Actions

Work Header

In the Sin Bin

Chapter Text

“How was LA?”

Magnus paused at the windows overlooking Manhattan and considered Imogen’s question. The first words that came to mind were intimate, erotic, maddening….

“Productive,” he answered as he faced Imogen. “Aline has a very talented eye.”

“And? How did Alec handle the shoot?”

He leaned against the window and crossed his arms. “Better than the first. I think both campaigns will be a success.”

“Good. I assume there will be more to come with him.” Imogen took a seat in her imposing high-backed leather chair. She met his eyes, unflinching, and Magnus couldn’t read the intentions behind why she’d called him to her office.

While he wasn’t going to be forthcoming with all that had happened in LA, he had nothing to confess to her.

“In terms of endorsement deals we’re done until the playoffs are over,” he said in answer to her implied question. “I’m going to be focusing on his contract renewal before that.”

“I look forward to seeing what you’re able to negotiate.” Imogen swept her hand in front of her desk. “Take a seat, Magnus.”

Magnus crossed the massive office and settled into the chair opposite her, unbuttoning his suit jacket and crossing his legs. “I assume this is not a social call.”

“Very well. Let’s get into it. You’ve shown you can work between sectors and, frankly, that’s not a skill IE agents have excelled in. You’re a powerhouse, Magnus. You are the future of this organization.”

“Thank you,” he acknowledged. “I also assume praise is not the reason you called me here.”

Imogen pursed her lips at his abruptness. “It’s not. We’re switching your client list around….”

Magnus’ hearing fuzzed out for a heartbeat, a lightheadedness overtaking him that he had to tamp down.

He and Alec were on a temporary contract, but he was committed to protecting Alec as long as he was Alec’s agent. It didn’t matter how much he wanted Alec—how much he craved Alec’s hands on him again—he couldn’t go there. He was invested. Had come to care about Alec’s welfare as more than a client. He could guard Alec as his agent, but without that formalized relationship all of his power would be stripped away.

She wouldn’t take Alec away from him?

Would she?

“You are removing clients from me?” Magnus interrupted.

Imogen’s face was emotionless. “Yes. I met with the executive team this morning and we reviewed your portfolio. We’ve compiled a list of clients who will either be dropped from the agency or moved to other agents to maximize your time. You will also be provided a short list of prospective clients we need you to acquire.”

“Poaching? You are traversing a precipitous ledge, Imogen.”

“I’m aware. I’m also aware that you have the ability to manage the delicate balance needed to successfully acquire us the caliber of client we are in search of.”

Imogen handed Magnus a piece of paper and he scanned through the list, holding back a relieved breath when he saw Alec’s name under the heading Ongoing Development. The majority of his current clients fell in that list, and the three other categories—Reassignment, Termination, and Acquisition—had fewer names.

Magnus’ eyes caught on one particular name he hadn’t expected to see under Reassignment. “I’ll accept all of your changes except one. Tessa Gray remains with me. She’s in final auditions for a Broadway show and the producer has already reached out to me for a meeting. If you’re looking for me to rep higher level clients then Tessa will soon be of that echelon.”

“Then she stays with you.”

“I want to have personal conversations with each of them.”

“I’d expect nothing less from you.”

Magnus set the list aside. “This was a meeting I should’ve been a part of, Imogen.”

Imogen bristled like a cat who’d been pet in the wrong direction. “You weren’t because I don’t think you’re ready to make hard calls when it comes to your accounts. You are emotionally invested in your clients. That is an advantage that manifests in stronger relationships and also a weakness that muddies your judgement. I will manage your weakness until you’re able to improve in that area.”

Magnus held back a scathing reply as he stood. “I don’t share your point of view but we’ve never had to see eye to eye in order to be successful.”

Imogen was tight-lipped as she nodded. “Let’s continue with that success. For now, I need you to focus on working through Alec to get to more of the Angels players. You’re in the spotlight, Magnus. It’s time to perform.”

 

****

 

Magnus managed to exit Imogen’s office without launching himself across the desk to throttle the callous harpy. Barely. He couldn’t help Alec, Tessa, or any of his clients if he was fired.

He strode toward his office, visualizing how his schedule needed to shift to accommodate conversations with his clients who would be dropped or moved.

Clary surged to her feet when she caught sight of him. “Magnus, I have to—”

He held up his hand, stopping her from saying anything else as he continued to his office door. “Not now, Clary. I need you to get Tessa on the line immediately.”

“Magnus!”

He froze, his palm circled around the handle, and leveled her with a gaze she didn’t back down from.

“You have someone waiting for you in your office. Sebastian Morgenstern.”

Magnus backed away from the door, glaring at her.

“In my office?” he hissed quietly. “Now?”

Clary fidgeted this time. “He refused to wait out here.”

Magnus took a deep breath and cracked his neck. “Well. This day is exceeding all of my expectations.” He stood tall, adjusted his lapels and buttoned his jacket. “Please reach out to Tessa for me and set up a time for us to talk in person. Today if possible, tomorrow at the latest.”

“Tomorrow is the game,” she reminded him.

“I’m aware. You have my schedule—work around it.”

“Do you need an out, you know”—Clary tipped her head toward Magnus’ office—“with him.”

“He has impeccable timing. I think he may need the out.” Magnus opened his door and stepped inside. “Morgenstern. I believe the ending to our last conversation was more than conclusive.”

Sebastian turned lazily in his chair, arms draped over the rests and legs crossed. “I wasn’t happy with the result.”

“I’m not sure what that has to do with me,” Magnus replied.

“I have a proposal for Alec Lightwood that I’d like to present to him in person.”

Magnus took his seat and faced Sebastian. “You’re in person with me and I speak for Alec. You can present it now.”

Sebastian leaned forward, tossing a piece of paper on Magnus’ desk. “I present to you—a check.”

Magnus picked up the check and stared at it, dumbfounded.

If Imogen was a harpy then, in this moment, Sebastian was their smug bastard king. “Does that have enough zeroes to earn me a moment of Mr. Lightwood’s time?”

 

****

 

“Stop talking and make sure that doesn’t fucking drop on my head, Jace.” Alec ground his teeth together, pressing the heavily-weighted bar into his second to last rep.

Jace peered down at him, his lip curled cheekily. “Don’t let go of it and it won’t smash that pretty face.”

Alec clanked the bar into the supports, arms burning, and Jace tapped his cheek. “My turn.”

“Actually, I was hoping it could be my turn.”

Every exhausted nerve in Alec’s body lit up at the sound of Magnus’ voice. Alec swiped a towel from the floor, eyes landing on Magnus, who stood in the entrance to the arena’s gym.

Alec grinned, then schooled his features when he remembered there were three other Angels’ players in the room. “Mixing with the riffraff today, huh?”

Magnus sniffed. “There is the distinctive scent of blue-collar in the air.”

Alec held back another smile and stood, wiping the towel across his face and over his bare chest. He’d started his work out wearing a loose tank top and gym shorts, but he’d discarded his shirt halfway through his five miles on the treadmill. He wasn’t sure where his shirt was at this point and…he didn’t care. He wanted to see Magnus’ reaction to him, especially with how they’d parted in LA.

Then, he’d been sure Magnus was checking him out. Now, he was just as sure Magnus wasn’t. Magnus’ eyes didn’t graze lower than socially acceptable levels.

Alec frowned.

Next to him, Jace cleared his throat and Alec realized he’d let a beat of silence fall that he never did when he was around someone he found attractive.

Alec shifted on his feet. “Jace, this Magnus Bane. Magnus, Jace Wayland.”

Jace swiped his hand on his shorts and shook hands with Magnus. “You’re the agent, right?”

“And you’re the heavenly fire of the Blazing Angels.”

Jace puffed up at the description and leaned in, lowering his voice. “You think you could give me your assistant’s number?”

“I’m fairly sure if you call my office that biscuit is the one who will answer.”

“Biscuit?” Jace barked out a laugh then turned to Alec, perplexed. “I thought you said her name was Clary?”

One of these days Alec was going to have to clue Magnus in on why every hockey player would laugh at Magnus’ nickname for Clary.

“It’s Clary,” he confirmed.

Jace’s face brightened. “Cool.”

Alec stepped around the benchpress, peeking at the other two Angels to see if they were paying attention to him—if he’d triggered any red flags—but both seemed intent on the TVs above the treadmills. He found his tank and flipped it over his shoulder just as he heard Jace say, “Look, I heard about what you’ve done for Alec. It’s good.”

Magnus glanced at Alec—his features were…impassive. Nothing like how Magnus had looked at him at the club, or even after.

“It is what Alec pays me for.”

Alec restrained a wince.

“So you think you could hook me up with Clary? Networking is an agent’s thing, right?”

Magnus slipped a business card out of his pocket and handed it to Jace. “I’m not a dating service, but if you wish to discuss business then call my office, Mr. Wayland.”

“Thanks.” Jace flipped the card between his fingers.

Alec crossed his arms. “What can I do for you, Magnus?”

Magnus’ eyes were still locked to his, as if they were incapable of skimming any lower than Alec’s nose. “I was hoping you had time to talk.”

Alec didn’t answer right away and Jace’s eyes darted between Magnus and Alec.

Jace hitched a thumb over his shoulder. “I’m going to go over here now.”

Shit. That was a red flag Alec was going to have to deal with later.

“So you stopped by,” Alec said wryly. “Instead of texting.”

Magnus smirked. “Naturally.”

Alec shook his head and chuckled lowly now that it was just the two of them. “I’ve got a couple hours until the team meeting. Walk with me while I cool off. I’ll show you around.”

“It was delightful to make your acquaintance, Mr. Wayland,” Magnus called out. Jace gave a distracted wave as he talked to the other two players.

Magnus brushed against him as they went through the gym doors, leaning in to whisper, “Clary will ruin him.”

He looked down at Magnus as the doors closed behind them—felt every millimeter of where Magnus’ shoulder was pressed against his arm, and that Magnus wasn’t rushing to pull away from the contact—and finally let a smile go. “I’m kind of looking forward to it.”

Magnus’ eyes flitted to Alec’s lips and he took a step back, fiddling with his ear cuff. “You were going to give me the five cent tour?”

There.

Alec knew Magnus well enough now to recognize when Magnus’ walls went up. And you only needed walls if you had something inside to protect….

Alec kept his shirt slung over his shoulder instead of putting it on. “Yeah, follow me.”

“Where is everyone else?” Magnus asked as they walked down the empty hallway.

“We had practice this morning and now we’re taking a break. Most of the guys took off for a bit before we get back into meetings tonight.”

“But you stayed.”

Alec nodded.

“Does your stern Russian godfather Tarasov have anything to do with this?”

He did, but Magnus already knew that. “I don’t leave the arena unless I have to. Jace is the same.”

“More superstitions, Hagrid?”

Alec ran his hand over his beard—trimmed but growing thicker by the day. “I have a lot of them.”

“Any particular”—Magnus waved his hands in the air—“pre-games mythologies I should be aware of as not to trip up your rituals?”

The question was innocent enough, but the answer that immediately popped into Alec’s head wasn’t.

“I do… But—” Alec felt a blush creeping up his cheeks. “Never mind. None you need to be aware of. Here, let me show you the locker room.”

Magnus surveyed him with an arched eyebrow, but didn’t push Alec to answer.

“There’s an entrance to Garroway’s office there,” Alec pointed out. “One in the hallway too. He likes the threat of him always listening to keep us in line. Shower room is through there, benches, and my locker.”

Magnus ran a blue nail polish tipped finger down the edge of the only picture Alec had in his cubby—he, Izzy, Simon, and Max at the place they’d rented in Maine last summer.

“Utilitarian, organized, and meticulously unpersonalized. It’s very…you.”

Alec couldn’t disagree. “Most of my gear doesn’t fit in here. I store it in the equipment room. Some goalies carry everything with them all the time, but strangely enough I don’t have superstitions when it comes to my gear.”

“None?”

“Okay. I take that back. I always carry this with me.” He lifted his mask off the highest shelf. “I use the cat-eye style cage.”

Magnus held out his hands, twirling his fingers. “May I?”

Alec handed it over and Magnus settled the mask in place over his head. Magnus wearing his gear was…hot. Of course it was. Alec shook his head in disbelief. “You look good with cat eyes.”

Magnus wrinkled his nose. “This, Alexander, stinks.”

Alec burst out laughing. “All hockey gear does. But goalie stuff is the worst. You get used to it.”

“I don’t think this matches my ensemble.” Magnus swiveled his head around as if he was searching for something, then made his way to a mirror set between banks of lockers. “Am I as intimidating as you in this?”

“You don’t need that to be intimidating,” Alec answered honestly. “I mean, I can’t pin down exactly what look you’re going for all the time. You’re always accessorized and so put together, but it’s like…. I don’t know. You look different every time I see you. But yeah. You’re intimidating without that.”

“I wasn’t aware you were studying me that closely, Alexander.” Magnus lifted the mask off, settling it in the crook of his arm as he fixed his hair in the mirror. “Although I suppose it’s only fair—I have seen you nearly naked more than I’ve seen you clothed.”

Was that flirting or the pattern of banter they fell into so easily when it was just the two of them? Alec tossed his tank top into his duffel bag, pulled his Angels hoodie out of his locker and shrugged it on.

“You don’t have to get dressed for me.”

Heat crawled up Alec’s neck. That was flirting. Whether or not Magnus flirted with any end goal in mind—or if it was merely a distraction technique—still wasn’t clear to Alec, though. He shook his head. “How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Be so…open with me, but back there…in the gym—? How did you walk in there and pretend you weren’t even looking at any of the men?”

Magnus tipped his head and handed the mask back to Alec. “How do you do it?”

“I guess I hadn’t thought about it that way.” He slid the mask on its shelf, grimacing. “That was insulting, wasn’t it?”

“To some it would be. I understand that talking about all of this is rather new for you.”

“I guess.” Alec zipped up his hoodie. “Come on. Let me show you the inside of the arena. I didn’t give you a chance the last time you were here.”

Alec led Magnus through the tunnel and out past the boards. The rink was quiet. Illuminated in low lights instead of the glare of game time. The surface was glassy smooth and unmarked from Simon’s last zamboni run.

Magnus tilted his head back, surveying the banners hanging from the arena rafters. The names and numbers of retired players. Conference championships that went back forty years. But no league championship banners. Not yet.

Alec wasn’t looking at the rafters, though—he had those empty spots memorized. He was staring at Magnus, and he couldn’t look away.

Magnus had a small smile on his lips when he peeked at Alec. “Why did you choose to be a goalie?”

Alec’s face flamed at being caught staring by Magnus. He huffed out a nervous laugh and scratched at his beard. “I wanted to spend more time here—on the ice. Other positions play in shifts. They’re on and off the ice throughout the game. But my skates don’t leave it unless I get pulled.” Alec shrugged. “And that doesn’t happen.”

“I know. I’ve seen your statistics.”

“I wasn’t aware you were studying me that closely,” he retorted.

Magnus ran his tongue along the bottom of his teeth, unsuccessfully hiding another smirk, then clacked his mouth shut around whatever he’d been about to say.

Alec slid forward and spun around so he was facing Magnus. Even though he was wearing shoes, not skates, the slipperiness was familiar beneath his feet. He glided across the ice pointing out spots for Magnus. “That is the crease, the blue line, center line. The circles are where the faceoffs are— But I’m guessing you already know all of those from the games you’ve been watching. Home bench and away.” Alec faced the other side of the ice, pointing to a glass encased box. “And that is the sin bin.”

Magnus raised his eyebrows. “If you wanted me to be enamored with hockey that should’ve been the first stop on your tour.”

Alec bit at his lip to hold back a laugh. He was way too fucking enamored with Magnus in this moment. “You probably know it as the penalty box—where players go when they get certain penalties.”

“How much time have you spent in there?”

“Goalies don’t go into the box.”

“So you’re saying you’ve never spent any time”—Magnus dropped his voice lower—“in the sin bin?”

Alec rolled his eyes at the awful innuendo. “Let me show you my favorite part of the arena.”

 

****

 

Magnus felt a bit woozy from how high they were. Or maybe it was Alec. He wasn’t entirely sure anymore.

“Alexander,” he huffed, winded from the mountainous trek up too many flights of stairs. He dropped heavily into a hard plastic chair. “These are the worst seats in the whole arena.”

Alec grinned, sitting down next to him. “I know.”

“And this is your favorite place?”

Alec eased back in the royal blue plastic seat and draped one leg over the seat in front of him. “It’s just….”—He waved his right hand in front of him and looked at Magnus—“I came from nothing, you know? I was the tiny kid who wasn’t great at anything when I was growing up. Then I found hockey, and I started to get taller, but I was still different. My parents were always working, completely focused on their own lives. Success and uplifting the Lightwood name were all they ever drummed into me, Izzy, and Max. We were their secondary consideration on good days. I guess I like it here because it reminds me of where I came from, and also reminds me that there are people just like I used to be sitting in these seats who are working hard for something better.”

Magnus pulled at the cuffs of his shirt, leaning closer to the warmth of Alec next to him to ward off the chill. “Goalies don’t have the same glory other players do.”

“Goalies have a reputation for being a little unstable,” Alec said with a smirk.

“Are you?”

“Maybe a bit more than the usual person,” Alec allowed. “I mean, I put my body between a tiny net and frozen discs of plastic flying at insane speeds. I love this game so much, though, and I couldn’t be any other position because it took too much out of me. A goalie has to be okay with being alone yet very focused on the team as a whole. Being a goalie works with who I am.”

“You’re a leader.”

Alec scoffed. “I’m not.”

Magnus left Alec’s assertion unchallenged—for now. Convincing Alec to see his own value would take more than a one sentence platitude. It was evident to him that Alec saw his failures much clearer than his successes. It was a trait that fascinated Magnus. Alec had so much to be proud of, and yet it was as if he was incapable of seeing his own worth.

All Magnus could see when he looked at Alec now was immeasurable value. He saw Alec for everything he was in this moment. Everything he could be in the future. And….

Magnus’ breath caught.

Everything they could be.

He wanted to date Alec, not just be with him.

“Magnus?”

Magnus dragged himself out of his reverie—of thinking of what could be—and refocused on Alec. An Alec that had gone from playful, to forthright, to suddenly…confused?

“Yes?”

“There’s this thing I’ve been…. Something I haven’t asked you.”

“And you’re afraid it may be insulting?” Magnus tried.

“Maybe? But I don’t think so.”

“You can ask me anything, Alexander.”

Alec brought both his feet to the floor, leaned forward placing his elbows on his knees, and caught Magnus’ eyes in a determined gaze. “How did you know I was gay?”

Magnus took a deep breath and answered honestly. “The way you looked at me.”

Alec furrowed his brow. “I hated you.”

“Exactly.”

Alec opened his mouth, then snapped it shut. He began to knead at his left hand as he stared out at the ice. “Shit. I’m sorry, Magnus. I’m sorry for everything I said to you and how I treated you when we first met. I’m sorry that I was one of the people who judged you before knowing you. I was so wrong and I don’t even know where to begin or end apologizing.” Alec hesitated. “I’m sorry that the way I looked at you reminded you of things you wanted to forget.”

Magnus was stunned. “I never said that.”

“You didn’t have to.” Alec smiled sadly. “There are pieces of my…experience I see in you too.”

Magnus wasn’t aware he’d given that much away.

“I’ve coaxed very private information from you, Alexander,” Magnus prompted him. “You have my permission to ask the same of me.”

Alec nodded. “Okay. Then besides my money and potential influence, why does it bother you so much that I’m not out?”

Magnus crossed his legs, flicking a piece of lint off his knee. Alec had asked and he would answer—no matter how uncomfortable it made him. “Her name was Camille. She was the one who never should have been, not the one who got away. I stepped back into the closet, willingly, for her. She didn’t believe bisexuals could ever be faithful, and I thought I loved her, so I pretended to be something I’m not. It’s all very ironic, considering she was the one who cheated on me. A ‘dalliance’ she called it—as if that made it less of a betrayal. I denied who I was for someone who never gave all of herself to me. I’ll never do that again.”

Alec cringed. “I’m sorry I remind you of that.”

“You look at me very differently now,” he reassured Alec.

“I see the real you and I’m…. I’m grateful you came into my life.”

Magnus felt his heartbeat in his fingertips. He kept his hands on his lap instead of reaching out for Alec. “I feel the same, Alexander.”

Alec sat back in his seat, edging over until he was shoulder to shoulder with Magnus. When he looked at Magnus they were only inches apart, and Magnus could trace the details of the jagged line of darker brown that circled Alec’s eyes. Could verify the perfect symmetry of Alec’s lips when he smiled.

“You know what’s crazy? I actually like you calling me Alexander. Until I met you, that name only brought up bad memories. But you always say it with this…depth of emotion that changes the way I hear it. I don’t know if that makes any sense.”

Alec was too close. Magnus was too invested.

But he couldn’t pull away.

“Things have been heated between us from the first second,” Magnus admitted.

Alec’s gaze flickered to Magnus’ lips. “They have.”

There were two months left on his contract with Alec.

He would see Alec through the playoffs and his contract negotiation, then he could think about another agent taking Alec on. Then, he could hope that Alec would be ready to come out. Then, he could explore everything he saw in Alec that he wanted to know more about. Two months from now, he could consider that there was so much more that could be.

But for now….

Magnus drew back. “Alexander, I wish this were not the case, but I didn’t just come here for this. We have something we need to talk about.”

 

****

 

Alec had barely slept last night.

Between nerves about the first game of the playoffs and the meeting with Sebastian Morgenstern set for this morning, he’d been more anxious than he was used to powering through.

Then there was Magnus….

Every second he spent with Magnus left Alec breathless and excited and wanting….

Yet left him more confused about a path in life he’d been so sure of.

He groaned. Rubbed at his eyes and rolled out of bed and into the shower, setting the water as warm as it could go without scalding him. He made quick work of cleaning—and taking care of himself, as was the game day ritual he’d never tell Magnus about—and got ready, paying as little attention to his reflection as he could. He pulled a baseball cap on so he wouldn’t have to bother with his hair and headed out.

By the time he made it to the coffee shop down a few blocks from his apartment, Magnus was already there—waiting and looking much more put together than Alec did.

Alec took a deep breath and sat down in the chair kitty-corner from him. “Hey.”

Magnus frowned when he took stock of Alec. He slid a cup across the table to Alec. “I took a shot and ordered for you—black coffee with sugar.”

How the hell did Magnus instinctively know how Alec liked his coffee?

“You’re up—two to three,” he said with a tired smile. “I’ll need the caffeine today. Thanks.”

“Mr. Lightwood?”

Alec clenched his jaw and turned toward the voice. The man standing next to the table—a younger, more callous looking version of Valentine Morgenstern—set his teeth on edge.

“Mr. Morgenstern,” he acknowledged. He didn’t stand, didn’t offer his hand.

Sebastian didn’t seem fazed by Alec’s unwelcoming greeting. “Good morning, Magnus.”

Magnus settled back in his chair, appearing even more unaffected than Sebastian. Even with the man towering above him, Magnus was the one at the table in control. “Some parts, yes.”

Sebastian sat down in the seat closest to Alec and across the table from Magnus. “I know you have a game today, so I’ll get right to it.” He reached into his suit pocket and placed a piece of paper on the table, sliding it in front of Alec. “This is a check for a million dollars. It’s all we’ve been able to recover so far. I wish it were everything.”

Alec had expected this because of Magnus, but that foreknowledge had turned his stomach last night and it made him even sicker to see that amount in person. Alec swallowed some of his coffee to keep down the bile rising in his throat.

“We’d like you back as a client, Alec, and this is a first step to re-earning your trust.”

“Trust?” Alec scoffed, refusing to touch the check. “There is no amount of money that will earn any trust from me.”

“I believe that’s the same answer I gave you yesterday, Morgenstern,” Magnus calmly added.

Sebastian’s cool gaze slipped from Magnus back to Alec. Alec shivered at the sheer blackness of Sebastian’s eyes. “I didn’t share with Magnus the entirety of our peace offering yesterday, Alec. We’d also like to open up negotiations with your brother.”

Alec gaped and looked to Magnus for a clue on what was going on. Magnus was visibly inhaling through his nose, his jaw twitching.

“What do you want with Max?” Alec asked, his skin crawling with dread.

“We understand he’s been shopping for capital for his start-up.”

“What? What does that have to do with you?”

Sebastian ran manicured fingernails through his blond hair. “He has an idea—a good idea—and we want in. I’d like to speak to him about me becoming an angel investor for him, and Morgenstern & Morgenstern signing on as a venture capitalist. I have half a million to offer, and the firm has three million we’re willing to consider investing. ” Sebastian relaxed back in his seat, set one hand on the table and thrummed his fingers as he stared Alec down. “We also have the leverage in the finance community to ensure Max is…protected from other investors.”

Alec balled his fist then felt Magnus’ hand on his arm, silently urging him to remain calm.

“That,” Magnus jumped in, “is thinly veiled code for blackballing Max Lightwood from other firms if he doesn’t accept your proposal. Be careful where you choose to tread.”

Sebastian didn’t address Magnus or correct himself. He kept his soulless eyes locked on Alec. “The million dollars is yours, Alec. A good faith repayment that I’d like to keep separate from the legal proceedings. What my father did was unconscionable. I’d like to see you, Max, and my firm benefit in some way from this travesty.”

“One million dollars to Alec and three and a half to Max,” Magnus said through clenched teeth. “It is a conveniently coincidental amount, Morgenstern.”

Sebastian smiled.

Alec couldn’t take anymore. He flung the check back at Sebastian. “Fuck you. You want to make a real peace offering? Contact the cops or attorneys and make sure your father never leaves prison. I don’t want anything you’ve touched. As for Max? Stay the fuck away from him. He doesn’t want your money either.”

Alec abruptly stood, his chair careening to the floor. He heard Magnus say I believe that definitely concludes our business as he crashed through the doors and onto the street, waiting from Magnus.

As soon as he had Magnus at his side, Alec stalked away from the coffee shop. Fuming. “It’s like he’s— He’s blackmailing me, Magnus. That’s my money. Money I would’ve given to Max without a thought if he asked for it. Sebastian Morgenstern has four and a half million dollars that he’s offering up as if that amount is pennies in his pocket, when it’s almost exactly what Hodge and his father took from me. What it took me seven years to earn! And how many of his other former clients is he doing this with? Fuck!”

Alec came to a stop on the sidewalk. Magnus reached out for him, drawing him out of the stream of people. “I had no idea he would try to use Max against you.”

“I know you didn’t.” Magnus’ hand was still twined with his and he felt Magnus’ hold on him loosen, so Alec gripped tighter. He needed the reassurance of Magnus’ steadiness right now. He needed Magnus. He let out a long breath. “You’re coming to the game tonight, right?”

Magnus nodded. “I’m meeting Isabelle and Max before the game for dinner.”

“Max can’t know about this yet, okay?” Alec insisted. “Let me talk to him first.”

“Okay,” Magnus agreed. He pulled his hand out of Alec’s and began to twist his rings. “If you aren’t opposed to the idea, I’d also like to notify the state attorney’s office about this meeting after you talk to Max.”

“Fuck every living Morgenstern. Go right ahead.”

“Alexander,” Magnus said quietly. “I didn’t expect you to make any other choice today, but I don’t think it should go unsaid that not many people would’ve made the same decision.”

“It was the right choice.”

“It was.”

Alec turned over Magnus’ words in his head. “And you expected that from me?”

“Of course. I’m sorry you have to deal with this at all. I’ll do everything in my power to assist you.”

“I know you’re sorry and I know you’re doing everything you can to help me. I told you, Magnus—I trust you.” Alec lifted his baseball cap off and ran his fingers through his hair. Magnus’ belief in him…. It calmed him. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Well, you only have another two months to find out,” Magnus said with a delicate twist of his hands.

Alec froze. He searched Magnus’ face. “What? Why?”

“That’s when your temporary contract with me runs out—”

“Didn’t Imogen tell you?” Alec interrupted. “I signed a two-year extension with IE when I got back to New York. And I told them I wouldn’t work with anyone besides you.” Alec took in the grimace on Magnus’ face, his stomach dropping. “I didn’t— I thought that was something you’d be….” His shoulders slumped. “I’m lost here, Magnus.”

“No, Alec. It’s fine. I’m just surprised because I had a meeting with Imogen yesterday and she didn’t mention it.”

Magnus rearranged his reaction into something that could’ve soothed someone who didn’t know Magnus—who couldn’t see how Magnus really felt—but Alec did.

Alec frowned. “Magnus….”

Magnus took in a stuttered breath, that made Alec’s chest clench painfully. “We work well together. I look forward to building an even stronger business partnership over the next two years.”

 

****

 

Magnus pushed through the arena turnstile behind Isabelle, all of his senses bombarded at once. The walkways circling the arena were a swirling mass of people in the white and blue of the Angels’ home uniforms, interspersed with the red and black of the visiting Devils. Voices jumbled together in a dull roar, he was jostled with the hurried movement of smiling fans, and the scent of fried foods and sour beer filled the air.

It was overwhelming, exasperating, and yet a complete rush—a fitting parallel to the man Magnus was here to watch play.

“He’s making that face again, Iz,” Max sing-songed next to him.

Magnus scowled at Max. “I told you. This is my game face.”

“You’re lying, mijo,” Izzy said. She grabbed his hand and started pulling him away from the entrance. “We’re all nervous—it’s okay. You know how many outfits I went through before deciding on this?”

“You look stunning,” he reassured her. The bright blue of her Angels t-shirt—with white wings printed on the back—set off her dark hair, and her white jeans hugged every enviable curve, heightened by the knee-high boots with silver stilettos she gracefully perched on.

“Hey,” Max protested. He waved a hand clasped around a hot dog up and down the same Angels hoodie Magnus had seen him in for every game. “This took me forever too.”

Izzy narrowed her eyes at her brother. “Where did you even get that hot dog?”

“Some guy—”

Izzy held up her free hand. “Stop right there. I don’t want to know.”

Max took a gigantic bite of the mystery meat and Izzy made a gagging noise.

Not even the opportunity for a meat-based cock innuendo could make Magnus smile. Really, it was nearly impossible to be sullen when surrounded by the Lightwoods, but Magnus was managing to hold tight to his shit mood.

Magnus frowned as they passed by the elevators marked for the suites. “Aren’t we going up?” 

“We are,” Izzy answered. “But not to the suites. We’re in the cheap seats.”

Magnus raised an eyebrow. Those were supposed to be players’ tickets in Max’s non-hot dog hand. Magnus had expected they would be within throwing distance of either the ice or a decent bar. With a two year contract extension now looming in his future he could use a gallon of any liquor right now.

“Alec always switches out our seats before the game,” Max explained, waving their tickets. “He gives fans his seats—by the boards or in one of the suites. We sit wherever their tickets were.”

Interesting.

So that’s what it felt like to have his heartstrings ripping his severely wounded organ out of his chest….

Magnus sighed. “Of course he does.”

Isabelle looped her arm in his and Magnus tried not to scowl deeper as he allowed her to lead him to the escalators.

 

****

 

Alec flipped through his messages again. There was a selfie of Simon and Clary on the zamboni—in the maintenance room where she always hung out with him during games. Izzy’s usual you got this followed by a line of hearts. Max’s blatant abuse of emojis. And from Magnus….

One picture of Izzy and Max, their arms looped around each other as they entered the arena. Magnus had caught them turned toward each other, bright smiles on their faces, as they queued to get inside.

He wished he’d gotten something from Magnus to give him a hint of how Magnus looked tonight. If he was smiling. Whether that smile was real or forced. What he was wearing. How his hair was done. How many necklaces and rings he’d piled on, or completely left off. What color glitter he’d chosen to dust across his pecs—

Although, maybe it was better that he hadn’t….

“Something wrong, Alec?” Jace said.

Alec exited out of his texts and clicked off his phone. He shook his head. “Nah, I’m good. Ready to get out there.”

Jace stitched his brows together and sat down next to Alec. “You sure about that? I haven’t seen you this checked out before a game in weeks.”

There were too many things swirling around his head for him to catch on to any one thought for too long, but it was having Magnus here—in the arenathat repeated the most. Hodge had never come to a game and Magnus was in those stands with Izzy and Max. More like a boyfriend would be than an agent….

He was unfocused, scattered, and he needed to get his head together before they took to the ice.

“Just…stuff and…things,” he evaded. “Nothing important. I’m good.”

Jace tilted his head as if he was thinking deeply about how to respond, then shrugged. “Whatever.” He patted Alec’s face, Alec’s cheeks already reddened from the Angels’ pre-game ritual. “We got this, bro.”

Alec forced a smile. “Yeah. Let’s do this.”

 

****

 

“I think I need an oxygen tank up here,” Magnus sputtered out as they took their seats in the very last row of the arena. They were on the opposite side of the ice from where he and Alec had sat yesterday—even higher than the row Alec had led him to.

“Give me a break,” Izzy said. “I just did all those stairs in heels.”

Max huffed. “Dude. I did all of those with only one leg.”

Magnus rolled his eyes at both of them. “You Lightwoods are a competitive bunch, aren’t you?”

His head was already spinning from the trek to the top, the thin air, and the steep angle of the seating this far up, then the lights went out, a cacophony of twenty-thousands voices screaming out at once—ricocheting off the concrete walls—making his ears ring. The Angels flew out of the tunnel onto the ice with crashing music, the roar of the crowd, and lights swirling around them as they were introduced.

“…And in goal tonight, number eighty nine, Alec Lightwood.”

Max whooped and Izzy did a screeching whistle, her pointer fingers planted between her lips.

Magnus couldn’t take his eyes off Alec. He was used to the way Alec flowed across the ice, his pre-game ritual of tapping the camera in the back of the net and etching grooves into the crease. He was used to Izzy and Max’s ridiculous dance as they mimicked him. He was used to the heavy anticipation that settled into his chest as he waited for the puck to drop.

He wasn’t used to the worry that overtook him as he took stock of a Devils’ player carving a sheet of ice at Alec as he swept by. It was a blatant taunt—a challenge—and served to remind Magnus just how aggressive this sport was. How real the threat of injury always was.

If he could have conjured up some sort of barrier to keep Alec safe he would have. He was feeling protective of the self-proclaimed unstable goalie, that he potentially wanted to date, who was a closeted friend that would also be his client for the next two years. The list of reasons why he should’ve been able to emotionally separate himself from Alec was growing, and yet he couldn’t. Magnus felt his knees go weak at the thought of two more years of this….

Fuck.

Maybe Imogen had been right.

 

****

 

Alec knew exactly where they were sitting—that was his first problem. There was no way he’d be able to see Izzy, Max, or Magnus from the ice, but that didn’t keep him from glancing to that corner when he was in the net facing their section. He was still covering, still making saves, but he was losing track of the puck as it bounced between players. His defense—used to hearing him call out a constant stream of warnings—kept glancing his way seeking instruction, but Alec was having trouble focusing on what was happening right now, let alone two or three plays ahead.

Problem two—he couldn’t get Sebastian Morgenstern’s haughty smile out of his head. His abrasive air of entitlement—as if Alec owed him. Then there was problem three—Max. Fighting to do something good with this life—so fucking unselfish—and being threatened by someone that should have never had any ties to him at all, but he did because of Alec.

And four…. Magnus. Up in those stands, at his first sporting event, likely wearing something that was out of place and garish and beautiful. Sitting with Alec’s siblings. Literally watching over him right now and always watching out for him. He knew whatever this was between him and Magnus—curiosity? attraction? lust?—that it wasn’t just one-sided. He knew that. But it didn’t matter because Alec wasn’t out and it was possible he’d never have the courage to be.

Magnus would never live another lie, and Alec didn’t want him to.

Shit.

Focus.

He had to focus.

Then the Devils’ left winger was suddenly screaming down at the ice at him and Alec dropped into a butterfly, the puck clanking against the edge of his skate and rebounding up and over, heading for the net. Alec whipped back his mitt and caught the side of the puck sending it tumbling, where Pangborn was finally able to get his stick on it and clear it out.

The buzzer ending the first period sounded and Alec drug himself to his feet, mentally preparing for the lashing he’d take from Garroway in the intermission.

 

****

 

“He’s slower tonight,” Max said as he finished off another tray of nachos. “Has his knee been okay?”

Izzy shook her head, her elaborate braid—threaded with blue and white ribbons—swinging. “He hasn’t said anything about it to me lately.”

Magnus huffed. A problem with Alec’s knee seemed like something Hodge should’ve had in his files.

He glanced at the scoreboard—ten minutes left in the second period, zeros on both sides of the board—and took another deep drink from the rum-filled blue slushie in his hand. “What’s wrong with his knee?”

Max gestured for Magnus’ drink and Magnus passed it down. Max took a sip, wincing just like his brother did, and passed it back. “Nothing major. Player slammed into him a few seasons back and it’s been touchy since then. The farther it gets into the season the harder it is for him, but their trainer works with him on it.”

A guy in the row in front of them turned his head. “I remember that hit. Punk ass bitch took a cheap shot on Lightwood because they couldn’t get through him. Still one of the best brawls I’ve seen here. Angels don’t let anyone fuck with their goalie.”

Max raised an eyebrow in Magnus’ direction as if to say see I told you and fist bumped the guy.

But it took only minutes before the same guy was cursing the day Alec was born as the red light lit up behind the Angels’ net and the Devils put the first goal on the board.

 

****

 

Alec was unraveling and he was taking the whole team with him.

The Devils’ second goal came on a rebound. The third on a breakaway.

Both were shots he’d been denying all season. Both were instances where the Angels’ defense would usually look to him to make a call on how best to protect the net—but the guidance Alec had been giving them the entire game was just wrong—and they’d ignored his calls, leading to a breakdown in the defensive zone.

He was finally able to push thoughts of anything besides the game out of his head, but only because his brain was overrun with with how much he was failing his teammates. How much he was disappointing the fans.

The Devils picked up on the Angels’ disarray quickly. Adjusting their play into a full on attack that left Angels smashed against the boards, scurrying to intercept. The Devils shots were low—seeking a score on a rebound—and usually the Angels could sweep those out of play before an opponent got their stick back to take a shot, but the Devils were faster, their hits more bruising.

The fourth goal gave the Devils’ center Blackwell a hat trick and shattered the last pieces of Alec’s confidence.

There was twelve minutes left in the third period and the Angels hadn’t managed to score one goal yet tonight. They were going to lose their first playoff game, at home, in a post season they were supposed to own.

All because of Alec.

 

****

 

Magnus’ childish frustration had started to drain out of him somewhere around the third goal, and as the fifth one slid in, all he was was worried about Alec.

Izzy gaped at the scoreboard, then turned on Magnus—eyes flashing. “You saw him earlier today, right? What the hell happened?”

Magnus didn’t know how to answer her.

“Well?” Izzy railed.

He’d already failed Alec by allowing that meeting with Sebastian to happen this morning, he wouldn’t betray the one thing Alec had asked him to stay quiet on.

Magnus shook his head. “You’re going to have to talk to him, Isabelle.”

Izzy turned her back on him as the arena started to empty of white and blue. The fans clad in red surged to their feet as the last minutes ticked off and the final buzzer sounded.

“Shit,” Max swore and stomped off.

Izzy let loose a torrent of Spanish words that Magnus was fairly sure were all profane, and slumped in her chair. She watched Max retreat down the stairs then hooked her arm through Magnus’, resting her head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry I went off on you there. You were right—Lightwoods are competitive. We don’t take loss well.”

Magnus couldn’t take his eyes off the tunnel, where Alec had disappeared without even removing his mask as soon as the game was over. “Alexander will be tearing himself apart right now.”

“Don’t text him, and don’t call him,” Izzy implored. “Believe me, we’ve been through this enough times to learn the hard way. He needs to do whatever he does to get ready for game two tomorrow. Shit. This is going to be ugly.”

He settled his arm over her shoulder and hugged her close.

“Look on the positive side, darling,” he tried. “We both get to go shopping again.”

 

****

 

The silence of Magnus’ cell was deafening.

Alec had always texted him back after a game—regardless of whether it was a win or a loss. But tonight was different. Magnus knew Alec considered this his loss.

He held his phone in his hands considering, for a brief moment, Isabelle’s advice and that he should probably listen to her. Instead, he typed out message after message in his text thread with Alec, deleting them all for being too dismissive or too vapid, until he finally gave up and threw his cell onto his coffee table.

He stood to make a drink, trying to unwind, when it occurred to him exactly what Alec probably needed to hear right now.

Green tea with lemon and honey tomorrow morning instead of coffee?

He dropped his cell onto the table again and went for the kitchen, but his notifications pinged almost immediately. He took two steps back and picked up his phone, his heart racing when he saw it was a reply from Alec.

How about now?

Magnus stared at the text.

Of course, he typed out.

His head snapped up at the soft knock at his door.

“Ah, literally now.” Magnus took a deep breath and unlocked the door, opening it to find something he could go the rest of his life without seeing again—a decidedly miserable Alec. “How long have you been standing out here?”

“Not long. Tonight was….” Alec pocketed his cell, grimacing. “Shit. Tonight was shit. I didn’t want to be alone and Jace…. He doesn’t want to talk to me. Izzy is with Simon and Clary. And Max…I can’t go there tonight. So I thought…. Then I kept on getting those bubbles popping up like you were typing something out to me and I finally got your text, and I just—”

Magnus stepped back. “Come in, Alexander.”

Alec hung his head as he pushed past Magnus. His hair was still wet. His t-shirt was worn, but not nearly as pocked with holes as his jeans. He dropped his duffel bag to the floor and stretched his arms above his head, joints popping.

Magnus had an overwhelming urge to hug him.

He closed his door. “Drink?”

Alec kicked off his shoes and set them next to his bag. “Yes, but no. The game tomorrow.”

“Have you eaten?”

Alec shook his head.

“Sit down. I’ll make you something.”

Alec took a seat at the counter without a word.

Magnus flitted around the kitchen, grabbing supplies out of his refrigerator and cupboards, remaining quiet as he worked. He didn’t know what to say, but more importantly, his instincts were telling him that Alec didn’t want him to say anything.

Alec was hunched over Magnus’ counter, forearms resting on the black granite surface. Every time Magnus glanced at him, he was staring into the middle distance as if he was reconsidering every decision he’d ever made—a movie cliche come to life that Magnus couldn’t find any humor in. All that was missing was the bottomless shot glass, the wise yet comically witty bartender, and the sudden appearance of a long lost love to guide the wayward hero back to his rightful destiny.

Magnus set a steaming mug in front of Alec. “Green tea with lemon and honey.” He started to turn back to his stove, then pivoted around again. “And maybe a touch of whiskey.”

The corner of Alec’s lip tipped up. Magnus considered it a victory.

“Thanks.”

Alec went quiet again and Magnus went back to work, pausing when Chairman appeared out of the bedroom and bumped up against his legs. Magnus eyed Chairman suspiciously, trying to telegraph a warning to his cat that this visitor needed to be loved on, not pounced on.

“I hope you’re not allergic to cats.”

“No. Max has this cat named Church. He hates everyone except me and Max. Just showed up on my parents doorstep years ago and Max took him in.”

“Chairman Meow can be capricious,” Magnus warned. “Even with me—and I saved him from the treacherous life of a feline vagabond. Don’t be offended if he doesn’t like you.”

“Everyone likes me.”

Magnus paused in the middle of filling a plate and glanced over his shoulder when he heard the dulcet sound of purring. Chairman was snuggled in Alec’s arms, bumping his face against Alec’s chest as Alec scratched between his ears.

Of course Chairman loved Alec—he was a Disney prince, in knife shoes instead of slippers, come to life.

“Chicken penne arrabiata,” Magnus announced. He slid the plate across to Alec, then picked a fork and napkin out of a drawer setting it in front of him. “I hear carbs are good for a recovering athlete. And for the soul. But not for the abs.”

Alec gave a dark laugh and Chairman jumped off his lap. “Believe me. My abs are the least of my worries tonight.”

Magnus frowned. He didn’t know how to make this better for Alec. According to Izzy it was impossible. “You know, if you still have time after you’re done eating, we could watch something mind-numbing with lots of gratuitous explosions.”

Alec took a bite, chewed it thoughtfully. “With hot guys?”

“If you wish.”

The set of Alec’s shoulders eased and the upturn of his lips was almost a real smile. Almost.

“I’ve got time.”

 

****

 

Alec couldn’t help but notice this was another completely different look for Magnus.

There were streaks of blue in his hair, and his eyes were circled with a similar shade that made the gold-green of them shine. He wore broad silver bands on each of his fingers, his wrists and neck free of anything else. His feet were bare, tucked under his jeans, and he lounged against the arm of the black velvet couch Alec had seen the first time he and Magnus had Facetimed. Unlike then, though—unfortunately—Magnus was wearing a shirt. A simple gray cotton tee with the NYBA logo on the front.

Alec took a sip of the fresh cup of tea Magnus had given him when he’d finished eating. “What did you end up wearing to the game?”

Magnus stopped scrolling through the movie guide on the TV and looked at Alec. “This.”

Alec pursed his lips. “You didn’t.”

“Pray tell. What is wrong with this?”

Nothing was wrong with what Magnus was wearing—it was perfectly normal. Which made it very wrong. “It’s nothing like I pictured you wearing. You probably blended in with everyone else there tonight.”

“That was the point,” Magnus said dryly.

Alec set his mug on the coffee table. “I like it when you stand out.”

Magnus side-eyed him with a grin and went back to scrolling. “Fast and Furious?”

“Which one?”

“Does it really matter, Alexander?”

Alec shook his head. He patted his chest and Chairman jumped up, rolling into a ball on his stomach.

“Do you want to talk about tonight?” Magnus offered.

“No.”

Magnus nodded and pulled a blanket off the back of the couch, spreading it out so it covered both his feet and Alec’s.

Alec sighed. “It’s just…. On the ice it’s like everything slows down. I know what to expect and what patterns to look out for. I have my area and I control it. I protect it. Off the ice…. I can’t get a handle on the rest of the world. It’s too out of sync and unexpected….” Alec stroked a hand down Chairman’s back. He’d been lost during the game and right now he felt so steady. “I couldn’t keep my focus where it needed to be tonight.”

Magnus laid the remote on the table and shifted so he was facing Alec. “This wasn’t a game you meant to lose.”

“It was still a loss—one I’m responsible for.” Alec blew out a long breath and Chairman moved with him, protesting with a tepid mewl. Alec rubbed behind his ear, lulling the tiny cat into sleep again. “Did you know I signed with the Angels when they were still a losing team? Jace and I both. He told me they were going to be the next big franchise and I followed him there.”

“How long have you and Jace played together?”

“Since he was ten.”

Alec attempted to catch the handle of his mug with his fingertips so he didn’t disturb Chairman. When Magnus realized what Alec was doing he picked up the cup and handed it to Alec, then tucked his feet under the blanket again, brushing up against Alec’s leg.

Alec smiled. “Jace is actually how I knew I was gay.”

“Ah, the first life defining crush. Was there ever anything…there?”

“I hoped for it for a long time, but no way. Jace is so het he’d deny it if his dick hung any way but down the middle.”

Magnus waved a finger at him, his eyes bright. “That, Alexander, is the most crude thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

“Jace brings it out in me.” Alec smirked over the rim of his cup. “And you haven’t heard me on the ice.”

“He knows you’re gay?”

“We came to punches when he confronted me about it….” Alec set down his mug again and continued to pet Chairman, trying to ignore the muted sensation in the palm of his left hand. “It was rocky there for awhile. But we moved on. Despite him yelling that my best wasn’t good enough tonight, he’s a good friend.”

Magnus propped his elbow on the back of the couch and leaned his cheek on his hand. “I wish I had been able to hold off that meeting with Morgenstern.”

“There’s no time that would’ve been right for that bullshit. I’m glad we got it over with.”

A silence fell between them as Alec watched Magnus flip one of his silver rings between his fingers. A hypnotic movement of graceful fingers that reminded Alec of them dancing in LA. Alec felt a blush crawling up his cheeks at the vividness of the memory, but couldn’t stop it. Magnus simply gave him a small smile as if he knew exactly what Alec was thinking—and highly approved.

Alec’s belly was full, his veins warmed by the whiskey, a brainless action movie on the screen, and Magnus at his side. He was wrecked but he was content. He didn’t know how to maneuver any of this thing that was happening between Magnus and him. He couldn’t begin to anticipate what came next. It scared the shit out of him, but he didn’t want it to be any other way.

“Is it inappropriate for me to say I am desperately jealous of my cat right now?”

Alec tried to stifle his chuckle so his stomach wouldn’t move. “Don’t make me laugh. You’ll wake Chairman up.”

“I don’t believe I’d fit quite as compactly on your awe-inspiring abs, but I’m willing to try if you are.”

Alec kicked out at Magnus to make him stop then winced at the pain that shot up his thigh and down through his toes.

Magnus’ brow stitched together with worry. “Is this the knee issue Isabelle and Max told me about tonight?”

“It’s nothing. I usually ice it after a game then have our trainer loosen up the muscles, but I couldn’t tonight. I had to get out of there as soon as I could.”

Magnus patted his lap. “Stretch out, my wildebeest. Let me.”

Alec couldn’t hold back the splotches of red that he knew were raising on his cheeks. At least his beard was thick enough now to hide some of it.

But Magnus didn’t miss anything.

“It’s your knee, Alexander. I’ve been around a bit, and a knee kink would be a new one even for me.”

Alec held onto Chairman as he chuckled. “This is where Max would say ‘don’t kink shame me.’”

“Your brother is a breathing ironic t-shirt slogan,” Magnus quipped. “Do you want me to?”

There was nothing—absolutely nothing—he wanted more.

His heart thudded as he shrugged. “Sure. Yeah. Why not.”

Magnus scooted over and Alec draped his leg across Magnus’ lap. Magnus didn’t hesitate to dig his fingers in, returning his gaze to the TV even though neither of them had watched any of the movie so far.

With Magnus’ hands finally on him, Alec could push everything else away. He let his head fall against the arm of the couch and closed his eyes.

Every touch of Magnus’ magical hands through the damning holes in Alec’s jeans was soothing and yet erotic. Powerful yet sensual. Magnus was safety and the mad urge to risk everything.

Magnus looked soft tonight. Was touching Alec with care. But Alec had seen Magnus’ features harden in anger. Knew what those hands looked like when used to emphasize a brutally delivered point.

Everything with Magnus was like two sides of a coin. Polar opposites that could coexist…. As long as they faced away from each other.

But Alec couldn’t turn away from him.

Magnus’ hands didn’t stray from a respectable radius around Alec’s knee, then Alec shifted his position and grazed the distinct bulge between Magnus’ legs.

Alec startled and Chairman hissed and jumped off his belly.

“I told you—Chairman is capricious,” Magnus mumbled. His voice was…rough.

Alec draped his forearm over his eyes, breathing through his racing heartbeat.

“Is this helping, Alexander?”

Alec could only nod.

He sank into the cushions and Magnus’ hands moved with him, sliding above his knee. Fingers digging into his thigh, working him over, making him pliant and needy and aching for more.

Magnus wasn’t asking for anything, he was giving. And Alec was selfish—so fucking selfish—because he wanted more.

Alec scrubbed his hands over his face, trying to ignore the rush of blood thrumming through his head…and other parts of his body.

Coaxing Magnus into touching him wasn’t why he’d come here tonight. He’d needed reassurance. Known that even though Magnus was part of the problem he was also the solution. Being with Magnus made him happy and Magnus seemed just as content when he was with Alec. There couldn’t be anything more between them, but….

Shit.

Maybe pushing at both of their boundary lines had been exactly why Alec had shown up here tonight.

But he couldn’t.

He couldn’t.

“All of that gear has to be murder on your back,” Magnus said quietly. “Turn around. I’ll do your shoulders too.”

Alec couldn’t find his voice. He dropped his feet to the floor and turned for Magnus.

Alec scooted back, fitting himself into the curve of Magnus’ body as Magnus went to his knees on the couch. Magnus’ fingers dug into the tightness below his neck. Palms skating over his shoulders and down his biceps. Magnus was hovering over him. Grounding him. Shielding him.

And driving Alec insane.

It would only take one swift movement for Alec to straddle Magnus. Press Magnus into the couch and fuck against him. To crash their lips together and breathe him in….

Alec licked his lips. He was desperate to know what Magnus tasted like.

But he couldn’t.

“I should go.”

Magnus was quiet for a moment, then, “I should want you to go.”

Alec closed his eyes, sucked in a breath.

He couldn’t drag Magnus further into the lie that was his life.

Magnus didn’t deserve to live behind closed doors or to dress so that he blended in.

Magnus was out. He stood out.

He was everything Alec wished he could be.

Magnus stilled his hand at the curve of Alec’s neck, thumb resting between Alec’s shoulder blades.

“Me staying here….” Alec inhaled a steadying breath, feeling Magnus move with him. “It wouldn’t be good for either of us.”

“I’ve never been good at saying no to things that were bad for me, Alexander.”

He could feel Magnus’ warm breath on his neck. It sent shivers down his spine.

“Then I’ll do it for us.” Alec stood and Magnus’ hands fell away. Alec leaned down, placing his palms on Magnus’ neck, thumbs tracing the line of this jaw. He couldn’t stop himself. He had to know what Magnus’ skin felt like against his lips.

He placed one soft kiss on each of Magnus’ cheeks—inhaling deeply, memorizing. “Goodnight, Magnus.”

Magnus grasped onto him, holding him in place—cheek pressed against cheek. He sighed and untangled his fingers, releasing Alec. “Goodnight, Alexander.”

And Alec walked away before he couldn’t.