Magnus was humming under his breath as he puttered around in his study. He’d had an easy day, with a few clients who had come to him with problems that had been easy to solve. Now he was cleaning up a bit after his last potion which, admittedly, had been a bit messy, but everything involving wolfsbane pollen had the tendency to react a little volatile.
So far, so good. He had dinner planned as well, although he knew that Alec’s job is prone to destroy dinner plans on a regular basis. Nothing a little magic couldn’t solve, however, so he got ready and took a shower to get rid of the stench of scorched pollen.
Looking at himself in the mirror afterwards he then tried to decide on a style and colour scheme of make-up. Sure, he could use magic for that. But his bitter little experience three years ago had taught him to never ever let his skills get so rusty again. So ever since, he styled himself the mundane way at least once a week. Same with the food; he had learned and practised how to prepare all kinds of dishes and baked goods, and had to admit it had a certain satisfaction to pull a bread out of the oven that had been made by his own hands, not magic.
Alec approved. By now. In the beginning Magnus’ attempts had been less than satisfactorily and sometimes outright disappointing, but Alec would rather cut off his own foot than make Magnus feel bad about something he put so much effort in, so he had eaten it anyway without as much as a twitch of his lips. Thankfully, Magnus had quickly improved.
“Looking good,” he said to himself, looking at his mirror image, and winked at himself. Forcing those memories out of his mind he left the bathroom to get dressed.
Unsurprisingly, Alec was late for dinner.
Late turned into very late.
And just as Magnus began to worry, his phone rang. Preparing himself for a cancelled dinner and a lonely evening, Magnus picked up his phone.
Alec’s voice made him frown and a knot of worry formed in his stomach.
“It’s... complicated.” Alec took a deep breath. “Earlier today we...” Then Alec huffed and cleared his throat. “Listen, I don’t want to explain this over the phone. Could you come to the Institute?”
“Yes, I know...” Alec’s voice was heavy. “I know we had dinner planned and everything, but this... it’s important. I really... you should come to the Institute.”
“All right.” Magnus was already on his way to the door. “Since I know you never ask me things like that for shits and giggles, here I come.”
There wasn’t a trace of relief in Alec’s voice and Magnus frowned at the screen for a moment before he shrugged and pocketed his phone.
After stepping out of the portal in front of the Institute Magnus rolled his shoulders and headed for the door, all the time wondering what could possibly have Alec so worried.
It got worse when he saw Alec’s face as he entered the Institute. He was waiting for Magnus in the entryway, pacing back and forth with crossed arms, his shoulders tense. His mouth was a thin line, and his hair was a mess, a sure sign of having dug his hands into it repeatedly.
Alec tried to smile at him, but failed utterly. “Thanks for coming.”
“What seems to be the problem?”
Alec remained silent as they strode down the corridors of the Institute. Even as they entered the back elevator into the vaults, Alec hadn’t spoken another word.
“Alexander, I’m really worried now.” Magnus touched his shoulder.
“I don’t know how to...” Alec closed his eyes and swallowed. “This is...”
The elevator doors opened and the two stepped out and walked down the corridor towards the holding cell. A man was sitting on a chair behind the glass, dressed in worn, almost threadbare clothes and a coat with a high collar that was chafed through at the elbows. Long, black hair hung around his face in slightly greasy strands. He was wearing sunglasses, and he sat hunched over, as if he was in pain, or in fear. Or maybe both.
“We found him creeping around the Institute earlier today,” Alec explained. “He set off the Downworlder sensors.”
“Surely not another Daylighter, or you wouldn’t be so out of sorts,” Magnus said, casting Alec a short, worried look.
“No vampire, no werewolf. He’s a warlock, and he came here to ask specifically for your help.”
The man looked up slowly, but his eyes were hidden behind the dark shades.
After a moment, Magnus inhaled deeply when he realised that more than just the unkempt appearance was off.
“Why is he down here, but not in magic-suppressing shackles?”
Alec nervously licked his lips a few times before he answered.
“He says he can’t use magic.”
A heavy silence dropped around them.
Alec took another deep breath. “But that’s not the only issue. Nobody but Izzy, Jace, and Underhill know he’s here, by the way, and I think it has to stay that way.”
“Will you please get to the point, Alexander.” Magnus was beginning to feel physically uncomfortable under the stare of the warlock that he couldn’t even see.
“He hasn’t spoken a word after asking for you,” Alec went on. “So hopefully he’ll talk to you now.”
“Why should he talk to me? Because I’m a warlock?”
“Too?” Magnus crossed his arms. “Alexander, stop being so cryptic. Why can’t you not just tell me what the matter is with this guy?”
Alec turned around to look at him. “Sorry, this threw me off track. I didn’t want it to happen to you as well. But there isn’t...” He huffed and turned around, and switched on the intercom.
The warlock got up from his chair and walked slowly towards the glass separating him from Magnus and Alec. He was tall, as tall as Alec, but very lean, the coat hanging off his shoulders.
“Magnus...” he said, and his voice was low, slightly husky, and vibrating with an emotion that was impossible to identify. Then he reached up and slowly, pulled the sunglasses off his face.
Magnus felt as if someone had punched him off the roof of a building, all his breath leaving his chest at once. It wasn’t only the face that looked eerily familiar, it was the eyes too, looking at him from what he felt was beyond the grave.
The golden cat eyes rested on him unblinkingly for a long moment, and the thin lips curved into a smile that was all too familiar too, albeit from another face. He dimly registered Alec’s hand on his shoulders.
The warlock on the other side of the glass stepped a little closer. His face was narrow, the cheekbones almost protruding under the pale skin; he looked gaunt, as if he hadn’t eaten properly in weeks, if not months. His voice was low, and the tremor of exhaustion fit the shadows under his eyes, but not the attempt at a smile.