Actions

Work Header

Certain Dark Things

Chapter Text

Despite the fact that the puppy has never before stepped foot outside her cage - a small, twisted thing meant for a hamster or rat - she's too terrified to move. Her tail is a wilted stub, tucked beneath her quivering legs, and when I reach my hand out to stroke the fluffy white fur around her new collar she lets out a piteous whimper.

"It's okay," I soothe, trying not to frighten her further. This isn't the first time I've had to do this. Though the thought nearly makes me sick with rage, the simple fact is that in a town like Las Vegas, where more often than not there's more booze than brains, more drugs than decency, and more greed than good sense, pets fall by the wayside. A tiny dog you can fit in your purse seems like the perfect gift for your high maintenance girlfriend who already has everything money can buy, but the fun runs out once she realizes that it's pee, not water dripping down the side of her six thousand dollar new-line Prada. Then it's to the hamster cage, or the back porch, or sometimes just to the side of the road for girl's best friend. Still, I try not to let my frustration get the better of me; dogs are particularly adept at picking up on feelings, and I don't want anything to make the shivering Maltese any worse.

I reach out and pet her head again. "Don't be afraid, girl. I'm not going to hurt you."

She remains cowered in the corner, but this time she doesn't whine. I know I need to find a better name for her than girl, but someone founds her tied to a tree on her morning jog, and she didn’t have any form of ID, so ‘girl’ it is until I get to know her a little better.

A gust of wind ruffles the grass around my cage, disrupting what little progress I've made. The puppy cowers, peeing in the corner of the already filthy cage. When I move my hand forward to try to separate her from the mess, she starts to yelp - these high, terrified sounds that are a clear signal to how she was treated before I found her.

"No, no, no," I whisper quietly, holding out a tiny treat. "I'm not going to hurt you."

She pulls away, and I can’t blame her. I remember what it feels like to view everything and everyone as a threat.

It takes most of the afternoon to get the puppy comfortable enough to let me clean what I can of the cage. I leave the top off, inviting her to step onto the grass, but that's a battle for another day, I can tell. Despite the hatred she has for the small space, leaving it is even more terrifying. She doesn't know that the world behind her grated yellow plastic is any safer, any sweeter. She doesn't know anything of beauty. She only knows the metal wire and the dusting of shavings, and the scraps of food that come at random intervals. She knows pain, but the pain is familiar, and cruel familiarity too often takes precedence over the fear of the unknown.

I get so distracted by the puppy - whom I’m thinking of calling Maggie - that I completely forget feeding time. It takes a phone call to bring me back to reality.

"Lightwood's Animal Haven," I answer without looking at the caller ID. The sound of my voice draws Maggie’s attention, but she doesn’t immediately cower; I call that progress.

"Hi, sweetheart." Jay's voice is gentle, but strained. "I'm going to be a little late for dinner tonight, so hold off on ordering anything for about an hour, okay?"

"Shit! Is it dinner time already?"

"Uh, yeah, it's nearly five, Alec. Where's your head been all afternoon?"

"I picked up a new puppy this morning - a mini-maltese. Maggie, I've named her. She's in pretty rough shape, too terrified to move."

I can hear a cluck of sympathy over the line. "That's horrible," Jay says. "Anyway, I'm just about to go into a meeting, so I'll see you in an hour or so, okay?"

"'Kay, love you."

"Love you too."

It's a good thing that Jay has an extra meeting, because it takes me over an hour to get around to everyone. Six new cats have come in this week, two of which need special formulas. The birds need their water changed, and there are a number of lizards that need their daily dose of lacewings. All I do for Bertha, the python, is make sure that her tank is the proper temperature - she ate this morning and is still snoozing. I whiz through my compound, throwing treats and scratching heads and filling bowls until everyone's been taken care of. I take special care to put Maggie in a room by herself, just a tiny television buzzing in the background, because I'm not sure how she'll handle any company right now. I give her a tiny blanket and an extra treat before I leave, hoping that it'll help my case when I bring her back outside before bed.

When I finally make it back to the house to shower, I'm tackled by my own personal menagerie. Kipling and Hector are beyond excited, all wagging tails and slobbery licks, snuffling along my pants to discover what they can about the visitors in the compound.

"Hey boys," I coo. I'm glad Jay isn't home to witness this reunion – he thinks I coddle the dogs too much as it is. I don’t know what I’m going to do when he stops spending so many nights at the office and I have to kick them off the foot of our bed.

They’re falling all over each other in their enthusiasm and if Kipling’s gigantic muzzle hitting me the pocket is any indication, they have an express purpose. I stop, and clumsy Hector actually flops onto the ground before I can talk. I wait until they’re both sitting patiently before asking about the treat.

The word is barely out of my mouth before they both take off for the door. Kipling runs in long bounds, with his tongue hanging from the side of his mouth in a dopey grin, and Hector scurries along as fast as his three tiny legs will take him. Sometimes I wonder how much of a nuisance the little beagle would be if he hadn't lost a limb; he'd definitely be impossible to catch.

"Okay boys, sit," I command, wanting to keep my fingers when I give them these treats. They obey immediately, Kipling plopping down with enough force to make the chairs shudder, and Hector looking regal with one paw in the air. I throw the treats in the air, and they're caught with ease. Knowing that they're not going to get another, no matter how adorable their puppy eyes, the two friends trot over to a sunny splash of hardwood and settle down for a nap.

I wish I was so lucky, but unfortunately I need to get in and out of the shower before Jay gets back. I make a quick call to the nearest Thai takeout and dash to the bathroom, hoping that I can get cleaned up in less than five minutes.

No such luck. I'm just rinsing the shampoo from my hair when I hear the bathroom door creak open. I poke my head out through the curtains just in time to see Jay sneaking in.

"Didn't your mother ever teach you not to sneak up on people when they're naked?" I tease, holding the curtain for him to join me.

"On the contrary, my mother taught me to exploit any weakness," he answers, pulling me in for a hug.

"I don't doubt it," I reply, pulling away to rinse out the rest of the shampoo. Jay's mother is the District Attorney for the state of New York and the most terrifying woman I've ever met. She was an heiress from one of the wealthiest families in the country, but instead of squandering her money and her time, she worked hard to become one of the most powerful women in the city. She could probably have me killed, if it ever came to that. Jay tries to tell me that my own Mother - CEO of the Lightwood Corporation - is equally frightening, but I don't buy it. Plus, Jay, being a lawyer himself, is used to being scrutinized, while I would rather just rest in the shadows.

Jay takes the bottle of body wash from the shower stall and squirts some down my back. The cool gel makes me shiver, but soon his strong hands are kneading it into my back, and my groan echoes loudly.

"That good?" Jay teases, knowing that it'll make me blush.

"I had a hard day," I reply. He tries to snake a hand around my waist, but I’m not really interested. The delivery guy will be here soon, and I’m not in the mood to get all worked up.

He takes the hint and returns to the massage. "Yeah, did you get a lot of work done?" His tone is mild, but I can tell that the answer means a lot to him.

"Uhh…I was really busy."

Jay’s hands stop and his voice is a little sharper now. "With what?"

"The new puppy," I start, but he cuts me off.

"There's always a new puppy, or a rabbit, or a bird, or something," he says. "I promised Maureen you would have the pages to her by the end of the month.

"I know," I say, instantly guilty. I think of the empty comic panels sitting in my room. I can vividly imagine what Jay would think if he knew that the ten pages I told him I’d written last week were still as frustratingly blank as ever. "It's just she was so afraid, and I didn't want to leave her alone."

"I just think -"

Thankfully, the ringing of the doorbell cuts off whatever Jay thinks. The food is here.

"I'll get it," he says, pushing his golden curls behind his ears and stepping out of the shower.

I watch him cover his lower half with a towel, rivulets of water running down his muscled chest. He walks away without even asking for a kiss, but it doesn't matter. The moment has passed.

We eat in comfortable silence, picking our favorite pieces out of each other's trays, sharing a single glass of water. Jay pauses every few minutes to try to shoo the dogs away, not noticing that I'm slipping them slivers of chicken out of the palm of my hand. When the meal is over and the boxes thrown away, Jay takes an envelope out of his bag and hands it to me.

I flip it over, but there's no writing on it. "What's this? My birthday's not for another week."

"Just open it." He grins, and any trace of his previous annoyance is already forgotten.

I pull out the stiff piece of cardboard to find a message outlaid in Scarlett calligraphy. It's a birthday invitation. I'm being invited to my own birthday.

"Uh -"

"Before you even start to worry, it's not going to be a big event," Jay says. He knows how much I hate crowds, but he looks so excited at the idea that I let him press on. "Twenty people, tops. And guess who's going to be there?"

The smile can only mean one thing. "Jace and Izzy?"

"Yes! The whole gang is flying out from New York. Simon, Clary, everyone - it's going to be an amazing night. I've rented out the entire Vivandi – there will be champagne service, a craps table, the whole deal."

My smile disappears. The Vivandi is a hotel that caters specifically to the upper echelons. I’ve never been, but I can only imagine what it takes for an establishment to become the “It” destination for young celebrities. I heard on the radio when I was driving out to pick up Maggie that some famous Pop Singer had just celebrated his birthday there, which made it pretty much the last place I would want to have my own celebration.

"The strip, Jay? We're spending my birthday on the Strip – a place you know I can’t stand? Half the animals that end up here are a product of the idiocy that goes on there."

Jay sidles up to me and holds his hand over mine. I have to consciously work at not pulling it away. "Alec,” he says, completely earnest. “We're not going to any of the shows, and I promise we won't see a single animal. No performances, no nothing. Plus, we can bring the van, which means that you can ever find a few more strays to take home. We always make plans to fly back and see Jace and Izzy, and you always end up cancelling at the last minute. I just want your twenty-fifth to be memorable."

And this is why you should never date a lawyer; Jay is impossible to argue with. Everything, from his look, to his body language, to his carefully chosen words, is tailored to win arguments. Even if I wasn’t the least confrontational person on the planet, I’d still never be able to win. "I remember all the birthdays I've spent with you," I mumble. "I just wanted this one to be us. To have some alone time."

"We live alone, Alec. It'll be fun to get out with your friends."

I want to say no. I want to tell him to call the Vivandi and call the whole thing off, but I can't. He's gone through so much trouble arranging this and he looks so damn excited that I can't bring myself to say no.

"You promise about the animals?"

Jay smiles, knowing he's won. "Promise."

"Okay, I'll do it."

"I knew you would!" He takes my face in his hands and kisses me, long and deep and slow. I try to summon the warmth I usually feel, but it's not there. I suppose I just need some time to adjust to these birthday plans.

Jay doesn't notice anything. He just hugs me and then runs off to make calls, to book tickets and let everyone know that I've said yes.

Chapter Text

The next week is like something out of Dr. Who, a time warp with me being paradoxically and simultaneously propelled forward and pulled back from Saturday night. I feel like a hapless companion, lost and frustrated, only without getting to go on adventures and meet cool historical figures to compensate. I know that it's the combination of anxiety about the birthday itself and anticipation about getting to provide a home for the four kittens I’ve tracked down over the past few days that's making me feel like the equivalent of space tumbleweed, but since there’s nothing I can do to push either of them out of my mind, I eventually surrender. I throw myself into getting the house ready for my siblings’ arrival and the barn ready for its new occupants.

Jay, who knows what a big deal it is for me to see my brother and sister, wisely keeps his mouth shut about the graphic novel I’m supposed to be working on.

When the big day finally arrives, I spend most of the morning fielding calls from Jace and Izzy, trying to coordinate their respective arrivals from New York and Alaska, where they've both been hard at work for the company. The CEO herself gives me a call to inform me that she's "much too old to be gallivanting around Las Vegas like a showgirl" and that she'll Skype me on my actual birthday so that she can see me open my present. My dad is trying to broker a deal in Hong Kong and doesn't manage anything more than a short email, but even that's more than I expect.
It's late afternoon, but still far ahead of schedule by everyday standards, when Jay's Lexus pulls into the driveway. I'm out on the lawn with a still-skeptical Maggie, trying to convince her that running after a frayed tennis ball and bringing it back to me is a worthwhile activity. She's not buying it though, and prefers to sniff around my pockets for spare treats and gnaw a little on the zipper of my hoodie. She's barely recognizable as the same timid creature cowering in the corner of her hamster cage, but she still trembles as she hears Jay's car door slam shut. I scoop her up into my arms and hold my finger to my lips to warn Jay to stay quiet while I bring her back to her kennel.

When I get back out to the car, Jay has unloaded three bags from the trunk, and I cautiously and unsubtly check out the labels. Clothes. Urgh. I can't stop my nose from wrinkling at the sight.

"Don't give me that look," Jay laughs, swinging the bags toward my ass as I make my way to the house. "You can't very well show up at the party covered in rabbit fur and dog drool.

"It's my party, I should be able to show up in whatever I want." I try to pout, but Jay leans in to kiss me and I end up laughing in his face instead. "It's not too horrible, is it?"

Jay looks affronted at the very suggestion. He looks like a GQ model himself – like Jace, he has golden curls and a broad-shouldered physique, but unlike my brother he has bright blue eyes and a soft face that betrays adorable dimples when he smiles.

He's at least a hundred times more attractive than me, with my stringy black hair and tattered sweaters, and sometimes I still feel amazed that he even gives me the time of day. His clothes, of course, match his appearance, and he's never less than impeccably dressed. He's already agonized over what to wear to the party, not wanting to look "too formal", a phrase that practically made me break out in a cold sweat the night before, and has settled on a Gucci suit that, in my opinion, is a quantum fucking leap away from the business casual suggested on the birthday invitations.

He thrusts a plain black bag toward me with a giddy look on his face. How someone can get so excited about clothes I'll never understand. "Open this one first."

I remove the pieces of tissue paper slowly, wishing that opening presents didn't feel like the equivalent of standing in front of your math class naked and feeling about as prepared to solve the equation in front of you as you are to dance the lead in Swan Lake. I try to avoid eye contact, but Jay is so excited he's nearly shivering with it, and pushes me down into a kitchen chair before settling in the one opposite. When I actually get to what's inside, I'm surprised to find a thin black t-shirt. I'm sure Jay can see the befuddlement on my face, because he actually giggles. He's a twenty-seven-year-old bloodsucking corporate lawyer who chews people up and spits out their charred remains every day before coffee break and he giggles like a child.

I unfold the t-shirt, and there, staring up at me is a perfectly pressed photo-manip of Kipling dressed as Batman. I grin, genuinely surprised and delighted, and immediately started to shuck my dirty work-clothes so that I can put it on.

"Achhhkk!" Jay leans across the table and yanks the t-shirt out of my hands. "Come on, Alec, you're like a breeding ground for ebola right now. You need to shower before you get ready for the party.”

"That's what you got me to wear to the party?"

Jay grins and pulls a blazer and a pair of grey slacks out of the other bag. "It's your birthday and you can wear whatever the hell you want," he says, and then pulls me in for a kiss. "Now let's get you cleaned up."

The limo arrives at seven as Jay is giving my hair a parting ruffle, and as I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror I smile a little, satisfied for once with the finished product.

Jace and Izzy are already at the hotel and I get so annoyed with their texts about who missed me more and who I'm supposed to greet first that I just throw my phone in the bottom of the satchel that's already holding my iPad and official Haven documents that have been all drawn up for the next morning. Jay has made sure that the limo is well stocked with tequila; this grand entrance will be a lot less painful for me once I've had a few shots.

A few shots turns into seven plus a bottle of cold champagne, and by the time the car pulls up in front of the Bellagio, I'm drunk enough to enjoy the massive choreographed fountains without any snide remarks. I actually pull Jay toward them and force the limo driver to snap our picture, such is my state of mind. The alcohol has made me feel light and bubbly, like the weight of the past few weeks has just floated away. I look at Jay through the hazy mist of the fountain, at the way the colours of the strip light up his pale face and I feel a twinge of guilt. He looks so happy, so carefree, and so beautiful, and I have no idea why that's making me feel instantly gutted.

I close my eyes for a mind, trying to shake the strange feeling, when I hear a high pitched squeal, and turn around to find myself being charged by two excited siblings.

Izzy reaches me first, catapulting herself into my arms with a triumphant, "told you I missed you the most."

"I never had any doubts," I whisper as I hug her tightly.

"Well if it isn't my doppleganger," Jace announces over the sound of my reunion with Izzy. "You're looking particularly gorgeous tonight, Jay."

And Jace hasn't changed a bit – if he can't win, he can at least bring everybody's attention back to how gorgeous he is. I actually took a lot of shit for his undeniable resemblance to Jay in the early stages of our relationship. My near obsessive crush on my adopted brother had (thankfully) fizzled out by then and everyone was comfortable enough with the joke that it took months of agonizing embarrassment for me to hear the end of it.

I sling an arm over his shoulder in greeting and then Izzy squirms in between us and we make our entrance into the hotel together. Three Lightwoods, reunited. My heart squeezes with the thought. I never seem to feel the full extent of their absence until we're all back together.

A few drinks later and I'm starting to think that Izzy and Jay have the right idea with this whole party thing. The alcohol has loosened me enough to make the rounds through the sixty (not twenty) guests that Jay has invited, though getting away from Izzy for more than thirty seconds at a time proves impossible. Unfortunately, that means also being dragged out onto the dance floor for more than one loud, incomprehensible song. From the way she shrieks along and bops around to the music, you would never mistake Isabelle from someone who could have had a long and lucrative career with the American Ballet had she not chosen to work as a test pilot and Chief Executive Officer for the Lightwood Corporation. Still, there's an undercurrent of grace to her movements that manages to seep through despite the platform heels and tequila shots. Isabelle, like Jace, was born to be admired. Most of the time I wonder how I'm not the adopted one.

It's after midnight by the time I lose Jace and Izzy to a roulette drinking game and manage to find Jay locked in conversation with one of his colleagues.

"Always working," I tease, wrapping my arms around him from behind.

"The Lightwoods have finally relinquished their hold, have they?" He scans the room for her silver dress, but she's lost in the sea of bodies crowding the roulette table.

"Only because there were Jell-O shots involved."

"Mm, priorities." Jay grins. "Speaking of, do you think you should get some sleep soon? You've committed to an early start."

Now that he's mentioned sleep I find myself yawning. My happy buzz is fading into a syrupy thick stupor. "You're right. Can I have the room key, or are you coming?"

"I think I'll wait a while longer," he says with another grin. He slips the key into my hand and walks me toward the elevator and ushers me inside. Jace whoops as he watches us move over to the elevator, but I pretend not to see him.

"Have fun," Jay says with a wink, pushing me into the velvet seat. I'm too tired to even wonder what he means.

The ride to the presidential suite seems to take forever, and by the time I get to the door I feel so dazed that it takes me a couple of tries to get the key card to activate. When the lights finally flash green I'm ready to do any number of disreputable things in exchange for a glass of water. I stumble over to the mini fridge, and almost pee myself when a low, smooth voice says, "well hello there, gorgeous."

As it stands, I do drop my half-opened bottle of water on the floor and find myself wet-socked, standing in front of the most gorgeous man I've ever seen. He's tall – just a little shorter than my own 6'2 – and thin, with smooth brown skin that's dusted with what looks like a sheen of glitter, eyes that are almost shockingly green in the light of the suite, and an artfully maintained layer of stubble that covers his sharp jawline.

Suddenly wide-awake, I force my eyes down to the floor to find that he's not wearing any pants. Just boxers, a prep school inspired blazer, and an open pink shirt that gives a full view of his smoothly defined chest.

Maybe I'm hallucinating. I hope I'm hallucinating.

"I-I think maybe I'm hallucinating," I say, sounding idiotic even to my drunken ears.

The man doesn't say anything, merely lifts a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. The gesture alone is enough to make my mouth dry.

As if I hadn't embarrassed myself enough, I gulp audibly. "Or maybe I've got the wrong room…"

The man grins, slowly, and I feel a warmth that has nothing to do with alcohol spreading up from my abdomen.

"Are you Alexander Lightwood?" he asks.

"Uh." I shuffle backward, finally realizing that my feet are wet. "I am he. I mean, he is me." I want the floor to open up and swallow me whole. Or to have another shot. I peel off my socks, realizing halfway through that this is possibly the least sexy position I have ever been in. I straighten and try to regain some semblance of dignity. "Yes," I say, a little too loudly. "I'm Alexander Lightwood."

"Excellent," he all but purrs. "My name is Magnus Bane, and I have a birthday present for you."

Chapter Text

The gorgeous man – Magnus – steps toward me, and I have no idea how to react, so, as I do whenever I get uncomfortable, I say the first thing that's on my mind. "It's not my birthday."

A small smirk is the only indication he's even heard what I've said. I try my best not to stare, but Christ, the guy moves like a panther, fluid and graceful. Just, fuck. I didn't think it was possible to get turned on by the simple act of walking, but I guess I was wrong.

"Happy Hanukkah, then," he says, moving closer. With each step he takes forward, I find myself edging back, until I'm pressed against the wall. He closes the final few feet between us and reaches his arm out to box me in. I start to speak, but he presses a finger gently against my lips. I try my best not to shiver from the touch. "Let me guess, not Jewish?"

I shake my head, unwilling to test my voice.

"But it is your birthday party?" Magnus draws out his words, and I can hear the hint of a smile behind each one. Whatever the reason he's here, it's clear he's enjoying this exchange.

I nod and wish he would just move a little farther away. Being this close to him is making me dizzy, and as the self-induced oxygen deprivation increases, my ability to form a comprehensible sentence plummets.

"Excellent." He grins, and his whole body is animated by the action. He finally backs away and I let out a small sigh. His eyebrows twitch and I get the distinct impression that he's trying his best not to laugh.

"Excellent…why?" I ask, torn between being mortified and impressed that that actually just left my mouth.

Magnus bends over to pick something up from a purple bag that's lying on the floor and I steadfastly try to ignore the fact that his ass is on perfect display. "Why?" he asks as he draws himself up slowly. "Because, Alexander, as I said, I have a birthday present for you."

He presses a button on a small remote he must have fished from his bag, and the suite is filled with a slow beat. His hips sway in perfect time and I finally realize what the hell Jay was so smug about before he shoved me in the elevator – why Jace had been yelling as I made my way up to my room.

Magnus Bane is a stripper.

Obviously. I feel like an idiot. His name is Magnus Bane, he looks like he was plucked straight out of a wet-dream, and moves like sex personified. Of course he's a stripper.

A stripper. In my room.

Magnus is a stripper and I've just spent the last five minutes panting after him like a rabid hyena. He must think I'm an idiot.

The white-hot burn of mortification blazes through my body and I barely notice that Magnus has led me over to the bed, only to take position right in front of it. It takes me a good three seconds to realize that he's placed my hands around his hips so that they're hugging his ass. I snap to life so quickly that my surprise sends me falling to my back, and I see Magnus bite back another laugh.

"That's not very professional," I slur while crossing my arms.

His face closes off immediately as he realizes his slip, and the sexy nonchalance is back. "What's not professional, kitten?"

"You're laughing at me."

Magnus does chuckle at that – a low, throaty sound that has no ring of truth to it that makes me want his real grin back. But his breath is warm against my skin and there's a sheen of sweat and glitter lining his neck that's incredibly distracting. I have the ridiculous urge to lick him, so I push myself further back on the bed.

Magnus seems pleased with the change in position. "That's it," he says, stepping back to allow me to admire him. "Just relax and enjoy."

I pick up a pillow and bury my face in it, trying to stifle a groan of frustration. JAY. IS GOING. TO DIE. Absorbed in his role, Magnus ignores my outburst and starts slowly peeling back the sleeves of his blazer. The shirt underneath lifts with the movement, giving me a full view of his purple sequined underwear and a hint of the sculpted abs hiding under the layers. I can feel the flush moving down my body and I know I have never been so embarrassed.

I try to get up from the bed without giving away the fact that I'm massively turned on (by the world's sexiest stripper! Who is in my room! And was deposited there by my psychopath boyfriend!), which obviously means that I end up in a heap on the floor, my bare feet sticking up in the air.

"Alexander!" Magnus scrambles to shut the music off and help me to my feet. Our noses are almost touching as he gets down to examine my head, and I get a chance to appreciate his face as it hovers close to mine. His eyes actually are that green, now that I can see them close-up, and currently full of concern.

"I'm fine," I mutter as straighten up. "Unfortunately, no permanent brain damage." Magnus's lips twitch again, but instead of calling him on it, I just smile back.

"I guess that means the show's over?"

"Sorry." I shrug, drawing the fabric of my blazer down around my fingers and wishing it was my threadbare hoodie. "It's just not really my thing."

Magnus raises an eyebrow and gestures to his body. "Not your thing?" he repeats, obviously skeptical.

"Well, I mean, that's my thing," I splutter without realizing how bad that sounds. "I mean, guys are my thing. Or guy are my thing. Is my thing. I have a guy, and he is my thing."

Magnus bursts into laughter and it's unlike any sound that I've heard from him so far: loud, high-pitched, and completely without pretense. I have an instant and overwhelming desire to make him laugh again.

"I have a boyfriend," I say after a deep breath. "And I guess this was his idea of a surprise present."

"Well, you can't deny that you were surprised," Magnus says. He picks up a pair of yoga pants and starts to stick one leg in. "Do you mind?"

I want to tell him to never put pants on again. "Go for it," I say instead.

He picks up his bag and arranges it neatly across his shoulders. "Thanks for the entertainment, Alexander," he says as he starts to walk toward the door. "Totally worth the loss of cash."

"Wait." I don't know what makes me call out – feeling guilty about messing up his job, I tell myself firmly – but I do know that I don't want him to leave. "Don't go. How long were you supposed to be up here?"

He checks his watch. "Another hour and fourteen minutes."

Jesus, what the hell had he planned to do? I kick that thought out of my mind before I start to visualize. "Then stay for an hour," I say, shrugging out of my blazer so that I can change into something a little more comfortable.

He looks down at the discarded piece of clothing. "Uh, not that I'm not flattered, but that's not usually how it –"

"We'll play chess," I interrupt, blushing at his implication. "I mean, if you like chess?"

He hesitates for the first time since I entered the room, but eventually removes the bag from over his shoulders. "You are not what I was expecting, Alexander Lightwood," he answers.

I smile. "I'll take that as a yes."

Once I find my hoodie and clean up the spilled water, I settle in at the elegant chessboard that's been set up in the corner of the room. Magnus brings over a glass of water, and places it on the table in front of me.

"Thank you," I say, surprised at the gesture.

"Hey, I like my opponents to be sober when I crush them into the ground," he answers with a wink.

I can't really think of anything funny or witty to say in return, so I just stare down at the board. "Black or white?"

"White seems more your color," he says in the same sultry voice he'd adopted when I first entered the room.

I take a sip of water to avoid providing him with the reaction I know he's expecting, and move my pawn forward.

"The Queen's Gambit?" Magnus asks, forcing my eyes back to him. "A fan of what's old and reliable, are we Alexander?"

Honestly, I'm just copying Jace's preferred first move. I'm not even that good at chess. Why did I do this? Should I move the pawn back? Fuck, fuck, fuck, this was a bad idea. Magnus is looking at me like he expects an answer, so I have no choice but to speak up.

"Are you some kind of chess savant?"

He laughs again – another genuine laugh – and it completely erases my unease. I want to know this Magnus. Sincere Magnus.

"I've been called a lot of different S words," Magnus says, fingering his own pawn lightly. "But never with this many clothes on."

"Ha, ha," I reply, scowling at him over the rim of glass. "I'm serious, if I'm going up some kind of chess champion, I want to know so I can get another drink. I want to be properly shitfaced."

"Not a good loser?" Magnus asks, seeming genuinely interested.

"Nah, I'm a great loser. I have a younger brother who's infuriatingly good at everything he does, so I never really had a choice. But it is my birthday party, if you haven't forgotten, and it's just bad manners to embarrass someone at their own birthday party. At least when they're sober enough to remember it."

"You have nothing to fear," Magnus says, finally moving one of his pawns. "Much like yourself, I have an infuriating genius who's always hanging around." He smiles fondly, and I feel a pulse of jealousy. It’s unexpected and completely ridiculous.

"Sibling?" I try not to sound too hopeful.

"Best friend, actually. We've been together since junior high school and he moved out here with me from New York last year. All the fancy terms are his – I just use them to show off at other people's birthday parties."

"You must be a real hit."

"Oh, Alexander," Magnus says, leaning forward. "You really have no idea."

I am unsure and unable to deal with a Magnus Bane is who is quite possibly, actually, seriously flirting with me. I push my chair out and scramble for something to do. Food. Everyone likes food. "Uh, are you hungry? I'm starving all of a sudden. Let's go to the vending machine."

Magnus looks puzzled, probably because my words come out so quickly they sound like Klingon, but he slowly pushes his chair out too. "Sure," he says, reaching for his bag. "I'm pretty sure I have some change in here."

"No, grab my wallet." I insist. "It's right there on the table behind you."

"The rich never have change," Magnus says, jangling his bag next to his ears. "You of all people should know that."

"I –"

"If the next words out of your mouth are 'am not rich' then you can zip it before I throw something at your face. This room costs more than my month's rent."

I wonder what he’d think if he knew we had the entire hotel for the night – probably that I was an asshole, because that’s how I feel. "I was going to say that you of all people should know better than to propagate unfair stereotypes, actually." I debate trying to raise my own eyebrow, but decide against it. Best to keep the only upper hand I've had all night.

"Touché," Magnus says, a slow smile spreading across his face. It's not unlike the one he had when talking about his best friend.

"So, just grab the five dollar bill out of my wallet," I say, pretending to be preoccupied with the mini fridge.

Magnus gives me a salute. "Right-oh, Captain Lightwood."

I lean over to grab the door key from where I dropped it on my way in, when I hear a tiny squeal from Magnus's vicinity.

“Alexander, is this you?" he asks, thrusting a piece of paper in my face.

The paper is old and worn and so delicate that my whole body seizes when I see the way that Magnus is holding it. I know every bend of that paper, the origin of every wrinkle. It's more familiar than the back of my hand.

"Please, put that back," I manage to choke out. My head has started to spin again, and it has nothing to do with the alcohol. My chest feels tight and it's hard to breathe.

Magnus either doesn't notice or thinks that this is the same brand of bashful self-deprecation to which he's been privy all night.

"So the love affair with Batman has been a life-long thing, huh? And let me say, you were a fucking adorable kid. Really love the glasses."

He holds the picture up and I see Max's face staring at me, just like it does every time I open my wallet. His gangly limbs, messy hair, and oversized glasses provide a stark contrast to his Batman costume. I sketched it as a present for his tenth birthday. He would have loved it.

He died six days too soon to get it.

"Magnus, just put it back, please," I bite out, grasping inside the fridge for another bottle of water.

"Alexander, are you okay?" He reaches out toward me and the paper crackles as he flexes his hand.

"Magnus, put it back in the damn wallet, now!" I slump against the wall, remembering my deep breathing exercises.

Magnus doesn't question me again, and hastily tucks the picture back in my wallet. Then, instead of walking out like I expect, he kneels in front of me. "Alexander, what should I do? Are you having an asthma attack? Should I call 911?"

I shake my head. I just need to calm down. I need some space.

"Just need to be alone," I force out. "Please."

"I – I don't want to leave you here alone." Magnus looks helpless, and I get the distinct impression that it is an unfamiliar sensation.

"Should I send someone up?"

"Jay will be here soon," I say. My breathing is starting to even out, but I feel icy cold. The shaking will soon start and the last thing I want is for Magnus to watch me falling apart. "Just go," I repeat. "I'll be fine."

He looks skeptical, but he leaves. When he does I slide my fingers across the floor to grab my abandoned wallet. I remove the sketch gingerly and smooth out the newest wrinkles. Then I tuck it away carefully before any more harm can come to it and await Jay's return.

--

By the time Jay arrives I've calmed down some, but I still haven't changed positions. I'm in the middle of my seventh game of chess against my smartphone as he walks through the door and almost trips up over my prostrate form.

"Alec?" he says, clearly thrown. "What are you doing down there?"

"Relaxing," I croak. I haven't spoken since Magnus left the room, and the harsh breaths combined with the pain of trying to hold in my emotions have rubbed my throat raw.

Jay falls to his knees and draws me close to him. "What happened?"

"Flashback," I reply numbly, letting my head slump forward with no regard for where it lands.

Jay hugs tighter. "The fire?"

I shake my head. "Just, memories, really. No re-experiencing. It's fine, really."

Jay pushes me back gently and cups his hand under my chin. "It's not fine, Alec. It's serious. This is the first time in what – months? Emma is on the sixth floor if you want me to bring her up? I could go if you wanted, kip out in her room for a bit. Or you could just call her – I've written her room number down somewhere."

"I don't want to drag your sister up here for no reason, Jay. Let's just get some sleep."

"You know that despite our relationship, she was still the first person to help you. It’s still okay to want to talk to her sometimes. She'd be up here in a heartbeat if she knew you were upset."

I did know. There was a time when Emma was the only person in the world I could talk to. When I couldn’t open up to my friends or my family, Emma was there. She'd spent most of her second year as a psychiatry resident assigned to my case, and I owe her so much.

Still, right now I just want to be alone.

"It's fine, really. It was an accident. Magnus –"

"Magnus?" Jay interrupts with a groan. "Shit, I forgot about the stripper. Fuck, I should never have sent him up here. I should have known that you would hate it. It was a stupid joke. I saw an ad on the tourism website when I was planning the party and thought he was kind of hot, so I booked him on a whim. Jace and Izzy thought it was hilarious."

I bite my tongue as an unexpected flare of annoyance trickles up at Jay referring to Magnus as "the stripper". I mean, yeah, he did hire him to dance around without his clothes on, but after listening to him talk about his roommate, hearing him laugh, watching him agonize over whether or not to leave me here alone, it feels colossally unfair to reduce him down to nothing more than what he chooses to do for a living. Still, there's no way Jay can know any of this, so I bite back my irritation.

"I sent him downstairs," I say, the lie flowing off my tongue smoothly. "Told him I was sorry and tipped him for his trouble."

Jay helps me to my feet and leads me over to the bed. He quickly tugs my t-shirt up over my head and draws back the blankets.

"That was the stupidest idea I've ever had," he says, shucking his own clothes and sliding between the Egyptian cotton sheets. "Can you forgive me?"

I think of Magnus's eyes, the way his hips swayed to the music, the dusting of glitter along his collarbone. "Of course," I murmur, even though I can't quite shake the feeling that I'm the one who needs forgiving.

Chapter Text

I wake up before the alarm with Jay draped across me like some kind of comfort-deprived octopus. My head feels like a washcloth that's been dipped in arsenic and then hung to dry, and the sour, stale booze taste in my mouth needs to be eradicated. Immediately.

I extricate myself from Jay's vice grip, and swallow the bile that rises when I claw my way out of bed. Thankfully there's a bottle of orange juice in the mini-fridge, which I use to wash down a couple of aspirin. I walk to the adjoining office wing of the suite and call down for room service without disturbing Jay. Then I take a quick shower and get dressed before the food shows up.

I'm halfway through my first waffle when Jay finally joins me. He collapses in his chair in a heap, and smells about as good as I felt an hour ago. "Waffle?" I ask, shoving my fork at his face.

"Never want food again," he says, picking up a glass and pressing it to his forehead. "Definitely never want tequila again." He raises his eyes and looks so much like a kicked puppy that I can't hold back a grin. "You're just like your sister," he huffs. "Pure evil."

"Tequila roulette?"

"Tequila pong," he corrects.

I cluck with sympathy, even though I could tell Jay that he should know better than to compete in a drinking game against Isabelle.

The girl has the alcohol tolerance of a bear and is as ruthless as a jackal. If only she could see Jay now, she'd be gleeful. In reality, I should be annoyed. If I know anything about her, Isabelle probably bated Jay into Tequila pong, and whatever other insanity she'd gotten up to last night; she'd never really gotten over the fact that he'd pulled me away from New York. Hangovers from hell were really her only form of retaliation.

"I think you should take some aspirin and then go back to bed," I say. "I've arranged for a car and going to get the kittens shouldn't take any more than an hour or two."

Jay looks torn. "Are you sure you're up to going alone?"

I lean over to kiss his hair. "Positive. Now get back to bed."

"I love you," he sighs into the table. "You're the best."

I slip into my shoes and grab my satchel so that I can throw the spare room key inside. "Just try to remember that when one of the kittens pees in your shoes tomorrow, okay?"

I hear a quiet moan as I shut the door behind me.

Picking up the first three kittens goes smoothly. All three owners are sad to see them go, but there are no arguments, tears, or threats of calling Animal Protective Services, so I couldn't be happier. The only stop that remains is Josh Fell’s apartment to get a kitten that hasn't been eating. It's the most important stop of the morning, and the only one which my driver has a great deal of difficulty locating. We wind further and further away from the city center, and the neat, hip apartments change slowly into dilapidated buildings and street corners filled with ripped open bags of garbage and abandoned boxes. I see a couple of children – too thin, and hair uncombed, flying behind them as they run circles around each other – but no parents. When we finally reach the apartment, I wonder how there can be anyone living in there. The windows have been blackened by time, and the number over the door simply reads "1 2", the middle two digits having long rusted and fallen away.

When I walk up to open the door the children in the road scatter and the early-morning silence is eerie. I knock quickly, hoping to get in and out of there as soon as possible.

"Coming!" a voice yells from the other side. I hear the twisting and knocking of various locks, and the door opens to reveal a short, slender boy with bright green eyes and blonde hair that's streaked with purple. He doesn't look a day older than sixteen.

I poke my finger through the thumbhole of my hoodie.

"Josh?" I ask, praying to God that I have the right house.

"You must be Alec!" He smiles and gestures for me to come inside. "Sorry about the mess," he says, kicking spare clothes out of the way as we make our way to the kitchen. "My roommate is the world's biggest slob." He gestures for me to take a seat in the kitchen, next to an extremely attractive guy in a Vegas Storm jersey.

"Alec, this is my boyfriend, Tyler Rose. Tyler, this is Alec. He's here for Chairman Meow." After the introduction he pads out of the kitchen, presumably to look for the kitten.

Tyler sticks out his hand. "Nice to meet you," he says through a mouthful of cheerios.

I decide that I would pay good money to look as flawless as Tyler does with his mouth full of cereal.

"Likewise." I look around the kitchen, wishing that Josh would come back. I'm pretty sure that Bamboo torture is less painful than forced small talk. "Your parents big Doctor Who fans?"

"Hey, that's what I said!" Josh pops back into the kitchen to grab a cat ball from under one of the chairs. "He didn't get it then, but he gets it now!" He disappears once again, jingling the bell to try to lure the kitten out of its hiding spot, leaving Tyler to smile wistfully after him.

Unsure of how proceed, I quickly excuse myself from the table and follow the sound of the bell straight to the living room. "Is he the only animal in the house?" I ask, getting to my knees to look under the sofa.

"Sometimes I wonder," Josh mutters as he pulls a dirty undershirt and a crumpled chip bag from under a reclining chair. I fiddle with an antique chess set that doesn't match the general squalor of the rest of the house and watch Josh hop on and off the furniture, searching in vain.

After coming up empty he walks down the hallway, and I leave the chess set behind to trail along awkwardly behind him, debating internally about whether or not to bring up Dr. Who for a second time. Just as I'm about to open my mouth to ask his thoughts on the twelfth doctor, he bangs loudly on the only door in the house that's still closed.

"Mags," he shouts as he rattles the doorknob. "Mags, open the door, the pet-guy is here to get the Chairman Meow."

"Fuck off, Josh," a voice calls from the other side. "Sleeping."

"You have ten seconds to open this door, or I'm getting Tyler in here to beat it down!" He turns around to grin at me, and I find myself grinning back. Josh is kind of adorable in a spastic, nerdy sort of way.

"All right, bossy, I'm coming."

Josh drums his fingers against the wall. "And put some boxers on, the pet-guy is right here!"

"Demands, demands," Josh's roommate grumbles through the door. I hear something crash to the floor, but Josh seems unperturbed, so I suppose this, along with pantlessness, is a regular occurrence.

Another few seconds pass in silence and Josh leans in to pound on the door again when it's suddenly pulled open. Josh stumbles a little, but manages to right himself before he can fall into his roommate.

"What's the big – Alexander?" Josh's roommate takes a step out of the dark room and into the brightly lit hallway, and his features come into view. His long, lean torso, currently covered in nothing but a smattering of last night's glitter; his green eyes, even brighter in the natural light streaming in through one of the cracked windows; and his bright blue boxers, covered in little pictures of the Tardis.

"Magnus, what the hell are you doing wearing my underwear?" Josh explodes, forgetting all about the reason we've gotten him out of bed in his boxer-induced outrage.

I stand there, rooted to the spot and unable to speak.

Josh's roommate is Magnus Bane.

Chapter Text

It takes me a couple of seconds to come back to my senses. When I do, Magnus is defending himself against Josh's onslaught.

"I told you, they were the closest pair I could find, and I thought you were going to come charging through the door."

Josh looks livid. He's a hundred and thirty pounds of quivering rage. "They were a birthday present, Magnus," he grinds out. "And now they'll have to be bleached."

"Don't be such a drama queen," Magnus retorts, crossing his arms smugly. "At least they're getting some action."

Josh flushes and it travels all the way down past his chest. "Tyler's back from the road now, so they'll get all the action they want, Magnus. They don't need any help from your toxic dick!"

Magnus opens his mouth to say something back, but I clear my throat uncomfortably, praying to God that it will make them stop talking.

It does.

It seems that in the heat of their argument, they have both forgotten that I'm here. Magnus leans against the wall and gives me a slow smile, lowering his eyelids as the smirk unfolds across his face. "Don't believe anything he says, Alexander. I assure you, my dick is a thing of beauty."

"Jesus Christ, Magnus," Josh groans, moving himself in front of me. "Don't harass Alec…Wait." He whips around to face me.

"Your name is Alexander?" His head snaps back to Magnus and I can practically see the pieces coming together. "Like, the Alexander. Chess Alexander?" The look on my face must give him the answer he's looking for, because he bursts into laughter. "I feel like I could hug you!"

Thankfully, he refrains.

"I should at least buy you a present or something." Josh continues to babble to Magnus's rather obvious annoyance. "You have no idea what a favor you've done everyone else at the club. Magnus is insufferable. Crowd favorite and all that. Then he gets hired to do a private show at the President's suite of the freaking Vivaldi and everyone's dying with jealousy, and the guy – you! – sits him down for a game of chess. It's seriously the best story I've ever heard."

I can feel myself blushing now, both for Magnus and myself. I certainly hadn't meant to humiliate him. "Uh, you're welcome? Does this mean that you guys, uh, work together?"

"It does." Josh waves his fingers with and exaggerated flourish, and almost topples over again.

Magnus snorts. "Believe it or not," he drawls, "some people actually find his incompetence endearing."

Josh doesn't look the least upset by Magnus's comment. Instead, his face lights up with an impish grin. "Meet Ragnor Fell," he says dramatically. "The adorable university student who's a demon in the sac. He just needs someone older and more experienced to bring it out." He winks at me and it's a lighthearted, teasing thing – nothing like the smoldering looks I was getting from Magnus last night. It makes sense I suppose; you obviously need performers who will cater to different tastes. And Josh certainly does fit the innocent and corruptible bill, unlike Magnus. One look at him and you just know that he can do things you've probably never even heard of before.

Not that I've been wondering.

"So are you?" I ask.

"A sex demon?" Magnus snorts. "Only if we're counting D&D."

"A university student," I clarify, wanting to save this from devolving into another shouting match. Josh and Magnus seem a lot like Jace and Izzy: they want to kill each other almost as much as they love each other.

"Working on my PhD in Aerospace engineering," Josh says with a grin.

Magnus was right – Josh must be a genius. "PhD? You're an aerospace engineer? And -" I hesitate, unsure of how to phrase my sentence without seeming rude or judgmental. It's just an odd combination.

"A stripper?" Josh fills in. He doesn't look irritated, which is a good thing. "Gotta pay the bills somehow. And the student loans, they're a real bitch. Just ask Magnus, he's –"

"Bored," Magnus interrupts smoothly. "And tired. So could we get back on task, hm?" Another eyebrow raise and instantly I feel just as I did last night: horny, slightly uncomfortable, and completely out of my depth.

"Right. I'm here for the kitten?" I peer toward the bedroom, but Magnus's body is blocking whatever's inside.

"Yeah, is Chairman Meow in your room?" Josh asks. "I told you to leave him out last night, that someone would be here to pick him up."

"Sorry, must have been too drunk to remember." Magnus says, turning so that his back is to us. "I'll just get him for you." He kicks the door open and the light slices a path through the cluttered room, illuminating a smattering of black hair spread out against a canary yellow pillow.

"Oops, forgot I had company," Magnus says, not sounding the least bit apologetic.

"Magnus Bane, the only guy who can forget that he has a naked dude spread-eagle in his bed," Josh mutters under his breath.

Magnus taps his finger against Josh's nose. "Watch out Joshie, your jealous is showing."

"My heart, it burns with envy," Josh deadpans. "Where's Chairman Meow?"

"I think he's still in bed," Magnus says. "Like any decent person."

"Please tell me you did not have sex with the cat in the bed." Josh groans and turns around to face me. "I promise, Alec, I tried my best. I tried to keep him away from the cat."

"Chairman Meow loves me," Magnus says, a little sharply. "And I didn't even let him in the room until Jake here had fallen asleep." Magnus snaps his finger at the man sprawled across the bed. I sneak a little peak from behind Magnus's shoulder and I'm surprised to find, as he blinks his eyes open, that the guy looks pretty familiar. He has bright blue eyes and sharp cheekbones and his black hair is just long enough to fall in his eyes. He looks a lot like me. Alarmed at the way my heart stutters at that thought, I push it away hard and fast.

"Jake, darling," Magnus says, sounding a little annoyed that the guy hasn't moved an inch even with the three of us standing right here. I wonder if I should leave until he gets up. "We've a missing kitten problem, so I'm going to need you to clear out."

If the guy is surprised to look up and see two extra people staring down at him, he doesn't show it. "My name's Jordan, darling," he answers in a soft, southern drawl. "Although Jake is closer than what you were calling me last night."

Magnus snaps his finger again, impatiently. "Too late for apologies," he says breezily. He points toward the door. "If you'd be so kind?"

He slides out of bed, stark naked, and I quickly look away while Josh lets out another exasperated sigh. I wonder how often this happens when Magnus is your best friend. Probably all the time, my unhelpful mind fills in. I keep my eyes fastened tightly on the wall as Jordan gets dressed. Before he parts he gives Magnus a final, lingering kiss. "Bye, sugar," he calls, not sounding the least bit upset that he's been kicked out without so much as a cup of coffee.

"Au revoir, Jake," Magnus says, most definitely on purpose. He then walks straight over to a pull out closet and picks a slumbering ball of orange fluff out of a cocoon of blankets. "Good morning, Chairman," he whispers as he snuggles into the kitten.

"You're unbelievable! Unbelievable!" Josh rants as he holds his arms out for the kitten. "You just used us as an excuse to get rid of Jordan!"

Magnus refuses to hand over the kitten, instead cuddling him in close to his chest with one hand as he bats Josh's arms away with the other. I think my heart may melt. "You'd be surprised at how whiney they can be when there's no one around to see it. It would have taken me an hour to get rid of him without you two here." He grins and sets the kitten on his shoulder. "So thanks."

Josh looks capable of murder. "Oh, you're very welcome, your majesty. So happy to be of service. Where did you even pick that guy up, at the bar? I keep telling you to stop bringing people you don't know back to the apartment. It's creepy and dangerous."

"Sorry, mom. And for your information, I picked him up in the lobby, sitting at a chessboard. Apparently he's a big chess fan, fell for all my lines." He winks at me and then struts out of the room, the kitten settled on his shoulder like a fluffy orange parrot.

"I'm sorry about Magnus," Josh says before we follow along. "I know he seems like an ass, but I think he's really going to miss the Chairman."

"Did he come up with the name?" I ask, not wanting to think about the way Magnus with a kitten in his arms is making my legs feel like I just finished running a marathon.

"Yeah, it’s always been his go-to name, whenever we talked about adopting a cat."

"I like it," I say, trailing after Josh as he goes to cut Magnus off in the kitchen. It’s sweet.”

Josh sighs as he watches Magnus walk aimlessly around the house. “He is really upset by this. I mean, we'd keep him ourselves if we could, but despite the fact that this is practically a barn, the landlord says no pets, and we can't afford to get thrown out."

My heart aches at the thought of Magnus setting up a little bed in his closet for Chairman Meow, knowing that he would have to send him away in the morning. I walk back into the kitchen and when Magnus finally reappears, murmuring into the kitten's soft fur, something twinges uncomfortably in my chest. Josh bounces over to sit in Tyler's lap, nibbling on a piece of croissant that's lying on the table next to the empty cereal bowl. I walk quietly up to Magnus and tap him on the shoulder.

"Do you want to come help me get him ready?" I ask. There's really nothing to it, just settling him into his little crate with some food and a toy or two, but the process often helps make people feel better.

Magnus nods and walks with me toward the door. While I wait for him to find his shoes, I bend over a little to pet Chairman Meow.

At the attention he purrs and nuzzles even closer into Magnus's neck.

Magnus reaches up so that he can cradle him in his arms. "At least he likes you," he says quietly. "He doesn't seem to like anyone else."

"I'll make sure he's okay," I promise, holding my arms out for Magnus to transfer him over. "Is there anything you'd like to send back with him?"

Magnus thinks for a couple of seconds and then runs back into the hallway. He comes out a minute later with a worn t-shirt with Kiss me, Hardy scrawled across the front. "Can he take this?" Magnus asked, wringing the t-shirt between his hands.

I reach out and take the shirt, wrapping it around the Chairman. He burrows in, content, and immediately closes his eyes. Magnus opens the door and presses his hand against my back gently, so that I leave before him. He walks me to the car, and opens the door so that I can remove my final kennel. He opens the small wire door and presses his face into the tiny orange kitten's fur one last time before I deposit him inside.

Then, before I can climb into the car and be off, he pulls my arm gently. I close the door and look up, puzzled.

"Are you okay?" Magnus asks, even though I'm fairly sure that I should be the one asking him the question.

"About last night? Yeah, I'm fine. I'm sorry that you had to see that."

"I don't mind." He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a small rectangular square: a business card. On the front is a picture of him lying on a bed, shirtless, ready to unzip his jeans. I swallow and flip the card over quickly, and find that there's an email on the back.

"It's my work email," he confesses. "But if you could just send me a line about how the Chairman is settling in? I – it would mean a lot."

"Sure, Magnus," I say, tucking the paper into my wallet. "I'll do that."

Most clients have the same sentiment, but I always redirect them to my website. I often post pictures and anecdotes about the animals to try to connect them with a proper family. I don't know why I just don't tell Magnus the same thing. Because he's so upset about the kitten, I tell myself. That's all this is.

"Well," I say, scuffing the sole of my sneaker on the cracked pavement in front of Magnus's door. "I'll be in touch, then. Let you know how he's doing."

Magnus smiles and then leans in to quickly brush his lips against my cheek. I edge back, and bump into the door of the car unexpectedly. He grins, and turns back toward the house. "Thank you, Alexander," he says as I'm shutting the door.

The driver is working on a crossword puzzle as a buckle myself in.

"Sorry for the wait," I say as he starts the car back up.

"No trouble," he answers. "Barrier up, Sir?"

"Please," I say, and as soon as I'm blocked from view I turn around and watch Magnus, who's sitting on the ground throwing a pebble up and catching it, over and over, as we drive away.

Chapter Text

It’s been a week and Chairman Meow still hasn't settled into his new home. He hates the other cats in the kitty enclosure and has been despondent since he left Josh and Magnus's house. He refuses to move from Magnus's t-shirt and the only way to keep him happy is through constant attention, so despite my misgivings I decide to bring him into the house.

There are several problems with letting the shelter animals spend time in the house: first of all, the extremely skittish ones are often wary of other animals, so I spend most of my time trying to separate them from Kipling and Hector; secondly, being in constant contact makes me even more attached, and it's impossible for me to keep every single animal I rescue; and finally, Jay had been gracious enough to let two hyperactive lugs lounge all over his furniture and destroy countless pairs of expensive shoes, and I'm not sure that bringing a third animal inside is fair. Still, Chairman Meow has been losing weight despite the fact that there's precious little to spare, and I really have no other choice. So when Jay leaves for work on Tuesday, the day after my actual birthday, I bring him in and try to get him acquainted with the boys of the house.

Hector is immediately entranced. He prances around Chairman Meow, who seems quite baffled by the attention from such a funny creature, and sits patiently when the kitten rubs up against him to see if he's comfortable enough for naps. When it's apparently determined that he is not, Chairman Meow wriggles away and refuses to pay any further attention to him until he finally gets the message and slinks back into the rec-room to gnaw on his rawhide. Kipling's reaction comes as a surprise. Unusually skittish for a Great Dane, it takes Kipling ages to warm up to anybody. It was a full month before he would acquiesce to Jay petting him without immediately starting, and he refused to sleep in the same room as Hector until they'd been acquainted for weeks.

He takes to Chairman Meow in all of thirty seconds. After giving him a perfunctory sniff, he flops ungracefully to his side (rattling the bowl full of water I'd just placed down) and allows the kitten to use him as his own personal jungle gym. Chairman Meow seems delighted to crawl over Kipling's broad expanse, and purrs appreciatively when I bring him over a treat. The two continue to get to know each other while I work through the backlog of paperwork I have for the Haven, and when Kipling jumps up on the sofa for his afternoon nap, threading his hind legs through his front ones like some sort of contortionist, Chairman Meow leaps up and snuggles into his neck just like he had with Magnus, and falls into a deep slumber for the first time since his arrival.

I still haven't been able to write Magnus. I did give Josh the address to the website, so it's possible he could have checked up on Chairman Meow 's progress there. I just finished uploading an adorable picture of him climbing on Kipling's head that I'm sure Magnus would like.

I'm not even really sure why he gave me his card in the first place. He had just asked about how I was feeling, so maybe he had been feeling sorry for me. Maybe he thought I wasn’t going to take good care of the kitten. Maybe I need to stop overanalyzing every conversation I ever have.

Maybe I should have directed him to the Haven’s website.

And then there's that. Why hadn't I just directed him to the website? I mean, yeah, Magnus is hot. It's basically a job requirement for him. He's hot for a living. Professionally hot. If I had never seen him in his house, hair sleep-tousled and eyes heavy with fatigue, I could have probably pretended that it was just all makeup and good lighting.

It isn't.

But still, I've seen plenty of hot guys. When we were first dating and before he knew much about me, Jay had been really into the club scene and I had tagged along out of a sense of fledgling-relationship obligation to try to involve myself in the things he liked. There had been hundreds – thousands – of hot guys there. I hadn't had a second thought about any of them. Jay and I have been together for three years now, and I had never, not once, felt myself drawn to someone else.

Not until Magnus Bane.

Which is ridiculous. I've met him twice, and the first time he was paid to take his clothes off for me. Which I messed up so badly he became a laughing stock at work.

I'm hopeless and any attempt at contact is going to be a fumbling, humiliating repeat of Saturday night, so I take Magnus's business card and toss it into the garbage. It's neither healthy nor fair to spend so much time thinking about someone who isn't my boyfriend. Jay has been through so much with me – he deserves more. He’s been working a lot, and I’m sure that once things settle down we’ll get back into our groove. I just need to try not to be a selfish ass in the meantime.

I take a few seconds to find Josh's original email and send him a message about how Chairman Meow is doing with my adorable photo attached, knowing that he’ll be sure to show it to Magnus. Then I turn off my laptop and go out to tend to the animals.

Jay doesn't get home until after nine, and he doesn't even notice the furry little kitten dozing on the sofa next to Kipling until he almost sits on him.

I hear his surprised shout and Chairman Meow's yowl from the office perch where I've been spending the past four hours playing an endless, rage-inducing game of Battletoads. I’d wandered into the library an hour ago, hoping I could have some actual sketches to talk to Jay about, but it was hopeless. The drive just wasn’t there. It would probably never be there, as much as Jay tried to suggest otherwise.

By the time I get to the living room, Chairman Meow has camped out under the couch and Jay is down on his hands and knees, trying to coax him out of hiding.

"I didn't see him!" Jay says frantically as he tries to push his arm further under the sofa. Kipling whines from above as I drop down beside Jay.

"Come here, Chairman Meow," I call softly. I take a little ball like the one Josh used the other day and roll it back and forth over the carpet. "Come on out, it's okay."

I can see him quivering in a tiny ball, and know the only solution is to wait him out. Either that or dismantle the sectional and pry him out of there, but that will probably do him more harm than good.

"Let's leave him," I say, pulling on Jay's sleeve. "He'll come out when he's ready."

Jay still looks a little torn up, but he leaves the room without argument.

"So how was work?" I ask, flopping on the bed at Jay changes out of his work clothes.

"Things are starting to get heavy," he admits as he loosens his tie. "I'm really sorry, but we could be looking at a lot of nights like this one in the next couple of months."

"That sucks." Who knows, maybe the time apart is just what I need. Maybe a couple of months of anxiously awaiting Jay's return will help get me out of this funk.

"Yeah, it does. But look at it this way, you'll have lots of time to work on the pages you owe Maureen." He looks over his shoulder as he shimmies out of his pants.

"Um, sure," I mutter, not wanting to rehash the old fight. Honestly, I don’t really have a rebuttal to any of his arguments – I’m twenty-five, a social recluse, and I spend most of my day fooling around with pets or playing video games. Running the Haven is the only worthwhile thing I do, and that’s with inheritance money that I didn’t help accumulate. "You still have this weekend off, right?"

"Yup. Emma would kill us if we missed the bachelorette party." He folds his clothes neatly and then disappears into the ensuite bathroom to finish up his post-work routine.

"Yeah, she would." I take my iPad out of the bedside drawer and start tapping on the case. "Do you think you'd be up for a day trip on Sunday?"

Jay pops his head out, toothbrush in his mouth. "A day trip where?"

"Uh, San Diego."

"Mephrgepo?" he says, and then runs off to spit. "San Diego? That's an awfully long day trip."

"Well, the San Diego Zoo called earlier. They said they had an opening in their reptile house and they finally have room for Bertha. Isn't that awesome?"

"You want to take the last weekend we're going to spend together for months and spend half of it driving a python to California?"

"I figured we could stay in the same hotel we stayed in for Comic Con our first summer out here. We could go get frozen yogurt at that place?"

"That place?" Jay sits on the bed beside me and looks down. "You don't even remember what it's called." He leans down as if for a kiss, but then just collapses on his pillow. He looks tired, and I know he’d probably just like to spend the weekend in bed.

"We could look it up. It would be nice to go together. Don't you remember how happy we were there?"

"Yeah, it was a good trip," he concedes. "But it's our last full day together. I'd be happier here on the couch with you and Kip and Hector. Our little family." He snuggles into my side, his hand creeping down my stomach.

"Yeah," I say, unable to muster up the same enthusiasm, and feeling guilty that I even wanted to go on the trip in the first place. "Yeah, that sounds great."

I don’t know if it’s my tone or the topic or if he’s just too tired, but Jay withdraws his hands and turns over to go to sleep.

--

Things with Jay remain strained for the next couple of days, but I refuse to let the weird vibe interfere with this weekend. Emma's not getting married for a couple of months, but since she doesn't want "hangover face" at her wedding and this is the only time all of her bridesmaids (and myself and Jay) are free, we have no choice in the matter. Now, the idea of running around the strip, shrieking and shooting liquor and hopping from crowded casino to crowded dance bar sounds absolutely fucking horrible. It sounds worse than twelve straight hours of the home and garden channel, which Jay insists on watching when he's sick. It sounds like a worse idea than Matrix Revolutions. But it's Emma, and that settles it. There's very little I wouldn't do for Jay's sister. My inability to say no to Emma Grayson was the reason I met Jay in the first place.

And so it happens that I find myself drunk, dressed in leather pants, more bracelets than I can count, and eyeliner, shouting along incoherently to a Spice Girl's song. Jay's over at the bar letting the Maid of Honor do a shot off his stomach, and one of the Bridesmaids has already had to call it quits after throwing up Singapore Slings all over a sketchy dude at bar number five who asked her if it had hurt when she fell from heaven. Emma still has two – nope, make it one as she actually convinces the guy dancing next to us to let her scrawl her name across his ass in the middle of the dance floor – item left on her Bachelorette Scavenger Hunt, and she has ordered that no one else can be excused until we've seen it to completion.

Once the final notes of Wannabe fade away Emma takes my hand and pulls me over to the bar, where her brother is hauling his t-shirt back down over his abs.

"Alec, you lucky bastard," Lacey, the Maid of Honor says with a smirk. "I could lick those abs all night."

"Arghhh!" Emma wails, holding her hands over her ears. "That's my baby brother you're talking about!"

"Sorry Lacey," Jay says with the dopey smile that becomes a permanent fixture whenever he's drunk. "I'm taken." He pulls me over and kisses me, deep and sloppy, and I laugh into his mouth when I hear Emma making gagging noises behind me.

"Okay, loverboys," she says, pulling us away from each other. "No one is allowed to get action if the bride-to-be isn't getting action. From this moment forward, there shall be no more kissing!"

Jay locks eyes with me over Emma's head and we rush her at the same time, planting slobbery kisses on either cheek. She dissolves into giggles while Lacey snaps pictures and calls out for the other bridesmaids to join us.

"All right guys, what have we got left?" she asks as she pretends to wipe spit from her cheeks with the crook of her arm.

Becky, the designated list-holder, is pregnant and can't drink, so she's been in charge of making sure that Emma completes all of her objectives without getting thrown out of any bars or dragged off to jail. The fact that we've made it so far is a testament to her prodigious skill, because we've basically been every bouncer's worse nightmare since we completed the 'shot for every guy the bride had dated before meeting Mr. Right.' Pretty sure Emma made that rule up herself so that we'd be too trashed to protest anything that came after.

"Last item on the list is to get a lap dance to the song lapdance by N.E.R.D."

The girls let out huge whoops of excitement and we're all dragged out onto the street to find the best place for our grand finale.

Two streets over we find a bar called Sin City, which Emma declares "fucking perfect" before sprinting inside faster than should be humanly possible for any woman wearing stilettos.

"Bachelorette party?" the bored doorman asks as he takes our cover and stamps our hands. "Which of you is the Bride-to-be?" His face remains impassive through the shrieks and wild gestures from everyone in the party, and I feel a little bad for him, if this is what he has to put up with every night. I’m sure he’d almost rather have to break up a bar fight than stand here and deal with people who are too drunk to even count out their cover charge.

Emma presents herself and allows the doorman to lower a gaudy white veil over her head, which she wears through the doors proudly. As she walks in to order another drink, Becky stays behind and slips some cash from the designated Bachelorette Fund to the doorman to ensure that Emma doesn't have to go home with an item not checked off her list.

By the time Jay and I file in, Emma has somehow weaseled her way into getting the best table in the place, and is sitting right in front of the stage, looking regal in her white party dress and gauzy veil. There's a dancer on stage who's down to nothing but a neon g-string and the girls are going crazy. Emma is hollering at the top of her lungs and Carrie, one of the younger girls, has started throwing balled up money at the dancer.

Perhaps it's because I'm so drunk, or maybe it's because I've been trying so hard to push our encounter out of my mind, that I don't even think about Magnus until I see a flash of green hair through the crowd. I mean, there must be a hundred strip clubs to choose from, what are the chances that we'll end up in Magnus's? Disoriented, I walk up to the bar to get a drink. I order a rum and coke and take a healthy gulp before turning around and bumping right into Josh, who's the embodiment of his schoolboy-ready-to-be-defiled persona.

Fuck.

"Alec?" Josh says, sounding as surprised as I'm sure I look. "What are you doing here?"

"Bachelorette party," I shout over the sound of the music.

Josh glances over at Emma's table immediately. "That bachelorette party?" he asks, eyes wide.

"That bachelorette party," I confirm.

"I – I've gotta go," he spits and then takes off toward the stage. When he gets about halfway the lights are cut and the whole club is cast into silence for the span of a second. Then, louder than before, a song cuts in.

Lapdance.

A spotlight descends on Emma, whose face is lit up with excitement. Slowly, the lights on the periphery of the club blink to life, steadily closing inward. They finally reach the stage, and standing in the center in nothing but the smallest pair of boxers I've ever seen and looking like sex incarnate, is Magnus. He starts to strut toward Emma's seat, eyes locked on hers and looking like he would love nothing more than to devour her whole. The whole club is focused on him and only him, and there's no one there who doesn't wish to be the one who gets to accompany him to the stage.
Emma, never one to leave anyone out, refuses to be led away unless her full party is involved.

"Alec," she hollers over the din, "get the hell over here. I'm getting a lap dance!"

Magnus smiles and wraps his arms easily around her neck. He whispers something in her ear and she tips her head back to laugh. Then she points across the room until Magnus's eyes lock onto mine. I freeze, and I swear I can see a similar reaction in him. Before I can try to decipher what that means, Emma has been drawn up onto the stage and the club erupts into cheers. A chair is procured seemingly out of nowhere, and Emma is pushed down while Magnus gives the audience an excellent view of his, um, assets.

When I slide back in my chair, Jay practically falls into me with excitement. "Alec," he yells over the music. "That's your stripper. The one from your birthday!"

"Yeah," I say, ignoring the squeals of excitement from the rest of the party and biting back my annoyance at the way Jay says your stripper, like that's all there is to Magnus. As if he belongs to me – or anyone in this club.

"God, what I would give to have him for a birthday present," says Carrie.

"He's hot, that's for sure," Jay says, squeezing my thigh under the table as if in apology. He pulls his wallet out of his pocket and throws a couple of twenties at each of the girls and then turns to me. "The doorman said to get the whole party up on stage," he says with a grin. "A grand finale of sorts."

So we're supposed to get up there, on stage. With Magnus. To grope and throw money at him. I think about all these people's hands on him. Jay's hands. My hands. My mind keeps flashing back to the way he looked standing in the doorway of his bedroom, glitter on his neck and leaning against the wall, and I think I'm going to be sick.

"I've got to go to the bathroom," I blurt out, and charge away as quickly as possible. I hear Jay tell the girls something about stage fright as I make my escape, and as soon as I close the bathroom door behind me, I hear the crowd erupt in cheers.

I splash some water on my face and adjust the bracelets on my left wrist until they're perfectly smooth and covering the skin. Then I pull out my phone and wait until the song is over to make my way back to the table.

By the time I'm walking back across the bar, Emma's back in her chair with shots at every seat. I look around to make sure that Magnus is out of sight, and I don't catch a glimpse of him anywhere. Josh too is missing and the regular dancers are back on stage and scattered around the tables. Emma's face is shimmering with glitter, which I know must have come from Magnus. I feel a little queasy again.

It only takes another drink before we convince Emma that it's a good idea to leave the bar. I let Jay escort everyone to the car while I wait behind to pay the drink tab. I'm just signing off on the credit card when I feel someone brush up against me.

"Gin and tonic, Garrett," says a familiar sultry voice.

The bartender grunts and thrusts the drink at Magnus.

"Hello Alexander," he says, bending a little closer so that I can hear him. "Long time no see."

"I – I had no idea that you worked here, or I would never have come," I blurt, crumpling the bill and shoving it in my pocket.

If anything, Magnus looks a little hurt by the admission, but the display of emotion is fleeting. He downs the drink in one gulp and runs his finger along my bare arm. "You owe me an email, gorgeous," he says before turning on his heel and disappearing once more into the crowd.

I stand there for several minutes, my arm feeling as though it's on fire, before I realize he's not coming back. Then I hurry out of the bar and slide into the limousine between my boyfriend and his sister, who, after my own siblings, are my best friends in the world. I slide back into my life, which has no room for MagnusBane and whatever game he's playing. I slide back into myself, too scared to admit the pull of green eyes and a collarbone dusted with glitter.

Chapter Text

Jay and I end up spending most of Sunday recovering from the Bachelorette party and swearing off alcohol forever. The trip to California becomes irrelevant as we rock paper scissors to decide which one of us has to walk as far as the kitchen to get a glass of water. I come up short and end up almost throwing up on Kipling's head as he trots along beside me, occasionally bumping into my knees in a good natured attempt to try to get me to play. Never before have I been so tempted to just fall over on his back and let him drag me around the house like a pack mule. To make matters worse, thunder starts rumbling just before noon, which sends both dogs bounding into our room for comfort.

Sharing a bed with a hungover boyfriend, a relentlessly yappy three-legged Beagle who loses his balance every time there's a clap of thunder, and one hundred and eighty pounds of quivering Great Dane is no one's idea of a good time. Jay's plans for a romantic final evening together before his big case crash and burn like the second season of Heroes; the closest thing to romance that happens all day is when Hector belly flops over my chest and ends up licking Jay in the eye.

Our happy little family indeed.

Fortunately, the nausea and eye-exploding headache do provide me with a welcome respite: a day free of thinking about Magnus.

Of course, once Jay leaves for work on Monday with the expectation of not being home until after I've already gone to bed, I'm left with nothing but my thoughts for company. I pass the morning hard at work with the animals, taking the time to clean each cage individually even though it's not due to be done for another week at least. Then I cut the grass. Then I put in a mass-pet food order online. All day I search for things to do until I end up once again curled up in my office, Kipling and Chairman Meow lazing on the floor in front of me and Hector dozing on my lap, playing Battletoads.

Fucking Battletoads. Throwing the controller across the room in frustration provides five second intervals of Magnus-free time, but as soon as I settle back down and my eyes shift from the screen to Kip and Meow, who are making a pillow out of Magnus's t-shirt, I'm seized by the urge to see him again.

It's been two days and I haven't had the courage to do so much as open my email. I keep telling myself that if I haven't actually used the computer, I'm not ignoring my promise send him an update.

Frankly, the idea of contacting Magnus is terrifying.

Almost as terrifying as the idea of never speaking to him again.

I've spent most of the day internally rationalizing my reasons for not yet getting in contact. I've been through everything from the wild impropriety of the whole situation to the gut-clenching horror of sending him something just to never hear back. I've come up with so many excuses that I could practically teach a class in Avoidance 101. Midterm exam: how to effectively use video games to ensure you never actually have to face your problems. Bonus marks for an alphabetized list of ways your pets could function as more productive members of society than you.

After accepting that there is a finite amount of time a grown man can expend getting flattened into little toad pancakes by dungeon-daddy sumo-wrestling pigs as a means of avoiding his life, I decide to take charge. I've rescued Magnus's card from my garbage can and it's resting on the corner of my desk, waiting. It's just one little email, after all. I'll write something nice about Chairman Meow, send him one of the pictures of the little guy curled up in his t-shirt and then politely refer him to the Haven's website. Easy. I've been through self-help classes. I've graduated from a trauma workshop. I can write a fucking email.

Unwilling to disrupt Hector's nap, I pull out my phone and just boot up my account from there. As the page starts loading, my panic transforms instantly to guilt. There are over thirty unanswered emails from the past three days. Over thirty people wanting information about the poor animals crowded into my back yard have been ignored because of my selfish immaturity. I'm so –

Screwed. So colossally, monumentally, screwed. There's no way that I'm going to be able to send Magnus a short, succinct, business-like email. Not now. Because sitting there, amidst the puppy inquiries and bills for kitty-litter, is an email from Magnus, dated the morning of the Bachelorette party – maybe two hours after we’d talked. He must have taken the address from Josh with the assumption that I would continue to ignore him. Horrible, predictable Alec, ignoring concerned pet owners since 2014.

In my flailing surprise I end up catapulting Hector from my lap and right into Kipling and Chairman Meow. The three of them turn around and I actually put a pillow in front of my face rather than look them in the eyes.

I'm fearing judgment from house pets and going into spasms over what may or may not be a perfectly civil and appropriate email. I need to be medicated.

Still, realizing that your behaviors are irrational is the first step of healing. Coping with them rationally…that's the problem. I've never been the best at executing my plans. With my heart pounding and my sweating fingers leaving tiny smudges on my phone's screen, I open the message.

Alexander,
I realize that my actions at Sin tonight were inappropriate, as was the kiss last week. I do hope that my brash conduct is the reason that you've been avoiding sending me any news about the Chairman Meow, and that you'll reconsider once I've apologized.
I am truly sorry.
-M.Bane.

Beneath the email is a picture of a chessboard, completely cleared except for a black Queen toppled over in front of a white King.

Well this is not what I was expecting. Shame courses through me, sharp and hot, and I can't believe that I've so severely misinterpreted this whole situation. Magnus loves this cat. He smuggled him into his closet the night before I showed up, just to have him close. He sent him away with one of his t-shirts. He risked the embarrassment of approaching me at the bar after I'd professionally snubbed him, taken his pet away, and then run away in the middle of a second show, just so that he could get a goddamned picture. And what had I done? Turned three botched encounters into some sort of meaningful exchange. I'd projected my insecurities about my relationship and my confusion about my attraction for another man onto Magnus, when all he wanted was some news. Just to know if his cat was all right.

I am human trash.

I type out a hasty email apologizing for the delay and attach every single picture I've taken of Chairman Meow since he's been moved into the house.

All thirty-seven of them.

Once the email has gone through, I start replying to the other people I've neglected. I only manage to send one reply before my phone makes the tiny ping that signals a new message.

I scroll up without looking at the sender and see a single line.

Alexander, why did you feed my cat to a moose?

Magnus. He must not be too disgusted with me, if he can crack jokes about Kipling.

Based on what little interaction I've seen him have with Josh, he doesn't seem like the type to hold a grudge. Still, it makes me disproportionately happy to see the single line of text.

I just made introductions. Your cat is the one who went and fell in love with someone outside his species.

The forty-five seconds between sending off the reply and waiting for Magnus to acknowledge it seem like an eternity. When it arrives, I nearly drop the phone in an effort to press the up arrow to read it.

He comes by it honestly enough. It's a Bane tradition to desire only that which you cannot have.

I have no idea what to do with that information, so I just sit there for several minutes, trying to regain my composure and figure out something to write. Before I can find a solution, another email arrives.

Tell me about how he's doing.

I curse myself for being so stupid again. It's not Magnus's fault that I can't read a simple email without deconstructing it word-by-word. Jay was my first and only experience navigating another person’s feelings, thoughts, and innuendos, and the only reason I didn't implode was because we met at a time when I thought I had nothing to lose. Desperation makes you brave, I've found. Nauseating guilt and a lingering sensation of betrayal, on the other hand, complicate everything.

The constant stream of one-line emails continues for hours, and it's not until Hector barges in, his bowl in his mouth that I realize how much time has passed. It's almost nine o'clock and I'm sure that Magnus will soon need to get ready for work. Unsure of how to approach the topic of his job, I take my phone along with me as I go to the kitchen to get the dogs some water.

When I get there, I see that Kipling and the Chairman Meow have devised a new and improved system of getting at the kitty treats. Because of Kipling's size (and the fact that he picked up the habit of placing his paws on top of the fridge to nose open the cupboard full of bones) we have to keep all the dog food locked up in the basement. I figured that since the tiny kitten treats I've been using to tempt the Chairman Meow hold no appeal to the dogs, they would leave them alone. How wrong I was. Kipling has apparently turned himself into a bridge, and Chairman Meow is currently clambering along his back on his way to the counter to fetch the treats himself.

It's ingenious, adorable, purely evil teamwork, and I have to tell Magnus.

He responds with a telephone number and a request to text him a picture.

Unsure of why I can't just email the picture like all the others, but pleased at the thought of Magnus wanting me to text him, I snap the picture and send it to the number provided. Magnus's cell number.

My evil genius. And isn't this much easier? Is the response I get once the picture has gone through.

Definitely, I send back, and that settles that internal debate.

--

Over the next few weeks Jay's days at the office get later and later as his case gets closer to completion, and my conversations with Magnus become longer and longer. I don't know what to make of the fact that I'll happily wait for him to get home at three in the morning so that I can read a nonsensical (and often inappropriate) text message, but when my boyfriend gets in fifteen minutes later and snuggles close to me, kissing my neck and murmuring that he loves me, I pretend to be asleep.

Conversations with Magnus seem to exist in their own little vacuum. We text nearly constantly throughout the day, but the topics stay relatively superficial. We chat about television shows, books, music, and I regale him with stories about Chairman Meow and his adventures with the dogs while he tells me about "the nauseating escapades of Josh and Tyler". He remains vaguely flirtatious, acting exactly as he had during the first night in the hotel and with Emma at her Bachelorette party, but I steadfastly refuse to engage, telling myself that liking – craving – the attention is not the same as reciprocating. He acts this way with everyone. I convince myself that we're friends; Jay is always telling me that I need to make more of those.

But the line is fast becoming blurred. Three weeks of nearly constant communication gives you a good idea of someone's schedule, and I find myself obsessing over what's happening during the nights that Magnus doesn't text. When two o'clock bleeds into three and three to four with no word I start to think back to the day I picked up the Chairman Meow, of black-haired Jordan sleeping soundly against Magnus's pillow, of him kissing Magnus, all teeth and tongue and thanks for last night, sugar, and the jealousy burns in my throat until I feel I may choke.

I need to tell Jay.

Work has started to settle down for him again, kind of a calm before the storm of the day at court. He does still spend most of his time at home holed up in his office, going over documents, rewriting opening statements, and wishing he could be cuddled up on the couch with me.

It's infuriating. It's infuriating because for the past three years I've been nothing but happy with the beautiful, intense, driven person who's locked just behind those doors, and now I long for him to be back at the office so I don't have a physical reminder of my guilt staring me in the face with bright eyes and a hopeful smile. I want him out of the house so that I don't have to lock myself in the bathroom to answer one of Magnus's texts. I want him to not be around so that I can rationalize this need for another man's attention.

Things with Magnus still haven't changed. It's been a month and we still manage to share so many things while tiptoeing around the main issues. He still flirts and I still deflect, but that doesn't excuse the nights I spend awake, staring at the ceiling, heart pounding, wondering who's making him laugh, who's keeping him warm, who's kissing him softly, and if he'd rather that person was me. The first time Jay tries to initiate foreplay in weeks I look down to see green eyes and dark skin looking up at me, and have to leave the room. The resulting fight is epic and unfair and the grossest example of me projecting my anxieties onto someone I love since Max died. I feel shredded and dirty and I have no one to blame but myself.

So I need to tell Jay.

He's gone into the city today to visit with one of his clients, and I have lots of time alone to prepare. Magnus is also gone – to a conference to watch Josh give a presentation on advanced robotics in high velocity aircraft – so I have the afternoon to myself. I spend the hours alone scouring the house with a militant intensity, making sure that every surface shines. There's not one dish out of place, one surfaced unpolished, and not a single dog hair to be found. The house is in perfect order – so much so that I doubt even Jay will be able to find anything to tidy when he gets back – but I still feel discombobulated, like a plushie that's been stuck together haphazardly, with cotton where there should have been a brain and a gaping hole where there should have been a heart.

The table is set and Indian is waiting in tiny foil containers when Jay comes through the door, his suit jacket in his arms. I'm just cutting up some pieces of fresh cucumber, because he likes to put it in his chana masala to counter the spiciness, and trying not to wimp out.

I'm still not even sure about what to say. The last thing I ever want to do is hurt Jay, but I'm not really that good with subtlety. It’s one of the things that Jay always says he loves about me, as he spends his life working with people who refuse to ever say what they mean, but I'm not sure he'll be quite as impressed with it from this angle.
Still, this is the only fair route. I need to tell someone and since Emma is Jay's sister, I don't really have her to use as a resource in this situation. Jace would try to help, but he's been enamored with the same girl since he was fifteen years old and lacks perspective, which only leaves Isabelle.

Izzy would be perfect. She has experience and she's honest and I know I can always count on her to be one hundred percent nonjudgmental.

Unfortunately, I can also count on her insufferable "I told you so". She had the hardest time with me leaving New York to be with Jay, and in many ways I doubt she's forgiven him. She'll tell me that moving across the country with my first serious boyfriend was a mistake and that I should break it off with him, just to see what else the world is offering. In other words, an exact reenactment of the night I left New York, only without my self-righteous proclamations that she didn't know what real love felt like and that I'd never doubted Jay for a minute.

And I never have. Jay has proven himself to be loyal and irrefutably in love. Smooth-talking, sexy, desirable Jay, who literally has had hundreds of guys panting after him since we started dating, has been the caricature of an ardent lover. It's me who's the problem. And it's up to me to solve it, alone.

Jay smiles in relief as soon as he sees the food.

"You are an angel," he says as he takes a seat at the table. "This has been the worst day." His tie is slightly loosened, which is the only indicator that his day had been anything but perfect. As someone who craves order and stability as much as Jay, I’m struck for the thousandth time at how incredible it is that he wants to spend the rest of his life with someone as messed up as me.

I walk over and put the tiny bowl of cucumbers next to his plate and he looks up at me with such surprise and fondness that I find myself wondering how long it has been since I did something nice. I realize that I can't remember. Hell, I can’t even remember the last time I said something particularly nice. Jay deserves better than this. He deserves better than me.

I sit down and start to divvy up the food, searching for the best way to say "I think I'm attracted to the stripper you hired for my birthday and I keep imagining him whenever you try to initiate sex." But when I open my mouth to start talking, Jay immediately cuts me off by holding out the suit jacket.

Puzzled, I lean over to take it from him, only to find that it's wriggling. Or, more specifically, the tiny, pointed nose of a hedgehog is wriggling. It pokes its way out of the jacket and snuffles at my hand.

"Jay, what?"

"Mike, one of the secretaries from the downstairs office, bought it for his kid's birthday and the kid flipped out. Had some kind of hedgehog phobia or something. So he brought it to the office and tried to give it away, but nobody wanted it. He brought the cage back because it was apparently pretty expensive, but they wouldn't take back the hedgehog, so here he is. He was just sitting there, in a Tupperware bowl and I thought of how much you would hate that, so…" He waves in the direction of hedgehog before peeking up to assess my reaction.

I'm stunned into silence. There's a hedgehog burrowing around in Jay's four thousand dollar suit and he's picking up pieces of cucumber to munch on with the dopiest fucking smile on his face, and I love him. I love him so much that it hurts, it claws at my chest because I know how horrible I've been acting. Even if this isn't the heart pounding, giddy-with-anticipation, rip-your-clothes-off-and-have-my-way-with-you kind of deal, that's okay. I know everything about Jay. I know his favorite foods and how he writes his notes. I know the stories of the scars on his fingers and how he dyed his hair brown for his Harvard interview so that he'd "look more serious". I know that thinking about him hating me makes my gut clench and my chest squeeze, makes me feel like I'm drowning. I know he loves me, and I love him back. He's my best friend and I can't do this to him.

I can't do any of this to him.

I need to tell Magnus.

Chapter Text

I can't talk to you anymore.

The message sits in my phone for hours as I attempt to send it. I don't have Jay's way with words, can't seem to make them fit together eloquently or elaborate upon them without sounding like an idiot. In turn, I sound callous and blunt when I only mean to be straightforward. I don't know why this is so often counted as a flaw. Life would be so much easier if people just said what they meant.

I just wish I could figure out what I mean to say.

The thing is, beyond my attraction to Magnus, I really enjoy talking to him. He's funny and crass and honest, and I'll miss him if I put an end to this. As unlikely as it seems, he's become my friend, and I've never had many of those. Magnus has been good for me, at the expense of my relationship or not, if only for that reason.

I don't think it's fair to have to give that up. Still, it's not fair to Jay to carry on with this pseudo-flirtatious grey-zone either. If Magnus and I are going to be friends, then we're going to be friends. End of story. Now I just need to figure out how to bring this up without sounding like I'm accusing Magnus of trying to wreck my relationship and making a gigantic ass of myself. I suppose I could write another email, but that would look ridiculous after a month of texting. I suppose I could call…if telephone conversations didn't make me feel like a cat tossed into a pool.

Four hours and one very long walk later I still have no idea what to do. The only bright point of the day is when I get an email regarding Maggie, my little Maltese from the hamster cage. There's a family in town with a little girl who has always wanted one, but they could never afford it. Their application is impressive and the little girl included a letter she wrote herself, which completely sealed the deal. If you can find anyone who reads a letter saying pleaze Mr. Lightwood, I would love the puppy with all my hart and buy her the best treets in the store and let her sleep in my room on my speshil purple blankie and isn't instantly sold, then they are either a sociopath or a robot. The family is ready for the puppy immediately, so I decide to take a drive into town.

One of Jay's conditions when we decided to set up the shelter on the property was that I would be responsible for delivering all the pets to their potential owners.

Whether that was at the new owners' house or at a designated meeting place it didn't matter, he just didn't feel comfortable with our address becoming public information. It makes sense, based on the kind of life his mother lives, and really it's a small price to pay. It's worked out pretty well so far. If the family is within driving distance then I usually bring the animal to them. If not, I pay to have it shipped. All I want is for each animal to go to the best possible home, and if that means some live cargo fees, then I happily pay them.

I've never understood the need to merely accumulate wealth, to sit there are watch it pile up until you're so used to having it that you become petrified it's going to disappear. Jay and his family certainly devote time to charity, but it's more to fulfill a societal obligation and to maintain appearances than out of any great passion. And as for my mother, Lightwood Corporations has an entire division devoted to community outreach that’s run by a bunch of employees she probably doesn’t even know. I'm also pretty sure she uses the Haven as a tax write-off. I suppose it's not a bad trade for using my inheritance to play with animals all day.

As I'm getting Maggie loaded into the truck Kipling slips through his doggy door, Chairman Meow trailing behind, and bounds up to me, tail wagging. I slam the truck door closed, and he barks, clearly convinced that this is the beginning of a grand adventure.

"Sorry buddy," I say, leaning down to scratch behind his ears. "No truck time for you right now."

His whole body quivers with the word truck and I'm torn between wanting to laugh and feeling guilty that he's so excited. My old red truck, which had probably started to rust while I was in diapers and had its first engine fall out when I was fifteen and getting my first hand job in the back of an extremely cramped Lotus, is what I always use for Haven business. It's sturdier than an eighteen-hundreds-era steam engine and will probably still be running when I'm dead and buried. It's also the only vehicle that I can use to transport Kipling, which is why he gets so excited every time he hears the almighty roar of its muffler from his perch in my study. I lean forward so that I can grab his collar and lead him back to the house, but as I do Chairman Meow digs his claws into my shirtsleeve and clambers up my arm.

"Not you too," I despair, pressing my nose into his soft fur. "You can't come –" I pause for a half a second, a plan starting to formulate. "With me," I finish.

Why can't he come with me? This is the perfect opportunity to solve my dilemma. I can't find the words to tell Magnus what's happening over text and I'm too afraid to use the phone, but I think I can make it work in person. I fight down a wave of nausea and breathe my way through texting Magnus.

You busy today? I have to bring Chairman Meow to the vet and was thinking that you might like to see him.

A little white lie never hurt anyone.

Magnus's reply is instantaneous. You remember the address?

Over the course of the drive I work my way through every relaxation technique I learned during my time in hospital, thinking of Emma's voice guiding me through the movements as she sat in on the sessions as part of her training. I have never regretted starting my relationship with Jay, but I'll admit it was hard to get used to a different psychiatrist. I don't even have regular appointments anymore, haven't needed them for some time, but at times like this, when I really need someone impartial to confide in, it would be nice to have someone I trust fully. It would be nice to have Emma back.

It's almost three by the time I pull my car up next to the curb in front of Magnus's apartment. The street looks even gloomier than last time, if possible. There are no children around – they're not yet out of school, I presume – and I'm pretty sure there's a drug deal happening on the opposite site of the street. I scoop up Chairman Meow and tuck him into my chest as I walk up to the door.

I'm just working up the courage to knock when the door opens and Josh rushes out, coat undone and hair flying in every direction.

"Alec!" he says, pulling the door through quickly. "I was just, uh, leaving. To go the store. To buy milk. Because we have none."

"Uhh," I stroke Chairman Meow's fur absently, searching for something to say. "Cool?"

"Right. Well, I should go. Wouldn't want them to sell out." He flicks open his phone and starts tapping rapidly.

"Of milk?" I shift the kitten into the crook of my arm.

"Hmm, wha?"

"You're going to buy milk," I say, wondering if maybe Josh is on his way to the sketchy drug deal. He certainly seems tweaked right now. "Right?"

"Exactly. So I should go. Magnus is in the living room, by the way." He slips his phone back into his pocket, looking a little more relaxed. "You should just go right in, wouldn't want to disturb his majesty."

I grin and move out of the way so he can walk down the few steps to the sidewalk, shaking my head as he jogs down the street.

I knock, two sharp raps as I open the door, more to let Magnus know I'm here than anything else. "Magnus?" I call as I step inside.

"Alexander, come in," he calls from somewhere within. "I’m in the kitchen, making some hot chocolate. You want some?”

"Hot chocolate sounds great," I say as I make my way inside. When I get there, I take a seat across from him and watch as he slowly putters around the kitchen. It’s funny, but until we started texting, I would have never pictured him as someone who liked to cook; now, however, I can see that he’s really in his element. He looks a little like a mad scientist, surrounded by open bags and various utensils. Unlike when I try to suffer my way through a recipe, he doesn’t bother with measuring cups or teaspoons – instead he tosses the ingredients in a saucepan, and then wafts some of the steam up to his nose.

“Smells good,” I say, and he smiles.

“An old family recipe.” He goes back to sprinkling in some spices, and I go back to watching him. There’s a companionable silence between us that surprises me; it took me months to get to this point with Jay, where we could just exist in the same space without feeling compelled to fill that silence.

When he’s finally finished, Magnus uses a ladle to scoop the hot chocolate into a black mug; when the glass heats up, small Tetris pieces appear all over the side. He dollops a wad of real whipped cream on the top, and then uses a handheld cheese grater to shave on some flecks of chocolate.

“Fancy.” I lift the mug to my lips, blowing softly.

Magnus just stares, presumably waiting for me to tell him my opinion, and I smile before taking the first sip.

"It's good." It’s more than good, actually – it’s perfect: thick and sweet and rich. I settle the mug back on the table. "Really good."

Magnus grins and between that and the drink, I feel instantly warm and content. He looks fantastic, just as the last time I was here, but better rested. For the first time since I’ve met him his face is makeup free, and it doesn’t diminish how good he looks in the slightest. His short hair looks puffy and soft – a direct contrast to the stubble that looks a few days older than usual. His sleep pants are knotted, but still slide down around his narrow hips, and his white tank top is tight against his impressive midriff. As he stares back I tug conscientiously at my sleeves, making sure they haven't migrated upward, and the Chairman takes that as an opportunity to bite a little at my hand.

“Never one to be ignored,” I say, handing the kitten over to Magnus.

Magnus lifts him to his face and whispers softly into his fur while I take another sip of my drink. It’s better than anything I’ve ever had from a store; I haven’t been back to New York since I moved out of there a few years ago, but the taste brings memories of crisp winter mornings rushing back.

As I take a second to savor the hot chocolate, Daniel gets reacquainted with Chairman Meow. He looks delighted when the kitten clambers up to his shoulder and nuzzles into his neck in the same way he had the last time I was here.

"Didn't think he'd remember you?" I ask, trying to keep my smile from taking over my whole face.

"It was a concern." Magnus looks up and there's no hint of a grin this time. "He's not mine after all," he says, "I have no claim to him whatsoever." His eyes are so intense that I find myself flushing.

"Not entirely true," I say weakly. "I know you made a big impression."

Magnus shifts, folding his legs under his body like a bird. The shift causes his tank top to ride up slightly, displaying a thin strip of warm brown skin. Though I've nearly seen the entire package on three separate occasions, I still find my mouth a little dry. The last thing I want to do is be rude or presumptive, and I certainly don’t want to stare, but once I notice that patch of skin, it takes all my focus not to look at it.

Magus notices my not noticing, which makes it even worse.

In my panic, all the carefully constructed scenarios that I’d agonized about in the car vanish.

“I think we should talk about our friendship,” I blurt with a spastic twitch of my arm. Hot chocolate threatens to spill onto my lap and I hastily shove the cup onto a nearby coffee table.

"Our friendship?" Magnus repeats, looking a little bewildered. "What about it?"

"I think about you a lot," I say, unable to find a more delicate turn of phrase. "Most of the time, really," I ramble. "And it's starting to have an effect on my relationship. But I really enjoy talking to you and I don't really want to give that up." Magnus looks like he wants to interrupt, but I thunder on like a runaway train. "I love Jay, I do, and I want you to know that."

Magnus has picked up his own mug and is drumming his fingers lightly against the sides. "You came all the way over here to tell me how in love with your boyfriend you are?" he asks, raising an eyebrow.

"I came to apologize," I clarify. "And to ensure that you'd still want to be my friend."

"Apologize?" Magnus's face is blank and I have no idea what he's thinking. I don't know if he's mad, offended, or just plain confused.

"For the inappropriate messages," I say.

"Alexander, darling, Bible camp bathrooms have more inappropriate messages than the ones you've been sending me. The sexiest text I've ever gotten from you was about an orgasmic cupcake recipe." He shifts again so that he's sitting crossed legged and he cradles his chin in his hands. "If that's your idea of wild, I'd say you've been severely undereducated."

"Well, I –" I trail off, wishing desperately that Josh hadn't run off so that his presence could have prevented me from starting this conversation. "I just wanted to make sure that you knew what was going on."

"I've been quite aware," he says a little sharply. "I have no intentions of getting involved in any relationship drama. I keep my love life out of our conversations and I'd assumed you would do the same."

He sounds annoyed and I backtrack, not wanting this to completely blow up in my face. "Of course, I will," I say, stumbling a bit over the words. "I'm really sorry to just spring this on you, but like I said, I've found myself thinking about you a lot, Magnus."

I chew on my lip, trying to find the right words. "I guess I got caught up in you, and I just needed to tell you that I'm making a conscious effort to fix that without ending our friendship." I peer up from my cup, unwilling to look him straight in the eyes, but Magnus's face has softened considerably.

"You have nothing to apologize for," he says firmly. "But I feel like I -"

Whatever he's about to say is abruptly cut off by Josh barreling through the front door, his face ashen and his hands empty.

"I, I'm sorry Magnus," he chokes out before collapsing on the sofa in a heap. "I had to come back."

Magnus is out of his spot and kneeling by Josh's side in an instant, and I swallow my question about missing milk and set out in search for a box of tissues.

When I get back Magnus is running his fingers through Josh's hair, but his roommate's face is still buried in the sofa. "Come on, Josh, you have to tell me what's wrong. I can't help you if I don't know what it is." I walk over and place the tissues next to Magnus. He looks up to mouth a silent thank you and I shuffle awkwardly back to my position in the chair opposite.

"Is it Tyler?" Magnus asks, resting his cheek on the cushion right next to Josh's. "Did his coach change his mind about letting him leave for your birthday?"

Josh's head shakes slightly.

"Did he get hurt?"

Josh hiccups and then shifts so that he's facing Magnus. "We got in a fight," he whispers.

Even I know this is strange news. Magnus sends about a thousand texts a day about the nauseating shenanigans of Josh and Tyler. Josh sends him handcrafted care packages when he's on away games and Tyler spends his every free minute in Las Vegas holed up in Josh's room, watching him work on his Doctoral Thesis. I know I've only had secondhand information, but I feel like I know them intimately based on Magnus's affection for them. And I really can't imagine them fighting over something trivial.

I miss Magnus's question, but Josh pulls himself into a sitting position long enough for Magnus to slide back on the sofa. Josh then promptly lowers his head into Magnus's lap. "It started off as a fight about Pizza," he says softly. "Something idiotic about what we were going to order when he got home. But he kept sounding so irritated that I asked him what was wrong, and he said that his coach had given him a lot to think about this morning."

"At the meeting?" Magnus clearly has some information that I'm missing,

Josh nods, takes another tissue out of the box, and dabs at his nose softly. "He said that he's up for a trade." His breath catches and it takes him a second to get a ragged breath of air. "The New York League has made a big offer, apparently. They're a new club and they're willing to put down big money for a player like Tyler. It’s a better deal than he’d get from any of the established teams. He'd be starting and his salary would double."

"But that's the East Coast League," Magnus says.

"Exactly," Josh says miserably. "He'd be gone for good." His sniffles start anew. "So I asked him if he was seriously considering it and he asked if I was seriously trying to convince him not to." His sniffle turns into a full sob. "That's not what I was trying to do." He pauses for a second to try to regain composure. "But would it really be so bad if it was?"

Magnus lifts Josh and hugs him close. "Of course not," he says. He squeezes tightly for second and then pushes his shoulder gently. "Tyler loves you," he says. "He loves you so much I spend half my time wondering if you have a little voodoo doll in that gigantic desk of yours that you've bewitched. He's mad about you, Josh, and he's not going to throw that away for a bigger salary."

"It's a brilliant opportunity," Josh argues.

"You're the best fucking opportunity that guy has ever had," Magnus says fiercely, and I feel a familiar warmth spreading in my chest. "And I guarantee you he will do everything he can not to screw this up. He wouldn't dare."

Josh gets up and gathers his knees to his chest. "Maybe you're right."

"Of course I'm right," Magnus says with finality. "I'm always right, right Alexander?"

Josh starts a little at my name as if he totally forgot I was even in the room. "Oh my God, Alec," he says, wiping his stray tears quickly. I forgot you were here, I'm so sorry for interrupting."

"Don't apologize," I say, rising from my seat. "I should be going anyway."

Josh looks like he's about to say something else, but Magnus touches his hand and he decides against it.

I walk over to gather Chairman Meow from where he'd settled after Josh had charged in. "For what it's worth," I say as I scoop the kitten into my arms, "Magnus is right – " Magnus beams. "This time," I add, grinning a little as he visibly deflates. "Tyler is an idiot if he gives you up."

"Thanks, Alec," he says, smiling sadly. "But I still feel like crap for totally barging in on your, uh, afternoon. My birthday's in a couple of weeks. If you're not busy on the weekend, you should come into the city for the night. I promise I'll be more fun than I am right now."

"Um, sure," I say. I like Josh and hanging out with both roommates seems like a good way to keep things casual. "That sounds awesome."

Magnus gets up to walk me to the door and Josh settles back into a little ball when he leaves.

"Will he be okay?" I ask as we reach the door.

"He's in love," Magnus answers, as if that's supposed to explain everything – and maybe it does. "Listen, I really don't want to rush you off, but I don't want to leave him alone for too long."

"No, definitely." I linger in the doorway, unable to force myself to leave. "So, I'll –"

"Text me when you get home," Magnus fills in. "We'll play chess tonight."

"Sure, good. Excellent." I turn to open the door and fumble a bit with the knob.

Magnus reaches out and his hand brushes gently against mine as he turns with a bit more force. Though it happens every time we touch, the visceral reaction that I get from just the pressure of Magnus’s fingers never fails to surprise me.

"Talk to you soon, Alexander," he murmurs as I step outside.

"Bye, Magnus," I say as I walk down the steps to drive back to Jay.

Chapter Text

I'm a little worried that things with Magnus will be strained after the visit, but I have two texts before I even arrive back at home.

Apparently Magnus has been able to distract Josh by watching episodes of the original Star Trek and he's been live-texting some of the ridiculous moments with his usual fervor. I'm immensely relieved; I had worried the whole way back that he would be too upset to text or that things would be stilted and awkward. I'd even taken Chairman Meow out of his carrier to settle in my lap for comfort. But everything seems to be okay.

Now on to phase two of the plan: telling Jay. I know he won't be back for a few hours, so I take my time with the work I have left for the afternoon. Once I've showered and thrown together some salad to go with the lasagna Jay prepared last night, I settle in to start reading Watership Down. I had mentioned to Magnus that I had never read it a couple of days ago and he'd threatened to never speak to me again unless I remedied the fact.

I'm only a few chapters in by the time Jay gets home. He's singing as he's walking up the driveway, so that's a good sign. Aside from the fact that he sounds a little like that Orca whale in Free Willy, hearing him sing is always a good thing. It means that work went well and he won't spend the rest of the night as a jittery ball of nerves.

"Good day?" I ask as he struts in, briefcase in hand.

He grins, his whole face lighting up when he sees me sprawled over the couch in just my boxers. "It's getting better," he says, putting his case down on the table. He closes the distance between us with three long strides, and lowers himself until he's settled comfortably over me. "What's this?" he asks, taking the book from my hands and making a little face. Jay isn't a huge fan of fantasy literature; he likes to keep his reading grounded in reality. I often tease that it's from having to read so many boring documents in Law School, but I think it also has a lot to do with his childhood. He knew how to decipher legal documents before grade school; there wasn't a whole lot of room for wizards or talking bunnies. He tried to read The Lord of the Rings once at my behest, but couldn't make it past Tom Bombadil.

I used to think that he found our differences endearing – now it seems that he thinks those interests are something I should have grown out of.

He tosses the book to the floor and moves down for a kiss. I shift a little to make room for him to press against me, but as the actual kiss is happening, I find my mind wandering. I'm deconstructing every tilt of his head and swipe of his tongue, thinking much more about the mechanics of the kiss itself as opposed to letting myself let go and actually feel it. I can’t really enjoy myself while the thing with Magnus is still bothering me, so I push up on Jay's shoulders to get him to move.

"I have to talk to you about something," I say as Jay lowers his head to kiss along my neck. He presses his tongue right at the juncture where my neck meets my jaw, and it feels good – really. I catch my breath and give another small push. "Seriously, Jay, this is important."

Still grinning, he backs up a little and clasps his hands in front of him. And hell, does he ever look good from this angle. If I make Magnus look small, then Jay does the same to me. He has the shoulder to waist ratio of Captain America, and he fills out a suit like no one else I’ve ever seen. "Look Alec, no hands," he teases, waiting for me to sit up.

I glare at him through the hair that's fallen down in my eyes, but it doesn't really have the intended effect. "Very funny."

"So what's up?" he asks, stretching out his legs so that they're draped over my lap.

I run my hand idly over his ankle, just above the line of his sock. "I took Chairman Meow to see his owner today. The guy who found him on the road a while back."

Jay stretches and I can hear a couple of his joints pop with the motion. He spends too much of his day cramped into an office. "Does he want to readopt him?"

"No, he's not allowed to have cats in the apartment. We're kind of, we've become friends over the last little while. We've been texting and stuff, mostly about Chairman Meow."

"Okay," Jay says, dragging out the word. "So what's the problem?"

I take a deep breath and look over at the wall. "The guy who owns the cat is Magnus."

"Magnus?" Jay looks even more perplexed than before. "Magnus who?"

"Magnus Bane," I supply. I suppose I should have realized that Magnus wouldn't stick in everyone's head with the same tenacity he'd managed to demonstrate in mine. “Uh, you know. The – uh, dancer?”

"The stripper?" Jay laughs – a high giggle that is completely incongruous with his starched and pressed business attire. "The one from your birthday party?"

"Exotic dancer," I correct, still a little annoyed at the way Jay says stripper, as if it's something to ridicule.

"How very PC of you. Fine, the exotic dancer. What on Earth do you guys even talk about?"

"We have tons in common," I snap. "You think just because he's a dancer he doesn't have interests? Jesus, Jay."

"Calm down, calm down. I'm sorry," Jay says, looking genuinely contrite, and more than a little shocked by my sudden fervor. "It just seems like a little bit of a mismatch, that's all."

"Well, it's not. He's actually pretty funny and he really likes cats and fantasy novels and shitty daytime TV, so we mostly chat about that."

"Then that's cool." Jay shrugs and settles back down on the sofa, thrusting his other leg into my hand to be played with.

"Unorthodox friendship aside, I still don't see the problem here."

I tighten my grip around his ankle. "He's a little…flirtatious."

Jay surprises me by bursting into laughter again. "A little flirtatious? Come on Alec, I saw him take off a dude's jeans with his teeth on Sin City's website when I hired him for your birthday. I'm pretty sure it's in his nature to be a little flirtatious."

"Just because he's a –"

"I know, I know." Jay slides up beside me and presses his finger to my lips. "No need to get all social justice on my ass, I understand the divide. I'm just saying that this Magnus dude seems like a guy who's used to getting what he wants. He seems a little "flirtatious", as you said. And if you're going to be his friend, then it'll probably just take him a little while to get used to it. Just ride it out, sweetheart. Or tell him it makes you uncomfortable. Those are your choices."

Oh God, how did this get so turned around? Jay thinks that Magnus is making me uncomfortable. That all this is a product of my social discomfort. I don't know whether to laugh or rage at the fact that he always has so much goddamn confidence. He's seen Magnus, he knows hot fucking hot he is, and he still doesn't care. It's actually a little offensive, like he doesn't think I'm hot enough to legitimately tempt Magnus. I'm about to tell him so when he laughs again.

"I get it, you want me to be a little jealous. How adorable."

And that actually infuriates me. He sits up and tries to kiss me on the nose, but I push him out of the way. I'm not some adorable little puppy, pining for Jay to be jealous over my interactions with other guys. I'm trying to have an adult conversation.

"I'm not a five-year-old, Jay," I grind out. "I'm not adorable." I spit the word like it's poisonous, and Jay slowly creeps back over.

"I know you're not, and I'm sorry. It's just, you're going to have to tell me what you want here, because I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to be worried about."

What I want is to have as much faith in this relationship as you apparently do. I want to be able to kiss you without wishing you were Magnus. "I –"

"Crap, that's my work cell," Jay says, cutting me off. "Gimme two seconds."

He runs to the kitchen to pick up his cell phone and I bury my head in one of the throw pillows, groaning in frustration.

When Jay walks back into the room, his good mood has disappeared. His brow is furrowed and any trace of humor has been wiped off his face. My heart races for an instant, coming up with thousands of possibilities for what could be going on, and when he reclaims his space beside me I realize that he looks guilty. All hunched shoulders and lowered eyelids. This isn't a look I see often on Jay and it makes me extremely uncomfortable.

"What is it?" I ask, trying to raise his head up to look at me. "Come on Jay, you're freaking me out a little."

"I just got news from court," he says, despondent.

"And they're not letting you handle it?" I'm filled with a righteous outrage; Jay is amazing at what he does, puts in more hours than nearly anyone at the office, and still he gets dumped all over for looking younger than his twenty-seven years. He's done everything from shave away his curls to trying this horrible slicked-back look that made him look like a serial killer, but there's not really any way to make him look older. Not that it should matter; it should be the quality of his work, not the package it comes in.

"No, it's not that," he says, finally looking up at me. "They've set the date for a week from Tuesday."

A week from Tuesday. I don't need a calendar to count the days, because I've been dreading that date since it passed last year. It's the only day of the year I spend wishing I could go to sleep and never wake up again. The anniversary of Max's death. "I –"

"I can tell them no," Jay says in a rush. "There were a bunch of us working this case, and I know any of the others would love to step in for me."

My throat constricts with a sudden rush of affection for Jay. Not even five minutes ago I was ready to rip him a new one just for trusting me to be a good person, and now he's willing to give up the biggest opportunity of his career just to spend a day at home with me. A day I should be capable of getting through on my own by now.

"No, you won't do that," I say as firmly as I can. "I'll be fine. I could call Emma. She'll come over and keep me company."

"She's going to be out of town." Jay paces across the room, looking significantly more unhinged than I've seen him in a long time. "Fuck!"

He swings around again and nearly trips over Chairman Meow in the process. He scoops the kitten up, wincing a little as he digs his sharp claws into his arm.

"You little rascal," he coos. It's endearing actually, how hard Jay is trying to make friends with the Chairman Meow. He usually doesn't pay any attention to the animals, but that ball of fluff is too cute for anyone to ignore. He walks over to place the kitten in my arms, where he promptly curls up and begins to purr.

"Wait," Jay says, shaking his head at the Chairman Meow's change in mood. "What about your friend Magnus?"

"What about him?" I ask, scratching behind the Chairman Meow's ears.

"Maybe he could come spend some time here next Tuesday. I mean, you don't have to tell him why you need the company. You guys could just hang out for a little. Play Settlers of Catan or whatever nerds do together."

"Magnus isn't really a nerd," I say, mulling the idea over. "That would be his roommate, Josh."

"Perfect." Jay takes a seat next to me again. "The more the merrier." He takes my left hand and brings it to his mouth, pressing a gentle kiss to my exposed wrist. "I just don't want you to be alone all day."

I lean over until my head is resting on his shoulder, and Jay edges his hand forward and pets Chairman Meow tentatively in his sleep.

"Just think about it," he says, pressing a kiss to my temple. "Okay?"

My answer is cut off by another phone – mine this time. I pick it up and the caller ID reads Magnus Bane. I swallow a squeak of surprise and answer while looking calm and collected.

"Hello?"

"Alec, it's Magnus. I'm really sorry to call, but it's Josh. Tyler just called back. Apparently the New York League put in a real offer and Tyler's coach had no choice but to accept. He's not a free agent, which means that he's going to New York, whether he wants to or not. Josh is pretty upset and I was hoping you could help with that."

"Me? I don’t really know him that well. I mean, I’m happy to help, but I’m not sure how much I can actually do."

"I know, but our group of friends is a little…loose-lipped, let's say, and Josh doesn't want to have to go to work tomorrow and know that everybody is talking about what's going on. No one’s going to magically make this better, but I was hoping you had some kind of nerd-fix or something."

I laugh with Jay looking on at me fondly. "Nerd fix?"

"You got it, Lightwood. Something impossible to turn down, even when you feel like your heart's been ripped out."

"Uhhh, Chris Hemsworth stark naked except for Mjölnir?"

Magnus laughs and I hope Jay doesn't notice the pink tinge in my cheeks. "I said make him feel better, not give him an aneurysm."

"Um, when I used to get upset my sister would get Mint Chocolate Chip and play Bubble Bobble with me."

"Excellent, obscure references I don't understand," Magnus says happily. "I knew I could count on you. Now, is it remotely possible for me to come into possession of such a distraction in the next half an hour?"

"I could just come out?" I ask while raising my eyebrows at Jay simultaneously.

Jay gives a small smile and a nod just as Magnus is gushing his thanks.

When I hang up I explain the situation to Jay, who's pretty dragged out and decides to take an early night. I dash around the house, gathering up my NES, controllers, and a bunch of games, along with my copy of Watership Down and some snacks. I'll stop at a 7-11 to grab the ice cream when I'm closer.

Magnus greets me at the door when I arrive. He all but pulls me inside, taking some of the bags from my hands as I shrug out of my sneakers. "I really hope this helps," he says as he rifles through the bags. "I don't know what else I can do. I offered a lap dance on the house and he didn't even crack a smile.

Josh is almost obnoxiously cheerful most of the time and I feel like I'm stuck in the twilight zone."

I follow Magnus into the kitchen and start unpacking the snacks. Magnus points out the bowls and I scoop out three heaping piles of ice cream for the three of us. "I just hope I can help," I say as Magnus shovels his into his mouth.

He groans and the sound is distinctly pornographic. I fumble the ice cream scoop and a glob of mint chocolate chip ends up on the floor. I drop down to wipe it up quickly, both to shield my face and wait for the heat that's built up low in my stomach to dissipate.

"Fuck," I mutter as I smudge a chocolate chip into the tile.

"Don't worry about it," Magnus says with a smirk and I resist the urge to reach out and smack his bare feet with the spoon. He tried it, the asshole.

I pick up the two bowls of ice cream and gesture for Magnus to take the bag with the Nintendo gear. "Let's go."

Josh is mostly fetal on the couch when we come in, arms laden. His hair is rumpled and his eyes are puffy and bloodshot. He's dressed in an overlarge soccer t-shirt which must belong to Tyler, and he keeps twisting the bottom unconsciously.

He makes a small noise of greeting when he sees me, and with some prompting from Magnus he actually sits up.

"Not hungry," he mumbles when Magnus shoves the bowl of ice cream into his face.

Magnus takes another scoop of his and shovels it in his mouth, making a greatly exaggerated moan of pleasure this time, and I snort into my own spoon.

"You're such a douche canoe," Josh says as Magnus does this a second and a third time.

"I'm going to let you get away with uttering the words douche canoe in my presence this one time, and one time only," Magnus says, brandishing his spoon in Josh's face. "But if you don't eat some of this delicious ice cream that Alec slaved and bled for, then I'm afraid I'm going to have to kick you out."

"What's wrong with you?" I ask as Josh rolls his eyes and tentatively picks up his spoon.

"I suffer from an overabundance of whimsy," Magnus replies easily as he snatches some of the ice cream out of Josh's bowl, his own running dangerously low.

"You have an overabundance of something," Josh mutters, but there's a shadow of a smile on his face.

"Don't get saucy. For not only have I brought you Alec, he with the delicious treats, I also have provided you with hours of entertainment in the form of Bubble Trouble."

He waves his arms like some kind of mad magician and Josh just stares at him blankly, hiccupping a little, while I try to stifle my laughter. I grab the game out of the bag and hold it up for Josh to see.

"Bubble Bobble!" Josh bursts out in glee. "I haven't played that game in like fifteen years! This is amazing!" He smiles and this time it's genuine – and infectious. Josh's smile makes everyone else in the room want to be happy too.

"That's what I said," Magnus pouts from the floor. When he realizes he's being completely ignored he leans back against the sofa and digs back into his ice cream. Josh, on the other hand, scrambles to set up the NES and immediately hands me a controller.

"You don't want to play, Magnus?" I ask.

Magnus shakes his head and Josh laughs again. "Magnus playing video games is kind of like a bear cub with an Ipod, just lots of confused looks and button mashing." He holds the controller away from his body and pounds down on the buttons with a confused grunt. Then he looks up at me and grins. "Just like that."

Magnus doesn't dignify that with a response. He just crosses his legs and grabs a book from the end table beside him. "I think I'll engage my mind in more intellectual pursuits," he huffs.

"Magnus hates anything he's bad at," Josh fills in as he boots up the game. "He's a spoilsport that way."

Magnus just licks a finger and turns a page dramatically while Josh and I cackle together.

We're about twenty minutes in when Magnus starts shuffling. Then he starts letting out these tiny sighs. I swear to God he's just like Chairman Meow when he hasn't had enough attention. I half expect him to come over and start nuzzling into my hands like the spoiled kitten. I glance back in his direction and grin, but that only seems to spur him on. Josh is too lost in the level to even notice what's going on.

When we've been going for nearly an hour, he lets out a long-suffering sigh. "I'm going to be hearing this music in my sleep. It's going to haunt me for the rest of my days. It sounds like the Ringmaster of Homicide Circus got tweaked and decided to start composing."

"Shut up, Magnus!" we snap simultaneously, lost in the level we've had to start over five times.

"We're concentrating," Josh tacks on, his lip caught between his teeth and his empty bowl resting at his feet. We probably shouldn't have given him the third helping – I don't know if his tiny body can handle all that sugar.

"You have three undergraduate degrees and a PhD in Aerospace Engineering, Josh," Magnus drawls. "I'm pretty sure it doesn't take full concentration to play a game where vegetables explode from little monsters like some kind of weird farmer's market piñata."

"Ballsacks!" Josh groans as we both run out of lives for the sixth time in a row. He tosses his controller at Magnus, who just manages to keep it from hitting him in the eye.

"Challenge accepted," Magnus says, rolling up his sleeves as if he's about to perform some intricate magic. "Time to learn how it's done."

Thirty-five seconds later Magnus is storming out of the room and Josh is rolling around the floor in laughter. It's hard to reconcile him with the disconsolate heap on the sofa when I first arrived.

"I think it might be time for a change of plan," I admit when Magnus makes his way back with a bowl of popcorn. "Movie?"

We finally settle on a detective procedural that apparently became a cult classic when it was suddenly cancelled. A quick glance at the back shows that its entire run took place while I was in the hospital, so I've never seen it. When I say as much, the admission nearly sends Josh and Magnus into histrionics. There isn't a whole lot of space in the living room without one of us ending up on the floor, so the three of us migrate into Magnus's room with its lavish King bed.

The bed looks like the newest thing in the entire apartment and spans nearly the entire breadth of the tiny room. I try with all my power to abstain from thinking about the number of people like Jordan who have been spread out against the worn bed sheets, but it's harder than I thought it would be. Still, I take those feelings of hurt and jealousy and I grind them up until they're nothing but dust. Magnus and I are friends, nothing more.

But that doesn't keep me from glancing surreptitiously around the room, trying to soak in as much about Magnus as I can. The most immediately noticeable thing is the mess. Magnus has got to be one of the most untidy people I've ever seen - a true feat when your sister is Isabelle Lightwood - with clothes slung over chairs and along the floor, half-empty glasses of water lined along the windowpane, and books piled in stacks beside the bed even though there's a perfectly serviceable bookshelf in the corner. There are several picture frames keeping residence on the random pieces of furniture, and they all hold pictures of Magnus and Josh. There's one of them where they can't be any older than sixteen, both adorable and grinning at the camera like fools. There's makeup scattered across the wooden dresser and an assortment of costumes that must be for work lining the open closet door. When I check the time on the little alarm clock shaped like an Erlenmeyer flask, I notice that there's a strip of condoms hanging from the open drawer. My head snaps back to the television, and I force myself to concentrate on the show while trying to ignore the steady bubble of jealousy that burns up the back of my throat like bile.

Before I know it we're halfway through the first season, it's two am, and Josh is snoring softly, pushing his ass against Magnus and driving him closer to me. I'm too tired to drive home, and Magnus whispers softly that I'm welcome to stay rather than get a cab. I send off a quick text to Jay, who, instead of sleeping, is still reading reports and says he'll see me in the morning.

"I could go to the couch?" I whisper to Magnus, trying my hardest not to disturb Josh. He looks peaceful, curled up around Magnus like a barnacle.

"Don't be an idiot," Magnus shoots back. "Josh can't even stretch out on that thing. Just stay here; I've got my hands full, so you don't have to worry."

I ignore the barb and debate telling him that my biggest worry is how much I wish I could take Josh's place right now.

"Should I get you some shorts?" Magnus asks, leaning up a little to look around the room. "I could probably grab a pair of Tyler's from Josh's room."

The last thing I want is for Josh to wake up in the morning and be reminded of his boyfriend, so I just shake my head and quietly fluff my pillow.

"You could at least take off your sweater," he whispers.

I pull down on the sleeves unconsciously and shake my head. "I'm okay," I reply. "I'm always cold, anyway."

Magnus doesn't say anything, merely flicks to the next episode and settles back against the pillows, careful not to brush his body next to mine. We both lay there, rigid and acutely aware of one another, until the soft fog of fatigue settles around us like a cloak. The pull of sleep is like a balm for our frazzled nerves, and we inch imperceptibly closer to one another. I can almost feel the outline of his arm against mine and I have to consciously stop myself from reaching out. His fingers twitch and I can feel the shifting of the sheets beneath my own hand.

"Goodnight, Alexander," I hear him whisper just as my breath is beginning to even out, and I can barely find the words to formulate a reply.

I mumble something incoherently and move a little closer to the heat that's radiating outwards. I feel better – safer – here than I do in my own bed. I think about Jay’s suggestion that I invite Magnus over for Max’s anniversary, and wonder if he had any idea what he was proposing. How could he not have any idea how much it meant that I actually wanted to have Magnus there, on what was the worst day of my year? The fact that I knew that I could talk to Magnus about what happened, to turn to him for comfort, is all the convincing I need to admit that this friendship is dangerous. That this friendship is going to be the end of me.

My last thought as I succumb to the fuzzy, comforting warmth of sleep is, Alec, you are absolutely fucked.

Chapter Text

Four years ago:

"Jace, get the hell up!" I yell as I pound on my brother's door, contemplating just walking in there with a glass of cold water. I probably would, if I wasn't afraid that I'd be met with the sight of a half-naked Clary. Jace becomes a completely different person whenever she's around. Where he's usually militant in his morning routine, having coffee and breakfast ready before five, after a night with Clary it's a challenge to get him out the door before seven.

"Jace, if you don't get out here, I'm coming in!"

"Marphhh," I hear from the other side. "I'm coming, bossy."

I click my tongue and charge down the steps to pour him a cup of coffee. It's nearly 7:15 and mom is going to use our hides to dust the runway if we don't make it down there before eight. She has a fleet of new jets ready to show today, and there's no one who can show them quite as well as us. Isabelle has already bailed – she has an alumni event at the American School of Ballet – so she's already down one pilot. I can just imagine the tiny vessel above her eye throbbing if we don't show up good and soon.

"Jace," I holler, his coffee threatening to spill over my hand. "We have got to GO!"

"All right, I'm ready." Jace yawns as he slinks his way down over the stairs. There are bright purple circles under his blue eyes and his golden hair is lank and plastered to the side of his face. He's wearing the same clothes he went out in last night.

"You look disgusting," I say, thrusting a baseball cap down over his head. "Now, take this coffee and wake the hell up. We're going to be late."

"I look delightfully rumpled," Jace says, grabbing a croissant from the counter as he makes his way toward the door. "Post-coital chic is what they call it, I believe."

"Unshowered dumpster-diver is what I would go with, but that's me."

Jace mumbles something with a mouth full of pastry, probably about my closet full of graphic t-shirts, but I don't have time to engage. I grab my keys from the dish on the counter and herd him out the door like a schoolteacher with an unruly student.

"Alec, chill the fuck out, we have like – " Jace checks his watch and his eyes widen substantially. It would be comical if I didn't feel like using my car keys as a shiv.

"I told you it was late," I grumble as he picks up the pace. "We're not gonna make it."

"We'll make it," Jace says, grabbing my arm and pulling me along. "We'll make it in plenty of time."

"I don't know if you've been paying attention these past few years, but my truck, sturdy as she is, is not exactly a speed demon."

Jace grins and slips a single key out of his pocket. "Don't worry your pretty little head about it," he says, tossing the key up into the air. "We're taking Nadia."

"I can't believe you've managed to hold down a girlfriend for the better part of five years," I say, rolling my eyes. "I used to think it was your good looks, but you've really been letting yourself go lately."

"Envy is a dirty emotion," Jace says as he tosses the key again. "Really unbecoming."

I grab the key out of the air and stalk toward the garage. "You're not driving the Lotus," I say, ignoring his open-mouthed indignation. "The last thing you need is another speeding ticket."

"Alec, it's 7:15. Any self-respecting cop is at Dunkin Donuts. It'll be fine. Besides, you don't know how to make her move like I do."

I unlock the Lotus and climb into the driver's seat. "Get in the car, Jace. And put on your seatbelt."

With a mutinous glare he climbs into the passenger seat, just managing to fasten his seatbelt before we roar out of the driveway toward the airstrip.

Thirty-five minutes later and we're sneaking through the back door of the hangar, trying to get suited up before mom can notice how late we are. We slip into our greens in twenty seconds flat and Jace slides on a pair of aviators to hide his zombie eyes as we walk out the door toward the collection of brand new LC-27s lining the runway.

"Alexander, Jace." Our mother greets us coolly, stepping aside so we can make our introductions to the military personnel who are awaiting the demonstration.

"Colonel, Private," I greet, pausing to clasp each man's hand respectfully.

"Alexander," the Colonel replies, a smile splitting his pockmarked face and his voice as rough as tarmac. "You prepared to show us what these beauties can do?"

"Yes, Sir," I reply, unable to keep from smiling in return. The new jets are phenomenal. Really a step up for the Lightwood Corporation – for fighter jets across the nation. The company has been working nonstop to get them into production, and the show today will determine whether or not the venture was in vain. My mother's face, pulled tight by her severe bun, doesn't betray an ounce of anxiety, and I wonder how she can appear so collected.

"Well gentlemen," she says, her voice clipped. "Let's get over to the bay so the boys can get to work."

"All right, big brother," Jace says as our spectators make their way back to safety. "Let's do this." Laughing, he slings an arm around my shoulders and fishes another pair of aviators out of his pocket with his free hand. He slides them on my face as we're walking, nearly taking out an eye in the process. I just laugh and adjust them myself, giddy with anticipation. I throw my arm over his shoulder, and we walk together, happy and carefree and completely unaware that our lives are about to change forever.

The first part of the morning is fairly routine; we have to take the planes through their various capabilities, both as single entities and as a unit, following commands from mom as dictated by Colonel Hathi. It's more of a tease than anything else, being in the air in such powerful machines and not being able to harness their full potential. I'm nearly squirming in my seat, wanting so badly to open the jet up and see what it can really do, and I'm willing to bet an inordinate sum of money than Jace feels the exact same way.

I remember Jace's first trip in the air more clearly than my own. My father had been around a lot more back then, working closely with the engineers to design the new models. Isabelle and I were waiting in the hangar for our weekly lesson when my dad walked in with a sullen-looking Jace skulking right behind him.

Jace’s adoption – the stipulation of a will that my father had known nothing about – had only gone through a few weeks before, and he’d only moved into the manor a few days prior. Never having met him in his home environment, despite the fact that my father had been named his next of kin, we knew him only as the brooding and angry child who had sequestered himself to his room as soon as he arrived.

It was obvious that he didn’t want to be in New York – and he especially didn’t want to be in the hangar with any of us. Getting him onto the plane was an exercise in frustration, and we could see our father’s patience running thin as he tried coaxing – and finally ordering – Jace to come up with us.

When the next week came, Jace refused to come up with us again, choosing to stay behind and throw wrenches into a toolbox from across the hangar. He acted much the same at home, locking himself in his bedroom and only coming out for meals.

But my dad kept bringing him along, and every day he crept a little closer to the plane as we were preparing to board, until one afternoon he just jumped inside, fully dressed with a jeez, you guys are so slow as if he had been there all along. After that first flight we could barely get him out of the air. He went up with the first test pilot to take off and wouldn't come home until the last pilot left for the evening. And once we were old enough to take over the controls ourselves, we were unsurprised to find that he flew with the same preternatural grace and talent he demonstrated with everything else.

The only difference was that in the air he had someone who could rival his skill: me. Unlike on the ground, where I seemed to have two left feet and just about enough self-confidence to fill a thimble, in the air my inadequacies melted away.

It sounds stupid, but you really do leave all that other shit in the dust as you take off, and that sort of freedom is something I’ve been clinging to since I was eight years old.

When we land for a lunch break, Jace immediately takes off toward the locker room to text Clary. Aware that anything I say will be taken as seriously as a circus act, I just stalk toward the small rec-house to meet with mom and the Colonel.

"Good show, my boy! Good show," the Colonel booms like a twenties-era aristocrat. "That was really something."

"Thank you, Sir," I reply, letting myself be led away by my mother to talk to specs and maneuverability.

We've almost finished eating by the time Jace slides into the table, all wide grins and hilarious anecdotes.

Whereas I've spent the last fifteen minutes working categorically through my prepared list of acceptable table topics, Jace just instantly puts everyone at ease. He's likable, which is important when you're not at twenty thousand feet.

"Izzy texted me," he hisses under his breath before digging into a burger. "She has plans, so you're going to have to go pick Max up from his birthday party at three."

"Why didn't she text me?" I ask, scrolling down through my phone to ensure that she hadn't tried. "That's like, an hour from now. There's no time!"

"Probably knew you'd have a lecture about responsibility," Jace says with his mouth full. He swallows half a burger in one gulp. "Now you have no choice but to do it."

I sigh and pick at my own fries. "I guess we'll swing by after we're finished here."

"No can do, bro," Jace says, downing the rest of his burger. "I've gotta go. Clary's got a concert out of town and I promised I'd go with her."

I open my mouth to protest, but he cuts me off.

"Mom already knows, so there's nothing you can do about it."

"So I'm going up alone this afternoon?"

"Flying solo," Jace agrees with a nod. He reaches out and grabs a couple of fries. "For the road," he says, as self-satisfied as a cat with a mouse.

"A potato blight on both your houses," I mutter as he disappears from sight.

As I walk back to the hangar to get back up in the air, I'm surprised to find I'm being followed. The young private from this morning is walking about five steps behind me. I ignore him, assuming that if he has something to say he'll get to it on his own time.

I'm getting ready to climb back in when he shuffles over nervously. "Mr. Lightwood?" he says tentatively, his eyes dipping when I turn around to look at him.

"Alec is fine, Private…"

"Walsh, Sir. I mean Alec. It's Private Walsh."

Removed from his rigid posturing and the unforgiving fluorescent lights, Private Walsh is pretty attractive. He smiles as he notices my none-too-subtle once over and I change my mind. He's extremely attractive.

"Can I help you with something, Private?"

"I was wondering," he says, keeping his eyes steadily on mine this time. "Maybe I could go up with you?"

"The LC-27s are single-pilot aircraft. I mean, we could suit you up for one if that's what you want. You are with the air force, right?"

"Yes Sir, but I'm a flight engineer. I'm around strictly in a servicing capacity." He smirks and moves a little closer.

If I were Jace I'm sure I could find something witty and suave to say to that, but instead I just gape blankly, and he loses a little of his forward momentum.

"Maybe I'll just…" He turns toward the door and I reach out and grab his hand. His breath catches and his obvious interest makes me brave. Knowing there's no way anyone can see I draw him close and press my lips to his. He makes a small, hitching noise in the back of his throat and I wrap my arms around the back of his neck. His uniform is pressed and starched and feels rough against my skin. I don't know how I didn't realize how hot he was before now. He deepens the kiss and presses me up against the plane, his hand working its way up the back of my t-shirt.

"What about the demonstration?" I whisper as his mouth trails down my jaw to my neck.

"Colonel Hathi's decided already," he breathes into my skin. "He's accompanying your mother back to Lightwood Corp's head office and I'm to do a thorough evaluation of the aircraft."

"They're gone?" I repeat, wanting to be sure this won't get him in any trouble.

"I watched them drive away myself," he answers, biting my throat lightly.

"Well, let's begin the inspection," I say, hauling myself up into the cockpit and pulling him along with me.

--

"You've really never had sex in an airplane before?" Devon – Private Walsh – laughs as he rubs his fingers softly along my ribcage, moving ever so slowly downward, apparently interested in round two. "With all the time you spend here?"

"I spend all my time here with my brother and sister," I say, wrinkling my nose. I groan a little as he leans down to press a kiss to my hipbone. "Plus, it isn't like me to do something so irresponsi….Shit!" I spring up, and in such cramped quarters the sudden movement propels Devon against the other side of the cockpit. I haul my boxers up as quickly as I can, and jump out of the plane so that I can pull on my other clothes. "Shit, shit, shit!"

"What, what is it?" Devon asks without moving, still relatively blissed out.

Once I get my pants up I yank out my phone. It's already 2:35. "Fuck!" I scramble to find my jacket and the keys to the Lotus. I just pray that Jace hasn't hidden them like the last time he left me out here on his own.

“Alec, I'm starting to feel a little offended here," Devon calls down as I start upsetting chairs in an attempt to find my jacket.

"I'm really sorry," I say, snatching my jacket from behind a box of spare parts – fucking Jace, I'm going to kill him.

"It's just that I'm late to pick up my little brother."

I jump back up to the plane and give Devon a last, lingering kiss. "Don’t be offended. That was the most fun I've ever had in an airplane," I say as I start to jog toward the parking lot.

"Best compliment ever!" Devon calls after me as I leave the hangar.

I'm in such a rush to get home that I blow the speed limit completely out of the water. I actually feel a little guilty for lecturing Jace that morning. It's for Max, I convince myself. He'll hate to be left alone at the party.

I get home in sixteen minutes and the tires screech and burn black marks on the pavement as I slam on the brakes. I throw the car in park, put on the parking brake, and yank the keys out of the ignition in one swift motion and leap over the door with one arm rather than open it. Once I get inside I search the kitchen for the small purple post-it that has Max's friend's address and telephone number written on it.

I dial the number a couple of times before I run out to switch cars, but I can't get an answer. That makes me feel a little better – hopefully it means that there are still a dozen sugar-high kids running around.

I decide to go the responsible route and take the CR-V instead of the convertible, and I throw some reusable bags in the back seat as I climb in. Max will probably be a little upset that I'm late to come get him, so I plan on leaving the birthday party and driving straight to the comic book store.

I plug the address into the GPS and turn on the radio, humming along without really knowing any of the lyrics.

The GPS tells me that the house is less than a ten-minute drive away, so there's no reason to rush now.

As I get closer, the road becomes more congested. People are lined up and down the sidewalk and I wonder if there's some kind of festival going on. I'm prepared to give up, park, and walk the rest of the way when an ambulance and two fire-trucks blow past me, sirens blazing. I see a parking spot a few feet up and decide to just cut my losses and park a few blocks away. If this crowd has gotten unruly enough to warrant the fire brigade then driving is going to be hell anyway.

I grab the post-it from where it's stuck on the dashboard and start toward the house at a light jog. As I begin to get closer the crowd gets thicker and unease starts to coil in the bottom of my stomach. The yells of the crowd are panicked and made nearly unintelligible by the wailing of sirens, and there's thick black smoke billowing over the tops of the high-rise apartments that line the street. I pick up the pace, actively shoving my way through the crowd, not stopping to apologize when I accidently knock someone over. The closer I get the harder it becomes to breathe and the more I start to truly panic. There's a huge crowd of people now and the smoke is suffocating. I check the address on the post-it four times in a row to make sure I have the right building, unable to accept that the blazing inferno in front of me is where I'm supposed to pick up my baby brother.

Before I can get to the front door a wall of emergency personnel stops me. People are yelling and running and calling out to one another and I feel completely disoriented. It's like I've suddenly gained the ability to read minds and thousands of thoughts are flying at me from every angle. The smoke is making my eyes water and the post-it flies from my grip and disappears down the street. "Max!" I shout over the screaming crowd.

"Max, where are you?"

I scan the crowd feverishly, searching for some kind of sign that my brother has been taken out of the burning building safely, and my heart nearly stops when I see a small crowd of children huddled around a hysterical woman holding a cell phone. Her clothes are blacked and her hair is in disarray, and two firemen are trying to lead her toward an ambulance, but she refuses to leave the small, blonde-haired child who must be her son.

"Mrs. Thomas?" I yell, my voice cracking from the smoke inhalation. "Mrs. Thomas!" I run over only to be stopped by a burly fireman. "Wait, wait a second. I just need to talk to her!" I swing around the fireman and bend over so that I'm close to the woman. From this distance I recognize her as a lady who has dropped Max off from school a few times.

"Mrs. Thomas, my brother, where is he? I need to make sure he's all right." My voice cracks and I know before her eyes well up and her body shudders that Max isn't here.

"No," I say quietly, distinctly. "No, that's just not true." My voice rises and I can see my hands shaking but I can't feel them. I can't feel my arms or my legs or my feet. My eyes no longer feel dry and the scratchy pain of the smoke inhalation has faded. There's only an ice-cold point in the center of my chest that's slowly radiating outwards. I feel completely dissociated from myself, as if I'm looking down at this scene through someone else's eyes. I hear a strangled cry and only realize once people's heads turn toward me that it has risen up from my throat. Then, very slowly, everything bleeds back into focus before exploding in a flurry of light and sound and pain.

The pain tears at my chest like a wild animal, ripping and clawing until I'm sure I'll look down to see a shredded t-shirt and blood-soaked pavement. It seems impossible that when I press my hand to my chest that my heart is still safely locked within, beating as it always does. I run toward the door, only to be stopped by a police officer. He's small though, and taken by surprise, so I manage to get him down to the ground before two more come at me from behind. "My brother is in there!" I scream, trying to make them understand that I have to go in. That nothing is going to keep me from tearing down that entire apartment if I have to. "I need to get in there!"

But someone's leading me away from the house and toward an ambulance and a small, black-haired girl is soon pressing a pill underneath my tongue and my legs and arms feel thick and heavy. "My brother's in there," I say again, fighting against the bile and tears that accompany such a statement.

"It'll be okay, sweetie," the black-haired lady says, slipping a blood pressure cuff just above my elbow. I want to believe her, but sometimes you just know. You can just feel the second the earth shifts and your entire life gets knocked off balance. It feels like a knife in the stomach, like a cut that can never be deep enough, painful enough. It feels like nothing will be right ever again.

The medication keeps me somewhat calm, at least until the fire dies out and the rescue crew can get inside to comb the wreckage. The wreckage. The charred pieces of countless lives destroyed. I pull out my phone and dial everyone in my family, too scared to leave messages when no one picks up. I'm afraid and left completely alone to navigate the mangled remnants of what used to reside inside my chest.

Finally my phone lights up with a call: Izzy.

"It's Max," I say numbly into the receiver, and that's all she needs. Izzy's strong – stronger than I'll ever be – and I can hear her trying not to cry. "Where are you?" she asks, her voice made deep with restrained grief.

She arrives within the half hour and I find out that it's even easier to fall apart when you're with someone you love. We stand together, constantly trying to get in contact with our parents and Jace and waiting for news.

When it comes, it's not the kind either of us want.

"We need you to identify a body."

In all of human history there cannot be a sentence that has caused more pain, a sentence more unfair. The impossible is made merely unbearable with Isabelle there for support. We clasp hands and follow the police officer across the courtyard and behind the barricade, to a solitary ambulance that's serving as temporary triage for the wounded.

There's a black bag on a stretcher and bizarrely I find myself thinking of the store that sells child-sized body bags. I think that the world's greatest travesty is that there's a market for body bags that size. Izzy lets out a small whimper of pain and I squeeze her hand tighter. My stomach rolls as the officer starts to unzip the bag and I can't hold back the tears any longer. They spill over my cheeks, hot and relentless, and while I've heard people say that crying is the truest form of catharsis, I'm willing to bet that they've never experienced this mad sort of grief. This thunderstorm of pain and anger and disbelief. My throat burns with the effort of trying to hold in my anguish, until finally I cannot manage any longer.

I give them the confirmation they require and then promptly run behind the ambulance and collapse, drying heaving and sobbing until I taste blood in the back of my throat. I claw at my chest in any effort to try to staunch the pain, to rip out my bleeding heart so that there's nothing left to hurt.

Max, the glue who held the Lightwood family together; Max, my quiet, nerdy brother; Max, the future superhero and current comic book fiend is gone. He's former. He's dead.

He's dead because of me.

Chapter Text

I haven't seen Magnus since the night I slept over. Not since I rolled out of bed after shaking off Josh, who had been clinging to me like a spider monkey, to find Magnus in the kitchen, pancake batter smeared across one cheek, frying an entire pack of bacon. He just smiled, passed me a heaping plate of pancakes, and launched into a conversation about this time Josh had hacked into the Principle's email in high school and sent home letters to all the students who had been giving him a hard time, as if last night had never happened. I just sat there, chewing quietly, laughing in all the right places, and wishing I could be as unaffected about all this as he seemed to be.

I did call him, a couple of days later, to ask about coming over today. He knows how Max died and I suspect he knows after the first night we met that I didn't handle it well, but he knows nothing further. Still, after the way he murmured, Oh, Alexander, after I asked him if he would come keep me company, I have a hard time imagining a reality in which he'd be uncomfortable with the truth.

Not that that keeps me from worrying. I spend the first hours of the morning, the ones Jay uses to get ready for court, getting all of my work for the day done. There's one teary-eyed incident when Jay leaves for work and tells me that everything is going to be okay, that I'm strong and beautiful and he wishes he could stay, but after that I remain relatively calm. I'm much too distracted waiting for Magnus to show up to do anything requiring the tiniest modicum of concentration, so I focus on scrubbing the house until it sparkles. It’s a habit I’ve picked up from Jay, and I’ve got to say that it really does work.

I'm just looking for the doggy brush so I can go outside and brush Hector for the fourth time this week when I hear the doorbell.

Magnus.

I nearly fumble the brush, and manage to catch my finger in the drawer in my haste to rush to the door. With my pinky stuck in my mouth, I pull the door open to reveal a slightly intimidated Magnus. He looks amazing, as usual, but casual. He's wearing a hoodie. Granted, it's purple with a neon green zipper and strings, but it's a hoodie nonetheless.

"I wasn't sure I had the right address," Magnus says sheepishly, peering into the foyer. "Thought I might have taken a wrong turn and ended up at James Franco's house."

"It's not that bad," I mumble, pulling the door open so he can step in. I feel like a bit of an idiot for even asking Magnus here. I can only imagine what this looks like to him. He's barely scraping by in a tiny two-bedroom apartment that's filled with mold and smells like the back room at Sin City. Meanwhile, I'm lounging in my ranch-style mansion, complaining about how long it takes to mow my acres of lawn. I am an idiot. I should have told Magnus I would meet him at his apartment. Or I should have warned him. It's just, how do you go about explaining that to someone? Oh, by the way, I have approximately the net worth of a small country, but I decide to sit around on my ass, read comic books, and spend most of my day playing with animals. This is why I have no friends.

"You're right," Magnus says. "Just a step up from hovel, really. It's a little bigger than shack, but definitely smaller than hut."

"Don't be a dick," I say, pushing him toward the kitchen with a laugh. "Now do you want the tour or not?"

Magnus consults a watch that isn't there. "I don't know if we have time, I've only signed out a week of my life."

"I should have invited Josh," I say as I stalk off toward the back of the house, Magnus laughing as he slides along the polished wooden floors like a surfer. "I'm glad you didn't," he says, bumping into me. "He's already starting to like you more than me."

I flit around the rooms, basically just popping random doors open in an attempt to calm myself down. Magnus takes in each section of the house in silence, and I really begin to wonder if this was a bad idea. I save the best room for last and force him to put his hands over his eyes as I guide him through the entryway.

"All right, you can take them down now," I say, biting a little at my nails as I wait for his opinion.

For a few seconds he just stands there, dumbfounded, looking at the shelves upon shelves of books. "Alexander," he says softly, and I understand everything he's feeling with just that one small word.

"I always wanted a library," I say shyly as he moves to start exploring. "I used to come here when we first moved to Las Vegas, before the Haven was up and running. Jay would go to work and I would lock myself in here, reading and sketching comics."

Well, trying to sketch comics.

Magnus pads softly over to a shelf filled with textbooks and references. He reaches out and gently, reverently, runs his finger down the spine of an old, cracked book titled The Sceptical Chymist.

"Where did you get this?" he asks, his voice cracking a little.

"It was my dad's," I answer, pushing away the tiny stab of pain that rises whenever I talk about him. "He and my mom met in college. He was studying Physics and Chemistry and she was studying Business so that she could take over her Dad's Corporation. He was her tutor for first year physics, which she was failing, and he thought she was a spoiled brat, but he needed the money. My mom spent like six months getting him to agree to go out on a date with her, and eventually she got him this book."

"I take it he said yes?" Magnus asks. He's still brushing the spine of the book carefully.

"Yeah, he did. Then they got married, he took her last name, and they worked at the Lightwood Corporation together for like twenty years, until well…Max."

Magnus turns around quickly and reaches out to touch my shoulder. He's such a tactile person, always playing with Josh's hair and running his fingers along whatever's closest, but it still makes my breath catch every time one of those unconscious gestures is directed at me. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean – "

"No, no," I say, walking over to the bookshelf. "It took years of therapy for me to accept that today of all days I should be talking about Max." I pluck the book that he was reading down from its spot, and Magnus makes a little half-gasp, half-yelp and stretches his arm out toward the book with a cringe.

"It's fine," I assure him, passing the book over. "I just figured that you wanted to hold it."

"I –" Magnus takes the book and rests it gently against one arm before opening the cover. "Alexander," he says, his voice shaking a little again. "This is a first edition." He takes the book and passes it back to me as if it's a bomb about to detonate. "You should put it back."

"I know it's a first edition, Magnus. You can still touch it."

Magnus shakes his head firmly. "That's a hundred thousand dollar book. I could sell my soul at an inflated rate and still not get adequate return."

"Don't be stupid," I say as I slip the book back into the empty space. "You're Magnus Bane." I pause to wipe a little dust off the shelf. "If it makes you feel any better, my dad must have thought the same thing. He left the book when he moved out and my mom told me to take it with me because it would only gather dust at home. Though I think maybe it was just a little too hard for her to look at."

"I'm really sorry," Magnus says again, moving a little closer.

"Don't be. They've both been happier since. Max was kind of the glue that kept the family together for a long time. Everyone felt like more of a Lightwood when he was around, if you know what I mean?" I open a cupboard and grab two beanbag chairs. I toss one at Magnus and then sink down into the other.

"What about your family?" I ask. Magnus always has stories about Josh to share, funny stories, sad stories, disturbing stories, but I've never heard him say anything about his immediate family.

"Josh is my family," Magnus says simply. "He was the one to come to my science fairs, the one who threatened to cut off my first boyfriend's balls if he hurt me, the one to make sure that I looked flawless at school after that same boyfriend dumped me. He's the only one I've always been able to count on, so whether or not we share any of the same DNA, he's my family."

I sit in silence, trying to find a way to tell Magnus that I wasn't insinuating otherwise, but I don't even know how to begin. Luckily, Magnus fills in the silence.

"But I guess that's not what you meant?" He turns so that his body is nearly folded in half and his face is blank and unreadable. His voice is short and clipped, lacking any of its usual vitality and I wish I could reach over and snuggle up to him the way Josh does.

"My dad was a monster," Magnus says. "More demon than man, but charming when he needed to be. He met my mother at a Wal-Mart in New Jersey where she had been working since she tried to get out of a shitty neighborhood and even shittier situation. He preyed on women like her, women with no family and no support system, and I suppose he thought he was doing her a favor when he left her alive.

She refused to get an abortion. She tried her best to take care of me, but I knew that every time she looked at me she saw him. I was her constant reminder of what he had done. She got married when I was five and he didn't like me much, but things were fine. She was as good a mother as she could be, given the circumstances. Then, when I was twelve I came home one day from school and found her in the basement. She…" He takes a deep breath before continuing.

"She'd taken a bunch of pills. My step-dad had never liked me much to begin with, and there was no way he was keeping me around once she was gone. I went into the foster system, and the couple I stayed with until I graduated had a single redeeming quality: they sent me to the school where I met Josh."

He draws his knees up to his chest and continues to talk in the same monotone. "I spent a lot of time wondering if the world would have been a better place if she'd been more informed – if she’d just terminated the pregnancy when she had the chance."

"I know it wouldn't," he continues hastily, before I can interrupt.

"Josh and I met when I was fourteen. His parents sent him to public school as some sort of Campaign scheme, and I finally had someone. Even when they pulled him back up to private after the votes were in, we still stuck together. Loneliness is something you learn to live with; you don't ever realize how bad it is until you find someone who loves you." He shakes his head a little and then smiles.

"I'm sorry to pile all this shit on you, especially on a day that’s so hard. It’s just, once I start talking it’s hard to stop. The last thing you need on a day like this is a rundown of my shitty life.”

"Don't think that," I say quietly when it's clear that Magnus is finished. "It's not like that." I quickly tug my sweater up over my head and move closer, compensating for the instant chill with Magnus's presence. I stretch out my left arm and place it, palm up, in Magnus's hand. The puckered scar looks even larger contrasted with the delicate bones of his wrist.

"I know it won’t change what you’ve been through, but I can tell you from experience that the last thing I was thinking about when I did this was my family. It sounds bad, but in that moment I had kind of forgotten that they even existed. Everything good just felt like it was so tiny in the face of everything I had to deal with. I mean, in some far off corner of my mind I guess I knew I had a family who loved me, but that part was just so far removed from what I was feeling. Or what I wasn't feeling. It was like one minute I was happy; I had come out to my family, I got to spend my days flying airplanes for fun, and then the next minute my little brother was dead and I blamed myself. All of a sudden, I was just nothing. I was empty."

I flip my hand and grasp Magnus's forearm, feeling emboldened in a way I have never been before in his presence. "I can't tell you what your mom was thinking and I know that nothing I say can make it better, but I can tell you that I can't imagine a world where you're not enough for anyone."

"Alexander, I –" Magnus leans forward and my heart picks up. I feel feverish and I know that if he leans over to kiss me I won't do anything to stop him. I'm not thinking of Jay or how much this will hurt him or how I might regret it; all I can think of is Magnus and how strong he is to have made it through the shitty hand life dealt him, how beautiful he is in the muted shadows of the library, and how I would do anything to never have to hear him say that the world would be better without him again.

But Magnus stumbles a little as he leans forward; his foot slips out to the side with his sudden shift in position, and the moment is lost.

My face flares and I can't believe what almost happened. I spring up and Magnus follows suit.

"Well I'm not proving to be very good company, am I?" Magnus says smoothly as he brushes off his shorts. "You brought me over here to cheer you up, and I've been as cheerful as a wake."

"Don't." I reach out to brush my fingers against Magnus's forearm. "Don't feel like you have to pretend to be happy on my account."

Magnus turns and smiles – it's a smile that belongs on the face of a much older man. "I find that I lose the ability to pretend to be anything other than what I am when I'm around you," he says.

"Like apparently a huge chemistry nerd?" I ask, shifting the focus back to the books. "Are you going to tell me that story?"

"Maybe another day," he replies. "But for now, can we go visit some kittens?"

We spend the better part of the afternoon taking care of the animals, but Magnus doesn't seem to think of it as work. Once he's finished having another existential crisis about the size of my property and the impact that has on our friendship, he dives into helping me with exceptional vigor. He removes his purple hoodie to reveal nothing but a neon green tank top underneath, and I spend the next five minutes trying not to openly stare and end up stepping in a pile of dog crap. It's a miracle that I succeed.

With Magnus there, Chairman Meow even ventures outside, prancing around and ignoring the other cats in favor of gnawing on my shoelace. Kipling, lost without his feline companion, trots back and forth outside the fence that separates our yard from the Haven's enclosure, making piteous howls every time he sees the kitten run by.

"Are you sure we can't let him in?" Magnus asks, looking worried about the dog's mental state.

"He's just being a baby. If we let him in now he's going to think of this as his space. You just have to ignore him."

Magnus looks toward the fence with a pained expression. "Are you this bossy all the time?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" I say, plucking a loose nail out of the rabbit enclosure.

Magnus just turns around and looks at me for a few seconds before going back to spreading fresh hay. I smile to myself, unsure if I'm more shocked that I said that out loud or impressed that I left Magnus Bane speechless.

As we're walking from the enclosure back to the house, Magnus spies the second storage shed and immediately changes trajectory.

"What's over here?"

"It's nothing," I say, jogging to catch up to him. "A bunch of old parts and stuff we don't use."

"Sounds spooky." Magnus takes off at a sprint, looking like a giant, purple bat with his sweater billowing out behind him.

"Come back here!" I call, but it's too late. He's already pushing the doors open and walking inside.

"Holy shit!" I hear him say as I jog up to the door. He turns around. "Alexander, there's a plane in your garage."

"Really? I hadn't noticed." I gravitate toward the C-172, brushing my hand along the cool exterior.

"Why is there a plane in your garage?"

"I told you I used to be a pilot," I say, rapping on the metal. "This is the kind of plane my Dad used to teach me how to fly. First I loved it because it was something we did together, but then I just learned to love it for what it was. It's the closest you can get to being truly free."

"I wouldn't know," Magnus says, leaning casually against the plane, arms crossed. "I've never been in one."

"Never?"

He shakes his head. "Took the bus from New York to Las Vegas and haven't gone anywhere since."

"I haven't flown since Max died," I admit. "I tried after it happened. At that time it was the only way I could escape. But I got in the cockpit and got immediately sick. I had a horrible flashback and ended up in the hospital a couple of weeks later. Jay bought this for me as a birthday present when we first moved out here, hoping that I'd get back to it again. He used to ask me to take him up all time, but he eventually accepted the fact that it was probably never going to happen. It's just been sitting here for two years, only getting used when he gets a maintenance guy to come out and give it a tune up.”

"Do you want to get in?" Magnus asks. "We could just sit inside and talk."

I hesitate – there’s a good reason I stay away from this unit. Usually I avoid thinking about flying because it reminds me of Max. Today, however, thoughts of Max are at the forefront of my mind, plane or no plane. "Sure," I finally say, sounding a lot more confident than I feel.

"Some birthday present," Magnus says once we're both tucked inside.

"I've been given better," I say, thinking of Magnus standing barelegged in my hotel room, glitter shimmering on the surface of his golden skin. I don't realize that I've said it out loud until I hear Magnus's breath catch.

When he looks at me I see something open and raw, and because I am not even close to being a good person, I turn away.

"I feel kind of bad," I blurt out in a nervous rush. "Jay was so excited and I haven't been able to force myself to fly."

Magnus takes the change in topic gracefully. "Do you think you'll ever be ready?"

"Maybe. I don't know. Sometimes I want to so badly it hurts, but I'm afraid. Not even of the flashbacks, not anymore. I'm just afraid that it won't feel the same."

Magnus reaches out and slips his hand into mine. It's a comforting gesture, something soft and sweet, without any ulterior motives.

"You could try now, if you wanted."

I could. I'd been medically cleared to fly once I’d graduated from the Trauma workshop and my mother had taken care of the necessity of biannual flight reviews years ago. "You want your first time in a plane to be with someone who hasn't flown in years and spent the morning talking about how he nearly killed himself after his last attempt at flying?"

"I trust you," Magnus says. He squeezes my hand before drawing his own back. "And I believe that you can do this and that it can make you happy."

Nervous laughter bubbles up from deep in my chest and I climb down to grab some gear. "Put this on," I say, shoving equipment at Magnus from below. "Let's hope you don't regret this."

As soon as I start the engine, I feel something of what has been missing rushing back. The smell of the airplane and the sound of the propellers are like a drug, sparking receptors that have long remained dormant. My heart pounds and as we make our way out to the little strip that's been cleared away through the field, I let out a loud whoop of excitement. Magnus grasps his seat as the plane takes off, but gapes out the window in wonder as the ground starts to recede below us.

"This is amazing," he breathes as we climb higher.

"Isn't it?" I grin, full and bright and happy. Everything that had kept me out of the air before – the fear, the guilt, and the pain – was something that I had learned to live with. Now that I'm up I don't ever want to go back down. I would stay up here, free amongst the clouds forever if I could. Magnus keeps pointing excitedly at landmarks below, though we’re barely above the tree line, but it makes me happy to see him so enthusiastic. He's moving around freely now, no trace of fear left on his face.

We don’t stay up long. It was almost sundown when we walked over to the hangar, and the sun is already starting to set. The sky is bathed in orange and red, and I think it might be the most beautiful sight I've seen in a long time. Magnus leans his head against the window and stares out into the field, lost in thought, and I know better than to interrupt. I know what it feels like, to wish that your problems were really as small as they seem in the air. He sighs, out of contentment or frustration I'm not sure, but I leave him to his thoughtful silence.

As we make our (slightly bumpy) landing I notice that there's a car running in the driveway. It shuts off and I freeze. Magnus notices my tension and follows my line of sight straight to Jay's Lexus.

"That must be Jay," he says, clearing his throat.

"Yeah, that's him," I answer weakly, climbing out of the plane to go meet my boyfriend. Magnus trails along behind me, humming something under his breath as he walks.

Jay's expression is unreadable when we meet in the driveway. He looks between me and Magnus and the plane for a second and then completely disregards the question I know is burning him from the inside.

"You must be Magnus?" he says, holding his hand out for Magnus to shake. "Alec's told me what a good friend you've been." He bites out the word friend like it gives him pleasure to say it. He sounds ruthless. He sounds like a lawyer.

"Pleasure," Magnus says flatly, flexing his fingers as he draws his hand back.

"How was your day, sweetheart?" Jay asks. He leans in and presses a lingering kiss to my lips – the first time he’s done so in weeks. It’s quite the greeting, from someone who’s usually uncomfortable with public displays of affection. Magnus shuffles, scuffing his worn converse into dirt, and I feel the urge to knock Jay back. I have a good idea where this sudden burst of machismo came from, but that doesn't mean that Magnus deserves it. This mess is my fault, not his.

"It went well," I say slowly. "Very well. Almost like any other day."

"I am really sorry I couldn't be here, Alec. But still, you do the best with what you can." Magnus stiffens behind me and I turn to face him.

"Uh, would you like to stay for dinner Magnus?" He quickly declines and Jay interrupts yet again.

"How about a lift into town? We don't mind dropping you off."

"I think I'll just take a cab," Magnus says, turning to me and zipping up his sweater.

Jay locks the doors to his car with an excessive flourish and then leans in to kiss me a second time. "I'll go start getting dinner ready, honey," he says. "Nice to meet you, Magnus. Thanks for keeping Alec company while I was gone."

"No problem," Magnus says quietly. The tension is palpable and I have no idea what to say to make up for Jay's behavior.

"Magnus I'm –"

"Don't say you're sorry," he spits out before I can apologize. "I'm glad I was here to help, but it's time for you to go back to your boyfriend now." He turns around and starts to walk up the long drive, pulling his cell out to call a cab as he leaves.

I watch him walk away, unsure of how this devolved so quickly, but certain that it's my fault. I don't want to hurt Magnus or Jay, but somehow I've managed to completely ostracize and belittle both of them in one night. I have no idea what I should do – run inside and smooth things over or sprint down the walkway and beg for forgiveness. Magnus makes the choice for me as he disappears through the gate without a backward glance. I stare into the darkness for a few seconds, then turn around to climb up the steps and into the house.

Chapter Text

"So you're flying again?" Jay has a tumbler of whiskey in his hand and his jacket is slung on the back of the sofa, the delicate fabric already starting to wrinkle.

I don't really need to confirm that, so I just sit next to him on the sofa and play with a tiny thread that’s starting to unravel from the cuff of my sweater.

"Was that the first time, today? With him?"

I don't really know which will cause him more pain: thinking I had hidden something from him but confided in Magnus or knowing that Magnus convinced me to finally get up in the air again. Probably the latter, since he convinces people to do things for a living. Still, I owe him the truth.

I try to speak and my voice cracks a little. I clear my throat. "It was the first time."

He drains the remainder of his drink and takes the decanter in his hand, pouring another glass. "Huh."

We sit there for another few minutes, the air almost crackling with what's not being said, and the dogs don't even dare to come in to greet us. "So what made you change your mind?" Jay finally asks, shifting so that we're face to face.

"Magnus had never been up and I – it just seemed like a good idea at the time." The thread in my sweater unravels a little further and I loop the spare fabric around my finger.

"I've never been up with you," Jay says, and the anger has been sucked out of his voice, replaced by a rare vulnerability.

"I know." My voice cracks again with the strain. "I'm sorry, I didn't think – "

Jay twirls the glass in his hand and it falls to the floor with a dull thud. "Was it – did it feel like it used to?"

I accept the peace offering and shove my confusion and frustration away, trying instead to recall the wild abandon I'd felt less than an hour ago. "It was amazing."

"Well, I'm glad," Jay says, and the most horrible thing is that he’s probably telling the truth.

"I'm really happy," he adds when I don’t reply. Then, without another word, he grabs his tumbler from where it fell and stalks off toward the bedroom alone.

I sit on the couch with only the dogs for company, torn between wanting to text Magnus and wanting to run in the bedroom after Jay, until my eyes burn and the opposite wall blurs. Eventually, the sky begins to lighten.

--

Wednesday passes and I don't hear from either of them. Magnus is radio-silent, with no texts, calls, emails, or even signs of life on any social media outlets. Jay gets ready for work in silence and texts around midnight saying that he'll be staying in the office to do some last minute work. He has a futon there and this isn't the first time he's had to do that, but it still feels like a punishment.

On Thursday I'm prepared to message Magnus myself. A day without talking to him feels like a lifetime, and I'm supposed to go into town for Josh's birthday the next night. I leave my phone in the house while I go run some errands and deliver a kitten to a little old lady who lives a few miles away from us, certain that I'll text Magnus as soon as I return.

When I pull into the driveway, Jay's car is parked perfectly straight in his designated corner in front of the garage. I take my time walking up to the house, thinking carefully about what I should say with each individual step. Kipling and Hector bark their salutations, tails wagging and tongues lolling as I walk through the door. When I finally plow through them I see Jay, sitting at the island, twirling my cellphone between his fingers.

"You have a text message," he says carefully, his face blank.

"You checked my phone?" He passes it over without comment and I see that he hasn't. The text is still up on the home screen, untouched.

Jay drums his fingers along the length of the island and then gestures for me to sit across from him.

"I didn't check your phone," he says, "because I respect you and your privacy. But how about you throw a little respect my way and be honest about this whole situation. What would I have found if I had checked it?"

I flip the phone over in my hand. "Texts."

"Don't be deliberately obtuse, Alexander."

I throw the phone on the island and get up to get myself a glass of water. Anything to keep my hands from visibly shaking. "Don't call me that," I shoot back. It’s stupid, and I wouldn’t care otherwise, but I know that Jay is only using my full name to try to prove a point.

"Oh, I get it," Jay sneers and the cruel gesture makes him look older, fiercer. "Only Magnus gets to call you that."

"I thought you said you didn't read them?" I slam the fridge door shut and the dogs race off to another part of the house.

"I didn't read them. I was in the kitchen when the phone went off and just happened to see the message that came up."

"Just happened to see. Sounds likely." I whip around, fully intending to go somewhere else to cool off, but Jay nearly knocks his chair to the ground in a mad rush to stand.

"Alec, please, just sit down?" The monstrous grimace is gone and he looks so hurt that a little of my anger fizzes away. "I don't want to fight. I just want to understand what's going on."

"What's there to understand? Magnus and I are friends. That's what you wanted, for me to have more friends." I throw the phone across the island at him. "Here, fucking read them if you want to."

He pushes the phone away. "I don't want to stalk through your messages, Alec. I trust you. I just – I just feel like I'm losing you, and I want to know if Magnus Bane is the reason."

I think of how long I've been waiting for an opportunity like this. How long I've wanted to work through the issues with Jay, ask him if he's feeling the same restlessness as me. But one look at his wide eyes, wrinkled slightly at the sides; the tiny crescents on his palms from balling his fists so tight; and his defeated posture, loose and completely beseeching, and I know he isn't. He looks desperate.

I can't do it.

Jay notices the pause. "Has anything happened with him?"

My response is immediate. "No! Of course not."

"Alec, I don't want you to be unhappy. But I want you to think about what's going on." He folds his hands and his voice evens out into Serious Lawyer Tone, which is how I know that this is affecting him more than he wants to admit. "I love you. I love you and I'm sorry that work takes up so much time and that I'm obsessive and pedantic and bossy. I know Magnus is new and attractive and exciting, but don't these past three years mean anything at all?"

"Yes, they do.” And I’m not lying – they do. If they didn’t, this whole situation would be a hell of a lot easier. “I just. Magnus and I are friends, okay?"

"You're different, these past few weeks," Jay says softly. "Happier. You've been sketching, singing. Flying. You've been better than ever and I've been gone all the time. I'd have to been an idiot to not notice the pattern. I guess I just didn't want to admit it.” He voice falters, but he continues. “I just want to be the one who makes you happy."

"You do make me happy." I reach out and take his hand, my heart straining in my chest with the effort of watching him doubt himself. "I don't know if I would have been happy again if you didn't come around. You made my life mean something again, Jay."

And he did. He helped me through something that no new boyfriend should have to deal with, almost ruining his relationship with his own sister by doing so. I piled so much shit on him with so little foundation, that it must have taken Herculean effort on his part to ensure it didn't crumble. Now, at the first sign of resistance, I'm willing to fling him away like an abandoned puppy.

"I guess I am a little bit jealous, hmm?" he asks without looking up.

"Maybe a little, but it's okay." My phone beeps again as another text message comes in. Magnus again. "It's Josh's birthday tomorrow," I say, tucking the phone in my pocket for later. "I told him I'd stay in town." It can be a chance for me to say goodbye. A chance to do the right thing.

"You're staying with them?"

"It's a big thing, I'm sure there will be lots of people staying over," I say. "Plus, we're just friends."

"I can't tell you what to do," Jay says, rising from his chair. He doesn't say anything else before he leaves, merely brushes his hand against mine as he walks by. I drop my head down on the island, certain that this discussion is far from over and dreading the next installment. My phone beeps again and I fling it across the room, too pissed off at myself to accept apologies from anyone right now.

Jay comes out, around midnight, to ask if I’m coming to bed. He looks hopeful and nervous and I tell him for the hundredth time I’m too tired, even though he knows that’s a bullshit response. I don’t know if he gets any sleep, but when he leaves for work at seven the next morning I’m still staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do.

--

I've only texted Magnus twice since my talk with Jay last night: once about an hour after I threw my phone at the wall, to tell him he had nothing to apologize for and once eight minutes ago, to tell him that I'm on my way to his house. I only get an "okay" in response on both occasions and try not to let that bother me. Jay offers to give me a ride, but I decline. I remember Magnus's face as he took in our huge house, the endless acreage, the plane-as-a-birthday-gift, and I strongly suspect he doesn't want Jay knowing anything about where he lives. Magnus isn't ashamed of his life, I've known him long enough to be fully aware of that fact, but it's Jay's forte to cut through a person's carefully constructed façade and expose their weaknesses and I don't want that unleashed on Magnus a second time.

I would probably have just blown the whole thing off if I hadn't spent last weekend on the phone with my mother, trying to secure the greatest birthday gift ever for Josh. I fiddle with the envelope as the cabbie maneuvers through the crowded downtown area, hoping that he and Tyler have decided to try to make their relationship work. If they haven't, then this envelope goes in the trash and I look like the jerk-off who didn't bring a present.

I had debated bringing Chairman Meow with me, but decided against it in the interest of preserving his small body from drunken partygoers. Plus, when I sought him out he was tucked under Kipling's paw, snug and content, and I didn't want to separate them. Chairman Meow had gained enough weight to put him back in a healthy range, and as much as it pained me to think of, he would soon have to move back out into the enclosure with the other kittens. I'd snapped a picture of the two of them, just in case I needed something to start a conversation with Magnus, and left them to their cuddling.

When the cabbie pulls up by the front door, for a split second I think he's at the wrong house. When I look up and see that it is indeed the same run-down apartment with the same missing numbers and peeling paint, I worry that I've slept through an entire day and shown up late. There's a single light on in the living room and the street is as quiet as a cemetery. There's no pounding base, no string of people milling about the door, smoking and chatting, no half-drunk Magnus hanging out the window and waving his underwear at passersby. There's no sign of a party whatsoever.

I pause a little awkwardly on the front step, wondering whether or not I should knock or just walk in. When I raise my hand to rap gently, the door swings open and I'm nearly tackled to the ground by Josh. The dude is skinny, but his hugs pack a wallop.

"Alec," he says, his face bright, hair spiked, and eyes shining bright green under a layer of perfectly applied eyeliner. "I'm so glad you're here!"

I definitely haven't missed the party. Josh smells like he's been bathed in Vodka, and I wonder if this is going to last all night or if it's the high before the inevitable collapse and descend into why-is-my-boyfriend-moving-away-from-me territory.

"Happy Birthday," I say, figuring that I should allow the invasion of personal space based on birthday privilege.

"Tyler and I are engaged!" he spits out in reply, holding up his left hand to show a thin silver band that's twisted into a medieval design and glints green as he waves his hand under the light.

"Congratulations," I say, dumbfounded. I know by know that Josh is a year younger than Magnus and I, but I guess when you’re secure in your relationship engaged at twenty-one might not seem so bad. I try not to seize up as he charges into me again, figuring that a day like this probably warrants two hugs.

"Four point two seconds," I hear a vaguely familiar voice yell from the living room. It must be Tyler.

"Come on, Alec," Josh says, tugging me along like an excited toddler at Magic mountain. "Let's get you a drink!"

We go into the kitchen and Josh pulls the fridge door open to reveal a display of alcoholic beverages which would put most frat parties to shame by virtue of both variety and sheer volume. I take the easy way out and snag a beer while Josh pours himself another Vodka and Cranberry.

When we walk into the living room there's only one person I don't recognize, and he's crammed onto the small sofa with Magnus, with Magnus's long, bare legs spread out into his lap. He's running his fingers along the length of Magnus's leg almost absently, and they're huddled close, whispering and laughing about something. My jealousy is instantaneous and overwhelming. I feel suffocated despite the distinct lack of a crowd, and I almost lose my beer as I skid to a stop.

Josh, not too drunk to be completely oblivious, rolls his eyes and says in the just-too-loud voice of the delightfully intoxicated,

"Charlie, this is our friend Alec."

Magnus and Charlie both look over, slightly confused, obviously unaware that I had arrived five minutes ago.

"Hello, Alec," Charlie replies with a smile. I nearly drop my beer a second time.

Charlie is British. And not cockney-roll-in-the-fields British. He's I'm-a-secret-government-agent-who's-going-to-carry -you-bridal-style-to-my-hotel-room-and-fuck-you-until-you-can't-remember-your-name British. Not to mention he looks like a young Tom Hardy, all soft, plump lips and chiseled jaw. I want to crawl up into a ball and then roll down the street all the fucking way home. Instead I just shuffle awkwardly in my spot and stammer out my own hello.

Josh, perhaps thinking I can't see him, glares at Magnus before flitting across the room to nestle himself between Tyler's legs on the floor.

Deciding that there's no power on Earth that could make me sit next to Charlie-the-Wanker, I take a seat on the floor across from Tyler and Josh.

Though he's gone back to chatting with Charlie, I can see Magnus's eyes drift over every few seconds, and I want to scream with frustration. Instead, I fish Josh's present out of my back pocket and hold it to him.

"Happy Birthday," I say lamely, unable to come up with anything more exciting.

"Alec, you didn't have to get me anything." As he leans forward, Tyler follows almost unconsciously, as if their bodies are joined by some gravitational pull.

"It's really not a big deal," I mumble, taking another sip of beer.

Magnus and Charlie stop talking and watch Josh open his present. Magnus's hands are gripping his beer tightly, a stark contrast to his relaxed posture.

Josh flicks the envelope on the floor as he unravels the document inside. As his eyes skim down the page, at least two times faster than I'm capable of reading even in his drunken stage, they get progressively wider. It's a little comical, the way they bug out of his head like a cartoon character.

"Alec, I –"

To my outmost surprise and horror, he actually starts to sniffle.

Tyler immediately stiffens behind him and there is a brief flash of such concern intermingled with fury at Josh's tears that I feel stupid that we ever thought they would break up over this. It also convinces me to never, ever try to do something to hurt Joshua Fell. He plucks the paper out of Josh's trembling hand and reads it himself.

"Holy Shit, Alec" he breathes as the paper floats softly down to the floor.

Josh launches himself across the carpet at me, hugging me even tighter than he did in the porch. It's like his own personal brand of desensitization therapy: he'll cure me of my social anxiety one hug at a time.

"How did you do this?" he asks, drawing away and wiping at his eyes.

"Do what?" Magnus, clearly annoyed, walks over and snatches the paper off the floor.

"I called my mom." It's the first sentence I've spoken to Magnus all night. "She's been wanting to branch Lightwood Corp. into space aircraft for some time now, and I told her about Josh. She called up one of his professors and was sold. She's offering a job for whenever he can make it to New York." Magnus just gapes at me as Josh and Tyler kiss enthusiastically behind him.

He looks more shell-shocked than happy, and doesn't say anything back. Instead, he just turns on his heels and stalks off toward his room, ignoring Charlie's protestations.

Josh breaks away from Tyler with a wet smacking sound and I visibly cringe. Adorable they may be, but I'm not a fan of hearing anyone's exchange of saliva.

"Charlie," he says quickly, before the man can fully rise from his seat. "I think this calls for celebration cake. Would you be a dear and go get some from the fridge?"

He doesn't look happy about it, but Charlie nods his assent and disappears into the kitchen.

"Such good manners, those British," Josh says happily, picking up his contract and placing it on the coffee table where it won't get stepped on. He turns to me, looking up through long lashes. "Would you mind go seeing what's up with Magnus?"

I really doubt that Magnus wants to see me right now. "Maybe you should –" I start, but Josh cuts me off before I can voice my entire objection.

"It's my birthday," he says simply, "and I'm quite comfortable. I'd really appreciate it if you were the one to go."

Sighing, I get up from the floor and make my way slowly into the hall. I jump past the kitchen, worried that Charlie might try to wrangle me into switching jobs with him, and then tap softly on Magnus's door.

"Come in," he says, sounding resigned.

I push my way into the room, stepping over a stack of books to try to make my way over to the bed. I trip over a spare copy of The Name of the Wind and swear softly. Magnus looks up from his desk, where he's carefully pouring a line of tequila shots.

"Oh, it's you." He goes back to pouring.

"Expecting Charlie?" I know I sound like a spoiled brat, but I don't care. I resist the urge to ask who the fuck Charlie is and where he came from, instead creeping over to sit on Magnus's bed.

"Josh, actually," he says.

"How come you haven't texted me?"

Magnus laughs, low and deep in his throat. "My best friend is engaged and apparently moving across the country, and I'm trying to my best to imbibe enough alcohol to forget that either of those are happening while simultaneously trying to be happy that he's getting what he wants. And you come in here wanting to know why I haven't been texting you?"

"Getting drunk is not a very healthy way to deal with your problems."

"Well thank-you, Alec," Magnus grinds out. He throws back a shot and then sweeps the glass to the back of his desk. "Did you pick that little gem up in therapy?"

I stiffen and Magnus looks for a second like he's going to apologize, but then he just takes another shot, wincing as he exhales.

"Be a dick to me all you want," I say, trying my best to not let his harsh words have an effect. "But it's Josh's birthday and he deserves a better version of you than this."

Magnus laughs again, flat and humorless. "Maybe there is no better version than this, have you ever thought of that?"

"Don't give me that self-deprecating bullshit." I reach out and grab one of the shots for myself, resisting the urge to splutter as the heat burns a line down my throat. It gives me the extra kick in the ass I need to man up and really talk to Magnus for once.

"You're a good person, Magnus. If you weren't I wouldn't–"

"You wouldn't what?" Magnus interrupts. He tries to pour another shot and finds that the bottle is empty. "You wouldn't be my friend?"

He shifts position to the bed with more grace than I managed coming in here even though on a scale of one to drunk he's teetering somewhere around Ernest Hemingway.

"Your boyfriend is an asshole," he says sliding to a stop right beside me.

Despite the fact that Magnus has only ever seen Jay act like a complete asshole, the accusation still upsets me. "Leave Jay out of this," I say, moving a little further away. "If you want to be pissed at me, be pissed at me, but don't take it out on him. He doesn't deserve it. He's -"

"Just stop," Magnus says, swaying a little for the first time. "I don't want to sit here and listen to how in love with your boyfriend you are. I can't deal with that shit. Not now, not when everything else is so crappy. Just forget I even said anything."

"I'm sorry," I reach out to touch Magnus's arm but he skitters backward like a frightened animal.

"I get that he was pissed," Magnus says. "But I'd really like to go on thinking that he's an asshole. Because if he's a dick, then that means that despite his perfect hair and his airplanes-as-birthday presents, maybe he's not good enough for you. That maybe you'd be better off with someone else."

I clench my hands into tight fists, afraid that if I reach out to comfort Magnus I'll do something that cannot be taken back. I came here tonight intending it to be the end of this friendship. My presence is toxic to Magnus, twisting his feelings until they're gnarled and complicated. But still, I don't want to leave him thinking that he's not good enough for me. He's good enough for anyone. He's smart and kind and fucking gorgeous and it physically hurts to see him do this to himself.

I'm searching for the words to communicate all of this when the bedroom door opens and light floods into the dim room.

"Magnus?" says a deep voice.

Fucking Charlie-the-Wanker.

Magnus slinks out around me, his face clear of any emotion, looking for all the world like we were chatting about kittens and cupcakes this whole time. "Sorry darling," he purrs, looping his arm through Charlie's and sashaying toward the living room.
"Alexander and I were just having a little chat."

Charlie says something too low for me to hear, and Magnus's light, tinkling laugh makes me want to stab something with a salad fork. Instead, I just take a deep breath and haul my hypocritical ass out to the table to eat some cake, which I already know will taste like cardboard.

The whole time we're eating the cake Josh keeps looking from Magnus to me with this kicked-puppy look on his face, but the one time he starts to talk Tyler kicks him under the table and he just goes back to shoveling in more cake than his tiny frame should be able to hold. The only person talking is Charlie, who won't shut up about the massage therapy conference that brought him into town. He keeps dropping tasteless innuendos that are making everyone uncomfortable. Or maybe they're just making me uncomfortable, but that's not the bloody point. Once he's finished commenting on how tense Magnus looks for the tenth time, I butt in, desperate to hear about anything else. I would listen to Jace and Clary make out, with their "it ain't a kiss if I don't brush your tonsils at least twice" mindset, over one more word out of this twat's mouth.

Josh meets my eyes over the table and I know he thinks the exact same thing. "So, Josh," I say, and he nearly collapses to the table with his sigh of relief. "Uhhh," I scramble for something to say, not having thought this far ahead. Fuck. "How did you and Tyler meet?"

Josh blushes a little and Tyler just smiles attractively, like it's his job to do so. Seriously, the guy belongs on a billboard. Stadiums must erupt when he scores and whips off his t-shirt. Josh looks up at him and he just shrugs his shoulders, grinning the love-struck grin he has whenever Josh pays the slightest bit of attention to him.

"You may as well tell Alec," he says. "It's not like we'll ever be able to tell our kids."

Kids. My gut clenches at the very thought. We're only twenty-five. Twenty-five year olds don't think about kids, do they? Jay's nearly twenty-eight, does he think about kids? I need another drink.

But Josh just flushes an even brighter pink and clears his throat. "I think you should tell it, Magnus."

Magnus, who has sobered up surprisingly well with his helping of birthday cake, leans back in his chair as if lost deep in thought. "I do have quite the flair for the performance arts, do I not?"

"I think they call that Histrionic Personality Disorder in medical circles," Josh replies, flicking his icing-covered fork in Magnus's direction. Some of the icing lands on Magnus's hand and he licks it off with exaggerated slowness.

Josh smiles smugly. "My point exactly."

"I'll tell your story, you little blond demon," Magnus says. "But only because it's your birthday."

Josh waves Magnus on like he's the Queen of Genovia and I snort into my beer.

"The night was cool and the stars were aligned when a young boy stepped into – "

"Okay, time out," Tyler says, reaching behind him to grab another beer from the fridge. "I will not have you talk about the best night of my life like it's any entry in a pre-teen's diary."

I'm surprised little hearts haven't started beating out of Josh's pupils with the way he's looking at Tyler right now. He completely ignores Magnus's huffing and proceeds to nearly poke himself in the eye with his fork as he attempts to eat even more cake.

Tyler turns to face me and starts talking. "I had just been traded to LA and the guys on the team wanted to go out for some bonding time. I hadn't taken any measures to hide that I was gay, but I didn't go around shouting it out either, so they decided that we were going to a strip club. I just kind of went along with it and we ended up at Sin City. Now, I don't know if it was because the guys were being a little bit boisterous or if the guy at the door thought that he was being funny, but he directed us to Josh's side of the club."

He takes another sip of beer before continuing. "He told us there was a special going on that night – he just conveniently left out what it was."

“Which was?”

“Ragnarok,” Josh pipes in, smirking over the top of his drink.

I choke on my beer and Josh leans over to thump me on the back. "Ragnarok, as in Ragnor, your pseudonym?" I ask, wheezing with the effort.

"Bet your ass it was," Josh says, grinning like an imp. "It was my first solo show."

"So I'm over getting beers for the whole team, kind of as a rookie-ritual type thing, when the stage lights up in green, and Josh struts out, and I was sure that the actual end was coming. I dropped a beer and everything.

"When I got back to the table all the other guys were clearing out, but I told them I was staying to finish my beer. Finishing my beer took until three o'clock, coincidentally."

"I didn't even get a tip," Josh sniffs, crossing his arms and pouting.

"Because I was too worried that I would pass out if you got that close to me!" Tyler says, pressing a kiss to Josh's spiky hair.

"Instead he came over and bought me a beer." Josh wrinkles his nose.

"Which you drank even though you've told me on several occasion that it tastes like warm piss," Magnus supplies, clearly fed up with being ignored.

"I probably would have taken warm piss, if it meant getting him to go home with me," Josh says and we all laugh.

"All right," Josh slaps his hands against the table and gets out of his chair. "If we keep sitting around and eating cake, we're never going to go out. One final birthday shot and then we're hitting the club."

Usually sitting around the table is my ultimate endgame, but tonight sitting around the table means subjecting myself to more tales with Charlie-the-Wanker and frankly, I'd rather be shoved under a bus.

Magnus declares a need to freshen up before he can go out and his British friend follows him in like a lost puppy. I decide to sit outside while Josh and Tyler canoodle at the table, throwing rocks across the road in a fit of sullen self-pity unrivaled by anything I felt as a teenager. The four of them appear after a short time, Josh and Magnus trailing behind in heated discussion and Tyler getting stuck with Sir Boastsalot.

The night air is a bit cool, but the buzz from the alcohol helps keep me warm. I nervously adjust my bracelets, making sure that the scar isn't visible underneath, and I catch Magnus staring at me, his eyes softer than they've been all night. He still looks away when I try to catch his gaze.

We get dropped off at Sin City, ostensibly to see all Josh's work friends, but actually because they've agreed to give him drinks on the house because it's his birthday. There's a loud cheer when we first walk in and a couple of guys dressed in full-length cocktail dresses come over and smother him with kisses. Sin is hosting a special event and everyone is dressed to kill. I spend the first portion of the night trying not to lose my toes to some of the stilettos as Josh forces me to bop along awkwardly with him on the dance floor. I wait it out patiently, feeding him drinks, knowing that eventually he'll be too wrapped up in Tyler to pay attention to what I'm doing. Plus, with every beer I drink, staying on the dance floor gets a little easier.

Magnus disappeared into the crowd as soon as we got here, blending in with the throng of bodies like a wraith, and I haven't seen him since.

I lose count of how many drinks I've had by the time I need a bathroom break. I meander through the throng of sweaty dancers, pausing only once to glare at a guy who pinches my ass. I spot the sign across the room and start pushing my way through. I'm proud of myself, in an absent-minded sort of way, for being able to do this. There was a time when I would have had a full-scale meltdown being surrounded by this many people.

When the crowd finally thins and the bathroom is a mere few steps away, I hear a distinctly British voice coming from the corner.

I turn and there's Magnus, pressed against the wall with Charlie's arms on either side of him. I stop, paralyzed with a combination of jealousy and fear of being spotted, and duck behind the wall.

Spying seems like a good idea in my drunken state.

"Don't you have a dressing room?" I hear Charlie say. There's a rustling of clothing and I feel like I might be sick.

"I may," Magnus says, but his voice sounds bored, indifferent. "But it's for Magnus-only time."

"Well I think we're overdue for a little Magnus-Charlie time."

"It's Josh's birthday, I'm not taking off," Magnus says. I peep around the corner and see him slip around Charlie, examining his nails under the club's purple light.

Charlie reaches out and grabs his wrist, yanking him back toward the wall. My heart speeds up and I dig my nails into my palms in an effort to calm down.

"No getting rough unless I say so," Magnus tsks. I breathe a small sigh of relief as he slips out of Charlie’s grip.

"So when are you going to say so?" Charlie pushes. I hear the wet sound of lips smacking together and my stomach rolls again.

"I'm just not feeling it, Charlie. Not tonight." I peer around the corner to see Magnus leaning against the wall. He looks relaxed but his eyes are flashing dangerously. The pattern of light against his intricate makeup gives him an otherworldly look.

"I'm only in town for a fucking night this time, Magnus. I put my other plans on hold for you, and I expect to get something out of it. You can't just call me up out of the blue and then dangle me in front of your little blue-eyed friend like some kind of consolation prize. I overheard your little bedroom chat and you weren't exactly subtle with the sidelong glances all night. You think I don't know when I'm being used? You may think you're hot shit, but you're nothing but skinny little who-"

Charlie is on the ground before I even realize what's happened. I've never punched someone before and no one tells you how much it fucking hurts.

"Don't talk to him like that, you stupid, arrogant son of a bitch," I scream, too drunk to care that a crowd of people have gathered to see the cause of the commotion.

There's blood on my knuckles from scraping against Charlie's teeth and there's someone yelling for a bouncer behind us. Charlie scrambles to his feet and I have no more expertise on how to block a punch than how to throw one, so I'm caught right under the ribs as I'm trying to wipe the blood off in my jeans. I manage to catch Charlie's legs on the way down by complete accident and we fall together in a tangled heap. I snap my head up, looking to see if Magnus is all right, only to find him glaring down at me, his expression one of pure, unadulterated fury.

A man's voice booms Magnus's name from across the room and one of the dancers pats Magnus on the shoulder. "Sorry man, but you're fucked," he says as he disappears into the shadows and away from the scene.

Charlie takes the opportunity to roll over so that my limbs are pinned to the floor, either not noticing or caring that there's a burly guy whose t-shirt is clinging to his Schwarzeneggeresque muscles like it was painted on coming straight for us, and I can do nothing more than wriggle around and try my best not to vomit.

"Charlie, get the fuck off of him," Magnus warns, his voice low and dangerous. "And get the hell out of here before I call the cops." I don't know if that's a legitimate threat, but Magnus doesn't sound like he's joking, and Charlie is evidently not willing to test the validity. He gives me a final push toward the floor and disappears into the crowd. I cough weakly give my ribs a quick prod to try to see if everything's intact.

"And as for you," Magnus spits, not even attempting to help me stand. "I'll deal with you as soon as I find out whether or not I still have a job."

Chapter Text

My stomach lurches as Magnus's boss gets closer, and I try to claw my way through the hazy, pea-soup quality of my thoughts and get my ass off the ground before this all turns to shit.

I manage to pull myself up without throwing up everywhere and I'm pretty sure I can pass for an only relatively drunk asshole by the time Magnus's boss reaches us.

"Bane," he says contemptuously, and I get the impression that this may not be the first time Magnus has caused a bit of excitement outside work hours.

"Joe," Magnus replies in the low sexy voice he uses whenever he's trying to win someone over. It should be annoying by now, considering how often he pulls it out. But nope, even with bruised ribs and a throbbing head, still arousing as all hell.

"Don't bat your eyes at me," Joe spits. His beefy face is purple with rage and his eyebrow has the same little twitch my mother's gets when she wants to throw someone out in front of one of her planes. "You're a menace and none of your eyelash flappin' is gonna work on me. You think I can't find a hundred skinny little shits who would beg to have your job?"

"Actually, I –" Magnus starts to say, a combination of alcohol and ego making him downright idiotic, but I cough loudly and he stops.

Joe raises his bushy eyebrows, and with his angry snarl and tufts of coarse, black hair, he looks like a territorial badger. "Now, I have a smashed up wall –"

"Which happened two months ago!" Magnus injects angrily.

Joe rises himself up until he towers over Magnus and starts speaking again, very slowly. "I have a newly smashed up wall, an interrupted show, and a number of disgruntled customers, all because of you and your little friend here. Do either of you have any suggestions about how I'm supposed to pay for all these setbacks?"

I push myself out from the wall by my fingertips, scrunching my face up into an approximation of how Izzy looks whenever someone assumes that because she's beautiful and confident, she must also be stupid. "I'm not sure who you are," I say, hoping that my drunken gait can be misinterpreted as haughty swagger. "But I've never met this man before."

Magnus stiffens beside me, but he's too shocked to open his mouth, which is what I was banking on.

"I came here with my asshole ex-boyfriend, who I found snuggled up in the corner with your –Bane did you call him? Well, after all I did for that good-for-nothing freeloader, I guess seeing him with someone else just set me off." I look at Magnus, giving myself permission to drink him in fully, unabashedly. "I mean, I can see why, he's fucking gorgeous."

I teeter backward a little and reach my arm out to steady myself against the wall. "Actually, what I'm starting to wonder is why he's putting up with any of your abuse. I know this is only the first time that we’ve met, but I have to say that I'm not very impressed with how you treat your employees."

"Who do you think you? You little!" Joe splutters, his eye threatening to dance right out of its socket in his indignant rage.

"I think that I'm a long-time customer, with a lot of influential friends." I pull out my wallet, a lavish leather Gucci limited edition that I have to carry around because Jay's mother got it for me for Christmas, and flash the designer label in Joe's face. I feel dirty, like one of those reality-show celebrities, who only exist to make people feel inadequate, but I really don't want Magnus to get in trouble. Licking my finger I slide four hundred-dollar bills out of the wallet and toss them at Joe. "That should take care of your troubles."

Then I turn to Magnus and try to raise an eyebrow, but I get the distinct feeling that I look like I'm having a seizure. Unable to give up on the charade now, I hold out my hand and attempt a wink.

"And as for you gorgeous," I purr, praying to whatever high power might be out in the universe that I won’t remember this in the morning, "I think you should come home with me."

Magnus just stands there, staring for a full five seconds, before Joe butts in, stuffing the bills in his oversized pockets until he leaves work and they're blown on cigarettes, Cheetos, and donkey porn.

"I'd advise you take his offer, Bane. Because I don't want to catch sight of your sparkly ass until your shift on Monday."

Magnus doesn't take my hand, but he does follow me, wordlessly, out of the club and into the street.

He refuses to talk to me all the way home. When we leave the club he checks his phone, where I'm assuming he sees the same text I got from Josh about a half an hour ago, saying he was on his way to a hotel with Tyler for the night, and then calls a cab without even asking if I'm ready to leave. He waits, propped up against the side of the club, ignoring everyone who comes out to talk to him, until the cab arrives. His near-catatonia lasts until we arrive at his apartment, and then it explodes in a torrent of frustration as he kicks his door so hard I'm afraid it may rip from the hinges.

I close it quietly behind me as I shuffle in to find Magnus already taking a drink out of the still-overflowing refrigerator.

"Are you mad at me?" I ask quietly as I take a seat in one of the kitchen chairs, my feet hauled up to rest on the chair beside me.

"Am I mad at you?" Magnus mutters to himself as he opens and closes various drawers in his search for a bottle-opener. He glares at me. "Am I mad at you, Alexander?" Giving up on the opener search, he just opens the beer using the corner of the counter. He takes a long pull and then sets the bottle down – likely so he doesn't have to resist the temptation of chucking it at my head.

"I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" Magnus walks over and takes a seat across from me. "Sorry for what, exactly? Sorry for attacking my guest?" I make a move to interrupt, but he holds up a blue-tipped finger and my protestations die in my throat. "Sorry for almost costing me my job? Or sorry for throwing a wad of cash at my boss and acting like I was your own personal escort? You made me look like a fucking prostitute while you were busy flashing your designer wallet like Scrooge McDuck."

"I was acting like that on purpose! I just didn't want you to get in trouble."

"You just threw four hundred dollars away like it was nothing, Alexander. That's my student loan payment for the month, and you're carrying it around in your back pocket like it's no big deal!"

Magnus doesn't seem to notice the slip about student loans – one of the only clues about his past I’ve ever gotten – but as much as I want to inquire about it, I know it will just make things worse.

"I didn't know what else to do," I say, my voice getting progressively higher. "If you lost your job it would have been my fault, and I couldn't let that happen!"

"It wouldn't have happened if you weren't slinking around in the shadows, spying on me like some kind of peeping Tom."

"I was on my way to the bathroom," I say, a little pissed off now. "I was not spying on anyone."

I get up from my chair, but the alcohol seems to have hit me fast during my period of rest, and I fall back into a sitting position. "I just couldn't fucking stand to hear anyone talk to you that way."

"So what, you decided that fisticuffs were the answer? Thought you'd get in the middle of a bar brawl? It's not the eighteenth century, Alexander. You can't choose muskets at dawn and duel for my honor. I'm not some silly little twink who needs Mr. Alexander Chiseled Biceps Lightwood to swoop in and defend my honor. Do you think that Charlie is the first person to call me a whore? Do you think that I give a shit if he actually believes it's true?"

My mind is stuck at chiseled biceps and it takes a few seconds to answer. "I don't know, Magnus. All I know is that I'm sorry for getting you in trouble, but if I heard that from anyone else, I wouldn't hesitate to make the same stupid decision over again."

"Why?" It sounds more like a plea than a question, the anger completely drained from Magnus 's voice. He looks at me, really looks at me for the first time since we got home, and his face is that of a man who has lived through a thousand lifetimes, none of them kind. "I'm not yours to protect."

My throat feels full and I know that I'm going to regret this tomorrow and that it will ruin our already-tenuous relationship, but I reach out and take Magnus 's hand in mine. Heat pools, low in my gut, just from the simple contact, and I can’t stop myself from saying exactly what I know I shouldn’t. "I know you're not, but I wish you were so badly it hurts."

"That," Magnus says, swallowing thickly. "Is a colossally unfair thing to say, for so many reasons."

"I know." I draw my hand away quickly. "I have Jay and –"

"Fuck Jay," Magnus says fiercely, grabbing my hand again. "It's unfair because every second of every day I sit here wondering what you're doing with him. I wonder if he’s touching you or if you’re fucking him and I can barely breathe. I sit here and wish that it’s awful, that he doesn’t understand you the way he should – that he doesn’t feel like I do, the exact way to touch you – but that’s so stupid. It’s stupid and self-destructive, because you have history and he knows things about you that I never will. So I just sit here, in this dump, and think about how he’s gorgeous and successful and buys you fucking airplanes and all I can do is–”

"Stop." I get up from my chair and pull Magnus up so that we're face to face. "I don't want to hear another word about how you're not good enough for me. Magnus, I don't know if I've ever met anyone better for me. You're smart and funny and kind and I love every book you’ve ever told me to read. I’ve saved every text you’ve ever sent to me.”

I run my hand up his arm, feeling him shiver beneath the touch. “You’re the kind of gorgeous that shouldn't exist outside the pages of a magazine. I literally thought that I was hallucinating the first time I saw you."

His face is so close I can feel his breath fanning out on my cheek, see the starbursts of green bursting out from his pupil.

His eyes drop and his voice lowers to a whisper. "And yet you still don't want me."

I pull his face up and cup it with my hands. I need him to look at me, to understand how absolutely fucking wrong he is. "Magnus,” I breathe, “I want you so much I think it's going to drive me insane."

The space between us shrinks even further, and instead of answering he just runs his fingers along my bare arms. They leave an electric current of sensation in their wake. My breath hitches as they linger near my wrist.

He makes a soft noise and I honestly can’t tell if it’s a laugh or a sob. "This friendship is not really working that well, is it?"

"I don't think I'm capable of just being your friend," I whisper, craving his touch like an addict. "I was supposed to tell you tonight"

"Right after you sent my best friend across the country," Magnus says, leaning in so that our knees are lightly touching. I’m more aware of his body than I’ve ever been of anything in my life. "You're a real piece of work, Lightwood."

"I, I kind of thought you'd go with him." I’m not sure if I’ve fully admitted that to myself before this moment, and now that the words are out I want nothing more than to call my mother and force her to renege on the whole deal. She can’t have Josh, not if it means taking Magnus too.

Magnus rests his head on my shoulder and I wrap my arms tightly around him, memorizing the way he feels, breathing him in.

"Come to bed with me," he says. After months of brief touches, heavy looks, and skirting around our feelings, the simple declaration is like a punch. More than that, finally hearing Magnus say, honestly and explicitly, that he wants me erases any compunction I had about remaining faithful to Jay. Because these thoughts – thoughts of Magnus, on me, in me, around me – they consume me.

I know that it’s a bad idea – perhaps the worst idea – but with the way he’s looking at me, open and vulnerable, it’s impossible for me to deny him anything right now. The alcohol is making me loose and accommodating, giving me the push to do what I've been wanting to do for months.

I’ll deal with the fallout in the morning, but right now, all I want is Magnus.

"We don't have to do anything," Magnus says when I don't answer right away. "It's just, I know that things can't go back to how they were, and I just want one night before it's over."

He takes a deep breath and pulls back so he can look at me directly. "Jay's going to get you for the rest of his life. All I'm asking for is a night."

I nod my head and let him lead me to the bedroom, his fingers laced through mine.

When we get there he slowly pushes his hands under my t-shirt, silently asking permission. I lift my arms so that he can slide the thin material over my head and then step out of my pants as he strips down to his boxers.

He takes my left hand and slips the leather bracelets off, one by one. The slide of material against the skin of my wrist makes it hard to breathe, and when Magnus dips his head down and traces his lips across the raised skin of my scar, my entire body trembles. He smiles, pleased at the reaction, and moves his lips further up my arm.

Though my skin is dotted with scars and imperfections and looks washed out and pastier than ever next to his, Magnus looks at me like I’m something precious. Something to be admired. He stops kissing when he reaches my elbow, and instead reaches out a tentative hand and runs it over my stomach, tracing each muscle up to my chest. His touch feels like fire and it takes every ounce of willpower I have not to pull him into my arms. He’s tall, but so slender that I know I could pick him up easily. I could press him against the wall – or better yet, onto the bed beneath me. He’s awakened something in me – something primal and hungry that I hadn’t even realized existed – but instead of giving in, I let him choose the pace. I let him take what he wants, because anything he gives is more than I thought I’d ever get. And it’s far more than I deserve.

Finally, after an eternity of exquisite torture, he leans in and rests his lips softly on the side of my neck, eliciting an embarrassing breathy sound. He trails his mouth softly along the sensitive skin, leaving the faintest wet kiss just above my clavicle. I feel like I may fall over. Smiling – a soft, happy smile I've never seen him use before – he guides me over to the bed and settles in beside me, pressing close.

It’s then that he finally kisses me. It's deep and slow and open-mouthed, and I feel it all over my body. It's the kind of kiss that you always assume doesn't exist until it happens to you. It's the kind of slow, languid pleasure that you can't rush; you merely have to let it wash over you, electrifying your senses, until you're so overwhelmed you wonder if there's any way it can possibly be real.

I’d be happy to just lie here, kissing him forever, but when the dizzying rush becomes just shy of too much Magnus wraps his hands around my biceps and tugs. It feels right, covering his body with mine, and I can barely stand the few seconds he pulls back to make away with the rest of our clothes. The coils of pleasure have expanded out, and I feel like my entire body is engulfed. I’m consumed by Magnus Bane.

I press forward hungrily, relishing in his small groans of pleasure. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing that I’m giving him what he needs, and I would devote my life to reproducing that sound, were it at all a possibility. I run my hands up his sides, across his chest, down his jaw – along any part of his smooth skin that I can find. I want to soak him in, to memorize every inch of him.

We move slowly, and instead of feeling bored or restless, I feel like I’m suspended in time. I’m caught in a perfect moment, and would like nothing more than to exist in this private eternity. The slow pleasure is exquisite, and the pace holds steadfast. We burn together, through languorous kisses and fleeting touches, until Magnus finally pulls me closer. He grips me tight during the initial discomfort, and I kiss his forehead softly, murmuring over and over that he’s perfect until I can no longer speak.

We move together like this is the hundredth time instead of the first. The connection is profound, and it’s different from anything I’ve done before – anything I’ve felt before. Time is lost, and when we finally collapse, I have no idea if it’s been minutes or hours. The only thing I do know, as Magnus settles his head into the dip beneath my shoulder, is that leaving is going to hurt like hell.

Chapter Text

I wake with the sun. Or I would have, I suppose, if Magnus's black curtains allowed the sun to peep into the cavernous depths of his room. Still, I know it's early without the assurance of a clock. Magnus exhales lightly with my slight change in position and presses his back into my chest. We've shifted in our sleep and are now spooned together, with his head tilted slightly to compensate for the difference in height. His ankles are twisted around mine and I can feel the rise and fall of his chest under my arms.

I want nothing more than to pull him close, to bury my nose in the back of his neck and nuzzle my way to his lips. I want to kiss him awake and spend the entire day here, finding every single spot he loves to be touched. I want it to be my black hair against his sheets when Josh comes barging in looking for something. I want a coffee cup and a toothbrush and I just want Magnus, more than I've ever wanted anything.

But that's impossible. Because I think of Jay, living out his life without me and bringing someone else a bowl of marshmallows picked out of the Lucky Charms box; about Emma, never looking at me again and wishing she had never picked my chart out of the emergency room pile; and our house, disassembled piece by piece until every memory is tucked away in a box – Alec and Jay's failed attempt – and I can't breathe. I don't know how to envision a future without Jay. I don't know how to resect such a huge part of who I am. Jay is my family, not someone who can just be tossed away.

So instead of pulling Magnus closer, I pull back and run my fingers along his arm. "Magnus?" I whisper. Part of me wants him to keep on sleeping, to give me no choice but settle back in and sleep the rest of the morning away.

"Hmm?" He rolls toward me and blinks sleepily, taking a few seconds to fully comprehend what's happening. He smiles, slowly and softly, and it hurts. I would rather be stabbed in the throat than tell him I have to leave.

Unfortunately, he must see the apprehension in my face, because the smile fades away and my heart breaks a little as I watch him settle his features into an emotionless mask. "Time to be going, hmm?" he says mildly, tracing the edge of his pillow with a sparkly nail.

"Yeah. Magnus, I –"

"Shh." Magnus reaches out and presses a finger against my chapped lips. "Please don't. I don't think –" He stops and takes a breath. "I don't want to suffer through a goodbye. Put some pictures of Chairman Meow on the website for me, will you? I want to know if he gets a good home."

My skin feels dry, wrung out, and there's a lump sitting just below my diaphragm that's making it impossible to speak. Instead, I just nod, slip out of bed, and start slowly getting dressed. Magnus doesn't watch. He turns toward the other wall, the erratic rise and fall of his shoulders the only hint that he hasn't fallen back asleep.

I contemplate leaving as soon as I'm dressed. Magnus said he didn't want a goodbye, and it would certainly be easier to just put one foot in front of the other and zombie-walk out of here before the reality of the situation settles like dust in the far corners of my mind. But I refuse to let my final memory of Magnus be a faint silhouette in a dark room. I also don't want to leave him with the impression that I was something he had to request. That I was something he had to force. I wanted last night just as much as he did – more, maybe – and I will not let our night together feel like it was given out of a sense of obligation.

I walk around the bed and sit beside him. He shifts so that he's lying on his back, staring up at the ceiling, and I pretend not to see the glassy sheen as he blinks back tears. Instead, I just lean down and lightly smooth his hair back, cupping the side of his face gently before leaning in for a final time. The kiss is soft and chaste, nothing more than a brush of lips, but it still feels monumental. I hope it says everything I cannot say out loud. I hope it says, you're wonderful, I'll miss you, goodbye.

I leave without a word as Magnus requested.


 

It's barely six-thirty when the cab pulls into my driveway, but Jay is already up. The paper's already been taken from the porch and Hector is lounging on the lawn, half-heartedly attempting to eat a blade of grass with the side of his mouth. He leaps to his feet when he sees me, barking loudly enough to alert the Lawsons, who live a good three miles away, of my arrival.

I slip past him quietly, hoping to at least make it to the bathroom to wash my face and shower away the last traces of Magnus before Jay can begin his interrogation.

No such luck.

Jay is sitting at the island, nursing a cup of coffee and perusing the stocks. When he hears me come in he doesn't look up, merely walks over to the counter and pours a second cup of coffee. I choose a stool across from his and wait for him to finish adding the milk and sugar.

"How was your - Jesus! What the hell happened to you, Alec?" He's beside me in a flash, running his fingers over the side of my face and eliciting a wince and sharp intake of breath. Magnus didn't mention anything this morning, and I had completely forgotten about the fight last night. I pull out my phone and take a glance at my reflection. Fuck. If I had realized the extent – bruised cheekbone, split lip, scraped forehead – I would have cleaned up a bit before I left Magnus's apartment. I had planned on having time to sort my thoughts before talking to Jay about what had transpired last night.

"It's not a big deal," I say, pushing his hand out of the way so that I can get at my coffee cup. "A little sore, that's all."

"Who did this to you?" Jay's in lawyer mode and the admixture of fondness and guilt burns like bleach in my stomach. Jay grabs a package of frozen corn out of the freezer and tries to press it to my face, looking chagrined when I yelp in pain.

"Pretty sure it's too late for ice," I grumble, but I press the package gingerly to my head anyway.

"What happened?" Jay presses again. "And why didn't you call or text me? I would really like to know if my boyfriend's bleeding out in the corner of some seedy strip club. I want to know who did this to you." He stabs a piece of melon furiously. "And why."

"As for the who, his name is Charlie. And I don't know his last name," I add hastily, before he even gets the chance to ask. "And as for why, I would think that it's because I punched him in the face." I take a huge gulp of my coffee, hoping that maybe I'll burn a hole in my esophagus and have to spend the next week in the hospital.

"Alec, why would you…Magnus." His face twists from concern into something jealous and ugly. "It was about him, wasn't it?"

I nod and brace myself for the tirade that's to come, but the kitchen falls quiet.

"Alec, I can't do this anymore," Jay says quietly. He picks his cup of coffee up from the island and tosses it into the sink.

This is the one scenario I hadn't accounted for, and for that I feel like a colossal idiot. Of course Jay wouldn't let himself be jerked around; he's smart, successful, confident, and gorgeous. Despite all the brainpower I've wasted thinking about Magnus and his forays with other guys, I had shoved dependable Jay to the back of my mind, where he sat, waiting for me to come home and pay a bit of attention to him.

Well now there are hundreds of scenarios, playing at top speed, making up for lost time. There's me, sitting in a silent house, looking for Jay's Harvard sweatshirt because it's the only thing that makes me feel better when I'm sick, only to remember that it's gone. Me, trying to comfort Hector and Kipling when they walk around the house, sniffing for signs of Jay, as they did when he went to Miami for a conference last year. And, impossibly worse, Jay, sitting at some unknown restaurant with some unknown, gorgeous asshole making small talk until they can go back to Jay's bachelor apartment and fuck on every clean surface. I knock my coffee over and don't realize until the hot liquid runs off the counter and just misses my crotch.

The pain propels me into action and I move toward Jay, taking his hands in mine.

"Don't say that," I plead, desperate. "This fucked up situation, it's over. I told Magnus last night that I was done. That we were done."

"That's just it, isn't it?" Jay scoffs. "There was something to end. You two had something, and I've been sitting here the fucking fool for months, wondering what the hell I could do to make you happier."

"You didn't do anything wrong," I say, clinging to his arms. "I did and I'm so, so sorry, but it's done. I chose you."

"You chose me?" Jay wrenches his hands from my grip. "Alec, I chose you, three years ago. We made a commitment to each other, and I'm supposed to be happy because you decided that I still ranked over a stripper I hired for your goddamn birthday? Well halle-fuckinglujah, I'm thrilled."

"Jay, please."

"Please what, Alec? Love you? I already do, and evidently more than you love me. Forgive you? I'm not even sure I want to know what I should forgive you for."

"For everything. I can't lie and pretend I didn't feel some sort of connection with Magnus, because I did. I certainly didn't ask to and I would have stopped if I could. I know you don't want to hear that, but it's true. And I do love you, so much. If I didn't then this whole situation would have been easy."

I walk back over to him, hesitantly reaching out a hand. I hadn’t planned on telling Jay – Magnus and I are through, and I know nothing like this will happen again. But now I understand that he won’t stop until he’s wrung the truth out of me. Better to confess now than wait until it’s too late for him to forgive me.

“We hooked up,” I say lowly, wanting to look away, but knowing that I deserve to see the open hurt on Jay’s face. “Once, last night, when we were both drunk. That's it, that's everything."

"It's my sister's wedding tomorrow," Jay says, looking mutinous. "And we're supposed to stand there, together, to help celebrate. But now every time I look at you tomorrow – every time I look at those pictures for the next sixty years – I'm going to see your banged up face and think that's the night Alec attacked someone for some other guy. I won't be able to look at my sister's wedding pictures without thinking of you and Magnus fucking Bane, making out in the back of a club like drunken teenagers, while I was at home feeding the fucking dogs."

"I know," I whisper, my throat hot and thick with the effort of holding back tears. "I just don't want you to look at the photos and think that's the guy I dated for a while, sure glad I got out of that while I had the chance."

"I need to go," Jay says, storming off toward the bedroom and leaving me to scurry after him. "I can't be here right now."

"Jay, wait!" I follow him around the room as he shoves his toiletries, his laptop, and everything for the wedding tomorrow, into his overnight bag. "Where are you going to go?"

"I'm going to Emma's," he says shortly, ripping his cell phone charger from the wall.

"You're going to tell her?"

"I'm going to tell her that I want to help out with the wedding," Jay says. "I'm going to tell her that you're gone out of town on Haven business and that I didn't want to hang out at home alone. And tomorrow you're going to tell her whatever the fuck you want about your face, and I'm going act surprised. And then, after the wedding, we'll talk."

I agree with him, mostly because I have no choice. Chasing him will just make this worse, no matter how much I don't want to be alone right now. In some ways, it actually feels good to have Jay storm off. It feels like an appropriate punishment, to have to be here alone all day and night, with only my own thoughts of inadequacy and guilt to keep me company.

I decide to forgo the shower and crawl directly into bed with my clothes on. Before I can fall asleep Chairman Meow pads into the room and makes a graceful leap onto the bed, where he snuggles on Jay's pillow. Somehow, that's the final straw: Magnus's cat, cuddled with me, purring contentedly. I spring up from the bed and barely make it to the ensuite before throwing up beer and last night's cake. My head spins dangerously, and I doubt I can make it back to the bed without losing whatever's left in my stomach. So I gather a sweater from the laundry basket in the corner as a makeshift pillow and settle on the cool tiles, praying for dreamless sleep.

When I wake up I feel even worse. The pounding in my head is like the drums of Moria: loud and echoing. The bathroom is spinning and I almost wish that there was a swarm of orcs outside my house, because at least they would put me out of my misery. Nothing says quick and painless like a scimitar to the guts.

I moan piteously and slide the sweatshirt from under my face so that my cheek is directly on the tile. It doesn't help nearly as much as I was hoping.

Disgruntled and too afraid to attempt moving just yet, I tap my hand against the floor. "Kipling," I call softly, hoping that he can hear me. "Come here, Kip."

Thankfully, Kipling seems to have some sort of special radar that can detect when someone is feeling like crap. He walks into the bathroom and snuffles my face carefully, whining a little when I don't move, but then curls up in a ball beside me.

"Good boy," I say, reaching out to rest my hand on his massive paw. He settles in for a nap, and I close my eyes again, comforted by his presence.

It feels like I have just fallen asleep when I'm jolted awake by the doorbell. Kipling leaps up from the floor in a massive tangle of limbs and skids a little before charging toward the door. The buzzer goes off and second and third time. "Go away," I growl, a little bit of drool running down my cheek. Whoever is it doesn't listen, and instead switches to pounding on the door loudly.

"All right, I'm coming," I say, trying to motivate myself to get up from the floor. I don't bother to clean my face or brush my hair, hoping that whoever is on the porch will take one look at me and decide that I'm not worth the time.

Before I can get to the door I hear a key twist in the lock. Just as I'm rushing through the kitchen to see who's trying to break into my house, Isabelle struts in, bags in hand and looking like every inch the savior she is.

"Izzy!" In my excitement to greet her I'm overwhelmed by a sense of vertigo and have to scramble to the nearest bathroom.

"Oh my god," Izzy says, running after me. "Are you all right?"

"Peachy," I mutter over the rim of the toilet bowl, flushing the mess down before she comes in. I slump against the wall. "Just dying a little, don't mind at all."

"Do you want some water?" She walks in and immediately screws up her face. "Ugh, how about some aspirin and then a shower? You smell disgusting."

"I love you too," I mutter, leaning over to embrace my porcelain mistress.

It feels like forever before Izzy comes back with aspirin and a glass of water.

When I move my head to remove the items from her outstretched hands, she gasps. "Alec, what the hell happened to your face?"

"It's not a big deal," I assure her as I did Jay this morning. "I was out with some friends last night and got into a bit of a scuffle."

"A bit of a scuffle?" Izzy looks skeptical but she doesn't push.

"Anyone I know?" she asks, examining her nails under the fluorescent lights of the tiny bathroom. "I have a couple tricks with a Swiss army knife I'd be willing to show them."

"He was just a nobody," I lie, gulping down the rest of the water. "And it's barely a scratch."

"It's just shitty timing," Izzy replies, taking the glass out of my hands to carry it back to the kitchen. "The day before the wedding."

"Don't remind me," I moan, slumping forward again. "Emma is going to be so upset."

"Upset at you?" Izzy's eyes are blazing and I feel a trickle of warmth at her protectiveness. "If she's mad at you for getting punched in the head, then she and I are going to have a long chat. I don't care whose wedding it is."

"Settle down, Xena," I say, attempting to get up and make my way to the shower. "Emma's not going to be mad." I grab a towel out of the linen closet in the hallway and turn in the direction of my bedroom.

"She better not be," Izzy vows as she settles herself into the sofa to await my return.

The shower feels like the best thing that's ever happened to me. Physically, at least, I feel a hundred percent better by the time I'm dressed and apprehensively eating the bacon Izzy cooked while I was gone.

"Don't look at it like it's going to bite back," she huffs, picking up a piece for herself. "Simon taught me how to get it perfectly crispy without burning it."

"Simon, hmm?" I give this guy this much: he must either be a fantastic fucking teacher or have the patience of a saint. "How are things going with Mr. Fantastic, anyway?”

"Oh, shut up." Izzy chucks a piece of bacon at my head, which I catch in my mouth like a fucking pro. She rolls her eyes as I grin.

"You get drunk one time and start talking about your boyfriend, and everyone holds onto it for fucking months."

"You practically waxed poetic for an hour and a half." I grin into my glass of orange juice, ready to catch another piece of bacon. When she just turns and primly starts eating her own breakfast, I ask again, "Really though, how are things?"

"That's part of why I came," Izzy confesses. She drags a piece of bacon back and forth over her plate, tracing something I can’t pick out. "I mean, the wedding was an excellent excuse to tell everyone else, but I wanted to talk to you about something."

I finish the last piece of bacon and settle back into my chair, ready to focus. "Of course," I say. "What is it?"

She slips a picture from the back of her jeans and pushes it across the island at me. It's a small, black square with a grainy grey and white picture. A sonogram. I pick the tiny picture up, hands trembling.

"Isabelle is that?"

"Me?" Izzy's eyes are shining and when she blinks a tear rolls down her cheek. "Yeah. I – I just found out yesterday."

I have no idea how to respond. I've never been that good with people who are crying, and I'm pretty sure that this moment deserves a little more than my standard bend-and-pat hug. "Are you – is this good news?"

"I don't – I think yes," Izzy says, smoothing her hand over the grainy picture. "After the first test I thought I was going to die. I kept telling myself that they were faulty and that a doctor would tell me that it was all a big misunderstanding. I mean, the years of ballet didn't really leave me regular in that department, so I didn't even think it was possible for me to…" she trails off and just stares at the picture for a few more seconds. "Alec, what if Simon's pissed? What if he never wants to speak to me again?"

"Hey." I stand up and gather her into my arms. "Unlike you I'm not that talented with any kind of knife, but if he's anything but a hundred percent supportive of any decision you decide to make, I'll learn pretty fucking quickly."

Izzy buries her head in my shoulder and I'm not sure if she's laughing, crying, or both. "I didn't know where else to go."

"You can always come here, Izzy, you know that. But what about Jace?"

She pulls away and wipes away any trace of tears, apparently having shown enough emotion for one morning. "I didn’t know how to tell him,” she confesses, and I know what a huge deal that is. “Plus, everyone’s been thinking he and Clary were going to be the ones to fuck up, so he’s going to be so smug.”

"Hey," I reach out and lift her chin. "This is not a fuckup. This is just life, and if you want me to drive you into town to see a doctor right now, I will. If you want me to fly home with you and tell mom that I'm psyched to meet my niece or nephew then I'll do that too. But I don't want to hear anything about you being a fuckup. You're amazing."

"Thanks, Alec." Izzy walks over to get a tissue from the counter and on her way back she removes a picture of Jay and Kipling from the fridge. "I'm really proud of you," she says, smiling down at the photo. "I was a real bitch when you told me you were leaving, and part of me wanted everything with Jay to go to hell so you would have to come back home and prove me right. But really, looking at you and Jay has really helped me be able to trust Simon."

She dabs at her eyes with the tissue. "With only mom and dad's shining example I didn't really have much to go on in terms of healthy relationships, then there was Jace who dated everything that looked at him sideways until jumping into World's most Dramatic Relationship, but you and Jay are different. You just love each other so much. Being with him helped you get through the worst part of your life, and I'll always love him for that. It makes me believe that everything might be okay in the end. That love might be enough to get through all the crazy shit."

Izzy looks so sincere that I fear I might have to make another break for the bathroom. She looks so happy, with the picture of Jay and Kipling in one hand and the sonogram in the other, that all I can do is smile and perpetuate the lie I've been living for the past few months. She needs this so much that I'll let her use me as her role model, when really I'm a bigger asshole than Dad ever was.

"Everything will be okay, Izzy," I reassure her, my heart aching as I think of all the pain I've caused today. "Simon loves you just as much as Jay loves me."

And you actually deserve it, I keep from adding, taking the photo of Jay and placing it back on the fridge. I make a vow to be better, to be the boyfriend the guy in that photo deserves.

"Now, you grab the ice cream from the freezer and I'll set up the Nintendo. It's Bubble Bobble time."

Chapter Text

I can feel someone shifting behind me – Alexander, the far reaches of my mind whisper, conjuring up a flood of warmth that rushes through my body – but I refuse to crawl through the foggy half-awake haze and instead curl back into the warm planes of his chest. I sigh, content to stay here and be cradled, rather than wake up and have to face the reality of what’s happening.

Unfortunately, the fortunes refuse to smile on Magnus Bane. They conspire, as always, to piss all over my life. Alec reaches out and runs his fingers lightly along my arm. I suppress the urge to shiver.

“Magnus?” he says softly. Part of me wants to ignore him, to press against him and hope that instead of leaving he’ll just pull me closer. But I know he won’t. Alexander is loyal, almost to a fault, and no matter how strongly I believe that he belongs here with me, his sense of duty will always bring him back home. Back to Jay. What I would give to have been the one to meet him first.

“Hmm?” I groan, unable to completely shake the morning stupor. I roll over to face him, steeling myself for what’s to come, but as usual I’m blindsided. I’ve been with beautiful men and women before, but there’s something about Alexander that I can’t pinpoint. He’s beautiful – all sharp lines, black hair, and radiant blue eyes – but it’s more him, this shy, lip-biting, nerdy, protective person who has no right to exist, let alone barge into my life unasked and unapologetic, that I find impossible to resist.

I don’t realize that I’m smiling until Alexander makes the I-just-swallowed-really-nasty-spunk face that I’ve come to associate with his internal self-flagellation. Luckily, in my line of work a guy learns to compartmentalize. So while I may want nothing more than to cling to Alexander and beg him to stay, I force myself to focus on something else. I finger a piece of stray thread from one of my pillows, trying to remember what exactly caused it to unravel. “Time to be going, hmm?” I ask, keeping my voice light.

Alec shifts a little in the bed, but I refuse to meet his eyes. “Yeah,” he says. “Magnus I –”

I don’t want to hear what he has to say. I don’t want to have to hear him apologize for last night. I know that in the long run I’ll be a blip on Alec and Jay’s relationship. Alec will keep on allowing himself to be coddled, to cling to Jay because he feels safe and obligated, but that doesn’t mean I want to be privy to my own metaphorical sweeping under the rug.

I reach out and press my finger to his lips. I know I should keep my hands to myself, but I can’t suffer the thought of letting him leave without touching him one more time. It’s almost as painful as the thought of hearing him say goodbye. “Please don’t. I don’t think –” that I can imagine a lifetime where I never hear from you again. I force myself to stop that train of thought immediately. There hasn’t been anyone since Camille – or ever, if I’m being completely honest with myself – who can make me fall apart like Alexander Lightwood. Still, I’m Magnus Bane, and I’ve gotten through everything that’s happened so far, and I know that this too shall pass.

So I take a deep breath, knowing that one of us has to sever this connection, and it feels easier to have that someone be me. After all, isn’t it better to send someone away rather than have them walk away from you? “I don’t want to suffer through a goodbye. Put some pictures of Chairman Meow on the website for me, will you? I want to know if he gets a good home.”

I try to be happy that at least something good has come out of these months of torture: Alexander will take good care of the Chairman. He’ll make sure that he goes to someone who loves him. That’s why, despite Josh’s insistence that this situation was only going to end in heartbreak, despite Alexander’s inability to let go of a failing relationship, despite the all-encompassing pain of knowing that the one person I can envision spending my life with is in love with someone else, I just can’t seem to let go. Alexander is good. He’s compassionate and kind and even though his hair sucks and he’s uncoordinated and doesn’t know Gucci from Gap, I love him. I fucking love Alexander Lightwood, and now he’s leaving.

I turn toward the wall, unsure of how to process these feelings without just opening up and telling Alexander how I feel. I can hear him getting dressed behind me, and every rustle of clothing slices like a blade. Every small movement is one that takes him further away from me.

But instead of leaving, he walks around and sits down beside me. I shift so that I’m looking at the ceiling, hoping that gravity will do its part to stave away tears, and hope against hope that this is it. That Alexander will lean down and whisper that he loves me too, that he can’t imagine walking out that door and out of my life.

His hand brushes the side of my face and I can’t breathe. He gently pushes my hair back, but still doesn’t say anything. My mind rages, screams and hollers for me to convince him to stay, but I remain silent. I tremble slightly as he leans down to kiss me, my body buzzing but my heart breaking as he brushes his lips against mine.

Because despite the tiny seed of hope that I couldn’t help but cling to, this kiss isn’t a declaration. It isn’t an admission or a promise. It’s a goodbye.


 

I wait until I hear the door slam shut to break down. The tears come – and so do the huge, racking sobs, which pound at my chest and claw at my throat, relentless. I cry until I’m choking and gasping. I cry for what’s happened and what might have happened and what will never happen. I haven’t cried since I left New York, but the more I try to stop, the harder it is. The well of feelings I’ve built for Alexander, which I’ve been cultivating and storing away, has broken, and they’re rushing through my body like a tsunami. I fumble at the nightstand, looking for my phone, and knock a pile of knick-knacks to the floor.

With shaking fingers I manage to dial Josh’s cell number. It takes a few rings for him to pick up, and when he does his voice is thick and heavy with sleep.

“Josh,” I manage to choke out. “I need you to come home.”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” he promises without asking a single question.

By the time he arrives, I’ve settled down into an odd hiccoughing kind of state.

“Oh, Magnus,” Josh says, before crawling under the blankets and nuzzling into my neck. “What happened last night?”

I start with Alexander and Charlie’s fight and end with the goodbye kiss. Josh’s fingers slide through my hair the entire time, soothing and comforting.

“I love him, Josh,” I whisper when my explanation is over. “I love him and now he’s gone.” Josh cuddles in closer, pressing his lips to my temple.

“I know you do, Magnus. I knew when you brought him over here to cheer me up, and when you came home from spending the day with him out on the farm. I’ve seen the way you look at him, and I’m so sorry.”

“Why couldn’t he just love me back?” I ask, burying my face into Josh’s small chest. It’s funny how such a tiny package has come to represent the pillar of strength in my tangled mess of a life.

“It’s not that simple, Magnus,” Josh says, shifting a little so that he can look at me as he talks. “You remember what it was like with Camille. That horrid woman was poison, and you just kept letting her suck the life from you, unwilling to admit that it was true. Jay helped Alec through an impossible situation, has been a huge part of his life for years, and I don’t think he knows how to let that go. Not everyone is as strong as you.”

“But I would be so good to him,” I say, threading my fingers through Josh’s. “I just want a chance to show him that.”

“I know you do,” Josh says softly. “But Alec made his choice, and even though it was the wrong one, there’s nothing you can do to change it now. People are stupid sometimes. They cling to what’s safe even when they know it’s not really working.”

I sniffle and Josh hands me a tissue from the nightstand. “It’s just that I’m already losing you, and I don’t know if I can’t handle losing you both.”

Josh pulls me back up so that we’re face to face. “You are not losing me,” he says fiercely. “Magnus you are my best friend. Everything good that’s happened to me has happened because I met you. Without you I would be back in the Hamptons, sucking off tennis instructors behind the woodshed with a pretty little wife waiting at home. I would be miserable and desperate with no Tyler and no real life. There’s no way you could ever lose me.”

“You’re going to be across the country, living out your perfect life with Tyler.”

“Then come with us! Tyler has a three-bedroom apartment paid for by the team, and you can stay there until you get on your feet. Or, you know, forever. Tyler knows that he doesn’t get Josh without Magnus, and I’m going to need someone to keep me company while he’s on the road.”

“I can’t go back there,” I whisper. “We left for a reason, Josh. I promised myself that I would never go back. I don’t want to be that person ever again.”

“You are that person, Magnus. You’re the person that overcame all that bullshit and turned his life around. You’re the strongest and the bravest person I know, and going back to New York is not going to change that. Vegas has nothing but heartache left for you now.” He curls his lip into a pout and I laugh for the first time all day.

“Come away with me, Magnus Bane,” he says in a horrendous British accent, springing out of bed and offering me his outstretched hand.

I think of Alexander. Of the mansion he shares with his supermodel boyfriend and the horror of running into them in town, walking hand and hand and completely oblivious to the rest of the world. I think of the club and having to walk toward my change room every night only to be reminded of Alexander flying around the corner to defend my honor. Josh is right; if I stay, I’ll never get over him. There will surely be beautiful people, people who are willing to stay a night and help ease the pain, but I’ll always see Alexander Lightwood in the fall of their hair or the curve of their necks. He’ll haunt this apartment, a specter of what might have been.

“Okay,” I say, taking Josh’s hand and letting him pull me from the bed. He lowers me into a ridiculous dip and flutters his pale eyelashes. “We go together, darling.”

Chapter Text

I'm more nervous about seeing Jay at the wedding than I was for our first date. While yesterday was much better than it could have been, thanks to Izzy's impromptu visit, I've been teetering on the edge of hysteria since she helped me get dressed this morning. She decided that she couldn't wait any longer to talk to Simon, and left for the airport at the same time I left for the wedding, giving me a card and her apologies for Emma. Honestly, I'm a little relieved, because while I was able to refrain from letting anything slip last night, Izzy would have been sure to notice the tension today.

Emma is getting married in a small botanical garden on the outskirts of town. The grounds are privately owned by friends of her fiancé, who's a successful landscape architect, and are beautiful. The hedges have been artfully arranged with pale roses and strings of tiny lights for the reception later this evening, and there are small fountains that sprinkle the property where people are already gathering to snap selfies and mingle.

Though they both have excellent taste, the entire setup screams Emma. She has an eye for detail that she doesn’t get to act upon much as a Psychiatrist, so I know that she had a field day planning every aspect of this wedding. Jay and I had actually sifted through her scrapbook on one of our visits last year, and the amount of planning that went into something as simple as table settings was mind-boggling.

I've been walked through every detail of the day numerous times in the past year and a half, but I'm still looking forward to the ceremony. Or at least I would be, if I could dispel the sense of impending doom.

The gardens are in such high demand that we didn’t actually get to do a walk-through for rehearsal, and finding Emma or Jay is proving to be a little more difficult than I assumed. The grounds are teeming with guests.

Jay's mother subscribes to a certain social code, meaning that everyone and their second cousins twice removed have been added to the guest list. The whole prospect seems preposterous (and vaguely nauseating) to me, but apparently it's just the way things are done.

I duck through the caterers and florists who are scrambling to finish last minute tasks, and nearly trip over a live swan that's escaped and is squawking its way down the aisle. The flurry of activity makes it impossible to find anyone, but eventually Marina, Jay's mother, finds me.

"Alec," she gushes warmly as she spies me hiding behind one of the ornate pillars that constitute the bridal arch. She looks lovely, with her blonde hair in a delicate chignon and a knee-length pale green dress. She also looks overjoyed to see me, which means that she hasn't managed to weasel the truth about why I missed the rehearsal dinner from Jay.

"James is inside," she says, pulling me in to kiss my cheeks. "He seems quite fidgety."

She raises her eyebrows and I find myself in a cold sweat despite the heavy material of my tux. Three years in, and she isn't any less intimidating than she was the first time we met. "You haven't been letting my son work himself to death, have you?" She grins and I let out a bit of the tension I've been holding.

"No ma'am," I answer, wishing for a bottle of water. "But you know how he is."

"He's bloodthirsty, like his mother," she says with a laugh. "But I'm sure he's missing his better half, so let's get you inside." She puts her hand on my back and ushers me across the lot to a series of small buildings, pointing me in the direction of the right one.

I walk up the three steps on shaky limbs. Voices are buzzing inside and I can see the dim outline of the rest of the groomsmen through the tinted windows. Unsure of how I'll be received or if Jay is even going to acknowledge my existence, I push the door open and walk inside.

The conversation lulls as everyone says their hellos, but Jay isn't even in the room. There's another door that presumably leads to a bathroom, so I finally get myself a bottle of water and wait for him to emerge. Izzy's already made sure that my tie is perfect, my boutonniere is pinned correctly, the evidence of last night's fight is hidden behind professional-grade makeup, and my hair is "as good as it's going to get", so I don't really have anything to do but sit around awkwardly and wait to see whether or not Jay is going to pretend I'm not in the room.

When he finally comes out – right before I've had time to pick a thread out of my extremely overpriced tuxedo – I'm momentarily stunned by how good he looks. His tux, like mine, is perfectly tailored, and draws emphasis to his broad shoulders. His pants fit like a dream, outlining the swell of his rather formidable ass, and his golden curls shine in contrast to the silver in his tie. There are slight circles under his eyes, reminiscent of the early days he spent in Las Vegas, writing thorough notes deep into the night while I slept on beside him. Instead of detracting from his appearance, the purplish tinge makes him even more beautiful.

He must sense that I'm staring, because his head snaps up and our eyes lock from across the room. I flush a little under the intensity of his stare, but instead of just falling back into conversation with the other guys, he walks straight over to me.

"Alec," he says quietly, his voice cracking slightly. He leans in to kiss my cheek softly, and the touch burns my skin. While I know his feelings are genuine, I'm not sure if the greeting is merely for the sake of decorum. Not for the first time, I wish I were better at navigating social cues.

Any underhanded dealings and false compliments fly right over my head. It's a good thing I'm not a citizen of Westeros; I have the political acumen of a pumpkin, and I would fail the Game of Thrones, hard. Even now, trapped in layers of fabric, I feel completely exposed, as if Jay can read my every thought and has found me wanting.

"Jay," I wobble out, hugging him for just a couple seconds too long.

Before I can discern whether or not he's going to forgive me, the wedding planner pops her frizzy blonde head through an open window and spurs us into motion with a chipper "time to get moving, boys." Jay takes his place at the back of the procession and I wedge myself between two of Emma's friends from med school and we make our way toward the center of the gardens to meet our bridesmaids.

I walk up the aisle with Becky, who's looking pregnant enough to burst at this point, and find myself thinking about what the fuck I would do if she went into labor right at this instant and trying not to panic. When we reach the front, Lucas, Emma's fiancé, is already standing there, looking nervous but elated. When the music swells and she begins her grand entrance, looking stunning in her custom lace gown, he looks as though he may combust with happiness. I sneak a peak at Jay, to find that he's looking not at his sister, but right at me. My heart picks up, and for the first time since he stormed out of our home I believe that we might still have a chance.

The ceremony is short and sweet, with the couple exchanging their own vows and alternating lines from I carry your heart. They're both tearful by the end and are the picture of marital bliss as they seal their vows with kiss.

Not five minutes have gone by before the wedding planner is whisking us all away for photos. We pose in what feels like a thousand different ways, waiting for everyone who's dumb enough to go out and buy a point and click and call themselves a photographer to get "the perfect shot". Even Emma looks a little bit frazzled near the end, as she pulls Jay and me aside for the final pictures. My heart constricts as Jay threads his hand in mine, pulling me to a stop under an outcrop of roses. The three of us fall into position, standing together as we have since they brought my into their family. As we have since I left New York behind. 

"Alec, we missed you last night," she whispers as the photographer begins directing with the same militant fervor I'm sure propelled several historical figures to the head of fascist regimes.

"I'm sorry," I whisper back, leaning in to kiss her on the cheek.

"Hey! Don't ruin the makeup. These pictures are going to be on my mother’s wall for the next twenty years, at least. Don't want the last minute zits popping through."

"Don't be ridiculous," Jay says, butting in on our conversation.

"You look beautiful," I add, smiling into the camera.

"All right," she concedes, knowing full well how good she looks. "If the two most attractive people at the wedding think I'm pretty, then I must be pretty."

"Perfect," the photographer calls when she captures the final shot of the three of us. "That's one for the album."

"More like the living room," Emma calls back, pulling the both of us in for a hug. "Right above the fireplace. That's where family belongs."


 As is traditional, Emma and Lucas have a car waiting to take them directly from the gardens to the airport for their honeymoon.

There's a small reception hosted by the mother of the bride to follow, but I just want to find Jay - who had been whisked away by his mother as soon as Emma climbed into her limousine - and go home. It shouldn't be hard to slip away, what with the eight hundred-person guest list. I walk around in circles, trying to find him through the sea of black, finally spotting him near the fountains, talking to a guy I don't recognize.

The guy is short and slender, reminding me of Josh in a way. His brown hair is styled in a messy faux-hawk and he's leaning toward Jay, laughing and running his hand down his arm. Something hard and ugly flares within me, and I stride purposefully toward the fountain, not bothering to stop and say hello to any of the other guests.

"That is so interesting," I hear faux-hawk simper as I approach. He has a pair of aviators hanging from his suit pocket and I fight the urge to roll my eyes. If this asshole has ever been up in a plane I will eat my tuxedo.

"So what are –"

He falls silent and glares at me as I sidle up next to Jay. "Hello, sweetheart," I say, acting much bolder than I actually feel. I slip my hand into his, and to my supreme relief, he doesn't draw away.

"This is Alec," he says to faux-hawk. He hesitates for the briefest of instants. "My boyfriend."

"Nice to meet you," the guy says, looking as if it's actually anything but. He quickly makes an excuse and then slips back into the crowd. I watch him retreat with triumph, resisting the urge to yell goodbye and good riddance.

As soon as he's out of sight, Jay wrenches his hand from mine and takes a seat on the edge of the fountain. "So now you're policing my conversations?"

I settle in next to him, digging at the ground with the tip of my shoe. "Didn't look like you guys were just talking," I say sullenly.

"Oh, this is rich." Jay says with a sharp laugh. "Classic projection. The cheater starts thinking that his boyfriend is the one who's unfaithful."

"I'm not in the mood to be psychoanalyzed, Jay." I say, kicking at the dirt again.

"No, just to be psycho?"

I can tell that he regrets the words as soon as they leave his mouth. He turns toward me, mouth agape.

"It's not a big deal, Jay," I mumble, looking away. "I deserved that."

"No, Alec, you didn't," he says, standing. "This is why I hate fighting with you. You never defend yourself and I just run my mouth like the huge dick I am."

"I think that we both know who the dick is in this relationship," I reply, standing to join him. "And it's not you."

"I don't want to argue about who's a bigger dick." His hand twitches, but he shoves it in his pocket rather than place it back in mine. "I don't really want to argue at all."

"Can we go home?" I walk toward the crowd, hoping that Jay will choose to follow.

He nods and walks beside me, slipping on his own sunglasses. "We probably should."


 We don't talk much on the ride home. Jay strikes up a conversation with the driver, who comments on how lovely the wedding was, and we're pulling into the driveway before they've finished talking about the flowers. Jay holds the door open for me as I scoot across the leather seats, and I try to not read into that like I have his every other action tonight.

Kipling and Hector are quiet when we make it into the house, lounging in the rays of sunshine that are speckling the kitchen floor. Jay heads straight to the bedroom, presumably to strip out of his tux and hang it in the closet. I follow along, anxious to get out of the constricting material and into something a little more comfortable.

We change silently as well, and I'm beginning to think that Jay just brought me back home so that he could figure out the best way to make away with me and hide the body. I try not to stare as he peels off each layer of his outfit, carefully folding them and placing them neatly on the top of his dresser. There's a light sheen of sweat covering his body from the day under the hot sun, and he pops into the bathroom to splash some water on his face before coming out to throw on some shorts and a t-shirt. I follow suit, and then we're sitting on the bed, staring at one another.

"I suppose I should go first," Jay says, drawing his legs up and hooking his hands around his ankles. "You really hurt me Alec," he begins, and even though I already know this – I already lived through this – it still kills me to hear it.

"You really hurt me, and I've spent the last day wondering if I can ever trust you again. I know you came clean and that took a lot of courage and I'm really glad that you did, but that didn't stop me from spending all of last night thinking about you and Magnus."

His eyes squeeze shut, and I long to reach out and comfort him, but I know him well enough to be sure that it won't be well received.

"I know that if we stay together I'll have to get over that, or this is never going to work." He takes a deep breath, and my chest is still squeezing from his use of the word if. He takes my hand and looks at me properly for the first time today. His eyes are bright and full of pain, and I want to draw him close and spend the rest of the day trying to erase the look of betrayal from his face.

"I think that I can do it," he says softly. "But only if you swear to me that it's what you really want." He swallows thickly. "I can't stand thinking that you're only staying because of some misguided sense of obligation. I want you to want me the same way that I want you, Alec. I want you to need me in the same way that I need you."

His expression is so raw, his face so broken open, that I can't find the words to reply. All I feel is relief. This is how it's supposed to be. It's impossible for me to imagine any other way. I nod and reach out and use his t-shirt to pull him toward me, intending to hold him tightly to my chest. Instead he lets his weight settle on me and kisses me fully, hungrily.

The kiss is sloppy and desperate and I feel like I'm kissing a stranger.

Pushing that thought firmly out of my mind, I give myself over to Jay's desperation. I let it wash over me, let it whitewash the mistakes of the past few months, hoping that soon there will be no proof of my infidelity or my feelings for Magnus remaining.

Our clothes come off in a series of quick, jerky movements. A t-shirt knocks over a lamp while someone's boxers end up draped over the television. I scramble for the lube while Jay bites at my neck hard enough to leave a mark. Once I find the bottle I upend it and just slather as much onto Jay as I can without seeing what I'm doing. I block his attempts to take some for himself, to slow things down, to make this better for me.

I claw at Jay's back, digging my nails deeper as he moans into my neck, and wrap my legs around his waist, directing him toward his goal. The end result, much like the kissing, is hard, dirty and desperate.

The pain feels like absolution.

Chapter Text

"So that was a good talk," Jay pants into his pillow, peeping out around his tangle of curls to grin at me.

"If that's how you win all your cases, then I'm afraid I have an objection," I shoot back, stretching bodily, much like a cat, and enjoying the faint pop of my back. I feel a niggling unease, unfurling in my chest like wisps of smoke, but I fan it away.

"So what should we do now?" Jay burrows into his pillows and sighs contentedly. "I'm not really feeling anything that requires getting out of bed."

"Movie?" I ask, picking up the remote so that I can try to pick one out.

Jay moans and flops to the side so that his arm is pinning me to the bed. "We can never agree," he complains.

It's true. Jay likes serious documentaries that focus on depressing world problems and leave you feeling like a sack of shit afterward. If he decides to lower himself to watching a film, then it's either in a language neither of us understands or is so boring I feel like stabbing myself in the eye before we've made it halfway.

"Seinfeld reruns?" I ask. Seinfeld is the one thing we agree on. We've both seen every episode at least twice, but it doesn't matter.

"Sounds perfect," he says sleepily, cuddling into my side. It takes all of four minutes for him to fall asleep.

Jay stays curled up beside me for most of the evening. Last night must have really taken a toll on him; usually it's a fight for space as he sprawls out from corner to corner, but today he barely moves.

He sleeps like the dead, at least until Chairman Meow decides that he's pissed about Jay stealing his place on my chest and leaps up on the bed and settles right on Jay's face.

He wakes up spluttering with a mouthful of cat hair. I try not to laugh at Chairman Meow 's indignant expression as Jay plunks him down on the floor, but it's a losing battle.

"Hey, it's progress. Only a week ago he would have clawed your eyes out and been done with it."

"Fantastic," Jay says, yawning into my neck. "So I've been upgraded to human chaise lounge."

"Who knows, maybe next week you'll make it to bondsman."

"Hmm, now that sounds like a role I could get behind." Jay leans in and starts to kiss up my neck, his tongue tracing the marks he left a few hours ago.

"Uhh, we were talking about the cat," I squawk helplessly as his tongue tickles my skin.

He nips at me before settling back into a comfortable position. "I was thinking about Chairman Meow," he says, tracing his fingers over my stomach.

"What about him?"

"Well, he seems pretty attached to Kipling and he's never really been out of the house."

I freeze, knowing exactly where this conversation is going. "Yeah, I know."

Jay props his chin on my chest; despite the fact that he has three years on me, he looks all of eighteen years old and so pleased with himself. "I was thinking that maybe we could adopt him?"

He looks so excited that I find myself frozen.

"It's just that you had Kipling and Hector before I really came along, and Chairman Meow could be ours."

He must misinterpret the look of stunned horror on my face, because he immediately backpedals. "I mean, I know Kipling and Hector are ours. I love them, they're awesome!" He lowers he eyelashes and there's a faint flush on his cheeks. "I just thought, you know, from a legal standpoint…" He grins and I find myself grinning along with him, despite my underlying panic.

"From a legal standpoint?" I tease. "The romance!"

"Shut up!" He punches my arm and then flops over the bed to try to track down the cat. "Seriously though, what do you think?"

I think that Magnus would be heartbroken if he found out that Jay and I were raising his kitten together, and even though I've promised to let him go, that doesn't mean I want to be cruel. Or that I want the constant reminder of Magnus Bane, because every time he's mentioned, any time I think of him for even the most fleeting instant, I remember exactly the way he looked that first morning in the muted light of his room and exactly how he felt two nights ago, pressed against my chest.

"I'm really sorry," I hear myself say before I've even registered the words. "But I just promised the Chairman Meow to someone, last night. A teenager who's going through a really tough time." I pause for a second, feeling like an absolute ass. "It really hit close to home."

"Oh." I can see him shut down, so I reach out and pull him close. I know that this is a horrible way to start over, but I just need to do this one thing for Magnus. I owe him that. Jay never needs to know.

"We can adopt a kitten, though," I promise. "Or another puppy. Anything you want."

My saving grace comes in the form of Marina. She calls unexpectedly, scolding Jay for leaving the wedding before he had time to hob-nob with all the friends of the family and insists on him accompanying her to the city, alone. It's a little suspicious, considering that it's nearly seven-thirty on a Sunday, but Jay reassures me that it has nothing to do with what happened Friday night and I have no reason not to trust him.

Once his car pulls out of the driveway, I whip out my phone. I've been thinking about what to do ever since Jay mentioned adopting the Chairman Meow, and I figure that calling is my best bet. I have no way to know whether or not Magnus blacklisted my email and he may not answer a text. But if I call, he might just pick up. Plus, if he ignores me, I can always call Josh.

I dial his number with trembling fingers. Each individual ring seems to last minutes, but eventually he picks up.

"Alexander?" he says by way of greeting. His voice sounds raw and cracked, like he's had a rough night. My heart squeezes and I'm surprised by the intensity of my desire to have him here with me.

"Magnus," I breathe. "I'm sorry to call you…I know that I'm not supposed to. But I – I have something important to tell you."

I take his silence as permission to proceed. "Jay wants to adopt Chairman Meow," I blurt. "I told him that I already have a home for him, but that's a lie. Now he's gone for a couple of hours and I need to figure out something to do with the cat."

"So you called me to help you lie to your boyfriend?" It's hard to tell whether Magnus is hurt or pissed, but I don't care. I understand that I got myself into this mess, but I wish that he would realize that I'm trying doing this for him. I’m trying to do what’s best for him and Jay.

"Magnus, I just didn't want to do something that would hurt you. You have every right to be pissed at me, and I know that I'm the last person you want to hear from, but I really need your help right now. Because if I don't come up with something in the next three hours, then I'm going to have no choice but to let Jay do what he wants and keep the damn cat."

"I'll be in touch," Magnus says smoothly and then the call disconnects.

"Oh, you'll be in touch," I grouch at the phone, flinging it onto the empty sofa.

Whatever the fuck that means

It means, as I find out about thirty-five minutes later, that he's on his way to my house. As distracted as I am by this entire situation, I forget that I've been walking around shirtless when I go to answer the door.

It's hard to say who's more shocked when I pull it open and Magnus is staring in at me. "Magnus, I – I wasn't expecting you to come here," I manage to stammer out.

Magnus is silent. His eyes narrow and I remember the huge mark that Jay left on my neck, the long scratches from his nails that currently decorate my rib cage. "Oh my God," I spit out, racing back inside to pull on a t-shirt. "Magnus, I'm so –"

"Forget about it, Alexander," Magnus says breezily. "I'm just here for my cat."

"Here for your wha?" I'm sure I look like a drunken bullfrog, with my eyes bulging and mouth lolling open.

"My cat," Magnus enunciates slowly. "About yay big, big green eyes? I'm here to take him home."

"But you're not allowed to have cats in the apartment," I say. "It's against the rules to give cats to people who are barred from having pets in their lease agreement."

"Well, I'm taking him." Magnus's face looks crumpled now, his long limbs sagging inward. "You asked me for a solution, and here it is: give me my cat." He takes a hitching breath and then continues. "Jay already has you. He gets you and I have to live with that, but he can't have my cat. So please, Alexander, just forget about the damn rules and let me take Chairman Meow home."

There's not really anything I can say – Magnus is right. I move through the house, picking up the little toys that Chairman Meow has accumulated since we brought him home. I pick up Magnus's old t-shirt from its resting place in Kipling's doggy bed and place it inside the small cat-carrier I have in my office. I find Chairman Meow curled up around Kipling's leg and snap a final picture of the two of them together. Then I gather him up and put him in his container. "It's time for you to go home now, buddy," I whisper softly, carrying him back to Magnus.

I hand him over and Magnus pauses like he's about to say something, but then decides against it. "Thank you," he says quietly, before turning around to walk back to his cab.

"Anytime," I answer as I close the door on his retreating back. There a thousand other things I want to say, but instead I watch through the window until the red dots from the cab’s taillights disappear into the distance.


 

Jay comes back alone. His mother has gone back to her hotel and is expecting us for breakfast the next morning. Jay looks giddy and bright, and refuses to tell me what the meeting was about. "Give me a few minutes," he says cryptically as he disappears into our bedroom.

I sulk on the couch, re-reading my battered copy of The Talisman until he finally emerges, holding a brown envelope in one hand. He settles down beside me and takes one of my hands in his, beaming at me with his signature goofy grin. He looks so happy, so much like the old Jay that I can't help but smile back at him.

"So my mom had some news to give me," he starts, squeezing my hand as he speaks. "And I hope that you think it's good news. She's been in contact with some of her friends from Los Angeles, and UCLA has a position opening up in their Law School. It's only temporary – the professor is going on a one-year sabbatical – but apparently they've heard good things about me and are thinking about offering me the position."

"Jay, that's amazing." And it is. My head is spinning with the implications and what this means for me and Jay and the Haven, but it's still fantastic news.

"You really think so?"

I pull him close. "Of course I think so!"

"Good." Jay smiles – a full display of perfectly white teeth and a flash of dimple, and I'm amazed, once again, that he's put up with so much from someone like me. He slides down from the couch and reaches into his pocket, and before I can even wonder what the hell he's doing, he pulls out a little black box.

"I know that this may seem like the worst timing," he starts, "but I asked my mother to bring this out before she flew into town. Before we’d even had a chance to talk things over. It was all I could think about when we were apart – how I might never get to give it to you." He flips the lid open and there's a white gold band sitting against the black velvet cushioning.

My mouth is dry, but thankfully Jay keeps talking. "Alec, I love you. I know that these past few months, and this weekend in particular, have been a challenge, but I've made a career out of fighting against the impossible. I'm sure that in the next fifty years we're both going to make mistakes, but I want you to know that I would be honored to work through each and every one of those mistakes with you, as your husband and your best friend."

He takes the ring out of the box and holds it next to my trembling hand. I feel frozen, completely and entirely incapable of producing words.

"Alexander Gideon Lightwood," he says, his voice shaking for the first time. "Will you marry me?"

I gape at him senselessly for a few seconds, thinking about how twelve hours ago I was unsure that I was going to have a relationship to come home to. I think of Magnus, in a thousand permutations: Magnus, sprawled out on his bed, lying beside Jordan; Magnus, glitter-dusted and smirking; Magnus, stealing glances at me across the living room; Magnus, kissing me as though he might die if he didn't; and finally, Magnus, face crumpled and hurt as he took in the marks Jay left on my torso.

I think of Jay's mother, obviously aware of what's happening at this very moment, preparing for celebratory brunch in the morning. I think of Emma, and Isabelle, and my own mother, and everyone who believes in this relationship, who's invested in our happiness.

And finally I think of Jay: beautiful, bright, Jay, who loves me. Who loved me though hospital admissions and meltdowns and endless panic attacks. Who loved me when there didn't seem to be much there worth loving. He's forgiven me for so many things, but I know he would never forgive me for this. It doesn’t matter if I think I’m too young, or if I think the timing is off, or if I need some time to process. This is an all-or-nothing question; James Grayson does not do anything by halves.

This decision will determine the course of the rest of my life, and I know what I have to do.

Chapter Text

I swallow my fear and my doubt, and I smile down at my fiancé.

"Yes," I say, my voice shaking to match my hands. "Yes, I'll marry you."

Jay slides the ring on my finger and I sit there, still stunned, as he leaps up to kiss me. He's laughing into the kiss and squeezing me so tightly that my vision starts to tunnel.

"I love you, I love you so much," he gushes between kisses, and I think that I tell him I love him back. "I need to call my mother," he says when he finally draws away. "And Emma, she'll definitely want to know. Then we should celebrate! I'll get the…shit! I've gone and forgotten the champagne."

"I can get some," I say quickly, needing a few minutes alone to clear my head. "I'll pick up a bottle of champagne and some strawberries and be back before you know it."

"Would you?" Jay is up from the couch now and pacing the halls like he's in the middle of a manic episode. "I'll put together some fettuccine alfredo – extra cheese, just the way you like it." He grins and takes off toward the kitchen.

I follow behind him as if in a daze, the walls seeming too close and the lights too bright. "You'll have to go into town to find something that's open," he says with a bright smile. "Sure you don't mind?"

I lean in and kiss him, running on three years worth of instinct and hoping he doesn't notice that anything is off. "I absolutely don't mind," I say, grabbing the keys from their resting place above the fridge. My voice sounds very far away. "I'll be back soon."

The ring feels tight and it scratches at the delicate skin overlying the joint as it rubs against the steering wheel. I switch hands, trying to distract myself from the irritation, and my fingers tap-dance across the glass as I speed down the highway into town.

My driving, much like my kissing, is purely instinctual, and I don't realize where I'm going until I take a final turn and end up in front of Magnus and Josh’s apartment.

Cursing my own stupidity, I just sit there, car still running, like a creepy child-napper. Luckily, the street is deserted, and this doesn’t really seem like the kind of neighborhood that calls city patrol when there are strange cars parked on the side of the road.

I know that I should put the car into gear and drive away before Magnus or Josh decides to check up on who's lurking outside their house, but I'm paralyzed. I can't move, not even to turn off the ignition. I try to remember what I was supposed to pick up on my trip into town, but my mind is blank. Everything is white noise, and I feel the fluttering heart and cold sweat that precedes a panic attack.

With numb fingers and spotty vision I manage to open the glove compartment and rifle through the contents. Napkins and manuals spill out onto the floor, but eventually I find what I'm looking for: a small bottle of Xanax. Ignoring the warning to not operate a motor vehicle while taking this medication, I flip the top off the bottle and swallow a pill dry. The relief is swift and all encompassing. Finally able to breathe, I shut off the car and collapse against the steering wheel, taking deep breaths through the nose and out the mouth. My t-shirt sticks to my back and I feel chilled despite the warm night air.

I'm midway through the deep breathing exercise when the passenger-side door opens and someone climbs into the car. I squawk in fear and punch the horn, the blaring honk echoing along the empty street.

"Alexander, what the hell are you doing outside my house?"

Magnus is dressed in fluffy pajamas with actual feet and looks as angry as a tomcat. His face is completely devoid of makeup and his hair is getting long enough to run your fingers through. He looks so angry, and all I want to do is collapse in his arms. I loop them around the steering wheel to keep myself from doing that very thing.

"Is this about the Chairman Meow?" he asks, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "Because if it is you can leave right now, I don't have time for – "

"I'm engaged," I interrupt.

"I. You're. What?" Even Magnus can't keep a straight face after an admission like that. His chin wobbles slightly as he fights to keep steady.

"Engaged," I repeat, holding my hand up so that the ring is on display. "To be married," I tack on, in case I wasn't being clear.

Magnus's face darkens. "For how long?"

"Approximately seventeen and a half minutes," I say, glancing at my watch.

Magnus just sits there for a full minute, saying nothing. He shifts in his seat and I expect him to get out of the car and go back in the house, never to speak to me again. Instead he just turns to me and says, "Are you out of your fucking mind?"

"Me?"

"Yes, you. Does your, your…fiancé," he spits the word out as if it tastes bad in his mouth, "know what happened this weekend?"

"Of course he knows," I counter, annoyed. "I told him as soon as I got home yesterday morning. He took off and I spent all day yesterday thinking that he was going to dump me. Turns out yesterday was kind of a crossroads. A give-up-or-get-married kind of crossroads, apparently."

"That is the most fucked up thing I've ever heard," Magnus says, arms flailing. "I feel like I'm having a bad trip. Like Josh put mushrooms in my ramen." He pauses to pull down his passenger-side mirror and checks out his pupils in the reflection. "I hope Josh put mushrooms in my ramen."

"Is it really that unbelievable?" I ask. "That someone would want to marry me?"

"What's unbelievable is that two nights ago, you were sleeping with me. You got the shit kicked out of your face defending me from some douchebag nobody who doesn't have the requisite IQ to open a can of pickles, and now you drive out here and tell me that you're getting married!" He pulls on his hair, teetering on the precipice of full-blown hysteria. "Just tell me something," he says, balancing his feet on the edge of my dashboard.

"Okay, what do you want to know?"

"Why exactly are you here, Alexander?"

"I don't know." I look down at the floor, concentrating on the patterns that are etched into the rubber mat. "I was supposed to go get champagne. I got in the car and started driving and this is where I ended up."

"And that doesn't seem odd to you?"

I shrug. "I guess I just wanted to see you. Explain things before you found out on Facebook or something. I really didn't mean to come, it just kind of happened."

Magnus looks at me, the static from his fuzzy pajamas making his hair wild. His face is grim and determined. "I'm not your crisis line, Alexander,” he says firmly. “If my desperate attempt to get you to stay with me on Friday didn't clue you in, then let me spell it out for you: being around you and not being able to be with you hurts. Knowing that you're choosing Jay over me hurts. Having to sit here and look at that ring and know that you're going to spend your life with some other guy is fucking excruciating. And I know that you're hurting too, but it's not fair for you to keep coming back here. Because every time you leave, I fall apart all over again, and there are only so many times Josh can pick up the pieces before something gets put together wrong."

"I'm sorry," I begin, but Magnus cuts me off.

"I don't want you to be sorry!" he explodes. "You're always so fucking sorry. Sorry to me and sorry to Jay and just sorry sorry sorry all the goddamned time. For once, can't you just be selfish? Can you just tell me what you want? Can’t you just do what you want for once? Think about it, Alexander. You just got engaged! Have you even told anyone?"

I shake my head quickly, even though I know the question was rhetorical.

"Does that not tell you something? You should be over the fucking moon. We couldn't get Josh to stop telling people when Tyler asked him. He told our fucking neighbor, who on more than one occasion has told us to keep our ‘queer business to our fucking selves’."

"I don't know, okay?" I pound my hands against the wheel. "I told you, I just got in the fucking car and ended up here. Do you think I wanted to? Do you think that I enjoy putting the people I care about through this mess? Because I don't!"

"Do you want to know what I think?" Magnus twists so that he's facing me, so that he knows I'm listening. "I think you're afraid. You're just like one of your shelter-animals, cowering in the bottom of a tiny, dirty cage. You're so fucking afraid to leave this cookie-cutter life that you don't know how much better it could be."

"Fuck you, Magnus." I brush my hair back from my eyes savagely. "If you're trying to imply that Jay has been anything but loving –"

"I know he has," Magnus says. "You tell me at least once a fucking day. I know Jay's a good boyfriend and I know that you've had to deal things that no one should ever have to go through, but I also know that you're trapped. You're trapped in a stagnant relationship and you need to stop swimming around in that ocean of denial and realize that the reason that you took me up in that airplane, and the reason that you punched Charlie in the face, and the reason that you took the time to kiss me yesterday before you left is because you're unhappy."

"You don't know what the hell you're talking about," I bite back angrily. "I love Jay."

"Fine." Magnus's tone is sharp, challenging. "You love Jay. You are head over heels in fucking love with Jay.”

He stares at me, unwilling to back down. “What do you love about him?"

The question throws me off balance. I'm not expecting it and the way that Magnus is smirking smugly makes me even more flustered. "Jay has been there –"

"Not what I asked," Magnus interrupts, his voice harsh. "What. Do you. Love. About him?"

"I love everything about him!" I shout, unable to deal with Magnus's insufferable questioning and frustrated that I can't articulate what I'm feeling. I'm not eloquent. I'm not a poet. All I know is that I love Jay. I love Jay and I'm not going to let Magnus make me feel guilty for that.

"Coming here was a bad idea," I say, putting the keys back in the ignition. "I need to get home."

"Yes, back to your fiancé," Magnus says, opening his door. "And just so you know, Alexander, it won't do you any good to come back. I'm leaving, with Josh and Tyler. I'm going to New York to get a fresh start. So I guess this is good-bye for good."

I endeavor to let him leave. To let him storm off, if that's what he feels he deserves. But I can't.

"Wait," I choke out as he's climbing out of the car. I open my door and rush around the car to cut him off before he can go inside. "I just…"

I fling my arms around him, wrapping him in a tight embrace. "I'm going to miss you, Magnus," I say, my voice raw with the weight of so many conflicting emotions. "So fucking much. I wish that things could be different."

"Oh, Alexander," Magnus says, his anger dissipating. He pulls back and brushes his thumb along my cheekbone. "Things could be different, if only you'd let them." He leans in and presses his lips against my cheek, just as he did the first time I came to his apartment. "Aku cinta kamu," he whispers, his breath tickling the side of my face.

When I don’t reply he just smiles sadly. “It means I love you,” he says. “Not that that changes anything.” And with that, he turns toward the door once again. I see Josh’s silhouette behind a curtain, and I wish I could apologize to him too, because I know that when Magnus hurts, he hurts.

"We’ll be okay," Magnus says, knowing, as he always does, exactly what I'm thinking. He turns to walk up the steps toward the door, his face drawn and his eyes unreadable. "I just really hope that you are too."

Chapter Text

I force Magnus's declaration out of my mind. Those words, whispered against my skin like a secret, are too painful analyze, so I push them to the far reaches of my subconscious. Suppression is an acceptable life choice when the only other alternative is watching everything you've built fall to pieces.

The tactic works, at least for a little while. Jay's case is finished, so he takes a week off work and we drive to California to look at properties. I hire a veterinary student to look after the animals for the week and lose myself in California wine, water, and weather.

I've never seen Jay so happy. He falls instantly in love with the California coast and is impossible to remove from the beach. After his interview at UCLA he's full of pent-up energy and apparently wants to expel that by learning to surf. I spend most of my time on the beach, curled up with the stack of books I brought along for the trip.

At least a couple times a day I’ll see a flash of golden eye shadow, or see someone reading a book that he recommended, and I’ll think of Magnus. I’ll wonder whether he’d like the book I’m reading or if he’s left for New York yet, and then the guilt will wash over me. I’ve recommitted myself to Jay, but I don’t know how to make the process of getting over Magnus move any faster.

Then Jay runs across the beach, all golden tan and dripping water and I'm easily distracted. The fact that he personally ensures that I hit every tourist destination that I want to see and that he’s made restaurants at three different places he knows I’d love doesn’t hurt either. The vacation is the perfect break from reality – none of my mundane problems seem to hold much sway under the bright light of the California sun.

It's not until we go home that everything turns to shit.

First we squabble relentlessly over the move. Jay insists that we should go within the month. He's been captivated by LA and since he's given his notice, there's nothing to tie him to Vegas once his final two weeks are finished. I argue that it's not enough time to get the animals sorted – some are ready to be adopted, others will be transferred to shelters with enough space, and a few need papers to cross state lines with us. In actuality, the animals could probably be sorted in a few days. For some reason I just find myself clinging obstinately to the house, the yard, the life we've had here, and I'm not in any rush to disrupt it.

I wonder again if Magnus has left yet, and then convince myself that it doesn't matter.

Another point of contention is the new house; Jay wants something on the water, while I would prefer something closer to what we have now: secluded and with enough grassy land that the animals can have space to run around. Neither of us is willing to compromise, even though Jay points out, quite fairly, that it would be nice to operate the Haven away from home, like any other business. Despite his well thought-out plans, his logical arguments, and his insistence on making this as easy as possible on both of us, I contradict his every point. I've never been an argumentative person, but I shut down his ideas as soon as they're presented, and ruminate on our conversations long after he's fallen asleep.

I feel like my body is filled with poison and it's slowly radiating outward, necrotizing everything that makes me a decent human being. If it keeps up, soon I'll be nothing but a blackened husk. I spew vitriolic remarks and become so unpleasant to live with that I'm surprised that Jay finds it in him to still sleep beside me. Even during my darkest period I was never filled with this kind of intense, omnipresent rage. I feel like I'm always ten seconds away from lashing out.

I've accepted that I'll always have feelings for Magnus, and I love Jay enough to know that we'll be happy together, so I don't understand why I feel like I'm one fight away from a nervous breakdown.


 When Jay returns for his final two weeks of work, it's a pleasant reprieve for us both. I'm sure he's glad for the time away from me, and I'm glad that he's not here to stop me from working myself into a stupor. When he's not at home I can channel my excess energy into an intense physical labor that would be worrisome for anybody watching from a distance. I don't do anything dangerous or life threatening, I just work for hours and hours, until my arms are heavy and my feet barely lift from the floor as I walk. The full-body exhaustion gives me no time to dwell on the irritations of daily life, and Jay's final day approaches with the foreboding speed and terror of a plane crash.

The company is throwing a going away party for Jay, and I'm dreading it. The problem with Jay's coworkers is that they're all like him – anal, overly literal, and hypercompetitive – without having the protective buffer of my being completely in love with them. Spending four hours in an enclosed space feels a little like being the virgin sacrifice at a ritualistic gathering. You spend the night wandering around, terrified that someone is going to speak to you, but wishing that they would just get it over with so that you can die in peace.

Also, I'm the fork guy, and everybody knows it. I can't make soufflés, or salmon couscous, or any of the other pretentious dishes that they serve at their ridiculous buffets, so I've been designated fork-guy. Usually I would love to be fork-guy, but right now the underlying condescension is hard to get past. I debate going out and buying something to transfer into one of Jay's Tupperware containers, but everyone will know that I did it and I'll look even more pathetic than I do with my bag of plastic forks.

Newly irritated and pissed that I've stooped to being affected by inter-office politics, I spend the morning packaging all the equipment that needs to be shipped out to California from the Haven. I rearrange boxes and strap crates together until my arms are burning and my breath is coming in short gasps. It's nearly two when my body finally gives out, and I collapse in a heap. Brutus, an old grizzled husky with bright blue eyes, looks out at me in clear exasperation before tucking his head under his paws and whining.

"I'm going inside," I say. "And see if you get a treat before your new owner comes to pick you up." He just flops on his side, unconcerned, and I stalk off toward the house, wincing as my shoulders protest against the simple sway brought on by walking.

I'm not sure if I can actually lift my arms to shampoo my hair, so I forgo the shower, opting instead to just pull off my t-shirt and collapse on the couch in a heap. The leather is cool and comforting against my skin and I groan into the fabric. Kipling walks in and sniffs disconsolately at my head before deciding that I'm still alive and well and walking straight back out to his bed. He still hasn't forgiven me for taking away Chairman Meow and is the only life form in the house that's moping more than me.

Needing something to distract me until Jay comes home, I scroll through the channels until I find something to watch. Serenity is on the scifi channel, so I stop there. Elated at my good luck, I actually go and grab an apple – the first thing I’ve had to eat all day – and settle in to get lost in the ‘verse.

Before I can take the first bite, the doorbell rings. I jog out to answer it, expecting Emma, who's supposed to come over to pick up a box of her stuff that's been lying around the house for months, and I'm surprised to find a blond spiky head staring back at me.

"Is this about Magnus?" I ask by way of greeting. I totally understand the brotherly desire to protect and defend, but I'm worried that if Josh tries to punch me he'll end up breaking a hand.

"Well, hello to you too, Mr. Sweaty Abs. Very nice by the way. Not as nice as Tyler's – no offence – but passable. Sure you're not looking for a job? I hear there are a couple of openings at Sin City."

I stand there, gaping, while he dissolves into laughter. Once he's had his fill of watching me trying to find something to say, he slips an envelope out of his bag and hands it to me.

My heart squeezes for an instant, and he must see the change in expression because he says, seriously now, "it doesn't have to do with Magnus. Just papers your mother asked me to give you." He stares at me for a couple of seconds before tacking on, "I'm sorry."

I don't really know what I was expecting. "Do you want to come in?" I ask, leaving the door wide for him to step inside behind me. Jay's Harvard sweatshirt is hanging on the back of a kitchen chair and I pull it on over my head.

Josh nods and walks in. Unlike Magnus, he seems completely unfazed by the general splendor. I remember Magnus saying that his parents were quite wealthy, so I suppose it makes sense.

"Do you ever miss it?" I ask, gesturing randomly at the house.

"Being rich?" Josh asks. "The parties, the social obligations, the thinly veiled insults? Having to pretend I was straight so that I wouldn't offend my parents' delicate sensibilities?" He snorts and settles into a stool, his skinny legs dangling above the floor. "Not at all." He fiddles with the strings of his hoodie, lost in thought. "I miss my parents," he says, after a pause. "Not that they really deserve missing. But I guess that's the way it goes."

"So it goes," I murmur.

"Po-tee-weet," Josh answers with a grin.

"What about school, loans, all that stuff? Doesn't it bother you?"

"I have Tyler," Josh says with a shrug, as if it's that's simple. I suppose it is. "My parents didn't cut me off right away. At first, they just refused to accept I was gay. Blamed everything on Magnus and called it a phase. Then, when I moved here they refused to pay for anything but school. My tuition was still covered, in case I ever returned to my senses and started "acting like a Wiles". Then, when I met Tyler, they told me that that was it. If I was going to pursue that kind of lifestyle, then they were done." He smiles at the mention of Tyler's name, getting that faraway look the both of them have whenever they talk about each other.

"He's the most important thing that's ever happened to me, and they've never even met him."

"I guess it wasn't a surprise for you, then, when he asked you to marry him?"

Josh twists his ring, subconsciously I'm sure, smiling again. "I was sure he was there to dump me," he says. He looks up at me. "You remember Bubble Bobble day – well it just got worse from there. Magnus wasn't a big help. He doesn't really understand; he doesn't know what it's like to be afraid of who you are, to maybe start to resent it a little. I hadn't felt like that in a long time, but insecurity doesn't ever really leave, does it?"

He doesn't wait for me to answer, knowing that I don't really need to. "Tyler is, well, Tyler. He's kind and gorgeous and talented and someday soon there are going to be men and women all over the world who have posters of him on their walls. He could be with anyone. I suppose I got used to him wanting to be with me here, but as soon as another variable was introduced, I was instantly sure that it would crumble. I mean, an entire country between us? We maybe see each other every second month for a weekend during the season?" He hooks his legs around the bottom of the chair, maybe trying to settle his constant fidgeting.

"But then when he asked me, I felt like an idiot. I knew that he loved me and I felt stupid that I had ever doubted him. In that moment, I didn't have any room for self-doubt. I didn't think about Tyler, or his fans, or about anything, really. I just knew, one hundred percent, that being married to him was going to make me so fucking happy." He fumbles with his ring and it bounces off the counter a couple times. He scrambles for it, but it comes to a stop in front of me.

I pick it up, noticing a small inscription on the inside. September 21st, 2015 it says.

"Our fourth date," Josh says, flushing a soft pink. "Apparently that's when he knew he wanted to marry me. He came to watch me give a lecture about structural dynamics in mid-range aircraft. He said that he didn't understand a word, but still had more fun than any other date he'd ever been on." He turns even pinker, noticing that he's been rambling.

"I guess I don't have to apologize," he says, sliding the ring back where it belongs. "You know what it's like, to feel like this. To finally feel like things have finally slotted into place."

He gets out of the chair. "Look, Alec. I don't want it to be awkward, because I really like you. Magnus is my best friend and I think that you're really missing out, but I can't begrudge you your happiness with Jay. I'm really happy for you, despite the way things worked out."

He leans in to give me a hug. "So congratulations," he says with an air of finality. "I hope you guys are really happy."

"Yeah," I say, walking him to the door and watching him climb back into his cab. "You too."

When I walk back in the living room, the movie is almost over. Mal and River are on the screen, and Mal is teaching River about the first rule of flying: Love. Those words, that love keeps you in the air, which have always been important to me, seem to take on new meaning. My heart picks up and I lose focus on what’s happening. Mal’s voice is muffled in the background and all I can think of is when I finally got up in the air again. That flight I took with Magnus, which he slapped up to me during our final argument.

All this time I've been thinking that my ability to get back in the plane, that episode of complete freedom, is something that I owe Magnus. It's been just one in a series of cosmic debts that I have no idea how to balance. But that's crap: I got in that plane myself. I made that choice myself. I didn't get in that plane because Magnus wanted me to. I got in that plane because I wanted to. Because for the first time in a long time, I was thinking only of myself. Because for the first time in a long time, I was starting to love myself.

I get suited up and head outside. There are a couple of hours still left to kill before Jay gets home, and a neglected plane sitting in my barn.


 Jay is home by the time I land. He's already showered and is sitting at the island, cutting up ingredients for a salad. His hair is still dripping, trailing wet patches down the back of his t-shirt. There's a steno pad on the table with a neat, bullet-point list on the left side and a series of ticks on the right side.

"Hey, beautiful," Jay says, standing as I kick off my boots.

I focus on his lips; soft, curved, with a smattering of barely-visible freckles just above. I try to think of the last time he kissed me. Was it this morning? Maybe. Perhaps a light brush of lips on my head before he left for work. But on the lips, last night, I think. Or maybe the night before. I don't remember what it tasted like. What was the last meal he cooked for me? Taco casserole, I think, even though he hates it. What was the last thing to make us laugh? I have no idea, and that hurts.

Is this what it will all come down to? A series of firsts and lasts? After time, does the spirit of a relationship fade away until only bookends remain? As you grow you shed people like snakeskin, and the memories of them slowly crumble, until all that's left are gossamer threads – pinpoints of light that remind you of what you used to have. It's impossible to imagine now that there will ever be a day that I can't remember what Jay takes in his coffee or how he used to stay up late in the night, scrubbing dish after dish and trying to shut out the thoughts of everything that had gone wrong that day.

Impossible now, improbable later, but ultimately inevitable.

We were on a bench the first time he kissed me. I was cold and he went into a small coffee shop and brought out a café mocha. After the first sip I was still shivering, so he leaned in and brushed his lips against mine. I hadn't even been aware that it was a date, so sure that someone like Jay would never want to date someone like me. It's the sweetest kiss I've ever had.

I'm crying, for the first time since my brother's funeral, before my shoes hit the wall. It's a silent, unsettling sort of melancholy, and it aches rather than claws at my breastbone. The timing is bad, but the timing will never be right. I could find a million reasons to wipe my eyes, kiss Jay, and start planning our wedding. But I know that if I do, the last kiss we have will not be sweet. It will be bitter and it will poison the memory of everything that happened before, until there's nothing left but the taste of resentment.

Jay doesn't say anything. He doesn't ask me what's wrong. He just sits back in his chair and chews on the inside of his cheek – one of the ticks we worked so hard to eliminate. "Are you sure you can't just go back outside?" he asks. "Walk back through the door and change your mind?"

Tears flowing freely now, I shake my head. The box that holds the ring he gave me sits in my pocket. I take it out and put it on the island.

He nods, his face crumpled and tears mixing in with the water that drips from his curls. "I promised myself I wouldn't cry," he says. "But I was always a better liar than you."

Chapter Text


 

Part I: The Broken Lover
New York City, New York:


 

"His home is where his heart is at the parties that he rolls.

He tells himself he can't be lonely cause he's never on his own.

But all the friends he makes at night, in the morning they are gone,

And he's left with his four walls, his aching head, his silent phone."

-Skin, Boy


 

For the first two weeks, Magnus actually thought he would show up. Thought he would get to Josh’s apartment one day, and Alexander would be there, flushed and bright and ready to tell him that he made a mistake. He would have liked to say that he was happy for him, but that would have been a lie. Mostly he was unhappy for himself.

He saw Camille, much like he knew he would, after the first month had passed. She slithered up to him at a bar, all red lips, soft curves, and sweet murmurs. She still carried the same kit – it looked exactly like a wallet, tucked under her arm – and she flashed it purposefully as she propositioned him, her French accent its own kind of drug. But he was relieved – and shocked – to find that both his past vices were easily resisted. For all that it ached and for all of the anger he found so hard to let go, Alexander had shown him one thing: that want was not love and that love sounded nothing like Camille.

Time passed, and he waited. Boys and girls came and went, and he waited. He thought, on nights when Josh and Tyler were a little too drunk and a little too loud, and he was just tipsy enough to indulge in unmitigated self-pity, that he would wait forever.


 

 

Part II: To Nothing Fall
Los Angeles, California


 

“Yet nothing can to nothing fall,

Nor any place be empty quite;

Therefore I think my breast hath all

Those pieces still, though they be not unite;

And now, as broken glasses show

A hundred lesser faces, so

My rags of heart can like, wish, and adore,

But after one such love, can love no more.”

- John Donne 


 

Emma’s favourite thing to do, back when she was a still only a medical student, fresh out of her psychiatry rotation and completely sure of herself in the way that only those who know next to nothing can be, was to diagnose members of her family with psychiatric illnesses. Classic, she would say. Jay, you’re classic Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.

He’d thought she’d grown out of it.

Classic denial, Jay, she said as he kept the ring on her kitchen table for the first two weeks, sure that Alec would come back once he realized his mistake. They were meant to be together.

I know you’re not angry at me, Jay, when he raged at her for introducing him to Alec in the first place.

Being friends is going to be harder than never seeing him again. It’s a temporary balm to a permanent wound, little brother, when he was convinced that emailing Alec to see how he was doing was a good idea.

I’ll make you some tea, when he didn’t get out of bed for four days.

She was brilliant and she loved him and all she wanted to do was help, but he knew that in this she was wrong. Yes, his job was fulfilling. Yes, he went out for coffee with that cute guy from the corner office, and yes, he had found a passion in surfing. But he could live a thousand years and he still would not accept the loss of Alec Lightwood.

 


 Part III: Alexander, reassembled


 

“Love blurs your vision; but after it recedes, you can see more clearly than ever. It's like the tide going out, revealing whatever's been thrown away and sunk…”

- Margaret Atwood


 

Month One:

The first month is torture. Constantly torn between the urge to run back to Jay and beg for forgiveness and run toward Magnus and make some over-the-top declaration of love, I spend most of my time playing video games, raging over episodes of TV shows I’ve seen a hundred times, and eating more crap food than is medically advisable. Isabelle calls at least twice a day, wanting to come out, but my answer is always the same: I want to be alone.

In solitude, I hope that I can learn what I really want out of life.

Month Two:

After the first month has passed, I start to finally believe that it’s over. Jay and I are finished. The little things that happened during the first month – Kipling throwing up an entire sock, an article online about my favorite author announcing a new book, and Izzy finally telling everyone else about the pregnancy – no longer have me reaching for the phone to call Jay. I stalk his Facebook less, and finally accept the fact there will be no friendship going forward.

We’re done, and I can’t begrudge him that.

It doesn’t hurt any less, but I start to believe that a time will come when it will.

Not having gone to college, I never did the post-undergraduate backpacking that Izzy and Jace enjoyed so much, so I put a ticket on my credit card and leave for New Zealand six weeks after the engagement is called off.

Month Three:

After my initial weeks of hitchhiking I land on a rundown farm that’s seen better decades. Jessa, the owner and permanent wearer of knee-high rubber boots, has a ‘Help Wanted’ sign hanging off a mostly-rotted fencepost, and it takes me a few hours to convince her that my offer of free labor is not a ploy to gain access to her house so that I can murder her in her sleep.

The fact that her sheepdog, Willie, likes me immediately helps strengthen my case.

I’m there for less than a week when she learns I can fly, and then I’m trapped. After her son took off for college she had to do everything by hand or contract out, and my presence is a huge help.

I feel useful and aside from an incident with a spider and an unzipped sleeping bag, I feel more at peace than I have in years.

Month Four:

The first time someone goes down on me I stare down at the tangle of beach-blonde curls and think Jay and get immediately sick.

But it gets easier. Often I’ll think of Magnus and whether he’s with anyone and know that the resulting jealousy is unfair. But here the sex doesn’t feel like a betrayal – it feels necessary. A part of my adult life that I never got to experience.

I learn to appreciate the curve of different men’s lips and all the different ways a kiss can taste. I learn to appreciate my own body and to obey its needs. The sex, while not emotional or life-altering, is restorative. The thrill of a single night isn’t something I’m used to, and though it’s not what I want forever, it’s necessary.

Month Five:

I’m ready to go home. I’m itching for the comfort of my library, to run my fingers down the spines of each book and breathe in the scent of thousands of wrinkled pages.

I’m ready to face the house without the heavy weight of guilt or self-loathing. I still feel Jay’s absence, like a cut that will never completely heal, but I’m confident and optimistic for the first time in my life.

I know, without a doubt, what I want.

The flight home is long, but I spend it with my notebook on my lap, sketching out the pages of my new beginning.

Chapter Text

When I get home there's a stack of mail waiting on the counter. Ryan, the vet student who looked after the animals during my absence, has already cleared out of the house, leaving nothing but a quick note about what's happened since my flight left. Kipling and Hector are overjoyed to see me; they tackle me in a rush of legs and wagging tails, knocking me to the ground with the force of their combined joy. They still look a little confused when they sniff me thoroughly and find no trace of Jay. They gaze toward the door, and Kipling gives a little whine.

"I know buddy," I say, wrapping my arms around his neck. "I miss him too."

And I do miss him. I'm not really sure that there will ever be a time when I don't miss him. There were some nights, in the beginning, when I had to leave the house without my phone to keep from calling. I haven't heard from Emma since she called that first night and blew up at me, and I miss her almost as much.

Most of the mail is junk. Jay, ever the perfectionist, obviously made sure that his was forwarded to his new address. It feels strange to not even know what that is. It's strange to know that Jay is out there, drifting around in the world, and I have no idea where. I hope that wherever he is, he's happy.

The last item in the stack is a small cream-colored envelope, which is heavier than it looks. I slice it open with the tiny letter-opener that Jay left behind, and remove the contents.

It's a wedding invitation, made out to Alexander Lightwood & Guest.

The paper is thick and smooth, but the lettering looks medieval. It's a pretty good match for the ring that Tyler picked out for Josh.

I read through the date on the inside and see that the wedding is this coming weekend. It's taking place in The Ship, a small bar I know from when Jace and Clary started dating, and would sneak in underage to watch their favourite bands play. It's a small venue, so I'm surprised that I'm one of the people that Josh has put on the short-list. Maybe he was hoping that I wouldn't come, and was only asking to be polite. Even though he's renounced that world, he did used to be part of the one percent, and there are some habits that you just can't let go, no matter how hard you try.

The wedding itself is scheduled for six, with a reception to follow. There will be no caterers, no six-course meal, and no rogue swans - just Josh and Tyler, vowing their love in front of all their friends.

Over the past six months, the thought of seeing Magnus again has been like a constant ache. I wanted nothing more than to rush to New York and tell him that I loved him too. I wanted to tell him that he was beautiful, and then spend entire days mapping out his body. But it wasn't fair, not to Magnus or myself, to just run straight from one relationship to another. If I had, then who's to say that the same problems I had with Jay wouldn't crop up with Magnus? Six months is a long time, and I knew when I booked the ticket to New Zealand that it might have meant giving Magnus up forever. But that doesn't mean that I can't try. I've waited so long, and there's no way that I'm going to let him go without a fight.

I glance down at the invitation again. The RSVP date passed a couple of months ago, but I doubt that it matters much, considering that there's no formal dining. I hope it doesn't matter much, because there's no way that I'm going to miss that wedding.


I've always hated the inherent wastefulness of using the jet, but right now I have too much pent-up energy to be stuck on a plane with hundreds of other people. My mother has a meeting in Seattle, so it's not hard for her to land in Vegas to pick me up. I arrive at the airport with a huge suitcase, Kipling, and Hector: everything I need for an extended stay.

My mother, unused to seeing me with anything more than an old backpack, doesn't even bat an eyelash. "Staying for long?" she asks.

"Maybe," I say. "I'll tell you tomorrow."

She doesn't respond, merely nods and settles into the seat across from me. "Are you happy to be home?"

I nod, fiddling with the edges of my black notebook. I finally finished it last night, and have been using it almost as a talisman. "It will be nice to get back to work."

"With the animals," my mother says. After Max died and I got sick she was nothing but supportive, but I think she's always thought of the Haven as more therapy than an actual career. Maybe she's right.

"Yes." I look up and smile. "But I was hoping that I'd maybe get a job interview today. I've been thinking a lot about getting back into the business."

This my mother cannot merely dismiss. Isabelle is due in a matter of weeks, so she's down one test pilot. "I think I may be able to arrange that," she says slowly, a small smile hinting at the corners of her mouth. "But I'll tell you now, I don't condone nepotism of any kind."

I laugh, swallowing down the giddy rush of admiration and fear that my mother instills in everyone, especially her children. "I can't promise you that I'll live up to your last recruit."

"Joshua? I seriously doubt it," my mother snorts. "He was a one in a million find, that boy. I've never met anyone with a mind like his."

I think of him dressed as Ragnor, eyes ringed in black and strutting across the room at Sin City. "You don't know the half of it."

"I expect not," she agrees. "He's quite the colorful character, and he has an interesting array of friends."

"Really?" I ask weakly. "Brings a lot of friends to work, does he?"

"Well, his fiancé was away for the office party a couple of months ago, so he brought a friend. He was wearing more makeup than Isabelle. Spent the night together, the pair of them, talking about maternity clothes."

My throat feels tight and I sit there, blinking soundlessly for half a minute. I wonder if it was hard for Magnus, sitting through a conversation with my sister. I wonder if I came up. I assume he knows that things have ended with Jay, and the fact that Isabelle didn’t mention anything about him certainly doesn’t bode well for my arrival.

My mother, from whom I undoubtedly inherited my straightforward nature, looks a little confused. "Are you still sensitive to the word fiancé?" she asks. "Should I not be mentioning any relationships? Because if it's going to bother you, you should probably avoid Isabelle for the near future."

"I. Did. I'm not sensitive," I splutter. "Isabelle is engaged?"

"She said this would happen," my mother says, throwing her glasses down on the seat beside her. "I don't know why that girl insists on making everything a spectacle when a simple phone call would suffice. Do try to act surprised, won't you?"

There is a tiny splotch of color on her cheeks, nearly hidden by the fall of her hair, and it's the only sign that she does indeed feel bad about the slip. She's always been abrupt, quick to anger, and excellent at commanding attention. But there was also a time when she was full of soft smiles, a time when she would sing us to sleep to chase the nightmares away. The songs ended with Max, and the smiles ended when my father left.

"I'm sorry," I say, interrupting her from her thoughts.

"Whatever for? You didn't make me ruin the surprise."

"About Jay." I look out the window, at the marshmallow-puffs of clouds below us. "For the engagement debacle."

"Alexander." My mother reaches out and clasps my hand tightly in hers. "You have nothing to apologize for."

"I'm just like him," I choke bitterly, expecting her to let my hand go. Instead, she slides over to the seat right beside me.

"Your father was a good man in a bad situation," she says, rubbing her hands together to warm mine. "And you have never been like anyone but yourself. If anything, you could be faulted for loving everyone else too much. You've always put everyone else's happiness above your own."

She pauses, as if weighing what she wants to say. "James was a part of the family. I thought I was about to lose a second son before he came into your life and I will always be grateful for him. He will always be welcome in my home and I hope that he continues to keep in touch. But you are my son, Alexander. You are the best parts of myself and the only thing you should be sorry for is thinking that any member of your family would want you to be unhappy, for whatever reason."

I wrap my arms around my mother's delicate frame, let my head fall into her shoulders, and allow myself to be comforted for the first time in months.

When I get home, the manor is silent. Isabelle was the last person still at home, but she moved in with Simon soon after the pregnancy. They have some sort of baby-class tonight, so at least she won't figure out that I already knew about the engagement until after Josh's wedding. Then it won't really matter, because either I'll be too happy to care about her ranting or just upset enough that she'll take pity on me and shut up.

Mom has gone to the office, probably not to return until the early hours of the morning, so Kip, Hector, and I have the run of the place. Kipling is content to curl up on my bed and nap, but Hector insists on running around madly, sniffing every new smell that's cropped up since his last visit to New York. I follow him around, ostensibly to ensure he doesn't eat anything important, but really because I have nothing better to do. When he finally collapses in a heap next to Kipling, I realize that there's no way I'm regaining control of my own bed, so I grab a pillow and curl up in a ball on the edge. I fall asleep thinking about Magnus's skin and the way he felt pressed against me all those months ago. With nothing left to do, I lie awake for hours, hoping that he still thinks about me too.


Being alone all the next day is torture. I've told Isabelle and Jace that I won't be free until tomorrow morning, but part of me wishes that I had asked one of them to come here. I get ready alone, hoping that my suit is not too formal for such an intimate affair, and make sure I have everything before I'm ready to go. My notebook is tucked carefully inside my satchel, along with my phone, and my wedding present. The invitation said specifically not to bring one, but I don't really care. While Tyler is quickly becoming a hot commodity in the soccer world, he's still a fresh face, and fifty thousand dollars a year is not a whole lot of cash when you don't have any endorsements to back it up. I'm sure the offers will start to come in soon – he looks like a Greek god, after all – but until then, I don't mind bullying them into accepting a gift.

I wait until it's almost time for the wedding to begin before I call a cab. I don't want my presence to cause a stir, or to ruin the ceremony for Magnus, so I plan to slip in the back as everyone else is getting ready.

The bar looks exactly as I remember – dingy and isolated – but there are a string of lights hanging from the door and a variety of flashy cars parked outside. I give my invitation to a petite girl with purple hair. She forgives me for not having RSVP'd and takes the wedding gift, promising to give it to Josh before he cuts the cake.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I scurry in to find a spot to watch quietly from the back.

There are about sixty or so guests: enough to keep me hidden, but not enough to make me feel lost or uncomfortable. The couple sitting beside me asks how I know the grooms, and we talk easily until the justice of the peace walks out and a remix of Pachelbel's Cannon starts up overhead.

Though I'm hidden in the corner and staring straight ahead, I can feel when Magnus enters the room. I refrain from looking, afraid that I might catch his eye, but the thrill of knowing that he's here, that we're finally so close after so much time, makes it almost impossible to breathe. He glides up the aisle, dressed in form-fitting beige pants, a white belt, and a lilac shirt that looks heavenly against his skin, next to a beautiful brown-haired girl in a matching dress. They separate at the front, and then Tyler and Josh make their entrance, holding hands all the way up the makeshift aisle.

Tyler, as usual, looks like a dream in his tailored suit and lilac bowtie. Josh, with his hair free of dye, and pushed up and to the side in a messy rumple, looks less like an adorable nerd and more like a sex-bomb. They both look exquisitely happy and my heart squeezes at the sight of them. Like Emma and Lucas they exchange their own vows. Josh's are heartfelt and sincere and come out in a tumble of words that make Tyler smile and laugh softly.

Tyler is slower and more methodical, and has to pause in the middle to compose himself, which makes half the guests in attendance sigh with romantic yearning.

But while everyone else is staring at the grooms, dabbing at their eyes with tissues and sniffling softly, I'm busy looking at Magnus. At the way his eyes soften and his lips curl up into a smile as he watches his best friend get married. He's impossibly beautiful and I'm torn between wanting the ceremony to be over so that I can finally talk to him again and wanting time to stop so that I can stay in this moment – a moment where he can still say yes, he still loves me – forever.

When everything is over Josh throws his arms around Tyler's neck, kissing him like there's nobody watching, and I'm pretty sure I see tears on both faces when they separate. The photographer interjects to snap a few photos before the license is signed, and since there's not a lot of room to move around, everyone remains seated.

Everything moves quickly. Magnus signs his name with a flourish, pausing to whisper something in Josh's ear. Josh laughs and then hugs into Magnus. It hurts to be so far away, to have to watch from a distance, but this moment is just for the two of them.

It might be like this forever, the cruel, doubtful part of my mind whispers. He may want nothing to do with you. I push the niggling fears away, promising myself that if that's truly what Magnus wants, then I'll respect that.

Caught up in my thoughts, I don't realize that Josh has opened my envelope until I hear my name being called from the front. "Alec?" he says, scanning through the sea of guests. "Alec Lightwood?"

Magnus, who had been whispering something to the Maid of Honor, snaps to attention. He's the one who locks eyes with me first, and I'm sure that I see something I recognize before he quickly looks away. Heart hammering, I stand up, following Josh's command to come to the front. My face is burning and my heart is hammering against my chest hard enough to hurt. I take deep, steady breaths, forcing myself to stay calm. The closer I get to the front, the harder it is to look away from Magnus. There's a thin strip of eyeliner accentuating the green of his eyes, and his lips are glossy. His hair is longer than I’ve ever seen it and pushed up much like Josh's, and there's a hint of stubble framing his face. He looks so fucking good that it takes everything I have not to rush into him and tell him how stupidly in love with him I am.

Josh closes the few steps between us and hugs me tightly. "Alec," he says, "this is too much."

"It's not nearly enough," I answer firmly, wanting the matter settled. I could pay for a thousand honeymoons and still not be even with Josh. Without his visit I may not have allowed myself to realize that I was on a downward spiral until it was too late. Josh helped me save myself, and for that I would send him to the moon if he wanted. He just hugs into me again before settling back into Tyler's side.

"Congratulations," I say, shaking Tyler's hand.

"You too," he says, smiling broadly. His smile falters a little at my confused expression. "Or have you two not tied the knot yet?"

"Who?" I ask, blinking owlishly.

"You and Jay," Josh pipes in from behind. He grabs my hand, running his small fingers over the joint where my engagement ring used to sit.

"Holy shit," he murmurs. He whips around quickly, scanning the stage for his missing best friend. "Where's Magnus?"

"He went out back," the beautiful Maid of Honor answers.

"Selene," she says, holding her hand out for me to shake. "Tyler's sister. You must be the famous Alec. Gotta say, you're pretty popular in the Rose family, Mr. Lightwood."

"Thank you," I reply, dazed and not caring if it makes sense. "I'm really sorry, but I have to find Magnus."

"It's just that way." She points toward a back door with a string of lights hanging down from the side. "Tell him to hurry back. We have more pictures."

Nodding dumbly I move toward the back room, hoping that Magnus's exit doesn't mean that he'll refuse to talk to me.

I knock softly on the door, not really waiting for Magnus to answer before I slip inside.

"Alexander," he whispers from his perch at a small vanity that's pushed against the far wall.

"Magnus." I speak his name like a prayer and when he glances up his face looks haunted.

"Alexander, you can't be here."

I walk over and crouch on the floor, resting on the balls of my feet in front of him. I reach out and touch his cheek tentatively, and my body feels electric when he shivers.

"I can't do this," he whispers, he face drawn in pain.

"Magnus, I thought that you would know by now. I thought that maybe you'd seen on Facebook –"

"I removed you," he says quickly, his expression guarded.

"Or maybe that Josh had heard at the office or that maybe Isabelle had – "

"Had what?" Magnus looks frantic now, his eyes shining with the same burgeoning hope that bubbles like champagne in my chest.

"I ended things with Jay," I say. "Before you guys even left Vegas, on the night that Josh came over to drop off some work forms. I – I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner," I add on, feeling a little nauseated now, but knowing I have to fight through the panic. "I couldn't come here until I had let that part of myself go. I didn't want to chase after you while I was still grieving someone else and unsure of just about everything in my life."

Magnus doesn't say anything. He just sits there, silent, and since that has never happened before, I don't know what to do but to keep rambling.

"I brought this, for you." I shove my notebook into his hands.

He opens it in the middle, and flips slowly through the pages. "It's a comic book," I say, quite unnecessarily. "It was supposed to be finished almost a year ago, but I didn't get the inspiration until I left the States for a while." Magnus stops flicking and runs his hands over a picture of a tall, glitter-encrusted character.

"It's called Underlings. It's about a bunch of people who were granted superpowers and do absolutely nothing with them. They don't help people, or try to make the world a better place.

That's Bane," I add, running my fingers over the dry ink. "He helps the main character, a guy whose son died because he was too afraid to use his powers, start to forgive himself. He turned out to be the spark that the story was missing."

I gently move Magnus's hand from the book and turn to the first page. It's blank but for a single sentence: To Magnus, for thirty-seven reasons.

"I don't understand," Magnus says.

"That last night in front of your house, you asked me what I loved about Jay," I say, cringing at the way Magnus's face scrunches in pain. "And I couldn't come up with anything. But after Josh came to see me I took out the plane again, and while I was up I asked myself the same question, only instead of Jay I thought about you. I had thirty-seven reasons before I had to pause."

I take Magnus's hand and run my thumb over the delicate skin of his wrist. "I love you, Magnus," I say, looking up into his eyes. I move my hand to the side of his face, cupping it gently, the way I had that last morning in his bedroom. "I have loved you since that day in the library, when you went to pieces over my dad's chemistry book. But I didn't want to come back while I still thought of that love as a dark, hidden piece of my soul; I wanted to be the person we both deserved. But you have to know, no matter what you decide, that I have loved you every second of every day since then.”

I stand up and Magnus moves with me. "I understand if too much time has passed," I say softly.

He takes a step toward me and places his hands around my neck, resting his forehead against mine. "Alexander," he says, "I would have waited forever."

He leans in to kiss me, softly and sweetly. His tongue brushes my lips and the sensation spreads over my body like light, warming me from the inside. I sigh into his mouth and his arms tighten, pulling me closer to his chest.

I can feel the beat of his heart, strong and steady, against my chest, and I finally understand what Josh was trying to explain so many months ago.

This is what happiness feels like.

Chapter Text

It’s close to eight o’clock before I hear the light tap-tap-tap of feet across the floor. For all that children are supposed to disrupt your sleeping habits, having Pippa in the house hasn’t proved to be any hassle at all. Babies, I’ve been told by Isabelle, are a completely different story.

“Uncle Alec,” she yawns as she walks into the kitchen. She hauls herself up onto one of the tall chairs in front of the island, glaring at me when I make a move to help her. Though she may look more like Simon, with her soft brown hair and coffee-colored eyes, she acts exactly like her mother.

“Morning, Pip,” I answer, moving over to kiss her on the head. She allows it, still too groggy with sleep to protest. “What would you like for breakfast?”

“Uhhh.” She climbs from the chair onto the island, letting her feet dangle over the edge. Her toes are painted the same sparkly purple that Magnus wears so often and she’s wearing his Stand Back, I’m going to try Science t-shirt. It falls almost to her ankles, but she’s found a purple scarf from somewhere in the depths of Magnus’s closet and tied it around her waist to create a sort of dress. My heart warms at the site, and I surreptitiously snap a picture with my cell phone.

“Careful,” I say, as she swings her legs over the side, and pick her up to move her closer to the middle of the island. “We don’t want another trip to the emergency room, do we?”

“Last time they let me have a purple cast,” she answers happily. Not really the response I was looking for.

“So, breakfast?” I grab a couple of boxes of cereal from the cupboard and spread them out in front of her. “What’s it going to be?”

She eyes the boxes with distaste. “Those are the boxes mommy brought over. Uncle Magnus promised we’d have grilled cheese.”

“Did he now?”

She nods vigorously, her hair falling into her eyes. “And magic potions!”

“Magic potions, hmm?”

“Yup, just like he makes at work! We’re going to make them together, for practice.”

I fill a glass with orange juice and bring it over to her, so that she can have something before Magnus gets back from the store. “Have some juice while we wait for Uncle Magnus, okay?”

She gulps the juice down, knowing that the request isn’t optional, spilling a little on the counter in her haste. “Uncle Magnus isn’t here?” Her chin wobbles a little and I start to panic. Sullen, I can handle. Excited, easy as pie. But crying? I’m completely useless.

“Don’t worry, Pip, Uncle Magnus is – ”

“Here!” A voice calls from the porch. “Uncle Magnus is here!”

Pippa squeals with delight and hops off the island to the chair with a single push, then lowers herself to the floor in a tangle of wiry limbs, while I have a mini-panic attack on the other side of the kitchen. She runs toward the porch, Magnus’s t-shirt flapping around her like a cape.

“Pip-squeak!” Magnus says, pulling her up in his arms. “What a lovely dress that is! What kind of brilliant, handsome person showed you how to do that?”

Pippa giggles and cuddles into Magnus’s neck. “It was you, Uncle Magnus.”

Magnus wiggles his eyebrows at me as I roll my eyes. “Right you are.” He leans over the counter to give me a quick kiss. Pippa glares again, upset that I’ve taken away some attention, so Magnus plops her back on the counter. “Uncle Alec gets very cranky if I don’t kiss him at least once every morning,” he says seriously.

She scowls a little, the spitting image of Izzy at that age, but stops when she realizes that Magnus isn’t going to speak otherwise. “Can we make our potions now?” She flashes a grin that she knows Magnus can’t resist. “Please?”

Magnus holds up two fingers. “First, you have to tell me the two rules of potion making.” Pippa’s eyes are locked on Magnus’s, and, as always, she’s completely and utterly enraptured. It’s no wonder she wants to cry when he leaves; with his sparkly hair and his playful nature, he would be any kid’s favorite uncle. I go back to finishing up the dishes from last night’s experiment, which Magnus left scattered all over the kitchen before going to bed, while Pippa answers the question behind me.

“Number one, safety goggles!”

“Exactly, my little apprentice.” Magnus whips open the drawer and produces a matching set of purple goggles, fastening one pair behind Pippa’s ears securely before putting on his own.

“And number two?”

“Wizard’s robes!” Pippa wriggles with excitement on the counter, but Magnus just makes a little clucking noise with his tongue.

“Warlock’s robes, Pipster. We don’t need wands, all we need is the power of our brains.” He reaches out and taps Pippa on the head. “But you’re right. We do need our robes!” He opens up pantry and takes out the two lab coats that they decorated together a couple of weeks ago. “To the cupboard!” he booms, waving his arms like an actual sorcerer. Pippa laughs and follows him over to the cupboard he uses to store pieces of glassware he’s smuggled out of the lab for this express purpose, mimicking his movements exactly.

Pippa reaches in a hauls out a couple of beakers and then hands them over to Magnus, who places them gently on the counter. Then he grabs a bunch of different flavors of yogurt, some fruit, and three different boxes of juice from the fridge. I reach over his head and pull out the ice cubes they made from pieces of fruit and juice last night.

“Don’t forget these, Warlock Lightwood,” I say.

Magnus bends over and kisses my hand – a gesture that still manages to make me blush after all our time together. He smirks as he rises. “Thank you, my Prince.”

Magnus arranges all the ingredients, the beakers, and the heavy-duty blender in a semi-circle on the floor. Pippa sits beside him, her lab coat pooling around her as she watches Magnus carefully measure things out. He pauses every few seconds for her to stir or pour, and lets her cuddle into his side when she’s not otherwise occupied. “All right,” he says, slapping his hands against his thighs. “Time to mix!”

Pippa claps as he presses many more buttons than necessary to blend the mixture together. When he’s done he pours the smoothies into three tall glasses, setting two on the island for the two warlocks, and passing the last back to me.

Pippa scrambles to her feet, eager to get to the eating part of the experiment, pushing her goggles toward Magnus and whipping off her lab coat.

“Wait a second,” I say, picking both sets of equipment off the floor, since Magnus doesn’t act much different than a five-year-old when it comes to tidying up and can’t be trusted to do it himself. “What’s the final rule of potion-making?”

Pippa sighs and crosses her arms. “Wash your hands when you’re done.” She grabs Magnus’s hand and pulls him along with her toward the bathroom, determined that if she’s going to have to listen, she’ll at least do it with better company. Magnus trails along dutifully, telling her all about the cool explosions that happened in the lab yesterday.

When they come back, Magnus goes about making a grilled cheese, while I gather Pippa’s things to put in her overnight bag. The two chatter about My Little Pony, and Pippa clings to his leg when her dad finally comes to pick her up.

“Don’t you have a hug for Uncle Alec?” Magnus asks before she steps out the door.

She dashes back in and hugs me fiercely. “Love you, Uncle Alec.” Then she turns around and runs out the door at full speed. Simon laughs as she karate chops the air while jumping from the front step.

“You guys are lifesavers,” he says, piling her stuff in his arms. “The show ran past three, and then, well, tequila.” He grins sheepishly.

Magnus waves his hand. “We love having her.”

“You need all the practice you can get. Only three weeks to go!” He glances behind him quickly, as if sensing that Pippa’s about to do something mischievous. She’s stalking Chairman Meow across the front lawn, and looks ready to pounce. “I should probably get going.”

We wave goodbye as the car pulls out of the driveway, and as soon as they disappear down the street, Magnus pushes me against the door and kisses me with a long, drawn-out groan. He pulls back and nips at the side of my neck. “I love that little squirt, but do you know how hard it is to watch you walk around looking like that without wanting to…” He moans and kisses me again.

I glance down at my raggedy pants. “Looking like what? Magnus, I’m wearing pajamas.”

“Sexy, sexy, pajamas,” he whispers, his breath tickling my ear. He runs his hand along the waistband. “They’ll have to go before the baby comes.” He pauses for a moment, as if letting the sentence sink in, and then smiles softly. “Before the baby comes,” he repeats, amazed.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, when he notices that I’m not smiling back or starting my usual rant about all the things we have left to buy or set up. “Are you getting nervous?”

“No. I don’t know.” I stalk into the living room and throw myself into a chair, draping my legs over the side. “Maybe.”

Magnus settles on the floor in front of me, resting on the balls of his feet. He pushes my hair out of my eyes and gently runs his fingers down my cheek. “What’s wrong?”

“What if it’s just like Pippa?” I whisper to keep my voice from cracking. “And you’re the fun dad and I’m the boring go-wash-your-hands dad?” It’s not an unrealistic assumption, contrary to Magnus’s expression.

“Alexander.” Magnus crawls up into the chair, settling his long limbs over mine. “That is not going to happen. You’re not going to be the boring dad, and you’re not the boring uncle.” He pauses for a second. “Plus, I should have made Pippa wash her hands, but I forgot. Without you, the baby would probably be radioactive within the first month.”

“Great, so I’m all that stands between our kid and possible superpowers.”

“Or possible melted-brain,” Magnus says, lifting my chin. “Listen. This month, Pippa likes science and sparkles. Maybe next month she’ll like animals and airplanes and you’ll be cool uncle and I’ll be crazy uncle. You don’t have to worry.”

Even after all these years, it’s still not as easy for me as it seems to be for Magnus. Even if it happens less often, doubt still finds a way to wriggle its way into my subconscious like a stubborn parasite. “What if when the baby grows up it doesn’t like anything I like? What if I’m just boring and embarrassing?”

“That’s impossible.” He leans in to kiss me softly. “Maybe our kid will like hockey and Simon’s band’s shitty music, and we’ll both be fucking lost. But it won’t matter, because you’ll make sure that there are always vegetables in the fridge and have a library that’s full of whatever kind of books he or she likes to read. You’ll be there for all the things that really matter. You’re going to be an amazing dad, so you need to stop worrying.” He leans in and pulls lightly on my hair. “Look at this adorable face. How could anyone ever hate you?”

“People have found a way,” I reply quietly. Mentions of Jay have become scarce over the years, but there are still times that I think of him and wonder how he’s doing. I don’t ever ask my family, as I suspect he wouldn’t like it, and they’ve always avoided the topic. Sometimes I look at his profile on the UCLA website and track the accomplishments in his life, year by year. But the small biography and updated picture don’t tell me anything about how happy he is or if he’s found someone special.

“That reminds me,” Magnus says, getting up from his position in my lap. “Something came in the mail today.”

He walks out to the kitchen and comes back with a parcel wrapped in heavy cream paper and tied with an expert bow. It’s perfectly aligned with not a wrinkle in site, just like every Christmas present Jay ever gave me. I unwrap it carefully, making sure the edges don’t tear whatever’s inside, and a small card falls out. The inside reads:

Alec,

I know that it’s been far too long, and that the distance between us falls largely on me. I heard from your mother that you’re expecting a new addition soon, and I didn’t want to let the occasion pass by unrecognized. I wish you nothing but happiness.

Jay

I’ve now spent more time apart from Jay than we had together, but that doesn’t change how important he was to me, or how much he changed my life. The card is vague and doesn’t mention Magnus at all, but it’s more than I ever imagined I’d get. I flip the card over and notice that there’s a return address and take that as a sign. Jay and I may never be on each other’s Christmas card list, but it helps to know that the past doesn’t weigh on him as it used to. I think of the last time I saw him – just before we had to get Kipling put down – and how angry and hurt he was, and I know that something must have happened. Whether that something was a person, or a career change, or just the influence of time I may never know, but I believe that he must be happy.

Magnus slices open the box as I’m reading the card, and pulls out a beautiful cream-colored cashmere blanket. There’s a picture of a Great Dane stitched seamlessly into the bottom corner, and my chest feels heavy and full.

“It looks like him,” Magnus says, running his fingers over the fabric.

“Yeah, it does,” I agree.

“Will you write back?” Magnus settles back into the chair, resting his head on my chest. I don’t think it’s a conscious process, but any mention of Jay, no matter how innocuous, always draws him a little closer.

I run my fingers through his hair, enjoying the soft sigh he makes. It’s been five years, and I’ve never once felt the same restlessness I felt in Las Vegas. I’ve never stopped being amazed that we managed to find each other. I kiss Magnus’s head and let him wrap himself around me despite the lack of space. “I think so.”

Magnus mumbles something into my neck and I wrap my arms around him a little tighter. I have work to do for the Haven, and I’m supposed to meet Josh at the airstrip to run some new designs, but all that can wait. For now, I just want to stay here, with Magnus’s breath tickling the side of my neck, and revel in the fact that my life has become everything I ever wanted it to be.

Chapter Text

Hi everyone!

I just wanted to post here to say that I've started two new parts of this story:

1. Between the Shadow and the Soul - the story of what happens to Jay after his and Alec's breakup.

2. Outtakes from this story. The first one (about Magnus and set during the timeline of Certain Dark Things) was posted today.

Thanks again for all the love, and hopefully I'll get to chat with you some more over the course of these new stories :)

<3