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In the Sin Bin

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Magnus tiptoed into the bedroom again and set his notebook and his pen onto the nightstand quietly. He’d spent the morning internally warring between the past and the future, and it was well past time to occupy the present.

Alec was starfished face-down across the bed—out cold—but there was just enough room for Magnus to slip back under the sheet without jostling him. He slipped an arm under his pillow and laid out on his side, facing Alec.

He hadn’t drank nearly as much as Alec—who seemed to be making up for years of self-deprivation in one night—yet he hadn’t escaped consequence-free from last night’s festivities either. His mouth still felt dry despite having brushed his teeth twice and downing multiple glasses of water, his throat ached from shouts of celebration and raising his voice to be heard above the din of various bars, and his head swam a bit as he settled into the pillow. All of this and he was quite well-practiced at imbibing. Unless professional athletes had a miraculous tolerance that matched their impressive stamina, Alec, without a doubt, would be hurting when he woke up.

Primed for that outcome, Magnus already had ibuprofen and a chilled bottle of water on Alec's nightstand and had stocked the kitchen with a plethora of traditional hangover foods and remedies. Since he’d never dealt with the aftermath of a drunk Alec, let alone experienced that particular delight firsthand until last night, he had yet to discover Alec’s preferred recovery methods. He may have overdone his preparations a bit, but he wanted to ensure every one of Alec’s needs would be met. His last-minute trip to the store—anticipating the win he’d hoped would happen—had been the best of ideas. However, his addition of blackout curtains over their bedroom windows had been his most inspired idea.

They'd made it home just before dawn broke and it was well into the afternoon now. The room remained dark, merely a sliver of sun peeking through where the Chairman had nudged the floor to ceiling fabric aside while exploring.

It was just enough light for Magnus to watch over Alec. Okay, fawn over him was likely more appropriate. But really, Alec was adorable.

His hair was completely flattened on one side and stuck up at all angles on the other. His lips were tipped into a slight smile and his cheeks shone red, as if he was reliving the high moments of last night in his sleep. He’d stripped everything off before falling into bed…. Well, almost everything. Alec’s silver feather bracelet glinted when he shifted position, and a sparkly, Angels’ blue feather boa remained circled around his neck.

Adorable.

He’d been introduced to a completely new side of Alec last night—courtesy of the sudden, thrilling implosion of Alec’s strict regimen. Last night was likely the grandest of aberrations, but he couldn’t be certain of that. Hockey players tended to be creatures of habit and now that Alec's season was over, Magnus had no idea how Alec would react to the shift. Exploring all angles of the previously unknown facets of their relationship was, frankly, an exhilarating foray into his fantasies. Or rather, it would be.

If Alec ever woke up.

Magnus smiled and didn’t attempt to wake his boyfriend, no matter how much he wanted to. Alec needed his sleep, and, more importantly, he deserved every second of it. Alec had spent the last nine months in rinks all across North America, played one-hundred-and-three games, been challenged on the ice and off, and had ended up a champion. Magnus was still absorbing that reality.

He closed his eyes to drift off for a while longer, and had just fallen into the hazy intersection of awareness and dreams, when he heard a thump from Alec’s side of the bed. He cracked an eye open.

Alec was snoring much louder than his usual mewls and snuffles, and the Chairman sat perched on the nightstand, peering at him with his head tipped in curious observation.

Magnus gingerly sat partway up, shooting his cat death glares to warn him off from bothering Alec. The Chairman reached out one tiny paw, batting gently at Alec’s sleep-rumpled hair.

“Shoo,” Magnus whispered and waved his hand over Alec’s head.

Chairman sat back, unimpressed, and started to lick his paw. Magnus sagged into the pillow again, satisfied that he’d thwarted the miniature demon spawn from his hell-raising. Their tentative peace lasted mere seconds. Chairman stilled, his paw hovering in front of his mouth, as he glanced down at the plastic bottle near his feet.

“Don’t you dare,” Magnus whisper-shouted at his cat.

Chairman held eye contact with Magnus as he swatted the bottle of ibuprofen off the table and onto the floor. It thudded against the wood floor, then bounced. All of the pills clacked against each other as it rolled away. Despite the sudden racket piercing the silence of the room, Alec didn’t move.

Magnus began to breathe a sigh of relief, then Chairman catapulted off the nightstand and attacked the rolling bottle, twisting it in his paws before sending it shooting out of his grip and slamming against the wall.

“You little—” Magnus started, clamping his lips shut on the rest of that sentence when he realized just how loud he’d spoken.

Alec immediately stirred and Magnus attempted to rearrange his features, and himself, into some type of position that didn’t look like he’d just been in a battle of wills with his cat—and lost.

Alec's breathing shifted and his eyelashes fluttered, he emitted a low groan of agony as he began to stretch before raising his hands to his head. “Fuck, that hurts.”

Apparently, this ice god reacted to alcohol like a mere mortal.

Magnus slipped out from the sheets, picked up the bottle of ibuprofen, and sat down on the edge of the bed next to Alec. “Do you think you can stomach a pill or two?”

Alec kept his arm draped over his eyes, but opened his hand and crooked his fingers in the international symbol for “gimme.”

“Take this, then you can go back to sleep for as long as you want.”

Alec downed the pills with a healthy swallow from the bottle of water Magnus held to his lips, then shook his head. “I should probably get up, get some food, and move around a bit.”

“Take your time. We have absolutely nothing else to do today.”

Alec curled up around Magnus’ body, draped his arm over Magnus’ legs, and rested his head on Magnus’ thigh. Magnus scratched his fingers through Alec’s hair until he felt Alec beginning to ease—not asleep again, but at least resting. On the nightstand, Alec had abandoned his cell with the screen down, but in the darkness of the room, Magnus could see the flash of notifications sporadically popping up.

“Do you want me to check your cell?” Magnus offered.

“Go for it,” Alec mumbled.

Magnus continued to run his right hand through Alec’s hair while he perused Alec’s cell with his left. Alec had hundreds of unread text messages, a good portion of which came from the Angels’ co-captain in a steady, one-sided stream that ran through the night up until seconds ago.

“It appears as if your BFF still hasn't gone to sleep,” Magnus summarized. “Perhaps you shouldn’t have allowed him to have the Cup after the game.”

“Whatever,” Alec muttered. “Jace is gonna Jace.”

Fair point.

Magnus bypassed Jace’s ramblings and typed out a reply to Izzy and Max to let them know that Alec was still alive. Alec heaved himself onto his back with an overwrought sigh.

His eyes were clamped shut and a deep frown was embedded on his face when he said, “I can't believe we didn't even have sex last night.”

“I hear there's a similar phenomenon on wedding nights. An event with years’ long build up that leaves the primary participants so exhausted that, by the end of the night, all they're desperate for is sleep.”

“Remind me when we get married to lock us into a bathroom before the reception starts.”

Magnus bit back a smile. Alec looked so wrecked that Magnus was sure he hadn’t realized what he’d just said.

He set Alec’s cell aside and tugged gently on the feather boa. “Whenever you’re ready to venture out of bed, I’ll fill a bath for you, make coffee, or make breakfast. Whatever your heart desires.”

“Oh god,” Alec groaned. He hadn’t opened his eyes yet. “What about all three at the same time?”

“I can make that happen.”

Alec reached out, seeking Magnus’ hand. Magnus saved him the trouble of an extended search, threading his fingers through Alec’s, and a small smile emerged on Alec’s lips.

“How does your body feel?” Magnus asked.

“It aches.”

“Your knee specifically?”

“We’ll see. If I ever get up again.”

“And your soul?”

“Happy.” Alec squeezed his hand. His hazel eyes finally found Magnus’. The lines around his eyes deepened as he smiled. “Really fucking happy.”

Undeniably, heart-stoppingly adorable.

“Then let’s get your body in sync with your soul. Coffee first.” Magnus leaned down and pecked Alec’s lips. “Hmmm. I retract that. Teeth brushing first.”

Alec chuckled softly. “Deal.”

 

****

 

“Lucky Charms, as requested.”

A bowl of Lucky Charms, Alec noted, with the cereal bits and solely rainbow marshmallows. Alec chuckled, dragged Magnus down for a kiss, then dug into the cereal, his second breakfast of the day. Or maybe it was a second lunch? Or an early appetizer before dinner? His sense of time was completely warped. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d started his day in the afternoon. It was entirely possible he never had.

“How many boxes did you have to sort through to make this happen?” Alec asked, pointing his spoon toward the bowl.

“None. I called a former colleague who currently works for General Mills and they were more than happy to accommodate my request.”

“Of course they were.”

Magnus beamed and went back to washing dishes.

Now that the ibuprofen had kicked in, and Alec had soaked in the tub, filled his stomach, and downed multiple cups of coffee, his synapses had started to snap awake. He took a few moments to appreciate the sliver of skin between Magnus’ low-slung jeans and the tight tee that read Keep Calm and Carry Your Boyfriend’s Stick, then focused on his cell.

He’d achieved the goal he’d dreamt about for almost twenty years and he’d celebrated that life-changing win with his boyfriend at his side, two things his younger self never thought would be possible. But the burst of notifications on his screen brought the reality home again—the season was over and the Angels were officially champions.

Now what? a voice in his head said. Alec pushed that worry back before it could take root, though. He had more than enough to do for a few days, even if he worked solely at eliminating each red bubble in the corner of his apps.

He took a breath and dove in.

He responded to his family, friends, and teammates first, tackled Twitter and Instagram next, and only then did he start to review the flood of PR requests in his inbox. He wanted to talk to all of them and none of them. He popped back over to his texts and opened his thread with Lydia and Iz—Let’s handle interview requests this way. Pick three, all to be scheduled for the day of the Victory Parade. 1) for maximum reach, 2) whoever the league wants me to talk to the most, and 3) an LGBTQ focused media rep—

Alec stopped typing and looked up at Magnus. “What would you think about doing an interview with me?”

Magnus stilled for a heartbeat. He finished rinsing the dish in his hand, shut off the water, and turned to face Alec. “You and I?”

“Yeah.” Alec couldn’t decipher the look on Magnus’ face or the tone of his voice. His measured response could’ve been Magnus turning the idea over in his head, which—fair—Alec had only thought of it now, so he was doing the same. Or his lack of reaction could be a defensive mechanism kicking in because of worry over what an interviewer would ask him about his childhood, the smattering of negative press they’d received since Alec’s coming out, or the racist comments peppered throughout their social media posts. Alec, quite frankly, was worried about that too. “I couldn’t have won this championship without you. And the work you want to do with marginalized artists and athletes is more important than my ring or the Cup will ever be.”

Magnus sidled over to the counter and nonchalantly rested an elbow on the massive, tiered MVP trophy replica sitting on the granite. “Is that so?”

Okay. So yes, he had been awarded the playoff’s most valuable player last night, and that award combined with the Cup gave a big boost to positive queer rep in the hockey world. But next year, there would be another Cup winner. Another MVP. Magnus’ work would have an impact that resonated through all sports and the entertainment world for decades to come.

“You deserve the spotlight more than I do,” Alec stated, absolutely steadfast in that belief. “But the world doesn’t know that yet. Take this opportunity to show them that you do.”

You are the star of the week. It won’t work that way.”

“Not yet, no,” he acknowledged. “But we have to start somewhere. You and me, Magnus. We can make a world-altering impact together.”

Magnus brushed off a droplet of water that had fallen off his fingers onto the gleaming metal, then looked up at Alec. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

Alec smiled.

…who wants to interview Magnus and me together, he finished typing and hit send.

He set down his phone and dug into his cereal again. “This stuff is disgusting,” he said around bites.

“I believe you misstated ‘magically delicious.’” Magnus picked up the box. “More?”

Alec pushed his bowl closer to Magnus. “Definitely.”

Magnus refilled his bowl, topped off the milk, then went back to finishing the dishes. The Chairman vaulted onto the counter and sniffed at the edges of the MVP trophy before dismissing it outright, so Alec scooted back in his chair and patted his lap. Chairman snuggled into him seconds later, a contented purr emanating from him as Alec multi-tasked by eating and scratching behind the tiny cat’s ears.

However, the ability to focus on those two simple tasks flew out the window when Magnus set the last of the dishes next to the sink to drip-dry and extended his arms above his head, stretching. His tee pulled up even more, exposing that dip of muscle just above his ass, then his abs as he rotated gracefully to face Alec.

“So, Alexander.” Magnus rested his forearms against the counter and leaned in. “Both of us are now officially in our off-seasons. What do you want to do today?”

He’d tried his best over the last few weeks, but—because of the Finals—he hadn’t been as present as Magnus deserved. That was going to change quickly, though. He had one more day until the Victory Parade, then he could forget about hockey for eight days in a row and focus solely on Magnus.

As for today….

Alec met Magnus’ eyes and smirked.

 

****

 

“This was not what I expected when I asked ‘what do you want to do today,’” Magnus said, deliberately placing a distinct pout on his lips.

Alec hefted another box out of the back of the SUV. “Oh yeah?”

Magnus rolled his eyes. He had expected sex, quite honestly. Especially after Alec’s obvious displeasure that they hadn’t consummated his win with their own athletic tumble towards glory. However, instead of arms full of Alec, he’d ended up with arms full of moving boxes.

“I know Jace said you weren’t allowed to fully relocate to Brooklyn until the Finals were over, but this is severely literal”—Magnus paused and raised an eyebrow—“even for you.”

Alec chuckled and passed the container labeled ‘books’ over to Magnus. “We have a packed schedule over the next few weeks, and I didn’t want to wait any longer.”

Damn. Alec was exceptionally smooth when he wasn’t trying to be. Perhaps that sentence warmed Magnus enough for the ache in his back to lessen.

Ibrahim handed over the last box to Alec, then shut the gate to the SUV. “And…we are done.”

“I can’t say thank you enough, Ibrahim,” Alec stated. “I mean, I know I could’ve hired a truck and movers, but….”

“Your privacy is important,” Ibrahim said. “I understand. It was no trouble at all and a welcome surprise to meet your family and friends.”

While most of their extended Puck Me family was working, sleeping off hangovers, or too bleary-eyed to be trusted with carting fragile or heavy things, Clary, Lydia, Izzy, Simon, Jocelyn, and Tessa had dropped everything to assist in this spontaneous move. And, of course, Ibrahim—despite being at the tail-end of fasting for the day because of Ramadan—had agreed to procure one of his company’s larger vehicles and transport Alec’s valuables between Gramercy and Brooklyn. He and Alec were paying him three times the going rate, but Magnus had the feeling Ibrahim would’ve done it for free.

“I think you’ve officially become the favored transportation choice for the Lightwood-Bane clan,” Alec answered. “I hope that’s okay with you.”

Magnus raised his eyebrows at yet another off-hand comment that tied him and Alec together in a way that suggested marriage. Alec was no longer a hungover mess—quite the opposite of it, in fact—but his remark had been so off-hand, and Ibrahim hadn’t reacted to it all, that Magnus had to be overthinking it.

“I look forward to it,” Ibrahim replied. “Thank you again for the tickets last night. It was…unforgettable.”

Alec smiled. “I’m glad you and your wife got to be there. Much better ending than me being ejected.”

Ibrahim laughed. “Very true, my friend.”

“Thank you for the help today, Ibrahim,” Magnus offered. “I left a couple more bottles of cold water in the cupholders for you.”

They said their goodbyes and watched Ibrahim pull away before heading for Raphael’s entrance and his elevator. Both had been extraordinarily useful in the last few hours. Although Alec wasn’thiding from the public since the Angels’ win, he truly was a man on a mission. If he’d been waylaid by one fan while going through the front door, then more would’ve magically appeared. And Alec was determined to hand the keys to his Gramercy apartment over to Simon and Izzy tonight and not step foot in it again until they’d made it their own.

Magnus rested against the elevator wall as they began to ascend. “How’s the knee now?”

“Perfect.” Alec bumped his box up against Magnus’ and grinned down at him. “Everything is perfect.”

“I can’t argue that when you’re wearing one of those tank tops.”

“Once everyone is gone, I promise to take it off for you too.”

Magnus leaned in to press his lips to Alec’s. “I look forward to checking myself off your ‘to-do’ list.”

Regrettably, they had much, much more to actually do before that was an option. He and Alec had been living together for weeks now, and Alec had foregone bringing any of his furniture, but this step was a true integration of their lives.

Clary and Lydia had taken on opening up space for Alec’s belongings to co-mingle with his own by packing up the items Magnus had marked for donation. Tessa had been tasked with a first run-through of his closet so Alec had enough room too, a much more formidable endeavor. Simon was unwiring and rewiring electronics in every room, upgrading Magnus’ dated tech with Alec’s sleek, fast, and high-definition choices. Jocelyn had commandeered replacement of artwork throughout the loft, merging Alec’s photographs and memorabilia with the unique pieces Magnus had accumulated in his time as an agent. And Izzy….

When he and Alec walked into the loft, Izzy was hanging the chalkboard that had sat next to Alec’s former front door alongside their currently shared one. Out of all the moments today, that made this move real.

Magnus handed his box over to Clary and picked up the chalk pen. The last time he’d been in Alec’s apartment he’d added Lucky Charms to the bottom of the list. He dutifully drew a line through that now and smiled.

“This is good, Magnus,” Izzy said, wrapping an arm around his waist.

Magnus leaned into her. “It’s very good.”

By the time they had every box unpacked, Jocelyn had already whipped up a homemade dinner and Alec had just cracked open his first beer, when—of course—Max appeared.

Magnus didn’t even bother to give him shit about that. He merely patted the available couch cushion next to him, and kept up his lengthy debate with Tessa on whether paisley was going to make a—much-needed—comeback this fall.

The light filtering in through the windows began to dwindle. Jocelyn flipped on a couple floor lamps on her way to the kitchen to clean up, and Clary lit a few candles. The drinks flowed freely, as did the conversation. But, one-by-one, their guests began to say their goodbyes as their collective energy waned from hours of slogging boxes through the heat of New York streets.

Simon had fallen asleep propped up against a chair, glasses askew, with Max’s head cradled in his lap and the Chairman snuggled into Max’s stomach, so Izzy, Alec, and himself sequestered themselves at the kitchen island, keeping their voices low.

“I haven’t told Alec yet,” Magnus said to Izzy.

In a true testament to just how at home Alec felt in the moment, Alec braced one foot on the bar beneath Magnus’ stool and slung his arm over the back of his own chair as he glanced between them. “Does that mean you’re going to tell me whatever this is now?”

“Magnus and I are talking about going into business together,” Izzy said. “The same mission Magnus has been talking about, but he’d handle clients and I’d oversee public relations.”

Alec quirked an eyebrow at that. “A solo venture or a specialized partnership between IE and Alicante?”

“That”—Magnus stated with a tip of his whiskey tumbler—“is what we don’t know yet.”

“Okay.” Alec scratched his fingers through his beard. “I can see the challenges on both sides. But it seems like you’d have a greater likelihood of success with the history, resources, and reputation of IE and Alicante behind you.”

“That’s true,” Izzy responded. “But then we’d also be beholden to the bureaucracy and whims of two major corporations.”

Magnus nodded. Those were concerns both he and Izzy shared.

“Maybe not,” Alec stated with a shake of his head. “Have you looked into a B Corp?”

Magnus froze with his glass partway to his lips. “I’m sorry, what?”

A blush raised on Alec’s face immediately. “A B Corp. You know, a social enterprise, or a public benefit corporation.”

“I’m aware of B Corps,” Magnus said. He furrowed his brow. “But how are you?”

Izzy’s grin broadened. “I think there’s something you haven’t told either of us, mi hermano.”

“You can blame Simon, actually….” Alec said self-consciously.

And no, that wouldn’t do at all. Alec had no reason to feel self-conscious.

Magnus set his hand on Alec’s thigh and leaned in. “I’d love nothing more than to hear what’s been whirling in that beautifully strategic brain of yours.”

Alec caught his eyes. “A thousand, thousand points of light.”

“Tikkun olam. The Judaic concept of healing the world around you that Simon spoke to you about when we were in Nashville.”

“Yep. That.”

“And?”

That question came from Izzy, but Magnus couldn’t look away from Alec. Jace had been the first person to introduce the concept to Alec, then Simon had fleshed it out. But, at the time, that discussion had revolved around how to convince Izzy to agree to moving into Alec’s former apartment.

Magnus had a feeling that tikkun olam had taken Alec in a very different direction. One that explained the high color on Alec’s cheeks now. Color that spoke of excitement instead of self-consciousness.

“I’ve been looking into different options of what to do with my money since I don’t need all of it,” Alec started. “I barely need a fraction of it. So I’ve been researching how to put it to good use.”

The pieces fell into place for Magnus. “Including a B Corp, or…?”

“My own foundation. I, uh…. Yeah. I want to start my own foundation.”

Alec had taken the question of what part of my life isn’t for sale and decided to give it away instead, but in a way that would add to himself, not subtract, and enrich others’ lives as well. This stunning, intelligent, giving man. Magnus couldn’t help himself. He thunked his glass onto the granite, clasped his hands around Alec’s jaw, and pulled him into a searing kiss. How had Magnus gone all day without kissing Alec like this once already? And now that he had, he didn’t want to stop.

Alec laughed softly in the space for breaths. His fingers drifted down Magnus’ back. “I take it you like the idea?”

“It’s all you, Alexander. So of course I love it.”

“I think that’s our cue to leave,” Izzy said, and Magnus realized that she was in the living room, prodding Simon and Max to their feet.

“What did we miss?” Simon asked.

“Living kissy face emojis,” Max said, his face screwing up. “Let’s take off before they work their way up to the eggplant.”

Max had unerringly hit the target with a pinpoint-accurate arrow tipped in snark, so Magnus didn’t even feel bad hustling them into the hallway with rushed words of thanks and goodnights.

As soon as the door was closed and bolted behind them, Magnus turned on his heel and faced Alec. “I don’t care if you’re fucking me or I’m fucking you, but both of us are getting naked now and christening every surface in our shared home.”

“Ambitious,” Alec said.

Highly ambitious. But since Alec was already pulling off his tank top, it appeared he was up for the challenge.

“We start in the office”—Alec prowled across the room to him—“and end in the shower.”

Magnus pulled off his own tee and sent it soaring over his shoulder.

 

****

 

“Why the office?” Magnus gasped out.

Alec currently had his lips fused to that spot on Magnus’ neck that drove him wild, and he was walking backwards, coaxing Magnus closer to the office, but that was a question he didn’t have to employ extra brain cells to answer.

“I mean, you’re hot like this, but….”

Alec’s back bumped against the frame of the door leading into the office and Magnus took the opportunity to pin Alec and grind up against him. He raised an eyebrow. “But?”

Alec’s breath stuttered out with the heated press of Magnus’ chest to his. “I can’t stop thinking about how you looked last night and all the ways I wanted to tear that red jacket off of you. Somehow that fantasy has spun its way into a highlight reel of every time I’ve seen you in any kind of jacket. All the way back—” Alec’s words cut off with a moan as Magnus slid a hand under Alec’s waistband and around Alec’s cock. “Fuck.”

“All the way back to what?”

“To the very first time I laid eyes on you.” The photography studio for the fragrance ad. Magnus had walked in with unabashed confidence and Alec had lost his shit because this man was too powerful and way too pretty. He’d raged at Magnus, but only because, “I realized much, much later that what I really wanted was to hand that bottle of oil back over to you and beg you to fuck me.”

Magnus’ pupils dilated, his breath caught. “Do you want to beg now, Alexander?”

“I will. But I don’t think I have to.”

Magnus’ lips crushed against his, a fierce claiming that Alec surrendered to without question, and suddenly all their clothes were gone and Magnus was the one coaxing Alec into the office, pushing them towards Magnus’ desk.

The back of Alec’s legs bumped up against the solid oak surface, need blazing through his veins. He disentangled himself from Magnus and turned around. Magnus’ hands circled around Alec’s waist, his lips skated over Alec’s shoulders, and when he took a step closer—his cock settling against Alec’s ass—Alec braced himself on the desk, shivering.

“Our first time together in Pittsburgh,” Magnus said, his breath coasting along Alec’s skin and raising goosebumps, “I came to you in a suit then too.”

Fuck. There was no way Alec could forget. “And I told you to never wear another three-piece suit again.”

“I thought it was the logistical complications, but it was more than that, wasn’t it?”

Magnus’ hand slipped around his hip and languidly stroked Alec’s dick.

“Yes,” Alec breathed out.

It wasn’t simply that jackets, suits, fitted pants, a vest, or a tie gave Alec something he could grasp hold of and drag Magnus closer to him. It was that the packaging amplified the man. Magnus’ clothing choices radiated power and Magnus himself didn’t back down.

“Tell me when you first realized you wanted me to fuck you.” Magnus nipped at Alec’s skin, and Alec couldn’t hold back his gasp of pleasure. “Not when you realized it later. Your first”—Magnus slid his other hand down and ran his fingertips up the inside of Alec’s thigh—“targeted fantasy.”

Alec bucked when Magnus wrapped a warm hand around his balls. “Please tell me you have lube in here.”

“Patience, Alexander. We have an entire apartment’s worth of surfaces to get to.”

Magnus wanted him to be patient, huh? Alec closed his eyes and pushed back against Magnus’ cock. Magnus’ hiss of breath brought a smile to Alec’s lips.

“How important are these papers on your desk?” Alec asked.

Magnus stationed his hands on Alec’s hips and ground into him. “I don’t give a fuck about pap—”

That desperate edge to Magnus’ voice was all Alec needed to hear. He slipped out of Magnus’ hold, sat his bare ass on the edge of Magnus’ desk, and tugged Magnus between his legs. At this angle, he could wrap his hand around both of their cocks, a tight grip that had Magnus moaning into this mouth when Alec guided him into a slow, sensual kiss.

Magnus draped his arms over Alec’s shoulders, absolutely melting into him. Alec ran his hand down Magnus’ back, savoring the ridges of muscle and soft skin. He grabbed Magnus’ ass and pulled him in closer. Magnus sucked in a breath and rested his forehead against his own arm, watching Alec working them both over.

“You want to hear what I was thinking about the first time I came thinking about you, huh?”

Magnus’ breath gusted out. He nodded his head, and his goatee tickled at Alec’s neck.

“Our very first FaceTime call. The night after Simon’s concert at Taki’s.” The spark of attraction had been there before, but that call had given a solid visual for Alec’s overactive imagination to focus on. “You were laying down on your couch, shirt off, cell in one hand and you didn’t have your necklaces on, but you were drifting your fingers over your skin, like you could still feel them there.”

“You’ve told me how much you love the sensation of my necklaces running over your skin.”

“That wasn’t the fantasy, though,” Alec said. “Not at first.”

Magnus’ hips jerked, he groaned. “I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to hear you say more than I do right now. What were you thinking about when you brought yourself off because of me?”

Alec chuckled. The things that came out of Magnus’ mouth when they were fucking. God. The things Alec himself said. He couldn’t remember why he’d ever been ashamed to ask for the things he desired.

“I wanted to grab onto those necklaces, climb on top of you, and bury your cock in my ass. To ride you until you were screaming my name.”

“Jesus Christ, Alec,” Magnus groaned. Magnus never swore—not like that. It lit up every already sensitive nerve in Alec’s body.

Magnus fumbled for the top drawer of the desk and produced a bottle of lube. “Lean back. Now.”

Alec bit back a smile. He shamelessly propped one foot on Magnus’ desk chair and canted his hips. Seconds later, Magnus had slick fingers sliding into Alec’s ass, his own slick cock sliding along Alec’s thigh, and his gold-green eyes intently locked on Alec’s.

Alec’s breaths shortened and his hips bucked when Magnus tapped at his prostate. A stack of papers skidded off the desk as Alec tried to anchor himself to something, anything, as Magnus began to take him apart.

Magnus took Alec’s nipple between his teeth. A rush of pain, then a shiver of sheer pleasurefollowed as Magnus sucked it into his mouth at the same as his fingers twisted inside Alec’s ass.

Alec couldn’t stand it anymore. He needed Magnus buried deep inside him.

He shoved the chair away and wrapped a leg around Magnus’ waist. “Fuck me now.”

“Not like this,” Magnus said on a deep groan. “You’re going to need to hold on.”

Fuck. Yes.

Alec set his feet on the floor, twisted around, braced his forearms on the desk, and Magnus drove hard inside him. Alec gasped and gritted his teeth, fighting back the sudden, overwhelming urge to come right then and there. Magnus grasped Alec’s shoulder and his hip, fucking into him, just as hard as Alec needed, just as deep as Alec craved.

Magnus’ groans of pleasure, his fingernails digging into Alec’s skin, intensified the raw rush of power Magnus was taking him with. Alec’s body slid forward every time Magnus pounded into him, so Alec gripped the back of the desk and pushed back, meeting Magnus thrust for thrust. His toes curled, his body tensed, and he had no chance in fucking hell of holding out for a fraction of a second more once Magnus’ hand wrapped around his cock.

Blazing heat rushed through him, his vision whited out, and he barely registered the stuttering of Magnus’ hips and the dirty pleas falling out of Magnus’ lips as Magnus emptied himself inside Alec and Alec shot into the fist circled around his cock.

He thunked his forehead to the desk in abject defeat. He couldn’t catch his breath, sweat dripped off his head onto Magnus’ paperwork, and Magnus’ cum slid down his leg as Magnus pulled out. Every cell in his body radiated warmth, bliss, and satiation.

God, he’d needed that.

Alec laughed softly. “We didn’t make it to the shower, let alone out of this room.”

“Still no regrets,” Magnus scraped out. He slumped against Alec’s back and kissed along his spine. “We have all the time in the world to do this on every surface in the loft.”

If both of them weren’t breathing so harshly, he would’ve taken that as a cue for round two. But as things stood now, Alec could—literally—barely stand.

“Stay right there,” Magnus whispered. He placed one last kiss on Alec’s neck. “I’ll be back in a moment.”

Alec wasn’t going to argue that. He found enough strength to lift his head and peeled a smudged stack of papers off his forearm, a deep laugh rumbling out of his chest when he realized what it was.

“What is that laughter?” Magnus asked as he walked back in. “Did I, indeed, fuck you senseless?”

“You definitely did that,” Alec admitted. “But I’m laughing about this.”

Alec held up the ruined stack, a smirk on his lips.

Magnus’ laugh was just as bright. “At least it’s merely a copy of your contract and not the original.”

It took a few more minutes to get both of them—and the desk—cleaned up because of the inescapable groping, but soon enough Alec was back in his sweatpants, sprawled in Magnus’ desk chair, and Magnus had flopped onto his back on the floor. Alec’s lips quirked into a smile as he watched Magnus struggle to get his own sweatpants on with rubbery arms and legs.

Magnus glowered at him when a laugh slipped out of Alec’s mouth. “That may have been too athletic for the eventful events of yesterday and today.”

“Best celebration ever,” Alec contended.

Magnus hummed in agreement. “I hear no lies.”

Alec leaned his head against the back of the chair and closed his eyes, riding out the last of the endorphins still singing through his veins.

“Do you realize that the next time you sign a contract I will be forty years old?” Magnus asked.

He did, and, “I can’t wait to see how much hotter you are then.”

“The years have certainly treated you exceedingly well, Alexander.”

Alec cracked an eye open to find Magnus holding up a photograph, one of the many documents still strewn over the floor.

Alec sat up and studied the picture. “Is that me as a teenager?”

“Isabelle was most helpful,” Magnus said with a smirk. He pushed himself up on his elbows. “Although your wardrobe as an adolescent has much to be desired. Didn’t Max show you how to sew?”

Alec rolled his eyes. Max had definitely tried to teach him, but had always ended up fixing rips and tears in Alec’s jerseys himself because Alec didn’t care how the repairs looked, just that he got back onto the ice. And his street clothes? In comparison to his hockey equipment, they hadn’t mattered at all. He didn’t have to admit that to Magnus, though.

“Come on,” Alec said. He stood up—only wavering a bit on his feet—and held out his hand for Magnus. “We’re almost fully unpacked, but there’s one more thing to do before we’ll officially be done and we can go to bed.”

He kissed Magnus soundly as soon as they were both standing, then led him into the living room and to the shelf of books. More specifically, to the box in front of it that only held one book inside.

He flipped the lid open and lifted it out, offering it to Magnus. “I know we’re not counting gifts anymore, but this isn’t really a gift for you. It’s for both of us.”

The protective plastic sleeve around the hardback crinkled as Magnus stared at the cover. He cracked open the cover and flipped to the copyright page, a smile inching up his lips. “A first edition.”

“And it’s signed.”

Magnus gave a sharp intake of breath and flipped back to the title page.

Alec already knew what he’d find there. Just under the stately typeface identifying The Charioteerwas a fading, loopy signature.

“Where did you find this?”

“I didn’t,” Alec admitted. “Anna found it for me.”

Magnus chuckled. “She is supremely gifted.”

“She really is,” Alec replied. Magnus had no idea how helpful she’d been to Alec, and he wouldn’t know for another few days, but for now, “It’s the last thing for us to put away, then this move is official.”

Magnus pushed aside a few books, brushed his fingertips over the cover—the same one that Alec’s mask mirrored—and placed it on the shelf.

“It’s perfect, Alexander. Thank you for thinking of this.”

Alec leaned against the shelf and looked Magnus in the eye. “You know, I think about this book a lot. It could be said that Laurie chooses wildness and unpredictability when he chooses Ralph, but Ralph is safety as well. ‘When all’s said and done, the best way to be independent is to have all you need at home,’ right?”

Magnus nodded slowly before meeting Alec’s gaze. “Do you? Have everything you need at home?”

“I didn’t for a long time. Now I do.”

Magnus ran a hand over Alec’s beard and pulled him down for a kiss. “I feel the same way.”

Alec allowed Magnus to tug him toward the bedroom, happiness lightening each step. He stripped off his sweatpants before falling onto the mattress, and Magnus started to do the same but stopped with his hands hooked around his waistband.

“Damn. I should’ve remembered to put on a belly chain earlier today.”

Alec grinned. “I’ll help you with your art therapy next time. I promise.”

“I have no doubt you will.” Magnus tossed his sweatpants to the side and crawled under the sheets, laying on his side to face Alec. “I’m excited to get started working on a ring with Charlie. Something new and exciting to fill my time.”

Alec hummed, his heartbeat kicking up. He reached out and ran his thumb over Magnus’ ring finger. “It’s a skill that could come in handy later too.”

Magnus stilled. His Adam’s apple bobbed on a hard swallow. “Do you realize you’ve brought up marriage, both obliquely and directly, multiple times in the last few days?”

“I’m aware.”

He’d brought it up four times to be exact.

He had everything he’d ever wanted in life, so why not this too? He’d marry Magnus right here, right now. And maybe that was, in part, because of the emotional high of last night still lingering in his veins. But a larger part of him understood that this feeling wasn’t transitory—there’d never be anyone else for him except Magnus.

“I want to marry you someday, Magnus Bane.”

Magnus’ brow furrowed. “Are you asking me?”

“No,” Alec said as he shook his head. He would marry Magnus right now, but he knew Magnus would say no. He didn’t take it personally. Magnus loved him—he had no doubt about that—he simply wasn’t ready for that step. “I’m just hopeful that you’ll want to stay with me.”

“Oh, Alexander,” Magnus breathed out. His features softened. “Just like a request for a kiss, that answer will always be yes.”

And someday, Alec knew the answer to that other question would also be a yes. For now, though, he accepted the kiss.

He had absolutely everything he needed at home, and the rest would come with time.

 

****

 

“Matt was with Detroit when he won his first Cup,” Kristin Bosch said as they descended the stairs from the grandstand. “So I had no idea what to expect today.”

“Certainly not this,” Magnus said roughly, glancing over the massive crowd congregating on Broadway.

He hadn’t known what to expect for the Angels’ Victory Parade either, so, of course, he’d turned to the internet to see how previous cities had celebrated their hockey championships. There was a conspicuous lack of information when it came to New York City, however, since the Angels had neverwon a Cup—until two days ago.

Magnus had thought that, perhaps, some of the excitement would have died down since the frenetic night following game five. But, if anything, a fevered thrill buzzed through the crowd, becoming more alive with the time ticking down to the start of the parade. Frenzy was imminent.

In about an hour, Alec and his teammates would be on an Angels’ float, passing by the grandstand where Angels’ VIPs and the players’ guests had reserved seating. Although, Magnus expected he wouldn’t be doing very much sitting.

He’d foregone Alec’s sweatshirt in favor of a fitted—and custom-altered—Lightwood 89 tee today. Partially because it was a sunny, sweltering June day, but mostly because—now that he and Alec were so public—there were some things he wanted to keep solely between the two of them.

That sweatshirt was more than a piece of well-worn clothing. It represented those private moments before and after games. A connection forged before they’d kissed, and a superstition that they’d carry into future seasons.

He and Alec had spoken a week ago about how they would handle the increased attention on them once Alec came out, and Alec had reassured him that they would have things they kept to themselves. Magnus was happy to start off that tradition by holding Alec’s ratty hoodie to his chest—metaphorically and literally—in the privacy of their home.

He’d scoured his closet this morning, searching for appropriate raiment for the setting, weather, and the fact that he’d be on camera. His clothing and accessory choices today weren’t anything he’d consider wearing to a game. Casual to the extreme. In the spirit of this revelrous occasion, he’d dismissed his professional wardrobe for fitted cotton slacks and the bejeweled, asymmetric cut Angels’ tee that Tom Ford had sent over to him after the press conference.

“When do you think we should head back?” Kristin asked, tipping her head toward the bleachers.

Magnus lifted off his sunglasses, another gift from Tom Ford, and peered around the air-conditioned VIP tent—at the bar, food, and most importantly, shade that it provided—and decided that his reserved seat wasn’t going anywhere so he may as well lounge here until they heard the crowd heralding the Angels’ arrival.

“We have plenty of time. Let’s get a drink and make the rounds.”

They worked their way to the bar, then through a series of conversations with other Angels’ significant others. Kristen, Mantas’ girlfriend, appeared at his side suddenly and he tucked his arm into hers, knowing that the crush of the crowd had to be difficult for her, but she’d made the effort for her boyfriend. Discussion started up around the yearly fundraising event the Angelic Guard would begin planning soon, a fashion show that benefitted a local children’s health charity, and Magnus agreed without hesitation to help however he could.

It took almost thirty minutes before he caught sight of Lydia, Cat, and Izzy. They’d commandeered a table at the back of the tent and it only took a glance to the right to figure out why they’d chosen to camp out there. And why they all were smiling.

A face-painting booth had been set up for the Angels’ kids, with a line that snaked out from the two plastic chairs in front. Clary had a sponge in her hand and paint streaked on her face, arms, and hands.She leaned forward, dotting sparkles onto a little girl with tightly coiled curls and braids. The girl shrieked in happiness when Clary showed her the full design, and Clary beamed, absolutely radiant.

Next to her, Max sat in front of the other child, his tongue poking out of the side of his mouth in total concentration. His hair had grown long enough in the last few months that his curls were pulled into a bun at the back of his head, with springing untamed pieces at his forehead. Unlike Clary, he didn’t have one hint of paint anywhere except the sponge clasped between his fingers.

“I didn’t know you could paint,” Magnus commented as he and Kristen sidled up to Max.

“Really, Magnus?” Max’s focus didn’t stray from the complex butterfly he was adorning a little boy’s face with. “Thought you would’ve figured out by now that I’m good at everything I try.”

“And exceedingly humble,” Magnus commented.

Max flashed him a smile, then picked up a mirror, holding it up to the child. “What do you think?”

“It. Is. AWESOME!” the kid yelled.

The kid high-fived Max before he ran off again and Clary bumped her shoulder against his. “Thanks for offering to help out. My back is really starting to kill me now.”

“Why don’t you take a break?” Kristen said. “I mean, if you want to take a break, I can do it for a while.”

Magnus peered down at her, surprised, and when he glanced at Clary she seemed just as shocked that the painfully shy woman had spoken. But that reaction lasted less than a breath before Clary was standing and offering her hand to Kristen.

“Hi, I’m Clary. I don’t think we’ve had the chance to meet face-to-face yet.”

“Kristen.”

“You’re Mantas’ girlfriend, right?”

A blush popped up on Kristen’s cheeks as she nodded. “And you’re Jace’s girlfriend.”

“Yeah.”

Kristen likely didn’t notice that Clary’s gaze flicked to Lydia for a moment, but Magnus did. A reminder that as well as Alec’s coming out had progressed so far, acceptance looked very different for them.

“Have you done this before?” Magnus asked, steering the conversation back to Kristen’s offer.

“Just with me and Mantas. You know, for Halloween.”

“I would love to take a break,” Clary said. “If you really don’t mind taking over for a bit, I’d appreciate it. There are stencils and pictures to guide you. It’s pretty easy and the kids are great.”

“It’s no problem. This will be fun.”

Magnus led him and Clary around the line of children, toward the table with Izzy, Lydia, and Cat. He grabbed her hand and leaned in. “How are you, biscuit?”

“Still trying to catch up to the reality that they won, the season is over, and that our lives are completely different than they were three months ago.”

Magnus’ heart skipped a beat as that thought sunk in. He hadn’t realized how true that was…. And that he’d likely been avoiding thinking about the swiftness of those changes at all. Jace and Alec had been on this path for nearly their entire lives, but as newly minted significant others to the Angelic Guard, there was much he, Clary, and Lydia had to process, learn, and adjust to. Since Clary’s role with the Angels would be much different than Lydia’s, Magnus didn’t have to be alone in maneuvering this new, unexpected world.

“When Alec and I are back from Indonesia and Las Vegas, let’s find an entire day to spend together, just the two of us. We’ll catch up to reality together.”

Clary squeezed his hand. “I’d love that, Magnus.”

Magnus greeted Lydia, Izzy, and Cat with hugs and kisses to their cheeks, then drew out the chair next to Cat. “No Ragnor?”

“Raphael would boycott the Victory Parade out of sheer annoyance if he could,” Cat said. “So Ragnor is abstaining in protest, for him.”

Magnus rolled his eyes. “That makes just as much sense as Ragnor usually does.” He turned toward Izzy. “And Simon?”

“We’ll see him at the end of the parade. His band is being featured in the VIP tent in City Hall Park. He’s there already.”

“Well. It will be my distinct pleasure to be surrounded by a powerhouse sextet—and Max—today. We have much to celebrate.” He lifted his glass. “Including the return to a somewhat ‘normal’ schedule in the coming weeks.”

They clinked their glasses together and Magnus began to make his excuses to find Kristin Bosch in the crowd again when Clary’s hand reached out for his.

“Before you head up, your ensemble today needs one more thing.”

She popped up to rummage around the table behind Kristen and Max, then returned with a sponge dipped in glittering red paint and two stencils—an eight and a nine. She arched an eyebrow as she held both items up.

Magnus smiled and pointed to his cheek. “Right here, please.”

 

****

 

“I can’t believe Wayland let go of the Cup long enough for them to put the presentation ring on.”

Alec stifled a laugh and didn’t have to glance at his best friend to know he was rolling his eyes in response to Raphael’s—entirely accurate—assertion.

All of them had seen the pic Clary snapped off of Jace snuggling with the Cup when he’d finally passed out on Saturday. Not the team as a whole, but the first line and Luke had because Jace hadn’t hesitated to text it to all of them as a suggestion of how to spend their time when they each had their individual days with the Cup.

Alec wasn’t sure what he’d do with his day when it came along, but, “As beautiful as this silverware is, I won’t be kicking Magnus out of bed for it.”

“Whatever, bro,” Jace said. He crossed his arms and tipped his head toward the Cup. “Actually get a look at your name on that thing and tell me that again.”

Alec restrained a smile as he held his best friend’s gaze instead of looking at the Cup. Because yeah, every time he caught sight of the Cup his breathing shallowed, his hands itched to touch, and there was a tangible pressure in his chest. It wasn’t the same overwhelming, passionate response that Magnus invoked in him, but it was pretty damn close.

Jace smiled knowingly. “Come on, Alec. Take a look at it, seriously. We’ve worked twenty years for this.”

Alec gave in. As he crouched down, he wanted to run his hands over the curves of the Cup just like he did the curves of Magnus’ body, but that would just prove Jace’s point. Instead, he skated his fingertips over the silver engravings. And, oh fuck, okay, Jace was still right. Even that simple motion made his traitorous heartbeat kick up.

This was the presentation Cup—the one from the ice after game five and the one that would travel around the world—not the one that was housed permanently in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The latter wouldn’t have the ring with the official engravings until November, when the next Hall of Fame class was inducted. But seeing this one—knowing that his name would forever be etched into metal and viewed by hundreds of thousands of people well past his lifetime—it was everything he’d dreamed of. It was profoundly humbling.

Alec peered at the list, his breath catching before he got to his name. He looked up at Luke. “Jordan Kyle’s not on here.”

“He’s not,” Luke confirmed. “He wouldn’t have technically qualified because he didn’t play in the Finals, but we would’ve added him if….” Luke left that sentence lingering. All of them knew how it ended anyway. ...if he hadn’t betrayed you. Luke shrugged. “Rufus did qualify. He’s not on there either.”

The air heavied with that statement. Bat whispered a holy shit that spoke for all of them.

“They won’t get championship rings either,” Luke continued. “Mr. Whitelaw made that decision.”

Guilt churned in Alec’s stomach, a sickening twist of regret and shame. He got to his feet and strode away. “But Kyle did play this season and Rufus built—”

“And together they conspired to destroy us as a team, not just you,” Pangborn said, his tone unequivocal.

Alec gritted his teeth and hung his head. He knew, he really did. But—

“Alec,” Meliorn said gently.

Alec lifted his eyes to find Meliorn crouched in front of the Cup. He wasn’t looking at Alec, he was tracing the square where New York Blazing Angels 2015-16 was engraved.

“I know it’s just a coincidence,” Meliorn said. “But it’s fitting that your name comes before all of ours—the first line. Jace was right to give the Cup to you before any one of us. Kyle and Rufus divided. You unified us.”

Alec chuckled softly, swiping the tears out of his eyes. “I am not crying over a group of men called the Filthy Five.”

Raphael scoffed. “That name is still ridiculous.”

“It’s already printed on t-shirts and bobbleheads,” Jace said with a smirk. “Get used to it.”

Pangborn slung his arm over Alec’s shoulders and grinned. Alec couldn’t help but grin back.

“Underhill is on here,” Meliorn commented.

“Rightly so,” Luke stated. “He qualified because of that one period he played for Alec.”

Alec looked to each of his teammates and when they each nodded, he said, “We hope he’ll be coming back next year.”

“I’ll make it happen,” Luke said without hesitation.

Next year.

A few months ago, he’d been worrying about whether he would be playing for the Angels still. And for a while, whether he’d be playing professionally at all. Now next year was guaranteed and every other man in the room with him was coming back too. With this win in the record books, Angels’ fans would be clamoring for them to repeat. With this lineup, he knew their chances were good.

This championship wasn’t extra pressure, though, it was incentive to do it all again.

“Alright, gentlemen,” Luke said, clapping his hands together once. “You ready to take this show to Broadway?”

Alec stifled a laugh. After a post-season of sending Magnus off to Broadway despite his sarcastic, vocal objections, then Tessa, Will, and Jem attending every available show so Magnus wouldn’t have to, Broadway was exactly where Alec was headed.

The Victory Parade wasn’t going to start in Times Square—that would snarl up traffic for far too much of Manhattan. While city and Angels’ staff rushed to put the final touches on this celebration, Alec, his teammates, and the Angels’ coaching staff waited in The Battery.

Luke hefted the Cup into his arms, a blinding smile on his lips that Alec would strive to maintain throughout next season, and led them all into the main room where the rest of the Angels waited. Cheers erupted immediately and Luke stationed the Cup on a table in the center of the room so everyone could get a good look at it, take pictures, and generally manhandle it. No white gloved treatment anymore. The Cup was covered in finger and lip prints.

Alec left his teammates to their antics, heading out to the press tent for two of the three interviews he’d approved for today. He wore his jersey—the version any fan could buy, not the game-ready one crafted a size larger to fit over all his gear—and an NYBA Championship baseball hat. He’d slipped on his feather bracelet like usual this morning, then added a rainbow rubber one that Marcus had given him after the game.

The reporter from the league network commented on that addition immediately. “How does it feel to wear something like that out in the open now?”

“I never wore anything like this, even in private,” Alec admitted. He resettled both bracelets around his wrist. He’d had to wash both of them to get the sticky remnants of champagne from their surfaces after the locker room celebration. The feathers gleamed and the rainbow shone vibrant. “It wasn’t until Magnus gave me this one”—Alec pointed to the silver feathers—“that I wore anything that hinted at my sexuality.”

“Fans are going to be searching for the first appearance of that bracelet now, you know?”

Alec scratched his fingers through his beard, restraining a smile. “I’ll save them the trouble. It was the night of the launch of my vitamin water campaign with Gallant.”

“That was only about two months ago.”

“Yeah.”

“So you went your entire career—from novice to juniors to pro—hiding your sexuality?”

“Not to everyone. And while I definitely was hiding for awhile—from myself, not just the public—I was also protecting myself.”

“From what exactly?”

“Same-sex marriage just became legal in the U.S. last year. A lot of things have changed since I was eleven years old and figuring out that I looked at boys the same way most of my teammates looked at girls. Locker rooms and games aren’t always positive spaces for players like me—kids and adults alike.”

“And yet you kept up with it.”

“Because I love this game,” he said simply. “I wanted a chance to play and I understood what rules I had to follow to have that chance.”

“A completely different rule book than everyone else.”

“No. An additional rule book, and this one was unwritten, untested, and irregularly enforced.”

“By wearing that, openly talking about your relationship, and the Pride flag you wore around your shoulders while lifting the Cup, it looks like you’re hoping to change that.”

“There are a lot of people who have been working toward that change far longer than I have. I’ll be working to elevate their voices.”

“Like You Can Play? It was a flag from them you were wearing during the Cup ceremony, right?”

The Hockey Hall of Fame had already contacted Lydia with a request for Alec to donate the You Can Play Pride flag to their collection. As much as Alec wanted it hanging in the loft to see every day, it belonged in a place where it was a constant, public reminder that queer people played and loved hockey too. That it put Marcus and his friends into the Hall of Fame themselves was all the bonus he needed. As long as Marcus and every kid from that clinic agreed to it, he was going to tell the Hall of Fame yes.

“It was. And yes, exactly like them.”

“I’m sure we’ll be talking about that more. Now, let’s get into your biggest saves throughout the playoffs….”

It took until Alec was climbing into the bed of the massive truck with his teammates to realize that he hadn’t hesitated to engage with the reporter. He hadn’t dreaded one second of his first or second interview, and he didn’t have any jitteriness lingering in his veins. He hadn’t realized how much fear he’d been carrying before coming out and now he simply…didn’t.

Tears of relief gathered in his eyes, yet Alec had to laugh when Bosch crushed him between his arms and lifted him off his feet.

“Get ready for this, Lightwood. It’s intense.”

“Yeah, right,” Alec said and managed to free himself from Bosch’s grip. He side-eyed his teammate. “You think it will be more intense than Detroit?”

“Detroit may be Hockeytown, but New York has a hell of a lot more people.” Bosch set his hands on the railing of the truck and leaned out. “Can’t you hear that?”

Alec stilled, and the teammates around him were doing the same thing as the float began to move. A low, droning hum emanated from…everywhere—all around them—and a subtle vibration reverberated at his feet.

“Damn. That’s not this truck,” Emil said. “Is it?

Meliorn tipped his head. “It sounds like planes…. Or heavy machinery.”

Bosch smiled. “Just wait.”

In the arena they were regularly surrounded by twenty-thousand people—that was the crowd Alec was used to. His jaw began to drop when he realized that there were easily that many people withinone block of Battery Park. Then they turned the corner on Broadway before the straight shot to City Hall—into the Canyon of Heroes.

Goosebumps raised on Alec’s skin despite the heat. He’d never seen more people gathered in one place, and he heard them all at once, a tsunami of sound. Ticker Tape rained down from the buildings lining Broadway, people waved Angels’ flags and banners, and even the bright sunlight couldn’t wash out the rich tones of red, blue, and gold that stretched as far as Alec could see.

He’d known that there would be many more people out for the Victory Parade than fit into the arena on a game night, but this was madness.

“Fucking hell,” one of his teammates breathed out.

But Alec could only laugh as his heart rate sped with a new adrenaline kick.

Jace beckoned him to the front and together they hoisted the Cup toward the sky.

 

****

 

“Up for one more costume change today?”

Magnus unlocked their door and glanced over his shoulder at Alec, confused. “What exactly do you have in mind?”

“I don’t know.” Alec had loosened his tie and it hung off-center from the undone buttons of his dress shirt. His lazy grin was just as lop-sided. “I was thinking that maybe we could go out. You know, for fun—just the two of us.”

Nighttime had come to New York but it was technically still the same day as the Victory Parade. It was highly unlikely that wherever they went it would be just the two of them. Not for long at least. However, when Alec was approached—and it would be a ‘when’ for weeks, possibly months, not an ‘if’—both of them were much more prepared than they had been three days ago.

Magnus considered that as he shrugged out of his suit jacket and placed it over one of the stools at the counter. It had been a long day with two costume changes already—the Victory Parade followed by their first joint interview—yet he wasn’t tired. Their interview had gone exceptionally well. The entire day had been exceptional overall. He was much more energized than worn down. And going out with Alec would be a delight.

“A late dinner?” he inquired.

“No. I was thinking, uh, more like…a club?”

He surveyed the slight blush rising above Alec’s beard and smiled. “And what sort of club were you thinking about?”

“How about”—Alec sidled up to Magnus, sliding his hands around Magnus’ waist—“as ‘chaotic gay’ as you can make it?”

Magnus set his hands on Alec’s biceps. “I don’t think you have a clear concept of just how well I could fulfill that ‘chaotic’ request.”

“I think I do. No BDSM or sex clubs—”

“Alexander!” Magnus said, feigning shock. “I’m scandalized. Do you really think I’d frequent such places?”

Alec’s hazel eyes positively glittered with mischievousness.

“Maybe not ‘frequent,’” Alec admitted. “But I’m one hundred percent sure you would know where to go if I did want to see that.”

Magnus smirked. He had to concede that point. “Very well then. No whips or extremely public displays of affection. Perhaps a club with overly loud music, pulsating lights, and barely-clothed go-go boys?”

“Yeah. That’s more, uh….” His blush deepened. “That’s more along the lines of what I was thinking. I assume you know exactly where to go for that too.”

“Yes, well, I used to be quite active in that type of club scene.” More than active, really. He’d been a regular at a select few of New York’s queer establishments. “It’s been awhile, but I’m sure many of my…contacts are still in good standing.”

Alec quirked an eyebrow. “Is this your way of telling me we may run into a few exes?”

“Not so much exes as….”

“One night stands?”

Not even a full night. More like a few hours. And yes, many of those encounters had originated at the queer clubs he had frequented. It was distinctly possible they’d run into a few of those people….

Magnus frowned. “There are alternative opt—”

“Magnus,” Alec cut in, with a laugh. “You’re with me now. I don’t care about anyone who came before. It’s you and me, right? Let’s just go out and have fun. A night that has nothing to do with hockey, to start off our week that will have nothing to do with hockey. Take me to one of your old favorites.”

He studied Alec. “You’re sure?”

“Yes. I’m sure. I want to dance with you in a place where absolutely no one will think twice about us being together.”

“Besides our one much-too-abruptly-ended rendezvous in LA, you’ve never experienced that, have you?”

Alec shook his head. “And I want to. With you.”

Well then. That was settled.

He smiled. “I have just the pants for the occasion.”

 

****

 

Alec sat back in the VIP booth and stretched his arm across the back of it as he sipped at his drink and watched Magnus working the crowd.

They’d been ushered up to their own private booth as soon as they’d arrived, and not because Alec had been recognized, but because Magnus had.

There had been multiple points in their relationship where Alec had considered an ideasimultaneously the best he’d ever had and the worst. Sleeping in the same bed when they hadn’t even kissed yet, dating Magnus “Victorian Era style,” and asking Magnus to drop everything and come see him in Pittsburgh…. Requesting that Magnus to take him to a queer club with alcohol and dancing soundly fit into that category.

With two drinks and a shot warmly gliding through his veins, the lights glittered brighter, the music washed over him in a tantalizing thrum, and Magnus’ skintight black leather pants looked even better than they had when they left the loft.

Best/worst idea ever.

Alec smiled to himself. Magnus had the group of beautiful people surrounding him absolutely enraptured with whatever story he was telling, yet none of them would have the privilege of stripping those pants off Magnus at the end of the night.

“Intoxicating, isn’t he?”

Alec reluctantly tore his gaze away from Magnus to the man who had one hip leaned against the edge of the VIP booth. The group currently fawning over Magnus was packed with gorgeous people, but this man…. This man was stunning. Long blond hair, chiseled cheekbones and jaw, and green eyes that shone in the flicking candle light from the table as his gaze raked over Magnus.

The overconfident hunger in his eyes was unmistakable. An ex. Or a one night stand.

Alec ran his tongue over his lips. The taste of Magnus’ gloss lingered on his mouth from their last kiss. “You would know, right?”

The corner of the man’s lips tipped into a smirk. He met Alec’s eyes. “And, it appears, you would too.”

“Go ahead,” Alec said. He lazily waved a hand in Magnus’ direction. “Give it a try. I won’t stop you.”

“No?”

“Not at all.”

The man arched an eyebrow, yet didn’t say anything else. He approached Magnus, but didn’t set a hand on Magnus’ arm or waist as Alec had expected. Okay, not a one night stand then. The man had spent enough time with Magnus to know that physical touch was only welcomed by those closest to him. He leaned in, a golden blond lock of hair sliding forward as he spoke into Magnus’ ear and Magnus didn’t flinch away—he smiled warmly, and laughed.

Alec took another sip of his drink, curiosity lighting up his veins. He would lay money on the man not being an ex either. From what Alec had been able to glean when Magnus talked about his exes, most had been amicable separations, yet Magnus cleanly excised them all from his life once they’d parted.

Maybe a friend who had been something more from time to time?

The man’s piercing eyes were locked to Magnus’ as they spoke, the people around them completely forgotten. The man’s lips pulled into a slow smile. Magnus grazed his fingertips over his own goatee. His gaze didn’t flicker once toward Alec, yet Alec anticipated Magnus’ shaking his head no a second before it happened.

A subtle shrug of the man’s shoulders, then merely a hint of defeat in the lines of his jaw before he made his way back into the crowd again. Magnus’ gaze cut back to Alec with a barely restrained smirk on his lips, then he turned on his heel, heading directly back to their booth.

Alec sat back and waited.

Magnus lifted the glass out of Alec’s hand and set both his and Alec’s drinks on the table. Alec didn’t move, even when Magnus braced one hand on the back of the booth and hovered over Alec.

Give it a try, hmm? I won’t stop you?”

Alec bit back a smile and shrugged in response.

“I wasn’t aware that you could be as arrogant as Jace.”

Alec leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the cheek where ‘89’ had been painted this morning. “Only when I have reason to be.”

“You’re not jealous?”

Alec shook his head. “But I’m very sure there are multiple people in this club, not just him, who are jealous of me.”

“For good reason,” Magnus said brashly.

Alec was well-aware how arrogant Magnus could be, and for all the right reasons. “I can’t argue that.”

“Woolsey definitely wasn’t happy.”

Alec slipped a hand under Magnus’ shirt, against the bare skin revealed by the sheer number of buttons undone. “I wouldn’t be either if I was turned down by you.”

“Fortunate for you, there is absolutely no chance of that.”

Alec smiled as Magnus straddled his waist and kissed him soundly. An achingly slow, thorough kiss of possession that left Alec’s head spinning more than alcohol ever could. Alec pulled him in closer, tighter against his body, and palmed Magnus’ ass over the leather.

“When can I get you out of these?” he asked when Magnus’ lips moved to his neck.

“I distinctly recall you nixing the idea of a sex club.” Magnus nipped at his earlobe, and Alec shivered. “So, alas, we must wait for home.”

And Alec would take advantage of every second of this experience before then. They’d spent plenty of time together at home—and would have much more time there for years to come—but for now, he was content to revel in every second of an experience that had been so normal for his friends. Drinks, dancing, and his hands and lips all over the person he was definitely leaving with and fucking tonight.

He quickly lost count of the number of drinks he downed and briefly lost his shirt when he and Magnus hit the dance floor. They stumbled their way to another club, then another, and Alec realized that Izzy had only been partially right when she said Magnus knew everyone. It was more like everyone knew Magnus.

Alec signed a few autographs and took a few pictures with fans, but Magnus was the ubiquitously known entity in this queer-centric corner of the world. Doors opened for him and VIP booths were cleared for him. He talked business just as effortlessly as he talked about politics or the newest fusion restaurants in parts of the city Alec had never visited.

He fell a little bit more in love with Magnus through every conversation, every elegant gesture, every smile flashed in Alec’s direction, every time he gave Alec the attention every other person surrounding Magnus was begging for. Alec definitely wasn’t jealous. He was proud. In awe. Wonderstruck. Snared, captured, and gleefully held captive.

Fuck. He was so, so, so, so gone for Magnus.

“Oh my god, eat something to soak up some that alcohol. You’re embarrassing yourself.”

Alec lurched to a stop on the sidewalk and narrowed his eyes at his little brother. “When did you get here?”

Max shoved a greasy slice of pizza into Alec’s hand. “Eat.”

Alec dutifully folded it, took a massive bite, and kept walking.

“Be kind to your brother,” Magnus chided Max. He threaded his arm through Alec’s. “Alexander hasn’t had the opportunity to build up the same tolerance you and I have.”

“Not gonna lie,” Max said. “It’s all kinds of awesome to see the Alec Lightwood a drunken mess fawning over his boyfriend on a sidewalk in the Village.”

Alec grinned. It was awesome—

Wait.

“Shit. Was I saying those things out loud?”

Max’s cackling laughter was enough of a confirmation.

“Whatever.” Alec took another big bite of his pizza. “It’s all true.”

“My goatee makes you swoon?” Magnus asked.

Alec smiled around his latest bite. He wobbled a bit when he broke away from Magnus, but that made perfect sense because he did, indeed, feel more than a bit unsteady when he saw Magnus’ perfect lips framed by that perfect goatee on that perfect face.

He shoved the remains of his pizza at his brother, swiped his hands on his jeans, and dove in for a kiss. The world seemed to tip a bit, listing on its axis, as Magnus laughed against his lips. But when Magnus kissed him back, when Magnus gripped him tight around his biceps and deepened the kiss, the world tipped solidly back into place. That made perfect sense too. Magnus was gravity and Alec was helpless to do anything but fall into his embrace.

He gazed into those stunning, kind, wise eyes and brushed his thumbs over Magnus’ goatee.

“I want everyone to know how amazing it is that I get to love you,” Alec whispered.

“I think everyone within five blocks knows,” Max dryly retorted.

Okay. Maybe he wasn’t as good at whispering as he thought he was.

Fuck it, though. Literally everyone deserved to know.

He stepped back, lifted his arms into the air and yelled, “I LOVE MAGNUS BANE!”

Max had his hand over his face but Alec didn’t care one fucking bit if his brother thought he was being outrageous. There was a smattering of applause from the other late-night bar crawlers on the street, and someone passing by jumped up to give him a high-five, but the only person who mattered was Magnus.

Magnus stood with his hands on his hips and a smile curving one side of his mouth. He surveyed Alec for a long moment, then crooked a finger. Alec stumbled toward him with the absolute grace of a professional athlete.

“You…”—Magnus cradled Alec’s jaw. His eyes sparkled—“are so drunk.”

Alec laughed softly. “I know.”

“I love you too.” He kissed Alec so, so sweetly, and when he drew back, said, “Despite every cocktail and beer you’ve consumed tonight, all I can taste is garlic and tomato. And now I want pizza.”

Alec clasped Magnus’ hand. “As you wish.”

He searched the storefronts around them for a sign, but everything was a little bit too bright and streaky. Max somehow managed to both sigh and laugh at the same time. He cocked his head to the left. “Back this way.” He started off, then said over his shoulder, “By the way, I knew that making you watch The Princess Bride would pay off someday.”

“Bring on the rom-coms,” Alec said with authority. “I’m ready.”

He knew he’d said exactly the right thing when Magnus pressed a kiss to his cheek in response.

Max just laughed. “I don’t know if you need them anymore, big brother. I think you’re already living one.”

 

****

 

Magnus sat on the edge of the bed, brushed the hair off Alec’s forehead, and smiled. Two nights out on the town, two mornings where he’d woken up well before Alec, and one dismally hungover professional athlete.

He leaned over and kissed Alec’s forehead. “I’m beginning to think that it may be best for you to maintain your strict regimen throughout the off-season as well.”

“That,” Alec scratched out, wincing. “Definitely that.”

“Scooch over. I’m climbing back in.”

Alec backed up and lifted the sheets. That was the most movement he seemed to be capable of, however. Once Magnus was situated on his back, Alec flopped onto him with a groan. Magnus had to restrain his laughter.

“I can’t believe we didn’t have sex. Again,” Alec mumbled against his chest. “Fuck. Thirty-six hours won’t be enough time to recover before we get on the plane.”

“Technically, thirty-two hours,” Magnus said—not that he was counting down to their flight. He reached over to the nightstand and picked up a bottle of vitamin water. “Drink this.”

Alec pushed up just enough to down the contents of the bottle. That infusion of hydration seemed to be just enough for the tired glaze in Alec’s eyes to dissipate.

“You’ll have another nineteen hours in first class seats to regain your equilibrium.”

“About that….” Alec placed a kiss on Magnus’ bare skin then propped his chin on Magnus’ chest to look up at him. “Apparently someone in the New York office of the airline is an Angels’ fan. They bumped us up to the suites.”

Magnus arched an eyebrow. “There are suites on commercial airplanes?”

“This one and a few other routes. We’ll have recliners, our own TVs, a bathroom, and a bed.”

“An actual bed?”

Alec nodded. “A double size bed with sheets and all.”

“Someone in the New York office is a very big fan.”

“I think that was part of it, but….” Alec shook his head. “The airline rep who called Lydia said that they wanted us to be comfortable and feel welcome.  They, uh…. They said they know that Indonesia isn’t the most friendly place for people like us.”

Magnus’ stomach dropped with the dread he’d been suppressing for days—since they’d first started discussing the details of this trip. He swallowed once, clearing his throat, and carefully considered his response. “It won’t be difficult for us in comparison to the queer people who live there.”

“I want to say ‘I know,’ but I understand that I don't.”

“No, Alexander. You don't.”

But that Alec recognized he didn’t was a critical step toward understanding.

“Did you start packing yet?” Alec asked.

“I have suitcases laid out in the living room. Feel free to begin filling yours whenever you're ready.”

“I won't need much room. Feel free to use half of mine.”

Magnus smiled. “Done.”

“Did you decide when you’re going to see Asmodeus?”

Magnus’ smile dropped and his heartbeat kicked up. Despite Alec’s hangover, he likely didn’t miss either of those tells. But he calmly held Magnus’ gaze, his hand clamped protectively, reassuringly, around Magnus’ side.

“Yes. The first day we’re there. Thanks to Imogen, the visit has already been approved.” Magnus inhaled deeply. He brushed his fingertips through Alec’s mussed hair and rested his hand on the back of Alec’s neck. “In preparation for that eventuality, I'm off to see Charlie one more time before we depart.”

Alec’s lips tipped into a smile. “Bringing him some broken chains?”

“I have a few we can start off with,” Magnus said on a soft chuckle. “What about you? What are your plans for the day?”

“Coffee, breakfast, the gym, a shower….” He shrugged then rubbed his chin on Magnus’ chest. “Maybe I should think about shaving my beard off. You know, since the playoffs are over.”

Magnus gripped Alec’s neck tightly. “If I come home and it’s gone, count on being single before the end of the day.”

The lines around Alec’s eyes deepened as he laughed. “Noted.”

Alec pushed up and placed a lingering kiss on Magnus’ lips, one that dispelled every ounce of Magnus’ worries for the seconds Alec’s mouth moved against his. For a brief moment after the kiss ended, Magnus wondered if Alec was taking this somewhere—and if that was what he himself wanted despite the unease he’d been carrying since he’d laid out their passports and suitcases as soon as he’d woken up—but Alec flopped onto his side instead and said, “I can go by Cat’s place too and drop off the Chairman.”

Magnus breathed out a sigh of relief. As much as he always wanted Alec—needed to have him close, especially now—he would only be giving a fraction of himself to Alec for the next few days. Alec deserved more.

“Thank you for thinking of that, Alexander,” he said genuinely. He leaned over and kissed Alec softly before getting out of bed again. “I don’t want him accidentally stowing away in our luggage.”

“Consider it done then. I’ll see you later today.”

Magnus pulled up the sheets around Alec, placed another kiss on his forehead, then said, “Go back to sleep for a bit.” And by the time Magnus had pulled on a shirt, Alec was already snuffling quietly.

Magnus adjusted the blackout curtains so no sun could intrude upon Alec’s slumber, then gentled the bedroom door shut behind himself.

He had all intentions of tip-toeing out of the loft, but came to an immediate, abrupt stop in the living room. Chairman Meow may have been tiny, but he’d stationed himself between Magnus and the doorway with the countenance of a wartime general. And Magnus was absolutely sure it wasn’t because the Chairman was attempting to block him from leaving.

“Stop listening in on my and Alec’s conversations,” he chastised Chairman.

Chairman’s eyes narrowed.

“You and I discussed this earlier,” Magnus whispered and tried to nudge his cat out of the way. The Chairman didn’t move. “I’ll talk to him about it tonight.”

Chairman’s tail twitched back and forth.

“Or tomorrow,” he conceded. The Chairman deserved honesty, though. He cleared this throat. “Or perhaps on the plane.”

The Chairman sauntered away without one look back.

Magnus sighed. “I will talk to him. I promise.”

Whiskers appeared around the edge of the couch, then a nose.

“Alec is taking you to Cat’s today. I don’t want to leave like this, Chairman.”

If the Chairman could have rolled his eyes he likely would have. And yet, a heartbeat later Magnus had arms full of fluff and his cat butting his head against Magnus’ chin.

Magnus snuggled him closer. “I’ll miss you too.”

 

****

 

“How does Magnus seem to be handling going back to Indonesia?”

The sun beaming through the window warmed his back, but a chill snaked down his spine. Alec squinted at Catarina, surprised by the sudden change of subject. He and Catarina had been talking about the knee procedure he’d need in the off-season, aftercare, and his upcoming PT regimen. He was lounging in her bay window, a cup of tea in one hand and the other semi-consciously rubbing at the tendons surrounding his knee. As soon as she asked that question, though, all worries about his upcoming surgery jettisoned into the atmosphere. With anyone else, he would’ve hedged around that answer. But this was Cat.

“Not good,” Alec admitted.

He set his cup down and turned to face her. He’d done everything he could to focus his time and attention on Magnus since the championship game and it hadn’t been enough—Magnus’ tension in bed this morning had been palpable. Magnus was struggling.

Alec sighed. “I know he wants everyone to think he’s doing okay and because the last few days have been dominated by my stuff, I don’t think anyone is questioning that—except for you.”

Catarina studied him carefully before she said, “And you.”

“Of course I am,” Alec dismissed. “He’s treating this like it’s just another trip. But it’s not.”

“He’s protecting himself.”

“I know. But he’s not doing this alone. How do I protect him?”

Catarina chuckled softly and shook her head.

“What?”

“I never heard a sentence like that come out of the mouths of any of Magnus’ exes.”

Alec’s frustration ramped up. He stood and started pacing. “I don’t want to just ask the question. I genuinely want an answer.”

“You’re doing it already, Alec,” Cat said calmly. “You’re giving him space to think, taking things off his to-do list, and standing by his side through the tough stuff.”

“I want to do more.”

“Sometimes there isn’t more you can do.”

“I don’t like that answer,” Alec nearly growled. “At all.”

“Tell me about it,” Catarina said with a laugh. “Being Magnus’ friend is complicated enough. I can’t imagine what it’s like being his partner.”

And that….

Well, that thought—Magnus as his partner, not simply the person he was dating or his boyfriend—made Alec’s insides turn to immediate, liquid warm mush. His cheeks heated and he couldn’t hold back a grin when he stopped his pacing and said, “It’s, uh…. It’s pretty damn great. Just…all around great.”

“And that is an answer I haven’t heard before either.”

“How?” Alec spluttered. Magnus’ exes were exes for a reason, but he couldn’t fathom how anyone could be with Magnus and not want to worship him, protect him, and, well, generally be in awe that someone like him gave them even a fraction of his attention. “I mean, this is Magnus we’re talking about.”

“Oh, I’ve watched plenty of people fawn over Magnus and generally make asses of themselves trying to impress him.”

Alec had to laugh. “I’ve seen it too. We went out clubbing last night and, yeah, I got a front row seat to that spectacle.”

“Did you? That’s the thing, though….” Catarina patted the couch and Alec obeyed, plopping down on the other side. “I’ve seen you fawn over Magnus plenty as well, but not like anyone else. You are different, Alec. You have been since the beginning. But what sets your relationship with Magnus apart from his others is that he is different too.”

Now she really had his attention. “How is he different, though? I mean, you’ve known him the longest out of all of his friends, and I know how I feel about him and I think I know he feels about me, and I…. Cat….” Alec shrugged and let the truth go. “I want to marry him.”

Catarina raised an eyebrow. “You’ve known each other for three months.”

“I know.”

“He hated you at first.”

“I know that too. The feeling was mutual.”

Catarina leaned in. “Getting married right now, or even engaged, would be ridiculous.”

“I’m aware.”

“But that doesn’t change anything.”

“Not for me,” Alec admitted. “And I know Magnus isn’t in the same place, but I also don’t think we’re that far off either….” He searched her face, trying to discern what she thought about that, and got nothing. The woman had a better poker face than Luke. He swallowed roughly. “Are we?”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Alec. It’s not just you who’s invested everything into this relationship. In that aspect, Magnus is right there with you.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes.”

An absurdly large smile stretched across his face, but Alec tried to play it cool anyway. “So how are things, you know, with you and Luke?”

Catarina scoffed. “He’s a pain in my ass. Stubborn, singularly focused, and a workaholic. Not to mention that he’s completely obsessed with twenty-two other men.”

Alec had to laugh.

“He’s also one of the good ones,” Catarina continued. “So, yeah, things are pretty damn great.”

Alec patted his lap and the Chairman jumped up, rolling into a ball on Alec’s stomach. “Training camp doesn’t start for a few more months, but I’ll be talking to him throughout the summer. If you ever need me to run interference for you in one of his surlier moments, let me know.”

“Same goes for me and Magnus.”

He grinned at Catarina. “I already have you saved to my favorites.”

Catarina smiled, an easy, warm smile that Alec had already started to associate with everything good about this world. “I’m glad we’re doing this, Alec.”

“Yeah. Me too, Cat.”

 

****

 

It had been a long time since Magnus stepped onto that boat and watched his home disappear over the horizon.

Twenty years later, and his first steps heading back toward Indonesia couldn’t have been more different.

A plane, not a boat. A journey of hours instead of weeks. Flight attendants greeting him by name because of the class of the ticket he held in his hand. And, of course, his boyfriend stepping onto the airliner behind him. He’d never imagined this was how he’d return.

Honestly, he hadn’t known if he’d return at all.

“I looked up the price of one of these,” Alec whispered when the flight attendant stepped back into the hallway. “I value being comfortable, but thirty-thousand dollars?”

Magnus glanced around the suite, mentally straddling his past and present. Thirty-thousand dollars for one plane ride. He’d witnessed Asmodeus stuffing what amounted to a few hundred dollars into the boat captain’s hand to guarantee Magnus’ passage to New York. “You could change more than a few people’s lives with that amount of money.”

“Hey,” Alec said quietly. He rested his hand on Magnus’ arm. “I didn’t ask you before I bought the tickets or accepted the upgrade…. If you’re not comfortable here then we can pay it forward. You know, like we do with my Angels’ tickets.”

“Don’t go too far,” Magnus said with a soft laugh. He had no doubt Alec would cram himself into a coach seat for the entirety of the nineteen-hour flight if Magnus asked him to. “What would you think about making the difference in price the first donation to your foundation?”

“I like that idea.”

Magnus stowed his carry-on while Alec explored the suite, pointing out the amenities and marveling over the finer details with the delight of a child who’d just discovered a new playground. It hit Magnus then what a gift it truly was to be on this trip with Alec. Magnus had traveled all over the world, and Alec had traveled extensively as well, but never overseas and never like this.

He couldn’t dispel the heaviness that sat leaden in his chest. He couldn’t drown the memories looming under the surface or eradicate the anxiety itching under his skin. But he could choose to embrace the innocent joy of Alec’s wonder and exist in the moment.

He accepted the flutes of ridiculously expensive champagne the flight attendant offered and clinked his glass against Alec’s, wishing them a safe journey. Alec kissed him sweetly, softly—with a smile on his lips—then they settled into their individual chairs as the flight attendants made final preparations.

“Do you mind if I…?” Alec asked, extracting his headphones from a pocket by his seat.

“Not at all,” Magnus said with a shake of his head. “But”—he’d just noticed that Alec had paled a bit and his jaw was tight—“are you okay?”

“I forgot you’ve never been on a plane with me. I can’t watch take off. Ever.”

Magnus loved watching take off, but, “I can’t watch the landing. Ever.”

Alec smiled and pulled his headphones on. “Then you take this shift and I’ll take the last one.”

He watched as the massive airliner took flight and the view outside the window morphed from urban lights to wisps of clouds to glittering stars. Alec had fallen asleep during takeoff and Magnus left him to rest. He opened his notebook and scrawled a few more sentences to the letter he’d started days ago, then turned to his phone for a momentary distraction.

Absently, he flipped through his camera roll, reliving the last few days. While the final twenty-nine seconds of game five had stretched out for years, the days following it had whirled by in a colorful, joyful blur that he’d memorialized in hundreds of photos and videos.

He backtracked further, to the select moments he’d catalogued before the game so they’d never be forgotten, and landed on the shots of the NYBA postcards he’d taken for Alec. Because of their hectic schedule—and quite frankly, the amount of time they’d spent tipsy, buzzed, and drunk since Friday—Alec had been otherwise engaged and he hadn’t asked—

“Hey. What’s wrong?”

Magnus startled at the sleep-worn sound of Alec’s voice. He set his phone on his lap without clicking the screen dark and met Alec’s eyes. “I’m looking at the postcard from your parents that was hung on the tunnel wall with the rest.”

Alec blinked, blinked again, then pushed himself up. When he held out his hand without a word, Magnus passed his cell to Alec.

The furrow between Alec’s brows deepened as he expanded the image then zoomed in. A long, pained breath gusted out of Alec’s lips before he looked at Magnus again. “When did you see this one?”

“That same night.”

“Thank you for not telling me then.”

Magnus accepted his cell back from Alec and darkened the screen this time. “You’re welcome.”

“I, uh….” Alec scrubbed a hand over his beard, over the grimace pulling his lips tight. “I can’t believe they were actually there, in the arena.”

Magnus considered carefully—with extraordinary care—how to respond. “You’re surprised that they showed up or you think that they wrote that, but that they weren’t in the arena at all?”

“Neither. I don’t want to believe they were and be gutted finding out they weren’t.”

Magnus couldn’t hide his wince, not with the imminence of seeing his own biological father—a darkened horizon they were hurtling towards at hundreds of miles an hour. He understood the pain of rejection, but, even more so, he feared the crushing reality of disillusionment. Of disappointment. Just like Alec, he knew that disappointment was likely. Perhaps inevitable.

In this case, however, he had much more positive news.

“I checked with Max afterwards to find out what he knew. Evidently, they were in the arena. For the entire game and the ensuing celebration.”

Alec nodded slowly, taking that information in. “I’m glad they didn’t try to get on the ice and make it a thing.”

“I am as well. There are no guarantees to how I would have”—he twirled a hand through the air, grasping for the appropriate word—“responded.”

“I know exactly how you would have.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah. Obliquely polite because we would’ve been in front of other people, and yet staunchly protective. Most people would’ve seen formality and I would’ve seen every scathingly intelligent remark coiled on your tongue, ready to lash out in less than a heartbeat. But more than likely, you would have summarily dismissed them with one calculated, targeted, withering stare if they uttered a single syllable of a word aimed to hurt me.”

Magnus smirked. “Unerringly accurate.”

“I know you,” Alec said with a shrug. “And, quite honestly, I’ve thought a lot about parents since we started planning this trip. You know….” He tapped his fingers against the arm rest. “How each of us would react to being face-to-face with them again.”

Magnus fought to inhale against the sudden constricting of his chest. Alec had carefully worded that statement, but Magnus cut through the layers without need for conscious thought—to the heart of Alec’s intentions. Alec hadn’t simply been thinking about how Magnus would respond if he was ever in front of the Lightwood parents again. He’d been contemplating how he would react if he was ever in front of Asmodeus. And Alec assumed that was a when, not an if.

That Magnus didn’t want Alec to go with him to the prison was the conversation he’d been avoiding for days.

“Alexander.” He knew he was going to sound harsh, but he couldn’t hold off any longer. “When I visit Asmodeus, I don’t want you to go with me.“

“You don’t have to go alone, Magnus.”

“I do.”

Alec’s brow furrowed, he opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again. When he finally got a word past his lips, it was simply, “Why?”

Asmodeus was darkness embodied, and Magnus didn’t want to expose Alec to him or place Alec in Asmodeus’ crosshairs in any way, shape, or form. To those two legitimate concerns, he could add a litany of reasons—not subjecting Alec to the inhumanities of a maximum security prison, and worries about inciting an international incident if he or Alec was somehow threatened and the other lost their…composure, and the language barrier, and cultural differences, and, and, and….

Those answers were an easy out, neatly filed under his honest drive to never see any harm come to Alec. However, Alec was an adult who was more than capable of taking care of himself and making the right decisions for himself. If Alec had chosen to come to the prison and Magnus had been okay with it, then no discussion would’ve been needed.

But Magnus wasn’t okay with it.

“Asmodeus is dying,” he started slowly. He let those words linger, breathing them in and internalizing that reality. A shiver rolled down his spine. “Whether his end comes from natural causes or by the government, he will be gone soon.”

The furrow remained on Alec’s brow, but he merely leaned in, giving Magnus time to formulate his words.

“You were right,” he continued. “There is absolutely no chance that Asmodeus didn’t know who I was all along. Even less of a chance that he doesn’t know who I am now, and his final chapter is being written as we speak. He is a part of my story—a much bigger part than I realized—and I am a part of your story, but Asmodeus cannot be even one word of our story.”

Alec waved a hand, gesturing around the airplane suite. “He already is!”

“He’s not, Alec. If he were, then you and I would be contending with complications that no lawyer, public relations specialist, or embassy could handle. He brings pain and ruin to everything he touches.”

“I know you said your relationship with him was complicated, but you also said he was kind to you. He didn’t ruin you.”

“He did,” Magnus admitted. Alec blanched. “I merely learned how to build myself back up again.”

Merely?” Alec spluttered. “Jesus, Magnus. This is why—”

“I know why you want to go with me,” Magnus cut in. He tried desperately to contain his voice. “I need you to understand why you can’t.”

“No. Absolutely not. I don’t—”

“Asmodeus is mine to deal with.” And fuck. He was yelling now. “In the weeks or months he has left, I won’t allow him to have an opening into the life I’ve built away from him. I won’t allow him an opening into my future. And I will not allow him an opening into us.”

“I—” Alec gritted his teeth and unbuckled.  Within one heartbeat, he was kneeling at Magnus’ feet, his hazel eyes locked to Magnus’ and his hand circled around Magnus’ neck. “I am so fucking scared for you.”

Magnus’ heart ached. He had so many questions, but the one thing he was certain of was, “He won’t hurt me.”

“Hurt isn’t just physical, Magnus. I know you haven’t told me everything that happened between the two of you and I’m not expecting you to. After what you have told me, though, how the hell can you say that he won’t hurt you?”

“Because he let me go.”

Alec shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

“When I was thirteen, Asmodeus discovered me kissing another boy, and I…. Well, I expected a lashing—either verbal or physical. Instead, he simply told me to be more careful. That if I ever ran into trouble I was to call him immediately. At that time, I thought it was a kindness. I was relieved and grateful. I soon learned that his offer of protection was a chain linking me to him. The first of countless leaden links that weighed heavier and heavier on me every day, until I believed I’d never be free. Then, he simply…let me go.” Magnus inhaled sharply. Goosebumps prickled on his skin. “There’s a reason he bought me passage on that boat out of Indonesia, and there’s a reason he hasn’t challenged my claim to his home. Whatever those reasons are, they aren’t to harm me.”

“I get it. Denying both would have.”

“Exactly.”

“And you want to hear those reasons before he dies.”

“I need to try.”

“Okay.” Alec gathered Magnus in his arms, crushing them together. “Okay, okay, okay. I hate everything about this, but okay. You try and then you get out.”

“I will.”

Magnus held onto Alec and hoped it would be that simple.

But he had a slinking sensation that his visit to the prison wasn’t going to be a surprise to Asmodeus at all.

 

****

 

Jakarta was everything Alec had expected, and yet nothing he could have prepared for.

In many ways, it was just like New York—traffic clogged its main thoroughfares, buildings jutted up toward the sky, and humidity weighted the air. The prevalence of motorbikes splintered the illusion as soon as he and Magnus left the airport, though, and Alec hadn’t stopped cataloging the similarities and differences since then.

He’d read up on cultural norms, learned basic words and phrases, and Magnus had walked him through aspects of Jakarta that no guidebook could portray, but he hadn’t been prepared for how overwhelmed he felt.

Maybe it was the jet lag or the fact that they’d lost a day in travel. Maybe it was that he was halfway around the world for the first time in his life. All of those factors were definitely setting him off-kilter, but the silence in the hotel suite was eating at him more.

When he traveled for work, it was with his team and the Angels’ contingent. When he traveled for fun, it was with Izzy, Simon, Max, or the handful of times that he and Jace had attended an off-season training session together. He was never alone when he traveled, and, right now, he felt very alone.

Alec rolled his eyes—at himself.

He wasn’t alone. Magnus was with him on this trip and they had a full week together to look forward to, just the two of them.

Just not right now.

He sighed and paced toward the floor-to-ceiling windows again.

He stood sixty-six stories above the bikes, cars, and people of the business district in an opulent suite, and his skin itched with the need to be on the street instead of above it. To be in motion. He wanted to see everything and yet he didn’t want to see any of it without Magnus, and that couldn’t happen until Magnus was back from the prison.

And, okay, maybe Magnus’ departure as soon as they’d checked in was truly at the center of his unrest, but he couldn’t think about what Magnus was experiencing at this exact moment. Absolutely could not.

He stalked toward the bedroom with the intention of changing into his workout gear and hitting the gym so hard that he burned and sweated out every dark thought, when Kadir’s final instructions to him came roaring back at him—Ease up on your workouts, Lightwood. Don’t risk more damage before your surgery.

“Shit.”

Alec hung his head. What the fuck was he supposed to do now?

He had no fucking clue how to rest—truly rest. He’d never taken a break when the season ended, even when his team didn’t make it into the playoffs. There were moments of respite and brief detours outside his carefully crafted diet, but never a sustained break from the game-ready mindset that dominated every aspect of his life. Shit. Was this gnawing sense of displacement what most hockey players felt like when the season ended?

He flopped down on the gigantic u-shaped leather couch in defeat, a couch large enough to fit his closest friends and family and still have room. That it was the middle of the night for anyone he would’ve unloaded all these thoughts on left him more unsure of what to do next. They would’ve known exactly what to do.

Apparently unable to make decisions on his own, and definitely incapable of simply laying down and doing nothing, he channeled a bit of Jace and paired his phone with the in-room speaker system to play infectious pop music while he showered. He emulated Izzy and sought out every self-pampering amenity in the suite. He ordered comfort food off the room service menu just like Max would’ve gorged on, adding seasonal vegetables and a smoothie so he wouldn’t end up in a carb haze. And while he waited for that to be delivered, he anticipated what Magnus would prioritize and began unpacking their bags to get the wrinkles out of clothes and make the gorgeous but blank slate of their suite a little bit more like home.

An hour later, his belly was pleasantly full, his feet were ensconced in fuzzy slippers, and he’d just discovered how to connect his phone to a wifi frame that cycled through his pictures, when the trill of the hotel phone cut through the end of Jace’s practice time playlist.

Alec hit pause and picked up the cordless in the bedroom. “Uh, hello?”

“Mr. Lightwood?”

“Yes?”

“This is Mr. Setiawan at the concierge desk. Are you expecting a guest?”

Alec furrowed his brow. “Um, no?”

“My apologies, Mr. Lightwood. I will—”

“I wasn’t expecting anyone….” he cut in. It was highly unlikely that any fan had tracked him down in Jakarta. It was, however, entirely possible that Magnus had sent someone his way. “…But, who is it?”

“Mas Banyu and he’s accompanying a woman who wishes to welcome you to Indonesia.”

Alec smiled. Magnus likely hadn’t sent these guests his way, but he had a feeling they were tied to Magnus nonetheless. “Ibu Siti?”

The voice on the other end of the line became muffled, as if the concierge had pulled the phone away from his mouth, then, “Yes.”

“Please let her know I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

Alec kicked off the slippers, ran a hand through his hair, and grabbed his cell and wallet before pulling on shoes. Every etiquette lesson Magnus had drummed into him ran through his head as he made his way down to the lobby—no physical touches, avoid direct eye contact out of respect, always address her as “ibu” first, regardless of the fact that he and Magnus used the familiar “Siti” when the two of them spoke about her—but he had absolutely no chance of suppressing his growing smile when he caught sight of Magnus’ foster mother.

He placed his palms together in front of his chest and bowed slightly to her. “Ibu Siti, it’s wonderful to meet you in person.”

Her own responding smile reminded Alec of the restrained upturn of the lips that others may have called polite, but Alec recognized it from Magnus immediately. Magnus only gave that type of smile when he was thoroughly pleased that someone had noticed something he’d known all along. Like mother, like son.

The warmth in her greeting back to him made Alec’s chest ache in the best way. He couldn’t wait for her and Magnus to be reunited.

“I’m sorry, but Magnus is out right now and I don’t expect him back for a while,” he said, then shook hands next with the young man who’d accompanied Siti, a teenager who Alec guessed had to be one of Siti’s charges. With that formality done, Siti began to speak in Indonesian, her focus on Alec.

“She understands you must be tired from your long journey,” Banyu interpreted. “However, when you are rested, you are welcome in her home.”

“Is this, uh….” Alec scratched at his beard. Magnus had told him that it was common for Indonesian people to frame invitations in a way that allowed a tactful ‘no’ to save either party from embarrassment. He had no idea whether this was an invitation he should accept, but Magnus had assured him that it was okay—and expected—for Alec to ask clarifying questions. “Is this her way of giving me a way to say no if I don’t want to go?”

“Yes.”

Alec exhaled with relief that he didn’t have to figure out how to fill his morning and answered Siti. “I’d be honored to go now.”

 

****

 

As soon as the prison guard opened the door to the visitation room, Magnus strode in with his head held high and met the cold, gold-green eyes that mirrored his own.

Asmodeus stood behind a metal table bolted to the concrete floor. Rusting steel circled his wrists, chains trailing to the u-shaped bar soldered to the pitted table. His chin was tipped down, one side of his lips inching up into a grin as the door clanked shut, sealing them inside. Alone.

Magnus’ heart pattered, he didn’t speak, and not because he didn’t know what to say or that he mistrusted the strength of his voice. No. Silence—an empty space that left the possibility for honesty to slip through—had always aggravated Asmodeus. He maintained eye contact and let the silence drag on.

“Well, well, well,” Asmodeus said. The sound of his voice, too familiar even after so long, raked down Magnus’ spine. The chains grated against the table as Asmodeus extended his arms. “The prodigal son returns.”

“It seems as if you’ve never actually read that story,” Magnus said flatly. “I haven’t wasted away my inheritance and, I might add, my right to any inheritance is still a question for the courts.”

“A question for the courts,” Asmodeus repeated. “But not for you.”

Magnus’ heart thudded in his chest. If he’d had any doubt about his parental lineage, then Asmodeus’ greeting would’ve sealed it.

“It’s not.”

Asmodeus’ responding smile was much too satisfied. “So. Magnus Bane, then. I like it. It suits you.”

“I would say that the distinctiveness of my name made it easier for you to track me down.” Magnus ran his fingertip through the gray dirt coating the table. He frowned and brushed it away. “However, I get the feeling that you never stopped watching me.”

“You made tracking difficult for a time,” Asmodeus admitted. “Especially in your…leaner years. But your visibility in the last few months simplified the process.”

Magnus’ heart skittered at double time. That vague statement was the closest he’d allow Asmodeus to come to speaking Alec’s name out loud.

“Even more so than when I was with Camille?” he deflected.

“Ah. Camille Belcourt. Now there was an interesting choice. How is she?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“An entertainment agent who doesn’t keep up on industry news? You were always exceedingly thorough.”

“I have no problem thoroughly eliminating poisonous people from my life.”

“Like father, like son. Although I tend to eliminate problems with a more permanent solution.”

Magnus raised an eyebrow and glanced around the room. “How has that worked out for you?”

“Exactly as planned. Heart failure is an ugly death and I didn’t want to fade away, weak. So I gave them the incentive they needed to take my life now.”

“Cultivating your infamy until your deadened heart stops beating.”

“What dreams may come when we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil,” Asmodeus quoted. “That notoriety will make me immortal, but it isn’t as important as the fact that my confession brought you home.”

And there it was—confirmation of the thought that had been flitting through Magnus’ head for the last few days. Asmodeus could have confessed at any time, or chosen not to confess at all, but he didn’t leave anything up to chance. Magnus knew that all too well. He’d cultivated the same habit because of Asmodeus.

He swallowed roughly. “How much of the last few months did you orchestrate?”

“I can’t count the number of times I attempted to intervene on your behalf since you left here, but you didn’t need me anymore. Until the greatest threat to you was your past—and me.”

Magnus’ tightly-held control slipped. He could barely scratch out, “Sebastian Morgenstern. You were the one who fed us the information about his past.”

“What a pitiful attempt at blackmail,” Asmodeus lamented. “However, it did give me the opening I’d been seeking. He opened the door and I merely walked through.”

“Why?”

“You needed me.”

“Indonesia is not my home anymore, and you—” I never needed you, he wanted to say, but he’d lost the right to that claim two decades ago. He grimaced. “You poisoned me too.”

“I protected you. I always have.”

“Protected me?” Magnus closed the distance between them, anger fueling his every step. “I was beaten to within an inch of my life because of a fire you set.”

“I know. Why do you think I killed your step-father?”

A wave of cold dread raked over Magnus’ skin. He didn’t outwardly flinch. He couldn’t. That cold dread sunk in, icy talons of inescapable understanding piercing through his flesh and gripping onto his bones, and he was frozen, utterly without the power to move.

“You didn’t. I did.”

“You wounded him.” The chains around Asmodeus’ wrists clanked against the table as he set his palms on the surface and leaned forward. “I ensured he suffered through the last, gasping breaths of his pathetic life.”

“That’s not protection,” Magnus rasped. His step-father had bruised, brutalized, and scarred him, but violence inevitably led to more violence. “That’s monstrous. You are a monster.”

“I’ve never pretended to be otherwise.”

Magnus held his ground, even with the inhuman snarl of Asmodeus’ mouth. There was only one thing he needed to know. “Then why did you let me go?”

“You were my first-born son. You belonged at my side, learning how to intimidate, manipulate, and rule. I tried to mold you into my shape. To bend you to my will, but you….” Asmodeus sneered. “You would not break. I had no choice but to let you go.”

“If you’re expecting me to be grateful—”

Asmodeus laughed darkly. “Unlike everyone else, you never bowed at my feet. I would be disappointed if you did now.”

“What do you expect from me then?”

“To forget I exist,” Asmodeus said. “When you walk out that door, your lawyer will call you to tell you that the DNA test revealed you are not my son.. Your claim on my estate will be denied. Every document you have signed and attested to will be destroyed, as your birth records already have been. I’m erasing every possible way to trace your existence to mine and there is no power on this earth that can change that now.”

He didn’t understand. He didn’t want to.

And yet he asked, “Why are you doing this?”

“When I leave this world, it will be a better place. The same will not be true for you.” Asmodeus’ eyes met his, unflinching. Gold-green meeting gold-green. A shade Magnus had never seen on anyone else, and likely never would again. “Go live the life you forged away from me, Magnus Bane. You are the only part of my legacy that matters anymore.”

 

****

 

Alec’s breath rushed out of him as his translation app cut off with a text notification from Magnus.

I just left the prison

He’d been waiting for that message, devising a thousand different scenarios in his head about how he’d respond when he heard from Magnus again, vacillating between his own fears and who Magnus needed him to be in this moment. The absolute need to know that Magnus was physically safe had him mentally penning responses like how are you? and did it go okay? But his understanding that Magnus wouldn’t come out of this encounter unscathed and—no matter how civil it had been— Magnus wouldn’t be okay had him replying, There’s kopi tubruk waiting for you

Seconds fell as Alec waited to see if he’d called that one right, then his cell pinged.

I love you, Alexander. Then, Are you still at the hotel?

Alec looked up from his phone and around the kitchen. Siti stood in front of a sizzling pan, fragrant steam rising around her and filling the tiny room. A room already familiar through FaceTime calls and even more familiar in the hours he’d spent here.

He succinctly replied, No. Siti surprised me at the hotel and I’m at her house now

Good, Magnus texted back immediately and Alec could hear the relief in that one word reply. I’ll be there in 30 minutes

Sweat beaded on Alec’s temple from the heat and humidity in the cloistered space and yet he took another sip of his own cup of kopi tubruk. He finally understood why Magnus took his coffee so sweet. This stuff was nothing like he’d drink on his usual diet—it was a liquid dessert caffeine bomb. It was incredible. And, quite honestly, it was keeping him from crashing from the jet lag.

Well, that, and that he wouldn’t be able to rest until he saw Magnus again.

Banyu had stuck around for awhile, serving as an interpreter between Alec and Siti, but he’d disappeared an hour ago when his friends showed up. In any other situation where Alec found himself with someone he didn’t know well in new territory, he would’ve squirmed with discomfort. But Siti had quickly made him feel at home, filling the table in front of him with food before she joined him, then introducing him to the kids who darted into the kitchen, skidding to an abrupt stop when they caught sight of Alec.

Alec set his cell, and his worries for Magnus, aside and focused on them.

The automatic translation app he and Magnus had tested out back in New York got a workout with the constant chatter of Siti and the kids, mixed in with Alec’s attempts at Indonesian that brought giggles from the youngest kids. He learned that, unlike most of the residents of Jakarta, Siti wasn’t Muslim but a few of her charges were. Their observation of Ramadan didn’t include fasting because of the age of the kids, instead focusing on the building of their community—a safe, peaceful place for these orphaned and abandoned children. Alec’s heart filled to max capacity with each conversation and his cheeks hurt from smiling.

Then an abrupt silence filled the room.

Siti stood and Alec reflexively did too, turning to find Magnus standing in the doorway.

 

****

 

A sense of surreality—finding himself pulled out of time, like a leaf carried onto a stream diverging from a river—fell over Magnus as he stepped into the kitchen.

This was the place he’d found himself after the death of his mother and step-father. This exacthouse. And while it had been two decades since he’d stepped foot in here, very little had changed. He’d been met at the door by a child of no more than ten years in secondhand clothes and with bare feet, the scent of fragrant spices filling the humid air. Shelves of books still lined one wall, the colorful covers of children’s books placed at the bottom so the youngest could reach them. An ancient metal fan whirred in the corner, giving off a gentle hum that Magnus had fallen asleep to more nights than he could count.

And Siti.

He felt Alec’s eyes on him and wanted nothing more than to be enveloped in Alec’s arms and remember how far he’d come and how hard he’d fought to become the man he was today. For Alec to pull him back into the timestream that matched his daily rhythms. But this diversion was necessary and his draw to the tiny woman across the kitchen couldn’t be denied.

Magnus smiled at Siti and approached. He set his palms on his chest, above his heart, and bowed deeply to her. When her fingertips brushed his—even though it was the briefest and faintest of touches—he couldn’t hold back his tears.

“I’m sorry it took me so long to come back,” he said in Indonesian.

Despite their recent conversations, his estrangement had hurt her, but he hoped that maybe this could be their chance to start again.

“You are here now,” she answered, her voice low enough that only he would hear. “If you are not too tired, you could sit with me and talk.”

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

Once Siti was seated again, Magnus stood and turned to find his own seat, coming eye to eye with Alec. His mind skipped a step, catching on the dissonance of seeing Alec here, in this place.

Alec smiled. “Hey.”

He rested his hand on Alec’s arm. “Hey is for farmers, Alexander.”

Alec chuckled, a fondness in his gaze that Magnus interpreted immediately. They had this history now. Inside jokes no one else in the world would understand and memories that belonged solely to them. New memories that they were creating right now, together.

And just like that, his two worlds converged—stream meeting river, surging forward.

He lost track of time after that, in the best of ways. They ate, were shown every favorite toy in the house, explained the Indonesian schooling system to Alec, laughed, played games, then ate some more. The children interrogated him about his life in New York, begging him for every detail of a life lived by someone like them half a world away. Alec attempted to explain his job to them, leading to a unanimous decision that Alec was Elsa.

“I believe I said the same thing to Simon before you and I were on…speaking terms,” Magnus mused.

Alec shrugged. “At least in this version Elsa got a girlfriend.”

Magnus couldn’t hold back his laughter.

And Siti?

Siti smiled through it all. Her kopi tubruk was richer than he’d remembered, a sweetness on his tongue that melded with each Indonesian word that came easier as the hours passed. Hours that Magnus held close, but knew were winding down as the kids scattered to their own pursuits and Alec’s energy began to visibly flag.

“Jet lag?” Magnus asked Alec when Siti got up to refill the plate of durian pancakes.

“Yeah,” Alec admitted. “It’s hitting me pretty hard, but that’s probably a good thing.”

“Why is that?”

Alec tipped his head toward Siti then stood. “Spend the afternoon together, just the two of you. I’ll see you back at the hotel.”

By the time Alec left, the house had grown quiet, a midday lull of naps and subdued play in response to the growing heat. Weariness lingered on the edges of Magnus’ awareness, but there was much he and Siti had to say to each other and limited time. Although, because of Asmodeus’ decision to eradicate all connections between them, Magnus no longer required a day to deal with bureaucratic labyrinths and he could spend more—

“Do you want to tell me about your visit to Asmodeus?”

Magnus startled at Siti’s question. Had Alec…?

No. Alec would never have shared something so private and intimately painful with Siti, regardless that Alec and Siti’s relationship had grown in the hours they’d spent together this morning.

Magnus sat back down at the table. “How did you know I went to the prison?”

Siti’s smile spoke of generations in the care of molding children into adults. “I know you.”

Magnus’ heart ached. She did. More than he’d realized, and more than his own mother would’ve been able to because of the trauma she’d experienced at the hands of Asmodeus and her husband. With that thought, a chill raced down his spine….

“Has Asmodeus been in contact with you?”

Siti shook her head. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper that she handed to Magnus. “I contacted him when I received this letter.”

Magnus scanned the page, the pieces clicking into place and filling in gaps to what Asmodeus hadn’t said to him. After twelve years of seeking funding for expansion of and improvements to her foster home, Siti had finally been approved for a massive grant through a public-private partnership. One that would cover the cost of construction for a new home and funds to maintain it for the next decade. One that never had to be repaid.

“Only the Prince of Jakarta has the power to make this happen,” she said.

“I don’t—” Magnus folded the letter carefully again, fingertips running over the seams as he attempted to reconcile the cold-blooded Prince of Jakarta with a father furthering the dreams of his son.

He couldn’t. The two didn’t coincide.

“Ibu,” he begged her. “I don’t understand why.”

“Buah hatiku,” she said gently, her endearment for him carrying a lifetime of love in every syllable. “Because you are the man Asmodeus could have become if he had chosen a different path.”

Magnus sucked in a breath. Tears gathered in his eyes.

“I am glad you are here,” she continued. “Not simply for me either. It was time for you to confront your entire past.”

Magnus handed the letter back to her then swiped his tears away, sitting up taller. In the vast river that he’d thought—for far too long—that he’d traversed alone, she’d never steered him wrong.

So Magnus told her everything.

 

****

 

“Nine million,” Alec said, glowering at his cell screen. “That’s my final offer.”

Raphael scoffed. “Keep dreaming, Lightwood. I’m not selling to you at all, but I’m definitely not doing it at a loss. I, papi, don’t lose.”

“Fine. Put Jace back on the phone.”

Raphael smirked and the screen blurred before Jace was grinning at him again.

“Couldn’t convince him to sell his place to you, huh?”

“Whatever. I don’t really want it anyway.”

“Right. I think you left drool marks on Raphael’s couch the night he let you sequester yourself on his terrace.”

Alec rolled his eyes. He really did love that terrace, but he’d brought up making an offer to Raphael more to needle him than anything else. Apparently he missed being on the ice for more than the game time adrenaline rush. He’d FaceTimed Jace after his solo dinner, only to find the entire first line and Underhill hanging out at Raphael’s place. It only took one taunt for Alec to realize how much he was going to miss seeing them every day.

“So what kind of trouble are you going to get in today?”

“Absolutely none,” Jace contended.

Alec raised an eyebrow.

“I swear, bro,” Jace said with a laugh. “We’re heading over to that community center where Clary volunteers.”

Not just Clary. Jace volunteered there now too. But very few people knew that because Jace had decided to offer his time without tying it to the Angels’ PR machine.

“Taking the Cup with you?”

Jace nodded. “Bat didn’t know what to do with his day, so Lydia suggested this to him then we all decided to go.”

Alec set his hip against the balcony railing and looked out over downtown Jakarta. With Jace on the phone and a topic of conversation steadfastly in his zone, Alec could almost pretend he wasn’t half a world away. Almost.

“Hey, is everything okay, Alec?”

“Yeah. Just desperately trying to stay awake until Magnus comes back.”

“And?”

Of course Jace could tell. The lights of downtown Jakarta glinted off his bracelet. He could picture himself in Gramercy instead. Another night pacing the rooftop patio because he couldn’t sleep. If he sunk into that memory far enough, he could almost pretend that he wasn’t moving in a separatedirection from his teammates, his family. That he wasn’t moving in a separate direction from Jace.

Alec sighed and scratched a hand through his beard.

“I’m missing you,” he said honestly. “Missing home.”

“You’re missing Magnus.”

“Yeah.” Alec nodded. “That too.”

“Hang on a second,” Jace abruptly said.

Alec furrowed his brow as the shot cut away from Jace’s face, darkened to a blurry mess, then a jumble of mumbled voices before Jace reappeared on the screen.

“Alright,” Jace said. “I’m back.”

Alec studied the wall with one large oil painting behind Jace. “Where are you?”

“Raphael’s music room.”

He quirked an eyebrow. “Are you going to serenade me?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.” Jace rested the phone on something then a string of piano notes filtered through the speaker. Jace was focused on the keys in front of him when he asked, “How much time have you had to yourself today?”

Alec blew out a breath. “Way too much.”

“Okay. Lay it on me.”

“I know I’m jet lagged and that this is the farthest I’ve ever been from home. I’m definitely overthinking things.”

“Overthink with me then.”

Alec tried to formulate words for the shift to his thoughts since the championship game, swiftly realizing that he’d been overthinking his role in the world since Clary told him about Hodge and Valentine’s theft. For years, he’d been stuck on autopilot, alive but not living. That theft had shakenhim awake, and now….

“Who am I besides a hockey player?” he finally gave voice to. “Besides a gay man and Magnus’ boyfriend?”

Jace nodded. “Fair question. What are you thinking?”

“That I don’t know! If we couldn’t play anymore, Raphael would probably open a restaurant and you’d be at the piano every night….”

“I can see that.”

“Bat’s got his mixed martial arts training he does on the side, Meliorn would end up a yoga teacher, and Emil would probably become a—what’s it called—cryptozoologist.”

Jace snorted. “I know way more about chupacabras than necessary because of him.”

“Everyone else has these interests and passions outside of the work they do every day,” Alec pointed out. “Clary has her art. Izzy could be a fashion designer. Lydia—”

“Alec,” Jace cut in. “I’m going to stop you right there. There’s a major fallacy in your thought process that I know you’d see if you weren’t tired.”

“And that is?”

Jace shook his head. “You gotta figure this one out on your own.”

“Jace—”

Jace scoffed. “That look may intimidate players across the league, but it’s never worked on me. You know the answer to this, Alec. Just…reframe how you think about your strengths, give yourself time, and trust me.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Study up on chemistry and I think you’ll get it.”

What the hell did that mean?

Alec glared at him, again. “Can I add ‘pain in the ass’ to your skill set?”

“See? You’re already changing your mindset and framing a potential negative as a positive. You got this.”

“That—” Alec had to laugh. He sunk down onto the couch on the balcony. “That actually made me feel better. Which means I definitely need to sleep.”

“Go get some rest, brother. I’ll talk to you soon.”

The sounds of Brahms’ Lullaby emanated from his phone, combined with Jace’s cheeky grin.

Alec chuckled. “Night, Jace.” Then hung up.

He huffed as he sprawled onto his back and draped an arm over his eyes—giving in to the need to sleep.

 

****

 

The living room was empty. The kitchenette. The bedroom.

Magnus flipped on the lights in the massive bathroom on the off chance that Alec had fallen asleep in the tub only to find that empty as well.

He furrowed his brow and unlocked his cell as he walked back into the living room of their suite, then dialed Alec’s number. The first strumming bass lines of the James Bond theme emanated from somewhere else in the suite and Magnus followed the sound, within steps sighting an illuminated cell screen on the other side of floor-to-ceiling glass doors leading out to a private balcony that Magnus had missed in his initial surveil of their room.

Alec didn’t stir, even though his cell laid directly next to him on the outdoor couch. Magnus smiled, clicked the call off, and made his way quietly outside.

The temperature had dropped after sunset, cooler yet lacking the chill that summer nighttime in New York could get. Alec was sprawled out across a couch that was much too small for his frame, feet hanging over the end. Magnus didn’t care how small it was. He set Alec’s cell aside and laid down next to him. Being halfway draped over Alec didn’t seem to wake him either, but the second Magnus’ lips touched Alec’s neck Alec groaned low and deep.

“More,” Alec whispered, voice gruff, and Magnus could hear the smile on his lips.

“I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You absolutely did. But that’s okay. I’ve been waiting all day for this.” Alec wrapped his arms around Magnus and shifted their position. “Come here.”

The notion of personal space existed in a completely different way here. Every part of Jakarta thrummed in constant motion, teeming with the movement of humanity. Families commonly lived as a multi-generational unit. And while public displays of affection earned harsh stares or direct rebuke, handshakes and even hand-holding between the same sex was a common sight—as long as it wasn’t with romantic intentions. Both he and Alec had been conscious of maintaining strict personal space since they arrived, however. It seemed like a year had passed since Magnus last had the chance to do this, not less than a day.

He cradled Alec’s jaw between his hands, consciously cataloging Alec’s features and marveling at the ache of absolute love that filled him when Alec smiled back at him.

“I missed you, Alexander.”

“We spent almost a full day on a plane together and I saw you just a few hours ago.”

Eight hours ago, “ Magnus emphasized. “And today was…difficult.”

Alec’s hands drifted over Magnus’ back, a soothing touch. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not yet.” But he would soon. He leaned down and placed a soft kiss on Alec’s lips. “How are you doing with your Indonesian?”

“It will take me awhile, but I’ll get there. Maybe I won’t have to use the translation app the next time we’re here.”

The next time. Magnus breathed a sigh of relief. Until this moment, he hadn’t realized that he’d harbored reservations that Alec would want to come back. That it was important to him that Alec would want to come back.

“I went out today on my own for a bit,” Alec continued. “You know, after I came back from Siti’s.”

Magnus raised an eyebrow. “And where did you wander?”

Alec patted Magnus’ hip. “Get up and I’ll show you.”

Alec took his hand and led him to the balcony railing, then pointed out across the streets of the business district. “Up this road, around, and back. I kept the hotel in sight because I didn’t want to be too far if you came back earlier than I thought.”

“And what did you think?”

“I got a lot of stares and a lot of questions from this group of men at a park, but everyone was really nice. Friendly.” Alec rested against the railing and faced Magnus. “Between the ride back from Siti’s and my walk, two things really stuck out for me, though.”

“What are those?”

“First, there is so much food I want to try. The league has a strict banned substances policy so I have to be just as careful as I am at home, but when I retire I’m going to try something at every food stall.”

A solid plan. Magnus nodded. “And the second thing?”

“The poverty,” Alec said simply. “It’s harder to see than I thought it would be. I get why it’s so important to you to help Siti out.”

Magnus’ stomach clenched. While Siti’s home hadn’t changed in the last twenty years, the neighborhood around it had destabilized. Siti and her foster children would be moving on, but for many of the other children he’d seen today, the path to stability and safety was far more treacherous and uncertain—blocked by a system that benefitted off cheap labor and human misery.

“The need is overwhelming,” he summarized.

“Not just here.”

“No, Alec. Not just here. But poverty is different here than in New York, and you’re not responsible for it all.”

“You feel it too, though? The need to respond?”

“I do.”

Alec leaned down and set his forearms on the railing. “Tell me something about seeing Asmodeus.”

Magnus sighed, heavily. He hadn’t expected Alec to gently push for him to open up tonight, but he likely should have with the introspective bend to Alec’s thoughts on Jakarta.

“I didn’t kill my step-father. Asmodeus did.”

Alec’s gaze darted over his face. “What?”

“Apparently, Asmodeus has been tracking me and inserting himself into my life for much longer, and in much more forceful ways, than I ever imagined.” Magnus tapped his fingernails against the railing, gathering his thoughts. “I came here with questions and the hope that I’d find some closure, but that was incredibly naïve of me. There’s no easy conclusion or fix here. It’s going to take me years to process and understand, Alexander. Perhaps my entire lifetime.”

“I don’t think there’s any getting over it, per se,” Alec said. “There’s no such thing as ‘closure.’ It’s just a new normal that will continue to change as you change, for your entire life.”

“And that doesn’t frighten you?”

Alec shook his head. “I have my own shit I’ll never be over.”

And Magnus remembered, What Sebastian and your parents did to us wasn’t physical, but it scars nonetheless. It’s going to take awhile, Alexander. And some of it…. Some of it we’re never going to fully get over.

He’d said that to Alec when they sat in Bryant Park after Alec’s negotiation.

Then, only weeks ago, he and Alec had been at a crossroads. Hoping for more but wary about the pitfalls they’d already stumbled into. Now, there was one thing of which Magnus was absolutely certain….

“So we do it together.”

“That’s my plan.” Alec kissed his shoulder then wrapped his arms around Magnus, pulling him close. “You’d already brought a new perspective to my life, and this trip brings a whole new facet. Thank you for bringing me here. For trusting me to be here with you and to meet Siti. For giving me the opportunity to see the world more from your eyes.”

He’d never allowed anyone this close to him in such a starkly intimate way—literally or metaphorically. So he answered the only way that mattered.

“You’re welcome, Alexander.”

He sank into Alec’s embrace then, holding on and allowing Alec to hold him up. To be the safety and stability that Magnus had built on his own, but that was a much lighter burden when shared.

“Hey,” Alec said quietly. “I think it’s raining.”

It was. A fine mist that would soon morph into fat droplets that would pour from the clouds then retreat just as suddenly.

“It doesn’t happen often here in June,” he said. “But sometimes there’s only so much one can take in without letting something go.”

“Are you talking about the clouds or you?”

“Both.”

Then Alec was kissing him, a tender press of lips made sweeter by the scent of the jasmine blossoms on the terrace and the taste of kopi tubruk on Alec’s tongue. Made more real by the tears that mingled with the rain on his cheeks.

The sky broke open and Magnus broke too. In relief, gratitude, and a new awareness of himself.

Unlike an Indonesian summer rain, he didn’t have to pour it all out then retreat. Alec would be there when the storm passed. He’d intellectually known that for weeks, but in this moment he understood—he didn’t want to be anywhere else either. Ever again.

He rested his head on Alec’s shoulder and matched his breaths to Alec’s, surrendering another previously untapped and unknown piece of his heart to Alec.

 

****

 

“They’re creepy.”

Alec restrained a laugh and faced Magnus. “They’re part of your heritage.”

“And I appreciate both the artistry and the history,” Magnus stated. “That does not belie the fact that puppets are, in fact, creepy.” Magnus dragged Alec away from the glass case then and promptly out the doors of the puppet museum. “This, however”—Magnus said as he slid his sunglasses back on—“is invigorating.”

Alec slid on his own sunglasses again, preferring to give Magnus a once-over instead of looking at the street performers, food vendors, tourists, and tour guides teeming around them in Jakarta Old Town. “I completely agree.”

Magnus smirked. “Your flirtatious advances are noted and will be addressed in the appropriate manner tonight. Right now, though? Lunch, coffee, and dessert.”

Alec couldn’t argue that.

Within minutes they were seated on the second level of a nearby restaurant, next to tall windows that opened over Fatahillah Square. Magnus chatted with the waitstaff, a fluid back-and-forth in Indonesian that matched Magnus’ liquid movements. Alec was just as relaxed but so much less elegant about it. He slouched into the chair and stretched his legs out so they bumped up against Magnus’.

Magnus smiled and bumped him back.

Before long, their table was filled with plates and glasses and Magnus chattering away about the historical buildings they’d toured this morning. Months ago, Alec would’ve questioned if Magnus’ jubilance was a façade—a shell of joy covering for brittle, turbulent emotions beneath. But this wasn’t the Magnus he’d met months ago.

Magnus hadn’t avoided speaking Asmodeus’ name last night or this morning. Occasionally his eyes would glaze over as if he was remembering something far into the past, then—instead of diverting to another subject—he’d share that thought with Alec.

There was an openness, an arrestingly present presence, to Magnus’ every word and action today that Alec had never seen in him before. It was fascinating and mesmerizing. Enchant—

“Do I have nasi goreng on my face?” Magnus asked, arching an eyebrow.

Alec chucked. “No. I’m mentally fawning over you again.”

“Ah, well.” Magnus smiled. “Continue as you were.”

“Actually…. There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about.” Something he’d been thinking about since he and Magnus talked last night. And with Magnus’ willingness to open up this morning, he hoped to get a direct answer instead of overthinking things. He swiped up another forkful of the most decadent chocolate cake he’d ever tasted, but waited to take a bite until he said, “What would you do with nine million dollars?”

“Interesting. If you’re going to go big, why nine million? Why not ten? Or twenty?”

“I was joking around with Raphael last night and made him a couple offers on his penthouse. The last one was for nine million.”

“I see. And what did he say?”

Alec scoffed. “What do you think?”

“I believe that is less than he paid for it.”

“Apparently.”

Magnus leaned in, setting his elbows on the table. “But that wasn’t the point of your question, was it?”

“No. The thing is….” Alec ran a hand through his beard then sat up. “Even while I was doing it, I couldn’t help thinking about what nine million dollars could do for the organizations that really need it. Especially after you told me about Siti’s grant.”

“You’re thinking about your foundation.”

“Yes.” And also no. But he’d get to that part of his answer when Magnus was ready to talk more about their future. For now, though, “Max yelled at me about taking away his agency once, and like every way too accurate thing that he says, it took me a few Google searches and articles to figure out what he was really saying. But I get it now. If I’m doing this foundation…thing, I don’t want to be the guy who’s walking into the room like he has all the solutions. And it’s going to take time and a hell of a lot of research to figure out how to move forward, but what I do know is that I want people to be free to choose what they need. What’s important to them.”

Magnus nodded. “To be a catalyst.”

Alec groaned out loud, Jace’s words rushing through his head—Study up on your chemistry and I think you’ll get it.

Magnus quirked an eyebrow. “Did I get that wrong?”

Alec had to laugh. “No. I just didn’t have a name for it.”

“It fits you.”

“Yeah, um, Jace said the same thing yesterday but in a more roundabout way.”

“And what do you think, Alexander?”

That he never could have expected to uncover a critical piece of his identity halfway around the world. But he hadn’t been the one to make the decision to come here—Magnus had. Alec had merely given Magnus the time and space to voice what he needed then helped provide the resources to make it happen—a catalyst.

“I think it could fit,” he replied. It would take time for the idea to settle, though. For him to understand how it impacted his future. How it impacted their future. “And honestly? It makes your answer to my question even more important.”

“What would I do with nine million dollars?”

“Or ten or twenty. Dream big.”

Magnus leaned in, his gaze intent. “I would speak directly with the people providing services to children who have immigrated or have parents who have. I’d ask them what they’re lacking, what they would like to do more of, and what could make the biggest change in the fastest amount of time—then I’d want to hear directly from the children and their families too. Interest free loans, small cash transfers, education support, transportation, food, clothing, utilities, housing, health, legal issues…. I’d want to hear it all. Then I’d systematically work to fund the projects with the highest priorities and the largest impact. Clearing a path for those children to live the lives they envision.”

Alec shouldn’t have been stunned, but he was. “You’ve thought about this before.”

Magnus nodded. “Extensively. There are organizations I already support, but so much more I’d like to do.”

“Then what would you think if I wanted to make the focus of my foundation LGBTQIA, Two Spirit, and gender non-conforming teenagers, and also”—he shrugged, a contradictory movement for the fact that he was laying his heart on the line—“kids who are immigrants or have parents who are?”

“I think….” Magnus reached across the table and threaded his fingers with Alec’s. “If Imogen ends up accepting Isabelle’s and my plan, then we won’t need as much capital and I could contribute my bonus. There’s absolutely nothing I would be prouder of than writing a sizable check made out to the Alec Lightwood Foundation.”

Or the Lightwood-Bane Foundation, Alec thought, holding that idea close until the time was right. They had time and, now, a shared vision.

Instead Alec squeezed Magnus’ hand and smiled. “Come on. Let’s go see Siti and the kids. We’ve only got two more days in Jakarta and I want to spend as much time with them as we can.”

 

****

 

Humid air closed around Magnus as soon as he stepped outside, the only sounds the muted twitter of birds, the buzz of insects, and the rhythmic hush of ocean waves against the sand.

He closed the door to his and Alec’s villa quietly so as not to wake Alec and headed for the beach, his notebook and a pen in hand.

He’d steadily filled page after page over the last few days, filling in the blank paper with a detailed narrative and scrawled drawings. Even more pages were filled with colored pencils and notes in Indonesian from the kids in Siti’s foster home. In the last few weeks, as this notebook filled, journaling had become a habit that he couldn’t see giving up anytime soon. Years from now, he’d have this notebook to look back at and bring a whole new perspective to wherever he ended up next. As for this moment, though….

Magnus set his notebook on the beach chair, stepped onto the sand, closed his eyes, and breathed.

This beach on Lombok wasn’t anything like where he’d grown up, and yet he felt the rightness of standing on this strip of land on this side of the world. As if the land under his feet cradled his steps in understanding, sympathy, and harmony like New York never had. The streets of New York provided no comfort, constantly driving him forward. But here, he could simply stand, feel connected, and rest.

Indonesia wasn’t his home anymore, but it was a haven for his soul.

He had no concept of how long he stood there, mentally wandering down paths previously considered unpassable, writing a future then rewriting it in a different way. He only registered the shifting grains of sand under his bare feet, the warmth of the sun heating previously untouched patches of skin as light brightened beyond his eyelids, and the distant rumble of engines as the island’s inhabitants began their daily business. The rhythm of his days here was different than New York too.

He and Alec had been in Lombok for two days now and their time on this beach crept closer to departure. But for two days, time had held very little meaning. They ate, slept, swam, sunned, and lounged. They asked the caretaker to shut off the wifi and disconnected from the outside world, choosing to exist in each moment together, and choosing—just as freely—to exist in moments apart from each other too.

Magnus hadn’t known he’d needed that time until he took it.

In his solitary hours of wandering the beach or inking more of his thoughts on the page, he’d begun to unravel the thread of his life, teasing at the knots he’d left untouched for far too long, and consciously marveling at the bursts of color and brilliance in the threads that he’d worked the hardest to strengthen, yet never acknowledged his own strength in their creation. Through that process he’d come to two truths.

One, Asmodeus wasn’t a monster.

As much as Magnus wanted to view their history through that lens, to assert that Asmodeus had merely played human in the quiet moments when he’d read aloud to Magnus in his library, or in the hours Magnus walked with him through the city as Asmodeus taught him history and architecture, in meals shared across a table, or in gifts of new clothes and shoes, that side of Asmodeus hadn’t been faked.

It was too simple to call Asmodeus a monster. Too pat of an answer. If he relegated Asmodeus as inhuman then he erased the uniquely human motivations behind each of Asmodeus’ actions. To call him a monster elevated him to a being of untold fear and power instead of a deeply damaged, fallible, and fragile individual who had chosen to inflict that damage on everyone he touched.

Once he framed Asmodeus that way, it led Magnus to inevitable conclusions about himself.

An extraordinary set of events had led him here—both literally to this beach and metaphorically to the heights of his relationship with Alec. It was just as easy to write those circumstances off as chance, but each of his own choices had brought him here. He, just like his biological father, was a deeply damaged, fallible, and fragile individual and yet he strove to be better.

In the last three months, he’d acknowledged the harm he’d done and reached out to Alec to build a friendship.

He’d mended his relationship with Siti.

He’d initiated therapy.

He’d had the courage to step away from IE and was forging a new path. One that would benefit his clients just as much as him.

And those realizations had guided him to his second, and most important, truth—he didn’t give himself enough credit and it was past time that he did.

Alec was leaving Indonesia tomorrow, but Magnus had decided to stay one more day. He would be arriving in Las Vegas mere hours before the League Awards, and risked missing it completely if any of his flights were delayed, but for one day more, he needed to exist as Magnus Bane instead of Alec Lightwood’s Magnus.

He owed that to himself. To recognize and thoroughly internalize his own self-worth.

And he owed that to Alec—for their shared future.

Magnus smiled, inhaled the briny ocean air, and set himself up on a towel in the sand instead of the chair. The waitstaff made their way to Magnus well before Alec did, but even that was okay. He’d been privileged in these last few weeks to witness Alec growing just as calm and confident off the ice as he was on it. He couldn’t wait to see what Alec would do next.

As for their future—

“As soon as I get back to wifi, I’m sending Anna a massive thank you gift basket,” Alec said and dropped onto the towel next to Magnus.

Magnus took a moment to appreciate the sleek lines of Alec’s body in swim      trunks—and the increasingly golden cast to his skin—before he replied. “This villa was an extraordinary find.”

Alec leaned down to kiss him. “Good morning.”

“I believe it’s nearly afternoon.”

Alec shrugged. “Does it matter?”

“No,” Magnus said with a chuckle. “It absolutely does not.”

Alec sprawled out next to him then, his head propped onto one hand as he ran the fingertips of the other down Magnus’ arm. “What are you doing?”

“Making jewelry.” He twisted together the ends of two green stalks, careful not to crush the attached flowers, and wrapped his project for the last hour around Alec’s wrist, next to the feather bracelet. He lifted his own wrist with a braid of grasses and flowers circling it and said, “I know we’re no longer accumulating a gift count, but if both of us get one then we’re still on even ground.”

The gentle smile on Alec’s lips made Magnus’ stomach swoop.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Alec gestured at the pile of flowers on the towel. “Are you planning on making more?”

“I have no other plans for the day. You?”

Alec hummed. “Not until after sunset.”

Magnus raised an eyebrow. “Plans to defile the pool again, then?”

“Last night was fun.”

That was an understatement. He’d been skinny dipping many times before, but never before with as exciting of a…crescendo.

Magnus smiled. “It was.”

Alec flopped onto his back, sighing with contentment as he stretched out and Magnus continued working at the pile of flora he and one of the compound’s caretakers had accumulated this morning. He experimented with weaving individual petals into long blades of grass, determined to wile away their time in companionable silence, but the longer he spent braiding together disparate pieces into a unified whole, the more he couldn’t hold his silence anymore.

“Alexander?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m going to miss you tomorrow.”

Alec’s lips lifted into a smile and he lazily rolled his head to look at Magnus again. Underneath Alec’s sunglasses, Magnus knew there would be those crinkles around Alec’s eyes. The ones that appeared when Alec was at his most joyous. Most playful.

“Of course you will. I’m fabulous.”

Magnus couldn’t even deny that. “You are.”

“I’ll miss you too. But, like I said yesterday, we wouldn’t have had much time together anyway because of all the PR stuff.”

“Regardless….”

Alec shifted onto his side again, then pulled off his sunglasses, his hazel eyes in a piercing gaze. “I meant it when I said that I’d be okay even if you don’t end up making it to the Awards. I know how stressful this last week has been for you. And how being back here has…changed things for you.”

He hadn’t said those words out loud to Alec, but apparently there hadn’t been a need. He could only nod.

“You need more time here and I have a job to do. Let the press and fans speculate all they want when we don’t show up in Vegas together. We know the truth about us, and that’s all that matters.”

Magnus swallowed against the well of emotion stirring inside him. He set his own sunglasses aside so he could look Alec in the eye. “And that truth is?”

“That even when we’re apart, we’re still together. And that’s not changing.”

Magnus breathed in that statement, testing it against the strength of his own convictions. Alec hadn’t qualified that with an “that’s not changing anytime soon.” It was a “that’s not changing at all.” A definitive declaration.

Magnus’ head swam with the possibilities—like the light-headed giddiness of a shot of pure oxygen to his lungs. He had to know, “What do you envision for our future, Alexander?”

Alec smiled. “More of this. More nights like last night.”

Magnus laughed. “Done. And what about Raphael’s penthouse? Will you ever convince him to sell?”

“Oh god. I want that terrace.”

Magnus had to admit, “Me too.”

“Then I’ll make it happen. For us.”

Magnus had no doubt he would. “Tell me more.”

“Well, I’m going to have to get an unlimited data plan. Prepare now for hours spent on FaceTime when I’m on the road.”

“Fair point. What else? What about….” Magnus was surprised his heart beat as steadily as it did when he said, “What about kids?”

Alec’s features softened. “I’d like to have them—with you. But there’s a complication with that.”

Magnus quirked an eyebrow. “Besides the obvious?”

“Yeah, besides the obvious.”

“And that is…?”

“Someday our kids are going to ask how we met and we….” Alec smirked. “We are going to have to come up with a really solid lie.”

Magnus hummed as he threaded another petal into the grasses. “I suppose it wouldn’t be wise to tell them that you were in borrowed underwear and I threw a bottle of baby oil at you.”

“How many kids would you want?”

“Why place a limit on love that’s limitless?”

“And a dog?”

“Anything your heart desires, Alexander.”

Alec laughed, a luminous rush of joy that warmed Magnus more than the sun ever could. “You know we keep doing this backwards, right? Dating before we’d asked each other out, sleeping together before we actually slept together, moving in together before we said ‘I love you,’ and now settling on a house, kids, and a dog before we’ve even talked about marriage.”

Magnus huffed. “I believe you brought it up three times in one day.”

“You know what I mean.”

He did, but perhaps they hadn’t seriously broached that topic yet because, “We’ve been talking about commitment since the beginning.”

“We have, but do you, you know…. Ever think about it at all?”

“Marriage isn’t the only choice,” he pointed out. “There are still many couples—queer and straight—who never choose to marry.”

“I know. I meant what I said, though. I want to marry you someday.”

“Someday?”

Any day. But I also meant what I said to you in Bryant Park—we can take it slow.”

Magnus scoffed. “Our friends and family would think we were ridiculous if we were engaged anytime soon.”

“You’re definitely right about that.”

Magnus smiled at Alec’s tone. It sounded as if Alec had discussed this idea with someone in their circle of perpetual relationship interlopers and Alec hadn’t gotten the response he’d desired. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought, though.

“I believe both of us are where we want to be right now,” Magnus said, holding Alec’s gaze. “So. Someday.”

Alec didn’t flinch away from that or try to formulate a rebuttal. He was just as accepting, just as considerate of Magnus’ opinions as he’d been since they became friends. He merely leaned forward, kissed Magnus’ shoulder, and said, “Okay.”

The conversation could have ended there, as an amicable stay on negotiations until both parties were ready to reopen talks. But Magnus thrived on maintaining the advantage in negotiations.

He threaded together the ends of the petals and grass, clasped Alec’s right hand, and slid the woven ring on Alec’s finger. It wasn’t the ring that he imagined so clearly in his head, or the finger that someday he’d adorn with that ring, but he was sure now. Someday he would marry Alec, and….

“Maybe ‘someday’ will be sooner than either of us anticipate, Alexander.”

Magnus barely heard Alec’s sharp intake of breath before he placed a kiss on Alec’s forehead and took off down the beach, Alec hot on his heels a second later. Laughter filled his lungs, happiness gliding through his veins. Then Alec’s arms were around him, lifting him, and they were tumbling into the sand, breathless and radiant.

He may have run at first.

From Alec.

His past.

And himself.

But he was happy to be caught.