Alec might have a small crush. That isn’t actually all that small. In fact, it’s pretty big. Ginormous. It might be all Alec can think about.
Alec’s a little too distracted with the way Professor Bane’s lips are moving to pay attention to the words. He flounders, looks down at his notes and realises he hasn’t written any. They’re thirty minutes into this lecture and Alec has no idea what it’s about. And now the Professor is asking him a question and all Alec can do is give an apologetic shrug.
Professor Bane shakes his head, Alec thinks it’s in disappointment, before addressing the rest of the room.
“Can anyone help Mr Lightwood out?”
Maia raises her hand and Alec slides further down in his seat, wishing the ground would just open up and swallow him.
Alexander. Alec’s always hated his full name, but the way it rolls off his Professor’s lips is sinful. Or to Alec it is. It shouldn’t be. Still, Alec might have that soundbite stored away in his memory.
The thing is Alec tries to concentrate, he really wants to ace this class, if only to impress his crush. No, actually he really needs to pass this class. But then the lecture always starts and Alec just gets lost in the sultry tones of his professor’s voice. Alec never thought someone could make history this exciting for him. He really only took the class to make up some credits and now it turns out he’s probably going to fail.
Alec packs away his things when the lecture winds down and begins to shuffle out with the rest of the class.
“Mr Lightwood,” comes his professor’s voice over the hubbub of students.
Wonderful, Alec thinks, he really doesn’t need to be reprimanded as well right now.
“Can I have a word?”
“Please. I’m not some stuffy fifty-year-old yet. It’s Magnus.”
Magnus. Alec knows his professor’s name, he possibly looked it up one time. Plus, a stuffy fifty-year-old Magnus absolutely isn’t. Alec isn’t sure what he expected his history Professor to be like, but this. Young, attractive, funny as hell, is definitely not it. It does give Alec a moments pause because Magnus can only have a few years on him.
“I can tell you’re having difficulty with this class.”
“I’ve spoken to your other professors and you don’t seem to be having any problems.” Magnus perches on the edge of his desk, hands clasped together, an expectant smile on his face and he asks, “So how can I help you?”
Magnus wants to help Alec? Could he maybe not wear a shirt as fitted to their next class then, because Alec’s been enamoured with the way it moulds itself to Magnus’ body all lecture. Alec can’t really say that though can he? He can’t say: I’m trying but every time I look at you I get so distracted I can’t even remember my own name.
Instead, he shifts awkwardly on the balls of his feet, scratches the hair at the back of his head and tries to think of something.
“I just,” Alec can’t look at Magnus. He really needs to stop thinking of him as Magnus and go back to using Professor, because it’s just too familiar. “It’s taking me a little longer to get it.”
That’s not the truth, but it’s not really a lie either.
Magnus. No. Professor Bane places a hand on Alec’s arm. It’s supposed to be reassuring.
“If you need me to talk through some topics with you, please, use my office hours. I’m here to help.”
Alec stutters out a thank you, a yeah sure, and somehow manages to flee.
But the thought of those office hours is a temptation.
Alec’s hand is unsteady as he raises it to knock. His knuckles pause just before colliding with the door and Alec smooths his palm over the wood instead. His fingers ghost over the words inscribed in gold leaf. Professor M. Bane.
This is foolish, coming here like this. What is he going to achieve, other than making more of an idiot of himself? Alec’s heart is a little unsteady and he’s torn. Walk away or take a chance? He needs the help. Really needs the help. He barely scraped a pass on the last two tests. Professor Bane had gotten that new haircut for that first one, and then there’d been those trousers - they must have been painted on - for the second. It’s not really his fault.
The mental war Alec’s having consumes all his attention and he misses the movement of the door handle. The solid wood in front of him is suddenly replaced with a body. A man. Magnus. Shit. Professor Bane. Alec’s only thinking of him as Professor Bane, he promised himself. He really needs to create some boundaries in his brain.
Alec wants to melt, right there in the doorway. His knees go weak. It’s not a pleasant feeling because he’s not a damsel in some stupid romance novel, okay. He’s an adult. He’s a mature adult and he’s dealt with crushes before, he can deal with this one. Don’t ask him how he knows that romance novels have damsels that go weak at the knees. It was one book and it was a dare.
Still, he doesn’t look at Professor Bane when he speaks, “Were you serious about the office hours, Sir?”
Is that a chuckle? It is. It reminds Alec of taking that first bite of chocolate, that sweet, decadent rush followed by that instant craving for more.
“Magnus. You keep ageing me thirty years, and I’m not sure whether I should be offended.”
“Oh- I didn’t… That wasn’t-” The broad grin on Professor Bane’s face clues Alec in. That was a joke. Magnus made a joke and Alec like a klutz didn’t laugh. Alec does now, awkwardly, and it’s mostly at his own expense.
“Relax,” Magnus tells Alec, “I meant it. Come in and let’s see how I can help.”
They sit across from each other. Alec clutches the bag in his lap like a life raft.
“What are you struggling with most?”
Looking at you.
Magnus leans back in his seat, eyes assessing. He twists a pencil between his fingers, presses it to his lips and Alec’s having a heart attack. His brain goes to places it really shouldn’t, to thoughts that aren’t all that acceptable when you’re sitting in your Professor’s office. He clutches the bag tighter in his lap.
“Why did you pick this class, Alec?”
Why did he pick this class? And why is Magnus asking him this?
“I needed the credits.”
Alec still needs the credits.
“But why these credits? History isn’t exactly the most interesting of subjects-”
“-you make it interesting though.”
Shit. Did that really just come out of his mouth?
Magnus takes it in good humour, when he says, “If I did, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
Alec feels like a shit. Magnus might be joking about it, but Alec’s making Magnus think he’s a terrible Professor.
“You do,” Alec assures, “I’m just having trouble concentrating in class sometimes.”
“Okay. We can work on that.”
Alec doesn’t allow his mind to linger on the word we. As much as it wants to.
“Back to the question though, why this class?”
Alec thinks about it for a moment, knows Magnus won’t be satisfied with a one-word answer and then he begins to talk. It starts with his love of learning, then shifts to his need to understand. He talks about how he could have taken an easy class, but what would the point have been if it doesn’t interest him and he’s always had this strange interest in the past and how things came to be the way they are.
Magnus lets him talk. He prompts but doesn’t lecture and Alec feels himself relax. He still feels that overwhelming rush of desire when he looks at Magnus but it isn’t consuming him anymore. When Magnus talks, he isn’t distracted by the movement of his lips because he’s riveted to the words, wants to hear everything Magnus has to say.
The hour passes quickly. Quicker than Alec likes.
When he excuses himself to leave for his next lecture Magnus speaks.
“I’ll see you next week, Alexander.”
There’s no question, and there’s a smile on Magnus’ face that Alec wants to interpret as fondness, but he can’t let himself.
As the door closes behind him Alec wonders when he broke his promise to himself and started thinking of Professor Bane as Magnus.
Magnus’ office is all Alec can think about. His mind might have concocted a few x-rated fantasies starring the two of them - totally his mind’s fault, Alec cannot be held responsible. It’s probably not going to be conducive to thinking professional, educational thoughts in that office, though some of those fantasies could definitely be classed as ‘educational’.
The week’s anticipation builds and Alec’s hands shake a little as he walks down the corridor. When he reaches Magnus’ office he doesn’t have the opportunity to hesitate or talk himself out of this. Magnus’ door is wide open and welcoming. For Alec? No, it’s office hours and that’s what Professors do; they leave their door open to let students know they’re free.
Alec pauses on the threshold, mystified and possibly entranced.
Pen scribbling furiously over the papers in front of him, Magnus is hunched over his deck. Alec takes the opportunity to study Magnus’ face. His eyebrows are drawn together in a frown before he raises one, a chuckle working in the back of his throat. Alec desperately wants to be the reason for that sound.
On any given day that would be enough to stop Alec in his tracks, but today, perched on the bridge of Magnus’ nose are a pair of black framed glasses. Does Alec have a glasses kink? It’s never made itself known before, but he’s seriously reconsidering it, because hot damn.
Regretfully Alec taps on the wood of the jamb to announce his presence. Truthfully he’s enjoying just standing here staring, but that comes off a little creepy right? Creepy is not really the vibe he’s going for. Not that Alec has a clue what vibe he is going for. He just knows it’s not creepy. It isn’t even a minute between Alec knocking and Magnus realising his presence. That short space of time is an eternity when doubt decides to rear its head. What if Magnus didn’t mean it? What if he just said ‘see you next week’ as a throwaway comment? What if-
Magnus’ face lights up, there’s no other way Alec can describe it. The smile he’s gifted with - and it truly is a gift - isn’t one of those tight-lipped polite greetings. It spreads fully across his face reaching his eyes, those beautiful chestnut brown eyes. Alec’s chest constricts in response, a breath struggling to break free. Okay. That desire thing is still a problem.
With a wave of his hand, Magnus gestures Alec in and into the seat across from him.
“This is still okay, prof- Magnus?” Alec asks, playing idly with the strap of his satchel. Occupying his hands for a moment might stop them from just reaching out to touch Magnus, because that would be inappropriate. Try telling that to his hands though.
“Good week?” Magnus asks.
Alec’s too preoccupied with the way Magnus has taken his glasses off and is rubbing the corner of his eye. Yes. Definite glasses kink. Or maybe just a Magnus kink. Then Alec registers Magnus asked a question. He wants to know how Alec’s weeks is. Alec has to hold back a grin. Calm down. That’s just a polite question to ask another person. It doesn’t mean anything.
“Good so far.” It’s better and better each second he spends in this room. “You?”
Alec hopes he sounds sincere because he really does want to know how Magnus’ week’s going.
“So so. Endless papers to mark.”
Words. Alec needs words. That’s how a conversation happens. One person says something and the other responds. So why isn’t he holding up his end of the deal? Magnus saves him.
“I took a look at your tests.”
Or doesn’t save him. Alec inwardly groans. Magnus turns the papers on his desk to face Alec. That’s a lot of red ink. A lot of scribbled red ink. Why didn’t he just walk right past the open door when he had the chance?
“There’s good, I promise,” Magnus tells him. “We’ve got a solid foundation to build on.”
Alec’s going to pluck that sentence out of its context and repeat it to himself for at least a month.
“You’ve got all the information. Your thoughts just seem disjointed.”
Who can blame Alec for disjointed thoughts when Magnus decides to get red highlights and not provide any warning? Magnus should be thankful Alec even managed to put pen to paper for that test.
“Like here.” Magnus rounds his desk so he’s close to Alec, both of them leaning over to see the line Magnus’ well-polished nail is pointing to. Magnus smells of vanilla fabric-softener and under that a woodsy, earthy scent that Alec can’t place. It brings to mind Isabelle and the incense she sometimes burns. It reminds him of home and the last of Alec’s nerves ease.
Magnus stays like that, crouched at the side of Alec as he explains the places Alec can expand his answer, the way Alec can rearrange paragraphs to get a better flow. Halfway down the second page Alec’s eyes are drawn to a section heavily underlined.
“I’m not sure what you meant here,” Magnus says.
Is there a wicked gleam in the eyes Magnus turns on him? Alec’s just imagining it. He must be. He shifts his attention back to the paper and stops dead. Shit. Did he? He wrote that? He really wrote that? In the middle of a sentence are the words ‘RED, FUCKING RED’. Alec is flush with embarrassment. But it’s fine. Magnus doesn’t know that the red Alec’s referring to is Magnus’ highlights. There’s no way. Right? Though, thank god he didn’t actually write highlights. Did he even read this before handing it in? Alec’s mortified.
There are only twenty minutes of the hour left and how Alec makes it through them he doesn’t know.
“I’ll see you next week, Alexander,” Magnus tells him as he hurries out the door.
Sure. If Alec finds a way to forget this hour ever happened.
Magnus looks tired. Most people in the room won’t be able to tell. Then again, when it comes to Magnus, Alec’s not most people. Over the past seven weeks of this course, Alec’s been making a study of the intricacies of Magnus’ movements.That’s what happens when you spend 99% of your time staring at your professor instead of paying attention. So when Magnus lazily rubs at an eye, when he clenches his jaw in an uncharacteristic lack of patience, or when he stifles three yawns in ten minutes, Alec notices. Of course, once he notices, he’s unable to stop thinking about it.
It’s why, when Alec walks to Magnus’ office later that day, he holds two coffee cups in his hands.
From the corridor, he can see Magnus’ door is ajar, the same way it was last week. Alec doesn’t care if it’s a thing professors do. His mind runs with the delusion that it’s just for him and the thought is too enjoyable to attempt to reign it in.
A sudden peal of laughter from Magnus’ office has Alec abruptly stopping in the open doorway. It’s followed by another.
Magnus isn’t alone.
Really, it’s foolish of Alec to think Magnus would be. To just assume. Magnus teaches other students after all. It’s not like this hour is just for Alec. Alec can dream though, right?
Alec watches as a man — that isn’t Alec — affectionately touches Magnus’ arm. The green-eyed monster, otherwise known as jealousy, growls in Alec’s chest. Magnus’ laugh is carefree, his eyes are watering. Someone needs to hold Alec back. He’s half a second away from marching over there and wrenching that hand from Magnus’ arm.
Where did that feeling come from? Alec’s never been possessive and he doesn’t care for the feeling. Besides, Magnus is a grown man. He can make his own decisions. If he doesn’t want someone touching him, he doesn’t need Alec to come charging in on a white horse to save the day. To be Magnus’ knight in shining armour, though? Alec would sell his soul for the opportunity. And probably a kidney. Not that he’s being dramatic or anything.
Both men are aware of Alec’s presence. They’re staring at him and he’s not sure when that happened. Was it when Alec was green with envy or mentally dressing himself in chain mail? The stranger looks back at Magnus an eyebrow raised in what Alec thinks is a question and something passes between them. With a rueful smile, Magnus shakes his head. What does that mean? Try as he might, Alec can’t decipher their silent conversation. That’s saying a lot because Alec recently made it his life mission to decipher Magnus Bane.
“You always were a glutton for punishment,” the man says. He pats Magnus once more on the arm before continuing, “I must be off. Lectures to give. Students to bore.”
Alec steps into the room to let the man pass. He catches the sidelong glance that’s thrown his way and feels like he’s undergoing assessment. It’s a peculiar feeling, not altogether pleasant.
“You’re still doing office hours this week, right?” Alec asks when it’s just him and Magnus. Does his voice sound as needy as he feels?
Getting to watch Magnus in lectures used to be the highlight of his week. It isn’t anymore, not now that Alec knows how amazing it is to have a conversation with Magnus. Especially when Alec manages to get his own words out and be fully present in their interaction. At first, Magnus was purely a fantasy. But the more they chat the more his fantasy-Magnus is beginning to take on all the traits he’s learnt Magnus has in reality. The word crush no longer seems adequate for how Alec feels. What’s deeper than a crush? Alec doesn’t have a word for it; he just knows that as soon as he’s finished talking with Magnus all he can think about is the next time he gets to do it.
“Yes,” Magnus reassures and moves to close the door. “Ragnor. Professor Fell just dropped by with some lecture material.”
Sitting, Alec remembers the coffee in his hands. This was a stupid idea. What did he even buy this for?
“I brought some coffee,” Alec begins, a little sheepishly. “You looked tired earlier.” Alec sets the cups on Magnus’ desk and feels himself ramble on. “I wasn’t sure what you liked, so there’s a black coffee or there’s a latte. There’s extra milk and sugar somewhere as well…”
This is the part where Magnus laughs at him, it must be. Or maybe he asks Alec to leave. Alec messed this up. He just wanted to do something nice. Why is he always coming off so weird?
“I’d kill for the latte,” Magnus says.
Alec’s shocked, by the words and by the way Magnus is pulling his chair around the desk so they’re sitting next to each other. Alec wraps his fingers around a cup, offering it to Magnus, and their hands brush as he takes it from Alec’s grasp. It’s the second time they’ve touched. It doesn’t matter that it’s whisper soft and only lasts for a millisecond. A touch is a touch. And this time it was skin against skin. It might be the most innocent touch there ever was but when Alec thinks about it like that, it’s perverse. Alec will take it. And probably build several thousand fantasies around it.
Magnus takes a sip from the coffee cup. Okay. Coffee was a bad idea, because now Alec’s wondering what those lips would feel like pressed against his. Definitely soft. Probably insistent. What would Magnus do with his hands? Alec would run his through Magnus’ hair, just to see the usually flawless strands mused and dishevelled. And now he’s picturing it. How does Magnus do this? How does just taking a sip from a cup manage to turn Alec on?
Magnus clears his throat, and Alec’s mind is wrenched from a fantasy make-out session and back to the present.
“Thank you, I had a late night,” Magnus explains. It takes Alec a moment to catch up with the conversation. Magnus tired — in need of coffee — had a late night. All caught up.
Late night, though? That could mean anything, and once again Alec’s overactive imagination flashes through the list of possibilities. Of course, he pauses when he gets to tangled sheets and sweat-slicked bodies, maybe replays it a few times. He’s having serious issues with sexual frustration today.
Alec shouldn’t pry. He really shouldn’t. Fuck it. Curiosity gets the better of him, and he does anyway. And if it turns out Magnus is tired because of sexcapades then Alec’s taking his coffee back. If Alec has to suffer through mental images of Magnus entwined with someone that isn’t him, then Magnus can suffer with him.
“Marking?” Alec asks hopefully.
Magnus makes that sound that Alec has been dreaming about being the cause of since last week. That soft partially suppressed laugh. Alec mentally ticks make Magnus chuckle off his list. He adds make Magnus convulse with laughter. If Ragnor can do it then so can Alec.
“Nothing so mundane. I’m twenty-eight not fifty. Met up with some friends and I’m paying for it today.”
Friends. Alec will accept that. Magnus can keep his coffee. Alec takes a sip from his own cup, wincing as he burns his mouth.
“So, let’s talk about your mid-term.”
Alec would rather continue to hear about Magnus’ evening. He’ll also take continuing to scold himself by drinking his coffee over talking about a mid-term. He’s not fussy.
Alec hates the universe. It’s taken a personal interest in making his life a living hell. It must have. Why else would his lecture get rescheduled to the same day as Magnus’ office hours? Not only that, but in the only slot he has free that day. Alec has a choice. He can miss his weekly opportunity to learn more about the intriguing Professor Bane or he can miss lunch. It’s not a difficult choice. It’s not really a choice at all.
“Your mid-term was great,” Magnus tells Alec. Alec can still see a lot of red pen. How can anything that is covered in that much red be great? How can it even be good? Maybe Magnus could start using a nice turquoise coloured pen, so Alec doesn’t feel like he’s getting shouted at when he reads the comments. Though, Alec passed, and his grade is a lot higher than he anticipated. He might actually get credit for this class after all.
“It’s all down to you, you worked your magic.”
Alec’s never sure if he should say things like that. Does it make Magnus uncomfortable? He’s trying really hard to hide this attraction, but he’s drawn to Magnus in a way he can’t explain. Sometimes he can’t stop himself, and words just sort of tumble out. But if Magnus knows about Alec’s crush — or the more-than-crush as Alec has decreed it — he mustn’t mind, because he just indulges Alec. So often, he tilts his head, shifts one leg over the other and focuses his entire self on what Alec’s saying. Just like he is now.
Magnus shakes his head and says, “I didn’t take the test for you. It was all you.”
Alec wants to disagree, but he knows they’ll get stuck in a strange loop of praising each other. And Alec might be adding praise to the list of kinks he’s developed since he met Magnus. He’s begun to crave the warmth that spreads through his chest every time Magnus tells him that was really good or well done. It’s addictive and a slippery slope that Alec’s already tripped and fallen down. He might as well enjoy it.
Alec’s had crushes before, but he’s never been so consumed by one. He’s dated. He’s found guys attractive, but this level of want is usually reserved for men that he’s formed a connection with. It’s disconcerting to be unable to act on it. To find out what the other person is thinking. Perhaps, that’s what makes the need stronger, the knowledge that nothing can ever happen with Magnus. There’s that saying about wanting what you can never have. And that’s what Magnus is, unattainable, just a fantasy. A fantasy that Alec worries has ruined him for the rest of his life.
They’re sitting close again, both on the same side of the desk. Alec conjures the courage to look Magnus square in the face, without being distracted, and speaks.
“Thank you. For helping me, though.”
Alec is truly grateful, and he hopes the words hold the sincerity he feels.
Their eyes lock on each other as Alec says the last word and Alec recognises the surprise in Magnus’. Alec should look away, they’ve reached the allotted amount of time that is socially acceptable for looking into each other’s eyes. He doesn’t. He can’t. Magnus isn’t either. Magnus is the first to break the contact though, his eyes flicking down to Alec’s lips. Alec has to grip the arm of his chair to keep from launching himself at Magnus. He’s not sure where he finds the restraint.
Magnus’s eyes settle somewhere behind Alec’s head, and his face has become completely emotionless.
“It’s what I get paid to do, Alec.”
The words are as effective as throwing a bucket of cold water over him. Alec’s reminded that this is just a job to Magnus. Sometimes he gets so caught up in his imagination that he forgets they’re not friends, this isn’t a social visit.
“Do you like it?” Alec can’t help his curiosity around Magnus, and he’s searching for a way to rid Magnus’ face of the guard he’s put up.
“Teaching? Yeah, a lot more than I thought I would. I lectured a lot through my PhD, but I’m really enjoying having a course that’s mine. Still, it’s only the first semester. Ask me at the end of the year.”
The end of the year. How is Alec supposed to maintain a distance when Magnus says things like that, as if, after the course is over they’ll still see each other, still talk to each other. Or maybe it’s just a figure of speech. Alec much prefers option one.
“I was surprised you chose Baucis and Philemon for the paper.”
“You mentioned it was an often overlooked favourite of yours,” Alec hadn’t meant to say that. Why does his brain have no filter around Magnus?
Those were Magnus’ exact words. In week six, when Magnus had been lecturing about the proliferation of romantic themes in Greek mythology. Magnus had talked about how most were tragic, but that ‘an often overlooked favourite of mine — Baucis and Philemon — is an example of everlasting love, even beyond death’.
Alec, being Alec, might have read up extensively on the subject.
Alec’s stomach chooses that moment to make its protest at having missed lunch. Alec’s thankful for the interruption. When it does it a second time, he’s a little embarrassed.
“Hungry?” Magnus asks, face filled with humour.
“Didn’t have time for lunch.”
Magnus’ face shifts to concern, and he throws the paper in his hands onto the desk twisting in his chair so that they’re facing. Magnus’ eyes are captivating, an expressive deep brown.
“This session isn’t compulsory, Alec. Go eat.”
Alec misses Magnus’ full use of his name. Nonetheless, he enjoys the sound of his name on Magnus’ lips in any form. Would Magnus call out Alec or Alexander in pleasure?
Alec doesn’t want to go. He doesn’t want to give up this short slot of time he has to get to know the leading man of his dreams. He can eat at any time.
“It’s fine. I’ll grab something later.”
Magnus shakes his head and sighs. He stands and leans across his desk to open a draw and Alec just blanks out for a second. This is just like one of Alec’s fantasies. Only in that one, it’s Alec’s body that is draped over the desk and Magnus is pressing him down into the hard unforgiving wood. Alec’s shirt is hanging from one shoulder and Magnus presses bruising kisses into the tender skin there.
“Here.” Magnus throws an apple at Alec. He obviously intends for Alec to catch it, but Alec’s still bent across the desk in his mind and the apple hits him in the chest before falling into his lap. Alec just lets it sit there; his brain can’t seem to function.
“Eat that at least,” Magnus pleads.
Oh, yeah, that’s what he’s supposed to do with that. Alec picks the apple up, takes a bite and he curses the universe once more. Why is he always in this perpetual state of sexual frustration and mortification? Those two emotions, linked together like this, are going to scar him for life.
Alec walks into Magnus’ office and is immediately greeted by a string of expletives. Thankfully they’re not aimed at him, but at the computer that is currently Magnus’ sole focus. Magnus slaps a hand against the edge of the screen in frustration. It’s bizarre. Has Alec wandered into the wrong office? Or maybe a parallel world. Magnus is usually so calm and collected. Not that Alec isn’t enjoying it. He quite likes seeing Magnus ruffled a little. Although he’d much prefer to be the one doing the ruffling.
Alec swings his bag onto a chair, the movement causing Magnus to look up from the computer screen.
Oh Shit. Magnus is wearing the glasses. Not those black rimmed ones, though. No. These frames are red, the same galling shade as Magnus’ highlights. Red, Alec scorns, they had to be fucking red . That exact shade and Magnus are becoming synonymous in Alec’s mind.
“Sorry, it’s just this stupid thing,” Magnus says. He waves a hand in the direction of the screen, and it lacks the flourish Alec normal associates with Magnus’ movements. “I let Raphael print one thing, and now it’s stuck on this screen. And if I have to call IT, it will take them a week to send anyone down here.” Magnus sucks in a breath before barrelling on, “He did it on purpose. Raphael. I know he did.”
Alec appreciates this side of Magnus, the slightly irate side, where he’s passionately rambling. Alec probably shouldn’t mention that right now though, or smile, or let out the laugh that’s trying to work it’s way free. He fears for whoever this Raphael is. No, It’s better to try to lighten the mood.
Magnus directs his frown at Alec. Lightening has not been achieved. Okay. Perhaps only added to Magnus' annoyance. Alec pictures himself backing away slowly.
“I’m a historian,” Magnus bristles. He pushes the mouse away in frustration and folds his arms. Alec could swear Magnus is pouting, it only increases his desire to laugh. It’s adorable. It really is.
Alec tries for playful this time, “Yeah, but you keep telling me you’re not fifty. Let me see what I can do.” Alec moves around the desk whilst he speaks, “Maybe we can bring you into the 21st century.”
Magnus’ mouth twitches. It’s imperceptible, but Alec catches it. That was a smile! An almost smile, but almost smiles still count. It’s Alec’s rules. What he says, goes.
Magnus gets up from his chair and boosts himself onto the desk. Alec takes that as an invitation to sit. Quickly, he assesses the screen. He wouldn’t say he’s tech-savvy but he knows the basics. Immediately he sees the problem. It’s almost too easy.
“Here,” Alec says as he clicks.
“What!” Magnus leans forward, eyes narrowed, to get a better look at the screen. Magnus supports himself with a hand on Alec’s shoulder and Alec’s gaze instinctively moves to where they’re touching. He can feel the heat of Magnus’ palm even through his t-shirt and warmth begins to course through his body.
“I did that!” Magnus’ disgruntled words pull Alec’s focus back to the computer, mostly. He can’t entirely block out that touch, or the way it sends little tingles of sensation running along his arm. “I pressed that exact thing.”
Alec shrugs, not trusting his voice. It could be that Magnus did press that exact thing, but he highly doubts it.
“You’re no help.”
Alec’s about to point out that he actually was very helpful, but Magnus twists his head and words sort of lose all meaning. Is that lipgloss on Magnus’ lips? It must be. No one’s lips can naturally look that tempting, plus they’ve got that same shine that Isabelle’s always have. Though Alec’s not really thinking sisterly thoughts right now. What would it taste like? They come in different flavours right? It takes considerable restraint for Alec to keep sitting there. What would happen if he just closed that gap between their lips? If he just took one taste? He’s almost compelled to find out.
Is that interest in Magnus’ eyes?
It’s only there for a split second, so short a time that Alec must have just imagined it. Right? Given how much he’s daydreamed about this office and Magnus, it’s highly likely he did. He’s just reading into something that isn’t there because he desperately wants it to be. It’s that bias thing they were always banging on about in high school. That hypothesis one. How when you enter a situation with a goal in mind, you’re inclined to read the evidence in favour of your goal and omit any data that doesn’t fit your theory.
Magnus pushes Alec affectionately, and Alec wheels back from the desk.
“Scoot,” Magnus says as he gets up off the desk.
As Alec stands the ringing of his phone fills the room.
“Shit,” Alec glances at Magnus. “Can I?”
“Of course,” Magnus says and he takes his seat.
As soon as Alec accepts the call, Isabelle’s voice comes down the line a mile a minute. Something about Jace, and the washing machine, and her favourite top, and how she’s going to kill him. He is dead to her. She suddenly has one less brother.
“Okay. Okay,” Alec tells Izzy. “I’m busy right now but-”
“Drooling over Professor Bane,” Izzy says and Alec feels flush with embarrassment. His eyes dart to Magnus, still in those fucking glasses. Alec rolls his eyes and points at the phone, praying to God that Magnus didn’t overhear that.
Magnus doesn’t smile, his brow is creased. Shit. Maybe he didn’t mean it when he said Alec could answer the phone.
“I’ve gotta go,” he tells Izzy.
“Yeah, love you too,” and Alec hastily disconnects the call.
Alec takes his seat. There’s a tension to the room, and Alec doesn’t understand when or where it came from. A sudden urge to apologise has words bubbling out of him. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s fine,” comes Magnus’ reply, but the tone of voice suggests to Alec that it’s anything but fine.
“My sister’s on the warpath because our brother just turned her favourite top blue and now I’m gonna have to go mediate. Siblings, eh?”
Alec doesn’t know why he says all that, he’s just hit with an unbearable need to fill the quiet of the office. Magnus tilts his head in that way of his, as he listens to Alec. When he speaks this time, his voice is full of humour.
“Only child. Thankfully. I’ve heard a lot of sibling horror stories.”
As Magnus launches into one, Alec is confounded.
The usually level-headed Magnus has been a whirlwind of emotion today and Alec might have whiplash from trying to keep up.
“Did you always know you wanted to lecture?” Alec asks Magnus.
The words are out of Alec’s mouth before he’s even thought about them. The conversation has been winding down in the past few minutes. As always, Alec craves just a little longer with Magnus, because for this limited space of time each week Alec gets to have Magnus all to himself. He yearns for the time to never end.
Magnus leans back leisurely in the chair next to Alec’s. His posture is relaxed and Alec’s relieved that there doesn’t seem to be any discomfort over his question. He sometimes wonders if it’s entirely appropriate for him to pry into Magnus’ life like this.
Without pause, Magnus says, “No.”
Sitting a little straighter, Magnus’ hair shifts with the movement and it draws Alec’s attention. Not that Alec’s attention hasn’t been 100% focused on Magnus since Alec walked through the door, but he’s been defiantly trying to stop his eyes from wandering to Magnus’ hair. The black strands that are coiffed up off Magnus’ forehead are woven with hot pink; hot is a very appropriate word choice.
Alec had just about died when he’d walked into the lecture theatre this morning. As they do each time Alec walks into a room where he expects Magnus to be, his eyes had gravitated towards the object of his daydreams. They’d nearly bulged out of his head at the sight of Magnus, head bent, and typing away on his phone. Alec immediately knew something was different, but with his brain addled by desire, it had taken a few moments to process the new colour. When the realisation had struck, his mind had point blank refused to function for the rest of the lecture.
Alec’s never really been a fan of pink. It might be his new favourite colour.
It’s only now though, as they sit close to each other, that Alec notices the thread in Magnus’ black shirt matches his hair. That shirt must be new, Alec thinks. He’s been so preoccupied with Magnus’ new hairstyle that he hasn’t taken in Magnus’ outfit today. As he does, he realises the shirt is most definitely new. Yes, that’s right, Alec has catalogued Magnus’ extensive wardrobe so far, and each outfit is ranked based on its level of distraction. Alec’s eyes rake over Magnus’ body. This one is coming out at a fifteen… out of ten.
“I really wanted to do more research…” Magnus continues, and Alec’s drawn back into the conversation. It’s a constant problem of Alec’s, just spacing out in the middle of a conversation with Magnus. Magnus must think he’s so weird. “...and the best way to get funding in this field is to lecture. Then I guess I fell in love with it.”
Could Magnus fall in love with him, please? Alec did not just think that. He’s often glad he’s not in that rom-com - the one where that guy can hear what everyone’s thinking (not that he’s ever watched that film). It’s embarrassing enough having the thought, so he can’t begin to imagine what it would be like if anyone had to overhear him.
“That’s… good,” Alec shifts awkwardly in his seat. His unease is partly from his ridiculous thoughts, but mostly because the question only fuels the anxieties he’s been feeling lately.
What must it be like to know what you want to do in life? Alec wishes he knew. He wishes there was a clear path in front of him, but instead, there are dozens of branches that all seem to intersect and twist together, and the more he looks, the more confused he becomes about which is the right path.
He could take the easy option, the one that his parents have laid out for him.
Just this morning he received an email from his father. It had been terse and direct and contained information on the opportunity his parents had put together for him. His father has resorted to email since Alec stopped answering his calls. Just like the calls, Alec refuses to reply to the emails. He hasn't read it. It’s some stuffy office job no doubt.
Whilst Alec knows that he doesn’t want the life his parents have set out for him, it doesn’t make his choices any clearer. He’s floundering, constantly second-guessing himself. Everywhere he turns he’s bombarded with talk about his career and his future. As if that wasn’t enough, the pressure to make the right choice just keeps growing. Who knows what the right decision is? Alec certainly doesn’t. How could he? It’s not like he has a magic ball to look into the future. What if he makes a mistake, though? What if he screws up his life with one little choice?
It doesn’t help that his friends all appear to have it together. They're always group messaging about this job application they just put in, this interview they got, or this internship they’ve got their eye on. Alec just scrolls through the messages; he doesn’t know how to contribute.
He’s thought about talking it over with Izzy, but he always manages to find some reason why he can’t discuss it right now. He tells himself it’s not the ideal time, or the right place, or that she doesn’t want to be dealing with his problems. They’re all excuses. He recognises this. It's just... he knows that as soon as he airs those fears, they'll become real, and then he’ll have to deal with them. Honestly? That’s more terrifying to him than just letting it all fester.
“What do you want to do?” Magnus asks.
Alec blinks, pulls his focus away from his insecurities. He looks at Magnus, whose face is earnest but open. Magnus might be the first person to say that, to just ask without any vested interest. Alec’s dumbfounded.
“I’m not sure,” his words are hesitant. His hand scratches at his hair before Alec stops himself. It’s a nervous habit that he doesn’t always manage to catch. He clasps his hands in his lap in front of him and just looks at them.
“It’s okay if you don’t have it figured out right now,” Magnus’ voice is gentle, and Alec has to blink his eyes a few times to clear the wetness there. Those are the words that he’s been waiting to hear; he’s just never realised it. His chest constricts, and Alec has to focus on his breathing.
“I know it feels like a big thing right now. I could say I've been where you are. I haven’t, but I can relate. Just... it’s good to think about what you enjoy doing, or what you’re interested in.”
When did this happen? When did Magnus develop this ability to say just the right thing at just the right moment? Something inside of Alec settles. It’s still there: the tension, but it’s not overpowering everything else anymore. Alec can think without panicking, and he takes Magnus’ advice. What does he enjoy? What is he interested in?
“I love books,” Alec blurts out.
Who doesn’t love books? God, what an idiotic thing to say. Magnus doesn’t laugh at him, instead one corner of his mouth raises into a fond smile and Alec sucks in a breath. How can this man be so beautiful? Just when Alec thinks he’s able to function around Magnus, he does something like this, something as simple as smiling and it short-circuits Alec’s brain.
“Do you want to work with books? There are a lot of opportunities and different types of jobs-”
Alec will reprimand himself for it later, but suddenly he knows, and the idea that’s sparked to life inside him can’t be contained. He just has to share it.
“I want to work at a publishing house.” There, he’s said it. “I don’t know what type of role. I don’t know what type of company. I just know I want to help publish books.”
Maybe it’s a silly idea, maybe it will all turn out to be nothing, but Alec has a direction.
Magnus’ smile blooms, bright and wide, and Alec wonders how a person can contain so much light.
“That’s fantastic. There are a lot of different jobs. There’s the book editing, the commissioning, the marketing, and art of course - every book needs a cover after all.” Magnus pauses, purses his lips in thought. “I have a couple of contacts if you decide you want to take that step. They could help you decide, give you some advice or erm… just explain what it’s like.”
“You have contacts?” Alec says, then mentally berates himself. The polite thing would have been to thank Magnus, probably decline or tell Magnus ‘he’ll think about it’. Alec just forgets about what he should do whenever he’s around Magnus.
“One of my friend’s runs a small publishing company — EPEOLATRY — she’s… we’re working on a manuscript together.”
He’s gawking, Alec knows he is, and if he knew a way to stop himself perhaps he would. He doubts it. Magnus is writing a book? Was this man created specifically with Alec in mind? It feels like it, and what a cruel twist of fate that Magnus has to be his fucking professor. Don’t chuckle at that, he warns himself. Fucking Professor, though. Now that’s a subject Alec would dearly love to study, especially if Magnus is teaching.
Alec clears his throat and asks, “What’s it about?”
“It’s mainly a look at how scientific discovery led to the persecution of occult practices. There’s a section looking at how the occult differs in modern society in comparison to past societies.”
Could Magnus please keep talking like that? In that official voice. Alec tries to follow Magnus’ words, he really does. His arms physically hurt from the effort of keeping them still. He’s been doing better recently, been able to control the urges to reach out and touch, but Alec’s fingers itch. He wants to know what that skin feels like, wants to run his fingers along Magnus’ bottom lip whilst Magnus talks like that. He wants to taste that long expanse of neck, wonders how long it would take for Magnus’ breath to become choppy and his words to stutter. How long would it be before Magnus lost his train of thought completely?
Alec only has to look at Magnus to lose his train of thought. He tries to gather the meaning of Magnus’ words.
“Like magic and stuff?” Ugh, way to trivialise someone’s work, Alec.
Magnus tilts his head, “To put it simply, I guess… yes.”
Then Magnus begins to talk about it and Alec just has to know more, just has to keep Magnus talking this passionately. Alec succeeds and neither of them notices that Alec should have left 10 minutes ago for another lecture.
With bleary eyes, Alec picks up his phone to stop its incessant beeping. The glare from the screen has him raising a hand to shield himself from the offensively bright light. Five am. He groans. He hates Jace and this stupid health kick he’s got going, more, Alec hates that he’s somehow been dragged into it.
His eyes take a few minutes to adjust as he rolls over onto his back and sinks into his pillow. Once the screen isn’t blinding him anymore he scrolls through his notifications: messages from Izzy, a wake-up text from Jace, Facebook, Twitter, an email - his finger pauses. An email from M Bane.
Any haziness of sleep that still clings to his consciousness instantly clears as his brain goes into overdrive. Did he miss an assignment? Fuck, is he going to fail this course after all the work he’s put in? Alec racks his brain, searching back to the course schedule. He doesn’t have a paper due until next week, right?
Calm down, he tells himself and takes a few deep steadying breaths to try to do just that. He still hasn’t opened it, but he should, he should just tap on it and see what it’s all about before jumping to conclusions. Wait. Alec mentally slaps himself because he hasn’t even read the subject yet. Thesis is all it says and his worry eases.
Alec berates himself, he’s spent enough time with Magnus to know he cares about his students, to know he’s not the type of professor to fail a student by email, or without prior notice. The panic subsides only to be replaced with curiosity.
The notification tells him the email was sent at 2:07 this morning and that seems like an odd hour for a professor to be sending things out. Though, Alec can’t really talk considering it’s 5:05 am on a Saturday and he’s already awake. The weekend is for lie-ins, or, at least, Alec vaguely recalls that it used to be.
There’s another text from Jace checking if he’s up and Alec curses these early morning runs - surely they could do this at a less ungodly hour. He doesn’t reply. Instead, he takes a deep breath and opens the email.
Here’s the thesis, if you really are interested. Please don’t feel obligated to read it.
The subject suddenly makes a lot more sense as Alec recalls their conversation from earlier in the week. He missed his lecture, that immediately follows Magnus’ office hours, last week because he was too enraptured in the way Magnus was speaking about his manuscript. They’d talked about it in such great depth that Alec had learnt the book was going to be an expansion of Magnus’ thesis - a more everyday reader-friendly version.
Alec remembers that he asked about the thesis and Magnus promised to send it. He never really considered that Magnus actually would. That’s the type of thing that gets said, a throwaway comment that often gets forgotten, but Magnus remembered! Alec’s cheeks heat up with the pleasure that Magnus thought about him.
There’s a third text from Jace.
Fuck it, he thinks and throws back the covers to reach for his laptop. It’s not that he’s suddenly developed an overwhelming desire to know everything about the ‘persecution of practising the occult’, he just wants to absorb every morsel of information regarding Magnus.
It’s foolish, this crush, these feelings that he can’t afford to let develop. Nothing can happen between them, he knows this - he might have looked up the school’s policy on student-teacher relationships. Though it didn’t explicitly say they couldn’t happen, the wording made it clear that it was highly frowned upon, especially if the student was currently in the Professor’s class.
Even without the policy, Alec knows Magnus would never enter into a relationship with him. One because it’s clearly a one-sided thing, and two because if he even did have feelings - which he doesn’t - Alec knows he’d see that as an abuse of power.
Alec reads it, the thesis, and he loves it. He might even have printed the document off and then attacked it with post-it notes and highlighters and coloured tabs in order to try to make sense of the chaotic thoughts he has about it all (though that’s a secret he’ll take to the grave). It’s just, when he speaks to Magnus about it he wants to be able to be eloquent, he wants to be able to voice how much he enjoyed it, and ask the many questions it gave him.
So, when he wakes on Tuesday morning, there’s perhaps just a little more spring in his step than usual. He knows he gives Izzy a shock when he greets her with coffee and a smile. She’s normally the first up and he usually only communicates with grunts until she thrusts a mug at him. He just can’t help it though, today he has a 9am lecture with Magnus and then in the afternoon it’s Magnus’ office hours. Alec’s just bursting with excitement and questions.
They stick with him through breakfast, through a cramped ride on public transport, and they’re still bubbling away inside of him as he heads to the lecture theatre.
Alec abruptly stops in the doorway.
Magnus isn’t here.
Where Magnus usually stands is Professor Fell, and that, that just won’t do. The one thing that makes his morning lecture bearable is getting to stare at Magnus for the whole hour, getting to hear that lilting voice, and watch those expressive hands move whilst Magnus talks.
Any other day Alec would be disappointed, but today, he feels despondent. Professor Fell just isn’t an adequate replacement.
Alec’s mood sours as he falls into his seat. The universe really does hate him, doesn’t it? He throws his pad down on the desk, the movement full of his frustration. The noise has Professor Fell looking up and when those eyes land on Alec, his expression changes. Alec thinks he sees humour, but the look reminds him too much of when they first met all those weeks ago in Magnus’ office. He feels the need to squirm in his seat, but he doesn’t allow himself to look away. Instead, he forces himself to hold that gaze and is happy when the professor is the first to break the connection. He’s not sure why, but he feels like he just won something.
After the last of the stragglers take their seats, Fell rises and begins to speak and Alec feels his scowl deepen. He’s too lost in his annoyance to pay attention to the words. Magnus had to skip the lecture, which is fine, Alec supposes. So he’ll miss his opportunity to appreciate Magnus, that’s not so bad because he’ll get to speak to him later, and be close to him and that, that’s infinitely better.
He glances down at his bag and the post-it note filled thesis that is poking out and his excitement from earlier starts to work its way back in.
As a paper is passed to him, Alec suddenly tunes back into the conversation.
“Professor Bane left a quiz for you, so you’ll be spared having me conduct the lecture.” That earns the professor a few chuckles, which turn into groans when he adds, “It will be graded, and it will count towards your final grade.”
Alec’s perhaps the only one to not be upset about the quiz, not because he’s so confident in his own abilities, he just knows that without Magnus here he’ll be able to fully concentrate on the questions for a change. Perhaps the universe does like him after all, because there’s no way he can get distracted by Professor Fell. Just the amount of tweed instantly puts Alec off. A tweed suit does not look good on anyone, and he thinks Isabelle would probably agree with him.
Alec decides to make the best of the situation and when he looks down at the first question he resolves to ace this thing. As he reads, he remembers the day Magnus had spoken about this, he’d worn that silk black shirt that had shifted tantalisingly each time he moved. That outfit had been a solid nine out of ten on the distraction scale. Just the thought of it has Alec’s mind wandering, would Magnus’ skin feel as smooth as that silk looked. Focus, goddammit. Alec pushes past the image of Magnus from that memory and tries to recall his words. That’s not all that helpful at first, because he begins to think about the way Magnus' lips move, and then he considers what they’d feel like moving against his own.
Fucking hell, Alec. Okay, okay, he clears all mental images and tries to think only of how Magnus sounded, and while he does get lost in the soft cadence of his voice, he at least picks up some of the words. Slowly he begins to form an answer.
When Professor Fell calls time, Alec sets down his pen with pride. Though Magnus invaded his thoughts a dozen or so times, he still thinks this might be the best test he’s taken for this class.
Alec never considered this. He stares at the note taped to Magnus’ door and reads it for the third time.
Professor Bane’s office hours are cancelled today. Please see Professor Fell if you have any urgent questions.
The note goes on to give directions and Alec holds himself back from ripping the offensive piece of paper off the door and screwing it up. Cancelled? Of course they are. Magnus missed a lecture this morning, which he’s never done before and Alec just assumed he’d be here later. It never even crossed his mind that Magnus wasn’t available all day.
His mood doesn’t just sour, it disintegrates into agitation and annoyance. He kicks out with his foot, the connection causing it to jar. Fuck, that hurt. The movement is petulant and if he could objectively assess his actions he’d be ashamed of his outburst.
Shifting his bag on his shoulder, the weight reminds him of the thesis he’s carted around all day and he feels stupid.
Alec stands there, looking at the note for longer than necessary, willing it to just vaporise, or for the door to open and be greeted by Magnus’ broad smile, but none of those things happens.
Sighing in resignation he steps back and heads to the library, perhaps he can at least do something useful with is time.
Shout out to ifthingsgetcrazy for this idea - so don’t blame me. XD
If there’s anything you’d like to see, feel free to let me know and I’ll try to work it in (and yes, we all want them to smush their faces together already).
“I think he’s in love,” Izzy teases as she lounges on the sofa across the room. Jace is balancing on the arm next to her and Alec grits his teeth. He’s told Jace a million times about doing that, but Jace just jokes that he sounds like their mother. So, Alec’s sort of letting it lie because he hates it when they compare him to their parents. It’s probably why they do it.
“Dorky grin?” Jace asks Isabelle.
Alec keeps watching the TV, trying to block them out, but he sees Izzy raise a hand out of the corner of his eye. She points a finger, and as she makes a tick in the air she says, “Check.”
“Gazing off into space?”
“Not listening to a word we’re saying?”
“I’m listening,” Alec butts in, “but you’re both being ridiculous, so I’m choosing to ignore you.”
He’s not in love, okay, nowhere close to being in love. He doesn’t have a dorky grin and if he’s staring into space it’s because they can’t hold an interesting conversation.
He’s behaving the same way he always does, nothing has changed. He almost wants to just get up and go to his room, but he’s enjoying this episode of The Bachelor. Izzy always makes them watch it and though he groans about it, he’s secretly hooked to the show. It’s become something of a guilty pleasure for him.
“Overly defensive when the subject is brought up?” Jace continues.
“Check,” and Isabelle giggles.
“Would you two stop? I thought we were watching this. They’re about to go on a date.”
He waves a hand at the screen. This is the date that Isabelle’s been praying will happen since this season started. Alec’s had to listen to her go on and on about it through every episode, and now she’s apparently just not even bothered.
“Constantly tries to change the conversation?”
Alec glares at the two of them and Izzy’s eyes catch his. Do it, he silently dares her. She tilts her head, smiles and says, “Check.”
He hates them. It’s official.
“I hate you,” and now they know it too.
He has the worst siblings in the world, and he’s kicking them out as soon as possible. Which probably won’t be for three to five years because he’ll never be able to afford the rent by himself, but still, he’ll do it.
They’re just laughing at him, not demure laughter either. No, it’s the kind where they bend themselves over and their whole body shakes from it. Which is only adding to Alec’s irritation with the situation. What’s a stronger feeling than hate? Whatever that is, that’s how he feels about them right now. He scowls at his siblings, which only makes their laughter stronger.
Through gulps of breath Jace says, “Personally attacks you,” he breaks off as they devolve into another fit of laughter and he wipes a tear from his eye. Eventually, he manages to calm himself enough to finish his sentence. “When… you call him on it?”
Isabelle can’t even say anything; she just does another air tick.
A commercial begins to play and Alec throws himself up out of his chair and stalks into the kitchen. He opens the fridge and just stares for a moment. Deep breaths, he tells himself, before grabbing a can. He gives them a few minutes to cool down and only returns once the laughing has subsided.
“So,” Isabelle starts as Alec takes his seat. “Who is he?”
“Who’s who?” Alec says. What is with them today?
“Don’t do that.” She jumps up from the sofa and crashes down onto him, draping herself over his body. They used to do this when they were kids, he’d stroke her hair and she’d listen to his heartbeat. Instead, she pokes him in the ribs. “You’ve been all moony and distracted and… happy for weeks.”
“I’m always happy,” Alec defends himself.
“No, you’re not. We know you too well, so talk to us.”
“Yeah, come on, man,” Jace says. “It’s no big deal.”
He’s had it with them. Where did they get this idea that he’s with someone?
“I’m not seeing anyone, okay. I’m not being coy or whatever. There. Is. No. One.”
Isabelle pushes back from his chest and gazes down at him. Her eyes search his.
“Oh,” she brushes the hair back from his forehead and he closes his eyes at the touch. “There’s really no one?”
Thankfully, the subject is dropped.
Of course, the subject isn’t dropped for long.
On Monday morning, Alec grabs a coffee on campus with Jace, as they often do before Jace heads off to work. Having paid, the two of them turn back from the counter and almost walk into someone.
Alec knows that voice, and he knows that face, and he just kind of blanks out for a moment. It’s sort of surreal to see Magnus Bane in the middle of the coffee shop. It doesn’t matter that it’s only a two-minute walk from Magnus’ office, this just isn’t right. Alec’s been compartmentalising Magnus in order to function in life and now, Magnus just decided to take himself out of one of those compartments and dump himself down into the coffee shop compartment. Now Alec won’t be able to come and get coffee without thinking of Magnus.
Although, to be fair, he already thinks of Magnus when he gets coffee here, because this is where he got the drinks that first caused their hands to brush. Shit, now he’s thinking about those fingers against his. Alec’s eyes dart down to where Magnus’ own hand is wrapped around a cup. He tries to, he really tries to not think about that hand wrapped around himself. He’s not successful.
“Hi. I’m Jace. You know my brother?” Jace offers a hand to Magnus, who shakes it.
“Professor Bane,” he says. “Alec’s in my class this semester.”
Jace looks at Alec, then at Magnus, then back to Alec, and Alec can almost hear the cogs turning.
“Don’t you have to get to work?” Alec prompts and looks at his brother imploringly.
“Sure, work,” Jace says, and the expression on his face tells Alec they’re going to talk about this later. “Nice to meet you.”
“You too,” Magnus says as Jace, thankfully, leaves the shop.
Alec gestures to a table, “Were you staying?”
“Oh, yeah... sure, I’ve got a few minutes.”
They both sit and there’s something between them that isn’t usually there when they’re in Magnus’ office. Alec thinks it might be awkwardness. He looks at Magnus, at the way his hand clutches his cup, the way his finger taps in what Alec thinks is nervousness. But that can’t be right. Magnus always seems so confident, so sure of himself. Does Magnus feel as off-kilter as Alec does?
There doesn’t seem to be the same boundaries between them as there usually is. There’s no desk. There’s no title. Here, in this coffee shop, they’re just Alec and Magnus, and Alec’s suddenly aware that there isn’t much difference in their ages.
He indulges in the fantasy of bumping into Magnus just like this, of a chance meeting in a coffee shop. He thinks about flirting with Magnus, poorly because he would get tongue tied just looking at the man and he’d no doubt make a fool of himself. He thinks about the first conversation he would stutter through, the small talk that he never really enjoys. He thinks about finding the confidence to ask for Magnus’ number before they part ways, and the thrill it would bring him for the rest of the day. The frustrated excitement of waiting for an acceptable amount of time to have passed before calling.
But they didn’t meet like that. Magnus is his professor and Alec knows (no matter how much he fantasises about it), that there are lines neither of them can cross.
Neither of them speaks. Alec thinks Magnus wants to say something because he opens his mouth, words on the tip of his tongue, before he pulls back and takes a sip from his cup instead. Alec wants to talk about that thesis, the questions have been floating through his mind all week. He wants to ask if Magnus is okay. Wants to know how his morning has been and then perhaps politely enquire about where Magnus was last week.
He doesn’t end up asking a question at all.
“You cancelled your office hours,” he blurts out and the words are accusatory. Well done, Alec. Magnus was the one who cancelled them, he clearly knows that and he doesn’t need reprimanding by a student for fuck’s sake.
Magnus doesn’t take offence, though. The look he has is actually apologetic and Alec feels like shit.
“Yeah, sorry I didn’t give you any notice.”
Alec hones in on the way Magnus says ‘you’, like he didn’t give Alec notice, like Alec is the person he should have told and granted Alec’s the only one that ever turns up to those office hours, but he lets himself think it’s more than that. He knows it’s a fantasy but he’s not hurting anyone by indulging in it, right? Well, no one but himself.
“It’s- It’s fine. No big deal.” No big deal at all. He wasn’t in the worst mood of his life the whole day after he read that note. That wasn’t him. He’s been totally chill about the whole thing.
“It was just…” Magnus pauses.
Wait, is Magnus trying to justify himself to Alec? Alec’s stunned, Magnus doesn’t have to explain anything. He’s the professor, he can do what he wants. But Alec does move a little closer so that he can fully appreciate Magnus’ words and the way his lips move when he says them.
“I had to go to a funeral.”
Okay, they’re not words he should appreciate, right?
“Oh, I’m sorry,” and Alec really means that. He’s sorry that someone Magnus knows passed away, but also he’s sorry for his thoughts. He’s been annoyed all week about Magnus cancelling those office hours and he’s been so caught up in how frustrated he’s been that he hasn’t even stopped to consider the reason Magnus wasn’t in. Magnus doesn’t cancel lectures, he cares about his students, Alec knows this. So, why didn’t it cross his mind that something could have happened? For all Alec knew Magnus could have been hurt or sick. Wow, how self-centred of him. If Magnus wasn’t sitting across from him right now, he’d probably bang his head on the table in disgust.
“I told you about my friend Catarina, right? The one that’s helping me with the manuscript?”
Alec nods his head. That’s the friend Magnus said Alec could talk to if he had questions about publishing. Did she die? Alec’s been cursing his bad luck and the universe, and Magnus’ friend died!
“Her friend died rather suddenly...”
Phew. Well, not phew, someone died and that’s not great, but Alec can feel slightly better about himself that it wasn’t someone directly linked to Magnus. Does that make him a terrible person? This whole conversation’s making him feel like a terrible person.
“...and her partner had to go out of town, so I offered to go to the funeral with her. Ragnor- Professor Fell, is a friend of both of ours, so he did me a favour by covering my classes. It was sort of last minute, so I’m sorry, again, that I didn’t let you know.”
Alec knows Magnus is a good person, this isn’t news to him, but Magnus is apologising for cancelling his office hours to support a friend at a funeral? Can they get married, adopt three kids, a dog, and move to the suburbs already?
“It’s fine, I didn’t have too many course related question anyway.” Alec pauses for a moment, unsure if he should say anything about Magnus’ email, he decides to anyway. “I read the thesis you sent.”
Alec watches the shock cross Magnus’ face.
“You did?” Magnus seems sceptical.
How can Magnus think he wouldn’t? Or more, that he’d say he did when he didn’t?
“I’ve got a million questions.”
Magnus chuckles, then looks down at his watch and sighs.
“And I’d love to hear them all, Alec, but I’ve got a lecture in five minutes.”
Oh, is it that time already? Alec tells himself he only imagines the dejected tone of Magnus’ voice. Magnus pushes back from the table to stand and Alec wants to ask him to stay, possibly for forever, but he pushes the feeling away.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?” Magnus asks. “You can ask me then?”
Tomorrow? Oh, office hours. How could Alec ever forget? Possibly because he’s watching the way Magnus is straightening his jacket, brushing lint from the sleeve, and the movements are so fluid that all rational thought just flies out the window.
“Yeah,” and Alec knows he’s sporting a dorky grin. Okay, maybe his siblings have a point after all.
When Alec leaves the coffee shop he checks his phone. There’s an invitation to join a new whatsapp group from Jace - myster(ga)y solved. Has Alec expressed how much he hates his brother lately?
[8.35 am Jace] I know who Alec’s in love with.
[8.36 am Izzy] ??????????
[8.38 am Izzy] You can’t just say that!
[8.40 am Izzy] JACE WAYLAND YOU BEST TELL ME THIS INSTANT.
[8.41 am Jace] I could give you a clue…
[8.41 am Izzy] I’m not cooking for you for a week if you don’t tell me.
[8.41 am Jace] That’s not exactly a threat, Iz.
[8.42 am Izzy] You want a threat?
[8.42 am Jace] Okay, Okay.
[8.43 am Jace] We just ran into Professor Bane. Alec’s in his class.
[8.43 am Jace] and Alec forgot what words are.
[8.43 am Jace] and I just left them having coffee together.
[8.44 am Izzy] Alec?!
[8.45 am Izzy] Is this true?
[8.46 am Izzy] ……………….
Alec doesn’t reply, just exits out of the app and another notification instantly pops up.
[8.58 am Izzy] Alec, I can see you just read these!
How does he go about disowning his siblings?
“Alexander,” Jace butchers his impersonation of Magnus, then snorts with laughter. In Alec’s opinion, it’s not all that funny. Jace just points at Alec and directs his next words at Izzy. Thankfully, he’s using his normal voice this time. “You should’ve seen his face. He’s got such a hard-on for Professor Bane.”
Okay, Alec and the Universe really need to have words because what does it have against him? Seriously. What did he do to deserve this? Why does it keep teasing him? It gives him the illusion of something wonderful, like seeing Magnus in that coffee shop. Then it shatters it by having the worst possible person be there at the same time - Jace. The universe is on a crazy winning streak and Alec’s lost count of the score at this point. It’s probably the Universe one million and Alec’s still on nil.
“I do not,” Alec denies, and he’s annoyed by the petulant tone of his voice.
It’s not a lie. He hasn’t got a hard-on for Magnus. Well, not right now anyway. Though, there’s an 83% chance that if Jace says that again he might. When it comes to Magnus Bane, he’s in a perpetual state of turned on.
“You do too!” Isabelle chirps in and there’s a delighted smirk on her lips. “You religiously have to go to those office hours. It’s all adding up now... I should’ve put this together sooner.”
Now Izzy is turning on Alec too? Surely someone should have his back? He can’t believe he actually thought living with his siblings was a good idea. He really needs to reevaluate his life choices.
“I don’t… I don’t have to go.”
He does though. Alec can’t even think about not going. Except, now he is thinking about it. His stomach churns with dread, and for a moment he feels physically sick. He’s felt despondent all week because Magnus had to cancel for that funeral. To go another week without laying his eyes on Magnus Bane, without hearing his melodic voice, that doesn’t feel possible. Maybe it’s dramatic, but Alec’s pretty sure he won’t survive it.
From across the room, Izzy throws a pillow at Alec. It hits him square in the face and jolts him out of his daydream.
“Real convincing,” she says, voice heavy with sarcasm.
Alec launches the pillow back at her. She ducks, he misses, and she sticks her tongue out at him. Can he exchange siblings? Is there a category on craigslist for that?
“It’s true.” Alec tries to keep his voice level and at the same time fill it with conviction, but not too much, else it won’t be believable. He knows any hint of doubt and the two of them will latch on to it. Has he ever carefully constructed the speech of two words like this before? “I don’t have a thing for Magnus, and I don’t have to go to his stupid office hours.”
Please let the Universe not be listening, they’re already on tentative terms as it is. He curses his word choice. Stupid. That hour is anything but stupid. It’s his favourite part of the week and he has to go. He really has to go.
“Magnus?” Jace says.
Alec just used his first name, didn’t he? Just when he thinks this can’t get any worse, it does. He should have left the room as soon as this subject came up, but it’s too late now.
There’s a wicked gleam in Jace’s eye as he turns to Isabelle. “They’re on a first name basis now.”
“I smell a rumour brewing.” The gleam is mirrored on Izzy’s face and, dear God, this is terrifying. The two of them cannot conspire against him like this. Is this really the thanks he gets for mediating a truce between them after the never-to-be-mentioned-again washing machine incident? Next time he’ll just let them fight to the death about it. He can’t believe he helped them make up, just to have them both turn on him like this.
“No. Jesus, don’t. There’s… nothing. He tells all his students to call him Magnus.”
Does he though? Has Alec ever heard anyone else in class call Magnus that? No, he’s pretty sure everyone calls him Professor Bane. Still, that doesn’t mean Magnus didn’t tell them to call him by his first name. That must be what happened, and no one took him up on it. Alec only did because he was so infatuated with Magnus that he enjoyed that connection, enjoyed forgetting for a while that Magnus was his Professor.
Alec eyes his siblings. They won’t actually start a rumour that he has the hots for his professor. They wouldn’t. But this is blackmail material that they will hold over his head forever.
“You’ve got it all wrong.” Alec needs to get through to them. He cannot have them teasing him about this for the next... well, they don’t actually set time limits on teasing in this family. So, for eternity then.
“Fine… then don’t go.”
Alec’s eyes snap to Izzy’s. She didn’t? She’s not suggesting what he thinks she is.
“What?” Is that panic in his voice? It is, he knows it is, but he tries to downplay it.
“Don’t go to his office hours,” Izzy clarifies.
“I-” Alec flounders for an answer, his chest rapidly rising and falling.
“Knew it! He’s got it bad.” Jace sounds far too triumphant about the whole thing. Why are they both taking such pleasure in this?
Alec takes a deep breath and tries to decide what’s worse: missing an hour with Magnus, or his siblings teasing him for life. It’s a tough call to be honest, but eventually he settles on a decision.
“Fine. I won’t go.”
It physically hurts him to say that, though.
Alec sits in his secluded seat, concealed between shelves of books. This is his go-to studying spot. It’s a hidden gem he found in first year and, thankfully, it’s remained hidden, known only to him and a select few. It houses a section of dictionaries and encyclopedias and Alec had gotten turned about and ended up in the section by chance.
It’s the perfect spot. It’s quiet, as libraries should be but this one rarely is. It has one of the mythical plug sockets and he often hides books he needs in the stacks here because they’re so rarely checked on.
Maia sits across from him, ready to discuss their current text if he needs to.
It’s the perfect atmosphere to study, but Alec can’t focus. He reads the same line three times before giving into his thoughts.
Is this what standing up a date feels like?
He feels queasy at that thought, his stomach is tied in knots, and his fingers tap the tabletop nervously. Alec tries to concentrate on the page but the words just seem to swim in front of him and lose all meaning. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he takes a deep breath and tries to find some calm. The quiet should be helping, but it only seems to fuel his mind into wandering where he desperately doesn’t want it to go.
Magnus won’t notice, right? He won’t miss Alec’s presence. It’s not like he’s sitting there just waiting for Alec to show up, but Alec thinks back to their meeting yesterday morning, to the words Magnus left him with.
“I’ll see you tomorrow? You can ask me then?”
Alec agreed, which means Magnus is expecting him. Fuck. Maybe Magnus didn’t really mean it, he was probably just being polite and thinking of an excuse to leave. Perhaps Magnus is happy to get rid of Alec for a while. Maybe he’s glad he doesn’t have Alec taking up all his time, he can grade papers or write his lectures in peace.
“Well you’re just a ray of sunshine today,” Maia tells him. She motions down to his hand and the pencil he’s holding. It’s now in two pieces. “What did that ever do to you?”
“It’s nothing,” Alec says, and that’s not the answer to the question she asked.
Maia sits up straighter, narrowing her eyes in assessment, before asking, “What’s the matter?”
And, well, isn’t that a question. Alec shifts in his seat a little. He’s never discussed Magnus with Maia, hell, he’s never really discussed Magnus with anyone. Considering for a moment though, he thinks that out of everyone he knows, Maia’s the least likely to tease him about it.
Taking a chance, he says, “I’ve got a crush on my history professor.”
“That’s not exactly news, Alec.”
What? Maia just smiles sympathetically at him, but there’s no surprise in her expression. She knew? Fuck, who else knows? Oh, God. Does Magnus know? He does, doesn’t he? Alec must have been really obvious about the whole thing. Magnus probably has a good laugh about the student who’s infatuated with him. Or maybe he hates it. Maybe he’s only dealing with Alec because it’s his job. Wait, of course he’s only dealing with Alec because it’s his job.
“What are you doing here anyway? Aren’t you usually at the office hours for that course now?” Maia asks, unaware of Alec’s inner turmoil.
For fuck’s sake, does everyone know Alec’s schedule? And yes, yes he usually is. Not that he’s painfully aware of the fact the Magnus is there, has been for eleven minutes now, and Alec’s not. He’s not agonising over that or anything.
“I can’t go.”
“I have to convince Izzy and Jace that I haven’t got a thing for Magnus.”
Maia’s eyebrow raises and Alec’s unsure as to whether it’s because he just used Magnus’ first name (he really needs to stop doing that around people other than Magnus), or because she apparently has been aware of how much of a thing he’s got for Magnus. Or perhaps it’s both.
“I’m not sure why you think you have to do that, Alec. But look around.”
Alec does, not sure what she’s getting at.
With a conspirative twinkle in her eye she leans forward and in a low voice says, “Neither of them are here. How will they know if you did or didn’t go?”
Oh. Oh. That’s a fantastic idea. Though, Alec doesn’t know if he can keep this from them. He can lie, he’s a perfectly capable liar, but Izzy has a sixth sense for these things.
Maia lifts her phone and he hears the telltale snap of the camera. She taps a few times, puts down her phone, and his lights up on the table in front of him.
“There. Now you even have proof.”
Alec considers it. He can sit here and be miserable or he can just go and finally ask those questions about that thesis.
“Plus, I promise to be your alibi.”
Okay, Alec doesn’t know what he did to deserve a friend like Maia, but at this moment he’s never been more thankful for her.
Alec pushes back from the table and hurriedly stuffs his things into his bag.
“I’m gonna…” he trails off, moving away from the table.
Maia just chuckles. He’s sure he hears a “boy, he’s got it bad” as he walks away, but he chooses to ignore it.
“Alexander,” Magnus says in surprise as Alec rushes into his office.
Alec’s breath heaves, he maybe sprinted from the library to get here. He’d deny it, but he’s pretty sure a multitude of people saw. Then his breath just kind of catches because fuck, that smile, the one that almost splits Magnus’ face in two is fully directed at him. Was he really going to miss this? How could he even consider that?
“I thought I wouldn’t see you today,” Magnus continues and Alec’s sure he hears insecurity in Magnus’ voice, sure it trembles just slightly on the words and that the inflection is all wrong. That can’t be right though, Alec’s just feeling lightheaded from that run and reading into things that aren’t there. He’s projecting his own feelings onto Magnus.
As he catches his breath he says, “Sorry, I got caught up at the library.”
That’s not entirely a lie.
“Take a seat,” Manus gestures. “These office hours aren’t mandatory, Alec. I’ve said that before, right?”
“Yeah,” Alec mumbles as he pulls the door closed behind him before walking over to the empty chair.
It feels like an eternity since he was last here in this room. Has it really only been two weeks? It must be longer.
Magnus stands and Alec’s eyes trail up over the black fabric of his silk shirt, to the long line of his throat, and finally to that gorgeous face. Alec’s reminded of how tall Magnus is. At his full height, they only differ by a few inches and Alec loves that. It means when they stand next to each other, as they had in that coffee shop, their eyes, their mouths line up. It makes Alec realise how easy it would be to just lean forward and press their lips together. Unfortunately, that’s an experience that Alec is cursed to only ever dream about.
The scrape of a chair being dragged across the floor brings Alec back to himself and he watches as Magnus moves to sit next to him. Alec shouldn’t enjoy this so much, but he just can’t help himself. Magnus sitting next to him is purely to help point things out and ease their discussion, but Alec enjoys being so close that the heat of Magnus’ body radiates across the short distance between them.
Magnus’ knee bumps against Alec’s as he sits, it’s an accidental touch, but Alec savours it and knows he’ll think about that long after he’s left.
Leaning forward, Magnus reaches for a document on his desk and his shirt strains around muscles that tighten from exertion and Alec’s throat goes dry. Alec could help, he should help, he’s closer to the desk after all, but he’s frozen in place and honestly, he hopes that movement never ends.
Alec’s noticed a lot about Magnus, but he’s not sure he’s ever fully appreciated those very defined biceps. He’s appreciating them now. Oh, boy, is he appreciating them. Fuck, but all he can think about is the strength that comes with muscles like those and just like that Alec’s brain produces a new fantasy for this office - he didn’t even realise new ones could exist.
His mind produces an image of himself pinned against the bookcase, of Magnus lifting him, pressing their bodies close, so fucking close together. Alec audibly gulps and strategically places an arm across his groin.
It would probably be uncomfortable, right? Those shelves would no doubt dig into his back, but Alec is more than willing to find out just how uncomfortable it would be. For science, of course.
“Good week?” Magnus asks, and Alec has to really think about those words before he can even process them. “Well since I saw you yesterday,” Magnus adds with a chuckle which really isn’t helping Alec right now.
Does Magnus have any idea how that sound just melts him? How his whole body just sort of sighs when he hears it? How can Alec be expected to even think about forming a response?
“It’s been great,” is what Alec finally says. Well, if he forgets that fact that he’s been endlessly teased by his siblings, that they then convinced him he needed to prove how not into Magnus he was, and that for twelve whole minutes he’d tried. But none of that seems to matter now that he’s sitting here. There’s something about Magnus that just draws Alec in. How can he ever stay away?
Then a terrible thought strikes him.
What happens when this course is over?
Fuck. What week are they even on? Through his panic, Alec mentally calculates how many weeks have gone by. There was the week Magnus got those red highlights (he’s still not over that colour; he gets half-hard every time he sees something in that exact shade). Then there were those trousers, the glasses, the coffee, the first time he came here, that goddamn apple… Alec gets so caught up in the memories that he forgets to count.
Twelve. He eventually settles on. It’s been twelve weeks and, fuck, that means there are only two more weeks and then finals. He doesn’t really give a shit that he only just realised finals are right around the corner. He’s more concerned with the fact that in two weeks time this course will be finished.
And then what?
Oh, God. Alec will never see Magnus again.
It’s a good job Alec’s sitting because that thought alone is enough to bring him to his knees.
Alec’s intelligent and not in the way that mother’s often overexaggerate. He’s bright and he picks things up quickly. So how, he wonders, did he manage to miss this? It’s as if, around Magnus, all of his brain cells just stop working. Wait… is Magnus Alec’s kryptonite?
That thought leads Alec down the trail of which type of kryptonite. He’s just settling on red because of that personality alteration (Although, it can’t really be red because then he’d be immune to Magnus after that first meeting), when Magnus speaks.
“I marked your quiz from last week.”
Oh, so that’s what the paper that Magnus was reaching for was. Alec might have been just slightly distracted at the time. He looks down, and okay, there’s hardly any red pen which is fantastic.
“It was fantastic,” Magnus tells him.
Magnus agrees? Alec tries to tell himself it’s just a coincidence they made the same word choice, it is not a clear signal of their compatibility.
It takes five whole minutes to talk through the paper, just five. It had taken about fifty with that first one. It just shows what Alec can do without a tall, dark (with pink streaks), and handsome distraction. Pride spreads through him with each section Magnus points to and praises Alec for.
“I guess my work here is done.” Magnus smiles, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.
Done? They can’t be done. There are two weeks left, two weeks for Alec to prepare himself for life without Magnus. Why in the hell did he think acing that test was a good idea?
“Your thesis,” Alec blurts, then wants to slam his head on the desk. Repeatedly. Could he for once, please, just have some modicum of smoothness around Magnus Bane. Would that really be too much to ask?
“I mean-” Alec continues and reaches for his bag, then stalls. Maybe showing Magnus the post-it note strewn thesis isn’t his best idea. Smooth, he reminds himself. “I wanted to talk to you about it. I had… um, some questions.”
Magnus sounds surprised, but didn’t Alec explain that he wanted to talk about this yesterday? Oh fuck, did he not make that clear? He’s certain he did.
“Yeah. I mean, the way you made comparisons between persecution through different eras even including present day, and how really there isn’t that much difference. Like, sure the subject, the people are different and based on the beliefs of the time, but, you mentioned - which I loved - that we’re essentially just presented with information, albeit in a different format these days. No heralds making announcements, right? Although, is there a paper called The Herald. But like, what I mean is that society has always been, like, fed what to believe and I just… I don’t think I’d put that together before in my mind, but you brought it all together so well and-”
“Alec, breathe,” Magnus interrupts, shaking his head at Alec, a fond smile on his lips.
And Alec does. Then he clamps his mouth shut. Fuckfuckfuck. This wasn’t supposed to happen like this. He’d colour coded the text for God’s sake, for this exact reason. It’s just, the thoughts and the questions and the sheer excitement to discuss this with Magnus have been bottled up inside of him for over a week. Still, he’s not entirely sure where that word vomit just came from. It’s not like him. Though, everything he does around Magnus doesn’t feel like him.
“Give me one thing,” Magnus says. “You can choose just one thing from the whole text to talk about. What is it?”
Well, wow, that’s an amazing question. That’s a downright mean question and Alec thinks it might be damn near impossible. He looks away from Magnus, he needs to focus after all, and he tries to sort through his thoughts and ideas.
“I think… I found it interesting, the way you suggest that things we now take to be fact were probably once seen to have occult properties. Like... gravity for example.”
Magnus’ hand is resting on his chin, and he’s looking at Alec, and he just doesn’t say anything. Alec wants to squirm in his seat. He fucked this up again, didn’t he? Why does he always manage to say the wrong thing? He should have never brought the goddamn thesis up.
“That’s one of my favourite things,” Magnus eventually says, and his voice is soft and quiet and Alec thinks he hasn’t heard him right. “Persecution is often seen most in the areas where a society lacks understanding. It’s often a fundamental part of humanity, to fear what we don’t understand. It’s how that fear is dealt with though, some lash out, some attack… as a form of self-defence. The occult is sometimes described as the study of a deeper spiritual reality… one that extends beyond pure reason. You can see how those two things might begin to overlap.
“Throughout history we see persecution, it’s only who is persecuted or the reason beyond it that changes. In the case we’re discussing here we’ll stay within this realm of the occult. Something we take for fact today, be it because science has proved it so or some other reason… you and I could have been ostracised or prosecuted for centuries ago. Merely for seeing something the rest of the world is yet to understand.”
Alec gets lost in Magnus’ voice as he speaks, in the rhythm of it. Alec absorbs each word, formulates questions to ask and somehow they devolve into a discussion.
Magnus talks with his hands, the metal of his rings glinting with each movement, and the more passionate about something he becomes, the faster the movements, the more intricately they dance through the air.
Alec loses all sense of time. That is, until a beeping comes from Magnus’ pocket.
“Sorry,” Magnus says and he pulls his phone from his trousers. “Ah, I guess our time’s up.”
Alec looks at Magnus quizzically, then he realises Magnus is telling him he should leave.
“You have another lecture, right?” Magnus asks, but doesn’t wait for an answer. “I didn’t want our conversation to have you missing another one. Like last time.” He gestures at his phone. “So, I set an alarm.”
Alec’s lost for words. Genuinely lost for words. He tells himself not to read into it, he really does, but when Magnus keeps doing thoughtful things like this it becomes increasingly difficult to do so. Magnus is just a decent human being, Alec reminds himself, that’s all.
“Thanks,” Alec says. Though he’s pretty far from thankful. He can blow off a lecture, he can blow off all of his lectures just to talk to Magnus.
They both stand and now Magnus is blocking Alec’s path to the door. Alec shifts his bag on his shoulder and moves to the left just as Magnus moves in the same direction. Magnus moves back to the other side and Alec does too. They dance back and forth until Alec clasps a hand to Magnus’ arm to steady them both. Alec would laugh, but, when Magnus’ eyes drift to where the hand is resting, it gets caught in his throat. Hastily he draws his hand back, though his palm feels like it’s on fire. Just like his cheeks.
“I can… I can send you some books to read,” Magnus says and he stumbles over the words. “If you’re still interested.”
Something just changed. Alec doesn’t know what or why, but there’s something different between them. The air feels charged with potential, Alec’s skin prickles with it, and that doesn’t make any sense.
“Yeah,” he says.
“I’ll email you.”
“Sure, that would be great.”
They still don’t move. They’re both just standing there looking at each other.
Then Magnus blinks, clears his throat and steps to the side.
It isn’t until Alec’s sitting in his next lecture that he realises that the tension, the thing that had changed, well it felt exactly like in that coffee shop yesterday morning. He has no idea what that means.
From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday 22.11.2017 11:27 AM
Here’s that list of books I promised you, and Happy Thanksgiving.
From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday 23.11.2017 6:17 AM
Happy Thanksgiving. Witchery was fantastic. I know you told me historical non-fiction could be witty and interesting, but I’m not sure I really believed you.
From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday 23.11.2017 8:34 AM
You read it already!? Did you even sleep? I’m sure I should say something about studying for finals, though... I guess it is a holiday.
Don’t apologise, I didn’t believe it myself until Witchery.
From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday 24.11.2017 12:12 PM
I slept. Probably not the recommended amount, but sleep happened... at some point. Studying… yes, I’m definitely doing that. Not reading, not at all.
Alec thought he was being cute when he wrote that last message, but Magnus still hasn’t replied and it’s been days. Three to be exact. Alec should have enjoyed his long weekend. Instead, he’s agonised over their emails. He’s re-read the last one over and over. Was it overly familiar? It must have been. But Magnus’ last email had seemed friendly and casual, and Alec had just run with it, replying without really considering.
Alec pushes away his plate, the burger only half-eaten. He loves the food they serve here. It ranks in his top ten places to eat. But he just doesn’t seem to have any appetite tonight, which is definitely a first.
This is Alec’s usual Monday evening. The same as always, just him and Jace, beer and a burger. Jace says it’s so they can have some ‘guy time’, but Alec knows that's a flimsy excuse. Jace only insists to come here because it’s Maia’s night to tend bar.
“What are you moping about?” Jace asks as he sits down, and pushes a beer at Alec.
“I’m not moping.” He isn’t, but Alec can tell Jace isn’t convinced.
“Don’t worry. A few more beers and I won’t be able to shut you up about whatever it is.”
Alec begrudges that statement, for the fact that Jace thinks there’ll be more beers, but also that he thinks Alec can’t hold his beer.
“You said one,” Alec complains.
Before they can get into an argument, Alec’s phone dings. That’s the notification for emails. He doesn’t hesitate just unlocks his phone and clicks on the notification.
From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday 27.11.2017 7:35 PM
Okay, I’m not giving you any more book recommendations until after finals. I’m supposed to be helping your grades improve, not hindering them!
It makes Alec smile, and he knows it’s goofy and wide but he just can’t hold it back. Alec starts his reply. 'Now, that’s just mean.' But then he’s not sure what to put next. He’s probably overthinking, the same way he has been for the past three days.
“Alec. Alec!” Jace’s voice cuts through Alec’s thoughts.
“Sorry. What?” Alec asks, looking up.
Jace just shakes his head, “Who’re you messaging?”
“No one.” Alec realises his mistake as soon as the words leave his lips. That’s the wrong answer. Why couldn’t he have just said Maia or something?
Jace reaches out and swipes the phone from Alec’s hand.
Jace holds it out of reach, and Alec feels eleven again.
“Jace. Give it back.”
Jace twists to look at the phone and begins to read.
“Now you’re emailing Magnus?”
Alec makes another attempt for the phone but Jace just pushes him back in his seat.
“It’s nothing,” Alec says, and he knows to Magnus it’s nothing, but to him, it’s becoming everything. “He’s my professor. It’s just about the course.”
Jace’s eyes narrow and he glances at the email again. “Why is he giving you book recommendations then?”
Alec panics and says the first thing that comes to mind, “They’re for the course.”
“Alec, you’re taking Greek mythology, and this is something to do with the... occult?”
Oh shit, Jace must have scrolled down the email trail. Alec’s annoyance is growing. Why does everyone know his course schedule? Can’t he have a little privacy?
Jace looks down again. Then hands the phone back and says, “Okay. I just did you a favour.”
“What?” Alec feels sick as he unlocks his phone.
From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday 27.11.2018 7:45 PM
Now that’s just mean. What if I asked nicely? ;)
“Jace!” Alec hisses out, then bangs his head down on the table. It’s not that bad, right? Alec supposes of all the things Jace could’ve typed, that’s probably the best possible outcome. But still, he’s allowed to be annoyed about it.
Alec groans as the sun streams through the curtains. The daylight hits his eyes, causing him to scrunch them shut. God, his head aches. What day is it? Monday? Tuesday?
Tuesday, it’s Tuesday.
He must’ve slept through his alarm, probably through Izzy pounding on his door, and - as he glances at his phone - several phone calls from Jace. Jace, who Alec is absolutely never talking to again. At least, he thinks he said that to Jace last night.
Alec can’t remember what time he went to bed, can’t even remember what time he and Jace stumbled home. It’s all sort of hazy and when he tries to piece the night together his head hurts and his stomach churns worryingly.
The groan deepens when he reads the clock. 11:36 AM.
Fuck. He’s missed Magnus’ lecture.
What made him think drinking on a Monday night was a good idea? In his defence, he really had only intended on having one beer. But then Jace sent that fucking email, and Alec had wanted to forget about that for a while. Still, not his best idea.
Shit. Alec throws back the covers. Magnus’ office hours start at 1 PM. There are only two weeks left, he can’t miss even one second of them. He needs to make every minute of their time together count. Needs to imprint it in his memory, so he can look back at it forever.
Alec pushes himself up from the bed, and wow, okay, as his stomach lurches he realises he shouldn’t move quickly. He traipses gingerly into the bathroom, splashes cold water on his face and feels infinitely more human. Still, his stomach roils. Food? He wonders. But the thought of eating just makes the nauseated feeling worse. No food, definitely no food.
He brushes his teeth, the menthol taste only adding to his queasiness. He really should lie down. Every part of him is screaming to just crawl back under the covers and hibernate for the rest of the day, maybe text Izzy to bring him some sprite and plain chips. That always settles his stomach.
Instead, when Alec walks back into his bedroom, he grabs his jeans and a t-shirt and dresses. This is a fucking stupid idea, but apparently, he loses all coherent thought around Magnus, and well, that isn’t really a new revelation, is it?
Alec’s not sure how he makes it to Magnus’ office and honestly, he’s probably an absolute mess. He didn’t even check his hair, no doubt it’s sticking up at odd angles. He’s bleary-eyed and walking in a straight line is still a bit of a problem.
He jars his hip on the door and fuck, that hurt. He’s just rubbing the spot when Magnus speaks.
“Alexander, what a surprise? Playing hooky this morning then I take it?”
No, he was in bed, where he would dearly like to be right now.
Magnus smiles at him as he walks in, the same way he always does, but that smile quickly morphs into a frown and Alec thinks perhaps concern.
“Are you okay?” Magnus asks, standing and crossing to take Alec’s arm. He’d really like to savour that contact and on any other occasion he would, but the room is starting to spin and Alec really needs to sit down.
“Not really, but it’s self-inflicted. So... I guess it’s deserved?” Alec says, thankful when Magnus leads him over to a chair.
Magnus says, “There’s nothing quite like being able to legally drink, is there?”
Alec stares at him, unable to really understand what he means. He’s been able to legally drink for years.
“I’m not judging, I remember my college days, 21 and 22 are still mostly a blur. 19 and 20 too if I’m being honest. Although, as a member of the faculty I’m probably required to say something about responsible drinking.” He winks and smiles.
Alec is still confused and his mouth moves before he realises the words, “The novelty wore off years ago. I’m 24.”
“What?” Magnus says. “I thought you were a Senior.”
Alec is a senior. This whole conversation is hurting Alec’s head. More than the pounding that has taken up residence.
“I am. But I took 2 years out to…” Alec would rather not discuss the tensions with his parents, so he just leaves that sentence hanging.
Alec can’t work out what the look on Magnus’ face means and he knows he stares longer than is acceptable, but it’s not like Magnus is looking away either.
Magnus digs into a drawer. He slides Advil across the desk and a bottle of water.
“I don’t usually drink. I forget how bad it is.” And Alec lays his head on the desk in protest. He must be ill because it’s the first time he’s been in a room with Magnus and not been turned on. At least now he knows it’s possible.
Magnus crosses the room and twists the blinds and Alec feels instant relief. He hadn’t even really been aware he was squinting until was able to fully open his eyes.
“Alexander,” Magnus’ tone is soft, gentle even, and Alec just wants to get lost in it for a while. “I think you need to go home.”
Alec agrees, but he also really wants to be here. With Magnus. It seems much better than the bus home.
Alec groans as he lifts himself off Magnus’ desk. His head spins a little, it’s not a nice feeling at all, and he digs around in his jacket for his phone.
“Can I make a call?” Alec asks.
Alec dials Izzy and waits, and waits, and gets her voice mail. Shit. It looks like it’s the bus after all.
“No luck?” Magnus enquires when Alec ends the call.
“No,” Alec says. He pushes himself up to stand, and shit, that just makes the dizziness worse. He sits heavily back in the chair.
“Where do you live?” Magnus asks.
There’s a pause, but Alec’s concentrating on not throwing up in Magnus’ office, so he doesn’t think too much about it.
“If you want to stick around for an hour or so, I can drive you home.” Magnus offers and Alec can’t have heard that right. “Grab a coffee.” Alec groans. “Or don’t. I don’t have any more lectures, but I’ve got this report I need to send, then we can go?”
We. If Alec didn’t feel like death warmed up right now he’d be swooning all over that use of ‘we’, but he just can’t enjoy it, it hurts too much when he tries.
“You don’t have to,” Alec says and goes to stand again. Nope, standing is the worst possible option, and he falls back into the chair.
“It’s fine. It’s on my way. Plus, I’m not sure you’ll survive another bus journey.”
Oh God, Alec cannot take another bus, with those jerky movements and all the stopping and starting. It makes his head spin just from the thought. And Magnus, wonderful, glorious Magnus is offering him a lift. He’d be a fool to turn that down.
“Okay,” Alec relents. “Can I just… lie on the floor here?”
Magnus chuckles, much to Alec’s relief. “Sure.”
Alec definitely should’ve stayed in bed, all he’s managed is to make a fool out of himself.
Alec’s early when he walks into Magnus’ office. Eight minutes early, but the door is wide open in a welcome greeting, the same way it has been every week that Alec’s been coming to Magnus’ office hours. Excitement thrums through him. It’s mixed with a little apprehension after the fuck up that was last week, and also, a little reluctance at the thought that this is the last time he’ll do this. Alec’s not ready to say goodbye to this time with Magnus.
He leans his shoulder against the door frame and for a few minutes, he quietly observes Magnus. Magnus is wearing those glasses again, the ones that make desire pool insistently in Alec’s gut. Alec’s mouth waters as he notices that Magnus’ hair is the same red colour to match.
The fingers of one hand move furiously over the touch screen of his phone, while the other twirls a pen in the air. Magnus mutters under his breath, too softly for Alec to make out the words. He presses the end of the pen against his lips, and Alec struggles to keep breathing.
Then Magnus looks up from his phone. His eyes subtly widen in surprise as he notices Alec before his lips spread into a smile, and Alec forgets about breathing altogether. Who needs oxygen when Magnus Bane exists? He’s never going to get used to the beauty of this man. Then it hits him - he’s not going to get the chance. After today, he’ll have no excuse to spend time with Magnus. The thought has his heart beating faster in panic.
Alec can’t consider that right now. He just wants to enjoy this last session.
“Take a seat, Alexander,” Magnus says.
Why does that tone feel more formal than normal?
Gingerly, Alec steps into the office and Magnus’ gaze follows him as he walks across the room and settles in a seat. They’re on opposite side of the desk again, and Alec can’t put his finger on it, but something feels off.
“Give me a minute,” Magnus adds, turning his attention back to his phone.
Alec feels thoroughly dismissed. Perhaps this is what happens after turning up hungover (potentially still drunk) to his professor’s office. Alec’s memory of the drive last week isn’t exactly clear. He’d been so focused on not throwing up in Magnus’ car that he hadn’t processed anything until he was at home. At which point, he’d felt beyond mortified.
He thought they’d left things on good terms though. Magnus had seemed okay when he’d left, right? So this… this uninterested side to Magnus is wholly unexpected.
“For fuc-” Magnus cuts himself off and throws his phone down on the desk in disgust.
The outburst pulls Alec’s focus back. He’s sure Magnus was half-way to swearing just then.
“Sorry,” Magnus apologises.
Magnus is ruffled, in a way that Alec hasn’t seen before. Taking one long deep breath, he pulls the glasses from his face and pinches the bridge of his nose.
“Yeah,” Magnus says, but from the expression on his face, Alec would say it’s definitely not okay. “Last minute bidders,” he adds with a frustrated shake of his head.
“Oh, on what?” Alec shouldn’t ask; it’s clear Magnus is agitated over it. But when it comes to Magnus, Alec can’t help himself.
Magnus considers for a moment. “Just a book. A stupid, out of print book, that sold for three times its value.” Magnus talks wildly with his hands, reminding Alec of that session where Magnus’ computer wouldn’t work (or well, the user couldn’t make it work). Alec can’t pull his eyes from the rings adorning Magnus’ fingers. With each intricate twist and gesture, they reflect rays of light around the room.
“What book?” Alec asks, too transfixed on Magnus’ movements to consider his words.
“It’s called Lullabies and Night Songs.”
Alec’s not sure what he was expecting, but that isn’t it. From the way anger simmers in Magnus from being outbid, Alec thought it must be over a book to do with a course, research, or the manuscript he’s writing.
Alec enquires, “Is that… a children’s book?”
“Yeah,” Magnus says with a drawn-out sigh. Then he sits straighter, puts his glasses down on the desk and Alec watches as the tension eases from his body. He looks directly at Alec and smiles. And really, that’s not fair. How is Alec supposed to not get lost in those gorgeous eyes?
“Okay, sorry, back with you,” Magnus adds. “So… finals.”
Alec groans. “Can we just pretend they’re not happening?”
“‘fraid not,” Magnus chuckles.
Alec doesn’t even have words for a response to that, just an ‘ugh’ and he drops his head down against the desk. He keeps telling himself he’s prepared for finals. He keeps convincing himself there’s still time to complete his study plan, but next week is looming and time is quickly running out.
“Hey, come on,” Magnus says, humour in his voice. Fingers ruffle Alec’s hair, and Alec has to hold back a very different kind of groan. “Don’t get too stressed over it, Alexander.” Stress isn’t exactly what he’s feeling right now. “Are there any areas you want to go over today? Any sections you feel less comfortable with?”
How is Magnus this fantastic? How does he always know the perfect thing to say at precisely the right moment? How’s Alec going to survive without him?
Alec lifts his head off the desk, looking up at Magnus through the strands of hair that fall over his eyes. Magnus’ head is tilted to the side, a playful look on his face that Alec hasn’t had the privilege of seeing before.
“All of it?” Alec leans back in his chair in defeat. He’s being melodramatic, but he doesn’t care.
“Alexander,” Magnus says, and Alec really love the way Magnus says his full name. It’s almost as if he breathes the word. “You’re going to do brilliantly.”
Magnus speaks with such conviction that Alec’s inclined to believe him.
“You have to say that, though,” Alec adds after a minute. Magnus is his professor after all. As if Alec could ever forget that fact.
“I really don’t, and I wouldn’t if I didn’t mean it.”
The praise has Alec’s ego preening. He’s got no clue why Magnus saying nice things to him, about him, causes him to react like that.
“You know the course material inside out… Perhaps spend a little time on the LGBT+ themes section.”
“Is that a hint that it’s going to be on the exam?” Alec queries, wondering if he can get a little insider information from Magnus.
Magnus mimes zipping his lips, drawing Alec’s attention to them, not that he needs all that much encouragement.
“I can neither confirm nor deny,” Magnus tells him, but the wink at the end of that sentence is a confirmation if Alec ever saw one.
“Tease,” Alec fires back before he can stop himself, too wrapped up in the banter between them. He flushes furiously when he realises how that could be taken. Magnus’ lips curve up into a smirk, and Alec sucks in a deep breath.
Would Magnus tease? Alec wonders. Would he keep Alec on edge until he begged for more?
Neither of them speaks for a few moments, and Alec feels confused about the sudden tension, can’t understand why his blush is spreading to the tips of his ears.
Magnus plays with the cuff at his ear then breaks the silence and the moment when he asks, “Plans for the holidays?”
That’s as efficient at killing Alec’s desire as a cold bucket of water. “Just going home,” and Alec knows he comes off less than enthused about that.
“Still New York, the um… Upper East Side.”
Alec watches the surprise flicker across Magnus’ face, and he sincerely hopes that Magnus won’t hold it against him. He doesn’t mention it all that often, wanting to be judged on his merit, rather than his family’s supposed wealth. The brownstone has been in their family for generations, passed down on his father’s side. His grandparents died long before Alec was old enough to remember them, and as his father was an only child, he’d inherited the property.
“Not far then,” Magnus says.
“No.” Sometimes he wishes it was further. If he’d chosen a school across the country he wouldn’t be expected to drop by for meals or conversations with his parents so often. The one saving grace is that everyone will be home for the holidays. Safety in numbers, Alec hopes. “It’s rare to have everyone in the house at the same time though.”
“You have one brother and sister, right?”
“Two brothers.” Magnus is just making friendly conversation, but if Alec allowed himself he might dream that Magnus wants to know everything about Alexander’s life, just as Alec does in regards to Magnus’.
“Oh?” Magnus says, and there’s a clear question.
“Yeah, Max is ten. He still believes in Santa, and we keep wondering if this will be the last fun year with him.” Alec feels a little sad thinking about that. Creating the magic of Christmas for Max makes going home for the holidays bearable. “You got plans?”
Magnus doesn’t answer straight away, and when he does his words aren’t as sure as usual. “I’m… I’m spending Christmas with my friend Cat… Catarina. The one I mentioned. That I’m working on my… my book with.”
“Just the two of you?” Alec’s doesn’t want to be jealous. They aren’t anything to each other but a crush that Alec’s worried has developed into unrequited feelings. But that’s not on Magnus. That’s Alec’s issue entirely. Though, when Alec casts his mind back he’s sure he remembers Magnus mentioning that Cat had a partner.
“There’ll be her partner and their daughter too.”
Yep, Alec was right. He’s pretty good with details, but he has exceptional recall on details that revolve around Magnus. Magnus, who doesn’t seem happy about the prospect of spending Christmas with his friend, in fact, it seems like he’s not entirely focused on the conversation.
“That sounds… um, nice.” Alec struggles to find his way back to safer conversation. “Do you always spend Christmas together?”
Magnus looks a little sad at Alec’s words and Alec immediately wants to take them back. He’s stumbled into something that causes Magnus pain and he’d give anything to take that haunted look out of his eyes.
“First year,” Magnus explains. “They’re taking pity on me.”
A knock on the door stops Alec from saying anything further that might upset Magnus, and Alec doesn’t know whether that’s a curse or a blessing. He watches as Magnus schools his face back into a welcoming smile, as he resurrects walls that Alec didn’t even realise Magnus had, let alone that he’d dropped them around Alec.
“Come in,” Magnus calls, and his voice is friendly again. Alec tries to search for any lingering sadness, but he can’t find it.
The door swings open and Eloise peeks around it.
“Hi, Professor.” Alec doesn’t like the way she says that, possessive and with promise. Her eyes hold the same look as they roam Magnus’ body when he pushes his chair back and stands.
Alec shifts uncomfortably in his chair, and her eyes flicker to him. “Oh. Hi, Alec.”
Perfect. He thinks. All those weeks that he’s been coming here and it’s only ever been him, and then today, at this last session, of fucking course Eloise has to show up. He hates her. No, hate’s too strong of an emotion for someone he doesn’t give a fuck about. He’s indifferent to her. Alec would scoff at that thought if it wouldn’t draw further attention. He can’t even lie to himself, he’s the furthest thing from indifferent where Eloise is concerned.
She looks away from him, a clear indication that Alec’s not worth her time. Is it really his fault that he turned down her advances one drunken night in first year? She was more interested in his family name and parents’ bank account than the fact that Alec was gay. Thinking about it now, he’s sure she’d have overlooked his gayness if it meant she could make a good match. It’s been a sore point between the two of them ever since. Alec’s dislike of her though is more to do with her reaction to him after his rebuttal. She went from friendly to downright cruel, spreading nasty rumours about him.
“Hello, Eloise,” Magnus says and his voice is suddenly cool. The way he sees through her flirtation only reinforces the fact that Magnus is clearly the perfect guy for Alec. “Is there something I can help you with?”
She takes a step further into the room, then another, and Alec will not let this ruin all his fantasies that revolve around him and Magnus here. The cool wood pressing against Alec’s torso as Magnus bends him over the desk, the subtle ache in Alec's knees while Magnus sits in that chair and Alec uses his mouth to drive him crazy, the rough plaster of the wall digging into Alec’s back as Magnus pushes him up against it, or the burn the carpet leaves as they roll, sweaty and breathless over the floor. She will not take this from him. His overactive imagination and a serious case of sexual frustration are all he has.
She digs into her bag and pulls out a file. “There were a few sections I was wondering if you could help me with?”
Alec grudgingly picks up his own bag. He’s about to lose forty minutes of Magnus’ time, and he’s not even going to get to say thank you to Magnus for all of his help the past few weeks. Although, if Magnus hadn’t died his hair, or worn those trousers, or had those glasses on, he probably wouldn’t have needed the help to begin with. So, yes, a thank you is definitely in order.
“I’ll…” Alec says as he stands and motions towards the door with obvious reluctance.
“Oh, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Eloise claims, placing a hand on Magnus’ upper arm.
She clearly did, and now she’s rubbing Alec’s nose in it. Then it hits him. Fuck. Like everyone else in his life, she must know about his crush, and this is just another way for her to get back at him. Yeah, Alec really needs to leave before he loses his cool.
“It’s okay,” Alec says. He’ll be the bigger person.
He almost can’t look at Magnus as he leaves, but he forces himself to.
“Thanks,” he says, and the word doesn’t do justice to the level of gratitude he has.
“You’re very welcome, Alexander,” Magnus replies.
He should be moving, he should be leaving, but this is it. This is the end and he wants one more moment.
And that’s it, that’s his final moment over. He’s turning and walking through the door.
“Alexander,” Magnus says and Alec looks back over his shoulder. The expression on Magnus’ face suggests he’s warring with whatever he wants to say, and when he settles on 'Good luck' Alec’s sure he meant something entirely different.
“Thanks,” Alec replies, and he swings the door shut behind him.
From : email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday 05.12.2017 6:37 PM
Sorry for the interruption earlier. I didn’t get a chance to wish you luck properly. So, good luck, Alexander. Though, I know you won’t need it.
Alec’s lost count of the number of times he’s read that email in the last four days. It’s well into the double digits. He wouldn’t be surprised if it’s heading into triple, and he’s completely fine with that. He’s using it as inspiration when he’s frustrated with a practice question, as an incentive when he wants to throw in the towel, as encouragement when he thinks he’s never going to understand something. It probably doesn’t mean anything to Magnus. It’s nothing more than a nice gesture, but these are the things that keep this crush of Alec’s going strong, that deepen the feelings that he knows he shouldn’t allow himself to feel.
Alec reads the email once more. He’s been trying to get his head around the timeline of the Hellenic World all day, and he’s considering giving up on it completely to spend his time on something he might actually remember. He’s not usually the last minute cramming type. He likes everything organised, likes to spend the last few days feeling quietly confident in his knowledge. But somehow, this term, he’s not feeling as secure in his abilities as usual. He knows he’s as prepared as any other year, probably more so. Maybe it’s the weight that these exams carry. Maybe he’s realising that it’s getting close to being over. He really wants to graduate this year. He’ll never hear the end of it from his parents if he doesn’t, and more, he wants to do this for himself.
From : email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday 09.12.2017 4:55 PM
I’ve decided I hate the Hellenic World timeline. If I just put ‘some stuff happened’ does that earn me credit?
“You still at it?” Jace says in disgust, from the doorway.
Alec doesn’t answer or turn to look at him, just nods. He knows Jace is rolling his eyes at him and huffing out a breath in exasperation. This is where they’ve always locked horns. Jace believes in getting out there, in learning through experience and he’s never been interested in academics, but Alec’s always loved to learn.
“Can’t we go do something?” Jace whines.
“I’m busy.” Alec highlights a section of text with green marker.
“You’ve been busy for the past week.”
“And I’ll be busy for the next week.” Fuck, he just highlighted that section in the wrong colour. Green’s for births and red’s for battles and the 2nd Peloponnesian War should have been red. Although, depending on how you look at it, the war did give birth to a fiercer rivalry between Spartans and Athenians.
Quickly losing all patience, Alec throws down the pen and turns in his chair. “What do I need to do for you to leave me alone?”
Jace folds his arms in a defensive gesture, and though he’s trying to hide the fact that he’s offended by Alec’s tone, Alec can tell anyway.
Alec sighs and glances down at his watch. He forgot to factor Jace into his study time. He mentally moves some time around, an earlier morning here, a later night there. “I can give you two… hmm, maybe three hours?”
Jace’s face breaks out into a smirk and Alec suddenly realises that he just got played.
Alec has to admit that the break is a good thing. He gets a little too into studying sometimes and ends up burning himself out. No doubt Izzy corralled Jace into convincing him to take a break. It’s just the sort of thing she’d do.
They eat at a new restaurant Jace wants to try out which is Jace’s standard routine.
“What?” Jace defends when Alec calls him on it. “I can’t bring a date here without knowing what it’s like.”
“But it’s okay to bring me here?”
“Well, I’m not trying to get in your pants.”
Alec needs brain bleach to remove that thought.
The place is half-decent, and Jace pays for a change, perhaps feeling a little remorseful for his earlier comment. It’s more likely that he’s apologising for something that Alec hasn’t found out about yet, but Alec’s not going to dwell on that. He’s got enough stress as it is at the moment.
Flakes of snow drift through the air as they walk back to their apartment, and Alec pulls his coat tighter around himself. He’s got a grin a mile wide; there’s nothing quite like the first snow. He’s been so caught up in studying and finals, that Christmas has somehow managed to sneak up on him. It’is only two weeks away. Two weeks. Fuck. He’s only halfway through his shopping. Alec watches as Jace blows on his hands to warm them, the fool forgot his gloves. At least Alec’s done 100% more shopping than his brother.
“It’s fucking freezing,” Jace complains as they trudge down the street.
Alec takes in his clothes, the jeans and the thin cotton t-shirt covered with his trusty leather jacket.
“If you thought less about looking “cool” and bought a coat suitable for the weather...” Alec absently trails off, losing interest in the conversation as he stops next to a shop window. He can’t walk past a bookshop without having a look, and this one is his favourite kind - used books looking for a new home.
“No,” Jace mutters at Alec’s side, but Alec chooses not to hear and pushes the door open. A bell tinkling to signal a new customer.
“I need to get Max something,” Alec explains and gives a polite nod to the man behind the desk. “It’s tradition.”
They both know it’s an excuse. Jace folds his arms across his chest, disgruntled with the prospect of spending the next hour of his life in a bookstore. It tickles Alec a little. This definitely wasn’t the way Jace planned to spend their time.
Alec moves further into the store to find shelves line every wall, each of them filled to bursting with books, and more stand in piles on the floor. It’s got that recognisable book smell as well - old, earthy and well-loved - and Alec thinks this place might be heaven.
He makes a bee-line for the children’s section. Christmas tradition in their household has always been that he, Jace, and Izzy each give Max one present at midnight. They currently have a five dollar limit and for years Alec has been buying Max the most absurd books. He got Max ‘President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath’ last year which, granted, was only for 4-8 year olds but Max still hasn’t stopped talking about it almost twelve months later.
Jace doesn’t follow him thankfully. He’s probably off looking at sports autobiographies, and Alec loses all sense of time as he searches through this treasure trove.
Alec’s eyes pass over it the first time, but on a second look they still and read the name along the spine. It can’t be. Lullabies and Night Songs. Isn’t that? Yes, that’s the book Magnus was bidding on last week.
Alec delicately pulls it from the shelf. It’s still got the sleeve, and it looks in decent condition given the age. Alec flips the cover open. There’s an inscription on the first page.
‘Sing and play aloud, sweetheart, and make the monsters in the night into friends.
That’s cute, Alec thinks. He loves a book with history, and more, getting to share that history. Alec flicks through a few pages before closing the cover. He turns it over. $3.96. That seems like a steal. He should get it, right? Or would it be too weird to get a gift for Magnus? He’s been contemplating it for a while. It would just be a ‘thanks for helping and have a nice Christmas, from your student who is in no way infatuated with you’ gift. They make cards for that, right?
Alec pushes Christmas shopping from his mind. He wakes, he studies, he eats, he studies, he sleeps, and then he gets up to do it all over again. Izzy and Jace make comments that he’s putting too much pressure on himself. They try to coax minutes of relaxation from him, but he’s behind on his study plan and he can’t allow himself the luxury of enjoying himself right now. In the end, they just stop trying.
The only luxury he will allow himself is Magnus and that’s only because he can’t stop himself. Plus, it’s classed as studying, isn’t it? To be emailing your professor and then spending the next half hour fantasising about that professor. His imagination keeps fucking with his study plan the past few days. It needs a stern talking to, but he doesn’t have the energy or the willpower required to push Magnus Bane from his mind completely, especially now that they’ve developed some sort of email correspondence.
From : email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday 10.12.2017 11:26 AM
Alec, you don’t need to memorise the whole timeline. You just need the key dates to back up the arguments you want to make.
PS. Remember to take a break every now and then.
From : email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday 10.12.2017 1:55 PM
Okay, but I’m holding you to that one.
A break? There are only so many hours in a day and I need at least three more.
From : email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday 10.12.2017 8:13 PM
I’m serious, Alec. I’m not that old that I don’t remember what the stresses of finals are like. But you’ll only burn yourself out if you don’t take some time to relax. Take breaks. Go do things.
As a Professor, I’m sure I shouldn’t say this, but at the end of the day, it’s just an exam.
From : email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday 11.12.2017 5:37 PM
Just an exam! The ghosts of thousands of Professors are looking down on you right now.
Question? Would you agree that humanity was a commonality in the Greek heroes?
From : email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday 11.12.2017 6:19 PM
Is that why my TA quit? The day before finals? I take it back.
I’m not giving you the answer to that. You know the material. Stop. Relax, and get an early night.
PS. I’ll give you the answer because I know you’ll just keep looking for it anyway. I do agree. Greek heroes were often written to be relatable. They are people - extraordinary people - but still, deep down, they are humans. In this sense, they were often victim to the same flaws that humans have, which allowed the Greeks to identify with them and to aspire to follow the exceptional traits the heroes set as examples despite their own weaknesses.
PPS. Good luck.
Alec sleeps fitfully that night, his mind a whirlwind of fractured dreams and worries. In the early morning, he dreams of Hercules, driven mad, aiming his bow at his wife. The dream morphs as they often do, and suddenly the bow is in Alec’s hands. The woman across from him, Megara, is gone and in her place stands Magnus. He feels the strain in his arm as he struggles to hold the bow back, as he fights with himself to lower it. His can’t control his body and he looses the arrow. It flies straight and true towards Magnus, and Alec jerks awake. He doesn’t even try to sleep after that one, and he definitely doesn’t try to analyse what the fuck it means. It means he’s tired, that’s all, or so he tells himself.
He’s exhausted when he slides into the chair for the exam, but this is the last one. He just has to get through this and he can sleep for a week if he wants to. Well, he can’t because his mother will kill him if he’s not home for Christmas, but no more studying. No more highlighters. No more sticky notes. No more practice paper after practice paper.
Alec wipes at his tired eyes before looking up. His gaze catches with Magnus’, and Magnus smiles, wide and friendly. Alec almost chokes when Magnus winks at him. Winks! He looks down at his desk, suddenly very interested in his pens, and wills his dick to behave.
When Magnus begins to speak, to explain the exam procedure, when people can leave, and what is expected of them through the exam, Alec finally manages to calm down. He lifts his head and watches Magnus. Alec’s not really listening to what Magnus is saying, there’s something different about him that Alec can’t quite put his finger on it.
It’s Magnus, of course, but his clothes, his make-up, his hair doesn’t seem as vibrant or have the same quirky characteristics as usual. It’s strange for Alec to see Magnus like this. He’s beautiful, as always, but it’s just… Magnus has always stood out in Alec’s mind. He’s always thought that whatever room Magnus was in, he’d outshine everyone else, and he still would, he just wouldn’t do it with the same flair that Alec’s come to associate with him.
“Three hours,” Magnus says, looking down at his wristwatch. “Starting… now.”
The room is suddenly filled with the sound of papers rustling as everyone rapidly flips the exam over searching for the first question. Alec’s still watching Magnus until he moves to the side of the room, out of Alec’s eye line. Alec sighs, but he figures that’s for the best. He’d only spend the three hours being distracted by Magnus in any case.
His classmates begin to scribble away, answers already being formed and Alec turns the paper over. He chuckles to himself as he reads the first question. Revise LGBT+ themes, Magnus had said. Alec’s glad he took Magnus’ advice.
Alec rubs at his cramping hand as he walks to Magnus’ office. He tried to catch Magnus at the end of the exam, but in all the chaos of students that wanted to check an answer with Magnus, he didn’t get the chance.
The door’s ajar when Alec reaches the office. He knocks. No answer. He pushes it open a bit wider. It’s unusual for a Professor’s door to be open when they’re not there. He tells himself he’s just a concerned student wanting to make sure everything is okay. Alec steps into the room but there’s no one there. A cup of coffee sits on the desk, steam visible. Magnus must’ve nipped out, Alec thinks.
Alec contemplates sticking around for Magnus, but he thinks of the reason he came here. Of the haphazardly wrapped book in his bag. As he pulls it out, he knows it’s a better idea to just leave this here without having to hand it directly to Magnus. He feels sort of stupid for buying it in the first place. Is it normal for students to buy their professor’s gifts? Alec swears it’s just an innocent gesture. He saw it. He knew Magnus was looking for it. So he bought it.
The bow he robbed from Izzy’s wrapping paper stash is squashed and the gift looks a little sad. Oh well, not much he can do about it now.
Alec pulls a piece of paper from his notebook and scrawls a message.
Thanks for all the help, and Merry Christmas.
It goes without saying, but don’t open this before the 25th.
He places the note and the gift on the desk next to the cooling coffee and leaves before he can second guess himself. He really hopes Magnus isn’t weirded out by the gesture.
From : email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday 12.12.2017 5:12 PM
The Professors have spoken. I’m sorry about the TA though. Will the department not find someone to help you out with the papers?
So… you said once finals were done that you’d have book recommendations for me? ;)
From : email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday 13.12.2017 8:12 AM
Alec, it’s only the day after finals. Take that much-needed break! (The list is attached anyway)
I think the Professors have cursed me. There’s no one spare to help out.
Thank you for the gift. Though it really wasn’t necessary.
Alec’s high from finals being over plummets as he packs a bag for the break. The whole place has taken on a sombre mood, no doubt because each of them are ecstatic about the prospect of being trapped in a house for two weeks with their parents. It’s no secret that their family has issues.
“Have you seen my dress?” Isabelle asks from the doorway as Alec scours his bookshelf, trying to decide on reading material for the holidays.
“The black one.”
“You’ve got fifty black ones.” Alec settles on fiction and grabs one at random. He’s read them all before, so he knows he’ll enjoy anything he chooses.
“The one I wore for Maia’s birthday.”
Alec turns to her, lips pressed together. He’s got no idea what dress she means.
Isabelle sighs in exasperation and adds, “With the panels in the side?”
Oh. Alec remembers that one. Cut low at the front, stopping mid-thigh, and see-through, but not see-through, down the sides. There’s probably some term for that but he doesn’t know or care. Shit. She wants to wear that in front of their mother?
“That’s a bad idea, Iz,” he tells her.
“Did I ask for your opinion, or if you knew where it was?”
Alec holds up his hands in defeat. “I’m just saying… it’s your funeral.”
“Alec,” she grits out. “Have you seen it?”
“No,” he tells her.
Isabelle turns on her heel, muttering, “Honestly, Alec,” as she leaves.
Alec understands her mood and he knows exactly what she wants that dress for. He can see the scene now. Their mother surrounded by all of her friends at her weekly women’s meeting. Maryse will call Isabelle in, and when Izzy joins them she’ll be wearing that dress. The scandal, Alec thinks. He half hopes he’s around to witness it. Their mother is forever trying to set Isabelle up with a son of someone in her women’s meeting. They’re always very eligible, which would be fine if they weren’t also always an ass.
Every year that Isabelle goes home unmarried, their mother tuts and explains how she was engaged to their father at seventeen. How Isabelle needs to follow in her footsteps and find a husband to look after her. Alec always struggles to hold his tongue when that subject comes up.
Isabelle isn’t the only one with a short temper at the minute though. Alec argued with Jace over who got the last of the frosted flakes this morning like five-year-olds. In the end, Alec just gave in. This time of year is especially difficult for Jace. It was around Christmas when he first came to live with them. Ten years old, his parents had just died, and he was thrust into this new family. Jace always gets a little sulkier, argumentative, but underneath that he’s mostly just sad. Jace doesn’t talk about it much, but Alec knows he was old enough to remember his parents. And as much as Jace has always been a welcome part of their family, Alec gets that this time of year brings up difficult memories for him to deal with.
Alec usually tries to keep Jace occupied and their parents off his back. Which isn’t difficult. He’s their biggest disappointment after all. He’s looking forward to the endless questions about his job prospects and plans for the future. His mother will ask what girl he’s dating, though she knows full well that he’s gay. Which he’ll remind her and his father will pretend the conversation never happened.
But Max. Alec’s genuinely looking forward to spending some time with his mischievous little brother. The thought of Max eases his mood slightly and Alec folds his clothes rather than shoving them forcefully into the bag.
His mood is lightened further when he checks his phone. There’s an email from Magnus.
From : email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday 15.12.2017 3:01 PM
Congrats. Your final was superb.
Alec hasn’t checked his results yet. He’s got a dozen other emails but he’s only really bothered about the ones from Magnus these days. He hastily opens the notification of results, clicks the link, and then impatiently waits for it to load. He blinks when the result finally shows up. That can’t be right. He passed. Holy shit. He more than passed.
From : email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday 15.12.2017 3:05 PM
Thanks. But… are you sure you didn’t enter the wrong mark by mistake?
From : email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday 15.12.2017 3:17 PM
Let me check again… ;)
Still the same.
And no thanks necessary. It was all you.
Somehow, being home for the holidays is turning out to be worse than Alec anticipated, and he already anticipated the worst. Their mother is on fine form, fussing and criticising from the moment they walk through the door. Alec wonders how he’s supposed to survive a day of this, let alone two weeks.
Ale pushes his potatoes around on his plate and tries to block out the conversation.
“So, Alec,” his mother addresses him, and Alec has to tune back in. “What’s new with you?”
Nothing, Alec thinks. Or nothing that he’s comfortable sharing with his parents.
“Have you decided to grow up and decide on a career yet?” Alec’s father asks.
“Robert,” Maryse chastises.
Robert sets down his knife and fork, and pulls the napkin from the front of his shirt, tossing it on to the table.
“No, Maryse. We pander to him too much.”
Alec grits his teeth together to stop himself from saying anything. Pander to him? Really? Weren’t they the ones that gave him the ultimatum about college? Hadn’t they told him they wouldn’t pay a cent towards it unless he agreed to a course of their choosing? So Alec had chosen not to go. If he couldn’t go on his terms, he wouldn’t go at all. He’d moved out, worked three shitty jobs to afford food and rent, and two years later they’d acquiesced.
But two years later, Alec had decided he was ready for college. He wouldn’t have them pay for it though. He couldn’t have them holding the threat of money over his head, manipulating him into what they wanted him to do. He’d applied for endless grants and scholarships and eventually been successful enough to support himself without their help.
Alec listens to his parents bicker about him as if he isn’t sitting across the table from them. Izzy and Jace look bored with the proceedings. It’s nothing they haven’t heard before. But Max has this sweet, concerned look on his face. They never used to do this in front of Max, but recently he’s being exposed to more and more of their arguments.
Alec sticks out his tongue at Max, and Max smiles.
“I’ve decided on a career, okay,” Alec interrupts.
Five heads instantly turn to him. Faces of intrigue, apprehension, and pride look at him.
“Well, enlighten us,” his father says, voice derisive.
“I’m thinking about working at a publishing house.” Alec hasn’t voiced the idea to anyone other than Magnus, and he feels a bit sick as he says the words, as he puts it out there. But still, he knows this is what he wants to do.
His father, of course, instantly pounces. “Doing what?”
This is where it gets a little tricky for Alec though.
“I’m not sure… yet.”
Robert scoffs at Alec’s words. “So, you don’t have a plan.” His voice holds this tone, the one that Alec’s always associated with his father telling him ‘I told you so’. It’s superior and condescending, and Alec fucking hates it.
Alec says his next words without really thinking about them. For once, he just wants to be able to prove his father wrong. “Actually, I’ve got a meeting with a publisher in the new year.”
His father’s eyes narrow. “Which publisher?”
Must Alec always have to prove everything? Okay, so he might not have actually scheduled a meeting with a publisher, yet, but Magnus had offered.
“They own Epeolatry.”
Alec’s careful not to say ‘she’. His father will no doubt look down his nose at that. His father doesn’t say anything else, probably because he hasn’t heard of the place so he can’t yet criticise it. Alec looks forward to that phone call or email from his father, telling Alec how he doesn’t approve. Then he’ll send Alec a list of publishing houses that he thinks are appropriate for his son to work at. Alec’s not going to work at any of them purely on principle.
This does kind of pose a problem though. Fuck. He’s going to have to actually ask Magnus to set up that meeting with his friend Cat. Alec feels uncomfortable asking for a favour, but he’s managed to talk himself into a corner now, hasn’t he?
“Did you get new curtains, Mum?” Isabelle asks, quickly diverting the conversation, and Alec’s never been so grateful to his sister.
It takes Alec a few days to work up the courage to ask Magnus. He types, scraps, and re-types the email multiple times. Maybe it’s best to start a conversation first. Not just ask outright.
From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday 20.12.2017 10:07 AM
I’ve made a solid dent in that reading list. Gotta say, Adept was a strange mix of fiction and non-fiction, absolutely chilling in places.
From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday 20.12.2017 12:13 PM
Think I slept with the light on, wrapped around my cat, Chairman Meow, for at least a week after that one.
Magnus has a cat named Chairman Meow? How is Alec only just discovering this? He tries to focus on why he was really getting in touch with Magnus. Right. The meeting. He feels nervous all over again, but in the end, Alec just decides to go for it. What’s the worst that could happen? Magnus says no. That’s it. But even as he presses send, he feels nauseated.
From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday 20.12.2017 12:20 PM
Chairman Meow? Haha! That’s an epic pun.
I wanted to ask if you were serious when you said you could arrange for me to speak to your friend Cat at EPEOLATRY? Don’t feel obliged or anything, I just wondered.
From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday 20.12.2017 12:35 PM
Of course, I was serious Alec. I’m glad you asked. Let me talk to Cat and see when she’s got some free time. Do you have a number I can contact you on? I’m waiting for half five so I can leave and I refuse to look at my work email over the holiday.
Alec almost can’t believe his eyes when he reads Magnus’ reply. He just stops functioning for a minute, all he can focus on is the fact that Magnus wants his mobile number. What if Magnus phones him? Alec thinks he’d die. What would that sultry voice of his sound like in Alec’s ear?
Alec’s hands shake a little as he writes his number in the reply.
Magnus (21.12.17 4:45 PM): Hi Alec. Just wanted to check I had the right number. I know Cat’s out of town most of January, so I think it would be early Feb? That okay with you? Magnus.
Alec (21.12.17 6:13 PM): This isn’t Alec. Is he giving out this number again?
Alec groans the minute he’s pressed send. Why did he write that? Why is he like this? He feels like he’s Thirteen and trying to impress Kieran Mitchum all over again. It hadn’t worked out well then - stuffed in a locker - and he doubts it’ll work out well now. Quickly, he writes a follow-up text.
Alec (21.12.17 6:14 PM): Joking. It’s Alec, of course I gave you the right number. Any time she’s free I will make work. She’s doing me the favour after all. Just wanted to say thanks for offering and organising this for me.
He hopes that makes up for whatever that first text was. Hopefully, Magnus just won’t notice it.
It’s cold when the four of them gather in the tree house in the late hours on Christmas Eve. Max curls into Isabelle’s side, and she wraps a blanket around the two of them.
“Like two bugs snug in a rug,” she tells him, and Max rolls his eyes at her, but Alec catches the way he smiles at her.
Alec leans back against the wood of the wall, pulling his jacket tighter around himself while Jace sets hot cocoa in front of everyone.
“You forgot the marshmallows,” Max complains and pouts.
Alec digs into the bag by his side, pulling out a bag of mini marshmallows. “As if we’d forget the most important part,” Alec says and laughs when Max jumps up from Isabelle’s arms to grab the sweets. He rips the packet open and overflows his cocoa as he tips them into the cup. It’s been a rough couple of days being home, but these moments with Max make it all worthwhile.
“Hey, save some for me,” Izzy teases, and digs her fingers into Max’s side.
Alec’s not sure how many years they’ve done this. He thinks it started as a distraction for Max when their parents had been having a particularly ugly fight one Christmas Eve. The siblings hadn’t wanted Christmas to be spoilt for Max so they’d each taken one gift from below the tree for Max, and come out here to open them.
It’s become something of a tradition for them since then.
“It’s midnight,” Max exclaims as the second hand of his watch ticks past the twelve.
“Oh really?” Alec says.
“Merry Christmas,” Izzy adds.
Then silence falls between them. Max’s eyes dart between the three of them, and Alec can see him getting more and more worried that perhaps there are no gifts this year.
“Here,” Izzy says, the first to crumble. She pulls a small gift from her pocket and hands it to Max.
“Thanks,” Max mumbles as he begins to rip the gift open. It only takes a few seconds for Max to have the binoculars out and pressed against his eyes.
“These are cool,” he tells Izzy, and he stands at the window - a hole cut in the wooden side - to look out. “I can see Dad in the living room.”
Max uses the binoculars to see into every room in the house that he can from the tree, and then he sits back down and looks between Alec and Jace insistently.
Jace is the next to hand Max his gift. It’s wrapped in the same spider-man paper Izzy had used, and Alec can tell that Jace had the same idea as he did. What? Their sister likes to wrap things, why wouldn’t they make use of that?
Max shakes the cube in his hand before tearing the paper away.
“Awesome,” Max exclaims as the slinky comes into view. “I love these.”
Max collects slinkys. He’s got them in all kinds of shapes and size, and Jace makes it his mission to find new ones for him. This one’s on the small side and when lined up it has the poop emoji on the side. Of course, Max loves it.
When Max has finished telling Jace how great it is and settles back down, Alec pulls out his.
“Here,” Alec says.
“No idea what this is,” Max jokes as he turns the thin rectangular gift over in his hands. They all know it’s a book, but he doubts any of them can guess which one.
Max rips the paper in record time and laughs as he reads the title: My brother is a superhero.
“You didn’t mean you, did you?” Max teases.
“Hey, I could be a superhero,” Alec tells him, at which point everyone in the tree house breaks out into laughter.
Max announces they have to read the book there and then, so they settle in to read.
As Alec nears the end of the book, Max falls asleep resting in Alec’s lap. They should put him to bed properly, but Alec wants to enjoy this moment for just a little while longer. Alec strokes his fingers through Max’s hair as Isabelle and Jace bicker over who got the better gift. It’s clearly Alec.
What’s Magnus doing? Alec wonders. Sleeping, probably. It is 1 AM on Christmas morning after all. They all should be sleeping. Max is going to be jumping on their beds at about 5 AM. Yes, sleep... soon. That’s a definite requirement.
When Alec lies in bed later though, he stares up at the ceiling unable to sleep. He’s excited, he realises. More than the normal Christmas excitement. He can’t wait for Magnus to open his gift. Has he done it already? What did he think? Did he like it? Would he ask Alec how he could repay him?
As Alec drifts into sleep, he dreams of Magnus’ lips pressed hotly against his own in thanks. He dreams of Magnus’ mouth stealing his breath; he doesn’t want it back, Magnus can keep it - him - forever.
Alec checks his phone first thing when he wakes up. No texts. It’s okay. It’s early. Magnus probably just hasn’t gotten up yet. There’s time.
He keeps his eye on his phone through the present opening. He gets no joy out of it, can’t even really pay attention to what they got each other. Why hasn’t Magnus text him yet?
He’s distracted for most of the day, and as they sit down at the dinner table, his mother calls him on it.
“Alexander, can you please be present and spend some time with our family. Put that damn phone away.”
Alec mumbles an apology and stuffs the phone into his pocket.
“So… are you seeing someone?” She asks.
“No,” Alec says. Much to his dismay, he’s very, very single.
Isabelle chokes on the mouthful of drink she’s just taken. What? He’s not dating anyone. Why do people keep getting it in their heads that he is?
“Come on now. A mother knows when her son has someone new in their life.”
Really? ‘Cos he’s sure she never knew about Harley Walton, who he dated for six months when he was fifteen. He’s sure she doesn’t know that Harley snuck into Alec’s bedroom one summer night and that they had sex for the first time while his parents were downstairs watching the TV.
“I’m not seeing anyone,” Alec reiterates as he swirls his spoon through his soup. He can’t drum up any enthusiasm for food today. He wants to look at his phone, but he knows his mother will kill him if he gets it out again.
Alec’s father is quiet about the whole business. Alec’s love life isn’t his favourite subject. He likes to pretend that Alec isn’t gay, and it becomes increasingly difficult to do that when they get into a conversation like this. Alec usually likes to annoy his father by making it so that he can’t ignore it, but in this case, he’d really rather not.
“Oh fine,” his mother says. “Just promise to bring her for dinner some time.”
“Him,” Alec corrects.
“Sorry, dear?” she says as if she hasn’t heard him. She’s also in denial, but at least she’s upfront with him about it.
“You know I’m-” Alec starts.
“Anyone need a refill?” his father interrupts, rising from the table. Everyone’s drinks are full, so no… none of them needs a fucking refill. They just can’t have Alec say he’s gay at the dinner table now, can they?
Alec stews as he eats the remainder of his soup. If he were to ever date anyone and it got serious, he sure as hell would never bring them here. He couldn’t subject them to his parents. As always, Alec’s mind goes to Magnus. He tries to imagine Magnus here and has to hold back his grin. His mother wouldn’t have a clue how to behave. She’d be scandalised, but have to play the perfect hostess. His father would scowl and degrade Magnus, which would actually be terrible, but Magnus, no doubt, would have a reply that would put his father in his place. And why is he thinking about bringing Magnus home to meet his parents? In what world would that ever happen?
Alec’s lounging on the couch, mood terrible, when his phone finally pings with a message. He can’t open it quick enough. It’s Magnus. Thank god.
Magnus (25.12.17 7:24 PM): Where did you manage to find the book?! I can’t believe it. Thank you. Thank you so much, Alexander. I think I owe you a great debt.
Alec doesn’t know why he was worried Magnus wouldn’t like it. He clearly wanted the book, and if that text is anything to go by, he’s happy with it. A great debt. Alec has to remind himself not to flirt with Magnus, though he’d dearly like to type that he knows exactly how Magnus could work that off. His fingers move like lightning as they fly over the touchscreen.
Alec (25.12.17 7:25 PM): Pretty sure the gift was to thank you! No debt. I don’t accept. I’m glad you like it though. It was just from this little, used bookstore near where I live. Saw it, and remembered you were looking for it.
Magnus (25.12.17 7:27 PM): Well I guess I should just come to you if I need to find a book in the future then. Maybe we’ll agree to disagree on the debt. How’s your Christmas been?
And just like that, Alec’s Christmas is perfect.
Magnus keeps texting over Christmas, and they just carry on right into January. Magnus arranges for Alec to meet Cat.
Magnus (10.01.18 7:27 PM): How’s the 3rd of Feb to meet with Cat?
Alec (10.01.18 7:28 PM): The 3rd is perfect. Just let me know when and where and I’m there.
They talk about random things. Like the books Alec’s been reading.
Alec (15.01.18 9:07 AM): I got addicted to the author of Adept, but somehow all their other work is more chilling!
Magnus (15.01.18 9:15 AM): Well, thanks for the warning. I don’t think Chairman Meow will appreciate me sleeping with the light on again.
The new class Magnus is teaching.
Magnus (22.01.18 3:54 PM): It’s official. I hate first years. I’m sure I was never that annoying as a freshman.
Alec (22.01.18 3:56 PM): Oh no, what are they doing? Pretty sure I was the most bookish freshman ever.
Magnus (22.01.18 3:58 PM): Oh really? Showing up not a little late… but halfway through a lecture! Just walking in like they’re right on time. Had to pull a few of them up on it. Honestly, I’d rather they didn’t come at all than disrupt me like that.
Alec sends Magnus tales about his crazy siblings and Magnus replies with ones about his crazier cat.
Alec (27.01.18 7:05 AM): Izzy just heated her cornflakes in the microwave. I can’t decide if she did it on purpose or not. Dunno which is worse.
Magnus (27.01.18 7:11 AM): That is… a little strange. Then again, Chairman Meow is currently licking the lampshades, the same way he does every morning.
Alec (27.01.18 7:12 AM): I guess we both just have crazy housemates.
Alec feels giddy with every text he receives. He spends his days constantly distracted, just waiting for a reply from Magnus, and as soon as he gets one he’s instantly replying. It’s as if they’re dating, and Alec, on more than one occasion has had to remind himself that they’re not. They’re not even friends.
While the texting is fun, Alec wants to see Magnus in person. Alec hasn’t been in the same room as Magnus since December and he’s not sure how he’s managed to survive. But as Alec sits in the little coffee shop, he’s thankful the wait is over. Nerves flutter in his stomach as he waits and his palms are sweaty. He wipes them on his trousers and tries to compose himself.
He was early, ridiculously so, so he spent an hour or two (or three) in the library. He wasn’t able to get any work done though. Too excited for this meeting. And then the door opens, and Magnus is pushing through it, eyes scanning the shop until they land on Alec. Has Alec really been living off his memories of Magnus for all this time? Because they can’t do Magnus justice. Not at all.
Alec’s made a study of Magnus’ wardrobe, but he’s never seen Magnus wearing anything like this before. A blue tunic, with silver metallic thread woven through it, hangs open in a deep V, allowing Alec to get a glimpse of Magnus’ firm chest. Long chains drape around Magnus’ neck drawing Alec’s eyes to that expanse of bare skin.
Alec manages not to drool as Magnus walks over. Though, it’s a close call. He forces his eyes up to meet Magnus’.
“Hello, Alexander,” Magnus says as he nears the table.
Alec scrambles to stand, then wonders what the fuck he did that for. He holds out a hand. The gesture has Magnus raising a brow but he accepts it. And would the floor just swallow Alec whole already?
“Hi,” Alec manages to get out.
Alec savours the feel of Magnus’ fingers wrapped around his own, the grip is firm and it sends pin prickles of sensation skittering along his arm.
“Coffee?” Magnus asks, but before Alec can refuse, Magnus’ eyes dart to the table. “No, you’ve got one. I’ll be a minute.”
And then he’s walking away and Alec’s going to need more than a minute to find some kind of equilibrium. Alec’s eyes are glued to Magnus as he walks away and Alec can’t help but watch as Magnus flirts good-naturedly with the staff, it’s clear they know each other. He just can’t drag his eyes away, and he’s still standing there. Fuck, why is he still standing there? Alec hurriedly sits in his chair, picks up his drink and instantly scalds his tongue.
It takes a few minutes for Magnus’ order to be made which gives Alec some time to compose himself. By the time Magnus takes a seat at the table, Alec’s got a handle on his desire. Mostly. It’s like the first time Alec ever saw Magnus, desire overwhelming him without warning. Being able to see Magnus weekly, Alec’s perhaps become desensitised to it. But now that he’s been deprived for weeks, it’s like it’s just been accumulating, waiting to hit him all at once.
“How’s your semester going so far?” Magnus asks. “Don’t remember which courses you’ve got this semester.”
Alec lists off his courses, then adds, “History 104 as well.”
Magnus sucks in a breath. “Aldertree?”
“Yeah.” Though it’s only one word, he knows he sounds as resigned as he feels about that whole course.
“It’s not going well?”
Alec means to say ‘ it’s going fine’ , but when he opens his mouth, those aren’t the words that come out. “I had some questions, and I went to his office to ask during the directed hours and he wasn’t even there. So… I emailed him and he never responded. Then this week... he made some comment… about how ‘everything that’s needed to pass this course is covered in the lecture ’. Apparently, he doesn’t ‘ believe in holding student’s hands’ through the course.”
So, it turns out that Alec might have some feelings about Aldertree. A simmering pit of frustration he’s been trying to not hold on to, and it just spills out of him, assaulting Magnus.
Magnus takes it well though, nodding in agreement. “Aldertree has a dislike of anyone whose major isn’t history... I’ve heard he’s purposefully obtuse with those taking the course for credit.”
Well, fuck. He signed up for these courses for extra credit, not to fail.
“Ugh… Maybe I should drop it. Can’t really afford to fail a class this close to graduation,” Alec says, thinking out loud.
Alec tries to recall the date for dropping a course. It’s not really as simple as that though because then he’ll have to find another course to pick up that isn’t already full. Then he’ll have to catch up on the weeks he’s missed. Or if there isn’t another course he’ll have to postpone his graduation.
“Got a copy of the course schedule?” Magnus asks.
Alec digs around in his book bag. He’s sure he has it; he was looking at it in the library earlier. There, Alec pulls it from his bag and slides it across the table. Magnus looks at it for a while.
“Hmm… okay, I can help you out,” Magnus eventually says.
“You can?” Alec’s reminded that Magnus might just be the most perfect person in the world.
“Yeah,” Magnus is about to continue but then someone calls his name from the door.
“Magnus,” a woman says, and Alec assumes this must be Cat.
“I’ll text you about it later,” Magnus tells Alec before he rises from the table and presses a kiss to the woman’s cheek.
“Cat,” Magnus greets. “This is Alexander.”
Alec stands too, and Cat raises an eyebrow as she gives him an assessing look. What is it with Magnus’ friends looking at him like they’re trying to figure him out?
“Alec is fine,” Alec says as he holds out a hand. Cat shakes it.
“It’s lovely to meet you, Alec. Drink?” she says, and her voice is warm and lovely.
“I’m good,” Alec tells her.
“Me too,” Magnus says. “In fact, now you’ve met I’ll head off. Don’t want me hovering.”
Alec, as always, wishes Magnus would never leave, and he savours the last few minutes of their time together while Cat orders a drink.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Magnus says to Cat before walking away and Alec’s eyes linger as Magnus does. And just, wow! Had Alec really thought those trousers that distracted him in that test were tight? Because these, well, Alec’s not sure they’re even decent. And when it comes to Magnus Bane, Alec’s given up on trying to control his responses. He knows his stare must be obvious. Especially when he turns to Cat and she’s got this amused smile on her face.
“So, Magnus tells me you’re interested in working in a publishing house?” Cat asks.
“I’ve… um.” Alec flounders for a minute before remembering that Magnus set this up as a favour for him, and he doesn’t want to come off as some bumbling idiot. He doesn’t want to reflect badly on Magnus. “Yeah, I want to be involved in publishing books. I’m just not settled on what role, or like… where my skills would be best utilized.”
That is a good answer, Alec thinks. Well, he hopes.
“Do you write, yourself?”
“A little... for fun in my free time. But I don’t really see myself as a writer.”
Alec uses writing to deal with everything going on in his life. He’s got a number of short stories that have never seen the light of day. They explore discovering sexuality and the way it affects not only the character but the world surrounding them. They’re personal. A little too much of himself in them, and he doesn’t think he’ll ever have the courage to share them. He doesn’t need to.
They talk for a long while, Cat outlining the different roles at most publishing houses, before going into more detail as she explains the job roles that make up Epeolatry.
“What type of books do you like to read?” Cat asks.
“I like to read a bit of everything, you know... But I tend to gravitate towards historical fiction, where it’s a mix of fact and fiction, or I read books with LGBT+ themes. It’s nice to read something you can identify with.”
Alec’s not sure if he should have said that. Not all employers are accepting of different sexual orientations, but Alec doesn’t think Magnus would be good friends with someone who was homophobic. Magnus is always very accepting.
“I adore historical fiction too, I keep trying to get Magnus to head more in that direction with his writing, but he’s firmly rooted in the non-fiction... or so he tells me.” Alec likes the way Cat talks about Magnus with such easy affection. It’s clear the two of them are close. “We’re actually working with a few LGBT authors currently… I guess it’s a pet project of mine.”
“I think you got it right when you said it’s nice to read things you can identify with.”
Alec processes that. Magnus always used the word partner, never boyfriend or husband and Alec now wonders about Cat’s orientation. Maybe he’ll ask Magnus about it later. He doesn’t want to pry. And fuck, now he’s just expecting to be able to talk to Magnus? This texting thing they’re doing is really messing with his head.
“Anyway…” Cat continues. “It’s a new branch of the business and we’re just starting out. I wonder… maybe it would be beneficial for you to come see the offices and what we do?”
“That would be okay?” Alec asks.
“Of course. I’m always showing people round, but you could talk with a few of the staff and see whether you think it’s for you.”
Alec considers it for a minute, but he can’t take her up on it.
“Thanks, but… um. Don’t feel like you have to offer because Magnus is your friend,” he tells Cat. He appreciates it, but he just can’t accept it.
Cat shakes her head. “That’s not the reason, Alec.” She leans forward on the table, eyes on his and a smile he can’t identify the meaning of on her lips. “We have some internships in the summer with possible full-time positions, and maybe I’m considering how to get you to apply.”
What? Him? He’s got no experience. Although, that’s probably why internships exist.
“I’m a quick judge of character and I like you. I’m not saying you’ll get the internship, it depends on the application process… but... given our conversation and the things Magnus has said about you…” Wait. Magnus talks about Alec? To his friends? What does that even mean? What does he say? “...I think you’d be a good fit for our company.”
Alec seems to have lost his voice, and Cat must take that for disbelief in what she’s saying because she adds, “Okay, let me make you a promise. If you apply and we take you on, it will be on your own merit.” Then she waves a hand. “Wait... that’s too much... I’m sorry, got carried away.”
Alec has to smile. He really likes her. He can see why Magnus is friends with her.
“The offer to come and look around still stands,” she says.
It’s… well, it’s really sort of perfect. Almost too perfect an opportunity to turn down, but still. He feels hesitant about it.
“I’ll… can I think about it?” Alec asks.
“Of course. Here.” Cat passes him a card and Alec tries to keep his fingers steady as he takes it from her. “Just give me a call. And… though I shouldn’t push it, go take a look at the internship? The application is all online.”
Alec shakes his head with a laugh and gives in. “Okay, I’ll look it up.”
They talk for a little while longer, but about more general things and when Cat leaves Alec turns the card over and over in his fingers. He’s seriously considering her offer.
Magnus (03.02.18 5:27 PM): How’d the meeting go?
Alec (03.02.18 5:28 PM): Well. I think. Cat’s great.
Magnus (03.02.18 5:32 PM): She liked you. Take her up on the offer to look around.
Alec’s a little stumped by that. Magnus must’ve already spoken to Cat to know that.
Magnus (03.02.18 5:33 PM): If you want to. No pressure.
Magnus (03.02.18 5:33 PM): History 104? If you’ve got questions we can meet up next week and I can help?
Alec (03.02.18 5:35 PM): I’m thinking about it. You sure?
Magnus (03.02.18 5:36 PM): Yes, that’s why I offered.
Alec (03.02.18 5:36 PM): Okay. When’s best for you?
Alec doesn’t mention that he’s not on campus on Thursday. He’ll take any opportunity to talk to Magnus.
Magnus (03.02.18 5:37 PM): Monday? I’m free at five.
Magnus (03.02.18 5:37 PM): Or is that too late?
Alec (03.02.18 5:38 PM): No. It’s perfect.
Now Alec just has to break it to Jace that he’ll have to miss their usual Monday night burger and beer. Jace can still go and ogle Maia. He probably wouldn’t even notice Alec was missing.
Alec stares up at the ceiling; the same ceiling he’s been gazing at for the past few hours. He twists his head in the dark and gropes for his phone on the nightstand. The screen illuminates the room as he checks the time.
Seriously? It’s been a grand total of seven minutes since the last time he checked.
Alec sighs in resignation and throws back the covers. He’s not getting any sleep tonight so he might as well just deal with it. Every time he closes his eyes, he sees Cat’s face, he hears Cat’s words and their earlier meeting just plays on repeat through his mind. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the more he thinks about it, the more doubts he has as to the reasons behind her offer. Could she actually mean it?
He’s obsessing. He knows he is. He also knows that it’s ridiculous, but that doesn’t change the fact that he keeps doing it. It’s gotten to the point that he can’t remember what his actual responses were because he’s come up with so many better ones. He’s beginning to annoy himself.
He supposes that it makes a change from his obsession with Magnus being the thing that keeps him up at night.
Alec switches on the bedside lamp, the sudden brightness making him squint. It takes a few minutes for his eyes to adjust, but when they do, they focus on the small card propped up against a book next to the lamp. Epolatary.
Alec reaches out for the card. He’s allowing himself to toy with the idea, with the possibility that he could do this. Alec worries his lip. He could look it up, right? That couldn’t hurt. It wouldn’t be like signing a contract or anything. It’s just research; just having all the information to make a decision. At least, that’s the logic that has him booting up his computer.
Alec grabs a t-shirt and sweats and sits down at his desk. The card is still in his hand, and he idly brushes the tip of a finger along the edge of it. His eyes are so focused on the few words elegantly written on it, that it takes him a while to realise his computer has loaded.
Alec navigates to the internship listing on their website. His eyes scan back and forth across the screen as he reads the description, the requirements, the benefits. The further he gets, the quicker his heart beats. It’s good. Actually… it’s pretty fucking perfect. And that’s exactly what’s worrying him - it all seems just a little too good to be true. Things like this don’t just happen to Alexander Gideon Lightwood. That’s just not the way the world works. He’s long since accepted that world pretty much likes to shit on him at any given opportunity. So why should this be any different?
Alec scans the page again. Just to be sure. This whole idea of what he wants to do is so new to him that he hasn’t spent a great deal of thought on how to go about getting a job, or what he specifically wants to do. But from the little he knows, this looks like a well-structured program. It covers the full spectrum: from editorial work to production and marketing. It’s clear the internship is designed to give experience and knowledge in each area of the production house. It seems like the perfect platform to build a career.
That’s like... adulting. That’s serious adulting. It’s perhaps the first time Alec realises that. Sure, he might have moved out of his parents’ place - not much choice there if he wanted to keep his sanity - and he’s worked to pay the bills. But this is the next step. The big step. A part of him just wants to crawl under the covers and sleep this whole crazy idea off. It will come to nothing, so why bother anyway. But another part of him, the reckless or hopeful part of him, says to just go the hell for it.
Alec’s reached the bottom of the page for the second time, and his cursor hovers over the application page link. Just click it, the crazy voice in his head whispers. And why not? Just like reading about the internship, he can look without applying. So to hell with it.
The questions seem pretty straightforward and Alec finds himself formulating answers to them before he realises what he’s doing. Shit. This wasn’t the plan. He sighs again and closes the page. Best not to move too quickly. Perhaps he’ll take up Cat’s offer to look around before he rushes into anything. Plus, then he can be sure Cat really meant it and not as some weird favour to Magnus or something.
Alec grabs his phone before he’s reminded of the time. It’s probably not a good idea to phone Cat in the middle of the night. Instead, he opens his email and quickly types. Sure, an email at 03:37 might be a little weird, but if he doesn’t do it now, he’ll end up talking himself out of it.
Alec tries to stifle a yawn as the email sends. He fails and shutting down his computer he wonders if he can finally grab a few hours of sleep. Alec gets into bed, pulling the covers up to his chin and his mind once again replays the day. This time, however, he focuses on a certain professor’s ass and how damn good it had looked.
Alec freezes on the threshold to Magnus’ office, the same way he does every time he walks in this room. The first glimpse of Magnus always has his breath catching in his chest and his heart beating a crazy rhythm and today is no exception. Magnus’ body is stretched over the desk, possibly reaching for something, but Alec’s brain not working clearly enough to make the connection. Of course, Magnus is wearing those trademark dark, fitted trousers. The way his body angles, straining, arm outstretched… well, the material is somehow tighter. Which Alec didn’t think was physically possible.
Hot Damn. Alec pulls at his collar. It suddenly got really hot in here, just out of nowhere. He refrains from fanning himself and clearing his throat he walks through the doorway.
Magnus pulls back immediately at the noise, head turning, body lithely moving to stand at full height. If Alec was caught off guard by his initial look at Magnus, he has no defence for the onslaught of emotions that sucker-punch him when Magnus looks at him directly. There’s that bright, wide smile that’s always so fucking welcoming. How can something as simple as a smile just make everything right in Alec’s world? Shit. He’s being dramatic again.
Alec tries to shake it off. He isn’t helped by Magnus’ greeting of, “Alexander.” God. Alec’s missed the way Magnus utters those four syllables. It’s silly, but it feels like their thing. The only person who calls him by his full name is his mother, and that’s only when she disagrees or disapproves. Magnus just says it in a way that’s so utterly inviting. He always gets that same feeling as when he comes home from a really shitty day or really long trip. Hmm… It’s comforting.
“Hey,” Alec replies, and he doesn’t even try to hide his dopey grin. It feels somewhat awkward. They haven’t spoken that much in person since they started texting over Christmas break and Alec’s trying to work out what this new dynamic is. He’s distracted - of course - by Magnus’ new hairstyle. He’s only just noticing the red highlights have been replaced with white.
“I like your hair,” Alec says. The words just tumble out. He was only thinking them and somehow his brain forgot to tell his mouth to shut the hell up.
Magnus’ eyebrows raise and he raises his hand to brush past the now white-streaked strands. “Thank you.”
The uncharacteristic self-conscious gesture only lasts a moment. Magnus twirls his hands, lifts his chin, and declares, “New year, new look.”
“How was your Christmas?” Alec asks. He can’t remember if he asked Magnus when they saw each other last week.
Magnus drags his chair around the desk the same way he did all last semester and Alec takes his cue to take a seat.
“It was great actually. Though it’s nice to get back into a routine.”
Alec hums in agreement.
“How was yours?”
“It was…” Alec starts, pausing to decide what his break was. With most people, he’d have said great, or okay, but with Magnus, he gets this overwhelming need to tell the truth. “...mixed,” he eventually settles on. He can’t really think of another way to describe it. The family dinners and ridiculous cocktail parties had been a complete nightmare. His mother pushing women in his path and chastising Isabelle on her choice of outfit had been irritating. But chasing Max in the yard, making up stories with Max in the treehouse and tickling him until they were both out of breath from laughing had made it all worthwhile.
“How so?” Magnus asks.
“Just… some family drama,” Alec reluctantly explains. He doesn’t really want to subject Magnus to the craziness of his parents. “But I got to spend a lot of time with my brother, Max, so that was great.”
Magnus is frowning. “Families. Well… they can be difficult.”
“I emailed Cat.” Alec just throws the sentence out there, needing to change the subject.
The words have Magnus beaming again. How Alec wants to keep that expression, be the reason for that expression for eternity.
“Yeah. She’s going to show me around next week.” Alec’s nervous and excited about it, but he knows he's only feeling that way because he’s realising he’s getting pretty invested in the possibilities.
“You’ll love it. Now, I know I’m a little biased,” Magnus says with a chuckle and Alec can’t believe it’s been weeks since he’s heard that sound. “But I adore the place.”
Alec knows it probably has more to do with adoring the person the place revolves around.
As conversations go, theirs continues in the same ordinary, pretty inconsequential way it always does, but Alec wouldn’t be anywhere else. Magnus continues to talk about Cat and Alec listens rapturously to stories of the two of them. It’s become pretty clear that Cat and Magnus are very close and every opportunity Magnus has to talk about Cat, his love for her is clear. It’s not just the words Magnus uses; it’s the way Magnus says them, the way his gestures get a little more energetic like he can’t hold back his enthusiasm for her.
I love this. Alec thinks. I love…
A wave of panic hits him and he stops himself from finishing that thought. Fuck. He’s in trouble. He’s in serious trouble.
He’s been telling himself this thing for Magnus is no big deal. A spark of attraction. A little crush. The more-than crush. And now? Sitting in Magnus’ office, watching Magnus’ fingers intricately dance in the air, listening to Magnus’ full-body laugh, head thrown back, Alec has to admit he’s falling for Magnus.
Though they haven’t seen each other for weeks, they’ve texted at least every other day. Their conversation is always filled with things from their daily lives and Alec’s learnt so much more about Magnus since they last saw each other.
He knew Magnus was patient and kind, but Magnus’ description of buying Madzie a tutu for Christmas only to have to buy one for himself so they could have princess tea parties together has shown Alec just how much. That knowledge has combined with this insane attraction and Alec’s in stage one of freaking out.
“How are things with Aldertree?” Magnus asks, pulling Alec from his near meltdown.
Alec scratches his neck and tries to collect his thoughts. “Pretty much the same.”
He’s thankful their conversation veers into less personal topics. His small panic is actually more of a big panic.
And through it all, Alec’s really pissed that Izzy and Jace were right.
He’s in love with his professor. And there goes the universe again; screwing Alec over.
How does Alec deal with his new found realisation that he's half-way in love with his history professor? Denial. One hundred percent of pure denial. It's driving him crazy. He finds himself at the coffee shop every morning hoping to bump into Magnus and he's started taking long scenic routes to get to lectures, routes that just so happen to pass by Magnus' office. He's craving a glimpse of Magnus, a stolen moment, but he keeps striking out. Magnus hasn't gotten a coffee any day since their meeting (Well, not while Alec's been hanging around), and his office door always seems to be closed when Alec walks past, which seems un-Magnus-like.
Alec's almost becoming grateful Aldertree is such a dick; it gives him an excuse to actually drop by and have a conversation.
"He's going to fail me," Alec complains when he walks through Magnus' open office door. Magnus glances up from the paper he's grading and shakes his head at Alec, who stalks across the room and throws himself down in his usual chair. It's one of Alec's more dramatic entrances.
"Come on, it can't be that bad."
Alec's the one to shake his head this time. "Wanna bet?"
He takes out his quiz and with a little more force than necessary sets it down on Magnus' desk. Who can blame him? He' got a good bit of anger simmering away right now. Sure, he struggled with Magnus' class, but that had more to do with Magnus being a constant distraction than Alec not understanding the material. He was sure he'd passed this test and the fact that he's failed it when he thought he'd ace it means there's no hope.
Alec sits and simmers, unsure who he's angry at most. Aldertree? Himself? The Universe in general? Magnus picks up the paper and Alec's so angry that he can't even give the proper attention and appreciation to Magnus' wardrobe. He balls his fists and watches Magnus' gaze race back and forth over the page, a frown working its way onto Magnus' face.
"Sorry I flushed all the work from last semester away," Alec says bitterly.
Magnus' eyes flash to his and... shit. Alec sees his own rage reflected at him.
"Alec, this is unacceptable." Magnus' voice holds a steady calm that's in stark contradiction to the emotions playing over Magnus' face. Alec hangs his head in shame. He's let Magnus down, hasn't he?
"Don't do that" Magnus' words are sharp, forcing Alec to lift his chin. "Some of these answers are brilliant. The conclusion you've drawn on the parallels of women in modern society to Greek mythology is extremely well executed."
That's... not the response Alec was expecting to his failure. Wait. Magnus is saying it is good?
"It doesn't matter though." Alec's anger is quickly fading, despair trying to fill its place. If it is good and Aldertree failed him, then it's even more hopeless than he thought. He mentally waves goodbye to graduation. That means another year of Magnus at least. Silver linings and all that.
Magnus flips the paper over, his usual flourishes replaced with what seems like frustration.
"He didn't even leave you feedback!"
Magnus sets the paper down before taking a deep breath.
Oh, wow. Magnus is pissed. Like royally pissed. And on Alec's behalf? Alec tries to tell himself it's how Magnus should react for a student; it's part of the job. Alec only partially succeeds.
Magnus takes another long breath, pinches the bridge of his nose and says, "Sorry... it's just. I'd heard Aldertree was like this, but actually seeing it?"
Magnus stands, an agitated energy to his movements that Alec hasn't seen before.
After a few paces, Magnus stops in front of his desk, leans on the edge, and focuses his attention on Alec.
"Okay," he starts, and the calmness is back in Magnus' voice. "You've got two choices."
Alec nods for Magnus to continue.
"You can escalate this, but given that Aldertree is often missing during his office hours and he didn't take kindly to your last email for help, I think you'll have to take this to the head of the department: Professor Fell."
Brilliant. Alec's not sure making an enemy out of Professor Aldertree will increase his chances of passing.
"Or?" Alec asks.
"Or... I can help you with answers that his shortsightedness will accept, because that's what this is, Alec. He can't accept an opinion or a conclusion that isn't his own and I'm really mystified with how he manages to get away with this."
Alec considers. The second option seems the easiest path, plus it has the bonus of more time with Magnus. But... it doesn't feel honest. It doesn't feel right. And yet, the first option. Will that really solve anything for Alec?
Alec sighs, head lowering to his hands. "I'm screwed," he murmurs in frustration.
"Hey... you're not," Magnus assures him with a conviction Alec doesn't feel. Magnus steps forward, and the movement has Alec looking up as Magnus crouches so they're at eye level. "We can go to Professor Fell with this, or we can play Aldertree at his own game and get you the pass you deserve."
We. That's what Alec holds on to. Magnus is the type of professor that Aldertree should be.
"Can I... I'll think about it?"
Magnus nods and steers the conversation to lighter subjects.
The situation with Aldertree hangs over Alec's head for the rest of the week, to the point that he can't find the same enthusiasm for his tour of Epeolatry as he had a few days ago. As he walks along the sidewalk to the offices of the publishing house he still hasn't come to a conclusion on what to do, and he needs to. Coming here with the potential of applying for an internship won't mean much if he doesn't graduate.
Alec berates himself and tries to put it away. He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he realises he must have walked right past the building. Alec quickly checks the email from Cat with the details. Yeah. 105. That's what he thought.
Alec pivots on his heel, eyes scanning along the lines of buildings until he finds the one he's looking for. He has to retrace his steps and, as he stops in front of the building, he gets how he missed it. It's nondescript, only a small plaque with the company name next to the door.
Taking a deep breath, Alec steels himself and pushes the door open.
That breath catches in his chest as he takes a step inside.
He was expecting a reception of some kind, but the front door opens up into the main office. Into an expanse of space. Of space filled with cluttered desks. There's a commotion to his left, and it grabs Alec's attention. A guy in a band t-shirt and glasses is debating something with a red-headed woman.
"But who would win?" Alec hears the guy ask, his body full of animated energy.
"Simon," she replies with a sigh. "I'm busy and I gave you my answer."
"No... you're on the fence, Fray. You said it could be either."
She lifts the pencil in her hand and glances up at Simon. "Well, it could be."
"But the point is-"
"Alec," Cat's voice cuts through their conversation and Alec instinctively turns. She smiles as she walks over to him. Alec adjusts the satchel strap on his shoulder, suddenly a little unsure.
"Hi," Alec awkwardly replies.
"Clary. Simon." Cat calls the two over and Alec shifts on his feet.
"This is Alec. The student I told you was coming to look around," she introduces, then turns to Alec. "Clary does artwork for our covers and illustrated editions. Simon and I are coercing her into doing a graphic novel."
Clary holds out a hand, her head tilting as Alec takes it. A mischievous smile plays over her face and she shares a look with Cat. Weird.
"It's great to meet you," she tells him, pulling her hand away. "And, Cat, I already told you, you're going to be eternally disappointed on the graphic novel front."
"She already started it," Simon interjects.
"Simon!" Clary says in outrage.
Cat chuckles at the two of them. "Simon is our IT specialist and helps with marketing and social media," she tells Alec.
"I can't believe you told her," Clary fumes.
"Hey. Hey. Calm down. I already knew."
Clary narrows her eyes at Cat. "How?"
"I have my ways. Okay, back to work before we scare Alec off."
"Nice to meet you, man," Simon says before the two scuttle off. Alec catches Simon's continuous apology and the way Clary rolls her eyes at him.
It's one hell of an introduction, and yet Alec already loves the place.
"Right," Cat says. "Where shall we start?"
They start at Cat's desk. She's the only one with a separate office, but with the partition being fully glass it doesn't isolate the room. She shows him the pile of manuscripts she's working on with Tessa being on holiday. They talk with Elias, one of the editors, about polishing a diamond from the rough. They sit with Floretta as she takes them through her current research. They look at what demographics a book is planning to hit, then join Clary and Simon to discuss how cover images take shape and how tweaks for different marketing platforms are made. They finish up with budgets and print runs and Alec's utterly enthralled, his worries from the week long forgotten.
He can see that they're a well-oiled machine, each with a part to play. But what hits him the most is the camaraderie. He's sure there are numerous publishing houses out there that work just as well, but he'd bet most of them don't have this kind of work atmosphere. It seems chaotic, people popping in and out to ask Cat questions, but it never feels impersonal.
Cat's showing him their latest book in print when Clary pokes her head around the door.
"Drinks tonight?" she asks Cat. "We're about to head out."
When Cat nods, Clary turns to Alec. "It's our Friday ritual," Clary explains. She gestures at him. "You should come."
Alec shakes his head. The invite is nice, probably borne out of politeness, but... "I shouldn't."
"Course you should," Clary says.
And Cat adds, "If you're free, Alec."
Alec's mind is suddenly blank, which is a new experience in and of itself, but he fails to come up with a believable excuse.
Their Friday ritual drinks are a lot easier than Alec expects. The bar they've chosen is friendly and the booth they're occupying is surprisingly comfortable. He doesn't say much, answering questions when asked, but otherwise happy to observe. There are more than working relationships here, he's noticing. There are friendships and dynamics that he's finding fascinating trying to figure out. The group gradually thins out until only Simon, Clary, Cat and himself remain.
"So, how do you know Cat?" Simon asks Alec after finishing up his debate on who played the best Batman. Simon settles on Keaton. Clary - to both Alec and Simon's dismay - chooses Affleck. Alec's leaning towards Conroy, but he keeps that to himself.
"I... uh... don't really," Alec replies.
"So you just looked Epeolatry up? That's cool."
"Not exactly. Magnus... um, Magnus Bane put me in touch with Cat."
"Oh," Simon says. Then again longer and drawn out, as if something's dawning on him. Simon starts to speak, but Cat's voice calling, "Magnus!" across the bar has Simon pressing his lips tightly back together and whatever Simon was going to say is forgotten. Alec doesn't dwell on it, twisting towards the doorway.
Butterflies flutter in Alec's stomach and he bites his lip as he catches sight of Magnus across the bar. He sees the joy spread over Magnus' face, smile growing wide as he spots them and Alec's done for. Did he think he was falling half in love? He's head over heels. His skin tingles, anticipation thrumming through him as Magnus moves through the crowd to their table. It's barely a minute, but as Alec watches, it seems to last an eternity.
There's a "Hey, Biscuit" for Clary, a nod for Simon and a press of lips to Cat's cheek. Alec almost daren't breathe waiting for Magnus to get to him.
And then Magnus is looking directly at Alec, lips curved in a way that causes these gorgeous little crinkles at the corner of Magnus' eyes.
"Room for a little one?" Magnus asks Alec, shrugging out of his coat. It catches at his elbows, the muscles in Magnus' forearms flexing, visible through the black ink-blot shit he's wearing.
"Hmm?" It takes Alec a moment for his brain to catch up, too distracted by Magnus' body. "Oh... yeah. Sure." Alec swallows, trying to hide how affected he is by someone taking off a goddamn coat. He moves too quickly, jostling Simon as he creates space in the booth for Magnus.
"Thanks," Magnus says, sliding in next to Alec.
Fuck. They're touching. Magnus' thigh presses against Alec's in the confines of the booth and Alec can feel the heat radiating from Magnus. Magnus is closer than Alec ever remembers them being and even over the stale alcohol, Alec can smell the woodsy, earthy scent of Magnus' aftershave.
"So... how did it go?" Magnus asks Alec before looking around at the group.
"Great," Alec says.
"What did you think? Their antics didn't put you off?"
All eyes are on Alec, awaiting his response. "I... um. No. I loved it," Alec says truthfully.
The conversation devolves into retellings of the day until Simon draws Cat and Clary into another conversation and Alec finds himself faced with Magnus' undivided attention. The line between his history professor and the guy Alec desperately wants to date is beginning to blur. Hell, it's been blurred for a while, but in such a social setting, it's ceasing to exist.
Magnus' body is turned towards Alec, an arm resting along the back of the seat behind Alec as they talk. It's almost too much for Alec, the setting, the heat, the gentle buzz of alcohol. He's not sure how many drinks in he is, but Alec really doesn't have a tolerance for it.
"I wanted to thank you for the book... at Christmas," Magnus says, suddenly. "It only occurs to me now that I haven't done that in person."
Alec blinks at the change of subject. "It's fine. It was nothing."
"No, Alexander. It wasn't nothing." There's an edge to Magnus' voice that Alec can't decipher the meaning to. If his mind was clearer, he might have a chance. "It was... It was thoughtful."
Alec smiles. It really isn't a big deal. He'd just seen it and known Magnus was looking for a copy. "It's a sweet book. Was it for Madzie?"
The question has a frown marring Magnus' pretty features. Shit. Alec's said something wrong, but even retracing his words he can't figure out what.
"Um... no. It was... it's a book I had in my childhood. My mother used to sing the lullabies to me when I couldn't sleep." Magnus pauses. He looks conflicted, as if he's warring with something. "She passed away last year, and I lost my copy when I was clearing out her place."
Oh. Alec doesn't know what to say. What can he say? Magnus' hesitancy over Christmas, the way he'd explained it was different this year, and that it was the first with Cat and Madzie makes a lot more sense. Something aches inside of him for Magnus. Without thought, he places a hand on Magnus' knee in comfort.
"I'm sorry, Magnus," Alec softly says, and he truly is. He's yearned for Magnus, desired Magnus, but this is the first time he's felt pain for Magnus.
Magnus nods but doesn't speak and Alec doesn't want to pry. He can't help but wonder how it happened though. Was it quick and unexpected or long and drawn out? He's not sure which of those scenarios would be better. He doesn't think there's any good way to lose a parent.
"Is Raphael dropping by, Magnus?" Simon asks.
Alec watches Magnus put himself back together in a split second, watches the haunted look recede from Magnus' eyes as he shifts his gaze to Simon. How does he do that? Push it all back? And what else does Magnus keep locked inside? Alec wants to see it all.
"I'm not being a go-between for the two of you," Magnus says. "If you want him here, you should have asked him, and I told him exactly the same thing regarding coming tonight."
Simon's face lights up. "You talked to him about me? What did he say?"
And just like that, the conversation moves to easier subjects, but Alec can't get the pained look in Magnus' eyes out of his mind.
Alec's going to do it. He's filled in the application. He's written a cover letter. He's drafted the goddamn email. So why the hell hasn't he sent it? When he left the bar on Friday night. No. When he sat in Cat's office with the latest book she'd published in his hands, he decided.
He's going to internship at Epeolatry. He's going to be part of what they do. No matter what it takes.
Yet, it's three days later, and he's still sitting on it.
Rolling his eyes, Alec sends his phone to voicemail for the third time. He doesn't want to talk to his father. He definitely doesn't want to do it at 4 PM in the middle of the library; things between them often get heated. His phone vibrates again and Alec grits his teeth. Can the guy not take a hint? When he looks down, he's surprised to find it's his voicemail this time, so he takes the call and listens to the message from his father.
Alexander, you're adult enough to take my calls. This is getting childish.
There's an exasperated sigh from the other end of the line and it shouldn't give Alec as much pleasure as it does. But it doesn't matter if it's childish or not, it's damn satisfying.
Our conversation over Christmas break regarding your future has given me cause for concern. I want to support you with a reputable publishing company, but this-
His father pauses, there's a rustle of papers and Alec knows Robert's having to look up the name.
This Epeolatry. The drivel they produce... honestly, Alec. Let's be serious. They're playing at publishing books. What great literary works do they have under their belt? Hmm? They'll be lucky to see out the decade. Publishing is built on history. And with the Lightwood name behind you-
Alec cuts the call, unable to listen to any longer. It's infuriating. His father doesn't get it. The iron fist Robert has ruled their family with for so long doesn't extend to Alec any more.
Alec opens his draft emails before he realises what he's doing, finds the one for the Epeolatry internship and sends it.
Alec runs his hands through his hair and holds himself back from swearing aloud.
His father's taking this too? Like everything else in Alec's life, Robert's taken this decision out of his hands. How can Alec be certain he didn't send the application out of spite? Hell, he knows himself and he knows part of it was. It's that stubborn streak of his that Izzy is always saying will get him in trouble.
Alec lays his head on the desk. It's tainted now. Tainted in a way he never wanted it to be. No matter how it works out, he knows the comments coming his way. If Alec fails at this, there'll be the standard I told you so lecture. And if it works out, Robert will take credit for pushing Alec in this direction. Probably claim it was part of his master plan.
For once, Alec thought he could have something for himself.
Alec's mood picks up when he steps into Magnus' office an hour later. He's finally decided what he wants to do about Aldertree, and he's hopeful Magnus will approve.
"Alexander," Magnus greets, twisting his face from his bookshelf to look over at Alec, and Alec's mood lifts completely. So often, Magnus is sat behind his desk when Alec gets here and he rarely gets the opportunity to appreciate Magnus fully like this. The outfit is another new one. Or new to Alec. It's also the first time Alec's seen Magnus in a waistcoat. It's black, fitted, and the trim at the shoulder accentuates the way Magnus' biceps curl as he reaches to place a book on the shelf. Though the material of the black and white shirt strains with the movement, Alec would rather see skin.
"Just doing a little tidying."
Magnus' voice pulls Alec's focus back, and he walks further into the room. He's never thought of Magnus' office as untidy. A little chaotic maybe, but it's always felt like organised chaos. Nerves skitter under Alec's skin. Not the usual kind, not his nervous desire; these are nerves about what he's about to do. Once he's made this decision, there's no going back.
"I wanted to talk about Aldertree," Alec says.
Magnus turns away from the bookshelf and sets the rest of the books down on the desk. "Okay. Let's do that."
They're both still standing and Alec takes a breath and just says it. "I want to take this to Professor Fell."
Magnus' eyebrows raise. In surprise or question, Alec isn't sure. Magnus gestures him to a chair, and Alec takes a seat.
"Are you sure about this, Alec?" Magnus asks, resting his ass on the edge of his desk.
Alec doesn't hesitate. He might be nervous as hell, but he knows what he has to do. "I am."
"I'm pleased to hear you say so," Magnus says, grinning at Alec. Alec considers that the expression on Magnus' face might be pride.
"Yes. If you hadn't wanted to do this, I know I said I'd help you... and I would. But it would have gone against everything I stood for."
And knowing Magnus as Alec's growing to, he understands that Magnus really would help.
"Something you said," Alec explains. "It helped me decide."
"How does he keep getting away with it?" Magnus nods at Alec's words and Alec barrels on. "He gets away with it because students are too scared to stand up to him."
And Alec would have been. Given Aldertree's reputation and standing at the university, Alec wouldn't have thought to question Aldertree without Magnus' guidance. He'd have spent the semester trying and failing to please a professor that would always fail him.
"So... how do I do this?"
Magnus glances at his watch. "Professor Fell should be finished with his lectures for the day. We might catch him in his office now?"
There's that use of we again and Alec's dangerously close to getting too attached to it. He will, however, take Magnus' support through this.
"Okay. Now's good." Though Alec says the words, it doesn't stop the nervous dread from pooling in the pit of his stomach.
"You brought the test?" Magnus asks him and Alec nods, holding up his bag. Smooth, Alec.
They walk through the university corridors to Professor Fell's office and Alec struggles to find something to fill the silence. In the end, he decides he's happy to be in the quiet with Magnus.
When they reach the office, Alec lets Magnus knock. Fell's gruff "Enter" flutters through the door, and Magnus pushes the door open.
"Magnus," Professor Fell says as Magnus steps in. The half-smile on his face turns into a frown when he notices Alec enter behind Magnus. Fell's eyes flicker between the two of them and Alec doesn't know Fell well enough to understand the meaning.
"Magnus." This time, the word is more formal. "You di-"
Magnus holds up a hand and the look that passes between the two of them has Fell narrowing his eyes but quickly cutting off his sentence.
"Alexander, here, has brought something to my attention that you need to know."
Fell doesn't look convinced, but he sighs and says, "Well, shut the door and take a seat."
Alec presses the door closed and takes a chair next to Magnus. Professor Fell is so stern looking that Alec feels like he's back in high school, about to be reprimanded for punching Josh Phillips in the gut for ragging on Izzy.
"Alec's fine," Alec interrupts Fell.
"Okay, Alec. What's this all about?"
Alec looks to Magnus for guidance and Magnus pointedly glances down at Alec's bag and then back up at Alec. He gives a thin reassuring smile and Alec digs in his bag for his test.
"I'm taking Professor Aldertree's class: History 104."
Fell nods and Alec pulls the test out.
"I... He..." Alec can't find his words. This is a bad idea. This is a terrible idea.
Magnus places a hand on Alec's shoulder.
"Perhaps if Professor Fell saw the test," Magnus suggests, before pulling his hand away, and Alec feels the ghost of that touch radiate across his skin.
"Oh... yes." Alec leans forward, stretching his arm out to hand the paper to Fell.
Alec can hear footsteps in the corridor outside the room as Professor Fell looks over the test, and he waits for the verdict with bated breath.
When Fell looks up, his eyes go to Magnus first, then shift to Alec.
"I take it you're unhappy with the grade you received... and, well, I'm inclined to agree with you."
Alec lets the breath out.
"I have to ask, have you discussed this with Professor Aldertree?"
"I, um. I tried to contact him before the test... his office hours, but he was never available. I tried to email him, but he never replied so I..." Alec looks at Magnus for guidance again as his words ramble.
"I suggested Alec bring this to you," Magnus tells Fell.
Professor Fell looks thoughtful. "Okay. Alec, do you want me to make this an official complaint?"
The room is silent, so much so, that Alec can hear the blood pumping in his ears. His heart is beating so hard, but he knows what he wants to do. Alec doesn't need to look to Magnus this time.
"Yes," he says. "I don't think I'm the only one this happening to."
Fell frowns. "Do you have evidence to corroborate that claim?"
The question doesn't throw Alec. "I don't," he admits with a shrug. "But if it is, I can't sit by."
Fells nods and riffles through one of his drawers.
"I have some forms that have to be filled in." Fell slides them across the desk with a pen and Alec picks them up. Alec takes his time filling out the details before handing them back.
"We will take this seriously, Alec. I'll file the paperwork and speak with Professor Aldertree myself and be in touch."
"Should I... should I do anything different?" Alec asks.
"No. Not until I've talked with the professor," Fell says, rising from his chair.
Alec picks up his bag and stands. Professor Fell holds out a hand and Alec shakes it.
"Thank you," Alec says, and both he and Magnus turn to leave.
"A word, Magnus?" Fell asks before they reach the door.
"Sure," Magnus agrees.
He turns to Alec and says, "I'll see you later, Alec."
Alec nods, murmurs his thanks, and leaves.
Alec feels numb all the way home. Before the conversation with Professor Fell he'd been certain he was making the right decision, but now he's done it and his mind's had time to process everything that's happened, he's questioning himself.
Things aren't helped when he finds his mother sitting on the sofa talking to Isabelle. His initial reaction is annoyance, thinking she's here to deliver Robert's message in person. But then he notices the hushed whispers and... is his mother wiping tears from her eyes? Despite the fissure of differing ideology between them, he's still concerned. She's still his mother.
Alec steps into the room, but Izzy shakes her head before he can speak, and her expression implores him to hold back his words. She squeezes Maryse's shoulder before walking to the kitchen, gesturing for Alec to follow.
"Is she okay?" Alec asks in a low voice.
The conflict on Izzy's face suggests not. "She's doing okay."
Alec can count on one hand the number of times their mother has visited in the past four years of living here.
"She found out Dad's cheating on her."
Alec's dumbfounded. Their father? Their salt of the earth, reputation and family are everything father, is an adulterer?
"How long?" Alec eventually manages to ask.
Izzy sighs. "A while. From what she can piece together, at least a year."
A year! Alec's had to listen to his father's sanctimonious speeches while this has been going on. The hypocrisy of the man knows no bounds. He can't acknowledge Alec's sexuality because he thinks it will somehow impact on how the family looks. But it's fine for him to have what must be a long-term relationship with someone who isn't his wife?
Isabelle must have some understanding of his feelings. "Don't crucify him just yet," she says.
"You're defending him?"
"Alec, we don't know his side of this."
"What possible justification could there be?"
Maryse clears her throat from the doorway, pushing the door open, and Alec feels like a jerk.
Maryse cuts him off, stepping closer. She rubs Alec's arm and looks at Isabelle. "I'm on my way out," she tells them. Though both he and Izzy try to talk, she shakes her head and says, "I don't want either of you worrying about this. I'm sorry, Isabelle. It wasn't right for me to come here."
Alec wants to protest, but Maryse presses a kiss to his cheek, hugs Isabelle, and takes her leave.
She told him not to worry about it, but worrying is what Alec does. He's always known his parents weren't perfect, but the one thing he thought he knew, was that they were solid, was that they loved each other. And now, Alec wonders if he ever knew anything at all.
Alec starts his Friday morning with another call from his father. He lets it go to voicemail and, even though he knows better, he then listens to the message. Alec angrily crunches his cereal as Robert explains the lengths he's gone to (great ones apparently) to get Alec a shot at an internship with a "reputable" publisher.
Alec cuts the call before his father gets to the publisher's name or any of the details.
A few mouthfuls of cereal later his phone pings and Alec's annoyance flares again at the notification of a new email from Robert. Alec clicks on the message and deletes it without reading. He's not interested.
Alec scrolls through his inbox, fingers pausing when he notices an email from Professor Fell. He scans the email and groans. It informs him his presence is required on Monday at 10 AM for a meeting with both Professor Fell and Professor Aldertree. Wonderful. That gives him the whole weekend to stew over it.
And stew he does. Not only over the meeting. He stresses about his mother, coursework, Magnus, the internship he's yet to hear back about. It's just... a lot. Over and over he plays out scenarios until he's disgusted with himself.
It doesn't take long for Isabelle to catch on that something is wrong. On Saturday night, she drops down on the sofa next to him and asks, "Okay, what's going on?"
"Don't say nothing," Izzy cuts Alec off. "You've been wallowing all week. So, spill."
Alec sighs. Where to start?
He can't say, 'I'm ignoring Dad, who doesn't want me to intern at Epeolatry. Which might not even be an issue because I've still not heard back from them, so I'm probably not going to. I'm annoyed we argued over Dad and I'm worrying about Mum. I've made an official complaint against my current history professor on the advice of my previous history professor. The one I'm in love with.'
It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.
What Alec does say is, "Just stressing over course stuff."
Isabelle narrows her eyes at him, unconvinced.
"It's something more than that."
It is. It's a fucking hell of a lot more than that, but what use will talking about it do? He just wants to forget about it all.
"Fine," she says with a huff. "We're going out."
"Iz, no," Alec whines. He's perfectly happy here on the sofa with his soda, crappy TV shows, and endless worry. What more could he want?
Isabelle levels him with a look. The one that means she's not going to take his shit. "You don't wanna talk about it? That's fine. But you're not sitting here feeling sorry for yourself. So go put some pants on that aren't sweats and I'll call Jace."
Alec inwardly groans, but he knows there's no arguing with her.
Three hours and copious amounts of alcohol later, Alec has to admit it. Isabelle was right.
"You were right, Iz," he says, arm draped across her shoulders, and he has to shout to be heard over the music.
"Aren't I always?" She shouts back and Alec laughs.
Jace is lost somewhere in the crowd. Alec thinks he saw Maia at some point and if she's here then Jace will be close by. The only problem with this development is that Izzy decides Alec has to dance with her.
She tugs on his hand, "Come on, Alec. One song."
"One song," he agrees and she whoops while dragging him onto the dancefloor. One song becomes two, then leads to a third, and Alec is so lost in the high that he forgets he was going to sit any of the rest out.
By the end of the night, he's drunk, exhausted, and he feels awesome. So what if they don't want him to internship at Epeolatry? He'll find some other place. Some place that isn't recommended by his father. And on the matter of parents, Alec comes to the conclusion that he needs to stop worrying about them. They're adults and they can deal with whatever is going on between themselves. He's got enough drama in his life at the minute, he doesn't need to shoulder theirs too. Plus, he doesn't want to fight with Izzy over it. And Aldertree? Well, that guy can go fuck himself. No matter the outcome, Alec knows he deserves a better grade. He'll pass somehow. He'll do whatever extra credit is necessary if it comes to that.
And what worries does that leave me with? He thinks. Oh, Magnus. Magnus, who he wants to be around all the time. Magnus, who's funny and kind, and helps Alec, possibly even when he shouldn't. Magnus, who Alec's head over heels for. On that one, Alec's got no solution.
Isabelle pats his shoulder as she and Jace support him on the walk home.
"Just course stuff, huh?" She says, and Alec realises he might have said all those thoughts out loud.
On Monday, at ten sharp, and in clothes that he went to the trouble of ironing, Alec sits next to Professor Aldertree. Professor Fell is across from him, the desk between them, and despite Alec's drunken ramblings, he's worried about the outcome.
"I've spoken with Professor Aldertree regarding your grade, and he's assured me that this is a one-time incident-"
"An oversight on my behalf," Aldertree interrupts Profesor Fell.
"-Well, yes." Fell seems disgruntled by the interruption but continues. "After looking at the test again, he's agreed to revise your grade."
Fell holds out the paper and Alec takes it from his grasp. The mark is changed and Alec's passed, but he doesn't feel the same pride in the grade that he usually does. Alec looks up, waiting for more that doesn't seem to come.
"So, that's it?" Alec asks.
Aldertree opens his mouth, then begrudgingly closes it when Professor Fell gives him a withering look. Fell shifts his gaze to Alec and addresses the question. "Alec, this is the only incident we have on file of this nature. I have to treat this as closed."
"Right," Alec says, disgruntled.
Did he really think anything good would come of this?
"Can I address something?" Aldertree asks Fell and Fell nods in consent. "Alec, I wish you would have brought this concern to me before escalating it. You know my door is always open, and I'd appreciate having been able to deal with this, rather than wasting Professor Fell's time."
Aldertree's air of superiority is grating on Alec and he takes a moment to word his reply, trying to hold back the words that want to spill out unchecked. Door always open? Alec's never heard such bullshit.
"I'll keep that in mind," Alec eventually manages to get out.
Aldertree purses his lips. "Please do. I don't know where you got the idea that you had to take this over my head."
Alec doesn't answer, but he gets the feeling that Aldertree is trying to hint at something... or someone.
Professor Fell gives Alec an apologetic smile as he sees everyone out of his office, but it doesn't really appease Alec. Alec's not sure what he expected the outcome to be, but he thought it would be something more. Anything more.
Alec's walking away when Aldertree falls in beside him, and Alec pauses.
"I didn't mention anything in front of Professor Fell," Aldertree says, both of them coming to a stop. "But I would ask you not to have other professors look over your work. It might be considered an unfair advantage or... favouritism on their part."
Alec catches the obvious dig at Magnus and glares daggers into Aldertree's back as he walks away. Alec won't let Aldertree get to him. He won't. But the words give Alec one more thing to worry about.
Alec's understandably still angry and frustrated when he stops by Magnus' office seven hours later. He doesn't have any questions for Magnus related to his courses, but he's still got Aldertree's parting comments running through his mind.
"How did the meeting go?" Magnus asks him, once Alec's taken a seat. Magnus has done something different with his hair. It looks shorter on the sides, giving Alec this sense that it's longer on top, which he knows isn't physically possible. Unusually, it sticks out at odd angles, as if Magnus has had his fingers in it.
Distracted as Alec is by this new look, it takes him a minute to formulate a reply. "You knew about that?"
Magnus nods. "Rag- sorry, Professor Fell, mentioned it to me."
Having seen Aldertree and Fell's interaction earlier, Alec's becoming more aware that there's not just a working relationship between Magnus and Fell.
Alec rehashes the meeting and it does nothing to settle his frustration.
Magnus seems as frustrated as Alec, even if he does say, "I do understand Professor Fell's position."
That gives Alec an opening to ask the question he really came for. "Am I putting you in an awkward position with this? And with the help?" He can't look Magnus in the eye when he says the words. Instead, finding his fingers incredibly interesting.
"Alec, it was my choice to help you," Magnus says.
"That doesn't really answer the question," Alec replies, eyes still focused anywhere else but on Magnus.
The room becomes uncharacteristically quiet, but Magnus eventually breaks the silence.
"There's nothing ethically wrong with me helping a student, and in any case... Professor Fell was already aware of the situation."
Alec glances up at that. There's a situation? And Professor Fell knows? "Oh," Alec says stupidly.
Magnus smiles at Alec's response. "Though. I appreciate the concern, Alec."
Alec returns the grin Magnus gives him and wonders if this will ever get any easier, this longing for a different dynamic between them.
"Is that all that was on your mind?" Magnus asks him.
No.Not even close.
"I applied for the internship at Epeolatry," Alec says, and he realises that isn't really an answer, but it has been playing on his mind.
"That's fantastic," Magnus says and Alec can feel his enthusiasm, the same enthusiasm Alec should have. "But... I'm not getting a happy vibe from you on this."
"I think I only did it because my Dad said I couldn't." Even as Alec says the words they sound stupid. He's a grown adult.
Magnus chuckle is unexpected and Alec doesn't know how to take it.
"Did you enjoy the place?" Magnus asks.
"Do you see yourself working there?"
"If they offer you an interview would you want to turn it down?"
What's Magnus getting at? Alec thinks.
"Then, whatever motivation set you on the path doesn't really matter."
Magnus is… Well, Magnus is right as always.
Alec shifts from foot to foot as he waits for the bus and tries not to think. Because if he does, he'll abandon his plan of going home and end up at Magnus' office. He's promised himself he isn't doing that this week.
It's only selfish of him, right? To go?
Magnus isn't his professor anymore, and Alec's coming to the realisation that dropping by is purely for his benefit, to fulfil his weekly craving of conversation with Magnus, to feed his desire to know everything about Magnus. And that would be fine if it wasn't causing Magnus problems because that was never Alec's intention.
Since their last conversation, Alec's considered both Aldertree and Magnus' words. Sure, Aldertree's initially worried him, but Magnus' response of there being a 'situation' and Professor Fell being aware of said situation gives him more concern. And what even is the 'situation'?
Best to just give it some time, he tells himself as the bus pulls up and he gets on. Space hasn't previously dulled his feelings, but Alec can hope.
Dejected, he takes his seat and tries to convince himself he's doing the right thing.
But the right thing only sours his mood, and that mood follows him into the next day. Sorting through his emails in the library, he can't even drum up excitement when he sees one from Epeolatry. He's genuinely worried his face might be stuck in a permanent scowl. There's a sick sense of dread as he stares at the screen, and Alec doesn't want to open the message. It takes a good five minutes for him to work up the courage. His eyes quickly scan the text.
Alec goes back to the beginning and starts again.
Holy Fuck. He got it. He got an interview!
Alec still feels queasy, but at least it's due to the butterflies that have suddenly taken up residence in his stomach. Alec's so happy and excited - he really thought he wasn't getting an interview - that he types and sends a message to Magnus before he comprehends what he's done.
Alec (06.03.18 12:32 PM): I got an interview!!!
It's only as he stares down at the words illuminated on screen that he realises. Fuck.
He doesn't have a chance to agonise over his slip up as a reply is almost instantaneous, and Alec grins as he reads it.
Magnus (06.03.18 12:33 PM): Congrats! Never doubted it!
That night as Alec lays in bed too wired to sleep, it dawns on him that Magnus was the first person he told. Not Izzy. Not Jace. Magnus.
It doesn't mean anything. Like hell, it doesn't.
It confirms what he already knows: that's he's in too deep. In the dark, Alec renews his resolution to try to create some emotional distance. For Magnus' sake.
That resolution wavers the next day when he gets a text from Magnus.
Magnus (07.03.18 5:01 PM): Are you okay for the interview, or do you want a hand preparing?
He'd like a hand with something. Shit. No. Emotional distance.
Alec stares at the message for at least ten minutes before he can reply.
Alec (07.03.18 5:12 PM): I wouldn't say no to the help, but it's not for a couple of weeks. After spring break.
Magnus (07.03.18 5:14 PM): Okay. Monday after spring break? At the usual time?
Alec (07.03.18 5:15 PM): Yeah. See you then.
It's fine. Alec can keep his resolution and accept Magnus' help. Plus, he's got more than a week to try to get over Magnus. It hasn't happened so far, but there's a first time for everything.
The renewed resolution doesn't even last another twenty-four hours, but Alec can't be held responsible. Aldertree drives Alec to it.
Alec (08.03.18 10:15 AM): I didn’t think Aldertree could get worse. I stand corrected.
Alec's so frustrated that he wants to talk to someone who understands and sympathises without having to explain, and that person - of course - is Magnus.
Thirty minutes later Alec's still waiting on a reply. Has he finally crossed that line? Was that too personal? Or... shit. Is this part of the 'situation'? It takes another ten minutes for Alec's brain to even consider the logical explanation that Magnus is likely in the middle of a lecture. God, he's a fool.
Disgusted with himself, Alec stuffs his phone in his pocket with the idea he'll stop checking it every two minutes. All that achieves is him having to get it out of his pocket first in order to check for a message.
Almost two hours have passed before Alec gets a response, and those two hours are an emotional rollercoaster. Alec rides the high as he reads the text.
Magnus (08.03.18 12:07 PM): Is there really a limit? What happened?
Alec (08.03.18 12:10 PM): Had a lecture and he kept calling on me with questions no one in the room knew. Then explained how wrong every answer I gave was. Even told everyone at the end how Mr Lightwood might need to direct more of his energy to his studies.
The lecture replays in Alec's mind as he types, only renewing his frustration. It was tedious, and Alec's resentment for Aldertree is steadily growing. He can take the jibes. He will. But the attempt to humiliate him in front of his peers really grates.
Magnus (08.03.18 12:16 PM): He’s a bully. Don’t rise to it. He knows he has to grade you fairly, so he’s just trying to get a rise out of you or push you to drop the class.
It makes sense, the same way that Magnus' words always make sense. But if Aldertree thinks that he can make Alec drop the class, then he's not seen the likes of Alec's stubbornness before. And Alec will be delighted to introduce Aldertree to it.
Alec's annoyance continues to simmer, but talking to Magnus has cooled it off some. Rereading Magnus' text, Alec considers his self-imposed break from Magnus. Who is he kidding? There's no way he can make a break from Magnus.
For once, Alec doesn't have time to agonise over his feelings. He's drowning in papers that are nearly due and studying for quizzes, and by the time Thursday of spring break comes around, his eyes refuse to focus on the words on his computer screen. He needs a break. And surely that's what the break is for? But no, sir. Not for him.
Alec jumps as his phone vibrates on the desk, Izzy's face filling the screen, and Alec snatches it up, happy for the interruption.
"Hey, what's up?" Alec asks, turning away from the computer.
There's a lot of background noise, a mixture of music, people shouting and banging.
"Hey, can you drop by Mum and Dad's?" Izzy asks, and her voice has a hint of stress to it. "Maybe spend a couple of days?"
Alec groans. Why would he do that? Why would he ever willingly put himself in that position? He moved out for a reason.
Izzy ignores his groan of protest and continues talking. "Max sounds bored."
"It's break... I'm sure he's got loads on."
"No. Joe. They go with the glasses," Izzy snaps, and Alec figures that isn't directed at him. "I'm worried about him. I know Jessie from next door is keeping an eye on him but," Izzy's voice softens, and Alec gathers they're back to talking about Max. "Things are... tense with Mum and Dad."
Alec swivels on his chair. "Has he said something?"
"Just hints," Izzy explains. "Look... I'd go myself, but this is the week from hell and I've got a never-ending list of jobs still to get done. I checked with Jace, but he can't get out of work. Alec... please? Just this afternoon and tomorrow? I can drop by on Saturday."
Alec feels Isabelle's concern and, if there is a problem, he wants to keep Max out of as much as possible.
Alec doesn't have to think about it. He says, "Okay."
"Thank you! I gotta go, but I owe you," Izzy says, and her attention is already elsewhere. "Joe! By the glasses," Alec hears, and then the line goes dead.
Alec sighs and moves to pack a bag. It's just like the universe, to give Alec the break he desires by sending him to the place he hates most. There's Max though. And Alec loves his little brother, so at least it's not all bad.
"Max?" Alec calls out when he walks into the house.
He listens for a response that doesn't come. He does hear the faint sounds of voices and gunfire from upstairs. Alec drops his bag by the front door and makes his way to Max's room. He knocks on the ajar door, but there's no answer, so he pushes it further open. Alec leans on the jamb and looks at Max - headphones on, controller in hand, and he furiously presses buttons as he shouts insults at the screen.
Max glances over and rolls his eyes at Alec, but Alec notices the way his lips try to curl into a grin. Alec waits for Max to finish his level and pull off the headphones.
"Ice cream?" Alec suggests.
It's a tradition that's entirely theirs, and Max's grin blooms full and wide, no longer able to be contained.
Copious scoops of ice cream later, Alec opens the front door.
"Our secret?" Alec asks as they walk into the house. If Maryse knows they had ice cream at three pm, then she'll no doubt find Alec irresponsible and complain that he's ruined Max's appetite.
Max agrees, and the house is quiet as they toe off their shoes in the hallway.
"Movie marathon?" Max suggests. Alec thought Max might have had his fill of hanging out. Isabelle is right. Max is in need of some attention.
Alec nods. "First one there gets first choice?"
Max doesn't agree. He shoots off up the stairs, giggling, and Alec chases after him.
"Cheater," Alec accuses when he makes it to Max's room.
Max crouches in front of the bookcase, scanning through the DVDs. He turns and sticks out his tongue at Alec. "You snooze, you lose," he teases.
Alec grabs a pillow from the bed and launches it at Max. Max throws it back and it descends into a pillow fight.
Alec gives Max the first and second choice of film, and they're halfway through the lego batman movie when Alec hears footsteps. They get closer and then Maryse's head pops around the door. The surprise of Alec being there is quickly masked, but Alec catches it.
"Hey," Alec says.
Maryse steps further into the room. "I didn't realise you were stopping by."
Max's attention is zeroed in on the TV screen, but he adds, "Alec's staying a few days."
Maryse raises an eyebrow and folds her arms. "Is he now? Well, it's nice of your brother to let us know."
Alec's expression is sheepish. He should have called. He meant to when he got here, but then there was Max and they were having fun and he forgot.
"Sorry," Alec apologises. "Last minute thing. Thought I could hang with Max."
His words appease Maryse. She smiles at Max and, as she turns to leave, tells them, "Dinner will be an hour."
An hour later, they sit around the dinner table. Robert ruffles Max's hair on his way to his seat, but he shoots Alec a disapproving look.
"Someone's having a relaxing week," Robert comments.
And it's nice to see you too... Not. There's no universe where a few days with Alec's parents can be classified as a 'relaxing week'.
"Not really. Papers due and studying to do."
Robert takes his seat as Maryse sets the large bowl of pasta in the middle of the table.
"That's why you've spent your afternoon in front of a TV?"
Max's gaze lowers to his empty plate and Alec watches Max close in on himself.
"Oh, give him a break, Robert," Maryse says, sitting down.
Robert instantly hits back. "I think we gave him too much of a break."
Alec scoops some pasta onto his plate. So that's how it's going to be. Usually, it's a two-pronged attack. One with the initial dig, and the other with a follow-up. But now? Now they're going to use their children to get back at each other. Alec looks at Max. He's going to get the brunt of it.
"Did you get in contact with Reece?" Robert enquires.
Alec takes a bite of pasta, then asks, "Reece?" Alec can't recall a Reece.
"I emailed you his details. You were to call him about the internship at-"
"No," Alec interrupts. "I deleted the email."
Robert's lips press into a thin, unamused line. Alec finds the expression extremely satisfying.
"Alec. I spent a lot of time setting that up. Do you know the strings I had to pull?" Robert doesn't give Alec the opportunity to say no or that he couldn't give a flying fuck. "I'll call him tomorrow and we'll schedule something."
"No," Alec says again.
"No," Alec reiterates. "I didn't ask you to pull any strings. I don't want you to." With a wicked glee, he adds, "I've got an interview at Epeolatry."
"Oh. Well done, Alec," Maryse says. Alec would appreciate it if it wasn't just a tactic to annoy Robert.
"Maryse," Robert admonishes, rising to Maryse's baiting. He turns his attention back to Alec. "You will talk to Reece, and you can forget this Epeolatry nonsense."
This is the moment. If Alec backs down now, it sets a precedent and his father will run his life.
"No, Dad. I'm not talking to Reece... I'm going to this interview."
The cutlery clatters as Robert sets it down. "This is ridiculous," he mutters, getting up from his chair and storming out of the room.
It won't be the last time they have this conversation, but Alec's glad he won the first round at least.
Alec makes sure to avoid Robert for the rest of the evening and, thankfully, he's gone by the time Alec gets up the next day. Alec expects his father home for dinner and another rerun of their last meal, but it's just Maryse and Max, and they order pizza in.
Once they're stuffed on pepperoni, Max disappears upstairs, and Alec finds himself alone with his mother. It's something he tries to avoid.
It surprises Alec when Maryse says, "Thank you... for spending time with him. Things are... difficult at the minute."
"Difficult?" Alec asks, then berates himself. Couldn't he have given a non-committal no problem?
Maryse stares at the glass in her hand. "Your father and I... things are strained."
Strained doesn't even begin to cover it. Perhaps he should soothe, console, but he hasn't the stomach for it, and if they're talking about this, then he's done holding back.
"What Dad did... It's wrong, okay. I can't condone it, but you have to make a decision." Alec takes a breath. "If you want to work through it... then great. If not, then this needs to stop. It can't be just about the two of you... there's Max, and if you're bickering and putting him in the middle, that's not fair."
It's not his place. He knows this and Alec expects to be scolded, but Maryse does something Alec could never expect.
"You're right," she agrees.
Did someone replace his mother without his knowledge?
Alec looks at her in disbelief. "I am?"
"Yes. He's... He's still seeing her." Maryse's voice wavers in a way Alec's never heard it. His mother is strong, and though showing vulnerability isn't a weakness to Alec, it always has been for her.
"Are you leaving him?" Alec asks softly.
The silence stretches for so long that Alec doesn't think he's going to get a reply.
"I don't know."
"You should," Alec says. Though, ultimately, he knows that it's her decision.
That's the last they talk about it, conversation moving to lighter topics until Alec can excuse himself. But Alec thinks it might be the most honest conversation he's had with his mother in years.
Alec hates the library. Or perhaps, the library hates him. He stares at the shelf - Section H. Row 3. Shelf 9 - and scans the line of books. Robb. Roberts. Robson. Fuck. Robinson is missing. Annoyed because it's the book Aldertree alluded to in their last lecture, Alec digs out his phone and checks the online catalogue.
Gods vs. Heroes. Robinson. One copy. Available. H. 3. 9.
Of course, Aldertree would reference a book that the library only has one copy of; he's just that much of a dick. Alec, for once, thought his luck was in, but the universe is messing with him again and he's just about done with its sick sense of humour.
Alec gives the shelf another scan, but the book hasn't materialised while he's been standing there, and with a sigh, he decides to go check at the desk.
As Alec's luck would have it, the line when he gets there is long. Typical. Though, Alec has to sympathise with the guy on duty. All the check-out machines have out of order signs and he looks thoroughly harassed.
Alec tries to be patient. He does. But fifteen minutes later he realises this isn't getting him anywhere. Maybe someone's using the book at the moment, or it's on one of the carts to be reshelved? He could take a look around. Just in case. Plus, it would kill some time before he has to meet Magnus.
As Alec walks through the library, he draws a couple of frowns, but he's not overly bothered. He subtly checks desks and hunts down carts, but he doesn't find it.
Frustrated, Alec walks back to section H, row 3. Maybe it got put back on a different shelf? It's a hail mary, but Alec's willing to try anything at this point, his stubbornness not allowing him to give up.
What the hell?
There on shelf 9, between Roberts and Robson, is Robinson's Gods vs. Heroes.
Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Alec pulls the book from the shelf. There's a giddy kind of triumph in his stomach.
His newfound triumph putters out when he sees the line at the checkout desk. The machines are still broken and the queue is at least eight people deep. Alec checks his watch as he impatiently stands in line. He's going to be late. And, Okay, he could leave the book, but after all the effort he's gone to, he really doesn't want to.
He's in the middle of weighing up his options, torn between getting one over on the universe or being on time to see Magnus, when his phone vibrates in his pocket.
Magnus (19.03.18 4:55 PM): Sorry. Running a little late. Stuck in a meeting. My office is open if you wanna wait.
Alec (19.03.18 4:55 PM): No problem. I'm stuck in the library at the moment anyway.
It's gone ten past when Alec manages to escape the library, and he hurries to Magnus' office. But when he gets there, the door is closed. Alec knocks but gets no response and, remembering Magnus' message, he pushes the door open. Stepping inside, Alec flicks the light switch. The room seems cold, unwelcoming and there's a sudden feeling of wrongness. He can't put his finger on what that wrongness is, he just knows it exists. Then, chuckling, he realises it feels like just any other university professor's office.
Small things stand out though. The posters on the wall and the nicknacks that scream Magnus, and Alec wanders the room as he waits.
He pauses in front of a trio of photo frames on Magnus' desk, recognising Cat in one of them. Cat and Clary and Tessa and Magnus all stand outside of Epeolatry. There's no plaque on the wall, but Alec recognises the building.
His eyes shift to the picture next to it, and Alec grins. He leans forward, wanting a better look. Is that? Shit. Yes. It is. Professor Fell.
Fell, Magnus and a male Alec doesn't recognise fill the frame. What strikes Alec is the wide smile of Fell's face. He can't recall ever seeing the man smile, and if he considers what it would be like, he'd never have imagined such an enthusiastic and joyous expression.
Alec shifts his attention to the third photo. It's set back from the other two, but the black and white simplicity of it is stunning. The moment of a young boy wrapped in a woman's embrace is forever immortalised. Alec stands, motionless, staring for a long time.
In the woman's face, Alec sees Magnus' eyes, the curve of Magnus' nose, and the upturn of a corner of the mouth that is Magnus' fond smile. The boy is mid-laugh, eyes scrunched closed, mouth open in delight, and Alec can feel happiness radiate from the frame.
He's assaulted with a sudden pang of jealousy at the sight of Magnus with his mother and the obvious love they have for each. The jealousy morphs into guilt when he considers that Magnus' mother died last year. Alec's mother might not be perfect, might not love him unconditionally, but shouldn't he be thankful he still has her?
Uncomfortable with his train of thought, Alec moves to the bookshelf and studies the titles, checking his phone routinely.
At six-o-one, Alec's stomach drops because Magnus clearly isn't coming and, dejected, he picks up his satchel. He's just settling the strap on his shoulder when Magnus bursts in.
"Sorry," Magnus apologises. His hair is out of place as if the wind has been playing with it, and Magnus' breath comes quickly, chest heaving. Was Magnus rushing here? For Alec?
"It's okay," Alec assures, trying to make sense of the situation.
Magnus catches his breath and moves further into the room. "Really, you didn't have to wait. I thought it would be like a twenty-minute thing, and then it took forever." Magnus checks his watch and groans. The noise has Alec taking a deep calming breath. He will not make that groan sexual. He will not.
"Do you still have time, or do you need to leave?" Magnus asks.
And did Alec really consider that Magnus wasn't coming? He's an Idiot.
"I'm good. If you are?"
"Yeah, but-" Magnus pauses with a look of consideration on his beautiful face. The beautiful face that Alec was hoping to spend at least the next hour looking at, but of course, there's a but. Why does there always have to be a but? "We could talk and eat?"
Alec keeps his face passive while alarms ring in his mind and confetti cannons go off. Not a date. Not a date. Not a date, he chants over and over. He's envisioned Magnus asking him somewhere to talk and eat for months, and it's happening, but at the same time, it isn't happening.
Alec nods and manages to say, "Yeah, sure." Though, that can't be his voice; there's no way he could ever fake the nonchalance of those words. Because even if it's not a date, it's still food and conversation. With Magnus.
Magnus grins, that wide curve of lips that reaches his eyes and causes those adorable crinkles that Alec loves, and the room suddenly feels right again. It feels bright and warm and welcoming and... like Magnus' office. It can't ever be just another university professors' office with the vibrancy and flair of Magnus standing in it.
"There's this place a few blocks from here that's good," Magnus says, reaching for his coat, completely unaware of the way he's dazzling Alec.
"Sure," Alec repeats. He'd agree to anything right now.
Magnus turns to him, places a hand on his shoulder, and says, "Okay, let's go."
And, somehow, Alec remembers how to move his feet.
When Magnus said he knew a place nearby, Alec didn't consider that Magnus' place was his and Jace's place. What if Jace is here? Alec's mortified at the mere thought.
Alec holds the door for Magnus and steps through once Magnus has entered. Magnus gestures to a table over by one of the walls and Alec smiles, nods and follows. All the while his eyes anxiously scan the tables, and he only relaxes once he's verified that Jace is not here. That's just the sort of thing that would normally happen to him, and his siblings are bad enough, he really doesn't need them teasing him about Magnus any more than they already do.
As they walk past the bar, Maia sends him a thumbs up and Alec shoots her a death stare behind Magnus' back. Not a date. How many times does he have to repeat that before he believes it?
Magnus shrugs out of his black jacket and Alec - who is only human - can't help but appreciate the view. The fabric of Alec's favourite shirt of Magnus' - black with a red check - bunches at Magnus' biceps as he slides the jacket off. Alec's got a real thing for the strength those muscles suggest, and he struggles not to consider what being pinned beneath Magnus would feel like.
Fuck. Alec thought he was over this, or past this, or better at dealing with this. This being his constant fantasies about Magnus Bane. Rein yourself in, he tells himself.
"This place okay?" Magnus asks.
"Hmm? Oh... yeah. I've been here before," Alec says. "You're right. The food is good."
"Oh... great. I'm glad you like it," Magnus replies, but there's a frown on his face that suggests otherwise.
Alec's not sure if it's nerves or the feeling of the moment, but he keeps talking. "My brother, Jace, and I usually come here. Normally on a Monday night."
Okay. Can he stop babbling now, please?
The words bring a smile to Magnus' lips. That's something, at least.
"I'm sorry to have stolen you away in that case."
Don't be. Alec almost says. Magnus can steal him away any time. All the time. Fuck. Get ahold of yourself, Lightwood.
The interruption of the waiter is welcome and they order drinks and food.
"Thanks for doing this," Alec says once they have their drinks.
Magnus grins. No. He smirks. "What? Making you wait around for an hour."
Magnus is teasing him and Alec just about melts.
"No. For offering to help."
Magnus shrugs and takes a long pull from his drink, before leaning forward. "So... tell me what you know about Epeolatry."
Alec rattles off what he's managed to find out through research or from his visit. There isn't a lot of information out there and it doesn't take long, but Magnus listens throughout.
"Okay," Magnus says when Alec's done. "Now do you want the unedited version?"
He gives Alec a conspirative wink and Alec almost chokes on his cola.
"Isn't that... like, cheating?"
Magnus chuckles and shakes his head. "I promise not to tell you anything Cat wouldn't tell you herself."
Alec considers. He wants this job, so damn bad, and if it helps him to understand the company, what harm can it do?
Magnus shifts in his chair, getting comfortable. "Well, Cat founded the company six years ago like you know, but she started in her apartment, reading hopefuls' manuscripts. She worked in mainstream publishing for... hmm..." Magnus pauses, thinking, and Alec watches the way Magnus' fingers tap his jaw, the light glinting off Magnus' rings. "I'd say around two years, but it was frustrating."
Alec loves to listen to Magnus talk, to the melodic way the words form, and he rests his chin on his hand, elbow on the table.
"She had these amazing books the company didn't want to publish... said there wasn't an audience out there for them. And of course there was no audience because they weren't putting the books out there for an audience to engage with," Magnus breaks off again, waves a hand in front of his face. "Sorry... that's a whole other tangent. But... she went it alone, found an author that was willing to take a chance with her and she partnered with a book printer. Cat took a lot on herself financially, but it paid off big when they published Bleeding Light."
Alec lets out a wistful sigh at the name, transported back to the summer he turned eighteen and the excitement he'd felt reading it for the first time.
"Man... I love that book," Alec says, and he's still amazed that Epeolatry were the ones to publish it. He might dig out his own dog eared copy and give it another read.
A soft smile settles on Magnus' face, and there's a faraway look in his eye as if he's caught up in a memory of his own.
"Out of everything Cat's published, it's still my favourite," Magnus admits.
The conversation stalls as their food arrives and after thanking the waiter, Magnus asks, "Do you know or have you read some of the other books they've produced?"
Alec nods as he squashes down the bun of his burger, sauce running down the sides. Okay, he might not have thought this through. There's no way anyone can sexily eat this, but he watches Magnus take a bite of his own burger, and Alec takes that back. Magnus, somehow, manages to make it sexy as hell, and Alec refuses to get turned on over this.
He pulls his attention back to the question and gives Magnus a list of seven he can remember off the top of his head.
"I've read Kings of Strife and Who Wants to be a Hero," Alec adds.
Magnus chews and gives a hum of approval and Alec considers that eating a meal may never be the same from this moment on.
"I read Who Wants to be a Hero, it was brilliant."
"No wonder you liked it," Alec says with a chuckle, teasing. "It's steeped in Greek mythology."
Magnus holds up his hands, and the smile on his face is so playful that Alec wants to capture that look forever. "You got me."
Not at all. Not even close.
In a more serious tone, Magnus asks, "What did you like about it?"
Alec takes a moment to consider and formulate a reply. "I guess... the journey and the sort of... self-discovery of it. I didn't notice Connor's growth until the very end, and then when I thought back to the teen that introduced himself on the first page, all shy confidence, I wondered how he'd gotten there.
"But the thing is... I knew how he got there, I read every word, took every step of that journey with him... and that's what made it great, you know? That I was so invested in the story that I didn't see the progression of the plot, I lived it. And that realisation Connor has at the end... of the man he's become... I had that realisation with him. It was powerful."
Alec bites his lip as he finishes, and looks down at his burger.
"That's a very good answer, Alec."
Alec lifts his head to the genuine smile on Magnus' face, and... dammit. That was an interview question, wasn't it?
"Sorry," Alec apologises. "I thought we were just talking."
If he'd known, he'd have... well, he'd have tried to be more coherent.
"We are," Magnus assures. "And if you can be this relaxed when you interview with Cat, enough to give honest opinions, then that's the best advice I can give you."
Alec holds back a snort. Magnus thinks he's relaxed? He's a tightly coiled ball of nervous desire right now.
As they finish their food, Magnus takes him through a few other preparation questions and by the time they're done, Alec feels like he could ace any interview. Possibly just because Magnus praises his answers and gives him the fond smile that Alec adores.
When they get the check, Magnus refuses to let Alec pay, or split the bill, despite how much Alec protests.
"No, it's my fault. I was late. So, it's on me," is all Magnus will say on the matter, even when Alec points out that Magnus is the one doing Alec the favour.
The gesture doesn't help Alec try to think of this as something other than a date, nor does the way they both hesitate when they stand on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. How does he tell the professor he's crushing on/half in love with, that he enjoyed their 'not a date'?
"Thanks for this," Alec says again, awkwardly.
Magnus lifts a hand and squeezes Alec's shoulder. "Don't mention it."
"It still feels a little like cheating," Alec admits, not wanting to walk away yet.
Magnus shrugs. "Just think of it as... using all available resources."
Alec's laugh bubbles out of him. "So, cheating?"
"To-may-toes, to-mah-toes," Magnus replies. "You'll do fine, Alec."
And as they finally say goodbye and Magnus walks away, Alec thinks he just might.