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Baby, Just Believe

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Alec has regulars. Well, no, that’s not quite right. Max’s has regulars. There is, for instance, that cop who always comes in with her girlfriend — Ollie, and the girlfriend’s name starts with an S; Sam, maybe? He’s not as sure about that one, because Ollie usually orders for the both of them — who it takes him a really long time to figure out is his brother’s girlfriend’s stepdad’s partner on the force, which is just a tangential enough string of connections that he’s pretty sure she comes just for the coffee and not because they know each other through, like, four degrees of separation.

And then there’s this group of intimidatingly handsome and vaguely-hipster looking people, whose names, unlike friendly, chatty Ollie’s, he only knows because he’s had to write them on the side of their cups a billion times — Lily and Raphael are the main two, with a rotating cast of other hangers-on. They mostly sit in the corner, as far away from the rest of the customers as possible, and glare at anyone who comes too close. Alec knows better than to ask; besides, they’re surprisingly good tippers, so he wouldn’t want to piss them off by trying even if he thought he’d get an answer out of them.

There are a ton of other people who float in that awkward middle-ground space where he knows their face, but hasn’t quite scribbled their name enough times to remember it yet. And then, obviously, there are his siblings and their partners and friends — Izzy and Jace and Clary and Simon, who had dated Izzy for a while but is now with an absolute firecracker of a girl named Maia, but Simon is Clary’s best friend and claims Alec makes better coffee than anyone on the planet, so he still comes by just as often as he did before he and Izzy fizzled out, and now Maia comes along too. And then there’s Lydia, Izzy’s current flame, who reminds him of himself to such a degree that he almost wants to ask his sister if she’s developed some sort of complex. But none of them count as regulars, because they’re his family, and as much as he appreciates their support, it’s just not the same thing, because he knows they would come every day like clockwork even if his coffee was shit.

The coffee, though, is not shit, nor are the muffins and cookies sourced from a bakery a few blocks over, nor the shelves of books he’s handpicked for people to read while they sit in the cushiest armchairs he and Izzy could find — they’d scoured yard sales, flea markets, and secondhand stores for months before Alec was satisfied, back when he was first setting the place up. It turns out that, no matter what twenty-plus years of intense parental pressure and anxiety and a compulsion to give up his own personal desires to do what his family expected of him have tried to beat into his head, Alec is pretty good at things when he puts his mind to them. So, Max’s has regulars, and does a pretty bustling business, tucked away at the mouth of an alley with the little sign on the sidewalk out front that Alec gets Clary to do up with cute little designs and snarky jokes whenever she’s in the mood, which is usually a couple of times a week, or whenever she and Simon think up some new and usually terrible coffee pun. (Right now, it’s a little doodle of a computer with a steaming mug of coffee next to it, and under that the words “Time to install Java!” in Clary’s cheerful handwriting. He’d snorted when he saw it, but the sign tends to get him free advertising in the form of people taking pictures of it to post to social media, so he has no room to complain.)

Yeah, Max’s has regulars. Lots of them, even. But Alec? Alec only has one.

He came in for the first time in the middle of the summer; it had been an especially hot and muggy day, and Alec had been wiping the counter, which, because he’d been doing it all morning, essentially translated to running a rag over the same spot over and over and over, because it was already clean and really he was just looking for something to do. It was his first summer open — the grand opening of Max’s Coffee had been the previous September, on what would have been its namesake’s thirteenth birthday — and it was a bit of an adjustment. In summer, he’d come to discover, people didn’t tend to stay in the shop and linger as much as they did when it was cooler. The place was air conditioned, sure, but the unit was old, just like everything else about the building, and not quite powerful enough to make lingering over a cup of coffee fun. So as the weather got warmer, more and more people started just getting their coffee — almost always iced — to go, and trudging right back out the door again. Which was fine, financially, becuase they were still buying coffee, but it did make things a touch more boring.

Plus, Alec was smack in the middle of an afternoon lull, after lunch but before people swinging by on their way home from school or work; he was completely alone, just wiping and wiping about one square foot of counter, this close to getting one of the books down off the shelf in the corner even though they were meant for customers, when the bell over the door tinkled.

He couldn’t help it: he jumped about a foot in the air, his gaze shooting over to the door so fast he almost gave himself whiplash. And then he choked on his own spit a little bit, because holy fuck.

At three o’clock in the afternoon in the middle of June, on a day when walking outside felt like stepping into a goddamn sauna, no one — no one — had the right to look like they’d just stepped out of a magazine, like any and all hairs that were out of place were only that way because that’s just how they wanted it, artfully rumpled and breezy. No one seemed to have informed the guy who’d just walked into Alec’s shop, though, becuase hot damn.

Alec didn’t think at the time, and still maintains, that he couldn’t really be blamed for the way his brain short-circuited; he had gone from ‘bored’ to ‘blood rushing in his ears so loud he could hardly think’ in about half a second. That would have made anybody stand there gaping and blinking stupidly.

Besides which, the guy really was that gorgeous. He was wearing something which probably would best be called a suit, though it bore no real resemblance to any of the boring formalwear Alec’s parents used to force him into for fancy dinners back when they still wanted him to come home for fancy dinners. There was a white silk shirt, and black pants that looked light and cool like linen but somehow much classier and kind of shiny, and a jacket that gleamed red and gold and did something horrifically flattering to both his waist and his shoulders. As he stepped fully through the door — and as Alec desperately tried to scrape his jaw off the floor and compose himself enough to act like a normal fucking person — he shoved his aviator shades almost jauntily up into his hair, which was dark with flashes of color in it and spiked and swirled in a way that suggested that he’d just rolled out of bed.

Fuck, Alec had thought very distinctly as the guy had approached the counter, his gaze, thankfully, locked on the menu board above Alec’s head, rather than on Alec, who was sure his eyes were still the size of dinner plates. And then, Maybe Izzy’s right. Maybe I do need to date more if this is how I react to every hot guy I see.

Another, much more traitorous voice in his head had whispered, But you don’t react like this to every hot guy, it’s just that this one in particular looks like he crawled directly out of every wet dream you’ve ever had.

But that was a horrifying and incredibly inappropriate train of thought to have about a perfect stranger who was, by the look of things, soon going to be in the process of exchanging money with him in exchange for goods and services — well, just goods, really, unless he decided to stick around and sitting in one of the armchairs to drink his coffee somehow counted as a service — so Alec did his very best to shove that little voice far, far away into the deepest recesses of his mind.

The stranger cleared his throat delicately, which was when Alec realized that he was looking at him very patiently, just the hint of a smile curving his lips, clearly ready to order — meaning he’d noticed that Alec had been staring at him, probably, and was too polite to mention it. Alec kind of wanted to curl up on the floor behind the counter and die, but that was probably a health code violation, so he settled for trying to smile back instead.

“Uh, hi,” he stammered, actively cursing himself for the fact that the words came out in what was very nearly a squeak. “You — uh, you ready?”

“Yes,” the man said, his own voice much steadier and — Alec hated himself for even thinking it — almost a purr, just at the edges. “A large cinnamon latte, please. Iced.”

Alec nodded, reaching for a cup from the stack beside the register. “What’s your n—” he started to ask automatically, then cut himself off, rolling his eyes. “Nevermind, what am I saying, you’re the only one in here.”

He was babbling a little bit, he knew, and he felt like even to a stranger it must have been obvious — somehow, even this man he’d never seen before must be able to tell that he only talked this much when he was nervous, and therefore must know he was nervous, and therefore must think he was kind of an idiot or something. But when Alec risked a glance up at him as he finished keying the order into the register, the stranger seemed… well, if he didn’t know better, he’d say almost charmed?

“My name is Magnus,” the guy offered, smiling that small, faint smile again, the kind that lingered only around the edges, as he handed over his credit card before Alec could ask for it.

“Right,” Alec said, which didn’t make any sense, but he didn’t know what else to say — was he supposed to introduce himself back? He wouldn’t normally, not if he was just asking so he could scrawl the guy’s name on the cup, but this wasn’t that, not quite; still, offering his own name back felt kind of weird? — and busied himself with handing Magnus his card back and then scurrying off to make his coffee rather than doing any more talking.

He had a few blissful minutes of something else to focus on, putting all his attention into making Magnus’ coffee, which was at least better than having it on the man himself, who’d wandered over to one of the bookshelves and was thumbing along the spines, occasionally pulling a volume out to read the back cover. But then the coffee was done, and Alec was sliding it across the little slice of counter that served as a pick-up space, and Magnus was sauntering back over to pick it up with a smile.

“Thank you…” He paused and looked down at Alec’s nametag. “Alec. I suppose I’d assumed you were Max, which seems silly in hindsight.”

Alec shook his head, smiling minutely, and couldn’t quite explain why his voice was so quiet when he said, “Max was my brother.”

He said that exact sentence — or some slight variation of it — about fifty-seven thousand times a day, because Magnus wasn’t exactly the first person to have drawn that conclusion, given that Alec was the only person who was ever behind the counter at Max’s. It shouldn’t have been any different to say it that time, because he was still just saying it to a stranger, to someone he didn’t know, but it — it was. He didn’t know why, but it was.

Magnus didn’t look at him with pity or simper or say how touching that was, the way a lot of people did, or ask how Max died, the way a lot of other, slightly insensitive people did. He just made a soft sort of Ah sound and then smiled slightly, which might have seemed like an odd reaction if his eyes weren’t so knowing.

There were plenty of people out there who were intimately familiar with the type of loss Alec had experienced, people who’d had to bury a sibling or a parent or another loved one, and plenty of them even come into his coffeeshop. But, somehow, none of them had ever quite looked at him the way Magnus was doing in that moment, not just like he’d felt what Alec had felt when Max died or like he knew what Alec had gone through, but something… more somehow, like he wasn’t just understanding it but sharing it, like the two of them standing there together reflecting on the loss of Alec’s baby brother — something that had happened years ago now — was a communal experience, far beyond two strangers engaged in a business transaction.

 

 

And when he’d gone through the tip jar that night, putting it all in an envelope to wait until the end of the month before he sent it off to the children’s hospital just like every month, he realized that amongst the crinkled dollar bills and handfuls of change, there was a business card in there. It was shiny, glossy black, with gold foil lettering, just a number and a name.

Magnus Bane.

Obviously, he hadn’t called. That would have been… Well, for one thing, way braver than Alec thought he was, at least romantically speaking. And it also would have been weird, because Magnus was a customer. He had come in one time — hell, for all Alec knew, maybe he’d dropped his card into the tip jar by mistake in the process of leaving an actual tip. No way was he opening up any of that can of worms. He’d let Izzy set him up on another blind date before he did that, which was pretty much akin to hell freezing over given how the last one had gone.

So: he hadn’t called. But he hadn’t quite wanted to throw the card away, either, so he’d set it on his dresser for lack of a better location, and it had sat there, taunting him, for a solid week before anything else happened.

The next time Magnus came in, it wasn’t a dead lull like before, but not exactly a rush either; there were a few people off in various chairs, sipping cold drinks and chatting in low voices, and Alec was busy with another customer so that he didn’t even notice at first who was coming in the door when the bell rang. When he glanced up in the middle of whipping together a small white-chocolate mint mocha, hot, because apparently some people were sadists who drank hot coffee in the late afternoon when it was almost a hundred degrees outside — not that he wasn’t grateful for the business, but Jesus — he almost spilled hot coffee all over his hands.

It was probably silly that he even recognized Magnus, after having seen him only once before, and for all of five minutes if that, but Alec was reluctantly forced to admit that he’d seen Magnus’ face, winged eyeliner and all, behind his eyelids enough times in the past week to be able to pick him out of the crowd in the middle of Times Square, let alone walking across his relatively empty coffeeshop. He wasn’t wearing a suit that day; Alec didn’t know enough about clothes to be confident in describing the garment he was wearing over his leather pants — which, again, middle of the summer, incredibly hot and humid outside, maybe Magnus and the hot-not-iced mocha person should bond — beyond the word ‘shirt,’ but it was loose and gauzy and purple, and so was his lipstick.

Lipstick which, for the record, was making Alec’s heart pound, for some unfathomable reason. He’d never even been that into guys who wore makeup before — not for any shitty gender-related reasons, because for one thing he knew if he ever even got close to thinking something along the lines of ‘guys shouldn’t wear makeup, it’s too girly’ Isabelle would have known, somehow, and murdered him. It just… wasn’t something he liked that much. Except apparently now it really, really was, at least on Magnus, because he was finishing up the drink he was making and sliding it across the counter to the girl who’d ordered it in a daze and walking back over to the register, where Magnus was now waiting, as though hypnotized, aware he was staring and not quite able to stop.

Fuck, he’d understand having customers this hot if he’d opened, like… a nightclub, or something, but this was a very quiet little coffeeshop with shelves groaning with secondhand books against most of the walls and soft, acoustic music playing over the speakers. He shouldn’t have to feel winded as he stumbled through taking Magnus’ order — same as before: large cinnamon latte, iced — and starting to make it, his mind whirling.

“You know,” Magnus said when Alec slid the drink across the counter to him a couple of minutes later, “I left my card in your tip jar so you could call me.”

“Um,” Alec said, because it was all he could say. His palms were sweaty; he knew it wasn’t just condensation from handling Magnus’ drink.

“I understand if you don’t want to, I just wanted to clarify,” Magnus continued, “because I was worried — well, I suppose I was worried you might think I’d dropped it in there on accident, or something, and not because I think you’re gorgeous.”

Oh, God, Alec was going to have a heart attack and die, right there, right then, at work, knowing that the last person he’d kissed had been Izzy’s terrible coworker Raj, who she’d sent him on that last, terrible blind date with, and his cause of death was going to be an incredibly beautiful and confident man who had given him his number and then somehow read Alec’s mind and figured out that he’d half-convinced himself it might have been a mistake in order to give himself an excuse not to call.

And, also, who had just called him gorgeous, which was not a word he had ever applied to himself or had applied to him by anyone else, and which made his head spin in a very worrying way.

“Um,” he said again, with an incredible amount of feeling. Magnus seemed to be waiting for something more concrete than that, though, and Alec — well, part of the whole point of owning this damn place, of making the choices he’d made to get here, was that he was no longer in the business of denying himself things that he wanted in order to live up to the mental model of success that his parents had handed him at a young age and reinforced with an iron fist until the day he walked out of their house for the last time. And Magnus, even though this was only the second time they’d ever met, was something he wanted, or at least something — someone — he wanted to try, to figure out, to get to know.

So.

“I’d — um, do you want to,” he said, and his voice almost caught in his throat because Magnus’ eyes lit up in a way that made him suddenly realize that the deep brown was flecked with hints of gold. “Would you like to — get, get dinner? Sometime? I’d say coffee, but.” He gestured hopelessly to the espresso machine on his right, and Magnus let out a delighted laugh.

“Yes, a coffee date does seem a little on the nose,” he said, smiling broadly in a way that Alec couldn’t help but return. “How does Friday sound?”

That had been Tuesday. Given that there had been a full week and change between Magnus’ first and second visits, Alec hadn’t been expecting to see him again until their date, for which they’d agreed to meet outside Max’s at eight after Alec had closed for the night.

He had been expecting to see his sister, though, because she comes in twice a day, every day, like clockwork — before work and on her way home; a cappuccino in the morning, and a chai latte in the evening, because as much as she likes to tease Alec for being a creature of habit, they’re cut from the same cloth in a million ways that aren’t always obvious at first glance, but live under the surface just the same. He always tries not to let her pay, and she always slips money across the counter when he’s not looking. It’s an ongoing struggle that Alec is well aware he’s losing.

“So,” Izzy had said that particular Wednesday evening, leaning her hip against the counter as Alec steamed the milk for her chai. “When are you planning on telling me about him?”

Alec froze, his eyes going comically wide and then narrowing. “Who says there’s a him to tell you about?” he said casually, as evasively as he could, trying to concentrate on fixing her drink so he didn’t have to look her in the eye while he said it.

“Well, that reaction, for one thing,” Izzy responded, clearly amused. “And the way you were so smiley this morning. It took me all day to figure out why, but I’m glad to see my hunch was right.”

Alec couldn’t quite come up with a good response to that; he just grumbled wordlessly instead, handing Izzy her drink as he finished it.

She laughed delightedly and took the cup. Iced chais were just weird to Alec, but Izzy stuck with her two drinks and just changed the temperature to suit the seasons.

“So?” she prompted, taking a sip. “Tell me about him, come on. What’s his name? And where did you even meet a guy? All you ever do is work.”

Alec coughed lightly. “Well.”

Alec! You’re seeing a customer?” Izzy sounded scandalized, just a little bit, but in a delighted sort of way. “That’s pretty adventurous for you, mixing work and pleasure.”

“Well, technically we haven’t gotten around to that part yet,” came a smooth, amused voice from across the room, and Alec nearly knocked the espresso machine over in his sudden jolt of shock.

“Magnus,” he breathed, then cleared his throat as the man in question crossed over to the counter, looking distinctly entertained by the conversation he’d interrupted. “Uh. I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon. Not — not that I’m complaining,” he rushed to add, and heard Izzy stifle a laugh.

Magnus just smiled easily at him, his eyes warm. “Me either,” he admitted. “As delightful as your drinks are, this place is a little out of my way. But I find there’s just no substitute for the decor here.” He trailed his eyes slowly up and down Alec’s body, an obvious once-over, leaving no doubt about exactly what that comment meant. Then, smiling a bit more lightly, he turned to Izzy. “I’m sorry, my dear, I didn’t introduce myself. Magnus Bane.”

“Isabelle Lightwood,” she replied, taking his hand with a giggle when he offered it. “This one’s sister. It’s a pleasure to meet you; your outfit is stunning.”

“And yours,” Magnus returned with a half-bow. “I see your dear brother didn’t get all the good looks in the family.” He winked at Alec.

Izzy grinned, delighted. “You did good here,” she said to Alec, not bothering to lower her voice at all, even though Magnus was standing right next to her.

Alec blushed furiously and rolled his eyes, but couldn’t quite find it in him to be genuinely angry, though he was embarrassed. That was probably due at least in part to the way Magnus was laughing at Izzy’s words, open and delighted, his head thrown back in a way that exposed his neck. His bronze skin looked tantalizingly warm under the glimmer of several necklaces in dark metallic shades. At least, Alec supposed, he was already blushing.

“I did get all the food-related genes, though,” Alec grumbled, the taunt very familiar and well-worn at this point. “Izzy just being in a kitchen is a disaster waiting to happen, let alone making anything.”

“Even coffee?” Magnus asked, smirking a little at the way Isabelle was sticking her tongue out at her brother.

“Unless your idea of a good cup of coffee resembles nuclear waste, then yeah.”

“Not fair!” Izzy complained, but she was laughing, too. “You should know better than to tease me in front of people who I’m sure would be very interested in all the embarrassing baby Alec stories I can possibly remember. And I can remember a lot, hermano.”

“I can force you to start relying on Starbucks again,” Alec deadpanned.

Izzy’s terrified gasp was half-joking and exaggerated, but there was also a gleam of genuine fear in her eyes. “You wouldn’t. You love me too much.”

“Try me.”

Magnus, meanwhile, was just smirking openly at the two of them, clearly amused and delighted.

“Much as I hate to interrupt,” he said, and Alec turned fully back to face him, hardly even aware of the way his expression gentled and relaxed as his attention moved from his sister to his… whatever you called a person who you hadn’t yet been on a date with but who kept showing up at your workplace to flirt with you. “I have to get back to work soon.”

“Right, right,” Alec said, turning to grab a cup. “Iced cinnamon latte, right?”

“You have a good memory.”

“You have a consistent order.” But Alec knew he had to be flushing again; at least now he had an excuse to duck his head and busy himself behind the counter. It probably was overkill, just a bit, to have Magnus’ order memorized after just two visits, but everything about him seemed to stick in Alec’s head, clear and sharp.

“I’d better get going, I’m supposed to meet Lydia for dinner,” Isabelle said, just a little bit too quickly to be completely organic, especially since she hadn’t shown any signs of needing to leave up until that point. “Nice to meet you, Magnus! Love you, Alec.” She leaned across the counter to smack an air-kiss in the general vicinity of Alec’s cheek, and then she was gone, out the door with flourish and flair.

Alec didn’t do much beyond calling out, “Bye, Izzy,” at her retreating back, because he didn’t want to risk looking up and making eye contact with Magnus. He could still feel himself blushing, and he’d ideally like to get that at least a little under control, but he was almost done making Magnus’ drink, so it was probably a lost cause.

“Your sister is a delight,” Magnus told him in a very serious tone of voice as Alec finally gave in and looked back at him to hand him his coffee. He tried to ignore the warm feeling that coiled in his chest at the way Magnus and Izzy, one of the two most important people in his world, had hit it off so spectacularly. That had never really been the case with any guys he’d dated before, not even the ones Izzy herself had introduced him to, and it felt good, felt right, in a way that Alec knew meant he was getting way, way ahead of himself. Their first date wasn’t even for another couple of days, for god’s sake.

“She’s a menace,” he said, and Magnus chuckled. “I mean it. You should have seen her when she was in med school; I don’t think lab coats are supposed to be flattering, but she kept bringing hers home at night to alter them so they fit better.”

“Oh, she’s a doctor?” Magnus said, sounding genuinely interested. “I have some idea how that goes. One of my best friends is a nurse. She never made any attempts to look good in scrubs, though, at least that I know of.”

“Forensic pathologist, actually,” Alec replied, unable to contain the pride that seeped into his voice any time he talked about Izzy’s achievements. “Our parents were pissed, wanted her to be a surgeon, but she loves what she does.”

Shit, there was a customer walking in the door, starting to meander towards the counter. Magnus saw him, too; he glanced away, then looked back at Alec, stepping just slightly away from the counter.

“She’s lucky to have you,” he said softly, but then his tone crisped up and brightened. “I really should be going, though, and I don’t want to keep you from your work, either. I can’t wait for Friday, Alexander.”

“Me, either,” Alec said, and it didn’t even feel like that much of an admission with the way Magnus smiled at him before waltzing out the door.

He hadn’t been sure what to expect about the date. Magnus was, clearly, kind of a glamorous and fancy guy; you only had to look at him for about two seconds to figure that out. And Alec… definitely wasn’t, not to mention the fact that he hadn’t been on a date not arranged by a third party in quite some time. He locked up at 7:55 on Friday night, after closing at 7:30, and stepped outside to find Magnus already waiting on the sidewalk.

Maybe it shouldn’t have been such a relief to see that Magnus looked almost casual — still gorgeous, of course, and still refined and glittering and colorful in sinfully tight emerald-green pants and a smoky gray shirt that was just this side of see-through, but not as far toward the formal end of the spectrum as the other outfits Alec had seen him in. That made some sense, he supposed; work clothes versus date clothes. Still. He was relieved, because he’d had to make do with his nicest jeans and a cobalt-blue shirt that he’d worn exactly once before, despite having it in his closet for years. If Magnus had shown up in a suit, he might have combusted.

“Alexander!” Magnus said, as soon as he stepped out of the front door, which swung shut and locked behind him. “It’s good to see you, darling.”

“You, too,” he said, a little breathless at the way Magnus’ shirt showed off just a hint of his chest and trying not to be too obvious about it. “You look — you look incredible.”

The smile he got at that was genuine and warm, and made his chest flutter embarrassingly. “As do you.”

That couldn’t possibly be true — especially not compared to Magnus, fuck, Alec was probably going to go insane by the end of the night from just looking at him — but Alec had no idea what to say, so he just let it slide, glancing down at the sidewalk instead to hide his blush.

“Shall we?” Magnus asked, and off they went.

The restaurant Magnus took him to was actually quite close to Max’s, so they walked. It was a cute place, just the right amount of trendy without being too hipster to function; Alec liked it as soon as they walked in, just from the atmosphere. It was quiet enough to be romantic, but not so quiet that it was kind of intimidating or weird, the way some places were. He supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised that Magnus’ taste was excellent.

He must have known someone, too, becuase they were seated as soon as they walked in without being asked for a reservation, even though there was a line of people waiting for tables, and led to a half-circle booth off in a corner, out of the way. Alec focused on the menu automatically as soon as they sat down, mostly to have something to do, and felt his eyebrows rising higher and higher as his eyes scanned down the page.

“This all sounds amazing,” he enthused, glancing up at Magnus to find him smiling across the table.

“I see I was right on the money to guess you might be a bit of a foodie,” he teased, and Alec shook his head, laughing.

“Not as much as you probably think, I just know good food when I see it.”

And from there the conversation ran easily, never letting up for more than a few moments, never really getting awkward. Their waiter came for drink orders, then food orders, then brought the drinks, then brought the food, and the whole time they talked and laughed with all the ease of people who’d known each other for months, years even, not barely two weeks. Alec had never once been on a first date that was this… easy. He was used to tripping and stumbling over his words — which, well, he was, because Magnus kept flinging these casual, flirty one-liners and compliments at him that made him blush and stutter every damn time, but that was different. He was used to not knowing what to say or how to say it, not really even knowing if he should. This wasn’t like that. This was that feeling he’d gotten the first time Magnus came to Max’s, that feeling of sharing, of togetherness, amplified and spread through several beautiful hours.

By the time they all but tumbled back out of the restaurant, full and warm and happy, out into the summer night air, Alec’s heart felt like it was about to fly out of his chest. It was a good feeling — the best he’d had in quite some time. In the face of that, reaching out to grab Magnus’ hand and saying, “Can we just walk for a while and keep talking?” was the easiest thing in the world.

They ended up just meandering for a few blocks, occasionally stopping to look at something interesting in the window of a store or point out interesting bits of street art. Without even realizing it, Alec lead their little walk right back to Max’s, and laughed out loud at himself when he came to a stop in front of the door.

“Sorry,” he said. “Force of habit, I guess.” He hesitated only a moment before saying, “If — if you wanted to come in, I could make us some coffee?”

“That may be the most genuine offer for coffee at the end of a date that I have ever received,” Magnus said dryly, but he was smiling. “That sounds wonderful, Alexander, thank you.”

Neither of them, it seemed, was quite ready for the night to end. It was well past ten by that point, but Alec made them drinks — yet another cinnamon latte for Magnus, but hot, this time, and plain black dark roast for him, for which Magnus teased him mercilessly: “You have all of these wonderful barista skills at your disposal, you know how to make every coffee drink on the planet, and your drug of choice is black no sugar?” — and they sat there and talked and laughed for hours more, just the two of them curled up in Alec’s hand-picked comfy armchairs, quiet and warm and together.

That had been four months ago. At the time, even after such a wonderful night, Alec hadn’t been able to quite pluck up the courage to give Magnus a kiss goodnight; some part of him was afraid of breaking whatever spell they’d managed to put themselves under for the evening, the little bubble of comfort and warmth that they’d spun around themselves, by pushing too far too fast or misreading some sign.

Now, as Magnus sweeps into the shop on a golden Saturday afternoon, Alec leans eagerly across the counter to give him a sweet kiss hello. Magnus clearly rolled out of bed not too long ago, judging by the state of his hair — Alec is in the know enough now to be able to tell when its artful dishevelment is more dishevelment than art, though it’s a subtle difference, because Magnus never leaves the house looking less than put-together — and he’s all smiles as he pulls back.

“Good morning, love,” he purrs, and Alec laughs.

“Magnus, it’s 3 PM,” he says, to which Magnus just shrugs. Alec shakes his head fondly, and Magnus, having been properly greeted, makes his way over to the overstuffed purple lounge chair in the corner farthest from the door that Alec has come to think of as his throne.

He doesn’t come for the coffee anymore, though Alec still makes it for him, because it’s not as though he doesn’t like it; the pornographic moans that inevitably rise up from out of his cup are all the evidence Alec needs to feel quite secure in his skills. Magnus comes just for Alec, just to sit on his throne and read or check his email or whatever and watch Alec at work, watch him make awkward small talk with people and smile at kids and effortlessly remember even the most complicated of drink orders.

Magnus isn’t a Max’s regular. He’s an Alec regular. And Alec wouldn’t have it any other way.