be damned, to see his parabatai fighting with all his might to get away from an agony that Jace couldn’t protect him from.
He felt heartsick and nauseated as he was now faced with the full extent of the torture Alec had to endure. How had this happened under his watch?
“Jace, they’re burning me,” Alec said, the words dragging him out of his shock and freezing his boiling blood in his veins. “Make it stop. Jace, make them stop…”
Jace swallowed. “Alec—” His voice broke. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Alec, it’s okay. You have to trust me. Brother Enoch is giving you back your runes. You have to let him finish.”
Alec blinked uncomprehendingly up at him.
“It’s okay,” Jace said again. He gripped his brother’s hand tighter and placed his other palm on Alec’s forehead, pushing back his sweat-drenched hair. “You’re gonna be all right.”
“I want our rune back,” Alec whispered.
Jace smiled. “That’s exactly what’s happening.”
“You promise? You’re gonna make them give us our bond back?”
Alec was looking up at him with unfocused, glazed-over eyes, and Jace wanted to cry. “I promise,” he said instead.
“Jace Herondale,” Brother Enoch’s voice boomed in his head, “you can’t be here.”
Jace looked up, his stare burning even though he knew the Silent Brother couldn’t see him. There was no way, no way he was going anywhere, and he was outraged that Brother Enoch would even suggest it.
He took a calming breath in through his nose; as far as he knew, getting enraged at a Silent Brother had never done any Shadowhunter any favors.
“I need to stay, Brother Enoch,” he said, and he had never been surer of anything in his life. “Please, let me stay. You won’t even know I’m here.” But Alec would. Jace would make damn sure his brother knew he was there.
There was a long pause before the Silent Brother finally replied. “Very well. But keep him calm.”
Jace nodded tersely. Brother Enoch may not be able to see him, but he seemed to take his silence as acquiescence and carried on with his life-saving and yet agony-inducing work.
“Is Magnus here?” Alec asked, the hopeful note in his voice once again commanding all of Jace’s attention. “I dreamt he was here.”
“He’s right outside,” Jace said, giving Alec’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “He can’t be in here. Brother Enoch is only letting me stay because it seems to calm you down.”
Somehow, that turned out to be the wrong thing to say. Alec’s breathing instantly became labored again, a harsh, painful sound that seemed to scratch directly at the walls of his throat.
“You’re not Jace, are you?”
Jace’s stomach rolled painfully. “Alec—”
Alec screamed in pain as Brother Enoch began carving the flexibility rune. Out of the corner of his eye, Jace could see the newly redrawn parabatai rune pulsing with fiery light. He couldn’t bring himself to feel relieved though, not while Alec was looking around with eyes wide with pain and something else that Jace couldn’t quite define, something that went so beyond fear he wasn’t sure there was even a word for it.
He snapped into action when Alec began to struggle again. Jace grabbed his brother’s shoulders and pinned him to the bed, cursing those animals for what they had done to his parabatai, and himself for not having been able to prevent it.
“Alec! It’s me. I’m real. This is real. You’re safe. Alec!”
But it was no use. There was no reaching Alec this time. Jace could almost feel him slip away, lost behind a wall of dread and confusion, and nightmares that were still too fresh.
And then it hit him. “She wore your face sometimes. Or Magnus’.”
“Brother Enoch, you have to let Magnus Bane in,” he said urgently, clenching his fists a little too tight around Alec’s shoulders to keep himself steady. “Alec needs to see us both. Please.”
“I don’t want a half demon in here while I carve sacred runes,” came the unperturbed reply.
‘Fuck you and your sacred,’ Jace almost spat out, only managing to catch himself at the last second.
“You’re not Jace,” Alec said again, but he had stopped struggling. Instead, he had gone frightfully still under Jace’s hands. He turned his head ever so slightly to glare at Brother Enoch, but it was all too painfully clear that he was seeing someone else. “You can carve the very life out of me, you’re not breaking me. You’re not breaking me, you son of a bitch.”
Jace didn’t know whether to be more horrified or proud.
Alec squeezed his eyes shut and took a shaky breath. Then he spoke, softly, his voice barely audible as he recited a mantra to himself, to keep himself sane. “Thy people will be my people, thy God will be my God.”
Jace stepped back in pure horror. He was suddenly haunted by the image of Alec dangling from those chains in a dark container, alone, clinging to a broken oath to save himself.
“Where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried. The Angel do so to me.”
Jace swallowed. It felt like swallowing razor blades. He half-expected to start coughing up blood. “And more also,” he whispered, joining in even though he knew Alec was now lost to him, “if aught but death part thee and me.” He closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath, trying not to drift away too.
“Brother Enoch,” he said once he had gotten himself somewhat back under control, “Magnus Bane can help. Alec is hallucinating, he thinks he’s still with them. Let me show him he’s safe. Please.”
“I will not—”
“You really would rather him be in excruciating pain and terrified out of his mind than knowing he’s safe and that you’re helping him?” Jace cut off sharply.
Brother Enoch hesitated, and for a split second it was almost like he was human again.
“Very well,” he finally said. “Bring the warlock in.”
Jace didn’t have to be told twice. He all but sprinted to the door and wrenched it open, blinking in surprise when he found Magnus standing right in front of it.
The warlock’s posture was stiff and slightly hunched, one arm wrapped around his own stomach like he was trying to keep himself together. He was chewing nervously at the fingertip of his thumb, but he stood to attention the minute Jace appeared.
Izzy shot off the bench where she had been sitting and rushed over with a terrified look on her face. “Jace, what’s going on?”
“I need Magnus. Alec is hallucinating. He needs to see us both, together.”
Izzy frowned in confusion. “Why?”
“I’ll explain later,” Jace said. He grabbed Magnus’ arm and practically dragged him into the room. “Izzy, I’ll come get you as soon as Brother Enoch is done. I promise.” He gave her an apologetic smile as he closed the door behind him. He hated that she couldn’t be with them, but he didn’t want to push his luck with Brother Enoch.
Magnus paused just inside the doorway. It was all too clear that he was dying to get to Alec, but he was keeping himself in check for some reason. “I’m gonna need some information, Jace.”
Jace sighed. He ran his hand through his hair in frustration and wasn’t all that surprised when his fingers trembled. He wished he had the right words, but he knew there was no softening this blow. So he just fired it off the way Alec shot arrows, hoping against hope that the brutal abruptness of it would make it sting a little less.
“The warlock turned herself into you or me while they tortured him. He doesn’t believe it’s really me. He thinks he’s still being deruned.” As he spoke, the words tasted like blood in his mouth.
Magnus paled, his features flooding with horror. “How do you know this?”
“Alec told me. He was lucid for a moment.” Jace bit down savagely on his bottom lip. “I need him to see us both so he knows it’s really us. I need him to believe me, Magnus.”
Magnus nodded. His eyes were too bright, but his jaw was clenched in determination. He squeezed Jace’s arm and walked purposefully up to the bed.
Alec was still chanting, his voice barely there, his eyes at half-mast. “…for whither thou goest, I will go. And where thou lodgest, I will lodge.”
He blinked when Jace came back into his line of vision. He shuddered visibly, once, and when he spoke again, his litany had changed to one of self-conviction. “You’re not Jace. You’re not Jace. You’re not Jace.”
Jace ran a hand roughly over his eyes to push back the tears that came. “Alec,” he murmured brokenly. “Alec, please. It’s me…” He had no idea where to go from here.
But, thankfully, Magnus did. “Alexander, look at me.” He reached out and touched Alec’s cheek with the tip of his fingers, caressing the hot skin like he was tracing the outlines of fine crystal. “Look at me, darling. It’s me. I’m here. Jace is here, too. I swear, Alexander. It’s really us. No one is trying to hurt you.”
Jace watched in amazement as Magnus was able to do what he couldn’t—reach Alec. He could almost pinpoint the moment when Magnus’ soothing voice truly registered in Alec’s ears and the words really sank in. He could almost see the calming notes in Magnus’ voice wrap like warm tendrils around Alec and bring him back, like magic.
“Magnus?” Alec’s whisper dripped with hope and incredulity as he responded to Magnus’ feather-light touch and turned his head to look at the warlock.
Magnus smiled and cupped Alec’s cheek with his palm. “Hello,” he said, so soft that it could have smoothed all the edges of the world.
Jace took half a step back, putting distance between himself and a kind of love he didn’t feel like he had any right to.
Alec smiled right back. “Hey,” he murmured, eyes shining. He was pale and weak and his eyes were rimmed with red, but in that one instant, he looked more alive than Jace had ever seen him.
Magnus ran his fingers through Alec’s hair. “It’s all right, Alexander. You’re gonna be okay.”
Alec closed his eyes and leaned into Magnus’ touch. “What’s happening?” he murmured after a moment. “Why am I still burning?” His gaze roamed about the room, pain-filled but focused.
Jace breathed a sigh of relief as he watched his brother take in his surroundings. He walked closer and touched Alec’s arm. “We’re at the Institute. Brother Enoch is giving you your runes back. It’s a painful process, Alec.”
Alec looked over at the Silent Brother. Jace could see him piece everything together in his head.
“Yep,” Jace said, grinning in spite of himself. “You head-butted a Silent Brother, buddy.”
Brother Enoch made a sound. If Jace didn’t know better, he would have identified it as an outraged grunt.
“Oh,” Alec said. Then he hissed sharply and cried out, body arching off the mattress.
Jace winced and instinctively grabbed Alec’s hand like a lifeline.
“Alexander…” Magnus’ voice cracked ever so slightly. He looked over at Jace like he expected him to have all the answers. Like he expected him to make it stop. “This whole procedure is hurting him more.”
“I know, Magnus,” Jace said, looking down at the white-knuckled grip Alec had on his hand. “But we don’t have a choice.”
“Yes, we do,” Magnus said, already rolling up his sleeves. “I can help with the pain.”
“There will be no demonic magic while I draw the sacred runes,” Brother Enoch’s voice boomed.
Magnus flinched, but he didn’t argue.
Jace hated it. He hated it all—Alec’s pain and the hurt that flashed across Magnus’ face.
“It’s okay, Magnus,” Alec said. He gave Magnus a weak smile that was probably meant to be reassuring but that wouldn’t have fooled anyone, let alone Magnus Bane. “I can take it.”
Jace was suddenly overcome with the urge to smash something. Alec shouldn’t have to “take it;” he had “taken” enough already. A pit opened up in his stomach, threatening to swallow him whole. He felt useless, powerless. He felt gutted and split open, raw and exposed like Alec’s skin had been when they had found him. He covered Alec’s clenched fist with his free hand, because there was simply nothing else he could do. There was nothing else he could offer.
He felt it just as he was about to drown in his emotions—a rush, a fire igniting within him. The overwhelming tide of a bond reborn. His eyes widened.
“Alec! I can feel it! The bond. It’s back.”
It wasn’t quite accurate, he knew. Now that it was back in full force, pulsing through his veins and thrumming under his skin, Jace realized the parabatai bond had never really gone away. It was simply dormant, weakened by the absence of one of the runes, by the violence with which it had been ripped away. Drained and bleeding, but not broken. Just like Alec.
“I feel it, too,” Alec whispered in awe. “I feel you…”
The force of Alec’s relief almost brought Jace to his knees. Or perhaps it was the strength of his own emotions. There was no way of knowing. The line blurred where Alec ended and Jace began as the bond took over and flared up with renewed strength.
Jace felt whole again for the first time in what seemed like an eternity.
“Magnus, can you channel our energy so that I can take some of Alec’s pain?” he asked. “If you tap into the parabatai bond, you’ll be using rune magic, right? No tampering.” He winked in the general direction of Brother Enoch.
Magnus smirked, his whole face lighting up as hope seemed to explode in the room. “I can, if Brother Enoch allows me.”
“So be it,” the Silent Brother said after a moment. “But if I so much as sense demonic energies at play, you will both respond to the Order.”
“Jace.” Alec gave Jace’s hand an urgent tug. “No. It hurts too much.”
Jace almost snorted out loud. If Alec thought that would be a deterrent, he was sorely mistaken. “I don’t care.” He lifted his shirt with one hand, the other remaining firmly wrapped around Alec’s. “Do it, Magnus.”
Magnus nodded. He placed a hand on Jace’s parabatai rune and the other on Alec’s, blue magic already streaming from his fingertips.
The warlock chanted words that Jace didn’t recognize, but soon they didn’t matter, Magnus’ voice coming to him as if from underwater. He felt dizzy and disoriented as Alec’s pain hit him. It was like being thrown into a wall of fire, and Jace just couldn’t wrap his head around it. How was Alec still alive? Still functioning?
He forced himself to breathe through it and focused on the grip of Alec’s hand on his own, using Alec’s touch as an anchor to keep himself from being swept away.
“I feel it,” he said through clenched teeth. “Keep going, Magnus.”
Magnus did. As the pain transferred over to him and dulled for Alec, Jace could see his brother slowly regaining his bearings. His eyes became brighter, his gaze more alert. Jace watched as Alec came back to himself and to them.
“You found me,” Alec said, as if he was only now becoming truly aware of that fact. And maybe he was. Maybe he was only now seeing it all clearly.
“We did, Alexander,” Magnus soothed as power kept pouring out of him.
“How?” Alec asked, and he sounded less incredulous and more like a leader wanting to know the movements of his troops.
“Jace and Clary tracked you with their Angel powers,” Magnus said. “I portaled us to the location and we got you out.”
Alec nodded. His features flooded with sudden emotion. “I thought…” He swallowed visibly. “I thought I’d never see either of you again.”
Jace shuddered, whether at the thought or from the pain coursing through his body, he couldn’t be sure.
“Don’t, Alec,” he said, a little too sharply. A little too raw. “It’s over now. You’re safe.” He swayed slightly on his feet as the pain intensified.
“Magnus, stop,” Alec said, reaching out to touch Magnus’ arm. “It’s hurting him.” But even as he spoke, his lids began to fall shut as the all-consuming agony dulled enough to allow him to slip into slumber.
“I’m okay, Alec,” Jace said immediately. “I’m okay, and Brother Enoch is almost done. Just sleep. Rest.”
Alec looked up at him. He clearly wanted to protest, but the pull of unconsciousness was too strong, too tempting. He closed his eyes with a sigh.
Magnus kept the spell going, but as far as Jace was concerned, the pain in his body didn’t matter anymore. As he watched his brother sleep, he felt like he could finally breathe again.
Chapter 14: (Don't) Tame Your Demons
WARNING: Mentions of torture (not inflicted upon a main character).
— “all you have is your fire
and the place you need to reach
don’t you ever tame your demons
but always keep them on a leash”
- Arsonist’s Lullabye, Hozier
* * *
Magnus knew he should feel relieved, blessed even. But all he felt was heart-shattering, bone-crushing pain that he forcefully numbed down to keep himself sane. There was nothing blissful about how Alec’s skin was almost translucent, or about the pain still etched into Alec’s features.
He placed a hand on Alec’s forehead, his thumb running over Alec’s temple in a soothing motion, and he let sparks of blue trickle out of his fingertips to ease the suffering. With Brother Enoch gone from the room, there was no one to object—not that Magnus would have cared. The runes had been drawn. He would have fought anyone who tried to stop him from helping Alec now.
Alec twitched a little in his sleep, and Magnus’ other hand flew to his, entwining their fingers and holding on for dear life. Whose life, Magnus couldn’t be sure—maybe Alec’s, maybe his own. Quite possibly both.
“He’s okay, Magnus,” Jace said from where he was standing rather unsteadily by the opposite side of the bed.
Magnus looked up sharply. When he saw Jace flinch, he realized his glamor had dropped. He couldn’t bring himself to care. Let them see. He was angry—furious, in fact—and heartbroken, and he couldn’t be bothered with the sensitivities of Shadowhunters.
“Okay.” Right. It was perfectly “okay” to have to endure excruciating pain just to get a piece of oneself back. Jace also looked anything but okay, standing as he was on shaky legs and looking almost as pale as Alec. “Okay.” Magnus almost snorted out loud. Shadowhunters. Wearing pain like a badge of honor.
Isabelle walked in a few moments later. She approached the bed slowly and warily, as if she expected it to somehow catch on fire.
“Alec?” Her voice was small and tentative.
“It’s okay, Izzy,” Jace said. “He’s sleeping. He needs some time to recover.”
“Okay.” Magnus thought if he heard Jace say that word one more time, he might have punched him in the face.
He bit his lip and watched as the Lightwood siblings clung to each other, Jace enveloping his sister into a hug clearly aimed at anchoring them both.
“Clary has brought in the survivor,” Isabelle said when she finally pulled away. “They’re keeping him in the cells for now. They’ll be transporting him to Idris in a couple of days.”
Jace’s features, which only an instant ago had been soft with relief for Alec, turned to stone at shocking speed. “I want to question him myself,” he said, his voice now reduced to barely more than a low growl. “What they did to him…the pain he felt…”
“No,” Jace snapped. His hands were clenched into fists at his sides. He was trembling visibly with the all-consuming tremor of rage pulsing underneath one’s skin. “You don’t know, Izzy. You don’t know how hurt and lost he was. I’m gonna hunt down every single one of those responsible.”
Magnus didn’t scare easily. He had seen too much, been chased and hunted and defied too often in his life to allow himself to be jolted by much. But now, as he watched Jace practically shake with fury, he was unsettled.
There was something about Alec’s parabatai, something primal and feral that Magnus had only seen a handful of times before—once or twice in his own reflection in the mirror. It was something untamable, something hungry for the soul which carried it, and he found himself wishing Alec would wake up and save Jace from himself.
“They won’t let us interrogate him,” Isabelle said, seemingly unfazed by the unspoken violence of Jace’s anger. “We’re too close to this. They need information, and the Inquisitor is afraid we’re going to do something stupid.”
“We need information,” Jace snarled. “I need information.”
“Maybe if her grandson tried to sway her…” Isabelle gave a little smirk and let the suggestion hang in the air.
“I’ll call her,” Jace said immediately. “They’re not cutting me out of this.”
Magnus wanted information, too. He wanted to know who had done this to Alec, and how to kill them. And he wanted to know about Jace’s fury, and how to save him.
“Magnus,” Isabelle said, pulling him out of his dark reverie, “do you think…do you think more warlocks may have been involved?”
She clearly tried to choose her words carefully, but Magnus still felt a pang so powerful that had he not been sitting down, he might have staggered. Betrayal, anger, and disgust all swirled and flapped around in his chest like a bunch of winged demons.
“I believe so, yes,” he said.
It pained him to speak those words. To admit out loud that his people would betray him so deeply. To confess that they would be so beastly, so non-human. To prove Shadowhunter prejudices about Downworlders being monsters just a little bit true. And yet he knew Jasmine had not acted alone, just like the Shadowhunters had not been mere rogues. The Clave would soon be on the hunt for the renegade leaders, and so would Magnus.
“I’ll figure it out,” he promised. And he would. He would sniff them out like prey, and he would burn them all.
“I don’t understand.” Isabelle’s dark eyes seemed huge in her pale face. “Why would warlocks do this? Alec has done nothing but stand up for the Downworld since he became Head of the Institute.”
Magnus had been wondering the very same thing. He just couldn’t fathom why any Downworlder in their right mind would want to murder the one person who was trying to protect them all.
Magic no longer streamed out of Magnus’ hand now that Alec was sleeping peacefully, but he still left it there, on Alec’s forehead, stroking his temple, disentangling nightmares from his hair. Magnus felt bone-tired. Exhausted. Drained of magic and hope. He was tired of wars. He was tired of not being able to trust anyone, not even his own people whom he had been fighting so long and so hard to protect. He was just tired.
“Sometimes change scares people, darling,” he said quietly. But he didn’t look away from Alec, and his words were for him as much as for Isabelle—an apology to Alexander for what Magnus’ own people had done to him.
After a moment, he looked up and forced himself to focus on Isabelle and not to let what those fiends had done take his heart away—not now, not when Alec needed it to be in the right place. “Some of us don’t want to lose the power we have fought to obtain over the centuries—”
“Alec doesn’t want your power,” Jace growled.
Magnus held up a hand. Sharply. Silently. His eyes flashed. He needed Jace not to go any further. He was barely holding it together as it was, and if Jace were to continue along those lines, his fury would explode out of him along with his magic. Along with his heart that Alec needed to be in the right place.
Jace seemed to understand, one raging soul to another, because he clamped his mouth shut and said nothing more.
“They don’t want Shadowhunters and Downworlders to mix,” Magnus said. “Alec is paying the price of change.”
Isabelle nodded gravely and crossed her arms over her chest. “We need to contain this, Jace. If the news that warlocks were involved spread, some of ours may take revenge on innocent Downworlders.”
Magnus flinched inwardly, his heart leaping to his throat. It was terrifying, how raw old wounds could be. He found himself being haunted again by images of persecution. Of blood. Of death. Of monster hunts. Was there really no end to this? Would Valentine’s ghost haunt them all forever? Had nothing changed at all?
“We’re not gonna let it happen. The word ‘warlock’ in connection with what happened to Alec doesn’t leave this room. Talk to Clary, have her go to Luke and Simon and tell them to be on the lookout.”
Magnus looked up. He looked at Jace, so clearly determined to carry on his brother’s mission and protect the Downworld from senseless hate. He looked at Isabelle, who had drawn herself up to her full height and looked as ready for action as she had ever been. And he realized that things had indeed changed. He was looking at a new generation of Shadowhunters. A kinder generation. A generation that was almost as fed up with bloodshed and war as he was. And Magnus, who before Alec had never trusted Shadowhunters in his life, allowed himself to hope.
“I’m gonna go talk to Imogen,” Jace said, finally ungluing himself from Alec’s side. He swayed precariously for a moment, but he righted himself almost immediately.
Still, that one stumble was enough for Isabelle to eye him critically. “Get some rest after,” she said. “You look almost as bad as Alec.”
Jace scoffed. “I’m fine.” He offered his sister the ghost of a grin, then he turned his gaze on Magnus, his mismatched irises scrutinizing the warlock intently. “You should get some rest, too. You used a lot of magic today.”
Magnus blinked. He was not used to people worrying about him exhausting himself, and certainly not Shadowhunters. That unfamiliar sense of belonging stirred anew in his stomach, and this time he didn’t try to squelch it. This time, he allowed it to blossom.
He offered Jace the first genuine smile he found within himself since Alec was taken. “I will,” he said, even though they both knew it was a lie. There was simply no way Magnus was going to close his eyes and let Alec out of his sight tonight, and he knew Jace knew it.
But Jace didn’t call him on it. Instead, he nodded and left the room, with one last lingering look at his parabatai.
Once they were alone, Isabelle took a chair and dragged it up to the side of the bed. She didn’t seem to be able to tear her gaze away from Alec as she reached out and brushed an errant strand of hair off her brother’s forehead.
“What happened here, Magnus?” She didn’t look up as she spoke, her too-quiet voice at odds with her explosive personality. “What did Jace mean when he said Alec was hallucinating? What was he seeing?”
Magnus hesitated. He didn’t want to tell her—not so much to protect her, but to protect himself. “From what Jace gathered, Jasmine would at times take on the appearance of either me or Jace.” The words burned like hellfire on his tongue. “I’m not sure whether she was doing it while deruning him or to make him believe we had come to save him.”
Was there really a difference? Weren’t both possibilities too excruciating to think about?
Isabelle took a sharp intake of breath. She bowed her head hastily so that her hair would cover her face, but Magnus still caught a glimpse of the tears she was no longer able to keep at bay cascading down her cheeks. She reached out blindly to grasp at Alec’s hand.
Magnus’ heart cracked. “Oh, Isabelle.” He got up and circled the bed to come stand next to her, and he placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “I promise you, darling, no one is going to hurt him anymore.”
Isabelle reached up and covered his hand with her own. Her grip was strong and desperate.
Magnus tried to remember a time when he had ever been a lifeline for a Shadowhunter, but with the exception of Alec, he came up blank. He was shocked to realize he didn’t mind it, and he had to wonder what had happened to him. He knew the answer, of course; Alec Lightwood had happened. Alec had come into his life and turned Magnus’ world upside down and Magnus himself inside out, and Magnus was ever grateful for it.
“Can you find the warlocks who did this?” Isabelle asked.
Her voice had gone dark with a hint of vengeance. It was nothing compared to the destructive stream that was so clearly running through Jace’s veins, but Magnus still recognized it as a force to be reckoned with.
“I can,” he said. “I’ll find them. I promise.”
Isabelle sniffled audibly and finally looked up at him with a grateful look on her tear-streaked face. “Thank you.” She let go of his hand to wipe her eyes roughly. “I’m so glad you’re back, Magnus. I don’t even want to think about what would’ve happened if this had gone down while you and Alec were still…you know.”
Magnus felt a rock drop in his stomach. His whole body turned to stone as a shiver ran down his spine. He could have lost Alec without ever getting the chance to tell him just how vital his presence had become. Without ever getting the chance to tell him how much he loved him and how he had never stopped, not even during their time apart. Alec could have died feeling betrayed and alone—unimportant and invisible, like he had felt for most of his life before he had finally stood up for himself and become the man Magnus had come to adore.
Magnus just couldn’t bear the thought. He swallowed hard, and it took him a couple of attempts before he was finally able to speak.
“I’m here,” he said. “I’m not leaving. Not now, not ever.”
Isabelle may have been the one to hear them, but his words were for Alec.
* * *
There was indeed something running through Jace’s veins. He didn’t have a name for it; “rage” seemed reductive. After his talk with Imogen, he had collapsed onto the couch in Alec’s office, but the few hours of sleep he had managed to catch had done nothing to soothe the fury pumping through his system like venom.
He didn’t take the elevator to go down to the cells. Instead, he ran, the straining of muscles the only way he knew to keep himself present and sane. Jace ran so that maybe, just maybe, he would not break into pieces.
He didn’t realize how fast he had been going until he got to the cells section and he was forced to stop. The guards didn’t question him when he signaled them to open the door—whether they had direct orders to let him pass or simply didn’t dare cross the anger rolling off of him in waves, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that they wouldn’t stand in his way.
Jace recognized the man immediately; he would have known him among a million. The one who had taken Alec’s parabatai rune. The one who had first ripped Alec away from him. Clive Oakglass, according to the Clave’s files. Jace looked into the man’s dark, deep-set eyes and felt nothing but an almost overwhelming desire to kill him.
He didn’t show it, though. What he did was wipe the anger and hatred off his face and push them back down in-between his skin and frayed nerves.
“So,” he said, his voice sounding too flat to his own ears, “willing to have a friendly chat?”
Oakglass sat up straighter on the hard cot by one of the cell’s walls. He looked proud, erect and formidable despite his over-sixty years of age. He seemed unfazed, which was fine with Jace; he didn’t want to faze him. Jace wanted answers—and maybe, with some luck, to inflict even just an ounce of the pain the bastard had inflicted on Alec.
“Have you chosen a new Head yet?” Oakglass asked. “I hardly think Lightwood made it through the night, has he?”
Jace felt the rage flare to burn the blood in his veins. The man’s voice was smooth and detached, and Jace vowed to himself that by the time this interrogation was over, Oakglass’ voice would lose all its smooth tones. “Mr. Lightwood is and will be the Head of this Institute for a very long time.”
Oakglass gave a shrug. “Oh, well. We’ll get him next time.”
“I don’t think so,” Jace growled. He could feel his mask slip, along with his control, and he was powerless to stop it. “Let’s try this once. Who’s behind this?”
Oakglass stared at him. “Your parabatai is bedding demon half-breeds and trying to filthy up our kind, and you’re standing there looking at me like I’m the monster.” He shook his head. “Valentine would be so disappointed in you.”
Jace scoffed. “Thank you, but flattery is not going to get you anywhere.” He took a step closer. “Again, who’s behind this? Who’s after Alec?”
“Screw you,” Oakglass spat, quite literally, turning his head to spatter a gobble of saliva on the bare floor. Then he smiled a smile that froze the blood right in Jace’s veins. “He screamed for you, you know? That’s how the warlock got the idea of letting him believe you or his disgusting lover had come to save him.” He sat back and eyed Jace critically. “Is that who you want to follow, Jace? A weak leader?”
Jace was seeing red by then, all thoughts of self-restraint forgotten. All he could think about was Alec’s pain—the hurt and the fear and the agony as his brother recited their oath over and over to himself, trying to hold onto a shred of sanity. All he could hear was Alec screaming his name at the top of his lungs before he decided that the one who rushed to his side was not really Jace.
“Shut up,” he snapped. “You don’t get to talk about Alec. You know nothing.”
“I know he’s unfit for command. I know he’s unfit to be a Shadowhunter.”
“I know he’s unfit to be,” was what the man was really saying. “I know he’s unfit to exist.”
Jace suddenly understood why Magnus had almost destroyed the ops room as emotions overcame him while they searched for Alec. If he’d had magic, he would have exploded too, and taken the world with him. But Jace didn’t have magic. All he had was his anger, and he let it take over now, washing away anything and everything else.
He would have lied if he said he had no idea what he was doing, if he said he was moving through a red haze. Jace was perfectly aware of his actions; he simply couldn’t find the interest in himself to stop. His rage took on a lucid quality he had never experienced before when angry.
He grabbed his stele with one hand and Oakglass’ nape with the other, and he stared deep into the man’s eyes, their faces only an inch or two apart. He felt a hint of satisfaction at the fear that flashed across Oakglass’ dark irises.
“Let’s see who’s really weak,” Jace growled, and he yanked Oakglass’ neck forward, forcing his head down.
The man’s scream as Jace removed the agility rune from the back of his neck seeped through Jace’s skin and went straight into his bloodstream, pulsing there along with his all-consuming fury. He felt no remorse. He only felt the need to continue this—for Alec. For himself. For the suffering they had both endured.
Oakglass screamed again and struggled against Jace’s hold and against the restraint of the single chain that tied him to one of the cot’s legs. The rattle of metal on metal did nothing but remind Jace of the chains that had imprisoned Alec as those maniacs carved out his runes.
“What are you doing?” Oakglass cried, staring at Jace with wide eyes. “You can’t do this! Guards!”
Jace stepped back just enough to allow Oakglass to see that there was no one outside the cell, the guards having long since chosen to leave Jace to it, unwilling to cross the enraged parabatai of the Head of the Institute.
“No one’s going to help you,” Jace snarled. “No one. Who’s the weak one now?”
Oakglass’ eyes widened further. “You can’t do this! This is torture!”
Jace barked out a humorless laugh. “What do you call what you did to Alec?” He grabbed the man’s wrist and passed his stele over the deflect rune on Oakglass’ forearm. “Who’s your leader?”
“Screw you!” Oakglass roared. Rather than weaken his resolve, the pain seemed only to enrage him further. There was now a wild, crazed look in his eyes. “Your parabatai deserved what he got. I took some more runes out myself, and it felt GOOD!”
Jace felt as if his blood had become lava, burning away everything in his body but the need to make this bastard pay. He had thought he knew anger, but this was something else—something darker and fierier whose flames licked at his very soul. His entire body was screaming for vengeance. When he removed the stealth rune from Oakglass’ clavicle and the man let out a blood-curdling scream, Jace’s blood only flowed smoother.
“Talk,” he growled, low and deep at the back of his throat, “or I’ll kill you. The Angel do so to me.”
His vow. A new promise for Alec thrown in the face of those who would have had their oath twisted into something dark and hopeless.
“Jace! Jace, stop!”
He was suddenly being pushed back, away from Oakglass and the runes he was itching to claim for himself—for Alec.
Jace pushed back, but the force blocking his path was too insistent.
Hands gripped his shoulders and squeezed with all their might, both to restrain him and to anchor him in place. It took a few moments, but eventually, that unrelenting touch pulled him out of the fire of wrath and brought him back.
Clary looked pale and mildly horrified as she stared up into his face, but she seemed more afraid for him than of what he could do. “Jace, you have to stop. This isn’t helping.”
Slowly, gradually, Jace felt the raging fire recede to a steady throb under his skin. He briefly wondered about Clary’s ability to always reach him, and he vowed that one of these days he would allow himself to feel all that he felt for her to the fullest.
“You’re right,” he said, and he took a step back.
He peered at Oakglass over Clary’s shoulder. The man was slumped against the wall, barely conscious.
“He’s weak now. His defenses are down.” Jace dropped his voice to a whisper meant for Clary’s ears only. “I want to try and use my angelic power like we did when we tracked Alec. Maybe it’ll show me something.”
Clary watched him intently. “It may be worth a try,” she said after a moment. “But I need you to calm down first.” She caught his gaze and held it steady. “Okay? I need you to focus. Alec needs you to focus.”
“I’m focused, Clary. I am,” Jace said, and even as he spoke, he could feel purpose returning to him, keeping the blinding rage at bay. “Let me give it a try. If I fail, we’ll do it your way. I need to do this.”
“If I fail.” There it was, the core of Jace’s pain. The origins of his all-consuming fury—guilt. He had failed Alec in the worst possible way, and it had been slowly and yet surely eating away at him ever since the monster in this cell had removed Alec’s parabatai rune.
He knew now how his brother had felt back on that rooftop after Jocelyn’s death, when he had let Jace see all of his helplessness and despair as he was devoured by his own guilt for having been unable to protect his parabatai.
“Okay,” Clary said. She put a gentle hand to his cheek, and Jace leaned into her touch without even pausing to think about it. “Go ahead. I’ll be here.”
Jace nodded. He touched Clary’s shoulder as he walked past her and up to Oakglass’ nearly senseless form, and even that small contact was enough to ground him. He grabbed the back of the man’s neck once again, just as roughly as before, and he forced himself to relax and focus on the powers inside of him that he was still learning to know. He could feel those yet-unfamiliar energies swirl within him, but instead of turmoil, they brought warmth. His runes pulsed golden.
Jace didn’t know how much time passed, but eventually, an image flashed before his eyes—a well-known, if not well-liked face. He snatched his hand off Oakglass’ skin as if it burned and spun around to look at Clary.
“Who’s on duty outside of Alec’s room?”
Clary looked at him uncomprehendingly. “I…I’m not sure…”
“Who’s standing guard?” Jace snapped.
“Raj, I think.”
Jace’s stomach tightened. “We have to go. Now.”
Chapter 15: Find a Way
— “got to find a way, find a way
right away, right away
I’ve got to find a way back to you
I feel I’m shaking like, shaking like
feel I’m shaking like a storm without you”
- Find A Way, Quiet Arrows
* * *
When Alec awoke, his world was no longer flames and agony. Pain still thrummed under his skin and pulsed in his muscles, but it wasn’t as all-consuming as it had been. He felt like he could barely move. His head was heavy and his vision swam, bringing on a wave of nausea. It took him a few tries to get his bearings.
There was a shape leaning over him. Alec smiled and waited for his vision to adjust so he could look Magnus in the eye and tell him he didn’t have to be afraid for him anymore.
But when the blurriness and black spots finally receded, Alec realized it wasn’t Magnus standing by his bed. He was about to ask what Raj, of all people, was doing there, when he caught a flash of metal.
“Once a Shadowhunter, always a Shadowhunter,” Jace had said.
Alec’s instincts rushed to the surface and overrode everything else—the pain, the confusion, the weakness. He rolled off the bed and landed into an ungraceful crouch on the floor just as the dagger descended.
Raj spun around and was on him so fast Alec barely had the time to register what was happening—or maybe, so it seemed to him due to his sluggish senses. Adrenaline coursed through his system like melted silver, but he knew it wouldn’t be enough. He only managed to get in a few blows before Raj eventually slammed him against a wall—hard. Alec’s whole body protested as his back seemed to catch on fire with fresh agony.
His pained scream was cut off by Raj’s hand closing around his throat in a vice grip. “I’m sorry, Alec. You’re not getting away a second time.”
Alec looked into the man’s eyes and saw no hatred there—just disgust and determination. There were a million things he would have wanted to ask Raj as the man squeezed the life out of him. He wanted to ask why. He wanted to ask if having shared battles and life at the Institute really meant nothing.
More importantly, he wanted to ask whether Raj had thought this through, if he was truly so blinded by the self-righteousness of his cause that he couldn’t see what the consequences would be. Did he really want a war between Shadowhunters and Downworlders? Did he really strive for a new Uprising?
Alec clawed uselessly at Raj’s wrist. He was perfectly aware that wasn’t the way to get out of a chokehold, but he was unable to do anything else. He could hear the roar of his own blood in his ears. His vision was getting darker, black and red spots dancing before his eyes. He idly wondered if this was really it. If, after everything, he was really going to die in his bedroom at the hands of Raj.
The thought that Magnus or his siblings would be the ones to find his body filled him with despair; they deserved better.
Alec fought harder, which only made Raj squeeze harder in turn. He caught the glint of metal in the man’s hand once again, and he knew it would only be a split second now before the burning in his throat and the throbbing in his temples were replaced by the agony of a blade sinking into his flesh.
There was a blast of red, so hot and crimson that it encompassed everything, taking Alec’s eyesight with it. He felt himself fall, but he didn’t feel the impact as he crumpled to the floor; the redness robbed him of all of his senses. He wondered if this was dying—to drown in a sea of red.
Alec thought he could hear sounds in the background, muffled and distant as if from an entirely different plane of existence. Commotion and thumps and something exploding, and shouts that sounded like, “Magnus!” and, “Enough!” and, “You fucking traitor!” and, “Magnus! You’re going to kill us all if you don’t rein in it!”, and “Magnus, stop!”, and “Go check on Alec.”
Ah, that seemed fitting, Alec thought, for his brain to treat him to the sound of Magnus’ voice calling his name one last time.
“Alexander, talk to me.”
Alec wanted to point out to the projection of Magnus in his head that there was no air in his lungs, but that was when he realized he was indeed breathing—gasping, in fact, sucking in great gulps of air in-between coughs.
As oxygen returned to his jarred system, Alec realized he was, in fact, slumped against Magnus. His hand was clutching at Magnus’ arm, as though his body knew what to do, as though his fingers knew whom to reach out to, even before his brain had kicked back into motion.
“Mag—” Alec choked on the name, which was ironic, considering that Magnus was the one who gave him oxygen—this time quite literally, healing blue magic sweeping over him in waves that cooled down the fire in his throat and body.
“It’s all right, Alexander,” Magnus said, the rumbling of his chest underneath Alec’s shoulder soothing the remains of Alec’s pain. “You’ll be okay in just a minute.”
Alec believed him. He would believe him if Magnus told him there was a flying hippo outside the window. He leaned heavily against Magnus and did his best to focus on breathing.
As the world stopped spinning and his senses fully returned, Alec took in the scene in front of him. Things came back into focus just in time for him to see Jace knock out a dazed and yet still-struggling Raj with one single punch. There was an audible, sickening crack.
Izzy quickly crouched down to examine the fallen man. After a moment, she lifted her head and glared at Jace. “You broke his jaw.”
Jace crossed his arms over his chest and glowered down at Raj’s unconscious form. “Good.”
Alec wanted to say there was nothing “good” about this senseless internal war they seemed to have going on, but he was too exhausted to take any stand. He got to his feet with Magnus’ help and swayed so violently he would have fallen if not for Magnus’ strong arms and quick reflexes.
“Magnus, is Alec okay?” Clary asked as she hurried over to them, concern written all over her face.
“I’m okay,” Alec said. He met Jace’s eyes across the room and held his parabatai’s gaze to convey the message. “I’m all right.”
Jace, who currently had his hands full helping Izzy support Raj’s dead weight, nodded. He looked stone-faced, but Alec could feel his relief through the bond.
“You need to rest,” Magnus said. “And maybe some magic to heal faster.” Despite his earlier reassurances, he was peering at Alec with worried cat-eyes.
“I’m gonna take care of this,” Jace said, jarring an unconscious Raj in disgust. “Magnus, I leave him in good hands.”
Jace’s voice was tense and strained, but Alec could hear the fear underneath, just like he could feel it in the way Magnus held him a little too close to his own body as he kept him upright.
Alec had never really wished for anything for himself, had never dared to, but right now he wished he could take away his loved ones’ fear, tell them it was no longer necessary, tell them everything was all right.
But the truth was there was a civil war among Shadowhunters, and it wasn’t all right, and Alec had no idea how to soothe his own fear of the future, let alone someone else’s fear of the present.
He let Magnus help him back to the bed, and as he lay down, he got so caught up in Magnus’ unglamored eyes that he was barely aware of the door closing behind the others as they left the room.
Alec smiled through the pain that was reawakening in his body, because he would never not smile when Magnus looked at him through amber-colored cat-eyes—masks off, nerves raw, heart open.
“You saved my life again,” he murmured, even as pain and exhaustion slammed into him at once and his vision began to blur.
“Shhh,” Magnus whispered, carding his fingers through his hair, blue sparks flying. “You have saved mine in ways you can’t imagine, Alexander.”
Alec wanted to ask him what he meant, what was he even talking about, and didn’t Magnus know it was the other way around. Didn’t Magnus know Alec had not known how to breathe before he had met him? But he knew he had little time left, he could feel unconsciousness pulling at him, so he settled for his main concern.
He reached out and took Magnus’ hand, and he squeezed gently as he entwined their fingers. “Magnus, stop.”
Magnus frowned. “Stop what?”
“Stop wasting your magic. You’ve used too much of it today.” Between rescuing him and helping ease his pain during the reruning process, and now Raj…Alec wondered how Magus was still standing.
“My magic is never wasted on you,” Magnus said fiercely, eyes flashing. “Besides,” he continued, his voice and features softening, “it’s been a whole night and the better part of a morning since we rescued you. I’ve had time to recover.”
Alec blinked. Had it been that long?
Flashes of fire came back to him, the agony and the fever of having sacred runes carved back into his flesh all at once. He thought he remembered Magnus’ terrified face swimming in front of his eyes—and Jace’s and Izzy’s faces, too.
“It’s okay, Alexander,” Magnus soothed, reading the confusion and the remembered pain on his face. “It’s all right. Just sleep now.”
Alec had a million questions swirling around in his head, but Magnus’ magic was cool and soothing, and Magnus’ fingers running through his hair promised a safe place he had thought he would never have again.
So he closed his eyes, and he slept.
* * *
Magnus Bane knew fear. As the High Warlock of Brooklyn, however, he wasn’t used to it, not like he had been before, back when he was an abomination. Back when he was a monster and the world acted accordingly. Back when—
He no longer wanted to remember. Before.
He had spent centuries working to ensure himself freedom from fear, to get himself in a position where he would no longer have to be afraid. And then Alexander Lightwood had come hurtling into his life, all messy black hair and warm hazel eyes, and Magnus found himself constantly terrified.
At first, he had been terrified of his feelings for Alec and of letting him in. Now he was mostly terrified of losing Alec too soon, and it seemed like the Universe was doing its very best to get Magnus reacquainted with fear.
He didn’t know what had been worse, which heart-stopping moment had frozen the blood in his veins the quickest—if Alec diving backwards off the ledge on his terrace, Alec dangling bloody and barely alive from the chains in that godforsaken container, or Alec being choked to death by Raj.
It chilled Magnus to the bone to know he already had so many horrifying moments to choose from in his history with Alexander.
He slumped further down in the chair by the bed. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes, and he tried to forget about how the Universe seemed intent on trying to take Alec away from him.
Magnus jolted, already back on his guard, senses and magic alert, skin prickling.
Alec was tossing restlessly, caught in the throes of a nightmare, and Magnus’ heart sank; there was nothing his magic could do against the horrors hidden behind closed eyelids. He should know.
He placed a hand on Alec’s forehead and touched his arm with the other. “Alexander,” he called, softly but firmly.
“No…stop…you have to stop…”
Magnus’ heart was beating so hard in his chest his ribs hurt, but he ignored it. Just like he ignored the sorrow that came to wrap around his stomach. He could not allow himself to drift away.
“I’m right here,” he said instead, tightening his grip on Alec’s forearm. “Shhh. It’s okay. You’re okay.”
Magnus swallowed. There were glass shards in his throat.
“Alexander, wake up.” He shook Alec’s arm gently, knowing that he had to drag him out of it somehow but unsure of how to touch him without making the pain of his injuries flare up all over again. “Darling, it’s a nightmare. You’re safe. Wake up.”
“Stop it!” Alec woke with a gasp and shot upright so suddenly that Magnus recoiled. His hazel eyes were blown wide, and he was breathing heavily. “My runes…” His hands flew to his torso—tapping, feeling. His touch was so frantic he was practically slapping the wounds, but he didn’t seem to feel it. His fingers were shaking.
“Alexander, stop,” Magnus said, leaning forward but stopping himself from reaching out. There was a wild look on Alec’s face, and Magnus knew enough about fear not to touch a scared animal…or a terrified Shadowhunter. “Alexander, please. You’re gonna hurt yourself.”
“My runes…” Alec mumbled again, speaking with the distant voice of someone still half-trapped in the horrors of sleep.
“They’re fine,” Magnus said. “They’re all in place. Just look at them.”
Alec paused, but then he took a sharp intake of breath, as if he was just now remembering something vital.
“Jace,” he said, and he messily lifted the bandages on his left side to look at his parabatai rune.
“Jace is fine. The bond is fine— Alexander!”
When Alec’s hysterical patting of his damaged skin resumed, Magnus all but flew forward and grabbed his hands, caution be damned. He held on to Alec’s fingers and palms as hard as he could so that Alec could feel the truth in his words.
“Stop,” he said. He caught Alec’s wild gaze with his own and held it steady, dragging Alec out of the horrors in his mind and anchoring him to the here and now. To Magnus himself. “I need you to stop. You’re all right now. You hear me? You’re safe.”
He could pinpoint the exact moment when Alec finally heard him, the wildness in his hazel eyes receding to be replaced by recognition and by the jagged, broken look of someone caught in the aftermath of dread.
Magnus’ heart broke. He could feel it shatter within his chest so violently, he half-wondered about the lack of an accompanying sound.
Alec curled his fingers around Magnus’ and tugged him forward, bringing their mouths crashing together. There was anguish in his kiss, the despair of a man trying to find himself again, to reclaim his place in the world around him.
Magnus kissed him back just as urgently, desperate to reassure himself that his soothing words had not been empty, that Alec was going to be okay, that the Universe had failed in its plan to snatch this love away from him.
Alec was shaking, and Magnus pulled him closer and cupped his nape with one hand, stroking the hair at the base of his neck in a gesture he knew Alec found comforting.
When they finally pulled apart, Magnus watched Alec’s features intently, relieved to find alert hazel eyes looking back at him. “Are you okay?”
He knew it was a stupid question to ask, but it wasn’t what he was really asking. What he was truly asking was, “Are you back? Are you my Alexander, or are you still that terrified creature stuck in a nightmare?”
Alec didn’t reply immediately. Instead, he swallowed visibly and leaned his forehead against Magnus’. “She pretended to be you,” he said, his voice rough with the memory of screams. “The warlock. She’d create illusions of you to make me think you’d come and I was safe.”
Magnus almost threw up from the force of the wave of unadulterated hatred that washed over him. His glamor slipped once more, revealing furious cat-eyes.
“Well, the joke’s on her, darling,” he said, forcing out a smile for both of their sakes, “because I came.” He pulled back just enough to take Alec’s face between his hands and look into his eyes. “I took care of Jasmine. She can’t hurt you anymore.”
Alec was silent for a moment, entranced as he always was by the amber in Magnus’ eyes. Magnus still couldn’t wrap his head around it, how the mark of the Devil could ever take away the breath of an angel.
“I know,” Alec said. “I never believed her. Not really.” He leaned in and kissed Magnus again—short and light and soft. “It just…it made me furious that she’d use your face.”
Magnus stared at him. There was a new tension in Alec’s body that hadn’t been there before. Magnus recognized it as the soul-sucking, muscle-locking tension of trauma, and his heart broke anew. He would have given anything, laid down his own life, for Alec to never know this kind of tension.
“I’m here, Alexander,” he offered quietly. “Talk to me.”
It wasn’t enough, but it was all Magnus had to give—his ears to listen, his heart to love this man, and his arms to wrap around Alexander and keep him safe.
Alec leaned back against the pillows and looked down at his lap.
Magnus saw a darkness settle over his boyfriend that was all too familiar to him but that didn’t belong anywhere near Alec. He knew he would have set the world on fire if meant having enough light to keep that darkness away from the man he loved.
“I thought I could endure pain,” Alec began, his voice quiet and distant. It was almost as if he were talking more to himself than to Magnus.
Magnus didn’t mind. It didn’t matter whom Alec was talking to, as long as he was talking. As long as he didn’t slip away in the darkness.
“But what they did…it was something different. I can’t…I can’t wrap my head around it. It was like they were carving my being out of me.”
Magnus took Alec’s words and the suffering that accompanied them like a physical blow. He bore the impact and didn’t let it break him, even if it took every ounce of his strength.
“I was trained for pain,” Alec said, and he still wouldn’t look at Magnus, his fingers tracing nervous patterns on the sheets, “but back there…” He shook his head once, jerky and helpless. “Jace and I spent our lives reminding each other we can’t be broken, but I’m not so sure they didn’t break me. I’m not sure they wouldn’t have, if you hadn’t found me when you did.”
Magnus took a deep breath and chose his words carefully. He knew he was treading on very delicate ground. “Alexander, what they did to you…it was agony, darling. I know.” He reached out and covered Alec’s hand with his own, stilling his restless fingers. “When I was trapped in Valentine’s body, I might not have experienced the kind of physical pain you endured, but the emotional suffering was almost enough to kill me. I tried to resist, but the more I put up a fight, the more it hurt. In the end, I just gave in to the pain.”
He paused for a moment, allowing himself a precious instant to collect himself as unwelcome memories pressed against the edges of his consciousness.
“They didn’t break you, Alexander. They tried, but you fought. You never fell for their tricks, you never bent to their will. They did not break you. You have to believe me.”
Magnus had seen many broken spirits in his life, himself included, back in a past he did not want to remember. Alec was not one of them. Sure, he was cracked and split open in pieces, but he wasn’t broken. And Magnus needed Alec to see it. He needed it more than he had ever needed anything in his life.
Alec finally looked up. His eyes were filled with emotions he so clearly didn’t know how to handle or what to do with. “I’m so sorry, Magnus,” he whispered, his voice cracking at the edges. “I’m sorry I didn’t see it before, that it was you and not Valentine.”
Magnus blinked. He hadn’t seen that coming. Then again, leave it to Alec to worry about others in the aftermath of his own torture.
“Alexander, you know I don’t blame you.”
And he really didn’t. Despite the anger and frustration that still lingered within him over that unfortunate incident, he didn’t blame Alec or Jace or anyone else (well…perhaps he blamed Inquisitor Herondale a little). It had been an impossible situation for the Nephilim to handle.
“I didn’t bring it up for you to give me an apology. I’m only trying to tell you that I know where you are now. You’re hurt, physically and emotionally. You need to give yourself time to heal.” He ran his thumb gently along Alec’s knuckles. “Perhaps we can try to heal together.”
Alec looked at him uncertainly. “How?” he asked, in a tone that suggested Magnus simply had to have the answer. “How did you do it? Magnus, I feel…” He trailed off, clearly embarrassed, but then he forced himself to continue, “…not like myself.” He shifted on the mattress and hissed in pain, his hold around Magnus’ hand tightening reflexively. “Maybe I should go on a mission, get back into it. Fight. Find the Shadowhunter in me again.”
Magnus felt the tension snap back into every fiber of his body as though it had never left. “NO!” he almost screamed.
Alec looked at him with wide eyes, appalled at his outburst, and Magnus took another deep breath and tried to calm the thundering of his heart inside his chest.
Here it was again, the fear. It suffocated him. He thought it must be one of the greatest mysteries of the world, how Alec had brought oxygen back into his life and yet was responsible for Magnus choking on terror.
“You can’t do that,” Magnus said, his voice sounding frantic to his own ears. “You can barely stand. You are not running around playing the hero.”
“Alexander,” Magnus snapped, “I almost lost you. Again. I can’t…don’t make me watch you go out there and risk your life. Please.”
Magnus was shocked and, if he were completely honest, a little disgusted with himself. He was pleading. Magnus Bane was pleading out of love, something he had sworn to himself he would never do again.
But he couldn’t help himself. Alec’s wounds were still fresh, and he was already talking about grabbing his bow and quiver and putting his life on the line all over again. Magnus may be an all-powerful warlock, but he couldn’t handle that just yet. Not when his body was still frozen with lingering terror. Not when he could still smell Alec’s blood in his nostrils and hear Alec’s screams in his ears.
“Magnus…” Alec breathed quietly. He was staring at him in shock, the magnitude of Magnus’ ordeal just dawning on him. He sat up straighter and reached out to cup Magnus’ cheek with one hand. “Hey. Look at me.”
Magnus did. He looked up and found his Alexander staring back at him, hazel eyes shining.
“It’s okay,” Alec said. “I’ll be okay. I’ll wait if you want me to. I’ll wait until I’m better.” He hesitated, licking his lips nervously. “But then I’ll have to go. You know that, don’t you? I’m Nephilim. It’s what we do.”
Magnus nodded, leaning into Alec’s touch. It almost broke him, the gentleness of Alec’s palm against his skin.
For a rare, precious moment, Magnus was no longer a 400-year old High Warlock. He was just a man, in love with another man and petrified of losing him.
For a rare, precious, eternal moment, Magnus didn’t hide behind his walls. He didn’t hide behind his make-up, his demeanor, the flourish of his language. In that moment, he allowed himself to be as vulnerable as the young boy who had found his mother dead in her bed. In that moment, Magnus just felt lost.
He took in a long breath and pulled himself together. “I know,” he said. “I know, and of course you’ll have to go. I would never try to keep you from your duty.” He was surprised when the pang of bitterness he was hit with didn’t transpire in his voice. “Just take some time before you go back in the field.” He forced out a smile, the mask sliding back into place almost too easily.
Alec saw through it immediately. He scooted closer to the edge of the bed, closer to Magnus, and he cupped Magnus’ nape, forcing their gazes to meet.
“Look at me,” he said again, as softly and firmly as before. “I’m here. I’m here, Magnus. I can’t promise you nothing’s gonna happen to me, I don’t know that. But I can promise you I’ll always be careful. And I can promise you, I’m here now.” He tugged gently at the back of Magnus’ neck and pressed his lips lightly over Magnus’. “I love you.”
Magnus melted against Alec’s mouth, the tension draining away from his muscles, his heartbeat finally dulling to a life-giving thrum rather than violent thunder. Feeling Alec, alive and breathing against his lips, their bodies gravitating towards one another, was all that Magnus needed in order to breathe again.
When they pulled apart, Alec’s hands were holding Magnus’ face between their palms like Magnus’ features were made of glass. And perhaps they were. Glass cuts, but it’s also fragile, and Alec was the first one in a long string of lost loves that seemed to know how to handle both edges.
“Lie down with me?” Alec asked, and Magnus’ heart skipped the proverbial beat.
It was such a simple request, and yet it was the most open and honest anyone had ever been with him.
Magnus stared at him for a moment—this man who was strong and fierce and young and pure. This man who had just learned about betrayal in the darkest, worst way imaginable. Magnus swore to himself he would not be the one to teach Alec more about it.
“Yes,” he said.
A moment later, when Alec laboriously rolled onto his side to wrap an arm around Magnus’ waist and lay his head on Magnus’ chest, Magnus felt something inside snap into place.
“I’ve missed you,” Alec murmured, and they both knew he wasn’t talking about his dark hours in the container.
Magnus wrapped an arm around Alec’s shoulders and stroked his forearm with his other hand, fingers tracing idle patterns over the bare skin, mindful of the bandages.
“I’ve missed you too,” he said. “I’ve missed this. Us.”
He remembered his own dark hours after he had walked into that elevator and away from Alec. He remembered how he had missed Alec in everything he did, in every breath he didn’t take. The realization of how deep Alec had gotten under his skin and how he owned his heart and soul still scared Magnus half to death, but he had long since decided it was worth the risk.
“It’s okay,” Alec whispered, as if he could read Magnus’ mind (and Magnus wouldn’t have been at all surprised to learn that he could). “We’re okay.”
“Yes, we are,” Magnus agreed.
He felt himself relax for the first time in what felt like an eternity. Because Alec didn’t lie, he knew that now, and if Alec said they were all right, then Magnus could let himself believe it. He could let himself believe the Universe’s plan had failed and Alec was warm and safe and there, in his arms.
He felt Alec’s body grow heavy with sleep, and he listened quietly as Alec’s breathing evened out. He turned his head and pressed a kiss to the top of Alec’s hair. His magic was powerless against nightmares, but Magnus himself wasn’t.
In the stillness of the room, he silently swore he would do everything in his power to give Alec the peace that blades and fire had tried to take away.
This is Sonia (ifallonblackdays_fics).
I wanted to drop you guys a quick note to let you know that no, this story is not on a break. Yes, there will be an update. I've just fallen a little behind due to life kicking both mine and @valfromrome's asses, and to the fact that I've now managed to catch the flu. *sigh* Please, please, please, don't abandon us! I'll do my best to get as many chapters written before the weekend so I can give you guys a new update by Sunday and have some backup for the following weeks. Again, just so you can rest easy, you should know this story is finished. We wrote all the dialogue and now I need to work some warlock magic and tie it all together with narrative; it's a much longer work than it looks.
Thank you for your patience and I hope you'll stick with us despite the slight delay.
Love you all!
Chapter 17: Awake Me
Thank you so very much to everyone who replied to the note from a few days ago. We appreciate your support and understanding more than you will ever know. You're all so wonderful! ♥ By now it's probably clear that the posting schedule is now completely random. lol We're so sorry about that, but we'd rather go with a random schedule than promise you a regular one and then having to fall short.
Again, thank you for sticking with us and for the love and support you've shown us. ♥ We hope you'll enjoy the new chapter.
— “awake me, I break away
allay me, I break awake
awake me, I break away
allay me, I break awake
- Vantablack, Novo Amor & Ed Tullett
* * *
Five days later, Alec’s body was recuperating, but it would have been a lie to say he was satisfied with his progress. Fire still lingered in his flesh, and his muscles often betrayed him. But it was nothing compared to the nightmares. He often woke up in the middle of the night not knowing where he was, his hands flying to his still-healing runes.
Alec was done with all of it. He wanted himself back, and he wanted it now. Which was why he was currently hitting one of the many heavy bags in the training room as though his life depended on it—which it did. He had to stop too often, and his vision would at times become blurry, but he pushed through, because he had no other choice. Because he had no other way to feel like he was still himself, still Alec, underneath the scars and the nightmares.
“Alec! What are you doing?” Izzy planted herself next to the bag and looked at him like she thought he had lost his mind.
Alec hadn’t heard her walk in. He would have worried about his lack of perception, if not for the fact that he had so many things to worry about already. As it were, he simply returned his sister’s shocked gaze with one that suggested she had just asked the stupidest question in the world.
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
Izzy crossed her arms over her chest and stared him down. “You’re gonna hurt yourself.”
Alec ignored her. She didn’t get it, and he didn’t have the time or the energy to explain it to her. He didn’t have the words to describe the drive that coursed through his body and pushed him to hit faster, harder. To hit until his muscles screamed from a fire that wasn’t caused by the lingering effects of knives carving into his flesh. Alec slammed his knuckles into the thick leather of the bag and punched the memories away, knocked out demons that might not have had ichor in them but were just as alive.
Suddenly Izzy was there again, this time grabbing his arm and forcefully pulling him away from his battle.
Alec wrenched himself free, a fury he didn’t know how to explain washing over him. “Get off me, Izzy!”
“Alec, you have to stop. It’s too soon.”
She wouldn’t budge, and Alec saw red. “I have to do this!”
Izzy flinched at his near-roar, and Alec felt a pang of guilt. But it only lasted a moment; she was standing between him and the one thing that made him feel somewhat normal again, and he just couldn’t have it.
Izzy heaved a deep sigh. “Alec, listen—”
“Hey, Izzy!’ Jace picked that very moment to casually saunter into the room. Alec had the feeling it wasn’t casual at all. “Come here. I need your advice on something.”
Alec arched a skeptical eyebrow, but Izzy finally left him alone to go over to Jace, and he didn’t question it. Instead, he went back to trying to lose and find himself in his training.
It only took a few moments for Alec to realize his concentration had been irremediably shot to hell. Neither of his siblings had ever been particularly skilled at subtlety, and he could hear their not-so-hushed voices carrying across the room. They might as well have been stage-whispering.
“What is it?” Izzy demanded impatiently.
“Leave him alone,” Jace said. “You’re not getting through to him.”
Izzy huffed. “Fine. Then you try to talk some sense into your parabatai before he passes out.”
“I don’t think that’s the way to go,” Jace said after a moment.
“We need to let him do this. He needs it. I won’t stop him.”
Alec smiled to himself as he hit the bag forcefully with the flat of his hand. Leave it to Jace to read him like a book and convince the world to give him a break.
“Are you kidding me?” Izzy exploded quietly. “Have you seen him? He’s in no condition to train!”
Alec faltered, and this time it wasn’t due to his body’s limited strength. Shame stirred anew in the pit of his stomach, pinching his entrails, taunting him.
“If we want him to heal, we gotta let him breathe,” Jace said, unfazed by Izzy’s anger. “He needs to feel like himself again, to prove to himself that he’s not broken.”
Izzy scoffed. “Of course he’s not broken. But this is crazy, Jace. He’s going to hurt himself, and you’re just gonna let him—”
“He was deruned, Izzy!” Jace hissed furiously. “How many Shadowhunters have survived that without losing their minds?”
Alec had heard enough. He slammed a hard jab into the heavy bag and spun around, eyes blazing.
“I can hear you,” he informed his siblings with a growl.
They had the good grace to look embarrassed, but Izzy recovered quickly.
“Well, good,” she spat. “Because this is crazy, Alec! You can barely stand!”
Alec felt his stomach spasm with renewed anger. “I’m standing just fine.”
“Let him do his thing, Izzy,” Jace cut in, exasperated.
Izzy looked between the two of them, outrage written all over her face. “Fine,” she said sharply after a moment of furious silence. She glared openly at Jace. “But if he keels over, I’m holding you responsible.”
“Don’t talk about me like I’m not here,” Alec snapped. There was so much rage pent up inside him, he felt like he might explode.
Izzy opened her mouth to protest, but she held her tongue when Jace shot her a warning look. She continued to glare at them both for a few more moments, then she turned around and all but stomped out of the room, her heels tapping out the rhythm of her frustration.
Alec didn’t even wait for his sister to be out the door before he went back to his life-saving activity. He slammed a roundhouse kick into the bag and stumbled unexpectedly, barely managing to right himself as he pulled his leg back. He could feel humiliation gnawing at his insides like a hungry monster.
“I’m not stopping, Jace,” he snapped. He still refused to turn around and let his brother see the vulnerability he was sure was now written on his face.
“I thought I’d made it clear I’m not asking you to,” Jace said. He walked up to the bag so that he could finally be face to face with his parabatai. “I’m asking if you’d like to train together.”
Alec paused and watched him warily. “Really?”
“Yes, really. I meant what I said before, you need to do this.”
Alec searched for the words to let his brother know what this meant to him. When he couldn’t find them, he simply nodded.
Jace grinned, eyes already glinting with anticipation. “Any preference?”
Despite everything, Alec found himself hesitating. “Are you sure about this? I might slow you down.” He made a point to keep his voice level so Jace wouldn’t hear just how much it cost him to speak those words out loud.
Jace shrugged like it didn’t matter. Like this was just another parabatai training session. Like Alec wasn’t broken. “I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t sure.”
Alec felt the first real smile in days tug at his lips. “I wanna do blades.”
Jace nodded readily, dimpled smirk still in place. “Let’s do blades, then.” He walked to where the weapons were stashed and selected two seraph blades. He tossed one to Alec, who caught it easily.
Alec found himself already breathing easier as his hand curled around the familiar hilt and his body slipped into a fighting stance his muscles knew by heart.
He was about to launch into an attack when his heart stopped, the sweet moment of relief he had just experienced already forgotten. The blade in his hand was white…and opaque, and lifeless. Alec stared at it in shock. It felt like the world had stopped spinning.
“Jace—” His voice caught in his throat, his stomach clenching with mounting panic. He swallowed convulsively. “Jace, what’s happening? Why isn’t it lighting up?”
Jace looked as horrified as Alec felt. He approached cautiously, as though he expected the sword to explode in their faces at any moment.
“Jace?” Alec pressed, his voice sounding strangled and panicky to his own ears.
“I don’t know, Alec,” Jace said, and he didn’t sound any steadier. “I’m sure there’s an explanation.”
Alec felt frozen in place.
“Once a Shadowhunter, always a Shadowhunter.”
What if that wasn’t true? What if something had gone wrong in Brother Enoch’s procedure? What if the knives had really succeeded in taking his very essence? What if—
The seraph blade came to life, casting the familiar white glow.
Alec almost passed out from relief alone. His mind began working a mile a minute, looking for an explanation that wasn’t the absolute negation of his identity. Finally, it clicked.
“It’s the runes,” he said, voice distant as he worked out the realization in his head.
Jace frowned. “What do you mean?”
“They’ve felt different since Brother Enoch put them back. Less effective. Weaker. Like…” ‘Like me,’ Alec wanted to say, but he didn’t. Instead, he took a deep breath and went on to try to elaborate the all-consuming feeling of inadequateness that had been plaguing him for days. “…like they’re still developing.”
“It makes sense,” Jace said after a moment. “You were practically reborn as a Shadowhunter. We should’ve seen this coming. Your runes are not powerful enough.”
‘Yet,’ Alec thought, and he felt something snap inside of him. He was done. He was so done. He was done with the helplessness and the fear and the shame. He was going to get his runes to where they needed to be, even if it killed him.
All the anger he had been trying so hard to push down ever since he had been coherent enough for any emotion other than absolute terror exploded out of him. He lifted the seraph blade over his head and charged. Damn him. Damn him if he let himself be as weak as this stupid sword seemed to believe he was. Damn him if he was going to let another blade take his identity away from him.
‘I’m a Shadowhunter.’
The words echoed over and over in his head as he rushed forward.
‘I’m a Shadowhunter.’
The deafening clang of metal on metal echoed through the training room.
‘I’m Nephilim. I’m a Shadowhunter.’
Jace was clearly unprepared for the fury of Alec’s attack. He stumbled back under the flurry of blows and fell, landing square on his butt. He looked up at Alec with a mixture of surprise and admiration written all over his face.
“Whoa,” he said, lifting a hand in surrender. “Same side, remember?”
Alec smirked. His blood was pumping and he felt alive, and he wasn’t going to pause for anyone. Not even for Jace. “Not while we’re training,” he said. “You know the rules. Now get up and come at me.”
Jace did. He jumped to his feet in one fluid, graceful motion and charged. The blades sang.
“Nice, Alec,” Jace said a few moments later when Alec parred a particularly vicious blow. “You can do better, though.”
Alec was hit with a sudden rush of gratitude towards his parabatai as Jace gave him exactly what he needed: push that came to shove. Over and over again.
He didn’t know how long they kept at it, whether it was a matter of minutes or hours that they spent dancing and building flurry after flurry of blows and pars, of attacks and retreats. Eventually, the fire in Alec’s flesh flared up once more, a wave of blinding-hot pain that took his breath away. He felt himself falter, and next thing he knew, he was on the ground with the tip of Jace’s blade resting on his throat.
Alec didn’t mind. He was feeling more alive than he had in days, and he didn’t care that his body was pulsating with a now-constant, dull throb, because it was also vibrating with energy.
Jace pulled the sword back, and Alec got up in one swift motion. He was about to drop into yet another stance when he noticed the seraph blade was now hanging limp and harmless at Jace’s side.
“As much as I’m having the time of my life kicking your ass,” Jace said, “I think we should stop. You need a break.”
Alec wanted to snap. He wanted to say that he was fine and he most definitely did not need a break. But he couldn’t find it within himself to deny that Jace had a point. After everything, he figured he owed his parabatai the truth.
“Fine,” he said.
Jace stared at him incredulously, clearly having expected a fight. “Fine?”
The disbelief on Jace’s face made Alec furious; it reminded him of his body’s newfound limitations, the ones he was currently giving in to.
“I said fine, Jace,” he snapped.
He took the seraph blade from Jace’s hand and turned away to store both weapons in their resting place. He took his time, taking advantage of the moments when his back was turned to collect himself.
Alec’s head was throbbing with all the thoughts running through it. There was so much to do and so little time to do it, and so much to feel and no time at all to feel it. He knew he had to snap out of it, and he knew he had to do it fast. He couldn’t allow himself the luxury of processing the helplessness that ran like poison under his skin.
Alec took a deep breath and forced his thoughts to quieten and his mind to focus. He turned around and met Jace’s worried gaze straight on. “I’ve heard you’re going to be the one interrogating Raj later today. Is that true?”
Jace blinked, clearly taken aback by the change in subject and the sudden steel in Alec’s voice. “Yes.”
Alec crossed his wrists behind his back, calling all of his authority back into his body. “I want to be there.”
Jace hesitated. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea—”
“I am,” Alec cut him off sharply. “We need to go at this from all angles. Whoever they are, they’ve got warlocks.” He clenched his fists behind his back, renewed tension running down the whole length of his spine as he remembered what the warlock he had been at the mercy of had done, whose features she had worn as she tried her best to strip him of his very self. “We need to find out who the other warlocks are before they decide to do to Magnus what Shadowhunters have done to me.”
He could do this. He could focus on protecting Magnus and on ending this senseless infighting. He could push everything away until it was over and the task was completed. He could keep the fear lingering in his bones from devouring the very marrow of his being. Until it was over. Until Magnus was safe.
Jace watched him for a moment, arms crossed over his chest. If he wanted to argue, however, he refrained from it. “You’re right,” he said instead. “Besides, it’s not like I can stop the Head of the Institute from doing anything.”
Jace gave a little smirk, but Alec didn’t feel like smiling.
“No, you can’t,” he said. He could hear the iron-like note in his own voice that dared the world to try and stop him, and it made him feel a little more like himself.
Alec crossed over to the bench where he had left a towel and wiped the sweat from his face. He could feel Jace’s gaze on him, and he barely kept himself from rolling his eyes as he turned back around to face his brother.
“Stop staring. I’m fine.”
“I know you are, I can feel you’re better.” Jace’s hand unconsciously brushed against his parabatai rune. “It’s just…” He chewed on his bottom lip in an uncharacteristic display of nervousness. “I’m sorry, Alec.”
Alec frowned. “For what?”
“For everything you’ve been through. I couldn’t save you.”
There was agony etched on Jace’s features. Alec knew it only too well. It was the same gut-wrenching frustration he had felt when Jace was taken by Valentine.
“Sit down,” he said, taking his own advice and settling on the wooden bench. He waited for Jace to join him, and when he did, he stared intently at his brother and chose his words carefully. “Jace, we’ve seen things. Horrible things. Valentine alone was the stuff of nightmares, especially for you. These people—”
He cut off and took a deep breath, and he took a fierce hold of the memories before they could take hold of him.
“These people are like Valentine, only there’s the Angel knows how many of them. There’s an anger to them, a violence I haven’t seen before. Valentine was a fanatic, but he was cold and calculating. These people are insane. And they’re impatient, and they’re furious.” He reached out and grasped Jace’s shoulder. “There’s no way you could’ve stopped them, Jace. Not by yourself.”
“Maybe.” Jace looked up at him, his eyes silently begging Alec to be right. To give him absolution. “But I still feel like I failed you. And Magnus and Izzy. The whole Institute. I was supposed to protect you, and I wasn’t ready.”
“Nobody could have been ready for that. I certainly wasn’t,” Alec admitted quietly. “Besides, last time I checked, you saved me.” He gave his brother a small smirk. “I would be dead by now if it wasn’t for you and Clary tracking me.”
Jace offered a small smile in return. “That’s true. Maybe I did save your ass in the end.”
Alec wrapped an arm around Jace’s shoulders and gave them a playful squeeze. “Yes, you did, parabatai.”
Jace shoved him away with an outraged huff and stood. “Now, shall we go and roast Raj?”
Alec’s insides gave a sharp tug, but he ignored it. Instead, he got to his feet and stood to his full height. “Let’s.”
* * *
They didn’t stop to change out of their training clothes. Alec was mostly running on adrenaline and determination, and on the newfound vibration in his body. He didn’t want to pause even for a moment and risk losing momentum.
The fresh power coursing through his veins must be echoing on the outside, because one flick of his wrist was enough to make the guards disperse without asking any questions.
Alec took a moment to enjoy the flicker of shock that crossed Raj’s face when he stepped into his cell, erect and upright and functional. Alive. The pang of satisfaction lasted a mere instant before it was replaced by yet another wave of anger. He and Raj were never fond of each other, but he wouldn’t have thought the man capable of this.
“So,” Alec began, with a calmness he didn’t feel, “it looks like your buddies gave you up. Oakglass didn’t even try to defend you. He made no excuses for you. No brainwashing, no threats. Nothing.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Do you want to return the favor and give us a few names?”
Raj, sitting on the one lonely, uncomfortable cot in the cell, looked up at him with a blank expression.
Jace scoffed. “Looks like he wants to do this the hard way.”
“Looks like,” Alec agreed. A cold smile spread across his lips. It surprised him, but he let it. “Good,” he said. He grabbed a nearby chair and sat down in front of Raj. “Who are the warlocks?”
Raj gave him a small grin at that. “That’s your first question? Why? Afraid they’ll toast your boyfriend?”
Alec’s jaw twitched, but other than that small, imperceptible movement, he didn’t betray any emotion. He casually removed a small knife from the inside of his boot. “You want to tell me which rune you’re least fond of?”
Raj, on the other hand, was not as unperturbed. He paled visibly, his gaze flickering nervously to the small blade before he looked back up at Alec. “You wouldn’t do that.”
“You’re all about honor.”
Alec felt like he could have laughed in Raj’s face forever. “You and your friends took my honor, Raj. You carved it out of me.” He leaned forward in the chair and stared the man down. “You may want to think carefully about this.”
Alec could feel Jace’s eyes on him, but if his parabatai was appalled by the icy behavior he was displaying, he didn’t show it. Instead, Jace walked closer to Raj and leaned down to whisper theatrically in his ear.
“I already personally carved some of the runes out of Oakglass’ body. Don’t think for a second I won’t do the same to you.”
Raj went even paler.
Alec found himself suppressing a grin in spite of it all. He knew it was only a matter of time before the man caved. It wouldn’t be a long time, either; Raj had always been a coward, and cowards broke easily.
“Who are the warlocks?” he asked again.
Raj looked at him in open disgust, a final act of defiance in his state of mounting panic. “It doesn’t matter,” he hissed. “Your boyfriend’s next. They’ll suck all the magic out of him.”
Alec prided himself on his ability to control his emotions and remain calm under pressure. His temper ran cold. But now something snapped inside of him, twisted and exploded within his chest. He moved quicker than he had in days, and next thing anyone knew, he had Raj pinned to the concrete wall of the cell, his forearm pressing dangerously against the man’s throat. The tip of the knife bit down on the agility rune on Raj’s clavicle, enough to draw a thin line of blood.
“Shut up,” Alec hissed furiously into the man’s terrified face. He didn’t feel any pity for Raj, couldn’t find it in himself to be moved by the man’s dread. All he could think about was his own fear, the mind-numbing panic he had felt in that container, and how he would do anything, anything to keep Magnus from going through the same thing. “You have two choices. Either I rip you apart rune by rune, like your friends did to me, or you cooperate and I’ll have the Clave spare your miserable life.”
Jace walked up to them with an eerie calmness in his stride. “Do you need more motivation, Raj?” he asked. “’Cause you should know, I don’t think I’m gonna hold Alec back.”
Raj looked between the two of them, his eyes blown wide. He was shaking. “They…they’ll kill me if I tell you…”
“I’ll kill you if you don’t,” Alec said. He pulled back enough to grant Jace access. “Jace, hold him down.”
“My pleasure,” Jace said dryly. He stepped in and grabbed Raj by the shoulders, effectively pinning him to the wall like an impaled butterfly. Raj struggled, but he was no match for Jace. He had never been.
Alec forced himself to never look away from the man’s eyes as he traced a cut along the outlines of the agility rune.
“Stop!” Raj shouted, struggling even more wildly.
Alec would have loved nothing more, but he couldn’t. He knew this was the only way. He was secretly about to throw up when Raj finally, finally screamed for mercy.
“Enough! Enough! I’ll tell you!”
Alec stopped. He let the blade linger over Raj’s cut flesh, and he waited.
“Magnus sent Iris to the Clave,” Alec growled.
“And where do you think your enemies are?” Raj hurried to say before Alec could use the knife again.
Alec froze for a split second, but then he carefully stored the information away to be dealt with later. “Who are the others?”
“Thomas Blake and June Bialik.”
Alec pulled back, and it was only through an enormous effort of will that he didn’t stagger. He felt like he had just been punched in the stomach. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Raj nodded frantically. “I swear.”
Alec shoved the knife back into his boot, blood and all. “I’ll be back,” he said, meeting Raj’s fearful gaze with a steely one. “I promise. Jace, let’s go.”
Jace frowned, but he didn’t say anything as he followed Alec out of the cell and through the corridors. He only spoke once they were out of anyone’s earshot.
“Alec?” he called as he struggled to keep up with his parabatai. “What’s going on?”
Alec had never walked so fast in his life. He would have run, if not for the fact that he couldn’t afford to raise suspicions. The Institute was a blur as he made his way towards the ops room.
“Get Izzy and Clary,” he said, never slowing down. “We’re going on a mission.”
“What? Why? Alec!” Jace finally lunged forward and grabbed his arm, effectively stopping his maddened advance. “What’s happening?”
“Thomas Blake and June Bialik,” Alec said, even as he wrenched himself free of his brother’s grasp and kept walking, Jace once again hurrying after him. “Magnus is having them over for dinner tonight. He thinks they’re friends.”
Jace faltered in his step. “Shit. Get him on the phone, we gotta warn him.”
“I can’t. They might be already there, and I don’t want to spook them. We need to go.”
Jace nodded. They veered off in opposite directions without even having to consult each other, a perfectly-oiled machine in times of war.
And despite all the battles he had seen, Alec could think of no other war more worth fighting than the one he would move against anyone who dared hurt Magnus.
Chapter 18: Flares
— “did you see the flares in the sky?
were you blinded by the light?
did you feel the smoke in your eyes?
did you? did you?
did you see the sparks filled with hope?
you are not alone
‘cause someone’s out there, sending out flares”
- Flares, The Script
* * *
Magnus Bane was all into parties. Especially dinner parties, the kind of intimate affairs that had a way of bringing out unexpected confidences among the guests. And when the guests were old friends who hadn’t seen each other in an impressively long time, all bets were off.
Try as he might, however, he couldn’t find it in himself to completely rejoice at the prospect of the evening ahead. His thoughts just kept running back to Alec.
Alec, who after everything he had been through was taking the night to “catch up on work” and “fix things at the Institute.” Alec who had kissed Magnus earlier that afternoon and told him he was “fine” and to “please, enjoy your evening with your friends.” Alec whose hazel eyes were now darkened by the kind of shadows that robbed men of their sleep and that Magnus never wanted to see looming over his Alexander. Alec who hadn’t smiled once, not a real smile, since they had gotten him back, and Magnus missed that crooked grin like a drowning man missed air.
Magnus didn’t want to be in his loft tonight, entertaining guests. He wanted to be in Alec’s office at the Institute, reading on the couch while Alec worked, getting up from time to time to bring him coffee and press light kisses to the back of his neck. Comforting him with his presence.
But he understood that Alec needed space and time with his people—the chance to feel normal again. If he were perfectly honest, Magnus might need the same thing. Perhaps a night with old friends would help put things back into perspective. Perhaps it would finally make it sink into Magnus’ head that Alec was safe and the world had resumed its spinning.
He took a deep breath and looked at his reflection in the mirror. His outfit was smart and sleek, and he only now realized he had put on Alec’s favorite shirt for him, the dark burgundy one that Alec said brought out his eyes—his real eyes. Not for the first time, Magnus wondered about how deep under his skin Alec had gotten, how he was embroidered in every daily gesture Magnus made.
A knock at the door jolted him out of his reverie, and he put on his best smile as he hurried to answer it. When he pulled the door open, it was to the sight of two happy, if slightly concerned faces. Thomas Blake and June Bialik were a packaged deal. The two had found each other in June (real name Junika)’s native Siberia some 300 years ago, and they had been inseparable ever since.
“Magnus,” Thomas greeted cheerfully, his tall, lanky flame unfolding in a flourish of dark fabric. An Englishman through and through, Thomas had never quite managed to let go of the cape-and-top-hat fashion, which he exhibited any chance he got. “We were so sorry to hear about what happened. We simply had to pay you a visit.”
“Hello, Magnus,” June said in that smooth, mellifluous voice of hers. She had small dark horns, like Ragnor, but her long blonde curls, heart-shaped face, and big blue eyes made her look more like an angel than a devil. “We were also relieved to hear that everything turned out all right.”
Magnus wouldn’t exactly define Alec’s ordeal or his own consequent hyperawareness as “all right,” but he knew it could have been a lot worse.
“Thank you, my friends,” he said, stepping aside to let them pass. “Please, come in. It’s such a pleasure to see you after…how long? Twenty years?”
“Almost twenty-five,” June said.
“Entirely too long,” Thomas remarked.
Magnus took their coats (or cape, in Thomas’ case) and sent the garments off to the guest wardrobe closet with a snap of his fingers. He then proceeded to conjure up three drinks—old fashioned, as it seemed only appropriate, made with the best bourbon straight out of a small distillery in rural Kentucky.
“So…” June began cautiously a moment later, as she sipped her drink on Magnus’ couch. “How is Alexander? Is he recovering?”
Magnus tensed, memories of Alec’s screams and Alec’s blood still too fresh in his mind. He shook it off quickly, covering up the remembered anguish with a smile. The whiskey burning its way down his throat also helped.
“Yes, my dear,” he said. “Alexander is doing pretty fine, considering. Thank you for asking.”
And Alec truly was. Magnus had seen men being irremediably broken by less. But not Alec. Alec hadn’t stopped fighting for a second—not in that container, not while Brother Enoch reapplied the runes through that godawful procedure, not in the feverish, burning-hot aftermath of it. Alec was fighting even now, reclaiming his life and his place at the Institute.
Alec was fighting even now, while Magnus lounged about in his living room. For the hundredth time that evening, Magnus wished he could be with him.
He forced himself to snap out of it and focus on his guests. It was time he tried to reclaim his life, too.
“But what about you two?” he asked with a lightness he didn’t feel. “Last I heard, you were in Chechnya.”
“Oh, Magnus,” June exploded immediately, taking a much too large sip from her glass. “It’s such a mess over there, you wouldn’t believe.”
The next half hour was spent catching up with old friends. An almost-forgotten familiarity settled over them. Magnus was almost beginning to feel normal again when he caught a flash of something in a moment of companionable silence—the exchange of a look between his two friends and the creeping of an almost undetectable tension in their bodies.
He frowned. “What is it?”
Thomas cleared his throat and shifted his weight, uncomfortable, on the couch cushions. “Forgive me for being so bold, Magnus, but we have to ask. Alexander Lightwood is a mortal. More than that, he’s Nephilim. And he’s the Head of the New York Institute.”
There was an awkward pause.
Magnus arched an eyebrow. “And…?”
Yet another look passed between the two.
“Has it ever occurred to you,” Thomas continued cautiously, “that what you’re doing may be seen as a conflict of interest?”
The question hit Magnus with violence. In a heartbeat, all his choices from the past few weeks came back to him…and so did their consequences, which still weighed heavily on his shoulders.
“There’s been a moment when yes, I thought I had to choose between Alexander and the Downworld,” he admitted, ignoring the pang of guilt that hit him. “But I couldn’t have been more wrong. If we were able to spare the Shadow World a bloody war, it was only because we worked together rather than against each other.”
“Magnus, he’s Nephilim. They’re all the same.” Thomas’ features hardened briefly, but they softened again when he sighed. “We just want you to be happy. What happiness can a Nephilim possibly bring you?”
Magnus felt his whole body stiffen, although his exterior betrayed nothing of the tension that was creeping into his muscles. “My dear Thomas,” he said, with a calm and affability he didn’t feel, “you forget Nephilim are half angel, but also half human. Alexander can give me all the happiness any other romantic encounter such as this has given me in the past.” And more. So much more. Sometimes, Magnus thought Alec might be more magical than any warlock.
“Besides,” he continued after a moment, when he realized he was once again getting lost in thoughts of Alec, “these Nephilim are different from the previous generation. They’re changing things. Alexander certainly is. If you think I’m biased, ask the Downworld community in New York City.”
An uncomfortable silence settled over the room, interrupted only by the rustling of June’s skirt as she shifted her weight on the couch.
“Magnus, the Clave is never going to change,” she said gently, as though she was explaining the ways of life to a child. “Your boy is being naïve if he thinks he can make a difference.”
“He can,” Magnus said immediately, and the force in his own tone surprised him. The thing—the incredible, magical thing—was, he had never believed anything more. “If we help him, he can.”
“I think we should steer clear of them,” Thomas said with equal strength. His gray eyes found Magnus’ gaze and held it with the inescapable coldness of steel. “I think you’re losing perspective, Magnus. An alliance with the Nephilim will be the end of us all.”
Something clicked in Magnus’ head. Neither of his guests harbored any long-lost love for the Shadowhunters, but this was wrong. Something was wrong.
“I disagree. Obviously,” he said icily. Then he brightened up and did the only thing he could do in that situation: deflect. “What would you like to do? Continue this fruitless conversation or enjoy a fancy dinner?” He stood, ready to lead the way to the table he had set up in the dining room.
“Magnus, this is serious!” Thomas exploded in very un-British fashion. He sat still and stiff, his hands balled into fists in his lap. His warlock mark, teeth set into sharp files like those of a shark’s, was showing. “Have you forgotten what they’ve done to us? The ‘souvenirs’ they’ve taken right off our bodies? How long before your boyfriend comes after your cat eyes?”
Magnus felt fury beyond comprehension wash over him. How dare he? How dare they? How dare anybody? Didn’t they know?
Didn’t they know Alec had almost died because of how different he was? Didn’t they know he had almost died to protect Magnus’ eyes, and Thomas’ teeth, and June’s horns? Didn’t they know he had almost died to safeguard Catarina’s blue skin and Madzie’s gills?
How dare they?
“Fine,” he said, and he hardly recognized his own voice as he, too, let his glamour drop. “If you are here to insult my boyfriend or me, but more importantly my ability as a leader, you can leave. Now. I won’t stop you.”
“I’m sorry, Magnus. We can’t leave,” June said, and her voice sounded very close to Magnus’ ear.
He didn’t manage to turn around in time before magic as white as June’s name wrapped around his wrists and bound them behind his back, morphing into cold, unbreakable iron manacles.
Magnus cursed himself over and over. How stupid he had been, how greenhorn. He had let Thomas get into his head so much that he had forgotten to keep track of June. He should have known better. But Alec was his weakness, and he was just starting to realize how much.
“What are you doing?” he demanded. His head was spinning. He could not make sense of the fact that these were his friends, his people.
“Hundreds of years old, and still so naïve.”
Camille’s voice echoed unpleasantly in his ears.
“We were hoping we could persuade you amicably,” Thomas said, “but I see now that is not the case.”
“You traitors!” Magnus roared, struggling uselessly against the bonds. “So what now?” he spat. “Huh? Are you going to kill me? It will cause an uprising, you fools!”
“Ha!” Thomas scoffed. “And what do you think is going to happen when the Clave finds out Jasmine took your precious Alexander’s runes for us?”
The words hit Magnus like a blast of scorching-hot fire from Hell itself. His friends. His friends had not only betrayed him; they had almost succeeded in taking Alec away from him.
“You—” Magnus’ voice broke from anger. “You two were working with them? Why? How could you help those Shadowhunters destroy the one chance for peace we’ve had in centuries?”
How could you help them destroy my Alexander? How could you help them destroy me? The line was getting blurry—Magnus Bane, the man who was hopelessly, helplessly in love with Alec, and the High Warlock of Brooklyn, always thinking of his people first. Magnus had to laugh at himself for ever thinking they were two separate and separable entities.
“There is no chance for peace, Magnus,” June said. She was standing next to Thomas, back straight, blue eyes implacable. Magnus could hardly recognize her. “Not with them.”
She spat the word like it was a dirty concept. Them. Nephilim. Alexander. Magnus felt sick.
“Better an uprising than an alliance with the wrong people,” Thomas said. He took a few steps closer so that he was almost eye-to-eye with Magnus, and he looked at him with disgust written all over his angular face. “All we wanted was to go our separate ways, but no, you had to fall for their lies and bring us all down with you.”
He closed his hand around Magnus’ jaw, fingertips digging into his cheeks. “I would kill you myself,” he hissed, low and cold and vicious, “but I promised someone I’d let them do the honors.” He snapped his fingers over his shoulder, and the front door to Magnus’ loft burst open.
Fifteen Shadowhunters marched in, black figures in battle gears carrying drawn weapons in their hands and ignorance in their eyes. Demons in their own right, and wasn’t that the darkest irony.
One soldier, a boy who couldn’t be older than twenty, strode forward. Magnus had to wonder about the disgust on his face, had to wonder whom he got it from. He was suddenly hit with memories of Valentine’s Circle—young men and women persecuting all whom they didn’t understand.
The boy took place at Magnus’ right side, while a man in his fifties with a long scar running from his left eye down the whole length of his cheek advanced to his left. Generation upon generation of hatred.
Magnus’ eyes were blown wide with horror, but it wasn’t just darkness from the past that chilled the blood in his veins. He knew he was about to be executed, right here in his living room, and all he could think about was how he didn’t want to go—not now, not yet, not like this—and how devastated Alec would be.
“You don’t get it, Thomas. Do you?” he spoke, and his voice was calm and level even though inside he felt like he was already dying. “I’m not gonna beg, but this will be your end too, not just mine.” He knew this beyond the shadow of a doubt; these people had no idea what they were setting in motion.
“Nice last words, warlock,” the man to his left said, a cruel smirk on his scarred face. He lifted his seraph blade as the boy grabbed the back of Magnus’ head and forcefully pushed him forward.
There was a hissing sound and a sickening thud, but the pain never came. Magnus’ head never rolled on the floor. Instead, the man to his left let out a gurgle and fell.
“Get away from him,” a voice growled—clear, commanding, and taut like a bowstring. “Now.”
Magnus’ head snapped up, the boy’s hold having loosened enough to allow him to straighten himself.
Alec was standing at the opposite end of the room, bow drawn and arrow notched. He looked furious and terrible and deadly—and he was the most beautiful sight Magnus had ever witnessed. Behind him, Clary, Isabelle, and Jace also looked ready to blow up the world.
“I said, move,” Alec ordered, and the boy wisely took a few steps away from Magnus, unwilling to end up with an arrow in his chest like the man who had been wielding the sword.
Thomas moved suddenly, a scorching ball of red magic shooting out of his hands and straight at Alec. Magnus’ heart leaped to his throat, but Alec was able to duck out of the magic’s path.
After that, as if Thomas’ fire had broken a spell, chaos erupted.
Magnus watched with his breath held as the fight raged in his apartment. It wasn’t just Alec he was worried about; by now, the protection spell had worn off, and it was 15-to-4 plus two warlocks. But he soon realized that to Jace and the others, numbers meant nothing.
Jace was whirling around slashing left and right, almost as incandescent as he had been at the docks. Isabelle’s whip cracked with deadly precision. Clary’s belated training had apparently produced a very agile fighter. And Alec…oh, Alec was something. He had, at some point, ditched the bow in favor of a seraph blade, and he was now moving with the lethal, implacable grace of burning lava as he slashed his way to Magnus.
Magnus couldn’t keep his eyes off him. There was a voice at the back of his head telling him that it was too soon, that Alec shouldn’t be thrust in the middle of a bloody skirmish just yet. That Alec’s muscles were still too weak, his body still too slow, and he was going to get himself killed.
But it was hard to listen to those warnings when Alec moved like that. Alec was not slow. He was fierce and lethal and alive. It was like looking at some bright, powerful warrior from the legends.
Magnus realized the middle of a battle where people were more than ready to literally chop his head off was probably not the right time or place to wax poetics, but he couldn’t help himself; such was the power of Alexander Lightwood.
Alec finally reached him, and when he did, he turned around and stood, blade glowing, between Magnus and the attacking Shadowhunters.
Magnus’ heart dropped. He knew there was no better way to get oneself killed in a battle than standing still. “Alexander,” he called, “no.”
Alec half-turned even as he plunged his blade into the stomach of a charging Shadowhunters. “These people want to kill you,” he said, quite unnecessarily. “They’re here for you. And you’re powerless.”
Magnus did his best to ignore the pang of anger and shame at the use of that word in regards to his figure. He was powerless, after all; June’s manacles were making sure of it. Still, that did not mean that Alec should put himself like a living barrier between Magnus and a crowd of bloodthirsty warriors.
“Magnus,” Alec cut him off firmly. He threw him a grin over his shoulder, hazel eyes sparkling. “I’ve got this.”
Magnus’ heart skipped a beat. Beautiful, fierce, reckless, gorgeous idiot.
Alec’s blade whirred as he cut down threat after threat.
Suddenly Thomas was there. He all but flew at Alec, magic crackling around his tall form.
Magnus’ stomach spasmed. “ALEXANDER! MOVE!”
But Alec didn’t. There wasn’t one thing he could do against magic, but he still didn’t move. Magnus watched in horror as his self-appointed protector somehow managed to deflect a beam of red magic with his blade and then continued to stand in the path of an enraged warlock.
Alec wasn’t listening. It was as though his body was made of granite, and Magnus knew he would never budge.
There was a sudden blaze of golden light. For a heart-stopping moment, Magnus feared the worst, but he soon realized it hadn’t come from Thomas as the Englishman dropped to the floor like a rock. His stunned gaze followed the now-fading glow all the way to Clary, whose outstretched palm was still pulsating with a golden rune. He was too grateful to focus on his shock, however, and Clary must have read the gratitude on his face, because she smiled and nodded at him.
A few moments later, finally, everything went quiet.
Magnus’ floors were strewn with fifteen Shadowhunter bodies, some dead and some injured, and two unconscious warlocks whose wrists were being efficiently bound by Jace and Isabelle.
Alec turned around, slowly. He moved carefully, like he couldn’t quite believe it was over. It was a sharp contrast with the deadly quickness of his strikes just a moment earlier. The seraph blade fell from his nerveless fingers and landed on the floor with a clang.
Magnus watched him worriedly. Was he hurt? Had Alec gotten hurt without him noticing? “Alexander?”
Then Alec moved. He crossed the distance between them in two long strides and took Magnus’ face between his hands. His fingers were trembling slightly, and his eyes were a little wide as they searched Magnus’ features. He was breathing heavily from adrenaline. “Are you okay?”
Magnus’ heart cracked at the fear written all over Alec’s face. He was suddenly reminded of the terror Alec had displayed the day of Valentine’s massacre at the Institute, when he had told Magnus he loved him for the first time. He was reminded of his own terror in that godforsaken container. And Magnus was really, really tired of terror.
“I’m okay,” he said, softly. “Alexander,” he called after a moment, because Alec was now running his hands over and over along the outlines of his face like he didn’t quite believe that Magnus was whole and safe under his fingertips. “Look at me. I’m okay.”
Clary approached them discreetly. With the delicacy that distinguished her, she didn’t say anything and just gave Magnus a happy, relieved smile over Alec’s shoulder. Then she went around and penetrated June’s magic with her stele, finally breaking the bonds around Magnus’ wrists.
Magnus didn’t have the chance to thank her, because next thing he knew, he was being pulled into a bone-crushing hug. It wasn’t until the moment Alec’s arms closed around him that he realized just how afraid he had been for himself, too. He clung to this fierce warrior who had come for him against all odds, and abandoned himself into his embrace.
“It’s okay,” Alec murmured against the back of Magnus’ head. “You’re okay.”
Magnus closed his eyes and turned his head so that his face was half-buried against Alec’s neck. “Thank you,” he whispered over the warm skin. He could feel Alec’s pulse underneath his lips, a soft if still-too-fast thrumming that soothed his soul.
There was the pointed clearing of someone’s throat. “I don’t want to spoil the moment, guys,” Jace said, “but we still have two rogue warlocks to deal with.”
Reluctantly, Alec stepped away from Magnus and slipped back into his official role. The transformation was almost instantaneous—his posture erect and commanding, wrists locking behind his back in that authoritative stance of his.
“The warlocks are not Shadowhunter business,” he announced. “Magnus gets to decide what to do with them, whether he wants to send them to the Clave or punish them according to warlock laws.”
“Alec, are you insane?” Isabelle cried, clearly outraged. “They deruned you!”
Alec didn’t even flinch. “And I trust their leader to punish them accordingly.”
Magnus allowed himself a moment to look at Alec. He did his best to remain just as professional, but he wasn’t sure his awe and admiration weren’t showing on his face. Nobody, nobody among the Shadowhunters had ever put the laws of the Downworld first. Ever. This was a revolutionary act, and it was happening right here in Magnus’ apartment.
“Send them to the Clave, Alexander,” he said after a moment’s consideration. “They’re traitors. They will be treated as such, and it will send a clear message to everyone.”
Alec nodded. “As you wish.”
In that revealing, stark-clear moment, Magnus realized that what he wished for—a world where Downworlders and Shadowhunters were no longer not-so-cordial enemies—may not be so out of reach after all.
 The name Bialik is thought to have originated from the Polish word, biały, meaning white.
Chapter 19: Let Go
— “and let go
give these ghosts a new home
and let’s bury our past
and our fears
and all these bones”
- Circles, EDEN
* * *
Alec’s heart was still slamming violently against his ribcage. He felt like it might explode out of his chest at any moment. He leaned briefly against the front door and surveyed the damage. The bodies and prisoners had all been cleared out, but the loft was still a mess of bloodstains and upturned or broken objects. It made Alec’s stomach clench to see Magnus’ home in that state, but it was a different kind of damage that truly worried him.
Magnus was standing in the middle of the living room, looking a little lost. Alec walked up to him and gently commanded his attention, placing a hand on his hip and cupping his cheek with the other.
“Hey,” he said quietly, searching Magnus’ distant gaze with his own. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Magnus jolted slightly, but he covered up the reaction with a smile. “I’m all right. I was aware there were other warlocks involved. It’s just…” He heaved a small sigh that still carried all the disappointment in the world. “I never would have expected it to be them. We were friends, once.”
He shook his head as if to clear it and snapped himself out of it, offering another smile. “But I was saved by my knight in shining armor, so I guess I can’t complain.” He placed a hand on Alec’s chest, palm open. “Besides, seeing you fight gives me ideas.” He winked and gave a suggestive smirk.
Alec knew Magnus was deflecting, but for the time being, he decided not to push. For now, he returned Magnus’ grin, tugged his warlock closer, and kissed him. And just like that, all the fear rushed back to him—the bone-deep dread he had felt when he had burst into the loft to find his own people about to execute the man he loved.
So Alec pulled Magnus in just a little tighter, kissed him just a little harder. When they finally pulled apart, his heart was still beating too fast. Magnus was looking at him curiously, and Alec took a shuddering breath and let the fear rush out of him in the form of jumbled words he ended up stumbling over.
“Magnus, I…seeing that sword about to descend on you…I was more terrified than I was in that container.”
Magnus’ eyes became overly bright for a moment, their centuries-old gaze almost too intense to bear, but the shadows were gone almost as quickly as they had descended. “I know, Alexander,” he said, reaching up to touch Alec’s cheek. “But it’s okay now. You saved me.”
Alec clung to those words as though they were a rock in a storm.
“You saved me.”
“Once a Shadowhunter, always a Shadowhunter.”
He wasn’t helpless. He wasn’t useless.
“It’s okay,” Magnus said again, carding his fingers through Alec’s hair. He smiled gently. “Now, what do you say about a hot, relaxing bath? I certainly need it. We’ll talk about the heavy stuff later.”
Alec knew Magnus well enough by now to recognize the signs. His boyfriend needed a moment—or two, or three—to come to terms with what had happened. To extricate the thoughts in his head and disentangle the emotions in his chest. And if Alec were honest with himself, he would admit to needing the same.
“I don’t wanna talk,” he said. “I just…” He trailed off helplessly. All he wanted to do was hold Magnus close for the rest of time, or at the very least for a few hours. But he didn’t know how to say it, so he just smiled. “A bath sounds great.”
And it really did; this had been Alec’s first fight since he was stripped of his runes, and he felt achy and exhausted.
Magnus lit up, and Alec thought he would have agreed to bathe in lava if it made Magnus’ eyes shine like that.
“Excellent!” Magnus said, and he leaned in to press a quick peck to Alec’s lips. He was half on his way out of the living room when he stopped. “And…Alexander? I know. How you feel.” He didn’t turn around as he spoke, and his voice was light but also softer than Alec had ever heard it before. “After we rescued you from that container, I wanted to hold you close and never let go. I still want it.”
Alec remained frozen in shock for only a split second, then he launched forward. He grabbed Magnus’ arm and spun him around, and he crushed their mouths together, one arm wrapping around Magnus’ waist to hold the warlock firmly against him. He didn’t have the words to express all the turmoil, all the spectrum of emotions swirling inside him; he didn’t know the language, so he let his touch speak for him.
Magnus responded immediately. He encircled Alec’s shoulders with one arm and cupped his neck with his other hand, and he pulled him in closer, deepening the kiss. And Alec understood—that Magnus didn’t have the words, either. That they didn’t need any. That they could speak their own language.
Magnus was now pressing butterfly kisses over every inch of Alec’s face, and Alec felt breathless and giddy and still a little terrified. Then Magnus’ lips slid down, mapping a path along Alec’s throat, outlining the deflect rune on the side of his neck, drawing the lines of his collarbone.
As Alec threw his head back to grant Magnus more access, Magnus’ hands also began to move, stripping Alec of his battle gear and t-shirt with the dexterity of centuries of experience. The warlock pressed hungry and yet somewhat reverential kisses over Alec’s torso as he pushed him gently but firmly back towards the couch.
Alec’s world was exploding with colors, as it always did whenever Magnus’ touch was on him. He took hold of Magnus’ shoulders and pulled him on top of him as he fell backwards onto the couch cushions. He chased Magnus’ mouth earnestly, his body arching up into the warlock’s.
It was like coming home. For the first time since his ordeal, Alec stopped doubting who he was; Magnus was the answer to every question he’d ever had.
Magnus continued to draw patterns on Alec’s torso with his mouth, and as he did, he unbuttoned Alec’s pants and tugged them off quickly. His lips never left Alec’s skin. In that moment, it was like the universe fell away. Like nothing else mattered to Magnus—nothing but Alec. And Alec couldn’t wrap his mind around it, couldn’t comprehend how he could be everything to this man, even for just one moment.
“Magnus…” he whispered. His heart was beating unbelievably fast inside his chest. “Magnus, I…” He swallowed against his too-rapid heartbeat and cupped Magnus’ cheek with his hand, stopping the warlock’s passionate actions for a moment so that he could look him in the eye. Magnus had lost control and his cat eyes were on full display. Alec’s breath caught, as it always did whenever Magnus showed him his mark. “I don’t think I can live without you.”
He was sure of it. He had never been surer of anything in his life, and he needed Magnus to know.
Magnus froze. Alec watched as the words sank in and Magnus’ amber eyes got even brighter. Even warmer. Even more beautiful. The warlock bent lower, until he was close enough that the two of them might as well have blended into one being.
“Neither could I, Alexander,” he whispered, and he covered Alec’s mouth with his own once again, and he took Alec’s breath and soul away. As for Alec’s heart, it had been Magnus’ all along.
* * *
There were streetlights filtering through, even at this height. It was one of Alec’s favorite things about Magnus’ place—the gilded semi-darkness it remained bathed in at nighttime. It was comforting and magical to him. Just like Magnus.
Alec watched the man sleep. He watched the lights of the city and the inky darkness of nighttime dance on Magnus’ golden skin as he lay on his stomach, one arm thrown under the pillow, half-hugging it, and the other outstretched towards Alec.
Alec badly wanted to touch him. He wanted to reach out and run his fingertips along Magnus’ bare back, draw every inch of skin and outline of muscle into existence under his hands. But Magnus’ sleep was a fragile thing, and Alec didn’t dare disturb it. So he just watched, his own back against the headboard, and he sat vigil.
He didn’t know how long he sat there, just him and the dark and the night lights of New York, before Magnus stirred. The warlock let out a long breath and reached out a hand, patting blindly in the dark, clearly puzzled by the fact that his fingers encountered Alec’s thigh rather than his chest.
“Alex’nder?” he mumbled. “’s wrong?”
To Alec, the slurring quality of Magnus’ words was indication enough of just how overwhelmed the warlock still was by the night’s events. Not that Alec blamed him; he had yet to close his eyes since they had gone to bed.
He reached down and took Magnus’ searching hand, entwining their fingers together and running his thumb along Magnus’ knuckles. There were no rings on Magnus’ fingers. Alec liked the feel of the nakedness of them, the knowledge that for now, in this lifetime, he was the only one who got to see and experience the High Warlock of Brooklyn’s powerful hands in their raw, unembellished state.
“Nothing,” he whispered. “Go back to sleep.”
Magnus’ hand tightened momentarily around Alec’s. “No,” he said, sounding already more awake, “I’m not going back to sleep unless you lie down with me.” He turned on his side, fingers still firmly entangled with Alec’s and arm now resting on Alec’s abdomen, and he peered intently up into Alec’s face. “You seem tense, darling. Talk to me.”
Alec considered not doing it. He considered lying back down and taking Magnus in his arms, and leaving the world and the fear and the strain out of this room for just a little bit longer. But Magnus was looking at him with eyes bright in the inky, gold-tinged semi-darkness, and Alec found himself unable to dismiss him.
He took in a shaky breath and exhaled slowly. “I just…I can’t stop thinking about it.”
Magnus was silent for a moment. “The deruning?” he asked, tentatively.
Alec gave a small smile. “No, Magnus. I don’t care what happens to me.” He stroked Magnus’ knuckles with his thumb once again, and he did his best to let that motion soothe him. “I can’t stop thinking about the fact that if I’d been half a second later…” He trailed off and took another breath. It almost caught in his throat.
Alec had experienced many close calls in his life, but this one was staying with him. This one had lodged itself deep underneath his skin, somewhere in-between nerve and muscle, and it didn’t seem inclined to go anywhere anytime soon. There was only one thing keeping him from going crazy with the what-ifs running through his head.
“I wanted to watch over you for a bit while you slept.” Protecting Magnus. Guarding his sleep. Making sure he was there and safe and whole. That was the only thing that could somehow quieten the turmoil raging within Alec. “I know it’s stupid, you being the High Warlock of Brooklyn and all that, but I just…I needed to do it.”
Magnus chuckled gently. He pulled himself up and slid an arm behind the small of Alec’s back so he could rest his head on Alec’s shoulder. “It’s not stupid,” he said. “I couldn’t stop doing the very same thing after what happened to you.” He pressed a small kiss to the side of Alec’s neck. “I’m here, Alexander. You’re here. That’s all that matters.”
Alec squeezed Magnus’ fingers and looked down at him curiously. “You watched over me while I slept?” He racked his brain for the memories, but the two days after he was brought back to the Institute were a blur of fever dreams and burning pain, and he had no idea what had gone down. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t remember it.”
“I had to share the vigil with Jace and Izzy, but yes, of course I watched over you.” Magnus frowned. “Why are you even surprised?”
“I’m not,” Alec said immediately. “I just wish I remembered.” He turned his head and pressed a kiss to the top of Magnus’ hair.
“I…” Magnus’ breath caught. “I wish we could both forget what happened in that container.”
Alec wrapped an arm around Magnus and pulled him impossibly closer, their skin warm and their hearts racing. “When the warlock transformed…do you know how I knew it wasn’t you?”
Magnus shook his head and held Alec’s hand even tighter.
“She called me Alec. And I didn’t feel any relief the first time she walked in with your face. I would know you anywhere.”
Alec had had a moment’s doubt when Jasmine first had transformed into Jace, much to his shame, but never when she had pretended to be Magnus. He had known immediately that something was wrong, that the one standing in front of him wasn’t his warlock.
If only his instincts had been that sharp back when Valentine was in Magnus’ body…if only he had listened to his doubts back then, too… Alec pushed those thoughts away forcefully, knowing it would do no good to dwell on them now.
“Magnus, you got me through,” he said instead. “You and Jace. I knew you’d come.”
Magnus was silent for so long that Alec actually began to fear he may have lost him to the memories that so clearly still haunted both of them.
“Remember when I told you nothing was as devastating as seeing you standing on that ledge?” Magnus finally spoke, his voice so quiet that Alec barely heard it. “I felt the same fear when you were stuck inside the Institute during Valentine’s attack. But nothing, nothing is comparable to what I saw in that container. I think the only reason Jace and I didn’t lose it completely was that we wanted to so desperately to save you and fix you that we just had to keep going. But the thing is—”
Magnus paused. He took a deep, somewhat shaky breath, and Alec didn’t have to look at his face to know that his eyes were probably squeezed shut. “The thing is, every time I close my eyes, I hear your screams, I see your terrified face, and only when I see you do I realize you’re safe.”
Alec stared down at his boyfriend in shock and absorbed the words like a physical blow. Until now, he had not realized how deeply what happened to him had affected Magnus. He wanted to tell him he understood. He wanted to tell him he couldn’t sleep whenever he was at the Institute, because there was no one there who knew how to calm the nightmares when he woke up drenched in sweat.
But he didn’t say it, because shame burned too fierce in the pit of his stomach.
“Magnus,” he whispered instead, and he gently lifted Magnus’ face so he could look him in the eye. The terror he could see lingering in the warlock’s irises shook him deeply. “I’m so sorry you had to see that. But I’m all right now. I’m here. You got me out.”
Magnus stared at him so intently, one would think he was trying to commit Alec’s features to memory so that he could paint them. “I did,” he said. “But tell me…how much is it all affecting you, really? You’ve barely spoken about it, Alexander. Do you have nightmares? Are you afraid?”
Alec looked away. He had promised himself he would never speak of it, but here, in the dark and the safety of Magnus’ house, he couldn’t find the room or the energy for masks.
“I can’t…” He took a deep breath and tried again. “I can’t sleep. Every time I fall asleep, I’m back there. I can’t fight as well as I used to, and it makes me feel…powerless. Izzy still looks at me like she’s terrified I’m going to keel over. Jace is the only one who lets me do what I need to do, but it’s obvious he feels guilty, and I don’t know how to make it better for him.”
He let it all pour out. Here with the night lights of New York City reflecting in Magnus’ eyes, Alec let his walls fall. “I can’t sleep, Magnus,” he said again, quietly.
Magnus, who in the meanwhile had pulled away from Alec to sit up straight, now took both of Alec’s hands in his. “It’s only a matter of time. Your fighting skills will return to normal soon enough. And how can you say you’re powerless? Look at how you fought tonight.”
“I was sloppy—”
“No, you weren’t,” Magnus cut him off firmly. “You saved my life.”
Alec swallowed. It felt like his throat was lined with sandpaper.
“Jace and Izzy just need some time to heal,” Magnus continued. “We all do. None of this is on you, Alexander. You have to stop beating yourself up.”
“No. I need you to listen to me.” Magnus’ eyes were burning, their intense gaze boring into Alec as though he was trying to see into Alec’s soul. “You’re gonna be okay. The nightmares will slow down eventually. In the meantime, you don’t have to sleep alone. I’ll be with you every night. If you want me to.”
Alec wanted nothing more than to listen to Magnus and let go, but he still couldn’t shake off the sense of utter humiliation that lingered within him. “I’m a Shadowhunter, Magnus,” he said, his voice sharp with self-deprecation. “I’m not supposed to let things of war affect me.”
Magnus actually scoffed. “Being deruned is not a ‘thing of war.’” He brought one of Alec’s hand up to his lips and kissed it. “I wish you would stop being so harsh on yourself.”
Alec bit down on his bottom lip and scowled. He knew Magnus was right, but a lifetime of it being drilled into him that he had to be stronger than any circumstances was hard to erase.
“Can I really sleep here for a while?” he asked after a moment.
Magnus smiled. “This is your home, Alexander. You really don’t have to ask.”
Alec paused. Magnus’ loft had begun to feel like home some time ago, but it had never been said out loud. He had never dared to, not knowing how Magnus would feel about it. He now found himself breaking into a huge smile as Magnus’ declaration wiped everything else away—all the far, all the disgust in himself, all the horror…gone, erased by the statement that there was someone and somewhere he truly belonged to.
Alec leaned in and kissed Magnus’ lips—slowly, softly, as though his life depended on it. Which it did. It did, on a deeper level than he had ever thought possible. But instead of terrifying him, that realization brought a sense of peace as he had never known.
“Thank you,” he whispered against Magnus’ mouth, and he wasn’t only talking about Magnus letting him sleep over.
“Anytime, Alexander,” Magnus murmured, running his fingers gently through Alec’s hair.
Alec smiled. He finally unglued himself from the headboard and lay down, pulling Magnus with him to rest over his chest. The moment his head hit the pillow and his body began to register Magnus’ warmth, Alec felt the insistent tug of sleep. He had always known Magnus was magical, but this must be sorcery, this power that Magnus had over him.
As he finally drifted off, Alec thought that for all that he had been taught not to trust magic, this was a spell he didn’t mind being under.
Chapter 20: Oxygen
We're so close to the end of this ride! Only two chapters left. Thank you so much to everyone who's been with us on this journey.
This chapter is dedicated to my parabatai, @valfromrome, who hasn't read it yet. Val, I wanted to surprise you with the edited and refined version of the first scene. I hope you'll like it! ♥
And I hope everyone else will, too.
Happy reading, folks!
— “since you took my breath again
would you share your oxygen?
so I can breathe one breath of air
intoxicated by your stare”
- All This Time, Heartless Bastards
* * *
Alec woke up with the sun. Literally. Outside, the sky had just begun to tinge with the indigo-pink light of dawn. He inhaled deeply and smiled as Magnus’ familiar scent invaded his nostrils.
As it turned out, Alec had his face pressed into Magnus’ hair. It smelled like sandalwood and meadows. Sometime during the night, they had moved around so that Alec’s chest was now pressed against Magnus’ back, his arm thrown over Magnus’ waist, effectively locking the warlock against him.
Alec smiled. He kissed Magnus’ bare shoulder and pulled away gently. He stretched cautiously. His body felt stiff, but surprisingly less so than what he would have expected after the battle from the previous night. He shuddered as he remembered the blade hovering over Magnus’ neck.
Alec ran his open palm lightly over Magnus’ side and let that small touch chase away the lingering anguish, then he quietly left the bed.
The brisk early morning air hit him square in the face as soon as he stepped out onto the terrace. He took a deep breath and relished the feeling of his lungs expanding and filling. The tiles were cold under his bare feet, but he didn’t mind; it was invigorating.
From letting the energy of dawn seep into his body to stepping into a familiar flow of pars and hits, it was a brief step.
The sequences were basic enough: “Always start with the basics and work it up from there,” Hodge used to say. “Sometimes your right hook is your most effective weapon.”
Alec felt a pang as he remembered his old instructor. Despite everything, he could never bring himself to fully resent him. Hodge had been scared and desperate, but Alec couldn’t shake the feeling that deep down, the man had genuinely cared about him and his siblings. More than once, he had wondered if Hodge Starkweather could have been saved.
He took another large lungful of bracing morning air, and he kept going.
Jab, cross, left hook, duck, uppercut.
Insert the legs. Slam your thigh upward as you get up.
Jab, cross, duck.
Breathe. Be water.
For the first time in what felt like a lifetime, Alec was breathing.
Duck. Par. Dive forward.
“Be water, Alec. Keep moving.”
Be water, Alec.
It was different from the training he had been doing back at the Institute over the past few days. The near-frantic urgency was gone, that mad drive to be stronger-faster-better. While his training sessions at the Institute had been almost feverish in pace, this one on Magnus’ terrace was strangely nourishing. This was Alec slowing down, relearning his body. Relearning himself.
He never wanted to stop, but eventually, he found that he had to; he still tired too easily. He felt a wave of humiliation rush over him, powerful enough that he nearly staggered from it; he was supposed to be more resilient than this. He was supposed to be better. Always better.
Then he remembered Magnus’ warning to be patient with himself, and to his surprise, the memory of the soft note in Magnus’ voice was enough to quiet him down. He would just catch his breath and start again in a moment. Magnus was asleep and safe, and the morning air was cooling the sweat on Alec’s skin. All was good.
That was when he realized that Magnus wasn’t asleep at all. In fact, the warlock was currently standing framed by the open French doors, fingers gracefully entwined in front of him, his gaze fixed on Alec.
Alec cringed. He had promised Magnus he would take it easy, and here he was, throwing jabs and kicks on his terrace at dawn. He walked over to his boyfriend and couldn’t help but stare. The man was beautiful, standing there in only his blue silk pajama bottoms, his hair tousled, his expression unguarded.
Idly, Alec noticed he was still breathing heavily, and he wasn't sure it was from physical exertion alone. “Don’t be mad,” he said, pressing a quick but warm kiss to Magnus’ lips and giving him a sheepish smile.
Magnus arched an eyebrow. “Mad?” he repeated, clearly stunned at the suggestion. “Why would I be mad, darling? This is actually one of the best sights I’ve ever woken up to.” He grinned seductively.
Alec blushed. He wanted to reach out, pull Magnus to him, and kiss him senseless. Maybe make love to him right then and there, outside, with the dawn breaking and the cool air on their skin. But his body was still begging for movement, his veins overflowing with the need to focus, to be.
Alec walked away from Magnus and fed his own needs, limbs moving like second nature into one of his favorite fighting flows.
“What are you doing up anyway?” he asked without ever pausing his movements. “You had one hell of a night, you should be resting.”
“I would have loved to sleep in, but apparently, I can’t handle an empty bed lately,” Magnus teased. “So I came looking for you.”
Alec threw a roundhouse kick and gave Magnus an apologetic smile as he whirled back. “Sorry.”
Magnus sighed theatrically from behind him. “Will you ever stop apologizing, Alexander?” He walked up to Alec and grabbed his arm, gently forcing him to turn around.
Alec was about to protest, to say that he was fine, that he could do this, that he needed to do this, when he noticed that Magnus didn’t seem to be wanting to stop him. Magnus was, in fact, looking at him with dark eyes that sparkled in the pink light of dawn.
The warlock took Alec’s face between his hands and leaned in to kiss him. When he pulled back, there was a gentle smile on his face. “Would you like to spar with me?”
Alec stared at him. They were standing incredibly close, and his heart was pounding as it always did whenever Magnus was within kissing distance. Then Magnus’ words registered, and he frowned. “What do you know about sparring?”
Magnus smirked. “Try me.”
Alec blinked, taken aback. Then he threw a jab, lightning-fast, his whole body moving into Magnus’ guard.
There was a flick of Magnus’ wrist, but it wasn’t accompanied by any sparks of magic. Instead, there was a slap to Alec’s forearm, and next thing he knew, Magnus was making him spin, holding his wrist with one hand and blocking his shoulder joint with the other.
Alec had no idea how Magnus had done it. He recovered quickly from the shock and freed himself from the lever. He smiled in wonder and excitement, veins and nerves and muscles vibrating from the desire to do this, to try himself against Magnus and to have Magnus try himself against him.
“Okay,” he said, voice rough with anticipation. “Let’s do this. But you can’t use magic.”
Magnus snapped his fingers, and his pajama pants were suddenly replaced with a pair of performance sweatpants that fit around his hips sinfully enough that Alec almost forgot about everything else, intent as he was on staring.
“I promise,” Magnus said. “No cheating.”
Alec moved backwards, putting some distance between them and raising his guard. He had no idea what to expect.
As it turned out, Magnus used a fighting style Alec had never seen before. He wondered what remote part of the world it came from. It was flowing and graceful, as though Magnus was dancing. It was extremely effective, too; more than once, Alec found himself in trouble. It was new and exciting, and it fed his fire.
Magnus didn’t go at the same breakneck speed that Jace did. Jace fed Alec’s urgency to get better, while Magnus was doing something different that Alec had not even realized he needed. Magnus was teaching him that slower was not less effective. That fighting could be healing. Alec wanted to ask him, where he had learned to fight and to heal like that. But words didn’t seem appropriate at this time.
Magnus’ knee came towards Alec’s exposed side, and Alec slammed his forearms down as though they were a shield, and he pushed the warlock back. Magnus all but somersaulted away and then moved forward, all in one single graceful flow, as though each movement generated another in an organic series of acts of creation. It was like watching ripples. Like Magnus truly were water. Alec had the sudden, crazy thought that he might be sparring with the ocean.
Words didn’t belong on this terrace, in this dawn. There was no banter with Magnus, no sound but their breathing and the soft thud of limbs on limbs as hits connected and pars shielded. It was the purest, most ancestral fighting Alec had ever done. It was bodies and souls and instincts and minds. And water.
“Be water,” Hodge used to say.
Magnus didn’t say it; he just showed him.
Then one of Magnus’ waves surged and Alec missed a beat, and suddenly he was on the ground.
Magnus was not sprawled on top of him like a Shadowhunter warrior might have been. His forearm was not pressing down on Alec’s windpipe. Magnus was half-standing over him, one leg extended and the other bent at the knee. He had Alec’s wrist in one hand, pinned to the floor by Alec’s head, and his palm resting open on Alec’s chest. Alec knew that in battle, this would be the moment when Magnus blasted killer magic into his ribcage.
Alec looked up at the warlock, his breath taken away by more than just the exercise. He was in awe of this man, and he was in awe of the fact that he had him in his life. He could have freed himself, but he didn’t want to. Instead, he reached up with a lightning-fast movement of his own and grabbed Magnus’ nape, and he pulled him down and kissed him until he forgot how to breathe.
“Alexander…” Magnus murmured once they pulled apart. He had a dazed smile on his face. “Feeling better, darling?”
“Much.” Alec was still panting. He stared up at Magnus for a long moment. “You…Magnus, it’s like watching a river.” He could hear the wonder in his own voice.
Magnus chuckled. “I might have learned a thing or two from an ancient master. But you, Alexander…you fight amazingly.”
“No.” Alec shook his head. Magnus didn’t get it. Somehow, he wasn’t conveying enough of his admiration. He sat up, still feeling dizzy with marvel from what he had just witnessed. “No, what you do…I never knew fighting could be beautiful.” He reached out and cupped Magnus’ cheek. “You’re beautiful.”
Magnus broke into a soft smile and reached up to cover Alec’s hand with his own. “So are you, Alexander.”
Alec’s breath caught in his throat. He had never felt more alive than in this moment, skin glistening with sweat and heart full of everything that was Magnus. He leaned in and kissed the warlock again, soft and slow.
“Thank you,” he whispered, pressing his forehead gently against Magnus’. “For what you did just now.”
He wasn’t sure Magnus grasped the enormity of the gift he had just given him, or that he had the words to make him understand. But when they pulled apart, Magnus was smiling, and he had a look in his dark eyes that told Alec he had heard everything—the said and the unsaid alike. And Alec felt home, and heard, and understood, so much so that he barely resisted the urge to pull Magnus into his arms again.
Instead, he accepted Magnus’ outstretched hand and let himself be pulled to his feet. Sweat was also glistening over Magnus’ golden skin, and it was all Alec could do not to kiss him again and again.
“How about a shower and then breakfast?” Magnus said, eyes dancing. It was clear their morning activity had done wonders for his mood, too. He walked with a lighter step, and he didn’t seem as burdened as he had been the night before. “Do you have time? Or do they need you back at the Institute?”
Alec scratched the back of his neck, feeling suddenly self-conscious. “I asked Jace and Izzy to cover for me today,” he admitted after a moment. “I wanted to be here.”
There was simply no way he was letting Magnus out of his sight so soon after what had happened, but he didn’t say it out loud; he knew he didn’t have to.
If Magnus was bothered by Alec’s newfound overprotective streak, he didn’t show it. “Are you telling me,” he said instead, with a teasing grin on his face, “that the Head of the Institute is finally learning to take time for himself?”
“Maybe,” Alec said, grinning right back, relieved that Magnus wasn’t making a big deal out of it.
Five minutes later, hot water was running down the length of Alec’s back, but he barely felt it. The shower could have been pouring lava down his skin, and he wouldn’t have noticed. Because he had Magnus pinned against the wall of the shower cabin, skin wet and cat eyes showing. And he had Magnus’ lips pressed against his own, and Magnus’ tongue inside his mouth, and his own fingers tangled in Magnus’ hair.
The world could have ended, and Alec wouldn’t have noticed. And he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
* * *
Magnus’ head was spinning. His heart was beating a mile a minute in his chest, and there were butterflies in his stomach whose flapping was so massive it could have caused a hurricane.
Never, in his four-hundred-something years of age, had he known that fighting could be joyful. Never had he known the cleansing power of water so intimately as just now, in the shower with Alec. Never had he known the process of healing and coming to oneself and to each other in such a profound, inescapable way. Never, until Alec Lightwood.
He watched as Alec came to join him in the kitchen, barefooted, hair still tousled and damp from the shower. He was wearing black jeans and a dark-green t-shirt, and he had a casual air about himself that made Magnus think,
‘Yes. You fit. In my home, in my life. You fit.’
It was all he could do not to get Alec flat on the first available horizontal surface and make love to him again. And again, and again, and ag—
Magnus snapped out of it to find Alec watching him somewhat apprehensively.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes,” he said immediately, and he really was. He was more okay than he had been in a very long time. “So, what would you rather have for breakfast? Fresh French croissants with real Italian cappuccino? Eggs? Pancakes? Just ask.” In that moment, Magnus felt like he would have given Alec the world. He would have given him everything.
Alec smiled. “Sit down. I’m making breakfast. That is,” he added as he made a beeline for the fridge, “if you haven’t let everything go bad while…uh…while I wasn’t around.”
Magnus flinched. Even with Alec’s delicate way of putting it, the memories of the time he had spent alone in his loft during the separation he had forced upon them both hit him like a punch in the gut.
It was only now, as he watched Alec move around the kitchen, that Magnus realized how unnatural and empty his apartment had felt without Alec’s presence. Back then, he had been too consumed with hurt and anger to notice.
When Alec pulled open the door of the fridge, they were both hit with the smell of rotting eggs, decaying vegetables, and curdling milk.
Alec took out the milk carton and sniffed it. “Ugh,” he grimaced. “Then again, you may have to conjure up the ingredients.”
Magnus gave him a sheepish smile. “I’m a disaster, Alexander. What do you need?”
“Eggs. Milk. Bread. Maple syrup. Fresh fruit, any kind you want.”
The ingredients appeared on the counter with a flick of Magnus’ wrist, and he watched as Alec set to work.
Magnus could have watched Alec move about his kitchen forever. There was an ease to his gestures, a kind of ordinary grace stemming from an appreciation for the mundane that Magnus didn’t think he had ever possessed, or that perhaps he had forgotten.
Magnus didn’t cook—at least, not with conventional methods. He couldn’t remember the last time he had made breakfast. But Alec liked to, from time to time, and he had taken to keeping a few basic ingredients in Magnus’ fridge. Magnus had long suspected that was his boyfriend’s very own way of taking care of him through little, ordinary gestures that Magnus had forgotten or had simply never known how to do for himself. It made him fall in love with Alec even more.
A short time later, Alec had black coffee, green tea, and French toast with a side of fresh fruit ready. He brought everything over to the kitchen island and watched as Magnus practically attacked his plate.
Magnus would have felt embarrassed about appearing so unashamedly ravenous if it weren’t for the fact that the flavors exploding in his mouth were making his taste buds sing.
“Magnus,” Alec began cautiously, “while I was away, or…before I was well…did you…”
He trailed off, and Magnus looked up. Alec seemed worried.
“What, Alexander?” he prodded, taking a long, restorative sip of green tea.
“Did you eat anything while I was gone?”
Magnus blinked, completely and utterly taken aback by the question. He had not, in fact, been eating (certainly not enough). He had not, in fact, been taking care of himself—which was really what Alec was asking. But he had not expected Alec to notice and call him on it, surely not in the midst of all the chaos of the past few weeks. The butterflies in Magnus’ stomach kicked up a new storm.
“I guess I haven’t,” he admitted after a moment. “Not much, anyway.” He gave Alec a small smile. “I told you, I’m a disaster.”
Alec sighed. He walked around the island so he could stand behind Magnus, and he leaned down to press a soft kiss to the back of Magnus’ neck.
Magnus leaned into him, his back against Alec’s abdomen and his head against Alec’s chest, and he took comfort from the solidity of Alec’s presence.
Alec ran his fingers through Magnus’ hair for a few precious, anchoring moments before he gently stepped away to take a seat across from him. He smiled in satisfaction as he watched Magnus resume his meal. “You like it?”
“It’s delicious, Alexander,” Magnus said as he swallowed another mouthful of French toast. “Now please, eat.”
Alec did, digging in with the same enthusiasm.
Magnus let him be for a while, relishing the sight of his boyfriend relaxing for the first time in weeks. He was more than reluctant to break this newfound peace, but a question had begun to nag at him.
“Alexander?” he finally said after long, blissful minutes. “Last night…” He almost lost his nerve when Alec’s features darkened at record speed, but he knew this was a conversation they needed to have. “How did you know I was in danger?”
Alec had frozen with the mug halfway to his lips, and now he bid his time by taking a suspiciously long sip of coffee. “Jace and I interrogated Raj,” he said eventually. “I wanted the names of the warlocks.”
Magnus felt an almost-overwhelming wave of rage wash over him. The thought of Alec in the same room with that man made his blood boil and his stomach clench.
“I gather you wanted to be there personally,” he said after a moment, once he had his emotions back under control, “because I’m fairly confident Jace could have handled it on his own.”
“I had to be the one to do it, because…” Alec trailed off, but Magnus heard it anyway: “I had to protect you.”
He reached out past mugs and dishes and covered Alec’s hand with his own. “I understand,” he said. “You don’t have to explain.” He kept his fingers intertwined with Alec’s for a few moments, relishing the warmth. “What did Raj say? Did you find out who’s behind it?”
“He said they’re members of the Clave,” Alec said dispassionately. “We’ll find out. Back then I was more preoccupied with getting the warlock-related information.”
Magnus’ heart had begun to pound mercilessly within his ribcage. “Alexander, you can’t overlook this. If Clave members are the ones responsible, you’re still in danger.” He could feel the magic stirring anew in his veins, making his blood boil and his power vibrate. He could not, would not, let those bastards get their hands on Alec again.
“I’m not overlooking it, Magnus,” Alec said, the sharp note in his voice pulling Magnus away from his vengeful reverie. “I’ll do more interrogations first thing tomorrow. But I knew it was only a matter of time before the warlocks came for you, and I…Magnus, I had to do it. For you. The Clave traitors could wait.”
Alec’s body was once again taut with tension, the urgency and the fear from the previous day slamming back into him with such force that Magnus could practically see it happening.
Magnus himself was still struggling to process everything that had happened over the past few weeks, but for all that his magic was pulsing, he chose to focus on what he knew for certain—that they had saved each other’s lives, that they were here, alive, and they were healing, slowly but surely. Fear and anger could wait for one day.
“I know, Alexander,” he said, reaching out to take Alec’s hand again, thumb stroking over Alec’s rough knuckles. “I know. Listen, you have the day off. Everything can be postponed until tomorrow. What do you say we do something nice?”
He expected Alec to turn him down, to say that they should take care of it right away, that the lingering anguish deserved their immediate attention.
Instead, Alec lit up. “Yes,” he breathed, and he sounded so relieved that it took Magnus completely by surprise. He leaned across the table and cupped Magnus’ nape, and he brought him in for a kiss that tasted like gratitude. “I love you.”
And Magnus understood, experienced the stark-clear realization that what they both needed most of all, right then and there, was the grace of lightness.
“I love you, too,” he said. He said it with a light smile on his face, but it carried all the weight of his soul. And he was sure Alec heard it.
Chapter 21: To Atone
We're baaaaack! Massive, MASSIVE apologies for going so long without an update. We hope you'll forgive us and stick with us for the end of this ride. Only one more chapter to go (which, we promise, will be much swifter in coming), and then that's it for this little tale of ours. We had a blast and hope you did, too.
Please check out the end of the chapter for a couple of relevant notes. Enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
— “hollow all your arrows
follow, you’re Apollo
all praying in your shallows
oh, scaling all your shadows
to your marrow
- Ontario, Novo Amor
* * *
It was early the next morning when Alec walked back into the Institute. Outside, the sky was still dark. He had been reluctant to leave Magnus’ bed (their bed?) so early, but he had found he could not keep still one minute longer. Now that he had recharged his batteries and felt more like himself than he had in days, he was dying to put a stop to the whole mess once and for all.
The Institute was just waking up. The nighttime patrol teams were just returning. Alec walked through the sleepy corridors and ignored the stares his fellow Shadowhunters gave him; they still looked at him like he was a ghost, or like he was back from the grave. He supposed they had a point, but he still couldn’t stand the gazes fixed on him, filled with awe and apprehension.
He made a point not to meet anyone’s eye and mustered up his best martial walk as he made a beeline for the ops center, which at this hour he found utterly empty, except for Jace. His brother was standing in front of one of the large monitors, wearing a contradicting combination of battle-gear pants and a thin hoodie, and holding a cup of coffee in his hand.
Alec smiled. Jace took his role of Vice Head of the Institute very seriously. He walked up to his parabatai and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, Alec!” Jace whirled around as though they hadn’t seen each other in forever. He eyed Alec critically for a moment and then broke into a dimpled smile. “You look well.”
“I’m okay,” Alec said, and for the first time in what felt like an eternity, he actually meant it. “What are you looking at?” he asked, nodding towards the screen.
Jace shrugged and took a sip of coffee. “Nothing. Just monitoring demon activity.”
Alec glanced at the monitor. There were no red flags, no alien beeping—nothing out of sorts. There were no alarms going off, on the screen or in Alec’s mind. It was as though the peace Magnus had gifted him with over the previous day had walked into the Institute right alongside Alec. He half wondered if maybe it was magic.
“I was waiting for you,” Jace said. “I thought we could go and interrogate Raj some more. I don’t think we’re gonna get anywhere with Oakglass.” He paused briefly, his face contorting into a snarl. “Believe me, I’ve tried.”
Alec did his best to ignore the tightening in his stomach. He could feel Jace’s frustration and anger shoot out of his parabatai like an electric current, but he refrained from asking. He didn’t want to know about Jace’s interrogation in the night, not when it involved the man who had carved the parabatai rune out of his flesh.
Alec swallowed inconspicuously and called to him the memory of training on Magnus’ terrace—the sweat and the flow and Magnus’ eyes, and the heat of Magnus’ lips over his—and he let Magnus ground him.
“But before that…” Jace said, dragging Alec out of his reverie. There was a twinkle in Jace’s eyes and a note of mischief in his voice. “How was your day off?”
Alec felt a slight flush begin to creep up to his face from the base of his neck. “It…uh…it was nice,” he stammered.
Jace grinned. “Where’d you go this time? Paris? London? Bangkok?”
“Actually…” Alec was sure the “slight flush” had now taken on a deep shade of crimson. “We went for a picnic in Central Park.”
Jace burst out laughing. “Such a mundane thing to do, Alec!” He slapped Alec’s back hard. “And to think you used to despise Mundanes so much.”
“Shut up,” Alec mumbled, bumping his shoulder against Jace’s.
It was a moment of normalcy, a life-saver after the horror they had just been through. Alec clung to it as they made their way to the cells. He let his parabatai’s presence and the memory of Magnus’ touch anchor him, help him keep his focus sharp and his heart steady, and he swore to himself that today would be the day he would put an end to this whole horrific, dark affair.
* * *
Alec did not expect this sense of calmness to wash over him—not now, and certainly not here, in the Alicante council hall. Not while he looked the people who had tried to take everything from him in the eye. And yet, calm was exactly how he felt as he stood in front of the assembled Council like he had done when the nightmare started. There was something almost peaceful about the way it was all coming full-circle.
Alec quickly realized almost no one else in the room shared his sensation of cold clarity. His own team was anything but calm. Jace’s anger was a palpable, living thing pulsating through the parabatai bond. Isabelle’s whip was all too clearly ready to uncurl from her wrist and snap. Clary’s jaw was set in that stubborn way of hers that indicated she had anger boiling just below the surface and would have no problem unleashing it on anyone who stood in her way.
The Council members were staring at him with various degrees of annoyance written on their faces, as though they just couldn’t comprehend what he was doing there. As though he was the one out of place—him, when they were the traitors…well, some of them, anyway.
Alec singled them out one by one with his calm gaze, his wannabe executioners. He committed their features to memory, to recall on the dark nights when he would need to give the nightmares a face. They had no idea what was coming, but he did. He had planned it all down to the very last detail, because he had sworn to himself he would never, ever be caught unprepared by his own people again.
“What is the meaning of this, Mr. Lightwood?” Theresa Highwater demanded, her long, richly-bejeweled fingers stretching out in front of her as she spread her palms on the table. “This is a private session.”
“Mr. Lightwood is here on official business,” Imogen said. “In fact, he’s the reason I have called you all here today.”
The Inquisitor seemed to be the only person in the room to share Alec’s unperturbed attitude, although there was a sharpness to her posture and an extra note of steel in her voice that disclosed her anger.
It was strange, to think of Imogen Herondale as an ally. Alec knew her fury and disgust were not so much on his behalf as they were about laws being broken and the Clave being betrayed, but still, she had played a major part in today’s orchestrations, and he would not forget it.
“I don’t understand,” Perceval Oakglass said.
Oakglass was an old man well in his eighties. Alec felt a pang of guilt over what he was about to do to him, but then he thought of Clive Oakglass ripping the parabatai rune right out of his flesh, and of the sword dangling over Magnus’ head, and the guilt morphed into something hard that felt heavy within his chest and tasted metallic on his tongue.
“You will,” Alec said. His voice sounded harsh, almost alien to his own ears in the way it carried an unavoidable promise within its iron tones. The Law is hard but it is the Law. Alec reminded himself that this was justice, not revenge. That he was doing what was right and protecting his family and his people. That he was allowed to also protect himself in the process. “Mr. Chaudhury, please step forward.”
Raj emerged from behind Clary and Isabelle. He looked vaguely terrified, but Alec’s gaze didn’t linger on him for very long.
Alec was watching his wannabe killers, and he felt a pang of perverse satisfaction as they all betrayed themselves with subtle little shifts that, under different circumstances, might have gone unnoticed. The whitening of knuckles as a hand clenched around the edge of the table, the shifting of one’s weight in the seat they occupied, a pair of eyes darting briefly, skin turning one shade paler.
Alec spotted it all, and at the very least, it brought him relief to know that he wasn’t about to inflict the City of Bones on innocent people.
“Mr. Chaudhury,” Alec said, never looking away from the assembled Council as he spoke, “can you confirm that all the guilty parties are, to your knowledge, sitting at this very table?”
“With the exception of the convicted warlocks, yes,” Raj said. His voice was surprisingly firm. “I stand by what I’ve told you.”
“Guilty parties?” Philip Amberwright exploded in the booming tones that distinguished him. “What, in the name of the Angel—”
“Quiet,” Imogen snapped, and the big man immediately fell silent. “Name the names, Mr. Lightwood.”
Alec drew himself up to stand even taller. He had thought this moment would bring him peace, even joy, but he felt only a hollow sense of the inevitable.
“Eric Callaghan,” he said, his voice echoing eerily in the hall temporarily stunned into silence. “Perceval Oakglass. Henry Highwater. I hereby accuse you of high treason.”
The stillness broke like a spell, and the hall erupted into chaos. There were cries of outrage and disbelief. Callaghan’s voice rose in vehement denial. Chairs scraped against the immaculate floor as people stood up in indignation.
Out of the corner of his eye, Alec saw Jace’s hand go to the hilt of his seraph blade. He reached out and placed a restraining hand on top of his parabatai’s. He shook his head at both Jace and Izzy, who had also taken a step forward.
“Steady,” Alec said, quiet and commanding as the mayhem went on around them.
Jace gave him a skeptical look but relaxed ever so slightly, while Izzy nodded and took a deep breath to restrain herself.
Clary was watching with keen eyes as the scene unfolded, but for once she didn’t give in to her impulsivity or feed Jace’s, seeming content to wait it out. Alec could have hugged her just for not adding to his worries. Perhaps he would be able to make a proper Shadowhunter out of her yet.
“ORDER!” Imogen finally shouted, slamming a small wooden hammer down on the table.
Alec was reminded of the Inquisitor doing the very same thing during Izzy’s trial, and he had to suppress a shudder.
“Mr. Oakglass,” Imogen said once the hall had fallen back into a reluctant quiet, “Mr. Highwater, Mr. Callaghan, you stand accused of breaking the Accords, consorting with Downworlders to jeopardize the peace of the Shadow World and undermine the authority of the Clave, and of the kidnapping, torture, and attempted murder of a Head of the Institute, as well as the attempted murder of a High Warlock.”
“This is outrageous!” Perceval Oakglass cried. “First you arrest my son, and now—”
“Your son carved our rune out of my parabatai’s flesh in front of my very eyes,” Jace finally spoke up, his voice rough with barely contained fury.
“How convenient that no one else saw him do it,” the old man retorted.
“Mr. Oakglass, are you calling my grandson a liar?” Imogen asked frostily.
Izzy turned around and grinned smugly, and Alec had to refrain from rolling his eyes at her.
“I don’t know about his son,” Theresa Highwater spoke up, “but my brother would never—”
“Yes, I would,” Henry Highwater snarled.
Theresa froze, her eyes widening. “What?”
“You heard me,” Henry said. He was a man in his forties, a good ten years younger than his sister, and he now held himself tall and proud as all the eyes in the room shifted over to him. Underneath his dark stubble, his face was contorted into a grimace of disgust.
“What have we become?” he demanded. “Shadowhunters fornicating with Downworlders. Us, the children of the Angel! It’s not enough that this man,” he gestured sharply towards Alec, arm snapping outward like a whip, “has opened his bed to demon scum. Now he would have us open our doors to monsters. And you applaud him? No,” he growled out the world like a promise. “Alec Lightwood is trying to destroy us all, and if fighting to stop him makes us traitors, then so be it. But mark my words,” he met Imogen’s scandalized gaze straight on, his green eyes burning, “one day, you’re going to wish you had let us kill him for you.”
Alec’s head was buzzing. Suddenly, it was as if all sounds were coming from underwater. He had known about their hatred, of course, had experienced it on his flesh. He had known just how deep their loathing ran. But this…this onslaught, this vow to destroy him uttered in this very hall, by his own people…this went under his skin in a way not even the knives had been able to.
These men, who were now being flanked and put in manacles by Shadowhunter guards, wanted complete annihilation—of Alec, of the peace he was trying to bring and the perhaps-visionary harmony he strived for. Of Magnus’ people. Of Magnus.
Alec felt suddenly exhausted. He clenched his fists behind his back and held himself upright with sheer determination alone, afraid he would collapse under the weight of it all if he so much as dared to move a muscle.
Jace moved one step closer to him, and Alec drew strength from his parabatai’s presence and allowed Imogen’s sharp voice to bring him back.
“Enough,” the Inquisitor said. She no longer looked unperturbed; revulsion was written all over her face. “By the power vested in me by the Clave, I hereby sentence you to await trial for your crimes in the City of Bones. And may the Angel have mercy on you,” she added after a moment, “because it appears all too clear that you have none.”
Alec watched impassively as the men were escorted out of the hall, Eric Callaghan still professing his own innocence as he went.
It was over. His brain was sending out the message like a neon sign, begging him to pay attention, but Alec felt nothing. Nothing except a hollowness in his chest and the desire to get back to Magnus, where no one would try to destroy them.
A couple of clarifications:
1) We are aware that Shadowhunter surnames are compound. We considered changing Callaghan's name to something more Shadowhunter-y, but then Google informed us that "Callaghan" is actually the anglicized form of the Gaelic "O'Ceallachain," which means "strife," and we thought it fit the circumstances after all.
2) Raj's last name is unknown, so after some research, we decided to go with the name of the Head of the Mumbai Institute. The implications that he might be bringing shame to an important Shadowhunter family with his betrayal were too alluring to pass up.
Chapter 22: Epilogue: Through the Nights I'm Growing
Here we are! We've reached the end. What to say? THANK YOU so very much to all of you who gave this story a chance and stuck it out until now. We appreciate each and every one of you more than we can say. We hope you had at least half as fun reading this story as we had writing it!
Stay tuned for a little extra content over the next few weeks. For now, however, just enjoy the final act!
On a personal note, I (@ifallonblackdays_fics) would very much like to thank my parabatai, @valfromrome, who embarked on this writing adventure with me. Val, thank you for taking this story and helping me morph it into something so much richer than what it would have been had I written it by myself. You were the best writing partner one could have ever asked for. ♥ I look forward to many more collaborations!
— “and if you stay
here with me now
and don’t get lost inside
the row that goes streams
and know that you’re well
you take your own dive
and run a race that keeps
you safe from harm”
- Take It Slowly, Garrett Kato
* * *
The hollowness still inhabited Alec’s body like an apathetic demon as he made his way through the streets of Brooklyn. It had opened a pit in his stomach and made his bones heavy with dejection—or maybe it was really exhaustion, Alec could no longer tell the difference. It was well past two in the morning, and he was sure his body had never felt heavier. It felt like every one of his muscles was made of lead.
Still, with each step he took, a realization was finally taking root in his overtired mind—it was over. Maybe it wasn’t over for good. Maybe there would be others, doing their very worst to rip everything away from him. But this time, it was over. Everyone was finally where they belonged—the traitors behind bars, his loved ones safe, and Alec headed towards the one place, the one person that was truly a haven.
He stumbled when he finally entered the loft, almost tripping over his own two feet. But the sight he was presented with made up for everything, so much so that he almost felt his exhaustion evaporate.
Magnus was lying on the couch, his slender frame stretched out across the cushions and his head turned to one side. He was wearing only a pair of dark purple silk pajama pants, and an open book lay face down on his bare chest, the heavy tome moving up and down with the rhythm of his breathing.
Alec stared. When Magnus slept, you would never tell he was an old soul. He didn’t want to wake him, not yet.
So he didn’t. Instead, he made his way slowly and silently across the room, and he went to kneel by the couch. For long, endless moments, Alec just stared. At the hair that hung loose and soft across Magnus’ forehead, a few errant locks falling in front of his eyes. At the delicate angles of Magnus’ features in slumber, the unguarded grace of them. At the quiet poetry of Magnus’ lips hanging slightly parted, soft breaths pushing past them.
Alec could have stared forever, would have been content to spend eternity here, on his knees by a sleeping warlock. But eventually, he moved. He picked up the book and closed it, placing it carefully on the table, mindful of the secrets it might contain. He ran his fingers lightly through Magnus’ hair, pushing it away from his eyes, and, reluctantly, leaned down to press a kiss to Magnus’ forehead.
“Magnus,” he whispered. “Magnus, wake up.”
Magnus moaned. It took a few more moments of Alec’s lips coaxing him out of it—pressing softly against his temple, brushing along his jawline—for the warlock to finally open his eyes. His irises were golden and cat-like, him being too groggy to bother with a glamour.
“Alexander, you’re back.” Magnus smiled, sleepy and casual.
Alec’s heart was beating very loud and very fast within his chest. There was something about seeing Magnus like this, soft and exposed, that tugged at his insides—something that felt like coming home. In that instant, Alec realized that for all that he had grown up in the Institute with his siblings and his parents, for all that he’d had a place and structure throughout his life, he had never quite known what home was. Not really. Not until Magnus.
He swallowed thickly, past the enormity of it all. “I’m here.” He took Magnus’ hand and entwined their fingers together, while at the same time continuing to card his fingers through Magnus’ hair.
“’m sorry,” Magnus mumbled. “I tried to wait up for you.”
“It’s all right,” Alec said immediately.
Now that the peace of slumber was no longer softening Magnus’ features, Alec could see the exhaustion hovering like a living thing over his boyfriend, circling his golden eyes with dark, purplish hues that had little to do with makeup.
The horrors of the past few weeks had drained Magnus as much as they had everyone else, but Alec knew that, unlike everyone else, Magnus was only now allowing himself to feel it.
“How did it go?” Magnus asked, squeezing Alec’s hand and dragging himself upright enough to lay his head on his shoulder.
Alec smiled and rested his cheek briefly on top of Magnus’ hair. “There was enough proof to convict them all.”
Thanks to Raj, who had agreed to testify in exchange for a reduced sentence that would allow him to keep his runes, although he was never to set foot outside of Idris again.
Alec suddenly felt exhaustion slam back into him in full force. “Trials will begin next week,” he said. He stroked his thumb along Magnus’ ringed fingers and decided the details could wait. “Let’s get you to bed, okay? You’re exhausted.”
Magnus smiled up at him, in a way that suggested he had heard everything—the said and the unsaid, the relief and the exhaustion, perhaps even that hollowness still gnawing at Alec’s gut—and understood it all.
“Yes, Alexander,” he said, pressing a light peck to Alec’s lips. “Let’s go to bed.”
Alec wrapped an arm around Magnus’ waist and all but hauled him to his feet. He kept his arm there, holding them both upright, until they reached the bedroom. He helped Magnus slide under the covers and pulled the yellow silk sheets halfway up to his boyfriend’s bare chest. Then he sat down on the edge of the mattress. He was still in full battle gear, but he didn’t make a move to take any of it off. He just looked down at Magnus and drank him in, and he tried to grasp at the stillness of this moment and let it calm him.
“It’s over, Magnus,” he said, and he said it forcefully, because they both needed to hear it. “It’s all right now.”
Magnus stared at him for a moment, then he gave a small grin and snapped his fingers. “Well, this bed is waiting for you. And so am I.”
Alec looked down at his now half-naked self, his gear having been magicked off his body and to a nearby chair. His startled look was met by Magnus with a sheepish smile, and something inside Alec loosened and unknotted. He chuckled and crawled under the covers, and it hit him how lying in Magnus Bane’s bed dressed only in his boxers felt to him like a natural state of being.
He wrapped his arms around Magnus from behind and pressed a kiss to the warlock’s nape, inhaling the smell of sandalwood and magic.
“Magnus,” he whispered against the back of Magnus’ head. He tightened his hold around his boyfriend momentarily, because if Magnus thought Alec hadn’t noticed the doubt in his eyes just a moment ago, he was very, very wrong. “It’s over. I promise.”
Magnus went still and silent in Alec’s arms for a few moments, then he turned around to face him. He reached out and ran the back of his hand gently down Alec’s cheek. “I believe you, Alexander.” He took Alec’s face between his hands and kissed him.
It was soft at first, tender. And then the tension grew, their bodies reacting to one another in a matter of instants. In a heartbeat, Magnus was on top of him, his kiss having turned fierce and hungry. Magnus kissed Alec until they were both gasping for air…only to do it all over again.
Alec let the passion Magnus was pouring into him lift all of the tension from his shoulders and bones and muscles. He wrapped his arms around Magnus and pulled him tighter to his chest, pressing their bodies together, skin to skin. He could feel Magnus’ heartbeat through his own ribcage, and it was intoxicating. Alec thought that for all the wonders, all the spells he had seen since he had met Magnus, this, this was the real magic.
“I love you,” Alec mumbled against Magnus’ lips, over and over, like a mantra they could both cling to. “I love you. You’re okay. You’re safe. We’re safe.”
“Yes,” Magnus breathed back, kissing Alec’s mouth as though the universe were about to end. “Yes, we are. I love you, too. Like I’ve never loved before.” He pulled back just enough to look into Alec’s eyes, his irises impossibly gold in the soft light of the lamps. “I love you, Alexander Lightwood. Heart and soul.”
“One day, somebody’s gonna love you heart and soul.”
His heart missed a beat, and then another, and then it began beating irregularly within his ribcage, a crazed thing trying to pump enough blood to his suddenly short-circuited brain.
Isabelle’s words from so long ago had stuck with him, but he had never thought it would actually happen. Not to him. Never to him. And now, here was Magnus.
“I…” Alec made a strangled sound as he choked on his own voice. He couldn’t even begin to wrap his head around the enormity of what had just been said to him.
Magnus pulled back further and stared down at him, concern suddenly written on his face. “Alexander? Are you okay?”
Alec licked his lips. He had to say something, anything. But he couldn’t speak, couldn’t think. He could barely find it in himself to function enough to keep breathing.
“Alexander, you’re scaring me.” Slowly, Magnus sat back on his haunches. He was watching Alec warily, as though he had no idea what to expect. “Tell me, please. Have I said something inappropriate?”
Alec’s brain whirred and sputtered and finally kicked back into motion. “Inappropriate?” he croaked. He sat up, too, and stared at Magnus in shock. “Of course not. God, no. It’s…what you said…” He took a deep breath, and then a couple more. “When I was a teenager, Izzy said something to me. She said…” By the Angel, he was actually going to say it. He was actually going to share this with Magnus. His stomach was in knots. ‘Here goes nothing.’ “She told me it would all be okay. She said, one day, somebody would love me heart and soul. I never believed her, never let myself go there. And then you…”
Alec trailed off helplessly. He couldn’t breathe, and that was okay, because it was Magnus who had knocked the breath out of him. Again.
Magnus smiled. “And then…I love you heart and soul,” he said, quiet and matter-of-factly. He reached out and covered Alec’s hand with his own over the rumpled sheets. “I do, Alexander. You are the purest, most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. You deserve to know how you make me feel, how much you give me.” He stared at Alec so intently, one would think he was trying to put a spell on him. “You deserve to know you are worth everything.”
Alec wanted to speak, but his voice had disappeared somewhere deep inside his throat. So he just wrapped Magnus in his arms again and kissed him, long and deep and oh-so soft—because he may deserve Magnus’ passion, but Magnus deserved his gentleness.
Eventually, Alec buried his face in the crook of Magnus’ neck and breathed in, as deep as he had never breathed in his life. His head was spinning, whether from exhaustion or the overwhelming onslaught of his own emotions, he couldn’t tell. Perhaps it was a little of both. He felt Magnus wrap his arms around him protectively.
Alec didn’t know how long they stayed like that, wrapped up in each other, before Magnus pressed a kiss to the side of his head. “I’ve got you, Alexander,” Magnus whispered in his ear.
Alec’s breath caught audibly. He couldn’t help it; no one had ever spoken those words to him, not even Jace. Sure, his parabatai always had his back, would walk through fire for him. But Magnus had his heart, and no one had ever handled that with particular care.
For the first time in a lifetime, Alec let go.
It was like a puppet’s strings snapping. He felt his body go limp against Magnus as he let his eyes fall shut. Was this what it felt like to let one’s guard down? An emptiness of thought and a lightness of bones? Was this what he had been missing out on all these years? The freedom of just being, just existing, between one breath and the next.
“Shhh,” Magnus murmured, and Alec vaguely felt himself being moved to lie back down. “It’s okay. It’s all right, Alexander. Just rest now.”
“Magnus,” Alec heard himself mumble as if from very far away, one arm wrapping around Magnus’ waist as the warlock’s arms closed once again around him.
“I’ve got you, too.”
“Oh,” Magnus said, and Alec could hear the smile in his voice and feel it in his lips as Magnus pressed a kiss to his temple, “I know you do.”
As he drifted off, Alec thought that if this was what it felt like to be mended, he could stand to be broken again. As long as Magnus Bane existed alongside him.