Alec wipes down the counter. It’s quiet, the quintessential sounds of home having left with his sons. He wrings out the rag into the sink and washes the remnants of crumbs down the drain. Nothing about this is out of the ordinary, and yet Alec can’t help but feel like this is a turning point in his life that no one warned him about.
Max is joining his peers in the Spiral Labyrinth after his coming of age, and Rafael is still caught up in training at the LA Institute. There are no more rushing footsteps or petty squabbles. No more sounds of things knocking over as two teenage boys fight over who gets to use the bathroom first. They’re still young, only 18 and 20, but it’s enough to place them just out of Alec’s reach.
Magnus and Max have only been gone for two hours. Two precious hours of Alec’s life, but only two hours just the same. Max must be deep in the earth by now. Alec knows he’s surrounding himself with magic and knowledge that Alec cannot dream of understanding.
Alec stares down at his hands, squeezing some soap onto the crusty leftovers of omelettes before turning on the faucet and scrubbing. Suds bubble and slide along the three plates from breakfast. Egg yolk clings to the pan as he puts all of his strength behind the months old sponge they need to replace. After more effort than he’ll ever admit, he sets all of the cutlery and dishware onto the drying rack. He turns off the water and pats his skin with the tiny towel he insists they keep by the sink, despite the fact Magnus pretends to hate it, because it doesn’t suit the rest of the decor.
The towel is a blotchy orange color, but it’s a souvenir from the first bit of magic Max ever used, a summoning he performed when Magnus told him to clean up juice he spilled on the floor. Alec and Magnus still reprimanded him, but they were too proud to mean it.
It’s threadbare now. The fraying edges tickle Alec’s fingers as he sets it back where it belongs, hanging from a metal bar sticking out from one of the cabinet doors. He ventures into the living room to search for something to distract him until Magnus returns. Their bookshelf is full from top to bottom with books of all origins, and Alec selects a novel Rafael gave him father’s day.
Midmorning sun streams in through the windows. The lingering signs of Max’s presence litter the loft. Max is eighteen, a legal adult, and Alec sees a pair of used socks beneath Max’s favorite spot on the sofa.
Alec walks toward them. He’s halfway to his destination when he spots his reflection in one of the many mirrors Magnus keeps around the house.
Greying hair, wrinkles, near-permanent five o’clock shadow.
A book won’t occupy him now. He sets it down on a side table next to his reading glasses.
Alec heads back to the kitchen and decides to sort the pantry. Before Max and Rafael, the kitchen was always in perfect condition. It seems that even magic fell beneath the weight of laziness and teenage rebellion. There are fifteen different cereal boxes, and Alec is pretty sure that at least twelve of them are stale, he just doesn’t know which ones.
He has to go through and sample each box. They all taste of gratuitous amounts of sugar and not much else, but Alec licks his fingers after each bite just the same. It turns out that all fifteen boxes have stale cereal. He organizes them in alphabetical order and keeps them anyway.
There’s a rush of pressure as the sound of a portal cracks through the loft. Alec smells the tang of Magnus’ magic. Every part of him wants to hurry into the living room and hug his husband, but there are tears in his eyes now, and he doesn’t want to cause concern. So he throws himself back into his work.
Alec cries harder.
“Darling?” There are gentle hands on his back and the side of his face, and Alec knows he can’t hide anymore.
“Welcome home,” Alec says, swallowing mucus as he greets the youthful face of the man he loves with his whole being. Golden eyes, glossy with concern and sympathy, search his face.
“Oh, darling. What’s wrong?”
“Everything,” Alec admits. He tries to blink away his tears and the shame of making Magnus look so sad on such an auspicious day.
Max and Magnus always spoke of the day Max would enter the Spiral Labyrinth. It’s a rite of passage, one that always incited excitement and unvoiced dread in Alec’s gut.
“Alexander. Look here, my love,” Magnus whispers, kissing away salt and embarrassment. He pulls Alec upward and away from the cupboards, into the light that washes through the apartment.
“I miss them,” Alec sobs. I’m old. “And Jace is going to call me a sap if he finds out I cried just because we’re empty nesting.”
“Jace won’t call you anything of the sort as long as I’m here,” Magnus says. “Besides, I have it on good authority that he cries every time Owen has a date.”
“Owen goes on multiple dates a week,” Alec says.
“Every time,” Magnus replies, voice serious. Alec laughs. A short, wet, noise that sounds less like a laugh and more like another hapless sob. Magnus holds him close, arms wrapping around him with a tenderness that makes Alec’s heart ache.
“One day, I’m going to die.”
Magnus doesn’t flinch, but Alec feels the change in the air.
“One day...yes, you will.”
“And then you’ll be alone.”
“I’ll have Max,” Magnus says, voice fierce. “And until the time comes, I’ll have you, and Rafael. But beyond that, I’ll always have the love we share.”
“Magnus, I’m getting old,” Alec reminds him.
Alec takes Magnus’ hands and runs them through his greying hair, along his wrinkles, and over his prickly five o’clock shadow.
“And you’re still the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Magnus sighs, wistful and takes the opportunity to press a soft kiss to Alec’s dry lips.
“Just let me love you, Alexander. Let me sleep by your side and disapprove of our neighbors and cry with you over our children as they grow.”
And Magnus is crying now, kissing all over Alec’s face with sticky lip gloss.
“You can’t even show me off to Lorenzo to make him jealous anymore,” Alec says, pretending to try and escape from Magnus’ insistent affections.
“Oh yes I can. I’m not sure if you’re aware, Alexander, but you’re what mundanes call a silver fox.” Magnus grins, wide and teasing through his tears. “Besides.” Magnus gives Alec’s hips a hard squeeze. “I don’t care.”
And insecurity screeches through Alec’s mind like nails on a chalkboard.
“Magnus, of course you care,” Alec says. “Even if you love me, I can’t do what we used to. I can’t fight like I used to, I can’t protect you the same way I did when I was young. I definitely can’t go with you to Pandemonium anymore.”
“Then we can just stay here,” Magnus murmurs. “Just stay here, and dance with me.”
Alec shakes his head incredulously as soft pop music strikes up from somewhere in the otherwise empty loft.
“We can just dance to this,” Magnus says. He rests his head on Alec’s shoulder and kisses the deflect rune that brands Alec’s skin. “Dance with me, Alexander.”
There are a million thoughts clamoring for attention in Alec’s mind, all of them scared, vulnerable, and powerless in the face of Magnus’ love. The love that fills Alec with confidence and reassurance of a future despite the fears he’ll always have. Leaving Magnus alone terrifies him the most.
One day, he will die, but he’s still here, now, in Magnus’ arms.
So they dance.