Alastair suspected that he’d lost his mind. That was the only possible explanation for what he was on his way to do.
He stood in front of the mirror in his bedroom, examining the cuffs of his dove gray suit. He’d chosen it precisely because he knew it made his eyes and hair look particularly striking. He felt inexplicably nervous, which was ridiculous because he was almost certain that he didn’t have to make any special effort to impress Thomas Lightwood.
Emphasis on the almost.
He should not be this invested with a man he wasn’t even in love with. It was simply a casual curiosity fed by the way he caught Thomas looking at him sometimes out of the corner of his eye. Curiosity and the all too familiar feeling of loneliness that he’d felt more and more since he’d broken it off with Charles.
He knew he’d made the right choice by ending it, but he couldn’t stop the whisper in the back of his mind that kept telling him that he was never going to find anyone else. There couldn’t be that many men like him in Shadowhunter society, much less in the London Enclave. And even if there were, how many of them would he actually like? Some part of him wondered if he’d thrown away his only chance at reciprocated romantic love.
He shook himself, flicking nonexistent lint off his sleeve. There was no dwelling on it and after all, it was better to be free of any romantic attachments than to be hurt by the one you did have.
He might have given up on any prospects entirely if it were not for the moment when Thomas had forgiven him. Forgiven him shakily for the hurt and pain of their childhoods while also turning every shade of red under the sun. Alastair had blurted another messy apology and watched Thomas’s face as he glanced down at him from his considerable height and smiled shyly in what Alastair had chosen to take as a sign that they were on good terms again.
It was only when Thomas had stuttered a goodbye and practically run out the door that a flood of images had washed over Alastair. Thomas trailing after him at school when he was much smaller, hazel eyes wide and bright as Alastair spoke. Thomas sitting across from him at a cafe in Paris, blinking and frozen after Alastair had run his finger over his arm. Thomas whipping his hand back as if he’d been burned after Alastair had snapped at him. Him standing tense in the doorway of the Fairchild house as Charles bid Alastair goodbye. Thomas looking absolutely betrayed at James and Cordelia’s engagement party when he’d discovered what Alastair had done. The way he’d forgiven Alastair anyways in the end.
Alastair did not know how he could have possibly been so dense.
He had the solid suspicion that Thomas was like him. And if Thomas had even a passing interest in Alastair he felt he was obligated to pursue it. Thomas was kind. Thomas was handsome. Alastair actually enjoyed his company. He doubted Thomas had anything more than surface level attraction to him, but that was perfectly fine. Alastair didn’t mind being casual with him, in fact that was probably for the best. The last thing he wanted was to cause Thomas more pain, even unintentionally, and a serious commitment had the potential for enormous hurt.
There was however, the small problem of reaching a point of casual understanding with Thomas. From his friendly observation Alastair had deduced that Thomas probably had little experience with anything involving romance. Alastair wondered if he’d ever kissed anyone and pushed the thought violently out of his mind. That didn’t matter. What mattered was getting Thomas to declare his intentions. Alastair refused to be the one to broach the topic. Their history was too complicated for him to push any attention on Thomas that he might not want to reciprocate. No, the best Alastair could do was drop heavy hints and hope Thomas picked up on them. Thomas was a very observant person. It should be easy.
Alastair tucked a spear into the lining of his coat and met his own dark eyes in the mirror. This was going to go great.
Kensington Gardens was close enough to his townhouse that Alastair was able to walk there easily. It was late afternoon, the sun making a rare appearance and beating down on his hatless head. There was a light breeze that ruffled his hair and Alastair spared a thought of gratitude for the fortuitous weather. He did not fancy a walk in the rain, even if it was in Thomas’s company.
Thomas was waiting at the entrance to the gardens, arms crossed casually over his chest. Alastair took a brief moment to appreciate the way his biceps pushed against the material of his sleeves before catching his attention with a wave. Thomas saw him and smiled slightly, his warm hazel eyes brightening almost imperceptibly. Alastair swallowed his own nervousness and walked up to him, smoothing the front of his waistcoat unconsciously.
“Hello Lightwood.” He said, trying for nonchalance.
“You can call me Thomas you know.” Thomas said. He went pink, as if his request was somewhat unreasonable. Alastair blinked at him, perhaps he had been playing it a bit too indifferent.
He cleared his throat. “Alright...Thomas.” He let his voice linger on the other man’s name, lowering in tone so that it sounded more intimate than it had any business being. He spared a moment to feel vaguely guilty before he watched Thomas blush even deeper and all thoughts of abashedness flew from his head. Thomas was heart wrenchingly endearing when he blushed. Alastair didn’t think he’d ever made anyone look like that before.
There was an awkward silence. Alastair wracked his brain for conversation topics. He’d always been able to talk to Thomas with relative ease. In Paris they’d discussed what had seemed like every worldly topic and they’d made easy banter in the weeks after Alastair had arrived in London. Since the engagement party however he had no idea how he was supposed to go about talking to Thomas without destroying the carefully rebuilt camaraderie they had between them. Thomas had forgiven him and yet guilt still pressed heavily on Alastair’s chest when he thought about it. Especially when he was around Matthew.
Thomas cleared his throat. “So are we going to walk?” He seemed restless now, beginning along the path before Alastair had answered him. He had a very long stride and Alastair had to jog slightly to keep up, gravel crunching under his boots. Thomas seemed to notice his predicament and shortened his stride until they settled into a leisurely pace side by side. Alastair waited for Thomas to say something, keeping his eyes on the path in front of them that wound around the side of a glittering pond.
“When did your father arrive in London?” Thomas asked finally, his deep voice betraying only friendly curiosity.
“Five nights ago.” Alastair heard the sharpness in his own voice even as his stomach twisted. The last thing he wanted to do was talk about his father. He didn’t want his father anywhere near the inhabitants of the London Enclave. Particularly Thomas. It was bad enough to have him back in the house. Now that Cordelia knew about their father’s ailment she’d taken to acting differently around him, no longer the unquestioningly loyal and doting daughter that their father expected. Alastair would not ask her to pretend indifference to the situation. Just as he would not explain to her that Elias blamed Alastair for changing his daughter’s opinion of him. He would not put that burden on her shoulders, all the more heavy for the fact that there was nothing she could do to change it.
Thomas’s stride slowed further. “I’m sorry.” He said softly. “I don’t pretend to know your relationship to your father but I know you don’t like talking about him.”
Alastair cut his gaze towards him in surprise. There was no pity in Thomas’s voice, only a steadiness that was mirrored in his eyes. Alastair was sure he’d been careful to not talk about his family with Thomas. Especially his father. Family was complicated and while in Paris, walking along the Seine, Alastair had found himself wishing to be free from complications, to lose himself in conversation with Thomas as if they were the only two people in all the world.
“I didn’t think I’d ever talked about my father with you.” He said finally, turning his attention back to the path.
“You didn’t.” There was a pause. “I just noticed.” Alastair opened his mouth to respond but Thomas spoke again. “Noticed since the Academy actually.”
The Academy. Alastair felt the familiar pang of guilt in his chest. He hated to think about the old stone building, filled with students so sure of their own superiority over Downworlders and mundanes that they used any outlet to feel that superiority again. He’d been one of them, falling into the same ugly patterns as all the rest. Almost all of them had eventually. Even Matthew Fairchild with his scorn of the Academy’s mission had been full of witty jabs at the teachers and other students. Thomas had never been like the rest of them though.
“Really? Since the Academy?”
Thomas nodded. They were walking beside the pond now, their reflections elongated strangely on the surface. “The day you—the day the Academy exploded, everyone had a family member come to see them after the demon attack. And your father didn’t come for you.”
The memory rose up in the back of Alastair’s eyes. The gray morning and the window. The way he’d run over the last letter he’d written home in his head, examining every line for the reason he’d given his father to not come. The way he’d fixed his eyes on the courtyard gates knowing that his father wasn’t going to walk through them, not being able to look away either because what if this time was the time his father actually cared enough. The voice beside him soft in the already quiet corridor. Are you very sad Alastair?
He couldn’t quite keep the bitterness from his voice when he responded. “Ah yes that was a fabulous day.” When Thomas was silent he felt suddenly awkward. Thomas hadn’t said anything wrong. He’d been nothing but kind and here Alastair was, throwing his defenses up for no reason. He stopped in his tracks, turning to the taller man. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to snipe. I’m not very good at talking about my family. Especially my father.” The admission twisted something inside him.
Thomas turned towards him, his eyes squinting as he turned towards the sun. He smiled a little and Alastair’s heart gave a traitorous thump in his chest. “It’s okay. I’m not good at talking about my family either.”
That threw Alastair for a moment. He’d always thought Thomas’s family was storybook material. He’d patrolled with Gideon and Sophie at different times and they’d both seemed like exactly the people he’d thought they must be in order to have raised someone like Thomas. He was opening his mouth to ask an intrusive question when he realized. Barbara.
He’d only seen her a few times before her death. A tall willowy girl with dark brown hair and eyes similar enough to Thomas’s that he’d done a double take when they’d been introduced. He felt his throat tighten with sadness at the thought of her siblings, who had never lived in a world without her, having to adjust to the loss of someone who’d been a fact of life.
“You should tell me about your sister.” He said, moved by a sudden whim. He turned to fling himself down on the slope of slippery green grass by the pond’s edge. He heard Thomas’s slow footsteps following him. “If you want to.”
Thomas settled himself beside Alastair. He moved carefully, as if he were still not used to the space he took up in the world. “I just said I wasn’t good at talking about my family.” He didn’t sound mad though, only slightly bemused.
Alastair leaned back against his arms and raised an eyebrow. “Well this is good practice then.”
Thomas gave an exaggerated sigh. “If you must insist.” He drew his coat off, clearly uncomfortable in the hot sun, and began picking at the grass in front of him, green blades flaking between his fingers. Alastair stared at the veins in his hands for a moment before turning his attention to Thomas’s face, feeling faintly embarrassed for some reason.
Thomas had his eyes closed against the sun, the light washing him in gold. Alastair’s eyes traced the line of his jaw, the faint sprinkling of freckles on his nose. He could get used to this.
He cleared his throat. “You actually have to talk about your family for this practice to work, you know.”
Thomas opened his eyes slightly. Even when they were sitting he had to tilt his head down to look at Alastair. “What do you want to know?”
Alastair found he could no longer meet Thomas’s eyes and looked at the lake, at the sun reflecting in shards of light off the rippling surface. “Anything really. Memories and the like.” He stared straight ahead, steeling himself to share personal information. “Did you know that when Cordelia was little she used to sneak into the room where our father kept Cortana in this glass case? I followed her one night and watched her sing it lullabies for about an hour before she kissed it goodnight.”
Thomas laughed. Alastair chanced a glance at him and saw that he was grinning, wide and unselfconsciously. Almost against his will he felt his own lips twitch into the beginnings of a smile.
“Somehow I can still see her singing Cortana goodnight.” Thomas said, still smiling.
Alastair waved a hand absentmindedly into the air. “I’ve no proof, but I can’t say I’d be surprised.” He wondered how he’d been able to share that anecdote with Thomas so easily. Usually he avoided being personal like a poison, not because he wanted to exactly, but because he’d never quite figured out how to open up. It wasn’t something he’d had practice with, even with his family, but Thomas had made it nearly effortless.
“If I’d spent all the time you and Cordelia did growing up with my sisters we’d have murdered each other.” Thomas said matter of factly. “Eugenia would have stabbed me with a hat pin.”
“We had some close calls.” Alastair admitted ruefully, thinking back to the time he’d shoved Cordelia off the suspended platform in their training room, only preventing her from crying to their father by letting her push him off the platform in revenge. “I’m surprised we survived it all in one piece sometimes.”
Thomas leaned back in a mirror of Alastair’s posture, tilting his face back in the sunlight. “You would never have let anything happen to her.”
Alastair looked at him sharply. “Why do you say that?”
Thomas seemed oblivious to the dangerous territory he was veering towards. “You’re the oldest.” He said simply. “When I was little I tried to learn to swim in this lake by our house in Idris. Of course I didn’t tell anyone I was learning to swim and just waded into the lake, and you can imagine how that went—”
“Why on earth would you do that?” Alastair had done some questionable things as a child, but he was proud that learning to swim alone was not one of them. In hindsight there was something supremely funny about Thomas as a short skinny child wading stubbornly to his doom. “Why didn’t you die?”
“You didn’t let me finish.” Thomas smiled a sad sort of smile. “Anyways, Barbara saw me from the window and came running down at the last second. She jumped in to get me even though she must have been only about eleven at the time and I almost drowned her too because I was flailing so much. She was absolutely furious afterward. You probably took care of Cordelia the way Barbara took care of me.” He paused, lost in the memory. When he spoke again his voice held a trace of bitterness. “She always took care of me and I never returned the favor.”
“Don’t talk like that.” Alastair snapped. “She’d hate for you to talk like that and besides—” He softened his voice. “It’s not a favor you had to repay. I’d never want Cordelia to have any sort of debt to me like that, no matter what I did for her. I promise Barbara never thought of it like that.”
Thomas sighed, turning his head to meet Alastair’s eyes. His gaze was intense. “I know that. I just—I just can’t stop thinking about all the times I called her annoying or pulled her hair or made fun of her when she fell in love with Oliver.” His voice cracked, his eyes darting away from Alastair’s to stare at the water. “I can’t stop thinking about what I could have done differently.”
Alastair felt sympathy pang through him. He thought of Cordelia dying and pushed the thought quickly from his head. It was a thought that he couldn’t tolerate for even a moment.
He cleared his throat, feeling incredibly inadequate. “It’ll kill you to obsess over things you can’t change.” He took a deep breath, hoping that he wouldn’t regret what he was about to say. “I used to do that with the things my father did or said, but I could never change it. In the end the things we can’t change don’t matter.” He felt Thomas glance quickly at him and interrupted him before he could press further on the subject of Elias. “Plus, I’m certain teasing your siblings about being in love is required.”
Thomas seemed to realize what it had cost Alastair to say anything about his father and absorbed the rapid change in subject with grace. “I suppose it’s a good thing I’ve never been in love then.”
Alastair turned to look at him. “Never?” Thomas’s eyes met his and darted away nervously, a blush creeping up his cheeks.
“Really? Not even a torrid affair in Spain that you’re forbidden to speak about?” He kept his voice teasing, watching Thomas’s sun warmed face.
“No!” Thomas, who was redder now, sat up and began fidgeting with the grass in front of him.
Alastair lowered his voice. “You cannot expect me to believe that you didn’t have Spanish women falling over their own feet once you had your growth spurt.” He paused for effect, about to test the waters. “Or Spanish men for that matter.”
Thomas spluttered. He didn’t seem too scandalized, only extremely embarrassed to be the subject of this line of questioning. He really was very handsome. Handsome enough that his cluelessness about it somehow made him all the more attractive to Alastair. Alastair had often wondered belatedly if he had a type and had decided that no, Charles and Thomas were extremely different in almost every way conceivable.
While Thomas’s easy blushing made him almost irresistible to tease Alastair stopped shy of making the conversation actually uncomfortable. “Well I suppose that after Paris, Spain can’t have seemed very romantic.”
“I suppose.” Thomas’s tone was contemplative. His hand trailed absentmindedly over where his tattoo was hidden by the sleeve of his shirt. Alastair’s heart skipped a beat. He could remember the night in Paris very clearly, the clink of their wine glasses and the feeling of Thomas’s arm under his fingertips, smooth and warm. Thomas had been shy to tell Alastair about the idea for his tattoo but Alastair had coaxed it out of him eventually, wondering at how peaceful he’d felt in his company. He also remembered the rush of guilt that had accompanied the dinner, guilt at not being at the hotel waiting for Charles to get back, guilt that he’d had a better time in a few hours with Thomas than he’d had in months. He’d known he shouldn’t have felt guilty but he hadn’t been able to stop himself.
He remembered when he’d seen the tattoo for the first time, how he’d felt overwhelmed by an emotion he couldn’t define in its sudden unwelcome unfamiliarity. He hadn’t been able to look at Thomas, who’d been looking to him for a reaction. Looking to Alastair, not at the rest of his friends. It had been overwhelming.
He shook himself back to the present. To the sun shining down on him and Thomas like it had shone down on them as they walked through the winding cobbled streets of Paris. He stood, brushing bits of grass off his trousers, and offered Thomas a hand. “I apologize for having to end this excursion, but I have to be home to help my mother.”
“Oh right! How’s the baby coming along?” Thomas accepted his outstretched hand with a warm press of calloused fingers. Alastair held on for a second too long, the contact sending ripples of faint sparks through him. They stood for an awkward moment after letting go, hands forlorn and the space between them achingly wide.
Alastair snapped himself out of it. He was being ridiculous. He turned and began to walk back to the entrance of the park. “I confess that I don’t know much about pregnancy but I assume that all’s normal at least—so far.”
Thomas launched into a babble of things he’d observed during his Aunt Cecily’s pregnancy. Alastair listened absentmindedly, more to the comforting lull of Thomas’s voice than the actual words he was saying. The sleeve of his jacket brushed Alastair’s as they walked. He focused on the brief contact, resisting the intense urge to grab Thomas’s hand, to entwine their fingers like they didn’t have to worry about anything.
Except that they were in public. And Alastair wouldn’t be so bold on their first outing after his apology. He contented himself with the mere realization that Thomas wasn’t moving away either. Maybe this really could work.
When they reached the Lightwood carriage Alastair felt surprisingly disappointed. He felt his stomach sink as he thought about going back to his house, where his father was curt and his mother and sister painfully tense. The afternoon with Thomas had been the most fun he’d had in weeks.
He might as well tell Thomas that. “I had fun.” He said, as Thomas climbed into the driver's seat.
Thomas pushed his hair out of his eyes with his free hand and smiled down. “I had fun too.” He towered from where he was perched on the seat, the reins in one hand. “We should do it again sometime.”
Alastair’s breath caught in his throat. “Next week?” Even as he spoke it seemed too good to be true.
Thomas nodded quickly. “Yes! I mean—that works.”
Alastair felt himself smiling slightly. “Splendid. I’ll pick you up at your house in a cab around eight.”
As he watched Thomas’s carriage trundle out of sight he felt surprisingly light, his heart already ticking down the seconds to the next week. He turned in the direction of his house, boots scuffing on the pavement, the sound of traffic rushing past him. He told himself to snap out of it. The last time he’d done something like this he’d been hurt.
But this time it’s different. He told himself as he walked briskly into the slight breeze that had started to blow. It’s different.
He wasn’t going to fall in love this time.
“So you’re just going to dinner?”
Cordelia was lying on Alastair’s bed, knocking her ankles together as her skirts spilled around her.
“Yes.” Alastair ran a comb through the black strands of his hair, scrutinizing himself in the mirror. He’d picked out his nicest black tailcoat paired with a white bow tie that he now turned his attention to straightening. “Why do you ask?”
Cordelia wound a lock of her red hair around a finger. “With who?”
Alastair became very interested in his cuff links. “Thomas Lightwood.” He didn't know why he was so hesitant to tell Cordelia. She was good friends with Thomas and the rest of his friends. Actually, maybe that was why. He wondered if Cordelia would tell Matthew. He might have to ask her not to. He vaguely dreaded the thought of that conversation. She’d no doubt wonder why he was being so secretive when there was really nothing suspicious about his and Thomas’s acquaintance.
He watched Cordelia’s dark eyebrows rise. “With Thomas?” Her tone was neutral, but he could practically see the gears turning behind her eyes.
He sighed. “Don’t get any ideas. It’s not like that.”
Cordelia sounded extremely interested. “I didn’t say it was!”
Alastair shot her a dark look in the mirror. “You were thinking it.”
Cordelia propped her head on her hands, eyes sparkling with mischief. “Well he is very handsome.”
“Cordelia!” He turned away from the mirror, crossing his arms over his chest. He felt his cheeks warm. This was not the sort of conversation he’d imagined having with his sister ever. It didn’t help that at her words Thomas’s face had flashed in front of his eyes, the way he’d looked under the warm sunlight in the park, the curve of his smile. His heart contracted.
“Well he is, isn’t he?” Cordelia sat up, smoothing her hands over the front of her dress. “You know you can talk to me about this sort of thing. I can give you advice.”
Alastair snorted and came to sit beside her on the bed, idly twirling one of his foldable spears to distract himself from the embarrassing conversation. “As if I’d ever want your advice.” He pitched his voice higher. “ Oh I’m in love with James but he’s enchanted to love someone else and also I think Matthew’s in love with me and I cannot bear to hurt his feelings except I kissed him when we went on a road trip and now James is upset because he’s actually loved me the whole time, whatever shall I do?”
Cordelia punched him in the arm as he snickered. “I’m serious Alastair!”
He leaned back against his pillows. “I’m serious too. It’s just a friendly dinner.” As she opened her mouth to contradict him he spoke again hastily. “And I’m sure even if he did feel anything for me it’d be nothing substantial.”
Cordelia’s eyebrows inched closer to her hairline. “And do you feel anything for him?” Her tone was the tone of one trying to sound uninterested but failing miserably.
Alastair sighed again. “I don’t know.” Images of Thomas rose unbidden in his mind. It was ridiculous that one person was able to take up so much space in his thoughts. Somehow Thomas had become unspeakably important to him. “I like him well enough I suppose.” He added grudgingly.
Cordelia began to smile with barely controlled glee. “Well I like Thomas much better than I like Charles.”
Something about her honesty made Alastair smile slightly. “I think I do too.” He murmured quietly, almost to himself. At the look on Cordelia’s face he added quickly, “I’m not going to fall in love with Thomas though.” He stood hastily, tucking the spear he’d been fidgeting with into the lining of his jacket.
Cordelia snorted in an unladylike manner. “Whatever you say. It isn’t as if you’ve been obsessing over your appearance in preparation for a supposedly ‘just friendly’ dinner.”
Alastair shot her a glare of annoyance over his shoulder as he strode to the door. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I expect to hear all about it!” Cordelia called as the door swung shut behind him.
The carriage ride to the restaurant was pleasant, filled with light conversation about London and its strange rhythms. Thomas’s long legs were angled carefully so that they didn’t touch Alastair, but with every jolt of the wheels their knees bumped against each other. It was extremely distracting.
“Is the city beautiful?” Thomas asked, peering out of the small window.
Alastair started. He’d never given it much thought. “What do you mean?”
Thomas’s hazel eyes flicked to his and then back out the window. “I’ve heard it’s beautiful, but I grew up here and I can’t say I’ve ever seen the appeal.”
Alastair watched the unsteady glow of the streetlights flicker over the planes of Thomas’s face, casting shadows in the hollow of his throat. “Everything’s beautiful.” He cleared his throat and looked away quickly, to the crowded buildings lining the street they travelled along. “It’s not Idris though.” At the thought of the Shadowhunter homeland he felt a pang. A longing for rolling green hills and forest.
Thomas sighed wistfully and Alastair knew he’d felt the same pang. “No it’s not Idris.”
There had been a night at the Academy, a few long months after Thomas’s friends had been expelled. At the end of a lecture that day Ragnor Fell had told them in dour tones about a meteor shower that was supposed to happen that night. Alastair had been in a terrible mood, stubbornly uninterested, and had been about to open his mouth to say something cutting about watching the night sky like a fool. He’d heard Thomas then, talking excitedly about the meteor shower, wondering aloud if he’d be able to see it from his dormitory window. The enthusiasm in his voice had been enough for Alastair to bite his tongue and he’d been seized by a sudden reckless urge.
He’d waited behind to catch Thomas after class, ignoring the bewilderment of his friends.
“You could sneak out, you know.” He’d said, walking briskly alongside the shorter boy.
Thomas, who had gone a bright red, eyed him warily. “Why?”
Alastair couldn’t believe he was being this dense. “To watch the meteor shower.”
“Oh.” Thomas stumbled a little trying to keep up with him. “I don’t know, I don’t know where I’d sneak out to.”
“Well—” Alastair had paused, wondering if he was losing his mind. No he’d decided, he was just tired of hanging around with boys who wasted so much energy being unpleasant. He didn’t know Thomas Lightwood very well, but he was sure he wasn’t unpleasant. Alastair also knew that he himself was maybe the most unpleasant, but he told himself he’d make an effort to be nice to Thomas at least. “—I can sneak you out.”
Thomas’s eyes had gone as wide as saucers. “Really?”
“Yes really Lightwood. Do you need me to repeat it?” Alastair heard the edge in his voice and flinched inwardly. So much for being nice.
Thomas blinked at him. “And it’s not a prank or anything?”
“No. Why would—” Something twisted in Alastair’s gut and he’d turned to go, suddenly unable to look the other boy in the eyes. Of course Thomas would think it was a nasty prank, Alastair had never given him any reason to think better of him. “Nevermind.”
“Wait!” Thomas jogged after him stubbornly, refusing to let him run away so easily. His brow was furrowed in concern. “What if we get caught?”
That was how, a few hours later, they’d found themselves lying on the roof, the sky spinning over their heads as streaks of fire traced their way across the black of the night. It was cold but Thomas’s shoulder was warm where it pressed into Alastair’s, their hands mere inches from each other on the chilly slate of the roof. Alastair had felt calm for the first time in months.
They didn’t speak. They didn’t say anything as they crept back to the dormitories and nodded goodnight to each other in the shadows. When Alastair slipped back into his dark room Augustus Pounceby had grinned sleepily at him and asked, “Which girl?”
Alastair had frozen, feeling as if he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t. But that was ridiculous, there was nothing wrong with watching a meteor shower with Thomas. Yet he felt an irrational panic steal into him as he thought of people knowing about it. He wondered what his father would think of him sneaking onto the roof with a boy who was not even a friend but simply someone kind enough that Alastair wanted to be around him. Dread poured through him, sudden and overwhelming. He was spared answering Augustus by the other boy falling back asleep, but he lay on his own bed staring at the stone ceiling until dawn. He’d never felt so unspeakably alone.
The restaurant was comfortable, if a bit crowded. Thomas was tall enough that, when they squeezed into a booth, his leg had to be pressed against Alastair’s, which Alastair didn’t mind. The room was a bit dim, the wavering light of the candles on their table illuminating Thomas’s face as he glanced down at his menu.
“Have you been here before?” Thomas asked. “Wait no, that’s a stupid question. Ignore me.”
Alastair poured wine into his glass. “It’s not a stupid question. I am the one who’s taking you here after all.” He didn’t mention that the last time he’d been at the restaurant he had been in the company of Charles, the night after he’d first arrived in London.
Something in his voice must have betrayed him though because Thomas looked up sharply, his gaze searching. “With Charles?” It wasn’t so much a question as it was a statement.
Alastair was more than a little shocked. He’d known Thomas was observant but not that observant. “I didn’t think he’d have mentioned it to anyone.”
Thomas’s eyes went hastily back to his menu. “He didn’t.”
Although Alastair had known that Charles would never have mentioned their dinner to anyone it still sent a pang of bitter disappointment through him to hear Thomas say it. The pang was accompanied by annoyance that Charles was still breathing down his neck even when he was trying to be friendly with Thomas.
“Well your company’s much better I can assure you.” Alastair said, trying to smooth over the awkwardness. He leaned back, swishing the wine in his glass.
Thomas looked up at that. “Really? All I’ve done is asked whether you’ve been here before and also pried into your personal life.”
Alastair shrugged. “Better than politics.”
“I thought you liked politics.”
At that Alastair scoffed. “I’m good at politics. I wouldn’t say I like them.”
A waiter came to take their orders. Music was playing from somewhere, light and merry in the dim gold of the room. The green wallpaper was stained slightly with smoke and Alastair examined one such stain that was shaped like a teardrop as Thomas shifted, the pressure of his leg increasing where it touched Alastair’s.
“Remember the meteor shower?” Thomas asked suddenly. His voice was hesitant and Alastair was sharply reminded of how he had avoided Thomas like a plague in the weeks that had followed their Academy excursion.
He looked at Thomas from over the rim of his glass now, letting his gaze linger. “Why would I forget?”
It was hard to tell in the low light but he could have sworn that Thomas went pink. Alastair instantly felt the press of Thomas’s leg all the more clearly, warmth flooding through his veins in a rush.
When their food came they fell into their easy pattern, asking questions and answering with more questions. Thomas wanted to know all about Alastair’s travels and Alastair wanted to know everything about Thomas’s family. He noticed that Thomas was careful to not mention his father and affection mixed with gratitude blossomed in the pit of his stomach. In turn Alastair stayed clear of any mention of Barbara.
Eventually the conversation turned to Thomas’s friends. Alastair had often wondered idly if Thomas’s friends—excluding Cordelia—knew about Thomas being friendly towards Alastair. His suspicions were proven correct once he asked Thomas whether his friends knew where he was.
Thomas deflated slightly. “No. They’ve no idea.”
While Alastair had not enjoyed being treated like a shameful secret, he did enjoy being treated like an exciting one. Thomas didn’t seem ashamed at all, just worried that Alastair would think he was. Alastair abruptly felt the urge to reassure him.
“That’s alright, I don’t mind being a secret.” He said, taking another sip of wine. “For the right reasons at least.”
Thomas raised an eyebrow. “You’ve been a secret for the wrong reasons?”
Alastair pointed a long finger at him. “Charles.”
Thomas nodded as if this made perfect sense. “Well hopefully I have the right reasons.” He looked panicked. “Not that you’re my secret of course, but if you were—hopefully it’d be for the right reasons.”
Alastair gracefully ignored his stuttering. “Making sure Fairchild doesn’t kill me for taking advantage of your forgiving nature is a fine reason to me.”
At that Thomas smiled. “I wouldn’t let him kill you.”
Alastair paused. Thomas’s tone was light and joking but the words made Alastair’s heart soar inexplicably. He’d never been one for letting people take care of him but Thomas seemed steadfastly determined to care for him anyways. Alastair felt almost choked by emotion he hadn’t invited. This was not part of the plan.
His eyes traced the line of Thomas’s sensitive mouth, the dusting of his dark eyelashes. Restlessness coursed through him. He wanted to do something, though he wasn’t sure what, and sitting there with Thomas looking achingly handsome wasn’t helping to clear his head.
Alastair stood, throwing a wad of bills onto the scratched surface of the table. “Let’s go.”
Thomas looked puzzled at the abrupt change in conversation, but took Alastair’s proffered hand in order to stand. Their touch lingered momentarily. Thomas’s fingers were calloused, his palm warm. Alastair took the liberty of running his other hand over the place where he knew Thomas’s tattoo was, smoothing the sleeve of his jacket. He felt Thomas stiffen slightly and drew away quickly, his fingers burning where they’d touched him. They were still in public after all.
Rain was coming down in a deluge outside. Water ran in rivulets over the gray stones of the street, soaking Alastair’s hair in record time. He shuddered, wrapping his arms around himself as Thomas tried to hail a cab, feeling the damp material of his coat under his fingers.
In a stroke of bad luck, the single cab they were able to flag down was only willing to take them to one destination due to the late hour and the bad weather. Neither Thomas nor Alastair had brought enough money to sway the driver so they conferred on the pavement for a moment, rain pouring down around them.
“My house or your house?” Alastair asked. The question would have been loaded with implication at another more enjoyable time, but all he could think of now was getting out of the cold and the wet. He also really didn’t want to go back to Cornwall Gardens, where his father would be sure to ask questions.
Water dripped off of Thomas’s long lashes, the glow of the streetlight making his skin glitter. He seemed remarkably cheerful for someone caught in the rain. “The Devil Tavern on Fleet Street has a bed. We could go there if you want?”
Alastair’s brain focused on the only important information. A bed. He knew all about the room on Fleet Street from Cordelia of course, but he’d never been there. For obvious reasons.
He cleared his throat, suddenly reminded of all the complications of the past. “Are you sure your friends won’t mind?”
Thomas shrugged, as if he was not keeping Alastair a secret from his friends, as if he did not care whether they knew or not. “They won’t be there.”
Maybe Thomas didn’t care. Maybe it was only Alastair who cared about upsetting Thomas’s friends and maybe Thomas knew that and was doing what he could to make sure Alastair was comfortable. The thought made him determined to make it up to Thomas, for protecting him in that small way, even though he hadn’t asked for or wanted it.
Plus, the idea of spending more time with Thomas was too good to pass up. Spending more time with Thomas in private and—most importantly—dry quarters wasn’t even a decision in the first place.
Alastair didn’t reply, just turned to the cabby. “Fleet Street.”
The problem with taking a mundane cab to a tavern that was glamoured to be invisible to mundanes was immediately apparent to Alastair when the cab dropped them off a good two blocks from their destination. They trudged through the rain, Alastair fuming and cursing the useless London public transportation under his breath as he got somehow even more wet. He was impossibly cold, his teeth chattering by the time they reached the golden glow spilling out of the Devil Tavern.
He followed Thomas as he pushed the door open, the muscles of his shoulders flexing under his coat in a way Alastair couldn’t help but notice. Warm air enveloped them and Alastair peered around, trying not to look too relieved to be out of the rain.
There was a group of werewolves in the corner playing what looked like a very heated game of cards. Two vampires were sitting at one of the tables by the window, sipping leisurely from their cups and examining a stone tablet. A faerie with skin tinted the pale green of chlorophyll swept past them with an appreciative glance at Thomas that Alastair tried very hard not to take personally. It wasn’t as if there was anything between him and Thomas anyways, it'd be ridiculous to be jealous. He glared at the faerie’s back as they made their way over to a red scaled warlock.
Thomas didn’t seem to notice, only made his way around the tables to the bar at the back of the room. He seemed well liked by the local populace, earning some shouts of welcome from several groups. He smiled easily back, seeming only a little tired. Alastair on the other hand, got only some suspicious glances and a few mutters. He did his level best to not seem as if his mood was starting to resemble the squelching of his boots.
“You’re glowering.” Thomas murmured as they reached the bar. He leaned against it casually, tilting his head to look down at Alastair. A small smile played across his mouth and Alastair’s mood lifted slightly.
“Am I?” He asked, making an effort to school his expression into friendly and approachable.
Thomas laughed. “Now you look as if you’ve swallowed something nasty.”
“Shut up.” Alastair swatted him lightly on the arm, his pulse jumping at the contact. He was still wet and feeling rather like a drowned rat but he no longer felt quite so cold. Thomas grinned at him and Alastair’s stomach did a slow flip. The feeling was becoming almost familiar now.
The werewolf bartender wandered over, eyeing Alastair guardedly even as she smiled at Thomas.
“What’ll it be Tom?” Her voice was husky, carrying a lilt from somewhere in the countryside.
Thomas tore his gaze away from Alastair long enough to say, “Something warm please. Thank you Polly.”
“Just the two of you?” Polly cast another skeptical look at Alastair and he stared at her haughtily around Thomas’s shoulder.
Thomas himself seemed oblivious. “Yeah, just the two of us.”
Polly’s eyebrow raised in a way that made Thomas flush. He almost fumbled the drinks she got them; two steaming mugs of something that smelled heady and spice filled. Alastair steadied him with a hand on his arm, taking one of the mugs and wrapping his chilled fingers around the searing heat. He cast another glare at Polly as they made their way to the staircase that led to the private rooms.
Thomas pulled a key from inside his jacket and let them into the room with the ease of the long practiced. Alastair took another sip from his mug and looked around, letting the spiced liquid warm him from the inside.
There was a collection of mismatched furniture and a small smoke stained fireplace that Thomas knelt at, beginning to build up a fire. A corner of the room had been configured to look like a laboratory with beakers and test tubes strewn across the table. Alastair could almost see Christopher Lightwood seated there and stared in amusement at the corner of the table that had been melted beyond recognition.
The fire crackled as Alastair made his way to the bookshelves that took up a good portion of the far wall. He browsed their titles—mostly mundane occult and magic books—and was surprised to find a small collection of Persian poetry tomes. He straightened up, holding one of the books. The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam.
It was Thomas, who was standing up after starting the fire, wiping his hands nervously on the soaking material of his trousers.
Alastair looked at him in surprise. “You read Persian?”
Thomas nodded, looking suddenly shy. “I learned Persian with Lucie when she was learning it for Cordelia. Although, The Rubaiyat is an English translation so I doubt my skill with languages helps me there.”
Alastair felt a rush of gratitude for his sister’s short and tenacious friend. It was no small thing to swear to be someone’s parabatai when you were close to twelve years old and it showed true dedication to learn your parabatai’s mother tongue. Alastair was suddenly glad for Cordelia, to have found someone so dedicated to her. Thy people shall be my people.
“So you can speak Spanish and Persian but you can’t speak French?” Alastair asked, remembering how Thomas had struggled to order at the restaurant in Paris until Alastair had jumped in to do it for him.
“And Welsh.” Thomas added, looking bashful. “But I’ve never spent much time on French.”
“Huh.” Alastair hoped he hadn’t said anything embarrassing in Persian while he was around Thomas. If he had he knew Thomas would be too kind to mention it to him. Still, he’d feel better if he could be sure he hadn’t called him a careless endearment by accident.
He drained his mug to distract himself and became suddenly aware that he was still wet, his suit uncomfortably heavy. “Please tell me you have extra clothes stashed somewhere.”
Thomas took a hasty swig from his mug and choked, coughing. “Y—yes. In the back room.”
Alastair followed him to the bedroom where a washstand stood next to a singular bed with sheets that didn’t look as if they’d been slept in any time recently. Thomas rummaged in a trunk and pulled out a shirt and trousers, tossing them to Alastair carelessly.
“Those are Matthew’s, but you two are about the same height so they should fit okay.” Thomas said, pulling out more clothes clearly meant for himself. “That’s probably the simplest shirt he owns.”
Alastair eyed the doubtful ruffles at the collar and shrugged. At least the clothes were dry.
They stood awkwardly for a moment. Thomas’s hands tightened spasmodically on the shirt he was holding before he muttered something about changing in the other room. He closed the door behind him a little too hard and Alastair sighed.
He stripped out of his wet clothes quickly, relishing in the feeling of being dry again. He even splashed some of the frigid water in the wash stand on his face and ran damp fingers through his already wet dark hair. There was a small round mirror hanging on one wall and he stared at himself briefly before attempting to tousle his hair to look artfully casual.
Giving up on his hair, he grabbed the soaked garments he’d discarded and threw the door open with the intent of hanging them to dry by the fire. He froze.
Thomas stood in the flickering light of the fire, shadows cast by the leaping flames dancing across the skin of his very muscled and very shirtless chest. Alastair’s mouth went dry.
The black of Thomas’s marks stood out starkly against his pale skin and Alastair could see the more delicate curling tracery of the compass rose on his forearm. His hair was still wet and curled against the back of his neck and the sides of his temples. He looked like a statue, the lines of his hip bones disappearing into the waistband of his trousers. He was beautiful.
He was also as frozen as Alastair was, his mouth open slightly, his eyes a little wide and a little wondering. Alastair exercised amazing self restraint and brushed by him, throwing his coat and suit over the backs of the chairs in front of the fire. His pulse was racing. Thomas was standing so close, heat radiating from where his body had been turned towards the fire.
“Won’t your parents notice when you don’t come home?” Alastair asked in an attempt to cut through the tension. His voice seemed too loud for the quiet of the room.
Thomas scrambled to put his shirt on, the fabric sliding to cover the smooth expanse of his chest. “They’ll understand.” He yawned then and stretched, the hem of his newly acquired shirt rising up to reveal a thin strip of skin. “Won’t yours?”
Alastair focused on Thomas’s face with an effort. “What?” His mind felt absurdly slow.
“What’ll you tell your parents?”
“I’ll make something up.” Thomas had an eyelash stuck to his cheek. Alastair reached up to brush it away, trying to ignore the way his nerves jumped at the contact. “I can’t very well tell them I was here with you.”
Thomas swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing hypnotically. “Why not?” They were standing so close, Alastair looking up into his fire illuminated face. All he had to do was go up on tiptoe.
He shook himself and turned away. “My father.”
“Oh.” He couldn’t see Thomas’s face but he heard him exhale slowly. Alastair didn’t elaborate, but he suspected Thomas understood because he didn’t push the subject.
Alastair caught a glimpse of the bed in the other room and exhaustion crashed over him along with a twinge of anxiety. There was only one bed and, while he wasn’t uncomfortable with Thomas sleeping in the same bed as him, the thought of the other man lying only a few inches away was enough to make his stomach flip.
He made his way to the bedroom, his bare feet making almost no sound against the warped floorboards. He was ridiculously aware of where Thomas was, the space between them too large and too small all at once. Thomas hesitated for a moment before following almost tentatively.
“Don’t kick me.” Alastair said, crawling under the cold covers. His heart was hammering and he tried to appear relaxed, even as Thomas joined him on the bed and his mind went blank.
Thomas’s voice sounded oddly constricted when he replied. “I’ll try not to.”
The bed was much smaller than he’d thought it was, barely large enough for them to lay on their backs side by side. Alastair lay back against the pillows and looked up at Thomas who was still sitting. He couldn’t see the other man’s expression in the dark, only the vague outline of his features. The light of the fire in the other room lengthened the shadows, softening all the edges around them. There was something so painfully intimate about the scene and looking up at the shadow of Thomas’s face, feeling the warmth of Thomas’s body against his, Alastair felt a familiar ache.
This was definitely not part of the plan.
He shut his eyes against the wealth of feeling welling up inside him. “Goodnight Thomas.”
Thomas’s weight shifted as he lay down. “Goodnight Alastair.” The way his accent wrapped around the syllables of his name made Alastair’s breath catch in his throat. His entire body felt electric, every cell attuned to the place where Thomas’s shoulder pressed against his. Their hands lay between them, the edges of their fingers brushing but not moving further. It would be so easy to reach out, to close the small electrically charged space between them. Alastair moved to brush his finger in a feather light touch over the back of Thomas’s hand and heard the soft sound of Thomas’s breathing hitch slightly. He waited for the other man to make the next move, almost desperately longing for the reassurance of a warm hand in his.
He fell asleep waiting.
The first thing Alastair noticed when he woke up was how warm he was. The pale gray light of morning filtered through the bedroom window, casting long shadows over the bed and the floor. His head felt comfortingly blurry. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so safe.
The second thing he noticed was the arm slung over his torso. Alastair lifted his head in alarm, blinking sleep out of his eyes. He could feel the rise and fall of Thomas’s even breathing against his back. Their legs were tangled together, the places where Thomas touched him spilling warmth into his veins. The hand of the arm slung over him was tangled loosely in the white material of Alastair’s shirt and he lay his head back down, letting his eyes slip closed again.
He let himself relax, exhaling a deep breath and losing himself in the circle of Thomas’s arms. The room was quiet, only the sound of their mingled breathing filling the silence. Alastair realized with a jolt that this was something completely new. He’d never stayed the night before. He’d never woken up to another man sleeping beside him as if he trusted Alastair completely while they lay tangled together. Alastair felt his heart overflow with a fierce protective tenderness that he’d never experienced before.
His eyes snapped open. He stared at the wall as if it held the secrets of the universe. There was no doubt in his mind suddenly that he was infatuated with Thomas Lightwood. With absolute clarity he saw Thomas sitting across from or beside him, blushing at his attentions and stubbornly refusing to let him close himself off. The way Thomas held him now, making Alastair’s mind spin even as he felt the safest he’d felt in years. He hadn’t meant for this to happen and yet it had and maybe, just maybe, he would allow himself to enjoy it even if he got hurt in the end. Because if Thomas loved him just for a little while, it’d be worth the pain of a broken heart.
As if sensing Alastair’s revelation Thomas shifted, murmuring something unintelligible and drawing Alastair closer, burying his face in the back of Alastair’s neck. His breath was warm, his arm unyielding where it cocooned Alastair. He ran his fingers gently along the skin of Thomas’s forearm, marveling at the intimacy of their position. Neither of them had intended this and they’d still been drawn together like puzzle pieces clicking into place.
He disentangled himself carefully, turning so that he could see Thomas’s face. Thomas’s hand curled in the empty space where Alastair had been.
Alastair stared. Thomas’s mouth was slightly open, his hair sticking wildly out against the pillowcase. Alastair examined the elegant angles of his face, all lines of worry smoothed away by sleep. Something tugged in Alastair’s chest, an almost palpable ache.
“You’re staring at me.” Thomas murmured, voice slurred by tiredness.
Alastair jumped, moving his gaze away from the line of Thomas’s collarbone back to his eyes, which were now half open and sleepy. “Sorry.”
A faint smile tugged at the corners of Thomas’s gentle mouth. “I don’t mind.”
Alastair’s breath caught. Thomas propped himself on his elbows, rubbing his eyes. He looked at Alastair as if considering something, then flushed and focused his attention on the sheets in front of him. Alastair watched him, heart beating a nervous stattaco. He had to act before he talked himself out of it. He took a deep breath.
“Can I kiss you?” The question came out softer than he’d intended. Alastair held his breath as Thomas’s eyes went wide.
“Uh—” Thomas flushed bright red, his mouth opening and closing several times.
“You can say no.” Alastair added hurriedly, trying not to sound as if his dreams were being crushed. He made to throw the sheets back in order to climb out of the bed, unable to be so close to Thomas for another second. “I must have gotten the wrong idea is all.”
“What?” Thomas’s hand clamped around his wrist, his iron grip keeping Alastair where he was. “No Alastair you can. You can kiss me.” His voice shook slightly as he relinquished his hold and leaned back on his arms. “I’ve just never kissed anyone before.”
Alastair froze. Incredulous hope bloomed in his veins, setting his heart racing. He’d been preparing himself for a future of awkward encounters in which he and Thomas acknowledged each other only when forced. Now the other man was looking up at him, the same disbelieving hope that Alastair felt echoed in his hazel eyes. Now Thomas was telling him that he could kiss him. That Alastair could be his first kiss.
Alastair could feel himself smiling as affection rushed through him. He shifted, maneuvering himself so that he was straddling Thomas’s hips, his knees pressed into the mattress. He heard Thomas inhale sharply, saw his lips part in surprise, and then he was leaning down.
Thomas’s lips parted under his, the warmth of his breath ghosting across Alastair’s mouth before the heat enveloped them both. Alastair’s hands came up to cup the sides of Thomas’s face, the skin unbelievably soft under his fingers. Thomas’s arms went around him, palms splayed against Alastair’s shoulder blades as he pulled him closer. His mouth was gentle, lips moving tentatively. Light exploded behind Alastair’s eyelids.
The kiss was like a breath of cold clear air after he’d been drowning. Alastair crushed himself into Thomas, careful not to move too quickly even as Thomas’s hands on him whispered urgency. Every cell in Alastair’s body felt like it was lit up, pulsing blinding light with each movement of Thomas’s lips. Everywhere their bodies touched Alastair felt like a brand.
Eventually they ended up horizontal, Alastair propping his elbows on either side of Thomas’s head as the kiss deepened. He wound his fingers into the disarray of Thomas’s hair, smiling as Thomas sighed against him. Thomas’s fingers skimmed lightly up his sides, sending sparks skittering across his skin. He pulled away briefly to stare down at the other man’s kiss flushed cheeks, at the slightly dazed expression on his face as he smiled crookedly up at him. Alastair’s heart contracted.
“You’re too far away.” Thomas murmured, his voice husky as he tugged Alastair back to him.
Alastair laughed then, the sound rising up in him before he could hold it back. He slotted their mouths together for a long languorous moment, savoring the feeling of Thomas’s body pressed against his own even as he heard the bells begin to chime the hour.
“Shit.” He buried his face in Thomas’s neck, inhaling the smell that clung to his skin. He wished he could lie there forever, enveloped in the bubble of safety the two of them had created. But he knew his mother would be worried and his father would be furious. “I have to go home.”
Thomas’s hands traced patterns over Alastair’s back as he sighed in resignation. He pressed a quick kiss to the edge of Alastair’s jaw before saying, “I suppose I should be getting home too, my parents and sister will be wondering where I am by now.”
They stayed still for a long moment, neither wanting to break away from the other. Alastair was the first to give in, kissing Thomas softly again before disentangling himself from the bedsheets. His face felt warm, blood pounding in an exhilarated rhythm. He caught a glimpse of himself in the circular mirror, black hair rumpled, lips swollen, dark eyes shining. He looked happy enough that he almost didn’t recognize himself.
His clothes from the night before were almost completely dry except for an unfortunate dampness in his boots. Alastair buttoned his waistcoat slowly, not wanting to rush out on Thomas even when he probably should have been hurrying home. The room was chilly, the fire burned down to smoldering cinders. Alastair flattened his hair into acceptability, watching Thomas’s shoulders move under his jacket as he shrugged it on. He caught Thomas watching him too and felt absurdly pleased.
When he was finally ready to leave he hovered by the door, abruptly awkward. How did you say goodbye to someone you never wanted to say goodbye to? Impulsively, he went back to where Thomas stood and went up on tiptoe, wrapping his arms around the taller man’s neck in order to draw him down for another kiss. The kiss lasted longer than it should have, Thomas’s fingers pressing into Alastair’s hips hard, drawing him closer. The difference in height meant that Thomas had to bend slightly and Alastair’s body curved into his as if they had always been meant to fit together.
Alastair could have stood there all day, losing himself in the warmth of Thomas’s mouth. He wrenched himself away with an effort, inhaling a deep shaky breath. “I have to go.” He whispered, knowing that Thomas could read the regret in his voice.
“I’ll send you a message.” Thomas’s hair was wrecked, his lips red where Alastair had kissed them. “I want to see you soon.”
There was a wealth of emotion behind the statement and Alastair loved him for it. I want to see you soon because I don’t know how much time we’re allowed before the world inevitably works to drive us apart. I don’t know how we’ll make this work but fuck the world I’m willing to try.
Alastair wanted to kiss him again. He also knew that if he did he might never leave. He strode to the door instead and looked back with a smile. “See you soon then.”
It didn’t feel anything like a goodbye.
Alastair walked right into Matthew Fairchild as he was leaving the creaking door of The Devil Tavern. Matthew stopped, arrested on the pavement, staring at Alastair as if he’d never seen him before.
As always the sight of Matthew dredged up a mixture of emotions, with guilt being the most prominent. Along with the guilt was a faint distrust of the man who apparently fancied his sister and who drank enough that Alastair felt compelled to keep Cordelia away from him out of habit. He knew Matthew wouldn’t hurt her, but the experience of long years screamed otherwise and habits were tough to break.
Alastair schooled his features into indifference. He was determined to not be unkind to Matthew, but he also didn’t precisely know how to be kind to someone he had such a complicated past with. It was better to choose the middle ground of plain tolerance.
“What’re you doing here?” Matthew’s green eyes raked Alastair accusingly. He was wearing a ridiculous waistcoat again, this one purple with gold buttons.
Alastair could lie. He could say he’d been looking for Cordelia or simply visiting a well known Downworlder haunt. Except all the possible lies were easy enough to see through. Several denizens had seen Alastair and Thomas come in together. Polly at the very least knew that Alastair had spent the night. If Matthew was curious enough he could find out the truth without much effort.
Alastair raised his eyebrows in what he hoped was an exasperated manner. It was hard to pull off annoyance when he still felt like he was floating in a daze of happiness. “Good morning to you too.”
The soft breeze ruffled Matthew’s golden curls. “You didn’t answer my question.”
Alastair sighed, taking another step away from the door so that he wasn’t blocking the entrance. “Visiting Thomas, why?” He aimed for casual, hoping that Matthew hadn’t noticed the embarrassing way his tone had softened around Thomas’s name.
“Is that so?” Matthew’s eyes narrowed. “Where is he then?”
Alastair gestured uninterestedly at the building behind him. “Upstairs.”
There was an uncomfortable silence in which they regarded each other warily. Alastair could feel the weight of the past pressing down on them, stifling in its enormity.
“I’m sorry.” He blurted out. “I know I’ve said that before and I don’t know if it makes any difference, but I need you to know.”
“I know.” Matthew’s eyes skittered away from his face. “But I’m not Thomas, I don’t forgive so easily Carstairs.”
Alastair nodded as he felt disappointment creep through him, along with a bitter understanding. He and Matthew were too alike, sometimes it made him feel like he was looking into a distorted reflection. Neither of them forgave easily and both of them were tied inescapably to the life of the other.
“I understand.” He said finally, beginning to walk away towards where cabs bumped along the crowded street. “See you around Fairchild.”
He was surprised to see Matthew smiling a little as he turned away. It wasn’t much progress but it was certainly a step up from the hostile glares Alastair was usually the brunt of. Alastair felt himself smiling too as he raised his arm to hail a cab, the weight of the past on his shoulders lightening slightly as he felt the memory of Thomas’s kiss wash over him again.
The entryway of the Carstairs house was cool, witchlight glowing dimly in sconces even as late morning light slanted across the polished floor. Alastair drew off his coat, hanging it up quietly as he strained his ears. He could hear the sound of conversation in the dining room, the clink and clatter of plates and silverware. He straightened his waistcoat and took a deep breath before entering the room where his family was.
“An Enclave meeting?” His mother was asking. “Tonight?” Sona was sitting to the right of Elias, a scarlet roosari wrapping her hair, the swell of her pregnant belly visible. She looked up when Alastair entered, smiling a little in welcome, only the slight pinch around her lips betraying that she’d been worried. “Alastair! Where’ve you been?”
Alastair realized with some shock that his family wasn’t eating brunch alone. He spared a brief thought of gratitude that his parents couldn’t reprimand him before he registered who their guests were.
Sat beside each other at the table, looking perfectly content, were Sophie and Gideon Lightwood.
Alastair wiped all shock and apprehension from his face, shoving his nerves down determinedly. Whatever anxiety he felt around Thomas’s parents had to be compartmentalized around his father. Alastair couldn’t tolerate even a little suspicion. His father had made that clear enough several times throughout his childhood, when he was putting too much time into playing the piano, when he had tried to help Risa in the kitchen once, the time he had offered to help Cordelia with her dance lessons. Dragging his father’s attention to Thomas in any way was certain to end in disaster and Alastair couldn’t bear the thought. Not when he still felt so elated.
“Got caught in the rain last night.” He said, seating himself carefully. He nodded to the Lightwoods in greeting before piling eggs onto his plate. “Bad luck getting a cab back.”
Cordelia caught his eye across the table and smiled in companionable secrecy. He smiled back, wondering if she could read the emotions on his face. Had it really been only yesterday that he’d told her he wasn’t going to fall in love? He knew without a shadow of a doubt that she’d be excited for him and suddenly he couldn’t wait to tell her. The new alien feeling of being able to talk to his sister about anything was so relieving that he couldn’t believe he’d lived any other way before.
“Tonight?” Cordelia asked. “Is it a party?”
Gideon chuckled. “Not quite a ball, more of a casual event.” Alastair could see the echo of Thomas in his father’s face, though Thomas had the coloring of his mother. He chanced a look at Sophie, who was examining him with a faint quizzical expression.
Alastair was abruptly aware of all the things Sophie and Gideon might have heard about him in the years since the Academy. His stomach twisted uncomfortably. He desperately didn’t want them to have a bad opinion of him, not when he knew how important Thomas’s family was to him.
He looked away quickly and almost reluctantly turned his gaze to his father. “Are we going?”
Elias’s blue eyes drifted over him. Alastair ignored the way the dismissiveness still hurt as much as it had when he’d been fifteen. “It’d be rude to refuse.”
“Quite.” He focused on his eggs as amiable chatter flitted around him. His mind raced ahead to the evening. If Sophie and Gideon were the ones inviting the Carstairs then Thomas was sure to be there. Alastair’s pulse stuttered at the thought of seeing him again so soon.
“I’ve heard you helped my son with the antidote that saved Christopher.” Sophie said to him, startling him out of his reverie.
Alastair stilled, fork halfway to his mouth. He gathered himself quickly. “I didn’t do much.” That much was true, he’d mostly sat and provided engaging conversation while Thomas fiddled with multiple contraptions Alastair didn’t understand in the least.
“Nonsense.” Gideon exclaimed. “Thomas said you were a great help.”
Alastair felt his cheeks warm and was glad he couldn’t blush red. “I’m glad he thought so.”
Cordelia was smirking a little across from him as she took a sip of tea to hide it. Gideon and Sophie were both looking at him now, faces open and friendly and Alastair felt absurdly pleased. Thomas had told them about him.
But of course he would have, Alastair realized. Thomas wasn’t the kind to lie about what had transpired and of course he wouldn’t have wanted to take all the credit for the antidote.
It was quite the contrast to Charles’s behavior after the antidote had been found.
Sona’s eyebrows drew together. “What were you doing at the Fairchild’s that night?”
Having sex with the son of the Consul. Alastair took a bite of toast to steady himself against the anxiety in his stomach. “Looking for Cordelia.”
Cordelia played along. “You didn’t have to do that.” She said in a very good impression of annoyance.
“You broke your leg that night.”
“That’s besides the point.”
Sona sighed. “Children, please. Not while we have company.”
While the adults shared a laugh at their antics Alastair met Cordelia’s eyes and a conspiratorial smile passed between them. Alastair felt himself relax in the still new knowledge that he could lean on her.
“The purple or the green?” Cordelia asked, holding up two different evening gowns.
Alastair didn’t even bother looking up from his newspaper. “Purple.”
“You’re no help.” She disappeared behind the screen in her room with a huff.
He did look up at that. “I said purple.”
She threw her afternoon dress over the screen. “I think I’ll go with the green.”
He snorted and turned his attention back to the newspaper. He was sitting sideways in an armchair in front of the cold fireplace, legs swung over the armrest. “Your loss.”
The feeling that Cordelia was sticking her tongue out at him intensified.
“You’re lucky. You don’t even need to wear anything formal.”
Alastair ran a hand absently over his charcoal gray waistcoat. “Can’t argue with you there.”
They were supposed to be leaving for the institute in about ten minutes and Alastair had retreated to his sister’s room in order to avoid the tension that he felt around his parents like a tight wire. There was something comforting about the room that he’d gotten used to in the months since the incident in the cemetery.
He realized Cordelia had asked him something.
She poked her head around the edge of the screen, frowning at him. “Aren’t you going to tell me about your night?”
He tilted his head back until he was looking at the plaster ceiling. Thomas’s expression when he’d kissed him swam to the front of his thoughts and Alastair let himself enjoy it without the worry of his father seeing it written across his face. He sighed in content, contemplating what to tell her. Everything was still so new and he suddenly found himself wanting to keep the details to himself. It was a private matter after all. “It was enjoyable.”
Cordelia went to her mirror, now wearing a dress in deep moss green that made her eyes look even darker. She contemplatively held up a pair of delicate gold earrings near her face. “That’s all?”
Alastair groaned, more out of habit than actual annoyance. “That’s all!”
Something in his voice must have betrayed him because Cordelia raised her eyebrows at him in the mirror. “I don’t believe you.” She said in superior tones, twisting her red hair expertly into a coil.
Alastair stood, catching his coat up. “Too bad.”
Cordelia drew her gloves on. “You’re practically glowing.”
“I am most certainly not.”
She followed him out into the hallway, grinning. “Yes you are.”
Alastair grinned too, hoping she couldn’t see.
Enclave meetings were famously boring. Alastair could hardly believe how excited he was to enter the institute.
Carriages were crowded in the courtyard, horses shaking their manes and clipping their hooves against the cobblestones gently. The evening was cool, the breeze making Cordelia shiver beside him. Alastair saw the Lightwood carriage and felt his heart rate increase against his will.
Inside was a buzz of activity. Groups of Shadowhunters divulged themselves of their coats, calling out greetings to each other that echoed off the high ceiling. Tessa and Will Herondale stood to the side, welcoming each member of the Enclave. Cordelia brightened. “Oh I see James!” She disappeared into the crowd without another word.
Elias sighed, looking after his daughter in wry amusement. “Ah young love. Should we expect the same of you and some charming lady in the Enclave tonight Alastair?”
Alastair stiffened, long practiced boredom sliding into his tone. “Haven’t had time for it recently.”
He felt his father’s cool gaze slide over him. “You never have, have you?”
Alastair raised a disdainful eyebrow at him, daring his father to come out and say it, knowing Elias was too much a coward. “Not in recent memory.”
Sona rested a protective hand over the swell of her stomach, clearly uncomfortable. Thankfully Tessa had spotted them and made her way over, forcing his father to turn his attention elsewhere. As soon as he looked away Alastair felt sick with relief, tension thrumming through him in an all too familiar beat. He forced himself to look mild as Tessa said hello.
It was always disconcerting to have someone who looked his age looking at him with such a motherly countenance. Alastair inclined his head to her even as he scanned the room.
Thomas wouldn’t be hard to find as he was a good head taller than everyone else. So where was he?
“Looking for anyone in particular?” Tessa asked kindly.
Alastair started. “Just people I know.” He told her, wondering what had been written across his face. Concealing his emotions had become easy practice after years but there was something about Thomas that unwound all the careful knots of his control. It was both terrifying and exhilarating.
“Oh hello Alastair!” It was Lucie, materializing out of the crowd. Unlike Thomas she was a good head shorter than everyone else and had to weave her way stubbornly around several taller Shadowhunters on her way towards him. She beamed at Sona and Elias winningly, sparkling up at them with big blue eyes. “Do you mind if I borrow Alastair for a moment?”
Tessa raised her eyebrows. “For what exactly?”
Lucie gave an expressive shrug. “Some of us are commandeering the games room as a haven from the elder generation. I figured Alastair would want to join in.” She shot him what was undoubtedly supposed to be a meaningful look, blue eyes wide.
It didn’t matter what she intended, Alastair would have jumped at any opportunity to avoid his father’s company. “Of course I would.” He said briskly. “Pardon me.” He added, more for Tessa and his mother’s benefit than Elias’s. Lucie beamed, spinning on her heel and hastening across the room. Alastair followed close behind her, relieved and also more than a little puzzled. Thomas was still nowhere in sight.
It took him a moment to realize that they weren’t headed in the direction she’d told their parents. Lucie led him down a discreet corridor instead, her shoes clipping the stone floor crisply.
“I thought we were going to the games room.” He said finally when they paused at the base of a staircase that led to the uncountable bedrooms on the upper floors. “But that is very clearly not the case.”
He almost ran into her as Lucie stopped abruptly, turning towards him with a look of disbelief. He frowned down at her.
“Don’t be daft.” She said primly. “I’m bringing you to Thomas.”
It was Alastair’s turn to feel disbelief. He gaped down at Lucie, his thoughts whirling. He felt as if the floor had dropped out from under him, sending him spinning into a dark abyss where nothing was predictable.
“W—why?” He stammered finally, not sure he wanted to hear the answer, cursing his sudden loss for words. He really would have to do something about that. If the sound of Thomas’s name left him speechless all the time people were bound to catch on eventually.
Lucie turned and began to head up the stairs. “No idea, he just sent me to fetch you.” She chanced a look over her shoulder, eyes understanding. “He’s my best friend besides Cordelia. I’d do anything for him.” There was a note of warning in her voice, a message he could hear as clearly as if she’d shouted it. Don’t hurt him, or else.
Alastair hesitated before slowly saying, “I know.”
He wanted to tell her not to worry, that he would be as careful with Thomas’s heart as he would have wanted someone to be with his own the first time he’d been in love. That he would be as gentle as he knew how.
He didn’t say anything else though. It seemed too personal. Too much like a confession.
Thomas was in an empty bedroom, nervously pacing the length of the floor. Lucie grinned at both of them as she left Alastair, shooting him another meaningful look over her shoulder as she shut the door.
There was really no need for her to be worried.
As soon as Alastair caught sight of Thomas he felt the tension in him uncoil. The problems with his father seemed a distant memory. Every weight lifted off his shoulders at once.
Thomas’s face lit up as his eyes found Alastair’s. Alastair’s heart beat with an almost painful longing. He still couldn’t believe that he was able to make anyone look at him like that. Energy thrummed through him as he drank in the curve of Thomas’s shoulders, the place where his sleeve was rolled up to expose the tracery of his tattoo, the way he seemed to vibrate with barely contained nervous energy. Alastair wondered if Thomas knew that he had no reason to be nervous, that Alastair was already too far gone for him to ever reconsider their kiss. It suddenly seemed very important that Thomas knew that.
He crossed to where Thomas was, standing on tiptoe to crush the other man’s mouth to his own. Thomas made a muffled sound of surprise before his hands came up to gently wrap around Alastair. He held him tentatively, a sharp reminder to Alastair that Thomas had never done anything like this before. The ache in his chest intensified as he pulled away from the kiss, still staying in the circle of Thomas’s arms. The fabric of Thomas’s shirt slid against his skin as he buried his face in Thomas’s collar, inhaling deeply.
“Sit down.” He murmured into Thomas’s shoulder.
He felt the hitch of Thomas’s chest against him as he breathed. “Why?” He sounded dazed.
Alastair tilted his chin up, brushing his lips against the soft skin of Thomas’s neck. “You’re too tall.”
Thomas shivered even as he laughed quietly. “You’re too short.”
Alastair tugged at the soft hair at the nape of Thomas’s neck. “Watch it.”
Thomas’s eyes darkened, making Alastair’s stomach flip. And then Thomas was kissing him again, harder now, his hands tangled in the dark waves of Alastair’s hair as his mouth moved frantically. Every nerve in Alastair’s body felt attuned to the places Thomas was touching him, his mouth, his palms, the rise and fall of his chest against Alastair’s own.
Alastair shrugged his coat off without breaking away from the kiss, throwing it aside without looking where it landed. His hands fumbled on the buttons of Thomas’s waistcoat, every layer between them seeming unnecessary. His blood was pounding, skin electric under the press of gentle hands. They stumbled to the near wall and fetched up against it, the cool stones pressing into Alastair’s back as he let out a rush of surprised breath.
Thomas’s hips were pressed against him, the pressure making Alastair’s head spin. He managed to get Thomas’s shirt open, fingers finding smooth skin hastily, his palms sliding over the ridges of Thomas’s ribs and the curve of his chest. Thomas made a sound low in his throat and lifted his head away from the kiss, breathing hard.
Alastair watched him as his hands wandered. Thomas’s eyes were dark, his pupils blown wide with desire. His breathing wavered as Alastair moved his hands down over the line of his stomach, his fingers digging into the ridges of his hips. Alastair kept his eyes on Thomas’s face as his eyelids fluttered shut and he leaned into Alastair, bending to press a clumsy kiss to the side of his throat.
Alastair heard himself make a noise and then he was pressing kisses to the exposed skin of Thomas’s chest and one of Thomas’s hands was tight in his hair. Nothing else existed in the world other than the two of them. Nothing besides Thomas pressed against him and his breath coming unevenly as he pushed Alastair back against the wall.
His hands slid up under Alastair’s shirt, fingers like lines of fire, and Alastair sucked in his breath. Thomas’s touch was light, hesitant even as his mouth slanted down over Alastair’s with urgency. His fingers skimmed gently over Alastair’s ribs and Alastair hummed impatiently, grabbing Thomas’s wrists and pulling his hands towards him, pressing Thomas’s palms hard against his skin.
Thomas pulled away, his forehead resting against Alastair’s, breath ghosting hot across Alastair’s mouth. His hands stilled, fingers pressing tightly into Alastair’s sides. He was so close that Alastair could see each individual eyelash, the spray of light freckles across his nose. His was so beautiful it made the ache of desperate wanting in Alastair’s chest expand.
“I—” I love you. He broke off as Thomas lifted him swiftly, up until they were on eye level, the stones hard against Alastair’s back. He felt the strain in Thomas’s arms as he held him and, acting on impulse, wrapped his legs around Thomas’s waist. Their hips locked together, their bodies fitting together clumsily. Thomas groaned and pressed him harder into the wall, arms making a cage on either side of his head. Alastair ran his hands over the swell of Thomas’s biceps and the smooth skin of his chest, watching Thomas watch him, his lips parted and his breath coming hard.
Now that they were on eye level all Alastair had to do was lean forward.
He knew he was murmuring endearments in Persian and only remembered that Thomas understood when the other man laughed, the sound muffled against Alastair’s mouth. Alastair could feel him smiling, could feel himself smiling as their mouths slanted together. Heat rushed through him, every nerve in his body on fire. He could have stayed in that room forever.
A knocking on the door interrupted them and Thomas pulled away with a groan. The places where they’d touched throbbed like a wound as he gently disentangled himself. Alastair dropped to the floor, dazedly running a hand through his hair in an attempt to flatten it.
“Thomas?” Lucie’s voice called from the other side of the door. Relief that it was her poured through Alastair, mirrored on Thomas’s face. “The boys are looking for you.”
Thomas began to button up his shirt and waistcoat, hands shaking slightly. “Thank you Lucie.”
“Don’t mention it!”
There was the sound of footsteps retreating down the corridor and Alastair met Thomas’s eyes. Thomas was a wreck, mouth bright red, hair thoroughly rumpled. Alastair reached up a rueful hand to smooth it, savoring the feeling of the soft strands against his fingers.
“You’d better go.” He murmured, watching Thomas swallow.
Thomas shrugged on his coat, his breathing still uneven. He looked a little lost as he looked at Alastair. “I don’t want to.”
Alastair heart panged. Emotion welled through him. “I don’t want you to either.” He said, hearing the bare longing in his voice.
But they’d already risked too much by sneaking off at an Enclave meeting. Thomas’s friends were looking for him and Alastair’s father was downstairs.
He saw in Thomas’s eyes that he understood just how much Alastair wished he could stay. A look of resolve flashed across his face and he seemed to make up his mind, reaching and drawing Alastair to him for a parting kiss. His mouth was warm and Alastair allowed himself just another golden moment of respite.
When Thomas pulled away his eyes were shining. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Alastair stared up at him as if coming out of a dream. “What?”
“Tomorrow.” Thomas moved toward the door, smiling a little as he went. He was still flushed. “We’re going to the movies.”
The words made Alastair stare. He loved films. Loved the way mundanes seemed to have created their own type of magic with them. He hadn’t realized that Thomas remembered.
The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. “I think I’m in love with you.”
Thomas stopped and turned to stare at him, going bright red even as his eyes lit up. His mouth opened and closed once before he seemed to realize something and took a deep breath. He ducked his head in slight embarrassment before saying softly, “I think I love you too.”
He was out of the room before Alastair could react. He was stunned, blood pounding in his ears. His heart felt like it had turned into air and was floating away, untethering him. He felt slightly dizzy, in a way that made him want to yell from a rooftop in exaltation. Yell I’m in love with Thomas Lightwood! so loudly that everyone in London could hear it. Yell it so loudly that people walking along the Seine like he and Thomas had in the summer of 1902 could hear and know.
He settled for whispering it to himself in a dark institute bedroom, smiling at the promise of a future of hope.
“I’m in love with Thomas Lightwood.”