“Did you hear?” Simon asks excitedly as he slams his lunch down on the flimsy table that Jace has long since claimed as his own, off in the corner of the company cafeteria.
“Of course I heard. Everyone’s heard.” Jace doesn’t sound happy about it, probably because he isn’t.
Simon winces. “Oh, man. How much did you lose?”
“$200 at least,” says a very smug voice from behind Simon’s left shoulder, and both men look up to see Isabelle stalking towards them, looking every bit the cat that caught the canary. “And don’t think being related to me is going to get you out of even one cent. Alec’s workplace indiscretions are going to buy me a really nice bag.”
Simon winces again, glancing back at Jace. “Total?”
“$500,” Jace admits, and glares at Izzy when she laughs. “Shut up! God, why couldn’t Alec have kept it in his pants until next week?” he moans. “I had so much riding on that holiday party.”
“I got lucky,” Simon says. “I think I broke even, ‘cause I got the ‘Magnus’ office’ part right even though I figured they wouldn’t get there until at least New Year’s.”
“I lost $50 to Lydia over the location, but that’s about it.” Izzy’s eyes take on a dreamlike quality. “Organizing this betting pool was the best idea we’ve ever had. What do you guys think, red leather, or maybe something metallic? Coach just launched a really great new line…”
“I think red is good for your skintone,” Simon says very seriously, as Jace makes a valiant effort to drown himself in the pity Starbucks Clary brought him earlier, when the news broke.
“You raise an excellent point, Si,” Isabelle says, pointing a finger at his chest. “I knew there was a reason I kept you around.”
“You mean besides —”
“Stop it,” Jace interrupts, groaning. “If I have to hear about anybody else’s sex life today, I think I’m gonna be sick.”
Izzy giggles. “Sorry, Jace, but you should have thought about that before you bet me $200.”
“What the hell did you bet Izzy $200 over?”
All three of them whip around; Simon nearly falls out of his chair. Alec has, somehow, snuck up on them; his hair is maybe slightly wilder than normal, and his suit just a touch more rumpled, but none of that is what’s gotten Izzy, Simon, and Jace’s attention about his appearance. Every single eye has gone to the enormous, jewel-bright hickey just under his right ear — the hickey which, based on the way he’s frowning at their scrutiny in mild confusion, Alec doesn’t know about.
“Oh, nothing,” Isabelle says sweetly, breaking the silent staring; Jace’s head hits the table with a thunk, and he mutters something mostly inaudible that seems to include the words ‘$200’ and ‘holiday party,’ none of which makes any sense to Alec, who eyes him warily before sitting down.
“Hey, uh, have you seen Magnus lately?” Simon asks, because he’s the least subtle person to ever exist; he quails under the glare Isabelle shoots him and yelps when Jace hits his thigh under the table, but Alec, thankfully, is too busy blushing and averting his gaze in what he seems to think is a subtle way to notice.
“Uh, yeah, I — talked to him earlier,” he mumbles to the Tupperware he’s clutching. Pasta, it looks like, with red sauce and mushrooms. Jace, whose pity Starbucks is starting to go cold and who, in the depths of his misery about his own poor betting decisions, hasn’t thought to procure any actual food, is incredibly jealous.
Then Alec frowns, apparently finally realizing that everyone’s been acting pretty damn strange, and that Simon, who barely even knows Magnus, doesn’t normally wonder about him. “Why do you ask?”
“Uh, no reason,” Simon says quickly, turning his focus back to his own food.
Izzy, thank god, swoops in to the rescue, bursting into a story about the girl two cubicles down from her unprompted, and if Alec notices the very obvious and sudden change in subject, he doesn’t bring it up.
Idris is a big enough company that, logically, a betting pool about when and where the CFO’s son and the hot new marketing consultant will finally be overcome by their unresolved sexual tension and start fucking like rabbits already should have been able to slip by mostly under the radar.
This would have been true if, as originally envisioned, the betting pool had stayed mostly contained between Jace, Simon, Izzy, Lydia, Clary, and a few of their other close friends, as well as a precious few of Alec’s comrades from HR who could spy on him while Izzy spied on Magnus over on the marketing side of the office.
It did not, however, stay contained.
“OKAY!” Isabelle shouts over the noise of the crowd, standing on top of a chair because that’s the only way to get everyone’s attention. It’s a good thing the people at Taki’s know her, good that she and her siblings have been coming here since they were kids and have earned a few privileges now and again; otherwise, they would definitely have been kicked out by now. She also intends to tip very heavily, which, because her beloved older brother has recently and unknowingly made her quite a bit richer, she can afford to do and still have enough left over for the new bag she wants to buy. Pretty much any new bag she wants to buy.
The crowd hushes, at least a little bit, and turns to stare up at her. There are easily a hundred people in here, which is, objectively, hilarious. Over a hundred coworkers, most of them strangers to her, gathered together to exchange money over the topic of her big brother’s love life. They’ve taken over a good quantity of the interior of Taki’s, tables shoved, if not end to end, then roughly in the same direction, creating a clear grouping.
Okay, maybe it’s also a little bit creepy. But still: hilarious.
“Thank you,” she says, as the general hubbub fades down to a dull murmur. “All right, we all know why we’re here. Jace, Simon, and I will be sitting here —” she indicates their four-top — “to distribute the pool and check off everyone’s names. So, you know, try not to all rush up at once, but come up to one of us and we’ll get you sorted. Everyone good?”
“Just in the interest of total clarity, can we confirm the final result?” someone calls from the back of the group.
Izzy grins. “It happened today — so, that’s December 15th, in case anyone’s been hitting the eggnog a little hard recently — in Magnus’ office. According to three separate sources in marketing, Alec made the first move.”
Which had, frankly, been a little surprising. That was one thing she hadn’t bet on at all, because she honestly hadn’t known if her brother had the guts to do something before Magnus, whose pining, even though she’d only known him for a few months now, had been so obvious to Isabelle and, indeed, most people that it was almost sad, finally snapped and just planted one on him in the elevator or something.
Her proclamation gets a few wolf-whistles, and she grins before continuing, “Any other little random side-bets, just come check with us; there are too many to list out.”
And she sits back down in her chair, settling in for a long night of playing banker — but she makes a point of collecting her own winnings first of all. I love you, Alec, she thinks, and flags down the waitress to order a round of drinks; they’re going to need them.
Everything is going just fine for the first hour or so. People manage to come up in mostly civilized groups of two or three, and while there is much grousing by the people who, like Jace, have lost ridiculous sums of money on this whole thing, there’s also quite a bit of celebrating. Most people, like Simon, came close to breaking even, often because they didn’t bet all that much to begin with. There are a few who bet ridiculous sums of money — shit, Isabelle is one of them, she really shouldn’t judge — but by and large, she’s handing out tens and twenties from the little box of cash in the center of the table that’s been slowly collecting money from the pool for months now.
By the time they’re ordering their third round of drinks and a massive plate of cheese fries to split between the three of them — Izzy, as the biggest winner, had got the first two rounds, but Simon magnanimously grabs the third — about half the crowd has cleared out; most people are leaving as soon as they’ve got their money, though some are hanging around to eat, which makes Isabelle feel at least a tiny bit better about taking over a really solid portion of the restaurant.
That, of course, is when it all goes to hell.
“What are you guys all doing here?”
Izzy freezes, not quite able to turn and look at him; she feels Simon do the same next to her, and across the table she can see all the blood run out of Jace’s face.
“I didn’t realize this was going to be a group outing.”
Magnus. Double shit.
“It’s not,” Alec says. “I’m just wondering what the hell is going on and why — is that a box of cash? Is this what you guys were talking about about earlier? The bet thing?”
“Bet?” Magnus sounds amused, but also a little affronted. Isabelle still can’t look at either of them, so she can’t be sure, but she bets he’s making an outrageous face. “There was some sort of office bet going on and no one told me? Why, was it about me?”
The silence between the five of them, even though the rest of the restaurant seems to have no idea what’s going on yet, is painful.
There’s a long, horrible moment, and then Alec slowly, suspiciously says, “I didn’t know about it, either.”
Finally, finally, Izzy turns to look at them, trying to school her face into a mask of innocence and preemptive apology all at once. As she’d suspected, they are most definitely here on a date; there is nothing ‘just friends from the office getting drinks and dinner after work’ about the way either of them is dressed, or the way they’re holding hands like letting go is physically not an option.
Or the hickey that’s still practically glowing on Alec’s neck.
Under any other circumstances, she’d be distracted by how sweet it is that Alec brought Magnus here on their first date — there’s something really personal about it; this restaurant was where he first came out to her, over delicious handmade burgers and Cokes when they were both still in high school, and over the years it’s seen more Lightwood family shenanigans than pretty much any other place on the planet.
But under the circumstances of this particular Lightwood family shenanigan, she’s more concerned with the fact that with every passing second, Alec is looking more and more murderous.
She’s so busy contemplating whether trying to run would be seen as an admission of guilt that she doesn’t even notice he’s grabbing the sheet in front of her — the sheet detailing every individual bet that’s occurred through the course of this whole thing, who, how much, on what — until it’s too late, and he’s already poring over it. He only gets a few lines down before he figures it out; reading over his shoulder, Magnus’ eyes are growing comically wide.
“You were betting on us?” Alec explodes, in what could almost be considered a shriek. He throws his hands up, and the paper almost goes flying before Magnus snatches it up, still reading with an apparently great interest. Which, Isabelle supposes, is fair.
“Only a little bit?” Simon tries. Alec shoots him a glare, and he immediately holds his hands up in surrender.
“It was never supposed to be a big deal,” Jace adds hastily, in a tone of voice much like one that might be used to soothe a wild animal. “It was just supposed to be like, the three of us, and Lydia, and Clary, and a couple people, but then it sort of — snowballed?”
“People are really invested in you two,” Isabelle provides, biting her lip. “I mean, they just kept coming to us, and we thought it might as well be organized?”
“A lot of these people seem to think we were two seconds away from jumping each other right out in the open,” Magnus says absently, still reading the list intently. “I almost feel bad for disappointing them.”
Alec makes a noise like a strangled cat. “Please don’t. Please don’t feel bad about that.” Then his eyes narrow, and he whips back around to glare at Izzy again. “Wait, how do any of you even know that — that —” He gestures to Magnus. “I didn’t tell you guys!”
Izzy winces a little. “At least three people saw you go into Magnus’ office together and lock the door, and then you came out with — well — that.” She gestures at Alec’s hickey, and he slaps a hand to his neck, his face going beet red. “It didn’t exactly take Sherlock Holmes to figure it out.”
Magnus, apparently done reading, starts to set the paper back down on the table and then appears to think the better of it, folding it up and putting it in his back pocket instead. He glances at Alec’s neck and says, both apologetic and smug, “In hindsight, I can see how the conclusion would not have been hard to draw.”
Alec shuts his eyes tight and lets out a deep, weary sigh. He just stands there, hand still clasped over the mark on his throat, for a few long moments, very visibly counting to ten in his head. Everyone else remains absolutely silent, all eyes trained on him; clearly, no one is quite sure if he’s going to explode again.
But when he opens his eyes, he just sighs again, looking somewhat resigned, and says, “Okay. Well. This conversation is not over, but I’m not going to have it right now. We’re just going to —”
He gestures toward the door with one hand, grabs Magnus with the other, and leaves as abruptly as he came.
No one seems quite able to speak for several long minutes, even after the two of them are gone. The waitress, looking like she absolutely overheard everything and is definitely about to go laugh about it with all of her coworkers, brings them their round of drinks, and Jace downs half of his as soon as it’s set in front of him.
“Well,” Simon says finally. “That… happened?”
Isabelle doesn’t quite know what to say about that, so she just grabs Jace’s copy of the list so that she can be ready for the next person to come and claim their winnings and tries not to wonder about the likelihood of Alec resorting to sororicide.
It’s not like Alec’s siblings haven’t pulled stupid shit before. They have. They have, in fact, pulled a lot of stupid shit before.
It’s just that, while he’s had a lifetime to grow used and quietly resigned to their particular brand of nonsense, Magnus has not. And if — after Alec finally worked up the nerve to ask him out, after Magnus pinned him to his desk and kissed him senseless — Izzy and Jace have scared him off, he’s going to move to Greenland and never speak to them again.
He waits until they’re out of Taki’s, dramatic exit successfully completed, before he stops and groans and buries his head in his hands. “I am so sorry,” he says, peering out at Magnus through his fingers. “So, so, so sorry.”
Magnus laughs, and it sounds easy and light and soft, but that could easily just be him trying to let Alec down gently before he runs screaming in the other direction, as far as he can get from any and all Lightwoods.
“It’s all right, Alexander,” he says gently. “It’s not your fault. And anyway, I think it’s kind of funny.”
“Funny is certainly one word for it,” Alec grumbles, but he drops his hands and grabs Magnus’ again, tentatively allowing himself to hope that maybe this new, fragile thing between them isn’t quite as fucked up by recent proceedings as he’d been afraid it might be.
“I’ve never been the subject of a massive office romance betting pool before,” Magnus informs him, squeezing his hand and starting to lead him in the general direction of the street corner. “Every minute with you so far has been an adventure.”
“Yeah, well, don’t get used to that,” Alec says. “I’m usually much more of a… Well, I’m usually just the person Izzy babbles office gossip at, not, you know. The subject of the gossip.” He hesitates, then more quietly adds, “I really am sorry. I mean, sorry I stormed out of there, at any rate. I uh… I’m not sure I could have sat and had dinner in there after all that. I understand if you want to go home.”
Magnus stops walking and looks at him — just looks — and the way the light spilling out of the windows of Taki’s catches on his cheekbones and weaves itself into his hair makes something catch in Alec’s chest. And then he smiles, soft and warm, and Alec knows he’s done for.
“Believe me, Alexander,” Magnus says, lowering his voice to a murmur and leaning in close, so close that their noses almost brush and Alec has to remind himself to breathe. “I’m not going anywhere.”
And he leans up, and in, and presses an incredibly nice kiss to Alec’s mouth, and Alec shuts his eyes and forgets about his siblings, his coworkers, whatever weird betting pool was going on, everything, and just lets himself sink into it.
By the time Magnus steps back to take him by the hand, already rattling off suggestions for other restaurants they can try, he’s pretty much forgotten there was any weird stuff going on at all. He’s even mostly decided he won’t slowly murder Jace and Izzy and then make sure no one can ever find the bodies.
“They realize we can see them, right?” Jace wonders, before shaking his head and turning back to his drink and his cheese fries.
Isabelle doesn’t answer; she just watches her brother walk away through the window, looking happier than she’s maybe ever seen him, and smiles quietly to herself.