Alec Lightwood was used to seeing odd things in his line of work. Scary things, even. Occasionally things that were both odd and kind of scary at the same time. Like, for example, his own face staring at him, but not from a mirror: his eyes wide, face splattered with sticky orange demonic slime, his mouth hanging open (and wow, is that how dorky he looks like with his mouth open? Because he’s going to have to remember to not do that) and staring at – wait. Alec was staring up at his own face, so what -
Alec looked around quickly. They were standing in what had been Ragnor’s study: Jace, weapon in hand, bleeding but already healing; Isabelle, brushing demon dust off of her boots; Alec himself, apparently a second Alec, but where was –
Alec looked down at his hands.
Long, tapered, golden-skinned fingers. Black nail polish. At least a dozen rings. A palm-sized carved purple stone in a bright golden amulet, also covered in dripping orange slime and faintly glowing.
Alec blinked as the details gradually came back to him: they had come to Ragnor’s former residence to help Magnus look for some old spell books that Ragnor had borrowed but never returned. Alec had asked if he could join Magnus, because he knew Magnus was still kind of sad about his friend’s death, and he was pretty sure that moral support was an important part of relationships. But mostly Alec had wanted to come along because he figured if one Shax demon was able to get in and kill Ragnor, there could be others waiting to kill Magnus, and Alec was not going to let that happen.
Alec frowned, thinking harder. He remembered that Jace had insisted on coming as well, although Alec wasn’t sure if it was because Jace felt they needed a chaperone or because Jace was just bored sitting around Magnus’s penthouse all the time with nothing to kill. Isabelle had definitely asked to come because she was bored. Alec had been torn between wanting to spend time with Magnus alone, and being glad to have backup along just in case. Magnus had seemed glad enough to have Alec’s company, regardless.
Alec had found the amulet in a random box of Ragnor’s things. It had not been glowing, then. But the stone was pretty, the rune-like carvings intricate. Magnus had been turning it over in his hands, studying it when Jace, blatantly ignoring Magnus’s instructions to not touch anything without asking first, nonchalantly opened an unlocked trunk. An unlocked trunk which unexpectedly, and inexplicably, spewed forth a considerable number of angry demons.
Alec had been very glad of the backup then, as he leaped in front of Magnus just in time to put his seraph blade into the chest-like cavity of something spiky with a disturbing amount of teeth. The demon spat at Alec as it died, splattering him with orange slime which he’d slipped in as its body disintegrated around his sword. Magnus had grabbed for Alec’s hand to keep him from falling. The instant their hands connected, there had been a brilliant flash of light that he’d assumed was Magnus doing some sort of demon killing spell.
Except that the flash of light had been purple, and Magnus’s battle magic was always red, so that didn’t make any sense. Then when he could focus his eyes properly again, Alec had been standing in a different place, looking up at … himself.
“…Alec?” Jace said warily. Alec realized with a start that he couldn’t feel his parabatai rune, but he could still feel Jace, their soul bond a warm tingle somewhere behind his ribcage. And Jace wasn’t looking at the second Alec, the taller Alec, at all. Jace was frowning, his hand pressed to his own parabatai rune, sharp eyes staring directly at -
“By the Angel,” Alec blurted, in Magnus Bane’s voice.
Magnus swore in Alec’s voice, words that were far less heavenly.
Alec buried his face in his hands. “Fine,” he groaned. “Fine, let’s try it.”
“Alexander! Put that cookie down!” Magnus chided. “You’ve already eaten four! I have spent centuries keeping that body in shape, and I am not going to have you ruin all my hard work in one day.”
“He can’t help it,” Isabelle said, pushing the plate of cookies a little farther away from Alec. “He’s always been a stress eater.”
“Magnus, stop pacing.” Catarina looked up from Magnus’s drawing room floor, stacks of dusty spell books piled around her. “You are driving me crazy.”
“But Cat,” Magnus said. “These long legs! Look how quickly I can make it all the way around the room.” Magnus spun on his heel, hands out, palms up; Alec was surprised at how typically Magnus-like the movement was, even when executed in Alec’s body. It was weird seeing his body walk and gesture with the fluid grace of a dancer when most of the time, Alec felt lucky if he simply didn’t trip over anything.
They had been searching for hours through every written document they could find in the combined collections of the three warlocks, but so far had found no references to either the amulet or the slime-spewing demon. They still had no idea how to get Magnus and Alec back in their own bodies.
Meanwhile, Alec was finding out just how annoying it was to be shorter than his normal height. One had significantly less strategic advantage when one couldn’t automatically see over everyone else’s heads. He poked at a cookie crumb, stuck in his teeth; tried to dislodge it with his tongue. Even having different teeth felt weird.
Alec hadn’t spoken much since the switch happened. Magnus’s voice sounded strange when Alec tried to make the unfamiliar muscles in his face and tongue form words. They came out with a clumsy New York accent, not Magnus’s normal smooth, lilting tones. He didn’t like hearing Magnus sound so … wrong. Being in Magnus’s body made Alec miss him, strangely. It was unsettling, wanting to talk to someone and then having to talk to yourself to do it.
Catarina sighed. “While I appreciate how rare it is for immortals to experience new things, if you ever want to get back into your own body, we have to concentrate on finding the solution.”
“Have you tried kissing?” Isabelle asked, glancing up from the book she was leafing through. “Kissing works sometimes in fairy tales, to break magic spells.” Jace, feet up on the coffee table and nose buried in a dusty scroll, snorted noncommittally.
“Not all fairy tales are true, unfortunately,” Magnus said, picking up a cup of tea and sitting down next to Alec on the couch. Nervous, Alec started to reach for another cookie, but Magnus’s glare stopped him; he withdrew his hand quickly. And wow, he was going to have to figure out how to make that face. It would certainly put Aldertree back a step or two.
“Usually it’s only the less pleasant tales that are based in reality.” Magnus gazed at Alec, his expression quickly settling back to neutral. “Although that’s not to say it couldn’t work. I’m willing to try if Alexander is. Although, maybe we could do without the audience…” Magnus glanced meaningfully at Isabelle who was literally pulling up a chair next to them, grinning widely.
Alec’s cheeks grew warm. He definitely wasn’t opposed to kissing Magnus, and since so far their only other kiss had taken place in front of a room full of people (including his parents), even doing it in front of everyone now didn’t feel as awkward as it might have otherwise. But kissing his own body while he was in someone else’s, seemed like it would be … His face felt even hotter and he looked down, hoping Magnus’s makeup was hiding a blush better than Alec’s own paler skin would have done. Alec kept his eyes fixed on his hands - on Magnus’s normally expressive hands, now folded quietly in his lap. He could feel Magnus watching him closely.
“You may as well try,” Isabelle said, far too eagerly for Alec’s comfort. “You have nothing to lose and besides, if I had the chance to make out with myself I would totally go for - Ow! Dammit Magn- Alec!” She rubbed her shin; Magnus’s shoes had pointier toes than Alec’s boots, and Alec felt a twinge of satisfaction that it had hurt a little extra when he’d kicked her.
Magnus grinned at their sibling antics. Alec was astonished at how different his face looked, at least in his own opinion, when Magnus was the one making it smile. Alec couldn’t remember ever seeing himself look so relaxed, or so confident.
“You are so right, Isabelle. It’s not my fault that my body is so irresistibly attractive. Who wouldn’t want to see what things felt like from the other side?” Magnus preened.
“This degree of self-obsession seems totally healthy,” Catarina muttered darkly from her seat on the floor.
Alec buried his face in his hands. “Fine,” he groaned. “Fine, let’s try it.” Lowering his hands, he sighed, and turned toward Magnus.
“Alec,” Magnus said, his demeanor changing instantly from joking to serious. “We don’t have to if you really don’t want to.”
“Why wouldn’t I want to?” Alec replied, more softly than he’d meant to, and saw Magnus’s expression relax with relief.
“Hey!” Jace said suddenly, sitting up. “Before you really try to swap back, we should experiment. Like, can you do magic in Magnus’s body? Is that ability tied to Magnus’s physical half-demon genetics, his actual demon blood, or does -”
“Do NOT try it,” Catarina said, at the same time Magnus threw up his – Alec’s – hands, his face suddenly pale.
“It takes a long time to learn how to control magic. Even if Alexander can access it, he won’t know how to focus and direct that much power. If things got out of hand it could be catastrophic.” Magnus looked over at Catarina. “I hadn’t really thought that far ahead – we need to fix this, fast.”
“So let’s fix it,” Alec said firmly, reaching for Magnus and linking his arms around the taller man’s neck before Jace could get any more crazy ideas.
It wasn’t as strange as Alec had imagined, looking into his own eyes, leaning in toward his own face. It was like practicing kissing a mirror. Not that Alec had done that. Well, not that he had done it often. He’d never really noticed his own eyelashes before. They were longer than he expected, curled just slightly at the ends, feathered out like charcoal dust against his pale skin.
Magnus looked back at Alec through familiar hazel eyes, pupils dilating, eyelids fluttering – was he nervous too? Alec wondered. He remembered reading somewhere that a person’s pupils got bigger when they were scared, but also when they were looking at something they found attractive. Alec definitely knew Magnus was attractive, and Magnus jokingly said he knew it too, but now Magnus would know what he looked like from Alec’s point of view and would understand just how true it really was.
The thought of Magnus seeing himself as Alec saw him sent an unexpected wave of desire through Alec’s gut. Breathless, intrigued, Alec held the other man’s widening gaze as they moved toward each other, only closing his own eyes just as their lips finally came together. Definitely remember that next time, he thought. Eye contact is sexy.
Any other thoughts he might have had disappeared in the rush of sensation that kissing Magnus brought. Alec was momentarily surprised at how full and soft his lips were, and then the world fell away leaving Magnus, only Magnus; the scent and taste of him engulfing Alec’s senses. Feeling arced between them like a lightning strike, white-hot, electric. Alec’s head spun madly. It felt like he was caught in a whirlpool made of tingling sparks, when a strange pulling sensation started to overwhelm the rest. It was like someone had tied a string in the middle of his chest and was gradually increasing tension on the other end.
Alec’s mind felt along the length of the string until it came up against something that felt more – solid. Weighty. Familiar. He gave a tentative mental tug, and -
Alec opened his eyes and was met with the sight of Magnus, blinking. “It worked!” Magnus gave a low whistle of surprise. Alec took a deep breath, relieved. He made eye contact with Catarina, who smiled back at him softly. Beside him, Isabelle clapped her hands excitedly. Jace meanwhile only grunted, turned another page of the spell book he was still reading, and stuffed an entire cookie in his mouth.
Alec looked back at Magnus who was frowning slightly, his hand stroking his own chin. “Does it always tickle like that?”
“This?” Alec touched the stubble on Magnus’s face. “A little, I guess. But it’s OK,” he grinned shyly, “I kind of like it.”
Isabelle squeaked, literally squeaked, and Alec froze, mortified that he’d said it aloud.
Magnus’s pupils were dilated again, his brown eyes shining. Alec’s breath caught in his throat. Magnus snapped his fingers and the penthouse door flew open with a bang.
“Out,” Magnus said firmly. “Everyone out, now.” He grabbed Alec’s hand. “Except you.”
As the door closed, muffling Isabelle’s protests and Jace’s laughter, Magnus leaned closer to Alec. “Now,” he said, warmly. “Where were we?”
Alec leaned in, and remembered to keep his eyes open.