Before Alec goes to sleep for the night, he shoots off an email: Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, Aline. Thank you to you and your mom for considering me for the position, but I have to decline. New York’s the place for me and I don’t see that changing.
Well, he thinks, pausing. Maybe if things changed in Idris, but that’s a battle that hadn’t even started yet. The conclusion of it might not be reached in Alec’s lifetime.
Thanks again and I’ll give you both a call in the morning. I have a few names I want to pass to you who’d be good candidates for the seat.
Magnus crawls into bed as Alec puts his phone away. Despite the days starting to get chillier – and the spells maintaining the temperature in the loft not quite keeping up with the temperamental New York weather – Magnus is dressed in some sweatpants and nothing else. All of him looks soft, rumpled. The smile he gives Alec is bright, even as his eyes are heavy with sleep.
Kissing him is the second easiest decision Alec’s made all day.
When Magnus pulls away, it’s with a contented sigh. He is looking at Alec in that way that he does, sometimes, that makes Alec simultaneously feel indestructible and two inches tall. At these moments Alec is reminded that if he really is only as strong as his weaknesses, then around Magnus he must be at the pinnacle of both. Usually it’s after a kiss, just like this one. It settles something inside Alec, makes the ground more stable underneath his feet. Makes him think that maybe the whole bewildering day they’ve put behind them started with the lack of this: their usual way of saying hello.
“All done with work?” asks Magnus. His shoulder is leaning into his own mountain of plush scarlet pillows, allowing him to curl toward Alec. His golden brown skin looks as decadent as the silk sheets they’re lying on. The sight makes Alec want to touch him, and so Alec does, turning to face Magnus and absently trailing his fingers over one of his bare arms.
“Just messaged Aline,” he says. “No actual emergency at the Institute – actually,” he corrects, remembering, “Apparently there’s been some updates with the demon possession. Clary and Luke took care of it, though.”
Magnus looks surprised, as though he needs a minute to process what he’s just heard. Alec doesn’t blame him: Clary’s come a long a way from where she was when Alec had first met her, and he surprised even himself when he realized that - despite whatever secrets she and Jace were keeping - he even trusted her capability in the field.
When Magnus speaks though, it's to ask, “You already told Aline your decision?”
He sounds almost wondering and Alec finds that the comforting lull of their late night conversation fade, overtaken by a strange, visceral awareness. He thought they were done with this. That they arrived at an understanding.
He forces himself to relax, continuing to run his fingers along the length of Magnus’ forearm.
“Of course,” says Alec. “Why wait when I’ve made up my mind?”
“That’s certainly a very you way of looking at things,” says Magnus. “You’re - you sound so sure about this.”
“I’m sure about you,” corrects Alec, and that expression returns on Magnus’ face even though this isn’t the first or second or fifteenth time Alec has said it.
But then again, he reminds himself, how many times has he kissed Magnus over the last few months? Countless. And still Magnus looks at Alec like this afterward. Maybe Alec saying this is the equivalent of those kisses, for Magnus – just using a different medium. Maybe the words press carefully against other parts of him, the way that Alec’s lips do against his mouth, his cheek, the back of his hand.
And if that’s the case, then increasing the number of times he whispers these kinds of kisses to Magnus is the simple, logical next step.
Alec tries it now, repeating quietly, “I’m sure about you.”
The deep brown of Magnus’ eyes flicker across Alec’s face.
“Did you–” he starts before pausing, as though to gather his bearings. After a moment he just shakes his head. “I’m sure about you, too.”
“Yeah?” Hearing those words should make Alec feel – something, anything, other than the uncertainty they actually invoke. Alec rasps out, “That’s good. But that’s not what you were going to say.”
It had been so much easier to be confident when it was about abating Magnus’ uncertainty. There’s no doubt inside of Alec on what he wants, what he feels. But Magnus – Alec doesn’t know what Magnus wants beyond that he wants Alec to stay. Less than a week ago Magnus wasn’t even sure if he wanted to be with Alec. And it’s not as though Alec expected things to be easy trying to find their center again, but – but Alec wasn’t expecting this, either. Finding out that it’s specifically Alec Magnus has erected barriers around, against.
It’s not the first time he’s kept Alec at bay, but Alec had thought all this time that meant that Magnus had kept everyone at bay. But that had been an emotional, illogical conclusion. Just because Alec relies on Magnus for this kind of emotional support doesn’t mean Magnus has to do the same. He’s had hundreds of years to cultivate relationships he would prefer over a new and tumultuous romance. Alec knows all of this. He understands it.
And still it stings. It still leaves Alec trying to breathe around a molten ball of - of something, constricting his chest.
This is about Magnus, he reminds himself. And what he needs. It’s not about you.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it with me,” says Alec. “But I told you you didn’t have to hide, and I meant it.” It’s something he thought he shared with Magnus before, too, kneeling in front of that couch listening to Magnus talk about his mother, his step-father, and the broken heart of a nine year-old that hadn’t healed four centuries later.
But then Magnus has to go ahead and say, “I do. I do want to talk to you. You’re the person I want to talk to the most whenever my heart needs a listening ear. But it’s – it’s difficult for me, Alec. I don’t know how you do it without a second thought.”
“Talk to me,” says Magnus, and to that Alec has no response. Not when he only barely understands it himself. “Did you really think I wanted you to go, Alexander?”
Alec freezes, the question pulling him out of his thoughts. “What?”
“Earlier,” says Magnus, something tight at the corner of his eyes. “Did you – did you truly think that I’d be fine if you left?”
Uncertain, it takes a moment for Alec to respond. To think about what he should even say. Magnus has never tricked him – well, he has, but only in harmless fun – but this question sounds like a test. What Alec isn’t sure about though is whether the test is for himself or for Magnus because – well, Magnus already has Alec’s answer from before, doesn’t he?
All at once his mouth feels dry, his stomach tied up in knots.
“It’s like you said,” says Alec at last. “You’re a really good actor. But it doesn’t matter what I thought, because I was obviously–” thankfully– “wrong–”
“Of course it matters,” interrupts Magnus. He looks sad. The prominent jut of his Adam’s apple moves as he gears himself up to say – to say what? Alec finds his muscles tense, the way that they do when he has no idea what’s coming but needs to be prepared for it. “How can you say you’re so sure about me when you thought I wanted you to go?”
“Magnus.” Alec doesn’t know how to explain this in any other way except for how it’s always been: “Whether you wanted me to stay or go – it doesn’t change that I want to be with you.”
Doesn’t Magnus remember what Alec had told him before just a few days ago? I can’t live without you. A life without Magnus isn’t the kind of life Alec wants. It’s not the kind of life he’s dreamt about. And Alec can’t let that dream go, not when it’s become reality in the form of Magnus. Underneath the disbelief and quiet pride he’d felt at being offered such a position of honour, Alec had known what his answer to the Consul was going to be when he’d arrived at the loft. He’d needed to see Magnus to help process the moving pieces.
Magnus, the one part of the whole equation that Alec knew he needed to stay still. He’d been so happy for Alec. The way his off-putting flippancy had vanished with overwhelming joy because he thought this had been everything Alec had been waiting for. He had been spooked when Alec had gently told him otherwise. The way he had been when Alec had said it that first time, on their disaster of a first date: I never thought I could have what I wanted. Not until you came along.
“After talking with Catarina,” admits Alec, “I was pissed off and worried enough that if it hadn’t come up during our game, I was ready to confront you about all of it once we got back.”
“Pissed off and worried,” repeats Magnus. For the first time since he’s laid down beside Alec, the two of them curved toward each other like parenthesis, he reaches toward him. Cups the side of Alec’s face. “And hurt.”
“I’m fine,” says Alec, putting his hand above Magnus’. “I’ve got the man of my dreams in bed with me," he says lightly, even though the words are the furthest thing from a joke. "The rest of it is just... details.”
“What I said made you think it didn’t matter whether we went to sleep together every night,” points out Magnus, looking upset as he does so.
“You thought it was what I wanted.” Even after Alec had said – well, that doesn’t matter anymore. “You – you said something, but in my gut I could tell that something wasn’t right. I shouldn’t have left it at that.”
Alec should have pushed. And by the time he’d arrived at the Hunter’s Moon, he had regained his footing, found that fire inside him that demanded an explanation for being blatantly, specifically misled. But before that, when the situation was unfolding in a way that Alec hadn’t foreseen – except, perhaps, by the part of him that never let him forget the worst case scenario of, he doesn’t really want you back, he can leave you again, he’s looking for a way out – and he had been too thrown off to ask anything.
After all, the worst case scenario had been – and still is – a possible, logical outcome.
“Just – the next time you tell me you want me to go somewhere away from you–” Alec pauses, each word a struggle to connect with the next. “Next time – just make sure it’s because you mean it, all right?”
“There’s not going to be a next time,” says Magnus. The way he says it – without any inflection in his voice – leaves no room to be contradicted. “If it does, it’s because I’ve been possessed, brainwashed, bewitched, or just deserve a punch in the face from Maia.”
“Okay, but you–”
“No buts,” says Magnus, placing a silencing finger on Alec’s lips. “Every time I’ve let you go has been a colossal mistake, and I don’t think my luck will survive a third round.”
“You’d be surprised,” murmurs Alec, “at just how much your luck would survive.”
Magnus doesn’t seem to like that answer.
“You shouldn’t have had to second guess my words. I’m sorry, Alexander,” he says, and once again the words have Alec tensing. He isn’t usually the recipient of apologies. “I know that I said it before, for being – how I was this morning. I was dismissive in my efforts to hide how much losing my title was affecting me, not letting us have a real conversation about this position on the Council–”
“Magnus,” cuts in Alec. “I get it, I promise.”
“I don’t think you do.”
This is the gentlest argument they’ve ever had, thinks Alec. Their voices are hushed and Magnus’ fingers are trailing the shell of Alec’s ear, tucking back some stray locks behind them. “Because I never explained it to you. And when I do – and I will – having a reason won’t make it an excuse.”
“Okay,” replies Alec, helpless. He doesn’t know what else there is to say.
Very carefully, Magnus goes, “You told me that all you care about is how I feel, Alexander. Why can’t it be the same for me, about you?”
There are pinpricks at the back of Alec’s eyes. He doesn’t think he can speak past the lump in his throat – doesn’t even know what he’d say, not when in the heart of him, this is what he wants – and hopes it’s enough that he just gives a jerky nod.
From the way Magnus is sweeping his thumb over the apple of Alec’s cheek, he is perfectly happy with the response.
“I’m going to try harder,” promises Magnus. “And you’ve – you’ve already shown me more patience and understanding than I could’ve hoped for–”
“Don’t say that,” says Alec, voice rough. There’s not a single journey he wouldn’t take, not a single part of himself he wouldn’t carve out for Magnus. What just happened today – that had been nothing. That had been Alec doing what any person on the street would if they’d been graced with having Magnus in their lives. “I didn’t do anything.”
“But you did,” says Magnus, voice cracking and he’s got a different look on his face now. The one that says that he’s got Alec broken open, like he can see the rusted clockwork pieces inside of him. “Do you know why I was hiding how miserable I was earlier? Pretending everything was fine?”
Alec thought he did, but– “You said you’d explain it to me.” All of him aches at the reminder that that misery still resides inside Magnus, even now. “It doesn’t have to be now, though. Not unless it’ll help.”
Magnus sighs, but there’s something very fond about the way he does it.
“You really shouldn’t be giving me any outs,” he says, admonishing, and Alec huffs out a sheepish laugh. Even in the midst of a talk that makes Alec feel like he’s being peeled apart, layer by layer, Magnus draws this out of him.
More somberly, Magnus continues, “I haven’t hoped for love in a very long, long time, Alec. Not until you unlocked that part of me. I didn’t dream about you because I didn’t think someone like you would ever exist for me. Not only did I never expect you, but you’re also... unprecedented. You still haven't stopped amazing me. With every day that passes, I realize more and more that you never will.”
Face feeling hot with embarrassment, Alec says, “Are you sure this is answering your question?”
“Yes,” says Magnus. “Because I need to remember that whenever I’m unsure or frightened about how you’ll react – I just have to tell myself that you’ll just amaze me again.”
Before Alec can even process that, Magnus takes a deep breath and continues, “This morning – part of what was driving me is that I didn’t want you to – to see me as a failure.”
That puts Alec’s processing to a halt.
“Wait, what?” Alec’s so taken aback by this admission that he actually sits up, takes Magnus by the shoulders and says, “Magnus, I would never, never–”
“I know,” says Magnus. “I know that in my mind, Alexander. With my intellect. But it isn’t – it isn’t easy to make myself believe that when I see myself as a failure for getting myself into this mess. The only way this could’ve been anything less than that is if I could convince you – convince myself – that I was glad of the outcome. That it was for the best.”
Alec opens his mouth, ready to launch into a spiel explaining in great detail all the reasons why Magnus is quite literally a hero, the best person Alec’s ever met, a success in every way that matters – Alec can probably take up entire hour with that speech if he lets himself.
But he doesn’t.
Instead he asks, “Why d’you think you failed?”
Magnus gives him a disbelieving look. “Alexander, you can’t be serious.”
“You know I’m a big proponent of defined roles and direct channels of authority,” says Alec wryly, “but sometimes the people at the top can make a bad decision.”
He doesn't talk yet about the parts: that Magnus can still help the warlocks he sees himself responsible for. He can still negotiate with the other leaders because of the relationships he's built with them. He'll always have an ally in Alec, for whatever that means. It's something Magnus already knows. This is about something else.
“It wasn’t just a bad decision,” says Magnus, voice tight. “I made a severe error in judgment when I formed an alliance with the Seelie Queen.”
“You were trying to save the warlocks,” points out Alec. “And in the aftermath – everyone is all right.”
“Alec,” says Magnus, still looking uncomprehending. “Why are you possibly defending – you were completely against this whole thing from the start!”
“Yeah,” says Alec. “But I understood what was going through your head.”
“Well, even with the gift of hindsight that only makes one of us," mutters Magnus.
His beautiful face is drawn with stress and frustration and deeply resigned sorrow. The sight of it makes Alec’s heart ache, even as his resolve strengthens.
“So you made a mistake,” says Alec, paraphrasing all that into what he thinks is at the root of the matter. “And in our jobs – in your job – there isn’t room for mistakes. Even if it’s with the best of intentions.”
Alec must have done too good of a job summarizing because Magnus closes his eyes, as though to protect himself from the weight of it.
“Yes,” he whispers.
“I know that that’s how life works,” says Alec. “But that totally sucks.”
Magnus laughs a little, and it sounds choked. “Yeah, it really does.”
Alec knows all about mistakes, of the consequences of his actions. Knowing exactly what he has to lose. Knowing that at the end of the day, everything from his job to this sweet, tentative thing between him and Magnus – it’s all conditional on Alec’s performance.
But Magnus shouldn’t have that worry.
Biting his lip, Alec says, “But between us, you don’t have to get it right all the time. You said you didn’t want me to see you as a failure, and what happened – it doesn’t make me think any less of you. You’re still you. Half this city will go to war behind you because of everything you did for them. It might – it might make other people who don’t know you, who only saw you as the High Warlock think differently–”
“That’s not a might, Alexander. That’s a definite yes.” But he doesn’t look away from Alec, and it gives Alec hope that what he’s saying is giving Magnus even the slightest sense of hope, serenity – however minute.
“Fine,” huffs Alec. “But they don’t know you. They only know a part of you. And it’s an important part, I know. Which is why I also know that if being High Warlock is something you really want – I know you’re going to get that back.”
From the way Magnus’ eyes widen, it’s the first time he’s come across this idea all day.
“What?” he asks, voice scratchy.
“You’re Magnus Bane,” reminds Alec. “And even before you were High Warlock – I didn’t have to know you back then to know you were always someone who didn’t know how to lose. And if you want to fight for this title – I’m in your corner, Magnus. One hundred percent.”
By the time Alec’s done, he feels like he’s run a hundred miles. His heart is racing, and the harsh pace of it steps up a notch when he lets himself recognize the intensity in Magnus’ gaze. His wet eyes have gone gold and he has ceased blinking. And despite Alec’s growing tension at the silence that has befallen them, he stands by everything he said.
He’ll do whatever is needed to protect Magnus from misfortune, and having that out of his reach, Alec will do what he can to be the safe harbour Magnus needs until he is ready to step back into the ring. And when the time comes that Magnus wants to fight, Alec will be Magnus’ champion, his warrior.
When Magnus finally speaks, he asks, almost wonderingly, “How did you stumble into my life, Alec Lightwood?”
Relief unspools inside of Alec. He holds out his hand and Magnus wordlessly interlocks their fingers together, squeezing tight.
“I love you,” says Magnus, quietly. “And I wish we had this talk this morning. I don’t – I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself. To us.”
Alec frowns. “Do what?”
“Keep thinking that I know how this is going to go,” says Magnus, and he looks away from Alec’s eyes for what seems like the first time tonight. “Not just us, as a whole, but – every conversation, every obstacle. I don’t know why I can’t stop thinking that, when I know I’ve never had what I have with you before. When you keep proving me wrong at every turn.”
“Magnus,” says Alec, now starting to feel almost uncomfortable. “C’mon, you’ve–”
Magnus shaking his head in disagreement stops Alec in his tracks. “That day when I told you that you were new to me,” he says, “I had no idea what that would mean.”
Alec remembers that conversation with crystal clarity. He knows what he had meant when he said all this was new to him – not just Magnus, but the idea of this kind of love in his life overall. And all this time he’s thought that what Magnus had meant when he had said the same was that every person is different. That every relationship is new. And in that way, they were in the same unchartered territory.
But now – the way Magnus says it, the weight behind his words – it sounds like he means something else entirely.
Quietly, Alec says, “I hope it ended up meaning something good.”
Magnus' response is to lean in and press a sweet, unhurried kiss against Alec’s mouth. Alec takes that to be an affirmative. He sighs into it, and once more he finds that it’s the easiest thing to let everything else fall away. If words from Alec are like kisses to Magnus, then for Alec it's the opposite - every kiss from Magnus are all the words Magnus can't quite say, but is heard by Alec's heart all the same.
It’s after midnight, now, and this is how today begins.