Camille stood between her packed bags and smiled. For a moment, Magnus believed everything might turn out alright and she wouldn’t leave him here. She'd take him with her. She bore his mark on her shoulder, he wore hers on his wrist. They were soulmates, a perfect fit, meant to make each other happy.
He’d tried so hard to make her happy.
“Don’t leave,” he asked. It sounded like begging even to his own ears. Maybe a soulmate wasn’t supposed to make you beg, but Magnus didn't mind. He'd crawl on his knees if only she’d stay. Two years was not enough.
Camille kept smiling, showing her fangs in a barely veiled threat. “Magnus dear,” she said. “So naïve. So easy to deceive.”
He had no idea what she was talking about, but when she stepped towards him, the hair on the back of his neck rose. He’d always knew she was a predator, but for the first time in their tempestuous relationship, he was afraid of her. She pulled the shawl from her neck and wrapped it around Magnus’ to pull him closer. She kissed him. He closed his eyes out of habit and kissed her back, despair on his lips. It felt like a goodbye kiss, but that couldn’t be what was happening.
They were soulmates.
When Camille pulled back she still had that same smile on her face, but for the first time, Magnus could admit to himself that there wasn’t any warmth to it at all. There had never been. He avoided her eyes, looking at her shoulder instead. He blinked. Her now bare shoulder, no shawl or dress covering the paleness of her skin. Her bare skin, no mark to be seen. As if it had never been there, as if Magnus hadn’t traced it, hadn't kissed it a thousand times.
“You made it too easy, flaunting your mark as you did,” Camille said almost apologetically.
Magnus blinked. He still couldn’t look at anything but that bare strip of skin. He reached for his wrist instinctively, traced her mark on his skin, surrounded by fading biting scars of where Camille used to feed on him.
“It never was me,” Camille said. She turned around and left the room, her soft laughter following her outside. It kept ringing in his ears while he traced her- no, not hers, the mark over and over again.
He never found who his real soulmate had been. They died 20 years later, but Magnus didn’t see the mark fade to gray.
He’d burned it off his skin.
Alec’s heart broke a little when his first mark started showing. It so very obviously wasn’t anything like the mark Jace bore, or like any mark Jace would ever bear. He’d known of course —you couldn’t be soulmates if you were parabatai—but still Alec had hoped. He’d had this vague idea that they’d share a mark and run away and go on adventures and grow old together hiding as mundanes. He swallowed down his disappointment. His real soulmate deserved better, someone who was happy that they shared a mark. And he was happy because this meant that there was someone out there, someone who would fit with Alec. Someone who maybe wouldn’t mind that Alec didn’t really like girls.
The skin of his arm felt sensitive now as he traced the small but bold lines with a fingertip. But as the wonder wore off, his stomach dropped. It didn’t look like any Shadowhunter rune or mark he’d seen before. Shadowhunter soul marks were always, always black; this mark was shimmering brightly and the blue lines almost seemed to change color. Shadowhunter marks were a solid unchanging tattoo; the lines of Alec’s soul mark seemed to spiral and move in what had to be an optical illusion. This couldn’t be happening.
His soulmate wasn’t a Shadowhunter.
Alec closed his eyes to will back the tears. He was frantically rubbing his arm now, but when he opened his eyes, the mark was still there, seemingly even brighter.
Alec’s heart broke even further. He couldn’t believe that he was so broken, so wrong, that there wasn’t a single Shadowhunter fit to be with him. He rubbed his eyes and swallowed. His parents would be so disappointed if they found out. They’d hate him.
He’d have to hide the mark. He couldn’t have anyone find out how unfit a Shadowhunter he really was. Lucky, the soul mark was on the small side, so maybe he could cover it up with a rune. An expectation rune, if angled right, might do the trick. He didn’t let himself think about it, just grabbed his stele and started on the rune. It burned like it always did, but the moment he let his stele touch his soul mark, nausea and pain really hit him, unlike anything he’d ever felt. He swallowed down the bile rising up in his throat and kept on drawing, his whole body shaking, but his hand steady.
After what seemed like minutes, he’d finally finished. There was nothing else visible on his skin, except for the fresh, blackened skin of the expectation rune. But Alec remembered every swirl of the mark, could still trace it with his fingers. It was still sensitive to the touch, and Alec was overcome with guilt. He hoped soul marks couldn’t transfer sensations like parabatai-runes did. He didn’t want to cause his soulmate pain.
He just- He was a Lightwood, he had to be a Shadowhunter. He couldn’t be their soulmate.
Magnus’ thigh burned. In his long four hundred years of living, he’d never felt a pain like it. It felt like his essence was being burned out of him. He hadn’t dealt with any demons or clients recently who could deal damage like this, nor had he handled any dangerous or poisonous components today. Which meant that it was highly likely that a soul mark was acting up.
He didn’t want to deal with anything like that.
Except the pain became much, much worse, so excruciating even that he couldn’t support his own weight and had to snap his fingers for a chair.
He’d have to do something, which meant he had to figure out what was causing this. If it was somehow soul mark related, he needed to check.
So Magnus let his meticulously crafted glamor drop. There was a red and black mark on his thigh, that hadn’t been there the last time he’d looked at his marks, now a couple of decades ago. It seemed to be pulsating on his skin and when he touched it, it burned his finger.
Either someone was doing horrible magical things to the person on the other end of his mark, or another person was doing horrible magical things to his mark, because they didn’t want to bear it.
Magnus didn’t let himself be worried or disappointed, let alone hurt. He’d given up on the whole soulmate thing a century ago, he couldn’t blame others for thinking the same.
He pushed some healing and pain numbing magic into his thigh until he could no longer feel his leg. It still looked red and blackened, which was an uncommon look for his marks. Back when he still cared, he’d figured out that the common denominator between his marks tended to be color and a strange shimmering quality to the marks. He’d figured that’s what he brought to them, that’s how his soul decided to show itself.
Maybe he’d finally done it, and matched to a demon. Finally prove his mother right, that only something truly evil could ever love a thing like him.
He needed a drink.
The proverbial cat was out of the bag now, however, so he might as well check his body for the damage of the past couple of decades.
With a snap of his fingers, a large glass of whiskey appeared into his hand. He made his way to his walk-in closet, which had the largest mirror—and the best light—in the loft. If you decide to do something, better go all in.
With another snap of his fingers, his clothes disappeared and he stood before the mirror naked.
His heart clenched. There were just so many of them. Grey marks. People he loved who had died. People he might’ve loved who had died. People whose mark he’d never even seen before they died.
He took a large drink from his whiskey and forced himself to really look at them. The marks were everywhere, covering him from head to toe. Some were large, some were tiny. Some were from before Camille, and he knew them intimately, could draw the shape of them with his eyes closed. Some were from after, when he’d given up on soulmates, and he’d never given them more than a cursory glance.
All were gray.
Except for the one he’d tried to burn away in vain, and still showed red through the scar tissue on his wrist.
And the new one on his thigh, now no longer only red, but showing traces of a shimmering blue and purple. It was on the smaller size for a soul mark, but the lines were bold and brazen, spirals twirling round and between three straight lines. The linework was intricate and almost seemed to move. Magnus was intrigued despite himself and almost moved to touch it.
He finished his drink instead. Depending on their longevity, most people had between 3 and 5 potential soulmates in their lives, people who would be a perfect fit. Some met them all, most met one at most. Magnus counted. 37 marks
This was the true curse of immortality: carrying your grief on your skin, forever seeing what could have been, what has been lost. Forever wearing the dead.
Magnus shook his head and slowly started the spell that would glamor his skin to its markless self.
He didn’t want them.
“Magnus Bane,” Hodge said. “He's over 300 years old. And, as you can see, he hasn’t shied away from the pleasures of every century.”
Hodge was showing them pictures of the High Warlock of Brooklyn, and Alec was a little distracted. He didn’t think it was possible to wear this much clothing and yet show this much skin. And he grew up with his sister.
“Where are his soul marks,” Clary asked.
Alec grit his teeth. It wasn’t enough that the girl was Valentine’s daughter and barged into their lives like they had nothing else to do, no, she also had to have Jace’s soul mark, and flaunt it by bringing it up constantly. As if Shadowhunters would put a soul mark before duty, honor or family.
“Because they’re demon spawn, most Warlocks are incapable of having soul marks,” Hodge explained.
Clary gasped in dismay. “That’s terrible.”
Alec rolled his eyes. "Not everyone derives their happiness in life from their soul marks. They don't matter much to Shadowhunters either."
"Alec!" Izzy yelled and smacked his shoulder.
Whatever, he wasn't saying anything that wasn't true.
"Besides," Izzy said. "I'm sure Warlock Bane has found… people to share his life with."
Hodge snorted. "Indeed. His tastes are both exquisite... and quite excessive."
There were a bunch of pictures of the warlock caught in flagrante delicto, enjoying the pleasures of the flesh, with both women and men. Alec's eyes kept moving to one in the corner, where the warlock was surrounded by almost completely naked people, who all seemed to be touching him in some way, while he sipped from a drink.
Alec felt himself get warmer. "Can we focus? This isn't a joke."
They needed to retrieve Clary's memories, find her mom, find the Cup and fix this whole mess. Warlocks and soulmates were not a part of the mission, only a distraction. They couldn’t afford distractions.
He'd always known Shadowhunters as a society felt the need to control every aspect of their life, including pretending they didn't have emotions. He'd just never really met a Shadowhunter who was so obviously bad at denying how he felt, and who was so incredibly sad because of it.
It reminded him of himself right after Camille, when he'd been heartbroken and bitter, and didn't think he'd ever find love again. And he wasn't sure he had, but he'd found infatuation, and affection and joy, and those were things to treasure. Nobody should go without joy in life.
Alexander only needed to grasp for it.
"For a long time, I haven’t let myself feel anything for anyone. Man or woman,” Magnus said. “You’ve unlocked something in me.”
"Magnus, I-um, I wish," Alec stammered.
Magnus was flattered he could fluster Alec so easily, but at the same time it was kind of sad. No one, not even a Shadowhunter, deserved to get so little attention in life.
"Don't answer now," Magnus said, almost pressing his index finger on Alec's lips. "Stay for one more drink, and then decide."
To his surprise, Alec stayed.
He still seemed nervous and a little frayed around the edges, but he stayed and sat down in Magnus' couch, drinking the cocktail Magnus made for him.
He even started the conversation. "Do you always make your own drinks? Where did you learn?"
Magnus was thrilled and sat down next to Alec. Not too close of course, it wouldn't help to spook him even more.
"When you live as long as me, you get a definite taste for the things you like," Magnus said with a smirk. The corner of Alec's mouth turned up a little, so Magnus continued. "So, you experiment, try variations, until you find the one that's perfect. I started with beer. In 1862, a Flemish monk taught me everything he knew about Trappist ale."
Alec snorted in disbelief. "I don't think you'd make a good monk," he said.
Magnus raised his eyebrow. "I confess, Gods and their demands have never really appealed to me, but I can pretend well enough." He folded his hands together in mock devotion.
Alec smiled and took another sip. When he put down his drink the smile had disappeared from his face, however, and he was frowning slightly. “1862, huh? You’ve lived for a long time,” Alec said eventually. He rubbed his knees in an obvious nervous manner.
Magnus hummed non-committedly.
Alexander bit his lip, and then all his words seemed to stumble out at once. “You said you- you felt something, but I thought warlocks didn’t have soul marks? So you never… Have you ever loved someone?”
He looked up at that last question, face morphing into one of horror. “Shit, sorry. That was way too personal. Forget I asked anything. I’ll-uhm. I’ll go.”
Magnus waved Alec down before he could stand up from the couch. “No need to make a run for it yet, Alec. There’s no harm in asking.”
He snapped his fingers and refilled their drinks. Alec took a long drink, relief obvious on his face.
“Whether or not warlocks have soul marks is irrelevant, Alec. Downworlders, mundanes, even Shadowhunters love people who aren’t their soulmates,” Magnus said.
Alec was looking at him with wide eyes, like a deer in headlights. Had no one ever explained him anything?
“So yes, I’ve loved. And I’ve lost. Like you said, I’ve lived a long time,” Magnus said unable to keep the wistfulness out of his voice. He cleared his throat. These topics were too heavy for evening drinks after a tiring day.
“Enough about love. Why the bow?”
Magnus changed the topic rather unsubtly, but then Alec didn’t seem like a man who minded a little bluntness.
Alec frowned, as if he wanted to ask more, but then settled back in the couch. “The others all specialized in close combat, so we needed someone with a ranged weapon.”
“That might be the case, Alexander, but you’re the eldest, so surely you picked first?”
“I guess, I was-. I tried it and I was good at it. And I liked it. No need to waste time in getting close.” Alec blushed, while talking about weaponry of all things.
“Ah,” Magnus said. “But getting close can be rather nice.”
Alec blinked. But he didn’t disagree.
Alec was getting married today. He still wasn’t entirely sure how he ended up here, at the end of an actual aisle, ready to marry a girl. He’d vaguely expected that to be his future always, a marriage of convenience, he’d just never really expected to actually get there, and definitely not this fast.
Jace was doing something to his tie and Alec wanted to slap his hands away or hide in his arms. He wasn’t sure. This was terrible.
“Are you sure about this?” Jace asked.
Alec thought it was very obvious he wasn’t sure about this at all, but it wasn’t like there was a way to stop it now. He passed the point of no return a while ago.
“I’m sure,” he said. Neither he or Jace believed that, but Jace nodded anyway.
They got to their places, and Brother Zachariah did his announcement and suddenly there was music and Lydia was walking down the aisle. She looked beautiful and happy, and Alec wished he could love her like he was supposed to.
Her dress cut rather low, and Alec couldn’t help but glance down. Her dress didn’t hide her soul mark, which was still a dark grey, not entirely finished fading. It seemed to mock him. They could never be soulmates. They didn’t even have potential to grow into it. Alec just wasn’t wired that way.
He’d never love her. And he’d known that, but now, looking at her, standing here, ready to be married and tie their lives together forever, he really felt in his bones for the first time what that meant.
This was a mistake.
A door slammed, and when Alec looked up, Magnus was walking down the aisle.
He looked serious and sad and absolutely devastating. Alec couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t hear anything but the rapid beating of his own heart. This was how you were supposed to feel when someone walked down the aisle towards you.
“Alec, hey.” Lydia said and touched his cheek. Alec looked at her and stammered something. He didn’t know what to do. She deserved better than all these theatrics. She’d already lost so much.
“It’s okay. You deserve to be happy, Alec,” Lydia said. She smiled at him and then touched her soulmark. “I’ve already had my part of happiness. It’s okay.”
“He’s not my soulmate,” Alec whispered so only she could hear.
He wanted him to be with a desperation that surprised him, but warlocks didn’t have soulmates. He’d never wear Magnus’ mark.
Lydia just smiled. “Does that really make a difference?”
No, Alec thought. It didn’t make a difference. He could never love Lydia. But he could love Magnus. Someday. If he gave himself the chance.
So he swallowed and stepped down the podium and made his way to Magnus who still looked devastatingly beautiful. Alec couldn’t see anything except the hope and fear in his eyes and for a split second he wondered how he himself looked and then they were kissing.
Magnus lips were soft and wet and he smelled amazing. His hands were on Alec’s waist and everything was so warm and soft. They broke apart for a moment, so Alec could catch his breath. He felt like he could breathe for the first time in what felt like days. Only he didn’t want to breathe, he wanted to kiss Magnus some more.
So he did.
Magnus cursed himself. He shouldn’t have drawn that last portal, should have called Alexander to pick him up when he realized how much magic he’d used up. Keeping up the wards on the werewolf safehouse while simultaneously evacuating the two werewolf families to different locations outside of New York had taken the last of his resources, already seriously depleted after weeks of skirmishes with Circle members. They were fighting a war of attrition and it had finally caught up with him. So the minimal effort of drawing the portal to his home, such a familiar spell it only used the barest of his magic, had proven to be the last drop.
He’d gotten himself home, but now he was sitting on the floor, leaning against the brick wall of his living room, too tired to move to his bedroom. There was something wet on his upper lip, and he even was too tired to wipe it off. It was only when it finally dripped down that he realized it was blood, which was now staining his shirt. Damn, he should have worn a darker shirt, but he looked good in turquoise.
His evening was filled with coulda shoulda woulda’s, He should have called Alec, maybe even before he went to the werewolf safehouse. But Luke was dealing with another emergency, and Magnus didn’t want to involve Alec lest he upset the already panicky werewolves. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with the politics of it all.
That and, while they’d been together for a little over two months now, times were dire, and Magnus still wasn’t entirely sure he could call Alexander for everything and anything. He knew it was stupid, but he was the High Warlock of Brooklyn, he could take care of himself, and he didn’t want to seem needy in front of him.
As often happened, his pride ended up biting him in the ass because there were only two ways this could go. He could fall asleep here, perched against his living room wall, bleeding on himself. Or Alec would show up, since they’d had tentative plans for this evening, in which case he’d find Magnus, plastered against his living room wall, bleeding on himself.
In both cases, dignity and pride would be hard to find. Magnus sighed. He should have called Alec sooner. Or Luke. Anyone really. This was beneath him.
He woke up from his slumber when someone walked through the wards of his apartment. He wasn’t sure when he’d dosed off. At least his wards were still working. And his nose has stopped bleeding, although his shirt was definitely ruined, fat drops of blood everywhere.
“Magnus,” Alec called out. Magnus’ voice croaked when he tried to call back. The couch was obscuring his view. It would be just his luck that Alec would come by, would fail to find him, and then go home, leaving him behind, to die of exposure to the elements. He loved his loft, but it could be dusty.
Alec’s head popped up above the couch, smile on his face. “Hey, what are y- Magnus? Dammit!”
Magnus wasn’t sure if he wasn’t hallucinating, but Alec actually jumped over the couch to kneel down beside him, patting him down for injuries gently but thoroughly.
“Fuck, what happened? What do you need?” Alec sounded worried, and even though he knew it was petty, Magnus couldn’t help but be secretly satisfied that Alec actually cared. It had been a long time since someone cared.
“Magnus, hey, look at me,” Alec said, gently cupping his cheek. “How can I help? Please, let me help.”
Magnus managed a smile, but wasn’t sure if he hit reassuring. It was probable he just looked intoxicated and infatuated. He tried to clear his throat.
“Overexerted myself,” he managed to say. Like the evening when Alec had first held him. He liked the cosmic poetry in that.
“Okay,” Alec said and shuffled to the side. “I’m going to pick you up and get you to bed, okay?”
Magnus didn’t mind. He minded even less when Alec put an arm around his shoulders and another under his legs, and then proceeded to lift him up in one fluid move. He walked them slowly to Magnus’ bedroom, turning sideways to fit them through the door. Magnus managed a weak pat on Alec’s chest.
“Picked my shadowhunter well,” he said.
Alec didn’t smile and instead put him down on the bed softly.
“No need to flirt, Magnus. You’ve already got me,” Alec said, wiping the bangs from Magnus’ forehead. Which meant his hair had drooped, and he looked even worse than he feared. Flirting was definitely necessary under those circumstances.
Alec started unbuttoning Magnus’ shirt, and he would help, or comment, but he was just too tired. Alec gasped when he opened the shirt and Magnus didn’t think he’d gotten bruised in any way, but magic could be weird, and that last portal had been dingy.
He understood when he looked down, however. His glamor had dropped, exposing all of his old soul marks to Alec’s prying eyes. Magnus wanted to cover up, to get under the blankets, to go back in time and do this whole day over. He couldn’t deal with this, not now, not ever, and not with Alec.
But he couldn’t fucking move and Alec was looking at him, making him feel vulnerable and exposed and he hated it.
“Water,” Magnus said in a ploy to make Alec leave. Alec looked up from where he’d been staring at Magnus’ bare chest, questions obvious in his eyes.
“Please, I need water.” Magnus was begging now, dignity long forgotten.
Alec frowned but nodded. “Okay,” he said and kissed Magnus on the forehead softly. “I’ll get some water, you just rest.”
He left swiftly. Magnus blinked in an effort to keep the tears back. He refused to cry. He was the damn High Warlock of Brooklyn. He wouldn’t cry due to a stupid forehead kiss.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He could do this. He couldn’t face Alec with his glamor down, but he’d find whatever last remnant of strength he had to get himself under the covers, so his marks would at least not be visible anymore.
He managed to shrug off his shirt, although he didn’t manage to get it off of the bed. The pants were a lost cause to get out of without magic—or on one notorious occasion, Alec’s enthusiasm—so he let those on. He didn’t have magic to spare. He closed his eyes and took a centering breath. He was Magnus fucking Bane. He had this.
Magnus snapped his fingers, got himself comfortably under the covers, and promptly passed out.
He woke up in utter darkness, momentarily disorientated. His whole body ached, liked he’d fought a car wash and lost. He could still feel his wards, the desire to protect himself and hide behind his wards a strong natural reflex. But his wards were the only magic he could feel. He was completely empty, which was a dreadful feeling.
“You’re awake,” Alec said softly very close to him. Which is when Magnus noticed he wasn’t alone in the bed, and that Alec was slowly stroking his arm now, spreading warmth and comfort. He moved closer and reached over Magnus to his nightstand. “Here, I brought you Gatorade.
“I ran out of magic, I didn’t run a marathon,” Magnus objected. Gatorade was foul and a devil’s drink.
“Still, it can’t hurt. You can drink regular water after,” Alec said, voice soft. “You passed out, Magnus. It’s been hours. Please.”
“Alright, but only because you’re asking nicely.”
When Magnus finished his drink, Alec handed him the glass of water, which was cool and refreshing. After finishing that, he felt better but still exhausted, so he let himself fall deeper into his cushions again.
“Anything else you need?” Alec asked.
“No, just rest,” Magnus said. “And you,” he added on second thought.
Alec settled down under the covers beside him, and then pulled Magnus into his side, arm around his shoulders. He kissed Magnus on the top of his head, and just like with the forehead kiss, Magnus had to swallow down a rush of emotion. He wasn’t sure if it was the darkness, or the way Alec stroked his side in a soothing rhythm, or just his exhaustion making him vulnerable, but Magnus wanted to explain him everything.
His marks, Camille, how he’d given up on soul marks but not on love, how happy Alec made him. How he thought he might love him.
“So warlocks do have soul marks,” Alec said into the darkness, carefully.
Magnus didn’t have the energy nor courage to tell him everything. But maybe he could tell him part of it.
“My first wife was my sixth soul mark and my first soulmate. I’d already lived two lifetimes by the time I met her, and we only found out on our wedding night. She said my marks meant I had a big heart worthy of a great many loves. I buried her and watched her mark fade to gray.” Magnus reached for the mark on his stomach instinctively, jolting Alec’s arm. He hesitated for a second, then pulled Alec’s hand to cover his mark, Magnus’ hand draped over it. He thought Alec would have liked her.
“I carried her words with me for a long time, always hoping to find someone who’d truly understand me, love me just as I was. It was harder then, being a Downworlder. Mundanes still believed and most were afraid of people like me. But I was never ashamed of my marks, believed they’d make it easier to find those not afraid- not afraid to love me.”
Magnus burrowed himself a little tighter into Alec’s side. Besides Ragnor and Catarina, right after it happened, he’d never told a living soul.
“What changed?” Alec’s question was a whisper in the dark.
“I’d become weary of carrying the reminders of the dead with me, of the people I had never even met. But the marks of the living were my only hope to find my soulmates. Someone took advantage of that and deceived me. I decided to forego on soulmates altogether then.”
Magnus stopped talking and focussed on the sound of their breathing in the night.
“Camille,” Alec said, sounding sure but sad. He pulled Magnus a little bit closer, and kissed him on the head again. Alexander Lightwood was kind and tender, and one of these days that’d surely kill him.
Magnus swallowed. “She didn’t quite manage to make me stop falling in love.”
Alec stiffened for a moment while stroking his arm. When he continued, Magnus thought he felt Alec smile.
“I have a soulmate out there somewhere,” Alec said suddenly.
Magnus’ heart dropped into his stomach. He’d never considered that possibility. He could kick himself for admitting to his feelings, when he’d never thought to ask if Alec had a soulmate. He wanted to move away, protect himself, but he didn’t have the strength. And Alec had listened to his story, so he’d do the same.
“They’re not a Shadowhunter, so I had to draw a permanent rune over their mark to hide it. It was too much, with Jace and the-“ Alec took a breath. “With the gay thing. I couldn’t afford to get the attention, so I hid it. Never believed anything would ever come from it. Never met them, I don’t think.”
“Would you like to?” Magnus asked. He hated how his voice shook a little, how obvious he was about his feelings. But he couldn’t not ask.
Alec carefully slid down a bit and turned on his side, to try and look Magnus in the eyes through the darkness. He kissed Magnus’ lips softly.
“I don’t need to find them,” he said and kissed Magnus again. “I’m already the happiest I can be. I picked you.”