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oh lover, hold on

Chapter Text

I.

Oh lover, hold on

‘Til I come back again

 

Ten years ago, Alexander Lightwood fell in the battle against Valentine.

They don’t talk about it.

 

*

 

“There’s been another attack,” Isabelle says tersely. Her face, despite the immaculately applied makeup, looks pale and wan beneath the harsh, fluorescent lights of the Institute. Jace scowls at the floor, shoulders tense, and Clary looks unsurprised by the news.

“A werewolf boy, right?” she says grimly, and Isabelle nods. “Luke said.”

“How many does this make?” Jace demands, slamming his hands abruptly on the table. Clary gazes at him, eyes impossibly sad. Isabelle’s lips are pressed into a firm, thin line. Like this, Magnus thinks, she looks just like her mother.

“This is the fourteenth,” Isabelle says.

“Three vampires, four faeries, two warlocks, two mundanes, and three werewolves,” Magnus murmurs, mostly to himself. “No connection whatsoever.”

“And we’re no closer to finding this bastard than we were ten months ago!” Jace bursts out, visibly thrumming with frustration. “And we can’t even tell—what is he? She? Warlock? Vampire? Demon? Hell, a fucking mundie?”

“Or our attacker could,” Magnus begins, delicately, “be a Shadowhunter.”

All three swivel around to face him in disbelief. Magnus lifts a shoulder in a shrug. “Think about it. Our attacker has mainly been attacking Downworlders. Thus far, they’ve started out small, choosing relatively inconsequential individuals, the ones no one would really miss. Give it a little more time, and I bet you my entire eyeshadow collection that they’ll start moving on to bigger, better things.” His lips curl. “That’s how the Uprising happened. Believe me, I had a front row seat.”

“But—after the war, after—after everything,” Clary says weakly.

“Oh, biscuit,” Magnus says, and lets his cat eyes glow. “That wouldn’t make a difference.”

 

*

 

The first six months after the end of the war passed in a blur.

Oh, Magnus got up in the mornings. He showered, he ate, he slept. He still put his make-up and glitter on. He performed his duties as the esteemed High Warlock of Brooklyn. He ran Pandemonium. Life, as always, moved on.

There was no time to dwell on things, in the immediate aftermath. He signed the Accords as one of the Downworlder representatives, helped with the rebuilding, and offered aid to what seemed like every Downworlder in the entire city. He woke at dawn and went to bed not much earlier, spending his days searching (usually in vain) for a loved one gone missing during the war, or eased their worries by strengthening the wards around the borough. No one, it seemed, believed that Valentine was truly gone.

Mostly, though, he killed demons. It was a thing he often left to the Nephilim, but lately there were more of them lingering in the alleys, feeding off the remnants of Valentine’s failed war. Magnus had no patience for them.

“This is my city,” he said pleasantly, flicking his index and middle fingers in a sharp, upward motion. The demon, covered in teal scales, choked and sputtered. “Tell your friends to leave it alone.”

He did. They learned to listen.

The Institute was suspiciously quiet, and Magnus was left to his own devices for those first months. But he knew they were doing their own sort of grieving. He left them alone, and they didn’t come calling.

It was only a matter of time.

Isabelle stood in front of his apartment, dressed in leather and a pair of wicked red stilettos. Magnus tilted his head in acknowledgment.

“Isabelle,” he said.

“Magnus.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “You haven’t been by.”

“Neither have you.”

“I’ve been busy.”

“As have I.”

“Don’t,” Isabelle said. She stared at him, defiant. “Don’t drift away from us, Magnus. I know—I know Alec was most important. But we were friends, too.” Her fingers moved to the ruby around her throat. Magnus forced himself to remain impassive, and moved to breeze past her, but Isabelle abruptly seized his wrist in her grasp. He glanced down; he could shake her off easily if he wanted.

But.

“Have you mourned him?” she whispered.

Magnus’ eyes flashed. “I’ve been around for centuries, Isabelle. Believe me, I am intimately acquainted with the act of mourning.”

“Have you said goodbye?” Isabelle asked, painfully gentle.

Magnus stayed silent.

“Do you think we haven’t noticed that there’s next to zero demonic activity in Brooklyn?” Isabelle went on.

“This is me, coping,” Magnus murmured. “Keeping busy. Not—not thinking.”

Isabelle barked out a harsh laugh. “I know a thing or two about that,” she said. “In case you forgot, he is—was—” she stumbled. “My big brother.”

Magnus closed his eyes. He was exhausted. When he opened them again, Isabelle was staring at him, fatigue mirrored in the lines of her face. He saw the resemblance between her and Alec—the slope of their noses, the line of their jaws, the dark, curling hair.

One day, he’d forget what Alexander ever looked like, and the thought of it made a horrified sob fall out of his mouth.

By the time he regained control, he was slumped against the wall, knees drawn up to his chest. Isabelle had wrapped her arms around him, and she was crying into his neck.

At length, she pulled away and gave him a watery smile. Despite himself, Magnus found himself returning it.

“We’re survivors,” she told him.

“Yes,” he said, thinking of the last four hundred years. “We are.”

 

*

 

The next attack comes two months later.

Funny thing: it’s at the Institute.

“The wards,” Isabelle snaps, “the wards, Magnus, the—” She coils her whip around the neck of a demon and decapitates it without a second thought.

“I know!” he grits out, narrowly evading a demon as he reaches out with his magic, trying to find any holes or threadbare patches.

There aren’t any.

There’s no time to think, so he pulses an extra burst of magic towards the wards surrounding the Institute, and it’s as if a solid barrier slams down, banishing the demons away. He casts a neutral eye over the room. No casualties on their end, just minor battle scratches.

And then—

The arrows find their targets with dizzying, terrifying speed; one buries itself in Isabelle’s thigh; another pierces through Jace’s shoulder. A third grazes Magnus’ cheek, and he whirls around to send a blast of blue magic towards the attacker.

He’s tall, and leanly built. He holds a bow loosely in one hand, a quiver of arrows over his shoulder. His hair is dark and long, tangled and unkempt, barely brushing his shoulders. His face is entirely covered: goggles shield his eyes from view, and a black mask stretches from his nose down to his jaw. It looks eerily like a muzzle.

Magnus’ aim is true, but the stranger is fast, too fast. He evades it with a graceful flip, landing in a crouch only a few feet away from them. Jace is on him within seconds, and they trade blows so quickly their limbs are little more than a blur. Jace actually breaks his bow in half, tossing the pieces away with a manic grin. Isabelle wrenches the arrow out of her thigh and applies a hasty iratze before leaping into the fray.

Their attacker holds them off easily, and Jace takes a knife to the gut. Isabelle covers him, and flings a seraph blade at the attacker’s heart.

He catches it around the blade, scant inches away from a fatal blow. He twists his grip, twirling the weapon in the air before launching it at Isabelle, who barely manages to duck. Blood drips from his palms, but he doesn’t seem to notice.

He fights like a machine.

Magnus summons his magic, twirling orbs of deadly blue energy in his hands as he launches them at the masked man—who, for all intents and purposes, should have been kicked out by the newly enhanced wards. The man dodges, and charges straight at Magnus.

Magnus keeps a steady thrum of magic to his hands and feet as he matches him blow for blow. It’s not easy—whoever this guy is, he’s good, all calculated and brutal efficiency. Magnus is already drained from bolstering the wards, and yet he doesn’t seem to be tiring at all, even though he’d fought Jace and Isabelle at full strength.

In the end, it’s a lucky hit. The man reaches back for an arrow, and Magnus fires a pulse of deadly electricity at his neck.

The man springs back, and avoids the blow. Magnus follows after, unwilling to let him go when he’s so, so close. He reaches out, his fingers grazing sturdy black material, and he yanks. The mask and goggles clatter to the ground.

And everything—

Stops.

Behind him, Isabelle makes a choked noise, and Jace whispers, paper-thin, “Alec?

Magnus stops breathing as Alec’s gaze—cold, dead, and empty—comes to rest impassively on them.

“Who the hell is Alec?”

 

*

 

They are too stunned to do anything but take cover as he shoots an arrow into the ceiling of the Institute. It explodes on impact and sends debris crashing down all over them. By the time the dust settles, he’s already gone.

 

*

 

What they never talk about is this: they never found a body.

But Jace felt it, he did—the sheer agony of losing his parabatai, the undeniable evidence of watching half of his most precious rune fade away into barely anything. They learned, from Hodge, what it felt like to lose a parabatai. It was losing half of yourself.

Fueled with that agony, finding Valentine was child’s play.

Before he killed him, he hissed at him, low and furious, “You’ve lost, you sick son of a bitch.”

Valentine only smirked, unflappable to the end. “Did I teach you nothing, my son? For that is what you are, although we do not share blood.” He bared his teeth, bloody and cruel. “The loss of one battle hardly amounts to the loss of a war.”

 

*

 

They looked, and looked, but—

They never found a body.

 

*

 

They never found

 

*

 

“Are you sure?” Clary says, hesitant.

Isabelle is a mess, hair tangled in knots, clothes torn and bloody. Jace looks no better, staring blankly down at the glass table.

Magnus just feels numb.

“You weren’t here,” Isabelle says stiffly, “I know my brother.”

“No, I mean, of course,” Clary rushes to soothe her, “but, it’s just. Alec’s—”

“Dead,” Jace says, hoarsely. “He’s—dead.”

“Maybe it was a glamour,” Simon says, speaking up for the first time. His eyes dart nervously around the room, as though afraid of the response. Magnus can’t blame him. “Or, maybe, one of those shapeshifter demons?”

“The wards would have kicked him out,” Magnus says simply. “That’s what I did, that got rid of them that first round. I gave the wards a little extra oomph, in order to banish all the demons.”

“So all it means is that he isn’t a demon,” Simon argues. “Could have been a warlock or a Shadowhunter, glamoured up.”

What Magnus doesn’t say is this: the wards should have kicked out anyone who didn’t belong.

“You weren’t here,” Isabelle says again. “The way he shot those arrows. The way he—”

“Alec is dead,” Jace growls out, standing up abruptly. “This guy, whoever the hell he is, is working with the demons, and he’s probably the one who’s been murdering the Downworlders and mundanes. We’re going to find him, and I’m going to kill him for wearing Alec’s face.”

“Jace,” Isabelle tries, but he whirls around, eyes red, face flushed with sheer, unbridled fury.

“Alec is dead!” he roars, each syllable raw with grief. Isabelle clenches her jaw, but doesn’t flinch. “You were the one who saw it happen. You saw what Valentine did to him. He’s fucking dead, Izzy, he’s dead, he’s not coming back, I felt him die!” He lifts the hem of his shirt with shaky hands, exposing the faded parabatai rune on his hip. “He’s gone,” he whispers, suddenly quiet. “And the sooner we accept it, the sooner we can move on.”

He storms out of the room. Clary rests a hand on Isabelle’s shoulder before going after him.

“What have you got to say?” Isabelle asks Magnus, weary. “Going to call me crazy?”

“It’s been ten years,” he says suddenly. “But sometimes it feels as though it’s only been days.”

Isabelle laughs, bitterly. Simon reaches for her, awkward but well-meaning. “For me,” she says, “it always feels like the day after.”

 

*

 

“We survived,” Isabelle said to him on the fourth anniversary of Alec’s death, staring at her empty glass of absinthe. “So why do I feel like I’m the one who died?”

 

*

 

The Soldier wakes.

“Soldier.” Sebastian, his commander. “I have a new mission for you.”

The Soldier inclines his head in obedience.

“He is far stronger than anybody else you have encountered so far.” Sebastian pulls up a hologram. The Soldier twitches. He knows that face.

“I know him,” he says, quietly.

Sebastian nods. “Yes, you met him on a previous mission. One that you failed.” He seizes the Soldier roughly, staring him dead in the eyes. “I will not accept a second failure. Understood?”

“Yes.”

“I want a confirmed kill in twelve hours,” Sebastian goes on. “Bring me his head.”

The Soldier is programmed to nod, to say yes, to accept orders. But he pauses. “I know him,” he insists, confused.

Sebastian scowls, and then smiles at him, syrupy sweet. “Of course you do,” he says kindly. “He is the High Warlock of Brooklyn. He is, as I’ve said, one of the most powerful Downworlders in existence. By killing him, you are protecting the Shadow World. Your work has all been for this. Protection. Fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. For that is what you are, Soldier. A protector of all that is good. He is a threat to what we stand for. He cannot be allowed to live.”

The Soldier stares at the holographic image, and yearns.

“Twelve hours, Soldier.”

“But I know him,” he repeats, and Sebastian’s face twists into something vicious as he backhands him. The Soldier’s head thuds painfully against the wall, but he doesn’t fight back, thick chains restraining his wrists and ankles.

“Shouldn’t have sent you to the Institute,” Sebastian mutters, striding across the room and unlocking an old, wooden chest. He retrieves a syringe, filled with clear liquid. He makes his way back, yanks at the Soldier’s arm, and jabs it into a vein in the antecubital region of his right arm.

The Soldier blacks out, and then wakes again.

Sebastian jerks a thumb towards the holographic image of a man with a square jaw and gelled hair. “I want his head in twelve hours.”

The Soldier nods. “Yes, sir.”

 

*

 

It’s a quiet evening in, for once, and Magnus relishes it, picking at his pad thai and only paying half attention to a MasterChef rerun on the television. He chews on a piece of tofu, frowning slightly at its staleness, and pauses.

He twirls his chopsticks in his hand, listening.

There.

He leaps off the couch at the same time an arrow embeds itself where his head had been not even two seconds ago. Magnus blinks, and then he’s directly in front of him, sending a series of staccato punches to Magnus’ ribs. Magnus feels two of them break on contact, and he lets his chopsticks fly, one of them grazing his attacker’s face, a small cut forming on his cheek.

His attacker isn’t wearing a mask anymore. Magnus detects no glamour.

He’d know those eyes anywhere.

“Please don’t make me do this, Alec,” he murmurs.

Alec adjusts his grip on his bow, an arrow aimed at Magnus’ heart. “I’m not who you think I am.”

“You’re exactly who I think you are,” Magnus counters, watching him carefully. The line of Alec’s back is tense and rigid. His breathing is careful and controlled, and his eyes—his eyes are ruthless. “Alexander.

Alec flinches. “Stop it,” he hisses, and releases the arrow.

Magnus flicks a hand, causing the arrow to vanish. Immediately, four more take its place, each one aimed at something vital. Magnus has no choice but to fire a blast in Alec’s direction, knocking him off his feet. He waves a hand haphazardly, and the arrows disintegrate into dust. Magnus snaps his wrist, dissolves, and reforms three feet away, a jagged blade of electrical current in his hand. Alec darts forward and slams his fist into Magnus’ jaw.

Magnus hisses in pain, but there’s no time to do more: Alec is back, this time with a seraph blade clutched in his fist.

Magnus vanishes, reforming in his bedroom. It’s pitch-black in here, though he knows it won’t stop Alec for long, if at all. He waits, listening to the steady tick-tock of his clock, to his heartbeat thumping in his ears.

Thwack. An arrow grazes his shoulder. It stings, but not enough to delay him. He moves slowly, silently, eyes darting cautiously around the room, senses on high alert. Where, where, where

His mouth drops open in a silent gasp as another arrow flies, striking him much too close to his heart. In a split second, he decides. There’s no more time to waste. He clicks his fingers purposefully, and the room is bathed in bright, nearly blinding light.

Alec stumbles, caught off-guard, and Magnus flashes in front of him, flinging his bow aside. Alec rears back, ready to throw a punch, but Magnus catches his hand in his, breathes out, and paralyzes him from head to toe.

“Alec,” he says. Alec’s eyes are wide and fearful. “I’m so sorry.”

Magnus pierces him through with his other hand, sending a buzz of magic strong enough to knock him unconscious. Magnus breaks the paralysis as Alec slumps forward, breathing shallowly. Magnus catches him, and touches his face gently.

“Sleep now, darling,” he murmurs. “We’ll fix the rest.”

 

*

 

Izzy was the one who watched him die, all those years ago.

They decided to split up, the four of them, tracking a horde of demons in a dark corner of Queens. Every single day was a high alert situation, demonic activity steadily creeping higher and higher. Some days, they barely slept more than two hours, running purely on adrenaline and runes to keep them going, the last defense against Valentine and his army.

The warehouse was dark and abandoned, as they always were. Izzy deftly climbed over the barbed-wire fence and unfurled her whip, eyes tracking every movement beneath the moonlight. Alec was supposed to handle the demons here, but there was only silence. Had he finished with them already?

Unease stirred within her. She surveyed the perimeter, finding nothing.

It was quiet—too quiet. She stepped into the warehouse, slowly, carefully. Something was off, something was wrong, and—

“How lovely of you to join us, Isabelle Lightwood.” Her whip soared across the room in an arc even before he finished his sentence, but Valentine brushed it off as if it were nothing. Maybe to him it was. Izzy swallowed, the enormity of the situation settling in her gut. Here she was, alone, in an abandoned warehouse with Valentine. There was no way this was going to end well.

“Which one, which one? Kill him, or you? I’m feeling quite generous, so I think I’ll let one of you live. Survivor’s guilt is horribly underestimated, I find.” Izzy felt fear trickle down her spine as one of his henchmen gripped her from behind. She struggled in place, elbowing him in the solar plexus. He huffed, and then pressed a blade, undoubtedly soaked in demon poison, against her neck. She stilled.

Valentine watched them, looking bored. “Come, come, we must hurry before the cavalry arrives.”

They shoved Izzy unceremoniously along the dark corridors until they came to a small room, dimly lit by witchlight. Izzy’s eyes were immediately drawn to the slumped figure in the corner, blood stains visible on his leather jacket. She sucked in a breath, unwilling to let Valentine see the fear in her eyes.

He was still breathing, she saw, and allowed hope to bloom in her chest.

“A pity, isn’t it?” Valentine said conversationally. “He was such a good soldier. So obedient. So willing to follow the Law. Unlike you, silly girl, gallivanting with Seelie knights.”

Izzy didn’t breathe a word, only watching, waiting for an opening.

“But then he met that warlock.” He said the word like a curse, imbuing it with every essence of hatred. “And he fell. From such potential, he fell.” He bared his teeth, meeting her gaze for the first time. “Well, girl? What do you think? Does he still have the potential to be saved?”

Izzy spat at him, and the cool edge of the blade pressed further into her jugular. “He doesn’t need to be saved, you monster.”

Valentine’s eyes darkened, and then his lips curled up. “Well, if you say so.”

Izzy had grown up a soldier first and foremost, and recognized the look in his eyes: the look of purposeful, murderous intent. She thrashed against her guard’s grip, but he only held her tighter, hard enough to bruise. “No,” she said, breathless and desperate, “no, don’t, no, please, no nonoNO—

Valentine leaned over Alec’s prone form and stabbed him. Alec howled, shocked into consciousness. His eyes met Izzy’s, and they shared a second of pure, unadulterated fear before he fell to the floor, limp.

Izzy shrieked and elbowed her guard again, unheeding of the gash that quickly bloomed against the skin of her neck. She spun around, wrenched both arms around his neck, and twisted brutally until she felt a sickening pop.

“Alec,” she whispered, rushing to his side, “Alec, no, it’s going to be okay, I’ll—” She fumbled for her stele. “I’ll call Magnus, and we’ll get out of here, okay—”

Alec was sweating and shaking. “Can’t,” he gasped out.

“You can!” Izzy hissed fiercely. She lifted his shirt and drew a rune on his chest to replenish blood with trembling fingers, struggling to ignore the doubt creeping in her mind. “Don’t talk like that—”

But with a great heaving breath, Alec moved, flinging an arrow behind her with a bloody hand. Valentine made a grunting noise, and Izzy whirled around to see him standing over her with another blade in his grip. Alec’s arrow was sticking out of his abdomen. Shit, she thought furiously, she’d gotten distracted.

But Valentine only looked at Alec with vague approval, rather than the rage she expected.

“Such a pity,” he said again, and threw the knife with deadly accuracy. It found its mark, hilt-deep in Alec’s heart.

Alec sputtered. Izzy screamed. “Iz,” he choked, and Izzy seized his hands in hers, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Stay—safe,” he told her, and his eyes fluttered shut.

“Alec,” Izzy said, shaking him frantically, “Alec. Alec!

She was growing weak, and dizzy. Her fingers grasped weakly at the wound in her neck. He’d missed the jugular; it was nothing vital. Still, demon poison was undoubtedly coursing through her veins, but there was no time to think about that. She shifted her grip on Alec’s wrist, feeling for a pulse.

There was none.

Her phone. She grabbed it out of her pocket, smearing blood across the screen in the process. Magnus was on speed dial, and he picked up after the first ring.

“Isa—”

“It’s Alec,” she sobbed, “I don’t think—Magnus, I don’t—”

Magnus hung up.

A Portal appeared next to her in a matter of seconds, and Magnus emerged, looking frantic and disheveled. He knelt down next to her. “Isabelle, where is—”

“Heal him, please—” Izzy begged, and Magnus reached forward and brushed two fingers across her neck. She shook her head impatiently. “No, not me, fix him first—”

“He’s not here,” Magnus said, gently.

Izzy glanced down, and felt her heart lurch. Alec was—gone. Only his tattered, bloodstained leather jacket remained in her lap. No—there, in the corner, were his bow and quiver. His bow was broken in half.

“He was here,” she said weakly, and then whirled around. Valentine was nowhere in sight. His henchman lay on the floor, unmoving. She’d killed him, but there was no sense of triumph, not here. “Magnus. I’m not—I’m not—I swear, he was here. He—” She choked on her words. “I couldn’t feel a pulse. Valentine stabbed him in the heart, I—”

Magnus opened his mouth, but was cut off by Jace and Clary rushing into the room. Jace was out of breath, eyes wide with fright and anxiety. “Where—where—” He was grasping at his shoulder.

She leapt up, pushing past Magnus and grabbing Jace by his collar, nails scraping his skin. She shoved his shirt up, ignoring his protests. The parabatai rune was bleeding, an angry red dripping down Jace’s hip and staining the waist of his pants. “No,” she said, voice rising in pitch, shaking her head violently, “no, no, no, no, no—”

She was dimly aware that she was screaming, clutching Jace’s shirt so tightly it was beginning to fray. Jace was watching her with dawning horror, and she shrieked louder, unable to stop.

The last thing she remembered was Magnus, looking older and more tired than she’d ever seen, waving a hand over her face. Then, darkness.

 

*

 

Magnus brings Alec back to the Institute, depositing him gently in his own bed. Ten years and no one’s been able to touch his room, not that Magnus has the right to judge.

Behind him, Isabelle flutters about, anxious. “Is he—is he okay?”

“I don’t know,” Magnus replies honestly. The phantom sting of Alec’s arrow still burns in his chest, though he’d healed it before creating a Portal to the Institute. “Isabelle, what they did to him—I imagine it was something barbaric, and very complicated.” He pauses, staring at Alec’s sleeping form. He wants, he wants, but he can’t. “I don’t know if we can fix it.”

“We can,” Isabelle says fiercely, eyes on her brother. “and we will.”

Where is he?” Jace barrels into the room, only to stop short at the sight of Alec in his bed. He’s shaking, eyes narrowed in anger and fear. “It’s not—he can’t—” He takes slow, unsteady steps towards Alec, and swallows. He reaches out for the hem of Alec’s shirt, and lifts it ever so slightly. A muffled, guttural sob escapes him at the sight of the faded parabatai rune on his hip.

Magnus allows him a moment, and then: “I can wake him now, though I don’t know if that would be a good idea.”

“Do it,” Jace and Isabelle say in unison. Clary, lingering in the doorway, nods her agreement.

“Very well,” Magnus says, and lifts the spell.

It happens in a blur, a series of staccato moments:

First: Alec opens his eyes, and immediately positions himself in a crouch on top of his bed.

Second: Isabelle reaches for him, tearful, trying to pacify him.

Third: Alec grabs her hand, jerks her towards him, and twists her arm until a gruesome crack fills the air.

Jace moves then, kicking Alec back until he slams into the wall, and before he can recover Magnus snaps his fingers and puts Alec back under. Isabelle clutches her broken wrist, but the agony on her face has nothing to do with any fractured bones.

Clary rushes to apply an iratze, but Isabelle only has eyes for her brother, slumped face-down on the floor. “What did they do to him?”

“I don’t know, but I’m going to kill the bastards who did it,” Jace snarls, standing over Alec’s unmoving body.

Magnus sinks to his knees and lifts Alec up, laying him on the bed with infinite care. He brushes Alec’s hair away from his face; he badly needs a haircut. Magnus turns to smile at Jace, something demonic curling at his edges. “You’ll have to get in line.”

 

*

 

“Why didn’t we look harder?” Clary wonders, holding a steaming mug of hot cocoa in her hands. Magnus opts for something stronger, swirling amber whiskey in his glass.

“Somebody didn’t want us to,” he murmurs. It’s late, well past two A.M., but he can’t bring himself to go back to his loft. Even being two rooms away from Alec feels too far. “It was planned meticulously, and we weren’t expecting it. We were caught up in the middle of the war, and there weren’t always bodies to be found. We can’t blame ourselves.”

“Jace felt him die,” Clary whispers, eyes darting towards the direction of Alec’s room.

“He, in all honesty, probably did,” Magnus says, and pours himself another drink. “It was enough to sever the bond.”

“You’re—” Clary begins, biting her lip. “You’re being pretty calm about this.”

“Am I?” Magnus turns to face her, and Clary blanches at whatever is on his face. She scoots over on the couch and burrows into his side, pulling his arm around her. Magnus is taken by surprise, and suddenly remembers the inquisitive little girl who’d wrecked his storeroom when she was five. Maybe he’ll tell her that story, someday.

“We’ll fix this, whatever this is,” she says. “We’ll bring him back.”

Magnus thinks of the heartless way Alec had broken his sister’s wrist and throws back the rest of his drink.

 

*

 

At five A.M., Magnus settles in next to Alec on the bed. There is precisely a foot of space in between them. He doesn’t dare move closer.

He crosses his legs in a meditative position and takes Alec’s hand in his. It’s rough with calluses and cool to the touch. He never thought he’d get to hold Alec’s hand again, and he grasps it more tightly. With a steadying breath, he closes his eyes, unfurls his magic, and slowly reaches inside Alec’s being.

Almost instantly, he’s cast out, a wall of magic thrusting him out and sealing Alec’s mind away from him. He grits his teeth and summons every ounce of power he possesses, then tries again.

He gets a little further this time: he sees a tight ball of black and white, tangled hopelessly beyond repair, and he pushes, pushes, pushes, trying to untangle them, but only succeeds in nudging it with a shot of electric blue before he’s thrown out again.

“Magnus.” Jace is standing over him when he opens his eyes, a wad of Kleenex in his hand. Magnus takes it, and wipes roughly under his nose. It comes away with blood.

“I tried,” Magnus says, balling the tissue tightly in his fist. “Whoever—whatever did this to him was very good. I don’t know how much effect what I did will have, or if it will do anything at all.”

Jace settles in the chair next to him, gaze trained intently on Alec. “I can’t feel him,” he admits, looking lost, and Magnus thinks, not for the first time, that the parabatai bond is more of a curse than a blessing. “I see him, here, and I see the rune, and I know it’s him, but I can’t feel him. He still feels—dead.”

Magnus says nothing.

“Clary said you thought he—he probably did die,” Jace says. “At least for a little bit.”

“All conjecture,” Magnus says, focusing on the steady rise and fall of Alec’s chest. “But it does make the most sense. There are few things that can break the bond.”

Jace reaches for Alec, fingers skimming the curve of his elbow.  “Can you wake him again?”

Magnus says, carefully, “I’ll have to restrain him.”

Jace sets his jaw. “That’s fine.”

“Do you want to get the others?” Magnus glances at the door.

“No,” Jace says. “In case—” He doesn’t finish. He doesn’t have to.

Magnus inclines his head, and allows himself a moment to take in the sight of Alec in peaceful slumber. My Alexander, he thinks, heart in his throat, please come back, and rips off the spell.

 

*

 

Ten years later, the Soldier—

No. He has a name, and it’s there on the tip of his tongue; he chases after it, wild and desperate, because he has a name, he does, he has—

Alec.

Alec wakes.

 

 

TBC.

 


notes: well, if you've made it this far, thank you very much! i started the very first draft of this a couple of weeks after seeing cacw, and i was still riding a malec high at the time so my brain kind of went, well why don't we combine malec + the cap trilogy for maximum pain!!

i would also like to take this opportunity to announce, very loudly, that this fic is in desperate need of a beta. seriously, i've got, like, 25k+ of word vomit and alec and magnus deserve better. please save them from me. (p l e a s e).

come say hi on tumblr! and thanks in advance for any kudos/comments!

also, the fic title and opening lyrics come from rachael yamagata's duet

 

Chapter Text

II.

There’s a hole in my soul.

Can you fill it?

 

 

There was more than one way to sever the parabatai bond, Magnus knew, and that was what kept him going in the first days after Alec’s apparent death. He spent days and nights in the dirtiest underbelly of New York, places that were unknown even to the New York Institute. No matter how well he played with the Nephilim, he was still, first and foremost, a half-demon, and he used those connections well when they suited his interests.

As they did now.

Not, he thought in frustration, that it made much of a difference. Newly turned vampires and werewolves were no secret to those who knew where to look. If they were lucky, they were taken in by the local clan or pack. If they weren’t, well. They nearly always made the mundane news.

There was one lead—just one, but Magnus hoped it was enough. A teenage boy was found wandering Prospect Park in a daze, fang marks clearly visible on his neck. Magnus knew Alec would hate himself for it, but he would, at least, be here. He sent Raphael a curt text, only for Raphael to rebuff him with two words: “Not him.”

Magnus showed up at the Hotel Dumort later that evening, desperation in his veins. Raphael took one look at him and led him into one of his private rooms, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I smelled the misery on you two blocks away,” Raphael said in greeting, though it lacked its usual heat.

“Only two blocks?” Magnus said, offended. “My dear Raphael, you have really let yourself go.”

Raphael snorted and leaned against the wall, watching Magnus. “I told you it wasn’t him.”

“Who was it, then?”

“A girl. One of our newer ones. I told Lily to keep a closer eye on her from now on.” Raphael paused. “I wouldn’t lie to you, you know.”

Magnus exhaled. “Is there—is there anything—”

“Not from our end,” Raphael said, and it sounded almost gentle.

Magnus sank into a leather-backed sofa, struggling not to let the disappointment consume him. He thought this might be it, finally, the thing to make him lock his heart away for good and retreat into himself until death decided it wanted him after all.

“There is one other option, if you haven’t considered it yet.”

Magnus jerked, meeting Raphael’s gaze squarely. “Tell me.”

“Camille,” Raphael said, and Magnus felt as though he’s been doused with ice-cold water. “You know she has connections you and I could only dream of. If he has been turned and hidden away, she would know.”

“You’re right,” Magnus said, steeling himself for another meeting with her. “It’s worth a shot.”

“I can accompany you,” Raphael said with practiced indifference, and Magnus came to the abrupt realization that he was, technically, Raphael’s oldest friend.

“As much as I appreciate that, my little tomato, I think this is something I’d prefer to do myself.” Raphael scowled at the dubious term of endearment.

“Thank you, though,” Magnus made sure to add, and Raphael rolled his eyes.

“Try not to get yourself killed,” he told him.

“And deprive you of my company? I would never.” Magnus waved a hand at him flippantly, but sobered at the expression on Raphael’s face. “I’ll be fine, Raphael.”

Raphael turned around, busying himself with his phone. “Do as you wish, warlock,” he said, and Magnus took that as his cue to leave.

 

*

 

It took under an hour to track Camille.

“My, my,” she drawled, eyeing him as he loomed over her. “What a lovely surprise.”

“You know why I’m here,” Magnus cut to the point, unamused and unwilling to let her rile him up, as she so often did. “Do you have information, or not?”

“I may,” she said with a smirk. “Or I may not. You’ll have to be more specific, Magnus.”

“Alexander Lightwood,” Magnus said, and his name, as always, sounded like a prayer in his tainted, demonic mouth. “I want whatever information you may have. And you always have information.”

“Oh, sweetheart,” Camille said, voice dripping with venom disguised as honey. “The facts speak for themselves, I think.” She smiled at him, baring her fangs. “Your little archer boy is dead.”

Magnus clenched his jaw, and suddenly, inexplicably knew it to be true. When he next spoke, his voice came out in a deadly whisper. “Did you have anything to do with it?”

“I have better things to do than murder Nephilim children,” Camille scoffed. “Come now, Magnus. It was only a matter of time for their kind. It was never going to last between the two of you.” She drew nearer to him, brushing manicured fingers against his jaw. Her gaze dropped to his lips. “But I can make you forget about him. Give you forever.”

Magnus said nothing for a long time. There was a time he’d looked at her and felt warmth and passion; now he looked at her and felt nothing but cold indifference.

“I once loved you, and it was a love that threatened to consume me whole.” She smiled at that, pleased, and pressed herself fully against him. Magnus did not react. “I turned a blind eye to many, many things. But no longer. I tell you this now, and know that I mean every word.” He grabbed her wrist roughly, sending white-hot flames down her arm—a serious warning, but not enough to kill. She yelped and tried to free herself, but he dragged her closer, dropping his glamour and bending down so that he breathed his next words directly into her mouth. “If I find out that you had any part in Alexander’s death, I will stake you myself.”

He released her, and she backed away, glowering at him. “You always get too involved,” she spat at him. “It will be your undoing in the end.”

“Thank you for your unsolicited advice,” Magnus said smoothly, adjusting his cuffs. “I believe we have nothing more to say to each other. Goodbye, Camille, and I hope we don’t have to see each other for another two hundred years.”

He moved past her, and she seized his arm, whirling him around to look him dead in the eye. “He’s dead, Magnus,” she hissed, but he refused to give her the satisfaction of flinching at her words. “He’s dead. Your little love story has reached its tragic end.” She smirked. “Told you so.”

He summoned a stake, twirling it nonchalantly between his fingers, never breaking eye contact. Her smirk fell away, replaced with a scowl.

“Get out of my apartment,” she spat.

“Gladly,” he said sweetly, and Portaled himself out.

 

*

 

“Alec,” Jace breathes as Alec’s eyes flutter open. His fists are clenched tightly at his sides, but Magnus can see the desperate hope reflected in every line of his body. He suspects it’s echoed in himself.

Alec shifts, though the magical restraints Magnus has on him prevent him from sitting up. “Jace?” he says, uncertainly, and Jace lets out a guttural sob.

Magnus releases Alec, and Jace hauls him up into a bone-crushing hug. Alec’s eyes dart around the room, panicked, before he exhales shakily and clutches Jace just as tightly. “I’m back,” he breathes, “I’m back, you guys—you guys got me back.”

“We never should have lost you in the first place,” Jace hisses furiously, pulling back and grasping Alec’s face in both hands. “Alec. God.

“Wasn’t your fault,” Alec mutters, “don’t blame yourself—”

A ceramic mug crashes onto the carpet, spilling dark coffee everywhere. Isabelle stands at the doorway, frozen.

“Izzy,” Alec whispers, and that’s all it takes for Isabelle to rush into his arms. Magnus stays back, allowing the three Lightwood siblings to take comfort in each other. He allows himself a moment of reprieve, tension seeping out of his bones.

Alexander has returned to him.

“Damn it—” Alec breaks the hug first, reaching for Isabelle’s wrist. “Did I—”

“Wasn’t you,” Isabelle says immediately. “Whatever they did to you—”

“They broke me,” Alec says, hollow, “I fought it as much as I could but—”

“I’ll kill them,” Jace swears, and Magnus has no doubt about it. But it’s been ten years, and Alec is awake and well and he wants— needs—to hold him in his arms, if only for a second.

“Alexander,” he murmurs, and Jace and Isabelle reluctantly untangle themselves from their brother, though they hover at the bedside, unwilling to go any farther away.

Alec glances at him, and Magnus is suddenly unnerved by the polite curiosity lingering in his eyes. Whatever words of affection he’d wanted to utter die abruptly in his throat.

“Oh,” Alec says. “You must have helped them get me back. Thank you.”

Magnus swallows, and dimly wonders how many times Alexander Lightwood can break his heart. Surely there must be a quota. “Of course.”

“Whatever it is we owe you, we’ll pay you back,” Alec says earnestly, and Isabelle makes a sound of dismay.

“Alec!” She grabs his hands, clutching them so fiercely her knuckles turn white. “Alec, don’t you—don’t you know who that is?”

Alec rolls his eyes. “Of course I do, Iz. Magnus Bane. High Warlock of Brooklyn.”

Isabelle glances at Magnus despairingly. “And?”

Alec furrows his brow. “And—what? What else is he to me?”

“Alec,” Jace says, voice hoarse. “He’s—”

“Nothing,” Magnus interrupts, forcing a bland smile onto his face. “Nothing at all.” Alec watches him with confusion, and part of Magnus wants to grab him and kiss him into remembering. But he doesn’t. He can’t. It doesn’t work that way. “If you’ll excuse me,” he says abruptly, and crosses the room to the door.

He runs into Clary in the hallway. “How is—” she begins, but he cuts her off.

“He’s awake, and he’s himself again,” he says, and she lights up.

“Magnus, that’s amazing! Why—” Her enthusiasm flickers. “Why aren’t you in there with him?”

Magnus shakes his head. “I—I can’t,” he says. The enormity of the situation is beginning to crash down on him, and he has no intentions of having a breakdown in the New York Institute. “I have to go. You know how to reach me if you need me.”

“Magnus—” Clary calls after him, but he summons a Portal and, not for the first time in his life, runs away.

 

*

 

Your little love story has reached its tragic end,” Camille had told him smugly.

Magnus is starting to think she’s right.

 

*

 

There are a lot of bottles on the floor, Magnus thinks drunkenly, squinting through the vertigo. They are lovely bottles, a pleasant shade of green. The green makes him think of Ragnor, who would have probably kicked his ass across the pond by now. He frowns; he shouldn’t be doing so much thinking. What can he do to stop thinking? Ah, yes. He snaps his fingers and summons another bottle.

The liquid burns as it goes down the back of his throat, but it gives him something to focus on. Something besides—

His buzzer rings, and Magnus hollers, voice magically amplified, “Go ‘way,‘m busy!

“Let me the fuck in, Magnus Bane,” Isabelle snarls, and Magnus heaves a great sigh, unlocking the door with a flick of his wrist.

Isabelle marches in as though she’s going to war, heels clacking in an angry rhythm across his floor. She falters briefly at the sight of him, and he waves at her lazily.

“Isabelle!” he greets. “C’mere. Sit next to me.” He waits until she does, and then offers her the bottle. “Drink?”

“Not right now,” she says, and he shrugs, taking another swig. “Magnus, it’s been a week.”

“Oh?” Magnus frowns. “I thought it had been two.”

Magnus.” Isabelle seizes the bottle and glares harshly at him. Magnus tilts his head to watch her curiously. “We need to talk.”

“Talk away,” he offers, spreading his arms wide.

“Why doesn’t he remember you?” Isabelle cuts straight to the point, and Magnus smiles bitterly at her for it. “He remembers the rest of us. Not—not everything. Some things are blurry, but he knows who we are, and what we mean to him. Believe me, Jace quizzed him very thoroughly.” She narrows her eyes at him. “It’s only you. Doesn’t that strike you as suspicious?”

“Some of your kind would see it as fitting,” Magnus says lightly. “A damned being such as myself. Denied every possibility of a happy ending.”

“You are not damned,” Isabelle snaps, grabbing his chin and forcing him to look at her. “We need to fix this.”

Magnus stares at her, wondering what she sees. He knows the glamour’s faded away, and she sees his warlock’s mark as it is. She meets his eyes, unflinching.

“Memories are a tricky thing,” he begins, “but you already know that. What they did to Alec—they sealed his memories away within his mind. Think of your brain as a large office, if you will. Each cubicle plays a part in ensuring that everything functions smoothly. Cognitive functions, motor functions. But you know all of this already.”

Isabelle nods.

“When I went into his mind, so to speak, I found the section meant for his memories. Normally, these are archived. Organized. It’s how basic memory spells work: you find the file you need and delete it.”

Isabelle whispers, “How did Alec’s mind look?”

Magnus smiles grimly. “There were no files,” he said, recalling the tangled mess of knots that comprised Alec’s memories. “It was as though someone had shredded all the papers and knotted them into one massive mess.” He closes his eyes. “I—unraveled them to the best of my ability. That is, I gave them a bit of a nudge, but it’s up to Alec to reorganize and reshelf them.” He draws his knees up to his chest. “If he hasn’t remembered me by now, and he remembers everything else… I don’t think there’s a lot of hope.”

“So you’re saying—” Isabelle swallows audibly. “You’re saying that they deleted his memories of you. Permanently. And jumbled up all the rest.”

“Probably,” Magnus says, recalling the blank look on Alec’s face as he’d looked at him. As though he were a stranger. Nothing more than a warlock, summoned for magical services needed by the Clave. Something in his chest tightens. He ignores it.

“Probably? So you’re not sure?” Isabelle glares at him. “Then why don’t you check again?”

Magnus laughs humorlessly. “Because I’m a coward.” He snaps his fingers, and the bottle of absinthe reappears in his hands. “Because I don’t want to confirm it.”

Isabelle sits with him in silence. “You deserve to be happy,” she says at length, and Magnus starts at the sincerity in her voice. “What? You do.” She shrugs. “And so does Alec.” She bites her lip. “I never saw him as happy as when he was with you. I want that for him. He’s been through enough. You both have.”

She leans against him, and he relaxes into her warmth.

“Lightwoods,” he murmurs. “Such a bullheaded family.”

She grins up at him, impish and unapologetic. “You love it.”

Magnus raises the bottle of absinthe. “Must be all the alcohol,” he says wryly, and Isabelle laughs.

 

*

 

Magnus Bane is here to see him.

The thought of it makes something in his stomach flutter, but Alec chooses to blame it on the breakfast Izzy had forced down his throat earlier that morning. Alec tugs at the hem of his shirt and paces the length of the room.

“Alec?” Magnus stands at the doorway, dressed in deep, rich shades of plum. His jacket looks velvet-soft, and Alec is struck by the desire to reach out and touch it. He shakes his head to clear the thought away.

“Magnus,” he says, uncertain. “Good morning.”

Magnus smiles in greeting and crosses the threshold to sit in one of the chairs surrounding the glass table in the center of the room. After a beat, Alec selects a seat directly opposite him.

“I’m sure Isabelle’s already told you, but I’m here to examine your mind,” Magnus says, smooth and professional. Alec wishes he possessed half of his poise. “Dark, complex magic was performed on you. It’s not unusual to have a few side effects. Have you felt anything out of the ordinary?”

“No,” Alec says. “I feel—fine.”

Magnus stiffens, almost imperceptibly. “That’s wonderful to hear,” he says quietly. “This won’t take longer than a few minutes. It shouldn’t hurt, either. Perhaps a little pressure in your head is the best way to describe it.”

Alec nods. “Okay.”

Magnus offers him a comforting smile before summoning his magic to his hands. Alec watches, transfixed, as warm blue energy suffuses his hands. Then Magnus lifts those hands and presses gently against Alec’s temple.

A memory comes to him, unbidden: a lazy Saturday morning on a luxuriously soft couch in front of an enormous flat-screen TV. And on the TV, a cartoon.

“That’s Professor X,” says a garbled voice, and though Alec tries, he can’t see his face. “He’s a telepath.”

“A telepath?” Alec recognizes his own voice, finds himself turning to smile amusedly at the other man sharing the couch. “That must be handy.”

“Do you like telepaths?” The owner of the voice draws nearer, ringed hands framing his jaw. “I can’t read minds, but I have a bit of a talent for memory work.”

Alec hears himself laugh and press a kiss to the palm cradling his face. He takes the hand in his and starts playing with the rings decorating the fingers. “I’m sure you—”

A sharp, piercing pain strikes him and Alec jolts out of the memory to clutch at his head in agony. “Stop, stop, stop—”

Magnus withdraws instantly, face pale. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs, running his fingers through Alec’s hair. Alec instinctively leans into the touch. “I caught an—anomaly, of sorts, and I may have gone too far in trying to fix it. I’ll leave it alone. It’s nothing serious, I promise. I won’t push further.”

Alec catches his breath.

“I’m sorry,” Magnus repeats, sorrowful, and Alec catches himself shaking his head.

“No, don’t be,” he says. “You were just trying to help.”

“And it hurt you,” Magnus says, lips twisting into a scowl.

“No, it—” Alec falters, glancing away. “It felt—nice. Your magic.” Because it had, something warm and comforting mending the cracks of his fractured mind. “I liked it,” he admits.

When he looks back at him, Magnus’ eyes are wide and terribly vulnerable. Alec falls into them, golden-green and unglamoured, and wants .

But Magnus moves away, hands falling from Alec’s face. Alec traces the movement, furrowing his brow, breath hitching at the rings adorning Magnus’ fingers.

They’re the same ones from his memory.

“You’re not in any pain?” Magnus presses, peering at him with concern. The glamour is back, his eyes now a warm brown. “I can take that away.”

“No,” Alec says weakly, still staring at Magnus’ rings. “No. I’m fine.”

 

*

 

“Well?” Isabelle demands, brandishing a wooden spoon at him. Magnus blinks at it, standing in the Institute kitchen, eyeing her bubbling concoction on the stove over her shoulder.

“I think your—” Magnus gestures to her cooking, but Isabelle shakes her head impatiently. Next to her, Jace pulls a face, but watches him curiously as well.

Magnus takes a deep breath, leaning against the granite-topped island in the middle of the room. How to explain what he’d seen—that in the darkest corners of Alec’s mind there had been a second, separate set of memories, left to gather cobwebs and dust. A second set of memories, tangled so tightly that Magnus didn’t know how to begin to unravel it.

A second set of memories, that, in his haste and desperation, he’d begun to pull at recklessly, forgetting about the damage he might inadvertently leave in its wake—

Something of that must show in his face, because Isabelle’s face falls, and Jace clenches his jaw.

“His memories of me are there,” Magnus says softly, and their heads whip up to stare at him in surprise. It would be amusing, in other situations. “But they’re—locked away. I tried to unlock them, but I nearly hurt him in the process. There’s no telling what might happen if I continue to push. I think it’s best if—if we—”

“If we wait,” Isabelle cuts in, eyes bright, “until you figure it out before trying again.”

“Because you’re not giving up on our brother, right?” Jace echoes her, crossing his arms over his chest.

Magnus’ breath catches in his chest as he takes in the the sight of the two of them: Isabelle and Jace Lightwood, beautifully stubborn, siblings in all the ways that truly mattered. He hadn’t expected to remain close to them after they’d lost Alec, but Isabelle had clung onto him with determined ferocity and Jace hadn’t kicked him out, and—

Family. It’s a distant word, and tastes a little funny in his mouth.

Isabelle and Jace are still watching him, and he lets out a deep, controlled breath. He chokes out a laugh. “Damn Lightwoods,” he mutters as Isabelle fits herself snugly into his side. He raises an eyebrow at Jace, grinning and lifting his other arm in invitation.

Jace snorts. “Don’t push it,” he says, punching him on the shoulder on his way out.

 

*

 

Alec !” Max all but crashes into him in the main room of the Institute, Alec barely managing to wrap his arms around his little brother. Though, he realizes ruefully, he’s not quite so little anymore.

“Max,” he says breathlessly, pulling away and cupping his face in his hands. Max abruptly buries his face in Alec’s shoulder. Moments later, Alec feels his shirt sleeve grow damp. “Oh, hey, Max, c’mon, it’s okay.”

“I thought—we all thought—” Max pulls away, sniffling. Alec wipes his tears away with the back of his hand.

“I know,” he says gently, looking him up and down. “God, Max, you got so tall.”

Max smiles. “Yeah, not as tall as you, though.” He smirks then, gleeful. “But I’m taller than Jace, which is awesome.”

Alec snorts. “Yeah, I’m sure he loves that.”

Max sighs. “Mom and Dad are here,” he says abruptly. “Izzy said she’d distract them for a bit, ‘cause they’re probably gonna interrogate you about everything.”

Alec returns the sigh. “Not even a hello, huh.”

Max shrugs. “You know Mom.”

Just as he says, their parents dash into the room, Izzy at their heels. There’s a brief, still silence.

“Mom. Dad,” he says, voice small, and his mother crosses the room to wrap him in a fierce hug. He leans into her warmth, closing his eyes. His father claps a broad hand on his shoulder, and he opens his eyes to give him a watery smile.

“Don’t you ever do that again, Alexander Lightwood,” his mother says, drinking in the sight of him greedily. Alec can’t help but do the same. The last ten years had taken their toll on her; fine wrinkles outlining her face, a little more gray peppering her hair. Behind her, his father looks much the same: older, and more tired.

“I promise,” Alec says, meeting Izzy and Max’s eyes across the room.

 

*

 

His parents return to Idris after three days. Alec can’t remember the last time his mother hovered over him so protectively, and the small part of him that will always crave her approval basks in her attention. His father looks at him sometimes like he can’t believe he’s real, and pulls him in for a brief hug before they leave the Institute.

Max stays another couple of days, but he’s based in Seattle now, and can only remain in New York for so long.

“Why Seattle?” Alec wonders, helping Max pack. Not like Max needs the help, or that he has a lot of luggage, but he wants to spend the last minutes of Max’s stay together. He rolls up another t-shirt and tosses it into Max’s duffel bag.

“Why not?” Max shrugs. “It was a new place. I was still so young when you—” He trails off. “Izzy and Jace mourned you in their own way. They went places I couldn’t follow, sometimes. I just wanted. I don’t know. To start over somewhere new. I don’t mind the rain so much, anyway.”

Alec studies Max as he crams an extra stele in a hidden zipper in the side of his bag. He’s stronger, and older, that much is obvious. But the burden of losing someone is engraved in the set of his shoulders, and his heart aches for the loss of his little brother, the one who set fires and had his stele confiscated on a near-daily basis.

“I’m proud of you,” he says, quietly, and Max glances up at him with startled eyes. “Of—of who you’ve become.”

Max makes a choked noise in the back of his throat before barreling into Alec, face pressed into Alec’s collarbone. “I missed you,” he mumbles.

Alec brushes his hands through Max’s hair. “I’m here,” he says. “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

*

 

“Magnus.”

“What is it, Raphael?” Magnus holds the phone between his ear and shoulder, idly mixing a calming potion in the back of his storeroom as he makes a noncommittal noise into the phone. It’s a little too blue; he’ll need to fix that.

“We found another one.” Raphael’s voice is curt, and Magnus banishes the potion with a click of his fingers.

“Where?”

“Hell’s Kitchen,” Raphael says, tense. “A vampire. Decapitated.”

Magnus curses under his breath. “Are you still there?”

“No,” Raphael says. “We brought him back to the Dumort. Meet us here as soon as you can.”

Magnus summons a Portal. “Do you want me to call the Institute?”

Raphael says something unpleasant in Spanish. “Might as well,” he mutters, and hangs up. Magnus fires off a quick text to Isabelle, slips his phone into his pocket, and steps through the Portal.

The vampire is lying on a makeshift cot in the basement of the Hotel Dumort, wearing dark jeans and a plain white t-shirt, splattered with blood. Raphael paces uneasily next to him, and Simon sits on a cheap plastic stool, silent for once.

“The head?” Magnus inquires.

“Gone,” Raphael says shortly, and Magnus grimaces.

“They’re here—” Simon suddenly says, and moments later Isabelle storms through the door, with Clary, Jace, and Alec behind her. Magnus can’t help himself; his eyes linger on Alec as he takes in his surroundings, eyes narrowed in intense focus.

“If we bring him back to the Institute, I can better examine him,” Isabelle argues, but Raphael has none of it.

“He is one of ours,” Raphael says silkily. “Whatever you need to do, you can do it right here.”

“Oh, sure I can. Do you happen to have a lab with the latest forensic equipment hidden somewhere around here?” Isabelle snaps, stepping forward, fists clenched. Behind her, Alec places a restraining hand on her elbow.

“This is not your business,” Raphael grits out. “You came, you saw. Now leave.”

“Raphael, they’re just trying to help,” Simon says, speaking up for the first time. “You know they mean well.”

Raphael bares his fangs at him. Simon, to his credit, does not flinch. Magnus suspects it’s a daily occurrence with these two. “I’m sorry, are you the leader of this clan?”

Simon rolls his eyes, but is interrupted by a petite, curly-haired brunette that manifests suddenly at his side, shaking. “Where is he?”

“Anna, leave us,” Raphael says imperiously, but instantly shifts his weight on his feet she starts to scream. In a blur, he’s in front of her, Simon too, hovering over the vampire that Magnus knows is the newest addition to the clan.

“You!” she shrieks, pointing at Alec, who stands, frozen. “You killed her!”

“Alec would never—” Jace hisses, but she screams over him.

“I saw him with my own eyes.” She grows alarmingly pale, even for a vampire, shaking with fury and grief. “He staked her, and set her on fire.” Her face twists into an ugly grimace. “I didn’t catch your face. You were wearing a mask. But I remember your smell. You killed her, and I swear I’ll rip your fucking throat out or—”

Raphael and Simon restrain her, right as a seraph blade flares into life in Jace’s hand and Isabelle uncoils her whip. Clary clutches Alec’s arm so tightly her knuckles turn white. Alec can’t take his eyes off Anna. He looks sick to his stomach.

“There’s got to be a mistake,” Clary says, eyes darting from the vampire to Alec’s panicked gaze. Magnus swallows, doubting that’s the case.

“You killed her!” Anna howls, and Magnus doesn’t think twice as he blurs forward and creates a Portal, shoving Alec, and by extension, Clary, into it. He glances back briefly, but Isabelle motions for him to go. Raphael does the same. Afraid of what he’ll find on the other side, Magnus steps into the vortex.

 

*

 

“Alec,” Clary murmurs. “Here. Have some water.”

Alec takes the water bottle she offers him, numb. You killed her, the vampire—Anna—had said, and Alec wants to deny it with all of his soul, but. But.

He can’t.

He can’t breathe. It’s a sudden, startling realization as he sinks to his knees and clutches at the carpet. He can’t breathe. He takes in heaving gasps, but it doesn’t seem to help, and he can only remember Anna’s furious, grief-stricken face as she screamed at him.

You killed her!

“Alexander, you need to breathe.” That’s not Clary. Who is it? Warm, strong hands take his and guide them to his chest. Whose? Alec sees familiar rings on the stranger’s fingers. Oh. Magnus. “Please breathe for me, darling. Follow me. Breathe in—one, two, three. Slowly, out—yes. Just like that.”

Alec isn’t sure how long they remain that way, but eventually his breathing returns to normal and he realizes that he’s curled into Magnus’ chest, face pressed against his throat. He smells of sandalwood.

“She wasn’t lying,” he murmurs into Magnus’ neck, keeping his eyes shut, as though doing so would make everything less real. “I did. I think—no. I know I did.”

Magnus stiffens, and Alec is sure that he’ll shove him away in disgust. But he does nothing of the sort, only pulls him closer.

“Your sister mentioned that you remembered most things, if not all,” he says carefully.

“I—” Alec begins, and then pauses, gathering his thoughts. “The last ten years are a blur,” he says slowly. “I remember—I remember dying.” Magnus sucks in a slow, stuttering breath at that, and Alec hastens, wishing to spare him. “And I remember waking up. But—and this has always stuck with me, I woke up in 2025. They made it a point, to ask me what year it was. Before that, there’s… nothing.” He makes a frustrated noise in his throat. “Mostly, I remember fighting. I remember—something. Something. It made me more—more compliant. They twisted it all around. Made it sound like I was fighting for the good guys. And—shit. I don’t know how to explain.”

Magnus strokes his hair. “You don’t have to say anything. You don’t owe me anything.”

But Alec wants to, needs to share the horror of the last ten years with someone, even if that someone is Magnus Bane. “I was like a puppet,” he says hoarsely. “Somebody else was moving the strings. It wasn’t me. But at the same time, it was. I held the blade. I held the bow and arrow.” He lets out a choked, hysterical gasp. “I should have used them on me.”

Magnus makes a pained noise, almost like he’d been punched. He shifts, framing Alec’s face with his hands, resting his forehead against his. His rings are cold against Alec’s cheek. It’s an incredibly intimate moment to be sharing with someone he barely knows, yet it doesn’t feel strange at all.

“Never say that again,” Magnus whispers fiercely. “I have—your siblings have been through hell without you. Whatever happened was not your fault. We will find out who did this to you, and make sure they pay.”

Alec, by all rights, should be terrified. Magnus is practically vibrating with magic, and the intent in his eyes, though still glamoured, is downright deadly.

Instead, it’s reassuring. Alec leans into Magnus’ space and closes his eyes.

“I believe you,” he says, and means it.

 

*

 

It was dark, and everything hurt.

“Wake up,” somebody said, slapping him harshly across the face. Alec’s eyes fluttered open. His cheek stung, and he sat up, ramrod straight, studying his surroundings, though he couldn’t see anything in the darkness.

He remembered flashes of battle, dispatching a horde of demons with relative ease and creeping into the warehouse to see if there were any stragglers. He remembered a prickling sense of trepidation at the back of his neck as he journeyed farther into the warehouse. He remembered Valentine, and he remembered—

Izzy.

“Where am I?” he asked, taking care to make sure his voice never wavered.

“What year is it?” the voice countered, making Alec furrow his brow.

“What do you—” The cool edge of a blade pressed against his jugular, and Alec forced himself to take steady, even breaths. “It’s 2016.”

A harsh bark of a laugh greeted him. “Oh, God, this is perfect.”

“What year is it?” Alec asked then, swallowing down his panic. “It’s—2016.”

A witchlight flickered in the other man’s hand, illuminating his face starkly. He had an angular face, cheekbones strikingly sharp, and pale blond hair. His eyes were pure black. “It’s 2025.”

“No.” Alec shook his head. “You’re lying.”

“And why would I do that?” He spread his arms out, mocking. “What could I possibly have to gain?” He grinned at him. “Alexander Lightwood.”

Alec glared at him. “Who are you?” he spat out.

“My name is Sebastian,” he said, sickly sweet. “We are going to be very good friends, Alexander.”

His name sounded wrong in his mouth. Alec fought against his bonds, but they didn’t give. “Let me go,” he hissed.

“That would defeat the purpose of all this,” Sebastian said, twirling a syringe between his fingers. It held a clear liquid. Alec eyed it with apprehension.

“What—”

“You are going to help me with a very special project,” Sebastian said.

“Like hell I will.” Alec used all of his strength, but the restraints wouldn’t give. He sent Sebastian a look of pure, unadulterated loathing as he approached him, syringe in hand. “Don’t—don’t you—”

“Oh, Alexander,” Sebastian said pityingly. “You seem to think you have a choice in the matter.”

Don’t —” But it was too late. Sebastian grabbed Alec’s arm, twisted it viciously, and jabbed the needle into a prominent vein on his right forearm. Alec writhed and struggled, but quickly fell limp. No , he thought, desperately, nonono

Blackness.

And then—

“Wake up.” A voice commanded, and he did, taking in his surroundings with an impassive stare. “Good. How do you feel?”

“Fine,” he said.

“Good,” he said again. “Soldier.”

Soldier. He blinked. “Is that my name?” he asked.

The man paused. “You have no name,” he said, coldly. “You are a soldier. That is all.”

Soldier?

“Are you listening?” The man’s voice was harsh. “I am your commander. You are to follow my orders. You have a mission, and your mission is to protect. There are Downworlders who have broken the Accords. If we do not act, innocent lives will be lost.”

Protection. The word was familiar. A sense of duty. A soldier.

“Yes,” he said. “Tell me more.”

 

*

 

Alec barges into the main room of the Institute, where Jace and Izzy are huddled together, talking in hushed voices. Clary listens to them intently, but straightens up as she sees Alec enter.

“You need to interrogate me,” he says, matter-of-factly. “Officially. I know you’ve been going easy on me. Asking me two or three questions does not qualify as an interrogation, Iz. You even convinced Mom to let me off the hook.” Their parents had returned to Idris without asking him much, seemingly content to know that he was alive and well. “Under normal circumstances, I should be put on trial by the Sword.”

Izzy blanches. “Like hell,” she spits out. “You’re not a criminal.”

Alec softens. “Izzy,” he says. “I killed—” He stumbles. “I broke the Accords.”

Izzy sets her jaw, and Jace scowls at him. “It wasn’t you,” he says. “You were a fucking victim in all of this, Alec.”

Alec knows, but the sight of his siblings defending him so fervently makes him swallow a lump in his throat. “I know,” he says quietly. “But we can’t keep ignoring this and hoping that it’ll just go away.” The anguished expression on Anna’s face haunts him, and he wonders how many other lives he’s wrecked.

“Alec’s right,” Clary speaks up. Alec offers her a small, grateful smile. “I get it, you guys. You want to protect him. I do, too. But maybe if we question him properly, he can lead us to—to whoever did this to him.”

Izzy exchanges a wordless glance with Jace before nodding her head curtly. “No Sword,” she says. “I’m not involving the Clave. This is just us.”

Alec sits down in one of the hard-backed chairs. It’s not comfortable—never has been, and he remembers being taught not to fidget when sitting in these chairs for long, endless Clave meetings. He closes his eyes.

“I woke up approximately one year ago,” he begins, steeling himself for the onslaught of memories of the last year: waking, receiving orders, and cruelly slaughtering whoever stood in front of his blade. He smiles bitterly at the rest of the room. Jace, forever his parabatai, no matter what the faded rune at his hip may say. Isabelle, his fiercest protector. Clary, his unlikely friend.

His voice doesn’t waver this time. “And I killed fourteen people.”

 

*

 

Here’s the thing: any information can be bought for a price.

Here’s another thing: Magnus is willing to pay any price.

Dark roads eventually lead back to Camille, he muses, staring disdainfully at the front door of her walk-up. He lifts a finger to ring the doorbell, but the door opens on its own. He grins wryly; into the frying pan he leaps.

Camille is dressed in dark red, with a deep, plunging neckline. Magnus wears black, covered from head to toe in utilitarian fashion, armor against the coming war. Camille smiles at him.

“Magnus,” she drawls. “It’s been a while. Though not quite the two hundred years you’d hoped for.”

“We can’t always get what we want, I suppose,” he says easily, leaning against the door frame. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

She lifts her shoulders in a shrug. “You’re no vampire. You don’t need an invitation.” She turns away from him and steps into the foyer. Magnus follows her, shutting the door behind him.

“What brings you here?” she asks, retrieving a goblet of blood from an antique table and taking a delicate sip. She watches him beneath thick lashes. It’s a look that would have worked on him one hundred years ago, perhaps, but no longer.

“I told you,” he says delicately, “that I would stake you if I found out you had any connection to Alexander’s death.”

“Ah, but he’s not dead, is he?” She smirks at him, dripping with malice. “At least, he didn’t remain that way.”

He’s on her in an instant, a hand encircling her throat. She isn’t afraid, not at all; she just stares at him unflinchingly, smirk permanently etched on her lips. “What do you know?” he growls out.

“I always liked you best like this,” Camille says, reaching up to brush manicured fingers against his eyebrows. “Out of control. Dangerous.”

Magnus bares his teeth. “Would you like to see how truly dangerous I can be?”

Camille clicks her tongue. “But then you won’t get the information you so desperately need.” Magnus wants to scream in frustration, anger boiling in his veins. This is a side of him he’s kept carefully tucked away, and Camille knows exactly which buttons to push to bring the monster out.

“Tell me,” he hisses.

“For a price,” she responds, unflappable. “That’s how the game works, or have you forgotten?”

Magnus steps back, sets his shoulders, and draws himself up to his fullest height. “Very well. What do you want?”

“A kiss,” Camille says, eyes flashing with triumph. “For old times’ sake.”

Magnus doesn’t move, staring at her impassively. She crosses her arms, waiting, unhurried.

“If you can’t do it, then—” But Magnus had made up his mind before he came here: he would do whatever—whatever it took to get revenge on those who had taken Alec. And so there is nothing difficult about crossing the room and grabbing Camille harshly by the shoulders to press his lips against hers. It is not a kiss of love, or even want. It is a kiss filled with hatred, and Magnus has never loathed her more than in that instant. It’s a violent and ugly thing; he wants to rip her apart and lay her bones at Alec’s feet.

By the time they pull apart, Camille’s pupils are dilated, blood trickling down her lips. Magnus realizes belatedly that she’s bitten him. She licks her lips hungrily, staring at him with unconcealed lust. “My, my,” she says, “I didn’t think you had it in you.”

Magnus isn’t in the mood. “The information,” he says stonily.

Camille is unfazed. “There is a child playing at being God,” she says, and the word rolls easily off her lips. “His name is Sebastian.”

The name sparks no recognition in Magnus. Camille must see it, because her smile grows wider.

“He is,” she says, “Valentine’s son.”

Magnus sucks in a breath, mind whirring. It explained the murders of the Downworlders, at least. “But why ,” he murmurs, thinking always of Alec.  

“The child does not work alone,” Camille says lightly. “He has a very powerful… associate.”

“Tell me,” Magnus demands, mentally rifling through a list of the most powerful warlocks he knows.

Camille pauses, staring him directly in the eyes. “Think. Who else would have such a vested interest in hurting someone you claim to love?”

Magnus freezes. No. Anybody—anybody but—

Camille spreads her arms out wide, something vicious lurking at the edges of her smile. “Your father, of course.”

And Magnus shatters.

 

TBC.

 

Chapter Text

III.

 

Do you know?

For you I’d bleed myself dry.

 

Jace stayed with Valentine for all of three months before his siblings rescued his sorry ass and dragged him back to the Institute. It was nothing short of a suicide mission; they’d relied solely on sketchy intel, sheer bullheadedness, and Magnus’ magic.

The last thing Jace saw before being whisked away into a Portal was Valentine’s face, twisted into a vicious scowl. Jace laughed as the Portal shut down.

He was still laughing when he finally tumbled into the Institute, greedily drinking in the sight of its clean lines and utilitarian furnishings. Valentine was still alive, but he was home.

“You’re not my brother,” Clary whispered, clutching at him fiercely, and Jace allowed himself to look and look and look because he was allowed to, now. “Mom said. I had a brother—but he died. He’s not you.” 

“Clary,” he said, tugging her in for a desperate hug. Over her head, he saw Alec scrawling an iratze across Izzy’s shoulder. He disentangled himself from Clary and rushed over to his siblings. “Izzy, are you—”

“I’m fine,” Izzy said dismissively, and then swiftly reached over to punch him in the arm. “You idiot, don’t you ever do that again.” 

Jace smiled as he wrapped her up in his arms. He was still trembling from a combination of adrenaline and pure relief at finally being back home. “Missed you too, Iz.”

At length, Izzy pulled away, and jerked her head towards Alec. “Well? Go on, I know you’ve been waiting.”

Jace glanced up at Alec. “Jace,” Alec said, and that was all he heard before he found himself with an armful of his brother. He was hunched over, face pressed against his shoulder. He was gripping Jace with an unhindered ferocity, fingers digging into his shoulder blades. Jace clutched him back, breathing him in. He felt his parabatai rune tingle with warmth.

“If you do that again, I’ll kill you myself,” Alec muttered into his collarbone, and Jace huffed out a laugh.

“If Izzy and Clary leave anything behind,” he quipped, and Alec snorted.

Eventually, they pulled apart. “You’re not hurt?” they asked at the same time, smiling wryly as soon as the words left their mouths.

“No, I’m fine,” Jace said. “A couple of bruises here and there.”

 Alec held up his stele. “Iratze?”

 “I’m good,” he said, shaking his head. “What about you? I saw you take a dagger to your leg earlier.”

“Oh.” Alec went pink. “Magnus healed it.”

Jace grinned widely. “Is that right?”

Alec sank down into the nearest chair, trying and failing to hide a smile. “Shut up.”

Jace dragged a chair over, knocking his knees against Alec’s when he refused to make eye contact.
“Hey. I’m not making fun or anything. I’m really happy for you, you know? He makes you lighten up, get that arrow out of your ass for once.” Alec glowered at him, but it lacked heat. “I like the guy. You could do worse.”

“Yeah.” Alec exhaled sharply. “Yeah, I—I like him too.”

“Yeah, I figured that out when you kissed him at your wedding to another woman,” Jace deadpanned, and Alec halfheartedly swiped at him.

“Lydia understood,” he muttered.

“How do you even end up still being friends with your ex-fiancée,” Jace muses fondly. “And even have your current boyfriend be friends with her, too. God, Alec, what is your life? 

Alec stiffened, staring at his feet. “I don’t—we’re not boyfriends. I don’t think. We’re—something, but.” He trailed off, looking lost.

Jace realized he’d stepped in it. Not an unusual occurrence for him, but marginally more awkward when dealing with his parabatai’s love life. “You—haven’t talked about it?”

Alec rolled his eyes. “Sure, Jace, in between tracking down Valentine and dragging you back here, we had plenty of time to chat.” 

Jace flinched, though he knew Alec didn’t mean it in that way. Somehow, Alec was always sacrificing his happiness for all of them. He’d never paid much attention before, but it was starting to become more evident. Guilt gnawed at him. He vowed, in that instant, to never let Alec martyr himself for them ever again. He knew Izzy would agree.

“Hey,” he said, kicking him lightly in the ankle.

 Alec looked up. “What?”

 Jace cleared his throat. “Thanks. For rescuing me.”

A soft smile lit up Alec’s face. “You don’t have to thank me. It’s what we do. You know I’d die for you, right?”

“Let’s not go too far,” Jace said lightheartedly, though he knew it to be true. He’d die for Alec, too. “But seriously.” He waited until Alec met his gaze again. “You won’t have to.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Alec said.

  

*

  

Magnus’ phone lights up with a text from Isabelle: We have a name.

It lights up again seconds later. He remembers someone named Sebastian. Says he used to give him orders.

Another one. Can you come by the Institute in the morning?

Magnus laughs. It’s startlingly loud in his otherwise empty apartment. Well. At least Camille hadn’t been lying.

He taps out a text with one hand. I’ll be there at 8.

Thank you, Magnus, she sends back, and Magnus laughs again, wondering if they’ll ever be able to look at him the same once they realize who his father is.

 

*

 

Alec wakes in a cold sweat, sitting straight up in his bed, breathing heavily.

“You’re safe,” he mumbles to himself, activating his night-vision rune and taking in the familiar sight of his bedroom. “You’re home. You’re home. You’re—”

That’s the problem, though. It’s home. It should be home, and to be fair, his brain still recognizes it as such. But there’s something—something telling him that this isn’t quite home, not anymore. That there’s—something, or somewhere else.

He suddenly thinks of ringed hands and painted fingernails and flushes all over.

 “No,” he groans, flopping back in his bed, an ungraceful mess of limbs. “Get it together, Lightwood.”

 He doesn’t have time for this, whatever this is. He’s still trying to come to terms with the fact that he’s murdered fourteen innocents, two of which had been mundanes. He shuts his eyes. There had been so much blood.

“Two mundanes,” he murmurs, “two warlocks, three vampires, four faeries, and three werewolves.” He knows he’ll take their faces with him to his grave.

 He reaches for his phone, which is lighting up with an unread text. He swipes to unlock the screen, finding a message from Max two hours old.

 How are things?

 As good as they can be, he sends in reply, and tosses the phone onto the bed next to him.

Max sends him a thumbs up emoji in response, and Alec chuckles at it. There’s no going back to sleep now, so he gets out of bed, tossing the blankets haphazardly over his pillows. He shrugs on a black hoodie and pads out of his room towards the kitchen. Maybe a cup of coffee will chase the nightmares away, though he knows it’s a futile attempt.

But there’s somebody else in the kitchen, sitting silently at the table, staring blankly into nothing.

“Magnus,” he says, startled, and Magnus immediately stands up, looking oddly flustered.

 “Alec,” he says. “I—I have a meeting with your sister. I’m early, so I just let myself in.”

 “That’s fine,” Alec says, making his way towards the coffee machine. With his back turned, it’s somehow easier to begin the conversation. “You’re probably here because of me, anyway.” 

Magnus makes a noncommittal sound, sitting back down. “Isabelle said you remembered a Sebastian."

Involuntarily, Alec tightens his grip on the container of Folgers. He sets it down on the counter with a bang. “Yeah,” he says shortly, filling the carafe with water. “I remember him, all right.”

“Alec—” 

Alec reaches into the cupboard for two coffee mugs. “Do you want coffee?” he says abruptly. 

“Yes. Please,” Magnus says, watching him carefully. “Alec, maybe we should talk.”

“Talk,” Alec says flatly. “Yeah, okay. Let’s talk about the fourteen lives I took. Let’s start there.” He doesn’t look to see Magnus’ reaction. “Two mundanes, two warlocks, three vampires, four faeries, and three werewolves.” It’s a mantra he knows by heart. “See, Sebastian knew I was best at fighting from a distance, so he used that to his advantage. But he also knew I needed to work on my close-range skills. Do you want to know how he trained me, Magnus?” He doesn’t wait for an answer. “He aimed to kill, and right when I was on the edge of death, healed me until every bruise and cut was gone. And then, he did it again. And again. And again. The day he decided I was good enough to go out on a mission was the day I managed to stab him through the stomach with a seraph blade.” He smiles humorlessly, lost in old memories. “What can I say? I’ve always been a quick learner.”

He’s not sure what he expects when he finally faces Magnus. Disgust, maybe, or pity. But not pain—not the deep-seated, ancient pain reflected on Magnus’ face.

“You’re bleeding,” Magnus says quietly, and Alec glances down to see that he’s dropped both coffee mugs on the floor, shards of porcelain scattered around his feet. There are jagged cuts across his palms.

“It doesn’t hurt,” he says dismissively, but Magnus is in front of him, enveloping his hands in warm, blue magic. Alec can’t help but watch, fascinated.

 “Your rings,” he says, staring at Magnus’ hands and thinking back to that fuzzy memory the first time Magnus had gone into his mind. “Are they new?”

Magnus finishes healing him. “No,” he says. “I’ve had these for decades. Why?”

Alec frowns. “I think I’ve seen them before.”

Something unidentifiable flickers across Magnus’ face. “They’re hardly one of a kind,” he says. “You may have seen them on someone else.”

Alec doesn’t quite think that’s it, but he doesn’t pursue it. “The coffee,” he mutters, turning back to the machine. Magnus banishes the broken shards away before he can step on them. “Thanks.”

When the coffee finishes, he hands Magnus a mug. Magnus takes a sip, and his eyes widen.

“What?” Alec raises his eyebrows. “That bad?”

“No,” Magnus says, gulping down another mouthful. “It’s—just the way I like it.”

Alec thinks nothing more of it, drinking from his own mug. “Lucky guess.”

“Right.” Magnus clutches at his mug, gazing into the dark brown liquid as though it contains answers to all the questions in the universe. “Alec. When we find Sebastian, what will you do?”

Alec pauses. “You, Jace, and Izzy all say that you’ll make him pay,” he says nonchalantly.

“But what about you?”

Alec takes another sip and smiles mirthlessly in Magnus’ direction. “I’ll kill him, of course,” he says, as though they’re simply discussing potential pizza toppings. “Would you blame me?”

Magnus raises his mug to him, gold creeping into his eyes. Alec realizes, a little belatedly, that he is the High Warlock of Brooklyn for good reason. He should look away. He should arm himself. Magnus has never looked more dangerous. “On the contrary,” Magnus says, voice low and eyes gleaming, “I’d hold him down for you.”

Alec’s breath catches in his throat.

Magnus’ eyes return to their human brown, and Alec blinks at the sight of them. “Not that you’d need my assistance,” Magnus says with a small laugh. “Between you, your siblings, and our favorite biscuit, I’d say Sebastian has his work cut out for him.”

Alec fiddles with his half-empty mug, feeling oddly bereft. “Yeah.”

“Magnus, you should have called—” Izzy rushes into the kitchen, hair in a loose ponytail. She stops at the sight of the two of them, sharing coffee. “Oh. Was I interrupting?”

There’s something in the way she says it that tugs at Alec’s mind.

“Not at all,” Magnus says smoothly, standing up. “If you’ll excuse me.” He nods at Alec before walking out of the kitchen. Izzy remains behind, tilting her head at him.

 “You okay?” she asks.

“Sure,” Alec says distractedly, thinking of cat eyes and ornate rings and the lingering feeling that he’s forgotten something terribly important. He stares down at his palms, freshly healed and completely unblemished. “I’m good.”

  

*

  

“Magnus is going to try and track Sebastian,” Izzy says, after Magnus has left. Alec’s still in the kitchen, idly playing with the rim of his empty mug.

“Okay,” Alec says, trying to focus. “I’ll talk to Luke. I haven’t seen him since—since.”

“Yeah,” Izzy says, watching him curiously. She sits in the chair across from him, drumming her fingers on the table. “Hey. Talk to me. What’s going on in that head of yours?”

Alec runs a hand through his hair in frustration. “I just. I feel like I’m missing something, and I don’t know what.”

Izzy bites her lip. Alec catches her in the act, and narrows his eyes at her.

 “What do you know?” he demands.

Izzy holds up both hands, placating. “I didn’t say anything.”

“But you know,” Alec gets out between clenched teeth. “Izzy, I—” He lets go of the mug, unwilling to let another accident happen today. Instead, he jams his hands in the pocket of his hoodie, letting the exhaustion and anxiety of the past few weeks wash over him. “I feel—all wrong. Like I’m not all here. And I shouldn’t feel that way. I’m back home. I’m with you guys. But I can’t help it, and it’s driving me crazy, and Magnus—” He cuts himself off. 

Izzy watches him shrewdly. “What about Magnus?”

Alec groans. “You’re going to think this is crazy.”

“Try me,” Izzy says, dead serious, and Alec straightens in his chair, suddenly feeling like he’s finally getting somewhere.

“His rings,” he blurts out, and feels a flush creeping up his neck. 

Izzy arches her eyebrows. “His rings?” she echoes.

He’s already started, and figures he might as well see it through to the end. “I think I’ve seen them before,” he mutters, staring at the wood grains of their kitchen table. “Before, when he was first examining my head. It was just—it was this one memory, and it was all fuzzy, and—this is so stupid,” he groans, “but there was this guy. And we were watching cartoons, I think, and I saw his hands. Just his hands. His rings. And Magnus was wearing some of the same ones.” He forces himself to meet her eyes. “Tell me I’m being stupid.”

Izzy does no such thing. “Alec,” she says slowly. “What do you remember about your wedding?” 

“My—what?” Alec is thrown by the sudden question, but Izzy simply watches him expectantly. He furrows his brow. “Well, it was—it was political. For honor. To restore our name.”

“Yes, yes.” Izzy waves that away impatiently. “The day of. What do you remember?”

Alec thinks. The most important members of the Clave, there to witness the union of the Lightwood and Branwell families. Jace, his best man. Izzy, the maid of honor. Lydia, who looked breathtaking in her dress, even if Alec knew he would never love her as more than a dear friend. Getting ready to draw the wedding runes on each other. And then, the sudden sensation of being unable to breathe, anxiety clawing at his throat, as the ceremony came to an abrupt halt, but why, what could have possibly stopped such an important event, what—

“Alec!” Izzy is leaning over the table, clutching his face in her hands, worry scrawled across her face. His head is killing him, he realizes distantly, and Izzy is shoving a napkin under his nose. He glances at it in bewilderment. When she pulls it away, he sees that it’s covered with blood.

“Oh,” he says softly.

“I shouldn’t have pushed,” Izzy snarls to herself, furious, but Alec taps on her wrist gently.

 “I’m fine,” he reassures her. She doesn’t look like she believes him. His head still pounds with a residual headache, but it’s nothing compared to the realization that he’s not just imagining things. Something is missing. Sebastian had done something to make sure it was lost to him forever.

“What did he do to me?” he whispers, shaking with frustration.

Izzy moves to stand next to him and wraps her arms around him. He presses his face into her neck. “We’ll fix it,” she vows defiantly. “And when we do—oh, Alec. You have something wonderful waiting for you. I promise.”

  

*

  

The tracking spell does no good. Magnus isn’t surprised.

Jocelyn and Clary had brought over an old baby box that had belonged to Sebastian— “Jonathan,” Jocelyn had said hoarsely, eyes red but back still straight and stiff with determination—but it comes up with nothing. 

“Sorry,” he says, sinking back into the cushions of his couch. The baby shoes are old but well-preserved; both fit in the palm of one hand. How could something so tiny grow up to become something so heinous? “I wouldn’t put it past him to make himself untraceable. It could also be that these items have no connection to him anymore. Or he could be—”

“Near water,” Jocelyn says, and Clary claps a hand to her mouth.

“You don’t think—”

“Institute,” Magnus says abruptly, standing and opening a Portal. “Now.”

  

*

  

“So you think he’s in the same place Valentine was?” Jace says, incredulous. “That’s—” 

“Ingenious,” Clary says darkly. “He thought we wouldn’t look there twice. And we didn’t.”

Isabelle makes a hollow, pained noise in her throat. “Are you saying that all of these years, he was—he was—” 

Clary rests a comforting hand on her knee, but the tension doesn’t ease. Isabelle looks furious, but Magnus tears his eyes from her to rest, as always, on Alec. Alec, who’s staring at the floor blankly.

“Alec,” he says, gently. 

“I don’t—” Alec shakes his head, face red with frustration. “It wasn’t the same ship,” he says. “I know that much. But—it was just dark, all the time. I just remember being woken up, going to—going to finish my mission. And then being retrieved by one of his goons. Like cattle. I mean, they even kept me muzzled.” He buries his face in his hands, and Magnus knows he’s not alone in the sensation of wanting to rip Sebastian limb from limb. “Damn it,” Alec exhales, a ragged, pained breath. “I can’t—”

“I could try,” Magnus speaks up, hesitant. “I just—I don’t want to hurt you. The magic performed on you seems to react badly when you come close to remembering something you shouldn’t.”

But Alec only meets his gaze with steely determination. That hasn’t changed. “No,” he says. “Do whatever you need to.”

Magnus drags his chair over so that he’s sitting directly across from Alec. He sits for a second, taking in the sight of his tense shoulders and downturned lips. His brave, brave Alexander—though he’s not his, not anymore. He swallows away his longing and reaches his hands out, summoning has magic to his fingertips. The blue casts shadows on Alec’s face. Magnus smiles reassuringly at Alec. He’s always looked lovely in blue.

Alec’s mind is a vast improvement from when Magnus first saw it. There’s a sense of organization, now, and it brings a sharp sense of relief to Magnus’ chest. He glances around until he finds what he’s looking for, and then envelops it in his magic with infinite care.

The second, separate set of memories has started to loosen, and Magnus does not dare to even breathe as he scans it over. The last time, he’d been foolishly reckless. He won’t make the same mistake this time. He starts at one end—the first time Magnus had offered in a drink, back in his loft—and slowly starts to pull.

He continues in this vein for what feels like hours, always keeping Alec in his awareness. Alec twitches every once in a while, but makes no other sign of distress, so Magnus pushes on. It’s meticulous work, and it’s bumpy, but this is the closest he’s been, and if there’s any hope at all, Magnus will cling onto it until his dying breath.

(He’s always been overdramatic.)

“Ow,” Alec mutters then, and Magnus pulls away, startled.

“Are you all right?” His fingers skim over the stubble at Alec’s jaw. He can’t seem to stop touching him.

“I’m fine.” Alec makes no effort to move away. “But I do remember—water? The smell of it. Sorry. I know it’s not much.”

“Never apologize for this,” Magnus tells him fiercely, and Alec blinks startled eyes at him.

“Were we friends, before?” he suddenly asks, and Magnus’ breath stutters in his throat.

“What did you remember?” There it is, the rising sensation of hope, climbing up his spine.

Alec is looking at him with a mixture of confusion and familiarity, mouth slightly open. “Just—having drinks?” he says uncertainly.  

Magnus feels something inside him shift and he thinks, oh, Alexander, you will surely be the death of me.

Alec frowns. “I wish I could remember more.”

 Magnus is suddenly acutely aware of everyone’s gazes resting on them, and that’s the only thing that prevents him from doing something terribly stupid, like bury himself in Alexander’s arms and pretend that the world has stopped existing outside of the two of them. He moves away, hoping the distance will take the edge off. It doesn’t. “Believe me,” he says hoarsely, “I do too.”

  

*

  

“We can’t just charge in there,” Alec tells them, trying to be the voice of reason. It’s a familiar role, one that he’s stepped into fairly easily since his return. “We have no idea what could be waiting for us.”

“We can scout it out,” Luke offers. “I agree with Alec, by the way. It’s a suicide mission if you just run in there blindly.

“Or,” Jace snarls, “it’ll give us the element of surprise.”

“Will it?” Magnus puts in, unimpressed. “Or will he slaughter us all with the hordes of demons he keeps at his beck and call?”

Jace clenches his jaw.

“Jace,” Izzy says, shaking her head. “You know I get it. But we might only have one shot at this. And we have to do this right.” She steals a quick glance at Alec, who nods at her in support. “For Alec.”

Jace shuts his eyes. Alec reaches for him, clapping a hand on his shoulder. Before—before, maybe his parabatai rune would have tingled with warmth. Now, there’s nothing, but the ache Jace feels is palpable. Alec suspects it mirrors his own. “Fine,” Jace says. “But make it quick.”

“Yes, sir,” Luke drawls, though there’s no meanness to it. Alec glances up, and Luke’s face eases into a smile. “Hey. It’s good to have you back.”

“Thanks,” Alec says, and Luke nods.

“I’ll be in contact with you,” he says. “Let you know what we find out.”

Clary goes with him as he leaves, while Jace and Isabelle venture into the training room, fierce determination in their strides. Magnus, though, remains at the desk, fingers interlocked, deep in thought. Alec takes the opportunity to watch him from beneath his lashes, struggling to reconcile him with the man in his memories who’d called him Alexander with such affection.

“Is there something on my face?” Luckily, Magnus sounds amused. Alec quickly turns away, mortified.

“No,” he mutters. “I was just—thinking.”

Magnus continues to watch him, though he doesn’t push. He never pushes, Alec realizes, though he’s not entirely sure where that comes from. “Do you want to talk about it?” he offers.

Alec scrutinizes him, silent. Magnus’ make-up is, as always, perfect, though it’s more minimal than some of the flashes he’d seen in his memories. He’s wearing dark blue and black, subdued colors, but they’re accented by thick gold chains around his neck. His hair is artfully tousled, with electric blue tips that catch the light.

He’s beautiful, Alec thinks.

“It’s something Izzy and I were talking about earlier,” he begins slowly. “About my wedding. My almost-wedding, I guess.”

Magnus stiffens. It’s subtle, and Alec would have missed it if he hadn’t been watching him so carefully. “What about your wedding?”

“Were you there?” Alec asks, blunt as ever.

“I was,” Magnus says, looking uncharacteristically hesitant.

 Alec blows out a sharp breath. “See, I can’t remember that. I only remember bits and pieces. Me not going through with it after all, but I can’t remember—can’t remember why. Oh, well, Mom was pissed, I remember that. But—” He summons his courage and stares Magnus in the eyes. “Don’t lie to me. Not anymore. When I first woke up, you said you were nothing to me. Now all of a sudden we were—friends? Friendly enough to have drinks? Or was it just a one-time thing?”

“Alec,” Magnus says, painfully soft, eyes suspiciously bright, and Alec stands up.

“No,” he hisses. “Stop—stop looking at me like that.”

Magnus averts his gaze. “Like what?”

 “Like you—like you—” Alec can’t say the words.

“Alexander,” Magnus breathes. He’s standing, now, and for someone shorter than Alec his presence seems to fill the whole room. Alec wants to soak it all in, soak him in, until their souls are so entwined they become something new entirely.

Alec’s eyes are drawn to his hands. He’s only wearing one ring today, a thin, silver ring wrapped around his middle finger. It’s completely different from the rest of his usual fare, so subtle it would be easy to miss. Has he worn it before? He doesn’t think so; he’s only ever seen Magnus wearing ornate pieces, nothing like this. And yet. And yet.

“Where did you get that ring?” He can’t stop looking at it. 

Magnus glances down, expression inscrutable. Then, abruptly, he slips the ring off and places it in Alec’s palm. Alec stares at it in bewilderment, and then looks back at Magnus.

“Give it back to me when you remember,” Magnus says.

“Magnus, I—” Alec begins, but Magnus holds a finger up to his lips, close enough to touch, but not quite. He finds his lips turning up involuntarily, and Magnus smiles at him.

“Hush,” he says. “And do as I say, for once.”

Alec huffs out a laugh. “Has anyone ever told you you’re ridiculously cryptic?”

Magnus closes his eyes briefly. “You know, I’ve heard that once or twice.”

 

*

 

“He’s there, all right,” Luke says grimly, standing with his arms crossed. There’s a quiet murmur of discontent at the declaration. “Different ship, and wards unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Concealments like no other. But if you know how to look—and we do—it’s there.” 

A wave of relief crashes down on Alec. Here they are, then: Sebastian is on a ship in the East River, and Alec is going to kill him and take great pleasure in doing so. Alec isn’t the sort to seek revenge for himself, not really. But for the lives he took, and the pain he caused his siblings—that’s more than enough motivation for him. 

“What sort of numbers are we looking at?” Jace asks briskly. 

“A couple of rogue Shadowhunters are posted as guard,” Luke says. “But that’s not what we should worry about. There’s a dark aura around the place. Demonic. I haven’t felt anything like it in a long time. My hunch is, these aren’t just lower level demons we’re dealing with. Greater level, most likely.”

Magnus looks deeply troubled, a crease appearing between his eyebrows. Alec wants to smooth it away. He fiddles with the zip on his jacket instead. “There was always something dark about it,” he murmurs. “Literally and figuratively. Sebastian is powerful, sure, but not enough—not enough to keep me—” He struggles for words. “—subdued.” He chews on his bottom lip. “Not on his own. There were—there were things he’d inject in me.”

“Sedatives,” Izzy says, scowling. “We drew bloodwork on you, remember? Nothing magical, per se, so it’s unlikely you were taking potions. Whatever way they messed with your memory and morality, it wasn’t done through your blood.”

It makes sense, and Alec knows he’ll need whatever he can get before facing off against Sebastian and his demons. “Yeah,” he says, nodding. “I’ll work on it.” 

“So, two days, then,” Jace says. “And we’ll storm the ship. Simon, can we count on the vampires?”

Simon hesitates. “I’ll do my best,” he says, “but Raphael—”

“He’ll show,” Magnus says. “He killed three vampires from his clan. Raphael is nothing if not possessive.”

“Good,” Izzy stands. “Two days. At sunset.”

 “Can’t wait,” Jace says, grinning.

  

*

  

Later that night, Alec sits on his bed with a spiral notebook open on his lap. He’s got a cheap, plastic pen in his hand, and it’s running on its last dregs of ink. He’s been adding to the list as often as possible, whenever he can remember. It offers him a sense of catharsis, in a way, to see his sins listed out so plainly in black and white on lined paper.

 

1. Dying

 —which, for the record, had been a painful death. Burning, agonizing, watching Izzy cling to him with tears streaming down her face, until it all fell away into something resembling peace.

 

2. Waking up. Becoming the Soldier. In 2025.

3. His first kill.

 —a warlock, in Manhattan, with silver hair and a tail, a quick arrow directly to the heart. 

 

4.  Sebastian

—pale, pale skin, white-blond hair, and pitch-black eyes; a tall, lean build; a cold, unfeeling voice.

 (The sharp, heavy blows of his fists; the expert precision with which he threw daggers between Alec’s ribs; the cruel twist of his smirk.)

 

5. Darkness.

6. The rest of his kills. (Two mundanes, two warlocks, three vampires, four faeries, and three werewolves.)

 

—Anna’s lover, a pretty girl with straight black hair; a vampire with a faint Southern twang; another vampire on his way to see something on Broadway—he remembered dark blood stains on a Playbill, the only remnants of the vampire after he’d faded into dust; a female warlock with concealed dragon wings; four faeries selling faerie fruit to unsuspecting tourists lined up to see the Statue of Liberty; twin werewolf brothers; an older werewolf who’d simply been walking home from work; a mundane couple who’d lived in the apartment next door and had seen everything.

 

Alec restrains himself from flinging the whole notebook across the room. He rubs at his eyelids with the palms of his hands.

 

7. Family: Izzy, Jace, Max. Mom and Dad. The Institute.

8. Friends: Luke, Clary, Jocelyn. Simon. Lydia.

9. Magnus?

 

It always, Alec thinks desolately, comes back to Magnus.

Magnus is the anomaly here: he is the only one in Alec’s previous life that he does not completely remember. He remembers everything about his family. He knows Luke, he knows he used to hate Clary, he vaguely knows Jocelyn. Of course he knows Simon and Lydia. But Magnus—Magnus, who is comfortable in the Institute, who speaks to Izzy and treats her like family; who has Jace’s respect, a thing not easily given—Alec should remember more of him.

And every time he thinks he’s getting close, he finds himself in excruciating pain.

Alec grabs the ring Magnus had given him from his bedside table, holding it up to the dim lamplight. It slides easily over his pinky finger. He plays with it for a few seconds, twirling it around his finger. It’s—pretty, and unobtrusive. Easy to miss, if you didn’t look too closely. He wonders if that’s the point.

He reaches for his phone. Izzy’d given it to him a couple of weeks ago, programmed with the basic contacts. He hasn’t used it much, and never for this, but he finds himself scrolling to Magnus’ name in his address book and opening a blank text.

He types out: sorry I tried to kill you and hits send before he loses his nerve.

“Shit,” he says, his voice loud in his otherwise silent room. Of all the things he could have sent, he went with that?

His phone buzzes. Seeing as you weren’t exactly yourself, I think we can agree to let that one go.

Alec flinches at it. How does Magnus always sound so composed? He makes Alec feel like an insignificant child, sometimes.

(But the rest of the time, he looks at Alec like he’s the most important thing in the world. He doesn’t know how to react to that. He doesn’t think he deserves it. He knows he doesn’t. He doesn’t.)

I’ve been making a list of things I remember, he sends next.

Does it help? Magnus writes back.

I remember everyone I killed, he types in, and then his phone starts buzzing with an incoming call. 

“Don’t do that to yourself,” Magnus says gently when Alec accepts the call. His voice is low and soothing in Alec’s ear.

“Why shouldn’t I?” Alec shoots back heatedly. “I did it, I have to remember them, I have to—”

“It wasn’t you,” Magnus says, quiet but insistent. “I know you. You would never do that. And you wouldn’t have gone down without a fight. They used powerful, dark magic on you.”

“How well do you know me?” Alec gets out of bed and starts pacing his room. “To say something like that so confidently?”

Magnus pauses. “Alec.”

“Why can’t I remember you?” Alec hisses into the phone. “There was—there was a club. You were there. You opened a Portal and left. And there was—an apartment. It was fancy, and you made drinks. You gave Izzy a necklace. But there was—there was more, wasn’t there? That can’t have been it. You were at my wedding. Why would you be at my wedding? Why do I remember your rings? Why—” He breaks off, gasping for breath. His phone clatters onto the floor, both hands coming up to clutch at his head. Fuck.

“Alec!” Magnus’ voice is frantic through the speakers of his phone. Alec picks it up shakily.

“I’m fine,” he mutters. 

“Like hell you are,” Magnus growls. “I’ll Portal over there right now.”

“Magnus.”

“Alec.”

Alec frowns, something occurring to him. “Did you—did you ever call me Alexander?”

Magnus falls silent.

“You did,” Alec says, though he still sounds uncertain. He stares at the tiny ring on his pinky finger as though he will give him all the answers he so desperately seeks. “You used to call me Alexander.”

“I did.” Magnus sounds exhausted, and Alec belatedly realizes it’s well past three A.M.

“I woke you up,” he says, guilty. “Sorry—go back to sleep.”

“I wasn’t sleeping anyway.”

“Still.” Alec pauses. “Will you—will you be here tomorrow? I know we were going to get some extra training in.”

Magnus is silent. “No,” he says. “I have some things to take care of on my end.”

“Oh.” Alec tries not to feel disappointed. “Okay. Goodnight, then.”

“Goodnight, Alec.”

“And—” Alec hurries before Magnus can hang up. He fiddles with the ring nervously. “Thank you. For listening. For—everything.”

Another beat of silence. “For you, always,” Magnus murmurs, and hangs up.

  

*

 

Catarina says, “You call me the second you need me, Magnus Bane, or I’ll throw your entire eyeshadow collection over Brooklyn Bridge.” At Magnus’ disbelieving look, she purses her lips. “Actually, no. I take that back. I’ll give your entire make-up collection to Camille.”

Magnus blanches. “Now, dear, let’s not be hasty.”

Catarina leans forward, eyes narrowed. Magnus gulps down another shot of whiskey—dealing with Catarina often requires such liquid courage. “Don’t you martyr yourself for this,” she hisses, poking him in the chest. 

“I’m no martyr,” Magnus sniffs, but Catarina only snorts.

“You like to think that,” she says with poorly disguised affection. “But you and I both know better.” She sobers up, letting go of him. Magnus automatically smooths out the wrinkles in his shirt. When he looks back at her, she sighs. “You would die for that boy,” she says, softly.

“He died because of me,” he murmurs. “What my father did to him essentially killed the man he was. We were—we were tremendously lucky to get him back at all.”

“And if you get yourself killed tomorrow, he will never forgive himself.” Magnus turns startled eyes on her, and she lifts her shoulders in a light shrug. “I know him, a little. You haven’t shut up about him since the day he killed a Circle member for you.”

“He barely knows me,” Magnus mutters.

“From what you’ve told me, that’s bullshit,” Cat says. “Good God, Magnus, it sounds like the boy is halfway in love with you already.”

“He’s just confused,” Magnus mutters. 

Cat punches him in the arm. It doesn’t hurt, not really, but Magnus still rubs at the spot. “Why do you keep pushing him away? Years ago, you hung onto his every word. You were Tom chasing after Jerry.”

Magnus pulls a face. “We need to work on your metaphors.”

“And you need to stop trying to change the subject.” Cat says, crossing her arms over her chest.

“I’m scared, okay?” Magnus finally snaps. He looks away from her. “I’m terrified for him. After what my father did. I don’t want to hurt him anymore.”

“It could have happened to anyone,” Cat says after a beat of silence. “Any—any other Nephilim.”

“It could have,” Magnus agrees. “But I suspect the punishment would not have been as… skillfully doled out.”

Cat sighs, leaning her head on his shoulder. He welcomes the contact, and they sit on his sofa for a long while: two immortals, forever frozen in time, caught in the fleeting webs made by mortal children.

 “I’m not saying I don’t understand,” she says. “But you must know, Magnus. I only ever want to see you happy. And he gave that to you. I want that for you more than anything.” She pauses. “Ragnor would too.”

You deserve to be happy, Isabelle had said to him once, and so does Alec.

 “Invoking Ragnor now, are we?” Magnus says dryly, nudging her knee with his.

“You know me,” she says, “I play dirty.”

“And I love you for it,” he says solemnly. “Cat. I will do everything I can to save him. You’ve known me for hundreds of years. You know I could never do anything less.”

“Yes. I do know.” Cat heaves a deep sigh. “It’s one of your most annoying quirks.”

“Well. Wish me luck?” Magnus refills their glasses and holds his out. She rolls her eyes and clinks her glass against his. 

“Magnus.” She waits for him to drain his glass before speaking. “You will come back.”

He smiles and raises his empty glass to her. “I will do my best.”

  

*

 

The ship is an unassuming-looking thing, though Magnus realizes that’s exactly the point. To the average eye, it doesn’t exist: mundanes and lesser Shadowhunters would simply sweep their gazes over it, finding their attention drawn to something else more important. But Magnus isn’t average. A wave of his hand and the ship becomes uncloaked, clear and sharp against the docks. 

“There,” Isabelle murmurs, without need. Beside her, Alec is tense, staring at the ship with a clenched jaw. Jace glares at the ship like he wants to set it on fire. Max has an identical look on his face, ready to murder whoever had taken his big brother away from him.

“Can you get us in?” Raphael asks. Magnus quirks an eyebrow, but Raphael only stares at him, unimpressed.

“I’m insulted you even have to ask,” Magnus says. Raphael’s gaze darts from the ship and back to Magnus. Magnus wonders how much he actually knows.

Magnus takes one last look at the group, his hastily patched together family. He’s struck, not for the first time, by how much older the Nephilim all look. Ten years is a long time, after all, even if they’re all only in their early thirties, with the exception of Max. Be safe, he tells them all, and casts a silent protective charm over them. Raphael rolls his eyes when he feels the tingle of magic, but Magnus only grins him at, unapologetic.

“Ready or not,” Magnus says.

He offers Alec a small, reassuring smile, gratified when Alec returns it with one of his own. Closing his eyes, he stretches his arms out, reaching with his magic towards the ship, towards the wards. They’re powerful, all right, magically complex and terribly daunting in their reach. But—and Magnus furrows his brow as he journeys farther into the wards—there’s a sense of familiarity in these wards. He knows this magic signature, knows how this particular brand of magic works. He finds the lock—huge and imposing, kept under heavy-duty chains, and produces the key. 

The lock clicks open. 

“Now,” he commands, and that’s all they need. The Nephilim charge onto the ship with rune-enhanced speed, the rest of them following after.

Magnus immediately spots Sebastian. He leans against the railing with an air of boredom. Magnus yearns to shove him overboard, but suspects it would be a lot harder than it looks. A horde of demons swarm them upon their charge, and Magnus has to focus on defending on himself for the moment.

He disposes of the ones attacking him with relative ease, power flowing through him, well-honed battle instincts guiding him through the fray. When he’s through, only a pile of ichor remains at his feet.

He surveys the scene around him: Jace brutally guts a demon with a glowing seraph blade; Isabelle coils her whip around the neck of another demon until his head literally pops off; Max slashes his enemies down easily with his sword; Raphael and Simon move too quickly to be seen with the naked eye, but the demons are nowhere to be seen once they’re done with them. Luke and a few members of his pack attack the demons with teeth, the sound of tearing flesh echoing in the night. Alec and Clary fight back-to-back, Alec’s arrows finding their targets without error, Clary disposing of the ones that get too close with her own blade.

Battle always feels a lot longer than it actually is. The back of Magnus’ neck is covered with a pale sheen of sweat, and his head is buzzing with adrenaline. He glances over at where he’d seen Sebastian, just in time to see him stealthily attempt to escape below deck. Magnus stalks towards him—not, he thinks with a snarl, on his watch.

He freezes him in place with a snap of his fingers. Sebastian cranes his neck, annoyance flickering over his features.

“Warlock,” he greets, almost pleasantly.

“I couldn’t help but notice you were trying to leave the festivities early,” Magnus says, orbs of magic hovering above both palms. He smiles. “That’s awfully rude of you. I throw the best parties, you know.”

“Oh, I have heard all about your parties,” Sebastian sneers.

“And you are the guest of honor at this one, no less.” Magnus tilts his head. “Didn’t your father teach you any manners?”

“Didn’t yours?” Sebastian smirks, and Magnus sends a deadly current of energy towards his heart. Sebastian twists out of its way, breaking out of his frozen state and darting down the stairs. Magnus pursues him. 

Sebastian is nowhere to be found, naturally, concealing himself against Magnus in the pitch blackness of the room. Keeping his senses on high alert, Magnus slowly scans the perimeter of the room. The light blue of his magic casts eerie shadows against the old walls of the ship, and he comes to an abrupt halt in front of a hard, metal chair.

 It’s a grotesque imitation of the chairs found in a dentist’s office, all cold steel and no cushioning. Magnus kneels in front of it, tapping at the seat. It echoes dully in the room. Out of morbid curiosity, he takes a seat, and as soon as he does, magical restraints wrap themselves around his wrists, his ankles, his neck.

Ice runs through him as he realizes exactly what this chair was for.

“No!” Alec dashes across the room, eyes wide, and begins grappling with the restraints. “No, you can’t—you have to get out of here, he’ll—” 

Magnus breathes out, curling his fingers, and the restraints disappear. Alec’s hands drop limply to his side, his eyes roving Magnus’ face frantically. 

“I’m okay,” Magnus murmurs, standing and reaching out to touch his shoulder. “I’m fine.”

Alec clenches his hands into tight fists. “Good—I—duck,” he suddenly barks, and Magnus drops to the floor in time for Alec to release an arrow. Magnus turns to see the arrowhead embed itself into Sebastian’s chest with no little satisfaction. Seconds later, the illusion disappears.

“That’s no way to greet an old friend,” Sebastian says, spreading his arms wide. “You’ve acquired some terrible habits, Soldier.”

Alec nocks another arrow and keeps his eyes and breathing steady.

“You were an excellent soldier,” Sebastian goes on. “Perfect, really. Followed my commands without asking. Disposed of such tainted creatures so effortlessly. Of course, I trained you myself. I made you far better than they ever could have. Why would you throw it all away?”

“Because you’re a sick, twisted bastard,” Alec says, and lets the arrow fly. 

His aim is true, as it always is, but Sebastian knocks it away with an unlit seraph blade and charges forward before Alec can nock another arrow. Alec goes on the defensive, using his bow to counter Sebastian’s blade—now bright white and lit with fire.

“Why did you do it?” Alec grunts as he dodges a swipe to the neck. Magnus sees that he’s flagging, and aims a pulse of magic at the back of Sebastian’s head while he’s distracted. It finds its mark, and Sebastian whirls around, furious, to fling the seraph blade in Magnus’ direction. Magnus side-steps it; it embeds itself in the wall behind him.

Sebastian doesn’t see, too busy focusing on Alec. “Why?” he spits out. “You should be flattered you were chosen. You were only ever the spare. My father wanted Jace, but he thought he could manipulate your parabatai bond.” Alec leaps back to dodge the punch aimed at his jaw. “But you surprised him. You surprised me, too.” Sebastian’s lips curl. “I had to resort to… extraordinary measures to keep you.”

“What?” Alec falters. “What—what measures?” 

“Why don’t you ask your warlock friend?” Sebastian says derisively. “Well, if you make it out alive, that is.” He takes advantage of Alec’s distraction to snatch his bow away from him and shove him back against the wall, the drawstring digging into Alec’s neck. Magnus sends a shock of magic at Sebastian’s back. Sebastian takes the hit, and draws another seraph blade from a sheath strapped to his thigh. “Michael, he utters, and the blade springs into life. 

There’s no time to think. Magnus wrenches the blade from the wall, makes a sharp gesture with both hands, and takes Alec’s place.

Sebastian freezes instantly, blade hovering inches from Magnus’ heart. Magnus scrutinizes him, knows that he’s imbued with his father’s protection, rendering him immune to most if not all of Magnus’ magic-based attacks. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Alec rushing towards them.

“Stop!” Magnus yells. “Trust me.” Please.

Sebastian twirls the blade in his grasp. “I’m not meant to kill you,” he says conversationally. “That wasn’t part of the agreement.” 

“Yes,” Magnus says. “And I’m not meant to kill you, either. I’d intended on saving that pleasure for Alexander here. But you know how it goes. Things change.”

Sebastian’s face twists into a cruel grimace, eyes pure black. Demon blood, Magnus realizes. “Yes,” Sebastian drawls. “On that, we do agree.”

Sebastian raises the blade. It’s white and blindingly bright.

You will come back, Cat had said to him, and over Sebastian’s shoulder, Magnus sees Alec, waiting tensely, arrow nocked. Trusting him.

Magnus grips the seraph blade in his hand and thinks desperately of his father. 

Instantly, the blade is bathed in deep crimson. Sebastian’s eyes widen in surprise and Magnus wastes no time. He does not wait for a perfect, final moment. He has waited ten years. He thinks it’s been long enough.

He thrusts the blade upward in a sharp, precise motion. He stares, arrested at the sight of the red blade piercing into Sebastian’s heart. Blood seeps around the entry point of the wound, staining the hilt.

Sebastian gasps. “How—”

Magnus twists him around so that he’s facing Alec. The blade digs further into his chest. He twitches in Magnus’ grip. “Don’t flatter yourself,” he murmurs in a low drawl. “Remember this: I’m more angel and demon than you could ever hope to be.”

 He meets Alec’s eyes. I’d hold him down for you, he’d told him, and offers him Sebastian now. Alec sets his jaw, a determined grimace on his lips, and lets the arrow fly. Sebastian falls limp as the arrow pierces his neck. Blood stains Magnus’ shirt. He finds he doesn’t care. He drops Sebastian to the floor.

 “Alec,” he says, the rush of battle abruptly leaving him at the sight of Alec’s pale face. “Listen, I—” But he doesn’t finish; the ship explodes, and there is only the abrupt sensation of falling. The last thing he sees is Alec, wide-eyed, reaching for him.

 

*

 

There are some things Magnus will never forget:

—the first time he performed magic, a simple little thing, the act of repairing a glass he had accidentally knocked onto the floor as a child

—the first time he met Alexander at Pandemonium, an avenging angel in all of his glory

—Peru, and all of the adventures he had there with Ragnor and Cat

—his mother, swinging lifelessly from the roof of their barn

 —his father (step-father, he supposes), so much bigger than him, holding his head under the water even as he struggled and flailed and tried to overthrow him, as he began to grow lightheaded and the life began to leave him 

It’s too much, he thinks dimly. He’s used too much magic. He’s exhausted. He’s so, so tired.

But—

Alexander.

He bats his eyes open, water rushing into his lungs. He chokes, sputters. Alexander. He has to—he has to—

An arm wraps around his shoulders and tugs him up against the current—he catches a glimpse of dark runes on pale skin and relaxes into the hold. Oh, Alexander, he thinks, allowing relief to seep into the marrow of his bones, and gives himself up to the cold and dark.

 

 

TBC

 

 

Chapter Text

IV.

 

Only one thing really matters:

We’re still here. We’re still here.

 

 

There was a time, once—

It was the third anniversary of Alec’s death, and over the last months, the pain had dulled to a vague throb in the center of his chest. Grief was a funny thing that way. While most days the pain was a faded ache that he’d kept carefully tucked away beneath layers of armor, there were certain days—the day they first met, Alexander’s birthday, their first date, the day he died—that the armor fell away and the pain came roaring back with a vengeance. 

The first year, he’d spent in his loft with Cat, drinking and watching crappy horror movies until the sun dawned. The second, he’d run away to London to visit Tessa, staring out at the Thames as they drank pint after pint and reminisced.

There was no one to distract him today. Cat was working an overtime shift, though she’d offered to call in sick to spend the day with him, which he’d denied. Instead, he ventured down to Pandemonium, intent on taking the pain away. He drank and drank, drinks imbued with the sort of illicit Downworlder substances that would make the Clave shudder. Hours passed in this way, a blur of pounding music and hot, sweat-slick skin, until Magnus found himself in one of the private booths with one of the Fair Folk, gasping against his mouth. 

No words were exchanged, simply moans and harsh breaths as they rutted against each other, desperate for release. The music blared around them, and Magnus bit down into the faerie’s collarbone, pinning him down as his hips jerked and he came all over Magnus’ hand. The faerie grinned at him lazily before sinking down onto his knees. Magnus let his head fall back, relishing the feel of warm, wet tongue before he spent himself in the faerie’s mouth.

They parted without any further conversation. Magnus arranged his clothes so that they were impeccable once more, and summoned a Portal back to his loft, suddenly exhausted.

He ran himself a bath, and tossed in a lavender bath bomb as he undressed.  When the bubbles were to his liking, he sank down into the water. The temperature was perfect—he’d long since mastered the art of running the perfect bath. The scent of lavender tickled his nose. It was lovely. He’d always loved baths. 

He wondered if Alexander had ever enjoyed the luxury of a bath. He didn’t seem the sort. He probably only ever took quick, practical showers.

Three years, and an immortal lifetime to go.

He buried his face into his hands and began to sob.

  

*

  

Alec watches the steady rise and fall of Magnus’ chest from his seat at Magnus’ bedside. Catarina runs a quick diagnostic spell and rests a hand on Magnus’ forehead, affectionate exasperation on her face as she does so. 

“He’ll be okay?” Alec’s voice is tiny, even to his ears.

“Yes.” Catarina turns to face him. “He has a classic case of magical exhaustion. A few scrapes here and there, but he is miraculously whole otherwise. I’ve done all I can. He just needs to rest now. He’ll wake up on his own within a few hours.”

Alec swallows. “Good. That’s—good. Thank you.”

Catarina watches him closely. “You should be resting too,” she says, not unkindly. “You’ve all been through a lot.”

“I’m fine,” Alec says automatically. “Really.”

“I know you are,” Catarina says. “Out of everyone, you have the least amount of injuries. Curious, isn’t it?”

Unwittingly, Alec’s gaze drifts to Magnus’ slumbering figure. “I got lucky.”

“I know you did,” Catarina says, and sighs. “Take care of him, Alec Lightwood.”

Alec blinks at her, but Catarina’s already moving towards the door.

“Well, I’ll go check on the rest of your family. Don’t worry,” she says right as Alec opens his mouth to ask, “I got all of the poison out. Your brother will be fine. Your sister’s leg is healing nicely, and I’ve also taken care of Clary’s concussion.” She pauses at the doorway. “Take care of him,” she repeats.

Alec nods. “Yeah, I—of course.”

Catarina nods back and exits the room. Alec resumes staring at Magnus’ face—devoid of make-up, hair soft and dark. Like this, he looks deceptively gentle. Like this, no one could possibly guess what he is actually capable of: death and destruction, all with a snap of his fingers.

Alec’s gaze is drawn to Magnus’ hands once again. He has a gleaming golden cuff ring on the middle finger of his right hand; on his left index finger he has a ring with a large oval sapphire. Alec pulls out the thin, silver ring from his pocket. It looks nothing like what Magnus would ever choose for himself.

“Who are you?” Alec whispers, reaching for him. He stops himself in time, fingers scant inches away from Magnus’ wrist. When he looks back at Magnus’ face, he’s awake, eyes gold and wide.

Alec sucks in a breath, but doesn’t say anything. Magnus doesn’t, either. They simply sit there, staring at each other. Alec is struck by the pain and unconcealed hunger reflected in Magnus’ eyes.

“You’re safe,” Magnus says hoarsely.

“You held him down for me,” Alec says, equally roughly, remembering their conversation in the kitchen mere days ago.

“I would kill anyone who ever tried to hurt you,” Magnus says without hesitation, no glamour or make-up, simply Magnus, and Alec has to close his eyes at the sight of him.

 “Why?” he murmurs, eyes still shut. “Why would you—”

When he opens his eyes, Magnus is smiling at him, soft and painful and lonely. Alec’s read Magnus’ file in the Institute. He’s over four hundred years old. What could he have possibly seen to smile like that?

“You pulled me out of the water,” Magnus says then. “Thank you.”

“You don’t like the water,” Alec says automatically, and freezes. In front of him, Magnus makes a strangled noise. Alec lurches forward, hands fisting into the sheets. The ring digs painfully into the creases of his palm. He meets Magnus’ eyes, terrified.

“How do I know that?” he asks.

“I don’t—”

Answer me.” Alec feels a lump in his throat. “You know. You know what I’m missing. Because that’s how I feel, you know?” He chokes out a laugh. “Do you know what it feels like, to feel like you’re missing something, that you’re not whole, that—”

“Alec—” Magnus turns away, shoulders hunched. “I wish I could.”

“You can.” Alec refuses to move. “What’s stopping you?”

Magnus stares at the wall, away from Alec. “Something that could make things a million times worse.”

Magnus’ jaw is set, and Alec realizes he isn’t going to get anywhere. He’s so—so frustrated at the secrets Magnus insists on keeping from him. But then, what does Magnus owe him, really? Maybe he’s just imagining things. Maybe it all means nothing. Maybe a ring—is just a ring.

“The seraph blade,” he says then, remembering the unnatural way the blade had flared the color of blood in Magnus’ grip. “It shouldn’t have activated for you.”

Magnus says nothing.

Alec says, warily, “Who is your father?”

Magnus lets out a small, hysterical laugh. “You sure got there quickly,” he gasps out.

Alec narrows his eyes. “Magnus.”

Magnus scans the room, focusing on a short, three-legged table by the window. Alec follows his gaze, seeing a witchlight resting on top of it. Magnus curls his fingers in a come-hither motion, and the witchlight appears in his palm. Alec bites back an exclamation as the stone glows deep, dark red. It’s beautiful, in a striking, unexpected way. Like Magnus’ eyes, he thinks.

“Alec, we—” Izzy bursts into the room and stops in her tracks, eyes fixed on the witchlight. Her mouth falls open.

Magnus drops the stone. Alec can read the tenseness in his shoulders, and knows what he’s going to do even before he does it. 

“No, don’t—” But Magnus smiles at him, sad and regretful, and turns the bed into a Portal, disappearing into its depths. Alec tries to follow after him, but is violently shut out. He glares at the empty space where Magnus had lain.

Izzy crosses the room, fingertips skimming the witchlight. It glows white under her touch. Alec misses the red.

“Give him time,” she says. Alec figures she’s already put two and two together. “It’s—a lot. He used up almost all of his magic. Catarina said it was one of the worst cases she’d ever seen.”

“He still had enough to make a Portal,” says Alec bitterly.

“He can be a bit of a drama queen,” Izzy says fondly.

Magnus Bane,” Catarina thunders, storming into the room and glowering heatedly at the wrinkled sheets Magnus had left behind. “When I get my hands on you—”

“If you don’t mind,” Alec says mildly, “I’d like to see him first.”

Catarina transfers her furious gaze to Alec, who receives it without flinching. Her anger melts into something resembling acceptance, and she nods briskly. “You’d better not let him off easy.”

“Oh, I won’t,” Alec promises, still clutching the ring in his fist.

  

*

 

The pentagram is faultless, Magnus notes with a critical eye. It has to be, for this particular summoning. It’s something he never thought he’d have to do again. Then again, he’s always been the naïve sort.

Aches from the battle still linger in his bones, but there’s no time to dwell on that now. He draws himself up to his fullest height and begins the summoning.

A faint breeze, and the tangy scent of sulfur tickling his nose—and Magnus opens his eyes to see identical ones staring back at him. The first time Magnus had summoned him and seen his eyes, he’d kept the glamour on for weeks, even asleep.

“My son,” Asmodeus says, thin lips stretching into an emotionless smile.

“You know why I have called you,” Magnus says, matter-of-factly. “I have questions, and you have answers.”

His father inclines his head. “You may ask your questions, and I will answer. But there is a price. There is always a price. Are you willing to pay it?”

“Yes,” Magnus says, and Asmodeus’ smile fills with glee.

“Well, then.” He tilts his head, watching Magnus carefully. “Ask away.”

“Why—” Magnus breaks off, and starts again. “Why did you do it?”

Asmodeus hums thoughtfully. “It was not my idea to begin with. Contrary to what you may think, I am quite busy ruling my realm. But that Valentine man. Such a greedy, twisted soul. He had a plan, and he needed your—ah, friend.” His lips curl. “He needed help of the demonic variety. Lilith asked me, as a personal favor. You know I’m quite talented at memory manipulation, of course. You’ve inherited that from me.” He smiles at Magnus with something akin to pride, and Magnus forces himself not to flinch away from it. “But imagine—imagine! My shock when I went through little Alexander’s memories and discovered just how involved the two of you were.” He shakes his head. “Who was I to look a gift horse in the mouth?”

Magnus flushes with anger. He can feel it, the heat seeping into his cheeks and the back of his neck. It’s an ugly, human reaction. Asmodeus notices it, of course, and grins.

“But, my son, you were always going to lose him anyway. What’s a decade or five to us immortals?” he croons, reaching for Magnus in a twisted mockery of paternal affection.

Magnus keeps his feet solidly planted on the floor, knowing that Asmodeus can’t take one step out of the pentagram. “Why didn’t you permanently delete his memories?” he challenges him next. “It would have been easier than what you did, separating them and hiding them away like that.”

“Because,” Asmodeus says, relishing every word of the conversation. “Hope is a far more potent poison than anything I could ever concoct.”

Magnus swallows, knowing he’s fallen exactly where his father wanted him to. “Will he ever get them back completely?”

“I believe he’s already started to, no thanks to you.” He doesn’t sound displeased. “It’s only a matter of time. It was never designed to be permanent.”

“But why—”

“You know as well as I do that an immortal life can be so terribly boring,” Asmodeus drawls, picking at his cufflinks. “But every now and then, something comes along that is so very entertaining. I believe the mundanes have their soap operas, do they not? And I have you.”

Magnus can’t. Not anymore. He closes his eyes. “I’m finished,” he says. “Name your price.”

“Today, I want nothing from you.” Magnus opens his eyes in surprise. “Rather, I have a gift for you.” 

A gift. Magnus eyes him dubiously. Asmodeus inhales deeply and produces a tangled web of red magic. He floats it gently towards Magnus, who catches it with a protective net of blue.

“What is this?”

“Your Alexander’s memories,” Asmodeus says, with a cruel smirk, “from the years 2016 through 2025.”

Magnus stumbles.

“Yes,” Asmodeus hisses, gathering all of Magnus’ pain to him. Magnus watches as he drinks it all in, swallowing blue wisps of light down. “Your pain always did taste the best. Exquisitely so.”

“Leave,” Magnus snarls, deactivating the pentagram. “Get out.” His father disappears in a cloud of black smoke, and Magnus falls to his knees, clutching Alec’s memories to his chest.

“What now?” he asks, desperate.

There is no answer.

  

*

  

Alec dreams.

But for once, it is not a dream bathed in blood. Rather, it’s warm and familiar. He’s in his bedroom, lying face-down on his bed, and Izzy is poking him incessantly in his ribs.

 “Iz,” he groans. “Leave it alone.”

“Not a chance in hell,” she says cheerfully. “Up, up, up, big brother! It’s your two-month anniversary! You’re going out tonight, right? Going to do something special?”

Alec peeks at her from beneath his bangs. “Now is hardly the time,” he says, irritated. “With Jace gone and Valentine on the loose—”

“One evening off,” Izzy interrupts him. “You deserve it. Don’t you think, Clary?”

Clary emerges from his tiny closet, holding a couple of shirts over her arm. “Of course,” she says warmly. “Somebody—somebody should be happy around here.”

Alec stares at the topmost shirt on her arm. “That shirt is pink,” he points out. “I don’t have pink shirts.”

“Green would probably be better,” Clary agrees. “It would bring out your eyes.”

“Nobody is bringing out my eyes,” Alec sputters. “And—and—where did the two months come from anyway? We haven’t. We haven’t really. What?”

“Two months since the best wedding crash of the century!” Izzy enthuses. “And what a kiss it was. Have you been practicing?” She narrows her eyes at him. “Who have you been practicing with?”

Alec flings a pillow at her. She catches it easily, and loops her arms around his neck. “I’m so happy for you,” she murmurs.

“Did you get him a gift?” Clary asks distractedly, holding up various shirts to the light. She tosses a few of them aside. Alec freezes in Izzy’s hold.

“Gift?” he says, blandly.

“Oh, um.” Clary turns wide eyes on Izzy, who makes a quick zipping gesture across her lips. “I—nothing. I said—nothing.” 

“Am I supposed to get him a gift?” Panic rises in Alec’s throat. Forget the fact that seconds ago he’d been denying any kind of milestone in their questionable relationship. “Oh. Shit. Am I—what am I supposed to—”

“Breathe,” Izzy says, rubbing soothing circles on his back. “I don’t—I don’t think a gift is necessary,” she says slowly. “But you could, I don’t know, maybe get him some flowers. Maybe.”

“Seriously,” Clary says, nodding rapidly. “I didn’t mean a big gift, or anything like that. Just—sometimes, mundanes do that kind of thing. But mostly for bigger anniversaries. The yearly ones.” She furrows her brow. “I’m not sure if the two-month anniversary of crashing your wedding really counts, to be honest.”

“Of course it does,” Izzy says heatedly. Clary raises both hands up, pacifying.

“Okay, you two need to get out,” says Alec. “Now.”

Izzy and Clary grumble, but it’s mostly for show. “Wear the green shirt,” Clary hisses at him as they leave, and Alec throws another pillow at the door. Their giggles echo in the hallway as he attempts to strangle himself with his blankets.

A gift, he thinks miserably, staring at the floor. There is—there is one thing. But he couldn’t possibly—

He rolls off his bed and opens up the drawer of his bedside table. There are only a few things inside: a spare stele, a couple of pens, and a small, navy pouch.

He takes the pouch and undoes the drawstring, shaking the contents out onto his palm. A small ring falls out, and he holds it up to the light. It’s polished silver, a skinny circle that has no carvings or decorations whatsoever. Izzy has a few of them, but she always wears them in stacks on her fingers. He fits it over his pinky. It’s pretty, he thinks, in a subtle sort of way. But would he—could he actually give it to him? Would he take it? Or would he laugh in his face?

Why had he even bought it in the first place? It wasn’t like he’d gone out with the intention of buying anything specifically for him. Not at all. He’d been out buying groceries—because he was the only one that ever bothered to do so, lest they subsist on take-out forever—and it had started raining, and he’d ducked into the nearest store for shelter. A little bodega, selling odds and ends. The rings were next to the gum, and he’d thought they looked nice, and—

He groans. It was just so simple, so plain. Nothing like the stuff Magnus usually wore. He would probably take it out of politeness and toss it out the first chance he got.

“You can do this,” he murmurs to himself after wallowing in his own despair, dropping the ring back into its pouch and setting it on his bed. He gets ready in a practiced, methodical fashion, showering and towel-drying his hair. After much consideration, he slips the forest-green shirt over his shoulders, buttoning it up while taking calm, steadying breaths.

He manages to sneak out undetected, and his feet automatically take him to the subway station, where he folds himself into one of the available seats and tries to make himself as unobtrusive as possible.

A few stops later, he disembarks and begins the trek. The sun is beginning to set, casting the streets of Brooklyn in a dull orange glow. The path is familiar to him, and his heart tightens in his chest with anticipation as he grows closer to his destination.

He rings the buzzer. “Come on up,” the voice says, warm even through the static, and Alec shoves his hands in his pockets and clutches the velvet pouch tighter as he climbs the stairs.

He stops in front of a door. A door he’s seen a dozen times before. He raises his hand to knock, but it swings open on its own.

Alec can’t speak. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but part of it still does. The puzzle pieces slot into place, and he feels like he can finally take a deep, cleansing breath after drowning in confusion for so long.

“Alexander,” Magnus murmurs, reaching for him.

“Magnus,” he chokes out, and finally, finally—

—wakes up.

 

*

  

Magnus hasn’t slept in over twenty-four hours. A few clients have come calling, but he’s ignored them, holed up in his bedroom with Alexander’s memories cradled carefully in his palms. He’s trembling with exhaustion, and he hasn’t showered, and he wants to scream.

His buzzer rings, but he ignores it again in favor of torturing himself with the same questions. Should he see what’s inside the memories? Should he give them back to Alexander? But what if it’s too much, what if it’s something he can never recover from? What if—

Thudthudthud. Magnus furrows his brow at the sound of somebody pounding on his front door. He raises a shaky hand to his shield his eyes from the light, from the world. He’s in no condition to entertain company, whether they be Downworlders, mundanes, or Nephilim. He flicks a hand sharply in the direction of his front door, silencing the noise.

But then his phone starts to buzz in his pocket, and he pulls it out to see Alec’s name flashing on the screen. A pang strikes him in the chest, and he rejects the call. Alec is probably standing outside his door, but he can’t face him. Not right now.

His phone buzzes again, this time with a text.

I remember, is all it says, and Magnus forces himself to his feet and stumbles clumsily to the door, throwing it open and—oh.

Alexander stands before him, hair unkempt, dark bags beneath his eyes. He looks as though he’s aged a decade overnight. Possibly he has. But he looks at him the way he did ten years ago, with longing and familiarity and Magnus reaches for him, only for Alec to storm into the apartment and sink heavily onto the couch.

“Alec—”

“Wait.” Alec rubs his palms over his eyes, shoulders hunched.

Magnus has waited ten years. He can hardly bear another second, but for Alec, he does. He watches Alec with a quiet hunger, wanting—just, wanting. Abruptly, Alec rises to his feet and rounds on Magnus, furious. Magnus thinks he’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, even with all that anger directed at him. “Why didn’t you give me my memories back?”

Magnus shakes his head. “Alec—”

“What? Did you decide you didn’t want me anymore? After being without me for ten years you saw life was better without me after all?”

Magnus jerks back, horrified. “Don’t—”

“Why didn’t you give me back my memories of you?” Alec seizes him by the shoulders, looming over him. His eyes flicker over Magnus’ face, desperate and confused and angry. “Because the only thing I can think—is that you didn’t want me to remember you. Us. You didn’t want my—my baggage.”

Magnus shakes his head immediately. “Never think that,” he whispers. “But I couldn’t risk your mind. The magic used on you was extremely dangerous. They didn’t want you to remember me. If I pushed too hard, there was no telling the damage I might have caused. You were already getting headaches and nosebleeds at the slightest push. And I thought—even if you never remembered me, at least—well. At least I was the only one who suffered. You would have never known.” 

He raises a trembling hand to cup Alec’s jaw. He swallows at the sensation of it, having given up on ever being able to touch him like this again. “You could have started over. Met someone new. Seen the world.”

“I don’t want the world,” Alec says, reaching up and holding Magnus’ hand in place. “I want you.”

Magnus squeezes his eyes shut, and lowers his head, resting his face in the hollow of Alec’s throat. He breathes him in, and Alec slips his arms around Magnus’ back, pulling them flush together. Magnus swallows against the lump in his throat.

“Magnus,” Alec murmurs, and when Magnus leans back to look at him he’s horrified to see the anguish written on every contour of Alec’s face. “Magnus,” he chokes out again. “We’ve already lost ten years.”

Magnus lets out a sob at that, and Alec leans down and kisses him with ten years’ worth of longing. Magnus twines his arms around him and pulls him impossibly closer.

Ah, there you are, he thinks, trading warm, quiet breaths in the middle of his living room with the man he’d thought lost to him forever. I’ve missed you. So, so much.

   

*

  

Alec knows he’s being a little clingy, but to be fair, Magnus is too. They’re lying in bed, stripped down to thin cotton t-shirts and boxers, limbs entwined, breathing quietly in the otherwise silent room.

“I think part of me always knew,” he murmurs, and Magnus presses a kiss to his Adam’s apple. Alec shivers as he goes on. “There was something about you. You were too important to forget.”

“I don’t deserve you,” Magnus says in response, cradling his jaw in his hands like he’s something infinitely precious. Alec used to turn away from such gestures, but he soaks it in now, never wanting to leave this place, this bed, this man.

“You never used to say things like that,” Alec teases, but it falls flat at the look on Magnus’ face. It’s an expression Alec isn’t used to seeing on his face: self-loathing. He hates it immediately; it doesn’t belong there. He smooths it away with a lingering kiss.

“I have to tell you something,” Magnus says in a rush when they pull apart, “and I’m afraid that I’ll lose my nerve if you interrupt. So just—just let me say my piece, darling, and then you can say yours.”

Alec pushes himself up to his elbows. Magnus still looks uneasy, but whatever this is, it’s clearly important to him. “Okay,” he says, resting his head on his pillow. His hand seeks out Magnus’, interlocking their fingers together.

Magnus stares at their hands, and then takes a deep breath. “Sebastian didn’t act alone, but I think you already suspected that. He had a little bit of help, especially when it came to you.” Alec watches the taut line of his jaw, listens to the bitterness in his voice as he goes on. “He enlisted the help of a demon, one particularly adept at memory magic.” He pauses. “A demon—a demon that I inherited my magic from.”

Alec goes very, very still. Magnus still won’t look at him, but loosens his hold on Alec’s hand. Giving him the choice. Letting him run, if he so chooses.

“My father is a Greater Demon,” Magnus continues. “But more than that, he is a Prince of Hell. His name,” he says, tone carefully even, “is Asmodeus.”

Alec blinks rapidly. Perhaps Magnus hadn’t needed to warn him not to interrupt. He’s not sure what to say. It—it makes sense, he realizes suddenly; the sheer enormity of Magnus’ powers could not have come from a lower-level demon. And the witchlight, and the seraph blade too, coming to life under his touch, reacting to the angel blood flowing through his veins. His mother would love that, he thinks hysterically, that the Downworlder she so loathed could technically claim more angel blood than she ever could.

“He would have done it to whomever Sebastian brought to him.” Magnus stares off into the distance. Alec wonders where’s he gone, what he’s looking at, and if he can bring him back. “But because it was you, he took extra care to make it more painful.” Abruptly, he turns to face Alec, gripping his hand tightly. “He hurt you because of me, and I will never be able to forgive myself for it.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Alec hisses, clutching Magnus’ hand back, an anchor in the terrifying storm. “No more than I have to be sorry for my parents’ sins. You told me that.”

Magnus chokes out a laugh. “I’m not finished.”

Alec waits.

“I summoned my father yesterday,” he says, and Alec jerks in surprise. He squeezes Magnus’ hand tighter.

“What did he want from you?” he demands, voice thrumming with panic. “Magnus. What did you give him?”

The look Magnus gives him is filled with such longing and adoration that Alec can’t help but close his eyes at the sight of it. Magnus brushes his fingers lightly against the rune on his neck. “I don’t deserve you,” he says again, and presses a finger to Alec’s lips when he opens his mouth to protest. “Let me finish. Please.”

Alec bites his lip, impatient.

“He didn’t ask anything of me,” Magnus says slowly. “He gave me something, instead.” He raises a hand and curls his fingers into a fist, then snaps his fingers. An orb consisting of dark red wisps appears in his palm, glowing eerily in the dimly lit room. Alec stares at it, brow furrowed. What could it possibly—

“These are your missing memories,” Magnus says quietly. Alec turns wide, frightened eyes upon him. “From the years 2016 through 2025. It seems he kept them for his own perverse amusement.” Alec opens his mouth to speak, but the words are stuck in his throat. “I thought—I thought it best to give you a choice. I will do whatever you want with them. I can throw them away. I can give them back. Or—anything. Anything you want, Alexander.”

Alec watches him, and knows that he means every word. I would kill anyone who ever tried to hurt you, he’d told Alec in the infirmary. Magnus, you’re wrong, he wants to say, I don’t deserve you.

“I want them back,” he says hoarsely. “I know they can’t be anything good. But they’re mine. I have to own them.”

“Whatever you see, promise me one thing,” Magnus says, eyes beginning to glow gold. “Remember that it wasn’t you. It wasn’t, sweetheart. It was Sebastian. It was my father. It was not—it was never you.”

Alec forces himself to nod. “I’ll—I’ll try.” A thought occurs to him. “Will you—will you be able to see them with me? The memories, I mean.”

Magnus hesitates. “If you want me to, I can. If you don’t want me to, I can also block them out. Not completely, but enough to make things hazy.” Alec stares at the wrinkled sheets beneath them, wishing they could give him an answer. “It doesn’t have to be tonight. Or tomorrow, even. Whenever you want.” Alec’s eyes flicker towards the clock hanging on Magnus’ wall. It’s a little after four in the morning.

There’s something comforting about being in Magnus’ bed in his extravagant Brooklyn loft. The sun hasn’t yet risen, and here, it’s all too easy to pretend that it’s just the two of them in the whole world. That Sebastian never happened. That Valentine never happened. That they’re just two ordinary men in any ordinary world, no magic, no angels, no demons.

But that isn’t the world they’ve been given, and Alec is through running away. Magnus watches him steadily, with so much love in his eyes Alec can barely stand it. He’s awful with words, always has been, and Magnus makes him stutter and trip over his thoughts constantly.

So he buries himself into Magnus’ embrace, pressing his face into his collarbone. “I’m scared,” he whispers into Magnus’ skin. “I think I’d be better if you were there with me. But you might not want me anymore after you see what I’ve done. What—what they made me do.”

“It wasn’t you,” Magnus says immediately, curling a leg around his knee and tugging him closer. “And I will always want you. As long as you want me. Even longer.”

Alec exhales into Magnus’ neck and gathers his courage. He pulls away, staring directly into Magnus’ eyes.

“Let’s do it,” he says.

  

*

 

The drugs were making him hazy, but Alec fought it as much as he could. It was all he could do. He knew it was inevitable, that he wouldn’t be able to win this particular battle, but he would resist it with everything he had, until—until—

“Why do you fight so hard?” That wasn’t Sebastian’s voice, he thought groggily. The voice was slick and crisp, each syllable carefully enunciated. Polished. The words were spoken with a scientific curiosity, as though he were an experiment to be studied.

“Fuck off,” Alec snarled with as much strength as he could muster.

An amused chuckle. “You sure have fire in you,” he said. “Perhaps that’s what my son sees in you.”

“Your—what?” he gritted out, struggling to see straight. Everything was blurry. He was seeing double.

“My son,” the voice said again, as cold fingers grip his chin and study him with clinical detachment. He reeled back at the sight of golden cat eyes, staring at him with contempt and amusement. So similar to ones he’s seen before, and yet so different.

“No,” he muttered. “No, no—”

“You can fight all you want, but you won’t win,” he said, almost kindly. “But if it makes you feel any better, by all means.”

“Stop,” he said, panic rising in him. He struggled against his bonds. “Stop it, don’t, don’t—”

“Poor Nephilim,” he said, mocking him with Magnus’ eyes. “Now, do brace yourself. This will hurt.”

Alec screamed. White-hot fire burned through his head. It hurt worse than any injury, any demon poison he’d ever contracted. He thrashed against his restraints, but to no avail.

And then, curiously: a sense of peace. Why was he fighting? The pain dulled into nothingness, and he blinked his eyes open to find himself in a small, bare room with fluorescent lighting.

“Where—” he croaked out, voice hoarse, throat in flames.

“What do you remember?” A pair of bright yellow eyes peered at him, gazing at him intently.

“I—” he began, but fell silent. There was a hole in his head, he realized, and there were words on the tip of his tongue but he couldn’t get them out. His eyes darted around the room. “I—” he tried again, but failed to go further.

A wide, satisfied smirk spread across the other man’s face. He recoiled, every instinct he possessed screaming at him to run.

“He’s ready,” the cat-eyed man said to another presence in the room.

“Good.” Another man entered his line of vision, sickly pale with black, soulless eyes. “We can begin.”

   

*

  

There was blood on the snow.

It fell from the black bag he was carrying in a steady trickle, staining the pristine white ground with the evidence of his sins. He was bruised and battered, trudging through the blizzard with a distinct limp. Distantly, he realized that he was in pain. But pain was a weakness, something to be ignored and worked through for the sake of the greater good. He pushed on.

When he arrived back to headquarters, Sebastian greeted him with a wide, pleased grin. “Mission report.”

“The Moscow clan has been eradicated,” the Soldier recited dutifully. “Nineteen vampires, dead.”

“Excellent,” Sebastian crowed. “And the clan leader’s head?”

The Soldier tossed the black bag he’d been carrying at Sebastian’s feet. A head, covered with dried blood, rolled out. Sebastian knelt down and inspected it.

“You have done exceptionally well, Soldier,” he said, looking satisfied. “I am pleased with your work.”

The Soldier inclined his head silently.

“You may leave.” Sebastian dismissed him, and the Soldier was escorted back to his room. His room, which contained only one piece of furniture: the chair.

He sat without protest, watching disinterestedly as dark red restraints magically wrapped themselves around his wrists and ankles. One of his guards approached him with a syringe and plunged it into his arm. Its effects were immediate. He sagged against the cold leather, and fell back into the darkness.

 

*

 

The Faerie was dead.  

The Soldier disposed of him in the river, quick and efficient. Those were his only orders for this particular kill. He was to report back to headquarters by sundown. Judging by the sun’s location in the sky, he estimated that he had an hour left. Normally, he would return early and give his mission report.

But there was something about this city. He cleaned his hands of blood and tucked his seraph blades away from view as he ventured down the streets of Manhattan. Mundanes bustled around him, jostling him as they passed. He kept his head low as he strode by Jade Wolf, a run-down Chinese take-out place, something tugging at the loose threads of his mind.

The New York Institute stood in front of him then, a large, imposing church. He’d seen plenty of Institutes before, but this was—different. He’d been here before. He knew this place. He stared at the front door and thought about sneaking in.

But—no. There, at the corner. Trying to look unobtrusive, but the Soldier knew better. He was one of Sebastian’s men. One of his guards. He instantly knew that he was there to retrieve him. But not today. He wasn’t ready to go back, not yet. For the first time, this city made him feel alive.  

It was child’s play for him to escape undetected, and he blended into the crowds of the city with the practiced ease of a native. He ordered a black coffee and a cream cheese bagel from a mundane café, relishing the warmth that hit the back of his throat. When had he last had something warm to eat and drink?

Eventually, he found himself on the subway, tucked in a back corner, idly observing the mundanes as they made their commute home from work. He half-listened as each stop was broadcasted over the loudspeakers.

For reasons he couldn’t comprehend, he chose to get off somewhere in Brooklyn. It was dark out by now, and he knew his guards would be looking for him. But there was something he needed to do, something he needed to see. With this resolve in mind, he walked. He didn’t know where he was going, or what he was searching for. But still, he walked.

He came to a stop in front of an apartment building. It was familiar, but he didn’t quite know why. He paused in front of the buzzer, staring at the names. He didn’t recognize any of them, of course. Why would he? He’d never been to Brooklyn.

“Magnus, don’t be ridiculous,” a female voice said sharply, in an English accent.

“Me? Ridiculous? Perish the thought, dear Tessa,” came the reply, and the Soldier’s breath caught at the sound of it. He blended into the shadows, keeping away from sight. The pair ambled towards the front door of the building. As they did, their faces caught the light.  

And everything came to a halt.

Magnus, the woman had called him.

Magnus.

Magnus?

MAGNUS.

“Mag—” Alec called out desperately, but was roughly grabbed around the throat before he could finish. He whirled around, furious, ready to fight him off with his bare hands. But Sebastian incapacitated him with a well-placed blow to the neck. Alec sank to his knees. No, he thought desperately. No. “Magnus,” he croaked, straining to catch a glimpse of him. But he was gone.

Sebastian sneered at him. “Pathetic,” he spat, and knocked him out with the hilt of his seraph blade.

   

*

 

“You managed to fight it off,” the demon with cat-eyes said, sounding mildly impressed. But these eyes were all wrong, Alec thought. They weren’t warm or kind. “I rather wish you hadn’t. I’ll have to be a lot harder on you now.”  

“I will always remember them,” Alec snarled. Cat eyes narrowed in anger, and flickered black. Alec never broke his gaze, defiant.

“Yes,” the demon said, cat eyes regaining their golden tinge. “I believe you have something there. Why erase all the guilt? No. That won’t do.” He leaned in close enough that their noses touched. Alec resisted the urge to back away, keeping his breathing carefully controlled and even. “Little Nephilim. I will make sure that you remember every single life you extinguished. That the pain and guilt will consume you. That you and my son will live out your lives in unending misery.” He grinned, revealing sharp, white teeth. “Isn’t that a thought.”

Alec realized this then: Sebastian was not the mastermind. He appeared to be so. He himself probably he thought he was. But he wasn’t. He was a pawn in this demon’s game, and would be discarded as soon as it was convenient. Alec wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

“Who are you?” he rasped out.

“I’m insulted you don’t know. I’m sure they talk about me in all of your textbooks.” He bowed to him. “Asmodeus. At your service.”

Alec closed his eyes. Oh, Magnus, he thought. I’m so sorry.

That was his last thought before Asmodeus aimed a dark red orb of magic at his head, and Alec faded away.

 

*

 

“What year is it?” Sebastian asked, seraph blade pressed to his throat.  

“It’s 2016,” Alec said, and Sebastian laughed and laughed and laughed, as they broke Alec into pieces and glued him back in a cruel mockery of what he once was, a patchwork soldier created to do their bidding.

 

*

   

“Enough,” Alec gasps out, and lurches towards the bathroom. By the time Magnus reaches him, he’s dry-heaving into the toilet. Magnus himself wants to throw up, but holds himself back. He rests an unsure hand on Alec’s shoulder, afraid he’ll be unwelcome.

 “I can’t breathe,” Alec chokes, eyes red and face flushed from unshed tears, and Magnus gathers him into his arms.

“I’ve got you,” he murmurs. “I promise he won’t lay a hand on you ever again. I’ll die before I let that happen.”

Alec takes in shaky, gulping breaths. “Don’t say that,” he mutters. “I’m not worth it.”

Magnus grips him tighter. “You don’t say that. Alexander. You are worth—everything.”

Alec is quiet for a while, trying to regulate his breathing. Magnus rubs slow, soothing circles on his back, shouldering the weight of him.

“Can you stand?” Magnus asks, and Alec nods against him. Slowly, they steady themselves on their feet and Magnus leads him to the sink. With a snap of his fingers, a plush washcloth appears in his hands. He soaks it with lukewarm water and reaches to wash Alec’s face.

“I can do that,” Alec protests, glancing at him, only to suddenly jerk back and flinch away from him.

“Alec,” Magnus begins, bewildered, but then catches a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror. His eyes glow golden-green, an exact replica of his father’s. He sucks in a harsh breath and clamps his eyes shut. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He repeats it incessantly, a feeble attempt at a prayer from his demon-tainted mouth. Tears trickle through his shut eyelids.

“Hey. Hey.” Alec is nearer now, fingers cradling his jaw in a feather-light touch. “Magnus. I’m sorry, I—I overreacted.”

Magnus makes sure the glamour is solidly in place before opening his eyes to look at Alec incredulously. “Alexander,” he breathes. “You are unbelievable.”

But Alec doesn’t say anything for a while, just studies his eyes, the warm, human brown Magnus favors. “Drop the glamour,” he says, voice low. Magnus makes a choked noise in the back of his throat. Alec’s fingers stroke the back of his neck. “Please.”

There are few things Magnus can deny Alexander Lightwood. “I hate my eyes,” he confesses. “What they represent. And after—after what he did to you, I can’t. I would wear this glamour for the rest of my life, if you asked it of me. I did, the first months after I discovered who my father was and saw exactly what I inherited from him.” He smiles bitterly. “I would sooner claw my eyes out than have you look at me the way you just did.”

Alec’s hold on him tightens. “Look at me, Magnus. Please.”

Magnus reaches up to hold Alec’s hands in place, warm and unyielding. Then, he opens his eyes.

Alec focuses on him with a grim expression on his face. Magnus holds his breath. His eyes, his heart, his soul—he offers them to him now, and hopes that Alexander won’t crush them with the heel of his foot. He wonders if Alexander knows he has that much power over him. The last time he gave so much of himself to another person, she smashed him to pieces with a gleeful smirk.

“They’re not exactly the same,” Alec says then. “Yours have a little more green.” Magnus’ eyes flutter shut, and Alec leans down to press a gentle kiss on each closed eyelid. “Your eyes are kinder. You would never look at me the way he did.”

Magnus watches him from beneath his lashes. Alec smiles at him, painfully soft. “You are not your father.”

“And you are not that soldier,” Magnus says, as Alec flinches. “You are not responsible for their sins.”

Alec shuts his eyes, head bowing forward. “The Moscow clan,” he whispers.

Magnus strokes Alec’s wrist with his thumbs. He remembers the day the news had broken. There had been a manhunt all over Russia, all over Europe. They had never found the culprit. “It wasn’t you,” he repeats.

“I don’t know if I can remember that,” Alec says brokenly. “I know I promised you, but—”

“I’ll remind you,” Magnus vows. “If you—” he hesitates. “If you let me. I’ll remind you every day.”

“And I’ll remind you,” Alec says, clutching at his hand. “That you are not your father. That this was not your fault.”

Magnus can’t help it, then: he surges up and kisses him fiercely, whispering promises into his mouth. That the war was over. That he was home. That he would kill anyone who tried to take him away again.

And Alec kisses him back, responds in the same way. Promises that he’s home, for good. That he would die before letting anybody tear them apart again. That he’s broken, maybe they both are, but maybe, just maybe, they can start to glue each other back together.

It’s a start.

  

*

 

“I just—I need a break,” Alec says, rubbing his hands over his eyes. “And I know it’s selfish. And I know Shadowhunters don’t just up and take leaves of absence. But I need—I need to clear my head. A month. Two, at most. Please. Please.”

Izzy leans into his shoulder. “It’s not selfish, Alec. You’re—You’re the least selfish person I know.”

“The Moscow clan,” Alec says again, remembering nineteen vampires, dead by his own hand. A head in a black bag, bleeding in the snow. “I should turn myself in to the Clave.”

“No,” Jace says, jaw clenched. “It wasn’t you. We killed Sebastian. That’s over. The Clave will just—unnecessarily punish you. They’ll lock you up in Idris. Alec. We just got you back. I’m not letting them take you away. I’m not, I can’t, you can’t—”

Alec tugs him into a fierce, bone-crushing hug. Jace falls into it willingly, shaking in Alec’s arms. “Jace,” he says. “I’m here. I’m here.” Izzy burrows into his side, and Clary lingers back, awkward, until he jerks his head towards her impatiently and she joins them too, leaning against his shoulder.

“I know it wasn’t me,” says Alec, quiet. “At least—I’m trying to remember that. Trying to believe it. But—” He falls silent. How can he explain the guilt gnawing at him, the weight of all the lives he’s taken sinking into his bones? “When I see a vampire, I think of Moscow. When I see a werewolf, I think of the ones I killed.” He closes his eyes. “On bad days, I can’t even look at Magnus properly.”

Alec isn’t sure how long they stand there, clinging to each other. But Clary pulls back, looks him dead in the eye, and says, “You do whatever you need to do.” She touches his elbow. “I know a little bit of what it’s like to have your mind messed with. It screws you up. And what happened to you—” She shakes her head in disgust. “You do whatever you need to do,” she repeats.

Jace pulls away next, surreptitiously wiping away tears from his cheeks. “She’s right.” He glances at Izzy, and then looks back to Alec. “As co-head of the New York Institute, I grant you an undefined leave of absence from your Shadowhunter duties.”

“As co-head of the New York Institute, I concur,” Izzy says, smiling tremulously at him.

Alec lets his eyes flutter shut, his invisible burden easing away from his shoulders. “Thank you.”

“What will you do?” Clary asks.

“I don’t know,” Alec says honestly. “I’ll let you know when I figure it out.”

 

*

  

“Well,” Raphael says, peering at him over a goblet of blood. “You do know how to choose them. Amigo.”

Magnus rolls his eyes. “I appreciate the sarcasm, mi tomate—” Raphael scowls, but makes no further comment. “But I was entirely serious when I requested your pardon for Alec’s crimes.”

Raphael says nothing for a while, staring off into space. Magnus waits, sipping on his own drink. A Bloody Mary, because he thinks it’s funny. Raphael, not so much.

“You know how complex vampire politics can be,” Raphael says at length, and Magnus observes the gracefulness of his fingers as he drums them against the stem of his glass. “To pardon a Shadowhunter for the murders of multiple vampires from my clan—”

“Condemn Sebastian, not Alec,” Magnus says firmly. “Alexander was as much a victim as they were.”

“Logically, yes,” Raphael says, showing the barest hint of fang. “I understand that.”

“And you have always been a very logical creature,” Magnus agrees.

“And yet,” Raphael says, setting his goblet down.

“You set your goblet down,” Magnus says, petulant. “You mean to be serious.”

“Magnus,” Raphael says, and Magnus falls silent, straightening his back. His High Warlock pose, Alec used to say fondly. “I understand what you are trying to say. And I don’t do this out of spite for the Nephilim. On the contrary, your Nephilim is one of the most reasonable ones I’ve met. But you know this as well as I: if I grant Alexander Lightwood pardon, exonerate him from his crimes, there will be mutiny in the clan.” He pauses until Magnus breaks eye contact. “Do you deny it?”  

Magnus sags forward. “No,” he admits. “I suppose I just—wanted to try.”

“If he wants to make amends, he could do it the old-fashioned way.” Magnus raises an eyebrow. “Apologize,” Raphael says. “In person.”

Bow his head in apology to the New York Clan, he doesn’t say. An esteemed Nephilim, former head of the New York Institute, begging for forgiveness from the bloodsuckers, the Children of the Night.

Seek forgiveness from Anna, he also doesn’t say, the one member of the clan who had direct ties to one of the victims.

“She’d bite his head off,” Magnus says.

“She would give it a Herculean effort,” Raphael agrees. “He doesn’t have to, understand. I know he wasn’t himself.”

“No,” Magnus sighs. “He would want to do it.”

“I suspect,” Raphael says dryly, picking up his drink, “that that is one of the reasons you claim to love him so.”

Magnus raises his glass in a toast. “Hear, hear,” he says, downing the last of his drink.

 

*

 

“Alexander.” His mother’s voice is brittle, conveying icy displeasure even through the tinny speakers of his cell phone. It’s the first conversation he’s had with her since he’s regained his memories.

“Mother,” he says, quiet but firm. His grip tightens instinctively on the phone. Had it only been a few months ago that she’d rushed here from Idris, enveloping him in a tight hug, welcoming him home?

“Isabelle and Jace notified me of your decision,” she says curtly. “I wonder why you didn’t inform me first.”

Alec resists the urge to pinch at the bridge of his nose. He settles for pacing around his bedroom instead. “I didn’t think I needed to,” he says, trying to be gentle. “I notified the heads of the New York Institute, which is where I’m based. They gave me their full approval. It’s not an Idris thing. It’s a New York thing.”

His mother is silent, but not for long. “Shadowhunters,” she says, slowly, “do not take days off.” Her unspoken words ring loud and clear: Lightwoods do not take days off.

Bitterness creeps into Alec’s voice when he next speaks. “Why? Did your precious Clave have something to say about my wanting to take a vacation?”

“Think of how it looks, Alec.” He can picture his mother’s frustration in the flare of her nostrils, the wrinkle of her brow, the fists her hands make at her hips. “You come back after ten years—working under Valentine Morgenstern’s son, murdering Downworlders, and—now you’re—you’re living with one?”

Alec barks out a shaky laugh as he collapses heavily against his bed. “Mom. Mom.” The hand not holding his phone clutches at his sheets, wrinkling the fabric. Never mind that he’s not technically living with Magnus. Not yet. “I died. For ten years, I was as good as dead. I’ve had some time to evaluate my priorities, and you know what? Impressing the fucking Clave isn’t one of them.”

Maryse sucks in a harsh breath. “Alexander—”

“And impressing you isn’t, either.” Alec grits out, waiting for a response. When none comes, he hangs up on her. Part of him wants her to call back. Part of him doesn’t.

She doesn’t.

Abruptly, he rolls out of bed and pulls open his bedroom door. Immediately, three Shadowhunters fall through and land haphazardly on the floor. He raises an eyebrow at them, unimpressed.

“You need to vacuum,” is what Jace says, nose pressed awkwardly to the carpet.

“Sorry,” Clary says, elbowing him.

“I’m not,” Max, who’s visiting for the weekend, scowls. “Whatever Mom said to you was bullshit, Alec, don’t listen to her.”

Izzy glances at him, proud. “He’s right,” she says firmly, turning back to Alec and waiting for him to make eye contact. “You don’t need to impress anyone. Her least of all.”

Alec stares at his family, splayed out on the faded carpet of his bedroom floor. Against his will, he starts to laugh.

“You’re all ridiculous,” he huffs out, shaking his head. His laugh softens into a smile. “Thank you.”

Izzy snakes a hand around his ankle and yanks him down. Alec goes willingly, twisting around so that he breaks his fall. His head lands on Jace’s stomach.

“S’what family’s for,” Jace says, patting his head absentmindedly. “Also, seriously, you need to clean in here. Do you need help?”

Alec flips him off.

 

*

  

“I wanted to apologize in person,” Alec says, and Luke’s confused expression melts away into sad, resigned understanding.

“Alec,” he says. “You know it wasn’t your fault, right?”

Alec huffs out a laugh. “You know,” he says, “I’ve heard those words so many times they don’t even sound like words anymore.”

“You don’t need to carry all of that guilt on your shoulders,” Luke says firmly. “What Sebastian did was horrendous. What—” he swallows. “What I—what we did in the Circle—we will always have to live with that. But not you, Alec. It wasn’t you.”

“It wasn’t,” Alec agrees, remembering nights where he’d wake up in a cold sweat to find himself clinging to Magnus with a fierce sort of desperation, Magnus whispering, it wasn’t you, it wasn’t you, it was never you. “But I have those memories back now. My hands have their blood on them. And that’s something I’m going to have to live with. And this—this is my first step of learning to live with it.” He shrugs halfheartedly. “Maybe it’s stupid. Probably a little selfish, forcing this on you. But if you’ll accept it—”

“Of course I accept it,” Luke says, exasperated.

“Oh,” Alec says, a little dumbfounded. “Okay. I, er. Thank you.”

Luke shrugs, standing up from the booth they’d been sitting in. A few of the nearby werewolves shoot Alec suspicious glares, but otherwise leave him be. “Can I get you anything?” Luke asks.

“No, thanks,” Alec murmurs. “But—just, can I ask you something?”

Luke waits.

“Valentine was your parabatai,” he says, and Luke stiffens. “When you—when you lost him, did it hurt? Does it still hurt?” His hand unconsciously drifts towards his hip. “How did you—”

“You and Jace are different,” Luke cuts him off, sliding back into his seat. “Valentine cast me off deliberately. I was too inferior to him.” His smile, when Alec catches it, is a little bitter. “Listen. I’m not saying it will stop hurting overnight. It turns into a phantom ache as the years go by. You feel like you lose half of yourself. Whither thou goest, I will go; where thou diest, will I die.” He sighs heavily. “But you and Jace are brothers in every sense of the word. You don’t need a rune to tell anyone that. And frankly, to think otherwise does a disservice to your bond.”

Alec feels the edges of his mouth curl up into a smile. He laughs quietly. “You’re right. God. You’re right.”

“I usually am,” Luke says sagely. “People just forget to include me in these things.”

“I’ll send out a memo,” Alec says, standing up. He holds out a hand, and Luke takes it, shaking it with a warm, firm grasp. “Thank you, Luke.”

“Anytime,” Luke says.

  

*

  

Magnus is boiling water for pasta in the kitchen when Alec gets back to the loft. He hops up on the kitchen counter, content to watch Magnus flit around the kitchen.

“You normally just summon something,” Alec says. “Is this, uh, a recent development?”

Magnus chuckles, and the sound of it sends something warm coursing through Alec’s bones. “Oh, no, darling,” he says. “I’m still as lazy as ever, I can assure you. But—” His smile turns sad. “This is our first meal together. Since.”

Alec’s breath stutters in his throat. “Oh,” he murmurs, and scrambles down the counter to stand awkwardly at Magnus’ back. Magnus laughs, turns off the stove, and twines his arms around Alec’s neck.

“Hi,” he says, pecking him on the lips.

Alec leans into him. “Hi.”

“How was your day?” Magnus asks, and Alec is thrown by how wonderfully domestic this all is.

“Long,” he admits, and Magnus trails ringed fingers across his jawline before pulling away.

“If you’ll set the table, I’ll get this all plated up,” Magnus says, and Alec nods in agreement.

The spaghetti is just how Alec likes it, a little spicy in the back of his throat. He feels a little bad that he hasn’t done anything for Magnus, not really, and resolves to try and make that curry Magnus likes so much sometime this weekend.

“I asked Iz and Jace for a break from my Shadowhunting duties,” he says, watching him carefully for his reaction.

Magnus chews his spaghetti thoughtfully. “I heard,” he says, after swallowing.

Alec blinks. “You—wait, how did you—”

“Isabelle texted me to thank me,” Magnus replies. “She seemed to think it was my idea. That you would never ask for such a thing by yourself. That you’d have to be convinced into doing it.”

Alec flushes. “But I did.”

“You did,” Magnus agrees, smiling softly at him. “And I made sure she knew it.”

Alec stares at his plate. “Do you think—do you think I shouldn’t have?”

Magnus is quiet, and Alec listens to the clang of his fork as he sets it down on his plate. “I think,” Magnus says, slowly, “that you’ve lived the last ten years doing things against your will. I think that you have more than earned the right to do whatever the hell you’d like to do. If you want to give up the Nephilim way of life, I will stand by you. If you want to jump back in, I will stand by you. If you want to take a few months off and go skinny dipping in Hawaii, I will definitely stand by you.”

Alec sputters, raising his head to see Magnus watching him with mirth and affection.

“I mean it,” Magnus says, a little quieter this time. “Anything you wish, Alexander. Anything at all.”

“You,” Alec blurts out. “Just—you.”

Magnus blinks, startled.

And Alec does what he does best when he finds himself in an uncomfortable conversation with Magnus: keep rambling. “It’s just—you—you kept me going, you know? Izzy and Jace too, of course, and Max, and coming back to them. But you. I barely even knew you. We were just starting to figure out what all of—all of this was when I was taken. And when they brought back to New York, that first time, and I went to Brooklyn and I didn’t—I didn’t even know why until I heard your voice and—”

Magnus is holding him. Alec inhales sharply at the sensation of it, having not even registered him moving.

“What did you do when I was—gone?” Alec wonders, more to himself than anything else. Magnus stiffens, hands coming up to frame his face. His rings are cold against Alec’s skin.

“I was angry, at the beginning. We all were.” Magnus exhales. “I went out hunting demons for a little while. I kept away from the Institute, and they kept away from me. But your sister is a funny creature, and she insisted that I not be a stranger. I knew better than to argue.”

Alec chokes out a laugh.

“I came very close to staking Camille,” he says then, and Alec tightens his grip on Magnus’ wrists. “She had some information on you, you see, and I was willing to do whatever it took to get it. Alas, I did let her go.”

“Did you ever—ever have anybody else?” Alec asks out of curiosity. Ten years, after all, is a long time. When he’d asked Izzy, she’d said no, and there hadn’t been any signs of another person living in the loft. But that didn’t mean there had never been anyone.

Magnus closes his eyes briefly. “I won’t lie to you and tell you I was celibate. There were a few. Not many. It wasn’t the same. It never meant anything. I never—I never quite moved on.”

Alec feels, all at once, as though he’s too big and small for his body. Something warm bursts in his chest as he tugs Magnus ever closer. They must look a sight, he thinks distantly, two grown men trying to fit on one dining room chair.

“I wouldn’t have blamed you if you had,” he says softly. “I was dead. And besides, we were only just starting.”

“We were only just starting, yes,” Magnus says, soft. “But I already knew you were going to be the end of me.”

Alec rests his head on Magnus’ collarbone. His soap has changed, but it’s still Magnus: his bones and lean muscle and comforting warmth.

He pulls back briefly and pulls the ring out of his pocket. He’s been carrying it around for weeks: a small, seemingly inconsequential piece of metal. He hesitates. Would Magnus still—

“Yes,” Magnus says, reading his unease. Alec’s doubts wash away. “I want it. Always.”

Alec slides it onto Magnus’ finger. Easily lost among his other larger, more ornate rings, but still a solid presence nevertheless. He feels as though he ought to say something, but the words get stuck on the way up.

“This may be long overdue, but welcome home,” Magnus murmurs.

Alec smiles down at him, slow and soft. “Yeah,” he says. “I’m home.”

 

*

  

Alec doesn’t think the Hotel Dumort will ever cease to give him the goosebumps. It’s cold and impartial, not so much unlike the Institute he’s spent his whole life in, but it radiates with the odd combination of death and opulence. The floors are marble, and he’s sure the antiques are worth millions; at the same time, the wine bottles tucked behind the bar are filled with something far more sinister than red wine.

Anna is a tiny slip of a girl, though Alec realizes most people are tiny compared to him. She meets his eyes with steely determination, anger in every line of her body. She reminds him somewhat of Clary, he thinks, and the guilt in his stomach threatens to rise up and choke him. 

“I have come to issue a formal apology,” Alec says, and it sounds stilted and rehearsed even to his ears. He darts his gaze towards Anna, who’s sitting to the left of Raphael. Lily, Raphael’s second-in-command, sits on his other side, watching him with undisguised curiosity. 

“Will your apology bring Laura back?” Anna retorts, and Alec flinches. His mother would hate him for it, though he’s not sure what would anger her more: the fact that he’s apologizing to a vampire, or the fact that he allowed one to make him react in such a way.

“No,” he says, meeting her iron gaze. “It won’t.”

Anna watches him closely, and this time, Alec doesn’t shy away from her assessing stare.

“Where I come from, people used to kneel and bow their head to the ground,” Anna says next, and Alec knows exactly what she means. He doesn’t move, not yet. Just—looks. Looks for signs of her grief. She wears it well: she’s exchanged her curly locks for pin straight hair today, pulled back in a severe bun; her lips are stained red.

Years ago, the part of him held firmly by Maryse Lightwood would have scoffed and stormed out of the room. But she holds nothing over him now, and so it is no hardship for him to sink down onto his knees and bow until his forehead touches the cold floor.

Light footsteps cross the room. He tenses, bracing himself for any attack. He would not begrudge her a well-placed hit or two, but he would not hesitate to defend himself if he had to. He’d promised Magnus.

“Do you remember?” she whispers.

Laura, Anna had called her. She’d had straight black hair too, though it was too short to be pulled back into the bun Anna wears today. He remembers. He remembers them all, now.

“Her eyes were brown,” is all he says, and she lets out a strangled sob, hauling him up to his feet and grabbing him by the collar. He goes without a fight. Her eyes are bright. Droplets of blood threaten to spill over her snow-white cheeks.

“Anna,” Raphael says, quiet but loud enough to cut through the tension.

She hisses, and then shoves Alec away from her as if she can’t stand to see him anymore. She rushes out of the room, heels clacking loudly against the floor. Alec watches her go, and then shifts to face Raphael and Lily.

“You’re very surprising, for one of them,” Lily says, drumming lilac-painted fingernails against her knee. “I didn’t think you’d kneel. It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen a Shadowhunter kneel to a filthy Downworlder. When was the last time you saw one, Raphael?”

“Never,” says Raphael succinctly, and he watches Alec with an appraising gaze. “Lightwood. What would you have me say?” 

“Nothing,” he says, honestly, and Raphael’s expression doesn’t change. “I—I owe you an apology. I owe you more than that, if we’re honest. I don’t expect you to forgive me. But it’s something I had to do.”

Raphael leans forward in his chair. “Do you know,” he begins, slowly, “that Magnus Bane came here and petitioned for pardon on your behalf?”

Alec blinks. “No,” he says. “No—I didn’t. He just told me you’d be willing to meet. But he shouldn’t have. It’s not on him to do that.”

“No,” Raphael agrees. “And I told him as much.”

Alec nods. “Thank you for allowing me to meet with you,” he says. “I know it’s—it’s not much, in the grand scheme of things.” 

“It means more than you might think,” Raphael says, leaning back in his chair. Alec waits a beat, but he doesn’t elaborate. With another curt nod, he turns on his heels and gets ready to leave.

“Wait,” Lily calls him suddenly. Alec pauses, and turns to face her. She has a small smile on her lips. It’s not kind, but not quite cruel either. “I have an idea. Will you hear me out?”

Alec doesn’t know much about Lily besides the fact that she is Raphael’s current second-in-command. She watches him lazily. He straightens his back.

“Yes,” he says, chin up and meeting her eyes squarely. “I’ll hear you out.”

 

*

 

It’s a ridiculous idea.

“A Downworlder and Shadowhunter alliance,” Alec says, tasting the words on his tongue. He’s leaning against the wall of Magnus’ study, watching Magnus carefully grind up some herbs for a healing salve. “Like the Accords, but—more.”

Magnus stirs in the herbs, the potion in his cauldron turning lavender. “Similar things have been tried before,” he says, a wrinkle appearing in his brow. He offers Alec a wry smile. “They haven’t lasted.”

“You think I shouldn’t do it?” Alec asks.

Magnus mutters something in a language Alec doesn’t recognize, and the potion abruptly turns bright blue. He claps his hands in satisfaction and fixes Alec’s eyes with his own. “Whatever you want, Alexander,” he says. “Just because they haven’t worked before doesn’t mean they won’t work now.” He strides across the room until he’s directly in front of Alec. “The old prejudices are shifting, at least a little. And you’d do a remarkable job.”

“You’re biased, though,” Alec says, smiling fondly as Magnus invades his space and wraps an arm loosely around Alec’s hip.

“Maybe a little,” Magnus admits. “But I do mean it. You would be fair and just.” His smile turns distant. “It’s been a long time since a Lightwood looked at us as more than the dirt beneath their precious, angel-blessed feet.”

A mixture of guilt and anger flares up in Alec’s ribs. “They were wrong,” he murmurs. “All of them. I’m so sorry, Magnus. I’m—I’m trying too, though I know I screw up sometimes.”

“I know you are,” Magnus says, pecking him lightly on the lips. “Tell me. This alliance of yours—what does it entail?”

“I don’t exactly know,” Alec says, slowly. “But one representative from the vampires, one from the Shadowhunters, one from the werewolves, one from the warlocks. To—make sure things work out the way they’re supposed to. To not involve the Clave unless it’s absolutely necessary. To make sure everybody stays within their boundaries.”

Magnus hums thoughtfully. “I’d represent the warlocks, more than likely,” he says. “No one else would want the job.”

“It would help,” Alec says, swallowing. “If you’d be there.”

Magnus tilts his head to shoot Alec an inquisitive gaze. Alec does his best not to look away. Even after all of this time, he can’t help but wonder what Magnus sees. Ten years ago, he’d been Alexander Lightwood, closeted, insecure, afraid. Now—what? Alexander Lightwood, unwilling murderer, brought back to life for an unexpected second chance, terrified of screwing it all up. 

“A familiar face often helps in these situations, I suppose,” Magnus says lightly. “Though I think you’ll find that you won’t need me there as much as you might think.”

Alec relaxes into Magnus’ hold. “Thank you,” he murmurs, pressing a kiss into his hair. It smells faintly of incense. 

Magnus smiles at him. “Of course. Now—dinner? What are you in the mood for? Let’s go out.”

Alec threads their fingers together, Magnus’ ring pressing into his knuckle. “I was thinking Ethiopian,” he says, and a startled smile bursts onto Magnus’ lips.

“Excellent taste,” Magnus murmurs, squeezing his hand back.

  

*

  

In a day or two, or perhaps a month, or several years down the road:

Alec wakes to the soft rays of the sun peeking in through Magnus’ curtains. He shifts underneath the thin sheets draped over them, the movement accidentally jostling Magnus from his sleep. 

“Too early,” Magnus mutters into Alec’s collarbone. His breath tickles at Alec’s neck.

“Sorry,” Alec murmurs. “Go back to sleep.”

“Only if you stay,” Magnus says, voice still thick with the remnants of sleep. Alec drums his fingers against the pulse points of Magnus’ wrist.

“It’s late,” Alec says, the Shadowhunter regimen engrained into his bones. “The sun’s already up.”

Busy old fool, unruly sun,” Magnus sighs theatrically, flopping over from his side and onto his back. He rubs at his eyes, and Alec watches him with undisguised fondness. “Fine, fine. I’ll wash up if you make breakfast.”

Alec darts in for a quick peck. Magnus smiles against his chapped lips, and pulls him back in when Alec tries to leave.

“Good morning,” Magnus says, lips inches apart and gazing at him with warm, golden-green eyes.

It is a good morning, Alec thinks, tracing Magnus’ features with his fingertips simply because he can. His index finger brushes against Magnus’ bottom lip, and he stares at it, considering. Magnus smirks. Alec rolls his eyes before closing the distance between them and twining his fingers into Magnus’ hair.

Breakfast can wait.

 

 

FIN