Magnus flicked opened his front door, not losing his stirring rhythm despite the knocking interruption. A moment later, Jace came into view.
He simply nodded in greeting. "Your order is almost ready. Just need another couple minutes stirring and then I'll free you."
"No problem." Jace replied, shoving his hands in his pockets. His eyes darted around the room as he rocked back and forth on his heels.
Magnus tried to ignore him, but his discomfort of being in his presence while he worked was distracting, so he let out a low breath.
"The rest of your order is prepared over on that table, if you want to start gathering it up. This won't take long."
Jace got to work, lifting each potion bottle to check the contents before placing them in his pack. He took out the notebook he had with him and marked checkmarks beside each one.
He was glad Jace was at least organized – there was more over there down the table than what the Institute had asked for. He figured Alec had probably put him up to it since it was Jace's first retrieval since their relationship began, and he immediately pushed the thought from his mind. His stirring couldn't afford to waver for the particular potion he was working on.
To his annoyance, but no surprise, Jace moved on from his group of potions to pick up the ones at the end and peek at what was inside.
Damn Shadowhunters and their never-ending curiosity.
"What's this one?"
Magnus tried not to sigh. "Truth serum."
"And this?" It was a much larger tin concealing a minty, glittering goop.
"A medical salve. Good for sealing open, raw wounds, but only ones not laced with any demon poison. More of a mundane remedy, really. Good for sparring matches gone wrong."
"Ahh, well we don't have many of those. But I'm sure someone like Alec would make good use of it."
Magnus quirked an eyebrow at the blonde, not noting any teasing in his tone. "I don't remember your brother being that bad at hand-to-hand combat."
Jace looked at him funny, and he felt like he was missing something.
"No, not for that. For his back." he said pointedly, like he was trying to remind him of something obvious.
Magnus didn't feel anymore clued in than before, and he almost stopped stirring as he tried to piece together what he could mean.
Jace widened his eyes. "Come on, do I seriously have to spell it out for you? I'm sure you've at the very least seen the marks. He has scars from some of the really bad ones."
Magnus thought back to Alec's bare back, something he had seen plenty of time in their time together, and remembered traces of white, once-mangled flesh. He always took them for old demon fighting wounds, knowing Shadowhunters were littered with them, but now he knew there was more to the story. Jace did not seem to be trying to tell him that Alec wasn't as good of a fighter as he led on.
"By the angel, Magnus, you have to know about some of the more barbaric Shadowhunter parenting methods, and I'm saying that as someone who was raised by Valentine Morgenstern."
Magnus felt his lungs freeze, and he suddenly cursed his disinterest in the Shadowhunter race before Alec came into his life. He really didn't know much about their history or anything that differed them from others in the Shadow World. He knew less about them than almost any other race despite his long life.
Jace sighed. "Never mind. Typical Alec, trying to be the soldier his parents raised. He never told us either. I only found out once I became his parabatai."
Magnus knew that was when they were much younger, nearing preteens in mundane terms. So, whatever it was, it had clearly been happening for much longer than their recent break.
"Tell me." Magnus said, almost regretting the words as soon as they escaped his mouth. He knew he didn't have a right to ask that of Jace, to ask him to bare the secrets of his brother, but he now was desperate to know what Alec wanted to keep from him. It was selfish, hoping that there were no more secrets between them now that the truth of the Soul Sword had come out, but, despite living a much shorter life, Alec clearly still had secrets of his own.
"I shouldn't have brought it up. I just assumed you knew—"
"Don't make me make you drink that potion." Magnus said without missing a beat, nodding towards the pristine liquid in the bottle he had grabbed earlier.
Jace locked eyes with him, obviously sizing him up, before releasing a breath.
It was one of the times Magnus was grateful that his magical status was so high up in rank. He was not a warlock to be messed with, and even the Shadowhunters who hadn't seen him in action knew it.
"It was always only Robert… but whenever Alec screwed up, hell any time any of us screwed up, he'd get Alec to pick out a belt from a long line of them. Then Alec would have to remove his shirt and bare his back to him to be whipped into better obedience."
Magnus felt his body sway, and his stirring halted.
Jace continued. "It could be anything really—talking back, defending one of us, or stepping out of line in any way. But he never laid a hand on me or Isabelle and definitely not Max. Alec once confessed to me that Robert told him it was his job as the oldest to keep us in line, so he would pay for the mistakes we made."
Magnus felt like he had lost his voice. Alec, his sweet Alexander… The idea of someone torturing him in such a way made Magnus want to blow a hole from here to Idris to take down Robert Lightwood.
Jace seemed to read his mind. "It's normal amongst Shadowhunters, Magnus. That's why even Maryse never stepped in. The Clave wants us to raise soldiers. Not every Shadowhunter parent does it, mind you—most of it has died out—but the Lightwoods are a long standing family as you well know. If I had been raised by Herondales, I may have had to endure it too, for all I know. And you have seen how much the Lightwoods struggle with accepting new traditions."
"But surely that's stopped now? Does Alec not fight back?"
"You know Alec better than most, Magnus. Alec wants to be a model son, despite his misguided parents. He wants to make them proud. And his deep-rooted self-loathing for so many years has made it hard for him to stand up to them or disregard their punishment tactics as something unacceptable."
Magnus shook his head quickly, trying to erase the images of a recent Alec still receiving beatings. He thought he had taught Alec that self-love was important, that he was worth so much more than he saw. How could he just accept such brutal punishment, especially for things that could never be worth such dramatics?
"It's not… child abuse, in the traditional sense. It's a Shadowhunter method of atoning for any Clave sins."
Magnus felt the blood drain out of his face and he gripped the table. "The wedding… he avoided me for a couple weeks… I thought it was because he needed some time to process, he said he was just really busy trying to get things back in order…"
Jace looked away, his eyes burning at the memory.
"Tell me." Magnus rasped, clutching to the wood before him for dear life.
Jace took a moment, but he didn't meet the warlock's eyes. "It was one of the worst, Magnus. He was beaten into unconsciousness." he admitted quietly.
Magnus placed a hand over his mouth, trying to keep the bile stationary in his stomach.
"I felt every sting, as I always had. Alec doing such a thing in front of important Clave members, not just blowing off the wedding they were all invited to, but coming out as gay, and, well, dramatically kissing a well-known warlock like yourself was like a declaration of complete abandonment to the Clave's vision…"
"That was my fault. I never should have gone." Magnus murmured to himself, tears springing into his eyes. He remembered the deep fear Alec showcased after the fact, the 'what have I done'… He had known then what was coming. It wasn't just the repercussions of a surprise coming out. It was so much more.
Jace looked even more upset now. "No, Magnus. Alec needed to do that. He needed to be honest with himself. And your relationship has brought an entirely new side to him to the surface. This is exactly why he probably kept things to himself. He never would want you to feel like you caused any burden in his life. Being with you freed him from so much."
Magnus couldn't listen to the Shadowhunter's comforting words. He needed to talk to Alec. To apologize. To hear his side.
He knew they had had their differences recently, and their recent break had already made it the longest he had gone without talking to the Lightwood boy. But this was not something that could wait.
Magnus thought of the recent Downworlder council meeting, where the Seelie Queen did all the talking for him. Jace had put his hand on Alec's shoulder at one point as no doubt a supportive gesture and he had winced, just slightly. Magnus assumed it was just a twitch of some kind, but now he wondered what else he was missing.
"He's received this kind of treatment recently, hasn't he? When Robert came to town?"
"Jonathan Christopher Herondale, you tell me right now or so help me—"
Jace sighed irritably. "Yes. He blames Alec for the truth about the Soul Sword reaching the Downworld. He assumes he told you and you leaked it to the rest."
"Luke heard it from his sister, who was Valentine's hostage. He was the one who told me, not him. Hell, I'm not even with Alexander right now partially because he kept that fact from me—"
"I know." Jace cut in. "But Robert doesn't need proof. Suspicion is enough. And, no offence, but he hasn't been the biggest fan of your relationship since the beginning, so he all but warned Alec about telling you in the first place. It's the disobeying of that blatant warning and the consequences of the Downworld knowing that brought that particular one on. Alec's Head of the Institute now too—he has even higher expectations placed on him now that he's even more in the spotlight."
Magnus growled in annoyance and swiveled on his feet to shoot an angry fireball through his glass French doors leading to the balcony. They shattered instantly, glass flying everywhere.
"By the Angel, Magnus! Calm down! None of us like it, hell I've tried to fight Robert on it on more than one occasion, but it's their family and Alec has to do it for himself."
"Aren't you supposed to be part of that family?"
Jace chuckled darkly. "Yeah, well, Robert said before he never really considered me truly family, once the truth came out that it was actually Valentine who raised me. But I suppose I should be grateful that I was spared from his wrath, right? Even though they were once a part of his circle."
Magnus exhaled very slowly, as if measuring the exact carbon dioxide output he could muster, and he calmly placed his hands on the table.
"I need to re-do this potion. My stirring lost its consistency at the end, so it is completely wasted. I'll let you go, and I'll follow up personally with the completed potion later tonight at the Institute."
Jace opened his mouth to protest, but Magnus cut him off.
"I don't care that your brother sent you here to avoid seeing me—I'll be having words with him tonight whether he likes it or not."
"What about the Seelie Queen? How is she going to like you speaking with the enemy without her?"
Magnus understood Jace's irritation towards him and his new alliance, but he had his reasons.
"She doesn't have to know. This is between myself and Alexander."
"Fine. Thanks for the stuff." Jace said, swinging the strap over his shoulder and making the way to the exit. "But Magnus?"
Magnus turned in his direction.
"Just… go easy on him, okay? I know he wasn't keeping it from you as an insult to you. He just has been conditioned to worry about everyone else instead of his own well-being."
Magnus looked away, giving a small nod to show he heard him, before Jace closed the door behind him.
Magnus removed the wasted potion and got started on another, trying to keep his focus on the task in front of him and not the conversation he was planning later that night.
As expected, the New York Institute didn't look any different from the last time he had visited. He headed in the direction of the Head of the Institute's office, only pausing to check on his wards and give them a little extra juice. With Valentine on the rise and Jonathan still alongside him with no trace of where they were, it wouldn't hurt to be a little extra cautious.
Arriving at the private office, Magnus knocked swiftly on the ajar door.
"Come in." commanded the familiar voice, and Magnus felt his heart jump in his chest. He forgot to factor in how it would feel to be alone with Alec since their break. So far, they had only been surrounded by others during their professional exchanges.
Alec's eyes were focused on the tablet in front of him, his fingers dancing across the screen as he dragged some items from one spot to the next, and he finally looked up when Magnus closed the door behind him.
He was instantly on his feet, surprise on his face. "Magnus."
Magnus hated how much he had missed hearing his name leave the Nephilim's mouth.
"I met with Jace earlier. There was an issue with one of the potions I promised to have ready, so I came to deliver it personally as it was due to my own error."
Alec's Adam apple bobbed as he swallowed nervously and he accepted the offered bottle. "T-Thank you. Is that all?" he asked, seeming wary. He obviously hadn't been expecting him, which meant Jace hadn't warned him of Magnus' new insight to his family life.
"Actually, no. Jace had been, well, rifling through some of my things, as expected."
He tried not to smile at the eye roll Alec gave, knowing that, as much as Alec loved his parabatai, he wasn't oblivious to Jace's lack of impulse control.
"And he came across a medical salve."
"Magnus, if he damaged anything, of course I will do whatever I can to help restore—"
Magnus continued talking as if he hadn't been interrupted, only lifting a hand to halt Alec's words.
"Once I explained it was for non-demonic wounds, of the open and raw variety, he made a comment that it may be of some use to you personally."
Alec's eyebrows twitched in surprise but his face remained relatively passive. He may have paled, but Magnus wouldn't be able to tell with such porcelain skin.
Magnus strode across the room towards Alec's side of the desk. "However, due to the properties of this potion, I need to see for myself if it's something I can formally recommend. After all, if used incorrectly or for the wrong type of wounds, it can cause quite a nasty infection."
"Magnus." Alec's voice was softer now, the vulnerability shining through. He wasn't stupid; he knew now that Magnus knew.
"Alexander." He kept his head up, but his vision was blurring and he knew tears had found their way into his eyes. "Tell me honestly that you have no use for such a thing. I know your hand-to-hand is excellent, and you fight far too many demons to have regular wounds that aren't laced with some sort of remnant of your enemy."
Alec looked down at the floor, his posture drooping.
"Tell me…" Magnus said, voice ringing in the room but trembling now and he couldn't reel it in. "Tell me that you have not been receiving beatings from your father your entire life."
"Jace should never have said anything." Alec replied quietly, still not meeting his gaze.
"Screw Jace's involvement in this! Why didn't you say anything?! Alexander, I told you things I've never told anybody… brutal, awful things about myself and you chose to love me despite them. Why would you think I would do differently for you? Were you afraid I would let out the monster within?"
"No!" Alec argued instantly, head snapping up. "No, it was never about that. Magnus, it's just… it's a Shadowhunter thing, okay? It's normal among our kind."
"Then why would you hide it, if it's so normal? Why wouldn't you let me help you?"
"I didn't need help! I drew iratzes, and I would seek first aid if needed…"
"Being beaten into an unconscious state for being gay is not normal, Alexander! You should not be physically abused for following your heart!"
"Well, I was never supposed to do that! My dad had suspicions when he saw me around Jace when I was younger; he knew I had developed feelings for him, and he made sure I knew right away that it wasn't an option, with an adoptive brother or anyone else. I tried for years to follow his wishes until I just… couldn't anymore. I had found you and I never realized I could have what I want, not as a true Shadowhunter. But then you showed me that I could, so I did. It was worth it, Magnus. No matter what followed. I don't regret any moment of our relationship, and I never have."
Magnus was wiping his face to rid it of the increasing wetness. "Alexander, you should never accept that kind of treatment from your father, no matter what blood runs through your veins. Not angel blood nor Lightwood blood. You deserve to be treated with love and acceptance. You shouldn't have to face derision and abuse when you're a person. His child. You come from angel blood, and there isn't a wrongful bone in your body."
Alec reached out to help clear Magnus' face, swiping away the last of his tears even as his own welled up. He was standing much closer now, and Magnus fought the desire to snuggle into his arms and hold his love.
Alec reached out to grasp his shoulders when he was done, locking their gaze.
"I'm okay, Magnus. I'm sorry I kept it from you, if it felt like I was lying. It's not something I'm particularly proud of, and I knew it would upset you. That you'd start worrying about things like how my dad would react seeing us together at the Institute or that us being together wasn't the best thing, that I should try to find someone more Clave-approved. But I didn't want that sort of pressure on our relationship. When I'm with you, I feel safe. I forget about the Shadowhunter politics and about the snide comments I get when I'm here for being the gay, downworlder-loving Head of the Institute, and I can just… be myself. Without ridicule or judgment or prying eyes. It's one of the reasons I used to spend so much time with you at the loft. Not to avoid my dad, since he mostly resides in Idris now—but to feel free."
Magnus didn't know what to say. He didn't know how to tell Alec he felt the same way, despite having different types of pressure on himself. That Alec made him forget about everything outside of them when they were together. That he found himself planning a future with someone even though there were obvious flaws in the system, with him being immortal and all.
Instead of verbally responding, Magnus cradled Alec's head in his hands and pulled him down for a deep kiss.
Alec's hands slid down to Magnus' waist, tugging him so he was flush against him, and he gripped Magnus' shirt in his fists to hold him in place. Magnus normally would whine to him about ruining the perfect crisp lines of his well-ironed outfit, but right now, he didn't care. All he cared about was getting closer to the man holding him.
Alec's lips tumbled over his eagerly, tongue slipping into his mouth to tease him, and Magnus pulled Alec so he had himself sandwiched between the taller boy and the wooden desk. It made their lower halves rub together, and they both could feel how much the other was enjoying the impromptu make-out session that was quickly growing in heat.
Alec was the one to pull away first, Magnus chasing his lips with his own, but he placed a hand on the warlock's chest.
Seeing his pupils dilated and his lips pink and a little swollen made Magnus want to kiss him all over again, but he refrained.
"Magnus. We… shouldn't be doing this. We're supposed to be broken up."
Magnus coiled his arms around Alec's waist. "Ahh, well, I know you're still new in a sense to the dating world, but surely you've heard that the make-up is supposed to make the break-up feel like a distant memory?"
Alec watched him, his eyes drifting down to his lips before finding their way back to his gaze. "So we're making up?"
"I hope so. Otherwise I just wasted a good silencing spell that I put on this room and locking the door earlier was all for naught."
Alec threw his head back as he laughed, shaking his head at his ridiculous boyfriend, before Magnus was pulling him in for another searing kiss that set the tone for the rest of the night.
They had a long way to go in figuring out how to balance trust and communication with the outstanding need to protect the other from pain, but somehow, Magnus knew they would figure it out. After all, like Alec had said before, they always seemed to find their way back to each other.
On the other hand, Magnus may have to work up to telling Alec what he had planned for Robert Lightwood.