"Please tell me you're not being serious," Alec groaned, glaring at Jace and absentmindedly shoveling a fork of whatever it was that Isabelle had cooked into his mouth, just barely avoiding spitting it back out immediately. Fearing his sister's wrath more than a probably inevitable case of food poisoning, he met her expectant gaze and swallowed, managing not to grimace and even offer her a weak smile. Obviously not seeing through his lie, Isabelle took it as encouragement and piled another few spoonfuls on his plate. He could see Jace snickering at his misfortune as soon as she turned her back to them.
"You know what, Izzy, this is really delicious. We wouldn't want Jace to miss out on a good helping of his own," Alec piped up, expertly letting a believable part of the food disappear into a napkin before she could turn back around. He quietly laughed to himself at Jace's suffering expression when Isabelle turned both her attention and her cooking on him.
“Actually, I am. Come on, when was the last time the three of us were out to a club together?” Alec just shook his head, dismissing Jace's enthusiastic suggestion with a fond eye-roll.
Things had been rough for all of them lately and sitting together in the kitchen like they'd always done (or, in the case of Jace and Alec, had tried to avoid as much as possible), just bantering back and forth, felt like they'd been brought right back to the old times. When Jace hadn't been a human candle stick ready to light up at any time, Izzy wasn't seriously dating anyone, least of all a nerdy vampire who used to have the Mark of Cain on his forehead, and Alec hadn't been dumped by the love of his life for being the world's biggest jerk. Though probably not as much of a jerk as Magnus thought he was, since he hadn't even stayed long enough to listen to his full apology. And Alec doubted the warlock had actually sat through any of the messages he'd left the first few days after that horrible encounter in the subway.
The only thing that had really been constant lately was a threat of war by one Morgenstern or another. And the fact that New York was swarming with enough demons to make Alec regard them as a very, very bad omen. Whatever Jonathan was planning, it wasn't good and it most likely wasn't far in the future. He was pretty sure it had already started.
Alec felt more powerless than he'd ever had before. He couldn't stop what was happening, couldn't protect his siblings. He didn't know how to fix things with Magnus, or whatever was happening with Jace; he couldn't bring Max back or save what was left of his parents' marriage – or his father's respect for him, at that. Sometimes he thought their general helplessness bothered him even more than it did Izzy and Jace as their local rest- and reckless warriors. Yes, they needed to do something to make things better, they needed action. But going on hunts, even if it only solved the tiniest part of the problem at hand, was already working its magic in making them feel a little less antsy, less useless.
Alec, on the other hand, had always been the protector, the one looking out for everyone else, and he knew that killing a handful of demons every other day wasn't helping anyone, not really. He couldn't predict what was coming next, and as things stood it'd be most likely that he'd be powerless to help any of the people he loved even if he knew for sure. Jonathan wanted to watch the world burn and Alec was the helpless onlooker, not knowing who to save first or if he could actually save anyone at all, whether he put his life on the line or not.
The thoughts spinning in his head, the very same ones that kept him from sleep at night – mixed with an endless repeat of the last time he'd seen Magnus in weeks – killed what little appetite he'd had even more effectively than Izzy's inedible cooking and he had to push the plate away and get to his feet, unable to just keep sitting idly at the breakfast table as if nothing was wrong.
"Alec?" Izzy asked, looking concerned. "Are you leaving already? You hardly ate anything."
"It's fine, I'm not really hungry," Alec shrugged, trying to play it down. He could see in her worried glance that it wasn't working. Isabelle knew all too well that he hadn't eaten properly ever since Magnus had left him behind. She'd already given him the speech about not letting a guy rule your life, especially not after he'd smashed your heart into little pieces over one mistake – although even she'd had to admit that it had been a rather huge, idiotic one.
What she didn't know was that Alec hadn't stopped eating because he was heartbroken. He'd stopped because Magnus had been his last refugee, the last thing shielding him from all the worries gnawing at him, the only one who could remind him that he'd had to take care of himself as well and be heard. Without him, Alec was virtually drowning in sorrow and dark anticipation, unable to share with anyone else because he felt the need to be strong for them. He was the big brother, the protector. If he couldn't be strong for his family, who else would be? So he'd let her believe his lack of appetite and his taciturn mood were merely due to a bad break-up. All of them were too busy with their own problems to dig any deeper than a brief conversation, so no one assumed his behavior had any more deeply rooted causes.
Neither of his siblings said anything more, though Jace turned a worried look of his own on him, so Alec left and trudged up to the library to spend another few hours emerged in a book in the desperate, pointless hope of finding something that could help his parabatai. Or save the world. He didn't leave the room until Isabelle called for him because they were heading out on a mission. She'd been reluctant to take him along for the past week or so, all too keenly aware that he was feeling a bit under the weather with how little sleep and food he got. But Alec had been adamant about them not going out on hunts on their own and Jace had had his back, so Isabelle was left with no choice.
The mission itself wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Just a few minor demons that had taken up residence in a dark side alley in a highly populated area of Brooklyn. Swallowing down the inevitable surge of longing that went through him every time they were sent out anywhere near Magnus' neighborhood – Alec wasn't even sure if the warlock still lived there – he put on his gear and got his weapons, ignoring his siblings' worried stares following him as he led them out of the Institute. Their constant worrying started to unnerve him. Wasn't he the one supposed to worry about them?
Deciding that walking would take way too long they took the subway, heavily glamoured so that they wouldn't arouse any Mundane's suspicions. Everything went perfectly well, like something out of their textbooks. Their sensors led them right to the nest and they split up to approach from both sides so no demon would escape them. They'd killed the better part of the horde – spider demons, much to Alec's dislike – within a few minutes without a hitch. It wasn't until Alec was distracted by one of the larger specimen sneaking up on Izzy from behind that he even got injured.
What was probably the tiniest demon he'd ever encountered had launched onto his leg and sunken its little, surprisingly sharp teeth into the muscle, right through gear and skin. Alec wouldn't even have noticed if he hadn't happened to look down and see it cling to him. With a quick move of his seraph blade it fell to the ground and disappeared back into its own dimension. He didn't think any further of the injury seeing that he felt no pain and the demon had been ridiculously tiny. This specific kind wasn't too poisonous to begin with and the little amount that could have possibly gotten under his skin wasn't all that worrying.
Back at the Institute, they didn't even really check each other for injuries like they usually did, the battle too ridiculously easy and all of them too lost in their own thoughts to spare one on barely necessary precautions. Alec had all but forgotten about the bite, not even noticing anything unusual when he showered and changed. He just dropped into bed, falling asleep the minute his head hit the pillow, hoping that maybe this time he'd be able to stay in the welcoming dark for a few hours before the nightmares would wake him and the worries keep him from going back to sleep.
The next day passed much like most others had for the last few weeks. Alec and his siblings sat down together for breakfast, lunch and dinner, sometimes joined by Clary. Jace would shovel frightening amounts of pizza in his mouth while the rest of them mostly just pushed their own food back and forth on their plates and Alec left his mostly untouched half of the time.
Other than that, Jace kept busy in the training room trying to contain his rage and keep from blowing them all up by doing what he did best; Izzy went out with Simon when she wasn't joining him; and Alec buried himself in the library. Most of his own training sessions took place in the middle of the night when everyone else was asleep and his insomnia wouldn't leave him a moment of rest and peace. If nothing else Alec could at least get a really good shot at someone in complete and utter darkness now; at an impressive distance, even.
Over the course of the day, he didn't feel like anything was particularly out of the ordinary, used to an alarming lack of appetite and constant fatigue by now and way too busy with his reading to pay much attention to either, anyway. Slight pains never were much of a source of worry to a Shadowhunter and thanks to his nightmares he'd awoken in a cold sweat more times than he could count. Alec was always cold so the mountain of blankets he was buried under while he flipped through the pages was nothing new, either, and there was no one around to feel his forehead and tell him he was frighteningly clammy. Isabelle had stopped commenting on his unhealthy pallor – or rather, fuzzing over him in general – within the first two weeks after the break-up and Jace wasn't much of a tactile person to begin with, much less so since he was now carrying heavenly fire in him.
On the third day of that very same routine, Alec decided that since they hadn't been on a hunt lately, a walk would do him good. Holing himself up in the library obviously wasn't bringing him any closer to finding a solution to the situation and he felt oddly like he couldn't breathe. He passed it off as spending too much time in a confined, dusty space in a building brimming with enough palpable tension in the air to add a few walls. Which in turn convinced him even further that a nice walk was due.
He only worried for a second when he felt his heartbeat accelerate disconcertingly after only a few hundred meters and his breath was starting to come shorter, putting it down to undernourishment and a slight cold just as quickly. By the time he'd sunken down on the closest bench he could find, breathing heavily and vision blurring, he was past worrying about anything and merely tried to cling to the last remnants of consciousness he had left. It wasn't really worthy of a Shadowhunter to pass out on a random bench in the city, and with no visible injury to show.
As he fumbled with his phone to call Izzy to pick him up, he was rather glad he'd bothered to glamour himself. No need for Mundies to become witnesses to his patheticness as well. Which was why he jumped and nearly fell off when a small hand landed on his shoulder, keeping him upright with a determined grip.
"Sir? Are you okay?" Not recognizing the voice, Alec blinked up blearily, catching a quick glance at blue skin and white hair and a smell that reminded him a bit of Magnus – but really, what didn't these days – before everything became too blurry to discern again.
"Hey, aren't you that Lightwood boy? The one Magnus used to be with?" It took a lot more effort than it should have to decipher the words and nod weakly. Another small hand gently pushed his hair out of his forehead and felt the skin there. It reminded Alec oddly of the way his mother used to take care of him when he'd been a child. "Oh my, you're really cold. I should probably get you inside and checked out. You don't look too good." Oh, he'd bet he didn't.
"Okay, come on. Let's get you inside. I'm going to pull on four, help me out a bit, okay?" He was consumed by blackness before his mysterious helper even got to three and the last thing he heard was that gentle, soothing voice turning shrill with panic as it called for help.
Alec woke up to a warm hand on his forehead that was as long and elegant and familiar as the last one had been small and calloused and foreign. Even if he hadn't known it immediately, despite his still half-delirious state, there could have been no mistaking the press of the metal of countless rings against his clammy skin.
For a moment, he wondered if he was hallucinating but decided that it had to be reality because a beautiful fantasy like that didn't go together with the sterile smell of hospital and the ache all over his body. Breathing was still more labor than anything else and he could feel his heart hammering against his ribcage. He had an inkling that it for once wasn't due to the presence next to his bed but rather hadn't stopped racing ever since he'd started his walk. With a wince of discomfort, Alec forced his eyes open and was presented with Magnus's painfully gorgeous, concerned face looming over him.
"So you're back from the dead," he huffed as soon as Alec had blinked most of the blurriness away and seemed somewhat focused. "What were you thinking, just collapsing in front of a hospital like that? In the middle of the city, might I add."
"Actually, I was trying not to," Alec murmured, eyelids drooping again. He hissed in pain as he moved his left leg. There was a whole area radiating enough pain to make him wish he were unconscious all over again. Did he hit something while he'd been passed out? But no, the dull throbbing wasn't that of a bruise. It was one Alec knew all too well, from countless battles and hurrying after his siblings to keep them from getting killed without any time to look after himself. It was the heat and inflamed skin of a wound left unattended for too long, only so much worse than he'd ever let it get. What had happened? He had no memory of receiving a wound on his leg recently.
"Well, that obviously didn't work too well. And you know that wasn't what I was asking, anyway." Magnus' voice was stern, the way Alec had heard him sound countless times before when he'd been lectured on how he should look out for himself a bit more. Back when they'd still been together. For some reason, it was that tone that made a surge of helpless anger well up in him.
"Why are you even here? Or better yet, why do you even care?" His voice sounded much weaker than he'd planned on, but it was a lot harder than he'd imagined to yell at someone when he couldn't seem to get enough air in his lungs.
"Alec, don't be like that," Magnus whispered, looking a lot more hurt than Alec thought he had a right to. After all, who had dumped whom in this? Magnus hadn't answered any of his calls, hadn't recognized his existence for weeks. And now he was suddenly sitting at his bedside, having the nerve to look concerned. Alec couldn't decide if he was more mad at Magnus or because he knew this moment between them would be over as soon as he was no longer laying down sick.
"That didn't answer any of my questions, either. And I have no idea what happened," Alec snapped, averting his gaze so he wouldn't have to look into those painfully soft green-gold eyes anymore. They were burnt into the back of his mind for the rest of his life as it was.
"Well, I do," a blue-skinned woman that must have been the one to find him announced as she entered the room, closing the door behind her. "And it isn't good. Actually, you should have your ass kicked for that list."
Magnus frowned at her. "What do you mean, Catarina?"
"I mean that while it's not all his own fault, a big part of the situation is," she said, flipping through the pages on her clipboard. "Because you, my dear, have demon poison in your blood, an inflamed bite wound on your left leg that caused a sepsis with for your age unusual symptoms; and to top it all off you are undernourished, sleep-deprived and dehydrated. The latter three of which are all your own doing and only added to the first three." She shot Alec a disapproving glare.
"The insomnia isn't my fault," Alec protested weakly, ignoring the way Magnus' hand had grabbed his and tightened its grip with every listed evil.
"Be that as it may, Nephilim, you're in one of the sorriest physical states I've ever seen your kind in, which practically invited the infection and following sepsis as well as the demon poison to have a nice long party in the ruins of your immune system." Her glare intensified and Alec felt himself immediately slide down the pillows to make himself look smaller.
"Sorry," he murmured, feeling ridiculously like a small child that had just been scolded under that look.
"Well, it's not me you should apologize to," Catarina said, a small smile tugging at the corners of her lips. "But thanks to the horrifying state you're in it will be quite a task to heal you and I'll probably have to keep you around for a while. I think the best way to go is attacking one problem at a time. And we really should start with the sepsis before your organs start to dysfunction. Your body temperature already fell to a worrying degree, your heartrate is through the roof and I bet you'd love to stop feeling like you can't breathe when actually, you're quite close to hyperventilating."
"And what about the demon poison?" Magnus asked quietly, looking straight at her and ignoring Alec completely for the time being.
"Nothing major, actually. If he hadn't been in such a bad condition it would probably have worn off already, it's not that bad and there's hardly any in his system. It just added to the symptoms of the sepsis and probably didn't help with the infection, in the first place. Why did you leave the wound unattended for so long?" Catarina turned back to Alec, her eyes boring right into his and demanding the truth.
"I don't know. I didn't even notice I was wounded in the leg and I can't remember having been bitten by a demon within the last few days," Alec tried to shrug but found that it took a lot more energy than his battered body currently possessed, so he had to content himself with burying further into the pillows propped under his head.
"That's actually not that impossible," Catarina murmured, tapping her pen against her chin, looking lost in her thoughts.
"How is it possible to not notice being bitten by a demon?" Magnus threw in, crossing his arms and raising an eyebrow in disbelief. "I would think that kind of thing is rather noticeable."
"Not necessarily," she argued. It struck Alec for the first time since she'd entered the room that Catarina seemed awfully close with his ex-boyfriend (even thinking the prefix made him wince). "It's the poison of a spider demon, and in a quantity that's usually no reason to worry over. Add that to the fact that the punctures on his leg are pretty tiny even as inflamed as they are right now and my best guess would be that it was a really small specimen, nothing a Shadowhunter would fuss about. Sometimes the poison induces numbness at the site of the bite that can last up to a few days, so if he didn't think further of it it's very well possible he forgot all about being bitten in the first place."
"Oh that's typical," Alec sighed, hiding his face behind his hands. "I get bitten by the tiniest demon in existence and what happens? My immune system immediately collapses and if I hadn't passed out in front of a hospital of all things I'd probably have died in my sleep thanks to a sepsis. There should be some kind of award for the most pathetic death a Shadowhunter could possibly die. Looks like I'm really working up to it."
"Well, I guess at least no one can call your fear of spiders unfounded now," Magnus tried to lighten the mood but Alec merely glared at him from behind his fingers.
"It's not funny, Magnus. The word you're looking for is pathetic."
"You're not pathetic, Alec." The concern was back in Magnus' expression.
"And what else brought me here?! You also said I wasn't trivial and then proceeded to dump me after I made one mistake. You also said I wasn't an idiot and look who kept coming to Camille to try and worm at least something about the past you wouldn't tell me about out of her. I also said I would never bargain with a vampire and now my sister is dating one and I paid for questionable information with my blood. I am the textbook definition of pathetic, if there ever was one."
There was a moment of dumbfounded silence when nobody could think of anything to say in response and the only sound echoing through the room was Alec's labored breathing.
"You paid Camille with your blood to take away my immortality?" Magnus whispered. Alec had no idea what exactly the expression on his face meant but it didn't matter in that moment because rage was drowning everything else out.
"By the Angel, Magnus, would you listen to me for one second? I did not try to take your immortality from you. Camille lured me into that trap by telling me she knew a way I could become immortal that didn't involve dark magic or having to turn into a vampire. I guess I knew all along that she was lying so I wouldn't leave her to die, but I was desperate enough to come to her and at least hear what she'd got to say.
“She told me that while there wasn't a way for me to become immortal in a way I could accept, there was in fact a way for you to become mortal and she could make it happen if I brought her Raphael's head. I seriously considered it for all of a second before I knew that I could never do that to you. I don't know why I went back and told her in person that the deal wasn't on. Maybe because she's the only one I had any form of access to who'd ever been in a relationship with you, at a time you refused to tell me anything about. So I asked her questions and she answered them and she'd get blood from me in return, because no way in hell would I violate the Accords like that and actually bring her the head of the New York vampires. We didn't even talk about you becoming mortal apart from those first two meetings. I guess I should have known that blood wouldn't be enough for her and that she'd tell you all about it and turn the truth around while she was at it.
“But I was scared, Magnus. Ever since we'd gotten back from our vacation, I started to realize how inconsequential I was actually going to be to you at some point. You are everything to me, and no matter how many times you told me you'd rather live in the now and not dwell on the past when I asked you about someone or something, it always sounded like 'You're not important enough to know', 'I'd rather not waste my time telling you since you're going to be dead soon enough, anyway' and 'I don't trust you to still see me the same way if I tell you'. I opened up as much as I could and gave you everything I had and I didn't feel like you were returning the favor.
“Do you know what Camille told me? 'One must preserve some mystery in one's relationship'. In that case ours was doomed, anyway, because from my side, apart from the whole Camille deal, there wasn't really any mystery to begin with, right? No one ever paid any mind to what I had to say, so why should you be any different? I knew I should have stuck with blending into the shadows. It's what I do best."
After his speech, Alec fell back into the pillows, eyes closed and panting as if he'd just run a mile. A second later there was a soft, small hand on his chest, rubbing gently to calm him down. "It's getting worse. It's really about time I do something about that or you're going to blend into the shadows in more ways than one."
Alec tried to summon the energy to chuckle, but breathing already demanded all of his attention. Blackness was flickering at the corners of his consciousness again and with one last effort, he forced his eyes open and looked straight at Catarina. "I want my siblings," he rasped, not caring that he sounded even more vulnerable and pathetic than before. He was on the verge of blacking out again, no time like now to sound like a whining child.
"Of course," she soothed him, gently tucking his hair behind his ear and not leaving his side until darkness had consumed him.
The next time Alec woke up, the small room he was in was much more crowded than the last time. Magnus was gone, he could tell without even opening his eyes. The smell of sandalwood was too weak and the absence of his comforting presence left a hollow feeling in his chest, no matter how angry Alec still was at him, at both of them.
His eyes slowly fluttered open on their own accord and he saw that Isabelle had taken Magnus's seat, intently staring at him as if she was trying to will him back to consciousness.
"Hey Iz," he rasped, still not sounding much better but relieved to notice that breathing seemed a whole lot easier now. And it wasn't quite as cold anymore, though that could also be due to the three blankets piled on top of him.
"Glad you're back," she whispered, taking his hand and gripping it tightly. "I'm really not up to losing another brother."
"Sorry," Alec whispered back, his voice refusing to come out any louder. "I didn't mean to worry you."
"You've been worrying us for weeks, airhead," Jace piped up from the other side of the bed where he was sitting with Clary, glaring at his parabatai. Alec seemed to look appropriately guilty at that because a second later, his other hand was caught in Jace's. Clary merely offered him a warm smile, obviously unsure what she should be doing or if she should even be there.
"Ah, you're awake again," Catarina said with a smile when she poked her head into the room, quickly entering now that Alec was no longer passed out. "Care to hear about the progress we've made?"
"Sure," Alec nodded, smiling back at her.
"Well, most of the infection is out of your system, your body temperature is almost back to normal, as are your breathing and your blood pressure. Your heart rate is perfectly fine and once you've got a little more sleep and some food and water in your stomach it shouldn't be a problem for me to get the last traces of poison out of you as well and then you can go home."
His siblings cheered at the good news and Alec let out a quiet laugh at their obvious joy. But in the back of his mind, he couldn't help but wonder where Magnus had gone to. If any of the things Alec vaguely remembered having said had made it through to him, if they'd had any impact. His apologies had had no effect, maybe an explanation – now that he'd finally been able to make himself heard – would do a better job at soothing the hurt he had caused.
Because Alec was well aware that he'd hurt Magnus, a lot, even if things weren't quite as the warlock seemed to have assumed they'd been. And while he'd be elated should Magnus decide to forgive him and maybe even take him back, he didn't really care so much as long as he stopped hurting. Alec couldn't undo what he had done, but maybe he could do something to make the resulting wounds heal over a bit more quickly.
"I'm gonna make us pizza to celebrate when you're back!" Izzy cheered, winding her arms around her big brother and burying her face in his chest to hide the relieved tears welling up in her eyes.
"Now that I think about it, wouldn't it be better if I stayed here a little longer, just to make sure..." Alec asked Catarina, earning a rather hard hit to his shoulder from Izzy and a laugh from the rest of the room.
"Please don't kill your brother with food poisoning when I've had so much work saving him," Catarina chuckled, checking Alec over one last time before she left the room to give them a little more privacy.
"Jokes aside, Izzy, please don't cook when Alec gets back. From what Catarina told us, he actually needs to eat more, not less," Jace tried to lighten up the heavy silence that had fallen after the healer's departure. Izzy tried to climb over Alec to get close enough to Jace to give him the playful hit he deserved (or probably strangle him), almost landing her elbow in his face while she jumped. Clary and Alec watched with good-natured smiles as the two younger Lightwood siblings chased each other through the room, Jace almost suffocating with laughter and Izzy screaming threats, trying to defend her cooking.
"How are you?" Clary asked, sliding a bit closer to Alec to avoid being run over by her boyfriend or Isabelle. "I think I saw Magnus down the hall when we arrived."
"Yeah, he was here. I might or might not have yelled the explanation he wouldn't let me give before in his face right before passing out a second time." Alec blushed a bit at the memory and they both chuckled at the mental image.
"You didn't really yell, did you?"
"Well, as much as one can yell when you can't seem to catch your breath," Alec said, smiling. It was still weird to him how much his relationship with Clary had changed since they'd met. She'd turned from the girl he was jealous of and constantly annoyed by to part of the family and someone he'd consider a friend. Of course she still tended to annoy him every now and then and she could be exasperatingly reckless, but the same went for his siblings and he still loved them with all he had.
Other than that, Clary and Alec had actually quite compatible personalities, so they usually found themselves hanging around with each other while Jace and Izzy pulled some crazy stunt or other that didn't necessarily involve their presence. It was surprisingly relaxed and comfortable and Alec couldn't really imagine life at the Institute without her there anymore.
"And how are you feeling?" She gave him a look that made it clear she wasn't speaking about his medical condition.
"I don't know," Alec sighed, leaning closer so his siblings wouldn't overhear everything he said, still busy with their playful chase. Somehow, it was so much easier to be vulnerable around Clary than it was around his tough-as-nails Shadowhunter family. "On one hand, I'm still angry that he discarded me so easily. On the other hand it was my own fault and I still feel guilty about what I've done. And him showing up at my bedside while I'm sick only to disappear again the minute it's clear I won't die sort of feels like losing him all over again."
"Oh Alec," she whispered, sympathy shining in her green eyes. "It'll all be okay. I'm sure things will work out somehow. They always do." She smiled wistfully in Jace's direction.
"Guess it's time to trust fate, huh?"
"There's not much else you can do right now. Except maybe trust in his love." They shared another soft smile just as Izzy and Jace decided to end their chase and drop dead on Alec's bed. As he laughed and joked with his siblings and shoved down the food Catarina brought him, Alec decided that he would do his best to follow Clary's advice. He'd underestimated his family's love and acceptance towards him as well and look how wrong he'd been. Maybe Magnus hurrying to his side the second he'd heard Alec had been severely sick meant he still cared enough. Maybe, if all the times Magnus had assured him that he'd never loved anyone like he loved Alec had been nothing but the truth and not just a fleeting sentiment, there was still hope for them, somewhere.
Three rooms down the hall, Magnus was lounging on an uncomfortable looking armchair, trying to appear as if he was indifferently flipping through a magazine while he really stared down the door, waiting for Catarina to come back and bring news. He couldn't even tell what it was that he was presumably reading, the letters didn't seem to make any sense, just blurring into lines and waves he couldn't comprehend if his life depended on it.
He knew it was silly to get so worked up even though he already knew that Alec was out of immediate danger, but the way his labored breathing had accelerated until he had passed out right in front of his eyes, asking for his siblings, wouldn't leave him alone. Alec's last words before he'd lost consciousness still echoed in his mind like the whole speech was put on repeat. His heart started to race whenever he thought about the meaning of what he'd heard, but he was still unable to really register it all. Not until Catarina gave the green light and declared Alec fully recovered.
"Are you still sitting there and trying to pretend you're reading?" His friend pulled him out of his thoughts, gently taking the magazine from him before he could rip it to shreds just to keep his hands busy – he had to admit it was indeed a bit of a nasty habit – and smiling reassuringly at him. He hadn't even heard her enter, he noticed absentmindedly.
"Who said I wasn't actually reading it?"
"Well, if you did then you'll surely be able to tell me what magazine it was that you were reading. Or what the article you had open was about." Magnus just stared blankly at her, shaking his head after a few seconds.
"Okay, okay, you win. I wasn't actually reading a single word. Now, will you tell me what I want to know or do I need to ask?"
"Always so demanding," Catarina sighed, winking at him as she sunk into the chair next to his. "But fine, there you go. Nothing really changed since the last time I checked on him. He's awake and his vitals are mostly just fine; he's bantering with his siblings and as soon as I extract the last remnants of demon poison from his blood he can go home with them. There's really no need to worry, Magnus. I know it looked scary when he blacked out earlier, but it was surprisingly easy to fix the infection and resulting sepsis."
"And what about the rest?" Magnus gave her a meaningful look.
"It's not really my place to ask about that, is it? Nothing I can say will change anything. Maybe you should talk to him, if you want to know."
"I'm not sure if I can," Magnus sighed, curling up into the chair. It didn't really work, his long legs not finding enough space and making him look as awkward and small and vulnerable as he ever got. It was a testament to how close he was with Catarina that he let his guard down that much.
"Then you better work on that because the way I see it, you two need to have a good long talk and actually let each other say what's on your mind. No omissions and no interrupting and then you can go from there. To me it looks like there have been some new facts brought into play."
"It's not that easy. I trusted him, Catarina."
"Maybe," she said, rising from her seat and grabbing another clipboard, "but have you ever asked yourself if you really did?" Magnus was already starting to get lost in his thoughts, pondering that question when Catarina turned back around in the doorway. "You should take a walk, Magnus. Get a bit of fresh air and think about something else for a while. He's going to be fine." And then she was gone, leaving him alone with his swirling thoughts.
Deciding that she was right, he got out of his chair and exited the hospital as quickly as he could, deeply inhaling the cold air greeting him outside. As he walked through the mostly empty streets – it was too early in the morning for most of the population to be up and about outside of their own homes or the counter of a bar – he let the familiar atmosphere of New York calm him a little. He needed to get some semblance of order in his thoughts if he wanted that walk to have any results.
Could it be that Catarina was right? Maybe he hadn't trusted Alec as explicitly as he'd always thought. Perhaps all the times he'd refused to tell him anything from the past that had involved a lot of emotions from his side had actually been self-preservation, a subconscious attempt to protect his heart by not fully opening up to someone who had the potential to become so dangerous to it. And there'd never been someone who'd been quite as much of a threat to Magnus' surprisingly fragile heart as Alexander Lightwood. After all, he'd gotten involved with him despite his vow not to dabble with Shadowhunters anymore, despite all the problems he'd brought along with him. He'd fallen for Alec although he'd been perfectly aware that he was pulled into something dark and looming, a war about to come down on them.
If none of those facts had sufficed to stop his normally at least half-rational mind from giving in, if not even his usually so strong instincts of self-preservation had managed to stop him from letting himself love Alec... Because sure, Magnus was never one to resist a bad idea, but this one was actually so terribly, painfully dumb that even considering his usual risk-friendly attitude there was no way he would have gotten himself in this mess if it hadn't been for the blue-eyed idiot. There was, after all, a reason why he'd survived this long. That left only one possible conclusion: Alexander Lightwood, as one of very few in a very long time, had the ability to break down Magnus's walls. Which in turn meant that Magnus had had to build more walls between them to protect himself from the inevitability of someone like Alec hurting him, badly so. And what better, more solid wall to erect than his past?
Magnus had always known that Alec hated dishonesty, secrets, lies. He'd been forced to live off of those for way too long in his short life, for fear of everything he knew being taken from him if he revealed himself. He was curious and attentive and it drove him mad if there ever was something he felt he needed to know that no one would tell him. At one point, he'd been so fed up with Magnus' constant cultural allusions and resulting amusement when Alec didn't understand a word, that he'd pulled several all-nighters catching up on books and comics and films just so he would feel a little less clueless.
Magnus knew about that particular character trait and yet he'd done nothing but feed his irritation and insecurities, frozen in place by his own. What had Alec said? It always sounded like 'You're not important enough to know'. Which, in turn, to Magnus' ears, sounded a lot like 'You didn't love me enough to tell me'. His heart clenched at the thought that despite all the times he'd told Alec how much he loved him, he'd failed to give up even a little of his own comfort to do what might have convinced him.
For a moment, Magnus did his best to disregard his own hurt feelings and just see things from Alec's point of view. If he'd been dying to know more about the person he loved and that person had refused to open up more than strictly necessary, telling him nothing more than superficial memories that had never touched him too deeply... If he'd been insecure and scared and faced by the weight of his loved one's immortality looming over him and an opportunity like Camille was offering had presented itself – would he have been able to resist?
It was true, Magnus had felt Alec slipping away from him way before that day in the subway. But he'd hesitated to do anything about it, to talk about it, for fear of what would come up if he did. He'd scorned Alec for not coming to talk to him instead when he hadn't made a step toward him, either. With some of the rage and the pain out of the way, it was so much easier to see clearly where they'd both gone wrong until everything had ended in disaster. Catarina had been right, there was no way around it – he had to talk to Alec. For closure if nothing else because they couldn't leave things standing as the last time they'd met.
Scenes flashed before his eyes, of that time Clary had drawn the Fearless rune on Alec and he'd almost told his parents about them, of Alec offering his energy on that floating truck (It's yours), the kiss in the Hall of Accords, I'm – trivial, a million little papercuts. Magnus had suffered through quite a bit for this relationship – but so had Alec. They'd both put in way too much to just let the love between them die over one mistake, even if it was a rather huge one. So what if for a second, Alec had thought about just taking his immortality? In his less glorious moments, Magnus had also played with the thought of making Alexander immortal, maybe not behind his back, but completely ignoring all the drawbacks he knew came with it. If Magnus were to pay for every single time he'd thought about doing something he really, really shouldn't even have thought about he'd spend all of eternity trying to erase the debt.
So Magnus turned around and hurried back to the hospital, hoping that Alec's siblings would get bored of merely sitting around in a hospital room just about now because there was no way he was going in there while they were still around. He was very fond of his head's current position on his shoulders and he was not so convinced that Isabelle was, too.
Not even half an hour after Alec had regained consciousness, he could already see that Jace and Izzy were getting fidgety. They'd never been the type of person who could just sit around at a hospital bed with nothing to do, especially if the person in the hospital bed was no longer on the brink of death. There were only so many topics they could bicker about, especially since according to Clary, they'd already been at it since Catarina had called them.
"Okay guys, that's enough," Alec called when Izzy made to chase Jace through the room for an offensive comment for the second time in five minutes. "Get out of here before you make me anxious with all your running around."
"We can't just leave you all alone in a hospital!" Izzy called, stopping dead and not even batting an eyelash when Jace stumbled over his own feet and landed at hers in an attempt not to crash into her at full speed.
"And why not?" Alec asked, crossing his arms and raising an eyebrow at her indignant tone. "It's not like there's anything to do for you here. You're just fidgeting around in your chairs and failing at making smalltalk until you get too bored and start bickering and chasing each other around. I'm fine and I should be out of here soon enough, there's no need for you to hang around here and wait until then."
"We can't leave you alone now. Not when that's part of what's gotten you here." Alec briefly wondered if he'd ever seen Jace look this remorseful when it came to him.
"Guys, this is not about you and it's not your fault. This whole situation just got a bit too much and I neglected myself. Will you go back home and wait until Catarina calls you to pick me up if I promise that I'll sit with you through every meal and eat as much as you tell me to?"
"Unless it's Izzy's cooking." Jace grinned, promptly earning him a kick to the shin. "All this unnecessary violence," he grumbled, quickly turning serious again. "If you also promise to let us help with the insomnia problem instead of locking yourself up on the roof and practicing with your bow until the wee hours of morning we might have a deal."
"Deal, then." They shook hands over it and Izzy pulled her brother into a last, bone-crushing hug. "Don't you dare to ever do this to me again, okay?" she whispered in his ear, her nails boring painfully in his shoulders as she tightened her grip. "Promise," he murmured into her hair and then they were gone, leaving him alone with the bland white room and nothing but the annoying noises of countless machines surrounding him. He didn't even have a book with him to keep him occupied, and of course Jace and Isabelle had forgotten to bring one. He couldn't help but think wistfully that Magnus would have remembered. And that Magnus would probably have been patient enough to sit with him for more than thirty minutes before he simply couldn't sit still anymore. He'd always been patient with Alec, at least.
Just when he started getting lost in this nostalgic train of thought for lack of something better to do, the door opened and Magnus carefully entered, scanning the room as if he expected someone to jump from a corner and murder him. Alec couldn't suppress a chuckle.
"Jace and Izzy have been gone for a few minutes, if you're worried about that."
"As if Magnus the Magnificent is scared of two teenage Shadowhunters," Magnus huffed dramatically, turning Alec's chuckle into a quiet laugh.
"Of course he's not. Way too magnificent for such trivial fears." They grinned eat each other, for a second completely forgetting what had happened the last time they'd been together in that room. The change of atmosphere when they remembered was palpable.
"I'm sorry about yelling at you earlier," Alec murmured, biting his lips and fixing his gaze on a very interesting spot on the otherwise pristine white walls.
"Well, you actually didn't so much yell at me as you were angrily panting." The smile on Magnus' face when Alec dared a quick look was small, but it was a smile nonetheless.
"I thought it's the thought that counts? I definitely meant to yell at you in that moment," Alec said, the corners of his mouth twitching up slightly.
"It's okay, I think we both deserve some yelling." Swiftly, Magnus crossed the room and came to stand next to Alec's bed. "Is it okay if I sit here? I think it's about time we have a mature conversation."
"It probably is," Alec sighed, his fingers worrying a thread in the blanket covering him. "Make yourself comfortable. I'd invite you to be my guest but the hospital isn't exactly my home." It was a last-ditch effort to lighten the mood a bit, but it was immediately doomed when Magnus took a seat and turned to Alec, expression serious.
"I thought about what you told me before you passed out so spectacularly," he started, not breaking eye contact. As much as Alec wanted to, he found he couldn't avert his gaze, either. "And Catarina may or may not have given me a stern telling-off." Alec raised an eyebrow at that.
"I didn't know there was anyone out there who could give the Magnificent Magnus Bane a talking-to and be heard," he said softly, a small smile on his face.
"Well, there are. Two, exactly, with Ragnor gone." Alec saw a hint of grief flash in Magnus' eyes as he said the name, but it was gone as quickly as it had come.
"And who'd be that other person?" He didn't really expect a response, much less the one he did get.
"You." Alec almost choked on the snort he couldn't suppress.
"Hey, what's so funny about that? I was being serious." Magnus pouted and crossed his arms in a dramatic gesture, but behind all that masquerade Alec could see that he was actually hurt that Alec wasn't taking him seriously.
"I'm sorry, Mag, but me? When have you ever listened to anything I told you?" He'd have bet money on his expression in that moment being the textbook definition of disbelief. If someone had taken a photo, it would have probably ended up in a lexicon for body language and facial expressions, if there was such a thing.
"All the time. I may not always show it, but I always listen to you, Alec. What you said the other day? That no one ever pays any mind to what you have to say? It's not true. I always cared. Though maybe I sometimes chose not to hear it." Dumbfounded, Alec just gaped at him, lost for words, as silence stretched between them. He really didn't expect to be quoted by Magnus.
"I- I don't really know what to say to that," he finally stuttered.
"I told you, I've been thinking quite a bit since you passed out on me and... I think I see what you were trying to tell me. This mess we got in? It's not all your fault. I've been withholding things from you and I know how much you hate that. Now that I've thought about it I guess I see what it must have looked like to you. But I swear, Alec, it's not about loving you less than Camille or anyone else. Actually, it's the opposite."
"How is not telling me anything about your past except for the most superficial things a sign that you love me?" Now it was Alec's turn to cross his arms. "You told me you didn't trust me anymore when you dumped me. But, if I'm being honest, I didn't feel like you trusted me ever since we had to come back from our vacation."
"And maybe I didn't." Another shell-shocked silence filled the room and echoed loudly between them.
"Y-you didn't?" Alec's voice sounded so small and defeated Magnus felt an urge to bang his head on the nearest surface for saying this the way he had.
"I- Alec, I didn't mean that quite as it sounds. I- I do trust you, on a basic level. I love you, I never stopped loving you and... I want to trust you. But you don't survive six centuries-" "I thought it was eight?" "Don't interrupt me, Alexander, I'm trying to tell you something. Does it really matter that much? I can't even remember the last time I actually told someone my real age." "Don't you think telling me would be a good starting point, then, considering what you're trying to tell me?"
Magnus heaved a deep sigh. "Okay, fine. Four and a half centuries. But don't you dare tell anyone."
"Magnus, who am I supposed to tell?" Alec's voice strained with barely suppressed laughter. "See, that wasn't so difficult, was it?"
"Well, who's the one not taking this seriously now?"
"Sorry." Alec swallowed, resuming the serious expression from earlier. "Why would you lie about your age, anyway?"
Heaving another sigh, Magnus tried to make himself more comfortable on the ergonomically unfriendly chair he was sitting on. "If you're going to interrupt me with even more questions every other sentence we'll never finish this conversation."
"I could live with that," Alec mumbled under his breath, so quietly Magnus was sure he hadn't been meant to hear it. But he did and he couldn't deny that his heart made a not-so-tiny leap at the Shadowhunter's tone. Now that they were having this conversation it wasn't half as horrifying as he'd expected. Sure, it wasn't easy to open up like that after keeping everything to himself for so long, only letting in a select few that had known him for long enough that he could be sure they would never turn his trust against him.
But he found himself wanting to talk to Alec and never stop, tell him all the things he'd held back (well, okay, maybe not all the things...) even if they hurt and have Alec hug him and tell him it would all be okay even if that would be ridiculous and not change anything. Somehow, he was sure that Alec would do just that for him, no matter how complicated their current situation was. That knowledge, as deeply rooted as his name or the fact that he was a (magnificent) warlock or loved glitter, was what pushed him forward those last few inches he needed to overcome his fear of breaking down the walls he himself had erected.
"I started to lie about it before I was even done growing. People don't want to waste lots of their precious money on a teenager who has barely any actual experience working as a warlock. So I started making up numbers, whatever I thought would impress the client the most. I guess it became sort of a habit, so I never really stopped."
"And, was telling me as mentally scarring as you expected?" This time, the smile on Alec's face was much wider than before, his eyes sparkling with it. Magnus had missed this smile, terribly so. It lit up Alec's whole face and he was almost surreally beautiful whenever Magnus could coax one out of him, even now, with bags and dark circles under his eyes and a slightly gray tone to his porcelain complexion, propped up in a hospital bed.
"I have to admit, no, it wasn't." Magnus simply had to smile in return. There was just something about Alec when he was this loose and happy that made him forget everything else, his good mood irresistibly infecting.
"Now that that's cleared, back to the main topic. You were trying to tell me something about the essential life lessons you learn when you're four and a half centuries old."
Magnus had expected the atmosphere to go back to tense as soon as they would return to their original conversation, but somehow it remained almost as light as when they'd been joking, with only a serious undertone appropriate to the subject.
"What I was trying to say before you so rudely and true to character interrupted me-" "Hey!" "you don't survive for as long as I have when you trust easily. What little naivety I had left after having to leave my home the way I did was soon enough crushed by the world out there. When you live that long, and in the world we live in, you've been fucked over often enough to set mistrust and skepticism as a default. I don't like to be that kind of person but it's just hard to get out of your brain once it's been implanted there firmly enough. We both know all too well that there's no place for the kind-hearted and open-armed in our world." The understanding look Alec gave him was so world-weary Magnus wanted to snatch up the closest blanket and hide him from everything underneath it. No eighteen-year-old should have to wear that kind of look. Magnus had often thought that it was a good thing that Shadowhunters weren't immortal. If for no other reason, the things their sense of duty toward what they were created for made them see even at such a young age... He didn't want to imagine having to live the life of a soldier for the rest of eternity.
"And I understand that much. What I don't understand is why loving me more made it harder to get over that. Shouldn't it have made it easier? I mean, after all the things you did and endured for me... Why was that the hurdle we couldn't take?"
In a sudden move that made Alec want to jump out of the bed and crouch behind the closest chair out of instinct, Magnus gracefully rose out of the torture device he'd been sitting on and sank down next to him on the bed, leaning in close enough that Alec swore he could feel electricity building between them, never once breaking eye contact.
"You seriously have no idea what you are doing to me, do you, Alexander?" Confused, Alec shook his head a little, a nervous flush high on his cheeks. It was such a familiar, endearing picture that Magnus almost forgot where they were and how things were between them, barely keeping from just taking that painfully gorgeous, lovely face in his hands and kiss the breath out of that boy.
"Ever since you literally stumbled into my life crashing my party," he said instead, his heart beating faster when a small smile tugged at Alec's lips at the memory, "you tore right through every wall I ever built to protect myself. Do you know what I did after that party?"
Alec shook his head again. "I got out that dusty old wooden trunk full of mementos from the past I hadn't opened in forever. Because you and Jace, you reminded me of the Shadowhunters I used to know. Of Will and Jem, parabatai just as close as you two. And while you do look quite a bit like William, it was Jace that reminded me of him the most, thanks to his personality. Which shouldn't be too much of a miracle, they are both Herondales, after all. I looked at the photo, seeing all those people I had become so involved with, come to care for so much – and the only one still alive, still the same, is Tessa. Ever since I'd left London I'd sworn to myself to never get involved in Shadowhunter business again. Most of your race are arrogant airheads, anyway, but the rest of you... You have a tendency to draw me in, make me care about you and then die. Getting too attached to mortals is never a good idea when you yourself aren't one.
I looked at that photo and swore I'd never make the same mistake again and before I could even finish the thought, Goldilocks and Clary were at my door because Sam-" "It's Simon, Mag" "couldn't resist the colorful fairy drinks and got himself turned into a rat. And I guess you are aware of the rest of the story." The soft smile was back on Alec's face and somehow, they'd moved even closer during Magnus' monolog.
"I still don't see why any of that is my fault."
"It is your fault, my dear, because you do not only possess my favorite combination of looks in offensive quantities" the most heavenly lips he knew twitched up into a small grin that had his heart racing even faster "you also radiate that kind of bone-deep innocence that's not only a conundrum in a Lightwood, as I've told you before, it's also a conundrum in a Nephilim. Scratch that, it's rare to find in anyone these days and as much as I like to be cynical most of the time, it's just one of those character traits that draws me in. You amaze me and you confuse me and drive me up the wall and made me suffer like no one else but above all, that's what you've always done – you kept drawing me in with a pull so strong I just couldn't resist. It's little details and the big things and it all mixes together into something I just can't turn away from. You made me ignore all my vows to myself, all my few rules and principles" a breathless chuckle ringing in his ear, and when had they gotten so close that he could feel Alec's warm breath on his cheek? "and if I couldn't help giving you all of my present self, what else had I left to protect my heart with than my past? I needed something, because mortals inevitably hurt you if you let them in. If not in their lifetime, then after they're gone."
Magnus was sure he'd had more planned for that speech but before he could say anything more his lips were otherwise occupied and it fled his mind. In that moment, nothing mattered but Alec's lips moving against his, soft and slightly chapped and all barely controlled urgency and the need to express all the bottled up love between them.
They only broke the kiss when Alec gently pushed Magnus away, panting harshly and way too pale but with a bright smile on his face. He fell back into the pillows, closing his eyes, and Magnus immediately grabbed for his hand, trying to find his pulse at his wrist.
"Calm down, Mag," Alec murmured, one eye blinking open again to give him an amused look. "I'm fine. Just a little dizzy. Catarina said it's likely to happen, nothing but a little flashback episode."
"Can you blame me for worrying?" Magnus grumbled, his fingers not stilling until he'd found what he'd been looking for. Although it was a little too fast, even considering the fact that they'd been seconds away from making out on a hospital bed, the feeling of Alec's rapid pulse under his fingertips was reassuring. "You nearly died of a sepsis of all things less than twenty-four hours ago. I'm allowed to worry."
"You're allowed to worry, and I'm telling you not to because there's no reason for you to worry. It's just going to give you wrinkles."
"Alexander Gideon Lightwood, are you insinuating that I'm getting wrinkly?!"
"Maybe?" Alec chuckled to himself, looking two seconds away from breaking out in helpless laughter. "I would say you're getting old but I guess I'd be several centuries late for that."
Magnus was on him pinning him to the bed with a feral growl mere seconds later. Which was when Alec lost it and started laughing almost hysterically, twitching in Magnus' grasp until he started laughing himself. They calmed down again after a few minutes, when Alec's panting was making a turn for the worse and turned into coughing, forcing him to stop and take deeper breaths.
"Was that really necessary?" Magnus groaned into his shoulder, tucking himself even closer into Alec's side. He hadn't dared to just drop on top of him like he'd usually have with the way he was fighting for breath.
"I think it was," Alec choked out between deep inhales, amusement still evident in his voice despite its strained quality.
"Even though you nearly choked on your own breath?"
"Definitely." Giggling – actual high-pitched, silly giggles that made Magnus' heart flutter – Alec turned on his side and rested his cheek on Magnus' hair. "Have I ever told you how much I love your hair? It's really soft."
"Do you know that you sound really high right now?"
"Hmmm, high of you," Alec murmured, burrowing even deeper into Magnus' body, until the warlock gave up with a sigh and just threw his arms around his waist.
"You're just trying to flatter your way into my arms, cuddle monster." Fondness was seeping through every word, causing the content smile on Alec's face to widen, the most adorable dimple forming on his left cheek.
"I won't tell anyone that you're four hundred and a half if you don't tell anyone that I love cuddling. Gotta keep up the reputation."
"Sure, sweet pea."
They stayed silent for a while, just enjoying the silence and being this close again after weeks apart, listening as Alec's breathing went back to normal.
"I've missed holding you like this. Just maybe not in a hospital bed," Magnus said softly, eventually breaking the silence. Alec snorted into his chest in response, having snuggled down there earlier. "I hope you didn't just get snot on one of my favorite shirts."
"Oh, as if you couldn't just snap it away even if I did," Alec mumbled, cuddling even closer. "And I missed it, too. I missed you."
"I kind of noticed. So did my mailbox."
"I'd say sorry but I'm not really sorry."
"Did you actually fulfill that horridly overused romantic film clichée and called me just to hang up and without leaving a message because you wanted to hear my voice?"
A moment of silence. "... Yes?"
"And now you're blushing," Magnus chuckled, not even needing to feel the overheated skin of Alec's cheek against his thin shirt to tell. "Every time I think my memory is playing tricks on me and just glorifying your adorableness in your absence you come tumbling back into my life only to be even more precious than I remember."
"Jace broke my phone," Alec threw in after a moment of blushing even harder, to Magnus' amusement. "Twice." He sounded rather petuliant, making him even more adorable.
"He did?" Magnus felt Alec nod against his chest. "Why?"
"I quote 'Friends don't let friends keep calling their exes and hanging up'."
"And you memorized an exact quote of something Jace said because...?"
"That phone was brand new. I may or may not have put duck sheets on his bed right before a mission so that he'd only notice when he'd wake up in revenge."
Magnus buried his head in Alec's hair, trying to muffle his laughter. "Of course you have, darling." Absentmindedly, he started playing with the soft strands. "I wonder what it is with Herdonale boys and ducks. It must be a genetic animosity."
"So Will hated ducks, too, I guess?"
Magnus nodded. "And ingrained that hatred into his children and grandchildren from a young age. It seems to have passed down as a family tradition. Which doesn't solve the mystery because Jace has never been raised by a Herondale."
"Jace is insane enough to come up with a fear of ducks on his own," Alec chuckled, leaning back into Magnus' touch, seconds away from purring.
"Someone is enjoying this way too much."
"I'm allowed to. I nearly died not twenty-four hours ago, you said it yourself." Magnus burst into laughter, pushing Alec away from him a little so he could press a soft kiss to his lips. "Idiot," he whispered softly, pushing a stray strand behind Alec's ear.
"Call me whatever you want, just don't stop doing that," Alec sighed, leaning into Magnus' gently scratching fingers once more with a smile.
"Sounds oddly familiar, though a bit out of context," Magnus smirked, ducking quickly so that Alec's lazy attempt at a playful hit missed by a hair's breadth.
"What, no blushing?" Alec could almost hear the pout in Magnus' voice.
"Nah, too relaxed for that."
They fell back into companionable silence for a while, just breathing each other in and thinking.
"So, where do we go from here?" Alec was the one to break it first. "Because if you think I'm letting you leave my arms anytime soon, I should probably inform you that you're mistaken."
"I don't know," Magnus said, sounding thoughtful, the hand still playing with Alec's hair finally stilling. "Where do you want it to go?"
"I think we both know where I want this to go. The question is, do you want the same?"
"We'd both have to work on communicating quite a bit for this to work."
"I'm willing to try, if you are. Was it so difficult and horrifying to actually tell me something from your past that meant something to you?"
"Difficult? Yes. It means remembering and remembering usually means either sweet melancholy or pain. Or both. Horrifying? No. I actually like sharing those memories with you, I think."
"And I like hearing more about your past, so that would be a match."
"You're entirely too curious for your own good, Alexander. I don't think letting you in on my past could possibly make losing you any harder than it's already going to be, so no need to throw that wall up again. What about you? Planning on meeting up with any more murderous exes of mine to plot my descent into mortality behind my back, now that you won't have to sell your blood for memories anymore?"
"You make me sound like some kind of prostitute or drug dealer," Alec complained, then fell silent for a second. "Oh by the Angel, I am some kind of blood-dealing prostitute for vampires. What was I thinking? I must have been more desperate than I remember, though that's probably thanks to my last shreds of dignity trying to protect me from the truth."
"Oh Alec," Magnus chuckled, "how I missed you. I think I might be willing to try again if you promise to drop out of the business, my little blood-dealing vampire prostitute." This time, Alec's playful hit didn't miss its aim.
"Very funny, mister. But if you actually want me to say it, no more deals with vampires to get information about you and no more meeting up with your exes behind your back. Though I'm slightly afraid to ask how many murderous ones there actually are, if you're that concerned."
"Oh shut up, Alexander," Magnus growled, throwing the closest pillow in his face.
"So does that mean we try again?"
"That's what I've been trying to say."
"I could be okay with that."
"So what do you say if instead of going home with your siblings when Catarina lets you out of here you come with me and we have a little history lesson?"
"No taking it slow?"
"I would love to, but there's kind of a war on our doorstep and I don't want to waste another minute without you if I can help it. Also, I miss the fantastic sex."
Alec broke into another round of hysterical laughter. "Of course you do," he wheezed once he'd regained some semblance of control. "Why did I even ask."
"So what do you say to my proposal?"
"I'd love to accept it, but I have to ask Jace and Izzy first. They were worried about me."
"To be honest, I'm worried about you, too," Magnus said from where he was still laying on the bed, watching Alec type away on his phone.
"Oh?" Alec rose a questioning eyebrow, looking up from the small screen.
"Well, Catarina did say that you were not only dehydrated but also undernourished and sleep-deprived when she found you."
With a sigh, Alec sent the message and put his phone back onto the side table, turning to face Magnus. "Total honesty?" Magnus nodded.
"I think the whole situation has gotten too much for me." Alec winced as soon as the sentence was out. "God, that sounded pathetic coming from a Shadowhunter."
"You've got to stop calling yourself pathetic, love. You are anything but. Now instead of talking yourself down, care to elaborate on that?"
"Fine." Alec heaved a deep sigh before he continued. "It's just... When I'm not patrolling I'm on a hunt and unlike the others, I do have to attend Clave meetings and the like. I don't think we've ever been in quite such a bad situation, even during the Mortal War. It's so much harder to even guess at what that bastard might be doing next. His plans are much more diabolic than anything Valentine would have come up with. I'm scared. I've lost my brother, my baby brother no one would have dreamed of getting hurt, in a war maybe half as bad. What are the chances that, considering all my remaining family are going to be up front and in arms this time, all of them will survive?
“And what about you? Last time we had to face him he didn't even have his full forces at hand and you nearly got killed. Immortality doesn't keep you from being stabbed, as you like to point out. I'm bound to lose some of you and there is nothing I can do to protect anyone. I feel completely and utterly useless. Helpless. Can you blame me for losing my appetite, or sleep, over that train of thought?"
"Did you talk to anyone about this?" Magnus grabbed for his hand, holding it tightly.
"No." Alec shook his head. "I can't. I'm... I'm the older brother. I'm supposed to be strong for my siblings. After all, they're in the very same situation and you don't see Izzy or Jace breaking down. Give them something to kill and it works well enough as a distraction, for a time. It doesn't work for me. I can't stop overthinking everything. They're the warriors and I'm the protector. There's more than enough to do for them. For me, there's only a feeling of impending doom and helplessness and it's eating away at me. It's the kind of thing I'd come to you with. Because I know I don't need to protect you, not in that way."
"And that means a lot to me," Magnus said softly, pressing a kiss to the back of the hand he was still holding. "But I'm still going to kick your ass if you don't start taking better care of yourself from this second on."
"Yes, Sir," Alec chuckled, sliding down on the pillows and leaning in for a soft kiss. "Is the questioning over now? Because I really want to take a nap and then go home with you." An adorable yawn escaped him before he could suppress it.
"Yes, you've been sufficiently painfully honest with me for today to deserve your beauty sleep. And when you wake up, Catarina will finish up getting that demon poison out of you and we can cuddle on the couch while you question me on whatever you want."
"Whatever you can come up with."
"Even if you don't really want to tell me?"
"Sounds like a wonderful afternoon. Is there tea involved?"
"Tea and all the blankets I can find."
"Mhh, you're the best."
"Believe me, I know."
And as Alec slowly drifted into sleep in his arms, his soft, sleepy laugh still ringing in his ears, Magnus thought that maybe, just maybe the unfathomable hurt Alec's eventual death would mean was actually a just price for all the love and joy and laughter he'd bring with him in his lifetime. That he'd be glad to pay it and bear the unbearable once more if that meant he could have Alec for as long as possible. Perhaps he should send that tiny spider demon a bouquet to whatever dimension it was currently in, because it had definitely forced them to learn a valuable life lesson or two. (It had also led to a reinforcement of the rule that Magnus was the one to take care of all and any spiders, no matter how tiny, showing up in the apartment. If Chairman Meow wasn't quicker, though that had the unpleasant side effect that he liked to bring Alec his dead prey as a gift. But that's a whole different story)