For Rish, my dearest Rish, who asked for anything at all but then recommended Malec.
Thanks to my darlingest Sam, who looked over this multiple times because she's the bestest.
Warning for a bit of ableism from the Lightwood parents, mostly.
Some dialogue copied exactly from City of Bones and Kissed outtake. All credit to CC.
I know only the smallest bit of sign language and have only very limited experience with language speakers, so I apologize if anything in here is factually wrong.
Most people get their Soulmarks any time between fifteen and twenty. A few words, sometimes a sentence or even two. The next words their soulmate will say to them. Usually, the first words they'll ever hear from their soulmate.
Magnus never got a Soulmark. He's looked. Many times.
At first he just assumed it was because of what he was, some byproduct of his freakishness. In his centuries, he's learned differently. Most immortals, most warlocks like him, they get Soulmarks the same time as everyone else. Sometimes they have to wait decades, centuries, to hear those words. Some of them find another Soulmark, decades after living a life with their first.
But not Magnus.
Most of the time, he can pretend it doesn't bother him. There are enough people who haven't gotten a Soulmark yet or have already lost their Marked or who just plain don't care. Magnus is not alone.
But sometimes, sometimes he wonders what it is that makes him so incapable of being truly loved. Out of an infinite number of people (because Magnus may very well live forever), not one of them is meant to be his.
That hurts, when he lets himself think about it. So he tries not to.
When Alec was born, he terrified them all. He didn't scream — his mouth was open wide, but there was no sound. His parents didn't know what to do.
"He's not making noise," Maryse says as a Silent Brother wraps the baby delicately in a towel. "Why isn't he making noise? Is he breathing?"
Robert, who is closer, can hear the air whistling in and out of the baby's throat. "He's… He's breathing. I don't understand."
"He is all right," the Silent Brother tells them. "But he will not speak. His vocal cords never developed the way they should have."
He passes the baby to Maryse, who stares at him in some combination of awe and horror. "Never speak? And there's nothing you can do?"
The hooded man shakes his head. "No."
"What if we took him to a warlock?" Robert asks.
"You may try," the Silent Brother says. It is not reassuring.
Still, for years, Robert and Maryse do try. They visit as many warlocks as they can find, trying to fix their only son.
Alec, meanwhile, learns sign from Hodge, who started learning not long after their arrival in New York because he knew Alec would need to. It's not perfect, because too much of sign is face and inflection of movements and all of these little subtleties that Hodge doesn't know. Alec is two when Hodge tells the elder Lightwoods that Alec needs a proper tutor, or at least experience with someone who actually, maybe, fluently speaks the only language their son can learn.
Roberts insists that Alec will not be mute forever, that they will find a solution. A heavily pregnant Maryse corners Hodge hours later and tells Hodge that she has arranged for a tutor to come in. He will teach young Alec and Hodge as well.
After Isabelle is born, Maryse drops in on lessons as well. She wants to understand her son.
Isabelle grows up speaking sign language as fluently as she speaks English. Jace, when he arrives years later, picks it up almost as well, mostly because he hates being left out of conversations. Maryse understands more than she speaks, which is fine — Alec's hearing has never been a problem. Their conversations wind up an odd mix of languages, but most of the house doesn't care.
Robert, perpetually busy, never properly learns. He picks up the basics: hello, please, thank you. Eventually Maryse sits him down and forces him to learn the alphabet so that Alec can fingerspell at him, if he needs to.
Alec avoids his father, mostly. Robert doesn't have the patience to hold a conversation when Alec has to write it all down, so mostly, it isn't worth it.
This makes Izzy sad.
Max thinks sign language is totally awesome because, duh, secret language.
Alec learns, as he grows, that he can make some noises in his exhalations. He can shush people, which he uses with great joy when he is five years old and just figuring out how to make himself heard. He can make the sound of an f, which isn't so exciting when he's five, but eventually becomes his alternative to swearing (to Jace's great amusement). He can stomp his foot or cluck his tongue to get attention. Jace knows morse code, so Alec can cluck his tongue to communicate when forced into darkness, which takes ages and usually isn't worth it, but it's good to know it's an option.
He can sigh and huff and Izzy calls him a moody teenaged girl. In answer, Alec shoots her a sign that isn't strictly ASL, but Izzy gets the point.
Mostly, Alec is not any more unhappy than anyone else. He carries around a pad of paper with him all the time, and a pen. The first page says, I cannot speak, but I can understand you. Some days, he wishes he didn't have to, but mostly, it's the only life Alec has ever known. His inability to speak does not hinder his ability to shoot a bow.
The moment where he draws back the bow, holds in his breath, then lets the string thrum through his fingers, it is the moment when he forgets all of it and just… lives.
Alec's Soulmark bruises itself into his skin when he's fifteen. He doesn't notice until he goes to put a Mark on his hip. The bruise is already there.
Come in. And try not to murder any of my guests.
Alec huffs out a laugh. Carefully, he traces his fingers over the Soulmark. The script is looped and elegant and somehow simultaneously sprawling, as though someone with fine penmanship was in a hurry. The words are upside down on his hip, so that Alec can read them.
He draws his fingers over them again. As he does, he cannot help the thought that they are beautiful.
Izzy squeals so high his ears bleed when he shows her. Jace, Jace is the one that points out the flaw that Alec hasn't even begun to consider.
"What does your soulmate's say, though?"
Alec knows his face drops. He considers the options. Some terrifying form of sign in tattoo? Nonsense syllables?
"Maybe written words count," Izzy says. She doesn't sound very convincing.
Alec slips back to his room, sprawling across his bed. He rubs his thumb over the words again, then, without even thinking about it, draws his fist up to his chest and makes circles with it, signing sorry.
And he hates it, because he knows it's not his fault, and he is normally so unapologetic. He cannot speak; this is a fact of the universe and nothing more. He hates when people call it a disability. He's not disabled — he's perfectly capable. It's just a different sort of capable than people are used to.
But this — this is someone's Soulmark, something that will stay forever, and Alec has never wished harder that he could speak.
Magnus Bane is… not what Alec is expecting from the High Warlock of Brooklyn, to be perfectly honest. He's taller than Alec, which is rare enough to be notable, and he appears to be covered in… is that glitter? And his lips are blue.
Alec doesn't want to admit that he finds the warlock attractive. Luckily, no one's asking.
"Magnus? Magnus Bane?" Izzy asks.
"That would be me," the man says to her, his voice almost lazy. He glances at them all, but he's still speaking to Izzy. "Children of the Nephilim. Well, well. I don't recall inviting you."
"I have an invitation," Izzy says, waving it in the air like a trophy. "These—" she gestures to them all, "—are my friends."
Magnus blinks at the invitation. "I must've been drunk," he mumbles, not to anyone in particular. He looks up, surveying their strange group. "Come in. And try not to murder any of my guests."
Alec freezes, his attention abruptly consumed by this warlock. He can't help the small gasp.
Magnus raises an eyebrow at him. "All right?"
Alec nods furiously, avoiding looking at Jace and Izzy, who are both staring at him.
Jace recovers first, and draws attention to himself, as always. "Even if one of them spills a drink on my new shoes?"
"Even then." Magnus's hand shoots out, plucking the stele out of Jace's hand and holding it up. "As for this," Magnus says, sliding it into Jace's jeans pocket, "keep it in your pants, Shadowhunter." Magnus grins and disappears up the stairs.
Izzy blinks, and then starts signing at him.
That's your soulmate?
Alec shrugs. Apparently.
Dad's gonna kill you, oh my god. He's hot, in a weird, sparkly kind of way. Do you think he's hot? Alec's pink flush must be answer enough, because Izzy keeps signing, Clary and Simon staring at her dumbly. You have to tell him, Alec. You have to. He might never know, otherwise, and that's just tragically unfair.
Jace rolls his eyes. Izzy, now is not the time to play matchmaker.
"Jaaaace," Izzy whines. SOULMATE, she signs emphatically.
Alec looks in between them. Later, he signs at Izzy, who sulks tragically as Jace starts up the stairs.
"What just happened, exactly?" Simon asks.
Izzy pats his head. "Nothing important," she says primly. Alec loves her.
At first, Magnus just assumes the boy is shy. Either that, or stricken silent in awe of Magnus' fabulous presence, or something.
Magnus knows how to read subtleties of body language, though, and he knows what it means when those unnaturally blue eyes flick up and down his figure more than once. More than twice.
He's beautiful, and, in a way, he reminds Magnus of Will, whom Magnus had never loved but sometimes misses. Except Will, Will always came across as so damn jaded, because he had suffered so much. He always had a quick word or clever quip at the ready, but Magnus saw the pain that he held inside, the way he held himself at a careful distance.
This boy may share Will's dark hair and blue eyes, but he doesn't share Will's cynicism. Instead, he looks almost… innocent. Which, for a Shadowhunter of probably 17, 18 years, is actually quite a feat.
Magnus isn't usually drawn to innocence. He doesn't want to be the one to shatter anybody's illusions.
But this boy is different.
Alec doesn't say a single word the entire time the Shadowhunters are present, but Magnus is interested anyway. Before the leave, he spells his number on the back of Alec's hand and tells the boy to call him. Alec flushes a brilliant red, but he almost sort of nods, which is good enough.
Alec isn't sure what he's doing here. He's standing outside Magnus Bane's apartment. By himself. But he wanted to do this alone. He needs to.
Magnus saved his life. But he didn't stay so that Alec could talk to him. He was gone by the time Alec woke up.
Alec presses the buzzer.
"Who calls upon the High Warlock?" a voice demands.
Alec blinks, and then fumbles for the text-to-speech app on his phone. "Alec Lightwood," the phone pronounces in its electronic voice. He hopes the speech is muffled enough by the intercom system to sound normal, because this is not an explanation he wants to relay to a speaker in the wall. After a moment, something pings and the door unlocks.
A knot in Alec's chest loosens. He makes his way up the steps, phone clutched in one hand, notebook and pencil in the other. Magnus leans against the doorframe.
"Alexander Lightwood." He looks tired. Less sparkly. Alec still thinks he's beautiful.
Alec waves slightly. Magnus frowns at him, and Alec steps forward quickly, pulling open the notebook and showing Magnus the first page. I cannot speak, but I can understand you.
After Magnus reads it, he takes it back and flips through several pages, to where he's already written, I know you told me to call, but for obvious reasons, phone calls don't work out so well for me. I hope this is okay instead. Hastily, he adds, may I come in? and then passes it back to Magnus, who reads this as well.
After a long moment, Magnus nods, leading the way.
Alec follows him, trying not to fidget too much.
"Would you like some tea?" Magnus asks as he sprawls himself across an ottoman, leaning back on his hands. Alec hesitates, and then nods.
Suddenly, his hand is warm. Alec looks down and finds a cup in his left hand. He jumps, and then grits his teeth in a hiss as it spills.
Magnus looks curious at the sound.
"So you just can't speak?"
Alec flips through the notebook. He's got a patented answer to this question, though not everyone gets it because some people just don't need to know.
When I was born, my vocal cords didn't work. They never have. Yes, we've tried to fix it. Obviously, it didn't work. Yes, I know sign language. Do you?
"I don't," Magnus says. And then, "Why are you here?"
Alec flips to a new page. I wanted to thank you, he scrawls. you saved my life. but I didn't get to thank you. you didn't have to do it.
Magnus raises an eyebrow artfully. "You're… welcome?" he says. Alec smiles awkwardly.
He draws a firm line in the notebook before writing, I know this is kind of a personal question but I have to ask anyway. Alec's hands are shaking as he writes out his next sentence. do you have a Soulmark?
Something in Magnus shutters, closing off. He tries to turn away, but Alec catches his hand, guides him to stay.
He lifts his shirt and pulls at the waistband of his pants slightly, letting the words show.
Magnus's breath catches as he reads them.
Alec smiles softly.
"Oh," Magnus says again. "That's why I never had one. Because it's you."
And Alec knows that he cannot fathom what Magnus is feeling in that moment, after centuries of believing that he had no soulmate, that he was meant to be alone.
I'm sorry, he writes on the pad, but before he's even done writing, Magnus is shaking his head.
"Please, don't apologize." Magnus's fingers reach for Alec's left hand, and Alec meets him half way. "I… I never expected— but don't you dare think that's your fault."
I wouldn't blame you, Alec writes out.
Again, Magnus is shaking his head. His fingers grip Alec's tightly, but he doesn't know what else to say.
Eventually, he says, "I guess I know what language I'll be learning next." Magnus' grin is shaky, but in a stunned way, rather than an insincere one.
Alec struggles to hold the notebook and the pencil and Magnus' hand. He stares pointedly at their grip. Magnus rubs his thumb over Alec's knuckles before letting go.
Will you go on a date with me? Alec scrawls shakily.
Magnus laughs, when he sees it. "Sure, Alexander."
One date turns into two turns into three.
Their third date is in some hole-in-the-wall Chinese food place which Magnus swears up and down tastes totally authentic. Alec's notebook lies on the table between them. Magnus clutches Alec's hand across the table for a moment, but after they order he lets go and pulls back.
Learning signs, he signs shakily. I am trying.
He looks so utterly earnest, but his motions are off and his word order is so English that Alec just throws his head back and huffs out his laugh.
Thank you, he signs back eventually. Can you understand me?
Yes, Magnus signs, and that one actually bears decent resemblance to what it's supposed to.
Alec grins so broadly his whole face lights up.
Thank you, he signs again.
Their conversation is a mix of signs and writing and Magnus' voice and Alec has never been more content.