Chapter 1: Break
When Magnus opens his eyes, the world is blurry.
He’s by a river. On the opposite bank, towering glass skyscrapers are casting down sharp lights that are distorted by the rippling waters at their feet. Overhead, the sky is a dark, inky black, pricked with a scattering of shimmering stars. But on the ground, down below, New York is awake.
He blinks. The world becomes clear.
There’s a whisper, like a rustle of fabric, that makes him tear his gaze away from the river. But he’s alone. There’s nobody with him.
He can’t quite remember why he’s here. There was something he had to do, but—
No. One too many drinks, probably. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s ended up in the middle of the city on a whim.
He lifts a hand to rub at the corner of his eye, and—
Oh. He’s—crying? Why is he crying?
A cold chill runs along Magnus’ neck and down his spine. He spins tight on his heel, and magic flares at his fingertips, and—
He stares down at his hands, stunned into immobility for a moment. Magic. His magic. Not Lorenzo’s magic. His own, singing through him, so in tune to his body that it moves almost before he does.
He’d given up his magic to defeat Lilith’s Owl, because he was a soft touch and hadn’t wanted to commit murder, and Clary had begged him to save her boyfriend. Jace hadn’t done anything wrong - at least not to Magnus’ knowledge. He couldn’t bring himself to kill an innocent in cold blood, or to break Clary’s heart. Not when he felt somewhat responsible for her, after so many years of diligently taking her memories and keeping her in the dark.
Next time, he thought, he’d settle with murder. It’s not like one of the Angel’s children would ever think to pay him the same courtesy.
“I see you’ve noticed my gift.”
Magnus’ gaze snaps up. His nostrils flare as he stares Asmodeus down, daring him to try something. Topside, if they fight, Asmodeus can’t count on winning. Besides, there’s nothing for Asmodeus to manipulate him with. He hasn’t had anything to lose for more than a century for precisely that reason.
But something doesn’t feel quite right. He feels unbalanced. Hazy. Not to mention the fact that he really, really can’t remember anything that’s happened in the last day. And he can feel a headache building at his temples.
Definitely too much alcohol.
“Your gift?” he asks, Asmodeus’ words catching up with him. “What are you talking about?”
Asmodeus arches an eyebrow and spreads his hands wide. “Your magic. I decided it was high time to return it to you. Especially after your, ah, tragic incident yesterday.”
“Incident?” Magnus demands, but he doesn’t lower his hands. He won’t let Asmodeus wreck havoc around New York. Especially not now he’s regained his magic. The first item on his agenda is kicking Lorenzo out of his house and out of his position—letting a Prince of Hell wander around mundanes will hardly lend him sympathy from the other warlocks.
“Of course. I’m your father. My son needed me. In light of what that boy did to you—” Asmodeus stops. Tilts his head to one side. “Well. It seemed to me like you might wish to retire from this world. Perhaps seek solace elsewhere. Away from mortals, who are, as we both know, unendingly fickle.”
“I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about,” Magnus says, sharply, “but if you think I’m coming back to Edom just because you’ve deigned to give me back my magic, then I’m afraid you’ve set yourself up for disappointment.”
Asmodeus’ brow furrows. He watches Magnus for a long, heavy moment, and then rocks back on his heels, eyes widening.
Magnus would quite like him to hurry the fuck up and finish his cryptic bitching so that Magnus can send him back to hell. His headache is beginning to get distracting.
“No,” Asmodeus says softly, lips parted in what Magnus can only diagnose as shock. “No. You wouldn’t. You didn’t.”
His magic falters. “What?”
“You never have before,” Asmodeus continues, as though he hasn’t heard Magnus speak. “Why now? Why him?”
“No.” Asmodeus’ eyes blaze with fury, yellow irises that had drawn Magnus in when he was so young flashing in the pseudo-dark of the New York nighttime. “No, this can’t have been pointless. A mere mortal can’t have ruined all my plans.”
Magnus shakes his head. He doesn’t give a fuck about his father’s raving lunacy. He wants to go home, have a bubble bath, and eat a steak. Perhaps with a side of Tylenol.
“Right,” he says, shooting a spark of warning towards Asmodeus. “Now that we’ve got that cleared up, I’m afraid it’s time for you to head back home, Father.”
Alec looks up from where he’s been idly staring down at the report on his desk for the last hour. It’s not complicated: Asmodeus is on the loose. A warlock is dead. They need to fix it.
It’s his fault. Not that anybody else knows that.
“What is it, Iz?” he asks, exhaling his exhaustion and clamping down on his heartache.
He can still feel the phantom press of Magnus’ mouth against his. He can feel the way Magnus’ hands trembled as he let Alec go. Every time he closes his eyes, he sees the disbelief, the pain, and the awful, awful acceptance, that had played across Magnus’ face.
That was the worst. Raziel, how many times had Alec promised Magnus that he wasn’t going anywhere? How many times had he sworn that he’d be different to the people who’d broken his heart before?
Now he’s just another one for Magnus to add to the list of disappointments. Another heartbreak. Another asshole who hadn’t deserved a single iota of Magnus’ boundless love.
“It’s Asmodeus,” Isabelle says, and holds up her hand the moment Alec opens his mouth to interrupt her. “No. He’s gone. He’s not topside anymore. He’s back in Edom.”
“I don’t understand,” Alec says, staring at her. “How? Who could— Oh.”
Magnus. Magnus could. Which means—
“So it worked.” He drops his gaze, and horror claws at his insides when his eyes sting and the grain of his desk blurs. “Magnus has his magic back.”
“He’s not stupid,” Isabelle points out, gently. Alec hasn’t told her that he broke up with Magnus, but he didn’t need to. She’d hugged him without a word the moment she’d spotted him standing in the hallway, feeling more than a little lost, after he’d broken the heart of the only man he would ever love. “He’ll work out cause and effect.”
Alec smiles bitterly. “Iz, you didn’t hear what I said to him. I used everything he told me because he thought he was safe with me to hurt him.”
“He’s not stupid,” Isabelle repeats, steadfast and unwavering. “He knows you, Alec. He knows that you’re not cruel. You dump him out of the blue and then suddenly he’s got his magic back and Asmodeus has turned up? He’ll know that’s not a coincidence.”
“It won’t seem out of the blue to him,” Alec mutters, but, despite himself, despite how absolutely foolish it is, how inevitable it is that it’ll be squashed, he lets himself hope. He lets himself hope that maybe - just maybe - Isabelle is right. Maybe Magnus will realise that something’s going on. Maybe—
Maybe Magnus will come back to him.
When Magnus knocks on Catarina’s door the following morning, he’s almost used to the sensation of magic sparking beneath his skin once more. He’s not sure what twisted game Asmodeus is playing, but there must be a reason.
For the moment, Magnus doesn’t care. He banished Asmodeus, and he’s got his magic back, and he is never, ever offering anything to rescue the Nephilim from their own stupidity again.
Frankly, he can’t entirely remember why he did it in the first place. Of course, he cares about Clary, but still, such a large price? He must have been feeling charitable. Or perhaps just guilty, for all the mess Clary’s found herself in.
“Cat!” he calls, knocking again. “It’s me! I’ve got news, and a question!”
The door is yanked open by what appears to be an invisible force. When he glances down, he sees Madzie. He smiles.
“Well, hello, sweet pea,” he says, reaching down to give her a one-armed hug. “Is your mother here?”
“Yeah,” Madzie says, squeezing his waist. “She’s in the kitchen.”
Catarina arches an eyebrow at him when he walks in. She’s rummaging through her bag, dressed in scrubs, and clearly about to leave for work. Magnus almost feels guilty for bothering her.
“Good morning,” she says pointedly, when Magnus doesn’t say anything. “Are you alright?”
“Better than alright,” he says, and wiggles his fingers at her.
Her lips part when a smoky blue arrow made of magic floats into the air, trailing sparks. She follows it with her eyes for a moment, stunned into silence, and then she breaks out into a smile.
“Magnus,” she says, grinning. “That’s fantastic!”
He accepts her hug with a laugh. She grips his shoulders and kisses his cheek when she pulls back.
“How?” she asks. “What happened?”
“Asmodeus gave it back to me. I’m not sure why, yet. He was talking all sorts of crap. It doesn’t matter.” He waves a lazy hand. “I banished him. And now I’m going to take full advantage of this, and get my apartment back from that cheating scumbag. Then I’m going to take my position back.”
Catarina raises her eyebrows. “Careful, Magnus. He did save your life. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s an absolute twat and he’s totally incompetent, but...be careful. He’s slippery.”
“He only saved my life because you begged him to,” Magnus points out. “It was hardly an act of selfless generosity.”
“What?” Catarina’s smile drops away, and she frowns. “What are you talking about?”
“When I collapsed after the transfusion. He didn’t help me unprompted.”
“No, that’s true, but Magnus, that wasn’t anything to do with me. That was—” She shakes her head, smiling slightly in what looks like a fond sort of exasperation. “He never told you, did he?”
It’s Magnus’ turn for confusion to write itself across his face. “Who? Told me what?”
“Never mind.” She holds up both hands, palms forward. “I shouldn’t get involved. It’s not my place. I’m sure there’s a reason. But perhaps you should ask him about it, when you get home.”
Ask Lorenzo about when he’d grudgingly saved Magnus’ life? God, Magnus really can’t imagine anything he wants to do less. He’s sure Lorenzo will bring it up like it’s a bargaining chip the moment Magnus demands that he gets the fuck out of his loft, but he’s not going to fall for that. He’s got leverage, anyway. Lorenzo didn’t fix the ley lines. He did. And now he’s back to full power—
Well. He’s going to be taking full advantage of that fact.
“What did you want to ask me?” Catarina asks. She’s turned back to her bag, and is pulling out her keys. “I’ve got to go in fifteen minutes.”
“Do you happen to know what I was doing yesterday?”
She laughs in clear bewilderment. “No? Why on earth would I know that?”
“I wasn’t with you?”
She shakes her head. “Is everything okay?”
“It’s probably nothing. I expect I just forgot that, ah, mundane me had a weaker alcohol tolerance, and had a bit too much to drink. I can’t quite remember what happened yesterday.”
Catarina doesn’t look amused. Her knuckles have turned pale where she’s gripping her keys tightly, and her lips are pressed into a thin line. She’s appraising him in a way that’s making him feel nervous.
“You’re probably right,” she agrees; her voice is quiet. “But it is a little odd. Why don’t you talk to Alec?”
Magnus blinks at her. “Alec?”
She shrugs. “He’s far more likely to be able to help you than I am. I haven’t seen you since last week.”
“Catarina,” Magnus says slowly, wondering whether his friend has gone completely mad, “who in the world is Alec?”
“Alec Lightwood! What the hell did you do?!”
Wide-eyed, Alec jerks his head up from where he’s pouring over a map of recent demon sightings with Jace. Striding through the Institute, body tense with righteous fury and a blaze of rage brewing in her eyes, is Catarina Loss. Underhill is dashing after her, grabbing her arm lightly and gesturing urgently, but she yanks herself out of his grip and ignores him.
“Ma’am,” Underhill tries, desperately, “you can’t just barge in here and—”
“I can do whatever I damn well like,” she snarls, with a vehemence that Alec has never heard from the woman who’s normally so level-headed. He’s never even heard Catarina raise her voice before.
She stops in front of Alec and jabs a finger into his chest. “What on earth did you do?’
Alec glances around the Ops Centre. It’s fairly empty, for once, but there are still more witnesses than he needs. But, judging by the way Catarina is tilting her chin up and narrowing her eyes, attempting to get her into his office for a bit of privacy won’t go down well.
“Did you talk to Magnus?” Alec asks, lowly. He can feel Jace’s eyes boring into the side of his head, but he doesn’t care.
“He came to me absolutely goddamn elated that he’d got his magic back,” she says, nostrils flaring.
Relief crashes through Alec like a wave. It worked. Magnus has his magic back, and he’s happy. Alec was right. His magic—his magic is the most important thing to him. His immortality. His livelihood. Alec knows that Magnus is probably hurting - that’s almost certainly why Catarina is ambushing him in the middle of the Institute - but he’ll recover. He’ll be okay.
He’ll be happy. That’s all Alec has ever wanted.
“Then it worked,” Alec murmurs.
He realises his mistake when Catarina practically snarls at him.
“What worked? I’ll ask you once more, Shadowhunter, and then I’ll make your life so unpleasant you’ll weep: what did you do?”
Alec closes his eyes. When he opens them again, he sees that everyone in the Ops Centre has disappeared. Everyone except Jace.
Maybe his brother isn’t always quite so stupid after all.
“I went to Asmodeus. Magnus was– God, Catarina, he was so miserable. He was drunk out of his mind, and he told me that he’d never be happy again without his magic. After the ordeal with Lorenzo, he’d already said that maybe his magic was worth dying over, and I– I couldn’t watch it any longer. It was killing him. So I went to Asmodeus, and he said he’d give Magnus his magic back.”
“For a price,” Catarina states. She folds her arms across her chest. “But that’s a stupid price. What would Asmodeus get out of that? No offence. I’m sure your pain is very real, but any old demon can create heartbreak. Asmodeus would want more than that.”
Alec scrubs at his face tiredly. “Magnus’ pain? I don’t know.”
“But—why would Magnus be in pain?”
At that, Alec stops, and looks at her sharply. “I broke up with him. Why would he not be?”
“You—” Catarina goes pale. “Oh my god.”
Before his eyes, Catarina’s entire demeanour changes from one of rage to one of shock. Jace shoves a chair behind her just before she reaches a hand back for something to hold onto. She collapses into it, and stares up at Alec in sheer horror.
“Oh, you stupid, stupid man,” she whispers.
“Hey, now,” Jace says mildly, frowning, but Catarina doesn’t even seem to hear him.
“I had to,” Alec insists. “I know I hurt him. By the Angel, I know, and I hate it, but I had to. He was so broken, I had to do something, I had to fix it. And I can’t tell him about the deal, because that was part of it. That was one of the conditions. Magnus can’t know.”
“No.” The look Catarina gives him makes Alec’s chest tighten in fear. “Alec, Magnus doesn’t have any memories of you anymore. He has no idea who you are.”
Cold horror spreads through Alec’s veins and wraps around his lungs like icy claws. He sucks in a sharp, ragged breath, and has to grip at the table to keep himself upright. A hand lands on his shoulder, warm and steady, and squeezes.
“What?” he asks, voice barely a breath. “How?”
“I don’t know. But I can guess. I think he went to a Silent Brother to request that his memories of you be removed. If he went to who I’m sure he did, the Brother would have refused, so Magnus must have done it himself, or got someone not enormously skilled to do it for him. He was having migraines.”
Her words knock any remaining air out of Alec’s lungs. He gapes at her, dizzy and lightheaded and so shocked he can’t find words to articulate any of it.
Any hope he might have had, any shred of belief he might have held that there was a tiny possibility that he’d get Magnus back, any thought of Magnus putting the pieces of the puzzle together—they’re all dead.
“Why?” he chokes out. “Why would he do that? Willingly?”
“Because he was hurting,” Catarina says, voice hard. “Because he was, as you so articulately put it, broken, because he’d lost everything, and then he lost the last thing tethering him to sanity. He must have been desperate for the pain to go away.”
“But– His magic—”
“God, Alec.” Her voice gentles into something wretched and rough. “Magnus loved you more than he loves magic. He loved you more than anything. Of course his magic was important to him, and to his sense of self, and of course he was in unimaginable pain over losing it, but losing you...”
Alec shakes his head vehemently. “He’s had his heart broken before. He’s recovered. He’s healed. We know he can heal from that. He couldn’t heal from losing his magic.”
“He couldn’t heal from losing you,” Catarina says, voice oddly soft. “I don’t think you understand what you meant to him. You weren’t ever destined for that box you argued about.”
That’s what breaks Alec.
That’s what sends tears streaming down his cheeks and sets him gasping for breath. That’s what has Jace tugging him into a hug that he barely feels. That’s what makes him think that maybe - god, maybe - this was all a terrible mistake. Maybe he’s made the wrong call.
But then he thinks about that night. He thinks about how his heart had broken into tiny little pieces when Magnus had sobbed in his arms; how helpless he’d felt as he’d held Magnus as tightly as he could and still known, when they’d sunk to the floor and Magnus had just kept crying, that it wasn’t enough. That he wasn’t enough. That no matter how much he loved Magnus, he couldn’t fix it. Love couldn’t fix it.
It hurts. And, clearly, it hurt Magnus. Perhaps more than Alec had realised it would. But this is better. Magnus can start afresh. He was fine before Alec met him. He was good. His life was probably far easier back then, without Alec, and he’s back there now. It’s a clean slate. He’s got his magic back, and, okay, he doesn’t have Alec, but he doesn’t remember that. It’s like he never had Alec at all.
And that’s okay. Magnus will be okay, now. He’s not heartbroken at all. He’s elated. He’s got his magic back.
This is enough, Alec decides, as he pulls away from Jace and scrubs his sleeve against his face. It wasn’t meant to be like this, but it’s enough.
As long as Magnus is happy, it’s enough.
Magnus has lost his favourite bathrobe.
It’s far from the first time he’s misplaced something - probably in a fit of passionate magic - but it’s frustrating. He can’t remember magicking it anywhere. He can’t even remember the last time he had it.
Not that it matters. Lorenzo had fled his loft with his tail between his legs and a deeply unattractive scowl etched into the smug lines of his face the moment he’d opened the door to see Magnus standing on the other side with magic crackling at his fingertips. He’d offered Lorenzo a pleasant smile, and reminded him sweetly about the ley lines, and flicked a few sparks at him, and that had been it.
He hasn’t got his job back, yet, but it’ll do. For now. One step at a time.
He can feel the wards - his wards - shudder and sigh as Magnus finishes banishing Lorenzo’s things and pulling his own out of storage. His magic hadn’t liked Lorenzo occupying the loft. He can tell. And, frankly, if Lorenzo thought putting away Magnus’ things to replace them with his own somehow improved the ambience of the place, he was delusional. Magnus’ interior decor is far superior.
There are a few things that Magnus is a little confused by, however. Things Lorenzo had shoved into boxes, but that don’t belong to Magnus. A Kindle, and a notebook full of messy scrawl that Magnus doesn’t recognise, and a sweater that he wouldn’t be seen dead wearing because it’s entirely the wrong fit for his shoulders.
Well, it’s not like Magnus hasn’t played host to a vast plethora of guests over his many decades in New York. Lorenzo had clearly been through Magnus’ things so thoroughly that he’d unearthed old items that even Magnus was unaware of.
The thought is repulsive enough to make Magnus want to summon Asmodeus, just so he can offer him Lorenzo as a gift. The guy is such a tool that he’d almost deserve it.
“Oh, no,” Magnus says to himself, when he walks into the kitchen and sees something that pulls him up short. “Oh god.”
There’s a coffee machine. It’s a new addition to his loft, clearly courtesy of Lorenzo.
It’s exactly what Magnus had been idly eyeing for weeks, wondering whether it was worth buying, or whether it would only fuel his caffeine dependency.
He can’t believe he shares anything in common with Lorenzo Asshat Rey. Yet, apparently, they share the same taste in coffee machines.
“Well,” Magnus muses aloud. He hasn’t lived with anyone for so long that sometimes he has to talk to himself just to stave off the sound of silence. “I suppose I’ll keep you. I might have to disinfect you first, though. I wouldn’t want to catch Asshole Syndrome.”
Alec glances up, distractedly. He’s in the middle of explaining to a young Shadowhunter, fresh from the Academy, that no, they can’t just charge in without a care for the consequences and hire a warlock to erase the mundanes’ memories later. They have protocols for a reason.
“Isabelle.” He stands up and rounds the desk. He’ll let the boy stew for a few minutes. He’s not going to punish him - he’s sixteen, for crying out loud - but he’ll let him think he is. It’s usually just as effective. “Is everything okay?”
“I’ve just had a message from the exiting High Warlock of Brooklyn.”
Lorenzo fucking Rey. The eternal thorn in Alec’s side. He can’t think of anyone, except perhaps Asmodeus, who brings him more displeasure. The mere thought of the man who took advantage of Magnus and was then ready to leave him to die puts him in a foul mood.
“About what? Is it—” He stops. Frowns. “The exiting High Warlock of Brooklyn?”
Isabelle glances behind him at the boy sitting by his desk, and says, “Perhaps we should have this conversation in private.”
Alec doesn’t need to tell the boy to go. He scurries out with a worried look in Alec’s direction and a mumbled apology that Alec waves off. Nobody got hurt, but it had made Alec wonder what the hell they bother to teach at the Academy.
Isabelle shuts the door. “Lorenzo was voted out.”
“Apparently, word got out that he wasn’t particularly honest. And he’d been doing business on the side that could have compromised his impartiality as a leader.”
“Good riddance,” Alec mutters, and, it’s true, Lorenzo is an awful leader, but mostly he’s thinking about Magnus, and what Lorenzo did to him.
He hasn’t seen Magnus in almost a month. Not since he turned away in his mother’s shop and looked determinedly anywhere but his lover’s eyes as he broke his heart and twisted the knife in ways only someone who knew Magnus intimately could.
It still hurts. Selfishly, what hurts him almost as much is the knowledge that somewhere in the world, Magnus is having the time of his life, blissfully unaware of anything, because he doesn’t fucking remember.
Alec wanted Magnus to move on. But not like that.
“Yes,” Isabelle agrees, but her face is twisted with sorrow. She reaches out to lay her hand on his forearm, and says softly, “Alec, the warlock council voted Magnus back in.”
He laughs tiredly, and pulls away from her, reaching up to push his knuckles hard against his forehead as he turns around, his back to his sister. Fuck. He shouldn’t be surprised. Magnus is the best, and he’s never had any doubt about it whatsoever. It makes perfect sense to reinstate him.
“Of course they did,” he says, shaking his head and smiling wryly. “Who else would it be?”
Isabelle doesn’t answer his question. It was rhetorical, anyway.
“Are you going to be okay?” she asks, watching him steadily even as he avoids her sharp, unwavering gaze.
“No, probably not,” Alec says, because he’s so fucking tired, and his heart hurts so goddamn much, and he can’t pretend any more. Not to Isabelle. It was one thing to say that he was okay with Magnus not remembering—because, selfishly, he wasn’t, but he knew Magnus would be better off like that, and that made it something he could accept. That made it something he would force himself to be okay with.
But this? Fuck. He doesn’t have a clue how he can possibly cope with this.
“You’re supposed to have a Cabinet meeting next week,” Isabelle tells him, and Alec closes his eyes. His chest has gone tight. “Do you want me to move it?”
“What, and keep delaying it until I die?” He shakes his head. “I can’t.”
“You could get someone else to be the Shadowhunter representative.”
“That would defeat the point. And I want to be a part of it. I want to make a difference. I’ll just have to deal with it.” He pauses as a thought hits him. “I don’t even know who the vampire representative is anymore.”
“Someone called Lily. Look, Alec, stop changing the subject. This is about you and Magnus.”
He exhales, and drops his gaze to his desk. “There is no me and Magnus, Iz. He doesn’t know who I am.”
“Maybe he’ll start to remember, if he sees you again.”
Alec looks at her over his shoulder, and smiles. It’s small, and fond, and sad: neither of them believe that, because they both know that’s not how it works, but Isabelle loves him enough to say it anyway.
“Even if he did, I can never tell him. That was part of the deal. I had to break his heart, and he could never find out about what I did.”
“I’m so sorry, big brother.”
“Me too,” he says, and accepts her hug without hesitation. She holds him tightly, pressing her cheek to his chest. He closes his eyes and focuses on the familiar sensation of her hair tickling his cheek, and he prays to any deity that might listen that he’s going to survive this.
Many years ago, Magnus sat at a table in an Institute deep in the heart of London, and signed the Accords. At the time, it had been heralded as a new dawn - the commencement of a golden age, where Shadowhunter and Downworlders would be equal.
In the very same Institute, Magnus had remained stoic and unflinching while the maid had taken the plates of every Downworlder and smashed them into a heap to be disposed of. The Nephilim couldn’t possibly have eaten off the same china-wear that he had.
He’d met Camille in that Institute.
Magnus is rather disillusioned with the whole concept of equality. Not because he doesn’t want it - it’s all he’s ever wanted for his people - but because history has taught him a valuable lesson: those in power are loathe to give it up. The Shadowhunters will shelter behind the excuse of keeping peace and protecting mundanes to continue their microaggressions and small acts that speak of large scale discrimination.
This Cabinet hadn’t achieved anything when he’d last been on it. In fact, he distinctly remembers whichever dull, unmemorable Shadowhunter had been appointed representative neglecting to mention that the Clave possessed the Soul Sword, right as Magnus had been preaching trust and honesty.
As he walks up to the Institute, he can’t help but feel a sense of loss. So much has changed since he last sat at the table with the other representatives. Luke has gone off to work for the Praetor. Raphael is a mundane—and god knows Magnus is happy for him, happy that he’s found happiness, but he’s certain that the incident will be the first thing he brings up with the Nephilim representative.
Whoever that is.
Meliorn, at least, is eternally unchanging. He fixes Magnus with a perfunctory glance that borders on disdainful as they walk into the hall behind a blonde Shadowhunter. It’s not the same blonde who Magnus gave up his magic for. This one seems less arrogant.
But he does keep looking at Magnus, giving him sideways glances but keeping his expression inscrutable. Magnus is dressed to impress, of course, draped in black and burgundy and reams of silver jewellery, but it’s not that kind of looking.
Besides, no Shadowhunter has ever admitted to finding Magnus attractive. Not in the light of day, at least. Under the cover of night, it’s rather miraculous what the Nephilim suddenly have the bravery to do.
There’s a vampire already sitting at the table. She’s folded her hands neatly on the table, long pale fingers perfectly arranged, and stares hard at Magnus and Meliorn as they make their way over.
“Is there no werewolf replacing Luke?” Magnus asks the blonde, turning on his heel and arching an eyebrow.
“Maia Roberts,” the blonde says.
He’s still giving Magnus odd looks. Magnus isn’t overly concerned. He doesn’t really care about the thoughts and fancies of the Nephilim. They’re all hypocritical and emotionally repressed and far too fond of tradition.
Right on cue, Maia strides in. She doesn’t have an escort, Magnus notes.
“What did I miss?” she asks, falling into the chair on the vampire’s right. “I’m Maia, by the way,” she adds, nodding to Meliorn and the vampire.
“Lily,” the vampire says, and flashes them a sharp smile. “I’m glad to see this Council isn’t being run by men any more.”
Maia’s eyebrows shoot up. Slowly, she smiles.
Magnus and Meliorn take their seats - Meliorn rather stiffly, because he’s decked out in full armour and hasn’t relinquished his grip on his staff - and Magnus looks to the empty chair.
“When will our esteemed leader be joining us?” Magnus asks the blonde Shadowhunter, voice dry.
He expects perhaps a snort, because Lilith knows he can count on one hand the Shadowhunters he’s ever considered ‘esteemed’, but there’s silence. Maia stares down at the table, and Meliorn and the blonde both stare at him. Lily seems rather unconcerned by the whole thing.
Magnus feels like he’s missing something.
“Sorry I’m late,” says a deep, hard voice coming from behind Magnus. “Underhill, I can take it from here.”
The blonde nods. “Sir.”
Magnus turns just as the chair between Meliorn and Lily scrapes across the floor, and—
Well. At least Magnus will have the benefit of some eye-candy, even if this meeting does turn out to be as dull and unproductive and frustrating as he fully expects it to be. The Nephilim representative is the epitome of tall, dark and handsome; Magnus might even go so far as to call him stunning, with the enormous, sweeping black rune stark against the pale column of his neck, and his sleeves pushed up to his elbows to expose strong forearms. He’s gorgeous.
It’s a shame he’s a Shadowhunter, Magnus thinks, idly. He won’t even make eye contact with Magnus.
“I’m Alec Lightwood,” he says, to Lily.
She rolls her eyes. “I know who you are. You’re the Head of the Institute. It’s my job to know who you are.”
Magnus clearly chokes. He is the Head of the Institute? Lilith. Lorenzo had been a lucky bastard, getting to sit opposite this fine specimen every week.
Meliorn is sitting between Magnus and the Shadowhunter, and Magnus can feel the way his eyes keep flicking between them. It’s as though he can read every inappropriate thought going through Magnus’ mind.
“I expect the first thing you all want to discuss is Victor Aldertree’s...experiment.”
Alec says the word with distaste, his mouth curling. The dark look that flashes in his eyes speaks volumes to his opinion of systematically wiping out Downworlders under the guise of mercy. Magnus is pleasantly surprised.
“Yeah, it is.” Maia tips her chin up. “It won’t continue. That’s not a question.”
Alec nods. “I assure you, I’m in complete agreement. Many of us are. It shouldn’t be happening under our noses.”
“The Seelie Queen wishes for assurances that you will take measures to prevent such incidents happening in the future,” Meliorn says. “It is one thing for a vampire or a werewolf to be returned to a mundane. It is quite another for a Seelie or a warlock to be stripped of their very essence.”
Across the table, Lily narrows her eyes. “You’re walking on thin ice, Meliorn. Careful.”
”Being a werewolf is as much a part of me as being a Seelie is you,” Maia adds.
Meliorn waves a hand. “I am sure you understand my point. You were both mundanes, once. I was born a Seelie.”
Magnus sits back as they continue to talk. He’s heard it all before. All the same arguments, the same situations, recycled and reused, dressed up as unique but always absolutely the same, beneath it all.
Alec exhales sharply at something Lily says. He looks frustrated. He looks tired. He looks like a man at the end of his tether. Somehow, Magnus can’t believe it’s all due to Victor Aldertree.
“I can’t make that promise,” Alec says, voice hard, “because I’m the Head of the Institute, not the Consul.”
“You can try.”
“Yes, I can. But there’s no point in making false promises. I’m not a miracle-worker.”
“Then what exactly is the point of this council?” Lily demands. “If you can’t do anything?”
Alec’s nostrils flare, but he maintains his cool. “I didn’t say I couldn’t do anything.”
“Then offer me something.” Lily gestures widely. “Offer my people something more than empty words.”
“I can arrange a meeting for you to have with Aline Penhallow. She’s in charge of the clean-up and things going forward. She’s the Consul’s daughter, so she has more sway in Idris than I do.”
Alec Lightwood isn’t anything like Magnus expected, he thinks, as Lily grudgingly accepts the offer. He’s abrasive, and unyielding, and the kind of man who seems like he’s been scarred by the trials of life.
“If I may,” Magnus interrupts, and then stops, lips parted between one word and the next.
Because Alec turns to look at him, and their eyes meet for the first time, and Magnus changes his mind. Alec Lightwood’s scars are still bleeding. Whatever wounds have been inflicted on him, they’re new, slashed open and raw and painful.
He’s got nice eyes, Magnus thinks, idly, before Alec’s gaze shifts, and his throat bobs, as though he can’t make himself look at Magnus. The hand he’s got laying on the table has curled into a fist; his knuckles are white.
“They’re right,” Magnus says, pushing away the strange curl of interest in his stomach after their odd moment, “but I’ve had this conversation with Shadowhunters more times than I can count. It’s not just about this incident. It’s about the environment that extreme views are allowed to fester in. They don’t magically come from nowhere. They come from stopping and searching werewolves for no particular reason, and referring to the warlocks you employ by their species rather than their names, and stereotyping vampires, and presuming a seelie always has an agenda.”
They do, in Magnus’ experience, but he’s not going to say that to a Shadowhunter. Even one as apparently forward-thinking as Alec is.
“Exactly,” Maia says, nodding. “Exactly that.”
Alec looks at him again, for just a handful of seconds, and there’s a strange sort of conflict in his eyes. Then he clenches his jaw, and looks away, to Maia.
“We’re trying,” Alec says, glancing at Magnus briefly, tension tight in every line of his body. “We’re trying to retrain our staff. But it takes time.”
Beside him, Meliorn looks between Magnus and Alec again. He’s frowning as though their interaction confuses him.
They wrap up fairly quickly, after that. Alec gives Lily Aline Penhallow’s phone number, and the rest of them rise out of their seats to leave.
“Bane,” Meliorn says, inclining his head.
Meliorn turns to go, and then pauses, staff held stiffly in one hand. His eyes flicker back to Alec, who’s embroiled in conversation with Lily.
“Our Queen was correct, it seems,” Meliorn says, raising an eyebrow as though Magnus is supposed to understand that.
“Was she?” Magnus smiles pleasantly, and flicks his fingers.
Meliorn’s brow furrows. “Pretending won’t help you, you know.”
Face a blank mask, Magnus shakes his head pointedly, and shrugs. “Whatever you say.”
Meliorn rolls his eyes, mutters something under his breath, and turns sharply on his heel. As he strides out, he shakes his head back, eyes flashing. It’s a bit melodramatic, really.
Not that Magnus is being hypocritical at all.
Maia waves goodbye, and Lily is stomping swiftly after Meliorn, and Magnus tracks Alec Lightwood as a dark expression steals across his face, and he makes his way towards the exit, not sparing Magnus a glance.
That really won’t do. There’s clearly something going on, here.
Alec freezes. He falters mid-step, and his shoulders tighten, and his Adam’s apple bobs. Twice. Even in profile, from several metres away, Magnus can see the colour drain from his face as he screws his eyes shut and clenches his teeth together.
Then he stares straight ahead, steels himself, and whirls around.
“Are you talking to me?” he demands.
Magnus flashes him a scathing smile. “Well, I wasn’t talking to your blonde friend, I assure you.”
Alec’s nostrils flare. “Was there something you needed?”
“I just wondered what it was I’d done to offend you so terribly.”
And, for the first time in the hour and a half Magnus has spent watching him, Alec seems to soften. His eyes go wide, and his lips part, and something that looks very much like shame sinks into the exhausted lines of his face.
“I’m sorry.” He inhales, arranges his expression into something neutral, and draws himself up to stand straight. He’s ridiculously tall. Magnus isn’t used to having to look up at people. “I behaved...unprofessionally. It was nothing you did. I apologise.”
Magnus arches an eyebrow, wondering whether perhaps Alec Lightwood takes the biscuit as the most stoic Shadowhunter he’s ever encountered. Although, admittedly, that was hardly the response Magnus expected.
“Apology accepted,” he says. “I don’t think we’ve ever been formally introduced. Magnus Bane.”
Alec closes his eyes again, just momentarily, and a tiny huff of amusement leaves him. One corner of his mouth curls; he shakes his head at Magnus as he returns his gaze to him.
“Yes. I know who you are. Alec Lightwood.”
“Hm.” Magnus smiles at him, and sways his shoulders. There’s something about Alec Lightwood. Something he can’t quite put his finger on.
Although, it’s not uncommon for him to be drawn to what’s beautiful and broken; to those who wear heartbreak like armour, who have sharp edges that have been broken one too many times. Perhaps it’s because he knows a kindred spirit when he sees one. Perhaps it’s merely because he’s an unintentional masochist. It never ends well.
Magnus would have thought he’d learnt by now, but, as he watches Alec and waits to see what he’ll do, he feels intrigue unfurl inside him, like the first shoots of a flower poking up from the ground after a long, cold winter.
“Um.” Alec swallows. “I should probably go.”
“Me too,” Magnus agrees. He raises his eyebrows. “Until the next time, Alexander.”
Alec’s brow furrows, and Magnus wonders whether his assumption was wrong. “How d’you know my name?”
“Lucky guess. Was I right?”
“Yeah. Yeah, you were.” He exhales. “Goodbye.”
And he turns, short and sharp, and disappears down the hallway, leaving Magnus staring after him as he idly wonders who broke Alexander Lightwood’s heart.
Alec can’t breathe.
He feels like he’s going to be sick, as he barricades himself in his office, locking the door and barking at Underhill that he’s not to be disturbed. He braces his hands on his desk, chest heaving and head hanging between his shoulders as he screws his eyes shut and tries desperately not to throw up.
Fuck. He has to pull it together.
Magnus is the High Warlock of Brooklyn. He’s the Head of the New York Institute. They’re going to have to see each other again, and he has to do better. He has to find a way to lock this down, this feeling of heartbreak and torture and ruin.
Raziel, the sight of Magnus in front of him, gorgeous and perfect and powerful, in his prime, was enough to shatter him. It had taken everything he had not to turn tail and flee from the room the moment he’d seen him sitting in that chair like some sort of heavenly retribution for everything Alec has done.
It’s his own fault that he’s feeling like this. It’s all his own fault. There’s nothing he can do now. What’s done is done.
Fuck. He tightens his grip on the edge of his desk until his knuckles turn white.
Magnus behaved just like he had all those months ago, when they first met. Just like he had when Alec had stalked in behind him and shot an arrow through the asshole who’d been trying to murder Magnus and take his eyes like the most revolting kind of trophy. He’d swayed his shoulders in exactly the same way. Smiled that same small, soft little smile. Watched him with those same brown eyes, curious and warm and—
And Alec didn’t deserve any of that. He’d been a dick. He’d barely been able to look at Magnus during the meeting. Every time he spoke, it felt like someone was driving a seraph blade through Alec’s heart, over and over again, until he was bleeding and broken on the ground. When they’d locked eyes for the first time...
Alec knows Magnus intimately, in that way that only the closest of lovers can. Adores him. Loves him more than anyone.
And not only does Magnus not love him back, anymore, but he has no idea. No idea at all.
It’s worse. Worse than when Alec had betrayed his trust and forced Magnus to side with the Seelie Queen. Worse than when Magnus had stood on the other side of the table, stoic and unmoved by Alec’s pleas. Worse than when Magnus had snapped at him and ignored him.
If Magnus hated him, he might have been able to take it. But this...
This is torture.
“Fuck,” he says, aloud. “Fuck, fuck, fuck—”
On the last iteration, his voice cracks, and he chokes on a breath that turns into a sob. It rips out of his throat, and he can’t control it. Can’t control himself. It hurts too much. He doesn’t care who hears him, because god-fucking-damnit, the only man he’ll ever love has no idea that he’s Alec’s entire world, and it hurts.
The door flies open. Alec doesn’t have a moment to compose himself before he feels a hand sliding over his shoulders, and a soft voice says, “Oh, Alec.”
He inhales deeply, trying to calm himself down before he completely falls apart in front of his little sister. He’s breathing too loudly, too quickly, too raggedly, but he’s not sobbing anymore.
He’s just crying. He can’t stop.
“Sorry,” he rasps, to Isabelle. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t, Alec,” she says, rubbing up and down along his spine. “You can’t keep all this inside you. You’re allowed to be in pain.”
“I’ve got to pull it together,” he argues, and lifts a hand to scrub the tears from his face. The scratch of his sleeve against his skin is grounding. When he pulls his hand away from his face, he notices that it’s bright red. God, he hadn’t even noticed himself doing that. “I can’t fall apart every time I see him.”
“I can’t.” He pulls away from her. “I’m a leader. He’s a leader. I’ve got to get on with things.”
Isabelle exhales, sounding so sympathetic it makes Alec want to scream. “I’m sorry, big brother. I wish I knew how to help.”
“It’s not your responsibility,” Alec says.
Isabelle arches an eyebrow. “If Magnus’ happiness was your responsibility, isn’t yours mine?”
Fond frustration tilts up one corner of Alec’s mouth. “I’ll be fine.”
She looks at him for a long, heavy moment, eyes searching his. Then: “Okay.”
“Okay,” she says, holding his gaze. “But I’m here if you want to talk.”
With a final, meaningful dip of her head, she turns elegantly on her heel and walks out, leaving Alec alone.
His eyes fall to the photograph of Magnus on his desk. A photograph of the two of them, weeks ago, standing in the middle of a bustling market in Marrakech. Magnus had asked a passerby to take a photograph of the two of them, and they’d stood with their arms around each other. Alec had turned to kiss Magnus’ cheek, and the photograph had caught the look of adorably pleased surprise that flashed across Magnus’ face.
Alec smiles down at the photo, now, and drags him finger down the glass. He’d been on top of the world, then. He’d had everything he thought he’d never be able to have—and he’d almost started to get used to it. He’d started to stop waking every morning with the fear that that day would be the day the other shoe dropped; that something had to go wrong; that he couldn’t possibly be allowed to have it all.
The other shoe has dropped now.
With a heavy heart, Alec picks up the frame, takes the back off, and peels the photograph out. He allows himself to spare it one last glance, and then he shoves it at the bottom of his desk drawer.
He can’t keep gazing wistfully at the past. It’s time to move on.
Chapter 2: Lie
In which Alec pines, Magnus flirts, and demons are always ready to ruin a moment.
As ever, I’m completely incapable of guessing how many words a plot is going to take up, so the chapter count has increased ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A knock sounds on the heavy wood of Alec’s office door. He glanced up from his paperwork with tired eyes, wondering what the next crisis that had befallen them would be.
“Sir?” The boy from the Academy who has a problem with following protocol looks in, back straight. “Mr Bane is here.”
Alec freezes. The pen that had been dangling between his fingers falls to the desk with a clatter, dotting ink across the reports Alec is in the middle of signing. He barely notices.
He hasn’t seen Magnus for weeks - not since that disastrous meeting. Not since Magnus had called him pretty boy - again - and thrown Alec into spirals of painful reminiscing. Not since he’d broken down in his office, fallen apart, shattered into pieces, and then picked them all up and sworn that even if he couldn’t glue them back together, he’d never let them scatter like that again.
“Magnus is here? In the Institute?”
His voice cracks. He’s sure he’s had this conversation before, with a different blonde Shadowhunter - that time, over a dead body. That time, tortured because he felt intense desire for a man he could never let himself have. This time, because the world couldn’t let him have that very same man.
The boy doesn’t seem to notice the uncharacteristic tremor in his voice. “He’s in the Ops Centre. Mr Underhill called him in to update the wards.”
Right. The wards. They’re updated once a year.
“Oh.” Alec glances down at the reports on his desk, and winces at the ink splatters. He’ll have to do them again, now. “May I ask why this concerns me? Underhill can handle it. He’s Head of Security.”
“Mr Bane wants to discuss payment with you. He said that his bills should go to the Head of the Institute.”
Alec drops his gaze and lets out a tired laugh. How quintessentially Magnus. He can imagine Magnus’ serious tone, belied by the little quirk of his eyebrow. He remembers the look Magnus had given him that day, so long ago, when Magnus had walked into the training room with a report addressed to the Head of the Institute. He remembers the track of Magnus’ eyes down his torso, the tilt of his mouth, how fucking amazing he’d looked, the thrill of being wanted by a stunning man—and how much Alec had wanted him in return.
He’d got so used to being loved by Magnus, he’d almost forgotten what it had been like, then, to be so cripplingly closeted.
“Is he finished?” Alec rises from his chair and flips the front of his folder closed.
“Yeah. He’s waiting for you.”
“I’ll come meet him.”
The boy pauses by the door, looking momentarily confused. “You don’t want someone to take him here?”
“No, it’s okay. He’s the High Warlock of Brooklyn.”
The High Warlock of Brooklyn. All it had taken for Magnus to take back the position that had meant so much to him was Alec gone from his life and his magic back. All he’d needed was his old ruthlessness back. The key to having no fear is having nothing to lose, he’d said. Asmodeus was right. Alec had made Magnus weak.
In the Ops Centre, Magnus is standing by one of the monitors, looking undeniably bored as he observes the Shadowhunters going about their business with a sort of disdain that makes Alec’s mouth curl in amusement, even now.
This is so very clearly the Magnus that Alec first met. The Magnus of months ago. The Magnus with all his walls firmly in place, standing as strong as they have for the last century.
“Mr Bane,” Alec says, trying to keep his voice steady while, internally, he wants to turn tail and flee.
Maybe he should ask Jia if the position on the Council is still open. Or anything, frankly. Anything that will take him away from New York. Anything that will mean he doesn’t have to keep seeing Magnus, who’s happy and oblivious and thriving, and feeling his heart break into exponentially smaller fragments with razor-sharp edges.
But no. He’s not that cowardly. He’s not that selfish.
“Ah, Mr Lightwood!”
Magnus straightens, shoulders rolling back, and a smile spreads across his face. It’s not Alec’s smile - not the one that starts with fondness welling in his eyes and diffuses out. It’s the one Alec remembers from long ago. The flirtatious teasing that’s always delivered with a slight note of detachment.
Of wariness, Alec supposes, with hindsight. Now that he knows Magnus; now that he knows his past.
“You wanted to see me?” Alec doesn’t return Magnus’ smile. He stands in parade rest a few feet in front of him and waits, trying to remain entirely neutral.
“I did. I’d like to give you this.” With a flourish, Magnus snaps his fingers, and produces a short square of paper adorned with Magnus’ handwriting. “My bill.”
Alec takes it, careful not to let their fingers brush. He’s always found the way Magnus moves entrancing, and none so much as the way he moves his hands. He could stare at Magnus flicking and twirling and curling his fingers for hours, with or without marking sparking at their tips.
But he can’t. Not anymore.
“Thank you,” he says. He doesn’t bother to look at it, and slips it in the inside pocket of his jacket. “You’ll receive payment in full.”
Magnus arches an eyebrow. “You haven’t checked it.”
“I don’t need to.”
Magnus’ eyebrows hitch higher. “I see.”
Alec presses his lips into a firm line and glances over Magnus’ shoulder to where Isabelle is watching them with sympathy swimming in her eyes.
“If that’s all?” he asks, desperate to get back to his office and bury himself in reports so that he forgets all about this. It’s been working for the last few weeks.
(Well. At least, he’s been able to pretend it has, even if he still thinks about Magnus in his every idle moment.)
“I was rather hoping I could debrief you,” Magnus says, and gestures down the hallway. “Shall we?”
Alec can’t imagine what Magnus could possibly need to debrief him on. Updating the wards is a regular occurrence, and one that he’s sure Magnus could do in his sleep. But then he sees the spark of mischief flash in Magnus’ eyes, and he understands.
Of course. Just like before.
“Very well,” Alec relents. “Although I’m sure it’s all perfectly fine.”
“Indulge me,” Magnus says.
After hesitating for a moment, Alec acquiesces. Turning Magnus down would be rude, and, much as he wants to deny it, some masochistic part of him doesn’t want to. He loves Magnus with every fibre of his being, and even if Magnus will never know, even if he can never be with Magnus the way he wants to, perhaps he can have this. Perhaps—
“Lead the way, Alexander,” Magnus says, glancing at him with a smile twisting at his lips.
Perhaps Magnus is going to absolutely fuck him over with his coy looks and poorly concealed flirtations. Perhaps he’s going to have to put a firm stop to this.
But, by the Angel, saying no to Magnus is impossible.
They make their way through the corridors to the weak point in the wards that Alec wrote up a report on all those months ago, where the Forsaken had entered through. He glances at Magnus while Magnus talks, gesturing with his hands, and wonders whether, if he brings the attack up, any part of Magnus will remember.
It was here where Magnus had stopped him and offered him warlock TCL. Here where Magnus had gone from casual offers of healing to genuine concern as he’d turned sincere eyes on Alec to say, If anything were to happen to you—
—and Alec had pulled back, rejected Magnus’ offer, and feared the weight of the eyes he thought he’d felt on them.
“I doubt it was the wards at fault, really,” Alec says, as Magnus finishes a complicated explanation of his fixes that Alec barely followed. “Contrary to what the report says.”
Magnus arches an eyebrow. “The Forsaken attack? Forgive me, but I’m sure it was you who wrote it.”
Alec pauses, searching Magnus’ eyes for any flicker of emotion, any faint sign of confusion or recognition or momentary hesitation, but there’s nothing.
“It was,” Alec admits. “But I wrote the report before the autopsy results came back. Which is sloppy, I know, but...I wasn’t having the best time of it.”
An understatement if there ever was one, he thinks, wryly. It had been the worst time of his damn life. Until Magnus had stormed into his wedding, and then, suddenly, it had been the best.
“Well.” There’s a flicker of curiosity in Magnus’ expression as he turns to gesture at the wall, which looks exactly the same as it did before. “Weakness or not, the wards are in perfect condition now.”
Abruptly, Alec realises that they’re standing rather close. He hadn’t noticed, he supposes, because he let himself get used to being loved by Magnus; he’s used to being able to exist in Magnus’ personal space, and for it to be normal. Nice. Easy.
But it’s not normal for the Head of the Institute and the High Warlock to stand shoulder to shoulder, mere millimetres apart.
“Thank you.” Alec takes a step back. Magnus’ eyes track the movement. “I should really be going, now. I can show you out.”
A faint smile turns up one corner of Magnus’ lips. “I’ll find my way.”
Alec jerks his head in a nod, and turns on his heel, because, god, he can’t keep looking at Magnus. It’s agonising, and it reminds him of everything he’s done so very wrong.
Alec stops with his back to Magnus, and closes his eyes as though blindness is an effective barrier against the syllables of his name - the name only Magnus ever calls him - falling from his ex-lover’s lips.
He twists his head to look back. “Yeah?”
Magnus tilts his head to one side, considering Alec with a scrutiny that borders on intrigue, and says, “Would you like to go out for a drink sometime?”
Alec stiffens in surprise, and feels his eyes widen at the question. God, in Magnus’ world, they barely know each other, and Alec was beyond rude to him during the Cabinet meeting, and today they’ve spoken for no more than twenty minutes, and—
But, god, that happened before, didn’t it? When Magnus called him after they summoned that goddamn demon, and tripped out some stupid little line about Alec seeming sympathetic - as though Alec had ever been sympathetic in his fucking life, back then - and then Clary—
“I apologise,” Magnus says, smoothly, easily, snapping Alec from his whirlwind of painful memories. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“No, I– I’m not offended.” Alec shakes his head, rushing to cover up his lapse in control. “I just– It’s not– I’m not really...looking for anything, right now.” It’s not a lie, he supposes. Maybe that’s why it falls out so cleanly.
So much more cleanly than I don’t know, and you’re confusing me, and whatever other shit he’d said last time. He’d never been confused about what he felt for Magnus.
“Ah.” Magnus smiles. “Shadowhunting keeps you people busy. How could I forget?”
Alec tries to smile through the ache in his chest that’s radiating out from the gaping hole that Magnus’ love used to fill. “Right.”
Magnus’ expression shifts to something more circumspect. He looks like he doesn’t quite believe himself. He looks like he used to look right before he called Alec out on his bullshit, back then. Harder, warier, than he might have been weeks ago, but just as frighteningly able to read Alec, to see Alec, as he always was.
“Goodbye, then, Alexander,” Magnus says, and sweeps past him before Alec has to come up with a farewell that doesn’t make obvious how much he’s hurting.
When Magnus opens a bottle of whiskey that evening, he has the most bizarre feeling that he shouldn’t be.
He pauses, holding the cap in one hand while the other is wrapped around the bottle’s neck, and frowns at it. He can’t even remember the last time he got blackout drunk and did something embarrassing, so he’s sure he can’t have made any unwise decisions to quit drinking that he’s since forgotten. Why would he have done?
Shrugging to himself, he pours a healthy helping into a crystal glass, and sets the bottle back down on his drinks cart - which is looking shamefully empty - with a clang. He takes a swig, flicks his hand to turn on some music, and spins on his heel with a slow, satisfied smile.
Maybe he’ll go to Pandemonium, tomorrow night. It’s been a while since he last frequented the place, and, if he’s perfectly honest, he wouldn’t mind some company.
Lilith, why he thought it was a good idea to ask out the Head of the New York Institute, he really doesn’t know. There’s the fact that Alexander Lightwood is sex on two very long legs, of course, but it was more than that. Something in the way Alexander had acted had almost made him think...
But no. Whatever it is that’s turned the man into such a broken, tortured soul, it’s clearly enough to turn him off the idea of dating. Or perhaps that had just been to spare Magnus’ feelings. Either way, it’s a dead end. Magnus isn’t going to find anything there.
He pushes Alexander Lightwood out of his mind, and calls Catarina as he waltzes into his bedroom, shedding clothes as he goes.
“What have you done now?” Catarina asks as he picks up, and Magnus takes a moment to glare at his phone in offence.
“Excuse you,” he says. “I’m not allowed to call you just because I want to?”
“Of course you are,” Catarina says, “but, usually when you call me at a convenient time, there’s an ulterior motive.”
“Nurses,” he says with a sigh. “You keep such strange hours. No, I was just calling for— Oh, fuck.”
There’s a clatter as a box tumbles to the floor from where he’d haphazardly shoved it on a shelf after he’d kicked Lorenzo out and moved back in. On the other end of the line, Catarina makes a soft noise of concern. Magnus picks it back up with an errant strand of magic.
“I knocked something on the floor,” he tells her. “Nothing to worry about. I...”
Something colourful catches his eye, and he trails off.
He’s poured over that box for hours, gazing at magically preserved trinkets and meaningless relics that mean nothing to anyone but him. There are a hundred memories attached to every item in there. Names, faces, places he’s long since left behind. He knows the box’s contents inside out.
But he hasn’t got a clue what’s poking out of the top.
“Magnus?” Catarina says, snapping him from his musings.
“Sorry,” he says, taking a step towards where he’d set the box back on the shelf. He flips it open, and traces a finger over the corner of...
Well. He’s not quite sure what it is. It’s a rectangle of red and gold fabric, and he’s fairly sure that the symbols on it are Japanese, and it feels oddly familiar beneath his fingers, even though he’s certain he’s never seen it in his life.
“When was the last time I went to Japan?” Magnus asks, and he hears Catarina make a sound of surprise on the other end of the phone.
“Japan? I don’t know. With me? About thirty years ago, but I’m sure you’ve been since. Why?”
“I found something. I don’t know what it is.”
She’s silent for a moment. Then: “Found something where? What kind of something?”
“It’s like one of those little charms that they sell in markets. It’s got Japanese symbols on it.”
“Oh.” There’s something heavy in Catarina’s voice, but Magnus isn’t paying her much attention. He’s too confused. “If it’s not yours, it’s probably Lorenzo’s.”
“I– Probably,” he agrees, reluctantly. He closes the box without returning the charm, but, rather than discard of it, he sets it carefully on top. He doesn’t know why, but he can’t quite bring himself to throw it away.
When Alec walks into the Hunter’s Moon on Friday evening, after a mission that had turned out to be a whole lot of nothing, he’s exhausted. He can feel it seeping through him, pooling in a pinch between his shoulder blades and seeping deep into his muscles.
He orders a beer and ignores the Seelie next to him, who looks him up and down with an appreciative raise of his eyebrow. The Downworld has clearly realised that he and Magnus are no longer together, but it’s not like it makes any difference. Magnus was it for Alec. There’s never going to be anyone else.
“You okay?” Maia asks, sliding a beer bottle across the bar.
He passes her a tip, and takes a swig. “Yeah, fine. Just feel like I could do with a break.”
Maia shrugs. “Take one.”
“Seriously, just take one. Tell Isabelle that you’re leaving for a week, pack a bag, and go. Sometimes it’s good to get out of New York. Trust me.”
“Go where?” Alec wonders. Other than those few short months with Magnus, he’s never really been anywhere. He’s been to Alicante, of course, and Magnus took him to Tokyo and Marrakesh and Venice, but those were all short trips. Hours, a day, at the most.
“Anywhere. It doesn’t have to be some place fancy. Just get out for a while.”
Alec shakes his head. “I can’t. I’ve got an Institute to run. Thanks for the beer.”
Maia smiles at him. “You’re welcome.”
For a while, he sits there, beer half-forgotten as he remembers the thrill of Magnus grabbing his hand and waving an arm to summon a portal into existence. Having the world at their fingertips had started off as wondrous, but Alec had allowed it to become his normal. He’d begun to think of his relationship with Magnus as his - their - normal. Raziel, he’d never taken him for granted, but...
Well. He’d stopped waking up every morning terrified that it had all been a beautiful dream.
Alec stiffens. Because, for just a split second, it feels like it used to feel. Hearing Magnus call his name when they’re in the Hunter’s Moon on a date night—it feels familiar.
But it’s not. Because Magnus doesn’t know about any of it.
And he never can, Alec has to remind himself, firmly. Just because Magnus keeps flirting with him - because of course he does, because the world has to keep finding news ways to torture him rather than leave him to wallow - doesn’t mean that anything can ever come of it.
That was the deal. Break Magnus’ heart, and make sure that Magnus never knows.
Alec can’t give Asmodeus an excuse to take Magnus’ magic again. Certainly not out of a selfish desire to feel Magnus’ love again.
“Alexander,” Magnus says again, sounding closer this time, and Alec forces himself not to be an asshole as he turns on his barstool.
For a moment, Alec can’t breathe. Magnus is dressed to the nines, decked out in deep blue and maroon and dripping with silver, and his shirt is buttoned so low that most of his chest is exposed, and he looks like sex personified, but he’s smiling at Alec with an undeniable note of warmth.
And Alec can’t react to any of it. He can’t give Magnus any mixed messages. He has to try to make Magnus stop flirting with him, not encourage it.
“Hi,” Alec says, voice steady, and a little colder than he intends it to be. Magnus’ smile slides off his face, and Alec almost regrets it. But, then, he doesn’t, because if Magnus hates him, then that’s better than Magnus liking him too much.
“I didn’t know you were a regular here,” Magnus says, resting one hand on the bar, ringed fingers splayed elegantly. Alec can’t help the way his gaze drops. It’s Magnus’ left hand, and there’s one finger that’s noticeably bare.
Fuck, Alec had so nearly had everything he’d ever dreamed of.
“I’m not, really,” Alec says, and it’s only half a lie. He’s not. But they were, together. “Was there something you wanted?”
Magnus raises his eyebrows. “Not particularly, no. Is that the Shadowhunter way of telling me to fuck off and leave you be?”
No! is on the tip of Alec’s tongue, but he stops himself. Much as he might want to spend an hour talking to Magnus, or listening to Magnus talk, or letting himself go - just a little bit - he can’t. He shouldn’t. He shouldn’t take the risk.
A scream sounds outside. Alec’s head snaps up, hand going immediately to his belt.
“What was that?” he asks, a little redundantly, eyes alert and body tense as he gets up and scans the street through the window. He can’t see anything, but—
“Let’s find out,” Magnus says, already striding towards the door.
“Magnus, wait!” Alec shouts, because Magnus can’t just walk into situations like that, it could be anything, it could be dangerous, it could kill him—
But Magnus is already out the door. Alec mutters a curse under his breath, and shoves past a werewolf to follow him.
He rushes out into the street to see Magnus turning down an alleyway, Magnus alight in his palms. If it’s a dark, dank alleyway, it’s probably a demon. And if it’s a demon here, then—
It’s the demon they’d been trying to track all evening, he and Isabelle and Jace. It’s got a mundane man in its grip, teeth digging into his arm as it picks him up like a dog would pick up a chew toy. Judging by the way his limbs are swinging, the guy is either dead or unconscious. Either, Alec thinks, are probably a blessing.
It’s enormous, twice the size of the demons they normally see in the city, and it’s dripping with slime that’s probably acidic, judging by the way it’s burning the man’s clothes. It’s not moving, save for the back-and-forth swish of its tail, but its eyes are fixed on Magnus, standing with his eyes narrowed.
“What the hell are you?” Alec mumbles, reaching back for his bow, and—
His bow. Shit. His bow is sitting under the bar in the Hunter’s Moon, because he’d rushed out after Magnus without picking it up.
“I do love a challenge,” Magnus says, not taking his eyes off the demon, “but this isn’t quite what I had in mind for tonight.”
“No?” Alec asks, sliding a seraph blade out of his belt. It’s not his preferred weapon, but it’ll do.
“Any idea what this is, exactly?”
“None. We were tracking it earlier, but it disappeared.”
“Well.” Magic flares at Magnus’ fingertips. The demon shrieks. “I suppose we don’t need to know its name to kill it.”
A sizzling ball of magic flies from Magnus’ palm. The demon roars as it hits his skin, and bars its teeth. Clearly, it decides that Magnus’ threat is of greater importance than the mundane: it drops the man to the floor, and Alec winces in anticipation, and—
“That was rather rude of you,” Magnus says, lowering the man to the floor with a flick of his wrist. “What did the poor man ever do to you?”
A scuffling sound makes Alec turn. There’s a line of similar, smaller demons making their way into the alleyway. Whatever the demon is, it’s clearly got offspring.
“Can you keep that thing occupied?” Alec shouts over the defensive cacophony the demons are making, palming a throwing knife in his left hand.
“Are you going somewhere?”
“It’s brought some friends.”
“Ah.” There’s a sizzling sound, and another shriek. “I think I’ll manage.”
Alec doesn’t have much choice but to take Magnus at his word. Not that he doubts it for a moment.
He’s sweaty already, and his muscles are screaming in protest as he throws a knife and plunges his seraph blade into a demon trying to sneak past him. But he pushes on. He can’t help Magnus if he doesn’t get rid of these things.
He glances over his shoulder just in time to see the mother demon take a swipe at Magnus. He drops to one knee, defensive magic shielding him, but something manages to get through, and his face twists in pain as something - a claw or a talon or a scale - catches at his ribs.
Alec forces himself to turn away, and he brings his seraph blade down in a wide arc, slashing through two demons and nicking a third in the face. Ichor sprays across his hand and the demon screams at him, but Alec merely stabs at it again, and again, and again, until it chokes and gurgles and disappears in a shower of sparks.
There aren’t any more coming at him, so Alec spins on his heel, blade held aloft in one hand and the other resting on a throwing star. He’s running out of weapons, but there’s a sharp, jagged street sign that he could probably rip off if he activates his strength rune, and a discarded vodka bottle that he could smash, and—
He darts forward without conscious thought, shoving Magnus out of the way just as the demon attempts to sink its teeth into his chest.
Magnus grunts as he hits the floor, and Alec spares a moment to feel guilty about it, and then the demon’s teeth are right in front of him, coated with saliva that burns as it drips onto Alec’s skin, and he cries out as they sink into his shoulder. Pain ricochets through him as he brings his seraph blade upwards until it hits the roof of the demon’s mouth, and then he yanks it forward, cutting through the creature’s skull.
Someone is shouting, and the demon is shrieking, and he tries to stab at it again, but the pain is starting to overwhelm him, and he can’t move his right arm. There’s an incoherent snarl, and a gust of wind that Alec knows accompanies Magnus’ most powerful spells whips through the alleyway, and—
“Alec! Alexander, look at me!”
“S’kay,” Alec mumbles, barely registering the hands on his face or the shrouds of blue surrounding him.
“It’s not okay! What the hell are you doing, throwing yourself in front of demons?”
He almost sounds worried, Alec thinks, absently. Maybe he’ll get some warlock TLC, this time.
“Do Nephilim have a death wish?” Magnus demands, and Alec grits his teeth in pain as something probes at his shoulder. The sharp stinging of it makes his eyes water and his vision swim.
“‘M a Shadowhunter,” he mumbles, and tries to push Magnus’ hand away, because fuck, whatever he’s doing hurts, goddamnit.
“You’re mortal,” Magnus says briskly. “I am not.”
Raziel, as though Alec isn’t agonisingly aware of that. Not that it matters anymore.
“‘S fine,” Alec says, and then he closes his eyes.
Just for a moment, he tells himself. Just so he can rest. Just until the pain goes away.
“Lilith, stop dying!” Magnus gets out through gritted teeth, blue flooding from his palms and into the wound on Alec’s shoulder. He’s lucky, really, that the demon’s teeth caught his right side, and not his left—he’s only got a punctured lung and possible death instead of a tooth through the heart and an unquestionably certain death.
But there was clearly poison in the demon’s teeth, Magnus knows, because he’s unconscious and turning grey, even though Magnus is replacing his lost blood.
“You’re not dying on me,” Magnus mumbles to himself, as he waves a hand to open a portal. He slides an arm under Alec’s shoulders and another under his legs, and hauls himself to his feet, the strange enigma of a Shadowhunter who won’t look him in the eye but will leap in front of a demon to save his life held against his chest. “Not tonight.”
Something makes him pause before he steps through the portal. He looks down at the Shadowhunter laying limp in his hold, and feels an odd sense of familiarity. Touching Alec almost feels...natural.
He shakes his head. He’s clearly used too much magic. Or he’s getting sentimental about a Shadowhunter who couldn’t make his disinterest in Magnus’ advances more clear if he tried, except for all those odd little moments where it almost seems like he wants to return them.
Magnus staggers slightly as he lands on the other side of the portal. Half a dozen shocked faces turn to stare at him, but he doesn’t care. He’s the one who secured the damn wards, so they really shouldn’t be surprised that he left himself a little loophole.
“Where’s the Infirmary?” he asks one of them, and the woman lifts a hand to point down the hallway. “Send me Isabelle Lightwood.”
He’s barely set Alexander down on one of the short, narrow beds that really don’t accommodate his long frame when the doors fly open, and Isabelle rushes in, flanked by the blonde Magnus gave his magic up for. Magnus gives him a lingering glance, and wonders what it is that Clary sees in him. There must be something, aside from trouble, which is all that Magnus can discern.
“What happened?” Isabelle asks, looking aghast as she stares down at her brother, gaze flickering between them.
“We found your demon,” Magnus says. “It was enjoying a mundane snack outside the Hunter’s Moon.”
Oh, Lilith. The mundane. He completely forgot about the mundane.
Later. He’ll deal with it later.
“We have to call Catarina Loss,” Jace says, immediately, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “I—”
Isabelle glares at him. “Jace, Magnus is right here. We don’t have time to call Catarina. I can tell that and I’m not his parabatai.”
Jace stares at her pointedly, and jerks his chin in some sort of silent communication that Magnus doesn’t begin to understand. Isabelle’s glare only intensifies.
“Fuck that,” Isabelle snaps. “That doesn’t matter now. Alec is dying, Jace.”
Jace turns to Magnus, who still has magic filtering through Alec’s body, attempting to feel out the poison in Alec’s bloodstream. “Can you heal him?”
“No, I’m just standing here pouring out magic for fun.” Magnus rolls his eyes. “Yes, Herondale, I can heal him.”
“You do look a bit tired,” Isabelle ventures. She glances down at her brother, and then up at Magnus, and reaches out a hand. “If you need it.”
Magnus frowns at her, magic faltering for a moment before he focuses back on task. “What?”
He stares at her. No Shadowhunter has ever offered him their strength before, and for Isabelle to just—
“Take it!” Jace sounds desperate. He’s cut Alec’s shirt off, and is dragging a steel over Alec’s iratze. It’s not working. “God, Magnus, just take it!”
Maybe that’s it, Magnus muses, as he reaches over Alexander’s body for Isabelle’s hand. Maybe that’s what Clary sees. Even if the stench of trouble permeates the very air Jace breathes, he clearly loves his family.
“Ready?” Magnus asks Isabelle, one hand poised over the gaping wound on Alec’s shoulder that won’t start to clot no matter how many times Jace tries to activate his brother’s iratze.
Determination hard in her eyes, Isabelle nods, fingers wrapped tightly around Magnus’.
It takes a moment for Isabelle’s strength to filter through, but, the moment it does, he sees Jace’s eyes go wide as blue floods from Magnus’ palms, encasing Alec in writhing, smoky streams of magic.
“Don’t!” Magnus says sharply, as Jace lowers his stele again. “If that closes before the poison is gone, he’ll die.”
Jace clenches his jaw. “He’s losing too much blood.”
Incredulity fills Jace’s expression. “Trust you?”
“Shut up,” Isabelle snaps. She’s swaying slightly where she’s standing, but she isn’t moving to let go of Magnus’ hand. “This isn’t the time.”
Magnus doesn’t have a clue what the pair of siblings are talking about, but he doesn’t care. He can feel the last foreign molecules easing out of Alec’s bloodstream, relinquishing their hold on his nervous system, and—
A gasp rips its way from Alec’s throat as his eyes fly open, scleras shot with black, and his back arches away from the bed. Jace reels back in shock, and Isabelle’s lips part, and Magnus curls his fingers with grim determination, because fuck it, he’s almost there—
Like a puppet whose strings have been cut, Alec crumples, and falls back onto the back. Magnus’ magic dissipates. He lets go of Isabelle’s hand, flicks his fingers to summon them both a chair, and then collapses back into one. Already, he can feel the exhausted ache of magic drain beginning to sink into his bones, and, unlike Isabelle, who’s pulling aside the hem of her top to active her stamina rune, he doesn’t have the gift of Raziel’s blessings.
The flesh on Alec’s shoulder has knitted itself back together to leave an angry red mark, the iratze finally having taken hold. He’s breathing evenly, if a little shallowly, and his eyes are still beneath his lids. That’s good. It means his lung has healed, too.
Jace is staring down at his brother with a look of mild horror. He turns his gaze on Magnus.
“That was just the poison,” Magnus says, with a shake of his head. He’s too tired to be snarky. “He’ll be fine.”
“Thank you,” Jace says, to Magnus’ surprise. “I– Thank you. If you weren’t there—”
“Don’t mention it,” Magnus says, trying not to think about the way Alec had thrown himself in between Magnus and the demon, seraph blade blazing and righteous fury flashing in his eyes, without a moment’s thought. He doesn’t know what to think of it. Tonight has only managed to add to his confusion regarding Alexander.
The quiet washes over Magnus as he rests, letting his muscles go lax as he melts against the hard, unforgiving chair. Can’t they find more comfortable furniture for a hospital wing?
On the other side of the bed, Isabelle is rising to her feet. She leans past Jace to get a good look at Alec. The corners of her mouth are tight, but she doesn’t say anything when she reaches down to unfold the white sheet at the bottom of the bed and drape it across Alec’s lower half.
“I can get rid of the blood, if you give me a moment,” Magnus murmurs.
Jace and Isabelle both start, as though they’d forgotten that he was there. Another one of those glances that bewilder Magnus passes between them.
“Take your time,” Jace says, a little awkwardly.
“I’ll get out of your hair quickly, Herondale, don’t fret.” Magnus shots him a wry smile. “I do know how you Nephilim appreciate your personal space.”
Jace pulls a face, lips twisting in an expression of one preparing to bite out a retort, but Isabelle interrupts.
“Maybe you should just rest here,” she says, and nods at him pointedly. “No offence, but you look dead on your feet.”
“I’m not on my feet at all, but I appreciate the sentiment.” He snaps his fingers. The sticky scarlet sinking into Alec’s bedsheets like ink disappears. “I should be here when he wakes to check that everything is in working order. Magic isn’t perfect. Not even mine, much as I might like to pretend otherwise.”
After that, Magnus doesn’t pay too much attention to the goings-on in the Shadowhunter Infirmary. Isabelle makes some comment about the plethora of empty beds that Magnus acknowledges with a hum, but he doesn’t move. He’s too tired.
Besides, in his chair at the foot of Alexander’s bed, he’s in prime position to stare at the enigma himself. What kind of Shadowhunter risks their life for a Downworlder they barely know?
When Alec wakes, he feels like someone has rolled over his body with a truck. Twice.
By the unpleasant, sterile stench and the bright fluorescent lights visible even behind his eyelids, he knows before he opens his eyes that he’s in the Infirmary. Also, his feet are hanging off the end of the bed, because they’re built for people under five foot eight.
There’s a dull throbbing in his skull. He tries to lift a hand to massage at his temple with his knuckles, but a searing pain shoots down his arm and through the side of his chest, radiating out from his shoulder. He lets out an involuntary hiss, and hauls his eyes open to peer at his body, wondering what the fuck he did to himself, and—
“Woah, woah, slow down, man,” he hears Jace say, and fingertips press into his other shoulder, which doesn’t particularly hurt, aside from the low-level ache that’s permeating his every cell.
“What happened?” he rasps, looking at Jace and then Isabelle, sitting side by side in the shitty Infirmary chairs. He pushes himself up a little on one elbow; this time, Jace doesn’t protest.
“You were nearly our demon’s dinner,” Isabelle says.
“Right,” Alec says, slumping back into the pillows. Trying to sit up had made his head swim. He’s pretty sure he’s forgetting something, but honestly, he just wants someone to hold his hand and make him smile and kiss him. And by someone, he obviously means—
Isabelle hesitates, sadness in her eyes. For a moment, Alec doesn’t understand. Was Magnus hurt too? Has something happened to him? Has he spontaneously gone on a murderous demon rampage in revenge and caused some kind of hell-centred political disaster?
Then, with a cold wash of startling clarity, he remembers.
Magnus doesn’t remember. Magnus isn’t here, because he’s not Alec’s boyfriend. He’s not even Alec’s friend. They’re acquaintances, at most, and Magnus doesn’t care about what happens to Alec, because he has no idea who they were to each other.
Isabelle seems to see the moment the horrors of the last weeks hit him, because her face twists with sympathy. “Alec—”
“I’m right here,” Magnus says smoothly, and Alec freezes.
He turns his head to see Magnus sprawled in another crap plastic chair, this one positioned a few feet from the foot of his bed. His eyelids are heavy, hair flat on one side, and Alec realises that he’s been asleep, until no more than a minute or two ago. He’s sleep-rumpled. It’s a look Alec is intimately familiar with.
Magnus was asleep, by his bedside. Alec doesn’t quite know what to do with that information. It throws him nearly as much as the kind smile that softens the corners of Magnus’ mouth, right before he yawns, drags a hand through his hair, and sits up straighter.
Magnus quirks an eyebrow at him. “How are you feeling?”
“Oh.” Alec swallows, and clears his throat. “Fine. I’m fine.”
Magnus rolls his eyes and rises gracefully to his feet. He rounds the bed and snaps his fingers. “Nephilim,” he says, like merely uttering the word leaves an unpleasant taste in his mouth.
Alec adores him. It seems like such a long time since he’s heard Magnus talk like this, like he has been these past few weeks. It’s nice, in an agonisingly painful sort of way that makes Alec want to be sick. Because he knows that part of it is an act - a defence mechanism to make people believe that nothing can hurt him - but at the same time, Magnus is snarky and sarcastic, sometimes, when he’s not being crushed by the weight of the world.
When he’s not involved with the bullshit that comes with dating someone like Alec.
“We should let Magnus check you over,” Isabelle says suddenly, breaking Alec from his musings. There’s magic sparking at Magnus’ fingertips, but it disappears at Isabelle’s words. “He healed you,” she adds, to Alec’s blank look.
“Oh,” Alec says again, stupidly. He glances up at Magnus. “Thank you.”
One corner of Magnus’ mouth lifts as he shakes his head. “It seemed like the least I could do.”
He can feel Isabelle and Jace staring, their gazes flicking between him and Magnus. Alec doubts Magnus told them what transpired, exactly, but he’s sure they’ve worked it out, now, with that comment. Magnus probably thinks he’s being cryptic. Maybe he’d be succeeding, if they didn’t have enough shared history to fill a book or two.
“We’ll come back,” Isabelle says. She’s getting up, and pulling Jace with her. “Fifteen minutes?”
“Whatever you like,” Magnus says airily, waving a hand. He’s pulling up his magic again, and Alec can see the focus that sharpens every line on his face.
Alec hears the doors to the Infirmary shut, and, suddenly, he wishes he’d asked his siblings to stay. He doesn’t know how to act around Magnus. He’s a fucking awful liar, and every word he utters to the man who has no idea that Alec would rip apart the world for him feels like the worst kind of dishonesty.
“You gave us quite a scare, you know,” Magnus says, brow furrowed as he follows the line of his magic along Alec’s body with laser-sharp focus. Alec’s eyes track the progress of his hand. He can’t make himself look at Magnus’ face.
“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, but he’s not. He’s sorry that he made anybody worry, but he’s not sorry that he stopped Magnus getting mauled by a demon. He could see quite clearly that Magnus wasn’t going to blast his magic in time. It was the only logical thing to do.
Magnus scoffs. “You’ve got nothing to apologise for. Although quite why you leapt in front of a demon, I’m not sure.”
“Because it was going to eat you?” Alec suggests, finally daring to watch the profile of Magnus’ face, wondering what he’s going to find there. Mostly, confusion.
One corner of Magnus’ lips twitches up, but his expression remains inscrutable, just as it always is when he’s feeling uncertain. “I suppose there is that.” He snaps his fingers, magic disappearing, and smiles at Alec with a little too much gusto. “The good news: you’ve got no lingering poison anywhere.”
“The bad news?”
Magnus shrugs. “You’ll be feeling that shoulder for a few days. But I’m sure you’ll be back to hunting creatures of the night in no time.”
“I don’t even go on missions that often,” Alec says. He forces himself up onto one elbow, because he’ll be damned if he’s going to have a conversation with the High Warlock of Brooklyn (because that’s who he is, he’s not Alec’s Magnus, he’s not Alec’s boyfriend, so Alec has got to retain some dignity) while he’s horizontal.
He winces as the movement pulls at his side. Fingers curl around his tricep.
“Easy,” Magnus says, keeping his damaged arm still while Alec pushes himself up with the other. “Okay?”
“Wonderful,” Alec says dryly, and Magnus lets out a soft huff of laughter.
Magnus flicks his fingers to summon the chair he’d been occupying, and folds himself into it with his usual fluid grace. Alec wonders why. He’s deemed Alec healthy - or, at least, well enough to get there, given time - so it should be his cue to leave—to go home and recuperate with steak and champagne and a hot bath.
A sudden thought hits Alec, and he feels like a fool for not having considered it immediately.
Alec clears his throat to get Magnus’ attention. “I can’t pay you, from here, but if you ask Izzy, she’ll take you to my office and work something out.”
Magnus’ fingers still where they’d been drumming lightly against the arm of the chair. A furrow appears between his brows. “I’m sorry?”
“For healing me. I know money and gold probably isn’t top of your priority list, but I’m sure we can come up with something.”
“Alexander,” Magnus says, slowly, the syllables dripping off his tongue in a way that makes Alec flush, even though he knows it’s not meant to be flirtatious. For once. “You jumped in front of a demon for me. I don’t need any payment for healing you.”
The words make Alec’s stomach twist, and he’s not quite sure why. “You were only there because of me.”
This time, Magnus’ eyebrows shoot up, and his expression borders on offended. “I seem to recall running out of the Hunter’s Moon before you, actually. Clearly I’ve spent too much time around Nephilim in the last few weeks.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry.”
He doesn’t realise that he’s twisting the sheets between his fists until his grip is tight enough to make his knuckles ache. He lets go, embarrassed. Magnus has the grace to pretend he hasn’t seen.
Magnus tips his head to one side, regarding Alec with curious brown eyes. Alec stares down at his hands in lieu of returning Magnus’ gaze: it reminds him too much of the early days of their relationship—too much of why d’you come? and it’s unusual to find a Shadowhunter with such an open heart and trust makes you do strange things.
“Why did you do it?” Magnus asks, at last. “Why did you save me?”
Alec doesn’t flinch, but it’s a near thing. He’s been expecting Magnus to ask since Isabelle and Jace left the room.
“Instinct, I suppose.” Alec chances a glance up; Magnus doesn’t seem convinced, with the way he’s pressing his lips together, but Alec can hardly tell him that it’s ingrained in his very soul to throw himself between Magnus and danger without a second’s thought. “It’s not your fight. Demons. They’re not supposed to be your responsibility. They’re ours. We’re supposed to protect mundanes from demons, sure, but we’re also supposed to protect Downworlders.”
“Supposed to being the vital phrase in that sentence.” Magnus waves a hand when Alec opens his mouth, and adds, “No, don’t apologise. You can’t shoulder the blame for the entire Clave. So you’d have thrown yourself into the mouth of a demon for anyone? Any innocent?”
Alec can’t lie. He’s the world’s worst liar. He’d be a terrible Seelie, because he can’t even manipulate the truth.
(Well. Except when he’s breaking up with Magnus, apparently. But he pushes the thought away. It’s not helpful.)
“No,” he admits, because yes won’t force its way past his lips, no matter how hard he tries.
“I see.” Clearly, he doesn’t. Magnus’ entire expression screams that he wants to probe, wants to press and pester and ask more, but he stays quiet. Then: “So that was just for me?”
He sounds slightly hopeful. Alec huffs out a laugh, and shakes his head, but says, “If you wanna spin it like that.”
Magnus lets out a short, sharp breath through his nose, and folds his arms across his chest as he leans back to fix Alec with a playful glare that Alec hasn’t been on the receiving end of for so long it hurts.
“Honestly, you could just give me a straight answer.”
“Straight tends to get me into difficulty.”
The words are out of his mouth before he can think twice, and he pauses in abject horror - not at outing himself to Magnus, because he’s pretty sure that Magnus is fully aware, just like he was the first time - but because it’s such an awful line. He’s got standards.
But Magnus laughs, properly, throwing his head back as his eyes crinkle at the corners and sparkle with mirth, and Alec decides he doesn’t care. He’ll say as much shit as he possibly can if it makes Magnus laugh.
Except he’s not going to. Because they’re not spending lots of time together. Because they’re not them, anymore, and they never can be again, because Asmodeus will come for Magnus’ magic. This is a one-off.
But, of course, this is Magnus. And Magnus always manages to throw all of Alec’s carefully considered plans up in the air.
Or, in this case, burn them to ashes with five words.
“Can I get your number?”
Alec stiffens. His smile drops. He stares at Magnus, and makes some garbled stuttering sound, and Magnus adds: “It seems like good politics to have a quick line between the High Warlock of Brooklyn and the Head of the New York Institute.”
“Good politics. Right.” Alec clears his throat. “Yeah. Sure.”
Magnus unlocks his phone with his thumbprint, taps at the screen, and looks at Alec expectantly. It’s only while Alec is reeling off his number, mostly operating on autopilot, that he suddenly realises that his number is already in Magnus’ phone, and that Magnus will notice, and—
“Wonderful,” Magnus says. “Thank you.”
Of course. Catarina. Catarina told him she’d been through Magnus’ phone, and deleted everything—with magic, she’d added, quickly, assuring him that she hadn’t been invading anyone’s privacy. At the time, Alec wouldn’t have cared if she’d admitted to having seen every text and photo between them and of them that existed.
“I’ll call you,” Magnus adds, and Alec grabs his phone where it’s sitting on the bedside table to shield the screen from Magnus just before Magnus can see his own face and name flash up.
He pretends to save Magnus’ number into his phone, while he wonders why he never even considered deleting the evidence of Magnus from his phone. He’s taken down all the photos in his office and in his bedroom, and he stuffed the robe Magnus had left behind into the back of his closet, and threw away the toothbrush he’d used and the soap he’d bought Alec weeks ago to take with him back to the Institute, but he’s never been through his phone. Maybe it’s because his phone is just his. Nobody else has access to it. Its contents are private.
Magnus still isn’t making any effort to leave. He’s watching Alec without shame, and, not for the first time, Alec is desperate to know what he’s thinking.
I love you, Alec thinks, and then, abruptly, terribly, he wonders if that’s entirely true. He wonders if he does love this Magnus—this Magnus who doesn’t remember him, who’s hard and sharp and heavily armoured, who’s almost certainly been with other people in the time they’ve been apart, who—
Fuck. Alec hadn’t really thought about that before. It hurts, even though it shouldn’t. Even though he hasn’t got any right to be hurt by it. Because even before all this, even before Magnus lost - removed - his memories, Alec broke up with him. Alec ended things. He doesn’t have the right to be hurt.
“Are you in pain?” Magnus asks, and Alec looks up at him, trying to purge the guilt from his face.
“Are you in pain?” Magnus repeats, patiently. “You looked like you were in pain.”
“Uh, no. I’m...fine.”
He is in pain, of both the physical and emotional kind, but his thoughts have made him feel far too ashamed to let Magnus help him.
“You don’t have to pretend, you know,” Magnus says, and Alec’s heart twists, because, god, even if he shouldn’t, he does love Magnus. He loves every version. His love isn’t conditional—not on anything. He loves Magnus’ power - his personal power, not just his magic - and the way he carries himself, and his quips and sarcasm, but more than any of that, he loves his heart. His kindness and compassion and protectiveness, even if sometimes he hates it, when it spills over into a disregard for his own welfare.
(Alec isn’t oblivious to the irony of that. He supposes that’s why they worked so well.)
“I’m fine,” Alec says again, quietly.
Magnus’ face does something complicated that Alec can’t interpret. “If you’re sure.”
For a moment, Alec doesn’t say anything. He looks down at his hands where they’re curled atop the sheets. The knuckles on his left hand are grazed and bruised and stiff, and he can’t for the life of him remember what he did during the fight to damage his fingers like that.
Magnus makes a humming noise.
He turns his head and looks over, and forces himself to meet Magnus’ gaze, full-on and unwavering, like he hasn’t for weeks. He’s tried desperately not to look at Magnus at all, beyond the absolute minimum demanded by basic propriety.
Magnus stares back at him. He’s entirely still, not so much as a twitch giving away what he’s feeling. He inhales deeply through his nose, chest expanding to accommodate the breath, and Alec tries his best not to look down at the way his shirt stretches across the muscles of his pecs.
“I understand what it’s like to be torn down by the world,” Magnus says, at last, and god, Alec hates him, sometimes. Magnus is always so fucking forgiving, and it’s infuriating. “I understand how painful it is to have your heart broken.”
Surprise makes Alec pause, blinking twice. “What?”
A wry smile catches at the corner of Magnus’ mouth. “You wear heartbreak like it’s armour, Alexander. I’m intimately acquainted with how it looks on a person.”
And that– God. Fuck. Alec has to look away, at that. Because Magnus is so old, and he’s seen so much, loved so many people, and yet it was Alec breaking his heart that proved to be one too many. It was Alec’s rejection that drove him to rip things from his own head because they hurt too much.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, you know,” Magnus continues, oblivious to how much his every word is making Alec want to sob. “I know how Shadowhunters prize stoicism, but no amount of denial and repression can make our emotions disappear. They just fester.”
Alec exhales. “I appreciate that,” he says. “But it doesn’t make me any less sorry. My own shit shouldn’t have any bearing on how I treat you.”
“Hmm.” Magnus smiles knowingly, and Alec wonders what it is, exactly, that he thinks he knows. “Apology accepted.”
“Please let Isabelle pay you. It’s the least I can do.”
“Alec, you jumped in front of a demon for me. You could have died. You’ve more than settled any debt you think you owe me.”
“Then– There must be something you want,” Alec says, and he realises his mistake the moment the words are out of his mouth.
It’s far too similar to all those months ago, when Isabelle had needed an attorney and Alec had offered Magnus anything. You, Magnus had said, with barely a thought. In fact, I’ll do you pro bono. He’d half-smiled and rolled his eyes and dismissed it as ridiculous, at the time, but he’d later thought about what might have happened if he’d said yes rather a lot. Especially after he’d seen Magnus in that fucking suit.
“How about a drink?” Magnus suggests, one eyebrow raised. It’s kinder than he was the first time, less bitter, less jaded, but Alec isn’t surprised. He’s not engaged to a woman they both know he’ll never love, this time. “No strings, just a drink.”
He wants to.
God, does he want to. Almost more than he wanted to the first time, when Magnus had flirted and propositioned at every opportunity, and Alec had wanted with every fibre of his being; he’d wanted to say yes more than he’d ever wanted anything in his life. He’d wanted it so much it had made his skin burn every time he was anywhere near Magnus.
But he can’t. Asmodeus deal was clear. He can’t do this.
“Magnus,” he murmurs, and drops his gaze. “I want to say yes, I just... I can’t.”
“I understand,” Magnus tells him, with a small smile. “If you ever change your mind, let me know.”
The sound of Isabelle’s heels clopping along the floor saves Alec from having to answer. She walks through the Infirmary doors with her arm looped through Jace’s; when her eyes land on Alec and Magnus, she arches an eyebrow, and smiles.
They’re sitting rather close together, Alec realises. Magnus is leaning forwards, and he’s angled himself towards Magnus, inching closer without noticing as he often does, pulled in by the beguiling force of Magnus’ gravity.
He shifts in place, and winces when he moves his shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Magnus frown.
“So,” Isabelle says, letting go of Jace and making her way to the foot of Alec’s bed. “How is he, Magnus?”
“He’ll be fine.” Magnus keeps his eyes trained on Alec’s face. Alec keeps his on his hands. His fingernails look like he’s dragged them through wet mud. “But you need to take it easy for a few days.”
Jace scoffs. “You’ll have to tie him to a chair to get him to take it easy.”
“You’re really one to talk,” Alec shoots back, glaring at his parabatai. Jace lifts both hands, palms forwards, one corner of his mouth tipped up in a smirk that Alec would really quite like to slap off his face.
“I’ll leave you to your bickering,” Magnus says airily, rising up off the chair. Alec can practically see the walls going back up. “Goodbye, Alexander.”
“Bye,” Alec murmurs, chancing a look over at him. He means to be brief, to offer Magnus a smile and then look away, but he ends up staring with a longing he’s sure he fails to entirely disguise.
There’s silence when the door closes behind Magnus. He sets his jaw and meets his siblings’ gazes, daring them to comment.
“Don’t,” Alec says, waving a hand. “Just don’t.”
It’s not a sound, precisely. It’s not vibrations making a chain reaction of other vibrations for Magnus’ brain to interpret into bundles of frequencies that the human race has given meaning.
And it’s not a touch. At least, it’s not a collection of atoms that make up a thing coming into contact with his skin and making his nerves fire impulses through his body.
But it’s something. Something familiar. It’s not corporeal, but it’s a sensation. Magnus can feel it. But he can’t touch it. He can’t hear it. But it is.
It’s soothing, he thinks, although he’s not quite sure how it can be. It’s like the smell of Ragnor’s flat in London, or the press of Catarina’s calloused hands against his back, or the grouchy sound of Raphael within an hour of being woken. It’s...
It’s nothing. It’s everything.
It’s warm. Is it warm? It’s not warm in the traditional sense. But it makes him feel warm, inside. It makes him feel safe.
Magnus wakes slowly. For a moment, he can still feel it, whatever it is, exactly, lodged inside his chest, blissfully aching. He blinks against the weak streams of sunlight peeking through the sides of his blackout blinds, and then it fades.
He turns over, onto his back, and his eyes land on the little charm he’d found in his box. He’d never put it back in, because it doesn’t belong in there, but he hadn’t quite been able to throw it away. It’s still sitting on his shelf, beside the box.
An omamori, Magnus had discovered, with Google’s magical assistance. For luck and protection. Sweet, and pointless, and nothing Magnus would have purchased, nor something any of his friends would have given him.
Lorenzo hardly seems like the sort of person to appreciate sentimental mundane trinkets, so Magnus is fairly sure it doesn’t belong to him.
Which brings him right back to his original bewilderment over where on earth it came from.
He exhales, and drags a hand through his hair. He doesn’t usually dream like that, in abstract. He usually dreams vividly, in thick, saturated colour and with a starkness that seems like reality even when the context is bizarre and nonsensical and undeniably dreamlike.
He pushes it out of his mind. It doesn’t matter. He’s got things to do.
Magnus manages not to think about the previous day’s events, or Alexander goddamn Lightwood, until he’s arguing with one of the fey about having allowed a warlock back into New York, after he served his decade-long exile sentence.
“You’re clearly compromised,” the Seelie says, rolling their eyes and tossing their hair back.
“Am I?” Magnus arches an eyebrow, and tries not to pay attention to the plethora of Seelie knights hiding in the trees of the Queen’s court, ready to separate his head from his neck if he disrespects the Queen’s favourite diplomat.
“It would seem so,” the Seelie says.
The conditional tense. A Seelie’s favourite way to lie while telling nothing but the truth.
“I’m rarely compromised,” Magnus drawls, leaning back in the woven wicker chair and tossing one leg over the other. “Certainly not about warlocks who’ve broken the law. I’ve no personal relationship with this man.”
The Seelie laughs. “Bane, few have been more compromised than you in the last months. You’ve been fickle and distracted and torn.”
Magnus stares. “Excuse me?”
They shrug. “Your loyalties. Torn. Compromised.”
“I beg to differ.” Magnus narrows his eyes. “My loyalty is to my people.”
“I would say I’m sure, but I’m unable to lie.” A wicked smile seeps across their face. “The New York Institute might show a different story to the one you’re spinning.”
“The New York Institute?” Magnus repeats, trying desperately to pin down what the Seelie is implying before he completely loses a grip on these negotiations. “What in Lilith’s name are you talking about?”
“Ahh, yes, her too,” the Seelie acknowledges, and Magnus pulls a face.
“Lilith and her Owl were a threat to us all.”
“Yes,” they acknowledge, “but I’m sure you were more concerned by the threat posed to a rather select group of people.”
“Speak plainly,” Magnus snaps.
“I wonder what Alexander Lightwood would think of allowing your warlock back into his city?”
What the fuck does Alexander have to do with any of it?
“This is irrelevant to the matter at hand,” Magnus says sharply, losing patience. “Marcus was banned from New York because he sold Seelie drugs to mundanes. We mutually agreed on a ten year exile sentence to avoid the involvement of the Nephilim, and it has been served. This is—”
The sweet voice of the Seelie Queen makes the hairs on the back of Magnus’ neck stand on end. Last time he was in her presence, they formed an alliance.
He really doesn’t have a clue what drove him to make such a decision.
The Queen is smiling, eyes glinting like the sharp edge of a dagger. She looks so innocent, so entirely harmless, disguised as a child and adorned with nature’s jewels, but Magnus has to fight down the urge to back away.
“We’re not interested in the warlock,” she says. “I wanted to see if the rumours were true. And it appears that they are.”
“The rumours, my lady?” Magnus asks, attempting to keep his voice level. “What rumours?”
“The rumours about you and your lover.”
Magnus wrinkles his nose. “I don’t have a lover.”
“No.” She smiles. “No, exactly.”
I hope you enjoyed the chapter! Let me know what you thought in the comments, or you can find me on Tumblr
Chapter 3: Grow
In which Magnus and Alec meet in Pandemonium, some Seelies are up to no good, and Alec visits Lorenzo for advice.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Pandemonium is earning its name on Friday night.
Magnus slips past the guests and up the back staircase to linger on the overhead gallery. He drapes his arm across the banister and surveys the club with a sharp, clinical detachment. Mostly, of course, it’s filled with Downworlders, but he can see several mundanes, too: all of them appearing slightly dazed and very drunk. Downworlders have a high alcohol tolerance, and most of the drinks served at the bar are stronger than those in mundane clubs.
The bartender catches his eye from down below, and lifts his fingers in greeting between serving. Magnus draws a circle in the air with his forefinger, pointing towards the ground. A snap of the bartender’s fingers, and a whiskey glass appears in his right hand in a sharply cut crystal glass. He raises his drink in thanks.
He sips absently, necklaces clinking together as he leans forwards. It makes his open shirtfront gape, but he doesn’t care. There’s nothing anybody can see that he’s at all ashamed of. Four centuries is a long time to cultivate confidence in his own body.
The shadows mostly obscure him in his position up high, and most people are too engrossed in dancing and drinking and making out in corners that are far less secluded than they’d like to believe.
There’s a man dancing under the flashing strobe lights. He’s tall and slender and dark-haired, and his eyes are closed as he throws his head back and parts his lips. Sweat beads across his hairline, glistening with every bright flash. Magnus lowers the whiskey glass from his lips as the man rolls his body from the hips up.
The man must sense Magnus’ gaze, because he turns his head and opens his eyes, looking up towards the balcony. His hair slips to reveal a sliver of a warlock mark at his temples. Magnus takes another sip of his drink as their eyes meet.
The man raises his eyebrows, and then he smirks, twirling in place to the heavy beat of the music. Magnus almost laughs at the shamelessness of it.
When the man completes the spin, he cocks his head. Magnus knocks back the rest of his whiskey and turns, heading for the stairs.
They come out in a corner spelled to invisibility to anyone who doesn’t know of their existence. Magnus steps out into the throng of people, eyes skating around its inhabitants before fixing on the man he’d seen from his viewpoint above.
The man hasn’t spotted him yet. He’s dancing without inhibition, eyes closed once more, and there’s something attractive about how little he appears to care about—anything.
Magnus slides past a woman, returning the flirtatious smile she gives him, and sets a hand on the man’s waist, positioned behind him. The man doesn’t flinch, or open his eyes.
“Would you like a partner?” Magnus murmurs, low in his ear, and the man smiles.
“I wouldn’t be averse,” he says, seamlessly shifting his style to move with Magnus to the music as the songs change. “Especially if you’re offering.”
Magnus chuckles. “Flirt.”
“I know what I want.”
“Handy,” Magnus says. “So do I.”
There’s no doubt in either of their minds as the man turns around and loops his arms lazily around Magnus’ neck, stepping closer until their thighs brush with every back and forth movement that is, by Magnus’ estimation, approximately three minutes away from turning into a dirty grind.
“Angelo,” the man says. “From Madrid. I’m just visiting the city.”
“Magnus,” Magnus tells him, although he’s fairly sure the warlock knows that. It’s foolish to travel without knowing the man of the nearest High Warlock. “How’s New York treating you?”
Angelo smirks. “Reasonably.”
Angelo is an excellent kisser. It feels like it’s been a while since Magnus lost himself in the unique pleasures of a stranger, and he’d forgotten how thrilling it could be: the loose, lazy grind of their hips and the heated kisses and the sharp, short gasps that are drowned out by the music, and audible only to them. They’re on the middle of the dance floor, surrounded by people, but it feels oddly private.
At least, until something makes the hair on the back of Magnus’ neck stand on end. He stiffens as Angelo is pressing a line of kisses down his neck, and, fingers still tangled in Angelo’s hair, he searches the room for the sudden source of his discomfort.
There’s something. His magic can sense it. But he can’t see it.
Angelo pulls away, and hooks a finger beneath his chin. “What is it?”
“I’m not sure,” Magnus says. “I’m sorry. My magic felt something.”
Angelo arches an eyebrow at him. “You’ve warded this place, no?”
“Of course. And I have extensive security.”
“Then it will be fine.”
Magnus lets Angelo pull him into another kiss, this one deep and intense and clearly designed to encourage the next stage of the evening. Any other time, Magnus would have been very on board with the plan, and would already be dragging Angelo to an exit.
Tonight, he’s distracted. There’s something here. And—
“There’s a Shadowhunter here,” Magnus says, pulling away from Angelo quickly. “I just felt the wards shift.”
“They’re allowed in.”
“They only ever come in when there’s something going on. I—”
There’s a scream from one of the platforms where patrons go to show off with their partners. Magnus’ gaze snaps up, magic flaring at his fingertips, and sees a mundane woman clutching at the railing, face white. She’s staring in horror at a Seelie, gasping and choking in pain, blood blossoming across his shirt from where an arrow is embedded in his shoulder.
“What the fuck?” Angelo demands.
Magnus spins on his heel, searching he crowd for the source of the arrow while his staff rush up on stage to the trembling mundane and the bleeding Seelie.
His eyes widen when Alexander strides out of the crowd. He ignores Magnus as he passes right by him, and jumps up onto the platform. He shackles the Seelie deftly, says something to Magnus’ team, and jerks his chin at the crowd. Magnus can’t help his mute staring as Isabelle leaps up beside her brother, takes the Seelie, and mutters something in his ear. Another Shadowhunter is already crouching in front of the mundane placatingly.
“I’m sorry,” Magnus says to Angelo, extracting himself from Angelo’s grip as Alec’s eyes meet his. “I have to deal with this.”
“I understand,” Angelo says. “Good luck.”
Alexander doesn’t so much as twitch as Magnus climbs onto the stage and waves a hand to throw up a glamour to shield them from the curious eyes of Pandemonium. He stands with his bow held at his side and a grim expression on his face.
“What in hell is going on?” Magnus demands.
“You need to leave,” Alec says, firmly. “Now.”
“Leave? Leave where?”
“Pandemonium. There’s a group of rouge Seelies trying to take you out, and they’ve swarmed Pandemonium. We’ve got a team here, and we’re tracking them, but you need to come with me.”
“And go where, exactly?”
“The Institute.” Alec holds up a hand the moment Magnus opens his mouth to express the fact that he would rather revisit the particularly grim year that was 1832 than go to the Institute. “I know you hate it, but that’s exactly why you have to go. They won’t expect you to be there.”
Magnus’ nostrils flare in annoyance—not at Alexander, particularly, but at the world. “Why am I a target?”
“It’s not just you. It’s all the members of the Downworld Council. Even Meliorn. They think the Downworld should stay separate. They think my Institute is trying to screw you all over.”
Magnus raises his eyebrows. “So why aren’t you being targeted?”
“Um.” Alec looks a little uncomfortable as he shifts in place and glances out across the sea of people before returning his eyes to Magnus. “I am.”
“And you’re out here?” Magnus shakes his head in disbelief. “Why aren’t you holed up at your dismal Institute? You shouldn’t be where they’re attacking people.”
Alec presses his lips together. “It’s my job to keep the rest of the city safe. That means I’m here to take you back to the Institute.”
“And then you’re staying put until the Shadowhunters who aren’t being targeted by maniacal Seelies deal with the problem?” Magnus asks, without much hope.
Alec glances at him, before scanning across the sea of people with sharp eyes, clearly searching for something specific. “Uh, let’s go with that.”
“I’ve noticed that you say that when you want to avoid telling the truth,” Magnus says dryly. “I’ll go with you on one condition.”
“No,” Alec says immediately, and Magnus can’t help the way his lips part in mixed surprise and offence.
“You don’t know what I’m going to say.”
One corner of Alec’s mouth curls up into a strange, sad sort of smirk, and he blinks slowly. “I think I have a fair idea.”
“I put a lot of energy into healing you,” Magnus feels compelled to point out, “and you’re one of the Downworld’s best allies. It would be a waste if you perished pointlessly just because you were determined to play the hero.”
He knows that’s not what Alec is doing - he knows that playing the hero is more Jace’s game than Alec’s - but it seems like the kind of assertion that will rile Alec up and make him indignant enough to give in.
And, sure enough, Alec frowns over at him. “I’m not playing anything. People’s lives are at stake.”
“Yes,” Magnus agrees. “People’s. Yours. It’s really quite simple, darling. Either you go back to the Institute with me and stay there, or I’ll be pointing out your implication that Shadowhunters are stronger than Downworlders at our next cabinet meeting.”
He’s pushing all of Alec’s buttons deliberately, and he’s almost ashamed to see how well it works. Alec looks positively outraged as he turns to face Magnus properly, brows drawn together in a deep frown and hazel eyes dark.
“That is not what I was implying. It’s just my job. Not yours.”
Magnus smiles faintly. “I know, darling.”
Alec swallows, and looks away, drawing a deep breath that fills his lungs and makes his chest expands. It’s with no surprise that Magnus observes the tense set of his shoulders remain as he exhales.
“Fine,” Alec says sharply. “If you’ll just– just stay put, alright? Let us deal with this. None of your people are in danger, it’s just you. And we’ve got people stationed near Raphael and Luke too, although we don’t think they’re targets.”
Magnus feels himself frown, wondering at how Alec answered his two most pressing questions before Magnus had the opportunity to voice them. He’s still looking out at Pandemonium, and his hand rests on the seraph blade strapped to his thigh in a holster. A bow is slung across his back, and—
“Something curious happened to me, the other day,” Magnus says conversationally, eyeing the bow, and Alec sighs.
Magnus’ lips are quirked as Alec turns to meet his gaze, but his smirk falls away the moment he sees Alexander’s expression. Alec isn’t amused. He looks...worried. Frustrated, of course - that much is clear in the lines that tension folds into his face - but, more than that, worried.
Magnus is terrible at apologising, at least in words. So he offers Alec a more sincere smile, and says, “Perhaps I’ll tell you later.”
“Thank you,” Alec says, and he reaches down to grip Magnus’ elbow, apparently without thought.
Magnus’ skin warms beneath the touch, even through the layer of his shirt. It’s nothing like the warmth he’d felt while dancing with Angelo, earlier. That had been blisteringly hot, but it had danced across his skin, fire flickering where Angelo had touched. This is different. Gentler. It seeps down to his very bones.
He pushes the thoughts away and focuses. Alec’s response when Magnus had asked him if he’d like to go for a drink, back in the Infirmary, had been clear enough. There’s nothing for Magnus to find here.
When Alec leads them through the front doors of the Institute, Shadowhunters turn to stare. Alec scowls at them all, barks at a couple who don’t catch the hint, and they turn their attention back to their work.
“Thank you,” Magnus murmurs, because he might find it horribly difficult to utter I’m sorry, but gratitude doesn’t present the same problem.
Alec doesn’t look at him. Magnus doesn’t expect him to. He’s not sure why Alec has such issues with looking Magnus in the eye, but he does. He looks at other people just fine. Magnus has noticed.
What that says about Magnus, he doesn’t want to examine.
“Don’t mention it,” Alec says, gruffly. “Shouldn’t be a big deal in the first place.”
There’s something flickering behind Alec’s eyes that borders on haunted, and Magnus has to bite down on his tongue to stop himself asking.
Alec’s phone pings with a text notification. His brow furrows further as he unlocks it with his thumb and reads. Something in Magnus wants, desperately, to lower himself to all sorts of foolishness just to make Alec laugh, and iron out that perpetual frown, and take some of the load that Alec carries on his shoulders—just for a moment.
Magnus hasn’t felt so inexplicably drawn to a person for decades.
“Is everything okay?” Magnus asks, because if something has happened, he’s sure Alec will blame himself, with no thought for the fact that he, too, is being hunted.
“Sort of.” Alec types out a message while he speaks. “Jace has got Lily, and Isabelle has taken Maia, and they’re at safe houses. But Meliorn refuses to leave the court.”
“Do you think the Seelie Queen has something to do with this?”
Alec presses his lips together, and he looks at Magnus, properly, with those intense hazel eyes of his. Magnus is breathless for a beat.
“I don’t know. Do you?”
“I wouldn’t put it past her,” Magnus says, slowly. “She’s not exactly an enormous supporter of the council. But I find it unlikely that she’d risk war on the warlocks.”
“Why the warlocks, specifically?”
“It’s...” He waves a hand as he searches for the right words to summarise millennia of complex political history. Alec tracks the movement. “We’re traditionally allies. The Seelies used to take in injured warlocks, in the days when it was popular for Shadowhunters to collect warlock marks. We’re more alike that vampires or werewolves. We both have magic, and we’re immortal in the same way—that is, we’re born immortal, with Downworld blood. We don’t come from the mundane world.” He shakes his head. “I don’t think this is her. It wouldn’t be to her advantage. And even if it were, this doesn’t seem like her style. Too messy. Not ruthless enough.”
“Good,” Alec says. “Do you think Meliorn will be safe in the court?”
“If it’s only rogue Seelies coordinating this ambush, yes. If demons are involved, no.”
Alec exhales through his nose, and types out something else on his phone, before pocketing it.
“I’ve sent my sister to the court, just in case. Someone else will stay with Maia.” He meets Magnus’ gaze. “Thank you. For your help.”
“Don’t mention it. How long do I have to stay here?”
“Until my team brings in all the Seelies hunting you,” Alec states, and Magnus narrows his eyes at the way Alec excludes himself from the group, but he doesn’t comment. “You can– We have guest rooms. There’s a lounge, but there are probably...”
“Shadowhunters?” Magnus suggests, and Alec nods. “I’ll take a guest room. Don’t bother making it up. I’m a warlock.”
One corner of Alec’s lips quirks as he looks down the hallway. “Yes. You are.”
What that means, Magnus doesn’t know.
“You should probably let your– that guy know what’s going on,” Alec says abruptly, jaw tightening as the light humour on his face dissipates.
Magnus blinks. “I’m sorry? What guy?”
“The guy you were...with. In Pandemonium.”
It takes Magnus several long seconds of staring at Alec with his lips parted to realise what Alec means. What Alec has assumed. When he catches on, he can’t help but laugh, sort and sharp and surprised. Alec flinches at the sound, and Magnus forces himself to sober.
“He won’t be worrying about me,” Magnus assures Alec. “We’ll probably never see each other again.”
“Oh.” Alec clears his throat. His eyes are darting around, landing anywhere that’s not Magnus. “Right. Sorry.”
There’s silence for a moment. Magnus lets it hang for as long as he can, wondering whether Alec will say anything else. When he doesn’t, and the silence begins to bleed into uncomfortable, Magnus claps his hands together.
“So. A room?”
“Yeah.” Alec jerks his head in a nod. “Yeah, sure.”
Alec can’t get the image of Magnus kissing another man out of his mind.
He’s in his office, keeping the Institute ticking over and talking to his team through an earpiece as they attempt to bring in the Seelies. He’s supposed to be working. He needs to concentrate. He needs to stop thinking about Magnus, and how his hand had been curled around the guy’s waist, hips pressed close, mouths meeting hard.
He knows what that’s like. He knows how it feels to be pressed up against Magnus like that. He’s intimately acquainted with the sensation of Magnus panting against his lips, and reaching up to tangle his fingers in his hair, and the thrill of making him moan that soft, aborted little sound that starts in the back of his throat and reverberates between kisses.
Of course he knows that people have had that privilege before him. He knew, all the time they were together, that people would have it after he was gone. And while it’s not precisely a pleasant topic to mull over, it’s different. Alec didn’t - and wouldn’t - know about it. He’d have had his time with Magnus.
This is torture. Watching Magnus with someone else while he’s right fucking here—
He feels faintly sick. He’s got no right to feel anything. Magnus can do whatever - whoever - he likes. Just because he’d been flirting with Alec shamelessly since they met again doesn’t mean Alec has any right to feel a fucking thing about Magnus’ relationships, romantic or sexual or otherwise. Even before Magnus lost his memories, Alec dumped him. As brutally as he knew how to.
But he feels a lot.
There’s a knock at his door, and he bids the person enter. He could do with a distraction. His team are closing in on what they think are the final two of the rogue Seelie group, and as soon as they’re captured, Alec can stop thinking about the fact that Magnus is upstairs, lounging in bed, as tempting as he always goddamn was but no longer Alec’s to touch and kiss and hug and love.
“Alexander,” Magnus says, appearing from behind the open door, and, for just a moment, Alec is back to a month ago, when Magnus would walk into his office like this with a smile, and greet him with a quip or some line or an outrageous flirtation, and Alec would kiss him to make him shut up.
“Magnus,” Alec says instead, forcefully pushing away all thoughts of the past. He’s got to move on. It’s impossible, though, with Magnus standing at every corner, moving out of the shadows to taunt Alec with everything he almost had. “Was there something you needed?”
“No, I just wanted to see if I could help. I’m not fond of standing around idly while other people do the work.”
“Me neither,” Alec says, with a sigh. “We’re almost there. But then we’ve got the problem of what to do with them once we’ve captured them all, and the Clave and Seelie Court are bound to demand we do different things.”
Magnus shuts the door behind him, and moves to stand in front of Alec’s desk. He snaps his fingers to drag the chair in the corner of the room to an acceptable position, and sits down gracefully. He hasn’t changed from his Pandemonium outfit, and it takes everything in Alec not to let his eyes wander down to the open front of Magnus’ shirt.
“Call the Downworld Council to a meeting, then,” Magnus says, laying one palm flat on the top of Alec’s desk. “That’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? Advising each other?”
“That’s– Yeah. Yeah, I’ll do that.”
Magnus tilts his head to one side, and then adds: “Tomorrow, maybe. When was the last time you got more than four hours of sleep?”
Alec blinks. “I– What?”
Magnus smiles with one corner of his mouth. “That’s not a criticism, darling, but I do know how notoriously terrible the Nephilim are at looking after themselves.”
It almost sounds like Magnus cares about whether or not Alec has been getting enough sleep. And that’s enough to sent a hot flare of pain through Alec’s chest.
“I’m fine,” Alec tells him. He is. He always is. He has to be.
“Alright,” Magnus says, and there’s a soft quality to his voice that hadn’t existed before. “Tomorrow.”
Alec nods. “Tomorrow.”
Twenty-four hours later, once Alec has questioned the suspects and met with the Downworld Council and has a plan in place, he strides out of the Institute and makes the trek across the city under the guise of meeting a contact of Magnus’.
It’s not technically a lie. Isabelle had narrowed her eyes anyway, but hadn’t demanded to know more.
It’s raining when he knocks on Lorenzo Rey’s front door. It’s the same building in which he held his party to gloat at Magnus when he nabbed the title of High Warlock. The same building where Magnus skidded in front of Alec and Madzie to protect them from the corrupted ley lines. The same building where Alec had plastered a smile onto his face while Magnus hid behind the sofa, rolling his eyes as Alec tried to distract Lorenzo.
He inhales deeply. The last time he saw Lorenzo—
No. He won’t think about Magnus dying now. Magnus is fine. That’s all that matters.
The door swings open. Lorenzo is standing on the other side with the corners of his lips downturned as he gives Alec a brief up and down that’s saturated with disdain.
“Mr Lightwood,” he says, over-enunciating his syllables in a way that makes Alec want to clock him across the jaw. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I’d like to ask for your services,” Alec says, “as an expert in demonic law.”
Lorenzo arches an eyebrow in clear surprise. “You’re not here to ask me for a favour?”
“No. I’ll pay you for your time. I just need information.”
“Hm. And why can’t you go to your ex-lover for this information?”
Alec’s nostrils flare. It’s not wide knowledge - according to Catarina - that Magnus took his own memories. However he did it, he did it well. Perhaps too well. But it is well-known that he and Alec are no longer together. Lorenzo is clearly trying to get a response out of him, and Alec refuses to play his games. Not today.
“If you say yes and take the job, you’ll find out,” Alec tells him sharply.
“I see.” Alec’s cryptic reply has clearly piqued his interest. Lorenzo waves a hand in a wide arc, and steps aside. “Come in, then. I’m expensive, I should warn you.”
“I’m shocked,” Alec says dryly, and Lorenzo looks like he might laugh, until he remembers that they’re not supposed to be friends.
Alec spots the sofa Magnus hid behind, sat in the same location in front of the window. He turns away determinedly.
“So.” Lorenzo is pouring himself a drink. He doesn’t offer Alec one. “How can I help you?”
“I did a deal,” Alec says bluntly. “With Asmodeus.”
Lorenzo whirls around on his heels, eyes wide and cheeks flushed with anger.
“You what?” he demands.
Alec wants to look away, but he forces himself to hold Lorenzo’s gaze. “I know. I didn’t summon him. I channeled him through a warlock. Although he—”
“Got out anyway. Yes. I know.” Lorenzo looks furious. “That cost me my position. That and the fact that he fixed the ley lines persuaded the warlock council to give Bane his position back.”
Alec is fairly certain that Lorenzo had also been guilty of doing some dodgy business deals on the side that had the potential to cause conflicts of interest, but he doesn’t say so.
“I’m sorry,” Alec says instead, because he is. A young warlock had died attempting to return Asmodeus to Edom. “I was desperate.”
“Magnus,” Lorenzo guesses. “His magic.”
“Yes,” Alec agrees, and folds his hands behind his back to stand in parade rest while Lorenzo sips at his drink, watching Alec with sharp, scrutinising eyes.
“What was the price?” Lorenzo holds up a hand when Alec opens his mouth to reply. “If you’re going to ask whether you can break it, it’s highly unlikely.”
“I know that,” Alec says, because he does. “The price was to break up with Magnus.”
Lorenzo pulls a face. “Right. Bane would never have bought that.”
“I had to make him believe it. I couldn’t tell him why I was breaking up with him. I had to lie. And–” Alec winces “–he was so vulnerable that it wasn’t difficult.”
Lorenzo gestures for Alec to take a seat in one of the overstuffed armchairs that occupy the room, and he sits down opposite him. He snaps his fingers to summon a piece of paper and a pen, and hands both to Alec.
“Write down exactly what Asmodeus said. It was a blood pact, yes?”
“Yes,” Alec says, remembering slitting his palm and letting his blood drip onto a charred scrap of parchment. He’d read the damn thing through a dozen times. He could have recited it in his sleep.
He writes down the contents of the deal, word for word, and hands it back to Lorenzo. Lorenzo frowns as he reads it, and looks up at Alec.
“Is that all?”
“Are you sure?”
Lorenzo presses his lips together. “What do you want here, Alec? What do you want from me?”
“I just– I should have had someone like you read this before I signed it. But I wasn’t thinking clearly, and I was desperate, and honestly, even if you’d told me it was a terrible idea to sign it, I probably would have anyway.”
“At least you’re honest,” Lorenzo mutters, and exhales. “Look, this deal... It’s strange.”
“I don’t see the point of it. Demons feed on pain, but this is mid-level demon misery. This isn’t the tragedies that a Prince of Hell would want.”
Alec inhales. “I think– I didn’t think about it back then. I just wanted Magnus to have his magic back. But I think Asmodeus wanted Magnus to go with him. Apparently that’s always what he wants from Magnus. For Magnus to rule in Edom with him. I think Asmodeus wanted him to be heartbroken enough to say yes. Make him lose so much that he didn’t see the point of staying on Earth.”
“That backfired, clearly,” Lorenzo says. “From what I hear, Magnus didn’t just send Asmodeus back to Edom, he chained him there and stole some extra power, while he was at it.”
Of course he did, Alec thinks fondly.
“He, um.” Alec swallows hard, and can’t help the way he drops his gaze down to his hands, clasped between his knees. “Magnus took his memories of me.”
“Oh.” Lorenzo’s expression softens. “Oh, I see.”
Alec can’t help but bristle. “Don’t pity me.”
Lorenzo shrugs. “I do. Your best intentions were incredibly misguided, and you’re clearly feeling the pain of a bad decision, but a fool would be able to see that it was a bad decision born of love.”
“It was the only decision,” Alec snaps. “It was the only way to get Magnus’ magic back. It was the only way to help him.”
“I somehow suspect that Magnus would disagree with you, if he could hear this conversation,” Lorenzo says, “but no matter. I’m not going to give you lessons about the heart.”
“Is there anything I can do?” Alec asks, desperately. “I just– He’s keeps– I still have to see him. I have to work with him. A lot.”
“Asmodeus can’t just take Magnus’ magic again,” Lorenzo explains, sitting back in his armchair and folding one leg over the other. He flicks his fingers arrogantly. “It’s not physiologically possible. Magnus has to give it freely. So whatever you do in the future, the risk is to you, not to Magnus. It’s you who would reap the consequences of a dishonoured deal.”
“But what constitutes as dishonouring the deal?” Alec presses. “Can I work with him? Can I talk to him? Can he flirt with me? Can we be friends?”
Friends. God, being friends with Magnus sounds like torture wrapped in pretty packaging.
“Yes,” Lorenzo says, without an ounce of hesitation. “You’ve already honoured the deal. The deal dictates that you break Magnus’ heart and make him believe it and never tell him the truth. The deal was supposed to be Asmodeus’ in. But clearly Magnus got into his own head before that could happen. Maybe that was why he took his memories—to make him invulnerable to Asmodeus’ attack. The deal doesn’t say that you can never love Magnus again.”
Alec freezes. “What?”
“Mm. I must say, it sounds like a rather clumsy deal from a Prince of Hell. Clearly, demons are just as foolishly ruled by emotions as the rest of us. Perhaps in this case greed and arrogance, rather than love.” He looks pointedly at Alec. “Not that there’s anything that makes one more foolish than love.”
“So—” Alec has barely heard Lorenzo. “So I don’t have to avoid him? I can—”
“Please don’t air your fantasies aloud.” Lorenzo wrinkles his nose in distaste. “But yes. You can.”
“I’m rarely wrong when it comes to demonic deals. That’s why you came to me, isn’t it?”
It is. Not that Alec is going to give Lorenzo the satisfaction of such praise, after what he did to Magnus.
“Okay. Thank you.” Alec reaches for his back pocket. “Shall we discuss payment?”
Ten minutes later, Alec has parted with an upsetting amount of gold, and Lorenzo is grinning that sickening, silky smirk that makes Alec want to smack him right across the face.
“Alec,” Lorenzo says, as Alec begins to descend the steps, feeling a little light-headed with disbelief. Alec turns back to look at him, and raises an eyebrow. “This doesn’t change the fact that Magnus doesn’t remember you.”
“I know,” Alec says, because he does. He knows that they can’t just start again. He can’t just ask Magnus out and go through the same milestones they did last time. One day, he’ll have to come clean.
But, for the first time in far too long, Alec has hope.
There’s a key to Magnus’ loft in Alec’s bedroom, on his side table. Standing outside the Brooklyn apartment that holds so many memories of the life he’d always craved, and had so nearly had, he’s glad he didn’t take it. It would only have hurt more.
Instead, he lifts a hand to knock. He hadn’t texted Magnus ahead of time, but he’d finished up a meeting with Maia on the docks not far away, and something in him hadn’t been able to resist the silent pull. Not after his conversation with Lorenzo.
The door swings open. Magnus blinks when he spots Alec, and then smiles in bewilderment.
“Alexander,” he says. He doesn’t sound displeased. “I didn’t expect to see you today.”
“I was passing. I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Oh.” Magnus’ smile drops. “Did something come back on those Seelies?”
“No, it’s not—” He stops, eyes catching on an all too familiar object sitting in Magnus’ hallway, leaning against the wall. He blinks at it, and then at Magnus, who has both eyebrows raised. “Is that my bow?”
“Ah. Yes, I believe it is. I wanted to speak to you about that, but it didn’t seem like the right moment when we were preoccupied with the Seelies. The Seelie Queen is furious and wanted to personally offer her apologies, by the way.”
Alec snorts before he can think better of it. “I’m sure.”
“Careful,” Magnus warns him, but he’s smiling.
The door shuts behind Alec with a snap of Magnus’ fingers, while Magnus bends over to pick up Alec’s bow and quiver. He’s spent the last two weeks mourning his lost weapon, having returned to the Hunter’s Moon and being told by Maia that she hadn’t seen it. He’d tried tracking it, but that, too, had got him nowhere. He’s been using one of the Institute’s regular weapons, and it hasn’t agreed with him, much to Jace’s amusement.
“Thank you,” Alec says, when Magnus hands him back his beloved weapon. “Where did you find it?”
“I didn’t.” Magnus takes half a step back and folds his arms, appraising Alec with a faint hint of mistrust. “It found me.”
Alec stares at him. “I’m sorry? I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I. I was hoping you could shed some light on the situation.”
For a moment, Alec can do nothing but gape at Magnus, eyes wide and lips parted like an absolute fool, with no idea what to say, because fuck it, he doesn’t know. Then he sees one corner of Magnus’ mouth twitch, just slightly, just for a split second, and he relaxes. He knows that look. Magnus isn’t actually suspicious - he’s curious. It’s entirely different.
“I genuinely have no idea how my bow ended up in your loft,” Alec says, “but I’m going to guess that you’ve got a theory.”
“Well, I have an answer, actually,” Magnus admits. “But it raises more questions than it answers.”
“Right,” Alec says, not following.
“I own your bow and arrows,” Magnus states, with utter confidence, and Alec is thrown, because what the fuck.
And then, abruptly, he remembers. Of course Magnus owns his bow and arrows. He has since before they were even together. Since Isabelle’s trial, and that three-piece suit that had made Alec lose his goddamn mind, and I’ll do you pro bono.
He remembers how gut-wrenchingly shit it had felt to hand what seemed like the last scrap of his pride over to Magnus, that day. He remembers how desperate he’d been for Magnus to understand why he felt he had to marry Lydia. He remembers how much worse he’d felt when Magnus had given them back, letting their fingers brush, and left Alec standing alone in the weapons room.
He’d never realised that, technically, Magnus still owned them, irrespective of the fact that he’s never touched them, to Alec’s knowledge, since that day. It makes sense, he supposes. Magnus did make him sign a contract, after all.
“Oh,” is all Alec can manage to say.
“Well...” Alec scrabbles desperately for an excuse that doesn’t involve spilling the truth on the floor between them when he’d come to Magnus’ loft for a reason, damnit, and a reason that doesn’t involve their past. “Weapons get redistributed a lot. I’m not the first person to have this bow as my weapon of choice. Shadowhunters retire from fieldwork, or they die, and if their weapons are still in decent condition, they get fixed up and put back into circulation.”
“I see,” Magnus says, in that tone of voice that makes Alec nervous; he’s clearly not entirely convinced by Alec’s explanation. “Well, the next time you misplace your bow, at least you’ll know where to find it. I appear to have put a spell on it to make it come to my home if it’s lost.”
“Right,” Alec agrees, hoping that Magnus will move on. If he presses the matter, Alec knows he won’t be able to come up with a decent excuse. He’s an appalling liar.
“Hm.” Magnus levels him with an inscrutable look for a moment longer, before he claps his hands, and the tension breaks. “So, what is it I can help you with, darling?”
“It’s nothing like that, actually.” Alec puts his bow and quiver down, feeling like a fool holding onto them, and clears his throat. “It’s about what you asked me, the other week.”
Magnus raises an eyebrow. “What did I ask you?”
“You asked me out for a drink,” Alec says, and pauses to see if Magnus will comment. He doesn’t; he merely inclines his head, and waits for Alec to continue. “And you also told me to let you know if I changed my mind about saying no.”
“I did.” Magnus lifts a hand to fiddle with his ear cuff as he turns to peruse the jars of potion products stacked in his cupboards. “Have you?”
“It’s not– I wanted to say yes. When you asked. I wanted to say yes the first time, when you came to the Institute to fix the wards. But...”
Magnus looks at him over his shoulder, and says, “You don’t owe me an explanation. And nobody is forcing you to go out with me. Obviously, I want you to say yes - I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t - but you’re not obliged to do anything you don’t want to.”
Alec almost smiles. Because, god, if Magnus had been this fucking careful the first time, rather than pushing relentlessly until Alec could barely breathe with how much he wanted Magnus, he doubts he’d ever have stopped his wedding to Lydia.
But maybe that’s why. This time, he’s not about to sign himself away to a loveless marriage. This time, at least from Magnus’ perspective, it’s just about them.
“Magnus,” he says, and steels himself. “Would you like to go out for a drink with me?”
Magnus’ face twists and scrunches as he clamps down visibly on a grin. “No strings attached?”
“Whatever strings you’d like to attach.”
This time, Magnus doesn’t bother hiding his expression. The corners of his eyes crinkle as he smiles, and it takes all of Alec’s well-honed self-control not to lean right in and kiss every inch of his face, because, Raziel, Magnus is the most beautiful man on the planet, and he’s looking at Alec like that.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Magnus says, with one of those coy looks that drive Alec mad. “Are you free tonight?”
“Yeah,” Alec says, smiling and breathless and absolutely fucking elated. He’s got no idea whether he’s actually free, but for once, he doesn’t care. He’ll make himself free. There have got to be some advantages of being in charge. He can delegate. “Yeah, I’m free.”
“Hunter’s Moon at seven o’clock?”
“Um.” Alec hesitates, smile dropping slightly. The thought of going on a second first date with Magnus to the same place is so bizarre that it’s uncomfortable. “Can we go somewhere else?”
If Magnus finds the request odd, it doesn’t show on his face. “I know a place not far from here that does excellent burgers.”
“That sounds good,” Alec agrees. He’s fairly sure he knows where Magnus is talking about: they’ve been there before, several times, after Magnus discovered that there are few delicacies in the world that Alec will genuinely appreciate more than a burger. (He’d tried to pretend to be more sophisticated about food than he really was, for a while, but the pretence hadn’t lasted long. He just likes food. It’s not complicated.) “Text me the address, and I’ll see you there at seven?”
Magnus is beaming at him, and, for the first time in months, Alec feels like things might just work out.
“I’ve got a date,” Magnus announces the moment he opens his front door to let Catarina in.
Catarina raises her eyebrows. “Nice to see you too, Magnus.”
“My apologies.” He leans in to kiss her cheek, and gestures towards the sofa. “Would you like a drink?”
“Something with vodka in it,” she says, and Magnus nods, walking over to his drinks cart as Catarina kicks off her shoes and collapses onto the sofa. She swings her legs up and relaxes against the plush arm. “So. Your date.”
“You’ll never guess who it’s with,” Magnus calls, his back to her as he pours a generous shot of vodka into a cocktail for Catarina, and a straight whiskey for himself.
“Nothing would surprise me.”
“Rude,” Magnus tells her, snapping his fingers to send her drink floating towards her in a whimsy gust of blue. “And you will be. It’s a first.”
She looks unimpressed. “Is it, now.”
“It’s a Shadowhunter.”
He expects Catarina to look at least a little bit surprised. After all, he’s never dated a Shadowhunter, ever, in all his four hundred years. It’s a point of principle. For most of his centuries, they hunted his people and sentenced his friends without trial and threw out every object he dared to touch from their Institutes. He’s slept with a few, but he’s never dated one.
Not until Alexander Lightwood, with his aversion to eye contact and his reckless care.
“You don’t seem surprised,” Magnus notes, letting his disappointment at Catarina’s reaction show.
Catarina shrugs, and takes a long swig of her cocktail. “God, that’s good,” she says with a sigh. “And no, I’m not surprised. It’s with the Head of the Institute, right? Alec?”
Magnus blinks. “How did you—”
“Oh, please.” She scoffs. “At least Alexander is hot, even if he won’t look at me. Alexander flirted back today. Alexander saved my life. Did I mention that Alexander—”
“Alright, shut up,” Magnus mutters.
Catarina’s expression softens as Magnus sinks into an armchair, cradling his whiskey glass in his palms. She watches him for a moment, quiet, before Magnus flicks his gaze up and quirks an eyebrow pointedly.
“Are you alright?” she asks.
“Of course. I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Magnus smiles quizzically at her. “My magic is back, I’ve got my position back, I’ve got a date with a hot Shadowhunter who saved my life...”
“I just wanted to check. You’re allowed to not be okay.”
“Cat, we’ve known each other for centuries. Whatever it is you have to say, you can say it.”
“You’re right. We’ve known each other for centuries. Which means I’ve got an excellent bullshit detector where you’re concerned.”
Magnus exhales. He lets his eyes fall shut, and leans his head back against the chair, and tightens his grip on his glass.
It’s not like Catarina is wrong. He’s not fine. He’s far from fine. He feels like he’s walked back into somebody else’s life ever since he got his magic back. There’s nothing tangibly different, nothing wildly out of place, but something is off. The accumulation of tiny things that don’t make sense, little details that he’d brush off easily in isolation, is making him suspicious.
“There’s something weird going on,” he tells her, and her eyes sharpen. She swings herself around to set both feet flat on the floor, and nods at him to continue. “I– It’s going to sound ridiculous.”
“No, Ragnor inventing flying carpets while drunk sounds ridiculous. But I believed that anyway.”
So he tells her. About the strange things the Seelie Queen has said, about his odd feeling that he shouldn’t be drinking every time he does, about finding that damn omamori, about Alexander’s bow and arrows, and—
“And he saved my life. He didn’t even think about it. He just did. And he nearly got himself killed.”
Catarina shifts forwards on the sofa and reaches out a hand. Magnus takes it, and Catarina squeezes lightly.
“I’ll admit that some of that does sound a little odd,” she agrees, “but what do you think is going on, exactly?”
“I don’t know. I’m going insane.”
“No, Magnus, you’re not. You’re adjusting. You had to cope with losing your magic and your immortality and your job for weeks, and suddenly you’ve got it all back. It’s going to take you a moment.”
“Are you telling me I’m being paranoid? Because I’m never paranoid. Ragnor was paranoid. I am cool and suave and sophisticated.”
Catarina rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling. “Of course you are.”
“I don’t like your implications.”
She grins unrepentantly. “Look, Magnus, just go on your date. Have fun. Let him buy you a drink.”
Magnus agrees, but he’s left with the distinct impression that Catarina is holding back from saying something. What, he can’t begin to imagine.
Alexander is early.
Magnus isn’t entirely surprised by this, when he walks down the street at ten to seven to see the tall, lanky form of the man who’s becoming strangely familiar standing on the corner by the restaurant, frowning at his phone. The jacket he’s wearing is an excellent fit, Magnus notes, admiring the cut of it against his shoulders from afar.
As though he can pick out Magnus’ footfalls from all the others on the busy street, Alec glances up just as Magnus approaches. He blinks, casting his eyes up and down, before he meets Magnus’ gaze, and—
Smiles. He really, genuinely smiles, like Magnus has never seen. It stretches across his face until the corners of his eyes crinkle and the speckled hazel of his irises turns soft, and, unbidden, Magnus finds himself smiling right back.
“Hi,” Magnus says, swaying his shoulders as he comes to a stop in front of Alec, leaving just enough space between them to be perfectly casual, but not quite enough to be platonic.
“Hi,” Alexander echoes. He stares at Magnus for a moment, still smiling, until his phone pings, and he starts hastily turning it off and shoving it in his back pocket. “Sorry. I was– Work.”
Magnus waves it off with a flourish, and tilts his head towards the door a few metres away. “Shall we?”
Alec is smiling again, and Magnus marvels at how happy he looks. It’s a nervous sort of happiness, but it’s infectious, and Magnus finds himself mirroring the expression as he holds open the door and gestures Alec in with a subtle spark of magic that makes Alec laugh.
He’s so far removed from that stoic, broken-hearted man spilling misery all over the floor that Magnus can’t help feeling a little bemused. Especially when he’d seemed so tortured over Magnus asking him out in the first place.
What happened, he wonders? What happened between Alec insisting that he couldn’t go out with Magnus, to declaring that he wanted to attach strings to the whole affair?
Magnus blinks. Judging by the quirk of Alec’s eyebrow, it’s not the first time he’s called Magnus’ name.
“I’m sorry,” Magnus says, “what was that?”
“What would you like to drink?”
Magnus hesitates before he asks for a martini. There’s that niggling feeling again, squirming in his gut, that he shouldn’t be drinking. But it’s ridiculous, he knows. He hasn’t had any drinking incidents since he got drunk with Ragnor in Quebec.
And that– Well. That’s its own brand of hurt, and it was certainly a while ago.
“You okay?” Alexander asks, as he takes a beer and a martini from the bartender and heads towards a table.
“Of course.” Magnus smiles, folding himself into a chair with a grace he hopes Alec will notice. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“No reason.” Alec drinks, swigging straight from the bottle, and pushes Magnus’ martini glass towards him.
There’s a long pause that’s just bordering on awkward, and then Alec laughs, sounding self-deprecating, and the tension breaks.
“Sorry,” Alec says, looking down at the table as he fiddles with the corner of the label on his beer bottle, which is just beginning to peel off beneath the condensation running down the glass. “My sister always tells me I overthink things. I’m pretty sure I’m doing that now.”
“Hm.” Magnus smiles. “It’s okay to be nervous, you know. Especially if it’s been a while.” At Alec’s frown, Magnus adds, “Since you last went on a date.”
“Oh.” Alec picks at the label a little more forcefully. “No. I mean I am a bit. Nervous. But not because of how long it’s been. It’s been a few months, but...” He shrugs.
“Bad breakup?” Magnus guesses, and Alec huffs out one of those laughs people do when they’re uncomfortable with expressing whatever they really feel, and want to cover it up.
“You could say that,” Alec says.
Magnus is hit by a sudden thought. It’s common knowledge that Shadowhunters are prone to dying young. They throw themselves into battle daily, putting their mortal bodies between demons and mundanes with merely the so-called blessing of Raziel’s runes to protect them. Magnus can’t help but wonder whether this is why Alec carries his broken, bleeding heart in his hands for the world to see.
Because Magnus is morbidly curious by nature, and because he’s endlessly intrigued by Alexander in a way that’s undoubtedly going to bite him in the ass one day, he says, “May I ask you something personal?”
Alec nods. He makes an effort to look up from where he’s been staring determinedly at the decidedly uninteresting label on his beer, but he doesn’t quite manage to meet Magnus’ gaze. The evening is beginning to feel like taking one step forward only to take two steps back, and Magnus can’t help but be a little frustrated.
Perhaps Alec has more reason for his behaviour than Magnus had realised, though.
“Are you grieving?” Magnus asks, as gently as he can.
This time, Alec’s gaze snaps up, and hazel eyes lock onto his. Alec’s brow furrows.
“Am I– What? Why?”
Magnus lifts one shoulder. “It didn’t seem like an unreasonable guess. Without wishing to overstep, it’s quite obvious that someone broke your heart, darling, but it feels like more than that.” He smiles as kindly as he can. “I’ve been around for a long time. I know the faces of men broken.”
“Oh?” Alec arches an eyebrow. It doesn’t pass Magnus by that he’s avoiding the question, but Magnus lets it slide. It’s none of his business. “And what’s my face?”
“An open book and utterly inscrutable,” Magnus admits. “You’re an enigma, Alexander. Perhaps that’s why I like you.”
A small, private smile curls at one corner of Alec’s mouth. “Not because I stopped you becoming a demon’s lunch?”
“Dinner,” Magnus corrects, “and, frankly, that only adds to your bizarre behaviour. I can tell that you’re hiding something, you know. You’re terrible at lying.”
Alec winces. “People have said that to me before. Look, I’m not...grieving. Nobody died.”
“But?” Magnus prompts, when Alec looks like he wants to say more but can’t find the right words.
“But I lost someone. I thought I had everything I’d ever dreamed of in life, and then suddenly I didn’t.”
Magnus hums. “I’ve been there. It gets easier.”
“Maybe,” is all Alec says, and then he huffs out a little laugh, and shakes his head. “Why are we talking about something so miserable? You’re not gonna go out with me again if this is the standard of my conversion.”
It pulls a laugh from Magnus. “Again, hm? That’s awfully confident of you.”
Alec shrugs, but he’s smiling. “No, I’m just being honest about what I want.”
“Well.” Magnus plucks a menu from the three shoved between the salt and pepper shakers. “Let’s see how we’re feeling by the time we’ve had dessert.”
They share a dessert, in the end, while Magnus is telling a story about a rather unfortunate encounter he’d had centuries ago with one of Alexander’s ancestors, involving accusations of an affair, an oversized worm, and a gleefully vindicated Herondale. Alec laughs without reservation, and Magnus thinks that he’s never looked more beautiful.
Magnus snatches the bill before Alec can so much as blink at it, because he’s enjoyed himself, and he’s quite literally got money to burn. It’s the least he can do.
Alec offers to walk Magnus home, although Magnus is fairly sure that few places could be more out of his way. It’s sweet, nevertheless, so Magnus acquiesces.
“You know,” Magnus says, after a minute or so of silence that isn’t entirely comfortable, “I’ve had more fun tonight than I thought I would.”
“Oh?” Alec sounds amused. “You agreed on a date you thought would be crap?”
“No,” Magnus says, and chastises him with a light nudge, but he can’t help smiling. “You’re a strange man, Alexander.”
Alec glances over at him, one eyebrow half-lifted. “In what way?”
“Not in a bad way,” Magnus says quickly, although a part of him wonders whether the reassurance is a white lie. “You’re...contradictory.”
“Contradictory,” Alec repeats, one corner of his mouth twitching.
“Mmm. You never do what I expect you to.”
“You know, most people say I’m straightforward. Too straightforward.”
Magnus laughs at that. “You are. You surprise me in a straightforward manner.”
“Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
“Well, if you’d like to see yourself as a walking contradiction...”
They both laugh, this time. Magnus looks over at Alec, lips still curved up in a smile, to find Alec already watching him. He, too, is smiling, but it’s like an afterthought lingering on his face. His eyes are dark and intense and seem to see something that isn’t physically there.
Neither of them say anything as they reach Magnus’ loft. Alec stops, making no move to come inside, and tears his gaze away from Magnus’ while shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his pants. It’s like he’s forcefully dragging his walls back up, barricading himself against whatever it is that always makes him reluctant to look Magnus in the eye.
It hurts, Magnus realises, with an abrupt pang in his chest. It didn’t hurt, weeks ago, when they met at that cabinet meeting, but it hurts now, because he cares now.
Lilith. Ragnor will be rolling over in his grave.
“I think this is the part where I offer you a drink,” Magnus says, for want of anything better to break the silence with.
Alec’s mouth twists into a wry grimace that’s probably supposed to be a smile. “I’m actually gonna say no to that. I’m sorry.”
Disappointed but not surprised, Magnus thinks, and then hates himself for it.
“You don’t owe me anything,” Magnus reminds him.
To his surprise, Alec’s head jerks up, eyes flickering between Magnus’, and his lips part as though he’s got an argument on the tip of his tongue.
Whatever it is that he wants to say never gets voiced. Instead, he exhales, presses his lips into a firm line, and nods, looking for all the while like Magnus has just threatened to tie a noose around his neck.
“I suppose it was a tall order,” Magnus says, keeping his voice light as he flutters a hand aimlessly through the cool night air. “To ask things to work out between the Head of the Institute and the High Warlock.”
But Alec shakes his head. “I didn’t mean it like that. I like you. I enjoyed tonight. I just... Can you be patient with me?”
Magnus inclines his head. “Time, Alexander, is something I have rather a lot of.”
It’s a grimace, more than a smile, that flits across Alec’s mouth in response.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this one - let me know what you thought in the comments, or you can find me on Tumblr or on Twitter @notcrypticlu