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Between the Shadow and the Soul

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Silken sheets wrapped around his waist. A strong, heavy arm laid across his chest. Warm breath puffing against his neck.

Loneliness. Deep, relentless, agonizing sadness.

Alec’s eyes twitch open.

Another wave of anguish shoots through his body like a bolt of lightning. Alec feels a tugging sensation in his throat, and tears spring from his eyes, unbidden. They roll down his cheeks when he blinks them away.

A thought flies into his head that doesn’t belong to him. They’re all dead because of me.

Everything hurts.

Alec pinches the bridge of his nose to try and siphon away some of the phantom pain in his head. “Shit.”

Jace has always had more nightmares than Alec, but they haven’t been this bad since… By the Angel. Since Jace first came back from being under Sebastian’s control.

Alec wants to burrow deeper into Magnus’s chest. He wants to go back to sleep, and forget this ever happened. But he can’t.

Alec gently disentangles himself from Magnus’s embrace, every muscle in his body protesting at the effort. He flips the covers off his body and gets as far as putting one foot on the ground before a hand wraps around his wrist. Alec turns his head toward the movement and chuckles softly. Magnus’s eyes are still closed. His grip on Alec’s wrist is slack, tightening every few seconds as Magnus fights a losing battle to stay awake.

Alec leans forward and smooths Magnus’s hair back from his forehead. He lifts Magnus’s hand off his arm and places it back on the bed. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Wha’s goin’ on?”

“I need to go check on Jace,” Alec whispers. “He doesn’t feel right.”

Magnus lets out a sad whine.

“I don’t feel right,” he mumbles into the pillow. “I’m being abandoned. And now the bed is cold.”

Alec chuckles. “Haven’t even left the bed yet, you know.”

“It’s antici…” He cuts himself off with a yawn. “Anticipat-ori-ally cold.”

Alec leans down and kisses him, right on the nose, just to see it scrunch up. “You know that’s not a word.”

“It is, though.”

“Go back to sleep. I’m sure it’s nothing, but I just need to make sure. I’ll be back in an hour or two, tops.”

Alec makes it halfway across the room before Magnus whispers something else.

“Promise?”

Alec turns back. Magnus’s eyes are open now, but he hasn’t moved from where he was curled around Alec on the bed. Strips of moonlight that managed to get past the curtains cover his body like silk. It makes his eyes shine in the darkness.

He’s biting his lip.

It takes all of Alec’s willpower not to dive back under the covers, emotions coming through the parabatai bond be damned.

Alec strides back over to the bed and cups Magnus’s face in his hands. He kisses him as sweetly as he knows how, just for a second. He closes his eyes, taking a brief moment to drink in the feeling of their foreheads pressing together.

“I promise.”


 

When Alec steps outside, drawing his jacket tighter around him to stave off the chill, his eyes are drawn irresistibly upwards.

It’s a full moon tonight.

 


 

 

When Alec gets to the Institute, all the lights are still off, but he has no trouble finding his way to Jace’s room. He’s walked this path so many times in his life, he’s honestly surprised that there aren't indentations in the wood shaped like his footsteps.

He takes out his stele to draw an Unlock rune on the door without thinking about it- Jace always locks his door- but his hand is met with open air.

Jace’s door is open.

Which means there’s someone else inside.

Alec feels like an idiot. Of course Clary is in there with him. She probably knew Jace was having nightmares before Alec did, if she was sleeping right next to him.

There was no reason for Alec to come all the way into the city. He could still be in bed with Magnus right now.

Alec had panicked when he’d felt the nightmare. He never would have gone to all this trouble for some bad dreams before everything happened with Sebastian. But that was how Lilith had gotten Jace- by taking over his dreams, infiltrating his thoughts, chipping him away bit by bit. And it had all happened so slowly, so much else had been going on, that Alec hadn’t noticed. He isn’t the least bit sorry for being careful this time.

But as much as Alec’s nervous mind wants to convince him otherwise, this isn’t some demonic curse. Jace has been to hell and back- quite literally -and both Sebastian and Lilith are gone forever. It was foolish to think that Jace still needs him in times like this. Sure, Jace is always there for Alec when he needs it the most, and Alec’s there even more often than that. But Jace has his own life, now, and so does Alec. They’ve grown apart.

A pang shoots through Alec’s chest at the thought. But more than anything, he wants to go back home.

Just as Alec is working up the courage to turn on his heel and run all the way back into Magnus’s arms, a soft sound drifts out of Jace’s room. Not crying, or shouting, or anything Alec expects to hear.

A voice. Singing. A decidedly masculine voice, that is definitely not Jace.

Alec inches toward the door. He grabs his stele from the holster on his belt and scrawls a hasty Night Vision rune on his wrist. He pushes the door open just enough for him to peek around it. Jace is lying in his bed, sheets twisted around his legs and tears running down his face, and-

Simon is sitting next to him .

Simon.

Of all the people in the world, Alec can say with absolute certainty that he did not expect his sister’s boyfriend to be in Jace’s room.

He’s singing something that’s strangely familiar to Alec, but he can’t quite figure out why.

 

“Picture yourself in a boat on a river

With tangerine trees and marmalade skies…”

 

Simon's pausing after every couple of words. His voice shakes slightly, but he hasn’t moved from his spot next to Jace on the bed. His face is scrunched up in uncertainty, but Jace gasps out another sob and his expression melts.

 

“Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,

A girl with kaleidoscope eyes…”

 

Simon lifts his hand toward Jace’s face, fingers outstretched, but pulls back at the last second.

Alec doesn’t think Simon is blinking.

 

“Cellophane flowers of yellow and green…”

 

Jace’s arm twitches on the bed, and Alec feels his heart stop. He’ll have to intervene if Jace wakes up. He can’t let Simon get punched in the face just for trying to help Jace with his nightmares.

But Simon doesn’t seem to have noticed.

 

“Towering over your head…”

 

Quick as a flash, Jace reaches over and grabs Simon’s hand, his eyes not even opening.

 

Look for the-

 

Simon cuts himself off. He holds himself unnaturally still, tension coiling in his wiry frame. He looks ready to run. Or to slap Jace’s hand away. Or both.

Alec keeps his eyes on Simon and reaches for the door handle. It’s time to let them know he’s here.

But then Simon curls his fingers around Jace’s and leans forward. He uses the fingers of his other hand to brush Jace’s matted hair off his forehead.

He starts singing again. His voice isn’t nearly as shaky this time.

 

“Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes, and she’s gone.”

 

Simon taps his finger on the bed, his head bobbing with each beat. One, two, three...

 

“Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds...”

 

Jace has quieted down. The tears are beginning to dry on his face. His chest still shakes every now and then with hitching breaths, but the worst of it seems to be over. Alec lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding.

Simon blinks. His soft smile drifts off his face, replaced by a guarded, blank expression. Jace is alright now. There’s no reason for him to stay.

Is there?

Simon gently takes his hand out of Jace’s and crawls off the bed. He starts toward the door, and Alec scrambles out of the way. Alec is standing right against the wall in the hallway. But if he keeps quiet, Simon isn’t trained well enough to notice him.

Simon steps into the hallway, but turns back to look at Jace again. Alec can’t see the expression on his face. He doesn’t think he’d recognize it, even if he could.

Simon whispers something, so quietly that Alec can’t make it out, even with the Hearing rune scrawled on his forearm. Then, he bolts.

Alec walks back over to Jace’s room and sneaks a peek at him lying there on the bed. Jace just makes a snuffling noise and snuggles deeper into his pillow.

Alec has to resist the urge to laugh.

He leaves Jace’s door open and heads back into the night.

 


 

 

It’s only later, once Alec’s sitting on the train back to Brooklyn, blowing his eardrums out with some alt-rock playlist of Izzy’s to stay awake, that he realizes what Simon said.

Goodnight, love.

 


 

 

Alec stumbles blearily through the door to the apartment. Magnus is sitting in the high-backed armchair in the living room, wrapped in his fluffy black robe. His hair is lying flat on his head, for once, and he’s holding a thick book in his arms.

Magnus looks up at the sound of the door opening. His face splits into a grin. “Alexander! You’re back sooner than I expected. What happened? Is everything alright?”

Alec opens his mouth before closing it again. How the hell is he supposed to explain what happened when he doesn’t understand it himself?

Alec throws himself onto the couch- now overstuffed, white, and covered with pink throw pillows- and rattles off the story. Magnus listens intently, his elbows balanced on the book with his hands folded, his thumbs pressing against his lips.

When Alec finishes rambling, Magnus hums in consideration. “It’s about time.”

Alec’s eyebrows shoot into his hairline. “What does that mean?”

Magnus smirks.

“You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

He shrugs. “It depends.”

Alec climbs off the couch. He rips his jacket from his shoulders and throws it in the general direction of the closet.

“I’m going to make a pot of coffee,” he says, trudging over to the kitchen counter. “And then another pot of coffee. And then I’ll make one for you.”

“Wait,” Magnus says.

Alec turns, confused.

“It’s just that...I’ve had a brilliant idea.”

Alec drags his hands down his face. “By the Angel.”

Magnus places his book on the floor, stands from his chair, and waves his hands in what Alec now knows is an intentionally theatrical fashion. The book closes itself and flies back to its place on the bookshelf. All the furniture lifts from the floor and flies to various corners of the house. The rug nearly hits Alec in the face on its way to the kitchen.

“Sorry!”

Once everything has stopped moving, Alec shoots Magnus an unimpressed look.

“What is it?”

A sly smile spreads itself across Magnus’s face. “Sheldon, of all people, put me in a musical mood.”

Despite himself, Alec grins when Magnus gets Simon’s name wrong on purpose. “What do you mean?”

“I’m going to teach you how to dance.”

“No.” Alec tries to step away, but Magnus grabs his wrist. “No way.”

Magnus just keeps smiling.

“It’s, like, four in the morning!” Alec protests.

“Five-thirty. It’s too late to go back to sleep, but much too early to do anything that requires real clothes.”

It’s true. Alec’s mind is too full to sleep, anyway.

But Alec’s still wired to flinch every time he hears the word “dance” in the same sentence as "teach." It plunges him back into nauseating memories of arms held upright at sharp angles. Knobbly elbows banging together. Sweaty palms glued together in the air. The thin-lipped instructor from Idris smiling fiendishly at the gaggle of kids as she barked instructions. All the other boys spending the whole time pressed up against the girls, trying to cop a feel.

Needless to say, it wasn’t a very pleasant experience for Alec.

But now, in their living room, sunlight is just beginning to stream through the windows. Magnus tilts his head, his lower lip jutting out and his eyebrows raised.

Alec sighs. There’s no persuading Magnus when he really wants something. “Come on! You got me to try Ethiopian food, like, two nights ago. Isn’t that enough adventure for at least a week?”

“There’s never enough adventure, Alexander,” Magnus says gleefully.

But Alec must let some of his insecurity and panic bleed through to the expression on his face, because Magnus’s eyes soften. He steps forward and takes Alec’s hands in his own. Alec can’t pretend not to be mesmerized by how Magnus’s thumb swipes rhythmically across his wrist.

“We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Magnus says quietly. “But I think it would be fun.”

Alec stares at him.

“And,” Magnus adds, “there’s bound to be a wedding soon. For someone, I’m sure. You’ll need the skills.”

Alec finally lets himself smile. “Yeah, I’m sure your interests are purely selfless. All for the greater good. Not self-serving at all.”

Magnus beams.

He steps away and waves his hand in a flourish at the far wall. An old fashioned record player appears on the table next to the windowsill (with one of those funnel horns and everything, really?).

Magnus squints at him. “What should I play?”

Alec considers it. He’s honestly the worst person to ask this sort of question, but…

“Something that makes you happy,” Alec says.

Magnus blinks in surprise. But after a moment, he snaps his fingers again, and a large, pink album appears in his hands. Édith Piaf, it says.

He strides over to the record player and gently slides the record out of its rose-colored sheath. Magnus places it reverently in its place of honor and lifts the needle, taking the time to press it exactly where he wants it before stepping away.

He could have done all that with magic, Alec knows. But Magnus told him once that he finds pleasure in the simple things. Sandalwood shampoo. Writing with a real, wooden fountain pen. A kiss after a long day. Placing a needle on a record.

The record player crackles to life.

What are those, violins?

Something about the way it sounds tells Alec that this isn’t some two-bit record Magnus bought from an antiques shop. This is a record Magnus has had since it was new.

Everyone playing instruments on this record is, most likely, dead now. For some reason, that doesn’t bother Alec as much as he thought it would.

Magnus must have maintained it magically, somehow, because it sounds nothing like the staticky music in  old movies. It sounds real. Relevant. And so full of love that Alec’s getting a little choked up thinking about it.

A woman begins to sing in rapid-fire French.

 

“Des yeux qui font baisser les miens,

Un rire qui se perd sur sa bouche…”

 

Alec catches only a few words. Eyes. Laugh. Lips.

 

“Voilà le portrait sans retouche…”

 

He frowns. Sure, the woman is holding the last syllable of each line so it sounds like a musical note, but this song doesn’t really have a beat to dance to.

Like he can read Alec’s mind, Magnus shakes his head. “Just wait.”

Alec waits, ready to open his mouth and complain. But all of a sudden, the music swells, and…

Oh.

Magnus holds out his hand, and Alec stares at it.

In Idris, Alec always kept his hand on his partner’s shoulder blades, eyes downcast. The teacher’s instructions had always been the only thing he allowed himself to think about.

This, though- this is different.

Alec doesn’t know how to dance with someone he actually likes, much less someone he…

Someone he loves.

To music that sounds like this.

Just as Magnus’s face begins to fall, Alec takes his hand.

Magnus will show him how.

But when Magnus pulls him close, Alec freezes again.

Which one of them is going to be the girl? He guesses it would make sense for him to be, since Magnus is just slightly taller. But does that mean Magnus’s hand is going to stay on his shoulder blades the whole time? He doesn’t want that.

“Stop worrying,” Magnus says.

Alec barks a laugh. “I’m not.”

Magnus raises an eyebrow, a smile playing on his lips. “Yes, you are. But you shouldn’t. This’ll be fun.”

“But- oh.”

Magnus takes Alec’s free hand and places it just above his waist. Not too low, but not too high, either.

Out of habit, Alec’s sticking his elbow out like an idiot. Magnus gently pulls it down and takes another step towards him, so they’re practically touching.

Dancing was never like this.

Magnus starts to lead him in a simple box step, timed to the rise and fall of the music. It’s weird, being the one led in dancing instead of the one doing the leading. But Alec thinks he likes it.

Alec matches him step for step, and Magnus raises his eyebrows again, quizzically this time.

“I may have taken dance lessons as a kid,” Alec mumbles.

A slow grin spreads itself out on Magnus’s face. He turns them every few steps, so instead of just moving in the same patch of floor, they’re spinning around the room. It’s dizzying, but Alec doesn’t think his lightheadedness is from the turns.

 

“Il est entré dans mon coeur

Une part de bonheur

Dont je connais la cause…”

 

“You know,” Alec realizes, still moving, “this really isn’t fair. You know French.”

“Well, I suppose I’ll have to translate, then.”

Magnus leans closer until their faces are right next to each other, side by side. With the slight inch Magnus has on Alec, his mouth comes up right against the top of Alec’s ear. He doesn’t even have to lean down for Alec to hear him sing.

 

“When you kiss me, heaven sighs,

And though I close my eyes,

I see life in pink...”

 

Alec lets his eyes drift closed.

“There’s no way the literal translation also rhymes in English,” Alec mumbles.

“Hush.”

Alec thinks Magnus’s eyes are closed now, too.

 

“When you press me to your heart

I’m in a world apart

A world where roses bloom…”

 

Magnus’s singing voice is deeper than Alec would’ve thought. It’s barely a murmur, a whisper of what Magnus could sound like if he wasn’t trying not to drown out the sound of the record.

Isn’t it stereotypical to call a voice “husky”?

Alec remembers Isabelle bursting into his room one night, laughing like a maniac. “Look!” she said between cackles, shoving a book under his nose. “Isn’t that the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen?”

His voice is warm and husky like dark chocolate fudge caramel...or something, it read.

But with every inch of their bodies touching, with Magnus’s breath warm and comforting against his face, there’s really no other way to describe it.

Alec drifts out of his thoughts. At some point, Magnus stopped singing.

“What are you thinking about?” Magnus asks softly. They're still pressed together, their dancing reduced to tiny sways from side to side.

“Chocolate,” Alec blurts against Magnus’s neck.

Magnus laughs in surprise. It makes the muscles in his shoulder shift and tense under Alec’s hand. “I’m trying to woo you here, you know. And much less importantly, refresh your dancing skills.”

Heat blooms high on Alec’s cheeks. He turns to bury his face in Magnus’s neck to hide it, but Magnus must be able to feel his grin. Magnus simply laughs again and holds him tighter.

 

“And when you speak,

Angels sing from above.

Everyday words seem

To turn into love songs…”

 

The song has turned instrumental now, but Magnus hasn’t moved away.

“I’m kind of curious,” Alec says. “What do you think was going on with Jace and Simon?”

For a second, Alec is terrified that Magnus’ll be angry at him. For changing the subject. For ruining the mood.

But, of course, he isn’t.

Alec has read a lot of books. He’s watched Izzy and Jace hook up with countless people in bars, fall in love more than once, and get their hearts shattered into pieces. But what no one ever told him, what he never saw in any of the relationships he’d witnessed, was how comfortable it was to be in love with someone. Alec could talk to Magnus about anything. He wouldn’t get mad, or roll his eyes in disinterest, or tell Alec he was being silly. Magnus would actually listen to what Alec had to say, no matter what it was. And every time it happened, Alec was surprised.

Just like he always does, Magnus hums, considering Alec’s question.

“You know,” he says, after a long moment, “there’s this famous quote from a man named Richard Siken. He’s a phenomenal queer poet. His writings are…” Magnus shakes his head, overwhelmed. He clears his throat. “Well. Definitely worth a read. But this line of his has always made me think.”

Alec’s eyebrows quirk up. “What’s it say?”

“‘I sleep. I dream. I make up things I would never say. I say them very quietly.’”

Alec lets the words roll around in his mind for a minute. “So...Simon doesn’t actually hate Jace, after all this? He’s just too stupid to admit that he wants to be friends when both of them are awake?”

Magnus pauses. Alec can feel his smile against his cheek. “Something like that.”

The song has finally stopped playing. The record’s still turning, though. The faint static coming from the speakers feels like a warm blanket wrapped around Alec’s shoulders. They’re still dancing. It’s really just holding each other while standing awkwardly in the middle of the room. But Alec never wants to do any other kind of dancing again.

Even so, it's been far too long since he’s looked at Magnus’s face.

Alec pulls away just far enough to look him in the eyes. “You know what all this dancing has made me want?”

The skin around Magnus’s eyes crinkles with amusement. “Chocolate?”

Alec’s confused for a minute. Then he remembers, and his chest tightens with embarrassment. Husky voice indeed.

Alec shakes his head. The grin on his face is starting to hurt, but he finds that he doesn’t particularly mind. Something about this night has made him feel giddy, almost drunk with how little he cares about what he’s supposed to be doing. “No. Something sweeter.”

Magnus’s eyes widen to the size of saucers when he realizes.

“Alexander Lightwood,” he breathes, the look on his face something akin to awe. “Are you flirting with me?”

“I’m sure it’s just the sleep deprivation,” Alec says. But when Magnus kisses him, slow and deep, he’s still smiling.