Magnus nodded politely to Clary’s parting words, not really hearing any of them, then closed the door on her and Jace. The Mortal Cup and Jocelyn Fairchild’s missing tarot cards would wait until morning, just as Luke had said, and once he’d assured that his new alpha patient was resting peacefully, Magnus retreated to his study.
And the tall, handsome guest browsing his bookshelves with cocktail in hand.
“Finally,” Magnus said, swirling his hand to bring his drink into his fingers from the main room. “Alone at last.” He smiled as Alec looked over his shoulder at him. “Everyone’s gone to get some rest, with dreams of a promising new lead dancing in their heads.”
“I heard.” Alec slid the book he’d been examining back to its place, neat in the rows of ancient, peeling spines. He turned to Magnus. “Thanks for letting me stay in here. Clary said some stuff and I didn’t want to deal with her...”—he gestured vaguely with his hands—“...face.”
“It’s all right,” Magnus said. “I’m just glad you’re still here. I was worried you’d go.”
A look flitted across Alec’s features, as if he was offended. “I wouldn’t just leave.”
Magnus smiled warmly. “Of course not.” Oh, he’d forgotten this feeling. Alec made him feel like he had champagne in his veins, bubbling, light and golden.
Alec held his eyes a moment longer, then looked away. He touched the open page of the spell book laying among the scattered ingredients of the night’s healing remedy. The room was far sloppier than Magnus would have wanted him to see, but as Alec seemed interested, he left it all alone for the moment. “So is there a story behind why you know what to do with an alpha werewolf bite?” he asked.
“It’s in that book,” Magnus answered. Alec raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Fine. I wrote the book, but not all the knowledge is mine.” He hoped it wasn’t his imagination that Alec looked even more interested in the text now. “Some of it’s from personal experience, but a lot was old magic handed down by word of mouth through different packs and warlocks. Immortality has a strange way of making people think they don’t need to write things down. So short sighted. The internet has been a revelation.”
Alec shrugged noncommittally as he continued to scan the book, turning a parchment page with careful fingers.
“Oh, I know,” Magnus said. “Shadowhunters are notoriously tight-lipped with their knowledge. They would never dare put their information on the internet where just anyone could get it.”
“Some knowledge would be dangerous in the wrong hands.”
“In my experience, shadowhunters often are the wrong hands.” Magnus quickly took a sip of his drink to avoid saying anything more. Talking over recent history with Clary had brought that old rage back to the surface, but it wasn’t particularly useful in his attempts to woo a shadowhunter. Admittedly, it probably should have made him question why he was attempting to woo a shadowhunter in the first place, but Alec’s arms looked incredible in his T-shirt.
To his great comfort, Alec just said, “Yeah,” on a sigh that sounded weary. This new generation really was a marvel; Magnus wondered how far beyond the youngest Lightwoods this surprisingly sympathetic quality ran.
“It felt different than I thought it would, your, uh, your magic.” Alec nodded toward Magnus’s hands as he lifted his glass to take another drink.
“Oh? How did you think it would feel?” Magnus leaned against the door frame, noting as Alec’s eyes traveled down his throat, following the path of his necklaces to his chest. Magnus smiled lightly at the additional bit of encouragement: the physical attraction was clearly mutual.
“I don’t know... It—I guess...It was sort of...” Alec blinked long, as if trying to make his thoughts clear.
“How did it differ from parabati tracking?” Magnus asked more specifically, to rescue him from floundering. “That’s similar, isn’t it?”
Alec glanced at him, eyes a bit like a startled deer, and Magnus realized too late that bringing up Jace Wayland was not the way to make him relax. But he answered in a steady voice, “That’s not magic, though.”
“A mundane might disagree with you.”
“I guess so, yeah.” Whatever cloud Alec usually carried with him darkened, the stressed lines on his face stark and unforgiving. He stared down at the mortar and pestle on the table, tapping it idly with a finger. His thoughts were clearly miles away.
Magnus pursed his lips, cursing himself for letting his mouth get ahead of his brain, but before he could think of something to say to make it right, Alec spoke again.
“I knew what you meant, about the...that time with the memory demon,” he said. “I knew what you were talking about.” He looked up, as if gauging Magnus’s reaction. Magnus kept his face carefully calm. “I just can’t... I know you said that there’s nothing to…” Alec tilted one of the jars to read its label. “That I don’t need to, to feel ashamed or whatever, but—”
“Don’t touch that!” Magnus yelped.
Alec yanked his hand back from the table and the bowl of dried herbs he’d been reaching toward.
Magnus grimaced apologetically, regretting already that he’d had to break that fragile moment. “It stinks and it sticks to skin. It can take weeks to wash away the smell.”
“Seriously?” Alec asked, cradling his hand to his chest.
“Yes. It’s disgusting.” Magnus hurriedly grabbed his tongs and put the putredinem back in its airtight container. “I don’t like using it, but it does the trick.” Just as quickly, he set the tongs back down and returned his attention to Alec. “I am so sorry. Please go on.”
Alec stared at him with a curious, puzzled expression.
“Magic isn’t all incantations and spirit fingers. Sometimes it...” Magnus spread his hands helplessly.
“Stinks,” Alec offered.
Magnus let out an amused huff. “Yes. Sometimes it stinks. But I am sorry I interrupted.”
“It’s all right. You were protecting me.” The hard line of Alec’s mouth barely kept his wry smile contained. It was a lovely look on him.
“Yes, I have your best interests at heart,” Magnus replied, and he let a current of warm sincerity thread through the words. Alec glanced at him, hazel eyes shifting to him then swiftly away again, and Magnus felt certain his message had been received. “You were saying…?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Alec shrugged, gaze flickering out the door though no one was near to hear them. “I just wanted you to know that I know...about me. I mean, I’m in my own head, so... It’s just, knowing doesn’t change anything. I still can’t—it’s not like I can—it...it doesn’t change anything.”
Magnus breathed in deeply. “I myself possess a great number of qualities that I thought would be easier to hide than admit at different times in my life. And I’ll be honest with you, Alexander...”
Alec looked up to meet his gaze, swallowing thickly.
Alec’s fearful look broke open on a startled laugh. Magnus couldn’t help smiling at the sound. Then, Alec shifted his shoulders, as if laughing had disrupted some rigid ley line in his body that he had to lock back into place. “Sometimes it stinks. Got it.”
“No, all the time,” Magnus corrected. “That one stinks all the time.”
Alec nodded. “Yeah.” His back appeared almost painfully tight, and when he raised his eyes to Magnus’s, they looked distant, apologetic. “But I still can’t,” he said.
The disappointment settled in Magnus’s chest like a stone. He’d forgotten this feeling too, the fear and the anxious need; standing on the edge of a precipice, hanging on someone’s words, and that terrible fall when they weren’t what he wanted to hear. He watched with a sadness he couldn’t define as Alec drained the last drop of his drink. A toast to the dying, he thought, and took another sip of his own. Magnus supposed Alec had stuck to their agreement: One more drink and then decide. He’d decided.
“Okay,” Magnus replied at last, barely a breath.
He pasted an understanding smile on his face. It still felt like something of a miracle that Alec was here at all, that he’d stayed even these few minutes, that he’d come in the first place. Tonight had been a gift, and Magnus resolved to let Alec go—hoping, hoping with every part of himself, that he would come back.
Alec looked down at his empty cocktail glass. “Do you have another one you want me to try?” he asked. With his other hand, he scratched the back of his neck. “Or I can—I mean, it’s late—”
Magnus plucked the glass from his grasp, nearly spilling his own drink in his eagerness to seize Alec’s. “Do you want something sweet? Or with more bite?” Stay, he thought. Stay, stay, stay.
Alec breathed out and seemed relieved. “Sweet, I guess. I’m not really sure. What do you have?”
“Well, there’s the—”
“We can go out there. Sit down or something.”
“All right,” Magnus said brightly. He did not at all object to a more comfortable location. He turned to walk back into the living room, hearing Alec’s booted footfalls behind him.
“So guide me here.” Arriving at his liquor table, Magnus turned suddenly and Alec nearly walked right into him. “Ooh.”
“Sorry.” Alec backed away, but not before their eyes met, not before the scent of him filled Magnus’s air.
He was so wonderfully tall. Magnus felt his knees weaken, and he couldn’t recall if that had ever happened before. Even just those few inches, having to tilt his head up...it did things to Magnus’s insides, a twisting, heated want he didn’t quite understand.
“Sorry,” Alec said again.
Magnus chose to ignore it. “Guide me,” he repeated. “What sort of drinks do you like?”
“You don’t have to make me anything special.”
“I disagree. This feels like a very special occasion to me.” Magnus snapped clean both their glasses for a fresh start. “But if it eases your conscience, I like making cocktails. They’re like potions.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
“So tell me, favorite flavors? A favorite candy?”
Alec shook his head, at a loss.
“You are making me very sad right now, Alexander.” Magnus tilted and moved his bottles, eyeing what he had. A few cherries left, a bit of the raspberry liquor. “A favorite color? You can say black. You do look very good in black. I can make you a black cocktail.”
Alec huffed a laugh. “Do I even want to know what’s in a black cocktail?”
“Black vodka. Or, oh! I could make you a black martini!” Triumphant, Magnus turned and saw a sight that stopped the breath in his lungs: Alec watching him, fond and amused.
As soon as he noticed Magnus’s stare, Alec’s smile fell. He coughed and folded his arms across his chest, looking away. “Sure. Yeah. That sounds all right.”
Magnus wheeled back to the table and set to work, unable to keep the joy from his lips. “You can sit down,” he said. “I’ll only be a moment.”
Over the clink and chime of his work, he glanced back to see Alec looking at his phone. The disappointment shifted in his gut, until he noticed the screen turn dark and realized Alec was turning his phone off. And there was that champagne-in-the-blood feeling again as he listened to his footsteps on the floor and the creak of the couch cushions as Alec sat.
A moment later, Magnus turned, finished drinks in hand. He was delighted to see that Alec had chosen to sit toward the middle of the couch, which gave him all the better excuse to sit close to him. “Try this,” he said, giving Alec his martini. It almost perfectly matched the dark color of Magnus’s fingernails and looked charming in Alec’s hand. “You do not have to drink it if you don’t like it.”
As Magnus sat, Alec took a cautious sip, eyebrows jumping in surprise. “No, that’s good. Thank you.”
Magnus smiled. He’d adjusted the recipe considerably for what he presumed to be Alec’s taste—light on the vodka, heavy on the raspberry—and he was glad to have guessed right. As amusing as his grimace had been, Magnus preferred to see Alec enjoying his cocktail. He circled his wrist, creating a rolling wave of blue smoke that left a selection of nuts and dried meats on the coffee table in its wake. Alec paused, dazed.
“One should not drink on an empty stomach,” Magnus explained, then produced two glasses of iced water for good measure. He crossed his legs, getting comfortable. “Now, tell me all about that long, magnificent bow of yours.”
Alec narrowed his eyes at him as he leaned forward to set his drink down and grab a handful of smoked almonds.
Magnus snorted unattractively into his cocktail when he realized why Alec looked so wary. “Believe it or not, I meant your actual bow,” he clarified, coughing on the liquid in his throat. “Though I have given you reason to doubt me.”
Magnus’s unusual sputtering seemed to settle Alec; he shrugged as he sat back, chewing. “Not really much to say. It’s the only thing I’m good at.”
“I find that very hard to believe.” Magnus chose not to mention it, but his mind contained a vivid and visceral memory of an unbelievably good-looking shadowhunter handling a seraph blade with ease. He recalled it with some frequency.
“Well, it was for a while. When I was young,” Alec said, and as they ate dried meats and sipped their cocktails, he told a few endearing stories about a lanky boy whose height came before his grace, but who possessed keen eyes and a steady hand, whose bow became his one tether to pride and self-respect—even if Alec didn’t use those exact words. Magnus asked questions, genuinely curious, and learned more about young Alec Lightwood, about his training and his life.
Though Alec never addressed it directly, perhaps didn’t even realize what he revealed in each tale, Magnus heard enough to connect the threads and confirm that the Lightwoods he’d known twenty years ago had raised their children just as he would have expected. He felt a certain vindictive triumph, then, that both Alec and Isabelle seemed to be family disappointments in the best and most heartening of ways. But it was a triumph soured by the tight line of Alec’s shoulders and the tense edge of his jaw. Relaxed on the couch beside him, Magnus admired the gentleness in Alec’s voice, the way he used his hands when he talked, his unexpected innocence and beauty, and he wondered if Maryse and Robert Lightwood even cared that their firstborn son was suffering.
“I figured out how it’s different,” Alec said, licking a bit of salt from his lips. “The tracking and your...” He flailed a bit with his hands in Magnus’s direction.
“I would love to hear.” Elbow on the back of the couch, Magnus rested his chin on his hand. He turned toward Alec, who still sat facing out, both booted feet on the floor. But his shoulders had loosened considerably, his hands moved more freely.
“Tracking feels sort of...concentrated,” Alec said. “Like it’s focused between—between us, like this intense...it’s intense. And it’s kind of hot. I mean temperature.” His eyes darted to Magnus and away again. “With you, it was...” The blush that had started on his cheeks went all the way to his ears now, staining the tips red, and Magnus dearly wanted to know what words came to mind that Alec chose not to say. “It was all over, like, everywhere, kind of soft. And it was...nice. Warm, I guess.”
“I am especially pleasant on chilly nights, and I never have cold feet,” Magnus said, twisting his lips flirtatiously. “But the temperature can change with the spell. That was actually—that was unexpected for me, too.” Magnus touched the silver cuff on his ear and didn’t know how to explain to Alec the resistance he’d felt other times in his life, the struggle within the pull even when someone had offered their energy willingly. There’d been none of that between them. Alec had given and Magnus had taken. He’d never felt that before.
Magnus nodded and snapped his fingers. “The color, too, sometimes. Though I am partial to my blue.” The familiar cobalt smoke and spark of his magic filled his palm and he held it out toward Alec. “You can touch it,” Magnus said.
After a moment’s hesitation, Alec poked at one of Magnus’s fingers like it was a wild animal that might spring back and savage him. Magnus rolled his eyes fondly, even as he suspected it was the touch of his skin and not his magic that Alec feared. “It won’t bite,” he assured. “At least not without asking first.” He gave a wink and decided he rather liked that look of amused irritation on Alec’s face.
As if goaded by the flirtation, Alec slid his hand into his, fingers tripping lightly against fingers in the blue haze until they were again pressed palm to palm. Magnus couldn’t deny the heavy thump-thump of his heart at the contact, nor the way his breath caught in his chest. He blinked rapidly, trying to steady the tremor of his blood in his veins.
“How does it feel?” Magnus asked, nearly breathless. Alec had been right to fear this, he realized, and he watched the bob of Alec’s throat as he swallowed.
Alec stared down, watching, mesmerized, as their hands moved together, the glow and smoke sliding from Magnus’s fingertips to his, curling around the delicate skin of his wrist like an archer’s brace. “Like...like fizz but not sharp. Yeah, soft.”
Magnus smiled. Maybe it was the silenced phone, the cocktails, or the strange detached and liminal space of this night, but Alec’s nerves seemed absent in this moment. Instead, he studied their joined hands, eyes bright with wonder and edging delight.
Alec breathed out a laugh, teeth white in his smile. “It’s stupid, but I was about to say it feels like magic.” He looked up at Magnus. The arctic gleam of the spell reflected in the depths of his eyes.
“It does,” Magnus agreed softly, and they stared at one another, the cool glow ebbing between them.
Suddenly self-conscious, Alec lowered his eyes and drew his hand away. Magnus let some of his magic go with him, floating like a mist against his skin, and Alec gaped at it, as if trying to decide if he should be alarmed. “Uh, your book said to check on the werewolf after a couple hours,” he said, strained. “For the, uh, for delayed onset necrosis.”
Magnus let out a sigh. “I should have known you’d be one for the details.” He snapped again, and the smoke hovering in Alec’s hand became his half-enjoyed black martini. Magnus clinked their glasses together and savored Alec’s surprised laugh. “But right you are. Lend me a hand?”
Alec nodded, and took a quick drink.
Magnus pointed down the hallway. “There are fresh bandages in the bathroom down that way. Second door on the left, in the cabinet. Fetch those for me, will you?” Alec stood and disappeared down the dim hall.
Moments later, they walked together toward the darkness of the master bedroom. Alec carried the bandages and Magnus pushed the door open slowly, quietly.
“You can come in, Magnus.” Luke let out a yawn, shifting on the bed. “You can’t actually sneak up on a werewolf, you know.”
“I’ll mark that in my notes.” Magnus flicked his fingers to light a few candles, illuminating the room just enough for his examination. Luke sat up in the covers, blinking away sleep, and his eyes fell on the tall figure standing just behind Magnus. “Detective Luke Garroway, this is Alec Lightwood, head of the New York Institute.”
“Good to meet you, Alec.” Luke extended his hand and Alec stepped from behind Magnus to accept it. “According to Magnus, I should be thanking you.”
Magnus circled behind the bed to access Luke’s shoulder and caught the unamused glance Alec sent his way. “Magnus exaggerates,” he said. “He did most of the work.”
“It was a team effort,” Magnus countered. “We make a good team.”
“Not just that.” Luke turned his kind face on Alec. Magnus doubted even his stoic shadowhunter would be immune to Luke Garroway. The only mistakes Magnus could not forgive were those denied or blindly repeated. Luke had done neither. Indeed, in the years Magnus had known him, Luke had shown himself to be a person of immeasurable compassion and strength.
“Magnus says you’ve been looking out for Clary,” Luke continued in that warm voice of his. “That you, Jace, and your sister even tried to get her memories back. Thank you. I can’t tell you what it means to know she was protected when I couldn’t be there for her.”
Alec’s mouth worked over a few words. “You’re welcome,” he said at last.
“I don’t know yet what will happen, what will my pack will be, but if you ever need my help, I hope you’ll call.”
“Thank you.” Alec nodded, and he seemed sincerely touched. He set a clean bandage roll in Magnus’s outstretched hand. “Likewise.”
Magnus set to work, cleaning wounds, replacing bandages, and let Luke and Alec talk shop. He tried to school his features, to keep his face calm, but he wanted to beam. Luke spoke to Alec with all the respect he deserved as both a soldier and a leader, and it clearly didn’t happen to Alec often enough. The way Alec’s voice steadied and strengthened, how deep and deferentially he spoke to Luke, a werewolf and Downworlder; it did warm and sparkling things to Magnus’s heart.
When he’d finished with his patient, Magnus waved clear the mess of bloody bandages. Many of the wounds had healed entirely. Luke looked less Mummy movie and more handsomely wounded hero now. “Excellent,” he said, throwing himself into a break in Luke and Alec’s conversation. “Good talk, everyone. Now you need to sleep.” He looked pointedly at Luke. “Imagine if you were to nod off during your first full day as alpha. Terrible first impression.”
“I think his first impression was beating their old alpha,” Alec said. “That’s a pretty good one.” Luke snorted as he settled back into the covers.
“Terrible second impression, then,” Magnus amended.
He ushered Alec out into the gold light of the main room, snuffing the bedroom candles with a wave of his hand. A sudden surge of dizziness spun through him and he gripped the door frame to stay upright. Fortunately, walking in front of him, Alec didn’t notice.
Magnus knew he shouldn’t have been showing off so much, not after such an intense healing, but he couldn’t help it. He wanted Alec to like him, he wanted Alec to admire him. He wanted both of those things so much so it was almost disconcerting. Magnus hadn’t felt that heady, anxious need in such a long time.
“It’s weird, suddenly meeting all these people I’ve heard stories about for years,” Alec said, as they sat back down on the couch.
He took a long drink of his water and Magnus felt too fatigued to even properly ogle the elegant stretch of his neck. He settled into the cushions, strength flagging. “It has been an eventful few days, hasn’t it?”
Alec peered at him out of the corner of his eye, setting his glass back down. “You’re kind of different than the stories made you sound.”
“Stories from the files at the Institute?” Magnus asked. “I’m sure I am. I believe ‘unreliable narrator’ is the term.” Sighing, he toed off his house shoes and brought his feet onto the seat, knees bent toward Alec. “But they say there’s a grain of truth in every lie. I am powerful, and hedonistic, and oh, what are the other ones they say about me? Greedy. I am very greedy and dishonest, like all warlocks, of course.” He stifled a deep yawn, hand to his mouth. Magnus could feel his resources inside waning, demanding recovery he didn’t want to give them. He tugged the silver cuff from his ear, set it aside, and let his head rest against the back of the couch.
“You should sleep,” Alec said.
“I don’t want to sleep.”
“You look like you want to sleep.”
“Looks are deceiving. I’m dishonest, remember?” Magnus blinked slowly, the gently smiling image of Alec vanishing to darkness then returning again. “If I sleep, you’ll leave and then when I wake up, it’ll be like you were never here and this was just a dream.”
In all his years, Magnus had yet to find a truth potion more powerful than exhaustion. He waited for Alec to give him one of those rolls of his eyes again, or to laugh at him outright.
“What if I promised to stay?”
Magnus’s blink wasn’t so heavy this time, a last, lingering flood of energy flickering through him with some blossoming warmth in his belly.
“Would you sleep if I stayed?” Alec asked, voice laced with that same breathless concern as when he’d steadied Magnus against his chest and asked if he was okay.
Here again, Magnus nodded, skin against leather. “Yeah.”
“Okay. Then I’ll—I’ll stay.” Alec bent to unfasten his boots and tug them off before pulling his legs up onto the couch. Knees bent, he hugged his arms across his stomach and shifted, finding a comfortable position opposite Magnus. He rested his own cheek against the cushions, bringing their eyes to the same plane, gazing at each other across the small expanse of black leather between them.
Now Magnus truly didn’t want to sleep. He wanted to lay here forever, looking at Alec’s hazel eyes, listening to the sound of his breath. He wanted to stay awake to enjoy the sight of his long feet in faded blue socks and the small space between them where their knees almost touched. But within seconds, the deadweight of sleep dragged him under.
He awoke blearily an hour, or maybe only minutes, later when he felt the couch creak beneath him and a soft brush against his leg. He started to sit up, but a hand touched his shoulder.
“It’s me,” Alec whispered. “I was just checking on Luke again.”
Magnus opened his eyes, heavy and unfocused. “How is he?”
“Good as new. He’s sleeping.”
“Hmm, good, good.”
Magnus peered up. It was darker now than it had been when he’d fallen asleep. Alec had lowered the lights, and he stood over Magnus, eyes averted, fussing with the spare blanket from the bedroom. He draped it across Magnus’s legs and pulled it up to cover his shoulder.
Not for the first time, Magnus stared at him and wondered, Who are you? Who was this boy, this shadowhunter, who thought to tuck a blanket around the High Warlock of Brooklyn and take care of him?
More rest could only help, but Magnus had more than enough energy now to take down a Circle member or two, if threatened. And strangely, he sensed that Alec knew that, too.
Alec sat down beside him and pulled his knees back onto the couch. With a yawn, he lifted the outside edge of the blanket to tuck his feet underneath, and moved nearer to Magnus. Magnus moved nearer to him, too, and they curved toward each other like parentheses.
Magnus met Alec’s own tired, heavy-lidded gaze as they both rested their heads on the couch’s back. “Thank you,” he whispered.
“Go back to sleep,” Alec ordered kindly.
Magnus smiled—Alec was so very, very beautiful—and he closed his eyes. But he didn’t fall asleep. He stayed awake, listening to Alec’s breath and his sleepy sighs. And he felt it when Alec reached beneath the blanket to gently hold his hand.
No more powerful truth potion than exhaustion.
Magnus opened his eyes to see Alec’s closed, the handsome lines of his face eased in sleep. He stroked his thumb against Alec’s wrist and felt his strong pulse through the warm, fragile skin. The pleasant drift of unconsciousness teased at the edges of his mind, but he stayed awake a moment longer to study him, to let his eyes roam over the curve of Alec’s eyelashes against his cheekbones, and the raspberry-stained pink of his lips.
His fingers itched to brush the hair from Alec’s forehead just to feel its softness, but he didn’t want to take a single thing from Alec Lightwood that wasn’t freely given. Not even a brush of hair against his fingertips.
A picture appeared suddenly in Magnus’s mind, so clear and vivid it sent a tremble through his blood: Alec laying just like this, face relaxed in sleep, but with gray in the dark hair at his temples, with age wrinkling the skin around his eyes, and laugh lines curved at the edges of his mouth. Alec here, with Magnus, close to him, years and years from now. Magnus’s drowsy heart tripped forward into pounding. He was not usually given to flashes of prophecy, but he couldn’t define it as anything else.
After spending all night hoping Alec would stay, Magnus found himself wanting to run. Alec Lightwood might kill him, and Magnus had felt that death before. The death of hope; the crumbling, cutting decay of loving someone and realizing they didn’t love him back. Alec had unlocked something in him, and in all the delight and attraction, Magnus had forgotten all the reasons he’d locked himself away in the first place.
Panic knotted in his throat, forcing tears to his eyes as Magnus rested, unmoving, with Alec’s hand holding his. He tipped his head just enough to feel Alec’s sleeping sighs against his lips, sharing his breath. Don’t hurt me, he begged as his thoughts sank back into darkness. Please don’t hurt me.
And Magnus dreamt of fire and blades. He dreamt of running late to a party he couldn’t reach because his feet kept sliding on fresh blood with the moon high in the night sky overhead. Then the sun blazed down hot and his feet stuck solid in tacky and viscous pools of blood baking in the dirt. He stumbled over the bodies of warlocks, dotted with raw patches of bared flesh and gaping sockets where their marks had been. He was running late. They were waiting on him. He was supposed to be there already, and he clawed at the ground as his leg sank into a pit of bleached bones and severed horns.
It was the sun that finally woke him, its heat against his back and neck. He blinked awake, inhaled, and the dream vanished from his mind. He felt Alec stir beside him. Their hands had separated as they slept, but their knees were tucked close now, one of Alec’s long legs curved heavily over Magnus’s.
Magnus sighed in the sunlight cresting the top of the Brooklyn skyline. It shined on Alec’s hair and his softly waking eyes. He could see the hints of chestnut in his dark strands, caught by the golden light streaming through the windows. He could see the flecks of green in his eyes.
He let his eyes trail over that mark on Alec’s long neck. Images flickered in his mind, ghostly, there and then gone: his bare feet slipping in blood, his leg sinking in bones. He’d seen so much hatred and violence from people with these same runes on their skin. It didn’t make sense, then, that he felt so safe here and now. Alec Lightwood might be the most dangerous person he’d ever met.
“How do you feel?” Alec asked, low like a heartbeat.
Alec wanted to kiss him. Magnus didn’t know how he knew, but it was as clear on his face as if he had spoken it aloud. He wondered how often Alec had been alone with a man he wanted to kiss without anyone or anything around to tell him not to.
Magnus smiled gently, sleepily at him.
“I should go,” Alec whispered.
“I disagree,” Magnus whispered back.
But Alec sat up anyway, breaking the moment. He reached down to stick his feet back into his boots with all the rigid energy of a soldier accustomed to operating without sleep. “I have reports I need to fill out.”
Magnus stretched and turned just enough to slouch back against the couch, unfolding his legs. He rolled his shoulders, working out the kinks. “I sincerely hope that breakfast with me is more appealing than reports.”
Fastening his laces, Alec cast him a glance that caught and held. It traveled the length of Magnus’s sprawled body, the stretch of his thighs, his middle where his shirt rucked up to show his skin.
Magnus knew he looked sleep-rumpled, makeup mussed and messy, but under the heat of that gaze, he’d never felt more attractive in his life. “Hungry?” he asked, quirking an eyebrow.
Magnus did so enjoy that flush on Alec’s cheeks. “Breakfast? I can get anything you like.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Alec stood. “I have to...”
Magnus gestured broadly down the hall toward the second bath suite. “You remember where it is. Take your time. There’s two of anything you might need in there.”
Magnus snapped and smiled as he sat up. “There is now.”
Alec narrowed his eyes at him. “You’re going to tire yourself out again.” He turned and walked toward the bathroom.
“Please. I’m the High Warlock of Brooklyn. I promise I can summon a toothbrush without great personal risk.”
As soon as the bathroom door clicked shut, Magnus stepped into his bedroom to check on Luke—as good as new, just as Alec had reported—then into the master bathroom to give himself a bit of a magical spit shine. But nothing too drastic. Alec would be in the same clothes, so Magnus resisted the impulse to change his.
Magnus was back in the main room and waiting when Alec emerged a few minutes later, looking fresher, cleanly shaven, and far more awake. “A toothbrush? You summoned an entire bathroom set in there,” he said, then stopped in his tracks when he saw the spread of chocolate croissants, danishes, coffee, and tea crowding the coffee table.
Leaning comfortably back against the couch’s arm, Magnus stared at Alec over the top of his perfect cup of coffee. He felt his own blush heating his cheeks. “None of your top secret files mentioned the comprehensive hospitality of warlocks?”
“Doesn’t ring a bell,” Alec replied, but a skeptical scowl warmed the edges of his mouth. He walked to the couch and sat down. He put far more distance between them, bracing himself against the arm opposite Magnus, but they were awake now, so Magnus supposed he should expect that. Alec’s defenses were back up.
But he was still here.
“I didn’t know if you preferred coffee or tea,” Magnus admitted.
“You didn’t know if I liked coffee or tea, so you magicked up all the breakfasts in Europe.”
“Comprehensive hospitality, Alexander.”
Alec tipped his head down as he smiled and Magnus liked him so very much. He wanted so many mornings like this, waking up to Alec, breakfast with Alec, hearing his voice before anything else. He looked down into the dark abyss of his coffee to steady his heartbeat. This was all still so new; Magnus always fell too fast. He remembered now. He always fell too fast and too deep.
“I like coffee,” Alec said finally.
Magnus smiled. “Cream and sugar?” He urged the selection toward him with a tap of his finger.
“Thank you for the clothes, Magnus,” Luke said, walking from the bedroom dressed in clean jeans and a blue button-down shirt. He fastened his badge to his belt.
“You’re welcome. I want you to know that is the dullest outfit I have ever personally brought into my home.”
Luke bent over, helping himself to a croissant. “Morning, Alec. Didn’t think you’d still be here.”
Alec hesitated, a few words stumbling out of his mouth before he managed, “I wanted to make sure you were all right.”
“Thank you,” Luke said sincerely. “Both of you.” Magnus flicked his wrist to bring a third mug to the table. Luke claimed it immediately with a nod in his direction.
“Has he seen your book?” Alec asked, suddenly turning to Magnus. “He might have something he could add, from his side of it.”
“That’s a spectacular idea—”
“I can get it,” Alec said firmly, standing from the couch just as Magnus lifted his hand. “Take it easy, will you?” He cast a reproving look at him, but Magnus couldn’t help but preen under the attention and care.
Luke watched Alec go, then looked to Magnus, sipping his tea. “What do I owe you?”
Magnus waved his words away, dipping a biscotti into his coffee. “You can repay me with your insights on the potion,” he said.
Alec returned and placed the open book in Luke’s hands. Luke scanned it quickly, lifting his eyes back to Magnus. “Really, Magnus? This stuff on this list isn’t cheap. Or easy to find.”
Magnus shrugged. “You can replace my stocks, then.” The biscotti filled his mouth, crumbly and sweet. Not only would the New York pack be more stable with Luke running it, Magnus suspected the world itself was better and safer with Luke Garroway in it. “It benefits Brooklyn when the New York pack has a strong leader.” The couch shifted as Alec returned to his place opposite Magnus. He glanced between the two of them.
“So, anything I should add?” Magnus asked. “Perhaps a special notation: Caution—do not keep memories from loved ones for eighteen years prior to use?”
Luke looked up from the book, decidedly unamused, so Magnus turned to Alec, only to see him regarding him with a narrowed, inspecting gaze. Magnus quirked a brow and stirred his coffee; he thought it was funny.
“Putredinem? Well, that explains the horrible taste in my mouth,” Luke said.
Alec looked to Magnus. “Is that the...?” He waved his hand in front of his nose.
Magnus nodded. “That’s the one.”
“It’s disgusting.” Luke grimaced and continued reading.
A chime sounded and Luke dug into his pocket for his cell phone, which seemed to remind Alec he’d shut his off. He snagged his phone from amongst the danishes and turned it on. It almost immediately began vibrating in his hand.
Magnus swallowed, the coffee souring in his throat. There it was, the real world flooding back in. He watched as the tension returned to Alec’s shoulders like hardening clay. He wondered if Alec even recognized that happened, if he was capable of feeling the differences in his own body anymore.
“It’s Clary,” Luke said, closing the book with a thump. “Looks like they’re ready to go.”
“Yeah, Jace messaged me.” Alec scrolled, eyes on his phone. “I can come with you.” They both stood and Magnus found himself doing the same.
“That’s all right,” Luke said. “It’s an easy errand. Won’t need all of us.”
“We’ll call if there’s trouble,” Luke said. “Magnus.”
Magnus looked over, discovering he’d been caught ogling Alec and the exquisite placement of that neck rune. “Hm?”
“Walk me out?”
“Of course.” Magnus followed him with a flourish, leaving Alec with his coffee and breakfast as he trailed Luke to the door, though he didn’t know why. Was he about to be scolded for undressing the head of the New York Institute with his eyes?
At the door, Luke turned, expression tender. “How are you doing?” he asked.
Magnus blinked in confusion. “Why do you ask?”
“I know you’ve lost a lot of good people since Valentine resurfaced.”
Magnus cleared his throat and inspected his nails.
“I’m sorry we lost contact these last couple of years. I should have—”
“You’ve been protecting Clary, and the whole of New York on the side,” Magnus said, giving him a reassuring smile. “I don’t always agree with you and Jocelyn, but I promise, I’m not keeping track of who forgets my birthday.” And with his next breath, Magnus realized the number of people who even knew his birthday (or rather, the day he’d chosen at random a hundred years ago) had lowered considerably in the past week.
Luke gave him a reassuring smile of his own. “Think it’s time we stop being strangers. Feels like it could be starting all over again.”
“It does.” Magnus nodded, heart heavy. “So go get the cup.”
“I’ll do that. You enjoy breakfast.” Luke winked and pulled open the door.
Magnus smirked. “I’ll send the leftovers to the Jade Wolf, courtesy their new alpha. Heroically seize power, then send them chocolate croissants. It’s a perfect second impression.”
Luke laughed as he trotted down the stairs. Magnus turned to see Alec walking toward him, pulling on his jacket.
“I should go, too. Jace said they’ll only be an hour and I have those—”
“Your reports, yes,” Magnus finished for him. “Well, if you must...”
Alec shoved his hands in his jacket pockets, pausing by him at the open door.
“You have my phone number.” Magnus smiled. “I hope you’ll use it.”
Alec nodded once, stiffly, his eyes flickering down to Magnus’s mouth before he turned to walk away. Magnus watched him go, but only for a second because Alec turned back around almost immediately. “Can I ask you something?” he asked.
“Wondering how I got your phone number?”
“No. I figured my sister gave it to you.”
“Yeah, she would.” Alec shook his head lightly. “No, I just—I wondered why you didn’t ask Luke to pay you.”
“What?” That might have been the last question Magnus expected.
Alec looked at him, steadier this time. “You helped Luke tonight. You helped Clary before. Back in the files, there’s all this talk about you and—and these…I don’t know, lavish payments, but you haven’t asked for anything. And you gave that necklace back to Izzy.”
“Luke is going to restock my supplies.”
“That’s just breaking even. Your magic takes a lot out of you,” Alec said. “But you didn’t ask for anything back.” He looked so sweetly perplexed.
Magnus lifted his chin, shoulders swaying. “Maybe I’m playing both sides,” he said. “Maybe I want the head of the New York pack and Valentine’s daughter to feel indebted to me.”
“Okay,” Alec said, but he eyed him with shrewd gaze that made Magnus feel stripped naked.
“You don’t believe me?”
“Then why do you think I did it?”
“I don’t know. I think...” Alec shrugged, hands still shoved in his pockets. “I think maybe you’re just nice.”
Magnus smiled ruefully at the floor, not trusting himself to hold Alec’s gaze. Tears burned suddenly in his eyes, and something ached in his chest, which felt ridiculous. There was no reason, no reason at all, that anything in those simple words should do that to him. A moment later, he lifted his head, aiming for lightness even as his heart felt skewered. “Don’t tell anyone,” he said, and gave Alec a wink. “I’ve worked very hard on my reputation.”
The corner of Alec’s mouth lifted. “Right,” he said flatly.
And then a silence descended. Alec folded his arms across his chest, shifted slightly on his feet. “You have Izzy’s number, too, right?”
“Of course, I do. I wasn’t just using her to get to you.”
“Yeah, well, you should show her that book sometime. She’d like it.”
“She has an interest in healing spells?”
“Uh, no. Forensics. She’s a pathologist.” Alec blinked a few times and stuck his hands back into his pockets. “I thought—I mean, she might—it could be good for her to know some of that stuff. To be able to detect it. You know, if people don’t heal. Maybe.”
“Ah,” Magnus said, confused. While Isabelle might have some idle curiosity, he couldn’t immediately see why a forensic pathologist would be interested in a book of old spells, and then he suddenly realized Alec didn’t want to leave. He was making conversation so he wouldn’t have to leave. Magnus leaned back against the door jamb. “Does this explain why you knew the term ‘delayed onset necrosis’?”
Alec chuckled fondly and mirrored him, leaning his back against the door frame opposite. “Yeah,” he said. “I helped her study for her exams.” His booted feet nearly touched Magnus’s bare ones on the floor.
It was another hour, then, that they stood in the open doorway, talking. A very proud big brother told Magnus about a 12-year old Isabelle Lightwood who grossed out all the boys in her weapons class by keeping and dissecting a dead chipmunk they found on a trail run. Magnus told him about Sahar, the incredibly good-natured and now three-legged werewolf who’d inspired the delayed onset necrosis notation.
Magnus almost suggested they sit, that they make themselves more comfortable back on the couch, but he didn’t want to call attention to the hour or make room in the conversation for goodbyes. So they leaned on the door frame far past comfort. Alec kept his hands in his pockets, and Magnus kept his arms at his sides, but their eyes met openly, eagerly, as they spoke. Magnus wanted to answer the question that seemed to be asked in Alec’s gaze. No, this isn’t common, he thought. This is something so very special.
Alec swallowed and looked down to check his watch, seemingly startled by the time. “I’ve got to go. I should have heard from Jace by now.”
Even Magnus felt a tremor of worry. It had been far longer than Luke said it would be. “Yes, all good things must come to an end, I suppose,” he said.
“You’re sure you’re okay now?”
Magnus nodded, and that bubbling champagne feeling swept through his blood again. “I am. Thank you.”
“Okay. Yeah, good.” Alec nodded back. “Thank you, uh, thanks for breakfast. And the cocktails.”
Alec pushed off the door frame to stand, and Magnus couldn’t stop his sharp inhale. His full height had him towering over Magnus, bodies close in the narrow doorway. His eyes dropped helplessly to Alec’s bowed lips, and he desperately wanted to touch him, to feel him warm and solid against him. It was like a living thing between them, an energy reaching out, yearning and tender.
“Bye,” Alec said suddenly. Then, he kissed Magnus on the cheek and ran, darting down the stairs like the building was on fire.
Magnus stood locked in place, listening to Alec’s fleeing footsteps. He closed his eyes, head dropping back against the sturdy door holding him upright.
Champagne in his blood, fear in his heart, and falling for someone was never, ever a choice. And Magnus knew those lips against his cheek had been the final ingredient in a binding spell that Alec hadn’t even known he’d been weaving.