Alec can't fight down his terror as he gazes up at Magnus from the floor, Max cradled in his arms—dying. Magnus has to help him. He has to. He'll pay, he'll pay anything and everything, he'll pay with his wings or his bow or his own damn life, but Max can't die.
"Come on, come in," Magnus says, and relief hits him.
As Alec straightens up with Max held close to his chest, he realises that Magnus is dressed as though he'd been about to go to bed. He's in a robe, make-up gone from his face and hair down, washed, free of product and a little bit fluffy, as though it's been towel-dried but no more.
"Here." Magnus snaps his fingers, cleaning everything off his sofa and laying a white linen sheet over it. "Put him there."
"Can you help him?" Alec asks, hovering a few feet away with his wings pulled tight into his back.
Magnus is peering down at Max, peeling back his eyelids and pressing fingers against his neck. He shoves Max's sleeve up, examining the veins in his wrist and their path up his arm.
"I don't know," Magnus says, dropping Max's arm, and Alec doesn't think he's ever heard words that terrify him more. Magnus always knows. Magnus knows everything. He's the High Warlock of Brooklyn, he's arguably the most powerful warlock in all of America, and he creates spells and potions as a hobby in his free time.
He has to know.
Magnus is no longer by Max's side, and Alec drops to his knees at the end of Magnus' sofa, by Max's feet. Magnus is rummaging through the jars and bottles and boxes on his shelves, clearly looking for something specific, and items appear magically on the coffee table.
"There's a pestle and mortar sitting in the kitchen on the draining board," Magnus says, while picking leaves from a box. "Go and get it, and then start peeling that ginger root."
Alec has a feeling he's being given jobs to distract him, because he's fairly sure Magnus could do both of those things instantly with a wave of his hand. But he doesn't argue. He appreciates it.
"What's this for?" Alec asks, a minute later as he's peeling the ginger and Magnus is adding careful quantities of various ingredients into a bowl.
"If I get this out of his system, he's going to be sick in the morning," Magnus tells him, snapping his fingers over the glutinous liquid in the bowl. Blue swirls around the bowl, and its contents bubble. "The ginger will make him feel less nauseous, and kick his immune system up a notch."
Alec pauses. "Like, old mundane medicine?"
"This might surprise you, but the health benefits have been extensively researched. Mundanes are not entirely stupid."
Alec doesn't argue. Hands trembling, he continues, peeling rhythmically while Magnus steps towards Max with the contents of the bowl, and sets it on the arm of the sofa. He snaps his fingers, blue sparks cracking in the air, and runs a hand along the length of Max's body, fingers twitching and fluttering in the air.
Max gasps when Magnus' magic begins leaking down, into his skin, eyes rolling back in his head. He arches up off the sofa, and Alec drops the ginger and finds himself on the other side of the sofa. He leans over the back, one hand reaching down to Max's sweaty hair, and he looks up at Magnus in terror.
"Help him," he begs. "Please, Magnus, help him."
"I'm doing my best," Magnus says, brow furrowed in concentration. "Greater Demons are tricky creatures."
He drops his hands, magic dissipating, and picks up the potion still bubbling lightly in the bowl. It's gentling to a fizz as Magnus stirs, and it smells like cardamom oil; it's a soft, sunset pink in colour that belies the severity of its purpose.
"Tilt his head back," Magnus says, "and hold him still."
Alec does at he's told, rounding the sofa so he's at Max's head. He presses one knee into the cushions, bracing one arm over Max's chest and holding the side of his head simultaneously as gently and firmly as he can.
Magnus' eyes are unglamoured, flashing and sparking with magic as he places the bowl at Max's lips, tipping the potion down his throat slowly. For a moment, there's nothing, and Alec's eyes dart over Max's body, where his veins are still bright, filled with fire and glowing through his skin, the wound at his chest still seeping blood everywhere.
Then Max's eyes shoot open, and his lips part in a wordless scream. His irises have turned the colour of thick petrol, resembling Moloch's oily form, and it's all Alec can take in before Max begins to thrash.
Blue sparks at Magnus' fingertips, and he spreads his hands wide, fingers steady as his magic flows into Max. Alec grips his little brother, his throat tight with fear as though Moloch had tried to strangle him, not Jace.
"Come on, Max," Magnus murmurs, as every piece of glass in the loft begins to rattle, ornaments wavering precariously on the edges of tables and countertops. The bottles set on Magnus' bar clink together, and a crystal bottle of whiskey shatters, liquid spraying everywhere.
Alec's heart is pounding against his ribs as magic pours from Magnus' hands, as though a dam has been breached. He's chanting in a language Alec has never heard, sweat beading on his brow, and Alec can feel the sheer power radiating off of him.
Raziel, he can see why people fear Magnus. And he knows this is a mere fraction of the full ferocity of his magic that lingers beneath the surface. He can't tear his eyes away from Magnus, from the elegant lines and curves of his body, the way he glides his weight slowly, steadily, from one foot to the other, stance wide as though to balance himself against the chaos his magic his causing.
He's powerful, and he's beautiful, and he's making Alec breathless.
Alec wonders how hard Magnus has worked to cultivate such a mass of raw, writhing power into something like this—focused, contained, able to heal rather than escaping in destructive, defensive whirlwinds. He wonders who taught him. Ragnor Fell, perhaps? He wonders how many other warlocks Magnus has taught the same things.
Magnus' chanting becomes louder, and his magic crescendos, items clattering to the floor around them as sparks zip off Magnus' fingers, rebounding off walls and causing wind to flood through the loft out of nowhere.
And then Max gasps, stilling in Alec's arms, eyes wide and his back bowed in a perfect arch. Golden rivers of fiery magic seem to rise out of his veins and evaporate off into the air like a thousand shimmering dust mites made of polished metal, glinting in the light.
Magnus claps his hands, and they explode in the air in a roar of blue flames. Alec stares, enthralled by the sight.
Then Max starts convulsing.
"Magnus," Alec says, panicked, as Max's eyes roll back in his head, eyelids fluttering restlessly, foam forming at the corners of his mouth as though he's been poisoned. "Magnus—"
But Magnus' fingers are already pressed against Max's chest, where Moloch had plunged a hand through his ribs and straight to his heart to sink his curse deep into Max's body. Swirls of blue glow around Magnus' hands like smoke, untouchable and ethereal. The magic sweeps along Max's body like a caress, and, as it falls into his skin, disappearing, Max falls limp in Alec's arms, head lolling against his elbow. The pulse in his wrist is heavy and rhythmic against Alec's fingers.
Magnus snaps his fingers once more as he straightens up, the blood disappearing from Max and the sofa as well as from himself and Magnus.
"Thank you," Alec says, shifting his grip on his brother so he can cradle Max in his lap, feeling his chest rising and falling steadily under his hand. He strokes the fingers of his other hand slowly through the feathers of Max's exposed wings. "Raziel, thank you."
Magnus smiles at him tiredly, already bending to pick up a fallen book. "You're welcome."
"I—" Alec looks down at Max to reassure himself that he's really okay, that he'll be fine, that Moloch hasn't left any lasting damage, and then he stands, resting Max's head on the pillows. "Let me tidy up. And tell me how much I owe you."
Magnus' eyebrows shoot up. "You don't owe me anything."
"Bullshit," Alec says, and Magnus blinks. "This is your job. You get paid for it. It's not like the Institute can't afford it. I can't send it straight to you, obviously, but—"
"I'll ask Catarina Loss to send your mother a bill," Magnus says, pursing his lips a little. "If you insist."
Alec nods, and feels a wave of vertigo hit him. He sways a little on the spot, reaching up to clutch at his head as it pounds, and swallows a moan of discomfort. By the Angel, what's wrong with him? Max is the one who nearly died. Magnus is the one who's just used a considerable amount of magic to fix a curse in a mere few minutes that the Silent Brothers would have been hard pressed to cure at all. He's got no such excuses for feeling like this. He should be fine.
"Hey." When Alec opens his eyes, Magnus is watching him with his eyebrows drawn together, and he's considerably closer than he was a moment ago. He's got one hand hovering by Alec's forearm, reaching out but clearly wary of touching. Why, Alec can't imagine. "Are you alright?"
Magnus is in a robe, Alec registers. A red silk robe that barely reaches his knees, and his hair is fluffy, free of product, going wildly in every direction, and he looks like he stepped out of the shower thirty minutes ago. Alec is hit by the hysterical urge to laugh. The High Warlock of Brooklyn and Magnus Bane have just clashed so dramatically—casting powerful spells in his fucking bathrobe.
"What happened to your head?" Magnus asks, lifting a hand to brush the skin to one side of Alec's eye. The touch stings, makes his face throb, and Alec flinches, realising that the area is cut and bruised. "Did you get hit in the face?"
"I—don't remember," Alec admits. "It happened so fast, it's all a blur."
"Hm." Magnus studies Alec's face for another moment, eyebrows furrowed, then says, "Go and clean up in the bathroom. If that still hurts in the morning, or you still feel dizzy, tell me. Or find a Silent Brother. Head injuries aren't things to be scoffed at."
"Alright." Alec clears his throat. "Thank you. We can- We can go, when I'm done. We'll get out of your way. I can glamour us and fly, it's how I got here. It only takes a few minutes."
"Oh, no, I really don't think so." Magnus shakes his head, determination flashing in his eyes. "You're not going anywhere tonight except to bed. I'm not letting your brother leave until I'm certain my magic has got rid of every last atom of Moloch's influence. And you look like you're about to pass out. I wouldn't trust you to fly yourself home, let alone Max, too."
His eyes flit across Magnus' face, and he forces himself not to glance down at his lips. This evening, he'd almost kissed Magnus. He'd wanted to. God, he still does. But without the alcohol riddling his brain, he can't help but think that perhaps he'd been a little too arrogant about the whole thing. He'd wanted to assure Magnus that it wasn't a drunken mistake—but what if that's exactly what it had been for Magnus?
After all, what, exactly, could Magnus possibly see in someone like Alec - a Shadowhunter, a Nephilim, a part of the institution that slanders his name and slaughters his people - that he'd find attractive?
"I'm going to put your brother in my guest room," Magnus says, leaving no room for Alec to argue. He has a feeling that he'll lose any debate he has with Magnus over this. "And my bed is at your disposal. Providing you're not a blanket-hogger."
Alec stills, chest tightening when Magnus' words sink into his foggy brain. "I– It's fine. I can...sleep out here. I don't need to...impose on you."
Magnus shakes his head. "Alexander, I like you, I trust you, and you nearly kissed me six hours ago. You do not need to sleep on the couch, unless you are wildly uncomfortable with sharing a bed. But I assure you, I can keep myself to myself. My bed is enormous. And very comfortable."
Memories of earlier assault him, and he feels his stomach churn and his chest tighten. Magnus' breath hot on his cheek, the feeling of his skin under his fingertips, standing close enough to feel Magnus' heart hammering against his ribs just like Alec's had been...
He wishes there were something in Magnus' voice that would clue him into how Magnus feels about it. But his tone is flat, factual, stating rather than feeling, the words hanging in the air, charged but elusive.
Fuck it. He has to know. He has to say something about it.
"I wish I had kissed you," Alec murmurs, eyes dipping to the floor, while his heart thuds, hard and heavy against his chest, nervousness clawing at him.
Warm fingers cup his cheek. Skin sliding against skin sets Alec's nerve endings alight, and he feels goosebumps spread down his neck. The absence of the smooth metal of Magnus' rings is noticeable, and Alec wonders when the touch of the High Warlock of Brooklyn became so familiar to him.
"I wish you had, too," Magnus says, voice soft.
Heart skipping a beat, Alec's eyes snap up to his, searching his gaze for some evidence that Alec should be distrustful, that his words aren't as simple as face-value would imply. "Really?"
"Yes, sweetheart, really." Magnus leans in and brushes his mouth against Alec's cheek, a mere breath away from the corner of his lips, and Alec shivers. Magnus stays close, nose and lips and eyelashes caressing Alec's skin as he murmurs, "Really. Because then I could kiss you now."
Magnus pulls back far enough to meet his gaze. Alec's breaths are shaky, cracking and catching a little when he reaches out to clutch at Magnus' elbow, keeping him close. Close enough to share body heat, and for their breaths to intermingle, because the thought of Magnus moving away makes his heart physically hurt.
"Why can't you?" Alec whispers raggedly.
Magnus' smile is small, sad, as his gaze drops behind Alec to the sofa, where Max is lying, safe and healed but unconscious. "Because I don't want to kiss you for the first time when your brother nearly died, after a battle that devastated your home and your family, when you're half-delirious from exhaustion and I'm not exactly full of energy myself."
The hand still resting on Alec's jaw shifts a little, and a thumb strokes along the length of his cheekbone, up to just below the bruise by his eye. The tenderness of the touch makes Alec's breath hitch, and his eyes flutter closed, leaning into Magnus' hand. Warmth spreads through him, radiating out from the single point of contact.
"Come on," Magnus says, his voice quiet in the silence of the loft at night. He drops his hand, and Alec feels cold. "Clean up, then sleep. I don't want any more unconscious Nephilim in my house that need watching. One is plenty."
Alec catches Magnus' bicep as he turns, and Magnus' eyes fixate on where Alec is holding his arm before they flicker up to his face, uncertainty flashing across his face. He's caught Magnus unaware, he realises—Magnus doesn't know what he's going to do.
He can't finish the sentence. He doesn't know how to. So instead, he pulls Magnus into him, wrapping his arms around his torso and dropping his head onto his shoulder. And, finally, as Magnus' arms close around him and warm breath hits his neck, he feels himself relax. Only now, with Max fighting off any lingering aftereffects of the curse and Magnus warm and solid against him, does he feel like everything might just be okay.
What would the Alec Lightwood of three months ago have said, if he'd been told that his future self wouldn't feel safe after a battle until he's in the arms of the High Warlock of Brooklyn?
Reflexively, as though they're mere extensions of his limbs, his wings follow the lines of his arms, stretching out from where they're pulled in behind him back to curl around Magnus, close but not quite touching. He barely registers what he's doing. It's the kind of thing he might do with Izzy, or Max, or Jace, but not anybody else. It's an intimate gesture. Part affection, part protectiveness, part desire to be close, to connect.
To other people, to people outside of those closest to them - family, a long-term lover, friends more that just good - a Nephilim's wings are a private, untouchable phenomenon. Simultaneously delicate and powerful, they're seen by many Shadowhunters as a symbol of status and power—a gift from Raziel that marks them as superior.
And, of course, such a gift is the sort of thing that many angry, wronged Dowmworlders have wished to cut off and hang on their walls in revenge, like how Shadowhunters once collected warlock marks as common practise—except the Shadowhunters had done so essentially unprompted.
The Alec Lightwood of three months ago was genuinely concerned that Magnus had had the same fate in mind for his wings, when he'd healed him. And now, Alec's exposing himself in such a vulnerable manner, yet he's never felt safer.
Magnus tips his head up, and his goatee catches lightly at the skin of Alec's neck. "I'm surrounded by feathers."
Alec huffs out a laugh, because he knows it's a joke. He can feel Magnus' smile. "Sorry."
"No. It's...more than alright."
Alec wonders if Magnus knows how unusual it is, for Alec to have his wings so close to Magnus like this—almost close enough to brush against him. He wonders if such matters are common knowledge, amongst Downworlders, or whether they have more important things to worry about.
"Maybe I should call Jace," Alec mumbles against Magnus' shoulder; he tucks his face into the warlock's neck, and exhales slowly. "I didn't stay around to check that everyone was okay."
"Everyone is fine," Magnus says firmly, holding him tighter, thumb drawing circles into his shoulder. "Luke told me everyone is fine. And Max is going to be perfectly alright."
He pulls back a little at that, just so he can catch Magnus' eye. He drags his wings away, tight into his back, trying to ignore the embarrassment flooding through him at how inappropriate that was. "You know I'm not—I'm not here just because I want to...leech off your good will, right?"
Magnus raises his eyebrows. "You're here because your brother was dying, and you trusted me to do my best to help him. You trusted that I'd be able to. That seems perfectly reasonable to me. If I felt I was giving and giving to you and receiving nothing in return, I wouldn't keep doing it. I don't offer people things unless I want to. Honestly, Shadowhunter, I'm not a doormat. You don't have to feel guilty about asking for help and support." He pats Alec's uncut cheek condescendingly, and Alec glares at him. Magnus winks. "Now enough talk. Wash and sleep. You stink, and you look like you're about to pass out, which would be very inconvenient. I'm going to put Max in my guest room. Okay?"
Alec nods his consent. "Yeah. Thank you."
Magnus has just finished carefully settling the still-unconscious Max into his guest room when his phone rings, glaringly loud in the quiet and darkness of the room. He sets a glass of water by Max's bed, and walks to the window to answer the phone.
"Isabelle," he says. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your call?"
When she speaks, Isabelle sounds breathless with worry. Magnus can hear a dog barking on the other end of the line, so he presumes that she's walked out of the Institute to call him, to avoid being overheard. "Magnus. It's Alec, he– Max was hurt, and he just took off with him, and now he's not answering his phone, and Luke thought maybe—"
"Luke was right," Magnus says, gently. "Your brothers are both here, and they'll both be fine."
"Max is going to be okay?" Isabelle asks.
"Oh, thank Raziel," she whispers. "Thank you. Thank you so much, Magnus, I—"
"That's quite alright," Magnus tells her. He likes Isabelle, and he knows - knows, and has inferred - that she hasn't had a particularly easy time as of late.
Isabelle says something, but there's a sudden gasp from behind him, and he whirls round to find Max awake, eyes wide and clutching at the sheets, terror written across his face as he stares at Magnus.
"Isabelle, my darling, I'm so glad you're alive and kicking, but I'm afraid I have to go," he says, and hangs up before she can reply.
He takes a step towards Max, hands raised with his palms forwards. "Max, it's okay, you're—"
"How do you know my name?" Max demands, and sits up a little straighter. "Who are you? Where am I? I was with Clary, where is she? What's going on?"
His posture is defensive, poised ready to take a swing at Magnus should he need to. There's something horribly sad about the picture—both the fact that a ten year old child thinks he needs to be prepared to physically defend himself against Magnus, and the fact that he knows how to.
"Hey, hey, it's alright, I'm not going to hurt you," Magnus assures him gently, with a small smile. "You were injured in the attack at the Institute. I healed you."
"How do you know about that? And how did I get here?"
"Your brother took you. He's here, he's just—"
"Why should I trust you?" Max clenches his teeth, fear and anger flashing in his eyes in equal measures. He's brave for a child, Magnus thinks. Too brave. "You're a warlock. How do I know you're not lying?"
Magnus closes his eyes for just a moment. He doesn't know why he's surprised at the way Max spits the word warlock as though it's a brand that marks him as something filthy, but he is. Perhaps he expected better, because all the other Lightwood children are so open-minded.
But Alexander wasn't, when they first met. And Max has probably met no more than a handful of Downworlders in his life. He's been exposed to the bigoted, hateful views of ex-Circle members, tempered only by comments from Isabelle, and, perhaps, Jace and Clary, which are eternally dismissed as the ludicrous rebellions of the younger generation.
"Alexander is here," Magnus says, keeping his voice level. "He's in the other room. I can get him in a moment."
Max narrows his eyes. "Nobody calls him that. You're lying."
"No, I—" Magnus takes a deep breath, and tampers down his growing frustration. Max is a child. He's scared, and he's in pain, and his immediate distrust of Magnus based on his species is not his fault. "Your brother has a scar on his eyebrow that he got from training with Jace. He insists it wasn't Jace's fault, but he makes excuses for the people he loves like it's his heavenly duty, so it probably was."
Max's eyes go wide, and Magnus sees him swallow. "You do know Alec."
"I do. I swear to you, Max, I'm not going to hurt you. Do you feel okay?"
Max looks horribly confused. "My chest hurts, but– You're a warlock, why does Alec—?"
A voice in the hallway interrupts them as Alec calls Magnus' name. He appears in the doorway a moment later, and relief floods across his face when he sees that Max is awake.
"Max," he says, and rushes over to his brother to wrap him in a hug. Max clings to him, fingers digging into Alec's shoulders, and Magnus has to look away. It feels too much like intruding upon a private moment.
The brothers are talking to each other quietly, Max shooting Magnus suspicious glances over Alec's shoulder while Alec soothes him, so Magnus steps out of the room, letting himself collapse onto the sofa. He snaps himself a glass of whiskey, and pulls open his chat with Isabelle to apologise for hanging up on her.
The feeling settling inside his chest is bitterness, he realises. Bitterness because a ten year old child actively distrusts him just because he's a warlock. He's become so used to Nephilim not looking at him like he's the dregs of the planet that he's forgotten that most do—adults and children alike.
He's forgotten. He's been lulled into a false sense of security, by Alec and Isabelle and Clary, and even Jace and that Clave envoy, Lydia, who'd been clearly dubious about him and suspicious of every word he spoke, but unfailingly polite nonetheless. He's let himself forget that most Shadowhunters despise every fibre of his being. Most of them want him dead.
So much so that they've instructed Alexander to execute him.
Footsteps pad across the floor of the loft, soft and hesitant; Magnus glances over at Alec, and sends him a small smile. His wings are still out, pulled right into his back, and he's put on the sweatpants and t-shirt Magnus left him—the former too short and the latter a little looser at the shoulders than it is on Magnus.
"I'm sorry," Alec says, scratching at the back of his neck. "About– that."
"It's not your fault," Magnus says, and Alec shrugs.
"It is. I've been as much a part of the rhetoric telling Max that Downworlders aren't to be trusted as practically every other Shadowhunter in the world."
Setting his whiskey down, Magnus rises, and crosses to where Alec is standing, swaying dangerously in place.
"We're both too tired to have this conversation now," Magnus tells him. "And laying blame doesn't help anybody. All that matters right this moment is that Max is okay."
Alec frowns at him, eyes flickering across his face. "That's not true," he says. "Your feelings don't become irrelevant just because someone else is hurt."
"Alexander," Magnus says, shaking his head even as Alec's words make his heart ache. Never, in four centuries, would he ever have believed that he'd one day meet a Shadowhunter and be able to change his mind about Downworlders. "I've received far worse than a terrified child telling me they don't trust me because I'm a warlock."
"So?" Alec demands, folding his arms across his chest and staring Magnus down with a ferocity that causes Magnus' mind to scatter. "You shouldn't have. Not from my parents, not from me, not from anyone. Especially no Shadowhunter. You shouldn't be treated like you're lesser, because you're not."
"Alec." Magnus' voice rasps a little, and fuck, it's only the image of Alec at his door, terrified and desperate and covered in his little brother's blood that stops Magnus from leaning up and kissing him. "You have no idea—" He exhales, and closes his eyes to ground himself for a moment. "Is Max okay?"
"He's fine, I think," Alec says. One corner of his mouth curls into a humourless smirk. "He's asleep now. He said his chest aches, but I'd imagine that's fairly normal after having a demon rip through his ribcage."
"Fairly," Magnus agrees, but he's a little distracted by the way Alexander is shifting involuntarily, as though he's struggling to stay upright. "If you're happy your brother is alright, then I'm going to insist you go to bed, now."
And who in the world would dare argue with the High Warlock of Brooklyn?
Alec is perched on the edge of Magnus' bed when the man himself walks through the door, twenty minutes after he told Alec he wasn't allowed to stay awake a moment longer. He'd pulled his phone out to text Jace and Isabelle, to let them know that he and Max are alright, and then he'd gone to pick up his stele to rune away his wings, only to realise that they were aching and cramping far too much for that.
It hadn't quite felt like the acceptable course of action to sprawl out in someone else's bed with his wings still on display, so he'd decided to just...wait.
"Alexander," Magnus says, a reprimand in his voice as he enters. "I'm fairly sure you should be asleep. You've been a moment from passing out since the second you came in."
Alec's lips quirk up. "I'm sorry. I just– You might...prefer me to sleep elsewhere."
Magnus rolls his eyes as he turns to his wardrobe so he has his back to Alec. "We had this conversation earlier, darling. Unless you don't want to sleep here because it makes you uncomfortable, there is no reason at all for you to force your frankly ludicrously long frame onto my five foot sofa."
Alec realises a moment too late that Magnus has undone his silky robe, and is about to drop it. He gets a flash of the smooth bronze skin that makes up Magnus' incredibly muscular back, broken only by the waistband of his briefs, before he averts his eyes, heart hammering against his chest.
It's not that he's being exposed to a half-naked man. He's seen plenty of men with most of their clothes off, in the infirmary and in the training room and ripping off shirts or pants in the middle of a mission to get at injuries that require urgent attention. Most of them don't set his heart racing. In fact, nobody has ever set his heart racing quite like this. It's that it's Magnus half-naked—Magnus, who's beautiful beyond any fantasy man Alec's most forbidden dreams could ever have imagined, and who admitted a mere hour or so ago that he wished Alec had kissed him.
"It's not that," Alec says, staring down at his hands rather than risk looking up at Magnus, and end up leering. He doesn't want to be creepy. Even though he's currently wondering whether Magnus' back would feel as smooth beneath his fingers as it looks, like silk laced over steel. "I've got twelve feet of extra limb. I can't rune away my wings, because I've exacerbated my back muscles too much, and—"
"I'm not at all bothered," Magnus assures him, and Alec feels the bed dip behind him as Magnus climbs on. "Nephilim wings are far from the most inconvenient bodily part that have shared a bed with me."
A chance glance over his shoulder provides Alec with the sight of Magnus wearing a t-shirt with 'best bi' picked out across the front in silver thread and a pair of boxers, so he lets himself meet Magnus' gaze properly.
"I could extend the bed," Magnus says, with a hum of consideration. "Perhaps—"
He snaps his fingers, and a line of blue flames licks up the side of the bed. They fan out, spreading in the direction of Magnus' en suite, dragging out Magnus' bed to extend it horizontally by four or five feet. Objects in its path - the nightstand, a discarded box of make-up, a haphazard pile of books on the floor - dart magically out of the way.
"There," Magnus says, apparently satisfied. He swings his legs out from underneath him and slips his toes beneath the sheets. "Be honoured. This is the first time I've ever willingly made concessions for a Shadowhunter."
Alec smiles briefly. "Thank you."
He turns, deciding that it's time to bite the proverbial bullet and fall asleep willingly before he's dragged over the edge and passes out in an inconvenient position. His head is swimming, temples pounding lightly as they have been for the last hour, and by the Angel, Magnus' bed is so soft.
A quiet, strangled noise that originates in the back of his throat escapes him as he sits fully on the bed and reaches for the sheets. He's got his wings tucked into his back as he moves, and every muscle in his back screams in protest at each minute shift.
It's not uncommon, muscle pain after using his wings more than he's used to. They train in flight, of course, and train to improve their flight endurance, but he's flown to and from the Institute and Magnus' house three times, today, and he flew during the attack at the Institute, and he'd flown on morning patrol—
And he hasn't been training back up to full strength for long after he fell out of the sky all those months ago. He's a little out of practise. With the adrenaline finally fading out of his bloodstream after such a warm hug from Magnus and a hot, soothing shower, the pain is finally beginning to hit him.
"Are you alright?" Magnus asks, frowning as Alec hisses while lowering himself to the mattress. He's propping himself up on one elbow, surveying Alec as he shifts around.
"Fine," Alec says. "I overdid it. It happens. I'll be fine."
"Alexander, if you're hurt—"
"I'm not." He meets Magnus' gaze straight-on. "It's just muscle strain."
Magnus lips twitch upwards, and he moves to sit up. "Well, I can fix that. Take your shirt off, and turn around."
"You don't have to. You've used a lot of magic already."
"Alexander, you seem to be under some kind of misapprehension. I don't do things for you because I feel obliged to. I do them because I care about you, and because I want to. And that was at least an hour ago. I'm the High Warlock of Brooklyn. I'm more than fine."
Alec doesn't have the energy to argue; he moves as Magnus instructs him to, until he's sitting cross-legged, elbows on his knees with his head braced in his hands and his shirt in his lap, exhaustion beating against his skull like the thump of the bass drum in a club.
Magic crackles behind him, and the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end as he feels wisps brushing against his skin. A moment later, he feels Magnus' hands resting just below his neck, bare skin brushing bare skin tantalisingly.
Thumbs dig into his aching shoulder muscles, and a moan rips its way out of Alec's throat at how good it feels. The firm, circular motions are almost relieving enough on his sore body to distract him from the fact that Magnus has his hands on him like this, in such an intimate way.
Magnus' hands massage down, into the grooves of his spine and each painful, knotted muscle he encounters. Alec feels tension bleed out of him slowly, Magnus' ministrations easing the discomfort settled deep within him with warm fingers and soothing breaths of magic that tickle across Alec's skin.
His hands reach the join between his back and wings, where skin melds into coarse scapular feathers. Alec's breath hitches at the touch, sensation rocketing through him, densely packed nerve-endings firing off at lightning speeds, and Magnus pauses.
"Would you rather I avoided your wings?" His voice is barely a murmur.
"It's okay," Alec says, before he can consider saying anything else.
Lit with smoky plumes of magic, Magnus' fingers brush against the base of his wings again, before shifting along, up a few inches. He hesitates.
He shouldn't. He should say no. He can count on one hand the people who have ever touched his wings, outside of medicinal purposes. His mother, Isabelle, Jace, and Max. And he's fairly certain that his mother hasn't done such a thing since he was younger than Max.
And like this? He's never been touched like this.
But Magnus' fingers are running through his feathers, smoothing them into place where they've been knocked about and crumpled during the battle and during flight. His breath leaves him in a heady rush, and he shivers as Magnus' careful sweeps become surer.
He's never felt anything like this in his life. Grooming each other's wings is a bonding habit, done between family, between the closest friends, between lovers. Certainly not between business acquaintances, or tentative friends, or whatever Alec has been trying to convince himself he and Magnus are.
This, Magnus' fingers straightening his primaries and his magic floating across his secondaries, is unlike anything he's felt with his siblings tidying up his feathers—or, indeed, when he's helped them with theirs.
This feels like a thousand tiny explosions everywhere Magnus' hands venture. Like a supernova erupts at every fleeting kiss of magic. Like his every nerve ending is a firework that Magnus' touch sets off, blazing into the sky in a bright spray of colour, blinding and beautiful and breathtaking.
It's making his heart stutter, his breaths turning ragged, blood singing and pulse racing, thrumming beneath his skin. He wants to shy away, because he shouldn't allow himself to feel like this, but he wants to lean into it, to melt under Magnus hands, because it feels so wonderful, warm and tender and intimate.
"Oops," Magnus whispers behind him, sounding a tad sheepish but not particularly apologetic. There's a shimmer above the nightstand in Alec's peripheries, and a grey-white feather lands on the polished wooden surface—one of Alec's.
"It happens all the time," Alec says, voice low. "Don't worry."
"I wasn't," Magnus replies, matching his tone in a way that sets something in the pit of Alec's stomach on fire. He's close, closer than Alec realised, and when he speaks, warm breath curls around Alec's ear. "Feel better?"
"Yeah. I– Yeah."
Magnus' hands run up the length of his back to his shoulders, and then he's being turned around, gently, until he's facing Magnus. Alec is sat with his legs sprawled sloppily beneath him, but Magnus is leaning back on his haunches, a deep-seated fire burning in his eyes, chest rising and falling deeply.
"I've never been drawn to the Nephilim's wings," Magnus says, eyes raking across Alec's, tracing the paths his fingers just made. "They've always been used by your people as evidence of some kind of heavenly gift. An excuse for retribution the Clave considers its divine right. But you..." Magnus trails off, and snaps his eyes back to Alec's. "Even when you loathed me, you didn't see them like that. You didn't use them like that."
"They're just part of our anatomy," Alec replies, without thought. "They're not replicas of angel wings. Every depiction of angels we have shows their wings as something entirely different. My wings are no more angelic than any other cell in my body. And I'm just the same amount of angelic as Valentine and the Circle, which I've been aware of all my life. It's never seemed like a particularly wonderful attribute."
One side of Magnus' lips curl up, just enough for the corner of his eye to crinkle. "Your self-awareness does you favours," he says. "And you're beautiful."
Red stains Alec's cheeks, bleeding across his skin like ink spilling across thick paper, sinking into the fibres and spreading out, a river of crimson heat. "So are– God, Magnus, so are you."
A little laugh escapes him, gold-green irises shining in the low light of his bedroom. "Well, yes. I know." His expression softens, the teasing evaporating as he gazes at Alec with impossible tenderness. "Thank you, darling."
"I never thought I'd get to tell a man he's beautiful," Alec admits quietly, looking up at Magnus from beneath his eyelashes. "It's not– It's never been something I allow myself to think about. This."
"I know." The backs of Magnus' fingers brush his cheek. "I know."
Alec reaches up to catch Magnus' wrist before he can withdraw his hand, and leans into the warmth of his touch.
"Alexander," Magnus whispers, reaching up his free hand to run fingers through Alec's hair. "You're making this very difficult."
"No, you're not," Magnus says, lips quirking upwards. "But we have to stop. Otherwise I am going to kiss you, and I'm not going to be happy about it."
"Isabelle told me once that no moment is ever perfect."
"Isabelle is right. Imperfections are often what make moments special. But not like this. Not with Max, and Moloch, and you being so delirious I'm not convinced you'll even remember this conversation in the morning."
Unbidden, his eyelashes dip and his eyes fix on Magnus' lips. He's not wearing any make-up - he hasn't been since Alec turned up at his door - but his lips look so soft, drawing his gaze and holding it captive.
"I'd remember kissing you."
Magnus makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat, closing his eyes for a moment as though to steady himself. When he reopens them, he's glaring at Alec; he kicks his shin lightly with the ball of his foot.
"Stop it," he says, with a huff of indignation. "You're being a manipulative little shit, and I will not stand for it."
Alec laughs. "My apologies."
After a rather exaggerated amount of huffing and humphing from Magnus, Alec finds himself lying stiffly in Magnus' bed on his stomach, wings folded up either side of him. He's got one arm tucked beneath the pillow, and he's turned his head away from Magnus in the darkness of his bedroom.
He can't quite relax. He's exhausted - he has been for hours - and his entire body hurts, although less than it did before Magnus' magical massage, but he can't let himself slip into sleep. He's too tense. His brain is too active, filled with thoughts about this being Magnus' bed, and Magnus' loft, and Magnus being right next to him in very limited clothing, having just touched his wings like—
Magnus' voice comes as a mere whisper, and the sheets rustle before Alec feels a hand on his back, below where feathers meet flesh.
Alec glances over, turning his head the other way on the pillow so he can face Magnus in the dark. He can make out only slitted golden pupils, but they're filled with mixed concern and amusement.
"You are allowed to relax, angel. Nobody is going to ambush you in your sleep. This loft is perfectly secure."
"I know. I'm sorry." It's a fact he's perfectly aware of, that Magnus' loft is safe—he wouldn't have left Max alone if he had any doubts as to its security.
He takes Magnus' proffered hand when it slips across the sheets, and sighs. "I suppose I just haven't slept in the same bed as someone else since I was a kid. Jace and I fall asleep in the same place mid-conversation, sometimes, but not...like this."
Not with someone I'm half-way to falling in love with, Alec thinks, and then freezes.
In love with?
Magnus doesn't reply, merely humming in acknowledgement. Instead, he slides his body forwards, closer to Alec's so that he's resting a mere few centimetres from Alec's curled wingtip, and brings their joined hands up in between them. His lips press against Alec's knuckles, lingering for a single golden moment that makes Alec's entire body hot.
It's...less awkward, Alec thinks, as Magnus settles their hands back on the bed, not relinquishing his hold, and closes his eyes, clearly settling in to sleep. He's separated from Magnus by the barrier of his wings - their bodies can't touch beyond their hands and feet unless Alec lifts up a wing and drapes it over Magnus, which he certainly won't be doing - but they're recognising the fact that they're sharing a bed.
It's with Magnus' fingers laced through his and the soft sound of Magnus' breaths filling his ears that sleep finally hauls him under, his aching body sinking into the mattress and his mind falling to rest at long last.