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I'd do anything to have it (but you handed it for free)

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It’s all going pretty well, he thinks.

The charity auction has attracted quite some people, and most of the items they were selling had gotten pretty good bids. They didn’t have much (it was just a uni club event, after all, so most stuff had been donated) but they had managed to attract a lot of generous people who were willing to overpay for the cause. And the dates had managed to attract those who weren’t - a surprising number of people were interested in getting a chance to know some of the club members. The fact that Ragnor had agreed to let them eat for free in his restaurant (a small, but nice thing, good enough to be considered fancy for the university crowd) probably helped, too.

Magnus is one of the last attractions, so he’s not too nervous - they only need a few more hundred dollars, maybe, which they should be able to get by the time it’s over at this rate.

So all in all, it’s going well, and Magnus has a big smile on his face as he gets onstage.

And then he sees her, and he freezes.

She looks every bit like the last time they talked - long hair falling in slow, lazy waves, eyes piercing, and the ever-present sly, cold smile framed by red lipstick. He used to think red was the color of passion, but when it’s on her, all he can see is blood. It almost makes him dizzy, the quickness with which the déjà vu he feels washes over him.

By this point, all that seeing her elicited in him was a disappointed, tired sigh. He almost wished he would still feel something, like pain or hope or even just a spectre of the good things he one day felt for her. Even if they were lies. Even if they would hurt more when she inevitably… At least it would be a dragged-out hurt. Diluted. But this tiredness, this emptiness, it was worse. Seeing her felt like hollowing himself out; like locking his whole essence in a box, until he couldn’t feel a thing, not even the smell of the flowers in bloom, not even his own heartbeat.

“Camille,” he said.

“Magnus,” she answered, and he briefly wondered when her smile started looking so predatory. Maybe it always did. Maybe just having a smile directed at him at all was enough for him at the time.

It wasn’t anymore, though.

“I thought you were better than this,” he sighed, “it’s been who knows how many months-”

“Six months,” she said, checking her nails, looking bored. Then she smiled at him, almost flirtingly, “but who’s counting, am I right, dear?”

Six months since he’d last seen her. Over a year since the break-up. He really thought she had left him alone for good this time, but apparently she was just leaving him alone for bigger chunks of time before suddenly showing up in the coffee shop near his apartment. Magnus knew he shouldn’t be this surprised - he knows she knows where he lives. But it still sent a shiver down his spine, something that feels like being violated, like having a sanctuary broken into.

He sighed again, and at this point doing it felt almost like deja vu. “Right. Six months. I thought you’d have figured out that I meant it by now. It’s over, Camille.”

“Always loved the way you say my name,” she purred, “remember, dear? You’d call me saying, ‘Camille, Camille, I need you’.” Her imitation of his voice was ugly, high-pitched and pathetic. And felt more on-point than it should. “I would drop everything to see you then, remember? How I’d find you crying, sometimes even bloody, and you’d ask me to stay? Whatever happened to that?”

He swallowed. “I don’t need you anymore.”

“So what, you’re just gonna toss me like trash? Done using me, so you’ve moved on?” Her voice sounded too calm for such an accusation. He can still hear it in his mind. It sounds almost like a challenge. She said it like a defense attorney in a courtroom might, devoid of anything but boredom and vice.

Still, Magnus felt the pang of guilt tearing at his chest. And he took it back, he didn’t want to go back to feeling things when he saw her. It was never good.

He got the small mercy of her not waiting for his reply, at least. “So now you’re going around and finding someone else? That Lightwood boy?” her voice laced with disdain at his name, almost snicker, and Magnus froze. She smiled proudly at that. “What, you think I don’t know about your little crush? I know that’s why you left me, dear. That’s why I’m here, to see if you’re done with this little fantasy and can see what you really need. Me.”

“I didn’t leave you for anyone but myself,” he answered, somewhat firm.

Camille made a dismissive gesture with her hand like she didn’t even hear him. “He’s not interested in you, Magnus. I don’t want him to break your heart. I know how hard it is to pick up the pieces. You’re way too sensitive, dear.”

“Alec has nothing-”

“Surely you know that, don’t you? If I hadn’t known that you’d become all greedy and chase after him, I wouldn’t even have had a problem with your friendship. Does he even know about your little-” she gave him a quick once-over, “condition?”

She didn’t give him time to even process that. Of course, Alec knew he’s trans - they’d met at uni’s LGBTQ club, just a little before Magnus started dating Camille. “Didn’t he just, like, finally come out outside of your little get-together? He’s gay, Magnus. You think that now that he’s finally free to,” she made a vague gesture with her hand, “I don’t know, suck some dick or something, he’s gonna settle for, what, some knockoff?”

Magnus felt choked. “You’ve never-”

“I’m different, Magnus. I can handle that. He won’t. I know he won’t, because I know how hard it is. Dating someone who’s- wrong in their body- it’s not for everyone. Besides, I’ve kissed some girls at parties before, when my boyfriends were into it. And I’m straight, so I’ve never had to fight for who I love. But he has, so why would he go through all that and end up settling for that?”

It was the sickening, almost disgusting emphasis on the ‘that’ that sends him snapping. “I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter, because this is not about Alec,” he said, firmly, “this is about me, and you. And it’s over, Camille. I’m not choosing him over you, I’m choosing me over you. Leave me alone.”

“Fine,” she almost growled, and he resisted the instinct to duck. “But when you call me crying because of him, don’t expect me to pick up.”

And that had been it. For- well, over a year now. Magnus is doing better. He has been doing therapy and unlearning all the shit she had put into his head after almost a year in a relationship. He is almost graduating, he is doing fulfilling work for charity, he is ready to become a biochemist and take over the world.

And yes, maybe he did still have a tiny crush on Alexander, even if he knows it isn’t reciprocated, but that is fine. Because the hardest lesson Camille had taught him is that relying on romantic love to be happy is a trap. He doesn’t need Alec to love him, because he can love himself, and live contently with the platonic love he gets from his friends and his found family, and that is fine. He is free from her. His heart, his mind, his reflection, they are all free from her.

How cruel it is, then, that she showed up in a situation where he was absolutely helpless to do anything about it.

Well, that isn’t exactly true; he could tell the organisers of their history - it wasn’t just about him, after all, but the security of everyone involved, considering her, well, history with queer people. They would probably invalidate her bids and escort her out. Hell, if Catarina or Raphael saw her, they would probably do it before Magnus could even open his mouth.

But Magnus is already onstage. And seeing the way she smiles at him, he feels frozen on the spot, like his very instincts went into overdrive when confronted with her presence. And he can’t ruin this - the auction is to raise money for a local, self-run shelter for queer people who were kicked out of their homes. They need it to pay this month’s bills, and the uni LGBTQ Club had agreed to help.

And Magnus has attracted quite a few people - the stylish, funny, ridiculously unavailable (after the whole Camille ordeal, not to mention the Alexander Problem) biochemist who was already well-known in his field even before graduation. No surprise people wanted the chance to go on a date with him- or at least that’s what Ragnor had, somewhat grumpily (but secretly proud) told him. Magnus still thinks there must have been some mistake.

Besides, it’s not like she could hurt him, not from afar-

“A thousand dollars.”

He sees her lips move before he hears her speak, and after she speaks he hears nothing.

A thousand dollars.

That is- so ridiculously out of their range, even Magnus sees the cash dancing before his eyes before he sees his own demise.

He can’t ask them to withdraw that bid. It would help them keep the shelter running for a long while, not to mention be money to help in emergencies.

But that would mean-

How foolish he was, to think he would be free of her.

But how could Magnus face himself in the mirror, if he left those people in need after promising to help them? He is lucky- he had managed to leave his home in his own terms, and even if his father wasn’t, objectively, the best, he was never homeless. He can’t be so selfish.

Besides, what is one date with Camille? He will survive. He’d had plenty of them before. It will probably be bad, but Magnus can handle it. He’s doing better. He knows he won’t go back to her, not after all this time. Maybe a small anxiety relapse, but he will get over it quickly. It will be worth it. More than worth it. He knows he’s strong. He can do this.

But he can’t help the sense of despair and dread that hits him like a punch, and selfishly wish that he could just turn his back and leave, as he hears Maia say, “going once, going twice-”

“NO!” he hears a scream from backstage, and opens his eyes - when had he closed them? - just in time to see Alexander, still looking ridiculously hot in the black suit he wore for his auction, running into view. “No, twice that, I’ll- twice what she just said!” he screams, a little out of breath.

Maia raises her eyebrows. “Are you saying that you bid two thousand dollars?”

He knows Alec is rich - he’s a Lightwood, after all - but he can’t ask that much of him. He’s about to tell Alexander that it’s fine, but his response is so automatic Magnus doesn’t even manage to take in a breath. “Yes! Yes, two thousand dollars for Magnus.”

“Can he even do that?” Magnus hears Camille say, although weakly. She knows he can. This is a charity auction, not some over-the-top antique selling. They’re in a local movie theatre that allowed them to use some old, out-of-use room, for fuck’s sake. No one’s even supposed to put in that much money, which is exactly why Camille had done it, of course. She believed it would go unchallenged, and she was mostly right. She just forgot to take into account Alexander’s hero-ing tendencies. And his stubbornness, of course.

Magnus is almost bracing himself for some ridiculous bid battle, but he can already see Raphael and Catarina grabbing Camille’s arm. Raphael’s hissing something quietly at Camille that he can only assume is not nearly as scary as Catarina’s ice-cold stare.

“Sold to Mr. Lightwood for two thousand dollars,” Maia says, and that settles that.

*

It doesn’t end it, of course. For the rest of the night, Catarina and Raphael had been alternating with following Magnus wherever he went, in a move he was sure they thought was subtle. He didn’t say anything, though, because he was nothing but grateful for it, from the second he turned around after getting off-stage and Alexander had silently sat him down and offered him some water. And even more so after that, when a distinctly post-threatening Catarina and Raphael had showed up with determined looks on their faces. Raphael had left with Alec to take care of the rest of the event for Magnus, and Catarina had simply sat down besides Magnus, and wordlessly put his head on her shoulder.

Magnus didn’t cry, but he felt himself tremble slightly under the strong, yet careful strokes on his hair. Catarina knew exactly how he liked to be comforted, and her grounding touch allowed him to process what had just happened without losing himself, or feeling like he should hide from view.

It felt nice, to be safe.

Raphael had stuck with trying to cover for Magnus, which he was thankful for - Raphael knew Magnus would stress over it, so he just wordlessly covered for him to make sure Magnus would have time to recover. Whenever Raphael passed by him, he would wordlessly nod and tell him that everything was going smoothly. Magnus knew that was his way of trying to take care of him. He would sometimes bring Magnus water, too, and ask him how he was doing. And when Magnus answered “good,” he’d say “that’s all I want,” and tap his shoulder before taking his cup back with him.

Raphael thought he wasn’t good with expressing affection, but really, seeing how much he cared for Magnus was the easiest thing in the world.

Eventually, Raphael had tapped him on the shoulder, easing him back into reality, to tell him that they had managed to wrap everything up. Catarina took Magnus’ hand and led him back to where Raphael and Alec were waiting for him.

After a few more hugs and worried glances, it goes a little like this:

Magnus is reassuring the three of them, plus Maia and Isabelle, that he’s fine. He is; he didn’t have a panic attack, or a crying fit, or anything of the sort. He just felt tired. They’re all still insisting on staying with him, though, so he says that he doesn’t want to be with a lot of people right now. That makes them all nod understandably - even if Cat is still narrowing her eyes - but Alec insists on taking him to his loft. He doesn’t live in the dorms, so it’s a little further away, and they don’t want to leave him alone.

Magnus agrees, if anything because Alexander’s company doesn’t sound half bad right now. He just doesn’t want the- crowding.

So they all leave, and Magnus and Alec are left alone, and Magnus finally gets the chance to thank him, and insists that he’s going to pay Alexander back somehow - he knows Alec only did it for his sake, because he knows about his and Camille’s history, has been there to help Magnus through anxiety attacks more times than he cares to remember, and he’s thankful for that, and for his generosity in saving him from this date, he really is, but he can’t let him do this for him, no matter how many times Alexander insists that it was his idea and that this was not a loan and there’s no need to pay him back, and it feels almost comfortable again, to be exchanging jabs with Alexander as they walk down the block, and he’s thinking something about unstoppable force versus immovable object as the argument keeps going and he’s almost having fun somehow and they turn in a corner and Camille is there.

She’s all nonchalance, dress and high heels and scornful smirk. She’s leaning against the wall with her arms crossed casually before her chest, and jesus, had she been waiting for them?

He only tenses a fraction of a second before Alec does, and suddenly he steps between Magnus and her, position hostile like he’s shielding him. Magnus even affords to spend one (1) second thinking about how tall he is and how nice he looks, before he hears Camille chuckle.

“Oh, relax, Lightwood, I won’t steal your little boytoy. You bought him fair and square, after all,” she says.

“Leave,” Alec answers, and the way he completely ignores Camille’s jabs almost has Magnus swooning. It’s just so Alec, he thinks, to step all over the drama and the mind games like this. Alec is almost blunt in his honesty, and it’s one of the many things that makes Magnus feel so safe around him.

“You’re so boring,” Camille says, instantly taking Magnus out of his daydream. “I just wanted to congratulate little Magnus, here, for finally getting what he wanted. Or, the closest he will get, at least.” When Magnus tenses, she smiles sweetly at him, in a way that tells him this reaction is exactly what she wanted, “I’m talking about the auction money, of course.”

“Great. Now leave,” Alec repeats.

“I second that,” Magnus says, and feels even prouder of himself for speaking up when Alec spares a second to look back at him and flash him a proud, reassuring smile.

“Oh, whatever.” She rolls her eyes, “As you wish. Congratulations again, dear,” she says to Magnus, smiling pleasantly, before turning on her heels. Magnus doesn’t dare believe that it’s over, doesn’t dare take a breath, not even when he sees Alec start to relax as he crosses his arms and mutters under his breath, cunt.

Camille turns so quickly Magnus almost wonders if she has some kind of superhearing. But she just smiles again, looks straight at Magnus - corners of her lips twitching and turning her smile into something else, something that looks like a snake lunging at an unsuspecting rat - and says, “funny you would say that.”

He feels his stomach sink. Not this. Not now. Please-

Alec just looks at her, confused for a second, and Magnus would bless his dumb little heart for not getting her jab if it didn’t give Camille an excuse to keep talking. Sighing like she’s explaining something to a toddler, she explains, “well, I’m not the only cunt here, am I, Magnus, dear?”

He can see Alec’s face morph into something he can’t quite describe, but knows means that Alec understands now. “I am going to punch you,” he says, unbearably calm, like he’s the eye of a hurricane. Then he takes one step towards her.

Magnus grabs him by the elbow, partially because he doesn’t want a fight and partially because he doesn’t want Alec to leave his side. When Alexander turns to look at him, Camille smiles victoriously, turns on her heels again, and leaves.

*

“I’m sorry,” Alec says, “Magnus, I’m really sorry.”

Magnus is quick to dismiss him, a simple wave of his hand all that accompanies his words. “It’s not your fault, Alexander. Besides, you were nothing if not a gentleman tonight. Thank you,” he says, and smiles.

From the first time Alec met Magnus, he has seen enough of his smiles to categorise them all. They are all beautiful, and all special in their own way. There is his content, blissed-out smile from when he takes his first sip of orange juice in the morning - the one he had seen a few times when he slept over at his place. There is his brilliant, contagious smile when he figures out a solution to a problem Alec can barely understand - he’s studying medicine, but even then, it’s not like he knows about biochemistry beyond the basics, and Magnus’ interests are niche to say the least. There is his lazy, satisfied smile in the very rare moments when he allowed himself to let his guard down, something that looks so private and raw. There is his self-satisfied smile when he makes a particularly bad pun, and his delighted smile when Alec can’t help but laugh at it. There is his challenging smile when their little games of Uno get particularly nasty during a sleepover, and his hidden smile when he's teasing Alec and trying to look serious. There is his sleepy smile when he will swear he is not in any way about to fall asleep, right before he will inevitably fall asleep. There are so many of Magnus’ smiles, and he is proud to be able to catalogue and interpret them all.

This one is the only one he doesn’t like.

It’s his tight, everything-is-fine smile, the one that he uses to try and hide when he convinces himself his own problems are too much of a nuisance for others. The one that barely computes beyond the almost fearful, teary look in his eyes. Magnus has the most beautiful and expressive eyes Alec has ever seen, and that makes it impossible for Magnus to lie to Alec, with the way Alec always, always wants to look at them.

He knows better than to argue with him, though. Instead, he just pulls Magnus into a hug, and tries not to think something like “he smells like sandalwood”, because for fuck’s sake, Alec already knows that.

Magnus looks taken aback for a second, like he always does when Alec touches him. It almost makes him feel unsure, the way Magnus’ whole body freezes like a deer caught in headlights when Alec shows him affection, but it always goes like this: right when Alec is about to ask if he wants to be alone, Magnus melts in his arms like jelly, like he can barely stand on his feet. And Alec knows, then, that it’s not about him, or- any of that, it’s about Magnus still being surprised when people care for him, no matter how many years pass and how many people wholly dedicated to him he has.

It cracks the edges of Alec’s heart, but he holds it together through holding Magnus together, embrace tight and hands running soothingly over his back. He can feel Magnus tremble slightly, like he’s stuffed full of emotion and doesn’t know how to let it out.

“I should have punched her,” Alec says, almost musingly.

Magnus shakes his head. “I wouldn’t want that.”

Alec sighs, “you know she deserves it, right? You don’t need to protect her. You owe her nothing.”

Magnus shakes his head again, and Alec’s protest is already on his lips. They’ve had this discussion a million times; helping someone in a time of fragility only to use that against them later is not helping, it’s manipulating. But right when he’s about to say it, Magnus says, voice slightly muffled against his chest, “This is much better than any punching.”

Alec pointedly ignores the way his heart leaps. Hugging Magnus is always a double-edged sword. It feels too nice. “Can’t argue with that,” he says, voice soft like a blanket, and hopes Magnus doesn’t realize how much he means it.

Magnus pulls away right when he thinks it, and Alec freezes for a second, but then he realizes that goddamned smile is still there. Magnus clasps Alec’s arms once. “Thank you,” he says, like someone closing a business meeting.

Alec won’t have that. “You wanna talk about it?”

Magnus sighs. “I just… Hate it.” He feels silly for only being able to say that, but he feels emptied. Not of feelings, because they sure are there, swirling inside of him like seasickness; but of words, not only for Alec’s sake, but for his own.

It’s like he’s disconnected from himself, from his own perception. He has the feelings, but not the tools to really make them his. He feels stolen from himself, and that might be the worst part of the whole thing.

Magnus thanks the gods for the way Alec seems to understand that so easily, not getting frustrated at his stupid words, but rather gently nudging him into talking. He pulls Magnus gently to the couch, sitting him down. “I get that,” he says, calmly, kneeling down in front of him.

His eyes are intense and focused on him, and looking at them feels like watching a storm out of the window. Safe and almost disconnected, but not enough to be blind to its beauty.

“I guess I just… Thought I was free of her,” he says, biting his lip. “I haven’t seen her in over a year. And then she shows up all of a sudden...” He looks away. He knows there’s no judgement in Alexander’s eyes, from experience and rationality as well as emotion. But facing the intensity of his eyes feels a bit too much like facing the intensity inside of Magnus, and he needs to be eased into that. Alexander doesn’t comment or try to force him to look, just waits for him to continue, and he’s grateful for that, too. “And I know she only did it to hurt me, and…. Why? What did I do to her? I don’t get it.”

“You didn’t do anything, Magnus. It’s not your fault.”

“I know it isn’t! I do! I just don’t get it,” he cries, frustrated. “Why does she want to hurt me so much? Why does it work?

He stops for a second, a little embarrassed by his outburst, a little in need of more air.

“It’s taken me so long to- to get over her. To become more than what she did to me. Don’t,” he says, raising his hand to stop Alec’s half-formed protest, “I know that it’s not like that, but it felt like it. It felt like she had changed me forever. Taken me forever.”

He tries not to let his eyes glass over, not to get too deep into the way she made him feel. He doesn’t want to be there again.

“I know I’m mine again.” He pauses. He feels frustrated that his speech only seems to come in these disconnected, short phrases. Usually he’s so good with words; they flow smoothly out of him, and he can easily play with them, make jokes, use them as he wants. Feeling like a child struggling to learn prose only makes his smallness more latent. “I’m not what I was before her, and I won’t be, but I’m something else, something that belongs to me. That exists in spite of her, not because of her.”

He stops, and Alexander smiles proudly. It only lasts for a second.

“But then she shows up,” Magnus continues, and sags so quickly it’s almost deflation. He’s half surprised he doesn’t fly away without direction like a balloon being emptied. “And suddenly I’m so small. I look at her, and I see a version of me that’s just so- weak.”

Alexander reaches out to wipe away his tears. He didn’t know he was crying, but now he can feel the weight on the bottom of his eyes, where they accumulate like they’ve reached a dam. He’s thankful that he only ever uses waterproof makeup.

But Magnus just continues talking, suddenly feeling like he can’t stop anymore. “It’s like regressing completely. I feel so powerless. I shouldn’t be this powerless. Why can’t I just- shake her off?”

“Magnus,” Alexander says, cupping his face gently, slowly. Giving him time to shy away from the touch. Instead, Magnus melts into it. It feels good, grounding, and he needs it. Alexander doesn’t move Magnus’ face in the slightest, but suddenly he’s looking into his eyes again, so Magnus must have. They still look like a storm, and still feel like a shelter. “You’re not weak for being upset. Hell, I’m upset, and I’m not the one who went through all that.” He pauses and breathes, like he’s calming himself down.

It feels almost too easy for Magnus to launch into worrying about him, so he takes a deep breath too. Alexander’s fine. Magnus doesn’t need to feel guilty. It’s okay.

“She designed the whole thing to upset you, to blindside you. How is it your shortcoming that it worked? And even then, you stood up for yourself,” Alexander reminds him. “You told her to go away. You say you feel powerless, but even then, you didn’t cower. You had the strength to stand up to her.”

“I barely did anything,” he protests.

“You did enough. She left. And you’re okay. You didn’t go back to her, or, or feel guilty somehow, you’re just upset that she’s such a monster. That only makes you human, if you ask me.”

Magnus laughs, despite himself. It feels watery and convoluted, like it’s tripping over itself, but it’s still laughter, and it’s genuine. “I suppose,” he says, and even if it’s quiet, his voice feels less small.

“You told her to go away. You stood your ground. You didn’t let her walk all over you. Even if you didn’t, that still wouldn’t make you weak. They’re called defense mechanisms because they work. But you should give yourself more credit for being able to face her, and not fall back. It only proves that she didn’t get what she wanted. You’re still yours. She lost.”

“I suppose,” he repeats, but it’s not mechanical. Tired, maybe, but not in that hollowed-out way he sometimes gets; it’s the kind of tiredness that proves he’s real. “But it still feels so- frustrating.”

“Well,” Alexander says, daring to flash him a small smile. It’s not pitying, exactly, more like tentative, “there’s only so much logic can do, after all. It’s still horrible that she went so far just to hurt you. It’s ok to be upset. We all are upset on your behalf.”

Magnus huffs out half of a laugh. “Thanks. I guess I just… Need to feel it out.”

“We can do that,” Alec quickly says. “What do you wanna do? Talk some more, or just cry, or-”

Magnus manages a full laugh this time. Alexander’s so goal-oriented sometimes, like he’s only expecting Magnus to give him his instructions and then everything will be okay. It’s endearing, how eager to help he is, even when there’s nothing anyone can really do. “No, it’s okay. Can I just- lie down on your lap for a while? And then we go from there.”

Alec smiles at him, and he’s suddenly struck with the realization that he just told Alec what he wanted, simple as that. He smiles back. Alec’s right. He’s not back to what he was.

“Okay,” Alec says, sitting down by his side on the couch and tapping on his thighs invitingly. Magnus laughs again, and lies down without further ado.

*

Magnus didn’t talk much, or really cry, in the end. A few tears rolled down, but it felt more like letting go than being washed over. Natural. Simple. Alexander kept stroking his hair, just as silent, and just as comfortable.

Magnus loves it when Alec pets his hair, the way his fingers thread so carefully in his hair, soft and tentative. Just a brush of his fingertips at first, then, as they both seem to get eased into it, the palm of his hand as well. His movements are short and slow, but somehow intense and strong - which is so Alexander, he thinks. Short and to the point, and somehow manages to express all that it needs.

It also makes him feel grounded, focused on his touch like there’s nothing else. He lets the tension out one sigh at a time, and every time he looks up, Alec’s smiling at him, like he can see all that fills the air in their silence. It makes Magnus feel a little stupid, and like he really, really needs to kiss Alec’s cheek. But he’s very practiced in self control, and he’s not about to ruin what they have.

He does allow himself to lightly caress Alec’s stomach, though. It’s just a little reassuring touch. He’s only returning the affection Alec’s showing him. It’s fine.

He looks up, and Alec’s still smiling at him. He smiles back. It feels comfortable, and he relaxes. He didn’t disrupt the moment. Alexander’s fine with this - he usually is, but then again, Magnus is not sure whether or not Alec knows about his inconvenient feelings for him, and he doesn’t want to push it too far. The moment feels so perfect, the kind of thing that goes well with soft music and a slow, almost lazy fade-out in movies. He can already feel it registering as a memory, of comfort, of happiness, of Alexander’s little grin, so private and beautiful.

His phone buzzes.

He moves his hand from Alec’s belly to retrieve it from his pocket, and just like that, the moment’s gone.

It’s a text from Raphael. I know I already asked you this, but are you okay? it says. Magnus can’t bring himself to be annoyed, not with the almost boyish way he struggles to express his worry.

Yeah, he quickly types, I’m okay.

It’s not a lie.

*

Eventually, he feels good enough to get up, and at this point it’s a little too late for Alec to go back to the dorm. And, if Magnus is being honest, he doesn’t want him to.

‘I’m gonna get your mattress,” Magnus says, “then I’ll make something to eat. Thank you for staying,” he adds, almost an afterthought.

“I can make us something,” Alec says, and Magnus grimaces.

“I’d rather not eat something completely terrible after the day I’ve had,” he answers.

“Hey!” Alec answers in outrage, “It’s not always terrible. I can cook something simple, it’ll turn out fine,” he crosses his arms over his chest. Magnus would feel a little bad for making him so defensive if he didn’t still have vivid memories of the time Alec tried to make them gnocchi.

How was I supposed to know you can’t use whole wheat flour, he had said. By looking it up, Magnus answered. Who the fuck wanted to use whole wheat flour, anyway? They already were college students, hadn’t they suffered enough?

“Come on, you have spaghetti in here, don’t you? I’ll just make us some real quick while you set up the room. Put some tomato sauce, nothing elaborate. Cross my heart,” Alec insists. Magnus pretends to think it over for a moment just so he doesn’t get any ideas.

“Okay,” he says, “but I’ll be the one to season it. I’m not about to eat some bland salt-and-pepper only shit. I grow my own ingredients at home for a reason.”

“Fine,” Alec says as he opens the cupboard to get the pans, and Magnus doesn’t miss his smile.

*

The pasta turns out okay, even if it’s a little past al dente. Magnus’ a pretty okay cook, too - it’s pure biochemistry, after all, no matter how much everyone rolls their eyes or how much Raphael starts mumbling that cocinar es un acto de pasión when he says it. Besides, he likes trying out new combinations, mixing up the ingredients and the seasons to make new flavours and textures; he feels like a wizard making a potion. The difference between him and Alexander is that he doesn’t decide to experiment for the first time when he’s cooking for other people.

They eat in silence, and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, although admittedly he’s a little lost in his own thoughts. Alexander even manages to run to the sink and wash the dishes before Magnus remembers to do it himself, which shows that he’s really off his game tonight. Still, he’s tired, so he limits himself to tsking in Alexander’s general direction and letting him finish up.

It’s worth it, too, for the way Alexander smiles at him as he cleans, towel draped over his shoulders. And if Magnus’ heart feels like it’s beating more softly than usual, almost carefully, then that’s for him to sort out. And if he smiles back and looks at him for a little too long, he can probably pass it off as tiredness. Alexander doesn’t seem to mind it, either, because he just looks back at him, until Magnus reluctantly looks away and heads to the bedroom to change into his pajamas.

It’s both good and bad that they’re comfortable enough for Magnus to stare at him without it being too weird. On one hand, he doesn’t want to ruin his friendship with Alec - on the other, he probably will if he keeps this going.

Alec kind of proves his point by showing up looking almost sheepish just a few minutes afterwards, so Magnus heads to the bathroom and locks the door to take his makeup and hair gel off while Alec changes. When he comes back, Alec’s already lying down on the mattress Magnus put on the floor - he does have another bed frame, but the only mattress big enough to fit Alexander’s offensively long legs doesn’t fit in it, so the floor it is.

He climbs into bed and turns off the lights.

The air is thick with stillness for a second, and Magnus almost thinks they’ve been encapsulated in time. It’s almost unbearable, but in a way that settles within him and makes him feel powerless to break it.

“So,” Alec says, “looks like we have a date.”

He’s always admired the way Alexander cuts through these barriers, the ones that feel so oppressive to Magnus, like he hadn’t even noticed they were there.

Maybe he really hadn’t. Maybe they only exist for Magnus.

“It appears that way, yes,” he answers, playing with his earlobe, and Alexander chuckles.

“So, you wanna go? I mean, we won’t be getting any chances to eat at such a fancy restaurant again anytime soon. Might as well enjoy it, right?”

Magnus turns on his side to look down at Alec. Their eyes meet so fast Magnus is taken aback for a second, realizing that Alec’s gaze hadn’t flickered when he turned. But when he looks back, Alec is looking at the ceiling, and he can feel the awkwardness settle in his bones. Flinching when he sees Alexander’s eyes like he can’t even handle that. No wonder Alec felt uncomfortable. “I mean, you will,” he says.

Alec turns to look at him, frowning. “What?”

“Your other date,” Magnus clarifies. He almost laughs at the way Alexander’s frown only deepens. He’d throw a pillow at him, but he doesn’t want to move that much, “You were auctioned too, remember? Admittedly, I wasn’t paying attention, but even if he doesn’t meet your ever-growing standards, you’ll still get free food.”

Alexander has never been on a single date in all of the time Magnus has known him. Magnus had asked him, once, whether he had ever considered that he might be just asexual or aromantic, but Alec had looked so confused by the suggestion Magnus kind of felt like an idiot. Uh, no he had said, flabbergasted, I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m just. Very sure that I feel, hm, attraction. For men. So.... And that had been that.

Alec just laughs. “Izzy won it, then promptly ditched me and decided to take Meliorn instead,” he huffs at their name, shaking his head.

“Oh, stop pretending you hate Meliorn, they’re nice,” Magnus chides.

“I’m not saying I hate them, I’m just saying she should choose her big brother once in a while. She has three partners! Three! I can’t compete with that. My family is falling apart,” he says dramatically.

Magnus rolls his eyes, “you love Clary and Maia.”

Alec huffs. “Maia, maybe. Clary? Not so sure.”

“Cut the crap, Alexander, I know you were the one who gave Clary Isabelle’s number.”

“I will neither confirm nor deny.”

Magnus laughs, and when he turns to look at Alec again, his smile is just as bright. “Fine, maybe I think Clary is good for her.” Magnus is about to nod, but then he adds, “too good! Now she’s gotten confident and is building a whole harem and doesn’t care about me anymore! Soon I’m going to graduate, and without seeing each other constantly at uni, she will forget who I am!”

“You have lunch together every Saturday,” Magnus points out. Alexander and Isabelle were attached by the hip. If the dorms weren’t gender-separated, they would probably still be living together, and Magnus was pretty sure they actually would once she graduated. They acted like those weird, stereotyped twins you see on TV sometimes.

“And yet, when she has the chance to take her big brother to a nice dinner in a fancy restaurant, she immediately ditches him.”

“You wouldn’t want to go on a date with your sister,” Magnus points out.

“No, but I would want to fight over who can eat more breadsticks and pretend I’m surprised when it turns out it’s her.”

Magnus can’t help but laugh. “Well, I suppose we can do that, then,” he says, “I’ll even let you win, as thanks for saving me tonight.”

“No you won’t,” Alexander answers, sunnily, and every bit like he wouldn’t have it any other way, “but I will win anyway, of my own merit.”

Magnus grimaces, and does throw the pillow at him this time. It’s worth the moving for the way Alexander laughs, delighted, in that way that makes Magnus feel like he just earned a prize. Alec could be very closed off when he wanted to - Magnus could still remember the day he had first joined the Club, eyes bouncing around the room like he expected the cops to burst in at any minute - and Magnus treasures the fact that he could get Alexander to be silly and carefree like the joy that it is.

Once he calms down, he turns to look at Magnus again. His eyes are so hazel and so soft. “So, we’re gonna go?”

Magnus reminds himself that Alexander is not asking him out. “Of course. Why waste the opportunity?” he says, very casually, like he isn’t about to go into Pining Overdrive, and Alexander smiles at him. “Now give me back my pillow,” he says.

“Don’t think so,” he answers, but does return it when Magnus starts swatting in his direction.

*

It doesn’t take long for Magnus to fall asleep after that - it never does, really. He’s an early-sleeper, early-riser kind of guy, and tonight has been emotionally loaded to say the least.

Alec is not an early-sleeper, early-riser kind of guy. More like the “overthinking everything you’ve ever done at night” kind of guy.

Don’t get him wrong, he can be up early when he needs to, but he’s never quite gotten the whole “sleeping early” part down. And, even though the night was also emotionally loaded for him - with all the hard work setting up the auction, then the despair after seeing Camille, the anger, the heartbreak of seeing the way she still affected Magnus - this usually meant that he would be less likely to sleep, not more.

He rolls over on the mattress for what feels like the hundredth time. Did Magnus find it weird that he was staring at him? He really didn’t mean to. He had just turned to ask Magnus something and then- forgot. Magnus’ eyes had looked so lively then, a true contrast with the tiredness clearly written all over his face - which Alec was glad he didn’t try to hide for once. They were just so brown, and shiny, and beautiful, and crinkled at the corners just so, and he felt drawn in. He always did.

But the last thing he wanted was to make Magnus uncomfortable, especially on a day like this. He knew Magnus wasn’t interested in him - Magnus hadn’t been interested in anyone after Camille, and he had mentioned to Alec more than once that he felt like he needed a break from relationships, particularly in the first few months post-breakup. And he had made his peace with that. Even if it didn’t stop the way he felt, because - well, what could? Magnus was amazing and fun, and felt like freedom and smelled like sandalwood, called him Alexander and every time they talked Alec felt happy.

That’s what it narrowed down to, really. Magnus made him happy.

So he wasn’t about to ask him for more, not when being with him already felt like taking flight, and he definitely wasn’t going to put Magnus in another difficult position if he could prevent it.

Now, if only he could do something about his own difficult position.

His arms feel too big and empty, and his pillow smells like sandalwood. Magnus’ soft silky sheets feel too light, and he wants a kind of weight on his chest that doesn’t feel at all like the one he currently has.

He wants to be able, to be allowed, to be wanted to draw Magnus closer, drape his arms around his waist and appreciate the fact that they’re the perfect height for his chin to rest over Magnus’ head. He wants to be lulled to sleep by his scent. He wants to kiss the back of his neck and hear Magnus giggle in his arms, soft and happy and glad to be there with him. He wants to stroke his hair and hear the way he sighs and see the way he melts. He wants Magnus to give him a kiss after teasing him for his snores. He wants to pepper kisses all over his face for no damn reason, and hug him, breathless, when he smiles. He wants to say “I love you”. It feels so ready, so right, on the tip of his tongue. I love you. Lighter than a feather, natural as air in the way it’s so unmistakably real. It’s the truth the world is built on, like water, like earth. So simple it can’t be anything but grand.

And it’s locked up inside of him.

He lies down and thinks it, but he can’t say it. It might be worse than the rejection itself - the way this feeling feels caged inside of him, thrashing and screaming and somehow still resigned to its trap.

He looks up and Magnus is facing him, face almost falling off the bed, looking peaceful and safe and calm. It’s too close for comfort.

Too far for comfort.

Alec rolls over again and tries to ignore the ghost of sandalwood in his nose.

*

When Magnus gets up for Fajr the next day, Alexander is still fast asleep, his little snores deep and slow enough to almost lull Magnus back to sleep. One of his hands is wrapped around his own belly and the other is outstretched in the direction of Magnus’ bed, falling from the mattress into the floor. Magnus almost snaps a picture and makes a meme of him instead of "god" in that one Michelangelo painting, but thinks better of it. He doesn’t want Alexander to think he’s some creep watching him sleep, or something. Besides, he looks too adorable for Magnus to risk waking him up.

So he opts to get up, offer his prayers, and make them breakfast instead.

*

Alec wakes up to the sound of his own stomach grumbling, and a musical laughter that follows immediately after.

When he opens his eyes, Magnus is in front of him, holding a tray with breakfast. Alec’s usually pretty grumpy in the morning, but he can’t have a foul mood when Magnus is smiling at him like that. Especially if there’s food involved.

“Orange juice, strawberries, and toast. Burnt to a crisp, since, if I do recall correctly, that is how you like it,” Magnus says, sunnily.

He takes it back. He absolutely can be in a foul mood. He groans, “will you let it go? That was, like, a year ago.”

“Not until you admit that you fucked up the toast,” Magnus sing-songs, his tone not changing in the slightest.

“I wanted it burnt that day,” Alec counters, “I just never wanted it burnt any other day. It’s a specific mood that strikes me very rarely.”

“Well, in that case, best be prepared, don’t you agree?” Magnus answers, even as he slides the second toast that was on his own tray to Alec’s plate. That one is perfectly brown, just a hint of butter spread evenly, exactly how Alec likes it.

Alec doesn’t comment on it. This has been a part of their morning routine for a while now.

Well, not that he sleeps over at Magnus’ every day or something - it’s just that when he does, Magnus does that. Maybe part of the reason he doesn’t admit he burnt the toast without meaning to - Magnus’ toaster is very complicated, okay, it wasn’t his fault - is because he likes that little inside joke of theirs, the easy rhythm of their little routine. It’s simple and easy and expected, and Magnus always laughs when Alec makes his excuses.

Magnus sits besides him on the mattress, and they eat.

He breaks the burnt toast in little pieces and leaves it to a very happy Chairman Meow as they leave for class.

*

The fact that Magnus’ apartment is so close to campus means they can afford to have a slow morning, and is one of the few things Magnus has to be grateful to his father for. He has no idea what he would do if he had to live in the dorms - the idea of being in the girls’ dorms was humiliating, and of being in the boy’s dorms, terrifying. At this point, Magnus can pay rent for himself - he leads his own team in pharmaceutical research for quite a big company - which is good, because it means Asmodeus can’t use that to demand Magnus’ presence in his painfully boring board meetings. But still, if Asmodeus hadn’t helped with rent, he might have had to give up his scholarship, and would have never gotten to this point: walking calmly with Alexander through the halls of his building, with enough time to spare that Alexander could walk him to class and go to his own in another building without a problem. Alexander was adorably slow in the morning, which meant he walked through the halls rather than marched through them, and listened to Magnus speak with a dumb little smile in his face that Magnus shouldn’t love as much as he did.

It was funny that he seemed to smile so much in the morning when he hated it so much. Maybe it was just that he wasn’t functioning enough to keep his sour facade.

The first thing they see when they get to Magnus’ classroom is Izzy - who, unlike Alec, is as energetic in the mornings as always. As a (future) forensic pathologist, she has a lot of classes with both Magnus and Alec, even if she’s a year behind them - she’s just that smart, plus she has a pretty convoluted schedule that Magnus will never understand how she manages to balance with the rest of her life.

“Big brother. Magnus,” she says, a delighted little emphasis when she gets to his name, almost like a tease, as she goes over and hugs Alexander. His smile turns even softer then. There’s definitely something about the mornings, Magnus thinks. “How are you?” she asks when it’s Magnus’ turn to be hugged, looking up at him with these worried, shiny eyes of hers.

“I’m fine, dear,” Magnus answers easily, “the crisis was averted, no need to dwell on it.”

Alexander huffs, grimacing, “Her very existence is a crisis.”

Izzy elbows him lightly, and Alec looks at her like she just stabbed him. “You’re still allowed to be upset. The fact that she even tried that at all is sickening.”

“I suppose,” Magnus muses, “but it’s not surprising. She hates being left behind. I think she needs to prove to herself that she still has the upper hand.”

“By stalking her ex years after the breakup like a weirdo?” Alec asks.

Magnus is kind of pitying Izzy’s elbow. “By showing that she still has power over me. When just her mere presence paralyzes me, she knows she still holds the power, and that’s what she needs. To feel in control.”

“You still won, though,” Alexander says, and both Magnus and Izzy look at him, surprised. “By being okay, by asking her to leave. You’re proving that your inner strength outdoes her destructive force. You,” he says, putting a single finger in Magnus’ chest for emphasis, “are winning, and that’s why she’s so desperately terrified.”

Magnus is speechless for a second. He can feel the air stuck between his lips, a soft puff of surprise. Then he smiles, looking up at him. “Thank you,” he says, and even though his voice is small, he feels whole.

Alexander smiles back, and for a few seconds it’s just Magnus, the never-ending hazel, and the corners of Alexander’s lips. Then Alec coughs and says, “right. I should probably get to my own class,” because other people are already starting to get into the classroom.

Magnus blinks, and if he didn’t know any better, he’d think Alexander’s morning slowness was getting to him.

“Right. Have a good one, Alexander.”

“Bye, big bro,” Izzy says, eyes glinting with mischief.

Alec waves at them, and leaves.

*

Heard you ditched your own brother for Meliorn, Magnus texts her instead of paying attention to class.

Well, I wouldn’t want to steal him from you, she shoots back almost immediately, which speaks volumes on just how boring Mrs. Herondale’s class is. Magnus and Izzy are not exactly model students, but you can’t keep the kind of grades they do if you don’t know, at the very least, how to keep a good slacking-paying attention balance. But they both already know all of what she’s saying, so there’s that.

Very funny, he answers playfully. He’s never really told Izzy about his crush on Alexander - that would be awkward - but she figured it out anyway, which isn’t exactly surprising.

He couldn’t complain, though. She never told Alexander anything and kept her teasing strictly for when Alexander wasn’t there. She is a good friend. Although I am curious to know why Meliorn. I’d think fancy dinner dates are more of Clary’s thing, he continues.

Yes, well, Clary and Maia have this cooking class they’re taking together every Saturday, and I’m not allowed, she says, and Magnus tries his best not to laugh. It is a smart move. so it’s only fair that I get to take my other partner instead. Kicked out of my own triad’s date night. Unbelievable.

I am weeping at the tragedy that is your love life, he answers, and hears her snort beside him.

I’m just saying that the least I deserve is to have my own date night with my beautiful, beautiful, beautiful partner. They just got a sidecut and let me tell you, she sends him a bunch of chef’s kiss, clapping, and 100 emojis. Magnus can’t argue with that. If he were into the whole open relationship thing, he’d definitely want to date Meliorn as well. and it’s gonna be fun! We’re both gonna try the foods with the most unpronounceable names and drink our own weight in wine. AND you and Alec can have your own dinner night. We made our reservations for Saturday night, so you make yours for another night and you can romance in peace. This one is followed by a single winking emoji, and Magnus grimaces.

Oh yes, Alexander and I plan on romancing very hard. We’ve made bets over who can eat the most breadsticks.

Izzy sends him the eye-rolling emoji. Then, right afterwards, I suppose it’s important to know how much your partner can fit in their mouth.

“Ew,” Magnus says out loud.

“You have a problem with intracellular digestion, Mr. Bane?” Mrs. Herondale asks him, raising an eyebrow.

“Not at all, ma’am,” he answers easily. Not other than the fact that he’s known this since first year. Of high school.

“Good,” she answers, and goes back to writing on the board.

When he looks down again, there’s another message already waiting for him. Don’t go all prude on me, it says.

I’m not. I just think it’s disgusting that you made a joke about your own brother getting a blowjob.

I didn’t make a joke about my brother, I made a joke about your crush. Very different

This may have escaped your attention, but my crush and your brother are, in fact, the same person.

I have no idea what you’re talking about. My brother is called ‘Alec’. Your crush is named ‘Alexander’. Completely different people.

You’re very good at compartmentalising, he notes.

Thank you, she answers.

He turns to his notebook right in time for his phone to light up again.

Besides, Alec does deserve a good blowjob, too. Only the best for my big bro.

Ew, he writes.

*

Contrary to Magnus’ previous theories, Mrs. Herondale’s class does end eventually, and when he and Izzy head out, Alexander is already there waiting for them.

He always comes to wait for Izzy after this class, since the two of them have the next one together. Magnus doesn’t get why he needs to come all the way to the biochem institute when they are going to head back to the medicine building anyway, but he supposes it’s just part of their siblings thing.

Then again, he wouldn’t know. He’s an only child, and his father had hit him more times than he had hugged him.

Not that he hit him often. It’s just that there were even fewer hugs.

“Magnus,” Alexander says, smiling.

“Alexander,” Magnus answers, not quite smiling back.

“Hey, big bro,” Izzy says from behind him, and Magnus barely hears his small Izzy in response, but does see the way he looks almost shocked when she links their arms together and smiles up at him, like she doesn't do it every time. Magnus giggles a little, and Alexander looks at him like he’s just been caught dancing alone in his room, which only makes him giggle more. He’s too adorable.

“What?” he asks, almost defensive and definitely a little flustered.

“It’s just, your face,” Magnus answers, “if she weren’t your sister, I’d think you were scared of her.”

“He should be,” Izzy supplies. Alexander rolls his eyes.

“I am very scared of her. Anyone who wears actual heels to class is, at the very least, insane,” Alexander shoots back.

“That’s one way to look at it,” Magnus says, “another way is, if she’s going to suffer for a degree, might as well suffer for beauty too. Two in one.” he points at his own makeup at that, and shoots Alexander an almost self-deprecating smile.

“I really don’t believe in that,” Alexander says, quietly.

“Me neither, but it’s the best attempt at rationality I can make.”

Alec hides his following laughter behind his hand, and Magnus flashes him a proud smile.

Izzy, on the other hand, looks indignant. “You’re really gonna make fun of me while in full makeup and hair gel?”

“These aren’t uncomfortable,” Magnus argues, “besides, I do it to express myself, not for beauty. And since I’m trans, you can’t argue this point without sounding insensitive, so I win,” and flashes her his most annoying, shit-eating smile. He hears Alexander snort.

She looks unimpressed. “And the skin-tight pants?”

“Ah,” Magnus says, and Alexander full-on laughs this time.

He’s saved from looking unwitty by the sight of Dr. Garroway walking down the corridor. “Well, never let it be said that the lack of bells left me at a disadvantage. Bye, you two!” he says, sprinting down the corridor to another classroom before they can reply.

*

“You’re gonna see each other at lunch, Alec, there’s no need to watch him leave until the very last second. I swear, when you two start dating you’re gonna be like these insufferable couples that keep eating each other’s faces between every damn period.”

He grimaces, and pointedly ignores Izzy’s when. “Don’t ever say that again,” he deadpans. He still has nightmares from Kurtis-and-Amanda and the time he almost had to touch them in order to get to class. It’s like these people think they’re on Titanic or something. Everyone gets it, you were apart for 50 minutes. Jesus Christ.

“I mean, you two are cute, so if anyone can pull this off without being disgusting, it’s you.”

“You see, I think the problem with the world is that every one of these couples had a friend to tell them that.”

Izzy laughs in that particular way she always does when Alec makes a joke that isn’t directed at her - delighted and with just a small hint of surprise. It’s gotten rarer as Alec’s jokes became more frequent, but it’s still a sound he very much enjoys.

“And speaking of you and Magnus, what about that date?” she says in her typical teasing and nosy tone, a sound he very much does not enjoy.

He conveys that through a grimace. “It’s not a date, we’re going as friends.”

“Yes, I’ve heard about your advanced flirting techniques. Breadsticks, Alec? Really?”

“Well, he was the one who said he would do it. Were you grilling Magnus for information about this?”

“Very subtly, I promise,” she smiles at him, and he doesn’t believe her at all.

He huffs and begins to walk. They have a half-an-hour window between Izzy’s class and the next one, but he still pretends to be very focused on getting to the medicine building on time. Izzy is unbothered, and just keeps talking as she follows him.

“Seriously, Alec, why not take this chance? It’s gonna be nice,” she insists.

“There’s no chance to be taken,” he deadpans.

She rolls her eyes. He doesn’t see it physically, but he does spiritually. “Stop trying to close off to me, you know it won’t work. I’ve had years to get used to it and you are out of practice,” she points an accusing finger at him. He sighs, and stops walking.

“I mean it, Izzy. If I was looking for an opportunity to tell him how I feel, then yes, this would be it. But I’m not, so we’re gonna eat breadsticks and keep on with our lives,” Alec says, crossing his arms.

Izzy looks like he just threatened to stab her, and somehow still less bothered than she should. “Come on, Alec. Don't you want him to at least know? Hiding doesn't do you any good, big bro," she says, in a way that would make him annoyed if she weren't staring at him with those big shiny eyes of hers. They always look like such a tragedy. Alec can't help but want to comfort her, even if this isn't about her at all.

"I'm not hiding. I'm telling you about it. I just don't want to tell him. He doesn't want a relationship and it's the least I could do to respect that."

"It's not disrespectful to feel, Alec," she says, holding him by the arm and all but forcing him to look at her tragedy eyes. "And even if he didn't like you back, don't you think he would like to know he's loved?"

"He knows he's loved," Alec argues. That much is true. Magnus might have his bad days and even trouble dealing with displays of love, but he knows he's loved, and he's been relearning that for a while now.

She sighs. “You know what I mean, Alec. What happened to your whole speech about how if you ever got the chance you’d romance him and how you didn’t get how Camille would not take her chance to treasure him like he deserved, and-”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” Alec is not blushing, “it’s different now that I know that’s not what he wants.”

“They’ve been broken up for over two years, Alec. Magnus hasn’t said anything about whether or not he still thinks he isn’t ready. You don’t know how he feels about it now.”

“I’d still rather not assume.”

“And yet you’re assuming.”

She raises an eyebrow at him. He stares at her. Her eyebrow keeps raised. He keeps staring.

“Look, just go to the date, enjoy the whole candlelit table and flowers thing, have fun, and see what happens. Give yourself a chance,” she says, giving up before he did for once. He knows it’s for his sake, but he’s still gonna pretend it’s a victory. “Worst case scenario, he still doesn’t want it, and even then, he’s not gonna break. And you are going to be respectful and move on knowing you said how you felt.”

“We’re gonna be late to class,” Alec says.

Izzy lets it go.

*

Alec and Magnus are having lunch the next day - one of the few days in the week they both have enough time to - when Alec puts his tray down in front of Magnus, sits down, and says:

“So, when do you wanna go? On the date, I mean.”

“And a good day to you,” Magnus answers.

Alec rolls his eyes, “We’ve talked this morning.”

“Did we? I seem to only remember you grumbling.”

Alec has the grace to look sheepish. “Sorry. I didn’t sleep well.”

That makes Magnus pause, fork still halfway to his mouth. “Are you okay?” he asks. He knows Alexander has a tendency to overwork himself, which Magnus really hates because it forces him to be a hypocrite and tell him not to. But it’s not even the end of the semester yet, and even if Alexander is grumpy in the mornings, he usually manages to sleep okay at least.

“Yeah,” Alexander answers nonchalantly after swallowing quite a big mouthful of pasta, and then proceeds to not elaborate.

Magnus raises his eyebrows at him, loudly.

“I promise I’m fine,” he says, corners of his mouth tugging up in a smile, the way they always do when the smile is showing despite himself. It always makes Magnus smile, too, and for a moment they stay like that, forks still hanging in the air, shy smiles whispering at each other.

“So, the date,” Alec finally says after a while, and Magnus snaps back to reality.

“Oh, yes, yes. Uh, I think I’m free the whole weekend? How about, huh, Friday night? Does that work? You don’t have any classes on Friday night, right?”

Alec scowls. “After the Mr. Aldertree - sorry, doctor Aldertree - fiasco? Don’t think so. I’ve learnt my lesson.”

Magnus laughs, “No offense, Alexander, but I honestly have no idea what you expected.”

“I expected a guy who’s done groundbreaking research in his field to have a modicum of common sense and teaching skills.”

“In this economy?”

“And also not have an ego bigger than the state of Alabama.”

In this economy?

Alexander huffs, but Magnus can see the mirth in the corners of his eyes. “Fine, so maybe I’m an idiot. But I’m never an idiot in the same way twice.”

“Ah, an exercise in creativity, I see.”

Alexander looks like he would be throwing something from his plate in Magnus’ direction, but there’s only pasta in it and throwing a single spaghetti in Magnus’ face wouldn’t have the desired effect. It’s a very specific look.

“Still, I’ve learnt my lesson. No more Friday night classes.”

“Okay, so.... Friday night?”

“Yeah,” Alexander says with a small smile, “Friday night.”

*

FRIDAY night, huh? says a text that Magnus gets from Izzy that night.

At the risk of sounding cliché, can I pick you up at 7? says another one, from Alexander this time, not five minutes later. Magnus would have needed to remind himself this is not a date, if Alec hadn’t sent, the restaurant is closer to yours and it’s easier if we go together.

Magnus shudders at the thought of waiting for Alec alone in a fancy restaurant full of white snobs. Yeah, good thinking. He answers. Then, 7 sounds lovely.

Ok

Magnus rolls over on the bed, not knowing what else to say, and resolutely doesn’t think about how that sounded awkward and strained, and how a full night of having to remind himself Alec is not taking him on a date is going to be torture.

*

They don’t get to see each other the whole friday, which - is not unusual, actually. Magnus has 2 different lab classes on friday, so before the classes he’s always doing last minute studying, and after them he’s always chatting with Dr. Garroway. His love for lab classes is cute, really, and Alec loves the way his eyes light up when he talks about it. He just hates that he doesn’t even have the time to have lunch with him. And Alec has a pretty tight schedule, so he doesn’t have time to go and pay him a visit - which, look, is fine, it’s not like they’re attached by the hip.

But on that particular friday, it has him feeling nervous when he gets to Magnus’ loft, like it’s his wedding day and he hasn’t been allowed to see his future wife all day - which is ridiculous. He’s gay - and he doesn’t know what to expect.

Well, except he totally knows. Magnus is gonna look beautiful like he always does, probably in something silky-looking, his favorites. They always look expensive enough to fit just about anywhere - he’s probably gonna go for burgundy, his comfort color, which is great because it really suits him like no other-

tux… . e do..., he thinks when Magnus opens the door.

“Hello, Alexander,” Magnus says, all of his usual grace. The rings on his hands look smaller than usual, and his eyes are smoky and drawing all the attention when you look into his face.

tumx, Alec thinks, a little wonkly.

(It’s not really a tux, of course. Those are expensive and might be a tad much. But it’s a good suit that draws attention to his broad shoulders and his narrow hips, brings out the grace in his movements and makes his waist look perfect for Alec to slip his hands on, and that’s enough for him not to be able to tell the difference)

he has…… arm his brain supplies, right before he processes that Magnus is looking at him worriedly. His head is tilted to the side slightly, like a cat’s, and jesus christ, how is he so adorable?

“Alexander?” Magnus tries again, waving a little like he’s scared Alec suddenly lost his vision, “are you alright?”

“Fiiine,” Alec says, but he’s not sure whether he’s talking about himself or Magnus’, hm, ensemble.

Magnus looks at him like he doesn’t believe him, which is frankly offensive. He’s alright! More than alright. In fact, he might be dying!

Come on brain, think them thoughts, Alec tells himself, mentally slapping his own face. “I’m fine,” Alec says. “You just look very…” he makes a vague hand gesture, then realizes Magnus might actually be stupid enough to think he means it in a bad way, “you look stunning,” he finishes, and stubbornly looks directly into Magnus’ eyes as he says it. It’s worth it for the way Magnus flushes just a little bit, corners of his mouth twitching involuntarily as he looks himself down. He’s so beautiful, especially like this, when he’s pleased and unafraid to show it, happy and safe.

“Thank you, Mr. Lightwood. You look rather dashing yourself,” Magnus teases, doing that little head thing he does where he bobs it slightly a few times and perks up. It’s secretly one of Alec’s favorites, despite the fact that it usually means Magnus is teasing him.

“Can’t go wrong with a classic suit,” Alec answers, doing a little twirl.

Magnus laughs as he finally closes and locks the door behind him. “You’d be surprised,” he says, then extends his hand to Alec. “Shall we?”

Warm, Alec’s brain supplies one last time when Magnus jokingly interlaces their arms.

*

“No breadsticks?” is Alec’s first comment when he sees their table. Magnus resists the urge to elbow him.

“I’m afraid we don’t serve these here, sir,” the waitress answers, in the tone of a person who’s expecting another to throw a tantrum, and is but slightly inconvenienced by that. Magnus can’t help his small wince of sympathy, and Alexander looks appropriately sheepish.

“Oh, hm, no, that’s, that’s no problem,” he rushes to say, “I just kind of, hm, assumed, I guess. Sorry, hm,” he flails his hands around a little, and Magnus hides his smile. The waitress doesn’t, pleased and amused.

“That’s quite alright. You gentlemen make yourselves comfortable, and when you're ready to order, just call for Helen.” she smiles, leaving them to each oth- to their menus.

“This one is yours,” Alec says, handing his menu to Magnus.

Instead of taking it, he frowns. “What do you mean?”

“It’s the halal menu,” Alec explains, pointing at the small symbol on top. “I guess when Ragnor heard about the reservations he made sure to have it ready for you.”

Magnus feels the best kind of warm. The old man was a true softie. “That’s really thoughtful of him,” he says. He really didn’t have to. Magnus could have easily picked something that was allowed, and it’s not like Ragnor’s restaurant worked with a lot of haram foods anyway. But he appreciated the thought, deeply.

Even if he couldn't help but look at the drink menu for a bit. He's not really considering it, of course. Magnus has gone without drinking his whole life - he's not about to start now. But sometimes, well, he just wishes that he could take a little liquid courage, is all.

Having Alexander smile up at him from the other side of a candlelit table like they’re sharing a secret is definitely one of these times.

Alec raises his eyebrows when he sees him eyeing the drink menu. “We’re drinking today?” he asks, not unkindly. Magnus knows Alexander would never judge him for his faith.

“I was just curious," Magnus lies casually. "Wanted to see what kind of fancy drinks the old man has. Might not get another chance, after all." He knows his voice is way too smooth to not be a lie, but Alec only chuckles. “What?” he asks.

“Well, you probably could afford to come here if you really wanted to. You’re friends with the owner,” Alexander points out, “and besides, I know you earn well.”

Magnus scoffs, “look who’s talking.” Mr. I’ll Waste Two Thousand Dollars To Stick It To Camille.

“You know I don’t want to depend on my parents,” Alec answers, truthfully. And yeah, Magnus knows that. But-

“I’m sorry that you spent so much money on me,” Magnus says, not knowing what else to do to express just how grateful he is that Alexander did it, and at the same time, how guilty he feels about it.

“I’m not. You’re worth it,” Alexander says, the softest punch Magnus’ gut has ever taken.

He almost chokes, but when he looks up, Alexander is looking straight at him, with those intense, sincere eyes of his. It feels almost like a challenge, but somehow like they’re also on the same side. He opens his mouth.

“Are you gentlemen ready to order?” Helen asks, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. Magnus jumps, and she smiles at him like she’s going to pretend she didn’t see it.

Alec lets out a little “yes, hm,” and gestures vaguely at Magnus. The waitress makes no comment on his special menu. Alec finishes his order with “and to drink, a glass of wine, please” and Magnus smiles slyly when Helen leaves.

“Oh, we’re drinking today, I see,” he says, a little pleased with himself. Alexander might drink, but he's never been big on it, and Magnus doesn’t think he can forget his face when he first tried vodka.

“Hey, why not? Gotta make it count,” Alec says, shrugging a little exaggeratedly. Then he looks at Magnus and adds, “besides, trying something new can be good, sometimes. New beginnings and all that.”

“Famous last words,” Magnus laughs.

Alec makes a face at him. “Isn’t that what you’re always telling me to do?” he challenges.

“Me? Never,” Magnus shakes his head, mock-serious, “I like you just the way you are,” he finishes, not as mock-serious.

Alexander smiles brightly at him, and suddenly he can’t bring himself to regret saying it.

Good thing he doesn't drink. Just a few minutes into this, and he’s already running his mouth.

As if summoned by that thought, Helen appears by their side, bottle of wine in hand. She puts the smallest bit of wine in front of Alec's glass, and waits. "Hm," Magnus starts to say.

“Oh, no, no, let me,” Alec grins. “My mom loves doing this,” he says when Magnus raises his eyebrows, and he knows from Alexander’s wicked smile that he’s in for a treat. The waitress bites down a smile as she gestures for him to continue. Alexander nods solemnly and raises the glass. “You need to check it against the light, to make sure that it, hm, lets you see the light,” Alec explains, “then you shake the glass a little, slightly, like this,” he says, his long fingers gripping at the base as he swishes the wine, “and then you smell it,” he takes a sniff. “Yup, wine,” he adds, and this time both Magnus and Helen do laugh. “Then you taste it and say a fancy adjective at the end,” he takes a little gulp. “Effervescent.”

Magnus almost doubles over. “That’s your fancy adjective? Effervescent?”

Alexander looks way too pleased with himself, and Magnus feels a little mellow. So much for not being allowed to get intoxicated, Magnus thinks. Alec gestures to his glass, “it’s pretty good, thank you,” he says to Helen, and she smiles as she serves him, properly this time.

Magnus raises his own glass to him - this one filled with a simple lemonade. “Well,” he says, “to new beginnings.”

“To new beginnings,” Alec says, a little strained, and their glasses clink together.

*

Alec is not very resistant to wine.

He should have known. Neither is his mom. He still has very vivid memories of that one time he had to carry her from an italian restaurant after she drank a single glass of wine, giddy and chuckling and unstable on her feet. Izzy was very scared.

(So was he, a little bit. Maryse had always been a straight line; double edged, stable and to the point. But he knows, now, that he likes her better when she isn’t.)

He’s not quite that drunk. He’s pretty sure he can walk. The food also helps - Maryse had left without eating anything that day. But his mind is foggy and his tongue is loose and he’s leaning just a bit too much forward. And the scariest part is that he likes it, a little bit.

Alec has always hated feeling like he’s losing control - he likes his mind clear and sharp and attentive. But there’s something about this that just feels right - him relaxed, not overthinking, looking at Magnus exactly as much as he wants to. It doesn’t even feel unfamiliar, really - being here with Magnus, lightly touching the roses placed on the table between them, fingers twitching to put them in Magnus’ hair. He knows roses aren’t his favorites - he’s a jasmine guy, which is absolutely fair and wonderful and beautiful and honestly Magnus is right. Alec knows the reason is that they remind him of his mom, but Magnus would have to be blind not to know how beautiful jasmines look next to him. They’re both gracious, delicate in a way that doesn’t hint at weakness. On the contrary, their vulnerability is as obvious as it is hidden, a beautiful treasure, a faint smell, a cacophony of secrets lying in the simplicity.

“Flowers suit you,” Alec says musingly, still twisting the flowers delicately between his fingers. He would never hurt them, after all.

Magnus chuckles, and Alec makes a face. It’s unfair that he looks so much more composed than Alec does. Sure, it's his own fault for deciding to drink when he knows Magnus won't, but then again, Magnus’ walls have always been thicker than Alec’s. Especially when they are together.

Well, that’s not exactly true - he knows Magnus allows himself to show sides to Alec that he doesn’t show to most, particularly after Camille. Alec knows that Magnus’ trust is a treasure, and a rare one at that, and he marvels at having it, even if just to look at and admire.

But there’s always something that seems to be holding back within Magnus, something like fear when they’re around each other. He hates the idea that he makes Magnus uncomfortable in any way, but he doesn’t know how to help it.

Especially if the reason is the one he thinks it is.

He hates the idea that the way he feels is what makes Magnus hesitate so much around him, but he can’t really hold it against him.

Magnus finally speaks, his voice carefully removing the thoughts from Alec’s mind like they’re a small animal. “Flowers remind me of home,” he says. Alec almost says me too, but there have never been flowers in his mother’s house, much less in his dorm. “My next door neighbor when I was a kid was Balinese. Every day I would wake up and feel the smell of her incense burning, the flowers she left for Vishnu at her doorstep. When my mom was sick, she helped take care of her, and me. The flowers protected my mom, helped her pass easily,” he muses, “that’s really all I could ask.”

Alec instantly sobers up. “Well, I’m glad that you had her, at least. And the flowers,” he says, heartfelt. He hates the idea of Magnus being alone through that. He knows what his mom meant to him.

Magnus smiles at him. “Yeah, I can’t complain.” His hand reaches out to touch the same rose Alec’s fingers have been playing with, and for a split second, their fingers brush.

Alec doesn’t move for a second, caught up as he is in how much he enjoys it, but Magnus does. Alec suppresses a sigh and tries to backtrack. “I don’t mean it like that. I just meant- I’m glad you had that comfort.”

“I know,” Magnus says.

*

Magnus is not very resistant to- well, this. He feels a little jealous. Alexander is the one who's drinking, but Magnus feels like he's the one out of his depth. Alexander just looks a little more retracted, a little more musing. He’s almost afraid that Alec is bored, with the way his eyes seem to zero on Magnus like he’s deep in thought and barely aware of his surroundings. But he knows Alexander is just - thinking. What about, he sure as hell doesn’t know.

But Magnus feels giddy and giggly and maybe even nervous, and he envies Alec, just a little bit, for not feeling like he does right now - like he’s bubbling inside and needs to calm down and watch himself before he says something stupid. And Alexander is just right in front of him, talking nonsense about flowers, and looking beautiful in the intimate light, and at least Magnus can thank his giddiness for being a damn good mood breaker, because otherwise it would feel like they were having a moment.

As it is, though, he can just about remind himself that their relationship is strictly platonic.

“Shut up,” Alec says, pointing an accusing finger at him, but he can’t quite wipe the smile off his face, “you know I’m not big on drinking.”

“Well, so do you, and yet you decided to do it anyway,” Magnus points out, hiding his chuckle by taking another bite of his food.

“Well, like you said. Might not get another opportunity to try this again. It's totally not my fault," Alec counters.

“Uh huh,” Magnus says, “and I suppose that plain vodka Izzy offered you in that party was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, too.”

“Oh my God, you promised to let it go-”

“I did no such thing.”

“You did. On that very same day.”

“Well, breaking a promise is only wrong the first time.”

“How is that true in any way?”

“I mean, it’s been a few years. You already know I won’t let it go.”

“It wasn’t even that bad!”

“No, but the face you pulled-”

Magnus laughs just at the thought of it, even more so when Alec makes a sour face at him.

“I had never tried it! I didn’t know it would taste so-”

“So what?”

Alec makes a face. “Alcohol-y”

“You didn’t expect alcohol to taste like alcohol?”

“I thought the point of making a drink was that it would taste like something edible! You know, so you can get drunk without having to go through whatever that was.”

Magnus laughs again, loud and carefree. “It’s plain vodka in a plastic cup, Alexander, not a cocktail.”

“It’s a damn lie, that’s what it is.”

“I don’t think it counts as a lie if no one ever pretended that vodka tastes good,” he counters.

“Izzy did! Izzy definitely did! Hell, Maia too-”

“And you trusted Maia?”

Alec looks defensive. “Well, Meliorn too-”

“And you trusted Meliorn?

Alec stops and looks at him with wide eyes. “You are right,” he says, like the truth shakes him to his core, “I’m an idiot.”

Magnus laughs again, and some white guy in a nearby table shoots him a look for being loud, but at this point, he finds that he doesn’t care anymore.

*

A few glasses of water later, Alec and Magnus are walking back to Magnus’ place, the cool night air helping sober Alec up.

"That was fun," Magnus says. His tone sounds like laughter, and Alec can't help the smile that blooms on his face. Not that he would have any reason to fight it. "I know we only went as friends, but… It's been so long since I've last been on a date. I'd missed it."

"Really?" Alec asks. He doesn't stop dead in his tracks, or trips over his own feet, falls on his face and smashes his teeth into his skull, dying instantly, but it's close. His pace lowers considerably.

"Yeah," Magnus answers, giving him a look that perfectly conveys that Alec is being weird. But Alec doesn't really care, because he knows that, and also he feels like he's close to a breakthrough. His whole body is buzzing with anticipation, like an idea is about to be born.

None of that must be showing in his body language, he thinks, because Magnus starts to cower, like he's afraid he's done something to scare Alec off. That’s what snaps him back into reality, and thankfully he’s faster than Magnus’ hiding tendencies.

"I thought you didn't want to date anyone. After Camille," he says. Not overeager, not demanding. Just curious, conversational, giving Magnus room to answer without feeling pressured.

He does hold his breath, though.

Magnus seems to muse for a second, which unknots something that sat heavily on Alec's belly - he doesn't want a pre-fabricated answer, so he's glad Magnus is actually thinking it over - and uses the ribbon to make a thousand others in his chest.

"I didn't," Magnus says. Then, after a small pause, "I couldn't. After everything, I felt like- I couldn't trust anyone. Couldn't trust myself," he emphasizes. It's something Alec kind of admires, how Magnus always thinks over his words, tries to express his feelings in the most accurate possible way. Sometimes Alec feels like words get the best of him. But Magnus handles them carefully, like they're precious, and dangerous. Like someone who wants to be understood. "To be with someone, when I knew I could- let them treat me like that. I know it's not my fault," he says quickly, raising a hand to interrupt the ghost of a protest from Alec, "but I knew I needed time. To heal. To fully understand what she did, and what what she did did to me. But… It's been a while now. I've found that I trust again, when that seemed impossible before. And that I know what I want. And that I can have a relationship, maybe precisely because I don't feel like I need one," he plays with his earlobe a little, the way Alec knows he does when he feels like he's spoken carelessly, "that's not quite right. What I'm trying to say is that I trust myself now, to be a part of a relationship, and not under it."

Alec nods, a little dumbly. He’s not really holding his breath anymore, but he feels like it is captive anyway. "Do you want to?" he asks, the words leaving his mouth like a gasp.

Magnus stops then, and his eyes only meet Alec's for a second before flickering down. "Yeah," he says, stillness embedded in his tone, "I want to."

Just like that.

They’re both quiet for a second, but Alec doesn’t feel still. He feels like something inside of him is taking flight and singing, like there’s a rush inside of him, like suddenly his body is flaring to life. The smile that blooms on his face then is slow, but not because it’s tentative, but rather because it is being savoured.

"It's a shame then, that I didn't take you out on a real one."

Magnus' eyes widen. "What?"

"Well," he smiles at Magnus, a little sheepish, but with an edge of something else tugging at its corners, "I had a good setup to ask you out, is all." He ruffles through his hair, a little nervous. "Not that I think you'd necessarily go with me, I mean. Just. Could have used the opportunity. If you wanted to."

"I didn't think you'd want to," Magnus admits. He's not more wide-eyed than before, but there's something about his surprise that just swims in the brown of his eyes, clear as day, and as alluring to Alec as always.

"I want to. Been wanting to for a long time," he says, in lieu of something like are you SERIOUS? because when he tells Magnus that Magnus is, well- everything, it's gonna be with prettier words, and after the simpler parts have already been established.

Magnus looks flabbergasted, but manages out a "me too," quiet and full of wonder, as he searches Alec's face. Not like he's looking for something, but like he's mapping it, committing it to memory.

Alec feels like something just burst between them, an explosion of colors, of smoke, of perfumes, like the essence of a carnival, wonder and happiness and life. And yet, they're so still. They bask in it, letting all the dancing happen in the way they look at each other.

Alec reaches to cup his face, and for a second it feels like he’s tainting something sacred. Then Magnus melts into it and smiles at him, and he feels like god with his creation at his fingertips.

He can’t do much but stare, and Magnus just stares at him right back. There’s a softness in Magnus’ eyes that Alec is sure is reflected in his, but there seems to be a distance that won’t allow them to meet. The air between them feels heavy, like a piece of rubber keeping two ends of electricity apart. It crackles at the edges, but feels powerless, stuck, unmoving.

“Let's have another one then,” Alec whispers, like he’s afraid the noise will shatter their touch and keep them apart forever. “A park. At night. Just the two of us, the moonlight, the flowers around. What do you think?"

"I'd like that," Magnus admits, in that tone of his that feels naked, that slips off all of Alec's defenses in its simplicity.

"Good," Alec says, making up his mind. "Let's go then. Right now."

Magnus barely has the time to blink before Alec grabs his hand and leads the way.

*

"You know, I really didn't expect the night to turn out this way," he says, almost musingly, legs kicking up slightly on the bench. It’s a beautiful night, even with the inevitable dull in the stars and moon from the city’s lights and pollution; there are no clouds, and the soft silver light that falls on their joined hands on the bench makes the whole thing look almost ethereal. Magnus usually likes the silence, but right now it feels like without words to keep them grounded they will be swept away. Which he really doesn’t want. He rather likes the way Alec’s looking at him, playing with his fingers absentmindedly and just radiating affection in that grand way of his. It feels almost weird to bask in it.

"Me neither," Alec answers, and it sounds like a confession.

There’s a moment of silence, peaceful and musing, and then Alexander startles from whatever daydream he seemed to be having. “Wait. This doesn’t have anything to do with what Camille said that day, does it?”

It takes Magnus a moment to understand what Alec means, and then he almost falls over the both of them in his haste to send that thought away. “What? No! I swear, this has nothing to do with Camille. I wouldn’t do this to you, and I’ve been pining for you far too long for it to be-” he is interrupted, half by Alec’s confused expression, half by the startled laugh that seems almost punched out of him.

“Sorry,” Alec says, seeming as surprised by his outburst as Magnus is, “It’s just- that’s not what I meant. I meant her comments about the whole trans thing,” he clarifies. Then groans, “oh God, she wasn’t talking about the money at all before that, was she? That bitch-”

“Of course you’d worry about my self esteem first,” Magnus mumbles.

“Oh yeah, because you did so different.”

He really shouldn’t feel so up for an argument when Alec raises his eyebrows at him, challenging and sarcastic, but he does. “Well, excuse me for not immediately guessing you were worried about my ex’s transphobic comments,” he says. Then he sighs, “but- not really, I suppose. I mean, I know you’re not like that. Although I can’t say it never crossed my mind on bad days, either. Mostly, I just didn’t think you liked, well, me.”

Alec looks at him like he’s just said that he thought dicks were placed under the armpits, so he feels the need to defend himself. “And you’ve never shown interest in anyone!”

“Yeah, anyone that wasn’t you.”

Magnus pauses. “Well,” his hand hovers between them, an aborted gesticulation whose meaning even he doesn’t know, “I didn’t know that.”

Alec huffs, “and here I was, thinking that I was making you uncomfortable. Even Izzy told me to take it down a notch!”

That one is knew, Magnus thinks. “That doesn’t sound like Isabelle.”

“Well, it was more like ‘stop wasting all your energy in pining and use it to ask him out instead’, but I wasn’t gonna do that, so, you know, that’s basically what she meant.”

Magnus doesn’t know whether to burst out laughing, make an offended face, or frown, so he’s sure his face is doing something really weird right now. If Alexander notices, he doesn’t comment on it, but his eyes seem too soft for someone who has.

“I can’t believe Izzy knew all this time,” he mumbles, instead of addressing all the other parts.

Alec looks offended, “hey! She’s my sister! I tell her this stuff. Well, not that she needed me to, but, you know.”

Magnus laughs. It’s funny how, despite the sense of unrealness and stillness that’s still settled between them, it seems so easy to be talking to Alec about their feelings. It feels like any other natural conversation between them, like one of these late night sleepover talks when he could barely process what he was actually saying. Warm and comfortable and safe. “That sounds like Isabelle. She knew about me, too,” he says, “I guess I should be thankful that she didn’t tell you.”

Alec’s whole being softens at that. “She’s a good friend,” he says, looking intently at their joined fingers.

“She is. But I’m still not sure if I’m all that thankful,” he’s only half-joking, but when his eyes flick from said fingers to Alec’s face, he finds that he can’t resent anything that brought them to this.

“Well, I am. I’m glad we got to do this in our own pace.”

Magnus can’t argue with that. “I suppose,” he says, looking away.

He feels Alec’s hands caressing his hair slightly, and can’t help but turn to look at him. He shouldn’t be surprised by the way Alec looks at him - Alexander’s never been anything if not honest, and he’s always known that all the tenderness in the world could easily fit into his eyes. But it still takes his breath away, the warmth that they radiate, the fact that right now it’s just for him.

He feels humbled, and so, so lucky. It fills him to the brim, and when he takes a breath, the air between them feels renewed, and incredibly light.

“Magnus,” Alexander says, and his hand comes to rest on Magnus’ cheek again, a reedition of a few moments ago, when he had filled Magnus with wonder just as full and just as easily. “I’m glad we’re here.”

“Me too,” he breathes out, easy as truth.

They kiss, and it feels like redemption.

*

“Oh, shut up,” Magnus says, bumping their shoulders together, and if it was supposed to be a form of retaliation, well, Alec’s smile should tell him he didn’t succeed. All it served was to remind him that they were holding hands, which Alec was absolutely ecstatic about. Even more contact sounds like the opposite of a problem to him.

He raises Magnus’ hand and kisses the back of it. Magnus freezes instantly, and he feels a little sheepish. “Too much?” he asks, Magnus’ hand still almost touching his lips. Still held in his.

“No such thing,” Magnus says, easily. It always gives him a little whiplash, how quickly Magnus recovers from these shocks, but he knows Magnus is being sincere. It’s right there, on his eyes. “I don’t think ‘too much’ is a term anyone would use for your side of this,” he flails his hand around slightly, “for lack of a better word, relationship.”

“Relationship sounds great,” Alec says.

Magnus smiles at him, small and private.

“You’re not too much,” he adds, almost an afterthought.

His smile disappears, but there’s something brighter in the corner of his eyes, and Alec can’t say he minds. He kisses the back of Magnus’ hand again. “I want you just like this, Magnus. I’ve had plenty of time to know that I love every part of you.” He knows he might be coming off too strong, but he knows Magnus is insecure about this, knows how many times Camille told him he’s too loud or too bright or too whiny or too - everything. Everything Magnus was, she wanted to erase, like it would make him better. He doesn’t want him to think he needs to stop being for Alec to like him. He likes it when Magnus is.

And if coming off too strong is the price to pay for him knowing that, it’s worth it.

But if the way Magnus is smiling at him right now is any indication, he thinks he’s coming off just perfect. It’s not a feeling he knows very well. Or, well, that’s a lie - he knows it very well with Magnus. But everyone else seems to think he expresses himself too bluntly, too simply, too harshly. One time he was even told he had “the emotional vocabulary of a child” - one of the weirdest insults he had ever heard.

But Magnus liked that. Magnus knew what he meant and didn’t add new meanings to things he never said and understood exactly what he meant. It was a breath of fresh air, to just say, and be understood.

It’s always so natural, with Magnus.

“Well,” Magnus says, “glad we cleared that up.”

Alec can’t help it. He laughs.

“Yes, well, I think we had enough misunderstandings already.”

“Like I said, shut up,” he huffs indignantly, “there’s no way I could have known-”

“Oh my God, Magnus, are you serious? I’ve never been able to conceal a feeling in my entire life-”

“That’s a lie and you damn well know it, Stoic Lightwood-”

“How is it a lie, everyone noticed-”

“Well, if that’s the metric we’re gonna go with everyone noticed my crush as well.”

“I have an excuse! Two excuses! You told me you didn’t want to date again-”

“That was two years ago!”

“Well, you didn’t take it back!”

“Well, I thought by this point surely I wouldn’t have to-”

“Humankind has spent millenia trying to develop accurate and understandable language, and every time you don’t use it, you spit in its face.”

Magnus laughs loudly - a bark that seems to be almost punching its way out of him, ungraceful and sudden, one of his favorite Magnus sounds - and, way more gracefully, spins so he’s in front of Alec and pulls him by their still linked hands. He takes a second to look at Alec, as if asking for permission, so Alec beats him to it.

And just like that, they kiss, a sloppy thing that loses its rhythm in the constant interruption of their giggles, their focus more on the bright newness of this kind of touch than on the actual kiss. The back of Magnus’ neck is hot and smooth under Alec’s hand, his buzzed hair prickling at his skin and making him feel like it’s caressing him back. Magnus melts into it, the way Alec knows he always does when his scalp is touched, but even with this knowledge he can’t help the wonder that overcomes him. Finally, he’s allowed to do this with no what ifs in the back of his head. It’s just them, being.

He opens his eyes slowly, savoring everything that comes into focus - the corners of Magnus’ lips, tugging up; the soft glow that Magnus’ skin gets at night, brown and beautiful; Magnus’ eyes, so honest and bright. The small market on the background, the one where Magnus always goes to buy his herbal tea and is friends with the entire staff.

“Magnus,” he says slowly, “aren’t we a few blocks past your loft?”

Magnus blinks. Once, twice. His eyes refocus slowly, like there’s something swirling behind them. Alec forgets what he was talking about.

“Ah,” Magnus says, “looks like we are.”

They look at each other.

“We should probably go back,” Alec says.

“We should,” Magnus agrees.

Neither of them move.

Alec’s hand is still on Magnus’ neck, he notices. It still feels warm, and if he brushes his thumbs against Magnus scalp, he can see his eyes fluttering for just a split second.

Magnus breaks first. “You can stay over,” he says.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. It’s cold. And dark. And the campus is not very close. The walk back could be dangerous. You know,” he says.

Alec smiles. He’s heard that speech many times over the years. It was an almost inevitable conclusion to most of their hang outs.

It usually ended with Magnus saying, “and I have the big spare mattress for you.” Alec is glad it didn’t. He kisses Magnus once, just because he can.

“Sounds like a great plan,” he says.

They’re still giggling when they get to Magnus’ loft.

*

Alec is a teddy bear, Magnus finds out.

He was slightly scared that asking Alexander to sleep at his would make him think Magnus wanted sex, which - wouldn’t be a problem, per se, except it’s been way too long since he’s last done it and it still feels like it’s tainted with memories of- pain. And exposure, and humiliation.

And not the good kind, either.

So he’s not sure he doesn’t want that yet, not when this feels so new already, and he’s scared that he won’t be able to say no to Alec, or that if he does, that Alec will be disappointed, that Alec will think Magnus doesn’t trust him, that Alec will reject him. Instead, Alexander asks him shyly whether or not he should get the mattress; and the smile that blooms in his face when Magnus says “I thought maybe we could… Cuddle,” is not something Magnus will forget soon.

Magnus puts on his pajamas and Alexander does his whole T-shirt-and-boxers thing with the spare clothes he has at Magnus’ - not on purpose, there’s just always something he forgets to take home, and at this point it’s just practical to leave them there for next time - and when Magnus comes back from his night prayer, Alexander is already on his bed, arms spread wide.

Magnus scowls. “I don’t believe I said that the bed was gonna be all yours, Alexander,” he says.

“There’s plenty of room,” Alec counters.

“Oh, really? Where?”

Alec smiles like he just fell for a trap, but it’s not predatory. It feels less like looking into the abyss and more like reaching the top of the roller coaster. He might fall, but he knows he’s safe.

Alec launches on him, grabs him by the waist, and falls back on the bed with Magnus on top of him.

“Very comfortable,” Alec says.

Magnus blinks, but he’s nothing if not adaptable. “Can’t say I disagree,” because, well. Alec is strong and warm and his arms are wrapped around Magnus, and yeah, he’s definitely slept in worse positions.

He’s glad that Alexander is so comfortable too, because if it were up to him things would be a lot more awkward. Not because he doesn’t want to, but because he still isn’t sure Alexander would. He suddenly realizes that he has no idea what Alexander is like in a relationship - whether or not he’s big on PDA, or clingy when they’re alone, or romantic, or reserved. And there’s still a part of him that doesn’t feel- allowed to ask.

But that’s the good thing about Alexander, isn’t it? He knows what he wants and doesn’t expect Magnus to know as well. He always tells him and always listens to him in return. Magnus feels a little lighter, less tense. Of course, he’s known for a while that relationships can- should feel like this, hell, he’s experienced it. But to feel it again is like a discovery, nevertheless. He eases into it, glad to know he’s comfortable, and smiles.

Alec is smiling right back at him. “Yeah?” he says.

“If I’m being honest,” Magnus replies, a little teasingly, “I don’t remember what we were talking about.”

Alexander laughs, grabs his face and kisses him. Kisses him in the lips, then cheeks, forehead, collarbone, teasing little butterfly kisses that have Magnus giggling and trying to stop from thrashing - he doesn’t want Alexander to stop, not really, but it’s a kneejerk reaction. Whether it’s to the ticklish sensation or the sudden affection is something he doesn’t want to think about.

And he doesn’t have to, because Alexander just keeps it up, holding him and kissing his face and smiling so wide it’s like his dream is coming true. Magnus smiles back when he stops for breath, allowing himself to bask in the moment.

Alexander runs his fingers through his hair. “I love you,” he says.

“Love you too,” Magnus sighs in response. It feels automatic and easy, like it’s a well-established ritual, like they’re saying it as they’re old and gray and holding hands as they watch the stillness right before the sunset. Like the words are a part of time itself.

They both realize what just happened at the same time.

“Uh,” Alexander says.

“Well,” Magnus says, licking his lips, “might have gone a bit fast with that one.”

“Is it fast if technically I’ve known for over a year?”

“That’s a great question,” Magnus pretends to muse, “what do you think, Alexander?”

Alec can’t help the grin that takes over his face at his full name. “I think it’s long overdue,” he says, instead of showering him with kisses all over again. “Been feeling really deprived, you know? Wild fantasies of telling you that I love you, sleepless nights having naughty thoughts about cuddling.”

“Oh, Alexander,” Magnus answers, delighted, “cuddling?” in his best mock-scandalized voice.

“Even worse,” Alec confesses solemnly, “spooning.”

“Well, I’ve always had a reputation of being wild,” Magnus says, raising his eyebrows.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he confirms, “but you turn off the lights.”

Alec groans, and Magnus doesn’t think he’s ever smiled so wide before.

*

The next morning, Alec wakes up to Magnus disentangling himself from Alec’s arms, and a musical laughter when he desperately tries to hold him against his chest for a little more. “I’m just getting up for Fajr,” he says, kissing Alec’s forehead. “I’ll be back in a second.”

He wakes up again not twenty minutes later, to Magnus getting back to the exact same position as before, well secured in Alec’s arms, legs tangled in his.

Izzy doesn’t ask a single question when Alec tells her he won’t make it to lunch that day.