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let the heart beat

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“You’re not serious.” Izzy’s voice is aghast. The sounds of her clattering about in her kitchen come to an abrupt end on her end of the line.

Alec sighs as he continues his path down the hospital hallway. “I’m sorry, Iz. I just – it’s been so crazy here with the trial and my patient –”

“No, no, no, nope, absolutely not. You cannot leave me alone with her! We promised we’d get through this together.” The sound of a cabinet door being slammed shut emphasises the end of her point.

“Isabelle. It’s dinner. You’re not going to war.”

Izzy sputters in disbelief, “Don’t give me that!” Her voice takes on the whiny tone she used to use as a child, “Come on, Alec! You can’t make me do this on my own.” 

“I know, but Evie is only six years old, and she’s really scared about this procedure. You have to understand. Am I supposed to turn down a little child? I’m her doctor, Iz."

Izzy huffs in response.

“You know I would be there if I could, right?” Alec continues, stopping at the circulation desk to pick up Evie’s file. His colleague and friend, Dr. Maia Roberts, throws him a sympathetic smile and pushes a cup of water towards him. He smiles gratefully, draining it, and mouths a quick thank you before heading towards Evie’s room, Maia following closely behind.

Alec tries to sound soothing, “I’m sure that you can survive dinner with our mother on your own. I mean, the whole point of it is just to go over the final details of the cruise again.”

“Okay fine.” She grumbles, “But I hope you know that I fully expect that KitchenAid to be sitting underneath my Christmas tree this year.”

Alec rolls his eyes and bites back a retort that even a $1000 stand mixer would do little to improve her ghastly cooking skills. She is, after all, doing him a favour.

“As you wish. Now I gotta go.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Izzy sighs, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Love you.”

“Love you too, Iz.” Alec cuts the call and pushes his phone into his pocket. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t more than a little relieved at having gotten out of the dinner. Having to listen to his mother scrutinize every detail of his life while simultaneously laying out her plans for his future and while finding not-so-subtle ways to grumble about his decision to distance himself from the family business is not quite his idea of a good Friday night. Which is why, when Maia had paged him frantically just as he was about to leave the hospital with her Evie predicament, Alec was more than happy to intervene.

“Thanks for stepping in.” Maia says, pushing her hands into the pockets of her coat.

“Don’t worry about it. You just saved my ass.” Alec gives her a smile that she returns with a laugh.

Maia cocks her head towards Evie’s door, “I’d literally put one glove on before she started screaming for you.” She raises an eyebrow at Alec, a grin playing across her face.

“Well, what can I say. They don’t call me the baby whisperer for nothing.” He teases.

Maia rolls her eyes good-naturedly, “Yeah, yeah we get it. Now go do your thing. Work your magic.” She nods towards Evie’s room, grinning at Alec before walking away.

The little girl in question lights up considerably when he enters her room with a bright smile on his face.

“Hi cutie! How are we doing today?” Alec walks over to her bed and sits down on the swivel chair next to it.

“Much better now that you’re here.” Evie’s mother, Ivana, answers, smiling at her daughter. She looks relieved to see him as she stands from her chair.

Evie gives him a gap-toothed grin that lights up the entire room. Alec notices with a smile that her headscarf of choice today has Curious George all over it. She’s an incredibly sweet child that the world has been pretty unkind to. Barely four years old when a tumour the size of a lemon was found in her brain, she has been through far more pain than anybody, least of all a child, should ever have to endure. Nevertheless, she quickly won the hearts of everyone at the hospital with her indomitable spirit, and her bravery.

She’s the latest patient to be accepted into the clinical trial that might give her the miracle she needs to beat the cancer. The procedure is set to take place today, and while Maia was more than qualified to see it through, Evie had panicked and started crying and made it very clear that she only wanted Alec to be the one doing the procedure.

“I’m glad to hear that.” Alec gives her a wink and takes her tiny hand in his, “There’s nothing to be scared of, Evie.” He’d talked them through the procedure before, but runs through it again just in case. He’s found that it helps to talk the kids through everything he’s going to do.

“Are you ready?” he asks Evie gently.

She bites her lip and pauses for a second, before slowly nodding. Her fingers tighten their hold around his. “I’m ready.”

He smiles at her, tapping her nose with a finger and making her giggle, “That’s my girl. And I’m going to be right here with you the whole time.”

 


 

Magnus toys with the half-empty bottle of complimentary water in one hand, while staring at his mother’s contact page on his phone in the other. A sigh escapes him. He should probably call. It’s been more than two weeks – it might as well have been two years, by the time Siti Bane chooses to follow.

Sure enough, his mother’s tone is incendiary from the second she picks up the call.

“Two weeks! Two weeks and not a single text message, not a single phone call, not even an email! How am I supposed to know if you dropped off the face of the Earth?”

“Calm down, woman.” Magnus chides, “I told you I was going to be busy with this story. It’s not every day they unearth another antechamber in a Valley of the Kings tomb, now is it?”

Siti grumbles in displeasure on the other end, “I don’t know why you choose to go chasing stories that involve digging in the dirt, Magnus. Who cares about those dusty old kings anyways?”

“Because, mother, it’s these stories that get attention because literally everyone cares about these ‘dusty old kings.’” Magnus can’t help the fond smile that finds its way onto his face when Siti scoffs, “So how are you?”

“Well, now that I finally have the attention of my son, something that is apparently harder to find than an antechamber in the Valley of the Kings, I actually wanted to talk to you about something.”

Ah. Magnus knew he got his cutting sarcasm from somewhere.

The bustling sounds of a wide awake city complement his mother’s voice as she continues, “You know how Robert and Maryse have been married for almost 35 years now?”

Magnus did not know that. He lets out a low whistle, “Wow. Didn’t think they’d make it this far.” A fair assumption, he thinks, when one considers Robert’s history of infidelity. 

“Yes, well.” Siti’s voice has a hint of a smile to it, “They’re planning a cruise of Turkey and Greece in about two weeks’ time to celebrate. Everyone who’s anyone important in New York is invited, of course, and they’ve been kind enough to extend the invitation to me.” She pauses for a second before speaking again, “And to you.”

Magnus sits up. His mother’s employers inviting her along for the cruise isn’t exactly news. They’ve known the Lightwoods since Magnus was a child, since Siti followed them as they started up their own company.

What is surprising is them inviting Magnus as well. Considering how things were left last time.

“That’s… nice of them.” He says carefully, swallowing, “But I’m not sure I can make it. I’ll be busy.”

Siti sighs, “It’s only ten days, sweetie. Surely you can make time for ten days in the whole year to see your poor mother?”

“Mom, please –”

“What, ‘Mom please?’” Siti cuts him off, and Magnus can sense the beginning of a melodramatic lecture. “I literally never see you, Magnus. And I’m not as young as I once was. Who knows when I’ll get the chance to go on vacation like this again? To go on vacation with you again?”

Magnus bites back a scoff. Siti Bane is a healthy, strong woman of 50 who does hatha yoga seven days a week. Hell, she doesn’t even drink, which is commendable, if you ask Magnus, considering who she works for.

He sighs, falling back onto the bed, staring at the plain white ceiling of his hotel room in Cairo. It’s always been difficult to refuse his mother anything. Siti is the most important person in his life, and Magnus is fiercely protective of her, ever since his piece-of-shit dad left her when Magnus was but a year old with nothing but a string of bad debts and a shattered heart.

Magnus wants to say yes. He wants to see his mother again, for the first time in the year he’s spent travelling the world, and what better place to see her than on a luxury cruise ship?

But he can’t.

Because of him.

He’ll be there. Him, in all his tall-dark-and-handsome glory. Him, with his blinding smile that puts the fucking sun to shame and the husky voice the memory of which still sends the most monstrous wave of tingles down Magnus’ spine. Him, with the luminous hazel eyes that crinkle at the corners when he smiles, with the heart of gold that beats with the fervent strength of everything good in the world.

Alexander.

And Magnus doesn’t think he can face him again. Not after everything.

“…and I’ve heard that they’ve got one of the best Italian chefs on board who teaches a class – hello? Magnus?”

Magnus jerks out of his Alec-induced stupor, something which happens more often than he would like. He runs a hand over his face. “Yeah. I’m here.”

“Please come? Do this one thing for your mother?” Magnus can practically see her pouting.

It would be the easiest thing in the world to say no. To hide behind the pretence of work, of yet another story, and to lose himself in the whirlwind of adventure. It’s a good strategy – it’s what’s worked for him ever since that day, since his world crumbled in front of him.

But it would also be the hardest thing in the world. To refuse a chance to see him again.

Magnus resents this part of himself. The hold that Alec still has on him. The fact that even after everything had gone to shit and the years he spent trying to exorcise all memory of him through drinking, or losing himself in work, or in another pretty person on particularly bad nights, Alec was still there. Waiting for him, in technicolour memories, like warmth spreading through his veins. Simple memories of Alec’s lips against his shoulder, of his effortless smile over the rim of a coffee mug, of his fingers mapping out the universe on Magnus’ skin.

A headache begins its torturous path from his temples to the top of his head. Magnus rubs his thumb and index finger together.

“I’ll think about it.”

 


 

“The Blackwells pulled out last minute.” Maryse sighs, dropping her phone on the table and pulling her tablet towards her, tapping at the screen a few times.

“Good riddance.” Max mutters under his breath.

“Don’t be so crass, Maxwell.” Maryse snaps, throwing her son a scathing look. Max takes a deep breath, fingers tightening around his fork as he pushes his roast chicken around the plate.  

Alec glances at Isabelle who purses her lips together. Maryse had chosen to reschedule the dinner to the next evening, so that Alec could be there, much to his chagrin. So here they are, the four of them, living the pretence of the perfect “family dinner,” which, in reality, is mostly the sounds of forks hitting plates, Maryse grumbling about the details of the cruise, and the unspoken discomfort of the perpetually empty chair that should have been occupied by Alec’s father.

Suffice it to say, the Lightwood siblings hate family dinners.

“He’s right.”

Alec looks up in surprise, just as Robert Lightwood makes his way into the dining room, loosening his tie and stretching his neck. This was certainly a surprise – Robert rarely makes an appearance at family dinners these days, too caught up in work, or in other women. Alec glances at Izzy, and Max, who look just as surprised, and disconcerted, as he feels.

Their father takes a seat at the head of the table, opposite from Maryse, and pulls his plate towards him and reaches for the chicken dish.

“Robert.” Maryse’s tone is clipped, “I didn’t think you’d be joining us tonight. I thought you’d be working late.”

Like every other night.

“Well, there’s not much for me to do anyways.” Robert keeps his gaze focused on the chicken he’s spooning onto his plate, “The company’s going bankrupt, in case you haven’t heard Maryse.”

The sour, cutting undertone of his words doesn’t go unnoticed. Maryse’ nostrils flare in anger, but she schools her features into the neutral expression Alec has seen so many times over the past fifteen years. It’s a perfectly built wall, sound in structure, excellent at hiding any and all emotion. You could never tell by looking at Maryse that the Lightwoods were anything but a happy, prosperous family.

“It’s good the Blackwells pulled out. Saves us another $5000.”

The cruise to celebrate the 35th wedding anniversary of Robert and Maryse Lightwood is simply another part of an elaborate plan to showcase the Lightwoods’ continued success and prosperity to the elite of New York. It is a carefully structured façade, hiding a near-bankrupt company, a failing marriage, and strained relationships with the Lightwood children behind free-flow champagne and blue oceans.

Only those closest to them can see the unbridled pain in Maryse Lightwood’s eyes when she looks at her husband. The man who lost sight of their marriage, and their family.

It’s this pain Alec sees now, as he looks at the way his mother struggles to keep her composure as Izzy talks them through the finalised cabin bookings. She offers a small smile here and there, pushing her untouched food around her plate. His father is completely oblivious, attention focused solely on his phone and his food.

Alec looks at Max. They sigh in unison.

They really, really hate family dinners.

 


 

After dinner, Robert coerces Alec into coming to his study for a drink. He talks incessantly about the company, Idris Corp, as they make their way to the study, grumbling about mounting production costs, seedy investors, and overdrawn bank accounts.

In short, everything that makes Alec want to shove his own face into the wall, if it means a reprieve from this torturous conversation.

Robert walks to the bar in the far corner of his study, picking up the whiskey decanter and setting it next to two glasses with a single ice cube in each of them.

“Have you spoken to Lydia about the change in the wedding venue?”

Alec bites back the groan that comes with every conversation about the stupid wedding. “No. I haven’t had the chance. Been a bit busy with the trial.”

Robert turns to face him with one full glass in hand. He raises an eyebrow in displeasure.

“We cannot afford to push back the wedding any longer, Alexander.”

Alec ignores the lick of anger that flares in him at the name Robert uses. Only one person is allowed to call him that.

“I agreed to it last month because of your… work schedule.” The bitterness that permeates the last few words are indicative of Robert’s never-ending discontent at Alec’s career.

It had been the blow of Robert Lightwood’s life, when his oldest son and heir apparent had chosen to step away from the family business and embark on his own chosen career path. For years, Alec had been studying for the MCAT under the pretence of gearing up to apply to business school. It took stern and impassioned speeches from both Maia and Isabelle for him to face his fear and stand up to his parents.

He’d already lost the most important thing in the world because of them. He wasn’t planning on losing this too.

“Charles is getting anxious.” Robert continues, referring to Lydia’s father and one of the leading businessmen in New York whose ego is only slightly surpassed in size and stature by his bank account, “He wants to secure Lydia’s future before he moves ahead with the investment.”

He walks towards Alec and hands him a glass.

“I’ll give her a call later.” Alec says, sitting down in one of the armchairs.

Can we please stop talking about this?

Robert must pick up on the restraint in his voice. He cocks his head to the side, regarding Alec.

“You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”

Alec doesn’t respond immediately, choosing instead to take a sip from his glass. The liquid burns its way down his throat, but it’s nothing compared to the storm raging inside of him, the storm he keeps under firm lock and key.

Of course he’s having second thoughts. He’s had second thoughts about this since the day it came to be.

Robert claps him on the shoulder, forcing Alec to look up at him. He has a stern gleam in his eye. “It’s the right thing to do, Alec. The Branwells can save Idris. And you know that Charles has agreed to let us control the majority of the shares. It’s best for everyone.”

“And besides,” he continues, sitting down on the armchair opposite Alec and downing his drink with a sigh, “Lydia is a lovely person. You’ll be happy.”

That isn’t the problem. Alec wants to scream this at his father, take him by the shoulders and force him to understand. He wants to lay everything bare for once in his life, argue that Lydia could be the angel incarnate and it still wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference.  

But it’s fruitless.

Because to his father, Alec is a disappointment. A stark reminder of his failure to raise the perfect heir. The man who was supposed to be just like him, ruthless and surgical, bred purely to take Idris to unprecedented heights. His son, who turned out to be, in his eyes, nothing.

And marrying Lydia Branwell to save the company is the one thing Alec can do to absolve himself of his crime.

Never mind that Alec’s life would be no more than a debilitating lie. Never mind that he would be stuck in a marriage with a someone, a woman, he could never love.

Because his heart already belongs to someone else. It feels like it’s belonged to him since the beginning of time. That his heart will always belong to him in this universe, and the next, because it’s what came of a love that seemed to be written into the stars themselves.

Then Alec lost him. And he’d gone, taking Alec’s heart with him.

It’s laughable, really, how easily Magnus finds his way into his mind. Especially when Alec is almost certain that Magnus couldn’t possibly be feeling the same way. 

He knocks back his drink, welcoming the stinging taste and the warmth it unspools in his stomach. Then, he gives his father a tight-lipped smile and a platitude that he would sort things out with Lydia, and pushes everything away in a way that’s become second nature to him.

Chapter Text

“I have a problem.” Magnus says as soon as Catarina’s face pops up on his screen. 

“Wow. Nice to see you, Cat. How are you? We haven’t spoken in so long because I’m a piece of shit who has trouble keeping track of time zones –”

“Now is not the time to be snarky!” Magnus says frantically, waving a hand at his screen, “Niceties are for people who haven’t had the bomb of the century dropped on them.”

Catarina shoots him a sour look, before exhaling loudly and gesturing for him to continue.

“I got invited to a cruise of Turkey and Greece.”

“Seriously?” She looks at him incredulously, “That’s the bomb of the century?” 

Magnus lets out a noise of exasperation, “It’s not the cruise. It’s… the hosts.”

“And who are these mythical beasts?"

Magnus groans, hitting his forehead on the desk. “Oh my God, I can’t go. I can’t go I can’t go I can’t go.”

“What? Why not?”

“I just… can’t.”

She gives him a seething look. “Are you gonna talk or do I have to book a very expensive flight to Egypt and force it out of you?”

Magnus scowls at her. “It’s a bad idea. I can’t go. I shouldn’t go. Look, I need you to talk me out of it. List 50 reasons why it’s a bad idea. Go.”

Cat jabs her nail file at him through the screen, “Do I look crazy to you?” Magnus raises an eyebrow. “Don’t answer that.”

She gives him that x-raying look of hers that he absolutely hates being on the receiving end of. There’s a moment of absolute silence while she does that thing of hers where she reads him like an open book.

“Turkey and Greece? Luxury cruise ship that you don’t even have to pay for?” Catarina scoffs, pushing her blue-tipped braids behind her shoulders, “The Magnus I know would never pass up an opportunity like that.”

And then she gets this knowing look in her eyes, setting her nail file down. “Unless of course, there’s an underlying reason. And if that underlying reason just happens to have dark hair, and hazel eyes, and ‘the crooked smile that sets fire to every vein in your body.’ That’s what you said, if I remember correctly, hm?”

Magnus makes a face at her, minimizing the FaceTime window to avoid that goddamn smug expression on her face. He forgot how fucking frustrating it is to have a best friend who knows every damn thing about him.

“Don’t you minimize me, Magnus Bane!” She calls him out almost immediately, her voice booming.

He clicks on the window to see Catarina looking at him with pursed lips and narrowed eyes.

“In my defense,” he mumbles, “I was very drunk when I said all of that.”

She leans forward, nail file forgotten next to her. The steady flow of air from the desk fan next to her adds a soft muffle to every noise that comes from her end.

“So he’s really going to be there?” Her voice is considerably softer, her tone gentler.

“It’s a cruise to celebrate his parents’ anniversary, so yeah. He’ll be there.”

“Fuck.” She lets out a long breath. “What are you going to do?”

Magnus lets out a humourless laugh, and picks at a bit of paint on the desk. “That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Mom really wants me to come. And… part of me knows that I can’t carry on like this.”

He pauses for a second, forcing air into his constricted lungs. “Maybe I should just go, and see him. See for myself that – that there’s nothing left between us anymore. Well, at least on his end. Maybe I should just face my reality.”

“But?” Catarina prompts gently.

He bites his lip. “But I can’t. I can’t face him again. It would ruin me.” The words fall from him easily, too easily. How quickly his heart attributes the power of his own destruction to Alec’s mere presence. How much power rests in those hazel eyes that could raze him with a simple look.

Magnus sighs, rubbing a hand through the stubble on his chin. Catarina is quiet, her dark eyes trained intently on him.

He smiles sadly. “And it’s taken me years to not fall apart at the very thought of him, and all of that is going to fly out of the window if I see him. If I see him –” his voice catches at the lump in his throat, but he forces himself to keep speaking. “If I see him with her.”

Catarina’s eyes shine with unshed tears. She raises a finger to touch her screen, where Magnus’ face is. He can almost feel the comforting presence of her fingers on his cheek.

“Oh Magnus...” her voice trails off.

“He was everything to me.” He says quietly.

He still is. He always will be.

Magnus inhales deeply through his nose. “I’m sorry.” He laughs lightly, running a hand over his face. “That was a pretty heavy thing to drop on you.”

“Don’t you dare apologise to me.” Cat says firmly, “Never for something like this. I’m always here for you.”

“Still. Listening to my romantic woes probably wasn’t your idea of a good catch-up conversation.”

She leans forward onto her elbows. “You’re allowed to feel, Magnus. You loved him.”

That’s the problem. There’s no past tense. I still do.

“You’re only human.” She continues quietly, “Alec meant everything to you. That’s not something you can just sweep away, no matter how much you might want to.”

She’s right. Magnus knows that Alec will always be a part of him. That there will always be that corner of his heart that’s untouchable by anyone else but him. Magnus may have lost him, but that doesn’t change the fact that Alexander Lightwood is the love of his life.

He lets out a long breath and stretches his neck. “Would it be absolutely cliché of me to throw myself a pity party and binge watch Queer Eye all night?”

Cat rolls her eyes affectionately, “Not if you have that spiked ice cream to go with it.”

He hums, “Something healthier. My waistline can be the one part of my life that’s still somewhat together. Almonds. Edamame beans maybe?”

“Oh God.” She scrunches up her nose in disgust and groans, “Don’t mention those cursed things to me. Remember that girl I told you about? The one I’ve been seeing?”

“Dorothea?”

“Yeah, her.” Catarina picks up her nail file again, diverting some of her attention back to her nails, “Dot recently decided that she needs to go on a fitness journey, so all she eats in between meals are boiled edamame beans. By extension, all I eat between meals are boiled edamame beans.”

Magnus laughs. Some of the pain fades away, a side effect of Cat’s welcome, soothing presence.

“If I have to eat one more goddamn boiled edamame bean I’m going to literally lose my mind.”

“Well, they are super healthy. And good for you.”

Catarina gives him a withering look, “That doesn’t negate the fact that they taste like shit.”

“…Aren’t you a doctor?”

“I get paid to give other people advice, Magnus. I don’t get paid to take my own advice.” She grins, “That’s the beauty of it.”

“Good point.” He pauses, just for a moment, feeling so eternally grateful for her, “Hey Cat?”

“Yeah?”

“I really love you.” 

She smiles at him, a smile as warm as a bonfire on winter mornings, “I really love you too.”

 


 

~

“Don’t look at me like that.”

“Like what?” Alexander smiles, the corners of his eyes crinkling, “Like you’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen?”

“I look like trash.”

Alec pulls him closer until he’s flush against his chest. “Yeah, but you’re my trash.”

Magnus snorts, “Romantic.”

“Get it? ‘Cause you’re trash for me.” Alec’s smile is almost blinding.

And Magnus can’t help his own smile that tugs at his cheeks. He wraps his arms around Alec’s neck, and leans forward to softly kiss the tip of his nose. It’s gone pink from the cold. Magnus doesn’t know if he’s seen anything more adorable in his life.

“Yeah.” Magnus kisses him softly, smiling too much for it to work properly, “I really am.”

~

 


 

“Do you think Massimo makes scrubs?”

Alec glances at Isabelle with a questioning look, before hanging up his coat and walking to where she’s curled up on her couch with her laptop.

“What?”

“I mean, if that’s all you’re ever planning on wearing in life, it might as well be designer.” She gestures at Alec’s dark blue scrubs with a flourish of her scarlet-tipped fingers.

“I love you too.” Alec says dryly, walking over to his sister and dropping a kiss on her forehead. There’s a half-empty cheese platter and an open bottle of Brunello on the coffee table, one of the many that Isabelle had hauled over to America following her recent solo adventure to Tuscany. Alec goes into the kitchen to fetch a glass for himself.

He finds Max in there, in the process of removing a defrosted microwaveable shepherd’s pie from the microwave.

“Why do you eat that crap, Max?” Alec scrunches his nose, opening a cabinet to grab the glass.

Max looks up, glancing at the entry into the kitchen before looking back at Alec, “She ‘made lasagna’ and I’m not interested in dying of poisoning before I can legally drink, thank you very much.”

“I heard that.” Comes Isabelle’s voice.

Alec grins at Max, clapping him on the shoulder as they make their way back into the living room. This is a small tradition of the Lightwood siblings. They meet every Wednesday night for dinner, at either Alec or Izzy’s place, for a chance to catch up with each other, to get away from their parents, and to give Max a reprieve from college dining hall food.

That is, if Alec is the one cooking.

“I need more wine.” Izzy holds out her empty glass to Alec, who refills it before filling his own, “This cruise is going to be the death of me.”

“Man, I never thought I’d say this, but I love only having to worry about getting good grades.” Max says through a mouthful of pie.

Alec snorts, “Give it a year or two. Then you get to join ‘the elite circles of New York as an eligible bachelor.’ How fun!”

Izzy laughs, popping a piece of cheese into her mouth.

The departure date for the cruise had been set for next week. The one-percenters of New York City would congregate in Turkey to board the Pullmantar Sovereign, a luxury liner which would take them on a whirlwind adventure of the finest sites and experiences Turkey and Greece had to offer. Alec glances over at Isabelle’s laptop while taking a seat next to her.

“I thought you were done with everything.”

“Mostly, yeah. Just running through RSVPs again.”

She exhales loudly, tapping on her trackpad a few times, while muttering under her breath, “Okay. Branwells, confirmed. Jace and Clary, confirmed. And Siti just confirmed, still waiting on Magnus - ”

Alec chokes on his wine.

What the fuck?

He lurches forward, trying to stop the wine that spills from his mouth from splattering all over the white sofa. Izzy and Max look at him quizzically as he coughs and sputters.

“What did you just say?” He wheezes, looking at her through watery eyes.

“I said I’m still waiting on Magnus.”

Magnus is coming?” He demands, very aware that he sounds like she told him that they’d just discovered alien life on Mars, “What – how – when did that happen?”

Izzy frowns. “I thought you knew. I sent you the guest list before I sent out the invites, remember? Like, a month ago?”

Of course. The guest list he never bothered to actually, properly read. Alec wants to punch himself.

You fucking idiot.

He groans in despair, dropping his face into his palms, before twisting his fingers into his hair and just pulling.

This can’t – he can’t. He can’t do this, he can’t face Magnus again and act like everything is fine and that it doesn’t still feel like a knife to the chest every time he thinks of him. He can’t pretend that it doesn’t hurt like hell to not be with him.

He can’t pretend that he’s still not hopelessly in love with him, and that he will be until time itself becomes obsolete.

“Holy shit.” Max says, eyes wide, dragging out the vowel in ‘holy,’ “You really didn’t know?”

Izzy walks over to Alec, before placing a hand on his shoulder. “Alec, I thought you knew.” Her voice is gentle.

“I –” Alec’s voice gets caught in his throat. The wine tastes impossibly bitter on his tongue.

His siblings look at him intently, like he could explode at any moment. Max’s eyebrows are knotted together in concern, and Izzy’s grip on his shoulder is strong, unrelenting.

He shakes his head to clear the raging chaos in his mind.

“I’m fine.” It takes everything in him to keep his voice steady, “It’s cool.”

“Alec –”

“Max, I’m fine.” He smiles at his brother, “It’s been 12 years. He’s moved on. I’ve – I’ve moved on.”

They just keep looking at him.

He lets out a laugh, “Look, I was just kind of shocked. I mean, yeah it’s going to be awkward because he’s my ex but we’re mature adults and we can handle being on a ship together for a few days, okay?”

Alec doesn’t know if he’s trying to convince them or himself.

Izzy nods slowly. “Okay.” She says softly.

He knows they don’t buy it. He senses it when he jokes about the lasagna, when Izzy doesn’t even try to refute the jab at her food. Their eyes wander to him occasionally throughout the night. Gazes riddled with concern, melting away as soon as he looks at them, replaced with smiles for his sake.

Alec leaves dinner earlier than usual that night, making up some excuse about needing to be at the hospital early the next day. It’s freezing outside, cold winds cutting into him, but it’s nothing compared to the ice that seems to have taken over him on the inside. He takes the long way back to his apartment, consumed by thoughts of soft eyes and ringed fingers pressing into his own.

He welcomes the sting of the cold.

 


 

~

“Alexander.”

“Nobody calls me that.” Alec whispers, barely able to keep his breath in check.

A twinkle of delight dances in Magnus’ eyes. “I’m not nobody.”

No, you’re not, Alec thinks.

You’re my everything.

~

 


  

Alec looks, and feels, like shit.

He hadn’t slept even a little bit the night before. Hours upon hours were spent tossing and turning as he worked himself up into an impossible frenzy over the prospect of seeing Magnus again. He’d given up at around 3 am, choosing instead to polish off the remainder of the Brunello that Isabelle had given him with an apologetic look on her face.

How is he supposed to face him again? How is he supposed to stay sane and act normal around him, especially after what he did? After that –

No. He’s not going there. Now is not the time to relive past mistakes, not now when he’s about to enter the room of his patient.

Get a grip, Lightwood.

Unfortunately, it must not work, because as soon as he opens the door to Evie’s room, she looks him straight in the eye and raises her eyebrows.

“You don’t look so good, dude.” She’d recently taken to calling him “dude.” For what reason, Alec has no idea.  

He places a hand over his heart in mock outrage, “How dare you? I always look perfect.”

She pushes herself up until she’s sitting on the bed, cradling her stuffed giraffe to her chest. A tiny ringlet of tight, curly black hair falls out of the side of her headscarf.

“I know that look.” Evie says solemnly, nodding, sounding like the six-year-old version of Oprah.

“And what look is that?”

“It’s a boy, isn’t it?”

It takes everything in Alec not to just gawk at the little girl. Is he – is he really that obvious? Or were children suddenly a lot more perceptive than he thought?

She nods towards the TV mounted on the wall. “That’s what they all look like when it’s about a boy.”

Alec opens his mouth and shuts it again a few times in surprise, before shaking his head and walking over to her bed and sitting down in the chair next to it. He picks up the syringe he’d brought with him to collect a blood sample from her.

“Okay.” He says, smiling at Evie, “One tiny jab and we’re all done for today.”

But she just grins at him cheekily and folds her arms together firmly, sticking her nose up in the air.

“No.”

“What do you mean, ‘no?’”

“I wanna talk about your boy problem, dude.”

Alec scoffs, “My ‘boy problem?’”

She nods once, “Mhm. First we talk about your boy problem. Then doctor stuff.”

He forgot how stubborn kids could be, especially when they knew you needed something from them. You would think that having dealt with kids nearly every day for the majority of his professional life would mean that Alec would have found a way around this.

Not with this one though. Evie holds his stare firmly, showing no sign of letting up.

He narrows his eyes at her, before pointing at her and saying, “You’re sneakier than you look, you know that?”

I can’t believe I’m doing this.

Alec concedes defeat, dropping the syringe into the tray and pulling his gloves off. He might as well give her what she wants. “Alright, young lady. Let’s talk about my boy problem.”

She smiles her adorable, gap-toothed grin that takes over entire face, before sitting up straight and scooting closer to him. “So what did ya do?” 

“Why do you think I did something?” He sputters.

She just raises her eyebrows at him.

He sighs, running a hand over his face. “I – I made a mistake. I hurt his feelings.” He smiles sadly, “I don’t think he likes me very much right now.”

Evie hums and nods slowly, a contemplative look on her face. It’s as though she’s his therapist. Alec almost expects her to ask him how he feels about that.

“Okay. Now I gotta think of a plan.” She sticks the tip of her tongue out, focusing her gaze on the wall across from them.

The moment feels absurdly surreal. What is he doing? Talking about his romantic struggles with his patient? Who also just happens to be six years old and this is so incredibly unprofessional that it’s a wonder Alec still has a job –

“Ooh!” Evie exclaims in triumph, “I know. Buy him flowers!” She points at the TV, “That’s what they do in all the movies, and let me tell ya dude, it works.”

Alec lets out a laugh, “Flowers?”

“Yes! Oh and they have to be aquamarine flowers.” She says excitedly, even though Alec highly doubts she even knows what the colour aquamarine actually looks like.

Alec shakes his head fondly, “You really think aquamarine flowers would work?”

“Yeah!” She spreads her palms out in front of her, “And after that, there’s only thing left to do, dude.”

“What?”

She raises her eyes heavenward, giving him a do-I-have-to-do-everything-around-here kind of look.

Say you’re sorry. Duh.”

She says it with all the conviction, and all the innocence that comes of a child. Like it’s the easiest thing in the world to let go of more than a decade’s worth of pain, and sorrow, and heartbreak, and just… apologise. A simple apology, to have the person you love the most back in your arms.

Evie sits up then, a look of fierce determination in her eyes. Her arms come up as she gesticulates passionately through the ardent speech she proceeds to give him.

“You gotta go up to him. Hm? You gotta make him look at you. You gotta apologise, and you have to mean it! And then you gotta do whatever grown-ups do after that.”

Alec raises an eyebrow, “Oh? And what’s that?”

It’s incredible how quickly she deflates at that, falling back onto the bed. She sighs loudly, her shoulders going up and down in a shrug that’s so dramatic it’s almost comical.

“I don’know. Nobody ever tells me that part.”

Alec bursts out laughing, until some of the tightness in his chest loosens slightly.

 


 

Magnus remembers the look in Alexander’s eyes the first time they’d made love.

Soft, yet fiery, passionate in a way he didn’t know was possible, burning into his. They’d drawn out every last ounce of pleasure from each other as the night had worn on, surrounded by the silk of Magnus’ sheets. It was laughter and soft kisses and roaming touches. He discovered the universe that night.

Afterwards, Alec’s breath had played across his neck, and his collarbones. His fingers had folded into Magnus’. Long, gentle fingers, fingers that Magnus knew would save lives one day. His thumb drew little circles over the back of Magnus’ palm. In a moment that tugged at something deep inside Magnus, Alec had lifted Magnus’ hand to his lips and pressed a gentle kiss to the back of his hand.

A kiss with a whispered I love you, and a devastatingly beautiful smile.  

It was all Magnus needed to feel complete.

Magnus reaches into one of the drawers of his bedside table and pulls out his diary. It’s an old, weathered thing, filled to the brim with pictures, and clippings, and sketches.

There used to be countless sketches of him, the way he looked just as his eyes were opening in the morning, or when he was reading. Sketches that Magnus had ripped out in a storm of tears and anger.

He flips to the very end of the diary, where there are a few small pockets sewn into the backing. Hidden in one of those is something small, something precious. Magnus lifts the omamori out of its pocket. The wear and tear of more than a decade is visible in slightly frayed corners, in faded colours that had once been a brilliant red and gold. One of the corners is softer than the others, and used to be more pliant under his fingers. It’s the one Magnus used to run his thumb over every day. It grounded him, gave him comfort when he couldn’t find Alec’s embrace.

Luck and protection, Alexander had said. With earnest eyes and a soft smile. A gift that brought with it his effortless presence even when he wasn’t there.

Magnus runs his thumb over the corner, again and again, until it becomes pliant again.

 


  

“Shh. Go back to sleep, Alexander.”

“Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“You looked way too adorable.”

“I’m not adorable. I’m a sexy manly man.”

Magnus dips his head to place a soft kiss on Alec’s forehead, smile brushing against his skin, fingers running gently through his hair.

“Sleep,” he says softly, “I’m not going anywhere.”

~

Chapter Text

~

“Thank you.”

Magnus turns to look at him with a questioning look on his face. The wind rushes around them in cutting gusts, rustling loudly through the leaves of the tree, their tree. Magnus is sitting on the branch with his back against the main trunk, knees pulled up to his chest, feet touching Alec’s thigh just so.

“What for?”

Alec shrugs, “For being you.”

Magnus grins at him. “Is it some important friendship anniversary today or something? Did I forget?” 

“Just – shut up and accept my gratitude.”

“Gratitude accepted.” Magnus’ grin widens as he unfurls his legs and scoots closer to Alec.

Alec’s senses prickle uncontrollably, the way they always seem to when Magnus is nearby. The way they have for as long as he can remember.

“Thank you too. For being the constant in my life.” Magnus says quietly, smile softening until it’s just a little thing, but somehow it means worlds more, because it’s a smile that only comes out around Alec.

“You don’t need to thank me for that.”

“Oh, but I do.” Magnus murmurs.

There’s something about the way Magnus looks at him, softly illuminated by the last rays of the setting sun. His eyes are wide, and he’s so close that Alec could count the dark lashes framing them if he wanted to. He’s so close that Alec can feel his breath, warm, playing across his lips.

There’s a burning vulnerability in the deep, russet brown of his eyes as they skate over Alec’s face. Alec feels it like a jolt to the stomach, because it’s not a look he’d ever expected from someone like Magnus. Like Alec held Magnus’ entire world in the palm of his hand.

Fuck, he wants to kiss him so badly.

“Alexander.” Magnus whispers then, in a voice so soft, so gentle. It’s like the rays of sunlight that peek out from between the leaves of the tree. His hands come up to cup Alec’s face, and his nerves fire rapidly.

His fingers are warm, so warm, contrasting with the cool bumps of metal from the many rings that adorn them. Alec resists the urge to shiver.

He’s so close, and his lips barely brush against his, just so, before Alec jolts out of the reverie.

“Wait.”

Magnus freezes, pulling back. He looks confused, and vulnerable, and perhaps a little scared? Alec just wants to wipe that off his face.

But he needs to know for sure. He can’t risk losing this.

He swallows before speaking, “I, um, I want you to know that I – fuck.” Why is it so hard to speak around him? It’s Magnus. He’s known him for as long as he can remember. This is the same Magnus who knows everything about him, the same Magnus who he’s spent days on end talking to. The same Magnus who knows exactly where he’s ticklish, what food he hates, what movies he can quote by heart. It’s just Magnus.

Only, there’s nothing “just” about him. There never has been.

Alec looks down at his hands. “I like you. Like, really like you. As in, more than friends, have-had-a-crush-on-you-for-a-long-time kind of like. I want to be with you, Magnus. And it’s okay if you don’t feel that way, but if this is just a one-off thing for you – I need you to know that this will never be a one-off thing for me, and I can’t kiss you and just forget about it because I really fucking like you and –”

“Alexander.”

Alec looks up at him, and his heart immediately skips in his chest because Magnus is smiling like he’s just handed the secret of the universe to him.

“Yeah?”

“I really fucking like you too. And I would really like to kiss you right now.”

And then he’s kissing him, and it’s like everything falls into place. All of Alec’s instincts, all his planning, everything he’s ever dreamed of in relation to this moment flies out the window as Magnus moves closer to him, as his fingers come up to thread themselves in Alec’s hair. Alec’s own fingers travel to Magnus’ waist, where they touch the soft strip of warm skin that’s been exposed by his shirt riding up. Magnus gasps into his mouth, pressing closer, and Alec feels the world fall into his palms.

He doesn’t know what he’s doing. All he knows is that this is better, so much better than everything he’s spent his life dreaming about.

His lips are everything Alec could have hoped for, and more, soft and full, and within seconds, Magnus’ body is pressed flush against his. His heart is beating rapidly beneath the quick rise and fall of his chest. And it’s a kiss, just a kiss, but Alec feels like Magnus holds his universe together. All the sounds of the world seem to dull, and soon, he’s the only real thing in the world, Magnus Bane, with his fingers intertwined in Alec’s hair and the soft sounds of pleasure that come from him, that Alec elicits from him.

Alec pulls back, because he needs to see Magnus, he needs to commit this moment to memory. Magnus chases after his lips, blindly, before his eyes blink open and he takes a moment to focus on Alec.

He’s breathing hard. His eyes are wide, pupils blown wide. And then he smiles, this beautiful, beautiful thing that stretches across his whole face, lighting up the entire world, and Alec thinks that even the sun itself has nothing, absolutely nothing, on Magnus Bane.

“I…” Alec trails off. Maybe it’s what comes of having your breath stolen by a simple look.

“You…” Magnus prompts, looking at him expectantly.

Speak, you moron.

“That was nice.” Is what he blurts out.

Really? He wants to punch himself.

Magnus raises an eyebrow, a cheeky smile spreading over his lips. “Nice? Wow, Alexander, that’s really doing wonders for my ego.”

Alec closes his eyes, sucking in a deep breath. When he opens them again, the first thing he notices is the sun catching in the brown of Magnus’ eyes. It’s like looking into an eclipse.

“Let me try again.” He murmurs through a smile, “I’ve – I’ve wanted to do that for as long as I can remember.”

Magnus’ breath hitches, eyes sparkling as he cups Alec’s face gently in his hands and runs his thumb over his cheekbone. His gaze runs over every inch of Alec’s face, like there’s nowhere else he’d rather be looking.

“Me too.” He breathes, and Alec’s heart completely leaps out of his chest and finds its way into his arms when he smiles, and kisses him again, softly, slowly, once, twice and again, because he can, because everything just fell into place.

“God, me too.”

~


  

I can do this.

Magnus sucks in a deep breath, holding it for a few seconds, before letting it out in a great whoosh. He looks at himself in the mirror, before completely deflating and groaning, hitting his head against it.

I can’t do this.

How is he supposed to function like a normal human being around him? Where was the protocol for dealing with seeing the love of your life after more than a decade of heartbreak and separation? How the fuck is Magnus supposed to handle seeing him in real life, when the last time he’d seen his face had left him completely breathless?

Magnus remembers just a few weeks back, when he’d opened Landscape’s latest edition to give his own article a once-over and had found himself face to face with the hazel eyes that would most likely haunt him for the rest of his life. It had been a brutal hit to the chest. Seeing his face, Alexander’s face again.

He hadn’t changed a bit. His smile was still the same, exactly the same in its unabashed, slightly crooked nature. The way it made the corners of his eyes crinkle, something that had always driven Magnus wild. The light smattering of stubble on his face. Those eyes gazing back at him, immortalized in paper and ink, and Magnus was catapulted back to the time when he’d experienced the full intensity of their gaze in real life. When a simple glance, and a smile sent his way, a brush of soft, pink lips against his shoulder in the early hours of the day, were all he needed to feel alive again.

The article had detailed the cutting edge research that Alec (“Dr. Lightwood”) and his colleague, Dr. Maia Roberts, had conducted that led to the creation of a miracle drug that pulled twelve terminally ill children back from the brink of death. It had lauded him as one of the leading paediatric neuro-oncologists in the world. It had mentioned that they were being considered for the Lasker Award. And that Alec had achieved all of this at the (practically infantile by medicine standards) age of 32.

And Magnus had felt so damn proud he didn’t know what to do with himself. And then he’d completely broken down because he hadn’t been there to share Alec’s happiness with him, to hold him and share the joy of his success. He’d lost that privilege.

Magnus reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone, where the confirmation for the plane ticket to Turkey he’d bought in a moment of sheer and utter panic shines bright on the screen. His finger hovers over the cancellation button. 

He looks at himself in the mirror again, and takes in a deep breath.

 


 

“It’s fucking hot.” Max whines, fanning himself rapidly with his hands.

“That’s kind of what happens in the summer.” Izzy says, ignoring the scathing look Max sends her way.

Alec rolls his eyes at the two of them. The sun beats down on them relentlessly, the cool ocean breeze that had greeted them as they’d boarded the ship long gone. But the intense heat of Turkey’s summer does little to faze the dozen or so members of their entourage that dot the ship’s uppermost deck, drinks in hand and dressed in their best as they mingle.

It’s only been half an hour and Alec already wants to jump overboard.

Then Max starts breathing rapidly, “Oh God, I’m gonna pass out. I think I have heat stroke, I –”

“Max.” Alec cuts him off, raising his eyebrows and looking Max straight in the eye, “You’re fine.”

Max looks incredibly offended, “I could die. I could literally drop down dead in front of all of you and it would be your fault.”

Alec rolls his eyes. “As the one person here with an actual MD,” he says, clapping Max on the shoulder, “I can very confidently say that you’re going to be just fine.”

Despite the heat, Max’s incessant complaining, and the mind-numbing presence of his parents’ elitist friends, Alec has to admit that this is probably one of the most stunning places he’s ever been to. The ship sits in a gorgeous bay flanked by lush green mountains on either side, where sunlight ripples off the blue water like gold on sapphire. To the distance, a white-gold sand beach stretches across the coastline in the parts not occupied by cobblestone harbour, sitting in front of pastel coloured buildings that speak of centuries past.

Leave it to Izzy to conjure up the journey of dreams. Alec turns to see her regarding their surroundings, a discreet, pleased smile on her face.

“Great show, Lightwoods.”

They look up to see Aline Penhallow walking towards them, a smile shining bright on her face as she pulls all three of them into tight hugs. Alec immediately feels better, feeling a smile of his own stretch itself over his face. Aline is one of the few members of this circle that he genuinely likes.

“You’ve really outdone yourself this time, huh Isabelle?” She says, “I’m glad you guys didn’t leave the planning to this disaster right here.” She gestures towards Alec with a cheeky smile on her face.

Alec lets out a gasp of mock outrage, hand flying to his heart, “How dare you? I’ll have you know, my planning is impeccable. I planned that trip we took to Yosemite sophomore year, didn’t I?” 

Aline rolls her eyes playfully, “Yeah, and we ended up homeless for a night because you ‘forgot’ the cabin confirmation, you dumbass.”

“It’s great to see you too, Aline.”

She throws her head back and laughs just as her mother, Jia, shows up next to her.

“Nice to see you again, Alec, Isabelle.” She says, nodding at both of them, “And Max, of course.”

“Your parents must be incredibly happy, Isabelle.” She continues, smiling at Isabelle, “Congratulations on pulling this off.”

Izzy’s laugh and “thank you” hides the true nature of the situation. It hides the fact that their parents had barely acknowledged the work Isabelle had put into making this cruise happen. Alec forces himself to smile along with her, to swallow the anger rising inside him.

Aline drags Isabelle off to the bar a few moments later, followed closely by Max, who seems to completely forget his struggles with the heat at the mere mention of alcohol (“I’m finally legal in this country and I am not passing up this opportunity, thank you very much”).

Jia turns to face Alec, “By the way, I wanted to congratulate you. I read that article that came out about you in Landscape.” She raises her glass to him, “The Lasker Award at 32. Not bad at all.”

Alec feels the tips of his ears reddening rapidly as he lets out a laugh he hopes with all his might doesn’t sound as uncomfortable as he feels, “Well, I haven’t actually won –”

“Only a matter of time, I’m sure.” Jia says, smiling widely at him. “It’s quite an accomplishment to even be considered. I’m impressed.”

“I – thank you, Jia.”

She nods, smiling and patting his arm before moving off to find someone else to mingle with. Alec lets out a breath and shoves his hands into his pockets, trying to fight the monstrous blush that’s taken over his face before anyone sees him.

That stupid article. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to people coming up to him like that.

“You look like you could use one of these.”

He looks up to see Siti standing in front of him, smiling at him, holding up one of the two wine glasses in her hand.

“Thank you.” Alec breathes, taking it from her before putting an arm around her shoulders and hugging her to his side before letting go. “I’m really happy you came. I haven’t seen you in forever.”

“How could I not come? Your parents personally invited me. And Magnus.”

The mere mention of him sends Alec’s heart beating into a wild frenzy. He takes a sip of his wine, hoping to God that the debilitating effect his name has on him isn’t noticeable to Siti.

“I hope he comes.” Siti says, “It’ll be good for him. He needs a break.”

All Alec can do is hum in agreement, swallowing the wine with way more force than is necessary before smiling at Siti 

And he’s almost thankful when Claudia Pangborn lets out a shriek of delight and pulls him into a bone-crushing hug, just so he can look away from Magnus’ mother, from her eyes that remind him so much of the man who still holds every part of him.

 


  

By the time Izzy gets to his room and finally crawls under the covers, Alec’s already done with his bowl of ice cream.

“Took you long enough.” He says, reaching to the bedside table and handing her the second bowl.

She gestures dramatically at herself, face free of makeup and hair pushed back with a hair band, “This takes work, you know. We can’t all crawl out of bed in the morning with perfect skin.” She shoots him a withering look, which he returns with a sheepish smile of his own.

“Jesus, Alec, why do you always forget to ask for extra fudge on mine?” She cries out in frustration as she takes one look at her bowl.

He raises an eyebrow, “It’s being billed to my room. I’m paying for it.”

“I’m your family, you asshole.”

“Fine, if you don’t want it, I’ll just –”

She smacks his arm away as he reaches for the bowl, glaring at him. “Don’t you dare.”

“That’s what I thought.”

She rolls her eyes before turning her attention to her ice cream and shoving a giant spoonful in her mouth.

“God, I thought tonight would never end.” Alec mutters, placing his empty bowl down on the bedside table.

Izzy snorts. “Tell me about it. Mom put me on Imogen Herondale duty tonight. Four hours of listening to her whine about the ‘political state of affairs.’”

“Fuck.” Alec laughs, “When are Jace and Clary getting here, by the way?”

“Next port. It’s closer to the last spot on their honeymoon.”

Alec shakes his head fondly, “Leave it to Jace to jump from one exotic vacation to the next in a matter of days.”

Izzy laughs, spoon clinking loudly against the rim of the glass bowl as she spoons more ice cream into her mouth.

“Jia was really impressed with you after reading that article.” She says after a beat of silence, looking at him pointedly, “Wouldn’t stop talking about it at dinner.”  

Alec stays quiet at that, choosing instead to glance over at Izzy.

She places her half-empty bowl down on the bed and takes one of Alec’s hands in hers. “Really, Alec,” she says quietly, “What you’ve done is… incredible.”

“Please, Iz.” Alec sighs, reaching into her bowl with his spoon, ignoring the cutting look she sends him. He laughs dryly, “Besides, the only person who seems to care about what I do is Jia. Mom and Dad just want to marry me off to Lydia to save the company.”

The chocolate tastes almost sour on his tongue as he continues, “Maybe that’s the only way I’ll be useful to them.”

Izzy sits up and shoots him a scathing look. “That’s utter bullshit, and you know it.”

He doesn’t say anything. Izzy doesn’t protest when he takes another spoonful from her bowl. 

“Why don’t you ever say anything to them?” She asks, eyebrows knotted together in frustration. It isn’t phrased like something she expects an answer to, though. It’s more a way to let out her anger at the injustice of it all, because she knows. Izzy knows exactly why, she knows exactly what had happened to lead him into this rut he’s stuck in. He doesn’t need to explain it to her, because Izzy was there, catching the pieces of him as he fell apart, and she was there afterwards, slowly helping him piece himself back together.

She sighs dramatically, falling back against him and resting her head on his chest. The top of her bun tickles his nose.

“It’s all so unfair.” She mumbles.

Alec senses the layered meaning behind her words. It’s unfair to more than just Alec. Their parents’ controlling, debilitating attitude towards the lives of their children has affected Isabelle as well. Robert and Maryse seem to exist in this bubble of their own thoughts and their beliefs, completely disregarding anything that doesn’t seem to fit with the plan they’ve been making since the day they got married.

And he doesn’t understand how his parents can’t just see what’s in front of them.

Because… well, because Izzy’s right there. She’s the one who inherited their parents’ business acumen. She’s the one who has the potential to save the company from drowning. She’s the one who should have been next in line to lead the company all along.

Not him.

And their parents choose to ignore her completely.

To them, Izzy’s next step in life is to find a suitable husband, settle down with him, and have children. As far as they’re concerned, the rest of Izzy’s life should be spent living the life of New York’s elite – raising children, shopping, brunching with her friends, perhaps contributing to a “charitable cause” to boost her public image.

Never mind that she’s already done more behind the scenes to save Idris than Alec could have ever dreamed of doing. Never mind that Isabelle is the furthest thing from what they expect of her, that the cage they’re slowly building around her is the cruellest thing they could have ever done.

Alec sighs, and wraps an arm around his sister’s shoulder, and lets her cuddle next to him the way she used to when she was a child, when their parents no longer provided comfort in the middle of the night when dreams became too scary to face on her own.

He glances down at her. She looks younger like this, almost.

He holds her until her breathing eventually evens out into sleep.

  


~

The anger burns through him, sparking this ugly pain that seems to crush everything in his chest, bearing down on his lungs until he can’t breathe. Magnus’ stomach twists uncontrollably as he brings his hands up to his hair and just pulls, trying to distract himself with a physical pain from the chaos erupting in his mind.

The laughter and music from the next room sound muffled, almost as if he were trapped in a bubble that he can’t escape from. Magnus knows he should be out there. He knows he shouldn’t be cooped up in this tiny, dark room when the party he’d organised is happening just outside. Alec had received his acceptance to Columbia a few weeks back, and Magnus had organised this evening to celebrate that, an evening with just a few of their closest friends. He knows he should be with Alec tonight, when they’re celebrating one of his biggest accomplishments.

But he can’t. Not when it feels like the very air had been sucked out of his life by the person who had shown up outside his door this morning, the person who is the reason behind years of pain and heartbreak.

He’d tried to pull it together, for Alec’s sake. Tried to force a smile onto his face and be happy for his boyfriend, to not ruin his night, but it overwhelmed him. He’d excused himself hurriedly, trying to ignore the look of concern that flitted across Alec’s eyes, and stumbled his way into this cramped storage closet where he’s currently trying with all his might to keep the flood of tears at bay.

Then the door creaks open slightly, and Magnus just wants to scream at whoever it is to get out, to just leave him alone, but he stops immediately when he sees who it is.

Alec’s face is illuminated just so by the light of the moon and the city that streams in through the window. His eyes fall on Magnus where he’s sitting on an overturned box, and he tilts his head to the side, a small smile on his face.

“Hey.”

“Hi.” Magnus croaks out.

Alec comes into the room, pushing the door shut softly behind him, and walks over to Magnus before dropping to his knees in front of him. Magnus takes in the line of worry between his eyebrows. Alec takes one of his hands in his, folding their fingers together, and squeezes reassuringly. Magnus’ heart leaps in his chest.

“You should be out there.” He says, voice thick with the tears he’s holding back, “It’s your night.”

Alec smiles at him softly. “My night doesn’t mean without you.”

The tears finally fall then. Magnus feels them slip onto his cheeks of their own accord. He sucks in a deep breath that rattles in his chest.

Alec’s hand comes up to cup his cheek, thumb swiping tears away. “Hey. Talk to me. What’s wrong?”

“My dad showed up at my house today.” The words taste horrible as they come out. Their effect on Alec is immediately apparent. His eyes widen in shock and his mouth parts.

Magnus sucks in another breath through his teeth and lets it out slowly, eyes burning as more tears find their way down his face. He waves a hand, “He wants to – ‘reconnect.’ Be a father again, I don’t know. God, you should have seen the look on Mom’s face when she saw him…” He trails off, unable to speak through the lump in his throat.

Siti’s face, frozen in shock, finds its way into his mind. The image brands itself into his memory. The shaky breaths that had fallen from her, the look of unspeakable pain and horror that had taken over her, paralysing her entire frame as she’d opened the door to find his father standing there.

“Oh, Magnus.” Alec whispers, squeezing his hand. He doesn’t say anything else. He just lets Magnus talk, get it all of his chest.  

"He just – showed up and acted like nothing had happened, like he didn’t break her fucking heart when he left. Like he didn’t just leave her with a baby and nothing else just so he could – fuck other women and travel the world. And I just –”

The sob that wrenches itself out of him cuts him off, followed by infinite more, wracking his body. Alec’s arms immediately wrap around him, holding him tightly, hands running soothingly over his back.

Alec holds him until some of the chaos settles, until this tiny room doesn’t feel that tiny anymore. Maybe that’s just the effect Alec has. Making the world seem bigger, brighter, just by being there.

When he pulls back, Magnus licks his lips, tasting the salt of his tears. “I know he’s my father, but I can’t forgive him. I just can’t. Does that – does that make me a bad person?”

“No.” Alec says immediately, “God, no, Magnus. What he did to you – if you can’t let go of that, it’s okay. Father or not, he hurt you. He hurt both of you.”

Magnus knows that. He knows that what his father did is unforgivable, that it’s okay for him to feel angry, to feel his pain. He just needed to hear it again, and Alec gave him that, in his steadfast voice, unwavering in his support.

Alec’s eyes stare into his, resolute. He takes the pain rolling off Magnus in waves and makes it dissipate, just from his calming presence.

“I’m sorry I ruined the party.” Magnus whispers.

“Don’t you dare apologise to me.” Alec says firmly, tightening his hold on Magnus’ hand, “The party can happen again if it needs to. But I’m never not going to be there for you. That’s not up for debate. Ever.”

Magnus loves him so much it hurts.

He hasn’t said it yet, but he’s felt the words his whole life. For years and years in his heart, when Alec throws his head back and laughs, and on the tip of his tongue, when Alec looks at him like he’s the world personified. Words that have been waiting to just find their way to the person they belong to, the person in front of him right now. Three little words that signify everything. And they’ve always been held back, by fear, by not wanting to lose whatever they had.

But not now. Magnus isn’t scared anymore. Because everything he could have ever wanted is right here. His saving grace.

So he lets his heart out, hands it over to Alexander for eternity, when he whispers the words.

“I love you.”

Alec freezes in place, eyes widening immediately. A moment of deafening silence passes, a moment where Magnus is sure that the pounding of his heart is all they can hear in the room.

And then Alec smiles. A gorgeous thing that takes over his entire face, crinkling the corners of his eyes, eyes that shine with unshed tears and pure happiness.

Alec is depth and persistence. Kindness and fervour.

Magnus could have looked at him forever.

“Really?” Alec whispers.

“Yeah.” Magnus’ heart soars. How could he not?

Alec leans forward and presses his lips to Magnus’ in one swift motion, and in that moment, everything just falls into place. Like the universe had run its course. Alec pulls back, and they just sit there for a moment, foreheads pressed together, breaths mingling and becoming one, and Magnus feels complete.

“I love you too.”


 

Alec blinks rapidly to try and force himself awake. The words on the page swim in front of his eyes. He’s read the same sentence of this medical journal at least five times. He’s sitting in the ship’s library, hunched over the impossibly thick stack of papers, highlighter in hand, as he tries to make sense of the article Maia had sent over in a panic for him to look at.

It’s how Siti finds him when she comes in a few minutes later.

“Working on vacation?”

“You’re one to talk.” Alec chides, nodding at the laptop in her hands.

“Ah well.” She grins, taking a seat on the leather armchair across from him, “You know what they say. Business never rests.”

“I don’t think anyone’s ever said that.”

She waves a rebuking hand at him before opening up her laptop.

They sit in silence for a few minutes, before her phone.

“Magnus!” She answers, immediately smiling and leaning back into her chair.

Fucking hell. Alec takes in a deep breath through his nose and forces himself to keep his attention on his paper, to not snap his head up at the mere mention of his name.

“Have you decided if you’re going to come see your poor mother?”

Alec’s straining his ears to hear the muffled sounds of Magnus’ voice from the phone without even meaning to.

Siti sighs, “Oh Magnus, our cruise isn’t so far away from Egypt that you can’t come. Even if it’s just for a few days.”

Alec realises that he’s holding onto his paper far more tightly than he needs to.

“I don’t know when I’ll get a chance like this again, darling.” Siti continues, and she goes so far as to pout for dramatic effect, even though Magnus can’t even see her, “I haven’t been feeling so well recently. Who knows if I’ll be able to travel like this again.”

She pauses, letting out another sigh that’s so staged that Alec has to bite his lip from laughing, “Anyways. I won’t keep you any longer. I’ll talk to you later, Magnus. I love you.”

She cuts the call, placing her phone down in her lap. A second or two passes before she meets Alec’s gaze, a cheeky smile slowly spreading across her face. A laugh escapes her, and Alec laughs along with her.

“Come on, Siti.” He says in between laughs, “That was a bit melodramatic, don’t you think? Even for you.”

“Oh hush.” She scolds good-naturedly, leaning back in her chair, “You have to do these things to get your kid’s attention. When you’re a parent you’ll understand.”

She picks up her laptop from the table and places it on her lap, opening it up. “It’s been quite some time since you last saw Magnus, right?” she asks, glancing up at him.

Alec had always felt that Siti had understood exactly what he and Magnus had had, maybe even before the two of them had realised. A bit of that plays across her features now in a knowing look, in a small smile, so like the kind Alec had seen on her son so many times. She looks so much like him. The same piercing, dark stare. As though she can read him like an open book without even having to try. Alec swallows, trying to school his features.

“Yeah.” He clears his throat, “It’s been a while. So is he in Egypt now?”

Siti nods, “Something about a new antechamber being discovered in the Valley of the Kings.” She turns her attention back to her laptop screen, tapping the trackpad a few times before she turns it to face him. “Look. He sent a few pictures.”

Alec wasn’t prepared. He wasn’t prepared to look up and be met face to face with Magnus’ eyes, his smile. It knocks the wind out of him, and it takes everything in him to not show the extent of the effect this picture, this one picture has on him.

He looks beautiful, even more so than the last time Alec saw him, if that’s even possible. He’s got a goatee now, Alec notes with appreciation. His hair is the same, styled to perfection with strands of red woven through it. His eyes shine through the screen, framed with kohl, and his smile stretches wide over his face. It’s effortless, that smile, denting his cheeks and lighting up his eyes. Alec remembers the way that smile used to feel, pressed against his own, in quiet moments. 

It’s only after he manages to tear his eyes away from Magnus that Alec notices that there’s a woman sitting next to him, a beautiful woman with smooth, deep brown skin and long braids that are dyed a stunning blue towards the ends. She’s smiling widely at the camera, as though the photographer caught her mid-laugh. Her head rests on Magnus’ shoulder, her arm looped through his.

“Is that his girlfriend?” The words slip out of him before he has a chance to hold them back. He regrets it immediately – why is he allowed to care?

Siti sighs, turning the laptop back to face her, “I don’t know. Maybe. He never tells me anything, that boy.”

Alec nods and turns his gaze back onto the medical journal. He knows he has no right to care whether or not Magnus is single. He’d lost that when he’d lost him. He knows that it’s none of his business, and that it hasn’t been his business for over a decade now.

But he can’t help the visceral, searing pain that shoots through him at the very thought of Magnus being with anyone other than him. It’s his body betraying the raw emotion he tries so hard to suppress, to hide behind carefully structured walls of steel. He feels it in the way his stomach lurches painfully at the thought of it.

He looks up at Siti, and gives her a smile to hide the wreckage of his heart.

 


 ~ 

“I love you.”

Magnus smiles that devastating smile and pulls Alec closer, cupping his face in his hands.

“Say it again.” He whispers.

“IloveyouIloveyouIloveyouIloveyou –”

Alec doesn’t even complain when Magnus cuts him off with a laugh and a kiss that could shatter worlds.


 

Breathe. Just breathe.

Magnus repeats the words to himself like a mantra, and clenches his fingers into tight fists at his side, anything to keep him from betraying the frenzy he’s currently working himself into. His mother walks next to him, arm looped through his, and a giant smile on her face as she talks a mile a minute about the features of the ship, of the destinations she’s most excited to see over the coming days.

He should be paying attention. He really should. But he can’t seem to do anything other than smile occasionally and nod.

Because he’s here. He’s here on this godforsaken ship, and somewhere on this ship, maybe in one of these outrageously luxurious rooms, or on one of these over-the-top decks, is Alexander.

Oh my God, breathe. Breathe, you fucking moron.

He doesn’t even notice that they’re inside in one of the corridors until Siti brings them to a halt in front of one of the doors.

“Are you okay, sweetie?” She asks.

“What? Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.” He forces himself to smile nonchalantly, “Jet-lagged, I guess.”

Siti gives him a weird look.

Turkey and Egypt are only an hour apart.

Magnus wants to punch himself. Or better yet, he wants to fling himself overboard so he doesn’t have to fucking deal with all this –

She shakes it off, though, and smiles at him. “Okay. Well, the Lightwoods want to meet you.” She gestures at the door they’re standing in front of, “I’m pretty sure Maryse should be in. Lunch just ended an hour or so back.”

She steps closer to him, placing a hand on his face. Her smile is gentle, and warm as she speaks, “I’m really happy you came, darling. I’ve really missed you.”

Magnus breathes and smiles at his mother. “I missed you too.” He pulls her into his arms, holding her tightly, because she’s the only one holding him together.

But that quickly flies out the window, because as they break apart, the door on the far end of the corridor opens, and Magnus’ breath is stolen from him again, just like it was all those years ago, by the man who walks out.

~*~

“Alec! There you are. I told you the melodrama would work. Look who finally decided to show up.”

Alec looks up to catch Siti’s smiling face, before his gaze turns to –

Oh.

Oh.

Holy shit.

It’s him. He’s here. He’s here, and he’s looking at him with eyes that speak of worlds, looking at him like there’s nothing else in the whole universe that could ever tear his eyes away from him.

And Alec can’t even hear what Siti says as she steps into the room next to her. He can’t even focus on anything else other than the soft sounds of Magnus’ shoes against the carpet as he makes his way closer, closer than he’s ever been since everything went wrong, since Alec lost the best part of himself.

He can’t breathe.

Because Magnus is right there. All these years later and he’s right there looking infuriatingly beautiful in a navy blue button up that’s unbuttoned at the top and with his dark, piercing eyes lined in glittery kohl and his hair that looks immaculate with streaks of red woven through it and who the hell gave him the permission to look like he had just dropped from the heavens above?

“Alexander.”

That name, his name, uttered again in that voice, and suddenly Alec is transported back to the first time he had heard Magnus say his full name, to the time Magnus had whispered his name in his ear, to the time it had fallen from his lips like it was a prayer when they were wrapped up in silken sheets. And then Magnus smiles, and Alec thinks that everything is shot to hell, because suddenly he’s right back there, all those years ago, falling in love with Magnus Bane in every way possible.

“Hi.” Alec breathes, because it’s really all he can manage.

Magnus takes a few steps towards him, and Alec feels his own feet moving towards him of their own accord, like there will always be this inherent connection between the two of them, incessantly strong in its attraction.

A moment passes, a moment where Alec is sure his heart is going to crash right out of his chest, before Magnus reaches out and pulls him into a hug. It’s shocking, really, how quickly Alec melts into it, wrapping his arms around him. The lingering scent of sandalwood shampoo warms every part of him.

It’s like coming home.

They break apart, far too soon for Alec’s liking. Magnus’ gaze is soft, flitting back and forth between Alec’s.

Alec forces himself to speak. “I thought you weren’t going to come.”

A small smile plays itself across Magnus’ lips, “Sorry to disappoint you.”

“No, not at all. It’s good that you came.” Alec nods towards the room Siti disappeared into, grinning, “Siti was really missing you.”

Magnus’ smile turns sheepish, and he shakes his head. “She can be… a bit much.”

“Yeah, let’s just say that I know where your dramatic streak comes from.”

Magnus laughs lightly, and Alec marvels at how easy it is. It’s so easy to fall back into their banter, into smiling and joking with Magnus as though nothing had changed. As though the world hadn’t come crashing down on them.

It’s almost too easy. To pretend as though he doesn’t want to just pull Magnus to him and lose himself in him and leave the world and all its pain and judgement behind.

“You’re looking good.”

Alec’s sure that Magnus can hear the incessant way his heart seems to be trying to climb out of him. He has to.

“Thank you,” Alec says, “You do too.”

He doesn’t say what he really wants to.

You’ve always been the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.

“And your wife, uh –”

Magnus’ words shock him, then, twisting his stomach unbearably. It’s a violent jolt back into their reality.

“Fiancée,” he corrects, “Lydia.”

“Oh.” If Alec didn’t know Magnus the way he did, if he’d been anyone else, he would have missed the way his voice tightened around that word, the way he does everything in his power to keep his voice steady, “I thought that –” he trails off, gesturing with his hands.

“No, we uh – we pushed the wedding back.”

“Right.” Magnus nods, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat as he swallows. “How is she?”

“She’s – she’s good. Yeah.”

I don’t want her. I don’t want this. You have to know that. Please know that. I just want to be with you. All I want is you. You’re all I’ve ever wanted, you’re everything I’ve ever dreamed of –

~*~

Magnus remembers the first time he’d thought of Alec as more than his friend. When he’d noticed the flecks of green in the hazel of his eyes a little more, when he’d felt a jolt in his stomach when Alec smiled at him. When he’d realised with his heart in his throat that there was nothing else the universe could conjure up that could take the place of this boy, this beautiful, beautiful boy who was everything Magnus could have hoped for, and more. When it felt like Alec was the piece of his soul he needed to feel complete.

It’s all of that that comes crashing into him right now. Magnus realises that everything he’s held onto for the past twelve years, faded memories of Alexander, are nothing compared to the real thing. Standing in front of him, close enough to touch, the very essence of him alight with something beautiful, something precious.

Magnus knows then that any hope he ever had of forgetting Alexander, of moving on, no longer exists.

“Well if it isn’t Magnus fucking Bane!”

It’s that, and the whirl of dark hair and red cloth that Magnus catches out of the corner of his eye as it launches into him that jolts him back into reality, and soon, Isabelle Lightwood’s clarion laughter echoes through the hallway. Magnus laughs, turning around to hug her properly, holding her just as tightly as she does, nearly crushing his windpipe in the process.

He’s not really complaining though. He’s missed Isabelle more than he can put into words.

“I didn’t think it was possible for you to look more amazing, but you did it anyways, you asshole.” She says, pulling back with shining eyes and a smile that takes over her entire face.

“The same goes for you!” He exclaims, gesturing at her. She’s just as beautiful as she’d been the last time he saw her, if not more so. Those damn Lightwood genes.

She laughs and hugs him again, wrapping her arms tightly around his waist and resting her head against his chest. The smell of her perfume warms every part of him.

Isabelle was one of the many beautiful parts of his life he’d lost when he and Alec broke up, drifting apart as they were separated by oceans and time. It felt like a domino effect of complete destruction, and Magnus had realised just how inexorably almost every facet of his life, how everything good, and wonderful, was tied to Alexander.

It was him. It was always him. The reason behind so many of his smiles.

Magnus had fallen in love with him with all the innocence, and with all the steadfast belief and conviction that came of childhood. And Alec had loved him deeply, devoutly, in a way that was so inherently him. He loved him like he didn’t know how to do anything else, like it was what he needed to survive.

And then Magnus had lost him. Then, everything ended. His world came crumbling down, his heart ached with the loss of the most beautiful thing that had ever, would ever happen to him, and among it all, Magnus lost the best part of himself.

Out of the corner of his eye, Magnus catches the unguarded smile on Alexander’s face as he takes in the two of them. It’s like he’s not even aware that he’s smiling, or that Magnus feels a little bit more complete at the mere sight of it.

Magnus comes to realise that whether Alec loves him or not, whether there’s anything left between them or not, he will always love him. 

That’s a part of himself that’s as given as the beat of his heart.

 


 ~

Magnus grips the phone so tightly he’s afraid it’s going to shatter in his hands.

“I love you. You know I love you.” He whispers.

Please believe me. You have to believe me.

Alec’s voice trembles uncontrollably around his next words.

“Then why did you leave me?”

 

~


 

 Alec brushes some of the water out of his eyes. The pool deck is deserted, as is expected at this time of the night. All he can hear is the steady whirring of the ship’s engines, and the crashing of water against its sides as it cuts through the ocean in its path. The sky is an endless expanse of obsidian black, dotted with way more points of dazzling light than Alec ever gets the chance to see in New York.

It’s incredibly calming. Alec closes his eyes and breathes in deeply. The air smells like the ocean, clean and crisp, filling his lungs and buoying every part of him.

“Hey stranger.”

He turns around to see Magnus walking towards the pool, a small smile on his beautiful face. He’s dressed in swimming shorts and a black Henley, face free of makeup, and a towel in hand as he makes his way to the lounge chair next to the pool.

“Figured I’d find you up here sooner or later.”

“Oh?” Alec asks, moving closer to the edge of the pool, “Why’s that?”

“Happy place, right?” Magnus says, grinning at him.

Of course he’d remember.

Magnus pulls off his shirt, and it’s all Alec can do to not choke on the water. He looks incredible, if not even better than the last time Alec had been privileged enough to see him like this. Muscles ripple underneath smooth bronze skin as he folds his shirt and places it on one of the lounge chairs. There’s something about the way the soft moonlight bounces off him that sends fire through Alec’s veins.

He shoots Alec a grin as he lowers himself slowly into the water, submerging fully before coming up again, and pushing his wet hair off his forehead.

If it had been another time, Alec would have reached out and pulled him closer until no force in the universe could ever separate them.

Magnus comes closer, until he’s standing just a foot away. Water drips down the side of his face, over his lips, glistening against his skin.

Alec can’t count the number of times Magnus had found him at the pool, after a bad day, after a good day, can’t count the hours they’d spent together, sitting in the water, talking and laughing until the skin on their fingers wrinkled. Perhaps, if he just closes his eyes, he can remember how Magnus would kiss him, underwater, where there was nothing to feel but him.

Magnus jerks his head towards the length of the pool in front of them, “You still any good?”

“Always.” Alec grins, “Still think you can beat me?”

“Pretty sure I can.”

“Pretty sure you can try.”

Magnus narrows his eyes playfully, “Alright, Lightwood. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

Now, Alec has always been the better swimmer out of the two of them. Years of Magnus trying and failing to beat him at a race stand testament to that fact.

Which is why Alec finds himself absolutely speechless and completely winded, not a few minutes later, on the other side of the pool, where Magnus is waiting for him with an infuriating smirk on his face.

Alec rubs at the stitch burning in his side, as he regards Magnus with a stunned look on his face, “When did you learn to swim like that?”

Magnus laughs, a breathless laugh that does all sorts of things to Alec, at the expression on his face, “I did the Ironman in Barcelona last year. Did a lot of training for that.”

“Is there anything you haven’t done?”

“Chris Hemsworth.” Magnus says, and then he turns to Alec and winks, “Yet.”

A shocked laugh bursts out of Alec, and soon, Magnus joins him. Alec can’t remember the last time he’d felt like this, laughing with Magnus. It feels like someone plucked a memory from their past and made it come to life around them.  

“So how’s it going?” Magnus asks as they slowly come to a stop, “The whole saving lives thing?”

“It’s going.” Alec laughs, waving a hand to emphasise his point.

“More than going, from what I’ve heard. Miracle drug, Lasker Award.” Magnus grins at him, eyes shining, “You’re a force to be reckoned with.”

“Oh God.” Alec throws his head back against the pool wall, “Not you too. First of all, I haven’t actually won the Lasker. Second of all, everyone’s just making too big of a deal out of it. Third of all, it wasn’t just me. My friend Maia did just as much, if not more –”

“Why do you do that?” Magnus cuts him off.

“What?”

“You always do that.” Magnus says insistently, “You always downplay your achievements, as if somehow they’re not worth the time of day.”

When Alec doesn’t speak, he continues, “What you’ve done isn’t something to be downplayed.”

“I don’t know about that.” Alec lets out a laugh and looks down. He feels the tips of his ears heat up in embarrassment.

There’s a short pause, and when Magnus speaks again, his voice is impossibly gentle, “Alec, I know that your parents refused to help you pay for med school. I know that you worked really hard to come up with the money on your own.”

Alec finds himself at a complete loss for words.

“And I never got the chance to tell you, but –” Magnus pauses, eyes flickering down for a second. He swallows, before continuing, “I’m really proud of you.”

For a few moments, all Alec can hear is the soft lapping of the water against the pool walls, and the pitter-patter of his own heart against his ribs. He clears his throat, trying to get rid of some of the emotion that’s lodged itself there.

“Thank you, Magnus. That means a lot.”

More than you could ever know.

Magnus’ lips quirk upwards. He reaches out and places his palm on Alec’s forearm, squeezing gently before letting go. He leans his head back against the edge of the pool, and looks up at the starry night.

“Wow.” He breathes, a serene smile on his face, “Isn’t this the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?”

And how can Alec agree with that, really, when Magnus is right there?

He keeps his eyes trained on Magnus’ face, unable to look away, not when he’s smiling like that with the moonlight illuminating every contour, every beautiful feature.

“It’s up there.”

Chapter Text

When Jace comes aboard the ship in the İzmir Province, the weight of everything lessens ever so slightly on Alec’s shoulders.

He hugs his brother in all but blood tightly to him, allowing himself to hear Jace’s unabashed laughter ringing in his ears. When they break apart, he sees the effects of his recent marriage to Clary evident on his face, in the tanned skin, wildly happy eyes, and the grin that seems to have no end. And when Jace claps him on the shoulder, he catches sight of the wedding band on his finger gleaming brightly in the setting summer sun.

For just a moment, he forgets his own problems, just because he feels so happy for him.

Jace was the last person to round out their little group growing up. He lived in the same neighbourhood on the Upper East Side as the Lightwoods, raised by his grandmother, Imogen, after his parents had passed in a tragic car accident when he was barely a few months old. While Imogen herself was not the most pleasant person to be around, Jace had inherited his parents’ good nature and a capacity to love that was boundless. Jace eventually moved to Philadelphia two years ago, where he met Clary, a native of Brooklyn who had moved there when she was around seven years old. But for the longest time, he was part of Alec’s whole world: him, Izzy, Jace, and Magnus. Just the four of them, and sometimes, Max, who was the baby brother they all loved immensely.

After Izzy, Jace had been the first person to notice the way Alec’s eyes lingered on Magnus just a little longer, the way Alec seemed to come alive every time Magnus entered the room. Alec can still remember the knowing smile on his face, the cheeky tilt of his eyebrow whenever Magnus left Alec at a complete loss for words or coherence.

Alec’s missed him.

“How was the flight?” Alec asks.

“Well, it flew.” Jace says, laughing. Clary appears suddenly then, crying out in delight and throwing herself at Alec.

Alec admits that it took a while before he finally warmed up to Clary, but she managed to worm her way into his heart quickly enough. He hugs her tightly before letting go.

Her eyes sparkle with happiness, and she’s practically bouncing from one foot to the next. “Gosh Alec, when I saw that article I was so proud! I can’t believe it –”

“Stop.” Alec says loudly, interrupting her mid-gush, “Not another word about that article or I’ll have you escorted off the ship.” He means it as a joke. Mostly.

“Wouldn’t put it past him.” Izzy says pointedly, joining the group, conveniently ignoring the glare Alec sends her way. “Alec’s just as much of a grouch as he was before you guys left. Actually, more.”

“Oh hush.” Clary says, fixing Alec with a fierce look, “I don’t care what you say, mister. I’m proud of you and you deserve to know it.”

“Now if we’re done inflating Alec’s ego, who’s up for drinks? I, for one, know that there is a crate of beer somewhere in Selçuk with my name on it.” Jace announces solemnly, grabbing Clary’s hand and marching in the direction of the ship’s exit, leading them out into the town they’re docked in for the next day. 

Clary rolls her eyes good-naturedly, in tandem with Alec, before allowing herself to be dragged along by her husband.

As they make their way to a bar Jace looks up, Alec buries his hands deep in his pockets and walks behind the rest of the group, on his own. Ahead of him, Izzy’s got her arm looped through Clary’s free one, and the three of them are chattering away, laughing happily, relishing each other’s company in the midst of the beginnings of Selçuk’s nightlife. Max had opted out of joining them for the night, citing the ship’s extensive all-you-can-eat buffet as reason enough to stay behind, and Magnus had joined him.

Alec can’t tell if he did it because he can’t bear to be in the same room as him anymore, because the distance between them hurts him as much as it hurts Alec.

He hasn’t said much to Magnus since their night in the pool almost two days ago. The night had ended with Magnus hoisting himself out of the pool and sending a small smile Alec’s way, before bidding him good night and heading back to his room. It took everything Alec had to not run the length of the ship after him, to grab onto his hand and beg him to stay. Their interactions with each other since then have been limited to a few nods, a smile here and there. Alec looking up at dinner to see Magnus’ gaze lingering on him.

Alec feeling his heart flutter with an intensity he forgot existed when Magnus laughs loudly at something, anything.

Jace turns back to look at him, furrowing his brow in concern. Alec simply smiles and waves him off.

The bar they enter is a small one with a pleasant atmosphere, filled with people speaking a multitude of different languages. There’s a live band that’s halfway decent, playing old school rock hits, and the chalkboard menu boasts pretty reasonable prices. Jace finds them a table somewhere between the stage and the bar.

“Right.” He announces, rubbing his hands together eagerly, “Beers?”

The girls echo their agreement and Alec nods as well.

“I’ll come with you.” He follows Jace to the bar, where they order their beers and two rounds of shots to celebrate being reunited.

“I’ve missed you, man.” Jace says, turning to Alec with a grin and bumping him with his shoulder.

“I saw you three weeks ago.” Alec deadpans, referring to the wedding that had taken place in the Hamptons.

“Still, you asshole.” Jace says indignantly, swatting Alec’s arm. “Three weeks without seeing that face is too damn long.”

“I missed your face too.” Alec says with a grin. Jace rolls his eyes.

They gather the beers and champagne and head back to their table, where Izzy all but snatches the beer out of Alec’s hand.

“So.” She says, leaning back after taking a giant gulp of the beer and letting out a ridiculous burp that has all of them bursting into laughter, “How was the honeymoon? Spill everything.”

“Not everything, please.” Alec chimes in, earning himself a roll of the eyes from Clary.

“We started off in Milan, then Venice, Florence, Sorrento and ended in Rome.” She says, “Jace got sick in Venice after eating too much pasta.”

“Did not know there was such a thing as too much pasta.” Izzy muses.

“Right?” Clary shakes her head at Jace who simply shrugs and grins, “Not that it stopped him from eating his weight in pasta after chugging a few Pepto-Bismol.”

Jace gasps then, “Oh my God! We forgot to tell you.” He places his beer down, “We’re moving back to New York!”

Izzy lets out a shriek of delight, nearly spilling her drink, “Shut up! That’s amazing!”

“Dude, that’s awesome.” Alec says, reaching over and clapping Jace on the shoulder.

“Couldn’t stay away from you all for too long.” Jace grins, “We’re not coming back to Manhattan though. We’ll be in Brooklyn.”  

Clary nods, “Yeah, Mom’s been trying to find someone to take over her loft now that she’s moving in with Luke.” She turns to smile at Jace, eyes crinkling with a warm kind of happiness that speaks to their love for each other, “It’ll be nice to be back home. I barely remember it. It’s been like 20 years or something.”

A slight commotion near the stage gets their attention just then. A woman comes up to the mic, grinning widely at a group of people at the very front. She taps on it a few times to get everyone’s attention.

“Hi everyone, sorry to interrupt all of you, but we have a live performance from a very talented member of our audience!” She announces, followed by cheering and clapping as a man with dark brown hair and glasses gets coaxed onto the stage by the group in front, his laughing protests going unheeded.

He’s got a sheepish smile on his face as he sighs and steps up to the mic.

“Uh, hi.” He says, scratching the back of his head. He’s got an American accent. “My name’s Simon. I’m from New York.”

Jace cheers loudly, to scattered laughter from the crowd and a grin from Simon.

“Wait, I know him!” Izzy says excitedly, “He’s one of the singers on the ship. I’ve seen him perform in the live lounge on E deck.”

Simon continues to speak, “Let it be known that I’m being forced into this by my now ex-friend, Farrah.” He gestures to a woman with curly hair who’s laughing too hard to respond.

He accepts a guitar handed to him by the woman who had announced him. “I guess there’s no escaping this now. I’m gonna sing something a little slower, if that’s okay with you guys.” He strums a few chords, “I wrote this about a year ago. This is ‘Nightshade.’” 

He smiles again, before beginning a song that sadly beautiful, in the lyrics and in the way Simon’s voice sounds with them. His voice is clear and beautiful, almost as though singing is completely effortless for him, and he’s got a smile on his face, eyes closed as he sings. It’s like everything he’s doing is second nature to him.

“He’s incredible, isn’t he?” Izzy sighs, resting her chin on her hand and tilting her head to the side.

“He is. We should check him out sometime, on the ship.” Clary says.

Simon finishes the song to roaring applause and cheers. The smile on his face is impossibly wide as he sets the guitar down and takes a bow.

“Thank you. Thank you all so much.” He says into the mic before jumping down from the stage into the arms of his friends, who all ruffle his hair and pat him on the back.

God, he’s cute.” Izzy blurts out, eyes fixed on Simon, completely oblivious to the surprised looks Alec, Jace, and Clary send her way. When she notices, she gives them all a puzzled look. “What? He is.”

“That’s my girl.” Clary whoops, grinning, “You’ve been single for how long? Remind me, I forgot because I think I aged ten years in that time.”

Izzy rolls her eyes at Clary. “It’s only been a year or something. When I broke things off with Wil from accounting.”

Will from accounting?” Alec snickers, “You dated Will from accounting? I thought you hated Will from accounting.”

“I did hate Will from accounting. I mean come on, he’s obsessed with chia seeds and ‘finding his soul’ through white people Buddhism. But,” Izzy pauses, taking a sip of her beer, “the sex was amazing.”

She grins her trademarked shit-eating Izzy grin as Alec groans loudly, scrunching up his nose and shaking his hands at her.

“Please don’t. Gross. Nasty.”

“You love me, big brother.” She says in that annoyingly endearing tone of hers, before reaching for one of the shot glasses.

“Alright,” she declares, standing up and bouncing on her feet, “I’m gonna go up to him.” She downs the shot, barely even making a face before setting the glass down with a purpose. “Wish me luck.”

Clary cheers for her, Jace clapping along and Alec grinning as she walks towards Simon. Alec sees the moment Simon sees her walking up to him, and nearly chokes on his beer laughing when Simon’s eyes all but fall out of his head. He smiles a star-struck smile as Izzy stops in front of him, barely remembering to shake her outstretched hand and uttering what are no doubt one-worded, stuttering responses.

“Aaaand she’s got him.” Jace says, grinning as he turns back to the table.

“That woman has confidence that I can only dream of.” Clary sighs. She taps her hands against the table, “Alright boys. I’m heading to the bathroom. Don’t set fire to the place while I’m gone.” She places a kiss against Jace’s cheek before heading off.

“God, it feels so good to be back with all of you.” Jace says, watching his wife leave, before leaning back in his chair and grinning at Alec, “And we’re back in New York so that’s even better.”

“Yeah, you can start coming around to the hospital again during your lunch breaks and terrorize my interns. They’ve certainly missed you.”

Jace laughs loudly, throwing his head back, “Oh fuck, dude, I forgot about them. How’s Patel doing? Still dropping surgical trays in the OR?”

“He’s a resident now, if you can even believe it.” Alec laughs along with him, thinking of his poor protégé back at the hospital who’s actually quite endearing. Not that you’d ever hear Alec admit it.

“Good for him. I’ll uh, surprise him when we get back.” A mischievous grin takes over Jace’s face.

“I’m pretty sure he’d start crying. Or move to Long Island. Or both.”

Jace shakes his head, shoulders moving from his laughter. It feels good to be here with him again, Alec thinks. Just laughing about anything and everything.

“I actually wanted to ask you something.” Alec says, swallowing the last of his beer and placing the empty glass down.

“Go for it.”

“Will you be my best man? I know it’s kind of short notice, but –”

“Woah woah, hold up.” Jace cuts him off, smile evaporating as he shakes his head and raises a hand, “You’re really going through with the wedding? With Lydia? Still?”

“Uh, yeah? Why wouldn’t I?”  

Jace looks at him incredulously. “Alec, you can’t be serious.”

“I wouldn’t joke about something like this.” Alec says brusquely, tone far more clipped than he had intended.

He looks on as Jace studies him with disbelief in his eyes.

“So you’re telling me you’re completely fine with this. You’re completely on board.” Jace raises his eyebrows at him.

“Again, why wouldn’t I be?” Even Alec can hear the half-heartedness hidden behind his rough response.

Jace scoffs, “Don’t bullshit me, Alec. I might not be as smart as you but I’m not dumb.”

“Debatable.”

Jace throws him a scathing look that has Alec sighing and leaning back in his chair. He can’t bring himself to keep up the act as well as he ought to, not when Jace is right there, sitting next to him, knowing him as well as only a few people in the world do. It’s hard to lie to a face he’s known as a brother for as long as he can remember.

“Talk to me, man.” Jace says softly, placing a hand on Alec’s shoulder.

Alec’s throat burns as he swallows and meet’s Jace’s gaze.

“I was fine until I saw him again.” He whispers, “Everything was fine until he showed up and now I don’t know how to go back to everything being fine because every time I look at him I can’t breathe.

“Was everything really fine? Before?” Jace asks, gently, but pointedly. “Were you really fine?”

“I…” Alec’s voice trails off, because no, he was not fine. Nothing had ever been fine after Magnus left, after his presence, which had once seemed so effortless and everlasting, diluted with the passage of time and the ocean that separated them. Nothing had ever been fine since his parents had first suggested Lydia as a match for him.

Alec hasn’t been fine for over a decade.

He glances over to see Izzy and Simon embroiled in conversation. At one point, Izzy throws her head back, laughing loudly and clapping at something Simon says. Alec watches as Simon looks at her laughing like he’s never seen anything like it before. He watches as they talk, smiling like there’s nothing around that could possibly lessen their happiness.

It’s not something Alec can relate to, of late.

Jace is still looking at him intently.

“No.” Alec says finally, “I wasn’t.”

Maybe it’s the heartbreak he can’t keep out of his voice that has Jace furrowing his eyebrows in concern.

“What happened? You never told me.” Jace leans forward against the table, “I mean, you two were so happy.”

“He just – he just left.” Alec croaks out, throat painfully dry, “I thought we were happy too. Everything was exactly the way it was supposed to be. And then it wasn’t.”

The sounds of the bar seem muted in his ears as he continues, “I loved him so much.”

His next words are barely above a whisper. He doesn’t know if Jace even hears them. “I still do. More than anything.”

 


 

 

A scorching yet beautiful afternoon greets Magnus as he makes his way to the pool deck. It’s significantly more crowded than it was that night he had spent with Alec in the pool. The night when he had to wrench himself away and flee to his room before his heart broke all over again. There are people everywhere now, taking advantage of the Turkish sun, and a spotless, bright blue sky that seems to be endless.

Magnus notices the youngest Lightwood lounging on one of the sun chairs, and immediately finds himself grinning. It still feels surreal to see him like this now, a grown man. He’s almost as tall as Alec, with floppy, messy brown hair, dark eyes perpetually alight with mischief, and that signature, dazzling Lightwood smile. That same smile is directed at Magnus now, as Max notices him making his way over.

Magnus nods to him as he sits down in the sun chair next to him. “Maximus.”

“Magnus Bane, come to join the land of the living.” Max’s grin widens as he tips his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose. He sucks loudly from the straw of his drink, a shocking purple concoction complete with a bright yellow cocktail umbrella.

Magnus points at it. “That looks terrifying.”

Max shrugs. “Tastes like pineapple. And copious amounts of vodka. I like it.” He sets it down on the table next to him. “So, Magnus. Looking to get your tan on? You are looking a little pale, if you don’t mind me saying.”

“I think I’m covered in that area, thanks.” Magnus says, laughing, “Have you been up here all day?”

“Oh you know it. I’ve been brushing up.” Max holds up the book in his hands, turning it so the cover faces Magnus.

It’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In French.

“How’s that working out for you?”

“Pretty good. Although I do keep dropping the ‘h’ every time I think of the word ‘Harry’ now.”

Magnus laughs, and Max joins him. Then, Magnus’ phone rings loudly.

“Sorry.” Magnus pulls his phone out to see a FaceTime call coming in from Catarina.

“Nah, don’t sweat it.” Max says, standing up and gathering his book and drink, “I was supposed to meet Jace at the squash courts like ten minutes ago anyways. I’ll see you around, Magnus.”

Magnus smiles and waves back at him as Max walks away, humming under his breath and finishing up the rest of his horrendous purple drink.

He turns his attention to his phone and answers the call from Cat. Her face takes up the screen a few seconds later, eyebrows furrowed in concentration.

“Afternoon, darling.” Magnus says breezily, leaning back against the lounge chair and smiling sunnily at her.

“Having fun, aren’t you? Massages? World class entertainment? Five-star buffets? Free-flow alcohol?”

“You could say that.” Magnus nods, grinning, “We’re in Turkey for the next day or so. Then it’s off to Greece.”

“Jesus, take a few shots for me would you? And eat a metric buttload of hummus. And baba ganoush. And halloumi.”

“Metric buttload?” Magnus bursts out laughing.

“You heard me. Metric buttload.”

“Alright, I will try my damnedest to eat a metric buttload of the specified foods.”

“Good.” Cat grins, “I’m living vicariously through you.”

“Noted.”

She folds her arms. “So. How are things with Dr. Sexy?”

When Magnus gives her a look, she scoffs, “What?”

Magnus sighs, shrugging, “Never mind. It’s true anyways.”

“Okay, so spill.”

Magnus scratches at his chin. “It feels… like him. And then it doesn’t. He’s still the same person, but… I don’t know, Cat.” He sighs. “There’s too much history for me to act like I could move on, and I don’t know, be friends with him?” The words feel foreign in his mouth.

“But he’s still with her? The other chick.”

“Yep.” Magnus says, popping the “p.” His jaw locks of its own accord. “Lydia. They’re still engaged.”

“What’s she like?” Catarina asks, leaning closer to the screen.

Magnus lets out a humourless laugh. “I haven’t actually met her. She’s this… faceless entity in my mind.”

“Well I bet she’s an absolutely terrible person.” Cat says jokingly, and it somehow manages to lessen the dark cloud that seems to be Magnus’ sour mood taking over his mind.

“Thanks, love. I appreciate you having my back.”

She winks at him, before her expression turns sombre.

“Has he spoken to you about anything? About what happened?”

“No, and I haven’t made any effort to instigate that particular conversation.”

Magnus is hesitant to open that can of worms. It would mean all the ugliness, all the sorrow and all the pain of the past coming to a head. There’s really no way Magnus could see it going civilly, because there’s so much that happened and Magnus doesn’t know if he could handle Alec looking at him, broken.

Not again.


Because even Alec doesn’t know the full story. 

~

The coffee tastes even more bitter, almost.

Magnus looks up from his hands to once again meet the eyes of Robert Lightwood sitting in front of him. They’re in a loud, bustling café somewhere on Broadway, with patrons swinging in and out in a never-ending stream on a busy Thursday afternoon. But Magnus doesn’t pay attention any of it.

Robert leans forward, placing folded palms on the top of the table separating them.

“You and Alec have become… quite close.”

Magnus tries to ignore the lick of panic that flares in his chest. Alec’s not out to his parents. They’re the type of people that, as much as Magnus hates to entertain the thought, make it almost impossible for Alec to ever come out to.

“We’ve always been close.” He says, in a voice he hopes conceals the fear slowly pooling in the pit of his stomach, “He’s my best friend.”

“Friend.” Robert says evenly. His lips quirk up in a small smile completely devoid of humour, “Of course.”

Magnus had always thought that Robert reminded him of a shark. His eyes are cold and dark. Even growing up, he can’t recall a moment when he was ever truly comfortable in Robert Lightwood’s presence. He feels that same discomfort crawling up his spine now, eating away at him until he can focus on little else.

Robert’s features remain impassive as he continues, “So as his friend, I’m sure you know that family has always been the most important thing to Alec. And it always will be. He knows what he’s supposed to do, and I have no doubt that, when the time comes, he will make the right decision.”

Alec’s father takes a nonchalant sip of his coffee, as if Magnus can’t sense the multiple layers of deep, deep dislike hidden in every single word that’s just come out of his mouth.

“I’d hate for anything to hold him back from doing so.” His eyes meet Magnus’ then, cold and calculating. Ruthless. “I’d hate for anything to make him lose his family.”

Magnus feels as though the air has been punched out of him. This is a man who’s known Magnus since he was a child. A man who’s watched all of them – Alec, Magnus, Izzy, Jace – grow up together. It takes everything in Magnus to not betray the swell of emotions rising inside him, to keep a neutral face as Alec’s father continues.

“Siti mentioned that you were looking into journalism as a career path.” He says, fingers playing with the napkin in front of him. “How nice.”

“Thank you.”

“My good friend, Fredrick Weatherford, heads up the writing and languages department at the University of Cambridge. He has agreed to admit you to the writing program on a partial scholarship. It’s an incredibly prestigious program, as I’m sure you know. Maryse and I would, of course, cover the rest of your tuition and any other expenses you may incur.”

The tip of Robert’s finger runs slowly, deliberately, over the edge of his napkin. “Cambridge is far away, of course. But I have no doubts that you will adjust in no time.

Magnus swallows. He ignores the biting pain of his own fingernails digging into his palms under the table. “Why – I mean, can I ask why you’re offering to sponsor my education?”

Robert sighs, “I’m not going to dance around things, Magnus. You’re a smart young man. I’m sure you understand that opportunities like this don’t come around every day, and if I were you, I would take it. I would take it without an ounce of hesitation.”

There’s something in Robert’s voice that changes when he says this. Almost as if he’s reminding Magnus of his place in the world.

“Your mother has high hopes for you.” Robert leans forward, placing folded palms on the table in front of him. Magnus fights the instant urge to shrink into his seat. Robert tilts his head to the side before continuing, “You wouldn’t want to disappoint her, would you?”

Magnus’ blood rushes in his ears, his stomach twisting painfully as Robert smiles at him, a smile laced with malice and everything that told him that he wasn’t good enough, that he would never be good enough, for anything, for Alec.

He would never be good enough.

~


 

“You see that column there? I dare you to go stand up on it and yell and pretend to be a Roman gladiator about to go down heroically in his last fight on this mortal planet.”

Max turns to face Magnus, a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

Magnus raises an eyebrow at him. “And why on Earth would I do that?”

“I’ll give you fifty bucks.”

“Oh Maximus,” Magnus sighs dramatically, leaning against the old, weathered stone next to him, “It’s gonna take a lot more than fifty bucks to get me to do that. And I don’t think you can afford me.”

Max rolls his eyes, huffing and leaning back alongside Magnus. “You’re no fun.”

The Great Theatre of Ephesus sprawls out in front of them, a wonder of the Hellenistic period that is surrounded by crystal blue ocean and made of stone that still seems to glisten in the sun, eons later. It’s great excitement for the history buff in Magnus. He’d read up on it the night before. On the stage, there’s a group of people from their entourage surrounding a tour guide, who’s doing a pretty terrible job at explaining the history of the amphitheatre. Magnus snorts at Imogen Herondale’s incredibly bored expression as she listens to the guide, fanning herself with a ridiculously expensive looking fan.

Footsteps sound behind them, and an arm loops itself through Magnus’. He turns to see his mother, shielding her eyes from the sun and smiling up at him.

“Isn’t this incredible?” She sighs, taking in the gorgeous architecture around them.

Magnus concurs, “That it is.”

“What do you think, Max?” Siti asks, looking around Magnus to glance at Max, “Worth getting off the ship for?”

“You know, Siti, normally nothing would be worth leaving luxury accommodation, but I gotta admit that this is worth making a little sacrifice.” Max says seriously, looking incredibly impressed and nodding.

Siti laughs, shaking her head. She glances up at Magnus and immediately raises a hand to his hair, brushing a few strands away, running her fingers through it and ruining all his hard work.

“Mom, stop.”

She tuts. “It’s out of place! Come on, just let me fix it –”

“It’s fine.” When she doesn’t let up, Magnus ducks to avoid her grabby hands. “Mom!”

Max guffaws next to them, thoroughly enjoying Magnus’ misery at being a grown ass man of 32 and still having his mother try to fix his hair that he spends a considerable amount of time every morning perfecting.

“Young man, you stay where you are and let me –”

“This is what it’s supposed to look like. Oh my God, Mom, stop it.”

“And it’s a right sight better than this one’s.”

Magnus and Siti abandon their chasing game and look up to see that Maryse Lightwood has joined their little party. She’s currently ruffling Max’s hair, whose smile has been replaced by a sour look as he dodges his own mother’s attempts at taming the mane of brown waves on top of his head. There’s a woman with long blonde hair standing with her, looking on at the scene with a small, amused smile on her face.

Magnus smiles at Maryse. “Hi Maryse.”

She nods, smiling as well, “Magnus.”

Maryse is a bit of an enigma. Magnus has memories of her baking all of them cookies when she had free time from running the Lightwoods’ company. She would make them with extra chocolate and give each of them a heaping plateful with a warm smile. He has memories of Maryse taking all of them to Central Park during the summer, just so they could spend a whole day running around in the sun.

And then he also has memories of her brushing her children aside. He has memories of her cold gaze, sometimes outright refusing to listen to Alec, or Izzy, or even little Max, when they needed her the most. He remembers her sometimes as being married to her work, constantly chasing profit, profit, profit, much like her husband.

Her husband, who, along with her help, had done everything in his power to set the ball rolling for the end of Magnus and Alec.

“Maxwell, Edward Verlac knows a few contacts at Harvard that can help you get started on your applications for business school. Let’s go – I’m pretty sure we can catch him before we break for lunch.”

Her tone, while pleasant, offers no room for argument. Max nods once, lips pressed into a thin line. Maryse nods at Magnus and Siti in acknowledgment, before walking away, gesturing for her son to follow.

The man in question sighs, and follows his mother with shuffling footsteps, hands buried deep in his pockets.

It’s about then that Magnus notices that the blonde woman is still standing with them, having just observed the whole situation with Maryse.

“Woman on a mission, isn’t she?” She says, speaking for the first time and nodding her head towards Maryse’s retreating back.

Magnus nods, offering her a smile. “You could say that.”

“I remember her chewing out the caterers at the Lightwoods’ Christmas party last year after they forgot to bring in chorizo for the canapés.”

“You wouldn’t want to be on Maryse Lightwood’s bad side, I’ll tell you that much. She’s a force to be reckoned with.”

The woman laughs, a pleasant sound, “Tell me about it.”

She reaches a hand out to Magnus, who takes it. “I’m Lydia Branwell.”

Magnus freezes.

Lydia.

The fiancée.

She’s beautiful, he has to admit. Of course she would be. Of course she would have shining golden hair, and blue eyes that could rival the ocean and of course she would be nice and sweet and –

It’s only when Lydia looks at him funnily that he realises that he should probably stop gawking at her and introduce himself.

“Magnus Bane.”

Immediately, her eyes grow wide in astonishment, mouth falling open in a comically perfect ‘o.’

“Wait, you’re Magnus Bane?”

Magnus barely remembers to nod through his own surprise. God, had Alec told her about –

Lydia’s smile widens impossibly, and she lets out a cry of excitement, “Oh my God! I love your work! I read your articles all the time.”

“Oh!” Magnus laughs in relief, “Wow – um. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“And I’m still holding your hand.” She lets out an embarrassed laugh and lets go of it immediately.

“You’re an incredible writer, really.” She continues, eyes shining, “I love how you’re not afraid to break the conventions of journalism and still present the story in a really well-rounded way.”

Magnus can feel the tips of his ears reddening rapidly. Being so thoroughly complimented by his ex-boyfriend’s fiancée isn’t something he thought would ever happen to him, but he takes it in stride, smiling warmly at her.

“Thank you. That’s so kind of you. Now, if only someone could tell my boss that so I could get that damn promotion.”

Lydia laughs, eyes crinkling in amusement.

“Well, you two seem to be getting along pretty well.”

Alec’s voice sounds itself before the man himself appears from behind Lydia, smile perfectly in place as his eyes dart back and forth between Lydia and Magnus. He’s dressed casually in a white linen button-down, and cream-coloured pants, the top few buttons of the shirt undone to make way for his sunglasses. The wind flows freely through his hair, giving it that wonderfully tousled look, and Magnus aches to just run his fingers through it and mess it up even more.

He has no right to look like that. It’s incredibly unfair.

Lydia grins at him before turning back to face Magnus and Siti, placing a hand on Alec’s elbow, “This is Alec Lightwood, my fiancé.”

Siti chuckles, “Oh my dear, Magnus and Alec have known each other since they were little kids. They used to be so close.”

Lydia looks surprised, maybe a little confused, “Oh. Used to be – what happened?”

Anyone else would have missed the way some of the light falls from Alec’s eyes. Magnus’ throat runs painfully dry, unable to tear his eyes away from Alec.

So much happened. So much happened that Magnus can’t bear it sometimes.

“Nothing.” Alec says quietly, eyes burning into Magnus’, “He went away to England.”

The pain of twelve years weighs those words down, and sears them into Magnus. His eyes sting, and he blinks, once, twice, three times, anything to stop himself from betraying the painful twist in his stomach.

It’s the pretence that hurts the most, he thinks. Having to pretend that nothing about this affects him, like Alec standing right there, after all these years, so close yet so impossibly far away, isn’t making every sense he has go haywire. Like the fact that Magnus can’t reach out and touch him, like he can’t brush the hair away from his eyes and intertwine his fingers with his isn’t hurting him like he’s never been hurt before.

It was supposed be you and me. You and me. Every day.

Falling in love with him was like losing and finding himself all at once. And Magnus has spent every day of the past twelve years wondering, wondering, what might have happened if he’d stayed, if he hadn’t let go of Alec’s hand, and held on like it was all that mattered, simply because it was.

But that was never meant to be for them.

~

Magnus feels like he’s moving through honey.

He runs his fingers along the books lining his bookshelf. He sorts through a few stray papers on his desk. He sets his pillows right on his bed.

Anything to keep himself from breaking apart right here on the floor of his bedroom. Anything to distract himself from the world crashing and burning around him. He thinks he can keep it together. He can. He hasn’t cried since last night. That’s a start, isn’t it?

But when the urgent knock sounds on his bedroom door, he knows that there isn’t a chance in hell he can keep it together.

Because behind the door stands Alec, his eyes filled with tears he refuses to shed and a devastated look on his face.

“Tell me it isn’t true,” he croaks out, “Please – God, please tell me it isn’t true.”

Magnus says nothing. That seems to answer everything, because Alec lets out a shaky breath, tears finally falling. He brushes past Magnus into the room. Magnus swallows, shuts the door slowly, and turns to face him.

“You’re leaving.” Alec says, voice trembling, “Were ever you planning on telling me? I had to hear about it from your mom, Magnus. You can’t just –” His voice trails off, lost somewhere in his pain.

“It’s done, Alexander.” Is that what he sounds like? Magnus can’t recognise the voice that comes out of him, small, and strained. For a second, he doesn’t even know if Alec’s heard him.

“So you’re just going to leave?” Alec runs a pained hand over his face, “Just like that? After everything?”

Magnus forces himself to take a breath. Everything is too much, the constricting walls of this room, the heat. Alec’s eyes, cracked open in their pain, the shallow rise and fall of his chest.

“But why?” Alec pleads, desperation lacing every syllable, “Why are you doing this? Why are you leaving me?”

Magnus wants to tell him. God, he wants to tell him so badly, that he doesn’t want to leave. That leaving Alec is the last fucking thing he wants to do, because Alec is his forever and leaving him would be leaving the best part of himself.

But he can’t be the reason Alec loses his family. He can’t do that to him.

“We were supposed to stay here, together. We had a plan.” Alec says, when Magnus stays silent, “Right? What happened that made you change your mind?”

“Alexander…” it’s all Magnus can manage. His voice catches, refusing to cooperate with him, dying in his throat at the very sight of the tears running down Alec’s face. Tears he’s caused.

Maybe this is how it has to be, Magnus thinks. Maybe he needs to leave, to become someone, someone Robert would accept, before he can do anything. Before he can think about a forever with Alec.

“Nothing happened. It’s my choice.” That’s what Magnus gets out, instead of telling him all of that. God, just saying those words twists his stomach painfully. He turns away from Alec, heading over to his desk and idly picking up a book to still his shaking fingers.

Alec’s footsteps echo in the dead silence of the room as he walks up to Magnus. He places his hand on Magnus’ shoulder, and Magnus lets himself be turned gently to face him.

“Talk to me.” Alec implores of him. His thumb runs slowly over the fabric covering Magnus’ shoulder, a movement that nearly breaks Magnus apart, “Please, talk to me. Tell me why you’re doing this.”

“I don’t need to explain myself to you, Alec.” Magnus hates himself for the frustration lacing his tone, for the way the words seem to spill forth as if the dam holding them back has broken.

Alec blinks in disbelief. His hand drops from Magnus’ shoulder. “Explain yourself? I just want you to talk to me.”

“I am talking to you!”

“No you’re not!” Alec cries, matching the rise in Magnus’ voice, “This isn’t you! This isn’t us!” He closes his eyes and pauses, and sucks in a rattling breath, and Magnus can hear how painful it is, before continuing, “If this is really your choice, you owe it to me, to us, to be honest with me. We’ve always been honest with each other, Magnus, we’ve always told each other everything. You owe it to me to tell me why you’re leaving me.”

~

Magnus hadn’t told him. He hadn’t been able to get the words out. Instead, he had slipped away, taking all the pain with him.

They had tried to keep going after Magnus left for Cambridge. Phone calls, text messages, video chats – they’d tried everything. But too much had been said, and too much left unsaid. The distance between them felt like a chasm that could never be crossed. It was more than the physical ocean that separated them – Magnus felt this distance in Alec’s words, in his eyes through the computer screen. He felt it in the way the frequency of the messages dwindled, in the way it seemed to take everything in him to try and cross that chasm and just talk to Alec, when the same thing had once been the easiest thing he could ever have done.   

Soon, it became too painful to do even that. Then, everything stopped altogether.

Alec became a memory, a memory that came to him in the late hours of the night, in moments when he least expected it. He would hear Alec’s voice, soft and everything he could dream of, right next to him, as though he was right there with him instead of an entire continent away. As though his effortless presence was constant, refusing to part with him regardless of distance or time.

And it completely broke Magnus.

He looks at Alec now. He’s standing somewhere further down in the amphitheatre, with Jace and Clary. Lydia had left a few minutes ago, smiling her sunny smile at Magnus and promising to catch up with him again to discuss his work. Magnus had barely remembered to nod at her.

Alec’s got his hands buried deep in his pockets. He nods along to the conversation, a small smile on his face that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. When Clary bursts out laughing at something Jace says, he looks a little startled, like he really hadn’t been paying attention to anything that was being said.

Magnus can remember the way the hazel of his eyes looked in the afternoon sunlight on a spring day. He can recall with perfect clarity the curve of his hip peeking out from beneath satin sheets as the first rays of the morning sun played themselves over his sleeping form on the bed. He can envision the pink of his lips, the way his tongue would dart out to wet them, like something ripped from Magnus’ deepest fantasies.

It’s hard to reconcile the man from those memories with the man standing in front of him now.

Eventually, Alec turns to look at him again. And he’s all Magnus can focus on. He’s all Magnus could ever focus on. For as long as he can remember, Magnus has always looked for Alec in the crowd.

He smiles at Magnus. A sad, beautiful thing.

It’s all Magnus can do to smile back at him.

 


 

~

It’s been two days since Magnus left for England. Two days of Alec not being able to breathe.

Izzy comes to him later that night, when he’s sobbing quietly into his pillow.

He lets her hold him, and cries until there are no more tears left to cry.

~

 


 

Later that night, Alec finds himself sitting around a table with his siblings, Jace, Clary, Lydia, and Aline. And Magnus. He’s currently sitting in between Magnus and Lydia and he wonders what force in the universe is set on seeing him suffer.  

They’re at a bar somewhere in Antalya. His parents are hosting another one of the many anniversary parties they’ve got planned for the cruise. Izzy, bless her soul, had somehow managed to convince them to opt out of a stuffy black-tie event and instead host something more relaxed. 

The bar they’re in (Izzy’s selection) is mostly outdoors, illuminated by string lights and a variety of Turkish lamps that lend themselves to a gorgeous ambience filled with music, laughter and incredible food.

Alec nods his head at her, grinning. “Good one.”

She winks. “I thought so too, big brother.”

Her phone buzzes on the table with a new text message. As soon as she reads it, her face breaks out into wide grin.

“He actually came.” She says softly, excitement lacing her words.

“Who came?” Jace asks.

Izzy doesn’t answer him, instead grabbing her phone and heading off somewhere. Alec shrugs at Jace’s confused expression.

When she returns, she’s accompanied by the guy who had performed in the bar in Selçuk. He looks a little nervous, one hand in his pocket and the other one held by Izzy, who’s currently leading him towards their table. 

“Everyone, this is Simon.” She says happily. “You all remember him from the bar in Selçuk, yes?”

Simon waves at everyone, a slightly self-conscious smile on his face. “Hi.”

“Nice to meet you.” Jace says, holding out a hand which Simon takes. “You were great. I mean, that song was fantastic.”

“Thanks, man.” Simon relaxes a bit, smile widening. He pushes his glasses up his nose.

“You said you were from New York as well?” Alec asks, taking a sip of his wine.

Simon nods. “Yeah, I’m from Brooklyn.”

“Oh no way, we’re gonna be moving back there after this cruise.” Jace says, taking Clary’s hand in his.

“That’s awesome. I haven’t been back home in a while, so I’m jealous.” He laughs.

“So what do you do, Simon?” Magnus pipes up, speaking for the first time since the whole evening started. Alec’s eyes immediately dart to him of their own accord. He looks incredible, eyes shining under the Turkish lamps.

Alec somehow manages to tear his gaze from him to focus on Simon. Somehow.

“At the moment, I’m travelling with the cruise as one of the live performers.” Simon pauses, accepting a glass of wine from Izzy with a smile that’s soft, like it’s only meant for her. Alec notices with a slight smile of his own that they’re still holding hands.

“How exciting.” Lydia says warmly.

“Yeah, it’s been pretty great so far. I’m mostly doing it just to save up some money. The dream would be to record some stuff and have it become hugely popular, but we’ll see how that goes.” He shrugs, laughing.

“What got you into music?” Magnus asks.

“Uh, my elementary school teacher, actually.” Simon says fondly, “She used to bring her ukulele to class every day. She had this corner of her classroom that she’d painted into a rainbow, and it was filled with bean bags and pillows and it was right next to the window so the sun would come in every day and she would sing to us. She was the one who taught me my first chords.”

Clary lets out a noise of surprise, eyes wide. She slams her hands down on the table, making everyone jump. “Wait. Did you go to Woodstock?”

“Yeah.” Simon says tentatively. Then his eyes widen as well. “No way! You too?”

Clary lets out an excited laugh, jumping on the spot. “Yeah! Were you in Ms. Chu’s class?”

“Yeah!” Then, Simon’s eyes somehow widen even more. He looks at Clary like she’s a fantastical being from some far-flung galaxy. When he speaks again, his voice is hushed in wonder, “Wait. Clary? Clary Fray?”

Clary gasps. “Simon! Simon Lewis!”

They both burst into shrieks of delight and excitement and jump up to hug each other tightly. Alec glances around the table to see that everyone is just as taken aback by it all as he is.

“I can’t believe it’s you!” Clary exclaims when they break apart, “I thought you looked familiar!”

“God, it’s been what, 20 years?” Simon says in wonder, shaking his head, “You moved right?”

“Yeah, we moved to Philly when I was like seven.”

“Can someone please explain what’s going on?” Izzy asks.

“Simon was my best friend in elementary school.” Clary says, smiling widely at him, “We used to do everything together.”

“Well, not everything. I distinctly remember you trying to copy my math homework more than a few times.” Simon teases, “Never had time for anything but art.”

Clary pushes at his shoulder playfully.

“Who would’ve thought I would run into Simon Lewis again in Turkey of all places.” She says.

“Small world.” Simon grins.

“I’ll drink to that.” She laughs, raising her glass to him and to everyone else at the table.

Soon after that, the group falls into an easy chatter. Simon and Clary catch up on 20 years of their lives, Izzy in tow. The food is excellent, the wine even better. All in all, it’s an incredible evening.

An incredible evening that would have been made so much better if Alec could just reach out and take Magnus’ hand in his. Just like he’s been aching to do all night.

It’s right there. Alec sees it, rings covering fingers he knows so well, resting on his thigh.

At one point, Lydia asks Magnus if he’s seeing anyone, and Alec swears that his heart almost stops in his chest.

Magnus’ voice is ever so tight when he speaks, imperceptible to anyone who doesn’t really know him, “No. I’m single.”

“What about that girl you posted a picture with on Instagram? The one with the blue braids.” Clary asks, taking a bite of her food.

“Oh God, no.” Magnus chuckles, shaking his head, “That’s Catarina. We met in Peru about a year after I graduated Cambridge. She’s one of my best friends.”

He turns to Alec. “She’s a doctor too. Mostly works with Doctors Without Borders.”

“Oh wow.” That’s all Alec can get out. Along with a smile.

He hates himself for the relief pooling in his stomach. He knows he has no right to feel this way about Magnus being single, not after what Alec did. Not when Lydia is sitting right next to him, a ring on her left finger that Alec’s mother had made him give her.

Alec catches Izzy’s gaze. She looks concerned, eyes darting back and forth between him and Magnus. He sees that same concern reflected in Jace’s eyes.

He smiles and shakes his head ever so slightly.

 


 

~  

The light stubble on Magnus’ chin scratches gently against the sensitive skin of Alec’s inner thighs. Magnus presses his lips against the skin there over and over again, mindlessly, like it’s an autopilot function for him to kiss Alec whenever, wherever he can.  

He turns his head and rests it against his thigh, and his eyes meet Alec. There’s an unbridled softness in their dark depths, and Alec has never loved everything about one person more than this man. Then, Magnus smiles, a perfect, beautiful, honest thing and Alec is slave to the impossible swell of emotions that erupts in him at the mere sight of it.

He’s so beautiful. He’s the most beautiful thing Alec has ever seen.

And Alec loves him. He loves him so much that it feels like he doesn’t know how to do anything else.

~ 

 


 

When they finally get back to the ship, well after the rest of their entourage, Magnus is one of the few sober ones. Mostly sober. He couldn’t have survived the night without at least three glasses of wine.

Alec’s got his arm looped through Izzy’s, whose other hand is holding onto Simon’s tightly. The three of them are giggling away about something nonsensical. The sound of Alec’s laughter makes Magnus smile, against everything and against his own will.

When they reach the floors their rooms are located on, Jace turns to the three of them 

“Alright, Iz, I think it’s time to head to bed.” He says, an arm wrapped around Clary’s waist, who’s happily dozing with her head on his shoulder.

Izzy looks at him, nose wrinkled in displeasure.

Jace rolls his eyes. “Do you maybe want to let go of Alec?”

“No, Alec is drunk!” Izzy cries, as if she’s not in the same boat as well, “I need to help him –”

She trips over her own feet, before bursting out into laughter that’s so infectious that Simon joins in too.

Magnus steps forward, placing a hand on Alec’s elbow. “I’ve got him.” He laughs.

Alec grins, an earth-shatteringly beautiful grin, before leaning against Magnus, dropping his head into the juncture between his neck and shoulder.

He sighs in content, like there’s nowhere else he’d rather be. It blooms across the skin of Magnus’ neck, his collarbones, almost like a caress. Magnus tries to ignore the wave of tingles that shoot down his spine, just from Alec’s proximity, something that’s more intoxicating than any alcohol he could ever consume.

A loud giggle jerks him out of the stupor, and Magnus looks up to see Isabelle and Simon with their arms around each other, talking and giggling, and so wrapped up in their own little bubble that the outside world could cease to exist and they wouldn’t care. Magnus’ heart warms at the sight of them – he’ll certainly be having a conversation with Isabelle about this later.

The man pressed up against him, however, lets out a dramatic huff of disapproval.

“Are they together? Did Simon ask her out? He’d better have asked her out. He’d better be treating her like the queen she is.” Alec says to himself at a volume that’s really only audible to Magnus and Jace.

“Alright, let’s get you to bed.” Magnus says, fighting the smile that threatens to take over his face.

Alec whines, “But I gotta be the protective big brother, Magnus.”

“The only thing you ‘gotta’ do is to sleep this off.”

Alec huffs again. Magnus had forgotten that drunk Alec had a penchant for dramatics.

He nods at Jace before leading Alec away. He has to wrap an arm around his waist to keep him steady, which results in Alec’s breath catching in his throat. Magnus pretends like it doesn’t affect him

They finally get to Alec’s room after a whole lot of swaying. They’re both silent for the whole journey, maybe because they haven’t been this close to each other in so long and they don’t know how to deal with it. Maybe because Magnus thinks that if he speaks then he’ll end up saying something he shouldn’t.

Alec hands him the key card to his room wordlessly, watching in silence as flashes the key to the door and lets them both in. 

They let go of each other as they enter the room. Magnus notices that it’s freezing, a sharp contrast to the warm weather outside.

Alec curses. “Fuck, why do they keep the rooms so cold?”

And then he starts to unbutton his shirt.

Magnus turns away immediately. That’s not something he thinks he can handle at the moment.

Alec notices, of course, ever perceptive even under the influence of a considerable amount of wine. He snorts.

“You can look now. ’M decent.” He says a few seconds later.

Magnus shakes his head as he turns back around. Alec’s thrown his button-up to the side haphazardly, and replaced it with a worn dark blue sweater. Magnus’ heart skips in his chest, because he’s seen that sweater before. He’s seen it so many times, on so many nights spent with Alec, tangled between the sheets of his bed, palms folded together and talking until the moon had run its course.

It’s the one Magnus had given him.

“I can’t believe you still have that.” He says softly, voice betraying more emotion than he intended to.

Alec’s lips turn up slightly, in a small smile, “What, this? This high fashion article of clothing?” He picks at a hole in the front, “Of course I still have it.”

Magnus laughs. “Alright. Time for bed.”

He pulls back the covers and gestures for Alec to get in. The man in question looks at him like he’s suggested something highly suspicious.

Magnus rolls his eyes. “Come on. It’s late.”

Finally, Alec huffs and starts to make his way over to the bed. But before he can get there, his foot catches on the wire of his laptop charger, and it sends him tumbling towards the mattress. Magnus immediately reaches out and steadies him, helping him sit up straight on the bed.

Alec blinks a few times, focusing on Magnus, before his eyes go wide.

“Woah.” He breathes, closing them immediately and sucking in a deep breath, shaking his head slightly. 

“What?”

“You’re so beautiful.” He whispers.

The words hit Magnus one by one where he stands, frozen. Words uttered in a raspy voice, in his raspy voice 

Alec licks his lips, eyes fixed on Magnus’, and then his hand comes up to cup Magnus’ face. If he can tell the way Magnus’ breath catches in his throat, the way his heart pounds against his chest, the way Magnus feels that touch to the tips of his being, he doesn’t let on.

“I ruined everything, didn’t I?” Alec mumbles, completely oblivious to Magnus losing his damn mind right above him. He lets out a shaky breath, and then his thumb runs over the expanse of Magnus’ cheekbone.

It’s all Magnus can do to not completely melt into his touch. Something he’s wanted to feel since the day he’s left, since the day everything fell apart. His blood rushes in his ears.

“I ruined the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” Alec says hoarsely, words blending together.

The air feels too thick. Magnus forces it into his lungs, but it does little to soothe the burning ache that rages inside of him. He can’t – he can’t stay here. He doesn’t trust himself with Alec, not when he looks so devastated. Not when he’s saying things like this, things reveal that maybe Alec was just as broken as he was after everything, as ruined. That Alec had lived a half-life, just as he had.

“I’m so sorry, Magnus.”

“Alexander.” He forces out, through the emotion clogging his throat, because it’s really all he can manage.

He sucks in a deep breath, feeling it rattle inside of him, and moves back. Alec’s hand falls from his face as Magnus turns on his heel, away from the man who owns every particle of him.

But a hand stops his movements.

“Wait.”

The word is soft, and rushed, like it slipped past Alec’s lips before he could stop it. Magnus feels Alec’s fingers press into his forearm, and he turns back to face him.

Alec’s sitting up on the bed, not a trace of his earlier intoxication evident in his face. His lips are parted, a soft line creasing the skin between his eyebrows. His gaze burns into Magnus’.

“Stay.” He says softly, “Please. I know everything’s fucked and we hate each other and so much happened but I don’t – I don’t want to deal with any of that tonight.”

Alec’s fingers travel down the length of Magnus’ arm until they fold themselves around his, and tighten their hold.

“Please stay.” He whispers.

And Magnus’ resolve is shot to hell. There’s not a thing he can do to stop himself from making this mistake, because Alec is right there, looking up at him with those eyes, with that pleading look on his face, and in that ridiculous, ratty sweater that Magnus might just love more than Alec himself.

He could blame it on the alcohol. He could, but he knows that he will always be helpless when it comes to Alexander.

So he ignores the voices screaming in his head that this is a terrible idea, stop, you’re only going to hurt him, you’re only going to hurt yourself and squeezes Alec’s hand.

“Okay.” He says softly.

He keeps his fingers interwoven with Alec’s as Alec moves to the other side of the bed to let Magnus slip under the covers. His eyes never leave Magnus, not once, unblinking and steadfast, like this is the last time he’ll ever get to look at him. Their hands come to settle between them on the bed. To Magnus, they look like the creation of a devout artist, like the image was carved from an imagination that knew no bounds.

Alec’s thumb runs slowly over the back of Magnus’ palm. Magnus doesn’t know if he even realises that he’s doing it, but he can’t find it in him to care. It’s been so long, too long, since he’s had Alec like this. Quiet, and completely himself, between soft sheets and illuminated only by soft lamplight in the dead hours of the night.

Magnus finds that the screaming voices in his head have stopped.

Alec tends to have that effect on him. Makes him feel like there’s nothing else in the world.

So for just one night, he lets himself forget everything that had happened. He loses himself in the unimaginable depths of Alexander’s eyes, eyes that speak of the world, and lets himself believe that nothing had gone wrong. That he’d had this forever, that he would have this forever, and that every force in the world wasn’t conspiring to tear them apart.

He lets himself believe the lie, for just one night, and falls asleep to Alec’s breathing slowing down and evening out around him.

 


 

 

Magnus wakes to a morning reminiscent of so many of his best, from the past. The soft breaths of the man next to him wash over his shoulder. Alec’s never-ending warmth surrounding him, shielding him from the rest of the world.

Magnus watches him as he opens his eyes slowly. Memorises every single feature, just as he’s done so many times before.

The morning sun filtering in through the half-closed curtains casts shadows over the planes of his beautiful face 

Alec looks at him the way he used to. With those eyes, the same hazel, lightly tinged with green, choosing to focus on Magnus instead of anything else the universe could offer him.

Tentative fingers brush against the length of Magnus’ arm, sending his nerves alight, as they slowly, ever so slowly, make their way up to his face. Alec’s fingers rest gently against Magnus’ jaw. His thumb caresses the sensitive skin of his neck.

Magnus wants to kiss him to make up for all the times he couldn’t, over the past twelve years. He wants to kiss away every lost moment, every second spent apart. For all the smiles he had missed, for all the moments of joy he could have shared with him. Magnus wants to kiss him so badly, to tell him that I love you so much and I’m so sorry I left. God, I’m so fucking sorry.

And he almost does.

It’s when he feels Alec’s breath tickling his lips that he wrenches himself back, closing his eyes and sucking in a breath that rattles in his chest. His heart pounds painfully against his ribs as reality comes crashing back in.

“I – I can’t do this.” He mumbles.

“Magnus.” Alec’s voice is that raspy, morning voice that does all sorts of things to Magnus. He looks at Magnus, broken, his hand dropping from Magnus’ face.

Fuck.

“I can’t – I should go. I shouldn’t have come here.”

I shouldn’t have come. I shouldn’t have come because now I have no idea how to live without you and I don’t want to learn that all over again. I don’t want to. God, I don’t want to know what that feels like.

He sits up, and throws off the blanket with shaking hands. He’ll get off at this port and take the first flight back to Egypt and do everything in his power to stop thinking about Alec. He’ll leave, today, right now.

“Magnus, wait.” Alec’s voice is barely on the precipice of shaking.

“I can’t be here, Alec. I shouldn’t be here, with you, on this ship.”

Magnus reaches for his phone and wallet sitting on the bedside table next to him.

“No.”

The word, in all its furious intensity, stops Magnus’ movements.

“No.” Alec repeats, jaw locked. He stands from the bed. “You’re not doing this again. You’re not going to just walk away without talking to me. Not again.”

“Do you really want to do this right now?” Magnus snaps.

“Yes, I think it’s high time, don’t you?” Alec fires back, anger beginning to cloud his features.

Magnus lets out a noise of frustration. “I can’t do this with you, Alec. There’s nothing I need to say to you.”

Alec scoffs. “I think you and I both know that that’s not true.”

“What do you want from me?” Magnus cries, waving a hand at him, “What more could you possibly want from me?”

“You didn’t have to do it.” Alec whispers, “You didn’t have to just run away from –”

“Run away? Is that what you think I did?” Magnus asks incredulously. He stands up, pain, anger and everything horrible in the world swirling to a storm inside him.

“What else am I supposed to think, Magnus?” Alec demands, throwing his hands up in frustration, “You left! You jumped on a plane and went 3000 miles away from me without even telling me why!”

“Because I’m a nobody, Alec!” Magnus yells, and it’s like the words were ripped from his throat. They leave him feeling hollow.

Alec stands rooted to the spot, frozen. He looks surprised, shocked. A silence falls over them. A silence that seems to suck the very air out of the room.

Fuck. Magnus sucks in a deep breath. This is it – everything’s coming out into the open now.

“I needed to – I needed to make something of myself so that I could have proved myself to your parents. So that I could have been a somebody they’d find worthy of you.”

“What are you talking about?” Alec’s voice is barely above a whisper, hoarse, laced with dread.

“Your father came to me one day.” Magnus licks his lips, and swallows before continuing, “He was the one who talked to me about the writing program at Cambridge. Said he – he knew the director."

All the breath seems to leave Alec all at once. His shoulders sag as he looks at Magnus, absolutely heartbroken.

Magnus barely hears him when he speaks, “What? How –”

He looks so utterly devastated. Magnus’ chest burns at the sight of it.

“How could you do that?” Alec says, voice shaking, “How could you say yes to him?”

“I had to.” Magnus gets out.

“But how, Magnus! How could you agree to that?”

And then something in Magnus snaps.

“I’m not like you, Alec! We’re from totally different worlds. Can’t you see that? Can’t you see that – that I would never have amounted to anything in your parents’ eyes? You can’t even begin to understand what it’s like to be like me!”

It’s harsh. It’s too harsh, and Magnus knows it. He sees it in the way a look of total shock and despair takes over Alec’s face. But it’s too late. The dam has burst, and there’s nothing Magnus can do to stop the torrent of ugliness and pain that bursts forth.

“You will never know. Can’t you see that I did this so that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance? I thought you would understand!”

Alec’s words tremble with his own anger, “How can I understand you throwing away the one thing that meant the entire fucking world to me? We could have fought them, Magnus, together! I would have fought them! I thought you would have fought for us – for me too! I thought you wanted this too!”

A fresh swell of anger rises in Magnus. “Of course I wanted us!” He shouts, “You were – you are everything to me! I know you would have fought them and that’s exactly why –”

He cuts himself off, words coming to a screeching halt, unable to cross the lump that’s lodged itself in his throat. Magnus registers the wetness on his cheeks, mirroring the tears on Alec’s face. His throat burns. The room feels too small, everything feels too fucking small.

“Why what?” Alec’s voice is hoarse. His gaze cuts into Magnus.

“Why I had to go.” Magnus says softly, just as fresh tears find their way down his face, “I couldn’t be the reason why you lose your family. And I would have been, if I stayed.”

That’s it. He’s said it. He’s said the one thing he should have, all those years ago, the one thing that might have prevented this entire fucking mess. The one thing that might have brought them together to fight against all the forces of the world trying to rip them apart. In his naiveté, in his blind fear of never being good enough, for his own father, for Alec’s father – he had lost the love of his life.

“You would have lost your parents.” Magnus continues, voice thick, “And as someone who grew up without a father, I can tell you that it sucks.

The sun shines brightly outside. Magnus can see it, behind Alec, outside the glass windows as it illuminates the bright blue water around them. It’s such a beautiful day, so different to the ugliness of his past. So different to everything that’s happening right now. It’s like the world is mocking him.

“I couldn’t have done that to you. I would have hated myself. Family is everything to you. I needed to be better for you.”

“You were all I ever wanted.” Alec says, voice raw, yet steadfast and firm, “I loved you the way you were. I didn’t need anything else from you, Magnus. You never have to prove yourself to me – you never needed to.”

Magnus forces himself to breathe. “I know that. I know that, I do.”

“You were never a nobody. You were the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Magnus’ eyes sting with the promise of tears. He lets the air escape from his mouth, a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.

Alec blinks a few times, as if to keep his tears at bay. The sight of him breaks Magnus’ heart.

“You stopped calling.” Alec says, “You left and then you stopped calling. Why?”

“I wanted to call.” Magnus says, “I wanted to, so many times. But it became harder and harder every time I heard your voice. I thought I could let you slip away and then maybe, with time, this weight on my chest would go away.”

It hadn’t. If anything it became harder, more painful, heavier. Alec watches him intently. Magnus plays with his fingers, running his thumb over the thin skin of his cuticles.

“And then the last time I heard from you was –” Magnus’ voice catches in his throat, but he forces himself to speak through it, to speak through the painful lump forming itself there, “Was that voicemail.”

Alec is completely still, eyes wide, mouth slightly open. The only sounds Magnus can hear is the rushing of his own blood in his ears, the irregular pitter-patter of his heart against the confines of his ribs.

“Do you remember that?” Magnus whispers, and the memory comes back in technicolour, playing in the reel of his mind against his will. 

~

Magnus sighs as he drops his duffel by the door to his hotel room before walking over to where the complimentary water bottles are placed. He opens one and downs it in one go. His muscles ache all over, and all he wants to do is fall face first into the bed that looks so damn inviting.

He’d known that trekking in the Himalayas was no small feat, but it’s a whole other thing to actually experience the effects of that altitude in his body now that he’s back in Kathmandu. If he listens closely, he can almost hear the sound of his mother’s voice, incredibly self-righteous, saying “I told you so” in that sing-song voice of hers.

He plugs his phone into his charger. While he’s all for disconnecting from the world, two weeks is a long time to have no contact with the outside world. He’s already dreading the flood of messages that are certain to be awaiting him from his mother.

When the screen comes to life, it takes a few seconds before the phone starts buzzing relentlessly, signalling the onslaught of messages. Magnus sighs, watching the red dots next to the phone and messages apps rack up the numbers.

He notices he’s got a few voicemails. He clicks onto them first.

Then his eyes fall on the name of the contact, and everything comes to a standstill.

Alexander.

After all this time, Magnus still has his contact saved like this. At the beginning, when it was too painful, and in a moment of drunken fury, he’d left the number blank, without a name. But he’d changed it back soon enough. It offered the slightest bit of comfort, to have that name, the name that, in a different time, only he had the privilege to use.

And now it’s staring back at him. After all this time.

Magnus swallows. His thumb hovers over the play button, and in a moment of wild panic, he just wants to delete it. To cast it away, to save himself the pain of having to listen to that voice again, after so long.

But he sucks in a deep breath and presses play anyways, raising the phone to his ear.

“Magnus.”

And then Magnus feels like his legs might give away. It feels so good, so impossibly good, to hear that voice again.

Then, the moment passes, and Magnus registers the fact that Alec sounds like he’s seconds away from having a panic attack.

“Magnus I – I had to call you. I needed to hear your voice but you’re not answering and – fuck.” Alec’s voice breaks, and Magnus can hear the shaky, trembling breath he sucks in. His heart crashes against his ribs, painfully thudding with every second of Alec’s deafening silence.

When his voice comes back, it’s tight, constricted as though he’s speaking through a lump in his throat, “I – I said yes. I had to say yes. They were pressurizing me, Magnus, they kept saying that this was the only way, that this was a good match and I –”

Silence falls on the other end again, for just a few seconds, and in those few seconds, it feels like Magnus’ entire world hangs in balance. For those few seconds, all Magnus can hear is the pounding of his own heart, ringing in his ears. And everything – everything seems to depend on the words that will come out of Alexander’s mouth next.

Then Alec’s speaking again, only this time, his voice is choked with tears, devastating in its pain, “I’m getting married. They’re making me get married to her to save the company and I can’t do anything –”

And Magnus feels his knees suddenly give away. He feels all his breath leave him like someone punched him in the stomach and forced it out of him. He drops onto the bed. The phone clatters out of his hand, landing on the soft carpet. Alec’s voice, muffled, continues to play from it.

He’s –

I’m getting married. I’m getting married. I’m getting married.

The words bounce around in his mind, burning a hole through his very conscience. And it’s so much, the pain. Pain that he had forced down, into a small recess of his heart, comes rushing back out in waves, crashing and relentless, consuming him.

Because he’s done it, the one thing that could have ever broken him. Magnus has lost Alec. He’s lost the other half of his soul, and now he doesn’t know how to live with that.

~

Tears smart at Magnus’ eyes, and he closes them, hating himself for letting them be there, for being so weak. For not being able to fight the iron-clad hold that Alec has on his heart, that he always will.

He drops into the sofa, bringing his hands up this hair and tugging at the strands.

“I didn’t want to believe it.” He chokes out, opening his eyes to look at Alec, “I denied it for – for so long. I couldn’t bear the thought of you not being mine.”

It had been the worst moment of his life. The loss of Alexander, in its entirety. For a long time, Magnus had existed with an inkling of hope, that someday, their paths would cross again. That someday, he might be able to hold his hand again, to kiss him and feel Alec’s love again for what it was: all-encompassing and bright.

But that one voicemail – that one voicemail he’d heard that night had shattered everything. Because now, Alec wasn’t his. Alec would never be his, and even though Magnus wanted nothing more than to trace the half-moon curve of his lips with his fingers, his own lips, to feel the dips and curves in miles and miles of pale skin, to hear his laughter ignite a fire in his chest, it was too late.

It was too late.

Magnus realises now that he’s full-on crying, again. And that Alec is sitting next to him. Magnus runs a hand over his face, trying with all his might to force back the heaving sobs that come from deep within. 

Alec’s bottom lip quivers, like he’s doing everything in his power to not break apart. His hands rest limp at his sides, barely inches away from Magnus’. His breath comes in short, shaky waves. 

Magnus takes him in. The other half of his soul. The man that was supposed to be his forever. The pain in the hazel of his eyes is staggering. The pain of the last twelve years, cold and all-consuming, like fog on a frigid winter morning.

Oh, Alexander. How did we get here?

Magnus swallows, and licks his lips. He lets his fingers cross the small distance between their hands, and takes Alec’s left hand in his. It feels more incredible than it has any right to, just like last night, the feeling of Alec’s hand in his again. Alec’s breath catches in his throat, and Magnus knows, he knows that this is the last thing he should be doing. Holding Alexander’s hand, feeling his fingers give into his touch and hold onto his own tighter, is only going to worsen the pain festering inside him.

But he can’t deny himself this. This one point of contact, a small chance to be close.

“I don’t know what this is.” He says thickly, “I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t know why you asked me to stay last night, or why I stayed, and I can’t bear it when you look at me like you used to."

“I –” Alec’s voice is almost unrecognizable. He ducks his head, his own tears falling. Magnus feels him squeeze his fingers.

“I loved you so much, Alexander.”

I still do.

Why did you say yes? Why didn’t you wait for me?

Why did I leave?

They’ve both made mistakes. They’ve both made so many mistakes and Magnus can feel all of it coming to a head.

Magnus thinks of what they’d used to be. Utterly happy, the kind of happiness that he never knew existed until it blossomed within him, around him. They’d loved fiercely, selflessly, and it was the kind of love that seemed to be all they would ever know.

And Magnus thinks of them now. Tears streaming, completely empty and defeated, holding hands like they’re so fucking terrified to let go because once they do, they’re lost to each other forever.

How did we end up here?