Disclaimer: The Mortal Instruments series continues to not belong to me.
Notes: While I guess this technically takes place after CoFA, it makes no references to it whatsoever.
And cripes, CoFA… I have one post-CoFA fic languishing on my hard drive, but otherwise, I'm probably just going to pretend it never happened.
Big important note of importance: As of 5/20/11, this fic has been slightly edited to correct the logic fail that foxfire flamequeen pointed out and I'd hoped no one would notice. The story itself hasn't changed, just a few details have been altered.
Magnus looks extremely pleased with himself.
The quality of Alec's day promptly drops from 'long and tiring but doable' to 'oh god should I make a run for the door or just throw myself out of the nearest window?'.
"Do you like it?" Magnus asks, delight practically dripping from his voice. Alec blinks at him once or twice, because the last time he'd been this happy was when his favorite designer had won on Project Runway, and then glances around the room in search of the elusive it.
The problem is, the den appears exactly the same as it always has. Mismatched furniture scattered haphazardly, cat toys peeking out from under chairs, curtains tied back to let the light in, television playing some insipid chick flick that will doubtlessly put Alec to sleep in three minutes if he tries to watch it. He turns his attention to Magnus, but there's nothing different about him, either – his t-shirt is decked out in swirls of glitter, and his jeans have more holes than a golf course (if Alec's gaze lingers for a moment on the skin he can see through those holes, well, that's his prerogative), and he is beaming. Nothing new there. Perplexed, Alec says, "Do I like what, exactly?"
Magnus's smile dims by a few watts. His tone, however, is still perfectly bubbly when he says, "The walls, honey, the walls. I thought I'd repaint… well, not repaint, per se, but change the color. Like it?"
There's a wall about four feet to his left. Alec stares at it for what feels like a very long time, but eventually comes to the conclusion that it's the exact same robin's egg blue it was yesterday.
Of course, he can't actually say that to Magnus. Chances are, this particular hue is precisely one-third of a shade lighter than the previous one, and he doesn't want Magnus to be upset that he doesn't notice. Clary could probably tell the difference, but Alec cannot, and, more importantly, he really, really doesn't care. Not like he can say that, either. So instead, he just says, "Oh. Yeah, it's nice," and hopes that's the correct answer.
For a split second, Magnus's expression changes into something unreadable, and Alec thinks he's said the wrong thing, but then the brightness and cheer is back and brilliant as ever. "Good. I must have spent an hour cycling through paint samples until I could decide what I wanted… I think this is better than 'eggplant', don't you?"
Alec nods in all the proper places until Magnus realizes he's not interested and yanks him over to the couch by the belt loops. And it's silly, considering all he was being asked was if he liked the paint on the walls, but he's kind of disproportionately relieved that he got it right.
Alec wakes to an impossibly high-pitched screech, a string of curses, and four paws' worth of claws scrabbling frantically on the floorboards in the hallway. Wondering when he fell asleep, he lifts his head off his arm and sits up. Magnus is standing in front of his closet, rubbing the scratch marks on his foot, muttering profanity in various languages.
"What'd you do?" Alec asks, voice still thick with sleep. The warlock turns and offers up a smile, forgetting about his small injury in an instant. "Step on the cat?"
Magnus sighs dramatically. "If he wasn't underfoot all the time…" He shakes his head and spins around to face his closet again.
"What time is it?"
"Quarter to six, or thereabouts. Want to go out for dinner?"
"As long as I don't have to change," Alec says. He's wearing jeans and a dark gray sweater. He can't remember if the sweater was always dark gray, or if it used to be black and repeated laundering has started to wash the color out, but his money is on the latter.
Throwing Alec an amused glance over his shoulder, Magnus says, "You don't have to change, I suppose, but I do," and lays two shirts on the mattress, steps back, and surveys them with a critical eye. "I feel like I need some red in my outfit tonight."
"What a surprise."
"Well, I certainly can't wear this out." And Alec can actually see his point, because there are more buckles on Magnus's shirt than he can count and it belongs in an S&M club more so than in any respectable restaurant. "Which one do you like better?"
"You always ask me this, and I always say I don't know."
"Just pick one."
They're going to be here all night otherwise, so Alec looks at the shirts. One is brick-red, one is a slightly darker red with some faint, dizzying pattern, and they're both long-sleeved and mostly free of glitter. "Um," he says, "the red one." Then, because that's not exactly specific enough, he adds, "The darker red one."
"…all right," Magnus replies. Alec doesn't miss the way he hesitates before saying it, though. "Do you want a scarf or something?"
"It's not that cold."
"Not because it's cold," Magnus explains patiently. "I have some interesting scarves, that's all. You could add a splash of color to your outfit."
"I'd rather not."
"Suit yourself. But really, Alexander, we have got to do something about your irrational prejudice towards color."
"I don't know anything about color. Does it matter?" Alec says flatly. "And don't call me Alexander."
Halfway through taking the dark red shirt off the hanger, Magnus flings his hands in the air and manages to send the whole thing flying across the bedroom. Chairman Meow, who has just begun to creep back inside, shoots straight out again after getting a shirt to the head. "Does it matter? Of course it matters! Color, Alexander – sorry – is what brightens the world. Imagine how dull everything would be if it was all just black and white. Black and white have their uses – and yes, you are devastatingly attractive in black, I won't deny that – but you could –"
"I don't care!" Alec yells.
Magnus sits back on his heels, startled.
"You don't have to shout," he says after a long, tense moment.
Alec winces and slumps against the wall. "Sorry," he mumbles. "I'm just tired."
It's a pretty poor excuse, but Magnus gazes at him for a moment, then nods and says, "You do look exhausted." Alec had spent much of the previous night chasing a Moloch demon all over Park Slope with his siblings and Clary. One missed night of sleep, though, does not make him this irritable, and Magnus knows it. He still lets it go. "Maybe we should just stay in tonight."
Alec shrugs, eyes on the stray thread he's tugging off the cuff of his jeans. Magnus touches his cheek and gets up to put the shirts back in his closet.
They order Chinese and eat it on the couch while watching Criminal Minds, and later get so thoroughly wrapped up in one another that they don't notice Chairman Meow licking the container of orange chicken clean and then throwing up down the back of the television. Magnus doesn't mention Alec's bizarre outburst again, but Alec catches the warlock occasionally giving him these odd, thoughtful looks that he can't quite decipher. It unnerves him more than he'd like to admit.
"You're using my toothbrush again."
Alec stops mid-brush, watching Magnus in the mirror as he saunters into the bathroom, clad only in a pair of silk pajama pants, and completely forgets what he's doing until Magnus says, "I know it's not that big of a deal, as we swap saliva often enough, but you do have your own toothbrush."
After spitting out a mouthful of toothpaste foam, Alec compares the brush in his hand to the one in the little white holder next to the sink. The toothbrush he's holding is blue. The other – apparently his own – is also blue. Not much of a shock there. He doesn't see the difference.
Magnus reaches around him and takes the leftover brush. "I suppose I'll use this one, then," he says, with an appropriately long-suffering sigh, and begins applying toothpaste with the precision of a neurosurgeon.
Upon closer inspection, they're not the same blue. Magnus would probably label his as 'cornflower blue' and Alec's as 'royal blue' or some other set of Crayola-crayon names, but to Alec, they're too similar to tell apart quickly and he doesn't have time to scrutinize a pair of toothbrushes several times a day.
"Couldn't you have gotten me a different color?" he complains, rinsing his – Magnus's – brush off.
"Of course not," Magnus says loftily. "It's blue. I subscribe to the theory that all toothbrushes should be blue. Blue is the One True Way."
There's really nothing to say to that besides, "You're weird," to which Magnus smiles brightly and thanks him.
Later, while Magnus is lounging on the mattress and looking far too inviting, Alec plucks his own toothbrush from the holder, unearths a black Sharpie from the depths of his satchel, and carefully draws thick stripes around the handle. Magnus watches him, bemused. "What on earth are you doing?"
"Making it easier to tell whose is whose," Alec mumbles around the cap in his mouth.
"By… coloring my toothbrush."
Alec pauses and squints at the brush he's holding. It looks like the one Magnus had been using, the one he'd said was actually Alec's. Apparently, though, it's not. "Damn it," he says. "Well, fine. Your toothbrush has stripes, then." He closes the marker and replaces the brush in the bathroom and makes a mental note to bring his own from home. It's unmistakably red.
"You know," Magnus says thoughtfully when Alec comes back into bedroom, "I've been meaning to ask you –"
He never does find out what Magnus wants to ask, because at that very moment, Alec's phone starts ringing. The display says 'Jace' and Jace wouldn't call at ten to one unless some demon was munching on construction workers or whatnot, so it's not a call he can ignore.
"A few vampires stumbled upon a literal nest of Raveners out in the Bronx," Jace says as soon as Alec picks up. "Apparently nobody's told them about birth control. There's at least eight of them, so we're going to need all the help we can get."
"Great," Alec mutters. It wasn't like he had other plans tonight, no, not at all. Magnus is still draped across the bed in a quite indecent manner, shirtless, watching Alec through half-lidded eyes, and for about two seconds Alec gives serious consideration towards dropping his phone in a sink full of water.
Then he says, "I'll meet you outside the house. Bring my gear," and starts hunting for his jeans. Magnus tosses him his shirt and sweater. Once he's dressed, the warlock seizes him around the waist before he can escape and kisses him deeply, which really doesn't make it any easier to leave.
"Be careful," he says.
"I will." Alec presses his face into Magnus's shoulder for a brief moment, tries to breathe him in. This is always the hard part – having to turn and walk away, knowing damn well that this could be the night he makes one wrong move and ends up with a claw punched through his chest or something equally fatal. He's a Shadowhunter, he should be prepared to die, but he isn't. Sometimes he doesn't think he'll ever be. "I love you."
Magnus's arms tighten around him. "Love you too, beautiful." Then he lets go. Alec swings his satchel over his shoulder and makes for the front door.
Halfway there, he accidentally steps on the toy Chairman Meow is playing with. There is a pop and a crunch and the plastic ball is no more. Chairman Meow sinks his teeth into Alec's ankle in retaliation, which Magnus finds inordinately hilarious.
"Oh, you shut up," Alec says, and closes the door on Magnus's laughter.
Magnus looks pensive when he skulks into the bedroom, toying with the cuff of his sweatshirt, and peers around before coming to a stop at the foot of the mattress. Alec glances up at him. "What's the matter?"
"Have you seen my green sweatshirt?"
"No. What's wrong with the one you've got on?"
Lifting one shoulder in a shrug, Magnus pulls a sleeve down over his hand and holds it up to the light. "It's too blue," he explains. "I'm not feeling in the right mood for blue anymore. It looked all right earlier, but I've changed my mind. Besides, the other one goes quite well with the houndstooth shirt I just bought."
"Oh," Alec says. He has no idea what 'houndstooth' even is. "There's a sweatshirt draped over the shower curtain rod, I think. I don't know why it's there, but maybe that's the one you want?"
"Maybe." Magnus wanders off to the bathroom and Alec returns to doodling in the margins of his journal, having long since run out of things to write about.
Apparently, it's not the right sweatshirt, but Magnus seems to have changed his mind about changing his mind, because he settles himself on the other side of the mattress with his arms behind his head and gazes at the ceiling, lost in thought. Alec supplies the teacup at the top of the page with spindly little legs, eyes, and a pair of wings.
"I've been thinking," Magnus says suddenly after twenty minutes of companionable silence, "maybe I should repaint this room, too. How do you feel about red?"
"Um." Just to make sure he isn't crazy, Alec gives the walls a once-over, then says, "They're already red." In fact, he'd been there when Magnus decided the neon yellow wasn't working for him and that he preferred 'fire engine'.
Magnus grins and snaps his fingers. The walls shimmer for a moment, then change color. "Not anymore!" he declares. "Hm… you know, the 'eggplant' isn't all that bad in here. What do you think?"
"I think, if you ever get fired from being High Warlock, you'll have a lucrative career as the paint person in a Home Depot or something. Any more questions?"
"Just one," Magnus says, rolling up onto his knees and leaning in to brush his lips against Alec's. "What color are my eyes?"
Alec stares. "What, did you forget?" Not for the first time, he wonders if Magnus has managed to get completely intoxicated during the ten minutes Alec was in the shower. "There's a mirror right over there, if you did," he adds, tilting his head towards the vanity. "Actually, there's like, seventeen mirrors in this place."
"Are you implying that I'm vain?" Magnus teases. "And I want you to tell me."
Alec rolls his eyes. "Fine. They're green. Ish. They look yellow in the right light. Happy?"
Magnus doesn't look happy. His forehead creases and he sits back, tilting his head to the side, and Alec recognizes the look Hodge always gave right before saying no, that wasn't right, where in the world did Alec get that idea? His heart shudders against his ribs. If Isabelle lied to him, he's going to go home and throttle her.
Magnus's expression clears after a minute. He taps a manicured nail against his chin, something like triumph in his eyes, and says, "You're colorblind, aren't you?"
The way Alec flinches is answer enough. Magnus is silent for a few moments, then says, "I thought so," summons a book from thin air, and flops down on the mattress to read it. Alec, glad he's not pressing the subject, curls back over his notebook, hair hiding his face.
He hates the word 'colorblind'. He can see colors – just not the same ones everybody else does, most of the time.
Alec carefully outlines tiny feathers on the teacup's wings and wonders what color Magnus's eyes really are.
They don't talk about it until the weekend. It's just after four a.m. – also known as 'way too early to be awake on any day with no morning training scheduled' – but Alec can't sleep, so he's holed up in the den with a book and some blankets. Magnus strolls in between pages ninety-six and ninety-seven, plants himself on the opposite end of the couch, and turns the television on.
Alec almost hits him with the lexicon of Northern European demons he'd found buried in a box within the Institute's unexplored basement. He's trying to read, damn it. But the book is very old and fragile, so he just delicately turns a page and glares at Magnus instead. Magnus looks amused rather than chastened. He turns, his back to the side of the couch, props his feet up, and holds out a hand. "Come here."
When Alec moves towards him, Magnus pulls him in so he's sitting between the warlock's legs, his back to Magnus's front. The blankets end up on the floor. Yawning, Magnus curls an arm around Alec's waist and murmurs, "What are you doing up?"
"I couldn't sleep," Alec says. "You don't have to stay up with me. Go back to bed."
Magnus yawns again. "…nah." He skims his fingers under Alec's t-shirt and draws small circles on his hip with his thumb. Alec tilts his head backwards, resting it in the curve of Magnus's neck, and traces the peeling letters on the book's cover.
Finally, his curiosity – which he has been firmly suppressing the past few days – gets the better of him. "How did you know?"
Magnus doesn't even need to ask what he means. They've only been dating, officially or otherwise, for under a year, but it feels like so much longer when judging by how well they understand one another. "These walls," he says, "are an alarming shade of lime green. When you came inside, I expected you to be, well, alarmed. But you didn't even realize until I pointed it out. That clued me in, I suppose."
"Oh," Alec says, smoothing the edge of an E down. It pops right back up again. "That's all?"
Magnus shakes his head. "I wasn't entirely sure if you were screwing with me or not, actually – that's what I've always thought before," he admits, and Alec smiles despite himself. "But I came up with a theory, so I tested it. Remember when I said I needed something red and asked you to pick which shirt I should wear? One was lavender, the other was orange, but you still said they were different shades of red. You also didn't correct me when I told you your toothbrush was blue, even though it's green. Mine is blue, but you couldn't tell them apart. And I asked if you'd seen my green sweatshirt, which I was wearing at the time, but I told you it was blue and you didn't think I was crazy. The only thing you got right was that the bedroom walls were red."
He pauses to take a breath, giving Alec (who isn't sure if he should be impressed at Magnus's cunning or a little offended that he was being secretly tested) ample time to cut in and say, "Wouldn't it have been quicker to just ask?"
"I was going to ask," Magnus defends himself, "but your brother called and you had to run off and poke holes in Raveners, so I figured it wasn't really the time."
"You're unbelievable," Alec mumbles, reopening his book.
Magnus laughs quietly and kisses the top of his head. "Of course." Then he says what Alec has been expecting all along: "But you could have just told me to start with and saved us both a lot of trouble."
For the longest time, Alec honestly had not cared that he was colorblind. It didn't affect his Shadowhunting capabilities in any way – demons weren't exactly color-coded – and once Jace and Isabelle got sick of telling him things were the wrong color just to see if he'd ever figure it out (which didn't take long, as Alec was usually suspicious and got a second opinion), he hardly even noticed. It was a minor inconvenience – while he didn't need another reason to be labeled as different, he also had far more pressing things to occupy himself with.
And then Magnus came along.
Magnus, Alec learned immediately, was all about color. Simon once described his closet as looking like Rainbow Brite threw up in it. Alec had never met anyone who took so much time coordinating his outfit for the day, and he'd lived with Isabelle for sixteen years. The warlock could literally talk for hours about why brown shoes didn't go with black pants or how red made someone with pale skin look sick. And Alec always listened, because he wanted so desperately to understand – but, in the end, he would look at a light green jacket and a deep purple one and still only see blue.
He had never truly hated being colorblind until he needed to ask Isabelle what color his own boyfriend's eyes were.
The words slip past his lips before he can make a conscious effort not to say them. "Does it bother you?"
He can't see Magnus's face, but he can hear the naked surprise in his voice when he says, "No. Why would it?"
Alec sighs, sets the book on the coffee table, and turns so he's on his knees, facing Magnus. "You're colorful," he says bluntly. "I mean, someone would have to be literally blind not to see that. And you put so much effort into being colorful, because it means a lot to you, right?"
"You could say that," Magnus agrees. "But not to the point where I mind you not knowing if my pants are green or yellow." Almost involuntarily, Alec glances down, and Magnus grins. "They're purple."
"That was actually going to be my first guess," Alec says dryly. "You're missing the point, though. You pick out clothes or paint or toothbrushes and ask my opinion all the time, and I can never give it to you."
"Well," Magnus says, eyeing Alec's shirt and pajama pants, "that's not really a problem either, considering your preferences tend toward black, black, and more black."
Magnus has not only missed the point, he's removed it from his contacts and is ignoring all its calls. Alec likes black because it's always black. There's no chance of him picking up a black sweater and someone later telling him it's really orange or maroon or chartreuse or some other outrageous color he would never be caught dead in. "Forget it," he mutters. He starts to turn around again, but before he can get halfway there, Magnus stops him with a hand on his side.
"Alec, it doesn't matter to me. At all. I promise."
"It matters to me," Alec retorts, pressing his palms against his eyes. He doesn't understand why Magnus is having such difficulty with this concept. He drops his hands and says, "Look, the two of us are totally different. You're a warlock, I'm a Shadowhunter. You're going to live forever, it'll be a miracle if I make it to twenty-five. You can use magic to solve nearly all your problems, I just muddle through mine and occasionally hack them to pieces with a knife. And I can't do anything about all that, so I ignore it and try to focus on anything about you that I can be a part of." He stops, not only for air, but because his throat feels oddly tight and he isn't going to let himself get upset over something so insignificant. "But, this – this whole color thing – it's such a large part of who you are, and I can't – it's just another thing I can't share."
Magnus leans back against the arm of the couch, narrowed eyes boring into Alec's own – and then he lifts one slim hand and rests it against Alec's head, tucking a stray lock of hair behind his ear.
"Alec, love," he murmurs. "By now, I'm pretty sure you're a larger part of who I am than my unnatural preoccupation with color is."
Alec doesn't need a mirror, though there are plenty in the apartment, to know how red he's turning. Damn his mother's genes for providing him with a fair complexion and the propensity to blush at the slightest provocation.
"Oh," he finally says.
"I know how you feel," Magnus continues. "It would be nice if we could share everything, and you're right, there are some things we just can't. But we share all the important things."
Magnus shrugs and smiles faintly. "Food. What little time we have. My cat. Unpopular opinions about American Idol contestants. Reading material. Ourselves, even." He slides his hand down to Alec's cheek. "I love you. You know that, don't you?"
Alec just nods, not sure how to respond. It's been almost a year and he's still occasionally rendered speechless by how much and how completely Magnus loves him. "I know," he says once his voice returns.
Smile widening, Magnus says, "Then does whether or not you can accurately name the color of my pants honestly matter?"
Alec really has nothing to say this time. It sounds so unimportant when Magnus puts it like that. He shakes his head, turns his face into Magnus's hand, lips against his palm, and murmurs, "Why do I never win any of our arguments?"
"Because," Magnus says solemnly, "I am always right." Then he winds his arms around Alec's back and pulls him down. Alec straightens out his legs so they're lying flush, bodies fitting together perfectly ('two halves of a whole' is definitely cliché, but he thinks it anyway), and Magnus kisses him and he loses himself for a while.
An hour or so later, when Chairman Meow has ventured out of his little cat bed by the heater and is crying piteously because his food dish is empty, Alec leans his forehead against Magnus's and asks the question that's been circling his thoughts for days like a hungry vulture. "What color are your eyes, anyway?"
"An extraordinary combination of green and gold," Magnus replies. "You had it right. I just wanted to see how you'd react if I acted like you were wrong. It was a test and you failed."
"Oh. That's… great, I suppose," Alec says, because if he had to kill his sister for lying to him, he would no longer have anyone to exchange disgusted looks with when Jace and Clary were being revolting. He thinks, wistfully, that it would be sort of nice to know what green looks like.
Magnus strokes Alec's hair, the back of his neck, and slips a hand down the collar of his t-shirt to brush warm fingertips over his shoulder blades. "What color are they to you?" he wonders.
Alec props himself up on his elbows. He's spent so much time studying Magnus's face that he could draw it from memory, but never has before, because a black outline on white paper simply doesn't do him justice. He needs color. Even if it's Alec's slightly skewed version of what color the world is.
"Blue," he says.
Spun acts like she knows things: While red-green colorblindness is way more common, there's another type of colorblindness called tritanopia which basically turns most colors that aren't red or blue into… red and blue. But I really, really have no knowledge other than what I read on the internet, so if my explanation of what colors a tritanopic would see is completely incorrect, pretend this is some Shadowhunter-specific version of colorblindess.
All right, enough babble. I finished this fic yesterday and was super psyched to post it, because it was my birthday, but was too borked. Thus, you get it late. Pretend I'm having a hobbit birthday celebration and this fic is my gift to all of you. :]