They are on a triple date - Jace and Clary, Magnus and Alec, Izzy and Simon, all of them squished together in the corner booth at Taki’s - when Alec’s phone rings: a werewolf attack in an abandoned factory nearby. Magnus refuses to be left behind, of course, so he tags along.
It’s an ambush, of course. Valentine’s new clique, determined to avenge their leader’s death, swarms them from all sides, until all they can do is to retreat through the portal that Magnus opened with a simple hand-wave. Simon, Izzy and Clary go through the gate first, while Magnus holds the gate open and Alec and Jace cover their retreat.
“Go, go, go!” Alec yells, shooting arrows whose supply never runs out. He’s backing towards the portal, only two or three steps away now, and that’s the only reason why Magnus allows Jace to drag him through - he’s certain that Alec will follow.
But when they step into the Institute’s dark backyard, the gate flickers, winking in and out of existence for a moment, then suddenly and with a loud whoomp, it implodes and the shock wave tosses them all to the ground, flattening them like grass.
Magnus hits his head pretty badly. His ears are ringing and his chest hurts as if someone kicked him, hard. He groans, muttering curses under his breath - and that’s when the screaming starts.
Magnus rolls onto his back and sits up quickly, which does not do his headache any favors, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s Jace screaming. He’s kneeling on the pavement, bent at the waist, his forehead almost touching the ground, one hand pressed tightly to his side…
And he’s yelling Alec’s name, over and over again, till he’s hoarse, till his voice gives out. And Magnus’ heart stutters and skips a beat, because he knows, he knows, and he won’t look down, at Alec’s feather strung on his necklace, he won’t look down, because if he does not look down, it won’t be real.
He looks. The feather, pure white at the tip and dark gray at the bottom only minutes ago, is now black, black and disintegrating, its ashes carried away on an unseen breeze.
They portal back, to the roof of the opposite building - it’s an old warehouse in a sea of warehouses - to the place from where they first scouted their decrepit target. And it’s as if they walked into hell.
There are flames everywhere and the air is thick with smoke and ash and burning things. And the factory is… gone, just gone. There’s nothing left of it but a big hole in the ground and piles of debris, and in the distance, sirens are screaming, firemen and cops and ambulances en route.
And they stand there, at the edge of the roof, Izzy and Simon, Jace and Clary, and Magnus to the side, alone, and they stare and they can’t believe it. They just can’t believe it. Alec was right behind them, he was, he was. He should have made it!
But he did not.
And then Jace, already propped up by Clary, crumples in on himself. Clary is calling his name and Simon is there to help her lower Jace to the ground when his knees buckle…
But it’s all just distant noise to Magnus, because his husband just died. They were on a date together - yes, they still called them “dates”, it felt much more romantic that way - they were on a date together, and they planned on sleeping in tomorrow, and now Alexander is dead.
Then Izzy’s there, gripping his arm and crying softly, whispering his name, but Magnus is frozen. He’s simply frozen. His husband is gone and nothing can fix that.
They offer Magnus Alec’s old room at the Institute, just so that he isn’t alone. They offer to go home with him, just so that he isn’t alone. They offer him so many things, but nothing can make him feel not alone. He is alone.
Alexander is dead.
That knowledge is like a stone sitting on his chest, but it seems that he simply can’t cry. His emotions, his terrible, broken feelings, are weighing down on him, but he feels frozen, detached. Until he finds the box empty.
The box. The box with Alexander’s feathers that he wrapped in so many protective spells that it should’ve glowed with their magic - spells that should’ve preserved Alec’s feathers even after his death. And though Alec warned him that they wouldn’t keep, Magnus was so sure that he got it right, that he used the correct spells. And yet.
The box is empty. There are no feathers, not even ashes left behind. It’s simply empty. As if Alexander has never even existed.
And that’s when the dam finally breaks and he starts sobbing so harshly that his throat hurts. He’s making pained, keening sounds, curled up on their bed and hugging the box tightly, and he’s afraid he will never stop.
Please, Alexander, please, come back. I’m not ready to let you go.
And then… then a feather appears on Alec’s pillow.
Magnus calls them, Jace and Izzy and everyone else, first thing in the morning. He calls them and demands that they come over. He doesn’t ask, he doesn’t suggest - he demands! They’re in mourning, their hearts too broken for his “bullshit” as Jace calls it, but Magnus is relentless.
It’s about Alexander. Come.
Because it didn’t end with that one feather the night before. It appeared - and then turned into ash mere seconds later. And then another handful was there, just there, he never actually saw them materialize, they were simply there - and then they too turned into ash.
And Magnus reacted with puzzlement and grief and then with fury because it felt like torture, pure torture, a memory of Alexander, given and then snatched away again. And he raged and he screamed and he tried to hold onto one of the feathers, just one - but no, they all turned into ash.
It wasn’t till the morning painted the sky purple and pink, that it finally dawned on him what it meant, the feathers’ return and their following disappearance. You fool, Magnus, you idiot!
“You are saying that… Alec’s alive?” Isabelle asks in shock and disbelief.
Magnus nods, once, twice, thrice, because he feels jittery, overflowing with manic, uncontrollable energy. “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. He’s not here, but he’s somewhere and he’s trying to reach us.”
Izzy exchanges an unreadable look with Clary. Simon’s standing in the back, looking like he would rather be anywhere else but here. And Jace is leaning against the table with his head bowed; he hasn’t said anything yet.
“Magnus…” Clary says reluctantly.
He waves his hands sharply. “I know how it sounds, believe me, I know. But you see, Alec’s feathers always find their way into our bed, even when he’s not here. I don’t know how or why, magic is fickle like that, but those feathers are linked to Alexander, without his angelic magic to sustain them, they turn into ash, disintegrate. They should not be here - at all - if he’s dead. And yet - it’s like his magic keeps punching holes through some barrier, and then is cut off again.”
Clary and Isabelle still stare at him uncertainly, their eyes puffy and red from crying and lack of sleep. Simon is still pretending he isn’t actually here, feeling rather awkward about the whole thing. And Jace…
“He’s right,” Jace croaks out and lifts his head. He looks haggard and his face is almost ashen gray. “I feel it too. From time to time, it’s as if Alec’s back, our bond is back, as strong as ever - and then it’s gone again.” He takes a deep, shuddering breath and hugs himself. “And I can’t take it much longer because whenever our bond cuts out, it’s like losing him all over again, the same agony, the same emptiness. I can’t take it!”
Clary walks over to him and strokes the bangs off his forehead gently. “Why didn’t you say something?” she asks softly.
He laughs painfully. “I thought I was going mad,” he admits just as quietly.
Izzy takes a shaky breath, pauses, then props her hands on her hips. “Fine. Alright. If you two are right - and that’s a big if! - then where is he? If he didn’t die in the explosion and he didn’t come through the portal…” Her voice trails off and her breath hitches. “No,” she whispers.
“What?” Simon asks, finally joining the conversation.
“He’s stuck in limbo,” Magnus replies, and now he’s hugging himself, too, shoulders hunched, because if Alexander is truly stuck in limbo, then Magnus has no idea how to get him out.
“That’s why the feathers appear and disappear again? That’s why Jace can feel the bond return and cut out again?” Clary reasons. “Because whenever someone somewhere opens a portal…”
“Alec’s alive again, in a way that we can actually perceive, if only for a few seconds, until the portal shuts down again,” Magnus confirms.
“Great. Then how do we get him out?” Clary inquires, looking from Jace to Izzy and to Magnus. “There must be a way.”
Jace swallows. “There’s not. Portals are basically dimensional gates that allow you to travel from one place to another instantaneously. When you lose yourself in-between the gates, there’s no way back.”
Isabelle whispers, “The explosion in the factory must’ve destroyed the portal the moment Alec stepped through. The discharge then destroyed the gate on our end and he never got through.”
“But there must be a way,” Simon argues. “Alec’s not dead. He’s just… stuck between dimensions. I’m sure he isn’t the first one. There must be a way to reach him!”
Magnus sighs. “No, he isn’t the first one. Many people were lost in limbo.”
“Great,” Simon exclaims. “Well, not great. You know what I mean. Someone must have found a way to get those people out by now, no?”
“It’s not that simple,” Magnus objects.
Simon throws up his hands. “Why not? It must be like… like fishing, right? Alec’s a fish and the limbo is a pond. Just throw him a line!”
Magnus runs his hands through his hair. “It’s not that simp…” he starts saying, but then he straightens quickly. “Or maybe it is!” he says, eyes gleaming. “We just need the proper line!”
He turns to Jace who stands up slowly, arms falling to his sides. “Our parabatai bond,” he breathes out, eyes growing wide.
Now Isabelle’s on it, too. “If you can use the bond to track down your parabatai in another realm…” She sounds thrilled. But then she sobers. “But that’s pretty dangerous, if you remember,” she tells Jace.
But Jace just shakes his head. “I don’t care. Can you do it, Magnus? Can you use our bond to get Alec out?”
And Magnus is grinning like a fool. “I can’t - but we can!”
The portal’s open, its purple shimmering surface filling the bedroom door. Magnus and Jace stand in front of it while Clary, Izzy and Simon move aside, nervous and jittery with both hope and fear. It must work, it just must!
The moment the gate opened, Jace took a deep breath and squared his shoulders as the bond fell back in place, humming with power again. “I’m ready,” he says now.
Magnus touches his shoulder. “Alright. Here it goes…” he warns and then he pushes his magic into Jace, fueling his bond with his parabatai, until a ribbon of glowing blue energy, the bond made visible, snakes out of Jace’s chest, almost blinding in its intensity, and flows out and out and still farther out - and into the portal.
And then Jace reaches out through the bond, looking, looking, looking - but not with his eyes or his mind, but with his soul. And a moment later… soul touching soul wrapping itself around soul clinging to soul…
“Got him,” Jace breathes out. “Now pull!”
And Magnus pulls, he pulls all his magic back, his power wrapped around the bond, entwined with it, and so the bond moves back, too - and Alec follows, dragged out like a fish on a line.
And when he slips out of the portal, he crumples to the ground, black clothes spattered with enemy blood, skin pale as snow, eyes closed and his wings, his beautiful, big and dove gray wings, spread limply around him.
For several heartbeats, nothing moves. And then: Magnus closes the portal, the glowing ribbon of Alec and Jace’s parabatai bond dissipates, both Jace and Magnus drop to their knees besides Alec and the others rush in. And they’re all calling Alec’s name. AlecAlecAlexander!
Alec groans softly and tries to raise himself on his hands, but his wings are getting in the way, so he tucks them back in, the process is slow and painful, though. When it’s finally done, he flops onto his back, exhausted, opens his red-rimmed eyes and croaks out, “Hey…”
“Alexander…” Magnus whispers, his voice thick, and touches his husband’s face with infinite tenderness. “You’re back. You’re alive…”
And then Magnus is crying and kissing Alec, on the lips and on the nose and all over the face, and Jace is crying and gripping Alec’s hand so hard his knuckles turn white, and Izzy and Clary are crying and hugging, and even Simon looks a little misty eyed. They did it!
Later on, much, much later on, they find out from Alec that, when the rune magic failed to help them achieve their goal, Valentine’s minions tried to use a very mundane way to stop them: a hand grenade. Why the explosion turned out to be so big, Alec doesn’t know.
And Magnus doesn’t care. All he cares about is Alexander, alive and lying next to him in their bed, his steady heartbeat under Magnus’ ear - and his feathers, hidden between the sheets and tickling Magnus’ fingertips.