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A Tiny Spark

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A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire

James 3:5

**

Alec hopped down from the engine, dressed in most of his yellow turnout gear, looking on as angry orange flames licked up the side of the building from one of the higher floors of the apartment complex, black smoke rising high into the sky.

“Lightwood, you’re on search and rescue unit two with Wayland,” Captain Garroway ordered as the rest of Alec’s battalion prepared for putting out the fire. “You’ll take the middle floors of the building.”

“Yes, sir,” he answered affirmatively as he shrugged his breathing apparatus onto his back and reached for his helmet, securing it beneath his chin before pulling on his gloves.

Jace grinned at him. “Come on, man. I thought you could gear up faster than anyone.”

“Not the time, Jace.” Alec rolled his eyes and started toward the building, Jace close behind him.

Most of the building’s tenants were already outside, some with robes on over pajamas, while some were in various stages of undress—shirts unbuttoned, ties hanging loosely, feet shoved into whatever shoes were closest, some were barefoot—as they prepared to settle down for the night.

Inside, Alec and Jace were quick but thorough as they split up to search every unit on each of their assigned floors, keeping their focus on searching for trapped tenants rather than on any banter or conversation that wasn’t to that end, and finding that all units were empty for the first few levels they searched.

On the seventh floor, Alec entered a small, barely furnished, studio apartment and found a young woman, who couldn’t have been more than twenty-one or twenty-two, curled up on the floor in the center of the unit. The oversized gray t-shirt she wore hung on her thin frame, her dark hair was matted to her forehead, and her pale skin was flushed. Alec noted her labored breathing, the way her face contorted in pain as her dark eyes glistened with unshed tears, her pupils blown wide with fear. Her hand balled into a fist as a cry of agony tore itself from her lips.

As Alec moved closer he saw that she was pregnant, and she had gone into labor. There was no way that she would have ever made it out of the building and to safety on her own, though it looked like she had tried to crawl toward the fire escape.

“I’m Alec,” he introduced himself gently as he dropped to one knee beside her. “I’m here to help you and your baby. Can you put your arms around my neck?”

The young woman nodded and did as he instructed as Alec braced one arm around her back and hooked the other underneath her knees before he stood again and moved quickly out of the unit and toward the fire exit.

He caught sight of Jace in the hallway. “Call for an ambulance.” Alec ordered and Jace nodded as Alec made it to the exit.

“Can you tell me your name?” Alec asked calmly as he felt the young woman’s fingertips tighten around the collar of his coat, gritting her teeth against another wave of pain as Alec quickly descended the stairs.

“S-s-s-ophie.”

“Everything will be okay, Sophie. I’ve got you.” Alec kept his voice even and calm as he moved, almost as though he was gliding down the stairs, doing his best to keep Sophie steady.

“My baby…is coming…” Sophie cried out in both pain and fear, and this time Alec felt her fingers digging into his neck through his gear. Alec held her tighter to him as they reached the third floor landing. He knew he needed to keep Sophie steady, and yet he descended the stairs quicker, adrenaline flowing through his veins, fueling him.

“We’re almost there. We’ll find somewhere safe for you to have your baby. I’m going to take care of you, don’t worry,” Alec said as he reached the landing of the main level and pushed through the door into the cooler night air. He carried Sophie away from the building to a small grassy area with a few trees, dropping slowly down to one knee and setting Sophie carefully on the ground.

Sophie’s scream pierced the night air as Alec made to call for help over his radio, but the sound of footsteps rushing toward him made him look up to see Garroway jogging toward him, the first aid supply box in his hand. Alec heard the sirens of the ambulance in the distance, but as he let his focus shift back to Sophie, he knew that the ambulance wouldn’t arrive before the baby.

“Sophie, this is Luke,” Alec told her as Garroway set the first aid supplies at Alec’s side and moved to kneel behind Sophie, supporting her. Alec quickly shrugged off his coat, so he had something to wrap the baby up in, and swapped his bulky fire gloves for a pair of latex ones. He glanced up quickly and met Garroway’s eyes and received a small nod in return. “Okay, Sophie, deep breath…” Alec paused, as though counting down the seconds to her next contraction. “…And push.”

Sophie grit her teeth together as she pushed, clamping her eyes shut to brace against the pain. Alec looked up briefly as he heard Garroway trying to soothe Sophie through words and encouragement.

As her contraction subsided, Sophie rested back against Luke and Alec met her tired eyes as tears rolled down her cheek, her chest rising and falling quickly with every breath she took.

“The head is out.” Alec looked up at Luke and then focused on Sophie again. “Deep breaths, Sophie, you’re doing great,” he coaxed gently as he inhaled slowly and then exhaled even slower, smiling gently as Sophie did the same, mimicking his breathing pattern as he counted the seconds down in his head once more, waiting for her next contraction. “Good, okay, take another deep breath,” Alec paused as Sophie inhaled deeply, “and push.”

A small crowd of vacated tenants had gathered nearby, and Sophie’s high-pitched scream filled the air as the baby’s shoulders stretched her. Alec was aware of the flashing lights of the ambulance turning into the complex as he caught the baby and tiny cries filled the air.

“You have a baby girl, Sophie.” Alec smiled at her as he cradled the newborn baby girl in one arm as he reached for his coat with the other. He laid the baby girl carefully down on the coat and reached into the supply box for a clamp and scissors, cutting the cord before quickly wrapping the baby up in his coat.

As the paramedics arrived with the gurney, Alec moved aside to let them take over, the baby still cradled in his arms as he held her for Sophie to see. But Alec was quick to notice that something wasn’t quite right. Sophie’s pale skin seemed even paler, almost gray, and her eyes began to flutter closed, and then open, as though she was trying to fight against losing consciousness.

“She’s losing a lot of blood.” Alec heard one of the paramedics say to another and they were quick to move her onto the gurney and rush her to the ambulance.

“Alec will ride along with you so the baby can get care as well.” Alec overheard Garroway say, and Alec nodded as he climbed into the ambulance and sat off to the side, out of the way enough that the paramedics could focus all of their attention on Sophie.

The back doors of the ambulance closed and soon they were racing off toward the hospital. Alec could only look on and watch as the paramedics started an IV and immediately started trying to stop Sophie’s bleeding, but he wasn’t focusing on what they were doing, instead watching as Sophie’s eyes opened again and Alec held her baby girl near her so that Sophie could look at her properly. He was certain he saw the faintest hint of a smile before Sophie’s eyelids started to flutter anew as she once again fought against being pulled under.

“Hold on, Sophie, we’re almost there,” Alec pleaded with her as he watched her eyelids flutter closed. He sat back against the side of the ambulance, shoulders hunched forward in defeat. He looked away from Sophie, then, and down at the baby girl still cradled in his arms. He didn’t know when she had stopped crying but her eyes were closed and her tiny face, with full, rounded cheeks, looked peaceful. Her hand peeked out from under the coat she was wrapped in, and Alec ran the back of his finger over it, amazed at how small and delicate her fingers were in comparison to his.

The sounds of the sirens and the work of the paramedics near him, trying to save Sophie’s life, faded from his focus, as the baby girl in his arms took over his thoughts. Sophie needed to pull through, needed to come out of this okay, because Alec knew what would happen to her little girl if she didn’t; she would be left completely alone and lost in a system that was overburdened and took too long to find good, loving homes for all of the children that needed them.

He tried not to think about the amount of time that he and Magnus had been trying to adopt a child, and forced the crippling pain of the adoption that had fallen apart back into the depths of his memory. Isabelle had been looking into private adoption options for them, but they were no closer to adopting a child now as they had been months ago, and found themselves stuck in this holding pattern of hoping that today, or the next day, or the day after that would be the day that they would add to their family, but instead each day passed by and it was still just the two of them.

Alec felt his belly twist into knots and a sharp, piercing ache fill his chest as he memorized each line of the baby’s face and felt her tiny, delicate fingers curl around his own. He hurt for the uncertainty of how her life, not even hours long at this point, could end up playing out, but he hurt for Magnus and himself and what they still didn’t have, but so desperately wanted.

**

Everything seemed to happen in a blur once they arrived at the hospital. Alec remembered following the paramedics out of the ambulance as they rushed Sophie into the emergency room. The paramedics were quick to relay the information they could about the situation to the doctors and nurses that came to attend her.

“Her name is Sophie,” Alec told them, though his voice sounded distant to his own ears, as though he was trapped in a dream. He held the baby close to him, nestled in his arms as he followed the medical team to an open bay where Sophie was surrounded instantly, everyone rushing against time to save her life. A nurse stopped him from entering the bay and reached for the baby, and Alec felt himself turn away from the nurse slightly, unwilling to let her take this baby girl away from him. It was ridiculous, he knew that, but a fear of not seeing this baby again—rational or not—settled in his chest.

The nurse stepped forward and reached for the baby again, and this time Alec let the nurse take her. It was the right thing to do; the baby needed to be taken care of just as much as Sophie did. But Alec couldn’t help but feel like a part of himself was being ripped away as the nurse turned from him.

“Where are you taking her? Is she going to be okay?” Alec fired off the questions quickly, following after the nurse. Was this what it felt like to be a parent, worried for the well being of their child, but trusting no one else to care for that child?

The nurse turned to him and offered him a small, curt smile. “She’s being taken for a standard evaluation. I’m sure she’ll be fine,” she said before turning again and leaving him standing alone in the middle of the hallway. He stood there, frozen in place, for a moment longer before looking around. He noticed a small waiting area not far from where he was standing and went to sit down. He leaned his head back against the wall as he stretched his legs out in front of him and closed his eyes for a moment, but he felt restless and uneasy. He pulled his legs back in and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his legs as he locked his fingers together.

He could still feel the weight of the baby in his arms, her fingers curled around his, and how she had been so peaceful, so content. His heart was beating steadily, but it was different, completely indescribable, as though his heart was growing, expanding, making room for one more. It was absurd, Alec knew, for him to get attached, to fall in love with this baby. He had delivered a handful of newborns before.

What made this baby so different?

Alec brought his hand up to rub his chest, directly over his heart, as though that would make the dull ache go away, and looked up. He hadn’t caught the doctor’s name that was caring for Sophie, but he recalled the dark skin, the dark curly hair, the muscular build. He was standing in the hallway now, with his hands on his hips, and staring down at the floor. In the back of his mind, Alec knew what that meant, but it wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be.

He stood and walked out of the waiting room, grateful for long strides that helped him to cross a large distance in a fairly short amount of time.

“Excuse me,” he said, as he reached the doctor, catching him carefully on the arm. Alec looked down at the doctor’s credentials when he turned to face him. “Dr. Aldertree? You were attending the young woman brought in from the apartment fire, right? The one with the new baby?”

Aldertree’s shoulders dropped and he exhaled deeply. “Yes, I was.”

“Is…is she…okay?” Alec stumbled over the words. He needed to know, but wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer he knew was coming.

Aldertree was silent for a moment before he looked up at Alec again. “She lost too much blood and couldn’t recover from the shock. I’m sorry.”

Alec nodded slowly, all of the wind letting out of his sails, but he masked it with a nod as he brought his hands to rest on his hips. “And the baby?”

“Fine. She’s perfectly healthy. Normally she’d have been taken to the nursery on maternity, but she’s been taken to pediatrics instead.”

Alec heard what Aldertree wasn’t saying: since she doesn’t have a mother. He nodded again as he ran his fingers over his lips. “Thank you.”

**

The elevator doors opened and Alec stepped out onto the pediatrics floor.

Alec knew it was against protocol, knew that he probably shouldn’t be here. He knew he should have returned to the station as soon as the baby had been taken from him in the emergency room. He had an incident report to write and paperwork to review and file before he could go home for the night, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave, not without at least some assurance that the baby was okay.

He stopped at the nurse’s station and drummed his fingers on the countertop nervously to try and gain someone’s attention.

“Can I help you?” a nurse asked, moving over to him from where she sat on the opposite side of the desk. She had a kind face, long dark hair that was pulled back into a ponytail, and wore dark rimmed glasses. Her hospital credential read Lindsay.

“Yeah, I’m looking for the baby that was brought up from the ER. I just wanted to check in on her before heading out.” Alec drummed his fingers on the countertop a final time as Lindsay came around the counter and led him down the hallway to a standard sized room, with a standard plastic basinet against one wall.

Alec peered inside the basinet. The baby was sleeping peacefully, swaddled in a white blanket with pink and blue baby footprints and wearing a small pink and blue knit cap. “Could…could I…hold her?”

Lindsay smiled as she carefully scooped the little girl out of the basinet and placed her in Alec’s waiting arms. “It’s good for her to be held.”

“Is that so?” Alec asked as he looked down at the baby. She was small enough that he could cradle her with one arm, and the weight of her was welcome and new, but familiar all at once from the short ride between the apartment complex and the hospital.

Lindsay nodded. “Studies have shown that children who have those physical and emotional connections with a parent or caregiver face fewer emotional, behavioral, or social problems later in life. Those attachments also help them learn to trust and develop their own bonds…”

Alec nodded slowly as he listened, but Lindsay cut her explanation short as something buzzed in the pocket of her purple scrubs. She pulled out what looked to Alec like a cell phone, before smiling at him. “I have to check on another kiddo, but stay with her as long as you like.”

Lindsay brushed past him and out of the room, leaving him and the baby alone. He looked down at her again, and smiled softly as she tried to stretch in her blankets, but she didn’t fuss, didn’t cry, didn’t make a sound.

“Hi,” he whispered, smiling gently once more as she tried to flutter one eye open at the sound of his voice before closing it again. Alec breathed out a soft chuckle. “Yeah, I know. It's been a long night for both of us.”

Alec crossed the room and sat in the chair that was set up near the window. It wasn’t all that comfortable, but it wasn’t wholly uncomfortable either. It was easy to settle in against the back of the chair, his entire body seeming to melt into the padding, and he straightened his long legs out in front of him, crossing his ankles together. He took a deep breath and rolled his neck, closing his eyes for a moment as a wave of exhaustion hit him, the adrenaline running through his veins starting to subside.

“I’m Alec,” he said, looking down at the baby as he slowly opening his eyes again. His voice was still low and gentle, but exhausted now, too, when he spoke. “I wish I knew what your mom had wanted to name you.”

It would have been the one thing he could have done as a means to fulfill a last wish for Sophie. A last wish, Alec realized, that she probably hadn’t had because she never thought having a child would take her life. He gently stroked his finger over the baby’s cheek, smiling at the softness of her skin. Sophie would never get to hold her. She would never get to hear her baby girl laugh for the first time. Or help her take her first steps. She would miss her baby’s first words and being called mommy, her first day of school, and would never get to sit and listen as her daughter learned how to read. She wouldn’t be there to watch her daughter fall in love, or help heal a broken heart. Alec swallowed hard against the deep, growing ache in his chest and blinked back tears that were slowly building up in his eyes, threatening to spill out onto his cheeks.

The sudden sound of high heels clicking on the tile floor inside the room pulled Alec out of his thoughts, and he turned his head up as the footsteps came to an abrupt stop. The young woman that stood in front of him was slim and dressed impeccably in a brown suit, her blond hair braided in front and pulled half up.

“My apologies. I may have the wrong room,” she said and checked the phone in her hand before she doubled back to check the number on the plaque outside the door. Her head was tilted slightly and her brow knit together as she stepped back into the room. “It seems I’m in the right place. I wasn’t aware that the baby would have a visitor.”

Alec looked down at himself self consciously as this woman studied him, her eyes sharp, unwavering and hard as steel, and he realized how he must have looked with his unruly dark hair, mussed from wearing his fire hood, still partially in his fire gear, and smelling of smoke and sweat. He looked at her apologetically. “I’m sorry, I know I should probably go. I just wanted to check on her before I left.”

The woman’s face softened almost instantly. “I’m Lydia Branwell. I’m a caseworker for the Administration for Children’s Services.”

“Alec Lightwood. I’m with the FDNY.”

He looked away as Lydia reached into her purse, his fingers gently tapping against the baby’s back as he gazed at her. He would never be able to explain how enamored he was with her, how fully and how quickly she had captured his heart. He didn’t know many other people who had children, but he understood now what they all had tried to put into words but never could. It was a different type of love that consumed him, a protective, unyielding type of love. A love that had no beginning and no end. It was just there, suddenly, blooming from the center of his very being.

“What’s going to happen to her now?” Alec asked, looking up again.

Lydia held a file open in her hands and she looked up when he spoke. “We’ll try to locate next of kin. If we can’t find them, then once she is discharged, she’ll be placed with what we call an ‘emergency family’ who are able to take in children on an immediate basis until a permanent placement can be lined up.”

“So, she’ll go into the foster care system?” Alec’s stomach tightened at the thought.

Lydia nodded. “Yes. Unless she’s adopted, she’ll be a foster child until she’s eighteen.”

Lydia finished making a note in the file and closed it, sliding it back into her purse. Alec swallowed hard and pressed his lips together. Even though she did this for a living, Alec was astounded at the efficiency with which she answered. She was all facts. All business. No emotion. A small part of him tried to remind himself that she had to separate out her emotions. They were nothing but a distraction in her line of work.

Alec had believed that about his profession, once, too.

“Here’s my card,” Lydia’s voice cut through the noise of his thoughts again and he looked up as she took a few steps toward him with her hand extended. He reached up and took the card she offered him and examined it for a moment. It was plain, white card stock, simple and efficient, just like the woman who carried them. “If I can answer any questions for you, let me know.”

Alec nodded as he looked at the phone numbers under her name and title, one for her office and one for her cell phone. Without another word, Lydia nodded at him curtly and turned to leave.

**

“Hello?”

Isabelle’s voice in his ear was heavy with sleep, but it was the most welcome sound that Alec had heard all night. “Hey, Iz.”

“Alec? What is it? Are you okay? Is Magnus okay?” Isabelle asked, her voice suddenly more alert. Alec could picture her sitting straight up in bed and scooting back to sit against the headboard. He was also certain with the urgent tone of Isabelle’s voice that Simon was probably awake now, too.

“Yeah, we’re both fine.” Alec nodded as he walked along and heard Isabelle’s exhale over the phone. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Is Jace okay?”

“Yeah, Jace is fine. I just wondered what the process is for becoming a foster parent with the intent to adopt?” Alec asked has he turned a corner, having decided to walk home. The hospital wasn’t that far from his and Magnus’ apartment, and he knew he could use the fresh air to calm himself and the time to work through every thought tumbling over and over in his mind.

Isabelle was silent on the other end of the line before sighing heavily. “Alec, it’s one o’clock in the morning. I have to be in court at nine and I’m meeting with my client to review their petition at eight.”

“I know it’s late…or maybe it’s early…I don’t know…I just…” Alec choked out the words, unable to find his voice to finish. He stopped and closed his eyes, breathing deeply over and over, letting the night air fill his lungs, but nothing he did could quell the ache in his chest that had settled there as soon as he had finally been able to lay the baby back in her bassinet and leave the hospital.

“What happened, Alec?”

Alec could hear the rustling of sheets in his ear and knew that Isabelle had gotten out of bed so that Simon could go back to sleep. Everything that had happened since his battalion had gotten the call came pouring out of him. He sighed heavily when he finished, fighting against the exhaustion that had started to settle over him at the hospital. “I just want to know what the process involves and how quickly it can happen.”

Isabelle was quiet for a moment, but her voice was gentle when she spoke. “Text me the caseworker’s contact information and come by my office tomorrow. I have a few hours open and we’ll talk then. Nothing can be done tonight, so go home and get some sleep. Maybe talk to Magnus before you make any big decisions.”

There was a hint of a scolding grin in Isabelle’s tone as she finished that made Alec press his lips together and smile sheepishly. “I’m sorry I woke you.”

“Well you can bring me coffee when you come see me tomorrow to make up for it.”

“Fair enough,” Alec breathed out with a soft laugh. “Goodnight, Izzy.”

“Buenas noches, big brother.”

Alec pocketed his cell phone after disconnecting from Isabelle, thankful that he was now only a couple of blocks from home. He knew the city like the back of his hand, every turn, every intersection, every alleyway. It made it easy for Alec to set himself on autopilot as he walked, passing a twenty-four hour bodega before taking another turn and seeing his building at the end of the block. It was so close, yet so far, and Alec’s legs felt heavy, as though he was wading through mud, as he trudged along toward it.

The lobby was deserted, except for the security officer that sat behind the desk. Alec gave her a tired wave as he crossed through to the elevator bay. He stood with his hands behind his back as he waited, and the ride up to the top floor seemed to take twice as long as normal once he was on it. Alec took Lydia’s business card out of his pocket, took a photo of it, and texted it over to Isabelle so she would be able to contact Lydia before he saw her tomorrow.

He shuffled down the long corridor to his and Magnus’ apartment, digging in his pockets for his keys as he did. Tonight, he was glad that he carried so few keys on his keyring. His tired fingers didn’t have to fumble through trying to find the right key to unlock the heavy black door.

The apartment was dark except for the light filtering in through the doors that led out to the balcony. Alec kicked off his boots quietly, somehow managing to keep his fatigued body upright as he did. He padded down the hallway and into the bedroom. Alec made out Magnus’ sleeping form under the blankets and wanted nothing more than to just crawl into bed with him, close his eyes, and lose himself to the depths of blissful sleep, but before he could do that he needed to shower, which he would have done at the station had he gone back instead of staying at the hospital.

Alec closed the door and turned on the shower, undressing as the water heated up and steam slowly started to fill the air. He closed his eyes when he stepped under the spray, and the heat of the water instantly started working to untie the knots that his neck and shoulders had tied themselves into, his entire body easing as the tension melted away. He reached for his soap, lathering it over his body, washing away the sweat and smoke, and they took the soft, powdery scent of newborn baby with them. Alec reached for his shampoo before he could let himself get swept up in thoughts about the baby.

He shut off the water more aggressively than he had meant to and swiped a towel from the towel bar, drying himself before securing it around his waist. Alec plucked his wedding ring off of the counter, where he had left it earlier that afternoon before leaving for the station, and slid it on. He flipped the light off before opening the door so the brightness wouldn’t wake Magnus, and dug around blindly in his drawer for a pair of pajama bottoms to wear.

When he finally climbed into bed, Alec leaned over and pressed a gentle kiss just below Magnus’ ear. He laid down and turned onto his side, the mattress and his pillow forming to his shape. Just as he was closing his eyes, Alec felt the bed shift behind him and the press of warm, bare skin against his back as Magnus curled his arm around him, lips pressing slow, easy kisses to the back of Alec’s neck.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” Alec’s voice was raspy and weary as he turned his head slightly to try and look at Magnus over his shoulder.

“I was dozing more than actually sleeping,” Magnus rested his chin on Alec’s shoulder, absently curling his fingers through the hair on Alec’s chest. “I find it difficult to sleep well when my husband is out running into burning buildings.”

The hint of a smile in Magnus’ voice tugged at Alec’s own lips as he reached up to cover Magnus’ hand with his own, folding his fingers in between Magnus’. “I don’t just run into burning buildings. I deliver babies, sometimes, too.”

“Boy or girl?” Magnus asked.

“A little…” Alec’s voice broke and he coughed to try and cover it up, his fingers tightening their hold on Magnus’ hand. “A little girl.”

Alec clamped his eyes shut and attempted to slowly exhale, but in the end it just came out in one shuddering breath. Magnus’ hand pressed flat against his chest and Alec swallowed hard against the knot in his throat.

Magnus pushed himself up onto his elbow. “Did something happen, Alec?”

Alec didn’t know where to start to answer that, and even if he had known where to begin he didn’t know if he could tell the story all over again. Not tonight. Not while every single memory of the night played vividly on a loop in his mind. Telling Isabelle had been one thing—she could detach herself from the emotional facet of the situation and focus clearly on the facts at hand, because she and Simon could have their own children whenever they decided that the time was right. But telling Magnus, when they had been waiting to start their family, with no end to that wait in sight…Alec couldn’t bear the thought of shattering Magnus’ heart.

He brought Magnus’ hand up and pressed a light kiss against his palm before turning to face him. Alec pressed his lips together in a tight smile and shook his head. “She’s perfectly healthy.”

He knew that Magnus could see right through him, could see that there was more that he wasn’t saying, but Magnus didn’t press any further. Alec would open up to him, would tell him everything, in his own time.

Alec shifted in closer to Magnus as Magnus settled back against his pillow, nuzzling his cheek against Magnus’ chest. Magnus’ heart beat steadily in Alec’s ear, his breathing slowly syncing up to Magnus’ with every slow breath Magnus took. There was no sense of peace that washed over him as Magnus’ arms circled him, but it calmed him enough to quiet the noise of his thoughts, to make the world around him still and silent.

Alec closed his eyes, exhaling a slow breath, as sleep pulled him under.

**

Sunlight was just barely filtering into the room when Alec awoke, still curled up in Magnus’ arms. Despite the early hour and getting only a few hours of sleep, the recollection of the previous evening seeped into every one of Alec’s thoughts until it consumed him again. He had turned over in bed with the intent of going back to sleep, had buried his head under his pillow in the hopes that it would quiet the noise only he could hear, but he hadn’t been able to turn his mind off enough to sink back under. He had gotten out of bed, doing his best to not wake Magnus, dressed, and stopped for coffee and a bagel on his way to the station. Despite not being on duty today, he still had his incident report from the previous night to file with Garroway.

Every detail of the previous night was included in his report. It was clinical and detached, void of all emotion. The FDNY wouldn’t care how gutted Alec was that he hadn’t been able to save Sophie’s life. He had gotten her out of the building, and that was enough in their eyes; everything that had happened from there was out of their control, was out of his control. They wouldn’t care about a little girl who wasn’t even aware that she was an orphan.

But Alec did, because he had been the cause of it. He had failed both Sophie and her baby. He sat at the desk with the report in front of him and pressed his fists against his eyes as he clamped them shut, forcing himself to breathe against the tightness in his chest and the sinking feeling in his gut.

He had to be better. He couldn’t fail again. And he wouldn’t.

Alec stood and marched down to Garroway’s office and left the report in a file on his desk. As he left, he stopped in the hallway and brought his hand up, rubbing his palm with his thumb. He had the choice to leave and carry on with his day, or spend the morning training to make himself better, so that he wouldn’t fail again. Alec pursed his lips as he dropped his hands to his sides and turned, moving down the hall toward the locker room with purpose and determination in his steps. He changed out of his jeans and his t-shirt into shorts and a black FDNY t-shirt and marched toward the training area.

Sweat dripped from the ends of Alec’s dark hair onto his nose and into his eyes. The salt of the droplets stung, and Alec clamped his eyes shut until the burning subsided, yet never stopped putting himself through a rigorous circuit of workouts over and over again. Lunges, weighted squats, pushes, presses, rows, and pulls with resistance bands and free weights alike. He ran sprints from one side of the training room to the other, keeping his intensity high and his intervals short, ignoring the fuzziness that came from being lightheaded, and swallowing down the temptation to upset his lurching stomach over the training room floor.

Results are achieved on the other side of fatigue.

The mantra was one that Alec had heard repeated throughout the course of his training for the department. Lives depended on him, on his battalion, and their ability to be quick and sure-footed as they got people to safety.

He swore as he stumbled over his feet at the end of a run and crashed down onto his knees on the training floor, his body heaving all over for air, begging for rest.

He had failed. Again.

“What the hell, Alec?”

Alec looked up, blinking back the droplets of sweat that caught in his eyelashes, and saw Jace standing just inside the training room door dressed in the same black shorts and a black t-shirt with FDNY printed across the chest that Alec also wore. He again swallowed down the desire to be sick to his stomach as he sat back on his heels, and rested his hands on his thighs as his shoulders hunched forward.

“Don’t.” Alec managed to get out between breaths. He ran his hands through his sweat-soaked hair and over his face, too spent to move much more than that.

“Don’t what? Call you out for nearly killing yourself?” Jace asked, his voice raised and his blue and brown eyes flashing as he began moving toward Alec.

Alec shifted until he was sitting on the floor, pulling his dead and shaking legs in toward his body. He forgot how well Jace knew him, how Jace could see right through him. There were two people in Alec’s life that he was completely transparent to: Jace and Magnus. Not that Isabelle couldn’t tell when something wasn’t right with Alec, but he could still put up walls with her, could still keep thoughts and emotions hidden from her if he wanted or needed to. He looked up as Jace stood in front of him, watching him, his sharp eyes silently assessing, and Alec looked away again when Jace sat in front of him.

“What happened at the hospital?” Jace asked gently.

Alec shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Jace nodded. In choosing not to answer him, Alec had still told him everything. “But something happened.”

“If you want to know that badly, go ask Garroway for my report. It’s all there,” Alec barked, snapping his head up to look at Jace with hard eyes and a set jaw.

“You know I will. I also know that whatever happened wasn’t your fault, and no one would put blame on you.” Jace spoke calmly, and Alec looked away again, unable to look at the understanding in Jace’s eyes. He knew that Jace was right, no one was going to place blame on his shoulders or reprimand him for what had happened. He had done his job, and had done it efficiently. But Alec didn’t understand how they couldn’t see just how at fault he was.

“They should.” Alec summoned up what little energy had returned to him as he had sat on the training room floor and rose to his feet, stalking out of the training room.

**

“Hi, Alec,” Clary greeted him as she set a patient chart on the checkout desk. She brushed a stray bit of her curly red hair off of her face and behind her ear as Alec let himself through the door to where the patient rooms were.

“Hey, Clary,” Alec replied, still bone weary from his time at the firehouse. “Is Magnus in his office?”

Clary shook her head. “No, he’s still with a kiddo. But I’ll let him know you’re here when he’s done.”

“Thanks.” Alec nodded and navigated through the halls to Magnus’ office, and closed the door behind him once inside. Alec had only been back to the office a couple of times before, and never without Magnus. It wasn’t exceedingly large, but it was spacious and Magnus had made it comfortable with a small couch and a chair over in one corner, and a large bookcase behind his desk that held a mix of various medical texts and journals, as well as copies of essays and books on pediatrics that Magnus had published.

The walls were lined with Magnus’ degrees and certifications, but instead of contemporary artwork to balance it out, there were colorful drawings and pictures that Magnus’ patients had worked on while they waited. The desk was a dark wood with files stacked on one side and medical journals stacked next to them, but what caught Alec’s attention were the framed pictures in one corner.

Alec was alone in one of the photos, laughing and smiling brightly, his eyes crinkled in the corners. It had been the night of Simon and Isabelle’s rehearsal dinner, and Alec couldn’t remember what had been said to cause him to laugh like that, but he was certain it had been because Max had been the one to say it.

In the other they were together on the beach the previous summer, on a long weekend they had all taken together. Alec was sitting in a beach chair with Magnus sitting in the sand between his legs. Alec had leaned forward when Isabelle had caught his attention, and hugged Magnus from behind as they smiled, his cheek resting easily against Magnus’ temple. Alec had the same photo in his locker at the firehouse, and the memory of it tugged the corner of Alec’s mouth up into the first tiny smile he’d had all day as he ran his finger over the frame.

Alec looked up when the office door opened. Magnus stepped in, looking over a chart, the sleeves of his dark gray button down shirt rolled up to his elbows. Magnus’ brow was knit together as he read over the notes, blindly closing the door behind him, and Alec felt the ground beneath him shift as though his world was righting itself, and the weight of everything he was holding onto lifted off of his shoulders. He sucked in a deep breath, his chest no longer feeling constricted.

Magnus looked up from the folder, eyebrows raising as his mouth curved into a surprised but happy smile.

“Alexander.” Magnus closed the folder and moved through the office toward Alec, each movement so graceful and so effortless that it took Alec’s breath away. “This is a pleasant surprise.”

“In a good way, I hope?” Alec asked as his heartbeat kicked up in his chest. Clary must not have run into Magnus after he finished with his patient, and Alec hadn’t considered that maybe Magnus had meetings with pharmaceutical reps or medical equipment vendors over lunch, or didn’t have time for a full lunch because of his patient schedule. He should have called to check before just showing up, but there hadn’t been anywhere else Alec had thought to go after leaving the firehouse. Everything up was down, and what was down was up, and Magnus was the only person that Alec knew who could make the world right again.

“Always.” Magnus set the folder down on top of the others and ran his hands along Alec’s arms, and Alec felt chill bumps rise under Magnus’ touch.

Alec exhaled the breath he had been holding and curled his hands gently around Magnus’ elbows, drawing him in close before dropping a light kiss against Magnus’ forehead.

Alec lowered his eyes as he pulled back, taking Magnus in. His eyeliner was a soft brown today, complimenting his eyes, and subtle enough that only the most observant parent would really notice it. “Do you think I could steal you for lunch?”

“I think it’s very possible.” Magnus nodded. He pulled out his phone and Alec saw him pull up his schedule on the phone’s calendar. “I don’t have a patient until one thirty. What sounds good?”

Alec followed Magnus toward the office door. “I could do with a bacon burger, actually.”

**

Magnus sat against the back of the booth as their server walked away from the table to fill their drink order, the chatter from surrounding tables filtering into the silence between he and Alec. Alec slowly stretched his neck to one side and then the other as he skimmed quickly over his menu and turned his head toward the window. His eyes were dark and were without their usual soft openness that Magnus was used to.

He leaned forward and folded his hands on the table top after the server returned and set their drinks in front of them. Alec slowly stirred his straw in his glass of iced tea.

“You were up early this morning.” Magnus squeezed his lemon into his water and stirred it around.

Alec nodded. “I woke up and started thinking, and just couldn’t get back to sleep. I hope I didn’t wake you up.”

“I heard you getting ready, but that was it.” Magnus sipped his water. “What were you thinking about?”

“The little girl I delivered last night.” Alec pressed his lips together and looked Magnus firmly in the eye. “I want to adopt her.”

Magnus’ brows rose in surprise and his jaw dropped slightly, as though he wanted to say something but couldn’t find exactly what to say. He let Alec’s words settle and took a deep breath. Alec’s eyes were firm and unwavering, his hands curled around his glass.

“What do the girl’s parents have to say about that?”

Alec shook his head as he looked down into his drink. “H-her mother didn’t make it. And I don’t know if ACS has located her father or any other relatives.”

Their server returned to get their lunch order and Magnus sat back in the booth once more. Alec had looked away from him again and was fidgeting with his straw wrapper, rolling it around his finger and then straightening it out again. Magnus thumbed at his bottom lip and leaned forward. “Why this baby? With so many other kids out there, why her?”

“Her mother died because I failed.”

“Alec…”

“Magnus, I couldn’t…if I had gotten to her and gotten her out of that building a few minutes, or even a few seconds, earlier she could have gotten care sooner and maybe she wouldn’t have…” Alec couldn’t bring himself to say the words, to say that Sophie wouldn’t have died if he had reached her sooner. “And that little girl would still have a mother. But she doesn’t because I wasn’t …” Alec’s voice broke. “She’s an orphan because of me, Magnus.”

Magnus didn’t try to interrupt Alec as he spoke. He recognized the guilt that Alec wore like shackles around his heart because it was a guilt that Magnus had borne the burden of himself. Alec’s shoulders were rounded and hunched forward to make himself smaller, as though a man of his size could just suddenly make himself invisible to the world. Alec rolled his neck slowly and reached up to rub the tension out of it, and Magnus wondered what paces Alec had put himself through at the station’s training facility earlier in the morning, as punishment, because he felt he wasn't good enough. Because he felt that he had failed.

“Alec, this isn’t your fault. Even with the best medical care, sometimes women still do not survive childbirth.” Magnus inhaled deeply, slowly filling his lungs with air, as he leaned forward and reached across the table, taking both of Alec’s hands into his.

How many lives had been saved by those same hands, Magnus wondered. How many people had been carried to safety in Alec’s strong arms, or felt those same arms offer a haven of comfort and protection during the worst moment of their life? Magnus knew that Alec would never truly know the number of lives he touched. Unlike Magnus’ patients, the people Alec saved or tried to provide some comfort to would never come back to see him. Alec would never have a bulletin board at the station that showed the children he had kept safe throughout the different stages of their lives the way that Magnus had in his office. The numbers of people whose lives Alec would touch, that he would save, would only continue to grow, of that Magnus was certain.

“I still remember the first time I lost a baby.” Magnus’ voice was soft as he started his story, gently stroking his thumbs over the backs of Alec’s hands, Alec’s palms rough and calloused against his own. “I was doing my NICU rotation during my residency. This little girl—her name was Sarah—was delivered eight weeks prematurely in order to save her mother’s life. Other than being preemie, she was perfectly healthy. She didn’t need to be on a respirator, and that is almost unheard of for babies born that early. All she needed was a feeding tube because she couldn’t suck or swallow on her own yet, so she couldn’t nurse or take a bottle.”

Magnus paused and inhaled another breath as the full memory swam up to the surface. “When the nurse inserted the feeding tube she nicked an artery, and Sarah started bleeding internally. This didn’t happen on my shift, but by the time I came on and realized what was happening, Sarah had already been in distress and slowly dying for hours. I did everything I could to save her life, and I still couldn’t. I was devastated and kept replaying everything over and over again, wondering if I had done something differently, if Sarah would have lived, and doubting myself and my ability to be a doctor. I didn’t know how I could face Sarah’s parents and tell them that their baby girl had died because of me.”

Magnus tightened his hold on Alec’s hands just enough to feel Alec squeeze his back, both of them trying to comfort the other. No matter how many years passed, Magnus would never fully forgive himself for not being able to save Sarah, just as he knew Alec would never fully forgive himself for not being able to save this young woman’s life for her own little girl.

“If it hadn’t been for Catarina, I would have given up on everything I had worked so hard for. And I will tell you exactly what Cat told me that night: the reality is that we cannot save every life that is put into our hands, no matter how much we want to, but we will save more than we lose. If it hadn’t been for you getting her mother to safety, Alexander, that baby girl wouldn’t be alive either. You saved her life.”

Magnus brushed his thumbs over the backs of Alec’s hands and looked down at them again, tracing the edge of Alec’s wedding ring slowly. He knew that it wouldn’t be enough for Alec to hear that he had saved the baby’s life by getting her mother out of the building. Alec had always been the type to make amends, to push himself to be better, to fix what he believed he had broken. He would carry the weight of the world on his shoulders if that’s what it took to make something right.

Magnus also couldn’t ignore the tightening in his chest at the thought of starting to add to their family, of opening their hearts and their home to a child who needed them. And the circumstances in which they had the opportunity to grow their family—Magnus couldn’t dismiss that either. Did it matter how that child came into their lives as long as they did?

Magnus sighed softly. “Call Izzy and see what we need to do.”

Alec looked up at Magnus and pressed his lips together, as he shrugged. “I called her on my way home last night.”

Magnus huffed out a soft laugh. Of course Alec had called Isabelle last night. At least he had the decency to look sheepish about having already called her.

“I just wanted to find out what we needed to do, if anything, to start the process. I’m supposed to meet with her this afternoon.” Alec rushed to explain and Magnus could only shake his head and laugh gently. Alec always had a way of diving into everything head first.

“Better take her coffee and chocolate to make up for waking her at an obscene hour of the night, and I’m sure making her think that something was terribly wrong.” Magnus leveled a scolding glance at Alec, though the grin that spread on his face took all of the heat out of it.

Alec just shook his head and rolled his eyes, leaning against the back of the booth as their lunch was set in front of them. “Izzy only told me to bring coffee.”

Magnus unrolled his silverware from his napkin. “Get her both. You’ll thank me later.”

Alec popped a fry into his mouth, but nodded and offered Magnus a hint of a smile.

They chatted easily as they ate, the heavy mood of when they had arrived at the restaurant lifted. While Alec started listing off everything they’d need to get for the baby, Magnus just listened. It was a way for him to keep his expectations from getting too high and overwhelming, because he couldn’t think of what this would do to both of them if it didn’t work out—again—but it was the first time in months that Magnus could remember seeing Alec discuss the topic of their family with excitement in his voice and light in his eyes.

When they were finished and had settled their check, they stepped back out into the hot July afternoon and Magnus slid his sunglasses on as they walked back to his office.

Stopping in front of the building’s entrance, Magnus took his sunglasses off and slid them into his pocket as he turned to face Alec. “So get coffee and chocolate and find out what you can from Izzy. We’ll work through whatever applications and paperwork we have to tomorrow. Tonight we can just take it easy. I’ll pick up dinner on my way home and we’ll have a night in with some sushi and a little Netflix. Just the two of us?”

Alec took Magnus’ hands into his and pulled him in close. “I’d love that.”

**

“Alec is here to see you,” Gretel spoke into her headset as Alec wandered over to sit in a modern white leather armchair in the reception lobby of Isabelle’s office. He leaned forward and set one of the cups of coffee in his hand on the table as he read through the different titles of the magazines that were piled there, as water softly cascaded over the fountain that hung on the wall behind him. He suspected the fountain was there to create a sense of peace, to wash away worry and fear and bring calmness to the reality that too many hopeful parents faced.

Alec looked up at the muffled sound of high heels on carpet and saw Isabelle coming toward him, dressed in a royal blue sleeveless wrap dress. He stood and smiled at her. Even in her wedges, Isabelle was still more than a head shorter than he was.

Under any other circumstances, Alec might have teased her about needing the coffee he held in his hand. Isabelle never looked tired except when she first woke up in the morning, and only the slight dullness of her dark brown eyes hinted at the fact that she hadn’t gotten her full night of sleep the night before.

“Someone told me you could probably use these.” Alec held out the larger of the two cups of coffee and a white pastry bag for her to take.

“For once gossip pays off.” Isabelle smiled and took the coffee and the pastry bag, and turned. Alec followed her through the corridors until they reached her corner office and Isabelle closed the door behind them.

The late afternoon sun was filtering in through the large floor to ceiling windows, and Alec was surprised that the office was still relatively cool and comfortable in spite of it.

“I spoke to Lydia Branwell after I got out of court this morning.” Isabelle cut straight to the point and sat on one side of the couch that sat along the wall opposite her desk.

Alec followed Isabelle’s lead and sat in the armchair beside the couch. He looked at her as he took the lid off of his cup of coffee. “And?”

Isabelle leaned forward and picked up the file she had open on the coffee table set up in front of the couch. “As of this morning, ACS hadn’t been able to locate any next of kin. ACS is giving it until the baby is discharged tomorrow afternoon for a blood relative to come forward for a kinship placement, and if no one does baby girl will become a ward of the state and placed with a family to care for her.”

Alec nodded and looked down into his coffee as he swirled it in its cup. “So what do Magnus and I need to do?”

“There’s an application process you’ll have to go through with the Office of Family and Child Services, background checks on both criminal history and any history of child abuse and neglect, they’ll look into your financial and professional stability. You’ll both have to go through orientation within sixty days of your application being received, and that includes a home study where you’ll be evaluated on the safety of the environment you’ll be raising her in, and your ability to adapt to change and be flexible, among other things.”

Isabelle effortlessly ticked off the requirements one by one, and Alec knew that the list she gave was nowhere near exhaustive.

“So basically everything we’ve been through already.” Alec heaved out a deep sigh and ran his fingers through his hair. He closed his eyes for a moment and pulled at the memory of the baby sleeping in his arms the night before. She had been so calm and so peaceful and that calmness had settled over Alec like a blanket as he held her. Her subtle eye flutter had come from recognizing his voice when he spoke to her. Her tiny hand curled around one of his fingers. The overwhelming love that had consumed him the night before began to swell again at his center, and he opened his eyes when he felt Isabelle’s hand on his arm.

“I know, Alec.”

“No, Izzy, you don’t.” Alec snapped and closed his eyes before standing. He walked over to the window behind her desk and sipped at his coffee, hoping that Isabelle couldn’t hear his heart pounding in his chest the way he could hear it pounding in his own ears. He knew she didn’t mean to sound patronizing. He and Magnus had hers and Simon’s full support through this process, just as they had Jace’s and Clary’s, Max’s, and Ragnor’s and Catarina’s.

Alec sniffed and cleared his throat. “Do you remember last Halloween?”

“You and Magnus left a houseful of guests at your own party to go to the hospital,” Isabelle answered.

Alec nodded as he looked out on the city below them. “The mother of the teenage girl we were going to adopt from called to tell us that she was delivering the baby. By the time we left and got across town, she’d given birth to a little boy. She’d also decided, as we found out from her father when we got there, to keep him. I have never seen Magnus as broken as he was that night.”

“But, you were both fine when you got back, and said it was just a false alarm. And the following week all I got was an email from their attorney that the mother had decided not to go through with it. I never knew that’s what happened that night, and how you found out.”

Alec turned and looked at her, the way her eyebrows knit together as she leaned against the arm of the couch, legs crossed, with the file open across her knee. “Because we both put up walls, Iz. There wasn’t anything we could do to change what happened, to keep the rug from being pulled out from under us. But we weren’t fine.” Alec finished off his coffee and dropped the empty cup into the trash bin beside Isabelle’s desk, sliding his hands into his pockets. “Magnus doesn’t let himself get excited about it anymore because he doesn’t want to get his hopes up, just to have them come crashing down again.”

“Alec…”

Alec held up his hand to quiet her. “I probably shouldn’t let myself get excited about this, or get my hopes up, either. But the moment I stop is the moment that both of us have given up. And I will not let Magnus and I give up on this, on our family, on giving that little girl the life that she deserves to have. That isn’t something that you and Simon, or Jace and Clary, hell, maybe even Max, will ever understand. You will never know what it feels like to be on this side of it, to have what you want so desperately be within your grasp and then taken away from you mercilessly.”

Alec looked down at his shoes as he rocked back on his heels. He didn’t see Isabelle dab at the corners of her eyes as tears threatened to fall. He didn’t see her set the folder on the coffee table and stand, crossing over to him. But he felt her arms slide around him, pulling him into a hug, and he held tightly to her in return, hoping to absorb some of her quiet strength because he wasn’t sure how much more fight he really had left in him. He clamped his eyes shut and pressed his lips together in an attempt at keeping his own tears from falling, and the paralyzing fear that this would all be for naught once more contained within him.

“Maybe we’ve been going about this the wrong way. Private adoptions can get messy,” Isabelle murmured against his shoulder before she pulled back to look up at him, and Alec opened his eyes to look into hers. “Agency adoptions can be more intense and more regulated, but sometimes they’re easier. But no matter what, it will happen, Alec.”

Alec nodded as he continued to hold onto her, wanting nothing more than to believe what his sister was saying, to believe that even though it would take longer, that this would be an easier process than before. He wanted to believe that they wouldn’t have to wait in a never ending queue for their application to be reviewed, and that tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, he and Magnus would be one step closer to bringing a daughter into their lives, to love her like their own because she would be by law even if she wasn’t theirs by blood.

Alec sucked in a shaky breath. “Just tell me what we need to do.”

Isabelle smiled at him and touched his cheek gently. “I will. But right now, I think we both need to get out of this office for some air. We can share that chocolate pastry you brought me.”

“You didn’t even look in the bag.” Alec laughed gently and tucked a stray strand of Isabelle’s dark hair behind her ear.

“I didn’t have to. The smell alone is heavenly and enough to give it away.”

Alec hugged her to him again before they both finally let go of each other. Isabelle snatched up her bag from behind her desk and crossed over to where she had been sitting on the couch just a few moments before to pluck up her pastry bag before she forgot.

“I’ll be out the rest of the afternoon, Gretel. Send all my calls to voicemail?” Isabelle asked as they passed through reception again and Gretel affirmed the request as Alec stood in front of the elevator, waiting for the doors to open up to them.

Alec and Isabelle walked quietly together from her office toward Battery Park. Alec squinted against the bright sunlight as a breeze kicked up and rustled through the trees and his hair. He looked up at the sky and saw clouds starting to roll in over the Hudson. Alec hadn’t paid much attention to the weather forecast, had been too preoccupied and focused on one singular goal to give anything else a moment’s consideration. Not that he wasn’t still singularly focused on the baby, but there was a calmness that was settling in his belly as he and Isabelle walked along, that allowed for him to stop thinking on a loop. He and Magnus had a long road ahead of them, but Alec was filled with a hopefulness that he hadn’t allowed himself to feel since that chilly October night.

They came to the park’s in-ground fountain and Isabelle tugged on his arm, pulling him over towards an open bench. There were a few elementary school aged kids laughing as they played in the fountain, spouts of water shooting up into the air at random intervals, and all of them tried to jump from spout to spout to keep the water from coming up. Instead of making Alec’s heart ache, the sound of their playful shrieks and laughter just made his heart expand. He tucked the image away in the back of his memory, saving it for a time when he and Magnus could bring their child to play in this same fountain.

Alec sat beside Isabelle and wasn’t at all surprised when she kicked off her wedges and tucked them under the bench beside her feet. He heard the rustle of the pastry bag as she opened it, divided the pastry in two, and handed him half.

“Between you and me, you made quite an impression on Lydia last night.” Isabelle tore off a small bit of pastry and popped it into her mouth.

“What do you mean?” Alec turned to look at her, still squinting against the sunlight as it reflected off of the puddles of water in the fountain.

“One of the criteria that a home study evaluates is the applicants’ ability to give and receive affection. So, imagine Lydia’s surprise when she walks into the hospital room, expecting to discuss the baby with the attending physician, or the nurse on duty, and instead finds her being lovingly held by an exhausted firefighter, who had waited at the hospital, wanting to make sure that she was doing okay before he left.”

Isabelle relayed the story in a way that made it seem so simple, but there had been nothing simple about the night before. There had been no other choice in Alec’s mind except to make sure that the baby was healthy, that she was taken care of. He hadn’t expected to feel tethered to her the way that he did, in a way that had nothing to do with the obligation to do right by Sophie, and so intensely that he wasn’t sure that tether would ever be completely severed. She hadn’t just wrapped her tiny hand around his finger, she had completely stolen his heart and touched his soul in such a permanent way that he would carry it with him for the rest of his life.

Alec took a bite of his half of the chocolate pastry. “I got a distinctly different impression from Lydia. That I was hindering her from doing whatever it was she needed to do.”

Isabelle shook her head as she turned toward him and gracefully tucked her legs up underneath her on the bench, draping her arm over the back. “This bodes well for you, you know? As the caseworker, you and Magnus will be working with and meeting with Lydia throughout the entire process, from fostering to adoption. Having her on your side from the beginning…it’s a good thing, Alec.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” Alec nodded and smiled across the fountain at a little girl with pigtails. The girl smiled shyly back at him and turned back to her grandmother.

Alec felt Isabelle’s eyes on him and he turned to look at her. “What?”

Isabelle hesitated and looked down at her nails, scrutinizing her manicure before she looked back at him again. “How do you and Magnus do it? Come out of what happened over Halloween and be stronger for it? I see both extreme joy and extreme heartbreak daily. I’ve seen that moment when a couple decides to give up, and sometimes they’re broken beyond repair. But you and Magnus…you bend, but you never break.”

Alec finished his half of the pastry as he considered her question. It hadn’t been easy, that much was certain. There had been countless arguments and fights about whether or not they should continue to pursue having a family, or just accepting that it wasn’t meant to be and living their lives on their terms. There had been moments where Alec had needed to walk away from Magnus, and Magnus from Alec. But what had never wavered was a deeply woven belief in each other, in the foundation of openness and honesty, of being the other’s strength when they were weak, that they’d built their entire relationship on. They kept each other on solid ground and refused to let emotions become internalized and fester. It was the times that sent their lives into a tailspin when they held tightly to the small things that were within their control, and those small things always ended up being what mattered the most in the end.

All Alec could do was shrug as he answered. “When we have a setback we tend to gravitate more toward each other instead of letting it drive us apart. We talk about everything. Maybe not right away, but we will when we’re both ready to, and in doing so we end up recommitting to everything that brought us together to start with. There are times when he will need to lean on me more than I will need to lean on him, but he knows that I’m there when it’s his turn. And I know that he’s there when it’s mine. We’re in this together, for better or for worse.”

Alec could only hope that this time around, it would be for the better.

**

Magnus set his umbrella just inside the door as he closed it behind him, leaving it to dry. Thunderstorms had rolled in over the course of the afternoon and the skies had opened up with a steady rain just as he had been getting ready to leave his office for the day. He had given in and taken a cab from his office to the sushi restaurant that he and Alec frequented a couple of blocks from their building. Even with the rain, it hadn’t been worth taking a cab home from the sushi den. Despite being soggy, the walk had been refreshing in the way that it had cleared his head and washed away the weight of the conversation with Alec over lunch.

He looked up and saw Alec sitting on the chaise, turning the page of a book he couldn’t make out the title of as Chairman sat curled up in Alec’s lap. Magnus’d had Chairman since he had finished medical school and had always insisted he would never date anyone, man or woman, unless the tabby approved. Chairman had taken an instant liking to Alec in a way that he hadn’t to the few that had come before Alec, namely that Chairman didn’t hiss violently at him or run and hide for days on end when Alec was around.

So Magnus had married him.

Magnus took in every inch of Alec and saw a much different man than had come to see him earlier in the day. Everything—from the t-shirt and jeans and bare feet, the easy set of his shoulders and his jaw, how he had one leg tucked under the other, and the careful, gentle way that his fingers carded through the Chairman’s coat—was relaxed.

Alec looked up from his book as Magnus closed the distance between them, and Magnus was happy to see the light had come back to Alec’s eyes and they had returned to a gentle honey hazel with green flecks instead of the dark hazel they had been over lunch.

“You look refreshed.” Magnus smiled as Alec shifted, causing Chairman to leap down from his lap with a gentle hiss. The cat wound himself through Magnus’ legs slowly before darting off toward one of his favorite hiding places on the bookshelf.

“I came home after meeting with Izzy and laid down for a bit.” Alec closed the book after marking his spot with the book’s dust jacket and set it on the chaise. He stood and took the brown paper bag of food that Magnus carried in his arm.

“You mean you took a nap?” Magnus grinned impishly.

“Not intentionally.” Alec shook his head.

Magnus could have launched into a lecture on the body’s circadian rhythms and how they naturally dipped in the middle of the afternoon in response to needing rest, and how emotional and neurological fluctuations like Alec had experienced could wreak havoc on their natural cycle, but instead he just curled his fingers into the front of Alec’s t-shirt and drew him down slightly for a kiss. He had meant it to be just a quick peck, but it lingered and Magnus’ face split into a grin as it finally broke.

“It’s been an emotionally exhausting twenty-four hours for you, Alexander. Less than that, actually. You’re allowed to rest.” Magnus turned and started toward their bedroom.

“You sound like my doctor.” Alec deadpanned as he followed.

Magnus half turned to look at Alec over his shoulder, eyeing the curves of his biceps and the cut of his chest through his t-shirt, smirking appreciatively. “You’re a bit older than my typical patient, but I’m sure I can fit you in.”

“Do you make house calls? Work evenings? Weekends? Holidays? I work a horribly irregular schedule.” Alec decided to play along, setting the bag he carried down as he turned on his bedside lamp and climbed onto the bed.

“I’m sure I could be persuaded to.” Magnus winked and untucked the hem of his dress shirt from his waistband, digging in the bottom drawer of the dresser for something less constricting and more suited for lounging than his work clothes were. As he turned into the bathroom to take off his makeup, he heard the rustling of the bag as Alec unpacked it.

“Did you get one of every roll they have?”

Magnus could hear the note of a laugh in Alec’s voice and his heart fluttered against his ribcage as he removed each of his necklaces and laid them on the counter. There had been laughter in the months that had followed their last adoption attempt falling through, but it hadn’t come with the same ease that Magnus had heard in that moment, and it hadn’t come over something as small and simple as a dinner order.

“No, just the ones we both like,” Magnus called back as he ran a makeup removing wipe over his face and eyelids, dropping it into the trash when he was finished. He changed out of his dress shirt and pants and into a pair of lounge pants and a sleeveless zip hoodie, and flipped the light off when he was finished.

As he had changed, Alec had set all the food out on the bed and Magnus had to admit that he may have gotten carried away with what he had ordered, but he was also positive that none of it would go to waste. He moved across the room to his side of the bed and stood there as he removed each of the rings he wore, except for the silver band on his left hand that he never took off, and set them on the table next to the bed.

“How did it go with Izzy?” Magnus asked as he climbed onto the bed beside Alec.

Alec paused in loading a small plate with pieces of sushi and a spring roll. “It went pretty well. She thinks that fostering to adopt will be a better route for us. It’ll likely be a longer process overall, but she seems to think it’ll have a better outcome. She’s emailing me all of the paperwork we need to complete Monday morning when she’s back in the office.”

“And how do you feel about it?” Magnus asked carefully.

He wished he could let himself feel the flutters of excitement and hope that used to bat against his ribcage and flutter through his belly whenever he thought of them growing their family. But every time he came close, he remembered standing in the waiting area of a hospital and having that hope and excitement slashed at and shredded beyond recognition, of a new grandfather’s apologetic eyes unable to meet their own as he gave them the news that his baby had decided to keep her baby, and Alec’s arms around him being the only thing keeping Magnus from falling to his knees and coming completely apart at the seams.

Magnus had been ready to give up after that night, had donated all of the furniture they had bought for the nursery and had scheduled it to be picked up after Alec had started a forty-eight hour shift at the firehouse. Magnus had invited Ragnor over to paint the cheerful yellow walls in the room an earthy green. He had packed up every blanket and bootie, every diaper, every bottle, every onesie, anything that they had bought or received as a gift and had taken it to the clinic where Catarina volunteered her time treating children from low-income families. By the time Alec had come home there was no longer any remaining hint that they had prepared their home for a newborn.

Magnus had been certain that they wouldn’t be able to come back from the fight his actions had caused, and he wouldn’t have blamed Alec for walking out and ending everything, but Alec—his loyal, forgiving, loving Alexander—adamantly refused to give up on him, on them, on their family.

Magnus knew that he hadn’t given Alec the same chance to work through how he had felt as Alec had given to him. Despite that Alec had reminded him that there would be times when he leaned on Magnus more than Magnus leaned on him, and that they were in this together, for better or for worse.

“I feel good about it.” The corner of Alec’s mouth tipped up into a soft half grin as he answered and his hand was warm against Magnus’ skin as he took Magnus’ hand into his. “I don’t have that knot in the pit of my stomach, or feel like the bottom is going to drop out. Not like last time.”

“Okay.” Magnus squeezed Alec’s hand and leaned in to press a firm kiss to Alec’s lips. He felt Alec’s lips tug up into a smile against his own, and Magnus kept his eyes closed as he leaned his forehead against Alec’s.

“Don’t make me eat all of this sushi by myself.” Alec teased in a voice just barely more than a hoarse whisper.

Magnus breathed out a soft laugh as he pulled back and shook his head. He snatched the remote off of the table next to the bed and turned the TV on before handing it to Alec. “Be a dear, then, and find something for us to watch on Netflix while I eat?”

Magnus had envisioned something mindless, something they had watched before, something easy and light that might make them both laugh. But the Christmas in July category that popped up on the Netflix home feed was almost too good to pass up.

A Christmas Horror Story?” Alec breathed out, squinting an eye, and Magnus read through the description as Alec expanded it.

“Santa slays evil, Alexander. We have to.”

“Why do I have a feeling I’m going to regret giving in to you on this?” Alec started the movie and set the remote on the bed between them, turning off the light and laying back against his pillows.

**

Alec could barely follow the movie. Each character story was interwoven with another, and all Alec had been able to pick out from the terrible B-level horror film was that Santa battled zombie elves and a group of teenagers got up to…Alec didn’t even know what. Their empty containers from dinner sat stacked between them and Alec sat up, piling them into the bag and setting it by his bedside table. He was too comfortable and too tired to get out of bed and take them to the kitchen to be put in the recycling bin and would deal with it in the morning.

Alec would have given up on the movie before the first half hour had even finished, but Magnus seemed to be enjoying the ridiculousness of the film, and his laughter over every unrealistic special effect or over-acted scene by William Shatner made Alec grin. There were more than enough ways that Alec knew Magnus would be an amazing dad, but his penchant for not only tolerating, but actually enjoying, horrible movies would prepare him for the never ending stream of children’s movies they would inevitably have to sit through.

Alec turned and curled up on his side, completely diverting his attention from the movie, as the sound of the rain pattering on the windows grew heavier and the rumble of the thunder grew louder and more insistent. Lightening flashed through the window, illuminating Magnus’ profile and Alec felt his breath catch in his chest as his tongue darted out to drag over his lips. Magnus was stunning. Soft and open. There were barely a handful of people who ever got to see Magnus like this, with all of his defenses and his walls stripped away.

Alec’s eyes followed the line of Magnus’ neck down over his shoulder and along his arms to his hands as Magnus sat propped up against his pillows. Magnus’ thumb rubbed along his index finger the way that it did when he was contemplating something or unsure of himself. But unlike those times, there were pauses in the movement of Magnus’ fingers and Alec knew it was an habitual movement more than a need for Magnus to calm his nerves.

Alec smiled softly as he felt his heart flutter against his ribcage as a slow heat built in his belly.

**

Magnus tried to keep his attention focused on the TV instead of on Alec’s fingers that were grazing up and down his forearm, feather light but insistent, sending a familiar heat and spark tingling along every nerve in Magnus’ body. Despite promising himself he wouldn’t, Magnus had let himself get too invested in the movie and needed to know how everything fit together, no matter how awful it admittedly was.

But those fingers…they were incredibly persistent.

Magnus turned his head away from the TV and looked down at Alec laying next to him and looking up with a soft half smile that didn’t match the devilishness hiding behind the fatigue in his eyes.

“You’re not watching the movie, Alexander,” Magnus chided, trying to conceal a grin. He was failing horribly.

“I have something much better to hold my attention.” Alec slowly raked his eyes over Magnus and tucked his lower lip between his teeth as his grin spread.

Thunder rolled outside their window, slow and lingering. Magnus was tempted to see how long he could draw this out and play coy as Alec took his hand into his—because Alec was absolutely adorable when he was flustered—but the slow press of Alec’s lips against the back of his hand, over each of his knuckles individually, made Magnus’ breath hitch.

“You’re right, this movie is awful.” Magnus conceded.

“Finally! Fuck,” Alec sighed dramatically as he pushed himself up onto his elbow. He grabbed at the front of Magnus’ hoodie and tugged him closer until their lips crashed together and Alec was pushed back into his pillows once more.

Magnus laughed easily against Alec’s lips, letting Alec pull him along, and found himself moving to straddle Alec’s lap as their bodies pressed close. Alec tugged at the zipper of the hoodie with one hand as the other curled around the back of Magnus’ neck, his lips more insistent and more urgent as Magnus felt Alec’s tongue tease over the seam of his lips, begging for entrance. Magnus groaned as he parted his lips to let Alec in, savoring the tang of ginger that lingered on Alec’s tongue.

Magnus felt the zipper of his hoodie come apart, and the touch of Alec’s calloused hands dragging up his sides as he slid his hands under the fabric sent a shiver down Magnus’ spine, as though he had been struck by the lightning that flashed outside their window. Magnus sucked in a breath against Alec’s lips as he pushed Magnus’ hoodie off of his shoulders, his hands like fire as they burned a trail down Magnus’ arms.

Alec sat up suddenly, pulling Magnus in tight against him, and Magnus clutched at Alec’s shoulders tightly as he parted his lips from Alec’s and pulled back to look into dark hazel eyes.

“Hey,” Magnus’ voice was gentle as he wound his arms around Alec’s neck. “What’s the hurry?”

Alec’s eyes flicked from Magnus’ eyes down to his lips before he started planting a line of kisses along Magnus’ jaw. “You realize we wasted forty-five minutes of our lives on that movie.”

Alec’s breath was warm against Magnus’ skin, his mouth hungry as he sucked at Magnus’ pressure point and Magnus couldn’t help the low groan that escaped him as his fingers tangled into the hair at the back of Alec’s neck. He knew just where to touch, just where to kiss, to have Magnus ready to come apart and Magnus ground his hips against Alec’s as he tipped his head to the side, opening himself up to Alec’s lips, his tongue, his teeth.

“Forty. Five. Minutes. Magnus.” Alec punctuated each word with a teasing nip at soft skin that he soothed with his tongue. “Such wasted time that we can’t get back.”

Magnus closed his eyes, swallowing hard as he tried to reel some semblance of control back in, but fuck, he was so tempted to let Alec have his way with him, and gently tugged at Alec’s hair as he leaned back. He had to bite at his bottom lip to hold back the whimper that was at the back of his throat from the loss of Alec’s lips on his skin.

“We have all night, Alexander.” Magnus leaned his forehead against Alec’s, could feel Alec’s chest heaving against his own.

“Mm, you have to work tomorrow.” Alec mumbled, tipping his head up in search of Magnus’ lips.

Magnus grinned and breathed out a soft laugh as he ghosted his lips over Alec’s. “It’s my on-call weekend. Doesn’t mean I have to go anywhere.”

“And if you get a call in the middle of the night?” Alec leaned back and raised his eyebrows, his voice dropping to just barely a whisper as his palms pressed flat against the small of Magnus’ back.

Magnus dragged his hands over Alec’s shoulders and down his chest without hurrying, feeling hard muscles beneath the fabric of Alec’s t-shirt. He shrugged with an innocence that didn’t match the desire in his eyes. “House call. I’m already with a patient.”

It was one of the attributes about Alec—his willingness to help and care for others, to literally run into burning buildings and put out fires—that Magnus loved most about him. But Alec didn’t have that same penchant for stopping to take time for himself, to let himself be the one to be cared for.

Magnus pressed his lips to Alec’s in a slow kiss as he slipped his fingers under the hem of Alec’s shirt, caressing the skin along his waistband lightly, and he smiled against Alec’s lips as he felt Alec shudder under his touch, moving his hands from the small of Magnus’ back to his hips. Magnus’ hands danced along Alec’s sides, pushing the shirt up as his hands roamed. He took his time, refused to rush.

“Cat is going to murder you if you make her take a call when it’s not her weekend,” Alec whispered as he pulled away, raising his arms over his head.

Fingers grazed over tight triceps as Magnus eased Alec’s t-shirt over his head and let it drop to the floor beside the bed. Magnus brought his hands up to press flat against Alec’s chest as he worked his lips along Alec’s jaw slowly and grazed his teeth just below Alec’s earlobe, soothing it over with a feather light kiss.

“Cat will understand,” Magnus breathed in Alec’s ear.

“Magnus…” Alec started to protest over a rumble of thunder, sucking in a sharp breath.

Magnus nipped at Alec’s earlobe gently before pulling back to look Alec in the eye, sliding his hands up to rest against both sides of Alec’s neck. His thumbs grazed along Alec’s jaw line and Magnus nudged his nose against Alec’s before drawing him in for a kiss. It was a slow press of lips as they fit and molded together with a familiar ease. They were as opposite as two people could get, and yet everything about them fit perfectly together.

Magnus eased his hands down over Alec’s shoulders—shoulders that were strong enough to, and often did, carry the weight of the world, or the weight of someone else’s world on them—and carefully eased Alec back toward the pillows again.

“If you don’t mind, I need to get back to taking care of my patient,” Magnus mumbled against Alec’s lips. His hips rolled slowly, grinding against the growing hardness in Alec’s jeans.

“Playing doctor again, are we?” Alec groaned as his hips moved to meet Magnus’, hard and insistent as he dragged his hands down the expanse of Magnus’ broad back and over his ass, pressing Magnus tighter against him. Magnus sucked in a breath to steady himself, to keep his focus on Alec instead of giving in to his own desire for more.

“You’ve never complained before.” Magnus smirked, still rocking torturously slowly against Alec, as he dragged his lips steadily along Alec’s neck, pausing to suck at Alec’s Adam’s apple. Magnus’ hands worked over Alec’s chest, tracing every definition of muscle by memory, gently grazing over one of Alec’s nipples with his thumb. Magnus’ mouth followed the path that his hands had taken, slow and deliberate, determined to transfer every ounce of love he could into Alec’s skin with each press of his lips.

Alec’s hands tightened on Magnus’ ass. “Who says I’m complaining now?”

Magnus winked at Alec as he shifted to sit back on his heels as his hands traveled down Alec’s torso, fingers dancing over chiseled muscles that jumped at his touch. Magnus grinned as his mouth burned a trail of kisses lower and lower, nipping teasingly as Alec’s muscles again tightened in response.

“Fuck, Magnus…” Alec grit out.

Magnus’ fingers circled over the button on Alec’s jeans as Magnus kissed along the sensitive skin just above Alec’s waistband, taking it between his teeth as he sucked. Alec sucked in a breath as the pattering of the rain against the windows began to slow. Magnus popped open the button and eased down the zipper, curling his fingers into the bands of both Alec’s jeans and boxer briefs and gave a tug. Alec’s hips raised off the bed and Magnus eased the garments down Alec’s legs and off, letting them fall to the floor with Alec’s shirt.

Alec’s cock was hard against his stomach and Magnus sucked his bottom lip between his teeth as he leaned in, trailing his tongue upwards along the length. Alec’s hips jolted upward as his entire body shuddered. Magnus’ took Alec into one hand as the other trailed over Alec’s hip, and let his tongue tease over the tip.

Alec’s hand curled around Magnus’ forearm as he pushed himself up onto an elbow again. Magnus looked up at Alec with hooded eyes, his tongue continuing to tease.

“Magnus,” Alec whispered as he stuttered out a breath, his hand drawing up Magnus’ arm to curl around his bicep. He pulled Magnus up to him and their mouths met again in a kiss that burned like steady fire.

Magus moved up onto his knees and framed Alec’s face with his hands, his tongue pressing into Alec’s mouth to slide against Alec’s. He breathed out a shuddering breath that Alec’s lips swallowed.

“You have far too many clothes on,” Alec murmured, sucking Magnus’ bottom lip between his, hands rough against Magnus’ skin as they drew down his sides.

“That does present a problem, doesn’t it?” Magnus asked and pulled Alec back into a kiss as Alec’s hands found his waist and his fingers dipped under the waistband of Magnus’ sweats and underwear. Alec palmed at Magnus’ ass as they kissed before working the fabric down over Magnus’ hips.

Their kiss never broke as Magnus climbed off of the bed and stood beside it just long enough to kick his pants and briefs off the rest of the way. Alec’s hands were on him again as he settled back on his knees between Alec’s legs again, and Magnus broke the kiss with a gasp as Alec’s hand wrapped around him. Heat churned delightfully in Magnus’ belly as Alec’s hand worked along his length, the roughness causing a pleasant friction that made Magnus groan from the back of his throat. Magnus felt Alec grin against his lips for barely a moment before Alec’s tongue was pressing into his mouth and sliding against his at the same, unhurried pace as his hand stroked along Magnus’ cock.

Magnus wanted nothing more than to give in to Alec, to let Alec take control and do as he pleased, but he was determined to let this night be about Alec, to lavish him with love and affection and help him release the pent up physical and emotional tension that had built over the past twenty-four hours.

Alec leaned to the side slightly and Magnus moved with him, tangling his fingers in Alec’s hair as Alec’s grip tightened around him and Magnus inhaled a sharp breath as he pressed closer to Alec, pushed deeper into Alec’s hand as he heard the drawer of Alec’s nightstand be pulled open. Alec fumbled through the drawer in search of the lube he kept there, snatching it up blindly.

Alec pulled his lips from Magnus’ and Magnus groaned in protest as he chased after those full, perfect, kiss-swollen lips.

“Shouldn’t keep your patient waiting, Doctor.” Alec grinned as he pressed the lube into Magnus’ hand.

Magnus rolled his eyes before looking at Alec again. “Have I mentioned that if you make me make a coughing joke in the middle of foreplay, it’s automatic grounds for divorce?”

“It’s not if you resist the urge to make the joke.”

Magnus closed his eyes and shook his head, curling his fingers around Alec’s neck and leaning in to kiss him hard on the mouth again, feeling Alec’s grin growing against his lips. Alec took Magnus’ bottom lip between his teeth, gently scraping as he pulled back and settled against his pillow once more.

Magnus slid down the bed again, his breath ghosting over Alec’s bare skin again as he moved. He kissed over each of Alec’s hipbones before drawing the tip of his tongue slowly along Alec's length once more as a shudder worked through Alec’s entire body. Magnus licked over his lips before engulfing Alec in a wet heat.

Alec’s hips lifted off of the bed as Magnus’ mouth traveled along his length and he swallowed hard as he reached for Magnus, tangling his fingers in Magnus’ hair. Magnus raised his eyes up to look at Alec, watched his chest rise and fall rapidly, tongue licking over his lips as he moaned.

It was beautiful. Everything about Alec and the way each muscle in his body strained with every move he made was simply fucking gorgeous.

Magnus eased his mouth off of Alec with a soft pop and smirked at Alec’s groan of protest. Magnus felt Alec’s hand move to the back of his neck as he raised his head off of his pillow. He looked so beautifully overtaken by want and need, and Magnus felt the fire inside of him blow-up in its intensity, thoroughly consuming all of him in a way that couldn’t be contained.

Magnus reached for the lube he’d set on the bed beside him and slicked up his fingers, nudging at one of Alec’s legs to bend at the knee as he settled flat on his stomach. He blazed a line of kisses along the inside of Alec’s thigh, sucking the delicate skin between his teeth, pressing his finger against Alec’s ass, and the sound that came from Alec was absolutely sinful.

“Magnus, I swear…”

But Magnus never got to hear what it was that Alec swore because Alec swore something completely different as Magnus eased his finger inside Alec while taking all of Alec’s length back into his mouth. The strangled sounds were like a symphony in Magnus’ ear, drowning out the rain and thunder outside as Alec’s own storm grew and raged inside. Magnus added a second finger, and Alec’s hips pressed down against Magnus’ hand in one moment, but raised up to his mouth in another as Magnus’ fingers opened him at the same languid pace as he took Alec apart with his lips and tongue.

“Fuck. Need you.” Alec croaked out in a hoarse groan and Magnus felt the desperation in the way Alec reached for him, like a parched man longing for water. Magnus couldn’t have denied him even if he had wanted to because he could never deny Alec anything.

Magnus moved up and over Alec and was instantly pulled into a kiss that was heated and deep, all lips and teeth and tongues. Alec’s hands wandered, intent on touching every inch of Magnus that he could.

“Fuck,” Magnus gasped, feeling as though lightning was coursing through him as Alec forced their hips together again. Magnus’ hips thrust forward automatically, his cock sliding against Alec’s, and bringing forward a desire in Magnus that he had forced aside in order to focus all of his attention on taking care of Alec, but he could no longer ignore for himself. He sat back and reached for the lube, dribbling it along his length, stroking easily to spread it evenly.

“Now,” Alec urged breathlessly.

Magnus pushed Alec’s knees up and positioned himself, pressing slowly until he was inside Alec, swallowed up by tight heat. He covered Alec’s body with his own and found Alec’s lips again, centering himself in everything that was Alec. Arms that circled Magnus and held him close. Lips that were full and soft against Magnus’, always eager to convey exactly what he felt and how deeply he felt it, especially when Alec couldn’t put it into words. Two hearts that beat together as one in a rhythm that was all their own.

Magnus’ hips moved easily, steadily and in no hurry. They had the entire night, had their entire lives ahead of them to love each other. It shouldn’t have been possible for Magnus to love Alec any more than he already he did, and each day he was surprised at just how much more fully and how much more deeply he fell.

Their kiss broke and Magnus leaned his forehead against Alec’s, lips hovering, breath hot against each other’s lips with each panting breath they both took as they moved together. Magnus thrust deeply into Alec, his pace steadily building. He felt Alec’s fingertips press into his back, just below his shoulders. The fire in his veins moved back into his belly, concentrating there, and Magnus knew his release was building. He clamped his eyes shut and willed himself to hold back until Alec had finished.

Magnus braced himself on one hand and took Alec into the other. Alec sucked in a sharp breath, hips arching up into Magnus’ hand. Magnus gripped Alec’s cock firmly, stroked in time with each movement of his hips, and Alec clutched at Magnus’ bicep tightly as he moaned out a string of completely incomprehensible thoughts as his release pulsed through him, spilling out onto his stomach and over Magnus’ hand. Magnus lowered his head, nuzzling against Alec’s neck as his body took over, pressing deep into Alec as his own orgasm took hold of him and Alec’s name spilled from his lips in barely more than a whispered breath.

**

Alec’s heart thumped furiously beneath his ribs despite his breathing slowly returning to normal. He cupped the back of Magnus’ head so gently, fingers caressing along the back of his neck. Alec turned his head and brushed his lips over the shell of Magnus’ ear, earning a small shudder as a reward. A lazy, blissed out smile passed over Alec’s lips, and when Magnus lifted his head Alec saw he looked just as completely blissed out as Alec felt.

Alec couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so at ease, without something hanging over his head and causing tension to settle in his neck and shoulders. He felt completely weightless, as though floating through air, as he melted back into the bed.

Magnus pressed a kiss to his lips, tender and happy, and Alec’s eyes fluttered closed.

“Think you’ve just earned yourself a new patient, Dr. Bane.” Alec peeked one eye open to look at Magnus.

“I’ll have to see how my husband feels about that.” Magnus nudged his nose against Alec’s in an eskimo kiss, but his grin was evident in his voice.

“The good ones are always married. He’s an extremely lucky guy.” Alec breathed out a tired laugh at the same time as Magnus, letting out a deep, satisfied breath.

“Don’t move.” Magnus dropped a feather light kiss on Alec’s forehead before pulling himself away from Alec.

“I couldn’t even I wanted to,” Alec pouted. He hadn’t been ready to lose the heat of Magnus’ body against him, but beyond pouting he wasn’t capable of protesting in any way that would have kept Magnus attached to him. He rested one arm behind his neck and tipped his head, watching as Magnus walked away through one eye, and had it not been for the wave of absolute exhaustion that crashed over him, Alec might have been willing to show Magnus the same care that he’d been given. Alec closed his eyes and filed that thought away for another time on another rainy and stormy night.

The warm swipe of a washcloth over his stomach startled Alec slightly, though he never opened his eyes. “I’ll change the sheets tomorrow.”

“Fair enough.” Magnus laughed lightly. Alec felt the bed shift next to him and Magnus was fitting himself against Alec’s side. “Sleep well, Alexander. Doctor’s orders.”