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“That was the worst one yet.”

 

A laugh chases the words from Alec’s mouth, leaving in its wake a smile so wide his cheeks hurt.

 

He’s stretched across Magnus’ bed, spread out like he owns the place. And even though Alec’s only given him a thin line of real estate along the edge of the bed, Magnus doesn’t seem to mind the arrangement one little bit. But that could just be because Alec’s head’s been resting on his thigh for the better part of the last hour.

 

It’s only been a few weeks since they got Jace back, but Alec already feels more comfortable here than pretty much anywhere else in his entire life. And yeah, they’re still looking for Valentine, and war is still brewing on the horizon or whatever, but nights like this are precious to him. The stolen moments where he can disappear for a while, just him and Magnus. 

 

“What?” Magnus barks out with feigned hurt as he tugs on where his fingers have been curled in Alec’s hair ever since he had the amazing idea to lay in his lap. “That was my favorite one!”

 

Babe,” he groans. “It was so bad. Your poems are so bad.”

 

They’re not all haikus as he was lead to believe, but they are all terrible. Which is another thing he and Catarina can commiserate about the next time they talk.

 

Magnus shakes his head like there’s no way he could possibly accept as truth that he’s not an underappreciated artist. “I don’t think you’re getting the nuances, Alexander. Let me read it again.”

 

“Please don’t.”

 

Magnus shushes him. “Be quiet and listen.”

 

Alec goes to get up at that, the smile still playing at his lips when he says, “I think I’m needed back at the Institute.”

 

It doesn’t surprise him when Magnus grabs the back of his shirt and drags him down to the bed. Neither does the tone of his voice – more playful than agitated – when he says, “Fine, I’ll stop. I don’t know why I even bother with you anyway. You have terrible taste.”

 

Alec snorts. “You do know you just sort of insulted yourself there, right?”

 

He tips his head up just in time to catch Magnus glaring at him. “Terrible taste in all things except partners. Like literature. And clothing.”

 

“Hey, what’s wrong with my clothes?”

 

“Gray is not a style, Alec. It’s barely even a color.”

 

Alec smiles. Because for some reason, even when Magnus is mocking him, he can’t seem to help himself. And it strikes him suddenly that he is screwed. He is so, so screwed. But he guesses it’s good that he can recognize that now. Maybe that means he’ll be able to get through this without drowning.

 

Again.

 

“Well, if you hate my clothes so much, why don’t you come down here and take them off?”

 

The words are out of his mouth before he can even properly think them, which is another new addition to his life, this ability to just speak. And it’s pretty much hit or miss at this point in time, and usually way more miss than hit. But every now and again he manages to say something that actually resembles the speech of a normal human being capable of flirting. Which is pretty miraculous in and of itself.

 

“That’s a marvelous idea,” Magnus says, his voice all liquid and heat.

 

And it makes Alec’s throat so tight he almost can’t get enough air to say, “Yeah, well I’m due one or two of those every couple of months. Might as well make use of them.”

 

His head thuds lightly on the mattress when Magnus swings his legs off the bed in order to free himself to crawl on top of Alec. And the way he hovers over him like he’s getting ready to do push-ups, the fabric of his shirt pulled tight over his muscles, makes all coherent thought flee Alec’s head like his mind is on fire. And not the kind where you can stand outside your house and wait for the fire department but, like, a forest fire, the kind that calls for citywide evacuation.

 

He puts his hands under Magnus’ shirt, rides his palms over his stomach, his hips, then back around to the small of his back before wrapping his arms around his waist and tugging him down into him. And it stuns him, just like always, how well they seem to fit together as all the hills of Magnus’ body settle into all the valleys of Alec’s.

 

The kiss is lazy, warm, the kind of thing that implies promise while reminding you that you’ve got time. And he and Magnus have had a lot of different kisses, so many that Alec has started categorizing them, making lists in his head because Alec likes lists. Likes order. And this one, right here? This is one of his favorites.

 

It’s a kiss of exploration, of searching for the spots that make Magnus whimper, the ones that make him moan. And it’ll build eventually. Unless they’re interrupted, it always does. But the longer they’re together, the more they seem to be content with taking their time, getting to know each other in every way imaginable.

 

The first few times they’d tried it, going slow, Alec was the one to push it, desperately wanting more, faster, harder, now. But he’s grown to appreciate the softness of these moments, the rarest commodity in their relationship given what their lives have become outside of this, outside of them. And so tonight, he’s just going to let it take its course.

 

They’ve only gotten one article of clothing off between the two of them – Magnus’ shirt – when there’s a knock on the door. And even though the heat in Magnus’ eyes says he wants to ignore it, the desperation of the knock itself makes that a practical impossibility.

 

That and the fact that it’s the middle of the night, and people don’t usually just panic pound on your door in the middle of the night if it’s not important.

 

“You, stay,” Magnus almost purrs, the catlike yellow slipping back to brown as he leans down to give Alec one final kiss, a scrape of teeth along his jaw. “I’m not finished with you yet.”

 

Alec just smiles as he links his fingers behind his head and trails Magnus’ movement towards the door. His voice heavy when he replies, “I won’t move a muscle.”

 

It’s a promise he intends to keep, and one that almost puts him to sleep until he hears a loud pounding and even louder voices rise from downstairs.

 

He’s out of bed quickly, making his way to the spiral staircase that now leads to Magnus’ bedroom because sometime shortly after he and Magnus got together, something inspired him to move the entire room upstairs. But he doesn’t go past the top few steps because this is business, he can tell that already from the tone of the woman’s voice carrying down the hall. And he’s not about to stick his head into Magnus’ business unless it's absolutely necessary.

 

Unless there’s a threat.

 

“When did her mark appear?” Magnus says, his tone from a few minutes ago already lost in something harsh and cold.

 

“A few days ago,” the woman says shakily.

 

“Lena, why didn’t you call me?”

 

“I thought it would be fine, Magnus!” she bites out defensively. “She’s such a quiet girl. And her father wasn’t exactly the strongest of us. I thought that when it came time, I would be able to handle it.”

 

“So they manifested then? Her powers?”

 

“Yes,” she – Lena – says, her voice quieting so much that it’s even difficult for Alec to hear her when she adds, “There… there was a neighbor, Magnus. A mundane.”

 

A chill runs up Alec’s spine when Magnus asks, “How bad?”

 

“He’s… he’s dead.”

 

Something flashes out of the corner of Alec’s eyes just then, and he’s surprised he didn’t notice her before – the girl, no more than twelve, sitting on Magnus’ couch. She shudders at the word dead, red sparks flicking off the bare skin of her arms, her neck. And she looks so completely terrified that Alec is moving before he even puts a conscious thought to the action.

 

He grabs his jacket from the arm of the chair before approaching her, making sure to stay far enough away so as not to spook her. 

 

“You look cold,” he says in response to her shivering. And the way she darts her eyes up at him like she’s afraid he’s got a gun in his hands ready to fire makes something twist in his gut.

 

“May I?” he asks through the knot in his throat, holding his jacket out in offering.

 

She nods, allowing him to wrap the jacket over her shoulders. But when he sits on the couch next to her, he still makes sure to give her enough space to feel comfortable. Because the last thing he wants to be right now is intrusive.

 

As soon as she meets his eyes, she looks away, tipping her head down to try and hide the warlock mark Magnus and Lena were talking about – deep red eyes with black veins cutting down from them like morbid tear tracks. It’s hardly the most shocking thing he’s ever seen, though, and so he lets his expression slip to the softest smile he owns – the one he saves for Max, Izzy, and now Magnus – and risks hooking a knuckle gently under her chin so he can tip her face back up to look at him.

 

He pulls his hand back, brushing the tip of her nose on the way, and says, “I'm Alec.”

 

“Zoe,” she says quietly, her voice hoarse from crying, he’d be willing to bet, as the sounds of the discussion in the other room continue to carry to them in sharp, heated snatches.

 

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Zoe,” he replies, raising his voice to try and drown out everything else. “I like your mark. It’s pretty awesome.”

 

She raises her hands to her face in an attempt to cover up, her eyes wide in horror at the mere mention of it. And even though he should probably stop touching her without invitation, he still finds himself reaching out to lower her hands.

 

“Yours is way cooler than Magnus’,” he says. “All he has are cat eyes. Which, you know, can get pretty boring after the first time or two you see them.”

 

That’s a lie. A flat out, complete fabrication. The way Alec’s stomach rolls at the mere mention of them says as much. But he’s trying to make her feel better here, and so a little lying can’t hurt.

 

“I… I remember you,” she says in response to his comment about Magnus, which actually isn’t a response at all so much as it’s a complete course alteration.

 

“You do?”

 

“You were at the lair when… when it was attacked. You were one of the angels that saved us.”

 

The word, “Oh,” puffs out of him as his memory clicks back into place of the day he met Magnus. Of so many slaughtered warlocks strewn around the loft and one little girl, lost in the midst.

 

He didn’t recognize her with her mark.

 

“We’re not angels,” he corrects because he feels like maybe he should. But the way she looks up at him, red eyes full of a sense of awe and gratitude, makes him think she doesn’t quite believe him.

 

“My dad, he was… he was killed that night,” she stammers, and when the tears escape her eyes they’re deep red too, like blood, following the black tracks down her face.

 

He puts his hand on her shoulder, fairly confident she won’t mind given her previous reactions to his touch.  

 

“I’m sorry, Zoe.”

 

But instead of staying on that same path, she widens her eyes and asks, “Are they going to kill me?”

 

“Is who going to kill you?”

 

“The Clave. Are they going… are they going to kill me for what… for what I did… what I...”

 

Her panic is causing her skin to spark again. Just tiny red flecks now, but he’s not really interested in letting her slip much past that and so when she buries herself in his side, he lets her. His hands rubbing soft circles in the center of her back the same way he used to when Max would wake up from a nightmare as he says, “It’s okay, Zoe, no one’s going to kill you. I promise.”

 

It’s really not a promise he should make, because it’s really not a promise he can necessarily keep. But he’s always been crap when it comes to crying kids and so there you have it. Another person whose life Alec has sworn to protect, and this one he’s only known for what, five minutes? That’s got to be some sort of record.

 

“Magnus, what is he doing here?!” someone shrieks a few seconds later.

 

Alec looks up just in time to see a woman in her forties, maybe, with orange sparks burning from her hands staring in his direction like she’s ready to bury him in fire. And it’s stupid, what he does next, because clearly the woman is threatening him, not Zoe. Only his instincts haven’t really caught up with his mind just yet and so the second he sees the fire, he pulls Zoe across the couch and tucks her so firmly behind him that there’s no part of her left exposed to the impending attack.

 

“He is a friend,” Magnus says, and he sounds angry, the deep kind, his voice as hard as steel.

 

“He is a Shadowhunter,” Lena hisses, her hands still burning.

 

“And a friend, Lena,” Magnus says, and with a snap of his fingers, her fire evaporates, leaving behind it a look of pure disgust that only deepens when she takes in Magnus’ bare chest and Alec’s bare feet.

 

She makes a slight gagging noise that does nothing to improve Alec’s opinion of her before saying, “I don’t know if I feel comfortable leaving her here with a Shadowhunter.”

 

“And I don’t know if I feel like talking to you for another moment,” Magnus replies, and for the first time all conversation (if that’s what you can call this), Alec really looks at him.

 

He looks tired already, the kind of bone-crushing exhaustion Alec is used to. But fifteen minutes ago he was light, airy, completely at peace. And the quick turnaround is jarring to him.

 

“I trust him more than I trust just about anyone,” Magnus continues as he reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “You included, Lena. She is safer here than anywhere else.”

 

“Magnus,” she tries to argue, but he just cuts her off.

 

“You may go.”

 

“But-”

 

“I said you may go,” he snaps, his eyes slipping to their natural state as he flicks his wrist in order to throw up a portal for her. The words, “Go home,” practically hissed out as she sputters a few more nonsensical syllables at him before casting one final death glare Alec’s way and disappearing.

 

He doesn’t look at Alec once she’s gone, he just sinks to his knees and sighs, “Zoe, my dear, come here.”

 

She disentangles herself from Alec’s misplaced protection immediately before practically tripping her way to where Magnus is waiting for her. And the way she flings herself into Magnus’ embrace makes Alec’s chest tighten.

 

They stay that way for a long while, with Zoe shuddering in Magnus’ arms. And Alec can see the hug get progressively firmer in the strain of Magnus’ muscles, almost as if he’s hoping that if he holds her tight enough, he’ll be able to keep her together.

 

“Everything will be all right,” he says once she’s cried herself quiet, Magnus’ touch gentle when he lets her go and runs his thumbs under her eyes to catch the stray tears. “You will see.”

 

She hiccups out another sob, and Alec can’t bring himself to look at Magnus right now, to see the pain carved into every inch of his expression. So he puts his face in his hands and listens instead to the determination in Magnus’ voice when he asks, “Do you trust me?”

 

“Yes,” she says so quietly it’s little more than a puff of air.

 

“Then believe me when I say that you will be fine. I will not let anyone hurt you. You have my word. Now, go wash up for bed. I’ve put some things in the bathroom for you, and whatever else you need we’ll get tomorrow.”

 

He can hear Magnus kiss her, probably on the forehead knowing him. But even though the next things he hears are Zoe’s footsteps retreating from the room, he doesn’t take his hands off his face until Magnus makes him.

 

He’s on his knees still, but he’s directly in front of Alec now as he tugs Alec’s hands down. Which means he can see every line of pain and fear on Magnus’ face as clear as day.

 

“C’mere,” Alec says as he sinks to his knees as well, pulling Magnus into his arms the same way Magnus had done for Zoe. And he’s got no clue what he’s doing, what Magnus is thinking or what’s even going on here, but there’s a pit in his stomach that keeps trying to remind him that this is bad, and that maybe he should pay attention to that.

 

There was a neighbor.

 

A mundane.

 

He’s dead.

 

Alec knows full well what all of that means. But he doesn’t have the capacity to think about that right now, not when Magnus’ muscles are so tense beneath his touch they feel ready to snap.

 

“I have a lot of work to do,” Magnus says as he pulls away from Alec and sinks down so that he’s sitting on his heels, his face set in resignation. “Quite a few calls to make. After I get her in bed, I’ll-”

 

“I’ll do it,” he interrupts, reaching out to card his fingers through Magnus’ hair before settling his palm on the back of Magnus’ neck.

 

“Really?”

 

Alec shrugs to show Magnus that this isn’t as big of a deal as he seems to think it is. “I used to get Izzy ready for bed all the time when we were younger. And once Max was born… well, let’s just say my parents seemed to think having an older son meant free babysitting until age eighteen. It’s no big deal. Really.”

 

Magnus sighs, and although Alec can still clearly see the tense lines of the muscles in his bare shoulders, there’s a slight sense of ease about him now that feels almost like victory.

 

“What would I do without you?” Magnus asks.

 

Alec shrugs again. “You’d probably have a lot more free time on your hands. I’m thinking Pandemonium, open shirts, heavy makeup, loud music. All of which would probably be a hell of a lot more fun than playing Who Can Pick the Most Awful TV Show with me every night.”

 

Magnus reaches out to trail a knuckle over Alec’s cheek. “I love that game.”

 

“Yeah, that’s only because you’re so freaking good at it. I mean, come on, that one where the people are just naked in the middle of the woods? Where did you even hear about that?”

 

“A warlock never tells his secrets,” Magnus says, and Alec thinks, there it is. That’s what he was looking for.

 

A smile.

 

It’s small and tired but it’s there, and he’s so grateful that he reaches out to touch it before he can stop himself, tracing his fingers over Magnus’ lips like he’s trying to draw it bigger or something.

 

Magnus turns into his touch, reaching up to hold his palm so he can kiss it. And that familiar warmth settles deep in Alec’s stomach when he leans in to kiss Magnus on the cheek and say, “Go be High Warlock.”

 

The smile is different this time, bigger but colder. It’s still a smile, though, which is better than the alternative, so Alec will take it.

 

“There’s a bed in the library for Zoe,” Magnus says with a flick of his fingers. “If she needs anything, come get me.” And with that he’s getting to his feet and heading into the other room, grabbing his cell phone from the end table on the way.

 

Alec waits patiently outside of the bathroom for Zoe, making sure that he’s smiling when she emerges – wide enough to comfort her but not so wide that he looks creepy. A line he’s having difficulty navigating right now. She seems glad enough to see him when the door opens, though, and she takes his hand almost immediately after he offers it, and so he’s pretty sure his smile is okay after all.

 

Just as Magnus had said, there’s a bed waiting for them in the new library, also known as the old bedroom. And a genuine, rather large smile presses across Alec’s face when he sees it.

 

It’s hideous. Like… hideous. With gaudy bubblegum pink sheets covered in frills with rainbows and unicorns everywhere. And Alec can’t help but find it almost overwhelmingly endearing because for someone with as much style as Magnus, he clearly knows absolutely nothing about pre-teen girls.

 

Zoe looks up at him almost desperately, and Alec has to stifle a laugh. His voice as professional as he can make it when he asks, “Too old for unicorns?”

 

The way she rolls her eyes reminds him of Izzy as she breathes out a helpless, “A little.” And the combination is enough to make a snicker escape his carefully crafted façade.

 

Zoe laughs too, which results in them both laughing together for a good, solid minute before Alec calms down enough to say, “I’ll see if we can’t get you something more age appropriate tomorrow.” And he thinks that’s the end of it, of all the ridiculousness, until he catches sight of the pajamas Magnus had conjured for her.

 

They’re even worse than the sheets.

 

“Can I just stay in this?” Zoe asks as she pulls Alec’s coat tighter around her body.

 

And he actually reaches down to run his fingers through her hair at that, and what’s more she actually lets him, as he says a tender, “Of course,” in response to her completely justified mortification.

 

When Zoe asks him to stay with her until she falls asleep, Alec can’t help but agree. And it’s strange to him, how this night is turning out, especially how she seems to trust him after knowing him for less than an hour. But he guesses that when you’re terrified and operating under the assumption that a team of assassins is going to come and put you in front of a firing squad at any minute, you’ll latch on to any friendly hand you can.

 

Especially if that hand belongs to someone you think is an angel.

 

It takes her a while to fall asleep, even with Alec’s arms around her. And it takes even longer for her to be still, for whatever nightmares are assaulting her to fade into the background enough for her to rest. Which means it’s been at least a few hours since Magnus went off to be Magnus.

 

He’s on the couch now, still on the phone, or on the phone again, it’s hard to tell. But what isn’t hard to grasp is the fact that his mood hasn’t improved at all in the last few hours. If anything, it’s gotten worse.

 

“Kann ich eine minute?” Magnus says when he sees Alec approach. And his eyes are so tired when he turns to the end of the couch to look at him that they’re almost black.

 

“Are you leaving?” he asks, blinking up at Alec in a daze as he sets his phone next to him on the cushion.

 

“Yeah. I thought I’d head back to the Institute, keep my ear to the ground to see if or… or when any of this hits there.”

 

“That’s a very practical idea,” Magnus says as he reaches out for Alec’s hand.

 

“Well, you know me. Practical is my middle name.”

 

He leans down to kiss Magnus goodnight, and he intends it to just be a quick thing, honestly. Magnus has a lot to do and Alec doesn’t want to be a distraction. But Magnus doesn’t seem to agree with any of his assumptions, judging by the way he twists his fist in the front of Alec’s t-shirt to hold him in place as soon as their lips meet.

 

He’s on his knees a second later, attempting to pull Alec over the arm of the couch, and Alec is more than willing to go with it until whoever is still waiting on the other end of Magnus’ line screams his name so loudly it makes them both jump.

 

They laugh, the hysterical hand caught in the cookie jar kind, if by cookie jar he means Magnus’ pants. Which is where his hand currently is, something he didn’t notice until this very second. And the way Magnus groans when Alec pulls his hand out makes all sorts of unhelpful thoughts skitter across his mind in rapid succession.

 

“Rain check?” Magnus asks.

 

Magnus’ forehead feels warm beneath his lips, like there’s a fire just under his skin when Alec echoes, “Rain check.”

 

He watches him for a minute before he leaves, trying not to read too much into how angry his voice sounds, reasoning that it’s probably just because he’s speaking German, and a lot of things sound angry in German. 

 

He wishes he were speaking a different language, though, something that sounded a little less foreboding. Like French. Because he already feels like something has shifted, not far enough to push them off course but enough to mess with the alignment. And he doesn’t really want to leave the loft with that feeling heavy in his gut.

 

You’re just tired, he assures himself. They’re both just tired. It’ll all look better tomorrow, in the light of day, right? But as he makes his way out into the night, he feels so far from comfort he’d need the freaking Hubble Telescope to see it.

 

The problem is, Alec’s never been the best of liars, especially when he’s lying to himself.