Disclaimer: The Mortal Instruments is property of Cassandra Clare.
Warnings: None, really. Canonical character death? I mean, if you don't know Max dies... spoiler: Max dies.
Notes: You know, I was trying to write a TID fic when this happened instead. I will never escape the Malec feels.
Angst! H/C! Flashbacks to happier times! A pretentious, possibly irrelevant title! Failed attempts at poetic writing! The mental image of Magnus as a Rockette! Forget April Fools, it's fricking Christmas. FYI, there are a few small references to Clockwork Princess in here. You're probably safe even if you haven't read it, because they're pretty subtle, but I thought I'd mention it just in case anyone's still trying to avoid CP2 spoilers. Enjoy~
Perihelion: the point in a celestial object's orbit when it is closest to the sun.
Max had been dead for an entire day.
Alec had tried the words out earlier, lying on the bed in the room he'd claimed – Max is dead. Max is dead. My little brother is dead. They hadn't fit in his mouth quite right. He wouldn't have believed them at all if he couldn't vividly remember Max's loose, limp body in his father's arms.
He didn't know how long they'd all sat there on the dais, blind to the commotion around them. It had been mid-morning by the time someone finally coaxed Robert up, talked him into taking Max from the Hall, and Alec had watched Max's little hand dangle lifelessly as Robert walked away before getting to his feet. He attempted, for a while, to get his mother to quit shouting at Jia Penhallow – the poor woman was beginning to look quite beside herself – but with no success. Eventually, he gave up, sat down next to his sister, let her curl against his side and bury his face in his shoulder, and decided to let his father handle this. Which he did, when he came back not much later – he took one look at Alec and Isabelle, another at Jace where he stood against a pillar, turned to his wife, and simply said, "Maryse."
She immediately spun around and glared at him, hands clenched into sharp-knuckled fists, and Alec was almost certain she would start shouting again. If that happened, they were getting up and leaving if he had to drag Isabelle with him. Their parents' fights were legendary.
But Maryse didn't yell. She just stood there for what felt like decades.
Then she started to cry.
There was something awkward and embarrassing about watching adults cry. Adults weren't supposed to cry. When he was little, Alec had thought you only got to have children if you knew how to fix everything that went wrong without breaking down, but he'd long since realized that there was no qualifying exam to be a parent. Parents were just as fallible and emotional as anyone else. That didn't make it any less uncomfortable, though, so he'd stared at a splotch of dried blood on the dais and wished they could just go home.
They didn't, of course. They didn't even return to the Penhallows', understandably, and Alec wouldn't be surprised if Jia got some kind of restraining order against them. Instead they had relocated to a vacated house on the other side of Alicante. There, Alec had spent a lonely, sluggish afternoon not thinking about his brother, feeling guilty for not thinking about his brother, suppressing the anxiety needling at his chest every time he was reminded that Max's funeral would be in just a few days… then, when it all got to be too much, he'd gotten up and left the house entirely. It was nearly midnight by then. They were close to the city limits and he had only wandered about half a mile, aimless, before coming to an abrupt halt and dropping onto the low wall that edged the road. Before him were darkened, skeletal houses; behind, a pond which crept so close to the forest that the trees appeared to have sprung from the water's depths. There was only one streetlight. He'd deliberately seated himself well away from it and its asteroid belt of enormous moths.
It was very quiet here, so far removed from the cacophonous beehive of Manhattan that Alec would've found it unnerving under different circumstances. He picked up a long stick that lay abandoned by the wall and inspected it disinterestedly – it looked like it might have come off the monstrous willow tree in the yard across, and one side had been gnawed on. A dog's plaything, maybe, or a snack for a weird horse. Alec had never liked horses. Sometimes he thought he was better off for having grown up in New York, with its army of taxis and subways and buses, because he couldn't stomach the idea of relying on transportation that had a mind of its own and teeth like tombstones. Absent-mindedly, he traced the bitten end of the stick through the maze between the cobblestones and wondered what he was doing here. Running away from his problems, perhaps.
He had chosen this particular spot for its silent solitude, but even that was shattered minutes later by the sound of footsteps on the worn road, and a voice – warm, familiar – murmuring, "There you are." Though he didn't need to look up to recognize the speaker, Alec lifted his head nevertheless, glancing at the tall figure before tossing the stick over his shoulder. It landed in the water with a splash.
"Magnus," he said.
Alec liked that word. It was not a name he would've chosen for himself – Magnus didn't suit someone awkward and gangly whose greatest ambition in life was to get through unnoticed – but it was the perfect name for the warlock, even if Alec rather doubted it was his real one. On his tongue it was cloyingly sweet, absinthe-green and granulated like sugar.
He was fairly certain words were not supposed to have flavors, or textures, or even colors, for that matter – indeed, his parents and Hodge had been very confused when he'd mentioned it and thought he was either making it up or just imagining it. Until then, he had assumed those things were the same for everyone, that arrow was almost unbearably sour and orange was, in fact, the exact color pink as Church's nose. In hindsight, he supposed he should have known better. Alec had always been different, discordant, the creased card in a smooth-edged deck. Of course nobody else would understand how he could meet someone and recall how their name tasted yet not the name itself. Maybe he'd been dropped on his head as a baby and scrambled a few brain cells. Eventually, he had stopped caring so much, filed it away as one of his many oddities, but still not told Magnus about it. Magnus never looked at him like he was broken and Alec would do anything in his power to keep that from changing.
"Why on earth are you out here?" Magnus asked, meandering closer, head swinging from side to side as he took in their surroundings. "I've been looking for you for ages."
"Why?" Alec said flatly.
Magnus might've blinked, but, since he stood backlit by the streetlight, it was impossible to tell. "I'm going back to New York," he said. "I did promise Clary that I'd try to wake up her mother, and if I don't get a move on, I wouldn't put it past the poor dear to hunt me down and put my eyes out with her stele. I thought I'd let you know before I left, but I couldn't find you – you might've told me you were moving house."
"It was sort of sudden," Alec mumbled. Magnus said nothing, merely tilted his head a bit and regarded him with an inquisitive gaze that Alec could feel, if not see.
He didn't know, Alec realized dully. When he thought about the events leading up to Max's death, he supposed that made sense. While Sebastian had dragged Clary off to talk to her, Magnus had left the Hall, tucking the spellbook inside his jacket and tossing Alec a significant look. Remember, you promised, it said. Alec hadn't made that promise knowing that his 'whole family' would be short one member in an hour. At the time, he hadn't even been sure they would survive another hour – but it so obviously meant a lot to Magnus that he hadn't considered reneging, even if Alec couldn't be sure he would still have a family afterwards. He'd brought that possibility up to Magnus before, to no avail. Maybe it was because Magnus's family had rejected him, and he hated to see Alec distance himself from his, but the reasoning didn't really matter. If Alec came out to his parents and they had him stripped of his Marks, that was the end. He wasn't the High Warlock of Brooklyn – he couldn't flit through life on wings made of magic and charisma. He had everything to lose.
After the warlock had disappeared from the Hall, Alec hadn't seen him again until a couple of minutes ago. If Magnus had been squirreled away somewhere with his prize, it was entirely conceivable that he was out of the loop. Alec had considered writing to him a few times, while the day dragged on and on, but he didn't know what to say. Besides, he couldn't be sure Magnus was still in the city. He'd even thought, momentarily, that Magnus had taken off for parts unknown as soon as he'd gotten what he wanted. For all Alec knew, he was merely a means to an end. He had dismissed that theory almost immediately, though, because if Magnus's goal all along had been to get to the Book of the White, he would've had a much easier time just seducing Clary.
But Magnus stood in front of him now, hands thrust into the pockets of his jacket, looking windblown. Darkness smudged his features and turned him into a fascinating structure of sharp angles and flat planes. Alec mentally filled the blanks, sketching in luminous eyes and sweeping lashes and the graceful arch of his spine. The crisp white glow of the witchlight streetlamp caught the glitter in Magnus's hair, sparked little pinpoints of color that winked out when he turned his head. "You're staring at me like I've sprouted horns," Magnus said, patting his temples. "I haven't, right? Only Ragnor could pull off the horns and I don't have his complexion."
If Magnus was attempting a joke, it collapsed for multiple reasons, the least of which was that Alec didn't know who Ragnor was. He turned his attentions to a loose button on his jacket, worrying the thread until it began to fray. The clouds shifted overhead. The moon, exposed, brightened the street, the thread snapped, and Magnus's breath caught with an odd stuttering sound.
He was seated on the low wall in an instant, fingers a barely noticeable pressure against Alec's neck. Magnus wore his nails much too long for Alec's taste and they scraped lightly against the purpling bruises Sebastian had left on his throat. "Someone tried to choke you."
"Who," Magnus said, his voice toneless, like a soufflé gone flat.
There was no inflection to indicate it had been a question, so Alec didn't reply. He tipped his face up to the moon, instead. There were more stars scattered across the sky above Alicante than New York. Not really, of course – he knew next to nothing about astronomy, but he did know it wasn't the number that changed, it was the amount of light pollution – he considered voicing the thought aloud anyway, just to see if Magnus might tell him what he already knew. He probably would. He seemed quite incapable of keeping his mouth shut when someone was wrong and it was within his considerable depth of experience to correct them, a compulsion Alec understood all too well. Jace was similarly afflicted, but it was infinitely less frustrating when Magnus did it.
In fact, a lot of the things Alec found obnoxious in Jace were endearing in Magnus. He could only assume that was because Magnus was brilliantly, beautifully, extraordinarily unusual. Magnus looked at Alec in a way that both delighted and terrified him. Magnus unfurled him like a scroll and rewrote him and sometimes Alec was afraid he'd look in the mirror and not recognize himself anymore, and sometimes he wanted that so badly it was physically painful. Being remade didn't sound so terrible. He could shake himself loose from the lonely, withdrawn, unremarkable boy whose skin he'd worn his entire life.
"Alec," Magnus murmured, the tips of his fingers gliding behind Alec's ear and tangling in his hair, "you look like someone just killed your best friend. What's wrong?"
Everything, Alec thought. Sebastian had unraveled the entire world in a matter of hours.
"My brother's dead," he said.
Dead was an awful word. It tasted like saltwater and was peculiarly colorless, a strange, shimmering mist like a veil that came and went as soon as the last letter passed his lips.
Magnus exhaled sharply. Alec could almost hear him backpedaling, wondering if he'd inadvertently struck much too close to home – but no, if it had been Jace, Alec most likely wouldn't be coherent enough to be having this conversation. So instead Magnus would unfold lifetimes of memories until he could picture the day he came to the Institute to create a Portal, when a bespectacled little boy had goggled at him for a minute before leaning close to Alec and whispering, "Is that a real warlock?"
"Yes," Alec had said under his breath. "What did you think he was?"
Max pushed his glasses up his nose. "A lunatic mundane magician, maybe," he said conspiratorially.
Despite his mounting frustration with Magnus, because the man was still steadfastly refusing to return any of his calls without any explanation, Alec smiled. "He does dress like one, doesn't he," he murmured.
He knew instantly that he'd sounded much too fond. He glanced at Max and saw the younger boy's eyes narrow, a calculating expression crossing his face – but then their mother called him over and Max took off. Alec had watched him go with relief. Max was too clever for his own good.
Now, for the first time, he wondered what conclusions Max might've come to. Almost certainly not the right one – my oldest brother is secretly dating this ludicrously-attired warlock was a bit of a stretch for a little kid – but he could have figured out that they were at least more familiar with each other than Alec had let on.
Magnus, meanwhile, appeared to be fumbling for something to say. "When did –"
"Last night. Probably while I was with you," Alec added bitterly.
"God," Magnus said softly. He linked his arm through Alec's and laced their fingers together, ostensibly for comfort. Alec leaned into him. "I'm so sorry."
Biting his lip, Alec said, "I don't know what to do. I don't –" He broke off, dropped the button that had torn from his jacket, and raked his free hand through his hair. Slowly, haltingly, he summarized what he knew of the previous night, disregarding the angry sound Magnus made when he told him it was Sebastian who had murdered his brother and nearly cracked Isabelle's skull open like an egg. "So now Jace is doing his best to appear unaffected, like always – I know he's not, I can feel him blaming himself, but there's no point in telling him to stop. My parents are shut up in their room and I'm pretty sure they're fighting, and Izzy…" He shrugged. "She thinks I blame her, so she won't talk to me."
"I strongly doubt it was her fault."
"It wasn't. She thinks it was, but – we didn't know." That wasn't entirely true, though, was it? Jace bristled like a furious cat in Sebastian's presence. Alec, who liked to think of himself as reasonably intelligent (and loathed hearing otherwise, because what else did he have going for him?), had assumed Jace was either arbitrarily misdirecting his anger again or suffering from persistent mental images of Sebastian and Clary in flagrante delicto. Stupid of him, really. Jace usually had good reasons for hating people. "We didn't know," he repeated, and the words came out thick and watery, as if he was going to be sick, or else start crying and never stop. "I left Isabelle and Max there with him because I thought they'd be safer – I thought Izzy could protect him, I didn't think she'd have to protect him from Sebastian – she didn't know, of course, how could she? How could I?"
Magnus made a shushing noise, calming Alec's fitful rambling, and squeezed his hand. "You didn't do anything wrong. You said it yourself, you had no way of knowing."
"I still should have stayed with them." He tugged at the ragged thread on his jacket with trembling fingers. If he hadn't left Isabelle and Max at the house and gone after Aline, this wouldn't have happened. Aline hadn't needed his help anyway. "It's my fault, I didn't –"
"No," Magnus interrupted, "don't do that to yourself, Alec. It wasn't your fault, either. I know how you feel, but you –"
"Oh, what do you know?" Suddenly, inexplicably angered by Magnus's words, Alec yanked his hand out of Magnus's and stood, stalked a few paces away before whirling back around. "My brother's dead! You don't even have any brothers. I suppose your parents were afraid if they had any more kids, they might turn out like you."
Magnus looked stunned, as if he hadn't expected Alec to curl back his lips and bite. Alec turned away quickly, a flutter of vicious pleasure beneath his sternum – it was wrong of him, he knew, but he hurt, and he wanted someone else to hurt too. The rest of his emotions were an angry maelstrom swirling beneath his skin. He was frustrated, miserable, confused, tired, infuriated, overwhelmed, wondering again and again why Max? Max was harmless. He was nine, small for his age and innocent in a way neither Alec nor Isabelle had ever been. He'd not yet picked up a blade with the intention of shoving it through a demon's ribcage – or whatever it might have in place of a ribcage. Alec was almost positive that Max hadn't ever seen a real demon before the day Magnus opened the Portal to Idris. He was better off.
And they'd not even gotten along. That thought was accompanied by a surge of nausea and he swallowed convulsively. Nine years between them, and by the time Max was old enough to hold an intelligent conversation, Alec had more problems than he could conceivably handle and had already shut himself off from the world. Max gravitated towards Jace, instead, but occasionally ventured back into Alec's space.
Once, when Alec was sixteen, Max had come creeping into the training room while Alec was busy. Alec watched his brother's reflection in the mirrors out of the corner of his eye, bowstring drawn back to his jaw, waiting until Max had seated himself on the mats behind him before releasing the arrow. It sunk into the target with a thunk. "Max," he said, "don't sneak up on people while they're training."
"I'm bored," Max said, sounding quite unrepentant.
"Better bored than dead." Alec picked up another arrow. "Go play with Church or something."
"Church doesn't like me." Church didn't like any of them, actually – he tolerated their presence in his home with feline arrogance, lurked around the kitchen while Isabelle was cooking, and otherwise pretended they did not exist. The only person Church had ever fawned over was a Silent Brother who'd visited the Institute a few years ago, and that had been so peculiar Alec hadn't yet forgotten it. "Can you show me how to do that?"
"Why not?" Max said, a hint of a whine creeping into his voice.
Alec didn't have a good answer to that. He hadn't had a good answer when Hodge had told him and Jace and Isabelle that they would be doing most of Max's training in a few years, when Alec had protested automatically and Hodge had asked him why he didn't want to do it. He wouldn't be a particularly patient teacher, he knew that much. When he was about Max's age, Alec had taught himself to throw knives by climbing up into the rafters almost every day for months, watching his father practice, and imitating his actions; he'd learnt the bow much the same way from his mother. Even most of his combat knowledge was gleaned by sparring with Jace and Isabelle, both of whom had been able to floor him effortlessly for years until he picked up some tricks. Everything was instinct. He had no idea where he'd begin if he had to teach someone else.
Still, Max was only seven – he supposed he had a few years to figure it out. But right now Max was frowning up at him from the mats, that serious little face looking sulky, and he knew he'd never get a moment's peace if he didn't do what his little brother wanted. Sighing, Alec strode over to the wall, found a chair he thought would be tall enough, and dragged it back. "Get up there."
Max lit up like a Christmas tree and scrambled off the floor. Standing on the seat of the chair, he was almost the same height as Alec, who had been pushing six feet since he was fifteen. "Put your hand here," Alec said, showing him where to hold the bow; Max gripped it reverently and experimentally pulled at the bowstring. It vibrated like a plucked violin.
"I can't pull it."
"Of course you can't, the draw weight is more than you weigh." Taking hold of the bow as well, his hand below Max's, Alec held the arrow up and let Max fit it to the string. "Put your fingers – no, your index finger above the arrow, middle and ring below –" Max fumbled the arrow and dropped it. Alec nocked it himself this time, wrapping his hand around his brother's and drawing the string back. "Keep your elbow up – no, don't turn towards the target, you'll never hit anything that way."
Max nodded eagerly. Alec drew the string a bit further, trying to find a decent anchor point on his brother, when he noticed – with sudden, disquieting clarity – exactly how small Max's fingers were beneath his own. Slim, delicate little bird bones. It was impossible to imagine training such a tiny kid to become a Shadowhunter. The thought of Max going out with them and getting injured and nearly dying the way Alec, Isabelle, and Jace did all the time was bad enough on its own, but worse still was the knowledge that Alec would have to protect him too. Alec was the eldest, was supposed to be the strongest, and he carried the weight of every wound Isabelle and Jace sustained like they had been inflicted on him instead. He was their protector. It was even in his name, and in that way his role had been bestowed on him since he was an infant.
Jace and Isabelle were old enough to look after themselves, at least. He wouldn't be able to live with himself if something happened to Max.
"When do I let go?" Max asked. Startled out of his reverie, Alec released the arrow, barely remembering to uncurl Max's fingers from the string first.
The shot went embarrassingly wide, the arrow plunging into the wall almost a foot to the left of the target.
"You missed," Max pointed out unnecessarily.
"Do you have any idea how hard it is to aim over someone's shoulder?" Alec said, irritated. He left the bow with Max and stalked over to the wall, yanking the arrow from the wall so fiercely that it broke. He felt strange and shaken. As long as Max wasn't trained, he couldn't go out hunting demons like the rest of them… couldn't get hurt.
But when Alec turned around, Max had already snagged another arrow from the quiver and was holding it out, grinning, eyes bright. "That was so cool!" he chirped. "Can we do it again?"
Alec gave in. Max grew bored, eventually, and ran off to do something else, and Alec hadn't worried about it because it wasn't like Max needed to know how to defend himself yet. He was only a little boy.
He was only a little boy.
"You have," Alec said, voice wavering unsteadily, "no idea how I feel." Magnus's image wavered around the edges like a warped mirror and Alec blinked furiously, looked away again.
Magnus exhaled, slowly, not quite a sigh. "You're right. I don't have any brothers or sisters. I don't know what it's like to lose one. But I…." He paused, shook his head. "Guilt is powerful," he said. "It has teeth and claws and once it sinks them into you, it doesn't let go. You'll spend the rest of your life wondering what you could've done differently. I know guilt, Alec, and you don't want to do this to yourself."
Alec didn't say anything. He bit his lip until blood welled around his teeth and watched the wind kick up tendrils of dust along the road.
Leaning forward, Magnus said, "Alec," so quietly it was almost inaudible. "You can blame yourself, but… who is that going to help?"
"I don't know!" Alec snapped. His voice fractured on the last word, and he fell silent again, shivering.
"The only person responsible for this is Sebastian. Not your sister, not your brother, and not you. Just Sebastian." Magnus swatted away an adventurous moth that had nested in his hair and muttered, "I knew I should've left the little bastard as a statue."
Deciding instinctively that it would be better not to ask what he meant by that, Alec sunk against the wall again. His anger had drained out rapidly and now he merely felt exhausted and empty. He slid down to sit on the cold cobblestones, hugging his knees to his chest, holding himself together. A moment later, Magnus joined him on the dusty ground, despite the fact that his jacket had probably cost more than Alec's entire wardrobe. "I'm sorry," Alec mumbled, pressing his face into his knees, "about what I said. I didn't mean…"
"Don't worry about it," Magnus said dismissively. "I've had far worse things said about me by people who aren't grieving. Consider it forgotten."
Alec couldn't let it go quite so easily, but for now, he pushed that particular spike of guilt away and focused on blunting the rest. "I don't know what to do," he repeated. Two days from now he would have to watch his little brother's body burn. His heart lurched into his throat at the thought, pounded wildly against his trachea like it was trying to force its way out.
He had been to funerals before. He knew what he was supposed to say because he knew the words by heart, like every Shadowhunter – atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale. But those words were for a warrior who had died in battle, not a defenseless little boy. Mundanes tended to write requiescat in pace on their graves, which didn't sound exactly right, either. Max was not a mundane, and there was no peace in murder. Max was just… Max. Quiet and clever and inquisitive and sometimes a little petulant. His name tasted soft and sugary, like a marshmallow, which was appropriate – Max loved marshmallows, and he always filled the mug with them before pouring hot chocolate into the space left over.
Once he'd breathed through the worst of the panic, Alec picked up his head and wound his fingers into his hair. He was sweating despite the chill. Magnus was still sitting next to him, leaving a couple of inches between their bodies, tapping his fingers rhythmlessly against his thigh. "I thought you were in a hurry to get out of here," Alec said.
"I'm not just going to leave you like this," Magnus said tightly. He sounded quite exasperated, but there was a question beneath the words – do you really think so little of me?
No, Alec wanted to say. By the Angel, no, not you. Never you. He thought more of Magnus than anyone in the world, and that was the problem.
Magnus was a sun. He had his own gravitational field, and Alec, a presence altogether less striking and massive, spun too close and was drawn into his tide. They'd revolved around each other, flung out carelessly across a mattress that could've been an island for all it isolated them from the rest of the world. Magnus's fingers had traced the fine, curving bones in Alec's ankle, and he'd listened raptly while Alec, not usually given to long conversations, had rambled aimlessly about anything that came to mind and tied knots in the fringe of the patterned afghan crumpled at the foot of the bed. When he'd gotten around to telling Magnus about some ancestor of his who'd transformed into an enormous worm and how Isabelle had been afraid of sprouting scales for weeks after she'd heard the story, the warlock had laughed and draped himself haphazardly over Alec's legs, eyes glittering. "I knew him," he said. "I mean, not personally, but I knew of him. I imagine it wasn't much of a transformation, rumor has it he was already something of a snake. No offense intended," he added hastily, as if suddenly remembering this was a relative of Alec's they were speaking of.
"I'm not offended." The fading sunlight spilling through the windows gilded Magnus's hair. Alec brushed a hand over the cloud of spikes and said, "It's not like I ever met him." It was truth, he wasn't trying to be reassuring, and Magnus wasn't the sort to need reassuring over a small slip of the tongue anyway. He'd reached up and caught Alec's hand in his own, looking like he would be content to never move again as the sky darkened to indigo.
Their wonderful night had skidded to a screeching halt when Jace had called, waking them both from a sound sleep, because Simon had gotten turned into a vampire and needed blood. Alec thought that day was a fitting metaphor for their entire relationship – things were perfect until they weren't.
It was his fault, really. He didn't know how to be in a relationship. Magnus didn't come with a user manual, and he was notoriously disinclined towards giving out personal information. "Where are you from?" Alec had asked once, watching Magnus wash candy-apple-red oil paint off his hands. Magnus couldn't paint, but Alec was nice enough not to criticize.
"Nowhere," Magnus had replied. "I spawned from a rock like the Monkey King in Journey to the West."
Presented with that completely useless falsehood, Alec quickly came to realize that counting the number of stars in the sky would be easier than getting a straight answer from Magnus, and stopped trying. Instead he collected the hints Magnus dropped like breadcrumbs and hoped they would eventually lead him somewhere. Alec had always been told he was good at reading people, but Magnus was written in an entirely unfamiliar language.
"Are you listening to me?" Magnus said.
Alec blinked. He wasn't even aware Magnus had been talking. "No," he admitted. "You said you were going back to New York – Clary's mother –"
"Is in a coma," Magnus said. "An hour either way won't make much of a difference to her. Or Clary, for that matter, she probably already thinks I've run off to join the Rockettes." He ran a hand over Alec's disheveled hair. "I ought to take you home," he mused. "You look like you haven't slept in days."
He hadn't, but that was beside the point. "I don't want to go home. My brother's dead," Alec said, like repeating the words a third time could unravel their reality. He licked away the saltwater taste left behind on his lips, frowned, then did it again. "Am I crying?"
Magnus made a sound that was very nearly a laugh, wrapped his arms around Alec, pulled him in until they occupied the same infinitesimally tiny corner of the universe.. "You've been crying for the past five minutes."
"Oh." Funny how he hadn't even noticed. He buried his face in the curve of Magnus's neck, the rough wool of the warlock's jacket scraping his cheek. "I hate him," Alec whispered, and they both knew who he was talking about. "He killed my brother. I hate him."
Sighing, Magnus settled his head against Alec's, breath ruffling his hair, and murmured, "I know, darling."
"Don't go back to New York yet, okay?" His voice came out small and quavering and normally he would've been furious with himself for sounding so vulnerable, but he was so tired and Magnus just hugged him tighter in response.
"I'm not going anywhere," Magnus said softly, "I promise. I'll stay here as long as you need me to."
Later, when the temperature dipped so low that a thin crust of ice began forming around the edges of the pond, Magnus got Alec up and they made their way back to the house the Lightwoods were staying in. Alec rubbed his face with his palms as they climbed the porch steps, scrubbing away the tear tracks. He didn't know exactly when he'd stopped crying. Probably not long after he'd started – he had never been much of a crier – and then they'd just sat there together, not speaking, increasingly plagued by moths. Magnus had gotten annoyed with a few of the more persistent ones and turned them into glass. Alec thought he might ultimately need to be concerned by Magnus's occasional bouts of sociopathy, but he had more important things to worry about right now. He stopped in front of the door and turned to Magnus. "You should probably go," he said. His throat felt like it had been sandpapered. "Clary's mother knows Valentine better than any of us. She may be able to help."
Magnus gave him a considering sort of look, cupped Alec's face in his hand. "Are you going to be all right?"
Alec nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine." He didn't feel good, so to speak, but he was… less jumbled, like Magnus had smoothed out some of the knots Max's death had tied in him.
"If you're sure," Magnus said. He traced the arch of Alec's cheekbone with his thumb, almost absent-mindedly, then leaned in, sliding his other hand over Alec's hip, and kissed him. "Go get some sleep. I love you."
Alec's brain slammed on the brakes. "I –"
Magnus didn't seem to expect a response. He flashed Alec a faint smile, pivoted, and headed down the stairs. Alec watched him go, wide-eyed, words still trapped in his throat.
It wasn't the first time Magnus had told Alec he loved him, but the other night had been more of a casual revelation. Alec had half-convinced himself he didn't really mean it at all. But now… it had been instantaneous, automatic, tossed out the way people who had been together a long time said they loved each other before parting.
He shook his head hard, cleared it of the cobwebs. "Hey," he called. Magnus glanced over his shoulder. "Are you coming back?"
"Of course. Someone needs to bring Sleeping Beauty back to this fair city," Magnus replied, waving a hand in the general direction of downtown Alicante. "Besides, it's an exciting place. How could I possibly stay away?"
"Let me know when you get here," Alec said, waiting on Magnus's nod before turning to the door and letting himself inside. The house was dark and he went upstairs quietly, passed by Isabelle's and Jace's and his parents' closed doors, shut himself in his own room. Magnus was right. He needed to sleep.
He slipped out of his jacket, tossed it over the desk chair, and heard a soft clink. Frowning, he reached into one of the pockets and pulled out something small and fragile – and, when he held it up to the light and realized what it was, he smiled for the first time since the previous night. One of Magnus's glass moths had 'mysteriously' found its way into Alec's pocket, probably while they were kissing. "Always an ulterior motive for everything," Alec muttered, cradling the insect in his palm. Only Magnus would think giving someone a magically frozen gypsy moth could cheer them up. In all fairness, it was kind of working. He carefully set the moth atop the desk and continued changing out of his dusty clothes.
I love you, Magnus had said, like it was simple, solid fact. And, for a moment, Alec had entertained the thought of replying in kind.
Sebastian was running loose, they were on the verge of a massive war with Jace and Clary's megalomaniacal father, Max's funeral was just a few days away, and now he had to figure out if he was in love with Magnus, and he felt a bit guilty for thinking about the warlock so much right after his brother had died. Getting caught in Magnus's orbit had complicated his life tenfold. Yawning, Alec looked at his watch – it was almost four a.m. – and yanked a t-shirt over his head, then dropped onto the creaky mattress with a sigh.
Love was coarse, gritty, and bitter-tasting. Speaking the word out loud was almost painful.
He was absolutely certain that Magnus was worth it.
This is literally three times longer than I intended it to be. I wrote a few pretty lines and thought about Max's death and randomly decided to try making Alec a synesthete (yes, the condition I described is a real thing, believe it or not) and then I have no idea what happened. One day I'll write a fic that doesn't get away from me.
Anyway! Sing along if you know the words: reviews are greatly appreciated!