“Okay,” Magnus said. “You wanted to talk to me. So talk.”
Alec looked at him, wide-eyed. They had gone around the side of the church and were standing in a small, winter-burned garden, among leafless hedges. Thick vines covered the stone wall and rusted gate nearby, now so denuded by winter that Alec could see the mundane street through the gaps in the iron door. A stone bench was nearby, its rough surface crusted with ice. “I wanted—What?”
Magnus looked at him darkly, as if he had done something stupid. Alec suspected that he had. His nerves were jangling together like wind chimes, and he had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. The last time he had seen Magnus, the warlock had been walking away from him, vanishing into a disused subway tunnel, getting smaller and smaller until he disappeared. Aku cinta kamu, he’d said to Alec. “I love you,” in Indonesian.
It had given Alec a spark of hope, enough that he’d called Magnus dozens of times, enough to keep him checking his phone, checking the mail, even checking the windows of his room—which seemed strange and empty and unfamiliar without Magnus in it, not his room at all—for magically delivered notes or messages.
And now Magnus was standing in front of him, with his raggedy black hair and slit-pupilled cat eyes, and his voice like dark molasses, and his cool, sharp beautiful face that gave nothing whatsoever away, and Alec felt like he had swallowed glue.
“Wanted to talk to me,” Magnus said. “I assumed that was the meaning of all those phone calls. And why you sent all your stupid friends over to my apartment. Or do you just do that to everyone?”
Alec swallowed against the dryness in his throat and said the first thing that came into his head. “Aren’t you ever going to forgive me?”
“I—” Magnus broke off and looked away, shaking his head. “Alec. I have forgiven you.”
“It doesn’t seem like it. You seem angry.”
When Magnus looked back at him, it was with a gentler expression. “I’m worried about you,” he said. “The attacks on the Institutes. I just heard.”
Alec felt dizzy. Magnus forgave him; Magnus was worried about him. “Did you know we were leaving for Idris?”
“Catarina told me she’d been summoned to make a Portal. I guessed,” Magnus said wryly. “I was a little surprised you hadn’t called or texted to tell me you were going away.”
“You never answer my calls or texts,” said Alec.
“That hasn’t stopped you before.”
“Everyone gives up eventually,” Alec said. “Besides. Jace broke my phone.”
Magnus huffed out a breath of laughter. “Oh, Alexander.”
“What?” Alec asked, honestly puzzled.
“You’re just—You’re so—I really want to kiss you,” Magnus said abruptly, and then shook his head. “See, this is why I haven’t been willing to see you.”
“But you’re here now,” Alec said. He remembered the first time Magnus had ever kissed him, against the wall outside his apartment, and all his bones had turned to liquid and he’d thought, Oh, right, this is what it’s supposed to be like. I get it now. “You could—”
“I can’t,” Magnus said. “It’s not working, it wasn’t working. You have to see that, don’t you?” His hands were on Alec’s shoulders; Alec could feel Magnus’s thumb brush against his neck, over his collar, and his whole body jumped. “Don’t you?” Magnus said, and kissed him.
Alec leaned into the kiss. It was utterly quiet. He heard the crunch of his boots on the snowy ground as he moved forward, Magnus’s hand sliding around to steady the back of his neck, and Magnus tasted like he always did, sweet and bitter and familiar, and Alec parted his lips, to gasp or breathe or breathe Magnus in, but it was too late because Magnus broke away from him with a wrench and stepped backward and it was over.
“What,” Alec said, feeling stunned and strangely diminished. “Magnus, what?”
“I shouldn’t have done that,” Magnus said, all in a rush. He was clearly agitated, in a way Alec had rarely seen him, a flush along his high cheekbones. “I forgive you, but I can’t be with you. I can’t. It doesn’t work. I’m going to live forever, or at least until someone finally kills me, and you’re not, and it’s too much for you to take on—”
“Don’t tell me what’s too much for me,” said Alec with deadly flatness.
Magnus so rarely looked surprised that the expression seemed almost foreign on his face. “It’s too much for most people,” he said. “Most mortals. And not easy on us, either. Watching someone you love age and die. I knew a girl, once, immortal like me—”
“And she was with someone mortal?” said Alec. “What happened?”
“He died,” Magnus said. There was a finality to the way he said it that spoke of a deeper grief than words could paint. His cat’s eyes shone in the dark. “I don’t know why I thought this would ever work,” he said. “I’m sorry, Alec. I shouldn’t have come.”
“No,” Alec said. “You shouldn’t.”
Magnus was looking at Alec a little warily, as if he had approached someone familiar on the street only to find out they were a stranger.
“I don’t know why you did,” Alec said. “I know I’ve been torturing myself for weeks now about you, and what I did, and how I shouldn’t have done it, shouldn’t ever have talked to Camille. I’ve been sorry and I’ve understood and I’ve apologized and apologized, and you haven’t ever been there. I did all that without you. So it makes me wonder what else I could do, without you.” He looked at Magnus meditatively. “It was my fault, what happened. But it was your fault too. I could have learned not to care that you’re immortal and I’m mortal. Everyone gets the time they get together, and no more. Maybe we’re not so different that way. But you know what I can’t get past? That you never tell me anything. I don’t know when you were born. I don’t know anything about your life—what your real name is, or about your family, or what the first face you ever loved was, or the first time your heart was broken. You know everything about me, and I know nothing about you. That’s the real problem.”
“I told you,” Magnus said softly, “on our first date that you would have to take me as I came, no questions—”
Alec waved that away. “That’s not a fair thing to ask, and you know—you knew—I didn’t understand enough about love then to understand that. You act like you’re the wronged party, but you had a hand in this, Magnus.”
“Yes,” Magnus said after a pause. “Yes, I suppose I did.”
“But that doesn’t change anything?” Alec said, feeling the cold air stealing under his rib cage. “It never does, with you.”
“I can’t change,” Magnus said. “It’s been too long. We petrify, you know, immortals, like fossils turn to stone. I thought when I met you that you had all this wonder and all this joy and everything was new to you, and I thought it would change me, but—”
“Change yourself,” Alec said, but it didn’t come out angry, or stern, as he had intended it, but soft, like a plea.
But Magnus only shook his head. “Alec,” he said. “You know my dream. The one about the city made of blood, and blood in the streets, and towers of bone. If Sebastian gets what he wants, that will be this world. The blood will be Nephilim blood. Go to Idris. You’re safer there, but don’t be trusting, and don’t let your guard down. I need you to live,” he breathed, and turned around, very abruptly, and walked away.
I need you to live.
Alec sat down on the frozen stone bench and put his face in his hands.
“Not good-bye forever,” Simon protested, but Isabelle just frowned.
“Come here,” she said, and tugged at his sleeve. She was wearing dark red velvet gloves, and her hand looked like a splash of blood against the navy fabric of his jacket.
Simon pushed the thought away. He wished he wouldn’t think about blood at inopportune times. “Come where?”
Isabelle just rolled her eyes and pulled him sideways, into a shadowed alcove near the front gates of the Institute. The space wasn’t a large one, and Simon could feel the heat from Isabelle’s body—warmth and cold didn’t affect him since he’d become a vampire, unless it was the heat of blood. He didn’t know if it was because he’d drunk Isabelle’s blood before, or if it was something deeper, but he was aware of the pulse of blood through her veins the way he was of no one else’s.
“I wish I were coming with you to Idris,” he said without preamble.
“You’re safer here,” she said, though her dark eyes softened. “Besides, we’re not going forever. The only Downworlders who can go to Alicante are Council members because they’re going to have a meeting, figure out what we’re all going to do, and probably send us back out. We can’t hide in Idris while Sebastian rampages around outside it. Shadowhunters don’t do that.”
He stroked a finger down her cheek. “But you want me to hide here?”
“You’ve got Jordan to watch you here,” she said. “Your own personal bodyguard. You’re Clary’s best friend,” she added. “Sebastian knows that. You’re hostage material. You should be where he isn’t.”
“He’s never shown any interest in me before. I don’t see why he’d start now.”
She shrugged, pulling her cloak tighter around herself. “He’s never shown any interest in anyone but Clary and Jace, but that doesn’t mean he won’t start. He’s not stupid.” She said it grudgingly, as if she hated to give Sebastian even that much credit. “Clary would do anything for you.”
“She’d do anything for you, too, Izzy.” And at Isabelle’s doubtful look, he cupped her cheek. “Okay, so if you won’t be gone all that long, then what’s all this about, then?”
She made a face. Her cheeks and mouth were rosy, the cold bringing the red to the surface. He wished he could press his cold lips to hers, so full of blood and life and warmth, but he was conscious of her parents watching. “I heard Clary when she was saying good-bye to you. She said she loved you.”
Simon stared. “Yes, but she didn’t mean it that way—Izzy—”
“I know that,” Isabelle protested. “Please, I know that. But it’s just that she says it so easily, and you say it back so easily, and I’ve never said it to anyone. Not anyone who wasn’t related to me.”
“But if you say it,” he said, “you could get hurt. That’s why you don’t.”
“So could you.” Her eyes were big and black, reflecting the stars. “Get hurt. I could hurt you.”
“I know,” Simon said. “I know and I don’t care. Jace told me once you’d walk all over my heart in high-heeled boots, and it hasn’t stopped me.”
Isabelle gave a little gasp of startled laughter. “He said that? And you stuck around?”
He leaned in toward her; if he had breath, it would have stirred her hair. “I would consider it an honor.”
She turned her head, and their lips brushed together. Hers were achingly warm. She was doing something with her hands—unfastening her cloak, he thought for a moment, but surely Isabelle wasn’t about to start taking her clothes off in front of her entire family? Not that Simon was sure he’d have the fortitude to stop her. She was Isabelle, after all, and she had almost—almost—said she loved him.
Her lips moved against his skin as she spoke. “Take this,” she whispered, and he felt something cold at the back of his neck, and the smooth glide of velvet as she drew back and her gloves brushed his throat.