Alec’s never seen Magnus look as troubled as he does right now, standing beside the shimmering portal that will take them both to the underworld. This was disturbing in and of itself, given the sheer number of troubling experiences Magnus had gone through ever since meeting Alec, never mind the rest of his immortal life: he wasn’t like this when he learned he would be Alec’s first lover, nor when they woke up from said first night of lovemaking surrounded by a herd of wild deer.
Magnus wasn’t even like this when he realized that Maryse was Alec’s mother. Surely nothing could top the anxiety of deflowering Demeter’s mortal son, something that was guaranteed to ensure that their animosity would continue for centuries to come?
Then again, Magnus laughs unreservedly in Maryse’s face whenever she tries to threaten or blackmail him into cutting things off with Alec. It’s hard to hold Hades, lord of the underworld, to the same standards as others when he’s obviously leagues beyond ordinary mortals.
“Hey,” says Alec, touching Magnus’ elbow. “What’s got you so nervous?”
The smile Magnus gives him is strained at best.
“It’s not every day a living mortal comes into the land of the dead, Alexander,” he says. “And it’s rarer still for me to bring down someone I care about. By which I mean I’ve never done this before.”
“Yeah?” Touched, Alec leans in to press a kiss on Magnus’ waiting lips. “I’m honoured, then.”
“You know you’re my first in a great many things, my darling,” says Magnus. “More that that, I’m the ruler of the underworld and you’ve always lived under the light of the summer sun. I don’t want you to be...” Magnus searches for the right words, “disappointed, I suppose.”
What a strange thing to hear given Alec’s very minimal, very specific expectations, which he thought he had made perfectly clear. Maybe his communication skills are more lacking than he thought – even though Magnus usually understands what Alec is trying to say with minimal effort.
“Magnus, all I need to not be disappointed is getting to hang out with you for the next couple days, a bed big enough for us both, and no wildlife waking me up in the morning.”
“I think we can manage that,” says Magnus, and his smile relaxes into something softer.
“Then we’re good. There’s only so many times we can have sex on this field before something goes horribly wrong.”
Not that Alec doesn’t love this place and the memories it holds – it’s where Alec met Magnus while on his way back from a successful hunt, the place where he pulled Magnus in for that first, earthshaking kiss. It’s where Magnus had laid him down under a sliver of a new moon and mapped every inch of Alec’s skin with his mouth, from the center of Alec’s forehead all the way down to the arches of his soles.
Of course, there was also the reality of being bitten by gophers as a wakeup call, the sneezes that overtake Alec’s body at the cusp of spring, and the terrible rashes from the sun when they indulge each other in the mornings. Alec’s sentiment can only go so far before common sense kicks in.
“We can always try your place,” suggests Magnus, the start of an old and familiar debate. “I’m sure Isabelle wouldn’t mind clearing out for the night.”
“Magnus, I’m not kicking my sister out of her home when I’m sure you’ve got a perfectly serviceable castle.” Not that Alec needs a castle. A shack with strong walls and a proper foundation would work just as well.
“That does sound terribly sensible,” sighs Magnus. "Very well.”
He straightens his shoulders, shedding any lingering uncertainties and all at once Alec sees the king Magnus is, standing tall and majestic in his midnight robes. Under the quiet darkness of night and bathed in the light of the full moon, Magnus looks beautiful and otherworldly.
Holding out a hand toward Alec, he says, “You’ve got everything you need?”
Alec’s really doing this. Stepping through a magical vortex into the land of the dead. It’s a lot more intimidating to think of it that way, so Alec mentally reframes it as, “visiting his boyfriend’s place for the weekend” instead.
“My bow and arrows, enough apples to feed an army, an actual army to look after the city while I’m gone...”
Alec pats the bundle under his arm before clasping Magnus’ proffered hand tight. “...And you.” A little spark of pleasure kindles in Magnus’ eyes.
“Yeah,” says Alec. “I’m good to go.”
When Alec steps out of the portal, Magnus’ fingers are still tangled with his own.
“Wow,” he says, looking around. “The underworld looks like a really classy bedroom.”
It’s possibly the most elaborate room Alec has ever been in: the walls and ceiling are made of bleak, grey stones but everything else is imbued with a warmth and elegance that radiates Magnus’ touch: the soft burgundy carpet, the sheer, cream coloured curtains draped over the sunlit window. There is also a gilded mirror, and a desk and wardrobe made from a redwood tree the likes of which Alec has never seen before.
There’s also a sole painting in the room – one of the meadow he’s just left behind, yellow daffodils in full bloom under a blazing sun. There are two figures hidden between the flowers, their limbs intertwined. Further back there’s a brook, running along the edge of the distant forest.
“This is definitely a step up from what I’m used to.”
“You’re used to sleeping in the barracks, or sleeping on a field,” says Magnus, disapproving. He closes the portal with a snap of his fingers. “Just because this is the land of the dead doesn’t mean we can’t be civilized.”
“I can see that,” says Alec, gesturing at the bed in the center of the room. It’s the most opulent thing Alec’s laid eyes on, with deep red covers and a small mountain of pillows. Alec places his belongings on the ground and walks over to it, runs his fingers over the sheets. It’s the softest thing he’s ever touched.
“What’s this made out of?”
He hears Magnus walk up close, the fall of his footsteps gentle against the floor. “Silk,” is Magnus’s response. “It’s nice, isn’t it?” Alec’s wearing his chiton, but Magnus’ hand at his hip feels scorching hot, as though it could burn right through the thin fabric and leave ashes in its wake. It hits Alec that this is what he’s been waiting for – a bed inside walls, absolute privacy, and Magnus within his reach.
Alec’s body acts in its own accord. He turns around within the circle of Magnus’ arms and takes Magnus’ face between his hands, pulls him into a deep, searing kiss. Magnus’ tongue slides into his mouth, easy as anything, and Alec moans into the heat of it, blood singing.
Kissing Magnus is such an all-encompassing experience that Alec could lose – and has lost – entire afternoons dedicated just to the task: licking off the paint that shade his lips, exploring every hidden crevice until his own mouth starts to feel oversensitive, raw with nerves. He only pulls away then, and even so it’s to kiss Magnus’ chin instead, follow the lines of his neck to the bare wings of his collarbones and then back up again.
“Ah,” says Magnus, breathless as Alec bites and soothes in turns the soft skin of Magnus’ neck. His pulse flutters against Alec’s mouth, as light and rapid as a gossamer wings. “We’ll save the tour for later, then?”
“Maybe for my next visit, yeah,” agrees Alec, never mind the fact that this visit is supposed to be for three days. “This one has a very specific mission objective.” Magnus laughs and steals any other words from Alec’s mouth with another kiss.
He guides Alec into taking small steps until the backs of Alec’s knees hit the edge of the bed. Alec doesn’t think to let go of Magnus as he tumbles down, and as a result they land in a heap on top of the pristine sheets, the breath knocked out of Alec’s chest.
“Oof,” says Alec, feeling the full force of Magnus’ weight on top of him. “You’re – can’t – air – lungs–”
“Am I taking your breath away?” Magnus grins, but he rolls off Alec with a last peck on the lips. “How romantic.”
Alec glares at him, trying to fill his lungs with air again. Magnus, in a gracious move, keeps his attention away from Alec’s mouth and only to the tips of Alec’s fingers, the bend of his wrist. He moves up, tracing with his tongue the rune for Artemis’ blessing that’s etched on Alec’s forearm and presses a kiss to the inside of Alec’s elbow; Alec shivers, heart hammering in his chest. It suddenly seems like a good idea to put catching his breath lower on his list of priorities.
“C’mere,” says Alec, collapsing into the pillows piled at the head of the bed. It’s different, not being on uneven ground with grass tickling at his feet; he’s used to seeing Magnus drenched with the light of the sun or eagerly catching glimpses of him under the night sky. While the room seems like it has daylight streaming in through the window it’s decidedly different, like the gold has been infused with grey.
The silk sheets too are a change, luxurious instead of earthy, and the air – it’s unnaturally still compared to the ever-present breeze of the meadow. If Alec tries, he could describe a hundred more things that are different today than any other times before, but ultimately they’re all superficial.
Magnus’ hands, the press of his mouth – gentle and insistent in turns – and the way his voice sounds ravaged when he whispers Alec’s name – all of that is the same.
Alec pushes the dark robes off Magnus’ shoulders and once more tugs him close. His knees draw up and legs fall open, creating space for Magnus to settle into, to curve over Alec’s torso. Something kindles and sets alight in Alec, low in his stomach and rapidly expanding outward.
Magnus’ hand trails up Alec’s bare calf, his knee, his thigh, the hem of Alec’s chiton pooling where it’s cinched at the nebulous juncture between his waist and hips. Magnus’ fingers move further up, run teasingly along the length of Alec’s cock and–
“Oh,” Alec gasps into Magnus’ mouth. His hips thrust up, out of his control.
It’s a revelation each time, being with Magnus – and he’s reminded once more that Magnus is the best chance he could’ve ever taken. Not just for this – with Alec it has always been about convincing his heart, and when he’d given that over to Magnus there were no doubts that his body would follow with no delay. He swings a leg around Magnus’ waist, digs his heel into the dip at the bottom of Magnus’ back in a desperate attempt to pull Magnus closer, searching for something to rut against, when Magnus pulls off altogether.
Alec wouldn’t say that he whines, except – yes, that’s exactly what he does. He blinks open his eyes, chest heaving, to see an expression of shock etched into Magnus’ stunning face.
“Wha – What’s wrong?” asks Alec, pushing himself up and bracing his weight on his elbows.
“Look around,” says Magnus, and – oh, how strange, thinks Alec. It’s a little hard to care about anything when Magnus is kneeling between Alec’s legs, but the thick vines that are now covering the entire room, lush with heart shaped leaves and blooming white flowers are difficult to miss.
Alec may not be very romantic, but this gesture is clear enough for even Alec to understand.
“It’s perfect,” he says sincerely. He moves to kiss Magnus again and the scent of the flora grow incrementally stronger. Magnus dutifully kisses him back, before pulling away once more and saying, “Alec, this isn’t me.”
Alec groans. I don’t care, he wants to say, Just touch me. “What do you mean?”
“It’s the land of the dead, my darling,” says Magnus. “Things shouldn’t grow down here.”
He trails off in a thoughtful manner, and Alec raises his eyebrows, issuing a silent challenge. In response, Magnus runs his fingers through Alec’s hair and tucks a loose lock behind an ear.
His touch is so sweet it almost aches and a different kind of warmth gathers in Alec’s chest as he sighs. Magnus looks around the room again, expression growing increasingly joyful and bewildered before his gaze comes back to Alec and he says, “Alexander, it’s you.”
“What?” says Alec, confused.
Magnus doesn’t expand, but he does finally seem to get on with the program, which is the most important thing. With a careless wave of his arm Magnus vanishes the clothing from both their bodies – save the charm that always hangs on a cord around Magnus’ wrist, a gift from Alec for the summer solstice – leaving the covetous sight of Magnus’ flawless canvas of brown skin, his broad shoulders, the straining tendons of his arms.
His mouth is enthusiastic on Alec’s, his hands spanning around Alec ribcage. Desire for Magnus burns up Alec’s skin, claws up his spine. Alec needs more than Magnus’ lips right now – he hooks his legs around Magnus and rolls them over, hips cradled between Magnus’ knees.
“Oh,” says Magnus, panting. Alec leans in to capture his parted mouth.
He rocks his hips against Magnus’ rapidly hardening cock and the friction elicits a moan from them both, lost between their lips. He pulls away only to make his way down the smooth expanse of Magnus’ chest, thrilling in the noises that Magnus makes – the gasp when Alec runs his tongue over Magnus’ hardened nipples, the sound of Alec’s name as he kisses down the lines of Magnus’ abdomen.
“Having one of Artemis’ blessed mortals worship me like this,” says Magnus, fingers curling into Alec’s hair and sounding like each breath is a struggle, “it must be the paramount of all sins.”
Alec would rather – and very happily so – live down here with Magnus and do this every day for eternity than live without ever having experienced this. At least Alec’s still one of Artemis’ favoured warriors. He mumbles something of the like against Magnus’ stomach, but Magnus doesn’t get much chance to respond – the very next moment Alec’s bracing himself, hands on each of Magnus’ thighs, dragging his tongue from the base of Magnus’ cock all the way to the head.
“Alec,” Magnus chokes, hips jerking and hand tightening in Alec’s hair, shooting fire through Alec’s veins. He presses a kiss to the tip before taking the head into his mouth and starts to suck.
Alec can’t take all of Magnus into his mouth without easing into it, but by now he knows what Magnus wants and how to give it. It’s a far cry from when he was too inexperienced to do anything but follow Magnus’ endlessly patient guidance, nothing to make up for his lack of skill except his eagerness.
He uses the knowledge he’s built up since then to wrap his fingers around the remaining length, moving his head and hands in tandem. Alec’s mouth gets wetter the longer he has it open, but it makes the slide of Magnus’ cock smoother, slicker.
He takes Magnus in deeper by increments, barely moving off to breathe, eager to feel Magnus grow fuller and harder inside him. The muscles in Alec’s neck and shoulder slowly start to get stiff but the ache is worth the reward of Magnus’ moans, the increased creativity of his curses and just how much Alec loves this, loves sucking Magnus’ cock with a kind of wanton hunger that makes him think he’s been possessed by Aphrodite herself, shaking from the force of the desire.
Magnus’ ankles come around to cross at the bottom of Alec’s spine and when Magnus says in broken a voice, “Alec – I want–” Alec relaxes his throat, removing the hand from Magnus’ cock to take all of it into his mouth. Magnus is heavy on Alec's tongue, burning hot and smoother than the silk beneath Alec’s knees.
Alec’s hard, so hard that it’s starting to get difficult to think of anything that’s not his own release. Magnus’ fingers tightening periodically in his hair keeps him tethered to the present; when he moans around Magnus, vocal cords straining, Magnus correctly takes the cue and let’s himself go, lets himself start to rock into Alec’s mouth with abandon.
Alec lets himself go too, in a different way – lets himself close his eyes and focus on breathing, moaning as Magnus’ hands tighten in his hair, one hand still braced against Magnus’ thighs as he desperately tries to bring himself off with the other. He feels Magnus tensing, gasping, “Alec, I’m about to – I’m going to–”
The only response Alec has to that is to move back just enough so he can start sucking again, stroking Magnus’ hip and seeing him through to the end. With a last, desperate call of Alec’s name Magnus back arches off the bed and he comes, shooting down Alec’s throat.
Alec swallows it down greedily, keeps sucking until Magnus becomes soft in his mouth. He only pulls away once Magnus is spent and sprawled back on the bed and gasping out, “Alexander – you never cease to surprise me.”
“In good ways I hope,” says Alec, collapsing beside him. He’s so close, but he wants Magnus’ hands bring him off.
“What in the world was that?”
“Something I’ve been wanting to do for months without any grass around,” he replies, wiping at his mouth and leaning in for a kiss. Magnus responds as enthusiastically as he can when he’s this languorous, satiated. “Judging by how it’s a forest in here, I’d say that was only semi-successful.”
“Alexander,” says Magnus, reaching up to push Alec’s hair away from his eyes, “I would trade my kingdom to go through that one more time.”
“Ah – I’m not that expensive.” Alec moves to take Magnus’ hand though, guides it toward his straining cock. He hisses at Magnus’ touch, overly sensitive, finding that he can’t look away from Magnus’ eyes which have taken on its true form – golden and catlike, flames burning behind them. It makes Alec even more desperate, precome spilling out in sticky strands.
“No,” agrees Magnus, and the way his fingers curl around Alec is so gentle that it’s excruciating, too much and nothing at all and Alec feels like he could crawl out of his skin. He’s burning everywhere and around them, the flowers start to blossom out of control. “You’re worth much more.”
Alec doesn’t know exactly when he passes out but it’s probably after the second time Magnus makes him come – buried deep inside Alec and drawing out every last moan from his body. He remembers being loose-limbed and sated, thinking that the burn inside him will have settled into a manageable ache by the morning.
What Alec does know is how he awakens – and it’s because of the damn windstorm that erupts in the middle of the room. It would be alarming even in the best of circumstances, but it’s also accompanied by the familiar sound of a thousand flapping wings that signals Hermes’ arrival.
Alec sits up, heart still racing from the unnatural jolt into consciousness. He finds Magnus getting up beside him, looking irritated. The force of the winds shake loose the leaves and flowers growing along the wall, blooming from the vines curling around the bedposts and crawling out the window.
“I’m going to kill your brother,” promises Magnus, and Alec doesn’t have time to say, I’ll join you, before the gale abruptly stops, and Jace is standing where the small vortex had been forming a moment before. He’s clad in his white and gold armour, winged sandals at his feet and an unimpressed look on his face.
“Wow,” says Jace, looking around at the wild grove Magnus’ room has become. “What happened here?”
“Jace,” he says, pressing the heels of his palms against his eyes to abate the impending headache. He just wanted one weekend – one weekend! – to spend with Magnus, uninterrupted by his family, the uncooperative wildlife living in the fringes of Athens, and the incompetent soldiers under his command. “What are you doing here?”
"Yes,” says Magnus in a deceptively pleasant voice, “please enlighten us.”
“Hades,” greets Jace coolly. His neutral expression quickly morphs into a scowl, one that gets deeper and deeper as he locates the various signs of debauchery across the room. Serves him right, thinks Alec. What was he expecting, showing up here unannounced when Alec specifically said he was going off to “spend the weekend in Magnus’ bed”? To think that Jace is the one who used to harp him for days without end about taking time off and getting laid.
“Jace.” Magnus mimics Jace’s tone. “Don’t you have any other places to be today where you’re equally unwanted?”
“That’s Hermes to you, asshole,” responds Jace. He turns to Alec, and in a much friendlier tone, he continues, “Alec, Izzy wanted me to bring you a message – Demeter is coming to pay the two of you a visit.”
Alec freezes. “Me and Magnus?”
Jace, to his credit, looks as horrified as Alec feels. “No, you and Izzy.”
That makes more sense.
“Of course she is,” sighs Alec, the panic abating from his chest. “Convenient timing for a visit.”
“Izzy doesn’t think you should... cut this trip short,” says Jace. “Neither do I, for the record. We’ll try to run interference, but you know how Maryse is. She’s going to be absolutely furious when you see her next.”
This means very little to Alec since his mother has been ‘absolutely furious’ with him since he lost the trifecta that made him favoured by Artemis. “You whored yourself out to Hades?” she had said. “Of all the stupid, irresponsible things–”
“I didn’t whore myself out to anyone,” Alec had responded, and anger quickly overtook the sting of her words. “And I’m still the leader of the hunt, and a warrior who fights with a bow. So what if I’m not a virgin? I’m pretty sure that Artemis – bless her – fucked Orion so–”
Maryse had gone white with rage and vanished before the conversation could finish. Neither of them have brought it up since then, especially since it became apparent that Artemis’ blessing remained with Alec in battle. Little remained to be criticized, but that had never stopped Alec’s mother from giving it her best go.
“I’ll deal with whatever she throws at me when I get back,” sighs Alec. “Thanks though, for letting me know.”
“Yes, many thanks, Hermes,” says Magnus. “Though the question still remains – couldn’t you just send a fire message instead of coming into my home uninvited?”
“Probably,” says Jace, shrugging. “Always wanted to get the lay of this place though. The underworld’s so mysterious, you know? Worth the temporary trauma of having to see my brother after he’s had a wild night of passion. I’m pretty sure Mnemosyne will be down to remove that part from my memory. She and I go way back.”
Alec throws one of Magnus’ many pillows at him.
“Bye, Jace,” he says pointedly. Jace rolls his eyes, but before he can leave there’s a loud, ear-splitting crack! and between one blink and the next, Maryse is standing in the middle of the room. She looks like she’s been possessed by a fury, or channeling the spirit of Medusa.
Alec screams in shock. He’s not proud of it, but he does.
“Persephone,” starts Maryse, standing regally. “I’m so disappointed in you.”
“Mother,” says Alec, scrambling to pull the covers more securely over both himself and Magnus. “What in the world are you doing here? Get out!”
Maryse ignores him.
“I couldn’t believe it when Dolos told me that you had entered the land of the dead,” she says, giving a look of deep disgust to Alec, Magnus, and the room at large. “Not just because he’s a fraud and trickster, but because I didn’t think your stupidity could reach this level. Clearly I underestimated that particular quality in you. Again.”
“Don’t talk to him like that,” snaps Jace and Magnus in unison, but Alec doesn’t pay them much attention. He keeps his gaze focused on his mother.
Tired and annoyed, he says, “Couldn’t you wait three more days to say this?”
“No,” says Maryse, marching up to the bed and grabbing Alec’s arm. “Because you’re leaving this – this nest of sin and depravity right now, Alec. This embarrassment has gone on long enough.”
“Um,” says Alec. “I don’t think so.”
Magnus is suddenly standing, a ball of fire glowing in his hand. He’s covered in his long dark robes, looking devastatingly menacing, and yet all Alec can think is, great, now I’m the only person in this room without any clothes on. This is possibly the most horrible thing to happen to him.
“Maryse,” says Magnus with an eerie calm, “get your hands off of him.”
“This might be your realm, Hades,” says Maryse, unconcerned, “but do you really think you can take me in a fight? I preside over the cycle of life and death in the mortal realm – you don’t want to get any further on my bad side.”
Magnus smiles. “Oh, I think I’ll take my chances.”
Before this escalates further, Alec interrupts to say, “Mother, if you could just–”
And then, shockingly, Maryse disappears with an accompanying crack.
Alec blinks rapidly, unsure of what just happened. He turns to look at Jace, and then Magnus, to make sure he’s not imagining this, but the look of equal bafflement on both their faces confirms that yes: Maryse really just vanished without a trace in the middle of a confrontation with one her least favourite deities.
“O-kay,” says Jace, looking spooked. “I’ve never seen Demeter just run from a fight like this, not unless she was bringing back a famine.”
“Well, she can’t do that here,” dismisses Magnus. “Though you’re right for once, this is very unlike her.”
“I mean, I’m not complaining,” says Alec hurriedly, lest the Fates think otherwise, “but that was–”
Another crack, and Maryse reappears. The relief within Alec vanishes. They all spoke too soon, he thinks glumly. There was no way his mother would walk away from this.
He quickly gets concerned when he sees the panic on Maryse’s face.
“Mother?” he asks, frowning. “What’s wrong?”
“I tried to teleport with you,” she says curtly.
“You tried to do what?” asks Alec, deeply affronted. “That’s completely–”
“Alec,” cuts in Maryse, “I tried to leave with you and I couldn’t.” She looks upset, and that part of Alec that will always love her, no matter the horrible words she’s thrown his way, aches to her see like this. “There’s only one way this can happen. Please – please tell me you didn’t eat anything while being down here.”
“I didn’t,” says Alec, crossing his arms over his chest. “Not that I owe you any explanation.”
“Alec, this is serious.”
Alec rolls his eyes. “Obviously Magnus just stopped you from–”
“Alexander,” says Magnus. Alec pauses, turning to look at him in question. The expression on Magnus’ face can only be described as perturbed. “I didn’t do anything.”
For the next minute, nobody says anything – or even moves, really, each of them trying to process Maryse’s actions and Magnus’ words and being unable to come to a satisfying answer. When Maryse finally breaks the stillness and reaches for Alec’s arm, no one tries to stop her.
Once more she vanishes without Alec, only to reappear a moment later.
Two more tries and Maryse looks ready for murder. Alec is starting to feel uneasy, and when he looks at the other two in the room, Jace says, “Um, okay. Maybe I can give it a shot, just to make sure nothing’s wrong. I’ll bring you right back, obviously.”
“Okay,” agrees Alec. “But before you do anything – Magnus, could you, um, you know–”
Alec gestures at his bare chest, and at once Magnus says, “Oh, of course.” Immediately Alec’s back in his discarded chiton, covered from his shoulders to his knees.
“Thank you,” he says, smiling at Magnus and ignoring his mother’s derisive snort. He climbs down from the bed, walks over to Jace and clasps his shoulder. “Okay, let’s try this.”
“Hold on,” says Jace. Alec closes his eyes as a roaring wind swirls around them and the sound of fluttering wings floods his ears–
And then nothing. Jace vanishes while Alec is left standing there.
Jace comes back just a few seconds later, with much less theatrics. He looks shaken. Alec doesn’t know why this is happening, but he’s not a fan of how Magnus looks like he’s been punched in the stomach.
“I guess it’s my turn next, then,” says Magnus, trying to smile. He opens up a portal and offers his arm to Alec, who takes it without question. “Couldn’t hurt to try, right? This will lead us to our meadow, back in the mortal realm.”
Alec’s done this a million times, Magnus spiriting him to every wondrous place across the earth. This should be nothing.
Nodding, Alec says, “Let’s do this.”
The two of them walk toward the light, together, but while Magnus phases through, Alec hits what feels like a wall of water. It’s not wet, but it’s fluid and cold. Like glass, if it could flow. A barrier to keep Alec out.
He steps back, pressing his hand against the portal. It pushes back against him. “Magnus?” he calls out. Around the room, the wild fauna begin to wither and wilt. Being in the underworld is one thing, but to be here without Magnus is just – Alec doesn’t want to think about it. “Magnus!”
Maryse mutters something behind him, but Alec pays her no mind. The few seconds that pass until Magnus comes back through seems to stretch over years. Only when Alec sees him again can he draw enough air to fill his lungs.
He takes a seat at the edge of the bed and looks at three of the most important people in his life – for better or for worse – and tries to process what this means.
“Alec.” Maryse finally breaks the silence, her tone disbelieving. “How could you make such a mess when all you had to do was one – there’s literally only one rule in this place–”
“You will not speak to Alec with such disrespect in my home,” scowls Magnus. “I’m not going to repeat myself again. And I expected better from you, Maryse. There’s obviously more than one principle guiding the foundation of the underworld.”
“Yeah,” says Alec. Anger, as always, overpowers his anxiety. “And I’m not an idiot. I know what the deal is–”
“Do you, Alec?” sneers his mother. “Do you really know what ‘the deal’ is down here, and with the man you’ve apparently decided to shackle yourself to?”
“Yes!” says Alec, frustrated. “I even brought food from home! Which I didn’t touch because like I said, I didn’t eat anything while I’ve been here–”
“Clearly you must be forgetting something, otherwise you could leave!”
“Mother, enough.” Alec’s beyond manners now. “I think I would remember if I had–” And then the words catch in Alec’s throat as a single, terrible thought occurs to him about what he’s been up to since he got to the underworld.
But – no. It can’t be. He slowly turns to look at Magnus, whose face has gone deathly pale from the same realization. Against his will and at the mercy of a force stronger than anything in the room right now, Alec’s gaze drops to Magnus’ crotch.
Alec had – Alec definitely had something in his mouth while he’s been here.
“No,” he says, shaking his head. He licks his suddenly dry lips and Magnus makes a pained sound, as does Jace. Probably for very different reasons. Alec hopes it’s for very different reasons.
“That can’t – that doesn’t count. I didn’t – everyone was talking about food and that – that–” he can’t even finish his sentence. The silence in the room suggests that everyone’s figured out what he means, anyway.
Maryse looks faint. Her face is pale, except for the two spots of red vivid on her cheeks. From anger or embarrassment toward her deviant son, Alec can’t be sure.
“I’m sorry,” says Jace, his incredulous voice hitting Alec’s ears like thunder. “Are you telling me that you’re stuck here because you sucked your boyfriend off and then swallowed?”
Alec covers his face with his hands and wishes desperately that lightning would strike down from Zeus and just erase him from existence.
Magnus looks too shocked to show any mortification, but to be fair, he has a much higher tolerance for this sort of thing than Alec. “I’m sure there’s another explanation for this,” he says.
That seems to snap Maryse out of it.
“You!” she finally says, taking a step toward Magnus. “You did this! You – seduced my son and tricked him into – into pleasing you in vile ways so you could trap him here–”
Alec might not be able to defend himself and the... actions that landed him in this predicament, but he’s more than capable of putting an end to his mother’s unfair accusations toward Magnus. Never mind that Magnus never needed his help in telling Alec’s mother off, but Alec’s of the mind that he shouldn’t have to entertain this stupidity in the first place.
“Stop it, Mother.” He marches up to stand beside Magnus. Alec’s face is burning, but still he perseveres. “Magnus didn’t make me do anything. I convinced him to let me come down here because I love him and wanted to see where he lived, and it’s not his fault that I can’t–” He can’t believe he’s actually about to say this to his mother– “that I can’t keep my mouth off him.”
What an absolute clusterfuck, thinks Alec, and of course his luck would land him right in the middle of it.
Alec needs to get out of this conversation. He needs some peace and quiet to just think.
Magnus can’t banish Maryse without causing political disaster – though Alec suspects after today, Magnus is close to just saying, fuck it – so instead, Alec turns toward Magnus and asks, “Can you please take us somewhere away from here?”
Magnus’ face is a furious mix of sentiments, but at Alec’s words, he shakes himself out of it and grasps Alec’s hand.
“Whatever you wish, my darling,” he says as he waves his free arm to open up a portal. The last thing Alec hears before stepping through is Maryse shouting, “Persephone, don’t you dare–”
Alec stumbles when he arrives at their destination, but catches his footing quickly.
“Oh,” he says, looking around the desolate landscape around him. It’s nowhere Alec’s been before – the entire sky is covered in clouds so heavy it’s unclear where the dreary light is coming from. Alec thinks he’s standing on a field – it may have been a glade once, but now the trees and hedges are grey, the branches without leaves. The earth looks scorched, and the wide trail left on the ground speaks of a river that’s long since dried out.
A shiver runs through Alec when he notices ghostly figures in the distance. The chill in the air causes the hair to rise on Alec’s bare arms and legs. His chiton is meant for the blistering summers in Athens. Not – this.
Turning to Magnus, he asks, “Where are we?”
Magnus looks tired as he takes a seat on one of the fallen logs, patting the space beside him in invitation which Alec naturally accepts.
“We’re in Asphodel,” says Magnus, placing his hand over Alec’s. “Still in my realm, but outside the walls of my home. Theoretically, this is supposed to be a meadow–”
“I can buy that,” says Alec generously. “A dead meadow, but still a meadow.”
“Exactly,” says Magnus. His smile is a fragile thing. “I guess you’re getting your tour early, Alexander. Here it is – the land of the dead.”
“It fits the description.” Almost too well. “Has it always been like this?”
“For as long as I can remember,” confirms Magnus. “This river’s path is supposed to bridge the mortal realm to the Isles of the Blessed. I’ve never been able to find the beginning or end of it though. Asphodel’s an endless deadland – but better than Tartarus, of course.”
Certainly, there’s no life here, but there’s more to it. Alec can’t quite put into words the vast loneliness of this place, the way the air seems to be pressing down on him.
There’s a heaviness pulling at his heart, one that’s a result of Alec himself and not the place he’s in – Magnus himself has admitted to Alec that he rarely leaves the underworld. He hates his brothers in Olympus and, until Alec, had only ventured to the mortal realm when there was a particularly catastrophic disaster that required his help to shepherd the dead. Is this where Magnus has lived by himself, all this time?
He’s pulled out of his thoughts when he notices one of the translucent figures nearing. Alec keeps a wary eye on the approach until he realizes it’s a young girl of about five. There’s a hesitant expression on her face as she stops a few feet away from them. There is no colour on her – everything is just a different shade of grey, from her dark hair to her incrementally lighter skin.
The ache in Alec’s heart grows worse. He looks at Magnus, who holds out his free hand toward the young girl. The other one remains tangled in Alec’s.
“Hello, my dear Madzie,” he says softly, and she slowly ventures towards him. Her hand is so very small in Magnus’, engulfed in it; so colourless, too, in contrast to the warm tone of Magnus’ skin, the cheery violet adorning his nails. “What can I do for you?”
Madzie doesn’t speak. Alec thinks maybe down here, she doesn’t have the ability to. Instead she points to the ground, and both Magnus and Alec look down to see the same white flowers from Magnus’ bedroom blooming by Alec’s feet.
Taking the hint, Alec plucks one from the ground and holds it out to her. His voice cracks a little as he says, “Here you go.”
Madzie takes the flower from Alec, the splash of green a stark contrast to how washed out everything else is about her. When she turns to look at Magnus, a smile breaks across her previously blank face and Magnus looks shocked.
“What a lovely smile,” says Magnus, blinking rapidly. She squeezes Magnus’ hands, and Magnus lets her go on her way.
“Is this where you normally are?” asks Alec, watching her go. “Asphodel?”
Magnus nods in confirmation. “There’s only so much I can do to bring comfort to the departed when this is what awaits them,” he says. “But I try.”
“I don’t doubt it,” says Alec softly.
“Alexander – I know what it must look like, but you know I’d never – I didn’t know that this could happen. I would never – never – trick you into being stuck here. I wouldn’t.”
“I know,” says Alec, frowning. Where’s this coming from? Of course Alec doesn’t think this – Magnus didn’t even want him to come down here in the first place in fear for the safety of Alec’s mortal body and immortal soul.
When Alec had initially brought this up, Magnus had shaken his head and said, “You’re headed for Elysium, Alec, once you’re finished with this life. I don’t know if visiting my realm would affect that somehow.”
“I don’t care if it does,” was Alec’s response. “I figured that after I die, I’d just be with you. That’s the afterlife I want.”
Does Magnus not remember that this whole thing was Alec’s idea to start with? If not, then he needs to be reminded immediately.
“Is this about what my mother was going on about?” asks Alec. “Magnus, you know I don’t listen to anything she says about you. Or us.”
“This time, she has a point,” says Magnus, and Alec almost keels over in shock. Magnus agreeing with Alec’s mother? “How could I not know the magic governing my own kingdom?”
“I mean,” says Alec, awkward in a way he doesn’t normally feel around Magnus, “how could anyone know if it never happened before? Mortals coming to the underworld is rare enough, and I’m pretty sure someone coming down here had other priorities besides blowing their boyfriend.”
This startles a bark of laughter from Magnus. “Unlike you,” he clarifies.
Leaning in to press a kiss on Magnus’ temple, Alec says, “Let’s not pretend I was thinking about anything else when planning my trip.”
“You’re a wonder, my love,” sighs Magnus. “We’ll figure out a way to get you back home.”
“Thank you,” says Alec, hating how there is still an air of despondency around Magnus. He figures that nothing he can do or say in front of Magnus can ever be more humiliating than the whole spectacle with his mother, so he goes, “Though honestly, no big loss if you don’t. Taking it from you three times a day for the rest of time is actually, um, a secret fantasy of mine–”
This gets another laugh.
“You only have to ask,” says Magnus, tapping Alec’s mouth. More hesitantly, he adds, “You’re very – you’re surprisingly calm about this.”
“I was freaking out before,” says Alec. “With my mother and Jace just standing there and staring at us. But – well, there’s no point in panicking about it because I’m sure there’s a way out. There’s always a loophole.”
Even if Demeter and Hermes couldn’t manage it.
Magnus’ gaze remains soft, but it nonetheless gains a sombre quality, as though picking up on what Alec’s pointedly not thinking about. “Alec–”
Alec cuts him off with a kiss, deep and lingering. He closes his eyes and tries to kill any traces of doubt. Everything will be fine, he thinks. It has to be.
“No,” he says. “We’ll figure it out, Magnus. And – no matter what happens, we’re in this together, right?”
“Always,” promises Magnus, and the deep, rich brown of his eyes once more flares gold. Alec’s breath hitches and before he knows it Magnus is leaning in again, mouth hot and insistent against Alec’s.
Vines are crawling up Alec’s leg, soft petals brushing against his skin. When Alec’s eyes flutter open and he pulls away to take a look at Magnus’ beloved face, in his periphery he sees a widening circle of green around the log they’re sitting on.
Alec’s heart is pounding in his chest. He was able to ignore the strangeness last night, mind only focused on getting Magnus and himself off, but right now– “Magnus,” he says, “what’s happening?”
Magnus doesn’t look away from Alec.
“I don’t know how, my darling,” he says. “But you, your happiness – it’s bringing life to this place.”
“Oh.” Alec doesn’t know what to do with this. It’s so far beyond his realm of expertise that it’s laughable. “That’s – good, right? I mean, it looks nice.”
“I don’t know,” repeats Magnus, frowning. “I mean, Demeter is your mother and she’s in charge of the seasons, the harvest – maybe that’s playing a part.”
Alec stands up and drags Magnus with him. “We’ll figure this out too,” he promises. “All right, let’s get to it. Looks like we’ll have to add some research time into the weekend’s itinerary.”
“We had an itinerary?”
“There was only one thing on it,” admits Alec.
Shaking his head, Magnus says, “I love you, Alexander.”
More flowers start to pop out of the ground, spreading across the field. Although Magnus had just explained it to him just a minute ago, it finally hits Alec what’s driving this phenomenon. It would be embarrassing, if it was anyone other than Magnus witnessing it. To keep that look of absolute wonder on Magnus’ face as he looks around them though – Alec would let his heart be stripped bare and exposed like this in front of a hundred, a thousand eyes.
“I love you, too.” Alec draws him close. “And even though I thought coming down here meant a break from nature–”
“You have got to get over that,” says Magnus, laughing.
“But if you like the grass and the flowers,” continues Alec, “and me being here helps with that, then I promise I’ll go with you to every inch of your kingdom and – you know.” He flushes, some things still too difficult to put into words, especially with Magnus looking at him like that. As though Alec is giving him all that the realms have to offer, instead of just doing what anyone would.
He thinks about Madzie, the way the spring green stem of the white flower looked so full of promise against her small, colourless hands. Clearing his throat Alec finishes, somewhat anti-climatically, “We’ll make it happen.”
“You would do that?” asks Magnus, voice quiet and eyes bright with tenderness.
“Obviously,” says Alec. “I mean, it’s not like it’s gonna be hard for me or anything.”
“Oh?” says Magnus. It’s still astonishing to think that Alec can draw this from someone – both the easy playful smile that’s suddenly radiant on Magnus’ face, and the ever-present desire that always lingers in his gaze. “And why exactly is that?”
“C’mon,” says Alec, looking down at his feet. “You know why.”
Thankfully, Magnus takes pity on him.
“I do, my darling,” he says. “And I’m humbled beyond what words could convey that you’d come with me to every part of this world–”
“Yes,” says Alec.
“–and you’ll let me kiss you, like this–” he accompanies his words with the action, a gentle press of his lips against Alec’s– “and tell you how you’re the most spectacular creation across all of time and space–”
This he accentuates by pressing his mouth to the spot just under Alec’s ear. Magnus’ breath is hot against his skin; a shiver shoots up Alec’s spine.
“Yes,” he repeats. It’s only natural to want to close his eyes, direct all of his focus on Magnus’ voice, his touch.
“And you’ll let me lay you down on the life that you’ll bring.” Magnus is kissing him as he lowers Alec to ground, easing him down until his back is flat against the warm grass. Magnus’ hand – the one not tangled in Alec’s hair – trails from Alec’s ankle to his drawn up knee, runs hot along Alec’s thigh under the hem of his chiton. There’s no sun in the sky but Alec feels like he’s being soaked in its light.
From the moment he’d stepped into the underworld, Alec had felt that time would move differently here. Now it seems to have slowed down. The worries plaguing Alec pale in comparison to the taste of Magnus’ lips, the sweet press of his tongue.
Onto his mouth, Magnus murmurs, “And you’ll hear me tell you how much I love you, how one word from you will have me on my knees–”
And there’s a rush of breeze, a rustle of wings. Alec blinks open his eyes to see a look of extreme frustration on Magnus’ face as Jace makes his presence known once more.
“Of course,” says Magnus, from where he’s still curved atop Alec. “Of course. Perfect timing as always.”
Alec’s still trying to catch his breath. The patch of grass from earlier has expanded, grown into something wilder. Around him, there is no trace of the decaying logs and long-dead trees that Alec was met with when he stumbled on to Asphodel.
Instead there are saplings and thickets of wild berries, a glade full of dandelions. A gentle stream has started form, following the path of the dried river bed.
“You two need to get your acts together,” says Jace, throwing a look of extreme judgement at them both. “There’ll be plenty of time for that later.”
“Not if you keep popping up like an unwanted weed infestation,” mutters Magnus under his breath.
He sighs and straightens himself up, holds out an arm to help an equally beleaguered Alec to his feet.
Glaring, Jace responds, “You guys should be saying, ‘Thank you, Hermes, for trying to solve our problems. We’re forever in your debt.’”
“Ha,” says Magnus. “Hilarious.”
“While the two of you’ve been out here reliving your previous encounters – don’t look so shocked, Alec,” snaps Jace, “everyone knows what you guys get up to in the daffodil fields up top.”
Good grief. Is there no end to Alec’s humiliation?
“Once this is all over,” he tells Magnus, “I’m moving to Corinth. Or Ithaca. Somewhere where no one knows me.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic,” says Jace. “Anyway, while you two’ve been out here wasting time, I figured out what we need to do to solve your problem, Alec.”
“You’ve what?” says Alec, instantly on high alert.
“Yep,” says Jace. “C’mon, we’re going to see the Fates.”
The Fate Sisters, Jace explains, work in a realm that appears to be an endlessly white room. If there’s a ceiling here, it’s so high up that no one can make sense of it. Same with the walls. There either aren’t any, or they’re somewhere beyond perception. All that there is in every which direction are endless rows of framed tapestries hanging on silver ropes – the woven maps detailing the lives of each and every mortal soul. If anyone but the Fate Sisters could interpret these, Alec can see how it would be catastrophic.
Incidentally, mortals can’t enter or leave that realm without permission from all three Fates. Luckily for Alec’s predicament, one of the Fates is Izzy.
“So wait,” says Alec, staring at the portal Magnus has opened for the three of them. “What makes you think I can go through this to see the Sisters, but I couldn’t leave before?”
“We’re banking on the fact that their realm is independent of time and space,” explains Magnus. “It’s still possible that the portal won’t work, but if the doorway to any other place is available to you – my guess is it would be to them.”
Magnus shrugs, helpless. “I don’t know what else to tell you, darling. You up for giving it a try?”
In response, Alec reaches toward the shimmering light. His heart jumps in his chest when his hand disappears into it.
“Sweet!” says Jace, a broad grin on his face. “All right, buddy, let’s do this.”
Alec takes a deep breath and steps through, Magnus and Jace at his sides.
Izzy leaps into his arms and almost knocks him down the second Alec makes it to the other side.
Maia and Clary are part of their greeting party as well, but Alec pays them no heed. He hugs Izzy back tight; one of the things Alec had most definitely not been thinking about was if he would be able to see Izzy again without having to rely on her coming down to the underworld.
He’s relieved that it looks like it won’t be a problem at all.
“Big brother!” she says, beaming at him. “You made it! And you brought Jace and Magnus! Hi guys.”
“Hello, Isabelle,” says Magnus. “Lovely as always to see you and your Sisters.”
“I’m so glad,” says Izzy, turning back to look worriedly at Alec. “I looked at your tapestry and wasn’t sure if you’d be able to leave the underworld to get here and the way mom was talking – she made it sound horrible.”
“Yeah,” says Alec, briefly resting his chin on the top of her head. “That’s Mother for you.”
He straightens when she lets him go, keeping an arm draped around her shoulder, even as she kisses Jace’s cheek in greeting and lets him ruffle her hair. “So this is where you work, huh?”
“Yup,” she says proudly. “This is where the magic happens.”
“Listen, Sisters,” says Jace, cutting to the chase. “You know why we’re here, right? Alec got himself stuck in the underworld and we were thinking you guys could help us get him out.”
Clary nods. “Yeah, we saw,” she says, beckoning a single tapestry closer to them. “How’d that happen, anyway? We could see where you become tied to the underworld, but the details aren’t there.”
“Yeah, that’s for the best,” says Jace. He looks haunted and Alec avoids meeting his eyes. Instead he leans in to examine the tapestry, woven with threads of deep blue, green, the softest of grey, a splash of sunny yellow. Goosebumps erupt across his skin. Something about the combination, the layout, the places where the colours intersect–
“Hey,” he says, turning to Magnus and beckoning him closer. “Come take a look at this – doesn’t it remind you of the painting in your room? The one of our meadow?”
Magnus acquiesces to Alec’s request, startled when he gets a closer look at the tapestry.
“Yes,” he says, blinking once, twice. “It gives off the same... impression? Presence? I’m not quite sure how to describe it.”
To the Sisters, Alec asks, “Is this my fate map? Why does it look like this?”
“We’re weaving destinies, Persephone, we’re not that worried about the aesthetics,” says Maia, shrugging. “Though yes, yours is quite nice.”
“Ah, here it is, when you become tied to the land of the dead,” says Clary, tapping at what looks like a random patch of blue. Alec wishes she wouldn’t touch his map. “And it’s here until the end of your road.”
“Can you guys just like…” Jace makes snipping motions with his fingers. “...cut that off?”
“Um, no,” says Maia and Magnus at once, looking deeply unimpressed. Alec’s offended on Jace’s behalf.
“Jeez, tough crowd,” says Jace. “I don’t see anyone else coming up with any ideas.”
“This is one continuous thread, Hermes,” says Maia. “It’s Persephone’s lifeline. Cutting it would kill him.”
The Sisters’ have only one suggestion: to unravel Alec’s tapestry and recreate it without the presence of the underworld in his path.
“That sounds... extreme,” says Alec.
“I just want to put it out there that this whole situation's pretty strange,” says Izzy. “I mean, fate isn’t an exact science and there’s no way to read specific events in the maps, but further along Alec’s path you can clearly see that he has a great victory, right here.” She points at another seemingly random place on the tapestry. “And then here there’s, um, additions to the family–”
Alec’s heart skips a beat.
“Izzy,” says Maia, appalled. “You can’t give these things away!”
“Sorry, sorry,” says Izzy, but the wink she throws Alec’s way belies her words. “I’m just saying! These maps don’t hold all the details, just the general event. And he’s connected to the underworld throughout all of it.”
“It’ll be complicated, but we’re up for the challenge,” says Clary, looking at the other two, who nod. “We don’t normally do this kind of thing.”
“But who else is worth breaking the rules for if not you, big brother?” Izzy reaches for Alec’s hand and a hot, terrible pressure builds behind his eyes. He loves her so much he can barely breathe with it and it’s all he can do to squeeze her hand back.
More cheerfully, she adds, “Though obviously it helps that after me, you have Magnus and Jace as the second and third of your champions.”
Of course – Maia is one of Magnus’ oldest and dearest friends. She’s a common feature in Magnus’ stories and adventures, the ones he shares as he places sweet grapes onto Alec’s waiting tongue, eyes darkening when Alec takes the proffered fingers into his mouth and licks the sticky sweet residue from the tips. It makes perfect sense that she’d want to help Magnus, even if it’s by virtue of helping his mortal lover who seems to attract trouble just by breathing.
And then there’s Clary and Jace’s – Alec doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know what exactly is going on there and how Clary’s annoying friend is involved in all of it, but he can be grateful that she cares for Jace enough to be there for Alec.
He startles a little when Magnus’ hand curls around his elbow. “Alexander does have a remarkable talent for securing champions.”
Clearing his throat, Alec goes back to the matter at hand. “What exactly would this involve?”
“We’d have to start with erasing the key event,” says Maia. “So this happened – yesterday, correct? Everything from then to now would be rewritten. Maybe starting from your descent.”
“Okay,” says Alec, frowning. He doesn’t like the sound of that – does it mean that everything from the past day wouldn’t have happened? The disaster with his mother he’d gladly forget, but what about those hours tangled together between the sheets of Magnus' bed? What about everything he whispered against Alec’s mouth, the love burning inside Magnus translated into words, as they stood together in Asphodel, coaxing back life into the land of the dead?
Hesitantly, Izzy adds, “But one more thing – Alec, if we’re going to do this and not leave any traces of the underworld in your fate map, it means you won’t be able to return there. It won’t be in your future.”
Alec stills. “What?” he asks.
“You won’t be able to–”
“No, I – I heard what you said.” Alec can’t believe this. “You should’ve started with that, Izzy, what the hell? You know what I’m going to say. No. We’re not doing that. I’m not going to cut off my connection with Magnus. How can you guys even think–”
“Alexander,” starts Magnus, placing a placating hand on Alec’s forearm, “it’s all right–”
“No,” says Alec, shrugging him off. He feels immense, instantaneous regret at the sight of Magnus’ mouth pursed with the effort of pushing down his frustration and hurt. It doesn’t stop him from saying, “It’s not all right.”
Jace’s golden brows draw together in confusion.
“Alec, you’re not making sense,” he says. “What’s the big deal? You’ll still be able to see Magnus. All the time, even! Just keep doing whatever it is you guys have been doing until now.”
“I said no, Jace.” How could Jace ever hope to understand? Alec turns to look at the Fates, who are all looking at him with an expression between ‘concerned’ and ‘offended.’ “Is there anything else we can try?”
Clary shakes her head. “I’m sorry, Alec.”
“Okay, that’s that then.” He starts to walk toward the portal back to Asphodel with a knot in his stomach and the weight of Sisyphus’ stone pressing down on his chest. “Thank you for offering your help, Sisters. It looks like I won’t be needing it.”
Magnus must have managed to get rid of Jace somehow because he’s the only one who steps through after Alec. He looks furious; the flames blazing in his eyes matches the blue ring of fire burning all around them, scorching the earth. Alec looks away from him, crossing his arms over his chest, shoulders curling in.
Magnus closes the portal behind them with a snap of his fingers.
“What in the world was that, Alexander?” he demands. “That was inexcusable. The Sisters were willing to make an exception of their rules for you – rules that hold together the universe, might I add – and you just threw that back on their faces!”
“Izzy will understand,” mutters Alec, watching the flames flicker.
“And what about Maia and Clary? And Jace, who figured out this crazy scheme because he loves you and doesn’t want you stuck in this place forever?”
“We’ll figure out another way, Magnus.”
“Alexander, look at me.” Magnus pauses, waiting for Alec to turn around before he speaks again. “What’s really going on here? Why won’t you let the Fates weave over your tapestry so you can return to the realm of the living?”
“You know why,” he says shortly. “We went there to see if there’s a way I won’t be trapped, not so I won’t ever be able to come back here, to see you, to be with you. Doing this would just mean I’d be stuck up there instead.”
“I – I appreciate the thought, Alec,” says Magnus, sounding like it’s taking all his efforts to speak gently. The fire around them starts to settle as Magnus walks forward and takes Alec’s hands in between his own. “But unnecessary. We’ll go on as we have thus far, my dear – I’ll continue to visit you, even though,” he adds, a rueful smile overtaking his face, “a weekend like this would need Isabelle to find other accommodations. And we’ll have our meadow–”
“What about this meadow?” interrupts Alec.
Magnus pauses. “What about it?”
“Other than the fact that this is your home, I don’t want you to have to be the one leaving your responsibilities all the time,” says Alec. “If I agree to let them keep me out of here–”
He pauses, frustrated that Magnus can’t just magically read his mind like he seems to do at all other times.
Taking a deep breath, Alec says, “I know that you don’t need it, that you’ve survived hundreds of years ruling your kingdom without me here and you’ve been fine. But I want – I don’t want you to be by yourself, not when I can stay. Not when I promised that I’d go with you to every part of this realm and help bring life to it.”
Magnus takes a step back.
“Alec,” he says, blinking rapidly. “Is that the only thing holding you back?”
Alec frowns. “What do you mean ‘only’?”
“I’m not going to hold you to that, Alexander,” says Magnus. His looks a strange mix of panicked and bewildered, like he can’t possibly understand why this is the easiest, most difficult decision Alec has to make. “I’d rather my kingdom stay a desecrated wasteland than have you separated from your life. From the living souls who need your protection.”
“I know,” says Alec, and I love you for it. “That’s why we’ll have to figure out another way. But I think it’s important for me to say and for you to hear that if it wasn’t for Izzy and Jace, the duty I have to the people of the city... Staying here with you – I would be happy, Magnus.”
Magnus shakes his head.
“Oh, Alexander,” he says, squeezing Alec’s hands. “No, you wouldn’t.”
“I would,” argues Alec. “I would, Magnus. Because I know I wouldn’t be happy without you. I know I’m never going to abandon you here. Even though my physical body may die, when the time comes I’m going to give my payment to Charon and he’ll bring me to wherever you are. I've told you this before Magnus. That’s the afterlife I want for me, for us.”
“Alexander, this kingdom isn’t your responsibility to fix - it’s mine. Leaving it wouldn’t be abandoning anything. You would just be... going home to Elysium, amongst the heroes and champions where you belong.”
“I don’t want to be with heroes and champions,” scowls Alec. “I want to be with you.”
“Alexander...” Why does Magnus look so taken aback? It’s nothing that Alec hasn’t said and shown a hundred times. Does he need to say something grander, more romantic? That he belongs where Magnus is, that Magnus is home for him?
“I know you think this isn’t my problem,” says Alec, “but Magnus – you know me better than anyone. How can you expect me to leave knowing what I can do?”
Alec gestures at their surroundings, where the saplings are shooting up and the stream has become a ferocious river even though Alec feels the furthest thing from happy right now. From his periphery, he can see the souls in the distance drawing closer to him and Magnus – or, more likely, the epicenter of this rapidly sprawling explosion of greenery.
“What if all this is only working now, because I’m alive?” asks Alec. Magnus’ expression, which has been getting worryingly blank the longer Alec speaks, seems to have finally reached an equilibrium to which it is frozen in place. “And it won’t be the same if I’m dead?”
“Alexander,” Magnus starts to say, a strange note to his voice, but Alec pushes through.
“And even if I wasn’t worried about any of this,” he says, swallowing against the rock that seems to have suddenly lodged in his throat, “Magnus, this is your realm and if it’s your problem – it’s going to be my problem. I want it to be.”
He pauses to draw in a breath, ready to continue for another minute but Magnus hushes him, his forefinger just shy of Alec’s mouth. Startled and reeling from the momentum he’s built up, Alec stays quiet.
“Alexander,” repeats Magnus, eyes gleaming with excitement. “I think we may have figured out what’s going on here.”
“What?” says Alec. “The fact that I’m not going to leave you?”
“No, my darling, though the sentiment is acknowledged and appreciated and reciprocated a hundredfold,” says Magnus. He tips his chin toward Alec’s shoulder, gesturing at the river flowing behind him. “I’m talking about the pesky predicament of thinking you’re trapped down here.”
Alec listens to Magnus explain with growing incredulity.
“Let me get this straight,” he says, taking Magnus’ hand and leading him to the riverbank. The river itself has almost tripled in size from when Alec had left to see the Fate Sisters. “You think that I just need to follow this river back to the land of the living?”
“Downstream to the mortal realm, upstream to the Isles of the Blessed,” says Magnus with accompanying hand gestures.
“I thought you did this already,” says Alec, “and it didn’t lead anywhere.”
“That’s because there wasn’t a river before – just the remnants of one.” Magnus kneels down to touch the water, shaking his head in disbelief. “Now, because of you, we have one. You always continue to amaze me, Alexander.”
Uncomfortable with the undue praise, Alec says, “I didn’t have much to do with it. It just happened.”
Magnus seems to disagree, if the exasperated look he throws Alec’s way is any indication.
“Tell me again why you think this will work when you, my mother, and Jace couldn’t get me out?”
“Because we don’t have control over life and death both, my darling,” says Magnus.
“Mother does,” Alec points out.
“Please, don’t sell yourself short by comparing yourself against your mother,” says Magnus. Alec looks at him, unamused, and Magnus places an apologetic kiss on Alec’s knuckle. “What I mean to say is that Demeter only has control over the life and death in the mortal realm, while my influence is only over the dead in this realm. You’re the only one who calls on life across both.”
“Right, and because Mother can’t influence things here, she couldn’t take me back,” says Alec, and he still can’t help but sound doubtful. “And because your power can’t influence the living, you couldn’t take me back. Even though you brought me here. Because I... got myself tied to the underworld, and some rules even you can’t break.”
The mischief that takes over Magnus’ expression is so sudden and wonderful that it only serves to remind Alec how much he’s missed seeing it on his face.
“It’s only us here, sweetheart,” he says. “You don’t have to be coy. You can say it.” Magnus only laughs when Alec glares at him. “But yes, you’ve summarized everything quite nicely. Only you will be able to take yourself back, but since you don’t have the magic your mother and myself do – and Jace too, I suppose – traveling back on the river you created should suffice.”
Alec’s quiet, for a moment, and then– “What if this doesn’t work?”
“Then back to the drawing board, I suppose,” says Magnus. “But Alexander – have faith. If I’ve learned anything about magic and its ways over my lifetime, this really does tick all the boxes.”
Seemingly disappointed with himself, he adds, “I can’t believe I didn’t figure out the importance of the river water sooner than this. And the symbolism of you being your own way out of here! It’s so basic it’s almost insulting.”
“Yeah, how embarrassing,” says Alec, sarcastic. “Because everyone else definitely caught on to all of that before you.”
“That’s enough of the supportive banter from you,” says Magnus. “Now go and build your boat.”
Standing up, Alec surveys the forest around him. There’ll be no shortage of supplies, at least, though this isn’t the kind of strenuous physical activity Alec was looking forward to.
He’s really going to be doing this. With nothing to go on except Magnus’ belief that it’ll work, and logic that’s suspect at best and absolutely preposterous at worst.
Turning to Magnus, Alec asks, “Where can I get an axe?”
While Alec chops down the trees he just helped grow, Magnus makes a small nest for himself underneath one of the nearby apple trees: he conjures a blanket, numerous cushions, a bowl of fruit and a jug of wine. Magnus has definitely lost all the nerves that have been eating at him all day, if he’s doing this so unapologetically.
“Really?” says Alec, unimpressed.
“Don’t be upset,” reprimands Magnus, relaxing in the shade. He pours a generous amount of wine into a goblet. “I’m not allowed to help you, remember? You’ve got to make your own way back and all that.”
“I’m not sure if I should be believing you.”
“I’m hurt – would I ever lie to you?”
Magnus does have him there. Sighing exasperatedly, Alec asks, “And you don’t have anything better than to do than this?”
The way Magnus looks at Alec makes him feel like they should hurry back to Magnus’ obscenely decadent bed and its devastating silky sheets. He starts from Alec’s feet, eyes traveling up his legs and torso, lingering just long enough at his knees, his shoulders, the curl of his fingers around the handle of the axe.
The blatant appreciation in Magnus’ gaze suggests that he’s contemplating a number of indecent things he’d like to explore and Alec’s chiton is an easily disposable barrier in the way of it. It makes Alec feel more exposed and flustered than he’s felt being actually naked.
“I think I can confirm, Alexander,” says Magnus, voice slow and easy with promise, “that there is absolutely nothing I could be doing today that would be better than this. Let me see you put those arms of yours in action.”
Alec sighs but acquiesces. He braces his footing, lifts up the axe, and swings it toward the base of the trunk once, twice, three times, and pretends he doesn’t hear Magnus make appreciative noises and murmur, “Ah – it’s the simple things that makes life divine.”
He gets into the groove of it, moving from tree to tree. When Alec finally pauses, he wedges the axe in one of the tree stumps; he uses the back of his hand to wipe the sweat that’s gathered along his hairline, the edges of his brow. He’s parched – when was the last time he drank something? Probably before he even came down here.
Behind him, Magnus clears his throat.
“If you’re feeling warm under all that, darling,” he says, sounding strangled, “maybe you can do us all a service and... take some of that off. Only if you want, of course.”
Alec barks out a laugh. He’s wearing almost the bare minimum that he possibly can without being naked, but he supposes if Magnus wants to see a little bit more he could make it happen.
He moves to pull off the clasp keeping his chiton together at the shoulder, which would result in the top half of the garment tumbling down, held together only by the tie knotted at his waist. Alec turns around, a dry retort at the tip of his tongue, and then promptly freezes.
Because it’s not just Magnus watching him. The blanket he was sitting on has expanded to be at least ten times the size, and surrounding Magnus are at least a dozen young men and women with their legs tucked beneath them, staring at Alec with wide eyes and parted mouths. The only person not paying Alec any attention is Madzie, who is sitting on Magnus’ lap and weaving together flowers into a chain.
How had he not noticed this crowd gathering?
“Magnus,” says Alec. He sounds as calm as he can given that he’s only just stopped himself from putting on a show – he pretends he doesn’t hear the softly whispered, “no!” coming from the crowd – and holding on to remnants of his dignity. “Who are all your friends?”
He adds, “Your – surprisingly colourful friends?”
Magnus is beaming as he looks around him: at Madzie’s brown skin and darker brown hair, the pale blue chiton worn by the young man to Magnus’ right, the tumbling red locks of the lady to his left.
“Just some admirers of your... form and hard work,” says Magnus. “It’s been a while since we’ve had so much excitement here, hasn’t it, my dears? And we’ve got Alexander to thank for it.”
He makes the mistake of catching the gaze of the young man sitting at the corner of the blanket. The smile that spreads across his face is – it’s sultry. Alec is well used to Magnus' come-hither eyes but it’s startling to see it being directed toward him from someone else. The man on the blanket then bites into a lush strawberry and licks the spilling juice off his fingers, deft and efficient.
Alec has to look away, face burning. Magnus coughs discreetly into his fist, looking like he can barely keep his laughter in check.
“I’m just telling my citizens who’s responsible for the change around here,” he says innocently. “Some water, darling?”
Magnus is silent as he stares at the final product Alec brandishes. He’s quiet for so long that Alec starts to worry.
When he finally speaks, it’s to say, “Are you sure this thing’s not going to capsize a minute into your journey?”
“What?” says Alec. He looks at his boat, which is – okay, so it’s not the prettiest thing he’s ever seen, but it’s stable. Well, it’s not sinking, at any rate. And who cares if it looks like it was made by a carpenter’s apprentice on their second day on the job? Alec’s never judged based on appearance, only function. “I think it’s all right.”
“I don’t even know what to call this shape.”
“It’s shaped like a boat,” says Alec defensively.
“That’s... really not how a boat is supposed to look. Alec, there are holes everywhere.” Magnus sounds like he doesn’t know whether he should be laughing or crying. “Maybe I should’ve been paying attention to what you were making instead of your magnificent arms. I apologize.”
Alec has to laugh.
“Jeez, okay, it’s a piece of garbage that should be burned,” he says. “It’s the best I could do in the time frame. And as long as it floats it’ll be fine – the current will do most of the work.”
Alec gives the boat a consoling pat, reassuring that he didn’t mean his harsh words. At his touch, moss and leafy vines grow and patch up all the cracks between the planks.
“Well, then,” says Magnus, laughing a little. “That’s that. You ready to see if this thing can take you home?”
“Take me back,” corrects Alec.
“My mistake.” Magnus’ eyes crinkle at the corners as he smiles. “It’s quite the distinction.”
It is. Whatever else home may mean for Alec, he knows that Magnus and his kingdom is a part of it. And both Magnus and the underworld seem to like having Alec here, so the feeling must be mutual.
Still, he reiterates, “You know you’re not going to keep me out of this place, right? I’m going to be back here as soon as we know this works. We still have a weekend we’re supposed to spend down here.”
When Magnus pulls Alec into a kiss, it’s long and sweet and doesn’t feel at all like a goodbye. Magnus sighs when he pulls away, resting his chin against Alec’s shoulder.
“I have a feeling that this realm is just as much yours as mine, my dear,” he says.
“Let’s not get carried away.” Looking at his ride home to the mortal world, a question arises in Alec’s mind. “Will I have to build one of these every time I have to go back?”
“That’s another day’s problem,” says Magnus. “That being said, I should let you know that absolutely no one here would object if that ended up being the case.” He pats Alec’s biceps appreciatively. “You have to keep these in shape while down here.”
Alec shakes his head and drops a parting kiss to Magnus’ forehead before stepping down onto the wobbling boat. Once settled, Magnus passes him the oars resting beside him, along with food and water for the road, bundled in a soft blanket. He summons Alec’s bow and quiver as well, and Alec looks at his weapons with a degree of resignation.
Why’d he bother bringing these? Alec can’t think of any reason other than that there was no way he was going to leave them behind in another world. Possibly he has attachment issues.
“Next time you come down here, we should go rowing,” says Magnus, thoughtfully. He has to crouch at the riverbank to remain eye-level with Alec. “For fun, I mean.”
“Yeah? And then you can do the heavy lifting while I lounge around and watch you work those arms?”
“I suppose that’s only fair,” says Magnus with a sigh.
He stands up, unravels the rope looped around one of the trees that’s keeping the boat tethered to shore. He keeps it in his hands, however, and it speaks to Magnus’ inhuman strength that he keeps the boat in place against the river’s current.
Suddenly nervous, Alec asks, “Where exactly does this lead to in the mortal realm?”
“I’m not sure,” admits Magnus, frowning. “But it’s your river, Alexander, so I think it’ll just end at... wherever home is.”
Alec can’t find words to respond, overwhelmed and unsure as to why. The moment feels unspeakably heavy. Quietly, Magnus says, “Wherever it is, I’ll find my way to you.”
It’s awkward to stand up when the floor of the boat is swaying. Alec does it anyway, because he can’t just not kiss Magnus when he says things like that. He leans into Magnus, rests his hands on either side of Magnus’ neck. The boat rocks precariously beneath his feet but – perhaps stupidly – he pays it no mind, arching forward to meet Magnus’ lips.
A sudden, sharp crack! breaks the silence across the field.
“Persephone,” says his mother in a disparaging tone. “Is this what you’re doing instead of trying to find your way back home? Have some dignity.”
In a soft, soft voice, Magnus says, “I know she’s your mother, but I am at the end of my patience with her.”
“You and me both,” says Alec with a sigh, letting go and looking at Maryse over Magnus’ shoulder. “Hi, Mother.”
Maryse is looking around the grove, a mixture of doubt and hesitant awe on her face.
“What happened here? Never mind,” she quickly adds when Magnus starts to answer. “It doesn’t matter. Alec – what is this I hear about you visiting your sister?”
“Well,” starts Alec, but his mother speaks over him.
“More importantly – why would you go there and not let them fix this situation?”
“Magnus and I figured out another way to get me out.” Alec gestures at his boat, which suddenly seems a lot more pathetic under Maryse’s critical gaze. It really is a shitty boat, Alec thinks, smiling. Blessed by Hephaestus, Alec is not.
“Really,” says Maryse, raising an incredulous eyebrow. “You’ve figured out a way that even the Fates couldn’t?”
“Yeah,” says Alec, annoyed. “I’m gonna follow this river back to the mortal realm.”
His mother, honest to goodness, looks stupefied. “Alec,” she says, “there’s no river that connects the underworld to the land of the living.”
“There wasn’t,” says Magnus, rolling his eyes. “But obviously there’s one now. Alec created it, in an exceptional manifestation of his gifts.”
“Alec?” says Maryse, disbelieving. Alec doesn’t blame her – even he’s still skeptical that he’s responsible for all of this. “He’s a mortal, Hades, he doesn’t have power like that. I know my own son’s capabilities.”
If Alec can spend the rest of his life without Magnus and his mother being in the same realm at the same time, it wouldn’t be fast enough. As they continue to bicker, Alec takes a moment to pinch the bridge of his nose to distract from him from his building headache.
He interrupts them to say, “If this doesn’t work, I’ll just be back here and you can yell at me then.”
“This is a waste of time, Alec,” warns Maryse. “But if you and Hades want to go on this fool’s riverboat ride–”
Alec opens his mouth to say that it’s just him who’s going, but then he meets Magnus’ eyes. The boat is big enough for both of them. He raises his brows in silent question and in response, Magnus shrugs minutely. Up to you, it seems to say. Well, if it's up to Alec.
“Yes, thank you, Mother,” he says. “Great to have your blessings, we do want to do just that. Magnus, get in here and we can be on our way.”
Somehow, the sky seems to have turned into a perpetual dusk. A deep band of red follows the horizon. The current of the river is fast enough to keep the boat moving along, but not so harsh that it becomes strenuous to use the oars. Alec’s being somewhat lazy with his rowing and letting the water do most of work, only moving the oars as needed to keep the boat straight.
Magnus is perched at the back, watching the flora and fauna start to grow by the riverbank as the two of them pass by. Most of Asphodel is still an endless grey field, but Alec thinks it’s a good start.
“You should take a break,” says Magnus eventually. “It’s been hours. I’m sure we can manage the boat spinning around a bit while you rest.”
“I’m not tired,” says Alec, honestly. “How much longer do you think it will be?”
“This is just as unfamiliar to me as it is to you, my dear,” says Magnus. “I believe that we will eventually pass through a place where the veil is the thinnest between the two realms, and you’ll be able to pass through. Where that is though is anybody’s guess.”
He reaches forward to place a hand over Alec’s. “Come lie down with me.”
It takes a stronger man than Alec to say no to a request like that.
Alec pulls the oars inside and immediately feels the boat start to sway. They don’t topple over though, which is really the only metric of success that matters. It takes a little bit of maneuvering so that they can both lay down, the blanket used to bundle their supplies spread out on the floor. The wool is damp from the water splashing in, but it’s a discomfort that barely registers.
Instead Alec guides his thoughts to how their bended knees knock together, their foreheads just inches apart. “If only I made this thing a foot longer,” he says wryly.
“If we’re giving suggestions on how this... vehicle can be improved,” says Magnus, “maybe you should be starting with the cracks that you patched up with leaves.”
“Will you ever stop dragging on me and my boat?”
“Never,” says Magnus, smiling, but the humour fades from his expression as he continues. “Alexander, I’m sorry that this trip turned out the way it did.”
Alec’s immediate reaction is to say, What? Don’t be but he stops himself. He can speak from experience that it’s never helpful to hear someone tell you to stop feeling what you are. Instead he goes, “I think it turned out all right.”
“Really,” says Magnus, raising his eyebrows. “Even with Maryse and the Fates thinking your future had been sent into complete disarray?”
When Alec thinks over the last day, he can barely remember feeling upset. What Alec recalls instead with perfect clarity is ultimately the wonder of what he can do here, and the overwhelming love he has for Magnus that has been a constant, guiding presence through this adventure.
With complete sincerity, Alec replies, “Yeah, even with all that. Especially with the grove in your room and turning Asphodel back into a meadow. Meeting Madzie. And oh,” he adds, unwilling to omit one of the key events from this trip, “let’s not forget those silk sheets.”
“A good investment, those sheets.”
“Very good for the knees.”
Choking back on laughter, Magnus adds, “And I suppose that this perilous boat ride across my realm is quite romantic. Some excellent sights to enjoy.”
Even now, it’s still difficult for Alec to say that having Magnus there was what made the difference. He feels closer to Magnus at this moment than he ever has before, curving toward one another on this sorry excuse of a boat, limbs barely touching. Like something beyond the boundaries of physical bodies is tying them to one another.
It’s a lot to think about, nevermind put into words for someone else to hear. Instead, Alec clears his throat and says in an unexpectedly scratchy voice, “If you still want to make it up to me, we can try and cross off a few more items on this weekend’s itinerary.”
Magnus slowly smiles. “The itinerary with only one thing on it?”
“That’s the one.”
Magnus’ response is to laugh, lean in and press his mouth onto Alec’s. The boat is spinning in lazy circles as it carries them down the river, but Alec hardly notices. He’s only focusing on Magnus and how his gaze is impossibly steady as he stares at Alec between long, indulgent kisses.
Eventually they must fall asleep, because Alec is jolted awake only when the boat crashes against a bank and comes to a halt. The first thing that strikes Alec is that once more there’s a glaring sun in the sky – and its light is falling directly into Alec’s dilated pupils, causing him to wince.
“Urgh,” he groans, hiding his face by pressing it into Magnus’ neck. The whole reason Alec even wanted to go away was to avoid this exact situation: spending a magical night with Magnus and then waking up again under the unforgiving harshness of nature.
Alec hurriedly sits up. The boat has come to a stop at the bank of a much smaller stream edging a forest, shallower and less forceful than the river that had carried them out of Asphodel.
The field that stretches out on the other side of the stream is bursting with daffodils. It’s their meadow - a sight so familiar and dear to Alec that it might as well be etched into his ribs, caging his heart.
“Unbelievable,” he murmurs, unable to look away from the cheery yellow petals. “Actually unbelievable.”
Beside him, Magnus sleepily asks, “What’s wrong, Alexander?”
“Nothing,” says Alec, blindly grasping at Magnus’ hands and holding them between his own. “You were right about the river. It’s brought me home.”
Izzy has taken over Alec’s bed, lying on her stomach as she watches him prepare to leave. Jace, who’s popped in for a visit in between delivering an increasingly threatening series of messages between Zeus and Poseidon, has been relegated to the floor.
“You know,” she starts, “I couldn’t believe it when Jace told me that the reason you got stuck in the underworld was because you were so determined to suck Magnus’ dick that you didn’t even–”
Alec does his best to pretend he’s not hearing the words coming out of Izzy’s mouth and turns to Jace instead. “Why would you tell her?” asks Alec, uncomprehending. “Why the fuck would you tell that to our baby sister?”
“I could say I was traumatized and needed to talk to someone,” says Jace, unflinching. “But that would be a lie.”
“Because,” says Izzy, “we both want to know, big brother. What kind of heat does Magnus have packing that you’d risk your family, your friends, your home–”
“Please, please stop,” says Alec. “I’m not above begging.”
She ignores him.
"–and then figuring out a way to come back to the mortal realm only to keep going back there three times a week for the past month!”
“You two know full well that I’ve been going down – shut up, Jace,” snaps Alec when Jace starts cackling. “That I’ve been splitting my time with the underworld because I’m helping Magnus run things.”
“That’s another thing,” says Jace. Alec immediately realizes that he just said something he shouldn't have - what could possibly have Izzy nodding so vigorously? “One orgasm and the guy’s suddenly handing you the literal keys to his kingdom? What’s up with that?”
“That kind of talent’s not normal,” agrees Izzy. “Maybe you could sh–”
Alec’s not equipped to deal with this.
“Izzy,” he says, very calmly, “if you love me, you will never, ever finish that sentence.”
Alec never gets the chance to find out whether Izzy loves him enough to not ask about his technique. A portal opens up in Alec’s room just then, and Magnus steps out.
The way his siblings' eyes zero in on Magnus’ hips isn’t missed by anyone.
“Um,” says Magnus, looking from Alec to Jace to Izzy and back again. “What did I miss?”
“Magnus,” starts Izzy, and the maniacal gleam in her eyes makes Alec very, very nervous. “We were wondering–”