Chapter 1: i wanna get better
The apartment’s not exactly Alec’s idea of ideal New York living. It’s cramped, his room’s barely big enough to fit a double bed, there’s no laundry on site and the building smells like crab for some reason. It’s not even in Manhattan, but the Bronx, and it’s gonna take him at least an hour to get into the city for work. But it was the only apartment available that he could afford that wasn’t also inhabited by a creep or probable drug dealer, and you know what they say; “beggars can’t be choosers”.
Alec’s confidence is bolstered a bit by the fact that his old dorm mate from college had been living in what was now his room until recently. Jordan says the neighbours are polite enough (well, for New York at least) and apparently the guy he’s sharing with (Simeon? Samuel?) isn’t too bad so- well, it’s better than moving back with his parents.
Still, Alec thinks as he considers the faded green tiles on the kitchen floor, it’s going to be hard going from living in Magnus’ roomy loft to living in, well (he frowns at the mould stain growing next to the window), this.
It’s just as he’s considering running out to grab a bottle of bleach that he hears a key turning in the lock at the front door. He spins, box of DVDs still in his arms (the rest of his stuff is piled up on the bed and desk in his tiny room, waiting to be unpacked) and a rumpled, dark haired guy steps into the kitchen.
Alec’s new roommate (and Jordan’s old) is about Alec’s age, possibly maybe a bit younger (but he can’t really tell, honestly), with glasses and a wrinkled band tee. He’s got a backpack over one shoulder and a guitar case over the other and he’s looking at Alec the way you might look at a cat you don’t own that’s just turned up in your kitchen sink.
“Uh, hey?” Alec leaves his box on the counter and steps forward to introduce himself, “I’m Alec Lightwood?” The guy looks pretty spaced out, honestly, and Alec’s not even surprised when he just stares blankly at his outstretched hand and repeats, monotonously;
“Yeah, Jordan’s friend? From Columbia?” The other guy seems to shake himself out of whatever haze he’s been in, and finally reaches to shake Alec’s hand.
“Oh shit, man, sorry.” He drops his guitar case and backpack and closes the apartment door behind him.
“I’m Simon,” He introduces himself, “Jordan and I used to be, like, band mates.”
“And roommates,” Alec fills in, and Simon just nods.
“Yeah, that too.” Alec’s a little concerned by now cos Simon’s still got this glazed over look on his face and he’s still looking at Alec like he’s not sure why he’s here.
“I’m moving into Jordan’s old room?” He clarifies, and now he’s nervous because what if there’d been some kind of mistake and Simon had gone and given the room to someone else? Because sure the apartment wasn’t exactly Alec’s ideal place to live (Alec had just been kicked out of his ideal place so yeah, this definitely wasn’t it) but he didn’t really have anywhere else he could go right now and –
“Nah yeah of course,” Simon interrupts his internal spiral, and starts moving further into the apartment. He pulls a storage basket out from under the coffee table and starts rummaging through it like he’s looking for something.
“Sorry dude I’m like totally spaced out right now, I was at the library all night trying to get this thing for my dissertation finished by the deadline and then my boyfriend called on the train ride over here because of this other thing we got into yesterday morning and like honestly like I haven’t even slept in-” he stops abruptly and pulls an envelope from the basket.
“Ah yeah, here it is.” He gets up and hands it to Alec, whop opens it up. Inside there’s a couple of folded up pieces of paper and two keys. “That’s the key to the apartment so you don’t have to use the spare every time, and the key to the building too. I guess the landlord let you in today. There’s a list of stuff you need to know about the apartment, and a note from Jordan I think and-” Simon pauses again, like he’s thinking.
“And like, so I hate to do this, but I’m supposed to meet my Mom and my sister for dinner in about-” He glances down at his hands, his wristwatch, “Ten minutes ago. So I gotta run, but like, I’ll talk to you better when I get back tonight, yeah?” Alec nods.
“Uh, yeah, sure.” And Simon’s off out the door again, with a quick goodbye over his shoulder.
Alec’s alone in the apartment, again.
It’s very late when Alec hears Simon get back to the apartment. It’s dark and Alec’s lying on his bed, half of his boxes still unpacked on the floor surrounding him, when the door opens and he can hear hushed voices. He identifies once of them as Simon, but the other he doesn’t recognise. It’s higher than Simon’s and lightly accented.
There’s some breathy laughing and a few long pauses and then sighing that Alec definitely doesn’t listen to because it’s honestly none of his business.
After a few minutes, though, there’s the sound of the door opening and closing again and then a single set of feet tiptoeing lightly through the living room. The door to Simon’s room opens and closes and the apartment is quiet again.
Alec closes his eyes, and tries to get some sleep.
Six weeks in, Alec starts to know the new apartment.
He knows the way the floorboards outside his bedroom door creak when you tread on them; he knows the way the sun comes through the window directly at eye (blinding) level at 7.53 exactly every morning. He knows how to manage the shower temperature to avoid third degree burns and he knows that there’s no laundry on sight but if he walks to the corner of the next block over and cuts through the Main St underpass then there’s a sunny laundrette that also sells decent coffee between 9am and 4pm. He knows the woman living above them wear’s a lot of stiletto shoes and has loud fights on the phone with her mother every Thursday night, and he knows that the roof is a good place for a mug of tea and a book when the apartment starts feeling too cramped.
So Alec’s knowledge of the apartment is decent and ever growing, but he still finds it funny that despite all he knows about the house he’s living in, he still knows very little about the person he’s living with.
When Alec had first landed the room in the apartment, he’d been pretty much willing to accept anything that was bigger than closet sized and close to a subway station, so he hadn’t been particularly picky when it came to roommates. He’d been pretty happy to take the room from Jordan, because they’d known each other since they were eighteen and Alec had always found the guy to be pretty down to earth. That is, Alec trusted Jordan enough to believe that he wouldn’t have pawned him off with a shitty roommate.
Jordan been in California for an internship that was only supposed to last the summer, but had turned into a long term paid job. So when Alec arrived at the apartment, the room had been empty for a few months, and Simon had been living by himself while Jordan paid off his half of the lease from San Francisco.
“He’s a cool dude,” Jordan had told him over the phone, “Really friendly. Kinda dorky but definitely chill.”
The thing was that Alec didn’t really know very much about Simon at all. He knew that he’d graduated from NYU, majored in something to do with Music (there was a fair amount of equipment, including an acoustic guitar and an electric bass, in his room, but as far as Alec could tell, it rarely got used), that he was in the process of getting his masters and that he had a part time job somewhere in Manhattan. He knew that he talked to his sister a lot on the phone, and that they got together at least once a week for coffee. He knew that he was a vegetarian, but not vegan. He knew he had a boyfriend who worked at a hospital or something (that was if the green scrubs he’d been wearing the sole time they’d run into each other in the kitchen were anything to go by).
But really, none of this was any of his business. Roommates didn’t have to be friends, so really, it made no difference to Alec what Simon did with his life and how much of that he wanted to share. And, well, it’s not like Simon was a bad roommate. He paid his rent and utilities on time, didn’t make a mess, didn’t make much noise. He wasn’t rude, and he didn’t pry into Alec’s personal life, which he appreciated. So really, none of it was any of Alec’s business. Especially the boyfriend stuff.
It’s not any of Alec’s business when he overhears strained phone conversations through his and Simon’s shared bedroom wall (“No, Raph, I’m not-– okay, that’s not what I meant, I’m not trying- I’m sorry, please, don’t hang – Raph?”) and it’s not any of his business when they fuck and the boyfriend doesn’t stay the night.
Alec isn’t having a good day (Or a good week, or a good month; If he were more inclined to hyperbole he would say he wasn’t having a good life, but every time the thought comes to his head he can hear Izzy in the back of his brain telling him to stop being ridiculous).
It starts out with the discovery that Simon drank the last of the milk, so Alec’s forced to take his coffee black, which he hates but watery caffeine is better than no caffeine, so he decided to “grin and bear it” or something similar. Then there’s call from his mother and those haven’t ended well since his freshman year of college, so he hangs up and it’s not even midday but he’s in a shitty mood anyways; so really, the parcel is just the led lined straw that breaks the camel’s back.
It’s his day off and he’s in the shower when he hears the doorbell to their apartment ring, and Simon left for work before Alec even woke up so by the time he makes it to the front door he almost misses the postage worker. Two minutes later, once he’s signed for the parcel and actually opened it up, he’s kind of wishing he had missed him.
It’s just a generic white postage box, no note, Alec’s new address written on its corner in neat, impersonal handwriting. Inside, there’s a Bleachers CD, an old tee shirt, a worn paperback copy of Of Mice and Men, two odd socks, his high school class ring, and a snow globe from the Seattle Space Needle.
And usually Alec’s not prone to ugly outbursts but by the time he hears Simon come through the front door an hour later, the snow globe’s no more than cracked plastic and leaking glitter and water on the kitchen floor. Alec doesn’t see Simon frown at the mess on the kitchen floor because his face is still pressed against the seat of the couch, but a couple of moments pass silently before he hears the door to Simon’s bedroom open and close without a word. He can’t tell if he’s relieved or disappointed.
By the time three o clock rolls around, Alec’s started feeling guilty enough about taking up all the space in the living room with the literal blackened rain cloud living above his head to migrate into his bedroom and relinquish Simon from his own bedroom exile. It’s coming up to the end of October now, and the sun’s started setting early in the afternoon these days. Alec finds the washed out fade of an early twilight to be almost comforting in the way it’s dim, blue light hides all the details of himself, his room, his failed attempts at a life without Magnus. He falls asleep without realising.
When he wakes up, it’s to the soft click of his bedroom door closing. It’s almost 11pm, according to the glowing red numbers on his alarm clock, and his room is lit only by the orange glow of the street light outside his bedroom window. On his desk (right next to his door) is a sandwich on a plate and a mug that definitely hadn’t been there when he’d fallen asleep.
Alec investigates. Hot, milky cocoa and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s an oddly touching gesture.
He eats his sandwich in the dark and tries not to cry.
“I spoke to Mom today.”
Isabelle’s voice is grainy over the phone, always has been since she dropped her cell in the bath back in June. She keeps saying she’ll get it fixed when she has the money, but she never does.
There’s a few moments of silence, and Izzy is never this quiet, so Alec bites.
“What’s she saying?”
She’s hesitating, again, and Alec appreciates how protective she is of him but he doesn’t have the patience for this.
“It’s okay Iz,” he says, “you can tell me. I’m an adult, I can take it.” Izzy sighs,
“She keeps going on about Gideon and Sophie’s wedding.” Alec frowns.
“Wait what? What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well, when you replied to the invite you said you were bringing a plus one, so apparently they’ve got a table setting and meal set up and paid for that, but since you and Magnus....” She trails off.
“Broke up,” Alec supplies helpfully.
“Since you two broke up, apparently that, like, messes the seating chart up or something.” Alec puts his face in his hands.
“You’re kidding me.” He says, disbelieving, from between his fingers.
“I wish I was,” She tells him, and Alec believes her, “Apparently Benedict’s been giving her a hard time about it.”
Alec scowls at that, feeling the guilt bubble as he runs his hand through his hair. He’d thought he’d already dealt with the worst parts of the break up (the moving out, the loneliness, the awful parcel and its awful contents) but apparently this shit show of a split was the gift that just kept on giving.
“Don’t.” Isabelle interrupts his internal spiral.
“Don’t let yourself feel guilty for Mom’s shit with her family.”
“It’s our family too.” Alec reminds her. She huffs.
“It’s her family first. If Mom’s having problems dealing with her shitty brother than that’s her issue, not yours.”
“It is if the problems are a result of something I’ve done.”
“Alec, you don’t base your relationship status on whether or not it’s convenient for Mom, okay? You don’t owe her that.”
Alec’s not convinced, but he knows this isn’t a fight he’ll win easily.
“Yeah, okay. Alright.” He tells her, and changes the subject.
Apparently, the mould next to the kitchen window is invincible.
“I’m telling you it’s pointless,” Simon says from where he’s sitting, very unhelpfully, at the kitchen table. Alec, for his part, is kneeling on the kitchen counter, armed with a scrubbing brush, a pair of bright pink rubber gloves and a bucket of hot water and bleach. The mould remains frustratingly unaffected by his attacks, even after a full half hour of scrubbing.
“Jesus,” Alec drops the brush into the bucket in defeat and wipes the sweat from his brow. He frowns up at the mould patch again. “There’s gotta be some way of getting rid of it.” Simon shrugs.
“I’ve tried every home remedy google has to offer,” He tells him, “Been at it since I got here, and that was like a year ago. I’ve kind of accepted it as a feature of the apartment by now.”
“Aren’t you worried it’ll make us sick?” Simon just shrugs.
“I mean, it’s been there since I moved in, and I haven’t gotten sick yet.”
“That you know of.” Alec mutters under his breath, and turns to sit on the edge of the kitchen bench. He sits for a moment, thinking.
“What if we called someone? Like a mould guy?” Simon rolls his eyes.
“Yeah, I thought of that already. Last guy I had in reckoned it’s like, grown into the retaining wall or something. Say’s it’ll cost at least five hundy to replace the panel. Do you have that much money, Alec? Cos I sure as hell don’t.”
Alec frowns and thinks about his bank account. It certainly does not have five hundred dollars in it. It actually has closer to twenty six dollars, but he tries not to think about that too hard (It’s fine. He gets paid Tuesday night. It’s fine).
He hops down from the bench and casts one more mournful look up at the mould before picking up the bucket.
“Well,” he says, pouring the bleach water down the kitchen sink, “I guess that’s that.” Simon humms in agreement, and Alec hears the chair scrape against the tile as he gets up from the table.
“I guess that’s that.”
Alec likes to listen to music. He’s never been a muso, never considered himself to be any kind of music expert or enthusiast, but he knows what he likes, and what he doesn’t. Alec likes Bleachers, and the White Stripes. He likes Zoey van Goey and the Killers and Jack Johnson. Fleetwood Mac and Crowded House reminds him of his childhood and sitting in the kitchen with his mom, back when she had long hair and laugh lines and bare feet. He knows he likes Lana Del Ray and Young the Giant and Queen, the same way he knows he skips those songs when they come on shuffle because they remind him too much of Magnus.
In short, Alec likes the music he likes. He also likes listening to this music through his headphones on his commute from the city, and he likes it to be at full volume even though he knows it’s bad for his ears.
It doesn’t usually cause him any issue, until it does.
Because he doesn’t think to take of his headphones before unlocking the door to the apartment and letting himself in, and he doesn’t hear the argument going on inside. Of course he realises as soon as pulls his headphones off his head, music still blaring out the tinny speakers, that he’s interrupted something he has no business interrupting.
Simon’s standing in the living room behind the couch. He’s breathing heavy and his face is flushed like he’s angry or been running or something. His arms are crossed and he’s got a black cell phone clutched in one hand. (It’s not Simon’s phone. Simon has a gold iPhone. Alec knows this because Simon’s not particularly good at keeping track of his things, so Alec’s always finding it in random places like the vegetable crisper in the fridge and the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.)
Simon’s boyfriend (Raphael, Alec knows now,) is standing in front of him, hands clasped on Simon’s shoulders. They’ve both turned to look at Alec as he entered, and now he’s embarrassed because they’re obviously in the middle of something, and Alec’s just barged in without even considering.
“Shit,” he mumbles, and Raphael drops his hands from Simon’s shoulders, takes a step back. “I… I’m so sorry I’ll just leave-”
‘Don’t be,” Simon cuts him off and turns sharply away from Alec and the other man, headed towards his bedroom. “Raphael was just leaving anyway.”
“Simon-” Raphael tries to protest, but the door to Simon’s room slams shut. There’s a few moments where he and Alec just stand, frozen, in the living room. It’s awkward and Alec’s not really sure what to do or say. But then Raphael pushes past him, without a word, into the hallway, and Alec’s more relieved than anything.
He feels maybe like he should go and see if Simon’s okay, but he can practically feel the anger radiating through the door of Simon’s bedroom, and they aren’t really that close anyway. Instead, he turns on the TV, and tries not to think about it.
Three days later, he’s getting home from work after a late shift on a Thursday night and all he can think about is taking a shower so he barges into the bathroom (without knocking; he’s really gotta work on that), but stops when he sees what’s inside.
Simon’s sitting adjacent in the dry bathtub, his back facing the wall and knees folded up against his body. He’s still in his work clothes; his eyes are red like he’s been crying and his hairs all mussed up. There’s an empty bottle of beer in the tub next to him. It’s mostly quiet, save for the sound of the traffic coming through the cracked window, for a minute or less he and Simon just stare at each other. Another couple of moments pass before Alec shrugs of his jacket and climbs into the tub beside the other man, legs folding up to fit in the small space. Their shoulders don’t quite touch, but it’s a close thing.
“My boyfriend kicked me out,” Alec tells him, and his voice sounds loud and hollow in this room, “He broke up with me. That’s why I moved in here.” Simon turns to look at him (well, not directly at him; he seems to be focused on Alec’s hands, gripped together on top of his knees, rather than his face) but he says nothing, Alec continues.
“And like, the worst part is I can’t even be mad at him about it, you know? I fucked up. Really bad. So I don’t even blame him you know,” Alec takes a deep breath because this is the first time he’s really talked about it to anyone, “but it’s still raw. It still hurts.”
“Still hurts.” Simon echoes him in a mutter, and turns back to staring at the wall opposite them.
“I’m sorry.” Alec shrugs at that,
“You didn’t do anything.”
“I’m still sorry.” Alec shrugs again, and there’s another drawn out pause before,
“Raphael cheated on me,” Alec turns to look at Simons blank profile. Simon sniffs and runs the back of his sleeve under his nose.
“His phone rung, the other day, while he was in the bathroom and I answered it. Some guy he hooked up with, lookin for him. Then he came out of the bathroom and we had this huge fight, and God I was just so mad, you know?” Simon laughs a bit at that, but its watery and unhappy.
“And so he visits this afternoon, right, and the stupid thing is he still hadn’t apologised.” Simon shakes his head, “I would have forgiven him, I just wanted a fucking apology.” Simon’s cheeks are flushed red with anger, and Alec wants to reach out and… well, he’s not really sure what he wants to do. Simon continues.
“But then he tells me-” He cuts off, takes a shaky breath, “He says, ‘I don’t think I ever actually loved you’.”
And, yeah, Alec’s stomach drops a little at that. Cause, yeah. Ouch.
“Yeah.” Simon shrugs again. “And then he broke up with me.”
And Alec’s not really sure what to say to that, so they just sit together, in silence again. The room’s cold, that early November frost coming through the cracked window. Outside, the streetlights buzz and cars rush by on the main road. It’s a Thursday night, and it’s still New York even if it’s only the Bronx, so there’s people out on the street outside the apartment building, and the bar down the street’s blasting Pearl Jam. People move on outside the apartment, and Simon and Alec sit in the bathtub
“You ever just feel like dying?” Simon asks the wall, and Alec hums thoughtfully before answering,
“Yeah, sometimes. You gonna be okay?”
“Maybe, probably. You?” Simon reaches to pull himself up from where he’s sitting, and offers Alec his hand. Alec takes it, and pulls himself up.
“I guess. Still figuring a lot of things out.”
“Hah,” Simon nudges him with his shoulder and steps out of the bath,
“Yeah, me too.”
Chapter 2: from the years i was changed by crooked hearts
Alec and Simon go to a party and it goes about as well as you would expect
Yoooo I updated. I'm not sure what this is tbqh. It's a bit different in terms of structure than the first chapter but I think it works. Also quick thanks to everyone that left kudos, bookmarked and commented for last chapter. This is kinda my first proper multichapter fic that i've written in a few years, and getting all that feedback pretty much reminded me why I love sharing my writing in the first place.
“…so I told him, ‘don’t turn this into a rager, Will, the apartment’s not big enough for that kind of thing’, like I’m clear-as-day here, right? Not much room for interpretation, right?” Alec hums in agreement and pulls another yellowing copy of Breaking Dawn from the donation box before setting it to be sorted into the YA section. Tessa is sat at the check-out desk behind him while he goes through the mountain of donations that always show up this close to Christmas.
“So, you know what he goes and does?” She’s going to tell him no matter what he says, but for the sake of politeness and maintaining his end of the conversation-
“What does he do?”
“He goes and invites every alumni from our graduating class that’s still in the city- which, by the way, is almost all of them- plus like everyone from the gym and a whole bunch of miscellaneous.” Tessa huffs and starts messing around with the late-returns notices on the desktop computer like they need organising (they’re fine, Alec went through them in the first few hours of his shift but now he’ll have to redo them when he gets in tomorrow morning). Alec frowns at something she’s said.
“Miscellaneous?” He asks, and Tessa shrugs.
“You know Will; he picks up new friends the same way some people pick up stray cats.” She’s acting all messed up about this, like she’s annoyed, but he knows Tessa well enough to recognise the twitch of her lips as she suppresses a fond smile. There’s not much on this Earth that Will could do that she wouldn’t find at least slightly endearing.
“So,” he continues, “I guess there’s gonna be a rager at your place on Saturday.” Tessa doesn’t supress this smile.
“It should be fun. Say what you will about William, but he knows how to throw a good party.” Alec smiles down at an almost brand new copy of Eat, Pray, Love.
“Yeah,” he concedes, “you’re not wrong.”
“You should come,” Tessa tells him. He makes a face.
“Oh, hey,” Tessa admonishes, “don’t give me that look.”
“I’m not really good at parties Tess, you know this-”
“- and besides, like, no offence or anything but Will kinda happens to be close friends with my ex-boyfriend, you know, the one that hates me? And I’m not really in the mood to possibly run into him again and suffer through vivid flashbacks of what was maybe the worst confrontational experience of my entire life – so like, no offence to you guys, thanks for the opportunity to participate in an age appropriate recreational activity, but I’d really rather sit at home and make conversation with the probably toxic mould that’s taking over my kitchen.”
Alec finishes, sliding the now empty donation box to the side, ready to make room for a new one, and swivels his chair around to face Tessa. She’s considering him with both eyebrows raised and Alec doesn’t have to be a mind reader to guess how unimpressed she is by him right now.
“Okay,” she starts, “first of all, Magnus doesn’t hate you, he could never hate you. Also, when did you get so goddamn dramatic?”
“Um, ok Tess, do you remember the shit-storm that was Magnum and I’s breakup?”
“It wasn’t that bad.” She counters.
“I believe his exact words were, ‘I never want to see you again, Alec’.” He grunts, and fiddles with his thumbs.
“And I’ve always been this dramatic. It’s just usually more inwardly directed.”
Tessa frowns and scoots her chair closer to him.
“Look around us Alec,” She gestures to the library surrounding them. It’s a Tuesday night, and the place is dead save for anyone who turned up to learn how to use Microsoft Suite from Janet (who is at least 90 and has only three fingers on her left hand but can set you up to declare yourself “proficient at Excel” on your resume and not feel guilty about it).
“It’s not exactly a life of excitement and luxury here. You shouldn’t deny yourself enjoyment on the off chance you might run into your ex.”
Alec loves the library, loves the books and the people and the way the building acts as an epicentre of the community, a sanctuary and a home. But right now it’s edging on eight o clock; There’s four more piles of donation boxes to sort through (if Alec has to catalogue another copy of Fifty Shades of Grey he’s going to scream), three of the computers have decided they won’t run any other browser but internet explorer and he’s been lobbying the city for three months (with no success) to access funding to get the water fountain by the men’s restroom repaired. The harsh fluorescent of light washes the colour out the room, and the whole building feels like one big collage of peeling laminate bookshelves, forgotten library cards and dust bunnies. It’s hardly an environment to fuel a positive mentality, so Tessa may have a point.
She must see it in his face, because she presses on;
“I think Magnus is out of town right now anyway.” He huffs at that, and avoids her eyes.
“C’mon Alec, live a little.’ She nudges him with her shoulder. He sighs.
“Yeah okay. Could be fun.” She grins.
“Great! Do us a favour and bring a bag of ice?”
And yeah, that sounds about right.
Simon’s on the couch when Alec gets home, well after nine. He hangs his bag and coat on the hooks by the door and collapses into the striped, threadbare arm chair in front of the TV. There’s something about UFOs playing on Netflix, but Simon’s pretty involved with scrolling through something on his phone so Alec doesn’t feel guilty at all for changing the program without asking.
“How was work?” Simon asks him over the Brooklyn Nine-Nine opening theme. Alec shrugs though Simon’s not even looking at him so it doesn’t make much difference.
“Fine,” He tells him, “slow. How was sitting on the couch doing nothing all afternoon?”
“Great,” Simon says, “thanks for asking.” He rolls onto his stomach so he can face Alec and holds his phone out to show him something on the screen. It’s a picture of a baby hedgehog, wearing a tiny, hedgehog sized wizards hat and cloak. It’s cute. Alec smiles a bit, despite himself, and says as much to Simon, who nods in agreement.
“We should get like, ten of these. You know, for the apartment.” Alec laughs a bit at that.
“You can’t just, get a whole bunch of hedgehogs ‘for the apartment’.” He uses his fingers to imitate quotation marks for extra emphasis. “Like it’s a toaster, or, or a coffee table.”
“Sure we could. We could be like those guys with the hedgehogs. It could our thing.”
“It really couldn’t.”
“We’ll agree to disagree then.”
Alec snorts, and the conversation drops at that. There’s a few minutes where it’s pretty quiet between them and Alec watches the TV while Simon fiddles with his phone. But Alec’s seen this episode like a hundred times and his attention keeps drawing over to Simon. He was just out of bed when Alec left for work at lunchtime, and he’s still wearing the same hoodie and sweatpants combo he’d had on that morning. Maybe it’s a coincidence. Maybe in the nine or ten hours Alec was out of the apartment, Simon got changed, went out for a run, had coffee with friends, did some holiday shopping, came back home, had a shower and changed back into his sweatpants. Alec doesn’t think it’s likely, though.
He pauses Netflix.
“Hey, Simon?” He’s never been good at having any kind of serious conversation, and while he and Simon have gotten a bit closer since that whole thing in the bathtub, they’re still not exactly best friends. Although, Alec thinks, that just might make this easier.
“Hmm?” Simon doesn’t put down his phone, but a quick glance over his shoulder reveals that he’s aimlessly scrolling down his twitter feed, not stopping long enough to read anything.
“You, uh,” he starts, trying to be as non-awkward as possible (it’s tricky), “You know I’m glad you’re, uh, taking some time to yourself right now. Like I know the whole thing with Raphael sucked, like a lot and so I don’t exactly blame you for sort of, uh, shutting down a bit.” Simon’s stopped scrolling now, his shoulders tense at the mention of Raphael. He’s giving Alec a thinly concealed stink eye and Alec gets the feeling he doesn’t appreciate the unsolicited advice, but he presses on anyway.
“Look, I guess I’m just a bit worried? About you? Like, trust me, I know the whole thing with Raphael was rough, but it hardly seems fair that you’re the one sitting around moping?”
“Look who’s talking,” Simon mutters.
“Simon,” Alec deadpans, “When was the last time you left the apartment, apart from like going to work?” Simon is silent at that, and Alec continues.
“When was the last time you saw any of your friends, apart from me? Went to the movies, or out to a bar or something? Had dinner with your family? Met with your advisor?” More silence.
“Have you worked on your dissertation at all since Winter break started?” Alec’s not trying to be mean, but he’s pretty sure none of these things have happened since early November. Simon tucks his phone to his chest and rolls onto his side, facing the back of the couch.
“I reworked the headings,” he tells Alec in a small voice, and then there’s a sniffle and damnit, this wasn’t what Alec wanted. Isabelle’s always reminding him how he’s never been great at subtlety, or sensitivity.
Alec’s not sure what makes him do it but he leans forward and reaches out, running the tips of his fingers lightly through the dark brown curls at the base of Simon’s skull. His hair is very soft. Simon sighs.
“I’m sorry.” Alec tells him, and he means it.
“Well you’re right,” Simon says in a rough voice, “I know I’m pretty pathetic right now.” Alec shakes his head, even though Simon can’t see him.
“No,” he says, “I mean, I’m sorry you’re unhappy.”
Simon says nothing at that. There’s about a minute where no one says anything. Alec almost forgets that he’s still got his fingers in Simon’s hair, as bizarre as that is, until the silence is broken by the distinctly loud gurgle of Simon’s stomach.
“Did you eat today?” Alec asks, and Simon’s hesitation almost translates to embarrassment when he says, “I can’t remember.”
Alec frowns, and makes a mental note to deal with that later. But still, Alec hasn’t eaten since the microwaveable rice packet he forced down on his break at like, six, so he withdraws his fingers from Simon’s hair and heads to the kitchen.
Ten minutes later the two of them sit together on the couch finishing the episode that Alec started earlier, two mugs of hot cocoa and two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the coffee table in from of them. It’s as good a comfort food as any.
“Are you sure your friends won’t mind me coming to this thing?” Simon asks for probably the eighth time that night, watching Alec iron his shirt from where he’s sat, cross legged on the couch. Alec drags the iron across the collar for the last time before leaning down to switch it off at the wall.
“Will’s an old family friend. He won’t mind.” Alec tells Simon, slipping his arms into the white button up. “Plus, he’s invited so many people to this thing he’ll probably think he invited you himself, or he won’t notice. Either way, it’ll be fine.” He finishes buttoning up his shirt and grabs his coat from the hook behind the door. He looks up to where Simon’s still sat, looking hesitant. Maybe it’s cruel to thrust him into a social situation where he doesn’t know anyone like this, but he’s up off the couch, showered and dressed in clean clothes, and he’s wearing his contacts which means he’s put in at least some effort. Alec’s decided to count it as a win. He pulls Simon’s coat off the hook also, and tosses it to him across the living room.
“Put on your shoes,” he tells him. “It’s time to go.”
Three hours later, Alec finds himself in the living room of the townhouse in Bed-Stuy that Tessa shares with Will and Jem (the details of the relationship between the three of them is vague and unspecified by any party, but Alec figures it’s not really any of his business anyway). He’s not sure where exactly Simon is; last he’d seen him he was nodding along politely to a drunk Gabriel Lightwood perform a dramatic retelling of the time when the Lightwood summer house in Nantucket suffered a mass infestation of particularly disgusting cockroaches. Gabriel, Alec knew, was perhaps over-exaggerating; the cockroaches weren’t actually as big as his hand, and there definitely wasn’t hundreds of them.
Alec is officially supposed to be watching an arm wrestling competition between two of Will and Jem’s co-workers, both of them white dudes with huge arms and buzz cuts, but is fast losing interest. The party is fine, crowded and loud with the sound of people talking and one of Jem’s Spotify playlists, but his cup is empty and he’s bored, so he pulls himself off the couch and makes his way through the living room to the kitchen at the back of the house. Pushing his way through the throngs of people, Alec scans the room half-heartedly for someone to talk to. Tessa, Jem and Will are nowhere to be seen, despite it being their party at their house (he thinks he may have seen the three of them sneaking up the stairs together earlier in the night, but he couldn’t be sure). He spots Gabriel sitting on the dining table in front of a group of people, beer in hand, gesticulating wildly, but Alec doesn’t particularly want to hear the cockroach story again (his cousin only has so many items on his repertoire) so he continues making his way through into the kitchen.
He’s pulled out his phone, typing out a text to Tessa about where she’s got to and thinking about pulling another cider from the sink when he runs straight into someone’s shoulder.
“Shit,” Alec swears, fumbling for his phone as it slips a little from his grasp. He catches it well enough and looks up to meet eyes with no other than Ragnor-fucking-Fell, of course.
“Shit.” He says again, softer this time, inwardly directed. Ragnor, for his part, seems stunned to see him.
“Alec,” He starts, “I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
“Well, obviously not.” Alec’s going for snarky and nonchalant but his cheeks and neck feels all hot and uncomfortable, which is really ruining the effect, to be honest. Ragnor kindly doesn’t mention Alec’s apparent redness, but doesn’t seem to be looking to put him out of his misery either.
“How have you been?” It’s polite but awkward (Alec can relate).
“Uh, fine,” He replies, reaching up to rub a hand over the back of his neck, “You?”
“I suppose you haven’t spoken to Magnus recently,” Ragnor changes the subject abruptly and Alec looks down at his feet in a vain attempt to hide his discomfort.
“No, I haven’t spoken to him since I moved out.” Not for lack of trying, that is. The first few months post breakup had been filled with unanswered texts and voicemails, so many that Jace had threatened to fly over from Turkey with the express purpose of breaking his phone.
“Since you broke his heart, you mean?” Alec tenses and glares up at Ragnor, suddenly wishing he had stayed home. He’d never disliked Ragnor; he was both unwilling to filter his dialogue and intensely protective of his friends, both traits Alec could respect and admire. But right now he really just wants to tell him to shut up and keep his nose out of something that was none of his business. That, or beg him for information on Magnus’ well-being; how was he doing, if he was eating well, how the store was, anything. Instead, Alec ducks his head and pushes past Ragnor, making a beeline for the door to the courtyard.
“He’s doing fine without you!” Ragnor calls out after him, and it’s so loud in the kitchen that he almost doesn’t hear it, “He doesn’t need you anymore!”
Alec does not respond and he does not turn back. He slides open the glass doors to the outside, breathing in the cold air, a welcome contrast to the mucky humidity of inside the house. Then the sliding door is closed behind him, and the music is muffled and he can actually think and breath and-
“Hey-” Alec jumps and makes an embarrassing noise at the unexpected voice, whipping around to meet Simon, who looks only mildly concerned.
“Woah,” he says, holding his hands out, palms facing towards Alec. He’s not wearing his gloves, and there’s a half burned cigarette in one hand. Alec must have some kind of out-there expression on his face because Simon squints and frowns, cocking his head.
“Dude,” he says, “You look pale. Are you alright?”
And, to be honest, Alec’s heart is beating like crazy and the air is cooler out here but he’s still struggling to breathe properly, and Magnus hates him and all of his friends know what happened between them and what Alec did and how he’s an awful person, and he kind of feels like his world is ending so no, actually, he’s not alright. But he doesn’t exactly have the lung capacity to express all this to Simon right now so instead he just squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head, hoping that he’ll understand.
And he can’t hear anything because the startled rattling of his breathing and the sound of his pounding heart are filling up his ear drums, but he vaguely registers a hand on his elbow and his back (the weight of it is like an anchor) and suddenly he’s being guided forward and into a seated position. He curls in on himself.
He’s not sure how much time passes, a few minutes at least, but when he comes back to himself he’s hunched over on the edge of one of Tessa’s sun lounges, hands gripped so tightly on his knees that it aches to let go. There’s a warm hand on his back, and when he looks up and to the side there’s Simon sitting next to him, earnest and concerned.
“Hey,” Simon says and Alec leans back out of his hunch. His shoulders are tight and they ache like his hands did.
“Hey,” he says in reply, and his voice is still shaky which is unsurprising, but Simon moves his hand from Alec’s back so he’s guessing he must look at least a bit better.
“How do you feel?” Simon asks him.
“Um,” The reality of what just happened is coming back to him, and he feels himself flushing in humiliation. He hasn’t had a panic attack at all in almost four years, much less in front of another person. He suddenly feels ridiculous; he wants to hide. Simon is blinking at him, concerned, waiting for an answer.
“A bit,” Alec starts, “A bit embarrassed, actually. Sorry you had to see that.”
“It’s really not.”
“Alec,” Simon sighs, “Really. Are you going to be okay?” Alec nods.
“Yeah, yeah. Sorry.” Simon gives him a look at that but says nothing, instead reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out a cigarette and a lighter. He takes one out for himself and offers one to Alec, who doesn’t really smoke but takes one anyway, and lights both before scooting back into the sunlounge. Alec joins him and there’s not really enough room for two grown men on one of these things but he thinks it might work out for the better because Simon has his coat on but Alec had left his in the guest bedroom so he’s only wearing his old sweater over his shirt. The heat from Simon’s body, pressed right up next to him, might be the only thing keeping him from just freezing to death right there.
He takes a drag of the cigarette. It tastes disgusting and Alec knows he’ll have to wash these clothes three times before they smell clean again but it takes the edge off so in that moment he figures it’s worth the trade-off. Music thumps from inside the house.
“You wanna talk about it?” Simon asks. It’s a nice offer, even if it is mostly out of contextual obligation, but Alec shakes his head.
“Nah, I think I’m okay. Thanks.” Simon smiles lightly before taking a drag of his cigarette
“Anytime man.” There’s a few moments of silence, then, “Some party, huh?” Alec laughs, and Simon grins down at his feet.
“I fucking hate these things, you know.” Simon nods.
“That doesn’t surprise me. But you came?” Alec shrugs.
“Tessa said it would be fun.” And then Simon honest to God snorts and Alec giggles a bit too because here he is, coming down from a panic attack, out in the freezing cold while all his friends are having a life inside the house and Tessa herself does God-knows-what with her roommate’s upstairs.
“She’s, uh, your friend from work, yeah? With the hair?” Simon makes a motions with his hands to try and imitate Tessa’s cloud of curls and Alec grins and nods.
“Yeah, that’s her. Will and Jem are her roommates” Simon hums thoughtfully for a few moments.
“So uh, I know it’s none of my business but, are they like… a thing?”
“Are who a thing?”
“Like...” Simon seems to be fishing for the right words to use, “All three of them? Are they together?” Alec lifts himself up on his elbows and considers it. It’s not like the thought had never crossed his mind; he just didn’t like to make assumptions.
“You know,” He leans forward and stubs out the last of his cigarette in the ash tray on the floor next to the lounge, “I’m not actually sure, but, like, I kinda think so? Like I don’t know for sure, cos Tessa’s never said either of them where her boyfriend but she talks about them the same, you know? And it’s like, fond, know what I mean?” Simon is already nodding.
“Yeah, man, I get you.”
Maybe it’s the cigarette or the cider he had earlier or the closeness between them but Alec feels chatty tonight, and honestly it’s kind of nice to finally talk about these things without feeling guilty (All of his friends and family are so closely connected that with anyone else Alec would worry about it getting back to Tessa or Will or Jem; Simon barely knows any of them, and only through Alec so he doesn’t worry about that with him).
“I mean,” Alec continues, “it’s not like it bothers me you know. Like monogamy is the go-to method for most people, and I honestly think I prefer it, but like they seem happy, you know?”
“Yeah dude. Totally.” Simon is nodding again, and Alec hums in assent. Simon speaks again,
“I was once in a three-way thing. Back in college.” Alec raises his eyebrows at that.
“Can I ask, like, how does that even… happen? Like how do those kinds of things even get set up?” Simon looks thoughtful as he takes a final drag of his cigarette. Alec reaches forward and passes him the ash tray.
“Like,” Simon starts, “thing was at the time I was like, dating my best friend. Clary. And I’d been like, full on infatuated with her since we were kids you know. Did the whole silent sufferer, ‘woe is me’ friendzone thing all through high school-” Alec makes a face at that and Simon waves his hand in front of him,
“I know, I know it was awful, I was awful. I was young, what can I say man it was a long time ago. Or it feels like a long time ago, I don’t know.” He pulls out his cigarette pack again but digs around until he pulls out a hand rolled joint from the bottom of the packet.
“Wanna share this?” He asks and Alec says sure because why not.
“So anyways,” Simon continues once it’s lit and they’re passing it between them, “I’m dating Clary, and I’m like over the moon right, because I finally get to make out with this girl I’ve been crushing on for years. But then she meets George.”
“Yeah. He was a Scottish exchange student, studying history at NYU for a year. He and Clary met in an art history lecture and just like, hit it off. And so like when she first suggested it, like having George join us an all that, I was like heartbroken you know, cos I thought she was breaking up with me? But then we talked about it more, and I met George and went out with him a few times, and at some point in the middle something just clicked.” It’s Simon’s turn to take a hit, so Alec offers him the joint. Simon takes it and turns on his side to face Alec.
“And so we made it a thing. And, you know, before that I’d pretty much only been in het relationships, so this was kinda like my sexual awakening, you know? It’s how I realised I was pan.”
“Wow.” Alec remarks. Simon hums,
“Yeah.” Alec hesitates for a moment
“So like, how did things… work?” He asks, “Like, sex wise.” Normally he would feel awkward and embarrassed asking these kinds of questions but the cannabis is getting to his head now, and he feels light and floaty so he’s not as self-conscious as he usually would be. Simon doesn’t look upset or embarrassed, and considers the question for a few moments.
“I mean like, at the time pretty much everything we did was trial and error, cos I was still new to the whole sex thing in general. Honestly though itt was mostly like, George and I, together, and Clary would watch and do her own thing. She had like a kink for it. Voyeurism, you know?”
“Yeah, I get it.” And he does, but he’s not going to elaborate. Simon snorts abruptly.
“Oh shit,’ he grasps Alec’s bicep with his free hand, “Don’t tell her I told you that dude, or anyone. I mean, we’re just friends now but she’d kill me if she knew I shared that with you.” Alec nods and taps his pointer to his lips.
“Mum’s the word,” And then they’re both erupting into a fit of giggles, like kids. It’s nice being here with Simon, (he hasn’t laughed with someone like this since Jace went off to backpack through Europe and Asia), and Alec feels all warm and fuzzy on the inside.
“I’ve never slept with anyone but Magnus,” Alec tells him, because they’re sharing things tonight, apparently.
“That’s okay,” Simon says, “It’s okay to only sleep with one person if that’s what you want.” And Alec finds this validation very touching, and maybe gets a little misty eyed, so to distract himself he takes one last drag from the joint, and then that’s that so he dumps the leftover paper in the ashtray.
“It’s weird to think about, but I pretty much went straight from my parents’ house, to Magnus’s apartment. Like there was a year where I was officially living in a dorm, but even then I was pretty much moved in with Magnus and his roommate. I’ve never lived by myself, not until now.” Simon considers this.
“You live with me now.” He says and Alec shakes his head.
“No, I mean like, independently. Like I have to rely on pretty much just myself now. It’s scary, it’s brand new.” Simon nods.
“Okay, yeah. I don’t think scary always means bad though, do you?”
“I used to,” Alec tells him, earnestly, “but I think I’m starting to realise it doesn’t.”
“Well hey,” Simon holds out his hand, raised in front of him like he’s holding a glass, “Here’s to learning new things.” Alec grins, and mimics the action.
“To learning new things.”
They clink their imaginary glasses together, and Alec thinks tonight might not have been as it could have been.
They get an Uber back to the apartment, and once they’re home Simon makes what Alec swears is the best macaroni and cheese he’s ever tasted in his entire life.
(“It’s just easy-mac, dude. It’s from a packet.”
“It’s so good though Simon, honestly, you should be a chef.”)
And then they watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix, and when Alec starts to dose-off he vaguely recognises that sleeping in this position (Curled up in the arm chair, legs tucked up against his body) will mess his back up for tomorrow. But he can’t seem to bring himself to care.