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Eyes On Me

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International Latin Championships - 2016

“Are you serious? Changing the routine with five minutes to go?”

Camille gives him a sharp look. “Don’t be melodramatic,” she defends, sighing. “It’s just a small step. You can do a bontra bota fogo in your sleep, Magnus," she reminds him.

It doesn't comfort Magnus in the slightest.

He narrows his eyes. “Which is why I’d like to keep it in the routine," he says. Hesitating as one of the nearby judges catches his eye, Magnus plasters on a fake smile that would put any Oscar nominee to shame. When the guy moves out of his range, Magnus swallows back another retort. He faces Camille, who is staring out at the dancefloor they'll soon be heading onto. 

Magnus reaches out, touching Camille’s arm gently. The blood-red choker around her throat glistens like ice, and once again, he hesitates. 

“Camille, come on," he says, softer this time. "We’ve always started the routine with one. It’s our thing,” he tries to say it jokingly, but the desperate edge slips out. After all, it is their thing. No other couple starts facing each other, and it’s something he’s always liked to think is special. Something that connects them right from the start of the dance.

“Darling, really,” Camille says, “why are you still arguing? You know there’s a reason why I make the decisions, and you…dazzle.”

On anyone else’s lips, it would sound like a compliment. Magnus doesn’t miss her sly smirk, or the slightly raised eyebrow, that quirks as she slides her eyes up and down Magnus’ attire. Yes, he’s a little…sparkly, but it doesn’t take away the fact that he’s an incredible dancer with rock-hard abs and an ass to match. Camille's jibes often don't sting, but this one does. 

“You’ve always admired my dramatics,” Magnus mutters, coming closer again. He's beginning to worry now. “What’s changed, hm?” He slips an arm around her waist, and this time, Camille lets herself fall into his embrace. She smiles, and it’s more genuine. The tightness in his throat eases up. 

“Nothing, dearest,” Camille says, her voice as enticing as always. She uses her words like weapons sometimes, but Magnus adores her; sharpness and all. They’ll be partners forever, and it doesn’t faze him one bit when Camille cocks her head again.

“So, we’ll start without the step?”

She holds his gaze, standing her ground. 

After a few more moments, Magnus, as always, surrenders. "Of course," he agrees, not caring too much. Not really. 

It's a lie that keeps his spirits up in the remaining minutes of anticipation. After all, it’s not like they won’t have other dances and routines to work it into.

As the current couple take their bow and curtsy, Magnus gives himself a quick once-over, admiring the deep red of his half-open shirt, the snug-fitting black pants, and the gorgeous, custom shoes of black and red. The velvet laces match the bracelet cuffs, and Camille's choker, coordinating the outfits to perfection. 

He's still admiring his attire when the spotlight slowly makes its way over to them.

Camille is already holding out a hand, ready and waiting, with her gaze narrowing in on the judges' table. 

Eyes on the prize, Magnus thinks proudly. That's my girl.

Ignoring the small pocket of uncertainty from the routine change, Magnus pushes down the nerves and relishes in everything that comes next. As they prepare to make their way to the floor, the overhead voice announcing their arrival onto the polished, shiny stage. Magnus offers a hand, and Camille slips hers into it, her silk, gloved fingers warm and ready.

“Good luck, my dear,” Magnus says, smiling.

She turns away, focusing on the floor awaiting them. “We don’t need luck,” she says, lowly. “We always win.”

He doesn’t have time to frown, or eye roll at her own dramatics, because then they’re being ushered onto the dancefloor.

The overhead voice booms out their arrival. “And next up, are couple number 24, Camille Belcourt and Magnus Bane. Will they continue their winning streak this year? Today’s samba performance will decide if they take first, second or third place. Throughout the stages, this year, they’ve scored 98, consistently. Can they continue this streak and take the crown for a fourth time in a row? We’ll see. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for couple number 24!”

Magnus makes sure to spin Camille out nicely, so that they’re covering at least half the floor, and most of the audience’s attention. They bow and curtsy, elegant and rehearsed to perfection, before coming to stand together, near the centre of the empty floor.

The lights dim. The excited whispers simmer down to an almost silence. Magnus’ heartbeat is already racing, and he’s not danced a single, damn step yet, but Magnus swears that this is the greatest feeling. Facing away from Camille - yep, he definitely doesn't like this new arrangement - their necks stretched, and chins lifted, is an unstoppable feeling of raw energy. It stirs in sparks, ready to be sliced and moulded into a dance of quick steps, grins and flashy spins.

There’s something about the samba that resonates in Magnus’ blood. It’s always like this, the Latin dance competitions. His minutes of dancing forms a pocket of space where his entire body is lit up.

As the music starts, a quiet, but determined drum beat ascending in volume, Magnus starts to let his body unwind. He lets the tension become a shape he can turn into his own desired forms. It’s never a good idea to surrender to a dance. There has to be tension. There has to be focus. Finding the balance between that craftsmanship and the joy, and the energy, is what makes a dancer, a dancer.

As soon as Magnus takes the first step, Camille lifting an arm, and stepping away from his embrace, the world is theirs. They take control, take the audience with them on the two minute journey. Their whisks are smooth, their connection is – as many years of dancing has led to – strong and trusting. The damn reverse turn they spent an entire week mastering gets the crowd roaring.

Camille’s eagerness is, however, new. She’s dancing with her usual cool confidence, but she’s never lit up like this before. Magnus is pleased, albeit taken aback. What makes this final different to the others? Sure, a four-year win streak is incredible, but why is she wearing a smile fit for a queen?

They don’t just make it through the routine, they own it. They dance the steps with a comfortable tension born from a trusting partnership. Because Magnus trusts her, completely. Doesn’t he?

It’s all too easy to lose himself in the dance’s rhythm, in the drum beats and cheerful vocals. The audience is a good one, responsive and loud, but not distressingly so. Nothing is worse than having an audience that drowns out the music.

They nail their lifts and sneak in a few audience-winning moves - including Magnus' favourite, the individual hip rotations. It's always fun to surprise the audience, hold someone's gaze and do a full, tormentingly slow hip rotation. No poor guy or girl has ever passed out before, but there's always a first time for everything. He chooses a pretty girl with a blonde braid and stern eyes. She looks like she could use the wake-up. So he gives her a damn good one, eye contact, devastating grin and all, before rejoining Camille for their final section. 

The dance ends, and Magnus dips Camille, looking down and getting a lovely eyeful of her curves. He pulls her up with a smile, before once again spinning her out to take their bows. The cheers are more than music to their ears, it's magic.  It's Magnus knowing, with full certainty, that he's good enough. It's worth the blood, sweat, tears and glitter that have gone into the preparations.

Usually, they await their final marks with their School. The crew, and fellow dancers, from Pandemonium are on their feet, supporting and cheerful. But Camille doesn't head over to them. She tugs Magnus away, drawing them closer to where the other Schools are. By this point, the cameras are trained on them, so Magnus just goes with it. He waits, anxious and excited, and stares up at the huge scoreboard.

From the corner of his eye, Magnus notices a tall man dressed in a sharp suit. Standing with one of the rival companies, he's eyeing up Camille with an oddly satisfied look, like she's proven something to him. 

Thunderous applause deafens him. He turns, glancing up at the board, as a victorious '99' flashes across the screen.

One mark off, he thinks, grinning. Something to improve on next year.

Having said that, no one ever, in the history of Dancesport competitions, has won with a perfect '100'.

"We make an exquisite pair, don't we- Camille?"

His words trail off as he sees Camille walking off, barely giving the scoreboard another smile. Out of interest, and confusion, he follows on, as she comes to stand by the watching man from earlier.

He catches what they're saying, and then really wishes that he'd stayed ignorant. 

“Have you reached a verdict then, hm?” Camille is asking, her voice doing that low drawl when she really wants her way. 

The guy, presumably a teacher, is wearing the adorned crest of Dumort Academy on his jacket. They're one of the most prestigious Latin-dancing schools in the world. Why is Camille speaking with one of their teachers? Even stranger than that, why did it seem like they'd already met?

“We have.” The man holds out a hand, grinning. “Welcome to the Dumort Academy, Ms. Belcourt.”

They both still haven't noticed his arrival, but that all changes when Magnus can’t conceal the gasp that escapes his lips.

“What the hell?" he says, voice hoarse. "You're leaving Pandemonium?"

Camille spins around. For a moment, she looks unsure, though she doesn't once look guilty. And then those lips tug into a slow smile, and she keeps her head lifted high.

“This, dear, is Alexei de Quincey," Camille actually introduces them with a smile, as though Magnus is supposed to gush and cheer. "He’s on the administrations board for the Academy-“

“I can see that,” Magnus interrupts, trying to glare a furious hole into the crest. “Are you going to explain why he just offered you a transfer?" he demands. "Are you changing Schools? I’d hate to get the wrong impression.”

He’s glad the coolness in his voice is steady, and nothing like the frenzied fear working up a storm inside his chest. There’s no way, surely, that Camille is doing what he thinks she’s doing.

When she says nothing, Magnus starts clicking things into place. “So that’s why you wanted to adapt the routine. You were going by their criteria. You used our final dance as an audition. God,” he hisses the word, shaking his head, “how could I not see that?”

Because you’re a fool, and you’re in love, and Camille knows that.

Camille pays no attention to his mild breakdown, and simply looks apologetically at the guy. “Give me a few moments, please. I’ll be ready to sign as soon as possible.” She gives him a tight smile, and the red from her lipstick glistens like thick wine. Or blood.

When the guy leaves, his smug face disappearing before Magnus can punch a black eye into it, Camille turns to Magnus again. She sighs, grabs his arm, and tugs him towards one of the quieter parts of the huge hall. They reach the changing rooms, pushing past congratulating dancers and happy faces. It all becomes a blur. Magnus ignores it, only staring down at Camille's hand.

As soon as they reach where their bags and things are, Camille faces him with a frustratingly calm expression. 

“Oh, don’t look at me like that,” she says airily, holding up a finger. “I didn’t betray you. We’ve danced together for so long, you must be bored as well.” She leans back against the wall. 

At that, Magnus snaps completely. “Bored? he repeats, incredulously, torn between fury and hurt. He shakes his head, confronting the woman who’s supposed to be his anchor, the one who understands. And yet here they are, a partnership fading as quickly as smoke.

“How could I be bored?” he retorts angrily, “I love you.”

Damn it.

He really didn’t mean to throw that out there. Especially not now, when Camille is clearly already moving very swiftly on.

She barely bats an eyelash. “I never asked you to,” she says icily. She runs her hands across her dress, smoothing down the ruffles. 

The cruelty in that renders Magnus speechless. He swallows, ignoring the sting of tears that prick behind his eyelids. How can he argue with that? It’s true. No one forced him to fall in love with Camille, someone who’s unafraid to bathe in selfish whims, and take, take, and no give. She's never pretended to worship him. Whatever his mind tricked him into thinking isn't her fault.

This is Magnus’ fault, entirely.

And now he’s paying the price for it, both on and off the dancefloor.

How can it be that only minutes ago he was celebrating another victory, on top of the world and feeling like a king?

Now he’s crashing down and no one’s offering a hand. Certainly not Camille.

“So, what? That’s it?” Magnus eventually asks, hating how tired he sounds, like giving up is just a normal part of his job. “You’re ending our…partnership?”

Camille is facing away from him, bending over as she digs around in her bag. She's not even giving him the cutesy of facing her pride.

“I really do think you’re exaggerating,” she says. “We’ll find ourselves dancing together soon. This one won’t last long, but I want to squeeze a good year or two out of him-"

“Are you kidding?” he demands. He doesn't even want to know who she's referring to, only hopes that her new partner knows what he's getting into. He holds up a hand, pinching the bridge of his nose with the other.

“Actually, don’t answer that. I don’t care. I’m done.” Magnus straightens, and quickly busies himself with gathering up his belongings. He shrugs on his jacket, zipping it with shaking fingers.

“I’m not sitting around waiting for you to come back," he says. "I can have a new partner in a heartbeat.”

Camille gives a little shrug. “Then why are you still here?” she asks. For a second, something that’s almost regret flashes across her face, but then it disappears. “Can I keep the trophy, darling?"

The question cuts Magnus open like a dull knife, aching hurt mixing in with his wounded pride. 

He nods once. "Why the hell not? It’s the only thing you can commit to, after all. Winning,” Magnus snarls. It's not really an insult when Camille looks incredibly happy with her double victory. 

He slings his bag over his shoulder and decides to change shoes later. He really can't stand looking at Camille for another second. 

As he rushes out, unable to rejoin his fellow dancers and co-workers after that, Magnus keeps his head bowed so no one catches sight of him. He's trying to hide the tears forming in his eyes as well, and because he's looking down, he almost collides with a guy near the hall's entrance. 

He doesn’t look up, just hears a brief, gruff, ‘oof’ and then side steps. The guy is pretty tall, but he doesn’t appear intimidating. He even holds out a hand to grip Magnus’ shoulder, steadying him on instinct.

“Shit, sorry,” Magnus mutters to the stranger, and then darts around him, rushing for the exit before any other awkward bumps occur. He leaves behind the sounds of clapping and music and racing heartbeats.

He heads for the nearest taxi stand, says the address of the bar, and falls into the backseat. He's still crying ten minutes later, the whirlwind experience rendering him speechless. He's gone from winning and powerful, to dropped and replaced. He's won another trophy, but lost a woman he thought he'd love forever. 

With literally nothing else to do, he texts Cat and Ragnor to meet him an hour early at the bar, and then slips the newspaper out from his bag. They always head out for victory drinks after a competition, but Magnus knows that the drinks will be for an entirely different reason this time.

Blinking away the tears, Magnus folds the newspaper over, revealing the front cover:

ANNOUNCEMENT:

As of the Spring 2017 season, same-sex couples will be welcomed onto the Ballroom dancefloor! 

See inside for details on the rule that'll shake up the world! 

“Oh, whoa,” Magnus mutters, shocked enough to let the words slip into the air. The driver quirks an eyebrow, but doesn’t comment. Magnus brushes away his tears, and scans the article, before giving it a second, more thoughrough reading.

Well, then, he thinks.

If it's some sort of sign, he'll take it. In the twenty minute cab ride, he formulates a plan, an idea that’ll have revenge on Camille, self-satisfaction, and hopefully, save a lot of miserable kids.

He looks out of the window, and smiles.

I’m going to win again next year, and it’s going to be for better reasons than revenge. 

He’s going to prove to himself, and the world, that he’s still going strong. He’s still the best of the best, with or without Camille.

More importantly, there's another - liberating - cause to fight for.

Magnus thinks back to growing up, to the occasional name-calling and sneers thrown his way. Dancing is a sport, and it's also an art. It's about time that the world wakes up and sees that.

Magnus glances at the headline again, and finally, smiles.

He vows, I'm going to win in the first same-sex partnership.

~

2 months later

"You’re making this ten times more difficult for yourself. Just dance in the Latin Championships again.”

“For the last time, I’m not doing this to prove anything to Camille. I could compete there if I wanted to, but I don't. Besides, I need a challenge. I’ve not danced Ballroom in years, and competing in it has always been a dream of mine."

"Right next to giving your poor friends whiplash," Catarina mutters. 

Magnus responds with a content shrug, watching his two friends cut into their grilled fish tacos and chicken salads. They've been sitting in Cafe Colette for only twenty minutes, but already Magnus has a feeling that today is going to be a very productive day. At last. It's been a while since the dreaded incident last haunted his dreams. Yes, he still sometimes thinks about Camille, but he's gotten used to the occasional sympathetic look thrown his way. Despite taking some time off - and thankfully, with all the hours of training he's put in, he can afford to - Magnus still choreographs, from wedding dances to performances. It's the one work enjoyment he's kept up, needing something to focus on. 

Well, and this, the plan for the Spring Ballroom season of competing.  

His two best friends, Ragnor and Catarina, have finally agreed to help him move the plan into action. They've gathered at their favourite cafe for brunch, but Magnus realises he's the only one getting a good grilling. 

Ragnor, helpful as always, chimes in, "Also, you don’t have any Ballroom friends. How will you find a partner?”

“Thank you, Ragnor. Always a pleasure.” 

“What our friend is trying to say,” Catarina glares at him and finishes, “is that you need a partner. Someone who also wants to prove that the new rule was a good move. You want to win for the right reasons, yes?”

Magnus nods. “I’m not entirely vain, you know,” he comments, stabbing a fork into his mushroom and hall frittata. “Liking the limelight isn’t a bad thing, but you’re right, this is a big change." His thoughts turn to the traditionalists, and he can't keep the grimace at bay. "I’m sure the dancing committees are just waiting for a disaster so they can rush to return to tradition," he mutters.

“Exactly,” Catarina agrees. “You have to choose carefully. Put together a team you can rely on.”

It would be too easy if Cat and Ragnor were fellow dancers, but they weren't. His two friends were, however, top-notch journalists, writing for two papers that have often given Magnus great publicity, when he needs it, and kept him out of it too. It's why not many papers ran a story on Magnus and Camille's separation. Of course, some did, and news travels fast, but it was still a massive help.

Still, the temptation for an easy way out is there. Magnus thinks for a few moments, before turning to Ragnor and narrowing his eyes.

“You,” he says, pleadingly, “partner me.”

Ragnor replies with an undignified snort, so loud that it actually draws the attention of a few other coffee lovers. One guy cocks his head, widening his eyes, and Magnus wonders if he recognises him. When he offers a wave, and a charming smile, the man grins back, wiggling his fingers at him before burying himself intensely in his book again.

“I take it that was a resounding no?” Magnus half-asks, half-sighs. He turns away from the cute guy and relapses back into silence, thinking.

He needs a good partner. No, an excellent one; someone who can match his pace and level, but also form a good connection. They only have a few months to train, so he needs to get a move on, especially with the competitions already beginning soon. All the hype and publicity will then lead into the qualifier rounds. Every dancing couple needs support, and a team, ready to go by then.

Business-like, Cat decides to furrow in her bag. She pulls out a notepad, pen, and plasters on an award-winning smile.

“Right,” she begins. “Firstly, you need a tutor. Not a choreographer. You'll do that, yes?" She barely gives him a second to nod, before continuing. "And more importantly, a Ballroom School to dance under their name.”

“Ah, I’ve got this one sorted,” Magnus says, allowing his smile to turn smug. When his friends give him pointed, inquiring looks, he leans back in his chair, draping an arm over the side. “Jocelyn’s daughter, Clary. She has a friend who dances Ballroom.”

“Jocelyn? Oh, Luke’s other half.”

Magnus nods in confirmation. “Yep. That’s the one." He smiles, thinking about the pair. Jocelyn and Luke live along the same block, and they've been friends for a while. "She spoke to her daughter, who’s kindly offered to introduce me to the girl.”

“Right. Name,” Catarina inquires, pen at the ready.

“Isabelle Lightwood.”

This time, Ragnor’s scoff becomes a splutter of disbelief. He looks mortally wounded when tea spills onto the table, rendered undrinkable now.

Magnus hides his guilty grin. He knew the name would stir up some surprise.

“Oh, do you know of her?” he asks innocently.

Even Cat’s focused look has become softer. “The Isabelle?” she asks. “Who partners her brother, Alec? Daughter of Maryse and Robert Lightwood, who won the American Ballroom Championships seven years running? Oh, yes, no big deal.” Catarina gives a slow whistle of approval. “It really is about who you know.”

“It is,” Magnus agrees. "As a journalist, I thought you'd know this, dear," he teases, laughing when Cat gives him a dry look in reply.

But he is grateful for Jocelyn, and Clary, agreeing to help him out. It’s not like they’ve promised him a partner, but they’ve given him a starting point. Even if Isabelle can’t help, Magnus hopes that he can be pointed in the right direction.

“How’d you swing that one?” Ragnor asks, mildly impressed but trying hard not to show it.

Magnus cradles his mug in his hands, blowing gently on the hot drink. “Clary owes me,” he explains. “I was her model for her final college art project. My beautiful face still hangs up in the corridor somewhere.”

Ragnor winces. “Poor students.”

“They’re blessed,” Magnus argues, taking a sip to indicate his silent refusal to sink any further to his friend’s level.

“Mm. Sure.”

“Anyway,” Catarina says, raising her voice a little, “the point is…?”

Grateful for her refocusing, Magnus says, “She can introduce me to Isabelle, who I’ve heard lovely things from.” Magnus thinks for a moment. He’s only caught glimpses of the Lightwood talent, but he knows that Isabelle and Alec are almost unbeatable. Two years ago, they placed second at the International Ballroom Championships for the second year, but last year they were beaten by The Circle Company’s brightest star, Jonathan Morgenstern, last year, who made a shocking comeback after a year ban. Turns out the dancing board weren’t really a fan of drug-induced stamina.

“Okay, so you have a contact.” Catarina pauses. “You still need a school.”

“I do. Isabelle’s.”

Ragnor opens his mouth to retort, but then he hesitates. Something clouds across his expression, a sort of gentle worrying.

“Yes,” he begins, slowly, “because their school will welcome someone like you.” He meets Magnus’ eyes, and there’s no judgement there, just friendly concern.

“A Latin dancer, you mean?” Magnus asks carefully. “Don’t be a snob. I'm sure they value all dance styles.” He stares down at his mug again, before returning to his food, not sure whether to defend or agree. Dancers usually perform in both the Latin and Ballroom categories, and then specialise during older ages, if they desire. The Lightwoods are classically taught and lean towards the Ballroom competitions. It’s why Magnus rarely crosses their path. Until now, he’s been a Latin star, and seen no use in competing professionally in Ballroom. But he’s well aware of the divides between the styles.

Which is why he hopes, with this new rule change, the social stigmas surrounding dance can be challenged. Snobbery exists across the board. Magnus hopes to rinse it out like a bad hair dye job.

Ragnor seems to be on the same track. “Yes,” he says, “but their School is a Ballroom legend. Classic. Snobs.” Ragnor re-emphasises. “They’ll think you’re taking the piss by wanting to flaunt the rule change in their faces.”

“I’m not,” Magnus insists. “I want to do this. Besides," he says carefully, "what’s so bad about the new rule?”

“Nothing,” Cat quickly says. She glares across the table, at Ragnor, until he huffs out a sound that’s supposed to be apologetic.

“We’re just…concerned,” Ragnor finally settles on the words. He turns to look at Magnus, and Magnus can’t be too angry given how supportive his friends have been, despite their teases. They've been his rock these past couple of months. 

Just when he’s about to open his mouth and thank them, Magnus watches Ragnor’s smirk return.

“Besides, I’m inviting myself along to watch this backfire brilliantly.”

“Supportive as ever.”

Ragnor lifted his tea cup. “You bet.”

~

“Magnus Bane?”

Alec has to ask twice, just to make sure he didn’t hit his head on the way into the room. Surely his imagination isn’t that oddly specific, to fake-hear that a famous Latin dancer in heading to The Clave's School.

“You heard correct, big brother. Magnus Bane. The one, the only. Also known as the Prince of Salsa. Those hips.” Izzy giggles, and makes a little spin, the fringe hemline of her dress fanning out. She sighs deeply. “I wish Magnus was under our School, then we could partner up.”

“I’m right here, Iz,” Alec deadpans, pointing.

Isabelle just laughs, dismissing his narrowed eyes with a grin. “Oh, come on. You know I’d never abandon you, big brother, but…Magnus. Bane.” She laughs again. “He’s amazing. Almost as talented as me.”

“Almost,” Alec says, and fondly taps her nose. They’re alone, just the pair of them occupying the wonderfully spacious practise room 2. He has to teach the under 11s in a hour, but for now, he’s spending some time with Izzy, going over a couple of new sequences they might include in this season’s routines.

It’s months to go before the qualifiers, but as Alec always likes to think, it’s never too early to polish shoes, learn lifts, and choreograph in advance.

“Why’s he coming?” Alec asks, trying to keep his tone flat and casual.

“Clary said he’s interested in Ballroom again. He could just be polishing up his skills.”

Processing this, Alec continues to sift through the music selection, trying to find one of his favourites. He’s standing on the raised platform at the end of the floor, where the stereo systems and music is kept. From his spot, he can look up and see Isabelle, who’s taken to waltzing around the room, occasionally stopping to eye up the surrounding mirrors that encircle the large room. Wooden floorboards, mirrors, and shiny shoes: the title of Alec’s future autobiography, not that he’d ever let the public in to see his personal life.

You don’t have one, his brain chimes in.

He finally finds the chosen CD, and ignores the little ache in his stomach that accompanies that thought. Slotting the music in, he steps down from the platform and comes back over to Isabelle.

“I didn’t know Magnus dances Ballroom.”

Izzy nods. “Yes. Not competitively though.”

“That’s a good thing,” Alec admits. “We might actually have competition then.”

Isabelle agrees with a small hum, and then holds out her arms, grinning as he takes her into hold. There’s no need for words, not usually, but they’re just practising, so Alec doesn’t grill her too firmly. She’s an exquisite dancer, and not for the first time, Alec has to swallow down the rising bile of jealousy. Well, shame, more than angry pride. Isabelle is a natural performer. Alec can dance the steps perfectly, and smoothly, but he’s never been able to…dazzle. Not like Izzy can. He’s the dull silver that Isabelle adds shine to as she twirls around on the floor with him.

As they spin around, laughing occasionally, and swiping each other when their toes slip, Alec starts to think about the other dancer again. There are countless people who would partner Magnus, so why is he dropping out of Latin completely?

As if sensing his thoughts, Isabelle heads over to the low bench, reaching for the water bottle. She takes a quick swig, gulping, and then frowns.

“He’s probably not entering this year," Izzy suggests. Her eyes flash with anger. "Not after the Camille thing. I suspect you wouldn’t want to trust another partner after that.”

Alec hides his scowl. “Seriously, who dumps their partner right after a Championships win?” He stares into the mirror, a hard look in his eyes as he remembers the awful event. He’d actually watched the pair dance their victory samba. He’s not often gone to watch the Latin events, as they’re on different days to the Ballroom contests, but he offered to pick Isabelle and Lydia up after they're done watching. The pair always go to watch, Izzy, in particular, having an equal enjoyment for the faster dances.

He also remembers the other moment, the one he’s still not told Isabelle about. There’s not much to tell, anyway. Colliding with Magnus, as he stormed out of the room, doesn’t seem like something to brag about. Not when the poor guy looked close to tears, and Alec hadn’t said a damn word, just watched him leave, biting his tongue.

In the months that followed, Magnus has been quiet. The Spring season for the International Championships begins in April, which is a couple of months away, but still, couples usually began announcing their partnerships soon, and entering other contests to gain publicity and popularity.

When Isabelle gives a sad shrug, Alec shakes his head, confusion still driving him onwards. “I mean, they were unstoppable. From what I’ve heard,” he adds quickly. He turns away from the mirror, kicking at a small crack between the floorboards. “Why would you give that up?”

Give Magnus up, he wants to add, but the words stay silent. They reveal a little too much enthusiasm for the other dancer. Enthusiasm that Alec doesn’t want confused with…adoration. Respect for Magnus is one thing. Admiration is another.

He’s never properly met the guy – Ballroom and Latin events are usually on separate days - but Alec knows that Magnus isn’t one of those dancers, or people, that you drop. He’s someone you keep around for as long as possible.

“Oh my god. Alec,” Izzy suddenly says. Her eyes are wide.

“What?”

“You don’t think…this is about the rule?”

“The new rule?”

“Yes!” Isabelle cries.

“And why is any of this related to us?” Alec asks, trying to keep his voice flat and unaffected. But if he’s honest with himself, he’s been thinking about that rule. A lot. What does it mean for the future of dancing? What does it hold for young dancers who can’t force intimacy with society’s preferred match for them?

In his dreams, everything goes smoothly, and there’s no such thing as closeting or shame. Realism crushes those hopes quickly. Alec just bites his tongue, waiting for the inevitable mess that this rule will cause. People, in his experience, don’t like change. He doesn’t give himself the freedom to make his own opinion. That’ll mean actually taking an interest in dancing as a personal enjoyment, and that intimacy isn’t something that Alec is ready for.

Will he ever be?

“Because we’re a top School,” Isabelle is saying, oblivious to his hidden dilemmas. “He needs publicity. A new angle. After Camille, he’s probably looking for a new start. Do you think he’s coming for-“

“- a new partner,” Alec finishes. “In Ballroom. Makes sense. We’ll just have to wait and see. I doubt mom is going to be happy.”

“With a dance god shaking up the tradition?” Isabelle snorts. “That’s putting it mildly. She can’t stand Latin. Thinks it’s all gyrating and porno music.”

Alec swallows. “It is more…intimate.”

“Don’t be a snob, Alec,” Isabelle warns him. “Mom and dad are always making it seem like Ballroom is better just because it’s rooted in tradition. It’s classic. Whatever.” She waves a hand in dismissal. “Latin is about fire and passion, but also control. You sure don’t land American Spins without serious focus and balance.”

“What’s an American Spin?” Alec asks, helplessly intrigued.

Izzy does a turn on one foot, spotting carefully, and quickly spinning once. Even she wobbles. “See? Difficult.”

Alec watches her little demonstration with a smirk. “I’ll take your word for it,” he surrenders.

“Besides, the tango is just as…intimate," she repeats with a wink.

“Which is why we don’t make up stories when we dance. That would be weird.”

Isabelle laughs in agreement. “True.”

Most Ballroom dances allow for creative freedom, especially in the higher ranks. Alec and Isabelle, being pros- Gold level - means that instead of performing alongside others in competitions, each couple is given a minute and a half on the floor. Some couples liked to build characters and stories, using props and anything to make them stand out.

Alec and Isabelle, thanks to their parents, tend to stick to tradition; simple yet precise, flawless routines. Their forms are sharp, and their footwork is never a step out of place. Isabelle’s charm is enough to get them noticed, and Alec is always there to show her off. The lifts are what really wins them the contests. Dancing with your sibling means that you grow up learning how to throw them over your shoulder. Where other couples waste time learning to trust, Alec and Izzy are always ready to try out new lifts and fit them seamlessly into their dances.

Tradition, Alec knows, is what gives the School its reputation. Their parents are dancing, and teaching, legends, and Alec and Izzy are well on their way to following in their footsteps.

If the pressure doesn’t kill us first.

“So, when’s he coming?”

Isabelle smiles, slow and knowingly. “Why? You wanna meet him?”

“Doesn’t everyone?” Alec counteracts.

Isabelle nods in agreement, but there’s still that look in her eyes, like she knows more than she’s letting on. What is his sister up to now? 

"Right," Alec begins, stretching out his neck. He silences all other thoughts and refocuses. "I have a class soon, so I'd better go." He leans in and offers Izzy a quick hug. "See you later, Iz."

She gives a little wave, continuing to use the open space to practice, but as soon as he's halfway out of the room, the music silences. A few seconds later, another track starts playing. Drum beats sing out, and a quick, jazz piece comes from the speakers. 

Alec's pretty sure it's a Jive song, but he doesn't say anything.

He'll let Izzy have her dream, and keep his own to himself as well.

As he walks to find his classroom, readying to teach for the day, Alec keeps tracking back to the new rule. It's been an unspoken thing in his family. No one's commented much on it. He knows that Maryse finds it distasteful.

Alec glances around and then considers something else.

What would it be like to dance professionally with another guy? Would he have to force intimacy, or would it surprise him, and enjoyment would finally be within his grasp?

He switches on the lights, bathing in the soft glow and the empty room. Dozens of himself stare back from the mirrors, watching, waiting.

Alec keeps staring, but nothing changes.

~

“Biscuit, please hurry up,” Magnus calls from the bottom of the steps. “Your shortness does not allow for bad time management.”

The accused time-waster lifts her chin, but it still only gives her enough height to make her nose visible.

“If I wasn’t holding boxes right now,” comes the muffled reply, “I’d hit you.”

Magnus chuckles as he comes up to assist her. “Noted,” he says, saluting once. He takes one of the cardboard boxes from Clary’s arms, and walks the rest of the way to the car with her.

The car is parked only a short walk down the street from the dorm room and so they exchange some small talk, catching up. It’s been a while since he’s seen Jocelyn’s daughter, who has now graduated art school with – to no one’s surprise – top marks and an exciting future ahead of her. He smiles warmly as she proudly talks about her work, and he offers a brief overview of his life, explains how he’s still working as a choreographer, just not dancing for a little while.

Thankfully, Clary doesn’t press for details, but he catches her understanding look. He has a feeling that Jocelyn must’ve told her daughter about recent events.

“Final box,” Clary announces. She finishes straightening it in the boot and then sighs. Her red hair is in a tight ponytail, and there are paint smudges across her forehead.

Magnus leans forwards and swipes his thumb over them, rubbing carefully. “You’re wearing your art again, dear.”

“She is the art.” A tall, gangly boy with a wide grin and handsome face comes bouncing down the road. He’s got a suitcase dragging behind him, and wears a plaid shirt, jeans and pair of sunglasses that Magnus suppresses a grin at. It’s not warm here, given the February weather, but where the pair are heading is sunglasses weather.

“Charming boy.” Magnus grins. He greets the newcomer with a quick once-over, deciding that there’s something lovely about the boy, something open and honest. “Bet you win over all the ladies with that suave?”

The guy cocks his head, lips twitching. “You assume I like girls?” he challenges, not unkindly.

“Touche,” Magnus says. He turns to Clary and points to her friend. “I like this one. Keep him.”

The guy grins back. He’s bouncing on the spot, energy spilling out of him, and Magnus remembers hearing from Jocelyn that Clary’s best friend is a musician. As he notices the guy’s restless finger-tapping and nose twitching, Magnus accepts this without a doubt.

Clary shakes her head, fondly smiling as she comes to stand beside him. “This,” she begins, “is Simon Lewis. My best friend.” Clary pinches his cheek between her fingers and he squirms, but laughs and lets her come around to jump onto his back.

She wraps her arms around Simon’s neck, smirking as she says, “He doesn’t care what you have between your legs, as long as you’ve seen Star Wars.”

An idea lights up Simon’s face. “I’m changing my Twitter bio to that,” he happily says. He shifts, helping Clary climb back down to the ground. They help load Simon’s luggage into the boot of the car, and then head inside, with Simon holding the door open for his friend.

Magnus climbs into the passenger side, already feeling less tense as he embraces Clary and Simon’s warm, friendly natures. He places his messenger bag down on the floor, leaning back and waiting for Clary to climb into the front.

Before she starts the engine, she meets Simon’s gaze, holding it through the front mirror. “Definitely all set? No turning back,” she warns.

“Yep.”

“Good. This gal is ready for a vacation.”

“How long are you going for?” Magnus asks conversationally. He stares out of the window, admiring the colours and busy streets that pass them by. New York is always ready for something, and Magnus hopes it’s a good day to be a part of an adventure.

“Two weeks,” Clary replies. “I think that’s enough time to get arrested, blank out half the stuff, and wake up surrounded by strangers.”

“I,” Simon says, loudly, “on the other hand, will settle for finding some vintage arcade games.”

Magnus grins in approval. The two new graduates are heading on a two week trip to Vegas. That means preparing for a lot of weird drunken Snapchat stories as well as mushy voicemails. He absolutely cannot wait, and promises to be the one to bail them out if all goes to hell.

They were calling it their ‘best friends go wild’ trip; an end of college holiday that Magnus hopes doesn’t end in handcuffs. They were finally twenty-one, but still, Magnus can’t help but be a little worried. Clary’s fiery nature works well for art, but means she’s a little unpredictable and stubborn in every other aspect of her life.

But, Magnus doesn’t protest too much, because they’re being kind enough to drop Magnus off at the dance school downtown, close to Fifth Avenue. Clary is going to introduce him to the Lightwoods, and then say goodbye before ‘shit goes down’ – Clary’s words, not his, but she also wants to say goodbye to Isabelle before they head off to return their things to home before catching a flight to Vegas.

“So,” Simon says from the backseat, his eager eyes on Magnus, “you want to take on the Ballroom world, huh? Latin wasn’t enough for you, greedy,” he teases, knee still bouncing up and down.

Clary shoots him a warning look. “Simon,” she mutters.

That settles it then, Magnus thinks. They definitely know, or have been told about his broken partnership. Silence hovers in the air, but poor Simon doesn’t seem to get the hint.

“What?” he says, frowning. His expression is sympathetic as he says, “I was just saying that he’s already won the Latin Championships like three times, why can’t I….Oh.” When he breaks off, Simon ducks his head, sheepish. “Your ex,” he mutters. “Sorry.”

Magnus quickly holds up a hand, waving it off. “No apology needed,” he promises, but the tightness in his throat lingers for a while afterwards.  

“She didn’t deserve you,” Clary says firmly. “On, or off the stage.” Her eyes catch his for a moment, and Magnus is happily surprised by the fierceness in them.

“Thank you,” he says quietly. He turns back to window-gazing, where the world outside is wider, filling in the hollow cracks of his still-wounded heart.  “Besides,” he says casually, “Camille isn’t all bad.”

A sigh comes from the back seat. “Plus, those legs,” Simon says.

Magnus would laugh if the ache would just go away already.

“Yes,” he says, grateful for the pair no longing bouncing around the subject. He needs to start getting used to talking about it. Why not start now? “Her physical aspects are quite nice too,” Magnus admits, “but she is fun. Was. Was fun. And…dangerously confident. More so than me.”

Now it’s his turn to trail off, unsure where that point was even going.

Clary shakes her head. Her eyes are trained on the road, but she grips the wheel tighter, her lips taut with anger. “You’re confident. She’s manipulative,” Clary says. “You don’t push others down to feel good about yourself.”

As they reach a light, Clary pauses and turns to smile at him, reaching out with a hand to cover his forearm.

“You’re too good for her,” she gently repeats. Her lips pull up at the corners mischievously. “And, we’re going to find you a new partner. Someone who actually deserves to dance with you.”

Warmth settling around the ache, dissolving it a bit more, he smiles. “That would be nice,” Magnus admits. Simon agrees with a thumbs up.

“Isabelle will find you someone,” Clary says, “I promise. That girl knows so many beautiful boys and girls, I swear it’s like going clubbing with the cast of Game Of Thrones.”

Simon chimes in, “But without the violent deaths?”

“Only little deaths,” Clary retorts, winking through the mirror.

It even takes Magnus a moment to get that innuendo. He waits until the next red light and offers Clary a fist bump in reward, and they laugh as Simon scrunches up his nose and silently puzzles it over in the back for the rest of the ride.

After another ten minutes, Clary pulls up in front of a large building. It looks smaller than he expected, but the marble is polished and clean, and the two columns beside the two make it look like an Ancient Greek temple. It’s on a busy street, but tucked away, giving it that nice, approachable feeling that Magnus didn’t expect from a top-ranking dance School. He doesn’t see people rushing out, tears in their eyes, or hear the screams from harsh instructors.

“And here we are,” Clary says, a few moments later, when they’re standing before the large staircase leading up to the door. “The Clave’s School of Ballroom Dancing.”

Magnus cocks his head to the side. “Bit of a mouthful,” he says, anything to cover up the nervous clenching in his stomach.

“Got that right.” Simon nods, coming to stand beside them. “We just call it The Institute.”

Magnus blinks, half-turning to face the boy. “That makes absolutely no sense,” he says flatly. “Explain.”

“Because when you leave, you don’t get out.”

“Jesus Christ,” Magnus mutters. “This is dancing, people, not an asylum. I suppose they think it’s all work and no play.”

He doesn’t need to wait for a confirmation. The silence is all he needs.

Noticing his displeased – perhaps frightened – look, Clary gives his arm a comforting pat.

“They’re tough, but they get results,” she reminds him. “They came close to winning last year, but this year, I think it’s their time. So they’re under a lot of pressure from their parents. Play nice,” Clary warns. “If you hurt my friend, I’ll fight you.”

Magnus nods, but can’t help but slyly ask, “When you’re back from prison?”

Clary takes this in her stride. “Yep. But I will come back early if you make Izzy cry.”

The first to head up the stairs, Simon nods in agreement. “Same,” he says, as they catch up with him. “I mean, Isabelle can take care of herself but…I can be a cheerleader.”

Magnus studies the guy for a moment, before giving a small hum of approval. “You’d look stunning with pigtails, Simon,” he teases. “Am I sensing a little crush there, hm?”

“W-what? No, that’s, that’s—“

They reach the top of the stairs and Clary saves him with a shrug. “It’s Isabelle. Everyone has a crush on her. Wait till you see her, you’ll understand.”

“I’ve seen her before, you know. Briefly. Well, in a photo.”

“Well, they’re all stunning." Clary holds open the door and ushers them inside. "Come on, let’s go introduce you to the Lightwoods. This should be interesting."

Simon ducks under her arm, muttering, "And by interesting, you mean soul-sucking.”

“The worst kind of sucking,” Magnus says.

Clary wrinkles her nose. “Gross.”

“Then they’re not doing it right.”

Clary laughs, and even Simon smiles, but as soon as they push open the double doors, a strange tension settles over the trio.

There’s a class underway in the main room – a large wooden floor surrounded by mirrors, and a small stage for stereos and equipment towards the front. The velvet curtain draping down the walls are rich purple, and elegant, as is the tall woman addressing a group of teens. Her expression is stern, and her hair is pulled back so tightly into a bun that Magnus fears it might be giving her permanent Botox. 

“…and where was the rise and fall?" the woman snaps. "These are the very basics. Form, poise, holding up the frame. You cannot, and must not, overlook them. Because the judges will most definitely be looking for any slip ups." She snaps her fingers, pointing to the floor. "So, again. Get into hold.”

As the group of students rush to partner up, Clary leans and whispers, “And that, is Maryse Lightwood.”

"I figured," Magnus says. "The horns gave it away."

Simon waits behind the nearby column, eyes scanning over the impressive collection of awards and trophies lining the walls and shelves.  

“Are you sure she’s related to this friend of yours?” Magnus asks quietly, as they watch the teens partner up and hold a pose that looks incredibly graceful, but also uncomfortable. Their backs are arching and their knees are bent, waiting for the next instruction.

“Yeah. She’s a badass though,” Simon says. “Always has a winner in every ballroom category. From the toddlers to the over 60s. They’re pretty awesome.”

Magnus swallows back the sudden rush of nerves. He’s good, but he’s beginning to question why Maryse, or any of the Lightwoods, will want to help him challenge the status quo of dancing. Especially if it means he’ll be going against their own. Why would Maryse let him take away their reputation? Let him challenge the very same authority that has produced winners each year?

After another moment of watching, Clary tugs them both away from the class, and down another, long hallway. 

“This way," she says. There are lots of doors, and music drifting around the place, and Magnus likes the rhythm of the place. Even if it’s Ballroom, there’s still a lovely chaos of bodies rushing around, and steps being counted, and songs being repeated. Dance, of any kind, is a home for Magnus. He can already feel himself relaxing as Clary knocks on one of the red doors.

It opens, and a stunning brunette with a beaming smile opens the door. She peers out, sees who it is, and then opens the door fully. She wraps her arms around Clary and squeezes her waist. Magnus smiles as the two girls hug, and then the brunette pulls back and pouts. It’s a pout that puts even Magnus’ to shame.

“You’re leaving me, Clary Fairchild,” the girl says sadly. Her eyes narrow playfully as she points to Simon. “And you, you had better take care of my girl. If anything happens, I’m taking back that Pokémon gym from you.”

“Isabelle,” Simon gasps out, gaping a bit. “You wouldn’t!” 

The brunette – who is apparently one half of the legendary Lightwood duo – grins. “Try me," she dares, but the smile on her face erases any cruelty.

Unlike her mother, Isabelle is smiling happily and greets Magnus with wide eyes. “Well, this is an honour,” she drawls. It’s almost a purr, and Magnus admits that she’s stunning, just like Clary foretold. She holds out a hand, and he shakes it, looking down at her hands for a moment.

“Great polish,” he says, nodding to her nails. “Azature’s Black Diamond, right? Always a win.”

Izzy beams. “Thank you! I like the glitter,” she returns, eyeing up his muted gold liner and carefully-painted lids.

Magnus studies her for a moment before asking, “Do you like cats?”

“Who doesn’t?”

He beams. “Then I’ll give you my Instagram. Cats, glitter and dancing.”

When the pair shares a laugh, Clary shakes her head, amused. “And here I was worried they wouldn’t get along,” she says dryly. When Simon gives her an apologetic but insistent look, the other girl sighs. She wraps an arm around Isabelle’s waist, leaning in to kiss her cheek.

“Must be off,” she says. She smiles at Magnus, coming closer to offer a hug. “I’ll leave you in the hands of my Latina goddess,” Clary jokes.

She gives Isabelle’s hand another squeeze. “I’ll text you when we land, after mom and Luke are convinced that I’m not gonna do anything stupid,” she says, rolling her eyes at her parents’ protectiveness. “Good luck with the classes,” Clary says to Isabelle, “and show me pictures of all the dresses.”

“Bye, Isabelle,” Simon says, softly, and Izzy pulls him in by the shirt and kisses him on the cheek. “Take care," she says. “Watch out for the girls who will be throwing themselves at you.”

Simon shuffles on his feet before mumbling, "None will be as beautiful as you.”

Izzy quirks an eyebrow, surveying him with glee. “Oh really?”

“I mean, not that you’re not beautiful, Clary, but…”

“Isabelle is flawless. Yes. I know,” Clary interrupts with a laugh, not bothered in the slightest. She prods Simon's chest, getting him in the ribs and making him yelp. “Let’s go before you embarrass yourself anymore.” She hops onto Simon’s back, and they head down the corridor like that, piggy-backing and giggling.

When the two friends are gone from view, Isabelle turns back to face him.

“So, you’re Magnus Bane," she says.

Magnus holds out both arms. “The one and only," he confirms. "Actually, that’s a lie. There’s probably someone else out there with my name.”

“No way near as beautiful though.”

Magnus finds himself smiling warmly again. "True. Same to you, my dear."

Isabelle's grin turns playful again. She holds herself with pride, and grace, but doesn't assert any kind of power over him. Magnus likes her immediately. He has a feeling she'll be very helpful indeed. 

“You’ve already won me over," Izzy says. She points to herself. "See? Blushing.” Pressing a hand against the classroom door, Isabelle cocks her head and asks, "So, want to come and see little ones tripping over their toes?”

“You’re a minx.” Without hesitation, Magnus adds, “Yes, please.”

~

He waits patiently for Izzy’s class to finish – a beginner’s level class for Waltz, which Magnus finds both endearing and a little frightening. Surely it hasn’t been that long that seven year olds can remember the names of steps better than he can? Perhaps it has.

The last time Magnus danced professionally at Ballroom level was, well, never. Although when he first trained, he was trained in Latin and Ballroom, he only ever competed in Latin. It was more natural for him; he could move freely, express the passion easier. Ballroom was…controlled. Precise. Less room for improvisation.

But even as he watches the little ones, and Izzy, he realises that Ballroom is just as beautiful. The arches are elegant, the footwork is like puzzle pieces that have to be placed together just right. It’s a miracle when Isabelle has them doing a turnabout the room without falling over.

Also, it’s ironic in a sad way, because the girls and boys in the class aren’t divided. There’s no partnering divined between the sexes. Not yet. The boys are laughing and helping each other, and the girls are taking turns to practice in both roles. So what changes? What makes it so that dancing same sex when you’re older is dangerous? Against the dancing law?

Not anymore, but that could change back again. If he doesn't help prove the rule change was a good one. 

Magnus feels a sudden swirl of anger beating against his chest. He cages it carefully. Now is the time to prove the traditionalists wrong. Not to show them that he’s prone to lashing out and bitterness. How is that going to help prove his point? He wants anyone to dance, and with anyone they wish.

He needs to be careful. And find the right partner-

“So, Alec.”

“Hm?” Magnus looks up and sees that the class is trickling out, their parents greeting the kids with happy grins, and even the odd stern look. He stands up, abandoning the small bench that has been his viewing platform, and comes over to stand by Isabelle. 

She continues, “I was saying, that you should come and meet my brother, Alec.”

This piques Magnus' interest. "Oh, wonderful," he says. "Is he as beautiful as you?” he asks, covering up the anxious knot in his stomach. Soon, he'll have to inquire about a partner, or at least a teacher. What if they suddenly turn him away?

Izzy shrugs. “Taller. Nice hair. Gruff voice.”

“Stick up his ass?”

“Just a bit," Isabelle agrees. She holds the door open for Magnus, carrying on as they walk down the halls together. "He’s under a lot of stress," Izzy says. "With the International Championship this year, mom and dad are really putting a lot of pressure on a 1st place win. Me too, but…Alec is getting the brunt of it.”

“But he likes dancing, right?” Magnus enquiries.

Isabelle nods, but the worried lines in her forehead stick around. “Oh, yes. Of course. We all do. Alec loves it, he’s just less…showy. He’s not a show-off. Reserved, but well taught. He’s a great dancer. With me, at least. Which is why he’s stressing out.”

“Why’s that?”

Isabelle looks around, checking for any passersby, and then says, "Mom wants to enter us separately. Double the chances of winning.”

“But…you’re stronger together. That’s stupid.” He quickly holds up a hand. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to overstep.”

“No, no, you’re right. But…I’m still not up to Alec’s standards. I started a bit later, and…I mucked around a lot more. I liked dancing, but I didn’t treat it as a discipline. Or even a sport. It was fun for me. It still is, but now I understand the pressure. I’m only at Silver level, really. Alec is at Gold so we enter at that rank. He could be Gold Star.”

“Silver. How terrible.” Magnus rolls his eyes. He’s just about Silver level himself, or at least, he was. Just because he’s passed all the Bronze and half of the Silver exams, doesn’t mean he’s not brushed up enough to reclaim that level.

“So you’re partnering different people this season?” he asks.

Izzy nods. “Yeah. At least, it looks that way. I’m fine. I have Meliorn.”

“Ooh. Boyfriend?”

“Kind of. I mean, we hook up, but nothing serious. He’s a great friend, and we dance really well together, but that’s it. We both respect that.”

The way she speaks about the relationship is mature, and Magnus is quite sure that Izzy is someone he’d like to call a friend. If he has the chance.

Magnus frowns, remembering the other part. “But Alec…?"

“He doesn’t want to dance with someone else," Isabelle explains, her voice quiet and sad now. "Our friend, Lydia, is a good match, but…there’s still something missing. They’re both too good. Too proper. There’s no connection.”

“I see," Magnus says, understanding. And he does. Dancing without chemistry, or an eye-capturing dynamic, is bad. They need to hook an audience, gain attention in some way; draw out their strengths. It isn’t enough to go through the moves perfectly.

As they come to a smaller hallway, where gentle music rises from the closest door, Isabelle turns to him. She seems to be blocking the door, like she wants to clarify something before she unlocks the door for him. 

The thought comes to mind that maybe she's protecting her brother.

From me?

Magnus frowns and then considers that Izzy is just guarding her brother against added pressure, which Magnus admires.

He holds her gaze with a careful look.

"Moving away from us," Isabelle begins, "tell me more about your goal here. What are you hoping for, Magnus?” Izzy asks. Just like he thought before, this is a test. Magnus doesn't know what answer she wants, but he can start with the truth.

"I want you to find me a partner for this season's Championships." Before he can hesitate, he carries on. "I want to show my support for the new rule change. So many on the judging panel are scrutinising it, saying it breaks tradition and messes up the dances, but…I want to dance with anyone I choose. And I want that for everyone else. The world needs to see an example, and I want to be that. Besides," he adds, swaying his shoulders, "I like the attention.” 

At that, Isabelle narrows her eyes, but her smile is soft and understanding. "Don't do that," she says quietly. "Cover up how you feel, I mean. There’s enough of that going around here, as you’ll soon learn. But," she says, nodding, "if you want to find a partner, someone who will dance with you this year…I think that can be arranged.”

Hope starts to sneak its way into Magnus' heart. He tries to simmer it down. “You’ll let me dance…under the School’s name?” he asks slowly.

Izzy gives him an apologetic look. “Unfortunately, I don’t have any control over that," she admits. "Mom and dad will need some…persuasion. But if we work the publicity angle, it should help." She places a hand on the doorknob, and asks, "Oh, what rank are you?"

"Silver. Lower stages of Gold. But I'm a fast learner. I can get there," Magnus insists. "I just need a good teacher.”

Izzy smiles at that. “Now that, I can definitely help you with." A sly grin covers her lovely face. "Mom and dad can’t actually ban you from taking lessons here. So if you can pay, you can get tutorage. We can sort out a partner for you, and go from there?”

“Sounds great. Baby steps.” He smirks. “Then choreography, music, staging. All that jazz.”

“All that jazz,” Isabelle repeats with a wink. She opens the door, and Magnus, feeling proud and happy, starts to head inside.

“You’re going to need that charm to win over your new teacher," Isabelle is saying, and he turns around, watching her. "Just a head’s up.”

“Oh. Not to worry," Magnus preens. He walks into the room, not looking ahead, but turning around and watching Isabelle close the door instead. He takes another step back, grinning. “I’m extremely irresistible- oof!”

Magnus feels a weight ghost against his back. When he spins around, a quick series of events happen. First, he turns around. Second, he sees that there is a tall guy about to step into his space. Three, Magnus then acts on training instinct and holds up his arms. The man glides smoothly into a dance hold, one hand around Magnus’ waist and the other clasping his raised hand, and then they’re just left to stare at each other, ready to dance a dance that neither saw coming. 

Well, damn.

Magnus not only knows with perfect clarity why he’s gotten into hold – habit, instinct – but also who he’s just stepped into his arms. Hazel eyes – slightly wide. Dark hair, deliciously tousled. Lips, full, pink and delightfully plump. Thick eyebrows. Strong grip – which makes Magnus linger on the straining forearms against the man’s black t-shirt. Tall. Beautiful. Gaping like a fish.

Alec Lightwood.

Magnus opens his mouth. Before he can stop himself – and still frozen in hold in Alec’s arms – Magnus calls out, “And this, kids, is why you should always be prepared. Surprise attacks like this get you far in life.”

He tilts his chin again, looking up at Alec – which barely requires a tiny movement, but still, he’s slightly taller than Magnus. Which is unusual. He considers himself of above average height. But still, Alec isn’t overwhelmingly taller, and he hunches a bit, so they’re basically the same height anyway. Which means their noses brush a bit, and their chests – somehow caught between breaths – are pressed closely together.

Magnus still doesn’t step back. Neither does Alec, but Magnus thinks this might be from shock recovery rather than a desire to stay in hold. If anyone walks by, it looks like they’re about to dance; waiting for the cue. It’s hilariously awkward, and Magnus wants to laugh. But Alec’s eyes keep him grounded; intense and focused.

“Hello,” Magnus purrs. "I don't think we've been formally introduced, despite the...formal hold."

The surprised dancer still isn’t stepping back. His hand is still wrapping around Magnus’ waist, and Magnus can feel each long finger pressing against his lower back. He almost shivers, but holds it back, swallowing instead.

There’s another pause, and the only sound comes from the occasional giggle from the class of students. One laughs loud enough to finally snap their teacher out of his daze. It’s long enough that Magnus starts to wonder if there’s something in his teeth, or if Alec is secretly made of tar and is stuck forever to Magnus.

Oh, the horror.

Alec blinks a couple of times. He suddenly drops his arms quickly to his sides. He drops them so quickly that Magnus stumbles back, the weight holding him up suddenly disappearing. There’s distance between them now, but Magnus still feels Alec’s fingers wrapping around his. He rubs his thumb and forefinger together.

“I’m Magnus," he offers, glad that his voice shows no sign of being affected.

Alec scratches the back of his neck, his shoulders hunching again. Only this time, when he looks up, there’s a bashful smile on his face. Small, but sweet.

“Yeah. I…know who you are," he murmurs.

Izzy is right. Low voice. Gruff. A little bit sexy. Just the way Magnus likes them.

He hides the fluttering in his stomach behind a steel cage. Be gone, feelings. Be gone.

Alec turns back to his class for a moment, as if suddenly remembering that other people exist – which Magnus finds endearing.

He hides his smile when Alec calls out, “Just…practise a box step again. I want to see bent knees, and heads to the left!”

When he turns back, again, he nods to Isabelle, who is standing to their right and watching the exchange go down with an aggravatingly obvious expression of glee.

Magnus clears his throat to refocus the attention. He doesn’t want Alec to die of embarrassment before they’ve had their first lesson.

“At least let me introduce myself properly.” And because he can’t help himself, Magnus bows. He’s not sure why. The drama of it all, perhaps. Or just that he wants to make a colourful impression on Alec, and bowing just seems…gentlemanly. He’s hoping it’s a graceful move, something to show Alec that he can move nicely, that he’s not a random hopeful with wide eyes who’s ready to kiss ass.

I wouldn’t mind kissing his ass.

Magnus decides, quickly, that this is an unhelpful thought. Away it goes behind the wall again.

Although a few of the kids are still gawking at him - one kid actually snaps a picture on their phone - Magnus realises that he’s only waiting for one person’s reaction. Alec’s. And he’s staring at the floor, and then at Magnus, and then at Isabelle, as if for help.

Normally one to make a good lasting impression, Magnus begins to fear that this is one of the worst entrances he’s ever made. Ever. And that’s including the time he drunkenly stumbled into his neighbour, Dot's flat, pointed at her now-husband, Mark, and yelled ‘dibs!’.

They’re good friends now. Dot, Mark, and Magnus.

Magnus straightens from his bow and smiles, looking up at Alec from beneath his lashes. “I’m Magnus Bane. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Just when he’s considering sticking his hand out, or just flat out running for the door, it’s suddenly Magnus’ turn to blink in surprise, because Alec smiles in return. It strikes Magnus as soft and beautiful in a way that has Magnus preening a little, like a cat. He can feel his hips swaying a bit and tries to steady his restless energy.

“Uh, hey,” Alec says. He inclines his head. “I’m Alec."

“Who?” Magnus asks cheekily.

The man gulps, and his face falls. “Alec. Alec Lightwood. I…dance. And teach. But, yeah, mainly dance.”

Magnus can’t hide his grin this time. “I was teasing," he says lightly, realising that Alec isn’t the kind of person who is often teased. At least, not by a gorgeous Asian man who just stumbled into his arms. “Of course I know who you are, Alexander.”

Perhaps it was a tad cruel to draw out Alec’s full name, but as soon as it leaves Magnus’ lips, it turns quickly from a tease to a low sigh. Slightly breathless. Definitely complimentary.

Normally, Magnus prides himself a little more than this, but Alec is beautiful and awkward and Magnus is weak.

Isabelle clears her throat. “So you met my brother," she calls out with a laugh, finally coming over to stand with them. “Well, the first one. I have two more, but that’s a story for later. First, big brother, Magnus here has a question for you.” She smiles sweetly, giving Magnus a nod.

Alec narrows his eyes then. He folds his arms across his chest, once again drawing Magnus' eyes to his muscles.

“Yes. I do.” Magnus clears his throat. He is here, after all, to do more than flirt with the cute guy. “I was wondering, hoping, even, that you would be my tutor. For dancing," he adds.

What else is he going to tutor you in, idiot? He can practically hear Catarina laughing, and Ragnor slow clapping.

Alec tilts his head to the side, brow furrowing. “You…need a tutor?" he asks carefully. "But I don’t dance Latin. Not like you.”

“And how do I dance, Alec?” Magnus asks. “Describe it," he invites, genuinely curious.

A light flush appears on Alec's cheeks, but he stands his ground. “I- I don’t know. Just…well. You dance well. And better than me, so why do you need a tutor?" His frown deepens. "And why me?”

“I don’t need a Latin tutor," Magnus explains. "I want to brush up on my Ballroom skills. I almost forgot what a lock step was, Alec." He has to swallow down his own embarrassment now, but Alec's presence isn't an uncomfortable one, and so Magnus just says, "I think Izzy’s toddler class can do chasses better than I can!”

Alec hesitates. Frowns again. “So…you want to study Ballroom? Well, re-study. Why?”

“I want to win the Championships,” Magnus says simply. It's a bold move, to say outright that you want to try and kick your lovely not-tutor off his throne. 

The responding look he gets from Alec makes him wonder if he asked for an orgy. His eyes widen. “You want to…dance…?” Alec stumbles, making a vague gesture with his hands. He shakes his head and then repeats, “You want to dance in the Championships? But…entering in Ballroom?”

“Yes. I’m glad you’re keeping up, darling.”

Alec blinks.

Pet names: bad. Noted.

Izzy – beautiful, wonderful, lovely, Izzy – steps in. She places an arm on Alec’s wrist and smiles. “Magnus needs a teacher, and a partner. I’m happy to match him with a free dancer, someone who can keep up.” She wiggles an eyebrow in Magnus’ direction, and he grins in return.

“And mom and dad are going to be fine with this?” Alec rolls his eyes, and it’s the first sign of pressure he’s seen from the guy. The tension in Alec's shoulders makes Magnus suddenly feel sad. He's well-versed in pressure, both self-given and by others. He kind of wants to invite Alec out to coffee. The urge to get to know him is weirdly powerful, given their new acquaintance. 

Magnus frowns. “They can’t kick me out for wanting lessons. Do you tutor privately, Alexander?”

“Yes, but-“

“And do you have slots available?”

“Yeah, but-"

Magnus nods, mainly to himself. “Then it's settled. Let’s get started. The qualifiers are in just over two months."

“Um.” Alec sighs again. He realises where they are again, and turns to his sister. “Izzy, could you…” He points to the class, who are descending into anarchy and dancing whatever the hell they want to. She nods, clapping her hands loudly and calling out instructions to the group.

Which leaves Magnus alone with Alec. Again.

The other man surprises him then. He doesn't protest, only swallowing before asking, "Just one question. Why me?"

Magnus waits, unsure of what to say. It's not like he made the active decision to pick Alec, but now that he's here, Magnus finds him intriguing and actually trusts him - why, Magnus doesn't know. He's not got a lot of time to search elsewhere either. 

"You could have any tutor you wanted," Alec says, "and any School. Why do you want me to train you?"

Not liking the aura of ill-at-ease coming from the other dancer, Magnus smiles. “You come highly recommended," he tells Alec. "By your sister, and Clary, and many others I’m sure.”

Alec ducks his head. Again, that switch from confidence, to uncertainty is strange. Alec is a walking contradiction, one moment grinning and endearing, and the next, closed-off and stiff.

“Surely that doesn’t surprise you, Alexander," Magnus says, his voice quieting to a soft murmur. "You’re a talented dancer, and you clearly have no trouble getting handsy. I like that.” He winks, but keeps the teasing light, not wanting to push Alec away. 

“Oh, god," Alec groans, but laughs, shaking his head at the memory. "Sorry about…before. Earlier.” Alec shoves his hands into his pocket, but his eyes are still crinkling with laughter. “I didn’t mean to-“

“Hold me in your arms before you knew my name? You’re a fast mover.” Magnus grins back. When Alec just smiles, his dimples flashing, Magnus sighs. Perhaps now isn’t the time for flirting. Especially not if he’s trying to convince Alec that he’s going to be the best student ever.

“Alec, I know I haven’t made the best impression," Magnus says, "but…I’ll work hard. I promise." He lifts his chin and declares, "I just need someone who can drill me hard.”

Magnus shut up in a second.

Did his brain actually let that filter out into the open?

After a single second of shocked silence, Alec suddenly laughs. He covers his mouth for a second, but his laugh still escapes between his fingers. The sound may or may not tug at Magnus’ heart. And his lips, because great, now he’s beaming like an idiot because he made Alec Lightwood laugh.

“Okay," Alec eventually says. "Sure."

Magnus quirks an eyebrow.

“Not…that," Alec retorts dryly, making a vague hand gesture again. "I mean, dancing. Lessons. I’ll tutor you. While Izzy finds a partner for you," he confirms, jutting his head in his sister's direction.

Feeling the relief sooth his restless self, Magnus smiles. "Thank you," he says sincerely. Now that he has a tutor, and someone as wonderful as Isabelle on his side to partner-hunt with, the dream is closer to becoming a reality. 

Alec must see the change, because he smiles. “Would you like to start with two one hour sessions per week and build up?”

Don’t make a joke. Don’t make a joke.

“That sounds wonderful. Thank you, Alec.”

Magnus praises his self-restraint. 

“We’ll, uh,” Alec looks down again, "talk about…payment later.”

Waving aside his concern, Magnus says, happily, "No need to be embarrassed about that. I have money." He quirks an eyebrow, making sure the next boast is seen as a joke. "I am a half-decent choreographer, you know," he teases. 

He waits for Alec to frown, or continue with the conversation.

Instead, his expression softens. "Yes," Alec says, "yes, I know." 

Magnus blinks, suddenly not sure where to look. He settles on the tiny scar on Alec's cheek, just above the corner of his lip, and then decides that staring at the guy's lips isn't helping him concentrate. Of course Alec knows who he is. Most of the dancing community does. But still, the way Alec says it, like admitting something, is more than an ego-boost. It's respect, and Magnus returns it warmly. 

"I also teach some classes at the community centres," he says. He's not boasting, really, but Alec's silence is intimate, and Magnus is taken aback by how good that feels. "Wait, is that going to be a problem?" Magnus asks. "Am I two-timing another studio?"

Alec cracks a grin. "No," he says, shoulders shaking a bit as he laughs. "If they don’t compete nationally, you’re good. It’s just community classes, right?” His eyes widen a fraction. “I didn’t mean it like that, but...if they’re not at professional standard – and that’s not your fault or anything, I’m not saying it is…”

Magnus holds up a forefinger, hovering against Alec's lips. "I understand," he says smoothly. "No harm done. And no, they don’t compete. It’s just for fun. Salsa, that’s all.”

“Salsa,” Alec repeats. “Never done that one before," he admits, but his eyes grow distant, like it's a little too far out of reach. 

“I’m shocked," Magnus deadpans, and Alec raises an eyebrow, meeting his challenge. He's gone from the slightly wide-eyed, awed man, to a confident, slowly smiling one. What the hell is Magnus going to do with him?

Well, he can think of many things-

“I should, uh, probably get back to teaching my class," Alec says, swiftly cutting through Magnus' daydreams. "But, it was really nice meeting you, Magnus. I, uh, I’ll see you for a class…?”

“Oh, right. Yes.” Magnus slides his cell phone out of his pocket and taps a few times. “Number?” he asks.

Alec is thrown for a moment, and alright, perhaps Magnus should’ve approached it a little more delicately. But he didn’t realise that asking for your teacher’s number was flirtatious. Even if he did grin at Alec when he said it.

Alec says the numbers slowly, and Magnus types them in, making a mental note to send Alec a quick text so he can save his number.

“Great. Text me, or call me,” Magnus says. "We'll arrange a date." Only a little grin accompanies it this time and Magnus mentally congratulates himself.

“Sure. I will. About the lessons.”

“Yes. About the lessons, Alexander,” Magnus repeats, holding back his smirk. He calls out to Isabelle, “Great meeting you!”

She turns back, waves, and then starts demonstrating another step to the class.

Magnus waves at Alec, almost walking into the door again as he turns to flash Alec another smile. 

Lessons, Magnus decides, cannot come soon enough.

As he walks to catch a cab, Magnus also realises - this time, with a soft, yearning gratitude - that he hasn't thought about Camille the entire time he's been here.

 

~

When Magnus leaves, Alec feels the ground returning. He can walk again. Talk like a normal person.

Not blush like a complete moron and stumble over his words in front of a pretty dancer.

He ignores the knowing look from Isabelle, a look that tells him to expect a proper talking-to later. He ignores the unfamiliar sensation in his chest; a tightening, but not painful. Almost…gripping. Like there’s a new pressure there that wants to be acknowledged. Alec doesn’t give it anymore attention.

Until his phone buzzes.

The unknown number pops up, and Alec can already feel a smile spreading across his face when he opens the message up:

Pretty boy, it was nice to meet you. Here’s my number. Call me about the dancing lessons and I’ll get back to you ASAP. Well, when I'm done choreographing for the Queen of England's birthday celebration. No big deal.  Best wishes. – Magnus. Xo.

Alec shakes his head at the blatant lie, grinning. He's never met someone like Magnus before, and it keeps him in good spirits for the entire day.

And for the rest of that afternoon, all of his students seem to be faultless. He can’t find any reason to nit-pick, and he finds himself praising them a lot. Alec keeps smiling, and when Jace enters the room and stares in surprise, Alec realises that he’s still thinking about Magnus Bane.

He stops, but still, the day goes quickly; each second that passes filling with the sound of a musical laughter, and a brilliant grin.

He's going to tutor Magnus Bane, and no doubt watch him take the crown at the Championships this year.

But why, Alec wonders, does he keep picturing himself standing next to the guy?