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It's the dirty work

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“Shit, shit, shit.

The giant pothole had come seemingly out of nowhere under the cover of an overcast evening and non-existent street lighting. As the car jolted and groaned under the sudden impact, panic shot through Magnus’ veins. And fine, maybe there had been some sort of warning sign some miles (and several years of his life) back, but that had hardly seemed to warrant travesties like a giant fucking abyss in the middle of the road.

Magnus quickly pulled to a stop at the roadside, because it definitely sounded like half his rental had just been severed from the rest. With trembling hands he undid his seatbelt and leaned his head back in a moment’s respite, trying to catch back his breath. “And this is why I don’t drive or venture out of civilized society, a.k.a. cities,” he grumbled to himself.

The plan had basically been doomed from the start, really. He cursed the day Jocelyn was born in rural Vermont, he cursed the fact that she and Luke had decided to get married there. Actually no, irritating as it may be that some people thought getting married in a field in the middle of Nowhere, VT was romantic, this was two hundred percent Cat and Raphael’s fault. His so-called friends were the masterminds behind this whole disaster of a journey.

Lets do a road-trip they said, it’ll be fun they said.

Yeah right before they both decided to ditch him. Raphael, who admittedly hadn’t been too enthusiastic about this venture to begin with, had last-minute declared to suffer from car sickness and had purchased a train ticket, the git. Cat at least had the decency to sound sorry as she called him this morning to confess she had to pick up a colleague’s shift. Well, they would be sorry when what was left of his coyote-devoured body would be discovered in some cornfield around here in…. what state was he in at the moment?

Wait. Were there coyotes here? Bears? Mountain lions?

“Ughhhhh.” Magnus dropped his head forward onto the steering wheel as his vengeful fantasy was giving way to a wave of sincere despair rippling through his body.

Yes, stubbornly continuing with this road-trip solo might have been a mistake, but he didn’t deserve to die so young, he had so much (so many!) left to do. Magnus had to admit it had been a somewhat fun trip, for the first… fifteen minutes. He had been belting along with everything from ABBA to Bowie to Golden Earring, and road-trip classics such as ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and Chuck Berry’s ‘Route 66’. So what if he wasn’t crossing the Midwest, driving down South or cruising epic West-coast sceneries. Because really: the first few Appalachian mountains had been plenty impressive. That is until they weren’t anymore and he got bored.

Now it was more of a ‘Highway to Hell’ kind of moment.

With one more deep sigh Magnus got out of the car to assess the damage. Using his phone’s flashlight function he got down on all fours, peering under his rental.

That exhaust pipe wasn’t supposed to hang there like that, right? Or leak…?

Magnus cursed everyone, including himself, once more for good luck. How was he supposed to find a mechanic at 7pm in these types of towns that always sleep? Back in the comfort of his car he pulled up Google and Yelp. Some fast investigating told him that, apparently, there was a service garage not too far from here called ‘Jace’s Quickies’.

Magnus was torn between an amused chuckle and a sarcastic sneer, which resulted in a kind of snort. Naturally, because that was just his luck, it had closed at six, but he was well and truly out of options here. “A quickie it is,” Magnus muttered to himself as he put his key back into the ignition, deciding he would just risk the extra three mile. There was no way he was staying out here on the roadside all night long. Good thing the wedding wasn’t for another two days because Magnus had a feeling he was going to be in for a long, restless night, and not one of the good kind.

Chapter Text

“Stop it, Chairman, I’ll be right out… jusss five more minutes,” Magnus mumbled drowsily as he was slowly pulled from a fitful sleep by some sort of annoying tapping sound, causing him to screw his eyes shut even more firmly. It wasn’t until the sound repeated itself that it registered with Magnus that, in fact, it didn’t sound like a cat scratching at all and that, come to think of it, this didn’t appear to be his bed, nor his bedroom for that matter.

Magnus jolted up from the reclined driver’s seat, blinking his eyes against the brutal assault of the day’s first rays of sun. As last night’s memories slowly started trickling in, it took him a second to comprehend why a skeptical looking young blond man had been rapping his knuckles against the car window. Magnus raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow at the blond, at which the latter rolled his eyes. With one arm lightly crossed over the other, he gestured for Magnus to roll down the window. He then looked over his shoulder at someone shielded from Magnus’ view, though he could hear another male voice.

Sighing, Magnus gently wiped under the skin around his eyes with his index fingers. He didn’t even bother to check his appearance the rear-view mirror, knowing full well he looked nothing less than pitiable, likely suffering from smudged make-up, rumpled clothes and car seat hair. So, he did the only thing he could do in situations as these: crank up his magical charm to completely bewitch everyone in a mile radius, blowing them all away with his allure and blinding them to his momentarily less than stellar aesthetic. ‘Fake it until you make it’ was generally how he lived his life anyway.

Instead of rolling the window down he quickly and gracefully (well as graceful as possible for someone having lain in a 110 degree angle for seven hours) exited the vehicle and loftily appraised who he could only imagine was…“Jace, from Jace’s Quickies, I presume?”

The blond had turned his torso back to fully face Magnus and flashed a cocky grin “The one and only.”

“Hmm.”

Magnus peered around the, honestly rather obnoxious, guy to lay eyes on … woah… something else completely. Momentarily stunned, Magnus didn’t know whether to completely abandon any pretense of fabulousness he was trying to project, or redouble his efforts, because there appeared to be a second gentleman caller on this rapidly improving morning. And he was something else alright: tall (tall!), all long limbs and dark messy hair, not to mention stunning hazel eyes so bright and beautiful they almost negated the scowl gracing his strong features. And damn that scowl was hot in its own right. Oh boy. Jackpoooot. As Magnus let his eyes roam shamelessly over this excellent male specimen, taking in the black tank top and crossed arms that left the young man’s bulging biceps wonderfully on display, the man’s cheeks were showing signs of a faint blush and he averted his gaze awkwardly.

How lovely.

Both men, he had noticed, were tattooed on their upper body, and the dark-haired boy even had one crawling up the side of his neck.

Of course, the blond one, Jack – no wait, Jake – just had to interrupt his daydream by opening his mouth. As the guy cleared his throat, Magnus determined Jake (Jason?) was quickly earning a spot on his shortlist of most annoying people.

“Sooo,” he started, drawing the word out longer than necessary, “Problem with your car, buddy?”

“First of all, I am not your buddy, please do not refer to me as such. But yes, that is why I am currently parked outside your…” Magnus took in the façade of a building he could only hope was structurally sounder than it looked “… enterprise, at god knows what time it is.”

“Ah it’s already seven man, morning’s halfway passed.” Jake grinned cheerfully and clapped him on the shoulder as though they were long-time friends catching up, and Magnus could do nothing but glare, which fell on deaf ears (eyes?) as Jake appeared resolved to be eternally cheerful. Not so much his companion, though. The other man still hovered in the background, worrying his lower lip, scowl still in place.

“Alright, I’ll make some room for her, what did you say the issue was?” The blond had started circling the car with a keen gaze while jotting things down on a small notepad. Magnus was somewhat relieved to find the guy appeared at least tolerably capable and serious in his trade, but he didn’t really pay attention to him if he could help it. No, instead he zeroed in on the dark-haired beauty with the mesmerizing eyes. There was just something about them… “Pothole.” Magnus replied absentmindedly over his shoulder, not letting his gaze wander. He purposefully stepped closer, all but forcing the other man to meet his gaze.

“I don’t believe we’ve been formally introduced,” he drawled, and found he didn’t have to fake a sincere smile, “I’m Magnus.” A surprised and amused (and perhaps also somewhat pleased) expression crossed the other man’s features, and what started as a grin he seemingly tried to bite down ended up in a dazzling display of pearly whites. “Alec.” And gods, even his voice was delicious, a low and warm sound that buried itself in Magnus’ bones and curled up in his stomach. They stared at each other, probably longer than generally considered appropriate and for the second time that morning Jake had to remind everyone else of his insufferable existence by loudly clearing his throat “Uhm, Alec?” The man in question tinged pink and promptly stepped back and then sideways, edging away from Magnus in a crabwise manner while gesturing towards the garage “I.. uh.. we, the car, your car, we’ll take it in.”

Magnus chuckled softly “Right, by all means, pretty boy.”

Face flaming, Alec all but fled towards where Jake was standing in a huge archway that led into the workplace, where they started to hassle chains as they spoke in voices too low for Magnus to overhear, but there was the unmistakable sound of the blond’s laugh and he could see Alec giving him an irritated shove as they set to work.

He smiled and turned towards the newly risen sun, basking in its warmth and for a moment forgetting he had been most determined to be upset.

 


 

With his eyes closed and lounging in a (admittedly not very comfortable) lawn chair in the late morning sun, Magnus could almost fool himself into believing he was back on his rooftop terrace in Brooklyn. It was an unnaturally warm late summer’s day, almost tauntingly so, as though lulling you into a false sense of peace when in fact dreary fall weather could come smacking you in the face any moment now.

Magnus loved the fall though. He had always thought of himself as a summer’s child, reveling in the sensation of the burning sun on his skin, the brightness and colors, the way the hot air clung to the inside of your throat and longs, the way it forcibly slowed down life like a sizzling blanket of ease and calm. It was peaceful, familiar, it was home. But that was Indonesia. No sane (or insane) person loved summer in New York City. Just no. The city turned into a sweltering disgusting pit, slowly boiling its inhabitants alive as they started devouring each other, chewing out one another even more tenaciously than normal for New Yorkers. No, fall was a more than welcome relief nowadays. He could breathe again, accessorize with scarves, enjoy pumpkin spice non-fat lattes and crunch leaves under a pair of fabulous pair of new winter boots. And the accompanying rainstorms also had their way of filling Magnus with sensations of nostalgia.

But summer here… it felt lovely, neither sizzling nor sweltering, just… pleasant. The service garage was situated just on the outskirts of a town whose name Magnus had already forgotten. Even though it was by a main road, traffic was very slow (no surprise there), and only two or three people had been up here during the course of the morning, each greeting him cheerfully, seemingly in no hurry.

He had received coffee and some toast from a jovial Jason (Jared?). He and Alec had been busy all morning and Magnus could vaguely hear them clattering around in the workshop, but also more often than not he could hear them laugh unreservedly. There was a radio playing, its tunes lowly carrying outside, still just loud enough for Magnus to softly hum along. He could feel his attention slipping, though, a laziness slowly spreading through his limbs and a soft haze engulfing his thoughts. It was just so damn hard to feel stressed right now. He knew somewhere in the back of his mind he ought to be, but there was also something terribly relaxing about the idea that it was all out of his hands. Just as he was sliding into unconsciousness he could hear a hesitant voice calling out to him, suddenly much closer than anticipated.

“Uh, Magnus?”

“Okay, I’m back.” Magnus forced himself to blink a number of times and shook his shoulders as though to cast off any drowsiness still clinging to his limbs.

Alec was looking decidedly sweatier than earlier that day and there was a dark smudge on his right cheekbone that he probably wasn’t aware of, it was all kinds of endearing. His eyes were warm and seemed to hold both a question and a sort of steeled determination that had Magnus curious. Again, seconds stretched out in silence between the two of them, without either man visibly noticing or caring. If it was tension, it was a very comfortable kind.

“Did you want lunch?” Alec just blurted out.

Magnus just leaned back in his chair, tilting his head to the side in curiosity “Alec, is that short for Alexander?”

“What?” the man blinked at him a couple of times, but seemed to roll with it in the end “uhm, yeah it is, but nobody calls me that… anymore.” The last part came out as an afterthought, seemingly slipping through the cracks in his demeanor, and he suddenly looked a little lost just standing there in the yard.

So Magnus decided to throw him a line. He got up and dusted some imagined dirt off his attire as he threw Alec a brilliant smile, “I could go for some food. What’s on the menu?” And he really couldn’t help himself to add, with a smirk and a wink, “Please say it’s you.”

So what if Magnus was trying to coax another telltale blush out of the hopeless country boy. He had to do something to pass the time here in terra incognita. The young man was just too tempting not to try to rile up. Only in a small town like this could someone so jaw-dropping hot, be so clueless and unassured. But Alec seemed to be better prepared this time. That didn’t mean he appeared unaffected, however.

He scoffed a little awkwardly and cleared his throat, apparently bent on ignoring Magnus’ remark. “Jace is about to pick up some Italian. And I thought maybe we could go through some of the paperwork in the meantime?”

“Jace!” Magnus exclaimed loudly. “Right! Damn, I knew if was something like that…”

Alec appraised him extremely skeptically, squinting his left eye and cocking his head “You forgot his name? You do realize it’s literally the name of the garage?”

Magnus waved that insignificant little detail away “Don’t look so upset, I made sure to remember your name, now didn’t I, Alexander?

“Okay, right… anyway, let’s just head inside and we’ll discuss administration, payment and the like.”

“How terribly romantic, Alexander. Offering me lunch and now this, you’re just a regular Casanova, casually sweeping me off my feet, aren’t you.” Magnus winked and this time the boy did color a bit, though he also ferociously rolled his eyes.

“Whatever, Magnus, just…please…“ he motioned for him to move inside.

How could he refuse.

As they fell not quite in step Magnus couldn’t help to gesture towards the façade “It’s not completely my fault it slipped my mind, you know. It still says Lightwood &sons on the front.”

Alec made a weird kind of jerky movement and suddenly picked up the pace, as if eager to get away, though from what remained unclear “Yeah well.. we’re not taking that down” he almost snapped. As they took a side entrance into the building, he opened a door on the left of the hallway, reaching across Magnus to do so, suddenly moving quick as lightning as though burned by the proximity, “Please wait in here, I’ll be right back.” And then he was gone.

Magnus was just stood there, left wondering what he did wrong. Not for the first time that day, he wished he could just leave this sorry place behind.

Chapter Text

"Great." Magnus sighed to himself as he was rocking back and forth on his feet.

The small office he’d been asked to wait in was both of a clearly personal, and lifeless, nature. With all kinds of memorabilia and the comfortable state of the furniture there was no question someone had spent a lot of time here. But a light layer of dust covered most all surfaces and Magnus couldn’t shake the creeping sensation he was disturbing something with his presence. It felt like he had accidentally stepped into the fenced-off section of a museum exhibit. The ticking of a (really rather tacky) old-fashioned pendulum clock was the only sound disturbing a heavy weighing silence, as well as the only sign time actually passed in this strange capsule.

There was a large freestanding oak desk that took up most of the space, a wall filled with shelves holding folders and boxes, and two chairs. The one behind the desk was stately, but clearly frayed and well worn with age. There were pictures littering both the desk and the walls, the latter of which also held several framed certificates. One appeared a little newer and significantly less dusty than the others. Magnus would’ve liked to claim complete indifference, but let’s face it: meddlesome was practically his middle name. So, upon closer inspection, Magnus could read it was a ‘National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence’ certificate for one ‘Jonathan C. Wayland’. J.C. That was probably Jace then. It all just made him more curious: who are Lightwood and sons? But before he could snoop around any further the doorknob turned and Alexander stepped inside the cramped room. He was looking a little sheepish and at a stark contrast to this grumpy demeanor not five minutes ago. Magnus was starting to wonder if this guy had several personalities.

“Hi,” Alec said, and he smiled almost as softly as the word was uttered, and Magnus just felt … something he didn’t really want to examine closely. He was preparing a snarky reply of some kind when Alec hurried on “I’m sorry… for just now, and to have made you wait. I, ah, I just realized I never asked you what kinda food you wanted so I think Jace is just getting a variety of pastas, I hope that’s okay.”

Damn this guy and his impossible combination of endearing and hot. Now all Magnus could do was smile and nod, like some dumb bobblehead toy.

How peculiar.

“Right.” Alec cleared his throat. His eyes darted around the office, not lingering on anything particular, but apparently still finding offense because it was clear from everything – from his stance to his voice – that he really didn’t want to be here. “Let me just…” he quickly strode over to the desk (which honestly, in his absurdly long tree-man legs took like a step and a half), opened a drawer and took out some papers with practiced ease, barely sparing a glance, which suggested familiarity with all the desk’s contents.

“Okay let’s take a look at your car.” Alec stepped back to the office’s entrance and the held the door open for him in a surprisingly gentlemanlike manner.

He could have said they were off to feed alligators by hand and he probably would’ve followed gladly. What a strange day this was turning out to be.

 

Standing in the workshop Alec cleared his throat, a hint of self-consciousness sounding through it, as he gestured towards Magnus’ rented car that was already up on the hoist. “So we did a little check-up already this morning and it seemed you hid a pretty big pothole indeed, or at least were very unlucky.”

Ugh, that sure turned Magnus mood sour. “Yes that sounds about right,” he couldn’t help but grumble. Alec shot him an apologetic look. “It looks like something we could take care of today and tomorrow, in order for you to be on your way tomorrow end of the afternoon at the latest.”

Magnus couldn’t help the sigh of relief that escaped him. He hadn’t realized how tightly wound he had been, deep down, until now. The rehearsal dinner was tomorrow evening and if he could make that, he would definitely rethink suing every road contractor and maintenance company in New England.

In front of him Alec was still worrying his lower lip nervously, however, and Magnus felt wary. “But…” he put forward.

“But I’m afraid it’s gonna cost you - quite a bit. I’m sorry” He almost winced saying it and despite the absolutely shitty situation Magnus found he had to bite back a laugh “Alexander, has anyone ever told you you’d make a terrible businessman?”

The younger man gave a surprised chuckle and scratched the end of his jawline right under his ear, “Maybe.” And then he grinned and his eyes twinkled somewhat deviously, “Or is it just a masterful negotiation technique?”

Magnus raised his eyebrows as if to say please. And Alec gave another little chuckle, shaking his head. “Anyway, have you talked to your insurer yet, or the rental company?”

Again he was hit in the face with reality and it was simply disconcerting how quickly he seemed to forget everything unpleasant in current company. It was interesting - to say the least.

“Yes, I called them, and they weren’t exactly thrilled, but since they were hardly up for sending someone all the way over here from the city, they agreed to having the car repaired here, though they will still have it investigated thoroughly by their own staff upon return.” He knew he sounded annoyed, but this was turning out to be so much more of a headache than he had planned and it was probably still going to cause trouble for weeks to come.

As if sensing all that, Alec said, with a somewhat endearing determination “Well, we’re going to do our very best, of course, to make sure she’ll be as good as new.”

 


 

The pasta was good, really good, Magnus reluctantly had to admit. However, he was having a hard time not losing his appetite, with the atrocious way Jace was shoveling the Italian delicacy into his mouth like some kind of caveman. He was really trying hard not to be snobbish and look down on any honest, hard-working blue-collar men, but Jace’s terrible (or rather non-existent) table manners were making that very difficult. (Okay maybe he wasn’t trying that hard, but still).

Alec seemed to pick up on Magnus horrified expression and snorted. Thank god he had the decency to first swallow his bite before saying “It’s not a competition Jace.” He was shaking his head fondly, however, which just mitigated the reprimanding tone of the comment.

Jace, unfortunately, wasn’t familiar with this wonderful invention of swallowing one’s food before speaking and just barely managed to convey human language through the half-chewed food assimilating in his mouth, “Is too. Everything is a competition.” As he finally gulped down the last spoonful of pasta, chasing it with a swig of beer (Magnus was back at questioning this guy’s capabilities as a mechanic, no matter how many certificates he had earned), he continued, “By the way, says you Alec, you’re like, the most competitive person I know.”

Alec just rolled his eyes, “Whatever.”

Magnus was again struck by the familiarity between them, it didn’t really seem like either of them was in charge of the other, though it appeared to be Jace’s garage. But they bantered as old friends, siblings even.

“So you said you were on your way to a wedding, buddy?” Magnus narrowed his eyes at the blond, whose smirk was a pretty clear indication that he knew where Magnus stood on that term of endearment.

“I did.” Magnus replied curtly.

But then Alec joined in and he was much more persuasive in getting Magnus to talk. As in he was very nice to look at. “Where is it?”

Anyway, what could it hurt, the two mechanics were practically strangers and come on, it was truly highly unlikely they would ever meet again in Magnus’ everyday life. Magnus took a sip of his diet coke to clear his throat. “It’s in Vermont, up near Woodstock, a place called the Maple Leaf Inn, if you’ll believe it”, he could barely keep the incredulous and disdainful tone from his voice.

Alec snorted and that made Magnus perk up even more.

“It’s two people very dear to me, though,” he continued, “They basically raised me; though they were never officially foster parents.”

“Oh.” Alec said eloquently and even Jace didn’t have something to say, for once. Magnus just shrugged in what he hoped was an elegant manner, “I’m very happy for them, but I would’ve been even happier if they’d just decided to get married in NYC. Where they live. Have lived almost their whole lives. Where their daughter lives. And where all of their friends live–“

“Alright, alright, we get it,” Jace cut in, good-humoredly, “You like the city, you don’t like anywhere else. Tell me something I don’t know about New Yorkers.”

Alec opened his mouth, perhaps to disagree with that statement, but at that moment his phone started ringing and Alec fished it out of his pocket to look at the number flashing on the screen. “It’s Izzy,” he informed them, well mostly Jace as Magnus hadn’t a clue who Izzy was. A friend? Girlfriend maybe? Magnus hadn’t been getting that vibe, but you never knew. Or, who knows, maybe Alexander was extremely closeted. These two men seemed relatively open-minded, but Magnus knew what these small towns could be like, even if it was New England.

As Alec had stepped out for a second to take the call, Jace cleared away their plates and immediately set to work again, grin on his face and humming a tune. He must really love his job, Magnus thought curiously. He himself was working as a contract lawyer for a high-end firm in the city, and he liked his job fine, don’t get him wrong, but come on… who looks like that going to work, not to mention right after lunch break? And that level of enthusiasm for taking pieces of metal apart and putting them back together? He really couldn’t see the appeal.

With a shake of his head he draped himself over the forms Alec had given him to fill out right before they had sat down to eat.

Besides the clatter of tools and Jace’s humming the workshop was quiet so Magnus was somewhat startled when Jace suddenly called out, “Your rim is pretty worn down from when you bottomed out.”

“Excuse me?” Magnus sputtered, and he almost dropped his coke. Since no one else was around, he could only assume that was meant for him, but… just … what? He turned to stare at where Jace was crouching by the left front wheel.

Jace just blinked at him, face completely blank and without even any hint of teasing or amusement, and he pointed at the outer diameter of the wheel. “Here. When the bottom of your car scraped the road when you hit the pothole, the rims got damaged. You can see the wear and the way it’s dented right over here.”

“Err, right - sure” Magnus stammered, still not completely sure he wasn’t being taken for a spin.

It didn’t help that could hear barely contained laughter behind him. He swiveled around and narrowed his eyes at the culprit. In the doorway stood Alexander, looking extremely amused. As Magnus whirled his head between the two suspiciously, all he could see was Jace lifting an eyebrow at Alec in question, “Are you just gonna stand there laughing, or are you gonna make yourself useful?" Jace demanded, throwing a dirty towel at Alec’s face, which the latter caught deftly. Still completely thrown, Magnus couldn't think of anything to say, not with the way Alec seemed to bite his tongue and Jace appeared as clueless as ever.

Alec was still chuckling by the time he got down to work on the other front tire.

Chapter Text

“Uuughhhhhh.” Magnus was nothing if not an expert in dragging out a groan much longer than necessary, but even he felt he was setting some kind of new personal record.

Magnus rarely took time off work and he was forcibly reminded of the reason why. He didn’t do lazing about, or sitting still, or feeling useless, not any of that. It might have been nice to have spent the morning sitting outside, but soon he had started to feel restless, antsy. He had walked to town, looking for any kind of half-decent form of accommodation (and immediately had to let go of any kind of – perfectly reasonably, very minimal – standards), had walked around some more, gotten coffee at a cheap-looking café that couldn’t decide whether it was going for 'diner' or 'tearoom' and where even the waitress had looked like she’d rather be anywhere else, and still it was barely 4pm. So now he’d arrived back at the garage, the sun beating on his back, and both Alec and Jace nowhere to be seen, curiously. The day had heated up considerably, the air buzzing quietly with all manner of insect, but unfortunately not with consistent phone reception…

Naturally.

“Is simple cell reception too much to ask? Is that not a basic human right at this point?” Frustrated, he held his phone at an arm’s range while testing the taunting little bars in a variety of locations in and around the repair shop. That was how Magnus found himself perched on a heap of tires stood stacked against the outside wall, in a spot that appeared to hold the most hopeful chance at connectivity with the outside world. He hopped around somewhat, stretching out his arm in what was undoubtedly a ridiculous manner. This all was (alright, alright) probably a mistake, but it might still have been fine if not for the sudden shouting that drew his attention. The yelling got closer and he picked up an incensed roar, followed by a “Lay off, dick wipe.” Magnus turned towards the commotion and almost fell down from the mere sight.

Jace was chasing Alec with a hose in what looked like an honest-to-freaking-god water fight. As in a downright, completely childish, and just silly and ridiculous and... and wet clinging shirts, glistening skin, dangling hair, soaking pants, water fight. Holy motherforking shirtballs, Magnus needed to sit down for an eternity now, because this was not okay. It was disturbingly hot, granted, but also like fucking cliché? But also hot? Did he mention that already?

While Magnus was already unbalanced on so many different levels, several things happened at once. The two young men had now fully rounded the corner of the building, Alec made a flinging motion with something in his hand, while Jace laughed and ducked just in time and… Magnus felt something very unseemly, heavy, and soppy hit him square in the face. As the dripping sponge slid down his face and chest, Magnus’ already precarious position on the stack of tires gave way and he plummeted down, flailing arms and all, to land rather unceremoniously on his backside in the grass in a way even Magnus couldn’t reframe as charming or suave.

His first thought was, obviously, 'ouch!' But he would have been lying if he said his second thought wasn't 'why me?'. 

“Oh my fuck! I’m so sorry Magnus.”

Magnus could only groan in response. Two faces (or maybe four?) appeared above him in his swimming vision as he tried to regain his wits and assess the damage. He definitely hurt, and he’d probably feel this tomorrow, but he’d be alright and more importantly: his phone seemed to have come out unscathed. He blinked a few times till he could properly distinguish the couple of men before him.

“I’ve been hit in the face with worse Alexander, don’t worry.”

Jace guffawed loudly, clapped him on the shoulder (Magnus honestly didn’t have the energy to even muster a glare at this point) and walked off towards the hose that was still stubbornly launching a stream of water into the sky, only for the droplets to return back to the ground with a desolate little arc, unable to escape their bleak fate. Magnus could relate.

Alec was still crouched in front of him, grimacing “Are you alright? What were you doing up there?”

Magnus shrugged sheepishly, “Appealing to higher powers?”

He couldn’t help but notice he was close enough to identify every single drop of water clinging to the other man’s long dark eyelashes, and how they reflected the sunlight onto his gorgeous eyes, making them appear to shine, even as the man was still frowning and squinting his left eye in skepticism. Nor could he escape the vaguely sweet and wholesome scent that suddenly permeated all the air around him. It was a little unfair for all his senses to be so assaulted all at once.

“For… cell reception?” Magnus offered. It was a little hard to remember why he had been up there in the first place because it seemed his mind had gone through enough emotions in less than a minute to warrant a whiplash.

Alec shook his head and exhaled exasperatedly at that, something between a sigh and a snort. But he helped Magnus up nonetheless. Even though Magnus had assured Alec that he was fine, the taller man still appeared to inspect him for evidence to the contrary. “You could be a little more subtle about checking me out Alexander,” Magnus tried, the effort to sound airy and coy slightly marred by the fact he winced as he was finally back on his feet. So the scowl was still going strong on Alec, but maybe Magnus had miscalculated the depth of his steady gaze and the many layers to it. “When you’re looking like that?” Alec questioned, cocking his head slightly to the side in scrutiny, and he actually tutted, “You need to clean your act up, Bane.” There was a daring glint in his eyes (had that always been there?) “Come on, let me grab you a towel…and maybe some clean clothes,” he added, and the man turned around, gesturing for Magnus to follow, before the latter could even get an indignant gasp all the way out.

“Yeah? And whose fault is that?” he called out after Alec, but he feared he could indeed do very well with an outfit change, now that he had slept in them and managed to covered in grass stains. Not to mention his makeup that was probably dripping down his face. Sighing, Magnus took off after the other man once more that day. At this rate he might as well be called Magnus Ball-‘n-Chain with the way he constantly seemed to trudge behind Alec, dragged along without a will of his own. Of course, this meant he often had a pretty good view of the other’s ass, which was currently clad in wet trousers. So it wasn’t all bad, Magnus supposed.

“It’s not my fault this town is some black hole in the modern-day interconnected globalized community," he grumbled half-heartedly as soon as he had caught up to Sir Seven League boots.

Alec hummed, “Yeah we actually have some trouble with reception since a heavy storm last week.”

“You don’t say.”

“We do have a landline you could use, if you’re actually familiar with those? And if it’s not beneath your modern metropolitan ways, of course. Wanna use that?”

Magnus wanted to be offended, but feared he didn't have much ground to stand on. More so, he honestly felt like hearing a familiar voice, so far he had barely been able to send or receive texts.

“Thank you Alexander, I would like that.”

“You’re welcome." Alec wasn’t smiling exactly, nor was he frowning, but Magnus kinda wished he could hear the other man laugh again, it was just an incredibly  riveting sound.

Alec led him back to the little office he’d already been earlier that day, and pointed him to the old-fashioned corded phone situated on the edge of the desk. Again, he himself lingered awkwardly in the doorway “I - uh, make yourself comfortable.” The tall mechanic scratched his chin in an absentminded manner, then he gestured for Magnus to enter. As the latter did just so, his hand just dropped rather forlornly, as though he couldn’t possibly imagine what its further purpose could be. His eyes darted between the hallway and the office, “I better just change, and – yeah I’ll leave you to it, I guess.”

“Unless you want me to lend a hand with anything?” Magnus quipped. All the reply he got was a door closed to his face. Fair enough.

He sank down in the nearest chair, not caring if he stained or besmirched anything, and he dragged the phone towards himself, punching digits in a rapid manner. It was, not coincidentally, the only number he knew by heart nowadays.

Cat answered on the third ring.

“Hello?”

“Cat.”

“Magnus! How is everything there, is the location beautiful and corny, are you having fun? I promise, I’m doing my very best to be there tomorrow afternoon! I’m sorry, though, I can’t talk very long.” She sounded distracted and rattled this all off fairly quickly. Magnus could picture her surrounded by paperwork, only really paying half a mind to the mobile device clamped between her cheek and shoulder.

Magnus exhaled a shaky breath he hadn’t noticed he was holding, and squeezed the telephone receiver even harder, pressing it to his ear as though that would bring him closer to the woman on the other end of the line.

“I… I’m not there yet, I’m stranded – stuck – somewhere a couple hours before southern Vermont.”

Cat’s voice came back, fully fixated on him this time, “What? What do you mean stranded, what happened?”

“It’s all rather awful, I hit a giant pothole, it did a bang up job at dismantling my rental. So now I’m at some garage, getting it repaired.”

He sighed and rubbed his free hand over his face with probably more force than necessary.

“You’re insured right? What did the rental company say? How serious is the damage? Did it get towed? Will you need alternative transportation?” Straight to the facts and all businesslike, Cat was a good one to have in a crisis - just not necessarily if you just wanted to vent or hear a friendly voice.

“Oh don’t worry about me, I’m perfectly fine and healthy, thank you so much for asking.”

Magnus wasn’t exaggerating when he thought he could actually hear the eye roll over the phone.

“You should have just taken the train, Magnus.”

He grunted, “Yes, well it’s a little late for that now.”

“Yes.” Cat sighed, “I’m glad you’re okay. Will you be able to make it tomorrow, how are you getting there?”

“Hmm, they seem to think I can drive out of here tomorrow.” He twiddled an Alicante Consulting pen between his fingers absentmindedly.

“That’s good!”

“Yes, I guess,” Magnus said. He was absentmindedly twisting the pen in the phone cord as his eyes fell to a picture frame on the desk. Turning it slightly to face him, he could see it was a family photo. A balding man with piercing eyes and a beautiful Latina-looking woman holding a baby stood together with three other children in front of them. A young girl of maybe eight years old, and two boys of about ten or eleven. One was obviously a young Alec, hair even messier back then, teeth still in disarray, but nevertheless smiling impossibly wide, his arm slung carelessly over the shoulder of the other boy. The other boy, who looked like Jace, was wearing a matching grin. The setting appeared arranged, but the moment was spontaneous: not everyone was looking at the camera, the baby looked to be crying and everyone’s expressions ranged from flustered surprise to outright laughter. It was cute. Other frames around the office seemed to hold variations of those same five people at various ages, though never all together again in one frame anymore. And never of that same carefree nature.

He didn’t know why, but being here somehow seemed to prod at both old and fresh wounds. He leaned back and closed his eyes.

“Ragnor would’ve driven with me. He never could stand any form of public transportation.”

On the other side of the line it was quiet for a moment, then Cat exhaled long and softly through her nose. He closed his eyes and he could picture her sad, but bemused little smile. “I know.”

Chapter Text

“Alec?” Magnus popped his head out of the office and called out hesitatingly, and then a little louder when no answer came.

“Here.” He could hear faintly from down the hallway. Following the sound, he found himself at the bottom of a staircase in the posterior of the building. The object of his question appeared at the top of the stairs, changed into dry jeans and a soft-looking sweater, towel in hand, hair looking mussed and a little wet still. A window to his side softly illuminated him and highlighted the angles and planes of his strong features, making Magnus feel as though he had never truly and properly seen that face before. It was totally uncalled for. How is it fair for someone to be so devastating and not know the effect he had on people?

“Did you…" Alec trailed off, "You can come up, to um, shower or change? I put the rest of your stuff up here, too.”

He could just take his bags now and relocate to the motel he had checked into earlier. He should. Come on Magnus, it’s one word, one!, and you know it rather well.

“Yes,” he uttered softly, almost hoarsely - and internally groaned, if not facepalmed. Even his voice had decided to abandon his pushover, sorry excuse for character. But he cleared his throat and helplessly repeated himself, “Yes.”

He ascended slowly, trying to find his footing back, in the figurative sense. Anyway, it would be nice to change into something dry and a little more representable. Right?

Right?

The space upstairs had an open floor plan, cabinets and screens separating different parts. He could see the edge of a bed in the corner, and there was a small kitchenette in the other. He took it all in, the place was rather barren and simplistic, but not void of ambiance. It just looked a little neglected. Suddenly he noticed how long they’d both been silent and he turned to see Alec already looking at him with an intense look in his luminous eyes that Magnus couldn’t quite place.

Magnus started saying “It’s nice,” just as Alec blurted “It’s a bit of a mess,” then they both just chuckled softly in a rather sheepish manner. Magnus was at a complete loss as to why he couldn’t stop being so goddamn awkward.

Now it was Alec’s turn to clear his throat. Was he feeling as unsettled as Magnus was? He gestured towards Magnus' bags on the floor and then a door to the right, “The bathroom’s over there, feel free to use towels or anything, really.”

And Magnus couldn’t even come up with a flirty pun or quip; honestly it was all rather pathetic. So he just nodded, grabbed his bags and made a beeline for the door Alec had pointed at.

Inside, Magnus leaned with both hands on the sink as he stared at himself in the mirror. “Get it together, Bane. This is pathetic. Also, stop talking to yourself, it’s possibly even more pathetic.” After closing his eyes and taking a couple of deep breaths he could go through the motions of getting cleaned up. He removed his clothes and scrubbed his face and upper body. He didn’t even try to fight the green stains on his trousers and the dark splotches on his shirt, instead, he just slipped into the only other pair of jeans he had brought, a dark and skinny pair, and put on a soft white cotton t-shirt, it was a simple and informal look, but still high of quality and the clothes fit him snugly. It would be kind of ridiculous to reapply makeup so late in the day when he had no plans of going out, but he couldn’t forego it altogether, not with how unbalanced he was feeling. Makeup had always been a way to ground himself. A feeling of control, of possibilities, of power. Watching yourself physically shape your exterior, and feel the inside follow, it was a thrilling sensation while the familiarity of it provided a sense of calm.

In any case, his nail polish was still there, adorning his nails: a dark grey color, nearly black. And, of course, he still had on all his rings. Nevertheless, he felt a little exposed and still not like himself as he admired the result in the bathroom mirror.

It wasn’t like he had never been invited by a beautiful man into their home before (please - if he’d gotten a penny...), but it wasn’t really like that now, was it? Or was it? What exactly did Alec expect from him? In general, really?

As he stepped out of the bathroom he was caught off guard by the sudden temperature drop. The top-floor apartment was evidently badly isolated and in spite of the warm summer days, the nights here still got quite cold. He shivered involuntarily. The room had darkened considerably and looked to be empty. Magnus stepped forward hesitantly, uncomfortable to just be wandering around in someone else’s home. To the right of the stairs leading down there was a narrow hallway and Magnus peaked around the corner. There was soft light at the end of the hallway and he padded towards it.

Having reached the doorway Magnus stood frozen for a moment in awe. Before him was a large and elevated open space. In it, three walls were covered from floor to ceiling with these immense bookcases, filled absolutely to the brim with books of all shapes and styles. The fourth wall was made up entirely out of glass windowpanes fitted in an industrial framework. With the last rays of the setting sun streaming in, a large part of the room bathed in a golden glow, illuminating dancing dust particles between the books. The darkest corner of the room held a small wood burning stove and two mismatched armchairs on a big fluffy rug, one of which was currently occupied by Alexander Lightwood, slumped low, absorbed in a novel lain on his lap.

The floor had creaked, however, announcing Magnus’ arrival and it snapped Alec out of his concentration, making him look up. His eyes raked Magnus’ body up and down, and the latter felt a twinge of self-consciousness, stirring from where he had buried that tendency a long, long time ago. The younger man cleared his throat and sat up a little straighter, banishing the book to a nearby piece of tree-trunk refashioned as side-table, which, (most likely unwittingly) looked very trendy as furnishing. The whole space was maybe the last thing he had expected the shop would harbor. It truly looked like a bibliophile’s wet dream.

“I’m sorry, is the garage doubling as the town library on weekends? Or are you just hoarding all the locally banned scandalous novels?”

Alec snorted, “Neither.”

The man craned his neck (leaving a lot of pale skin wonderfully on display) and took in the volumes stretching on seemingly endlessly behind him, as though attempting to take in the vista with fresh eyes, adopting the perspective of a newcomer.

“It’s actually a personal collection…” At Magnus’ astounded expression he hurried on to say: “Well not even ten percent is mine. Although,” he scratched his jaw in that adorable manner of him again, “I suppose it is all mine, but the honor of gathering this impressive assortment goes to my father.” Alec’s gaze wandered around the room again, eyes holding quiet woes, swirling without purpose. “He left it to me, well, to his children, but I suppose it’s more up my alley than Izzy or Jace’s. He used to have it at organized neatly at home, you know, a great source of pride and all, but none of us have the space to house this Hydra that just seems to ever-expand, so we just … put it… here”

Magnus was trying to keep up with all the information and subtext he was given, scrounging for crumbs like a starving man, as this was probably the longest he had ever heard Alec speak. The latter seemed to realize the same thing, fading out awkwardly and coloring ever so slightly along his cheekbones.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to give you a rundown of the joys of dividing inheritance.”

“Oh that’s quite alright darling.” Magnus gave a little swat of his hand as to wave that worry away and, what he hoped was, a warm smile. “It’s on your mind, so I want to hear it.” Magnus weighed his words carefully, “Did he – I don’t mean to pry or upset you, I apologize if I’m overstepping – did he pass away recently?”

“It’s, no it’s alright. He – he died three months ago.”

His heart panged. The young man seemed to be doing relatively okay, as far as he could tell, but maybe it only appeared that way because the grief had permeated everything around him, like a brimming cup, just overflowing and subtly bleeding into his work, his surroundings, his interactions.

Or maybe that was just Magnus, projecting. He slowly crossed the room and settled into the second armchair.

“Alexander, I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. The loss of a parent, that’s… it’s one of the hardest things to go through in life.” He hoped the man opposite him could hear in his words that he understood, that he knew.

Alec rubbed his hands over the armrests absentmindedly, though not without force. He exhaled harshly. “It’s all so fucked up. We didn’t have the easiest relationship. Well maybe that’s an understatement,” he added lowly, more to himself. “Not since I was young anyway. It’s … I just…” He closed his eyes and sighed frustratedly, after a beat he tried again. “I can’t seem to find the right way to grieve. Whenever I should feel sad or terrible I don’t, and when I should be fine, I’m not.” He chewed his lower lip, repeating, in a mumble, “I’m not.”

Magnus tried to catch the younger man’s restless gaze. “There is no one right way to grieve, or maybe at all. We feel what we feel, and you never need to justify that to anyone.” Magnus reached out to Alec’s left hand still scrubbing vigorously over the armrest, squeezing it gently. Suddenly Alec’s gaze bored into his, expression closed off, but eyes wide open, dark and shining, showing an internal battlefield with more than one opponent.

“You grew up in foster care?”

Magnus felt a little thrown by the directness and it must have shown on his face because Alec hastily followed his question up, “That was rude.”

Magnus couldn’t help but chuckle and he slowly shook his head, “Just direct.” Releasing Alec’s hand he leaned back in his chair, trying to ignore the way his arm tingled funnily. “I never knew my dad and – my mother, she killed herself when I was nine.”

Alec's sudden intake of breath sounded loud in the large and mostly empty space.

“Foster care wasn’t… great, but I was lucky to have met so many people in my life a little later on who opened their hearts for me and earned a spot in mine. I have a family, just not necessarily one connected by blood. In my, not so humble, opinion, there’s not much to blood anyway.”

Alec hummed, “That’s what I believed, for quite some time.” He picked at a frayed end of his sweater with his long graceful fingers, apparently unable to keep his hands still, where he otherwise appeared so steady, his moves calculated and efficient. “But family, the past, you can never really escape it, it would seem. Blood isn’t necessarily thicker than water, but it sure sticks to everything.”

“That it does.” Magnus conceded.

“So what can you do then?”

Magnus shrugged “You endure what is unbearable, and you bear it. That is all.”

Alec gave him an unimpressed look “Jeez, why didn’t I think of that”, but a little chuckle escaped him nonetheless.

“Can’t all be brilliant lawyers, I suppose.”

Alec rolled his eyes at that and Magnus felt relieved to see he had recovered some of his usual brazenness, and he answered with a little smirk.

“So I take it you like to read, what are you reading right now?” He nodded towards the volume put down by Alec right before their conversation.

The other man followed the direction of gaze, slightly frowning, “The Once and Future King.” He hesitated a moment and Magnus hoped he hadn’t broached another painful subject, but Alec’s voice was still light, albeit thoughtful, “I keep coming back to it throughout my life, as though it has a lesson for every possible turn of events," he mused. “Have you read it?”

Magnus shook his head, “I must confess I haven’t. It’s Arthurian fantasy right? I can’t say I read a lot of fantasy,” he declared apologetically.

“But it’s so much more than that!” Magnus blinked his eyes at the sudden level of enthusiasm coming from the mechanic. “It’s a coming-of-age tale, as well as love story, but it also touches on themes such as the abuse of power, war, tragedy and fate, family, tradition and honor. It’s a quite brilliant use of folklore from the Middle Ages to reflect on modern day society, it … I’m boring you aren’t I?”

“Not at all,” Magnus insisted. In truth he was fascinated, if not a little thrown, by this unexpected side of Alec. He said as much and Alec shrugged a little self-consciously “Well, yeah, it’s not exactly my job, but close enough I can use it as an excuse.”

Magnus couldn’t help but furrow his brow in blatant confusion, prompting Alec to explain. “I’m getting my PhD in linguistics.” Um, what? Magnus was a little too stunned, too busy trying to digest this new information, in order to speak or follow-up that statement with questions of polite interest. And maybe Alec took that to be disapproving or dismissive, because something defensive slipped in his tone as he felt the need to explain, “I think I wanted to study English literature at first, but my mom probably thought I would end up jobless or – god forbid – as a teacher, not exactly what she had in mind for her children. And my dad had always just hoped I’d take over the shop. So somehow I ended up going into linguistics.” Alec shook his head somewhat incredulous, “I guess I managed to argue that it was more scientific than studying literature?" He shrugged, "But I knew almost immediately it was the right decision, I ended up falling in love with the analytics of it all.”

“And the shop?”

“Thank god for Jace, the perfect son my father always wanted.” There was not enough sarcasm to make it sound as blasé as it was meant, but Magnus let that slide.

“Sooo… you don’t actually work here.”

Alec shrugged, “I mean, when I have a bit of free time or a break, I help out occasionally – or get exploited, depends which way you look at it – in the shop, but also with bookkeeping. Don’t get me wrong, I can handle basic mechanics, there’s no escaping it, not in this family, but no, I never wanted to take over the business - or future emporium if it was up to my mother.”

“Huh." Magnus was still trying to wrap his head around it all, so the only thing that stood out about this all found his way out of his mouth, "Wait, did you just admit to Jace being better at something than you?”

Alec huffed and unsuccessfully tried to hide his amusement. “Honestly? Out of all of us, Izzy is probably the best with cars. And I have no problem admitting that.” His expression turned so incredibly fond Magnus couldn’t decide if it was more towards the disgusting or endearing part of the spectrum “My sister. She’s studying engineering at MIT.” God, he didn’t think the guy actually tried to sounds neutral about that.

“You all seem… pretty close.”

Alec looked a little surprised, but nodded slowly. “We are.” He looked Magnus in the eye, his head tipped ever so slightly to the side, giving away his intent to query. Magnus thought, suddenly, that it would probably take a remarkably short amount of time to learn to read this man like a book. It was such a strange revelation he almost missed what Alec indeed just asked him, “What about you? It sounds like you and your – your family are quite close too. Though I can't imagine you not getting up into all kinds of antics.”

Magnus couldn’t help but smile, for his close friends to be referred to as he truly regarded them.

“Oh you have no idea.”

Chapter Text

“Nngghh.”

Funnily, the first thing Magnus noticed as he awoke was that he was not in a bed. Again. Secondly, he noticed he was being roused by a knocking sound. Again. For one delirious moment – as one sometimes has between slumber and waking – Magnus wondered if he was experiencing some kind of Groundhog Day scenario, reliving the same day over and over again. Not that it had been such an awful day, but you catch his drift. This only lasted seconds as he very soon realized some other distinct details about his current position: his face was at the moment being smothered by a thick, fluffy carpet, and, more importantly, said face was mere inches away from a very much unconscious Alec Lightwood. They were so close, in fact, that Magnus could have endeavored to count each individual eyelash if he so wished. Or maybe nuzzle his nose against that of the other. Those were perhaps strange thoughts to have, Magnus would be the first to admit that, but he was still not completely sure he was awake at all. What was he doing sleeping on the floor, anyway? Somewhere nearby a throat was cleared (most likely not from a physical need to do so, around Magnus they rarely were). Right, the knocking.

Magnus carefully turned towards the noise. He vaguely noted his head not completely agreeing with the motion, but he was more focused on the fact that he and Alec appeared to be completely dressed and not entangled or touching in any other way, which left him feeling strangely relieved.

Because fate seemed to have an interesting way of trying to send a message (and perhaps because, you know, it was actually his garage) the personal alarm clock was once again no other than Jace. Looking annoyingly chipper, he stood leaning in the doorway, bowl in hand, loudly chewing on some sort of breakfast cereal and Magnus immediately wondered how the hell the ear-splitting chomping alone had not been sufficient in waking him.

Sitting up caused him to stifle a groan: his whole body ached and his head pounded incessantly. It must have shown on his face because Jace grinned wickedly and he garbled - his mouth still full -  “Good morning… or should I ask ‘Good night?’” He gestured a little ways behind Magnus, where two bottles of red lay nearly emptied of their contents.

Right. The wine. Images of last night started flooding back in. Alec lighting up the wood burning stove, Magnus cracking bad jokes (something about not needing it to get any hotter?), wine somehow appearing, then a spread of bread and cheese leading them to practically picnic on the rug, followed by more wine and talks about everything from books to pet peeves to actual pets to Magnus teaching a course on design at Raphael’s cultural community center (a chance for Magnus to show he wasn’t a complete corporate piece of trash), which somehow lead to Magnus telling the story of how he and Raphael met (as there was vomiting involved, this probably reinstated previously mentioned image as ‘trash’).

Then everything started to get a bit hazy to recall, he remembered the fire from the stove illuminating their little corner as the room turned completely dark, thereby creating a dramatic tableau of dancing light and shadows on Alec’s features. It felt like looking at a live Rembrandt painting, if the painter had ever captured someone as shockingly handsome as Alexander. Magnus was sure his face had been burning from a combination of the heat radiating from the wood stove, the wine, and the fervor with which Alec’s eyes seemed drink in every detail of Magnus when he was telling a story and the way he licked his lips whenever he was stumbling through one. It had been somewhat maddening, a freedom to Alec’s movements and words that had not been there before. Magnus wasn’t sure if he was remembering this right, had he called Alec out for flirting at some point? That would be more than a little hypocritical, even for Magnus. And certainly it couldn’t be right that Alec had said something along the lines of it being an absolute insult not to flirt with Magnus?

He banished these thoughts to the back of his mind, trying to focus on just getting through this already rather interesting morning. Getting to his feet took somewhat of an embarrassingly long time, but he made it in the end. “Good morning to you too, Jackson.” He nodded to Jace as he moved passed him, trudging towards the kitchen.

Jace just grunted and Magnus was already sipping from a glass of water in the kitchen when he could hear shouting from the library. It would seem Jace was even less subtle and considerate when it came to waking his brother. Indeed, not yet twenty seconds later Alec appeared in the studio, rumpled hair, rumpled clothes and creases on the right side of his face. Magnus had to bite down hard on his lower lip not to break into a wide grin, but then Alec mumbled a greeting and his voice was so low and gruff it wiped anything resembling a smile of Magnus’ face. Something curled in his stomach, which in his state made him feel more nauseated than anything else. Magnus felt the same instability he hadn't been able to fight off last night and he hid out in the bathroom, again, to establish at least a semblance of composure.

And Alec… well, hid under a car. To be fair he was being paid, albeit just room and board, to be under said car, and it was absolutely in Magnus’ best interest, but still. The morning continued slow and just slightly awkward from there. 

Eventually - and grudgingly - Magnus accepted it might be time to check on the progress downstairs, to see if they could make good on Alec’s promise of getting him out of here today. As he descended the stairs, distractedly running his hand over a framed poster on the wall, the tips of his fingers came back dusted grey, and it suddenly hit Magnus what it is about the combination of familiarity and comfortability on the one hand, and estrangement and melancholy on the other, that seems to hover in the air here, filling up whole rooms. It reminded him of his study back home in Brooklyn. It was his loft, his rooms, so why did parts of it all of a sudden began to feel invaded? Not by a presence, but rather the absence of a presence that had used to be there before. The shock brought him to a hesitant standstill halfway down, one foot hovering in the air uncomfortably. As he slowly lowered it down a sliver of last night’s conversations came back to him, popping into his head unbidden.

Magnus lay stretched out on his back, it felt like he was floating on an incredibly warm and soft cloud, he could feel his attention slipping and somewhere he might vaguely be aware that that was a bad idea, but moving was simply inconceivable. Instead, he let his gaze wander, his eyes rolling back, making an effort to survey the bookcase right behind him. In between the rows and rows and rows and rows and rows (oh!) there was a chess set. He turned his face to the left, where Alec was propped up on an elbow, staring down into his glass of wine as though it held all the answers to his most pressing questions. “You play?” Magnus asks. The words weren’t coming out completely coherent, but Alec had no right looking so confused.

“Play what?” Oh right, Alec couldn’t look into his head or through his eyes (wow now there was a scary thought…). Magnus got momentarily distracted, but Alec was frowning and that wouldn’t do. Right.

“Chess,” he explained, “You play?”

“A little,” Alec admitted, his eyes went from his glass to Magnus and back and his hands were so nice, like big but graceful and– “You?” Magnus blinked, forcing his brain back to the conversation at hand (ha! hand). He turned back to face the ceiling again (much more dull, granted, but much safer).

"I do. I have a beautiful vintage set back home. We, me and Rag– an old friend, we used to play these loooong games, sometimes stretching months. You know, we would play when we were together, sometimes, but usually we played long distance. Like, intensely texting each other moves and then not get back to it for days… weeks." he couldn't help the disgusting, fond smile overtaking his face "We annoyed all our friends with it, but it was ours, a way of communicating. A constant, even when we fought."

Somewhere his eyes had betrayed him and had strayed back to the dark haired boy next to him (like next-next, so close… close enough to touch).

Alec gave him a small smile of his own "Who would win more often?"

Magnus scoffed indignantly "That – that’s really beside the point."

"Right."

"It's still there. We were on a weeklong game, when–" Magnus’ breath hitched and he remained quiet for a beat. The room felt too big for this, not intimate enough. “I haven't touched it since. I've sat down many times, trying. Even asked others to join me. And at one point I just wanted to throw the whole thing out." He laughed in spite of himself "It's frustrating. But a silly thing to be frustrated over, of course." He tried to wave it away (almost hitting himself in the face in the process), already regretting having brought it up.

"Not at all." Alec looked thoughtful, lost in his own musings, and Magnus was ready to change the topic, suddenly feeling panicked speaking about Ragnor with practically a stranger, when Alec continued, “You know, maybe you shouldn’t try to continue to play against him, or someone in his place…” Alec pointed at him with the hand holding his wine glass and it sloshed around dangerously, tauntingly close to staining the white carpet below, “You should switch and play against yourself.” His voice dropped a little lower, wistful, and he put the glass down as he went to lay down on his back also, hands folded on his chest. “It seems like you already are sometimes, you know?… Fighting yourself. So why not-” Alec halfheartedly tried to stifle a yawn - “channel that into something useful?”

Magnus turned his face sideways to look at Alec, wide-eyed. The latter’s voice had now completely dropped to a whisper, “He isn’t here anymore, maybe it’s time to stop trying to pretend otherwise.” Magnus wasn’t even sure if this was still directed at him, but it continued to echo through his head like whispers in a wishing well.

The sudden recall is a lot to process, but within seconds, Magnus has turned around on the stairs and dashed back up again, taking two steps at a time. He located the chessboard almost immediately, sitting exactly where he remembered it to be on the shelf.

It was ridiculously easy to set it up to mirror his own board back in his loft. All those long moments staring at it, urging himself to move pieces, only to set them back in their place again, have ensured he has a strong mental picture.

Was Alec right? In his sleepy, drunk, hazy state of mind? He turned the board around, thereby turning the proverbial tables, facing black instead of playing it, as he sat cross-legged on the ground, tapping his chin in thought.


 When Magnus finally sauntered into the workshop all there was to be seen of the two men was two pairs of boots peeping out from under his rented Hyundai. He watched them labor for a while, admiring how they worked together in perfect harmony. Alec had emerged from under the car (giving Magnus an awkward wave and nod as he noticed him on the threshold) and was handing tools to Jace before he could ask for them, minds and actions perfectly in sync. When Jace had finally popped up as well it was nearing one o’clock in the afternoon and Magnus’ stomach gave mighty growl.

“Afternoon Magnus,” Jace greeted and went on to check his watch “Yeah… time for lunch I would say. How about I go and grab us some?”

“Again?” Alec squinted his left eye at Jace in skepticism.

“Yeah, might make a run out of it, get some exercise, fresh air…”

“Sure,” Alec said, voice unnaturally light. He turned to wash his hands at the sink in the corner as Jace just swiped his hands on his overall, heading out towards the hallway. At the last moment, Alec called out to him, “Say hi to Kaelie for me.”

The reply was just a single raised finger as - arm extended behind him - Jace rounded the corner without another word.

Alec started to grin at Magnus conspiratorially, but seemed to recall who he was smiling at or that they were suddenly very much alone and the smile sort of died on his face.

“Right…” he started and he cleared his throat, “So we’re actually pretty much done here, so let me walk you through it, and then you’re basically good to get on the road again.”

“Wonderful.” Magnus tried to ignore the sort of sour taste that crept into his mouth as it formed the single word reply. Maybe it did sound through it, though, because Alec gazed at him just a beat longer than normal. But then he seemed to shake out of it and he motioned for Magnus to step closer as he gestured towards the car. “So as you might have guessed, we had to replace the rim here, as well as on the wheel on the other side.”

“Hope you gave it a thorough cleaning, at least,” Magnus couldn’t help but mutter under his breath.

“What?” Alec looked at him suspiciously.

Magnus just smiled smoothly, “Nothing.”

Alec nodded slowly and picked up where he left off, “We did a general check up, everything from tires, to the brakes, to oil, just to be sure.”

“What about proper lubrication? I hear that’s very important.”

The other man turned his face ever so slightly and squinted his eye, “Did you just… make a terrible car joke? You do realize I’m the one that actually works with cars?”

“It’s not technically speaking your profession, though,” Magnus felt the need to point out, hopelessly trying to bite down a stupidly wide grin threatening to overtake his entire face.

Alec seemed to be doing just as bad, though. He licked his lips (for the love of anything holy could he just stop doing that?) and he looked at Magnus appraisingly for a moment, as though sizing him up, and Magnus has to suppress a bone deep shiver. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay. Yeah, you’re on.”

Magnus wasn’t sure exactly what was “on” right now, but he felt giddy and silly in a way he couldn’t remember feeling in a long time. Alec stepped back, face changing into a blank mask of professionalism, voice all businesslike and distant. He walked around the hood and gestured along the length of the car.

“Once hoisted up it was obvious the main problem was the… undercarriage, it took a pretty big pounding.”

Magnus couldn’t help the surprised little choked sound escaping his lips, though he quickly covered it up with a cough. Maybe he shouldn’t have been taken aback, but if was just so far from Alec’s normal demeanor and goddamnit this was the same man that had blushed just having Magnus checking him out. Now, however, Alec looked perfectly serious and unaffected… that is if Magnus hadn’t known any better.

“Yeah it’s pretty serious actually Magnus, no laughing matter, haven’t seen anything like it in years… the impact really rammed the internal structure.”

“Hmhm.” Magnus didn’t trust his voice right now.

Alec rounded the car in measured steps, dragging his hand over the trunk and inclined his head. “And of course, then there’s your leaky pipe, that’s been a problem.”

Okay now he had to actually physically clamp his mouth shut to the point of pain to keep himself from laughing at the incredulity of it all. But Alec was looking at him expectantly. Magnus swallowed, twice for good measure, “Is that right?” he managed.

The mechanic’s voice was low as he answered, “Uh-uh, the pipe just spewing hot fluids. It was … bad.”

Alec looked him straight in the eye, face still not betraying any emotion, head ever so slightly tilted to the right, with just a hint of edgy intensity in his gaze, and something about it made Magnus now feel flustered for a completely different reason, the sense of joking drollery blended into something heavier, a tension suddenly exposed.

“How bad?” He couldn’t recall having stepped forward but he must have because now he was close enough to be aware of details like a quickening of breath, a flush just creeping along the collar of a t-shirt.

“Oh really nasty, Magnus.”

“What else?” He licked his lips, involuntary, but there just was a lot of air right now, or maybe too little, Magnus couldn’t be sure. Alec’s eyes flickered down and up again in a flash, like a reflex. He cleared his throat.

“Some loose nuts… the lug nuts. But it’s okay, they had to come undone anyway so I could, hmm, visually inspect the ball joints. And I could tell you about the valves, if you’d like?” Alec kept his gaze firmly locked onto Magnus’, no signs of letting up. “They’re critical to a good performance, it’s all about controlling heat and facilitating movement in the stroke. And if you don’t want it to pop out, you need to think about angles, and the amount of inches between the tip of the valve and the base circle of the shaft.” From the corner of his eye he saw Alec’s right hand slide of the top of the car as he spoke, the movement was slow, innocent enough, but in this context it suddenly seemed suggestive and it was making Magnus' head spin, unsure what was real anymore and what wasn't. Alec’s hands were dirty from oil and whatnot, but Magnus would gladly ruin any and all of his clothes for a touch of them. “But after a string of consistent baseline pulls, yanking the heads, and a 35-degree intake valve job done, I think we figured it out." He paused, "I’m sorry, this might be a lot to take in.”

Holy fuck. Magnus had to close his eyes for a second, he had no idea why on earth he ever thought daring Alec into this was a good idea. If this was some kind of game he was clearly losing. Well he felt like he was losing his mind anyway. “It’s… fine (no it’s not), but now I’m sure this is all gonna cost me,” he murmured.

Alec matched his low tone and shuffled closer ever so slightly, “Well if you were looking for a cheap street job, this is isn’t the place.”

“True. I suppose my tastes are rather exquisite and… excessive.” He looked up to Alec from under his eyelashes.

The man hummed, “Well, uh, we do guarantee great performance benefits.” With Alec’s voice rough and his eyes dazed Magnus started to think that, actually, they could probably chalk this up as a win-win. He took one more step forward, almost completely closing all the distance between them and from the corner of his eye he could see Alec’s hands twitch, as though yearning to reach out.

“You say ‘we’, can I assume you, specifically, like to take things into your own hands?”

Alec’s eyes flitted over his face, his mask of impartiality completely slipping, the desire now clear as day in his expression, voice barely above a whisper as he leaned in, “I would say I have the best tools for the job.”

Looking back, it’s probably safe to say that this could have easily ended in an incredibly dirty round of sex right there on the hood of his freshly fixed rental… if it hadn’t been for Jace (may the devil have his soul) choosing that exact moment to make his reappearance in the workshop. And yeah Magnus would probably never forgive Jace for taking that for him.

“Oh I’m sorry, am I interrupting anything?” The electricity between Magnus and Alec quickly turned from magnetic to repellent with how quickly they jumped apart. Magnus was the first to recover, “It’s funny how that phrase is never uttered by anyone actually wondering whether they are.” His tone was sour and clearly indicated how not funny the entire situation was. Jace just grinned and shrugged. Magnus turned back to Alec, but the man had scurried, quick to busy himself gathering the tools still lying around the vehicle.

It was hard to miss how his face was absolutely flaming, though, a seemingly delayed reaction: as if making up for remaining stoic through an incredibly indecent and ridiculous conversation.

Magnus sighed. Well it was probably for the best.

Once more trying to catch Alec’s eye, to no avail, he decided to gather all his belongings and he was about to put them in his trunk when Jace pulled him aside in the hallway. Magnus narrowed his eyes and Jace’s hand on his bicep and the idiot thankfully let go almost immediately. If only he would be as easily persuaded to shut his mouth as well.

“So are you going to ask for his number?”

“Pardon me?”

Jace rolled his eyes. “Are you going to ask for his number or are you just going to flirt and then leave you both horny and confused, and like, I don’t know – unsatisfied, is that how you put it?”

“That is how Shakespeare would put it.”

“See that.” Jace pointed at him, “You get each other. Just jesus, for the love of the people around and for the sake of not annoying the hell out of them, just get a room, or in this case: his number.”

Increasingly ticked off and still not over the poorly timed interruption, Magnus couldn’t keep the venom from his voice, “Interesting coming from you, that’s most likely how you make everyone feel, all the time. That’s what I would call a taste of your own medicine, buddy.”

Jace raised an eyebrow at that, for once seeming to take note of any hostility directed at him. He took a step back and crossed his arms. “Yeah okay, I get it. It’s easy making fun of me, insulting me, and it might work, normally, to distract and deflect people from getting a little too close to the truth, but you see, not with me. I don’t give a flying fuck what you think about me. I don’t need anybody’s approval, and not a lot of people can say that.”

Magnus tried his hardest not to look mildly impressed.

“But you know what I do care about? Alec. And I haven’t seen him smile or laugh like that in months. And yeah, honestly I don’t know if I see it –” Magnus quirked an eyebrow at that (because now he was just being needlessly cruel) “ – but whatever man, he likes you.”

Magnus tipped his head slightly to the side and appraised the young man in front of him with somewhat of a new gaze “You’re a peculiar man Jonathan Wayland.”

And there was that cocky grin again, back in full force, “I know.” Now Jace was the one studying him, and the grin slyly turned into a smirk, “Good to know we’re on the same page.”

And he wanted to deny it, instantly, the words sticking on his tongue and clawing at his throat, itching to get out, but that would mean admitting that he knew what Jace was talking about. And he didn't like the fact he apparently a little too easy to read. Anyway he had just decided it might be better to just leave it... right?

Then Jace clapped him jovially on the shoulder, “You’re all set man. Safe drive.” He smirked and winked lewdly, “Like the wife always says: don’t take the dirt road home tonight.”

Chapter Text

“And then what?” Catarina is looking at him expectantly.

The trio stood together at the edge of a large white tent where most guests were either already sitting down at the dinner tables or awaiting the arrival of the happy couple at the reception. Needless to say, all three were impeccably dressed: Catarina radiant and colorful in a deep blue and yellow gown, Raphael in a stylish, but terribly dull suit, and Magnus… well he knew he looked bedazzling in his black-and-gold themed look this evening.

“What do you mean ‘then what’? Then nothing, I drove off, rest of the ride went without a hitch, I was on time for the rehearsal dinner; this morning I slept in, helped with the flowers and gift bags, played some bocce with Luke and Simon, and now we’re all here…”

Cat was looking at him with something like exhausted pity, “Magnus, I can’t believe I’m the one saying this, but since Ragnor isn’t here to do it anymore… you’re an idiot.”

“What? No I’m not.”

Raphael shook his head in disbelief. It hadn’t even looked like he had been paying attention to the conversation. “Dios mío, un poco de autoconocimiento… it goes a long way,” he grumbled.

“You,” Magnus narrowed his eyes at Raphael, “Have absolutely zero right to even breathe something slightly resembling an opinion on this. It’s your fault I ended up in that godforsaken place in the first place.”

Raphael just rolled his eyes and picked some non-existent lint of his sleeves, “It’s all fairly simple, you wanted to fuck him, sounds like he wanted to fuck you, ergo: you should’ve fucked him. Or maybe just gotten his number like the other simpleton suggested. But please, by all means, change the subject, I’m bored out of my mind here.”

“Oh yes, I’m simply making disastrous life choices with the sole intent of entertaining my dearest friends, so sorry this time it failed to enliven the bitter gloom that is your own life, my little ray of pitch black,” Magnus sneered sarcastically.

Raphael shrugged, “Not for lack of effort.”

Magnus was about to retort when Cat quickly cut in, “Can we keep it civil for the most part of the reception, please?”

Raphael made a noncommittal grunting sound and shrugged again and Magnus couldn’t quite force the scowl of his face.

Cat sighed, for the first time her fatigue actually showing. She shot Raph a look and then turned towards himself, “Magnus,” she said, a tad too complaisant for his taste, like he was one of her patients that needed soothing, “I’m sure this will be just one of those events we can all laugh about later.”

“Ha!” He snorted humorlessly, “Later tonight you mean. Don’t pretend like making-fun-of-Magnus isn’t a favorite pastime of all my friends. I’m terrible at picking friends.”

He hated how Cat was still smiling at him placatingly and Raphael continued to look mildly disinterested at this whole exchange. It’s not like he really wanted to insult his friends, but at least they could have the decency to pretend he did.

“We accept the love we think we deserve Magnus.” Cat simply stated and Magnus feared it was only half in jest.

He rolled his eyes, 110% done with this conversation. “Ugh, I need a drink,” he groaned, adding in a mutter, “One just large enough to drown in.” And with a halfhearted dismissive wave he took off towards the bar.


Magnus was stood leaning on the piano nursing a scotch that was not his first, nor his second and let’s just leave it at that. The band had long stopped playing and now it was just stupid sappy songs sounding over the stereo, probably from a stupid sappy playlist Clary had put together. The dance floor was, not surprisingly, mostly deserted, and those left dancing too engrossed (gross being the operative phrase here) in each other to even notice the music playing. He himself had danced his fair share this evening: with Clary, Jocelyn, Luke, Catarina, a slew of perfectly good-looking (and perfectly average-looking) men and women, even Simon at some point… but he wasn’t really feeling the partying vibe he normally would.

He knew it was Cat when he felt a presence at his side because, well, he knew Cat. He acknowledged her with a raise of his glass and she moved to clink her own scotch against his. Interesting. Cat wasn’t much of a drinker, but then he doubted she was as far gone as he was now. She opened her mouth to speak and he cut her off quickly.

"Please drop it. Stop trying to make this into more than it is. I don't even know him!"

"There are more ways of knowing." Cat smiled (as you'll have it) knowingly.

"Cat. I appreciate your concern, but there's absolutely zero cause to warrant your – frankly rather unhealthy – level of involvement in my love life."

Because she was one of the most infuriatingly stubborn people he'd ever come across, and because she knew him very well, she didn’t even need to say anything for Magnus to feel the need to defend his ability to make his own decisions in life. She just lifted a single eyebrow at him. And fine maybe he was usually the one to ask (beg, demand?) for advice when it came to his love life, but still.

"I am perfectly content with my life as it is, thank you very much. I have everything I could possibly need."

Need. He realized his mistake as soon as he'd said it. And because there was no way Cat hadn't noticed (this whole conversation from the start had most likely just been a stupid trap), he immediately followed that up with a "Don't," lifting his finger warningly.

Cat had always known when to quit (as opposed to Raphael or Ragnor), but, unfortunately, that was because she knew the seed had now been planted, and you – stupid, silly soul that still believed in the illusion of free will – would just do the rest of the work for her, nursing and watering that seed into a fully-grown forest.

Instead of commenting, she smiled serenely and changed the subject to talk about a curious young patient that had tried to escape the children’s ward on her night shift earlier that week.

Damn that woman and her psychological tricks.


“What the hell am I doing” The whisper of his breath formed a layer of condensation on the windshield, as Magnus sat folded over the steering wheel, hugging it awkwardly, eyes fixated on the second floor of the building across the road. He wouldn’t be able to tell how long he had been here, parked, staring, waiting maybe, but for what? He watched the light from a fire flicker, alive and constantly changing. It was soothing to watch, as well as inexplicably aggravating. Then, an artificial light went on in another part of the upper floor and he eagerly leaned forward even further. All of a sudden there sounded the deafening blare of a horn, causing Magnus to nearly jump out of his skin and to definitely jump up in his seat, hitting his head on the roof. “Fuck!”

He quickly glanced back up to the repair shop as he massaged his aching scalp. A silhouette appeared behind the kitchen window. “Ah fuck,” he repeated, quieter now. The figure, undeniably Alec, parted the curtains and peered out towards where Magnus sat in his parked car. The pain in his head faded and his mind went blank, thoughts coming to a rapid halt. It was as though there had been a quiet, yet annoying buzzing in the background this entire time that had all of a sudden ceased, drawing attention to its existence in the first place.

He looked at the other man in the window and somehow he knew he was looking back at Magnus in return, knew that Alec would know it was him. He stared for one moment, trying to comprehend what exactly was going on here, but then, almost trance like, he unbuckled his seatbelt and opened the car door, all the while not taking his eyes of the apparent destination of this impromptu midnight drive: someone currently standing in what he knew to be a bleak unremarkable kitchen on the second floor of an equally unremarkable car repair shop in a completely unremarkable blip on the map.

Magnus felt like he was watching himself from afar (in a baffled manner most likely) as he crossed the street and made his way across the drive. Alec had disappeared from the window, but Magnus continued to move, stepping faster now, suddenly in a hurry as he strode towards the door on the far end of the building. Just as he extended his hand to knock, the door opened in a sudden, fluid, motion. His hand still extended mid-air, Magnus stared at Alec. His heart was beating so fast it was almost a constant thrum, shaking his ribcage uncomfortably. He felt wild, completely uncontrollable, and yet… it felt like this was so overdue it was almost laughable.

But no one was laughing now. Alec’s eyes were wide and dark, but not in a 'what the hell are you doing here' way. As they stood there, mere feet apart, staring at each other, both breathing a little heavier than normal, Magnus had never felt more in sync with someone his entire life. Never had there been less of a need to talk, to discuss, to align signals and ascertain mutual understanding.

So yes, this was wild and crazy, for sure. But there was an enormous sense of calm decisiveness coming over him. He felt almost high on relief and it was as though he could take his first full breath of air in an unbearably long time.

And then they moved forward at the same time, and Magnus was again bereft of all air as their bodies and mouths met in a hunger, a need, a longing suddenly so clear. And it felt good, excruciatingly good, to finally taste those lips. He sucked eagerly on Alec’s lower lip before opening his mouth further to allow their tongues to taste more, more, more.

He had thought it would feel altogether too much, but he hadn’t expected to lose any sense of self or bodily autonomy. They had ceased to be two clearly distinguishable individuals and instead were reduced to just hands, and warm and cold skin, and mouths, hot and wet, heavy breaths, teeth, tongue. Someone was shaking, but he didn’t know if it was him. Even the sounds… he wouldn’t have been able to tell who was gasping or moaning. Except the breathless, broken “Magnus,” that definitely wasn’t him, but it nevertheless reverberated in his head, and swirled through his body like a licking flame engulfing his bloodstream.

No, it sure didn’t feel calm now, a sense of frantic urgency moving them along, tumbling through the halls, up the stairs and towards a bed. But the certainty, their connection, it was still there underneath it all, was the only thing keeping him from losing all touch with reality.

It all felt so so good it hurt, or maybe it did hurt, it was hard to tell. All he knew was that it had never really felt like this before. They finally slowed down somewhat. Magnus’ lips latched on Alec’s neck, just skin on skin, just needy little noises now sounding in the smothering dark of the night.

A rhythm, a way of moving together that fit: it was all so easily found. For a blissful moment the world was narrowed down to just two bodies joined like one, sharing everything down to the air they breathed. Everything else dissolved into meaninglessness. Just skin on skin, the tangy smell of sex, and a chorus of names, gasped just as feverishly as reverently, urging them through the deep of the night.

Chapter Text

Magnus was spinning around aimlessly in his desk chair. It was Saturday evening, he should be out doing things, having… something resembling a life. Instead, here he was rethinking every life decision he’s ever made. He ends up staring blankly at an unremarkable spot on the wall when the chair stops spinning. Well it beats staring at a chessboard for hours after moving just one piece, which is what he did all afternoon. And he might try to sound blasé about it now, but he had been pretty proud at the time.

Wow, he really was turning into a pathetic bore.

It’d been one week. One week filled with late hours, important appointments, and catching up on emails after having turned off his work phone for the entire long weekend of the wedding. One week too busy to stop to think. One week since… what exactly? Hot sex with someone he could barely call an acquaintance? Since lying next to said acquaintance, listening to him softly snoring as he stared up at the ceiling, counting damp spots and feeling utterly lost? One week since sneaking out before the crack of dawn without so much as a note, driving off in what you could barely call morning, flat out refusing to check his rearview mirror. One week of feeling like an ass when he really shouldn’t have to.

Sex. It had just been sex. Alec knew that, he knew that. There, see? Done. Let’s close that… non-chapter and move on.

So to put his money where his mouth was, he dragged himself out of the chair and towards his bathroom. He winged his eyeliner, exchanged his shirt for one with a cut lower than to where some of his exes had stooped, grabbed his keys and wallet and hit the streets. All the while trying his very best not to feel like a lone old tiger prowling for fresh prey.

Pandemonium was good. It was always good. Having discovered it somewhere in his early twenties he could easily say it was still his favorite club in the city after all these years. The music so loud you can’t even hear your own thoughts and that seemed exactly like what he needed right now.

It was a safe space, a liminal space, a strange subversion of culture where most everything was allowed and where everyone was able to unapologetically express themselves. Everyone was in on the ritual, the performance, together, it went unspoken, and yet there was anonymity, a sense of blending in the crowd. No last names, sometimes not even first. No judgment was passed – unless you’d get the misguided idea to pair denim with denim, of course; sorry, but that'd be on you.

But tonight the strobing flashes revealed a slightly different outlook. He was numerous drinks in, but still didn’t feel the usual accompanying rush. He was grinding some sweaty dark haired young man, but every time the lights hit his face, he could see the guy’s eyes were just the complete wrong shade of brown. He felt tired, not per se physically, but mentally he felt beat. As he looked at the mass of people before him he felt like an outsider looking in, the one ruining it for everyone else by calling out the charade for what it was. He thought about the evening he’d originally had planned: take-out while snuggling with the Chairman, maybe some streaming of season three of Jane the Virgin… Was he getting old? Or was this getting old?

Back when he had finally starting to get financially independent, living in a stable situation, he had vowed to himself he would never force himself to do anything he wasn’t comfortable with.

And, well… at least ever since Camille, he had religiously upheld this vow.

So why was he here? He disentangled himself from the crowd and pulled up Lift on his phone. 


It’s possibly one of the greatest cruelties in life: consuming copious of alcohol without so much as a light buzz, but still ending up with a massive hangover. Magnus moaned when his body had the indecency to wake him up before sleeping at least another twelve hours. His stomach rolled dangerously as he turned over in bed, away from deathly blinding rays of sunlight. Scratch that: maybe just to wake him, full stop.

He had been discovering that the wrong side of thirty came with many perks, including hangovers that ended up lasting for days.

Three cups of tea and half of Netflix’ content later Magnus could feel himself slowly becoming somewhat human again – though by no means ready to handle food – when his phone started buzzing from somewhere deep inside his giant pile of fluffy blankets and pillows. After some ambitious fondling of his blanket fort, Magnus finally extracted the device and checked the caller-ID. His stomach dropped even further than he thought possible today. The car rental company, on a Sunday, “That can’t be good,” he murmured to himself.

“Hello?” he answered, voice raspy from respective abuse and disuse.

“Magnus Bane?”

He swallowed “Yes?” It sounded more like question than confirmation, but the guy on the other end didn’t seem to be paying it much attention. He sounded bored and completely unenthusiastic to be working on a Sunday. “I'm with Enterprise and I am calling to inform you that upon cleaning the Hyundai Accent recently rented on your name we located a belonging of yours, sir, a book.”

Magnus frowned, wracking his poor assaulted brain for any memory of packing a book. He’s almost completely positive this wasn’t a trip he’d bring any books with. By now he knows when they’re going to be obsolete, while still taking up considerable space and weight. Don’t get him wrong, he enjoys reading immensely, but he’s no Rory Gilmore.

“Uhh, I’m sorry. I don’t recall…" He cleared his throat, "What is it?”

“Huh?”, the guy on the other end of the line unhelpfully responded.

Magnus couldn’t hold back an eye-roll. A flare of irritation welled up inside him, though he couldn’t quite explain why he was feeling slightly on edge all of a sudden. “What’s the name of the book?”

He noticed himself holding his breath as he could hear the guy shuffle around on the other end, “The One – uhh, The Once and Future King? By …T.H. White?”

Magnus shot up from his near-horizontal position on the couch. Big mistake. He desperately clung the back of the couch with his free hand as he screwed his eyes shot; he had to swallow back a surge of bile while feeling as though weights were tumbling around in his head, pounding his brains to mush.

So it was quite something that through this onslaught he could still take note of the fluttering in his torso and the sense of wonder and curiosity coursing through him.

After ensuring he wasn’t going to vomit all over his microplush blanket, he quickly spoke up.

“Till when are you open?”

Of course, it took him almost an hour to get there, and even longer to get back. And it was all quite the ordeal. On his way home he was still very much hungover and uncomfortable, he had no idea what he was even wearing, he was sticky and sweating, and he was pretty sure Enterprise Rent-A-Car now had him blacklisted as a complete lunatic. Most of all, he had never been more annoyed with New York’s public transport system.

Honestly, Magnus thought as he stood on the platform, impatiently tapping his foot, the R train is just the absolute slowest. Not just in the city, but maybe in entire world. It is not unthinkable communist Russia had better faster running trains than the R line. And when it finally did arrive, it was just a sorry sight for sore eyes, chipped plastic seats, peeling linoleum flooring, and… was that a dead roach? Magnus shuddered. Gross. Well now we know what the R stands for I guess.

Of course, he could have opened the plastic bag at any point during this time, instead of just turning it over nervously in his hands. But something about that felt wrong. This novel meant a lot to Alexander and having it here in the palms of his hands felt… weighty, important. Or it could just be a mistake of course, an accident, the way it ended up in his car. But if it wasn’t, it meant Alec had left it there for him even before he had departed for the wedding, before… Magnus bit down hard on his lower lip. In any case, he was rushing home like an idiot. Even the short walk from the subway station seemed to take much longer than usual, a buzz of anticipation thrumming through him that just kept getting increasingly worse. Once he had arrived at his building, even the elevator was taking forever to respond and Magnus did something he had probably never done since that one time after he’d made a resolution to work on stamina outside the bedroom: he took the stairs. Even skipping some steps along the way, it was safe to say he was completely out of breath by the time he reached his floor. Apparently shopping cannot be considered exercise after all.

Magnus quickly closed the door behind him, impatient to be alone, to have this moment away from the rest of the world that already knew him in a certain way, that had labeled and boxed him. He didn’t want any of that to follow him, to taint this.

Okay. Breathe.

He slowly unwrapped the plastic back and pulled the book out. It looked exactly like the copy he had seen lying in Alec’s lap. Good condition, cover just ever so slightly tattered from frequent use from being thumbed through, from its spine being stretched, time and time again, from being held in strong, calloused hands of which he could still recall the exact weight and pressure...

Jesus, focus.

He flipped it open, quickly scanning the inside of the cover and the first couple of pages for a note, a name, a sign, anything, but he came up empty handed. Then he flicked through to the end, where, again, he found nothing but the printed words. He even gently shook the book once, for good matter. Nothing.

He sagged down on his couch, all the adrenaline and pent-up anticipation leaving him at once.

Honestly, what had he expected? A scribbled message saying ‘i think ur hawt, call me pls’? A ten-stanza poem in iambic pentameter, addressed to him? Ridiculous. He was being ridiculous.

But it was a Sunday, it had just started getting colder outside and he was completely drained from his impromptu expedition. So all he could think to do was take this over six hundred pages long, daunting beast of a novel, make himself another steaming cup of tea, and curl up on his chaise longue. He actually couldn’t remember the last time he had read something for fun. You know, something that wasn’t a sixty-page contract or legal brief. And before he knew it he was completely engrossed in medieval England, while the dry-humored modern day narration kept him on his toes. His tea got cold, dusk crept in through his windows, and evening had fallen by the time Magnus turned page 111 and, all of a sudden, there it was: six lines underlined in pencil.

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder in your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewer of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it.”

And, beside it in the margin, in a small but neat hand, a short notation:

Like I said, this book

helped me a lot. Magnus,

if you ever feel like

talking some more,

about anything:

Below that, ten digits.

Magnus swallowed. This was what he had been searching for, hoping for, maybe? But now that he had found it, he wasn’t at all sure what to do with it. He moved from his slouched position on the sofa and absentmindedly took a sip from his (now long cold) tea, and grimaced. Yuck.

The restless feeling from earlier that day came over him once more. He started pacing his living room, observing his phone lying on the edge of the coffee table from the corner of his eye. He was nervously tapping his thumb against his index finger, a nervous habit that he hated about himself, a too-easy to read telltale of his emotions, easily undoing any effort at a poker face.

There was only one thing for it, really.

He grabbed his phone and dialed.

“It’s my day off and I’m half a season into Orange is the New Black, this better be good, Bane.” Cat sounded thoroughly unamused, but Magnus didn’t pay it too much mind. If anything she was completely liable for his current predicament anyway.

“Your Sunday sounds almost as uneventful as mine. Wait, didn’t you have a date yesterday?”

“Hmm, I cancelled.”

“Cat! At this rate I never get to be a cool uncle.”

“Contradiction in terms when it comes to you Magnus, so moot point.”

Magnus made an indignant noise.

“Anyway,” Cat said, “It’s more like I forgot I had something planned… so basically I subconsciously cancelled it?”

He snorted, “You’re hopeless.”

“Eh, what can I say. What about you?"

Magnus hummed faux casually, “Oh, you know –“

“Oh for god’s sake, spit it out Magnus.”

And Magnus regaled her with the tale of his morning adventure, leaving out the part where he felt like a literal rag because he was a moron who at 31 still didn’t know his boundaries when it came to alcohol.

“Magnus Bane, did you just get a love letter?”

“Cat don’t be ridiculous, this is hardly a love letter. It’s, it’s...” Magnus exhaled long and loudly, wincing at what he was about to say. “It’s someone I don’t even know that well sending me their favorite book as a gift because he knows I’m having a hard time, with an extended invitation to talk to him about anything that’s bothering me. Cat, it’s terrible is what it is. This might actually be the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me.”

“You’re welcome for the many years of birthday gifts, good to know they were appreciated.” But Magnus could hear the smile in her voice.

He closed his eyes and groaned, “Why am I fighting this?”

“That seems like something you can only answer for yourself, darling. Though I did hear you mention something about a 3.5 hour drive away?”

“Right. Yes.” It sounded pathetic even to his own ears.

“Or are you just terrified you actually like the guy, this guy that you’ve known for a millisecond, and that’s nothing like the people you usually go for?”

If Magnus whined a little petulantly at that he would be the last to admit it.

The truth probably lay somewhere in the middle. And he didn’t mean Poughkeepsie. So yeah, say he had kind of developed a minuscule crush, their worlds, like their homes, were miles apart and he wasn’t sure he could handle it if this, whatever this was, blew up in his face. Still, he used to live for these moments: the risk taking, the thrill of new possibilities, the meet-cute’s, the eternal ‘coincidence vs. meant to be’ question. He had always been the disgusting eternal romantic of their friend group (not that he would ever refer to himself as such), so when had he gotten so cynical and careful? The answer was probably something of a mixture of Camille and his recent pensioner-like tendencies.

He scratched at his already chipped nail-polish for a want of something to do with his hands.

“I guess I just keep waiting for a moment, the moment, a realization that someone is right for me, when it fits or makes sense… but it’s not like some lightning-strike, light-bulb appearing moment of sudden clarity, of instant recognition, now is it? It’s never really been about knowing someone else, it’s more like knowing yourself.” Magnus suddenly groaned, “God I can’t believe Raphael of all people managed to hit the nail on the proverbial head, the bastard.” He said up a little straighter suddenly, “Please don’t ever tell him I said so.” He warned Cat.

“What?” She teased, “That you called him a bastard?”

Magnus scoffed, “Please, any day I don’t tell Rapha he’s a bastard is a day sorely wasted.”

“Okay and that’s my cue. Magnus, for just, everyone’s sakes, text the guy, call him, marry him, I don’t care, but don’t get back to me until you do. So there’s my ten cents, I guess. But trust me, I should be billing you so much more for putting up with your whining lately. Now leave me and my free day alone!” And with those words Catarina promptly hung up.

“Rude,” Magnus muttered, but his mouth was already turning up at the corners, god he loved that woman.

He was exhausted, but he felt determined to resolve this before going to bed.

Pacing his bathroom as he was brushing his teeth was when he’d had about enough. Damn this, he used to be spontaneous, adventurous, decisive, now look at him! And what was up with Alec putting his phone number somewhere randomly in the middle of the book? Was that supposed to be some kind of test? Well two could play at that game, mister.

He picked up his phone and almost aggressively typed out a message, hitting send with gusto before he could overthink it.

Oh yeah, the regret was already there. Perhaps he should have thought the actual text through a little longer. But Magnus lay down in bed, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that, repeating a mantra of ‘spontaneous, adventurous, decisive’ in his head to lull him to sleep. 

 

Sent 00.13 to A. Lightwood

Knight to E5