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Body And Soul, Free To Withhold

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Alec was almost never the one to initiate sex.

It’s not that he didn’t think about it or didn’t want to. Or well, maybe it was a little bit of that. It just didn’t really cross his mind, until Magnus would come to him and he would think “oh yeah, why not”. They didn’t have such an active sex life either – they were both keeping hectic schedules and even more hectic activities that often left them too tired or simply not in bed at the same time. He never said anything, but Magnus would usually see right through it if he actually was too tired or out of it to do anything, and drop his advances so they could go straight to sleep. Alec would feel guilty for denying him, but Magnus would insist it was okay.

It wasn’t like Alec didn’t like it either. Magnus was an amazing lover, caring and considerate and eager to please, and there was something about being so close, so intimate with another person, with him, that Alec craved. It was enjoyable enough, he thought, if a bit long sometimes. But he liked to please Magnus, like to see his face after sex, the happy smile and sated sigh he would let out when they cuddled on the bed after they came back from the high. Well, after Magnus came back from the high at least. Alec didn’t orgasm so often. He didn’t really care about himself. What he wanted was to get Magnus off, it was one of the best thing in the world, one of his proudest accomplishments, right up there with killing demons and saving people. It was maybe a bit shallow of him, but he said it as it was: if making Magnus happy was his mission in life, he would be perfectly content.

He did initiate it sometimes still. When he wanted to feel close to Magnus or to take both their minds off stressful matters. Magnus always looked surprised and pleased, even if he still took the lead at some point, because Alec was still and probably would always be a bit lost as to what to do and when.

Tonight was one of those nights. They had a terrible week preceded by another terrible week where they were swamped with work and had barely seen each other. Alec was finally able to spend the night at Magnus's place and figured the man would like him to be a little bold for once.

But after they had had dinner, when they were cuddling on the couch with soft music and even softer light, when Alec let his hands wander a bit in a clear sign of more things to come, Magnus mumbled in disagreement.

"I feel like I'm going to die of exhaustion,” he said. “Let's just relax tonight yeah? We'll have time for this tomorrow."

Alec was so surprised he didn't find anything to say. Magnus settled back against him and started to doze off, and Alec was still reflecting on what had just happened. In all honesty, he preferred to stay like this too. Most of the time, he thought there was better things to do than sex. But he didn't think Magnus did. And more importantly, he didn't think it was relevant.

Weren't they supposed to want sex, to have sex, the two of them? Wasn't it how it was?

Objectively he knew they didn’t have to have sex. But if Magnus wanted to, he never thought of saying no. Maybe next time he could say so too, if he wasn't feeling it. It happened. He didn't really know how often, but he believed it was often enough.

 

For a while, he thought about it quite distantly, but the more time passed, the more he became aware of the very troubling fact that the times he wasn't really in the mood for sex were... well, all of them. He had never thought about why he was never the one to get things started, and he had never before considered the fact that it was quite simply because he didn't want to. Sometimes after a long time without seeing each other, Magnus would be all over him, saying he had missed him, and this. Alec missed Magnus too, of course, but never did he miss sex. Never. Jace would tease him, that he must be itching to go see his boyfriend for "private times", but it was never in the forefront of Alec's mind. He always wanted to see Magnus, but he never thought he wanted to go and have sex with him.

He began to suspect something was very wrong with him.

The problem was, once the idea made it's way into his head, he couldn't think about anything else. Every time they got intimate, he would remember this new found discovery, that he once again would be more than fine with doing just about anything else. It's not that it was unpleasant, on the contrary, it was nice. But it wasn't supposed to be just nice, yeah? It was supposed to be the fireworks and rainbows. He was supposed to feel something more than "it's nice". But he didn’t. He tried to get more invested, to feel something. But after a few minutes he was bored and waiting for it to end, and it was not normal, it was not normal at all.

 

He was training with Jace and Izzy at the Institute and, as always, his parabatai felt the need to describe, in detail, his latest interaction with Clary. Which was spending the night at her place while her parents weren't home. Which meant of course:

"It was soooo good. Seriously, I never bought the 'it's better when you're in love’ crap before, but I have to admit, it has some ground."

"I've had fantastic sex and I've never been in love," sneered Izzy, who didn't like her experience to be belittled by the true love rhetoric.

"Oh, so you're not in love with Simon?" teased Jace back. She looked a little embarrassed, at least.

"It is yet undecided."

Alec didn't have anything to say. He tried to determine what was considered "fantastic sex".

He didn't dare to ask.

"What about you, Alec?"

"What about me?"

"Come on, tell us!"

"What?"

"Well... With Magnus! How is the sex?"

“What? I don’t know. It’s good.”

“Just good? Not mind-blowing, I can’t think straight good? And here he is always bragging. I’m disappointed.”

“Jace, stop it. It’s… it’s okay, why do we have to talk about it?”

“Hey, relax, I’m just asking. What, is it really that bad?”

It was said jokingly but Alec paled and said nothing. Izzy was looking at him with concern, always the perceptive one.

“Alec, is there a problem between you? Is it not going okay?”

She wouldn’t say “is the sex is bad” or worse “do you not want it” but it was implied, and Alec heard the terrifying implication in her tone that Magnus was doing something wrong. He wasn’t. Alec was the one who had a problem.

“There’s nothing wrong, can we please drop it?”

“But…”

“I’m tired. I’m going to take a shower,” he cut abruptly. He took off before they could say anything more and raced to his room, mind reeling. He calmed down only once he was in the safety of the shower, letting the water beat his skin while he wallowed in his own misery.

As if being gay wasn’t bad enough – no, no, it’s not bad, Izzy would say, it’s not bad, please don’t say that – he had to be completely awkward about sex too. It didn’t make any bit of sense. He loved Magnus, he was sure of it. He loved him dearly. He wanted to spend time with him and be close to him but…

But he would be perfectly content with not sleeping with him ever again.

What a terrible thing to think.

He was still feeling awful when he stepped out of the shower, and finding Izzy waiting for him on his bed didn’t do anything to ease his worries.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said while putting on a shirt and some old pants.

“But you have to. Come on Alec, please, don’t shut me out. I’m worried now, there’s no helping it. Please tell me what’s bothering you.”

They looked at each other for a moment. He knew she wasn’t being nosy or simply curious, she was truly concerned about him, as always, as he always was about her. They used to be much closer when they were younger, but it was different now. They were different, life was harder, more demanding, and maybe they were more afraid too. He certainly was.

But she was still his beloved little sister and he did want to share his trouble with someone. It could only be her.

“Okay,” he conceded. “Okay.”

He sat next to her on the bed, his hands joined on his laps, twisting anxiously. Where to begin?

“I… I don’t like sex.”

There, here it was. He had said it.

He didn’t feel any better.

Izzy seemed to be at a loss.

“Uh… okay… Do you mean like… the sex isn’t good? It’s going badly?”

“No, the sex is great. Well I don’t have any comparison, but I’m pretty sure it qualifies for the adjective. It’s nice and we have a good time but it’s me I… It does nothing to me. Sure, it’s enjoyable enough, but I don’t get why people like it so much. It just doesn’t appeal to me.”

“I don’t understand. You do sleep with Magnus right?”

“Yeah but… I’m pretty sure it is supposed to feel… more. When I hear you talk about sex it sounds amazing and like you can get enough of it or something and I don’t get it. At all.”

“But, huh… are you sure that like… everything is in order? You know, physically?”

“I can still have erections and orgasm if that’s what you’re asking” he snapped, a bit angrily.

He knew it had nothing to do with that. He didn’t know how, but he knew. This was so embarrassing, and frustrating.

“I don’t want to lay it on Magnus but…”

“It’s not him. I love him, he’s great, I know I can’t compare but it’s not that. I think I just… it’s just not doing it for me.”

“Well maybe it’s… psychological, you know? Maybe you’re blocking something, or…”

She trailed off and he felt even worse than before, if possible. He didn’t know what he expected, it was the exact same thoughts that had crossed his mind, but somehow he had hoped that Izzy would have a different answer. That she’d know better. That she wouldn’t think he was…

“So you think I have a problem,” he whispered quietly. He couldn’t bear to look at her.

“I don’t know, I…”

She must have sensed she said the wrong things, that she had missed the point. Alec’s eyes were downcast and she understood the conversation was over.

“Maybe you should talk to Magnus about it,” she said lamely. He nodded without looking at her, and she quickly exited his bedroom with the distinct impression she had failed him completely.

 

 

Of course, it didn’t take much time for Magnus to get that something was wrong with his young companion. Alec tried to push it away from his mind, but it was only getting worse, and not matter how much he knew he had to, he couldn’t bring up the subject with the warlock. It was a dead end. He was utterly convinced there was nothing to do about it, and Magnus wouldn’t stand for it. Who would? Alec was the problem. What young man didn’t like sex? Why was it happening to him, how was it fair?

So he didn’t say anything to Magnus, but Magnus knew anyway, and they were drifting apart.

Alec could barely stand to touch him now, feeling like a hypocrite and a liar, for deceiving him this way. It was fine to think that he could handle having sex sometimes even if he didn’t feel like it, but now that he knew it would always be this way, he couldn’t do it anymore. It wasn’t just making an effort once in a while, it would be all the time, always. It was so unfair. What was he supposed to say to Magnus? Let’s stay together and not sleep together ever again? Because if Magnus knew he didn’t like it, he would never touch Alec again, even if Alec was fine with it. He had made a habit of asking Alec if he was okay with what they were doing, every step of the way. And Alec was okay with it, he was. It’s not that he didn’t want to. Oh, it was all so confusing.

It was ridiculous. It wasn’t as if every touch they usually shared carried a sexual meaning. Before his first time, they would make out all the time and it wouldn’t lead to anything else. And he loved to make out, and cuddle naked on the bed, and make out some more. But even that felt like too much now, because he was terrified Magnus would steer it towards more adult activities, and he’d be as powerless to stop him as to explain to him why. So he avoided it entirely. It was incredibly painful.

“Alexander, if you don’t want to sleep here, you don’t have to stay.”

Magnus’s voice was small and full of hurt, and Alec didn’t want to know what the warlock was thinking, what he thought the problem was. Was he blaming himself, looking for what he did wrong? Alec was hurting him because he was a coward, because he didn’t dare tell him that really, it was his fault, all the way.

“I… I think it’s… it’s for the best. I don’t feel so… I’ll… I’ll see you tomorrow,” he managed to answer, and fled the loft like he had demons chasing him. He tried not to think about Magnus behind him, lost and having no idea what was going on, burdened with a boy who couldn’t do one thing right. He tried not to think about how now surely no one would ever love him, how he would end up alone, how… broken he was.

He tried not to think about anything. It didn’t work very well.

 

Alec didn’t see Magnus the next day, nor anyone else for that matter. At least one of his many prayers had been answered: there was no call for a mission, and so he stayed in his room, alone and miserable. When he first made peace with the fact he was irrevocably gay, he also had made peace with never finding love and happiness in a relationship. Then he had met Magnus, and had hoped that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t sentenced to this fate. But now here he was again. Back to square one. Because he had to be a freak until the very end.

The second day, he sent Izzy away in the morning and failed at sending Clary away in the afternoon, because she knocked on his door for an entire hour. She made it clear she wouldn’t enter without him wanting to, but that she wasn’t going anywhere either. With the hope that maybe Izzy hadn’t told her anything and that she wanted to speak about something else entirely, he let her in. Her first words crushed this wish quickly.

“First of all, Izzy is sorry, but she was lost and couldn’t bear not being able to help you, so she opened up to me. She did it out of genuine concern for you, hoping that I could help. And I think that I can. If you’ll listen to me.”

His family and friends sure knew him well. He abdicated and gestured for her to sit on the bed while he took his desk chair. He crossed his arms on his chest, defensive and angry, but also, against his better judgment, just a little bit curious.

Just a little bit hopeful.

Clary looked beyond uncomfortable. He was too, and nothing could improve this awkward situation, so he said nothing, waiting for her to gather her strength and thoughts and begin.

“Do you know there are a lot of different sexual orientations?”

It wasn’t what he was expected at all. He stared at her.

“Uh, what?”

“You know, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual.”

“And?”

“And there’s more.”

“There is?”

“Yeah. And there is also what people call romantic orientations, because the two can be different. Because you can be attracted to different people romantically and sexually or… not being attracted at all, in one way or the other.”

He was listening now, trying not to let it show too much that what she was saying was completely foreign to him.

“Those are not the things you’re taught at school or anything, more like things you find out on your own. Not everyone believes in this, actually. For example, some people don’t think bisexuality is a legitimate thing.”

Alec let out a derisive, disbelieving snort at that.

“What is there to believe, or not? It just exists.”

“Well, let me tell you that’s very open-minded of you to say. And just the same, a lot of people don’t think that… that asexuality is a thing either.”

Alec sensed that she was reaching the point she really wanted to make.

“And what is that supposed to be?”

She shifted on the bed, ill-at-ease, but kept talking.

“Bear in mind that I’m no expert, ok? But I spent a lot of time on the internet and met and talked to a lot of different people, so that’s what I gathered. So, it’s another sexual orientation. Asexuality. Which is more a lack of sexual orientation, I guess. It fits people who don’t experience sexual attraction, from being completely repulsed by sex to just not being interested in it. It’s a… it’s a thing. Like, there are people like this. Not the majority, of course, but more than you’d think. People for whom sex is a boring way of passing the time, at best. And it can be born from trauma, or it’s just the way people are. It happens. It’s… it’s legit.”

She was waiting for him to say something, but he was stunned into silence. It was a lot to process. He felt so stupid, being taught like a child by Clary of all people, but it wasn’t the first time she had to clue them into something well-known for mundanes but completely foreign to them. Usually, it was light, all in good fun. This wasn’t fun at all.

“I thought about it immediately, when Izzy told me about… about what you said to her. I looked a bit into it first and I can give you… you know. References, sources, stuff like that. Places where you can talk about it, people you can talk to.”

“I… Okay. Okay, yeah, I… I’d like that.”

“And you should really talk to Magnus. It’s not fair to either of you to keep him the dark, and you wouldn’t want him to blame himself, would you?”

It was emotional manipulation at its finest, but she was using it because it worked and they both knew it

“Did you hear from him?”

“I just asked how he was. It was not very well, in case you’re wondering.”

“You say that it’s… it’s something. A way of life, of people. Are they… Do they…”

“They can be in a relationship, yeah, if that’s what you’re asking. With another asexual person, or not. And it can work, or not. Just like for everyone else.”

Just like for everyone else. Could it be, really? For once, it would have been nice to stop worrying. To stop feeling alone and singled out. He sighed.

“Thank you. For your help. Even if I’m mortified and still half regretting it I… I’m glad. To know. So thank you.”

“No problem. I’ll send you some links and website to check out. I’m… going to go now. This was terribly awkward but I’m glad I could help you.”

“Thanks again. I’ll see you later.”

He stayed motionless, lost in thoughts and expectant, until he received Clary’s message a couple of hours later, but no one would ever know.

 

He stayed a very long time on his phone, browsing through blogs and websites and forums, and couldn’t bring himself to regret it when his alarm woke him up the next morning after only a few hours of sleep. He felt marginally better, but he didn’t have time to dwell on it: Izzy threw the door open and barreled into his room. He was up in a second.

“What is it, an attack?”

“I spent the night reading up on it!” she screamed to his face. He stared at her dumbly.

“I… what?”

“I’m sorry for what I said the other day, there is nothing wrong with you, you’re a perfect specimen of a human being and I love you.”

It could have been comical, but she was dead serious and she seemed far too emotional, on the verge of tears. Alec felt a burst of love and gratitude for her younger sister, standing tall in her pajamas in his room to apologize for something they were both completely ignorant about.

“It’s okay girl, don’t worry.”

She relaxed minutely and they sat back on his bed. She put a hand on his shoulder, tilting her head to meet his gaze, turned to the floor.

“Are you alright?”

He thought about it for a moment before answering.

“I don’t know. I’m a little relieved but… I thought I was done going through this, you know? I realized I was gay, and I accepted it. I thought that was it, that I had done my share of identity crisis. Life was going to be hard enough as it was. And now I have to go through it all over again, and it complicates things even more. All those people, it seems so hard for them, to justify who they are, to have relationships. Yet another struggle. I wish…”

He put his face in his hands, like pressing his palm to his eyes would prevent his tears from falling.

“I wish I wasn’t this way.”

She took him in her arms and he let himself go in his embrace, listening to her reassurance as she was stroking his hair.

“It’s gonna be okay,” she said. “It’s all gonna be okay, you’ll see.”

They stayed like this a long time, but it was still early when they finally got ready to face the day. Nothing urgent had come up, so they spent the time training lazily. They didn’t do much talking. Jace usually knew when he was out of his depth and when not to tease or leave certain subjects alone. It was still him who asked Alec, in the middle of the afternoon:

“Aren’t you going to see Magnus?”

His tone was careful, like he wasn’t sure if he could ask, but Alec was actually grateful for the question. He had been thinking about it all day. He had to go and talk to him. He wanted to.

“No, yeah, I am. I… I’ll go change and… go. Yeah.”

Jace also knew when his parabatai needed support, even if he wasn’t very good at providing it. He clasped his shoulders in a firm grip and they exchanged a look. He said nothing, but he was expressing himself anyway. I’m always here, it’s okay, don’t be scared. Alec nodded with a weak smile and went to get ready before losing his nerves.

 

He stayed in front of Magnus’s door for almost half an hour before managing to ring the bell.

“Who is it?” asked the warlock in a tired, angry voice.

“It’s… it’s me. Alec. I… can I come in?”

There were a few seconds of silence where Alec had the time to think “that’s it, it’s over, he never wants to see me ever again” before the buzz of the door cut his thoughts, without another word from Magnus. Alec climbed up the stairs slowly, full of dread and apprehension, but of anticipation too. This had to be done. Whatever happened, after, he had to face it, and face Magnus.

The door was ajar when he reached the right floor, and he entered shyly, feeling more unwelcome than ever.

Magnus was waiting for him in the middle of the living room. His arms were crossed and his expression hard, but the posture looked more defensive than angry.

“Hi,” he said lamely.

“Hello. What do you want?”

It was terrible, because Magnus was trying to sound unaffected, but all Alec could hear was pain, and fear.

“I… We need to talk.”

He saw Magnus tense even more.

“Well, go on then. Say it.”

Something occurred to Alec then.

“I’m not breaking up with you.”

He had guessed right, because Magnus looked surprised, losing a bit of the hardness of his face.

“You’re not?”

“No, of course not! I mean, I don’t want to, but maybe you… I… I had things to figure out and… I’m sorry. I never wanted to hurt you.”

Magnus uncrossed his arms then, and took a couple of steps forward, so there wasn’t so much distance between then.

“I don’t want to break up with you either, even if I’m angry at you for disappearing on me like this.”

“Wait until I say what I came here to say,” Alec said with a humorless laugh. Magnus frowned.

“I don’t see what could be so terrible that you’d think I’d leave you.”

Alec looked away, trying to find strength somewhere in the familiar surroundings. He liked to be in Magnus’s loft. He felt safe there, at home, almost. The thought of maybe losing it very soon made him close his eyes.

“I… I started to realize some things and… I didn’t know… and I couldn’t talk to you about it. But I think… I…”

He opened his eyes again when he felt Magnus’s hand rest gently on his arm. He couldn’t help but relax at the touch. Magnus was closer now and his presence was still as soothing, as reassuring, even with the current turmoil in Alec’s mind. The warlock was looking at him with an encouraging smile but there was worry in his eyes. Alec took a deep breath.

“I’m…”

He could say it. He had to.

He wanted to, he realized. He wanted to say it aloud.

“I’m asexual.”

The word felt foreign on his tongue, strange and heavy with meaning, with consequences. A condemnation, a statement, a relief. I am this, this is who I am.

He didn’t really know what he was expecting of Magnus. He hadn’t wanted to reflect on it too much because all the scenarios he came up with were horrifying.

What Magnus did was look like Alec had punch him very hard in the stomach.

“But you… we…”

Magnus was at a loss. That was a first. Alec had trouble breathing.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Magnus didn’t sound accusing. If anything, he sounded very scared.

“I didn’t know. Honestly. I didn’t even know it was a thing. I had no idea.”

“But…”

Magnus closed his eyes and breathed, trying to remain calm when he just wanted to panic a bit.

“Alec, we’ve been having sex for months. All this time, and you just…”

Magnus looked as distressed as Alec felt, and it wasn’t going to help the conversation at all.

“No,” the younger man cut in, feeling the absolute urge to stop Magnus’s train of thought. “No no no no, it’s not… I wanted to. Magnus, I wanted to, I swear. Sure, I get now that I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I was supposed but… I don’t regret it. Not at all. I wanted to share that with you, and I had a good time too. But…”

He couldn’t let Magnus think that he had somehow taken advantage of him or something equally false. There was no blame to lay, nothing to regret.

“It was fine, really. But once I started realizing how I could so easily go without sex, I… That’s why I… I pulled back. I felt like I was pretending. And sure, sometimes I didn’t really want to but I… Okay, it’s going to sound stupid but I… I didn’t know. That I could just say no. But then you did that one time and I figured I could to, and then I found out that I would always want to say no and I…”

It couldn’t not look bad, he realized. Something had gone terribly wrong along the way. He should have known, they should have known, something should have been done. But he was inexperienced and he knew nothing of relationships, and they didn’t know each other well enough, and here they were now.

“It’s not your fault, ok? There’s no fault, there’s just… Sure, it could have gone better, but that’s how things are. I guess there were still things I needed to figure out. I don’t regret any of it, I don’t blame you for anything. But I can’t… I’m… I’m asexual. That’s it.”

Magnus's hand had moved from his arms to Alec’s hand that he was holding firmly. They were both looking at them, at their fingers clasped tightly.

“I’m sorry,” whispered Alec after a while.

“For what? I’m the one who should apologize.”

“Please don’t. It’s not like that. I don’t want you to.”

“Then why would you?”

Alec bit his lips. He thought about what he had read, how he had nothing to be ashamed of, how it was a valid thing to be. And still.

“I’m sorry for… for…”

Honestly, it was a miracle he had managed not to cry until now, but it was all too much. He choked on his breath.

“I’m sorry for being this way.”

And he didn’t want to be, he didn’t want to, but he was. He wished he was different, so much. Because they wouldn’t be having this conversation, because they would not have had to go through the anguish of these past few days. Because it would mean they wouldn’t have even more issues and obstacles to add to their relationship.

“I didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t want you to leave me,” he confessed between two pathetic sobs. He was shaking. “I’m sorry for doing this to you. I’m sorry. I…”

He stopped when Magnus cupped his face in his hands to make their eyes meet.

“Don’t say that. Please, don’t say that. You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“But…”

“Alexander, you know I’m in love with you, right?”

Alec gave a small nod. It had taken a long time for him to believe it, but he did know.

“I’m still in love with you now. Of course I am. You have to believe that, too. I know you’re scared, and you feel lost, but you can rest assured it won’t change. I love you. I love spending time with you, I still have trouble believing I get to have this, with you. I’m not leaving you.”

“But I don’t… I don’t know if I… you can’t tell me… you can’t tell me not having sex is not bothering you. We… you have to…”

“To what?”

“A guy has his needs.”

Alec winced. Those were not his words.

“Yeah, because we’re all caveman. I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but we just have to figure it out. Together. What you want, what you like, what you need.”

“And what about you?”

“What about me? I’m not with you for the bedroom action. I’ll do without, if that’s how it is.”

“You shouldn’t have to.”

“And you shouldn’t have to do things you don’t want to. It works both way.”

Alec finally dared to meet Magnus’s gaze. Tears were still falling from his eyes, sliding on his cheeks and on Magnus’s hand.

“It’s gonna be okay Alec. I promise you. We’ll be fine. It’s okay.”

Alec gave in and let Magnus wrap him in his arms, shield him from the world. The warlock kept murmuring in his ear.

“There is nothing wrong with you. Everything is fine. It’s okay. It’s okay, Alexander. It’s okay.”

Alec wanted to believe him. He didn’t, not yet, but he wanted to.