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In the Sin Bin

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“So how did it go?” Clary grilled him the second the elevator doors shut.

Alec gritted his teeth, trying to rein in his anger. He couldn’t even look at her. “How did Magnus know I’m gay?”

“I didn’t tell him!”

He took a deep breath and leveled her with a look that made her take a step back. “Izzy?”

“No way.” Clary shook her head adamantly. “She’s the one who made me swear I wouldn’t say anything.”

“Simon,” Alec grit out.

“Not him either. He would’ve called me to confess if he broke down and said something. So Magnus knows?”

Alec scrubbed his hands over his face. How the fuck had Magnus known? Was he really that obvious? “Apparently I’m not very good at hiding my deepest desires.”

“He didn’t say that,” Clary insisted.

“And he doesn’t have any problem keeping my closet intact as long as he’s getting paid.”

Clary crossed her arms. “I get the feeling you’re paraphrasing.”

Alec stormed out of the elevator when the doors opened. “What the hell do you know, Clary?”

“I know Magnus as well as I know you,” Clary said as she followed on his heels. For being so short, she was too damn fast. “He’s not in this job for the money.”

Alec pushed through the front doors and into the sunshine. “Everyone works because of money, Clary.”

Clary yanked on his sleeve, bringing them to a stop on the steps. “Fine. You can choose to be jaded about this, but you of all people know that money isn’t what motivates everyone.”

“I don’t know that anymore. I just attended a meeting where I used my physical appearance to get paid.”

“Alec. Come here.” She took Alec’s hand and led him over to a bench. He sat down with a huff, looking at the mass of people on the sidewalk but not really seeing any of them.

“Look at me, Alec. You’re being paid for being good at a sport you love. Being ridiculously attractive helps, I’m not going to lie. But it’s not the only reason why these companies want you to endorse their products.”

Alec huffed out a laugh, despite his shit mood. Clary had a way of doing that to him. He glanced at her, raising an eyebrow. “Ridiculously attractive?”

“You are a tree I wouldn’t bother trying to climb. Because you’re too close to the ground…. Leaning. Like, not straight.”

“Way to see that metaphor all the way to it’s terrible end,” he retorted.

Clary rolled her eyes and scooted closer to him, grasping his hand. “Now tell me, how did it go? It was over so fast!”

Alec blew out a long breath. He was still processing everything that had happened. “Magnus was…intimidating. I’ve never seen anything like it. He dismissed them. Telling them that they didn’t have anything further to discuss when they didn’t accept his terms.”

“Holy shit.”

Alec’s lips quirked into a smile. “He was brilliant. And I’m going to have to tell Izzy that she was right. You know how much I hate doing that.”

“Magnus is brilliant, isn’t he? I don’t know how he can switch between different aspects of his personality so quickly.”

Alec’s shoulders slumped as he remembered how he and Magnus had ended the meeting. “Well one aspect of his personality is static. He hates me.”

“He doesn’t.”

“I’m very sure he does.”

“Why? What did he say?”

Alec met Clary’s eyes. He knew she would see right through him, but he needed someone to see his hurt right now. To recognize that he wasn’t the fake persona that he put on like a second skin every day. “He hates me because he’s not hiding and I am.”

Clary’s features softened. Her eyes were sad. “But did you tell him that’s not the way you want it to be?”

“He wouldn’t want to hear it even if I did.” Alec flinched. His voice sounded bitter even to his own ears. He let go of her hand and stood. “Shit, Clary. This is why I didn’t want to take on any advertising deals. Now I’m going to be roped into all of these clauses about how I live my life. My personal life isn’t personal anymore. I can be who I am behind closed doors, but not in public. I’m never going to have the choice to be…open.”

“What Hodge did to you, Alec…. You didn’t have a choice.”

Alec fumed. “So now he’s fucking up my life even from behind bars.”

“Yes, he is,” Clary nodded, and her voice was rough. “And it’s not fair. But most of these contracts run one to two years, and by then you’ll have a championship ring on your finger—maybe two—and you can tell them all to fuck off. It’s temporary, Alec.”

“Shhhh,” Alec chastised her softly, smiling. “We don’t talk about rings or championships.”

“You’ll be with Izzy tonight, right? That will be good.”

Alec sank down next to her again. “If I can deal with her gloating.”

“She’s proud of you, Alec. All of who you are. She’s your biggest advocate and you can’t fault her for being happy that something has gone well for you. If Magnus was as effective as you say, I don’t think you’ll be waiting long to hear on Gallant.”

“As much as I don’t want it, I really want it.”

Clary nodded. “I know you do. Life—”

Alec interrupted her. “It sucks and then you die. Yeah, I know.”

“I was going to say it’s full of mysteries.” Clary bumped her shoulder against Alec’s. “Two kinds of people.”

Alec circled his arms around her. They didn't always get along, but he loved Clary. She was one of his best friends and it was because of moments like this—where she made him see that life didn’t have to be as disastrous as he envisioned. “Text me if you hear anything, okay? And have fun with Simon tonight.”

Clary returned the hug, resting her cheek on Alec’s chest. “You too, Alec. Give my love to everyone.”

 

****

 

Magnus set the handset of his office phone back on the cradle and grinned.

Four hours.

It had taken only four hours for Gallant to cough up another thirty percent and forego the endorsements approval clause in exchange for two year exclusivity in their product lines. It was the biggest contract Magnus had ever landed, and one that would open doors for all his colleagues. Magnus had finally made his mark on IE and it was one that would have ripple effects for years to come.

It was the professional equivalent of giving a prostate pounding that left your partner deliciously sore and weak in the knees for days afterwards. The overly competent lover who was never forgotten. Magnus had never been more proud.

He stood, whipped his coat off the rack and descended on Clary’s desk in a flurry of bliss. “It’s time for cocktails, biscuit!”

Clary didn’t look up from her screen. “Can’t. Simon is coming over tonight. We have a…thing.”

“A thing?”

Clary shook her head, still pattering away on her keyboard. “Long story.”

“My dearest sweet cinnamon roll, I don’t think you’re hearing me. I. Need. To. Celebrate.”

Clary’s eyes tracked away from her screen slowly, a smile inching up her lips as she locked gazes with him. “No. Magnus. Really? Gallant came through?”

“Of course they did,” Magnus scoffed, even though he’d grown less and less sure of his bad cop negotiating tactic as the day had worn on.

Clary jumped up and wrapped him in a ferocious hug. “That’s amazing! We definitely need drinks. Why don’t you come over to my place? Fully stocked bar courtesy of me, and fully stocked refrigerator courtesy of my mom.”

“And fully stocked sarcasm courtesy of Shaun,” Magnus noted.

Clary laughed. “Stop it. Simon thinks you don’t like him when you pretend not to know his name.”

“I like Stanley just fine.”

Clary beamed at that. It wasn’t difficult to make her smile, but nothing seemed to make her happier than when all of the people she loved got along.

“I’ll get my coat. Let’s go.”

Magnus unlocked his cell. “We’ll Uber it to your place instead of the subway. My treat. Can’t have my queen mingling with the peasants now.”

Clary giggled all the way to the elevator.

 

****

 

“This is much better than going out,” Magus said, tucking his feet under the chenille blanket Clary had placed over him. He took a sip of his wine and snuggled in deeper to the couch. His suit be damned. It was going to be wrecked with wrinkles and unsightly folds when he emerged from his blanket cocoon, but that’s what a good dry cleaner was for. He’d been freezing when they got to Clary’s walk-up apartment in a suspect part of town, and her lack of a reliable heating source had only chilled him more. But she had plied him with wine and soft blankets and now he was cozy and warm. He was going to have to give her a raise. “When did I get old enough that a dark, noisy bar is no longer a magical place of endless possibilities?”

“It’s a sure sign that middle age is creeping in. Next comes the gray hairs.”

“I'll look even more dignified with silver streaks at my temple,” Magnus protested.

Clary patted his leg. “Sure, babes. Whatever you say.”

“Hey, guys,” Simon said, walking through Clary’s front door without a knock.

“Hey, Simon,” Clary called out over her shoulder. “We’re marathoning the classic seasons of America’s Next Top Model. Join us.”

“Where’s your beautiful wife?” Magnus asked.

Simon dropped a duffel bag at his feet, and went to sit on the arm of the couch next to Clary. “You didn’t tell him?”

Clary bit at her lip. “No, but we can if you want.”

Simon dropped his chin down, his voice going into a near-whisper. “He knows?”

“I told you he would,” Clary whispered back adamantly. “He knows.”

Simon frowned. “How bad was it?”

“I don’t know,” she said, exasperated. “You’ll have to ask him—”

“While I enjoy puzzles every now and then…,” Magnus interrupted. Clary and Simon stopped talking, looking at him as if they’d forgotten he was in the room at all. “I’m lying. I don’t enjoy puzzles at all. And code breaking is not on my list of strengths. For the benefit of the third wheel in our currently wobbly tricycle, can we please start speaking in full sentences?”

Simon gave him a once over, then pushed his glasses up his nose. “Are you wearing a suit?”

“It’s cold in here and Clary’s yoga pants end at my calves. I make a point not to show any leg until summer.”

Simon clicked his tongue with distaste. “I don’t know if I like this look on you, Magnus.”

Clary whacked him on the stomach with her free hand and he cried out in surprise.

“What? That was a complete sentence.”

“He looks fabulous,” Clary insisted. “This is what success looks like.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Magnus,” Simon backtracked. “You do look fabulous, but also really imposing, and this look is so…bland. It’s not you. Take it off. It’s creeping me out.”

Magnus stood, unbuttoning his jacket and Simon’s eyes went wide as he continued to mutter.

“I know I said you look fabulous but you don’t have to undress for me….”

Magnus rolled his eyes.

“I don’t really swing that way. Although I guess I could given the right circumstances….”

Magnus lifted an eyebrow and shrugged the jacket off his shoulders.

“But I’m in a very committed relationship. Taking that whole until-death thing to heart and all.”

Magnus pulled his jacket all the way off, revealing the gold dragons with crimson and purple flames that arced over the shoulders and down the arms of the shirt, but were well-hidden below the jacket he’d chosen this morning. “Is this too bland for you, Seamus?”

Simon broke out into a wide smile. “Wow! It’s so sparkly. Wait? Did you just call me Seamus. Shit, he’s mad at me. Was it the compliments? Too strong?” Simon rounded on Clary, pointing at her. “Don’t tell Izzy this conversation ever happened.”

Clary smirked.

Simon threw his head back and groaned. “You’re so going to tell her.”

Magnus rolled up his sleeves, getting comfortable, and snuggled into his blanket again. “You were saying something about your wife and where she is or is not tonight?”

“Right, Izzy. My wife who I’m totally, one hundred percent straight for is—“ Simon glanced between Magnus and Clary. “I don’t know where to start.”

Clary scrunched up her brow. “The whole story?”

“Is this a story that’s going to get you into trouble by telling me?” Magnus asked.

Simon shook his head. “Our only ban was on telling you Alec is gay.”

“Ah, so now that I know I can know.”

“Exactly.”

Magnus shrugged and took a sip of his wine. “I don’t know if I care anymore where Izzy is.”

“Which means now he’s really interested,” Clary interpreted.

“Short version,” Simon said, “Izzy’s with Alec tonight. It’s their younger brother’s birthday.”

Magnus sat up. “I wasn’t aware there was another Lightwood.”

“Figured you probably weren’t,” Clary said. She clicked off the TV and faced Magnus. “Max was an oops baby. Alec was nine when Max was born.”

“A good oops or a bad oops for the Lightwood parents?”

“That’s debatable,” Clary answered. “Robert and Maryse Lightwood are a whole other story. For Alec and Izzy, though? Max was never anything bad.”

“And the long version?”

Clary hedged for a moment. “This isn’t a happy story, Magnus.”

Magnus felt immediately uncomfortable. He may not have liked Alec but he knew well that there were some stories that belonged solely to the people who had lived through them. “Is this something I should hear from Alec himself?”

“He won’t tell it to you,” Simon said. “I’ve only ever heard it from Izzy.”

“I don’t think this is something I should hear,” Magnus insisted.

“Honestly, Magnus?” Clary said. “I think maybe you should.”

“I think so too,” Simon added. “Considering….”

Clary nodded her agreement.

Magnus shook his head. “I don’t follow.”

“You know Alec is gay,” Clary said. “But you don’t know why he ended up hiding that for so many years.”

Simon set his hand on Clary’s shoulder. “Izzy thought you already knew and that’s why you were keeping Alec’s contract despite your rocky start. She’d be okay with us telling you. Then she doesn’t have to relive it all. It’s hard…for both of them.”

“All right,” Magnus relented. They knew the Lightwood family better than he did. “Go ahead.”

“I’ll grab another bottle of wine,” Simon offered. “You start, Clary.”

Clary rearranged herself on the couch with her back against the arm rest and her toes poking under Magnus’ blanket. She took a deep breath. “So ten years ago, Alec was finishing up his freshman year of college. Max had gone to a pick-up game with Alec and some of his friends on a Friday night, and after the game, instead of driving Max home Alec wanted to go out with his boyfriend Raj, another player on the team.”

“Neither one of them were out,” Simon added, from the kitchen. “So they only saw each other when they could get off campus.”

“One of the assistant coaches offered to drive Max home,” Clary continued. “This guy was a family friend who’d been with Alec through years of hockey leagues, so there wasn’t any question in Alec’s mind when he offered. Alec and Raj got in Alec’s car and Max got into this coach’s car and they drove away. Alec was a few cars behind them on this main road approaching the intersection where the coach would take a left to take Max home and Alec and Raj would continue on for whatever it is they were going….” Clary furrowed her brow. “I don’t know if I ever got that part of the story.”

“Me either,” Simon confirmed.

“Anyway, the coach got in the lane to turn left and Alec saw the flashers signaling an oncoming train and he expected the coach to wait, but he didn’t stop. Alec saw the train and he saw Max in that backseat and the car wasn’t braking or speeding up and Alec watched—” Clary sucked in a breath, tears gathering in her eyes. “Alec watched as the train slammed into the car and sent it flying.”

Magnus’ stomach sank, twisting painfully. He set his glass down on the coffee table. He scooted forward and grasped on to Clary’s shaking hands. He knew where this story was likely heading. “You don’t have to tell me any more if you don’t want to, biscuit.”

Clary held onto him tightly. “No, it’s okay. Simon hadn’t started dating Izzy then, so we didn’t live through this—they did. I don’t know how—” Clary cut herself off. She swiped a tear away from her cheek and gripped his hand again, steeling herself. “Izzy said the wreckage was brutal. But Alec…he didn’t think about the risk to his life. He sprinted out of his car to get to Max, calling for Raj’s help, but Raj was frozen. Kept yelling at Alec about being found out….”

Simon moved Magnus’ glass aside, set down the bottle of wine and sat down on the coffee table. His jaw was clenched, and there was a fire behind him eyes that Magnus had never seen in him before. “Then Raj bolted, just took off. Leaving Alec alone.”

Magnus’ blood went cold. “No.”

Clary stilled. “Max’s heart wasn’t beating when Alec pulled him out of the car.”

Magnus shivered. He leaned forward and wiped Clary’s cheeks dry, ignoring the tears tracking down his own face. It didn’t matter that Magnus had expected this ending. He knew what it felt like to hold someone you loved in your arms and not feel the reassuring beat of a strong heart under your fingertips. It was a vicious ache—an emptiness that spiraled into your soul—that no one should ever have to experience.

“But Alec—” Simon began to say. His voice was shaky, and he had to take off his glasses to wipe the tears from his eyes, but Magnus did a double take when he realized Simon was smiling. “My badass brother-in-law Alec had learned CPR and emergency first aid from one of the trainers at college and he used his belt as a tourniquet on Max’s leg and kept up chest compressions until the ambulance got there.”

“Alec saved Max’s life,” Clary said with an air of wonder.

Magnus sucked in a breath. “Max lived? I thought for sure….”

Clary squeezed his hands. “He lived. Because of Alec. Max ended up losing the lower part of his left leg but he survived.”

“And because of that I have two badass brothers-in-law,” Simon said, the pride evident in his voice. Simon motioned for Clary to scoot over. She turned, leaning against Magnus’ side and dropping her head on his shoulder as Simon settled in next to her. Simon sighed. “They found out later the coach had had some kind of aneurysm and was probably dead before the train even hit. There was no one to blame, it was just a tragic accident that could’ve been infinitely worse.”

Magnus kissed the top of Clary’s head. “You were right. That isn’t a happy story, but it has a good ending.”

They were all quiet for a moment, then Simon leaned forward and popped the cork out of the wine bottle, refilling all the glasses and handing them out. “That’s the thing about it. There’s never really an ending to the effects of something like this. You ever notice how Alec rubs at his left hand? Some part of the wreckage speared through his hand when he was pulling Max out. Apparently that spot is still numb and he’ll never regain feeling.”

“But it doesn’t stop him,” Clary said. “Nothing stops Alec when he’s really driven. It’s one of the things I admire most about him.”

This was his client Alec Lightwood she was talking about—a man she obviously loved dearly, whom she had deemed worthy enough to be her family even though they weren’t connected by blood. A man who Magnus had shunned from the start because of what he did for a living and how he looked. Judging Alec by appearance and assumption….

Just as Magnus had always been judged by others.

The weight of Magnus’ missteps sat heavy in his heart. “I think I get the idea, but how does this all tie into how Alec ended up closeted?”

Clary lifted her head and looked him in the eyes. “You have to understand, Alec was eighteen when the accident happened. He wasn’t out to his parents. But from what Izzy tells me, he and Raj were serious and Alec was planning on coming out. The accident and Max’s recovery changed everything for the entire family in the years following, and Alec put his personal needs to the side for Max.”

“He and Raj were over the second Raj turned tail,” Simon added, his anger bleeding through every time he said Raj’s name. “Raj transferred schools the next year—but I don’t think Alec ever got over that betrayal. What happened with Max and with Raj messed Alec up for a long time. Alec never ended up coming out. He didn’t date anyone—seriously or not—and then he went pro and hiding that he was gay wasn’t a question.”

Magnus had been a lackey at IE seven years ago, not a full agent, but he remembered what athlete contracts were like then. “He couldn’t come out with how contracts were phrased.”

Clary nodded. “Max went through some hard years, too. Getting used to his prosthetic leg at first, then their parents divorce, then when he learned how much his accident had affected Alec. But he’s good now. Studying at Columbia to be an engineer. He wants to design and build athletic equipment for people with physical limitations, so that everyone has the chance to play.”

“He’s a great kid who makes horribly inappropriate jokes.” Simon laughed. “Impossible not to love, really.”

Clary glanced at Magnus. “I would say you’ll love him too, but I’ve only been half-right when it comes to the Lightwood siblings so far.”

No. He’d been the one who was wrong.

But before Magnus could find the right words to say that to Clary, Simon was continuing. “Anyway, a short answer to the long version of where Izzy is tonight—every year Izzy, Alec, and Max get together on Max’s birthday and have a sleepover. It’s their one-night-a-year that’s reserved for just the three of them.”

“And Simon camps out at my place,” Clary said. “Look, Magnus, I know Alec is only out to a handful of people, but I also know that’s not how he intended his life to go. It’s definitely not how he wants to be for the rest of his life.”

Magnus acknowledged that with a nod. He didn’t know what to say anymore.

“So Alec knows you know he’s gay?” Simon asked him.

“He does.”

“And? How did that conversation go?”

Magnus remembered the look of vulnerability—of fear—that had crossed Alec’s face when Magnus had confronted him after the meeting. He took a deep swig of his wine. “I felt much more confident in the moment than I do now. It’s hard to hate someone after hearing that story.”

“You shouldn’t have hated him in the first place,” Clary said in a quiet voice.

Magnus cringed.

She was right.

“Have you told Alec yet about Gallant?”

Magnus shook his head.

“Text him now. He’ll want to hear.”

“He’s with his family, biscuit. That’s more important.”

“Text him, Magnus,” Clary urged with a soft smile. “Believe me. He’ll be happy to hear from you.”

 

****

 

“I can’t believe you made a blanket fort to celebrate my nineteenth birthday, Alec.”

Alec elbowed Max in the ribs and gestured to the sheet and blankets he’d attached to the high ceiling, draping them over the entertainment center all the way to the back of his massive couch. Making a carnival-like tent that he, Max and Izzy were now situated under shoulder-to-shoulder, watching TV. “This took me three hours to make. Respect the fort.”

“And I spent three minutes making chocolate milkshakes!” Izzy said brightly.

Alec sucked in more of the supposed milkshake through his glittery straw and grimaced. “I don’t think there’s any chocolate in this.”

“So there may be more vodka and rum than chocolate,” Izzy admitted. “And ice instead of ice cream….”

Max scrunched up his face as he took another drink. “Is that lemonade I taste?”

“Fine! I give in. It’s a drink called the green demon. But I had to pretend like we weren’t condoning underage drinking. So I added Hershey’s syrup.”

Max shook his head, and downed more of the awful drink. “You promised me you’d never allow her to use your kitchen again, Alec.”

“She brought these from home. Don’t blame me.”

Izzy dismissed them both with a silver-nail-polish-tipped middle finger. “So what are we going to watch first, mis hermanos?”

Alec set his drink aside and plucked the stack of Blu-ray discs he'd preselected off the couch. “Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Christian Bale, or The Rock?”

“Those are just guys, not movie titles,” Max pointed out.

Alec grinned. “I know.”

“Do we seriously have to fight about this again this year?” Izzy complained. “I never get to pick the movie. Ever. Come on, Alec. You owe me.”

“I’m going to take my prosthetic off and beat you with it if you even think about letting her do it,” Max threatened, his lips tipped into a smirk.

That Max was so comfortable with every aspect of himself—that he could joke about things that had once been painful—made Alec proud. He wished he could have half the confidence his brother had.

Alec lifted an eyebrow, meeting Max’s challenge. “So that’s how tonight’s going to go, huh? Come at me, bro.”

“I’ll hold him down for you, Max.”

“Traitor!” he yelled at Izzy, smiling. “I build you this elegant blanket fort and you repay me with betrayal!”

“I thought you built this for me!” Max yelled back. “Get him, Iz.”

Izzy grinned mischievously and launched herself at him.

“Shit,” was all he managed to get out, then Izzy was crashing into him, tickling his sides, and Max toppled onto the Lightwood pile of limbs, and Alec couldn’t breathe he was laughing so hard. Just when he thought he was going to have to admit defeat—because Max had his arms pinned and Izzy was ruthlessly digging her nails in and taunting him with the names of unwatchable rom-coms—Izzy abruptly stopped tickling him.

She tipped her head, listening to something. “Is that Dead Inside by Muse?”

“Fuck.” Alec could hear the song now, a ringtone he’d set in the heat of the moment. “Yeah, it’s Magnus calling. Hang on.”

Alec untangled himself, smacking Max and Izzy on the back of the head on his way out, and crawled out of the fort. He swiped his cell off the coffee table he’d moved to the edge of the room, picked up the call and put the phone to his ear. “What do you want, Magnus?”

“I have news you may want to hear.”

Alec held up a finger to tell Izzy and Max—who were peering out at him through the sides of the fort—that he needed a minute, and went into his bedroom, shutting the door.

“What is it?”

“Gallant offered a contract I recommend you accept.”

Alec gaped. “Are you serious?”

“An ungodly amount of zeros serious.”

Alec knees went weak and he sat down on the edge of his bed. “Holy shit. And you're calling to tell me this? I’m surprised you didn’t show up here.”

Magnus laughed at that—a sound that was genuine and warm, not the callousness or arrogance Alec was already used to. “I wanted to drop by, but Clary told me to just text you, so we played mah-jong to break the standoff—since Simon was being difficult and refused to vote. Then we realized that none of us know how to play mah-jong, so now I’m calling you. It was a compromise. Anyway, we can talk details later. I don’t want to keep you. Get back to your siblings.”

Alec recognized that sinking sensation in his stomach too well. “Clary told you what I’m doing tonight.”

“She did….”

Alec waited for the pity. For the apologies about Max that always came across more like insults. Or for the word hero to be applied to him when he was anything but.

But Alec didn’t get any of those. Magnus gave a nervous laugh and said, “I’ve been advised that hating you on first sight may have been a bit rash.”

“You have, huh?”

“Frankly, I don’t know,” Magus said, all sarcasm and lightness and teasing. “I need to do a cost-benefit analysis to be sure.”

“I hear you’re good at those,” Alec replied, trying to match Magnus’ tone. He was a bit off-kilter with how this conversation had gone so far, though. Compared to the last time they’d seen each other—only hours ago—Magnus was talking with him, not at him. He knew why Magnus’ view of him had shifted, but he couldn’t be mad at Clary for spilling the whole story. He wouldn’t have been able to do it himself. Alec hoped this change meant what he thought it did. “You were very good in the meeting with Gallant today. Thought I should tell you that. If it wasn’t clear…you know…before.”

“Thank you, Alec.”

“I should be thanking you,” Alec rushed to get out. He didn’t know how long this apparent truce would hold. “I wouldn’t have this contract if it weren’t for you.”

There was a beat of silence, then, “Listen, Alec. I’m not okay with you being in the closet and I can’t pretend to be. You have the money and the visibility to break the paradigm and make a world-altering impact….”

Seconds. Their truce had last seconds. Alec clenched his fist and opened his mouth to snap at Magnus, then Magnus sighed heavily into the phone, and Alec reined his anger in. Waiting Magnus out.

“But….” Magnus finally said.

“But what?”

“But I understand how you ended up here. When you’re ready to be out, tell me. I’ll help you however I can.”

The threat of tears prickled at the corners of Alec’s eyes. He sucked in a deep breath to clear his head. “Okay.”

“We didn’t talk about his beforehand,” Magnus continued. “But I never allow lifestyle clauses in contracts I negotiate. There are the usual caveats about illegal activity and no public displays of competitors products, but who you choose to love will never be part of any contracts we work together on.”

“I didn’t even know that was an option,” Alec stammered. “Thank you.”

“No thanks needed. They’re antiquated clauses. And I’m getting paid well to make sure you’re happy.”

Alec smiled at that, remembering what Clary had told him about why Magnus was an agent, and realizing that it was true. “But it’s not all about the money, is it?”

“It’s not.”

Alec picked at the frayed edges of the old college sweatshirt he was wearing. “This is weird. You and me. Talking without yelling.”

Magnus laughed softly. “It is.”

Alec groaned and flopped onto his bed, the reality of his situation settling in. “Izzy is going to give me so much shit now that I don’t hate you anymore. She was right, Magnus. And I was wrong. Do you understand how bad this is?”

Magnus gave a full-out laugh this time. “I think I do. Clary looks positively triumphant. It’s maddening.” He was quiet for a moment and Alec could picture what Magnus looked like when his gears were turning. “You know….”

“What?”

“They don’t need to know that they were right.”

“You want to pretend we still hate each other?”

“It would be fun.”

Alec sat up. This he could get into. “So how loud do I need to yell to make this realistic?”

“It’s not really about the volume. It’s the harshness of your tone and the amount of fucks you insert into a sentence.”

Alec raised an eyebrow. “I have a tone?”

That is the tone,” Magnus quipped.

Holy shit. Magnus really was teasing him.

Magnus wasn’t okay with Alec’s choice to not be out, and they still had a lot to learn about each other to make this partnership work, but Alec thought…maybe this will be good.

He stood and started pacing, eager to tell Max and Izzy the news but wanting to spend just a few more minutes on the phone with Magnus. “I’m going to watch Simon’s band play tomorrow. Maybe you should show up.”

“I was already planning on it. Rock god Simon himself invited me.”

“Good. Then come. I’ll buy you a drink. We can start over. Or you can throw the drink in my face, whatever feels natural in the moment.”

“Well, Alexander—”

“Magnus,” Alec cut him off. “I may not hate you anymore, but still don’t call me that.”

Magnus chuckled. “Okay, Alec. See you tomorrow then?”

“Yeah. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Alec ended the call and threw his bedroom door open. “Guess who’s the new face of Gallant Group?”

Izzy screamed, Max tackled him to the ground, and he was being peppered with kisses and smashed into his floor. He could only yell “Don’t bruise the merchandise!” twice until he couldn’t talk anymore and he, Max and Izzy dissolved into laughter.