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this body will never be safe from harm

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They've been sitting on the couch in pins-and-needles silence for fifteen minutes when Magnus says abruptly, "I'm going to take a bath."

Alec feels like he hasn't taken a breath since Magnus came back out to sit with him, wanting so badly to do something and knowing nothing was enough. "Okay."

Magnus gives him a little half-nod but he's not exactly looking at Alec. He hasn't actively avoided Alec's eyes, but he hasn't quite looked at Alec all night either. He gets up and crosses back into his bedroom without closing the door behind him. A moment later Alec hears the bathroom door and then the sound of water running.

He sits so still on the couch, almost afraid to move. Should he finish cleaning up? Get food? He feels like he's on call, like he has to be ready for whatever Magnus asks of him, if he even asks for anything. Maybe –

"Alec," Magnus calls, and Alec is on his feet.

When he gets into the bathroom, he finds Magnus sitting naked on the rounded edge of the clawfoot tub, one leg bent at the knee and the other stretched out straight. His fingers are curled around the copper rim of the bath and his eyes are on his own reflection in the big gilded mirror propped against the opposite wall. The clothes he had been wearing are in a heap on the tile, discarded.

Once the tub has filled, Magnus slides into the water, heat rising off its surface in pale wisps. Even in the relatively short time they've been dating, Alec has seen it all in this tub: milk baths, swirling lilac bubbles, water made to sparkle like the night sky. Alec got in with him one night and emerged later with a faint sheen of silver all over his skin like some nixies. Now it's just clear, hot water, Magnus faintly distorted beneath its placid surface.

It's those small details that are all wrong. That the water is clear. That Magnus' clothes are not hastily but neatly tossed over the valet stand in the corner. But the distance in Magnus' expression is the most unsettling. It lends the entire scene a kind of dissonance, a sense of something misplaced.

Alec has been collecting incorrect details all day. "Do you – what do you need?"

Magnus rouses himself as though half-asleep and says, "Just – stay."

Alec sits beside the bathtub with his shoulder pressed into its warm metal, facing Magnus. "Hands," Magnus says, achingly familiar in a way that should not ache, not yet. Alec dutifully lifts his hands up so Magnus can deposit rings one by one into his cupped fingers, followed by one coiled necklace after another and finally the cuff from his ear.

It's a sometimes habit. Alec likes to hover when Magnus gets ready for bed, so at some point Magnus had started to make him useful. Now Alec sets the jewelry aside carefully, though he keeps one of the rings between his fingers to fiddle with, to keep his hands busy. He toys with it, puts it on and takes it off, presses the pad of his finger against the M embossed on its surface.

Magnus submerges briefly and comes back up dripping. It's a testament to the effort he puts into his appearance that his skin and hair are only beaded with water but otherwise unchanged. It just adds a dark shine to his hair, turns his eyeliner oilslick. Alec has seen him fresh-faced and un-styled, coiffed and made up. Either way he's the same, just Magnus.

Alec wants to touch him, wants to run his hands over Magnus' collarbones and stroke the long beautiful line of his neck. He wants to pull Magnus into his arms soaking wet. But instead he sits still and bites the apologies on the tip of his tongue.

"I keep thinking," Magnus says eventually, "of seeing my reflection in the glass." He shakes his head slightly. "Of expecting to see my reflection and seeing his face instead." His lip curls. "Can you imagine? The face of a man who has killed the people I love. Who is only disappointed that he has not killed more of them."

Alec keeps replaying it in his head. Pushing Magnus away. Strapping him into that chair. You couldn't have known, he'd heard from all sides, tried to tell himself. But he had known. A part of him had known something.

"I can't," Alec says honestly. Too dark a nightmare to imagine. "Magnus, if I could –"

Magnus' gaze shifts towards him, a wan smile on his mouth. "Unfortunately time cannot be manipulated backwards or forwards in this case."

Magnus' hand rests on the rim of the tub and he turns it over, palm open, in invitation. Alec slides his hand into Magnus', dry skin slipping against wet. He'd forgotten that he still has Magnus' ring on his middle finger and, with something like amusement, Magnus tilts their joined hands up so he can look at it.

"I have spent a very long time ensuring that I don't ever feel the way I've felt for the last day," Magnus tells him. "I'm afraid if I… If I let it in –" A look crosses his face that Alec can't remember having ever seen there before, something stifled and anguished that Alec realizes has been hiding behind the flat look all this time. It's gone as quickly as it appears, though Magnus no longer seems so dazed.

"You don't have to do it now. It'll take you – however long it takes you," Alec says. "But you can do it. I know that you can. It's what you do. And I'm here for however long it takes. Forever. I will sit on this bath mat forever."

Alec isn't always good at making Magnus laugh on purpose but he just wants – he wants to make Magnus feel something that isn't this.

Magnus softens, but he says, "I've done it so many times, Alec."

"I know," Alec says even though he doesn't, not really. "Just more proof that you can."

Water splashes up against Alec's sleeve as Magnus sits up and leans in, beckoning Alec in with a tilt of his jaw. The kiss washes over them like a wave, a revelation: this still works. Everything can change and this can still feel the same.

Magnus is already peeling Alec's jacket off but Alec keeps himself still enough to say, "You sure?"

Alec would understand if Magnus did not want to look at him for a very long time, let alone touch him.

"I want to be in my body," Magnus says. He seems intent and focused, clear-eyed. And that's all Alec needs – a way to help, a way to be useful. He knows it's not as easy as letting one touch erase another, but maybe right now they can both pretend it is.

Alec loses the rest of his clothes on the trip from the bath to the bed. Magnus' skin is damp and flushed from the water, almost burning, and every kiss sparks. It's a little desperate on both ends, maybe, but sharp and alive and wanting – Magnus' hands on Alec's face, his mouth so insistent. He rolls on top of Alec when they drop onto the bed, chest to chest, legs tangled. Alec kneads the taut muscles of Magnus' back, grips his shifting shoulders and strokes his warm, warm skin. But then Alec makes a mistake. His fingers close around Magnus' wrist accidentally, something he wouldn't even have thought twice about before today. Magnus jerks out of his grip roughly and their lips part, both of them breathing hard.

"Sorry," Alec says on an exhale, "Sorry, look –" He pulls his hands back, stretches arms above his head in an arc. They've done that, Alec bound by Magnus' magic. They've done that.

But Magnus shakes his head a little, gently taking Alec's hands by the wrist and putting them back on his body, on his sides. "It's okay," he says, firm. "Just be careful."

Alec nods. He is careful, angling up to kiss Magnus softly, one brief kiss and then another, letting them get deeper and longer in increments. They kiss until they're sitting up again, Magnus' arms looped around Alec's neck and Alec's fingers flexing carefully against Magnus' skin. "I love you," Alec says, quiet as taking a breath, saying with it I'm sorry and I'm here and I'm not going anywhere. He will sit on that bath mat forever. "I love you."

Magnus shudders a little, something unsaid shaking through his body, and he presses his face into Alec's neck. "I know," Magnus says. "I know."