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In the Sin Bin

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Alec stepped onto the sidewalk outside Magnus’ apartment and flipped his hood up. He was across the river from his place—way too far to walk at this time of night—but he needed the air.

He had no idea what he was doing.

Walking away from Magnus had been nearly impossible. He’d done it because he’d thought it was right, so why did it feel so wrong? He’d never thought twice about emotionally disconnecting in order to maintain his secret because hockey always came first. But he’d never been this…open around anyone he was attracted to. He had to face this new reality—whatever it was he was feeling for Magnus had moved beyond the simplicity of attraction. He’d never wanted anyone like he wanted Magnus.

He’d walked away because he didn’t just want Magnus for sex.

Sex was easy. Wanting more from Magnus was difficult and messy and confusing and terrifying.

More just wasn’t possible right now.

He scowled and pulled his cell out of his pocket to request an Uber, unlocking his screen to find ten missed calls and six unread texts—all from Jace.

“Shit.”

Alec skipped reading the texts and hit the button to call Jace.

There was the thumping of heavy bass in the background when Jace picked up. “Ignoring me?”

“I was busy.”

“Right. Come have a drink with me.”

Alec kept walking. “Not in the mood to be yelled at, Wayland.”

“No yelling, Alec. Just…come out with me.”

Jace had that tone. The one where it was obvious he was speaking through his teeth, holding back whatever it is he really wanted to say. If Jace didn’t get a chance to speak his piece then he’d continue lashing out at Alec in passive-aggressive ways until he made both of them miserable. “Where are you?”

“Pandemonium.”

Alec stopped in his tracks. He was only blocks away from there. “It’s the night before a game and you’re at a club?”

“I know what I’m doing. Just get over here. I won’t keep you out late.”

“Fine.”

Alec pulled his duffel farther up his shoulder and made his way toward Pandemonium. He left his bag at coat check and was escorted directly to the VIP section where Jace drew him into a one-armed hug, patting his back.

“You want a drink?”

“Just water.” Alec sat down on the couch, surveying the table. There were two glass bottles—one water and one fifth of vodka. Only the water appeared to have any dent in its contents, but Alec had to comment anyway. “Please tell me you’re not drinking.”

Jace gave a carefree smile and sat down next to him.

“Whatever.” Alec leaned forward and poured himself water, then sank into the cushions and dropped his head back, sighing.

The music was like individual knifepoints pounding into his skull, Jace was conspicuously silent, and he could feel Jace’s eyes on him. Jace had said insinuated he wanted to talk. Alec had come here knowing Jace didn’t just want Alec to have a drink with him. Yet the last thing Alec wanted to do was pack his head with more complexities that he didn’t know how to piece apart.

Alec peeked at him. “I give. Just say whatever it is you need to say.”

“You gotta tell me what’s going on with you, Alec. I know the money thing’s been weighing on you, but that’s gotten better. And that douchebag financial advisor didn’t help anything yesterday. But come on. You can’t tell me it’s only that. I know you better.”

Alec considered lying, but knew Jace would eventually get it out of him anyway. “There’s someone I’m interested in and it’s— Well, it’s complicated.”

“So fuck him and get it out of your system.”

Of course that would be Jace’s solution. “It’s not like that.” Alec ran his fingers over the condensation gathering on the side of his glass. “I think I might want more from him.”

Jace barked out a laugh. “You can’t be serious.”

“What?”

“You can’t take on any kind of a relationship now,” Jace insisted. “There’s nothing more important than hockey. Nothing. I think you’ve forgotten that.”

Alec ground his teeth together and sat up. “What the fuck does that mean?”

“You let off-ice distractions get to you.” Jace pointed a finger at Alec that Alec had the mad urge to rip off. “How your personal life is going directly correlates to how focused you are on the ice.”

“My personal life is fine,” Alec said coolly.

“Is it? Because you are playing like shit!”

Alec tipped his chin up, surveying the dance floor instead of looking at Jace. “No yelling at me, huh?”

“Look. I know this mystery crush is your agent. You know it’s your agent. So let’s stop dancing around who we’re talking about.”

The arena gym…. He’d forgotten about how Jace had seemed to catch on to something then.

“His name is Magnus, Jace.”

“That—” Jace pulled his leg up on the couch and turned to face Alec full on. “That is a problem. How many guys have you fucked and known their names?”

“What’s your point?”

“My point, Alec—” Jace took a deep breath and laid his hand on Alec’s shoulder. “My point is that the bouncer over there is paid to let anyone we want up here, then look the other way. You don’t need a relationship. You need to get laid, brother.”

 

****

 

“Important messages on the top,” Clary said to Magnus as they stood next to her desk. “Papers to sign in the blue folder. Updates to your schedule should already be synced to your phone. And I ran through Slack and printed off the most relevant threads—which completely defeats the purpose of Slack, but there you go.”

Magnus filtered through the stack, assessing his priorities for the day. It may have been Sunday, but that wasn’t a day of rest when you were an agent. “How bad is my email inbox?”

“Clear. Has been for days. You’re welcome.”

Magnus looked up at her, smiling. “You are my queen.”

“Anything else I can do for you before your first appointment?”

He’d been at the office for hours—unable to sleep, twitchy—but he hadn’t checked his schedule because he knew Clary was coming in. “And who may that be?”

“Jace Wayland.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Jace Wayland of the Angels. He called yesterday to make an appointment with you.”

Magnus held back a smirk, surveying Clary’s outfit. She looked as charming and approachable as always. Jace was in a for a severe Sunday morning wake up call if he thought wooing Clary would be easy. “He works fast.”

“He insisted on today.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Magnus said wryly. “Will you join me in my office, please?”

Clary followed him, closing the door behind her. “Magnus, I want to say thank you for the raise too.”

“You’re welcome, Clary.”

“You didn’t just do it because we’re friends outside of here, right?”

“You deserve every penny of it and more,” he reassured her. “When I can get more for you I will.”

“I won’t say no to that.”

“Now.” Magnus set the stack of papers on his desk and went to the antique buffet situated against the wall of his office. “I need you to peel off your overly-competent assistant facade and shimmy into the friend zone.” He held up a cup. “And also, drink with me.”

“Is this a test?”

“If it was, biscuit, then you wouldn’t be asking me because you wouldn’t know it was a test.”

“It’s nine am.”

“It’s happy hour somewhere.” He held out a cup that she didn’t take. “As much it pains me, this is just coffee.”

She accepted the cup, cradling it in both her hands as she took a seat. “Rough day already?”

Magnus sat against the edge of his desk in front of her and stretched his legs out. “A torturous evening followed by a lovely non-dinner, then an exceedingly frustrating night capped off by a very unfulfilling morning”—he paused for effect—“when I discovered I had indeed woken up alone.”

Clary studied him and Magnus waited her out.

“You were at the game last night,” she finally said.

“I was.”

“And you didn’t go out with Izzy, Simon, and me after.”

Magnus shook his head. “I didn’t.”

“Which means you either skipped out on us for a date or someone was over at your place last night.”

“The latter.”

“And you’re being super evasive, so I’m guessing either an ex I wouldn’t approve of or someone new I won’t approve of.”

People dismissed Clary way too quickly based on how innocent she appeared to be. Magnus knew better. “The latter again.”

“You did not hook up with Elias,” Clary groaned. “I told you that man is so much trouble he practically has horns.”

“And crow’s feet.” Magnus shook his head. “Not Elias. My morning would’ve been just fine if I’d woken up without him next to me.”

“I have no idea then. None.”

He’d hoped this would’ve been a name Clary would’ve said first so he didn’t have to. “Alexander.”

She furrowed her brow. “Who? I don’t think you’ve told me about him….”

“Alec, Clary. Alec Lightwood.”

Clary paled, an impressive feat for the fair-skinned beauty. “I’m going to need a real drink.”

Magnus sighed. “I had no interest in him, Clary. You have to understand that. But something…shifted between us in LA. Then he came to my apartment last night after the game. He was so wounded and I wanted to make him feel better—”

“Tell me you didn’t take advantage of Alec after that loss,” Clary cut in.

He deserved that response. Clary knew just how fast Magnus’ bedroom door crashed open. But Alec…. Alec was different.

“His vulnerability made me want to protect him more,” Magnus asserted. “I had convinced myself I could be solely his agent, but…. There was something he said to me when we were talking about the meeting with Morgenstern— ‘I’m glad we got it over with.’ We. That one word…. It sounded right and felt right. It wasn’t as prosaic as we watched a movie or we talked—both of which we did last night. It was as if there was an us—a unit that consisted of just he and I. I haven’t been in anything serious since Camille, but this—Alec….” Magnus swallowed down the emotion creeping into his voice. “Clary, he told me that he likes it when I stand out.”

“Magnus…. He’s not out.”

He was well aware of that fact, but what he hadn’t realized until last night was, “He’s a painfully honest man caught in a situation that doesn’t allow him to honest.”

Clary’s face fell. “You like him.”

Magnus laughed darkly at that. “You told me I would. And last night made it clear that he is, at the very least, physically interested in me….”

It was more than that. Magnus was sure of that after last night. He was well acquainted with one-off encounters that were based completely on a physical need. The way Alec had held onto him and kissed his cheeks…. The pained roughness in his voice when he’d said goodnight….

Alec wanted more from him too, but he was scared.

“You haven’t answered me directly, and I don’t think you would go there,” Clary said. “But please tell me you didn’t have sex with him.”

He shook his head, then answered out loud. “No.”

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

Magnus cringed at the memory of how flippant his reply to Alec had sounded. As if Alec was what was bad for him.

It pained him that Alec hadn’t disagreed.

He regretted that he hadn’t had the chance to clarify what he’d meant.

Magnus pushed away from the desk and began to pace. “He stopped us from anything happening. To be quite blunt, I was much too ready to ignore every sound reason I have and risk it all in that moment.” Not just sex, everything. “It was good that he stopped us.”

Clary sighed. “That’s where the unfulfilling morning comes in.”

“I believe I said very unfulfilling.”

“Alec doesn’t need a one night stand,” Clary pushed. “He needs someone who can give him time. Someone who will have to be very patient and wait for him to be ready to come out. And you? You were there with Camille, Magnus. You can’t— I don’t want to see either of you hurt.”

“Well, I’m representing him for the next two years.” He couldn’t filter the dejectedness out of his voice. “So we have nothing but time.”

“I heard.” Clary set her cup down and shifted in her chair to face Magnus as he paced along the wall. “But even if you could deal with waiting for him to be out, you can’t date a client. It would ruin your professional reputation.”

Intellectually, he knew that. Emotionally, he wasn’t sure anymore if that mattered. What it would take for Alec and him to give them a try was all he’d been thinking about since Alec had walked out of his door last night.

His career could be destroyed for any number of reasons at any given moment—the entertainment industry was fickle. And Alec could come out today, tomorrow, next year…. The point was Alec wanted to. Alec didn’t plan on living his life in the closet and maybe that could be enough for Magnus to take the risk now and worry about a potential hit to his career later. He wasn’t afraid of starting over—he’d been there more times than he could count and had always survived. He wasn’t averse to biding his time for something that could be good either. And the more time he spent with Alec the more he believed they could be very good.

He just had to find a path that would protect Alec. Because, like Clary, he didn’t want to see Alec hurt either.

Clary couldn’t know any of this yet, though.

“My reputation is impeccable,” Magnus dismissed.

Clary frowned. “I know that face, Magnus. Don’t try to wiggle your way around this like every other rule you don’t like. You pursuing Alec would be a disaster.”

“But?” he tried to joke.

“No but, Magnus. You and Alec would be a disaster.”

 

****

 

Alec dropped his forehead against the shower tile and let the water beat down over his shoulders.

Going out with Jace last night had been a bad idea. One Alec had known would be the wrong choice and still went through with it. His life was crammed with really poor decisions these days.

And Jace….

Jace was the devil on his shoulder, whispering the worst of ideas into his ear. Ideas that were way too tempting.

You need to get laid, brother.

There was no denying it had been too long. His skin felt stretched thin. He was in desperate need of someone else’s hands on him. Someone to draw the stress out of his bones…. But Pandemonium hadn’t been the place, and last night hadn’t been the time.

Now he was even more wrecked than he’d been leaving Magnus’ place.

This was now two nights in a row where he’d barely slept. Two nights that fell right before important games.

And two mornings when he’d woken up hard…thinking about Magnus.

Yesterday when he’d been in the shower he’d avoided every thought of bronze skin and fluid movement that flashed through his mind. Ignoring those damning visuals in favor of getting off as efficiently as he could.

This morning he…couldn’t.

This morning he gave in.

He took himself in hand and closed his eyes, starting with a slow stroke as he remembered Magnus’ lips on his collarbone at the club, heated brushes of skin that had left invisible, indelible marks in their wake.

He remembered Magnus’ lips nearly on his neck last night, so close that Alec could picture turning his head and crushing his mouth against Magnus’. Teasing his lips open with his tongue. Breathing him in and being met with the same force of need that was consuming him, both of them losing all control.

Straddling Magnus hips and rutting against him. Undoing zippers and stroking Magnus’ length just like he was doing to himself right now. His own calloused fingers circled his cock—fingers that he wanted to be the smoothness of Magnus’. The coolness of metal rings and the warmth of agile hands gripping him tight and driving him to the edge.

Him undressing Magnus piece by piece until he was naked beneath him. Skin to skin, fingers aching to touch everywhere. Needing to taste Magnus and dropping to his knees to take Magnus’ cock in his mouth. Magnus yanking on his hair and thrusting into his throat until Alec couldn’t breathe….

Alec groaned as he came, sliding his hand slowly over his cock until he was shivering despite the steaming water beating down his back.

He flipped the temperature up and placed his forearm on the tile, slumping, resting his forehead on his arm as he caught his breath.

“Shit,” he said out loud. “That was too good.”

The real thing would be even better—Magnus’ hands were too graceful and strong not to make a complete mess of him—but it wasn’t like he’d ever know.

Alec stepped out of the shower and spotted the flashing light on his cell on the counter, a heavy dose of shame flooding his cheeks when he saw Magnus’ name on his screen.

Alec grimaced at himself in the foggy mirror. “You just jerked off to Magnus while he was texting you. Great. This is just…great.”

Alec wrapped a towel around his waist and ran a hand over his beard as he opened the text.

Did you have a chance to speak to Max?

Business.

Exactly what their first communication since last night should’ve been, but Alec was still…disappointed.

Having breakfast with him. I’ll text when I’m done

Magnus’ reply came almost immediately. Let me know if you need help

Alec began to respond when the reply bubbles popped up. He waited.

Offer for tea still open. If you have time

That text wasn’t business. Not really.

It was an opening of sorts. Maybe a way for to Magnus to show that things didn’t have to change between them? Maybe a come on? Fuck. Alec had no idea.

Practice after I meet Max. Thx tho

Alec paused. Continued to type. Coming tonight?

I’ll be there

K

Alec swore under his breath. “Well, this isn’t awkward at all.”

 

****

 

“Mr. Bane?” Clary’s voice came over the intercom, crisp and professional. “Mr. Wayland is here to see you.”

Magnus stood and buttoned his jacket, opening his door to find Clary sitting at her desk—back ramrod straight—and Jace with his arms crossed, glancing woundedly at her like a puppy who’d been sent to his crate by his master.

Magnus held back a smile, and offered his hand. “Mr. Wayland, it’s good to see you again so soon.”

Jace’s eyes flickered to Clary before he shook Magnus’ hand. “Thanks, you too.”

“Alec left me with the impression that you didn’t leave the arena if you didn’t have to.”

“Alec is taking care of…stuff too.”

Magnus took in Jace’s response. Jace hadn’t denied Alec’s statement and Jace was protective of Alec—maintaining Alec’s privacy. Jace and Alec were likely much more a bonded pair than Alec had let on. “Is he now? That all sounds very official. Please come in.”

Magnus led Jace into the office, gesturing at his own jaw as they walked. “So you don’t share Alec’s superstition about magical chin follicles?”

“I don’t do the playoff beard thing. Can’t really grow one—” Jace’s face scrunched up in frustration as he dropped into the seat across from Magnus’ desk. “Anyway… I’d like your advice actually.”

Instead of going behind his desk, Magnus took the seat next to Jace. “About Clary?”

“What? No.”

“I was under the impression you were here for Clary.”

“Okay, yeah—she’s hot, but I don’t think she likes me?” If Jace’s inflection and expression were any indication, rejection wasn’t a natural state for the Angels’ supernova. To Magnus’ fascination, within one breath Jace’s demeanor had changed, though. He licked his lips, tipped his head to the side and the cockiness rolled off him in waves. “Whatever. I’m here on business. Hoping you can give me some insider info on working with IE. My agent is useful as a flaccid dick. I don’t want him taking a cut of the next contract I sign, especially the next one.”

“Well then. Let me apologize first for assuming you were here for other reasons.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t give you a reason to think otherwise.”

Magnus waved a hand in the air. “Granted. Let’s move on. Tell me, how restrictive is your agreement with your agency?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t been as involved with any of this as I should’ve been. I can have my lawyer give you a call.”

“Okay. And how much longer do you have on your contract with the Angels?”

“Two more months.”

“Same as Alec’s.”

Jace shrugged. “We signed around the same time.”

“There are legalities we would need to work through, but I’ll be surprised if any of them are insurmountable. IE will be happy to accept you into their family.”

“Not IE.” Jace pointed at Magnus. “You. I don’t want another sports agent—I want you.”

“I’m sorry. Could you repeat that, please?”

“You heard me,” Jace said with all confidence. “And I know you want me too.”

Magnus restrained a smirk. “Well, Mr. Wayland. This is not a situation I thought would be presented to me this morning.”

“It’s Jace.”

“Very well,” Magnus allowed. “Have your attorney call me, Jace. We’ll go from there. I won’t keep you away from Alec and the arena any longer than necessary.”

Magnus stood and Jace followed him, placing his hand on Magnus’ arm. Magnus didn’t flinch away from the touch, but he didn’t welcome it either. Jace seemed to catch on and quickly let go.

“About Alec. He can’t know about this yet.”

Magnus didn’t divulge anything to do with his clients’—or prospective clients’—business without their permission, but Jace wouldn’t know that. “You tell me how you want to move forward. I’ll keep this quiet until we can discuss it further.”

“Good… Just— One more thing.” Jace ran his hands through his hair. “I’m here because I trust Alec and he trusts you. But I’m also here…. I’m also here because I love him. He’s the only brother I’ve ever had.”

Magnus apparently hadn’t really looked at Jace until now, because he was only just seeing the differing the colors of Jace’s eyes as they locked onto him—intent. Whatever Jace was trying to tell Magnus was important to him. “I don’t understand.”

Jace chuckled at that. “I don’t either. But that doesn’t matter. He’s a good guy. So just…. Watch out for him, okay?”

“I will,” Magnus replied without hesitation.

Jace grinned and patted him on the back.

Magnus let him this time.

 

****

 

Alec pulled his cap on and headed out the door of his building, catching a cab to the restaurant where he was meeting Max. The car jolted into movement and Alec caught the cabbie glancing back at him. He was used to being recognized on occasion. Hockey players weren’t well known everywhere, but the Angels were a popular team. A popular team royally fucking over the city if the sports station that was currently booming out of the radio was any indication. Alec slid his sunglasses on and tried to ignore the commentary about the clusterfuck that had been his loss last night, but the cabbie kept eyeing him the mirror.

“Going to lose tonight too?”

Alec gritted his teeth. “Don’t plan on it.”

The man clucked his tongue. “The least you can do is put in a fight.”

Alec held back a sneer.

It didn’t matter that he’d been a pro for seven years, he still wasn’t entirely comfortable dealing with the public. Fan service took a lot out of him. Fan critique even more. But he deserved the criticism. He deserved every iota of frustration painted across this guy’s face. He couldn’t go into tonight’s game broken or weak. He had to bring the fight.

He took a deep breath. “Yeah, I’ll do that.”

The cabbie’s face brightened. “Excellent, my friend.”

The cabbie waved off the fare when he dropped Alec at the corner of Essex and Rivington, and Alec thanked him—handing him a twenty dollar bill anyway and one of his customized business cards. “Call the number on the card and tell them I asked you to call.” He tapped the side of the car and headed inside the Essex.

The hostess led him to a table in a back corner where Max sat with his back to the rest of the tables, giving Alec the seat he always preferred—where he could watch who was around him. He touched Max’s shoulder and Max stood, wrapping him in a hug.

“Guessing this isn’t a new pre-game ritual,” Max said, still holding him tight.

“It’s not,” Alec confirmed. “Sorry, Max.”

Max squeezed him one more time then sat down. “So tell me. You’re making me nervous.”

Alec removed his sunglasses and flipped his baseball cap so it sat backwards, taking the seat across from Max. “The son of Valentine Morgenstern approached me with a million dollar check yesterday. He said it was all they’d been able to recover so far and he was giving it to me to regain my trust. Then he proceeded to threaten your search for venture capital if I didn’t accept his check and set a meeting between you and him.”

“What a fuck bag!” Max shook his head in disbelief then picked up his menu. “You doing carbs or protein? Can never remember what your diet is on game day.”

Alec gaped. He pushed Max’s menu to the table. “Are you listening to me, Max? He is well connected. His threat could be legitimate.”

“He’s threatening you, Alec—not me—and not even very well. I’ll make my own way. I don’t want his money either, and if that keeps me out of circles that associate with him, then even better.”

Alec sat back. “How do you know I didn’t take his money?”

Max barked out a laugh. “You? No way.”

“Well, I didn’t. Just to make that clear. And Magnus wants to report our meeting to the state attorney’s office. So they may try to contact you.”

“As long as the five-o don’t fuck with my finals—that’s cool.”

Alec couldn’t help but chuckle. He hadn’t expected his brother to freak out, but he was constantly surprised how genuinely sure of himself Max was. He picked up his own menu, even though he ordered the same thing every time he came here. “Protein, carbs, and a lot of calories. That’s my game day diet.”

Max nodded. “So what else is going on?”

“Besides extortion and tanking in the net last night?” Alec shrugged. “Not much.”

“I’m totally going to be that guy because it’s who I am. You look like shit, Alec. And not just post-game I’m-so-pissed-at-myself shit.”

“Long day in general yesterday,” Alec hedged. “Long season. Which is great, don’t get me wrong, it’s just…. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for life outside hockey.”

“Thought hockey was your life.”

Max waved at someone, but Alec ignored him in favor of studying the menu. Max seemed to know someone wherever they went.

“It is,” Alec answered, reading through the list of brunch options to see if there was anything besides the usual that caught his eye. “It’s just…. Maybe I want more? I don’t know. I’ve never really done the dating thing. Hook ups only when…needed. Jace says I need to get laid—” Alec looked up to find their waitress standing next to the table. His cheeks went molten.

“Yeah, I don’t think he’s interested in ordering that,” Max quipped to the woman.

Alec cleared his throat and tried to dredge up even a drop of dignity. “I’ll have the Aristocrat with fresh fruit on the side. Skip the drinks.”

“I’ll have the Deep South and skip the drinks.” Max handed over the menus, giving the waitress a dazzling smile. “The Lightwood brothers don’t need alcohol. We’re naturally intoxicating.”

Alec stared at his brother in disbelief. “Do you have an off switch?”

The waitress simply rolled her eyes as she walked away.

“I’m going to have to tip her one hundred percent,” Alec said.

“Worth it. Anyway, you were saying?”

Alec looked around this time to make sure no one was listening. “Jace says my personal life is messing with how I play and he thinks I need to laid.”

“So you come to your brother for help? I think we need to work on some boundary setting.”

“Give it a rest, Max. I need someone to talk to about this. Can you cut out the sarcasm for five minutes?”

“Dude. Why so surly? Maybe you need to get laid.”

Alec pushed back and started to get up from his chair.

Max yanked on his sleeve. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Sit back down. I’ll be serious.”

Alec scowled and sat back down.

Max picked up his water and took a drink. “Do you want to get laid?”

“I can’t tell if you’re being serious or fucking with me more.”

“It’s a serious question, Alec. Do you want to get laid?”

“Well, yeah.”

Max set his glass down and leaned forward. “You need to call Magnus.”

His skin was going to melt off his bones. He was sure of it. “What? Why?”

“To get laid? Because the two of you are boning?”

Alec sputtered. “Me and Magnus— We— We’re not.”

“Oh shit.” Max sat back and nodded. “Then…. Right. Okay. You still need to call Magnus.”

“Why?” Alec protested.

“To get laid! Why is this so difficult for you?”

“What?” Alec asked, incredulous.

“What?” Max retorted, confused.

Alec leaned forward, whispering. “How the hell did you know there was…something…there? You’ve never even seen Magnus and me together.”

“To be honest, I was just fucking with you. I didn’t actually think you and Magnus were doing it. I thought it was a one-sided fantasy on Magnus’ part, but that color”—he circled a pointed finger around Alec’s face—“is not one-sided.”

“I don’t like him,” Alec denied. Badly.

Like him? Yeah, well now I know you totally do.”

Alec set his elbows on the table and scrubbed his hands over his face. “Nothing has happened between the two of us.”

“But you want it to.”

“Maybe. I don’t know.” Max raised one eyebrow and Alec caved. “Yes, okay? Yes. But it’s not going to. I was at his place last night and nothing happened and it’s confusing me and…killing me.”

“I don’t get it. Is he not into you?”

Alec shook his head. “No, he is. But I can’t be with him, Max. Not really.”

“Why? Because there’s”—Max made air quotes with his fingers—“really big reasons, and”—more air quotes—“super challenging obstacles, and it’s”—still more air quotes—“a bad idea that could turn your world upside down? Did I get that right?”

“Yes?”

Max scoffed. Again. “I know pulling punches is your thing, but you’ll never change anything if you don’t switch up the batting order.”

“You’re mixing your sports metaphors,” Alec pointed out.

“How’s this? Learn to take a risk, Alec.”

It was finally Alec’s turn to scoff.

“No, really. You’re not happy with how your life is going, so change it. And to do that you’re going to have to not play by the rules. I know that’s not you and it goes against everything you are, but start somewhere—anywhere. There’s risk in everything in life, but the biggest risks have the biggest payoff in the end. Honestly? You need to watch some rom coms, Alec. This is pretty much a conversation straight out of all of them.”

“No way.”

“You’d learn a lot,” Max insisted.

“Not happening.”

Max reached his hand across the table and laid it on Alec’s. “I’ll be here for you when it’s time, big brother.”

Alec grinned, he couldn’t help it. “Shut the fuck up, Max.”

“Can I just say one more thing?”

Alec huffed. “Do you have to?”

“Yeah, I do. Think about the other guys you’ve hooked up with over the years. Were any of them like Magnus? I like the guy—not gonna lie about that. But he’s so out. Maybe you’re attracted to him because of that.”

Alec considered that. “You think I’m attracted to what he represents more than him?”

“You gotta answer that for yourself.”

Alec scowled. When had his life gotten so confusing? “Maybe.”

 

****

 

Night of Game Two

(Series tally - Devils lead one game to none)

 

“You know,” Max called out as he approached Magnus, “it’s a pretty well established superstition that if you sit on the Raziel statue that you’re doomed to an eternity of forced abstinence.”

Magnus practically flew off the base of the statue in front of the Angels’ arena at Max’s words. Max had texted him to meet up here and—despite the cleanliness of the majestic statue’s base and the lack of seating elsewhere—he’d been surprised to find no one else sitting there. “A mascot that enforces permanent chastity sounds more hellish than heavenly.”

Max chuckled. “I’m fucking with you. Good to know where your priorities are though.”

Magnus glared at Max and pulled at the cuffs of his shirt. “Where’s Isabelle?”

“It’s just you and me tonight. Izzy decided to switch up tradition and stay with her hubs and Clary in the zamboni room. Honestly, I think she just wanted to bang Simon on the zamboni while Clary watches.”

The mental images were too much. “That is information I never needed to know.”

Max cackled. “Magnus! I’m messing with you on that too. Wow. Your bullshit radar is off today. You lose some key brain cells overnight or something?”

Magnus sniffed. “I’m fine.”

“Sure ya are,” Max drawled, looking completely unconvinced.

“I’m simply focused on not trampling on any of Alec’s delicate web of superstition.”

“Uh-huh. So that explains the change to a shiny shirt and layers of silver jewelry today?”

He may have chosen this shirt because of how boldly it would set him apart from everyone else in the arena tonight. “This shirt is a Versace.”

“Oh my god, you and my brother are total opposites.” Max looped his arm into Magnus’ and guided him toward the queue for security. “You look great, by the way. Nice to see the real Magnus showing up to this game.”

Magnus smiled. “So where did the self-pilfering Robin Hood place us tonight?”

“We’re actually in one of the players’ suites. Alec only gave away two of his three tickets, Jace had an extra one, and Izzy was set on staying with Simon, so it’s you and me.”

You and me.

We.

Magnus was entwined with the Lightwood family in ways he didn’t want to unravel. Much too attached to all of them, yet with a gap between his life and theirs that he hoped to find a way to bridge. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, young Lightwood. Let’s get a picture to send to Alexander.”

 

****

 

Alec took to the ice with a mix of applause and boos that were audible despite the blaring music. It was a first for him. He’d been booed during a game, but never before.

He blew out a long breath and headed for the crease.

He knew from his pre-game texts that Magnus was up in the suite—with Max—looking gorgeous, standing out just as Alec had told him he liked. It was comforting and disconcerting all at the same time.

In that same suite was the cab driver who he’d given tickets to earlier today. A man that had reminded Alec he needed to not just show up—he needed to fight.

If he was ever going to change his life then it was going to be a fight. An internal battle to overcome his own fear, and an external one to stand tall against all of the people who would view him differently because he was gay. He had to learn to shake off people’s disapproval of him in life just like he did on the ice.

He wasn’t ready for all of this yet, but if he was ever going to be then he needed to bring everything he had to the things that mattered.

He was going to bring the fight tonight.

Because he needed to start living for all the pieces of himself that made him proud.

 

****

 

Magnus eased back in his seat and took a drink of his lemon drop martini. Lemon wasn’t usually a favorite flavor of his, but the balance of sour and sweet in the martini was stunning, the color of his drink matched his shirt, and it had been free—delivered to him by the suite waitstaff. Magnus could get used to this level of pampering very quickly.

“He looks solid tonight,” Max observed. “Much better than last night.”

“He does,” Magnus acknowledged.

There had been a selfish part of him that had hoped Alec would struggle tonight, because maybe that meant Alec had been affected as Magnus by last night. But Magnus had pushed that thought aside as quickly as it had flown through his mind. Magnus didn’t ever want to see Alec as broken as he’d been after that loss. And Alec walking away was exactly what had needed to happen—for both of their sakes.

“Speaking with you this morning had to ease his mind,” Magnus said to Max.

“That egotistical prick Morgenstern can fuck off. Did Alec tell you I’m in for however you want to handle reporting that meeting?”

“He texted me after your breakfast. But I wasn’t expecting any other answer. Everyone in your family seems very…forthright. Focused on doing what it honorable.”

“Probably because our parents aren’t.”

Magnus let that subject sit. There wasn’t anything he could contribute to a discussion on parents that wouldn’t increase the bitterness factor.

Max relaxed into his seat, bumping up against Magnus. “You know, there’s very little that eases Alec’s mind. You seem to, though.”

Magnus took a healthy gulp of his martini, piecing together what Max wasn’t saying out loud. “Alec told you what didn’t happen last night.”

“Yup.”

The sourness of lemon churned in his stomach. “I don’t believe anything to do with me is restful for Alec at this point.”

“Maybe.” Max’s lips tipped up in a ghost of a smile. “But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

 

****

 

Alec glanced at the scoreboard, checking the time. Thirteen minutes left in the second period. One to one.

Bring the fight, he repeated in his head as he crouched down and surveyed the ice.

He wasn’t at his best tonight, but he was much more focused than he’d been in the first game. The Devils’ were coming at them hard, trying to exploit the weaknesses they’d uncovered last night. So far the Angels were holding their own. He was holding his own, despite the Devils’ center’s attempts to throw Alec off his game by sticking close to the goal.

Blackwell had gotten in three goals last night, and Alec wouldn’t allow one of his shots through tonight.

“Time, time, time, Santiago,” he called out as Raphael took possession of the puck behind his net, letting his center know he had time to set up the play before the Devils were on them again.

Santiago appeared in Alec’s peripheral vision, rushing past in a blur, then passing to the right winger. The puck bounced between the Angels offensive players and the Devils skated hard, going for force in their hits instead of any finesse in stealing the puck.

Alec watched as the angle of Jace’s shoulders changed and Alec held his breath, waiting for the shot he knew was coming. The red light lit up behind the Devils’ net and Jace skated away with his fist pumping in the air as the fans took to their feet and the arena dropped into raucous chaos.

One to two with half of the game left to play.

Alec flipped his cage up and took a swig of water while they set up for the faceoff.

Thirty more minutes to play.

The defense was trying to keep Blackwell off him and the offense was getting their shots in. It was Alec’s job now to maintain the Angels’ lead.

Bring the fight, he thought again, and settled into his crouch.

 

****

 

Max glared at the rink, then up at the bank of TVs in front of the suite. “The refs should be calling Blackwell for interference. I don’t know why they’re letting that slide.”

“Tough call to make, my friend,” the man next to Magnus said. “He’s lingering just long enough and close enough to make his presence known but not enough to be penalized.”

“It looks like that shit is already pissing Alec off.”

Magnus glanced at the TVs. He couldn’t see what they were seeing. “I don’t understand.”

The man next to him leaned in. “Players aren’t allowed to do anything that keeps the goaltender from defending the net. It’s a gray area with much fervent discussion on what is interfering and what is not.”

“Ah. Yes, I could see Alexander being a bit territorial when it comes to his space.”

The man quirked an eyebrow. “Do you know Alec Lightwood?”

Max beamed and reached across Magnus to shake the man’s hand. “I’m Max—his brother. And this is his agent Magnus.”

“Ibrahim,” the man said as he shook their hands. “I see the resemblance now. Your brother is a generous man. He was in my cab this morning and I, well, I may have been a bit stern with him. But he gave me tickets to tonight. I brought my wife.” He pointed to the woman in a Wayland jersey standing at the railing of the suite, cheering. “She’s a huge fan.”

“So what did you say to him?” Max asked.

“Not to lose again.”

Max guffawed. “Awesome. I’m sure he’s taken that to heart. He does every piece of criticism he gets.”

“Well now I feel really bad.”

“Nah, don’t sweat it. No one is harder on Alec than he is on himself.”

Ibrahim smiled and went back to chatting with Max, but Magnus was studying Alec. There was no doubt Alec was playing better tonight, but the way he was carrying himself—the way he was moving—was different.

Tighter. More aggressive.

They had thirty minutes left to find out whether or not that change would lead to a win.

 

****

 

Blackwell swished by Alec again, skates cutting into the line surrounding the crease, but not snowing him or making any contact. He was skirting the edges of an interference call—had been since late in the first period. The refs had already given him one warning but Blackwell kept pressing in.

The Angels defense was working to keep the puck out of the defensive zone at all—and succeeding more often than not, giving Alec some breathing room—but Alec had no doubt that when Blackwell got a real chance to challenge Alec, he would.

Alec had to shut this down now or face the possibility of Blackwell and the other Devils fucking with his area for the rest of the series.

Bring the fight, he repeated until the sentence started to take on a whole new meaning.

Despite Jace being the captain, the other players relied more on Alec for on-ice instructions. The pin in their grenade Garroway had called him. If the Angels were going to make it to the championship then they had to find a better balance.

He and Jace had been playing together for so long that sometimes being on the ice with him felt more natural than breathing. They communicated with each other on another level than the rest of the team, and Alec needed to give the whole team space to learn to communicate with Jace the same way. He needed to command his net and allow Jace control of the rest.

Learn to take a risk.

As soon as the horn sounded ending the second period, Alec skated up next to Jace, slowing him. “Hang back. We gotta talk.”

“What’s up?”

“The defense is spending too much time protecting me and not enough getting the puck to the forward line. I’m known for keeping my cool on the ice and the Devils are playing all of us—using that to their advantage to get as close to the net as possible and distract the defense. I’m letting that happen. I know you all have my back but I’m not made of fucking glass. I need to make a statement. Let Blackwell know he’s not allowed near my goal. You know what that could mean, right?”

Jace pulled off his glove and swiped his hand over his lips. “How dirty are we talking here?”

“Nothing that will get me suspended. I hope.”

“Shit. Got it. Give the refs one more shot to get it right. They don’t, then do what you need to. I know you’re not fucking fragile, but I’ll still have your back.”

Alec pulled Jace forward and knocked his mask against Jace’s helmet. “You always do, brother.”

 

****

 

“What was that about?” Magnus asked Max, pointing at the ice.

Max stopped devouring the burrito in his hands and squinted at Magnus. “What?”

“Just before they went down the tunnel Alexander pulled Jace aside. I’ve never seen him do that before.”

“Holy shit, you’ve got it bad. You know what Alec’s usual routine is at intermissions?”

“I don’t— He’s—” Magnus sputtered. He straightened a lock of hair off his forehead and leveled Max with a death stare. “Aren’t there leftover rib bones you have yet to gnaw the meat off of?”

Max snorted. “I’m guessing I’m not the only one thinking about gnawing meat tonight.”

Magnus glowered. “Shut up, Max.”

 

****

 

The front of the net was a flurry of sticks, skates, elbows, and a mad dash for the puck. There was no way for Alec to keep track of exactly where it was in the crease pileup. He kept low, in a full butterfly, mitt ready and stick protecting his five hole as he tried not to be jostled out of position. He caught a flash of black and propelled his stick forward between skates, sending the puck out of the melee and both teams chasing after it.

He got to his feet and heard Jace yell at one of the refs. “They’re fucking eating dinner in his goddamn crease. You gotta fucking call that!” The refs attention never left play farther down the ice.

Alec gritted his teeth and went back into position, readying for play heading his way again. Blackwell charged forward, intent on the goal even though he didn’t have the puck, setting up in a position that blocked Alec’s view of the action.

“Screen slot, screen slot,” Alec barked out to let his defense know he couldn’t see the puck.

Alec stayed in position, deflecting a shot that came out of nowhere and Blackwell continued to encroach.

Before he could overthink it, Alec brought his elbow back and slammed his blocker into the side of Blackwell’s thigh, then a second time, shoving Blackwell away and sending him reeling in an exaggerated whip of arms and flailing legs to the ice.

Alec knew the whistle was coming before he even heard it.

 

****

 

“Oh shit,” Max swore as he surged to his feet, his hands on his head. Max looked to Magnus with disbelief then whipped his head around to the ice again, yelling, “What. The. Fuck. Alec?!”

Magnus looked to Ibrahim for an explanation.

“That’s a game misconduct,” Ibrahim explained, his eyes wide. “He’s ejected. Out for the rest of the game.”

Magnus gaped. “And now what?”

“Backup goalie.” Ibrahim said. “I don’t know who that is.”

“Jordan Kyle.” Max still looked stunned as he slumped into his seat. “Alec started sixty-two games this season. Kyle hasn’t seen much action.”

“He has less than ten minutes to play,” Magnus pointed out. “And the Angels are ahead.”

Max grumbled a ripe swear and scrubbed his hands over his face. “It only takes one second to score.”

 

****

 

“What the motherfuck was that, Lightwood?” Garroway yelled at Alec as he exited the ice.

Alec kept his jaw clamped shut and didn’t say anything as he clambered back to the locker room, Kadir following him.

Alec calmly removed his gear and sank onto the bench as Kadir flipped on the TV.

“Ice?” Kadir asked.

“Yeah.”

Alec stretched out his leg and let Kadir situate the bag over his knee.

Kadir sat down next to him, looking up at the TV as Kyle entered the rink.

Alec took a deep breath, stomach flipping as he watched the refs set up the faceoff to restart play.

 

****

 

There was a chorus of boos at the first goal Kyle let in, tying the game with six minutes left in the third.

Then the arena went silent.

With Alec off the ice, the Angels skated hard, keeping the puck in the offensive zone and taking shot after shot—each one deflected—as time ticked down.

With less than thirty seconds left in the game, Garroway pulled Kyle out of the net to gain a sixth man on the ice for the Angels. Max surged to his feet as the Angels and Devils battled for control of the puck in front of the Devils’ net. Santiago slapped a shot that ricocheted off the post, the crowd groaning in unison. Pangborn bashed his way through the line and drew the puck out again, passing to Jace, who was whirled around by a massive Devils’ defenseman barreling over him. The D-man stole the puck and surged forward, burying the puck in the empty net as the final buzzer sounded.

“What the fuck just happened?” Max said in disbelief.

Magnus stared at the scoreboard, trying to make sense of it all.

Devils - 3. Angels - 2.

The game was over.

They were down two games to none in the series.

 

****

 

Alec forced himself to meet every set of eyes as the Angels trudged into the locker room—some defiant, some exhausted, all of them defeated—until Coach Garroway walked through the door and leveled Alec with a savage glare. Alec ran a hand over his beard and looked away.

“I don’t know what the fuck happened out there tonight,” Garroway started in on them, the timbre of his voice a near growl. Regardless of the grimace on his face, Garroway was outwardly calm. The kind of calm that every player learned to fear. “We are down two games and our next two games are on the road. I expect each of you to bring your brains to work tomorrow and not just your bodies. We’ll review tape of this fuckfest starting at seven am. Until then, get the fuck out of my arena.”

Garroway stalked into his office, leaving the door open as usual—an ever-present threat.

“Lightwood fucked us again,” one of the third line defensemen gritted out just loud enough for everyone to hear.

Jace was in the guy’s space immediately. “Lightwood? If Alec hadn’t made it clear that the Devils needed to stay the fuck back, then they would’ve gotten even more aggressive than they already are. Our goalies took twenty-eight shots on goal and only let two in. You want to talk about job performance, then tell me how you let that D-man slip past you and get to me? Or how one man managed to mind fuck us all? We do our jobs and the Devils don’t spend time in front of our goal. All of us made mistakes out there tonight. We fucked ourselves tonight.” The guy gave a clipped nod and Jace stood tall, running a hand through his sweat-soaked hair. He looked around the locker room, a lazy smile spreading across his face. “I don’t know how all of you feel, but I think fucking is much more fun as a team sport.”

“Amen,” Pangborn called out. “Did you see that prissy ass Blackwell flailing on the ice? He was brought to his knees by our motherfucking goalie.”

The tone of the locker room shifted immediately. Alec huffed out a laugh as Jace dropped onto the bench next to him.

“Fucking is more fun as a team sport, huh?”

Jace grinned. “You should try that at least once.”

“Being worried about one other person is enough for me. Thanks.”

Jace gestured at Alec’s head. “You okay up there?”

“Yeah,” he answered honestly. “I am.”

“That was fucking crazy, Alec.”

He shrugged. “I had to take the risk.”

Jace’s eyes narrowed. “Who the hell are you? I’ve never seen you do anything like that.”

“I figured I had an eighty-twenty shot. Twenty percent chance the refs wouldn’t catch it, eighty percent chance they would, and a one hundred percent chance that I wouldn’t get Blackwell’s ass out of my face for the rest of the series if he didn’t think I was a bit deranged. I went against my gut and hit him.”

“You owned that goal tonight. I meant what I said—this loss is on all of us. We should’ve been able to keep the puck away from the net when both you and Kyle were in it—and especially when Kyle wasn’t in it. We’re too used to you deflecting almost everything. We rely on you too much. That is something your captain needs to make sure changes.”

Alec pursed his lips and nodded. “Okay.”

“Lightwood!” Garroway yelled. “In my office now.”

Jace slapped him on the back and Alec plodded into Garroway’s office, shutting the door behind him.

“Sit down. I’ve been notified that you won’t be receiving a one game suspension for your hit on Blackwell but you will be paying a fine plus additional penalties. Front office will be in contact with your agent to give him all the details.”

Alec blew out a sigh of relief. “Got it.”

Garroway leaned forward on his desk. “The Devils are going to be pissed you didn’t get that suspension.”

“They play any more aggressively than they already are, they’re going to spend the entire third game in the box.”

“We can hope.” Garroway ran his fingers over his mouth as he studied Alec. “I can’t believe I have to say this to you out of all the jackoffs in there—that is now two games you’ve let your emotions get the best of you.”

“It wasn’t emotional at all, Coach. It was a calculated risk.”

“A calculated risk? Well your calculations were way the fuck off. You don’t fucking touch another player, you hear me?”

“I hear you, Coach.”

“You get your shit together or I will personally yank you out of that goal by your neck.”

It wasn’t that long ago that he’d been sitting in this exact same chair with Clary crying on the phone as Alec begged her to get control of herself. He could hear Clary’s voice in his head as he repeated what she’d said that day. “My shit has been gathered, Coach.”

Garroway dismissed him with a wave of his hand.

Then, “And Alec?”

Alec cracked his neck and turned around to face his Coach.

Garroway was…smiling?

“Unofficially, Blackwell deserved that hit. But you didn’t hear that from me.”

 

****

 

You have fun with Max?

Magnus re-read the text from Alec and looked up at Max. “He wants to know if we had fun.”

“If we had fun?” Max bellowed, heads turning in their direction from other tables in the bar. “Is he kidding? How can he just— And he texts you back before me? Give that to me.”

Magnus passed his cell over to Max and watched him type out a reply.

Max smirked—the first real smile Magnus had seen on his lips since Alec was ejected from the game—and handed the phone back to Magnus.

The last message sent to Alec was: Ur brother is more fun than a bag of dicks

Magnus shook his head. “Really, Max?”

“Hang on, give it back.”

Magnus did. More out of curiosity than anything else.

Max emphatically pressed the screen with one finger. “There.”

“The poop emoji?”

“He’ll know what that means.”

Magnus set his phone on the table in disgust. “You’ve soiled my entire thread with him. Feel better now?”

“No,” Max insisted—frowning—then broke into a sly grin. “Okay, yeah.”

Magnus’ phone pinged.

MAX. Give the phone back to Magnus

I have control again, Magnus typed. Your (or ur) brother is a delight

Max leaned forward. “Ask him what the hell.”

Max wishes me to ask you what the hell

Alec’s reply came right away. Where are you?

Magnus looked to Max. “Where are we again?”

“Tell him the bar.”

Magnus arched an eyebrow and complied.

Vague location sent, Magnus set his phone down again and picked up his scotch. “I still don’t understand why we had to come here. We’re in the opposite direction from Columbia and you can’t even drink—”

“Shhh,” Max interrupted, shifting so he was facing the front of the bar. “I’m trying to hold on to my anger and Alec will walk through that door right about…now.”

Magnus stared at the door expecting Alec to magically appear through some sort of portal. A beat of silence passed and Magnus peeked at Max. “Now?”

“Okay. Now.”

Magnus glanced sideways again at Max when Alec didn’t materialize.

“Oh my god,” Max groaned. “He can’t even get this right.”

“Max,” Magnus pleaded. “Alec was a wreck after last night’s game. I know your default mode is antagonistic, but go easy on—”

“Now!” Max yelled, throwing his hands in the air as Alec pushed into the bar. “What the hell, Alec?”

 

****

 

Alec waved at the bartender and shook his head when offered a drink. Magnus was studying Alec with care as he approached, as if he wasn’t sure what mental state Alec would be in after that game. Alec smiled to reassure him and Magnus ducked his head, putting just as much scrutiny on the drink in front of him as he’d just had on Alec.

It was the first time he’d seen Magnus since last night, and yeah, this thing—whatever it was between them—was still there.

Alec tried to get his beating heart under control and took the seat next to Max, finally answering his brother’s question. “I was defending my goal.”

“See! That’s not you. Being this chill about being ejected? You being thrown out of a game has only happened one other time, and that time….” Max grimaced. “I thought for sure you’d lost it.”

“So you decided yelling at him will help that?” Magnus interjected.

Max whipped his head around and shushed Magnus.

“I didn’t lose it,” Alec replied. “I knew exactly what I was doing and Jace and I discussed it. Blackwell wasn’t backing off and I had to send him a message or else he’d be on me for the rest of the series.”

“A message that started the cascade of the team losing!” Max protested, his voice rising in volume with each word. “That was idiotic. Reckless. Asinine. Risky—” Max stopped himself abruptly. “Oh.”

Learn to take a risk.

Hitting Blackwell had been a dangerous choice, with immediate shitty consequences, but Alec was betting on the long-term payoff. Learning to take risks, even when it made him uncomfortable. One risk at a time.

Alec could only nod to his brother in reply.

The set of Max’s shoulders eased and he took a drink from his water. “Cool.”

“‘Cool?’” Magnus said with disbelief. “You’ve been furious with him for the last hour.”

“Nah, we’re cool.”

“Lightwoods,” Magnus muttered under his breath just loud enough for Alec to hear. And for Alec to get achingly lost in the warmth and familiarity he heard in that one word.

Alec reached out and gently tugged at the cuff of Magnus’ shirt. Magnus looked even more stunning in person than he had in the pre-game picture he’d sent. “I…. I, uh, like this.”

Magnus visibly swallowed before he answered. “Thank you.”

“Wow,” Max said, startling Alec. “It’s late. So, so late. And I have class and….” Max stood. “Why am I even trying? You two just stay here and have fun.”

Alec’s cheeks flamed. “Night, Max.”

Magnus glared at Max. “Always a delight. You traitorous bastard.”

“I have no regrets.” Max tapped the table then made his way out of the bar.

Leaving Alec alone with Magnus.

Alec watched Max until he’d disappeared from sight, then took a breath and faced Magnus. “So my brother just set us up.”

“I’d strangle him if I didn’t think he’d find a way to make an inappropriate joke about that too.”

Alec smiled. He liked that Magnus had been protective when Max started railing on him. He liked that Magnus got along with his siblings. He liked Magnus. Way too much for his own good.

Magnus shifted in his seat and played with his ear cuff. “Am I to assume by your swift arrival that you live in Gramercy?”

“Literally next door. I love this neighborhood.”

Magnus circled both his hands around his glass as if he needed something to do with them. “Max…. He shared with me that you told him about…last night. I’ll be quite honest, Alexander, after what didn’t happen….” Magnus furrowed his brow, staring into his drink as if the melting ice would hold the same answers as a fortuneteller’s tea leaves. His fingers twisted around the cocktail napkin under his glass. “I don’t know how to do this.”

Seeing Magnus flustered was…new. “Yeah, me either.”

Magnus lifted his eyes at that, tipping his head to the side. The lines between his eyebrows remained. “I don’t want to be sad around you, Alexander.”

“Same,” Alec replied immediately. He didn’t know what he was doing, but he knew he didn’t want Magnus to feel alone. “You’re one of the best parts of my life, Magnus. I don’t want to lose that—you—” Because we can’t be together. Not yet. “You know what I mean.”

“You won’t, right? I am contractually tied to you for the next two years.” Magnus drew his shoulders back, flicked his hair into place, then lifted his glass, swirling it in the space between them. Alec recognized each movement for what it was—Magnus bracing his defenses, erecting his wall. “You’ll be happy to know I’ve already started talking to the Angels’ front office. We’re going to open up initial conversations on your new contract soon.”

They were having two different conversations and yet the same one. But now wasn’t the time to push for hard truths.

All he could give Magnus right now was, “I’m scared as shit, Magnus, but I trust you. I have no doubt the wait will be worth it.”

 

****

 

Magnus was sure Max was going to have something to say about his outfit, but he didn’t care. Maybe he was dressing slightly scandalously for the restaurant they were going to, and he definitely shouldn’t have been getting dressed thinking about how Alec would look at him…. But he ignored that much-too-responsible voice in the back of his head and undid a few more buttons, checked to make sure his polish wasn’t chipped, and applied a thick layer of red gloss to his lips.

Chairman looked up at him as if to say you’re not fooling anyone.

“I know,” he retorted.

Chairman slinked away, lazily waving his tail.

Izzy had chosen a restaurant that wasn’t far from Magnus’ loft, so he walked—inhaling the spring air and tilting his head back to take in more of the sunshine. It was much too early to be having dinner at all, but Alec was scheduled to be at the Angels’ bus at seven pm and none of them were planning on being at the next game, so Izzy had demanded a family dinner.

A family dinner that included Magnus.

“Not business,” Magnus muttered to himself. “This dinner is not business”—he caught eyes with a man walking down the sidewalk—“and you should say no.”

Random stranger glared at him as he brushed past. “Fuck you.”

Magnus rolled his eyes. “Not interested, darling.”

Magnus opened the door to the restaurant and slipped inside, spotting Izzy’s cascading black hair and heading in her direction.

“Magnus!” Simon called out as he approached. “The party’s here.”

Magnus twirled—likely leaving a very festive stream of glitter in his wake—and Simon grinned ear-to-ear.

Izzy approached and kissed his cheeks with deliberate care, then used her thumbs to wipe away the lipstick she’d left behind. Her eyes were soft when she pulled away. “Thanks for coming.”

Magnus thinned his lips. “He told you. Or Max did. Or Clary. Which means possibly Simon as well.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Magnus narrowed his eyes. He had no idea why she was lying, but he was…grateful. “Very well then. Where do you want me?”

“Back there. We’re adding another table so there’s a bit more leg room.”

Magnus slid into the booth running along the wall just as Alec was sliding in next to him, having appeared from somewhere in the back. They’d been texting all day—not quite as much as in the last few weeks, but nearly normal—so Magnus felt like he’d already said hello to Alec a dozen times today. Alec had on a black shirt with the two top buttons undone and a curl of hair falling onto his forehead that Magnus wanted to brush back.

“Hey,” Alec said, leaning against Magnus as Izzy maneuvered the tables in the order she wanted them, then her and Simon sat across from Alec and Magnus.

Magnus set his phone on the table, and began to play with his rings, giving his fingers something to do. “I would say good evening, but it is definitely afternoon.”

“I’m not even hungry,” Alec whispered to him. “But I can’t say no to Izzy.”

Magnus huffed. “I am familiar with that problem.”

“Hey, guys!” Clary was nearly skipping as she entered the restaurant. She bounded over and wrapped each of them in a hug and took the seat next to Alec at one of the heads of the table. “I ordered drinks and appetizers.”

“You just got here,” Simon pointed out.

“I called ahead.”

“She’s thorough,” Magnus praised, earning a blinding smile from Clary. “She knows how to keep me happy.”

“It’s all of our goals to keep you happy, Magnus,” Izzy said.

“Some of us more than others,” Simon added, then yelped at what had to have been a poorly covert double assault under the table if Simon’s head swinging between Clary and Izzy was any indication. “Ow! Fine. I’ll behave.”

Next to Magnus, Alec sighed and mumbled, “Should’ve said no.”

“Who invited the zamboni driver?” Magnus quipped.

Max appeared through the kitchen door, carrying a tray and saving Magnus and Alec from further embarrassment. “Your drinks.”

“Do you work here?” Magnus asked.

“Nope,” Max said brightly, not offering any more of an explanation. He set a mug down in front of his brother. “Coffee for you instead of alcohol, Alec. It will put hair on your chin.”

Alec scratched at his beard. “I need the help.”

Magnus accepted a golden drink from Max. “Please ensure none of your chin hair ends up in my drink, Grizzly Adams.”

“No promises. My beard does what it wants—it’s very manly.”

“Your beard needs to check its privilege, Alexander.”

Alec shook his head, chuckling. “You’ve been spending too much time with Max.”

“Despite his Benedict Arnold tendencies”—out of the corner of his eye he saw Max taking the seat next to him—“I…tolerate your brother.”

Max clamped his hands over his heart. “That hurt, Magnus.”

Magnus looked over his shoulder at Max. “I’m sure not quite as much as utilizing an entire bag of dicks.”

Alec broke out into a rumbling laugh and Magnus felt as if his entire world had been set right.

The meal passed much too quickly—filled with laughter, stories, and Alec at his side. He barely spoke to Alec, but there were shared glances, Alec tapping his arm to make a point, hearing his name cross Alec’s lips with this…depth of emotion tied to it. It was all familiar—much too familiar. And Magnus could only hope that someday it would be more.

The plates were swept away and coffees replaced the drinks. Alec was glancing at his cell every few minutes, tracking the time, and Magnus could nearly feel the nervous energy rolling off him.

“Ready to get on the bus?”

Alec nodded. “It’s annoying that we have to go stay in Newark instead of being at home, but I get why Coach does it that way. I’m just ready to get there now. Settle into that head space. Where are you going to be for the game tomorrow? I could still get you tickets if you want.”

“Based on my past two appearances, I’m guessing it’s safer for your superstitions if I don’t show up. Regardless, I can’t. I have a client who is in final auditions for a new Broadway play. We’re meeting with the producers before their current show and staying to watch.”

“Is that something you like? You know…Broadway?”

Magnus sneered. “No.”

“Me either.” Alec sounded relieved. He picked up his cell and spoke to everyone. “I have to go. The bill is already taken care of.” Alec stood, clamping Simon on the shoulder, kissing Clary and Izzy’s cheeks, wrapping up Max in a one-armed bear hug from behind, then…

Alec’s hesitation made Magnus’ heart lurch. Magnus extended his hand. “Good luck tomorrow, Alexander.”

Alec took Magnus’ hand in both of his, sliding his fingers under the bracelets on Magnus’ wrist, holding tight. “I’ll see you in a few days.”

Magnus felt the warmth of Alec’s fingers on his skin for hours after.

 

****

 

Game Three

(Series tally - Devils lead two games to none)

 

They weren’t far from home, but the Devils’ arena was distinctly unfriendly territory.

The stands were an undulating mass of blood red and black. Posters with ferocious devils body checking terrified angels. Faces painted in the hellish masks. Rally towels in the shape of flames. It was all meant to make the fans feel like they were intimidating, but Alec had been a pro for too many years to allow the crowd to dictate how he played.

Garroway had been right—the Devils entered the rink pissed. And it showed in the sloppiness of their play from the beginning. By the second period, the Devils had racked up more penalty minutes in this one game than they had in the series so far. Then Blackwell threw his gloves down and challenged Santiago to a fight. If the Devils were hoping to pick up momentum by Blackwell beating down Raphael, then they’d chosen the wrong target. Raphael had Blackwell on the ice within seconds, so fast that another Devil charged in trying to defend their center and the rest of the Devils seemed to take their name to heart—all hell breaking loose.

Alec leaned back, placing his elbows on the top of the net and surveying the chaos. The Devils’ goalie wasn’t making any move to come out of his net and Alec was fine with that. Garroway stood with his arms crossed at the bench and gave a slight shake of his head when he caught eyes with Alec. Alec didn’t need the reminder. He’d gotten the message the first time—no touching another player. Goalie fights were more for entertainment during a brawl than anything else, and Alec wasn’t feeling particularly entertaining. It wasn’t like he had anything to prove anyway. He’d put Blackwell in his place and now Raphael was doing a damn good job of reminding him where he belonged.

From what Alec could piece together from his vantage point, there would be a mess of penalties following this, but the Angels were likely to come out with fewer penalty minutes and much more pride.

It was almost the end of the second period and the Angels were ahead by two-nothing.

Alec had a feeling that lead was only going to get bigger.

 

****

 

Tessa grabbed hold of Magnus’ wrist and turned his cell in her direction. “Are you checking sports scores at the intermission of a Broadway show?”

Magnus continued to scroll despite Tessa’s steely grip. “He hasn’t been ejected—yet. His save percentage tonight is above his end of season average, which was one of the highest in the league. Even the shots against is better, which means that Jace must have pulled the offense and defense back in line. Although the penalties in minutes is a bit alarming. Not nearly as alarming as it is for the Devils, mind you—”

“Magnus, do you have a fever? You’re speaking gibberish.”

“The Angels are playing the Devils tonight in the playoffs.” She still stared at him as if he wasn’t speaking English. He sighed. “Ice hockey, Tessa. It’s a long story.”

Tessa tucked a lock of blonde hair behind her ear, nodding sagely. “The Angels versus the Devils. How very biblical. Are we rooting for heaven or hell?”

“Fair question when it comes to me. I’ve decided to align myself with good on this one.”

“They’re flashing the lights. We should go back in.”

He held up a finger. “One more minute left in the game, Tessa. Everything can fall apart so fast. I need to make sure.”

Tessa crossed her arms and Magnus continued to refresh the page, the seconds ticking down. He hit refresh again and the screen changed—the time remaining replaced with the word Final.

Magnus clapped his hand over his mouth, unsuccessfully stifling a giggle. “Four to one!”

“I assume that’s good news?”

He stared at the screen, all joy leeching from his veins as he realized what this meant. “They won and I’m at a Broadway show.” He looked to her, eyes wide with fear. “Tessa. No.”

She laughed at him and cradled her arm in his, dragging him back into the theater. “Explain.”

“I’m ecstatic about Alexander winning, don’t misunderstand that. However, hockey is a sport rife with superstition. And my client, the New York Blazing Angels’ esteemed goalie Alec Lightwood, may be one of the most superstitious. He drags everyone he knows into his rituals and routines. I attended the first two games and they lost. They’re playing in the Devils’ home arena tonight and I obviously didn’t attend, therefore….”

“Now that they’ve won it’s possible you’ll have to attend another Broadway show for their next game.”

“It’s guaranteed, not ‘possible.’”

Magnus gestured for Tessa to go first, then followed her into their row. Once they were settled in again, Tessa turned to him. “The best way to combat superstition—or to substantiate it—is through logic. We’re going to need to know all of his superstitions and the superstitions of anyone else whose support he values. Oh! I can make a decision tree document to track the flow and see which ones have validity.”

“You are gleeful about this.”

“I simply can’t resist a challenge, especially one that sees the powers of heaven prevailing.”

Magnus lifted her hand and kissed the back of it. “Will and Jem will be positively rancorous if I keep you out too long tonight.”

Tessa rolled her eyes. “Oh my sweet monoamorous Magnus, the two of them can find their own ways to keep occupied while I’m away.”

 

****

 

Congrats on the win! Hate to do this to you right now but we need to talk

Alec let that text from Lydia sink in as he tried to listen to Jace too.

Thx :) Will have to be tomorrow, he typed back to Lydia. Jace is on a post game high and I’m stuck in a hotel room with him

“Are you listening to me, Alec?” Jace said, but he wasn’t really looking for an answer, he was already pacing again, a perma-grin making his dimples pop out. “This is it. All of us are gods—some of us more than others”—he winked at Alec—“but this. This is what has been coming together all season.”

Alec put his phone on silent and set it aside on the bed next to him. “Only took me being ejected and a two team brawl. Hockey—we’re doing it right.”

Jace just grinned bigger.

Alec cleared his throat. “You need me to vacate for a bit so you can get one of your fans up here?”

“Not tonight. I actually—” Jace abruptly stopped pacing, his eyebrows stitching together. “I’m going to take a shower and crash.”

“As in sleep? Or is that some kind of euphemism for threesomes that I don’t know?”

Jace responded with an overblown sarcastic laugh.

Well… That was a new development. Jace only turned down one-night stands when he was dating someone. And Jace rarely liked anyone enough to date them. Jace would tell Alec about her when he was ready, but Alec couldn’t help but taunt him a bit. “What? Don’t you need to get laid?”

“Just…don’t, okay?”

Alec smirked. “Whatever, Jace.”

Jace’s cocky smile was back in full force when he went into the bathroom.

Alec picked up his phone again, scrolling through his messages, going back to the last one he’d gotten from Magnus.

Click this link and download this app

While Alec waited for the app to install he responded to Izzy and Max and tried not to think about what Lydia needed to talk to him about. It was nothing he couldn’t put off for one more day. Alec launched the app, created a log in and was immediately inundated with notifications.

 

Magnus Bane created the group “Not Superstitious, Just a Little Stitious”

Magnus Bane added Alec Lightwood, Isabelle Lightwood-Lewis, Max Lightwood, Clary Fray, Simon Lewis, and Tessa Gray to the group

 

Magnus: With one win toward the inevitable four that will launch the Angels into the second round of the playoffs, it is imperative that I, Magnus Bane, as Alec’s agent, ensure a smooth ascent for Alexander. To this end, I’ve enlisted the support of Tessa Gray, an up and coming Broadway actress and purveyor of logic, who will catalog each superstition, instances of success, and compute the ideal mix of superstitions to maximize the Angels heavenly trajectory

Magnus: TL;DR post all the ridiculous shit you do before games to make Alexander win

 

Clary Fray changed her name to frayedknot

Max Lightwood changed his name to lightwoodsaves

Isabelle Lightwood-Lewis changed her name to thislightwoodscores

Simon Lewis changed his name to hanyolo

Tessa Gray changed her name to badumtess

 

Alec laughed and went to his setting for the app.

 

Alec Lightwood changed his name to mustacheyouaquestion

 

Seconds later….

 

lightwoodsaves changed the name of the group to “Puck Me”

 

Magnus: I hate you all

 

Magnus Bane changed his name to agent0069

 

badumtess: Game on!

 

Alec didn’t know Tessa, but she was already rolling with the ‘ridiculous shit’ his friends and family seemed to thrive on. And he’d take all the help he could get.

With all of them behind him—and the Angels coming together on a new level—Alec was more hopeful than he’d been before a game in weeks.

 

****

 

Day of Game Four

(Series tally - Devils lead two games to one)

 

“So this is where we stand so far….” Magnus said to Alec.

Alec’s view of Magnus jostled on Alec’s cell screen from Magnus walking somewhere in the city as they Facetimed. He hadn’t caught up on all the group notifications that had popped up while he was sleeping. Hadn’t even texted Lydia back yet, but she hadn’t reached out to him again either. So Alec had to assume that whatever it was could hold for now.

Talking to Magnus had been the first thing he’d wanted to do when he woke up.

The view on Alec’s screen verified he’d made the right choice. Magnus had on sunglasses, electric blue headphones snaking from his ears, and Alec could only see the top part of his shirt but the buttons were just as undone as they usually were—despite the crisp spring day. Alec had a feeling summertime was going to be actual torture.

“….Isabelle must leave her hair down—unbraided—and continue to wear her pajamas, but only today since it’s an away game.”

Alec nodded, trying to focus on what Magnus was saying instead of how good he looked. “Got it.”

“Apparently Simon has a vintage mint-in-box Voltron that sometimes travels with him to the arena. Isabelle has designed an experiment protocol to test out whether it should remain in the apartment or go with him. And whether or not it being in or out of the box makes a difference.”

“Simon will never remove that thing from its box.”

“He’s already agreed to. Said his people were used to sacrifice.”

Alec laughed at that and Magnus smiled.

“Then there’s Clary. Tessa says Clary’s trips to the hairdresser also seem to have a positive correlation to your save percentage.”

“Did Clary already know that or did Tessa uncover that?”

“It was good old-fashioned Puck Me teamwork. Anyway, Clary’s currently working to get a last minute appointment at her salon.”

This was all ridiculous to an extreme, yet soothing at the same time. Alec couldn’t believe any of them were willing to go to these lengths for him. “What about Max?”

Magnus’ looked into the camera. “He’s wearing his Angels hoodie.”

“He always wears his hoodie.”

Magnus nodded, the picture moving, and Alec guessed that Magnus was probably gesturing with his hands. “Therefore, Tessa doesn’t have the data to prove or disprove his one superstition.”

Of course Max, out of all of them, would find a way out of this. “Bastard. And you?”

“You know where I’ll be.”

Even if Alec hadn’t been able to see Magnus, his tone would’ve said everything.

Alec held back a laugh. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re not.”

Alec held up his pointer finger and thumb with barely any space between them so Magnus could see. “A little bit sorry?”

“I’ll bitterly accept your modicum of regret.”

Magnus peered at something to the side and the sun glinted off his glasses and off lips. Fuck. He looked good today.

Alec itched at his jaw. His skin was still too tight, but he had yet to…perform that one pre-game ritual he’d never talk about in their group. Alec flipped his legs to the floor, moving so he could cover up the red that had blotched across his cheeks at the thought. “What else has Tessa figured out so far?”

“The beard has to go.”

Alec narrowed one eye. “Is that so, Agent Double-O?”

“That username was an impetuous choice,” Magnus lamented. Alec caught a glimpse of Magnus’ free hand going to his ear cuff. “Not well thought out.”

He liked seeing Magnus flustered. A bit too much.

“I’m not complaining.” He leaned forward and studied at the image of his face in the corner of the screen. “Is Tessa serious? The beard has to go?”

“I’m teasing you, Alexander. And quite honestly, I’ll eject her from the group if she dares to make the suggestion.”

Alec’s eyes snapped to Magnus’ face. “You like my beard.”

Magnus wasn’t looking at the camera anymore. “Perhaps.”

Alec filed that fact away. “Anything else I need to know?”

“Tessa is going to post all of her findings later today so everyone knows how to proceed with their day and prepare for future games.”

“Sounds like you have it all in hand.”

“My hands are magical things,” Magnus asserted.

Alec couldn’t hide his blush this time. “I have no doubt, Agent0069.”

 

****

 

“Just how awful is this going to be for me, Tessa?” Magnus asked as they waited in line at the theater.

Tessa scrunched up her face. “Dreadful. The worst ever. Worse than death.”

Magnus gave a dramatic sigh. “Just when I think I’ve descended as far into hell as I can go.”

Tessa adjusted the scarf around Magnus’ neck and patted his chest. “You can always go lower, Magnus.”

“It is a valid life goal.”

There was a vibration against his chest and Magnus plucked his cell out of his jacket pocket. He peered at the name in disbelief, checked the time, then read the name again. He tapped the notification—I know you hate Broadway, but that jacket looks great on you

“What is it?” Tessa asked, trying to see his screen.

Magnus held the phone out for her to read. “Alexander texted me. The game hasn’t even started yet and he texted me back.”

Tessa shrugged. “He must have looked at the sheet I posted in the group. His refusal to text anyone back is like Max’s hoodie. It happens every time so there’s no positive or negative correlation with that superstition and how he or the Angels play.”

Magnus hadn’t been in their group since this morning, so this was news to him.

Alexander!, he typed. Texting me back before a game? You never cease to amaze me

Alec’s reply came right away. Idk if that’s a good thing or a bad thing

Always good, Magnus sent back.

Magnus thought for a second, then added, I like hearing from you before the game

I like this too

Magnus smiled. I’m glad you caught up on the group and the non-communication ban is lifted. Tell Max and Isabelle I’d rather be with them

Three messages from Alec followed quickly: Haven’t been in the group. ???. Only texting you

Magnus stilled.

“He didn’t see your message to the group. He’s only texting me, Tessa.”

“So?”

He opened his mouth to speak and Tessa waited.

Alec had broken one of his superstitions just so he could talk to Magnus.

“Magnus?”

He didn’t know where to start.

Tessa crossed her arms. “There’s something you haven’t told me about.”

 

****

 

The Angels had never skated as cohesively as they were tonight. The line changes were perfectly executed, the defense hit hard and cleared the puck, the offense racked up a record shots on goal, and the area around Alec’s net was clear. Alec managed his space, and Jace managed his. No one was ejected or started a brawl.

Like Jace had said, this was it.

If they continued to play like this, Alec had no doubt they’d make it to the championship series.

Alec even caught Garroway smiling when they exited the ice at the end of the third period, the scoreboard lit up with a bright red Angels - 3, Devils - 1.

Alec wished Magnus had been in the arena to see it.

 

****

 

Alec flipped his most recent gift from Magnus in his hand as he got out of the Uber in Brooklyn.

He’d bypassed his own place between here and the arena, but there hadn’t been anywhere else he wanted to go when the Angels’ bus had dropped the team off downtown.

He made his way into the lobby—getting a much warmer welcome from the doorman who’d let him up the last time—and took the elevator to Magnus’ floor. He knocked on the door and heard movement, then Magnus was swishing the door open. He’d taken off his jacket from the show, his sleeves were rolled up, his hair was disheveled, and Alec swore there wasn’t a look that Magnus couldn’t pull off flawlessly.

“Alexander!”

Alec held up the beard comb that had arrived at his hotel before the game. “You’re up two to four.”

“You like it.”

“Useful and surprisingly beautiful. Thank you.”

“So you’ve been released from the shackles of New Jersey?”

Alec slid the comb into one of the pockets of his duffel to keep it safe. “We got dropped off at the arena, but Max is studying for finals, and Izzy and Simon are at home, and I have no idea where Clary is….”

“You don’t have to be alone,” Magnus replied in an echo of the last time Alec had shown up here. “I was expecting our food and got you. I have a guest, but you’re more than welcome to come in.”

A guest?

Our food?

Alec frowned.

Magnus seemed to be holding back a smile as he beckoned Alec into the apartment and gestured for someone in the living room. “Alec. This is Tessa.”

Alec recognized her immediately from the picture Magnus had sent earlier.

“It’s lovely to meet you in person, Alec.”

Alec dropped his bag to the floor and shook her hand.

“Same.”

Alec’s gaze flickered to Magnus. He hadn’t really had a plan for what he’d do when he got here, but he had no idea now that he was here and it wasn’t just Magnus and him.

Tessa glanced between the two of them. “Let me get you a drink, Alec. We’re having wine. Would you like a glass?”

Alec cleared his throat. “Water is fine. Thanks.”

Tessa smiled warmly and disappeared around the corner.

“While she’s in the kitchen”—Magnus glanced over his shoulder—“I loved hearing from you before the game, but isn’t a bit of a risk?”

“What do you mean?”

“Anyone could be looking over your shoulder in the locker room.”

Of course Alec had thought about that, but Magnus was his agent, and, well, “It is a risk. But I’ll take it.”

Magnus tilted his head, brow furrowed. “Okay.”

Magnus led him into the living room, taking one of the wing-backed chairs and Alec settled onto the couch, accepting a glass from Tessa who sat down next to him.

“So how was the show?” Alec asked.

“Do you really have to bring up painful memories, Alexander?”

Alec took a drink of his water to keep from laughing.

“It was a very well-produced performance with a stellar cast,” Tessa replied. “But you should’ve seen Magnus at the Times Square sports bar we ended up in after the show. We were both ridiculously out of place but it became obvious very fast that Magnus was the most knowledgeable person in the bar when it came to the Angels. By the end of the game he had a line of people who wanted him to analyze their fantasy teams. I would say I’ve never seen anything like it, but this is Magnus we’re talking about.”

“I am captivating,” Magnus said with a flourish of his hand.

Alec didn’t know if there was anything he’d ever heard that he agreed with more.

He’d been thinking about Max’s question since their breakfast and he always came to the same conclusion.

Yes, Magnus was out and Alec did envy that. But it wasn’t why he was attracted to Magnus.

Magnus was intelligent and kind. Driven. Witty. Confident yet humble. He wore loud clothes and often spoke softly. He was a man who could command power and yet took the responsibility that came with that seriously.

He wasn’t just attracted to what Magnus represented, he wanted more from Magnus because of the man he was.

There was a knock on the door and Magnus got to his feet. “Food’s here. I’ll be right back.”

With Magnus’ back to them, Alec took the opportunity to lean over to Tessa and whisper, “I want him in the arena but I…. I looked at your…thing you posted in the group and I can’t find any way it makes sense. I know he won’t go tomorrow, but if this series goes to seven games…? I need him there, Tessa”

Tessa studied him for a moment, then nodded. “I’ll find a way around it.”

The door shut and Magnus returned, bags in hand. “We ordered more than enough. Please stay.”

Alec stood. “I should go.”

Magnus seemed to deflate in front of him. A heartbeat later, he had a forced smile in place. “Of course. You’re a busy man.”

Another right decision that felt wrong. But Alec was trying. There wasn’t anything else he could do for now. “Tessa, thank you for helping. I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”

“Goodnight, Alec.”

Magnus set down the bags on the counter and followed Alec to the door. Alec shouldered his duffel, opened the door then hesitated—turning around to face Magnus.

Alec reached out and brushed a bright purple strand of hair back from Magnus’ forehead. Hair that had been completely black this morning. “It hasn’t even been twenty-four hours since we Facetimed. Is this going to be a new color the next time I see you?”

Magnus’ features were serious, but Alec saw the playfulness in his eyes. “I don’t plan these things. They just seem to happen.”

“I think everything you do is much more intentional than you want people to believe.” Alec steadied himself with a hand to the doorjamb then pushed away. “Goodnight, Magnus.”

Magnus took a step outside the apartment and watched as Alec tracked backwards to the elevator. “Good luck tomorrow, Alexander.”

 

****

 

Game Five

(Series tally - tied two to two)

 

Simon was the only one out of his friends and family that was in the Angels’ arena tonight and Alec couldn’t get over how wrong it felt.

He wanted them all here, but there were rituals and routines. Probabilities that were supposed to increase the Angels’ chance of success. He’d spent his entire career surrounded by players, like him, who collected superstitions and relied on over a century of hockey tradition. But there was ‘tradition’ and there was ‘standing on ceremony’—doing something solely because you thought you were supposed to, not because it made sense.

Too much of his life was doing what he’d always done—because it was expected of him—instead of what was good for him.

And as he stood in the crease—missing the support of the people he cared about most in the world because of ridiculous superstition—he knew he was missing even more that could be good in his life.

He knew.

Wanting to be out wasn’t enough anymore—it was time for him to be out.

He didn’t know how or when. But why….

It was beyond time for him to be good to himself.

Alec took what felt like his first full breath in his entire life.

Felt steadier than he had in his entire life.

More hopeful.

The Devils were just as punishing in their assault on the Angels as they’d been the first four games, but the Angels were holding strong. Alec was holding strong.

By halfway through the third period, the Angels were up one to two, then the defenseman who’d stolen the puck from Jace to win the second game smashed Jace against the boards.

Jace went down.

And he didn’t get back up.

 

****

 

On the TV, The Sound of Music played but Magnus wasn’t paying the movie any attention. Tessa and he were in his living room, hunched over her iPad, reviewing the flow chart she’d made for the Puck Me group. Rather, that’s what they’d started doing, but Magnus was currently squinting at the TV, trying to make sense of what was happening in the Angels’ game—confined to a small picture-in-picture box in the corner of his screen.

“We missed something.” Magnus picked up the remote, and—damn superstition—minimized The Sound of Music and put the game on the big screen. The image that popped up made Magnus’ heart skip a beat.

There was an Angels’ player sprawled on the ice with medical staff surrounding him, and Magnus watched as the players around him—Angels and Devils alike—dropped to one knee.

“Who is that?” Tessa asked, her voice quiet.

He knew it wasn’t Alec, but beyond that, “I don’t know. I can’t see the number.”

One of the medical staff waved at someone off camera, then the players cleared out and a gurney appeared. A brace was lowered to the ice, and when the player was rolled, a chill settled in Magnus’ veins.

“That’s Jace Wayland. The Angels’ captain and one of Alexander’s best friends.”

Tessa sucked in a breath. “Alec has to be absolutely sick with worry right now.”

Magnus couldn’t find his voice to reply to her.

Tessa and Magnus watched the screen in silence.

Play restarted as soon as Jace was taken off the ice and the offending player was in the box. But the Angels couldn’t convert the resulting power play into a goal. They were shaken. Unsteady.

With eight minutes left in the game, the commentators announced Jace was injured—but conscious—and was being reviewed under the league’s concussion protocol.

Magnus didn’t know if Alec would hear that news until after the game was already over.

He was sure Alec didn’t know anything about Jace’s condition when the goal that tied the game came with six minutes left to play.

The Angels were falling apart.

Alec was falling apart.

And there was nothing Magnus could do to help him.

Then the goal that put the Devils ahead slammed into the back of the net at one minute before the end of the third period.

Tessa set her iPad on the coffee table and faced Magnus when the Angels’ third loss was official. “Are you okay?”

Magnus turned off the TV. “It doesn’t matter how I am right now.”

“It always does.”

Jace was injured. The Angels were now one loss away from ending their season way too early.

Alec had to be hurting.

Magnus shook his head. “It doesn’t. I’m more worried about Alec.”

“Magnus.” She said his name like a plea for sanity. “You and Alec can’t continue like this. Something has to break, and I don’t want it to be either of you.”

“Tessa—” Magnus’ cell began to ring. “It’s Alec.”

“Take it.” Tessa got to her feet and grabbed her iPad. “I’ll go.”

Magnus picked up the call and put the phone to his ear. “Hang on, Alexander. Tessa is just leaving.” He stood and kissed her cheek. “Goodnight, Tessa.”

On the other end of the line, Alec spoke. “Tell her goodnight for me.”

The sound of Alec’s voice made Magnus’ heart hurt. Physically hurt. He hadn’t even known that was possible. “Alec says goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Alec,” she said into the phone as she wrapped Magnus in a hug. In heels she was the same height as him, and she went to her tiptoes, pressing a soft kiss to his forehead before she left.

Magnus closed the door behind her and put all of his attention on Alec. “Where are you?”

“Still at the arena. We’re getting on the bus soon. Coach didn’t want us to lose our focus, so he’s sequestering us in Newark.”

Before Magnus could ask Alec how he was, Alec was speaking again. “How was The Sound of Music?”

Magnus let the question of Alec’s well-being slide for the moment. It was obvious Alec wasn’t ready to talk about it. Magnus could be a distraction if that’s what Alec needed. “I loathe musicals, Alexander. I can’t take one more.”

Alec chuckled, but without any lightness to it. “I hate losing even more.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“I think you underestimate how much I detest people breaking out into rhyming songs and choreographed dance numbers.”

Alec scoffed. “As much as you hated me in the beginning?”

There.

The tone of Alec’s voice had shifted. Fractionally, but still better.

“More, Alexander.”

Alec huffed out a laugh. It was quiet and short, but genuine this time. “Ouch. I still need you to go.”

There was a span of time where Magnus could only hear the sounds of what had to be the locker room in the background, then Alec sighed—a world-weary sound that wounded Magnus’ heart even more.

“Jace probably isn’t playing tomorrow, Magnus. They’re going to announce it will be a game time decision, but it’s…. His chances for starting don’t look good.”

“Do you need me at the game?”

Alec hesitated at this. “Yes, but no. Our playoff run will end if we lose this next game. I need you on Broadway more.”

“You play dirty,” Magnus teased.

“Gotta go with what works.”

Magnus could picture the smallest of smiles on Alec’s face with the way he’d said that.

“And Jace?” Magnus asked. “Does he need any support?”

“He’s being fully evaluated now for a concussion, but he’s been conscious since the hit. He’ll be okay. He’s, uh…. He’s well taken care of.”

Magnus noted Alec’s pause, but let it pass without further scrutiny. “What do you need? And I’m not talking about where I spend my time for the next game.”

“This,” Alec answered, emphatic. “This is good. Just…stay with me on the phone for a little bit longer?”

Magnus settled into the couch. “As long as you want, Alexander.”

 

****

 

Day of Game Six

(Series tally - Devils lead three games to two)

 

Magnus picked his cell off his desk and texted Alec. A friend gave Tessa tickets to Hamilton for tonight. I have hope

The reply bubbles popped up right away. Then, For me or the show?

More for you than me, Magnus typed back. My ears are planning a revolt. They don’t think I can hear them, but—plot twist—I can

Musicals are literally driving you insane

I’m painfully aware

Four messages appeared on Magnus’ screen in quick succession: Thank you. For last night. For everything. I don’t think I say that enough

Magnus didn’t have to think twice about how to respond. Only for you, Alexander

The minutes ticked by after that, but Magnus didn’t get a message back. He set his phone down again just as Clary’s voice came over the intercom.

“Magnus? Sebastian Morgenstern called again.”

He pressed the button to talk to her. “And yet, I still don’t care. I have no desire to speak with him.”

“I’ll keep taking messages.”

“You do that.”

Magnus disconnected from the intercom and flipped on the TV in his office, switching it to ESPN. He worked until he heard the commentators begin to talk about the game tonight, then looked up from his computer and turned the volume higher.

“The Angels face elimination tonight against a team they should’ve beaten soundly.”

“I don’t know what’s happened to them in the post-season.”

“They’re still saying that whether or not Captain Jace Wayland plays tonight will be a game time decision and that doesn’t bode well for the Angels.”

“Usually I’d be saying that playing in New Jersey puts them at a deficit, but this series has been unlike any other I’ve seen.”

“Losing Wayland on the ice will be a definite deficit.”

“How are you calling this one?”

“I gotta go with the Dev—”

Magnus clicked off the TV.

He refused to accept any other scenario besides the Angels winning tonight.

Winning this series.

Winning it all.

 

****

 

In all the years he and Jace had been playing on the same team, there were less than a dozen times when Alec had taken to the ice as a starter and Jace wasn’t with him. At least Jace was on the bench tonight—listed on the official roster so that he could be dressed. But his skates wouldn’t touch the ice if the team doctor and Garroway didn’t allow it.

He didn’t have any signs of concussion, but the purple bruise spreading from his hip down this thigh was massive. Jace would’ve played through the pain, but Garroway had instructions from the front office to protect their investment, and Jace’s agent had been just as wary, pressing Jace that he needed to think about future seasons, not just the playoffs.

That wasn’t how Jace lived his life, but the choice wasn’t solely his.

So Alec took the Devils’ rink without Jace next to him, but carrying Jace’s brash attitude with him.

If there was any time to emulate Jace, it was now.

They couldn’t lose this game, and Alec would do everything in his power to make sure they didn’t.

 

****

 

Tessa held out her hands, a black box with a perfectly tied gold ribbon nestled on her palms. “For you.”

Magnus lifted the box and turned it over carefully. “What is it?”

“It’s a gift. From Alec. In-ear Bluetooth headphones so you can listen to the game and not be too much of an ass about it.”

Magnus tugged at the edges of the bow and opened the box. There was a post it note on the headphone package reading:

 

All charged and ready to go.

Alec

 

Magnus traced the lines where Alec had put pen to paper, then secured the top to make sure he wouldn’t lose the note. “Me not being an ass about it…. Your words or his?”

Tessa considered him. “Does it matter?”

“Yes.”

“His words.”

Magnus smiled. He was so…gone for Alec. “Where are our seats?”

“Orchestra, Row C.”

Some of the best seats in the house. Magnus held tight to the box. Even if he couldn’t be in the arena with Alec tonight, he could take on one of Alec’s traditions as his own. “How about the very back row of the theater instead?”

Tessa tipped her head. “Paying it forward?”

“In a way,” Magnus allowed.

“I’m in.”

“Follow me to the box office, darling.”

 

****

 

There was nothing technically wrong with how the Angels were playing, but their dynamic was off. Uninspired. Alec did the best he could to make up for the lack of Jace’s voice on the ice. And every time he glanced at the bench, Jace was talking to Garroway or making the rounds as a shift came in—guiding players even though he wasn’t playing.

But the balance the Angels had achieved since the third game wasn’t there and all of them knew it.

It only took minutes into the first period for the Devils to realize it too.

The Angels were sliding into old patterns, reverting to the team they’d been at the beginning of the series instead of who they’d—literally—fought to become. And the Devils were systematically picking them apart. Again.

Ahead one to zero at the end of the second period, and barely hanging on to that slim lead, Alec pulled his Coach aside during the intermission. “We need him out there. Jace wants to be out there. And”—he sputtered, trying to think of the right words and failing—“we need him out there.”

Garroway set his hands on his hips. “It’s risky, Lightwood.”

“I know. But it’s a calculated risk, Coach.”

Garroway huffed out a laugh. “I’ll do some calculations.”

Alec nodded and took to the ice, digging his skates in at the front of the net.

When play started again at the beginning of the third period and Jace was still on the bench, Alec gritted his teeth. Then Garroway was next to Jace, whispering in his ear and Jace was practically flying over the boards at the next line change.

Jace wasn’t anywhere near as fast or light on his skates as he usually was, and the first pass sent his way never touched his stick, a Devils’ defenseman stealing it and passing it to Blackwell, who tore down the ice for the net on a breakaway. Alec shuffled, lining himself up with Blackwell’s trajectory. Blackwell closed in fast and Alec backed up, eliminating as much open space as possible, then Blackwell went right and Alec exploded in that direction, dropping into a butterfly as the puck slammed into his leg pad.

The puck ricocheted and Pangborn took possession immediately, clearing it out to the right winger and pushing play into the offensive zone. This time when the puck was passed to Jace he picked it up cleanly and took off for the Devils goal.

Jace could’ve taken the shot himself, but he didn’t. He passed to Santiago who dodged one of the Devils and whipped his stick forward, burying the puck in the net.

The Angels didn’t look back. With their captain on the ice with them again their hard-fought rhythm fell back into step.

When the final buzzer sounded on a two to nothing win, Alec burst out of the crease and wrapped Jace in a hug, both of them surrounded in seconds by a giddy group of sweaty, rank hockey players.

Alec had his first shut out of the post-season.

The Angels had staved off elimination.

They had one more game to win before they advanced to the second round.

And there was only one place Alec wanted to be to celebrate.

 

****

 

Magnus sat at his kitchen counter, staring at his phone, silently willing it to ring or ping or make any kind of noise. He’d been waiting to hear something—anything—from Alec since the Angels’ win. He’d heard from everyone except Alec, and he wanted to talk to Alec, and—

His cell skittered along the counter as it rang.

“Alexander,” he answered demurely. He couldn’t resist being a bit coy—teasing Alec—because he knew it would make Alec smile. “Did you have a pleasant evening?”

Listening to Alec’s low, rumbling chuckle was like sliding into a hot bath at the end of a long day. “I guess it was a pretty good night.”

“It was a great game,” Magnus praised.

“Better than Hamilton?”

“No question. An angel with majestic facial hair gifted me headphones so I could listen to the game—while also not being an ass to my fellow theater attendees.”

“I’m…glad they worked out.”

“Perfectly,” Magnus added. He had to make sure Alec knew that gift had been perfect. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Magnus.”

Magnus’ heart sped at the gentleness when Alec said his name. “You know, I’m technically ahead four to three in our gift-giving extravaganza, but—considering what you saved me from tonight—I may have to award you a bonus point.”

“A hockey player never turns down points,” Alec said seriously.

“Consider us tied then.” Magnus balanced his cell between his shoulder and his ear, removing his rings one by one, stacking them and his necklaces in a pile on his counter. “There may have been one minor incident caused by the headphones, though.”

“What was that?”

“My exclamation of joy after the second goal may have been…noticed by the five rows in front of me. Luckily, it came at a particularly lively portion of the show.”

“Only five rows?” Alec said dubiously.

Magnus could picture him doing that thing where he squinted only his left eye. Magnus smiled.

“Maybe ten,” he admitted. “On the positive side, I learned that full chorus numbers are particularly cacophonous, so you and the Angels may want to time your momentous plays for those crescendos to save Tessa further embarrassment. You know, only if you insist on keeping up this tradition for the next two rounds until the championship.”

“Magnus! Don’t jinx me. That’s now three games at home we’ve lost and three away games we’ve won. It’s not supposed to happen that way….” A rustling of fabric came over the line, then mumbled voices. “Hang on. I may lose you here.”

There was an extended moment of silence—broken up with occasional beeps—and Alec came back on the line. “You still there?”

“I am.”

Then a knock on his door.

Two quick taps that inexplicably stole every molecule of oxygen from the room.

Alec had come here after his win.

When Magnus didn’t move or say anything, Alec cleared his throat. Magnus heard the nervous sound in his ear and in the hallway.

“Are you, uh, home, Magnus?”

Magnus rediscovered the ability to speak. “Showing up unannounced again, Alexander?” His voice was steadier than he’d expected it to be.

“Maybe.” Alec’s tone had gone quiet. Unsure. “The last two times I came here and I didn’t…. If you’re— I mean….”

He didn’t want Alec to ever be unsure of him.

Magnus stood to bridge the mere feet that separated them. “You’re always welcome here.”

He clicked off the call, unlocked his door, and opened it.

Alec’s chin was down, his eyes cast in the shadows of his lashes. He pocketed his cell and fiddled with the strap of his bag. “Hey.”

Magnus swallowed.

The line he hadn’t wanted to cross with Alec was as real as the threshold they stood on opposite sides of now. But Magnus had invited Alec into his home, literally, over a week ago. Metaphorically…. LA had changed things between them, but Alec had inspired an overwhelming response in Magnus from the first moment they’d met.

Sending each other presents. Having dinner with Alec’s family. Alec texting and calling him before his siblings. Alec wanted him, and he wanted Alec. They were essentially dating Magnus realized with a start.

Magnus knew where he stood. What he was willing to sacrifice….

He wouldn’t know what Alec’s intentions were unless he let Alec past that threshold tonight.

Magnus took a deep breath. “Do you want to come in?”