“Congratulations graduates!” The school’s dean announced to close the ceremony.
Alec Lightwood stood with the rest of the graduating class, applauding their accomplishment, basking in the moment before he would have to join up with his family. He joined in as the entire graduating class tossed their caps into the air, catching the eye of Magnus Bane a few rows in front of him as his cap came back down and he caught it in his hands.
They shared a happy, celebratory grin before the entire class started to process out, everyone going their separate ways to meet up with family and friends once they were on the concourse of the University event center.
Alec spotted Magnus at the exact same time Magnus spotted him, and Alec started trying to push his way through the crowd to get to him, to celebrate for even the shortest of moments.
But before Alec could reach Magnus he was cut off by a very excited Isabelle, who seemed to just appear in front of him, as though the crowd around them hadn’t existed.
“Alec, I am so proud of you!” She beamed as she hugged him.
Alec squeezed his sister tighter, and his laugh was easy when Isabelle shrieked giddily in surprise when he lifted her off the ground.
He turned to Jace as he set Isabelle back on solid ground, and over Clary’s head of fiery red hair Alec glimpsed Magnus still trying to fight through the crowd toward them. Clasping Jace’s hand, Alec was pulled into another tight hug, and he barely had the time to shift away from Jace to catch Max as Max eagerly launched himself at Alec.
While still hugging Max, Alec caught Magnus’ eye as his parents approached him. Magnus stopped dead in his tracks just a few feet from them, and Alec felt his face fall, his spine stiffen, and his shoulders tense as he reverted back to a persona his parents approved of: serious and stoic. Robert and Maryse Lightwood had always preached graduation as being a passage from childhood and into adulthood. There was no room for overt celebration, and Alec knew they expected him to uphold that standard. He just hoped that his apology for Magnus was evident in his eyes.
I’m sorry. We’ll meet up later. I promise.
Alec was quickly whisked outside with his siblings by his parents. An eternity seemed to pass while posing for the obligatory photos that he knew would paint an image of a family that that was close, loving, and loyal. And Alec knew the photos he took with Jace, Isabelle, and Max would capture the unbreakable bond they shared and the love and devotion for each other that ran deep. With his mother’s rigid posture and his father’s apparent hesitation to get too close, Alec wouldn’t be able to say the same of those photos.
“I’m hungry.” Max announced, and his bored tone matched the feelings Alec was trying to keep internalized.
“Shall we have lunch somewhere?” Maryse asked, and Alec’s heart sank at the prospect of having to spend his time entertaining his family when all he really wanted to do was spend his last hours on campus with Magnus and embrace the freedom he still had to be himself before he couldn’t any longer. But being the ever-dutiful son, Alec inhaled a slow breath, ready to smile and agree that lunch would be great.
It was then Isabelle said, “Actually, I think Alec had planned to spend the afternoon celebrating with some friends since he won’t be able to later tonight.”
Alec resisted the urge to hug Isabelle tighter than he could ever recall hugging her before and turned to gauge his mother’s reaction. Maryse held her head high and her jaw tight. Alec lowered his eyes, his last hopes of a peaceful afternoon with Magnus slowly evaporating.
“We’re doing dinner to celebrate with Alec tonight. He can go do his thing and the rest of us can go find lunch somewhere.” Jace interjected.
Alec tried to ignore the flutter of hope in his stomach, turning his hazel eyes to his mother, looking at her from under his lashes.
“Fine.” Maryse relented with a sigh. “Don’t forget our reservation is at six. Don’t be late.”
Alec nodded, keeping his smile from spreading out of control until after his family had started walking away. He turned in the opposite direction, knowing just where he would find Magnus.
Magnus wandered through University of Idris campus and took in the grand and classic architecture that spoke of wealth and privilege, a world isolated inside an urban jungle that looked like a picture straight out of a book with its small, family owned businesses that had been around for decades, and almost no corporate chains to speak of. He passed groups of students from their class as they posed for photos with family and friends, swept up in a wave of joy and excitement.
It only punctuated the fact that Magnus was entirely alone. Of course, he had friends that he would meet up to celebrate with later, but Catarina and Ragnor were swept up in their own family obligations. Just as Alec was. But Magnus didn’t have any family to be proud of him, to look at how hard he had worked, to see what he had accomplished, and shout it out to the world, which he knew his mother would have done. Magnus couldn’t speak for his step father – they had only managed to tolerate each other – but he knew his mother would have worn her pride in him on her sleeve like a badge of honor. Magnus’ chest ached and a hollowness bubbled up from his gut, where he had buried it after their funerals. There had been no time to grieve, not when he was suddenly faced with figuring out how to survive on his own.
Magnus found an open table on the patio of a small coffee shop that he visited often and removed his cap and gown. He tossed the gown over the back of the chair and smoothed his bright red tie down the front of his black button up shirt as he sat down.
“No Alec today?”
Magnus looked up and smiled. Lily lived across the hall from him and was scheduled to graduate next year with a math degree. She was too smart for her own good and made a damn addictive latte.
“No, he’s dealing with family today,” Magnus answered conversationally, but he was almost certain the dullness in his eyes and the tight-lipped smile he offered Lily gave away his disappointment.
“I think I have just the thing for you.” She patted his shoulder as she walked away to make his drink and returned a few moments later, setting a blue ceramic mug in front of him. “Hazelnut latte with a hint of mocha, extra hot. My treat.”
Magnus grinned at her. “I’m going to have to give up coffee now. I will never find a better barista.”
Lily rolled her eyes playfully as she turned away from him again, leaving him with just his coffee and his thoughts to keep him company. He tried to ignore the fact Lily had noted Alec’s absence, but he couldn’t. His friendship with Alec had become as much a part of his life over the past four years as his friendship with Catarina and Ragnor. They came to the coffee shop together so often to study, to unwind, to just talk that it was a part of them.
Graduation was supposed to be a time to celebrate, to be excited about the future, to go out and carve a path in life. But Magnus found nothing to celebrate. Setting aside the fact that he hadn’t yet decided what he wanted to do with one or both of his degrees, despite all of his hard work, graduation only emphasized that hollowness spreading in his belly. In one moment it meant the end of everything that he and Alec had built.
Of course, Magnus knew it didn’t haveto end. There were still ways they could keep in touch, but it wouldn’t be the same. They would no longer get to see each other every day, and Magnus didn’t want to admit how much he had come to expect Alec to come by his apartment and walk in unannounced after classes were done. That had become one routine Magnus had looked forward to more than he cared to admit.
“Now that thatis over with,” Alec’s voice interrupted his thoughts.
Magnus looked up in mild disbelief just as the breeze rustled through Alec’s dark hair. Alec unzipped his graduation gown, revealing a simple white button-down shirt, black dress pants, and navy blue tie that he had opted to wear for the ceremony, and sat down at the table across from Magnus.
“I figured you’d be with your family this afternoon,” Magnus said as he looked away from Alec and took a slow sip of his coffee. He leaned back in his chair, casually crossing one leg over the other.
“Mom wanted to do lunch”—Alec paused to order a cappuccino as Lily came by—“But I am free until dinner tonight. Jace and Izzy have agreed to keep mom, dad, and Max entertained for the afternoon.” Alec looked over at Magnus again as he loosened his tie. “You sure you don’t want to come to dinner with us? Mom and dad said I could bring friends. Hell, Clary is even bringing Simon.”
“Your parents don’t like me,” Magnus said simply as though that was answer enough for why he couldn’t accept the dinner invitation.
“My parents don’t know you,” Alec responded firmly, the tone sending a warm sensation rippling through Magnus’ belly, but the sentiment Alec conveyed wasn’t one Magnus could disagree with.
Maryse and Robert Lightwood knew almost nothing about him, except that he was a scholarship student, one of the few that the private university admitted each year, and they despised what they thought he represented: a mere charity case who had only been granted the scholarship because of his unfortunate circumstances rather than because he had earned it through hard work and being smart as hell. That his admittance into the university somehow diminished the value of the degree Alec now held, and that his siblings Jace, Isabelle, and Max eventually would hold as well.
“Will you at least think about it?” Alec asked gently after a few moments of silence, as he reached across the table and curled his hand gently around Magnus’ wrist. “Because I would really like it if you did come with us.”
Magnus looked over at Alec as every nerve ending in his arm was set on fire at the simple, innocent touch, and he inhaled slowly to steady himself. Internally, he rationalized that Isabelle and Jace would be there, as would Clary and Simon so there was a good chance the celebration may not be as disastrous as Magnus imagined it could be. And Magnus knew that even if Isabelle and Jace weren’t going, the softness and openness of Alec’s eyes, the way he looked at Magnus from under his long eyelashes, silently pleading, was Magnus’ weakness, and whatever resolve he had to say no always crumbled under that gaze.
“Okay,” Magnus agreed.
“So, is Magnus coming?” Jace asked, filling a small plate with crudités and other light hors d’oeuvres from the buffet at the back of the private dining room.
Alec was in front of him, filling his own plate. The steakhouse was nice, but it wasn’t entirely what he had wanted. He would have preferred something low key, less flashy, and more casual. Everything about the room they were in, from the dark wood paneling, the lace window coverings, and even the appetizer selection, reflected everything that his parents valued, but nothing about what Alec wanted. Because of this, Alec had chosen to dress casually in dark jeans and a dark blue button down shirt, and had asked everyone else to dress casually as well. Only Maryse and Robert were dressed as though this was a semi-formal cocktail event, in a black sleeveless dress and heels and a suit and tie, respectively.
“I don’t know.” Alec shrugged. “He said he’d think about it.”
Alec picked his beer bottle up off of the buffet, holding his small plate of appetizers in his palm, and turned to walk back to the table, still chatting casually with Jace when Maryse approached them.
“Your friend is late,” she stated, as though Alec wasn’t fully aware of Magnus’ absence. “Though I don’t blame him entirely. Most people I’ve met that come from similar circumstances aren’t always taught proper manners.”
Alec looked over at Jace and was glad to see that Jace’s slightly stunned, open-mouthed expression matched the way he felt, though he was doing his best to keep his face neutral. Alec glanced down when he felt his mother’s hand smooth out the lapel of his shirt.
“Not tonight, mom, please?” He asked, with a slight roll of his eyes, biting back the more scathing comment that sat on the tip of his tongue. He was certain his mother wouldn’t appreciate being asked to behave with the grace and civility that someone who came from money should have been raised to show.
Alec watched as Maryse’s face changed from shock at his request, to neutral and unreadable within a matter of seconds. No doubt from years of experience navigating the delicate terrain of being both a successful business woman and socialite. Yet, despite this, Alec felt his chest swell with a sense of satisfaction that she had given in on this one—albeit minor—battle.
“You’re right,” Maryse spoke through a tight-lipped smile. “Tonight isn’t the time.”
“Thank you,” Alec said, feeling Jace nudge his elbow and nod over toward the door that separated their room from the rest of the restaurant.
The smile that spread on Alec’s face was full, bright, and instant the moment he saw Magnus framed by the dark wood doorframe, cautiously assessing the situation. Alec waved him over with the hand holding his drink, feeling the back of his neck grow warmer as Magnus came closer, entranced at the way Magnus moved so fluidly. He was subtle about taking in the dark jeans and burgundy button up shirt Magnus wore under a black waistcoat, the sleeves of which were rolled up to his elbows and showed off his forearms quite nicely, if Alec did say so himself. He had kept his makeup and jewelry to a minimum, wearing only a small line of shimmery black eyeliner along the top and bottom of each eyelid, one silver necklace that made the burgundy of his shirt pop, a couple of silver rings on each hand, and a silver chain with a skull at the end attached to his waistcoat pocket.
“Hey, man,” Jace greeted him with a nod of his head and Magnus nodded back. The sound of Jace’s voice broke whatever hold Magnus had over Alec. Alec cleared his throat and was quick to make the introduction between Magnus and his mother.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” Magnus apologized, the sincerity in his eyes matching the genuineness in his voice, as he held Maryse’s hand in his. “I got caught up in doing some packing.”
Alec could tell by the slight pause between the two statements that it was a lie, but a lie that he knew Magnus had to tell, and one that he would take up the reins on if his mother challenged it.
“Well, you’re here now.” Maryse said as she carefully pulled her hand from Magnus’, and despite speaking to Magnus with the same thin-lipped smile she had given him only a moment ago, Alec noted that there was nothing warm or welcoming about her voice. Alec stared at her steadily for a moment before she turned and walked back toward the table.
Alec turned his attention to Magnus and smiled, softer, slightly apologetic for his mother’s behavior, and maybe less bright than he had smiled when Magnus had first walked in, but still with everything he had. “I’m glad you made it.”
“I wasn’t sure I was going to,” Magnus admitted, looking between Jace and Alec. He twisted one of the rings around his finger as his attention settled fully on Alec again.
Alec nodded in understanding, knowing that Magnus would have rather been anywhere else and the only reason he was here at all was because Alec had asked him to be. He had all but begged Magnus to come, because truth be told, this wasn’t where he wanted to be either.
“We’re going to sit down to order the main course, I guess, in a minute, but help yourself to whatever appetizers you want, and get whatever you want to drink. Seriously, whateveryou want.”
Alec grinned as Magnus nodded, and started back to the table with Jace.
“Have you always gotten this hot under the collar around him?” Jace teased with a devilish grin, his voice low so that only Alec could hear him.
“Shut up, Jace.” Alec rolled his eyes again as he tried to brush off Jace’s words, but Jace had always been able to read him in a way that no one else really could, and perceived things about him others missed. Their connection was something that Alec couldn’t put into words. He and Jace had just always clicked, had always been one mind and one soul living in two bodies. And they weren’t even brothers by blood.
“Hey, I’m not the one whose neck turned the exact shade of Magnus’ shirt when he walked into the room and forgot how to breathe,” Jace pressed on, setting his plate at the spot he had claimed at the table and sat down.
Before Alec could react to Jace, Magnus joined them and set his small, half-full plate on the table across from Alec, at the only spot that hadn’t been claimed.
“And who might this be?” Robert asked curiously from his seat at the head of the table, Maryse seated next to him.
Alec caught the way Magnus’ eyes searched for and found his, and he couldn’t bring himself to immediately look away. “This is Magnus.”
Alec slowly tore his eyes away from Magnus’ to gauge his father’s reaction and exhaled slowly when he saw his father at least seemed to have enough decency to be marginally warmer than his mother had been, inclining his head toward Magnus in a silent invitation to sit.
With everyone settled around the table, orders were taken and the chatter amongst everyone was light and pleasant. When one of the wait staff set a beer bottle in front of Magnus, Alec knit his brow together, tilting his head slightly in confusion because he knew Magnus didn’t drink beer. Magnus simply shrugged in answer to Alec’s unasked question – it would allow him to stay in control of however the evening went – as he was swept up in a conversation with Simon and Max about the new Iron Manmovie coming out later that summer, and how Max wanted to grow up to be Tony Stark.
Alec lowered his head and pressed his lips together, trying to hide the smile that was about to split his face in two as Magnus assured Max that he had no doubts Max would grow up to be exactly like his superhero idol.
Alec felt an elbow in his ribs and looked up to see Jace smirking smugly again as he leaned back in his chair and rested his arm on the back of Clary’s chair. He shot Jace a warning look as Magnus shifted his conversation from Simon and Max to Clary and Isabelle, and how OPI’s new summer color palette would make for amazing oil paints. That was one topic of conversation that neither Alec, Jace, Simon, nor Max could participate in.
Once everyone’s dinner had been served and the wait staff had cleared the room, Maryse tapped her knife on the side of her glass to get everyone’s attention. Alec felt his cheeks flush as his mother raised her glass and looked at him.
“To your accomplishment and to a bright future that we know will bring you great success.”
Alec was saved having to react to his mother’s toast, which was too formal to have been completely heartfelt, by Isabelle leaning forward with her glass raised.
“And, of course, to Magnus. All of your hard work is only going to pay off for you in epic ways.”
Alec was the first to raise his glass, and Magnus smiled a bit shyly—which was the first time he had ever seen Magnus be shy about anything—as Isabelle finished her toast and he wasn’t sure he could love his sister more than he did at that moment. Where his mother seemed to be going out of her way to make Magnus uncomfortable, and his father was indifferent to Magnus being included, Alec’s siblings had treated him the same as Clary and Simon: as just another extension of the family.
They all ate in silence for a majority of their meal, and just as Alec felt more and more hopeful that Magnus would get through the evening without being interrogated by his parents, Maryse sat forward and folded her arms on the top of the table.
“And what is next for you, Magnus?”
Alec closed his eyes and quietly took a deep breath. When he opened his eyes again he met Magnus’ gaze. He couldn’t be sure, but he swore that Magnus’ demeanor changed as they looked at each other, gaining the strength that he needed to answer whatever Maryse Lightwood threw his way.
“I’m not sure, truthfully. I’d like to do some traveling and just see where life takes me,” Magnus answered, and Alec wished he could be as unapologetic as Magnus was. He envied the freedom Magnus had to carve out his own path in life, to be completely and totally unburdened by the expectations of others. It was a lifestyle that sounded more glamorous to Alec than his own. His life’s path had been set forth for him, expected from a young age to someday carry on the Lightwood legacy. There was no room for adventure, no room to deviate from that set path.
At least not after tonight.
The weight of those expectations seemed heavier than Alec could remember.
“Alec will be starting at Lightwood Consulting next week,” Robert added, and Alec supposed it was his attempt at being conversational, though it made him shift uncomfortably in his seat.
“How very responsible of you,” Magnus teased him with a grin and Alec couldn’t help but grin slowly back, more at ease than he had been just a moment before.
Alec could feel Jace holding back the urge to elbow him in the ribs again.
“Yes, Alec always has had a distinct direction to his life.” Maryse sneered as she looked from Magnus, to Alec, and back to Magnus as though to prove that life needed structure and direction for it to be successful, and Alec moved his hands from the top of the table to rest on his lap as they balled into loose fists.
He watched as Magnus began to rub his thumb against the side of his finger, which was a sure sign that Magnus was trying to think quickly, or to keep himself calm while still seeming like he had some semblance of control over the situation. Alec had always mostly noticed it during midterms and finals but seeing it now and knowing that it was because his mother was doing her best to make Magnus feel inadequate was enough to make Alec’s blood boil.
He turned to his mother, filled with an overwhelming need to come to Magnus’ defense, even if he knew Magnus could take care of himself. “Magnus double majored in marketing and communications. Neither field has one specific concentration or direction to go in. There are so many different avenues he can explore, avenues that are more traditional as well as unconventional.”
“Not to mention that he graduated with honors. He’s brilliant,” Clary spoke up, and despite the fact that they didn’t always get along, Alec could have hugged her at that moment. He saw Jace out of the corner of his eye squeeze Clary around the shoulders, as though he had been reading Alec’s mind.
Alec turned back to Maryse and held her gaze as she smiled another tight-lipped smile and reached for her wine, taking a long, slow sip.
“Versatility can be a valuable asset, I suppose.” Robert folded his napkin and laid it across his empty plate.
It wasn’t much of a concession since Alec knew his father didn’t truly mean it. Robert valued the status quo and fought rigorously against change whenever possible. Alec looked at Magnus across the table and saw how his shoulders dropped slightly as he tried to relax., unable to hide the weariness in his eyes that he always tried to keep others from seeing. Alec had only ever needed to worry about proving his worth to his parents and not to the world at large, but he had watched Magnus have to prove his own worth repeatedly.
Alec smiled at Magnus gently. He had many more years’ worth of experience in dealing with his parents and the way they held everyone to their unbelievably high expectations, and Alec was not just impressed at how Magnus hand handled himself, but proud that he hadn’t crumbled under their scrutiny.
Magnus inhaled a deep breath as he stepped out of the restaurant once dinner finished. He felt as though a weight had been lifted off of his chest and he could finally breathe freely again.
It wasn’t that Magnus hadn’t enjoyed himself. He had enjoyed being able to spend time with Alec and his siblings all at once. It was evident for anyone that the four of them were close, but getting to take part in it, for however briefly it might have been, meant more to him than he could ever truly say. They made no demands of him and accepted him as he was. It was a nice reprieve from the demands and judgements that the rest of the world threw his way.
But Alec’s parents—or his mother, more specifically, since his father had given off an air of indifference, as though he couldn’t be bothered to engage Magnus at all—had been suffocating. Magnus knew they didn’t care for him and likely never would. He had tried to find a balance between being completely and unapologetically himself, not caring at all about making a good impression, and still having enough respect for Alec that he didn’t make the evening one gigantic disaster.
Magnus distanced himself from everyone else as they said their goodnights. Robert and Maryse were going to take Max back to their hotel and call it an early evening. Jace, Clary, Isabelle, and Simon had plans to make the rounds of other parties for friends that had also graduated, reasoning that they could celebrate properly with Alec another night.
“So, you’re meeting up with Cat and Ragnor tonight?” Alec asked with his hands in his pockets as they walked away from the restaurant separate from the others.
Magnus had gotten messages from both Ragnor and Catarina during dinner that they wouldn’t be able to meet up until the next day. His heart had sunk, but despite not having his own, he understood that for his friends, family came first. He guessed he could find some party to attend or go out for drinks at a bar in the city. He always did have a way with working his way through a crowd and making it seem like he belonged there. It was a skill one had to have when all you had was yourself.
“No.” Magnus shook his head. “They got caught up in family celebration stuff.”
“Oh.” Alec sounded surprised.
Magnus would never admit that he found Alec’s wide eyed, brow raised expression adorable.
“Well….” Alec paused. “W—what do you want to do then? To celebrate, I mean, since, you know, neither of us has plans tonight.”
It caught Magnus off guard. Alec very seldom did anything spontaneously. He was always the one who planned things, sometimes weeks in advance. Magnus didn’t know entirely how to react, but he answered with the first thing that came to his mind, since it was what he would have likely done if he was by himself anyway.
“Let’s go to the city.”
They kept walking, though Alec’s pace slowed, and Magnus had to pause a moment for Alec to catch up. Alec brought his hands up and worked his thumb against the palm of the opposite hand, and out of the side of his eye Magnus could almost see the many thoughts racing around in Alec’s mind while they walked in silence. Then he took a moment to look at Alec fully. His expression was serious and set, and his eyes were fixed straight ahead. Magnus wondered if he was truly seeing anything at all, and for once he wished he could peek inside Alec’s mind to discover what, exactly, he was truly thinking.
“Yeah, okay.” Alec nodded and instead of going left to go back to campus, he turned right toward the nearby subway station.
“Okay?” Magnus hoped the surprise he felt at Alec’s answer didn’t necessarily come through in his voice.
“Yeah.” Alec nodded.
“Okay.” Magnus grinned and followed Alec down the steps of the station.
They chatted easily on the ride to Manhattan, laughing and moving closer to each other as more people boarded, coming close enough to each other that Magnus’ shoulder rested just below Alec’s. Neither one made a move to separate when the train had emptied enough that they could have. Magnus noticed that Alec wasn’t watching the other passengers for disapproving looks, that he seemed comfortable with their closeness.
Magnus liked it.
He wanted more of it.
But being so far out of Alec’s league, there was no way he could have it.
They reached the stop at Central Park and got off the train, taking the steps up to street level. The night air was cool, but not uncomfortable, and a slight breeze rustled through the trees as they walked along. Their silence was comfortable as they walked, passing couples, families, and the occasional jogger or two.
They stopped suddenly as they passed over a bridge that led to an open area of the park. There, ahead of them, a wedding was taking place (no doubt for someone in the Manhattan elite). They were close enough to see what was happening, but far enough away that they could remain hidden under the trees that covered the bridge.
Magnus turned his hip to rest against the brick arch of the bridge, crossing his arms over his chest. “Why do you think they decided to get married?”
Alec exhaled a slow breath and shrugged as he slid his hands into his pockets again. “It could be anything, honestly. Money, political gain, convenience.…”
Magnus was silent as he listened to Alec, watching the set of his shoulders, the somewhat sad expression that darkened his features. Magnus could almost see the heaviness of expectations weighing Alec down and he would have given anything to go back just a few moments and find a different route through the park, to not have stumbled on the wedding, to keep those expectations from settling over Alec until at least the morning.
Magnus pushed away from the bridge and the movement seemed to catch Alec’s attention. Instead of walking ahead, Magnus turned and headed back in the direction they had come and Alec followed him. They wandered along a different path silently, though not exactly comfortably.
“You didn’t say ‘love’ as a reason they might have been getting married,” Magnus said finally, hands in his pockets as he looked over at Alec.
Alec looked down at the ground as they walked, sliding his hands into his pockets. He shrugged as he kicked at a rock at his feet. “I mean, I guess it’s possible?”
“Okay, then, how do you think you know someone is the one you marry?” Magnus asked cautiously.
“I honestly don’t know.” Alec shrugged. “I haven’t ever thought about it.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
Alec stopped suddenly and Magnus stopped as well, turning to look at Alec. He was looking anywhere but at Magnus with his arms crossed over his chest, and Magnus took a moment to look around as well. The trees were full and green, the lights that lit their path were just bright enough to not be overpowering, and when Magnus looked back again, Alec was looking at him with such sorrow in his eyes that it tugged at Magnus’ heart.
“I haven’t ever thought about it because it doesn’t matter. I know that sounds cynical, and that I’m against marriage, but I’m not. I would give anything to be able to have control over that part of my life, Magnus, to marry who I want, but why think about something that won’t happen, and that I can’t have? It only makes it worse.”
Magnus let Alec’s words tumble around in his head, along with the frustration and resignation that Alec kept so deeply buried inside of him. That was just who Alec was, someone who kept his thoughts and feelings compartmentalized. It made it hard to ever truly know him. But Magnus did. Somehow, he had made Alec comfortable enough over the past four years for Alec to open up each of those different compartments and let Magnus be a part of his whole life. Magnus took a couple of steps in toward Alec and saw Alec’s chest rise and fall with a slow, deep breath.
“But if you did have control over it, if you could have what you wanted, how would you know?” Magnus asked gently as the breeze picked up.
Alec uncrossed his arms and slid his hands into his pockets as he started walking again, slowly this time, and Magnus went along with him. He didn’t really know why he had brought this topic of conversation up, except that they had stumbled upon the wedding, graduation was about the future, and wasn’t marriage a part of that? He wouldn’t rush Alec’s answer, and would understand if Alec chose not to answer at all.
“Because he would be someone that I could be comfortable around, who I can be myself with, who wouldn’t expect me to hide or be someone that I’m not. I want him to be someone I can laugh with, who will fight with me, but will also fight for me. I want home to be wherever he is, no matter where that happens to be. And I want to be able to share my life with him. All of it. Not just the good, but the bad too.” Alec exhaled slowly as he finished answering. “How would you know?”
Magnus was quiet for a moment, letting Alec’s answer sink in as he thought about what he would want from someone, before he started to answer. “I guess I would marry someone who will encourage my huge and crazy dreams but keep me firmly grounded in reality. Who will make me laugh when I want to cry, and give me direction when I’m lost. Who knows me better than I know myself. Who sees me not just at my best, but also at my most vulnerable and doesn’t want to run away. I don’t know, I guess in the end, I’d want to marry someone I could consider my best friend.”
Magnus paused for a moment, feeling that Alec’s eyes were on him, looking right through him and seeing everything that he had tried to keep hidden for.… he didn’t even know how long. One year? Two years? Four years? And Magnus wouldn’t necessarily be able to deny it, not when he had practically just described everything that Alec had been to him.
Finally, Magnus shrugged, trying to lighten the mood again. “Not that I know anything about long lasting love and relationships. That would be a topic for Jace and Clary.”
Alec laughed at that slightly. Magnus knew the whole story of how Jace and Clary had found each other in high school and had been inseparable since. He knew Alec and Isabelle were convinced that it wasn’t a matter of ifJace and Clary got married, but rather a matter of when.
They walked along in silence for a short distance before Magnus spoke again. “You know, if neither one of us has found anyone before we turn thirty, we could always just marry each other.”
Alec scoffed. “You know that’s not legal.”
Magnus shrugged. “By the time we’re thirty, it could be. You never know.”
Alec glanced over at Magnus and Magnus sensed he was both skeptical and amused at the idea.
“Alright,” Alec agreed after a moment, “ifit’s legal, which I guarantee it won’t be, and we’re both still single at thirty, we’ll get married.”
It was an easy agreement to make because there was no chance it would, or even could, ever possibly happen.
“As much as I love the park,” Alec spoke again after what seemed like hours of walking, chatting about everything except their newly formed pact, “you have to want to do something more than just walk around.”
Magnus waved his hands coyly. “Just waiting to find a place that piques my interest.”
“Inside the park?” Alec asked with a raised eyebrow.
Magnus grinned devilishly over at Alec and let his eyes wander. He had always found Alec to be incredibly good looking and incredibly sexy with his reserved curiosity, as though he was willing to try anything at least once but wasn’t entirely sure that it was okay to explore anything that didn’t fit neatly into the nice little box of what he had been told life should be. “Okay, not inside the park, no. But if you’re up for something different, we could have some fun.”
Alec took a deep breath and let his hazel eyes find the dark brown of Magnus’. He didn’t like not knowing what Magnus was thinking, what Magnus wanted. But it was also Magnus’ time to celebrate and Alec trusted him. “It’s your night.”
Alec wasn’t at all surprised that they found themselves at a club. Alec could feel the music pulse through him as they entered and pushed their way up to the bar area. As Magnus ordered drinks, Alec looked around, silently observing what he could through the flashing of strobe lights. He saw silhouettes of men dancing with men, women dancing with women, touching, kissing, flirting, all by people of the same gender.
Alec turned his head toward to Magnus as Magnus was turning back to him, drinks in hand, and Alec took the drink he was offered, glancing around again. “Is this …?”
Magnus held up a hand and stopped Alec as he started to shout his question over the pounding bass. “It’s a nightclub like any other, Alec. The only difference is people can be themselves here. Plus, it’s fantastic for dancing.”
Alec couldn’t help but notice the smirk on Magnus’ face as he answered, and Alec hoped that Magnus wouldn’t be able to read the hesitation and nervousness that rested on his face and was grateful for the bass that drowned out the pounding of his heart. It was the first time Alec had been somewhere that he wasn’t worried about anyone finding out his secret and being disgusted by it. Jace and Isabelle knew. Max knew. Clary and Simon knew. Magnus knew. They didn’t treat him any differently, and no one here was going to judge him or make him feel like something was wrong with him, either. It was the first time he could remember where he didn’t feel different.
Alec looked around again as he tried to steady his breathing and calm himself enough to get his pounding heartbeat back under control. He looked back at Magnus and then glanced down at his drink. He had no idea what was in it and he honestly didn’t care as he took one long, slow drink.
“You okay?” Magnus asked with raised eyebrows.
Alec nodded, looking down into his glass. “Yeah. I just haven’t ever been to a club like this before.”
Not that Alec went to nightclubs often as it was. Bars, sure, but nightclubs were more Isabelle’s idea of a good night out. Alec found that he became overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who managed to fit themselves into one place.
And since the bar was where Alec felt the most comfortable, that was where he gravitated, slowly navigating around groups of people on his way to find a spot closer to it. Magnus followed him, and they found a couple of open spots where they could sit.
When he had finished the drink Magnus had gotten him, Alec ordered a beer. It wasn’t that he hadn’t liked the drink, but he hadn’t quite developed a liking for hard liquor the way Magnus had.
“I almost thought we were going to make it through dinner without my parents interrogating you. You handled it really well,” Alec said, resting his arms on the edge of the bar as he waited for his drink.
“Yeah, that part about how I have no direction in my life was my favorite.” Magnus swirled his drink in his glass as his jaw clenched.
Alec watched as Magnus finished his drink in one gulp, eyes transfixed on the way Magnus’ Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed, absently drawing his tongue over his bottom lip. He quickly realized how obvious he was being and looked away before Magnus looked over at him again.
As if it hadn’t been enough for Alec to completely divulge earlier in the park that what he wanted in a husband was everything that Magnus gave him, the last thing he wanted was to be caught by Magnus admiring just how sinfully beautiful he was. Alec wasn’t sure how he’d explain that away, or if he even could.
“So, give your life direction.” Alec took a drink of his beer as Magnus ordered his second cocktail.
“What does that mean?” Magnus asked, and the glare that Alec was met with pierced him to the core. He angled his body toward Magnus until they were face to face.
“It means that you can do anything you want with your life. I’ve had my entire life planned out for me by other people who don’t give a shit what it is that I really want, but you.…” Alec gestured to Magnus, not backing down from those glaring brown eyes, instead meeting them just as fiercely with his deep hazel ones. “….You can do absolutely anythingwith yours. So, find something you love and give it everything you have. And I don’t even just mean to find something you love. Find someone and love them like you aren’t afraid of getting hurt. I can’t do that, but you? You can.”
The change in Magnus’ expression was slow, but Alec saw his jaw slowly relax and the glare disappear from his eyes to be replaced by something softer, and when Magnus looked away from him and down into his glass, Alec still kept his eyes locked on him.
“I don’t even know what it is that I actually do love that much,” Magnus confessed and despite the raw vulnerability in Magnus’ voice, Alec couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face.
“You love this, don’t you?” he asked, gesturing to the club at large. “You love the atmosphere, and being around people, and even more than that, you’re goodwith people. You want to travel. I’m pretty sure they have nightclubs all over the world. You can have whatever adventure you want that way. And if you end up hating it, you always have other options and can start over. So, what do you have to lose?”
Alec ducked out of the way of an ice cube being thrown his way and laughed as Magnus glared at him out of the side of his eye while trying to hold back a grin. Alec took a long drink of his beer, grinning smugly.
“Why do you always have to be right?” Magnus asked and finally broke down laughing. It was a sound that Alec could get completely and totally lost in, and for the moment he wasn’t going to think about how, after tonight, that sound could easily become nothing more than a memory.
“It’s a Lightwood thing.” Alec smirked, tipping his beer back, and this time he didn’t see the ice cube that was chucked his way to be able to dodge it, but it just made him laugh again as it hit his shoulder. “Ow!”
“That didn’t hurt.” Magnus rolled his eyes as his drink was placed in front of him, and he reached for it.
With the mood lighter between them, they were able to finally start celebrating properly. Their conversation was easy and playful, and never stopped flowing as they consumed drink after drink.
“Come dance with me,” Magnus shouted over the beat of the music, after a few more drinks had been consumed.
Alec felt warm suddenly and his head began to spin, no doubt from the rush of the alcohol he had just drunk. He tried to look around, to see if Magnus had meant to ask someone else to dance, but the only clear figure in his vision was Magnus, and Magnus’ attention was focused entirely on him. “Okay.”
Alec was surprised by his own answer because he hated dancing and avoided it, whatever the cost, and he was even more stunned when he took hold of Magnus’ hand and pulled him out onto the dance floor, and not just the edges of it but right into the center. It wasn’t like him to be so.… bold. But alcohol had that effect, could make people do things they wouldn’t do normally, be braver, more confident, and more honest.
Alec was once again mesmerized as Magnus started to move freely and easily, letting the music take over him, as though the beat of it had settled in his chest. Alec was so far out of his comfort zone that he could barely move and was really only bobbing his head and shoulders along to the song. Magnus continued to move, to dance, to let the music flow through him. Alec felt a jolt of electricity run up his arms and down his spine as Magnus took hold of his hands and started to guide him, to help him move, to feel the beat of the music through Magnus’ movements.
“Why are you holding back?” Magnus yelled as he moved in closer, cutting down the amount of space between he and Alec.
“I’m not exactly very good at this!” Alec yelled back, still barely moving despite Magnus’ guidance, and glanced down at Magnus’ hands in his, then back up into Magnus’ eyes as he moved in closer.
“You don’t have to be good at it!” Magnus shook his head, grinning. “Just relax and go with it.”
By ‘go with it’, Alec had assumed Magnus had meant the music, so he was not at all prepared for Magnus to let go of his hands and take hold of his hips as one song faded into another, with a tempo that Alec knew he would never match, as he worried about what he was supposed to do with his hands. Never mind that Magnus’ hands were on his hips, moving them in time to the music; Alec couldn’t possibly do the same to Magnus, could he?
Alec closed his eyes, swimming in the heat that radiated from Magnus and pooled in the small space between them. He stopped thinking about anything else except the solidness of Magnus’ body close to him, how the beat was catching and how the bass settled in his chest, and suddenly he felt freer, as though his mind had been separated from his body, allowing his body to take full control.
As if of their own volition, Alec’s hands ran over the smooth skin of Magnus’ forearms and over his biceps straining through his shirt as the growing crowd pressed in on them, moving them closer and closer together. Alec felt his heartbeat race as one hand curled over Magnus’ shoulder, while the other slid from his arm to his side. And as Alec’s hands grew bolder in their exploration, so did Magnus’ until Alec was completely swept up in the conflicting war between knowing friends simply didn’t dance this way with each other and in the desire to learn each curve of Magnus’ body until every inch of him was etched indelibly in Alec’s memory.
Alec felt Magnus’ fingers curl tighter around one hip, pulling their bodies closer as the other slowly, torturously dragged up his side and over his chest and Alec bit at his bottom lip as every inch of him burned hot under Magnus’ touch, but feeling Magnus’ fingers curl around the back of his neck under the collar of his shirt almost undid him. His hand slid around to Magnus’ back, drawing him in until there was no longer any space between them, fingers clutching tightly at the fabric of Magnus’ waistcoat.
Alec’s chest heaved with every breath he took, and he wasn’t sure if it was from the dancing or Magnus. When Alec finally dared to open his eyes, he found himself instantly held captive by the dark depths of Magnus’. The way that they were pressed together, how Magnus touched him, his fingers now tangled in the hair at the back of his neck and bringing their faces close enough for Alec to feel Magnus’ breath on his cheek, made Alec’s body burn with a need that he had never felt before. Alec’s heart raced beneath his ribs as the lights overhead flashed with the beat of the music, and as the lights caught Magnus’ eyes, Alec saw the same need and desperation in their depths as he felt in Magnus’ hand that now clung desperately to the back of Alec’s shirt.
He bit back a moan, and he could feel himself losing what little control he still had left. Alec dropped his gaze from Magnus’ eyes to his lips, memorizing their shape and their fullness. He tilted his head down, the tip of his nose just barely brushing the tip of Magnus’, absently parting his own lips. He had no idea how they were still dancing; finding the beat of the music so effortlessly, and he didn’t care. His entire focus was on those lips.
How long had Alec wondered how they would feel against his? He was taken by an overwhelming need to know if they were as soft as they looked, and whether they would taste more like the vodka that had been in Magnus’ drink, the sugary sweetness of what it had been mixed with, or the tang of the lime that had garnished the glass.
Alec slowly drew his hand over the curve of Magnus’ shoulder again and let it come to rest against the side of Magnus’ neck. His thumb traced the line of Magnus’ jaw slowly and deliberately. It wouldn’t take much for Alec to satisfy his curiosity. His lips hovered dangerously over Magnus’, threatening to come crashing down on them whenever they moved, and Alec felt Magnus press against him more urgently.
He wanted nothing more than to fall over the edge and into the fire of bliss.
Magnus lost track of the time as he surrendered to the pleasant dizziness that had taken over all of his senses, amplified by the heat of the club and the way that he and Alec were moving with each other.
Alec’s lips hovered, parted, over Magnus’ own, and every heavy breath he exhaled ghosted over his flushed skin. The thread of his self-control was tenuous at best, unraveling further and further as Alec’s hips rolled against his and their foreheads came together. Magnus curled his fingers tighter in Alec’s hair, gently tugging, as his hips rolled against Alec’s again, and the long, slow exhale as he closed his eyes and tipped his head up in search of Alec’s lips was Magnus’ only confirmation that he was still breathing. It was too much and not enough all at once.
The Britney remix transitioned quickly and seamlessly into Rhianna, and Magnus’ eyes snapped open again as he felt Alec abruptly pull away. Multi-colored strobe lights flashed in Alec’s eyes, his pupils blown wide, but Magnus couldn’t be sure if it was with desire, fear, or both.
“I-I’m gonna go get another drink,” Alec shouted over the music as he disentangled himself from Magnus’ embrace. “Want anything?”
“I’ll come with you,” Magnus shouted back and took a step forward.
Alec held up a hand to halt him. “It’s cool, I’ve got it. Do your dance thing.”
Magnus opened his mouth to protest, to ask if Alec was okay, but before the words could come out, Alec had turned away from him and was quickly swallowed up by the crowd of dancers as he pushed through them. Magnus closed his mouth and set his jaw firmly as he tugged at his waistcoat to straighten it and began following after Alec, pushing through the dense sea of bodies that packed the dance floor.
But instead of pushing his way toward the bar, as he was certain Alec had, Magnus went straight to the washrooms. He stared at his reflection in the mirror and he looked as wrecked as he felt. He could feel his heart trying to break free of his ribcage, his skin was flushed and beaded with sweat, and his eyeliner was smudged and pooled under his eyes.
Magnus turned on the tap and let the cold water run in the sink as he reached for a paper towel. He wet a corner and gently wiped away the black smudges under his eyes, and when he was satisfied with his appearance again, he wet the paper towel entirely with cold water and pressed it against the back of his neck. The contrast of the cold against his hot skin and the few droplets of water that ran down his spine beneath his shirt made him shiver.
He had become well acquainted with rejection over the course of his young life, starting with a biological father who had turned his back on his mother and hadn’t once made an attempt to ever get in contact. Alec would, by no means, be the last to reject him, to push him away. It was something Magnus should have expected, and he felt foolish for allowing himself to get caught up in the haze of the alcohol, the beat of the music, and the heat of Alec’s body against his; for thinking that there could be anything more between them. Alec had let the influence of the alcohol overtake him. That was all there was to it.
His heartbeat took several minutes to return to normal, and when it did Magnus removed the paper towel from his neck, tossing it in the trash bin, before looking back at his reflection. “Pull yourself together.”
He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply as he rolled his shoulders back and then forward, trying to work out the tension that was settling there. He checked himself over, satisfied that he was once again presentable and was assaulted by the catchy beats of a P!nk remix as he opened the bathroom door.
Magnus pushed his way through the crowd, though it wasn’t as dense as it was before, and when he found Alec again, he was sitting at the bar, peeling the label off of a half-empty bottle of beer.
Alec’s face was drawn and serious and his shoulders hunched forward as he leaned his arms against the bar top. Magnus wasn’t sure what Alec’s eyes were focused on, but whatever it was, Alec wasn’t seeing it.
“Hey.” Magnus squeezed in next to Alec at the bar. “You okay?”
Alec started slightly and looked up at the sound of Magnus’ voice. He nodded and looked away again, peeling off another piece of the bottle’s label. “Just hit a wall.”
Alec’s voice was too distant, too detached, for Magnus to truly believe that it was simply a matter of losing steam. Knowing Alec the way he did, Magnus knew he was compartmentalizing what had happened, putting Magnus into a neat box that he would hide away. “We can go if you want.”
Alec opened his mouth to answer, but said nothing, as his eyes shifted focus to anything but Magnus. “You’re.… I mean.… if you’re having a good time, we can stay.”
“Dance with the one that brought you.” Magnus shrugged and tipped his head away from the bar. “Come on. Let’s go.”
Magnus inhaled a deep breath of fresh air as he stepped outside, Alec at his side. The wind had picked up enough that it was no longer just a light breeze, and it was soothing against his exposed, still overheated skin. Alec was beside him as they started to walk back toward the park in complete silence.
The park was quieter than it had been before, the leaves of the trees rustling, the occasional footsteps of a jogger coming up on the side of them, a dog barking, and sirens in the distance were the only sounds that kept them company.
They passed by the open area where the wedding had been taking place earlier in the night. All the guests had gone and the event crew was working to deconstruct the scene before dawn.
Magnus turned his head as he heard a rock skip ahead along the pavement, and saw that Alec was looking down at his feet as he walked, and, not for the first time that night, Magnus wished he could see into Alec’s thoughts. Walking through the park afforded them the opportunity to think, to try and gain some clarity on a moment that was by no means clear.
They reached the subway station and descended down to the platform just as the train they needed was arriving, and instead of sitting next to each other as they had on the way in, they sat on opposite sides of the train. Magnus caught the way Alec sat forward, arms resting on his knees, massaging the palm of his hand with his thumb.
They had been so close, so dangerously close, to crossing a line they wouldn’t be able to come back from. Magnus wondered, if the song had gone just thirty seconds longer, if that line would have been crossed, if his and Alec’s lips would have come crashing together.
And what then?
Alec had commitments and responsibilities waiting for him as soon as the morning dawned. An entire empire waited to rest on his shoulders. Magnus was free to go wherever he pleased, to do as he wanted, to love as wildly and as openly as he allowed himself. They were from two very different worlds, and it was a heavy realization that those worlds were never meant to collide the way that they almost had.
That only seemed to make Magnus want them to collide more.
The train arrived at their station and they took the stairs up to the street level, starting on the walk back to campus. Magnus stole sideways glances at Alec as they walked the familiar sidewalks, saw the darkened storefronts of places like the coffee shop that they had made their own, looking for any hints as to what might have been going through his mind.
As they neared Magnus’ apartment building, Alec stumbled slightly over an uneven part of the sidewalk and bumped into him. Magnus reached out to steady him, one hand bracing against Alec’s arm as the other grasped Alec’s hand.
As their eyes locked it seemed they were seeing each other truly and honestly for the first time. It was the first time that Magnus had seen Alec’s eyes since that moment on the dance floor. They were steady, clear, and sure. There was no regret woven into their golden brown and green depths.
Magnus’ shoulders relaxed as he regained himself first and blinked quickly. “You okay?”
Alec closed his eyes, trying to find his equilibrium, and nodded. “Yeah.”
“Okay.” Magnus slowly grinned, “I’m going to let go now.”
Slowly Magnus released Alec’s hand and they started walking again, quietly, until they reached the front of Magnus’ building.
“You could come up for a bit?” Magnus offered, reaching up to adjust his ear cuff as his shoulders swayed from side to side. “You know, if you had gotten a second wind and didn’t want to call it a night yet.” He meant the offer as innocently as he could, though Magnus wasn’t sure if it was the warmth of the late May night, the dizziness from dancing so closely with Alec at the club, or the remnants of the alcohol that still tingled in his veins that had him wanting to take the chance of finding out just how far they could cross that line they hadn’t gotten to cross earlier.
Alec looked at Magnus with wide eyes and then looked away as he reached up to curl his fingers around the back of his neck. “I.… I can’t.… I mean.… I want to.… I just.… ”
Magnus held up his hand to stop Alec. “I understand.”
And he did. There were only a few hours left before Alec would be returning to Manhattan with his family. Neither of them deserved the heartache that would come with whatever happened once they were locked safely behind the door of Magnus’ apartment.
This was for the best. For both of them. For their friendship.
Alec just nodded and slid his hands into his pockets again as he looked at Magnus, pressing his lips together as he did. “What did you mean? Back at the club. When you said …”
“Dance with the one who brought you?” Magnus finished the sentence, the corner of his mouth tugging up into a grin.
“Yeah.” Alec nodded.
“My mom used to say it to me growing up. It means don’t abandon someone. I was out with you tonight, Alec. I wasn’t going to let you sit at the bar, alone, while I moved on to someone else.”
They stood there silently, and Alec nodded before glancing down at his feet as he tried to shove his hands deeper into his pockets, and Magnus watched him, the way that he seemed to be debating with himself on whether or not to stay or to go, aware himself that neither of them seemed willing to be the first to walk away.
But it was Alec, ultimately, who broke the stalemate.
“I should get going. My parents will be over early to start moving,” he said and nodded, pausing only for a couple of moments before he turned and started to walk away.
“Alec!” Magnus called out and Alec stopped, turning to him. “Don’t be a stranger.”
Alec grinned. “Hey, I’m not the one going off on a million crazy adventures. You know where to find me.”
Magnus watched as Alec turned again and walked off into the night.
Sometimes birthdays are hard. But sometimes birthdays bring unexpected surprises.
Alright. Here is the updated chapter 2. Thank you to Sam, Jaimie, Jackie, and B for their feedback on this and helping to encourage me as I worked through some things, both personally and with my writing.
As always, if tweeting reactions, use #AYHABMT.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Magnus had lost track of the number of notifications he’d received for his birthday. They had come in waves on Facebook: one wave in the early morning, another around lunch, and now another as the late afternoon slowly moved into early evening. Apparently turning thirty was a momentous occasion worthy of celebration according to the hundreds of people that had sent him messages. Magnus doubted that any of his acquaintances would have remembered it was his birthday were it not for Facebook reminding them. The messages he focused on, the ones he responded to, came from those he held closest to his heart.
Ragnor had texted him first thing in the morning. Another year older, yet none the wiser. Alas. Happy birthday, my friend.
Catarina had messaged him over lunch. Hope your birthday is as fabulous as you are, my dear. :*
Raphael had given him a bored once over when Magnus met him at Pandemonium for the final walk through before the opening. He had merely shrugged, adjusted his suit jacket and said, “I’m still younger and better dressed than you.”
“Younger, yes, but not by much. Better dressed? Debatable,” Magnus had replied with an affectionate grin, acknowledging Raphael’s own unique birthday wish as they had fallen into their typical mocking banter.
Magnus had been told more times than he could remember by friends and colleagues that his thirties were a time to be celebrated. That they would be the best years of his life. He had the advantage of both youth and experience that would allow him to infuse vigor and enthusiasm into his work while still commanding the respect of others.
Not that his twenties had been all bad. He had traveled to many of the countries he had always wanted to visit, the advice of a friend he’d fallen out of touch with lingering somewhere in the back of his subconscious as he’d worked his way across part of South America and most of Europe. He’d loved others but had never been loved quite the same way or quite as fully in return. He had given his heart away to one woman he believed he could spend his life with only to have it unceremoniously shattered and the shards nonchalantly handed back to him. As if he had been a fool for expecting anything different.
Professionally, he’d fallen into a line of work that was universal. Nightclubs existed everywhere in the world. No matter where his adventures had taken him, he had been able to keep moving forward, gaining success along the way. And yet for all of the professional success Magnus had found, he had nothing to show for his personal life.
He had set out right after graduation to give his life a sense of direction, a sense of purpose, and for all of the experience he had gained along the way he felt more unfulfilled now than he had on graduation day, when he had stared down the daunting task of figuring out where he truly belonged in the world. A hollowness had planted itself firmly in his belly and had grown steadily as the days had ticked down to his birthday.
He had watched his friends find love, marry, and settle into a picture of domesticity that Magnus pretended to loathe, if only because he saw the opportunity for his own domestic bliss slipping further and further away from him. And maybe that was just as well. Perhaps there was something to be said for the freedom that being single afforded him. He could work odd, varying hours if necessary. Could meet with vendors and scout musical talent late in the evenings, with nowhere to be except right where he was and no one anchoring him to sleeping in his own bed when the night finally came to an end.
Magnus’ phone pinged beside him and he looked up from his computer to check the message from Tessa.
Good luck with your opening tonight. And remember, a birthday is just a rebranding opportunity in disguise.
Magnus sat back in his chair, circling his thumb along the line of his forefinger, losing himself to his thoughts. He hadmetTessa at Ragnor and Catarina’s wedding and had eventually gone to work for her not long after he had returned to New York.
Perhaps he was looking at the start of his third decade the wrong way and was being melodramatic. Ragnor liked to use that term whenever Magnus started lamenting his age, though Magnus had chosen to think of it as being appropriately concerned.
But maybe he didn’t need to be.
There was nothing miraculously different between twenty-nine and thirty. At the heart of it, it was merely one day transitioning to the next. There had been no drastic shift in the tides. The world was still spinning on the same axis as it had been yesterday.
The day had been like any other, filled with meetings and final preparations for Pandemonium’s opening. There was still much that Magnus needed to focus on, small details that could make or break the club’s opening night: that the cocktail napkins were correct as they had been delayed in arriving, that the bar was well stocked, that staff uniforms were all in the back to be dispersed as they arrived and that was only what Magnus could think of at that precise moment.
Thankfully, Raphael was in charge of the security staff and that was one aspect of the opening Magnus didn’t need to ensure was perfect because he had worked with and mentored Raphael for long enough that Magnus knew security would run like a well-oiled machine.
He stood from his desk after sending off one final email regarding the opening and crossed the office to close his door before changing into his outfit for the evening as he considered Tessa’s text message.
Tessa was the type of woman who handled everything that came her way with an iron-willed strength and grace that Magnus admired. She was ever changing, yet somehow Tessa remained timeless.
Magnus touched up his makeup, dusting charcoal shadow over his upper and lower lids and blending it for the perfect smoky eye. Maybe thirty could be a fresh start. He had spent so much of his twenties carving out a path for himself, giving his career direction. His thirties could be a reset on everything that hadn’t gone right outside of the office.
Magnus swiped mascara over his lashes and assessed his appearance in the mirror.
“Here’s to thirty,” he said to his reflection.
Satisfied with his look, Magnus reached for his coat and shrugged it on as he left the office.
Alec climbed out of the cab after paying his fare, the bitter cold air biting at his cheeks. He popped the collar of his long wool coat as he scanned the already too long line—and the mix of gray and black winter jackets, dark wash jeans, and black shoes and boots—in search of Isabelle, Simon, Jace, and Lydia. Alec’s eyes caught on the pop of a bright red dress under a black leather jacket and a pair of short black boots that told him exactly where his siblings were in line and that Isabelle had clearly chosen her outfit without any consideration for the below-freezing temperature.
“Hey,” Alec greeted when he joined the group of them in line, ignoring everyone else’s groans of protest about line jumping, hands deep in the pockets of his coat. Jace tipped his chin in greeting and Lydia offered a small wave and a smile as she shifted her weight from foot to foot. Simon was nowhere to be found, but Alec assumed he was around somewhere.
“What is this?” Isabelle asked in greeting as she looked Alec over and took in the long wool pea coat over a navy blue suit and a gray dress shirt that he wore.
“The Facebook event you texted to me said dress to impress, didn’t it?” Alec looked down at himself and self-consciously shrugged. He hadn’t thought that anything was wrong with the custom-tailored suit when he had gotten dressed that morning, knowing that he would be going out straight from his office.
“That usually means not the suit you wore to work,” Jace teased as Lydia, who had a very rare night off from the hospital where she worked as a nurse, nuzzled in closer to Jace for warmth.
“I took off the tie and undid buttons!” Alec protested. Isabelle and Jace only laughed.
“Oh, big brother.” Isabelle shookher head as she beckoned Alec closer and motioned for him to lean down when he moved in. She reached up and mussed up his hair slightly to keep him from having that stuffy, completely put together office look to him. “There. That’s a little better. And maybe lose the suit jacket once we’re inside.”
Nightclubs were not Alec’s scene, they never truly had been, and he knew Isabelle was aware of that. He was really only here because it was what she had chosen to do for her birthday celebration. His only other foray into the nightclub scene eight years ago had happened because of similar, celebratory circumstances.
Alec reached up to touch his hair but stopped as Isabelle eyed him sternly.
Jace huffed out a laugh. “One day, Alec, your real age is going to catch up with the age of your soul.”
“Shut up.” Alec rolled his eyes at his adopted brother. “You know Raj and I didn’t do the whole club scene.”
“You and Raj never did much of anything.” Isabelle leveled her dark eyes at him.
“You know that’s not true.” Alec glared at her, but without any heat behind the look, and glanced around again. “Where’s Simon?”
“Picking up Clary,” Lydia answered as she slid her arm through Jace’s. Alec sensed that the move was as much instinctual for Lydia as it was possessive. Alec knew nothing was going to break Jace and Lydia apart, they were too strong for that, but he understood Lydia’s desire to keep Jace close in the face of meeting his former girlfriend for the first timein a while.
“Clary’s back?” Alec asked in surprise, bringing his hands up to his mouth, blowing into them to warm them. “Since when?”
Jace looked over at Lydia and then back at Alec as he shrugged. “Since yesterday, I think? I don’t know for sure, but Simon invited her to come out with us tonight.”
Alec looked at Jace curiously and wondered how this was going to go. Yes, he and Clary had mutually chosen to break up when Clary had been given the opportunity to go and study art over in Europe, both agreeing that the distance was just too much. But it would be the first time that they had seen each other since Jace had met and proposed to Lydia.
It could go either extremely well or it could be an absolute disaster. Alec wasn’t sure at the moment what he should expect.
Jace seemed to understand Alec’s look and returned the look easily with one of his own that said not to worry, but Alec wasn’t about to stop worrying until the night was over and no tears were shed. Despite a rocky start between himself and Clary back in high school, the last thing he wanted to see was her broken hearted, and tonighthad the potential to break open old wounds that may or may not have fully healed.
They chatted easily for the next little while, the line slowly starting to move as the club officially opened. They had moved up toward the front of the line when Simon and Clary joined them to another outburst of line jumping protests that everyone ignored.
Even Simon, Alec noted, was dressed in a sharp black leather jacket with a dark, fitted shirt underneath, his hair done up in soft spikes rather than the casual way he usually wore it, and had opted for contacts rather than glasses for the evening.
Had no one thought it might be a halfway decent idea to clue Alec in on what ‘dress to impress’ had actually meant?
Simon seemed to notice that Alec’s attire was out of place also.
“Nice suit,” Simon teased and Alec just rolled his eyes again. He didn’t need shit from Simon as well.
“Hi guys.” Clary smiled as she fit herself in the small space between Simon and Alec.
There was a brief moment where Alec swore time had stopped when Clary looked at Jace, the world around them suspended in limbo. Alec held his breath and looked between Jace and Clary, to Isabelle, to Simon, and finally to Lydia before settling on Clary and Jace again, no one seemingly daring to take a breath. And then, as though in the blink of an eye, time started again as Isabelle pulled Clary into a tight hug and Jace introduced her to Lydia. Outwardly, Clary looked happy for them and seemed interested in their relationship, how they met, and details of the wedding that was coming the following spring.
“So, how was Europe?” Alec asked conversationally as the line inched forward.
Alec noted that Clary had grown up while overseas. She may have still looked like the same tiny, headstrong redhead she had been when she had left, but everything else, from how she carried herself, to the way she dressed in a pair of black leather pants, a slate blue jacket, and a billowy black top with knee high black boots, was different. She was more mature. More grown up. More aware of herself in a way she hadn’t been before she had left.
Alec would never say it out loud, but the time away from Jace had been good for her. And it had been good for Jace too. Lydia challenged Jace in a way that Clary never had. Clary had supported Jace’s dreams, yes, but they had always somehow still managed to take a backseat to her own dreams as an aspiring artist. Lydia had given Jace the ability to not only dream big dreams, but to pursue them without feeling as though he wasn’t fully there to support her own dreams. Lydia grounded and settled him. He still took risks without being reckless, and it showed in the scores Jace composed. They were imaginative and helped to build the story, while pushing boundaries just enough that he wasn’t thought of as an outlier in the Broadway world.
“Mesmerizing,” Clary answeredwith a nod. “Not just artistically, but architecturally, socially, and culturally. It was truly eye opening.”
Alec could only imagine the sorts of things that Clary had experienced while she had been studying, and the history that she had been able to absorb. He had once overheard her telling Isabelle that it wasn’t enough to simply capture the image of something on paper or canvas, but that an artist always worked to capture the essence of the subject, to put colors to sounds, to scents, to pour all of the senses into a two-dimensional image, while leaving a bit of one’s soul behind. For Alec that would be an impossible feat, to see something and see it as anything more than an inanimate object. But Clary had always been able to see beyond the exterior and give it soul, give it life.
Inside the club, they stopped at coat check to drop off jackets, and Alec was the one to work his way through the assembled crowd toward the bar, clearing out a place for all of them. He even managed to find an open seat at the bar and he sat as the others filled in around him.
“What’ll you have?” the bartender shouted over the throbbing bass. Alec ordered a beer for himself and relayed the orders of everyone else, throwing in his card to keep the tab open.
Alec faced the others completely and cleared his throat when the last drink had been dispersed. “Alright. I don’t normally do this sort of thing but,” he grinned as he looked at Isabelle, holding up his beer in a toast, “happy birthday to the best little sister a guy could ask for. I know that we can argue with each other until we’re red in the face, and we very rarely agree on anything, but I know that I can turn to you for anything, and that you’ve always got my back.”
“Happy birthday, Izzy,” the others toasted and clinked their glasses together.
Isabelle took a slow drink of her cocktail and took a couple of steps in toward Alec until she stood beside him and slid her arm around his shoulders.
“I’m going to remember you said I was the best little sister.” She grinned as her way of letting him know his toast had moved her.
Alec shook his head as he looked at her with a matching grin. “I’ll deny it until my dying day. Everyone knows that sisters, and especially little sisters, can drive you nuts most of the time.”
Isabelle laughed as the club DJ played a remix of one of her favorite songs, but Alec couldn’t identify what it was, mostly because he spent his time listening to audiobooks more than actual music. Simon took hold of Isabelle’s hand and started leading her away from Alec, though she looked back at him and shouted, “I get at least one dance with you later, big brother!”
“Yeah, okay. Sure. Go. Dance. Have fun,” he shouted over the song and watched as Simon and Isabelle were swallowed up by the ever-growing crowd. Jace and Lydia were next to venture out to dance and Alec found himself alone at the bar with Clary. He watched her stir her straw slowly around in her glass and he followed her line of sight to see that she kept looking after Jace.
“You okay?” Alec asked as he turned his eyes back to Clary.
Clary looked down into her drink, as though Alec’s question had broken a hypnotic trance, and nodded as she pressed her lips together in a smile. “Yeah. I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine.” Alec took another drink of his beer. He could see the devastation and heartbreak in her eyes that her thin smile couldn’t hide as she momentarily looked back out toward the crowd in search of Jace.
“I just didn’t expect to see Jace with someone else,” Clary admitted as she shook her head and turned to set her empty glass on top of the bar. She caught the bartender’s eye and ordered another before she looked back at Alec. “Is he happy?”
Alec looked out over the dancing crowd and managed to catch a glimpse of Jace and Lydia as they danced, smiling and pressed in close together, which Alec knew had nothing to do with the massive crowd pressing in around them.
He looked at Clary with a gentleness in his eyes. “Yeah. He is.”
Clary nodded and stood straighter as the bartender slid her refilled drink toward her, and when she rounded on Alec again, her jaw was set and her green eyes determined. “Then that’s that.”
Alec knew it wasn’t, but before he had a chance to react, to say anything, Clary had turned from him and struck up a conversation with a tall blond man that had ventured up to stand at the bar beside her, leaving Alec to himself.
Being the lone member of a group sitting at the bar and nursing a drink would have been a sad turn of events for many other people, but Alec welcomed it. He preferred to watch from the periphery, to observe what was going on around him, while also allowing him to still keep a close eye on Clary, to swoop in to her rescue should the guy she was talking to turn out to be a bit of a creep. She may not have been dating his brother any longer, but it didn’t make Alec feel any less protective of her.
He held up his almost empty bottle of beer, signaling to the bartender that he was ready for round two, and kept scanning the crowd.
Everything was running smoothly, and Magnus was glad for that because it meant that Raphael’s security team might have an incident free night when all was said and done.
Magnus worked his way through the club with ease, using his various charms and gifts to mingle with the crowd while simultaneously making a mental tally of anything that needed to be fixed, though so far he was pleased he was finding nothing.
He made his way across the dance floor, the crowd seeming to part for him as the sea had for Moses. He observed the dancers as he unconsciously worked his thumb against his forefinger, the dark polish on his nails and the silver of his rings catching in the blue strobe lights.
His rounds took him up a small set of stairs to the bar and he stopped for a moment, leaning his hands against the railing as he looked out over the full club. He would have to wait until final receipts from the night were in and counted, but it was shaping up to be another successful opening.
Magnus turned his attention back to working his way through the crowd at the bar, mingling and radiating charisma as he went down the line, stopping only when a flash of blue light landed on a tall man with dark, messy hair that sat alone, beer in hand.
It wasn’t uncommon to run into people he knew—or to see people who looked like people he knew—in one of the clubs he had developed. But this was a new level of mind trick because there was no way that the man could be whom Magnus thought he might be.
Magnus paused for a moment, observing, waiting for some sort of confirmation that this wasn’t just a trick of the bright blue flashing lights in an otherwise dark club. He recalled every detail from the last time he had seen this face in a dark club with multi-colored lights flashing over his features, as they had drawn themselves closer and closer to each other. Magnus raised his hand and absently ran his thumb over his bottom lip as he waited, certain that he could almost feel the warmth of the other man’s breath against his face again, could feel the other man’s body against his, moving and rolling along with the beat of a Britney remix.
The man turned his head and Magnus saw him fully. He no longer looked as baby faced as he had the last time Magnus had seen him in the dark early hours of a late May morning, but there was no mistaking the curves of his cheekbones, the shape of his full lips, the length of his neck, or the strength of his jawline.
Magnus gathered himself as the man looked away. He started working his way through the crowd again, finding a spot next to him where he could lean against the edge of the bar. Magnus checked in with the bartender and made sure everything was going smoothly, that he was still well stocked on liquor, and ordered a drink of his own. It was his birthday, after all, and even though he was working,the liveliness of the people around him and the pulsing of the music coursed through him. A club that was at capacity was more of a birthday celebration than he could have planned for, and made all of the extravagant parties Camille had thrown for him almost pale in comparison.
“Of all the places I could have imagined bumping into you again, Alec, I never thought it would be here,” Magnus said, leaning casually against the bar. He ran his thumb along his forefinger, while internally his stomach flipped and the rhythm of his heart kicked up in his chest. He was glad for the support the bar gave him, his knees weakening as his eyes met Alec’s again for the first time in…he didn’t even know how long. It was as familiar a feeling as it was brand new, and Magnus remembered in vivid detail, on another night, in the middle of a dance floor, the last time he had felt the same wave of emotions crash over him.
Alec turned his head slowly at the sound of his name, tearing his eyes away from watching Clary, who was now dancing with the same guy she had been talking to a little while before. Besides his siblings and their other halves, there wasn’t anyone else that Alec was aware he knew at the club.
Alec noticed the smoky eye makeup first, the subtle hint of a goatee, the way the man’s hair was standing in spikes with a trace of color at the tips. Alec saw the impish grin as the club lights flashed over dark eyes. It was edgier than he remembered, but so very familiar at the same time.
“M-Magnus?” Alec asked in shock, eyes roaming as Magnus shifted, his layers of necklaces moving with him, disappearing under a dark crimson shirt that was open in front enough to show a long V of smooth, tan skin, cut with defined lines of muscles from his neck to his abs.
It was positively sinful, and Alec forced himself to look back up into Magnus’ eyes before he let himself get caught up in the way his Adam's apple bobbed when he spoke, the way his chest rose and fell with every breath beneath his shirt, and those abs…
Alec couldn’t let himself think about them.
Alec collected himself and regained control of his thoughts, which were trying to playback memories of another night in a club with Magnus under the flashing of lights, of bodies moving together, and curiosities and desires that had been forced aside and long buried that Alec was trying to keep from coming to the surface again. He was failing miserably. “God, how long has it been?”
Magnus raised his glass to his lips as it was set in front of him and took a slow sip of the amber alcohol. “Last time we saw each other was graduation, so eight years? Give or take a few months?”
It couldn’t have been that long, could it? Alec knew they had fallen out of touch with each other, though he wasn’t quite sure why or how that had happened, or even when it had happened. He knew that he needed to be better about keeping in touch with people on his end, but had it really been eight years since they had spoken to each other, much less actually saw each other?
“So, um…h-how’ve you been? What’ve you been up to?” Alec asked, shifting slightly on the barstool. Small talk wasn’t something he liked and would usually find a way to avoid where he could, but it didn’t feel like a chore with Magnus. Then again, nothing ever really had. They had always had an easy time of falling into a conversation, of bantering back and forth with each other, of following the other’s lead.
“Busy but good.” Magnus nodded, shifting to lean the small of his back against the edge of the bar. “Such is the life of an adventurer.”
Alec laughed easily at the wink Magnus threw his way, completely unsurprised that Magnus had gone off on whatever adventures life had thrown him. He felt warmth spreading through him at the thought that maybe he had been a catalyst behind Magnus’ adventures, though it was mixed with an odd sense of envy that Magnus had accomplished what he had set out to accomplish, and Alec was still where he had ended up the week after graduation.
“What about you?” Magnus asked, taking a slow sip of the drink in his hand.
“You know.” Alec shrugged as he looked away, turning his bottle in his hands. “Just working really. It’s…pretty boring actually.”
“Are you still working for your parents?” Magnus asked. There was no judgment in his voice, though Alec hadn’t really expected any. Magnus never had been one to judge others, at least not once he knew them and they, in turn, got to know him.
“Yeah.” Alec nodded.
It wasn’t anything that Alec was necessarily proud of. It was nothing that had been a part of his plan. He had only intended to work for his parents for a couple of years, to get some experience under his belt before venturing out on his own, to bigger and better opportunities. To his own life independent of his parents. But he had fallen into a comfort zone and daily routines that he hadn’t been able to break out of. His parents had come to rely on him to handle some of their largest accounts as he had worked his way up through the company—perhaps more quickly than anyone else would have. They told him how valuable he was to their success and Alec had had no reason to doubt them, no reason to question his role in the company’s success, not when he also benefitted from that success. But there had been so much morethat Alec wanted to see, wanted to do.
There had also been Raj.
“So, um,” Alec cleared his throat as he forced his train of thought back onto the right track, “what brings you here?”
Magnus features softened as if he recognized Alec’s need to change the subject and decided that this wasn’t the time to dig deeper. “Work. I helped develop this club.”
Alec raised his eyebrows as he scratched at his beard. He wasn’t sure what he had thought Magnus might answer, but that he had developed the nightclub hadn’t been it, though it shouldn’t have surprised him.
You love this, don’t you?
The question rang out in Alec’s memory, a challenge he hadn’t been sure at the time Magnus would accept. But Magnus had, and by the looks of it he had run with it.
Alec knew nothing about nightclubs, how they ran, or what made them successful, but it appeared to be a packed house and that could only mean good things. Not that Alec had ever doubted that Magnus would do well in whatever he set out to do. It made Alec happy to see that Magnus had found that success in spite of the circumstances he came from, that he had spent these years after college not only going on one adventure after another, but also making a name for himself.
“What brings you into my club?” Magnus asked, breaking Alec out of his thoughts again.
Alec gestured out onto the dance floor, where he was positive that Jace and Lydia and Isabelle and Simon were dancing closely, moving easily to the rhythm of the music, even if he couldn’t make them out in the mass of bodies. “Celebrating Izzy’s birthday.”
Magnus took a final sip of his drink and nodded. “Well then, you should be celebrating, not sitting here alone. Go out and dance!”
“Since when do I dance, Magnus?” Alec chuckled and shook his head, turning his eyes up to Magnus questioningly.
“Oh, I don’t know. I seem to recall at least one time that you did.”Magnus grinned, setting his empty glass on the bar.
Alec was thankful for the mostly dark club, thankful that the flashing lights wouldn’t give away the blush that he felt tingeing his cheeks and spreading over the back of his neck at that moment as he remembered the night Magnus was referring to. Alec hadn’t done anything like that since. But he also hadn’t been with anyone who made him want to break out of his comfort zone. Not the way Magnus had that night, anyway.
“Yeah, well…I make no promises on the whole celebrating or dancing thing,” was all Alec said with an amused grin as he finished off his second beer and turned toward the bar with the intention of ordering a third. “You, on the other hand….”
“What about me?” Magnus curiously raised an eyebrow at Alec.
“It’s your birthday too, isn’t it? So why are you here working instead of out there celebrating?” Alec asked, genuinely curious.
“It’s just another day,” Magnus waved him off, “it’s not really worth the fuss.”
Alec said nothing. He was too stunned to. He remembered how Magnus had always been keen to celebrate the occasion—or any occasion, for that matter—surrounded by friends. Isabelle had eventually started insisting that they have joint celebrations and pack as many celebratory activities and events into one day as possible.
Alec wondered what had changed.
“So…. maybe we can grab coffee or something sometime. To catch up?” Alec asked casually, quickly scanning the dance floor in search of Isabelle, Simon, Jace, Lydia or Clary but the dance floor was so full by now that finding any of them was an almost near impossibility.
Magnus shrugged and set his drink on the bar counter. “How about right now?”
Alec whipped his head around just a little too quickly, caught off guard by Magnus’ answer. “As in right now this second? It’s almost midnight. And you’re working.”
Magnus nodded with an amused grin. “Why not? I can put my business partner Raphael in charge for a little while. There’s a very good coffee place not far from here that’s open twenty-four hours.”
Alec still felt slightly off balance as he considered Magnus’ offer and weighed the consequences of leaving before dancing with Isabelle. She’d likely kill him but not before he told her every single detail of what happened from this moment on. But if he said no, if he turned Magnus down now—or, rather, again—he knew that he may not have another opportunity to reconnect, to get to know Magnus all over again and to fill in the gaps of the last eight years.
To see if maybe there could be something more between them.
Alec decided that facing Isabelle’s temper was worth it. That Magnus was worth it.
“Yeah, okay.” Alec set his three-quarters full beer on the bar counter and turned to close out his tab. Jace or Simon would have to start a new one if the rest of them wanted drinks for the rest of the night. Magnus held his hand up as the bartender retrieved Alec’s card.
“The Lightwood tab is on the house tonight, Jeremiah,” Magnus instructed.
“Magnus,” Alec started to protest but Magnus waved it off with an easy grin.
“It’s done,” Magnus said simply as Jeremiah tapped through a few screens on his register, zeroed out the tab, and handed Alec back his credit card.
Alec slid the card back into his wallet and glared indignantly at Magnus as he stood and dropped some cash on the bar for a tip, adjusting his suit jacket after he did, though the glare seemed to have absolutely no affect on Magnus.
Magnus pushed himself away from the bar and started working his way through the crowd again, and Alec followed, completely caught up in the way Magnus worked through the sea of people, every movement fluid. It was absolutely captivating.
“I have to run upstairs really quick, but I’ll meet you out front?” Magnus asked as he turned to face Alec when they reached coat check.
“Uh, yeah, that works,” Alec agreed, eyes scanning over Magnus again now that they were closer to the better-lit entrance. If Alec had thought Magnus had looked sinful before, he was positive of it now.
Magnus broke away from Alec, disappearing up the stairs to the second level. After retrieving his coat from coat check, Alec slid it on and reached into the inner pocket for his phone. He ignored the notifications for missed calls and work emails. He could deal with those tomorrow.
Alec unlocked his phone and pulled up his message thread with Isabelle. He started to type out a message as he stepped out into the frigid December night.
Ran into an old friend I haven’t seen in years. Left to get coffee. Will see you at brunch tomorrow.
Thank you again for reading! Let me know what you thought on either twitter, Tumblr, or with a comment below.
Can an old flame be rekindled?
Um.... so I am terrible and real life got in the way last Friday. So, here is chapter 3 today. And, bonus, there will be a short one-shot that I'll post later once I'm at work.
Big huge thanks to Sam, Jaimie, Jackie, and B for loving me and screaming at me through this. You encouragement (enabling?) gets me through.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Whatever reservations Magnus may have had regarding his choice of attire, the way that Alec’s eyes had seemed to burn into him as they unabashedly drank all of him in, how Alec’s breath had momentarily seemed to catch before it quickened at the sight of Magnus’ chest, his teeth catching on his bottom lip, had been more than enough affirmation that Magnus had chosen wisely.
The rational side of Magnus was cautious and told him that he was likely reading into Alec’s reaction too much—that there was nothing more behind the way Alec had raked his eyes over every inch of him than just general appreciation. But the Alec Lightwood that had stood in front of Magnus barely moments ago was a seemingly very different man from the one Magnus had known in college. The tug in his chest and the flips in his stomach made Magnus even more curious to find out just how much Alec had changed, rationality be damned.
Magnus found Raphael in Pandemonium’s back office, his bored gaze fixed on several security monitors, watching the surveillance feed in the hopes of preempting any sort of conflict. Raphael sat completely still in the high-backed chair and didn’t so much as blink. With his pale skin, love of anything that happened after dark, and his ability to not move a muscle for extended periods of time, Magnus wondered if Raphael might actually be a vampire.
Magnus retrieved his coat and slid it on. “Think I could tear you away from whatever riveting telenovela you’re watching for a short while?”
Raphael replied with a string of Spanish words that Magnus, recalling his time in Madrid and Peru, huffed scandalously at. Some words, he knew, were simply unfit for civilized conversation.
Raphael turned his head away from the monitors at the sound of Magnus’ offended huff. “Going somewhere?”
“Coffee break,” Magnus answered as he fastened the buttons on his coat, not waiting for approval.
“It’s almost midnight.”
“Thank you,” Magnus said with mocking sincerity, “but since I’m going to be awake for several more hours, I need an infusion of caffeine.”
“Dios,” Raphael rolled his eyes. “Just get a soda or Red Bull at the bar like everyone else. You’ll be home and in bed in a few hours.”
“Have you ever known me to drink soda or Red Bull, Raphael?”
“Just go and stop wasting my time, Bane.” Magnus could hear the rolling of eyes in Raphael’s voice as he was waved off.
Magnus reached for the door handle and pulled the office door open, slipping out and latching the door firmly behind him again. The pounding bass of the music that had been muffled on the other side of the door reverberated around him once more. Magnus descended the stairs to the main level and stepped outside, unprepared for the wave of cold that hit him. He sucked in a breath, the air as sharp as icicles in his lungs.
He looked to his right and found Alec, the collar of his wool coat popped to protect his neck against the cold, hands shoved as far into his pockets as they would go, breath visible on the night air. And yet, Alec wasn’t fidgeting, or shifting from side to side. He wasn’t doing any of the normal things people did to keep themselves warm while standing in the cold.
Magnus took a moment, as yet unseen by Alec, to just admire. Alec seemed taller and leaner than he remembered, but stronger and broader through his shoulders. His cheeks and the tips of his ears were pink from the biting cold, his beard and tousled hair making him look more mature, a reminder of the time that had passed and how much both he and Alec had grown up.
Magnus exhaled slowly, his breath visible as he came back to the present. He shoved his hands into his pockets as he approached Alec. “Shall we?”
Alec turned his head at the sound of Magnus’ voice and nodded, mouth tipping up into a soft grin. “Yes. Lead the way.”
As he had done so many times before, Alec fell into step beside Magnus as they walked the three blocks to the coffee shop. The entrance was tucked into the corner of a building, no sign above it, and Alec would have missed it had he not been paying attention to where Magnus was leading him. He caught the shop name, Uncommon Grounds, just before Magnus opened the door for him.
Alec looked around, taking in the dark hardwood floor, the few tables that lined the walls, the well-worn and inviting couch set in the center of the shop, and a pair of armchairs tucked into a corner with a bistro table between them. It was small and cozy and completely deserted if he didn’t count Magnus, the young man behind the coffee bar, and himself.
“What can I get for you gentlemen?” the young man—Ty, according to his nametag—asked as they approached the coffee bar.
Alec reached into his pocket for his wallet as he scanned over the menu. There were the usual items that every coffee shop had—cappuccino, mocha, cafe latte, and plain brewed coffee—but the menu also boasted some imaginative flavor combinations.
“A cappuccino for me and whatever he would like, please,” Alec ordered.
“You don’t have to get my coffee, Alec,” Magnus protested as he reached for his own wallet.
Alec glanced at Magnus as he pulled a bill out of his wallet and set it on the counter. “It’s your birthday.”
Alec spoke with finality, and after a moment received a small grin and subtle nod that told him Magnus knew there was no point in protesting further. Alec allowed himself another quick once-over as Magnus perused the menu, only turning away as Magnus focused back on Ty.
“I’ll do a vanilla cinnamon latte.”
Ty rang in the drinks. “I’ll have those out for you in a few.”
Alec followed Magnus over to the armchairs in the corner, and Alec shrugged off his coat and draped it over the back of his chair as Magnus angled his chair slightly to better face each other. Seemingly satisfied with the rearranged seating, Magnus tugged his own jacket off. Alec lowered himself into his chair and made himself comfortable as Magnus settled in himself, crossing one leg over the other.
As they waited, Magnus examined the dark polish of his manicured nails while Alec worked his thumb against the palm of his hand, painfully aware of eight years’ worth of things left unsaid between them.
Alec couldn’t remember a time that they had found it difficult to start a conversation. Everything had always been so easy between them. Alec had hoped, based on their brief conversation back in the club, that they might be able to continue on as though not a single day had passed, but had the way they left each other and the amount of time they had spent not speaking put too much distance between them?
“I feel like we’re back in Interpersonal Communication,” Magnus spoke after what seemed to Alec like an entire lifetime.
Alec tipped his head questioningly and scratched at his beard. “How so?”
“You don’t remember?” Magnus’ eyes widened in shock.
“That was twelve years ago, Magnus.” Alec laughed lightly. Easily. “I barely remember what that class was even about.”
“Alexander ‘I Made the Dean’s List Every Semester’ Lightwood, I am appalled!” Magnus huffed, as though Alec’s revelation was the most scandalous bit of information he had ever received.
Alec half-heartedly rolled his eyes as an amused grin tipped up the corner of his mouth. “You say that as though you didn’t.”
“Not every semester. But that’s neither here nor there.” Magnus waved his hand in front of him, casually dismissing Alec's comment. “I was just reminded of how guarded you used to be, and how you never initiated conversations.”
“Until Blackthorn partnered us on that project about whether verbal or nonverbal communication was more important. Then I had no choice.” Alec laughed fondly, adjusting his suit jacket, as the memory surfaced.
Despite his admission that he didn’t remember many of the classes he had taken, that one particular project stuck out in his mind. He had been an odd mix of leery and nervously excited. Magnus was everything that Alec had been taught was beneath him, and yet Magnus was always just Magnus. That sort of honesty, of living his life openly and on his own terms was exactly what Alec had wanted for himself.
Their project had taught Alec more than just the difference between the two types of communication. In getting to know Magnus, he had learned to judge others by the type of person they were—based on their intelligence, their humor, the courage of their convictions, and the way they treated others—instead of basing his assumptions on characteristics that were only surface deep.
But perhaps the most important lesson Alec had learned from that project had been discovering how to open himself up to outsiders, to allow them to see and accept Alec as his true self instead of keeping that truth hidden.
Silence fell between them again as Ty brought their coffees from the bar. He set the cups carefully between them and gently told them to let him know if they needed anything else.
“Happy birthday.” Alec smiled through pressed lips as he held his ceramic cup up.
Magnus lowered his head for a moment as he attempted to suppress a grin that, despite his efforts, spread across his lips anyway as he gently tapped his cup against Alec’s. “Thank you.”
They both sipped at the steaming espresso slowly and Alec chuckled lightly, grinning as he brought his cup down to rest on his thigh. “I honestly wasn’t sure you’d take my advice from graduation.”
“About?” Magnus’ forehead creased as his eyebrows raised.
Alec ran his finger around the rim of his cup. “Pursuing a career you loved.”
“Ah. That.” Magnus nodded. “It was easy to fall into.”
“How do you just ‘fall into’ working in a nightclub?”
Magnus shrugged casually. “Well, it was like you said, right? I could always start over if I didn’t enjoy it, but it was something I could pursue no matter where I was in the world. So, I started out where I could just to get my feet wet, and the job went where I went and grew with me, I guess.”
A stab of envy rolled through Alec’s stomach. He briefly considered the journey he had wanted to take after graduation. He had wanted to venture out on his own, to see the world through something other than the corporate lens he looked through every day, as something more than just clients, transactions, and problems to solve. Alec had so many destinations on his mental list of places to see, places that he had envisioned he would travel to with a man who meant something to him and had hoped when he had been with Raj that they might seek out those adventures together. But they hadn’t. And Alec hadn’t sought them out once he was back on his own, either.
“So, do you own Pandemonium?” he asked, letting the cup rest in his palm, determined not to think about what could have been.
“No,” Magnus answered, swirling his coffee around carefully. “The company I work for, Clockwork Entertainment, does. My business partner Raphael and I help with developing the concept, determining the target demographic, how to promote it, overseeing the opening, and then we transition the day-to-day operation to our management team.”
“So, sort of like Matthew Perry’s character in Fools Rush In?” Alec asked.
Magnus grinned. “Well, his character was actually an architect.”
Alec looked down into his coffee as he shook his head and trailed his tongue quickly along his bottom lip. “Okay so you don’t physically build it from the ground up, but you know what I mean. You still oversee the project from conception to the opening, right? So, in a way, it’s the same.”
Magnus seemed to ponder over that for a moment before raising his brows and tipping his head, acknowledging that Alec’s summation was accurate. Alec looked away briefly before glancing up again to find Magnus’ gaze trained on him, and Alec could almost see in his deep, thoughtful eyes the questions that Magnus wanted to ask but wasn’t—questions that he’d never held back from asking before.
Alec shifted and cleared his throat as he deflected the conversation from turning to him and instead focused it back on Magnus. “I’m sure you have endless stories from all the traveling you've done.”
“I’m never dull at parties.” Magnus winked. “I’m sure you have plenty of your own travel stories, though.”
Alec sighed heavily, shaking his head when the conversation turned to him, as he had known in the back of his mind it inevitably would.
“I have a long list of places I want to see. I just….” Alec trailed off. How could he give voice to the fact that the only traveling he ever did was for work? That the only time he ever saw new places was when he was commuting to a client’s office in an unfamiliar city? And the one time he had traveled for himself had ended in heartbreak? “I mean, I went to Niagara Falls for a long weekend early in the summer.”
“Niagara Falls is beautiful.” Magnus raised his eyebrows in agreement, leaning forward to set his empty cup on the table between them.
“Yeah. I guess it was,” Alec agreed with a clipped nod, setting his cup beside Magnus’ on the table and hoping that Magnus wouldn’t catch the lifelessness in his tone.
It was the way that Alec’s shoulders sagged as he sat back in the chair that made Magnus hone in on what he wasn’t saying. Lips that pursed as Alec’s jaw flexed tightly. Darkened eyes that wouldn’t quite meet Magnus’ own. Magnus recognized the pain in Alec’s posture because he still too often saw it in himself.
Thoughts and scenarios and the full spectrum of possible reactions from Alec tumbled around in Magnus’ head as he weighed whether to change the subject or to dive deeper and coax out of Alec what he was leaving unsaid. Had they been back in college, Magnus would have plowed through the barriers that Alec had silently erected around himself.
Inhaling a steady breath, Magnus pushed forward, determined to find the weakness in Alec’s armor.
“Did something happen?” Magnus probed gently.
Alec huffed out a short, heartbroken laugh. “That was the weekend my ex decided to end things.”
Magnus pulled his shoulders back tightly. The admission wasn’t entirely surprising, yet it still caught him off guard.
“I’m sorry, Alec,” Magnus spoke with sincerity, being well acquainted with the pain of heartbreak himself.
“It was a long time coming, if I’m being honest.” Alec shrugged and ran his hand over his beard. “Raj and I had been having problems for the last year, ever since the marriage equality ruling.”
“That you said would never happen,” Magnus interjected in the hopes it might lighten the mood, and grinned when Alec chuckled and shook his head.
“Well, I didn’t think it would happen, although I’m not saying I wasn’t happy to be proven wrong.” Alec began kneading at the palm of his hand again, the ghost of a smile returning to his face, and Magnus wondered if Alec recalled the pact they had made and the conditions it had been made under. “So, what about you? I noticed you aren’t wearing a ring.”
“I have no one tying me down.” Magnus reached up to adjust his ear cuff as he debated on whether or not to delve further, to give Alec the same small insight into his tumultuous love life as Alec had given him. Magnus realized the unfairness in not opening up to Alec in the same way, but his wounds were still healing, his heart still piecing itself back together.
Nevertheless, he saw the way Alec looked at him, hazel eyes peering through long eyelashes, and Magnus knew his resolve was going to crumble the way it always had.
The way it always would.
Just as Alec had kept the details of his breakup closely guarded, Magnus realized he didn’t need to divulge every painful aspect of his split right at that moment either. “I came back to New York because of a breakup.”
Alec opened his mouth to express his apologies but Magnus cut him off, his walls and defenses already building themselves back up. “It’s all ancient history now, and time to move on. Maybe you can give me tips on getting back into the dating game.”
“Don’t get back into it?” Alec shrugged before laughing. “I’ve barely been on a handful of dates since Raj and trying to meet anyone is just.… daunting.”
“I’d say that’s true for most people.”
Alec gave a slight nod of concession. “It just feels like there’s always some hidden agenda and people will do whatever they can to accomplish it. Everyone likes the idea of love, of forever, of commitment, but I don’t get the sense that anyone really wants till death do us part anymore. No one actually believes in communicating, or working things out because it’s easier to just end things when they get difficult….”
Magnus smirked as he tried to hold back his laughter, causing Alec to pause. Magnus could see that Alec didn’t know what it was he found so amusing, but a small chuckle betrayed him as it snuck out. “What?”
“Well, there’s always Plan B,” Magnus started, straightening himself in the chair. He calmed himself enough that the laugh died on his lips, though his smirk never faded as Alec waited for him to continue, “We did sort of agree to marry each other if we were both still single when we turned thirty.”
They were celebrating the dying hours of Magnus’ thirtieth birthday, Alec would celebrate his the following September, and it was now legal for same-sex couples to marry each other. Magnus watched as realization slowly took over Alec’s features as Alec trailed his tongue over his lips once more.
Magnus wondered if Alec knew how distracting that was.
Alec took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “We did agree to that, didn’t we?”
“The offer stands,” Magnus replied with a casual shrug.
“Well, I don’t turn thirty until September, so.…”
The thought went unfinished but the implication was crystal clear: there was plenty of time for each of them to meet someone else and forge a connection that was deep and meaningful.
Feelings for Alec that had been dormant for years were slowly churning in Magnus’ gut. Their friendship—or at least the friendship Magnus had known—had always been uncomplicated. Magnus didn’t want to complicate that, or risk losing a good thing by admitting that he wanted more. He needed time to get to know this version of Alec. To let Alec get to know this version of him.
“Well we can sort of use this as motivation then. To give each other a little bit of a push in the right direction,” Magnus suggested, raising his eyebrows as he shrugged.
“Meeting people. That way neither of us is going through this on our own. We can run potential partners by each other, get honest feedback, and compare horror stories, that sort of thing. We can give each other ideas on how best to meet people. I’ve never tried it, but I hear the online route works pretty well.”
But Magnus could see that Alec wasn’t convinced.
“I don’t know.” Alec shook his head. “How can anyone tell from a small profile what kind of person someone really is? How does it give any sort of insight into someone’s values, morals, or beliefs? It just seems to barely scratch the surface.”
Magnus understood Alec’s hesitation. “Well, that's where we can work together. And trust me”—Magnus looked at Alec with a gentle grin—“I can read people well. It’s all in what they don’tsay.”
Alec worked his teeth over his bottom lip in silent thought, but never looked away from Magnus as he worked toward a decision.
“Okay,” he agreed eventually. “We’ll give it a shot. If it doesn’t work and neither of us has found anyone by my birthday…. we’ll go from there.”
Magnus’ phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out, shoulders dropping as Raphael’s name flashed on the screen. He left the message unread. “I should be getting back.”
“Yeah.” Alec nodded, trying to hide the disappointment in his tone. “I guess you do.”
It was a feeling that Magnus understood well. If it had been possible, Magnus would have stayed until every gap in time had been filled in. He finished buttoning the last button on his coat as they stepped back out into the frosty night.
They carried their silence the few blocks back to Pandemonium and Magnus glanced at Alec as he hailed down a cab. “I’m free next weekend. Why don’t we get together then?”
“That works for me,” Alec agreed and opened the door of the taxi that pulled up to the curb.
Magnus smirked. “Are you not going to ask for my number? It’s changed since college.”
“Right. Yes.” Alec’s cheeks turned pink as he pulled his phone from the inside pocket of his suit jacket. “Yeah, that would be good.”
Magnus recited the number as Alec typed it in and saved it before climbing back into the cab with a grin. As the taxi pulled away, Magnus felt a buzz in his pocket. A number he didn’t recognize flashed on his screen.
Now you have my number. See you next weekend.
Magnus grinned at Alec’s message and couldn’t help but think that thirty was already off to an interesting start.
“You better have gone home with someone who made youreallyhappy last night,” Isabelle greeted Alec the following morning as she stepped into the restaurant they had agreed to meet at for brunch. “That’s the only acceptable explanation for you leaving early.”
Alec looked up from his phone at the sound of Isabelle’s voice, waiting for their table to be ready. He had known that she wouldn’t be happy with his decision to leave early, especially without telling her in person. He took in the fierce look of her dark eyes, the set of her lips, and the way she folded her arms over her chest as she stopped in front him, and yet he still didn’t regret choosing to have coffee with Magnus.
And Alec knew he would choose to again. Without question.
He and Magnus hadn’t immediately fallen back into the sort of comfortable and deep conversation they’d had in college, with a pace that never slowed down, but it also hadn’t been all awkward pauses or lacking in substance. Alec knew it was impossible to fill in the gaps of eight years apart in the span of an hour or so, and Alec had done his best to hide his disappointment when Magnus reminded him that he needed to get back to the club to help Raphael close. He could have sat with Magnus for hours longer if they’d been able to, and he was already looking forward to meeting up again in the next few days.
Max entered the restaurant only a couple of moments after Isabelle, bundled up in his winter coat and scarf, a gray beanie covering his dark hair. He unzipped his coat as he stepped up to Alec and Isabelle, sliding his arm around Isabelle’s shoulders and pulling her against him in a hug. Max was certainly taller than Isabelle, but still not quite as tall as Alec.
“I told you.” Alec rolled his eyes as he crossed his arms over his chest, matching Isabelle’s stance. “I ran into an old friend I haven’t seen in…. a reallylong time.”
Alec could tell that Isabelle was trying to read him, to determine if there was more that Alec wasn’t saying. There was, of course, but Alec wasn’t sure he wanted to share it just yet. There was something about keeping Magnus to himself that caused Alec to be more excited than he had any right to be. And he knew that as soon as he said Magnus’ name, a litany of other questions would follow.
“Do I know this friend?” Max asked, looking up at his brother with his eyebrows raised in surprise.
“You met him once, but I don’t know if you’d remember him.” Alec shook his head, glancing quickly at Max before turning back to Isabelle. Her head was tilted, and her brow furrowed, and Alec could almost see her trying to put the pieces together.
Isabelle narrowed her eyes and pointed a finger at Alec’s chest as the hostess approached them to let them know their table was ready. “You’re holding out on us.”
“Where’s Jace?” Alec deflected, and Max and Isabelle both shrugged.
Isabelle rolled her eyes and turned Alec around, giving him a sisterly push to follow the hostess to their table. “We don’t have to wait for him. He’ll find us.”
Max sat between Alec and Isabelle and took the menu that the hostess offered, flipping it open. Alec and Isabelle took their menus as well, Isabelle scanning over it quickly before closing it and setting it off to the side and looking pointedly at Alec, her arms folded on the table.
Alec pretended to be more interested in the menu than he actually was in an effort to ignore Isabelle until their server approached to take their drink orders and he no longer could.
“Spill,” Isabelle demanded as their server left.
Alec looked from Isabelle over to Max, both of them with their eyes fixed intently on him, waiting for him to give them every detail of what had happened after he had left the club. He wondered how much he could tell them without going into detail about the agreement he and Magnus had made. There was enough time that he didn’t need to fill them in on that particular detail yet, right?
Alec sighed in defeat and scratched at the back of his head as he sat back in his chair. “I ran into Magnus last night.”
Isabelle was in the middle of tucking a bit of her hair behind her ear when he answered and her eyes widened in surprise. “Magnus Bane?”
“The one and only.” Alec nodded as their server returned with their coffee, placing a steaming mug in front of each of them. Alec couldn’t help the small smile that tugged at his lips as he watched the steam rise.
The smile wasn’t lost on Isabelle. “You haven’t smiled like that since Raj left.”
“Like what?” Alec asked, smudging his lips together.
Max looked up from his menu, eyes locking on Alec. “You’re happy. Like your stomach keeps doing backflips every time you think about him.” Max sat back in his chair. “Like you’re in love.”
Alec could hear the teasing note in Max’s voice and knew his younger brother made the comment in jest, but it became apparent to Alec that he had to work on being less transparent around his siblings.
“Th-that’s ridiculous.” Alec barked out a laugh. “You can’t fall in love in one night.”
Max shrugged. “We’re born in one day. We die in one day. Anything can happen in one day, so, yeah, you canfall in love overnight.”
Alec stitched his brows together. “No more philosophy classes for you. Besides,” he scratched lightly at his beard, “even if what you said is true, Magnus and I have been friends for years. We went to have coffee and catch up. That’s it. There's nothing more to tell.”
But just as Alec had suspected, Isabelle seemed to think that there was indeed more to tell as she launched into a series of questions that ranged from how Magnus was doing in general to whether or not he was seeing anyone, and Alec could tell from the tone of her voice and the devilish glint in her eye that Isabelle believed that was the most important question needing to be answered. Max simply held his mug between his hands to warm them as question after question tumbled out of Isabelle.
Alec decided it was pointless to try and fight against it and answered everything Isabelle asked as he recounted running into Magnus in the club and about their discussion in the coffee shop—though he left out the details about how sinful Magnus had looked, or the part about how they'd agreed once again to be each other's ‘Plan B’—until Isabelle was satisfied and smiling.
“So, he’s single?” Isabelle asked again and though the tone of her voice was innocent the look in her eyes most certainly wasn’t.
“You asked me that once already.” Alec set his mug down and gave her a warning look. “I know what you're thinking, Iz. And I'm going to stop it right now.”
“Okay, but along that train of thought, I have a question,” Max interjected while raising his hand as though this was one of his classes at school and not a casual discussion between siblings. He turned to Alec. “What happened to that guy Jace set you up with? The one that works with Lydia? Mark? Michael? Mitchell? What was his name?”
“Matt,” Alec answered. “We went out on a couple dates. We just had no chemistry and knew it wasn’t going to go anywhere.”
Jace, smirking happily and with a bounce to his step, arrived at the table and clapped Alec on the shoulder while he pulled his chair back. “Sorry I’m late. Lydia had the morning off.”
“You could have texted one of us.” Alec rolled his eyes as Jace settled into his seat and ordered a coffee when the server returned.
“I was very, incredibly, highlydistracted.” Jace winked as he looked over his menu, then set it aside. “What’d I miss?”
Alec rolled his eyes at his brother. “If you had been on time, you wouldn’t have missed anything. I don't repeat myself.”
“Alec ran into Magnus last night.” Isabelle grinned, and Alec looked at her as though she had betrayed his best kept secret.
Not that Magnus was a secret.
“And?” Jace asked, raising an eyebrow.
“And what?” Alec asked, keeping his face neutral. He had kept how he had felt about Magnus hidden for longer than he cared to admit—though, he had to concede, perhaps not as well as he had hoped. “We had coffee. That’s all. Nothing more.”
Magnus seemed just as unattainable to Alec now as he had in college. He was free to go wherever the wind took him, while Alec was still bound by his obligations to his family. Magnus didn’t deserve to be held back because that same freedom was always just out of Alec’s reach.
And despite the fact that long-buried feelings had reignited inside of him the night before, Alec knew Magnus would never want more than their friendship. Alec wanted to believe Magnus wouldn’t have suggested the pact if he had. He had made his peace with that fact eight years ago, and yet fear clawed at him. Fear of everything Alec stood to lose if he and Magnus did become romantically involved. Fear of what Alec could miss if he didn’t at least try to pursue every option that might lead to something greater with Magnus.
Fear that, even if no one else worked out and they had to give each other a chance, Magnus would reject him just as Raj had.
“So, let me get this straight,” Catarina said as she poured herself, Ragnor, and Magnus a glass of wine. “You and Alec made this insaneagreement back in college, and you just so happened to run into him last night after not seeing or speaking to each other since, and now you're using each other for moral support and picking partners for each other? And if all thatfails, then you'll get married to each other?”
“We’re not choosing people for each other, just…. running things by the other,” Magnus explained.
“I’m failing to see the difference.”
Magnus took the glass Catarina offered him. “Well, regardless of how you want to term it, you have to admit that I haven’t exactly done well at choosing for myself.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Ragnor chimed in as he turned the steaks that were grilling on a pan on the stove.
The truth of Ragnor’s comment stung just the same as if Magnus had been slapped in the face, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to be offended by it because there was no malice behind the words. It was simply a case of the truth stinging and cutting through to Magnus’ core.
Magnus looked down at the placemats Catarina had set out on the table for the evening. He didn’t necessarily consider Imasu a bad choice of partner, but they had been far too young and wrapped up in the physical rather than the emotional and both somehow knew that wasn’t enough to sustain what they had.
Etta had been too pragmatic and approached everything with a more logical mind rather than let her emotions get the better of her. It had brought balance to Magnus’ life, but ultimately neither of them had wanted the same thing at the same time, and they’d parted on good terms.
And then there had been Camille. She and her entourage of fellow models had wandered into one of Magnus’ London clubs one night, and he had been completely taken by how beautiful she was and how charming she could be. She reeled him in deeper and deeper with a deadly sweetness and he had gladly handed over his heart to do with as she pleased. He hadn’t been prepared for the veil to be pulled back, to reveal her cruel and manipulative soul. She had taken everything until Magnus had nothing left to give and had given him nothing in return.
In hindsight, Magnus hadn’t seen it because he hadn’t wantedto see it. He had wanted to believe there was more nobility in Camille than ruthlessness, that the selfless, supportive woman who had stayed by his side during one of the darkest points of his life was who Camille truly was.
Magnus had chosen to overlook the way that Camille would never tell him honestly where her next campaign was being shot, and how she would give him vague responses when he would tell her how he felt about her. But he couldn’t overlook the photos of Camille and a Russian diplomat, nor the numerous tabloid stories detailing their affair. He had packed his things, left behind anything that Camille had given to him, and returned to New York without so much as a goodbye note or text for her.
Catarina playfully bumped Ragnor’s hip with her own, giving him a look that told him to behave, before returning to the kitchen and began throwing a salad together. “You just haven’t met the right person yet, Magnus. Maybe it’ll be good to have Alec’s input, since you’ve always taken Alec’s advice to heart. He’ll steer you away from your usual type.”
“And what, my darling, is my usual type?” Magnus inquired as he sipped his wine.
“The type that doesn’t bring out the best in you.”
“You know,” Ragnor cut in, “the flip side to all this is that Alec has Magnus’ input. The poor bloke is already at a disadvantage.” Ragnor took the steaks off of the heat and plated them, letting them rest as he pulled herb and garlic potatoes from the oven.
“You’re impossible,” Catarina sighed, bringing the salad over to the table.
“My hidden talent is playing matchmaker, Ragnor,” Magnus smirked over the rim of his wineglass, “or did you forget how you and Cat ended up on your first date?”
“Touché, my friend.” Ragnor set the steaks and potatoes on the table and sat down, settling in. “Though, I would have asked her for a date on my own eventually.”
Magnus smiled at his two friends as he helped himself to steak, salad, and a generous portion of potatoes. He had no doubt that they would have found their way to each other eventually. Magnus had merely sped up the process by setting up a study night with each of them individually, at the same location, only to cancel on them both at the last minute so that they had no choice but to spend the time with each other.
There had been no guarantee that his plan would work then, and there was no guarantee whatever this was with Alec would work out now, but he wouldn’t know if he didn’t try.
Catarina raised her wine glass and smiled at Magnus across the table. “Happy birthday, a day late.”
“Cheers,” Ragnor added as he, too, raised his glass.
Magnus tapped his glass gently against both of theirs with a grin. His friendship with the pair of them had been the most permanent relationship he’d had in his lifetime and he was grateful for it.
“So, what happens if you get to Alec’s thirtieth birthday and you’re both still single?” Catarina asked before taking a bite of potato.
“We get married to each other,” Magnus answered with a casual shrug, as though trying to make sure they both knew that there was no way they’d get to that point, that they’d both find someone that could make them happy.
But Magnus wondered what it said about him that underneath his self-assured facade, that he was secretly hoping that this would lead to something more between Alec and him.
“Forgive me,” Ragnor paused as he reached for his wine and took a sip, “but why go through this whole process of trying to be with other people? You’ve both agreed to eventually marry each other if this doesn’t work, so why not just skip to that if that’s what you both want?”
Well, when it was put that way….
Magnus took hold of his glass and leaned back in his chair as he rolled Ragnor’s question over and over in his head, trying to put together the answer that made the most sense, listing off the obvious reasons one-by-one in his head.
Outside of their pact, Alec had never so much as hinted that he wanted more than a friendship with Magnus, though Magnus would have welcomed the chance for more. Alec’s family was powerful and influential in most, if not all, of the New York social circles, which automatically put Alec out of his reach. No matter how successfully Magnus had overcome his past, or how successful he made his future, the Lightwoods would never see him as an equal.
“It’s good to have a Plan B,” Magnus answered with a casual shrug, instead of voicing the other thoughts spinning in his mind.
If his romantic past had taught him anything, it was that Magnus wasn’t anyone’s Plan A. Why would he dare hope that he might be Alec’s?
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Magnus and Alec start putting their plan into action. And no, they are definitely NOT flirting with each other, why do you ask?
NEW, NEVER BEFORE PUBLISHED WORDS RIGHT HERE! I hope you all enjoy.
Massive thank you to my lovely betas: Sam, Jaimie, Jackie, and Britt for all their work getting this chapter to this final form.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Few places in his parents’ Manhattan apartment could bring peace to Alec the way his father’s study did. Growing up, he’d always been able to rely on the promise of stillness and silence the study allowed him that being in the same room as his siblings often didn’t. He recalled with absolute clarity the afternoon his mother found him sitting behind his father’s desk, imagining he wasRobert and using crayons to write out one pretend memo after another. Maryse had looked at him sternly, but with the hint of a smile Alec now realizedhad been of pride, before reminding Alec the study wasn’t a play area.
Alec found himself behind his father’s desk once, only now to seek out the stillness and silence the Christmas Eve festivities going on just beyond the study door didn’t afford him. Throughout the evening, he had ended up surrounded by colleagues, family, friends of his parents, and people of influence in the political and social arenas until he found himself suffocated by their presence and lack of inventive conversation. Staff from the catering company served the same hors d'oeuvres and wintery cocktails as years past, and the notes of “Silent Night” from the familiar quartet of carol singers in the hallway drifted through the door Alec had left open a crack. He found himself thinking wryly that the lyrics to that particular carol were entirely contradictory to the activity of the city streets below, filled with limousines and town cars shuttling passengers from one Christmas gathering to another.
Alec focused his gaze on the snow that fell steadily outside and absently swirled his glass of cabernet, releasing the currant, cherry, and spice notes that had settled. He raised his glass to his lips but paused when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He lifted the phone from his pocket and felt his cheeks warm and his stomach flutter as he saw Magnus’ name flashed across the screen.
But it was the photo of Magnus, one perfectly manicured hand held elegantly in front of parted, glossed lips as he glanced sideways at someone or something off camera through flawlessly kohl-lined eyes, that had Alec forgetting how to breathe and his heart beating furiously against his ribs. He was drawn to the way Magnus’ shirt curved over strong, broad shoulders and how his sleeves seemed to be in distress from the swell of his biceps. And could anyone truly blame him for tucking his bottom lip between his teeth at how the cobalt blue of Magnus’ scarf sat perfectly against his neck, just below his Adam’s apple?
It took far too long for Alec to realize he couldn’t continue with his current line of thinking before he closed his eyes, inhaled a deep breath, and focused instead on the message Magnus had sent with the photo.
If you were a potential suitor and saw this, would you still want to date me?
Alec couldn’t have anticipated receiving such a loaded question but was at least thankful it had been asked at a time he didn’t have to conceal the panic—and maybe even a stab of jealousy—that rushed over his face and tinged his cheeks and neck with warmth. He tried to think rationally about what Magnus had asked. Even without his feelings clouding his judgement and objectivity, Alec would readily admit Magnus was a very attractive man, and his cosmetic embellishments only enhanced that attractiveness.
Is there a reason why someone wouldn’t want to date you if they saw that photo?
Alec raised his glass to his lips, drinking slowly while he waited for Magnus to answer.
Sugar is desired more than salt. And that photo is saturated with salt.
You never have been good at hiding your salty side. Alec grinned as he sent the message.
That is wildly unhelpful.
Alec simply shrugged his shoulders, despite knowing Magnus couldn’t see it. Well some people actually crave salt.
Waxing philosophical as usual, I see.
Setting his glass on the corner of his father’s desk, Alec quickly tapped out a message. It was a wise woman who passed the philosophy that everyone has their THINGS on to me.
Bubbles popped up onto Alec’s screen almost instantly, and Magnus’ reply followed only seconds after. Give Isabelle my love.
“Oh, I know that smile.”
Alec’s head turned enough to see Jace framed in the doorway of the study, an obnoxious grin spread across his lips. Alec resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “And what smile would that be?”
“That is your I’m so smitten smile,” Jace teased, stepping further into the study. “So, who is the lucky guy?”
“No one”—Alec shook his head, flustered—“I mean, it’s not no one. It’s just Magnus—”
“Oh, just Magnus!” Jace’s eyes glimmered with mirth as he cut Alec off. “Just Magnus whom you’ve had a thing for for at least ten years. Just Magnus, who coincidentally happens to be in the same city as you again. Just Magnus, who is also completely unattached.”
It was that which had been at the forefront of Alec’s thoughts over the few days that had passed since they had found each other again at Pandemonium. He had never believed in fate, but Alec had been struggling to find any other reason to explain how they had just happened to spend Isabelle’s birthday at Magnus’ nightclub. And out of the hundreds of people there, how had Magnus casually picked him out of the crowd.
He became aware too late that the longer he stayed silent and contemplated what the connection between each moment that had led to Magnus and him reuniting was, the more Jace’s features were overtaken by complete mischief.
Alec’s face twisted with incredulity.
Jace raised his brow as if to ask, But I'm not wrong, am I?
“Why are you like this?” Alec groaned.
Jace met the utterance with gentle laughter as he stepped in closer to Alec.
“Because I know you, Alec. You compartmentalize and push everything aside, but you never actually stop holding on to anything or anyone you cross paths with, and especially those people you actually let your guard down for. I've watched you do it with Magnus for the last eight years, and with Raj the last six months.”
Alec wanted to protest, but before he could even formulate a rebuttal, Jace cuppedAlec's neck in a sign of brotherly affection.
“And I get it. It’s not easy to let go of someone you had strong feelings for over a good portion of your life. I will always love Clary, just like I know you will always, in some way, love Raj. But, like Lydia makes me better, Magnus makes you better. You have the opportunity for a second chance, and do you know how many people would kill for that? To be able to have a redo moment?”
The timbre of Raj’s laugh filtered into the study from the party just beyond, and Alec knew Jace was right. Raj would always have a place in his life, just as he knew Clary would always have a place in Jace’s, but where Jace had been able to move beyond that phase of his life to start the next, Alec existed in the space between Magnus and Raj—the one he wanted and the one he’d had—unable to have or move beyond either.
Alec closed his eyes and turned his head away so as not to see the smirk Jace continued to wear. “It isn’t that easy, Jace.”
Alec met Jace’s challenge with silence before meeting his brother’s eyes again. “You know damn well why.”
Jace dropped his hand back to his side, tucking it into his pocket. “Because you make everything harder than it needs to be?”
“Because Magnus doesn’t feel the same for me as I feel for him. You know this.”
“Have you ever truly asked him? Ever told him in all these years that you have feelings for him? Actually tried to get the truth instead of just assuming?”
Alec knew by the way Jace raised his eyebrows there was no need to answer. Jace had asked the questions knowing Alec couldn’t answer them.
“What’s your saying in the business world? The greater the risk, the greater the reward?”
“That’s true, but so is the opposite. The greater the risk, the greater the potential loss.”
“But the fact remains, you still have to take the risk.” Jace crossed his arms in front of himself. “I know you hate unpredictable situations, but if you don’t take an insane risk by at least telling Magnus how you feel, someone else will. And then you’ve lost him for a second time. Maybe for good this time.”
Glancing back at the snow swirling outside the window, Alec thought of the pact Magnus and he had made and Jace’s words sat uncomfortably in his gut. That pact was an invitation for everything Jace had just described to come to fruition. He’d been so accustomed to tuning into his instincts in the business world, but he had no idea how to follow them in his own world.
Yet despite the sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach, Alec could also see a silver lining to the pact—he might just be able to use it to his own advantage.
Magnus stamped black slush off his rain boots as he stepped inside Uncommon Grounds, black silk, embroidered umbrella closed at his side. The umbrella was perhaps Magnus’ favorite winter accessory, if only for the fact it made Ragnor and Raphael shake their heads every time they saw him with it. Where his two friends insisted a beanie would be more than sufficient to keep his head free of falling snow, Magnus had begged them to consider the effort he took each morning to ensure his hair was styled and his makeup applied perfectly, and he would not be sacrificing either to a beanie. Adjusting his designer leather messenger bag on his shoulder, Magnus took a spot in line.
For the day after Christmas, the shop was already fairly busy, though not as jammed as it would be on any normal day. Magnus could spot the few locals among the many visitors who, like him, had to venture out into the black slush leftover from the Christmas Eve snowfall, and wondered how many tourists they’d had to dodge already this morning. Magnus had a knack for working his way around people, but it was the tip of an umbrella he’d barely spun away from before it marred his face that had him wondering why he’d ventured out into the city in the first place rather than just work from home. The memory of it had Magnus nearly rolling his eyes before he recalled Alec’s message from Christmas Eve.
Just remember some people actually crave salt.
It may have made Magnus smile a little more than it should have. And maybe he would admit to a warm, tingly sensation that filled him at the thought of Alec giving him a fragment of his attention when Alec should have otherwise been completely focused on spending the holiday with his family. Magnus had found himself stealing quiet moments here and there throughout the Christmas Day festivities with Ragnor and Catarina to dive back into those few messages he and Alec had exchanged. There was a distinctive comfort to them, almost as though Alec and he hadn’t spent so many years absent from each other’s lives. There had always been easy banter between them, but Magnus wondered if perhaps there hadn’t been some sort of…flirtatious…intent behind Alec’s messages as well.
Which, Magnus reminded himself, was ridiculous because Alec would never flirt with a friend. Then again, Magnus couldn’t ever recall a time he’d seen Alec flirt, so perhaps it wasn’t as farcical as he was trying to convince himself it was.
But the most absurd part of his current thought train was that Magnus was allowing himself to read more into any of Alec’s messages than what was already on the surface.
Sighing deeply, Magnus rolled his eyes at himself and forced his focus onto what was happening around him in the shop. As the line moved steadily forward, Magnus became immersed in the conversation between the couple in front of him and their plans for ice skating in Rockefeller Plaza.
Just as Magnus was about to interject his recommendation for the Herald Square winter market and ice rink to the couple, his phone buzzed in his bag and a message from Alec flashed across his screen.
Apparently, keeping his focus off of Alec wasn’t in the cards for the day.
Please tell me I’m not the only one who had to venture in to work?
Well, tell me, my dear dedicated Lightwood, did you HAVE to go in or did you CHOOSE to go in?
We have end of year to tie up.
That still doesn’t answer my question, Alec.
The line inched forward as message bubbles indicating Alec was typing out a reply popped up, and Alec’s message came through just as Magnus stepped up to order a very large cappuccino with an extra shot.
When Robert Lightwood is in the office, everyone is in the office.
Magnus took a moment to ponder Alec’s response. It seemed nothing at all had changed since college. Magnus was still free to live his life as he pleased, where Alec’s life continued to be orchestrated by others.
With his coffee ordered, Magnus examined his manicure as he waited for the barista to work their magic. He would absolutely need to find time to work in a manicure before New Year’s Eve, but as he mentally ran through his schedule over the next week, Magnus had no idea where he could find the time to work even a polish change in. With those thoughts, the preemptive exhaustion of the upcoming week consisting of long days, and even longer nights, was already settling deep in his bones. Magnus wasn’t unfamiliar with this particular brand of weariness. He welcomed it in the same way a fitness enthusiast welcomed the burn and ache that followed a challenging but satisfying workout—as a mark of success.
But there were events that could make or break the club’s success.
New Year’s Eve in New York City was one of those events.
Magnus had a feeling he would be fueling up on coffee and takeout more than usual over the coming days.
His phone buzzed in his coat pocket as the barista called his name to announce his cappuccino was ready. Stepping forward, Magnus extracted his phone out of his pocket and he couldn’t help the small tug of a grin at the corner of his mouth to see Alec’s name on his screen again as he grabbed his drink off the coffee bar.
You still haven’t answered my question.
A New Year’s Eve bash won’t plan itself. Magnus sent back as he turned, coffee in hand. His gaze locked instantly on a young woman with a shockingly familiar shade of red hair, sitting at a small table framed by the large picture window of the shop. With her hands around a ceramic mug that had steam rising from the brim, Magnus took in the boho-style bag hanging from the back of her chair along with the open sketchbook that rested next to her hand, and mused that she hadn’t seemed to change one bit over the years. As he stepped up closer to her table, he saw that she still carried the hopefulness of naive youth in the curves of her face, but she also wore a weariness someone still as young as she was shouldn’t have had to be acquainted with.
“Well. What a small world we find ourselves in.”
As her head tilted up, Clary’s green eyes locked onto his own and her lips spread into her ever-charming smile.
“Have a seat.” The consolidating of sketchbook and pencils into one area rather than having them spread out over the whole tabletop made it plain to Magnus that Clary wasn’t going to take no for an answer. He slid into the chair across from her, setting his phone down on the table beside his coffee, and adjusted his coat as he crossed his legs.
Clary tucked her hair behind her ear. “It’s been too long.”
“And yet you are even more lovely than the last time I saw you.”
As he watched her cheeks turn a gentle pink, Magnus wasn’t sure what Clary might say. She shook her head with a smile and huffed gently in disbelief before uttering a soft, “Thank you.”
Magnus tipped his head toward the blank page of the open sketchbook staring back at him. “Waiting for inspiration?”
Clary sat up a little straighter, her shoulders rising with a deep inhale. The exhale that followed reminded Magnus of a balloon deflating. “More like trying to will it into existence.”
“Well, I would imagine it isn’t easy to find inspiration in the industrial vibes of New York after spending so much time over in Europe.”
He had a love-hate relationship with Facebook, but Magnus was glad to have connected with Clary and followed along with her adventures.
“It’s not just that.” Clary curled her hands tighter around her mug and shook her head. “There’s also just too much going on at the moment to push through and try to find inspiration. Artistry has to wait.”
Something told Magnus that Clary wasn’t referring to the chaos and whirlwind of the holidays.
“I’ll drink to that,” Magnus raised his cappuccino and sipped, his insides melting under the warmth of the espresso and milk. “I find in times like that, it’s best to separate everything out. Tackle your biggest priority first and follow that with a task that is more enjoyable. For example, I will finalize the details of Pandemonium’s New Year’s Eve party, and follow that up with an absolutely necessary manicure, pedicure, and facial.”
“And what would you do if, hypothetically, your biggest priorities were finding a job and a new place to live on very limited funds? What would you follow that up with?”
“I’d follow that up with a pampering date to unwind and de-stress. I’m sure you know of someone who would be willing to treat you like a queen.”
The corners of Clary’s mouth tipped up into an appreciative grin. “You’re too kind. But that doesn’t solve my other dilemmas.”
“A good coffee chat has been known to solve many problems, Biscuit.”
Clary exhaled a long breath and Magnus was astonished at how she seemed to physically deflate. “I’ve been sending my portfolio in for various illustrator positions I’ve seen online and I have yet to hear back from any of them. I’ve met with gallery owners to see if they’d be willing to showcase some of my art from Europe, and they’ve all said it’s just not what they’re looking for at the moment, but they’ll keep me in mind if something comes up in the future. And as for my living situation, I’ve been staying in the apartment above the bookstore my mom’s friend owns, but he’ll be back from the holidays after the new year, and it’s not a big enough space for two people. I’m having zero luck finding a place that would work in my current budget.”
“Well, why not move in with Jocelyn until you get on your feet?”
It seemed the obvious solution to Magnus.
“You know my mom and I are close. And she’s told me I can stay with her as long as I need. But I’ve been on my own for so long, living by my own rules, that the idea of going back into a situation where I know she’s going to see me as a child still instead of an adult is….”
“…. The perfect description of Hell,” Magnus cut in.
“Exactly.”Clary nodded. “I’m open to a roommate, but my mom just doesn’t know how to not be a mom.”
“I would say that is likely true for most moms.”
“True as it may be, it’s just not something I want to go back to.”
“Which is fair.”
A silence fell over the table as Clary looked out the window briefly before slumping back into her chair and pulling her hair over one shoulder, as though wanting to forget the reality she now faced. Magnus swirled his cappuccino slowly, trying to find an angle to look at the situation that perhaps Clary hadn’t considered, since it had often been Magnus’ experience over the years that an outsider had seen possibilities he either hadn’t wanted to see or had been too close to the situation to see.
“How comfortable are you with digital art and concept design?” Magnus asked after a moment.
“You know pencil sketches have always been my favorite. Digital art doesn’t give me quite the same satisfaction, but I’ve had to get more familiar with it recently. As for concept design, that is what art is at its core. You see something physically in front of you and conceptualize it in any style you want. Or create something from your own mind and bring that to life. Simon and I used to do that all the time in high school with our graphic novels.”
“Send me a link to your digital portfolio. I can’t promise anything, but my company is in the market to hire someone in their graphic arts division, and I’d be happy to vouch for your talents and willingness to explore new mediums.”
Magnus watched Clary’s face light up across the table the way the sky lights up on the Fourth of July. She reached behind her to dig in her bag for her tablet, and maybe Magnus should have done a better job of setting expectations, but he also remembered this was just how Clary had always been.
“Where should I send it?” Clary asked. Magnus gave her the information and not a moment later his phone buzzed on the table with a notification that he had a new work email. “Now that I’ve gotten that ball rolling, I just have to figure out where I’m going to live.”
“How much do you have to move?”
“Not much. I got used to a pretty minimalist lifestyle overseas. So just clothes and a few boxes of knick knacks and art stuff.”
Magnus glanced out the window for a moment and pressed his lips together. He’d had the idea as soon as Clary had explained why she didn’t want to go back to living with her mom. If his own parents were alive, Magnus doubted he could have moved back in with them. He valued his space, to be sure, and he had always viewed his apartment as his sanctuary. But how often was he really there with his long work hours, and the ever-present possibility of spending the night in a bed that wasn’t his own? Magnus wasn’t sure it would really be an invasion of that space to temporarily offer up some of it to someone Magnus had always seen as a younger sister.
“I have an extra bedroom that you’re welcome to rent free until you can get settled in to a job and find a place of your own that works with your finances.”
Clary sat silent for a moment, face slack and eyes wide. It took her some time to find her voice before she was finally able to stutter out, “Are…. Are you sure?”
Clary moved so lightning quick to scoot her chair back from the table that she almost knocked herself into another patron as they were finding their way to a table. Magnus didn’t even have a chance to stand up before Clary was hugging him around the neck. It took a moment for Magnus to compose himself before he hugged her in return.
Year thirty was off to a very interesting start, indeed.
“Any promising candidates for me?”
Magnus sauntered back into the dining nook, bags of Thai delivery in hand. While Magnus had half-heartedly hoped to find Alec had shifted his position from sitting at the table, shoulders rounded and forearms resting on the table’s edge, laser-focused on Magnus’ phone screen, Magnus was completely unsurprised to find Alec exactly as he had been left.
Alec looked up from his task of sifting through the profiles Magnus had been matched with mid-scroll and set the phone face down on the table beside him.
“Out of how many matches?”
Magnus’ insides sank under the weight of disappointment at both the lack of interest and the simple fact that even one interested individual could derail any chance there could be in the future to explore more than a friendship with Alec. Re-centering, Magnus inhaled deeply and busied himself with setting out their meal. He silently reasoned that he had only created his profile a few nights ago on Christmas Eve, and the holidays were a time where family, friends, travel, and work consumed many. There simply hadn’t been enough time to garner much interest, and Magnus needed to find some way to let his feelings for Alec go.
“And?” Magnus pressed at Alec’s continued silence as Alec began plating entree and sides.
It took more than a moment and Magnus giving a slight nod before Alec broke his silence.
“Oh. Um. Her name is Dot and she deals in antiquities.”
“Well, a woman past middle age would be outside of my normal type.” Magnus added a dumpling to his plate.
“I think you’d be surprised.”
The sly smirk on Alec’s face was one Magnus couldn’t recall having seen before—not even when Alec managed to absolutely stump him during exam study sessions—and Magnus ceded the round to him with a bow of his head.
“I shall defer to your good judgement, then, great Alexander.” Magnus answered Alec’s heavy sigh and eye roll with a wink. “Just know I have a full schedule until after New Years Eve.”
“I've never dabbled in antiquities,” Magnus mused offhandedly.
Alec settled in across from him. “I guess it just depends on how into vintage decor you are.”
“Speaking from experience?”
A heartbeat of a second passed before Alec seemed to recognize Magnus’ comment was meant as a light-hearted jab, but when he did, he breathed out a small laugh and shook his head.
“When Raj and I were looking to get a place together we ended up spending an entire day going from one antique gallery in Manhattan to another. He said he wanted something between retro and vintage. Whatever that means.”
“I had no idea you were into significantly older men.” Magnus grinned, elbow resting on the table and the tips of two fingers pressing against his temple. While he didn't know for certain, he had just assumed that Raj was similar in age to Alec.
“Raj is only a few months younger than I am.”
Magnus dismissed Alec’s confirmation with a wave of his hand. “Old souls.”
“I had forgotten how very like this”—Alec waved his hand awkwardly between them—“you are.”
Oddly, Magnus knew exactly what Alec was attempting to convey. Rather than be frustrated by it, the way Alec tucked his bottom lip under his teeth over a silent laugh that made his face light up and his shoulders shake, seemed to give away a sense of being charmed by it.
Magnus wanted to hope.
Pushing that thought as far away as he could, Magnus shifted in his seat, committing the tidbit about Raj’s age to memory even as he wondered if someone older might spark Alec’s interests, and stepped through the proverbial door Alec had cracked open.
“Tell me how you met Raj.”
“That is the most Alec Lightwood statement I have ever heard.”
“I can never be accused of being inconsistent.”
Nor would he. Alec was the epitome of consistency. A creature of habit. Not by choice, but by the structure under which he had been raised. Magnus didn't abhor structure necessarily, but to live life so rigidly and within the confines of a very neatly defined box seemed like only half an existence to him. And a maddening one at that.
“If you had to meet someone outside of work, what would be your ideal?”
Across from him, Alec stilled in the middle of catching noodles between his chopsticks, blinking absently. The blank look told Magnus everything he needed to know. He was going to have his work cut out for him in finding situations Alec could have the type of experience he wanted to have.
“How would you feel about some type of sporting event?”
Alec’s face scrunched into a half grimace.
“A lecture on a topic of interest to you?”
“That reminds me too much of work conferences.”
“An art gallery?”
“Do you ever feel like you’re supposed to know what the artist intended, but really it’s just this mashup of colors and that’s it?”
Magnus took that as a no.
“A cooking class?”
“My cooking is just fine.”
Alec was going to have to give Magnus something to work with if their plan was going to be successful. But all he was doing right now was making Magnus contemplate pulling out his perfectly-styled hair.
Unless Alec didn't want that part of the plan to be successful? The thought flitted out of Magnus’ mind as quickly as it had drifted in, but could it be as equally plausible as it was far-fetched?
Magnus flicked the thought away, unwilling to allow himself to get caught up in hypotheticals. That was how hearts got broken.
“Well, I guess I'm going to have to go the old-fashioned route and host a party in your honor and invite all the queer, single men I know.”
All color drained from Alec’s face.
“It'll be fabulous. And reminiscent of that party at Kappa Psi Kappa junior year.”
Alec shook his head, having somehow regained his senses. “Fabulous isn't exactly how I would describe that moment in time.”
“Alright. Enlighten me with the Lightwood perspective.”
“You were there.”
Indeed, Magnus had been. And he recalled an Alec Lightwood testing the limits of his own personal boundaries, exploring the world available to him on the other side of his barely-cracked-open closet door.
“I just remember you deep in conversation with a man that was comfortably fluid, and then ran up to me in a panic, preventing me from taking private French lessons from a foreign exchange student named Axel. Your gentleman had a strange name, what was it again?”
“Meliorn.” Alec turned from ghostly pale to crimson in an instant.
“Ah, yes,” Magnus grinned. “I wonder what the origin of that name is.”
“It doesn't matter. I was talking to him because he knew Izzy somehow, and the next thing I remember he was undressing me with his eyes like he had x-ray vision or something and telling me he wouldn't turn either Izzy or me down.”
“I had forgotten about that particular comment.”
Perhaps Magnus had forgotten the details because of unspoken intentions behind Meliorn’s words, or possibly because he hadn't wanted to think of Alec with someone else. Axel had been well on his way to providing Magnus with a distraction from having to entertain that notion.
“Still, weall have our own awkward encounters with the queer community when we first step into it. It's perfectly normal. But, if you're truly against a little soiree then I'll look into different meet-up groups and outings you might find interest in.”
“Is there nothing more one-on-one?”
“Only if you want to set up your own online dating profile.”
“That's not happening.”
“Then a group event it must be. It's casual, expectation free, and you get the chance to get to know other people before making a commitment. It's a win-win for you, and really no different from meeting someone at work. The activity is just far more enjoyable.”
Magnus swiveled in his chair at the sound of Clary’s voice, her arms laden with garment bags and a couple of boxes. “Ah, hello, Biscuit. You really should have let me arrange to have someone help you move everything.”
“That’s what she has me for.” Isabelle smiled, stepping up next to Clary, more garment bags draped over her arms. Apparently minimalist didn’t necessarily apply to Clary’s wardrobe.
“I’d ask to what I owe this pleasant surprise.” Magnus rose elegantly from his chair, beaming at Isabelle. “But it’s still my birthday month and I am apparently still meant to receive gifts.”
Smile as bright as Magnus had remembered it to be, Isabelle freed one arm and leaned in to the hug he was offering.
“I could say the same, since we are birthday twins. Even if I'd been hoping to run into you since Alec mentioned you were back in town.”
Isabelle’s eyes flashed devilishly for a moment, but like so many other little signs Magnus deemed insignificant, he simply filed it away as he appraised the stunned expression on Alec’s face that seemed to have everything to do with Isabelle unexpectedly being in Magnus' apartment.
Clary seemed to read it as well.
“Magnus is letting me stay here temporarily until I can get on my feet and translate art to income,” she explained.
“And I have no doubt that will become a reality after you meet with Aline.” Magnus smiled.
Alec simply nodded.
“And what brings you here, big brother?”
Her voice carried all the playfully teasing notes Magnus associated with close, familiar relationships.
“Catching up over dumplings,” Alec replied, and the firmness of his tone seemed to convey a desire to slam the brakes on her ideation.
With a slight turn of his head, Magnus caught Clary’s eye and the look they shared seemed to convey the idea that the exchange between Isabelle and Alec had a deeper context than what met the eye. And even without knowing that context, Magnus found the banter between siblings absolutely delightful.
After a moment’s silence in which Alec and Isabelle refused to look away from each other, Clary coughed. Magnus had a sense it was intentional but didn’t skip a beat. “Why don’t you get your belongings settled in your room, Biscuit. I’ll make cocktails in the meantime.”
“It’s lunchtime,” Alec pointed out.
“Cocktails aren’t just for the evening, big brother,” Izzy teased as she followed Clary out of the room, an impish grin on her lips. Magnus dared a glance at Alec, who was sitting with his mouth slightly agape and his eyes wider than normal. Magnus tried to remember if Alec’s eyes seemed darker before becoming distracted by Alec shaking his head at Isabelle, seemingly at a loss for a response.
Isabelle had struck a nerve, of that Magnus was certain. He was reminded of the moment after graduation when Alec had closed in on himself and left no opening for further banter or discussion when his parents approached him. Magnus didn’t know what Alec had or hadn’t told Isabelle, but the walls which had very distinctly been erected around him during his exchange with her gave Magnus a clarity he hadn’t had before, and it seemed that Alec hadn’t been able to move beyond feeling ashamed. He didn’t believe Alec felt ashamed of his sexuality in the same way he had back in college, and Magnus didn’t get the sense Alec was ashamed of him—he never had been before. But there was obvious discomfort and Magnus feared it had roots in wanting to keep their arrangement hidden from his siblings.
Taking his cue from Alec, Magnus sealed away any further conversation about what plans he might be able to put into play to find Alec a new significant other and went about making rum-spiked cider for the four of them. There would be time to brainstorm later when Magnus was alone, but for now, he poured the warm cocktail into four mugs and casually wandered back into the dining area as though the tone of the afternoon hadn’t changed at all.
“And what have you been up to, Magnus?” Isabelle inquired as Magnus set a mug of cider in front of her.
“Oh, just planning a small get together at Pandemonium for New Year’s Eve. Nothing major, of course.”
“Which means it will be the New Year’s Eve bash to end all others.” Clary smiled, hands curled around her mug.
“I would suggest you join me to find out, but I would hate to assume that you and your better halves haven’t already made plans.”
Alec cleared his throat. “I never have plans New Year’s Eve.”
“And it’s just me, myself, and I,” Clary added on.
“Simon and I haven’t actually finalized our plans.”
Magnus’ brow arched as his lip curled into a grin. Isabelle and Simon as an item intrigued him. Not because he thought they were a mismatched pair, but Magnus remembered Isabelle and Simon had always run in different crowds during school, and their one common link had been Clary. Once Clary had gone abroad, it would have been easy for Isabelle and Simon to go their own ways, and yet it seemed their paths had continued to converge until it was the same.
“In that case, I’ll put you all on the VIP guest list.”
Clary and Isabelle were enthusiastic with their acceptance of the invitation, but Magnus’ heart sank at Alec’s continued silence and the way he glanced down into his mug.
“And you?” Magnus coaxed, and though his tone was soft it didn’t betray the dismay settling over him.
“Magnus, it's….” Alec started, the release of a heavy breath and shifting in his chair told Magnus his eyes hadn't kept the secret nearly as well. “I just usually spend New Year's Eve at home.”
“But you've always been with Raj. This year you're not,” Isabelle jumped in. “You don't have to be out all night, but it might be good to spend some time away from home because I know you'll just end up working.”
“I'll even add Jace and a guest to the list,” Magnus offered.
“And we can be a badass single tag team.” Clary shrugged before breaking out into a grin.
“And being my VIP guests does have its perks.”
Magnus watched Alec's shoulders rise as he inhaled slowly and pursed his lips. “I'll think about it.”
It was as positive of an answer as Magnus could have hoped for knowing how Alec felt about crowds and parties. “If you do end up wanting to stay home, I get it. But a night out with friends, family, and a fabulous host in Pandemonium’s VIP area could be great for everyone.”
And if all went well, by the end of the night perhaps Magnus could have found Alec a match.The thought made Magnus’ stomach twist with discomfort, but it was exactly what he needed to do.
BIG NOTE: I don't have a regular update schedule. So know that while I am happy you are excited and want more LIKEOMGRIGHTNOW, I write as my full-time job and personal life allow. Sometimes I get content out faster, sometimes it's slower. But it will come.