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The Lonely Hearts Hotline

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The best thing about Alec’s job is that he can do it without putting on pants, which would seem conducive to his work, but being a phone sex operator is a lot less exciting than it sounds. He mostly reads from a list of uninspired prompts printed out by his bored supervisor, takes notes in a beaten up mead journal and doodles in the margins between breathy moans.

Though not a requirement, he can get off if he chooses to, but Alec thinks it’s a bit like sneaking fries when you work fast food: it sounds nice in theory, but really, you would just get sick of fries super quickly. Besides, he can’t give the clients that much of himself, he just can’t. It’s not real sex if you’re eating shitty microwave meals and desperately trying to talk dirty to sweaty dudes jacking off in their parents’ basements. Plus, some of the stuff they ask him to roleplay isn’t the kind of stuff he would get off on for a million dollars and a direct commandment from the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Currently, Alec's lying on the couch in his boxers, faded t-shirt, and a ratty bathrobe with a mysterious stain on the lapel that he doesn’t want to think about. Jace is working late tonight waiting tables at a (kind of) high-end restaurant, and Alec has the tiny apartment to himself.

The calls will be patched through soon, generally men, but sometimes a lonely woman or two. Mostly, he finds that a lot just want to shoot the shit, pretend to be in a relationship. The full boyfriend experience. He’s the highlight of some of his clients’ weeks and that makes him a bit sad. He’s extra-careful with them.

It’s not the type of work he envisioned for himself growing up, but it almost pays the bills and it’s something he can do for a few hours each night while trudging his way through his highly prestigious and deeply shitty unpaid internship.

His phone beeps and Alec pauses his Office rerurn marathon to answer his work phone, slipping on his hand's free headset. He's informed they've paid for a five-minute block with an option for two extensions, then they’re patched through with a loud beep.

"Hey there," Alec says, opening up his notebook to a blank page. He likes to keep general notes to keep clients straight. Sometimes they ask if he remembers them. The answer’s always yes, even if it’s not.

Over the line, there‘s complete silence. Newbie, Alec figures. They're always shy at first.

"Hi," a voice says finally. It's warm, low, honey-smooth.

"What are you up to tonight?" Alec asks to break the ice.

"I can't sleep," the voice says quietly.

"There are specific hotlines for that, you know,” Alec says, amused.

"I thought--I don‘t know what I thought. " The voice cuts off, a harsh breath and then, "Never mind. I shouldn't have called. This was a mistake."

"Hey, it's no problem," Alec says, trying to salvage his first call for the night, but the dial tone's already sounding.

Alec shrugs and waits for the call center to patch another call through. He gets paid for the full five minutes, regardless.

 

---

 

The next night, Alec settles in. Jace has picked up a shift, which means that his tuition bill must be coming due. Alec’s going to try to work for an extra couple hours to bring in some more cash. It’s a stressful time for them all.

He gratefully settles on the couch again. Alec doesn’t like taking the calls in his bedroom, makes him feel dirty, too personal in a way. He’s not like, a staunch professional, but he’s got standards. He’s eating a bowl of microwave mac and cheese, the tv muted in the background as he takes his first call of the night.

“Hey there,” Alec says in the lowest, sexiest voice he can manage. It sounds vaguely disinterested but some people get off on that.

“Hi,” the voice says.

“Ready to have some fun?”

The voice makes a small, sad noise.

“Or not?” Alec tries hastily. He gets paid regardless of what they're talking about. “We can just chat for a while.”

“What’s your name,” the voice says finally.

“Uh, Chad,” Alec says. He was drunk when he picked his name, just as he was drunk when he answered the job wanted ad. He should have picked something sexy like Tristan, but he’s forever Chad now, the douchiest phone sex operator in history. He balances his bowl of macaroni carefully on his stomach and sneaks a quick bite.

“You don’t sound like a Chad,” the voice says doubtfully.

“Why the hell not?” Alec says before he can stop himself, mouth full of pasta.

“--are you eating?”

“No,” Alec lies and swallows.

“Because it would be okay if you were.”

“I’m not,” Alec insists and sets his bowl down on the floor next to the couch. “What should I call you?”

Please don’t say daddy, Alec prays. He doesn’t know if he can stomach another one of those calls.

“Eh, Magnus.”

Alec snorts. He has no room to talk about Alec’s shitty fake name. “Sure,” Alec says. “So, what are you doing, Magnus?”

“I don’t know why I keep calling,” Magnus says.

Alec adjusts his headset a bit and sets aside his prompts. It seems like they’re already going off-script for this one. “Well, people call for all kinds of reasons. Granted, it’s mostly to get their rocks off.”

“I--”

“It’s okay if you want to. Hang on,” Alec says hurriedly, leaning down and scooping the thick sheaf of papers off the floor. He flips through until he finds his favorite page of prompts. “What are you wearing?”

Magnus seems flummoxed at the abrupt change of subject. “My suit. I just got home from work and I haven’t bothered to change.”

“I bet it looks great on you. Wanna take that suit off now for me?”

“I suppose I could,” Magnus says cautiously. He mostly sounds confused, like he couldn’t imagine why he would be getting naked while on a sex line. Alec tries not to be charmed, but it’s tough.

He hears the whisper of fabric, a jacket being removed, a silk tie being quickly pulled from the folds of a collar.

“Your pants too, big boy,” Alec says absently, skimming the page further down.

“Are you--are you reading from a script?”

“Er,” Alec says, guilty tossing the prompts behind the couch like Magnus is in the room with him. “Do you want to know what I’m wearing?”

“Sure,” Magnus says.

“Tight black boxer-briefs and a smile.”

“Is any of that true?”

“No,” Alec admits, rubbing his temples.

Magnus blows out a breath. “Look, I have people kissing my ass and lying to me all day. I just want a little honesty, okay?”

“Okay," Alec says softly. “Can I ask you a question?“

“Sure, but I may not answer,“ Magnus warns.

“What made you call me?”

Magnus hesitates for so long that Alec‘s a little afraid he hung up, but then he says, “I saw an ad for your hotline number online and I clicked through until I found a profile I liked.”

“Yeah?” Alec asks, interested. “What did the ad say?”

“It asked if I was feeling lonely,” Magnus says, voice quiet, “so I called.”

 

---

 

Alec rolls out of bed the next morning, groaning. He only had a few calls, Magnus took up most of his night, blowing through his two extensions and calling back twice in between other clients. They ended up talking about music, mostly. It was one of the most bizarre, surreal nights he could remember.

For the life of him, he can’t imagine why anyone would want his thoughts on music artists to the tune of $2.99 a minute, but he gets paid the same anyway. The problem is, in the space of an expensive conversation where one is decidedly in the other’s temporary employ, he’s come to really like Magnus. They have a shocking amount in common, including an entirely reasonable fear of Phil Collins.

Jace comes ambling in, interrupting Alec’s thoughts.

“What did I tell you about pants in the kitchen.”

“That they’re optional?” Jace says.

"Right,” Alec agrees, “except I said that they’re not.”

Jace shrugs and scratches his balls before pouring himself a cup of coffee, finishing off the pot and not bothering to start another, Alec notes sourly. He really is the absolute worst.

Jace had come in late last night stinking of chipotle and general New York Tex Mex Bobby Flay-flavored bullshit. Obviously thinking Alec was having a normal conversation, he shoved him over on the couch, only to overhear Alec mutter a perfunctory, “And what would you like to do with my balls?“ and scrambled up like the couch had bitten him on the ass.

This morning, Jace rests his forearms against the counter, sipping his coffee and peering at Alec with bleary eyes, the heterochromia even more startling in the early morning. “You sounded pretty cozy with your client last night.”

“Sweaty ball guy?” Alec asks.

“Christ, no,” Jace says, turning bright pink. “Let us never speak of that again.”

Alec snorts. “You’ve overheard a lot worse than talk about teabagging.” Jace has. He’s heard things that have made him threaten to deafen himself forever, lest he learn more about the general state of Alec’s ass ever again.

“And for that, I am both terrified and sorry. The guy after. I overheard you two talking about music really late.”

“Magnus,” Alec says absently, scraping his thumbnail over the chipped handle of his coffee mug. It’s hand-painted in a child’s script and declares him the best big brother in the world. Brother is spelled wrong. Izzy made it for him when she was six, and it’s still his favorite mug.

Jace’s eyebrows make a run for his hairline. “Oh, Magnus, is it?”

Alec’s catches Jace’s expression and realizes what he said a shade too late. “It’s not like that,” he snaps.

“Whatever,” Jace says, shooting him a knowing look over the rim of his cup. He drinks it black but prefers it with three sugars and creams. He cares too much what other people think of him. “I just worry about you, man.”

“That’s sweet,” Alec coos sarcastically.

“Shut up,” Jace says. “See if I ever worry about your ungrateful ass again.”

“This is just typical new client stuff. They always start out this way, calling every night. Then the calls trickle off. They always do.” Alec kind of hates that he’s an old pro at this. When he answered the skeevy job wanted ad -- desperate, more than a little drunk, and broke -- it was supposed to be temporary. “Leave the state of my ass to me,” Alec tells him, getting up to rinse his mug out and set it in the sink. He’s got his other job to get to.

He can’t be naive; he doesn’t have that luxury anymore.

 

---

 

The problem with being a new grad, in general, is that the world and job force demands you have experience, but you have to live a certain number of productive years on the planet to gain that experience.

Early adulthood is no man's land. You don’t have the experience to matter and no one wants to pay you to gain it, hence how he ended up in the precarious situation he’s in: dodgy sex work by night, an even dodgier roommate, and desperately hoping an internship eventually turns into an actual paying job.

The law offices of Fell & Bane, the most ominous and forboding company name since LexCorp, clearly ascribed to the contemporary hell school of interior design: white on white with jarring pops of color, right angles as far as the eye could see, which was through the entirety of the building because post-modernism hadn’t met a goddamn wall it liked.

His immediate supervisor, Catarina Loss, is a tad warmer, but that’s kind of like saying the Indian Ocean is slightly warmer than the Atlantic; it is a vague enough statement that only a handful of people would know if it contains more than a kernel of truth. Catarina is made of the same smirking, world-weary stuff that the rest of the senior staff is. Rumor is that she’s going to make partner at the end of the fiscal year. With her ascension, it will hopefully expand the client base and they’ll need more bumbling first-year grads to help with the increased workload.

Alec fully intends to be one of those bumbling first-year grads.

He’s interacted with Fell a handful of times, and each time was awful and Alec made a complete fool of himself, stammering and a general mess, to which Ragnor merely rolled his eyes and barked at him to pick him up some coffee, none of that swill from the breakroom. He hears Bane is even worse. He rarely leaves his office. Catarina once let it slip that Bane was desperately unhappy; Alec assumed it was because of his horrible personality, judging by his coworkers.

Alec spends a boring day making copies, sending faxes, and going on coffee runs. It doesn’t teach him anything more about the law, but it does teach him more about his place at the firm: which is to say, at the very bottom. Seriously, he’s lower than the gum Ragnor got stuck on his shoe last week, Alec realized, as he was bent over the counter in the men’s restroom, scrubbing at the gum while Ragnor furiously hobbled around the building in his socks. Even Catarina had cracked a smile at that.

Alec’s back home by nine pm, exhausted despite the fact that he didn’t exactly spend his day intellectually stimulated. He takes off his suit and microwaves a chicken sandwich, grabs a bag of chips, and turns his work headset on, ready to begin his night.

 

---

 

Three short calls later, one of which had to do with furries that Alec will never, ever tell another soul about, the call center puts Magnus through.

“Good evening,” Magnus greets him pleasantly. That’s rich guy talk for hello.

At 2.99 per minute and prepaying for a full two hours, Magnus is either loaded or really bad with money. It may just be a fantasy, but Alec is surprised to find that he wants to think well of Magnus. Maybe he’s not given up all his romantic notions just yet. But it’s harmless, he thinks, just idle daydreams to get him through. And as long as he doesn’t do anything stupid like tell Magnus, no one’s going to get hurt.

“Hey,” Alec says, feeling himself grin. He sets aside his food and curls up on his side, staring at the frozen picture on the TV.

“So, I had a terrible day at work,” Magnus grumbles, his voice a warm burr that hooks somewhere deep in Alec’s chest and doesn’t let go.

“Tell me about it,” Alec says, and Magnus does, making Alec laugh at his impressions of his nosy co-workers. For a while, at least, Alec lets go, completely forgets about the misery of his job, the worry about Jace’s upcoming tuition, the rent due in a week.

“I just--need some alone time, you know? Some time to think.”

Alec does know. He spends too much time alone, according to everyone he knows. When he spends all day with people he doesn’t particularly like and every evening forcing himself to speak with strangers over the phone, he wants to spend his free time in silence. The funny thing is, talking to Magnus doesn’t feel like a chore. But he gets the impression Magnus isn’t naturally this way.

“Broken heart?” Alec asks, going out on a limb.

There’s a harsh breath over the line, a chair squeaking. He sounds like he’s in an office. “Something like that. How did you know?”

Alec knows the sound of a broken heart; half his clients have them. “Just a feeling,” he hums, tucking his hand beneath his cheek, warm and comfortable. Magnus says he’s reading through the hundred greatest classic books, as determined by the Times. He tried Lolita and threw it across the room, startling his cat, who now refuses to come when he calls.

Alec chuckles, loose and easy.

“Are you going to sleep on me? We still have another hour left,” Magnus says, sounding amused.

“Mmm,” Alec murmurs, eyes falling closed, the sound of outside traffic faint, punctuated by the leaky faucet dripping in the kitchenette. It’s really been a long, shitty day. He’ll have to call the super in the morning before Jace gets the bright idea to fix something else in their apartment himself.

“Go to sleep, darling,” he hears Magnus murmur over the line before it goes dead.

 

Chapter Text


Alec wakes up the next morning with the sunlight streaming in through the curtains. “Oh, fuck,” he yells, eyes catching on the clock above the TV. He’s late for work. He’s going to get fired from his awful internship and all his work will have been for absolutely nothing.

He fell asleep on the phone with Magnus last night and forgot to set his alarm. He tears off his old suit on the way to the bathroom and jumps into the shower under the cold spray, in too much of a hurry to wait for the ancient heater to warm the water. The shower groans in protest and so does Alec, shivering under the cold spray.

He manages to slap some peanut butter on some toast and shoves it at his face on his way out the door, coughing and slinging his messenger bag over his shoulders as he takes the stairs two at a time.

Safely on the subway, Alec pulls out his phone and calls Jace.

Jace answers on the first ring. “Dirty Dan's Disposable Dildo Emporium. Suck 'em, fuck 'em, and chuck 'em. This is Dirty Dan speaking.”

“Where the hell are you,” Alec hisses, “and why didn’t you wake me up before leaving?”

“I’m going to mark you down for the king-sized dong, young man. You seem like you need to unwind some.”

“Jace!”

“Okay, okay. I see the extra sleep did not help your generally sunny disposition. I’m on my way to my next class. You seemed like you needed the sleep,” Jace says.

Alec’s face burns with embarrassment and he ducks his head down. No one’s paying attention to him, though. It’s New York, a state whose motto might as well be “Mind Your Own Fucking Business and Don’t Make Eye Contact Under Any Circumstance’.

It shouldn’t be this way. His whole life, Alec’s taken care of his siblings, not the other way around. “I’m fine,” Alec insists. And oh, goddamnit, he really does feel better.

“Are you now?” Jace asks, unexpectedly sober-sounding. “Listen, I have to haul ass if I don’t want to be late. We can talk about this later, ok?”

“All right,” Alec agrees grudgingly, watching passengers disembark. Next to him, there’s a mime in full makeup juggling imaginary balls. God, this city is so weird. Alec edges away from him, discomfited. It must be terrible to be a silent spectator in your own life.

Finally at work, Maia greets him at their shared cubicle, which is tucked in the back of the second floor, right next to the bathrooms. Their desks face each other and Alec tosses his bag on top of the cheap pressed wood, the thin vinyl peeling at the edges. The firm saves the real wood and clean air for actual employees, Alec supposes.

Both desks shudder at the extra weight and he and Maia stand perfectly still while his desk decides whether to collapse or not under the added weight of Alec’s bag and general neurosis.

“Catarina’s been looking for you and she doesn’t seem happy,” Maia says, shaking her head. “Apparently there’s a big case and they’re having us do some of the busy work.”

“Isn’t that all we do?”

“Yeah, but like, important busy work,” she says. “So get your ass in gear and try not to look like you went on a bender last night. She said when you get here to go straight to her office.”

“That’s not--”

“Whatever, pretty boy,” Maia says and hurries off. Out of all the interns, she’s the one he’s closest to, both emotionally and by sheer proximity. They both work second jobs, though he’s fairly certain she doesn’t know the exact nature of his work because she still willingly talks to him. She’s a bartender in the evenings, but Alec’s not sure where because he’s kind of a lousy friend.

Alec does his best to finger-comb his hair and straighten his tie and heads towards the elevators.

He hates being on the top floor with the bosses. There’s something about being around that much shiny, breakable stuff that makes Alec fell grubbier and more unpolished than usual. If his life were a book, Alec’s not entirely sure whether he would be Oliver Twist or the kindly, downtrodden hooker in his own story.

On his way, he passes by the wall of glass separating Bane’s office from the general humdrudgery of the unwashed serfs that work in his office. Alec’s apartment could fit into his office twice and still have room left over for a nonexistent kitchen, though that probably says more about the size of his apartment than anything. Not that he’s ever tried in it, but in theory, he could take a shower while cooking an omelet.

Inside his office, Bane is on the phone and leaning back in his chair, one of those high-backed executive types, his mouth a tight line of displeasure. He looks tired, unhappy. Probably talking to his girlfriend or something; Alec had heard there were issues there. He looks up and catches Alec staring and tilts his head curiously, momentarily distracted. On the corner of his desk, there’s a battered copy of Lolita and Alec just barely keeps from rolling his eyes. Gross. Of course, he’s a fan.

Alec doesn’t spare him another thought and goes on, passing by a curiously empty office, and arriving at Catarina’s office before knocking on the door.

He takes a deep breath and mutters, “Be cool. You got this, Lightwood.”

“Come in,” she says and Alec enters, surprised, as always, by the sheer lightness, the white and glass backed by an impressive view of Midtown.

His father once had an office like this.

Alec remembers playing in it when he was a kid, crouched beneath the desk, peeking up over his father’s knees. That was when things seemed simpler, brighter, happier.

They really weren’t, but they’d seemed that way.

It’s funny how some of your best memories could be the worst times in other people’s lives. His father was having an affair and breaking his mother’s heart. Jace still won’t talk about the time before he came to live with Alec’s family.

Catarina’s hunched over her computer. Her nails, unpolished no-nonsense half-moons, tap against the glass top of her desk. Her hair is arranged in small, elegant braids. She’s very beautiful and very intimidating.

“You ready for the majors, kid?” she asks, finally looking up.

“I’d settle for getting to the minors first,” Alec says seriously.

Catarina’s mouth reluctantly tugs up at the corner. “We’ve caught a major case and we need the interns to look through old cases for legal precedent.”

“Which files?” Alec asks.

Catarina gestures behind him and Alec turns to see a wall of boxes lined up so tall, that if astronauts ever got lost circling the earth, they could always use this stack of boxes to bring them home. It would be easy; the stack is so big, it likely has its own gravitational pull.

“The old cases aren’t computerized?” Alec asks faintly.

Catarina huffs, “Ragnor doesn’t trust computers and Mag--”

“You want me to look through all of them,” Alec interrupts, too stunned to pay any attention to what she's saying.

“You and the rest of the interns,” Catarina says mildly.

“U-understood,” Alec says. “Is that all?“

“For now.“

Alec grabs a few of the boxes from the top and hefts them up. His back twinges in protest. They’re trying to break him, but he’s not going to give them the satisfaction. He’ll go to the bathroom and cry on his lunch break like all the other interns do.

“Lightwood,” Catarina calls out.

Alec turns back, barely catching the top box before it slides off and hits the floor.

“Chin up, baby lawyer. This is how it’s done, we’ve all been here. It’s going to get better soon.”

“Thanks,” Alec grunts.

“Also you have food on your face,” Catarina says, matter-of-fact. “Just--all over. Go clean yourself up.”

 

---

 

Alec and the rest of the interns take thick stacks of files and start scanning over them. He and Maia take the most because they're both insecure in a vastly similar way and apparently have something to prove.

He reads and highlights and takes notes until his eyes burn. His stomach grumbles loudly and looks up, realizing everyone else has gone home hours ago. He vaguely remembers Maia touching his shoulder and telling him not to work too hard.

Alec sets aside the notes and rubs his eyes, leaning back and hearing his back pop. He pulls his tie loose and unbuttons the top of his shirt, grabs his bag, and heads home.

 

---

 

At home, Alec grabs his mail and brings it up to the apartment, trudging up four flights of stairs. Their elevator has been broken since always, and he and Jace use that as the excuse for why they never make a proper grocery shopping trip, but really, it’s a haphazard mixture of being broke, lazy, and dudes. Izzy regularly tells him it’s shameful, but Alec doesn’t think that anyone he knows for a fact regularly eats unheated food directly from the can has any room to talk.

He takes his bag off and sets it on the counter. There’s a note of the fridge that Jace is at work again. Alec frowns and shuffles through the mail. Bills, bills, bills. Then there’s a thick envelope from Jace’s University, marked past due. He slides his thumb under the flap and tears it open. When he sees the bill, his knees feel weak.

Of course, he noticed Jace had been looking skinny, dark shadows beneath his eyes. But he wouldn’t confide in Alec, not about anything important. Jace never did learn how to accept help, and Alec never learned how to do anything but tear himself apart for the people he loved.

Alec sits down at the counter, hands shaking over his cellphone as he plugs in the numbers. No matter how many hours he works a day, if he wants to eat and sleep, he can’t make enough to cover this tuition bill.

He wants to cry. Alec stands, backs up until his shoulders hit the wall, then slides down, sitting on the floor and clutching the bill to his chest, concentrating on taking one shallow breath after the other.

 

---

 

When Magnus finally calls, it’s later than usual, and Alec does his best to sound like everything’s okay.

Somehow, he numbly managed to stumble through three short calls; assholes hung up right before they were coming. While there’s nothing technically wrong with it, they didn’t even wait to see if Alec was going to come too. He’s saved from faking it, which always feels awkward, but he hates feeling like a human sex doll.

“Good evening,” Magnus says, and Alec feels ridiculously grateful to hear his voice. His hands tingle, some of the feeling returning.

“Long night at work?” Alec asks, checking his watch. He didn’t even manage to change out of his suit and it’s unsalvageably rumpled. He shrugs out of his jacket and slings it over the back of the couch.

Magnus hesitates. “New…complications.”

Alec hits the wall of frustration again, stymied by the fact that they don’t actually know each other. Thinking a client is your friend is like falling in love with a particular lamp post. It's embarrassing and leads nowhere good.

“What did you eat for lunch?” Alec asks, desperately searching for neutral ground.

Magnus hums while he thinks, the sound of metal scraping across glass. Rings, Alec thinks. Magnus is wearing rings and a lot of them.

“Arugala salad, avocado and tuna tapas.”

“Ooh la la,” Alec says, lying back on the couch, grabbing his jacket and wadding it up under his head.

“What did you have?”

“I can’t tell you,” Alec says. “It’ll shame you to the very depths of your soul with its embarrassment of riches.”

“Go on,” Magnus says, “impress me with your culinary excellence, somehow I’ll survive.”

“Well, this was prepared for me by a famous chef -- I don’t think you would know him -- a thick ravioli overstuffed with an assortment of meat served with a reduction of tomatoes and what the can assured me was a meat-flavored byproduct.”

“And was this famous chef called Chef Boyardee, by any chance?”

“He was,” Alec says, struggling to keep his voice steady. “I take it you’ve met?”

Magnus’ rich, reverberating laugh across the line warms him all over.

When he settles down, Alec can still hear the smile in his voice. He imagines Magnus tapping his rings against his glass desk in his elegant office, somewhere miles and a lifetime away from Alec’s crappy life. “You need to take better care of yourself.”

It’s nothing he hasn’t heard a thousand times before. Alec doesn’t know how to explain that he doesn’t know how, that he learned how to take care of everyone else, but never himself.

They've been talking for a while, circling current events and wandering back towards music, when the warning beep sounds in his ear. “Your time’s almost up,” Alec says, mouth suddenly dry. He’s not ready to hang up yet.

“I hate to say goodnight, but it’s late. I’ve enjoyed discussing your gastronomic mastery.”

“You can call back after my next client,” Alec offers hopefully.

“You’re taking other calls after this?” Magnus sounds startled.

Alec laughs, a little nervous. It’s slow going on the weekdays, especially around the holidays when calls can get pretty sporadic. He might only get a few a night. For better or worse, Magnus is really holding together Alec’s paycheck at a time when he most needs it, but he’s not sure what to do if Magnus starts to get possessive.

“I’m not mad that you’re taking other clients, you know,” Magnus says, a little ironically. “I just bought a couple of hours and it’s already pretty late in the evening.”

“I’m a night owl,” Alec says.

“Bullshit,” Magnus answers, and his chair squeaks. “You always sound like you’re half asleep on the phone the last hour we talk.”

“I’m--” Alec says, hesitating. He really shouldn’t be unloading on a client like this. Some people call for companionship, some call for kinks they don’t dare tell anyone else. Everyone has a reason and it’s for Alec to provide that, but the common denominator is that it’s about what people need from him, not the opposite way around.

“Tell me. I can tell something’s been bothering you all night.”

“I need the money.”

“Oh, sweetheart,“ Magnus sighs. “Money isn’t everything. It can’t buy you peace or happiness. I learned that the hard way.”

Why is it, Alec wonders, that everyone who says that always has plenty of it? “My brother’s short on his tuition,” Alec explains, edging towards irritated. This isn’t Pretty Woman. He has no illusions that Magnus is going to save him. It’s up to Alec to navigate the currents of his life. He has to be his own life preserver and the responsibility is terrifying.

“You always sound tired,” Magnus says. “How many hours do you work a day?”

“Well, I have another job. I only do this in the evenings. But I have to work as many hours as possible,” Alec says, a little ashamed to hear it said out loud. He doesn’t know why. Magnus couldn’t have been under the illusion that he was a millionaire phone sex worker. Though there’s nothing morally wrong with his job, it’s generally not the type of work that the idle affluent flock to. Alec didn’t get it confused with say, a rousing game of polo.

“It’s already midnight here,” Magnus points out.

“It’s midnight here too,” Alec confesses.

“Seems we’re both working late then,” Magnus says gently. Alec was right. Magnus is in his office. “What time do you have to be up for work?”

“In five hours or so. Long commute and I have to be there before any of the senior staff.”

Magnus sighs again. “Your bosses need to treat you better.”

“Tell me about it,” Alec says. “I just needed something to go right tonight.”

“Can I help you with that?”

“You already did,” Alec says simply. “You called, didn’t you?”

 

---

 

The next morning, Alec shuffles into the kitchen, surprised to see Jace already up. He’s standing at the stove, cooking something that smells dreadful. Alec hadn’t been aware that their stove actually worked.

“I assume you were up late talking to Magnus?” Jace asks, not turning around and picking up the pan to flip the food. He makes a frustrated sound when it sticks. “What kind of name is that anyway?”

“The kind that people named Jace probably shouldn’t criticize,” Alec says, pouring himself a cup of coffee.

“Sounds like a pimp name. Oh my God, you’ll tell me if he tries to recruit you.”

“So, when were you going to tell me about the tuition bill?” Alec asks, cutting Jace off.

“Would you look at the time,” Jace says, taking the food off the burner and scraping it onto a plate. It's egg with a bunch of brightly-colored bits. “I’m already late for class.”

“I know you’re avoiding the topic. Stop that, I invented that.”

“Well, yeah,” Jace admits, “but I’m working on the bill. I know worrying is just your general state of being, but have a little faith in me. I know what I’m doing.”

The last time Jace said that, he and Alec ended up drunk and stranded in Mexico.

“You,” he says, sliding the plate in front of Alec, “worry about yourself. Don’t get recruited into any prostitution rings if you can help it.”

“I think I can manage that,” Alec says dryly. He picks up the fork and takes a hesitant bite. It may look like bird vomit, but it’s not too bad.

“And don’t get too attached to Magnus. I think maybe you should take a few nights off from him, gain some perspective.”

“Yeah and let him find someone else? He’s a good client. I’ve totally got this under control.” Actually, the food is really, really good. Where did Jace learn to cook like this? It wasn’t from him or Izzy, that was for damn sure.

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

Alec follows Jace’s meandering train of logic to its insulting and inevitable conclusion. “Is the lady in this scenario me?”

“The lady is you,” Jace confirms solemnly, slurping his coffee obnoxiously.

“I really wish you hadn’t taken Intro to Shakespeare. It’s made you extra insufferable.” Alec’s fork scrapes over his plate and he looks down, surprised to see it empty.

“Look, I kind of trust your judgment. But are you sure this is a good idea?”

“Yeah,” Alec says, hating the way his voice goes high and reedy when he’s lying. “I’m sure everything is going to be fine.”

Said every person preceding every man-made disaster, ever. Jace pats him on the shoulder and goes to his room to change for class.

“I know exactly what I’m doing,” Alec says to the empty room, repeating Jace’s earlier words back to himself. The irony of it is not lost on him.

Alec knows absolutely nothing of the sort.

 

Chapter Text


In the absence of solid, workable life goals, dicking around with an unpaid internship seems as good of a plan as any. If Alec were home, all he would do is sit around and eat a tragic amount of processed foods. He figures he might as well go to work. Alec can be both highly functioning and sick with anxiety; it’s one of his greatest skillsets. It’s unfortunate that it’s inappropriate to put on his resume, right along with verbal assplay.

He arrives at his desk in time to see Maia hang up the phone and stand, straightening her skirt with nervous hands. “Mr. Bane wants to see me.”

“What does he want?” Alec sets his bag on the floor and tosses his coat over the back of the chair. It gets bunched up and uncomfortable once he’s sitting down, he always swears he’s going to hang it on the little peg behind them, but he hasn’t done it yet. It just seems like so much effort.

“You know, funny enough, he forgot to give me a memo before he told me to get my ass up to his office.”

“Wait, he really said it like that?” Alec feels his dislike ratchet up a notch.

“No, he was polite about it,” Maia admits.

“Maybe he wants to offer you a job,” Alec says. Though unlikely to be a job offer, Maia is by far the best intern, and Alec finds himself having to squash his jealousy more often than he’d like to admit. He knows she works hard, just as hard as he does, and yet, his whole life, Alec has always been one of the best, just not the best. “Good luck,” he tells her sincerely.

While she’s gone, Alec gets started scouring old cases, losing himself in the repetitive, mind-numbing work.

When Maia gets back, Alec glances at his computer, surprised to see nearly an hour has passed.

She looks different now, smaller somehow, a hesitance to her movements that wasn’t there before. One thing he’s always appreciated about Maia is her insistence that she owns the space she takes up, no apologies. Sometimes Alec feels like he should apologize to the air for using it so brazenly and wantonly.

“What happened?” Alec furiously whispers, leaning forward.

Maia shakes her head without meeting his eyes. She sits down in front of the computer, picks up a file, and starts making notations. Behind her, a toilet flushes loudly and someone coughs in the men’s restroom.

Alec sits back in his chair and wonders what Bane did to her and why in the hell they continue to work for such an enormous bag of dicks.

“I’m here if you want to talk about it.”

“I don’t,” Maia says, not looking up from her work.

Alec frowns over at her and picks up his phone, fiddling with the cord uneasily.

“Thanks, though,” Maia adds, a bit softer.

Alec nods and dials the number, listening to it ring. It feels weird to be making G-rated phone calls, but he figures his coworkers wouldn’t appreciate that part of his resume, anyway. It’s like a fucked up Pavlov’s bell: whenever he picks up the phone, he automatically gets the urge to start describing the general state of his cock.

“Sir, Sir,” an impatient voice prompts him over the line.

Balls, Alec thinks nonsensically.

“I’ll have to call you back,” Alec says in a strangled voice.


---

 

An hour before lunchtime, Maia ducks beneath her desk and hoists up a box with a soft grunt. Alec stands, reaching for the box. “Let me take that for you.”

“I got it,” she snaps. “I can make copies myself.”

“Sure, but how are you going to carry them back?”

Maia blows out a breath before relenting. “Yeah, okay. Come on, Lightwood.”

On the elevator, the doors close and Alec feels the dizzying weightlessness that takes hold a split-second before gravity catches back up.

Just as Alec’s wistfully thinking about the cup o’ noodles he has jammed in his desk drawer, the elevator shudders and groans, coming to an abrupt stop. The lights flicker, once, twice, then the eerie red backup emergency lights come on.

“Oh shit,” Alec swears, pulling his cellphone out his pocket and dialing the firm's main line. After carefully explaining to a confused receptionist that, yes, they’re already in the building, and no, it’s not an emergency, but they don’t relish the idea of spending the rest of their lives in the elevator, so if someone could come and get them out, that would be super.

Alec hangs up with the unnerving promise that someone from maintenance is coming to look into it. Soon-ish.

Alec looks around at the tiny, dim space. If Jace were here, he’d already be deciding who to eat first.

“Should have told them you were in labor. Bet they’d rush then,” Alec jokes, turning to look at Maia. She’s standing in the corner, the box tipped over, papers scattered across the floor. Her arms are wrapped tightly around herself.

“We’re going to get out of here, you know,” Alec tries to reassure her.

“I know that,” Maia says. “Eventually, they’re going to want their elevator back. How will the actual staff get home?” Even under the wash of eerie red, Alec can see her knuckles are white, fingernails digging into her skin.

“Hey, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she insists and sits down, legs folded beneath her.

Alec crosses the elevator and sits down next to her. “I’m afraid of heights, kind of,” he offers after a moment.

“How can you be kind of afraid of something?”

Alec crosses his legs at the ankles and leans back against the mirrored wall. “Okay, when I was a kid, I climbed up to the top of a set of monkey bars because Jace bet me I couldn’t. I didn’t want to, but I did it because I didn’t want him to think I was a baby. Of course, I slipped and fell and broke my right arm.” He still remembers Jace, white-faced and pinched above him, begging him to be okay.

“Why would you go up there?”

“He triple dog dared me,” Alec says mildly. “My arm healed and I got a cool neon green cast out of it, but the fear took longer to heal.”

“Yeah, sometimes it does that,” Maia says.

He doesn’t tell her that sometimes his arm aches when it rains or that his stomach still swoops unpleasantly when he’s somewhere up high, but he forces himself to go anyway. Some fears stay with you forever and there’s nothing to be done but to live with it.

He thinks she already knows.

Alec holds out his hand between them, letting it rest on the ground, palm up.

“I don’t need anyone to comfort me.”

For a moment, he’s tempted to let it go. There’s a part of him, some horrible part, that fears he’ll always care about others more than they care about him. He can’t even say it out loud because to say it would make it true.

Still, he can’t ignore someone in this much obvious pain. Never could, never will.

“Not even a friend?” Alec asks, keeping his hand out. “I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

Maia rolls her eyes and makes a scoffing sound. Still, she takes his hand, all the same.

 

---

 

All said, it only takes a few hours to get out of the elevator and when they get back at their desk, there’s a small crowd of scared-looking interns waiting to hear the sordid tale. They all look tired and overworked and unused to sunshine, like a group of mole-people seeing the sun for the first time and finding it vaguely disagreeable.

“We heard you guys got suck in the elevator and nearly plunged to your deaths,” a young woman says.

Alec feels a hot jolt of fear skitter down his spine at her words and Maia looks at him, then says, “If I tell you all, will you go away faster?”

They all nod and Maia begins telling them the tale of the doomed Xerox. She’s a surprisingly good storyteller; she manages to make it sound only half as boring as it really was.

“And Lightwood?” A dark-haired man asks. Alec is a little ashamed to realize he’s worked with him for months and has no clue who he is.

Maia glances back at him again. “Alec? He was surprisingly cool.”

Alec tries not to be insulted by how surprised they all look.

 

---

 

At the end of the day, he almost doesn’t take the elevator down, but then he remembers monkey bars and broken arms and thinks better of it. He’s not ready to let fear take the driver’s seat in his life just yet.

Alec steps into the elevator, pushes the button to the first floor, and settles in the back against the rail. Just as the doors begin to slide closed, a hand pushes through and the doors bounce open. Alec sees two gold rings, one with a scrolled M, the other with a B.

Bane comes striding in and stands next to Alec, nodding in his direction.

Alec’s never seen Bane up close before. He’s beautiful in a remote, uncomfortable way. He looks too polished in his expensive suit, his impeccable jacquard vest. Alec might be tempted to strike up a conversation, but he doesn’t want to get stuck in an awkward conversation with his asshole boss. He’s too eager to get home to talk with Magnus.

He feels Bane’s eyes shunt over towards him, sees the moment he recognizes Alec as the dork with food on his face or maybe the guy that managed to get stuck in an elevator for most of the day. Lawyers are terrible gossips.

Alec ducks his head, surreptitiously wiping at his mouth and chin. He wonders if Bane is done for the day or just stepping out for dinner before coming back. He hears Bane is a workaholic, which is an impressive feat to be known for, considering the building is overstuffed with quivering Type dorks. If the building were the Titanic and sinking into the cold North Atlantic, they would all be the silly assholes aboard desperately filing extensions for more time.

From the corner of his eye, Alec can see Bane quirk a smile, opening his mouth to speak, but then the elevator dings and the doors open. Fell comes barreling in and Alec presses himself to the side to make room. Ragnor sees Bane, and immediately launches into a diatribe about some boring paperwork with the county clerk and a missed deadline. So much of being a practicing lawyer isn’t the fancy courtroom scenes on tv, but the daily minutiae of endless red tape, filing the appropriate forms in the correct steps with the right people, along with a healthy dose of trying to figure out how to best defend those that seem incapable of doing any of the above.

Fell’s voice drops down and Alec hears the low rumble of Bane saying something under his breath, to which Fell exclaims, “you old trollop!” in a scandalized tone.

Alec carefully tunes them both out, watching the numbers flash above the door, Bane’s gaze a hot scrape against the side of his neck.

The elevator gives a small shudder and comes to a stop on the first floor, doors sliding open, the blast of cool air a welcome distraction.

With once last backward glance, Alec steps out of the elevator and into the night.

 

---

 

On his way home, Alec gets takeout from the Chinese food place on the corner. It’s been terrible since they stopped using MSG, but it beats having to cook. He eats it while it’s still steaming and too hot, standing over the counter in his crumpled suit, foot tapping impatiently as he stares at his work headset resting next to the wax paper carton.

He pulls off his clothes in a hurry, kicks them into the corner of his bedroom, and changes into a loose shirt and sweatpants. Finally, he settles on the couch, slips on his headset and notifies the call center he’s on for the night.

He doesn’t have to wait for Magnus long. He’s the first call.

“Good evening,” Magnus says, his voice low and fond. Happy, Alec thinks, he sounds so happy.

“Hey, must’ve have been a good day at work.”

“No, it was wretched,” Magnus says. “Though I stepped out for a quick bit of nourishment and now I’m back at the office.”

“You sound like you’re in a good enough mood, though.”

“Well, I’m talking to you, aren’t I?” Magnus says. “Besides, I’m making great piles of money, practically mountains. Perhaps a small range. That always cheers me up.”

“Thought you said money wasn’t everything.” Alec’s legs are hanging over the armrest, feet nearly touching the floor. He’s either too big for most couches or else most couches are too small for him.

“Darling, I said that it couldn’t buy happiness or peace, I didn’t say it couldn’t buy many lovely trinkets.”

“Like what?” Alec asks curiously. What does Magnus do with his spare time besides work and call beleaguered phone sex operators?

“Diamonds,” Magnus sighs and Alec laughs.

“Oh my god, you’re a literal dragon, aren’t you?”

Magnus hums, pleased. “Speaking of fictional beasts, I’ve started The Old Man and the Sea.”

“Oh, yeah?” Alec mentally reaches back for his freshman reading syllabus but he’s drawing a blank. He’s willing to bet good money that it has something to do with an old man. Possibly also the sea.

“It’s an unrelentingly depressing book about aging and shattered dreams. I’m incredibly glad I decided to work my way through this list of classics.”

“Jesus, maybe pick a happier book next time.” He hears a newspaper rustle as Magnus presumably skims said list.

“Hm. Lord of the Flies?”

“No,” Alec nearly shouts.

Just then, Jace decides to slouch in, holding a ridiculously large sandwich. He’s been holed up in his room, doing homework and having furtive conversations with Izzy that he thinks Alec isn’t aware of. “Hey, Alec--”

Though he doesn’t like Jace listening in while he’s working under the best of circumstances, and Jace would generally rather lose a fully functioning limb than overhear any of his sex conversations, Alec can’t help but feel unaccountably nervous this time. He doesn’t want Jace to know he’s talking to Magnus -- his face’ll go all squishy like it usually does when Alec’s making poor life choices again.

Alec pushes back the thought that he’s nervous because he’s doing something he shouldn’t be.

“My butt is literally quivering with anticipation,” Alec says loudly, and Jace makes a sharp u-turn and goes back to his room with his hands clapped over his ears and a soft cry, the sandwich abandoned on the side table.

“I’m not sure what brought this on,” Magnus says, sounding intrigued.

“I--” Alec says, flushing. “Sorry, fuck--”

“I could stand to hear more.” His voice sounds strained, very carefully even.

“No, it was just Jace. I had to get rid of him in hurry and I just said the first thing that popped in my head.”

Magnus goes quiet. “And this Jace, he’s your...boyfriend?” He says the word boyfriend with the same regard someone would give the dog shit they stepped in at the park.

“God, no,” Alec says, and adds a little shyly, “I don’t actually have a boyfriend.”

Magnus clears his throat. “That’s good. Well, not good. It seems like it might be awkward, oh hell. I’m making this weird.”

Alec laughs and grabs the blanket off the end of the couch and wraps it around him. “Tell me more about these fictional shattered dreams.”

He lets Magnus’ voice wash over him, far more warm and secure than a blanket ever could be, as Magnus rants about the dismal state of literature.

After a while, Alec rolls over and catches sight of the clock. “It’s getting late, our time should have already been up.”

“I might have bought a few extra hours.” Magnus’ rings tap anxiously against his desk.

“How many,” Alec says suspiciously.

Magnus coughs. “24 of them.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Alec rolls off the couch, his arms tangled in the blanket, and curses as his face smacks against the floor.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Alec says, his voice muffled against the floor. Miraculously, his headset is still in place because his life is a funny little cascade of small humiliations. “Magnus, oh my god, you can’t do this.”

“I got a pretty good discount,” Magnus says defensively. “You don’t even need to stay awake. God knows, I enjoy talking to you, but even I don’t think we have enough to talk about to fill an entire day.”

“Magnus--” Alec says, untangling his arms and sitting up. He scrubs a tired hand over his face and down the side of his jaw, stubble scratchy against his fingertips. He gingerly pinches the bridge of his nose, checking for blood or broken bones.

“I just wanted to help you.”

“I don’t need your help.”

It’s such a bold, obvious lie that Alec’s a little shocked he can force the words past his lips, but there’s only so far his pride will let him bend. And honestly, if he lets Magnus do this, lets him pay his bills, then not only will Alec have failed completely at being an adult, he’ll just be another charity case for Magnus, the nice but sad phone sex operator that he helped out once. And that’s all they’ll ever be to each other.

Alec doesn’t know what he hopes for between them, maybe nothing, but he knows what he doesn’t want.

“I’m hanging up in ten minutes,” Alec says. “I’m going to call the company and have them refund you the remainder.”

Magnus makes a pained noise. “Do you think you think they’ll take away my coupon?”

Despite his throbbing nose and wounded manly pride, Alec feels his mouth pulling into a reluctant grin. “I would pretty much count on it.”

“Is there anything you would let me do for you?”

Alec thinks for a moment. Whether Magnus means to or not, his nightly calls do help. Beyond the paycheck, the entertainment value, Magnus relaxes him, gives him a chance to unwind and forget the rest of his confusing, unsettling life. Without knowing exactly how it happened, it’s become the best part of his day.

“Just this,” Alec breathes, “this is perfect. Nothing more, nothing less.”

It takes a while for Magnus to answer, and when he does, Alec doesn’t think he’s imagining the tinge of regret in his voice. “I understand.”

 

---

 

Over the weekend, Alec gets up early and goes for a run. His right knee catches and he spends an embarrassing twenty minutes lying on the grass while a small child does laps around him and asks him why he’s so sweaty after running like, twenty feet.

Alec limps home. He supposes this is just part of getting old: your body hurts in weird places for no particular damn reason.

He showers, changes into an old pair or jeans and a hoodie, and goes to the nearest library. He wanders in between the stacks, enjoying the quiet, the musty smell of old pages, decades of written words passed from one person to another. If there’s a way to truly understand the soul of another person, Alec supposes a book would be the best way to do it.

On a display endcap, he spies The Old Man and the Sea, and on a whim, he checks it out. It seems like lately, everywhere he goes, he’s reminded of Magnus, he thinks, turning the book over his hands. The page edges are yellowed, the spine cracked in multiple places. The cover is a solitary man fighting a giant marlin, alone and adrift at sea.

Alec goes back home and makes a beeline for his bedroom, kicking off his shoes at the foot of the bed. His room is nothing special. It’s four walls, a messy bed with blue sheets and an old knitted blanket, a laundry basket overflowing in the corner with a complicated system dirty-or-clean system (he smells them, then picks what smells best), but it’s the one place that’s entirely his.

It’s his sanctuary. He curls up in bed with his little piece of Magnus and reads for the rest of the afternoon.

 

---

 

When he emerges from his bedroom later, sleepy and on the teetering edge of a full-blown existential crisis, ready to jump on a boat and hunt down a monster fish, Alec stops in the middle of the living room. Something smells fantastic.

In the kitchenette, Jace is pulling a large pan out of their oven, where Alec usually stores boxes or crackers and bread. On the counter is a dish of potatoes and caramelized Brussels sprouts, the edges dark brown and crispy. It looks like an actual, honest to god, adult meal.

“When did you learn how to do this?” Alec asks, grabbing a sprout and popping it into his mouth. It’s too hot and he sucks in mouthfuls of air. He’d like to say this is the first or even second time he’s been injured eating food in this particular way, but he’s never eaten pizza without scalding the roof of his mouth and Izzy calling him a dipshit.

“I’ve been staying late after work and the executive chef’s been teaching me the basics.” Jace drops the pan on the counter on top of some of an old t-shirt. “No pot holders,” he sheepishly explains, tossing the socks covering his hands into the corner of the room.

Alec ladles some of the food onto a plate over some rice and takes a bite. The sauce explodes with flavor, rich and full, against his tongue. The beef practically melts in his mouth.

“This is more than basic,” Alec points out, eagerly taking another bite. “What is it?”

“Beef Bourguignon.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“It’s kind of semi-fancy beef stew. I thought you’d like it.”

“It’s great,” Alec says.

“So, now that I’ve got you in a good mood, I thought I’d tell you about my college plans.”

Alec takes a bite of his food in a manner that can only be described as highly mistrustful.

“I think I’m going to take a few semesters off and pursue cooking. I’m good. Everyone says so, even you’re enjoying it.”

“You can’t do that,” Alec says, gripping his fork too tight. He forces himself to let go and hears it clatter to the floor. He’s terrified for Jace, though Alec doesn’t know how to begin to explain it. He’s brash and headstrong and doesn’t always think the consequences through and Alec only wants what’s best for him, what’s smartest.

“It’s already done. I've withdrawn from my classes,“ Jace says. “I didn’t like going behind your back, but you forced me into it. Izzy already knows about it. And she agrees it's the right move to make.”

“This is a mistake.”

“Then it’s mine to make,” Jace snaps. “Why the hell shouldn’t I? I chose my major when I was eighteen. Kids shouldn’t have to decide what they plan to do with the rest of the lives when they’re teenagers. It’s a fucked, broken system.”
If Alec had taken a year off and thought about what he wanted to do with his life, would he have picked law? A tiny part of him is afraid to examine the answer too closely because he’s afraid the answer’s going to be no.

“You have to do this, Alec,” Jace pleads. “You have to trust me. “

“Can we talk about this later?” Alec asks miserably. They used to be on the same page, Alec the voice to reason to Jace’s more manic ideas, but lately, they can’t seem to see eye to eye on anything. No matter what Alec does, he seems to piss Jace off. It’s just one more thread that’s slowly unraveling in his ugly sweater of a life. He can’t fight with Jace too, not when he already feels like he’s trying and failing to keep his head above water.

“Yeah, whatever,” Jace says, sounding tired.

Alec picks up his fork, washes it off, and they finish their food in silence.

Afterwards, Alec retreats back to his room. His phone and work headset sit in a tangle on his dresser. He picks the phone up, staring at the contacts for a minute before tossing it back down. He’s surprised to find the only person he wants to talk to is Magnus, but he doesn’t have his number.

Never did.

Chapter Text

 

Alec’s on the top floor, turning in his progress notes to Catarina when he passes by Bane’s office. It’s bright and early, the sun peeking over the clouds, promising to be a beautiful, crisp day.

Bane is in his office doing some kind of martial arts, shirtless, a light sheen of sweat glistening on his chest and shoulders.

Alec chokes on his spit and clutches his files close to his chest.

“Are you okay?” Maia asks, coming up behind him and slapping his back as Alec’s eyes water. The light’s streaming through the windows and Magnus looks peaceful; sharp, measured movements graceful in a way Alec could never hope to be.

She tosses Bane a disinterested glance. Of course, she’s not interested. She hates Bane. “I heard in the winter, he comes in early and exercises in his office.”

“Does he have to be shirtless to do it,” Alec wheezes.

“You seem weirdly invested in this.”

“I just can’t stand the guy.”

“Yeah, I can tell he’s really pissing you off,“ she says, eyeing Alec meaningfully. “He’s not so bad.”

He means to ask her about it, but gets distracted by the corner office. “Do you know why that office is empty?”

“Apparently, it belonged to Bane’s girlfriend? I don’t know the whole story there. I don't think anyone does, except Catarina and Fell.”

“His girlfriend probably realized she was with a big pompous douche who did Tai Chi in his office,” Alec says, and Maia laughs.

 

---

 

On Friday, Maia throws a wadded up piece of paper at his head and it bounces off.

Alec opens the paper and it says, “Drinks after work, loser? Y/N.”

He circles the Y and tosses it back, smiling down at his paperwork.

After work, Maia takes him to a hole-in-the-wall bar around the block that Alec must have passed by a dozen times without noticing. It’s a small place, all polished wood inside, nothing like the gleaming chrome of the more upscale places, or the hipster bars with their carefully curated distressed look and juniper-infused bullshit cocktails.

“It’s nice,” Alec says, looking around. His feet stick unpleasantly to the floor.

“It’s a dump,” Maia says cheerfully, “but the drinks are cheap and they let me work in-between customers.”

“Jesus,” Alec says, “you take work home with you?”

“Don’t you?” Maia asks, surprised, leading him to a tiny, high-backed booth in the back corner. She slips off her coat and tosses it onto the cracked pleather seat.

“Yeah,” Alec lies. He only carries his highlighters, pens, and lunch in his bag.

Maia heads up to the bar and comes a few minutes later with two beers, perfectly poured. His beers are 50% head, which isn’t as alluring as it sounds. Alec never learned how to properly tap a keg in college; he should have. It’s not like he’s using his education for anything other than copying, collating, and remembering persnickety Starbucks orders longer than his arm.

“So,” Maia says after taking an obscenely long pull of her beer. She's better than him at their job, better at drinking, possibly better at life in general. “What do you do besides work at the firm? I know you do something. You‘re not one of the trust-fund babies.”

“How do you know that?” Alec asks. In another life, maybe, one where his parents hadn’t gotten divorced, one where his father’s vague disapproval of his “lifestyle” hadn’t outweighed the benefits of his help with college tuition, he might have been.

“You meet my eyes when I‘m talking to you,” Maia says. 

It’s a terribly low bar for human decency. Alec takes a sip of his cold beer, the bitterness lingering on the back of his tongue. “I’m in communications,” Alec says, hedging. 

“Yeah?”

“Inter-communications.”

Maia raises an eyebrow.

“Sexual communications,” Alec finishes miserably.

Maia throws her head back and laughs. It’s a full, rich sound, looser than the amused chuckle at the office. “Some of the interns might have a bet on whether you’re a hooker or not.”

“Excuse me?” Alec chokes out.

“Raphael started the bet.”

“Who’s Raphael?”

Maia gives him a strange look. “Do you pay attention to anyone but yourself?”

“I have a narrow focus,” Alec says defensively. He cares about everyone in a general sense, but only a very few lucky people in a worryingly intense, hyper-fixated way. Jace, Izzy, maybe Maia now.

Maybe Magnus, if Alec can untangle his feelings enough to categorize him.

“Sorry, I don’t know the correct terminology here. Sex worker? Gigolo? Gentleman of the evening?”

“I’ll say this one more time: excuse the fuck out of me?”

Why does everyone in Alec’s life think he’s a hooker or in danger of becoming one?

“Come off it, Alec. You always show up in the morning looking like hell.”

“Maybe this is just my face,“ Alec protests. “Maybe I just always look like hell. You don't know me.”

“I told them you were too much of a tightass to be a hooker.”

“Thanks for that,” Alec says dryly.

“So, a phone sex operator? That’s way racier than I gave you credit for. Any good stories?”

Alec shrugs a little helplessly. “Not unless you want to hear about my Thursday regular that calls me mistress.”

“He knows you’re a man, right?”

“Pretty sure that’s part of the appeal,” Alec says. “Or the client with the nuts.”

“Like, nuts as in testicles?”

“Those, too,” Alec says. Maia laughs again and Alec feels himself grinning along, the alcohol warming him up, skin pleasantly tingly. He finishes off the rest of his glass.

“You want a refill?” Maia asks, taking his mug.

“I can get the next round.”

“If I get them, they’re free. It’s my buddy working the bar tonight.” She studies him for a moment. “I don’t know what phone sex operators make, but I’m guessing it’s not a lot.”

“I do okay,” Alec says. In truth, the company takes most of his clients pay and his rates depend on how long he long he keeps people on the phone. Some nights, he doesn’t even break $60. But unless he wants to begin to leave his number on bathroom stall walls, this is the best it’s going to get. It’s okay. It’s not like he was confused when he answered the cheesy ad and thought that one day he’d be sunning himself on his phone sex yacht.

“You like cocktails?”

“I don’t know.” The only thing he’s had that could conceivably count as a cocktail would have been the gallon of Sangria he drank in Mexico, but he doubts that’s what she means.

“I’ll pick something out. Don’t you trust me?”

“Fuck no.”

“You should work on that.”

Lectures on his intimacy issues over sticky floors and a bar that very vaguely smells of pee, this is really his life.

A few minutes later, Maia comes back with two worryingly bright blue cocktails with little toothpicks garnished with pineapple and cherry.

Alec takes a hesitant sip. It’s fruity, vaguely tart. It seems like the kind of thing people would drink on vacation, whatever that is. “It’s good,” Alec says with surprise.

“I’m a bartender.”

“Yeah, sorry,” Alec says, shredding his cocktail napkin and rolling it into tiny balls. Once he’s run out of napkin, he’s not sure what to do with them, though, so he discreetly sweeps them off the table and shoves them into his pocket.

“Have a little faith in other people, Alec.”

She has a good point. Alec takes another bracing sip of his drink. He can‘t talk about it to Izzy, who has enough to worry about, or Jace, who doesn’t approve and thinks Alec will find himself an unwitting indentured sex slave. “There’s actually a client--“ Alec says. “Uh, we talk every night.”

Every night?”

“Yeah, he calls every night and we talk for a couple hours.”

Hours?”

“Yeah, is that weird?”

“Oh, Alec.” Maia gives her drink a little stir. “So, how in love with you is this guy?”

“He’s not--” Alec feels his face heat up, knows he’s turning bright and blotchy-red. He knows he’s not attractive when he’s embarrassed, but that thankfully doesn't happen often, possibly because he rarely confides in other people.

“Wait, you like him back?”

“I don’t,” Alec splutters. “I just--it’s. No.”

“We’re going to need more drinks,” Maia says.

 

---

 

After working their way through a good chunk of Maia's pretty encyclopedic knowledge of drinks, Maia pointed out that if Alec was pretty sure he liked Magnus and Magnus liked him, then why the hell shouldn’t they contact each other outside of work? It was pretty weird, she said, that two people who talked every night for hours, and who thought about each other for increasingly large portions of their day, were operating under the shaky delusion that they were just good friends.

“We’re friends,” she says. “Do we talk for hours a day?”

“Today, yes,” Alec replies.

“Not for a few hundred dollars, though if you wanted to pay me to talk to you, I wouldn’t say no.”

Alec’s vision was going shaky, pleasantly blurry around the edges. His eyeballs felt so good and happy.

It was the worst state to be making important life decisions and yet, here he is. Yet again.

“I think it’s time to ask yourself what you really want,” Maia says. She’s so wise. And a hell of a bartender.

Alec drinks his cocktail happily, consciously choosing to ignore the smoke coming off the top.

“I just want something more,” Alec mumbles into his glass. He thought following in his father’s footsteps and studying law at Columbia would make him happy. He thought getting his first place would, his first job. Still, he wants more, though if held at gunpoint, he wouldn’t be able to place a name to it. It’s not a great empty, yawning space. It’s more of a filter over his life, like trying to take a picture through a lens covered with Vaseline; reading without glasses. It’s the niggling feeling that keeps him awake at 3 am, a persistent itch between his shoulder blades that he can’t quite reach. It's the sneaking suspicion that happiness is somehow harder for him than everyone else.

“Maybe you should give him your number,” Maia suggests.

“We talk every weeknight.”

“Your real number,” Maia says. “I get it. It’s tough to put yourself out there. Face rejection--”

“Who the hell said anything about being rejected?” Alec almost slips off his barstool and wobbles for a moment in utter panic before remembering he’s tucked safely inside a booth.

“But what have you got to lose?”

“A lot of money, my dignity, my pride if I’m reading the situation wrong? My general peace of mind and sense of well-being?”

“Did you have any of those in the first place?”

“No,” Alec says morosely. Maia’s such a buzzkill and really not that smart at all.

“What are you, some kind of baby afraid of heights?” Maia asks.

“That doesn’t still work on me,” Alec says loftily, “and I didn’t tell you that so you could use it against me later.”

Maia carefully sets her glass down. “I double dog dare you.”

“Ridiculous,” Alec says, but he takes another sip of his drink and leans closer. “Tell me more.”

 

---

 

It’s Christmas in four days and he’s finally off work. His calls are going to trickle down to nothing, so he won’t be working his phone line, either. There’s something about spending time with family and good cheer that makes people think twice about getting off with a stranger.

His calls pick right back up after Christmas, though.

Once he gets off work, he hops in the shower, puts on a nice shirt and slacks. It’s only when he sprays some cologne on himself that he realizes that he’s getting ready for a date. Over the phone. “Get a grip,” he tells himself. In the mirror above the sink, his eyes look wide and terrified. If this is how he normally looks on dates, no wonder no one ever sticks around.

His first call of the night is a five-minute block with a chance at 40 minutes and Alec nearly screams with frustration. He talks the man through his fantasy, pretends to be interested as he listens to the wet sound of flesh slapping.

“You’re so great at this,” the man says after, breathy. “Hey--”

“Yeah, it was magical. I came like a geyser. Call again sometime, champ,” Alec says and hastily disconnects the call.

Magnus is his second call and when he hears Magnus’ voice murmur, “Good evening,” Alec nearly pukes with anxiety.

“H-hey,” Alec says.

“Everything okay?” Magnus asks.

“It’s great!” Alec lies. He just fucking lies, voice all high-pitched and wobbly. “So, do you have any plans for the holidays?”

“I usually lay low. Might go into the office for a bit and get some work done in peace.”

“Um, my sister comes from college to stay with us. My mom’s usually working, so it’s just us.”

“Ah, you’ve got a sister too?”

“Yeah,” Alec says, realizing he’s babbling, volunteering way too much information to someone he barely even knows, but he can’t help himself. Once he’s decided on a course of action -- a stupid, booze-addled course of action -- he can’t seem to do anything but follow-through, even when he suspects he may be wrong. It’s what got him through pre-law, law school, a hellish internship at a firm he’s not even certain he likes while doing a job he definitely doesn’t. When he was a child, he was taught the virtues of follow-through, of steadfastness, and it’s possible he’s taken those lessons to the extreme.

“I’m afraid I’m an only child. I always wished for siblings, but with the parents I had, it was probably for the best that I didn’t.”

“I’m sorry,” Alec says, feeling slightly embarrassed that there were ever people in the world that treated Magnus badly, especially people that should have loved him the best.

“Tell me about your sister?” Magnus asks, and Alec launches into story after story, always glad to talk about her, how smart and driven she is, feeling more like a proud dad than an older brother.

After a while, Magnus asks if he’s working over the holidays.

“I’m off work and I won’t be taking calls on the hotline,” he tells Magnus.

“Oh,” Magnus says. His voice sounds subdued and it bolsters Alec’s tattered courage. As it turns out, without being fueled by two flaming sambucas, Alec’s not very self-assured at all.

“You could call me,” Alec says, heart thudding. Before he has time to talk himself out of it, he rattles off his cell phone number. He squeezes his eyes shut and airs out his sweaty armpits. He's glad Jace is in his room, Alec looks like he's doing the chicken dance. This could all go so wrong.

“I--”

“It’s my cellphone number. You could call. You know, if you want. To do that.” Alec smacks a hand against his face and stretches out on the couch, feeling sick to his stomach. “You don’t have to,” Alec rambles. “You could just ignore me. It’s fine.”

I’m used to it, Alec thinks.

“No,” Magnus says quickly. “I want.”

 

---

 

An hour later, Alec hangs up and lets the call center know he’s done for the night. The good thing about his work is, he can make his own hours, and when he does something massively stupid like giving a client his own personal number, he can hang up and have the night free to contemplate what a blooming fucking idiot he is.

He goes to the bathroom and splashes cool water on his face. What has he just done? He laughs and it comes out wheezing and more than a little hysterical. “I did the right thing,” he says to his reflection. “This is going to be fine.” He’s pretty sure this is exactly what he said to himself before when he was sure things with Magnus weren’t getting too intense. He was lying to himself then and he’s lying to himself now.

He just hopes Magnus doesn’t turn out to be a cannibal serial killer from Biloxi.

“Hey,” Jace says.

“Don’t eat me!” Alec yelps, then sees Jace’s confused expression. He clears his throat. “I meant, hello.”

Jace is leaning again the doorjamb, wearing his boxers and a t-shirt, and eating an apple. Since their argument, they've managed to reach an uneasy truce. Which is to say, they carefully don’t talk about it. Jace doesn’t bring up Magnus and Alec doesn’t bring up the fact that Jace is throwing his education and life away, and for what? Happiness? Self-fulfillment? Alec’s been unhappy for years and he’s doing just fine.

Just fine.

Meanwhile, Jace continues to use Alec as a one-person test kitchen, which Alec grudgingly accepts as he inhales Bolognese sauce.

Jace takes a big bite of his apple, juice running down his hand, and pushes his hair out his eyes nonchalantly. “That was a real crazy laugh, buddy,” he says.

 

Chapter Text


Izzy comes by the next day with too many bags stuffed full of textbooks and promptly takes over Jace’s bedroom, shoving his hair products off the dresser and replacing them with her nicer ones.

When she’s on holiday from college, he and Jace take turns volunteering their rooms while the other is relegated to riding the couch. They once tried to share a bed, but both Alec and Jace were fond of spooning, and it led to an unspeakably awkward morning.

Jace shows Izzy everything he’s learned in the kitchen while she tries to help, with disastrous results. That's one of the things Alec most admires about Izzy: her ability to ignore a million signs that something is a bad idea and do it anyway. He'd say it's a Lightwood trait, but Jace displays the same troubling tendency.

The fire department gets called once before Jace banishes her to the couch with Alec. It's like being sent to the kids' table during holiday parties. That's where you go when you can't keep up with the adult conversations.

“I can be useful,” Izzy protests.

“Sure, honey,” Jace says condescendingly. “You want some microwave oatmeal? I know you can make that.”

Izzy pinches Jace as hard as she can before she leaves the kitchen, ignoring his pained curse, and sits down next to Alec, legs tucked up beneath her and long, dark hair spilling over the back of the couch. “You and Jace are cooking? Actual jobs? You’re like real grownups.”

“It’s mostly Jace cooking? He was busy last night and I ended up eating mayo on toast,” Alec confesses.

“Hm. Last night, I got in at 3 am and couldn’t find my toothbrush, so I had to use my finger.”

“Gross, Iz. You win.”

“Well, it kind of worked, but I wouldn’t recommend it for long term periodontal care, no.”

“You’re going to be such a good doctor,” Alec says sarcastically.

“I know,” she hums, tucking herself up under his arm. He gives her shoulder a squeeze and they go back to watching awful Christmas movies.

 

---

 

When Alec was a kid and still believed in fairytales and a kind universe, he used to wake up early on Christmas morning to try to catch Santa Claus in the act. When he found out Santa wasn’t real, he still got up early to keep Izzy and Jace’s belief intact as long as he could.

Come to find out, Izzy was much too smart to ever be fooled and Jace’s birth father didn’t believe in childish wonder or joy. They were both pretending for his sake, and Alec found himself eleven years old and wearing footed pajamas with reindeer flying across the ass, and feeling like a general idiot, the very last one in on the joke yet again. They’d had a good laugh about it at the time, but so much of growing up were these tiny realizations: small hurts and dashed beliefs, one piled on top of the other.

But Alec still wakes up early on Christmas out of habit. He can hear snoring from the other room. It’s probably Izzy. She snores loud enough to wake the motherfucking dead.

Alec spends two long, torturous minutes wrapping gifts that are basically cards and puts them in front of the ugly felt tree Jace tacked up on the wall last week. He puts the coffee on, then pours himself a cup and sits and waits for the house to wake up. 

He tries - and fails - not to wonder what Magnus is doing.

 

---

 

Once Jace gets up, slouching into the kitchen to start breakfast, Alec’s nearly done with his coffee. He gets up to pour himself another cup and makes one for Jace, adding a generous splash of milk and two sugars.

“Naw, man, I take it black,” Jace says, trying to hand the cup back.

“No one’s here to see you,” Alec says patiently.

“Oh well, I guess I could try it this way,” Jace says. He looks around the room quickly before taking a long drink. “I think maybe eggs Florentine this morning?”

“Shit, fancy.”

“Not really. It seems more complicated than it is. See, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when looking at the finished product.” He pulls a pot out of the cabinet and heats up some water and puts a ceramic bowl in the center, muttering about how they need a double broiler. “It’s really just a bunch of small steps you take one at a time.” He combines the egg yolks, lemon, lime juice, and water and starts whisking over the pan.

He takes it off, setting it on a brand new pot holder Alec picked up a few days ago, and adds salt and pepper. He grabs a stick blender and slowly pours in melted butter. Before Alec’s eyes, the mixture becomes thick and creamy. Jace sets it aside and fills another pan half full of water, turning the back burner on. Next, he wilts some spinach in a saute pan and toasts some buttered English muffins off and when the water comes to a gentle simmering boil, he perfectly poaches three eggs, laying them out on a warmed plate. His movements are easy, relaxed.

Finally, Jace puts the spinach on the muffin, then slides the egg on top, finishing it off with the hollandaise.

Just then, Izzy comes in, yawning. “Something smells good.”

“Just like you to wake up when all the work is done,” Jace tells her and slides a plate across the counter.

Alec saw the ingredients thirty minutes ago, knew they were nothing but loose, unmade things stuffed into plastic shopping bags, but Jace has transformed them.

Alec cuts into the egg, watching the silky bright-yellow yolk run over the side, and then takes a bite. “This is incredible,” he says.

Izzy grunts appreciatively, cramming food into her mouth. She doesn’t really make conversation until she’s been up for a couple of hours.

“Breathe in between bites.”

“She appreciates a masterpiece,“ Jace says smugly. He gestures to his dishes with a flourish. “Et Walla!”

“Pretty sure that’s not how it goes.”

Jace shrugs. “Fuck off, I’m not a linguist. I’m a chef.”

Alec takes in the beautiful dishes, Jace happily watching them eat.

Sometimes it takes something being added to ever notice its absence. It occurs to Alec then that he’s never really seen Jace secure and content, even though Alec has tried their wholes lives to give him those things. Some things have to be done for yourself.

“Yeah,” Alec says quietly, “you really are, man.”

 

---

 

They spend the rest of the day eating and watching movies and playing an increasingly aggressive game of monopoly. They all cheat.

Alec knows it’s just a game and they should probably all chill, but still -- he can’t let those smug assholes win. He steals Park Place when Jace is busy checking on the ham. At some point, Jace steals it back and takes a bright orange $500 bill for his efforts.

Izzy, he doesn’t catch, but she ends up winning and when she gets up, there’s a tidy stack of chance cards beneath her foot.

After they eat entirely too much for dinner, they open gifts. Alec’s put money on Izzy’s meal card because he’s worried about her being all alone on campus and starving to death, and he buys Jace a gift card for textbooks, which he bought before Jace left college because he’s awful and boring and practical and everything everyone says about him is totally true. The bookstore sells a few out of date novels. He hopes Jace enjoys Dan Brown.

Izzy opens the envelope and laughs. “You’re such a dad.” She kisses him on the cheek. “Thanks.”

He stretches out on the floor, the angry buzz that usually crouches in the back of his mind blissfully quiet. Across from him, Izzy and Jace trade secretive looks.

Alec sits up, nervous.

The last time they were planning something together, Jace decided to torpedo his future. Excuse the fuck out of him, Alec’s a little jumpy lately.

Izzy disappears into Jace's room and comes back out dragging a huge, gift-wrapped box.

“What did you all do?” Alec mutters, opening the gift. Inside, nestled in layers of tissue paper, is a dark brown briefcase, monogrammed with his initials.

“It’s just like dad used to have,” Izzy says, looking uncharacteristically shy. “Jace and I went in on it together for you.”

“You shouldn’t have done this,” Alec says. “You guys can’t afford it.”

“We just wanted you to know how proud we are of you,” Jace interjects, “for following your dreams.”

Alec can taste the bile rise in the back of his throat and he must manage to gasp, “it’s great, thanks” or something before he jumps up and stumbles into the kitchen, busying himself with grabbing a beer from the fridge.

He’s had three beers and is buzzed, just enough to feel pleasantly numb, but that doesn’t explain his roiling gut or the way his fingers fumble over the bottle. He’s looking through the drawer for a bottle opener when Izzy corners him.

“Are you seeing anyone? Because Jace told me some stuff.”

Jace needs to mind his own fucking business.

Alec keeps rifling through the odds and ends, hoping if he pretends to be deaf and mute, she’ll go away without asking any more uncomfortable questions that he’s not sure how to answer. He growls and bangs the top of the beer against the counter, trying uselessly to pry it open.

“I think it’s great if you’re talking to some guy. But Jace seems convinced he’s an oil baron looking to rope you into turning tricks in Ibiza. I told him not to worry so much, you'd be a terrible hooker. All shitty and resentful. And I said that you dating again is a good thing.”

“I’m not dating him. We’re just talking,” Alec says. Oh holy shell, if she only knew how true that was. Somehow, Izzy’s under the mistaken impression that he pays for his life of glamour and mayo toast with his job at the firm, and through no fault of his own and definitely not cowardly avoidance, Alec’s never corrected her.

“You should do something for yourself. Alec, you can’t keep living for other people.”

“I’m doing great,” he says. Where is their bottle opener? His kingdom for a lousy bottle opener.

“You nearly turned green when you saw the gift Jace and I gave you. Just because you decided on the law when you were a kid, doesn’t mean you have to stick with it. Life’s not set in stone.”

He gives his beer another noisy, desperate bang.

“Give me that,” Izzy says, snatching the bottle from his hands and twisting off the cap.

“I loosened it,” Alec mutters.

She hands the bottle back to him. “Think about what I said.”

 

---

 

They’re drinking eggnog in front the tv, watching It’s a Wonderful Life with the volume turned down low, the black and white images flicking across the room. The eggnog, thanks to Jace, is more alcohol than anything else, and now, so is Alec.

Outside, it’s gone dark. Jace is in on the floor, eyes closed, ugly blanket slung over his shoulders.

In his back pocket, Alec’s phone buzzes.

He pulls it out and looks down at the screen, startled to see a text from an unknown number.

Are you free? - M

Alec’s heart ratchets up a notch and his palms sweat. “Who is it?” Izzy asks, lifting her head from his shoulder.

“A friend,” Alec mumbles slipping out from beneath her. “I need to take this.”

“I bet,” she says with a yawn and grabs one of the couch pillows to stuff it under her head.

Alec hurries to his room and closes the door behind him before texting back, Yes.

Magnus must have been waiting because Alec’s phone lights up almost immediately. “Hey,” Alec says, a little nervous. This is the first time Magnus has been in his bedroom. He feels like he should have cleaned. “He can’t see your room, idiot,” he mutters to himself. Still, he kicks some dirty laundry under the bed.

“Pardon?”

“Nothing,” Alec says quickly.

“I wasn‘t sure if I should call,” Magnus says, sounding a little uncertain. “You might be busy.“

The headset he uses for work is fine, the connection only very slightly staticky at times, but something about having Magnus call his personal number feels immediate, intimate.

“I wasn't and I‘m glad you did,” Alec rushes to reassure him. “How have your holidays been?” He sits down on the foot of his bed, springs creaking beneath him.

“More of the same.” An ice cube clinks against the side of a crystal glass as Magnus gently swirls his drink, a musical cascade for a late night. Alec bets this isn’t his first drink. It’s just a feeling.

“I take it you’re home.”

“Yes,” Magnus says. “Alone.”

“No, uh, significant other?”

Magnus laughs a little bitterly. “No, I haven’t been in a relationship for some time.”

Alec knew it, knew that Magnus was reeling from a breakup and was pretty sure he knew Magnus well enough that he wouldn’t be calling phone sex lines if he was, but it still makes something relax and unclench in the pit of his stomach to have it confirmed.

“The last breakup was that bad, huh?” Alec eases back on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. The tiny table lamp is the only source of illumination in his room and the window is cracked, just enough to let in a cold breeze in his stuffy room. The curtains play with the light, casting odd shadows across the ceiling. Alec’s reminded of the times when he and Izzy and Jace used to go to the park in the afternoon and lay in the grass, picking out shapes in the clouds. Alec tries to imagine one of the dark shadows across his ceiling looks like Magnus, that he’s here in the room with him, but Alec doesn’t even know what Magnus looks like.

“Yes. I know I’ve mentioned it in passing.“

“You could tell me about it,“ Alec volunteers.

So, Magnus does, pausing to take drinks.

“It wouldn’t have been so bad if she hadn’t taken half my client base with her and set up a competing business. That took time and thought. I can forgive her for not wanting to be with me, that’s fine. But it was the lying, the planning behind my back.”

“That that really blows,” Alec says, then rubs his temples. He has a talent for understatement.

“Yes,” Magnus agrees, sounding charmed. “It did blow. You have a wonderful way of phrasing things.”

“I couldn’t imagine someone not wanting to be with you,” Alec says honestly.

There's a long silence and Alec pulls his phone away and looks at the screen to make sure Magnus hasn‘t hung up. “It was a long time ago,” Magnus says finally.

“Still, it bothers you.”

“Yes,” Magnus breathes. Alec has a feeling it’s not something Magnus has ever confessed out loud before.

“It must make it very hard to trust."

“I have something crazy to say,” Magnus says in a rush. “And try not to judge me too harshly, darling.”

Oh god, Alec thinks and braces himself for Magnus to confess his foot fetish and proclivity for sucking on toes.

“I think I trust you.”

“Why?” Alec blurts out.

“I don’t know. I drove myself crazy trying to understand why, trying to talk myself out of it. But sometimes I think you just meet the right person at the right time and they unlock something inside of you.” Magnus sighs. "Does that sound crazy?"

"Very," Alec says, "that’s super crazy.”

Over the phone, Magnus laughs.

“You should protect yourself better,” Alec insists.

“I tried to and where did it get me? Alone and calling a sex hotline to talk about music and books late at night.”

“More like ranting,” Alec points out.

“Yes, more like ranting,” Magnus agrees.

“Okay, okay, point taken,” Alec says. “I guess I get what you mean. It's--yeah. Same. For me, that is. I trust you, too.”

Magnus laughs again. “I wish you were here now. I’d buy you something nice for Christmas.”

“Like what?” Alec chokes back the urge to say Magnus calling him is gift enough. He’s dumb, but he hasn't taken complete leave of his senses just yet.

Magnus makes a thoughtful sound. “I don’t know. What would you like?”

Some peace of fucking mind, Alec thinks. Everyone always says how great the twenties are and how much he should enjoy them, but mostly, he feels too young to understand the world and too old to be so confused by it.

But what confuses him the most, what keeps him awake at night and preoccupies his days, is Magnus.

Alec doesn’t really believe in fate, but he does believe in connections and possibility. What comes of them is entirely up to him, but he and Magnus are standing at the edge of a precipice, a great yawning ocean of possibility, something far greater than what they have now, if Alec just has the courage to take it.

In his head, Maia whispers, I triple dog dare you.

There’s a moment of silence, and then Alec says, “I might have a gift for you?”

“Yeah?” Magnus asks.

Alec licks his suddenly dry lips, lets the challenge slip into his voice. “If you're up for it?”

“I--” Magnus clears his throat, and when he answers, his voice is husky. “I'm up for it.”

“Take off your clothes for me, Magnus.”

There’s the clink of Magnus setting down his glass a touch too hard and then the creak of a chair as Magnus stands. “I’m going into my bedroom and I’m putting the phone on speaker, if that’s okay.”

“Yes,” Alec says and barely recognizes his own voice.

He hears the whisper of fabric over the line. The sound of rings hitting a solid surface. Something else he can't identify.

“Wait,” Alec interrupts, “describe it to me.”

“I just took my tie clip off, my cufflinks,” Magnus says. “I was planning on going into the office later, but I changed my mind.” Alec hears them hit a second later. Probably a dresser. “I’m wearing suspenders and I’m sliding them down my shoulders.”

Alec’s breath hitches.

“I’m unbuttoning my shirt now.“

The sound of a zipper, the snap of elastic. Alec’s done this a thousand times before, heard these exact same sounds, but this time feels different. He feels privy to something private, something he shouldn’t be allowed to have. He closes his eyes and imagines Magnus is in the room with him, and he’s seeing every inch of skin revealed, achingly slowly.

“You should take your socks off before your pants,” Magnus says. “No matter how sexy you are, no one looks good while naked in just socks.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Alec says, feeling a little stab of stupid jealousy. Where does he get off getting upset about Magnus being naked with other people? He has phone sex regularly with strangers, for fuck’s sake. “Are you undressed yet?”

“Yes.”

“Turn off the lights and then get on your bed.”

“Okay, I’m there,” Magnus says a moment later.

Of course, his bed doesn’t creak. He probably sleeps on piles of money like Scrooge McDuck.

“Run your hand down your neck and pretend it’s my hand.”

He hears the sound of fingers rasping against stubble, can imagine it against his skin, tiny pin-pricks against the sensitive pads of his fingers. “Now, I’m kissing your neck.”

“I want to kiss your mouth,” Magnus mutters, sounding feverish. “I want to know what you taste like.”

“You can,” Alec replies, voice low, rough. “You can run your hands through my hair and tug a little, press your hips against mine, feel how hard I am for you.” Alec runs his palm down the front of his pants, feeling himself rigid and aching.

“What does your mouth look like?” Magnus asks suddenly.

No one’s ever asked him that before. “Uh, they’re just lips,” Alec says, stopping cold. “Nothing special, I guess.”

“I wish you knew how wrong you were. You're so lovely.”

Alec can't take compliments, even over the phone, even in the privacy of his own mind. He changes the topic, panicked. “Uh, do you have lotion or anything?”

“Yeah, give me a minute.” Magnus comes back on the line. “Ready.”

“Are you touching yourself?”

“Yes,” is the breathless reply.

“Twist your hand from the base to the tip of your cock as you stroke yourself.” Alec listens to the familiar sound of skin against skin, says, “Firm grip. I have big hands.”

Magnus sucks in a breath. “I bet you do.

After a few minutes of Alec making encouraging noises, saying dumb shit like Come on and Fuck yeah, Magnus says, "I’m getting close. It's been a while.”

“Nothing to be ashamed of. How close are you?” Alec asks. “Take your other hand and hold your balls, rub your thumb back and forth over them while you stroke your cock. Think you can do that for me, babe?”

“Please don’t--don’t treat me like another client.”

Without realizing it, Alec’s been doing this by rote, falling into familiar habits, talking to Magnus like some random asshole. And Magnus is anything but. Alec unzips his jeans, pushes them down his hips, slides his hands down his stomach, and takes himself in hand, biting back a groan. He doesn't need a clear head for this; this is Magnus. “Okay,” he says and takes a deep breath. “You make me feel so good. I think about you all the time.”

“Tell me, tell me.”

“I wonder what you’re doing, what you look like when you laugh. I wonder what your hands would feel like on my body, and--” here, his voice dips down low, and he runs his finger over the head of his cock, feeling the beads of moisture gathering there, “--what you would feel like inside me.”

Magnus pants, harsh and ragged, voice nearly a sob. “Oh, fuck. I'm so close, but I can’t--you’re not here. It’s Christmas and I’m alone--”

Something horrible, absolutely horrid, occurs to Alec then and he closes his eyes, hand pressed against his dick and says, “I’m right here with you and I’m not going anywhere.”

Over the phone, Magnus makes a sharp, whining sound and comes with a gasp and a curse. Alec follows him a few minutes later, listening to the sound of Magnus breathing, softly urging him on.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The beginning of the year marks record snow. 

"I practically had to ski to work," Maia complains, taking off her thick down coat and wool cap.

Alec had been tempted to stay in bed all day, fuck this job and the weather, curl up in bed with one of Magnus’ book recommendations and wait for Magnus to call later. Alec hates the cold.

Over the holidays, Magnus texted on and off, usually something bland, asking about his day. Each time his phone beeped, Alec’s heart had raced a little. 

One New Years Eve, Jace suggested making the hike to Times Square. Real New Yorkers didn't bother with that tourist crap, Izzy said, but Jace insisted, saying, who knew what the next year would bring? They might not all be in the same place again for a while, and Izzy had grabbed her coat silently.

At 11:59 pm, Magnus texted a dozen kissing emojis, and Alec had laughed, bright and happy, in the middle of Times Square, flashing billboards and fireworks overhead, breath tiny white clouds in front of his face. 

At work, Alec slaps his bag on the desk and shakes the snow off his shoes. He pulls his coat off, still shivering. He touches his hair self-consciously where it’s shorter and swept back from his face, held in place by a baffling amount of goop Izzy showed him how to use. She’d rested her head on his shoulder, looking their reflections in the mirror and said, “Now, you’ll be irresistible for your wicked Oil Baron." Alec hadn’t bothered to correct her, because he wasn’t entirely sure she was wrong, 

Yesterday, Izzy went back to college, and that place on his left arm, the spot where she’d tuck her head and hug him from the side, still aches like a phantom limb.

"New briefcase?” Maia asks, settling in.

"Yeah,” Alec says, self-consciously. The suit, the tie, the haircut; he feels like he‘s playing dress-up in his own life, a scared little kid playacting at being an adult. "I know, fuck, you don‘t have to say it. It's a lot, but Izzy and Jace were so proud of themselves. Plus, it's nicer than my old one."

"I liked your old one. It was very you."

"Beat up and kind of sad?"

"Nice and had character."

"What a sweet spin you put on being poor."

"You know me, I'm a sweet person," Maia says meanly, cracking her knuckles. "I‘m working at the bar later tonight. Want to come by and hang out for a while?"

"Oh, Jeeze,” Alec hedges, “I would love to but I think I need to wash my hair tonight.”

No way does he want to go home and wait by the phone for Magnus to call like a crazy person. 

Like a goddamn crazy person.

Maia reaches across the desk and grasps his wrist. Hard. "C'mon, we’re friends now. I know you’re new to all this, but you have to do things for friends.”

"I‘ll think about it," Alec mumbles, as she releases his arm, and finally sinks into his chair. He lets out a small, blissful sigh. 

“Unless you have to work tonight.”

“Always,” Alec says, rubbing his eyes. Working two jobs and juggling Magnus is starting to catch up to him in a bad way. 

“Or work it.”

“Okay! I’ll go!” Alec hisses, sitting up. “Just keep your voice down.”

"Yo, temp!" someone calls out, slapping a list on his desk. "Get your coat on. It's time for a coffee run.“

Alec lets his head hit the desk with a loud thunk. His year is already going so well.

“Hey, nice hair, temp."

 

---

 

After work, he meets Maia at her work and waits for her to make a few drinks while spreading out the files on the far end of the bar. 

At Maia’s urging, he’s tried bringing his work home but finds that it sits in his bag, dreaded, while he mentally makes excuses for why he couldn’t possibly start on it. Since he began, his bathroom, once the absolute pinnacle of twenty-something male slovenliness, has become absolutely sparkling. 

Maia is trying to come up with new drinks, and her first of the evening is bright green and smoking in a suspicious manner, with a lime spiral delicately curled over the rim of the martini glass. Alec is suitably horrified but takes the offered drink anyway. “This is pretty girly for you,” Alec says. “I thought you preferred your beer warm and your whiskey with a side of misery.”

“I’m a multifaceted woman. Now, shut up and try it. 

Alec takes a drink while Maia looks anxiously on. 

“So?“ she prompts. “Tell me what you think, Lightwood.”

“I think I could only look gayer drinking this if I were wearing dayglo underwear and the rim was covered with sparkles.”

Maia presses her lips together disapprovingly.

“Ok, hang on.” He tries it again, concentrated on the fruity flavor undercut by the lime juice and something cloyingly sweet underneath that coats his tongue. He smacks his lips. “It’s good, but maybe a little less triple sec?”

“Maybe,” Maia says thoughtfully. “You’re getting really good at this.”

“That’ll come in handy for my second career as a snobby alcoholic.”

Maia goes to the storage room to grab another keg while Alec’s reading the third file of the evening and silently wishing for death. His gaze skips over Quality Systems, Inc. Sec. Litig., No. 15-55173, and he reads on with what feels like chronically growing disinterest.

It isn’t until he gets to the summary judgment that he perks up.

The details are very, very similar to the case the firm is going to be trying soon. 

“Hey, look at this,” Alec calls out, and Maia comes over. “It says that in July 2017, Robbins Geller’s Appellate Practice Group scored a significant win in the Ninth Circuit in the Quality Systems securities class action. On appeal, a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel unanimously reversed the district court’s prior dismissal of the action against Quality Systems and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. The decision addressed an issue of first impression concerning “mixed” future and present-tense misstatements. The appellate panel explained that “non-forward-looking portions of mixed statements are not eligible for the safe harbor provisions of the PSLRA -- And Christ, this super boring.” He rubs his eyes and turns the file around, sliding it across the counter. “You can see for yourself if you really want to.”

“Do you really think it's boring?” Maia asks.

“You like it?”

She tilts her head, looking thoughtful. “I do. I love the law, everything about it, how it’s mutable, shifting with the times, the perpetual motion of it. And yet, there’s something static about it. See, we take these cases and lay a foundation, stepping stones for future generations to understand and build on. You don’t think that’s beautiful?”

"For a securities case?”

“For anything,” Maia says. “The law is reason free from passion and that’s true, but doing something without passion isn’t something worth doing with your life.”

What would it be like, Alec wonders, to feel that kind of passion about anything? Unbidden, he thinks of Jace cooking, totally at home in the kitchen. He thinks of Magnus.

“Stare decisis,” Alec says softly.

“Your Latin is really bad,” Maia points out, unimpressed, but she takes the file from him and begins scanning the document. After a while, she says, “Jesus, Alec. I think you’ve found it. You should turn this in to Catarina in the morning.”

"You should do it. After all, tonight was your idea.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Alec says. “I was just going to stay in and wash my hair. I'm glad I came out tonight.”

"I know you’re eager to get home and talk to your mystery client." She checks her watch. "I'm actually surprised you stayed this long."

"He's not a client anymore," Alec admits, feeling unaccountably shy. As his best and only non-related friend, he's surprised to realize her good opinion means something to him.

"Seriously?" Maia grabs her water bottle from beneath the bar and drinks. "You gave him your number?"

"Yeah, we've been talking."

"Is that all?"

Alec finishes his drink. The more of it he drinks, the better it tastes. Alcohol is funny like that. "A little extra."

"So, when are you going to meet?"

"That seems hasty."

"You guys have been talking for a while, right?"

"Yeah, but--"

"Alec, how do you think people meet? Do you think they get each other's social security numbers and run background checks first? People meet online, sign up for dating apps, whatever. They know a hell of a lot less about each other than you two do."

"You may have a point," Alec says a little stiffly.

"I think we don't have many true connections with people and you owe it to yourself to explore that. Sometimes you have to learn to let people in a little."

"Have you?" Alec asks.

Her hand drifts up to her neck, tracing the long, twisted scars there. Alec's never asked about them; it didn't seem his place. But they're raised, dark colored, and prominent. Whatever or whoever put them there cut deep. 

"A gift from an ex-boyfriend," Maia says, concentrating too carefully on screwing the cap back on her water bottle. 

"And do you regret him?"

Alec is terrified. For her and for himself. Relationships can damage you permanently. Even without having met her, he would only need to look to his own family for proof of the lasting damage that bad relationships can leave on people, the kind of scars that can't be seen.

She tucks the plastic bottle back beneath the counter and looks up at Alec. "Alec, the one thing I've learned is there are no guarantees in life. Sometimes we let the wrong people in our lives, stay longer in crappy relationships than we should. But I have to believe there are still people worth caring about."

"Who taught you that?"

"You, dummy," she says simply and slides another drink in front of him. This one is red and has little moldy looking green bits floating in it. “It has olives and capers. I thought it seemed festive.”

“Christ, really? Did that sounds like a good combination in your head?”

Maia shrugs. “Eh. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?”

“That doesn’t mean I should court death.” He tries the drink anyway, still feeling shaken. He tries it for Maia. After all, it’s what you do for friends.

The drink is predictably terrible.

 

---

 

After getting home from the bar, Alec makes a beeline for the fridge and grabs a freezer-burned microwave burrito, ripping it out of the plastic sleeve and scraping the thick layer of ice off the top.

While it's microwaving, he fishes his phone out of his pocket and calls Jace to leave a message. He’s surprised when Jace answers.

“Ahoy, Mort’s Mortuary service. You kill ‘em, we grill ‘em.”

“I hate the way you answer the phone,” Alec mutters. “You know, you’re not nearly as adorable as you think you are.”

“Maybe,“ Jace acknowledges, “but I’m still pretty damn cute.” 

Alec stares down at his phone with distaste. Jace’s smugness practically wafts across town and through the speakers. If Alec could learn to harness its power, he could ride the waves of Jace’s self-satisfaction everywhere and save a fortune on subway fees.

“You there, buddy?”

“Yeah,” Alec says with a sigh.

“Working late tonight, but I’ve got something for you in the refrigerator.”

“I’ve already had way too many drinks tonight. I can’t do jello shots, too.”

“My wild party days are behind me, bro. There is only pure excellence left.”

“Yeah, well, don’t wake me up when you come in, your Excellency.”

“Will do, and uh, hey--”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t do anything stupid tonight.”

Alec opens his mouth to ask what Jace means but realizes Jace has already hung up. He shrugs and checks the refrigerator and sees a plate wrapped in plastic with a note that reads: Better for you than whatever crap you were about to eat. 

Alec looks at his weeping bean burrito, tosses it in the trash, and reheats Jace’s lasagne. 

He eats in front of the TV, skimming through the news on his phone. He tries not to replay the conversation at the bar in his head, but can’t seem to stop wandering back to it. It seems impossible that some people are doing the internship because they love the work. The idea is so foreign to him that it doesn’t even compute, and it probably says bad things about his life in general and his chosen career path, specifically.

Magnus hadn’t texted much, but he’d warned that he’d be in meetings most of the day. Apparently, some big changes were coming at his work.

At 10 pm, Alec grabs his headset and lets the call center know he’s on for the night. 

His first call is one of his regulars. She calls every other week when she gets paid. Her husband passed away a few years ago and she says Alec reminds her so much of him. She lies in bed, pillows tucked up around her, phone against her ear, as she tells Alec about her week and laughs at all his terrible jokes.

He waits until the beep notifies them that their time’s up, hearing the steady sound of her drifting off to sleep, and ends his call the way he always does, with a quiet, “Good night, sweetheart.”

Alec takes a few more short calls until his cellphone lights up. He texts Magnus to give him a minute and notifies the center that he’s done for the night. 

When Magnus finally calls, it feels like it’s been a thousand years since he last heard his voice. 

“Good evening, my darling.”

Magnus’ voice curls around him like smoke, and Alec pads to his bedroom, finally loosening his tie. “How was your day?”

“Busy, but that's okay. We’re finally building our base back up and I’ll have some exciting news soon.”

“Good news?”

“I hope so,” Magnus says. He sounds relaxed and happy. Alec hopes at least some of that is because of him. “How was your day?”

Alec blows out a hard breath. He lies down in bed and hugs a pillow to his chest. “First off, the fucking snow. I hate the cold, did you know that?”

“I did not, but I shall etch it into my memory now.” There’s an odd, rhythmic sound over the line and Alec can’t place it. It isn’t until he hears the tell-tale metallic clank of pans that he realizes Magnus must be cooking.

“Second, the minute I got in, I had to go get Starbucks.”

“Dreadful drinks, just sugar and milk. I had Starbucks today. It’s unavoidable; they’re on every damn street corner.”

“I think I did a really good thing today.”

“Oh, yes?”

"Yeah, big breakthrough at the bar.”

“You work at a bar?” He sounds far more intrigued than the news really warrants.

“No, I was just hanging out with a friend. Kind of a drinking and working situation?”

“I see. Well, Hemingway would certainly approve.”

Something occurs to him then, something he hasn’t been able to let go since he first thought of it. Alec would love to be the kind of person that doesn’t just shout out awkward questions, but he can’t help himself. It's the kind of personality trait that Izzy labels deeply unattractive. Age and dubious levels of common sense haven’t tempered it at all, his reckless need to know things, no matter how painful. “Magnus, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course. Anything.”

“Do you have friends?”

“Doesn’t everyone?”

Alec makes a noncommittal noise. With the addition of Maia, that brings his total up to a staggering one.

“I have a lot acquaintances and two very good friends.”

“Where were they during Christmas?”

“Now, that is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot recently.“ Over the phone, Magnus sounds contemplative, but not upset. “After my last breakup, I think I pulled away from people. It’s not their fault. I asked for space and they’re giving it to me. That’s the thing -- it’s too easy to think, tomorrow, tomorrow is when I’ll reach out to people. Tomorrow is when I’ll repair the relationships I’ve damaged. And then tomorrow turns into yesterday, and one day, you look around, and everybody’s gone like you asked them to. And then you’re alone and realize, you’ve been alone for a long time, and you've gotten used to it. It can be so hard to ask for what you need then.“

“And what do you need?“

“The same as any man, I suppose. Love, affection, self-satisfaction in life. No person is an island. Don’t be like me, don’t make my mistakes. It took me too long to realize nobody can go through life alone.”

Alec thinks about Jace, who feeds him; Maia, who forces him to go out; Izzy who calls regularly to bug him about being a shut in and a giant dork; even his mother, who comes out once a week to stare disapprovingly at their shitty apartment, but always comes like clockwork. They have never left him alone, even when he was desperate for them to, and he feels suddenly grateful for it. Some people don’t even have that.

“Well,” Alec says quietly, “now you’re not alone. You have me.”

There’s a long minute of silence and the sound of chopping stops. While Alec doesn‘t actually have a heart attack, it's a near thing. 

When he speaks, Magnus sounds choked, raw, hurt in a way that Alec can't fully understand, but he wants to. “I hope you know what you mean to me.”

For all the people who love Alec, for all that they do for him, he has never had someone who has chosen him specifically. Granted, okay, yes, Magnus liked his profile and their meeting was pure chance, but Magnus kept calling, Magnus called his cellphone, Magnus “kissed” him during the new year. 

Alec begins to wonder what it might feel like to kiss Magnus for real. Just the thought of it makes something ignite and burn low in his belly, his lips tingle, and he rubs his finger over his bottom lip. “Do you want me to--we could do what we did Christmas.”

“Not that I don’t constantly hunger for your no doubt luscious body, but it’s been a very long day for both of us and I haven't eaten yet. Do you mind--would you -- just stay on the phone for a little while? Keep me company?”

“Of course,” Alec says and hears the tell-tale hollow sound of Magnus putting him on speakerphone and he does the same. Alec groans as he sits up, pulls his tie and jacket off, slinging them over the headboard, then slips out of his pants, undressing until he’s in his undershirt and boxers. He pulls the crumpled covers up over him, keeping his phone close. “You must be home now?” It’s a fair bet since Magnus is cooking, but maybe he works in the Betty Crocker test kitchen or something, Alec doesn’t fucking know. It’s just as likely as an Oil Baron.

“Yes, I called it an early night. I think I’d forgotten that there was a world outside of work.“ In the background, low music comes on, interrupted by an occasional hiss and pop.

“That’s nice, who is it?” Alec murmurs.

“Billie Holiday. Seemed apropos for a cold, quiet evening. It’s been a long time since I’ve dusted off my records, but you’ve inspired me.”

“In good ways, I hope.” Alec’s eyes are heavy now, and he feels them slip shut.

“In all the very best ways.”

The hiss of food in a skillet, Magnus humming under his breath along with the faint background strain of Billie singing of summertime and easy living. Alec takes it all in, feeling split wide open as Magnus drifts in and makes a permanent place for himself somewhere deep inside of him while Alec is carried off to sleep, finally warm.

 

Chapter Text

 

Maia takes the news to Catarina the next morning and the interns are told, mercifully, to stop combing through old cases. Alec idly wonders what new fresh horror the firm is cooking up for them.

Maia and Alec find themselves the toast of half a dozen scared-looking interns, but Alec supposes even frightened half-assed validation is validation and lets one of them buy him an overpriced coffee from Starbucks. He grimaces and holds the overly-syrupy liquid in his mouth. "Delicious."

They are unceremoniously tossed back onto coffee and Xeroxing duty. "How many copies does this damn firm need?" Alec grumbles, setting down a huge stack of still-warm paper. His desk makes a menacing squeak.

"Be grateful you didn't have to give Fell a foot massage," Maia says, carefully filing her nails. She once asked Alec which shape he preferred, to which Alec, totally bewildered, replied, "Finger-shaped. Obviously."

"Sweet Jesus on a cracker," Alec breathes, "are they allowed to treat us this way?"

"In theory, we could leave any time we wanted to. We're not under contract and we don't get paid. I guess they can ask for just about anything legal and I suppose they'd know."

"It doesn't seem fair."

"Life isn't fair," Maia says, putting down her nail file. "We do the best we can to operate under its weird, arbitrary rules."

"How fatalistic of you."

"I'm a realist," she says.

His gaze sweeps over the scars on her neck. He supposes she would know a thing or two about life being unkind.

On Wednesday morning, Maia comes back with a huge bundle of stationary. "So, new assignment."

"Yeah, what are we doing now? Starbucks run? Chasing down a taxi in the snow and holding it there with our bare teeth? The history of the firm in interpretive dance? What new and fresh humiliations have they cooked up for us?"

"Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning."

Alec sighs. "Sorry, it's just--the internship is coming to a close and I'm a little tense."

"Yeah, I get it. Only one intern is extended a job offer. Who knows where we'll be next year?"

"Probably Poughkeepsie," Alec says glumly. "I don't want to live in Poughkeepsie, working for the offices of Dumas and McPhail."

"Does anyone?" Maia says.

The uncertainty weighs heavily on Alec. Somehow, even when accepting the internship, he'd never allowed himself to think this far in advance. It's what got him through school and every day since then -- taking his life a day at a time, sometimes an hour at a time. Don't worry about passing the class, pass the next test. Don't worry about what nebulous and probably terrible destination the future holds, get through this internship, the next phone call. His life has a been a series of one-off moments, each separate from the last.

"Catarina's officially made partner. There's going to be a big announcement later and a party. They want us to get the invitations together and send them out by today."

"That's great for her," Alec says.

"Yeah, I even saw her crack a smile," Maia says, already getting started. "They're upstairs drinking champagne."

Behind her, the toilet flushes and someone liberally sprays air freshener in the bathroom.

Alec winces.

Maia rolls her eyes. "It's Gerald with his regular afternooner. God, he can't he do that at home?"

Alec leans forward and picks up one of the invitations. It's heavy cardstock with raised, stylized lettering. It looks and feels expensive. "Did you ever think about it? The divide between us and them? The interns and the senior staff? I mean, even now, we're stuffing envelopes for a party we're not invited to," Alec says.

"You know me," Maia says with a careless shrug, "I usually support eating the rich but I can't in this case because I'm desperately hoping to become one of them."

"Being a bartender not doing it for you?"

"Though I do enjoy my other place of employment, I amassed a fortune in student loan debt because I want to practice the law, not spend my life pouring tepid beer and getting a $.55 tip for my trouble."

Alec laughs and leans back in his chair.

Maia continues, "As much as I hate the thought of giving up my life of sticky opulence, this is what I want to do with my life. Corporate Law is all I've ever wanted to do and if I have to stuff a few shitty envelopes to do it, then that's what I have to do."

Alec would love to live a life of such conviction, but can't begin to imagine what it would feel like.

They've been working silently for a couple hours when Maia's phone rings. "Uh oh," she says, hanging up. "Needed upstairs."

Alec shoots her a sympathetic look and keeps working, stopping occasionally to double-check the addresses against the client database. Only the biggest and most important clients made the cut.

His father used to go to fancy parties like this when Alec was a kid, and he would watch his mother get ready in front of the mirror, spraying perfume on her wrists and neck, long hair elegantly swept up. She was so, so beautiful. "Can you stay home?" he'd asked.

"Not tonight," his mother said, dropping a kiss onto the top of his head.

"Well, then can I go?"

"Tonight is very important to your father, Alec. No children allowed."

He still remembers the apology in her eyes, the smell of her powdery perfume in his nose as she left without him.

He hadn't made the cut then, either.

Maia's been gone for nearly thirty minutes when she comes back, looking numb.

Alec stands, worried. "What happened?"

Maia hesitates. "Alec--I."

"What? What is it?"

“They offered me a job.”

Looking back on this moment, Alec would like to say that the first instinct is happiness for his friend, but he's only human. The bottom falls out of his stomach and his knees threaten to give out. He feels like being sick all over the floor.

"Alec, I'm so sorry."

Alec numbly shakes his head. Just because he's upset, it's no reason to shit on Maia's good luck. "Congrats," he manages.

"You mean that?"

She looks worried. It's horrible, he knows it. This should be a moment of happiness for her, but he still can't manage anything more than a sickly grimace.

"Yeah," he says. "W-we should probably get back to work."

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Maia reaching out to him, but as much as he wants to, Alec can't seem to make himself take her hand.

 

---

 

They wordlessly finish. "I can take it up to Catarina, if you want," Maia says, sounding somber.

"I'll do it," Alec mumbles. He's ashamed of himself, and yet, he can't seem to stop.

He takes the box up, watches his warped reflection in the polished steel of the elevator. He knocks on Catarina's door, feeling dazed, underwater with the weight of the ocean bearing down on him.

"Come in," She calls out.

"I hear congratulations are in order," he says, sliding the box on the edge of her desk.

She seems happy. Why wouldn't she be? All her hard work has paid off. "Yes. I knew it would happen soon, but we've had a bit of an unexpected boon. This was earlier than I expected, but be sure to keep it to yourself. A general announcement will be made soon. Also, we'll make our selection about which interns to extend job offers to."

"I already know it's Maia," Alec says. He sounds curt and angry and hates himself a little. His parents believed every good lawyer had a flawless game face. Emotion just complicated cases.

But as much as his mother and father tried to instill that particular discipline in him, it never quite stuck.

"Oh, she told you?"

"We're friends." Or else they used to be. Alec doesn't know if that's still true after today, if Maia would still count him as one even after he's been acting like an enormous butthurt asshole.

"Well, it's not that big of a deal if you know. Your internships are almost up."

He nods and turns to leave, but he can't stop himself. The ruthless need to know, that was the one lesson he did learn. He has to know the truth, even when it hurts him. "How close was I to being picked?" He looks at her and her face is soft, sad. It reminds him of how his mother used to look at him, and he suddenly wishes he hadn't asked.

Catarina sighs. "Lightwood, you're smart, tenacious. This internship will get your foot in the door with all the major firms and they would be very lucky to have you."

"But not this one. It was never going to happen, was it?"

He feels so fucking used, he could scream. Never mind that he knew, he knew the odds of being picked. He thought maybe this time, he'd win. And then his parents would be proud -- it doesn't matter. Nothing does.

There's something else he has to know.

"Would it have made a difference if I'd found the case?"

Catarina looks surprised. "Alec, no. Maia told me you found it when she brought the case to my attention last Monday. It was my decision which intern to pick, kind of a gift for making partner. I'm the one that picked Maia for the internship in the first place. I chose her from thousands of applicants. She was always my first choice."

Alec's heard enough. He turns on his heel and leaves.

He stops by the men's restroom on the first floor and splashes cold water on his face. He should go back to his desk. This internship still looks great on his application, everyone's right about that. No one would do it otherwise. But no matter how hard he tries, he can't make himself go back to his desk and make calls and copies like everything's normal. His feet feel rooted to the spot.

His briefcase and coat are still at his desk, but he pats his pockets. He has his phone, house keys, and a little cash. Fuck it. He's going home.

 

---

 

Alec takes the subway home in a daze. Once in his bedroom, he crawls into bed. He checks his phone and sees two missed calls from Maia, probably wondering why the hell he's been in the bathroom for an hour and a half.

He just wants to talk with Magnus. He shoots off a quick text and waits for Magnus to respond.

After a few minutes, he gives up and goes to sleep.

 

---

 

Later in the evening, Alec changes into more comfortable clothes and grabs his work headset. Since he's got no useful job prospects coming, he might as well make some money, even if he has to act like a squirrel to do it.

Jace must have gotten home from class. Alec can hear the soft staccato beat of music coming from his bedroom. He pretends he likes rap, but Alec knows for a fact that he Keisha's last album and listened to it on repeat.

Alec’s on his third call of the night, sitting on the couch, when Jace wanders out to the living room. “Are you a good boy for your mistress?”

Jace looks at him and silently mouths mistress, looking mildly confused.

Alec shrugs back at him. Five minutes later, his client hangs up. Alec looks down at his phone, disappointed that another call's not waiting for him.

Jace comes out of the kitchen, where he'd presumably been hiding like a fucking coward.

"Hey, so," he says. "We need to talk." He's wearing black slacks and a white button-up shirt, dressed for work. At least one of them is gainfully employed in the type of work you could tell a stranger about on the street without getting locked up for solicitation.

Alec bites back a hysterical laugh. Who saw that one coming?

"Is it about how you're being super shady?" Alec manages.

“I’m going to defer the next semester. Two, if I have to. I've been working and practicing and I think I'm going to try to get into culinary school.”

“Absolutely not.”

Jace rakes a hand through his hair, frustrated. "Alec, man, you don't get to decide this for me."

“It’s my job to take care of you," Alec says doggedly. "I'm your big brother."

“It’s not." Jace sits down next to Alec, and his expression shifts. Shit, if one more person looks at Alec with that soft, pitying look, Alec's going to burn the apartment down, possibly the whole city of New York. "I’m an adult and I’m doing okay.”

“I still wash your underwear, dude,” Alec points out.

“See? That’s so weird. No one asked you to do that. I had plenty of fathers and they all sucked. I don't need any more of them. I need a brother."

Alec takes his headset off and tosses it on the table. “I just want you and Iz to always be happy and safe.”

“Well, we can’t be. Alec, you've got to stand back and let us live our lives. This might be a huge mistake, but it's mine to make. And I don't want to look back on my life with regrets, wondering what might have been."

Yeah, Alec gets it. He's reached his mid-twenties and feels like he's made up of 5% terrible food, 20% coffee, and 75% regret. He doesn't want Jace and Izzy to end up the same way.

"Okay," Alec says, "I trust you."

 

---

 

After Jace leaves, it occurs to Alec that he could actually call Magnus. He doesn't have to text or wait around like an anxious prom date for the popular boy to notice.

Magnus answers on the first ring. "Now, this is a lovely surprise."

"Have you been drinking?" Alec asks suspiciously.

"Just a little champagne."

"Today's been awful," Alec groans, "but I'm glad you're having a good day."

"Anything I could do to help?"

"Not really," Alec says, wandering into his bedroom and sitting on the edge of the bed. "I got passed over for a job."

"I'm so sorry."

"It's -- I'm not even sure I wanted it. I've just been doing what I thought I should do for so long, I never stopped to figure out what I wanted."

"Yes, that is very difficult. I presume you're in your twenties? It's a rough decade, no matter what anyone tells you. You've got freedom, but you live in uncertainty. An adult with no answers. But here's the thing: age doesn't bring the answers, just more questions with more complicated answers."

Alec licks his lips nervously. "Can I ask, how old are you?"

"Old enough to have been where you are, not so long ago, I think."

"At my day job -- I'm just an intern, did you know that?"

"No, and that's nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone has to start somewhere. We have interns where I work."

"Oh yeah?"

"I don't really have anything to do with the program, but everyone seems happy to be there. It's really prestigious."

Alec pinches the bridge of his nose. "Magnus, I can promise you, they are not happy to be there, but they're broke and desperate for a good job and doing a thankless internship might get them one step closer."

Magnus pauses. "I admit, I hadn't thought of it like that."

"I get it. It's part of corporate culture and it's just like, how things are done. I don't even know why I'm complaining."

“Just because it’s part of corporate culture doesn’t make it right," Magnus says. "And complain away. You're disappointed and there's nothing wrong with that."

"Thank you," Alec says. He hadn't known how much he needed someone to say it.

"Hang on, let me pull the blinds."

"You're still in your office?"

"Long day," Magnus says, and Alec hears the sounds of vinyl blinds being pulled shut, the metallic click of a door being locked. "The office is almost empty, but can't be too careful. I have a nefarious reputation at work to maintain."

"Really? You seem so kind."

"No one gets to the top without being some kind of righteous asshole or another, but we are far more than we choose to project to others. No one is all good or bad."

"Yeah," Alec says. "I guess so, hadn't really given it much thought. I think it must be very lonely at the top."

"Not now," Magnus says, voice warm, "I've got you, don't I?"

"You do," Alec confirms.

"And now, I have a plan to help you relax."

"What did you have in mind?"

“Let me take care of you tonight,” Magnus says. “When was the last time anyone did that for you?”

Alec doesn‘t know, can't remember.

"What are you wearing?"

Alec can't keep himself from laughing. "That's what you're asking? That's so old fashioned."

Magnus chuckles. "I'm not a professional, so bear with me. Has anyone ever done this for you?"

Alec feels the smile drop off his face. "No."

"Take off your shirt."

Alec puts his phone on speaker and pulls off his t-shirt, cold air prickling across his skin, and shivers. "I'm, uh, I'm just wearing a t-shirt and ratty sweatpants. Nothing sexy."

"We'll have to agree to disagree then."

Alec stands, hooks his thumbs into the waistband of his pants. "I'm taking off my sweatpants now."

"And are you wearing tight black boxer briefs and a smile?"

Alec laughs softly. Their first conversation when he lied to Magnus. "No," he says, "they're just plain briefs. White. Boring." He touches the edge of the elastic. "The band is fraying a little. I need new some new ones, but I haven't had the time."

"I bet they look positively ravishing. I would love to take them off of you. With my teeth."

Alec lets out a shuddering breath. "You're better at this than you think." He pushes his underwear down past his knees and kicks them off. They disappear into a dark corner of his room. He doesn't know where and doesn't much care. "I'm undressed now."

“Good. Lay back on your bed.”

He grabs some lotion out of his nightstand and tosses it next to him as he eases himself back, the springs creaking beneath him. His mattress is lumpy and kind of awful, but it's good enough for him. It mostly supports his weight, so he sees no real reason to replace it. The awful, practical part of his brain that can't be shut off won't let him get rid of anything that's still useful.

"I can hear you overthinking from here."

"Guilty." He spreads his arms out on the comforter, willing himself to relax. The lights are dim, the room cool, fabric scratchy against his back.

"Let go," Magnus says softly. "Trust me."

"Yeah, I do," Alec says, taking a deep breath. "Okay, what next?"

Magnus clears his throat. "How far do you want to go?"

"Whatever you want," Alec says, rolling his shoulders back, finally relaxing in slow increments. "I'll tell you if it's too much."

"Are you sure?"

"You have to trust me back."

"Okay," Magnus says, breathless. Alec hears the sound of a zipper, the creak of a chair. Something about knowing that Magnus is touching himself while thinking of Alec sends his pulse skyrocketing. “I’m kissing your neck."

Alec tilts his head back, imagining the feather-light touch of Magnus' lips against his skin. "Next, the hollow of your throat.” Alec touches the skin on his throat, feeling his heart rapidly beating there. He drags the pads of his fingers down his chest, mimicking the feel of a mouth against him.

"I'm kissing my way down your chest, stopping at your nipples."

Alec drags his hand down his chest and stops on a brown peaked nub and lightly pinches.

"I'm sucking one, letting my teeth graze over the skin until it aches. Would you like that?"

Alec swallows convulsively. "I would." His legs fall open, dick aching and hard, as he imagines Magnus kissing his way down his body, overly aware of every inch of skin, shocky and on edge. He feels himself come alive under the low caresses of Magnus' voice, leaning into the heat of his own hand as it moves torturously slowly down his belly.

"I would put my mouth on your cock, suck you off as you came apart beneath me."

Alec squeezes some lotion onto his palm and then curls a hand around his cock, imagining the tight wet heat of Magnus' mouth, the cold rings against his hips, holding him down.

"Magnus," he says helplessly.

"I would move two slick fingers down your ass, and press them inside you."

He bends his knees, drawing one up and reaches behind himself, circling his ass, lightly pushing against the sensitive skin there until one finger breeches his body. Alec forces himself to relax against the intrusion, always strange and a little uncomfortable at first, and sinks into the sound of Magnus' voice. "Okay, I'm doing it."

Magnus takes a deep, shuddering breath. "I would take my time stretching you. I would kiss the inside of your thigh, lick the skin around your cock until your knees were shaking and you were begging me to fuck you."

"Please," Alec chokes out.

"Add another finger and think of me. I'm kissing you now, my tongue in your mouth and you can taste yourself."

Alec's mouth falls open and he adds another slick finger, other hand fisting his dick. Magnus, Magnus, he thinks. It's too much. He closes his eyes and feels a drop of moisture leak out the corner, slide down his cheek and into the shell of his ear.

"Oh my god," Magnus groans. He sounds so close and Alec, he's careening out of control - belly tight, eyes squeezed shut - down a highway at 100 miles per hour, with only Magnus' voice to guide him.

"Fuck me, please," Alec begs. "Please." He adjusts his fingers and feels them brush against the small, electric part of himself, and imagines it's Magnus above him, inside him.

"Yes, yes. I'm pushing my cock inside you and Christ, you're so tight and hot around me. Oh, fuck."

He hears the familiar sound of Magnus touching himself.

"Magnus," Alec groans, pressing the side of his face into the pillow. "Fuck. Tell me how I feel to you."

"You feel amazing. You feel like coming home," Magnus says, voice tight, hushed. He groans once, long and rough, like the sound's been yanked out of from somewhere deep inside of him, hidden until Alec uncovered it. And Alec can nearly see him: a lone figure in his office, pants open, and listening to the sounds of Alec fucking himself down on his own fingers and panting his name.

Magnus says on a soft exhale, "You're my home."

With that, Alec feels his vision going gray around the edges, the pleasure cresting and breaking. He rides the wave for as long as he can, legs shaking, toes curled. "Magnus, I think--" he gasps, "I think I'm in love with you."

"Yes," Magnus says, sounding blissed out, dreamy. "Yes, I think I love you too, Chad. My darling."

It’s like a bucket of cold water’s been poured down his back, and Alec drops his hand, come already cooling on his stomach, going sticky and gross on his hand.

Chad, his hotline persona, not Alec.

Of fucking course, Magnus doesn’t love him. Magnus doesn’t even know him. Whatever they have, whatever dumbass idea of them Alec's built up his mind, it’s not real.

He's never been anyone's first choice. He's such a fucking idiot.

Alec fumbles for the phone and hits the end call button. In his ear, the dial tone sounds.

Chapter Text

 

 

Alec stops by a coffee shop and picks Maia up a cruller and coffee. It's already getting warmer, an unseasonable oasis of heat in a wall of cold, and he leaves his coat at home, bringing only a light jacket and an umbrella. They say it's going to pour.

Maia's already at their joined desks, hard at work. It's why she was picked for the job, Alec thinks, a little sardonically. He'd turned off his phone last night and tossed and turned, thinking. At three in the morning, he'd given up and watched reruns on TV. He could quit the internship, but then, he'd burn his bridges and all his time really would amount to nothing.

So, Alec swallowed his pride, took a shower and pressed his suit, paying careful attention to combing his hair back and knotting his tie. His father preferred a Double Windsor knot, which Alec had never been able to master; it was too fussy and left too little of the tie, which made his ties always look a shade too short on his long frame. It didn't fit, and it never did. Alec didn't know why he'd always insisted on wearing it.

He stood in front of his mirror, looping the fabric around itself twice, and then through the loops. It was simple and functional, much more his style. He looked good. Ironic, since he'd never been so unsure or a mess, but on the outside, he finally looked like a functional adult. It reminded him of Magnus telling him that growing older didn't bring more surety or answers, just new and more complicated questions.

At work, Alec wordlessly sits the pastry and coffee on her desk. In the corner of their cubicle, he notices his briefcase leaning against the wall with a suspiciously foot-shaped print across the front.

Alec slides into his chair. After a moment, Maia reaches out a hand, breaking off a small part of the pastry and taking a dainty bite.

"You don't have to pretend with me," he says.

She looks up. Her eyes are large, dark, carefully guarded."I'm not going to apologize for who I am. I've spent too many years doing that."

"I think you're amazing," Alec says, "and I'm so proud of you."

Maia sniffs, and her shoulders relax. "You trying to bribe me with sweets, Lightwood?"

Alec sits at his desk and leans forward, hands clasped together. "Is it working?"

"Maybe," Maia says. She reaches out and takes a positively enormous bite, stuffs half of the cruller in her mouth. It's the opposite of dainty -- it's gross, and entirely Maia, and Alec grins widely. Her voice drops to a conspiratory whisper, "I heard Bane’s in a hideous mood. He’s yelled at three people and made the guy that brings water cry. I’d give him a wide berth today, if I were you."

“I always do,“ Alec tells her. “He’s such an asshole.”

She gives him an inscrutable look. “He’s really not? At least, not usually this bad.”

“He made you cry once, don't think I've forgotten," Alec insists. "Even if he serenades orphans every Sunday, I can't forgive him for what he did to you. Only assholes treat their interns like that."

“No, it wasn’t like that,” she says. She wads up the paper pastry bag and tosses it in the trash, looking extremely satisfied with herself. She delicately brushes icing chunks off the front of her suit. "Look, he was just giving me a head’s up that my ex got hired here and he was starting intake at the beginning of the year."

“The ex that gave you that scar?” Alec gestures at her neck.

"Yeah," Maia says. Her fingers twitch but remain on the desk. "He was working with HR to figure out how to handle it, but he wasn't sure how to rescind an offer that had already been formally accepted."

"Can he do that?"

"I guess? But it would take some maneuvering, possibly severance pay to make him go away quietly."

"Bane was willing to do that for you?"

"Yeah. Mostly, I think it would have been a legal nightmare for him and he was trying to avoid it, but he didn't have to give me a warning. He just didn't want me to run into my ex in the lobby or anything."

We are far more than we choose to project to others. No one is all good or bad.

"I still think he's an asshole," Alec says stubbornly and Maia laughs in response.

He digs out his cellphone and turns it on. Three missed calls from Magnus last night, but nothing this morning. Alec sends him a quick text, Sorry. I can explain, call me. Please.

Nothing in response, but there's not much he can do about it now. His work and life can't stop because he fucked up last night. That's the thing about learning painful lessons: you can apologize, but that doesn't mean someone has to accept it.

Sometimes, there's nothing to do but wait.

 

---

 

At home, he takes four calls before he can't put off the inevitable. His cellphone remains stubbornly dark. No text, no calls, except one from Izzy, telling him she'd aced a test. He's proud of her, probably more than is healthy, but it makes something ache inside of him. She's always known what she wanted to do with her life. Jace just figured his passion out.

Alec is the oldest of all of them, and still feels lost, unmoored. He has no real reason for it, either. Sometimes terrible things happen to people, they have difficult childhoods, relationships that shake them to their very core. And sometimes nothing much happens at all, and still, life is just harder for some people, no real rhyme or reason to it.

Alec sends Magnus a text, expecting him to call back immediately. No call comes and he watches two episodes of Friends, which isn't nearly as funny as he remembers it being when he was a kid, eats some of Jace's leftovers in the fridge, and changes his clothes before his cellphone rings. He's in the bathroom brushing his teeth, and he tears down the tiny hall, and lunges across his bedroom to answer before Magnus hangs up.

"Hello," he says breathlessly, toothbrush hanging out of his mouth.

"Hello. I didn't know if I would hear back from you," Magnus says a little stiffly. It pains Alec at the change he hears; Magnus, even when they were still new to each other, fumbling through their exchanges like trying to navigate rough and unfamiliar terrain blindfolded, had never sounded this remote.

"I'm glad you called," Alec says. "I hoped you would." He puts his toothbrush on the bedside table.

"I wasn't sure what happened at first," Magnus says conversationally. "I thought we must have got cut off by accident, so I called back. Then, when you didn't answer, I called back. Twice." He takes a deep breath.

"Do you know what that feels like? After--"

Alec tosses himself back on the bed, feeling sick to his stomach. "I know, I'm so fucking sorry."

Magnus stays silent and Alec desperately thinks of something to say, but he's got no clue how to make this right. If there's a distance between them, a mismatch between what Alec expected and what he got, it's entirely his fault. He wasn't honest with Magnus and relationships built on lies, even lies of omission, never amount to anything worth having.

"Did I do something wrong last night?" Magnus asks finally. Alec hates himself for the uncertain note in his voice. It's a terrible, startling realization that if he can make Magnus happy, he can also make him sad.

That's the power with loving someone and being loved in return, and it demands more respect and consideration than Alec's given to it.

"No, I was being an idiot," Alec says. "I--Chad isn't really my name."

"You don't say," Magnus says dryly.

"It's Alec," he says. "My name is Alec."

"Alec." Magnus rolls the name around his tongue, savoring it like a fine wine. "The name suits you much better than Chad."

"I guess my mom thought so," Alec says. "In the spirit of honesty, what's your real name?"

"Magnus."

"Well, if you're going to be an asshole about it."

"It's really Magnus." He sounds mildly aggrieved.

"Sure," Alec says, placatingly. It's a pretty sexy first name. Maybe it's true or maybe Magnus has a truly hideous first name, an old lady name like Geraldine. It doesn't really matter anyway; what they have is real enough. "Am I forgiven?"

"I suppose so," Magnus says and Alec's relieved that Magnus seems to have moved past his many fuckups. "Now that I've had time to consider it, it must have been pretty shocking and upsetting to hear another man's name in flagrante delicto, as it were. Also, if we're joking about it yet, a little hilarious."

"We are not," Alec says.

"I see."

"How was your day?"

Magnus sighs heavily. "Beastly. Some wily minx broke my heart. I think I made someone cry at the office."

This sounds vaguely familiar, déjà vu tickling the back of his mind, but Alec can't place it and he's sure it isn't important anyway.

"Got to keep that fearsome reputation up somehow," Alec says. "I could try to make it up to you?" He's gotten bold since he started talking to Magnus. Maybe not Jace levels, but then again, who is?

"Maybe," Magnus says. "But first, I want to know the real reason you were upset. It wasn't just because I called you by the wrong name -- which, may I add, was the name you gave me."

"I wasn't angry. I was-- I don't know." Alec would answer honestly if he could; it's his default mode, but everything is a messy jumble. "I was having such a bad day, and then tt felt everything we had was built on some kind of lie. I didn't know if what we had was real, if you liked me, if you could like me without having met me. I couldn't stand to lose that too."

"So, because you didn't want to lose me, you hung up on me."

"I didn't say I made good decisions," Alec says defensively.

"Would it make you feel better if we met in person? Would that feel more real to you?"

Alec's palms sweat and not in a good way. Oh fuck.

"No pressure," Magnus rushes to assure him. "If this is all we can ever have, I can live with it. But I will say that I have thought about meeting you in person more times than I care to admit."

“I could be hideous," Alec blurts out and claps a clammy hand over his mouth. What the hell is wrong with him?

“I don’t care,” Magnus says. “To me, you won’t be. I know you. Even before I knew your real name or where you lived or how you took your coffee, Alec, I knew you.”

Alec doesn't know everything about Magnus, but he knows when people are out of his league and he's terrified in a very real way that he'll disappoint Magnus. "I'm not as wild as I seem on the phone," he cautions.

"Yes," Magnus says, amused, "I'm in this relationship for your wild nights of macaroni and ratty underpants."

Alec exhales. "Then, yes."

"Yes?"

"Yeah, we should meet." He barrels on before he has a chance to change his mind. "This weekend? There's a bar I like. I can text you the address later?" At least with Maia there, he has backup in case Magnus turns out to be crazy or have a peg leg. Hell, he'd probably still take Magnus with a peg leg. He's in too deep; he's in so much fucking trouble. He wants to hold hands and make out with a pirate. "Saturday?"

"I have plans earlier in the evening, but I could meet later?"

"Yeah, sounds good."

"You have no idea how much I look forward to seeing you." His voice turns thoughtful. "Isn't it strange out of all the profiles I read that night, I picked yours? Who would've thought that this is where we'd end up?"

"Why me?" Alec asks. It's the question that's been hounding him since he first spoke with Magnus, but he never quite had the courage to ask. "Why did you pick me?"

He can hear Magnus lean back in his chair. After this Saturday, maybe he'll see it in person. "You didn't talk about yourself. You listed musicians you liked, tv shows, kinks you would do, things you wouldn't, but nothing about yourself. No age, height, body type. Everyone else on the site listed all the ways they were desirable, everyone else invited me in."

"You picked me because I might be middle-aged and obese and ashamed of that fact?"

"No," Magnus says, "I picked you because you seemed lonely like me."

 

---

 

His last week of work, and he feels surprisingly upbeat. Sure, he has no real prospects and he's about to begin the grueling process of papering the greater New York area with his laughably tiny resume, but that's an emotional breakdown for another time.

He stops by Catarina's office to find out what she wants him to do for the day.

She looks up from her work. “I didn’t know if you would complete the program after our talk.”

“I needed to see this through. Who quits on the last lap of a marathon just because you’re not going to win?”

She’s scrutinizing him carefully and he has the uncomfortable feeling of being measured and weighed. He isn't nervous about it now. It doesn’t matter. He’s fine with who he is.

“Well, I didn't know anyone could do that anymore,” she says, getting up from her desk.

"What's that?"

"Surprise me," she says. “I’ll walk down with you. I need to run some errands.”

As they leave, they pass by the empty office adjacent to hers. He’s seen it half a dozen times but always forgot to ask about it. Inside, there’s a desk, chair, and a few dead potted plants. It's weirdly morbid and kind of sad in a way Alec can't fully describe.

“Whose office was that?”

"Oh, it's kind of a long story. It was a partner that used to work here before I started. She was one of the partners, actually. Apparently, out of the blue, she decided to split off and start her own firm."

"And the office has just been sitting empty since then?”

Catarina speaks slowly, carefully choosing her words. “She was romantically involved with Mr. Bane. And after she left, I think he found it too painful to think about, but lately--" She shakes her head. "Well, he's come up with a few ideas, none of them particularly good."

"Like?" Alec prompts. Once again, he has the disjointed feeling of having a thousand puzzle pieces without the benefit of knowing what the finished picture should look like. He tries to shake the uncomfortable feeling that he's missing something important.

"A disco cafe?" she says sadly. "I don't even think he was joking. The man loves expensive espresso and dancing."

"In a law office?"

"He's been a little giddy. I don't know what brought it on, but I'm glad he's getting back to his old self."

Alec doesn't really know what to say. He's only ever known Bane one way, if that's even true. What does he actually know about the man? Very little, honestly. Just rumors and one bad interaction based on a faulty assumption. The rest is idle unkind speculation. And Alec has learned that in law, facts always superceed assumptions.

His feelings about Bane are shifting, leaving him feeling off-balance and uneasy.

"Hey, Lightwood," Catarina says thoughtfully, "what are you doing this Saturday?"

"I've got plans."

"Clear them. You're invited to the firm party."

A few weeks ago, he might have actually cut someone to score an invitation. Now, all he wants to do is yawn at the idea of spending a tedious evening with a bunch of self-congratulatory partners and clients.

Well, Magnus did say he had plans earlier. And he's not meeting Alec until after 9, so Alec supposes he could go to the party, make a quick lap, take a picture for the company newsletter, and then clear the hell out of there.

"I guess I could," Alec says.

"I wasn't really asking,” she says, stepping onto the elevator.

 

---

 

Saturday evening, and he's getting ready for the party, standing in front of the bathroom mirror and eyeing himself critically.

"You look so handsome, young man," Jace says and licks his thumb, wiping an imaginary spot from Alec's cheek.

Alec slaps his hand away. "Listen," he begins, "I might be late getting home."

Jace is leaning against the sink, arms crossed. He has a date later, and when Alec asked him what he was going to wear, Jace had gestured to himself, his faded jeans and leather coat. "Really?" Alec asked.

Jace shrugged and said they wouldn't be wearing clothes very long anyway.

Typical gross dude, Alec thought, and wondered if he'd be wearing his own clothes for long. Not that he was planning anything with Magnus, but if the peg leg fit--

Jace frowns, mouth tugging down at the corners. He has a face meant for poutiness, and he's aware that he's at his most attractive then, but this is real concern, something he rarely shows for anyone outside his immediate family. "I thought you were only going to stay at the party for a couple of hours?"

"I am," Alec says, concentrating harder on his bowtie than a clip-on really warrants.

"So, what are you doing afterward?" Jace's face breaks out in a rakish grin. "Do you have a date?"

"I--"

The mirth slips off of Jace's face, replaced by a dark suspicion. "Wait a fucking minute, you're not meeting the guy you've been talking to on the sex line."

"Yes."

“You’re going to meet this creep in person?” Jace explodes.

“He’s not a creep,” Alec says weakly. Magnus may very well be a creep. It’s not like handsome wealthy bachelors are in the business of regularly calling phone sex lines, but Alec wants Magnus and Magnus wants him back, and Alec's tired of never having anything he wants.

“What if he has a peg leg?”

"Weird," Alec says, giving up on his bowtie. It tilts just a little the right. "The thought occurred to me, too."

"That's not the point!" Jace yells. “What if he has one eye?”

“Then I’ll buy him a bejeweled eye patch,” Alec says, determined. "Listen, you're all about seizing the day, right? We agreed that sometimes you have to take a big risk to get what you want? I know poor life decisions are generally your exclusive realm, if you get to do dumb shit sometimes, then so do I."

"And you want is this oil baron eye-patched pimp?"

Alec considers his reflection in the mirror. He looks young, but not quite as young or naive as a week ago. His eyes look tired but clear and determined. And he can freely admit to himself that he desperately wants Magnus.

There's great power in honesty and Alec is finally, finally being honest with the most important person in his life: himself.

"I do," he says to his reflection. “I really, really do.”

Jace throws up his hands with a gusty sigh and leaves the bathroom. Alec grabs his jacket and slips it on, straightening his bowtie one last time and giving his hair a comb. He looks about as good as he'll ever, he supposes. It's probably too late to start working out to look good for Magnus tonight.

Jace comes back a minute later with his phone and snaps a picture of Alec.

"You sending that to Iz or to Mom?" Alec asks warily.

"No," Jace says, "I'm taking it so I have a current photo to give the cops when you go missing."

"Ha fucking ha," Alec says, then soberly adds, "Be sure to tell them I'm tall?"

He may have high hopes for the evening, but he's still a realist.

On his way out, Alec grabs his umbrella from the corner. It was supposed to rain all week and Alec's been watching the sky warily, to no avail. There’s a storm brewing, he just doesn’t know when.

Just his shit luck and it'll rain tonight. He doesn't want to look like a mess when he finally gets to meet Magnus.

 

---

 

The party is fancy, just like Alec imagined it would be. It's a few blocks away from his firm, held at discreet art gallery, the type that doesn't list prices. If you have to ask how much something is, you can't afford it.

Alec can barely afford his tuxedo rental.

Still, his spirits are high, and it’s not just the four glasses of fizzy, expensive champagne he’s had. There are half a dozen waiters circling the room, carrying flutes on silver trays. Waiters, he was horrified to notice, that were dressed just like him.

He’s eaten nearly twelve fussy oeur d'oeuvres the approximate color and size of his pinkie, and he’s given up trying to get full, decides to grab a hotdog from a vendor on his way to meet Magnus later.

Across the room, he spies Maia, wearing a long blue dress with some kind of sparkly gangly things around it, and waves at her. She’s standing with her date, the surly-looking intern from earlier. She leans over and whispers something in his ear and heads over to Alec, neatly dodging elegant guests.

The year, Alec thinks, has been a strange one. A long, hellish internship, an extended fight with Jace, meeting Maia and becoming best friends, falling for a client.

And no, he doesn't know where the road leads, has no clue where he's going to go now, but he thinks he can make it. He knows he can, especially if he has Magnus by his side along the way.

He anxiously checks his watch again. Two more hours.

“You clean up nice,” Maia says, looking him over.

“So do you,” Alec tells her. "Nice, uh, dangly bits. Shiny."

Maia laughs. "Such a dude," she says affectionately.

Alec looks down at her. They have each other’s phone numbers, they’ll be okay. He’s going to miss sharing a cramped cubicle, having her tell him when he‘s being a dumbass. They’ll keep up, but it's never going to be quite the same again.

Their friendship isn’t over, but this particular part of it is. He supposes this is just the way of things. You let go of childish desires because nothing remains the same forever.

“Do you think I could get away with leaving now?” Alec mumbles.

“Better wait until Catarina makes her speech, but I've got a little something to take the edge off.” Maia looks around furtively and pulls out a tiny silver flask from her cleavage.

“Where the hell did that come from?” Alec asks, startled.

“Bartender,” she says succinctly.

“Not anymore,” Alec points out.

Maia smiles up at him, bright, luminous. “No, not anymore.”

She takes a drink and hands it to Alec, who follows. It burns on the way down, but in the best way -- crisp, warm, clean. He coughs into his arm.

“Lightweight."

“Yeah, one of my many flaws."

She loops her arm through his and rests her head on his shoulder. “I think you’re pretty okay.”

They’re interrupted by Catarina delicately tapping the side of a crystal champagne flute. The various conversation dies down as everyone focuses their attention on her. Fell is standing a few feet away, looking on proudly.

It's funny, until this past week, Alec hadn't thought of his bosses as anything but nebulous beings that crawled straight out of hell to make his life miserable. He had not considered they were people, first and foremost, partners and bosses last.

"As everyone knows," Catarina says, "there have been some big changes at Fell & Bane this past year. And we have some exciting news to share. Lightwood and Roberts, can you come to join me in the front?”

"Holy shit," Alec says. "What have we done now?"

"I haven't done anything," Maia says, "the hell did you do?"

On their way up, she tosses the flask in the base of a potted plant. “Smooth,” Alec mutters.

“Usually,“ Catarina says, her voice carrying high and clear above the room, “we only hire on one associate, but this year, with our expanded client base and an extra partner, we've made an exciting decision." For the second time in as many days, the bottom drops out from Alec's stomach.

Catarina's opening her mouth to continue when something catches her eye. She lowers her glass, looking puzzled. “He said he wasn’t going to come."

“Who?” Alec asks, twisting around.

There’s a tall, dark-haired man making his way across the room. Elegant tux, fluid walk, clutching a white envelope. Ugh, Bane.

Across the room, Alec's eyes meet Bane’s and he cuts his gaze away, confused by his feelings. After hating him for the better part of six months, he's confused by just how much he doesn't hate him now.

“I heard he hasn’t come to one of these annual parties in years,” Maia says.

“True enough,” Catarina says to them, “but he might have been excited to share the news.”

“Hey, Magnus,” Catarina calls out, waving at him. "Over here. You can make the announcement."

Alec's champagne flute drops from suddenly numb fingers. Distantly, he hears the glass shatter at his feet and cool liquid slosh onto the bottom of his pants. He’s going to lose his suit deposit for sure. For sure.

He grabs Catarina's arm. “Are there a lot of Magnuses?”

"What?"

"Plural, Magni?"

"Have you had a stroke?" Catarina demands.

"Maybe, I feel like maybe," Alec furiously whispers back.

“Alec, what’s going on?” Maia asks just as Bane meets them at the front.

All the terrible pieces fall together for Alec and for the first time, he can see the larger picture.

Catarina says, “Magnus, meet out newest associates.”

Magnus holds out his hand and reflexively, Alec takes it. His hand is dry and warm, handshake firm, rings hard against Alec's fingers. M and B. Magnus Bane.

"Magnus, “ Catarina says, “this is Alec Lightwood. I presume you want to give him the good news?"

Magnus blinks, fingers tightening around Alec’s until it’s almost painful.

"Alec," Magnus says and laughs a little disbelievingly. He‘s still gripping his hand, knuckles white. "Is Alec short for Alexander?"

"Yes," Alec chokes out.

Magnus leans close enough that Alec can see the anger in his dark eyes, smell the spice of his sandalwood cologne. "Oh, but I think we've already met, Chad."

Catarina's looking between the two of them. "You two already know each other? Magnus, you said you’d never met him? And who the hell is Chad?”

"Doesn't matter," Magnus says, voice clipped. "And I need to have a private word with our new associate."

“Wait, what?” Alec says. He's fallen through the looking glass and nothing makes sense anymore.

Magnus is gripping Alec's bicep, fingers digging in, as he drags him to a quiet corner of the room.

At the front, Catarina's left standing with a confused Maia and trying to recover. The party guests are whispering in a low, uneasy background din.

“Did you know?” Magnus says, furious, suspicious. Beneath that, is a low undercurrent of hurt. “Were you laughing at me this entire time?”

“No.”

"If this is some attempt to bribe me or you recorded our conversations--"

"No," Alec says more forcefully. "You have to believe me. Jesus, I would never--"

As foreign as it is to him, Alec knows that Magnus has known very few people in his life that haven’t used him in some way and Alec’s horrified that Magnus thinks he could be one of those people. Almost as horrified as knowing he’s been having phone sex with his boss. Almost.

"How did this happen? It seems like a hell of a coincidence."

"I have no clue," Alec says honestly. He's as shaken as Magnus looks. “I've worked with you this whole time but you've never talked to me.”

I wasn’t good enough, Alec doesn’t say.

“I don't have anything to do with the intern program. Catarina runs it under Ragnor's supervision. You didn’t need me for anything. If you had, you know where my office is. Out of all of the interns, you were the one that's never come to me for help.”

"So, you have noticed me."

“Of course I have,” Magnus snaps, leaning forward. “If you haven't noticed, you stand out.”

That’s a lie. His whole life, Alec’s done nothing but the opposite.

It’s bizarre, totally surreal to be hearing Magnus’ voice and seeing his face at the same time. This was everything he wanted in the worst possible way.

It’s too much. Alec closes his eyes and steps back until his shoulders hit the wall. He's an adult; he can't cry at a party full of guests. He takes deep breaths until he feels like he isn’t going to be sick any longer.

When he opens his eyes and looks around, Magnus is gone.

 

Chapter Text

 

Alec looks around, heart pounding, wondering where Magnus has gone. Where does a workaholic feel most at home?

Work, of course.

He takes off towards the door, pushing past startled guests. Catarina's still speaking, trying to smooth over the earlier gaffe. He feels Maia's eyes following him curiously, but he has one objective, and that's to find Magnus.

Outside, it's finally raining.

He left his umbrella at the coat check, of course. He can make all the plans he wants, but life never quite seems to work out that way.

He steps through the doors, immediately getting drenched. For once, the traffic is moving quickly, a disorienting blur of streaking lights and sound. The earthy smell of the wet pavement, the thundering of his heart.

He gets his bearings and runs the few blocks to the office, cold rain running down his face, rented shoes slipping and sliding on the slick sidewalk until he arrives.

The front doors are unlocked and he rushes past the confused night guard, waving half-halfheartedly, and pushing the elevator.

He skids through the opens doors and rides it to the top floor, teeth chattering, hair dripping into his eyes. The doors close behind him and he watches his reflection, distorted against the polished steel. He looks horrible, messy, but Magnus has always seen the worst parts of him and accepted him anyway. It's time for him to do the same.

He rode this very elevator with Magnus and avoided talking to him...so he could go home and talk to Magnus. The rings on Magnus' fingers, the books, the empty office, the ex-girlfriend. Alec has been so, so unforgivably stupid. His general dumbassery might actually haunt him until the end of his days.

If he can bring himself to tell Izzy about it, she's going to make fun of him forever, once she stops laughing in about three months.

The doors open to the top floor, he makes a beeline for Bane's—Magnus' -- office. His secretary is out, the lights off in all the other offices.

Magnus is sitting in his chair, back turned to the door as he gazes out his window. In his hand, he's holding a cream-colored envelope, twirling it between deft fingers, a single dim lamp illuminating this office in the dark of the cavernous space beyond.

Outside, it's raining even harder now, fat drops sliding down the wrap-around windows, city lights twinkling down below, a thousand tiny fireflies trapped in a web of night.

On his other hand, his rings a dull gleam in the low light as he taps them against his glass desk. His bow tie is undone, the edges dangling loose around his neck. He looks achingly beautiful and so sad.

Alec considers him for a minute, trying to shove together two vastly different aspects of the same man; it's like seeing a car crash in slow motion, twisting metal, the shapes of both changing into something unrecognizable.

This office is where they talked for endless hours. This is where Alec fell in love. And as hard as he tries, he can't reconcile the two.

He crosses the space between them and pushes through the door. Magnus swivels in his chair, startled. "Lightwood--"

"It's Alec," Alec says.

Magnus' mouth twists unhappily. "Alec? Alexander? Chad? I'm losing track."

"Just Alec," Alec says with a soft sigh, shoving his hands into his pockets nervously. He's dripping water all over the floor, so cold he can barely feel his legs. He doesn't know if he'll ever be truly warm again. "I didn't set you up."

"I know that," Magnus says. He sets the envelope down and rubs his thumb restlessly against his bottom lip.

"How? How did you know?"

Magnus looks at him and Alec feels not unlike a butterfly pinned to a board. "I know you," he says.

"That's really cute," Alec says. "But I'm a lawyer too, and that's not enough evidence for us."

"You already worked here when I called you at random on the hotline. You hardly could have planned that."

Alec nods thoughtfully. "That makes more sense."

"Alec." Magnus is leaning against his desk, chin propped up on his closed fist. His other hand drums against the glass, rings clinking delicately like ice against crystal, and Alec's heard that sound over the phone more times than he can count. The creak of his chair as Magnus shifts his weight. He's nervous too, Alec realizes.

"Magnus," Alec says softly and watches Magnus jerk back, his breathing shallow. His eyes are warmer now as they take the entirety of Alec in. Alec shifts his weight and his right shoe squelches loudly. He's not only going to lose his deposit, he's going to get banned from renting tuxes completely. He's going to have to sell a kidney the next time he goes any place fancy.

The corner of Magnus' mouth tugs up in a reluctant grin. "Caught in the rain, I see."

There you are, Alec thinks. I found you.

"Fuck off," Alec says, laughing, and crosses the room.

Magnus slides back from his desk to watch Alec's progress, then Alec's standing over him, Magnus leaning back. Outside, the rain hits the window, and lightning slices across the sky, illuminating Magnus' face, his wide eyes. Alec feels the hairs on the back of his neck stand, the faint scent of ozone in the air.

The night is charged with possibilities.

Where he was a kid, there was a game he and Izzy used to play. During storms, they huddled together on the couch beneath their mother's blanket and watched the peals of lightning, then counted, waiting for the thunder.

But Alec can't wait any longer.

Alec leans down and takes Magnus' hand, gently pressing his lips to the tip of each finger. He can smell Magnus everywhere, his skin, his hair. It's better than the countless times he's imagined this exact scenario because the edge of the desk is digging into his hip, the leather beneath them squeaking. Because it's real.

"Are you really here with me?" Magnus asks disbelievingly, touching the hinge of Alec's jaw carefully.

"Yes," Alec says, before pulling him up and kissing him, open-mouthed, skin alive, awake, aware of every place where Magnus' hands touch, his back, the swell of his ass. He leans into Magnus' warmth, wants to consume it and never let go again.

He's soaking, rainwater staining Magnus' impeccable suit.

"I'm going to ruin you," he gasps into Magnus' open mouth, talking about his suit.

"Alec," Magnus says, deliberately misunderstanding, his hands scrabbling to loosen Alec's tie to slip it up over his head. "You think you haven't already?" He pushes Alec's coat over his shoulders and lets it drop to the ground, already forgotten. A button pops off his shirt and goes flying as Alec fumbles with Magnus' shirt, his pants. The feeling is slowly coming back to his limbs. Magnus smiles against his lips. "Is this a rental?"

"It was either this or the suit I wore to my grandmother's funeral," Alec explains, listening to the clink of his belt buckle, then kicking his shoes off. His pants drop to the floor and Alec steps out of them, kicking them out of the way.

He's naked and shivering as Magnus kisses his jaw, the side of his neck.

"I've dreamed of this for so long," Magnus says, pressing hot, sloppy, open-mouthed kisses to his collarbone, his fingers curled around Alec's hips, pulling him close. "All the things I would do to you."

"This is your chance," Alec says, pulling his face up again and swallowing the sounds his makes, swiping his tongue across his teeth, the inside of his soft mouth.

"Carpe diem," Magnus says, breaking away, breathing hard.

"I'm shit at Latin."

"I've always understood you just fine." Magnus pushes Alec back and turns him around, kissing his shoulders and gently coaxing him forward.

Alec eyes the desk warily. "Do you think that'll support my weight? I don't want to fall through a glass desk. I'll be frank with you right now, my luck hasn't been the best lately."

"Neither is mine, really," Magnus says, "maybe our terrible luck will cancel each other out."

Alec follows his hand and leans forward over the glass. Magnus pours his body over Alec's and kisses his shoulder, giving it a playful bite.

"I think I saw this scene in 50 Shades of Gray. Are you going to spank me? Is this the part where you confess to a strong desire to tie me up?"

"I wouldn't say no to that," Magnus says, "but let's leave the whips and chains for another day. Tonight, it's all about pleasure."

Alec shivers. Magnus is already thinking about their other days.

Magnus runs his tongue down the knobs of Alec's spine. "You're so beautiful," he says, pausing.

"I'm really not," Alec insists, eyes fluttering closed.

"Why are you so kind to everyone except yourself?"

"I'm a work in progress."

"Aren't we all?" Magnus says, continuing his way down. He stops at the cleft of Alec's ass, running a slow slick finger down and pushing it inside him. Alec's breath hitches and he forces himself to relax against the intrusion.

Tentatively, Magnus swipes his tongue around his finger and Alec jumps at the sensation, the intimacy of it, of Magnus seeing him stripped bare as he works his tongue around the over the tight, overly-sensitive furl of muscle.

Alec grabs hold of the side of the desk, wrapping one hand around the edge as his legs shake with the effort of trying to keep himself upright. Magnus replaces his finger with his tongue, working it in agonizingly slowly with languid, shallow thrusts, hands spreading him open.

"Do it," Alec urges, turning his overheated cheek over and pressing it into the cold glass beneath him. Earlier, he thought he'd never be warm again, but now, he's burning up, entire focus narrowed to Magnus, the heat of his own cock, heavy and thick between his legs.

"What do you want?" Magnus asks, pulling away, voice husky.

"Fuck me," Alec mutters, feverish. "I want you for real."

"Like this?"

"I want to see you."

"Come here," Magnus says, guiding him up. Alec's tense with need, frustrated and aching, but follows Magnus' guiding hands and Alec leans back against the desk, knees instinctively widening as Magnus moves in between them. Magnus leans over and opens a desk drawer. At Alec's raised eyebrow, Magnus says, "Where did you think I was when we were having phone sex?"

"I assumed you used lotion like any discerning gentleman," Alec says. Next to the bottle of lube are a couple of condoms – for easy cleanup, Magnus is hasty to explain – and the same battered copy of Lolita that Alec remembers seeing on the corner of Magnus' desk and assumed Magnus was a typical high-powered Nabokov-loving asshole, but Magnus had told him days before that he was reading it and threw it across the room. As always, perception and reality are very different things.

"You kids these days," Magnus says, shaking his head.

Alec lies back against the desk as Magnus moves inside him, staring at the wide-open sky over Magnus' shoulder. He's relaxed from earlier, Magnus's fingers move in and out of his with ease. A flash of light splits the inky sky.

Alec counts in his head -- one, two, three -- until he hears the answering call of the thunder. It reminds him of hiding under the covers, back before his parents got divorced and he found out how deeply flawed they really were. It was the last time he could remember feeling this safe, this loved.

"I love you, Magnus," Alec says suddenly. "Even before I knew how you took your coffee, even before I knew your name -- I loved you all the same."

"Alec," Magnus says, stopping, "You don't know? Even now, you--"

Alec cuts him off. "You don't have to say it back, I don't expect you to. I just wanted to you know." Alec squeezes his eyes shut, but he can still see the lightning imprinted against the inside of his eyelids, the ghosts of a thousand storms passed. "Things fall apart all time without any kind of warning and I think you should tell people whenever you can."

"Look at me, Alexander," Magnus says, voice hushed, urgent, and Alec complies. Magnus' eyes search his. "What do you want to hear?"

"Say you want me."

"You have no idea how much," Magnus says raggedly. "I can't eat or sleep or dream without thinking of you."

"Say I'm your first choice."

"You always have been."

"Now, come here," Alec says, pulling Magnus close, hands cradling both sides of his face. He presses his mouth against the pulse at Magnus' throat, rabbiting wildly beneath his lips.

Magnus exhales shakily, fingers digging into Alec's hips. "I need--I'll go easy, I swear." He fumbles for a condom, tearing it open with his teeth and rolling it on. "I just need--"

Magnus yanks Alec's hips closer, nearly sliding him off the desk, and Alec leans back on his elbows, head tilted back as Magnus guides himself in. Alec is fascinated by the sweep of his dark eyelashes, his bottom lip, clenched between his teeth.

Then Magnus pushes his dick into him, thick and hot, filling him up. Alec grabs for something, anything, to hold onto, and can only grasp the edge of his desk with one hand, the other hand slipping, sweat-slick against the glass.

Magnus is slowly fucking into him, taking his sweet time. It feel too good and Alec wants more. He's been waiting for Magnus entirely too long and now he's starving.

"Oh, oh, Jesus, come on," Alec urges, barely able to form coherent sentences, all manner of stupid shit falling from his lips, unchecked. "There, please, yes."

Magnus makes a strangled sound and speeds up, driving into him deeper, fingers digging into his hips. He settles on a fast pace, pounding into Alec as hard and fast as he can and Alec can’t get enough, tries to help, to shove himself down on Magnus’ cock, but he can’t get the timing right, keeps getting off rhythm and then he stops trying altogether, the room filled with the sounds of flesh slapping against flesh, Alec gasping for air, Magnus telling Alec that he's beautiful, amazing.

Alec feels his balls tighten, wraps one leg around him as Magnus hitches his other leg up to fuck into him deeper. He leans forward, bending Alec's leg up so far it's almost painful, and brushes a soft kiss against his lips. "You taste like lightning," he rasps out and makes a low, almost hurt sound, hips stuttering. Alec grabs blindly at his own dick, tugging roughly, desperate to come.

It only takes a few messy strokes. He's already wired, tense, teetering on edge, and nearly mindless with pleasure.

He comes with Magnus softening inside of him, mouthing at the crook of his neck, tasting his skin and all the marks he's left behind.

After a few moments, Magnus carefully pulls out and Alec groans, sitting up and climbing down off the desk and wincing. Like most things, it felt good at the time, but now his ass feels awful and uncomfortably damp. Magnus tosses the condom in the trash and wraps an arm around Alec's waist, drawing him close. He kisses him once, desperately. It feels unnervingly like goodbye.

"I shouldn't have," Magnus mumbles nonsensically, lashes lowered. "I shouldn't have, fuck, but it was you. I wasn't thinking."

He leans down and begins separating their clothes.

Alec has gotten weirdly used to bad news recently, and he knows what this uneasy feeling means. He doesn't think he wants to be naked for it and he hurriedly pulls on his clothes along with Magnus. His clothes are still wet. He's cold already.

"Magnus?" Alec asks, touching his arm. "Is something wrong?"

He immediately regrets asking.

When Magnus meets his eyes, he looks like he's chewing glass, jagged shards shredding up his insides. "This can't happen again."

Alec nearly staggers back. When the fuck is he going to learn? He always thinks he’s ready for the inevitable, to learn that he loves someone far more than they love him. But it still takes him by suprise every damn time.

"We work together," Magnus says miserably. "I'm your boss."

"Not anymore. I just finished the internship," Alec points out, hope blossoming in his chest. Magnus is right – it would be extremely inappropriate for an intern to sleep with his boss, but if there's a silver lining anywhere to come from this absolute shit-sandwich of a month, it's that Alec technically no longer works for him.

"You understand how this looks."

"This is because I'm a phone sex operator, right?" Alec says a little bitterly.

"It would hardly be fair for me to judge you for doing something because of a position I forced you into. I never knew any of our interns personally. I never knew what our internships did to you all. And for that, I am very sorry." Magnus wordlessly taps the edge of his desk where the letter sits. "I came tonight to meet the new associate and then I was going to cut out early to meet -- well, you, apparently."

"You're offering me a job?"

"Ragnor and Catarina were impressed with you and we really do need the help. And I thought you had great potential. Still do, and I think you should use it here. If word got out we were—do you know what they would say about me? About you? Your career would be ruined, Alec. You need to think carefully about this."

He's right. And whatever new hope he'd felt blooming in his chest, the ebullient happiness from an hour ago, he feels it flicker and die like a candle snuffed out in a dark room.

“Did you know that I pulled your application for the internship?" Magnus asks. "Catarina was out sick that day and you caught my eye. Did you know that?”

Alec shakes his head mutely, not trusting his voice not to crack.

“I want you to understand you’ve always been my first choice, Alexander.”

It’s not great, but it’s something. It has to be good enough. With trembling fingers, Alec takes the letter.

His damnable tie is still crooked and he sends Magnus a shaky smile, trying to pick up the shattered pieces of himself and rearrange them into something functional. Finally, through still tingling kiss-swollen lips, he manages, "You've given me a lot to think about, Mr. Bane."

Magnus's face does something complicated, and he falls back into his chair like sails without the wind. "Good choice," he says, voice hollow. The light dies in his eyes.

Alec forces himself to turn around and leave, but before he does, he looks back over his shoulder one last time.

Magnus is sitting at his impressive desk, surrounded by elegant furniture and shadows, totally alone again.

 

 

---

Alec sits down at his old desk, but it already doesn't feel the same. Once you move on, there's no real going back, no matter how much you may want to.


He and Maia cleared them out last Friday, where they'll sit, empty, until the new wave of interns gets picked later in the year. The universe is a big one, and Alec is but a small part of it.

Maia's probably still at the party, worrying, and he sends her a quick text to let her know he's okay.

He tries to imagine sitting in one of the glass offices, of working long hours on cases he doesn't care about, watching the years pass with glassy eyes, his life slowly wearing him down. Maybe he'll meet someone, get married, start a family of his own. And then he'll rip them apart for the sick thrill of feeling something – just like his father, who he's far more like than he cares to admit.

His childhood was spent learning what it was to be a man, a member of society, a father, a lover. And his adulthood has been spent unlearning all those terrible things.

Like Maia says, he’s doing okay.


He could, Alec thinks, follow the currents of his life, or he could finally make his own choices. Alec pushes himself back from the desk one last time.

The letter, he leaves on his desk, unopened. He doesn't need to see it to know that it isn't right for him. Like the whiskey earlier, the decision burns and aches going down, but it's a good, clean ache. It reminds him that he's invested enough to still feel pain, that he still thinks he’s worth fighting for. He wants to be happy and he deserves it.

He texts Catarina two words, I quit, then takes the elevator down and heads home.



---

 

The weight of the evening presses down on him from all sides and as Alec fishes around his soggy pockets, he realizes he forgot his keys. They're probably somewhere on the floor in Magnus' office along with his heart. He knocks on the door, fully aware he looks more than a little pathetic.

Jace yanks open the door, dressed in a fluffy bathrobe. "I told you, later—Alec? I thought you were staying out late?"

Alec doesn't know what to say, he opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. He stands in the hallway, shaking miserably.

"Hey," Jace says, stepping close, hand firm on Alec's shoulder. "What the hell happened?"

"I decided to seize the day."

"Yeah?" And how's that working out for you?"

"Pretty sure I got bitch-slapped for my efforts. I'm so tired," he mumbles. A life doesn't have to have contained great tragedy to have fucked you up and sideways. Sometimes, the daily grind of living is enough. He's exhausted.

Jace's arms come up around him and Alec leans into the touch. Neither one of them are big huggers; it wasn't how they were raised, but for once, it feels so good to let someone else carry a bit of the weight.

"Can you tell me about it?"

It's just Alec, muttering into Jace's shoulder, voice thick, eyes burning. "I got a job offer. They offered a full-time position with benefits."

"Yeahhhhhhh—no?" Jace asks, looking crestfallen.

"No, I quit instead."

"Okay," Jace says, blowing out a hard breath.

That's what he appreciates the most about Jace. He knows when to kick Alec's ass and when to back off. Jace says, "Everything's going to be all right, buddy."

He's left a lucrative job offer. He's left Magnus. He's left the long, cold shadow of his father's legacy. And whatever comes next, he couldn't possibly say.

It hurts like hell, everything insides him trembles and quakes at the fear and uncertainty, and he's standing in the shabby hall outside his crumbling apartment, heart-sore and sick, half held up by his confused brother. That's the thing about tough decisions, though, sometimes even the right ones still hurt like a motherfucker.

But even if no one else believes in him, Alec finally believes in himself.

"What are you going to do now?"

"I don't know," Alec answers. "I'm depressed, jobless, and boyfriend-less. Been kind of a rough day."

"Well, that's not entirely true." Jace points out helpfully. "You still have your job at the hotline." He narrows his eyes, craning his neck. "Plus—uh, you've got something stuck to your shoe."

"For fuck's sake," Alec says, looking down. He must have picked it up at the office. That's what happens when you have a cubicle right next to the bathrooms. No wonder people were avoiding him on the subway. He was sure it was because they could sense the quiet devastation in his eyes; as it turns out, he's just the dripping-wet weirdo walking around with half a roll of toilet paper trailing behind him.

Alec lets out a strangled laugh and Jace follows. Before they know it, they're sitting on the floor, tears rolling down their faces. As soon as Alec feels like he can stop, he catches sight of the dirty toilet paper, and they're off again. It's either laugh or cry. Sometimes, there's nothing else you can do.

So much of life is chance: meeting eyes with your boss in the elevator; picking someone at random from a long list of possibilities because you like their taste in music; a seating arrangement that leads to your best, most trusted friend; a boy, mistreated by the world, shows up on your doorstep and becomes your brother.

This idea that his life must fit a certain trajectory - graduate from a top school, internship, respectable job - was set in motion by his parents decades ago. And where has it led him, chasing ghosts? Nowhere good.

Alec lets it go.

He can't control the universe. He can't control his siblings. He can't control the future. He can only control what he does in the moment.

Alec's eyes are stinging and his heart feels heavy. He's in free fall, directionless. He's blown up his life, but for the very first time that he can remember--

He's absolutely free.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Alec goes to bed, but he tosses and turns. He wakes up in the middle of the night, sure that he's irrevocably fucked up his life and will have to go work at the Subway in Hoboken, toasting subpar bread for finicky customers.

He sits up on the side of his bed, scrubbing his face with his hands, willing himself to calm down. He forgot to close the window last night and the moon is out, large and full, the peculiar quiet after a storm gripping the city like a heavy velvet curtain.

Eventually, he pulls on his shoes and sweatshirt, grabs his heavy coat and pulls it on. He slips out of the apartments and starts walking.

He has no clue where the hell he's going.

Without realizing it, he's ended up at the park where he runs or at least seriously considers it every time he passes by on his way to pick up donuts and junk food.

Alec goes in and follows the winding path until he's standing in front of a tiny playground.

Jace comes up behind him, clapping a hand over his shoulder.

"Argh!" Alec says, rounding on Jace. "How the hell did you find me?"

Jace shrugs carelessly. "I followed you. It was easy. You're seven feet tall and super loud. I just followed the trail of sadness across the city. "

"Like a stalker?" Alec asks.

Jace shoves his hands in his pockets, scraping the toe of his sneaker across the gravel. "Like a worried brother."

"You can go home. There's nothing wrong, I swear," Alec insists. "I'm fine." He wishes his voice didn't get so shrill at the end, and he's a bit worried Jace might actually choke on all the lies Alec's shoving down his throat.

"I can tell," Jace says dryly, squinting into the dimly-lit distance. "There's nothing weird about two grown men hanging around a playground at night."

Alec's busy formulating a response to Jace's not at all good point when he hears the crunch of gravel and turns around again. "Iz?" he asks disbelievingly.

Izzy looks tired, hair thrown up in a messy ponytail, wearing pajama pants, battered running shoes. "Jace called and said you were having some kind of nervous breakdown. You quit your job?"

"Technically, I--"

"Not the one as a phone sex operator," Jace interrupts.

"Excuse me--" Izzy says.

"Thanks a lot," Alec yells, rounding on Jace.

"It's a good thing you quit," Izzy said, "I'm sure you were terrible at it."

"I quit my other job," Alec says loudly. "I'm still a phone sex operator."

"Say it louder, dude, we haven't been arrested yet and the night's not exciting enough," Jace says, pulling his jacket tighter around himself.

"And I'm sure you're great at it," Izzy says hastily.

"Too fucking late, Iz," Alec snaps.

"Listen," Izzy says, "this is fascinating and all, but can we sit down somewhere? It's the middle of the night and I'm exhausted."

Alec looks around. Other than a see-saw and a tiny swingset, there's nothing around. In the center of the sad Brooklyn playground, though, stands the hulking shadow of his old nemesis: the monkey bars.

Jace is already climbing to the top. Izzy starts, fingers curled around the bars midway. She looks back to where Alec's standing, clenching and unclenching his fists.

"You still afraid of heights?" Izzy asks softly, eyes worried.

It's totally stupid and irrational, Alec tells himself, but then again, most fears are. "No," Alec lies, "I just feel like standing."

"Alec, in anatomy class, we learned that when a bone breaks, a callous forms afterward."

Alec shoots her a doubtful look. "What a distressing pep talk. I hate it."

"No, listen-- after a bone breaks, a callous forms around the site. For a while, the bone becomes even stronger."

Alec licks his lips, staring at the top. To be honest, it's not even very high. "Yeah, ok. I get it."

He takes a deep breath and he climbs, bars cold beneath his palms. Once at the top, it's not that bad. It had seemed so much bigger, nearly impossible, when he was younger. It was the memory of falling and subsequent pain that held him tight in its grips all these years.

Across the park, there's a dark shape that begins to take form.

"Maia?"

He looks at Jace, utterly betrayed. Jace shrugs again.

"I didn't know how off the rails you were planning to go," Jace explains. "It seemed wise to have backup."

Maia says, "Thanks for letting me know you quit, asshole. I'm going to chalk it up to you being lame and not having many friends and not knowing how to treat them."

"That's fair," Alec says and scoots over on the monkey bars to make room for her.

She climbs up and smacks him on the arm. "Do better next time."

"I will."

Raphael comes up behind them.

"Oh, come on," Alec yells.

Raphael scowls. "She called me in case someone needed to hold you down. I live in the apartment below her. But now that I see you're okay, can I go?"

"You're my ride home," Maia tells him. "So, sit your ass down."

"Why are you all here?" Alec asks loudly.

"You do so much for everyone else," Izzy says. "Just let us do this for you."

"Yeah," Maia echoes. "You don't have to have a nervous breakdown alone."

"I'm not having a nervous breakdown," Alec insists. "I'm just—thinking."

Raphael snorts loudly. "Says the guy sitting in a playground at --" he checks his watch "--4 am. That's not crazy behavior at all." He sits down on one of the swings, staring glumly down at his shoes, probably wondering where he went wrong in his life.

You and me both, buddy, Alec thinks.

"Well," Izzy says, reaching down and rifling around her purse. "If we're going to be out here, might as well make the best of it." She brandishes a brown paper bag and out of that, an enormous bottle of liquor.

"Could you have gotten a bigger bottle of alcohol?" Alec asks, appalled.

"No," Izzy replies cheerfully. "I tried." She unscrews the cap and takes a long drink. Wordlessly, she passes it to Maia, who looks askance at the label.

"Cherry brandy? That seems like an unwise combination."

"It is," Izzy says easily. "But it's also 70 proof, so you get over the taste pretty quickly. It tastes like bad decisions and cherry cough syrup."

Maia takes a long drink and grimaces. "It really, uh, clears the nasal passages." She leans over and hands it to Jace.

After drinking, Jace glares down at the bottle, as if it's personally offended him, then passes it to Alec, who drinks.

Izzy is right – It tastes like miserable mornings, poor choices, and rancid cherry poptarts dissolved in a vat of low-quality vinegar. He drinks deeper without knowing exactly why, which is basically the story of his life thus far. It reminds him of college, those tumultuous years of meeting arbitrary deadlines and feeling like everyone was secretly laughing at him. It was his first taste of freedom, of being away from his family, of realizing he was a full person beyond his last name. Those years taught him avoidance, independence, and perseverance. Stress-eating and anxiety napping.

Growing up takes so much courage. It's difficult and unfathomably frightening, but it's a hell of a ride.

For a while, they drink in silence.

"You know, being an adult isn't all it cracked up to be," Alec says. "I thought I would have my shit together by now."

There is no moment of adulthood, Alec realizes unhappily, no final finish line to cross. There is only the gradual framing of the world and yourself into terms you can recognize and live with. No one will hand you an identity or a place in the world. That's something you have to do for yourself.

"I think that's what the twenties are for," Maia says. "You're supposed to make dumb decisions and fuck up. How else can you be prepared for your thirties?"

"Yeah," Jace says uneasily, "we'll definitely have our shit together by our thirties. That's so old." He laughs nervously.

Alec highly suspects that isn't true, has the sneaking suspicion that his life might even be more of a mess by then, but it's a fun illusion while it lasts.

Maia says, "I once dropped a bowl of ice cream on the floor when I tripped over my dog. It broke the bowl, but I still carefully scooped the ice cream out from the middle and ate it anyway."

"That's so dangerous," Izzy murmurs.

"Don't judge me," Maia says. "It was late, I was too drunk to go back out, and it was Rocky Road."

"I once ate a calzone I was sure had been in the back of my refrigerator for a month," Izzy says sadly. "It had dark spots on it. I told myself it was oregano. I knew better."

"Christ, Izzy," Alec says, giving her a little nudge with his foot. She slaps his leg back.

"It was so late and I was exhausted."

"Why are we always so tired?" Maia asks.

"Because life is hard," Alec says. "But the thing is, it goes by so fast. Our twenties will be over before we know it. Even now, I can't believe I'm out of college. It feels like yesterday I was moving into my dorm room and mom was lecturing me about staying up too late."

Izzy cackles. "And not to get distracted by boys. They only want one thing, you know."

Jace is grinning. "You turned the color of a tomato, begged mom to keep her voice down."

"You're a bunch of assholes," Alec says, flushing in rememberance. He was so embarrassed. He wanted freshman year to already be over, to stop feeling so unbearably awkward.

That's the thing about the sweetest moments in life, though. You'll never truly recognize them until they've passed.

"Okay," Jace says. "If we're sharing dumb, gross stuff we've done. Sometimes, when I haven't done laundry, I turn my underwear inside out and wear them for a third day."

"Excuse me," Maia says. "You wear your underwear two days in a row?"

"You don't?" Jace asks, looking confused.

"I don't know why I'm out here listening to Jace's disgusting personal grooming habits," Izzy complains, "when I have an exam in the morning."

"What are you doing here?" Alec asks, dismayed. "Go home and sleep! Or better yet, study."

"If I haven't learned it by now, I'm not going to. Cramming doesn't really work. Besides, it's just about buttholes. No big deal. Or rather, anatomy and physiology of the rectum and digestive tract. I studied, but you know. Everything's going to be fine. It's going to be fine."

"Are you sure about that?" Alec asks. "Because you sound a little unhinged."

"I'm not going to lie to you, Alec, school is so much harder than I thought it would be." Worryingly, she takes another drink. "But I can't flunk out, Mom's going to be so smug. She told me double-majoring was a mistake."

"You could still drop one. Just because you made a decision once doesn't mean you have to see it through to the bitter end – you told me that."

"Fuck, I know," Izzy groans. "Solutions are a lot easier to see for other people." She shakes her head. "I don't get it. I was such a gifted child, what the hell happened to me. Did I get dumber?"

He always thought everything came so easy to her. The thing is, if you peel back the thin veneer of respectability, everyone has their fair share of crazy.

"So, you're planning to become a doctor out of spite?" Alec asks.

"Is there a better reason?"

"There's helping people," Maia says.

"Making the world a better place," Raphael pipes up.

"Okay, yeah," Izzy says dismissively, waving her hand in their direction. "Also those things, obviously, but mostly spite."

"And you think you're going to do all this by drinking at 4 am?" Alec asks.

"You should ask Alec to tutor you," Jace adds helpfully. His cheeks are flushed pink with alcohol, which is never a good sign and usually preceeds bad life decisions. "He knows all about butts. A butt connoisseur, if you will. Some people enjoy fine wines, but Alec enjoys a fine--"

Alec must be really drunk because when he goes to slap Jace, he overbalances and ends up scrabbling against the bars to stay upright. He feels the moment he over-tips and sees the ground rushing to him. He lands with a soft oof, staring up at the stars.

"You okay, buddy?" Jace calls down softly.

Alec is shocked to find that he is okay.

It wasn't even that far of a fall, only a few feet. The thing is, his fear of falling was so much worse than the actual fall itself. "I'm fine," Alec says, sitting up and dusting his jeans off.

He gets back up.

"Well, come on then," Jace says, gesturing at him. "And try not to fall on your ass again."

Alec slowly climbs back to the top. Raphael watches carefully and gives a small, silent clap when Alec settles between Jace and Maia

Jace seems tired and didn't even give Alec much shit for falling from a child's jungle gym. He pokes him in the arm. "Everything okay?"

Jace pulls out a wadded up envelope from the inside pocket of his jacket. "I didn't get in," Jace says, thrusting the rejection letter in Alec's direction. "Guess you were right. It was a mistake."

Alec looks down at the thin letter, not bothering to read it. "Most of these people that apply have been training for years, you just started."

"Yeah, I know that. Still, I let it get to me. Everyone kept telling me how much talent I had."

"You do and this school wasn't right for you," Alec says, suddenly sure. Maybe the fall or quitting his dream job has made him bold, or maybe it's the gallon of cherry-flavored liquor, but he's certain that Jace is going to be fine. More than fine. He's probably going to get his own show on the cooking network and be disgraced when he gets into an on-air fist-fight with Mario Batali. Alec doesn't know how, but he's sure of it. Jace is going to be fine. They all are.

Maia can take care of herself. In fact, she mostly takes care of Alec. And Izzy is all grown up and being irresponsible with hard liquor. They're doing okay-ish. Maybe that's the best anyone can really hope for.
There is so much fear in the unknown, but there's a certain beauty, too, in the uncertainty of life, the great open possibility.

"Okay, so," Alec says, rubbing his hands together. "I win the dumbass contest. I had phone sex with a man who turned out to be my boss, then I slept with him, then he offered me a once in a lifetime job, then I left him and the job." Alec's surprised he can bring himself to talk about it so casually, but it feels almost unreal, like it happened to someone else.

"I knew you were a hooker!" Raphael exclaims.

"Not a hooker," Alec says, "but thanks, random guy I barely know."

"No?" Raphael looks to Maia, who shakes her head.

"Did anyone win the office pool?"

"No," Maia says a little fondly. "Lightwood surprised us all. He has a habit of doing that."

Catarina was right; Alec is surprising. He grins a little.

"I think you were right to leave the job, Alec," Maia says. "You weren't happy there. You never would have been."

It's gratifying to know he was right, but still, it hurts a little. It's the strange euphoria of cutting off one avenue and gambling on a better one revealing itself. Life makes no guarantees, but some things are worth the risk.

Failure is inevitable. You will fail more than you will succeed. But how you deal with failure defines the trajectory of your life. And the only way to avoid failure is to never try at all.

"And Magnus?"

Maia laughs.

"Hey now," Alec says weakly.

"I'm sorry," Maia says between wheezes, not looking sorry at all. "You were having phone sex with Bane this whole time and worked two floors beneath him, I can't, I literally can't with the two of you."

Jace hands Alec the bottle, which is worryingly low. "I think it was the right choice, too. You two were fucked from the beginning. Better to start fresh."

Is there such a thing as starting fresh, though? It's all well and good to break free from endless cycles of chasing a career you never wanted, but some things linger.

Alec closes his eyes and sees lightning, feels the whisper-soft touch of lips against his. He hears the crash of rings against glass, and Magnus’ slim fingers twisting through the strands of Alec’s dark hair, his body a heavy, reassuring weight, while he laughs softly in Alec’s ear and says, “You didn’t think I was done with you, did you?”

Alec wonders how long it'll take for that particular break to stop aching.

Between them, they silently pass the bottle around and watch the sun come up over the horizon. Being an adult isn't better or worse, it's just another state of being. All they can do is the best they can and what happens after that, happens. Riptides only ever go in one direction.

"Oh my god," Izzy says. "We're adults now."

"Yup," Jace says.

"I'll drink to that." Maia lifts the bottle her lips.

Alec pulls off his coat, surprised at how much the temperature is climbing. The seasons are changing.

Childhood is officially over. They are grownups. They are ready to take on the world and remold it in their own image.

And they are wasted.

"So, who wants to call an Uber?" Alec asks.

"Someone should definitely get on that," Maia says.

 

---



Alec rolls over in bed, hating his life a little. He did eventually get an Uber, but the driver spent the entire trip back licking his lips and asking Alec how tall he was. When he and Jace managed to stumble back to their apartment, Jace opened the door and held it open for Alec with a flourish while calling him a tall, sexy drink of water.

Alec scratches his belly, looking around and wondering what woke him up from his drunken anxiety-sleep. On the nightstand, his phone is lit up with a missed call.

Since everyone who would contact him is in as shitty shape as he is, his heart kicks up a notch. What if it's Magnus?

He's surprised and not disappointed to hear the message is from the public defender's office. He'd put in the application towards the end of his internship, not really expecting to get a callback. He'd pretty much forgotten about it.

Alec gets up to make himself a pot of coffee and get started on the day, listening to the voicemail while dropping two slices of bread into the toaster. He nearly drops his phone when he hears that they've reviewed his application and they're very interested.

Outside the window, the sun is high and shining in the clear blue sky. The cofeemaker hisses to life. Without having noticed it, winter's passed by. He turns on the radio, half-listening to the forecast.

It promises to be a beautiful day.

---

 

Alec arrives at the interview and embarrassing twenty minutes early. The outside of the building looks okay, prestigious, really, but the inside is crumbling, absolutely falling apart.

The waiting room is a sad mismatch of chairs with children and adults waiting. A harried-looking woman at a dark with post-its stuck to the entire surface grimaces up at him when he arrives.

"Alec Lightwood. I'm here for an interview."

"Yeah, yeah, find a seat," she says, answering the phone and carelessly waving him away.

He wanders over to the waiting area, straightening his tie. He chooses the one empty seat next to a little girl.

The woman sitting next to her gets up and wanders away.

Alec looks around, expecting to see a parent, but everyone is busy or on their phones. The girl is still looking up at him, dark eyes expectant.

"Uh, hello," Alec says awkwardly. He likes children, but has little experience interacting with them outside of ones closely related to him.

She blinks again.

Alec bites his lip and leans down closer. "¿Hola? ¿Hablas Español?”

She grins up at him and he notices her two front teeth are missing. Okay, she's pretty cute. As it turns out, talking to a kid is just like talking to any other person, albeit a very small one. She climbs on the side of the chair, hands wrapped around the armrest.

"Bonita bufanda," he says, touching fringe on her colorful, hand-knit scarf. Someone made it for her, carefully looped it around her neck, french-braided her dark hair and tied it off with a pink ribbon.

Someone loves her, he thinks a little enviously.

"Gracias," she says shyly.

"¿Dónde está tu madre?"

"Alexander Lightwood?" a woman asks, standing over him. She tucks her hair behind her ear, scanning over her clipboard.

Alec jumps a little. "Yes, that's me."

She holds out a hand and Alec takes it, standing up. "I’m Dot. I'll be conducting your interview."

"That girl--"

"She's okay. Jennie's keeping an eye on her. Her custodian stepped out for a moment and we’ll take her back soon.”

“On her own?”

“We work with a lot of children here. They're not always assigned a counsel during their deportation proceedings."

"Hearings? They're kids."

"We do the best we can on limited resources. We're taking the overflow from non-profit organizations and family courts. It’s crazy, I know.” Dot looks back over the girl, who's carefully tracking Alec with her eyes. "She seems to have taken a shine to you." She flips through her papers. His resume. It takes up two pages, but he had to bullshit a lot to get it that length. "So, the internships program at Fell & Bane? Pretty prestigious. Can't say we get many of you folks around here. You guys mostly go on to hedge funds and private equity firms. Can you tell me why you're interested in working here?"

Alec doesn’t know why he applied. He wants to work and they’re always hiring, but what panic-fueled midnight madness drove him to applying here? They’re understaffed. He can hazard a guess that the pay is crappy and the hours are long. It’s miles away from what his father wants from him and what Alec’s always envisioned for himself.

He looks back at the girl and imagines her showing up to a deportation hearing alone; small, barely able to see over the table, and a thousand miles from the person who loved her enough to knit her a scarf. No one should go through it alone and Alec has the power the change that, if only for a handful of people.

He thinks of intersecting lives, chance, serendipity. This past year has taught him how to help himself, but what if he learned that so he could help other people? Arter all, life has no real meaning but what you give it.

Suddenly, Alec knows somewhere deep in his bones that he wants this job. It's right in a way he hasn't felt for a long time.

It’s a real fucking shithole, but it feels like it could be home.

He straightens his tie and takes a deep breath, following Dot into her cramped office. On one wall, there are pictures kids have drawn, thank you letters in every language. "It's kind of a long story. You see, I became a lawyer because my father wanted me to be..."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Being a public defender is tough work. Alec has more clients than he can handle, the pay is crap, and he's quietly nursing an ulcer the size of Kansas. But he's happy.

On Tuesday, he comes home from a long day of work to find Jace sitting on the couch, staring down at an envelope.

Alec snatches it from him, eyebrow raised as he readers the lettering across the stop. "You applied to the CIA?"

"Culinary Institute of America. Ironically enough, they have a location in Singapore."

The envelope is heavy and reassuringly thick. They usually save the crappy paper for rejection notices. "You want me to do the honors?" Alec asks.

Jace grabs his wrist, fingers digging in, knuckles white. "What if I didn't get in?"

Alec looks at him steadily. "Then you get back up and apply somewhere else."

Jace blows out a hard breath. "God, you've really become insufferable since you started your new job and like, found purpose in life. Once you get a boyfriend, you're going to be so smug, I'm going to have to smother you in your sleep."

Alec tears open the envelope and slides the letter out. "Sorry, man, you didn't get in."

Jace sags back into the cushions. "You serious?"

"No," Alec says. "You're going to do what to me in my sleep now?"

"You asshole!"

"Congrats," Alec says, grinning.

"Well," Jace says nonchalantly. "I knew I was going to get in. I'm awesome."

"Yeah, you are."

"I didn't mean the stuff about the boyfriend," Jace says seriously. "I really do hope you meet someone and have totally sweet, excruciatingly quiet sex that I don't have to listen to."

"Thanks," Alec says dryly.

"You'll have to find someone that's okay with dating a phone sex operator."

"Actually," Alec says hesitantly, "I think I'm pretty much done with the hotline. I'm too busy most nights and I don't want to expand my client base."

He still keeps his core base of clients, the ones that really need him, but they're peeling away, one by one, and he can't say he's sorry for it. They don't need him anymore, which means they're finally free, too.

"You're having up your headset? God, it's the end of an era. It's like a stripper hanging up their g-string. Sad times."

"Unflattering comparisons aside, don't you have to be at work?"

"Yeah, I want to call Iz and let her know before I leave."

"Call mom too," Alec tells him.

"You think--" Jace looks uneasy. He hasn't told her about switching schools.

"She'll be proud of you, Jace."

Alec bought a few new suits last week that fit better and now that he can afford to have them dry cleaned - barely, public servants aren't exactly rolling in cash - the suits last longer, look nicer. Probably, his yacht made of money is permanently out of his grasp, though. Last Friday, his mom made the trek down to see his new office. He was sure she'd have some shit to say about its crappy condition. Instead, she said how proud she was of him.

No matter how much you tell yourself you don't need your parent's approval, it still means something to have it.

Alec pads into his bedroom where his headset sits on the dresser. He picks it up, turning it over his hands, and puts it away in his drawer.


---

 

Wednesday morning, he goes to work early. He likes these hours before the entire office descends into madness. On his way, He sips his coffee – too sweet, it feels like it coats his mouth and leaves a film.
They've never ever gotten his order right and he's in too much of a rush and a little too embarrassed to correct them.

There's one secretary for the entirety of the office, so she takes messages and schedules a few of his appointments for him. When she gets busy, she just takes a general message and he calls back to set up a time. He goes to her desk and finds his stack of messages and takes them back to his cramped office.

He has new, tenuous contacts all over the city. He won't be blackmailing senators any time soon, but he can definitely get out of a jaywalking ticket, which Alec privately thinks is more useful.
He scans the list of names on the list, the haphazard stack of post it, sorting the appointments she's scheduled and the ones he needs to follow up on. One scheduled at 11:00 today catches his attention.

He flips back to the first page.

M.B.

 

---


Jennie lets him know his eleven o' clock is here and Alec has her show him back. In the meantime, he nervously shuffles his stacks of papers into more aesthetically pleasing messes, tries to do something about his perpetually rumpled suit, quickly gives it up as hopeless. He is what he is and Magnus has never judged him for it.

The door opens, and in walks Magnus, holding two cups of coffee, which he sets on the edge of Alec's desk. Magnus looks good. Light suit with a lavender shirt beneath it, no tie, open collar. Alec's gaze drifts down to the hint of collarbone, stomach swooping unpleasantly. His mouth goes dry.

"Do you know how hard it was to track you down?" Magnus says, looking perturbed. He sits down across from Alec and suddenly, Alec's acutely embarrassed by the general shabbiness of his office, the mysterious stain on the seat. Magnus is far too elegant for the office; he looks like a sphinx in a litter box.

Alec pinches the bridge of his nose. "No, why don't you tell me."

"Not very hard," Magnus admits. "Maia told me where you'd gone off to the next day."

Alec checks his watch. Magnus has been back in his life for 30 seconds and Alec already feels like he's plummeting, tearing through the atmosphere and only subject to Magnus’ gravitational pull. Alec's just accepted that some people in his life have that effect on him. "Why are you here?" he asks.

"Well, when I found out you quit the firm, I was furious. Fucking and running isn't a nice look, Alexander." Magnus is studying his nails, but here he gives Alec a pointed look. "But then I realized that I slept with you knowing a job offer was on the table. Granted, I wasn't exactly thinking clearly at the time--"

"I didn't blame you," Alec says.

Magnus rests his palms on the armrests and goes very still, lips thinned unhappily. "I blame myself."

He looks ashamed of himself, and Alec hates it.

It's a weird reversal of their roles. Alec is the one sitting in an office chair, evaluating Magnus. Except instead of being surrounded by glamorous furniture at the top of a skyscraper, Alec is tucked into a tiny office with a desk that he suspects was designed for a person at least six inches shorter. His knees keep banging into his desk and if he lowers the chair anymore, he has to tuck his legs beneath the chair to fit behind the desk. It's a conundrum, compounded by a torn poster of a cat hanging off a tree branch with the words hang in there in a flowing script beneath it. It was left by a previous occupant, another layer of personal effects piled on top of each other, the office a living excavation site, up to and including the strange the scent of cabbage that lingers on rainy days. Alec is adding his own touches; childish drawings, tearful thank you letters, a box of chocolates in his desk drawer that he misery-eats when he loses a case.

Alec didn't do anything wrong by leaving the job at Fell & Bane, but all actions have consequences. And some of those consequences are paid by other people.

"You shouldn't have," Alec says.

Magnus shifts in his seat, grimacing. Alec has sat in it; it's a desperately uncomfortable seat. Dot says that's on purpose. The previous occupant of the office believed if the chairs were uncomfortable, people would be less apt to linger.

"I was going to leave you alone to live your life, but then I was talking to my good friend, Dorothea. We graduated law school together."

"Who?"

"Dot," Magnus says, giving him a strange look. "She sometimes she floats cases by me, sends stuff my way the office can't handle. But this time, she couldn't stop talking about a new young hotshot lawyer," he says sitting down. "Some fellow named Chad."

Alec slaps the desk. "You're never going to let me live that down."

"No," Magnus says, "I will not."

"I didn't know you did pro bono work," Alec says, choosing to ignore Magnus' previous statement.

"I know you don't have an entirely positive opinion of corporate law, not that I can blame you after the internship I put you through, but we're not all heartless sharks."

"I never believed that."

"I dismantled the whole program," Magnus says suddenly. "We're only outright hiring new grads."

"You didn't have to do that," Alec says. "All the big firms hire interns."

"I think I said it before, but it bears repeating. Just because it's part of the corporate culture doesn't make it right. I'm ashamed of myself that I never took an interest in the interns before. I'd convinced myself they were grateful to be there. And that prestige is payment enough. It isn't."

"I was incredibly grateful," Alec points out, not entirely unkindly, "but I would have also enjoyed eating and not being terrified of becoming homeless."

"Yeah, I finally got it. Turns out, all of the partners kind of hated the Intern program but we each though the others liked it," Magnus says. "Speaking of, I wanted to offer you a job."

Alec can't cover his surprise. "What? Why?"

"I hired you for the internship program," Magnus says. "You had strong grades, good extracurriculars, good essay." He holds his hand out, palm up, looking a little perplexed. "I don't know, you just felt right. Who knows why these things happen?"

The night of the party, Alec had made the right decision. He can see that clearly now. If Alec had stayed at the firm, he would always wonder. Every time a big case came his way, every bit of praise he earned, he'd wonder if he really deserved it. He couldn't have lived his life that way.

"I'm prepared to offer you a generous starting salary and a position with full benefits. You'd report directly to Catarina, overseen by Ragnor. We wouldn't have anything to do with each other in the company so no one could accuse us of wrongdoing."

It's tempting to take the offer and run, he could buy a hundred wrinkly suits, but as Alec looks around, the stacks of papers piled up haphazardly on his desk, the stained chairs across from his desk, he realizes he feels peaceful, happy. He cant't give this up for a cushier job and a bigger paycheck. There's something incredibly peaceful about knowing it's still the right decision.

"Thanks, but—I'm actually happy here."

"Are you sure about that?" Magnus asks, eyeing a bowl Alec placed on the corner of his office floor to catch the water that leaks from the ceiling on rainy days. As long as Alec empties it every hour, there's no issue, he's found.

"I am," Alec says firmly, surprised to find that it's true.

"Then, may I ask you something else?"

"By all means."

"Would you consider going out on a date with me? I know we haven't always gotten our timing right."

"Our timing has been fucking awful," Alec says bluntly.

"True," Magnus acknowledges. "But hope springs eternal. And if I don't at least try, my name isn't Magnus Agatha Bane."

"Fuck—really?"

Magnus laughs. "No, but you should have seen your face."

"You're not worried about me suing you for sexual harassment?"

"I would never--"

"I'm a lawyer, too," Alec interrupts. "I know the thought crossed your mind after the party. You wouldn't be a good lawyer if it didn't."

"It did for a brief moment," Magnus says soberly, "but I know you and I trust you."

Alec knows Magnus well enough to be aware of exactly how much Magnus' trust is worth. In such a short time, their history is already so complicated, littered with landmines and scars.

The silence stretches uncomfortably and Magnus looks around, a little awkwardly. "Well, I should probably go." He pushes his chair back and gets up to leave.

Alec could let him walk away again, and Magnus would let him, as he has always done. When Alec felt the power difference between them, Magnus slowly shifted it back to Alec, letting him inch closer and skitter away. He's believed in Alec, supported him. And Alec has made exactly one promise back to him, which he's broken now at least twice.

Alec said he wouldn't leave him.

"Hey, Magnus?"

Magnus turns around, hand already on the doorknob.

"I get off work at seven. You've got my number. Call me?"

 

---


After Magnus leaves, Alec looks at the torn poster, the frazzled kitten. Hang in there.

"I'm trying," Alec tells the cat. It is so tempting to want the perfect ending, the storybook kiss. But that's not how life works.

He realizes Magnus left the coffee on the corner of the desk, untouched. One says Magnus, the other says Alexander. Alec picks his up, fingers tracing the hurried scrawl, and takes a sip. It's perfect, fragrant and rich.

Even before Magnus knew how he took his coffee, he loved him. He tried to tell Alec, but Alec wouldn't hear it. Wasn't ready.

Fuck it, Alec thinks. Magnus was right earlier. They do know each other. The important bits, anyway.

Alec had thought they would never be equals. He would always be the dipshit that slept with his boss, the sleazy phone sex operator, but Magnus has never, ever treated him that way. Alec was too unhappy with his life, too unsure of himself to accept what Magnus was offering.

It's true that you can't find completion in another person, but you don't have to be perfect for someone to love you. It is an unkind fallacy that you have to love yourself to be loved in return.

Alec has never truly loved himself and he's not sure that he ever will.

There are no guarantees of happily ever after, there is only the gamble.

Alec stands up from his desk, chair clattering on the floor behind him and races out of his cramped office, past a startled looking waiting room, and out the front doors. The sun is bright, beating down on the concrete. The trees are leafing out, Spring in full bloom.

Alec takes a moment to get his bearings, thinks how long it would take to get a cab to Magnus's firm as he starts down the stairs.

As he gets to the bottom, he sees Magnus by the street, hand on the door of a taxi.

"Hey, Magnus," Alec calls out. Magnus turns around and sees Alec. "Don't call."

Magnus looks hurt for a split-second before his expression smooths out. "I see."

He's standing in front of Magnus, Magnus' head tilted up toward him and Alec loves this face, this man, and he's desperately tired of fighting it.

Maybe they can stay here in this strange intersection of life, stuck somewhere in between fate and dumb luck, where two damaged men can reside, constantly fucking up and lying about it, because that's what damaged people do. They can make a home for themselves and each other in this quiet moment of acceptance that for all their failures and miscommunications, they will be perfectly fine. No, scratch that. They're going to be awesome.

Like sitting at his old desk at Fell & Bane, looking down the long telescoping lense of his future, this particular version is as bright as that one was dark. He wants to fall asleep with Magnus and wake up next to him. He wants to eat meals with him and talk about their days, discuss cases, and bitch about clients. He wants all of it. And for perhaps the first time in his life, he truly believes he can have it all if he just lets go of what he thought it should look like.

He could have a beautiful life if he only has the courage to grasp it. And Alec is many things, but he's never been a coward.

Alec kisses him. Magnus makes a small noise, an arm snaking around Alec's waist to pull him closer, closer, until it's just the two of them standing next to the street, Magnus' lips a soft, slick slide beneath his.

The cabbie curses loudly and peels away from the curb.

Alec pulls back, forehead resting against Magnus' and says, "Come by after work. No more phone calls."

"What made you change your mind?" Magnus asks, looking cautiously hopeful.

This whole time, Alec's been preoccupied with why Magnus chose him, time and again. The truth is, Alec may never fully understand, and he doesn't have to. He thinks it matters less why they chose each other than the fact that they did. They're not working towards something real. They're here already. It's been real all along.

Alec is also uncomfortably aware he has never chosen Magnus back until now.

"What what were you going to say to me the night of the party? In your office, when I interrupted you. You asked me how I couldn't know."

Magnus waves his hand with a complicated little flourish. Alec wonders how many people that's successfully distracted before. "It was so long ago, I hardly remember."

"Bullshit," Alec says softly.

Magnus' breath catches. How many times has Magnus has pretended to be fine, pretended he needed space, pretended – and people listened, Alec included?

"I love you," Alec says, hands coming up to cradle the sides of Magnus's face. He kisses the tip of his nose to watch the way Magnus wrinkles it, the tips of his ears going bright red. His shy, unsure smile. "I adore you."

Magnus turns his face up towards Alec's mouth, sighing softly as Alec kisses both of his flushed cheeks, the soft patch of skin next to his mouth.

A cherry tree next to them loses some of its flowers in the gentle breeze, a backdrop of stinky pale pink confetti. Nearby buskers sing an acoustic, stripped-down rendition of a pop song. Someone is yelling that the end of the world is nigh. The sun is bright, birds are chattering, and none of it matters at all.

"You're my first choice," Alec says, "now and always."

"I--" Magnus says, voice catching. He swallows, his bottom lip wavering, kiss-swollen. He clears his throat. "I feel – the same. About you. Uh."

"Smooth words, counselor," Alec says dryly. "I can see why you've been so successful."

"To be fair, I'm generally more prepared for court cases. They don't chase me down the stairs and demand to be kissed."

"I'll give you more warning next time." Alec is still cradling Magnus' face, and Magnus' hands rest lightly on top, fingers curled around his. They've finally gotten it right and Alec feels as light as a feather, brand new and brimming with hope.

"I don't think I ever could have been prepared for you."

"I've been told I'm a pretty surprising guy," Alec says. Reluctantly, he lets go of Magnus. He probably doesn't have much time left on his lunch break.

Magnus coughs and says with a sly, tremulous grin, "You know, I live nearby."

"I only get an hour for lunch," Alec tell him regretfully. "Rain check?"

"Cancel your appointments?" Magnus' voice is heartbreakingly hopeful. His hands unconsciously cling to the front of Alec's jacket like he's a second away from pulling Alec into another kiss, like he can't get enough.

To be honest, today's appointments are not terribly urgent. Alec doesn't have to be in court, just a bunch of follow-ups that could easily be rescheduled but--

Oh, fuck it all, some things are just more important. Alec pulls out his phone and lets Jennie know he'll be out for the rest of the day. He texts Jace to leave him alone on pain of death, no personal or esoteric crisis allowed. Skipping out on work, ignoring the world's problems -- it's definitely not the mature, responsible, grownup thing to do.

But being a grownup is overrated.

Alec kisses Magnus again. "Then take me home," he murmurs.