“Are you certain this is necessary?” Alec asks, staring at his reflection in abject horror. The royal couturier clucks his tongue. Personally, Alec doesn’t give a shit if this is the official ceremonial robes of Edom, he’s wearing a goddamn blue disco dress and no one can tell him different.
“You look worthy of a King,” the courtier assures him, adjusting his ruffled hemline.
That might possibly be true. History is littered with deranged monarchs. Alec desperately hitches the robes up higher on his shoulders, but the neckline immediately gapes open again, exposing the awkward little patch of hair that sits high on his chest and that he’s far too lazy and a little too much of a coward to just shave. What if it covers something horrible, like a phallic-shaped birthmark? A third, unsightly nipple?
He’s standing in Magnus’ bedroom at the palace, in front of a three-way mirror while a grown man fusses with his hemline and barks out orders to a woman behind him who's scribbling notes, her hair pulled into a severe bun.
Like Magnus, his bedroom is a lot. It’s all plush shag ivory carpeting, recessed ceilings, multiple large chandeliers because why have one when you could have a baker’s dozen?
“Why a harp?” Alec had asked Magnus upon first seeing his bedroom, gesturing at the hulking gold shape in the corner. “You don’t even play.”
Magnus shrugged. “Why anything? Why a nude bronze statue of my likeness in the formal gardens?”
“Excuse me?” Alec spluttered, peering out the large double window and eyes alighting on a distinctly round pair of shining bronze buttocks.
“Oh dear, we hadn’t gotten to that part of the tour yet,” Magnus said, grasping Alec’s elbow and steering him away from the window towards the walk-in closet that housed actual furniture, a chair, a vanity overspilling with mysterious pots and jewelry. This was something Alec was more familiar with. It looked not unlike Izzy’s room when they were growing up, though on a much more excessive scale.
“I know it’s a hell of a lot to take in,” Magnus said, rubbing the back of his neck.
“No, it’s fine,” Alec lied, leaning against a wall. A netted catsuit got snagged on his watch and he spent a whole five minutes mindlessly untangling it before realizing what it was. And that at some time, Magnus had probably worn it. Alec swallowed, feeling faint.
“Behold,” Magnus said dryly, gesturing around him, “the trappings of an extremely wealthy yet unfulfilled life.”
It made Alec a bit sad to look around and see all the bright, shining things Magnus had bought to try to make himself feel better without really understanding why. It didn't work, so he bought more, and then more. Alec supposed that was how one ended up with not one, but multiple purple lame smoking jackets, he thought, fingering the silky material.
“Don’t ask,” Magnus said, snatching the jacket from him and shoving it towards the back.
The thought was maybe the height of arrogance, the actual pinnacle of stupidity – what did a wealthy prince need with a disastrously awkward college student and more-often-than-occasional bore crashing through his life? Nothing, really. Still, Alec wished he’d been there for him. To tell Magnus there would eventually be someone who would love him unconditionally.
“Yeah?” Alec asked, shielding his eyes from the glare of the vanity lights. “And have you found something to fulfill your life?
Magnus’ eyes shone brighter than all his chandeliers combined. “Prospects are looking good.”
The next morning, Magnus had to leave early to attend meetings, meet with planners, make his father’s funeral arrangements. He dropped a kiss on Alec’s bare shoulder, told him to have fun and that someone would be by shortly to fetch him.
An hour later, Alec got up to the sound a breakfast cart being wheeled into the room. Magnus’ bedroom was so goddamn big that it took four wheels a team of uniformed men to drag his momentous and momentously fussy breakfast to him. The waitstaff nodded and left silently, Alec calling out an awkward, “Thanks, guys,” behind them.
With more trepidation that he felt sitting for the SATs and telling his parents he wasn’t interested in being set up with the Fairchild girl, no girl, actually, he lifted the largest of the silver domed lids. If there was ever a terrible storm, Alec could just move his whole city block under one of these domes for protection.
Piled on top of the plate was an enormous pile of eggs, meat, topped with white caviar and what looked and smelled like dirt shavings. He picked one of the thin curls up and gave it an experimental sniff, then place it delicately on his tongue and immediately regretted it. “Ugh,” he retched, tongue hanging out of his mouth. As it turned out, it was super potent dirt.
Alec forced himself to swallow, then washed it down with a tall glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. As he swept the plate aside, he noticed the bright side of a red box with an obnoxious cartoon bird on the front. He picked it up, amazed, to see scrawled across the front: perhaps a bit more to your taste, darling! - xo, magnus
Alec grinned reluctantly and opened up the small box of Fruit Loops, staring down at the neon cereal, then pouring it into an empty bowl, and topping it with half a glass of milk. He was terribly peasanty and gauche and American, but let it never be said that he didn’t know exactly who he was. For better or worse.
Now, four hours and a deeply humiliating fitting later, classical music plays overhead on hidden speakers and Alec doesn’t even want to think about the large gilded mirror on the ceiling above the bed. When he had taken a semester off college to follow his playboy prince boyfriend back to his home country to mourn the king’s passing and accept the crown of Edom, Alec admittedly hadn’t thought it through. Less than a day into his temporary new existence as his boyfriend’s – consort? His man friend? His mistress, ala Madame de Pompadour? – and he’s being fitted for a dress to wear to his boyfriend's official coronation. It’s wild.
If Jace could see Alec now, he’d laugh hysterically.
Alec digs his toes into the plush carpet, cheeks alight, thinking about disembarking from the plane, his first tour through a literal castle. And the night, Magnus on top of him, pushing into his body, Alec helplessly watching their reflection overhead and making the most wanton sounds. Many words had been used to describe Alec in his lifetime: unfriendly, pedantic, chronically tight-assed, but never wanton. Magnus brought out a side of Alec he hadn’t known existed.
“I see you’re warming up to your outfit,” the couturier says, eyeing the red flush spreading across Alec’s pale chest.
Alec coughs. “Yes, that, er. I guess I like dresses more than I thought--”
He’s cut off by a sharp gasp and then both the couturier and his assistant are bowing. Alec knows who it is, but turns slowly anyway. Every time he sees Magnus, something in his chest catches; some deep part of him unfurls and warms, and he doesn’t so much think as feel somewhere deep his spine, Yes, you. You’re what I’ve been waiting for.
Magnus is watching from the doorway, mouth twitching. With a careless hand gesture, he dismisses the couturier et all. They back out of the room slowly, using the side door and then it’s just the two of them.
“You look good,” Magnus tells Alec.
“I look like a fool,” Alec says glumly, picking at his large trumpet sleeves. He feels like a flamboyant wizard on his way to a discotheque from the eighties.
Magnus stops trying to hide his smile. “You can just wear a suit. That’s what I always wear during formal occasions.”
“Excuse me?” Alec breathes.
“Yeah, they try this with every new person.”
“Oh my god,” Alec mumbles. “I have to change. Now.”
Magnus gets a gleam in his eye as he crosses the room slowly. “By all means, let me help you out of it.”
He unfastens the belt with nimble fingers and pulls the plunging neckline wide, slipping it off one of Alec’s shoulders. They’re in front of the three-way mirror, Magnus standing behind him as the robes slip down, falling open to his waist. Magnus reaches around him, massaging the front of his underwear, and Alec leans back against Magnus’ shoulder, swallowing. “Keep your eyes open,” Magnus instructs softly. Alec used to hate looking at his own reflection. There was a time when all he could see were the things he hated about himself, all the ways he fell short.
“Look at you,” Magnus says. The robes hit the floor and pool around Alec’s ankles.
Alec feels unbearably embarrassed, standing there in his boxers, legs a bit too long and skinny, still something young and awkward about his body. There’s nothing about Magnus that has ever been awkward. He’s too beautiful, too poised.
Magnus hooks a thumb in the waistband of his boxers and tugs them down, the other arm still a warm anchor around Alec’s waist. Magnus presses a kiss against Alec’s shoulder. “You’re gorgeous. I wish you could see this about yourself.”
“I’m—okay,” Alec says. There’s a scar bisecting his eyebrow, splotches on his knee where the skin is slightly tight and shiny, a cut across his palm from following Jace up into a tree and falling. The knees are from crashing on his bike while chasing after Izzy, desperately trying to keep her safe. Every scar marks a mistake.
It’s hard to concentrate with Magnus’ hand circling his cock, with Magnus’ breath ghosting across his neck. “I think I’m finally seeing the appeal of this outfit,” Alec manages.
“Sure you do, Lady of Shalott.” Magnus smiles against his neck, eyes crinkling at the corners. His eyes are dark-rimmed, nails painted black. There’s something about him that’s mesmerizing, untouchable.
Alec smooths a hand over the back of Magnus’ short hair, watching Magnus’ hands slide across his belly, his hips. He unmakes Alec, strips him down, sees everything about him that Alec hates and likes him anyway, thinks he’s funny, kind, worthy. Alec turns in Magnus’ arms and captures his lips with his own, running his down Magnus’ back, his shoulder blades sharp and hard beneath his hands.
“I love you, did you know that?”
He's only ever told Magnus that once, even though it’s been true for a while, no matter how long Alec’s tried to deny it. He fought it, tooth and nail, until he could finally admit it to himself. It’s a sad testament to his youth-induced general self-preoccupation that it’s never occurred to him before now how much Magnus might need to hear it repeatedly.
“I know,” Magnus says indulgently.
“I always knew. I’m impossible not to love, crumpet.”
“Don’t do that.” Alec backs him up until his legs hit the bed, then lowers him to the mattress. Magnus allows it, eyes dark and wondering. Alec undoes the buttons of his vest, his dress shirt. So many fussy layers to shield himself from the world. Alec peels them off, one by one, kissing every new inch of skin exposed. “You’re such a liar,” he murmurs against Magnus’ belly.
Magnus’ hand rests on the back of Alec’s neck. He closes his eyes, lashes dark against his cheek. Alec could look at him forever. “Maybe, Maybe,” he admits, sounding confused.
“Come here,” Alec says, kissing his way up Magnus’ chest, his lips, shiny, slick, soft. Magnus melts into him, hand carefully cradling the back of his head.
If anyone had told Alec a year, six months ago, that he would have someone like Magnus, he wouldn’t have believed him. Alec doesn’t get lucky like this.
He unzips Magnus’ dress slacks, yanking them down enough to get to Magnus’ underwear. There’s something deliciously heady about Magnus being mostly dressed and Alec straddling him, totally naked.
Alec reaches a hand in and pulls out Magnus’ cock, hard and flushed. He mouths at the crease between his leg and hip through the thin layers of fabric, a sensitive, ticklish place, just to hear Magnus huff a laugh below him.
“Go slow,” Magnus says softly, combing his fingers through the thick tangles of Alec’s dark hair.
“Yes, my liege.”
Magnus sucks in a sharp a breath.
Alec says, “Yeah?” a little disbelieving. “Thought you said I never had to call you king or bow to you.”
“Well, obviously I didn’t mean in bed,” Magnus says, voice strained. “I did not know this about myself. This is a little shocking to me too.”
“I thought nothing surprised you.”
Magnus touches Alec’s cheek. “You do.”
Magnus surprises Alec all the time, in the best of ways. Most of the time. Alec's determinedly trying not the look at the glare of the bronze buttocks in his periphery.
The air is hot, dry, sheer curtains blowing in the arid breeze. Alec drops down, cups his balls, rolling them in his palm while he fists Magnus’ cock, jerking him off without any real intent, just enjoying the feel of his soft hot skin. “Alec,” Magnus gasps, “Alec—do it. Now.”
“I thought you wanted me to take my time," Alec teases.
“I didn’t mean a million years,” Magnus grumbles, hips jerking, reflexively pushing into Alec’s lazy fist.
Outside the room, there are two bodyguards posted –- Eugene and Petunia -- so Alec presses one finger against Magnus' mouth. “Don’t make a sound,” he says and scoots down Magnus’ body, pressing his legs wide open, nestling in the space there, and fits his mouth over the tip of Magnus’ cock, hollowing his cheeks as he envelopes more of Magnus down, widening his mouth, being so careful. He’s still kind of lousy at blowjobs, be he knows how to screw his hand up to meet his lips, what pace makes Magnus moan, and he gets to it, enjoying the shuddery breathless sounds Magnus is making beneath him.
The door flies open and Alec's first thought is, This is not the worst thing Magnus' bodyguards have caught us doing. Magnus pulls out of Alec's mouth, and he yanks the sheet up, protecting Alec’s body from prying eyes. “Excuse me,” Magnus roars, sitting up and nearly knocking Alec to the side like a bag of confused Skittles.
Framed by the doorway is his a thin man in an elegantly cut suit. His hair curls around his ears, framing his narrow face. He would be handsome, if not for the horror-stricken expressing on Magnus’ face.
Magnus makes a sound like a wounded animal. “Can’t be,” he whispers. “ Jesus.”
“I prefer Asmodeus.”
Lame joke, Alec thinks. --Wait, who?
“You’re dead," Magnus chokes out.
“No, you’re thinking of Hamlet,” Asmodeus says, looking thoughtful.
“Rumors of my demise may have been greatly exaggerated,” Asmodeus says with a bemused grin. His eyes slide speculatively between Magnus and Alec and Alec has never been so grateful to be mostly-covered, His gaze feels like an oil slick, dark and cloying.
“May have,” Magnus utters disbelievingly.
“Well, see, I’ve had this cough--” Asmodeus starts.
“Take some medicine, you lying, manipulative bastard.”
Asmodeus stays silent for a moment, studying Magnus carefully like a chess piece, sharp eyes undercutting his easy, sleazy glamour. Alec feels a tremor of fear in the pit of his stomach. This man is an apex predator, no matter how he tries to hide it. “I’ll let you boys collect yourselves, then you can meet me in my study,” he says. His gaze swings around to Magnus. “You’ve been gone for so long, I trust you can still find it." He waits for Magnus' tight nod before leaving, the door closing softly behind him,
“That was your dad?” Alec asks, feeling stupid as soon as the words leave his mouth. He already knows, but he didn't get his nicknames for being chill and easygoing.
“Yes,” Magnus says, voice shaky. “Apparently not as dead as I was led to believe.”
Alec, master of understatement and perpetual captain of the good ship USS Tight-ass, says, “Oh shit. Well, I did not see that coming.”
“You have nothing to be ashamed of,” Magnus says while Alec’s hastily getting dressed, face burning with humiliation.
“You make it sound like I’m feeling bad about my post-baby body,” Alec hisses. “Your dad saw my bare ass.” He pulls on his pants and zipls the fly as fast as he can without pinching anything important.
“We weren’t doing anything wrong,” Magnus mutters petulantly, still sprawled out on the bed.
Then why, Alec wonders, does Magnus make it sound as if they were?
“Speaking of,” Alec says, yanking a shirt out of thesuitcase shoved in the corner of the room, and slipping it on, “what the fuck?”
Magnus pulls his shirt back on, carefully buttoning it back up, and avoiding Alec’s eyes. “You know as much as I do. He wanted me to come home, so he pretended to be dead. Makes sense, I guess.”
“For sociopaths,” Alec says.
Magnus rolls his eyes. “God, he’s so dramatic.”
“Yeah,” Alec says, “I don’t know anyone else like that at all.” Well, Magnus had told him his relationship with his father was complicated.
Magnus is staring down at his hands, mouth twisted into a soft moue of unhappiness. It physically pains Alec to see him this way. “I don’t know how he could have done this to me. I mean, I get it. It’s pretty typical of him, actually. How could I have been so stupid?”
Alec’s parents weren’t always the best. He's spent most of his life trying to live up to their impossible standards, but they would never have done something like this. The fact that Magnus not only expects it but blames himself--
“You’re not stupid," Alec says. "No one expects their parents to lie to them.”
Magnus snorts. “I should have. I thought I’d finally found my calling, you know? Helping my country, being who I was always meant to be. Seems dumb now. I was just so ready to be someone important.”
Alec grabs some socks and pauses. “I’ve always thought you were pretty great.”
Magnus pulls his pants up and looks up at him. His eyes are tired. “You say these things--”
“It’s just the truth,” Alec points out.
Magnus is sitting on the edge of the bed, hunched over, chin resting on his folded hands. His rings gleam across his knuckles, a fierce gold lion head on his ring finger. Alec has the uncomfortable feeling he’s missing something big. For all that he loves Magnus, there is so much of him that’s still a mystery. Alec's lived a small, narrow life that's left him unprepared, perhaps unable totruly understand a person like Magnus.
“I see,” Magnus says softly.
Alec gives his own shirt one last bracing pat. He’s about as dressed as he’s going to get. There are some things in life that there’s simply not enough armor for. He sits down next to Magnus on the bed and runs a hand over his tense shoulders. “I don’t really get your relationship with him, but you know I’m always on your side, right?”
Magnus gratefully threads his fingers through Alec’s. “Sometimes I feel like you’re the only one.”
Alec gives his hand a squeeze. “I’ve known men like your dad my whole life. He’s a bully. Try not to rise to the bait?”
Magnus gets up and presses a quick kiss to Alec’s lips. He still looks a little sick. “I’ll definitely try.”
It’s not a promise, but it’s the best he’s likely to get. While Alec may not understand the history there, the years of strange push and pull between Magnus and his father, he understands that relationships between adults and their parents are weird, always stuck somewhere between being their child and being a loosely related group of independent people, whatever the hell that means. He’s still trying to figure it out. And then there’s recognizing the fact that your parents are just humans, likely young when they were raising you, and prone to all the shortcomings and mistakes that plague all people.
It’s such a strange moment when you realize you have to forgive your parents for being human, forgive your grandparents for fucking them up long before you, then forgive yourself for all the mistakes you have and will make. A beautiful rich legacy of fucking each other up, of having the best intentions and falling short.
“I’m ready if you are,” Magnus says with a gusty sigh.
Alec stops him at the door, looking down at Magnus’ unzipped pants pointedly. “Maybe put your dick away first.”
The library looks like something out of a fairy tale, complete with the monster at the end.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Lightwood,” Asmodeus says, looking him up and down meaningfully --"in clothes.”
“Yeah, I’m usually—that way,” Alec says lamely. “You know, wearing clothes.” Magnus’ father has now seen more of Alec than 99.99% of the population. If Alec could double-cover his ass in shame, he would.
Magnus’ sharp elbow jams him in the side and Asmodeus looks to Magnus, eyebrows raised as if saying, Really, Magnus? Him?
Alec feels his buttcheeks clench in righteous anger, but he has a lot of experience in holding his tongue. Maybe too much.
“Do you have any explanation for yourself?” Asmodeus continues, staring at Magnus intently. Alec is reminded of a butterfly pinned to a mounting board.
When Alec was a kid, his tutor, Hodge, enjoyed preserving unusual insects. “You want to kill them slowly,” Hodge said, light filtering through the library window, shining dust motes falling slowly like lazy snowflakes. “You add a small bit of alcohol and suffocate them gradually, so they don’t beat their wings against the side of a jar and ruin the beautiful pattern.”
“This guy is super creep,” Jace said, leaning over and whispering in Alec’s ear.
“I do have ears, you know,” Hodge said mildly, gaze never leaving the jar or the molasses-slow beat of the monarch’s wings.
Now, standing in Asmodeus’ impressive library that isn’t dark and foreboding at all, Magnus asks, color high on his cheeks, “Do you? Starting with, how the fuck could you do that to me?”
Asmodeus shifts in his chair. It may just be a wing-back in a dusty old library, but the way he sits makes it look like a throne. For all that Alec’s nervous about meeting his boyfriend’s dad, for all that he’s furious on Magnus’ behalf, Asmodeus is a king and this glittering castle is so far beyond Alec’s realm of comprehension, he feels like a cheap plastic Easter egg in a case full of Faberge ones. “You choose to speak to your king this way?”
“No, I choose to speak to my father this way.”
“How else was I supposed to stop this silly jaunt to America?” Asmodeus shrugs. “While I have no illusions about your predilections, I had thought we were beyond bringing your various flings back to the castle. You know how the help talks.”
“You should show some respect,” Magnus says between gritted teeth. At his side, his hands clench and unclench. Alec doesn’t miss the motion and neither does his father.
“Really? This—American?” He says Alec’s nationality like it’s a dirty word, like Alec had any choice where he was born.
“My fiance you mean,” Magnus says, stepping back and grabbing Alec’s hand,
“Excuse me?” Asmodeus says, voice silky and dangerous, eyes narrowing.
“Excuse me?” Alec chokes.
“My fiance. We are affianced.”Magnus squeezes Alec’s hand warningly.
Okay, so this is some weird power play between Magnus and his dad. Alec gets it, even if he doesn’t approve. They’re going back to Magnus’ room where Magnus is going to explain this to Alec and they’ll both have a good laugh. Someday. Eventually.
Asmodeus’ jaw clenches, a muscle ticking slowly. “Fine,” he says, gaze slipping past Magnus to Alec. “If this is who you want to spend the rest of your life with, to help rule your country and to spend the rest of your very, very long life with, then we should do it right.”
“Absolutely,” Magnus says.
Asmodeus turns towards Alec. “May I have a word in private with my son, please?”
Alec follows Magnus’s bodyguards back to Magnus’ room. His gargantuan room has never seemed so small. Alec could easily fill it up with his anxiety. He has absolute buckets of anxiety, oceans of anxiety. He wants to call Izzy and Jace, but he doesn’t even know what to say. He might be engaged? Magnus’ father is alive? Everything he has ever thought is wrong?
It’s too much. Alec opens the double doors to the balcony, trying to ignore the bronze statue eclipsing an otherwise lovely view. The statue is lovely, too, but for entirely different reasons.
It’s dusk here and back home, it would be the middle of the night, far too late to call Jace or Izzy to babble incoherently at them. Alec is unmoored, lost, totally in over his head, and he just needs to hear something familiar, but it’s too late and Izzy and Jace have class early in the morning. He sits down on the of the chairs, a chaise that leans all the way back, and stares up at the stars, legs crossed.
In the grand scheme of things, his problems are very small, he supposes. Still, he’s struggled for the right to recognize his feelings as important. People will always be suffering more than him, it doesn't mean his pain isn't real too.
He’s drifted off to sleep when he feels a hand gently shaking him awake. Alec opens his eyes to see Magnus staring down at him.
“Are you okay?” Magnus asks, looking down at him. The lights from the bedroom spill out onto the balcony at his back, leaving Magnus' face in shadow.
“Define okay,” Alec says, licking his dry lips.
“I understand the feeling,” Magnus says.
There’s a question Alec needs to ask, but he doesn’t know how. "Magnus, can you sit down?" It unnerves him not to be able to see Magnus' expression, even if they're rarely honest.
Magnus sits down next to him and Alec has a pang of regret for what he's about to ask. Magnus looks exhausted, shadows beneath his hollow cheeks, something tender like a bruised peach about his eyes.
"About earlier. Do you really want to get married or are you just pissed off at your dad?”
Magnus looks caught out, and Alec anxiously watches as he chews his lip. Magnus is never unsure of himself. He has the kind of easy confidence, the simple belief that he owns the space he inhabits, that Alec has always envied. Finally, Magnus confesses, “I honestly didn’t think about it overly much.”
Yeah, that’s what Alec thought. Still doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt a little.
Alec sits up, rubbing dry, gritty eyes. While the weather here is a nice change, it’s starting to wear on him. He can feel himself running down. “Fantastic,” Alec says. Call him a romantic fool, but Alec always imagined that the first time someone proposed to him, they’d at least be marginally happy about it or, barring that, at leave have given it more thought than what flavor soda they want in a 7-11 Big Gulp.
“We could really do it,” Magnus says, warming to the idea. “I mean, you love me and I love you, right? What better reason to get married?”
Insurance, Alec thinks hysterically. Fiscal responsibility, merging of assets. Careful planning and years of devotion. Christ, Alec makes it sounds like a cancer diagnosis. Magnus is probably thinking on more impulsively romantic lines.
“And your father doesn’t have anything to say about you marrying a commoner?”
“There’s nothing common about you,” Magnus says automatically. He shakes his head. “I’m sorry, it shouldn’t be this way.”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Alec lies. “It’s just, uh, it’s a big step.”
“We don’t even have to stay here. We can split our year between Edom and New York,” Magnus says, thinking aloud, words tumbling from his lips, “especially while you’re in school. Then once you finish, you can relocate here permanently.”
This conversation is moving faster than Alec can even process his feelings. It once took him nearly twenty minutes to decide on hotdog toppings. “Just eat it plain,” Izzy had said.
“I’m branching out,” Alec protested. Nearly an agonizing half an hour later, Alec snapped, “Just give me the goddamn hotdog plain.”
Which is to say, Alec doesn’t make choices easily or quickly. He’s too afraid to fuck up, even on processed meat.
Edom isn’t home for Alec. He doesn’t know how he feels about leaving his family. He doesn’t know how and if he can practice medicine here. He doesn’t know what Magnus is to him yet, but he does know he loves him. It seems like that’s all he knows.
“I can’t do this without you,” Magnus says, fingers squeezing his. His face is so heartbreakingly vulnerable. “I need you, Alexander.”
Some questions are just too big to answer easily, and does it matter when he’s found the love of his life? He’s lucky to have Magnus. And Magnus is much, much more important than a hotdog.
There comes a time in life when you just have to make a choice and fuck all the consequences. Alec pushes back his doubts, his disappointment, his fear. After all, what would you sacrifice for the one you love?
So, in what is becoming a troubling pattern of behavior since meeting Magnus, Alec follows his heart, and his heart wants Magnus. Alec takes a deep breath. “Okay,” he says, “let's get married.”
The next morning, Alec wakes up alone. Once again, Magnus is tied up in meetings, probably press stuff, wedding plans. Asmodeus had already announced their engagement late last night, so the press is scrambling to be the first to break the news, splashy hastily-cobbled together think pieces crammed in at the last minute.
There’s a heaping tray of food waiting about midway into the room, and Alec guesses he’s eating breakfast alone again. He tries to push back the pang of loneliness; he’s just being silly. The sun has long been up, spilling butter-yellow into the room. Everything looks softer in daylight, the world smaller, more manageable.
He finds his cellphone on the nightstand and checks the battery. He calls Izzy first, phone clamped between his shoulder and cheek while he pours himself a bowl of cereal. “Hold on,” she says, “I’m going to put you on speakerphone. I’m eating lunch with Jace.”
He thinks wistfully of the quad with its limited selection of overpriced fried food, its lovely green lawns, and the terrible football team that jacks tuition up, and Izzy stealing his food when he’s not looking.
There’s a crackling sound, then he hears Izzy again. “Hey, how’s the makeup sex?”
“Izzy,” Alec says, choking on his Fruit Loops.
Izzy laughs and Jace says, “Glad everything worked out, man.”
“Yeah, kind of,” Alec mumbles, pushing his bowl away. He looks over the spread of delicacies, but there’s nothing he really wants.
“What’s that mean?” Izzy damands around a bite of food. He hopes Jace is taking care of her. He hopes she’s taking care of Jace. Actually, they’re both equally disastrous adults and he hopes the campus is still standing when he gets back, whenever that may be.
After a brief silence, Jace crows, “Aw, shit, you really are going to be a Disney princess. Is he gonna swing you around like Belle in the Beauty and the Beast?”
“You know a lot about Disney movies, huh?” Alec says just to hear Jace’s angry squawk.
“You know he does,” Izzy says absently, sounding troubled, “leave him alone about it.”
“Your heavy ass,” Jace continues, unabated. “Magnus is a fit dude, but he’ll give himself a hernia.”
“I’m not that heavy.” Alec sheepishly puts down the pastry he was just about to eat.
Jace snorts rudely. “Remember that time I carried your ass down the side of a mountain?”
Alec does remember. They were going into the mountains for some brotherly girl-free bonding and Izzy had been furious when she found out she wasn’t invited. He’d sat on the edge of her bed while she sobbed into her pillow, fists clenched. Alec had felt terrible as he rubbed circles into her narrow back.
“It’s not about you,” he said. “Jace and I just need some time to bond.” Jace had still been new then, living with them for a handful of years but hanging back during family functions, painfully unsure of his place.
Izzy looked up, face red and blotchy and Alec wiped away her hot, angry tears. She sniffed loudly, wetly. “You’re always trying to go places I can’t follow.”
“Hey, that’s not true. I’ll always come back,” Alec reassured her. “It’s the three of us, always. No matter what. Three go in and three come out.”
“Promise?” Izzy said, holding up a pinky.
Alec looped his finger in hers. “Promise.”
Of course, less than four hours into their expedition, Alec had tripped over a rock and twisted his ankle and Jace had carried him down the mountain, face red and bitching the entire way.
Despite the typical pre-teen drama, it’s a good memory, Alec thinks, but it hurts a little now to think about it, like a faded bruise that aches when you press your thumb to it. But memories are always that way, the nostalgia aching in a bittersweet way, small glimpses into a past happiness that was less complicated and can never be recaptured. “No one made you.”
"It was either that or cannibalism.”
“What’s with you and cannibalism? Why is cannibalism always the first resort for you?”
Jace interrupts, “Hey, hey, Alec, what’s a dom and what’s a sub?”
“I’ve told you to stay off of Reddit when you can’t sleep,” Alec says severely.
“Not that I’m not happy for you --” Izzy interjects while in the background, Jace yelps in pain, “--but what about your education? Can you practice medicine there? Where are you going to live?”
These aren’t questions that haven’t plagued Alec since he arrived in Edom, but he’s spent a truly Herculean effort to push them away and he kind of hates that Izzy’s bringing them to the forefront. He would like to live in the blissful state of denial for a while longer.
“I don’t know, Izzy,” Alec says impatiently. The day is beautiful. He’s kind of with the man he loves, that is if he ever saw Magnus. “I’m sure he can work something out.”
"He can? What about you?"
“Just—let me be happy for a while,” Alec says a little desperately, trying to hide the large feeling that he’s making a big mistake.
“Alec, I’m trying, but I’m worried about you.”
“Well, don’t," Alec snaps. He presses the heels of his hands to his eyes. "I’m a grownup. I know what I’m doing and I’d like to get married with my family’s support but if I can’t, then so be it.”
“Alec, don’t push us away, we love you,” Izzy cries. Her voice is thick, staticky and a thousand miles away. Alec’s never felt so alone.
“You sure have a funny way of showing it,” Alec says and hangs up.
He stares down at his phone for a minute, chest heaving. “Shit!” he yells and shoves the cart over. The plates hit the floor and shatter into a million jagged pieces.
Alec’s outside while somber-faced uniformed housekeepers clean up his mess. He’s embarrassed at his tantrum, sure that news of his bad behavior is already castle gossip. He tried to help but was gently shooed away. He’s not used to people taking care of him like he’s an enormous helpless baby. Soon, he’ll have an entire team to dedicated to bathing him and changing his soiled diapers.
But that day is not today. So now he’s standing alone on the balcony, feeling largely useless.
His phone rings and his stomach gives an unpleasant swoop. He doesn’t know if he can go another ten rounds with Izzy. He’s afraid she’ll win if they do. He answers the call and is both relieved and disappointed to hear Jace.
“That was some really intense shit,” Jace says.
“Is Iz okay?” Alec can’t help but ask.
“Yeah, she’s pissed but she’ll come around,” Jace says. “I see what she’s saying, but you and Magnus are made for each other. You guys will work this out. This is some real Romeo and Juliet shit.”
Alec squints down at his phone. “I hate to break it to you, but they die in the end. Don’t you remember English 101?”
“I barely passed,” Jace confesses in a rush. “I only paid attention to the dick jokes. Funny how Shakespeare is both underrated and overrated, huh?”
it’s weird, but Alec’s inclined to agree. “Yeah,” Alec says, thumbnail scraping harshly against his bottom lip. He feels a small patch of dry skin, gets his fingers around it and yanks, relishing the sting. He swipes his tongue over the tender skin and tastes blood.
Jace sighs. “You think too much.”
And Jace thinks too little.
Alec can practically hear Jace’s shrug across the miles that separate them. “Alec, it’s going to be okay.”
Alec rests his elbows on the railing. “Yes, you keep saying that but how do you know?”
“Because what other choice do you have? You’ve already said yes.”
“Besides, if you think Izzy took the news badly, wait until you call mom.”
“Oh, Jesus,” Alec says with growing horror. He’d entirely forgotten about her.
Magnus finds Alec in the garden, huddled down beneath the shade of the bronze statue’s alarmingly shiny pert buttock.
“There you are,” Magnus says warmly. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Here I am,” Alec responds weakly. He’s mostly hiding from the royal couturiers and a brusque, terrifying woman who smacked him on the hand for using his chilled salad fork to eat an entree. He misses college, where there is one fork to eat everything and in the absence the cutlery, it's perfectly acceptable to simply shovel food in the general direction of one's face.
There’s a stack of newspapers and daily rags shoved away in a messy pile next to him. They’re all about Magnus and his shameful marriage to a foreign commoner of dubious looks and pedigree. If Alec had a low opinion of himself before, it’s now somewhere in the depths of the ocean. He would need a prayer and a submarine to go retrieve it, but what worries him more is the nasty opinion they have of Magnus. Though hounded relentlessly, Magnus has always been their errant son, their eccentric but beloved prince. The tabloids are ripping him to shreds, but Alec supposes Asmodeus plays the long game.
“Don’t pay attention to those,” Magnus says, eyeing the stack warily.
“Hard not to.”
“People’s opinions don’t matter.”
In a monarchy in the modern era that is little more than an honorific, people’s opinions are the only thing that matters.
Magnus rubs his temples tiredly. “Alexander, they will always find fault with us. We only do the best we can. Sometimes, I doubt we’re even needed.”
“That’s a funny way to sell marriage to someone you’re hoping to make part of it.”
Magnus looks up at Alec through his eyelashes. It’s not so much coy as shy. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to sell anything. I was hoping you would do it for me.”
Alec is doing it for Magnus.
“I have a gift for you,” Magnus says suddenly, and Alec notices that he’s hiding a large box behind his back. He brings the box out and hands it to Alec. It’s beautiful – black and white flocked paper with an elaborate gold and black bow on top – but Alec would expect nothing less from Magnus.
He takes the box and gently untangles the ribbon, then lifts off the top. Inside is a delicate crown in the same burnished gold as Magnus’ ring.
“Mine has 10 carats of diamonds but I thought you would want something that matched you a little better.”
Alec reaches a trembling hand in. “Plain and boring? Just a touch neurotic?”
“Refined with understated beauty.”
Try as he might, Alec can’t bring himself to pick up the crown. The box suddenly feels like it weighs a thousand pounds. If Magnus hadn’t given their engagement enough thought, then Alec was guilty of the same crime. He had not thought what it meant to be consort to a prince, someone always visible, always watched. If the few weeks dating Magnus had nearly broken his spirit, what would a lifetime do to him? It was unbelievably stupid, the absolute height of arrogance to think he was ready for this.
While Alec swallows around the sudden lump in his throat, Magnus reaches in and carefully lifts the crown out. “I almost used a crown from the vault. We have hundreds, of course, fashioned for different royalty over the years, all with their own bloody history. But you’re something new, something special. I wanted a pure crown for a pure soul.”
“Magnus--” Alec says uneasily. Is that what Magnus thinks of him? It’s flattering but its an idealization of him, no more real than the bronze statue he’s cowering beneath.
But Magnus is already adjusting the crown on his head, a frown tugging at the corners of his lush mouth. “Your head is a bit larger than anticipated, darling.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Alec says, “I know if my head had been on the Titanic and served as a floatation device, both Jack and Rose would have survived--”
“I adore your enormous head,” Magnus says lovingly, pulling him down for a kiss, “be it pea-sized or gargantuan.”
“Well, we all know which end of the scale my head tips,” Alec mutters, but he’s cut off by the insistent soft press of Magnus’ lips.
“I couldn’t help myself,” Magnus says, pulling away and licking his lips. “You look really--”
“Yeah?” Alec says, trying to ignore the throbbing at his temples. The crown is a shade too small, nearly a perfect fit but not quite.
“It was made for you, darling,” Magnus finishes simply. His fingers fiddle with the front of Alec’s shirt. “You look so good wearing a crown. You don't know what it's doing to me. I’m learning all kinds of new and exciting things about myself this week.”
Alec looks around as anther button pops free. “Magnus, anyone could see.”
“It’s a private garden,” he reminds Alec, tugging at the last on free. It feels too good.
So, despite the ball of anxiety that’s only growing, he thinks about Jace’s earlier words. You think too much. He goes with it because it’s easier, because it’s less confusing. Wants tugs low in his belly and he gives himself over entirely to the feeling, the fabric catching and fluttering as Magnus slips his shirt off quickly, followed by his pants. Alec kicks off his shoes and akwardly yanks off his socks, completely at odds with Magnus’ graceful, economic movements.
Magnus finds his coat in his stack of clothes and spreads it out over the grass and eases Alec back on his coat. The grass tickles his legs, the sun warm against his bare skin. Fucking Magnus on the grass is hardly the worst decision Alec has made this week, probably not even the worst today, and then it’s just Magnus on top of him, the reassuring weight of him.
"Good?" Magnus grins and dips his head down to kiss Alec, playfully nipping at his bottom lip. The crown's rolled off somewhere but neither of them notice. Alec slips his tongue into Magnus’ mouth and pushes his hips up, feeling Magnus’ hard cock against his, the warm trails of precome smearing against his belly. He could probably come like this, grinding against Magnus like a teenager, but the night is young and so is he.
They kiss lazily for a bit until Alec pushes a hand between them, wanting to feel Magnus hot and heavy in his hand. Alec circles his cock with a loose fist, jerking him slow and relaxed, watching his face closely, the curve of his slick lips, his black eyelashes, the slope of his sharp cheekbone.
Alec loves him terribly, completely.
Magnus fumbles around in his pockets beneath Alec and then one slick finger nudges at him and Alec lets his legs splay open, pushing them wider, breath catching as Magnus pushes in past the first knuckle.
Alec forces himself to relax against the intrusion. This isn’t what he wants at all. “Enough, I’m ready. Just do it slow and I’ll be okay.” He pushes himself down on Magnus’ finger impatiently to prove his point.
Magnus chuckles, adds another finger and crooks them up, stroking repeatedly until Alec practically hums with pleasure.
“I know these past few days have been tough,” Magnus says. “I’m not blind, I know you’ve been unhappy, but things will get better.” He sounds desperate and unsure and Alec gets the distinct impression he’s trying to convince himself as much as Alec.
Alec shakes his head. “Not now.” He rocks himself back on Magnus’ fingers, feet braced against the grass. A steady throb of pleasure builds. He wants all of Magnus. “C’mon, fuck me.”
Magnus withdraws his fingers, leaving Alec open and aching.
He hears Magnus slick himself up and groan and it shoots a hot sliver of pleasure skittering down his spine in anticipation. Magnus presses a hand against Alec’s hip, palm a heavy, hot weight.
Magnus hitches one of Alec's legs up over his shoulder, making it hard to breathe, or maybe that’s just because Magnus’ cock is nudging at him, pressing in slow and hard and thick. It hurts a little. It always does and Alec’s just come to accept that the price of pleasure is always a little pain. He breathes in through his nose and counts to ten as he tracks Magnus’ slow progress.
Finally, Magnus bottoms out and it’s only when Alec opens his eyes that he realizes they’ve fallen shut. Magnus is staring down between them, chest shiny with sweat, face tense with the effort of holding himself still. Magnus catches him staring and says, voice strained, “Christ, your ass.”
It’s so un-Magnus-like that Alec laughs, high-pitched and a little hysterical. “It sure is.” He finally relaxes and Magnus grins down at him, swoops down to kiss him, pressing his knee almost to his chest. It makes it even harder to breathe, but it’s worth it for the tender kiss that Magnus gives him, it’s worth it to feel the soft exhale as Magnus says, “I love you, darling.”
"Same,” Alec says. He’s often been called cold by people who don’t know him, a thin veneer of studiousness and professionalism covering his inherent social awkwardness but never with anyone who knows him well. When Alec loves people, it’s with his whole body and soul; it's messy and awful, no price too high, no punishment he wouldn’t endure. “That is, for me. I love you,” Alec says, then tacks on, “as well.”
The expression on Magnus’ face is charmed, soft. “Never change.”
Magnus pulls out slowly, then pushes back in. Alec cries out, fingers digging into Magnus’ shoulders.
“Too much?” Magnus asks, dark eyes concerned.
Yes, but it’ll be okay. “No,” Alec says and it’s not a lie because Alec knows that eventually, it won’t be. “Keep going.”
Magnus eases back, then fucks into him faster, angling his hips and brushing against Alec’s prostate. There it is, the pleasure that Alec was seeking, the build-up of aching want.
Magnus sets a slow pace, the slick slide of him in and out of Alec’s body steady, perfect.
Things slow down, one image blurring into another, becoming one big hazy pleasure-soaked memory; one day, it'll probably hurt too. Magnus is above him, inside him, one fist curled around his wrist, holding it above his head. The clouds in the sky, wisps of white trailing through an achingly blue sky as Magnus mindlessly mouths at his jaw, his neck.
“Magnus, Magnus,” Alec gasps, hitching his legs higher.
“Hey,” Magnus says, pulling out and leaving Alec loose and open and aching, gulping down air with suddenly decompressed lungs. “Turn over.”
Dazed, Alec complies and rolls over on his hands and knees.
Magnus runs a hand down his side, resting on the swell of his ass for a moment before pushing his cheeks apart and Alec feels his breath hitch at the thought of being so exposed, has to hold himself in place to fight the natural urge to cover himself.
Magnus presses a finger into him. After having his cock, it doesn’t feel like nearly enough. “Please,” Alec says, voice rough.
Magnus doesn't take his time. He shoves his cock in the moment his fingers slip free, setting a punishing pace. It hurts less this way and Alec can feel the full girth of Magnus’ cock pushing into him, the sweet drag of friction against his entrance.
Magnus folds his body over him, and Alec gets his hands up and pushes back hungrily, the low burn in his belly stoked into a full flame, his skin alight and hot, nerve endings sparking, lit up all over.
There’s a whole world outside these stone walls, people trying to break the fragile bubble they’ve created for themselves. But for now, Alec’s focused entirely on Magnus, whose heart is its own secret garden, blooming and bright beneath Alec’s steadfast tending.
Magnus slants a messy kiss against the sweaty nape of Alec’s neck, then grunts and slows, pushing in one final time, grinding his hips into Alec’s and coming deep inside the hot grip of Alec’s ass.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Magnus is saying above him, still and buried to the hilt, dick pulsing. Alec’s so turned on he could cry, his own cock hard and leaking.
Magnus reaches around and curls a fist around his cock. It doesn’t take much to make Alec come with a soft cry, ass clenching around Magnus, who’s still buried in Alec’s body. He feels his arms tremble and give out, and Magnus wraps his arms around him, easing him to the ground, cock slipping out and leaving a wet trail over his ass.
“Shhh, I’ve got you,” Magnus says.
He wakes up a while later, unaware that he’d fallen asleep. Alec breathes in slow and easy, enjoys the feel of Magnus against him, warm against the cooling sweat, and feels his eyelids slip shut again.
I love him, Alec thinks as he drifts off. Everything has to work out because there’s no other choice.
Alec wakes sometime later with fireflies all around him rising from the damp loam like embers from a dying fire.
Magnus kisses his shoulder, already awake.
“What have I told you about watching me sleep?” Alec croaks with as much severity as he can muster, still half-asleep.
“That it’s romantic and incredibly masculine?”
“Exactly that,” Alec says, “except the words I used were 'creepy' and 'quit it.'"
Magnus chuckles, low and fond, scratching his fingers through Alec’s now dry sweat-stiff hair. “I love that you’re such a romantic. Now get dressed, you withholding bastard, and follow me. I have something to show you.”
Alec pulls on his damp jeans, his shoes, trying not to notice the vast ocean of difference between his ratty trainers and Magnus’ chic velvet smoking shoes.
He follows Magnus back inside, through a maze of corridors, past the library where he had officially met Asmodeus and where Magnus had come up with the brilliant idea to get married faster than a knocked up teenager with a brand new purity ring. “Where are going?”
Magnus takes him through a set of double doors, which opens to a huge room lined in gilt relief and a shining white marble floor. Sets of upholstered white chairs have been lined up in heat rows and Alec belatedly realizes he’s standing in an aisle. There are flowers everywhere: on the backs of each chair, trailing up the walls, but concentrated towards the front, beneath a huge blooming arc of roses.
“They’ve been working around the clock,” Magnus says, surveying the room with great satisfaction. “Funny story, this ballroom dates back to the Victorian period. It was a chapel of sorts, but when the country fell to general degeneration, we decided that if we were a country of sinners, then we might as well dance. So it was reimagined into a grand ballroom.”
Alec purses his lips. “How...enterprising of you all.”
“Us,” Magnus corrects. “You’re one of us now.”
Magnus’ words hit him delicately like a slow-moving bullet train.
Alec looks around at the gorgeous flowers, the altar. He hadn’t spent his life thinking about marriage. Truth be told, he never honestly believed he’d find someone who wanted to put up with him long enough to warrant taking permanent legal action about it. But now that he’s here, this doesn’t look like him at all. It’s a thousand miles away from his home, none of his family can attend, and he doesn’t know the difference between gold leaf and gold flake and what’s more, doesn’t give a flying fuck.
“It’s going to be an event that everyone will remember for a hundred years.” Magnus adds under his breath, “That’ll show my father.”
Alec can't hold it against him. It’s a truth somewhere out in the ether: no matter how much you dislike your parents, you will always crave their love and approval. But just like that, the feeling of wrongness twists his stomach again. Alec doesn’t care about everyone remembering, he doesn’t care what Asmodeus thinks. He wants it to be just the two of them. That’s all he’s ever cared about and it’s the one thing Magnus can’t give him.
Alec looks again at his beautiful, perfect fiance and their beautiful, perfect wedding and could cry.
He remembers a family vacation when he was a kid, remembers his dad canceling at the last minute and his mom’s forced smile when she hung up the phone and turned around. “We can still have fun,” she lied unconvincingly, eyes too bright. “We’ll just go without him and he can join us when he gets free.”
His dad was having an affair. Everyone knew it, especially Alec’s mom, who bore her humiliation and heartbreak because she thought she’d made a decision and had to see it through. His dad never did get free that summer, but his mom eventually did.
It’s hard admitting to yourself you were wrong, especially when you desperately want to be right. But Alec could be his mother, going along with a lie because he’d made one bad choice one time, or he could finally break the cycle.
It’s time for a little honesty.
Alec lied to Magnus and to himself earlier. He isn’t doing this for Magnus, at least not entirely. He’s doing it for himself. He’s marrying someone because he’s afraid to lose him, afraid that if he leaves, Magnus will find someone better, half in love with the way Magnus sees him and not ready to let that go. And Magnus? He’s trying to prove his father wrong, to find his place in the world, and he’s terrified of doing that alone. Love isn’t even in their top five reasons they're getting married and they both deserve so much better.
All around him, harried employees are rushing at a fevered place. Alec knows what he has to do and this is the worst possible time and place. What he wouldn’t give for one of Jace’s infamous room-clearing farts right about now.
Magnus is standing at the front, directing men on huge ladders who are hanging flowers, layering soft green gladioli between the roses and tumbling wisteria. Alec feels something warm and tender and hopeless blossom in his chest. Magnus is still a boy stuck choosing between what he wants and what he feels he should want. But part of loving someone is seeing people for who they really are and loving them anyway.
“Magnus,” Alec says suddenly. “What about school?”
“You’re going to be a prince,” Magnus says happily, twisting around to look at him. “You can build schools.”
It sounds great. All Alec has ever wanted to do was to help people and Magnus is handing him the position and the means to do it on a scale he never dreamed of, but still. It never was his dream to build places for other people to help others. He wants to be a doctor, to help people with his own two hands. The human body fascinates him, like a cascading puzzle. He can’t finish school here. He can’t practice medicine. And though meeting Magnus has been something exceptional, wild -- Alec has many dreams and Magnus is only one of them. Though it hurts him somewhere deep inside, so much so that he’s avoided even thinking it, Alec finally has to admit that he’s not yet ready to give up the other ones.
“It’s not about that.”
As much as he would like to stay and get married, he can’t. It’s a part of having a calling, of dedicating your life to something larger than yourself. He would give his life for Magnus without question but staying with Magnus wouldn’t require his life, just everything that he is.
Alec’s made a mistake. Some mistakes are so large, so terrible that they can never be undone, only survived, but this isn’t one of them. Maybe Jace is right and he does think too much, but Alec can only be who he is. He should have never tried to be anyone else. “I can’t do this,” he chokes out.
Magnus blinks and comes closer, a quizzical smile creeping around the edge of his lips. “The Matsumoto asters are too much, right? I told them they were too much.”
“I don’t know what that is,” Alec says, “but no, I’m talking about us.”
Alec watches, breath held, as Magnus struggles to put the pieces together. He knows the moment Magnus figures it out, watches the cracks appear slowly like glass shattering in slow motion. “Are you—you can’t be.”
There is no team of trained housekeepers to discreetly clean this mess up; this is something Alec has to do for himself.
Alec braces himself and says, “I think I should go home.”
All the wind seems to leave Magnus and he sits down heavily in of the guest chairs. A few errant petals drift slowly to the ground. “I thought you were happy. I did everything I could.”
It’s difficult to respond. Alec both was and wasn’t happy. It’s one of the weird particulars of life that sometimes there are no right or wrong choices. Each way, he’d be giving up something important to him. If he stays with Magnus, he’d lose his career, seeing his family regularly. If he goes back home, he’s losing this glorious thing with Magnus. Every choice he makes represents the death of opportunities and the birth of more yet unseen ones, like a choose your own adventure book where there’s no possibility of going back and starting over.
He’s just making the best choice he can right now. It’s been a beautiful dream here, but now he has to wake up.
“It’s time for me to go,” Alec says softly.
Magnus sucks in a ragged breath, panting, just on the verge of a panic attack. “Then I’ll go with you.” He smiles tremulously up at Alec and Alec aches for him that he still tries to pretend he’s fine while Alec’s deliberately breaking both their hearts. “It’ll be fun. We can live like poor college students.”
“I am a poor college student,” Alec gently points out.
“But we can still be together.” His knuckles are white on the back of the chair, twisting into the flowers cascading down the back. More petals drift to the ground; they’re glorious to look at it, but they were not made to withstand this.
It’s a tempting offer. Alec could have everything he wants. He gently pries Magnus’ hands loose and turns them over his own, staring down at his rings carefully, taking in the M and the B, but the one that catches his eye is the gold lion’s head, his family crest and the signet of his position. He and Magnus, for all that they’re different, have some things in common: They’re so young and already weighed down by the history of their choices. Neither are particularly happy living purposeless lives.
Alec’s purpose is to save people, even if it’s just saving Magnus from himself. The twisted scar bisecting his hand, the shiny tight tissue on his knees. He’s scarred himself over and over for other people, what’s one more time?
Alec leans down and kisses Magnus’ knuckles and above him, Magnus makes a low hurt sound.
“Don’t,” Magnus gasps. “Don’t say it.”
“I think I need to make my own way,” Alec says, suddenly sure. “And so do you. This isn’t goodbye forever. This is just goodbye for right now.”
Magnus snorts unhappily. “Long distance relationships. They never work out.”
“Then we’ll prove everyone wrong.”
Magnus searches Alec’s face. His elegant loafers, shining dully beneath the lights, are twisted inwards, one on top of the other, an oddly childish gesture and Alec’s reminded that for all his worldliness, Magnus is terribly young. “What makes you think we’ll find our way back to each other?”
“I don’t know,” Alec says honestly. What drew them together in the first place? Why did he accept a date with Magnus? He tries to think back, but he already can’t remember a time when he regarded Magnus with anything but love.
He doesn’t have any answers, but Alec does know that his heart is a journey and the road never really ends. “How did we find each other in the first place?”
“Stunning coincidence and my overwhelming lust for your nubile body.”
Alec huffs a soft laugh and blinks against his stinging eyes. The world grows shiny, the lights casting arcing halos. If he starts crying now, he might never stop and he’s got packing to do. Or worse, he might convince himself to stay.
“Okay, okay,” Magnus says, sounding defeated. “If you can have faith, then I guess I can too.” He lets out a shaky breath. “Call me when you land? I don’t care when it is – just call me.”
“I will,” Alec promises.
“I’m going to turn around now,” Magnus says. “I can’t watch you go.”
“Okay,” Alec says, and watches as Magnus twists around in the chair, hands folded in his lap.
Alec leaves quickly before he loses his nerve. He already regrets it a little bit, even as he’s taking these first steps, but he supposes that’s the way of things. If you’re lucky to live long enough, you’ll also live to regret something or another. Possibly many things.
With each step, his resolve grows. He’s doing the right thing, but he still looks back at the last minute to see Magnus at the altar alone, sitting in front of the beautiful riot of flowers, dark silhouette growing smaller and smaller every step he takes until Alec turns the corner and Magnus disappears completely.
As it turns out, falling in love is easy. It’s everything else that'll tear you apart.
He goes back to the bedroom alone to pack his bags. In the end, it’s nothing, really. There was never any of Alec here and there’s no one to blame for that fact but himself.
Alec may always be the kind of person who lets others’ needs eclipse his own, but that’s not what’s happening here: the story of his life has become about someone else. He made a mistake, had every opportunity to fix it and didn’t, simply because living for another person was far easier than living for himself.
He goes to the airport buys the cheapest, fastest ticket out and has to spend the next six hours waiting in a hard plastic chair. All around him, people are arriving and leaving, saying tearful goodbyes, hugging.
He feels ten years older and it’s not until he can feel the weight of his life that he realizes how unencumbered he was before. His heart’s heavy, his body aches. Maybe that’s what some people mean when they say emotional baggage. It doesn’t always have to be trauma; sometimes it’s the miles and the weight of every decision that could have gone another way.
On the plane, Alec drinks a bit too much and has to wait in line to use the cramped unnaturally chilly bathroom. He stumbles back to his seat and sleeps fitfully, too damn large for the allotted space, tossing and turning, scratchy thin gray blanket barely doing anything to hold the creeping cold at bay. He lays on his side, clutching the edges around him, concentrating on breathing in the recycled air, the low thrum of the plane’s engines, lights popping on and off in the darkness of the cabin like the fireflies when he woke up with Magnus' arms around him.
He wonders if he made a mistake. He wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t, but there are too many unknowns and variables for him to reach a logical conclusion. He thinks maybe he left too easily; he thinks he left far too late. But when he gets through the customs line and sees Izzy and Jace waiting for him at the end of the long hallway, he takes a deep breath for the first time since he left.
Izzy looks uncharacteristically subdued. “Hey,” she says, touching his arm timidly.
“Iz,” Alec breathes and folds his arms around her, tight enough to lift her off the ground. It’s forgiveness, even though none is really necessary, but it’s all they’ve ever needed with each other.
“Such a dummy,” Izzy says, affectionally ruffling his hair.
Alec can’t disagree there.
“Awww,” Jace says, “my baby’s all grown up and jilting royalty.”
“No one got jilted,” Alec says quickly. It’s such an ugly word. Except for Magnus. Magnus kind of got jilted at the altar.
“You need to get home and relax and get some sleep,” Izzy says.
“I just spent 18 hours sleeping,” Alec protests, even though he has bags under his eyes that surpass the carry on luggage limit.
“Alec, you lost your fiance.”
“I didn’t lose him,” Alec says, “I know exactly where I left him.”
Every word feels a little worse. He left Magnus. He had an actual fairytale wedding and a beautiful future handed to him on a silver platter and typical Alec-fashion, he said, Nah.
“I only missed a few weeks,” Alec says, mind already sluggishly racing ahead. “I bet professor Levinson would let me make up the exam I missed.”
“There’s time for that later,” Izzy says, patting his chest. “For now, we make like bread and loaf.”
They end up back in his dorm room with Jace, and Izzy pushes their narrow beds together while Jace goes to ransack the vending machines and nearest gas station.
“We are not doing Jace’s Megatron bed.”
“Shut up and help me,” Izzy huffs. She pulls an ugly kitted blanket in orange and green out of the top of the narrow closet. “Remember when Grandma made these for us?”
“Unfortunately,” Alec says.
“You just need to remember that there are all kinds of love, Alec.” She thumbs the maroon rosettes dotting the blanket.
Alec doesn’t know what to say to that. He touches one of the ugly rosettes carefully. His grandmother had terrible arthritis when she made them, but they are uniform and perfectly formed. It is, quite possibly, the most hideous textile to ever exist. It looks like it was made with a great amount of love and vomit.
“Do you think I did the right thing?”
Izzy looks up. “I think you’re doing what’s right for you and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“But for Magnus--”
“Would you have resented him if you’d stayed?”
“I think--" Alec rubs his temples, god fucking help him "--I think I might have, eventually.”
“Then you’re doing the best thing for you both," Izzy says kindly. "If you love something, set it free. Yadda yadda. You know the rest”
“Yeah, I know the rest,” Alec manages, blinking through stinging eyes. "But I don’t think real life works that way.”
“Maybe,” Izzy says philosophically, “I suppose there’s only one way to find out.”
His entire world view is upended. While he was busy fretting about his boyfriend and his grades, Izzy was growing up. “Jesus, Iz. You got smart."
"Yeah," Izzy says with a snort and lays out the blanket on the beds, "when are you going to give it a try?"
While he’s waiting for Izzy to finish up, Alec steps out into the hall. The moon is large in the sky and he wonders what the day looks like for Magnus. He slowly scrolls through his contacts until he gets to Magnus' name and presses call. The photo that comes up for his contact is Alec's favorite; it's part of a photo strip taken at the mall, a silly flimsy thing he’s since misplaced because he hardly needed pictures when he had the real thing. Alec wishes he’d been more careful with the pictures. He wishes he'd been more careful with Magnus.
Magnus picks up on the third ring. “Alexander.”
“I’m here,” Alec says, lips numb. He presses his knuckles into his closed eyelids until he sees stars brighter than the ones through the window. He backs up until his shoulders hit the wall and he slides down, crouched over cheap linoleum.
“Are you safe?” Magnus asks, hesitating, “Are you—happy?”
Alec can hear what Magnus isn’t saying. Are you happier without me?
He doesn’t know how to answer, so he settles for, “I wish you were here with me.”
He doesn’t say he’s sorry because he’s not, not really, but he’s sorry he had to hurt them both so badly to do it.
Across the line, Magnus makes a small, ragged sound. “So, where do we go from here?”
“You go to your meetings, spin some kind of tale of the villainous American who broke your heart, and then call me when you’re done?”
“I’m actually in a meeting right now,” Magnus admits. “I told them I had to use the restroom. I’ve been gone a suspiciously long time.”
“Oh, God,” Alec says without thinking, “they probably think you’re pooping.”
Magnus makes a strangled sound. “Never change.”
I’m trying not to, Alec thinks. But it’s tough when the world conspires to make you feel lacking, when everyone seems to have a plan for their lives except you.
“We’ll talk later?” Alec says softly. His eyes feel gritty and he still smells like an airport.
“Later,” Magnus confirms and the line goes dead. Alec stares down at his phone for a moment before slipping it back into his pocket.
He misses Magnus terribly; it’s a sharp pang tucked just up under his ribs. With every inhale and exhale, he wants to hear Magnus’ voice, to feel his hands. But with some distance, Alec can half-see a future where they both might one day be happy without each other. He doesn’t want that, but he supposes he can live with it. Happiness is all about finding the middle ground between what you want and what you can live with.
Still, he hopes his future has Magnus in it. It’s all he can do.
With a groan, he picks himself up off the floor and heads back inside.
Jace says smugly, “I knew one day you’d fold to the power of Megatron Bed”
“Will you shut up?”
Jace shrugs and drops a metric shitton of junk good on one of the desks Izzy pulled up next to the bed. Bagged snacks, sodas, microwaved food that should never, ever have been available for purchase via individual plastic bag, go tumbling in every direction.
Alec squints at the mess. “Jesus, is that a pickled egg? Why the hell is it pink?”
“Did you know,” Jace says conversationally, “that they sell microwavable frozen White Castles?”
“That sounds like a bad idea,” Izzy says.
“Sure does. That’s why I bought ten.” Jace pokes at one of the offending articles. “They smell okay-ish.”
"They smell offensive," Alec says.
"Do you think it’s a bad sign that I only had to microwave them for 45 seconds? The instructions say anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute and a half, which seems weirdly vague," Jace does an odd shuffle towards Alec and pats Alec’s shoulder awkwardly, worriedly chewing on his chapped bottom lip.
While Alec has had frozen hamburgers and poor choices on the mind, Jace has been silently worrying about him. With a start, Alec realizes that Jace does not actually give a shit about variable microwave wattages, but he’s trying to distract Alec in the only way he knows how: with insults and saturated fats.
“Yeah,” Alec says, relenting, “it’s a bad sign, but I guess I'm in the mood to take a chance.”
Alec lies sandwiched between Jace and Izzy while the movie starts. Izzy spreads and an extra blanket over their laps. “This is kind of creepy and I think that last hamburger was a mistake,” Alec complains. It doesn’t stop him from eating another Moon Pie, though.
“It smells like an old lady in here and not like that time Alec started wearing that carnation perfume to seem more grown up.”
“It was for men,” Alec protests, cheeks going hot. How was he to know it was for elderly men?
Izzy pokes them both way too hard. “Do you remember when Mom and Dad used to go out and leave Alec in charge for the night? We’d all pile in his bed and watch movies and eat candy until we got sick.”
Jace grins. “Good times.”
On the screen, Indiana Jones is teaching a class. Classic hot-ass Harrison Ford era.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that happy since then,” Izzy says. “I don’t know if I ever will again. So just shut up and watch the goddamn movie.”
Alec knows what she means. Half of Alec’s dubious foray into adulthood has been spent wishing to go back to simpler times, the pickup football, the summer vacations from school. The other half has been spent being terrified that he’s doing everything wrong, wearing his various fuck ups on his shirtsleeves like ugly badges of shame.
But really, what is he so afraid of?
He slips his arm around Izzy's shoulders and she snuggles close, sighing into his chest. “It’s been a while since we’ve done this,” she says.
“No, hugged like this,” Izzy answers.
Why are adults less needing of physical contact, why is it only acceptable for adults to have physical comfort if sex is involved? He couldn’t say. Not all touch has to have a purpose. Alec squeezes her tighter.
On his other side, Jace is watching the screen, pretending like he can’t see Alec and Izzy scooting closer together.
Alec sighs, reaches over and punches him in the arm. He says gruffly, “C’mon, assmunch, get in on this.”
“I’m cool,” Jace says, fingers clasped around his arms defensively.
Alec can neatly follow Jace’s train of thought like a preschooler playing connect the dots with a shaky crayon. Jace has many fine qualities but foresight and an overly sophisticated thought-process aren’t among them.
He's wondering how gay it makes him to be in bed with another dude, let alone deliberately getting closer than the heterosexually acceptable thirty inches between two grown men's asses. Jace might as well have flashing sirens above his head. Threat level: super homosexual.
“This is only weird if you make it weird,” Alec says, voice even, and holds out his hand on the comforter.
Jace looks down at Alec's hand with the kind of apprehension previously reserved for finals week and crying women.
“Hold my hand, you withholding bastard,” Alec huffs and gives his fingers an impatient little wiggle just to be an obnoxious asshole about it.
“Fuck it,” Jace mumbles and takes his hand, lacing their fingers together. Jace has a typical boy’s hand -- nails bitten down to the quick, rough knuckles. It’s nothing like Magnus’ hand but it’s still a surprisingly good fit. Then again, Alec doesn’t have a frame of reference beyond when they were small children and it was okay to need comfort.
He glances back at Jace, who’s on his side, blond hair falling across his eyes like sun-bleached straw. His eyes are closed and he’s holding Alec's hand so tightly, Alec wonders when the last time was that he held someone’s hand. It’s probably been a while, but Alec never noticed.
On the screen, Indiana Jone’s shirt is gaping improbably, his perfect five o’ clock shadow dusting his sharp jaw.
“Such a badass,” Jace mutters, sounding awed and blinkingly sleepily. “I loved watching this when we were kids.”
“So did I,” Alec says, “but probably for different reasons.” He’s eying the way the sweat gathers in the hollow of Harrison Ford’s throat speculatively.
“Same,” Izzy sighs.
“Hmm?” Jace asks obliviously.
“Ugh, this is great,” Izzy says, shoving a handful of pretzels in her mouth. A few of them fall onto the bed and Alec just knows he’s going to be picking sharp pretzel crumbs out of his ass for the next week until laundry day. “Why did we ever stop?
“We grew up,” Alec says.
“What a dumb thing to do,” Izzy replies, and Alec privately agrees.
Their problems will be waiting for them tomorrow. The classes they are going to fail, the jobs they won’t get, the pervasive feeling that they’re just not doing adulthood right, but for now, they can pretend everything's okay.
They can’t go back to their childhoods, but they can hide here for a little while.
With Jace next to him and Izzy a warm weight on his shoulder, Alec can’t deny it any longer. He’d tried as hard as he could to make Magnus his home, but home is trust and warmth and history. And here’s the god-awful truth: It’s not something you always get to choose for yourself, sometimes it’s chosen for you.
And Alec? He holds on as tight as he can. He’s finally home.
Monday finds him at the library, which is surprisingly busy but finals are looming above their heads, ready to squash them all with ignorance and despair. Alec spies an open seat at a back table by the windows and he hefts his backpack higher on his shoulder, heading that way.
When he gets there, it’s occupied by own lone woman surrounded by a terrifying amount of books on marine life.
“Seat’s taken,” the woman says without looking up. She obnoxiously clicks a pen with a chewed up top.
“You can’t claim an entire table,” Alec says.
“I think I just did.” She makes a tsking sound. “All you pre-med jocks are the same. You think everything belongs to you because of the sanctity of life blah blah. Well, marine life is also life.”
Alec blinks owlishly. No one has ever confused him for a jock. He played basketball in high school mostly because he was too tall not to and his coach, despairing as Alec ducked yet another pass, said that at least the opposing teams would be scared of his height until they realized he was well over six feet of creampuff.
To his knowledge, all of this classmates on the same pre-med track were prised unwillingly from the same mold: a bunch of pale type-a overachievers deeply afraid of failure and their own feelings.
“I'm not a jock,” Alec says lamely.
“My apologies, your highness.”
Alec flushes angrily. A few months ago, he would have sat back and taken this shit, but something about traveling halfway around the world just to break his own heart has made him brave. Magnus has made him brave.
He shoves her backpack out of the chair, ignoring her angry shout and takes its place before she can say anything else.
“Thanks for the seat,” he says sarcastically and pulls out his laptop to begin taking notes. After a moment, he hazards a glance at her to see her sitting back, arms crossed, surprisingly thoughtful.
“We here to study or stare lovingly into each other’s eyes?” he grunts.
She scowls at him, but she doesn't look particularly angry. The corners of her mouth tug reluctantly up. “Study, you asshole.”
A woman at the table next to him angrily hushes them both and Maia shoots her a rude gesture.
“All right then,” Alec says and gets to work.
Later that night, Alec leans back at his desk, hearing his back pop. He’s been determined to make this work, to prove to himself that he made the right choice, but Magnus haunts his thoughts like a ghost.
It should be early morning in Edom and Alec picks up his phone and calls Magnus, casting a nervous glance over at Jace, who’s snoring loudly.
Magnus picks up on the second ring. “Darling, what a lovely surprise.”
And he does sound surprised, soft, rounded vowels skating in an upward lilt. Alec honestly doesn’t know why. He says bluntly, “I said I would call.”
There’s silence across the line, then Magnus says as if choosing his words very carefully, “What we say isn’t always what we do. I wouldn’t hold it against you if your calls got further and further apart.”
“Alec, I’m just saying that I would understand.”
Alec rubs the back of his neck tiredly. Ever the diplomat, but that’s not what Alec wants from him, never has been. He feels the distance between them keenly and has no clue how to bridge that. He's not like Magnus -- able to dance through words until he lands on the perfect one -- Alec's too blunt, plainspoken. Often, he finds himself tossing words at a problem and only hitting about 25% of his meaning. He's better with action. If they had physical proximity on his side, this is where Alec would kiss him, let his hands linger on Magnus’ jaw, let his fingers impress all the things he doesn’t know how to put into words. But he doesn't have that luxury right now, so he says, “Tell me a secret of yours and I’ll tell you one of mine.”
Magnus lets out a long breath, crackling along the line like surprise. “Like what?”
“Anything, everything. Your choice.”
“Okay,” Magnus says, thinking. “I didn’t kiss another man until I was twenty.”
Alec’s surprised; somehow, he’d pictured Magnus as a primary school lothario, kissing boys and girls with the confidence of someone who has always been seen and appreciated, innately proud of who he is. Not like Alec, who was that weird sullen tall kid who became that weird sullen tall man; who sits at the back of the lecture hall, furiously scribbling notes hard enough to rip the paper; who color-codes his appointments in his planner, much to Izzy and Jace's humiliation. “Why not?”
Magnus shifts and Alec hears his bed creak. He must be in his massive bedroom, sitting on the edge of his bed. “I don’t know? I guess I was afraid.”
“Of what?” Alec asks curiously. They’ve had few conversations like this, just talking. There always seemed to be something better to do, 75% of it horizontal.
Magnus laughs, but it isn’t a particularly happy sound. “Rejection? My own feelings? My father’s disapproval? You ask tough questions.”
His worldview of Magnus shifts just a little, somewhat off-kilter, and reframing itself into something new. Magnus is a man who has insecurities. Magnus is a man sometimes afraid of rejection.
“I’m sorry,” Alec says, fumbling over words that feel too large and intimate for him. “I just – I want to know you.”
They’ve dated, fucked, lived together, and nearly gotten married, and still, he feels like Magnus is at least a partial mystery. And he wants to follow these small threads of information, these precious glimpses he sometimes gives Alec, to their inevitable conclusions, winding through all the world's bullshit until Alec can understand him completely.
Alec's been told his need to know absolutely everything is both off-puttingly intense and annoying, but Alec can’t do anything about it. It’s on the tip of his tongue to apologize, but he clamps down on the urge at the last minute, remembering his first day of university and tripping over his own too-large feet, the hot rush of blood from his nose while he muttered sorry at the pavement.
Magnus is silent for a few seconds, then exhales, shuddery and light. “I’ve never told anyone that.”
“Thank you,” Alec says and means it.
Magnus tries for levity. “What’s your secret? Something decadent? A proclivity for wearing silk panties?”
“Yes,” Alec says.
Magnus makes a gurgling sound.
“Not really,” Alec amends quickly, half-afraid Magnus is going to pop something. From the sounds of it, maybe his nuts.
Magnus clears his throat. “I knew that. Seriously, though. I told you mine, now tell me yours."
Alec searches his memories, finding and discarding them as quickly as they occur to him. He doesn’t know whether to go for embarrassing or awful, so he settles for painfully truthful. “I got into a fight with my mom once and told her I was going to run away.”
Magnus sighs. “We’ve all done that.”
Alec licks his lips. “But I did it.”
“No,” Magnus says, scandalized.
“I decided to walk the six blocks to where my father worked at the time. I’m lucky nothing happened to me.” Alec closes his eyes, reliving the hot sun against his eyelids, the pavement beneath his sneakers. The elevator ride up to his floor, and the empty assistant’s desk outside his father’s office. He should have knocked, but he was a kid and kids are entitled little assholes. “He was--” Alec coughs. “That’s how I found out he was having an affair on my mom.”
“Alec,” Magnus says, sounding unfathomably sad.
“It’s fine,” Alec says, even though the memory still hurts him all these years later. It was the first time he remembered knowing that his parents weren't perfect, maybe weren't even all that good of people. “He never found out I was there and I went home. My mom was crying and she shook my shoulders, told me not to ever do that again.” He shifts in his chair, discomfited at the memory. “I didn’t know how to tell her, so I didn’t. I hugged her and apologized. I never told Izzy or Jace because how could I? I always tried to make her happy after that."
"You know it wasn't your fault, right?"
"Of course," Alec says, but he wonders if that's where it began, his reluctance to ever step out of line, his love of all rules, as if following the rules would earn him a good life, love.
“Are you afraid of marriage?”
“No, obviously not,” Alec says, but that’s not exactly true, is it? “Maybe? Yes? I want to be sure. I don’t want to make a mistake.”
“Like getting married for the wrong reasons?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Alec says, throat tight. It’s a relief to finally have it out there.
“I understand,” Magnus says.
He manages to drag his ass to his morning classes, possibly propelled by the upcoming finals and his fear of utter failure and having wasted his life. The closer they creep towards the end of the academic year, the more the class swells and Alec sees faces he’s pretty sure he hasn’t laid eyes on since the first day.
At lunch, Izzy eyes his socks and sandals combo and asks, wrinkling her nose, “Are you sure you’re gay?”
“Ha fucking ha,” Alec says and hands her the salad he paid for. "That's an insulting stereotype."
"Something's insulting," Izzy agrees.
“So," Jace asks, "what’s Magnus up to? I heard you talking to him last night.”
He shrugs when Alec gives him a sharp look.
It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining warm across the back of his head and his shoulders, the sky clear and blue. Alec feels like he’s having a lovely little stroke.
“I just hear mumbles, like, I don’t listen in or anything,” Jace assures him.
“I’ve set up a news alert for him,” Izzy says. “It lets me know when there’s any news out of Edom.”
Alec’s been so busy talking to Magnus about his feelings that he forgot about everything going on in his country. Not for the first time, Alec considers that fact that he’s spent his whole life on a collision course with being a little bit of an asshole. Not in a terrible way, but in the way that all thoughtful, self-reflective people tend to be.
“What kind of news?”
“Surprisingly, lots of sympathy pieces since being jilted by his unsophisticated American paramour.”
Well, Alec can’t fault the validity of the headlines, he supposes. “And that’s all?”
“Chain-smoking and threesomes don’t automatically make someone a sophisticate. I have it on good authority that I’m plenty sophisticated,” Jace says, then proceeds to shove half his hamburger into his mouth.
“Says the person who can belch the alphabet.”
“It’s a talent.”
Alec frowns down at his food. “That’s debatable.”
“Well, can you do it?” Jace asks pointedly.
Jace has a point, Alec cannot. He peters out around the first half before inevitably wondering if this is a good use of his limited years on Earth.
Izzy, ignoring their tangent because it’s fucking stupid, says. “There have been a lot of think pieces about the shaky future of the monarchy. Asmodeus is not popular.”
“It’s probably why he wanted Magnus back in the first place,” Jace says and Alec shoots him a betrayed look over his french fries. Leave it to Jace to have some kind of insight into the secret workings of dusty monarchies.
“In a few weeks, there’s a referendum on abolishing the monarchy in Edom. I guess he needed Magnus back in a hurry.”
“Does he think Magnus is going to influence the vote? How could he do that?”
“He’s changing the conversation,” Alec says, realization slowly dawning. It should have been obvious, but Alec was looking at a puzzle with half the pieces missing without even realizing it. “He wanted us to get engaged and he wanted a scandal. Magnus told me as much. He banked on his son’s heartbreak to secure his financial future.”
Alec doesn’t think for a moment that Asmodeus cares about the welfare of his people, but he does enjoy being supported by public tax while he has his own growing private funds so he can buy more creepy canes and castles or whatever.
“That dirty bastard,” Jace says. “I’m so angry I’ve almost lost my appetite.”
“Then can I have it?” Izzy asks, reaching across the table.
“I said almost,” Jace says, snatching the plate out of her grasp.
They go on squabbling for a bit, but Alec’s already mentally checked out, mind a thousand miles away with Magnus. What troubles Alec is, how much does Magnus know? And how in the world is Alec supposed to tell him?
That evening, Alec turns on his desk lamp and gets ready to call Magnus, tearing open a bag of Twizzlers and stuffing one in his mouth whole. Jace is sleeping, his back turned to Alec, snoring like a motherfucking chainsaw.
His finger hovers over Magnus' contact information, but he’s surprised by a notification. Without thinking, Alec taps the notification and Magnus pops up on his screen.
He looks tired and pale and Alec doesn’t think it’s just the effects of the app.
“Uh,” Alec says, hurriedly finger-combing his hair and shoving his Twizzlers out of view.
“It’s good to see you.”
“Is it really?” Alec says, hoping his t-shirt doesn't have visible pit stains.
“Always," Magnus says warmly.
“It’s good to see you too.” Magnus’ hair is coiffed, his outfit extravagant. Longingly, Alec thinks about waking up next to Magnus, seeing his hair soft, his face scrubbed clean. It was a privilege to get to see Magnus that way, one Alec hadn’t known he’d had until he lost it. Alec frowns at the phone screen. “How are things with your father? I’m sorry I didn’t ask before.”
Magnus shifts. He's at his desk, fingers steepled. “Things are—fine.”
Alec sincerely doubts that. Magnus doesn’t look like he’s a had a good night’s sleep since Alec left. His face is thinner; his jaw has never been as sharp, his frame more elegant and lithe, but it doesn’t suit him. He looks drawn and unhappy. He looks like his father.
“Magnus,” Alec says urgently, “I think your father planned for me to leave, that’s why he went public so quickly. He wanted to goad us into getting engaged and he knew it would stress our relationship. There’s going to be a referendum soon about--” Alec trails off as Magnus blinks slowly. "But you already knew that,” Alec says, his stomach plummeting to somewhere in the basement next to the washer and dryer combo that they tell all the freshmen is haunted. “You knew and you still let me leave.”
Magnus’ eyes look tired, dull beneath his careful makeup. “I knew why you left. It made sense and you weren’t wrong. It’s fine.”
“Seriously, don’t make excuses for me,” Alec says. “I’m a grown man. I don't need protection.”
Magnus looks forward, squinting at the screen thoughtfully. “You know that I would adore you in any circumstance, be it perfectly coiffed or disheveled and lovely, but I feel I must point out that you’ve got a bit of something red stuck in your teeth.”
“I’m a grown-ish man,” Alec amends, scrubbing at his front teeth furiously. “Did I get it?”
Magnus seems amused, a small, tired smile lurking at the corners of his mouth. “What was that?”
“Candy,” Alec says sheepishly. “The extra sugar keeps me awake to study.”
Magnus sighs deeply and leans back in his chair. “I don’t expect you to be invested in politics halfway around the world. It’s all very boring.”
“Well yeah,” Alec agrees, “but Magnus, I’m invested in you.”
Magnus rubs his forehead, silent. His legs and arms are crossed and Alec wonders if this is what he chooses to show everyone, if this is what reporters and the public see.
“Why did you call me so early?” Alec asks softly.
“I just wanted to see you," Magnus says, then abruptly, "but I have to go soon. Meetings, opening a hospital, kissing a few babies. You know how it is, busy busy.”
“Just talk to me, Magnus," Alec all but begs.
Finally, Magnus uncrosses his arms. “I don’t want to fight with you. Anyone else but not you.”
It would be very easy for life to pull them in different directions; Alec can already feel it happening. Long-distance relationships take effort and time, more so than Alec ever realized. They're not on the same page anymore, possibly have never been and they're drifting further apart like trains on separate tracks, slowly moving in opposite directions. Magnus anticipated it happening and accepted it. But Alec thinks about waking up next to Magnus, about introducing Magnus to the absolute shittiest in fine American cuisine, about the way the corners of Magnus' eyes crinkle when Alec has truly made him laugh, and he's not quite ready to throw in the towel just yet.
From the start, Magnus has been all in and Alec has been reluctantly toeing the line, calling the shots in their relationship, running away and towards Magnus as it suited him. But not anymore.
“I want to fight,” Alec says.
Magnus quirks an eyebrow. “Pardon?”
“I think we should fight,” Alec says. “I think you should cancel your meetings and openings and dedications, and we should fight. I'm all in.”
Staying silent, swallowing the tiny hurts that life shoves at you, is a breeding ground for resentment. So they should have it out. Fight with each other for each other.
Something complicated is happening to Magnus’ face; he presses his lips together and blinks, head tilted as if considering Alec carefully. Finally, he shakes his head ruefully. “Always ignoring protocol, making up your own damn rules.”
Yeah, that’s Alec. Bad to the bone. He loves rules, except, apparently, where Magnus is concerned. “What can I say, I'm a rebel.”
Alec silently watches as Magnus loosens his tie, takes out his cufflinks, unbuttons his sleeves and rolls them up, revealing his strong forearms.
Magnus leans forward on the desk, eyes brighter and lighter than Alec has seen them in a while. “Okay, then I'm in too. You want to fight? Let’s fight.”
Alec takes a deep breath and braces himself. He closes his eyes and remembers kissing Magnus in the rain in front of his mom’s home, the soapy smell of the morning glory, the wide-open feeling of possibility, and he wants to fight with Magnus. Pleasantness is the death of passion, of honesty. Pleasantness, he reminds himself, for the simple sake of not fighting, will be the death of them.
“How could you not tell me?” Alec asks. He’s not mad, not really, but the vague feeling of betrayal is hard to swallow. He’d thought they were solid, that Magnus felt he could tell Alec anything, but he’s learning all kinds of new and exciting things about his relationship.
Magnus sits back in his chair. “Would it have made a difference?”
Maybe, Alec thinks. Maybe he would have done things differently. He’d like to like to say yes, but he can’t stop the traitorous part of his brain that thinks he still would have left, that it was the only decision he could have made. But that’s the funny thing with choices; you can’t go back to the moment you made them. And isn’t that the bitter lesson he’s been learning time and again? Sometimes there is no better choice, there is only the choice you make and then living with the consequences.
Just like that, Alec feels the righteous indignation drain from his body as it was never there; in its wake, there’s only a great aching hollowness.
“I wish you felt like you could confide in me,” he says.
Magnus sighs. “It wasn’t like that.”
Despite what Magnus says, it was a little like that.
Magnus continues, “Alec, I had other things on my mind, you know. The man had just lied to me about being dead. How he even got my mother to play along, I’ll never know. Probably something terrible.” He taps his fingers against the desk thoughtfully. “It’s always something terrible.”
“But how did you know?”
“Because it’s a day that ends in y?”
“No, about the referendum and his plan?”
“My father’s always planning something. He doesn’t call, see me, eat a meal, or shower without having an ulterior motive.” Magnus rubs his bottom lip thoughtfully, the rings on his fingers catching the light. Alec's beginning to hate that lion ring. "Alec, you had to make your own choice whether to stay with me or not, and you’d already made your decision.”
Oh, goddamnit. He’s right. “Still, I wish I had known,” Alec settles on.
Magnus sounds unfathomably tired. “Then I ask again, would it have really changed anything?”
“No,” Alec reluctantly admits.
“Then what’s the point?”
He can’t believe he has to explain this, but-- “It hurt you,” Alec says softly.
Magnus laughs. It’s a bitter, sharp sound. “Well, I’m used to that.”
Alec realizes two things nearly simultaneously: Magnus can’t continue this way. His life is slowly grinding him down, eating him away, like waves pulling a beach back to the ocean, grain by grain of sand. With a pang, Alec thinks of his carefree prince taking classes at an American university, tainted by his new knowledge. Magnus wasn’t so much running away from responsibility but trying to survive.
The second thing he realizes is that Magnus doesn’t know how to ask for help because no one has ever offered and meant it.
“How long has it been since you’ve had someone in your corner?”
Magnus lets out a shaky breath. “A long time.”
“I could be that person,” Alec says, leaning forward. “If you’d let me.”
It’s strange, Alec thinks, to watch someone fight themselves, to see them want to believe you. Come on, he pleads silently. We’re almost there.
“Yeah?” Magnus says. He crosses his arms and Alec feels his stomach clench unpleasantly. Magnus’ voice, when it comes, is very soft. “Then why’d you leave?”
All the breath leaves Alec’s lungs like he’s been sucker-punched. There it is. There’s the thought that’s been between them, the festering wound pushing them ever so slowly apart.
“I left Edom. I didn’t leave you,” Alec says desperately.
“It’s the same thing!” Magnus shouts, then looks surprised at his outburst. “I didn’t mean--”
“Yes, you did. And it’s okay,” Alec says hurriedly. “But, Magnus, it’s isn't the same at all. You’re so much more than your title.”
“It’s at least a pretty big part of who I am.”
“Who told you that?” Alec asks.
“Life experience. The government. A sovereign nation. Take your pick.”
“Ok, those are fair,” Alec admits, tapping his fingers anxiously, “but you’re also a man that likes junk food despite telling everyone you like caviar, you’re someone who goes to the library to ace classes he doesn’t even have to take. You're kind and generous--" Something terrible occurs to Alec. "Wait a minute, is that why kept giving me gifts?” Alec feels his voice pull high and tight like an over-tightened violin bowstring, and probably making a far less pleasant sound. “Is that why you wanted to get married so quickly?”
Magnus fidgets. “No.”
“Were you—were you trying to put a ring on it?”
“What appalling phrasing.”
“Answer the question,” Alec says, slapping the table.
“Maybe,” Magnus says, looking caught out. Even halfway across the world, the man looks dodgy.
“You know those things don’t matter to me, right? Magnus, Magnus, I wouldn't care if you were rich or poor or--”
“What about if I had no hair?” Magnus interrupts.
“Bald is beautiful.”
“What if I had only two teeth?”
“We’d get you dentures.”
Magnus laughs, bright and happy and uncomplicated. “I miss you," he says, sounding wistful.
"I miss you too," Alec says. "I didn't know it would be this hard to be away from you."
"Yeah," Magnus says. "I love you, you know that, right?"
“I love you too,” Alec says, "but I’ve always had your love. I’m not asking for love right now, I’m asking for trust and that’s harder.”
Magnus takes a deep, shuddering breath. “I think I can do that.”
It’s gone late and the dorm is asleep, Alec's table lamp making a shining halo in his small dark room. It's been a long day and Alec feels his eyelids growing heavy. He props his chin upon his folded hands on the desk. It’s probably a terrible angle but Magnus has certainly seen him looking worse.
“And you’re falling asleep at your desk.”
“No, I’m good,” Alec lies.
“Get some rest, darling. You’ve got a busy day tomorrow, I’m sure.”
“Are you going to sleep too?”
“Not, busy day. I didn’t lie about that.” He checks his watch. “I should probably get going,” he says reluctantly. “And you should get to bed. Goodnight, darling.”
“Night, love you,” Alec murmurs and turns off his phone.
Het gets up from his desk and pulls off his shirt, stripping down to his boxers before slipping into bed. Summer is giving way to autumn and the stiff sheets feel good against his skin, crisp and cool. Alec’s thoughts slow, plodding along molasses-thick.
The hurt and miscommunication are going to take a while to fix, but the air is clear, and for the first time, Alec can almost see a way forward for them. It’s true that you can’t go back. But you can go forward if you’re brave enough and you have the will to try.
He doesn’t realize the snoring has stopped, probably stopped some time ago, until Jace grunts and says, “We’re definitely getting separate rooms next year.”
The next morning, when he gets to the library, he automatically heads to the back corner table. Maia’s already there, and there's a muffin and a cup of coffee sitting in his empty spot across from her.
Against all reason, Alec and Maia have bonded over the mutual enjoyment of dry research that interest only them and a handful of other equally boring people.
In between jagged bouts of crying and studying, Alec has managed to cobble together his research paper on Visual Cortex and Models of Orientation, which at this point, only needed to be proofed. When, on a brief study break, Alec was explaining it to her and abruptly cut himself off and looked up, sure that she would be bored to literal tears. He was surprised to see her leaning forward eagerly.
"I feel like the problem you're running into is that you're not being specific enough," she said. "If you narrow your field of research to the selective response of a single neuron, you'll find more success in explaining the cortical process."
"Jesus, you're right," Alec said, rubbing the back of his neck. It was so obvious, but sometimes when looking at the larger picture, it was easy to miss the obvious solution. "You're interested in neuroscience?"
"Duh," she said. "One thing I keep trying to explain to you pre-med dudebros is that tons of disciplines share an interest in sciences of all kinds."
"I knew that," Alec lied.
Maia licked her lips, looking almost shy. "I could proofread your paper for you, you know, if you want."
“Izzy tried reading it and said it was dry as a popcorn fart in the middle of a desert."
“She just doesn't appreciate the finer points of research," Maia said, sniffing.
"Thanks," Alec said sincerely.
"Don't mention it," Maia said. "Seriously. Don't."
So that's how they became official study buddies, that and the fact that they seemed to not have any other friends, being that they were both grouchy and poorly socially adjusted.
Alec slides into the chair, raising an eyebrow and pointing to the sign behind them. “We’re not supposed to have food or drink in here.”
“That's right,” Maia says slowly like Alec's a very dull child, “so why don’t you say it louder so we both get kicked out?”
Alec grins at her. “Does this mean we’re friends?”
“This means I’ve seen the crap you eat and I’m concerned about you dying of scurvy.”
“Because we’re friends.”
“Because you can get all the books from the top shelf for me.”
“I can see how that would be inconvenient. Luckily, you have me to get them for you. And I do that because we’re friends.”
Maia laughs loudly, ignoring all the half-hearted glares from crowded tables around them. Laughter is a rare commodity during finals crunch and it’s a nice reminder that there’s life outside of energy drinks and scantron tests. Life is long, and college is only a small part of it. “Eat your damn muffin and leave me alone.”
Jace collects him from the library. Seeing Jace between dusty stacks is a bit like seeing a fish tap dancing on dry land. Alec flags him down and watches Jace saunter across the library with the irritating confidence of someone who has never doubted his self-worth. He'd almost believe it if he hadn't grown up with the fucker.
“Who are you?” Jace says, staring at Maia in a manner that can only be described as aggressively lecherous.
Maia picks up her phone and checks the time. “Late for class unless I run," she says, pointedly ignoring Jace. She gathers her books and flashes a quick grin at Alec, pointing at the muffin. "It's a bran muffin. No preservatives or crap in it. Eat the rest of it."
"I'll stay regular and think of you," Alec promises her.
Jace watches Maia leave the library. “Hey. So who was that girl?”
“Maia. Stay away from her, she’d eat you alive.”
“Feh, I like a challenge.”
“She's not a challenge, she's a person. And she's too good for you."
“No, seriously. Tell me about her.”
Alec looks at Jace appraisingly as he stands, the feeling slowly returning to his legs. He's surprised there aren't permanent Alec-shaped ass indents on the plastic chair. Maia and Jace are a weird combo, but he's seen weirder. Like him and Magnus. “She's studying marine biology with a minor in animal husbandry.”
Jace scratches his chin. “So what, she's into, like, fish fucking?”
“You know what animal husbandry is," Alec says, mildly surprised, though he couldn't say why. Jace has a sharp mind when he can be fucked to use it, which is woefully infrequently.
“I know things,” Jace says defensively and Alec pats his back comfortingly. “Maybe I’ll stop by the library tomorrow.”
“Maybe you could use it to do actual studying,” Alec says. He groans as he slings his bookbag over his shoulders.
“Miracles happen every day,” Jace says, flashing Alec a sunny smile.
Alec sighs. “Don’t you ever get tired of this act? Pretending to be less than you are?”
Jace looks up at Alec thoughtfully. “Aren’t we all pretending a little bit? Cherrypicking the best parts of our personalities to show people?”
Jace has a good point.
“What would happen if we were all honest for a day?”
“Chaos,” Jace says, reaching out and squeezing Alec’s arm. He drops his hand and the moment’s lost. He mutters, “They better not be sold out of the meatball subs. I’m gonna burn shit down if I get stuck with the tuna salad again.”
Alec has a plan. It’s not a good plan, but after the rudderless weeks he’s spent treading water at the mercy of office hours, classes, and professors that still don’t know his name, some direction feels better than nothing.
He’s sitting across from Jace and Izzy in the campus coffee shop, staring down nervously at his iced latte, watching the black espresso slowly bleeding into the soymilk. As soon as finals are over, Alec will begin picking up shifts here again and he’ll have to swear off coffee because moderation is key and the free employee drinks are a dangerous temptation.
He tries to imagine opening up the store and making caramel macchiatos for stressed students picking up summer classes, bored and cleaning the counter while Clary tells him about the newest internet memes seems as far away as a cloud on the horizon. So much has changed since he met Magnus.
“Hey,” Alec says as faux-casually to Jace as he can manage, which is not very. Immediately, Izzy’s head perks up and her gaze ping-pongs between Jace and Alec speculatively. “I was thinking, maybe you could give me some privacy tonight on my phone call with my--” What do you call someone who’s less than a fiancee but more than a boyfriend? “--my Magnus,” Alec finishes lamely.
“Your Magnus,” Jace repeats slowly.
Izzy stifles a laugh in her arm.
Alec coughs, ignoring the hideous flush that he’s sure is splattered high on his cheeks and creeping down his neck.
“I guess I can give you some bro time with your Magnus,” Jace says magnanimously. He looks tired. As much as he pretends not to care about grades of what other people think of him, he does. No one who doesn’t care spends quite as much time as Jace does pretending otherwise.
Izzy does laugh then, it has more than a tinge of exhausted hysteria to it. “Bro time? Oh, is that what we’re calling mutual masturbation now?”
“Isabelle,” Alec says, appalled, jerking back and nearly upsetting his coffee. He makes a half-hearted swipe and pushes it towards the centerof the small table. If he had pearls, he’s halfway sure he would be clutching them right now.
“Calm down,” Izzy says, waving her hand at him dismissively. “I already know you’re a sex-haver, it’s not like you’re fooling anyone. Sex isn’t inherently dirty, you know.”
Jace tells Alec, “You sound just like Mom right now.”
Alec narrows his eyes. “Take that back.”
“Yeah, “ Izzy says, “ the same disapproving tone. The same weird, throbbing vein on your forehead.”
Alec slaps his hand to his forehead self-consciously. It’s a joke. He knows they’re joking and yet, it’s weird how you spend your life avoiding being like your parents to sound just like them in the end.
“Holy shit,” Alec says, dismayed, “my paper is bleeding.” After class, they’d met at their usual table at the back of the library, Tucked between black steel-framed windows that give the impression of nothing so much as being in prison. He’s in prison, the prison of higher education in exchange for lifelong debt.
“I printed it out, I make better notations that way,” Maia says. “It’s really good, it just needs some work.”
Well, isn’t that just the story of his life?
“...thanks?” Alec says, holding the thick stack of papers sideways. It’s less depressing that way.
“You better thank me,” Maia says. “It cost me nearly twenty bucks to print out. The library is charging $.10 a sheet now. Apparently, some jackass photocopied his butt a thousand times.”
Aled has no concrete proof that it was Jace, but it was definitely Jace. Alec sighs and looks around. It’s getting crowded as the days until their inevitable doom ticks down. Last night, Alec dreamed a meteor hit the Earth and he was mostly relieved because it meant he didn’t have to take his Applied Physics final.
“We’re going to have to begin sharing the table,” Alec says. The study rooms have all been reserved months in advance.
“The fuck I am,” Maia replies. “Get your books and meet me at checkout.”
“We can’t go back to my room,” Alec cautions. “Jace is there and he’s convinced himself he’s in love with you. Besides, I’m not going to lie, it smells like jockstraps, Doritos, and feet.”
“Ugh, men.” Maia rolls her eyes. “No, we’ll go to my apartment.”
“Uh,” Alec says, scooping his books up and following her. “You’ve had your own apartment this whole time and we’ve been studying in this dump?” Without realizing it, they've reached the information desk and he ducks sheepishly he rheumy, disapproving eye of the librarian sheepishly and mumbles apologetically, “Not that it isn’t lovely here.”
Maia laughs, hand against his elbow and steering him out the door. "Such a dork," she says fondly.
Maia’s place is one of those artistically rundown loft spaces that Alec has privately dreamed of since he was old enough to read the classifieds and understand that they were pretty much permanently out of his reach.
“Wow, fuck,” Alec says, setting his backpack down next to the leather sectional. It’s beginning to feel like the universe has a personal hard-on for making him feel poor.
“Yeah,” Maia says, carelessly slinging her stack of books onto an industrial-chic table that’s the same size as his dorm room, “I can’t really afford this place. I used to live here with my boyfriend—but, you know. Things happen. It’s only mine until the summer when the lease is up, but I figure we might as well get some use out of it now.” She looks unhappy to be here, despite the fact that it’s everything Alec ever imagined in his boring real estate-soaked dreams.
“I’m in love,” Alec says, taking in the arched windows.
“Isn’t your boyfriend going to get jealous?”
Alec cocks his head, considering her carefully. They don’t talk about Magnus, but this is at least the second time she’s referred to him. “You don’t seem the gossipy type?”
Maia opens the refrigerator and pulls out a couple of bottles of water and then hands him one. “Alec, when a student here dates honest to god royalty, it’s a big deal. Besides, I’ve taken some art classes with Clary and she pointed you out.”
“Glad to know she still has a big mouth,” Alec mumbles, but he doesn’t mean it. In a weird way, he has her to thank for his relationship with Magnus. He might not have said yes to the date without her, but maybe not. There’s something about Magnus that Alec has a hard time saying no to.
“She was just proud of you,” Maia said, twisting the cap off of her bottle. “She was worried about you before.”
Shame zips down his spine. It’s nothing Izzy hasn’t said to him a thousand times, and Jace in his own backward way. Alec was floundering before he met Magnus, unhappy but unsure that wasn’t the way life wasn’t supposed to be. After all, who else did he have to set an example of a fulfilled life? His parents? In a very real way, Magnus gave Alec the bravery to leave Edom.
He looks down at the water bottle sweating in his hands. “She doesn’t have to worry anymore,” he says. “I’ve found love now.” In more ways than one, apparently.
“I’m not sure I believe in love,” Maia says, and savagely peels off the label with her thumbnail.
The expensive apartment that doesn’t look a thing like Maia, the place that she avoids by spending all her free time in the library and sitting alone, all before Alec came along and butted his way into her life and refrigerator. There’s a story there, and one day, Alec means to earn it.
Alec touches her hand, stilling it. “Then I guess I can believe enough for the both of us for now.”
Something within Alec settles. Life doesn’t exactly get easier, but it feels less like his life is a blender of shit, and his brain no longer makes the sound of angry hornets buzzing trapped in a jar. He texts Magnus throughout the day and calls him every night, much to Jace’s annoyance.
“Next year, we’re definitely getting an apartment,” Jace grunts.
“Who says I even want to room with your smelly ass?” Alec asks, not looking up from his computer screen, watching as it connects. Magnus’ face springs onto the screen and Alec feels warm all over, chest full and aching.
“You love my smelly ass,” Jace is saying, but Alec’s barely listening, eyes glued to Magnus’ image.
“Hey,” Alec says softly and Magnus grins back at him.
“Are you listening to me?” Jace says loudly and throws a sock at Alec’s head.
“Are you still here?” Alec says, twisting around in his chair.
Jace ducks down in front of Alec, momentarily obstructing his view. “Can you believe he treats me like this?”
On the computer screen, Magnus lightly taps his fingers against the desk, bemused. “Though I’ve most enjoyed getting a glimpse into this shining moment of maturity between you two, I really would like to speak with Alec.”
Jace throws his hands up in surrender. “I can tell when I’m not wanted.” He straightens up, crossing the room to his messy, unmade bed, grabs his backpack and a spare change of clothes.
“Not usually,” Alec mutters under his breath, then louder, “You still crashing with Simon tonight?”
“Yeah, he’s got that sweet new system and we’re going to try it out.”
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Jace snorts. “That’s like everything--” he scratches his head. “I guess that's not really true anymore is it?”
Alec says, “Call me if you need me.”
“Yeah, yeah. I can get by one night without you, you know,” he tosses over his shoulder on the way out the door.
Alec feels the ground shift unpleasantly beneath his feet. He’s not longer staid, boring Alec, and Jace and Izzy are all grown up. They don’t need him anymore, but Alec kind of already knew that. Without being a big brother, a student, and a son, Alec doesn’t really know who he is. It might be time to find out and that's the most terrifying thought of all.
Magnus rubs his eyes and Alec takes him in. He looks better than the last time he saw Magnus, but he still seems tired to have just woken up. “Busy day opening building and kissing babies?”
Magnus goes dodgy. “Something like that.” Before Alec has the chance to question him about it, Magnus says. “You look nice.”
“Yeah?” Alec doesn’t know why he’s dissembling. He spent nearly an hour in the bathroom getting ready, which is approximately four times the amount of preparation he normally deigns to spend.
“I thought tonight might be a special night.”
Magnus lifts a quizzical brow. “Oh?”
It’s Alec’s turn to fidget. He’s not sure how to tell Magnus he’d planned a cam show without immediately expiring from embarrassment, but he’s going to try. Alec licks his lips and watches Magnus track the movement with his sharp gaze.
“Yeah,” Alec says, repositioning the laptop and leaning back in his chair. He undoes the top three buttons on his shirt.
“Oh--” Magnus says and sucks a breath in. His eyes go hooded, hungry. “It’s going to be like that.”
“It can if you want it to be,” Alec offers. “I don’t want to pressure you into--”
“Take off your clothes,” Magnus commands, leaning forward, eyes raking down Alec’s chest.
“Oh shit, okay,” Alec mumbles, surprised. He unbuttons the rest of his shirt and lets it hang open.
“Angle the laptop down, I can’t see.”
On the screen, Magnus is craning his neck, trying to get a better view, but computers don’t work that way.
“I should take this to the bed,” Alec says and unplugs his laptop, carefully carrying it to his side of the room and depositing it on the bed.
“Yes,” Magnus murmurs. “I’m going to go lock my bedroom door.”
“Jesus,” Alec says, stumbling. “You couldn't have done that when I was there?”
But the computer screen is empty and all Alec can see is Magnus’ empty room, the chandeliers, the massive bed. He slips out of his pants, pulling off his socks, and stretches out on his bed, naked and trying to arrange himself in the most aesthetically pleasing manner but then gives up. It doesn’t matter because Magnus never wanted artifice.
“I’m back,” Magnus announces and Alec blinks when he sees Magnus’ bare chest.
“You undressed really quickly.”
“I was highly motivated,” Magnus says, pupils blown wide. “Darling, I’ve had the most tragic case of blue balls since you left.”
He looks so aggrieved that Alec has to laugh. “Well, let me see if I can do something about the problem I caused.”
“Can you angle the computer down a little?”
Alec scoots the laptop back and adjusts it. His heart is pounding in his ears, his jaw ticks. “See anything you like?”
“Always,” Magnus says. He lays back on his bed. “Run your hand down your chest.”
“Okay,” Alec says and follows his instructions, propped up on one arm, the other slowly working its way down to his belly. He lets his eyes fall closed and imagines that it’s Magnus’ warm palm against him, Magnus’ skin against his. “What next?”
“Touch your nipples. Roll them in between your fingers.”
Alec follows and inhales sharply.
“I’m lowering my mouth to them, scraping my teeth over the edge.”
Alec’s heartbeat ratchets up until it feels like his skin is electric, a light sweat breaking out over his lip and across his flushed chest.
“Then I’m kissing your neck, licking the edge of your lips, just to remember how you taste.”
“How do I taste?”
“Salty sweat, sweet from some horrible candy, something very--you.” There’s a rustle from the computer, Magnus shifting, probably touching himself. Alec keeps his eyes closed; better to maintain the illusion, better to imagine that Magnus is here with him instead of across the ocean. “I’m brushing my hands down your thighs, kissing your hipbone, then down low on your belly.”
His hand follows Magnus’ words, which wrap around him like a caress. “And then--?”
“Then I press a kiss to the tip of your cock, touch the base, massage your balls –- maybe lower.”
Alec lays back flat on the bed, knees raised and parted as his hand brushes past his balls to circle his dry entrance. He can feel Magnus with him, touching him there, making terrible sleazy jokes and peppering his body with light kisses. He misses Magnus fiercely, overwhelmingly, and he bites his lip. His throat his clogged tight with feelings that he doesn’t know how to express, his eyes are squeezed so tightly shut that it’s nearly painful. He clears his throat. “What next?”
“I lick the underside of your cock from your balls to the tip, then tongue the slit.”
He brushes his thumb over the head repeatedly, just the right side of painful, cock hard and nearly too sensitive for this.
“Then I’m sucking you down, all the way to the root. You can feel the back of my throat as I swallow, squeezing you tight, my fingers digging into your hips, your thighs shaking next to my jaw.”
He licks his hand and palms his dick, gently twisting while pumping it up and down, trying to hold onto the illusion that Magnus’ words are weaving. It’s been too long since he’d felt Magnus’ hands on him and he’s not going to last.
“You’re so hot against my tongue, soft skin slipping against my lips. I want to fuck you after, but I can’t help myself. I’m jerking myself slowly, rubbing off against the bed while I’m pulling off and then swallowing you back down.” Magnus’ voice is becoming strained and Alec can hear the slick sounds of him touching himself as he talks out loud. “When I see you again, I’m going to fuck you against every surface until you feel me inside you for a week.”
Magnus’ words go through him like an electric shock. Magnus is rarely crass but when he is, that’s it for Alec. It’s the thought that he makes Magnus lose control as much as it’s his own palm against his dick that does it. Alec’s toes are curling and he’s coming, shaking apart with it. He hears Magnus let out a soft cry, panting afterward as Alec speeds up, shuddering through his climax.
He wipes his hand across the comforter, knowing he’s going to regret it in about twenty minutes but too lazy and satisfied to care. His body feels loose, relaxed. He peels his eyes open and watches Magnus on the screen. “That was, that was--”
“--yeah,” Magnus says, a dopey grin on his face, sweat gathering at his temples. His hair is mussed, eyeliner smudged. “Why weren’t we doing this all along?”
“Because we’re stupid and I share a room with Jace?”
There’s a long silence and Alec rolls over lazily, expecting Magnus to be sleeping, but he looks pensive, troubled.
Magnus forces a small smile. “Nothing to worry yourself over, darling.”
“I thought we talked about this? I want to know what’s going on with you.”
Magnus rolls over on his back, hands folded over his chest. Alec watches the morning light play over the hollows of his throat as he swallows. “Do you ever feel like you’re a spectator in your own life while other people are deciding your future?”
“All the time,” Alec admits. He reaches out and traces the contours of Magnus’ face on the screen, but it’s just polarized light.
“My father and I are stuck in a game of chess and I’m a pawn.”
“Magnus,” Alec says urgently, “That’s not true.” If he can’t touch or feel Magnus, maybe he can make Magnus feel his words. “You're the king. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate the game.”
Magnus looks at him, eyes thoughtful. “You’re right." He grins, but it looks a little sad. "You make me a better person, you know.”
Alec rests his chin on his folded arms. "The only one that ever thought you were a bad person was you.”
More and more, Alec’s realizing that life does not necessarily make you the hero in your own story. It does not assign you great destiny. It’s up to you to decide the role you play in your life and others’ lives and sometimes the best you can do for a person is to stand back and let them shine, quietly supporting them. Even if it is alone.
He’s got his own story, his own jungle that he’s slowly hacking his way through, a young explorer in uncharted waters. Despite everything, despite the regrets and dumb choices, they’re both doing mostly all right. And it’s that always the way of things –- letting go of what you thought it should be and accepting what is?
Finals are still going to kick his ass, though.
Magnus pauses, then looks up at him, a playful gleam in his eye. “If I’m the king in this game, you know that makes you the queen, right?”
Alec collapses into a fit of helpless laughter. He misses Magnus, but this is okay too.
Alec rolls out of bed and stretches, stumbles to his laptop, hastily put on his desk last night before collapsing back into bed. As predicted, his sheets are a mess and there’s a dried, flaky patch of jizz pulling his skin tight. He’s glad he got up early enough to shower before his first class.
He turns the laptop on, ducking down and grabbing a lukewarm soda. It’ll have to do until he can get some real caffeine. All small appliances have been banned in the dorms since some guys on the floor above him got rip-roaringly drunk and decided to melt a basketball on a hotplate. God, college kids are stupid and they're all paying for it.
He spends a few minutes sipping his drink and mindlessly scrolling through his feed until Magnus’ face catches his eye and he nearly spits out his drink. He leans forward, clicking on the article and scanning with increasing horror.
Magnus, Alec thinks, what the actual fuck have you done?
He jumps on the bed, searching for his phone, eventually finding it tucked between his bed and the wall. It’s the middle of the night in Edom and he doesn’t expect to get a response for a few hours, but he texts anyway, unable to sit back and do nothing.
Alec: What are you doing
Alec: Oh my god.
Magnus: Who knows
Magnus: Taking a page out of your book
Alec mumbles to himself, “I don’t have a book like this. This is not my book, not even my shelf.”
Since Magnus is still awake, Alec calls him and Magnus picks up on the second ring. “Are you starting riots?”
When he answers, Magnus sounds far too amused for someone inciting civil disturbances. “Just little ones, I’m told.”
Apparently, when Alec was getting Magnus to take hold of his own destiny, Magnus heard to make an inflammatory speech about how the Monarchy is a symbol of social division, an outdated institution that costs taxpayers millions in public funds and holds no real executive power. It’s nothing that Magnus hasn’t privately expressed to Alec but to see it made public is wild.
“Did you watch it?”
“No, not yet.”
“I think someone uploaded it to YouTube.”
“Was that someone you?” Alec asks, wedging his phone between his jaw and shoulder, pulling YouTube up on his laptop, and typing in Magnus’ name.
There it is. Jesus.
While Magnus is on the phone, he hits play and watches the prerecorded speech once, then hit replay and watches it again. He pulls up a couple of think pieces and skims them before trying to gather his thoughts. It’s far too early in the morning and his life for this. He is wholly caught off guard, as he suspects Magnus’ father is.
Edom is a tax shelter for the wealthy, but like all rich people, they enjoy being wealthy. Magnus is appealing to their base greed while also championing the working-class. All viable economies are supporting by working-class and apparently, they’re tired of supporting the top 1%-ers. Riots have broken out all over Edom. They’ve been stripped of their power, their voices, for so long that they’re speaking out in the only avenue they have left to them: Edom is burning.
Alec only has one question. “Why are you doing this?” He can’t say why the answer is important to him, just that it is.
“You once asked me what I believe in, do you remember?”
"Yeah." It was a discussion they had while Magnus was visiting Alec's family home.
“And I told you that you made me care about life again. You made me want to help people.”
Alec vaguely remembers that. It was when Magnus was leaving him for Edom because of his father’s untimely death. He wonders how many times fate is going to separate them; he wonders how much work love is supposed to be.
“This is the best way I know to help them. I didn’t say anything that wasn't true, I just said what everyone's been thinking aloud. The vote is coming in on Thursday.”
“This isn’t about your father?”
“I realized when talking to you last night that it wasn’t about him. I don’t serve him and I never did. I’m a prince and I serve my people. Sometimes the best way to serve them is by letting them go.”
And isn’t that the same conclusion Alec arrived at last night?
Magnus pauses. “When you left -- I get it now and I’m not angry anymore. I finally understand what you were trying to say. You’ve got your life to lead and so do I.”
“I feel like I should jump on a plane,” Alec says in a rush. "I doubt I coud help, but you shouldn't be alone."
“No, don’t you have a final today?”
Alec swears colorfully and Magnus chuckles. He's right. It’s the first among many and Alec pushes down the reflexive gut-wrenching wave of terror and despair that the thought of fifty scantron questions raises inside him.
It’s a fallacy of the education system that the culmination of aptitude and learning is reduced to chance and lucky guessing.
But like in tests and in life, you don’t get points for near misses, just the right answers.
There comes the terrifying point in every college students life when you’ve crammed as much knowledge into your engorged coconut that you’re going to, and Alec passed that a solid week ago.
He’s lying on the floor in Maia’s apartment, doing his best impersonation of a starfish, Maia’s head resting comfortably on his stomach. They’re in the patch of sunlight afforded by one of the massive windows, basking in the butter-yellow heat, not unlike lazy cats napping in the afternoon.
“Do you have to do that?” Alec asks. He could knock her off, but he’s just so comfortable.
“Your belly’s so soft,” Maia says, burrowing deeper. Her hair is pulled back into a soft, high bun that tickles his arm. “Makes a good pillow.”
“I feel like there’s an insult in there somewhere,” Alec says. His paper is scattered around them, where Alec gave up and threw it in the air, declaring that he no longer gave a fuck. That isn’t strictly true. He gives many fucks. But he’s exhausted, his brain water-logged with useless information that he will never use outside of the classroom.
He has to meet Izzy later to help her cram for her English Lit final, but that’s not for another hour. Magnus isn’t answering his texts, but he’s hopefully gone to sleep.
“Hey,” Maia says, “there’s a party on Friday.”
“Yeah?” Alec says. He’s not really a party type, but it might feel good to blow off some steam.
“Yeah, and I think there’s someone you might like.”
"Unlikely,” Alec huffs. Despite Maia, he’s not really great at getting to know people.,He figures he and Maia are only friends because no one else will have them.
“God, you big boob, I meant a cute guy.”
“I have a boyfriend.”
“Who you don’t ever see,” Maia points out.
The patch of sunlight is warm, but suddenly, he’s in the hot seat. “That’s not – we talk a lot on video chat.”
“Oh yeah?” Her smile turns wicked. “I assume you have lots of video sex.”
“I never kiss and tell,” Alec says demurely.
Maia laughs again. Alec loves her laugh, loose and easy, but he doesn’t love what she’s saying. Possibly because it’s true. “I get it, you’re not in the market. I just don’t want to see you sell yourself short, waiting years for someone that will always have something that comes before you.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in love.”
“I don’t,” Maia says, rolling over. She pillows her sharp chin in her folded hands, meeting his gaze. Her dark eyes are serious, kind. “But you do. I’m just saying, it’s not a crime to see what’s out there.”
Thursday creeps up on him with the subtlety of a tsunami. It’s his last final in his weakest subject, and Alec’s consumed with dread and relief for it to all be over, not unlike a prisoner heading towards the gallows.
Somewhere out there, Magnus is inciting riots, rebuilding a government. And Alec is here, being a dopey college student, fucking up, and learning what he can. And it’s all in the name of growing up, being the best man, the best partner he can be for Magnus. One day, he thinks. One day, he’ll get there.
“Relax, you got this,” Maia says. “You’ll ace your test, then we can go party like it’s 1999.”
“It’s been a long three days and I’ve slept like, 3 hours,” Maia says plaintively.
“You’ve already finished all your finals, right?” He tries not to let the envy bleed into his voice, but he doubts it works. He would give his left nut to be finished already, but that’s what he gets for scheduling his classes all over the map like a complete dope.
“Yeah, this morning? I’m not going to lie, I cried a little in relief when I handed in the last test.”
“Then what the fuck are you doing still awake?” There’s got to be something better than being crouched down on a dirty linoleum floor with Alec and a bunch of other stressed-out students, hastily trying to cram a semester’s worth of knowledge into the final five minutes. Like sleeping or drinking or getting lovely bamboo rods gently inserted beneath the nails.
“I wanted to be here for you,” Maia says as the TA opens the doors, shoving a rubber doorstop in place to keep them open.
“Appreciated,” Alec says genuinely, “but class is going to start in two minutes. He stands up. “See you on the other side?”
With one final sad pat on his shoulder, she grabs her bag and leaves him to file into the auditorium where Alec settles somewhere in the middle, right knee jangling nervously. The TA hands down the tests, followed by the answer sheet, passing them down the aisle. He grabs the test and scantron and pulls out his pencil, turning his phone off and tucking it away. He’s on his own now.
From the front of the room, the professor asks, “Are you ready to begin?”
“Yeah,” Alec mutters to himself. “Yeah.”
“This is who I was talking about,” Maia says, spinning Alec around. Somehow, Jace talked him into going to a frat party of the buddy of a buddy and Alec dragged Maia along for backup. Unfortunately, Maia isn’t a social recluse in quite the same way that Alec is and she knows a few people here.
Alec actually does know a few people. At least half are related to him, but still.
Alec splashes beer out of his red solo cup and is just the right side of inebriated not to be apologizing and clumsily trying to wipe it up. Hre’s currently hiding in the kitchen, the lousy music and hot press of unfamiliar bodies too much elsewhere. That’s where Maia finds him, trailed behind by a tall blond guy whose hair flops over his forehead just so. “Alec, this is Jack. Short for Jackson.”
“Shouldn’t it be Jax? That’s been the top baby name for a decade. Half of my classes are fulls of Jaxes. I’ve begun to start numbering them off in my head, Jax one through ten,”
“He means that in a less dickhead way than he sounds,” Maia says calmly. Her hand snakes around his back and she pinches the flesh at his waist hard. Alec’s taking a sip of lukewarm beer just then and nearly snorts it up his nose.
Jack reaches past him to the counter and rips off a few paper towels from the roll and dabs at Alec’s damp chin, laughing softly. “Easy does it.”
“Sorry, fuck,” Alec says, embarrassed. He’s not necessarily interested in Jack, but shit, he’s not celibate and Jack is good looking.
“Happens to the best of us,” Jackson says good-naturedly. His eyes are very blue.
“Happens more frequently to me.”
“I’ve noticed,” Jackson says.
Alec raises an eyebrow.
It’s Jackson’s turn to look embarrassed. “I’ve seen you around. We took Eng Lit 101 and Psych 303 together.” At Alecs dubious look, he says quickly, “I swear I’m not a stalker.”
“That’s exactly what a stalker would say,” Alec says.
“I guess we’ll never know then,” Jackson says, grinning lopsidedly at Alec. “I suppose I should wait to show you my taxidermy collection.”
Alec laughs easily and he can practically feel the smugness radiating off of Maia. It’s a deeply unattractive quality.
“But I, uh, noticed you is all. And I bugged Maia to introduce us when I saw you two studying together in the library.”
Jackson’s head is tilted down shyly, his blond hair falling across his eyes, brushing his high cheekbones. He’s more than good-looking. He’s gorgeous and something in Alec’s stomach knots up.
Things with Jack would be easy, Alec can see that already. He’s handsome and super into Alec. They would date through college and med school. Probably get engaged and married a few years later. It is respectable and exactly how Alec thought his life would go.
But he isn’t Magnus and Alec never wanted easy. He doesn’t know what he says to get out of the conversation, but he stumbles through the crowded living room, pushing people out of his way, then the screen door until the cool air outside punches him in the chest like a fist. Alec takes a few deep breathes to clear his head and leans against the weathered brick, head tilted back and looking up at the sky. He thinks of Magnus, of running his hands through his inky black hair, his black nail polish, his lips against Alec’s, and before he knows it, Alec has his phone in his hands and he’s dialing Magnus’ number, despite how hellishly early it must be.
The phone rings four times and Alec doesn’t think he’s going to answer when Magnus picks up, sounding tense. “Alexander?”
“Magnus, Magnus,” Alec slurs, like a real asshole. “I was thinking--”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, it’s so cool,” Alec assures him. “So, I was thinking, let’s get married.”
Magnus sighs and Alec has the uncomfortable feeling that Magnus is rubbing his forehead. But that can’t be right because Magnus is always happy to hear from him. “Finals are over, huh? Imbibing in the name of celebration?”
Surely Magnus can see that the unwise amount Alec’s had to drink tonight has nothing to do with his sudden epiphany. The stars are beginning to spin unpleasantly and Alec closes his eyes. “Yeah, but--”
“How much have you had to drink?”
“I’m not going to lie,” Alec says, “I think I drank half a liquor store, but I’ve never been so clear.”
“Those would serve as brilliantly ironic last words,” Magnus says.
He doesn’t sound amused; he sounds exhausted. It’s all wrong. Alec never wanted to be something else to stress Magnus out. “Magnus, I met someone tonight and it really clarified some stuff for me.”
The silence that follows is uncomfortably weighted. When he speaks, it’s with about as much enthusiasm as one would usually reserve for shitting glass. “I suppose we aren’t exclusive.”
“What?” Alec asks, baffled.
“Did you sleep with him?” Magnus sucks in a harsh breath. “Never mind, I don’t particularly want to know.”
“What, fuck, no,” Alec says, wondering how this conversation is spinning so quickly out of his control. He keeps trying to grasp at the threads of this conversation, but the harder he grabs, the quicker they’re slithering away from him. “I want you.”
“Well, I’m honored you finally figured that out.” His voice is clipped, impatient. “Sleep it off and I’ll talk to you later.”
The call disconnects and Alec is left staring down at his phone and wondering what the fuck just happened?
When he was growing up, Alec would watch dopey movies with Izzy. Chick flicks, dude movies, that’s all silly. There was nothing gendered about love and a happy ending, but what bothered him was how easily everything was wrapped up. A person met a prince, fell in love, and gave up everything that was important to them to flit off and be royalty and live happily ever after or whatever that meant. That’s where the credits would start to roll.
Real life is far more complicated and heartbreaking, dirty and beautiful.
He picks up shifts at the campus coffee shop, watches Clary write the daily specials on the small board, then when she’s in the back, erases enough of the letters to make dirty words. In short, life is back to normal, but it’s not enough anymore. He texts Magnus multiple times a day, apologizes more than once, and thinks about what to say. The referendum is over and the monarchy is abolished. Alec isn’t sure whether to congratulate Magnus, but he can’t help the sick feeling that outcome wanted or not, Magnus was busy watching everything he knew being dismantled while Alec was drinking watered-down beer and listening to awful mumble rap. Magnus responds, but it’s perfunctory. He can tell Magnus is still angry with him, but no angrier than Alec is at himself. Some people can make long-distance relationships work, but it turns out that Alec isn't one of them.
Izzy stops by with Maia. He doesn’t know when they became friends, but it terrifies him.
“How long are you going to stay in this funk?” Izzy asks, leaning against the counter.
“How long are you going to keep mooching drinks off of me?”
“Point taken,” Izzy says sweetly.
Alec’s not really angry. She hardly needs him anymore; it feels good to do this much for him at least. Besides, it’s the prerogative of little siblings to mooch off their big brothers, to demand more than their fair share of attention, to whine and to wheedle. He remembers when she was no more than four, afraid of storms and she would cry and Alec would go into her room and sit on the side of her toddler bed, picking her up, her baby-soft cheeks damp against his neck. He would rub circles on her back and shush her, their mom standing at the door and watching with a complicated expression. Those memories are all the payment Alec will ever need.
“Such a brat,” Alec says softly, sliding her drink across the counter.
Maia places her order and pays when Alec tries to protest, she insistently pushes some bills across the counter. “C’mon, keep the change.”
“Thanks,” Alec says, dropping the change into the tip jar.
“Need to save up to go see your man.”
“That’s a big change from what you said before.”
“Alec, I just told you to look at your options and you did and decided you still wanted Magnus. I just didn’t want you to be like me and think you have to stay with the first asshole you fall in love with.”
“It’s going to take me a lot of tips to save up some money for Edom,” Alec says ruefully.
“Edom?” Izzy says slowly. “Magnus is in California. He didn’t tell you?”
Alec blinks. Their conversation’s been strained, barely speaking, each dancing around what they really want to say, but he’d have thought Magnus would at least tell him he’s in the US.
"No, I didn't know."
"Yeah," Izzy says. "It's all over the news. Why didn't you ask him about it?"
He didn't ask because he didn't think to. Wrapped up in finals and his own existential angst, he forgot. And that's terrible. While he was making coffee and apologizing, Magnus' entire world was shifting and he needed Alec.
Alec, who asked for trust without earning it.
Alec, who promised he would be there for Magnus and wasn't.
"I have to see him," Alec says, coffee forgotten.
Maia asks, “The hell are you waiting for?”
What the hell indeed.
Alec always wondered what happened after the movies. He doesn’t know, but he supposes he’s going to find out.
Alec can’t wait until his shift is over. He grabs one of the pre-wrapped sandwiches from the coffeeshop and hurries back to his dorm room, stuffing his sandwich in his mouth as he weaves in and out of the random buildings that make up his campus. They’re mismatched, some repurposed, some built for the university. It’s a sprawling mess of different architectural styles and eras and it shouldn’t work, it’s damn near impossible to navigate, but it’s part of some higher purpose. There is a shambling sort of grace to it, the campus that has been his home for three years, the site of his sprawling, messy life, but there’s grace to be found there, too.
He chokes down the last of his sandwich and takes the stairs to his floor. When he gets to his room, Jace is out, and Alec feels guilty for the immediate rush of relief he feels. He loves having Jace around, but Jace has already been privy to too much of his romantic life. He shoves down the uncomfortable feeling that they’re outgrowing each other and sits down at his desk.
His first call is to Magnus.
“Why didn’t you tell me you’ve moved?” Alec blurts out as soon as he sees Magnus’ sleepy face.
Magnus looked surprised, one eye cracked open and squinting at Alec blearily. “I’ve only just.” He looks around at a room Alec can’t see. “ I haven’t even unpacked my suitcases. How the hell did you find out?”
“Izzy mentioned it. Apparently, there was an article about your new post?”
“Ah, I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m certain there are many ‘where are they now’ kind of articles--” Aec winces as Magnus continues, “---but in the spirit of helping my country, I’ve become an ambassador for Edom.”
“An ambassador to the US?”
“I’m working out of the Embassy in California,” Magnus says. “It’s very hot and people’s teeth are dreadfully over whitened here.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Magnus is leaning forward, legs crossed, his chin delicately cupped in his upturned palm. “I was going to tell you when I got more details. I don’t even know how long I’m going to be here.”
It sounds an awful lot like Alec just didn’t factor into his plans. He’s trying not to be hurt and he knows that communication has broken down somewhat between them, but this feels like Magnus is moving on without him. “You should have said something.”
Magnus’ face softens. “What could you have done?”
Alec’s beginning to hate those words. They keep repeating over and over in his head, along with the inevitable answer: absolutely fuck all.
What can he do for Magnus? He has student loan debt out his ass, he’s no great communicator. He has a mangy half a room shared with an obnoxious but lovable brother, a laughable amount in his checking account. All he ever had to offer was himself, and that’s all he’d ever wanted in return. He never wanted a prince, or country, or a diplomat. He’d only ever wanted Magnus and still does.
Alec chews his lip. “You have to be honest with me. I love you and I deserve that much.”
“You’re right,” Magnus says soberly. He looks down, his skin glowing in the afternoon light. The white sheets are pooled around his chest. He gives Alec a sickly ironic half-smile, like what he’s saying is faintly ridiculous but upsets him nonetheless. “Alec, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’ve dated a lot of people, but this is-- this is new for me. You're something entirely new. I’m just playing things by ear.”
“Then that makes two of us.”
Alec stays up way too late talking and the next day, Alec feels like a zombie. Despite being mostly on the same page as Magnus, he can’t help that Magnus feels almost within his grasp, but so impossibly far away.
Clary taps his arm while he’s working on a latte and Alec nearly jumps out of his skin.
“Goddamn it, Fray!” Alec snaps, quickly shutting off the steaming machine. The milk is a frothy, roiling mess, hissing angrily and clinging to the sides of the metal pitcher.
“You've been steaming that milk for like, fifteen minutes, dude. It’s probably a thousand degrees.”
Alec looks down at the canister, the singed edges. She’s right and it’ll taste like shit. He sighs and walks it to the back sink to dump the milk out.
Clary follows him back a few minutes later. “Made your drink.”
“Thanks,” Alec says tonelessly. He rinses out the pitcher and dunks it in the bleach water to soak.
Clary bumps his shoulder companionably; she’s about four feet shorter than him so it just about hits mid-chest. “Hey, what’s got you so distracted?”
“Do you think anyone can have it all?”
“Of the menu?”
“No, in life. Do you think anyone can have everything they want without having to compromise themselves?”
Clary’s eyebrows shoot up. “Wow, okay. Deep question before my nine, ten, or eleven a.m. latte.”
“You drink too much coffee.”
Clary ignores Alec’s gentle chiding and says, “I think we can be satisfied with what we have.”
“That’s not the same thing,” Alec points out.
“No, it’s not,” Clary agrees, “and it’s not in your nature to be satisfied. You always want more.”
“I wanted love, my career, and family, but I thought I would have to let one of those things go.”
“I think,” Clary says slowly, knowingly, “that your family will only be a plane ride and a phone call away.”
This whole time, Alec’s been thinking he has a choice to make and putting it off, waiting for circumstance and chance to make it for him. When Alec left Edom, he told Magnus that he had faith that fate would bring them back together if it was meant to be, but he sees now that putting his life in the hands of some nebulous thing is no way to live at all.
He thought he’d needed to grow and learn about life on his own, but who the hell says that can’t be with Magnus? It's just another arbitrary rule like so many set for adulthood. You can’t make your life about another person, but at some point, Alec has to decide whether he’s all in or out. Magnus may not need him – he’s done well enough on his own – but Alec needs Magnus to be happy and that’s perfectly okay.
As Maia had asked yesterday, what the hell is he waiting for?
Alec decides his own destiny.
But first, he needs to heat up some more milk because he’s going to need a hell of a lot of coffee to get through this shift.
Once the decision is made, it's surprisingly easy to move forward. Later that night, with his lamp casting long shadows on the walls, slicing across Jace’s pale back, he does some googling and submits two online applications.
The thick envelope comes two weeks later along with a stern letter outlining the next steps he has to take. He’s running out of time.
Jace hands him the envelope with a pinched expression and watches silently as Alec opens the letter with shaking fingers. His lips are pressed tight, pale and bloodless. “Something you want to tell me?”
“Shit,” Alec breathes, skimming over the acceptance letter.
“What are you doing, Alec?” Jace asks, going very still. Alec remembers the first days Jace came to live with them, how quiet Jace was back before he learned that braying laughter and slick smiles distracted peole from asking too many questions. He reminds Alec of that boy now, eyes gone quietly wounded.
“Jace,” Alec says, dreading this conversation. He sits down on his bed heavily. “I applied to transfer to Stanford.”
Jace sits down on the edge of his own bed, facing Alec. This feels old and familiar; they’ve sat in this same position for years, having pep talks, discussions about life, and Alec has listened, perplexed and a little afraid, while Jace described all the way tits were awesome. It hurts to think this may be one of their last. “Jesus, Alec. For Magnus?”
“You weren’t this upset when I went to Edom.”
“I knew that wasn’t going to work out, but you really mean it this time.”
“I do,” Alec says.
Jace shrugs and gets up to rifle around his closet so Alec can’t see how upset he is. Alec lets him.
After a few minutes, Jace reemerges, hands predictably empty. “I’m going to let you tell Iz. We were going to go to the gym together, so she’s already on her way.”
“Who’s going to buy my sandwiches?” Izzy asks, sounding forlorn. She'd arrived fifteen minutes ago, dressed in leggings and an unzipped jacket, revealing a neon sports bra beneath. Alec had fought the urge to lunge across the room and close her jacket up over her bosoms because she was a grown woman who could dress herself, and he supposed he owed her the same respect he was asking for.
“Jace," Alec answers. “And you’re going to have to take him to the clinic the first time he gets gonorrhea.”
She pulls a face and he presses his palm to her cheek. He hopes she doesn’t cry. He doesn’t do well with crying women, but his baby sister crying will shatter his heart.
Izzy sniffs wetly. "Why are boys so gross?"
"Because we're dumb," Alec says kindly and turns to Jace. “I always thought it was gonna be me, man.”
“Same,” Jace sighs wistfully.
“Hey, it’s still going to be the three of us, right?” Izzy asks. "No matter where we all go?"
They're growing up and moving on, but some things are too important to ever let go of.
"Always," Alec promises.
He tells Maia over breakfast the next morning.
“This is such a stupid idea. Who changes colleges in their senior year?”
She’s not wrong. It’s a monumentally stupid idea, but he knows what he needs to do. There’s a fork in the road at this juncture of his life, and Alec is taking a tractor and razing his straight down the middle. It's something he thinks Magnus would wholeheartedly approve of.
It’s essentially time for Alec to put up or shut up in his relationship, and Alec is breathtakingly bad at shutting his fool mouth.
“Stanford has the Hopkins Marine Station,” Alec feebly offers.
“I’m aware,” Maia says, taking a grudging sip of her tea.
“Good graduate program.”
Maia tips a little more milk into her tea, giving it a stir with a tiny dainty spoon. It’s completely at odds with her patched leather jacket, but many things about Maia often are. “I could maybe look into it.”
Alec feels a grin break out over his face. In a way, he’d worried about her opinion the most. Izzy and Jace agree with him if they think he needs something to make him happy, but Maia tells him the truth, always. It’s what best friends do.
“I knew you loved me,” Alec says.
For once, she doesn’t have a witty retort. She takes his hands and wraps them up tight in between hers. “You better text me when you land in California,” she replies.
Later, on his way back to his room, he texts Magnus. On my way.
The airport is bustling and gray, shiny linoleum reflecting plain walls and harried passengers. Alec feels weirdly calm; he supposed that’s what happens when you’ve finally decided to be honest with yourself.
“Listen,” Izzy says, “I know you’ll be tempted to turn in your leather jackets for cargo shorts and puka shell bracelets, but don’t do that.”
“I don’t think Magnus would let me even if I knew what those things were,” Alec says, mystified. His duffle is slung over his shoulder, but it’s barely full. He’ll get his textbooks once he gets on campus. He’s got his laptop and a few outfits, his grandma’s ugly quilt. Everything else is just weight and he left it.
Jace offers, “Remember that time I experimented with frosted tips and just say no to highlights, man.”
“Who could forget?” Embarrassingly, he’s growing misty-eyed over the time Jace’s hair resembled nothing so much as a bowl of overcooked spaghetti noodles. Alec had just learned about hair gel and zit cream. It was a tragic period in all of their lives and they don’t like to talk about it.
Christ, he’s going to miss them.
Jace claps him on the shoulder, leans close and a says, “If you want to come home, you always can.”
Yeah, but this isn’t his home now, either. He’s wandering somewhere between homes, not really belonging in either camp, stuck in the middle ground between the boy he was and the man he thinks he’s meant to become. But he has a few hundred dollars in a sad checking account, a duffle bag filled with wrinkled clothes, and he has hope. And Alec believes in himself enough to bet on his future rather than his past.
Somewhere out there, Magnus is waiting for him, rings glinting in the sun, and Alec thinks he knows where his home might one day be. Sometimes that’s all you need – the promise of better days, and he believes his future with Magnus is going to be the best.
After a six-hour flight, he staggers off the plane and hits security. It's a new temporary measure since an airport scare last month.
“Purpose,” A craggy man in a uniform asks.
Alec’s exhausted and caught off-guard. “I’m not really sure. I want to help people, but I think I have to help myself first.”
The man looks up at him, stone-faced. “Vacation or business.”
“Ah,” Alec says, embarrassed, “Student. Studying,”
“Fine. Welcome to California.”
Alec collects his boarding pass and ID and turns around. Behind him, Magnus is standing, laughing silently. Alec feels himself flush. “You heard that, huh?”
“Very smooth,” Magnus agrees.
Magnus looks so good, impeccable in a three-piece suit and hair carefully styled. He’s hilariously overdressed next to the bedraggled disembarking passengers. He does it enough that Alecsupposes it counts as a lifestyle choice at this point.
Magnus tucks his hands in his pockets. He looks impossibly handsome. “A woman named Maia called me. She was very concerned. She called you a lot of bad names and said you were her best friend.”
Alec grins widely. He knew Maia loved him.
Magnus continues conversationally, “Then Isabelle called. I suspect she was cussing me out in Spanish.”
“She’s very protective,” Alec explains. People are pushing past him, heading towards baggage claim, but it might as well just be the two of them, alone in the world. He only has eyes for Magnus.
“Then Jace called.” Magnus pauses. “Does he always cry that much?”
“Christ,” Alec mumbles. He knew Izzy had Magnus’ number, but apparently, she’d decided to pass it around so that everyone in Alec’s life could have the opportunity to humiliate him.
“Well, I suppose you’ll be living with me?”
Alec has had some time to think about this. This is where they always fuck up: moving too fast, making assumptions, getting hurt and then not talking about it.
“No, I found a place to live,” Alec says.
“I see,” Magnus says, his voice carefully even, eyes gone shuttered. A muscle twitches in his jaw as he looks to the horizon. There’s a big wall of windows across the side of the airport, overlooking planes taking off and arriving. This is a place of change, where long voyages begin and end, and it’s entirely up to them which one this will be. “Well, I suppose that’s for the best. If we follow the normal trajectory of our relationship, we’ll be engaged by tomorrow and that never seems to work out well for us."
Alec watches with no small amount of fascination as Magnus tucks his feelings away, shooting Alec a breezy smile. He can’t believe he never saw it before. “You’ll let me know what your plans are?”
Alec drops his bag and steps close to Magnus, pushing right up into his personal space. The crowd is thinning, a small respite until the next batch of arrivals. “Stop that,” Alec says. He hooks two fingers under Magnus’ chin and forces him to look up at him. “Hey, no more hiding. No more lying.”
“I have never lied--” Magnus begins to protest hotly, the fucking liar.
“Lies of omission are still lies.”
“How disgustingly fair,” Magnus says, blinking rapidly. There’s something complicated happening to Magnus’ expression, a reluctant vulnerability and hopefulness blossoming that’s painful for Alec to witness.
“I’m going to be here for you. We’re going to go on dates and learn how to trust each other.” Love is free, but trust, Alec’s come to realize, is earned.
“Until life drags us in opposite directions.”
The weather is terrible outside, rain slanting against the large windows, dark gray clouds gathering in the distance. But they’ll do their best to weather the coming storm; they always do. And maybe that’s all that can be done. Try. Be honest. Fight for what they want.
“I hear that relationships take effort,” Alec says, “and I’m ready for it.”
“Well, I’m all for effort,” Magnus says.
“Magnus, Magnus,” Alec says, tilting Magnus’s face up and kissing his cheek, pressing delicate kisses above his eye, his forehead. “I’m going to be here for you. I’m going to be here tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.” He kisses the promise into Magnus’ jaw, his incredible mouth. “I’m so in love with you.”
“I know,” Magnus says, avoiding Alec's eyes. But his hands have come up and are gripping Alec’s arms tight enough to bruise. His lips are parted and he’s breathing fast.
Someone should have told Magnus he was easy to love. Someone should have told him that he was temperamental, hard to get to know, kind, gregarious, occasionally petty, deflected too much, and that he was – all of him – absolutely wonderful. Alec could be that person, and he intends to be.
Alec gives Magnus a little shake. “But quit your fucking lying.”
Magnus looks up at him, dark eyes nakedly hopeful, shining, and a little bit shy. Alec gets the impression that this is perhaps the first time he’s ever really seen Magnus, the whole of him, everything he's proud of and the parts he tries to desperately to hide. And it is all glorious, Alec thinks, cradling Magnus’ jaw carefully, sending up a silent prayer of gratitude to the universe that two dumbasses somehow have managed to stumble together not once, or twice, but three times.
“I could maybe do that,” Magnus says.
It's not exactly a storybook happily ever after, but maybe this is as close as real life gets: It throws some obstacles at you and lets you fashion your own version of a happy ending. This isn’t their end, it’s their beginning, and Alec can’t wait.
“I’m afraid I’m not a very good boyfriend,” Magnus confesses. “I don’t really know who I am beyond an ex-prince and fabulously wealthy. I’m actually kind of a mess. I don’t want you to see that.”
“Show me,” Alec breathes, pulling him close and brushing his lips against Magnus’ soft mouth. “I want all of you.”
Alec will take everything life has to throw at him. He’ll gladly take every last bit of it, even the shitty, hard parts, and be damn grateful for the privilege, so long as he’s standing next to Magnus.